A narrow strip of US Route 1 brings millions of tourists a year to the steep chaparral flanks of the Santa Lucia Range of Big Sur, on the rugged central California coast. Head east into the mountainous Ventana Wilderness, however, and there are few roads and almost no development. On this remote terrain, five California condor chicks were getting ready to fledge in the October sunshine.

These six-month-old condors mark an important milestone for the species. Just 28 years ago, California condors were extinct in the wild. Now, with these five chicks, their population in central California has ticked above 100. Throughout the southwest United States, their total wild population is well over 300 and still increasing.

In the coming months, the Ventana Wildlife Society, which co-manages the central California condors with Pinnacles National Park, plans to release six more captive-bred condors, says Kelly Sorenson, the society’s executive director. The park also plans to release two, pushing the regional population to 111.

“To have more than a 10 percent increase in condor population in one year is just amazing,” Sorenson says. “The story of the condor is a hopeful one and shows we can make a difference if we work at it.”

Read more…

Monterey’s history as a Spanish, Mexican and United States capital of California is well documented and has become a cottage industry in the small city that hugs the Pacific Ocean. But there are a few stories clouded in mystery, or simply misunderstood for more than a century. Two of which I recently dug into for the San Francisco Chronicle, shedding light on two historical topics beloved by many—pirates and cheese.

California’s only ‘pirate’ raid in history was actually about independence
Volleys of cannon fire echoed through the adobes of Monterey, followed by a group of privateers storming the city from the sea with cannon, muskets and pikes. Eventually they pulled down the Spanish flag before hoisting up the blue-and-white stripes of Argentina under a Californian sky. Read more…

The competing legends of Monterey Jack cheese
The origin story of Monterey Jack cheese is complicated, no matter whom you ask or what version they tell you. It may encompass some or all of the following: a prosperous Mexican land-grant family fallen from grace, a shrewd Gold Rush land baron, the colonization of California’s Central Coast, and possibly a bullfight gone awry. Some historians believe its tendrils even extend to ancient Rome. This semisoft white cheese, homogenized and ubiquitous in dairy aisles across the U.S., carries with it the near entirety of California history dating to Spanish colonization. Read more…

 

The future of California’s iconic Dungeness crab fishery seemed uncertain after a three-year spike in the number of whales entangled in fishing gear from 2015 to 2017. A warm-water blob, domoic acid and a coinciding of whale migrations and fishing caused by the delayed start of the Dungeness crab season spurred a record number of whales and other marine animals to become twisted in crab gear.

Few fisheries were spared entanglement issues on the Pacific Coast, but California Dungeness crab fishermen came under fire for their lines snaring the largest number of whales. Negative publicity, threats of a federal shutdown and a lawsuit in federal court made California crabbers fear the worst. But with ocean conditions returning in the direction of normal and state legislative effort looking to head off litigation, crab fishermen can breathe easier. Still, there’s no returning to the way things were.

Fires jumped from wildlands into the city of Santa Rosa, one of the largest cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, on Oct. 8. In the end, 24 people lost their lives and more than 5,000 homes were destroyed displacing thousands in Sonoma County alone.

This is where I lived and worked. My job at The Press Democrat took me to the frontline of the blazes and to the response mounted by municipal, county, state and federal agencies.

For our efforts The Press Democrat was awarded the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Here are some clips from documenting the devastation in what is now the most destructive wildfire in California’s history.

Most SoCo Alert calls failed to connect in first hours of Sonoma County wildfires (Dec. 15)
Sonoma County prosecutors charge six landlords with price gouging (Dec. 7)
‘Please hurry up it’s really close’: Speed, terror of fires revealed in 911 calls (Dec. 5)
Mendocino County Sheriff examines lessons learned from Redwood Valley fire (Nov. 9)
Carl’s Jr. in Santa Rosa catches fire while making burgers for first responders (Oct. 26)
ICE statement about wildfire-related arson arrest ‘misleading and inflammatory’ (Oct. 19)
State prison firefighters on the frontlines of Sonoma County wildfires (Oct. 19)
Firefighters close in on full containment as Sonoma County turns toward recovery (Oct. 17)
Homes destroyed by fire outside of downtown Sonoma (Oct. 14)
Sonoma County’s emergency alerts face scrutiny in wake of deadly wildfires (Oct. 12)
Sonoma, Napa fires wreak havoc with gas, electricity & cellphone service (Oct. 10)

Santa Rosa Police Officers Jason Brandt and Brian Sinigiani sat in a police van by the Fifth Street underpass during a weekly Wednesday morning homeless encampment cleanup. Those living on the street knew the officers by name, and the officers knew theirs, their addictions and their stories.

Brandt and Sinigiani estimated there are more than 200 chronically homeless in downtown Santa Rosa with whom they are on a first name basis. Nearly all have been offered services, they said.

“We’re trying to take away all of the excuses and break down the barriers to get them off the street,” Sinigiani said. “We’re really social workers with a law enforcement aspect.”

Sinigiani and his partner are among the top sources of referrals to Catholic Charities’ Homeless Outreach Services Team. But they take the law seriously and aren’t afraid to make arrests and write citations. Brandt said he makes more arrests now than he did while working patrol.

Read more at The Press Democrat…

dsc_9286Sitting in a cafe a block from the Capitol building in Sacramento just after 11am on Dec. 19, Vinz Koller anxiously monitors Electoral College votes on the East Coast. He’s contemplating committing a crime in a few hours, by voting against the will of the people in the state of California with his vote in the Electoral College.

The staunch partisan and outgoing chair of the Monterey County Democratic Party supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But, in a last-ditch effort to block the presumptive President-elect Donald Trump from ascending to the White House, Koller has fashioned himself as a “Hamilton Elector.”

The goal, spurred by Texas Republican and elector Christopher Suprun, is to get 37 electors for Trump in red states to cast their ballot for someone else, thereby blocking the 270 electoral votes needed to get the presidency. If that were to happen, the president would be decided on Jan. 6 by the U.S. House of Representatives, which would choose from the top three Electoral College vote getters.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

577d630039379.imageNearly 30,000 watts of stadium lights hang from the rigging of a light boat off the Channel Islands in Southern California. Once flipped on, the lights slowly increase their illumination. After five minutes, the 2am darkness on deck has transformed into a gleam resembling a San Francisco Giants night game at AT&T Park.

Squid fishing in California is done at night with one boat equipped with lights to attract and hold the squid in one spot, partnered with another larger boat with a seine – a 1,000-plus-foot-long fishing net – to bring in the catch.

I peer into the calm ocean and see a milky mass rise to the surface, as hundreds of thousands of squid emerge from the depths – translucent, with large eyes reflecting light like a cat’s would.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

The night after Bernie Sanders watched the Golden State Warriors come from behind in Oakland to take out the Oklahoma City Thunder in game seven, he came to the Central Coast in an attempt to pull off a surprising result himself.

While addressing a crowd of 7,800 people in front of Colton Hall in Monterey on May 31, Sanders displayed a Warriors cap and asked the crowd, “Is this the right hat?”

In a speech that lasted more than an hour, the independent senator from Vermont stuck to the main talking points of his campaign: Break up Wall Street banks deemed “too big to fail,” create Medicare for all, make public colleges and universities tuition-free and take money out of politics.

Read more at Monterey County Weekly…

A half-moon shone in the 10 a.m. sun in the parking lot outside the fuel dock at the Ventura Harbor—that was until the fat old man in sweatpants tugged the worn elastic band back over his hairy ass. After a week and a half of walking the docks for work and sleeping on a beach my future in the southern Californian,  squid fishery was presented to me in the cloudy slate eyes and black-toothed grin of a cranky old man trying to repair a 1979 Dutsun pickup.

“Sorry boys, we don’t have any work for you but talk to Turk, his boat needs a little work before it’s ready for the season,” said a Canadian skipper who landed the nickname Catch ‘em all Paul for having boasting to have caught all the fish there was to catch in Canada.

After some chitchat between the skippers I was dropped off with Turk. His self-proclaimed ‘grizzly bear paw of a hand’ had trouble fitting into the cracks of the small engine so my friend AW and I took over the task of installing a new water pump in a truck that was barely worth saving. He then brought us to his boat that was tied up at the fuel dock. There I met the Miss Deception, a 38-foot Kodiak beach seiner converted into a light boat.

Continue reading “Book Preview: The Old Turk and the Sea”