Blog Archives

February 15 – 21, 2023

Highlights this week:

BRATTON…Earthquakes and our new high-rises, UCSC’s East Meadow update. Last week’s photo data correction.  GREENSITE…on West $Cliff Drive: Erosion of Public Trust. SCHENDELDECKER…Of consent agendas and river levees, or is the San Lorenzo River a person? STEINBRUNER…Becky had a concussion and will return ASAP. HAYES…February’s Flower. PATTON…David Brooks and the “Bright-icize” bias. MATLOCK…will be back next week. EAGAN…Subconscious Comics and Deep Cover WEBMISTRESS’…pick of the week: fireworks!!!. QUOTES…”Beaches”.


ELEANOR ROOSEVELT AND ERVA BOWEN MEET MAYOR BERT SNYDER. This was April 26, 1962.  FDR served four terms as president and died in 1945. Eleanor was a very unusual first lady and remained active during and after her years as first lady. Erva Bowen was the president of our local NAACP and she died in 2011  Erva was the first African American to be elected to office in SC when she won a seat on the Board of Trustees for the Santa Cruz City Schools in 1978.”

Additional information always welcome: email
photo credit: Covello & Covello Historical photo collection.

DATELINE February 13

OUR NEW HIGH RISES & SAFETY. There have been almost enough pro and cons about the many new high story structures going up around our Santa Cruz Downtown area…and elsewhere nearby. Now when we have the near hell that earthquakes caused in Turkey facing us, how can we be sure that every new high floor apartment is safe from the often predicted earthquakes that can and already caused so much damage to our community? Shortly before our 1989 earthquake structural engineers hired by our county told us our building were unsafe. What did we do in view of professional warnings? Ignored them completely and laughed about such dangers. Now, with experts warning us so often about even larger/longer quakes headed our way, what are we doing about it?

Are all of the high rises even those containing almost acceptable affordable rates being inspected and triply checked for earthquake safety? Too many times our local officials bend to developers’ sad pleas about affordability with regards to building in extra protection, especially in the upper floors. We need to keep asking and demanding our rights to safety and health and prepare for those San Andreas faults that can level us so quickly….remember 1989.

EAST MEADOW NEWS….A very concerned and heavily involved campus oriented organization The East Meadow Action Committee got organized to protect the campus and the community against what the Board of Regents so often approved way too rapidly. They just released their latest newsletter…

East Meadow Update, 2/13/23

Friends of the Meadow:

The East Meadow remains intact – no bulldozers in sight.   What is less immediately evident, however, is why that is so.  Why has an administration so hell-bent on destroying the meadow been unable to do so?

There are two impediments to those bulldozers:

First, way back in March 2019, when UCSC first pitched the project to the Regents, Chancellor Blumenthal claimed that Student Housing West would produce student rents well below what students would pay off-campus.  It was a completely unrealistic claim, but it sounded great, and the Regents remembered it.

In October 2020, with the help of so many, EMAC won a court verdict that ordered the UC Regents to vacate their approval of the project.  The Regents were required to reconsider and re-approve the project.  When that question came before the Regents in March 2021, it would have been possible to modify the proposal, keeping construction out of the meadow, but instead UCSC requested reapproval without changes. The Regents complied.

However, remembering those earlier UCSC claims about project rents being substantially below rents off-campus, the Regents made their re-approval contingent on a commitment to keep rents “30% below market.”

The UCSC administration got reauthorization of the project as they wished, but with a precondition they cannot possibly meet or even come close to satisfying.  They have an approval they can’t really use, and it is unclear how they plan to deal with that impasse.

Second, while EMAC is no longer litigating, others are.  Just a couple of weeks ago, (January 17, 2023) yet another brief was filed in the Sixth District Court of Appeals (one of two that are currently pending at that appellate court).  It will take this latest case more than a year to work its way through the system, so at the very least the project will be in court well into 2024.  Because it is dependent on bond financing, and because bond buyers will not finance a project with pending litigation, it appears that there will be no construction for many months to come.

These are two big reasons why the bulldozers are not warming up.

It should be remembered that all this delay is a consequence of long-standing administrative incompetence dating back to the Fall of 2017.  At that time, UCSC had been working for months on the original version of a project that would have been entirely on the west side of campus – none of it in the East Meadow.  This early version met with no opposition of consequence.  But to save an estimated six months on the project schedule (by avoiding a negotiation with US Fish and Wildlife over accommodation of a listed species) the administration abruptly decided to modify the plan and sprawl a portion across the East Meadow.  A storm of protest from many sources erupted, and as a result, the project is now headed for at least six years of delay.

If the planners had, instead, continued along the lines of the original version of the project, it would have been completed last month (January 2023, by their own schedule).  Students would now be enjoying thousands of new beds of on-campus housing.  Instead, construction has not begun, and who knows when, or if, it will start?

This was not a one-and-done mistake.  Over and over, from the Fall of 2017 to the present, the administration has had (and it still has) the opportunity to go back to the original version, eliminating opposition and getting the project moving forward.  It has never been necessary to put any of Student Housing West in the East Meadow.  Due to the administration’s stubborn insistence on building there, they own the delay to date and the delay yet to come.

East Meadow Action Committee

LAST WEEK’S HISTORIC PHOTO. If you scroll down to last week’s BrattonOnline you’ll see the startling photo of post rain disaster and the trolley tracks floating in midair. Thanks to eagle eyed reader Mike Hess we all now know that was the view in 1915 looking east along 12th avenue. Those are the trolley tracks that ran from Twin Lakes Beach. Thanks Mike.

I search and critique a variety of movies only from those that are newly released. Choosing from the thousands of classics and older releases would take way too long. And be sure to tune in to those very newest movie reviews live on KZSC 88.1 fm every Friday from about 8:10 – 8:30 am. on the Bushwhackers Breakfast Club program hosted by Dangerous Dan Orange.

VENGEANCE. (PRIME MOVIE) (6.6 IMDB). Set in Texas it’s billed as a comedy, but I didn’t laugh once. B.J. Novak gawks and mugs his way through solving the murder of an ex-girlfriend. He’s now a writer for the New Yorker which is impossible to believe, and his relating to Texas ways are equally impossible but still not funny. Ashton Kutcher plays an important role and really stands out from the rest of the cast. Save your time and money.

HIGH WATER. (NETFLIX SERIES) (7.2 IMDB). Our recent/present Santa Cruz worries and dealings with flood waters makes this a thoughtful movie. A Polish film based on Warsaw’s handling of an oncoming flood wave in 1977 keeps you involved through the politics, the relationships, and the health issues that must be decided before the waves hit the city. It’s a true piece of history except that all the human stories are fictional but well scripted and acted. Well worth watching.

DEAR EDWARD. (APPLE + SERIES) (7.5 IMDB). A 12 year old boy is the only survivor of a huge passenger plane filled with folks going to LA from New York City. How he deals with his survival and the support group he attends are pretty convincing. It’s about diets, debts, even sex and how the relatives of the casualties handle their losses.

SERVANT. (APPLE + SERIES) (7.5 IMDB). This 2019 series directed by M. Night Shyamalan has been revived and new episodes are released each Friday.  A young couple lose their baby and mom started to go crazy in the worst way.  A baby doll becomes part of the plot and you’ll have a tough time figuring out who is the craziest. The photography is great and it’s a Shyamalan movie…that should tell you enough.

SPECIAL NOTE….Don’t forget that when you’re not too sure of a plot or need any info on a movie to go to Wikipedia. It lays out the straight/non hype story plus all the details you’ll need including which server (Netflix, Hulu, or PBS) you can find it on. You can also go to and punch in the movie title and read my take on the much more than 100 movies.

LIVING. (DEL MAR THEATRE). (7.5 IMDB). Bill Nighy who’s actually only 77 plays a much older rigid, tightly controlled city worker who gets the news that he has just six months to live. How he handles the rest of his life and the changes he makes creates a heartfelt and super movie. The acting is award winning and the plot touches every one of us. It’s actually a re-make of Kurosawa’s “Ikiru” (1952) and it’s even more personal.

THE SNOW GIRL. (NETFLIX SERIES) (6.8 IMDB). A Spanish movie about the kidnapping of a six year old girl. The story goes back and forth between the real parents who are searching for her and the detectives and a reporter who keep on the trail for many, many years. It turns into a mystery and has a melodramatic ending but it keeps you awake and involved.

THE WATCHFUL EYE. (HULU SERIES) (6.4 IMDB). Only the first two episodes have been released so far and they look promising. It takes place in New York City in a haunted but classy old fashioned apartment building. It has many shots reminding us of The Shining with people appearing and disappearing in hallways. It’s not near any Hitchcock film but there are minutes that will keep you glued to your screen.

MY NAME IS VENDETTA. (NETFLIX MOVIE) (5.6 IMDB). Yet another Mafia movie and yet it has minutes that are exciting, well-acted and quite watchable. From Italy and taking place in Milan, a father and young daughter work hard to escape the Mafia who are determined to seek revenge on the father for an evil deed he committed years before. It’s violent, bloody, nearly predictable but well worth watching IF you like that sort of movie.

HOW I BECAME A GANGSTER. (NETFLIX MOVIE) (6.9 IMDB). The biggest problem with this version of the movie is that it is dubbed in English from the original Polish. For me that’s a loss both visually and acting wise. We learn that still another country has a Mafia or a branch of it and there’s not much else to discuss, we’ve seen it all before.


February 13


It is more than a little disconcerting when considerable public monies are spent, months of consultants’ field work undertaken, scores of public workshops organized, and finally a city council unanimous vote approving a Plan, to have the manager of the Central Coast District of the CA Coastal Commission (CCC), Kevin Kahn declare that “coastal commission staff have not received a final version of the Plan”, that what they received was only a “draft version.” Really?

I’m referring to the West Cliff Drive Adaptation and Management Plan, approved by city council in April 2021 and sent for approval to the CCC which has sat on the Plan ever since.

This Plan, requested by the CCC, was funded by a $342,000 Caltrans grant with an additional $43,000 from city monies. Developing the Plan spanned the years from 2019 to 2021. I was one of the 17 Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) members, representing the Parks and Recreation commission. The consultants included experts in geology, coastal erosion, and transportation. Months of field work was undertaken. The final document headed for council approval was 213 pages long with 4 Appendices and 3 pages of Tables and Figures. Public input was captured at numerous workshops, at a Planning Commission hearing and finally at city council. The Resolution adopting the City of Santa Cruz West Cliff Drive Adaptation and Management Plan as an “official plan in accordance with the CA Coastal Act” was signed and voted in by council on 20th of April 2021. Doesn’t sound like a draft plan to me.

In claiming that the city council Resolution is not the final version, the CCC manager is playing fast and loose with the public trust. Whether the city staff who worked on the Plan will cave to his influence remains to be seen. Meanwhile the movers and shakers in the newly formed Save West Cliff group have no doubt met with CCC staff, the city manager, the economic development director, city council members and state park officials. This is how the democratic process is eroded. While the group is coy in public about their agenda, given the quotes I shared in last week’s column from their founders, you can bet it involves a radical make-over of West Cliff Drive as an economically driven recreation and commercial hub, marketed to attract thousands.

Amidst this hoopla and much more to come, the words of the city’s Public Works senior civil engineer, Josh Spangrud, should not be buried. In assessing the damage to the 3 main areas of West Cliff Drive, he points out that these are all places that had already sustained the loss of some of their coastal armoring which has not been fortified since the 1990’s. That the areas with armoring are still in good condition and saw little damage; that armoring does work. In an interview with Max Chun of Lookout, Spangrud says “regardless of what the future use of West Cliff is, what has washed away has to be replaced now, or we’ll lose the entire road.”

It appears the CCC does not favor armoring and would like to remove some of it along West Cliff to open access to pocket beaches. This explains part of their desire to revise the West Cliff Drive Adaptation and Management Plan or “the draft” as they are calling it. Given that position, it will be illuminating to read their recommendation for the application #3-22-075 on behalf of 1307 West Cliff, the sole house on the ocean side of West Cliff Drive. Previous CCC conditions of approval for renovation of that house included removal of all the armoring. The application into the CCC is a request to modify that condition and shrink the area requiring armoring removal.

Whatever that outcome, one thing is clear, only continued armoring will buy us time to claim human access to West Cliff Drive, whether one way or two ways, cars, or no cars. Without armoring, future storms will eventually render access a non- issue.

There really is no basis for opening another discussion of the future for West Cliff Drive. That issue has been decided and is codified in the West Cliff Drive Adaptation and Management Plan, voted on by city council following an exhaustive public process and awaiting CCC approval. It is a Plan developed to last until 2034 and allows for events such as the January storms which provided an opening for exploitation of the issue, and some are jumping on the bandwagon. The fear is that accuracy, integrity, democracy, and concern for those most impacted, including wildlife, will be the casualties in the stampede.

Gillian Greensite is a long time local activist, a member of Save Our Big Trees and the Santa Cruz chapter of IDA, International Dark Sky Association    Plus she’s an avid ocean swimmer, hiker and lover of all things wild.


Dateline: February 13

As you walk, bike, or drive along or across the San Lorenzo River between Highway 1 and the trestle bridge this week, until mid-March, you may see increased activity on the levees: mowing equipment and contracted workers with hand tools, tagging to preserve or removing most plants between the ground and five-feet high. The city is under the gun to carry out an intense campaign to control plants and animals in order to keep local control of our levee infrastructure.

But there is an irreconcilable conflict between protecting our river’s ecology from human impacts and protecting people and their built environment from the river itself.

For 230 years, non-Indigenous settlers of Aulinta(k) have repeatedly attempted to exploit and control the river and her floodplain. The powerful try, fail, and try again–even to this day–with earth, pumps, bigger buildings, and now the city council majority’s Downtown Expansion Plan right against the levee and in one of our most flood-prone areas (Mayor Keeley likes to call it a “new neighborhood”).

At the city council meeting of December 13, 2022, Consent Agenda Item 26 to approve vegetation management and rodent control for our FEMA levee maintenance accreditation was passed. Thanks to the vigilance and persistence of everyday people, the item was pulled for public comment and council discussion.

Of course we want and need our levee to be in compliance with safety standards, especially with thousands of residents living in areas that could be devastated by levee failures.

So what’s the conflict?

The crux of the issue is that the upper 20 feet of the inboard/riverside/inside slopes and the entirety of the outboard/landside/outer slopes of the levee must be open to visual inspection in case of failure like sand boils, especially during storms. On the other hand, we have a decades-long history of community planning and action around the river’s habitat and ecosystem restoration, calling for improved biodiversity, aesthetics, and public access. There has been a sometimes-cooperative effort by city government and residents, occasionally supported by federal funds, to plant and maintain riparian, riverine, and estuarine habitats with native plants and to control invasive weeds. Check out the San Lorenzo Urban River Plan (SLURP). The online document is missing page 72, the Beach Flats recommendations. If you’ve got a paper copy that could be scanned, let me know!

Sadly, much of the SLURP and similar plans have been mothballed, like the 1996 Jesse Street Marsh Management Plan which called for the marsh’s restoration in a tradeoff with the wastewater treatment plant’s expansion in Neary Lagoon. Instead, Jessie Street Marsh has been treated as a zone for both organized abandonment and control through prison-labor vegetation management.

Like so much public land, there is a complex web of jurisdictional responsibilities for the levee. While the inboard slopes of the levee are under the jurisdiction and regular maintenance of public works, they have been subjected to annual vegetation management by city-contracted workers to US Army Corps of Engineers specifications for years. At the same time, a lengthy area of that inboard slope plantings is under the watch of the Coastal Watershed Council and their volunteers.

The outboard slopes of the levee are under the jurisdiction of the parks department, with a section under the care of Jane Mio, Project Director of the Valley Women’s Club’s Native Habitat Restoration Program’s “San Lorenzo River Estuary Re-vegetation Project,” or The Estuary Project, and more volunteers.

The current FEMA accreditation plan calls for removal of many existing plants at ground level and “limbing up” of tree branches to above five feet to create open space for easy visual inspections. Intentionally planted low shrubs like manzanita and coyote bush would be cut to the ground annually, or removed and replaced with native grasses and wildflowers that can be mowed. Specialists would reserve the option of using herbicides on invasive plants.

In spite of the California Fish and Wildlife’s rules on protecting nesting sites, the deadline for work to be completed is long before nesting season is over. While there will be a biologist survey done to mark nests to avoid during work, the work itself will eliminate currently established, potential nesting areas.

Does it really make sense to “manage” or even destroy a significant number of native plants that were put there on purpose, for good reason, often with public funds?

Burrowing animals, especially the ground squirrels, will primarily be controlled with rodenticides. So far, the ground squirrels and gophers have frolicked for generations without breaching the levee, though they do present some risk, however small, of tunneling through and weakening the entire structure. A far less toxic, more effective, cheaper, and fun option would be to use raptors and other birds of prey as “integrated pest management.” Habitat restoration, perches and nesting boxes have proven effective elsewhere.

Even while the city is under a tight deadline to contract and complete work for FEMA accreditation, government leaders and agencies are reevaluating how this kind of work is done. Times may finally be changing, with ecological, decolonial, and antipatriarchal practices (perhaps) finally trickling up to the establishment from decades of radical thought and activism, even if they co-opt these practices for their own neoliberal, rather than liberatory, ends, as the Biden/Harris administration did at COP27 last November.

Included in that Biden/Harris document: “Nature-based solutions in floodplain management: The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is revising its floodplain management requirements to require consideration of nature-based solutions as alternatives for all projects that have the potential to affect floodplains or wetlands. This action is in response to Executive Order 13690, which established the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard that requires federal agencies to amend their floodplain policies to consider the use of nature-based solutions. Interim program policies are underway.”

The US Army Corps of Engineers’ partnership with the Network for Engineering with Nature website describes, “Engineering With Nature® [as] the intentional alignment of natural and engineering processes to efficiently and sustainably deliver economic, environmental, and social benefits through collaboration.”

Aside from the ludicrous trademark on “Engineering With Nature (™),” and the offensive assumption that we can continue to engineer nature at all, this time with her, even to maintain the military-industrial complex and protect private real estate, there are useful recommendations here. Many are low-tech, managed retreat options that many of us on the ecological-left will see as common sense: give rivers room to roam again (via levee setbacks), restore carbon sinks and improve water quality with wetland restoration (including removing hardscapes like parking lots), improve species survival and diversity with reforestation projects (aids integrated pest management).

Perhaps our next ballot initiative could be to recognize our river’s rights of personhood, as the people of Toledo, Ohio, did for their portion of Lake Erie and its watershed in 2018.

A year after its establishment near the present-day clock tower in 1791, Mission Santa Cruz was destroyed in a flood. Only needing to learn that lesson once, missionaries retreated and rebuilt on top of the nearest terrace. Instead of me rehashing it, you can read The History of Floods on the San Lorenzo River in the City of Santa Cruz, a mid-length online article by Daniel McMahon.

I thoroughly agree with Daniel McMahon’s conclusion: “A reading of the history of a town developing in a floodplain, and struggling to cope with the floods of 120 years suggests that there is a relationship between the river and the city, and that this has always been a changing relationship. Some balance can hopefully be found between the protection of the City of Santa Cruz from the San Lorenzo River, and the protection of the natural aspects of the river from the city.”

It seems to me a huge folly to establish a permanent human settlement in a flood plain, and then to increasingly armor that settlement each time it floods again. Once built, we’re largely locked into the logic of that infrastructure, and it becomes less and less likely that we will pivot to respect the logic of the land.

With catastrophic climate change happening now, globally and in Santa Cruz, we already live with “weather whiplash,” unprecedented proximity of wildfires, faster-than-modeled sea-level-rise, and intensified beach and cliff erosion. With downtown residents’ recent evacuation warning, West Cliff Drive crumbling into the sea, and the lucrative Steamers Lane losing cliff chunks, which logic will prevail?

A fortress isn’t going to save us from the changing climate. Managed retreat is the reasonable response, given that unmanaged retreat is the only other option.

To get involved with current river restoration work, contact:

Barbara Riverwoman, Protect Our River,, 831-346-8944

Jane Mio, The Estuary Project,

Coastal Watershed Council, Get involved, volunteer!

And don’t forget to keep reading those consent agendas, you never know what gems you’ll find!

Also on this week’s city council agenda:

So much for increased transparency, accountability, and participatory democracy under Mayor Keeley’s tenure! I guess from now on if we want to know the rationale behind councilmembers’ votes, we’ll have to remember to track down the meeting minutes two weeks later, instead of hearing their thoughts during the meeting or in the easily available online recording. This item also snugs up language around disruptions to council meetings.

Consent Agenda Item 10: Changes to the Councilmembers’ Handbook (CN)

The proposed resolution would amend the Councilmembers’ Handbook (on page 23 at “Remarks of Councilmembers Entered in Minutes”) so that it contains the following language: “In response to a roll call vote, Councilmembers shall respond with “yes”, “no”, or “I am disqualified.”

If a Councilmember wishes to have an abstract of their statements on any subject under consideration by the Council entered in the minutes, they may submit those statements in writing to the City Clerk Administrator within 48-hours after the relevant Council meeting ends, and those statements shall be included in the minutes.”

We also received the police chief’s terse responses to the auditor’s report, including a 2019 death in custody. I’ll keep saying it: we need a community police oversight body, not just a single independent auditor.

General Business Item 27: Response to 2021 Independent Police Auditor Report (PD)

In 2022 the Independent Police Auditor (IPA) presented its 2021 annual report to the Public Safety Committee (March 23, 2022) and City Council (August 23, 2022). The report addressed the IPA’s review of thirteen formally investigated public complaints, administrative investigations involving an in-custody death and a vehicle pursuit, and two other concerns regarding SCPD performance.

The report notes that many files reviewed reflect “thorough investigations and sound conclusions” but also outlines 26 recommendations to strengthen accountability systems, including ways that SCPD can improve investigation and review of critical incidents.

And in the budget adjustments, $35,000 for a new SCPD indoor shooting range? That amount of money could help at least 10 residents avoid eviction, access reproductive health care, or get seniors rides to appointments if it was shifted from the police budget to CORE funding for social services.

General Business Item 30.1 FY 2023 Budget Adjustments and Information

Joy Schendledecker is an artist, parent, and community organizer. She lives on the Westside of Santa Cruz with her husband, two teens, mother in law, and cats. She was a city of Santa Cruz mayoral candidate in 2022.


Becky had an accident and will return as soon as possible.

Becky Steinbruner is a 30+ year resident of Aptos. She has fought for water, fire, emergency preparedness, and for road repair. She ran for Second District County Supervisor in 2016 on a shoestring and got nearly 20% of the votes. She ran again in 2020 on a slightly bigger shoestring and got 1/3 of the votes.

Email Becky at

February 13


Margaret Warriner Buck, artist; from The Wild Flowers of California; by Mary Elizabeth Parsons; 1916

Pink-red tassels catch your eye from sunlit patches of forest or woodland edge. Hummingbird wings buzz loudly as battling birds chirp sharply, guarding the precious earliest spring nectar from spectacular pendulous flower clusters. Hiking to get closer, you catch a sweet resinous scent in the gentle breeze. Long ago, this plant was called ‘incense shrub.’

You may recall from my early January column that I am challenging readers each month of 2023 to learn about and seek out one impressive flowering plant each month. As February’s flower, I am naming flowering currant, a shrub that is mysteriously not easy to find, but one that has many good stories. This plant ought to be considered akin to backyard bird feeders – there are always so many things showing up to interact with these colorful shrubs that it is a ‘must have’ for any good viewing space from living room windows.

Highlight in the Garden

Flowering currants are easy to grow and a very rewarding garden plant. Once established, they don’t need any irrigation. It’s not a favorite of deer or gophers. And, although winter deciduous, it is a great summer hedge plant. Because it flowers so early, it brings color to the garden when little else is in bloom. The bright pink flower display can complement the simultaneous flowering yellows of daffodil, acacia, and Jerusalem sage. Together, these flowers brighten the early spring. Even out of bloom, the scent of flowering currant’s resinous leaves is alluring and memorable.


In the garden Plant Hunters seek out unusual forms of species, or odd-ball types that work more spectacularly in gardens. The collector, or the horticulturalist they work with, get to name the “cultivar” and hope that their legacy is maintained in the horticultural trade. Those plant hunters have had particularly good luck introducing forms of flowering currants…because this shrub has long been such a popular garden plant. So, there are many named cultivars…

‘King Edward VII’ has the darkest pink flowers of any cultivar of flowering currant. On the other end of the color spectrum is ‘Ubric’ or ‘White Icicle,’ pure white flowering forms.  ‘Inverness White’ is a white-flowering form that fades to pink as the flowers age. ‘Claremont’ is a typical pink flowering form but has unusually long, full flower clusters. Other cultivars are ‘Elk River,’ ‘Pokey’s Pink,’ and ‘Pulborough Scarlet.’ I bet there are even more; one day, there’ll be ‘heritage’ varieties that someone has to rescue from near extinction.


Unlike many popular horticultural native shrubs (manzanita, Ceanothus), flowering currants live longer and do not produce as much dead wood as quickly. Still, you’ll want to trim out bigger stems as they get to be 10 years old or so, because older branches die. Each shrub normally continuously sprouts new, more vibrant stems from the base, so keep some of those when thinning out older wood. If you want more blossoms next year, the recommendation is to prune back older growth right after flowering – this triggers side branch development: doing so though will eliminate the berry production that birds so enjoy (more on this below). Flowering currants are a pruner’s delight- they are very amenable to shaping.

Raising Butterflies

By growing flowering currants, you will be raising several types of moths and butterflies that feed on the leaves as larvae. If you are lucky, you will attract the giant, velvety red-brown (with striking silver highlights) Ceanothus silkworm butterfly to lay eggs on your currants. Adults are as big as your hand! I took the photo of an individual on a barn along Swanton Road.

The curiously scalloped-winged satyr comma may also appear- this one is bright orange with black patterns. A smaller, duller orange butterfly, the tailed copper, also feeds on flowering currant as a caterpillar. There may be more in the lineup of currant-feeding butterflies. When people ask, ‘why grow native plants?’ I say, ‘because they host native insects, which feed native birds.’ Western bluebirds’ favorite food are caterpillars.

Hummingbirds and Bumblebees

Anna’s hummingbirds are our only winter season hummingbird species. They need nectar year-round, and that supply is not always easy for them to find in February. When flowering currants first burst into bloom, Anna’s hummingbirds must rejoice. At this same time of year, they are feeding on manzanita blossoms, which are nearly simultaneously flowering…way up on the ridge lines, normally far from flowering currant. I wonder if Anna’s hummingbirds zip to and fro between those patches of nectar-rich flowers?

Bumblebees also love flowering currants. There is a particularly large bumblebee that comes out early each season. I suppose that their body mass allows them to be more comfortable during the short, cooler days of February – I don’t see other kinds for a few weeks. When flowering currants first blossom, these huge bumbles bomb about, klutzily bumping into flowering currant blossom clusters, noisily feeding. After the flower clusters elongate and only the last half of the cluster is in bloom (at the tips), other bumblebees – and many other pollinators – are emerging and showing up for currant nectar.

Berry Bonanza

I don’t enjoy the insipid taste of the shiny, black, juicy flowering currant berries, but other things do. The berries are most popular with robins. Robins can’t resist them, but robins are jumpy. If you plant flowering currants near your door, some poor robin is going to panic and fly away from your currant bush fast, whenever you go outside during the day. I imagine that they get stomach cramps from so much exercise with such full bellies. Black headed grosbeaks also very much enjoy flowering currant fruits. In other words, if you grow one of these shrubs, you are growing a backyard bird feeder for big, beautiful berry eating birds.

Resilient Shrub

When your landscape catches fire. One thing I learned (the hard way) is which plants live and which ones die in a wildfire. Flowering currant (mostly) resprouts after burning, as long as it doesn’t really roast. Same goes for native hazelnut, by the way: not so much for ceanothus. I’m hoping more people are thinking about what to plant that can weather wildfire and return without replanting. From iNaturalist, I notice that flowering currants are spreading from places of obvious introduction, like around the UCSC Arboretum/Farm. So, you might start a node of invasion into the wildlands from your planting place.

Where to Look

I looked at iNaturalist locations as well as herbarium specimens on record through the CalFlora website, and those confirm my impression that this flowering shrub isn’t easy to find. Perhaps flowering currants were eradicated in the push to address an invasive pathogen that infects 5-needle pines, white pine blister rust, which it hosts. Some of the more major drainages have populations – along the San Lorenzo, Butano Creek, and Soquel Creek, for instance. The flowers should stand out from a distance – go have a look!

Other February Flowers

I had a hard time deciding what would be the feature flower of February. I had previously written of some likely suspects. Taken at landscape average, brittle leaf manzanita will enter peak bloom in February; but I previously wrote about that one‘s habitat. Milk maids, hound’s tongue, understory violets, and redwood sorrel are also flowering in February; I wrote about those already here.

Grey Hayes is a fervent speaker for all things wild, and his occupations have included land stewardship with UC Natural Reserves, large-scale monitoring and strategic planning with The Nature Conservancy, professional education with the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, and teaching undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz. Visit his website at:

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February 13

#44 / David Brooks And The “Bright-icize” Bias

On the left is New York Times’ columnist David Brooks. On the right is Peter Marks, one of Brooks’ dearest, long-term friends. Marks, in fact, was a friend that Brooks knew from the time that Brooks and Marks were both eleven years old.Today, Brooks is sixty-one.

In its February 12, 2023, edition, The Times printed a heart-rending column about the friendship between Brooks and Marks. The title of Brooks’ column was, “How Do You Serve A Friend in Despair?” Brooks’ column reported on the death of Marks, by suicide, after a long struggle with depression. If The Times’ paywall prevents you from using the link above to read the column, you might try this link as an alternative.

One of Brooks’ phrases struck me. Telling his readers that he “did not understand the seriousness of the situation,” Brooks confessed to a temperamental bias. “Some people catastrophize and imagine the worst,” Brooks said, but Brooks reports that he does the opposite: “I tend to bright-icize.”

One lesson I draw from Brooks’ column is that trying to “bright-icize” things for persons who are battling depression is probably not a helpful strategy. The problem, of course, is to figure out some other strategy that might be more effective. Unfortunately, Brooks’ column doesn’t offer up any real help, which I was hoping it might, since I have had, and I do have, friends who are struggling with depression and despair, just as Marks did.

I had a more general reaction to Brooks’ discussion, as well – and particularly to his reflection about his tendency to “bright-icize” things. It strikes me that many of us do what Brooks reports: we “bright-icize” events. We provide (to ourselves and others, but to ourselves, above all) the most “positive” possible interpretation of events and circumstances. That is a technique and tactic that we use to avoid an otherwise inevitable confrontation with the truly difficult and oppressing realities that we routinely encounter. Of course, we also, sometimes, embrace the exact opposite tendency, finding a way to engage in “doomscrolling,” bringing to the forefront all the “negatives,” as we contemplate the realities of our lives, and of the world in which we live.

I would like to suggest that we need to avoid BOTH tendencies.

The “bright-icize” bias, conveyed to friends and acquaintances who are trying to deal with genuinely oppressive realities might push them in exactly the wrong direction. Similarly, rehearsing all the horrible realities of our existence, and projecting the “doom” that may shortly fall upon us, poses exactly the same danger. And it is we, of course, not just our friends and acquaintances, who are put at risk by both the “bright-icize” and the “doomscrolling” bias.

The last line of a favorite Bob Dylan song popped immediately into my mind, as I considered the importance of avoiding both tendencies just discussed. “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” is the song I’m talking about, and here’s the last verse:

If my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only

Click the link above if you want the complete lyrics. You can listen to Dylan sing the song by clicking on the link, below. For what it’s worth, I do think that Dylan provides us with some pretty good advice in his song. We are here. We are alive, and why and how that’s true is just a mystery we can never fathom. Neither bemoaning our fate, or “bright-icizing” it, is anything but an effort to ward off accepting the life we actually have, whatever it is, unasked for as it was.

Every one of us, I think, can understand the reason we try to dodge the actual realities of the life in which we find ourselves. And this is true whether our natural tendency is towards a “bright side” or a “dark side” bias.

Times are bad. And they’re golden, too. Same for me, as it is for you. We can see life as a blessing, or a burden if we choose. We can try to avoid what life presents us, or be devoted to the news. We can contemplate the darkness, or try to conjure up the light, but it’s life, and life only. Bob Dylan has it right.

Gary Patton is a former Santa Cruz County Supervisor (20 years) and an attorney for individuals and community groups on land use and environmental issues. The opinions expressed are Mr. Patton’s. You can read and subscribe to his daily blog at

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February 13

Dale will return next week

Dale Matlock, a Santa Cruz County resident since 1968, is the former owner of The Print Gallery, a screenprinting establishment. He is an adherent of The George Vermosky school of journalism, and a follower of too many news shows, newspapers, and political publications, and a some-time resident of Moloka’i, Hawaii, U.S.A., serving on the Board of Directors of Kepuhi Beach Resort. Email:


EAGAN’S SUBCONSCIOUS COMICS. View classic inner view ideas and thoughts with Subconscious Comics a few flips down.

EAGAN’S DEEP COVER. See Eagan’s “Deep Cover” down a few pages. As always, at you will find his most recent  Deep Cover, the latest installment from the archives of Subconscious Comics, and the ever entertaining Eaganblog.


“Babies don’t need a vacation, but I still see them at the beach… it pisses me off! I’ll go over to a little baby and say ‘What are you doing here? You haven’t worked a day in your life!’
~Steven Wright

“A man should never wear shorts in the city. Flip-flops and shorts in the city are never appropriate. Shorts should only be worn on the tennis court or on the beach”.     
~Tom Ford

“Sometimes ideas are coming so fast that I have to stop doing one song to get another. But I don’t forget the first one. If it works, it will always be there. It’s like the truth: it will find you and lift you up. And if it ain’t right, it will dissolve like sand on the beach”. 

“Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war”.    
~Loren Eiseley


This week I am in Lake Havasu City, AZ for a pyrotechnics convention. It’s called Western Winter Blast, and has been happening for 34 years now. This video is from 2019 (I was here then as well). Enjoy!

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