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Road to Destruction

This Earth Day, raise a middle finger to CalTrans

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Look, I know they're called CalTrans, and I know their name doesn't stand for "Caring Always, Loving the Rain and Noble Soil." They're in the business of roads, which by their nature pave paradise.

But CalTrans has a problem, and since it's that time of year when the words "Earth Day" appear so cheerfully in marketing materials but not as often as they should in indictments of public agencies, let's look at CalTrans' relationship with the environment right now.

First came Rachel Dovey's report in the Bohemian, in January, about the dozens of redwood trees cut down recently along Highway 101. Rather than protecting the redwoods, CalTrans promoted their removal by allowing the job contractor, Ghilotti Construction, to take possession of and sell the trees for a profit. In fact, Ghilotti was able to pocket $98,000 by selling 200 of the logs back to a public agency—the county of Sonoma. How can a private company profit from removing, then selling, public property? Because, in the words of a county planner, CalTrans classifies redwood trees as "debris."

Then, at the beginning of April, CalTrans called on a CHP SWAT unit to forcibly remove five tree-sitters protesting the Willits bypass, a project with assured environmental impacts. At dawn, the SWAT officers used cherry pickers and lead bean-bag bullets to extract the protesters from the trees and arrest them, despite there being mediation talks planned with state leaders over the project.

And last week, CalTrans netting along the Petaluma River bridge on Highway 101 was found to have ensnared and killed over a hundred cliff swallows, a protected species. Sebastopol's Veronica Bowers of Native Songbird Care and Conservation alerted the agency one month ago to the issue, but despite a rising chorus of protest and filmed documentation of the birds' twisted necks and wings caught in the netting—killing them dead, dead, dead—CalTrans has repeatedly refused to remove the nets.

Yes, CalTrans is in the business of roads—those things that help with forward motion. Would that the agency overseeing them could embrace some forward thinking as well.

Gabe Meline is the editor of this paper.

Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, send it to openmic@bohemian.com.

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