Save Siesta Valley – Stop the Planting

After surveying Siesta Valley and finding it to have more species of native plants than anywhere else in the area, instead of protecting it as a botanical benchmark and the best-preserved remnant of Berkeley Hills ecology we have, the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) then inexplicably embarked on a massive, unprecedented, and unbounded campaign to add native plants to wildlands as part of its Skyline Gardens Project. The planting, which has yet to be entirely disclosed, is a complete departure from best management practices, and nothing comparable has been undertaken in other public lands, such as those managed by the East Bay Regional Park District, California State Parks, nor the National Park Service.

The planting began in approximately 2017, and over successive years has involved at least tens of species and hundreds of plants thus far. It’s impossible for this witness to report more specifically because EBMUD has not only been unforthcoming about the planting, but repeatedly outright deceptive. The planting was originally represented as integral to an established restoration method, that of sisters Joan and Eileen Bradley. However, that proved to be untrue as the Bradley method explicitly disavows planting, instead relying on sprouting from the in situ native seed bank. EBMUD then represented that the planting was supported by staff at the University of California at Berkeley; however, this too has proven untrue. Most recently, among other issues in a Feb. 2021 report explicitly identified as “complete”, EBMUD represented that 338 plants had been added in total, even while a single 2018 blog entry documents 600 plants being added — on that occasion alone,

As the record of communication included here attests, this member of the public has made every reasonable effort to engage EBMUD, which has now evidently resorted to stonewalling, in direct contradiction to its prominently claimed mission statement principle to “Ensure fair and open processes involving the public,”
(archived page, archived Board)

In light of EBMUD’s intransigence and betrayal of its mission statement “to preserve and protect the environment for future generations,” the information here is being posted as both public alert and historic record of how EBMUD has managed the public’s land, along with the supporting record of communication and related documentation, so people know what has happened in Siesta Valley and how. The public has a right to know essential facts about the disposition of its resources:

  • What is the actual total of species planted and plants added?
  • What are the minimum academic qualifications of persons doing the surveys that inform the planting? How do they compare to the qualifications typical of those surveying for other EBMUD projects?
  • What is the plan for planting? What science is it based on? Who made this plan? What are their academic qualifications?
  • What is the monitoring program for plants already added? What is the monitoring data thus accrued, including plant census data?
  • By what criteria will the addition of plants be complete, if ever?

I have also raised additional concerns in the course of communication with EBMUD, as reflected, such as the impact of EBMUD’s reliance on volunteer labor and decision making, that despite claims of “restoration” the pattern of planting has actually been creating a trailside botanic garden, that use of the name “gardens” fosters expectations and practices of reshaping that are contrary to preservation, and the irrational disposition of resources given that other areas nearby actually warrant restorative intervention.

I have also pointed out, for example, that EBMUD’s planting of locally novel colonies of native wildflowers has been contrary to California Native Plant Society (CNPS) policy, which directs that added wildflowers should reflect surrounding flora,

However, EBMUD has shown no concern nor even curiosity about CNPS conservation policies and adherence thereto. EBMUD has also demonstrated no interest in the local CNPS chapter’s values, such as a grounding in science,

Furthermore, if the public is donating the integrity of its best ecology and irreplaceable natural history to experiments in land management, then it should at least be gaining applicable science for its sacrifice, but no indication of such has been presented.

Why would bona fide public land management methods be shrouded in obscurantism, secrecy, and deception anyway?

On a planet whose most successful species ever now blithely toys with irrevocable precipices of the climatic and biological global order, the last thing we need is more willful blindness to the impacts we’re actually having on the yet-to-be-fathomed comforts and beauty of the home Providence placed in our hands.

Eric Neville
2 July 2021

Please be advised that this posting is a single entry for the benefit of public reference. I cannot offer at this point to manage a continually updated source of information.

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