Thursday, May 6, 2010

Encinitas Hosts Environmental Film Festival, Street Side

The Downtown Encinitas Mainstreet Association, DEMA, just kicked off its environmental film festival for the summer this evening. On the first Thursday for the next 3 months, films with an environmental topic will be shown right in the center of downtown Encinitas.

The temporary screen is setup in the parking lot of the smog check station right next to the sidewalk and busy highway 101, in the path of walkers, runners, and the inebriated going to 1st street bar. All these people including the watchers are able to participate in the dialogue created by the film, which is the incredible thing about this activity; total exposure to the entire community. WELL DONE!

The film tonight was called Food Inc., which goes into detail of the food industry of the US. Without going too far into summarizing the movie, I’ll just say that it really highlights the power just a few companies have the US government and its citizens.

Watch the trailer if you’re so inclined:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Southern California's Drought Is not over...yet

Last week’s series of storms in Southern California broke records, brought massive amounts of rain, and stirred thoughts that the 3 year drought in California my soon be over.

Not so fast! These statistics may or may not signal a recovery for California:

- As of January 23rd, San Diego’s reservoirs were at 49% capacity, only a 2% increase since the start of the storm.

- Experts are hoping that this years strengthened El Niño will bring above average precipitation to recharge the reservoirs of California. Snow pack in the sierras, which delays run off until spring, must be at least 120% by the season’s end to relieve our drought condition. Currently they are at 109% their average for this time in the season.

- Year to date rainfalls totals for San Diego are 5.7 which is a little less than an inch (.90”) of rain over the average, 3.3” came from the last stome, which signals that this winter has been as dry as previous winters.

- El Niño causes wet springs, late in California’s rainy season, so we may be in for more wet weather!

Meteorologists will be able to assess whether we are still in a drought condition on April 1, so until then, Mandatory conservation of water is in effect. Here is a link detailing conservation efforts that everybody must follow:

Finally, take a look at the south western portion of the United States in these maps. They show the drought severity index every week. Notice how our area has changed from yellow to green, showing a positive movement toward ending the drought.

Week ending January 14, 2010

Week Ending January 23, 2010


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Bridges over Maple Canyon

Not to be confused with the Bridges of Madison County, and probably not as emotional, are the bridges over Maple Canyon near downtown San Diego. As with the canyon, both bridges are historic and date back to the early 1900s.

The Quince Street bridge is a popular pedestrian trestle and links Balboa Park to the neighborhood across the canyon. It was built in 1905, was closed and faced demolition in 1987 because of termite damage, and reopened in 1990 thanks to local activist Elinore Meadows who organized a movement to declare the bridge a historic landmark, enabling funds for its renovation. Today, it still provides important linkages for pedestrians and runners, and is a great backdrop for photographers wishing to grasp historic San Diego.

Image 1: Quince Street Bridge

Image 2: Quince Street Bridge entrance on 5th ave.

The First Avenue Bridge is a steel arch bridge and is currently being retrofitted to prevent collapse during a catastrophic earthquake. Despite the added support, the bridge will be returned to its original look complete with replacement of new guard-rails and, street lights and painted its original bronze color. The reuse of the bridge and environmentally sensitive construction footprint make this project a candidate for a good sustainable project.

Image 3: Construction Information Sign

Image 4: The scaffolding and plastic sheating is being removed, marking the end of structural construction.

For more information see these links:

Monday, June 29, 2009

Designing on the Edge in Southern California

As California’s population increases, pressures from traditional suburban development threaten adjacent natural environments. Even during these economic times, this state is still adding one person per minute, so there will always be a need for housing, jobs, infrastructure and continuous growth. Infill development should be stressed, but unfortunately new development in undeveloped areas will have to occur to accommodate the growing population.

The real question is: What will these developments look like and how can we minimize our footprint on the natural environment?

Last week, the Urban Land Institute of Orange County hosted a charette to explore edge development. Over 50 professionals from the development, design, and environmental fields participated to produce a new vision for future development. Discussions and topics ranged from wildlife habitat, wildfires, community agriculture, sustainable living, local production, reducing vmt (vehicle miles traveled), and social equality as the group was divided into 4 teams.

Each team was given a site on the edge of urban/suburban development and had to come up with a rational plan that considered all of these topics.
The sites varied in size, terrain and context, but the results were mostly the same.

Located on our group’s site was a National Wildlife Refuge and estuary so we had to be extremely sensitive to this area. We decided to expand the wetland and create fingers of open space, which could also be used by the people living there. We were able to provide and expand habitat while still creating an urban development consisting of various residential types, village centers, high end jobs, and localized food and energy production.

While very impressed by the collaborative effort of all the different professions, I was a little concerned that the natural landscape was not really considered in a few groups. Some groups created a very nice ‘sustainable’ village, but completely disregarded the idea of the charette to blend the natural environment with the human environment and minimize our impact
Below are a couple pictures of our group in action.

Image 1: begining of our group session, identifying values.

Image 2: Concept ideas for the development of our site.

A New Vision for Edge Development in Southern California
Innovations Workshop
ULI of Orange County

June 25 and 26, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

High School Field Lab with no Educational Value

The San Dieguito Union High School District values saving money more than its student’s education.

Enrollment growth didn’t meet expectations, so the district is now currently paying over $130,000 a year in fees back to the government for an empty lot in La Costa Valley because the district has not been using the land it purchased 10 years ago as a middle school, its original purpose.

So, instead of continuing to pay this fee, the district decided to build a small educational facility there consisting of a black top, a shade structure, and a storage shed, to make it an outdoor field lab. As long as some education is taking place at the site, the fee no longer needs to be paid. The idea is that students will use this facility to survey the site and learn about their natural local environment.

Great idea! Sort of….

10 years ago, the 4 acre site was graded into two levels so it could be ready to be built when needed, one level 20 feet above the other. What remains now is an open grassland of non-native annual grasses, a few Coyote Bushes, some California Sage, and maybe a few patches of ice plant. Little bio-diversity.

The site, while this is an intrinsically beautiful site in its recovery to a naturalized state, is not much of an educational opportunity for high school students. Wouldn’t it be better to send classes to a local lagoon or preserve that hasn’t been flattened and removed of all native life? This lack of educational opportunity is not justified by saving the district money.

However, this response is better than the original idea for the site. For now the site will remain an open space in the middle of a dense suburban development instead of an intensive use educational facility, a win for the preservationists and wildlife using the site!

Image 1: Lower half of the two tiered site.

Image 2: Facility where students conduct their work? Not exactly sure.

Image 3: Maybe it is a detention facility for all the kids who act out.

Monday, May 18, 2009

San Elijo Lagoon Mouth Opening

Last week, dredging of the San Elijo Lagoon mouth began in an effort to increase the tidal flow from the ocean. Overtime, sediment from the 77 square mile watershed collects in the lagoon and lagoon mouth, so periodic dredging is required to maintain a balance of fresh and salt water. The mouth is dredged once every few years.

Image 1: panorama of lagoon mouth at Highway 101 (click for larger image)

The process to dredge the lagoon mouth is very involved and requires heavy machinery. The tidal flow is stopped for several days by plugging up the lagoon with sand so the flow of water won’t interrupt construction. This means that the lagoon isn’t being flushed with salt water twice a day by the high tides, so the health of the estuary is compromised during this process. However, the sand removal only takes a few days so this project will enhance the health of the lagoon in the long run.

Image 2: barrier created so the equipment can move the dirt.

Image 3: Heavy equipment used to move sand and sediment.

Image 4: The sand is placed on the beach to be distributed by the waves.

Image 5: Lagoon mouth plugged up on east side of 101.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Solar Tree Parking Garage Installations at UCSD

As a part of UCSD’s sustainability initiative, Solar Trees designed by Envision Solar have been installed on top of two parking garages on campus. According to Envision, each of the Solar Trees, which use Kyocera photovoltaic modules, will generate "17,000 hours of clean energy per year, which is enough to power more than four single-family homes," which equates to 13.2 metric tons of carbon emissions per year.

Image 1: Panels placed atop parking garage near Rimac Arena, UCSD

These solar trees are big enough and are placed to provide convenient shade to park in. They have one central trunk and have 4 ‘limbs’, which support the solar panel plane. They were developed by Envision Solar with a partnership through Kyocera for a prototype parking lot in Kearny Mesa in an effort to make San Diego a leading region for Solar Power and green energy. These installations at UCSD are the most recent use of the prototype.

In 2008 UCSD adopted a new Environment and Sustainability Initiative with the goal of becoming the greenest university in the US. Photovaultaic panels installed on most campus roofs, other forms of clean energy such as wind and biogas fuel cells will soon create 7.4 megawatts of electricy which is approximately 10 – 15% of it’s annual energy use.

Three partners are working with the university on the solar photovoltaic project. Borrego Solar, Inc., a national solar power contractor based in El Cajon, Calif., is the installer; Envision Solar, Inc., of San Diego, designer of the solar “trees” that will be built on top of UC San Diego parking structures, also is involved. Solar Power Partners (SPP™), Inc., of Mill Valley, Calif., is the financier and owner of the solar photovoltaic arrays.

Image 2: cross section of tree with cars parked under.... too bad it is cloudy today

Image 3: view from above parking lot . (photo credit)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Opening Day at the San Elijo Lagon Nature Center

Image 1: Nature Center facing west

Image 2: Panorama of Nature Center facing the lagoon. Click image for larger vie

In much anticipation, the San Elijo Lagoon Nature Center opened on January 31, 2009. An all day event took place to celebrate the opening of the new building, attracting a couple thousand people. People from all over the community including bird enthusiasts, lagoon docents, wildlife experts, and Native American specialists came together to show the building and the lagoon to families and visiting public.

Downstairs, the building contains exhibits which teach about the Escondido creek and watershed which feeds the lagoon, the Kumeyaay Native Americans local to the area, and the electricity which is generated by the building’s photovaultaic panels. Upstairs there is a large meeting room, a large balcony with a panoramic view of the lagoon, a green roof, and an area on the balcony shaded by the PV panels.

Despite all the green features included in the design, the building stands as an even greater symbol of ecological preservation. On Saturday, it seemed to bring the community together in support of estuaries like the San Elijo Lagoon. As time goes on this building will continue to attract people to the lagoon and educate them about their local habitat.

Image 3: View from parking lot. PV panels shade a large portion of the balcony on the 2nd story.

Image 4: Undulating roof and window facade interacts with native vegetation

Image 5: Vegetated roof on second story.

Image 6: Exhibit room on first floor.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Nix Nature Center, Laguna Wilderness Park

The Nix Nature Center is a modest building built to educate people about their local wilderness and wildlife. It is located on Highway 133, east of Laguna Beach and has hiking trails into the surrounding canyons and ridges. The Nature Center was completed in 2006, cost 3.4 million dollars.

Image 1

Nix Nature center during spring with lots of wildflowers in the foreground

The building is designed by Roesling Nakamura Terada Architects, and the landscape is designed by Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects, and responds to the natural features of the landscape by framing views, and maintaining a small footprint on the land.

Image 2: Framed View of Saddleback Mountain, which can be seen from all over Orange County

Image 3: framed view of nearby hill and Little Sycamore Canyon

Sustainable elements:

- Building oriented in solar direction, with windows to the east.

Image 4: The nature center in the afternoon, shaded and protected from he sun.

- Rammed Earth (hopefully onsite local):

Image 5: Rammed earth wall on the west side of the building. It is very thick and protects the building from the heat.

- Rain-water collecting. The cistern is not visible, so it must be underground. I can’t imagine that it collects much water in this climate.

Image 6: the roof slants inward to collect water. The water goes into a cistern underground.

- Minimal footprint on the land, raised decks and board walks over sensitive areas.

Image 7: Raised decks above surrounding land allows water to run underneath.

Building as a symbol and trail head

I was not very impressed by the educational aspects inside the building. Yes, the exhibits are for kids, but there was no cohesion and fluidity, so it was difficult to understand the overall concept of the exhibits. The building seems to be more of a symbol for the Laguna Wilderness Park which is successful in attracting visitors to the park in droves.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Cottonwood Creek Park, Encinitas

Cottonwood creek park is the newest park in Encinitas, finished in May 2004. It was built on an empty parcel of land in downtown Encinitas used for storage and truck parking for the works department. Cottonwood Creek, a historic creek that allowed for the development of early Encinitas, was located in a 96” pipe underneath the property. In an effort to improve the water quality, the City of Encinitas re-surfaced the creek and built an 8-acre passive recreation park, designed by award winning Landscape Architecure firm Schmidt Design Inc.

Creek Resurfacing:

The creek emerges from underneath Encinitas Boulevard and first flows into a sedimentation pond. This is where all the impurities in the water can settle into the mud of the, once the water leaves the pond it flows for 600 feet over boulders through Willows, Cottonwoods, Sycamores and other native Californian rushes. This process helps aerate the water and clean it further. The natural daylight also gives a chance for the unwanted bacteria, which were very prevalent in the underground creek, to die.

Image 1: Sedimentation pond.

Improved Water Quality:

The quality of water that comes out of the creek onto Moonlight Beach has improved greatly since the park has been built, according to Heal The Bay, a Southern California non profit which determines water quality at beaches. The water quality has been tested at Moonlight Beach since 2002, and there is a notable improvement in 2004 when the park was finished and water began flowing through the resurfaced creek.

Image 2: Interpretive signs inform the public about how the creek cleans the water.

Permeable Paving:

The park also minimized runoff by paving most surfaces with permeable paving. All pedestrian paths are made with decomposed granite, which also allows water to filter through. The parking lot is made of a concrete which allows most water to pass through. The water that does run off the parking lot, runs through a series of gutters filled with large stones to slow the water before it enters the creek.

Image 3: most of the paving surfaces at the park.

Pedestrian Trails:

This park also provides crucial linkages and paths for pedestrians, bicyclists, and runners to get around the city. These paths encourage people to walk and exercise from Leucadia to downtown Encinitas. Pedestrians can also take a slight detour through the park instead of walking along busy Encinitas Boulevard. Paths such as this improve the quality of life for the residents of Encinitas and contribute to the social sustainability of Encinitas.

Image 4: Pedestrian access to adjacent neighborhood, notice the DG handicap ramp on the left.

Image 5: Picture taken when the park was just finished in 2004

Image 6: Picture from the same location, vegetation grown in 4 years later.

Image 7: cool detail, cobble-stone gutter that slows the water down before it enters the creek.