Prologue

Writing about anything other than support for the Black Lives Matter protests or efforts to save our democracy by dismantling the Republican party – can we call them an “anti-party’? Because they are not fun – suggests priorities may be misplaced, but today I shall refute either/or and embrace both/and by donating to the Louisville Community Bail Fund, ordering election postcards from the Sunrise Movement and sharing scenes from the Samoa peninsula (where I live, surf and walk along the beach) that have me rather disheartened.


1

I rode my bike for the third time since retrieving it from San Francisco, where it lived pre-pandemic. As with every time I ride my bike from my home in “the other” Manila, ancestral and current home of the Wiyot Tribe, I marveled at the beauty of Humboldt Bay and scowled at the lack of safe biking options. To ride a bike from my neighborhood requires riding on the highway and, if heading to Eureka, over the bridges as cars and semi-trucks roar by, sometimes what feels like an arm’s length away. Pedaling toward Arcata allows you to break up the highway route by detouring through neighborhoods or farmlands, trading greater safety for bone-rattling, pothole-filled roads in disrepair.

Of course, if you live on the peninsula, you’ve learned not to expect much in the way of safe bike or pedestrian routes, public transit, law enforcement or mobile services. In the 18 years I’ve lived here, the bus has continued to show up at the stop on my driveway only a few times a day, several hours apart, and not at all in the towns farther south. I hear that with Danco building a bunch of housing and finally moving its Samoa Master Plan forward, some amenities will follow. I guess that’s good? From what’s been published about Danco’s stewardship of the area, the community might have preferred county improvements to depending on a commercial venture.

2

Illegal dumping on the spit is nothing novel – people have been tossing out their household garbage and abandoning vehicles here for decades. But this year brought something new: long-term illegal camping and all the problems related to people living in a place without water, sewer or trash pick-up. Making villains out of homeless people is not my jam – the stress of having nowhere to go, the amount of insecurity one must live with daily, hourly, the often parallel struggles with addiction and mental health issues – I do not want to make anyone’s suffering more profound.

Ignoring the inherent social-environmental conflict of having people parking, driving, pissing, shitting and piling trash in the dunes, however, is doing no one any favors. People need to be helped. This Sept. 6 Times-Standard My Word column by a collective of community members offers several steps the county should take to help those who’ve lost their homes and need help.

It also happens that coastal dunes are considered one of the most rare, important and vulnerable habitats on the California coast and defined categorically by the California Coastal Commission as “environmentally sensitive” due to the rarity of the habitat and the important ecosystem functions dunes provide. Dunes and wetlands offer some of our best protection as sea levels continue to rise – and with water levels in Humboldt Bay rising at twice the state average, we should be doubling protection and restoration efforts, not abandoning this critical area.

To her credit, Supervisor Virginia Bass has been active in working with peninsula residents and Humboldt nonprofits to figure out how the county can help. (My letter to her and Supervisor Mike Wilson here.) Some of what’s proposed, strategically placed Porta-Potties, for example, are compassionate, but expected to be temporary – and with the COVID-19 pandemic, Porta-Potties are in short supply, so even that temporary solution is on hold.

For a while the county provided vouchers good for a couple free nights at county-managed campgrounds, including the one at the Samoa boat ramp. The pandemic also complicated that effort, as campgrounds were closed, and the program is no longer in effect in any case.

A recent “Trash Bash” event sponsored by the extremely helpful Peninsula Community Collaborative resulted in five dumpsters’ worth of garbage being hauled out and a bunch of handmade, extremely DIY signs imploring people to keep the beach clean and stop driving illegally through the dunes and on the sand. In my near-daily excursions up and down Old Navy Base Road, I’ve observed the signs have remained in place. Sadly, so have the cars parked in dune hollows – and the piles of trash have already returned.

The county’s next move will be to install more “No Parking” signs along the spit, making more clear the prohibition against parking along Old Navy Base Road between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., as well as installing boulders and logs to prevent vehicles from driving into the dunes or onto the sand. (Unless you acquire a special permit from the county, the only place to legally drive on the beach along the peninsula is the Bureau of Land Management off-road vehicle park at the south end.)

Epilogue

It’s not all bad.

The Peninsula Community Collaborate has elevated art on the peninsula by hiring artists to transform boring old water vaults into cool and pretty murals, and by coordinating a show out at the Humboldt Bay Social Club to showcase peninsula artists (still time to check it out!).

The EPA has committed $300K to cleaning up toxic waste at the old pulp mill site.

Friends of the Dunes is in the process of acquiring the Samoa Dunes and Wetlands Conservation Property (a.k.a. the Dog Ranch and Poovey Tract). The addition of this area to other protected coastal lands (Ma-le’l and Lamphere Dunes) on the north end of Manila will create a continuous connected area of more than 1,600 acres of sweeping native dunes managed for habitat conservation and public access. 

The Humboldt jetties are being repaired.

People magazine highlighted Lark Doolan, principal and superintendent of the Peninsula Union School District in Samoa, and the first and only openly transgender school superintendent in the nation.

Sunset off the spit