Keep the good things at Buena Vista Park

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on MAY 6, 2016:

Santa Maria is trying to make Buena Vista Park, it’s oldest, a kinder and more beautiful place. Although officials have some things right, the overall plan of taking out the historic bell-shaped walkway, basketball courts and picnic tables leaves much to be desired.

A sidewalk and concrete circle installed in the 1970s portrays the El Camino Real bell. The shape works well with the circle in the center, and the sides of the bells opening out to the east. The circle should become a central area for events. Real bells like those on the highway and other features should be added to embrace the history of the park.

The site also has four half-courts for basketball. They are in good shape except for some hairline cracks. No one complains about them. They get a lot of use, yet the city plans to tear them out because there are too many people congregating there. Isn’t that a sign of success?

We need to plan for all age groups — toddlers, young children, teens, young adults, mature adults and seniors, as well as those with disabilities.

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Retain views from ancestral riverbank

This op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published on Friday, April 8, 2016 in the Santa Maria Times:

The city of Santa Maria is about to give up one of the last beautiful views remaining in the valley — the view from the ancestral riverbank along Betteravia Road between Highway 101 and College Drive.

The sharp incline of 20-30 feet that still partially exists from the freeway all the way out to Blosser Road shows where the river once flowed. Here and there, the top of this escarpment provides views of the valley, Nipomo Mesa and the Sierra Madre, which are not available elsewhere in the city.

The city should ensure that developments are designed to protect those views. There should be hiking trails and benches along the escarpment, allowing continued enjoyment of the view after the land now covered in broccoli and other row crops is covered by buildings and parking lots.

Instead, the city is in the process of approving a development that will cover the upper area of the escarpment with commercial buildings and parking between the freeway and College Drive.

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Locals help turn lives around, and more

This "Forward View" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Lompoc Record on March 30, 2016:

and in the Santa Maria Times on March 30, 2016:

Chuck Madson moved to Lompoc after being released from the California Department of Corrections. Struggling with addiction and effects of incarceration, Chuck connected with Coast Valley Substance Abuse Treatment Center and then was hired as an adolescent counselor.

With the support of Pastor Craig Hamlin and his son, Matt, Madson’s dream of giving back to the community was realized through projects such as Miracle House Men's Home, Feed Lompoc Food Distributions, Pay It Forward Thrifts and Gifts Store, Recovery Day in the Park, and Lompoc Community Meeting. Most of Madson’s work has been with thousands of clients in CVSATC.

Santa Barbara County Action Network will present Madson with the Looking Forward Award during the 2016 North County Looking Forward Awards Dinner on Sunday, May 22, at 5 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel, 3455 Skyway Dr. in Santa Maria. SBCAN is honoring five individuals to thank them for their hard work.

The dinner this year is dedicated to the memory of Joann Marmolejo for her lifelong commitment to improving the lives of working people in the community, including her 13 years of service to SBCAN.

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Supporting basic rights for farmworkers

This op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published on Friday, February 12, 2016 in the Santa Maria Times:

After recent research revealed widespread labor abuses in Central Coast agricultural fields, farmworkers, advocates, and community organizations began advocating for a Farmworker Bill of Rights. They are asking the Ventura and Santa Barbara County Boards of Supervisors to set and enforce basic standards for agricultural labor. 

If passed, this would mark the first time county governments have used their powers to address the wide range of labor abuses common in agricultural work, including extreme overwork, wage theft, and health and safety risks.

The campaign is supported by over 80 elected officials, local businesses and organizations. These include faith-based, labor, environmental, immigrant, student, community and farmworker organizations.

Based on nearly 600 interviews with farmworkers, research by labor attorneys, and meetings with government agency officials, farm owners, and farmworker advocates, Central Coast United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) developed a Farmworker Bill of Rights to address three major issues.

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Reasons to deny Phillips 66 oil-train terminal

This op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published on Thursday, January 7, 2016 in the Santa Maria Times: and the Lompoc Record:

San Luis Obispo County has finally issued the final environmental impact report on the much-discussed Phillips 66 Santa Maria Refinery rail project in the Nipomo Dunes.

Comments on the draft EIR were so numerous and compelling it took over a year to respond to them all and complete the final report.

The proposed project is officially the rail spur extension and crude oil unloading facility. In fact, the current rail spur is very short and provides no capability for crude oil deliveries. The project would be a large terminal for oil trains.

The San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors have the authority to approve or deny the project. They should deny it for a host of reasons. I will focus on the potential impacts on residents of Santa Barbara County and beyond.

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Wide-ranging efforts to thwart climate change

This "Forward View" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Lompoc Record on Nov. 12, 2015:

This op-ed was also published as a "Looking Forward" piece in the Santa Maria Times on Nov. 13, 2015:

World leaders will meet in Paris this month to come up with an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change.

If we continue the way we are, the average global temperature could rise 9 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Scientists warn that an increase above 3.6 degrees will cause erratic climate and weather extremes, altered ecosystems and habitats, and risks to human health and society.

World leaders have been meeting for several months laying the groundwork for the summit. They have created plans to limit their greenhouse gas emissions and provide financial assistance to developing countries. Key to reaching climate change targets is helping poor countries get access to clean energy, water and sanitation, gender equality, education and health, while not exceeding climate thresholds.

We must encourage our elected officials to support the summit. We can also support the efforts of organizations that work locally, nationally and internationally to improve our world. One such organization is the Environmental Defense Fund, which works with partners in the U.S. and around the world. It has created a plan to improve climate, oceans, ecosystems and health. Check out Blueprint 2020 for more information:

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Doing the right thing on climate change

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on Oct. 9, 2015:

People have debated mankind’s influence on climate since Aristotle’s time. The debate among non-scientists continues.

However, leading climate scientists no longer debate. Numerous studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists agree — humans are causing global warming.

The first calculations of the effect of carbon dioxide on climate change were made in the 1800s. By the late 1950s, scientists were arguing that carbon dioxide emissions could have radical effects on climate. By the 1970s, 62 percent of publishing scientists were predicting global warming.

Back then, even oil giant Exxon was concerned.

In 1977, senior company scientist James Black told Exxon management, “There is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”

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A compulsive walker’s view of Santa Maria

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on September 10, 2015:

On Aug. 11, 2014, wanting to learn more about my adopted city, I said to myself, I am going to walk the length of every public street and pathway in Santa Maria.

I set simple rules — do it in a year, don’t use a car to get to or from a walk, and keep a few photos and notes about pedestrian safety or other transportation issues encountered. I made some other observations as well.

I finished on Aug. 10 of this year, with just a few hours to spare. Jeanne Sparks was there in front of City Hall to record my final 100 yards and a few comments, which I will mention at the end of this column.

There are 250 centerline miles of city-maintained streets, plus several miles of Caltrans roads — Main Street and Broadway — and a few miles of paths. It took me 54 walks and 322 miles.

Smelled: Bacon cooking, strawberries growing and being picked, fertilizer, and oil production. Burned rubber on North Blosser early on a Sunday morning, a section of road that need not be four lanes wide.

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Making buildings accessible benefits all

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Jeanne Sparks was published in the Santa Maria Times on August 13, 2015:

On July 24, the panoramic views from the observation deck of the Santa Barbara County Courthouse clock tower became accessible to all. For the first time, the elevator reached the top, following a seven-month tower renovation project.

Previously, the elevator stopped one floor below the deck, allowing access only to those who could handle the steep stairs.

Santa Maria resident Barry Stotts played a major role in making the courthouse more accessible. In the early 1990s, county Supervisor Tom Rogers — now deceased — initiated the effort to get the elevator extended to the observation deck. Stotts was, and is, an advocate for people with mobility and visual impairments. The board listened to his suggestions about courthouse accessibility and developed improved access.

Stotts is legally blind. He began losing his vision when he was in high school and can now only see light or dark, but that hasn’t stopped him. He began advocating for better access when he was in his 30s. He turns 74 next month and continues his advocacy work.

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Long-term planning for water supply

This "Looking Forward" op-ed piece by Ken Hough was published in the Santa Maria Times on July 10, 2015:

Santa Maria, Orcutt, Nipomo, Oceano, Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande and Pismo Beach all depend on the Santa Maria Valley groundwater basin for municipal water supplies.

In spite of this common water source, there is no single authority to manage the basin. Instead, the basin is divided into three management areas — Santa Maria Valley, Nipomo Mesa and Northern Cities.

According to the Nipomo Community Services District, “Water use has been climbing for decades, exceeding the sustainable supply. As a result of increasing use and drought, groundwater levels are in severe condition. As groundwater levels fall below sea level, it threatens seawater intrusion, potentially contaminating the groundwater with salt.”

The Northern Cities Management Area gets a majority of its water from Lopez Lake, but the groundwater levels are dropping, especially near the coast. The annual report on groundwater conditions in that area last April also expressed concern about current conditions creating “... an environment for increased risk of sea water intrusion.”

A rather different conclusion is reached in the annual report dated last April 15, prepared for the Santa Maria Valley Management Area, namely that “... there is no severe water shortage in the SMVMA as of 2014.”

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Santa Barbara County Action Network
Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) works to promote social and economic justice, to preserve our environmental and agricultural resources, and to create sustainable communities.