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Archives for December 24, 2014

Super Kid: Sonny Blankenship, Weston High School

Services, garage sales, pets, items for sale

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Santa Clarita Residents Show Concern Over Medians, Watering

With the discussion about California’s drought continuing, and ideas about how to help are stacking up, another issue has come up with local residents — medians.

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The city has been ripping out medians and replacing them with drought tolerant plants, according to city officials.

But those plants do still need to be watered, and some people wonder if we should be planting plants at all.

“If we were using a lot of water to water these medians, I might agree,” said Mayor Marsha McLean. “The amount of water used is minimal.” 

Drought tolerant plants are plants that need much less water than regular plants.

“The city has always been cognizant about reducing water,” said McLean.

Cumulatively, over the past four years, Santa Clarita officials have reduced water usage by 1 billion gallons of water, according to the city’s website. 

“I understand the concern,” said McLean. “But as soon as I explain the process to people, they understand.” 

The city installed weather based controllers in 2011, according to Kevin Tonoian, Administrative Services Technology Services Manager for the city of Santa Clarita. The controllers are programmed to receive real time weather information and adjust the irrigation accordingly.

“The controllers also have a remote shut off in response to rain, and since 2010,” according to the cities website. “The city has ‘paused’ watering 220 times.”

The city plans to continue replacing medians with drought tolerant plants.

The Council will meet at some point next year to consider working to replace the remaining turf, according to Tonoian.

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Additional Santa Clarita Water Information

The average daily water use of Santa Clarita residents is about 220 gallons, according to the city’s “waterwise” website.

Nearly 70 percent of all water use in Santa Clarita is for landscaping.

Although the city could not comment on the exact amount of water used for watering medians, The city is balancing aesthetics by planting low-water use plants in all public spaces, reducing water needs. These plants help the city save 2 million gallons of water annually. 

All sports fields in the Santa Clarita Valley also have to be watered, but the use of Bermuda grass at city’s sports fields has reduced watering by more than 50%.

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Grant would fund mobility projects along FM 2920 in Tomball

The city of Tomball is expected to submit a grant application to the Houston-Galveston Area Council that would increase mobility along FM 2920 between the area commonly known as Four Corners at Business 249, to Willow Street, east of the Tomball Depot.

The project, which is estimated at about $30 million, was part of the H-GAC Access Management Study that was adopted by the city council in 2009.

“H-GAC is seeking proposals from local governments and other eligible project sponsors to implement transportation projects which advance the vision and goals of the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan,” said Craig Meyers, who serves as the community development director for the city.

The plan calls for the addition of curbs and sidewalks and the repair of downtown sidewalks as well as the implementation of raised center medians and the removal of street parking in front of businesses near the historic depot.

The grant, if approved, would be added to H-GAC’s Transportation Improvement Program for 2015 projects.

According to the H-GAC, the Transportation Improvement Program is a fiscally constrained financial plan of transportation projects that are approved to receive federal funding over the next four years.

Eighty percent of the grant is federally funded, with the remaining 20 percent coming from the Texas Department of Transportation.

Other amenities, such as median landscaping or enhanced decorative lighting, would have to be paid for by the city, Meyers said.

Councilman Derek Townsend suggested that the city consider asking Texas AM University for their input.

“At one point in time Texas AM was willing to come in and help us with our sidewalks in downtown to allow for permeable aggregate to allow trees to grow,” he said. “That may help with some of these expenses…They wanted to do that for free and we turned them down.”

Projects selected for the TIP are generally priority projects for the region that address various forms of transit, roadway and highways, bicycle and pedestrian, and also addresses preventative maintenance, rehabilitation and transportation operations.

In June, the city council discussed giving the city staff direction on the grant application, but no action was taken at that time.

However, Meyers said there have been discussions with TxDOT officials and H-GAC on the proposed improvements and how they relate to the 2009 Access Management Study.

One difference is that the 2009 Access Management Plan stops at the depot, while the call for improvements crosses the tracks and extends east to Willow Street.

“We’ve mentioned this to TxDOT, and they’ve actually seen some of our ideas,” Meyers said.

However, the proposed improvements extension to Willow Street is a relatively new idea that required the city council’s feedback.

To increase the odds of the grant award, the city council approved a $3 million allocation to improve a three block segment of the project that stretches from Pine Street to Elm Street in downtown.

“This helps our odds of getting the grant if we do some kind of local match,” Meyers said.

The signed grant application is due to H-GAC by 7 p.m. on Jan. 12.

Mobility improvements: The Tomball City Council is seeking a grant that will make Tomball more walkable between Business 249 and the downtown area, and will add other transportation amenities to the city by 2018. The proposed improvements could include:

Sidewalks: from Business 249 to the depot

Raised medians: between Buvinghausen Road to the depot

Possible: median landscaping and removal of street parking spaces

Repair: of downtown sidewalks

Continuous turn lane: from the depot to Willow Street

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Large Coconut Crab found on Salt Lake Boulevard

“They are strong enough to rip through coconut husks,” said Trenton Yasui, Acting Invertebrate Aquatic Biota Specialist with the Department of Agriculture.

Click here to watch Lara Yamada’s report.

He says they’re strong enough to snap off your fingers and indiscriminate enough to do some serious damage elsewhere.

“There’s a threat to our native ecosystem. The Coconut Crab would definitely would feed on various native birds and turtles potentially, and it also could present a human health hazard for children and also for home pets.

Residents said they found it on the road near Salt Lake Boulevard.

The specimen is about three pounds and 16 inches from leg to leg.

On Monday, it was in no mood to let go of a stick meant to distract it.

The Department of Agriculture said it’s about 10 years old.

Yasui said it’s been 25 years since they’ve seen one outside in Hawaii.

“They’re very strong,” said James Manguon.

He’s from Micronesia and said he’s seen plenty there.

“The stomach is this big” he said, holding his hands out as wide as his shoulders.”

“The pinchers are almost as big as my arm,” said Manguon.

Adding to an unusual week for the Department of Agriculture, someone dropped off a seven-month old emu at the Panaewa Zoo on the Big Island through the state’s amnesty program.

“Normally, she’d be very skittish and trying to run away and not be so comfortable, she wouldn’t be comfortable like this,” said Honolulu Zoo Keeper Nancy Leong, holding the emu partially in her lap.

Julio the Rooster’s her pal now.

Keepers say the emu was raised by humans since it was a baby, so there’s no chance of find a place back in the wild.

“She probably wouldn’t even know what another Emu would look like. Probably in her eyes she thinks she’s human,” said Leong.

The Coconut Crab is headed to the Zoo too, and could be a resident for a long time.

Those gigantic hermit crabs can live to 60 years old and grow to more than three feet long.

“When it gets bigger it tastes pretty good,” said Manguon.

Tasty maybe, but a real problem, and not just for invasive species.

Experts say in an urban setting, the crabs could not only hurt pets and small kids, but get into trash, landscaping, dig up plants, vegetable gardens, and so on.

It you’re caught with one it’s a Class C Felony.

That means a fine of up to $200,000 and up to three years in jail.

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The Great Seattle Substation Sell-Off

Seattle City Light is selling off a bunch of obsolete substations. Some open space activists want to nab that land for parks or other open space, but it turns out it’s not so easy to transfer land from one department to another.

You may have seen electrical substations around Seattle. There’s usually a fence with a bunch of weird-looking electrical equipment inside. There’s usually a concrete slab, or gravel. Often they’re surrounded by mature landscaping that helps them blend into the neighborhood. But changing technology has rendered them obsolete. 

Open space advocate Cass Turnbull can’t drive by them without thinking of their potential as parks.

“Yeah, I’ve seen them when I’m driving, like, 40 miles an hour. And I’ll go, ‘ERRRRR!'” Turnbull said, imitating the sound of her car braking. “I recognize that fence, there’s a substation in there!”

The substations are being sold off in batches. Falling energy prices have cut away at revenue Seattle City Light used to make selling excess hydropower on the wholesale market. 

Most of northeast Seattle’s substations have been sold. Southwest Seattle’s substations are being cleaned and cleared and should hit the market next year. Substations in northwest Seattle will follow in the years after that. 

Community groups that want to see the former substations become parks, tree banks or community gardens must compete against developers for the properties.

Turnbull showed me a substation in northeast Seattle that’s being turned into townhomes.

“Well this was another heartbreak because it did have such a nice landscape,” she said, looking at a printout from Google maps that shows the mature landscaping; landscaping now scraped away. “Seattle City Light had a real heritage of great horticulture. Beautiful landscapes, well tended over the years, and I think that’s all going by the wayside now.”

Seattle Parks and Recreation prefers parks to be 10,000 feet or more.

“Smaller parks don’t work very well,” explained spokesperson Joelle Hammerstad. “There are plenty of examples in Seattle and around the country of the challenges and failures of small pocket parks. Larger parks tend to have more utility, more eyes on the park and are generally more successful.” 

Turnbull is tired of hearing that reason. 

“There’s always a good reason not to save a substation,” she said. “But my position is that we need as much green space as we can get our hands on, because we’re going to have a whole lot more density.”

Turnbull said a determined neighborhood can hold on to these sites. She took me to the 6th Avenue Pocket Park in Greenwood and pointed to the mature trees around the perimeter. “[These] were kept from the original substation. These aren’t little dinky trees that we have to wait 30 years to find.” 

The park was paid for using money from the Pro Parks Levy and King County. But Turnbull said the current system requiring full payment for land the city already owns is too onerous.

Turnbull and the West Seattle Greenspaces Coalition asked for all nine of the substations in southwest Seattle, which includes one in Seatac and another in Burien, to become open space. But the group didn’t have the money to buy them and it didn’t have support from the Parks Department. 

The green space group’s plan also didn’t fly with Seattle City Light.

“We have a goal in mind, which is to be able to sell these properties to meet our budgetary needs,” said Lynn Best who heads the utility’s real estate department.

Best said utilities don’t have a lot of discretion, either. “Under state law, if you have utility property, it either has to be used for utility purpose, or we have to get full market value for selling it or renting it.” 

Still, Best said Seattle City Light does what it can to accommodate community groups. “Sometimes a property comes along that is particularly valuable to a particular community,” she said. “If people have a serious plan for how they want to go about doing this, we will certainly listen and try to help.”

Delridge Dreams

Willard Brown of the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association wants this former substation to become a community garden. A fenced-in area on one corner of the site is polluted, and will have to be cleaned up, Brown said.

For example, one proposal caught Best’s attention. It came from Willard Brown, a member of the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association in southwest Seattle.

Brown said the Delridge neighborhood looks green, as you’re driving through it, but all that green is in inaccessible Green Belts, up on the hillsides.

“You cannot get in there,” he said, “unless you’re willing to be Paul Bunyan and clear a path!”

Brown continued, “Even though we have greenbelts running throughout Delridge, accessible green space for entertainment and pleasure is minimal.”

Brown wants the Delridge substation to become a community garden. “Kids like working in gardens,” Brown, a grandfather, said knowingly.

He considers himself lucky to have a backyard where his grandkids can plant, harvest and compost. “They don’t like mowing lawns,” he said, “but they do like digging in the dirt.”

Brown gestures towards the K-5 STEM at Boren Elementary School just down the road. He said a community garden will give the kids something to do after school besides play video games. 

“When we were young, you didn’t have sit-down games and sit around the house and look at TV. In fact, if you’re in front of the TV, you got kicked out of the house!” 

Brown said there aren’t many places in Delridge where you can send kids anymore. But for Brown, there’s much more at stake for the kids in this neighborhood than just getting enough exercise. He said when people grow food together in a public place, they become a community.

“We learn culture that way. We learn about each other that way,” he said. And in a diverse neighborhood like Delridge, Brown said creating destinations where the community can meet each other is critical.

Brown said he wants the kids in his neighborhood to take pride in Delridge, saying he’ll consider the project a success when the kids pass by the neighborhood when they get older and he hears them say, “Hey, there’s my garden. That’s our garden. It’s still here.”

But even with Seattle City Light’s support, paying full market value has proved a burden to Brown’s group. They’re working on grant proposals to come up with the $80,000 to $90,000, but nothing’s come through yet. 

And as Seattle City Light prepares to offload southwest Seattle’s unneeded substations, the clock is ticking.

Any sale of the utility’s land must be approved by the Seattle City Council. That process should happen for southwest Seattle’s substations early next year. 

Southwest Seattle’s surplus substations include: 

  • Ambaum – 1006 SW 144th Street, Burien
  • Andover – 2100 SW Andover Street, Seattle
  • Dakota – 4918 SW Dakota Street, Seattle
  • Delridge – 5601 23rd Avenue SW, Seattle
  • Dumar – 1605 SW Holden Street, Seattle
  • Fauntleroy -4520 SW Brace Point Drive, Seattle
  • Glendale -2423 S 132nd Street, SeaTac
  • Wabash – 5122 S Cloverdale Street, Seattle
  • White Center – 8820 – 9th Avenue SW, Seattle

You can find a map of these substations on Seattle City Light’s surplus property page.

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Rutgers gives landscapers, gardeners winter education

Many think that when the ground is covered in snow, gardeners and landscapers take a well-needed break and hibernate. Not true. For many avid hobbyists and professionals, the winter is a perfect time to hone up on their skills and knowledge.

Since 1980, Rutgers University has offered the short course Landscape Plants Identification Selection and Application. Created by “Rutgers legend” Bruce “Doc” Hamilton, the course was based on the premise that the “plant must be seen in its environment.”

“You have to see the plant in its place to understand where it fits in the environment, or where it doesn’t fit, which is just as important,” Hamilton said. “You can’t get that by showing a twig in a bottle in the classroom.”

The class is now taught by Steve Kristoph, one of Hamilton’s original students.

“He passed the torch onto Steve,” said Joe Canzano, landscape program coodinator of Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) Office of Continuing Education. “They go out in the cold — no matter how cold — because that’s the only way Steve feels a student can learn about plants. In the plant scene, Steve is a very well known figure. I don’t think anyone loves plants more than Steve.”

Canzano said that this class specializes in plant identification for those that grow in the state, “especially this part of New Jersey.”

“Students see plants in their natural environments, so this class is geared to and focused on Central Jersey gardens,” he said.

An 11-week offering that runs on Fridays beginning Jan. 9 does not give its students a break from the outdoors. They are hands-on and out in the elements, Canzano said.

“This class is an institution in itself,” he said. “They are literally out almost every day. They go and learn about the plants they are looking at. The class runs under the impression that you can’t study what you can’t see.”

Canzano noted that many now have more knowledge about the concept of sustainability.

“We see it as very important and relevant now because of all the emphasis on sustainability that goes with it. They may not completely understand it, but they know it is something they want,” he said. “It has to do with nutritional needs, water, maintenance and support.”

Because students are out in the “cold and snow,” the Landscape Plants Identification class is recommended for those that “really know and love their plants,” Canzano said.

Most who attend are professional landscapers or garden enthusiasts interested in learning more about sustainability.

“They really do need to know their plants,” he said. “This is one of the biggest problems. People are set on planting things that will never grow where they want them. That plant will die after a few years. But if their landscaper is better armed with knowledge about plants, they can suggest another pretty plant that they know will last a long time.”

The NJAES Office of Continuing Professional Education offers a variety of classes for the winter with Landscape Plants Identification being just one of many. Not every class is directed at the professional or avid gardener as there are courses for newer gardeners, Canzano said.

Other classes range from an eight-week course on Landscape Design taught by Roy DeBoer Jr., the son of the founder of the landscape design program at Rutgers to the one-day Sustainable Landscape Design class offered on February 2. Additional courses include Beds and Borders Seminar, Plant Health Care, Japanese Gardens within Cultural Context, Better Business Management Skills for the Landscape Professional and Introduction to Pruning Techniques.

“We have a great legacy here and many of our classes tie in together,” Canzano said. “A lot of professionals as well as people who want to create a better design for their home garden take these classes.”

Course offerings range in cost, but are eligible for discounts if registered before Dec. 26. The more than 60 Landscape and Grounds Management Courses can be found at

Staff Writer Cheryl Makin: 732-565-7256;

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