Because I have worked with video security cameras, people have often asked me what I think of red light cameras. I know there are a lot of you out there who thrive on rules and want to make sure everybody follows them, but I simply do not like these cameras. I know that most people deserve the tickets they get. When I went to traffic school 20 years ago because I had one too many, the teacher asked everyone there which of them were there because of speeding. About 80 percent said they were. Then he asked how many were there because of going 10 miles an hour over the limit. All raised their hands. The police are there for public safety reasons, and with 35,000+ Americans a year dying in car accidents, I am glad for their presence.
For me the general rule of automanship is safety. Are you driving safe? A red light camera cannot distinguish that. If I miss a red light by a second at 4:00 a.m. with no one in sight, am I really not driving safe? Some cameras have even been set to cheat so that the contractors who install them can make more money. Worse yet, if caught by a red light camera your insurance goes up, which only makes the carriers richer. No, I don’t want red light cameras; I would prefer blinking red lights after midnight, or more yellow warning lights, and police camped where evident speeding occurs. Perhaps even plant officers occasionally at problematic locations to issue warnings instead of tickets. Cities are making good money off of these cameras, and that should not be the intent. Warn people, but do not cause any of us any more aggravation then we already have driving around this City.
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What do the City of Santa Monica’s sustainable objectives and nuclear power have in common? Both aim to recycle waste products within their own environment. The new wave of thinking on nuclear waste is to treat it at the plant itself rather than risk shipping it to Nevada. Just imagine a train, plane or truck wreck with hot plutonium rods on board. You thought the chemical spill a few years back into the upper Sacramento River was bad – imagine the catastrophe and long-lasting effects of a nuclear spill. Fortunately, technology does exist for treating and reusing spent nuclear rods onsite.
A similar philosophy is afoot in Santa Monica as the City attempts to encourage residents to make each household a sustainable plot of land. That means permeable surfaces so water percolates into the land instead of running into our streets and out to sea. It means homes with efficient composting of organic materials. It means having water storage onsite to collect rain, either through cisterns or even in hollow garden walls. It means plants that take little if any irrigation and that live off of what Mother Nature provides. Sound crazy? Check out the mountains – plenty of stuff lives without sprinklers. It also means supplying each house with the ability to create some, if not all, of its own power. After all, we have plenty of sun in Santa Monica; we may as well use it. Solar is cool.
The City likes to encourage all this behavior by buying from green power sources, having an active recycling ability, being conscious in the acquisition of recycled goods, preventing waste water from reaching the sea and causing pollution, and by helping to support and acknowledging sustainable garden projects and green businesses.
Back to nuclear for a moment. Before we go down that path, I think the country has a lot of room for improvement in achieving energy efficiency and conservation in its current grid. My friend Dan Hamburg produces his own electricity onsite at his residence and even sells some back to the municipal power grid when surpluses arrive. For the billions upon billions we would spend on nuclear power, couldn’t individual homes be outfitted with solar power grids? Maybe it seems far-fetched, but I recall being in Israel years ago and seeing virtually all homes outfitted with solar panels on their roofs.
And whatever happened to superconductivity? The word was this was going to save energy in transmission. There are all sorts of energy-efficient devices and methods to be applied to our homes and businesses. Let’s get on with it. Conservation is the best source of new energy. As Bill Bradley said on Bill Maher recently, if the U.S. had the same automobile fuel standards as Europe we would not have to import any oil from the Middle East. That seems like a worthwhile goal to me.
Talk about water efficiency if we want to look at sustainable practices. First of all eat less beef. Read John Robbins’ groundbreaking 20-year-old book, Diet for a New America. It used to be that nearly 50 percent of the water in this state was used to grow and feed cattle. All those hay fields are for cattle. And nary a drip irrigation system in site. Farming uses up nearly 75 percent of all water in the state, and the farming practices here are archaic, with some counties just now putting in water meters. For those of you who have run wild rivers like the Tuolumne, the appreciation of every drop of water that comes from our mountains becomes instantly real.
In regards to sustainable gardening, that is something that can be viewed as a work in process. Start with plants that you may find in our local mountains and see if they survive well. Then add more, the idea being that you keep working toward improving the situation. One day add a composting unit, the next some permeable surface like decomposed granite or stone paths lined with grass rather then concrete. Experiment with covering walls with various ivies or shading hillsides with vinca. First of all, get some good resource guides at the local plant store and learn about soil, microclimates and watering systems. My sprinklers come on three times a week at 4:00 a.m. for a short burst. The plants seem to regulate themselves with the water and learn to control consumption.
Seek variety in the garden. I like honeysuckle for one hillside and lantana for another, a variety that is ever colorful, very hardy and drought tolerant. I also plant a lot of rosemary, mint, saliva, lavenders, sages – all plants that seem to enjoy our climate and use a minimal amount of water. I also allow native bay to grow, but keep it under control as it can be a fire hazard and the juice can cause a bad skin rash. Make sure to add chimes to your garden, and a variety of sculptures, sundials, windmills and for sure a pretty fountain. My garden does not need me any more. It can easily live without me now, but I still need it and thus I am forever pruning, planting, watering, harvesting, fertilizing, removing and cutting flowers.
I hear and read conflicting reports: some say bike riding is the favorite hobby of Americans, while others clearly say it is gardening. I read once that the reason we see green so well is that humans were originally designed to eat green things and thus 70 percent of our eyesight is keyed on green. My desktop on my computer is blue, but my garden is green with a lot of different shades. There are so many greens, and the old saying goes, “A true Irishman can distinguish 40 different shades of green.” I envy them.