Happy New Year, everyone.
Even though we're already some 40 days into 2014, and we've already flipped the calendar to the second month, it's definitely time to ring in the new year again -- Chinese New Year, that is.
Also known as the Lunar New Year due to coinciding with the new moon, it's intended to mark the coming of the spring season in China, an important time when Chinese society was primarily agrarian, establishing a tradition that has been established for several centuries. It's also celebrated in other Asian countries (namely Vietnam, where it's known as Tet), and observed all over the Chinese diaspora in communities worldwide.
And since Chinese New Year lasts not one day but two weeks, we're still in the midst of the holiday, ending with the Lantern Festival on February 14 (plus, local Chinese New Year festivities last well into late February).
Being how multicultural Southern California is, we can probably consider Chinese New Year to be everyone's New Year as well.
Early this morning I went for a walk, that lovely time of day when the sun has just risen and the light is soft, as if it is tentatively testing the day and deciding whether to stay.
I was happy to be walking, because it is a gift to be able to take your own steps. I was also happy because it is February and most of the country is lucky to get out their front door.
I was happy, too, because I passed many trees. We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood of trees. I know everyone is not so lucky. I have visited tree-less places. There is something missing beside the obvious. But it's also true that so many times I don't notice our trees, busy as I am going about some forgetful task. I don't think I'm alone in this. We often ignore the things that matter.
But on this morning I was just walking, and so the trees loomed large and small in my eyes and my mind.
When I was growing up, our family had a set of encyclopedias -- Britannica, of course -- that lined about a bookshelf and a half. Those books, and the dictionary, were my portal into just about everything I wanted to know, each alphabetized volume an obliging and endless fount of answers for almost every question I had in the pre-Google age. I actually learned less by looking things up than by sitting and browsing through a randomly chosen book and stopping on whatever caught my eye; it's how I learned about the constellations of stars and how they corresponded to the signs of the zodiac, the workings of the brain, the various breeds of dogs and horses. I liked the visuals, too, the photographs of famous people like FDR, the illustrations of Ursa Major in the night sky, the detailed maps overlaid with skins of plastic.
One thing I often wondered about was how certain entries got more space than others. Sometimes it was obvious -- I understood why New York City, which my 1964 edition trumpeted as "probably the greatest city in the world," filled more pages than Los Angeles, which was more or less described as impressively large and ambitious, fascinating to a point but culturally inconsequential. But sometimes the reasons weren't apparent, or they weren't to my 10-year-old mind, in which case I just assumed that cancer was more important than diabetes, FDR more illustrious a president than Millard Fillmore, and so on. Our encyclopedias were accessible but also authoritative, and I believed that however they emphasized information was how that information should be emphasized, or not. I relied on them to order my world.
But there was one entry I happened upon in M-N-O volume that I couldn't make sense of at all: Negro. I remember staring at the page (I don't think the entry was much longer than that) with a mixture of fascination, pride, puzzlement, and downright embarrassment that I had never felt before.
California's water budget is skewed heavily toward agriculture. The conventional estimate is that 80 percent of the water used in California flows into the state's multi-billion-dollar agricultural sector.
The 20 percent left for urban use is split between homes, businesses, and government.
About 6 percent of the state's water is consumed by industries, commercial operations, and governments. About 14 percent is poured into bathtubs, toilets, and washing machines or sprayed over residential lawns.
But there are statewide differences in the volume of residential water use, with divergent patterns of consumption based on climate, water system efficiency, and conservation efforts. In this season of drought, some communities are faring better than others because some water providers have done more -- and for longer -- to cut per capita water use and expand water storage.
The board of directors of the troubled Central Basin Municipal Water District in Southeast Los Angeles County is up to its neck in debt, lawsuits, criminal investigations, political rivalries, and unanswered questions about the district's present -- and past -- odd behavior.
Already linked to the FBI investigation digging into state Senator Ron Calderon's finances, the CBMWD is scrambling to account for almost $3 million in district funds. The effort to untangle the mess around a controversial groundwater storage plan has cost the district at least $300,000 in legal fees so far.
Orange County hardly lives up to its name1 anymore. A few relict orchards may survive, but today the endless citrus groves that once clothed the county in green are only a memory.
Before a postwar population boom triggered an almost wholesale conversation of farmland to suburbia, much of Orange County appeared decidedly rural. In 1948, a vast forest of five million Valencia orange trees grew on 67,000 acres2 -- but the county's sprawling ranches supported more than just citriculture. Dairy farms dominated the Orange County's northern reaches, while in the south cattle grazed on the rolling hills of vast estates like the Irvine Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo. Elsewhere, farmers cultivated celery, walnuts, lima beans, and sugar beets. Berries were common, too; the Knott's Berry Farm amusement park began as a roadside fruit stand on an actual berry farm.
In 1950, Orange County was a network of modest towns surrounded by fields and rangeland, home to roughly 216,000 people. Highways and interurban rail lines connected the area to the growing metropolis to the northwest, but Orange County still played the role of country to Los Angeles' city. Then L.A.'s suburban growth began spilling over the county line, and new master-planned communities in the Garden City tradition sprang from once-agricultural lands. By 1990, Orange County's population had exploded to 2.4 million, and the area had developed into a semiautonomous, "postsuburban" region--a social transformation mirrored in the physical landscape.
Much of Los Angeles County witnessed similar change, but in Orange County -- as in the Inland Empire -- the metamorphosis was recent and sudden enough that longtime residents still remember when office parks were strawberry fields, housing tracts were open pastures, and twelve-lane superhighways were quiet country roads.
Memories fade, but the photographic collections of the Orange County Archives -- a rich trove of more than a million historical images -- more permanently preserve visions of Orange County's rural past. The Archives have made the highlights freely available through Flickr and have digitized tens of thousands more.
1 In fact, Orange County's name was first proposed long before oranges became the area's dominant crop.
2 Two new books tell the story of Southern California's oranges in detail: Jared Farmer's "Trees in Paradise: A California History" and David Boulé's forthcoming "The Orange and the Dream of California."
If you need a sign that venture capitalist Tim Draper's new campaign to split the state into six parts is more stunt than serious proposal, you need look no further than the billionaire's proposed name for the new state covering the San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas. In Draper's proposed carving up of the state, eight counties running from the San Francisco Bay to Big Sur would be designated the state of Silicon Valley.
Let that sink in for a minute. The state would include San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond, whose residents increasingly complain that the tech industry is boosting their cost of living, displacing the less-affluent and disrupting livelihoods. It would include wilderness in the Santa Lucias, and hard-working agricultural communities in the Salinas Valley and the Delta.
You might name such a state for its most prominent geographical feature, San Francisco Bay. If you cast an eye toward history, you might choose "Monterey" for that city's role as the state's first capital. But Draper chose to use his proposal to plant an almost literal flag on the Bay Area, claiming it for the tech industry. And the proposal's treatment of the rest of the current state is just as ahistorical and thoughtless.
It used to be an uplifting drive, countryside of rolling green -- and, yes, often brown -- hills pocketed with oaks and grazing cattle. Driving north on the 101, just past the last scattered homes and businesses of Goleta, the sky yawns wide. It is beauty and release -- from crowds, from strip malls, from white knuckle freeway traffic -- that actually makes you sigh.
The skies remain wide, but the rolling hills have changed. They are not green. In places, they are not even brown. They look almost alkaline. Gray. Sickly, like something's bled from the land.
That something, as we all know, is water.
There are so many statistics, figures, and dates. California-wide, 2013 was the driest year in 119 years of records. In Ventura County, where I live, only 2.97 inches of rain fell on the town of Camarillo last year. In San Luis Obispo County, 2013 saw four and half inches of rain, down from an average of almost two feet. Lopez Lake, a key water source for many SLO County towns, is 57 percent full. Out of sight, but no longer out of mind, the Nipomo aquifer was 30 percent lower this past spring than the spring of 2012 and has fallen to its lowest level since record keeping began in 1975. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 62.7 percent of California is experiencing extreme drought conditions, an almost 28 percent jump since the beginning of the year, five weeks ago. On January 17, Governor Jerry Brown declared an official drought state of emergency in California.
Odds are, you've already forgotten everything but this last date.
I'm a habitual jaywalker. Sort of. Almost every day I cross a four-lane boulevard between two signalized intersections to reach the end of my block on the other side. The crosswalks at either end of this stretch of highway are exactly a quarter-mile away in either direction. To cross at a light rather than across the boulevard, I would have to walk another half mile.
I don't cross at either of the lights.
Where I cross used to have crosswalk and a crossing guard in early mornings and afternoons to guide students from my neighborhood to the elementary school a few blocks away on the opposite side. School attendance boundaries changed years ago. The crossing guard was reassigned. And the crosswalk was abandoned and paved over.
Strictly speaking, I'm not a jaywalker when I cross (very carefully). There is a "T" intersection there that serves as an outlet from the service road that parallels the highway. California Vehicle Code section 21590 creates a "presumptive" pedestrian right to cross at an intersection, even if a crosswalk hasn't been painted on the asphalt and there are no lights.
I cross at the "T." I have an imaginary crosswalk. I have the assurance of the Motor Vehicle Code. But I take nothing for granted.
I resumed teaching my current-events class for seniors at Macy's in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw mall this week. It had broken for a long stretch -- more than two months -- and I, for one, was eager to reconvene and pick up where we'd left off in 2013. Class isn't really what this is; I don't teach, just moderate the hour-long whirlwind conversations this chiefly African American group has about politics, race, government, culture, or some combination thereof. This means that we talk a lot about President Obama.
Week to week we track his fortunes with great interest, but also real anxiety; the setbacks he suffers regularly at the hands of the media or the nefarious Tea Party or his own judgment feel like our own. Of course we also claim his triumphs, but there haven't been too many of those, at least not clear-cut or widely reported ones. Overall, the age of Obama has been a kind of muddle that this group has taken upon itself to clarify and deconstruct. We don't solve the country's problems, or our own, but the attempt is always energizing, if occasionally exhausting. But we always recover; many people in the group say, more than half-seriously, that they have no choice.
Yesterday I felt something had shifted, or more accurately, downshifted. I expected the opposite. Here we were meeting the morning after Obama's fifth State of the Union address, something that would give us plenty to talk about. And after so long away, I assumed the class would be practically chomping at the bit to review the events of the last couple of months -- Syria and Mandela, for starters. But the room was oddly subdued.