November 9, 1993

Park Advisory Committee

East Bay Regional Park District

2950 Peralta Oaks Court

Oakland, California 94605-5369

Re: More Roads in the Parks?!


Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you last night. However, as much as I appreciated it, I have to be honest: you give many indications that you don't want to hear from any "outsiders". You hold your meetings at a location that is virtually impossible to get to without a car. I spent 2 1/2 hours getting there by bus and BART from San Ramon. Not too many people are willing to do that. The driver of the #45 bus, the only bus that comes within 1/2 mile of EBRPD Headquarters, didn't even know you had moved from Skyline Blvd.! You are not only in an inaccessible location, but you have obviously done nothing to make use of what poor access there is. If everyone agreed to use public transit and arrive at the same time, your very numbers would make the bus ride from Coliseum BART and the walk from Foothill Square safe. With enough use, perhaps the park headquarters could become the last stop for that line.

(Of course, you are not alone in this trend; most businesses, groups, and government agencies, many that should know better, assume that everyone is able-bodied and drives a car. Advertisements always tell you how to get there by freeway, and almost never by transit.)

You indicated a commendable interest in improving the "cultural diversity" of the Committee and EBRPD. Therefore, I would like to encourage you to meet near a BART station (too bad BART isn't smart enough to provide meeting space near their stations; instead, they cater only to drivers, building vast wastelands of pavement around all of their stations, which is completely useless, in fact, dangerous, at night), or at least where bus service exists and flak jackets and bullet-proof vests aren't required.

Someone should do a study of all of the excuses we have used to build more roads, and whether the alleged goals were met. The Interstate Highway System was first rationalized as a Defense Highway System (as though personnel and munitions couldn't be transported by rail). Of course, any road that can be used for "defense" can just as easily carry the enemy! Then there are the roads for "access", which waste so much land that the destinations they are supposed to "access" are forced farther away. Do we have more access than we did in the past? Then why do most foods in our stores come from hundreds or thousands of miles away? Why does even the produce in our "farmers' markets" come from 50 to 200 miles away? Then there are the roads that are needed to "bypass" the roads that already exist, but have become clogged with excess traffic. If one road is good, then two roads, or a road twice as wide, must be better, right? Is there anything that a good road construction won't cure? Have all these roads improved the quality of our lives? Have they even solved the "problems" they were built to solve?

Then there are the "scenic" roads, perhaps the most Pyrrhic "victories" of all. They destroy certain scenic values, in order to gain "access" (truthfully, only a certain type of access -- motorized, mechanical, energy-intensive, "industrial grade" access) to other scenic values. And beyond every gorgeous wilderness, isn't there another one waiting to be "accessed"? So don't we need roads, in the end, through every wilderness? And since roads, by definition, cause wilderness to no longer be wilderness, aren't we going to destroy the very things we value most, and should value most (because they are irreplaceable)?!

So how can you say you want to "Improve access to some vistas with more roads for senior and disabled users"? How does destroying the parks benefit these people? Isn't this just the latest in a long, long series of misguided attempts to enjoy the world -- to death? If I, with all of my senses working, love wilderness and hate manmade concrete deserts, why would a blind or deaf person want to have the sensations they are seeking diminished even more than they already are? And even if they did want that, which I doubt, why should we accommodate such short-sightedness?

The concrete-heads always say "Just give us one more road. Then we'll be good. Then we'll be satisfied." Haven't we fallen for that one too many times already? "One more road" never seems like much, but a program that keeps adding one more road, and never removing any roads (the unthinkable!) can result in paving over the whole Earth, or any other area that is finite (how many infinite areas can you think of?).

At the risk of wearing out my welcome, let me make a modest suggestion. Since we stole all the land in the Bay Area from wildlife and native Americans, since they provide by far the most valuable and attractive assets in our parks and wild lands, since they cannot protect themselves from us and will all become extinct without our help, and since biological and cultural diversity are probably our greatest (renewable) resources, create two new subcommittees of the PAC to be called "Wildlife" (all nonhuman life) and "Cultural Diversity" (all human life, but with the most emphasis on the most ancient).

Wildlife issues should not be entrusted to any committee where they will not have top billing. We need a committee devoted entirely to wildlife. They are that important, and they require that much attention and energy. The committee's charge should be nothing less than (1) preventing any more (local) extinctions in the East Bay, (2) restoring native wildlife, as much as possible, to prehistoric numbers and diversity, and (3) creating adequate habitat areas of all types that are off-limits to humans. (We want our homes to be off-limits to wildlife; why should they be any different?)

Similarly, the Cultural Diversity Committee should (1) cherish and protect all existing cultural assets, (2) involve all segments of the community in the managing of the parks, but especially native Americans, and (3) make sure that clear, sensible priorities rule all decisions: first come native plants, then native animals, then prehistoric mankind, then living native Americans, then children, then the disabled, etc. This ordering is due partly to importance in the Earth's ecosystem, and partly due to differing abilities to protect themselves. It is not a "value system" or "political choice". It is a matter of pure practical ecology. (For example, we protect children not because they are "better" than adults, but because they are equal, but cannot protect themselves.)

Here are some suggested projects: Remove all possible human facilities from the parks (leave perhaps a drinking fountain & bathroom), especially roads, parking lots, golf courses, bicycles, concessions, cattle, and other commercial (ab)uses. Stop the movement to "fireproof" the parks. Let them burn. Let people who choose to live next to them shoulder their own risks, as they enjoy their own pleasures. Stop trying to cram more and more humans into the parks. Let them get there on the parks' own terms, with priority given to nature (which can't protect itself from us), not (wo)mankind (which protects itself only too well!).

One last point. Nothing should be sacred, even the sacred. For example, native people may have taken better care of the land than we do, but they also caused or greatly contributed to the extinction of most large mammals from North America. We must be constantly open to new information, not simply replace one unquestioned dogma with another.

Thank you for listening.


Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.

P.S. In your October 18 Minutes you say that the Park Board asked you to help increase "public participation" (in the planning process), but that you think they really meant "use of the parks". I hope, and believe, that they meant what they said.