We Vote With Our Gas Pedals

Photo by sanbeiji

It’s been my good luck to travel on business to many great cities in Northern Europe. And these cities–Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brugge, Dusseldorf, and Hamburg–have one thing in common: people come first, cars come second. It’s a hassle to drive but a pleasure to walk, bike and take public transit. As a direct result they are desirable places to live and be a tourist. While we could throw many American cities into this list of livable cities–San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Portland, Davis, New York come to mind–I doubt anyone would include my hometown of Los Angeles. LA, while not the worst city in the world, is the poster child for car-centric planning and general ugliness. When I’m away I question the sanity of getting back on the plane to return.

But since I always return I feel compelled to at least try to make the place more livable. Last year I joined with bike activists Stephen Box and Josef Bray-Ali to speak at a Los Angeles City Council transportation subcommittee meeting to oppose a routine bunch of speed limit increases. Here’s how the whole sorry process plays out. First, Detroit sells (or used to sell) insanely over-powered cars that turn soccer moms into NASCAR drivers. To protect the rights of these speed addled motorists, many states, including California, have seen fit to pass “Speed Trap” laws requiring cities to establish a street’s speed limit based on the 85th percentile of average speed in order to use radar or laser enforcement. In other words, as one LA Department of Transportation engineer put it, “we vote with our gas pedals.” So we engineer cars for speed, engineer the streets for speed, and then raise the speed limits to match. If the 85th percentile is 50 mph on a residential street, the city raises the speed limit. If they don’t the cops can’t use radar. Or so they say. One LADOT official said that he’d “raise the limits anyways.”

Thankfully, those of you in California can help change this ridiculous situation.

1. Write a letter to your State representative and urge them to support Assistant Majority Leader Paul Krekorian’s AB766 “Safe Streets” bill which will reform our silly speed trap laws.

2. Box and his wife Enci will be traveling to Sacramento to lobby for this bill. They’d love to have your letters of support to take with them. Email your letter of support to: [email protected]

3. Follow Stephen and Enci’s journey on Twitter, on Facebook, on their blogs at illuminateLA and at SoapBoxLA.

Let’s make our streets safe for our children and senior citizens. Support AB766!

More on Hops in Containers

On the question of growing hops in containers that we posted on earlier this week, Shane in Santa Cruz, CA says:

“I think hops will do great in a container, if they are deep enough. I’ve heard you need something like a 1/2 whiskey, at least. The roots can go as low as 9 feet below ground.

I’m on my 2nd year of hops, cascade in nice soil, and brewers gold in what ever was in the ground. The brewers gold did better last year growing 18 feet and providing summer shade to a south facing window. The cascades only went 8 feet. I followed the same watering and feeding (never) for both.

This year my cascades are doing better, they are about 18 inches high so far. The brewers gold only 2 inches. This is in Santa Cruz, CA.”

Shane also contributed a very useful link to an article on Growing Hops in Containers. One of the suggestions in the article, for those of us in hot climates, is to grow hops on an east facing wall so that the plant is sheltered from the hot late afternoon sun. As Shane points out this can serve a double purpose–providing shade to cool your casa. Sounds kinda permacultural. Thanks Shane!

Hops in Southern California

From hop rhizome to young vine

Several people have asked a question we were curious about: what varieties of hops are best to grow in warm climates such as Southern California? We asked around and the consensus seems to be Cascade and Nugget among others. Greg Beron, one of the co-owners of Culver City Homebrewing Supply Co., has a couple of different hops rhizomes for sale that he says grow well here in Los Angeles. The shop’s parking lot, in fact, has many small plastic barrels planted with hops vines growing up string attached to the east side of the building.

Homegrown Evolution’s own hop farming experiment ended in the spring of last year after we accidentally plopped some home built scaffolding on top of the tiny vine while undertaking the heinous task of scraping and painting the front of the house. Planting it in terrible soil doomed it to failure anyways. We’re experimenting with growing both Cascade and Nugget hops in a big self irrigating planter with the hope that we can transfer them to the ground next year or the year after. In the meantime we’ll improve our soil with another application of “craptonite“.

Some hops growing links:

Hop Gardening

A list of Hop varieties for all climates

How to build a PVC hops trellis

Is Industrial Ag to Blame for the Swine Flu?

Could the swine flu be linked to industrial agriculture practices, say keeping thousands of immunosuppressed pigs in tight quarters and then carelessly discharging their effluent? A private biosurveillance tracking firm, Veretect has a timeline of the epidemic originating in the town of La Gloria in the State of Veracruz.

“Residents believed the outbreak had been caused by contamination from pig breeding farms located in the area. They believed that the farms, operated by Granjas Carroll, polluted the atmosphere and local water bodies, which in turn led to the disease outbreak. According to residents, the company denied responsibility for the outbreak and attributed the cases to “flu.” However, a municipal health official stated that preliminary investigations indicated that the disease vector was a type of fly that reproduces in pig waste and that the outbreak was linked to the pig farms. It was unclear whether health officials had identified a suspected pathogen responsible for this outbreak.”

More on this story at Grist and Peak Oil Entrepreneur.

At this point we’re in the wild speculation phase of the swine flu narrative and I’ll add that the press does a particularly bad job with anything that has to do with science. However, we’ve been trying to make the point that distributed agriculture, more people tending small numbers of animals, is most likely a safer practice than large factory farms. The exotic strains of E-coli and swine flu that have emerged in recent years could be the unintended consequence of concentrated animal feeding operations. Time to call the homeowners association and ask them if you can keep a few pigs in that suburban backyard.

Austin’s Rhizome Collective Evicted

Buy our book The Urban Homestead on Amazon and you’ll get a message that you may also enjoy the Toolbox for Sustainable City Living: A do-it-Ourselves Guide by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew. I own a copy of this wonderful book and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the topics on this blog or in our book. Kellogg and Pettigrew are co-founders of the Rhizome Collective, an innovative intentional community in Austin, Texas. Sadly, it seems the Rhizome Collective has been evicted from their land due to code enforcement issues.

On Tuesday, March 17, 2009, the Rhizome Collective, including both the individuals and organizations that have called 300 Allen St. home, was barred from the building due to the City of Austin Code Enforcement declaring the building unsafe. This is a tragic loss and has been traumatic for the people who have invested so much in the space, from long nights of hard work repairing bikes and mailing off books to days of tending the garden to evenings of laughter in the kitchen.

The Rhizome collective is asking for donations on their website, www.rhizomecollective.org. I would also suggest buying a copy of their book directly from them. We hope that the Rhizome Collective can find a new home as their work is vital in our uncertain times.

Hummer Driver Runs Down Cyclists LAPD Officer Lets Driver Go

Cellphone Photo by Matt Stilline

In the early morning hours on Friday in downtown Los Angeles a group of around a dozen cyclists were involved in a hit and run incident with a Hummer driver that resulted in minor injuries and three demolished bikes. The driver was pulled over several blocks away by the LAPD only to be let go. Officer Cho came back to speak to the group of cyclists stating, “Get everyone together because I don’t want to say this twice. If anyone says anything I’m gonna walk away and I’m not going to talk to you guys. Based on the evidence right now it looks like the cyclist hit the car, not that the car hit the cyclist.” He added, “if it had been me with my family in that car, I’d have done the same thing, and I carry a gun in my car.”

Read the rest of the ugly details on Westside BikeSIDE! [note: Westside BikeSIDE! seems to be down due to heavy traffic]. Gary Rides Bikes also has the scoop.

Urban Homestead Wins Book Award

Our book, The Urban Homestead just won a gold medal in the Independent Publisher Awards. To celebrate we’ll throw in a back issue of Ripples magazine for the first twenty folks who buy a copy of our book off of this website. Ripples is, “A Revolutionary Journal of Seasonal Delight” published by the nice folks at www.dailyacts.org.

Now that’s enough tooting our own horn. We’ll get back to posting when the dust settles after Earth Day and talk about the hops vines that have just sprouted . . .

Homegrown Evolution on WAMC

Kelly and I will be on WAMC, Northeast Public Radio’s Roundtable show on Earth Day, April 22nd at 9:15 am EST. You can listen in online here.

Earth Day will be a busy one for us as Erik will also be on a panel for the National Conversation on Climate Action at 2 pm PST at MTA headquarters. More info here.

We’ll close the day with a book signing at an innovative new neighborhood market called Locali. We’ll be there at 7 pm PST and hope to see some locals.

Satan’s House Plant: More on Asparagus setaceus/plumosus

It seems like we hit a raw nerve with our mention of one of our least favorite plants, Asparagus setaceus. Just in a case you’d like to know more about this demonic plant, Mr. Subjunctive, a garden center employee with a fantastic blog, Plants are the Strangest People, has a detailed post about Asparagus setaceus (apparently also known as Asparagus plumosus).