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Stories and green tips related to nature, adventure, placemaking, and food systems, written by a beginning farmer/gardener and seasoned sustainability educator who loves to grow, cook, ferment, and eat local and ecologically happy food.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Youth in Government Day 2010 Part I

For the second year in a row, I found myself in my city's council chambers with many peers, government employees, principals, school district employees, teachers, and others, waiting for Youth in Government Day to officially begin. A continental breakfast of bagels, muffins, juice and coffee had welcomed us in the lobby, and the room was packed with people.

Julie Duncan, Coordinator of the Career & Technical Education and Apprenticeship Program for our school district, started off the day by talking about Youth in Government Day. For about fifteen years this program has taken place to bring high school students into the everyday work life of government and school district employees. This year there was a record number of student participants and employees to be shadowed.

After introductions from the city manager and the school district superintendent, each student stood up and said their name, grade, school and their aspirations in life. There were quite a variety of aspirations, but a lot of future lawyers, nurses and people who have no idea what they want to do. I said I want to study anthropology in college, a student from my school said she wants to be a foreign diplomat, and one girl said she wants to dissect dead bodies. Like I said, lots of variety. Then the employees who were going to be shadowed said their name and position, and then we broke up into our groups.

Also for the second year, the person I was shadowing was Susan Andrade-Wax, Director of Parks & Community Services for the city. This year, however, we visited three different locations than last year, each related to different aspects of Parks & Community Services. First stop, Callippe Golf Course and Preserve.

On the drive over, Mike Fulford, the city's landscape architect, talked about the positive and negative aspects of a golf course. It preserves the land from dense development, but there's heavy chemical use in order to maintain it. It an exclusive recreation activity and costs money, but it prevents an open space from being taken away. The golf course is named after the Callippe Silverspot butterfly, which created some issues when the course was being made.

From the Callippe golf course website: "The Callippe Silverspot Butterfly is a member of the Nymphalidae, or brush-footed butterflies. The Callippe Silverspot has a wingspan of approximately 4.5 cm...The name "silverspot" refers to silvery patches of scales on the undersides of the wings. Historically this butterfly inhabited grasslands ranging over much of the northern San Francisco Bay region. The type locality, or site from which the subspecies was first recognized, is the city of San Francisco. On the San Francisco peninsula, this butterfly is now only known from San Bruno Mountain (approximately10 miles south of San Francisco). In the East Bay, it was known from Richmond in the north to the Castro Valley in Alameda County. The only remaining population of this butterfly in Alameda County occurs in an undisclosed city park....The causes of the Callippe Silverspot's decline are fairly clear. The vast majority of potential butterfly habitat lies under the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. What open areas there are within this butterflies range are dominated by introduced plant species. Many of these areas are also grazed by cattle, mined, or subject to heavy recreational use. The Alameda County population is particularly small and vulnerable. The San Bruno Mountain population occurs on land that, although private, is largely protected from development. This area is also being managed for the conservation of several additional endangered species, including the San Bruno Elfin and the Bay Checkerspot." The land on which they built the course is a potential home for this endangered butterfly species. The ridges in the Bay Area all used to have this plant called the Johnny Jump Up plant (Viola pedunculata) that offered food for the butterfly. As the area has been developed, this plant has died off. The ridge where the golf course has been built is a place where the plant can grow, so when building the course, the city had to also purchase parcels of land nearby in order to preserve them for this plant species in case the butterfly ever flew over to the ridge and wanted to make a home.


From The Independent newspaper: "...Callippe Golf Course was developed as part of a cooperative effort to create an 18-hole golf course, hiking and equestrian trails, endangered species habitat, wetland establishment, and dedicated grazing land. The course site is a protected habitat for the federally endangered Callippe Silverspot Butterfly and the California Tiger Salamander, and the federally threatened California Red Legged Frog."

At the golf course, we met Lisa Hagopian, the Parks Maintenance Superintendent, who was pruning a tree in front of the golf building when we arrived. She talked about how she has to maintain parks and plants in the parks with both the plant's needs, the animals who utilize the plant's needs and human needs in mind in order to create a balance that is good for all. She oversees many different types of parks in our city, including the newly-acquired cemetery, which is a pioneer cemetery, meaning the grass is not watered. The rain keeps it green and when there is no rain, it turns brown. They do maintain the cemetery by picking up leaves and such and the city now has to arrange for burials at the cemetery.
Lisa Hagopian (left) speaking with Cameron, one of the students in the group


After she spoke about her background, Mark Spiller,Recreation Services Manager, spoke about his role in scheduling the use of the various parks in the city, including the tennis park, sports park and acquatic center.
Two students looking out at the view through the windows at the golf course


Our city has a lot of parks, a lot of trees and an emphasis on open space and greenery. Every person living in Pleasanton lives within half a mile of some park. We have trails and preserved open spaces on the ridge and surrounding the golf course. Grazing takes place on the preserved areas surrounding the golf course, which helps reduces the chance of fire. There is so much behind-the-scenes maintenance of the beautiful greenery in our city and I think most poeple don't realize how much planning goes into the landscaping in our town. If you pay attention to it, you realize how artistic the landscaping is. That's the job of the landscape architect, who plans where certain plants will go. He designs parks and works with a variety of different people to create natural, historic or recreational areas for people to explore.
Susan Andrade-Wax speaking with some students at the golf course




Our next stop was the Alviso Adobe Community Park, one of my favorite places in all of Pleasanton. Mike Fulford designed this one, too, which I didn't realize when I mentioned that it's my favorite place. He talked about the park, giving the history of the Adobe structure, which was built by Francisco Solano Alviso in 1844. Then, in the 1920s, the Meadowlark Dairy stood at the same site and a recreated milking barn and bunkhouse can be found at the park, replicas of the originals, recreated using old photographs. Then Andy Jorgensen, Civic Arts Manager, talked about the park from a cultural arts perspective. He had us kneel and touch the ground and then he told us a story.

Back when Stoneridge Drive was being built, something was discovered in the ground that was being developed. When the big trucks had ground through the dirt where the road was to be built, they realized that they'd come across an old burial site. It was from the Ohlone people, the Native Americans who inhabited Pleasanton for thousands of years before the Spanish came through and took over the area for the missions. Mr. Jorgensen got to see the skeletons of the Ohlone people who had been buried in what was likely a sacred site many, many years ago. One was the skeleton of a child curled up, with beads wrapped around her little head. Beside her was a couple, buried together. These people, he told us, had lived where we live now, just as the Alviso family and the Californios had lived here with other Spanish settlers who had inhabited the area, and just as the people who lived in the 1920s when the Meadowlark Dairy was located in these same foothills. The Ohlone, the Californios and the dairy farmers each had the perfect set of technology required to live as they did. We have our own set of technology, but just because we consider ours "more advanced" doesn't mean it's better than the technology of those who came before. Our iPods and cell phones would have been of no use if we were living thousands of years ago in the marshlands of Pleasanton with the Ohlone people who used mortal and pestle to grind acorns and atlatls and spears to hunt animals. Even during missionary times and in the 1920s, you needed to have more than knowledge of a computer to survive, not that that is the only knowledge we have today, but if that was all you had, you wouldn't survive. All these different people have lived on the same land as the land we now live on, and though each group had different cultures and different beliefs, the people who came before us weren't so different from us today. We're all human, after all. The ground we were kneeling on and touching was the same Earth they felt.

We walked around the park, visiting the different buildings. Mike Fulford told us that when they had first begun work at the park, he had gone up into the attic of the Alviso Adobe. It had some sort of tree shavings as insulation, which was what they used back then, and he had found a hand-made, wooden carved toy horse for a child. He showed it to us in one of the small rooms of the Adobe. A child had once lived there, it seems.
The Alviso Adobe building

The doorways in the building are quite low because Mr. Alviso was a short man. The bricks used to build the Adobe are also quite small when compared to other adobe brick buildings. "Small man, small bricks," Mr. Fulford said, quoting someone he'd spoken to about adobe bricks. The city restored the Adobe building to the time of most use, which was the 1920s, so it doesn't look as it did in the 1800s when the Alviso family first lived there. That's how buildings are often restored--to the time of most use. If the Adobe was restored to Alviso's time, there'd be no electricity and there'd be dirt floors, most likely. We also took a look at the bunkhouse, which was built with custom-made, authentic two by fours.
Materials inside the bunkhouse.


The paved pathways at the Alviso Adobe park are made of ground granite combined with tree sap. It's cheaper than many other materials used for paving and looks very natural. It also is porous enough that rainwater is absorbed and the tree roots at the park can breathe through it.

In the milking barn we learned that the cows were brought in through one door, milked in a corner, brought back toward the door and fed and then led back out. There was a silo at the site, which they did not rebuilt. The grain supplemented the grass diet of the milking cows.
Mike Fulford (left), the city's landscape architect; Susan Andrade-Wax, Director of Parks & Community Services; Mark Spiller, Recreation Services Manager


The Parks & Community Services employees told us about their job and what career they thought they wanted when they were in high school. Each told us the journey they took to reach the job they have now. In the milking barn, Kathleen Yurchak, Human Services Manager, told us about her job and her background. She grew up in Sonora and spent her summers working at the Pinecrest Lake snack shack. I told her afterwards that my best friend had grown up in Sonora and that my family visits Pinecrest every summer.

As we walked back to the van to leave, Mr. Fulford pointed out some Mexican marigolds. He had us rub our palms on the plants and smell the scent of crushed marigold--quite fragrant! The marigold flowers, I remembered, are bright yellow and were used for dying cloth during the Californio period. He also pointed out thyme and bay.

Then we drove over to the Firehouse Arts Center in downtown. On the ride over, Mr. Fulford pointed out some beautiful elm trees, which had survived the Dutch elm disease because they are isolated from any other elms. He also talked about an old locust tree that was planted a long time ago. When they redid the landscaping on Main Street about fifteen years ago, they planted locusts along the sidewalks. They're still pretty young, but eventually they will become beautifully crinkled and gnarly, just like the old locust near Gay Nineties Pizza he pointed out.
Andy Jorgensen, Civic Arts, Manager, walking toward the Firehouse Arts Center


The Firehouse Arts Center will be a performing arts theater with a gallery and classrooms. Andy Jorgensen spoke about it once we got inside the building, which isn't finished yet. It was dark and smelled of fresh paint. The elevators are merely scary, open shafts right now. There are cords and men with hard hats and unfinished walls all over the place. But it's completed enough to tell that it will be a wonderful asset for our community. The theater is very versatile and can be set up in a variety of ways, unlike our current Amador Theater which can only be viewed in a Proscenium style.

Ustairs, the classrooms can be divided into two rooms or left open. They will be places for rehearsals or classes on painting, acting or other forms of art. The building is half historic, half new. The historic aspect is the brick building that once housed the city's first fire station. The new half is painted with three colors: plum, brick red, and green. If you look at the historic firehouse, the plum and brick colors are both there. The green isn't, but it ties it all together nicely. The other side of the theater is wood paneling and that side opens to Lions Wayside Park, where Concerts in the Parks takes place in the summer. I can't wait for the Firehouse Arts Center to open in September--it will be an amazing place for the arts in Pleasanton.

The lobby at the Firehouse Arts Center


The performing arts stage from the balcony area


Unfinished classrooms being built upstairs




After the tour, Fan Ventura spoke about her administrative work for the Parks & Community Services Department. She once worked for a fire department and various other locations that have helped her in being creative when things come up with projects since she's encountered a variety of situations. Then we headed over to the Veteran's Memorial Hall for lunch, catered by Village High School. I brought my own food--tofu and rice from last night's Chinese food--because I figured the lunch wouldn't be vegan. I was correct. They had spaghetti with meatballs, cream-based pasta, caesar salad, and garlic bread. Okay, so I had some garlic bread. And some cannoli. Hey, it's a special occasion!

Mayor Jennifer Hosterman, the first woman mayor of Pleasanton, spoke about the importance of making goals and having aspirations. She gave some examples from her life about the value of doing your best to get to the place in life you want to be. Then Valerie Arkin, a school board member, spoke about Barbara Johns who is one of the first people to organize a strike before the Civil Rights Movement even began. For more information about her, click here. Ms. Arkin encouraged us to be aware of the power we have to make change in our communities.

I will finish describing Youth in Government Day later in a separate post. Thanks for reading!

Green Gal

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you had an incredible day. Thanks for sharing the detail and bringing us along for the tours. The photos are great.

    We live in an amazing city that truly cares about our youngsters. Not every city and school district would be able to devote such time and human resources to an all-day event like this.

    We are indeed blessed to live in Pleasanton.

    ReplyDelete

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