GRINCH WHO STOLE SUMMER: It was with great sadness that we did not festoon this week’s cover of The Independent with a crassly sensationalized, computer-altered image of a Godzilla-sized snowy plover looming menacingly over Santa Barbara’s waterfront, breathing fire, stampeding tourists, and, naturally, scaring the tans off platoons of bikini-clad women. For just a brief moment, it appeared as though such a joyous bottom-feeding romp would be justified by the facts. In case your subscription to Ornithology Today expired, the snowy plover would be yet another dime-a-dozen, boring, nondescript shorebird if it weren’t so damn cute and also so damn stupid. I say stupid because the plover has nearly gone extinct because it lays its eggs directly on top of the sand on the beach. There, the eggs are easy pickings for domesticated dogs, feral cats, crows, and ravens.
I am disappointed no critics of the Endangered Species Act have seen fit to note the morally reprehensible lifestyle choices the plover has embraced to compensate for its suicidal nesting choices. In clinical terms, the females of the species are promiscuous floozies, round-heeled jezebels eager to abandon their eggs so they can mate with any Tom, Dick, or Harry. This wanton harlotry admittedly results in more eggs. But it forces the male of the species to abandon any professional ambitions to stay home with the kids, which, in turn, serves to undermine the natural authority vested in masculine role models. I’m not sure these are biological values we really want to encourage.
Last week, what passes for news media in Santa Barbara discovered (thanks to a tip from S.B. City Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss) that the federal Fish & Wildlife Service had proposed designating a 1.8-mile stretch of Santa Barbara’s intensely urbanized waterfront — all of East and West Beach with Stearns Wharf thrown in — critical habitat for the plover’s recovery. If Frank did not directly threaten to “go to the mattresses” per se, he was definitely looking for a line in the sand to draw. Senior high-ranking bureaucrats sent out a zinger of a letter to the feds claiming the proposed designation could cost City Hall up to $13 million a year in tourist-related revenues if the waterfront were effectively shut down.
The normally unflappable and cool as a cucumber Paul Casey — Number Two in the City Hall food chain — got in on all the sky-is-falling hysteria, fueling doubts as to what the proposed designation might mean for the future of Fourth of July fireworks. Lost in all the commotion is one glaring fact. Between 1999 and 2005, the whole waterfront was officially declared — and not just proposed — critical habitat for the plover. And back then, the area in question was considerably bigger — the critical habitat zone included Leadbetter Beach, too. Somehow, the Fourth of July fireworks were allowed. People played volleyball. The world as we know it did not end.
Clearly more threatening to Santa Barbara summertime as we know it is the proposal to charge parking fees at Hendry’s and Goleta beaches. I know the county is grappling with a mega-multimillion-dollar budget deficit, but don’t the County Supes understand that free beach parking is etched into the Magna Carta, the U.S. Constitution, and the Ten Commandments?
An even bigger threat is weather weirdness, kissing cousin to climate change and global warming. Last year was the hottest ever in the history of history; 15,000 people died from heat in Russia. We’ve had more than 1,000 tornadoes already this year, some multi-funneled omnivorous beasts measuring a mile wide. Texas is aflame with wall-to-wall forest fires; more than 200,000 acres in Arizona are engulfed; the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers are threatening to kick ass on a monumental scale. By contrast, Santa Barbara is getting off easy. Last year we had the gloomiest June — and July — on record. Last weekend, some parts of the county reported the most June rain they’ve had in the history of record keeping. That the planet’s temperature rose two degrees during the past 100 years doesn’t sound like much. But when summer in Santa Barbara doesn’t really begin until December 15, havoc gets played with our bottom line.
With the exception of a few whack-jobs and paid industry stooges, scientists pretty much agree that the problem starts with the 40-percent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that have accumulated since the Industrial Revolution. In Santa Barbara, the birthplace of the modern environmental movement, we have a City Council majority that’s either skeptical that climate change is real or that anything can be done about it. Some of those councilmembers were spurred into political action a few years ago when then-councilmember Helene Schneider — now mayor — proposed drawing a light-blue line around town to show the extent of sea level rise caused by global warming. The real estate lobby came unglued: What would this do to property values? Which brings us to the single most interesting detail about the current proposal to designate our waterfront as critical habitat for the snowy plover: The feds are trying to secure backup space for the birds in response to the sea-level rise — one to three meters — they forecast will occur by the end of the century because of climate change. That’s never been proposed before. Talk about your light-blue line! In the meantime, we’ll need to hug our inner June Gloom. For those of us oppressed by the constant expectation to be cheerful and frolic in the sunshine, it’s good news. And tell Godzilla there’s no need for sunscreen. Skin cancer will be the least of his problems.