Big Sur and California’s Beloved Coastline

This post is part of our Earth Week blog series. Check back every day between now and Friday for new blog posts. 

by Shelley Alden Brooks, author of Big Sur: The Making of a Prized California Landscape

California’s world-famous coastline is integral to the state’s economy, to residents’ sense of well-being, and to the California Dream, but only since the 1970s has a groundswell of support emerged to protect this prized resource from spoliation. Alarm over rapid change along the coast, including its deterioration from residential and commercial development, disappearing wetlands, new marinas, and the proposed freeways and nuclear plants, catalyzed the people who had come to know the coast as the geographic “soul” of California. In 1976, the state legislature passed the Coastal Act to make permanent the California Coastal Commission, an agency created out of a ballot initiative passed four years earlier. The Coastal Commission’s efforts to guide sustainable coastal land use and increase coastal access have prompted support and appreciation from many Californians, as well as emulation from coastal governments around the country and the world. But there has also been pushback and resistance from the California industries, government officials, and private citizens who believe the Coastal Act gave the state agency too much power to regulate private property.

My book explores how locals in Big Sur (an exceptionally beautiful 75-mile stretch of California’s central coast) have worked alongside county and state officials to seek a balance between the priorities of preservation and property rights. Built into the parameters of Big Sur’s well-preserved scenery is an unusual conviction that preservation and habitation can be mutually supportive endeavors. In part this has been achieved because Monterey County and Big Sur residents began in the mid twentieth century to pioneer open-space planning, conservation easements, intergovernmental collaboration and citizen activism, and transfer development credits to accommodate the needs of Big Sur’s natural and human communities. But Big Sur’s unique status also derives from the mystique created by iconic writers such as Robinson Jeffers and Henry Miller who used their talents to showcase this unusual meeting of beauty and culture. Today, the name ‘Big Sur’ conjures up images of a place uniquely Californian, carved out of the geologic and cultural forces of which the state has a disproportionate share. While Big Sur’s well-preserved vistas and minimal development embody the Coastal Act’s mission, its high-end real estate and vacation homes reflect the steep social costs associated with preservation.

Big Sur, like any landscape, is not static; shifting economic realities and perceptions of nature’s worth can alter the place. Ansel Adams acknowledged this in 1980 when he unsuccessfully campaigned for a federal seashore. However, if the integrity of Big Sur’s Coastal Commission-approved land use plan is maintained, including the protection of Highway 1 as a two-lane road, minimal change will come to the built environment. But it is not so much the physical boundaries (though these are formidable) that prevent overdevelopment in Big Sur, as the social boundaries erected to preserve something unique along the California coast. Considerable momentum backs the commitment to Big Sur’s wild and storied land, and the status of both of these elements will continue to reveal a good deal about Californians’ relationship to their beloved coast.


Shelley Alden Brooks teaches Twentieth-Century U.S., California, and Environmental History at the University of California, Davis. She also works for the California History-Social Science Project and serves on the statewide Environmental Literacy Steering Committee.


4 Must-Read Journals at the 2016 Western History Association Conference

Get inspired at the 2016 Western History Association Annual Meeting (October 20-23, St. Paul, MN) with important Western History research from four UC Press journals: California History, Pacific Historical Review, Southern California Quarterly, and Boom: A Journal of CaliforniaIn celebration of this conference, each journal is offering free access to a special selection of #WHA2016 content—from WHA award-winning articles to virtual issues.

2016 WHA attendees: Be sure to visit UC Press at booth #29 to see our full list of books and journals in Western History.


California History

Editor: Josh Sides, California State University, Northridge

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 1.21.00 PMUnder the stewardship of the California Historical Society for nearly one hundred years, California History is pleased to offer a special virtual issue on Nature in California History. The virtual issue features historical research on the demise of the Galapagos Turtle during and after the Gold Rush; salt harvesting in Alameda County; the rise of sweet pea cultivation at the turn-of-the-nineteenth-century; irrigation in late nineteenth-century Los Angeles; Bee-keeping in early twentieth-century Los Angeles; the intrigue surrounding the killing of the second-to-last grizzly bear in California in 1916; and the “sprawl” of Yosemite after World War II.

 

 

Pacific Historical Review

Editors: Marc Rodriguez and Brenda D. Frink, Portland State University

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 1.30.49 PMThe official publication of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association, the Pacific Historical Review has published dozens of award-winning articles. PHR is especially pleased to have been honored multiple times by the Western History Association. To celebrate two Western History Association prizes that will be awarded to PHR this year, we’re offering limited-time complimentary access to these new award-winning articles.

Ray Allen Billington Prize of the Western History Association

A Divide to Heal the Union: The Creation of the Continental Divide
James D. Drake, Vol. 84, No. 4 (November 2015): 409-47.

Jensen-Miller Award of the Western History Association

“A Little Home for Myself and Child”: The Women of the Quapaw Agency and the Policy of Competency
Katherine Ellinghaus, 

 

Southern California Quarterly

Editor: Merry Ovnick, California State University, Northridge

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The flagship publication of the Historical Society of Southern CaliforniaSouthern California Quarterly is pleased to present a special virtual issue on Home Strategies: Class, Race, Community, and Empowerment in 20th Century Los AngelesSince the journal’s first publication in 1884, Southern California Quarterly has consistently published articles that address housing development, discrimination, and empowerment, a sampling of which is showcased in this virtual issue.

 

 

 

Boom: A Journal of California

Editor: Jason Sexton, California State University, Fullerton

Screen Shot 2016-10-19 at 3.27.12 PMLed by guest editors Susan Moffat and Jonathan Crisman, and with contributions from UCLA and UC Berkeley’s Urban Humanities initiatives, Boom presents its Fall issue on “Urban Humanity.” The issue explores exciting and innovative ways that history, geography, and literature intersect with urban studies, art, and architecture to help us better engage with the world.

Read the entire issue for free at boom.ucpress.edu, and join the editors and contributors for special events in honor of the new publication.

 

Thursday, October 27, 5-7PM
UCLA, Perloff Hall courtyard, Los Angeles

Thursday, November 10, 5–7PM
UC Berkeley, 110 Wurster Hall, Berkeley


The 25th Anniversary of the Great Oakland Hills Fire

by Gregory L. Simon, author of Flame and Fortune in the American West: Urban Development, Environmental Change, and the Great Oakland Hills Fire

Flame and Fortune in the American West cover

Another day, another menacing wildfire. This appears to be the new fire regime for much of the American West. These days it is not uncommon to learn of several fire events each week – many of which threaten human settlements and force the evacuation of hundreds at the urban fringe. Meanwhile, tens of millions of dollars are spent fighting dangerous fires each month – an ever-expanding budget that reached nearly one billion in California alone during the 2016 fiscal year.

Continue reading “The 25th Anniversary of the Great Oakland Hills Fire”


Myriad Atlases: Now Available as E-Books

UC Press is pleased to announce that the following titles in the Myriad Atlas Series The Atlas of Climate Change, The Atlas of Religion, The Atlas of Food, The State of China Atlas, The Atlas of Global Inequalities, and The Atlas of California are now available for the first time, in addition to their print format versions, as e-book editions.

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Sample interior spreads (please click to expand):


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CALIFORNIA-Health-care

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About Myriad Atlases:

Myriad’s award-winning atlases, some of which are published in the United States by University of California Press, are unique visual surveys of economic, political and social trends. By ingeniously transforming statistical data into valuable, user-friendly resources, they make a range of global issues – from climate change to world religions – accessible to general readers, students and professionals alike.


Once Is Not Enough

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Santa Margarita Lake-Explore #126 2/5/15” by Linda Tanner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

by David Carle, author of Introduction to Water in California, Second Edition

Water is the essence of life, the key to California’s history and its future. Today, water choices are complicated by ignorance about how water reaches faucets and farm fields and by our society’s unwillingness to step away from an historic attitude about water supply that might be characterized as: “Too much will never be enough.”

Must we choose massive twin tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta or expensive new dams that will yield only a small percentage of their constructed reservoir capacities? Does it make sense to build ultra-expensive ocean desalination plants? “Fish versus farmers?” Really? Must we go there? Why pump from groundwater basins at rates we know are unsustainable and irresponsible? Can’t we admit that returning water to the environment is not a new “water demand,” but belated recognition that far too much has been taken away?

Incredible progress is being made in this state, where cities and large water districts are weaning themselves from imported water. And much more is possible. Every Californian should know that:

  • Through conservation and highly-treated wastewater, the Water Replenishment District of Southern California (which used to import 80 percent of its supply for 4 million customers) aims for 100 percent reliance on stormwater and recycling in the near future.
  • The City of Santa Monica plans to eliminate use of imported water sources by 2020.
  • Los Angeles intends to cut its imported water purchases in half by 2025.
  • Agricultural efficiencies could save 4 to 6 million acre-feet of water a year in the state (according to several published studies; equivalent to what is diverted from the Delta each year).

Thirsts can be quenched by wiser use of water within cities and on farms. Let’s use local water again and again…and again. Once is not enough. New urban development should be designed to add nothing to the overall community “thirst.” The 2014 Sustainable Groundwater Management Act set implementation goals in the year 2040; can’t that plodding approach be accelerated? Let’s push for irrigation and crop choices that reduce agricultural thirsts, because wiser farm production benefits the entire society.

The future we choose for California will continue to be shaped by decisions about water.

David Carle is a former park ranger and the author of California Natural History Guides about water, fire, air, and soil (UC Press), as well as other books in water history and management, including Drowning the Dream: California’s Water Choices at the Millennium and Water and the California Dream. His most recent UC Press book is Traveling the 38th Parallel: A Water Line around the World (2013).

The new, updated edition of Introduction to Water in California is available for purchase now. Order your copy here.


Southern California’s Coast: Past and Future

by Keith Heyer Meldahl

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California Coast” by Kārlis Dambrāns is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Walk on a Southern California beach, and a sense of permanence may come to mind. The sand scrunches predictably underfoot, the coastal bluffs loom seemingly unchanged, and the sea brushes the shore with its same ageless rhythm. Yet the scene can quickly change. Waves from a single storm may erase that beach. Portions of the bluff may collapse without warning. A large earthquake might elevate the coast several feet in an instant. And if we flip back through just the last few million years, the coastal scene, far from appearing stable, looks like frenetic animation. The sea bobs up and down, earthquakes crackle without letup, tsunamis wash ashore, and islands lurch up from the sea.

Does it matter to know these things? I think yes. Probing Southern California’s geologic past can inform decisions we make today. The past tells us that earthquakes and tsunamis will strike the coast again, and although we cannot predict when or where, we can prepare. It also tells us that Southern California’s beaches are in constant flux, with sand arriving and leaving in vast quantities every year. But river dams and seawalls have choked off sand arrivals to the beaches, so now more sand leaves than arrives. Shrunken beaches give coastal bluffs less protection from wave attack. Today, miles of rock and concrete armor much of Southern California’s coast, but these only postpone the sea’s advance. And what of the sea itself? Here too, the past is clear. In recent geologic time, the sea has risen and fallen hundreds of feet as polar ice sheets have come and gone. By happenstance, much of human history has unfolded during a time of unusually stable sea level. That is changing. We presently face a probable sea rise of two to six feet over the next century.

These developments—shrinking beaches and rising seas—point to a looming coastal erosion crisis for Southern California. How will we handle it? Perhaps through a combination of managed retreat and beach replenishment (importing sand to depleted beaches). But the scale of such replenishment will necessarily be enormous. We will need to import enough sand onto our beaches to make up for ongoing losses from dams and seawalls and to keep up with the rising sea. I’m reminded of Alice in Wonderland, where the Red Queen explains to Alice, “You see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.”

Keith Heyer Meldahl is Professor of Geology and Oceanography at Mira Costa College and the author of Surf, Sand, and Stone: How Waves, Earthquakes, and Other Forces Shape the Southern California Coast (UC Press, 2015).

 


How the Panama-Pacific International Exposition Brought Modernism to Northern California

by Nancy Boas, author of The Society of Six: California Colorists

The 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco shattered Northern California’s artistic isolation with a mammoth display of art from over the world. Tucked away in the fair’s historical sections were some fifty French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings that particularly impressed a group of Oakland painters known as the Society of Six. The Impressionists’ work may have been over forty years old, but it was new to the Six, opening up a different way of seeing and converting them to modernism. Paul Cézanne’s Gulf of Marseilles, Seen from L’Estaque, Camille Pissarro’s The Red Roofs, Claude Monet’s Vétheuil, and Pierre Bonnard’s Dining Room in the Country all offered bountiful inspiration for the new approach to light and color.

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The Society of Six: California Colorists traces the lives and art of Selden Connor Gile, August Gay, William Clapp, Maurice Logan, Louis Siegriest, and Bernard von Eichman and devotes a chapter to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition and its influence on the group. Gile responded most dramatically to the lessons of the exposition. Overnight he abandoned his skillful, measured tonalist work in favor of energetic brushstrokes and vivid color. The conversion of Gile, the captain and leader of the group, became the catalyst for the others.

With the exposition, the Six discovered the coloristic tools and painterly techniques they needed to realize their ambitions. They began using color juxtapositions to create light, working outdoors, and revealing instead of concealing the artist’s hand in the painted surface. For their plein-air painting they preferred intimate rustic scenery—humble cottages, fieldwork, barnyards, shacks, and beached boats—usually avoiding suggestions of the industrial world. They rejected painstaking studio work in their desire for speed and direct action. To get the effects they wanted, they sometimes laid down colors separately on the canvas so they would mix optically in the spectator’s eye, or they might paint wet-in-wet, applying color over and into other colors on the canvas before it dried. They preferred small canvases that were easy to handle outdoors and liked to finish a painting in one sitting.

Their paintings took on an edgy New World vitality that constituted a departure from accepted tastes in the Bay Area of the time. On first glance an homage to French Impressionist ideas, these works are distinctly American, with the rough finish of their brushstrokes and the vibrant displays of clear and high-keyed color. Paintings like Selden Gile’s Boat and Yellow Hills and Tiburon Rooftops and August Gay’s Woman in the Garden demonstrate the response of Californians to the French works at the Fair.

Nancy Boas will be giving a related talk, Lifting the Veil: The PPIE and the Society of Six, on Saturday, December 5th at 2:00 p.m. at the de Young Museum.

See also: Jewel City: Art from San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition.


The 2015 Western History Association is Alive in Portland!

University of California Press is loading up our wagon with books and hitting the Oregon Trail for the 2015 Western History Association Annual Conference. The meeting convenes October 21-24 in Portland, Oregon.

Please visit us at booth 20 in the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower to check out our latest titles and receive the following offers:

  • 40% conference discount on all orders
  • Request exam copy requests for course adoption for your upcoming classes
  • Win $100 worth of books! Join our eNews subscription

Explore this year’s conference theme “Thresholds, Walls, and Bridges” throughout our award winning California and Western History lists. These titles cover a spectrum of topics ranging from history, music, politics, race, and immigration.

Please see our conference program ad for our latest offerings. Acquisitions and marketing staff will be available for your publishing questions.

Follow @WhaHistory for current meeting news.


California’s History of Reproductive Injustice

by Alexandra Minna Stern

This guest post is part of a series published in conjunction with the meeting of the American Studies Association in Toronto. UC Press authors share insight into their research and stories that reflect this year’s conference theme, “The (Re)production of Misery and the Ways of Resistance.” We hope these personal glimpses into their scholarship will inspire a broad community of readers. Come back for new posts every day between now and October 11th.

Eugenic Nation, 2nd ed. coverLast year Governor Jerry Brown signed a law prohibiting sterilization in California’s prisons. The California Legislative Women’s Caucus had spearheaded this bill after learning that about 150 women in two California prisons had received unauthorized sterilizations between 2006 and 2011. In the words of the Women’s Caucus, these unsanctioned procedures, some of which occurred under duress, compromised “the ban on eugenics.”

When I published Eugenic Nation in 2005, I did not anticipate that California lawmakers would be revisiting eugenics and nonconsensual sterilization any time soon. After all, a previous governor and the senate had apologized in 2003 for an eugenic sterilization program that involved more than 20,000 operations in nine institutions, most performed between 1920 and 1950.

Yet revelations about reproductive injustice in California institutions should not have come as much of a surprise. In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California prisons were in violation of the “cruel and unusual punishment” clause of the Eighth Amendment. Moreover, the system was mismanaged enough to land in receivership. This administrative and bureaucratic disarray helped to permit the utter devaluation and defilement of women’s reproductive lives.

Spurred by a desire to contextualize the recent prison sterilizations, I undertook a second edition of Eugenic Nation. Beyond connecting the historical dots over more than a century, the new edition incorporates findings from 20,000 sterilization recommendations preserved on 19 microfilm reels. In 2007 I discovered this amazing source at the offices of the California Department of Mental Health; my team and I are in the midst of using these documents for quantitative and qualitative analysis and for innovative digital humanities projects.

California’s protracted and recalcitrant history of sterilization abuse reveals that while, in the 2010s, political condemnation of nonconsensual sterilizations might be swift, the conditions for reproductive injustice—above all of poor women, people of color, and those disproportionately institutionalized—can exist as comfortably in a neo-liberal “post-racial” era as they did during the ascendance of racial segregation and the welfare state.

Alexandra Minna Stern is Professor of American Culture, Obstetrics and Gynecology, History, and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. UC Press will publish the updated second edition of Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Betting Breeding in Modern America in December, 2015.

Please use hashtag #2015ASA when sharing on Twitter or Facebook.


Jon Christensen Interviewed in BayNature

I tell all of our writers that what we want to do in the pages of the magazine is, once a quarter, host one of the most lively, interesting, fun, and provocative dinner party conversations in California. It’s as if you’d invited a dozen of your friends, from all walks of life, over for dinner, and you’re having a super passionate conversation about the things you all care about. That’s the voice of Boom.

Boom: A Journal of California editor Jon Christensen talks to BayNature about his editorial vision for the quarterly journal, why he loves both Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and what intrigues him about people’s connection to the environment. Read the full interview here, then head over to Boom to browse the new Fall 2014 issue.