Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Great decisions: think nature, think children

How do we know that a town is doing it’s best to preserve its soul? How do we know that the best decisions are being made for the deepest quality of that town?

Here’s my answer: we are making our best decisions when we are listening deeply to two groups that aren’t going to stand up and talk in city council meetings: children and nature. Take care of these two and you are going to have a town with soul, a town with heart.

Where does this lead us? To parks, parks, parks, and to paths for walking and paths for bicycles. A park is nature for everyone, the rich person’s estate for all to enjoy. This is the Plaza. This is the Overlook Trail. This is the bike path. This is the Garden Park. These are places a child is safe from the world of the car. This is a place a child can breathe fresh air, sit under a tree, see the blue sky above, get down on the earth and be a creature of this world.

This is why, without knowing it so much even, I put in five years of my life helping to get the Sonoma Garden Park going. I wish Pauline Bond’s name were still in it, I wish it were called the Pauline Bond Garden Park, but whatever it is called, Garden and Park (along with Library) are among the high points of civic creation, and this is a place which is of great credit to this town, to the children of this town, to all of us that want to connect with the food we eat in a beautiful, serene, hands on, and organic location.

I used to have this slogan for the garden: helping soul and soil. To help one is to help the other. To neglect one, is to neglect the other.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Water, water, water.

This is in other places on this website, but watch: an acre foot of water is an acre one foot high in water.

The Plaza is 8.5 acres.

So the Plaza one foot high in water is 8.5 acre feet.

And it rains about 2 and a half feet of rain a winter,
so the Plaza gets 21.25 acre feet of water a year.

How much is that? An acre foot of water is about a third of a million gallons.


Are we conserving that, being conservatives in the real meaning of the word?


Can we?


Do I want to bring nature into all our decisions? Yes.

One more water fact:
the City (all of us users combined) uses 700 million gallons of water a year.


Let's create a program to pay people to take out front lawns
and put in drought tolerant gardens.


And, finally, how to calculate the rainfall on your rooftop?

Take the square feet and multiply by 2.5 feet of rain per winter for the cubic feet of water.

E.g. 2000 sq. ft. roof, means 5000 cubic feet of water.

Take that times 7.5 gallons of water per cubic foot.

So, for our example, 5000 X 7.5 = 27,500 gallons of water per winter.

What to do with that, or the seven million falling on the Plaza?

Dig dry wells, pour it down in during the winter, let it percolate back up in the summer when we need it.

Or, for houses, cisterns, even.

Let's start thinking about this precious rain, each winter's gift that we shove so heedlessly down our storm drains.

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Friday, September 24, 2004

Why I am running for city council

Why am I running for city council?
By Chris Elms, for the city of Sonoma council.
September 24, 2004

I am running for city council because I love life, I love Marlie and I love Sonoma. Because I love life, I don’t waste my time in a car box when I can be out walking or on a bike, where the ceiling is five miles high, where the air is fresh, where I can see flowers and trees and talk to people I know.

I love Marlie because I’m lucky enough to have figured out how to have a great relationship and lucky enough to have meet another person, who with me takes this responsibility: her job is not to make me happy. My job is not to make her happy. We are happy on our own steam and then come together for glory and friendship and fun.
For the same sort of responsibility reasons I’m running for city council. I wanted to see root, radical, real ideas being brought up. I didn’t see them being brought up. I decided to run and bring them up.

I love Sonoma and see it being ruined by people whose minds are in this box: we have to keep building at the rate of 100 units a year and “that’s only, really, the historical average of 88 units per year.”
That’s turning our small town into a place that is in danger of no longer being a small town.

I’m running to say: let’s stop that nonsense and lower the rate to 50 or 44, and make that building ecological, with green space around us.

I’m running because no one else was or is talking about lowering the speed limit. Don’t we want to get through town quicker? Isn’t it hard to drive by the Plaza on weekends and event days?

No to getting through town quicker. A faster life is a life in rush is a life that is missing the pleasure of the moment. Yes, it’s hard getting by the Plaza. Treat yourself to a bike ride, or staying home and talking to someone you love.

Think of sex. It is now. It is in the body. It feels good.

Think of a fresh peach. It is now. It is sensation in the body. I tastes good.

Think of watching a child laugh or play. It is now. The pleasure, if you notice it well, is in your body. It feels good.

Quality of life is about coming to the now, and being happy in the moment. All the rest is not worth putting on your tombstone.

I’m running because I love to speak in public and want to raise issues of what is happiness, what is a good life, how we can connect to nature as part of who we are as human beings, how we can keep our small town small, how we can take care of each other in humane ways. A living wage law is taking care of each other. Slowing down traffic so it’s more fun and easy to walk and be on a bike is taking care of each other and the earth. Slowing down the rate of building and making it ecological is taking care of each other and the earth.

These are the commandments of permaculture ( a system of design and thinking to promote a permanent culture, like that of native tribes who lived in balance with the earth for thousands and thousands of years):

Care for the Earth.
Care for each other.
Sharing of the surplus.

That’s it, and I’d add: be present. This breath is precious. This trip downtown is precious: don’t waste it in a car box. Get onto your feet or onto your bike.

I truly think being in a car box limits the mind. A roof two inches above our heads is a trapped space, fine for listening to someone else’s ideas on the radio, but poor for thinking new thoughts. Get out under a ceiling five miles high to have real thoughts. I am running to win and I would love your support. Give a call, contribute money, walk a neighborhood. Talk to people. It’s fun. They love hearing my platform: slow down traffic, slow down building, involve ecology in all decisions. And, I should add, take care of each other.
If you join this campaign, you’ll be joining a movement to reclaim our lives from the false promise of happiness later. The false promise of slowing down the building later. The false promise of being happy after you’ve rushed around enough.

Happiness is now. This campaign is for fun and it’s to win, win big so all the dinosaurs in their stuck thinking can wake up and see: oh, my god, the people really do want to change how things are drifting along.

I would love to talk to any group you might want to organize for a little half hour to hour meeting. I will not, however, do a coffee and cookie thing: I will do an organic tea and organic fruit thing. I believe eating organic is good for our bodies, it tastes better and it’s better for the earth. Even better, let’s get together in someone’s garden, chat, pull a few weeds, share what we love about being alive, and then let me tell you about the campaign and answer any questions.

Love, earth and happiness to you all:

Chris Elms
Phone: 707-996-1437
website: (calm)

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Friday, September 10, 2004

Cities of joy: Ode Magazine article

Ode magazine is fantastic. It’s an alternative for people hungry to see real and positive changes in the world today.

In their words,
“Ode is an independent magazine about the people and ideas that are changing the world."

Readers’ used to carry it. That’s how I discovered it. They’ve since stopped. Check out to see how great it is, and then bug Readers’ to start carrying it again.

Following are the amazing accomplishments of Enrique Peñalosa, who was the mayor of Bogotá, Columbia for just three years, in 1998-2001. This is part of an article in the latest issue called "Cities of Joy."

The rest of the article is great, too, and can be found at

In just three years, 1998-2001 (terms limits prevented him from seeking a second term) Peñalosa’s Administration accomplished the following:
· Created the Trans-Milenio, a bus rapid transit system (BRT), which now carries a half-million passengers daily on special bus lanes that offer most of the advantages of a metro at a fraction of the cost.

· Built 52 new schools, refurbished 150 others, added 14,000 computers to the public school system, and increased student enrollment by 34 percent.

· Established or refurbished 1200 parks and playgrounds throughout the city.

· Built three large and 10 neighborhood libraries.

· Built 100 nurseries for children under five, and found permanent sources of funding.

· Improved life in the slums by bringing water to 100 percent of Bogotá households, and buying undeveloped land on the outskirts of the city to prevent real estate speculation. This land is to be developed as affordable housing with electrical, sewage, and telephone service as well as space reserved for parks, schools, and greenways.

· Saw the murder rate fall by two-thirds. (This was almost all conventional crime; contrary to expectations, terrorist acts are rare in Bogotá.)

· Reclaimed the sidewalks from motorists, who traditionally saw them as either a passing lane or a parking lot. “I was almost impeached by the car-owning upper classes,” Peñalosa notes, “ but it was popular with everyone else.”

· Established 300 kilometers of separated bikeways, the largest network in the developing world.

· Created the world’s longest pedestrian street, 17 kilometers crossing much of the city, as well as a 45- kilometer greenway along a path that had been originally slated for an eight-lane highway.

· Reduced peak traffic by 40 percent with a system where motorists must leave cars at home during rush hour two days a week. He also raised parking fees and local gas taxes, with half of the proceeds going to fund the new bus transit system.

· Inaugurated an annual car-free day, where everyone from CEOs to janitors had to had commute to work in some way other than a private automobile.

· Planted 100,000 trees.


Monday, September 06, 2004

4 campaign pillars

Happiness comes from being in the present and being aware of the world. It also comes from learning how to get out of habits that are producing unhappiness, whether it be an uncomfortable movement, or a harsh time in a relationship, or a life that is too busy. If we are in a rush, we miss happiness.

Slow down traffic, slow down our minds, let’s pause, breathe, enjoy, live a good life!

Slow down building. We are putting up too much new housing, too fast, too crammed in tight. Human beings are not meant to live like sardines. Make sure there is some open space around all building projects and lower the allowed rate from 100 units a year to 40-50 units per year.


The habit of seeing if I can see things outside of the habitual ways comes from who I am , and my Feldenkrais training. In the Feldenkrais Method, a sore back or a sore neck aren’t mainly in the back or neck, they are in the brain, and how the brain is organizing the whole being to create and maintain that sore back and neck.
Try this experiment, which I’ve started to do sometimes door to door, and will do at all the debates. Pick up both hands. Wiggle the fingers around, and then interlace your fingers. And then move the now together hands around. Next, look at which thumb is on top, take apart the fingers and interlace them again with the other thumb on top, and all the fingers interlaced, now one notch up or down from usual, and then move your hands around. It feels very strange.

Then goes back and forth and look: from the point of view of two hands and what they can do, it’s 50%/ 50% which way to choose. But from the point of view of the brain and our habits, it’s actually about 100%/ 0% what we choose.

Our ideas about the car, about nature, about how things are done at city hall are all examples of habits that we forget are habits.

Most of you know I was instrumental in creating what has now become the Sonoma Garden Park. For 4 almost 5 years (some 5000 hours or so of volunteering on this beautiful piece of land) I persisted, often alone, and then with more and more help (thanks to Ken Brown for coming to the rescue at a crucial time; thanks to Richard Dale and the Ecology Center for always being in the background, and helping when the times were desparate). This is now a beautiful part of the city. Come visit it if you haven’t yet, it’s at East 7th and Denmark, on land that Pauline Bond willed to the city as a park. I call it the seventh jewel of Sonoma.

(Aside: the seven jewels of Sonoma:
1) the bike path, Field of Dreams, Depot Park corridor
2) the Plaza, where people can get out of their cars and be a real human for awhile
3) the Overlook Trail, created by a town that reject a hotel up there
4) the Sebastiani Theater
5) Reader’s Books
6) The Community Center
7) The Sonoma Garden Park.
End of aside)

I see nature as a place of coming back to ourselves. I see soil as a place to reconnect with soul. You can read all the ecological programs the first position paper.

Ecology is about connecting to Earth. It's about reversing the upside down world where life is planned around the automobile, where we are forgetting the miracle of having feet and being able to walk. It is about using the resources of nature, the sun and wind and rain, and being in harmony with them. It is about getting out of our car boxes, and our house and office boxes, and out into the fresh world from which all humanity came.

It is about building the soil more than we are using up, creating a relationship where soil and soul build on and nourish each other. It's about living in harmony with trees and soil and other life forms. It is about sleeping outdoors sometimes, and having creeks that we can get to and enjoy and that are alive and full of happy fish. And so on. Your heart knows all this.

Slowing down brings us back to the rate of nature, back to the present, back to pace where we can know we are alive, and know the ones we love are important, and know how much we cherish and value natur

City council meetings are like this (my opinion, which it seems I’m not afraid to give); from 7 to 8 PM, very interesting; from 8 to 9 PM, sort of interesting; from 9 to 9:30 , boring; from 9:30 to 10, really boring; from 10 PM on, deadly boring. So, a lot of people are too worn down to participate.

I see using my email contacts to get information out and back, and want to set up something on the city web site telling the budget, the important issues, and offering a change for them to vote on certain issues (the police/sheriff thing, say). Many of you have met me going door to door; I love this interaction and want to continue this, when and if I get onto council. And, as you know, you can find me pretty easily around town, riding my bike here and there.

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