El Cerrito volunteers sought for Green Teams


By Dale F. Mead, Correspondent
Posted: 01/21/2010 10:06:38 AM PST
Updated: 01/21/2010 10:06:38 AM PST

El Cerrito's Environmental Quality Committee is looking for a few good people. Their assignment: Green Teams ­ volunteers tending environmental sites throughout the city.

The Green Teams enterprise aims to formalize, coordinate and expand long-standing city support for residents committed to maintaining and improving urban habitats.

For example, citizens have devoted long hours to making sites more eco-friendly, from Poinsett Park to Cerrito Creek, from the Natural Area to the Ohlone Greenway.

A young city program finding its way, Green Teams faces the challenge of uniting people with widely varied visions and skills to sustain their favorite natural places. It also must determine when to help do-it-yourself environmentalists, restrain them, or stay out of the way.

The city's Environmental Quality Committee, launched by current Mayor Janet Abelson in 2008, conceived Green Teams to work with the city's Environmental Services Division.

"The focus is on supporting ongoing volunteer work or new projects," said division environmental analyst Garth Schultz. One goal might be to recruit residents, groups and businesses to commit to clean up of specific sites, Schultz said, although goals will be updated in February.

Dave Weinstein, chair of EQC's Green Teams subcommittee, rated El Cerrito "a very clean city" and pointed with pride to recent successful tree plantings. He echoed Schultz's vision of "adopt-a-park" clean up teams. He pledged "to have teams organized this year to clean up the hot spots." The city traditionally has quietly worked with independent environmental activists. Its relationships with these individuals and groups have been as individualized as the projects themselves,

Friends of Five Creeks has spent years removing blackberries along Cerrito Creek and replacing them with native species. Gil Patchett of Richmond each year expands wildflower beds at the north end of Ohlone Greenway to Baxter Creek.

Friends of Baxter Creek in 2005 worked with the city to restore Baxter Creek at Key and Conlon avenues.

Jim McKissock assembles volunteers weekly to maintain a vibrant frog pond at Canyon Trail and sometimes works chorus frog habitat along the Ohlone Greenway.

He fears Greenway trees environmental volunteers planted 20 years ago won't survive major seismic reconstruction by Bay Area Rapid Transit.

The city's informal partnerships with activists was disrupted last April by the death of city engineering services manager Bruce King, who acted as liaison with volunteers for years.

Interim maintenance manager Bill Driscoll stepped in, picking up trash and compostables on request, and providing mulch and small items such as gloves and a lawn mower where available to activists.

The Green Teams program is a work in progress, constrained to city resources and the commitment and enterprise of volunteers.

McKissock, who maintains urban ecosystems in Berkeley, San Francisco and Brisbane, envisioned a much grander Green Teams role than coordinating cleanups and tree plantings.

"Effective leadership means understanding what the resources are that we are trying to protect," he said. "Being a plant person isn't enough. He or she would need to know botany, zoology, El Cerrito's natural resources."

McKissock invited prospective volunteers to contact him at earthcarenow@sbcglobal.net .

Residents who want to participate in Green Teams can contact Schultz on the El Cerrito Web Green Teams page: http://www.el-cerrito.org/esd/greenteams.html.

Contact Dale F. Mead at dfmead@comcast.net.