Fire Remediation and Recovery

Grassroots Advocacy Groups Organize to Stem Toxic Runoff

Julie Horner joins a community workday to assist the local effort to stem toxic runoff from burned properties after the CZU Complex Fires.

On a bright Saturday morning in mid-November, about 30 volunteers gathered in the meadow just inside the gate to the community of Last Chance, coffee cups, water bottles, and sunscreen in hand. We had signed up in advance to join Fire Remediation and Recovery Action Days coordinated by a coalition of individuals and the grassroots groups Wildfire Protectors Corps, Santa Cruz Relief, Grow the Change, and CoRenewal to help prevent soil erosion and contain ash and toxins from structure burns by installing material to filter and break down toxic runoff before it enters the watershed. We’d be working side-by-side with environmental leaders, fire remediation experts, volunteers from all over Santa Cruz County, and neighbors from Last Chance who lost everything to the CZU Complex Fire. Over the course of a 3-day effort, as many as 80 volunteers were on hand in Last Chance to work through affected properties one by one. The coalition has visited sites where homes and structures burned in Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek, and Last Chance.

Last Chance is a rugged, back-to-the-earth alternative community in the hills above Davenport and the name of the approximately eight miles of dirt road that winds from Swanton Road at Highway 1 between Waddell and Scott Creeks into the western boundary of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Along its spurs and private drives, few structures were spared by the CZU Complex Fire. With over 100 homesites affected, remediation and recovery has been something property owners have had to do on their own without support from the county or private insurers. 

Fire Remediation and Recovery Action Days organizers coordinated with property owners to determine where to assign erosion control teams. Priority was determined by the ability of the property owner to mitigate their own toxins and by areas considered to be the most impacted.

Volunteers place straw wattles around a toxic property. Photo contributed by Tiffany Worthington.

Boulder Creek resident and community leader with Grow the Change, Rebekah Uccellini, and Tiffany Worthington of Wildfire Protectors Corps based in Santa Cruz delivered the welcome and overview before volunteers loaded into 4-wheel drive vehicles, most driven by Last Chance locals. Once at our assigned property many miles into the heart of the community, Oroville based permaculture educator, consultant, and designer, Matt Trumm, who lost his own home in the Paradise Fire and whose work in Paradise has set the standard for community fire remediation, and Mau Rivera of Sherwood Design Engineers talked volunteers through the basics. 

Our job was to swale and contour areas around burned structures; lay and stake lengths of straw wattle into the contours to direct runoff; pair the wattles with 20-foot compost socks to absorb toxins; inoculate the wattles with native fungi; and then pack low points on slope with straw to act as catch basins to contain toxins. Mycelium-inoculated wattles, called “myco-wattles,” are part of a pioneering area of study to put living organisms back into the soil to help regenerate the scarred earth while also acting to remediate heavy metals, plastics, and other chemicals from toxic ash. In our case, native oyster mushroom mycelium was provided.

Compost socks laid on swale with extra wooden stakes ready for the next section on property in Last Chance.
Photo by Julie Horner for the SLV Post.

While compost socks and wattles look similar, they each perform a separate role in controlling toxic runoff. Straw wattles are used for erosion control and to direct water runoff away from sensitive areas and toward the compost sock, which is filled with wood chips and other organic materials that are good at containing toxins. Compost socks are most effective when placed about five feet from the burn site, while straw wattles can be used anywhere in the site to control water flow. 

Placing straw wattles with compost socks to create an effective toxic runoff barrier. Photo contributed by Tiffany Worthington.

Initially, areas are assessed to estimate how rainwater will run off, and colored flags are placed to indicate to handcrews where to apply the wattles and compost socks. Teams then use pick-axes and shovels to create a swale, or shallow channel, in line with the markers where the wattles and compost socks will be laid on contour. Next, crews drive wooden stakes into the wattles and compost socks at specific intervals to hold them in place, about every four feet. Crews then optionally stuff a handful of mycelium-inoculated straw into the wattles at two-foot intervals. Absorbent material can be removed as hazmat after the rainy season.

Work with organizers to help build policy and develop community coalition: |

If you need runoff control materials, complete the request form from the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County:

Join the Boulder Creek Wattle Project on Facebook:

SLV Post-Fire Environmental Resources

Read more about environmental action in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the San Lorenzo Valley Post.

Installing compost socks in swale on a property in Last Chance. Photo by Julie Horner for the SLV Post.
Installing compost socks in swale on a property in Last Chance. Photo by Julie Horner for the SLV Post.
Volunteers in Last Chance spread loose straw to reduce runoff. Photo by Julie Horner for the SLV Post.
Inoculating straw wattle with mycelium in Last Chance. Photo by Julie Horner for the SLV Post.

© November 2020 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post

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Not So Friendly Skies – SLV Residents Move to Stop Proposed Jet Flightpath

By Mary Andersen

A new flight path has Happy Valley and Los Gatos/Saratoga residents angry and eager to move it to the San Lorenzo Valley. Some claim that, since their homes are worth more than ours, the path should be shifted out of their neighborhoods and onto ours.


Photo by Sean McLean

We already have a flight path. It’s called BIGSUR, or BSR, and it routes over downtown Santa Cruz, Pasatiempo, west Scotts Valley, north through SLV to the Summit Skyline area, to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). This path is still in use today and supports older aircraft not equipped with satellite navigation.

In March 2015 the FAA, as part of their Next Generation Air Transportation program (NextGen), implemented a new path, called SERFR, which travels from the coast at Capitola, over Happy Valley and Los Gatos summit towards SFO. This path was designed to accommodate a wide range of aircraft with satellite navigation capabilities. SERFR is low, loud, and concentrated. The FAA says they can fix that.

Neighborhoods under SERFR lodged thousands of complaints. With the assistance of Congressman Sam Farr they organized Save Our Skies Santa Cruz and were later joined by Quiet Skies NorCal. They created a proposal for a new flight path, called DAVYJ, over the City of Santa Cruz, SLV, and communities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Keep in mind, this new path would be in addition to the BSR flight path we already have. The proposal was endorsed by Farr and 1st District Supervisor John Leopold.

Community groups from the coast to the airport rejected the Quiet Skies NorCal proposal noting that it eliminated noise for those under SERFR by increasing noise and airplane traffic for communities under the proposed new DAVYJ flight path. In addition, DAVYJ was offered up as the only solution, when in fact other proposals submitted by groups closer to the airport were ignored.

In March, Supervisor Leopold wrote that the proposal constituted a “regional solution” that had been “worked on by all community groups throughout the area.” Congressman Farr stated in his newsletter that he hand-delivered the Quiet Skies NorCal proposal to Michael Huerta, Administrator of the FAA, assuring him that it was “the ideal solution.” Both assertions were false – residents under the proposed DAVYJ flight path in Santa Cruz and SLV were neither informed nor invited to provide input.

In April, Congressional Representatives Anna Eshoo, Jackie Speier, and Sam Farr appointed 12 elected officials (+12 alternates) to a Select Committee on SFO Arrivals. Their charter has been to analyze items labeled “feasible” by the FAA, accept community input, and report to Congress with a set of recommendations.

When the FAA released their study in May, Santa Clara and San Mateo County community groups were frustrated to see that their recommendations were not included. Only suggestions from Quiet Skies NorCal were addressed including the flight path shift to SLV. And the FAA made clear that, while feasible, DAVYJ would be similar to SERFR in its noise impact to SLV. It would be lower, louder, and more concentrated than any flight path we had experienced in the past.

The Select Committee asked why DAVYJ was the only option presented. The FAA said that DAVYJ was the only option offered by Congress. To their credit, the Select Committee is open to other options.

As you might expect, the issue is a political football. In Santa Cruz County SERFR lies primarily in Congressman Farr’s and Supervisor Leopold’s districts. Both SERFR and the proposed DAVYJ are in Supervisor Bruce McPherson’s and Congresswoman Eshoo’s districts. Low flying DAVYJ vectored planes would severely impact Supervisor Ryan Coonerty’s district and the path itself would impact the City of Santa Cruz.

The irony is that the FAA is a $16.4 billion organization with thousands of credentialed aviation experts. Yet, laypeople hoping to remove a flight path from over their homes were allowed to design a new flight path over other communities. That new flight path, DAVYJ, over SLV and Santa Cruz, is currently being vetted by elected officials with limited aviation knowledge, who will then submit recommendations to congressional representatives with even less aviation knowledge, who were misled into believing it was a regional solution when it is not.




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Additional contributors: George Wylie, Nancy Gerdt, Glenn Lyons, Roz Alley, Alastair Fyfe, Jacqui Rice, Beth Carlisle, Terry Hollenbeck, Thomas Andersen, Colleen Miller, Clifford Stow, Jennifer Parks

A Sea of Shoulder-High Grasses ~ The Music and Imagining of Laurel Thomsen & Dan Frechette

By Julie Horner

Bending and swaying in unison like tawny tassels of tall grass rippling in a late summer breeze, singer/song writer, Dan Frechette and violinist, Laurel Thomsen, boots and bare feet on the simple Corralitos Open Farm Tour stage, sang to an intimate throng of young families and barnyard critters in early October. A chorus of baby goats and a Biblical sized sheep provided unexpectedly hilarious accompaniment while a gaggle of youngsters commandeering four-legged accomplices ran in capricious circles. Right on schedule, a tractor pulling families beaming and bumping along on hay bales spent the day making the rounds.

The Crooked Road had just wrapped up the morning’s music and we had time to grab lunch from one of the local vendors at this annual farm tour held at the Agriculture Museum at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds and enjoy Dan and Laurel’s fresh roots-folk. It was our first time. We sat on the edge of the stage enthralled by perfect harmonies and enchanting lyrics, watching children and baby animals frolic, swept into an easy, rhythmic day dream.

I’d actually just spent an afternoon the week prior chatting with Dan and Laurel over coffee at White Raven. Strangers at the time, serendipity put us together on that farm tour stage a few days later and presented the opportunity to appreciate the music first hand, the words of the artist interview manifested in live performance. And a new friendship was kindled.

During our interview Dan had said, “On stage, you can feel the audience like a collective wave.” He loves intimate venues where he can see individual faces. “You need them to help you make the show…it’s not just about us.” Music is the real connector. “People come up after your show to say that they had a really personal experience from the song you wrote. And you share the moment when you’re teary eyed, your hearts connect. You can’t just get there any day, it’s a very special experience.”

A prolific and passionate song writer influenced by many diverse genres, Dan points out that “you want it to make sense, you want to make people excited to hear you…there has to be an occasion for people to come see you. We get really happy when people ask us to play. Better to play when it makes sense to play.”

When writing songs, Dan says, you have to “turn off the more critical side and be in the more flowy side. Step outside of the song and see it for what it is…it’s good to have written the song for the outlet…for validating your life force…at the end of the day it’s gotta be fun.”

Classically trained and sharing a unique chemistry together, Laurel’s violin and voice swirl in tandem with Dan’s vocals and guitar, and as one reviewer put it, “Their energy, winsome personalities, and toe tapping rhythms, keep audiences engaged with every song.” Laurel says, “The music I’m excited about sharing is that which I’m most passionate about. And you can really be carried along by the people, the music lovers’ reaction.”

Dan is a force. With his engaging energy and gift for bringing people together, he told me, “I asked to play at lille aeske…that’s how it starts with me for a lot of things.” On the night before Halloween, the duo will play as part of the downtown Boulder Creek art house collective’s Performance Series. Laurel says, “It’s really cool to be able to play an intimate concert close to home.” The show is sold out.

Dan and Laurel have done two CDs together. “She tailors these great violin parts that are intertwined with the song,” Dan says. She loves how he has so many different styles of original songs. They’ve honed together the harmonies, interweaving the fiddle and guitar into what she now calls the “Dan and Laurel sound.” They both love surfing along on the wave of the music and what the audience gives back in return.

Dan, a native of Winnipeg, Canada, and Laurel, a Monterey, CA native, are a real-life couple now living in Bonny Doon “for community,” Dan says. They just recorded their recent CD, New Disguise, at Justin Meyer’s Bear Creek Studios. “Justin’s wonderful, the facilitates, the music, being there. There’s no negative vibes left behind from the previous recording artists. There’s a connection. There’s fancy studios all over the place but they don’t have the same vibe.”

As for small town mountain living, Dan said, “I heard about Sugar by the Pound…I’m just thrilled that there’s old time music right up the street from me. We’re both so excited to watch the little sparks fly with new community and just having fun with new people.”

The couple agrees: “The music is an adventure. It’s best having no expectations…only trying to be prepared for magic. The focus is more on the really awesome times…this is our journey. You have to have a genuine path…the people who are there really want to be there…it’s not a popularity contest.

“Looking forward to sharing music and smiles all over the place in the coming months. We’re sending daily applause and appreciation to the exquisite hosts, venues, and festivals we’ve visited or will visit very soon. Thank you for having us!!”

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Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California.
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Live at lille aeske Boulder Creek

Live at lille aeske Boulder Creek

Living for Goosebumps – Justin Mayer at Bear Creek Recording Studio

By Julie Horner

The inspiration came while he was reading the Santa Cruz Mountain Bulletin at Felton’s White Raven, savoring the morning ritual with a cup of Larry’s Famous Chai. I got the invitation that day: Would I like to visit local recording engineer/producer, Justin Mayer, owner of legendary Bear Creek Recording Studio, for a tour and a chat? I thought I could find the time.

A quick drive from Boulder Creek via Jameson Creek Road, I found the red barn off a short gravel lane, tucked among the trees along a serene stretch of Empire Grade on the western ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains. I was warmly hugged by an energetic guy wearing a ponytail and flip-flops and welcomed into the uncluttered quiet of the studio. I immediately felt like playing music.

I’ve known of the studio for years and the record label often associated with the recordings, Gourd Music. I’ve even played music with or just plain admired many of the local artists who have recorded at Bear Creek: Guitarist Bill Coulter, Barry and Shelley Phillips, Lee Ann Welch of the all-woman bluegrass outfit, Sidesaddle, piano player Paul Machlis, bagpiper David Brewer, eclectic composers Laurel Thomsen and Dan Frechette, to name just a few.

Justin has been engineering and producing fine recordings in and around the valley for over three decades. When he started recording, he was living in a rental cabin at a Christmas tree farm off Bear Creek Road in Boulder Creek. He bought some equipment to record his own music, then a friend asked to have his music recorded, too. He said, “I didn’t ask the landlord…I put a window between the two rooms and away I went.”

Not wanting to rent anymore, he bought the land in Bonny Doon about 20 years ago and designed and built a new studio. “I got some friends together and said, hey, let’s build this place, and went at it!”

On Justin’s Bear Creek Studios website, Rick Walker, former Arts Commissioner for the City of Santa Cruz wrote, “Bear Creek is in one of the most beautiful and serene locations one could imagine, nestled on a mountain top amidst the pines and redwoods and yet a scant 15-20 minutes from downtown Santa Cruz. To my knowledge it is also the only studio in the Monterey Bay area that was built from the ground up as a recording studio and as such, has beautiful natural acoustics in the main building that was specifically designed for acoustic recording.”

Sound isolation is built by design between three recording rooms, one big one and two smaller ones. Justin points out that different room sizes make certain sounds better. The control room where the music is digitally recorded and mixed contains a tidy central console featuring state-of-the-art equipment where Justin says he “controls the mix from day one, mixing as I go.”

He’s recorded everything from electric jazz to acoustic folk. I asked him his favorite genre. “I get into all of it…and I do like well-crafted songs. I’ve had a long relationship with acoustic instruments…also electric…as much of that as acoustic guitars and penny whistles.”

“I have 36 years of experience working with people doing their art, who push themselves to do well…I’m here to help them in a relaxed yet efficient atmosphere.” He likes to say that he creates “painless, awesome recordings.”

Justin works with seasoned professionals and people who have never recorded before, straddling the differences in experience by being a good listener. “I listen on all kinds of levels…who they are, what their vision is, how good a musician they are…the technical end.” He might say, “Hey your G-string is 3 cents sharp,” or “You’re in tune, on time, but I don’t believe you.” He likes to get inside the character of a song to support not only the individual playing but also to support the song itself.

I asked Justin where an artist might start to make a professional recording to sell or to use as a demo. He said, “Come in with your favorite tunes, what you’re best at to represent the whole sound…be as rehearsed as you can be.”

Some sessions are recorded old-school, live in their entirety, for a vintage sound. With other sessions, “You are crafting something and taking your time to do it. So you can go in and record a foundation, then build on top of that. You’re basically adding textures, like a painting, adding color to it…I love doing that.” You can add an instrument to embellish the emotion, “to push it over the top…make the emotion even more present…I live for goosebumps,” he says.

And there are techniques to account for mistakes…we’re human, there are going to be mistakes.” Maybe the band might have liked it to be better, he can work with that.

Justin maintains a steady recording schedule at Bear Creek but in his down time he enjoys reading biographies. He just finished one about Janis Joplin, which left him heartbroken, he said. He also spends time getting back to nature in Oregon (“I love Oregon, I’m such a hippie”); hiking the “worlds where nobody goes” in the Santa Cruz Mountains; or letting it all hang out at Harbin Hot Springs. “I’ll lay there in my tent and let the impulse to go to breakfast go…no cell phone, no laptop, I’m just here in my tent, the river’s right there…”

Justin is an electronic tinker, an inventor and song writer, and he plays the traditional music of Zimbabwe with Kuzanga Marimba of Santa Cruz. “What blows my mind about it is the polyrhthyms.” They have a CD called “Living Life, Free from Fear” and perform throughout Santa Cruz and beyond.

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(c) 2015 Julie Horner

Julie Horner is an Irish folk musician and writer living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California. Email: On the Web:

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