Devil’s Slide, Then and Now

It took 40 years, some committed individuals, a grass roots groundswell, and an act of Congress. In some ways it was a typical battle between conservationists and an entrenched bureaucracy. But in the end everyone is happy that there is a tunnel under San Pedro Mountain, bypassing Devil’s Slide in the most aesthetically pleasing and safest way.

Devil’s Slide is a notoriously unstable mountainside on the California Coast, where conglomerate, shale and sandstone sit unsteadily on steep sleek granite. For the over 70 years that the Coastal Highway has passed along this cliff, rockslides and mudslides have occurred again and again, due to seismic activity or rain. Residents of Pacifica and Montara, nearby towns, learned to live with this danger, and resigned to long detours when the road was closed. The worst landslide, in 1995, closed the road for 5 months and cost over $3mm to repair.

Caltrans had a solution. In 1958 they proposed building a 7-mile long, 6-lane highway over the mountain. They claimed it was the easiest, cheapest and most practical way to solve the landslide probabilities. But their plan would also assure heavy development along the coastline with the expectation of 200,000 new residents by 1990.

Fortunately the Committee for Green Foothills allied with other environmental groups to force Caltrans to look at other options. They started hesitantly, with lawsuits to delay Caltrans’ proposed ambitions. Then, in 1995, a panel of geologists and engineers recommended studying the feasibility of a tunnel.

Emboldened environmentalists collected 34,000 signatures in a petition to ask voters to force Caltrans to consider such a study.

Fast forward 10 years. In 2005 work began on the 4200 foot twin bore tunnel through San Pedro Mountain. Funds for the effort included Federal monies obtained through the efforts of Congressman Tom Lantos and Senator Barbara Boxer. The long construction project would result in a state-of-the-art, well-ventilated, well-lit passageway, now the longest tunnel in California.

Care was also taken to preserve habitat for the endangered California red-legged frog, the dusky-footed woodrat, and an endangered wildflower, the Hickman cinquefoil.

In 2013 the Tom Lantos Tunnels opened for the first time with a parade of antique cars. The first car was a Model T, with a license plate “THNK TNL”.

That problem stretch of highway called “Devil’s Slide” has now been turned into a nature trail 1.3 miles long, with spectacular views of the coastline. In March 2014 the trail opened to the public, dogs and bicycles welcome. 700 feet below, you can see San Pedro Rock, its distinctive sedimentary layers thrust above the surf. Look up and you can spot an abandoned concrete observation bunker used from 1943 to the 1980’s as part of the Harbor Defense System. Near the bunker you may even spot a peregrine falcon and his nest, oblivious to the commotion below.

Google Domination

The Google Headquarters, aka “Googleplex”, is a required and favorite destination for all visitors to Silicon Valley. For groups without access inside, there are some outdoor destinations to enjoy, including the T-Rex in the courtyard of Building 43, the onsite garden, and the Android life-sized characters at Building 44. An interesting aside, the main building is #42. As you perhaps already know, 42 is “the answer to life, the universe, everything”. If you don’t know, “google it.”

Google’s sprawling campus is a testament to its rapid growth since 1998. What began as a powerful and efficient search engine with a mission statement “organizing the world’s information” has evolved to a multidimensional company, looking for “high tech solutions to human problems”. Thus we have the Google driverless car, the Nest high tech smoke alarm, Google glass, and many ongoing projects yet to be announced.

In 2005, Google bought Keyhole, a small data visualization company that led to the launch of Google Earth. Along with Google Maps, this program has evolved to become invaluable resource for individuals with increasing reliance on mobile devices. Consider the following added conveniences since 2005:

  • Finding your location and giving you directions from there
  • Embedding Google maps in websites of businesses and services
  • Planning a route by car, on foot, or by public transportation
  • Reporting current traffic conditions
  • Viewing the street and rotating around it
  • Viewing inside a public building or a business
  • Expanding the universe of Google maps to closed off countries (North Korea, for example)

Going beyond maps, Google asks the user “may we use your location” when you download an application or when you are asking for directions. If you answer, “Yes”, consider yourself “geotagged.”

Geotagging implies the convenience of assuming you, on your mobile device are the starting point for the directions. You can even see yourself move as you walk or drive to your destination. Geotagging has led to an array of new applications which locate your friends, your preferences, and even your iphone.

One of these applications, and a favorite of mine, is called Field Trip. This application uses the web to locate every interesting fact and item in your vicinity, complete with directions and maps. It’s your own personal tour guide anywhere you go and it’s free!




Happy Easter


Cologne Glass



The majestic and ethereal Cologne Cathedral in Germany has survived many centuries since first built in the middle ages. Its South Transept window was destroyed in World War II and was replaced with plain glass. In 2007 the cathedral architect commissioned Gerhard Richter, renowned German artist, to design a replacement window in stained glass. His decision to create a “kaleidoscope” of color, using a random computer selection process, was controversial. At least one Cardinal refused to attend the unveiling. But for many others the 11,500 panels in 72 colors create a beautiful “Symphony of Light”.


Ghost Bikes


I was driving on Stevens Canyon Road in Cupertino last week when an unusual sight caught my eye. I was already past the white bicycle when I decided to turn around and take a closer look. What I found surprised me and offered me a glimpse at a new kind of monument.

The item before me was a bicycle painted a ghostly white, locked and placed permanently on display. Two plaques told the story of the two riders who died at that stretch of highway but not much else. I had to go the internet to find out more.

Matt Peterson and Kristy Gough died in March, 2008 on Stevens Canyon Road when struck by a Sheriff’s patrol car. The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and veered into a pack of bicyclists, killing two and injuring one. Both of the victims were avid cyclists and Kristy Gough was a champion triathlete, and Olympic hopeful. Their deaths shocked and stunned the tight-knit community. The City Council of Cupertino approved the ghost bike memorial, installed in late 2008.

The power of the ghost bike is in its stark simplicity. It reminds us of the pain of losing a loved one, especially so suddenly and so incomprehensibly. There are now over 600 ghost bikes in over 200 locations throughout the world, each one speaking to a painful loss for a family and a community. The ghost bike in Cupertino is located on Stevens Canyon Road, just east of Stevens Creek County Park.

Chinatown Blends Old and New

Chinatown is one of the most popular destinations in San Francisco, and has the distinction of being the oldest and the densest Chinatown outside of mainland China. Your experience of a “town within a city” unfolds when, crossing Broadway or Bush, you enter a world with its own language, architecture, cuisine, and imagery.

Some of this is by design. After the 1906 earthquake and fire destroyed Chinatown, Mayor Schmitz wanted to move the residents from the valuable real estate of the inner city to an outlying area south of the city. Those residents, now homeless, banded together and convinced the politicians that the Chinese would rebuild with an eye to tourism, creating a more “Chinese-looking” destination with intentional Chinese symbols. The new neighborhood, built up in the early decades of the 20th century, added Pagoda-style roofs, lampposts embellished with dragons, colorful lanterns, and recessed balconies.   The streets remained narrow, and the alleyways retained the flavor of mainland China.

You can still see the blending of old and new in today’s Chinatown.

Justin Hoover has recently completed a “Flying Dragon” mural in Wentworth Alley, combining traditional symbols with a political statement. Hoover created an undulating dragon superimposed on a golden sun or moon. Dark brushmarks somewhat like calligraphy sit next to the dragon. According to Chinese tradition, the mythical dragon represents beneficent power. He is often accompanied by an image of a moon or a pearl, a symbol of wisdom or life.

Hoover’s mural comes as Chinatown undergoes a major construction project, extending the Central Subway to Stockton Street. The mural uses the dragon to depict an older form of transportation (the Railroad) that owes much to the Chinese. In Hoover’s mural, the colors of the dragon, silver and dark red, evoke the railroad and the brushmarks evoke tracks or clawmarks. The accompanying Chinese characters spell out a poem that speaks to the hardship and difficulties of being a Chinese immigrant in the 19th century.

“Digging for gold (we) experience bitterness and tears. Building the railway, (we) are credited for its success.”

Hearts in San Francisco

I left my heart in San Francisco.

What better image is there for a tour guide than a “Heart”?  A tour guide shares what he “loves” about his city or site with others, and they, in turn, gain some love for the area themselves.

Hearts are a particularly apt image for a San Francisco tour guide. The city prides itself on its open-heartedness, and encourages you to “leave your heart” when you visit. There are also a profusion of Fiberglass hearts dotting the city and its suburbs.

Perhaps you have encountered the San Francisco Hearts project.
15 years ago, the city of Chicago inaugurated a series of Fiberglass cows, called Cows on Parade, throughout the city. Each sculpture was a uniform size and shape, but painted by an artist in a unique way. Chicago had taken this idea from the city of Zurich, and other cities in the US soon followed suit with their own Cow Parade or some other animal series that represented their city.

In 2004 San Francisco inaugurated its own version of this public art spectacle with a series of 5-foot high, 400-lb. Hearts, showcased throughout the city. That first year there were 131 hearts, all uniquely painted. Later these hearts were auctioned off to benefit the SF General Hospital Foundation. Since then (with the exception of 2005) “Hearts in San Francisco” has become an annual event, with artists vying for the privilege of creating a heart. This year’s auction, held on February 13, raised a record $1.7 million.

Where do all these hearts go?  Many of the hearts that have been auctioned off remain in the city and its environs. Google maps shows where over 70 of these hearts are currently located– in museums, corporations, and private homes. Today you can see four new hearts on display in Union Square, one on each corner. Three of these hearts will eventually be replaced, but the heart that sits at Powell and Post, designed by Tony Bennett, remains a fixture at that corner.