Cleanup and festival reminds La Mesa every day is earth’s day

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Photo by Jessica Brodkin Webb Siblings Hazel and Zuri, both 7 years old, painted garden rocks during Earth Day activities in La Mesa.

The city of La Mesa held a combined park cleanup and Earth Day festival on Nov. 6 at MacArthur Park. Although Saturday’s event was intended to partially make up for canceled Earth Day celebrations originally planned for April, 2020 and 2021, Community Services Department Management Analyst Misty Thompson said the city might eventually organize more frequent environmental events.

“Really, Earth Day is everyday. All the vendors here are focused on environmental issues and we have 80-plus groups signed up for cleanups across all our parks,” Thompson said.

“It is an absolutely beautiful day to be out in the park,” California State Assembly Member Akilah Weber said, then announced $3,480,000 is being sent from the state to help with park maintenance and improvements.

La Mesa Vice Mayor Jack Shu said the funding is “great news for the city” but feels there is a larger health emergency in the city related to emissions and pollution.

Although the city has a Climate Action Plan, Shu said the inherent problem with the plan is that it utilizes data that is outdated the moment it is published and inadvertently leaves the community stretching for obsolete goals.

“The plan becomes to possibly get a ‘C’ when we should be going for an ‘A’,” Shu said.

Like any other emergency, Shu said, the environmental health situation deserves a response that is apolitical and focuses on local behavior, critical thinking.

“We don’t do the complete math,” Shu said, such as thinking through the long term effects of utilizing natural gas that is less toxic when burned but utilizes mining and transportation processes that can cause secondary environmental problems and might be more detrimental in the long run.

City of La Mesa Environmental Program Manager Hilary Ego said the current Climate Action Plan, passed in 2018, lays out a road map of how the city plans to reach specific targets.

Although she said officials lean heavily on an education component, such as meeting with community groups to educate them on ways to implement small changes, the city is also in the process of developing a green business certification program.

Most vendors at the event appeared to promote healthy living choices as a personal way to benefit the environment.

The San Diego Bike Coalition hosted a bike rodeo just outside the park gates. Children were encouraged to learn the rules of the road and prove they could handle themselves in a bike lane using a borrowed bicycle if they had arrived by car. Helmets, purchased with a grant, were available for kids to wear at the bike station, then take home as their own and, ideally, ride more places with their families.

Once inside the gate, vendors were lined up in the grassy park so attendees could visit and learn something different at each booth before ending up at a children’s bounce-house to encourage active play.

San Diego Electrification Coalition representative Kelly Lyndon demonstrated how induction burners work through electrical currents and magnetic induction, potentially a safer choice than burning natural gas.

The coalition works with city councils, she said, trying to get them to commit to requiring gas-free kitchens in new construction.

Attendees were encouraged to try out a loaner induction burner in a free take-home kit that included a burner and a magnet so residents could confirm which pots and pans they already have on hand are magnetic.

Across the way, La Mesa First United Methodist Church’s Earth Care Ministry group was set up with a general display on healthier choices such as making sure everyone has access to affordable energy since “we know certain populations are getting shortchanged,” Debbie McDaniel-Lindsey said.

Building on recent successes like the community garden plot, McDaniel-Lindsey said the group focuses on making society more equitable while helping the earth with initiatives like free public transportation passages for youth to cut back on car emissions while working within a low budget. The group also advocates for public bathrooms as a means of improving urban livability.

McDaniel-Lindsey, 71 said she questions ‘will my grandchildren have a safe planet to live on?’ and that drives her passion for environmental stewardship.

Nearby, La Mesa Sunrise Rotary members were giving out clay pods. The roughly one-inch diameter clay balls each contained native narrowleaf milkweed seeds. Rotarian Christine Evans explained that tropical milkweed, often found for sale at garden shops and hardware stores, can actually be detrimental to butterflies as it does not die off in winter.

With the food source available year round, butterflies stay in the area beyond the point that their bodies can handle cold weather and ultimately is destructive to their population.

The pods, packaged in small bags Earth Day attendees could take home, included a slip of paper with a QR code where attendees could learn more about milkweed and pollinators.

Tree San Diego Project Manager Kurt Peacock said he and interns Phaniel Dawit and Sarah Hmod were sharing information “to get people to understand the importance of increasing the quality and quantity of trees in urban areas,” working with CalFire Urban Forestry group to teach everyday residents how to care for trees.

For example, he said, it is “important to put the right tree in the right place” so residents don’t end up with enormous trees that destroy sidewalks and end up being cut down, or trees that require more water than is available in some areas.

“We want to turn people into tree nerds,” Peacock said with a chuckle.

At the tail end of the vendor tables, a craft area was set up for children where they could paint rocks to put in their home garden or leave in a public park for others to enjoy.

“They can also build a bug hotel,” Thompson said as a gaggle of Girl Scouts conga-lined their way from the hula-hoop zone.

Thompson said: bringing awareness about sustainability to our community while enjoying a day in the park.

Cleanup and festival reminds La Mesa every day is earth’s day

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