Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Birds of Bolsa Chica Versus Brightwater's Wall of Glass

Forty or more concerned people gathered to view and discuss the Glass Wall

The Meeting

On Saturday 11/24/2007, with very short notice and with very little publicity beyond a website notice, Audubon's Conservation Director Scott Thomas expected only a handful of people to show for this gathering about Brightwater's glass wall. Instead, on a holiday weekend, 40 or more people showed up to view the long, glass barrier. (I am an Audubon member, and I happened upon the announcement on the Sea and Sage Audubon Website.) Because of prior complaints, Hearthside put a chain link fence with pieces of yellow plastic tape tied to it behind the wall to try to prevent birds from flying into the glass. We all appreciate their responsiveness and applaud their first attempt to solve this problem.

It's big. It is 6 feet high and 4,400 feet long. Walk it yourself. Wear comfortable shoes.

The Problem

LA Times writer Tony Barboza wrote an excellent article entitled "Glass wall has birders seeing red." So what has us birders in such an uproar over the Wall of Glass which some people call the "Wall of Death?" This wall is part of a much larger problem which has come to light over the last few years. The problems is that we humans love a good view. Nothing wrong with that. But the problem is that birds, trying to make sense of what they see, collide with the glass windows and die by the millions every year.

Part of the Beautiful View Hearthside is selling to its homeowners.

Many tall buildings are now seemingly made of glass. We get great views in the office and don't feel all cooped up in a box. But large panes of glass, along with several other modern amenities, are having a serious impact on birds. Because glass reflects the sky and trees and everything opposite it, it looks pretty against the skyline. Birds mistake it for the sky or whatever is being reflected, or they try to fly through it to the inside. At one place I worked an American Robin drove himself crazy attacking a rival American Robin reflected in the glass every time he flew up to the building. He would throw himself at the image. At another office workers found a stunned and unconscious Rufous Hummingbird on the sidewalk by the glass windows.

More of the wall

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has a great brochure called "The Danger of Plate Glass: Understanding and Avoiding That Painful Thud" . This article mentions the incredible toll that panes of glass have on birds each year: An estimated 100 million to 1 billion birds a year. The Audubon Society Magazine article Clear and Present Danger talks in depth about buildings and the steps developers around the world are making to minimize the impact of structures on birds. The New York and New Jersey Port Authority in their article PORT AUTHORITY TAKES STEPS TO PROTECT MIGRATORY BIRDS AROUND WORLD TRADE CENTER stated that in about a two-month period, in 2000 the New York City Audubon Society documented almost 500 dead or injured birds found in the area of the World Trade Center and nearby buildings in the year before 9-11. As small as that is compared to the awful act of terrorism that occurred there, it is evidence of the problem of glass for birds. In addition, the City of Toronto is so concerned about the problem of development affecting birds that they have come out with a lengthy brochure that includes a large section on plate glass and how to protect birds from flying into it: "Bird Friendly Development Guidelines." Pages 7-18 has a long and detailed discussion of solutions for glass windows killing birds. The site Birds and Buildings lists many details about the problem and some of the many solutions that are being tried worldwide. This brochure is part of the City of Toronto's Green Development program. New York Audubon has the Bird-Safe Building Guidelines. Daniel Klem, Jr. of Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania has studied this phenomenon See his paper BIRD-WINDOW COLLISIONS and
COLLISIONS BETWEEN BIRDS AND WINDOWS: MORTALITY AND PREVENTION and CNN coverage "Glass windows an 'indiscriminate' bird killer."

Walking the wall.

That glass and birds don't mix is a fact, and that glass near a wildlife sanctuary with thousands of birds is an extremely dangerous mix is obvious. There are two endangered species at Bolsa Chica: the California Least Tern and the Belding's Savannah Sparrow. Hearthside has lots of money invested, and with so much at stake, one can understand and empathize with their desire not to overreact needlessly. However, Sea and Sage Audubon and others are not imagining a problem or exaggerating one, or pulling one out of their hat. It is a problem to build a wall of a material that--depending on the time of day and weather conditions either disappears or reflects the sky and plants outside the glass.--and to build it near thousands of animals with a documented problem of being injured by flying into just such glass. It's not rocket science. The Cities of Chicago (Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, The City of Chicago's A Bird's Eye View Website), New York, Toronto, and others world wide recognize the problem as does the US Department of Fish and Game. It is a problem. And that's a fact--unpleasant though it is after so much money was invested by developers in Brightwater's glass wall.

Just a small portion of the wall.

Obviously, the chain link is not the permanent solution. Is the building of the homes going to prevent birds deaths as Ed Mounford, the Senior Vice President of Hearthside, hopes? I wish, it were, but I do not think so. In my humble opinion, and the opinion of many others, here is why:

Reflection of trees out in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in the Brightwater Wall of Glass.

The Problem of Reflection

As many people have said a lot of the problem is what's outside, not what's inside. The reflection of habitat outside the glass confuses birds into flying into the glass. If you walk along the path that borders the glass wall, it's obvious reflection is a problem. Building homes inside the glass won't change the way the lighting causes reflection of the Bolsa Chica habitat outside the glass. When the light is right, it will become a mirror. In the picture above, you can clearly see that these trees are not behind the glass as they appear to be because the image stops when the glass stops.

Inviting trees being planted in the yards of model homes behind the Glass Wall.

The Problem of Transparency

If you walk the path outside the glass wall, you will also notice that you can see through it. No big surprise, since glass is made to be seen through. But it is when you get to the models and look into the yards that you realize there is a whole other problem. These yards are going to be landscaped. That means trees and shrubs and nice places to perch. And water from sprinklers and people watering their lawns. So yes, when the light is right, the birds will see the houses, shrubs, trees, lawns, water, and nice places to sit. And then they will attempt to reach those attractive things through the glass and collide with it.

Lots of nice patio cover to perch on. Flying up to it could be fatal.

The Problem of Lights at Night

There are few prettier city sights at night than the lights of the city. When the homes are built, the lights at night will be pretty for them as they look through the glass wall toward the sea. However, for the birds, the lights from Brightwater will be a deadly beacon. The City of Chicago discusses it on their website. Click here to see the article. See the article in Audubon Magazine The Dark Side of Light for more detailed discussion of similar problems. The lights on in the homes of BrightWater will shine through the glass wall and may well cause migrating birds and other birds problems.

One of the many places you can see a significant change in elevation of the wall compared to the surroundings.

Change in Elevation

Problems with the Change in Elevation

The wall is much higher than the surrounding land in some areas. It was pointed out by Audubon Conservation Director Scott Thomas that this may be a problem. Birds, flying above the ground straight across at an elevation they think is safe, will in fact be flying too low and hit the glass.

More Inviting Foliage to fly into.

In Conclusion

When a developer moves in next to a treasured ecological reserve, it is incumbent on the developer and all government agencies to ensure that the development is a responsible neighbor. All planning should start with a concern for the environment that they are abutting. I would hope that as the development is annexed to the City of Huntington Beach the city will make sure all plans consider the well-being of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and that all discussions include, not exclude local environmental groups. Many developers and businesses do take the environment into consideration and are the better for it. Hearthside would be in good company if it would listen to and learn from the experts in the Bolsa Chica and the environment. The experience of cities worldwide should show us that neither a chain link fence nor a home with a backyard full of trees and shrubs are the solution to the Wall of Glass. After you look at the evidence, it is clear that much more needs to be done. Let's all work together to find a solution that benefits us all.

If you find any injured birds at the Wall, please contact the Wetlands and Wildlife Center. For more detailed instructions regarding dead or injured birds, see Sea and Sage Audubon's page on the Glass Wall. Take photographs of any dead or injured bird and include the wall. To reach the wall, take Warner to Bolsa Chica, and turn south. Park on Bolsa Chica or a side street. Walk down Bolsa Chica Street away from Warner and through the Brightwater arch. Continue until you enter the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve trail. Bolsa Chica Street actually becomes the trail. The wall will be on your right. You can't miss it. Click here for a google map of the area.

Update 12/02/2007: Hearthside has pledged to take a new step to ensure the safety of birds. Decals, 1,500 of them. Is it enough? Stay tuned for more informaton. See the article below under Newspaper Articles.

Guidelines for Building with Birds in Mind

Bird-Safe Building Guidelines

From NYC Audubon

Bird Friendly Development Guidelines

From the City of Toronto

Newspaper Articles

Glass wall killing refuge birds

Orange County Register Article by reporter Annie Burris

Chain-link fence may save birds from death

Second Orange County Register Article by reporter Annie Burris

Glass wall has birders seeing red

Los Angeles Times Article by reporter Tony Barboza

IN THE PIPELINE:This development's not for the birds By reporter

Huntington Beach Independent by reporter Chris Epting.

Glass "Wall of Death" Surrounds California Suburb: Conservationists and developers square off

The Daily Green Article By Brian Clark Howard

Conservationists say glass wall killing birds in OC

Monterey Herald Article by the Associated Press

Outrage as birds slain by 'glass wall of death'

From in Australia.

Conservationists say glass wall killing birds in OC

Article in the Sign on San Diego. Also from a feed by the Associated Press.

Updated 12/02/2007:

Builder will add decals on glass wall to help birds

OC Register Article by reporter ANNIE BURRIS. Hearthside has pledged to put 1,500 stickers on the wall that will reflect ultraviolet light and be seen by birds, but not people. See the story for details.

Blogs (Updated December)

Professor Boardman's Birding Blog

A really good blog by professor Connie Boardman, the former mayor of Huntington Beach. Lots of pictures. Lots of very good points. She is also on the board of the Bolsa Chica Land Trust. There is a picture in her Check out her post on the Decals Going Up on the Wall of Death. The decals are pretty little and leave a lot of the glass unprotected.

Journal and other Articles

Glass and Bird Kills: An Overview and Suggested Planning and Design Methods of Preventing
a Fatal Hazard
By Klem

Clear and Present Danger

Audubon Article.


"The Danger of Plate Glass: Understanding and Avoiding That Painful Thud"

Bird Friendly Development Guidelines

From the City of Toronto

Windows A Clear Danger to Birdsfrom National Public Radio

Who to Contact

City of Huntington Beach Government Links

The City of Huntington Beach

Some other helpful City of Huntington Beach links:

Agendas and Minutes of the City Council, Planning Commission, and Zoning Administrator

City Council

Birghtwater Project

The City of Huntington Beach will be annexing it in phases. They have a Specific Plan on file that takes a long, long time to download, but contains sketches, maps, and text. It is worth reading. See also the search for BrightWater on the City site.

Orange County Government

Orange County Government
This is the Orange County Planning Department link to the Brightwater Project.

Orange County Supervisor Chairman Chris Norby

County Supervisor Vice Chairman John M. W. Moorlach, Chairman of the Second District

Bolsa Chica is in the 2nd district.

Planning and Development

Planning Commission

State of California

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Here is the governor's website. "Interact" or email the Governor

The First Lady of California: Maria Shriver

Contact her here. Unfortunately, you have to write to her by snail mail or phone her.

State Legislature

On the right-hand side of the home page, put in your zip code, and find your legislators in both the state senate and state assembly.

Federal US Government

U.S. Senators

Senator Barbara Boxer (Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee)

Senator Boxer is Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. See here page on the environment here. Email Senator Boxer by clicking here.

Senator Dianne Feinstein

Click here to send Senator Feinstein an email. Senator Feinstein is the chairman of the Rules and Administration Committee. She comes from San Francisco and is very aware of wetlands issues having been involved in the San Francisco Bay Wetlands Restoration. Senator Feinstein has a Constituent Breakfast on Wednesday or Thursday mornings in Washington D.C. when congress is in session. Click here if you are going to the nation's Capitol and would like to eat breakfast with and speak with Senator Feinstein about your concerns.

Representatives in the House of Representatives

Find your Representaive in the upper left-hand corner of the home page. The Congressman for Bolsa Chica Wetlands is Dana Rohrabacher.

Government Agencies

California Coastal Commission

What is the California Coastal Commission, and what does it do? It was established in 1976 by the California Coastal Act. You can check their current meeting agenda to see if any issues of concern are on it. Or check past agendas for areas of concern. Here is a link to a 2005 Sierra Club analysis of the Commission and its voting record. Very interesting.

We are the South Coast Area. Here is a list of organizations concerned with coastal issues in Orange County listed by the Commission: Marine, Coastal & Watershed Resource Directory

South Coast District Office Contact Information

John (Jack) Ainsworth, Deputy Director (for Los Angeles Co.)
Sherilyn Sarb, Deputy Director (for Orange Co.)
Teresa Henry, District Manager
200 Oceangate, 10th FloorLong Beach, CA 90802-4416
(562) 590-5071
FAX (562) 590-5084

Here is a list of the Commissioners. Please note two things. One, there are no commissioners from Orange County. There are some from Los Angeles which is part of our South Coast District, but none from Orange County. Two, there are strict rules for communications with the Commissioners. Scroll down to the end of their page after the list of commissioners to read "EX PARTE COMMUNICATION REQUIREMENTS."

California Coastal Commission and the BrightWater Project

Here is the meeting in which the wall was approved and the document regarding the glass wall which is referred to as "plexiglass material"--it reads:

"Rear yard walls on the residential lots abutting the Eucalyptus Grove and burrowing owl ESHA buffers shall not exceed a total height of six feet above finished grade shown on the approved final grading plan. The lower two feet of the rear yard wall shall be on concrete
and the upper four feet shall be of plexiglass material. Future development shall conform to these heights and setbacks unless such heights are changed by an amendment to this permit, unless the Executive Director determines that no amendment to this permit is required."
APPLICATION NUMBER: 5-05-020 (Brightwater) page 45 item 21b (Note that the italics are my emphasis.)

I don't see an amendment to that permit--perhaps I missed it--and after seeing the wall, I wonder if it actually is "plexiglass material" and actually meets the height requirements. What is the legal definition of "plexiglass?" I don't know, but most definitions I have seen say plastic or acrylic. The material the wall is made of seems to be safety glass and the height of the glass seems to be 6 feet all along the wall not 4 feet at in any section. I wonder what permits other than the Coastal Commission permit they were required to get. Also, exactly what do the environmental impact reports say? There must be an Orange County Building permit filed for the grading, the retaining wall, and the glass wall. What do the OC planning staff reports actually say? Does the permit from OC have to match the one from the Coastal Commission and any other documents filed? Does one superscede the other? I think all the county documents must be on file at the county. I also wonder what the requirements the City of Huntington Beach will have before the annexation of the land. I hope they will be addressing any aspects of the project that are a danger to the wildlife of Bolsa Chica. I think all the documents filed so far should be examined carefully by as many people as possible.

Here is the August 2004 staff report on BrightWater. And this is an Edgar White Paper on the BrightWater Development. Here are the results of a general search for BrightWater on the California Coastal Commission site.

Us Fish and Wildlife Service

Of particular interest is The Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Also A Guide to the Laws and Treaties of the United States for Protecting Migratory Birds, Wetland Primer, and the National Wetlands Inventory. Don't forget to check out their Bolsa Chica Restoration page. There are links at the bottom to other sections not listed at the top. See the Bird Migration and Nesting Information for information on species at Bolsa Chica that are endangered or of concern.

Bolsa Chica Organizations

Amigos de Bolsa Chica

According to their website, The Amigos de Bolsa Chica is an environmental preservation organization that seeks to have all the wetlands area and the open space around the Bolsa Chica in public hands. The first Saturday of the month they conduct a free tour of Bolsa Chica. They also have other tours the public can request for a donation. Includes information about the history, the geography, and more of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.

Bolsa Chica Conservancy

In their own words, "The Bolsa Chica Conservancy is a non-profit, non-political organization established to ensure the preservation, restoration, and enhancement of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach, CA."

Bolsa Chica Land Trust

In their own words: "The Bolsa Chica Land Trust was formed in 1992 by a small group of Californians who believed that one of the last standing wetlands ecosystems in Southern California was worth preserving for future generations. The Land Trust now includes more than 5000 members from throughout California and twenty other states. " Tours 3rd Sunday of the month. Check website for details.

The Developer


This is the Brightwater Development site. The company building it is Hearthside, listed below.

Hearthside Homes

This is the builder. The link to people in charge of Hearthside is here.

The Laws

Center for Widlife Law from the University of New Mexico

Journal of International Wildlife Law and Policy

Us Fish and Wildlife Service

Of particular interest is The Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Also A Guide to the Laws and Treaties of the United States for Protecting Migratory Birds. And US Fish and Wildlife Office of Law Enforcement

Guide to the Law Library of Congress

US Law Title 16--Conservation

From Cornell University Law School.

Note that this post was begun on November 24, 2007 and published 12/01/2007

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Linda Navroth said...

What was the upshot of the effort to mitigate the glass wall danger? I belong to the LA Audubon Conservation Committee and stumbled upon your blog today. The information about birds and glass got me thinking that we might need to address the downtown skyline soon, as a South Korean company plans to build two new skyscarpers, one of the 60-feet tall!

Great blog--lots of useful information. I need to get down your way and bird sometime!

Orange County Birder Girl said...

I am trying to get an update. Have contacted one person at Sea and Sage, but will contact others involved and see if I can get an update to this situation. One of the concerns was getting accurate counts because the staff from Brightwater also gather birds. I guess the worry was that those would not be accurately counted. This had happened in the past at Brightwater with Indian remains, and so this is not such a stretch, but we do not know that this occurred or would occur--just a fear.

That those 60-story glass towers sounds like death traps. Hopefully, Audubon and others can raise concerns and get some safeguards put in. Thank you for your question, Linda.