COUP DE BLAH
It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times—here are the power grabs, dumb crimes, animal attacks and general assaults on common sense that made 2021 weird
NOT WHAT THEY MEANT WHEN THEY SAID ‘RETURN TO IN-PERSON LEARNING’
In 1999, Drew Barrymore set our hearts a-flutter as 25-year-old Josie Geller, who’d never been kissed when she snuck back into high school on a local newspaper assignment. Could the story of “Grossie” Josie’s adorable shenanigans be what inspired 27-year-old Michael Mortimer to break into Watsonville High on Jan. 1? No! Not at all! You see, while Josie sought only personal transformation and dem good smooches, Mortimer was there to steal $2,000 worth of laptops and equipment. He was charged with felony burglary and booked into Santa Cruz County Jail. Josie, meanwhile, was voted prom queen, waited for Sam in the middle of the baseball field, and completely avoided jail time for her shenanigans, but she did have to go on several dozen first dates with Adam Sandler, which is definitely worse.
I HAVE A VERY REAL EXPLANATION FOR WHY I’M LATE—BUT FIRST, MAY I INTEREST YOU IN A BUCKET OF UNPASTEURIZED MILK?
A bunch of cows wandering around Highway 1 slowed down motorists one January morning, even blocking traffic. Now, nothing chaps our hide more than rubbernecking, but when it comes to farm animals, we’ll happily mooooove over for a closer look at confused creatures who have simply lost their way. After all, to stare is human; to forget, bovine.
NOTHING MUCH, WHAT’S COUP WITH YOU?
American legislators like Congressmember Jimmy Panetta have shown great concern for the political instability in El Salvador. But in a surprising turn, after rage-drunk looters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Salvadoran lawmakers sent Panetta a letter saying, in part, “You’re just like us.” Panetta took the note as a cautionary warning about the threats to democracy in the free world that we all must resist together. He failed to see it for what it really was: a sick burn.
IS THERE A PROBLEM, OFFICER? BESIDES YOUR LACK OF METER AND RHYTHM, I MEAN
Former SCPD Chief Andrew Mills posted what he rather optimistically called a “poem” on his website in February to honor fallen Santa Cruz officers Loran Baker and Elizabeth Butler on the eighth anniversary of their tragic deaths. We don’t pretend to be poetry scholars, but we couldn’t help but notice that “Walking Point”—penned by Lieutenant John Morrison, SDPD (ret.)—is not so much lyrical verse as an angry, testosterone-fueled tirade: “You can’t race cars without crashes, you can’t dig mines without cave-ins, and you sure as hell can’t send cops out into the streets of a violent society without violent deaths!” reads this collection of words, as if ripped off from the back cover of a hardboiled and eerily dated Mickey Spillane paperback. “You can’t be a cop because you didn’t get some other job. You can only be a cop because you want it!” he also asserts, as you wonder in vain why he is continuing to shout at you. Can we maybe just defund the lit department of the police?
YOU CAN’T SPELL ‘NAMASTE’ WITHOUT ‘AAAAAAAAAAAA!’
What would inspire a yoga studio/tea lounge proprietor to assist in attempting to overthrow the U.S. government by force? Specifically, what motivated Mariposa Castro—former owner of Mariposa Yoga Studio & Tea Lounge in Gilroy—to partake in the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C.? In the social media posts that the FBI used to immediately identify her, Castro is wearing warpaint and drugstore Native American garb, and clutching a homemade “Who’s Your Daddy” sign featuring an image of former President Donald Trump surrounded by hearts. She made her first court appearance on Feb. 16, and though she initially pled not guilty to charges of violent entry and disorderly conduct in a capital building, among other counts, the video footage that Castro shot of herself climbing through a Capitol building window while shouting, “This is war!” and “We’re in! We got inside the Capitol!” probably made it inevitable that she’d take a plea deal, which she did in November. Castro is set to be sentenced in February of 2022, possibly while in Dejected Warrior Pose or Downward Facing Hard Time.
I HERD THIS WOULD BE OVER BY NOW
In March, as we neared the one-year anniversary of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, an unexpected glimmer of hope emerged from a virtual press conference with Santa Cruz County health officials: the county would reach some level of herd immunity by late spring. At the time, the vast majority of the county’s older adults had received their first vaccine, and a third of people 16 and older had also had their first shot. The belief was that there would soon be enough vaccines to go around for every person in the county, and that we would be largely out of the pandemic by late 2021. And we all lived happily ever after! *screams into pillow*
YOU SAY ‘GENOCIDAL MURDERER,’ I SAY ‘AVERAGE DUDE JUST TRYING TO GET ALONG IN THE 16TH CENTURY’
To say that Cabrillo College’s name-change committee got off on the wrong foot would be like saying the school’s namesake had a few issues with cruelty and exploitation. In the committee’s first public meeting, keynote speaker Iris Engstrand, a historian, offered a fanciful whitewash of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s dossier that would have been right at home in one of the school’s creative writing classes. As a brief refresher, Cabrillo got his name on the building by being the first European to explore California, when he sailed along the coastline in 1542 in service of the Spanish monarchy. It’s the other stuff he did along the way—genocide, sex trafficking and slave trading—that prompted many locals to call for the removal of his name from the school. Engstrand, a professor emerita at the University of San Diego, argued among other things that sex trafficking in the 16th century was not a crime, but an accepted fact of life. “Cabrillo was a man of his times, not ours,” she said. Just a few days later, after a torrential storm of pushback, President Matt Wetstein sent out a letter rejecting Engstrand’s presentation, stating that it presented Cabrillo “through a lens of white supremacy and Eurocentrism.” The name-change committee is expected to present its recommendations this spring.
WE DON’T KNOW WHO TO TRUSTEE
In April, a group called Restore Trust PVUSD launched a campaign to recall Georgia Acosta, the president of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees. Acosta was at the center of one of the weirdest scandals of the year in Santa Cruz County, after she unceremoniously and without discussion led an effort to fire Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez in a 4-3 vote in January. The backlash was swift and fierce, as Acosta was slammed relentlessly throughout 10 hours of public comment for what was widely viewed as her own personal coup attempt. Even actor Edward James Olmos filmed a video to protest Rodriguez’s removal. Acosta made the most of her heel turn, with antics like continually protesting the reading of public comment and hiring an outside lawyer to sit in on the Jan. 29 meeting without board approval. None of this stopped the board from reversing the decision a week later, restoring Rodriguez to her post, and then censuring Acosta in March. The recall fizzled in September; Acosta called the effort a witch hunt, despite the fact that she has never bothered to explain her motivation for attempting Rodriguez’s ouster in the first place.
VAMPIRES MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER
Shuttered at the outset of the pandemic, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk reopened in April, to the delight and relief of fun-seekers who no doubt found the ups and downs of the Boardwalk’s historic Giant Dipper roller coaster the perfect metaphor for the fluctuating crowd-size restrictions and on-again, off-again mask mandates of pandemic life. Or just wanted to drown their sorrows in deep-fried Twinkies.
THROW IN JEFF ROSS AND SETH MACFARLANE DISHING OUT SOME BORDERLINE RACIST JOKES AND YOU’VE GOT YOURSELF A SIX-EPISODE DEAL
The Watsonville City Council definitely didn’t know what it was in for when it held a study session on May 11 to address complaints that had been lodged with the city manager’s office about food trucks. You see, we the people will put up with a lot from our elected leaders, but The Man better keep his damn hands off our curries, churros, tacos and curried churro tacos! In a delicious turn of events, the forum turned into an hour-long roast of the City Council that featured nonprofit leaders, food truck vendors and previous Watsonville elected officials sounding off about the council’s perceived persecution of the city’s mobile delectables. With these kinds of fireworks on the table, be sure to watch for the upcoming Comedy Central Presents: The Watsonville Friars Club Roast of Jimmy Dutra.
CUCKOO OVER CHOO-CHOO
The bizarrely vitriolic dispute surrounding the Rail Trail came to a head this year when the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission did not approve a much-awaited business plan for a passenger rail line along the 32-mile stretch from Davenport to Pajaro. The 6-6 deadlock sent the county’s politicians into a tizzy. Watsonville and Santa Cruz city councils both passed resolutions supporting the plan, supporters and detractors cranked up the Facebook-fueled back-and-forth, and the commission once again discussed the item in a tension-packed five-hour virtual meeting attended by some 300 people. Ultimately, though, the RTC chose not to bring the business plan back for another vote after commissioners agreed that the county was on the verge of going full-on Squid Game over this freaking train. The decision to sideline the item did not kill plans to build a passenger rail system; a countywide measure that seeks to fast-track the construction of an interim trail on the rail line will likely be on the June 7, 2022 ballot.
LOCAL RESIDENT: VANDALISM LOOKS GOOD, KEEP IT UP!
When Santa Cruz County installed improved bike lanes to Pleasure Point, it appeared to be a step in the right direction for preventing people from getting hurt and killed by cars. Then, some locals kept vandalizing them. One retiree defended this trend, telling a Lookout Local reporter, “People are very protective of the Point, people are very protective of their neighborhood. People don’t like gentrification and [this] is definitely gentrification.” Oh, dang, thanks for the history lesson, Lookout. Here, we thought gentrification was caused by high-resourced, exclusionary areas being too protective of their neighborhoods. Not to mention that, from the looks of it, Pleasure Point’s “gentrification” actually happened about 50 years ago. But hey, violence is trendy, right?
WE’VE GOT BIG BALLS
Or had one, anyway, when the RedBall Project came to town—rolling through its tour of the Wharf, Del Mar, Cabrillo College, etc. Museum of Art and History Director Robb Woulfe was careful not to brand this particular installation “art” per se, but it was definitely very big and very globular. Sadly, the ball wasn’t sphere long before it made the rounds and bounced.
RACISM IS ALWAYS STUPID, BUT THIS KIND OF TAKES THE CAKE
In July, Brandon Bochat, 20, of Santa Cruz and Hagan Warner, 19, of Boulder Creek were arrested for vandalizing the Black Lives Matter mural in Santa Cruz. They took a video of themselves doing it and posted it on social media, which detectives used to identify and arrest them. Not sure if recording and posting publicly a video of yourself committing a crime says more about entitlement or intelligence, but who says you need to pick just one? The suspects were both booked into the Santa Cruz County Jail on charges of felony vandalism and conspiracy to commit a felony. They posted bail, and are set to face hate crime charges in January.
MOM, DAD, DID YOU HEAR—SCHOOL WAS CANCELLED DUE TO BEING LOCATED ON A BURIAL GROUND! HOW LONG? I THINK, LIKE, FOREVER
In-person classes resumed in August after more than a year of students being instructed virtually. With students set to flood hallways once again, health officials, teachers and parents struggled to prepare for a thousand new challenges facing this school year. What they definitely didn’t predict was challenge number 1,001: the discovery of human remains beneath those very hallways at Santa Cruz High. Remains likely belonging to an ancient Native American were discovered by workers performing power infrastructure upgrades in the weeks leading up to in-class instruction. Construction was paused as archeologists and tribal members investigated the remains. The samples are currently undergoing carbon dating to determine when the human lived. Luckily for all those eager high school students, school resumed on time.
CLIFF DIVING: UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED
You know that deeply unsettling feeling you get when you slide into your car, but immediately realize it’s too clean, where’s the week-old empty coffee cup in the middle holder, this stereo is way too cool, oh god no. Shock and embarrassment set in as you realize this isn’t your car, and you scramble out, hoping no one saw. Still, it could be worse, like when a woman drove off of West Cliff in August after she was startled by a stranger opening the door of her sedan, which he mistakenly believed was his family’s car. Miraculously, the woman behind the wheel, who crashed through a metal fence and went over the side of the 30-foot cliff before landing on a ledge, only sustained a minor injury. The same can’t be said for her car, or the stranger’s nervous system after watching her speed off the edge.
SEEKING: NEW TARGET FOR CRAZIES—ER, QUALIFIED APPLICANTS
It is truly a mystery why Santa Cruz County Health Services Director Mimi Hall announced in September that she was leaving her post. It seemed like she had it all: insanely long hours, anti-vaxxers who wouldn’t know a scientific fact if it bit them on the ass, crybaby anti-maskers who whine about having to wear a thin piece of cloth on their faces to save lives. Plus, they like to camp outside the homes of health officials like a bunch of creepazoids! Who would pass on this job? What’s that, the position is still open, even though Hall resigned months ago? Quelle surprise!
PLUS, A 20% DISCOUNT ON ORANGE CHICKEN
Speaking of jobs nobody wants, schools throughout the country began lamenting about a teacher shortage in September. Students at Pajaro Valley and Watsonville high schools had no teachers for some classes, and were left to wile away class time in a purgatory-like existence. Coming after a year of nearly impossible distance-learning conditions and increasingly belligerent parents, is it any wonder teachers are fleeing the profession in droves? One teacher summed it up nicely at a Pajaro Valley Unified School District board meeting when he noted that he could make more as an assistant manager at Panda Express.
A HARD RAIN GONNA—OH, MY GOD, IT’S SO WET OUTSIDE
Words like “atmospheric river,” “bomb cyclone” and “evacuation orders” sound like meteorologist-speak for “OMG, drama!” But then, the wind sets in, followed by the rain, and pretty soon, you’re wondering where you’re going to move to when your house blows away and crashes into a puddle the size of San Jose. Then the sun returns, and you start texting your friends that, pfft, whatever, you knew everyone else was overreacting the whole time.
I FOUGHT THE LAW, AND THE LAW EKED OUT A SLOW YET NOTABLE BUREAUCRATIC VICTORY
OK, so imagine there’s a neighborhood of million-dollar-plus single-family homes, and a developer proposes a 140-unit apartment complex on a nearby corner—you know, for renters. Not only that, but half of the units would be set aside for low-income renters—all in a way that conforms with local zoning and state law. Pretty good idea, right? One annoying caveat is that, because of dumb financing rules, the lower-income units and the market-rate units would likely be housed in separate, adjacent buildings. Ugh, bad rule, but still seems like something the City Council would surely support—whoops, nope, sorry, they voted down the project 6-1 in October. But then, after the state of California shamed Santa Cruz for violating state housing law, and after housing advocates threatened to sue, the council eventually took another crack at it. On try number two, the council approved the project 4-3. If you’re keeping score at home, that means there are still three councilmembers who would prefer to knowingly violate state housing law—and also spend city money fighting it—than make Santa Cruz a little bit more affordable to non-millionaires who might otherwise get priced out of the county.
HOLIDAY SHOPPING SEASON GOES SMASHINGLY
The day after Thanksgiving in the 1950s, shoppers would descend on Philadelphia before the big Army-Navy football game. The “City of Brotherly Love” didn’t radiate with much love from Philly cops, who began referring to the day as “Black Friday” since they were unable to take the day off and had to work overtime. It was also a big day for shoplifters, who saw the chaos as an opportunity. By 1961, marketers and merchants had embraced the term “Black Friday.” It was the beginning of a tradition, perpetually teetering between annoyance and restless anxiety. Standing in long lines outside of Best Buy all night in the cold for a “doorbuster” you don’t need? Not anymore! In the months leading up to Black Friday 2021, some twisted minds decided to bypass the headache altogether. Introducing “flash mob robberies,” aka the new smash-and-grab. No lines, and no money necessary! The crimes have proliferated around the Bay Area, as well as Los Angeles. On the Central Coast, five shoppers took just 40 seconds to “grab” the items on their Christmas list from a Carmel jewelry store. Turns out most of the crimes are organized on social media, which unfortunately for these flash mobbers is something the police know exists.
WHEN TURKEYS ATTACK
UCSC ornithologist Bruce Lyon was driving down the outer loop of campus just like he did every day. That’s when things took a turn for the worst. “This turkey stopped my car and wouldn’t let me go,” Lyon said. “It was picking at the wheels and the bumper.” Lyon may have made the mistake of looking directly into the 20-pound bird’s night-black marble eyes. Luckily, he escaped unscathed, but as the non-native wild turkey population has grown exponentially over the last decade throughout Santa Cruz—specifically on the UCSC campus—this may not be the last we hear of turkey vs. person standoffs.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, wild turkeys are a highly valued upland game bird, and some locals can’t resist feeding them. That’s when trouble begins, as strays become a flock that has lost their natural fear of humans. If cornered, we suggest attempting to fool the turkeys into thinking you are one of them by singing the Secret Turkey Song of Belonging: “Gobble gobble! We accept you! We accept you! One of us!”
WE’LL TAKE IT AS A COMPLIMENT
The American Tort Reform Foundation named California the worst “Judicial Hellhole” in the country, which sounds awful until you realize that ATRF is just another one of the jackass groups funded by dark money from wealthy CEOs who want to make it impossible for consumers and courts to hold their corporations accountable when they break the law or otherwise cause harm. Their efforts to turn back hard-won consumer protections would be easy to laugh off if it weren’t for gullible media outlets who fall for the sizzle potential of the phrase “Judicial Hellhole”—as the SoCal newspaper The Daily Breeze did in its Dec. 15 editorial “Our State Once Again Wins the Hellhole Prize.” Though the “Hellhole” report’s editors are no doubt far too cynical and soulless to even care at this point, everyone else need only listen to podcasts like In the Dark—which exposed the incredible injustices endured by Mississippi’s Curtis Flowers, and is largely responsible for his murder conviction being thrown out by the Supreme Court—and Undisclosed (which has covered shocking corruption in Maryland, Pennsylvania and elsewhere) to understand the real meaning of “judicial hellhole.”
WHY LOOK, THE MONEY TO HELP THE HOMELESS WAS IN THE BANANA STAND ALL ALONG!
In perhaps the most incredible coincidence of the entire year, the Santa Cruz City Council determined on Dec. 14 that it did in fact have 4.2 million previously un-know-about-able dollars to help with the homelessness disaster that the rest of us, both housed and unhoused, have been begging for help with since the pandemic began. And this just one day after our city was embarrassed on a global scale when international news outlets picked up pictures of the homeless encampment in the Benchlands submerged by floodwaters! It’s a Christmas miracle—one that definitely would not have been waaay more miraculous if it was taken care of back when President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act—from which the funds will come—in March. I mean, who ever heard of an Easter Miracle?