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[whitespace] Save Goodwill Battle of the Barn: Opposition to plans to build the Metrobase at the Harvey West site is growing.


Barn Dance

Sadly for thrift shoppers and poor people, Goodwill Industries' Bargain Barn may be the victim of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District's plan to build the Metrobase on a 15-acre parcel of land in the Harvey West area. Slam-dunk is how Jay Dravich, director of public relations for Goodwill Industries, describes the plan, which surfaced after West Side residents vetoed the district's first option, which was to build Metrobase on Delaware Avenue. "Harvey West was the easiest place they could find where they won't face white, middle-class opposition. The insensitivity to poor people is remarkable," says Dravich.

Since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake damaged the transit district's Watsonville and Santa Cruz facilities, the agency has been looking for a place to consolidate its maintenance operations and park its buses, which are scattered across seven locations. Currently, it is proposing to build a 15-to-20-acre bus yard and administration center north of Encinal Street to serve 175 buses.

About 40 citizens spoke at a public hearing April 25 about the proposal.

Tom Hunan, who works at the Central Coast Center for Independent Living, said not building the Metrobase would affect the environment: "The cost impact of not having it is huge. The money saved will help the entire county, expand services, decrease fuel costs, lessen traffic fumes and provide a practical mass-transportation system."

But though employees, customers and supporters of Goodwill Industries say they support the need for an improved bus service, they were bummed by the district's plan to use eminent domain to take over their--and other businesses'--land.

"Cavalier" is how Michael Paul, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries, described the district's attitude toward displacing a total of 22 businesses. "We're not opposed to Metrobase. ... We're not opposed to having it in our backyard. It's already in our backyard. We are opposed to it taking our home of 40 years," Paul said.

SCMTD chairwoman Sheryl Ainsworth says the district is under the gun

to develop the base. "Part of the problem has to do with timing, because of a state deadline to convert to a cleaner fuel by 2005, and because the board voted in January 2001 to convert its fleet to natural gas," she says.

Les White, general manager of SCMTD, points out that the district hasn't yet eminent-domained the area, which has been considered as a possible site since 1995. "We tried to avoid taking properties in use, but the West Side turned out not to be feasible. We're not about to move forward with this tomorrow." The SCMTD has agreed to do a financial feasibility analysis, as well as an EIR, which takes at least a year.

One solution to the controversy? McDonald's cooking oil.

Ray Newkirk of Earth First said at the meeting that by using biodiesel, the district wouldn't need a central refueling facility and could use renewable, home-grown carbohydrate-based fuel instead. According to Gennet Osborn of the California Air Resources Board (CARB), "The district could run their buses on milk as long as they pass our emission requirements."

But White counters that gas isn't the main reason for consolidation. "We're doing it for efficiency, to devote savings to increased service, rather than the wastefulness of leasing several bases. Consolidation translates into $2 million savings annually."

Barbara Scherer, chief financial officer at Plantronics, says it cost her company $1 million just to outfit an 18,500-square-foot space in Harvey West. Michael Schmidt of the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce estimates that the cost of relocating businesses from the area could top $20 million. "I don't believe the SCMTD has sat down and looked at these costs and the loss to its tax base," Schmidt says.

Which brings Nüz back to the Bargain Barn. Stuart Shepard, maintenance manager at Goodwill, told the meeting, "155,000 units cross our lot each day. They're sorted and sent to the barn, or recycled. Each year, we divert 3 million pounds of shoes, textiles, clothes, cardboard, stuffed animals, tires and metal from landfills."

If the Bargain Barn goes, it's gonna be tough for poor people, who clothe families and furnish homes from its bins, to stay in the area. According to John Collins of Goodwill's Human Services, "We serve 10,000 people each year, many of them poor, homeless, disabled, transitioning or unemployed. ... If Goodwill closes, that will mean 100 unemployed and no job training, plus landfill increases."

But White maintains that SCMTD does not wish to harm Goodwill Industries. "We want to build the base and keep people employed and facilities accessible. ... But if we're not able to maintain a transportation system, who does that affect?"

Comments will be taken until 5pm, May 4. They can be sent to SCMTD, 370 Encinal St., Suite 100, Santa Cruz 95060. Fax 831.426.6117. Email: scmtd.com/metrobase or [email protected].

Chiapas Bound

Santa Cruz activist John Malkin recently returned from Mexico, where he got to drive all over the road. "The police closed off the road for the caravan, so we could drive on either side!" he reports. Malkin and several hundred others were in Mexico to support the caravan of Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) officials, which recently crossed the country on its way from Chiapas to Mexico City, the "Distrito Federal." EZLN leaders made the trek with the goal of pressuring President Vicente Fox's government to show "three signals" that would indicate willingness to engage in peace talks: demilitarization of seven military bases in Chiapas, freedom for Zapatista political prisoners, and adoption of the San Andrés Accords, a set of agreements that would empower indigenous Mexicans.

The Santa Cruz delegation, Tierra y Libertad, joined the caravan in Nurio, Michoacan, during the National Indigenous Congress and traveled through the towns of Toluca, Morelos and Guerrero before reaching Mexico City. Delegation member Armando Alcaraz says he was impressed by the consistently supportive public. "There were two or three stops every day where they would get out and make a speech. It was amazing to see the way people had organized: schools had canceled classes to be there; people from the small towns came into the bigger towns. It was constant."

Zapatista leaders have essentially succeeded, Alcaraz believes, in achieving their goals. Of the seven military camps in former Chiapan communities, four have been vacated. Of the several hundred political prisoners, all but four or five have been freed, and the Mexican Congress has passed the San Andrés accords, albeit with important changes regarding the ownership of natural resources.

The group will give a slide show in Watsonville on May 16 featuring Santa Cruz photographer Miguel Zafra.

Malkin, meanwhile, has promised to stick to one side of the road unless he has a police escort.

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From the May 2-9, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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