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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Fourth of July revelers clean up their act, bike activists get lukewarm reception on King Street plan, Santa Cruz flag burners explain themselves and candidates answer questions (or don't).

Add It Up

As the odor of spent fireworks meshes with the ocean's morning fog, Save Our Shores program manager Aleah Lawrence-Pine picks up from the Twin Lakes Beach a typical souvenir of Independence Day revelry: a string of partially exploded ladyfingers, still filled with explosive powder. Though 25 volunteers thoroughly cleaned the beach just an hour before, debris from the previous night's celebration can be buried in the sand "for a long time to come," she says.

The Save Our Shores annual Fifth of July beach cleanup was part of the organization's efforts to first reduce the amount of trash left on the beach and then clean up what was left behind anyway. Last year, 20 tons of waste were cleaned up from seven Santa Cruz beaches, an exorbitant amount that Save Our Shores executive director Laura Kasa said left her "in tears." But this year the amount of trash left over was far less--between 7 and 8 tons.

"Everybody said it's never been this clean," Kasa said, a change she attributes to the outreach SOS performed before the Fourth of July parties started. With the help of volunteers, over 1,500 trash and recycling bags were distributed to people on the beaches and at the Aptos parade as part of the Clean Beach Coalition partnership between SOS, Surfrider, Pack Your Trash, Ecology Action and O'Neill Sea Odyssey.

Lawrence-Pine said most of the trash that was left behind was "disposable" plastic containers, Styrofoam containers and wrappers. Though illegal to set off, many remnants of fireworks also polluted the beaches.

Jane Bogart, a SOS volunteer who works at UCSC, estimates she picked up 150 fireworks, plus wrapping, from Twin Lakes Beach. "There would be a bunch of kelp on the beach, and I'd pick up the kelp, and it would be full of fireworks," she says.

Bogart, who dressed up as a jellyfish and handed out bags at the Aptos parade, said that most people were "incredibly receptive" to being given bags for their waste, and that making the bags accessible, coupled with making people accountable for their trash, helped lessen the amount of leftover rubbish.

Still, seeing the fireworks shrapnel littering the shores anyway changed how she viewed the traditional display of lights.

"When I was far away and everyone was shooting them off, I thought, 'Oh, they're so pretty,'" Bogart says. "But then being at the beach, I saw the residual effects of them. To see the fireworks from a distance is one thing, but when you actually see how much garbage they generate, [it's] disturbing."

Blocking the King

The normally peaceful King Street neighborhood has been transformed into a hotbed of local political activism. Bicycle advocates from People Power have been going door to door in this Westside slice of suburbia to see if residents would be willing to make the street friendlier for bicycles. So far the activists have received a lukewarm reception; around 100 residents have signed a petition calling for bike-friendly improvements to King, but about twice as many have declined to sign.

People Power is trying to gather support for two different bike-friendly proposals, although neither will go forward without more study and public input this fall. The first idea is to eliminate parking on one side of the street, which would leave room for two bike lanes. The second option, which is more appealing to bike enthusiasts, is to install traffic diverters at the intersections of Escalona and Laurent, Van Ness and King and Miramar and King. Diverters typically block the street to cars but leave a gap big enough for bikes to pass through. This plan would clearly discourage motorists from using King or Escalona to bypass Mission Street traffic on their way to Bay Street or Safeway. People Power founder Micah Posner believes both of these proposals--especially the diverter idea--could be a win-win for neighbors and bicyclists.

"I think too often in Santa Cruz politics there is a perception of different special interest groups pitted against each other--like bicyclists vs. neighbors. The fact is that making King Street safer for bicyclists is something that will be good for the neighborhood as a whole," says Posner. "The neighbors end up with a street they can go out and play basketball on, kids can be safe playing around and they can walk across the street easily. It will be much more pleasant to drive, walk or bike."

A handful of heavyweights have signed on to the proposal. They include former Planning Director Greg Larson, who lives on Escalona, and current Planning Commissioner David Foster, who lives on Miles Street. However, not everyone in the neighborhood is thrilled about the possibility of fewer parking spaces or a more congested Mission Street commute, according to Posner.

"Some people are very focused on their day-to-day existence," says Posner. "But I think everyone agrees that having more people ride down King rather than drive down it would create a better society for everyone."

The next step in transforming King Street into some kind of a bike boulevard is to conduct an origin-destination study, which will measure where people who drive down King Street are really headed. That will have to wait until school gets going next fall.

"It's going to take some careful study," admits Posner. "But we're starting with the neighbors because they're the ones who are going to have to change their habits."

May Be Flammable

The orange flames lick the evening sky as Brent Adams and Sha Lar hold separate ends of a large United States flag. Adams surveys the dozen or so onlookers gathered at Seabright Beach during the evening of July 3. Finally, he begins the ceremony.

"I want to dedicate this to all the men and women who have died in foreign wars fighting to protect our freedoms," he says.

Then, Adams and Lar gently place the flag atop the bonfire. The flames consume it within a matter of seconds. After a tense and deathly silent pause, the onlookers grab their own flags and begin to burn them as everyone joins in singing "The Star Spangled Banner."

This surreal scene has been replayed at Seabright Beach for the past four years, always during the Fourth of July weekend. Adams, who thought up the event, considers it one of the most patriotic ceremonies of the weekend.

"It's exactly the opposite energy one would expect," he says. "There's a knee-jerk reaction to say that it's un-American to burn the flag, but it's really profoundly American. The flag represents our freedoms, one of which is the right to burn it. So in a way the burning flag is a higher symbol of our freedoms than the flag itself."

Adams started the event in reaction to ongoing efforts by Congress to create a constitutional amendment that would ban flag burning in any form. Efforts to outlaw the act date back to the anti--Vietnam war protests of 1968, but the amendment has been heard in Congress every other year during the last decade. When Adams caught wind of these efforts, he was shocked. For him, the burning flag represents the true spirit of the United States--the freedom to disagree with government policies and engage in heated debate (no pun intended) in the public arena. That led him to think up this counterintuitive ceremony, in which a symbol of protest would be transformed into a celebration of the American ideal.

"I had never burned a flag and I didn't think I would ever want to," says Adams. "But as soon as that right was threatened, I realized how important the act is for the country. A [burning flag] symbolizes for me how great the country is--that you can protest your government. This is a consecration of the flag--we want to make it a sacred, celebratory symbol. It's not a desecration."

Nu_z agrees it was a solemn, thoughtful ceremony, but it left us with one question: Where are the marshmallows?

Say It Ain't So!

It was wailing and gnashing of teeth in Nu_z's cubicle when word came down that two of our elected officials have received big fat F's on the Political Courage Test administered by Project Vote Smart in recent years. According to the Montana-based nonpartisan organization, which gathers information on candidates to help citizens with electoral decision-making, Congressman Sam Farr flunked in 2006, and State Sen. Joe Simitian has bombed it every year he's been in office. Outgoing District 27 Assemblyman John Laird has consistently passed with flying colors.

Before the tarring-and-featherings begin, "failing" the test means not filling out the survey; passing means completing it. The Political Courage Test asks candidates to state their positions on issues like abortion, campaign finance, gun laws and educational funding. What they answer doesn't matter--just that they go on the record.

As defined by Project Vote Smart, "courage" has been lacking in California representatives of late. In 1992, 66 percent of Congressional candidates filled out the survey; by 2006 that figure had dropped to 53 percent. State legislative candidates have also been less than forthcoming. In 2004, 53 percent passed the test; in 2006, just 38 percent did.

Maybe they just got busy. Tom Mentzer, Farr's spokesman, explains that candidates get "hundreds" of similar surveys each year from various organizations. "It's on our list of things to do," he said of this year's survey.

Nu_z didn't hear back from Simitian by presstime. In any case, he has a fresh chance to redeem himself: this year's Political Courage Test went out in the mail to all state and federal candidates on July 2 with a deadline of Aug. 13.

The Republican candidate for the District 27 seat, Robert Murray, has already sent in his form and therefore passed. Democratic candidate Bill Monning hadn't yet seen the survey cross his desk. "I hope I'm on their list," he said.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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