August 8-15, 2007

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Dog Days

Excited paws kicked up plumes of dust as the sound of leashes unlatching filled the small field along West Cliff Drive. Nearly 30 dogs ran free, playfully jostling each other and fetching balls, unhindered, untethered, unleashed.

This was the scene at Lighthouse Field last Saturday afternoon, when nearly 100 members of Friends of Lighthouse Field (FOLF) marched along West Cliff and then gathered to demonstrate their support for keeping Lighthouse Field a leash-optional zone, a condition that at present is slated to end on Nov. 15.

The controversy began with a lawsuit filed in 2004 by neighborhood group Lighthouse Field Beach Rescue challenging the lack of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) associated with the adoption of the city's off-leash rules in 1993. The Sixth District Court of Appeals ruled that, without an EIR, the city is legally mandated to follow the 1984 General Plan guideline stating that "pets should be restricted to leashes."

Shortly following this ruling, the California Parks and Recreation Department, which technically owns the land even though the city maintains and manages it, sent the city a letter demanding it comply with the leash-only rule or file an EIR by Nov. 15, 2007, the date the city's lease on the land expires. Since the city would rather not dish out the estimated $100,000 for an EIR, it instead decided to not renew the lease and transfer the parkland, which includes Its Beach, back to state control.

FOLF is not sitting idly by after its defeat. The groups believes the lawsuit was brought by a "disgruntled few" who won the lawsuit "on a technicality" and that FOLF represents the true will of the community.

Bob Campbell has been living in Santa Cruz for 30 years. He manned the loudspeaker at Saturday's rally because he sees the 2 percent of city-owned land where dogs can play freely as a critical community asset.

"Today is one of those moments we show our elected representatives where we stand on community values," he said. "Now it's time they show us where they stand. Lighthouse Beach and Its Field bring joy to our community and strengthen the bonds of so many of us."

Following a letter-writing campaign and multiple community hearings, it seems that those representatives are listening. According to Betsy Firebaugh, chair of FOLF's board of directors, officials from the city and state parks departments are in negotiations on a compromise deal that could allow dogs off-leash without putting costly burdens on the city. As of now "they're just talking," but Firebaugh is optimistic a deal will be worked out before November. If not, FOLF is prepared to take legal action against the state and is in the process of raising $20,000 for a legal fund.

Firebaugh stressed that maintaining the space as a leash-free dog park is beneficial for the entire Santa Cruz community, not just a small minority of dog owners.

"The city and the state, if they're going to put the dogs on leash, in which case this community will go away, will have to study the impacts of that," she said. "We did a cleanup about two weeks ago and kicked out three transient campers living in the bushes. We find needles lying around here all the time. We do a lot of cleanups, and if we're not here, what's the impact?"

Real Estate Cure

It seems like nothing but doom and gloom in the real estate world these days. Foreclosures are at an all-time high, mortgage lenders are folding like cheap lawn chairs and still the price of an average house in Santa Cruz County hovers around $680,000. So it was a refreshing change to talk to Jeff Langholz the other day. The Monterey Institute of International Studies environmental policy professor, who lives in the Prunedale-Aromas area, has a plan, a "housing affordability program for the middle class," and he believes it can work.

Six months ago Langholz and some friends started Here's the deal: Person A, who has no money for a down payment but can handle a monthly payment, signs up on the site and is matched with Person B, who has a pot of money to invest in real estate but doesn't want to deal with tenants. Basically, Person B chips in the down payment in exchange for a piece of the action (typically 40 to 60 percent) come selling time. When it's all over, both parties leave with a little wad of cash, and Person A can now get into a place--a modest one--without any help.

"If you're a first-time homebuyer and you're priced out, this is your ticket," he says. "Everybody's wringing their hands over real estate, and we think this is a piece of good news."

Langholz adds that home equity sharing deals can also be engineered to keep desperate sellers in a sluggish market out of foreclosure, which may explain one reason why interest in his plan is keen. In the last three weeks, following articles in the Wall Street Journal and the San Francisco Chronicle, Langholz has been contacted by producers from Good Morning America, Today and The CBS Evening News. He turned them all down, he says, in favor of getting the website functioning as smoothly as possible now that it's getting new signups each day.

Langholz is now working on developing a pool of real estate agents who know how to set up equity sharing agreements. And he plans to start screening and pre-qualifying applicants, the better to weed out dreamy-eyed would-be buyers who sign on seeking to "manifest" their visions of $120,000 cottages in Seabright. As it is, Langholz says, equity sharing is a leg up, not a launch pad. "We're not gonna help people buy their dream house, just the first starter house," he says, "and let them ride the wave."

Help at Last

Experts today are a dime a dozen. Modern society, with its increasingly complex machinery, requires armies of specialists to operate effectively. In this rapidly accelerating world, important questions affecting millions, if not billions, of people can easily be overlooked. Case in point: How do you get a nice, even pouring of ketchup out of a non-squeeze (read: glass) bottle? Ask most scientists, and you'll get a mumbled, nervous answer.

Not from Aptos resident Robert Allgeyer, ketchup-pouring expert. It all started during a night of drinking at 99 Bottles in Santa Cruz. Allgeyer was enjoying a pint and a plate of food when he reached for a full ketchup bottle, opened the lid and waited. Nothing happened. It's an all too common situation, but Allgeyer, who has a degree in physics, came up with a solution to this age-old problem. The key is twofold: Allowing air to enter a bottle full of thick, viscous liquid; and increasing the gravitational pull on said liquid. The first problem can be solved by turning the bottle sideways with a slight tilt downward, facing your food. This shifts the ketchup to one side, allowing air to enter. Then just give the bottle a little tap under the base of the neck. This increases the gravitational force of the ketchup down toward the food.

Voila! A steady stream of ketchup arrives cleanly on your plate. Still, Nūz is sure there are astrophysicists around the world beating on ketchup bottles held upside down and grunting like apes in frustration. SoIn an effort to cleanse these misguided notions from human existence, Allgeyer produced a website explaining his method. Now, he's a bona fide celebrity, giving interviews to New Zealand radio stations, being referenced on BBC's website and even inspiring a Danish school experiment.

"You know how the Internet is. If you solve the world's problems nobody pays attention, but if you put up a cartoon of a dancing chicken, everyone will come," says Allgeyer, laughing. "Well, this isn't quite as entertaining as a dancing chicken, but it's become wildly popular."

Nūz is happy to know there are experts out there ensuring the fabric of society goes unsplattered. Visit his website for a full explanation and graphic at or by Googling "pouring ketchup."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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