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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Town greenies unite against Santa Cruz parking garage plan, beleaguered Pajaro Valley water agency forestalls county meddling, Planet Cruz strikes back against East Coast chauvinism and a Santa Cruz delegate for Hillary discusses the vibe in Denver.

Unstructured Parking

Easily the ugliest buildings in town, parking garages have always had a tough row to hoe when it comes to getting public support. The city of Santa Cruz's proposal to build a five-story, 612-space parking garage on the corner of Cedar and Cathcart streets is no different, and a growing group of residents is stepping up to oppose the building and everything it stands for.

The Committee for a Vibrant Downtown is citing a 2003 transportation study that calls for enhanced alternative transportation programs and uniform parking rates as opposed to new parking structures. The Master Transportation Study was a $500,000, two-year effort spearheaded by the city and university to determine solutions to traffic congestion and parking deficiencies.

Peter Beckmann, spokesman for the CVD, says the study has been "buried in a desk somewhere" and was not used in determining the need for a new garage.

"We need to increase the parking efficiency that we already have," says Beckmann. "We have to have places to park, but we also need downtown to be a nice place to come to. The study showed a lot of great ideas for different ways to come at the parking problem. I'd just like to see all the options looked at."

Ride-sharing, employee "cash out" programs involving businesses paying their employees not to drive and bus vouchers are among the recommendations made by the study. Mark Dettle, director of public works, contends that the MTS has been utilized and that a new garage is in fact needed, along with a handful of alternatives voiced by opposition.

"People think all parking is bad. Bus passes, ride sharing--those are just one piece of the puzzle," says Dettle. "This building would include green building requirements, landscaping and a housing and business component. It would be a nice structure."

Dettle says by the end of this year, downtown will be 102 parking spaces short, and that number will increase every year as more of the city's general plan is enacted. To pay the $15.4 million price tag on the building, he's recommending fee increases for meters, permits and garages. He'd also like to ax the majority of downtown's free parking. This comes in addition to the hefty loan the city will no doubt need in order to construct the thing.

Another sore subject is the fate of the Wednesday farmers market. The market currently makes weekly use of part of the lot at Cedar and Cathcart, and if the parking garage is built it would need to find a new home. Will Brokaw, owner of Brokaw Nursery, is a longtime vendor who says he depends on the market to make ends meet.

"I simply could not imagine the farmers market being anywhere but downtown," says Brokaw. "I really don't know how I'd survive without it."

Dettle says he's been working closely with market vendors, and while no replacement site has been finalized, he's confident the market will remain downtown.

Meanwhile, approval of the design phase of the parking garage will go before the City Council sometime in September, Dettle says. Beckmann said he and the rest of the CVD are ready to fight every step of the way.

Had This Been an Actual Emergency ...

"Luck, be a lady tonight," goes the desperate entreaty of the gamblers in the old Broadway chestnut Guys and Dolls.

And luck was indeed ladylike last Tuesday night to South County's largest water provider, the Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, as it temporarily escaped the clutches of a county Board of Supervisors threatening to rein it in with a tough declaration of groundwater emergency. At the end of the night, the supes voted not to lower the boom--for now.

Luck is something the PVWMA seems to have in spades. In the last two years alone it's survived the sudden departure of its chief administrator, three losing court battles, orders to repay millions in overbilled fees, a battle between coastal and inland growers and more than one ruckus on its own board. In fact, it's not only survived each brush with disaster, it's emerged enjoying even greater public support.

That support made itself clearly known at the classy new Watsonville City Council chambers on Aug. 19, where dozens of speakers stepped forward to defend the agency's ability to solve the area's overdrafting and saltwater intrusion problems. Those who testified let the Board of Supes know that while they understood its reasoning, they didn't like the formula one bit.

At the outset of the meeting, the board was considering imposing a mandatory 17 percent to 20 percent reduction in water use, a moratorium on all new subdivisions and developments except those that reduce other buildings' water use and a year's deadline to act under pain of legal action.

With the exception of a few speakers, Watsonvillians protested.

"Why is the county suddenly interested now?" asked one resident. "You have no independent knowledge."

"This looks like a scare tactic, like a power grab," noted another.

And of course, the issue of new affordable housing as water-lapping pest arose: "This board speaks with forked tongue," claimed one speaker. "The county wants to impose more affordable housing," the speaker noted (actually, it's a state mandate). Nevertheless, several others commented on "the contradiction between this declaration and the memorandum of understanding" regarding some 200 new affordable units planned for the controversial 65-acre Atkinson Lane parcel.

Next the officials testified. Dave Cavanaugh of the Farm Bureau: "A declaration [of groundwater emergency] would just muddy the water." Longtime Councilmember Dale Skillicorn: "A declaration requires a finding that adequate measures are not being taken. Well, they are!" And a passionate Watsonville mayor Kimberly Petersen: "I urge you to leave the control of the water to locals."

Water board head Dennis Osmer didn't offer to speak, but Supervisor Tony Campos called him up. Osmer listed the agency's recent successes.

"We've held three water forums with no bloodshed!" he exclaimed. Plus, he recounted, the PVWMA is paying back past overcharged fees on time, has landed $50 million in grants, has nabbed over $400,000 from the state, has cut staff positions, has a large water recycling facility almost done, has actually earned compliments from the farm bureau for the first time "in 15 years-maybe 20" and has just appointed its ever-energetic supertech, Mary Bannister, as interim manager. As for the rest, Osmer declared, "We don't have a water problem; we have a people problem."

That promptly set off Supervisor Ellen Pirie, who declared, "I'm sorry, but you do have a water problem," citing copious evidence of former inaction and increasing saltwater intrusion. That, in turn, motivated Supervisor Campos to defend Osmer and ask for more time, which prompted Pirie to retort that time was way over being up.

Ultimately, however, board members proved reluctant to stomp too heavily on a struggling fellow local institution. "We ought to be very careful about dictating to other agencies," noted Supervisor Mark Stone, in what might be the single most self-aware statement in board history, "because we ourselves don't like being dictated to by the state."

In the end, a compromise emerged which all but Pirie supported. The deal: board members, Watsonville city officials and water agency folks will meet, agree to goals and get back to the board within a month. Six months later the board will assess progress and either relent or pursue the emergency declaration.

Will luck remain a lady through March? Stay tuned.

National East Coast Bias Rectified

Nu_z has had it with the national power structure's Atlantic Seaboardcentrism. Turn on the radio, there's NPR's Steve Inskeep yapping from a booth in Washington. Pick up the paper and half the opinion page originated in the offices of The New York Times. The nation's powerbrokers are Ivy League alums. Bagels have sent donuts packing. It ain't fair!

But the brilliant minds at Planet Cruz have struck one for the West Coast, turning the East Coast establishment's own atomic weapon of regional chauvinism against it. Planet Cruz: The View From Santa Cruz, California flips the iconic Saul Steinberg New Yorker cover onto its better side and shows Santa Cruz landmarks in glorious detail, with the rest of the nation a compressed, hastily sketched afterthought. The poster, drawn by artist Kirby Scudder with a benediction by Planet Cruz Comedy Hour radio show host Richard Stockton, goes on sale Sept. 12 at a Planet Cruz pre-season party at Graphfix downtown.

"When I look at our poster, I can see all these things that are on it, and I get this warm feeling that I'm in Santa Cruz," says Stockton. "Metro Santa Cruz is on it, KPIG is on it, the tree sitters are on it! We got really into it. We even put the marijuana fields on it."

What you won't see are chain stores. "We were actually offered money to put a chain on there, and Kirby and I looked at each other and said, 'Nuh-uh,'" Stockton recalls. "It's not about promoting business. It's about getting people to look around them and go, 'Yeah, this is where I live!'"

So the Gap is disappointed, but no one else is--least of all Stockton, who says his radio show will be broadcast on 20 stations in California when it starts up again on Oct. 3. "It's gonna be an amazing season," he pledges.

THE 'PLANET CRUZ COMEDY HOUR' PRE-SEASON PARTY AND POSTER RELEASE is Friday, Sept. 12, at 5pm at Graphfix, 1129 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz.

Pilloried for Hillary

Don't get her wrong--being at the Democratic National Convention is a thrill for Pat Bakalian of Santa Cruz, who's in Denver this week as a Hillary Clinton delegate. She saw Sen. Ted Kennedy speak on Monday ("I really got choked up over that one") and will be at a "private" meeting with Hillary and her 1,600 or so delegates on Wednesday. That's heady stuff for a political junkie.

But this convention is also a little unsettling, she says. Bakalian plans to cast her vote for Clinton, and because of it she feels a little like an outcast.

"A lot [of Hillary delegates] are switching over [to Obama]," she explains. "I'm not ready; the convention's not over. If we all switched over, it would be more like a coronation."

Perhaps not surprisingly for a supporter of a vanquished candidate, Bakalian detects exclusivity and one-sidedness at this year's convention. At the 2000 convention in Los Angeles, she says, you could buy T-shirts and buttons not just for Al Gore but for his rival in the primary, Bill Bradley.

"Here, it's all Obama," she says. "I can't buy a Hillary button out there anywhere. And I have a Hillary button on, you know, and I had someone ask me if I'm gonna vote for McCain. And I say, 'Why would you think I'm going to vote for McCain?' She said, 'Well, there are some really angry people who are going to vote for McCain.' I said, 'I resent that.'"

Asked why she's participating in a petition drive to ensure that Clinton's name is placed in nomination--since rendered moot by an agreement between the Obama and Clinton camps--Bakalian says it's because of the historic nature of the campaign.

"It's the first time a woman has ever won the presidential primary," she answers, tipping her hand. (Bakalian is not a fan of the caucus system, which she says is profoundly undemocratic. Obama did exceedingly well in the caucuses, while Clinton excelled in the primaries.) "To not recognize that 18 million people voted for her ... And she literally won all the big major states. It would be, in some people's words that I've heard, a deal-breaker for them."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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