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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Shakespeare Santa Cruz meets big-bucks goal; Second Harvest Food Bank, not so much. Also, Santa Cruz parking tickets go up $10 and Watsonville handles its first day of furlough.

Calling Mr. Twister!

At the restive Dec. 9 Santa Cruz City Council meeting, a long list of parking citation increases was passed without so much as a peep. The packed audience spilling out into the City Hall courtyard was more concerned with across-the-board cuts to city services and employee layoffs than a $10 increase to all parking citations—and rightly so. But just so our readers are not surprised when a $30 expired meter fine appears on their windshields after parking in front of one of the city's soon-to-be-closed community centers, Nu_z got the lowdown on the jackups.

As of last week, a hike of $10 was added to each of the city's 140 different parking citations, including the expired meter charge, which is now set at $30. Parking permit fees are also going up by $5 starting Jan. 1, and meter rate increases are scheduled for public hearing at the Jan. 13 meeting. With an average of 55,000 tickets written each year, the increases are estimated to raise $550,000 annually—nothing to scoff at for a city $7 million in the red.

 The bump in rates makes the city's citations pricier than several similarly sized cities but well below major metropolitan areas. Monterey's expired meter citation runs $25, the same as Walnut Creek. San Jose stands at $28 and Carmel equals us at $30. Forget to feed the meter in Chicago, however, and you can look forward to a $50 ticket. San Francisco's expired meter citations just went up to $60, and topping the list is Manhattan with an ugly $65 fine for the offense.

 Santa Cruz Director of Public Works Mark Dettle said the move is a common way for cash-strapped cities to make extra coin. San Francisco raised its citations by $10 in August and Hayward doubled its fines in September.

 "It's a strategy to bring in revenue," says Dettle. "We're trying to look into development fees before we do any cuts."

Dettle says residents usually don't object to citation increases because they are avoidable expenses. But for people like chef Thomas Connors, the citations are a mixed blessing.

 "I'd be hard-pressed to say it's a bad idea because the city is pressed for cash," says Connors. "This is a difficult situation we're in and we've got to generate as much revenue as we can."


A Tale of Two Causes

 Shakespeare Santa Cruz got its Christmas miracle on Monday, handily exceeding the $300,000 goal needed to keep it alive in a declarative outpouring of support from the community. By presstime, managing director Marcus Cato reported $415,417 in donations, and the calls were still coming in. "They're saying, 'You're still going to need money for next season,'" he said. Though the company cracked a celebratory six-pack of Budweiser in lieu of champagne, the seeming ease of the accomplishment makes SSC seem very rich indeed.

 Not so other charitable organizations with deadlines looming. While donors rushed to the aid of SSC, Second Harvest Food Bank is still 500,000 pounds of food short of its 1.8 million pound goal, the amount needed to accommodate the 30 percent increase in families asking for help, according to executive director Willy Elliott-McCrea. "It's people who never in their wildest dreams thought they'd need Second Harvest," he says. "Our biggest concern is, will we have the resources to not be turning families away in the New Year."

 This year corporate gifts to the charity sank 50 percent while the number of families needing help each month shot up from 12,000 to 15,500. Elliott-McCrea is hoping for an 11th-hour surge in support, such as SSC got, before his Jan. 6 deadline. "Everyone has worked their tails off. We're all tired. But we can't let up for these last two weeks," he says. "A lot of people make their decision between Christmas and New Year's. It's a crucial, crucial time."

 So really, why Shakespeare and not poor people? In truth, it's a bit like comparing apples to oranges. For one thing, SSC got lots of support from all over the country, while every geographical location has its own local food bank to help. But the two stories do make one wonder. "To me it's a sign that even when the economy is down, the arts are vital to people's lives," says Cato. "It's surprising and it isn't surprising."

 Second Harvest still has two weeks to go. Though Elliott-McCrea, who has run the organization for 20 years, says this year is comparable to the '89 earthquake and '82 flood years, he refuses to accept that the goal will not be met. "I'm a believer in being positive. You'll never hear me say the sky is falling," he says. "People say that the Shakespeare Santa Cruz thing was easy, it just happened like magic, but believe me, the folks there put in a lot of hard work. We're going to have to step up like never before."


No Money, No Pay

 On Monday, the first day of Watsonville's citywide furlough, the most obvious sign of economic pain was in the front yard of the Salvation Army, where men waited with empty trash bags to take home donations. But just across the street, there was further evidence in the pronounced hush around the main Watsonville Police Station, where the blinds were drawn in administrative offices and signs were taped to the locked lobby doors explaining in English and Spanish that due to "temporary layoffs" the building would be closed until Jan. 5.

 Patrol Lt. Ed Gluhan said day one appeared to be uneventful, despite the fact that 90 of the 390 people being placed on enforced two-week leave are Police Department employees. "So far, we've had no major incidents to test us," he said. "It's not so much manpower on the street [that is being affected]. It's a lot of behind-the-scenes management decisions and discussions."

 Those positions are being called "nonessential" and include employees in the records department, administrative positions and some 8am–5pm officers, like traffic accident investigator Detective Rus Orlandos, who is none too pleased about the forced time off. "It hurts," he said. "From the janitor all the way up to Chief Medina, it upsets the apple cart."

What does that mean for the average Watsonvillian? The closing of the main lobby means residents will be unable to get information about their cases or their police records. Anyone who has a car impounded by a city officer will not be able to get it released. People involved in traffic accidents may wait longer for help. And behind those closed blinds, voicemail and email inboxes are filling up with all those ignored requests.

 Though all patrol officers are on duty, each will have to take 48 hours leave without pay before June 30, a necessity that worries Chief Terry Medina, who commands a police force that is already nine officers short. "We will have less police service, because that is a lot of hours to be off. A few thousand hours, actually. We're going to do our best to lessen the impact on the public," says Medina. "We'll let you know how that works on June 30."

 The furloughs, which total some $568,000, are the city's attempt to deal with a projected $561,000 shortfall from tumbling sales taxes, the loss of the vehicle license fee and the failure of Measure C, the 911 tax.

 As for whether this is a viable solution to save the city money, Lt. Gluhan says he hopes this will be the first and last time the WPD is asked to do this. "We've agreed to take a bite out of the apple, but we don't feel public safety being laid off—temporary or not—is the way to go," he says.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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