Plus Letters To the Editor
I’m sometimes asked why we don’t do more travel stories. They are a fixture of newspaper feature pages, for sure. And god knows Santa Cruz has some world-class travelers, going to amazing places.
But the truth is, travel writing is much harder than people think. It’s not just telling readers about a great vacation, it’s bringing something deeper and substantive that genuinely affects their understanding of the world. That’s a tall order, and ironically good travel writing is often more about the research done after the trip than it is about the trip itself.
That’s why the story of Sally-Christine Rodgers’ voyage across the Pacific is different. She’s written a book about her experience sailing from Santa Cruz to French Polynesia and her observations about the people she met and the culture of sailing are interesting. But it’s her documentation of some of the most important (and poorly understood) environmental issues facing our oceans that really makes her story matter. Maria Grusauskas, who regularly brings an analytical, hard-science perspective to her Wellness column in these pages, explores those elements in her cover story on Rodgers this week. This is the kind of travel story that is important for all of us to know about.
STEVE PALOPOLI | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Thank you for the excellent article by Mat Weir on Frankentrees (GT, 5/20). I’ve been on the lookout for a clarification of the issues around GMO, and found it at last. Three points that were new to me and seemed important: (1) the difference between traditional vertical inheritance, and the more recent and objectionable practice of horizontal inheritance; (2) the fact that the new super trees are sterile, to ensure that farmers must purchase the next crop (but then I wonder: why do they still have pollen? And if the pollen blows into existing endangered forests will the resulting cross-pollination make them sterile as well?); (3) the objection to burning wood for fuel: compared to coal, it releases more carbon and finer particles (particulates), which can be more easily absorbed into our bloodstream.
I hope many will read the article and see the documentary Synthetic Forests. I found it on the internet at filmsforaction.org.
Dana Bagshaw, Santa Cruz
UCSC is attempting to preserve habitat and protect wildlife. They are going to add tons of concrete, construction workers, parking, expand pools and on an on—but leashed dogs cause an unacceptable impact? Doesn’t the irony jump out at anyone?
Tricia Breen, Santa Cruz
Don’t Fix It
While the selective examples identified in Jennifer Wadsworth’s piece “Troll Call” (GT, 5/6) are indeed polarizing and some would say frivolous, the title, subtitle, and tone of the article are way off the mark. California’s initiative process for placing prospective laws on election ballots is not broken, and regardless of the merit of the specific efforts the author mentioned, it has not been hijacked.
On the contrary, many would argue that some of our state’s most significant laws have come about through the voter initiative process. Many others would argue that it has become the only vehicle for instituting laws that reflect the true preferences and best interests of citizens.
Proposition 13, for example, is a popular whipping boy for politicians. It is regularly cited as the cause of the budget woes for state and local governments. But Prop 13 did not take a dime from any government agency. What it did was stop governments and government agencies from continuously, routinely, and significantly raising the property tax for homeowners. It didn’t stop the increases, it merely kept them at a realistic level. As we see again and again, governments seem incapable of living within their means, and steadfastly refuse to prioritize services. When new programs and expanded bureaucracies are created without voter approval or even consultation, they are funded by yet another tax increase, and property taxes were a frequent target.
When voters, through the initiative process, put limits on the raising of taxes, or require increases be passed with a certain majority, the legislators react like petulant children who’ve had a toy taken away. A favorite means of circumventing the voter-implemented limits is to impose new taxes labeled as “fees.”
Despite the fact that ours is a representative democracy, that principle has long since been abandoned by elected officials. If these folks would be more responsive to, or even acknowledge, the will of the people, perhaps the initiative process would be less critical in politics. But they are not responsive and they do not acknowledge the will of the people. Rather, from the local school and water boards to the state and federal lawmakers, politicians are owned by and beholden to corporate and special interests. We do not elect politicians to defy our preferences and tell us what they (or their donors and the lobbyists) think is in our best interests, we elect them to do what we think is in our best interests.
In our state over half of the laws passed each year are derived from special interest groups and lobbyists, many of them written in their entirety by these interests. A 2015 study by KQED found that well over two-thirds of the bills originating from outside groups ultimately became law.
The rights and interests of the citizenry are trampled routinely these days, by legislators who stand up in expensive suits and tell us that they originated this bill or voted for that law to protect us, or create jobs, or secure the homeland, without disclosing how much money they actually got from the special interests that really benefit.
I’d say the initiative process in California is one of the few aspects of state politics not broken.
Steve Bailey, Boulder Creek
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MAYBE THIS FLASH MOB WAS A BAD IDEA Luckily, the participants captured in this shot at Wilder Ranch emerged unscathed. Photograph by Bill Schmidt
Soquel Has Heart
Downtown Soquel gets a new park this week called “The Heart of Soquel Plaza,” located near the corner of Soquel Drive and Porter Street. There will be a ribbon cutting and celebration from 10 a.m. to noon on Friday, May 29, featuring food and music. The park features pedestrian trails, river habitat restoration, a bocce ball court, benches, and public art.
Gone to Waste
It’s usually a dis to say somebody’s art is crap. But an installation opening at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 28 at UCSC is actually about art and human waste. “Enacting Awareness: Water, Waste and Public Space” opens at the Digital Arts Resource Center and offers a 7 p.m. panel with artists and scholars discussing the cultural and environmental implications of, well, crap.
“You wouldn’t think you could kill an ocean, would you? But we’ll do it one day. That’s how negligent we are.” — Ian Rankin