.What Smells?: The Year in Review

From the stinky to the sweet, the annoying to the just plain weird, here’s a look back at the offbeat news that wafted into our noses and brains in 2022

JANUARY

YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY, I’VE GOT YUCK IN MY TUMMY

770 bills became law this year, and many went into effect on Jan. 1, 2022. Some will affect millions of Californians, like the minimum-wage hike and steeper penalties for cellphone use while driving. Then there are those laws that most people will never know even exist. One is Senate Bill 395, the roadkill-for-consumption bill. But don’t get too excited, would-be lovers of pavement pizza! Though Gov. Newsom did sign the bill allowing state wildlife regulators to establish a pilot roadkill salvage program, the legislature never put up the millions of dollars it would take to regulate it. It’s still illegal to scrape crushed carcasses of deer, elk, wild boar and any other animal off California roads. The bill’s author—and staunch roadkill salvage advocate—State Sen. Bob Archuleta, said hundreds of thousands of pounds of meat could help those in need. The senator failed to mention that health officials are wary of people dying from eating potentially rotten meat, and highway officials are worried about motorists on dangerous highways. So for now, everyone just carry on as usual.

SURF LEGEND IN PUZZLING TRAGEDY

Former professional big wave surfer Darryl “Flea” Virostko won the Mavericks competition three times, and is featured in some of the most well-known surfing docs, including Step Into Liquid. While Flea—part of the infamous Santa Cruz “Vermin” squad with other like-minded freaks who loved large waves as much as ingesting large quantities of drugs—is a natural talent, he had a perpetual death wish. In 2004, he managed to survive a 50-foot drop at Hawaii’s Waimea Bay, which Surfer dubbed the “Wipeout of the Decade.” Now sober for over a decade, Flea is a doting father of two and teaches other recovering addicts how to surf. But earlier this year, he was in the news for something totally unexpected: a crash that took a truly bizarre and tragic turn. At 9am on Jan. 10, a Honda Accord rear-ended his Tundra on Highway 1 near Swanton Road; according to the CHP’s report, both vehicles pulled over after the accident. The woman driving the Honda got out of her car, crossed the highway towards the cliff overlooking the ocean and plummeted 300 feet to her death. Flea told KRON4 later that day that he was unharmed. Whether the Santa Cruz woman (whose name was not released) jumped or fell remains a mystery, but in yet another weird twist, the CHP classified the incident as a “hit and run” because she technically left the scene.

February

THIS IS SO MYCELIUM

If you always thought it sounded like Santa Cruz’s  Fungus Federation stole its name from Star Trek, well, that might make more sense than you realized. During a particularly fungal February at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, local mushroom maniacs got their annual fix, with lectures on subjects like how to find mushrooms at DeLavega (pro tip: watch out for sliced golf balls).
But things got downright psychedelic when it was revealed that the current theory on the origin of mushroom spores is that they literally came from outer space. Supposedly, they adhered to meteorites and flew willy-nilly until they entered our atmosphere, where they landed in the primordial soup and began multiplying, proliferating, adding complexities and eventually becoming Joe Rogan.

DEAR HR, PLEASE ADVISE ON WHETHER THIS PROCEDURE IS COVERED BY KAISER, ’CAUSE MUST HAVE NOW

We love Santa Cruz native Adam Scott, and were happy to see him get his first Emmy noms for the incredible Apple TV+ series Severance, which premiered Feb. 18. It seems lucky that we got it at all, what with Covid-19 shutdowns and production postponements, but all the perseverance paid off, as it’s a delicious dystopian dive into why work sucks. And its timing couldn’t be better as millions of Americans, having worked from home for two years, have gone from wondering “Why did we ever have to work in an office?” to “Why do we even have to work at all?” In Severance, Scott plays the disaffected Mark, who has agreed to an elective surgery that causes you to not remember what happened at work. The show is part horror, part brilliant commentary and part fantasy for everyone who still clocks in 9 to 5. It’s all very surreal, but to us the strangest part is that the show seems to think not remembering what happened at work is a bad thing.

March

I’VE BEEN WORKING AGAINST THE RAILROAD, ALL THE LIVE-LONG DAY

Trail-only supporters in the goddamned exhausting rail vs. trail debate were cautiously optimistic on March 8, when the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to place what would become Measure D on the June ballot. Passage would have changed the county’s general plan to focus solely on a bicycle and pedestrian path, and would have resulted in “railbanking” the stretch of track between Davenport and Pajaro. But the light they saw at the end of the tunnel was actually the headlight of an oncoming passenger train, bearing down slowly but inexorably upon their rail-free vision. Trigger warning for disgruntled D supporters: If you don’t like remembering March, you’re really not going to like remembering June.

secure document shredding

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? THAT’D BE NO

County supervisors approved a plan to use a $500,000 grant to place cellular antennae in rural areas throughout the county. The move was inspired in part by an August 2021 fatal stabbing at Aptos High School, during which bystanders had difficulty calling 911 because of a lack of cell towers in the area. At the time of the decision, county officials were looking at roughly three-dozen sites for the rooftop antennas. Incidentally, residents who live in the area of Aptos High–just off the Freedom Boulevard exit–still report their coverage as spotty at best, because of course.

April

FLOODING, YOU SAY? SURELY NOT WITH THESE ACCELERATING WEATHER PATTERNS THAT ARE NOT AT ALL INCREASINGLY ERRATIC

NIMBYs and anti-tax locals were in an uproar when some 3,000 residents with properties near the Pajaro River levee began receiving ballots in their mailboxes with a single question: Will you approve a property tax assessment to fund annual maintenance and operations of the future rebuild of the levee? That was the final funding piece in the long-awaited—and much needed—rebuild of the levee, where flooding during rainstorms in 1955, 1958, 1995 and 1998 devastated large swaths of the agricultural community. All things considered, the ask for residents—roughly $200 per parcel annually—seemed relatively meager by comparison.
Failure of the assessment would have scuttled the project, so a group of residents began a door-to-door campaign that ultimately was successful—it passed with a sizable 79% margin. In October, county officials gathered in a pocket park with a view of the levee to celebrate having gathered the local, state and federal funding for the $400 million project.

NEXT THING YOU KNOW, THEY’LL LET A WOMAN ACTUALLY BE GOVERNOR

A mere 102 years after the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in the U.S.—and millennia since gender roles evolved beyond a hunter-gatherer lifestyle—Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis became the first woman in California history to sign a piece of legislation into law on March 31. Acting as governor while Gavin Newsom was on vacation, Kounalakis signed Assembly Bill 2179, which extended eviction protections through June 30 for tenants affected by the pandemic. At the time, she said the law would help 220,000 households. By the way, those statewide protections were later left to expire. Let’s not get too crazy with the progress!

MAY 

AWW, BUT ALSO EWW

Mothers. We really can’t ever give them the attention and credit they deserve (just ask them!). Especially when you consider the lengths they go to for their children—raising them, putting their lives on the line, getting stuck in roofs as they try to feed their young. Well, that’s what one raccoon mama did in May, at least. After being separated from her attic-dwelling children, she chewed through a homeowner’s roof and ended up making it halfway through, with her head inside and hind legs out, Winnie-the-Pooh style. Luckily, a nearby work crew came to the rescue, widening the hole enough for the raccoon to squirm through into the attic and reunite with her babies.

I’LL HAVE WAGE EQUITY WITH ONE PUMP CLASSIC, DOUBLE BLENDED, WITH CARAMEL DRIZZLE

Two Starbucks in Santa Cruz were the first locations in California to vote to unionize on May 11, in a double-shot effort to join the first unionized Starbucks in New York. The workers at the stores on 517 Mission Street and 745 Ocean Street approved forming unions, the former in a 15-2 vote and the latter with a 13-1 vote. Later that afternoon, workers held rallies outside the stores, stirring cheers and honks from supporters—and feelings of despair from disappointed customers who went without venti oatmilk frappuccinos in solidarity.

JUNE

IN THE HOPES THAT, SOMEDAY, ALL OF US CAN ENJOY THE RIGHTS THAT WE LITERALLY HAD FOR DECADES UNTIL LIKE SIX MONTHS AGO

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, reversing almost 50 years of precedent, several hundred people gathered around the Santa Cruz County Courthouse steps. Several of them had shown up to the same spot in early May when a draft of the decision leaked. In response to the ruling, the speakers and sign-bearers returned to rally for bodily autonomy and the right to privacy. Medical professionals, mothers and local politicians expressed sorrow and urged the crowd to keep fighting for safe abortion access and a right to choose. The rally was one of thousands across the country. 

MEASURE D-ONE

OK, we promise that’s the last Measure D pun we’ll make in 2022. But don’t blame us for how many of them we had to break out this year, considering how the rail-trail debate completely dominated local politics for months. There were so many people who wouldn’t shut up about it on both sides that it made it hard to tell just how much support the trail-only initiative really had. Spoiler alert: not very much! Though some rail supporters openly admitted to being nervous going into the June 7 vote, in the end they had absolutely no reason to be, as more than 70 percent of voters rejected Measure D. The rail-trail debate may finally be over, but at least we’ll have the memories of how divisive and toxic this entire chapter of Santa Cruz politics turned out to be.

JULY 

THE HIGHEST THING IN SANTA CRUZ ISN’T STONERS

A July report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition revealed that the Santa Cruz-Watsonville area is now the second-most expensive place to live in the nation. Number one was a penthouse apartment in Trump Towers. OK, actually it was San Francisco, but you know how people around here hate being compared to “the City.” The study showed a Santa Cruz household would have to earn $60 an hour to comfortably afford a two-bedroom apartment; unfortunately, the average worker income here in 2021 was around half that number.

WHAT THE F

On July 6, the city gave up hope and verified that a half-cent sales tax measure had failed, nearly a month after residents voted on the issue. No one was exactly surprised that Measure F had failed, given the state of the economy, insane gas prices and the rent being too damn high. (The second-highest in the nation, remember? Like we could forget.) But for weeks after the June 7 balloting, the city held on to hope, kind of like that out-of-touch tech bro you went on one date with in an act of regrettable desperation. To make matters worse, the city’s revenue bid lost by only 50 votes—that’s gotta sting. We promise, Chad, your odds weren’t nearly as good.

AUGUST

BENCHLANDS BLUES

In August, the Santa Cruz City Council approved the closure of the pandemic-spanning local homeless encampment that sounded like it was named after a Bruce Springsteen song. Benchlands, you got a month to leave the park/Benchlands, don’t get caught there after dark/Benchlands…eh, okay, fine, there’s a reason the Boss is writing America’s every person anthems and we’re just out here trying to navigate the people shooting up, lighting things on fire and setting up tents in front of the door to our Benchlands-adjacent office.

I WANNA ROCK YARD

The Quarry at UCSC was an actual limestone quarry in the 1800s, and when UCSC opened in the 1960s, the storied hole in the ground became an arena for discussion, music, getting high and making love. The Quarry reopened in August with performances from the adopted sonic sons of Santa Cruz, Sound Tribe Sector Nine. Throughout the years, the Quarry has hosted Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and speeches by Scotts Valley resident Alfred Hitchcock. The future looks bright for the Red Rocks of the Redwoods at it prepares for a new season—rumors are swirling that the reboot of The X-Files will have Scully and Mulder visiting the Quarry to see if it’s built on top of a vortex that opens into another dimension. We don’t want to say it’s aliens, but … it’s aliens.

SEPTEMBER

YOU OTTER BEWARE

Santa Cruz is infamous for surly surf lineups, but a September incident at Steamer Lane crossed the line. In a flagrant display of localism, a sea otter stole surfer Nick Ericksen’s board and lunged at him whenever he got close. The otter, suspected to be pregnant, took a few chunks out of the soft-top board. She ignored splashes and attempts to retrieve the board, until another surfer eventually yanked it away. But the aggro otter didn’t give up. After Ericksen got back on his board, she chased him out of the water. A video of the encounter went viral. Around the same time, YouTuber Colby Stevens uploaded a different video of an otter stealing another soft-top board at Steamer Lane. The otter’s motives remain a mystery, but some onlookers swear they heard her squeak, “Beat it, kook!”

THE REEK THAT WAS

When word got out that a corpse flower was on the verge of blooming at the UCSC Arboretum, Empire Grade turned into a parking lot. Cars lined the road as far as the eye could see, and hundreds of people swarmed to sniff the stinky, nearly human-sized tropical flower. After ten years of growing and storing energy, this was the plant’s first bloom. When the flower blossoms, it generates warmth and smells like a decaying carcass in order to attract the flies and beetles that pollinate it. But just as things were heating up, the process reversed. After a few days of nothing, the corpse flower seemed to be an actual corpse, and the arboretum scheduled an autopsy accordingly. And then, suddenly, it was back to life. The plant sprung into action and filled the grounds with the smell of death and irony.

OCTOBER

ATTACK OF THE PEEPING CYCLISTS 

On Oct. 8, a Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge ruled that a group of Rio Del Mar property owners could put up temporary fencing to block public access to a 786-foot-long beachside walkway that runs along their properties. The matter has dominated many of the homeowners’ lives for years. They’ve regularly voiced their distress, with one resident saying: “One cannot safely stand, nor sit in [their patio] area, with the presence of cyclists moving through.” The ruling also stated that many people peer into their windows, which is even creepier considering that most speed by on bicycles. Just when it looked like things were looking up (not in) for these beachfront homeowners, however, the California Coastal Commission said that the walkway must remain open under state law, despite the verdict. While the conflict continues, one homeowner stated that most passersby are amicable, and she doesn’t want more barriers to be built. Unconfirmed reports say several of her fellow neighborhood homeowners passed out on the spot.

NOVEMBER

LIBRARY BROOKED

Local NIMBYs’ not-so-great year continued on Nov. 8, when almost 60 percent of voters rejected Measure O’s attempt to scuttle the downtown mixed-use library project. Perhaps Santa Cruzans were not impressed with the pro-O campaign’s fixation on the fact that the new library will include a parking garage; the campaign leaders’ galaxy-brained speculation on whether Santa Cruz will actually even need parking in the future turned out to be a non-starter. Nor did the O campaign’s promise that the project’s 124 units of affordable housing will be replaceable somewhere else resonate with a city staring down a requirement from the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments that it must add 3,735 housing units over the next eight years. Note to future anti-development campaigns: throwing around the scare word “skyscraper” apparently does not work when people know what an actual skyscraper is.

AND PLEASE, NO CONSTRUCTION OF SUPERVILLIAN BASES WITHIN THE PARK

The Bureau of Land Management has done a great job opening the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument in Santa Cruz County this year, but when it came to gathering public comment on a new set of guidelines for the land in November—well, bureaucrats gonna bureaucrat. Locals who wanted to look up the new rules (you know, so they could comment on them) had to scroll through tons of unnecessary verbiage about various related legislation and executive orders throughout American history. This led to a sentence that (ironically?) said, “Executive Order 12866 and Executive Order 13563 require each agency to write regulations that are simple and easy to understand. The BLM invites your comments on how to make this proposed supplementary rule easier to understand.” Hmm, we don’t know, maybe explain what you’re even talking about? When one finally got to the “supplementary rule”—or rather, set of rules—they turned out to be the most boring things ever: you have to pick up your dog poop, you have to stay on the trails, etc. Until the mind-blower that is #19: You can’t land an airplane in Cotoni-Coast Dairies. Geez, that escalated quickly!

DECEMBER

FROM OUR “OH NO, PLEASE NO” DEPARTMENT

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about (have you heard that this is the second-most expensive place to live in the country?), the California Geological Survey updated its tsunami hazard maps this year for the first time since 2009. The bad news is that a tsunami triggered by a distant source (the maps hypothesize a 9.3-magnitude earthquake in the eastern Aleutian Islands) could reach the shores of Monterey Bay within a few hours. The even worse news is that one set in motion by a closer event such as an underwater landslide in the Grand-Canyon-sized undersea chasm known as Monterey Canyon could be here in minutes. A worst-case tsunami could, according to the new maps, hit low-elevation areas around the Boardwalk, the harbor, Capitola Beach, Seacliff Beach, La Selva Beach and Pajaro River Beach. If you’re thinking “I’d prefer to stick with my daily fear of earthquakes, thanks,” don’t worry, we haven’t had a tsunami around these parts since, let’s see … January. 

THIS PLACE WILL STEAL YOUR HEART

If there’s one thing you can say about Santa Cruz, it’s that it has heart—and last week, we had one lying around on Ocean Street. According to KRON4, some witnesses at the scene believed the organ might be human; however, a coroner’s van arrived around 10:45am on Dec. 15 to cart it away, along with some other remains, and determined it was not. Time for a welfare check on Bigfoot; anyone seen him lately?

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Adam Joseph
Before Delaware native Adam Joseph was brought on as managing editor for Good Times Santa Cruz in 2021, he spent several years with the Monterey County Weekly as a music writer and calendar editor. In addition to music, the award-winning writer has covered film, people, food, places and everything in between. Adam’s work has appeared in Relix Magazine, 65 Degrees, the Salinas Californian and Gayot. In January 2022, Adam took over as Good Times’ interim editor. [email protected]
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