Blog Archives

July 6 – 12, 2022

Highlights this week:

BRATTON…Beautifying our downtown, County Supervisor campaign finance investigation. GREENSITE…on the Sea Dubs Arena. KROHN…UCSC housing issues. STEINBRUNER…County Fairgrounds & livestock shelter, closing the county dump, CZU fire issues, Watsonville hospital money, Aptos Library, CEQA laws. HAYES…Birds from the coffee region. PATTON…Slow Riot/ mass shootings. MATLOCK…Cutting and pasting into an unknown future. EAGAN… Subconscious Comics and Deep Cover. WEBMISTRESS pick of the week… How I love Betty White! QUOTES on “WAVES”

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OUR BEAUTIFUL SEA BEACH HOTEL 1870-1912.  This mammoth structure was built to attract more tourists to Santa Cruz that were being attracted to Monterey. It had 170 rooms and both Teddy Roosevelt and William Randolph Hearst stayed there. It burned to the ground June 12, 1912.                                                        

Additional information always welcome: email bratton@cruzio.com

DATELINE July 4

STOREFRONT LIFE ON PACIFIC AVENUE…CONT. In my column of June 13th I wrote…“BEAUTIFY PACIFIC AVENUE. Our Santa Cruz Pacific Avenue Downtown looks terrible. All those shuttered, closed businesses with sloppy, hasty, taped-up, butcher-papered windows are a disgrace. Starting with the former

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Andy’s Auto Supply, then there’s Logo’s, Palace Stationers, Peets, and the long time deserted Starbucks patio plus more. Why doesn’t the Downtown Association or MAH, The Chamber Of Commerce, or the schools do something to brighten up those windows and make our downtown attractive and encouraging? Get those great muralists to create windows that cheer us up, have schools put children’s art on display, have a nursery create a growing display in that old Starbucks patio. People are coming back to Pacific Avenue, let’s think of even more ways to restore its charm and uniqueness”. The reactions were just fine and of course nothing has beenI done…yet! Now in today’s San Francisco Chronicle (7/4) there’s a front page article by John King titled “CITIES MUST FILL EMPTY STORE FRONTS WITH NEW IDEAS”.

It states things like empty storefronts have taken over the heart of what long ago was the center of the downtown like San Francisco and Oakland. It casts a pall over the downtowns and poses a challenge with ground floor spaces that have not been leased. The damage is cumulative and deep. King goes on to suggest that civic and cultural institutions could program a year of exhibitions. Travel posters, school art displays and dozens more visual attractions would restore that life. City Hall could start a service center where citizens could get assistance “face to face” and that includes vaccinations. He goes on to write that building owners “take the ground floor out of their business model and think of it as part of the public realm”. Civic groups could create new centers to house volunteer events. 

We need to get the City Council interested and active and involved…let’s do what we can to save our best laid plans of a Santa Cruz Downtown…and soon!

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY SUPERVISOR CAMPAIGN FINANCE INVESTIGATION. I can’t be sure where this press release came from. Could be from either Lookout or Serf City Times or Santa Cruz Local…   

Campaign finance probe starts

California’s Fair Political Practices Commission this month opened an investigation into Santa Cruz County supervisor candidate Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson and political committee Santa Cruz Together after an allegation of a campaign-finance disclosure violation. Supervisor candidate Ami Chen Mills filed the complaint. She ran against Santa Cruz City Council members Kalantari-Johnson and Justin Cummings in the District 3 county supervisor race. 

An earlier version of Chen Mills’ complaint was dismissed by the commission in May. Chen Mills re-filed the complaint in June with a more detailed description of the alleged violations. The new complaint also included Santa Cruz Together as a respondent. 

  • Chen Mills alleged that Kalantari-Johnson and Santa Cruz Together violated campaign finance rules for reporting expenses at a Santa Cruz Together event on May 2 at Stockwell Cellars on Fair Avenue in Santa Cruz. At the event, a Santa Cruz Together leader gave instructions to attendees on how to donate to support Santa Cruz Together’s efforts to help elect Kalantari-Johnson to the county board of supervisors, according to an audio recording. 
  • A June 16 letter from the commission to Chen Mills stated that an investigation has been opened, but the commission has not determined the validity of the complaint or the culpability of Kalantari-Johnson or Santa Cruz Together leaders.

Kalantari-Johnson and Santa Cruz Together Chairperson Lynn Renshaw said in May that they did not violate any rules of the Fair Political Practices Commission. Chen Mills said that she was “pleased to learn” about the investigation. “The public should always demand full transparency and it is always appropriate to hold all players accountable,” Chen Mills said.

A violation of California’s Political Reform Act can result in a penalty of up to $5,000 per violation. Minor violations can result in a warning letter. “Minor, technical” violations that are not a great harm to the public typically involve penalties of a few hundred dollars, said Jay Wierenga, a Fair Political Practices Commission spokesman. Kalantari-Johnson and Cummings are expected to face off for the supervisor’s seat in the Nov. 8 general election. Chen Mills received the fewest votes in the June primary election and no one captured more than 50% of the vote”. Let’s hope some results and decisions come soon and are honest. 

I search and critique a variety of movies only from those that are newly released. Choosing from the thousands of classics and older releases would take way too long. And be sure to tune in to those very newest movie reviews live on KZSC 88.1 fm every Friday from about 8:10 – 8:30 am. on the Bushwhackers Breakfast Club program hosted by Dangerous Dan Orange. 

YOU DON’T KNOW ME. (NETFLIX SERIES) (6.8 IMDB). A British courtroom drama centers on a man accused of murder. It’s tight, well-acted, intriguing, believable, and even mysterious. His surprising version of his innocence is certainly worth your viewing.  

THE PRINCESS. (HULU MOVIE) (5.3 IMDB). Hard to imagine watching a princess escaping from a castle tower movie again. This trite piece of junk adds nothing to the oft repeated retelling. The princess isn’t exactly beautiful, she’s supposed to be about 15 years old and has had martial arts training! The fantasy it tries to create is almost worse than those related on Fox News!

OFFICIAL COMPETITION. (DEL MAR THEATRE) (7.2 IMDB) This is a Spanish must see comedy for any and all cinema enthusiasts. Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas take the leads in this film centering on how movies are made. Plenty of inside digs and barbs on art house creations will keep you involved and even laughing. Surprising to watch Cruz’s comic timing…who knew?  

THE TERMINAL LIST. (AMAZON PRIME) (8.2 IMDB) Chris Pratt takes the part of a Navy Seal officer whose troops were ambushed during a secret mission in Syria. He suffers from shell shock/concussion and the search for the unknown enemy is a good one. The movie is believable, well-acted, nicely photographed and even mysterious. Go for it.

MARRY ME. (AMAZON PRIME) (6.0 IMDB) This is meant to be a comedy and features Jennifer Lopez and Owen Wilson. Her role is a hugely successful superstar who gets jilted by a big deal rock star and ends up partnering with a “humble” normal guy instead. Wilson’s forever mugging and hammy style of delivery make this barely viewable. There’s some singing and more staging by Lopez but it isn’t worth your time.

THE DESPERATE HOUR. (HULU MOVIE) (4.7 IMDB) Naomi Watts must have been paid millions to do this tragic flop. She plays a mother out jogging whose son Noah is inside a school that is being held captive by a shooter. She jogs throughout the entire movie and telephones everybody involved to learn about and connect with her son. There’s little tension, unfair emoting and is a below the belt attempt at reality.

DOOM OF LOVE. (NETFLIX MOVIE) (4.8 IMDB). This movie from Turkey is flimsy, trite, and dull and is supposed to deal with a young man’s search for inner happiness. He deals with love, playing the drums, and finding friends. Because his business had failed there’s a big focus on making money OR being happy…apparently we can’t do both. Much better to take a walk in this beautiful July sunshine.

BACKTRACE. (NETFLIX MOVIE) (3.8 IMDB). It was mostly curiosity that made me watch a movie with Sylvester Stallone in it. And even wearing a foolish looking wig he’s still painful to watch.  Mathew Modine plays a guy who stole a big bunch of money and hid it. He does time in prison, gets released and they give him drugs so he’ll remember where he hid it. Stallone is the cop who supervises the search. Not worth your time or even thinking about it.

CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH. (APPLE MOVIE) (7.4 IMDB).  A very corny, poorly acted, fell good movie about a kid who falls in love at a Bar Mitzvah party. He dances and dates an autistic girl and makes friends with her mother. I couldn’t take more than 23 minutes and 3 seconds.

SPECIAL NOTE….Don’t forget that when you’re not too sure of a plot or need any info on a movie to go to Wikipedia. It lays out the straight/non hype story plus all the details you’ll need including which server (Netflix, Hulu, or PBS) you can find it on. You can also go to Brattononline.com and punch in the movie title and read my take on the much more than 100 movies. 

ELVIS. (DEL MAR THEATRE). This is an artistic, dramatic version of Elvis’ life not a documentary. Director Baz Luhrmann who did Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby made Tom Hanks into an impossible phony character just like Colonel Tom Parker really was. Austin Butler as Elvis is over the believable top and does an excellent job. I didn’t realize that Elvis made over 30 movies and I can’t remember seeing more than 2. Elvis also sold more hit records than any solo artist in history.

HUSTLE. (NETFLIX MOVIE) (7.4 IMDB). Adam Sandler plays a basketball league scout and wears a phony beard that is as believable as the boring plot in this no slam dunk of a movie. Queen Latifah hams her way through a doubtful role and they even stood 91 year old Robert Duvall in a doorway and had him say a few lines. It’s a trashy attempt at making basketball into a dramatic sport.

LOOT. (APPLE TV SERIES) (5.7IMDB). Former UCSC student Maya Rudolph is the main star and former Santa Cruzan Adam Scott is in two of the Loot episodes. She inherits billions of dollars and tries to get laughs as she attempts to lead a normal life. I couldn’t take more than 2 episodes before it became unwatchable.

THE OLD MAN. (HULU SERIES) (8.6 IMDB). Jeff Bridges and John Lithgow had a secret partnership during the Russian-Afghan war. Now they are opposite official sides (like the FBI and the CIA) and carry out a complex never ending chase adventure. The first two episodes are well done, exciting, and nicely carried out….highly recommended. 

THE TAKEDOWN. Omar Sy plays the smart cop and Laurent Lafitte is his odd and mismatched partner who reunite and try to figure out who not just murdered but cut the corpse in half. Many racial jokes, lots of really well done chase scenes, and fine photography throughout. But there are few valid reasons to watch this….we’ve seen it all before…many, many times.

IRMA VEP. (HBO MAX MOVIE) (7.1 IMDB). If you’ve watched and enjoyed the new version of Irma Vep starring Alicia Vikander you’ll enjoy it even more if you watch the original Irma Vep filmed in 1996. It stars Maggie Cheung a beautiful Chinese actress who speaks no French hired by the French group trying to remake a silent film about Vampires. It’s really a brilliant attempt at criticizing the French Cinema during the 1950’s. There are many themes and none of them very deep and the film itself is a showpiece of cinema techniques. Well worth watching.  

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JEWELL THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS. Their next production is “Deathtrap” which was Broadway’s longest running comedy-thriller play.  Tense, funny, and the movie version with Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve was near perfect. It’s at the Colligan Theatre and runs from July 6 through the 31st. Call 831 425-7506 or go to www.JewelTheatre.net 

SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER PLAYERS. Present their rescheduled concert “Gabriel Fauré and His Circle of Influence, Part II”. Playing those dates will be the Nisene Ensemble. The Nisene Ensemble are: Cynthia Baehr-Williams, Concert Director and Violin, Chad Kaltinger, Viola, Kristin Garbeff, Cello and Kumi Uyeda on Piano. The dates are Sat, Jul 9, 7:30 PM, and Sun. Jul 10, 3PM.at the Christ Lutheran Church • Aptos, CA. Go here for tickets and details…

CABRILHO FESTIVAL OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC. Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music Celebrates its 60th Anniversary Season and Returns to In-Person Concerts on July 24-August 7. Yes, Cristian Macelaru the music director is returning and will be conducting. The concerts will include three world premiere commissions; the live orchestral premiere of Jake Heggie‘s INTONATIONS: Songs from the Violins of Hope featuring mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and violinist Benjamin Beilman; and works commemorating women’s suffrage in America and exploring the recent impact of drought and wildfires in the Western United States. Tickets are on sale now!! 

39th ANNUAL MUSICAL SAW FESTIVAL. The 39th Annual Musical Saw Festival will be on Sunday August 14 from 10:00 am to 5pm at Roaring Camp in Felton. The world’s greatest saw players come out of the woodwork to join other acoustic musicians in a variety of musical performances. You’ll hear bluegrass, country, folk, gospel, blues, classical, and even show tunes (believe it or not, no heavy metal) throughout the day. Festivities start at 10:00 AM, with spontaneous acoustic jams throughout the day. There’s a Saw-Off competition from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM, and a Chorus of the Saws at 3:45 PM, with up to 50 saw players trying to play in unison. And for those who want to learn how to play music that really has some teeth in it, there’s a free Musical Saw Workshop at 4:00 PM. The entire event is free, and fun for the whole family. For more information, check out www.sawplayers.org , or  www.roaringcamp.com . Held by the International Musical Saw Association. 

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July 4

THE COST OF AN ARENA

The campaign to convince the community to embrace a whole new downtown with buildings similar in scale to the one above is underway. The Guest Commentary in Sunday’s Sentinel by Chris Murphy, President of the Santa Cruz Warriors contains all the self-congratulatory accolades and popular phrases to gain project support. The commentary includes a few minimizing misstatements such as (the project is) “rezoning a small portion of downtown” when in fact it is not of or in downtown. It extends the current boundaries of downtown by 29 acres which is close to the size of Lighthouse Field. More significantly it contains some warnings that should not be ignored just because everyone loves the Sea Dubs. 

When the plan to embark on extending downtown from its current boundary at Laurel Street was first mentioned in a quick, non-agendized comment by the Planning Director at the end of a late-night Planning Commission meeting, I wondered, “where did that come from?” It had never been on a Planning Commission or City Council agenda. In fact, neither body nor the public has ever been given the opportunity to discuss and vote on whether the project itself should be supported. When it finally emerged out of the back rooms into public light of day, the discussion and vote centered on exploring a choice of map boundaries for extending downtown. The project itself, to extend downtown, was going forward; the only issue was the choice of where.

When it came to council on June 14th, after minimal public outreach, the question of “where did that come from?” was answered. The desire to establish a permanent Santa Cruz Warriors Arena was always part of the mix. What hadn’t been made clear, even to council given the questions posed to staff by some council members, was that funding for the new arena will come from Santa Cruz Warriors investments in real estate in this new downtown. Or to put it another way, they need profits from multiple 17 and 15 story market-rate housing/commercial towers to pay for the arena. As much as I love basketball, I spot a few issues with this investment strategy. Apparently also does Chris Murphy.

He writes: “Building a future home for the Santa Cruz Warriors means committing to the fiscal and political realities of financing these significant improvements to our downtown.” What does this mean? Who is “committing”? The city staff, city attorney and the SC Warriors surely know the answer even if the public and council don’t. And in the same paragraph he writes, “We look forward to building a new arena—and embracing the economic realities required to finance and sustain such an arena…” Does “embracing” include taking full responsibility? Or, if real estate takes a turn for the worse for investors, will the Warriors be coming cap in hand to the city and the community? We have a right to know the details of the agreement and contract being signed on our behalf.

Apart from that there are multiple issues insufficiently explored in this project. While Chris Murphy assures us that these housing towers will contain affordable housing “at the same level of affordability required elsewhere downtown” that is not reassuring if you’ve been following various recent developments. Some contain none, one contains 11% and another under construction had to be taken to court to include affordable units. Not a good track record. That begs the question of market rate housing raising the AMI (Area Median Income) to which all “affordability” levels are hinged. “Affordable” just isn’t. Although even the penthouse at the top of these towers is “affordable” to someone. A speaker at the council hearing in full support of the project described all the low-income workers at $20-$30 an hour who will be living in the “affordable” units. A bit out of touch. Most low-income workers, especially those who lack papers earn $16 an hour. With families. These units are not for them.

Then there’s multiple significant issues with cramming 1600 units of housing and commercial into the main route to the beach, Boardwalk and lower westside; the visual and access impacts on nearby residents; the dislocation of current low- income renters; the impact on nearby habitat areas (SL River and Neary Lagoon); the shift of activity away from current downtown and the impact on businesses; the abandonment of the Civic as the cultural heart of Santa Cruz etc. etc. etc.

“But we are required to build 3800 more housing units in the next 8 years!”  is the city’s rejoinder. Except that is almost double what is required of the county and could have been and wasn’t appealed. One gets the sense that the current Planning staff welcome these projects. Job security and many don’t live in the city. And a touch of preference for an urban skyline which Santa Cruz lacks.

In the late 1990’s, city staff and some council members tried to sneak the Beach/South of Laurel Plan (B/SOL) past an unsuspecting community. Fortunately, activists such as the late Doug Rand caught it and helped organize massive opposition. I remember multiple council hearings; one so large it was moved to and filled the Civic. Hundreds spoke. The project was scaled back before it was passed. This downtown extension project is B/SOL on steroids. 

Yes, we have a housing affordability crisis that did not exist in the late 1990’s and not because of a lack of building. It is because investing in real estate is now #1 in rich people’s portfolios.

This project with its estimated 1400 market rate and 200 “affordable” units is guaranteed to worsen the housing cost crisis in Santa Cruz. No feel-good phrases change that reality. 

Gillian Greensite is a long time local activist, a member of Save Our Big Trees and the Santa Cruz chapter of IDA, International Dark Sky Association  http://darksky.org    Plus she’s an avid ocean swimmer, hiker and lover of all things wild.

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 July 4

UC Regents Mum on Acquisition of 168-unit Hilltop Apartments on Western Drive

Strange days get even stranger.  It appears the “Regency Hilltop LLC”  (also possibly “Regency Broadway Properties, Inc.”) was sold in December of 2021 for more than $117 million according to the Santa Cruz County Assessor’s office. If it is the same Hilltop Apartments at 363 Western Drive in Santa Cruz, formerly Outlook Apartments, which were bought by Goldman Sachs for $55 million in 2018, that would represent a tidy real estate profit in four years’ time, even in these heady Santa Cruz-is-for-sale real estate times.  What may be most remarkable about this sale is that it appears to involve the UC Regents. A property called the Regency Hilltop, LLC, is registered as a California company as of February 7, 2022, and is owned by an entity that is listed at “1111 Franklin St., Oakland, CA.” According to a search on Bizapedia, “The company has 1 contact on record. The contact is The Regents of the University of California; Regency Broadway Properties, Inc. from Oakland, CA.” 

Plot Thickens

When I became aware of this apparent sale of market-rate housing to the UC Regents, I reached out to Scott Hernandez-Jason, the director of news and media relations at UCSC since 2014. The only other time I reached out to him was when the university announced it would grow to 28,000 students. I wrote an email that stated in part:

UCSC is simply not affordable. It is not affordable to live on campus. Students cannot wait to get off campus, unless their parents are wealthy, or if they are receiving significant financial aid, most students simply cannot afford the rents charged on campus. Most students I know would love to live on campus, be close to the library and redwood trees, this is despite the myth that they want to get off campus and be “independent.” Not my experience. I understand why the campus puts campus rents up so high, I do not agree, and something first, is seriously wrong with the UC housing formula (I understand you probably know that), and secondly, we need to change it. Not until campus rents are significantly cheaper than in-town rents will anything change in this Town-Gown economic scenario. Bringing more students to Santa Cruz, above the 19,500 negotiated through the 2005 LRDP is frankly irresponsible given what it costs to live here and the University’s current inability to lower the rents that it charges students to live in a dorm. I feel incredibly saddened by the situation that exists. Our students are leaving with so much debt, and for what? They subsequently are hemmed into a job market and feel tremendous pressure to begin paying their loans off. 

I received no answer at that time, but this time, Scott Hernandez-Jason responded:

“As to your question, you should reach out to the UC Office of Media Relations at media@ucop.edu.” 

No Comment

It takes five full-timers to handle the UC president’s media correspondence and I called one of them, Ryan King, Associate Director of Media Relations for UCOP, UC’s Office of the President, twice.  I received no call back and instead, emailed media@ucop.edu and received another terse response from Stett Holbrook, UCOP’s Senior Communications Strategist (so many BIG titles!). I wrote: Dear Media Relations, Question: Did the UC Regents, through their real estate office, purchase the Hilltop Apartments on Western Drive in Santa Cruz? Holbrook wrote: Thanks for reaching out, but UC Investments has no comment on this matter. Best, Stett Holbrook” Something smells funny here. I was fully ready for them to deny any relationship with the Hilltop Apartments, but they didn’t. In the past it was taboo for UC to even think of buying up existing rental housing in the city of Santa Cruz. Perhaps it still is and they are trying to fashion just the right response because existing residents at the Hilltop Apartments tell me they are being told to leave. Devin Fitzgerald is a UCSC graduate student and 3-year resident of Hilltop. He received a 60-day eviction notice last week. Remember when UCSC rented the old Holiday Inn, now Hotel Paradox, on Ocean Street? It caused an uproar and the University ended up paying the city a fee to cover police and fire protection, but it did not take out existing units from Surf City’s housing stock as the Hilltop purchase would. The Holiday Inn rental was sort of a win-win as it occupied hotel units with students during the tourist off-season and the hotel was open to tourists from June to September. Are we also to assume too that the $658,000 paid in property tax by the previous owners would no longer be paid if the UC Regents owned the 168 units?

The Rents Are Too Damn High 

If you are lucky enough to own a home in this town, you do not think much about paying rent. Unless, you are a landlord. Many landlords look at what the dorm rates/rents are on the UCSC campus, and they are astronomical. If you think rent in Santa Cruz is expensive, think “Five 55 Pacific,” or the “Cypress Point Apartments” on Felix, or “Pacific Shores” on Shaffer Road. Let’s just take a 2-bedroom apartment for argument’s sake and compare it with how much dorm rents are on the hill. A cursory look at four large apartment complexes is mind-boggling. The cash these outside corporations are making off jamming 3-7 students, tech workers, and baristas into studios and 1&2 bedroom apartments is as infuriating as it is shocking. And to those who don’t think much about rent, think again. If you are wondering why the artists, writers, and musicians are moving away from Santa Cruz, simply visit the following web sites.

Cypress Point Apartments 

It is owned by Greystar, “The global leader in rental housing,” according to their own web site. It is located on a cul-de-sac at the end of Felix Street not far from downtown. They generally pack FIVE students into a 2-bedroom, cordoning off the living room with a curtain for that fifth roommate. It is 240 apartments that were built in 1973. If you want a pet, its fifty bucks more per month and a $400 deposit…something university housing does not include. There are NO 3-bedroom apartments and no apartment has more than one bathroom according to Greystar’s web site, which is different than the Cypress Point Apartment one. I have often heard terrible stories from students about living here and the Yelp Reviews certainly bear that out. One irate parent wrote, in capital letters: 

“DO NOT RENT HERE UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE ON THE HOOK WITH NO HELP AND PUT INTO A CORNER.”

440 sq. ft. Studio: $3,005 (five available)

625 sq. ft. 1-BR: $3,333 (two available)

771 sq. ft. 2-BR $3,952 or $3,989 (two available, why the $37 difference?)

Pacific Shores

Pacific Shores on Shaffer Road is even more costly, most notably the pet rent is $100 a month along with a $950 deposit. By the way, their web site states the following:

“Must have 2.5x the rent in total household income (before taxes)”

This means, you would need to be making over $13k per month to rent one of the apartments below.

Apartments.com lists a couple of 2-bedroom apartments:

817 sq. ft. 1-BR: $3,500

1035 sq. ft. 2-BR: $5,348

Hidden Creek Apartments

Sprawled near the Highway 1 and 17 interchange at 200 Button Street is another infamous stucco apartment complex, the Hidden Creek Apartments, and it is surely nothing to write home about. Their web site will not even tell you how much a studio or one-bedroom rents for, it states, “Call for details,” while a 686 sq. ft. 2-bedroom goes for $3,645. On ApartmentRatings.com Hidden Creek received a 2-star rating out of 5 from 46 respondents with comments like: If you love throwing your money away, come live here. The rent is incredibly high for an apartment that is tiny, located in one of the worst places in Santa Cruz.

UCSC On-campus Housing ’22-‘23

If you go to this housing web site, you quickly learn why rents are so damn high in the city of Santa Cruz. On campus rents for tiny dorm rooms and student lounges turned into dorm rooms are eye-popping. They range from $1,907 per month for a single at the “Redwood Grove” (no meals) to $3,200 for a “double” at the downtown “University Town Center” UC property. A quad is four students paying $1300 per month, which totals $5,200. After arriving to campus and spending a year in the dorm, students quickly begin looking off-campus to cut their housing costs. In order to reduce housing costs in Santa Cruz, UCSC should cut its dorm rents in half, build more housing to accommodate students living here now, and stop admitting any more bodies until they can house the current ones.

[commenting on the overturning of Roe v. Wade]

Org leaders: Obeying in advance is what gives authoritarianism power. Collectively, we cannot afford to do so.

Those who have the ability to resist, must. Hold strong.

Mass non-compliance diminishes abuse of power for further rights violations. This is an important front line. (July 2)


Say it ain’t so! The final 25th and final Kate Wolf Music Festival happened, so they say. It was last weekend and it was stupendous. Here is Bruce Cockburn jamming with Ruthie Foster 

Chris Krohn is a father, writer, activist, and a Santa Cruz City Council member from 1998-2002 and from 2017-2020. Krohn was Mayor in 2001-2002. He’s been running the Environmental Studies Internship program at UC Santa Cruz for the past 16 years. On Tuesday evenings at 5pm, Krohn hosts of “Talk of the Bay,” on KSQD 90.7 and KSQD.org His Twitter handle at SCpolitics is @ChrisKrohnSC Chris can be reached at ckrohn@cruzio.com

Email Chris at ckrohn@cruzio.com

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July 4

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS MAY NOT BE AVAILABLE FOR LIVESTOCK SHELTER IN EMERGENCY EVACUATIONS?

The livestock barns at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds may soon get demolished, and no longer provide any rural evacuees with animals the ability to shelter with their animals at the Fairgrounds.  Even though the Fair Board has not approved it, the Fair CEO plans to demolish the barns in order to build a “cost-effective multi-purpose building”, with no timeline and unknown funding, and rent large tents for kids to keep their animals in during the Fair….but there would be nothing for emergency evacuees.

The existing barns have been deemed “unsafe and unstable” by the California Construction Authority (CCA) because of the renegade actions the CEO took to demolish in-place wooden pens that provided structural stability, and then proceeded to remove and replace all upright posts while adding massive timber beams and questionable fasteners and post anchors to aged concrete pilings.  The Board knew nothing of this.  The CCA learned of the work just days before the 2021 Fair was to open, and allowed restricted use of the barns only for the Fair.  

No one but the CEO knew of these safety restrictions…not even those kids who had their animals in the barns.

Now the CCA is requiring a new reinforced concrete foundation to tie in the new upright posts safely.  However, the Fair CEO is trying to convince the Fair Board to simply demolish everything, and put up large tents only during Fair time.

If this concerns you, by all means, you need to participate in a Fair Board Special Meeting scheduled for July 12 at 6:30pm and let the Board know your thoughts on this because otherwise the Fairgrounds CEO will convince them to demolish the barns and send evacuees to farms throughout the region to shelter animals in the next disaster.  

In fact, he has already met with County disaster planners and told them that this will happen.

See the attached Fair Board Special Meeting scheduled for July 12 at 6:30pm.  It is a hybrid meeting.

If the CEO gets his way, the livestock barns would be demolished, in order to build a new multi-phase “most-effective multi-purpose building” with unknown funding, and people would have to take their animals to various farms, potentially in the middle of the night, throughout the region for emergency shelter in a disaster. 

I personally witnessed this happening on the first two days of the CZU Fire evacuations while volunteering at the intake area.  No one could bring horses because a large horse show was in progress and the organizer did not want to stop the show.  (On Day 3, Supervisor Caput had to personally issue eviction orders because of the disaster.)  No poultry could be sheltered, because the CEO refused to show up in the night and empty the poultry barn of stored equipment, some of which may have been his own.

I remember the exhausted response from the evacuees the first night when given a cell phone number of a rancher who might come open his gate to let them in…”Oh, my God, I am SO TIRED!”  said the evacuee.  Some just kept their trailered animals in the parking lot, and fed and watered them there.  

It was a nightmare that I will never forget.

Shockingly, the County Office of Response, Recovery and Resilience (OR3), (created by CAO Carlos Palacios after eliminating the superb Emergency Response Manager, Rosemary Anderson, supposedly to save money in 2020), County Animal Services and County Equine Evacuation leaders recently met with the Fairgrounds staff and agreed to a plan that would unnecessarily repeat this nightmare.

I am concerned that those involved in planning animal evacuation and emergency sheltering for residents of the County would agree to basically eliminate readily-available shelter at the Fairgrounds for which the County has an existing MOU with the Fairgrounds to provide, in favor of multiple locations, perhaps located out of the area. 

Why would the County, Animal Services and Equine Evacuation leaders be so willing to repeat this distressing plan that is completely unnecessary and violates the MOU?  Evacuees want and need to shelter near their livestock in disasters to provide a sense of emotional comfort as well as assurance that their livestock is safe.

It seems the County, Animal Services and Equine Evacuation leaders are willing to accept causing the public with livestock unimaginable stress for the sake of assisting the Fairgrounds staff in making a “more cost-effective” venture to benefit the fairgrounds, even though none of the proposed demolition and construction has been approved by the Fair Board.

You can review the 2003-2033 MOU Agreement between the County of Santa Cruz and the 14th DAA to ensure disaster sheltering for the public at this link to the April 28, 2020 Fair Board meeting under “New Business” (pages 89-97):

https://www.santacruzcountyfair.com/images/stories/agenda/2020/april/Pages_61-98_4-28-20_Board_Documents.pdf 

It is my understanding that the Fair CEO, Mr. Dave Kegebein, at that time requested the Fair Board to consider terminating that MOU with the County, but the Board did not take action.  

It is important that the public weigh in on this disturbing plan that will cause hardship on rural evacuees and their livestock in times of disaster.

See the attached Fair Board Special Meeting scheduled for July 12 at 6:30pm.  It is a hybrid meeting.

Shouldn’t the Fair CEO be held accountable for the consequences of his renegade actions that caused the livestock barns to become “unstable and unsafe”?  I do, and that is the job of the Fair Board to address.

TAKING AWAY FARMLAND TO CHANGE THE COUNTY DUMP

The proposed County General Plan update will take farmland out of production in order to build a trash transfer station at the Buena Vista Dump in Watsonville, and reduce the buffer to other farm land from 200′ to 40′.  Does that seem like a good idea to you?

Read the minutes of the May 20, 2022 Agricultural Policy Advisory Commission

  1. Project: 211042 APN: 052-021-33 

Study Session to discuss a proposal to build a solid waste transfer station at the Buena Vista Landfill to meet State mandates. The project includes re-aligning Harkins Slough Road to the northeast to keep all recycling and solid waste activities on internal facility roads and maintain a public road on the outer perimeter of the facility. The project requires amendment to the General Plan and Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan designation from AG (Agriculture) to P (Public Facility) and Rezoning of a portion of the parcel from CA-AIA (Commercial Agriculture- Airport Combining District) to PF-AIA, removal of Type 3 Agricultural Resource land designation, an Agricultural Buffer Reduction Determination to reduce the required 200-foot agricultural buffer setback to approximately 40 feet, and a Coastal Development Permit.

Please submit your comments on this to the Community Development Dept. (aka Planning Dept.) and contact the Board of Supervisors with your thoughts.

[Sustainability Update]

County Board of Supervisors boardofsupervisors@santacruzcounty.us

CAO PREVENTED COUNTY FIRE CHIEF’S ANSWER TO LACK OF CZU FIRE INVESTIGATIONS AND REPORTING

Why hasn’t there been a thorough investigation of the problems that occurred during the 2020 CZU Fire that has caused six County Volunteer firefighters to either resign or be dismissed by CALFIRE?  Public testimonies asked, and Chairman Manu Koenig started to ask CALFIRE/County Fire Chief Nate Armstrong to answer at conclusion of his 2022 Fire Season Report on June 28, but CAO Carlos Palacios interrupted and warned the Chair: “No, no.  We don’t do back and forth at our meetings!  The public can contact Chief Armstrong outside the meeting.”  With that, Chair Koenig backed off, acquiescing to the CAO’s false claim that getting answers to public questions on an agenda item is not allowed.  

Rubbish. The Board has done it frequently under Chairman Koenig’s direction.

So, what is the CAO wanting to hide from the public?  

I followed Chief Armstrong out of the Board chambers and into the hallway, to pursue answers to some of the questions.

Q: Why did Mr. Kaufman get dismissed as a volunteer, rather than suspended, following County Fire Policy?

A: I can’t discuss that, but what he posted on social media, representing County Fire, was dangerous and he had to be removed. {note: Mr. Kaufman merely criticized CALFIRE.}

Q: What about the other volunteers that have been dismissed or resigned?  Were there investigations?

A:  I can’t discuss that, but there were equally dangerous issues that required they be dismissed. there is a lot of misinformation out there…we did not tell the volunteers to go home in the CZU Fire, they were told to leave the station because the area was under evacuation.

Q: Will County Fire conduct an After Action Review for operations during the CZU Fire?

A: CALFIRE did one, but people just wanted it to be more.

Q: Was that the 2020 Fire Siege Report?

A: No.  We did another one, with town hall meetings and such.

Q: But that did not include any input from the volunteers.  Will County Fire do one now and interview the volunteers?  It is important for future planning and to heal the mistrust in the community.

A: No.  Look, County Fire is really only four of us, and we just don’t have the money for doing something like that.  We’re underfunded.”

Q: Why isn’t County Fire or CAL FIRE attending any of the OR3 Permit public meetings?  I went to one recently at the Bonny Doon Elementary School, and there was no fire presence at all.

A: We were not invited.

Q: Why not then hold town hall meetings and get the community together for discussions?  You said County Fire wants to have public input on the County Fire Master Plan revision.

A: We’re going to send out surveys and go from there.

Q: Why not town hall meetings that don’t cost so much…surveys are expensive, and would benefit by prior public discussion at gatherings. 

A: I can bring that idea to my team.

Q: Who is the team?

A: The County and others.

Q: Will CAL FIRE and County Fire lead discussions with State Parks to help the Last Chance Community get the evacuation route through Big Basin open again?

A: No.  There are private property owners who also have to come on board with that, and State Parks won’t be the leader.  I visited Last Chance last year and gave them a list of things to do to improve their road.  All they have to do is follow my directives in that report. {Note: Many of his directives are incredibly expensive and may not be required under existing State Fire Codes not yet legally amended by the State Board of Forestry.}

At that point, Chief Armstrong said he had to leave.

Watch the June 28 Chief Armstrong’s 2022 Fire Season presentation to the County Board of Supervisors: (Item #7 at about minute 1:04:00) and subsequent sham of a public hearing for CSA 48 and CSA 4 tax increases to fund fire protection in the County: 

Video Outline – Santa Cruz County, CA

Here is the documentation associated:

DOC-2022-640 Consider presentation on the 2022 California Fire Season by Fire Chief Nate Armstrong, as outlined in the memorandum of the Director of General Services – Santa Cruz County, CA

Write the Board of Supervisors with your thoughts and demand a response.

County Board of Supervisors

COUNTY BUDGET FINAL HEARING: CONFUSING SMOKE AND MIRRORS TO AWARD CAO STAFF IMMEDIATE SALARY INCREASES WHILE DUMPING MORE MONEY INTO THE WATSONVILLE HOSPITAL BUY-OUT

Take a look at the incredibly confusing County Supervisor Final Budget Hearing agenda for last Tuesday, June 28

Confusing, isn’t it?  Buried in there are many sizable salary increases that will take effect July 9.  Somewhere there is information about the County going  $25 million into debt to fund purchase of the Watsonville Hospital, hoping that the State Budget will repay us.  We will still be on the hook for the interest on the debt, even if the State comes through, and it will be taxable.

I could not stay for the afternoon Final Budget hearing on June 28, but spoke briefly with County Auditor and Tax Collector, Ms. Edith Driscoll, in the hallway outside the Board Chambers as I left.  She let me know that the State Budget “will likely fund $25 million” for the Watsonville Hospital purchase.  The CAO staff report earlier had requested as much as $30 million.  

On local radio news the next day, I heard it announced that the County had also pledged an additional $5 million…but I will verify that with Ms. Driscoll.

Wow.  A $1.03 BILLION dollar County Budget.  How much debt burden can local taxpayers handle? Smoke and mirrors.

APTOS LIBRARY CONSTRUCTION CONTINUES

Many trucks have come and gone to fill the deep hole excavated for the new Aptos Library, but what sadly has gone this week are all the trees.  
There used to be a number of large trees along the parking lot bordering Soquel Drive. All vegetation is gone now.
I wonder why these piles of soil are covered? 
You can see the foundation footprint here.

CEQA IS WORTH FIGHTING TO PROTECT

Last week’s Bratton Online contribution by Grey Hayes really highlighted the importance of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) laws that are the public’s only real chance to have meaningful and informed voices on projects in our communities.  

The problem continues, however, when the lead agency just doesn’t care about what the public concerns, or how the environment and community may be harmed.  That was most certainly the case with the Aptos Village Project that somehow, with great County assistance, was deemed to have no significant impacts on the Aptos community or the environment with the shocking “Negative Declaration”.  

The same could be said of the Soquel Creek Water District’s PureWater Soquel Project, currently under construction, wherein multiple environmental requirements, such as the State-required Final Anti-Degradation Analysis to determine how the treated sewage water injected into the pristine groundwater of the Purisima Aquifer or evidence that the District collaborated with the California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife to develop meaningful and enforceable mitigations, were never done.  The district’s Board of Directors have twice approved major revisions to the Project without any public hearings or public comment period, as is required by CEQA.  The Board skirted this requirement by approving two Addendums, rather than conducting more thorough and meaningful Subsequent Environmental Impact Reports (EIR).

Why?  It’s all about money.  The District accepted a $50 million grant from the State Water Dept. of Water Resources that has a deadline of 2023 to complete the Project.  That placed the Project on “fast track” mode, and was complicated by the major design modifications needed when the District got new and significant information that the sewage water source was higher in nitrite, ammonia and total organic carbon than initially known.  That required adding a new phase of treatment.

I have also just learned that some of the soils at the Chanticleer Avenue construction site where the Advanced Water Treatment Facility (and Chanticleer Pedestrian Overpass) will be was contaminated and required remedial action, as determined by analysis submitted by Weber, Hayes & Associates on June 29, 2020 due to a discharge of motor oil, contaminating the Project site. The County took over the work of determining what remedial action was required. 

Maybe that, coupled with the State Water Quality Control Board rejection of trenching beneath the San Lorenzo River to run the pressurized 14″-diameter treated sewage water, caused an 8-month delay to the Project starting.

Unfortunately, the only recourse the public has when a lead agency like Soquel Creek Water District just thumbs their nose at public concern and environmental problems is to take legal action against them.  Lead agencies, like Soquel Creek Water District, cry foul, accuse the litigants of spouting “misinformation”, and costing ratepayers extra money to build the project.  This is exactly what has happened to me with my Pro Per legal challenges against the District to simply demand that they follow the law….to protect the environment and the Community.

I support the use of recycled sewage water for irrigation, but I do not think it is wise to inject it into the groundwater…especially without any Final Anti-Degradation Analysis or long-term studies of health impacts of pharmaceuticals, hormones and unknown contaminants to those who will drink it…

Lead agencies with arrogant attitudes like Barry Swenson Developers and Soquel Creek Water District are behind the legislative weakening of CEQA support now.   That is why it is important for those of us who care about our community’s future and the quality of life and environmental health need to keep our eyes on this issue and contact our elected representatives with our thoughts.

[CEQA advances environmental justice, so why all the hate?]

WRITE ONE LETTER.  MAKE ONE CALL.  ATTEND A PUBLIC MEETING TO SPEAK UP FOR COMMUNITY DISASTER PREPAREDNESS AT THE COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS.

DO ONE THING THIS WEEK AND MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE.

Cheers, Becky

Becky Steinbruner is a 30+ year resident of Aptos. She has fought for water, fire, emergency preparedness, and for road repair. She ran for Second District County Supervisor in 2016 on a shoestring and got nearly 20% of the votes. She ran again in 2020 on a slightly bigger shoestring and got 1/3 of the votes.

Email Becky at KI6TKB@yahoo.com

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July 3

BIRDS FROM THE COFFEE REGION

Many of us enjoy both delicious coffee and the fascinating birds that hail from coffee growing regions: how do these two seemingly disparate subjects relate to our daily lives?

Coffee Botany

Coffee shrubs are beautiful, lush shrubs, 6-15′ tall and wide with many stems and glossy oval leaves with long ‘drip tips’ – a common feature in rainforest plants that help shed water. I have a potted, indoor coffee plant and many of my friends have raised them, but they are notoriously finicky to care for and especially prone to indoor plant pests. That coffee plant is the thirstiest of my house plants, wilting quickly when drying out: at least it is good at communicating! That thirstiness makes sense as coffee is naturally an understory plant, originating in the lush damp shade of African tropical rainforests. 

After 5 years, my coffee plant blossomed this spring, and I was reminded of it’s very sweet smelling (like jasmine!), small white tubular flowers. Now, I’m looking forward to the tasty fruit, which is confusingly called a ‘cherry’ and turns deep maroon-red when ripe and is soft-fleshy (slimy?) sweet (like hibiscus) and full of antioxidants. In the center of the red fruit, there will be a pair of seeds…called coffee ‘beans’ – another misnomer associated with this plant as the plant isn’t related to cherries or beans! Whenever I encounter a small red fleshy fruit, I’ve been trained to suspect the plant co-evolved with birds for seed dispersal. Even when coffee is grown far from its African origins, there are birds that devour the fruit, but cultivated coffee has a more important relationship with tropical birds.

Coffee Farms and Birds

Coffee is a lucrative tropical farming product and is cultivated on 27 million acres. Tropical regions are the most biologically diverse areas of the planet with many species still being discovered. Conversion of tropical rainforest to agriculture is occurring rapidly, threatening that biodiversity. Soybeans and palm oil are two crops that are expanding rapidly, but coffee is much more lucrative per acre. And coffee can be grown more in harmony with tropical biodiversity, but only if it is ‘shade grown.’

Shade Grown Coffee

As reviewed by independent, peer reviewed, published science, the only credible shade grown certification is from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, carrying the logo inserted here. 

The standards for this certification include maintaining real shade provided by diverse overstory trees as well as organic practices (certified by another agency)…and diverse other plant life, maintenance of natural mulch, and protection/buffering of waterways.

These standards have been shown to support native bird life as well as providing habitat for many other native species, including mammals.

The Effects of the Central Coast’s Coffee Shed

Here on California’s central coast, we are lucky to have both coffee AND birds that hail from coffee growing regions. Judging from the aroma of roasting coffee, the many businesses supported by serving coffee, and the plethora of local coffee labels, our region greatly appreciates this caffeinated beverage. I am curious about how many acres of coffee farms are needed to support Santa Cruz County’s coffee-drinking habits – anyone know? We can call that our ‘coffee-shed.’ If we support a coffee shed that nurtures the birds that come visit us in the summers, we can look into those birds’ sparkling eyes through the steam of a latte and be proud of those connections…

Beautiful Migratory Songbirds

There are many migratory bird species that come to California’s central coast for the summer to nest, raise young and store up enough reserves to return south before our winter gets too harsh. I’ve been enjoying steaming cups of shade grown coffee while watching two beautiful tropical migratory songbirds this summer. The startling colored thick-billed black headed grosbeak is fledging young right now on the Central Coast. Check out this photo from a Flickr site by Kersti Niebelsek; maybe this striking image will inspire you to purchase certified shade-grown coffee and grab some binoculars to see the bird in the wild. 

The other striking species that lights up my mornings and gets me pouring boiling water to drip through freshly ground, certified shade grown coffee is the lazuli bunting. Be similarly inspired by another extraordinary photo, this time by Flickr user Julio Mulero who captured this pretty bird at Ed Levine Park in Milpitas.

Both that grosbeak and the bunting may have traveled from the coffee growing region of southern Mexico, where they spent last winter. Other species come from coffee growing areas even farther away, including: ash-throated flycatcher, olive-sided flycatcher, Wilson’s warbler and yellow warbler. That last deserves a photo, as well. That photo is compliments of Flickr user Kelly Colgan Azar.

Finding and Procuring Certified Shade Grown Coffee

Surprisingly, it is Very Difficult to find certified shade grown coffee in our area. You can always search the internet and have it delivered! Last I checked Whole Foods had one of its wall of coffees that was certified shade grown. Not so for any of our other local grocery stores! You can find all sorts of supposedly “bird friendly” or “shade grown” coffees, but only those with the certification shown above are verifiable. Because shade-grown coffee produces less per acre, you are going to pay more for it. Think of those extra dollars going to the trust funds for these beautiful birds. 


Grey Hayes is a fervent speaker for all things wild, and his occupations have included land stewardship with UC Natural Reserves, large-scale monitoring and strategic planning with The Nature Conservancy, professional education with the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, and teaching undergraduates at UC Santa Cruz. Visit his website at: www.greyhayes.net

Email Grey at coastalprairie@aol.com

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#182 / Slow Riot

David French, writing for The Atlantic, says that we don’t have any strategy that is likely to stop the cascade of mass shootings that seem to have been occurring around the country in ever greater frequency:

A Rand Corporation review of studies of the effects of 18 policies designed to address mass killings… “found no qualifying studies showing that any of the 18 policies … investigated decreased mass shootings.” To be clear, for nine of the policies (including red-flag laws and arming teachers), there were no studies that met Rand’s standards for quality and rigor. We don’t know the effects of those policies on the present crisis. It’s too soon to tell.

But nine policies were rigorously studied, and they include many of the most popular gun-control proposals in America, including background checks, bans on the sale of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, minimum age requirements, and waiting periods. This finding is consistent with a famous fact-check by The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, where he found that neither enhanced background checks nor assault-weapons bans would have prevented recent, deadly mass shootings. 

Here is what French concludes. We have, in fact, a “slow riot,” as described by Malcolm Gladwell some years ago:

In 2015 Malcolm Gladwell wrote the single best, most insightful, and most sobering work yet written about mass shootings. The piece is complex, but the thesis is relatively simple—the United States is in the midst of something like a slow-motion riot, where each mass shooter is lowering the threshold for the next. The Columbine murders kicked off the “riot,” and we’ve been living with the consequences ever since.

Gladwell relied heavily on the work of Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, and Granovetter argues that it’s a mistake to view each incident on its own: In his view, a riot was not a collection of individuals, each of whom arrived independently at the decision to break windows. A riot was a social process, in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by our thresholds—which he defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them. 

The “slow riot” theory is another example of the idea that we tend to do what is expected. French makes clear that something pretty much like what Granovetter describes is, in fact, exactly what is happening. The example provided by one mass shooting helps stimulate the next one. It’s hard to know exactly how to turn the principle in a positive direction, in the case of mass shootings. 

Still, hard as it may be to know how to accomplish what we need to do, we do need to be working on turning a “vicious circle” into a “virtuous circle.” We need to “expect” something different from each one of us, and one way to try to generate a new dynamic is to start “expecting” social solidarity and support, as opposed to our expectations that it’s “every person for themself.” 

When we think it’s acceptable for poor people to sleep in drainage ditches, and along freeways, and on the banks of the river – and that’s what we expect to see when we leave our own homes – we are telling everyone that no one cares about anyone’s personal problems – even when they are dire. We are telling everyone that no one should expect any help or assistance, with any problem that a person might have. 

That could lead people to cease caring about others, since caring about others is not what anyone should expect. That could lead people to kill other people, since…. Why not?

Social solidarity – providing “mutual aid” until everyone actually “expects” it – could help change the direction of the cumulative and circular causation now making things, every day, worse. Mutual aid could help “bend the arc.” At least, maybe it could. Maybe it would help reduce the examples of mass shootings, until the “slow riot” simply dies away.

More social solidarity as a way to stop mass shootings? I’d say it’s worth a try! 

Gary Patton is a former Santa Cruz County Supervisor (20 years) and an attorney for individuals and community groups on land use and environmental issues. The opinions expressed are Mr. Patton’s. You can read and subscribe to his daily blog at www.gapatton.net

Email Gary at gapatton@mac.com

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July 4

CUTTING-AND-PASTING INTO AN UNKNOWN FUTURE

We credit the Greeks for planting the seeds of democracy into our founding fathers who created our original form of government, and now we can credit a minority of our political spectrum for instituting the current ‘minority rules’ oversight brought about by our courts system. A first century Greek, Heron of Alexandria, published a treatise on mechanics, entitled Pneumatica, in which he detailed a variety of mechanical devices, one of which was a coin-operated vending machine…not for dispensing ouzo or baklava, but holy water. Seems that many temple leaders felt their worshippers were taking more than their share of holy water, so the attempt at moderation required that a coin be dropped into the machine, after which a system of pulleys and counter balancing arms would unplug a container of the hallowed liquid to give the supplicant an adequate amount to be properly cleansed, at least in the eyes of the CFO. It would take another 1800 years or so for Heron’s contraption to see widespread use, making it indispensable (pun intended) for getting our fair share of Evian or Fiji waters, or potato chips, colas, flip-flops and fuzzy dice. 

Evidently, our Supreme Court has a liking for this dispensing principle, the just-ended term providing a plethora of decisions, some served up with a side of holy water. Representative Adam Kinzinger referenced the six justices as the “Christian Taliban,” after the Court’s decisions overturning Roe v. Wade; and, requiring the state of Maine to pay tuition for rural students at private religious schools; and, ruling in favor of a Bremerton, Washington football team coach, fired after he led post-game prayers mid-field with the school’s football team. Religious conservatism has long been on the rise, a core part of Donald Trump’s electoral success. “I’ve never seen this kind of fandom by so many in Church leadership who are going to these lengths to defend such a flawed man,” Kinzinger said in a statement, in reference to the Golden tRump.

Colorado’s Representative Lauren Boebert, on the other hand, takes a polar-opposite view, believing government is overreaching to control the church. “The government is not supposed to direct the church, the church is supposed to direct the government…the way our Founding Fathers intended,” thereby stoking fears of Christian conservatives advocating for a state-run religion, or a government influenced by religion. When met with Twitter comments such as Jesus would never own an AR-15‘, she goes on to defend gun ownership by saying, “Right! He didn’t own enough to keep his government from killing him!” – somehow missing the whole point of the faith’s basic tenets. V.P. of strategic communications at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Andrew Seidel, said Supreme Court decisions and Boebert’s comments are rooted in Christian Nationalism. He feels religious freedom for everybody is being ignored, and that religious favoritism is prevalent in the case of the prayerful football coach. Boebert, in her diatribe, called Thomas Jefferson’s reply to the Danbury Baptists Association, a “stinking letter,” where he expresses a belief that the First Amendment establishes “a wall of separation between Church and State.” Is that now a thumb’s-down on what the Founding Fathers intended, Lauren?

Over the years, the High Court has referenced Jefferson’s letter, but of late, has slowly chipped away at precedent. Seidel goes on to say, “There is no freedom of religion without a government that is free from religion. The wall of separation between church and state is an American invention. We should be proud of that fact. And the people who claim to be patriots are out there undermining it with myths of a Christian founding.” Doug Mastriano, Republican candidate for Pennsylvania’s governorship, has made Christianity a campaign centerpiece, calling the separation of church and state a “myth.” And, Trump-backed Illinois candidate, Rep. Mary “Victory for White Life” Miller, has been one of the most outspoken for injecting prayer and God into society, saying, “Our children are suffering and we face a mental health crisis in our country because the radical left has spent decades removing God from our schools and our society. Our country must be guided by our Judeo-Christian faith…we need to go back to God, people.” David Barton of Wallbuilders argues, “The First Amendment was intended to keep government out of regulating religion, but it did not keep religion out of government or the public square.Yep, that and thirty pieces of silver.

Singer Barbara Streisand last week, called the Supreme Court the “American Taliban”, arguing that “it uses religious dogma to overturn the Constitutional right to abortion.” Her comment, and Kinzinger’s ‘Taliban’ comment gave rise to many more such comments on Twitter, but Daily Beast columnist, Wajahat Ali, took issue, saying, “it is Christian Nationalism, not Islam, that poses the biggest threat to the country and making a Taliban comparison is an unnecessary distraction.”

Within the maelstrom of this fundamentalist mosh-pit of gun fervor, women’s loss of rights and religious revivalism are groups in Florida who have filed suit challenging the state’s newly enacted ban against abortion after fifteen weeks. A synagogue feels threatened, saying it prevents Jews from having a procedure that, in some cases, Jewish law would require them to have. The Florida ban, for Muslims, is an infringement on their religious freedom, condemning it as “Christian Sharia,” – a religiously oppressive law being not only Islamophobic, but morally wrong. There is not just one sharia rule on abortion, but many within the many Muslim schools of thought, with scholars of the past being more lenient than are those of the modern era. Because there is no Islamic ‘church’ as such, or a formal clergy…adherents select the sharia school of thought they wish to follow, resulting in a wide range of opinions. 

Historically, Muslim tolerance of diverse religions protected for centuries those who lived under their rule, and sharia never insisted that the state enforce those edicts…until the modern era. It has now come to pass, that some Americans want the government to force everyone to live by one interpretation of Christianity, and now we find ourselves on the verge of a religio-political movement taking hold, attempting to impose its will upon the people. Our Constitution was born in history’s pall of Catholic-Protestant wars in Europe, emphasizing for our founders that those dangers must be avoided in the new nation, bringing forth the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause disallowing favoritism of one religion, with the Free Exercise Clause protecting individual religious practices. However, despite historical precedent, our Supreme Court majority is unconcerned, and the trend of state laws toward particular Christian beliefs seems not to sway the court’s approach to the Constitution. 

Howard Zinn, in his ‘A People’s History of the United States‘, relates how in 1844, the European migration to this country also brought the antagonisms of religious passions, resulting in violence between Irish Catholic weavers and native-born Protestant skilled workers near Philadelphia. He writes, “…rioters destroyed the weavers’ neighborhoods and attacked a Catholic church. Middle-Class politicians soon led each group into a different political party (the nativists into the American Republican party, the Irish into the Democratic party), party politics and religion now substituting for class conflict.” David Montgomery, historian of these riotous times wrote about this fragmentation of the working class, “…it thereby created for historians the illusion of a society lacking in class conflict,” while in reality the class conflicts of nineteenth-century America “were as fierce as any known to the industrial world.”

Zinn writes how the Irish, remembering the hatred experienced on their arrival upon these shores, began to get jobs with the new political machines, many becoming policemen. In July 1902, the New York Jewish community held a mass funeral for a rabbi which resulted in a riot led by Irish, many of whom were on the police force, who resented the presence of Jews in their proximity. Charges against policemen for unprovoked and brutal clubbing led to reprimands or loss of pay, but no dismissals or firings. Desperate economic competition between newcomers, based on racial, religious or class status resulted in violence, with destruction of property, injuries or deaths. Novelist Bret Harte wrote an obituary for a Chinese man named Wan Lee: “Dead, my revered friends, dead. Stoned to death in the streets of San Francisco, in the year of grace 1869 by a mob of half-grown boys and Christian school children.” 

Asifa Quraishi-Landes writes in the San Francisco Chronicle, that the High Court’s shift to nationalization of American law should concern all Americans, especially minorities. Are we backsliding into the time when only rich, white, Christian men held power, limiting constitutional rights only to those “deeply rooted in (our) history and tradition?” She writes further, “Whatever the future holds, let’s be clear: What the Supreme Court may be about to do is not ‘Christian sharia.’ It is medieval state church thinking. And we need to stop it before it turns into a crusade.”

It is notable that in 1765, eleven years before his work on the Declaration of Independence, and during his law studies, Thomas Jefferson purchased an English translation of the Qur’an in order to understand Islam’s influence on legal systems, and how ‘Mohametans’ or ‘Turks’ should be considered in the parameters of religious freedom. He and others failed to note that at least twenty percent of African slaves were Muslims, and many simply didn’t acknowledge that Muslims existed in America, being discussed only in the hypothetical. Jefferson eventually criticized the religion as being anti-science and anti-reason, but was a staunch defender of Americans to hold any religious belief. His Qur’an is now in the Library of Congress, and was used in the swearing-in ceremony of Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota in 2007. The intervening years have seen several congress members being sworn in with their own copies of their holy book. 

Jefferson, in his only book, ‘Notes on the State of Virginia,’ writes, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” Our third president clearly favored Christianity as an extraordinary framework for a moral code, only seeing Jesus as an esteemed social philosopher who established a revered system of morals, but felt that adding tenets of other faiths could improve the doctrine. Jefferson also rejected the stories of miracles, science and reason being his watchwords, and in a letter to his nephew, urged him “to question with boldness even the existence of god.” In 1820 he completed an 84-page manuscript he called the ‘Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth‘…unpublished until 2011 when the Smithsonian started a restoration project which became known infamously as the ‘Jefferson Bible.’ The book was essentially a cut-and-paste project, in which Jefferson used six copies of the New Testament, razor-cutting, rearranging and pasting together selected verses, eliminating any miraculous or supernatural references, highlighting the life and teachings of Jesus, and reducing the Gospels to the core message. 

Jefferson, who was criticized at times of being an atheist or an infidel, was the author of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, asking that it be one of three accomplishments on his tombstone. This law then became the foundation of those religious protections later defined in our Constitution. Somewhere along the way our elected leaders, our jurists, appointed officials have lost the thread about our origins as a country. The struggles we have experienced and suffered through for measured gains are precipitously sliding back to the mayhem of the nineteenth century which can only result in disaster this time around – we had our chance…maybe we still have some hope, but history won’t smile a second time! We need to do some serious cutting and pasting to put it back together.  

Dale Matlock, a Santa Cruz County resident since 1968, is the former owner of The Print Gallery, a screenprinting establishment. He is an adherent of The George Vermosky school of journalism, and a follower of too many news shows, newspapers, and political publications, and a some-time resident of Moloka’i, Hawaii, U.S.A., serving on the Board of Directors of Kepuhi Beach Resort. Email: cornerspot14@yahoo.com

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EAGAN’S SUBCONSCIOUS COMICS. View classic inner view ideas and thoughts with Subconscious Comics a few flips down.

EAGAN’S DEEP COVER. See Eagan’s “Deep Cover” down a few pages. As always, at TimEagan.com you will find his most recent  Deep Cover, the latest installment from the archives of Subconscious Comics, and the ever entertaining Eaganblog

    “Waves”

“We fell in love with each other as the waves fall in love with the shore.”
~Avijeet Das 

“There are always waves on the water. Sometimes they are big, sometimes they are small, and sometimes they are almost imperceptible. The water’s waves are churned up by the winds, which come and go and vary in direction and intensity, just as do the winds of stress and change in our lives, which stir up the waves in our minds.”
~Jon Kabat-Zinn 

“Waves tossed themselves against the shore, dragging grit and sand between their nails as they were slowly pulled back out to sea.”  
~Holly Black

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Betty White and Joan Rivers in an absolutely delightful segment from when Joan Rivers guest-hosted for Johnny Carson. I miss Betty White!


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