Blog Archives

October 20 – 26, 2021

Highlights this week:

BRATTON…No on cannabis/childcare measure?, movie critiques, Live Here Now. GREENSITE…on How Manipulating Data and State Laws are changing the Character of Santa Cruz. KROHN…The Initiative, proposition and recall processes. STEINBRUNER…Central Fire District elections, LAFCO review complete, Fire Insurance, prescribed burns. HAYES…Beach Time. PATTON…Welcome to the Metaverse: Watch Out. Eagan. Subconscious Comics and Deep Cover. QUOTES…”Earthquakes”  

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BEACH FRONTAGE 1960. The large open prime space in the center is of course where The Dream Inn sits. Across West Cliff Drive we see the Sisters Hospital (formerly the Hanly Hospital)which opened in 1941 and closed in 1967 when they moved to where Branciforte Plaza is today in 1949.

photo credit: Covello & Covello Historical photo collection.
Additional information always welcome: email bratton@cruzio.com

DATELINE October 18

THE CANNABIS AND CHILDCARE MEASURE A… AND YOUR VOTE! John Aird is a frequent contributor to BrattonOnline. He’s a local resident and involved citizen, who’s particularly concerned about UCSC’s Long-Range Growth Plan, and the misguided proposed library/garage project. He is voting No on measure A. I asked him to tell us why, and he wrote…

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“Measure A is the only matter to be voted on for the November 2, 2021 election. 

If passed by a majority vote, it raises the existing percentage allocation of the Cannabis Business Tax to support youth and early childhood development programs and services by 60% from the existing 12.5% level established by City Council action in 2017 to a Charter Approved Amendment of 20%.

Because this would be an Amendment to the City Charter, this new 20% level would effectively be permanent and could only be altered in the future if desired for one reason or another (demographic change resulting in fewer youth in our community, other more pressing needs and/or higher priorities emerging over time, etc.) by a subsequent majority vote of the electorate in a future election.

It’s worth noting that the Voter Pamphlet itself included no detailed information pertaining to this issue relative to performance or program specifics over the past 5 years, # of youth helped, evidence of performance success or the like nor did it include the estimated public cost of holding such a single-issue election itself.

Now here are some things I’d recommend considering before casting your vote:

First, while support for our youth is of unquestionable general value, it’s important to recognize that priorities and critical needs of a community inevitably change over time and that passage of Measure A locks in this portion of general fund monies permanently unless there’s the initiation and associated costs undertaken resulting in a successful vote to do so through passage of another City Charter Amendment in a future election.

Second, I’ve heard varied estimated costs for this special election as being in the $130,000 to $180,000 range.  Whatever the final number turns out to be, two things are clear:  (1) The decision to hold this kind of single issue election was an expensive one and (2) It was additionally a disturbing decision given that such costs could and should have been entirely avoided.  All the City Council had to do was simply conclude that the youth programs and services were of such merit, need and importance that an adjustment to the current approved percentage allocation was warranted as it had previously done once before.

In evaluating this issue as outlined, I see approval as fiscally shortsighted at best and the entire process as wasteful and lacking in good governmental judgment in being handled in this way.  As such, I believe it properly should earn a NO VOTE.” 

As many will tell you, Measure A is being pushed by Shebreh Kalantari-Johnson as part of her Supervisor campaign. Martine Watkins is behind it, most likely because Cynthia Mathews told her to. Is Carol Polhamus’ name on the mass mailed propaganda piece because of her history with Santa Cruz United? 

Be sure to tune in to my very newest movie streaming 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.

SUCCESSION. (HBO SERIES). This famed series is back and it’s as complex as ever. Logan Roy patterned after Rupert Murdoch of the Fox-like Waystar Royco right wing media empire faces his children again as they work so feverishly to take over his empire. It’s sort of a non- Italian version of the Sopranos. Watch it and probably you too will have to go back in the series to understand and remember what the various plot lines are referring to. Well worth your time and patience.

BERGMAN ISLAND. (DEL MAR THEATRE). (86 RT).There’s an island named Fårö near Sweden where Ingmar Bergman lived and filmed many of his great films. It’s been turned into a tourist attraction and a “loving” couple visit the scene. Bergman’s best films are open ended and leave a lot to the audience to fathom. Tim Roth seems out of place as a filmmaker part of the duo. The plot is subtle to the point of vanishing and will leave you trying to remember if Bergman’s films were this illusive. Not a great film but if you like and love Bergman films you simply have to see it. 

INTRUSION. (NETFLIX SINGLE). This movie tries to contain suspense but it’s boring and very predictable. The ever lovely Frida Pinto does a good job playing the constantly threatened wife but it’s hackneyed predictable and will remember just how great Hitchcock thrillers are. 

JAGUAR. (NETFLIX SERIES). Searching out the Nazi’s in the 1960’s who ran holocaust centers is the driving plot here. It has a weird and questionable animated opening but the trust, the espionage, the suspense and the psychological drive behind the search is very well done. I’ve watched 3 of the 6 episodes and will eagerly watch the rest….Go for it.

OUT OF DEATH. (HULU SINGLE).  (0 RT). Bruce Willis needs to stop making movies. The plot about a crooked sheriff chasing a good guy gets tiresome and the acting is worse. Chase scenes through the woods of Georgia are even boring and we’ve seen it all so many times. 

DOPESICK. (HULU SERIES). (83RT) Michael Keaton plays a small town well intentioned, naïve doctor who wants to keep his patients as pain free as possible. This is a story based on a book about Purdue Pharma and their selling of OxyContin, and creating addicts all over the world. Michael Stuhlbarg acts as the head of the billionaire Sackler family who control the Pharma. Peter Sarsgaard is a government agent who works with Keaton to create some control over the record breaking and intense marketing of OxyContin. It’s about Valium, Vicodin, and all types of opioids. The only problem with this series is not just that it’s true but that Purdue Pharma hasn’t been stopped to this day….and new pain pill addicts are created every minute. Excellent series.

ROGUE HOSTAGE. (HULU SINGLE). (0 RT) and IMDB calls this a terrible movie, and it certainly is. John Malkovich mugs and mopes his way through playing a rich chain store owner who is running for Congress. There’s a retired military soldier who is supposed to be a child Protective services worker. Then some thugs raid the store while Malkovich is holding his campaign kickoff. I stopped watching it after about 20 minutes…it’s that bad.

LANSKY. (PRIME VIDEO SINGLE). (51RT). A long and very involved biography of Meyer Lansky as played by Harvey Keitel. Lansky made untold millions from gambling money in Las Vegas, Florida, and around the world. He’s being interviewed by a confused young reporter and he’s also dying of cancer so he wants his story told but not too much. Keitel is perfect in the role. It’s not great story telling and we’ve seen his story told before only with fake names. Fascinating and worth watching.

 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, 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.  

THE BILLION DOLLAR CODE. (NETFLIX SERIES). This is a series about the internet development and controlled by Google Earth. Based on near true stories, its revelations about the tech world and its young developers is as touching as it is dispiriting. Much computer time, lots of legal issues, and yet there’s a very human side to all of this world. Well-acted, nicely paced, watch it when you’re not too busy. 

LAMB. (DEL MAR THEATRE). Noomi Rapace heads this cast and does a near perfect job. A very lonely couple in Iceland don’t have any children. Going way beyond that, they magically turn a very odd lamb into their child. The child of their dreams has a lambs head plus a human body!! IMDB calls it Drama, Horror, mystery and it’s more than that…it’s hypnotizing and even thrilling to watch.

SQUID GAME. (NETFLIX SERIES). This series has been and is breaking all Netflix “viewing records” here and overseas. A South Korean huge movie that’s based on children’s games….except that the losers are shot immediately! It’s brilliant, fast moving, engrossing (I’ve seen 5 of the 9 episodes) and can’t wait to see how it ends! Torturing,  odd perspective on human behavior, cruel, deeply involving, and a thrill per minute, watch it ASAP.

THE BILLION DOLLAR CODE.(NETFLIX SERIES). This is a series about the internet development and controlled by Google Earth. Based on near true stories, its revelations about the tech world and its young developers is as touching as it is dispiriting. Much computer time, lots of legal issues, and yet there’s a very human side to all of this world. Well-acted, nicely paced, watch it when you’re not too busy. 

LUNA PARK. (NETFLIX SERIES). An Italian film that centers on Rome in the 1960’s. Twin sisters are separated at birth and the plot centers on which of the sisters will recognize the other. It’s a story of wealth, poverty and the differences money and power can makes in our lives. The first two episodes kept me involved. Go for it, even though the acting is in question. 

THE CHESTNUT MAN. (NETFLIX SERIES). A very bloody and very odd body is found in Copenhagen and two detectives are on the case. As usual they are an odd team, yet they find clues and battle each other and their bosses about how to track the murderer. The murderer leaves little handmade chestnut men as clues. The Prime Minister is involved and very threatened. I’ve only seen the first 2 episodes and it looks like it’s worth watching. 

MAID. (NETFLIX SERIES). It appears to take place in Port Hampstead, Washington and we see a crazed over acting mother played by Andie MacDowell and the pressures she puts on her daughter. The daughter is married to an abuser and she takes their three year old daughter while she gets jobs as a house worker. It’s jerky, twisted, and hard to understand, don’t bother with it. 

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ANNIE LYDON & DAVE STAMEY RETURN. Once again, award winning Country singer Dave Stamey is returning to entertain us with his original stories and songs of the west, and once again Annie Lydon will be accompanying him with harmony vocals. They will be performing at Michael’s on Main in Soquel, on Fri. Oct. 22 at 8 pm with dinner starting at 6:30. It will be dinner/ show in their safe outdoor setting. They have a limited number of tables for 2. Their last concert in May sold out, so call for your reservation soon! 831-479-9777 extension 2.

SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER PLAYERS. Finally they too are returning to a “full” live season!
Their first concert will be: A World Tour of Nationalist Trios with Music by Turina, Piazzolla, Dvorák on Saturday, November 6, 7:30 pm and Sunday, November 7, 3:00 pm. It’ll feature THE VERVE TRIO: Chia-Lin Yang, Concert Director & Piano Learn More

NEW MUSIC WORKS. The New Music Works are back with their 43rd season and their next concert is Saturday, November 13 at 2p.m. in the Heart Of Soquel Park and it’s free to the public!!!Phil Collins is the music Director and Tandy Beal is the choreographic Conjurer. They’ll perform Terry Riley’s Minimalist Masterwork. Go to www.newmusicworks.org for necessary details. 

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October 18

LOSING THE CHARACTER OF SANTA CRUZ: ONE DEVELOPMENT AT A TIME.

Guess in what town the above will be located? It could be anywhere, which is itself a problem and yes it is in the city of Santa Cruz.  Proposed for 130 Center Street, across from the soccer field and just shy of the first roundabout heading south. 

From the early 1960’s, the land has been utilized by a body shop and a rent a car business, both single-story, low impact, low traffic uses. Planners label such sites as “underutilized” and earmark them for developments such as pictured above. The snazzy cars in the artist’s rendition give a clue to the class shift desired by city planners, investors and the Chamber of Commerce. As is the case all over town, owners of such properties are being courted by the city’s Economic Development Department to take advantage of the new state housing laws to make big profits on the sale of their land for developments such as the above. Property owners are rarely the same as business owners who rent land and space from the former. That is why we are seeing or will see the closure of many familiar, local businesses as the land they rent is sold from under them for lucrative profits generated by the new state housing laws. (India Joze, University Copy, Mumbai Delights, Santa Cruz Glass to name a few and they are just the tip of the iceberg ahead).

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll say again that foregrounding cars, bicyclists and people in developers’ drawings (or aerial shots) is used to trick the eye into underestimating the impact of the scale of proposed new buildings. For over a decade the community has asked the Planning Department to use story poles on site to more accurately give a sense of scale and as is the custom, the community is ignored.  

Perhaps such use changes would be more palatable if they adhered to the maximum height limit, which is zoned for 36 feet maximum in this area. This development will be over twice as high at 75 feet (6 stories) plus a lot of “stuff” on top of that. How can that be? Thank Governor Newsom and Governor Brown before him. The intent was to encourage the provision of more housing and more affordable housing.  However the gap between intentions and results is often deep and wide and that is true with respect to density bonuses. To be as generous as I can muster, they are lobbied heavily and may not read the fine print. Or they are backed by real estate and business interests and being from Sacramento could care less about the impacts on the ground in Santa Cruz or other towns, which, with the notable exception of Santa Cruz, are beginning to fight back. 

Density bonuses, in this case a doubling of height and reduced setbacks, are supposed to encourage developers to include more affordable units in their projects. If such bonuses did lead to an increase in affordable units, beyond what is already required, that would be a start.  But in a sleight of hand that must have sent investors laughing all the way to the bank, that is not how this law works. Developers get their bonuses, such as a doubling of height but only have to provide the number of affordable units required at the originally zoned height. You read that correctly. At 36 feet high, and with 155 SRO (single room occupancy) units, this project would be required under Santa Cruz law to provide 31 low-income units (20%).  Cashing in on the state density bonus at 75 feet and with 233 SRO units, this project is required to provide… 31 low-income units. 

Then there is the traffic. On Saturday, I sat in my car on Center street between the soccer field on one side and this project site on the other and had time to watch a bit of the soccer game and consider the sense of place that will be lost. In other words, traffic was at a standstill. It took 20 minutes from entering Center Street at Laurel to navigate the roundabout and head up the hill over the West Cliff trestle towards home. I wondered what the traffic study on this project concluded about traffic impacts so I read the traffic study available online. 

The 142- page Traffic Study limited its research to weekdays. Therefore the impact of the project on the roundabout was judged to be of no significance. On weekdays the roundabout scored an A. Study those extra 1,112 daily trips on a gridlocked roundabout Saturday and Sunday, with traffic backed up along Center Street and the results would predictably have been different. Such is the manipulation of data.

The Planning Commission will consider approval for this project on Thursday October 21st at 7pm before it goes to council and is a done deal. Consider emailing a comment before that date or dial in to make a comment at the meeting. All details are online under Planning.

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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October 18

THE INITIATIVE PROCESS, PART II.

The Initiative, Proposition and Recall Process, Part II
Last week I opened a conversation about the history of the initiative, proposition, and recall process that began in California in 1911, a constitutional amendment approved by voters. I described how socialists were intricately involved in passing that law in California. This week it’s about how socialists, many inspired by Bernie Sanders’ presidential run, aim to make a difference locally in the November 2022 election. Although the state proposition procedure has often been coopted by corporate interests, such as the Uber-Lyft bought and paid for Proposition 22 campaign, this same law can often help level the political playing field in local communities throughout the state. For example, when politics tilts too far towards the interests of powerful developers and realtors, as it does in the city of Santa Cruz these days, then average citizens come together over kitchen tables and Zoom technology to learn the rules and craft language for legislation that pushes back against the predatory practices of capital. This is happening in Santa Cruz right now and this is part of their story.

Two Santa Cruz Petition Ballot Initiatives Are Set to Hit the Streets in November 
Democratic Socialism is focused on a society that works for all, not just the millionaires and billionaires. Ballot initiative policy-making helps level the political playing field and has the potential to redistribute a community’s wealth as it increases the quality of life for all residents. In November of 2022 there will likely be a pair or heavy-weight policy initiatives on the ballot for Santa Cruz voters to decide upon, and they will be looking to redistribute resources and improve our quality of life. The “Yes on Empty Homes Tax Santa Cruz” and “Our Downtown, Our Future” are measures that may severely test whether Santa Cruz is a progressive town in an arguably liberal state and walks the walk of social and environmental justice, or only talks a good game. Of course, those same forces that raised over $1 million to defeat rent control in 2018 are not to be taken lightly. No doubt some of them will be back with the same tired Republican-inspired dogma of getting government off the backs of the people and will oppose any socialist-inspired legislation.

A Tax on Empty Homes
The “Empty Homes Tax” (EHT) is simply a tax on homes that consistently remain unoccupied over long periods of time. In fact, the definition of an “empty home” will be formally established by this citizen initiative as one that is occupied less than 120 days (four months) each year. Each unoccupied house will be assessed a fee of $6,000 and every apartment complex consisting of eight or more units will have to pay $3000 per uninhabited unit. In addition, each vacant condominium, multiplex, and townhouse will also be accessed the $3,000 if no one lives there more than 120 days in a calendar year. How many empty homes are there in Santa Cruz? On the EHT web site there is an estimate that 9.5% of the 24,014 dwelling units in Santa Cruz are vacant. That’s 2,283 empty places, which include single-family homes, condos, and apartments. 

A Santa Cruz Grassroots Effort
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have been involved in ballot measures in this state and around the country. DSA Santa Cruz Chapter member Josh MacCallister, a city worker who resides in the Lower Ocean Street neighborhood became involved in the Empty Homes Tax initiative as a member of the group’s Electoral Action Working Group. He writes in an email exchange interview why he became active. “For so many working-class people in Santa Cruz, the struggle to find and maintain housing is oppressive and overwhelming…the housing crisis in Santa Cruz negatively impacts so many of the efforts that DSA is organizing around.” How will the tax be enforced? The group’s initiative that will be looking to collect signatures as early as November 1st, establishes the following protocol:

  1. The City Council shall establish a process for annual declaration of vacancy status for real property, excluding public, undeveloped, non-residential parcels, and mobile home parks…
  2. A website or online portal which explains the Tax and allows declaration of vacancy status.
  3. A paper declaration form and instructions to be mailed to the owner of each parcel of real property within the city…

The vast majority of residents in the city of Santa Cruz are renters. Over 60% of the population will not have to fill out this form or pay any tax, only those who own property may be affected. This tax appears to be a win-win for renters since the property owner of the vacant living unit will either rent the unit or pay the tax. There will be no passing on this tax to renters. At this past weekend’s EHT kickoff event at the Shanty Shack Brewery in Harvey West Park there were more than 150 attending, and one attendee who identified as a renter quipped to me, “This initiative is easy. It taxes rich people. What could be more simple than that?” MacCallister adds, “My hope is that the EHT will relieve some of the pressure on the workers of Santa Cruz, allowing more energy to be put toward furthering the cause of the working-class.” Environmental consultant, Santa Cruz Planning Commissioner, and DSA member Cyndi Dawson is also a member of the “Empty Homes Tax, Fund for Affordable Housing” group. She says this effort is about shared priorities and not a litmus test of a person’s politics. “A lot of people believe in healthcare for all and housing for all, but don’t know that these are socialist beliefs.” Dawson said in a recent interview. “We are having a conversation with parts of the community we don’t usually talk to and that’s what the Empty Homes Tax [ballot initiative] is about.”

Affordable Housing for All
The tax collected from empty homes will be destined for an affordable housing fund. This revenue “may be used for the purchase or construction of affordable housing units for rental, sale or resale that are deed restricted to permanently maintain affordability to low, very low, and extremely low income individuals,” according to the ballot initiative’s language. Dawson adds, “The initiative process allows us not to be dependent on politicians, but to build working-class power now while working on the long-term project of socialism and ending capitalism. This ballot initiative is easy to understand, it’s straight-forward and it will work to build our political power and increase the affordable housing supply.” She’s also clear that this tax will not solve the affordable housing crisis in Santa Cruz, but it is a structured approach “in this late-stage zombie capitalism” she says. Dawson is looking for all community members who are interested to get involved and carry the petition drive forward. If you are interested, go to the Empty Homes Tax website.

Next Week, Part III, another petition effort, “Our Downtown, Our Future” is moving forward and will be chronicled here next week.

“Am I worried about the wishes of the more than 600 billionaires in America today? No, not for a minute. I am worried about a working class who has been neglected by their government for decades, who is working longer hours for less pay. That’s who I’m worried about.” (Oct. 17)

Campers are back along my San Lorenzo River jogging and walking route. The city continues to use the houseless in their version of political football. A city council majority washes its hands and people’s lives–housed and unhoused–continue to be negatively impacted by public policy inertia. The Association of Faith Communities is one group that has painstakingly put forward a plan to address homelessness, but it continues to fall on deaf municipal ears.
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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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October 17
CENTRAL FIRE DISTRICT WILL MOVE TO DISTRICT-BASED BOARD ELECTIONS…PUBLIC MEETINGS COMING SOON
If you live within the large Central Fire District area, watch for notices of public meetings to discuss how the new district-based election for the Board of Directors will proceed. Central Fire Chief John Walbridge informed the Board last Thursday that the dates for these public meetings have been delayed due to the late delivery of the Census Data, but hopefully will be scheduled within the next couple of months.  Oddly, the State has shortened the time for getting the job done by one month, and the boundaries for the five new District-based Board seats must be completed and submitted by April 17, 2022.

Generally, the District’s service areas, covering 55 square miles,  include Aptos, Capitola, La Selva Beach, Live Oak, Rio del Mar and Soquel, but encompass large rural areas in Larkin Valley, Day Valley and the Soquel Valley.   For better representation, and in conformance with the California Voting Rights Act, the Central Fire District will transition to a system of elections by “zone” effective with the 2022 General Election.

Governor Newsom just signed into law SB 594 that changes certain requirements for the June, 2022 Primary Elections with regard to residency and re-districting and filing deadlines

Will the rural areas have good representation?  That will be up to you.  Get involved if you live in these areas.  There are possible annexations of other adjacent areas on the horizon, with discussions on the table by August, 2022.

LAFCO COUNTYWIDE FIRE DISTRICT SERVICE REVIEW COMPLETE
Take time to read the excellent review of all 13 Santa Cruz County fire districts, completed by Santa Cruz County Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) Director Mr. Joe Serrano. Last Wednesday, the Commissioners reviewed and approved this extensive review report that uses Insurance Service Ratings (ISO) as the common measuring stick of effective service among the 13 different fire protection districts in the County.  (Agenda Item 5a, page 12)

[October 2021 Entire Agenda Packet]

The report recommends consolidation of two County Fire Dept. funding mechanisms (CSA 4 for Pajaro Dunes and CSA 48 for the rest of the rural CAL FIRE areas) and possible annexations by Central Fire District of the Branciforte Fire and County Fire service areas.  Those discussions need to happen by August, 2022.  If those current administrations do not favor annexations, it needs to be made clear why or why not, and by December, 2022, accordingly adjust the effectual sphere of influence lines that were mostly drawn in the 1970’s and 1980’s. 

Mr. Serrano made it clear that his goal is to improve emergency service and financial accountability of all fire districts in the County in order to provide the best possible level of service to the residents.  We are lucky to have him at the LAFCO helm.

Read this critical report and contact your respective fire agency about how any recommendations approved by LAFCO in Resolution 2021-17 will move forward and when.

Page 29 Executive Summary  
Page 53  Aromas Tri-County Fire Protection District 
Page 72  Ben Lomond Fire Protection District
Page 91  Boulder Creek Fire Protection District
Page 109  Branciforte Fire Protection District 
Page 130  Central Fire District 
Page 150 County Service Area 4 (Pajaro Dunes) Santa Cruz County Fire Dept.
Page 166  County Service Area 48  Santa Cruz County Fire Dept.
page 183  Felton Fire Protection District
Page 201  Pajaro Valley Fire Protection District 
Page 219  City of Santa Cruz Fire 
Page 235  Scotts Valley Fire Protection District 
Page 253  City of Watsonville Fire Dept.
Page 269  Zayante Fire Protection District 
Page 354 RESOLUTION NO. 2021-17 adopting all recommendations.

CHANGING INSURANCE FIRE RISK MODELS FOR RURAL CALIFORNIA
On November 10, 10am-1pm, the California Department of Insurance will conduct a virtual public discussion regarding a proposed regulation requiring consideration of property-level and community-level wildfire risk mitigation in rating plans and risk models.  See the two attachments at the end of this Blog for details.

How will this affect the insurance ratings in rural areas?  Will insurance companies be required to consider fire defensible space and home hardening efforts when setting policy premiums or cancellations? 

Register for the webinar here 

LOCAL CAL FIRE/COUNTY FIRE DEPT. CHIEF IAN LARKIN RETIRING

CAL FIRE/County Fire Chief Ian Larkin is retiring November 5 and the Board of Supervisors will issue a proclamation in his honor at their scheduled action of Item this Tuesday during an afternoon Item  #12.

Who will replace him?  Unknown, according to Chief Larkin, but my guess is Chief Nate Armstrong, who has been filling the boots for a while for some various fire-related issues.

JUST IN TIME…SB 332 REMOVES LIABILITY OF DAMAGES CAUSED BY PRESCRIBED BURNS, AND THE STRANGE HISTORY OF CAL FIRE AVOIDING LIABILITY

Historically, when CAL FIRE can place blame on a person or agency for starting a wildland fire, that person or agency has to pay for the cost of fighting the fire.  Imagine what that can cost!!

However, on September 23, 2021, Governor Newsom signed SB 332 that now does not hold any agency or property owner liable for damages when a controlled prescribed burn escapes and causes damage.  That comes just in time to let CAL FIRE and the Estrada Family off the hook for what happened last Friday in Corralitos. 

A controlled burn on the Estrada Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains got out of control and burned about 100 acres, and required evacuation orders for nearly 100 homes.   Luckily, it seems at the time of this writing, no one was hurt, and no homes burned.  This was a CAL FIRE controlled burn, and CAL FIRE has issued a public statement that the cause of the fire was the escaped control burn.

But had the fire burned more extensively, destroying the Mt. Madonna Center, homes, and the ridgetop communications towers, neither CAL FIRE nor the Estrada Family would be held liable, thanks to SB 332, freshly autographed by Governor Newsom on September 23.

But who would pay?  The taxpayers, likely, under the parameters of the state budget.  

Governor Newsom Signs CCA-Sponsored SB 332 – California Cattlemen’s Association  

Consider this, juxtaposed with the 2008 Summit Fire, where a property owner’s contractor was charged with causing the fire and being legally liable to pay CAL FIRE $14.85 million for suppression costs of that very large and destructive fire in Corralitos during a large wind event.  During the Santa Clara County law suit hearings, there was testimony and information that perhaps a controlled burn in the area that got out of control nearby may have contributed to the fire. 

Neighbors testified the fire likely had multiple causes, but the judge ruled that the property owner’s contractor was at fault and liable.

Later, in 2013, at the request of the man’s public defender, the Santa Clara County District Attorney immediately dropped all charges, acknowledging that the CAL FIRE investigation of the 2008 Summit Fire’s cause was flawed.

The contractor had to resort to asking for a public defender because he had used up his savings to make bail and pay a series of private lawyers and simply ran out of money.  

In 2015, that defender sought the Court to declare a Statement of Innocence to clear Mr. Verden’s record, an unusual action.

This action was brought about by multiple factors, but mainly the fact that 

no action was taken against a Cal Fire captain who, in 2009, failed to properly douse a burn pile, sparking the Loma Fire, which destroyed two mobile homes, burned 485 acres in Santa Cruz County and cost about $4 million to fight.   

The second factor supporting the public defender’s successful pleading that the charges against the contractor be dropped and his name cleared was that the lead CAL FIRE Investigator, Joshua White, was deemed not credible.

Mr. Joshua White was involved in a secret, illegal money-skimming operation orchestrated by CAL FIRE’s civil cost recovery team, which motivated that agency’s investigator Joshua White to blame wildfires on people and companies with potentially deep pockets rather than to conclude the cause of a blaze was arson or undetermined.

In 2013, the state auditor reported that Cal Fire had indeed diverted $3.7 million from legal settlements into a secret unauthorized bank account, starting in 2005.  Also, in 2014, retired Santa Clara County Judge Leslie Nichols specifically lambasted Joshua White as well as other state employees in a 75-page ruling for hiding evidence and pinning the blame for the massive Moonlight Fire in Plumas and Lassen counties on the Sierra Pacific lumber company, so the agency could reap millions in a civil judgment for its secret account.

The public defender for the contractor charged with causing the Summit Fire pointed out that prosecutors never charged the CAL FIRE captain whose negligence caused the Loma Fire with any crime, despite his arguably similar actions. Prosecutors dropped the charges against the contractor, Mr. Channing Verden, in 2013 because of that and have never closely reviewed CAL FIRE’s investigation conducted by Joshua White since Judge Nichols issued his scathing ruling.

Normally with an innocence bid like Mr. Verden’s, prosecutors would immediately begin weighing whether to oppose it, support it or remain neutral. But in a separate motion, Public Defender Rios contended that the District Attorney’s Office should be removed from the case because CAL FIRE’s secret fund was quietly managed by the California District Attorneys Association, the trade group to which most local prosecutors belong.

CAL FIRE paid the District Attorneys Association $373,624 for its management services between 2005 and 2013, which Rios claims amounts to a conflict of interest because it gave the local office, as well as prosecutors across California, “an improper financial incentive to prosecute those it accused of setting wildfires.” 

Mr. Channing Verden was innocent, but a victim of a defective CAL FIRE investigation.  His life was ruined.  “I’m 56 years old with no Social Security, nothing,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. But if nothing else, maybe I can prevent the state from trying to extort someone else.”

Meanwhile, Joshua White, the CAL FIRE investigator deemed as being not credible, was transferred to Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit Chief and Tuolumne County Fire Department Chief, and had no further investigative responsibilities.  

He retired last year with a salary and benefits of about $300,000/year, according to Transparent California.

In closing, Governor Newsom’s signing into law SB 332 may now remove liability associated with controlled burn escapes and hopefully prevent legal travesties  such as what befell Mr. Channing Verden.  However, these questions remain:

  1. What, if anything, happened to hold CAL FIRE accountable for the discovery of the $3.6 million secret account verified to exist in the 2013 State audit?
  2. Why didn’t CAL FIRE prosecute their own captain, whose negligence caused the Loma Fire in Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties in 2009?
  3. If SB 332 were not in place, would CAL FIRE prosecute anyone for last Friday’s Estrada Fire to recover suppression costs and damages?  

Likely not, as the Estrada Ranch, site of the controlled burn that escaped,  is partially owned by  CAL FIRE Battalion Chief Greg Estrada, who heads up the Pajaro Valley Fire Protection District. Grass fire breaks out along Highway 129 near power lines

MANY LEGISLATIVE BILLS SIGNED INTO LAW
Read about some of the recent new laws that will affect everyone.

MAKE ONE CALL OR WRITE ONE LETTER 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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October 17

BEACH TIME

PEOPLE AT THE BEACH.
I hop off my bike and lock it to a post at the entrance to the beach. I’m here to meet Juan and Ted and their dog Fluffy for an evening stroll to catch up and get some fresh air. I smile with the transition to the beach, which is a regular way to leave my busy day behind and return me to myself, my normal world and what I want to be – relaxed! Squinting through the reflective brightness off the sparkling water, I spot my friends already down by the water and jog towards them. We exchange hugs and start on our walk. We won’t turn around for a long while…this stretch of sand goes on and on, and we have an hour before we need to head back to our homes. We keep to the wet sand where it’s easier (and less messy) to walk. Juan uses one of those plastic scoop arms for extra lift to lob a ball for Fluffy. There’s lots to talk about, the light breeze feels invigorating, the sand cool and wet between my toes. For the breeze and noise of the lapping waves, we walk closer than we might otherwise to hear one another better. Fluffy comes crashing into us as she rough houses with another dog, now we are sandy and wet to our waists, laughing, and smiling another group passing by. The sun is getting lower, and the clouds are turning pastel orange and magenta, a myriad of colors reflected in fractal patterns of swirling sea foam. We’re quiet for a bit, pausing on our walk to watch bottlenose dolphins pass by and to hear the lapping waves. Way down the beach we approach a party – bonfires in big metal bins and chairs around portable tables, musicians setting up for an event that will last into the night. We are at our halfway point, turning around we face into the wind and towards the setting sun. I know from our past walks that we are now each pondering what more we want to ask to make sure we are all caught up on conversations that have lasted years. Our walks are not often enough, this time together is precious. The conversation picks up pace and the walk back seems faster than the way out. We brush off the sand, towel off Fluffy, and say our goodbyes.

NONHUMANS AT THE BEACH
In parallel, the nonhuman organisms at the beach were having very different experiences during our visit. Walking in the wet sand, Ted, Juan and I crushed hundreds of living organisms and smashed the structure of the sand where critters had tunneled for breath and to filter feed…contributing to the greatly diminished diversity and abundance of such organisms with increasing recreation on beaches. Fluffy’s cavorting flushed dozens of shorebirds, already exhausted from being frightened over and over by people and their dogs. Those shorebirds also particularly need the wet sand, where they probe for food; they only get a few chances to dart into that feeding zone between the constant parade of walkers. The fires and noise from the beach party will keep nesting beach birds on high alert nearby, as they cuddle their newborn chicks; those families will not be having restful nights and will have a harder time remaining healthy. Next season, maybe they will remember not to make a nest so close to those areas of the beach where parties light up the night, but there isn’t much beach left where they can still find peace.

WHAT MAKES A BEACH?
There is so much we take for granted about our beaches and few even realize what a natural beach might look like, or how nature maintains and forms it. Our best beaches are sandy, and that sand is constantly on the move, eroding and replenishing with the wind, waves, and tides. Streams and rivers are beachmakers, depositing sand into the ocean. In Santa Cruz County, the sand is driven downshore from the north with the prevailing wind and current. Promontories create sand deposition shadows- rockier areas to the north of most beaches and more sand on the south, including piles of sand up on the bluffs above the beach to the south. Where beaches are wide enough, there are low mounds of sand towards the waves and bigger and bigger dunes further onshore. Typically, the sand blocks most rivers and streams in the summer, creating still water lagoons full of life. 

NATURAL DIVERSITY IN THE SAND
Our beaches are super-diverse ecosystems, teeming with life wherever we let them thrive. Where we don’t trample them, plants establish close to the sea. Sea rocket, with its pale, simple 4-petaled lavender flowers, is notoriously resilient, establishing from seeds that are constantly floating around the ocean waiting to wash ashore. This plant is cosmopolitan, on beaches around the world. By stabilizing the blowing sand, sea rocket starts formation of the little mounds we call foredunes. Foredunes then become habitat for many other species. Further inland are taller and taller back dunes where waves rarely crash. There can be freshwater ponds in back dunes in the winter. Elephant seals rest there. North facing back dune slopes have ferns and mosses; throughout these taller dunes you can find succulent plants, shrubs flowering year-round, endangered lupines, wallflowers, paintbrush, spineflower, and gilia…as well as many species of songbirds. Around the lagoons and ‘dune slack’ (ponds) ducks breed and red legged frogs, newts, and garter snakes flourish. Raccoons, pond turtles, egrets, herons, and lots more are at home in these wet areas.

HEALING BEACHES AND DUNES
As I mentioned above, we have loved our beaches to death but, in some places, people are trying to establish more of a balance. Around the Monterey Bay, there is just one beach that is off limits to people: Wilder Beach. We set aside this State Park beach to protect nesting endangered snowy plovers. Any regular and observant beach goer will know this story: there are signs and “symbolic” fences on many beaches to remind people not to trample their habitat. Unfortunately, fences and signs are not enough, and the species is struggling to survive in our region. What few snowy plovers are left is because of a team of conservationists associated with the nonprofit Point Blue Conservation Science who monitor the species and work with parks managers to protect them. Without those always underpaid and generous people, there would be no signs and no fences: they serve as the conscience for the species and are supported by grants and donations. Further south, in Santa Barbara County, at Coal Oil Point, a docent program has volunteers standing by the plover fences with signs and binoculars educating visitors and assuring plover safety, a program that is being duplicated elsewhere. Again, generous conservationists coming to the rescue!

Snowy plovers are an indicator species for healthy beaches and dunes, and other programs are working to restore the plants needed to sustain healthy plover habitat. From Seabright Beach through Pacific Grove’s Asilomar State Beach, parks managers and volunteers are controlling invasive species and planting dune plants. Ice plant is the most widespread and pernicious threat. Each year for the rest of eternity, people will have to comb the beaches and dunes to find iceplant and rip it up before it takes over. Thanks to years of this work, we are starting to see the return of dunes and associated vibrant rolling mounds of wildflowers.

BEFORE OUR TIME
Four hundred years ago…imagine the scene at the beach. Native peoples must have had a common presence on beaches for many reasons: launching boats, fishing, clam digging, tide pool foraging, harvesting of marine algae, leisure, and play. The lowest tides of the Spring and Fall must have drawn many people to the deep rocky intertidal where there were easier to reach larger and more varied shellfish. And there would have been grizzlies, condors, and coyotes sharing that space, feasting on (stinky!) washed up marine mammals. The tiny snowy plover probably had much larger flocks scampering around. Every beach would have had intact dune communities and clean lagoons.

THE FUTURE OF BEACHES
Can we find a way to conserve beach and dune species for future generations? What would that entail? Biologists suggest we need more control of the main threat: beach visitation – we already have too much. We thank the California Coastal Commission for steadfastly pursuing public access to beaches, a job that never seems to be finished. But we also understand that this agency has a mandate to protect biological diversity, something that they sometimes forget when it comes to beach access. For instance, they recently required the University to provide public access to Younger Lagoon and were surprisingly acquiescent at State Parks providing nearly unregulated and completely unplanned public access to Coast Dairies beaches. The Coastal Commission doesn’t have a plan for beach and dune biological conservation in California despite this being the only ecologically sensitive habitat that is in their jurisdiction statewide! I think almost all of us would like for all the plants and animals to have a place on Earth, even if it means giving up some of our conveniences…including our ability to use every beach or every inch of every beach. We need a comprehensive plan across all California beaches if we are to realize this outcome. And people need to care enough to support parks and the Coastal Commission if they decide to do pursue beach and dune protections. Oh, and it would be good to keep our Fluffy dogs from harassing beach wildlife, our strolls up on the dry sand, and our trajectories steering wide, away from foraging shorebirds.

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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October 17

#290 / Welcome To The Metaverse: Watch Out!

Here’s Mark Zuckerberg, in the picture above, welcoming us with open arms into a “virtual world” that he is inviting us to occupy. Rental payments for our occupancy will go to Zuckerberg, of course!

A couple of very different articles in the August 28-29 edition of The Wall Street Journal, including the one with Zuckerberg’s picture, captured my attention. First, Dan Gallagher and Laura Forman, tech writers for The Journal, told us about Zuckerberg’s efforts to get us to enter into the “Metaverse,” a “virtual world” that many techies see as “the next big thing.” In the hard copy version of the newspaper, their article was titled, “The Real Problems Of the Virtual World.” Online, the article bore this title: “Big Tech Wants You to Live in a Virtual World. Prepare for Real Problems.” The subheading summed up their advice as follows: “User discretion is advised.”

The second article in The Journal, seemingly quite different, was an “Ask Ariely” advice column, covering the following topic: “Why We Ignore Friends to Look at Our Phones.” Dan Ariely, who writes this column, is a Professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University.

Gallagher and Forman want us to know that the “Metaverse,” a world inside a headset, is “hot, sweaty and even nauseating.” Think twice, they advise, before strapping a device onto your face that then allows you to “interact with cartoon-versions of co-workers and friends.” It’s just not worth it; that’s what they suggest. The “Ask Ariely” column tells us that people who “snub” their friends, to look at their phones, may well be “depressed and socially anxious.” That’s why they do it.

While I generally agree with the observations made in these articles, as just recounted, I have a different take on what’s happening at the tech/human interface. 

In the last several years, I have come to believe that many of our real life problems derive from one, profoundly important fact. Human beings are always tempted to prefer their own creations and constructions – the human world that they create – to the world they didn’t create, the “Natural World,” or the world that religious people call the “World That God Created.” 

Sitting on a sunny patio at the end of the day, not that long ago, chatting with several friends about all sorts of things, from politics to flower gardens, I found one of those friends repeatedly diverting his attention to his phone – just the phenomenon discussed by Ariely. Surely, most of us have had that experience. Real people, right there in front of you, in “real life,” are not as compelling as those people with whom you can be in contact through your phone, or tablet, or laptop. The “Metaverse,” as proposed, is a further step. The headset that Zuckerberg and other techies are promoting makes it impossible even to choose between “real life” and the life transmitted to the headset user online. As long as you wear that headset, the world inside the headset is the only world you know. 

These new technological gadgets, I think, represent a progressive next step in an ongoing human effort to substitute out the “Natural World” as the locus of the “reality” in which we live, and to attempt to live within a world that humans create, supposedly freed from any dependence on anything that humans have not created themselves. 

User discretion is certainly advised! The fact is, all of our human constructions are ultimately dependent on a world that we did not create. The more we forget this fact, the more we value “avatars” over real people, and the more we value our human creations over the “Creation,” itself, the quicker we will undermine the conditions that make life in “our world” possible. 

This is a kind of “theological” perspective – a perspective more real than the “Metaverse” is what I’d claim!

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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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

    EARTHQUAKES

“Once you have been in an earthquake you know, even if you survive without a scratch, that like a stroke in the heart, it remains in the earth’s breast, horribly potential, always promising to return, to hit you again, with an even more devastating force.” 
~Salman Rushdie.

“I was awakened by a tremendous earthquake, and though I hadn’t ever before enjoyed a storm of this sort, the strange thrilling motion could not be mistaken, and I ran out of my cabin, both glad and frightened, shouting, “A noble earthquake! A noble earthquake” feeling sure I was going to learn something.”
~John Muir 

“Nature has a myriad of weapons to combat human arrogance.”
~Wayne Gerard Trotman 

“Earth is saving itself from humans.
Have you noticed it’s been fighting back with earthquakes?”

~Nitya Prakash

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What is something that we all love, and love to hate? Fast food! Here is a 1 hour and 38 minute long compilation of standup comedians riffing on fast food chains. Enjoy!


COLUMN COMMUNICATIONS. Subscriptions: Subscribe to the Bulletin! You’ll get a weekly email notice the instant the column goes online. (Anywhere from Monday afternoon through Thursday or sometimes as late as Friday!), and the occasional scoop. Always free and confidential. Even I don’t know who subscribes!!
Snail Mail: Bratton Online
82 Blackburn Street, Suite 216
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Direct email: Bratton@Cruzio.com
Direct phone: 831 423-2468
All Technical & Web details: Gunilla Leavitt @ godmoma@gmail.com
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