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January 17-24, 2007

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Gardener of Eden

So how are our newly elected officeholders handling their new duties? Nūz decided to start checking in with a few, beginning with Lynn Robinson, first-time Councilmember for the city of Santa Cruz. Robinson, as reported in Metro Santa Cruz's Jan. 3 cover story "Just Say No," already made a splash at her first council meeting in December. Casting the sole vote against a resolution supporting a U.S. Army lieutenant's refusal to deploy to Iraq, she stated that she's focused on "local issues that affect the city of Santa Cruz."

While Robinson's well-regarded consensus-building skills will no doubt be tested in the months to come, she tells Nūz that the campaign itself turned out to be unexpectedly positive. "I was genuinely surprised," she reports, about "how enjoyable it was being at the forums and meeting with community groups along with the other candidates. I felt there was a camaraderie among us. As candidates we could commiserate with each other."

Over what? "Well, at the beginning of the campaign, we got overwhelmed with forms and questionnaires from community groups, each with perhaps 15 questions, all with tight deadlines. We'd talk about how much energy that took, combined with daily campaign activities. That was a common bond."

Robinson was also impressed by the level of attentiveness required. "It was surprising, as a first-time candidate, how intense it is. There's no downtime. Your body always needs to be someplace, and then someplace else, immediately. Doing that around a regular job, as a garden designer running my own business, was quite a schedule."

And yet, Robinson recalls, "I never heard any of the candidates complaining about the experience. That was very pleasant."

And what about the oft-dreaded task of going door to door--precinct walking? "I'm not the kind of person who would normally knock on people's doors," she says. "So it was amazing how many people said they appreciated it. "

And what did they want to talk about? Here, Robinson encountered yet another surprise: "There was a range of issues, but by far the most common topic was Measure G, the city minimum wage ballot measure. "At one house, I talked with two young women in their 20s, and the moment I walked down the street, their male housemate came racing up to me on his skateboard. 'Wait!' he said, 'my housemates want to know what you think of the minimum wage proposal.' I told him that I thought its applying only to the city made it problematic. "Good," he said at the end of a long conversation, and skated back to the house. That kind of thing happened over and over again."

So then came the election, and Robinson, along with incumbents Mike Rotkin and Cynthia Mathews, won. How have things been different?

"I'm downtown every week working on gardens, so I'm used to people stopping to talk. Before being elected, the conversations wouldn't necessarily be about city issues."

And now? "Well, the friendly downtown flautist who used to say 'Hi, Garden Lady' now says 'Hi, City Councilwoman.' " Not all the issues residents approach Robinson to discuss are what one might expect: "I've heard a number of times how the yellow light poles on River Street--the ones that match the sign--really need to be painted some other color, such as green."

The job of councilmember, though, has certainly not turned out to be a light one at all. "I've been inundated with materials simply related to holding the office. Then there are the materials related to meeting procedure, agenda and background information for each meeting, and copies of correspondence involving citizens' concerns." In addition, Robinson added to the pile of new information by visiting every city department head and asking for background. "They all had material," she says. In totality, "it's intense."

Also moving was the first council meeting. Just before, around 1,000 community members had attended a memorial service for city fire capt.

Russ Long, who had died of cancer in late November at the age of 51. And there, on the first meeting agenda, was an item recognizing that community response, and uniformed city firefighters present in the room. "More than half of Russ Long's life was spent protecting the citizens, serving the community. Serving us." Robinson found herself inspired. "He will always remind me how a life should be lived."

So how does Lynn Robinson see herself as serving?

"I'd like to help more people realize that our city is made up of us," she tells Nūz, "and help more citizens get involved. People don't realize that there are easy ways to participate."

Such as? "There are many ways. Learn how to handle emergencies in one's own home and neighborhood, in case we have another disaster like the 'quake--the Fire Department does trainings. The city has a volunteer and internship program, CitySERVE, where one can put in as little as two hours a month. The Redevelopment Agency has graffiti removal kits that neighbors can use on their own block." And her own service? "I hope to be a strong conduit for having a diverse city," Robinson says, "and by that I mean one in which we avoid labels, and sincerely work together."

And building more inclusion, Lynn Robinson believes, will help the city--and her--"make sound decisions that will move the city forward. As the newest councilmember, I have a lot on my plate and plenty to learn, but I am already experiencing the rewards of leading such an incredible city."

And next? "My role will evolve."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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