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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Santa Cruz passes panhandling ordinances, MediaNews furloughs Sentinel employees and the Scopes Park mural stays.

Jail Crowding Pooh-Poohed

Councilmember Don Lane called it "the most important part of this ordinance package" at the Jan. 27 blockbuster City Council meeting: a clause that generates a bench warrant for anyone who racks up three or more nontraffic criminal citations and doesn't go to court to deal with them.

At the crowded meeting, councilmembers approved eight new ordinances aimed at curbing panhandlers downtown and at the beach. They also echoed city police in condemning a rash of repeat offenders who've skipped court dates for everything from public drunkenness to assault and have suffered no ill effects.

But come March, when Santa Cruz police officers start enforcing the new law, will the county jails be swamped with droves of negligent petty criminals? City and county officials say no.

"I really think we're dealing with no more than a couple dozen people who cause a disproportionate number of problems," says Councilmember Ryan Coonerty, one of the authors of the ordinance. "Ninety-eight percent of the people downtown are great citizens. I think in the short term it could mean more people are brought to jail, but in the long term we hope people will stop committing illegal acts or show up to court and face the consequences."

Separate from the issue of overcrowding is the matter of booking fees. The city pays the county $100.15 for each person booked into county jail. More people thrown in the hoosegow means more money the city has to pony up. And though the "couple dozen" problem individuals Coonerty mentions might incur only a few thousand dollars per month in booking fees, Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy Sheriff Len Lofano says these costs are being watched anxiously by cash-strapped police departments.

"The booking fee charged to municipalities when they book someone is something all the police chiefs are very concerned about," says Lofano. "It behooves the city's general fund to issue a citation [instead of booking someone into jail]. But on the other hand, you've got to deal with these individuals and give some relief to business owners or shoppers downtown."

District 3 Supe Neal Coonerty, who serves on the county's Jail Overcrowding Committee, agrees with the cops and his son that the number of repeat offenders this law will put in cuffs is low enough to be written off. And Santa Cruz Police Capt. Steve Clark says the resources spent on police work to write the tickets and respond to these "problematic individuals" vastly outweighs the extra money needed to bring them to jail when they skip three court dates. "These individuals are simply exploiting the system," he says.

The Freaks Stay in the Picture

Last week Nūz reported that Peter Bartczak's Scope Park mural would be painted over for the Amgen tour and the wall eventually obscured altogether by yet another north Pacific Ave condo building. T'ain't so. Bartczak's moonlit beachside conga-line of skipping goddess-worshippers, which has graced the retaining wall on Mission Street near the Town Clock since the mid-'90s, is to remain in place indefinitely.

Turns out there was some miscommunication between city arts staff and the redevelopment office. The plan to paint over the mural with Santa Cruz's Amgen logo (a surfer girl on her cruiser bike at sunset) was contingent upon having a buyer/developer for the tiny Scope Park property, presumably so the city wouldn't have a corporate logo on one of its walls ad infinitum. There isn't any such buyer/developer, so the freaks stay in the picture. "It was totally my confusion," confesses Arts Program manager Crystal Birns.

Not everything remains the same, though. Birns says Bartczak's mural is to get a little love in the form of touch-ups, so fans can look forward not only to an unobstructed view of Santa Cruz freakdom for the foreseeable future, but a brighter one.

Lean Dean to Sentinel Employees: 'Take Some Time Off'

The still-slumping economy appears to be giving Dean Singleton a free pass to continue stripping his newspapers of resources. As if employees in his already decimated newsrooms aren't scraping by, Singleton's MediaNews is forcing all of its nonunion workers to take a one-week furlough by the end of March, starting this month. The company has also negotiated an involuntary furlough with its unions in exchange for fast-tracking a contract by Feb. 27. MediaNews exec David Rounds fired off an email to employees on Jan. 28 explaining that while the forced time off was an alternative to layoffs, he couldn't promise it would save the company enough money to prevent future firings. The best he could offer? "I am hopeful that an unpaid furlough will go a long way toward keeping future layoffs, if any, to a minimum."

Another item for the Newspaper Death Watch file: This marks the first week of the Register-Pajaronian's new thrice-weekly print schedule. The Watsonville paper has been in operation since 1868 and publishing daily since 1940, but as of Feb. 3 subscribers will find the paper in their driveways only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The paper announced the change on Jan. 21 in an article that touched on tumbling revenue from advertising mainstays like Circuit City and Mervyn's (both out of business) and Gottschalk's, which has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Publisher Tom Cross said readers can expect a bigger paper and more local coverage. Newspaper Death Watch will be eager to see how that's accomplished. In the late 1990s, the Register-Pajaronian had a dozen people in the newsroom; today it has six.

Norovirus Strikes UCSC

What several UCSC students thought was an old-fashioned case of cafeteria food gone bad may have actually been a case of student hygiene gone worse. A recent outbreak of norovirus on campus caused a reported 58 students and staff members to come down with the crippling stomach flu. Two were hospitalized.

Some students, like Zack Mikalonis, initially suspected nasty meatball subs as the culprit.

On the afternoon of Jan. 15, Mikalonis ate at UCSC's Porter Dining Hall. Though he says he's learned to steer clear of burritos, sub sandwiches are fair game. But less than 24 hours after chowing down on the hero, he found himself face down in a toilet bowl.

"I woke up around 4:30am throwing up and having horrible diarrhea," he says. "A bunch of other kids on my floor got sick too. I had a big quiz the next day that I had to miss."

Mikalonis figured it was the sandwich, but a county health official says this virus came from bad hands rather than bad meat.

"Our tests concluded that this was not a point-source outbreak," says Jessica Oltmanns, an epidemiologist with the Santa Cruz County Health Department. "The people affected by the virus were spread throughout campus, and in the end we couldn't pinpoint where the outbreak occurred. This virus is most often spread by fecal mater and vomitus. It was not food poisoning."

Hard for Nūz to say if that's good or bad. The school's health office sent out an email to all students urging them to wash their hands well and report any symptoms to the Campus Health Center.

Though it's impossible to know where the problem originated, university spokesman Jim Burns says school health officials hold their food service employees to the highest standards of personal hygiene. He adds that cafeteria workers completed a thorough bleach cleansing of cafeteria utensils and surfaces and served cafeteria food at areas that are normally self-service while the investigation was under way, thereby prohibiting the potential spread of germs via tongs and serving spoons.

Seal the Deal

For anyone who thinks human mating is a dangerous sport, the northern elephant seals currently piled up at Aņo Nuevo State Natural Reserve, 26 miles north of Santa Cruz, prove that the animal world still writes the book on rough sex.

Each year around this time, hundreds of the 1,000-5,000-pound behemoths drag themselves ashore for their annual bacchanal. The mating game starts with massive males battling for rights to females. Using long sharp teeth, the guys hack at each other, sometimes for hours, until a bloody winner emerges and claims his harem. The blood sport doesn't end there, however, as the males are known to often pin the females down with their massive bulk and hold them fast with their tusks until the job is finished.

But even if full-contact animal mating isn't your bag, plenty of doe-eyed pups are roaming around and are cute enough to make anyone forget the violence that likely preceded their conception.

Tours are available at Ano Nuevo State Natural Reserve for $7, plus another $7 for parking. Reservations are recommended, and getting down to where the seals are requires an easy three-mile hike. For information call 650.879.0227.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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