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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

The Significant Seven

Small purple flowers have emerged from their buds and birdsong fills the air in this five-acre field on Minto Road in Watsonville, an island of quiet surrounded by a residential neighborhood and a PG&E substation. Spring has sprung, but much bigger changes are on the way. This site will be a test ground for Santa Cruz County's newfound (some would say "forced") commitment to affordable housing. It will soon host 88 apartment units, and as the first site officially deemed a "regional housing needs" zone, 40 percent of them will be designated affordable to low-income residents.

After the Planning Commission officially rezones the Minto Road parcel in mid-April, six other areas around the county will follow suit, the fruit of a June 2007 decision by the Board of Supervisors identifying a total of 32 acres needed for affordable housing in the county. Developers wishing to build on any of them will be required to meet the 40-percent-affordable threshold.

The Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition wants to do it one better. The developer of the Minto Road site is actually planning on providing 100 percent of the units as affordable. All will be offered as rentals.

The nonprofit's plan might sound like a pipe dream in a county with such high housing and labor costs, but project managers Jessica De Wit and Jane Barr are some of the best in the biz when it comes to snatching up government-sponsored funding for affordable housing construction.

"The mission of Mid-Peninsula Housing is to always provide 100 percent affordable housing if possible," says Barr. "It's complicated, but we can often patch together enough different funding sources to make it work."

The proposal isn't in the bag yet. The county still needs to officially approve the rezoning and any building plans Mid-Peninsula provides. During this time the developers will also have to get friendly with neighbors, a process it set into motion when it organized an initial meeting with surrounding residents in February.

Santa Cruz County Planner Glenda Hill was at the neighborhood meeting last month. She gave a reserved summary of the initial reaction.

"All I can say is that it will certainly be a big change for the neighborhood," she says. "I think it would be safe to say the neighbors are going to want to know more."

The funding for the project is still theoretical, but Barr and De Wit have a long list of state, county and federal funding sources they plan to apply to if the project gets the go-ahead. Mid-Peninsula also owns the five acres, so even if this project doesn't work out, it is prepared to draw up another set of plans for the site. The goal of 100 percent affordability will remain in the forefront of De Wit's mind no matter what happens.

"We plan to offer units [to people whose income ranges] from 20 to 60 percent of the area's median income, which this year is calculated to be $87,000 for a family of four and $60,900 for a single person," says De Wit. "That is our organization's main goal."

The rezoning of the Minto Road site marks a milestone in county affordable housing policy. Before 2006, rezoning low-density residential areas to higher density was a complex and usually futile process. That all changed when California Rural Legal Assistance sued the county, accusing it of dodging its state-mandated responsibility to provide a certain number of new affordable housing units per year. In 2006 the county lost in court and the Board of Supervisors was forced to identify sites where the new affordable housing, with a density of 20 units per acre, would go. After a bit of back and forth about who would get the poor shoved into their back yard, the county finally identified seven different sites totaling 32 acres. All developers working these sites would be required to offer at least 40 percent of their units as affordable. As the first of the seven to be officially rezoned, Minto Road stands as a potent sign of what's to come.

District 27 Update

Delegates at last weekend's California Democratic Convention in San Jose had a chance to pick their Chosen One for the District 27 Assembly seat, but the party reps fell short of anointing any of the contenders. It seems the race for termed-out Assemblymember John Laird's seat will remain as tight as ever.

That doesn't mean the votes of the 37 delegates, each appointed by the Democratic Central Committee of a different county, didn't help some candidates more than others. Bill Monning, a lawyer and labor activist from Monterey, won the support of 19 delegates, or 51 percent of the total. The high vote tally will likely give Monning a bit of momentum even though it fell short of the 60 percent mark that would have resulted in the Democratic Party's official nod of support.

The two other candidates lagged far behind Monning in the delegate count, but don't count them out yet. They both have a long list of respectable backers. Barbara Sprenger, a water activist and former school board member from Felton, won six delegates to her side. Emily Reilly, former Santa Cruz mayor and current councilmember, won five delegates. Seven delegates chose not to vote, reflecting the difficulties inherent in picking from such a well-respected group. (That brings to mind the question of who chronically friendly former District 27 Assemblyman Fred Keeley will support. Keeley seems to be so full of cheer that he has decided to "honor" both Reilly and Monning with praise and fundraising assistance, without officially endorsing either candidate. Hmm ... Democratic Party operatives being close-mouthed and cagey about endorsements ... Is Keeley taking a page from the superdelegate playbook, mayhap?)

If it weren't for the vote at the March 30 convention, it would be mighty hard to tell who was out in front in this neck-and-neck race. All three candidates have received a number of endorsements. Monning, for his part, secured the support of the United Farm Workers (UFW) on March 31, Caesar Chavez's birthday, adding heft to the pledges of support he has received from District 28 Assembly Rep. Anna Caballero, farmworker hero Dolores Huerta, the California Teachers Association, the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council and the South Bay Labor Council.

Monning believes his advocacy for farmworkers as an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance and the UFW has helped him cinch these crucial union endorsements, but he is quick to remind voters he won't bulldoze the environment in the name of jobs.

"I come from a strong labor background, so I think the labor community considers me one of their own," says Monning, before adding, "It's also important to point out that there is a balance with the environmental community. There is often a false barrier constructed between the labor movement and the environmental movement. But environmental interests are directly linked to social justice issues. I hope my candidacy will represent the breaking down of this false dichotomy."

While Monning has been raking in the labor endorsements, Reilly has gained the support of those she has worked with on a day-to-day basis over the past decade, as well as a number of regional and state leaders. California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue, former Pacific Grove Mayor Jim Costello, District 1 Assemblymember Patty Berg, former Santa Cruz County Supervisor Marty Wormhoudt, the California League of Conservation Voters, the United Transportation Union, the Women's Political Committee and the Santa Cruz Police Officers Association have all thrown their weight behind this local woman made good.

Reilly was glad to hear during the March 30 convention that she could add the California Nurses Association to her list of supporters. Reilly boasts that her endorsements are from a wide-ranging group of people who have seen her in action at the local level.

"I'm honored and proud with the wide range of endorsements I've received," said Reilly. "The people from Sacramento aren't my friends, I know them from my work in local government. That's true of local leaders throughout the Santa Cruz County community as well. These are people who understand how important it is to have someone from local government representing us in Sacramento."

Meanwhile, Sprenger has picked up a number of high-profile endorsements from elected officials to supplement her already long list of supporters from local school and water boards. These include U.S. congressional Reps.  Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda; Assemblymembers Jim Beall, Luis Wolk and Sally Leiber; former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer and San Lorenzo Valley Water District General Manager Jim Mueller.

Sprenger is betting her mix of neighborhood-level organizing and the vote of confidence she's received from the halls of Sacramento and Washington will rocket her to the top of the pack.

"The endorsements I have are the people who are doing this work in Sacramento, first of all," says Sprenger. "But the other side of this is the endorsements from regular people, who are out daily making a difference in the community, such as people in the Green Performance Network and Brothers Helping Brothers. I'm not part of the Santa Cruz–Monterey political establishment, and what I'm finding out is: That's great! People are a little fed up and are looking for some specific changes."

Close Encounters

Capitola has been all abuzz recently over the well-publicized photo of a strange—some might say "alien"— flying object that was allegedly taken somewhere in the a small beach town last June. But what has really stirred the nest of UFO conspiracy theorists is the fact that similar sightings have been reported throughout California.The alleged similarity of these sightings to the Capitola photo has made a believer out of T.K. Davis, the initially skeptical private investigator hired to track down the anonymous Internet poster who took the Capitola photo.

Davis was hired by "UFOlogists" (can you get a degree in that?) from the Open Minds Forum to delve into the history of this strange craft, which, by the way, no one else in Capitola reports having seen. Davis thinks the fact that multiple sightings of the craft, which has a spherical center with spiky metal objects jutting out on the sides, were all reported in the early summer of 2007 in California might indicate there is something strange, maybe even intergalactic, going on. 

"That's why my clients are putting a lot of resources into tracking this down," says Davis, a former Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy. "There are so many sightings during May and June of last year, and it's mostly concentrated in California."

The other reported sightings took place in Bakersfield, Lake Tahoe and Big Basin. Nu_z should point out that Davis has yet to track any of these "eyewitnesses" down, seeing as how that they all use fake names on Internet chat boards. Regardless, Davis is still convinced there is something about the case not quite of this world. The event that really launched him into the believer category was another Internet posting, this time by someone purporting to be a former government employee who had worked on a craft similar to the one "photographed" (or should that be "PhotoShopped?") in the 1980s in a Palo Alto–based program known as CARET. This person, who identified himself as Isaac, provided photos of individual parts of the "extraterrestrial drone" and photocopies of internal documents he says he smuggled out of the secretive underground laboratory where he worked for three years.

"He had his own pictures of the drone taken apart," says Davis. "So this to me is more than just a picture if you take some time to look into it."

Not everyone in Internet-land is quite as convinced. In fact, some have alleged these drone "sightings" are in fact part of a complex viral marketing campaign to promote Halo 3, a Microsoft game released in September 2007, about four months after the drone pictures started circulating around Cyberspace. Chances are the real story behind what is being called the California Drone will remain a mystery, but one can never be too sure about these things—Davis is still hot on the trail of the self-proclaimed "eyewitnesses." So just to be safe, Nu_z advises readers to keep their eyes on the skies, and shoot us an email when the aliens have landed.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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