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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

John Leopold emerges as progressive candidate for District 1 Supes race, USCS racks up more tree sit-related expenses and the USDA and CDFA slam a Santa Cruz horticulturist's report on the light brown apple moth.

The Progressive Candidate

The six-way scramble to fill the District 1 Supervisor seat being left open by a retiring Jan Beautz appears to have narrowed down to two clear front-runners over the past month. Betty Danner, the candidate plucked from the field by Beautz to be her successor, is facing serious competition from Cabrillo College Trustee John Leopold, another candidate drawing support from the supes' chambers and other local offices. Leopold has accumulated a wealth of serious endorsements--including two from the powerful Coonerty family (Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan and Supervisor Neal)--a bankroll fatter than any of the other candidates and a multi-issue platform focused mainly on providing services to unincorporated areas of the county, which Leopold believes will strengthen community bonds while simultaneously reducing crime.

Leopold has been spending the last six months hitting the District 1 pavement, which stretches from Soquel and Pleasure Point and encompasses Live Oak, to meet neighbors, lasso endorsements and, of course, rustle up some checks. He has done a mighty fine job of that, ending February 2008 with $16,769 in his campaign fund. This comes in just above Danner's $16,336 and blows "taxpayer advocate" Carolyn Busenhart's war chest of $2,159 out of the water. Other candidates vying for the position--including environmental activist William Hay, property rights advocate Michael Pisenti and recent Oregon transplant (and Manzanita, Ore., mayor) Hugh McIsaac--didn't file campaign contribution forms, meaning they received less than $1,000. The issue of gang-related crime in Live Oak has quickly emerged as a key topic in this race. The question of who can stem the rise in shootings and robberies will likely be front and center in residents' minds when they go to the polls in June. Like Danner, Leopold thinks the sheriff needs more recruits, and he thinks he knows how to make this happen. Specifically, he points to his work on a Cabrillo program that intervenes with middle school students to get them on the peace officer track.

"There are so many people who take the [peace officer] test who aren't eligible to work in the sheriff's office because they don't have a clean record," explains Leopold. "Through my work at Cabrillo we've started a program that targets middle school students to get them on the path of maintaining a good education, good physical fitness and keeping their records clean. That way they'll be eligible to be a sheriff deputy."

For Leopold, this is only part of the answer to the crime problem, though. Creating after-school activities for teens in Live Oak--something notably lacking in this unincorporated town of 25,000--is also going to be a high priority for Leopold if he becomes elected.

"Right now the Boys and Girls Club has a modular trailer at Shoreline Middle School. Why doesn't the county get involved with them in providing a better resource for them? They have a new director and want to expand their services. The county should be out there helping them expand that facility and supporting their services," says Leopold. "When you look at issues like crime, you have to realize it is all connected in many ways to the lack of positive activities for kids to be doing every day."

Leopold isn't just focused on fixing the in-your-face problem of gang proliferation, though. He also hopes to get the ball rolling on transportation issues. Leopold sets himself apart from Danner by opposing the widening of Highway 1, but that doesn't mean he's going to ignore the crucial roadway altogether.

"I'm not going to fall into this same trap the community has been in for the past five years. After thousands of hours of meetings, we're in the same place we were in before 2004," says Leopold, referring to the year voters shot down Measure J, a major transportation initiative. "On Highway 1, we can do some things to fix the ramps and put in metering to help with the flow on the highway considerably, and these things would have wide public support. That's low-hanging fruit we can pluck to improve traffic congestion. We also have to continue working on purchasing the rail line and studying our options for that corridor. Establishing bus rapid transit lines along Soquel is also something that is sorely needed."

These detailed plans for the district, along with his experience working as director of the Santa Cruz AIDS Project and coordinator of the Santa Cruz Action Network, have gained Leopold respect from many local progressives. The Democratic Women's Club, the Monterey Bay Labor Council, County Treasurer Fred Keeley and longtime politico Mike Rotkin have all promised their support to Leopold's campaign. He's also gained the support of a number of school board members from Live Oak, Soquel and Santa Cruz school districts.

"These are the people I'm going to need to collaborate with to make a successful First District," says Leopold.

More Bills for U

As the tree sit continues, the university is racking up quite a bill. Additional guards, tree cleaning services, lawyer fees--the list of expenses goes on and on. And it just got a little longer. Jennifer 'Charles' Gobles and Oliver Schmid, two of the protesters, will collect expenses from UCSC now that they've successfully won a countersuit against the university. Attorney Mark Goldowitz, who represents Schmid, has filed for $53,402. Dana Scruggs, who represents Gobles, says he's going to file this week for about $21,000, though that figure could be subject to a multiplier.

And the defendants won't see a dime of it. All that money will go straight into the pockets of their legal defense unless they want to file another suit against the university.

The other seven defendants did not file the same motions as Schmid and Gobles, and the judge granted the injunction against them. Now, for the price of both its own lawyers and the lawyers of the two defendants, the university has the injunction.

This, added to the cost of Panther Security Services ($90,000), brings the university's expenses to about $165,000 at the very least, and that's not counting the costs of its own lawyers and of mutual aid from the Berkeley police.

The tree sitters are lodging in the trees in order to protest the campus' plans to build a biomedical facility. Their concerns include the environmental impact of construction, the possible addition of up to 4,500 students and the development of 120 acres by the year 2020. UCSC doesn't have an exact date for the development because it's in mediation with the city, the county and the Coalition for Limiting Campus Expansion; additionally, portions of the Environmental Impact Report were rejected in court.

The sitters--who the university says are not students and are trespassing--remain unnamed to this day, five months after the protest started, and their exact numbers are still unknown.

Full Press

It has often been said that any press is good press. Maybe the government scientists and politicos waging war against the infamous light brown apple moth (LBAM) will take this lesson to heart after their attempts to refute UCSC horticulturist Daniel Harder's report on the invasive pest only resulted in the Ph.D.-totin' scientist's feeling "tickled."

"To tell you the truth, I'm really surprised they even gave us this much attention," said Harder with a laugh. "As [UC-Davis entomologist] James Carey says, 'It's like shooting spitballs at a wall.' All they had to do was say this report wasn't relevant, sweep it under the rug and never mention my name again. So I'm really tickled that they're taking it so seriously and carefully reading what we say."

It does seem that both the USDA and CDFA perceive Harder's report--which essentially suggests the government is making too much of the LBAM's potential for destruction--as something of a menace. Not only did the government agencies call together scientists to crank out a seven-page response detailing specific counterclaims to the report, they also rang up Nūz and other media types for an hour-long conference call to explain their objections to Harder's recommendations. In case anyone missed the media blitz following the Harder report, here's a primer. Harder flew to New Zealand on an LBAM research trip earlier this year, and when he flew back to the States, he had a few ideas of his own on how to manage the LBAM question. These included further study of the effect of natural predators on controlling LBAM, use of insect growth regulators (similar to birth control) in nurseries and renegotiating the international trade agreements that got USDA into this mess in the first place.

Bob Dowell, who heads the LBAM program for the state, politely dismissed Harder's report as "wishful thinking." With statements like that falling off the lips of state ag officials, there is precious little evidence that the state or feds plan to modify their widely unpopular plan, even in the face of growing scientific and political resistance to the eradication goal. Dowell did his best to sidestep the question of policy changes, instead presenting the Harder report as a backroom dispute between scientists that shouldn't affect the state's plan to aerially spray pheromones over eight California counties.

"We appreciate the fact that Dr. Harder has allowed his report to be reviewed by all the scientists," said Dowell. "Oftentimes [scientists] read each other's reports and communicate in writing. We take what Dr. Harder has graciously put into writing and have had people review it and comment on it, pro and con."

Nūz was hard-pressed to track down the "pro" comments Dowell mentions. Harder, though, remains unfazed by the state's response and is putting his time into new research reports, including a soon-to-be released study of the relationship between LBAM and the state's agricultural crops.

"I'm not getting into a tit-for-tat over such minor criticisms of the report, which never focused on what the underlying argument was," says Harder. "I mean, they didn't use words like 'nonfactual' or 'inaccurate.' It was more like, 'Don't you know the moth can fly up to two kilometers?' It actually seemed like they were reading my paper as peer reviewers of a scientific study and helping me! I appreciate that kind of criticism."

So much for burying Harder and the anti-spray activists in an avalanche of scientific rebuttal. Like many actions taken by the state and feds to fight back against the citizen-driven effort to stop the aerial spraying slated for this June, this latest battle cry seems only to have strengthened the opposition. More evidence for this analysis plopped into Nūz's inbox less than 24 hours after the CDFA-initiated conference call. A.B. 2763, Assemblymember John Laird's bill to require a comprehensive listing system for all invasive pests at risk of entering California unanimously passed its first subcommittee hearing last week and now heads for the ag committee. It would require the state to document potential pests, pesticides that might be used against them and all human health or environmental effects that might follow from using those pesticides.

In related news, the California Alliance to Stop the Spray issued a report last week detailing the international human rights laws that would be violated by an aerial spray campaign. Among them: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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