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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Survey shows California voters shrug at props on May 19 ballot; Save Our Shores heads to San Francisco to sound off about offshore oil drilling; and students turn out when UCSC's Community Studies department goes on the chopping block.

Measure by Measure

Californians are unenthused about the propositions on offer in next month's super unsexy special election, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California. Though that's no surprise to District 27 Assemblyman Bill Monning--he's supporting all six propositions--it's pretty bad news all the same.

"It's clearly going to be an uphill battle," he says. "The simple statement is, if they fail, we're in a deeper hole faster."

After interviewing 2,004 state residents, PPIC found voters are divided on five of the props, with the clear favorite--81 percent would vote yes--being Prop. 1F, which would put a block on pay increases to state officials in years of a budget deficit. Prop. 1A, which Monning calls "critical," would change the budget process by boosting the state's "rainy day" fund, and garnered slightly more hypothetical "no" votes (46 percent) than "yes" votes (39 percent). The survey finds Prop. 1C also failing, with only 37 percent of voters supporting changes to the state lottery that would allow for $5 billion in borrowing from future lottery profits to balance next year's budget. And even in the wake of pink-slipping thousands of teachers statewide, Prop. 1B divided voters almost evenly, 44 percent yes, 41 percent no, on a measure that would require future infusions of cash to local school districts and community colleges to help them cope with shriveling budgets. Propositions 1D and 1E, which redirect money from children's health and mental health services, both squeaked by, according to the survey.

The very real possibility that the propositions will fail, despite the fact that the special election is an emergency response to the state's $40 billion budget gap, is something Monning sees as a kind of perfect storm of factors--including a badly wounded newspaper industry. "I think some of this is due to the decline of the fourth estate," he says. "And I think Californians are preoccupied by an unhealthy economy and trying to survive and they're maybe not learning about these ballot propositions."

He adds that while he understands that voters are unhappy about the prospect of increasing taxes and just sort of down on state government in general, "the alternative is worse. If people don't like it now, wait until we're asked to make another $20 billion in cuts. It's a bleak picture."

Monning says that though the turnout will likely be low, he remains hopeful that Californians will take the time to educate themselves on the propositions. "If the story can be told and the dots connected, people will do what's right," he says. "This is in the self-interest of all Californians."

Just When You Thought It Was Safe

Noticeably cheaper gas prices that have pleased car-dependent Americans have allowed the Obama administration to successfully postpone the last-minute decision by George W. Bush to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling. Ken Salazar, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, has held three national forums in which he has presented findings from updated studies on the costs and benefits of offshore drilling, then listened to citizen feedback. The final hearing is Thursday, April 16, at the University of California in San Francisco. It's the public's last chance to share their opinions on whether to drill, baby, drill or grow up and just say no.

"Oil drilling doesn't make sense because it is such a finite resource," says Laura Kasa, executive director of Save Our Shores, which was formed to keep oil derricks out of the bay 30 years ago. Kasa is expecting a couple hundred Santa Cruzans to appear in the name of SOS and other local environmental organizations at the UCSF hearing this week and is still looking for volunteers to wear jellyfish and sea anemone costumes that will call extra attention to her group.

The Santa Cruz chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, along with sending as many letters as they can to Salazar about how lethal oil spills are to our environment, plan to rally at noon the day of the forum "with demonstrators making speeches and waving signs ... a whole visual display," says Alexis Henry, Surfrider's communications manager.

A dominant concern regarding whether or not to continue oil production is America's falling employment rate. "Part of our job is to bring energy production back to the U.S., so that we can create jobs," Kasa says. She believes that everything from the research to the manual labor involved in producing alternative forms of energy will generate employment opportunities that will either match or surpass the number of oil jobs.

For those who can't make it but want to weigh in, written comments will be accepted through Sept. 21, 2009, when Salazar and company make a final decision on the matter.

OFFSHORE OIL DRILLING FORUM is Thursday, April 16, 8am-8pm at UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center, Robertson Auditorium, 1675 Owens St., San Francisco. RSVP to speak at [email protected]

Rally of Rallies

UCSC may have poked the wrong beehive when university leaders discussed cuts to its popular Community Studies program last week. Within hours of the news, a Facebook site had been created, meetings had been scheduled and a whole network of students and professors, trained to organize grassroots movements and fight for a common cause, had been unleashed upon the very institution that created it.

These efforts came to a head at the April 7 standing-room-only meeting at a UCSC classroom, where hundreds of students and a handful of community leaders assembled to strategize on how to save the threatened department.

"There are a lot of rumors going around right now, and in some cases you all may know more than we do about what's going on," said community studies chairperson B. Ruby Rich at the meeting. "We need to determine what the university's priorities are when making budget cuts, then we can argue for the merits of the department. It's critical that we are organized and effective in our response."

As if taking Rich's suggestions as course work assignments, students at the meeting launched a new website, organized a letter writing campaign targeting elected officials and broke off into "action groups" that will handle different roles in what is believed to be a long a bitter fight ahead.

The community studies program is one of UCSC's unique draws for students around the country and has been educating community organizers and non-profit professionals for more than 40 years. Though at times criticized as being an indoctrination system for leftist political views, the program is valued by dozens of local nonprofits, like the Santa Cruz AIDS Project, for providing interns who make up the majority of the organizations' staffs.

For more information on upcoming meetings and efforts to save the program visit the COALITION TO SAVE COMMUNITY STUDIES Facebook site at group.php?gid=150382125028#/group.php?gid=150382125028.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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