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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

UCSC College Republicans protest the beer tax, the San Lorenzo River gets some love, Palestinian ambassador Afif Safieh heads to the Monterey Bay and the CASS music video contest enters the homestretch.

No Taxation on Intoxication!

A laundry list of stereotypes about college students and Republicans came true last Friday in San Jose when the UCSC chapter of the California College Republicans teamed up with other Bay Area college-age right-wingers to protest a proposed beer tax.

The object of their ire: District 24 Assembly-man Jim Beall, who wants a 30-cent tax increase on every can or bottle of suds sold in the state. Beall, a member of the Assembly Select Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, says California's measly 2-cent beer tax is lower than other states' and needs revamping. The money would create a trust fund to help pay for alcohol-related health care, underage drinking prevention programs and other booze-related causes.

Turns out there's no better way to attract the fury of the California College Republicans, who love their beer just as much as they hate new taxes and will stop at nothing, even allying themselves with "the poor," in order to make their case cheaper.

"It's a 1,500 percent increase on a tax that will affect college students," said UCSC student Kaitlyn Shimmin, who organized the event on Facebook. "It's a regressive tax that will hurt poor people the most. It's not a democratic position to take on a new tax for poor college students."

Things came to a head when the "poor college students" took to the streets in front of Beall's downtown San Jose office. UCSF student Leigh Wolf, the ringleader of the protest, wore khaki shorts and a striped polo shirt while shouting into a megaphone at passing cars.

"Well, look who decided to show his face," boomed Wolf over the megaphone as Beall came out of his office to confront the protest. "That's ballsy, that's ballsy."

Beall crossed the street to where Wolf was standing and asked him why the crowd was protesting in front of his office.

"We oppose the beer tax. It's wrong," said Wolf, lowering the microphone. "It's going to affect us like you wouldn't believe, and I know you probably think this is just the funniest thing in the world--here's these college students opposing the beer tax--but I tell you what, sir, I tell you what. That's a lot of money to a college student."

Wolf asked Beall what he did for fun when he was in college.

"I worked hard, I had a job all the time," said Beall.

"Well, so do we," Wolf replied. "So I don't understand why you want to tax the one thing we enjoy. I enjoy beer. And you're making it almost impossible to enjoy it the way we like to enjoy it."

"Well, good," said Beall. "How do you think we should balance the state budget?"

"Uh, cutting spending?" said Wolf.

Wolf continued to shout about Democrats and taxes until Beall went back indoors, at which point the protest followed him into his office. There, Wolf repeatedly compared himself and the protesters to the Sons of Liberty, who planned the building of the nation while drinking in taverns. Beall listened to what he had to say, interrupting to mention statistics on fetal alcohol syndrome and alcohol-related crimes, before dismissing him.

Wolf said he wanted the proposal to die a "quick and painful death" and vowed to return if it seemed like Beall's tax was making progress. Then he invited the protesters to go drinking with him, and all went down the street to Gordon Biersch.

Rolling on the River

Two new riverside projects that got the go-ahead last week represent a significant step forward in the decades-long struggle to transform the San Lorenzo River from a crime-riddled byway into a focal point of the city, a la the Danube, the Seine and other great urban rivers of Europe.

First up: a long-awaited bike and pedestrian bridge that will run parallel to Highway 1, connecting Felker Street off Ocean with Gateway Plaza on River Street. The bridge project was almost scrapped due to skyrocketing steel and concrete prices, but by making a few adjustments, River Committee staffer Tina Shull was able to ensure the bridge will be built without breaking the bank.

For River Committee chairman David Carlson, the new bridge will not only help travelers make their way between the west and east ends of town without having to dodge the big rigs that routinely travel along the overpass but it will also attract people to the river by offering an enhanced recreational experience.

"It will complete an approximately five-mile bike and walking trail loop in the middle of downtown Santa Cruz for people to walk, bike, stroll and wheelchair," he says. "It will get people more engaged with the river."

The council also approved a 21-unit condominium development along the river's edge on Lindberg Street, a one-block road jutting off River Street by Outdoor World. In a key distinction from past projects, the condos are oriented toward--not away from--the river. It's the kind of project that Carlson, who also works in the county Planning Department, has been dreaming of for years.

"One of the main goals of the Urban River Plan is to integrate the river way with the surrounding neighborhoods," explains Carlson. "There should be an atmosphere of inclusion. The Lindberg development was designed to take advantage of this amenity, instead of turning its back to it. This way someone on the river is standing before someone's home, instead of hiding behind it."

Next up in the plan to make the mighty San Lorenzo an asset: a walking path under Highway 1 to the Tannery Arts Center and an upgrade to the trestle bridge linking the Boardwalk to East Cliff Drive at the mouth of the river. The list of ideas goes on and on. Stepping back and looking at the big picture, Carlson is optimistic that the new developments represent a shifting public perception.

"Activating the river way will bring people to it on a deeper level, seeing it as a natural, life-sustaining entity instead of just a drainage ditch or a flood control channel," says Carlson. "We're not going to bring back people fishing for salmon in the river, but we still need to get back to that connection to the river as a positive part of our lives."

Et Cetera

Two don't-miss events come our way this week. First is the April 30 visit to the Monterey Bay by Afif Safieh, the outgoing Palestinian ambassador to the United States. The moderate Safieh, a member of Jerusalem's Arab Christian minority, serves the Palestine Liberation Organization and is an appointee of President Mahmoud Abbas (not Hamas). He leaves his post in Washington soon for a new assignment in Moscow. Safieh speaks at 4pm this afternoon at Irvine Auditorium, 460 Pierce St., Monterey; and at 7:30pm at the United Methodist Church, 250 California St., Santa Cruz ($8-$15 donation suggested).

Second is the last chance to vote on LBAM Idol! After the April 24 ruling by Judge Paul Burdick requiring state officials to complete an environmental review before spraying again, the folks at the California Alliance to Stop the Spray are ready to party. And to what will they party? You decide.

Three videos about moth spray (and contrails and government testing and probably aliens if you listen long enough) are posted at Vote for your favorite by May 3 and be a part of the movement.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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