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05.14.08

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Capitola liquor store owners rally against BevMo, the city and UCSC ponder ways to cut carbon emissions, the San Lorenzo Valley is on water restrictions again, a Santa Cruz woman dusts off an ancient form of building and Lower Pacific gets its very own planning party.

No-Chain Letters

At the start of this month, independent liquor stores in Capitola made the alarming discovery that the big corporate booze retailer, Beverages and More, wants to open its 82nd outlet in their town. The news launched a frantic campaign to keep BevMo at bay.

Tom Ragle and Aimee Hobson, owners of 41st Avenue Liquor, have been rallying the local alcohol merchants against the big-time hooch hawker since learning of BevMo's plans to move onto 41st Avenue. They're putting up petitions in their stores and creating an elaborate case against the chain in an attempt to convince the Capitola Planning Commission to keep BevMo out and maintain the flow of local booze.

Dennis Norton, a member of the Planning Commission, moved to approve BevMo's conditional use permit and dismissed independent vendors on May 1. One problem, Norton cites: it's not illegal to compete.

"We, the Planning Commission, don't have grounds to deny someone because they're giving competition," said Norton.

But Hobson argues that competition isn't the only issue. She says there are too many liquor stores in the area.

"First," she says, "according to [the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control], the census tract area 1217 allows for only seven off-sale licenses to sell alcohol. There are already 13 active off-sale licenses in this census tract. ... The population in that census tract has been declining, which makes this area even further overconcentrated."

Hobson says this overconcentration means the city would need to send BevMo a "convenience and necessity" letter stating that the new store would serve the public interest (and should therefore be exempt from ABC rules). Local owners are trying to squelch that letter with their petition.

"The major liquor stores and wine and spirit stores in the area are all in unison," Ragle said outside of last week's Capitola City Council meeting. "By this weekend, we hope to have petitions at every independent local wine and liquor store in the area."

Ragle and others are heartened by the efforts of independent stores in towns like Menlo Park, La Jolla and Burbank, where locals have successfully staved off BevMo. Ragle hopes Capitola can do the same.

Getting Warmer

It was a talk shop with a difference. Several dozen community leaders and environmentalists gathered in a second-floor room at UCSC on Friday, May 9, for a roundtable discussion on climate solutions convened by county Treasurer Fred Keeley and UCSC's STEPS Institute for Innovation in Environmental Research. And while participants floated the usual big ideas and sweeping analyses necessary for perspective, this meeting actually brought the matter down to earth as people suggested practical ways to lower the city's and university's carbon footprints.

Elizabeth Thompson, Climate Solutions program manager for Ecology Action, discussed ideas the city is considering to fulfill its end of the Climate Action Compact signed by the city, county and UCSC last fall. One is a local carbon offsets program that people would pay into, say, when they travel by air.

"What would it mean to capture those dollars and direct them locally?" Thompson asked. Funds could pay for solar panels to be installed on school buildings or wind generation. Another route the city is pursuing is a solar financing model based on Berkeley's, whereby residents get to bypass the huge up-front cost of installing solar by paying it off over 20 years as part of their property tax assessment.

UCSC environmental studies department chairman Daniel Press ran down the university's list of desired improvements. Inefficient devices, like old refrigerators and outmoded pool heaters, could be replaced. The university's co-generation plant needs attention; it could conceivably produce a quarter of UCSC's energy needs but currently doesn't and spews a lot of carbon besides. Press said solar panels could probably provide another quarter of the school's power needs.

Transportation, however, remains "the elephant in the room," in Thompson's words. Car trips to the university account for as much as 50,000 metric tons of CO2 pouring into the atmosphere, Press said, or a third of its carbon output. Air travel is proportionately costly.

"Stop flying everywhere," Press urged. "Our air travel could be 10 to 15 percent of carbon emissions. We need more use of teleconferencing."

Minutes after the conference ended, participants got a personal reminder of how hard it will be to solve the transportation piece. After riding the university shuttle down to the parking lot at Bay and High streets, the dozen or so occupants bade each other farewell, got into their cars and joined the streams of Westside rush hour traffic.

Thirsty Valley

Water gun wars, as critical as they are to any healthy childhood, should probably be put off in the San Lorenzo Valley this year. That goes for surprise water balloon barrages and slip-'n'-slide contests too. Water district officials are looking for a 20 percent reduction in water use and are asking residents from Boulder Creek to Scotts Valley to save water-intensive activities, like watering the lawn and washing the car, for the evening, if they must be done at all.

Once again, the San Lorenzo Valley Water District is short on water. Without any water storage devices (the Loch Lomond Reservoir serves Santa Cruz), the district is at the mercy of Nature's whim. "We depend completely on runoff from rain and groundwater that comes out of the underground aquifers," explains district manager James Mueller. "We take the surface water during the wintertime and early spring, and then we have to draw from the underground aquifers in the summertime, when there is a spike in demand from outdoor irrigation."

This pattern is usually pretty sustainable when rainfall is at the average rate of just over 60 inches per year, but when rainfall is below average, as it has been recently, conservation is the only way. In 2007, rainfall was at a paltry 55 percent of average; this year saw a slight increase to 70 percent of usual precipitation. Mueller predicts that a wet winter with sustained rainfall next year will allow his agency to lift the restrictions, but it's much too early to tell.

For now, Mueller is urging residents to get in the communal spirit and share this limited resource with neighbors, both human and animal.

"We try to encourage wise use of water, whether there are drought conditions or not. It's a limited resource," says Mueller. "We also have to remember we're sharing it with the rest of the environment, and while humans are part of that environment, there are other biotic parts of the ecosystem we need to share the water with."

The New Mud Hut

Most days, Claudine Desiree comes home from work, rolls up her pants and starts playing in the mud. First comes 2 1/2 buckets of clay-rich pondfill poured out onto a blue tarp. Then comes a bucket of sand and enough water to make a thick paste. Stomping and mixing with her bare feet, as if crushing grapes, Desiree works in a couple of handfuls of straw. A few minutes later she has a durable, sustainably derived, nontoxic building material: cob.

From the Old English word for "loaf," cob is an ancient substance that dries into a form as impenetrable as concrete. Think adobe, but piled on the foundation freestyle rather than cut into bricks. Desiree builds about a foot at a time, letting each layer dry before adding to it.

"You know the Slow Food movement?" she asks. "This is like slow building. And it's very therapeutic to work with the soil," she adds.

Through her new business, Sunflower Cob Building, Desiree wants to spread the joy of the cob. An upcoming two-part workshop (May 17-18 and June 21-22, $250 for both) will offer participants the chance to learn how to mix cob and practice building a hot tub and a lifesize playhouse. Desiree's first cob project, a Hobbitlike playhouse complete with fairy-tale wooden door, designs in relief and jewel-like ceramic inlays, stands as inspiration to the students. For information visit www.GlobalYogini.com or call 831.423.5204.

Love Your LoPa

The wharf, Pacific Avenue and the San Lorenzo Riverfront are all primo destination spots for gaggles of summer tourists and recreating local residents. Yet the area smack dab in the middle of this triad of fun and food--Lower Pacific--resembles a desolate ghost town more than a vibrant tourist locale.

Santa Cruz city officials are hoping to change that, but they need help. Time for a collective brainstorm.Carol Berg, Santa Cruz's housing and community development manager, wants to hear ideas big, small and zany, when she hands the planning process over to the citizenry during a May 21 workshop at the Louden Nelson Center. The workshop is part of the city's efforts to update its General Plan for the next couple decades. Berg promises that the Lower Pacific area is going to be one of the central spots for new housing developments, small shops and public improvements in the coming years.

"You drive through Lower Pacific and there's a real change of character from the rest of downtown," notes Berg. "There is a lot of opportunity down there for both housing and economic development. It can change the experience both residents and visitors have. It's really an exciting thing to be involved with and it's great that the public can participate."

Ideas on making the Riverfront more attractive will also be floated, with the hope that the area will eventually resemble waterfronts like the San Antonio River in Texas. On the San Antonio, shops open their doors onto the river, and well-lit walkways bordered by intricate landscaping make the area a destination in its own right.

"We have this incredible asset that we, as a city, have turned our back on," says Berg. "The idea is to look at what can be done to augment downtown."

The RIVER/FRONT AND LOWER PACIFIC WORKSHOP will be held Wednesday, May 21, at 6pm at the Louden Nelson Center, 301 Center St., Santa Cruz.


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