News, music, movies & restaurants from the editors of the Silicon Valley's #1 weekly newspaper.
Serving San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Fremont & nearby cities.


home | metro santa cruz index | columns | nūz

Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Blumenthal is crowned UCSC's nerd in chief, the state shakes loose a few million for small but important local water projects and Nuz learns the importance of phthalate-free sex toys.

Chief Blumenthal

The June 6 inauguration of astrophysicist George Blumenthal as UC-Santa Cruz's 10th chancellor marked a great day for nerds everywhere, and a downright historic day for campus faculty. Not only has Blumenthal spent the better part of his professional life hunkered beneath a telescope pondering the nature of the universe on weekend nights while the English majors explored cheap whiskey, he's also the first permanent UCSC chancellor to have also served as faculty member. His experience as a UCSC astronomy prof, from 1972 until 2005, and his position as chair of the Academic Senate, from 2004 to 2005, have made him one of the more popular chancellors among the school's teachers.The only other UCSC chancellor to be selected from the ranks of the faculty was Martin Chemers, but he served in an interim role and held the position for less than a year before being replaced by Denice Denton in 2005.

At Blumenthal's inauguration last Friday, his deep roots at the school were widely celebrated. District 27 Assemblyman John Laird, himself a UCSC alum and longtime university watcher, guessed that Blumenthal had more knowledge of the complexity of the issues facing UCSC than any other previous chancellor.

And indeed, faculty support for Blumenthal, who has been acting chancellor since July 2006, seems strong. With UCSC's famously outspoken professors, this isn't always the case. Michael Brown, current chair of the Academic Senate, seemed pleased to have a peer in driver's seat.

"We trust him because we know he's one of us," said Brown.

Relations between chancellor and faculty haven't always been so warm. Previous leaders parachuted in from other schools in the UC system, or even from out of state. This meant the new chief would often step into Santa Cruz's unique political minefield without a complete understanding of the landscape. UCSC's structure of shared governance, in which administrators and faculty both share decision-making powers, also tripped up many former chancellors, who were often tempted to make unilateral decisions without faculty consultation. Blumenthal's experience in the Academic Senate makes him less likely to make rash decisions--at least not without getting faculty involved in the foolishness first.

Nūz is always wary of predicting the future, but it's probably safe to say one of Blumenthal's greatest challenges will be balancing the history of UCSC as a school catering to undergraduates with the economic need to expand graduate programs. He has been handed a mandate from previous administrations to increase the graduate population to 15 percent of the student body. It currently hovers around 10 percent. He also plans to move forward on constructing more research laboratories, including the controversial biomedical sciences building. Nūz caught up with Blumenthal after the ceremony and asked him how he planned to increase research activity and graduate studies without leaving undergraduate programs in the dust.

"UCSC's historic mission has been defined by undergraduate education and I think we do a great job of that," he said. "However, we also have a responsibility to drive forward California's economy. I think, in the end, bringing top-level researchers and having a strong graduate population will enhance the entire educational experience for everyone."

This sounds great on paper, but cuts to language and journalism classes announced under Denton's reign attracted sizeable protests, and last year UCSC Extension axed its humanities offerings, to some grumbling. As campus priorities continue to shift from the humanities to scientific research programs that attract outside funding, more cuts and protests are sure to follow. The university's Long Range Development Plan, which calls for an expansion of 3.2 million square feet to accommodate a state-mandated enrollment increase of over 4,000 new students, is also guaranteed to supply Blumenthal with fireworks. Inaugurations are not traditionally times when the finer points of controversy are addressed (though AFSCME protesters were, as always, on hand). Friday's ceremony was celebrating a historic moment for UCSC--a moment when a studious astrophysics professor with over 30 years of teaching experience officially emerged from his small research lab to take the reins of a rapidly changing university.

Watershed Moment

Lots of money--$12.5 million, to be precise--is pouring into local water projects, and it couldn't have come at a better time. The ceremony awarding the money to local projects took place last week, the day after Gov. Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought. And the Santa Cruz Water Department has recently prophesied that Santa Cruz will be unable to meet its water needs in the next decade even if that drought disappears. The minor windfall will benefit a phalanx of 16 projects that banded together under the umbrella of the Integrated Regional Water Management Plan to grab the attention of the state. It worked. The state originally gave the collective $25 million from Prop. 50 funds--$3.4 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2002 for water security--but cut it in half because of the budget shortfall.Most of the projects are restorative or preventative in nature. There's money to replace old sewer lines, monitor groundwater wells and help Davenport residents build a water processing plant so they won't need to boil the tap water in the winter when their water tables get low--all good things.

As for Santa Cruz, $611,000 of the $12.5 million pot is going to pay UCSC scientists, engineers and other researchers to perform an evaluation of the intake system of the Soquel Water District's pilot desalination plant.

Bill Cocher, head of the Santa Cruz Water Department, explained that the reason for caring about the intake is simple: a larger plant's intake and discharge pipes might be damaging the bay by sucking up marine wildlife or increasing the salinity of water at the discharge point; naturally, those effects need to be studied before the experimental pilot program becomes less experimental. "We all know there are some issues that need to be solved and that's what we're all about right now, trying to resolve those questions," said Cocher. "Can we adequately mitigate those issues; can we minimize impact to the marine environment? Can we deal with the brine concentration? Can we do this without producing too much carbon?"

Right now the pilot desalination plant is producing only 50 gallons of fresh water a minute--just a little more water than three garden hoses running constantly. Cocher said a larger plant could help supplement our water supply, but only if it doesn't hurt the environment. He expressed confidence in the potential for solutions. "We're going to hang in there and knock these things off one by one. There are a lot of things that we've got to try to solve here, and if we can't mitigate something then we're going to take a step back and look at whether or not that's what we can do. I have no reason to believe that we can't work these things out."

Funding for the desal study comes with the condition that the findings be made public so the information can be shared in places like Los Angeles and Marin County, where desalination plants have been proposed, but have halted in their tracks over environmental concerns. This study aims to fill that gap, and if the state gets any drier, it might come in handy.

Cedar Street Blue

A hop, skip and a jump away from the central branch of the Santa Cruz Library, the soon-to-be-open Pure Pleasure storefront has begun raising eyebrows, among other things. Counting Luscious, Camouflage and Frenchy's Cruzin Books and Video, Pure Pleasure's arrival makes the fourth adult store in less than a 5-mile radius. But Nūz wonders if Pure Pleasure offers something that whets our sexual appetite like none other, or is it sexual overkill?

Luscious has you covered when it comes to lingerie, Camouflage ups the ante by adding sex toys, condoms and lube, while Frenchy's pours on the porn. Pure Pleasure co-owner Amy Baldwin promises something more.

"We're very selective about what we'll sell to our customers. We're an upscale shop that sells high quality products. ... We won't sell any toys that are made with phthalates, we'll only sell nontoxic toys," said Baldwin.

"Phthalates"? Now that's a mouthful, even for a sex toy. Pronounced "thal-ates," these chemicals act as softeners in beaucoup plastic items, including dildos, and they're thought to be toxic. Pure Pleasure is taking no chances with your special parts.

Baldwin describes Pure Pleasure as the only store in town that can call itself sex-positive. "We don't discriminate against any gender or sexual preferences. The store is welcoming, nonjudgmental and has something for everyone. The whole idea is all consensual sex is good sex."

And what do the neighbors think of a sex shop moving in next door?

There have been some concerned citizens, Baldwin says. While the overwhelming majority is excited, Baldwin says about 10 percent of people are concerned over the placement of the store next to the library. "They say, 'I can't believe you're next to the library! What about the kids?' But we're going to have frosted windows and kids can't see in or walk in. [Our storefront] doesn't say sex anywhere. ... There's no way a child walking by is going to be harmed by our store."

Such a family-friendly attitude may seem odd for a sex shop, but the description is truer than you may think. Baldwin co-owns the store with her mother, Janis Baldwin, and her mother's fiance, Robert Dayton. "People think it's creepy or weird, but it's really not," Amy explained.

Pure Pleasure seems an appealing option for those who find Luscious or Camouflage too mellow and Frenchy's too wild, but only the grand opening this Friday will reveal if the hype satisfies Nūz. Till then, we'll just have to use our imagination.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

Send a letter to the editor about this story.