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06.25.08

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Save Our Shores rallies against offshore oil rigs (again), Tony Madrigal pares down dreams for Santa Cruz-wide wi-fi coverage and Scotts Valley prepares to nix Styrofoam.

They Know the Drill

One might think this president incapable of surprising anyone with the breadth and quantity of his bad ideas. But hope springs eternal, and with this administration, that means disappointment does too. And so it was that Laura Kasa, executive director of Save Our Shores, found herself blindsided by President Bush's June 18 speech asking Congress to lift a 1981 ban on offshore oil drilling.

"I thought that battle was over!" she exclaimed two days later over cold drinks at a downtown coffee shop.

No one in the conservation community saw it coming, Kasa said. Nevertheless, Save Our Shores immediately launched a petition drive, asking its 1,200 members to write to select members of the Appropriations Committee urging them to ignore this particular bad idea. Surfrider Foundation also has a petition on its website.

While oil rigs would be off-limits for much of the California coast, thanks to protection afforded by national marine sanctuary status (and a population that vehemently opposes ocean oil exploration), Kasa said the Gulf states appear vulnerable, especially Florida. Even if it were left up to each state to decide whether or not to allow offshore rigs, oil pollution doesn't recognize boundaries. "If Alabama decided, 'Let's go for it,' that would affect Florida," she said.

Most shocking to Kasa was the utter backwardness of proposing ocean oil drilling at a time when the environmental cost of running on petroleum is so devastatingly obvious. "Our feeling is if this had happened five years ago, people might be thinking about it. But in the last two years we've all started thinking about how to get off oil," she said. "It would be 10 to 20 years before we even began to see a drop in prices. By then, we should all be on solar power!"

Find petitions against offshore oil drilling at http://saveourshores.org and www.surfrider.org.

And Access for All

Santa Cruz will be taking another step into the 21st century if Tony Madrigal, the City Council's resident technophile, has his way. Madrigal is cooking up plans to blanket the entire downtown corridor and Main Beach areas with free wireless Internet service in the next couple of years. The plan is still in its early stages, but Madrigal is confident he can garner enough grassroots support by the end of this year to convince his fellow councilmembers the idea would be a winner.

"I've been a supporter of free citywide WiFi for a long time now. I feel it's one of the things that can help bridge the digital divide and boost our local economy," says Madrigal. "[But], now a lot of cities are bowing out of plans to offer free, citywide wireless because the business model they were using, which relied a lot on advertising, wasn't working. So I realized it wasn't viable to do it throughout the whole city. Instead, I thought maybe we could target areas that the city would like to attract visitors to."

So far Madrigal has pitched the idea to the Downtown Association and the Visitors Council. Those two organizations were supportive in principle, but wanted to know all the details before making a final decision. Madrigal also has an excited partner in Don Fredrickson, who owns Santa Cruz-based Got.net Internet services. Fredrickson has begun drawing up initial designs for the project and thinks it can be done with very low monthly costs.

"I'm not really trying to build this as a money-maker," says Fredrickson, whose company also provides free wireless to City Hall. He adds, with refreshing bluntness, "It's more of a PR vehicle."

Of course, the council would have to approve any plans. Madrigal is hoping he can have a comprehensive proposal ready for consideration by the end of this year. There is also the not-so-trivial issue of startup costs, which could run anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 to cover Main Beach, Front Street, Pacific Avenue and Cedar Street. Money problems have caused many free citywide wireless dreams across the nation to fall to dust, including a proposal by the Silicon Valley Joint Ventures Group to blanket most of the Bay Area with free wireless. The city of Santa Cruz was planning on joining that network, but the group's plans have now been downgraded to covering only downtown San Carlos. Ouch.

These high up-front costs are one reason the whole city isn't being targeted this time around. As for the remaining expense, Fredrickson is hopeful local businesses might be willing to chip in if the network's sign-in page featured their advertisements. "There's also the possibility of companies getting a substantial amount of press on this," predicts Fredrickson. "Especially if we play with the whole 'Surf City' thing."

Got.net wants to know what you think about free wireless in Santa Cruz. Email compliments, hate mail and ideas to wifi@got.net.

Foam-Free in SV

Sometimes seeing is believing. It only took a short walk down the beach at Aņo Nuevo for Scotts Valley City Councilmember Cliff Barrett to become convinced that something must be done to combat polystyrene waste.

"I could not believe the debris that was along this area that these animals were trying to live in," says Barrett. "The styrofoam was just broken into little chunks all over the place. It was quite an eye-opening experience for me."

Now Barrett wants to follow the lead taken by the city of Capitola and the city and county of Santa Cruz and ban the cheap but environmentally harmful product from Scotts Valley restaurants. On Wednesday, June 18, Barrett put his idea to the council and the local Chamber of Commerce. Surprisingly, all the councilmembers and the Chamber seemed supportive. The ban hasn't been officially approved yet, but there's little doubt the council will approve the ordinance once it's drafted. The only condition added was a six-month grace period, which would allow noncomplying restaurants to clear out old polystyrene-based inventory.

Nu_z suspects the Scotts Valley council was able to fall in line behind this proposal with such vigor since the rest of the county, excluding Watsonville, has already instituted some form of polystyrene ban. In Scotts Valley, this means that most of the area's restaurants have already begun switching over, reacting both to pressure from customers and the seeming inevitability of a countywide ban. No one wants to be the odd city out, after all. Sharolynn Ullestad, executive director of the Scotts Valley Chamber of Commerce, expressed her organization's wholehearted support for a future ordinance, despite the fact her members may have to pay a bit more for paper or cornstarch-based takeout containers and cutlery.

"I took this to our members, and a lot of restaurants are already making this change," says Ullestad. "They've been feeling like they need to. It's the right thing to do. As long as there is a grace period, I think everyone is all for it and we're very supportive."


Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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