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07.02.08

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Clueless anarchists strike green business, the County Supes try to patch up the hole in the human services budget and the Delaware Ave. project lumbers over its first hurdle.

A Rebel With Logical Flaws

Lydia Corser, owner of local sustainability shop GreenSpace, got a rude awakening in the middle of the night on Monday, June 16. It was two in the morning and the alarm company was on the phone. Someone had broken the window of her Soquel Avenue store.

The news came as a depressing shock to Corser, who's been working for the past year and a half to build the store's reputation and pay off the mountains of debt needed to get the shop off the ground.

"It was very dramatic," says Corser. "There was a huge hole in the window and glass was scattered everywhere. There was a rock in the crib and glass all over the baby section of the store."

Surprisingly, there were no items missing. It wasn't a robbery. Corser later discovered that a self-described anarchist posting on the website Indybay.org had claimed responsibility for the act of vandalism, claiming it was a protest against corporate green washing, or, more specifically, "the lie that there is such a thing as sustainable industry."

There was more bad news for Corser. Her insurance policy didn't cover broken windows, so she had to pay $1,000 out of her own pocket for the replacement--and throw away the baby clothes. It wouldn't do to sell shard-spiked organic cotton togs for the small fry.

This act of vandalism went a bit too far for some of the other "anarchists" posting on Indybay, who have admitted to engaging in their own streak of vandalism against ATMs and security cameras at UCSC in the past few months.

Someone posting on the website as better anarchist wrote, "This window smashing honestly serves no purpose other than to point out those who did it are foolish and uneducated."

Corser is even more passionate in her rebuttal of the idea that just because she's selling something she's harming the environment.

"I've devoted my entire adult life to environmental causes," she says. "I've understood the importance of taking care of our planet well before it was fashionable. I'm putting my whole life on the line here, including my house and my children's college education, and it's not to get rich. I've turned down I don't know how many offers to franchise because I want to stay a small local business that can be a pillar of our community."Nu_z has only one question: Was the rock black or green?

Supes Ease Cuts for Neediest

The social safety net for county residents has been patched in important areas, but gaping holes remain. After sitting through 11 hours of emotional testimony over two weeks, the Board of Supervisors agreed on June 26 to restore $2 million of the $13.8 million in cuts proposed for health and human services in the 2009 fiscal year budget.

Most of this restored funding will be channeled to 50 social service nonprofits that contract with the county, including four residential programs for the mentally ill that would have been shuttered this summer without financial assistance.

District 3 Supervisor Neal Coonerty admits that the hundreds of social service workers and clients who took the floor during budget hearings tugged at his heartstrings.

"There were a number of people from the community who came and spoke to the board about how important these services were," says Coonerty. "There were a lot of clients whose lives were changed by these services."

The supervisors cobbled together the money by putting off $600,000 in road repairs for another year, cutting about $300,000 from a technology capital fund and successfully capitalizing on an obscure rule change that allows the county to receive more mental health funds from the state. For Coonerty and other supervisors, this was money well spent; nonprofits can often use money generated locally to attract funding from state or federal grant programs.

"If we give these community programs funds, they'll be able to go out and use that money to raise funds elsewhere," says Coonerty.

However, all is not rosy. The Health and Human Services agencies will still have substantial slices taken out of their budgets and workforce. Rama Khalsa, who directs the County's Health Services Agency, is facing a $7 million cut, or 5 percent of her budget, and a loss of 116 positions--nearly 20 percent of her workforce. Mental Health Services will be hardest hit, with 72 fewer case managers and therapists available this year. Khalsa also predicts fewer resources will be directed toward prevention programs and HIV outreach services.

Meanwhile, the Human Services Agency is bracing for what agency analyst Linda Kerner calls "one of the worst budgets we've seen for some time." The agency, which reaches out to the homeless, the elderly and at-risk youth, will lose $4.9 million and 71 employees--13 percent of its workforce. Kerner is especially saddened to see a recently completed six-year plan to improve children's welfare programs halted in its tracks due to a dearth of funding. Yet, she emphasizes all county social services will be feeling the pinch.

"The budget reductions will impact all of our programs; it is agencywide," says Kerner. "This is also coming at a time when more people are coming to us needing food stamps and health insurance due to the downturn in the economy. These cuts will translate into longer wait times for this growing list of clients. We've been forced to focus strictly on mandated services, and of course we'll continue offering those services, but it may take longer to process applications and get people the help they need."

These tough cuts may only be a hint of what's to come. The state is awash in over $15 billion of red ink, and deep cuts to health and human services are on the table as part of ongoing bipartisan negotiations. Things could definitely get worse.

"We're still waiting for the other shoe to drop," says Kerner.

Planners Give Delaware Avenue the Nod

The mixed-use industrial park proposed for 2120 Delaware Avenue seems poised to transform Santa Cruz's Westside in a way not seen since the University set up shop in 1965, and not everyone's happy about it.

The city's Planning Commission unanimously and enthusiastically approved the project in front of a packed house at its Thursday, June 26, meeting, even as neighbors strongly objected to its impact to local traffic flow and water availability.

The development, one of the largest in Santa Cruz history, still has some hurdles to face. The project will have to get a final green light from the City Council on July 22, and building permits will have to be approved before the actual construction can begin. But the Planning Commission was very happy with the overall plan.

The design proposal submitted by Redtree Properties fits in snugly with the city's new General Plan, which will regulate city growth until 2030. This won't be grandpa's industrial park. If everything goes as planned, there will be a total of 26 buildings built over 15 years. These buildings, upon completion, would provide 145 spaces for small or medium-size businesses on the ground floor, while providing up to 161 residential condos on the second and third floors. Planning commissioners put the stamp of approval on this sizeable project because it will fulfill the twin General Plan goals of instituting New Urbanism principles into the city's future development and making it easier for small business owners to set up shop within the city.

The commissioners also hailed the project as a way to adapt to an industrial landscape that is shifting from large and labor-intensive production line factories to smaller light-manufacturing and design firms. This element of the project especially pleased Commissioner David Foster.

"Industrial uses leaving our communities has created a vacuum effect that [in other cities] is too often filled by big box stores," says Foster. "This means small businesses are often no longer viable. I think this kind of project could make it easier for local small businesses in Santa Cruz to get established and grow with their needs."

Not everyone was quite as excited. A number of neighbors spoke out against the proposal as it is currently drawn up, citing concerns that the project would be too big, suck up too much of the city's scarce water and generate too much traffic. This isn't the standard case of NIMBYism--the concerns of the neighbors are very real. First is the fact that the project would generate over 5,000 new car trips along the already congested Mission, Swift and Delaware streets. But that's not the worst of it. This project, when lumped together with all the other projects being planned around town, could use up so much water that the city would run out of supplies by 2015. These concerns caused many in the public, including Reed Searle of Santa Cruzans for Responsible Planning, to call for the project to be reduced in size and scope.

"This is one of the biggest developments in the history of Santa Cruz," says Searle. "There has been very little attention paid to the detriment to the traffic situation and the environment from having 5,000 new car trips."

Commissioners weren't buying it. They pointed out that the increased traffic would be generated over 15 years, not all at once, and that the scarcity of water available to the city was not something specific to this project. That, commissioners argued, is a citywide problem.

The next stop for the project is the July 22 meeting of the City Council, where a vigorous discussion of Santa Cruz's future is sure to take place.


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