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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

UCSC agrees to rein in growth, Santa Cruz Styrofoam ban takes effect, newly anointed (and official) congressional candidate Cindy Sheehan makes a beeline for Santa Cruz and the regional transportation commission gets a $14 million deal on railroad tracks Davenport to Watsonville. Cyclists, rejoice!

UCSC Gets a Clue

The Coalition to Limit University Expansion (CLUE) is doing a bit of showboating after a Superior Court judge ruled in its favor on a lawsuit contending that UCSC's plans for growth do not address issues like housing, water supply and transportation.

An agreement between UCSC, CLUE and 11 other people who had sued the school was hammered out late Monday night. Although the document falls short of addressing pollution issues and animal species endangerment, it has been dubbed a win by CLUE members, including executive board member Hal Levin.

"Essentially they had no choice, they had to settle. We sued and the court found in our favor," says Levin. "One thing to keep in mind is that we didn't give up our right to fight this in the future. In fact, we anticipate the need to sue again."

Under the agreement, the university will provide housing for 67 percent of new student enrollment--up from their original commitment of 50 percent. The school also agreed to pay traffic fees and work on better public transportation, pay extra water fees for the new buildings and have any new projects approved by the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission.

When all is said and done, however, the university is still expanding, they're just paying more money to do it. Nu_z has a feeling they'll pay plenty more by the time the first shovels hit ground.

No Foam Home

Santa Cruz officials are praying to the gods of biodegradable packaging that restaurants take the Aug. 12 ban on Styrofoam more seriously than their neighbors in Capitola.

The ban--approved in January by the City Council--prohibits any food provider from using Styrofoam and requires that all disposable food packaging be biodegradable, compostable or recyclable. "We're really hoping the community steps up and enforces the law themselves," says Public Works Operations Manager Mary Arman.

"We're not hiring extra staff to enforce the law, but we expect people to report on those who aren't complying, and then we'll try and work with them."

When it comes to enforcement in Santa Cruz, veteran Waste Reduction Manager Chris Moran will be responsible for contacting offenders and delivering citations if they don't comply.

Capitola banned Styrofoam in December of 2006, but got off to a bad start when the enforcement of the law fell to Lisa Murphy, a lone and overworked part-time city manager's assistant who couldn't keep up with the foam abusers. A loophole in the Capitola ban allowed businesses to keep using Styrofoam if a replacement product was too expensive.

Today, things are looking up, as the eight of the 12 Capitola restaurants that had ducked the law for the first year have now flushed foam in favor of biodegradable packaging.

"I think our system has gotten better and people are starting to comply when I ask them to," Murphy said. "There are still a few that aren't complying, but I'm trying to work with them and get them on track."

Arman says Santa Cruz has learned from Capitola's rough ride and will have a "no exceptions" policy on Styrofoam once the ban goes into effect. Some items like plastic lids and plastic utensils, which are scarce to find in eco-friendly form, however, are allowed under the law but may be axed by the city once a steady source of green alternatives is found.

Save Our Shores program coordinator Aleah Lawrence-Pine said the Santa Cruz ban is miles ahead of Capitola's and called it a "huge step" in the right direction.

"I think when you write a law that has a lot of loopholes in it, it sends the wrong message," she says. "[Santa Cruz's] ban shows that the city is serious, and I think people will realize that."

The law comes two months ahead of a countywide ban on Styrofoam that begins Oct. 8. And with Watsonville and Scotts Valley putting plans in the works to ban the toxic material as well, the latest rule should be an important step toward keeping Santa Cruz County the gorgeous strip of paradise it is.

Dustin MacDonald, chairman of the Santa Cruz chapter of Surfrider Foundation, told Nu_z that when the Capitola, Santa Cruz and Santa Cruz county bans combine, the effect will be much like summoning Captain Planet.

"Once all three bans are in effect they will be incredibly powerful," says MacDonald. "Polystyrene foam is the worst trash for near-shore environments, right behind cigarette butts, because they break into hundreds of little pieces and are extremely hard to clean up."

Fines for noncompliance begin at $100, and a list of local green product suppliers can be found at the city's website

Look Out, Madame Speaker

Cindy Sheehan's run for Congress is a long shot. She's challenging a longtime Democratic representative in a state where incumbents are rarely ousted, she's doing it from the left, and her opponent happens to be the Speaker of the House. Her war chest also happens to be about $300,000 compared to the incumbent's $2.3 million.

But the outspoken war critic's run against Rep. Nancy Pelosi got a big boost last week (not to mention the legal right to continue) when a small army of supporters turned out to gather the remaining signatures necessary for her campaign to meet the Aug. 8 deadline for qualifying for November's ballot.

"There's probably about 45 to 50 individuals out on the streets collecting signatures," said campaign spokesman Tom Silverman when Nu_z caught up with him on Thursday. "Our volunteer base is larger than that," he added. "And that's just in the area. We get a lot of calls from out of state."

As of Aug. 7, Sheehan supporters had gathered more than 13,000 signatures but were still about 400 short of the required 10,198 because many were "invalid," according to the complicated Federal Election Commission rules. Silverman explained, for example, that the signatures of registered voters who've moved since they first registered and put down the new address instead of the old one are considered invalid. That makes for an uphill battle, to say the least.

"We're seeing how interesting the system is," Silverman said dryly.

By the end of the day Friday, volunteers had added some 4,000 signatures to those already on record--enough to put Sheehan over the hump.

This week she comes to Santa Cruz to discuss her progressive platform, which includes the creation of a Department of Peace, universal health care, a national mass transit system, immigrant workers' rights and better funding for education.

CINDY SHEEHAN appears at a fundraiser sponsored by the Monterey County Green Party on Thursday, Aug. 14, at 7pm at the Vets Hall, 846 Front St., Santa Cruz. Sliding scale starting at $10.

Rail Mix

It was a big news week for the local two-wheel contingent. The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission took a baby step toward a Santa Cruz section of bike trail ringing the Monterey Bay when it put the word out for a consultant to help develop a master plan. And the commission and Union Pacific agreed in principle (the deal still has to be finalized) on a price of $14.3 million for the track that runs between Davenport and Watsonville. That's $5 million less than the last time they talked about it, when in 2004 the commission signed a letter of intent to purchase the track for the purpose of building passenger rail with accompanying biking/walking trail. That means Santa Cruz cyclists can finally shed the inferiority complex engendered by the Monterey Peninsula's spectacular bike path, which extends from Pacific Grove to Castroville along the old rail right of way (and in many places right along the shore).

Piet Canin, Ecology Action's man in transportation, acknowledges that creating a railside bike path will be a little trickier in Santa Cruz, where the 30-mile track passes over several bridges.

"Not 100 percent of that will be able to have a trail alongside the rail because the right of way isn't big enough," Canin says. "There will be points where the trail will have to deviate to other streets, so it won't be continuous. But if you look at the county right now, if a very, very conservative 50 percent of [the right of way] were for bikes, you'd have an amazing bike path."

Seaside cycling glory remains a ways off, as the hope is just for the purchase to happen by the end of this year. As for the passenger rail concept, nothing firm is in the works--just a few notions about tourist trains running between Aptos and Capitola. Canin opines that that's a good place to start.

"You can get into the game without committing yourself to some kind of grandiose scheme," he says.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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