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08.29.07

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

County Wealth Gap Documented

Santa Cruz County's child poverty rate is rising faster than the state's as a whole, according to a new report on California's growing wealth gap.

The study by the Sacramento-based nonprofit California Budget Project, "A Generation of Widening Inequality," reported that 15.4 percent of Santa Cruz County kids were living below the federal poverty line in 2005, a 3.5 percent increase over 1989 figures. That might not seem like a huge leap, but in California overall the rate of kids living in poverty rose just 0.4 percent in the same period.

"Children who grow up in poverty generally have lower levels of educational attainment, and there are a number of adverse life outcomes associated with that," says Jean Ross, director of the California Budget Project. "That it did go up in Santa Cruz County more than in the state as a whole would be a reason to be concerned."

The good news is that in spite of its recent growth, the county's child poverty rate remains below the state level of 18.6 percent.

In fact, many of the study's indicators for Santa Cruz County suggest a picture of economic health, especially when compared to California as a whole. More than 38 percent of adults here hold a bachelor's degree (compared with 29.5 percent statewide); median income for a family of four is $91,000, well above the state figure of $70,000; and the 2005 median income for full-time working men and women was $53,000 and $45,000 respectively, compared with $45,000 and $37,000 statewide.

Ross described Santa Cruz County's outlook as "modestly better" than the rest of California's.

"Certainly, I would say on the economic well-being spectrum that Santa Cruz is by most measures better off than the state as a whole," she said, adding that Santa Cruz County does, however, have a slightly higher than average unemployment rate.

One indicator that would seem to spell trouble is the one that says 54.7 percent of adults with incomes below the poverty line work, meaning their wages are insufficient to keep them out of financial hardship. The figure is similar to Monterey County's, at 54.8 percent, and significantly higher than the state's (44.6 percent). But unlike our neighbor to the south with its large farmworker population, Santa Cruz County is likely experiencing the effect of a large student population that is not necessarily doomed to a lifetime of low-wage struggle.

"Many [students] do live on low incomes," says Ross, who happens to be a UCSC alumna, "but it's because they've decided to forego what they could be earning in exchange for pursuing their education."

In a sense, Santa Cruz County, with its highly educated populace at one end of the spectrum and its troubling growth in child poverty at the other, points to the future of California. "A Generation of Widening Inequality" tracks the growing wealth gap between those at the top of the socioeconomic scale and those at the bottom. Most significantly, it tracks the types of jobs that have been on the rise in California in the last two decades: low-wage jobs and high-wage jobs. Conspicuously dwindling, Ross says, are the middle-income jobs that facilitate social mobility, so the people doing low-wage work—the parents of those children growing up in poverty—can advance up the social ladder.

"If we don't have those jobs in the middle, it's like taking the middle rung out of the ladder, and you can't jump up the ladder, you need to move up step by step," Ross says. "So if you don't have those in the middle, we're concerned that people may become trapped in those lower-paying jobs."

Spying Program Shuttered

Thousands of American peace groups, anti-recruitment activists and GLBT organizations—including UCSC's Students Against War, which interfered so massively with on-campus recruitment activities in 2004 and 2005 that recruiters skipped attending in 2006—may have successfully shaken off secret Pentagon spying.

If, that is, the Defense Department's claim that it intends to shut down the particular domestic espionage program involved in the spying can be believed.

The DOD release, issued Aug. 21, claims that the TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notices) program, which had collected information on over 1,500 domestic actions and demonstrations, will retire its database on Sept. 17 and store it in the FBI's compilation of data known as Guardian.

TALON's long and twisted history began in 2002, when the U.S. Air Force (under ex–Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, now ex-president of the World Bank) launched a project to gather information about potential threats to U.S. military personnel and Defense Department civilian employees worldwide.

The agents saw threats everywhere—not only in demonstrations at military recruitment centers, but also in anti-recruitment marches on campuses and in gay groups' protests of the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, including kiss-ins near military recruiting tents.

By December 2005, widespread reports of determined official peeping, as well as several incidents of the same handful of people videotaping geographically distant demonstrations, led the mainstream media to start asking questions.

Soon thereafter, the Quakers' American Friends Service Committee—organizers of many a peace rally, and whose members fill such groups as the local Raging Grannies who recently confronted recruiters at their Capitola office—began protesting.

Simultaneously, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out who had been spied on, with a particular eye toward whether it or the Log Cabin Republicans, both of which had sued to end the Pentagon's anti-gay policy, had been targets.

When the DOD refused to answer Servicemembers' FOIA requests, the group sued in February 2006. The ACLU soon followed suit. That case, heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, yielded hundreds of pages of documents spilling the TALON secret: yes, it had spied on entirely legal activities for years.

DOD confessed it had "inappropriately" gathered intelligence and stored as many as 260 reports with no information pertinent to any threats to any defense personnel, uniformed or not, in the TALON database. It also claimed it had cleaned up the database, purging unnecessary information, but didn't say who had been targeted. Earlier this year, newly appointed Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced his intention to stop accreting new TALON data, spelling the beginning of the supposed end of the program.

Bob Fitch, a counselor with the Resource Center for Nonviolence's project G.I. Rights who has worked with plenty of anti-recruitment activists, including UCSC's Students Against War, has a strongly defined view of it all. "What this says to me is that they're renaming it something else. They'll disguise it with new camouflage and go on with their work of domestic spying.

"Consequently," observes Fitch, "it is we who must be constantly vigilant."

Westsiders Uneasy About Crime

Ah, West Cliff Drive. The sound of waves crashing on the shore, the birds and seals intermingling peacefully with surfers, the throngs of tourists awe-struck by the beautiful sights and sounds of the bay, and, of course, the quintessential gang of thieves looking for an easy mark.

It's a hard pill to swallow, but no seaside paradise is complete without an opportunistic few looking to make a quick buck through the time-honored tradition of strong-arming, and this town is no exception. Nuz received word via Santa Cruz Neighbors of a nighttime beating last week by five thieves, who allegedly chased down and assaulted three West Cliff residents after they refused to empty their pockets. While the victims were able to escape thanks to a passerby scaring off the muggers, the incident has Westside neighborhood groups worrying over what they believe is increasing crime in the area.

While members of Santa Cruz Neighbors were uncomfortable speaking publicly about the incident, Santa Cruz Police Department spokesman Zach Friend assured Nuz that no statistical increase has occurred over previous summers. He was quick to add, however, that statistics don't tell the whole story.

"Statistics don't show you the people associated with the numbers," he says. "I think that when violence happens in areas like West Cliff Drive, which are generally accepted as a location of safety by the community as a whole, it tends to have a greater impact on the community's psyche than if it were to happen in, let's say, downtown."

West Cliff also attracts more tourists and high school students during the summer season, leading to an overall spike in crime relative to the rest of the year, says Friend.

"If you're living through one of the peaks in a certain crime, it's going to seem more enhanced," he said. Increasingly predatory and overt tactics by thieves may also be leading to the perception that public safety has been compromised in the area. According to an email sent out to Westside neighborhood groups, thieves have been engaging their prey in parking lots by asking for directions, or posing other seemingly innocent questions to isolate victims.

Memories of last summer's particularly violent Westside crime spike, which included a drive-by shooting, may also be a factor in the response by neighborhood groups.

"That event catalyzed a lot of interest in public safety and community gathering in that area," says Friend. "That's wonderful, but you can more or less draw a flat line through the peaks and valleys of crime statistics over the last five years."

Track crime trends in your neighborhood under the 'crime statistics' heading at www.ci.santa-cruz.ca.us/pd/. To get involved in neighborhood safety visit www.santacruzneighbors.com.


Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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