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09.12.07

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Hookah ordinance; Coastal Cleanup Day; details on UCSC growth decision; UCSC Extension cuts arts and humanities department; urban garden runoff.

Smoke Alarm

The smoke floats from the pursed lips of a young woman and winds along a red backdrop before disappearing into the distance. The advertisement for Giza, the new hookah lounge slated to open soon at 1515 Mission St., greets edgy motorists waiting at the stoplight at Bay with the suggestion of hip relaxation, the art of being sexy without trying.

For Santa Cruz Planning Commissioner Judy Warner, it's a little too sexy to be located right next to an elementary school, so she's taken the first step toward making it illegal. At last week's Planning Commission meeting, Warner directed Assistant Director of Planning Alex Khoury to draft a proposed ordinance that would regulate the distance hookah lounges can be located from schools, parks, day-care centers and other establishments frequented by the under-18 set.

"I've been hearing from concerned parents and teachers from Bayview School worried about exposing kids to the stimulus to smoke in whatever form," says Warner. " [The mural] is advertising and glamorizes smoking."

City officials are scrambling to determine what codes are used to regulate hookah parlors. Officials hardly had to worry about this class of business before this year, when three hookah lounges were proposed for Santa Cruz. Madani's Hookah Lounge on North Pacific is the only one currently open. A lounge on Laurel Street between the teen center and the Saturn Café is still being remodeled.

A message left with Giza's owners was unanswered by presstime.

Khoury was doubtful anything could be done to force the owner to change the mural or Giza's location, but said an ordinance could ensure that smoking parlors would be a safe distance from schools in the future. "We already have distance requirements for high-risk alcohol uses for schools, so that may be a template we'll use or not use," says Khoury. "We also might see how the state regulates hookah establishments and what other cities are doing with hookahs."

Santa Cruz municipal code currently requires high-risk alcohol outlets to be 600 feet from any school, drug rehab clinic, park or hospital.

"Only a few years ago everybody smoked and it was OK," says Warner. "It was even OK in restaurants. The more we know about smoking, the more concerned we are that we don't pass on to the next generation the idea that smoking is glamorous."

Coastal Cleanup Call

It's time for the annual post-summer beach-tidying drive. California Coastal Cleanup Day is this Saturday, Sept. 15. The big push to clean our shores of cigarette butts (which account for 40 percent of the annual garbage haul), plastic bottles and other debris runs from 9am to noon at sites around the state. Locally, volunteers are meeting at 39 sites, including San Lorenzo River at the Water Street Bridge or the Laurel Street Bridge, the Garden of Eden on the upper San Lorenzo, Cowell Beach, Seacliff State Beach, River Park on the Pajaro River in Watsonville, Struve Slough in Watsonville and Sunset State Beach.

Over 12 million pounds of debris from our state's shorelines have been removed since the program began in 1985, making Coastal Cleanup Day the leading single-day cleanup event in the nation. Combined with the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup, it's a world-class cleanse.

For a complete list of places to meet in Santa Cruz County (including a list of traditionally underserved, overly trashed sites), visit www.saveourshores.org or contact Aleah Lawrence-Pine at 831.462.5660.

UCSC Plan Slammed

"I can throw out enough here to make everybody unhappy."

That's perhaps the most telling comment Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick made in his ruling of Aug. 28, in which he delivered the city of Santa Cruz and its allies a mixed victory over UCSC's Regents and their Long Range Development Plan's EIR.

And while Burdick was talking about the number of mediators he could cite to bring in and end the dispute, he did indeed throw out most of both parties' cases, in a ruling seething with impatience over the gridlocked dispute between town and gown.

You, the judge told the plaintiffs—meaning the city, county and Westside resident Don Stevens—"are going to have to accept the fact that there is a statutory mandate for the University to grow" that falls under the state education code.

"And the Regents," Burdick lectured, turning to the defendants, "are going to have to accept that the city has the right to insist that the Regents participate [and] pay their fair share of all the demands on the infrastructure."

Having told both sides to behave, Burdick then began cutting both the city's complaints and the university's defenses down to size.

First, hacking away at the plaintiff's case, Burdick ruled that there was "no merit in their contentions as it relates to impacts on esthetics, air quality, biological resources, wildlife and wildlife habitat, drainage, hydrology, noise. I find that there's no deficiency in the EIR on those issues."

Second, the judge noted in no uncertain terms that the university is not required to redo its long-term growth plans because city residents have changed mood since inviting a significant campus (even then, in some early documents, estimated to grow to 27,500) in the early 1960s. "The Regents," he ruled, are "not lawfully required to consider shifting enrollment growth to other campuses."

And because those issues—from esthetics to growth-shifting—had been the bases on which Stevens and the anti-university group Coalition to Limit University Expansion (CLUE) had filed numerous complaints against specific construction plans on campus, Burdick's ruling on those removed dozens of platforms from which Westside neighbors might continue to threaten to sue.

But then, turning to the other side, Burdick administered the Regents the cut the city had hoped for: UCSC had, "in adopting the 2005 long-range development plan and in certifying its environmental impact report," not just been sloppy, but had "committed a prejudicial abuse of discretion" in claiming that no serious impacts existed in several growth-related matters when in fact they very much do.

First, Burdick cited the ever-present issue of the water supply. In relying on the city's proto-plans for a desalination plant that might or might not ever be built, Burdick ruled that UCSC is depending on a source of water not proven to ever exist. "The water alleged appears to be paper water," noted Burdick. Second were traffic impacts. Let's see how bad it gets, the university's proposed EIR had essentially said, and then we'll talk about how to fix it. Go back, Burdick said, and fill that in.

And finally, Burdick slammed UCSC on its failure to address its impact on the perpetual local shortfall of housing. The first version of the university's EIR had actually stated that housing imposed only a social impact and not an environmental one--but that assertion was pretty much laughed out of the document by jeering community members. This version offered vague promises of working with the city but contained no specific plan.

Not good enough, ruled Burdick. "Here we have an impact on housing that's direct, that's foreseeable, [and] it's predictable," noted the judge, and yet the EIR contained not one word about "where this predictable increase in housing is going to occur and how the city will accommodate it," let alone "what the environmental impact will be if it is accomplished." (Note the "if," an important word in a city with little undeveloped land.)

And how does the city feel about its victory on its three biggest infrastructure issues? "Essentially," City Attorney John Barisone told Nuz, "the city's position from the outset has been that the University has an obligation to serve the young people of the state and provide them an education, and that entails growth. The city is not opposed to the University growing; it simply wants to make sure that mitigation measures are in place to offset the adverse impacts of the growth as of the time that growth takes place." And in ruling as Burdick did, noted Barisone, the judge fundamentally agreed with the city's position in calling for a university long-range development plan that realistically addresses the water supply, traffic and housing issues implicated by the plan.

Another hearing on the remaining issues—including the bio-sciences building now in progress on campus—is scheduled for Sept. 21.

Inhumanity to Humanities

Mary Holmes and Page Smith must be turning over in their graves. Nuz is guessing that the late founding UCSC faculty members, who came here in 1965 to participate in an exciting experiment to import the "Oxbridge" model to the States, would not approve of the university's recent decision to ax the arts and humanities department of UCSC Extension—a program that began with photography classes taught by Ansel Adams. Such a move might strike them as more University of Phoenix than Cambridge.

But they might reserve some dismay for us, the public. Alison Galloway, UCSC Extension's vice provost of Academic Affairs since Sept. 1, explained to Nuz that UCSC Extension is a business proposition and as such a creature of the market, subject to the laws of supply and demand. And it seems that, collectively, we're more interested in getting management certificates than boning up on art history.

"Because Extension is self-supporting rather than campus-supported, we really need things that are financially viable," she said. "Unfortunately the majority of classes in arts and humanities were losing money."

Campus spokesman Jim Burns says enrollment in Extension's arts and humanities classes (most of which are taught at the Cupertino campus) dropped off from 1,500 in 2004-05 to 1,000 in 2006-07, with a commensurate plunge in income from $180,000 to $100,000. It's a small portion of the $4.4 million in red ink university accountants discovered last year when they tallied up expenses and income for UCSC Extension. But, effective January, the bulk of art, writing, photography, wine tasting and interior design courses will go the way of the wolves.

Galloway says she and her predecessor, Carl Walsh, made the decision after an eight-month examination of enrollment and budget trends. It wasn't an easy decision, Galloway said, but one factor in favor of the cuts was the proliferation of community colleges and adult schools over the hill also offering "high-quality courses" in the humanities.

Not all of Extension's arts and humanities classes will disappear. Galloway says that over the next few weeks, UCSC Extension will evaluate courses for financial viability and then put the winners of the Darwinian educational competition under the aegis of other departments.

So maybe, just maybe, wine tasting will live on. But don't count on art history.

Home Education

Sherry Bryan is speaking energetically in front of a towering shelf of garden products at the new Home Depot on 41st Avenue, leaping from the ant spray to the bait stakes as she explains the organization of an ant colony to the store's attentive garden staff. It's better to use baits, she says, because poison from the traps will be carried straight to the queen, who will then redistribute it to her underlings. The spray will get at best 10 percent of the colony.

Bryan's lesson is part of an integrated solution to an increasing problem: runoff from urban gardens. She's the director of the Our World Our Water (OWOW) program, operated locally by Santa Cruz-based Ecology Action. The program aims to educate garden supply retailers like Home Depot and their customers on the scientific reasons to use less toxic pest management techniques and products.

"About 40 percent of all pesticide products are sold at big-box stores," says Bryan. "We come in and try to make sure that employees know what the less toxic products that they sell are. We try to have them understand the mode of action of those products so that when they educate customers, they'll be successful and the customers will come back and buy that product again. "

Bryan says retailers are generally very receptive to the program, both for the positive PR it attracts and the increased sales of less toxic products. But some have resisted, including the Seaside branch of Home Depot, which has not returned calls from Bryan.

Putting aside the exceptions, Bryan believes there is a strong economic incentive to present a home garden supply store as environmentally sensitive.

"I think there is a general interest here in Santa Cruz County for this type of thing," she says. "This is a real point-of-sale educational program."

OWOW got its start after Contra Costa County water officials found abnormally high levels of the pesticides Dursban and Diazinon in storm water discharges. The pesticides are generally associated with runoff from agricultural lands, something Contra Costa lacks, and it was later discovered the pesticides were coming from home gardens. Bryan brought the program to the Central Coast in 2000 and has signed up approximately 40 stores total in the Monterey Bay Region.

"As we urbanize our environment more and more, we have to start thinking about the sources of pesticides as coming from urban gardening rather than agriculture," says Bryan.

Sherry Bryan from Ecology Action will be answering questions about low-toxicity pest control on Sunday, Sept. 16, noon-4pm at the Home Depot Garden Center, 2600 41st Ave., Soquel.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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