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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Pigs fly! Santa Cruz City Council meeting sees neighbors and developers reach parking compromise on a mixed-use projec, and this weekend's Coastal Cleanup expands inland to our sadly polluted rivers.

Precious Moments

In a rare display of cooperation between development interests and residents, architect Mark Primack and concerned neighbor Steve Wahler stood together Sept. 9 at the City Council chambers podium and, with arms over each other's shoulders, did something exceptional--they agreed. The 10,000-square-foot, three-story mixed-use building would still be built next to the Buttery at 710 Soquel Ave. And three traffic chokers paid for by the city, the property owner and the neighbors would assuage the neighborhood's parking concerns.It was only an hour earlier that a half-dozen angry neighbors, led by the painfully thorough Wahler, had beseeched the council to stop or modify the project because of concerns over where the 30-plus new cars would park.

"The parking lot is already full most of the day, and [the Buttery and Shopper's Corner] employees are already parking in our neighborhood," said Wahler. "We have nothing against this project, we just don't want to be overrun by people parking on our streets."

But after the meeting, a smiling Wahler explained that sharing the cost of the traffic chokers, which partially block narrow road entries, was a "reasonable compromise" and that he and the rest of the neighbors were satisfied.

The Soquel Avenue property is owned by YKW, a family conglomerate that owns several parcels in the area and has hired longtime Santa Cruz building designer Primack, a former Santa Cruz councilmember, to spearhead the design.

The $2.5 million to $3 million project includes plans for nine studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments to be built above 5,000 square feet of commercial space, which Primack said would likely be used for retail stores and offices.

The parking lot behind the Buttery has 22 spaces, and the developers will be responsible for providing 27 more after a 20 percent reduction for promising to supply bus passes for residents and employees, as well as provide extra bicycle parking. Primack said the project was exactly the kind of "smart growth" that Santa Cruz needs and praised the neighbors' willingness to negotiate. "Building mixed-use, dense projects close to transit corridors like this project is the essence of green building," said Primack. "What's encouraging was that you had City Council members, property owners and neighbors who all understood what the problems were and they were all looking for a balance. Those are precious moments, and hopefully well see more."

The Trashy Truth

"I don't even want to know what that is," says Aleah Lawrence-Pine, program manager at Save Our Shores, as she steps past a dark lump in the dirt and sand underneath the Water Street bridge. But she knows what it is. It's one of the least pleasant signs of human presence in and around the San Lorenzo riverbank, one of many that will inevitably be uncovered at the 24th Annual Coastal Cleanup Day, held this Saturday morning, Sept. 20, from 9am to noon. While families with children and Boy Scout troops will be steered clear of the most suspicious conditions, last year's search in Santa Cruz County yielded 108 condoms, 38 syringes and 84 tampons.

Those items, while by far the most foul, are dwarfed in number by less provocative trash. A glance beneath Water Street turns up the usual suspects: plastic wrappers, a couple of half-empty beer bottles, and the single most common item found in and around bodies of water, both locally and internationally: cigarette butts, which, contrary to what their paperlike texture would suggest, contain enough plastic to stick around five years after they're snuffed out. Santa Cruz County volunteers had to pluck 20,844 from the water, reeds and sand in 2007, while around the world, 1.9 million were found in total.

Lawrence-Pine says that while the title of the event says "coastal," more sites have been added to draw attention inland to the rivers, or Santa Cruz's "glorified storm drains." In addition to seemingly immortal plastic bags and bottles, batteries, car parts, diapers and dead animals all soak in the waters that run toward the ocean--in the case of the San Lorenzo River, to Main Beach by the Boardwalk, where the stream often loses momentum in the sand, becoming a warm, shallow pool inviting to the tiniest swimmers.

This year, a hoped-for 3,800 volunteers will visit the San Lorenzo River, Aptos Creek, Arana Gulch, Soquel Creek and the Pajaro River, in addition to oceanfront tracts. Ocean Conservancy program director Kaitilin Gaffney credits media coverage of the "shocking" North Pacific Gyre trash island with drumming up extra interest in this year's cleanup, which counts 65 countries around the world as participants.

"A lot of environmental issues are really complicated and require scientists and research and a lot of effort," Gaffney says. "Keeping trash out of the oceans is something every single person can help achieve."

All participants will of course be encouraged to think about their habits when it comes to the products and packaging they purchase and later discard.

And besides racking up karmic cred with Mother Nature, volunteers are encouraged to submit their strangest find to an Ocean Conservancy Flickr account. Staff will peruse the photos and choose the crème-de-la-crap--winners receive eco-friendly T-shirts, bags and other gear made from recycled bottles and caps.

COASTAL CLEANUP DAY is Saturday, Sept. 20, at 9am; bring gloves and sunscreen. Sign up for a site in advance at The cleanup is followed by 'Celebration of Our Coast' at 1pm at Cowell Beach in Santa Cruz. Results of the cleanup will be announced along with music and refreshments; Mayor Ryan Coonerty will unveil the Santa Cruz portion of the California Coastal Trail. A hike to Natural Bridges States Park begins at 2pm and installation of the final trail plaque follows. All events are free.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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