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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Santa Cruz City Council nixes smoke at medical potfest, drumming activists accuse cops of going overboard at last week's market fracas and Live Oak School District rattles the tin cup.

No Toke--No Joke

The Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana isn't entirely sure what a smoke-free WAMMfest looks like--nor are members like Diane Dias, a breast cancer patient who, like many of the people who help staff the event, says she can't go for long periods of time without smoking marijuana.

"I really don't know what I'm going to do. I will respect the law," she says hesitantly. "We should not have to make that choice between our medicine and what we do."

Carol Meyers, another breast cancer patient who, shortly before she spoke to Nu_z, had been informed she also has a tumor on her liver, also plans to attend despite the fact that she will also have to smoke at several points during the day to prevent her bouts of nausea. "A lot of people think we're just a bunch of potheads, but I'm a disabled single mom," she says. As far as her plans at WAMMfest, Meyers says she's simply holding out against hope that the Santa Cruz City Council will pass a resolution to lift the smoking ban on the venue, San Lorenzo Park, for a period of five hours.

Despite those hopes, by presstime Tuesday there was no indication that at the 3pm session that day Ed Porter, Cynthia Mathews or Lynn Robinson would change their votes from the previous week's, which resulted in a 3-3 tie and a delay in the decision. With Mayor Ryan Coonerty due to be absent, the remaining supporters, Tony Madrigal, Mike Rotkin and Emily Reilly, will likely tie up the score yet again, killing the resolution and making WAMMfest 2008 a smoke-free event.

To the consternation of WAMM members, the exact same resolution was passed unanimously last year. None of the councilmembers returned calls seeking comment on their change of heart, but Porter was quoted in the Sentinel as saying his position as a high school teacher prevented him from approving the resolution.

Valerie Corral, one of the co-founders of WAMM, says she knows that the council is not fundamentally at odds with her organization or with the concept of medicinal marijuana. However, she admits she was surprised and disheartened by the three nay-votes. "I could understand if we had trouble, if it was just a smokeout," she says. "But we have to accommodate for everyone with disabilities."

Capt. Steve Clark of the Santa Cruz Police Department says last year's WAMMfest had a "residual effect" of attracting recreational pot smokers, though he adds that the police have no plans to be in the park on Saturday.

According to Corral, Mathews and Robinson said they'd be amenable to vaporizers, a delicate and expensive piece of equipment that can heat and release the active ingredients in marijuana in a mist rather than a smoke. However, WAMM has only secured three of the devices for the event. "We are all going to be sucking off the same vaporizers, which I do not think is a good idea, but I'll do it," Corral says. She adds that none of the members will forgo the festivities because of the ban. "Everyone's going to take the risk. These are WAMM members, they're pretty brave," she says. "I'll take the tickets for them. Write me up. Because I must be at fault, somebody's got to take the blame."

A ticket for smoking in a public park costs $68 with court fees. Asked if WAMM's shoestring budget and tenuous financial situation can handle it, Corral says she doesn't know.

WAMMFEST V is on Saturday, Sept. 27, from noon until 5pm at San Lorenzo Park, 137 Dakota St., Santa Cruz. For information call 831.425.0580 or see

Big Bang Theories

In the aftermath of the fracas between police and protesters of a drumming ban at the Sept. 17 farmers market, activists are fuming about heavy-handed police tactics and cops are promising they'll be back at this week's market.

"How many police officers does it take to start a riot?" asks homeless advocate Robert Norse. "People have every right to play in that parking lot. The police are just intent on asserting their authority."

Norse says the police "incited" the event when they "targeted" 20-year-old Jack Rusk, who was among many people who helped take down a fence around a tree erected by police to discourage drum circle participants from gathering in their usual spot. He also said SCPD Sgt. Mike Harms has asked him for the videotape he shot during the melee.

Santa Cruz Police Capt. Steve Clark says people are missing the point.

"This has never been about stopping drummers from drumming," he says. "The Police Department is simply addressing criminal behavior that sometimes goes along with the drum circle. If the city erects a fence, you can't cut it down simply because you want to drum there. This whole situation was caused by a few people who came to start a confrontation with the police."

"We'll be there again this week," he adds. "We're going to pursue the same agenda."

Last week's events began with a relatively peaceful assembly involving members of the Rainbow Tribe, Trash Orchestra, Food Not Bombs and others who had come to protest the recent ban by the City Council on drumming in the parking lot. Shortly after drummers tore the fence down, officers pulled Rusk to the east end of the parking lot and handcuffed him while enraged drummers beat loudly on plastic barrels and trash cans inches from the officers. Countless activists began shouting "We have a right to be here!" and "First amendment!" and those who got too close were shoved back by police wielding batons. Soon, police arrested 41-year-old Wesley Modes, who they said was interfering with their arrest of Rusk.

As the crowd grew more agitated, some 30 officers from the Santa Cruz Police Department and Santa Cruz County sheriff's office arrived, at least one of whom was armed with a tear gas launcher. Shortly after, a line of officers arrayed themselves shoulder-to-shoulder along Cathcart Street and stared down the crowd of 100 or so livid protesters.

Once the men were driven off, all the officers left the scene, leaving angry demonstrators to vent their frustrations to their peers but also allowing them free rein to drum in the parking lot--at least for the time being.

No charges have been filed against Rusk or Modes, but staff at the Santa Cruz County district attorney's office said their cases remain "open," and Clark said police are working with the DA to "finalize charges" before they are filed.

Live Oak Schools Seek Funds

Ellen Davidson was 55 years old and retired when she suddenly became a parent again-this time to her granddaughter Samantha, then in second grade. "Neither her mother or father was a competent parent at the time," she says. "It was definitely unexpected."

Davidson had figured she could retire on a small budget that only accounted for her, and also factored in tenant money from a second bedroom. Suddenly, her granddaughter needed it much more and retirement was no longer an option. But the longtime Live Oak resident wasn't willing to turn Samantha Davidson into a latchkey kid. Instead, she enrolled her in the Green Acres Elementary after-school program. "For six of the eight years I've had her, she was in a high-quality program, giving me the opportunity to work and feel that she is getting what she needs," says Davidson. "Without it, I don't know how we would have managed."

So as Samantha enters her sophomore year of high school, Davidson (now 64 and trying retirement for the second time) is supporting Measure A, the Live Oak School District Education Improvement Measure. The measure would create an $84 parcel tax on land within the Live Oak school district boundaries for the next nine years. Though the specifics will be hammered out after the measure is passed, Live Oak Superintendent David Paine says part of the estimated $500,000 generated each year would be spent on after-school programs, including more gang-prevention programs and the much-lauded Life Lab science-based garden program. "They are kind of held together by bailing wire and a lot of parent fundraising. And they're not fully staffed," says Paine, who calls the years of cutting post-dotcom bust "frustrating."

The new money would also help retain teachers and stop the decline in staff seen in the last six years, including the loss of seven teaching positions, five instructional aides and one elementary school counselor. Many other teachers and staff members have had their work hours halved.

The district, made up of seven schools and approximately 2,200 students, has seen its budget shrink for seven years straight for a cumulative $1 million worth of cuts. School librarians are now only behind the desk 4 1/2 hours a day, and the elementary schools are only guaranteed music and art specialists through the end of this school year.

Though no negative rebuttal was submitted on the ballot, district parents like Diana Susoy are also property owners, and some have to think twice about shelling out in tough economic times. Susoy says she and other parents she's talked to still aren't sure how they're going to vote on the measure. "It's not the school's fault that they don't have the money--that's the state," she says. "But I look at my property tax bill--that list just gets longer and longer each year. Everyone is trying to cut back, but we can't."

Susoy also has the unique perspective of a part-time Live Oak Elementary library clerk. "I'm paying my $84 to keep my job," she says. "It's kind of weird."

Seniors would be allowed to exempt themselves, and none of the funds would be permitted to go to administrative salaries. While trim budgets may affect voters at the polls, many parents, like Susan True, whose son attended Green Acres and Shoreline Middle School, are at least sure that, should the measure pass, the money will go to the right place. "My $84 a year will be well handled. I trust the district," she says. "My son is in a great college with tons of interest and skills because he went through the Live Oak school system. I want future Live Oak students to have the same."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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