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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Cemex plays hardball with Davenport Cement union workers; City, county and UCSC join in landmark environmental compact; Santa Cruz City Council suspends smoking ban for medical potfest.

Unions, Cemex Mix It Up

Cemex and union workers at the Davenport/Pacific Cement Plant were supposed to sign new three-year labor contracts on Thursday, Sept. 20. The Machinists Union ratified the agreements, but the Boilermakers Union declined, sending Cemex's last offer back to the Houston-based company.

Contracts for the Machinists Union and the Boilermakers Union had come up for negotiations in June, initiating a process that is "everyday business" for Cemex USA, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Borgen. But dealing with a huge company that owns many plants throughout the world was all brand-new to Davenport.

Eric Caroll, an electrician and union rep for Davenport's cement workers, says that, in many ways, the challenges of negotiating with a huge conglomerate have had a positive effect on the folks working at the plant. "It's really kicked us into the 21st century," he says, laughing. "We'll be prepared next time."

It's rueful laughter. Cemex is proposing to limit disability insurance for on-the-job accidents to one month. The company is also proposing to set up 12-hour work shifts instead of paying overtime past the usual eight hours. This has become common modern practice in plants and quarries, but in this and other ways, Davenport Cement is like a trip back in time.

Many workers at Davenport have been on the job for 30-plus years. Meanwhile, Davenport Cement has gone through six changes of hands in the past decade, most recently when RMC of Great Britain bought the plant. But it seems the day-to-day work environment remained unchanged until Cemex's acquisition of RMC in 2005, which made Cemex the largest cement manufacturer in North America.

Davenport union workers have turned to the Santa Cruz political community for help, winning support from Mayor Emily Reilly and the Santa Cruz Progressive Email List (SCPEL) in the form of phone calls and emails to various Cemex directors in Houston. After what Caroll describes as 100 years of general isolation, this is a big turn for Davenport.

"What we don't want is a strike," Caroll says.

Apocalypse No

Laurel Street and the Boardwalk will be underwater, reduced rainfall and snowpack will lead to statewide water shortages, and heat waves will increase in frequency along the Central Coast after temperatures rise by 6 degrees. These were just a few of the grim projections for Santa Cruz circa 2050 laid out by UCSC earth sciences professor Lisa Sloan at the Climate Solutions Leadership Summit held in Santa Cruz last April.

There is only one way to avoid these prophesies of doom, according to Sloan, who used a computer model that assumed a steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The nastiest effects of warming could be minimized if CO2 emissions are decreased significantly in the next few years.

Regional political and business leaders, including Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal and County Supervisor Neal Coonerty, were determined to do more than cry into their coffee cups after listening to Sloan's presentation.

Instead, these officials, representing the three largest institutions in the county, decided to begin working on climate change solutions immediately, and to put something in writing and set a firm timetable for action.

"That meant looking at it from an economic and community perspective," says Elizabeth Thompson, who helped put together the Climate Solutions Leadership Summit for Ecology Action. "The city, county and university will be determining how to create the conditions for green innovation, localizing the economy, and thinking about how to work together to mitigate our greenhouse gas emissions."

To prove they were serious about these promises, the group wrote up a Climate Action Compact, which will be officially signed by Reilly, Blumenthal and Coonerty during a public event on Wednesday, Sept. 26. The compact calls for a greenhouse gas reduction goal to be set by January 2008, cooperative clean energy projects between the three institutions to be identified by March 2008 and a greenhouse reduction action plan to be penned by January 2009.

Sloan pointed out that while reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important, it is only part of the role governmental institutions have in dealing with the effects of climate change. Global warming, she said, is coming (and has already arrived) no matter what humans do in the future, because CO2 stays in the atmosphere for at least 200 years. Therefore, governments need to start planning for extended periods of drought and rising sea levels regardless of whether or not they curb their greenhouse gas emissions.

"The effects we are feeling now are from the emissions put in the atmosphere during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago," Sloan says. "So, the stuff we've been putting in since then will be manifested on this planet for hundreds of years."

With this in mind, the collaborating institutions decided to include a promise to stimulate investment in private and public enterprises producing climate change solutions, including projects being worked on at UCSC.

Fred Keeley, county treasurer and former member of the state Assembly, helped bring the city, county and university together. "The working assumption these three institutions have is that there is going to be enormous amounts of capital invested in global climate change solutions," Keeley says. "This community is almost perfectly situated to be a place where that investment is made and accelerate the rate at which the products go to market. I think that's the more powerful of the two things they're committing themselves to."

To this end, Chancellor Blumenthal will be announcing a new partnership with Zipcar, a car-sharing program, during the signing ceremony. Seven hybrid Zipcars will be available to staff, students and faculty, on- and off-campus, for a $35 membership fee and $65 for each day used.

On the government level, the city of Santa Cruz is looking into hiring a global warming adviser and the county is forming a committee on environmental affairs that will be partially charged with implementing the goals of the compact.

Keeley hopes similar clean energy projects can be integrated in the future, so channels of communication strained in recent years can be refreshed. "We know how to fight over certain things," he says, "but when we get a real wonderful opportunity to collaborate on a very important subject, let's do that. That's what all three parties were saying.

"It's partly because from time to time they find themselves in disagreement that when they found themselves with an opportunity to create change on a significant scale, they did just that."

A signing ceremony for the Climate Action Compact will take place at 10am, Wednesday, Sept. 26, at Abbott Square, 705 Cooper St., Santa Cruz. If you don't want to be labeled a hypocrite, ride a bike, walk or take a bus to the event.

Green Smoke

The Santa Cruz City Council will temporarily relax its famously vigilant anti-smoking position on Saturday, Sept. 29, from noon until 5pm, when smoking will be permitted in San Lorenzo Park for the first time since March 2006 for the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana's annual festival.

Not that dastardly tobacco smoke, mind you, but marijuana smoke.

Val and Michael Corral, founders of WAMM, approached councilmembers earlier this month requesting an exemption from the city's ban on smoking in Grant and San Lorenzo parks. The WAMM founders expressed concern that attendees might not be able "to medicate" while attending the festival.

The council agreed that asking medical-marijuana users to go five hours without a dose might mean discomfort for festival attendees, and unanimously passed the brief exemption to its smoking-ban ordinance, first adopted on March 28 of last year "as a pilot program," according to City Parks Department personnel, to test more widespread bans in public places, "rather than beginning with a system-wide ban."

Nūz was unable to find, several days prior to presstime, anyone in official capacity willing to comment on the exemption. Calls to current and past councilmembers, county drug control staff, countywide tobacco control personnel and even hookah lounges yielded either no response, no comment or referral to others, who in turn had no response or no comment.

However, Beach Flats resident Jane Baer, who along with husband Phil Baer demonstrated heartily against the medical marijuana giveaway at City Hall three years ago, and has lobbied against the widespread local tolerance for illegal drugs overall, was glad to speak to the issue.

"My take on it is that there are underage people in this town, and if their parents or authority figures are not part of the overall sense that since marijuana is illegal, it's not OK, they see them as not standing for anything. It opens the door to interpretation."

One interpretation would certainly be unwelcome to a financially strapped city; namely, the perspective of an opportunity for legal action.

After all, it's an aggressive class-action lawyer, John F. Banzhaf III, who founded our nation's modern, post-World War II government-sponsored anti-smoking movement (as distinct from the earlier government-sponsored anti-smoking movements of totalitarian states). Mr. B III, some decades ago, rolled lupus and tuberculosis patients into a burger-chain outlet that permitted smoking, and when said patients began hacking, wheezing and doubling over, wheeled them back out and sued the restaurant for denying access to the disabled.

Nūz certainly hopes that no such manipulator will show up in San Lorenzo Park on Sept. 29 and sue over—we quote City Council documents from the original ban—"the rights of residents and visitors to be free from exposure to the well-documented dangers of secondhand smoke."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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