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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Santa Cruz Council longshots criticize candidate filing fee, and environmentalists rally behind Measure E, with one exception: the chairman of the Sierra Club.

Too Steep to Run

How much should it cost to run for public office? For Santa Cruz City Council candidates Blas Cabrera and Simba Kenyatta, the answer is: nothing.

The two long-shot candidates have come out against the concept of personally paying to campaign as a public figure. They are calling for a rewrite of campaign finance laws that currently require each candidate to spend or raise $1,000 or collect 250 signatures to be given space on the city's website.

"This is about rethinking government," says Cabrera, a holistic healer. "Electing public officials should be based on people, not on money. Right now people with money and connections are always winning elections and I think we're missing out on some good people who simply don't have the cash to get noticed."

When Cabrera first found out about the $1,000 spending requirement he decided to opt for the second route--250 signatures of Santa Cruz residents. But by the Sept. 12 deadline he had only amassed 65 signatures, and now when city voters check out candidates on the city's website, his name won't be there.

"Raising or spending $1,000 proves you're a legitimate candidate and not just playing around," says Santa Cruz City Clerk Lorrie Brewer. "Blas chose not to raise the money but he also didn't get the signatures he needed either."

Cabrera was the first candidate since the law was made in 2000 to opt for signature gathering, but he said doesn't want the $1,000 fee dropped altogether, just if the candidates can prove they don't have it. And when it comes to signatures, he thinks all candidates should be required to get them. Community activist Kenyatta, on the other hand, believes the whole concept of personal financial commitments on the part of public candidates should be scrapped. He says providing exposure to potential leaders is an obligation of the community in which they would serve. Both men say that regardless of the outcome of the City Council race, they will make reforming election guidelines a major priority for their political futures.

"As long as we have private money going into public elections, the people who bring in the most money will always win those elections," says Kenyatta. "There are a lot of very talented people who have no chance of getting elected because they are poorer than the established candidates. Money equals connections and connections equal elections."

Dirty Water

Suzanne Healy has her mind in the gutter, and it's a filthy view indeed. The environmental projects analyst at the Public Works Department looks 20 feet beneath the street's surface at a pile of trash accumulated at the bottom of a stormwater drain. Water that sometimes flows directly into the San Lorenzo River trickles over the take-out containers and pop cans, and the rancid stench of sulfur permeates the air above.

The trash seeping into our water supply, Healy explains, comes from stormwater runoff, which is the largest single contributing factor to pollution in streams, creeks, rivers and near-shore coastal pollution. In order to reduce pollution and comply with Clean Water Act regulations, the city of Santa Cruz must address the stormwater runoff issue. Improving storm drains and installing screens to catch more of the trash before it hits the water supply would "reduce by a significant amount the debris accumulated," Healy says.

But with funds from the city's existing Stormwater Management Fee stretched too thin to fully fund the mandatory improvements, the council proposed Measure E. The local proposition is for a special tax to fund the project, and is supported by Save Our Shores, O'Neill Sea Odyssey and other environmental groups. The proposed annual fee is $28 per household and $94 per commercial parcel in addition to the Stormwater Management fee, which is $21.24 for a single family residence.

Armand Ruby, executive director of the Coastal Watershed Council, supports Measure E for both environmental and legal reasons. Every time it rains, says Ruby, a "broad array of pollutants--trash, bacteria, pathogens, trace amounts of toxic chemicals"--are washed into local bodies of water. Proponents of the measure, which requires two-thirds of the voters' approval to pass, say the special tax will help decrease the pollutants, reduce sickness caused from exposure to dirty bodies of water and lessen ocean pollution.

Aldo Giacchino, head of the local Sierra Club chapter, said that while his organization is not taking a stance on Measure E, he opposes it as a private citizen. The text of the measure does not outline a specific plan of action, and Giacchino wants a plan that addresses the particular engineering measures to be outlined before taxes are increased.

"There already is a tax to deal with stormwater management," he says. "I think that stormwater pollution is a major problem, seriously impacting the ocean. [But] there is no cite of any engineering measure that might remedy the situation in the way the city proposes."

All cities across the country are required to comply with stormwater regulations, which were established in 1990 by the Clean Water Act. Hammering out the exact regulations and plans for compliance has been a slow process, and the city expects to receive the specific guidelines and permit from the regional water board before the November election.

Even if Measure E fails, the environmental guidelines will still have to be met; failure to comply could result in government fines or citizens' lawsuits. Public Works operations manager Mary Arman says that the existing stormwater fund is "almost broke," and that it is "critical that we come up with an additional funding source." Without additional funding through Measure E, Arman says that funding could be cut for other city programs, like parks and services.

Citing citizens' lawsuits filed against the city of Los Angeles for noncompliance with environmental regulation, Ruby stresses that taxpayers across the nation have to address the issue of stormwater pollution. "The city of Santa Cruz is doing what every other city in the country has to do," Ruby says.

Giacchino wants the city to comply, but to first make it clear first how it will reach compliance. "I just would like more specificity on how they are going to spend the specific tax," he says. "Then they would be more accountable."

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