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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Cage-free egg campaign at UCSC makes headway, and the Santa Cruz City Council codifies the growth agreement with the university in a city ordinance.

Cage Match

Lately, it seems like everything's coming up roses for Bonny Doon animal rights activist Erik Marcus. "I'm thrilled about things," he says. "It's un-frigging-believable."

Not only is he excited that Californians chose to pass Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, he's also celebrating a more personal farm animal-friendly victory as well. Roughly a year and a half after he made his first phone call to dining hall management at UCSC, his alma mater, the school has agreed to make cage-free eggs available in all six of its dining halls, cafes and even by the carton in its grocery program. "I'm just relieved beyond belief," he says. "It's the first step."

Though Marcus, who runs the website, says he was given the good news from the Chancellor's office in early October, Scott Berlin, UCSC's director for dining services, says the eggs have been on offer since Sept. 19. "I can certainly appreciate his passion and where he's coming from, especially with Proposition 2 passing," Berlin says of Marcus.

Things weren't always so friendly. Though Berlin agreed to meet with Marcus to discuss going cage-free, progress has been a bit slow and Marcus did not always feel that his concerns were being taken seriously. "The cruelty involved in battery cage-egg production is off the charts and something that the university should have nothing to do with in anyway," says Marcus, referring to the small high-density wire cages made infamous by Prop. 2. "I really think that it's inexcusable at this point for such a progressive school in such a progressive town."

For Berlin, the issue has been more complicated than happy hens. "Cage-free costs almost double. How do I justify that?" he says. "We need to keep room and board affordable to a student."

For now, the cage-free eggs are available on request and can bump an omelette up 50 cents or so. Berlin says demand has been "low" but sees opportunity for a full switch in the future. "With Prop. 2 passing, the pricing of cage-free eggs will come way down," he says. "It will be an easy decision." According to the U.S. Humane Society, more than 350 universities have either eliminated or reduced their reliance on battery cage eggs, including UC-Berkeley.

And while Marcus is certainly thrilled, getting UCSC to take notice of him is just a small victory. He's speaking with campus animal rights organizations to motivate students to take advantage of the new option. "I think what's happened now is only 5 percent of what needs to happen," he says. "We'd like them to be exclusive as soon as possible."

Extra Nail in the Coffin

The settlement between Santa Cruz and UCSC that puts environmental, traffic and water restrictions on the university's growth plan was long fought and bitterly won. It took two years of fighting in and out of court to get signatures on the binding document this past August. Recently, however, the city felt the settlement agreement wasn't enough, and on Oct. 14 the Santa Cruz Council passed an ordinance that further holds the university to its word by placing many of the settlement conditions in the city's municipal code.

Voters originally passed the same ordinance in November 2006 in the midst of a heated battle between university planners and city officials over the future of the UCSC campus and student population. At the time, no treaty was on the horizon, and the ordinance was passed by two-thirds of voters as the next best thing to an ironed-out land-use agreement. A year later during the ensuing court battle, however, it was ruled invalid when a judge said the city did not provide enough time for the public to review the legislation. But since either voters or a city council majority can pass a city ordinance, the council tied up the loose ends and passed it with a unanimous vote--albeit two years later.

Santa Cruz Assistant City Manager Martin Bernal described the ordinance as almost symbolic, assuring Nūz that "the settlement agreement is more powerful," but since voters passed the law, it was natural for the city to make sure it was on the books.

"Voters sent the message that [the ordinance] was important. It was thought this would be an additional tool to use as leverage," says Bernal. "Technically we didn't need it, but the council felt it was necessary to make it official. If you grow you need to basically address the impacts of growing: pay for traffic impacts, agree to fees on use of water, provide housing on campus, address environmental impacts. So far the university has complied."

UCSC Director of Public Affairs Jim Burns agrees with Bernal that the settlement agreement has more legal teeth than the recent ordinance but says the university "understands why the City Council took the action it took.

"Even the ordinance itself speaks to the successful agreement reached by the city, the county and student groups over our potential growth," says Burns. "In the end the [Long Range Development Plan] agreement provides much more specificity about growth and how the university will address growth-related impacts."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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