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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Madrigal ekes out a victory over Terrazas for Santa Cruz council seat, and Watsonville gets in a snit over name change to strawberry festival.

A Godawful Nail-Biter

By the time today's Metro Santa Cruz hits the stands, there will be a newly minted Santa Cruz City Council elected and ready to go to work. Six of the seven councilmembers have known they had the job for at least a month. But for incumbent Tony Madrigal and challenger David Terrazas, the race for the final open seat has bounced back and forth more times than the ball at an Asian ping-pong championship. In the end, however, the established candidate pulled ahead and Madrigal nosed out Terrazas, winning 11,353 votes to 11,311, although totals weren't certified by deadline.

When the election ended Nov. 4, less than 0.5 percent of votes separated Madrigal, a union representative, and Terrazas, a transportation official, forcing an automatic recount. And for the last month, as provisional and absentee ballots streamed in, the two have traded the lead several times, often by fewer than 10 votes. The legal deadline for Santa Cruz County Clerk Gail Pellerin to certify the election results was Tuesday evening, Dec. 2. But with results continuing to be counted Tuesday morning and a clear winner still in doubt, the Elections Department used every minute of its 28-day limit to count and recount results by hand before announcing the victor.

The clear winners since election night are current Mayor Ryan Coonerty, former Mayor Don Lane and another former mayor, Katherine Beiers. Now, along with Madrigal, they will join Cynthia Mathews, Mike Rotkin and Lynn Robinson to make up the City Council until the next election in 2010.

"I never took anything for granted," says Madrigal. "I always phoned as many people, knocked on as many doors and went to as many forums as possible."

For Terrazas, who was a veritable unknown before the campaign, he says he's extremely proud of the support he received and promised this won't be his last crack at public service.

"It's the election with extra innings," laughs Terrazas. "This is first time I've ever run for office and I ran against seasoned incumbents and really made headway. It's disappointing at this point, but I've remained positive throughout the ups and downs and will remain so after it's done."

Berry, Berry, Quite Contrary

What appeared to be a mundane piece of business on the Watsonville City Council agenda last week turned into a hot-tempered discussion of civic pride when City Manager Carlos Palacios and Councilman Greg Caput said they'd just received emails from Leslie Peterson, the promoter of the Monterey Bay Strawberry Festival, seemingly withdrawing his consent to a name change the council unanimously approved earlier this month. The council chose a name that gives the city a starring role in the annual local event: Watsonville Strawberry Festival at Monterey Bay. "Names are important," said Caput. "We have to be proud of our name."

The council had been scheduled to approve a three-year phase-in plan, which would have allowed Peterson to purge his $20,000 stockpile of already purchased souvenirs and marketing materials with the words "Monterey Bay" at the fore. Caput hatched the plan with Peterson, and was under the impression that the compromise had pleased both parties. The tone of the email torpedoed that notion, and the council voted against the phasing plan. "You'd think it wouldn't be a big controversy," he said. "I'm surprised by it."

Although Peterson was not present at the meeting, Councilman Antonio Rivas got hot under the collar over what he saw as a snub to the city of Watsonville. "It is sad that a person comes to our city, makes some money--I say forget you," he said. "He shouldn't be running the strawberry festival. We don't need him."

Peterson, who lives in Modesto, argues that the issue is not about Watsonville's reputation, but the reputation of the 15-year-old festival. "I signed a contract to run the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th annual Strawberry Festival. Now with the new name change I'm producing the first," he says. "These seven people do not understand the concept of branding and marketing. This becomes a complete nightmare."

Peterson argues that the name change will leave his website URL useless, make the festival less recognizable and could potentially put the entire event at risk if there aren't enough sponsors and participants. But he says he will not continue to argue with the City Council and will allow the name change to proceed. "This came completely out of nowhere," he says. "[If I'd known about this] I probably would have never done a contract with them."

Councilman Caput has not spoken to Peterson since the vote, but it appears that the name change will go ahead, despite objections. "We do have a successful event; we should be proud putting our name out in front," he says. "I think it would help give us more of a positive reputation."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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