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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

The Ocean Street Redevelopment project achieves liftoff.


"What we need" to refurbish Ocean Street, exclaimed a tiny curly-haired boy clambering atop his adult companion's shoulders, "is a place for blastoff!"Given that Santa Cruz's Ocean Street is in fact the launching pad for those leaving town and the landing strip for those arriving, the assembled crowd—gathered at the University Inn last Thursday evening to help redesign the thoroughfare—clapped and laughed with appreciation.

The gathering was the latest of the public design workshops sponsored by the city's Planning Department and neighborhood groups, and held for the purpose of getting as much input as possible into what those most influenced by the area's forms and functions felt would make Ocean Street a more liveable place.

And input they got. After first running over what the street, stretching for miles from the Highway 17-Route 1 interchange to the stone wall at San Lorenzo just short of the beach, is like now—primarily treeless narrow sidewalks punctuated by occasional setbacks, buses that run some of the stretch but not all of it, and a wealth of varying uses—the attendees began to say exactly what they thought.

"Perhaps a pedestrian bridge," said one, backed up by several others. "Better-marked crosswalks," said another. Clearer signs indicating where the river can be accessed, and in fact a "focus on the river as an attractive walking and biking route" so local residents don't have to walk the traffic-laden boulevard. And for those who do walk the street, more trash cans, better lighting, storm drains that actually drain rather than back up, tasteful signage directing people to historically significant homes and commercial buildings, and grouped landscaped islands of businesses rather than just an endless strip.

And what about the traffic, which grows to over 18,000 vehicles per day, in each direction, in summer months? A park-ride lot and shuttle for those who visitors who wish to use one, and a streetcar taking locals and visitors "in a loop all along Ocean Street, to the beach, back along lower Pacific Avenue into downtown and back to upper Ocean again." That suggestion, made several times in different variations, won applause every time.

Moderator David Early, a longtime Santa Cruzan and now Berkeley-based consultant, kept participants going at full throttle: "OK, shuttle, we've got that; thank you. Who else?" Directing several helpers to write every item in the briefest language possible with bright-colored markers on large sheets of easel-mounted paper, he worked the crowd with a velvet fist. "OK, let's keep hearing from people who haven't spoken yet. ... OK, now those who have a second idea." When the ideas finally petered out, helpers taped the paper sheets to the walls, where they flapped gently as the Inn's heating system turned on and off. Then came the colored dots, four per person, though Early said with a grin, "You can trade them—you can even sell them, if you find someone really set on an idea." Participants placed the dots of various colors next to their favorite suggestions until all the dots were placed, and the helpers took the sheets off to another room to do a count.

While the tallying went on, Early presented a slide show of possibilities, examples of what other towns and cities have done with their entry boulevards. Bus shelters that float like space ships. Outdoor seating configured like gleaming rounded metal art. And what would such a presentation be without featuring Barcelona and the jaw-dropping, melting buildings of Gaudi?

When the dot-count was completed, attendees broke into groups to work in a more intense fashion, and the top suggestions emerged. To find out what the city's Planning department learned from the meeting, Nūz spoke with the city of Santa Cruz's senior planner Michelle King, the design meeting's coordinator.

"Pedestrian access, especially to the river," King recounted. "Neighborhood-serving businesses; the idea that Ocean Street is a neighborhood," and not simply a visitor-serving area as often conceived. And "mixed uses, with residential above commercial."

Any surprises? People actually favored larger, taller buildings along the street," King noted—a first, in the memory of many locals, perhaps both to keep business activity on the street itself, rather than creeping into the single-family neighborhoods on either side, and to shield homes from traffic noise.

King noticed two other things about the meeting, as well: the turnout (some 110 participants) and the variety of people. All of whom, King noted, "really drilled down and were really creative about it, coming to the table with an open mind. That's really unique."

In short, the redesign of Ocean Street has achieved liftoff.

Booze Cruz

Drinking and driving may be frowned upon in our culture, but David Blume thinks alcohol has a place in the car: the gas tank. Blume, who founded the International Institute for Ecological Agriculture (IIEA) in Santa Cruz in 1993, came one step closer to making gas tanks full of booze a reality for Santa Cruz drivers at last Tuesday's City Council meeting.

Blume has been working with city officials for the last year to find funding and land for Santa Cruz's first ethanol fueling station. On Oct. 15 of this year, the funding came through in the form of a $170,000 grant from the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District. A short time later, a dirt strip located on the city-owned parking lot at 1111 Soquel Ave., near the Rio Theatre, was identified as a perfect plot of land for the station.

As Blume expounded on the benefits of fighting Big Oil and climate change in our own back yards last Tuesday, the faces of councilmembers were all aglow. Outgoing Mayor Emily Reilly in particular could hardly contain her joy, and her speech later that night welcoming Ryan Coonerty as the new mayor mentioned the project more than once. Needless to say, the resolution to accept the grant money and form a partnership with IIEA passed unanimously.

The ethanol fueling station is slated to receive a sweeter deal from the city than the average station owner. Free rent for a year, funneling of the grant money to IIEA, and city ownership of the station's equipment have all been discussed as potential ways to ensure the success of the two- to four-pump station.Bonnie Lipscomb, assistant director for the Redevelopment Agency, believes it is important to encourage this kind of alternative energy business, considering the Climate Action Compact signed recently.

"Supporting a private enterprise that will offer low emissions fuel to the general public makes sense in Santa Cruz, where there is an increasing demand and support for alternative fuels that reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says Lipscomb.

The station won't be breaking ground anytime soon. A meeting was called by the city to discuss the fueling station idea with businesses and residents in the neighborhood, but no one showed up. IIEA must get that blessing from its potential neighbors and receive an administrative use permit from the city's Planning Department before construction can begin.

If everything goes according to plan, Blume, who has been involved in the sustainable energy movement since the 1970s, will also build a locally based refinery to process food or agricultural waste into the ethanol used by the station. He is looking into a number of possible locations for this refinery, including next to the Dimeo Lane landfill. He also expressed hopes that the source material can come from farms and restaurants in the Monterey Bay area so that the supply chain remains local. Blume could not be reached to further clarify these plans by presstime, but no doubt more details will follow as the plan matures.

Arana Goes

The controversial half-mile paved bike path planned for the Arana Gulch greenbelt between the harbor and Soquel Avenue cleared another hurdle last month. Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick ruled against the environmentalists who'd been arguing that the city of Santa Cruz had failed to consider the impacts to the endangered tarplant's habitat when planning for the project.

While Burdick noted that the city would have to mitigate some of the impacts on the rare plant species, he generally agreed with City Attorney John Barisone that the 8-foot-wide paved path and 330-foot-long suspension bridge wouldn't do any major damage to the 63 acres of habitat.

The environmentalists who brought suit, including the Native Plant Society and Friends of Arana Gulch, will now have to pony up the cash the city paid to fight the suit. Repeated calls to Native Plant Society attorney Bill Parkin went unanswered, so it's unclear if the group plans to appeal the decision.Even if it doesn't, the city must clear more hoops to get the project started. The Coastal Commission still has to approve the city's plans for the project, and more money—as much as $1 million—still has to be tracked down to supplement the $1.6 million already banked for building the path and bridge.

Councilmember Mike Rotkin is guessing the city won't be able to get to work on actually building the path until 2009.

What Fred Said

Nūz adores gossip, so our little ears perked up a few weeks ago when word reached us that County Treasurer Fred Keeley had endorsed Emily Reilly's bid for the Assembly seat of John Laird. (Laird, of course, will keep his seat if a ballot measure loosening term limits passes in February; if it doesn't, the race is on.) Nūz went to Reilly's website and there found the following glowing statement of high praise: "The people of the 27th Assembly District could not ask for a better nominee in June, and a better Assembly member in Sacramento, than Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly," read the words from the man who used to serve in that very capacity.

It looked, smelled and quacked like an endorsement. Keeley had even delivered it at a Nov. 18 roast for outgoing Mayor Reilly.

But wait a minute! Not two days later came an email from Assembly candidate Bill Monning directing Nūz to the following glowing statement of high praise: "There is no candidate better equipped to protect the environment, stand up for justice, and represent the diverse communities of Central California than Bill Monning," read the words from the man who used to serve as Assembly Speaker pro tem and was voted Smartest Politician by California Journal in 2000.

Wait—dual endorsements—can—not—compute! It felt like Nūz's head was about to explode. What had happened? Dark thoughts swirled. Had Keeley misspoken? Had Reilly's camp misunderstood? Had Monning subsequently demanded a fair and equal statement?

Clarity arrived in an email from Keeley himself assuring Nūz that he "think[s] the world" of both candidates but has declined to endorse anyone. Looks like Fred's going to wait until at least February to take sides, if he does at all. Sources tell Nūz that Keeley and everyone else involved hope Laird gets to keep his seat; that being the case, an endorsement at this stage would be unseemly.

No one's asked the other Assembly seat candidates, Felton businesswoman Barbara Sprenger and Monterey Peninsula chiropractor Stephen Barkalow, what they think. But one thing is certain at this point: Keeley's words won't be misconstrued on their websites; none appear.

Local Listings

Nūz thinks CraigsList, the online classified site, is just swell. Even though it helped destroy a critical revenue stream for modern newspapers by making their less than hourly updated classified ads seem hopelessly obsolete, it's just so—convenient. It's like a guilty pleasure.

But all giants eventually fall. And Art Main's, which launched Oct. 31, may be a prototype of what will replace it. Main, a web designer for the last 15 years, said he saw an opening for the Santa Cruz community because on CraigsList it's neither fish nor fowl—neither South Bay nor Monterey Bay, exactly. (You can find Santa Cruz listings in both.) His site has all the same stuff—cars and furniture for sale, places for rent, jobs, the whole shebang."CraigsList in general has kind of left this whole area out," he says. "We're in there, but we're still considered South Bay, and Monterey—forget it. So it's a big enough community that I knew it would work."

Main, whose listings are free (he sells ad space to local businesses), says his site is "very local-centric. It's something that I really believe in and it's something that a majority of Santa Cruzans believe in: support local businesses, support your mom-and-pops. So it fits."

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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