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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Shakespeare Santa Cruz rattles the tin cup, treesitters crawl down from their perches and Dist. 27 Assemblyman Bill Monning lands a spot on the emergency budget committee.

A Very Palpable Hit

Leave it to a theater company to almost get snuffed out in the most dramatic way possible. Fans of Shakespeare Santa Cruz were in a frenzy Monday morning following news that it's curtains for the company if it does not raise $300,000 by Monday, Dec. 22. "It's pretty dramatic. I can hardly believe it myself," says Marcus Cato, SSC's managing director.

Though the deadline and the figure were stipulated by UCSC, Cato is plenty sympathetic to the school's plight. After years of absorbing the festival's deficit, the university called for drastic action in order to minimize the damage that the state budget will inevitably inflict on the school. Acting dean of the Division of the Arts David Evan Jones still doesn't know the specifics, but he says it's all but certain that classes will be cut, and entire minors and concentrations could go on the chopping block. "It would be a great loss for UCSC to see Shakespeare go," says Jones. "[But] we have to protect the fundamental mission of the university."

That means UCSC can no longer serve as SSC's safety net, and the company has to secure enough money--before a single ticket is sold--to guarantee it will not be a burden on the already straining university coffers. As if that weren't hard enough, UCSC has to make its final budget decisions in early January, giving the company a scant week to come up with the money. Cato and the rest of the company's full-time staff have been sounding the alarm.

"Since we're part of the university a lot of people assume we have no money worries and the university will always take care of us," says Cato. "We're asking the community to step forward and say, 'Yes, this is important in Santa Cruz.'"

The university only contributes about 1 percent of each year's $2 million budget, and the rest is made up of donations--which were about $100,000 off what the company had hoped for--and ticket sales, which have also dropped.

Even if SSC does meet its goal, the company has already decided it will cancel the holiday show in 2009, mount just three plays next summer and hire fewer employees overall.

By presstime, Cato had received $70,000 in donations, in amounts as small as $5 and as big as $20,000. He hopes to install a tally on the group's website to keep devotees in the loop. "I think we can do this," he says.

You Call That Success?

After 402 days high in the branches, the UCSC tree sitters have finally come down. From above the university's Science Hill the activists saw five seasons pass while they fought against the school's Long Range Development Plan, which includes paving over the disputed trees to make room for a biology building. But on Saturday, Dec. 13, the protest ended and the activists were handed defeat, although most refused it accept it.

At a hastily organized press conference, members of the protest group and former tree sitters read statements in front of the UCSC entrance sign, while at the same time the very trees that only hours before had been occupied were cut down by construction crews.

"For the past 13 months, the tree sit has drawn attention to UCSC's reckless plan to develop Upper Campus without regard for the welfare of one of Santa Cruz's last wild ecosystems," said activist spokeswoman Jennifer Charles.

The last tree sitter, Scott Aposhian of San Diego, came down around 8am Saturday at the beckoning of more than 90 law enforcement officers, some allegedly in full riot gear, and was escorted promptly to jail under charges of trespassing and violating a court order.

The school had seen a lengthy battle over its desire to develop Upper Campus, including court hearings with the city and county of Santa Cruz and several student groups. A settlement was hammered out in August that included concessions by the university on housing, traffic and water, but for several angry students and conservationists, the deal wasn't enough.

A former tree sitter calling himself Sorrel said the end of the tree sit is not the end of the protest.

"I love the trees. They are my home," he said. "People would sometimes ask me what would it take for me to come down. I'd ask, 'What would it take for you to come up?' This part is over, but we will continue to fight."

Monning Nabs Budget Seat

Though newly minted District 27 Assemblyman Bill Monning says his appointment to the emergency budget committee last week was a total surprise and an "honor"--not to mention a bit of a coup given that he's never held public office before--there's been little time for celebrating. Monning spoke to Nu_z as he was packing for what could be an extended stay in Sacramento. That includes Christmas and New Year's, and Monning doesn't even have an apartment yet. "I'm relegated to cheap motels," he said. "I'd certainly love to be home with my family, but the state is scheduled to run out of money by February. It's a very dire circumstance."

Instead of savoring his victory and setting up a new office, as newly elected assemblymembers traditionally do in December, Monning will be slogging through frustrating budget meetings in an attempt to close the state's projected $14.8 billion deficit. He's already been to the first, a hearing with CalTrans on the dismal future of California's infrastructure.

One of Monning's biggest concerns is that people just don't understand how serious the situation is, especially his Republican peers. "There's a reason no progress is being made. Republicans are refusing to talk. There's no nonpartisan way to put it," says the former professor of negotiation and conflict resolution. "It's really vested power in a tyranny of the minority." Monning says that the conservatives are sticking stubbornly to their pledge not to raise taxes by rejecting Gov. Schwarzenegger's budget outright, behavior he characterizes as a violation of their oaths.

Monning has not been officially appointed to the permanent budget committee--the melee over the budget has pushed those announcements back--so his placement may rest on his performance in the next several weeks. While he'd like to see a constitutional amendment for 2009 that would allow a budget to pass with either a simple majority or 55 percent, rather than the accursed two-thirds now required, his focus on the committee is to try to push partisan politics aside and get Republicans and Democrats talking. "I will be very cautious and vigilant to try to protect social services and health care, because it affects all of our communities. I don't see that as a partisan issue," he says. He also says he has a lot to learn in the coming weeks and will be relying heavily on his negotiation experience to see him through. "As I pledged in my campaign, I'll do my best. I carry no magic wand. I'm not a miracle worker," he says. "I will work long hours."

Take Back the Rights

If Obama's election signaled change we can believe in, the passage of Prop. 8 pointed out homophobia that queer rights supporters were forced to recognize.

"We were falsely assuming safety, and they went for the throat," says Bryan Mackenzie, an organizer for Join the Impact in Santa Cruz, a just-launched LGBTQ rights organization. "I think that it showed that there's a huge amount of homophobia left in the world, from people who should be welcoming and embracing."

The legality of the proposition that banned same-sex marriage in California will be determined by the state Supreme Court in the upcoming months. But Mackenzie sees the impact of California's same-sex marriage ban as ultimately a step in the right direction for gay rights.

"The big picture is that there's been a huge, huge dialogue started, nationwide, that wouldn't have happened if Proposition 8 failed," says Mackenzie, who has a civil union and triplets with his male partner of 17 years. "There are positives to the failure, and I think it's important for gay people to realize that everything happens for a reason."

Mackenzie is organizing a peaceful candlelight demonstration for LGBTQ equality this Saturday, Dec. 20, dubbed Light Up the Night for Equality. The vigil, which will take place at the Clock Tower in downtown Santa Cruz at 5pm, seeks to raise visibility and thank the 72 percent of Santa Cruz voters who cast their ballots against Prop 8. Members of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus will perform, and the vigil includes a faith-based food drive. Related vigils will take place throughout the country that day.

Mackenzie stresses the importance of advancing LGBTQ rights nationwide. "President-elect Obama's intent is to give gay people the rights that they're seeking, with the exception of marriage. But I would take national civil unions over marriage in California," he says.

Conscious of the cultural change synapse between ideals and reality, he pauses to reconsider that statement. "Today," he adds with a laugh. "It's just a stepping stone. I want the national rights more than I want the state word. But eventually, I want it all."

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