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Photograph by Curtis Cartier
The Beat Blows On: Jack Rusk is hauled off by Santa Cruz cops while protesting the right of the Trash Orchestra to annoy farmers market shoppers.

What Just Happened?

Making sense of the protests, wildfires, meltdowns and mayhem that defined 2008.

By Curtis Cartier, Traci Hukill and Jessica Lussenhop

Because What We Really Need Is More Talk
After Pacific Grove-based KAZU rebuffed KUSP's suggestion to go off into the corner and show each other their books and maybe even remake the public radio station with two formats, Santa Cruz's beloved 88.9 FM changed tactics. On Sept. 1 KUSP switched its format to all talk all day, dropping eclectic daytime musical offerings in favor of more blibbity blabbity talk shows--much as KAZU did five years ago, in fact. KUSP listeners griped about the loss of cultural diversity, but no one cared.

Mothra vs. Everyone
Light brown apple moth mania crossed wayyy over into 2008, even though the aerial spray of pheromones ended in 2007. Activists won a lawsuit in May forcing CDFA to stop spraying and to conduct an environmental study before attempting to do so again. Candlelight vigils on the one-year anniversary proved the spray is gone but not forgotten, amid other events like a fashion show and the Weapons of Moth Destruction documentary release. And despite eradication ideas like sterile moths and the little poison twist ties, there are still a lot of people fighting about how scary LBAM really is. The City Council passed a resolution "urging" the state to leave us alone, and a group under the moniker People Against Chemical Trespass will be bugging the council to pass a local ordinance in the new year.

Whatever It Was, We're Sorry
The God of the Old Testament took time off from his regularly scheduled appearance in Southern California this spring to visit a plague of wildfires upon the Central Coast. In May the Summit Fire burned 4,200 acres and too many illegal dwelling units to count; the early Martin fire in June torched 600 acres and forced an evacuation in Bonny Doon, and the freakish Trabing Fire of June 20, which arrived complete with wild rumors of arson, seared another 600 acres just north of Watsonville. What got the old guy so grumpy? Was it the pot? The nude beaches? The BMWs?

One Singular Sensation
So familiar and yet so--oh, that's right: so very much the same. Except that this time the transit tax meant to pay for the widening of Highway 1, along with some more buses and bike routes, didn't even make it to the ballot. Like 2004's failed Measure J, the half-cent sales hike pushed by the Regional Transportation Commission fell victim to a philosophical disagreement over whether widening Highway 1 constitutes unhealthy enabling of lazy, polluting automobile drivers or is a necessary interim measure while big brains come up with a better transit system. The cyclists won, and drivers with the poor taste to live in South County will be duly punished for their slothful ways.

Smoky Feats
Relatively speaking it was a pretty quiet year for medical marijuana. Two candidates for Santa Cruz City Council, Lisa Molyneux and J. Craig Canada, both got up on a Mary Jane-based platform but were spanked back down by voters. WAMM spent an uncertain and tumultuous year on the pot farm, but they're still there, and in federal court won the right to continue being a bug up the U.S. attorney's ass with their lawsuit over the 2002 DEA raid. In September, cops slammed the Local Patients Advocacy Group of Santa Cruz, saying it's nothing but a dressed up-street operation, and arresting a handful of very healthy-looking hunks. By the end of the 2008 growing season, the sheriff's department reported they'd seized about 35,000 marijuana plants in the county, medical or otherwise.

He Was A Poet ...
Santa Cruz lost an icon when Chris Matthews, activist-turned-county-supervisor, professional irritant to Eisenhower-era conservative Marilyn Liddicoat and co-owner of the Poet & Patriot Pub, succumbed to cancer in August. Santa Cruzans turned out in droves for Matthews' Sept. 13 memorial at UCSC's Sinsheimer Glen.

Gay Rights: Now You See Them ...
June 17 was a fine day for same-sex couples in California, who lined up by the thousands to say their marriage vows in county courthouses across the state or to watch friends tie the knot. In Santa Cruz County, Dinah Phillips and Gail Groves were first in line. In another heartening show of progress for gay rights, Watsonville held its first gay pride march on Aug. 24.

... Now You Don't
Nov. 4 saw the passage of Prop. 8 and the start of what will no doubt be an epic series of suits and countersuits. At least Santa Cruz proved itself the third least homophobic county in California, with 71.4 percent of voters weighing in against Prop Hate.

Molotov Cocktail, Anyone?
The morning of Aug. 4 brought news that two UCSC researcher's homes had been vandalized by animal rights activists in what was immediately labeled acts of domestic terrorism. One of the researchers' cars was firebombed in her driveway and another's house was bombed while he, his wife and two small children crawled out a second-story window. In the weeks after the attacks, a group associated with the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility, declaring that the scientists were targeted because their research involved animal testing. In an unusual display of unanimity of opinion, Santa Cruzans came together in the weeks after the attacks to publicly denounce the actions. The case was turned over to the FBI and a reward for information was set at $50,000, but beside a few search warrants served there have been no definitive arrests--although in the wake of the attacks legislation zipped through the state house that stiffened penalties for trespassing on scientist's property and publishing names of researchers.

Delaware or Bust
Getting any new building built in Santa Cruz is tough. So on Aug. 19, when the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously approved plans for 248 new residential and commercial units to be built on 20 acres of Westside city land over the next 15 years, to say it was a big accomplishment would be a gross understatement. Hailed by Mayor Ryan Coonerty as "exactly the kind of development Santa Cruz stands for" and receiving similar praise from other councilmembers, the 2120 Delaware Ave. project features a self-contained live/work environment that will be built in three five-year stages and will represent one of the largest single construction projects in Santa Cruz County history.

Sex Kittens at the Mall
And who could forget the subject of our nomination for Best Unintentionally Funny Sentinel Headline 2008, "Cougar spotted at the mall," wherein we met a mountain lion with a compulsive shopping problem at the Capitola Mall. Though he has a penchant for the food court, don't go offering Felix free samples of bourbon chicken--humans are really cramping the 30 to 40 cougars living in our mountains and cougars will totally effing kill you, no matter how cute your butt is.

Circle Jerks
You can hardly swing a cat in Santa Cruz without hitting at least three drum circles. But when the city tried to run off the weekly circle that coincides with the downtown farmers market and occupies the adjoining parking lot, it gave the hippies more reason than just good pot to beat on drums. After mesh gates went up around the trees where the drummers congregate and additional patrol cops arrived to enforce the ban, a massive group that included members of Food Not Bombs, the Trash Orchestra and the Raging Grannies turned out in protest. On Sept. 17, the tensions boiled over when police arrested one of the drummers. Before long the crowd had surrounded the officer and his arrestee, and within minutes an entire squadron of riot police was on the scene. Although two percussionist supporters were hauled off to the hoosegows that day, it appears that in the end the hippies won, as their high-decibel experiment in "rhythm" and the magic of group dynamics continues to annoy shoppers without so much as a peep from the seemingly defeated police.

Park Place
If the idea to get rid of drummers from the Cedar Street parking lot was unlikely to succeed, the idea to turn the lot into a five story parking garage was doomed from the start. After a series of public meetings, the highlight of which included a slideshow of several half-empty existing parking structures, the city abandoned its $15 million parking plan for the time being. Good thing too, because now that the city is $7 million in debt and closing pools and community centers, a shiny new concrete blemish would have been hard to explain.

The Little Red Hen
After serving for not quite a year as the city of Santa Cruz's economic development director, Jeremy Neuner decided the best person to bring economic stimulus to town was his very own self--along with his new well-connected California pals Mayor Ryan Coonerty and attorney Caleb Baskin. Neuner quit his job and the three started NextSpace, a coop for telecommuters and start-ups located downtown. The official opening was Oct. 1.

Just Burn It!
The proposition to turn the Buena Vista Landfill in Watsonville into an "Ecopark" and join it with a "plasma arc gasification" plant that would burn trash at high temperatures and create electricity ran into a brick wall on Oct. 7 when the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors declared that AdaptiveARC, the company pitching the idea, had shoddy research data and sent it packing. The Ecopark, which looked to turn mountains of compost into playing fields and jungle gyms, also hit the skids when surrounding towns deemed it not worth the money. Today, the landfill remains just as smelly as ever.

Monitoring the Situation
As if LBAM wasn't enough chemical conspiracy for one county, the Monterey Bay Unified Air Control Board revealed in October that it had detected high levels of chromium-6 at Davenport Pacific School, apparently from fugitive dust blowing in from the nearby Cemex cement plant. Once combined with elementary school students' elevated levels of innocence, it was the perfect chemical composition for Total Freakout. Erin Brockovich swung through town in November to teach Davenport residents how to suss out the truth for themselves, while Cemex temporarily shut down operations. Subsequent tests showing safe levels of the chemical in and around the school were still not enough to restore trust in this tiny town--parents and residents still don't believe scientists employed by the county have no corporate bias. Air Control will continue to monitor the area well into 2009, so this may be the opening act for the eventual blockbuster starring Donald Sutherland as Ed Kendig.

Welcome to Cutsville, Population, You
The cities of Santa Cruz and Watsonville have come to grips with how completely screwed their budgets are in the last month or so, but the county knew way back in May, when it unveiled a budget with $19 million worth of devastating cuts to all kinds of programs in health services and to infrastructure. In Santa Cruz, things began looking scary in an August special election when Measure T, a phone tax to pay for 911 services, lost by a wee 2 percent that cost the city $2.5 million. In November, while Obama supporters danced in the streets, the election had lots of bad news for city budgets. After Measure C (cf Measure T) went down in flames in Watsonville, the council voted to lay off all its nonessential employees for two weeks in December and January to help cover the $242,000 in projected losses. That makes the budget deficit score so far: Santa Cruz, $7 million; Watsonville, $1.9 million; the county, $19 million; and that means in 2009 we'll find out real quick what it means to live in a place with gutted health services, community pools, rec centers, libraries and infrastructure. Meanwhile, Capitolans breathed a sigh of relief when Measure D passed, reinstating a one-quarter percent tax that should help shore up city coffers in these darkest of days.

David and Goliath
This year's race for Santa Cruz City Council saw the re-election of Ryan Coonerty and the successful return of former Councilmembers Katherine Beiers and Don Lane. No one, however, expected the final open seat to turn into a photo finish between incumbent Tony Madrigal and challenger David Terrazas. A transportation official and relative unknown before the election, Terrazas launched a well-oiled campaign that earned him a strong following, and while he lost to Madrigal by 45 votes, the race proved you can give established candidates a run for their money.

That Giant Sucking Noise
Homeowners who bought in the heady days of the real estate boom got one piece of bad news after another, culminating in December's news flash: the median selling price for a house in Santa Cruz County was $433,000, down from $740,000 a year ago. Mortgage meltdown support groups are forming now.

Tree sitters Forced to Stand
After a more than year of hearing about the zippy hoodies in the trees, Santa Cruzans began to wonder if the UCSC tree sitters would ever come down. From high above Science Hill, a small cluster of redwoods held a rotating group of protesters that sought to keep the university from building any new structures on the school's Upper Campus by utilizing a tactic similar to 14-year-olds who lock themselves in their rooms and refuse to come out. Steadfast and determined, the group of environmentalists saw 402 days of living on small platforms dozens of feet high and pooping in a bucket before the last sitter, Scott Aposhian, came down Dec. 13 to a small battalion of police and was whisked off to jail. Hours after Aposhian came down, the second-growth redwood trees in question were cut down. That, however, didn't stop activist groups from claiming that their protest had indeed been a success, because although the university's Long Range Development Plan was moving forward, the fact that "people talked about the tree sit" made all their efforts worthwhile.

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