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A Shoulder To Park on

UCSC commuters, beware: the California Highway Patrol has taken note of the dozens of cars illegally parked at the West Entrance. And more parking tickets may be in the offing.

Students and staff have found a way to avoid congested parking lots and high parking fees--permits range from $250 to $500, with an increase for next year planned--by parking along the bike lane, dirt embankments and grassy incline along Empire Grade.

The shoulder is marked No Parking, but CHP officer Dane Lobb, who is preparing a report on the problem, says that at last count he spotted about 40 cars parked along the road. He says the CHP has ticketed those blocking the bike and traffic lanes. Some cars have not been cited because the distance between the No Parking signs makes enforcement of the law difficult--although Nüz spotted a clutch of unticketed cars hugging one sign directly across from the campus entrance.

The situation is hazardous, according to Lobb. "If someone is traveling down that road at 40 miles per hour and you are trying to pull out, the possibility of collision is dramatic," Lobb told Nüz.

Drivers jaywalk across the busy roadway to reach campus, and "we're certainly not wanting an incident where a UCSC student is hit by a car," Lobb adds.

Lobb's report will be passed on to county and university officials, and will suggest several solutions, including paving the open space along the road and painting parking spaces and a crosswalk, or stepping up enforcement of the law.

"The campus does consider this a safety issue," says UCSC spokesperson Liz Irwin, "and we are in communication with the Highway Patrol to address this concern."

Root Awakening

Early Friday, in "the wee hours of a moon-lit morning," according to its faxed communiqué, a group called the Fragaria Freedom Fighters destroyed what they believed to be a small field of genetically engineered strawberries at a Watsonville-based research facility. Citing the U.S. Senate's recent resolution declaring January 2000 "National Biotechnology Month" as a catalyst, the FFF takes a strong stand against genetic engineering, the militant missive closing with "Long live the seeds!"

But Steven Nelson of Plant Sciences Inc. claims that the group was mistaken, and that the plants in question were untainted by the transgenic "mutilation" they hoped to stop. According to Nelson, the uprooted berries were instead part of research into alternatives to the pesticide methyl bromide.

Genetic engineering has recently come under fire from many quarters, many better-organized than our own little FFF. Perhaps most notably, the FDA recently held a series of hearings to determine whether tighter federal regulations of the biotech industry are warranted.

Plant Sciences Inc.'s website touts its "experience with international biotechnology companies, [which] has resulted in worldwide exclusive licenses of superior fungal resistance genes for strawberries." Safety at the Watsonville site is managed by an internal quality-assurance team.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a member of the FFF laughed off the alleged mistake. "Saturday, the company said that none of their crops were destroyed at all. Now they say we got the wrong ones," says the would-be agro-terrorist. "The point is that genetic engineering is happening right here on the central coast, directly next door to organic farms, which are threatened by the very existence of GE crops."

Youth Crime Split

The two leading candidates for Santa Cruz County DA have staked out opposing positions on a crucial law-enforcement initiative on the March ballot, Proposition 21. The main ingredient of the law, written by the state District Attorney's Association, would take the discretion for charging juveniles accused of certain violent crimes as adults out of the hands of the courts and give it to district attorneys. Adult sentencing rules can keep young offenders in prison beyond age 25, the limit for incarceration for most juvenile court cases.

Santa Cruz County DA Ron Ruiz has broken with the DA Association and come out against Prop. 21.

"It does away with prevention and intervention programs for young offenders who warrant it in this county," argues Ruiz. "The probation officers in California have come out against it. They all feel, as I do, that this will destroy intervention as we know it."

His principal opponent, former Deputy DA Kate Canlis, supports the initiative.

"Although it's not what I would have written, on balance I favor it," Canlis says. "My main concern is juvenile murderers, and I'd rather the discretion was with the DA than with probation departments and the courts.

She cited the example of criminals who prevail on juveniles to be shooters knowing that the consequences of conviction are less severe than for adults.

Ruiz was unaware if there were other individual DAs from the state's 58 counties who opposed the initiative.

Bliss

In the wake of news reports about the Cornell University study which concluded that incompetence is bliss, Nu-z thought we'd bring the subject closer to home.

Last June, during a trial to keep convicted murderer Donald Schmidt in jail for two more years, the defense relied on the testimony of the sole California Youth Authority therapist who believed that Schmidt was ready to rejoin society: Stan Blondek.

The case ended in a mistrial when Judge Tom Kelly called Blondek the most incompetent witness he had ever seen. Assistant DA Ariadne Symons had presented evidence that Blondek's advanced degrees were earned through correspondence courses and that he was not licensed by the state Board of Psychology.

Blondek later filed a complaint against Symons with the State Department of Fair Employment & Housing. He claims he was "harassed and attacked by the ADA" and complains of being "dismissed from the case as being incompetent." At the same time, Blondek requested authorization to file a lawsuit, effectively ending the FEH inquiry. Symons now awaits Blondek's lawsuit.

"What incredible gall, to think he has been discriminated against," Symons told Nüz.

The Cornell study noted that people who do things badly are usually most confident in their competence--enough so, it would appear, to threaten to sue when it is questioned.

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From the January 26-February 2, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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