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[whitespace] Fighter Jets
... No, It's a Fighter Jet: If the U.S. Navy proposal is approved, F-16s and F-18s would rip through the skies above Los Padres National Forest.


La Bomba!

Nobody saw it coming. Supersonic jets ripping through the skies at 1,100 mph above the coastal mountain valley, dropping practice bombs amid wildlife habitat and Native American burial grounds? The idea seemed too ludicrous to be real.

But the U.S. Navy isn't joking about its proposal to build a jet fighter training site at the 165,000-acre Fort Hunter Liggett. Military activity at the fort, which occupies a corner of the San Antonio Valley in the Santa Lucia Mountains' Los Padres National Forest adjacent to Big Sur, has been on the decline over the past five years. Now the Navy has determined that the fort is the ideal site for the Doolittle Training Target Area, a bombing range that would accommodate aircraft such as F-16s and F-18s.

News of the bombing-range proposal reached the ears of Rep. Sam Farr, who is leading the anti-aircraft charge, via environmental groups. These groups did not learn of the Navy's intent until January 11--only four days before the Navy planned to close the public comment period. When Farr caught wind of this, he met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy Duncan Holaday, who agreed to extend the comment period until March 2.

"We learned about [the proposal] way past the 11th hour," says Jack Ellwanger, editor of the newsletter Pelican Network. "The Navy has been so brazen about something that will have so much impact. They set themselves above the public process, inoculated themselves from any public concern, and if you express concern, they're just flummoxed."

The proposed site is located in the middle of the Salinan nation's homeland, where 300 certified archeological sites have been documented.

The San Antonio Valley is also home to 14 of the world's 126 remaining federally protected California condors, the California Oak Woodland Savannah and the San Antonio mission.

According to Farr's office, the Navy wants to launch around 1,000 bombing runs a year between the Lemoore naval air station and the north end of Fort

Hunter Liggett's Stony Valley, where they would drop inert ammunition. Doing so would allow them to save $3 million a year in fuel. Those who don't appreciate such noble conservation attempts can contact www.pelicannetwork.net. The date and place of an upcoming town meeting are yet to be announced.

Bone to Pick

Despite their proximity to our office on Front Street, the Carpenters Local Union 405 doesn't have a bone to pick with Metro Santa Cruz. Their actual target is Coast Commercial Bank.

L.U. 405 has upgraded from traditional handheld pickets to huge waterproof banners, but the picketers still aren't allowed to talk to anyone. Chartreuse fliers that read "Coast Commercial Bank sucks" in very big letters, followed by smaller ones that read, "money out of the local economy by using Barry Swenson Builder," have been replaced by salmon-colored ones that substitute the graphic "sucks" with the classier "cheats." Picketers are also handing out small strips of paper that read, "I apologize, but I am not authorized to discuss this Union action " followed by a phone number.

The phone number belongs to union spokesman Richard Wright, who never returned Nuz's phone calls.

"Barry Swenson is performing work for Coast Commercial Bank," says Carpenters L.U. 405 spokesperson Paul Cohen, "which impacts the community by undercutting standard wages paid to carpenters. When business use those contractors they're having a negative impact on the community."

Bank president Harvey J. Nickelson's reaction to the protest on his doorstep is one of surprise and horror. The bank didn't "use" Swenson for the building that is currently being picketed, he huffs, admitting that "it's true that in the future we will be leasing a space at 75 River St. from Barry Swenson Builders for our administrative offices, like many other local businesses." Nickelson is also flabbergasted since Coast Commercial isn't the only bank in town that has ever loaned funds to Swenson. But what really has the prez spitting fire is the flier's assertion that Coast Commercial "helps erode the Local Economy."

"If you look at the reputation of our bank for the last 20 years, that statement is a farce!" he says. "We have supported so many philanthropic endeavors and given back to the community in big ways. I wonder how many of those picketers are really union members," he grumbles.

Cohen agrees that not all of them are. "We don't employ full-time professional pickets," he says, adding that however they are contracting them and however much they are being paid, it is all perfectly legal. "Normally, we use union members to do picket work while they're not working, but right now anybody who has got the skills is working, so we have members who are injured, or not at their full strength, on the picket. We want to get people out there. If there are not enough members, we will hire friends and relatives of members."

Free Speech Dust-Up

Perhaps Marc Cooper could feel it in the air.

Cooper, a longtime political journalist, avowed socialist and host of The Nation's syndicated weekly radio show RadioNation, spoke Saturday evening at Capitola Book Cafe to promote his latest book, Pinochet and Me: A Chilean Anti-Memoir, about his 18-month stint as former Chilean president Salvador Allende's translator and his 25 years spent covering the beleaguered South American nation. His opening remarks before a sizable audience included a portent nod to Santa Cruz liberalism "on the Pacifica frequency," a reference to 1999's controversial management upheaval at KPFA, the famed "free speech" Berkeley public radio station, owned by Pacifica Radio.

But he couldn't have anticipated the chaos that ensued only moments after he completed an overview of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's indictment for the murder and kidnapping of 75 political prisoners. Opening the floor to questions, Cooper was besieged by local KPFA sympathizers, who placed the reporter straight in the firing line over his August 1999 Nation editorial that criticized the station's agitated supporters.

"This is about free speech!" a front-row audience member enticed. The meeting quickly dissolved into a five-minute yelling match between Cooper and a half-dozen, mostly septuagenarian, "free speech" protesters. "We fought for your job!" shrieked one from the back of the room. Finally, a visibly irritated Cooper suggested that if there was anyone who wanted "to talk about Chile, we can go next door to my hotel room."

"I did not come here to be yelled at," he warned.

Alas, the startled audience didn't get to see Cooper's Best Western digs, as the fuming--but silenced--protesters soon left the reading in a huff.

"Fine, let him have it all," growled one on her way out.

Free speech indeed.

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From the February 7-14, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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