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[whitespace] Ed Mecchella Wheeling Into His 90s: 87-year-old Ed Mecchella tap dances at Meals on Wheels' 25th anniversary.


Free Wheelin'

On Valentine's Day, Meals on Wheels celebrated 25 years of service to Santa Cruz County with a special luncheon at the Holy Cross Parish Hall. With elected officials acting as "celebrity waiters"--Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice talked about being recently awarded the senior discount at Noah's Bagels, while Supervisor Jeff Almquist gave a bondage-free account of the history of Valentine's Day--dozens of senior citizens, bused in from each of the county's five dining areas and appropriately dolled up in pinks and reds, livened up the hall.

In the last 25 years, Meals on Wheels has delivered 5.5 million low-sodium, low-sugar meals to the county's elderly. Today, Meals on Wheels serves 400 meals a day at dining sites throughout the county. Anyone older than 60 is welcome to dine at the sites, which also offer exercise and painting classes, bingo, arts and crafts and dances with live music. In addition, the organization delivers 525 meals daily to homebound seniors and 150 frozen weekend dinners to those most in need. All meals are free with a suggested donation.

Gayle Ortiz, vice mayor of Capitola, calmed the worries of frequenters of the Capitola dining site at Jade Street Community Center, who fear a possible closure of the hall. Turns out the hall is located on property owned by the school board, which is negotiating with Capitola for money and land in exchange for the property. Says Ortiz, "The city has just asked the school board to agree to using a facilitator to help identify goals and solutions for both organizations" and is waiting for the board's response.

Though vastly underage, Nüz admits to feasting on an almond-mushroom paté appetizer and gorging on turkey grape salad, roasted vegetable pasta salad and petit croissant. And yes, we did wash down the whole delicious mix with sparking apple juice served up in a plastic champagne glass.

Nüz's fascination with the food was finally broken when 87-year-old Ed Mecchella, a "Latin from Manhattan," hit the dance floor, where he impressed everyone with his vigorous tap dancing, bright red shirt, loud striped tie--and a top hat, borrowed from performers Glen Rose and Linda Day, who were delivering a jazz review in the style of 1930s Big Bands.

"I like to show off my talents," said Ed, who plans to spend his 90s with his son on the "white sandy beaches" of Georgia, where he's "gonna ride a bike and get into trouble."

Sam Storey, executive director of Food and Nutrition Services, which oversees the Meals on Wheels program, said that FNS is working on ways to ensure that the program will cater to the needs of the large baby boomer generation, which will soon reach retirement age--and is, as Nüz reminded him, more used to Woodstock, whole summers of love and Rolling Stones-style rock & roll.

"There is going to be a lot more demand in five years," Storey said. (Call 464.3180 for info.)

Goat Floats

The 1,680 peptide-injected goats that prowled Santa Cruz Biotechnology Inc.'s 206-acre North Coast property for four years may be gone, but their droppings ain't. Though the Coastal Commission blew the whistle on the operation last July, explicitly stating in the Cease and Desist Order that SCBI was to "remove all goats, manure, and all materials contaminated with feces and or urine," from their biomedical research facility, such materials still remain, according to the Coastal Commission.

And with it raining cats and dogs, all that goat poop is gonna be more difficult to ignore.

SCBI has also hedged on another of the Coastal Commission's instructions: the restoration of destroyed riparian areas. Miles of fences, which prevent wildlife passage, also remain, along with barns and sheds that were built without permits.

Sherif Traylor, the Coastal Commission enforcement analyst assigned to the case, says that enforcement of the cleanup order is taking so long because the commission is "inventorying the permit situation"--another way of saying they have to find out how many of the structures were built without permits. "It's not as easy as one would think," Traylor says, "in finding out what is out there. The Stephensons [who own SCBI] gave us some information, but it was incomplete, so we're trying to gather information from other sources as well."

In the meantime, strange and disturbing things are still being found around the Stephensons' so-called ranch. On Nov. 21, 2000, Santa Cruz County Environmental Health Services, CalTrans, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff, California Highway Patrol and the California Department of Fire responded to a "hazardous material incident" on Highway 1 at 5221 Coast Road and found four 20-gallon containers full of biological waste. The law enforcement officers decided that these barrels belonged to SCBI. According to Rolando Chambers of County Environmental Health, SCBI owner John Stephenson, while claiming that they weren't his, took the containers to a secure area.

Hopeful Action

Speaking of disturbing things, are you worried about all those ugly ol' warts popping up on the underbelly of California's neutrally named "new economy"? Nüz is of course referring to increased instances of temporary unemployment, lessened educational opportunities, zero health insurance, and the question of pension portability.

According to Manuel Pastor, professor of Latin American and Latino studies at UCSC and director of UCSC's new Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community, a growing number of people are concerned about these issues--and there are steps they can take.

Says Pastor, "As California enters the new millennium, it has become the center of the new economy, the new diversity--and the new inequalit, and there is a tendency among activists and students to feel despair, that the best days of organizing are behind us. But some of us believe that the best organizing is going on now."

To prove the point, the center is sponsoring a free public discussion about community organizing in the 21st century, featuring union organizer Amy Dean, head of San Jose's Central Labor Council, Carlos Porras, executive director of Communities for a Better Environment and former Black Panther Anthony Thigpenn, founder of AGENDA, a South L.A.-based grassroots organization that focuses on economic justice.

"I have researched collaboratively with each of these social activists. and I know that each has learned how to use research creatively for social change. I am totally impressed by the work they do," says Pastor, who believes "a sense of hope" will emerge from the event, which is at UCSC's Kresge Town Hall, Thursday (Feb. 22 at 7pm; call 459 4399).

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From the February 21-28, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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