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Family Feud: The long fight over a bike path through Arana Gulch enters a new phase April 11.


A Bridge Too Far?

The battle of the Arana Gulch bike path will shift into high gear April 11, when the Santa Cruz City Council votes on spending $40,000 to complete the project's environmental impact report. Without the funds, the long-debated path will be dead in its tracks.

In one corner, environmentalists and cyclists are fighting for the bicycle/pedestrian path linking Broadway in the city of Santa Cruz to the Brommer Street/Seventh Avenue intersection in the county. In the other corner, rallying to stop the bike path ... are more environmentalists and cyclists.

Supporters say Santa Cruz needs an east-west bike corridor to help relieve gridlock. Previous proposals for a road through the area have been scuttled.

"Environmentalists should be supporting this project," says People Power's Micah Posner. "It would encourage new cyclists to ride, and decrease consumption and pollution."

The current proposal includes a paved 12-foot bike path through the park that would be wide enough to accommodate emergency vehicles, a 360-foot bridge across Hagemann Gulch and either a 130-foot or a 740-foot bridge across Arana Creek.

Opponents say it's not the bike path they don't like, it's the environmental impact the proposed bridges and pavement will have on the Arana Gulch open space. They also say the bike path threatens the Santa Cruz Tarplant (an endangered native bush), along with other plants, birds and animals in the gulch.

However, the land is already used by cyclists, pedestrians and their dogs, and "there are more potential problems to the tarplants by dogs running unleashed, which is a common occurrence" says associate transportation planner Ted Lopez, adding that the path has been designed to avoid the tarplant colonies.

The Common Code

Slumlords, beware. The city of Santa Cruz is poised to take a new tough-on-building-code-violators stance, hitting dirty landlords where it hurts--their pocketbooks.

A proposed addition to the Santa Cruz Municipal Code, called Title 4, would make it easier for the city to go after code violators. Title 4 would target repeat offenders, especially property owners who consistently rent unsafe or illegal homes to tenants, says Gene Arner, the city's housing and community development manager.

Title 4 would establish a set of administrative remedies (read: fines and fees) as an alternative to taking violators to court. The fines and fees are designed to encourage more prompt and lasting compliance while defraying the costs of enforcement.

"The intent is to give the city a more efficient way to address the correction of violations with particular emphasis to problem properties," Arner says. "Right now, our only recourse is to go to court. This provides us with a way to address the violation more quickly."

This doesn't mean first-time offenders will be subject to immediate city fees, Arner adds. If landlords don't fix a problem after a set time period, they will be charged re-inspection fees and fined for repeat violations. Fines and compliance periods have not been determined.

After taking a draft of Title 4 to the Planning Commission on March 9, planning department staff are now reworking the details and hope to bring it back to the commission in a month, Arner says. Before it can become law, Title 4 must have the approval of both the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Is this get-tough stance a thinly-veiled attempt to go after granny units?

Arner says no, but such units--small apartments attached to homes, often illegally--would be covered by Title 4.

"There's no intent to target any specific violation," Arner says. "Illegal units are just another violation." A more likely target are landlords who rent properties with rotting floor boards, or without running water.

"The ones we are most concerned about are the buildings that don't meet basic building codes and are a threat to the life and safety of the tenants," Arner says. The city is currently focusing on "three or four" such properties.

"It's difficult to bring these properties into compliance. The landlords weigh the expected court fine versus the amount of rent they can expect to get and they make their decision. If we have the ability to impose fines it may serve to get their attention."

Teen Trashing

Treating "troubled" teenagers is a $25 billion annual industry in the United States, with profits rising a staggering 45 percent per year in the last decade, according to Youth Today, a trade monthly catering to the youth services industry. Locals got a taste of the industry's questionable advertising tactics in Dominican Hospital's latest Focus on Health mailing.

In a chapter called "The Pressure Is on Our Teens," Dominican's magazine whips up images of rampant, rising suicide, hard-drug abuse and crime by teen addicts. "Each year, four or five Santa Cruz County teenagers take their own lives," the article states. "While teen drug use is high, it's hard, too. ... Police departments are reporting sizable increases in thefts as a result of the use of hard, addictive drugs."

"It's our own local youth," declares Tim Sinnott, Dominican's Behavioral Health director.

"There is more teen suicide today," the article warns, suggesting that parents call Dominican's experts if their teenager has "zero social life" or says things like, "I don't want to do this anymore."

Fortunately, practically none of the article's claims square with Santa Cruz health or law enforcement records. Coroner reports show an average of two Santa Cruz teen suicides per year, a rate lower than adults' and which has fallen 30 percent since the 1970s.

Some teen drug overdoses "might not be accidental," but hidden suicides, Sinnott suggests. But Santa Cruz hasn't reported a teen death from an accidental drug overdose since 1976. Of the 150 drug deaths in the last two decades, none was under age 21. Hospital records show only 2 percent (and falling) of drug emergency cases are teens.

Far from "reporting sizable increases," local police report that thefts fell sharply in 1999 to a quarter-century low, with youths accounting for fewer than one in 10 cases. Santa Cruz County's newest (1998) "Criminal Justice Profile" shows teen arrest rates for theft, property crime and other felonies also at record low levels.

Dominican PR chief Penni Jacobi would not respond to questions about the pamphlet's accuracy, saying only that her department "wrote the story and we take responsiblity for it."

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From the March 29-April 5, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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