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Bad After Taste

As Bobby Bishop, proprietor of Bobby's Can Cookin', packs up his barbecue equipment and gets ready to lock his doors for the last time, he'll be saying good-bye to more than Taste of the World Food Court on Pacific Avenue. He'll also be doffing his hat to yet another failed Santa Cruz social experiment. According to Bishop, a feasibility study commissioned by Edison Capital (former owners of the building under the pre-merger name Mission First) noted that the food court could not support itself due to poor foot traffic, high rents and poor layout. Therefore, Bishop was told, the recommendation is to close down the food court.

Originally, this idea of liberal-minded folks such as Community Housing Corporation, Vision Santa Cruz and, of course, the Santa Cruz City Council was to use some post-earthquake bucks to create "incubator projects." This would supply funds and technical assistance to minorities and economically disadvantaged folks to start their own business in the Food Court.

Who could predict that the original contractors would go bankrupt, delaying occupation of the building by the new businesses until winter and causing them to miss out on the vital summer trade? Or that the architectural design bore closer resemblance to a coffin than a cafe? And speaking of coffins, the dead body that was discovered a year ago in one of the rooms above the court, only after it began rotting and leaking into the restaurants below, may have driven the final nail in the ... well, you know.

It was a tragedy of errors, but Bishop is feeling just a tad betrayed by Community Housing (now known as Mission Charities Housing California since its recent merger). "They did not promote this building at all, from the grand opening on," says Bishop. Repeatedly, the food proprietors asked for help with signage, advertising and additions such as a sidewalk cafe. Repeatedly, says Bishop, occupants were told MCHC would help if the businesses got caught up on their rent. But no advertising meant no business, therefore no rent money, and on the vicious circle rolled. Last December, an approved promotion budget totaling $28,950 was sent to the beleaguered businesses. Unfortunately, a promise was all the businesses ever saw.

Most interesting about this whole mess is the magnificent stone wall--actually, stonewalling--that surrounds it. Personnel of Mission Charities referred all inquiries to their president, Jane Graff, who did not return repeated phone calls. N-uz was then inexplicably referred to the John Stewart Company, property managers of the food court, where vice president Mary Tustin also would not comment. In fact, she would not comment when asked if she knew the phone number for Mission First/Edison Capital.

Huh? "It's complicated," she explains.

When N-uz finally reached Irvine-based Edison Capital, corporate communications honcho Cherri Wilburn would neither confirm nor deny if her company commissioned the feasibility study.

It must be complicated.

Cat Scam

Santa Cruz: Beware fax transmissions from Nigeria offering big bucks. Of course, most people are intelligent enough to be suspicious when offered $15 million from a Nigerian banker, oil magnate or government official they've never even met. The scams the Nigerians are trying to pull on local businesses are pretty transparent. What's more, they'll target any business or person they can find in international directories. Gloria Lorenzo, who works for the Consumer Affairs Unit of the Santa Cruz DA's Office, even received one of the fax-scams personally in November 1994. "We get at least one call a week, mainly from businesses, about a Nigerian scam," says Lorenzo.

The letters are written in broken English and the sender claims to hold a position in government, banking or the Nigerian oil industry. They claim to have some huge sum of money ($30 million to $50 million), which cannot be utilized without foreign assistance. In return for the use of your bank account to transfer these funds, you get to keep something like 30 percent. Great, right?

Thomas Wade, president of American Architectural Standards in Aptos, decided to have some fun with the con artist who targeted him. He invented two counterproposals for the perusal of one Dr. Augustine Ndidi of Lagos, Nigeria.

The first claimed that scientists discovered whale bones on a chain of islands off the Santa Cruz coast, bones fossilized into gold. Unfortunately, so much gold would cause such an imbalance in the U.S. economy that the U.S. government reserved exclusive mining claims "for Nigerians such as yourself," Wade wrote. Wade then asked for $38.5 million and a photo of Ndidi's mother in exchange for a deed to one of the islands. But even more fun was Wade's second counter-ruse (humorless pet fanatics, please stop here): the Mexican Cat Farm scam. A group of Aptos investors, Wade explained in his letter, was planning to invest in a cat ranch near Hermosillo, Mexico, which could produce 12 million cat skins per year (a good Mexican cat man can skin about 50 cats per day, he said). The cats would be fed rats and, for that purpose, a rat farm also be would constructed. What would the rats eat? Why, skinned cats, of course.

"You can see that the business is ... self-supporting," wrote the phony entrepreneur. "The cats will eat the rats, and the rats will eat the cats and we get the skins."

As yet, Dr. Ndidi has not replied to either business proposal.

Beer Today, Ganja Tomorrow

It was a routine worthy of Keystone Kops. Seems that some of the more raucous DJs at Free Radio Santa Cruz were getting on the nerves of the gang at Santa Cruz Citizens for Medical Marijuana, co-tenants at the station's semi-secret studio (everyone but the cops knew the location). On Cinco de Mayo, irate "Citizen" Neil Hokenstad, who allegedly had eschewed green buds that night for Budweiser, kicked down the station's door prepared to kick DJ Skidmark Bob's butt.

Within minutes after Hokenstad broke down the door, a phalanx of free-radio supporters arrived to the rescue and attempted to calm the reportedly drunk and angry Medi-Pot advocate while packing up their gear for a quick getaway.

According to DJs Phil Free, they got away just in time, too. Police responding to the altercation passed the merry pranksters as they sped away to a new semi-secret location. But in the end, no charges were filed, and apparently the Medi-Pot folks are blissing out in their newfound quiet.

Nuz loves hot tips--call 457-9000 or email us.

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From the May 23-29, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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