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Nuz

Eating Our Words

Nuz made a big mistake. In a recent story about the closing of Bobby's Can Cookin' in the Taste of the World Food Court on Pacific Avenue, owner Bobby Bishop was quoted as saying that the rest of the Food Court would also be closing down. In reporting this, we neglected to check with remaining food stands Zelán, Manila Turo Turo and El Centro Taqueria.

The understandably peeved proprietors of all three remaining joints say they ain't goin' nowhere. "We are here to stay," says Zelán co-owner Jagath Ranasinghe, who echoes Bishop's anger with landlord Mission Charities Housing. "The landlords have always neglected the property," he says, pointing to outdoor lights, which he claims were out of order for a year and a half until they were finally replaced last week, following publicity about the food court's problems.

Adds Fely Zamora, Manila Turo Turo's owner, "Our lease has three and a half years left, plus a guarantee of another five years."


Getting Plowed

There are those who view that rolling farmland in Watsonville as an emerald straitjacket that keeps the puffed-up, cappuccino-swilling Santa Cruz populace from spilling over into the rest of the Central Coast, where (we hear) reality resides. Still others find those acres of artichokes, strawberries and lettuce a quaint holdover from our rural past. And, then there are folks like farmer Sam Earnshaw, who believe it is irreplaceable agricultural land.

Regardless of how one sees it, it's the future view that may be of interest to local folks--a landscape littered with auto plazas, warehouse stores, mini-malls and condos. Plans are afoot to annex two sites into the folds of the city, thereby hastening the rezoning of some 800 acres now deemed "Agricultural/Commercial" to something more profitable.

The first site, known as the Riverside Annexation, is the one that Earnshaw and the folks over at the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau are most concerned about. Farm Bureau Executive Director Jess Brown states flatly, "This is some of the richest soil in the valley." If the Watsonville City Council votes for annexation, the proposal will go to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), which has the authority to approve annexation. At that point, it's bye-bye veggies, hello Costco.

The arguments for annexation--then rezoning--are familiar: Watsonville needs jobs and housing. But so are the arguments against: There is no retrieving this farmland once it is buried under Kentucky Fried Chicken or Taco Bell (or whatever else passes for job opportunities).

The other site, named the Tai
Annexation
, after its owner, developer Vincent Tai, contains one of the largest pieces of certified organic acreage in Santa Cruz County, according to Earnshaw.

However, Tai begs to disagree about the quality of his land. "This is one situation where it's bad ag land," says Tai, reached by phone at his San Francisco offices. He refers to a November 1995 letter from Farm Bureau President Mike Jani to Maureen Owens, City of Watsonville planning director, noting that the Tai Annexation site "appears to be a better choice for the growth of Watsonville to minimize its impact on commercially viable agricultural [land] than some other alternatives."

For those who believe otherwise, especially about the Riverside property, Earnshaw and Brown suggest that citizens write Watsonville City Councilmember Lowell Hurst, who, says Brown, is the swing vote on this decision.

Oh, and let's not forget the bottom line to this whole venture. If Tai Associates sees this property annexed and rezoned, they stand to make a generous return on their investment. Purchased for $2000 an acre, the property will be worth $200,000 an acre under new zoning.


Extreme Stiles

For the second year running, "Bio" Bob Stiles, 45-year-old granddad of the local skateboarding and punk-music scene is heading to ESPN's 1996 Extreme Games later this month to compete in the land luge event, a sport Stiles helped develop. The X-Games are like an alternative Olympics, pitting athletes from all over the world in unconventional competitive sports, including skateboarding, stunt-bike riding, bungee jumping, inline skating, sky surfing, sport climbing and an extreme adventure race, which also includes a team from Santa Cruz.

A land luge is like an elongated skateboard, aerodynamic and dizzyingly close to the ground. It is ridden feet-forward and can reach high speeds on paved inclines. Though the X-Games are only in their second year and the first legal land luge races took place just three years ago--between auto races at Laguna Seca--Stiles has been practicing his dangerous passion for 17 years, reaching top speeds approaching 80 mph in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Stiles says he tries to practice at least once a week, but keeps his practice locations secret, for obvious reasons. "First off, I'm breaking the speed limit in an unregistered vehicle with no visible brakes on the public roads," Stiles says. "I usually do it early in the morning with a backup car for safety."

And how do you stop a land luge?

Good sturdy sneakers.

When he's not out there risking his middle-aged ass, Bio Bob works for one of his sponsors, Anatometal, making body jewelry. He also skateboards, bikes and runs regularly to keep in shape and plays with his wife Jojo in local punk band Schlep. His nickname was derived from the 1970s, when TV bionic duo Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers were all the rage, and the term "bio" was often used to describe a death-defying act of recreation.

Stiles, currently 16th in the world, was one of several enthusiasts who helped develop specialized equipment for a sport that once involved simply riding a skateboard on one's posterior. He will be racing against 32 other qualifiers on a steep and dangerous 3/4-mile course in Providence, Rhode Island, vying for $30,000 in prize money. The winner will take home something like $15,000, but in the early underground races Stiles helped organize, even the winner would be lucky merely to avoid landing in the clink.

"We were throwing underground races in Redding and up near the Sierras," says Stiles. "We'd get up there, do it and get the hell out of there before the sheriff showed up to arrest us."


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From the June 6-12, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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Copyright © 1996 Metro Publishing and Virtual Valley, Inc.


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