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Why Is Al Franken Smiling?: Because he's coming to a radio station near you.


X Factor

The HOWARD JARVIS TAXPAYER'S ASSOCIATION hates your taxes. Yes, yours. To wit: first, they introduced Proposition 13, the 1979 initiative to limit property tax increases. Since then, cities around the state have tried various methods of circumventing Prop. 13's limitations--most notably through municipal assessment districts--in an effort to scrape some extra dough back into their general fund.

HJTA hit back in 1996 with Proposition 218, which their website says "came to the rescue of Proposition 13."

And while Prop. 13's knight in shining armor hasn't come poking around in the Cruz, the HJTA did successfully sue the city of Fresno for padding its utility bills, prompting the city of Santa Cruz to roll back its own "in-lieu" fees, which cities with private utility companies traditionally charge those companies to compensate for the wear and tear these private utility companies create on city infrastructure. But with a $4 million budget deficit looming over the city, the city is seeking to reinstate the in-lieu fee that was recently removed from your utility bills, through Measure X. If approved, Measure X, which requires a majority vote to pass, would rake in an estimated $2.5 million into the city's general fund by taxing 3 percent of your water bill, 3 percent of your sewer bill and 12 percent of your garbage bill.

Proponents say we should reinstate the tax, which we'll hardly feel, because we were already paying it anyway, and if we don't vote yes, the city will be forced to reduce police and fire services, or street and parks maintenance, or social service programs.

Opponents say the city's trying to scare us by dangling police and fire protection at the end of Measure X's string, that the tax is too high, that it is regressive and unfairly exempts UCSC and other big utility users, and that our decision makers have been blowing it for years, and that's why we're up fiscal creek without a paddle.

Speaking of knights in shining armor, SANTA CRUZANS FOR RESPONSIBLE PLANNING, who previously opposed the COAST HOTEL and plans for large-scale development of the West Side's industrial lands, has come out in support of Measure X, and is planning to fundraise on its behalf. You can view ballot arguments at the county election department's website, www.votescount.com.

Turn to the Left

KSCO-AM (1080) and KOMY-AM (1340) station owner MICHAEL ZWERLING recently announced a dramatic turn for KOMY programming. Formerly the "broadcast home" of BILL O'REILLY and MICHAEL SAVAGE, KOMY will now air AL FRANKEN and AIR AMERICA. Nüz got a funny feeling of dèjá vu when the news arrived--didn't KSCO flirt with progressive programming before? More specifically--didn't former City Councilmember CHRIS KROHN host a progressive show a couple of years ago? Yes, indeed he did.

"[KSCO] was trying to reach out to a wider community," recalls Krohn, "I think they gave us a couple of hours a week called the Progressive Radio Hour. When the war started, I was critiquing the reasons why we're at war, and [KSCO] had a problem with that."

Krohn says that while KSCO's previous left turn was commendable, its reason for taking progressives off the air was "anti-first amendment and against what journalism is all about."

As of presstime, Zwerling did not return our calls, but Krohn conveniently spoke up in Zwerling's defense.

"I'm glad KOMY is putting [Air America] on," says Krohn, "I think it's a great thing, a benefit for the community to have another voice that's not normally heard on other radio stations.

The Other Metro

Who will drive the buses in August? Though bus drivers will probably be aching to chauffeur us pretty people across town, they might be too busy picketing. SANTA CRUZ METROPOLITAN TRANSIT DISTRICT employees are bargaining for a new contract, and as time slips closer to the deadline, they say the rising price of health insurance might force them to strike. Since 2003, health care's been eating bigger slices of their paychecks, while their wages have remained frozen, resulting in a 10 percent decrease in what economists love to call "disposable" income.

LES WHITE, general manager of our transit district, says Metro wants to help, but the budget limits how much they yield.

"The Metro has budgetary constraints," says White, "but we also want to improve wages. And even though there are disputes over how much each side will pay for health insurance and retirement benefits, we're confident we can reach an agreement."

But GARY KLEMZ, chief spokesman for the local chapter of SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, claims the Metro is unwilling to budge.

"They want the employees to pay for all the new health-care costs," says Klemz, "with no pay raises, no changes, no increases in anything. We believe they could help us--we're not asking for a lot."

Klemz says if the situation remains stagnant, the amount they'll be paying into their retirement and health benefit plan will be unbearable in four years, with workers paying $425 a month to provide health insurance to their families. There are other issues on the contract, but from the employee standpoint, health care and wages are the ugliest.

Asks Klemz, "How are you going to ask for retirement benefits when you don't have a pay raise and health insurance costs are rising?"

Nurses Victorious

The SCMTD employees might want to peek at the local nurses' playbook, who scored a new contract deal just last week. A three-month-long contract negotiation standoff between 4,500 nurses from 24 hospitals (including DOMINICAN HOSPITAL nurses) and parent company CATHOLIC HEALTHCARE WEST ended with a rainbow-inspiring four-year deal. Dominican psychiatric emergency nurse BARBARA WILLIAMS, who led 200 of her colleagues through battle, says the contract meets all their requirements and is a victory for patients, nurses and the hospital.

"I think at first CHW was negotiating with this corporate mind-set," says Williams. "They were aligning with the industry and Schwarzenegger against us. But I think we finally persuaded them to break with the industry. They won't be able to say they care about their patients and employees, while doing something different with the other hand."

Williams says this landmark contract sets a new standard, giving nurses absolute say over the number of required assistants, creating safeguards that prevent new technologies from replacing staff, and designating employees to transport patients throughout the hospital.

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From the July 20-27, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

For more information about Santa Cruz, visit santacruz.com.

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