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Mr. Sandman: Somebody's been shifting the sand around near the San Lorenzo River mouth, but nobody's talking.


Beach Parties

News that 1,500 volunteers had picked up 4,500 pounds of trash and recyclables in Santa Cruz County on Coastal Cleanup Day (Sept. 15) had Nüz wondering whether the presence of an estimated 20,000 Beachfest Christians over last weekend would inadvertently undo the good work at the Main Beach. "Absolutely not," says Parks & Recreation's recreation superintendent Carol Scurich. "The organizers were required to leave the beach in the same condition they found it."

Thanks to more than 1,000 Beachfest volunteers, the beach did look as clean as before, even if it no longer had part of the backed-up San Lorenzo River snaking across it anymore. As Gary Kittleson, the city's biological monitor reports, two days before Beachfest began, someone breached the river mouth with a backhoe. Kittleson, who photographed tractor treads left by the offending vehicle, says the tracks don't match with city or contractor equipment.

"It's likely it was a rental of something small, possibly a Bobcat," says Kittleson, who has documented six breachings.

Meanwhile, lifeguards, surfers and city staff have denied any knowledge of what's going on at the river mouth. As Scurich puts it, "Things happen down there that we don't know about, and I doubt whether we'll ever find out, but we didn't open the river up."

According to Kittleson, "There are a lot of human [health and safety] benefits from a breached lagoon, but it doesn't help coho and steelhead salmon, which are endangered." He adds that it would be disingenuous for the city to set up a general plan for enforcing the endangered-species act "if they can't deal with it in real time."According to Kittleson, the city is currently working on a Habitat Conservation Plan, a large-scale program that would assess the entire habitat and ascertain what steps need to be taken to respect and improve endangered species, a plan that could mean the city wouldn't have to apply for permits every time it wants to alter a streambed.

"The problem at the river mouth is that as soon as you do something, you incur liability," says Kittleson, who believes the city has been afraid to intervene ever since a woman was swept away as she crossed the estuary 12 years ago. The city was left facing a costly lawsuit on the grounds that bulldozer work it had done years earlier had left the sandbar permanently changed. The city was found not liable, but since then it has officially pursued a course of not interfering beyond putting up warning signs, thereby giving the city what is known as "natural condition immunity" in the event that someone gets hurt

Rocky Road

With the San Lorenzo Urban River Plan Task Force asking for a crackdown on homeless camps that pollute the San Lorenzo River between the estuary and Highway 1, why did Santa Cruz Councilmember Mark Primack place Camp Paradise on the City Council's Sept. 18 agenda?

"In the hope of getting the council to direct city staff to establish the necessary criteria that would allow the campground to exist as a conservation corps-style pilot project," Primack explains. He wants the council to express its willingness to consider the camp as a viable option for the homeless. "And if that can't happen, I want the council to know why as quickly as possible," said Primack, adding that he does not want the council "to be charged with making the project fail."

Emphasizing that a nonprofit like the Community Housing Land Trust (CHLT) of Santa Cruz County would become responsible for the camp, Primack continued, "Sometimes I get the distinct impression that city staff put impediments in the way."

CHLT secretary Tom Shaver would probably agree with Primack's analysis. Shaver and other Camp Paradise supporters spent last week addressing a lengthy list of city concerns that Shaver describes as "roadblocks, not pointers."

"The city is saying here are the rules, you've got to play by them, whereas we're saying here's a good idea, how can we make it work," says Shaver, adding that the CHLT, which has submitted a progress report to the city, still needs to have adequate talks with campers.

When Nüz asked how Camp Paradise might shape council meetings, Primack said, "For me, it's a test. Do people want to just mouth off or do they really want to see some progress on this issue?"

Vision Quest

On Sept. 11, local resident Anthony Aversano woke up to a ringing phone. "It was my Uncle Phil, who lives in midtown Manhattan, calling to say my dad was missing," says Aversano, whose father worked on the 92nd floor of the second tower of the World Trade Center.

Aversano's father had called Anthony's Manhattan-based sister when the first plane hit. Says Aversano, "Amazingly, she had quit the same company two weeks earlier, and now our dad was calling and freaking out, saying he was seeing people on fire jumping out of windows."

Five minutes later, the second plane hit the second tower, and Aversano hasn't heard from his father since.

"I couldn't believe it," says Aversano, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in upstate New York.

"I'd been to the WTC hundreds of times, and I could not believe the towers were falling before my eyes."

Aversano last spoke to his father Sept. 9 and is thankful they had mended their differences in the last few years. "Thank goodness, I took the steps to let him know how much I loved and appreciated him," says Aversano, who visited his father at the WTC at Christmas in 2000.

"He took me to the monument from the 1993 bombing, which was in the plaza below the WTC. Ironically, we spent half an hour trying to imagine this big building falling down and how you'd have to be several blocks away to escape."

Despite not knowing what happened to his father, Aversano, a business coach by profession, maintains a positive outlook. "My job is to help people be committed to their cause, regardless of the circumstances. Sept. 11 shook us to our foundations, and right now, we all have the same ball of clay in front of us. The question is, What are we gonna do with it? Are we gonna build a nuclear missile or something else? And what are we still committed to, regardless of what life has dealt out? What are our visions? Instead of going through life reacting and being victims, stand up for the vision you see for yourself in the world," Aversano advises.

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From the September 26-October 3, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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