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Follow the Money

Last week, a tipster alerted Nüz to "a curious sight" on Highway 1--a giant billboard that urges people to support highway widening, to vote yes on Measure J--oh, and to check the Senile's website for more, er, information. Curious, we surfed on over and found a pro-widening link attributed to CITIZENS FOR BETTER TRANSPORTATION.

Describing the link as a paid political advertisement, the Santa Cruz daily's editor TOM HONIG said his publication had already run a pro-J editorial "a while ago" [on Aug. 22, 77 days before the election, to be exact].

"People used to complain our endorsements come too late to be used in campaigns and ads," Honig explained.

All of which got Nüz wondering whatever happened to the "follow the money" school of journalism in which reporters look at whose money is backing which races, and thus try to flush out hitherto hidden agendas, before their editors go dishing out any endorsements.

Take the case of the so-called Citizens for Better Transportation. This pro-widening political action committee hadn't filed its financial statement for the first half of the year (despite a July deadline to do so) when the Senile first rubber-stamped Yes on J back in August. And despite this PAC's folksy-sounding name, financial statements filed last week reveal that contributions totaling $65,000 (a huge war chest by local race standards) come from big businesses that stand to gain most from highway construction, including

GRANITE CONSTRUCTION, ($25,000) and GRANITE ROCK ($15,000), and CALIFORNIA ALLIANCE FOR JOBS ($10,000), which represents over 17,000 heavy and highway construction companies and workers.

All of which leaves Nüz wondering what if anything widening Highway 1 will do for citizens who do want better transportation?

The answer perhaps lies in the money trail left by the CAMPAIGN FOR SENSIBLE TRANSPORTATION, which is opposed to highway widening. and 95 percent of whose $14,900 war chest is made up of small donations given by--guess what--concerned citizens, who worry that widening increases air pollution and adds to global warming and that highway cost overruns will take money earmarked for bus, rail and other transportation needs. Meanwhile, fact sheets put out by the SANTA CRUZ COUNTY REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION suggest that our commute at peak times post-widening will be less than 1 mph faster than it is now.

City Angle

What is more revealing, perhaps, about Measure J is that six out of seven candidates in the Santa Cruz City Council race, including three incumbents, don't support it--not because they want y'all to rot in traffic, but because of the way this measure was formulated.

Citing insufficient support in Measure J for the rail corridor, incumbent Mayor SCOTT KENNEDY says that the project would provide excellent construction jobs and that 50 percent of countywide voters may want to widen, but notes that the Measure needs 67 percent to pass. "So why are Measure J proponents taking a take-no-prisoners approach, just like the failed Hotel tax measure?" he asks.

Incumbent ED PORTER faults the RTC for putting Measure J on the ballot "even though they don't think it's gonna fly," and is "bitterly disappointed" that the countywide commish ignored priorities expressed by the city of Santa Cruz, including rail corridor purchase.

Incumbent EMILY REILLY says that even if she did support highway widening 100 percent, which she does not, "Measure J is not the way, given that it adds up to a half cent sales tax for 30 years to pay for a project whose cost, environmental impacts and duration remain unknown."

Challenger RYAN COONERTY deems it "too expensive, too inconvenient, and a misuse of funds." Madrigal cites "environmental justice issues" and Fogel just says no.

All of which leaves Primack as the sole supporter, saying he sees Measure J as a referendum, which he'd take heed of "if 50 percent plus are in favor of widening."

Tunnel Vision

Even as rail-trail supporters continue guerrilla efforts to build a bike path alongside the rail tracks, just one of the vital transportation projects for which Measure J fails to guarantee support, local resident CLAY OLSEN emailed a novel solution to the highway widening dilemma: "Think Tunnel."

Noting that "it's been done in Switzerland, there's a 'Chunnel' between France and England, and voters in San Mateo voted Yes to explore a tunnel to replace the Devil's Slide area of Highway 1 just South of Pacifica," Olsen opines that a tunnel can be run from the Fishhook, east and south, underneath the current Highway 1!

"Dear Neighbors, think of the advantages: less noise, less pollution (the tunnel air can be filtered)--and many of you keep some land you paid for with your life's time, blood, and sweat." Interested? Email Olsen at [email protected] or call 831.459.9700.

California Invasion

Wanting to get the word and vote out to dump Bush, local resident and Academy Award-nominated filmmaker ERIC THIERMAN made six ads for a group called realvoices.org. One such ad featuring CINDY SHEEHAN, a 47-year-old woman from Vacaville whose 24-year-old son was killed in Iraq in April, was picked up by moveon.org, which is now raising $2 million to air her story in key battleground states--and ran on Dan Rather's nightly news show, as well as on ABC and CBS. Thierman, who is now working with local Survivor star LEX VAN DER BURGHE on a nonpartisan "get out and vote" spot, as well as one about stem cell research and how the president doesn't support it, just hopes all this helps to defeat Bush.

Meanwhile, fellow local resident KATHY BISBEE, who recently took a Green Tortoise bus to Arizona along with 23 fellow Californians--including Santa Cruzans JANE SULLIVAN and DARYL WISE--has an eight-minute film, Swing State Freedom Fighters, which documents that journey and includes an appearance by Dem VP candidate JOHN EDWARDS' daughter Cate on the campaign trail. It airs at 7pm Wednesdays on Channels 27 and 73, and at 6:30pm Saturdays on Channels 26 and 72. Last but not least, BOOKSHOP SANTA CRUZ offers MICHAEL MOORE's Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD at a $5 discount, plus they'll mail a copy for you to a voting friend anywhere in the country, with the cost on them, between now and election day. Call 831.460.3224.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the October 13-20, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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