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[whitespace] Cassandra Brown, Amy Courtney
Sign of the Times: Cassandra Brown (left) and Amy Courtney hold a replica of the sign that the Scotts Valley police removed from the Granite Creek overpass.

Nüz

Safety Gag

Every week, Amy Courtney and Cassandra Brown drive over Highway 17 to sell organic produce in the East Bay. And every week since Sept. 11, they've noticed the American flags. "When we saw them posted on the overpasses, we thought, 'Great! Here's a place for us to hang up a banner expressing our point of view,' " says Courtney, who last week, together with Brown, hung a homemade banner--reading "At What Cost?!" and featuring a hand-drawn skeleton--from the Granite Creek Road overpass in Scotts Valley.

Their freedom of expression didn't last long. Within 10 minutes, an officer from the Scotts Valley Police Department arrived and removed their banner, while leaving the neighboring American flag and a "SC loves NY" sign (the latter has since disappeared) intact.

Courtney, who made the banner to suggest "we're being sold this war at the cost of millions of innocent Afghan lives, the possibility of more American lives and our own civil liberties," says she felt the officer was "trying to silence my voice." Which is why she and Brown organized a protest Nov. 30 outside the Scotts Valley Police station.

As protesters, gagged with torn bed sheets and bearing signs reading "Freedom of Speech Is Patriotic" and "United We Spend," circled the station, Scotts Valley Chief of Police Tom Bush told Nüz the sign was removed for reasons of safety.

"The officer was responding to a complaint from someone who couldn't read the sign but observed it was loosely fastened to the outside of the overpass and [who] didn't want it to fall on northbound traffic below," said Bush, who's not related to the president.

"The officer grabbed the bed sheet, brought it to the roadside, where it hit the top of the fence and ripped in a couple of different spots," Bush continued. "He disposed of it, not knowing who it belonged to, whereas the American flag had a sealed letter attached that included a name and a contact number."

Adding that had the banner come loose and caused an accident, the people who posted it would have been liable, Bush noted, "The American flag was posted directly after Sept. 11 in solidarity with victims and the nation and not to support the bombing." Bush also says that since Sept. 11, CalTrans has indicated that if an American flag is posted on an overpass, they'll leave it in place. And only American flags.

"But if it's loosely fastened, then it'll be taken down," explains Bush, adding that people who want to post banners can do so on private buildings, as long as they have their landlord's permission."

According to Bush, CalTrans takes down signs "because they don't want you to be distracted while driving. A sign saying 'Will you Marry me?' diverts regular attention, whereas a flag is familiar. You see it, you understand it's our country's flag, and it's nice to see it. It doesn't divert your attention."

Civil rights lawyer Paul Sanford says technically no one has a right to put up a sign, "but when government officials remove one sign but not another, that's contrary to the First Amendment."

Meanwhile, Courtney said she respects the police's safety claims but notes the American flag, which has been hanging for more than two months, "should be lit up if it's left out at night." As for the "SC loves NY" sign, "clearly that's not an American flag." She and Brown plan to rehang their sign on the inside of the overpass, "so it won't be a safety issue," on Dec 4.

List Bummer

Members of UCSC's famously outspoken faculty are outraged that they didn't made it onto Lynne Cheney's blacklist of unpatriotic statements heard on college campuses in the wake of Sept. 11.

"It was an insult to be omitted, and we're still writhing in embarrassment," said UCSC's Middle Eastern Studies Professor Terry Burke of the list, published this November in a report by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a self-described "educational nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, quality and accountability." Second Lady Lynne Cheney is a founding member.

In its report, ACTA accused academe of invoking "tolerance and diversity as antidotes to evil" and listed the name and position of each of the 116 cited professors. alongside their quotes, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson who made the unpatriotic suggestion that we "build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls."

Numberswise, faculty at East Coast universities came under heaviest attack, a statistic that Burke says only serves to show "the committee's bias."

"I find it rather unseemly for the vice president's wife to be involved," observed Burke. "Would this have happened if this had been Mrs. Tony Benn or Mrs. Natan Sharanski?"

Burke, who has been teaching Middle Eastern studies for 32 years, says this semester he's seen the longest period of sustained increase in his field. "Every time something happens in the Middle East, people get interested, but this is way more than usual," says Burke, noting that since Sept. 11 talks and teach-ins on campus have filled the 500-seat classrooms to overflow capacity, with 50 percent being townspeople.

New Order

Residents of Camp Paradise evacuated their homes about midnight Saturday after heavy rain flooded their camp and ducks started paddling into the kitchen. Reached by phone at the Sea Breeze Inn, camp founder Larry Templeton said he knew the evacuation was coming "when the river started rising 18 inches every 20 minutes."

Templeton, who spent the weekend at the motel with 30 other campers courtesy of camp supporter Paul Lee, says newly elected mayor Christopher Krohn has been supportive.

"Chris Krohn visited us during the evacuation and cleanup , and said he's going to see to it that there's a Camp Paradise 2," said Templeton, thanking the 50 camp supporters who helped with the late-night move.

Five days earlier, Krohn had promised at his inauguration that things would be done differently now. "Everyone will have access," said Krohn, vowing to support the newly formed Santa Cruz Service Corps and to relocate Camp Paradise to a safe and well-managed area. Krohn also said he wants to finish the San Lorenzo River restoration project and restore the tidelands (but will he sunshine meetings with the Seaside Company?) as well as work for affordable housing, alternative transportation and living-wage assurance.

Meanwhile, a smiling ex-Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice said, "Now I can be one more person on the mall who can say they were once the mayor of Santa Cruz."

Nüz spotted Fitzmaurice at Krohn's inauguration party, clutching a copy of The Essential Rumi, a translation of the writings of Jelaluddin Rumi, who was born in the region now known as Afghanistan almost 800 years ago and wrote such gems as "Drunks fear the police / but the police are drunk, too. / People in this town love them both like different chess pieces," a verse Fitzmaurice was unfamiliar with, but promised he'd check out

Meanwhile, newly elected Vice Mayor Emily Reilly told Nüz that transportation, homelessness, water and curbing excessive growth are on her eco-friendly radar. She'd like to see "rail lines within the city, alleys freed up for bikes and people, better regional communications and San Jose's eco-friendly green-building policy adopted for new construction." A survivor of the City Council's old-boy's network, Reilly will also be pushing for a "more open" (read: less patriarchal) process. "I know that at the bakery if I listen to the group mind, we always come up with a better solution than if I start with what I think the answer should be and force everybody to do that."

Meanwhile, Assistant city manager Martin Bernal has offered campers motel vouchers for a week. And, if the city approves, campers, may temporarily move to and clean up the city's former train depot site as part of a Santa Cruz Service Corps project.

Prayer Wheel

Is it a temple? A museum? No, it's a gallery. At least that's how Jack Sparks of DMV auto repair clinic fame describes Sangralaya, a newly opened downtown gallery featuring prayer wheels, flags and bowls, as well as statues of Buddhist and Hindu deities.

"When the Taliban destroyed statues of Buddha, the Dalai Lama said it's not the loss but the thinking behind the act that's frightening," said Sparks, who commissioned the statues, along with other crafts, during a trip to Katmandu in which he carried hundreds of pounds of tools and diagnostic instruments to train Nepalese technicians in the art of automotive repair.

In return, the men introduced him to "wonderful local artisans working in deplorable conditions." With the backing of nonprofit Inner Vision, Sparks opened the store, "to improve the lives and working conditions of those making our crafts."

Sangralaya sits cross-legged opposite Jahva House at 111 Union St., the space known as The Bunker when it was Metro Santa Cruz's first office. Call 429.8891.

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From the December 5-12, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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