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Alignment Dance: Several plans have been put forth for solving the sewage-line problem at Potbelly Beach.


A Newer Sewer

Capitola's Potbelly Beach, home of 2,300 feet of the 30-inch-diameter Aptos Sewer Transmission line, was the subject of a special public meeting last week. The 21-year-old pipe is caving under the weight of sand, creating the potential for clogging and eruption. Over a year ago, the Santa Cruz County Sanitation District requested a permit to repair the existing line, which is the only major sewage line to occupy a beach in the county. This April, the Coastal Commission agreed to approve short-term repairs but required the line to be completely removed from the beach by 2007.

At the meeting, district consultants discussed two options: A) Move the line completely off the beach, as recommended by the Coastal Commission and several environmental groups, realigning it inland along McGregor Drive, to the tune of $11 million dollars, thus raising the tax for a single-family home in Aptos, Soquel and Capitola $17 dollars a year, or B) Pursue the district's original plan of replacing the existing line with a new and improved pipe 15 feet seaward on the same beach. Many longtime homeowners stood up to speak in favor of option B, presumably attracted by its price tag of $3 million, a sum that would be covered by surplus funds and wouldn't affect taxes.

"This line has needed five emergency permits and caused four sewage leaks since it was installed 20 years ago," said Kaitilin Gaffney of the Center for Marine Conservation.

"I'd be willing to pay 40 more dollars a year," said Bill Parkin, homeowner and environmental attorney. "It doesn't make sense environmentally or monetarily to leave it there. They say it will only cost $3 million to repair it, but that's not taking into consideration the cost of getting an easement to run a parallel line and legal fees for going up against the Coastal Commission, not to mention the risk factor. What if it blows again?"

In 1980, a year after the line was installed, a washout required the addition of concrete anchors along the pipe. In 1993, severe winter storms caused more problems.

"There has been a history of problems with this line," says Dan Carl, Coastal Commission planner. "For one thing, it's in a dynamic environment. The beach is a finite resource, adjacent to a federal marine sanctuary, not the ideal place for a sewage pipe. We're up against that engineering mentality that thinks it can build a new, better pipe in such a way that Mother Nature isn't going to rip it asunder."

The Sanitation District's board of directors requested further studies to be presented in March before a final decision is made.

Mass Movement

When the Winter Solstice Critical Mass parades through town Dec. 21, the night will be illuminated by bike lights, lanterns, fire dancers, torches and Chanukah menorahs. "We want to lighten up the darkest day of the year by going for a bike ride and using all kinds of lights," said bicycle advocate Jesse Nason. "By creating a big mobile carnival, we hope to show everyone in Santa Cruz how much fun riding a bike can be."

Critical Mass is a group of cyclists who ride through town together to celebrate cycling and demonstrate against what they call society's autocentrism. The tradition started in San Francisco in 1992 and has since spread throughout the United States. Santa Cruz started its own Critical Mass in 1995. Riders meet at the Clock Tower at 5:30pm on the first Friday of every month.

Bike advocate Quentin Lindh said Critical Mass gives him a feeling of group empowerment. "[Cyclists] are subject every day to the dangers posed by cars on the road," he said. "It feels really good to be with your friends and relieve that."

Some cyclists, however, are reluctant to participate in Critical Mass because they are afraid it might confront drivers with hostility instead of a willingness to cooperate. "I'm not against Critical Mass, per se. I think it's a great idea," said bicycle commuter Batya Kagan. "I'm just wary of the message we're giving."

Kagan, who has taken a break from Critical Mass for the past year, plans to attend the Winter Solstice Mass but will keep riding only if other riders show respect for automobiles. But according to Lindh, Critical Mass was never meant to create friction. "It's a positive, noncombative event," he said. "It likens itself to a party when it happens well."

Nason pointed out that Winter Solstice is a good time to contemplate humankind's relationship with cars. "The automobile is a threat to our very existence, both in terms of severe environmental destruction and the spiritual alienation of using automobiles to get everywhere." The Mass starts at the Clock Tower Dec. 21 at 9:30pm. Cyclists and noncyclists are welcome.

Hell No, We Won't Go

Since the morning of Dec. 4, activists calling themselves the City Council Coffee Klatch and Tag-Team Teach-In have been monopolizing the seating area of the Santa Cruz mayor's office.

"We'll be here until one of the seven city councilmembers decides to put [the Sleeping Ban] on the agenda," says Becky Johnson. The ban was last addressed by the council in July.

Mayor Tim Fitzmaurice says he has invited the tag team to make the usual kinds of appointments, but says he won't talk to them while they insist on "giving lectures and holding meetings at the top of their lungs within inches of employees trying to do their job."

Equipped with picket signs and piles of leaflets, the tag team has managed to keep anywhere between two and seven people in the office during regular business hours. Johnson says they've already tried filing initiatives in order to get the sleeping ban on the ballot but were unable to collect enough signatures. She points out that there are fewer than 200 available places in shelters for the 1,273 homeless people the United Way counted in a single evening within the city limits last March.

"The most recent data shows that in a four-month period, 49 citations were given to people who were breaking the law by sleeping," says Johnson. "This year's homeless census shows that 12.5 percent of all homeless people have been cited. It is a $54 dollar ticket, and those accused are not entitled to a public defendant or a trial by jury."

Ashley Edwards, a Cabrillo College student, has joined the sit-in. Though not homeless, she remembers sleeping in her car when she first moved to Santa Cruz because she couldn't find an affordable place to live. "It's so scary," she says. "I was teetering on the edge of what would I do if I couldn't find a place."

"The issue of the homeless is a primary issue for us," Fitzmaurice says. "We need to build a consensus by talking to each other, not harassing each other. No one is going to make a change by any form of harassment or intimidation or insult."

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From the December 13-20, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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