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Santa Cruz People Are Strange: Neal Coonerty is helping to keep Santa Cruz weird by holding his T-shirt up to his chest instead of wearing it.

Nüz of the Weird

Fodor's 2002 described Santa Cruz as "a haven for those opting out of the rat race" and "a bastion of 1960s-style counterculture."

But since housing prices aren't stuck in a '60s time warp, who can opt out of even the hamster wheel of life?

And with the City Council set to regulate that holiest cow of Santa Cruz counterculture--the street performers--will Fodor have to classify SC as "no longer nearly so weird?"

Not if BOOKSHOP SANTA CRUZ owner NEAL COONERTY can help it. Coonerty, who says the current council's decision to reduce limits from 14 feet to 10 feet "is a fairly good compromise," is selling "Keep Santa Cruz Weird" T-shirts and stickers at his bookstore.

"People can perform anywhere they want, if they aren't asking for donations, and if they are, they have a fair corridor to do their thing while sharing the sidewalk," said the bearlike shop owner.

But street performer ANGELA MARIE says the media has misrepresented the council's decision as being a compromise.

"The 10-foot limit still means you have to play music into--instead of away from--a store. And the one-hour-and-then-you-move-along notion is a bad idea, since performers often help the merchants. It would be better to make it one hour from being asked to move along on a complaint-driven basis," says Marie, who performs with KUZUNGA MARIMBA, a local band that often plays downtown.

As for the continuing possibility of exemption zones, Marie says this would have all performers clustered in front of a few stores, leaving other businesses out of the loop.

"I don't know if the council doesn't care or doesn't understand, but if they pass these ordinances, they'll be throwing away something of tremendous value--the voluntary guidelines that Tom Noddy and 35 other performers developed 25 years ago to avoid being legislated," says Marie, who belongs to the fledgling BUSKERS GUILD.

"The council's decision to ignore the recommendations of the Downtown Commission was a slap in the face that left performers feeling betrayed. And now we're worried the council is going to come up with a solution that nobody's happy with."

A small ray of hope exists that the council won't move forward with any version of the proposed ordinances.

"The council has asked the guild to come back with a concrete proposal," says Marie, who hopes the council will give the group more time, since the holiday season is coming and January is hardly prime performing time.

"But it's an illusion to think you can write laws and still have people working for free on voluntary guidelines. When you write laws and give police hammers to work with, then you lose the community and consensus building that was and is happening."

Several hours before the council discussed the performers' fate, the city became one of only four groups in the state to receive an INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT INNOVATOR AWARD for reducing pesticide use in parks, golf courses and medians--an award that got Councilmember SCOTT KENNEDY joking that "all the city is trying to do with its ordinances is to manage pests downtown."

Lest he be accused of equating performers with pests, Kennedy adds he likes the idea of mediation, "because the city is the ham-fisted beast that poisons the process, once involved. So, I encourage the buskers to find a way to make their voluntary guidelines work. And if after six months, their system is working, then fine, we'll pull the ordinances."

Meanwhile, Coonerty says that $2 per shirt and $1 per sticker sold will be put into a fund to support street performers.

"We'll figure out how to give it to people after Jan. 1," said a much slimmed down Coonerty, modeling one of his "weird" black T-shirts.

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Coonerty already has at least one eager buyer for his bumper stickers: Andrea Tischler of the Compassion Flower Inn.

"Who cares if the media thinks Santa Cruz is weird and wacky? Weird is not bad. Weird is why we are here," says Tischler, who, besides plastering weird bumper stickers to her, presumably, weird weirdmobile, is urging the city to consider deputizing people to run medical marijuana dispensaries in the city .

Two weeks ago, the council deputized WAMM co-founders Valerie and Michael Corral--a move aimed to increase the legal protection of the couple, who have not yet been charged with any crimes in connection with the Sept. 5 raid on their farm, but have been unable to get the DEA to return equipment, including computers, not to mention 167 chain-sawed marijuana plants.

"We support Valerie and Michael being deputized, but these are just feel-good tokens on the part of the city. In addition to the 250 patients that WAMM serves, there are 2,000 other patients whose needs aren't being addressed," said Tischler, whose B&B is a safe haven for medical marijuana patients as well as regular customers.

"We get people from Canada admiring what they think are our 'maple leaves' but we don't try to indoctrinate them. People can bring marijuana into their rooms and use it, but we don't dispense cannabis," says Tischler.

Though the city has an ordinance permitting dispensaries in certain areas, it does not address how many plants a medical marijuana patient can grow.

"We need to sit down with the City Council, sharpen our pencils and come up with a number, so law enforcement is aware of those parameters," says Tischler, who gets "about 20 calls a week from patients asking how much they can grow. Five or 50 plants? No one knows. Right now, medical marijuana patients are having to buy on the street. So, it's important that we not be hypocritical. If the city says it supports medical marijuana rights, it should support them--no matter what the rest of the country thinks. Mike Rotkin is concerned about our 'everybody must get stoned image,' but we are not saying that. And I am definitely gonna get one of those bumper stickers!"

Reached by phone in Washington, Rotkin said, "The city is prepared to work with dispensaries, if they are prepared to have the same level of commitment to rules and record keeping as WAMM."

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 December 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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