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On The Nose

When Nüz gets a hold of a particularly juicy story, it won't let go. As the year draws to a close, we take a look back at four important stories that Nüz tracked through 2004.

Edited by Sarah Phelan and Steve Palopoli

Every year's end, we reprint the best of Nüz--it's one of Metro Santa Cruz's most cherished holiday traditions. But we have to fess up to the fact that in past year-in-review roundups we've often gone for the bling-bling: the quirkiest, weirdest and downright flashiest stories that have found their way under the nose of Nüz. Maybe we just get a perverse thrill from remembering how wacky things can get around here.

But there's another thing Nüz uses its nose for, and that's to track the most important stories throughout the year. Looking back at our coverage in 2004, we realized that Nüz was way ahead of the curve of several issues, especially the issue of voting fraud which was already on the Nüz radar way back in January. Throughout the course of covering the story all the way through the election and beyond, these shorter stories began to add up to quite an in-depth body of work.

So it was with several stories this year, and so we picked four important topics that Nüz sunk its teeth into, and usually led the pack in reporting locally: voting irregularities; gay marriage; Meaure J and other local transportation issues; and the ongoing battle over water ownership. It's a good way to show not only how Nüz sticks its nose out front and goes after what other news outlets are too wussy or lazy to cover with the same dogged persistence and depth--if they have the guts to touch the story at all--but also how these important stories developed over the year. And now, everybody nose.



ON VOTER FRAUD AND ELECTION IRREGULARITIES

Verify My Vote, Why Doncha? (Jan. 7)

Imagine dictating your vote to a person hidden behind a curtain. Unable to see this person, you don't know whether your vote has been recorded accurately--or at all. Sound Big Brotherish? Bob Kibrick, a research astronomer and director of scientific computing at UCSC's Lick Observatory, warns that when you vote on paperless touch-screen voting machines, such systems leave you with no way to verify that the vote you cast is what the machine actually recorded on its electronic memory.

Kibrick notes that a recent State of California audit of Diebold voting systems (one of four such vendors used across the nation) revealed that in the 17 California counties that used such voting equipment and software, none of the machines were running software that had been certified by the state for elections.

"Such incidents challenge the notion that we can trust the software installed inside these machines," says Kibrick.

And then there's the fact that some of the most widely deployed voting system software was written by a convicted felon, who served time for embezzlement and insider software tampering.

So, just how did it come to this?

The Florida election fiasco made public serious problems with pre-scored punch cards--including hanging chads, pregnant chads, undervotes and overvotes--all of which led to a bipartisan commission on federal election reform, whose report led to the passage of the Help America Vote Act in October 2002.

Well intended as HAVA was, says Kibrick, it's led instead to one unreliable voting technology--punch-card ballots--being replaced with another questionable and costly technology.

"The problem is the technology has moved ahead faster than the government standards regulating it, which makes protecting against machine malfunction and deliberate fraud two distinct problems," says Kibrick, adding that since Santa Cruz County doesn't use a punch-card system, we aren't under deadline to switch to new equipment before the 2004 elections.

The Last Optimist On Earth (Nov. 3)

OK, so the last week has been hecka painful week if you're not a Bush supporter. For those of you fantasizing about the Great White North, remember that Canadian geese typically head south at this time of year, so April might be a better time to launch your exodus to Vancouver. And by then you'll have had a chance to decide if it's perhaps better to stay and battle the gathering threat of religious fanaticism. Karl Rove can do all the crowing he wants, but nurturing gay bashers and sexual puritans is not something to be proud of--something worth remembering as people start trying to blame Gavin Newsom and Janet Jackson's nipple for Bush's win. P.S. Keep your eyes on Ohio.

Mandate This (Nov. 17)

Forget about Bush's so-called mandate, which he so rapidly invoked, but which like most of his claims is nothing short of delusional. For some realistic insights into how the country voted, visit www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/election. Among other maps, you'll find some cartograms of the election results, which rescale the size of states according to their populations (meaning, for instance, that Rhode Island appears twice the size of Wyoming, which has 60 times the acreage of Rhode Island). Other maps we've seen show the blue states as narrow but skyscraper-tall voting blocks compared to mostly red flatlands. (Consider that in Manhattan Kerry won 82 percent of the vote to Bush's 17 percent and Nader's 1 percent and you begin to see that city dwellers have gotten the point that the Bush crusades haven't made them or the rest of the world any safer. (Now, if we can only work out a way for the population centers to start flexing their economic muscles ...) Meanwhile, if you want the election to be investigated, visit www.blackboxvoting.com or see www.moveon.org/investigatethevote. And for a good time? Pray to your own personal Jesus, then party like it's 1972.

In December, the Ohio delegation to the Electoral College cast its votes for President Bush, hours after dissenting groups asked the State Supreme Court to review the outcome of the state's election. The Rev. Jesse Jackson said challengers noticed that Bush generally received more votes in counties that use optical-scan voting machines.

Honk If You Love Local Election Irregularities (Nov. 17)

In Santa Cruz County we were mostly spared the election snafus that have triggered the biggest web of web conspiracy theories since 9/11. But in Watsonville, two voters did file complaints of people coming to their house as part of an election campaign--and taking their voters' absentee ballots with them when they left, which is a definite no-no.

In Santa Cruz itself, Nüz got the first true inkling of how nasty the abortion issue could get over the next four years when someone called us on election day to complain that electioneering was going on in the parking lot outside the Shrine of St. Joseph's, Guardian of the Redeemer, which happened to be serving as a polling station, Nov. 2.

Apparently, when our tipster pulled into St. Joseph's parking lot that morning to drop off her kid at Gateway School, a red van plastered with stickers saying "Abortion Stops a Beating Heart" and "U Can't B Both Catholic & Pro-Choice" was parked slap bang in front of the polling station's entrance. That put the van in strict violation of the federal "No electioneering within 100 feet of a polling station" rule.

Now, by the time Nüz hotfooted it over to said polling station in the afternoon, the van had been moved outside the 100-foot limit, and parked so its stickers were no longer visible to the voting public. But inside the polling station, volunteer inspector Maree Creed told Nüz that if people came in wearing political buttons or T-shirts, she'd ask them to cover themselves with a blanket or turn their T-shirt inside out. That said, Creed pointed out that it was difficult to monitor the outside of the polling station throughout the day. She also mentioned that St. Joseph's Rev. Brian Crawford had told her that the van in question belonged to a homeless man who attended morning mass each day at St. Joseph's and that it wasn't her personal impression that the van's driver was trying to make a political statement.

Reached by phone, Crawford confirmed the van driver's status and said, "If people on election day object to the people who park in the lot every day, then they can have the election somewhere else. It's insulting and I resent the fact that people would think I'd do something like this, and I don't need it."

Bottoming Out (Nov. 17)

Before we left the polling station, Creed also recommended that we not leave the area before trying to catch a glimpse of a woman who apparently had been walking up and down West Cliff Avenue all day in what Creed described as a "very provocative cheerleaderlike outfit," which reportedly had "Kerry" emblazoned inside a heart strategically placed on her backside. Believe us, Maree, when we say that we spent the next half-hour driving around in search of a Kerry bottom sighting--but, alas, in vain.

Meanwhile, over at the county building, chief elections official Gail Pellerin said many people aren't aware of the 100-foot limit on electioneering, and that, in fact, it isn't that large of a distance.

"Someone could be parked outside the county building in a van covered with stickers and not be in violation," said Pellerin. "And it's a matter of strategy for many campaigns to find polling stations, count out the 100-foot limit and set up their signs."

She recalls that in one polling station in Chico, a woman wearing a political T-shirt, after being advised of the electioneering law, chose to take off her top and vote in her bra. Now that's democracy in action.

Electioneering Update (Nov. 24)

Following our Nüzlet about a pro-life-stickered van parked outside the St. Joseph's polling station (Nov. 17), we got a call from the van's driver, who said, "Yes, I have those stickers on my van and I'm proud of it, but I didn't go in there to change people's vote. I went in to vote. As soon as I was notified of the problem, I moved my van."

We hear you, man, and we're sure there's a whole bunch of Cruzans who likewise didn't know the rules, and may have parked vans, cars and bicycles plastered with "Buck Fush," "Support Our Oops!" in front of polling stations. We just didn't get to hear about them, which may have something to do with the fact that 72.8 percent of this county voted for the Kerry/Edwards ticket.



ON GAY MARRIAGE

Queer Eye for the Straight Bush (Feb. 18)

News that thousands of gay and lesbian couples flocked from as far afield as Africa, New York and Seattle to wait outside San Francisco's City Hall for hours so they could get married over Valentine's Day weekend should be giving Bush et al. pause.

Do the neocons really believe they can turn back the clock and deflect this stream of Cupid-inspired couples--many of whom have already registered as domestic partners and have had commitment ceremonies in front of the kids they've raised together--simply by filing a couple of mean-spirited paper tigers in court?

Nüz supposes that the more likely explanation is that the Bush election machine sees gay marriage as a convenient election year wedge issue that they can milk for votes outside liberal oases like S.F.

Otherwise, why, in a nation already pissed off about the civil-liberty-robbing Patriot Act, would Bush go and propose a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in the immediate wake of the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that same-sex couples can get married, a decision that Bush had the nerve to call "deeply troubling"?

Indeed, sounding distinctly more like a pope/mullah than an American president, Bush took it upon himself to pronounce that "marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman"--a declaration that led one reader to email Nüz a list of biblical references that prove that marriage, far from being between one man and one woman, can be between one man and two or more women, not to mention assorted concubines, and with nonvirginal brides destined for execution.

Wedge Hedge (Feb. 18)

Asked how he thought the issue will play out politically, local Assemblymember John Laird, who was the first openly gay man to be elected to the State Assembly, notes that at present all the presidential candidates, with the exception of Dennis Kucinich, are against gay marriage.

"It's that tension between being aware of civil rights, yet being careful of it becoming a wedge issue, which makes it a tough call for some, but overall, with the nation having 3 million less jobs than this time three years ago and 500 U.S. soldiers having died in Iraq, we shouldn't let a wedge issue be the deciding factor in the presidential election," said Laird, noting that 30 years ago it was illegal just to be gay in 30 states, and even 20 years ago gays didn't have a single domestic partner benefit.

"So, there's been a lot of progress," says Laird, pointing out that last year California passed AB 205, the most comprehensive domestic partner law in history, but then gave it a year to become law, "because it represents such a monumental shift, redefines gay relationships, and so we needed a year to truly educate communities."

A co-sponsor of the Marriage License Non-Discrimination Act, which was introduced by Assemblymember Mark Leno this Valentine's Day past in an effort to prohibit the denial of marriage licenses by the state, Laird notes, "everyone agrees we want to get to the promised land of gay marriage, but the question remains, when?"

As for Bush's plan to ban such marriages with a constitutional amendment, that, in Laird's humble opinion, "is another reason to limit Bush to just one term."

Meanwhile Club Dakota bartender Steven Ongman, who is in what he describes as "a long-term stable relation-ship," says he doesn't really care about gay marriage, but knows a lot of gay people who do, adding that he finds Bush's proposed constitutional amendment "mean-spirited and politically calculated," since it wouldn't have a chance to become law until well after the election.

"And doesn't marriage mean a union? And doesn't the constitution refer to 'We the people,' and not 'Us the straight people?" He for one doesn't want to have to go to the Southern Baptist Church and say, "Hey, recognize me!"

"I'm part of 'we the people' and we should all have the right to make union with whomever we want," Ongman continues. "So, maybe marriage isn't a word any of us should be using any more. But either way, isn't there supposed to be a division between state and church?"

At which point Ongman's fab drag queen alter ego Shanda Leer flutters her mascara-laden eyelashes and interjects, "The only Bush I want to see in office is my own."

The Umpire Strikes Back (Feb. 25)

Attorney General Bill Lockyer was in the headlines a lot last week, beginning with a trip to the Cocoanut Grove to give a lifetime achievement award to retired Santa Cruz Police Chief Steve Belcher and valor awards to Capitola cops Jason Smith, Leo Moreno and James Murphy--and ending with remarks that he resents it when "Arnold plays Conan the Barbarian for the right wing and directs me to do something that he doesn't have the authority to do."

Lockyer was referring to Gov. Schwarzenegger's demand that he take "immediate steps" to halt the flood of gay marriages in San Francisco, a flood that Arnie claimed could lead to "serious civil unrest"--a pose Nüz couldn't help noting that Arnie struck, in classic bodybuilding style, while loudly announcing his support for a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow foreign-borns like himself to become president--not that being anti-gay marriage is a necessary prerequisite for becoming prez or anything.

Reached by phone on the weekend, Lockyer said of his rebuff to the governor, "I'm like an umpire. I don't care who the pitcher is. I'm just calling the strikes."

As state AG, Lockyer will of course have to defend California in the gay-marriage suit that San Francisco has brought against state laws that prohibit same-sex marriage, though he is quick to point out that as a lifelong defender of civil liberties, due process and equal protection for all, he does not personally support policies that give lesser legal rights and responsibilities to committed same-sex couples than those provided to heterosexual couples, which is why he has supported extending benefits through domestic partnerships and civil union statutes.

"But the people of California have spoken. State law prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages," said Lockyer, who predicts the courts will rule that the San Francisco marriages are not valid.

"There are clear state statutes, which collide with equal protection theory--and there's no precedent for that intersection," Lockyer said.

God Bless You, Please, Mrs. Robinson (Feb. 25)

Court cases not withstanding, former Metro Santa Cruz staffer Linda Robinson, who now works at UCSC, figured that she and her partner of 12 1/2 years were up for being part of history when they hotfooted it to San Francisco on Feb. 16 to finally tie the knot.

Robinson says their decision was inspired by a fellow nightshift co-worker, who, along with his wife of 35 years, had just been witnesses for another gay couple who married Friday the 13th.

"He told me that it was so great to see so many happy people!" recalls Robinson, who traveled to the city with her partner and another lesbian couple, who wanted to be their witnesses--and get hitched themselves.

"And so began a seven-hour pilgrimage just to get into the doors of City Hall, where we joined a long line that wound around up the stairs, down the hallway to the second floor of city hall and passed by the mayor's office," says Robinson of freezing her ass off in driving rain, only to have her heart warmed by the sight of people laying flowers and messages of appreciation at the mayor's door.

"We also have a photo of the statue of Lincoln with the rainbow flag that one person placed it perfectly, right in the crook of his arm," says Robinson, who was married by the husband of San Francisco Assessor/Controller Mabel Teng, who helped Mayor Gavin Newsom make all this possible in the first place.

Since getting hitched, Robinson reports having received emails from her friends back East who are "so enthusiastic and hoping that San Francisco is a catalyst for the rest of the country. I've encountered very supportive conservative people who are all about people's rights and believe gay marriage should happen. It was an incredible experience, and my hope is that it would encourage all people to wake up and smell the coffee or to take a stand and action."

Giving It All Away (March 17)

As California's Supreme Court ruled unanimously that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom must "refrain from issuing marriage licenses or certificates not authorized" by California marriage laws," the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County announced a fundraising campaign at the newly opened Barossa Grill to create a million-dollar endowment that will benefit the Diversity Partnership Fund and combat homophobia and bigotry locally.

Asked at a kickoff luncheon attended by county Sheriff Mark Tracy and county Supe Mardi Wormhoudt how she felt about County Clerk Richard Bedal's insistence that he can't pick and choose which laws to uphold, fund co-chair Margaret Leonard said Bedal is required to uphold the state's constitution and not individual laws. "Wouldn't it be great if past county clerks had gone down in history as standing up for their constituents' rights by allowing women to vote and interracial couples to marry, back in the day?"

She also predicted that "things are going to get messy legally when couples who've been married elsewhere transfer property or give birth in county limits."

With a recent survey showing that queer seniors, Latinos and youth face the most homophobia, Santa Cruz High School senior Nikira Hernandez recalled being in sixth grade when all the other girls were saying, "Oh, he's cute," and she was thinking, "Oh, she's cute."

"I thought I was gonna die," said Hernandez. "Every day, it was 'fag this, fag that,' and I hear people say "That's so gay!' 20 times a day."

Recalling how a female soccer player once fell off the bench during a SCHS game just to keep her distance from her after she'd just come out, Nikira says, "When I say I'm lesbian, I'm automatically attributed this huge sexual identity who likes all women. And some of my friends have this running joke about the conservative idea that you can 'catch gay,' in which we cough on each other and say, 'You're gay now!"

Asked what she'd ask Dubya about his proposed constitutional amendment, Nikira says, "I'd ask why he wants to deny a group of people a right that the majority of Americans have. I'd ask, 'What are you doing going against the essence of our country in expanding our rights?' I'd ask, 'Why be the first president to constrict them?'"

Meanwhile, Alisa van Dissen, who recently married her partner of seven years in San Francisco, has given nearly $50,000 to the CFSCC fund, noting, "You can't keep what you have, unless you give it away." Nice one, Alisa. Write info@cfscc.org or call 831.477.0800.

Just Happy to Be Queer (June 2)

Back when he was a young boy and long before he became a reverend and a doctor, Mel White lived in the Cruz, where he went to Mission Hill Junior and Santa Cruz High before graduating in 1958.

An avowed fan of our humble burg, which the now openly gay pastor calls "the lesbian capital of the world," White recalls that he remained in the closet the whole time he lived here, "because Santa Cruz was not a liberal town back in the pre-UCSC day."

All of which makes his homecoming as a grand marshal in the upcoming 30th annual GLBTIQ Pride Parade "great fun, and more than a little ironic," says White, who says he fought his gayness for 40 years, trying everything from exorcism to electric shock to overcome it, "before I realized it was a gift."

Noting that he'll be joined in the grand marshal chair by SF County Recorder Mabel Teng, who earlier this year issued 4037 marriage licenses to gay couples, White says that if S.F. mayor Gavin Newsom is jailed for supposedly overstepping his mayoral authority, "there'll be thousands who'll want to join him, even if what he did was an act of civil disobedience. Newsom recognized there are higher laws than those written on papyrus. He opened his arms as a straight man to the GLBT community."

But while California's GLBT community waits to see if the courts agree with Newsom that the same-sex ban is unconstitutional, White says things don't look so gay-friendly on the national front.

"With 38 other states with similar bans and the U.S. House dominated by Republicans, only the Senate and a few legislators stand in the way of the passage of Bush's proposed federal anti-gay marriage amendment, which is causing a huge anti-gay backlash, " says White, who urges GLBTers to stand up, come out and fight for their rights.

"We're our own worst enemy--and in Santa Cruz there's a danger of becoming lethargic," warns White, who along with his partner Gary Nixon traded the relatively liberal shores of Laguna Beach for Lynchburg, Va., Jerry Falwell's aptly titled hometown, after Jerry blamed Sept. 11 on gays.

"We often stand in silent protest during Falwell's sermons. Even if it appears not to make any difference, it does," says White. "Let them know this is a gay dollar you're spending, that this is a gay person influencing or being profitable for an enterprise. And if you go to churches that don't support gays, then quit giving them money and singing in their choir."

A firm believer that Bush's war on terror is "a mockery, trying to distract us from how our economy is falling apart, and our poor and disabled are in dire straits," White says he does not however hate the Bushistas.

"When we love our neighbor enough, we can love them out of their ignorance," he explains.

In November, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case aimed at overturning the Massachusetts law that legalizes gay marriage. This leaves the issue in the hands of the states for now, while neocons push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.



ON LOCAL TRANSPORTATION ISSUES

Smoke and Mirrors (Feb. 11)

"Woo, woo! Chuggah, chuggah, chuggah!"

No, that's not the sound of the Coastal Trolley wending its way from Aptos to Capitola, Instead, it's the noise of its supporters angrily venting their frustration after last week's Regional Transportation Commission meeting, in face of continued opposition from RTC chair Jan Beautz--opposition they fear will jeopardize $11 million the state has earmarked to purchase the rail corridor from Union Pacific.

A few months ago (Nüz, Nov. 19, 2003) Beautz questioned whether the county would have to return $11 million in state funding if said project failed financially--a concern that led Roaring Camp's Cliff Walters and Sierra Railroad's Mike Hart to show up at last week's RTC meeting to state themselves willing to "guarantee to provide recreational rail on the branch line without fare-box subsidies"--a guarantee they claim eliminates any "significant risk" by the county.

But Beautz remained firm-booted, voicing concerns not only about the railroad operators' business plan but also about the project's compatibility with a proposed pedestrian/bike path, not to mention the impact of a proposed diesel train on homes that flank the tracks.

"I think a coastal trail would be a good idea, but I'm not in favor of a recreational rail project," Beautz told Nüz. "'No' doesn't mean abandoning the rail corridor but just abandoning getting it this way."

Noting that the RTC has until 2010 to come up with a project, Beautz said, "There may be a few businesses that want it, but in general we don't hear, 'Gee! We really want a train!' but, 'Gee! We really want the right of way.'"

As it happens, endorsers include the Sierra Club and People Power, as well as the Seaside Company and Seascape Resort.

Sierra Club transportation chair James Danaher said, "The Sierra Club absolutely endorses the purchase of the rail corridor, and the coastal trolley is our best chance. A vote against the coastal trolley is a vote against the rail trail."

Acknowledging that "some people are afraid the trolley is the Trojan horse that will let major commuter rail service into the county" and admitting that "there's no doubt the Seaside Company would love the trolley to come to downtown Santa Cruz," Danaher said, "a small number of residents are holding the rest of us hostage in the face of the most important land purchase the county faces."

But RTE commissioner Ellen Pirie (who was up for re-election as county supe at the time, and was successful in that quest in March), backed Beautz's wish to stop the project in its tracks, saying: "I understand that the bottom line here is that the county has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to buy the corridor from Union Pacific, with the state providing $11 million for the purchase. But some people want it so badly, they don't want to stop and look at this offer in a critical way, when they really need to think about it now, otherwise 10 years down the road, they will be cursing."

Your Highway, You Decide (June 2)

Nine former Santa Cruz mayors, including Bruce Van Allen and Neal Coonerty, have come out against Highway 1 widening. Mark 7pm, Wednesday, June 2, as the day the council holds a town hall meeting at the Civic Auditorium to hear from you, the local public, before voting on whether to support an increase in our sales tax to fund highway widening and other transportation projects.

Follow the Money (Oct. 13)

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 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 who--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 (Oct. 13)

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 (Oct. 13)

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 hwy1thinktunnel@yahoo.com or call 831.459.9700.

Update: Shortly after Measure J failed, the RTC approved a $19 million price tag for the corridor, but have yet to decide where that money comes from ...To ensure the sale goes through, a group of bicycle advocates, environmentalists and others are planning to take it to the polls, believing voters will tell the RTC to use money from Prop. 116, a 1990 state measure that set aside $11 million for the county, funds that require a trolley or train project.



ON LOCAL WATER OWNERSHIP

In the FLOW (June 9)

Wondering how Felton's water system ended up in the hands of a foreign multinational and what steps its townsfolk are taking to reacquire it? Felton residents Tamara and Matt Micuda urge you to attend the Felton Town Meeting about water.

"The meeting is about an upcoming bond issue and will lay out a road map of the possible acquisition of our water system," says Tamara Micuda, whose husband Matt designed the covered bridge logo that members of Felton's FLOW (a national organization whose name stands for Friends of Locally Owned Water) are using to publicize their plight, which they fear could befall other communities as water becomes more precious than gold in drought-prone California.

FLOW activists have also been handing out door hangers covered with interesting factoids, beginning with the fact that Felton's water system is currently owned by CalAmerican, a subsidiary of foreign multinational RWE AG and the third largest water company in the world.

But fellow water activist and Felton resident Susan Kipping, who has been keeping the heat on CalAmerican ever since it got its hands on Felton's water two years ago, points out that the cost of the bond, which FLOW puts at between $8 million and $12 million, is just a guesstimate--and could actually prove to be lower.

"I'm afraid people will be scared off by the thought of $10 million," says Kipping. "This is a critical meeting. The longer we put off a decision, the more it will cost us to acquire the water system. RWE is a huge corporation, which has so much money that it can buy time, while the only resource Felton has is its water and the vote. But for democracy to happen, you have to be informed--with the truth--and then vote on the matter at hand, which in this case would be the bond issue. People need to turn out, get involved and show county Supe Mark Stone and the other county officials where we stand."

Unmellow Mello-Roes (Aug. 11)

News that Cal-American has requested to see copies of Mello-Roes district formation petitions that 77 percent of Felton residents recently signed has county Supe Mark Stone all worked up.

"It's frightening to petitioners. What would prevent PG&E and Oracle from getting their names, too?" fumes Stone, noting that the petitions are the first step in forming a community facilities district that would finance the acquisition of Felton's water system that Cal-American currently owns.

"And what does Cal-Am want with them anyway?" Stone muses.

Cal-American's Evan Jacobs, who describes himself as the "community relations manager and darn proud of it," says Cal-Am asked to see the petitions "because they started to be circulated in late May and the county did not pass its guidelines and procedures for creating the district until mid-June. And frankly, we'd like to see what this petition says," says Evans, admitting that he did see a copy in May, but didn't get much chance to study it. "We're not accusing them of anything. We'd just like to see for ourselves. Perhaps there is a good legal reason to keep them confidential--and we expect to get a legal reason why we can't see them."

Meanwhile, county elections officer Gail Pellerin says that only the signatures on nomination ballots--"That's the 20 people who support someone running for public office," she explains--are made public and that all other petitions are held under lock and key.

"That's part of the democratic process of being able to sign something without the possibility of repercussions for taking that position," says Pellerin, adding that if the county counsel were to take the unlikely position of ordering petitions to be released, she would personally refuse to help.

"I'd tell them, 'Then you give them out,'" she says.

FLOW has linked customer accounts of their experiences, letters by CalAm Water Company executives, and evidence obtained by discovery to show that managing the Felton water district from Monterey has caused serious problems. Not to be outdone, CalAm has filed papers with the state proposing a 108 percent rate increase for its 1,315 customers in Felton--a 60 percent increase on top of the 44 percent increase authorized in May and then put on hold.


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From the December 22-29, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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