This year gave us no shortage of facepalm-inspiring, occasionally heartwarming, and often just downright weird local stories. Here’s a month-by-month review of the news that confused, amused, inspired and terrified us
By Maria Grusauskas, Georgia Johnson, Steve Palopoli, Jacob Pierce and Lily Stoicheff
IT RAINED SO HARD, WE ALMOST RAN OUT OF WATER
Under the pressure of a daily average of three or more inches of rain, the Newell Creek Pipeline in Henry Cowell State Park cracked on Jan. 9, leaking more than 1,500 gallons of water per minute—about 90,000 gallons total—before it was fixed. The leak pushed Santa Cruz into emergency water restrictions, forcing many to cut back on laundry and dishwashing while staring longingly at all of the water falling outside.
I TAWT I TAW A PUSSY HAT! I DID! I DID!
In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, a sea of pink pussy hats took Santa Cruz—and the entire country—by storm. An estimated 10,000 people marched across downtown Santa Cruz on Jan. 21, advocating for women’s rights. The march was a part of a larger national movement, encompassing a turnout of nearly 5 million at more than 600 locations worldwide—and it took the cake for the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. Santa Cruz, along with San Francisco and Sacramento, looks to host the 2018 Women’s March next month, to grab ’em by the patriarchy.
THAT LAST PART SEEMED PRETTY HEARTWARMING UNTIL WE REALIZED COMMUTERS ON HIGHWAY 17 ARE DRIVING AROUND WITH CHAINSAWS FOR SOME REASON
The onslaught of storms in February brought the county’s transportation infrastructure to its knees, filling our social media feeds with dramatic stories of Mother Nature vs. People Trying to Drive. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, a blue van fell into a sinkhole when the driver, who was luckily uninjured in the crash, failed to see that most of the mountain road in front of him had washed away. Later that month, a redwood tree fell across Highway 17 near the summit, blocking all four lanes. But, in an act of spontaneous teamwork, weather-weary drivers emerged from their cars with chainsaws and began clearing the tree away themselves. By the time emergency crews got there, they were working side by side with commuters, and together cleared the tree within an hour.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK
Raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in Santa Cruz ostensibly targeted members of the international MS-13 gang, but led to a dispute with the SCPD after eyewitnesses reported that some of those apprehended were immigrants not associated with the gang. Then-Chief Kevin Vogel accused the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, of lying about the nature of the raids, and said the agency had “acted outside the scope of operation” by removing individuals based on their immigration status, unbeknownst to SCPD. Federal officials denied this, saying that SCPD knew about the immigration aspect all along. In addition to 10 gang members, 11 individuals were detained for immigration violations and all but one was eventually released.
THIS STORY BETTER HAVE A HAPPY ENDING THIS STORY BETTER HAVE A HAPPY ENDING THIS STORY BETTER HAVE A HAPPY ENDING
OK, so, like, it had been raining hard AF all winter, and everybody in the San Lorenzo Valley was like OMFG ENOUGH WITH THE MUDSLIDES ALREADY. So when word got out on Facebook that Boulder Creek resident Beth Cole’s blind yellow lab Sage was missing, everybody was like, “Oh, hell no! We cannot deal with this lost blind dog right now! Universe, if you kill this supes sweet squinty-eyed doggie we are not going to be able to hold it together!” But, because social media can be awesome, the rescue post went viral on Facebook and eight days later … Sage was found! Savage, ammirite? A neighbor saw her in a stream and carried her out of the canyon on his strong, manly shoulders, along with the weight of all of our hopes and dreams.
GIANT KITTY RESCUED FROM TREE
It was early on a Thursday morning when, to the horror of sleepy stroller-pushers and coffee sippers, Santa Cruz’s favorite native feline made an appearance in an East Cliff shopping center. Perched in a tree, the juvenile mountain lion was likely more afraid of its spectators than they were of him, but his presence alone was enough to shut down Del Mar Elementary and Shoreline Middle School and keep residents in their homes for around three hours. Eventually, he was tranquilized and released back into the wild the same day. Aww, he didn’t even rip anybody’s face off! Good kitty!
THIS IS NO WAY TO CELEBRATE LEGALIZATION, PEOPLE
The annual 4/20 gathering at UCSC is one of the largest of its kind in the country, with thousands making their way to UCSC’s Porter Meadows every year for the unsanctioned event. This year, however, turnout was way, way down, with only 2,000 compared to 3,000 last year. Are students less interested in smoking weed, or is the $100,000 police presence killing their buzz? To put it another way: are students less interested in police presence, or is the $100,000 buzz killing their smoking weed? Also, have you ever really looked at your toes? They’re so weird. They just sit there and toe. Toe, toe, toe. It’s kind of a funny word, right? Toooooooe.
HARBOR HOOKER HAPPY
Alix Tichelman, aka the Santa Cruz Harbor Hooker, was convicted of manslaughter and prostitution in 2015, after giving a Google executive a deadly heroin dose while aboard his Santa Cruz yacht in November 2013, where she had been hired as a prostitute. After being released early from Santa Cruz County Jail on March 29, 2017 for good behavior, Tichelman, who is Canadian, was picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, on March 30. Shortly after, a judge ruled that she be deported to her native land, and forced to endure the perils of free universal health care and the progressive and sexy leadership of Justin Trudeau. Asked if she would appeal, Tichelman replied, “Nah.”
THE ONLY PEOPLE IN SANTA CRUZ WHO DON’T WANT TO GET HIGH
Activist group Save Santa Cruz formed in opposition to higher and denser new housing developments and density along Santa Cruz’s main thoroughfares—the kind of buildings that city planners have proposed in the pursuit of more affordable housing. Could it be that this whole time, the true threat to our coastal city hasn’t been housing prices, exorbitant rents or the forced exodus of service workers, teachers and artists, but in fact four-story buildings? Save us, Save Santa Cruz. Save us all!
STUDENT OCCUPATION AT UCSC IGNORED BY ADMINISTRATION FOR 10,000TH STRAIGHT … WAIT, WHAT? IT WORKED?
“This should lead to a quick and decisive victory,” said absolutely no one when UCSC’s Afrikan/Black Student Caucus took over the campus’s main administrative building. Yet two days later, the activists were clearing out, after the news that Chancellor George Blumenthal had agreed to all of their demands, including a four-year housing guarantee to students from underrepresented communities who apply to live in the Rosa Parks African American Theme House. The school even agreed to paint that house red, gold and green. Most successful camping trip ever!
SANTA CRUZ MOURNS LOSS OF LAST MAN WHO COULD TRULY PULL OFF AN EYEPATCH
Wetsuit innovator and all-around badass Jack O’Neill passed away on June 2, at the age of 94, and a little bit of Santa Cruz’s soul went with him. Despite creating a brand that is perhaps the most recognizable in surfing today, he will be remembered first and foremost as a spiritual leader of the lifestyle. Then again, how could he not, when he said so many things about surfing that are destined to be immortal, like “You just get one wave, and everything’s OK” and “The three most important things in life: surf, surf, and surf.”
BECAUSE IT’S WAY MORE FUN TO ARGUE ABOUT PARKING THAN LIBRARIES
In June, the city’s advisory committee began public meetings to discuss the future of the downtown library, after local voters passed the $25 million bond Measure S. A proposal for a mixed-use parking garage slash library on Cathcart and Cedar streets caused a stir, including from a few local businesses who don’t like the idea of living in the new shadow of a looming six-story building. If the plan goes through, several heritage Magnolia trees, which currently offer bird habitat and a shade canopy over the downtown Farmers Market, would have to be cut down. No word on whether they would be made into books that could then be checked out from the new library.
OBVIOUS SHARK EXPERT IS OBVIOUS
Santa Cruz shut down its beaches for four days in July and made national headlines after a Great White shark ripped through a kayak about a quarter mile from Steamer Lane—a few days after surfers in Jack O’Neill’s memorial paddle out spotted a 15-foot Great White breaching the surface. The kayaker, Steve Lawson, was knocked into the water, and describes swimming around in a panic for about 10 minutes, wondering if the shark would return for him. It did not, and the uninjured Lawson told the media he’d be returning to the water. His kayak? Not so much, thanks to a 12-inch bite mark. Sean Van Sommeran, executive director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation confirmed that it “looks like something a white shark might do.”
THESE PEOPLE JUST DON’T WANT TO WORK, EXCEPT THAT THEY TOTALLY WANT TO WORK
Since July, the Santa Cruz’s downtown corridor, San Lorenzo river levees and Main and Cowell beaches have been looking particularly polished, while the typical anti-homeless stereotypes have been looking kind of shabby. It’s all thanks to the yellow-shirted crews of the Central Coast’s very first Downtown Streets Team (DST), organized by Executive Director (Just) Chip of the Downtown Association. DST takes a multi-tiered approach to ending homelessness, and includes peer-to-peer outreach and case management, food and gift cards in exchange for debris-clearing, and beautifying the community five days a week.
AAAAHHHHH! FOGNADO! OH NO! IT’S SO SCARY, BUT ALSO FUN AND REFRESHING!
Local mainstream media outlets collectively lost their minds when a wall of fog was filmed moving quickly onto Natural Bridges State Beach on Aug. 2. This may have something to do with the fact that part of the impressive video posted online was obviously sped up, or perhaps it simply triggered memories of John Carpenter’s classic 1980 horror film The Fog. However, as the cloud of visible water droplets passed over the beach (which took, in real time, about two minutes) it was revealed to contain neither vengeful ghost sailors nor Jamie Lee Curtis. Seen on both the West and East sides of Santa Cruz, the formation was dubbed “fognado”—despite having absolutely no tornado-like qualities—by super-bored meteorologists, who later admitted it was just an arcus cloud, commonly known as a “roll cloud.”
MAN EXPERIMENTS WITH NEW WAY TO REPORT DRUNK DRIVERS BY DRIVING INTO ‘REPORT DRUNK DRIVERS’ SIGN
An intoxicated 57-year-old man was driving south on Highway 1 around Buena Vista Drive on Aug. 16 when he smashed into a sign reading “Report Drunk Drivers.” Officers who reached Stephen DeWitt at the scene of the collision—which caused his jeep to flip and land upside-down—charged him with a DUI. DeWitt was expected to be ordered to undergo counseling through Ironic Alcoholics Anonymous.
YOU SAY O-MY, I SAY O-MAY, LET’S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF
Quick, name the absolute worst U.S. political figure you could donate money to! Right, David Duke—that’s what we were thinking! Actually, that’s what all of Santa Cruz was thinking after the website Indybay discovered that Roger Grigsby, owner of the Chinese Restaurant O’mei, had done just that, contributing $500 to the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan’s Senate bid. Local furor over the revelation caused Grigsby to apologize profusely and admit it had been a terrible, terrible mistake. Just kidding! Instead, Grigsby shut down the 38-year-old restaurant and posted a sign in the window blaming the outrage over the donation he gave to a virulently racist Holocaust denier—a donation anyone could review by clicking through the Federal Election Commission’s website—on “slanderous and malicious internet rumors.” He later said in a statement to KPIX that there is a “war on whites” and that “my campaign contribution was to one of the men supporting European civil rights”—causing even that one contrarian guy who always shows up to your party and says, “Well, maybe there’s a reasonable explanation for this” to be like, “OK, never mind, he’s a douchebag.”
DIRT MADE MY LUNCH … THEN RUINED MY COMMUTE AND CREATED MY ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARD
Ever see a big rig on local mountain roads and think “Wow, how do they navigate those winding curves?” Well, sometimes the answer is “very badly.” Like on Sept. 26, for instance, when a sand truck with two loaded trailers overturned on East Zayante Road in Felton, spilling 27 tons of sand and closing the route for hours. Famed local sand artist Jim Denevan was immediately called in as an emergency responder, and transformed the entire mess into a poignant tribute to farm-to-table dining. That’s what we wish had happened, anyway. In reality, along with the sand, the truck dumped 100 gallons of diesel fuel into Zayante Creek.
SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS GO UP IN SMOKE, ALONG WITH SUSPECT’S DEFENSE STRATEGY
A blaze erupted northeast of Boulder Creek on a rundown property brimming with unused vehicles, unsafe buildings and code violations—just the kind of dystopian hellhole where any forest fire would kill to get its start! Luckily no one died, although seven firefighters got hurt falling on the steep grades. And although the junk pile looked suspicious enough on its own, sheriff’s deputies have since arrested a suspect in connection with the fire, Marlin Coy, who’s suspected of not only starting the 400-acre blaze, but also looting in the fire zone shortly afterwards. Later that month, on Halloween, Coy glared at District Attorney Jeff Rosell in court and said, “You’re next”—probably not his brightest move, considering the defendant would announce he was pleading “not guilty” minutes later.
SANTA CRUZ ENDS ITS LONGEST-RUNNING, MOST POINTLESS GAME OF TAG
When new SCPD Chief Andy Mills arrived in August, it was clear he wanted to make some changes. The biggest so far has been changing the way the city polices its homeless population, which for decades has amounted to maintaining a camping ban and chasing them from place to place, tagging them with tickets that are not worth the paper they’re printed on. When Mills announced SCPD would temporarily no longer cite campers in San Lorenzo Park during nighttime hours, some locals expressed disgust with the homeless camp that arose in the benchlands in November. But at the same time, the strangest coalition Santa Cruz has seen in quite some time arose, too: residents from all sides of the political spectrum who would rather try something—anything—than be stuck with the failed status quo. The site evolved into 58 15×15 camping spaces, and while it has been criticized for everything from public safety risks to its environmental impact, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse have yet to ride through the duck pond. Last week, the city announced it will move the homeless encampment to Harvey West Park in January.
INCREASED CULTURAL AWARENESS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN SOMEHOW LEADS TO CUTS IN WOMEN’S SELF-DEFENSE CLASSES IN SANTA CRUZ, BECAUSE, LET’S FACE IT, THIS COUNTRY IS LIKE TWO YEARS AWAY FROM ‘THE HANDMAID’S TALE’
Santa Cruz’s Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women, which has been offering free women’s self-defense classes for more than 35 years, announced they would be significantly cutting back the number of classes offered in 2018. The commission blamed the cuts on declining enrollment for the classes, though CPVAW co-founder Gillian Greensite told GT in a Nov. 22 story that there have always been fluctuations in class size. Nor will the class cuts save money, which is expected to be redirected toward as-yet-unspecified efforts to educate men and boys. “Only the rapist can prevent rape,” CPVAW chair Brooke Newman told GT. While we see the deeper philosophical point here, let’s not entirely rule out women empowered with the skill to land a crippling kick to the nuts.
ELTON JOHN TO DUET WITH NARWHALS ON NEW VERSION OF ‘DON’T GO BREAKING MY HEART’
UCSC biologist Terrie Williams discovered that narwhals, the cute, unicorn-like whales name-checked in the movie Elf and the song “Rock Lobster,” plunge to unfathomable depths to escape fishing nets and other human activity. While hiding from noisy vessels, their heart rates drop to a frighteningly low three or four beats per minute, Williams discovered, in findings that he published in Science, and which were later picked up by the Washington Post and NPR. As a matter of fact, their heart rates get so low that Williams doesn’t even know how the Arctic animals are getting enough oxygen, and he worries they may suffer damage to their brains or other organs. So knock it off, big Arctic ship captains! When the narwhal was down, it was your clown. But right from the start, it gave you its heart …
THESE PLANS FOR THE OLD CEMENT PLANT COULD REALLY TAKE OFF
The days of the Cemex plant’s dusty smoke billowing over the town of Davenport are long gone, but so are the decent-paying middle class jobs that went with it. Now Santa Cruz County economic developers are working on a plan to bring in a new project, and hope to put together a, er, concrete proposal. But it may be no easy sell, as a winning idea needs support from the community, county staff and county supervisors, who would have to purchase the property from the Mexico-based cement company. One popular idea is that the site could become the new headquarters for a local aviation company. No one knows how exactly that will take off, but we’re hoping that, if it does, it involves lots of funny scarves, leather caps and oversized goggles. Is it too early to ask for a jetpack?