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Cover Stories

2018: The Year in Review

The weirdest stories from Santa Cruz County this year

Criminals! Sea creatures! Criminal sea creatures! And all of the other things that made this year so bizarre in Santa Cruz County.

JANUARY

HEY, THAT REALLY WARMED THE PLACE UP! SAME TIME TOMORROW?

“Love’s what I got/ Don’t start a riot/ You’ll feel it when the dance gets hot.” Those Sublime lyrics were certainly not playing when 26 prisoners charged county sheriff’s deputies at Santa Cruz Main Jail. After complaining that their unit was too cold, the inmates pulled out all the stops booby-trapping the joint. They tied trip lines from ripped sheets, covered their arms with socks, hid their faces with makeshift masks and armed themselves with soap, a radio, a mop and books. They covered the floor with soap and water, and blocked stairwells and walkways with mattresses as they tried to pelt the guards with books and soap. Officers quelled the uprising with rubber pellets and beanbag rounds, and despite all the suds, no one made a clean getaway.

January-UCSC-memeWE WERE TOLD THERE WOULD BE NO MATH

Train A is departing for UCSC with 9,000 new students. Train B is departing for the same destination carrying a buttload of angry Santa Cruz townspeople waving pitchforks. If Train A is scheduled to arrive by 2040, and Train B is scheduled to arrive any day now, how soon must Chancellor George Blumenthal retire to avoid getting the ass-poking of his life? For full credit, correlate the 80 percent of city voters who said “yes” to a meaningless measure in favor of limiting university expansion. Bonus points: Calculate the integer X that represents how much the UC Regents care that no one in Santa Cruz likes their plan, if X is less than zero.

FEBRUARY

OR ROUGHLY THE COST OF A THREE-BEDROOM ON OPAL CLIFF DRIVE

The 175-acre Coastside Ranch went on the market for $35 million. The property sits between Wilder Ranch and Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument. This prized ranch land includes the Red, White and Blue Beach, which was home to a nudist colony until 2006. OK, the price is right, but does it still smell like hippies?

SANTA CRUZ: PUTTING THE ‘GIVE’ IN ‘WE GIVE UP’February-homeless-meme

Tired of haphazardly managing a burgeoning transient population with nowhere to live, go to the bathroom, or even just hang out, the city of Santa Cruz started letting the homeless kick it at San Lorenzo Park. Everyone brought their tents to the benchlands for the months-long camp-out, until the city grew tired of hearing locals—many of them nearby county employees—complain about the impacts of the camp, and city parks employees got fed up with picking syringes out of the grass. Next, Santa Cruz opened up a smaller, more controlled camp on River Street. Most were happy with the new permanent camp. Well, it wasn’t permanent-permanent, but more temporary­-permanent. Theoretically, there was a plan here. A city analyst swore to GT—as unrealistic as it sounded at the time—that it would be hasta luego for that camp by the end of June, and that the campers would move to a bigger facility. But actually, the camp closed in November, with no long-term solution in sight. Sigh.   

 

MARCH

WON’T YOU COME HOME, JAMES DURBIN? WON’T YOU COME ON HOME?

Back in 2011, it was madness. The electrifying performances on national TV. The packed bars and restaurants every week to watch them. The wild homecoming concert that drew 30,000 people to the Beach Boardwalk. It was Santa Cruz’s own mini-Beatlemania moment, and it was all thanks to the supernaturally talented singer James Durbin and his unlikely run on Fox’s American Idol. But in 2018, Durbinsanity was officially consigned to history when Durbin and his family left their Santa Cruz home for a new adventure in Nashville. Durbin was much more than a local phenom—he was a genuine national curiosity, the kid who struggled with the double diagnosis of Asperger’s and Tourette’s, but was nonetheless possessed of a rock singer’s wail that would make Robert Plant cry. Durbin represented Santa Cruz with distinction when he decided to champion ballsy hard rock on a show much more inclined to leather-lunged divas. Good luck, amigo. And thanks for the reflected glory.

March-Durbin-meme

SAXOPHONE GUY IS PROBABLY NOT LOOKING SO HOT ANYMORE, EITHER

There she is, sparkling like a child’s toy in the unforgettable hawk’s-eye-view opening shot of the Beach Boardwalk at night in The Lost Boys. The centerpiece of countless tourist photos and home movies, the Boardwalk’s majestic old Ferris wheel met its demise this year. First erected in 1959, the wheel was retired and dismantled in March. The Facebook explanation from the Boardwalk sounds like something you’d say to your 5-year-old when it’s time to take the dying family dog for one last trip to the vet: “Every ride is unique, and each has a lifespan. Sometimes it’s just time to let them go.” The decision removed a major courtship go-to move for generations of locals, leaving thousands of singles to wonder where they were supposed to go on a second date. It was also one of the few attractions at the Boardwalk not designed with drooling toddlers or insane adrenaline junkies in mind. Now, Santa Cruz speaks with one voice: Please, please leave the Sky Glider alone!

APRIL

April-memeHER ENEMIES SLEEP WITH THE FISHES

Did you know that there’s a lady orca mob boss calling the shots on who lives and who dies in the Monterey Bay? There is, and her name is Emma. The matriarch of an orca pod that returns to the bay each spring to hunt is easy to spot because of her own Scarface-esque calling card: distinctive E-shaped notches in her dorsal fin that helped marine biologists like Nancy Black of the Monterey Bay Whale Watch link Emma’s pod with 12 local attacks on gray whales last year alone. In a refreshingly vivid reminder of our collective descent into unfettered social Darwinism, this year’s killer whale season started with a bang on April 5, when a group of unsuspecting whale watchers witnessed a crew of 17 orcas give a gray whale calf the business.

LEGAL, THAT’S A FUNNY WORD. IT SOUNDS KIND OF LIKE ‘EAGLE.’ AND ‘SCHMEGOL.’ DUDE, THAT LORD OF THE RINGS DUDE! HE WAS ALL, ‘THE PRECIOUS! PEW PEW!’ OH HAI MR. PO-PO MAN…

In Santa Cruz, the first 4/20 after legalization should have been a stoner slam-dunk. And it might have been, if UCSC’s campus police hadn’t decided to make their play for the Buzzkill Hall of Fame. As students and other bud enthusiasts gathered at Porter Meadows for the annual day of rest and nonsensical reflection, an estimated 100 officers from multiple UC police departments, plus a videographer working for the campus cops, were reportedly on hand to unfurl a giant wet blanket over the festivities. People’s Champion and art student Marco Cota, for one, tried to make peace with the officers directing revelers to stop smoking in public. “The policeman declined his offer to share the doobie,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.

MAY

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SOMEBODY JUMP IN THERE AND GET HER!Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 4.47.13 PM

Santa Cruz native Shell Eisenberg set a new U.S. women’s national record in May by freediving to a depth of 85 meters (278.87 feet). To put that in perspective, it’s more than twice the maximum limit for recreational diving (40 meters) and far beyond even what is considered a “deep dive” for technical divers (60m). Santa Cruz’s Kirby School, of which Eisenberg is an alumna, proudly trumpeted her accomplishment on their web page. However, they inadvertently put an unsettling twist on the story with a graphic of the Washington Monument that showed her dive was roughly equivalent to half-way down the stone structure. “This is the depth she dove to,” it was captioned. “Now she has to swim back to the surface.” Wait, she’s still down there?

A DOE, A DEER, A BADASS DEER

In its venerable history, the shark has faced legendary battles with many foes. Crocodile. Octopus. Mechashark. So the 9-foot-long great white off the Aptos shore on May 9 probably thought it was in for some easy pickings when it began circling a deer swimming near the cement ship. OK, first it probably thought it had taken some bad mushrooms, because why the hell was it seeing a deer swimming near the cement ship? But hey, lunch is lunch, right? Alas, venison would not be on the menu that day, because this deer was a hell of a swimmer, and beat the Vegas deer vs. shark odds by making it to the shore in one piece. As to why it was ever out in the ocean to begin with, Santa Cruz shark researcher Sean R. van Sommeran of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation—who witnessed the whole thing, and posted a YouTube video of it after doing his best to help the deer get to land—told KSBW he thought it might have been “spooked” by park and beach visitors while walking along the road.

JUNE

DOING THEIR CIVIC DUTY

It’s no secret that walking into the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium is like walking in to a 1950s time warp. The wooden seats and overly steep metal stairs are reminiscent of a high school spirit rally in an old-timey gymnasium—okay for the retro-cool Derby Girls, but not exactly ideal when it comes to Santa Cruz symphony concerts. With the complaints about practicality, handicap accommodations and air conditioning in mind, Santa Cruz Mayor David Terraza and Ellen Primack, executive director of the Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 4.48.46 PMCabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, announced plans for a $20 million Civic Auditorium makeover to be potentially funded by a future ballot measure.

 

WE LITERALLY CANNOT STOP WRITING ABOUT SHARKS #SORRYNOTSORRY

Everyone knows shark populations in the Monterey Bay have gone up in recent years, which researchers attribute to food availability. Though shark attacks are super rare, beachgoers were still on the edge of their uncomfortable chairs when a Capitola kayaker reported that he saw two dozen sharks about the same size as his kayak while paddling off of New Brighton State Beach. A young, 8-foot male great white weighing in at 500 pounds washed up in Aptos a few days later. It had several cuts and scrapes, which prompted criminal investigators to push their way through the crowd of Instagrammers for a closer look.

JULY

I AM THE KEYMASTER. ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?

The California Coastal Commission had an ultimatum for the Opal Cliffs Recreation District: Open your freakin’ beach to the public, or else. The district’s response: How about no? Some Mid-County surfers and neighbors have long preferred keeping the gated Privates Beach under lock and key (membership costs $100 a year), arguing that it keeps the area pristine. So when the Coastal Commission provided a July 31 deadline to respond, the county let the date come and go, opening up a controversy over coastal access. The standoff has cooled off in the months since, after neighbors indicated they would be open to keeping the gate open to the public for at least a few hours a day. Assuming it all works out, we hope that the Coastal Commission’s next ruling has to do with a name change for Privates Beach. Whoever named that is bad at naming beaches and should feel bad.

July-gatekeeper-meme

THE ONLY THING LANDLORDS HATE MORE THAN RENT CONTROL IS A CHANCE TO EXPLAIN WHY THEY HATE RENT CONTROL

Landlords and other opponents of the Measure M rent control initiative somehow missed the deadline to file an argument against the local measure that they were so angry about. Supporters, meanwhile, turned their piece in on time. Santa Cruz city employees said that they were to blame for all the confusion, and the City Council granted opponents more time to file their argument. That reminds us, we’re actually gonna be a few weeks late on rent this month … so we’ll just beg the City Council to let us turn it in when we get around to it. Is that how it works?

AUGUST

DO YOU PROMISE TO BE EXCELLENT TO EACH OTHER, IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH?

Anyone who’s seen Keanu Reeves’ most recent film, Destination Wedding, probably has a good idea August-Keanu-memeof what he’s like in real life—handsome, sort of funny and mildly awkward, perhaps a tad dickish. But his name does mean “cool breeze over the mountains” in Hawaiian, so we could be wrong. One couple who got married at the Dream Inn got an unexpected little Hawaiian breeze of their own when Reeves showed up out of the blue at their wedding. Guests reported seeing a phone booth nearby, which seems kind of weird in this day and age, especially because it had Alex Winters in it.

GARY GRIGGS IS COMING FOR YOU, DUDE

Easy way to get to be Santa Cruz’s most hated person of the day? Spill 200 gallons of diesel into one of the world’s most renowned marine sanctuaries. That’s what happened when a man ran a 56-foot commercial fishing boat aground on Aug. 13 near UCSC’s Seymour Marine Discovery Center. He and his dog were able to hop off and walk away—too bad the otters and dolphins couldn’t do the same.

September

LET’S HOPE WE DIDN’T GET CAST AS THE SUNKEN PLACE

Physics majors will tell you that it’s technically impossible to be hot and cool at the same time. But that doesn’t apply to director/writer/actor Jordan Peele, who landed an Oscar nom and scored major hipster cred with his directorial debut Get Out last year. In September, Peele (formerly of the Key & Peele comedy duo) came to the Seabright neighborhood of Santa Cruz with his production crew to shoot some exteriors and stunt scenes for his new film titled Us, to be released in March. There is apparently a Mueller-esque level of security against leaking details of the new movie. What we do know is that, as with Get Out, Peele will be working from his own script, and he’ll be tackling the subject of race in, we can hope, the same funny-scary-angry tone that made his debut film such a standout. The movie will star Lupita Nyong’o, Elisabeth Moss and at least one or two breathtaking establishing shots of the local landscape.

BECAUSE OUR NAVEL IS JUST THAT GAZE-WORTHY

It was a big year for literary self-examination in Santa Cruz. Right on the heels of the collection Santa Cruz Noir, a second anthology of Santa Cruz-inspired literature, Santa Cruz Weird, was released in September. Weird featured 18 short stories, each an attempt to capture the uniquely eccentric essence of Santa Cruz and the various weirdos it attracts. The earlier book, Santa Cruz Noir, featured an entirely different cast of local writers, all turning their gaze to the sleazy dark underbelly of life in Surf City. Taken together, the two collections might present a fairly comprehensive, if somewhat lurid portrait of Santa Cruz. But we’ll wait for the third, still-unpublished volume to complete the picture: Santa Cruz Expensive and Crowded.

OCTOBER

THOSE KPIG GUYS ARE ALWAYS GRANDSTANDING

Santa Cruz’s own John Sandidge—known for hosting KPIG’s live show Please Stand By, among a zillion other radio gigs over the last few decades—represented our Americana-loving citizens at the epicenter of country music when he was invited to emcee at the Grand Ole Opry on Oct. 20. He fittingly introduced the cosmic cowboy group Riders in the Sky, who he built a following for in Santa Cruz through his Snazzy Productions shows. They also sent him home with a commemorative “I Hosted the Grand Ole Opry” poster. In other news, commemorative “I Hosted the Grand Ole Opry” posters exist.

october-santa cruz-memeOH, THE IRONY OF THAT SEXY CORRECTIONAL OFFICER COSTUME

Santa Cruz used to be the kind of place where you could walk along Pacific Avenue on Halloween night and feel like you had stumbled into some kind of Mad Max: Fury Road post-apocalyptic wasteland. But an ongoing police crackdown has taken most of the terrifying mayhem out of the city’s favorite night of debauchery, and this year the cops promised to bring the hammer down hard again, with fines for public nuisance tripled. As 6,000 people flooded downtown, the SCPD delivered, handing out 57 citations and making 17 arrests. The creepiest case—and not in a fun way—was an intoxicated 34-year-old man who was arrested with a Hi-Point .380 caliber pistol in his backpack. Police reported that the gun was loaded, with a bullet in the chamber and the serial numbers scratched off.

NOVEMBER

AND IN PAIGE CONCANNON ELECTION NEWS: PAIGE CONCANNON

In the Nov. 6 election, charming District 4 Supervisor Greg Caput firmly held off his challenger, promising four more years of his affably incoherent brand of local politics on the county Board of Supervisors. The affordable housing bond went down in flames, gaining a clear majority but still falling 11 points short of the two-thirds vote needed to pass. Rent control got spanked at the polls, failing to get even 40 percent voter support. Justin Cummings, Donna Meyers and Drew Glover won spots on the City Council. Greg Larson missed out, coming in fourth, despite going more than $10,000 over the voluntary campaign-spending limit. But the real winner of the council race, at least in our hearts, may have been public safety candidate Paige Concannon, certainly not in terms of votes—the Seabright Republican finished ninth in the field of 10—but her name is super catchy and just really fun to say. Paige Concannon! Paige Concannon!

STATE OF EMERGENCYNovember-fire-meme

The Santa Cruz Mountains saw a handful of small fires this past fall, all of them within a couple weeks of each other—from the area around Pogonip and Paradise Park to Scotts Valley and Boulder Creek. The smoke mixed in with that from disastrous fires raging around the state of California. Although the haze was not nearly as bad in Santa Cruz as it was in the Central Valley, the air quality here was still bad enough to warrant warnings about the risk of exposure. Some smart people even started wearing protective masks, but most of us acted like we were still in college hanging out at smoky dorms and dive bars. NBD!

DECEMBER

O LITTLE TOWN OF POP-UP SALES

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 4.54.13 PMAre you in the market for some locally woven macrame? What about dainty, hand-forged jewelry? Beard wax from a local purveyor, rather than some asshat in Brooklyn? Good news: There’s not just one holiday pop-up for your local shopping needs, but what seems like at least one a day this year in Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Felton and beyond. Yes, the Portlandia overtones can be strong, but there’s good reason for slapping a maker hashtag on your Instagram bio and setting up shop at a local pop-up. As food truck restaurateurs have also made clear in recent years, Santa Cruz County is increasingly cost-prohibitive for creative small businesses.

SHOULD WE STAY OR SHOULD WE GROW

On Dec. 11, the Santa Cruz City Council gave the green light to a new six-story, 205-unit downtown apartment complex. On the same day, the County Board of Supervisors accepted a proposal to severely limit growth in the Pleasure Point neighborhood and reduce Portola Drive from four lanes of traffic to two. The mixed messages on building for a bigger population are nothing new—see also: CEQA environmental lawsuits that can add years to local construction projects—but the pressure is magnified with anxiety about rising costs. If the neighborhood-level politics aren’t enough, keep an eye in the year ahead on investigations and lawsuits swirling around the Rail Trail corridor, from a legal challenge to a proposed rail service agreement to pending campaign finance violations against the Greenway Capitola anti-rail advocacy group.

Staff Writer at Good Times |

Wallace Baine has been an arts writer, film critic, columnist and editor in Santa Cruz for more than 25 years. He is the author of “A Light in the Midst of Darkness,” a cultural history of the independent bookseller Bookshop Santa Cruz, as well as the book “Rhymes with Vain: Belabored Humor and Attempted Profundity,” and the story collection “The Last Temptation of Lincoln.” He is a staff writer for Good Times, Metro Silicon Valley and San Benito/South Valley magazine.

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