10 Things That Stood Out Locally in the Last Decade

cover01Editor’s Note: Welcome to the light at the end of the dark, sometimes daunting tunnel that was the decade of the ’00s. Y2K what? Oh that Bush and Dick. (Don’t assume I’m talking about George and Cheney.) And terrorism—thanks for the fear? Ah, Barack! Happy to have you at the helm ushering in the post-George Bush Jr. era. I can go on and on about the last decade, and all those things that stand out—the gutting of most major media, celeb obsessions and the silly notion that we are communicating better with each other because we have more gadgets that can “communicate” better. Wrong. Instead, for now, I propose that in 2010, we turn off the TV more often, quit texting each other from across the table, look into each others eyes more and relish the fact that we’re human. It might be a decent thing, too, to give something back to a planet that seems to be in need of environmental CPR. But let’s not preach. Ponder all this in your free time. Meanwhile, take a peek back at 10 things that stood out locally in the past decade. And let’s enjoy the new one. | Greg Archer

10. DEA Whacks WAMM Pot Plants

Just before 7 a.m. on Sept. 5, 2002, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, dressed in black combat gear and wielding automatic weapons, raided a small farm tucked in the hills above Davenport. That farm belonged to the Wo/Men’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM), run by Mike and Valerie Corral. The agents stormed two homes on the property, arrested the Corrals and chopped down 167 cannabis plants.
The Corrals were released from jail hours later and charges were never filed against them, but the precious pot was gone forever. And, the Corrals found themselves thrust to the forefront of the medical marijuana movement on a national scale.
WAMM was touted as a model medical-marijuana cooperative. Since the early 1990s, WAMM’s volunteer-run medical marijuana cooperative had grown marijuana and shared its harvest free of charge to critically ill patients. WAMM patients suffered from cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, polio, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and a host of other afflictions.
After Prop. 215 passed in 1996, legalizing at the state level marijuana for medical uses, WAMM enjoyed the support of local and state officials and law enforcement, including the Santa Cruz City Council, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department.
The WAMM bust prompted a Sept. 6, 2002 letter from then California Attorney General Bill Lockyer to then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. Lockyer lambasted the DEA for a rash of raids of small-time medical marijuana growing operations in California. Following the WAMM raid, Valerie Corral, WAMM and the city and county of Santa Cruz sued the federal government in what may prove to be a landmark case for state medical marijuana laws. Among other things, the suit claims that that the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prevents the federal government from interfering with state laws when interstate commerce is absent.
“We are trying to change the system not just for WAMM,” Corral says, “but for all medical marijuana cooperatives.”   
In August 2008, WAMM enjoyed a significant victory in the case, dubbed Santa Cruz v. Gonzales, when the federal court in San Jose ruled that the federal government may not deliberately subvert state law.
The U.S. Supreme Court bolstered WAMM’s hopes when, in May 2009, the high court declined to hear an appeal by San Diego and San Bernardino counties challenging the validity of California’s medical marijuana law. The court’s refusal left intact a state appeals court decision that upheld the California medical marijuana law. The state court had declared that federal drug law does not render Prop. 215 void.
Meanwhile, as the court fights trudge on, WAMM continues today to pass out pot to sick people with a prescription for it.   | Laurel Chesky

9. Boom, Doom, Gloom: Real Estate’s Wild Ride

The wildest ride in Santa Cruz during the past 10 years was not at the Boardwalk. It was in real estate.
It’s not quite a “fortunes-were-made-and-then-lost” story, because prices actually went up during the past 10 years. But many homeowners don’t see it that way.
A little perspective: The median price for a single-family residence back in 2000 ranged from $370,000 to $475,000, according to the Santa Cruz Association of Realtors. As 2010 dawns, the latest figures show the median price at $502,000. Hey—if you didn’t know any better, you might think that was pretty good.
Oh, but look what happened back in the boom. In April of ’07 the median price—half above, half below—was a shade over $950,000—almost double that of today. A lot of money was made and then lost.
The real estate story, fascinating as it is, is a difficult one to wrap your head around. If you own a home and you’ve already paid for it—it’s a story of money in the bank. If you are just getting out of school and looking eventually to buy, good luck, because it’s probably out of reach. That’s why people relocate to Vallejo.
Then there are the ones caught in the middle. They owe, say, $600,000 on a home that’s worth $100,000 less than that. Bad news.
The wild ride also had another huge impact—on jobs. Halfway through the decade, the biggest opportunities for jobs were related to the real estate business. Young people starting out or older folks looking for a new career had a lot to choose from: real estate sales, mortgage brokerages, real estate publications, banking jobs. Most new jobs around Santa Cruz were connected in some way to real estate.
Not anymore. Unemployment is somewhere north of 10 percent. One question often asked by former mortgage brokers is “Do you want fries with that?”
Still, Santa Cruz County hasn’t suffered from the boom and bust as much as other areas. Housing prices, even at $500,000, remain high and out of touch for most young people. Couple that with a lack of job opportunities, and you get an aging population of wealthy homeowners and a lot of young renters.
That is, and probably always be, the big challenge for those who care about Santa Cruz. Where will young people live and how will they afford to live here? Most of them don’t want to be commuting over to San Jose, but more and more that’s what they’re forced to do. | Tom Honig


8. Media’s Nervous Breakdown

Only 10 years ago, newspapers were riding high. They were so secure in their advertising revenue that as the 20th century wound down, they gleefully put out special editions focusing on the many developments of the 1900s, how the world had changed and even on hopeful looks forward about what the new century would bring.
None—and I mean none—forecasted that in 10 short years, the entire industry would be fighting for its life.
It all happened so fast. As Jan. 1, 2000 dawned, the iPod had yet to be introduced. Then, in October of 2001, the first iPod came onto the market, billed as the “Walkman of the 21st Century.”    By last summer, I had read a book on my iPhone—and I read it because the book wasn’t even out in print yet.
Most people hadn’t heard the word “blog” in 2000. Today, nearly everyone either reads a blog or writes their own. The Huffington Post, which doesn’t even pay its contributors, may take in $16 million this year.
Twitter? Facebook? Unimaginable back in 2000.
It’s not just newspapers that are on the ropes. Network television executives are trying to figure out how to survive. Radio has undergone such change that even the highest-rated stations are facing bankruptcy.
The weekly publication that you’re holding in front of you right now seems to be hanging in better than most print publications—largely because a weekly local read seems to fit in better in most people’s lives than even a small daily.
Here’s why. Most people rush through their day. Get the kids to school. Get themselves to work. Get to various appointments. Who has time? What little time there is for media can be best utilized online.
A quick check of local online sites: usually for crime news or big surf warnings. Then there are sites like cnn.com or Politico for the latest in world and national news. And now, you don’t even need to be at a computer—the iPhone or the Blackberry connects you with just about anything that’s going on in the world. Let’s face it, people even check their information sources when they’re stuck in traffic on Highway 1.
And when you get home it’s maybe a few minutes with CNN or, more likely, some quality time with Rachel Maddow.
Then, finally, when things quiet down and you have a few minutes, there’s time to read … in depth. Sorry, daily newspapers. You lose here. There are magazines like the Economist or the New Yorker. And maybe, just maybe, you settle in for a couple of hours with Steinbeck or Pynchon.
After all, some people still read books. Even in 2010. | TH


7. Sex Abuse Scandal at Monterey Bay Academy

Around the time that the Catholic Church reeled with a multitude of sex abuse scandals, Santa Cruz County discovered its own dirty little secret. In 2004, five former students of the Monterey Bay Academy filed separate lawsuits claiming that they had been repeatedly abused by two male teachers. Monterey Bay Academy is a private boarding school in La Selva Beach run by the Central California Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
cover_mbaMichael Weston, Kendall Dealy, Juan Juarez, Reinhold Tilstra and Vince Parisi alleged that former teachers Lowell Nelson and/or Ron Wittlake had sexually abused them between 1982 and 1986. The five plaintiffs, who were high school students at the time of the alleged abuse, sought monetary damages, citing negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and loss of monetary wages due to enduring psychological damage caused by the abuse.
The church settled the suits for $3.5 million shortly after Good Times published an article on the subject in May, 2005.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuits alleged repeated, systematic sexual abuse by Wittlake and Nelson. According to plaintiffs and witnesses, Nelson in particular was notorious for frequently talking about sex and genitalia in the classroom, and his practice of sunbathing nude with students was well known around campus. Nelson often invited male students to sunbathe with him on his sundeck, plaintiffs say, where he would provide the boys with alcohol, marijuana and pornography and then molest them.
“I feel like my life has been a sick, disgusting joke, that I was killed long ago,” Weston said in 2005. “In the years following being up at MBA, I can only describe my life as a living nightmare. If somehow God gave me the opportunity—or actually the command—to go back in time and live those years over, I’d blow my fucking head off.”
In 2005, Caron Oswald, communications director for the CCC, declined to discuss details of the case, but told GT, “For years, the Adventist church has had a zero-tolerance policy for abuse of any kind.”
Nelson declined to answer questions about the case. “I’m innocent, but we can’t talk about it,” he said over the phone from his home in Cool, a small town in Sierra Foothills, before hanging up on the GT reporter.
Wittlake committed suicide on Jan. 9, 2004, two days after a story about the case appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. Nelson died on Oct. 13, 2008 at the age of 75. | LC


6. Moniker-Gate: The Surf City Debate

While the past decade’s headlines have been consumed by the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and terrorism, national headlines in the mid-2000s were also sparked by a more trivial, yet very California, war. Like a clash of the taut and tan titans (with Santa Cruz wearing its wetsuit armor year round), since 2005 our coastal haven has been embroiled in a war of words over words: “Surf City, USA.” That was when it was revealed that Doug Traub, the president of the Huntington Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau, had applied to officially trademark the term. The move, enacted to drive tourism to Huntington Beach, furthered the divide between Northern and Southern California’s surf scenes and its two surf Meccas that had long been informally adopting the title. And so began “Moniker-Gate.”
Santa Cruz, whose Boardwalk has been claiming “Surf City” since the ’20s, was incensed, and the dispute was dissected in Good Times’ August 2005 cover story. cover_surfMattMyersMeanwhile, another voice of the  local community gave his intrepid opinion in the debate. Santa Cruz’s mayor at the time, Mike Rotkin, challenged Huntington Beach to a surf contest to settle the matter, and he even revised the lyrics to Jan and Dean’s “Surf City” tune: “Well, Huntington Beach, we’d like to be pals now / But when you steal our name, you’re acting like Vals now … We’ll shred the Lane and you will say / That we’re Surf City, USA.”
More than fun and games or simply a matter of reputation for who should be crowned the world’s best surf town, the legal branding led to, as feared by Santa Cruz, serious matters of litigation. In 2006, Ginger Noland’s souvenir shop on the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf was sent a cease-and-desist letter to halt the selling of T-shirts saying “Surf City” because it violated Huntington Beach’s patent. (Note: Noland’s family-owned business has been operating near the Boardwalk for five decades.) It seemed the sharks were hitting town from warmer waters and even the Wall Street Journal ran a cover story following the lawsuit, which was settled under undisclosed terms. Still, the controversy continues to make waves. Most recently, the case took a surprise turn this December, when one of Southern California’s own filed a lawsuit against the Huntington Beach agency, claiming the bureau’s use of taxpayer dollars to sue Noland for a secret resolution to the case was an illegal use of public money.  
While the repercussions of Huntington Beach’s appropriation of “Surf City, USA” have incurred business tangles more frustrating than that dragging seaweed wrapped around your ankle during an incoming set, many locals are happy keeping their real surf city under the radar. And in September of 2007 Christina Glynn, communications director of the Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Council, pretty much summed it all up in the Los Angeles Times with a statement virtually every one of us can agree with. “If you want to go to a place with a trademark, head to Huntington Beach,” she said. “When you want to surf with the big dogs, come to Santa Cruz.” | Linda Koffman


5. Can’t We All Get Along? UCSC Growth, Water Woes and So Much More

More than 16,000 students are currently enrolled in UC Santa Cruz. Still one of the smaller schools in the UC system, that figure is up from around 12,000 in 2000 and 9,923 in 1995.
The city of Santa Cruz has a population of 58,982, according to the 2009 Community Assessment Report, and covers 12.5 square miles of land. Needless to say, when the university expands, the city takes notice. It certainly did during the last decade.
cover_waterOver the past 10 years, the issue of university growth famously butted heads with anti-growth and anti-university sentiments. It also caused logistical and legal issues with the city itself. At the heart of the problem was UCSC’s Long Range Development Plan (LRDP), a contentious roadmap for potential growth that has been around since the school was founded in the 1960s. Several versions have been issued in the years since, all providing details for university expansion if enrollment increases to projected amounts. For example, the 2005 LRDP provides accommodations for an additional 4,500 students by the year 2020.
Many local entities came together to oppose the LRDP and what it represented. The negotiations dragged on for more than a year in fact, until a historic settlement was made in 2008 between UCSC, the city of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County, the Coalition to Limit University Expansion (CLUE), the Rural Bonny Doon Association and 11 private citizens who hopped on board what became a political bandwagon.
Going into negotiations, the city’s main concerns were housing, water and traffic. “We know that, under current models, at around 18,000 students, the city runs out of water and many of the key intersections move to an F rating,” City Councilmember Ryan Coonerty told GT in fall 2008. Coonerty, who was mayor at the time of the settlement and is also a UCSC lecturer, said that the university’s agreement to house 68 percent of new students on campus would help solve these problems.
Currently, UCSC is renovating Porter College to provide 300 more beds for students. Impending plans for additional colleges to be built (the school currently has 10, each with dormitory residences) is allotted for in the LRDP but not currently underway; the 2005 version had plans for a College 11 and College 12, but all talk of the latter was dropped after the settlement lowered projected 2020 enrollment from 21,000 to 19,500.  
In terms of traffic, the university has lowered daily trips to campus to 1998 levels, despite having increased enrollment. According to a joint editorial by then Mayor Cynthia Mathews, County Supervisor Neal Coonerty and UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal in the Santa Cruz Sentinel in August, the school had put $2 million toward road work and improvements at key intersections, including Highway 1 and Bay Street, Highways 1 and 9, and the intersection at Highway 1, Mission Street and Chestnut Street.    
Water usage was perhaps the biggest issue of them all; water availability and usage has been a hot-button issue for the city and its residents over the last decade, and the university’s continued growth further complicated the problem. However, city and university leaders say the water woes have been mollified. When the city imposed water restrictions in May 2009, they assigned UCSC a 15 percent water reduction goal. “In the first full month since the restrictions went into effect, the campus cut water consumption by 27 percent, nearly double the target,” read the editorial. “In addition, the university is working to implement additional high-priority conservation efforts.” | Elizabeth Limbach


4. Oh, Those Downtown Ordinances

Ever since the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, Pacific Avenue has been in state of continual makeover. In the past decade it has seen corporate businesses open (Gap, Borders, Urban Outfitters), beloved local treasures close their doors (R.I.P. Palookaville and Club Dakota) and an increase in ordinances implemented to control the behavior of its patrons and its penniless. Panhandling, loitering, sleeping, tabling, drum-circling, parading, protesting, performing, smoking—it’s all been affected in some way or another.
Just to skim the surface: a person who wishes to panhandle, perform or spend more than an hour in a spot on Pacific Avenue must be 14 feet from a business entrance, open-air café, or crosswalk; 50 feet from any bank or ATM, vending machine, or bank parking lot; and may not sit on the ledge of a planter, bench, monument or any piece of private property.  In 2006, a man who was ticketed twice for panhandling took his tickets all the way to federal court in San Jose, where a judge ruled them unconstitutional. Now, panhandling is legal between sunrise and sunset.
Among the other restrictions, one cannot bring a dog downtown, sleep outside between 11 p.m. and 8:30 a.m., congregate with others in a public parking lot or garage or, as of October 2009, smoke cigarettes (or other substance, for that matter) within 25 feet of any door or window used by the public, on Pacific Avenue, Beach Street or West Cliff Drive, in, on or around city-owned buildings, parks or property, or at the Municipal Wharf.
The conversation continues about the intentions of these ordinances; many feel they are directly aimed at “cleaning up downtown” and “ridding undesirables,” while others, such as the city council, maintain that the ordinances are simply meant to improve the downtown experience. | EL


3. Transportation

It’s been one of the hottest topics of the decade. At the onset of 2000, 596,500 vehicle miles were traveled within the city of Santa Cruz per day. By 2007, the city’s Daily Vehicle Miles had gone down by 5.1 percent to 566,070. In that time span,  the “green” boom was born and there was more than one ungodly jump in gas prices. Bicycling became the new healthy trend, encouraged by local groups like Ecology Action, which has continued growing their Bike 2 Work weeks. People Power, a bicycle advocacy group, also became a prominent force. Ride shares like Zimride and Zip Car came to town, and online carpooling websites akin to Craigslist and Facebook popped up. The Campaign for Sensible Transportation became the go-to source for critical takes on the region’s transportation projects; other groups of visionaries formed to promote more far-out transportation solutions (like Santa Cruz PRT, Inc., who are pushing for the adoption of an above-ground, light rail system); even the county’s Regional Transportation Commission formed a subgroup, Commute Solutions, to address transportation options.
All the while, the city and county pursued various projects (met to varying degrees of reception and success). Among the most debated was the widening of Highway 1, plans of which continue to resurface in different locations, such as at the Highway 1 and 17 merger, the Soquel Avenue/Morrissey Boulevard auxiliary lane project and the HOV lane widening project.
As the decade neared its end, the county approved pursuing acquisition of the Union Pacific-owned rail line that stretches 32-miles from Davenport to Watsonville, of which attained grant monies will cover the purchase.
Another development to look for in the dawn of the new decade is the King Street bike project, a plan to direct bike traffic off of notoriously unsafe Mission Street for which the city has been doing the talk—but not walking the walk. Yet.  | EL


2. Disaster In Sacramento

The decade of the ‘00s for the state of California actually started in 1999, when Gray Davis assumed the governorship of what was then the fifth largest economy in the world.
Ten years later, the state is in disarray, unable to pay its bills, unable to meet the needs of schools, the poor or nearly anyone else.
What happened? Davis was recalled in 2003 after guiding the state to financial ruin. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger took office amid great hopes and then careened from one crisis to another, never adequately achieving any particular fiscal  course of action.
Political scientists will be studying what went wrong for decades to come. But the answer comes down to three things:
Term limits. Sure, the legislator-for-life role enjoyed by some seemed obnoxious back in the old days, but limiting Assembly members to three terms and Senators to two was disastrous. Remember, experience counts, even in politics. In the old days, Republicans and Democrats actually knew and liked each other. Not now. Add to that a short-term time frame: no one plans beyond the six or eight years they’ll be in office.
Redistricting. This was truly a deal that sold out the people of California. Republican and Democratic incumbents could actually agree on one thing—how to keep themselves in office. District boundaries were drawn in such a way that a contested election is rare. The true election comes in the primaries – and that guarantees that the winners are far-right Republicans and far-left Democrats.
Constitutional constraints. What began as reform many years ago—the initiative process—is now in need of reform. Special interests have proposed badly written legislation that locks in funding—on schools, on prison terms, on taxes—and the Legislature couldn’t do anything about it even if it wanted to.
Some people have argued that the state’s requirement for a two-thirds margin on approving a budget is part of the problem, but that flies in the face of logic. If a simple majority could increase spending and increase taxes, California’s economy would even be worse off. And that’s the biggest problem. The state’s tax structure doesn’t work.  Tax revenues skyrocket during good times and plummet during the bad. | TH


1. The New Kids on the Block

A surge of new blood hit Santa Cruz over the last decade and much of it had to do with the predominantly young locals that now make up two unique groups: Santa Cruz Next and NextSpace. The latter is the downtown work haven for entrepreneurial types. Tech-savvy and often boasting a DIY attitude, NextSpace managed to infiltrate local politics and business, and send out a powerful ripple effect of change. But so did Santa Cruz Next, which focused on uniting young locals and spurring them on to become more involved in civic life.
Forward-thinking? Yes.
NextSpace, which is on a mission to “catalyze local talent, local ideas, and local capital to create products, services, and solutions for the global marketplace,” celebrated its one-year anniversary on Oct. 1. Its co-founders Ryan Coonerty, Jeremy Neuner and Caleb Baskin, in fact, were tired of seeing local talent head over the hill for work (the Employment Development Department of the State of California reports in its Santa Cruz County Projection that 21,540 Santa Cruz County residents commute to Santa Clara County alone for work) and decided it was time to provide a one-stop shop for increasing local jobs and boosting the local economy. Its headquarters offer office and meeting space for rent—from a cubicle up to a private office—allowing local freelancers, small business owners and the like a space to create and network.
Similar-minded Santa Cruz Next, founded in 2007, was forged on the premise that the city’s largest demographic, 25- to 44-year-olds, were too disconnected from one another and the community at large (again, many spend their workdays out of town). The group, which now has an e-mail list of more than 600 people, is geared toward congregating the post-student/pre-retirement population and encouraging them to get involved in local issues, efforts and government. In an interview with GT last fall, the co-founders said that there was already a SC Next member on every city advisory board.   
There were other pioneers blazing the trail to the future of Santa Cruz business, collaboration, media and policy, among them, Freelance Camp—embarking on its third year—12seconds TV, Parachute Design, and many others who are using networking and social media to improve our town’s quality of life.
Behold, the next generation of Santa Cruz. | EL

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