The 2012 Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll

bestof12 coverwebWhat is the best new business in Santa Cruz County? Where do you find the best calamari? Which local mover and shaker captured your interest? The answers to all that—and much more—awaits. Welcome to our annual Best Of Santa Cruz Readers’ Poll. It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, we spotlight all of the local businesses, restaurants and humans that captured your interest over the past year. Our hats go off to our readers, for voting, and to all of the individuals recognized as being the “best” they can be in the creative realms they operate in. They’re a passionate bunch, these winners, so take some time and appreciate their time in the spotlight. Also, take note of our annual Critics’ Picks on page 100, where our editorial posse unveils a different kind of “list.”  As always, thank you for reading. And here’s to another year of making Santa Cruz County the very best it can be.
As always, thanks for reading. And here’s to another year of making Santa Cruz County the best it can be.
—Greg Archer, Editor

Best of Santa Cruz County Index:
| Critics’ Picks | Shops | Food & Drink | Arts & Entertainment | Health & Fitness | Professionals | The Rest |

Critics’ Picks Best of the ‘Bests’

Santa Cruz is no stranger to superlative accolades, oft named among the healthiest, most desirable, best places to live/work/vacation/retire and, of course, always among the most expensive. It seems that everybody has a “best” list—and, frankly, it goes without saying that the best “best” lists are the ones that get it right. Or, bo critic santacruZto put it more bluntly, the lists that recognize us—and validate what we already know to be true. With that in mind, take note of the following Top Five Best “Best List” List:
5 / Atlantic Magazine Santa Cruz comes in fifth place on its “Most Artistic Cities” list. Based on the notion that “art and culture are increasingly important components of urban redevelopment efforts everywhere,” writer and researcher Richard Florida uses his calculator of creativity to rank cities based on their per capita population of artists and related workers. Among the major metropolises of San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, The Atlantic lists Santa Cruz and Watsonville at an impressive fifth place.
4 / American Idol Perhaps one of the nation’s more popular “Best Of” competitions, despite its significant error in 2011—James Durbin came in fourth. Though here in Santa Cruz there is no question where our hero falls in the rankings, we will give American Idol props for getting it close.
3 / Kiplinger’s Best Cities for Singles is another nationwide list in which Santa Cruz reached single digits this year. Kiplinger’s crunched a wide range of inputs from the number of eligibles to the cost of a good date. Among the best cities to fly solo, Santa Cruz makes it to third place.
2 / Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk It is no secret that it’s the best seaside amusement park in the world, a claim that has been solidly backed by the amusement park industry’s “Golden Ticket” award for five years straight (since the award’s inception). A lesser-known distinction is the 100-year-plus Looff Carousel’s rank as the second best carousel in the whole round world. The 73 hand-carved horses have the magic ability to carry their riders through a century of sandcastles, cotton candy and pipe-organ delight.
1 / Best Pizza Could it be that the best pizza in the world is right here in our back yard? According to the results at the “International Pizza Challenge” in Las Vegas, our very own Pizza My Heart outdid even the Italians in the Best Traditional Pizza category. Founded in Capitola Village in 1981, Pizza My Heart combined old world traditions with the Central Coast’s abundance of ingredients. | Chip

Worst Error?:Kiplinger’s Listing Santa Cruz In ‘Best Cities for Singles’
Pardon us, while we get this out of our system: What? True, if you’re a student, single and want to remain single, this could be a quasi Mardi Gras. But should you, you know, crave reality and desire—fine, lust—for something divine and available (as in, a person who can artfully balance their emotional inner child with reality) then, well … Oh, let’s just call in the posse. Single ladies, single fellas—show of hands, please: How is your single life here—really?  Are you satisfied with the dating pool? Fess up. After deeply investigating the matter—deeply, mind you, so, so deeply—we found that the local woman’s biggest complaint about the “available” males living in Santa Cruz County—generally, and by generally, we mean that it’s kind of (really) true—is this: Peter Pan syndrome. (Or, for the well-read, let’s just call a Peter by his name: A Problematic Puer Aeternus.) That’s right—surfers, skaters and other thrill seekers (sometimes disguised as reasonable businessmen who buy clothes at, like, Ross) can’t seem to, according to reports, step up to the emotional plate as much as they, well, step up to the “plate” elsewhere. Commitment issues—even in a post-Oprah era. Go figure. As for the ladies, local men note that one recurring thing among available single ladies is this: Neediness. Well, all this makes for a savage push-pull, love me/leave me, come close/go away/no really come closer/ no, babe, I gotta surf or create art or something/but babe, you didn’t notice my new manicure I just got from Vice … dysfunctional dilemma. And so it goes … in this quirky little hamlet we live in, a place where the cost for freedom may sometimes feel a little too costly, emotionally. (And don’t get us on the soapbox about the single gay scene here.) What to do? Send us your tales of woe, hos and Joe at [email protected] We’ll offer support. Maybe even a single movie ticket. (Why get two, right?) And keep your chakras awake, honey. As they say in all spiritual teachings—somewhere, even in the subtext (really, look!)—the Universe knows what it’s doing. Onward … | Charlie Price

bo critic chrisreneBest Display of Santa Cruz Talent:Chris Rene
Few people have made locals prouder to call Santa Cruz home than Chris Rene. The 29-year-old trash-collector-turned-rap-sensation made a splash on the first season of FOX’s The X Factor with his original song “Young Homie” and now—just four months after placing third in the competition—he has been signed to Epic Records, he debuted his first music video (filmed in Santa Cruz), he made it into the Top 20 on iTunes, and will release his first album later this year. A reformed drug and alcohol addict—thanks, in part, to local rehabilitation center Janus Santa Cruz—Rene is an inspiration to many, and living proof that underdogs can prevail. | Jenna Brogan

bo critic smartmeterWorst Customer Service:PG&E
The SmartMeter saga stole the show for much of 2011, coming to a peak when several locals—frustrated at Pacific Gas & Electric’s dismissal of their concerns and requests to have SmartMeters removed from their homes—went about removing them themselves and returning the wireless meters to PG&E. The corporation was less than thrilled with this development and proceeded to shut the power off at the homes of locals, including a 75-year-old woman with health problems. From a journalist’s perspective, the utility company was less than helpful and seemed committed to skirting around questions and sticking to vague, scripted responses that didn’t really answer anything. Eventually, the California Public Utilities Commission started showing an interest in their role of regulating the power company, and things have started slowly shaping up in the anti-SmartMeter folks’ favor since. But, unfortunately for both anti-SmartMeter activists and residents who are just sick of hearing about this, our guess is that the SmartMeter drama has yet to wrap up. | Elizabeth Limbach

Best Year for the Boob Tube:2011
The year 2011 will forever go down in local history as the year Santa Cruz conquered the boob tube. And say what you will about reality television, but our city’s many forays into the realm meant that couch potatoes across the country were getting hip to what is surely the greatest, most beautiful “Surf City” on the California coast. Some of the moments brought us into pride-induced frenzies—like when James Durbin rocked American Idol, Chris Rene won over X Factor fans (his “Young Homie” music video is also an homage to the Cruz), Hoffman’s Bistro and Patisserie got some tough love from Restaurant Impossible and Siri told the world how to get to Santa Cruz in an iPhone commercial. Chopped, American Restoration, Storage Wars, Hoarders—yep, we’ve been there, done that. As for 2012? Thanks to the forthcoming film about local big wave surfer Jay Moriarity (titled Of Men and Mavericks, slated for release in October), this is the year Santa Cruz gets the big screen treatment. | EL

Worst News for Monsanto:Californians
Genetically-engineered foods have a formidable opponent: Californians, including the more than 100 Santa Cruzans who collected signatures to send the California Right to Know GMOs Act to the ballot. The bill would require foods with GMO ingredients to say so on their labels (honest labeling? Imagine that!). In a March interview with Good Times, Institute for Responsible Technology founder and anti-GMO leader Jeffrey Smith said that California was the epicenter of the fight to ban and/or label GMOs, and that he sees a “tipping point” fast approaching in this state where consumers will begin to reject products made with GMOs.  | EL

Worst Veto:The Breast Density Inform Bill
Despite passing the state assembly and senate with broad bi-partisan support in 2011, Sen. Joe Simitian’s breast density inform bill was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, who caved to the concerns of the lobbying opponents, which included the California Medical Association. The bill would have required mammogram providers to add a brief two sentences to the recipients’ result letters letting them know if they have dense breast tissue (which is both a significant risk factor for developing breast cancer, and a major inhibitor in a mammogram’s ability to detect that cancer). The opposition—and Gov. Brown—claimed that giving women this information might “cause them to panic.” Au contraire, retrospective studies of women who were notified of their density and had additional screenings (such as ultrasounds) showed a doubling in early breast cancer detection. The bill was inspired by Santa Cruz nurse and breast cancer survivor Amy Colton (pictured here), who is working with Sen. Simitian on a second reincarnation of this bill, SB 1538, which the senator introduced in March and has said is his utmost priority for the year (his last before terming out). With 70 co-authors and guaranteed bi-partisan support, the challenge will be convincing our governor that women can handle this valuable information about their own breast health. | EL

BestOf2012 star-insideBest Party in Town:The Nexties
How good could an awards presentation be? Actually, really good in the case of the Santa Cruz Nexties. Santa Cruz Next, a group of under-40s intent on making an impression in town, throws an annual gala in January to honor its own in an effort to “inform, inspire and involve.” But they might just add “party hearty” to that motto. This year’s event—which honored Mark Davidson (of Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz), Jacob Martiniz (of STEM), Monica Martinez (of Homeless Services Center) and Jeremy Neuner (of NextSpace)—brought high energy, great food and some of the prettiest boys and girls in town to dress up the Museum of Art & History. It’s a “don’t miss” event. See santacruznext.org for more details. | Tom Honig

Worst Choice of Words by a Politician:Mark Stone
Shortly after voting against the ill-fated La Bahia Hotel project, County Supervisor and Coastal Commissioner Mark Stone announced his candidacy for the State Assembly. In announcing, he said: “The state, for decades (has) been overly managing what local governments do.” Which is exactly what he had just done in turning down the Santa Cruz City Council-approved project. | TH

Best Underappreciated Institution:UC Santa Cruz
All you seem to hear about are protests and growth demands at UC Santa Cruz. What you don’t hear enough of is that the institution formerly known as Uncle Charlie’s Summer Camp has grown into a substantial research university of the highest repute. Consider: the U is rated near the top in the following categories: top engineering Ph.D. program; third for research influence worldwide; a top 10 breakthrough in discovering pristine clouds of gas from the Big Bang; top 25 for research impact worldwide, based on contributions in the sciences and social sciences. It’s easy to forget that UCSC is a major player in the world of higher education. Remember that next time you’re stuck in a protest-caused traffic jam. | TH

Worst Use of Slang:Homie or Trippin’
Anyone over the age of 28 using the terms “homie” and/or “trippin” without irony is guilty of being hopelessly (and publicly) out of touch. This is especially true if these words, whether used on their own or combined in a super-dope-off-the-chain power phrase, are directed at your children or grandchildren. Or in public. (Unless, of course, you are referring to a particularly adorable home run, or have just tripped over a stick.) | Kim Luke

Best Natural High Supplier:Happy High Herb Shop
Let’s face it: Santa Cruz is an herb-friendly town. There’s no shortage of shops whose shelves runneth over with Mother Nature’s remedies, teas, supplements, Wiccan necessities, etc. And if a certain Snoop Dogg-approved herb floats your boat, well, join the club, if you catch my drift. But not all of us are fans of the much-lauded green chronic. Hey, if I wanted to feel depressed and insecure, I’d look at my high school yearbook pictures. Luckily, there’s a welcoming little joint on Cathcart called Happy High Herb Shop (227 Cathcart St., Santa Cruz; 469-4372; happyhighherbs.com) where one can procure safe, legal mood lifters “as alternatives to drugs of harm and addiction.” I mean, when those crazy kids go parading off to their electro-pagan sex-and-fire festivals, better that they should be taking herbs than illegal drugs, right? The present writer has sampled Happy High’s Cherry Pop and Empathy party concoctions (the former induces euphoria, tingles and body rushes, and the latter tickles the gentler, more loving parts of its user’s neural circuitry). The verdict? Wheeeeee! While you’re at the shop, you can pick up some incense, ear candles, natural skin care products and various herbs to keep you healthy, horny and emotionally stable. | J.D. Ramey

Worst Local Business Practice:Overlooking the No-smoking Law
Let’s review, shall we? In September of 2009, our city’s leaders unanimously approved a public smoking ban that covered and continues to cover such areas as Pacific Avenue, Beach Street, West Cliff Drive, the Wharf, all municipal parks and—lest we forget—outside dining areas, including coffee shops and bars. The ban also prohibits smoking within 25 feet of doors or windows in public areas. Well, not to mention names, but the proprietors of certain local establishments seem to think of this ban as a suggestion rather than a law. Crazy as this may seem, there are those among us who believe we have a right to go wherever we want without getting a face full of lethal toxins, not to mention being covered in that famously noxious cigarette smell. During moments of weakness, when we see folks flouting this law, some of us are reminded of a couple of locals we used to see around Santa Cruz: one who brandished a tennis racket adorned with a “no smoking” sign (he’s rumored to have smacked smokers with the racket), and another who patrolled the downtown area with a squirt gun. Anytime someone nearby would light up a cigarette, the latter activist would point the squirt gun at the smoker, inform him/her that it was filled with gasoline and encourage said smoker to extinguish the offending death stick. Not to endorse such militant tactics, but … squirt gun guy, this Santa Cruzan sort of misses you.  | JDR

Best Parking Lot to Teach Your Teen to Drive:Costco
Between the hours of dawn and 8 a.m. to be exact. What makes this parking lot so perfect for learning the finer points of handling a motorized vehicle is the choice of terrain (tree planters vs. open space), nerve-wracking obstacles (speed bumps, tree planters and shopping carts), and the close proximity of low-traffic public roads for the more advanced lessons. Nose-in parking can be practiced within the lot, parallel parking on the adjoining streets. Don’t say you heard it from me. | KL

Worst Local Fashion Trend:Water bottles
—plastic, metal, thermal, decorated, worn out or monogrammed
When did we get so thirsty? I understand that the citizens of Santa Cruz are active, on-the-go, and adventure-seeking during all daylight (and many moonlight) hours, but sometimes my eyes glaze over and everyone around me takes on the appearance of gerbils, sucking at water droplets from the nearest tube. The sounds of sipping, sucking and backwashing are all around me. I need a break. Sorry to be so cranky. I’m probably just dehydrated. | KL

bo critic traffic hwy1Best Idea/Worst Wait:Highway 1 Expansion
Commuters rejoiced when county transportation officials announced that the hotly debated plans for a Highway 1 expansion would soon come to fruition. The $18 million project, which will add exit lanes between Morrissey Boulevard and Soquel Drive along Highway 1, was designed to alleviate the traffic that bottlenecks in the one-mile stretch during rush-hour, but since construction began, the wait has only increased. Now, if you’re riding in one of the 100,000 cars that stop and go through the area each day, the orange construction signs are a welcome reminder of change to come, but, let’s be honest, April 2013 feels light-years away. | JB

Best Worst Art Collection … or is it the Worst Best Art Collection?:41st Avenue Liquors
Sure this Capitola liquor store has earned its reputation of having the best selection of craft beers and imports sold in singles. Sure, they also have a reputation for housing a magnificent wine selection. And, yeah, they’ve been locally owned since they opened in the early 1960s. But seriously, it’s the collection of about a dozen paintings of clowns that earns this store an indelible place in my heart. According to one source who will not be named (mostly because I forgot to ask his name), the paintings are very valuable and worth thousands. Each. Perhaps they also stock a finely tuned line of leg-pullers. Or I need to brush up on my clown art. | KL

Worst Loss:The Decline of the Local Video Store
Who doesn’t have Netflix or Hulu (or both) these days? They’re easy to use, you don’t have to leave the couch to watch a movie, and you don’t have to awkwardly explain to the cashier why you’re renting Love Actually for the 15th time. But, we predict it won’t be long before people start to realize what we’ve lost as a consequence of convenience. The local video store was great (and the few local stores that remain in operation still are) for three reasons: most of the film buffs who worked there had seen everything on the shelves and could make recommendations based on first-hand experience; the obscure films your cousin told you about and the latest releases were all under one roof; and you got to enjoy the perks of supporting a local business, like spinning the wheel for a chance at free popcorn at Seacliff Video (R.I.P.). If you miss them as much as we do, check out Cedar Street Video, Capitola Video, DVD To Go, and the like. | JB

Best Public Address System:The Lettered Sign Outside of King’s Paint and Paper
If you’ve driven past King’s (2841 41st Avenue, at Soquel) more than once, you might be one of the fans who hopes for a red light, to give you an extra moment to soak in the wisdom shared by the management. A sample smattering of the messages posted on this admittedly old-school social networking board include their motto, “Conveniently located between Alaska and Mexico,” the locally directed “Low VOC Tree Hugger Paint on Sale,” and one of my favorites, “Sign Broken, Come in Anyway.” Like. | KL

Worst Habit:Accident Looky-loos on Highway 17 and Highway 1
We’ve all done it before—rubbernecked to catch a glimpse of the four car pile-up that kept us and hundreds of other commuters stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 17 and/or Highway 1. But guess what guys? If you haven’t realized it already, we’re part of (if not the entire) problem. We can blame reckless drivers all we want for making us late to our dentist appointments and soccer games, but until we learn to stop slowing to a crawl to check out the guy on the stretcher, and instead, keep our eyes on the prize, it’s our own damn fault. In summary, keep those hands at ten and two, and those eyes forward, people. | JB

Best Response to Petition Guys
“Sorry, petitions killed my parents.”
“I hate whales.”
“I am a felon/Canadian/in the Witness Protection Program.”
“I will sign your petition for $10. I do not negotiate.
“Do you know petitions were responsible for Prohibition, which then forced the creation of income tax?”
“I am not the signature you’re looking for. (Repeat until the tables are turned, and you are begging to sign said petition, but politely declined.) | KL

Best Local Glee Club:Cloud 9
Rachel and Finn ain’t got nothin’ on this talented group of UC Santa Cruz students. Cloud 9—UCSC’s closest comparison to The New Directions, minus the auto-tune—was established in 2001, and has been wowing audiences with their jaw-dropping harmonies and masterful mash-ups since they started performing. The group, which rehearses for two hours, three days a week, to perfect its sound, puts its own spin on popular hits like Beyonce’s “Halo” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” With student-directed choreography to boot, this award-winning troupe is a must-see. If you haven’t been to one of their live performances, we highly recommend that you set down this paper immediately, sprint to a computer, and check them out on YouTube. | JB

bo critic-leadBest Santa Cruz Read:‘Cultivating a Movement’
The market and demand for organic food has soared over recent years—and we can pat ourselves on the back for that. The Central Coast, and UC Santa Cruz in particular, played a leading role in the development of the organic farming and sustainable agriculture movements—a history that is recorded in the 2011 book “Cultivating a Movement: An Oral History of Organic Farming and Sustainable Agriculture on California’s Central Coast.” The 340-page tome is an anthology of stories collected by the oral history efforts of the UCSC library’s Regional History Project (which also published the book). The volume is both a celebration and a historical archive of our area’s involvement in organics and is a great read for foodies, locavores, history buffs, and Santa Cruz lovers alike. | EL

Worst  Close Call, Part one:The Closure of Cabrillo’s Journalism Program
Economic challenges—perceived and otherwise—nearly delivered a pink slip to Cabrillo College’s journalism program, but, once again, thanks to some enterprising local minds, the department—and the college’s newspaper, The Cabrillo Voice—has been spared. A donation from Cabrillo’s English department saved the program, which was targeted as “potential collateral” for meeting a $2.5 million target reduction for the college’s 2012-13 academic year. The English department offered the program eight units to avoid a cut from 24 to 16 units. Take note: Journalism has been reduced from 48 units since 2009. Brad Kava, the stellar Journalism program chair and The Cabrillo Voice advisor, told GT in a recent interview that the move will “save journalism” at the college, and that “the faculty, English department … have really stuck with us, and that’s good to know they really care about the department and students’ education.” Now, that’s good news. | Greg Archer

Best Sustainable Restaurant:Geisha
Geisha is not your average sushi joint. And thank the ocean gods for that! As one of only a handful of totally sustainable sushi restaurants in the country, Geisha goes against the grain—offering up a massive menu of fish that purposefully excludes some sushi standbys because they can’t be found via sustainable methods. The restaurant sticks to the Seafood Watch and FishWise programs to ensure the environmental sustainability of their fish selections, and carry local and seasonal ingredients (including fish) when possible. But most exciting to this vegan writer is their mouthwatering, full-page vegetarian menu. Of the incredible rolls found on that fish-free page, The Spice House roll is particularly divine—tempura’d vegetables in a roll that is then covered in homemade yellow curry sauce, broiled, torched, and sprinkled with crunchy veggie chips. Repeat after me: YUM. | EL

Best Local Musical:Theater Summer Shows at Cabrillo College
Cabrillo Stage has always been able to impress the masses, but ever since the opening of the Crocker Theater in 2010, its musical theater offerings have been elevated to new heights. Last year, “The Full Monty” and “Hairspray” wowed audiences—and “Last Five Years” was a triumph in the Black Box Theater, too. On the roster this summer: A big, lush production of “A Chorus Line,” directed and choreographed by longtime Cabrillo Stage favorite Janie Scot; “Anything Goes,” directed and choreographed by Kikau Alvaro; an original romp by local Joe Ortiz, dubbed “Escaping Queens.” The creativity gels here. Chalk it up to artistic director Jon Nordgren’s masterful eyes and ears—and even the lingering emotional threads from Founding Producing Artistic Director Lile O. Cruse—but whatever has been unfolding behind the scenes is working. Take note of these summer events: July 22 (Director /choreographer Janie Scot and the cast of the “A Chorus Line” in an in-depth discussion); Aug. 5 (Director /choreographer Kikau Alvaro, and the cast of “Anything Goes” discuss the  concepts and creation of the show.) Learn more at cabrillostage.com. | GA

bo critic palomarWorst Use of Downtown Space:Palomar Inn
Imagine, if you can, what locals might have experienced back in 1928 when the Hotel Palomar came into its full glory in Downtown Santa Cruz? It was the first building more than three stories tall at the time, after all. Local real estate titan Andy Balich was the original owner. In its heydey, Hotel Palomar became an ideal spot for visitors—from those attending conventions to families visiting our hot travel spot, and more. How pristine it looked, this über luxury hotel. So posh. So new. But few would consider Hotel Palomar “luxurious” or even nice looking today (although it’s no La Bahia, thankfully). Now known as simply The Palomar, it’s the home of frequent Best of S.C. winner El Palomar Restaurant and the vortex for the popular El Palomar Ballroom, which still rests on the building’s second floor. And above that—affordable housing. Is this the very best Santa Cruz can do? True, affordable housing is vital. It’s important. But how had it remained a top-priority in what we continue to claim is a Downtown Mecca?  Imagine … what it could be like in Downtown Santa Cruz if the Hotel Palomar was restored to its previous luster. (I know, I know … this could open up a big can of slugs. I mean, for starters, can you imagine somebody thinking clearly and actually wanting to make sure that somebody cleaned the urine-like/rusty stains off the images of those fisherman chiseled into the building’s framework?) Imagine a downtown hotel that thrives; one that welcomes visitors; one that can hold conferences; one that could help boost the Downtown economy; one whose owners—goodness, I know this a stretch—actually were proud and cared about what its exterior looked like and what it could offer the city. Yes. Imagine that. | GA

Best New T’s:Thieves
T-shirts, hats, hoodies and beanies—oh my. Thieves, co-launched last year by local Davy Reynolds, is one of the more inventive men’s clothing portals around. Most of its products are made in America and printed locally. The vibe: Casual with a skater-artist touch. You can find its clothing locally—at Stripe. In the meantime, log onto thievesco.com. | CP

Worst Tease:The E.C. Rittenhouse Building
Is it curious or just fitting that The E.C. Rittenhouse Building only has five “likes” on Facebook? Ever since the behemoth, located at the corner of Church and Pacific, finally came to life in 2008, it has remained vacant. But why? Is it because the city’s economic developers haven’t been doing their job? Highly unlikely. Wouldn’t the building’s owner, Louis Rittenhouse, be eager to lease to some of retail’s very best? We’d like to think so. (Apple, anyone?) But after four years of nothing, it’s hard not to think that something else is happening behind the scenes. (To be fair, hats off to Rittenhouse for allowing nonprofits use of the space for various causes. And the Top of the Ritt, the building’s top-level, is occasionally used for big parties like The Nexties and such.) But the question lingers: Why—really, why?—has this building remained vacant for so long? Truly, Santa Cruz can do better. Keep sending us your thoughts at [email protected]  | GA

Best Justice:Food Justice / Food, What?!
The dirt on Food Justice is rich and rife with delicious meaning and terminology. Think of it as an über forward-thinking, pro-ag, positive-health, circle-of-life orgy with deep roots and orgasmic consequences for the mind, body and soul of local communities and the individuals that comprise them. That said, it’s wonderfully divine to know that right here at UCSC’s The Farm, Doron Comerchero and his posse of enterprising advocates are helping at-risk teens find new meaning in life by engaging them—physically and otherwise—to learn more about food and farming and then some. Comerchero is the founder of Food What?!, which operates under the umbrella of the farm’s Life Lab. Through various work programs throughout the year, teens are employed and, eventually, invigorated. “It’s not about spreading the good ‘organic gospel,’” Comerchero told GT last year. “The heart of the program is that we’re using food as a vehicle to grow strong young people.” Learn more about the Food Justice movement at justfood.org. Log onto foodwhat.org. | GA

bo critic heli whaleBest Helicopter Ride/Local Thrill:Specialized Aviation
This could be the county’s best kept secret. But no longer. This is one ride you don’t want to pass up. Three words: Totally worth it. Specialized Aviation is located near the Watsonville Airport and includes a variety of services you may not even know existed here. Let’s start with the local helicopter tours. There’s one that flies over the bay that’s dubbed the “Sky High Tour” that is so reasonably priced at $33 (yes, you heard that right) that you can’t pass it up. But there’s so much more—from aerobatic airplane rides (thrilling!), helicopter and airplane training and other notables. Interesting to note: the company can helicopter you to a winery in Carmel Valley and take you back home afterward. Remember that when you’re in the mood for some romance. Tours head out from the Watsonville Airport and Monterey Airport.  Prices vary—from a $175 Monterey Tour to a $325 Big Sur Tour. (Ideal.) The Elkhourn Slough Tour and Capitola Tour are $85. There are many others to choose from, too, including a whale watching tour—from above. When GT hit the skies with the Specialized crew, we buzzed over the strawberry fields of Watsonville with chief pilot/director of operations Chris Gularte—cool guy—and sailed above the bay for a bit, passing over Capitola. Truly spectacular. When we landed, we were handed off to aerobatic pilot Mary Macdonald (a Derby Girl, too) and got a real buzz doing some loops and twists in the air. (Full disclosure: we fell to the ground and kissed the asphalt upon leaving the plane.)  All that to say, you can find some stellar thrills here in the hands of “real” people who are as engaging as they are downright professional and serious about their skills and crafts. Don’t wait. Summer is coming. Book some fun now. Also, take note: Specialized has teamed with Best Local Hero, Danny Keith and Grind Out Hunger and will offer 15 percent of the entire ride to the hunger-fighting organization—mention Grind out Hunger. Talk about win-win. See you up in the air. Learn more at specializedheli.com or call 763-2244. | GA

Worst  Close Call, Part Two:Local State Parks Closures
State budget cuts continue to hang over California like thick coastal fog. Just recently, the historic Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park was on the chopping block, nearly facing closure. But thanks to the efforts of Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks, which will help raise $45,000 a year for the next three years to pay for operations, the Mission will remain open. Heaven sent? You bet. In the meantime, other local parks —Twin Lakes State Beach and Castle Rock State Park—are still in jeopardy, although, several local individuals and groups have rallied together to help raise funds to keep them afloat.which local conservation groups are working to keep open. State parks received a massive blow when Gov. Jerry Brown announced closures of 70 beloved sites, pointing out that it would save $33 million over the next two fiscal years. Sacramento’s Governor’s Mansion was on that list, too. At least the Mission, which was founded in 1791, is sparred—for now. Learn more about how you can help save park closures by visiting Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks at thatsmypark.org. | GA

Best Inspiration:Nina Simon @ Museum Of Art & History
Last April, MAH issued a press release announcing that then 29-year-old Nina Simon was coming on as its new executive director. Simon’s previous work was heralded by Smithsonian magazine, which called her a “museum visionary.” Simon has proven to be just that. In just a short amount of time, MAH has moved beyond just a posh portal for unique art and history, it has become a major go-to hotspot. From rockin’ events like hosting The Nexties, to the recent—and quite awesome—Glow (fire) Festival and last week’s “Third Friday” Love Fest, the MAH has morphed into passionate hub where locals can witness some amazing performance and artistic feats and also get involved with them as well. Kudos to Simon and Co., for keeping things fresh and fueling the creative fires of Santa Cruz. Visit santacruzmah.org. | GA

Best attention grabber:Occupy Santa Cruz
The best thing about the local Occupy movement is that it was sparked. What were the odds? Pretty good, actually. After all, how long can we tolerate a society that is perpetually at war; where the economic system creates more poverty than it solves; where remotely-flown drones are killing people on the other side of the planet; where Google has teamed with the CIA to predict the future (search “Recorded Future”); and the Santa Cruz Police Department is in sync with its techno-heavy program of predictive policing. We’re a culture where torture is debated (shall we do it or not?); a minority rules a majority and we name it “government” instead of “slavery;” and guns and drugs are a top export/import. Yikes. Occupy activists awoke from a trance of multi-tasking (read: multi-consuming) and challenged mass society to, “Transform yourself from observer-consumers into participant-creators!” Everyone was invited to answer the Occupy call in their own way. “We’re creating the next steps now,” Occupy seemed to say, and then invited: “Which way shall we go?” | John Malkin

bo critic occupyWorst misrepresentation:Occupy Santa Cruz  
The worst thing about Occupy is what we saw mainstream media and domination culture do with it. Locally, 11 activists are being charged with felony conspiracy for entering a vacant building that was occupied for three days last November. One of the 11 claims she were never inside and others say they visited for a couple of hours. Some went inside as independent journalists. In general, Occupy was smeared by mainstream media confounded by a movement that chose to de-emphasize “demands” and “leaders” and instead focus on challenging institutions of power while creating new ways of communicating. Local news blamed Occupy Santa Cruz (OSC) for everything from scabies (never confirmed) to 200 pounds of human poop. The latter was connected to OCS by local news and then repeated nationally. Additionally, the poop story seems to have been “fabricated”—a Nov.  21, 2011 press release from OSC indicated that contact with the City’s Department of Environmental Health revealed that, “We (health dept.) have not had any recent complaints about human feces…” Too late. The shit had already hit the fan. | JM   Photo: Bradley Stuart / Indybay.org,

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