Best of Santa Cruz Critics’ Picks

bo_picks_durbinBest Singer/Performer
James Durbin

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Worst Attack on Reading: Proposed Closure of Santa Cruz Public Libraries

“I like big books and I cannot lie
You other readers can’t denyThat when a book walks by with an itty-bitty spine
And a wide page in your face
You get sprung … ”


OK, so maybe Sir Mix-A-Lot’s cousin Sir Read-A-Lot is a figment of my library-raised imagination, but I agree with the fictitious rhymer. And so the idea of budget cuts closing the doors to a majority of Santa Cruz public libraries is a scary thought. Reallocate funds so that free reading hubs remain available to everyone—throughout every part of town. End of story. (For more information on the Santa Cruz Public Library system, go to santapl.org.) | Linda Koffman

Best Police Work
Catching the Kind Grind Suspect
When a young woman was brutally sexually assaulted at her workplace, the Kind Grind coffee shop, in March 2008, the community went into a pained fervor. The news that the Santa Cruz Police Department, with help of the state and its more advanced technological resources, solved the case this past March was met with immense relief and gratitude. Kudos to the SCPD for bringing that case to justice. | Elizabeth Limbach

Worst (Best?) Reminder That We’re All Connected
A Tsunami Hitting the Santa Cruz Harbor

It came on Friday, March 11, and along with a rising tide, the tsunami that struck the Santa Cruz Harbor and sunk vessels may have resurrected many of our inner hippies. After a 9.0 magnitude earthquake jolted Japan, spawning a tsunami that annihilated coastal towns beyond belief and triggered a nuclear crisis, the results had jaws dropping worldwide. The literal ripple effect resonated locally. If there’s one positive thing to take from that incorrigible force of nature that steamrolled its way from a devastated Japan to our shores—racing across 5,000 miles in nine hours—it’s the sentiment that, just like the ocean, we’re all connected. Now’s the time to act like it.  To help victims in Japan, contact American Red Cross at 800-RED-CROSS or redcross.org. | LK

Best One Night Stand
bo_picks_AnaliciaPositive Loitering Events

Like the calm at the center of a storm, Take Back Santa Cruz’s (TBSC) “Positive Loitering” events peacefully demonstrate community pow-wowing; no pushing, shoving, shouting or signs necessary. In response to violent murders in Santa Cruz, the network of everyday citizens has congregated at crime scenes to pay homage to the victims and reject criminal behavior. Inspired by Chicago positive loitering tactics, TBSC organizes simple hour-long stand-ins at an allocated place and time (usually around 6 p.m.), for a casual public meet ’n’ greet in memory of those lost, and in hopes of finding a solution. See takebacksantacruz.com.  | LK

Worst Injury to Explain in the Emergency Room
Fall From the Train Trestle

Here in Santa Cruz we have the equivalent of the abandoned mine shafts in the Midwest. We know the danger. We read the warning signs. We’ve memorized the urban legends about survivors and the not so lucky. And yet every day and well throughout the night the train trestle spanning East Cliff Drive to the Boardwalk over the San Lorenzo River is alive with the pitter patter of ill-fated footsteps and bike tires. Whether intoxication or a superhero mentality leads you to the precipice, gravity doesn’t give a damn. Let us know how that works out for you. | Kim Luke

Best Thing to Look Forward To
A Local history worth looking into when you get old enough to care about local history

It takes a lot of years of living to really get to know your town, and eventually curiosity sets in about how it got that way. It doesn’t take much digging to start to find a whole lot of interesting chapters of the city’s past, including pageturners about: Santa Cruz’s former Chinatown and related racism; indigenous, mysterious, acorn-munching Ohlones; how hard it is to build and maintain a railroad over the Santa Cruz mountains; a roadside “tree circus” of contorted woods in Scotts Valley; the grizzly bear that attacked Mountain Charlie; a spittin’ and cussin’ one-eyed transvestite stagecoach driver; an electric lumber railway running up the coast; a grounded submarine, epic floods, quakes, mudslides, and fires; formerly massive local industries including lime production, leather tanning, flower growing, dairies, lumber, and gunpowder production; a whole theme park about Santa Claus; horse-drawn and electric streetcars that left a legacy of extra-wide streets across town; and an actual tar and feathering on Front Street. | Sven Davis

Worst Way To Change The World
Partisanship and Polarization

Political polarization is a nationwide problem but it’s especially out of control in Santa Cruz. Somehow, the complex business of developing the social and economic rules shaping our lives as a nation, state, and community has become bipolar trench warfare, and anybody seeking common ground becomes tangled in barbed wire and called a traitor. Perhaps it is our national obsession with sports that allows us to see politics as a two-sided game instead of the multi-faceted tangle it is. We become obsessed more with “winning” than making an effort to see that the other side isn’t actually defined by its extremists and numbskulls but is filled with regular folks who, overall, aren’t so different than we are. In a practical sense, we’re not going to change anybody’s mind, or vote, by calling them names. By generating a hostile environment for intelligent debate, polarizing into groups that come to believe the other side is evil, and dropping all pretense of respect, we approach the kind of gridlock for which mankind has only ever found one means of resolution: Force. For us to say we’re truly against war, we must eliminate its root causes from our hearts. | SD

Best Ride Home
bo_picks_heroHero Designated Drivers

Operating for nearly six months now, Jamey Nelson’s and Scott Vaughn’s vision to give back something meaningful to Santa Cruz has proven to be sobering, to say the least. Behold Hero Designated Drivers (HDD), a post-modern taxi service with a twist. The lowdown: HDD offers rides home to those who can’t drive themselves—as in, you were out with friends, consumed some alcohol and became concerned about whether or not you’re really over the legal limit to drive (a call to HDD 30 minutes before you want to get picked up does the trick). But it actually goes a step beyond and can schedule to drive you around for the night ($40/hour). It also wins props for innovation—the drivers come with fold-up motor bike. After driving you home, they just unfold the little motorized beast and off they go. Bottom line: no risk in getting a dreaded DUI. Better still? If you have a medical appointment and you can’t drive home, HDD will drive you and your vehicle home. Nice rates makes this all affordable: $12/pick up, $3 per mile, $5 each additional drop-off. Take note of the stats: 2002 surveys estimated that Americans took more than 159 million alcohol-impaired driving trips. On call 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday, 421-2429, | GA

Worst Way to Go
Attempted Suicide by Bicycle

It’s easy: Remove all those uncool reflectors from the pedals and spokes. Hit the road after dark in your black pants and hoodie and no helmet.  Ride like the road’s all about you, and crank up the personal theme music in the earbuds. So now you’re effectively deaf, invisible, cranially vulnerable, and unpredictable, and it won’t take long for a driver to spot you and react in time. You have the right to your own life choices, but it’s unfair to set up an innocent driver to be the agent of your destruction. There are squirrels with more road sense than some of the riders in this town. You’re giving bicyclists a bad name. | SD

bo_picks_kdonBest Morning Radio Show
102.5 FM/KDON’s The Morning Madhouse

It’s been a Central Coast favorite for years now, for good reason. Sam Diggedy, Showbiz  (L-R above), Domingo and the daily surf report with Ricky Danny blend together the right amount of sarcasm, humor and self bashing to make your morning drive time something to look forward to. The Morning Madhouse has been on air for nine years, and giving back is a huge focus for the team. Whether it’s supporting Second Harvest Food Bank, Grind Out Hunger, Boys and Girls Club or other various organizations, these guys are equally committed to entertainment and to the community. Set your alarm clock daily for 6 a.m. and catch The Morning Madhouse (till 10 a.m.). | KL

Worst Example of NIMBYism
The Coastal Commission’s denial of a bike path across Arana Gulch

The Commission voted in October that the bike path—a bike path, for land’s sakes—threatened the so-called pristine environment and the Santa Cruz tarplant. Again—it was a bike path, folks, not Three Mile Island. The commission also turned down the idea of a network of walking trails, some of which would be handicapped accessible. It seems that bikes, hikers and disabled people are seen as harmful to the environment. | Tom Honig

Best ‘Green’ Thing
bo_picks_bluemarbleBlue Marbles Project

Local marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols already had enough on his environmental plate. He really didn’t need to create another project. But his commitment to raising the level of awareness on the state of the world’s ocean was strong so behold another Nichols creation: The Blue Marbles Project. The idea? Pass a blue marble through every person’s hand on earth, with a simple message of gratitude along with it.  That’s bold. But since Nichols launched the idea back in 2009, millions around the world have hopped on board this blue bandwagon.

“The underlying project is the exploration and sharing of the way neuroscience informs our connection to our biosphere—our one blue marble—to help inspire people,” Nichols notes, adding that “The Blue Marbles Project is a nonprofit effort that is committed to using the blue marble as a metaphor for our planet, in the tradition of NASA astronauts, Carl Sagan and Stuart Brand.” Grab one today. Become involved and/or learn more at bluemarbles.org. | GA

Lamest Trend
Cell Phones Ringing at Inappropriate Times

Sure, we’ve all slipped up and had our own obnoxious ringtone blare in the middle of a nephew’s school play or a staff meeting. But it’s 2011. We all have cell phones, and probably have had them for a while now. Shouldn’t we know when to silence them? I recently attended a budget panel presentation at which four separate, resounding phones rang within 15 minutes of one another. County Treasurer Fred Keeley graciously continued speaking without so much as a flinch—he’s a much more patient person than I. | EL

Best Neighborhood Gang
Surf City Vintners

Winos take heed: Although “wine ghetto” doesn’t quite do it justice (a local winemaker’s words, not mine), it does give you an idea of the dense concentration of wineries that call the industrial Westside neighborhood home. Known collectively as the Surf City Vintners, the one dozen wineries are nestled into warehouses within blocks of one another (many are adjacent), creating a hip new wine haven in an unassuming location. Award-winning wines, illustrious and eccentric wine makers and bustling tasting rooms are all available with one, unique perk: tasters can mosey from tasting room to tasting room without the hassle and peril of driving (or designating a driver), making it a more convenient, eco-friendly way to visit several wineries in one afternoon. The cherry on top is that wine lovers can pause to perk up with coffee and treats from neighboring Kelly’s French Bakery, or pick up a spread of gourmet natural foods from New Leaf Community Market for a picnic on Santa Cruz’s iconic West Cliff Drive—and all within walking distance of 12 worthwhile wineries. It’s the ultimate package. (see surfcityvintners.com.) | EL

Most Annoying Do-Gooders
Pacific Avenue Canvassers

I want to help the whales, overturn Prop 8, and fight global warming. I really do. But I don’t want to be besieged four times a day as I walk down Pacific Avenue. FYI, your perkiness comes on strong to downtown employees rushing to work or back from lunch, and we already got cornered by your compadres down the street. I propose giving us stickers that say “Downtown Employee: Do Not Disturb.” | EL

Worst Corporate Redecorating
CVS Pharmacy, Front Street

We still call it Longs, right? So why can’t CVS get it together and put everything back where it’s supposed to be? Ever since the buyout of one of Santa Cruz’ best places to buy shampoo, coloring books, beach umbrellas, Slug wear and Cheerios, there has been public outcry over the new tenants. There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to the (lost) cause. I hear that today’s progress was yesterday’s plan, but that doesn’t help me find my toothpaste. And now where are we going to buy full patio sets for only $89.  | KL

Best Way to Get Creative
Sewing Lessons at Judy’s Sewing and Vacuum Center

These days, everyone is joining in on the artisan bandwagon—pickling food, making jam, and getting back to learning how to sew. Many of the women of my generation didn’t learn this creative, fun and inspiring art. But things are changing, especially with the wealth of classes being offered at Judy’s Sewing and Vacuum Center on 41st Avenue in Capitola. In particular there are Tuesday night classes from 6 to 9 p.m. that are led by the owner of the store, Judy, who teaches beginners how to make a pillowcase, lounge pants, and more. A Sewing 1A class offered on various Sundays is essential for anyone just starting out and trying to learn how to use their sewing machine. The center is full of brilliant seamstresses that are willing to offer a wealth of advice. And they are incredibly sweet as well. Judyssewingcenter.com | Christa Martin

Worst Santa Cruz Habit
Occupying Too Much Personal Space

They’re in every grocery store, every bookstore, everywhere you go in Santa Cruz. You know the type—the ones who walk too slowly and who shove their grocery cart across the entire aisle in places like New Leaf, and actually expect you to walk around their precious space. The ones who stop with no warning and allow you to smack into them when you’re just trying to get a box of cereal, and then they give you a death stare and a “how dare you enter my space” sort of look. It’s become an epidemic. | CM

Best Place to Indulge Your Inner Fashionista

Your inner fashionista is itching to get released. Try a shot of oakandco.com, a “green” online retailer spearheaded by local PR maven Deirdre Holbrook. The website features a gorgeous array of items from environmentally friendly, up-and-coming, and already established designers. Holbrook has an exquisite eye for editing a fine selection of garments and jewelry—some of the most original, eye-catching, cutting-edge, modern, yet completely practical and feminine items on the market. With frocks by Juleselin, Sofie Olgaard, GreenBees boots, bags by RoyalBLUSH, jewelry by Blank Verse, lingerie by Manu, and much more, the website is hitting its stride and will be sure to attract any woman with a eye for standing out in a crowd. | CM

Worst Case of Euro-envy

Why do local agencies, including the Santa Cruz City Council, think that building European-type roundabouts will work on our gritty streets? Particularly obnoxious is the new one going near Depot Park. American drivers can’t figure them out. You take your life in your hands when you enter or exit. There’s something obnoxious about the kind of Americans who want us to be more continental. I don’t exactly know how to put it: I just don’t have le mot juste. | Tom Honig

Best Economics Lesson

The closing of Borders in Downtown Santa Cruz is an object lesson for those who either blindly support any new business as a path toward jobs, profits and new revenue for local cities, or for those who were worried that the locally owned Bookshop Santa Cruz couldn’t compete. Reading habits changed, the economy changed and Borders didn’t. Bookshop Santa Cruz has now gone head-to-head with two outside chain stores (Crown was the other one) and it won—without any help from the government. | TH

Best Awards Event
The Nexties

There was a lot of energy on that cold January night when the Santa Cruz Nexties were handed out at the Top of the Ritt. Community awards nights can be painful. The Nexties put some energy into a traditional award ceremony. Take a few hundred young ‘uns, add some champagne and waitressing by the Santa Cruz Derby Girls, limit the length of acceptance speeches and you’ve got a cool event. The Nexties are put on by Santa Cruz Next, a local nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for the community. They certainly enhanced the quality of life for at least that one evening—the social event of the year. | TH

Best Badge
Kevin Vogel, Santa Cruz Police Chief

In 1987, Santa Cruz Police Chief Jack Bassett hired a 24-year-old police officer named Kevin Vogel. Since then Vogel has served every rank in the Santa Cruz Police Department and finally, in December of 2010, achieved the rank of Top Cop. After seeking input from many community groups, holding community forums and advising with police management and the rank and file, City Manager Martin Bernal declared Vogel “The right chief for our community.” Vogel seems to have met this calling well and immediately introduced the first ever Chief’s Advisory Committee and instituted a “Chief’s Blog”—community members can ask questions or critique their chief in an open forum. Coming in at a very challenging time, on the heels of increased concern over gang violence and other safety issues, coupled with city budget restraints that continue to limit resources in every department, Chief Vogel hit the ground running. Reinstating community service programs, launching a citizens volunteer program, partnering with First Alarm Private Security to augment and increase consistent patrols Downtown and in the beach areas, and earlier this month even introduced the first interactive police Smartphone app in the country, connecting citizens with up-to-the-minute police information. Of course, running the police department is certainly no easy task and Chief Vogel has a long, hard road ahead, but from all the early signs the City Manager’s appointment seems to be right on. | Chip

Best idea/Worst Wait
bo_picks_bahiaLa Bahia Hotel

Where a dilapidated apartment complex now stands (sucking its neighboring businesses and community down with it), a beautiful new hotel could brighten the face of the Santa Cruz beachfront. Unfortunately, plans for this 125-room, four-star hotel at 215 Beach St. have been stuck in the bowels of Santa Cruz nit-picking for more than a decade now. The main hang up is the failure of the builders, Barry Swenson Builders, and the labor union to agree upon a contract, as well as the fact that the back 15 percent of the designed building would exceed the Coastal Plan’s height regulations by 14 feet. But here’s the thing: these are hiccups compared to the overall benefit this hotel would bring to the community. The city’s broke, a record number of us are unemployed, and tourism (the city’s largest industry) has been struggling for several years. The LEED-certified “green” La Bahia Hotel would generate an estimated $725,000 for city tax coffers and $10 million in local spending—each year. The project would create thousands of short-term construction jobs and 102 long-term jobs, with Beach Flats residents getting first pick thanks to a hyper-local first hire policy. And while a union contract didn’t pan out, BSB has guaranteed local and/or union workers at least 80 percent of the construction jobs. Overall, this proposed hotel is long overdue and badly needed—c’mon Santa Cruz, let’s look at the big picture. | EL

Best Recycling Project
The Old Sentinel Building

When the Santa Cruz Sentinel stopped the presses in the basement of its Downtown Santa Cruz location and outsourced the printing to the parent company over the hill, it was the beginning of the end for a significant and historic chapter in the story of Downtown’s building occupancy. Not long after the presses were dismantled, the rest of the operation followed suit. It uprooted from the location that the daily paper had been quite comfortable in since 1966 and relocated in Scotts Valley. Many wondered what could possibly fill the place of the Sentinel in such a unique and iconic building with an outdated design, and more than a bit of wear and tear for decades of use. Enter our resident experts at reuse. Ecology Action, partnering with real estate developer Joe Appenrodt and the forward thinkers at Cruzio Internet, stepped up with an inspired vision and created a new center for ecological education. Like any good teacher that educates by example, Ecology Action took the opportunity of the renovation to show off all the “green features” they could muster up, from renewable energy sources and the most state-of-the-art energy efficiencies, to sustainable materials, conservation and environmental protection. Even the thought that went into how people get to the building—with indoor bike parking and showers along with electric charging stations—supports and encourages low-carbon commuting choices.The result is Ecology Action’s new headquarters and a shining example of how to renew, reuse and recycle. | Chip

Best of Santa Cruz Critics’ Picks, Photo Captions:
Analicia Cube of Take back santa cruz
Best ride home: Hero designated Drivers
Best Morning Radio Show: Morning Madhouse (KDON)
Best ‘Green’ Thing  Blue marbles project

Best of Santa Cruz County 2011 index:bo_2011_star
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Critics Picks in Santa Cruz >
Feature: James Durbin >

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