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Best of Santa Cruz County 2013

gtw042513The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll and Critics’ Picks

It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, Editor
Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX
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Best of SC Critics’ Picks

bo critics Mayor BryantBest Madam Mayor: Hilary Bryant
The role of “mayor” in the City of Santa Cruz is largely a ceremonial and, often, thankless task, as one becomes a magnet for complaints about municipal mundanities ranging from dog poop to garbage collection. Thank the gods of small-town democracy that Hilary Bryant was in this role after the devastating deaths of Santa Cruz Police officers Sgt. Loran “Butch” Baker and Detective Elizabeth Butler in February. Bryant has executed her duties with a dignity, grace, determination and integrity well above her nominal pay grade—all while serving as mother, wife, daughter, and friend to a wide swath of Santa Cruz citizens. Talk about rising to the occasion. The community has been absolutely blessed to have her at the helm. She’s been the right person at a nearly impossible moment in city history. The same can be said, too, about Santa Cruz police chief Kevin Vogel, who rose through the ranks with Baker. He’s been a bastion of strength and sensitivity during this ordeal. We owe them both oodles of gratitude. | Geoffrey Dunn

Worst Meltdown: Michelle Shocked
If you didn’t know who Michelle Shocked is, chances are, you know her name by now. The notoriously eccentric punk-folk singer was scheduled to perform at Moe’s Alley on March 28. Instead, Shocked was, well, shocked, to find out that bo new michelle shockedHRMoe’s Alley owner Bill Welch decided to cancel her show after she unleashed an anti-gay tirade during a performance at San Francisco jazz club Yoshi’s on March 17. Welch said the following about the decision: “All of us at Moe’s Alley are believers in the positive vibe and message in the music we present. We will not tolerate bigotry or hateful views from anyone, regardless of musical talent.” But that message wasn’t enough to stop Shocked from trekking to Santa Cruz, where she sat up front in Moe’s Alley on the night she was scheduled to perform and staged a silent protest. With her face covered and her mouth taped shut, and wearing a disposable safety suit emblazoned with the phrase “Gimme Wit Not Spit,” the 51-year-old strummed on her guitar and put on an attention-grabbing, albeit creepy, stunt. Yikes. | Jenna Brogan

Best Show Of Support: The Santa Cruz Community
Santa Cruz may be known for its laissez-faire lifestyle, eccentric characters and left-leaning politics, but when the going gets tough in our fair city—and it has historically with fires and floods, mass murders and earthquakes—Santa Cruzans have always come together and shouldered the various burdens of tragedy. Ditto this time around in the wake of the senseless killings of Santa Cruz Police officers Baker and Butler. From the impromptu gathering of local residents on the streets of Santa Cruz the day of their memorial services to raising more than $300,000 for the victims’ families, Santa Cruzans have proved once again that when the chips are down, Santa Cruz isn’t “weird” at all, but a loving and generous community. | GD

Worst Problem: Needle Wars
A little less than a decade ago, when I had an office in Downtown Santa Cruz, my mail carrier kept track of the number of discarded “rigs”—street slang for needles and syringes—that he would encounter on his daily route. It was usually a disturbing figure. Since then, the trend line has escalated, with Santa Cruzans encountering discarded needles at seemingly every turn—parking lots, sidewalks, parks and, perhaps most disturbing of all, at our beaches, where bare feet are particularly vulnerable to the potentially fatal transmission of communicable diseases. That so-called needle exchanges reduce the problems of drug use in a community is not really in question—but the importance of careful monitoring and proper disposal is equally indisputable. The problem has reached the level of a public health hazard in our community. Santa Cruzans are sick of it. Public health professionals need to tighten up the process and make sure that the exchange programs prevent the problems they are intended to deter. | GD

Best and Most Moving Drive: The Police Procession Over Highway 17
The sight of more than 500 law enforcement officers forming a caravan down Ocean Street and over Highway 17 in a sea of motorcycles, sedans, and SUVs, was a much-needed display of solidarity and support as the community grappled with the fatal shootings of two SCPD officers in late February. | Elizabeth Limbach

bo critics SCPDmemorial4Best Show of Community Support
Procession for SCPD Officers Baker and Butler.

Worst Trend: Community Division
There’s nothing worse than a community that breaks apart when times get tough. While in many ways Santa Cruz is a tight-knit community, the recent string of violence, the needle exchange debate and vigilante attitudes have widened the gap between various groups in the county. Rather than work together to come to solutions that are inclusive, finger-pointing has become the name of the game. If we have any desire to restore the image of our community as a safe and welcoming place where all can achieve greatness, open-mindedness and compromise will be critical. | JB

Best Idea to Boost Spirits: ‘We Are Santa Cruz—Reflections of Our Community’
One of the most inventive artistic projects to emerge out of the recent tragedies is this jewel from Impact Media Group. The video art project found more than a thousand locals being filmed at the Civic in early April. The idea was to “come as you are” and show off Santa Cruz creativity, personality and solidarity. The next phase will find the images projected as a silent, black-and-white looping video at street level at the E.C. Rittenhouse Building on May 3 (First Friday). It promises to be a luscious, full-size, moving reflection of unique Santa Cruz residents (see page 110). Learn more about Impact at | Greg Archer

Worst Overreaction/Rush to Judgment
When a Man Was Arrested for ‘Stealing’ Flowers from the SCPD Memorial Corner, When in Fact They Were His
In the wake of the police deaths in February, the community was understandably on edge and riled up. Can anyone blame the woman who called the police when she saw Kenneth Eugene Maffei taking a bouquet of flowers away from the memorial near where the detectives were killed? It wasn’t a surprising reaction, considering the context. (Then there was the attendance of a small army of Take Back Santa Cruz members at Maffei’s arraignment hearing, and his time spent in custody.) But it also didn’t come as that big of a surprise when the charges were dropped once it was discovered that Maffei had purchased the flowers and was on his way to take them to a “lady friend” when he stopped by the memorial site to drop off a box of doughnuts. Remember what they say happens when you assume? | EL

Best/Second Most Amusing Faux Crime: The Stolen Crystal
When a 300-pound crystal went missing from Crystal Bay Farm in March, the community rallied (or at least went nuts on social media) around it, decrying the evil-spirited person who could do such a thing. One day after headlines read “300-Pound Crystal Stolen from La Selva Beach Farm,” headlines declared, “300-Pound Crystal from La Selva Beach Farm Found.” The original owner had taken it back. The silver lining? The community won’t let a potential crime go ignored. | EL

bo critic palomarWorst Eyesore: Hotel El Palomar
As we’ve suggested on numerous occasions, Downtown Santa Cruz would benefit greatly from a boutique hotel right in the heart of its creative vortex—Pacific Avenue. But take a look at The Palomar, which rests smack dab in the center of Downtown. Does it appear to be a thriving haven to you? Not quite. Sure, there’s El Palomar Restaurant inside, and the Palomar Ballroom on the building’s second floor, but this once iconic 1920s hotel—such panache, so pristine, so economically juicy in its day—has been tarnished over time, and is now one of the worst eyesores along Pacific Avenue. The building’s upper levels are used for affordable housing. Not sure what Andy Balich, who owned it back in the day, would have thought of that. Recently, there’s been growing buzz that things may change, should its current owner—who lives outside of the area—sell. Perhaps there may be an opportunity to rethink how to make better use of this space and trigger a significant and viable economic boost for Downtown. Santa Cruz may have spirit and creativity in spades—oh, we do treasure and, at times, coddle our sensitive creatures and “artists”—but sometimes, traveling from idea to conception here feels like tracking the route of a runaway feather. Art, creativity, music, yoga, a meditation and a chakra clearing are all lovely things, yes, but so is progress. (As an aside—so is bathing, washing one’s hair, and cutting off your pony tail and stepping into the here and now, to which I will say this: Men with pony tails from 1988—relax, you are still loved.) We need to crack the whip more; manifest those ideas a bit more quickly. Why not? It didn’t take that long to give birth to the Warriors Stadium, after all. Here’s to fostering good ideas and swiftly seeing them through to fruition. | GA

Most Overachieving Family: The Thiermann Family
Close your eyes and imagine the All-American family. Now open your eyes. If you’re from Santa Cruz, you probably see the Thiermanns. You’d be hard-pressed to find a group in Santa Cruz that doesn’t have some sort of connection to at least one of its family members. Kyle is a 23-year-old professional surfer, activist and filmmaker. Ariel is an accomplished singer-songwriter. David is a career counselor. Toby is a filmmaker with The Impact Media Group, who recently landed a role in Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. And Eric is the founder of Impact. Phew! Talk about star quality. | JB

Best Culinary Transformation: Casa Nostra 
You might say that the new owners of Ristorante Casa Nostra—where the slightly eccentric, also Italian restaurant Ciao Bella used to be located (pictured above)—have revived the life force for Italian cuisine in Ben bo new casa1Lomond. The new restaurant, owned and operated by Italian-born chefs, Raffaele Cristallo and Pasquale Blanco, as well as Mario Ibarra—originally from Mexico but a culinary master of Italian dishes for many years—specializes in creating their dishes exactly the way they are made in old country Italy. Ristorante Casa Nostra takes the first place in GT’s “Best Culinary Transformation,” preparing and serving Carbonara, Fettuccine Alla Bolognese, and Linguine Ai Frutti Di Mare just like Blanco and  Cristallo’s mothers taught them while growing up. To further capture an authentic dining experience, the owners import fine goods like Italian cheeses, traditional wines, and Lavazza Italian coffee. Ciao Bella had a reputation for letting its freak flag fly—ruby slippers smashed under the front steps of the old, wooden house, life-size models of Fred and Wilma Flintstone out back, and flamboyant musical performances by the owner. While a quirk-factor like that can be riveting, Casa Nostra is investing more in creating a delicious, Italian-fine-dining experience. | Joel Hersch 

Worst Goodbye: Ciao Bella Act II
Ironically, few people went to Ciao Bella Act II, the quirky Italian restaurant in Ben Lomond, for the food. But that didn’t stop many people from returning for its lively staff, outrageous décor, and best of all, live performances on the tiny stage. From hula-hooping to karaoke-style singing to a giant beer bong shaped like something wildly inappropriate, Ciao Bella Act II was something you had to see to believe. Truth be told, we’re sad to see it go, but we’re also thrilled to welcome its replacement: the scrumptious Casa Nostra. (See Best Culinary Transformation.) | JB

bo critic catamaranBest Local Literary Reader: Catamaran Literary Reader
Founding Editor Catherine Segurson wins points with this rich literary and art magazine, which debuted in the Fall of 2012. The spring issue, which features such notable local scribes as Peggy Townsend, Gary Snyder, Deni Y. Béchard and others, is loaded with striking images and compelling reads. In a day and age when mass media would have us all believe that actual “reading” has gone by way of 140 characters on Twitter and the mindnumbing bastion of watered-down “prose” found on the Internet, it gives hope to see—and hold in one’s hands—something this refreshing. Learn more about it | GA

Worst Ongoing Issue: Highway 1 Widening Delays
Many Santa Cruz County residents—particularly those who live east of the Highway 1 “fishhook”—have long dreamed of the day when they don’t have to sit in nearly stagnant traffic on their daily commute. The current Highway 1 widening project, which will extend a third lane from Morrissey Avenue to the Dominican Hospital overpass, came with a promise of completion by February of this year. Ooops. The completion date was then extended to April, then summer, and, now, “the fall.” For those of us residing along the Highway 1 corridor, it’s been like living in the middle of a construction zone, with incumbent dust and noise and backed-up traffic in our neighborhoods. Contractors first blamed the delays on inclement weather (say what?) and later on “undetected springs” and drainage issues. Really? Anyone who’s lived in the construction zone for more than a few years knows that this region is riddled with underground springs and drainage problems. For the next stretch of highway widening, county officials need to demand a realistic construction timeline and hold contractors accountable. No more lame excuses about rain and springs. | GD

Best Fun(draising): SCICA FEAST
Eight projects are presented but only one gets funded. The next outing takes place from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, April 26 at The Santa Cruz institute of Contemporary Art (SCICA). It’s designed to fund emerging art with sustainable tactics (FEAST). Patrons offer a $20 donation and in return they are given dinner, a presentation and a ballot. Diners take time to consider project proposals by artists. Q&As with the artists about their ideas are encouraged. By evening’s end, attendees cast a vote for their favorite proposal. The artist who collects the most votes is awarded a grant comprised of that evening’s door money. You like? We sure did. Visit to learn more about upcoming FEASTs. | GA

bo critics ronan-and-peterBest Non-Human Dancer: Ronan, the California Sea Lion
UC Santa Cruz graduate student Peter Cook helped Ronan, a California sea lion that lives at the Long Marine Laboratory, tap in to her inner dancer. In addition to having some sweet moves (her favorite song is Earth Wind & Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland”), Ronan has proven that animals other than just humans and some birds can keep a beat. Groove on, Ronan. | EL

Best Shamanic Mentor: Patrick Gillis
In case you haven’t noticed, huge shifts are taking place in the world. That’s where you come in. How would you like to participate in offering your best to the planet? Over the last year, one man captured our attention for assisting locals with tapping into their rich inner energetic reservoir. His name is Patrick Gillis and it’s time you know more about him. Gillis had his first training in Andean Shamanism 40 years ago and has been on the spiritual path ever since. Five years ago, his training in the South American Quechua traditions eccelerated and he now offers several classes throughout the year: one involves the Nine Rites of the Munay-Ki, which is designed to transform and upgrade one’s luminous energy field, another is a stewardship class, and the third: “Living and Dying Consciously.” He also hosts a number of full moon fire ceremonies out on Seabright Beach. Gillis stands out for his grace, but the work he does also illuminates a fascinating culture that few people may be aware of. To learn more about the classes or private sessions, contact 345-6520. | GA

bo new beautificationBest City Beautification Project: Soquel Avenue Bridge Mosaics
Last May, acclaimed artist Kathleen Crocetti and 148 Mission Hill Middle School art students raised more than $5,000 in donations to install 93 colorful mosaics along the Soquel Avenue Bridge. Today, the mosaics, which each depict different agricultural products of Santa Cruz County, serve as a vibrant and educational welcome mat to Downtown—plus, an excellent reminder of the passion and creativity of local youth. | Dave DeGive

Worst Cutbacks: Community TV
The Board of Supervisors recently gave the beleaguered local organization just one year to continue offering public educational and government programming. At stake: funding. Beginning next year, the station faces $500,000 in franchise fees, which will siphon most of its budget. Hope may have arrived in the form of Community Media Access Partnership (CMAP) based in Gilroy, which has been working with CTV to restructure the organization, but that could take two years. Stay tuned …  Visit (Check out GTv at 8 p.m. Wednesdays on Ch. 27.) | GA

Best Book Title of the Year: ‘Find Your Friggin’ Joy
Need we say more? Learn more about local author and Huna Healer Belinda Farrell at Find the book at Café Gratitude, Bookshop Santa Cruz and other local locales. | GA

Worst Case of Hoarding: Three Dozen Chihuahuas That Were Sheltered
In early March, three dozen Chihuahuas, many of them just two weeks old, were confiscated from several Watsonville residences and sent into foster care. Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter received the canines and dubbed it a case of “hoarding.” SCCAS field services manager Todd Sosuy told the press: “It’s a hoarding case first because not only were animals being hoarded, but also objects and possessions,” and that there were “both breeding situations …  because the dogs were indiscriminately breeding in the house.” In the aftermath, the shelter is now very full. Log onto the shelter’s website to view the animals available there. In the meantime, what can said about the individuals responsible for the situation? Maybe it’s more effective to focus on the good unfolding at SCCAS instead. Call 454-7200 or visit | GA

bo new coupleBest New Beverage: Brew Dream
The concept behind this new line of “kombucha-style wine” is to combine the kombucha- and wine-making processes to create something with “all the probiotic benefits of kombucha with the added flavors of local fruits and wines,” in the words of co-owner Chase Fortner. It’s kombucha that can get you buzzed, and it’s a refreshing new (and very Santa Cruz-y) addition to the wine aisle. | EL

Worst Political Roulette: Alejo’s 2010 Campaign Charged With Illegal Boost
Recent reports from the California Fair Political Practices Commission revealed that Assemblyman Luis Alejo’s 2010 campaign got an illegal boost and the commission is to decide whether it will fine Alejo’s former campaign manager, Joaquin Ross, as well as Voters For A New California, for exceeding contribution limits. There were also charges of filing a false financial report to conceal those violations. Questionable politics? Sure. We don’t often think things can be that shady locally, but it’s yet another reminder of just how much more aware citizens need to be henceforth.  We elect officials for a reason: to serve for common good and, to some extent, us—the collective “us.” | GA

bo critic woojacksonBest Local Idea to Make the World a Better Place: Project WOO
During a 2005 trip to visit a friend in Gigante, a small picturesque fishing village in southwestern Nicaragua, then 25-year-old Santa Cruz native and avid surfer Nick Mucha discovered that the town was sitting at the crosshairs of development. Knowing that there would be no way to stop tourists from coming, he and a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Adam Monaghan, made it their mission to assist the townspeople in the transition. With the goal of uniting the community and giving them a say in the future of the town, Mucha and Monaghan founded Project WOO, a nonprofit which has helped the people of Gigante to accomplish several of its goals so far—from establishing a transportation system, to resolving a waste management problem, to building a health center. For more information, visit | JB

Worst Case of Flip-flopping, Pacific Avenue: One-Way/Two-Way?
It’s a seemingly never-ending debate: How to simplify navigation on Pacific Avenue in Downtown Santa Cruz. It became a hot topic back in July, when urban retail expert Robert Gibbs proposed implementing two-way traffic along the length of the strip. As with almost everything in Santa Cruz County, the question was met with a wide variety of outspoken opinions on safety and efficiency, with ideas ranging from two-way traffic, to making the strip one-way from north to south, to eliminating cars altogether, to converting side streets into two-way streets, to simply improving signage. Needless to say, we opened one large can of squirmy worms. Yet, nine months later, the layout hasn’t changed a bit. Why is it that another college town just to the south of us, San Luis Obispo, can get it done in a smooth, logical and timely manner, yet we’re still left scratching our heads? | JB

Worst Dirty Secret: Cowell Beach Pollution
Santa Cruz’s dirtiest secret has long been the high levels of pollution at Cowell Beach—in 2011 it was declared the worst in the state in terms of bacteria counts. Think about it: beaches in Los Angeles, in San Francisco Bay and at the mouth of agricultural watersheds—most notably the Salinas River—have better water quality than here in supposedly pristine Santa Cruz. Local officials have long blamed feces from waterfowl and ocean mammals for the problem—explanations that never quite washed. Thanks to Santa Cruz city councilmember David Terrazas, there’s been a renewed effort to get at the source of the problem and clean things up. Lo and behold, a previously unknown sewage outlet from a private residence downtown was recently discovered spilling directly into the Cowell Beach outfall. Ouch. What other dirty little secrets remain to be found? | GD

bo critic e bugBest Electric Car: Corbin Dunn’s Plug Bug
Actually, Dunn is one of the most inventive, enterprising and energetic locals around. He’s also a revered and award-winning unicyclist (in 2010 he was the Marathon Unicycle World Champion), treehouse lover (and occasional resident), photographer, Apple employee, Cyr Wheel performer and so much more. What caught our eye: Dunn’s Plug Bug. The local converted a 1969 VW Bug and made the beast run on electricity. Boasting 154 volts, 200 amp hour, 30.8 kilowatt hour battery pack, it rides 80-plus miles in the Santa Cruz mountains before needing a recharge, and up to 100 miles on flat roads and freeways at about 55 miles per hour. Other notables: a stock transmission, with standard clutch and disc brakes. And it’s appealing to the eye, too. Initially, Dunn says the venture began because of his interest in electric cars. He adds: “I wanted to do something better for the environment. I believe electric cars are the wave of future as the nation moves off gas and oil. But the other thing is—I love old cars, old Bugs, old Buicks and anything from ’40 through the 1960s.” The only challenge with that love was that those cars got terrible mileage. “I wanted to show people that they can have old cars they love and have it be better than they think. Electric cars have better motors and are more powerful.” Learn more at | GA

Best Scavengers: The Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project
Gleaning is hip again thanks to this group of volunteer fruit finders. Learn more about this notable local effort at | EL

Worst Under-reported Issue Nationally: The Environment
True, Cruzans are up on such things, but what about the rest of the country? Lost during the recent re-election of President Barrack Obama was any lengthy, significant discussion on what measures are being taken to curb our dependence on oil and usher in enterprising and environmentally protective ideas. If anybody can get the word out effectively, it may be us in NorCal. Carry on. | GA

Best Addition To Santa Cruz / Best Hoop Dreams: Jim Weyerman
Santa Cruz has always had its share of dreamers and boosters—most notably the Boardwalk’s fanciful Fred Swanton in the early 1900s—but just when you’re thinking that Santa Cruz has played out its hand in respect to economic development schemes, up steps Jim Wyerman— vice president of new franchise development for the Golden State Warriors—with an ace up his sleeve. Weyerman’s plan to locate the Warriors’ development team here in Santa Cruz was pooh-poohed by many when it was first presented, but he never varied from his vision.  Maybe it took an outsider with an optimistic perspective of the community to see the open play. Weyerman came into town with an unbridled enthusiasm that has never wavered. He lives over the hill in Santa Clara, but he believes in Santa Cruz. And Santa Cruzans have responded by bo new Vortex SCWshowering their love on the hometown team. Santa Cruz city manager Martin Bernal, assistant city manger Tina Shull and Boardwalk impresario Charles Canfield also deserve their share of kudos. Go Warriors! For more info and tickets, visit | GD           

Best Exosexuals: Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens
They marveled with their seven-year “art” project that found the duo marrying each other annually for seven years, honoring each color of the chakras in the process. Now, the local faves and creative slaves to all things progressive, juicy and envelope-pushing, are milking the bosom of another movement: The environment. Behold: Goodbye Gauley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, which recently screened at UCSC and will get another sneak peek in a brazen Appalachian Pot Luck Feast in May at The Redwood Resort in Boulder Creek. “The ecosexual movement is growing like a weed, and the Santa Cruz Mountains are the hotbed of the movement! ” say Sprinkle and Stephens, a UCSC art professor and environmental activist. Sprinkle is the famed feminist porn film star and pioneer. Their goal? To help fuel the evolution of the ecosex movement. With their doc already being dubbed, “the sexiest nature documentary and one of the most profound films to deal with the beauty and tragedy of the Appalachian Mountains in the age of King Coal,” this should be not only an eye-opener but also a feast for the Second Chakra. “We are shifting the metaphor from the “Earth as mother,” to “Earth as lover” to create a more mutual and sustainable relationship with our abused and exploited planet,” the lovers quip. “We also want to seduce people who are not normally reached to join the environmental activist movement, such as the GLBTQI community, sex radicals, and artists.” To learn more about the film, or to donate to their kickstarter campaign, visit See more at | GA

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

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