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02.06.08

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Santa Cruz County's biggest non-city looks for a little respect, and a UCSC prof gets ready to launch a water research center.

Live and Kicking

Judging from the numbers, Live Oak is the redheaded stepchild of Santa Cruz County. At 25,000 residents, it's home to more people than Scotts Valley and Capitola combined, but just two sheriff's deputies are assigned to cover it. It has the highest concentration of mobile homes in the county, but no banks or post offices. Its elementary schools—which are 44 percent Latino, reflecting an accelerating demographic trend—have the lowest API scores between Davenport and Watsonville. And its fortunes seem to be in free-fall. In 1990, Live Oak's household median income was just $316 behind that of the city of Santa Cruz; by 2000 the gap had grown to more than $5,000. But things could start turning around for Live Oak.

The very fact that these figures are available means that, for the first time, someone has bothered to dig them up. That "someone" is a handful of dedicated activists working out of the Live Oak Family Resource Center. "Live Oak: A Community Snapshot" represents the first extensive collection of data ever gathered about Live Oak. And as laborious as collecting that information was, the people who did it are hoping that when they present the report at a community meeting this Thursday, Feb. 7, it will be the beginning of something, not the end.

"On Feb. 7, we'll be offering people ways they can get involved," says Elizabeth Schilling, who with Erika Hearon co-directs the Family Resource Center. "'Will you take this report back to your neighborhood; will you go on the bus tour?' We have a feeling it will reinforce more and more as people come out of isolation. There's a certain amount of hope that grows. And that's what Live Oak needs."

The goal of this week's meetings is modest: to begin a community conversation that will eventually lead to revitalized civic engagement. From there, the citizens of Live Oak can rally around issues like whether this or that parcel will be developed for affordable housing.

"We're not ready to be specific about issues," says Schilling. "We just want to be engaged in conversation, deepen relationships with people."

The Family Resource Center is spearheading the effort, but it isn't going it alone. It has support from Communities Organized for Relational Power and Action (COPA), an umbrella group of churches and organizations in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties working on cross-cutting issues like health care, affordable housing, public safety and education.

Live Oak resident and COPA leader Ken Thomas says one of Live Oak's challenges is its unincorporated status, which leaves it reliant on a busy, overstretched county government for attention and funding. "It doesn't have a dedicated city council or government, so there are a lot less government resources to address these problems," Thomas says, adding that incorporation, however, is not the goal.

COPA members like Heather Dillishaw-Spencer, a minister at First Congregational Church, say what happens in Live Oak affects everyone in the community, even more affluent pockets of it. "For our faith community it's very simple: as Christians we're called to love and serve our neighbors, and our neighbors are not just the people who live next door to us," she says.

"Santa Cruz County is a hard place to live and a great place to live, and it's less hard if we address these things together."

Jorge Zavala, who grew up in Live Oak and works with Community Bridges, a sister organization to the Family Resource Center, has already seen benefits from the community effort. Last year he was selected by COPA to attend a leadership training session sponsored by the Industrial Areas Foundation, of which COPA is a member. "I felt like I became a different person," he says.

More than that, it galvanized what is now Zavala's nearly tireless work for the community.

"I can imagine a better world here," he says. "We may not be able to change the country or the state, but we can certainly change our little world here. Eventually we can change the world if people start thinking this way."

LIVE OAK: A COMMUNITY SNAPSHOT is presented on Thursday, Feb. 7, at Green Acres Elementary School, 966 Bostwick Lane (call first; seating is limited), and Monday, Feb. 11, at 7pm at 2525 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. The first of several bus tours is Feb. 16 at 10am. For reservations and information, call 831.476.7284, ext. 105.

The Water Man

Brent Haddad is blazing a new trail in the quest for local climate change solutions. The cheerful UCSC environmental studies prof, who has given talks on water policy from Croatia to China, has spent the past two years searching for ways to increase water supplies available to the Monterey Bay region without creating a pounding headache for ratepayers, local governments or Mother Nature.

This is tough job, so it's a relief to learn Haddad will have good help. On Friday, Feb. 8, as part of the Warming Up to Water conference in Capitola, Haddad plans to unveil UCSC's new Center for Integrated Water Research (CIWR), which he founded to bring together the cream of the crop in water economics, policy research and public communication. The center will have more than enough on its plate as desalination plants and wastewater reclamation centers become the favored projects of water agencies and companies looking to offset looming water shortages in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.

"We're facing a situation in California and nationally where climate change is changing our background understanding of rainfall, temperature and how much water different regions need and how much they're going to get," says Haddad.

The CIWR may be new to the public eye, but Haddad and his colleagues at UCSC have already, um, gotten their feet wet. In just two years, this group of top-flight academics have created one of the most thorough desalination bibliographies in existence, brought together historically antagonistic groups to begin hammering out a water resource plan for the Monterey Peninsula and launched head-first into the controversial topics of desalination and sewage reclamation.

And this is only the beginning. Haddad rattles off a list of unanswered questions:
"How much will these facilities cost?" he asks rhetorically. "Who will benefit? Who will pay for them? How do we trade off environmental impacts with social benefits from additional water? How much water reliability does a region need?"

Talk about a five-course meal. And let's not forget dessert: "How do you fold in climate-change risks into all these questions?"

The answers may still be a few years off, but for the crew at CIWR, asking the questions is an important first step.

"There are three main roles that a public university plays in society: research, teaching and service," says Haddad. "At our center, we're doing all three. We focus on research, but because our research is applied research, which means problem-oriented, it also provides services to the communities we work with and in."

Without the methodical fact-checking and broad context provided by Haddad and others at CIWR, the risk of rushing willy-nilly toward a solution with unforeseen consequences is high.

"These are pressing policy, economic and communication questions that have millions of dollars hanging in the balance," says Haddad. "We need to do our best with these decisions because the stakes are very high."

DR. BRENT HADDAD will be speaking on Friday, Feb. 8, 7-9pm. at Capitola City Hall, 420 Capitola Ave., Capitola, as part of the 'Warming Up to Water' presentation. Dr. Lisa Sloan and Andy Fisher, both UCSC professors, will also be presenting. Admission is free; 831.475.7300.


Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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