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February 22-March 1, 2006

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Protests

Photograph by Leyna Krow
Valentine Massacre: Student and custodian protesters brought Denice Denton a crushed heart.

Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Where Is the Love?

UC-Santa Cruz custodians from the AFSCME 3299 labor union gathered Feb. 14 to wish Chancellor Denice Denton a Happy Valentine's Day--and to thank her for the crushing poverty in which they live.

Joined by concerned students, the custodians met outside the chancellor's newly renovated office at Kerr Hall to present her with a giant broken heart made of cardboard and red construction paper.

"Last year we gave her an intact heart as a sign of good faith, but she has not listened to our requests for a wage increase," said AFSCME 3299's Julian Posada.

Denton was nowhere to be seen, but her special assistant Ciel Benedetto received the broken organ--and promised to deliver it ASAP.

The demonstration was the second of its kind in two months, with custodians asking the university not for a living wage (estimated at $24/hour in the city of Santa Cruz) but for parity with custodians at other California public colleges and universities.

"People are talking about quitting if we don't get a raise soon," said Linda Biancalana, a custodian with UCSC's physical plant.

According to Posada, custodians at Cabrillo College start at a little over $13/hour, whereas the starting pay for UCSC custodians is $10.35/hour. And the maximum wage for UCSC custodians is $13.47--just a little more than the starting wage for Cabrillo workers.

"At CSU Monterey Bay, custodians start at $14/hour. That's more than anyone can ever make here," he said.

Students from the Student and Worker Coalition for Justice joined the rally, expressing concerns that their fees, which may be increased by as much as 8 percent in the coming year, are being misused.

"If I'm paying so much more to go to school here, where is all that money going?" asked Alicia Sebastian, a community studies major. "I'm afraid that the university isn't being responsible in the way they spend it."

Sebastian isn't the only one worried about misplaced spending. In the wake of recent investigations into alleged financial misdeeds by the University of California, the California State Senate has begun a series of hearings with UC President Robert Dynes, prompted by UC's failure to accurately disclose details concerning employee payment.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, UC paid 496 people more than $300,000 last year and also spent over $1 million renovating the homes of several UC chancellors, including $600,000 for Denton's University House, complete with a $30,000 dog run.

"Don't even get me started on the dog run," Posada said. "The university can find $30,000 for two border collies, but can't find the money to pay us a decent wage? That's just embarrassing."

Transparent Precedent

Presidents Day 2006 dawned bright in Santa Cruz, a sunshine-filled tribute to the first U.S. president George "I cannot tell a lie" Washington, who would surely squirm in his proverbial birthday suit were he privy to all the shadowy secrets and lies that have become the legacy of president No. 43, George W. Bush.

Take Bush's warrantless wire-tapping program, which most of the United States (including most of Congress) first found out about on Dec. 15, 2005, even though The New York Times knew about the program over a year earlier.

NYT editors claim they sat on the story because the Bushistas said that disclosure of the warrantless spying would threaten national security, but Nüz can't help noting that their "sit-on-it" fatwa occurred on the eve of the 2004 presidential election.

All of which has Nüz predicting that the Republican-dominated Senate and House, which face elections this fall, won't grow any sunshine-loving balls--unless truth-seeking voters put a major squeeze on them.

We say this because the Senate Intelligence Committee has already squelched its expected investigation of the scandal, while the House Intelligence Committee is deciding whether to scrutinize the operations of the National Security Agency, or merely examine the current status of surveillance laws--and perhaps retroactively legalize Bush's actions.

Faced with this disturbing reality, concerned citizens are signing up for Moveon.org's "Witness to Lawbreaking" vigils, a nationwide Feb. 22 action that organizers hope will turn up the congressional heat.

Here in Santa Cruz County, locals can choose between a 5:30pm vigil at the Clock Tower in Santa Cruz, or at the traffic triangle at the intersection of Highway 9 and Graham Hill Road in Felton, where participants will read out loud from the Bill of Rights to remind folks of what is at stake.

Policy Wonks

Pressed last week by the community to quickly review and if necessary amend the SCPD's new policy on undercover surveillance (see cover story), City Councilmember Ryan Coonerty cited "Congress rapidly passing the Patriot Act" to illustrate the need for "more time to get the policy right."

"There's all kinds of federal and state constitutional and case laws," said Coonerty, who teaches constitutional law at UCSC when he's not working in his family-owned Bookshop Santa Cruz. "All are actionable, all can be invoked. If we're gonna do it, let's do it right."

Asked where funding for the spying op came from, fellow councilmember and UCSC instructor Mike Rotkin said that, to the best of his knowledge, Department of Homeland Security money was not used.

"Homeland Security funding has been used for emergency police responses like computers, radios and cars, infrastructure, not surveillance, and the SCPD doesn't serve in any federal investigation task forces," said Rotkin, who joked that the officers involved in the op would have failed the field notes requirement for his community studies class up at UCSC.

"They don't even describe the other people at the meeting. It was not well handled, but there's no sense that massive spying occurred," said Rotkin.

Meanwhile, Mark Halfmoon, the last chair of the city's now defunct Citizen's Police Review Board, believes the spying scandal underscores the need for citizen oversight of police.

"When the CPRB existed," Halfmoon recalled, "one police officer admitted that while the SCPD didn't necessarily respect the CPRB, it kept them on their toes, because they didn't want to end up the subject of one of the CPRB's meetings."


As told to Leyna Krow and Sarah Phelan


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