metrosantacruz.com
News, music, movies, events & restaurants in Santa Cruz, California from Metro Santa Cruz weekly

Columns
March 8-15, 2006

home | metro santa cruz index | columns | nūz


photo

Historic Resources? Hell, yeah!: State park advocates give new meaning to the concept of 'Parks & Rec.'

Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Stealth Widening?

Is the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Committee secretly widening Highway 1? The Santa Cruz-based Sensible Transportation Campaign believes so, following the recent axing of trees at the interchange of Highways 1 and 17—an axing apparently undertaken to build what the SCCRTC calls "auxiliary lanes," but which the STC describes as "sneak lanes."

Noting that more than 50 percent of county residents voted against widening Highway I in November 2004, the STC, whose members include the Sierra Club, People Power, the Coalition of Jews for the Environment, Santa Cruz Friends (the Quakers) and the People's Democratic Club, vows to stop all secret widening.

To that end, the STC is recruiting volunteers to attend a public hearing of the California Transportation Commission at 2pm, March 15. Their objective? Tell the CTC not to fund the next freeway-widening project—even if that would mean losing money. As People Power's Micah Posner explains, on March 15, the CTC will hear a request from the SCCRTC to fund $20 million worth of projects in Santa Cruz, including $8.475 million for the "auxiliary lane project."

"Our job is to convince the CTC to save $8.475 million by not giving it to a county that's fiercely divided over the merits of this project," says Posner.

STC chair Paul Elerick says the timing of the "sneak lane project" is particularly frustrating. Noting that an 80-member task force, which is trying to reach consensus on community transportation under the facilitation of County Treasurer Fred Keeley, "has only just begun to meet," Elerick claims the majority at RTC public hearings "oppose the project." Contact www.sccrtc.org or 831.460.3200 for the RTC's schedule and www.sensibletransportation.org or 831.425.0665 for the STC's.

In Their Corner

Who do you see, but don't see, every day? Day laborers, that invisible group that waits outside home improvement stores, open-air markets and busy intersections each morning, in the hope of finding work. Without them construction costs would soar, houses would be filthier and fruit would rot on the vine. But despite their undeniable worth, day laborers are regularly denied payment, subjected to dangerous working conditions and often endure abuse and insults at the hands of employers. Those are the conclusions of "On the Corner," a report published by the National Day Labor Study, as a result of a collaborative study conducted by UCLA, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the New School University.

While Santa Cruz wasn't one of the 139 municipalities surveyed in the report, our city is however taking the lead nationwide in terms of proactive reactions. As Councilmember Ryan Coonerty explains, "Santa Cruz city is the first in the nation to set up a day laborer help line to aid laborers in combating unfair hiring practices and to educate the community that day laborers have rights."

Asked about the hotline, which will be handled by a Spanish-speaking investigator, SCPD's Lt. Rick Martinez says the idea is to help wronged workers anonymously register complaints.

"We want to let them know their rights and leave an anonymous tip," says Martinez. "We're OK with any calls. We simply want to be a hub for the day worker community, which is understandably leery of coming forward. People's citizenship and residency won't be the questioned."

But just how can workers, who are here illegally, "demand their rights" from their employers?

"A licensed contractor is subject to prosecution for unfair labor practices, so if the police were to contact them, it would give them concern," Martinez explains. "The community has been exploited. We're not alone, but we're surprised to be the first to reach out to the community with this. We want to get the word out to the exploited and the exploiters that this behavior will no longer be tolerated."

To make the hotline happen, the SCPD is also working with the Beach Flats-based Familia Center. Yolanda Henry, who has been the FC's executive director for the past seven years, says the most common complaints from day laborers are that they didn't get paid at all, or were paid less than promised.

"Because their work doesn't officially exist, these workers felt there wasn't a lot of recourse, even though they were being defrauded, so there was a lot of frustration," recalls Henry, who admits to being surprised there was something the SCPD could do.

'Yes, employers are bound by state and federal law, but workers usually don't have the name of the subcontractor they're working for," says Henry, who recommends that "workers write down the license plate of the car that picked them up, or get a business card."

Noting many workers "aren't given the time to eat a sandwich or taco, though the law says if you work more than five hours, you get a 30-minute lunch break," Henry sums up such situations as "indentured servitude." Call 831.420.5997 to reach the hotline.

Park Advocacy Day

State Parks comprises 20 percent of our county and 50 percent of our coastline. All of which helps explain why almost half of the participants at Park Advocacy Day—a statewide gathering to protect threatened state parks—hail from our county.

This year the event falls on March 20, and supporters plan to gather at the state Capitol to discuss with legislators and representatives of the governor the issues facing state parks, including development, road and transportation projects, underfunding and the deterioration of cultural and historic resources.

Organizers say reservations are necessary, so call 831.457.0726 or 831.429.1840 to reserve a place in a van, or, if you plan to drive yourself, sign up online at www.calparks.org by March 10. They also recommend attending an advocacy briefing prior to Park Advocacy Day to get up-to-speed on "pressing policy, and budget and legislative issues facing state parks." To that end California Parks Foundation policy director Traci Verardo will give two briefings locally on March 13: 2-4pm in Aptos, and 6:30-8:30pm in Felton. Call 831.457.0726 for more info.


Send a letter to the editor about this story.