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04.23.08

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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Cyclists ask for a sign on Mission Street; Ecology Action launches its green clearinghouse site and Santa Cruz's first Green Drinks party is a hit.

No Sign of Help

Galvanized by the April 8 death of cyclist Christopher Rock at the intersection of Mission and Bay streets, local bike activists are pedaling over the paperwork and installing safety signs on their own. Last week members of People Power and others printed out and put up 200 homemade signs reading "Bicycles allowed use of full lane: 21202," a reference to the article of the California Vehicle Code granting bicycles the right to ride in the center of the lane.

The signs were all over Mission Street last week, though by now they've mostly disappeared, except for a few remaining as memorials. Meanwhile, members of People Power and other bike activists continue to lobby the City Council for official signage indicating same.

The trouble is, the city can't do much to help them.

The City Council is on the side of the cyclists, but councilmembers' ability to get things done on Mission Street, like erecting signs, is limited because they don't have jurisdiction over it. Because it's technically a stretch of Highway 1, Mission Street falls under the aegis of the state Department of Transportation (DOT).

Further complicating matters is the fact that Mission Street is a commercial district, meaning it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk. That leaves cyclists stuck going it on the street--typically in some ill-defined region between the edge of the right-hand lane and the gutter.

Last October, following the death of Pacific Collegiate School instructor John Myslin, also at the Mission/Bay intersection, then-Mayor Emily Reilly wrote a letter to DOT district director Richard Krumholz and asked him to take eight steps toward making Mission Street safer for bicycle and foot traffic. The steps included adding additional "share the road" signs and notification that "bikes may use full lane."

It sounds like a simple enough order to Nu_z, but it seems red tape has jammed the works. In his letter, Krumholz wrote that, according to the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (CA MUTCD), there could be no signs proclaiming the right of cyclists to use the entire lane because "bicycle and pedestrian-only zone" signs have not been adopted as a standard sign by the CA MUTCD.

Councilmember Mike Rotkin calls this a typical Caltrans response.

"To use a highly technical term, it's bullshit," said Rotkin over the phone. "The Caltrans position that it cannot be done is just not true."

Rotkin then listed a number of things on Mission Street that do not comply with the CA MUTCD, such as crosswalks that sit in the middle of the street and pedestrian warning signs. He said situations like this are always a battle.

Many in the community are saying the two deaths of the last six months were a sad inevitability. Ron Goodman works with People Power and has been involved with the Mission Street effort for a long time. In the late '90s he was on the Mission Street Widening Task Force, an advisory body to the Santa Cruz City Council, which was working with the DOT. The state was widening Mission Street, and Goodman, along with others, wanted bike lanes, but there wasn't enough space. To put in a bike lane would have meant removing Sylvan Music and several houses, or removing car lanes. Neither of those options went through and the bike lane was never created.

"The pressure to have more capacity was overwhelming," recalls Goodman. "We tried real hard to get that bike lane and warned that without bike lanes bicyclists would die in Mission Street, and unfortunately those warnings have come true."

However, many people have said that riding a bike in Mission Street traffic is suicidally dangerous because it's not only a street, it's a highway, and it's illegal to ride on the sidewalk. Goodman has responded to them by saying that while Mission Street is still dangerous, it's an important street, and people who don't use cars have to use it in order to get to, say, the bicycle stores that line Mission Street.

"The problem that people don't understand is that Mission Street is a major destination with businesses, jobs and schools. Just to make an analogy, Highway 17 is the most dangerous highway in California," he said. "But nobody would suggest banning cars on it for this reason."

Change A-Brewing

These days, any lecture attempting to predict the future of our planet is going to have a few painful moments. Whether the topic is climate change, strained natural resources or crashing biodiversity, the temptation to gobble up the nearest pain-relieving drug remains a constant. The oldest pain-reliever is, of course, booze, and in public settings it's the most acceptable drug to throw down the gullet. Lucky for Santa Cruzans, easing the pain of environmental destruction with a tall mug of beer or a sparkly glass of wine is now a regularly scheduled event.

Green Drinks is an idea that initially blossomed in 1989 in London but has since spread to 342 cities across five continents. Elizabeth Thompson, a climate specialist with Ecology Action, had her first Green Drinks experience in Berkeley last year when she was working as a documentary filmmaker. She was happy to toss one back at the local pub with professionals on the cutting edge of the green tech revolution, but by the time she made it down to Santa Cruz last year she'd decided there was a need to expand the concept beyond simply raising a toast to other environmentalists. There needed to be some education and practical advice on how to effect positive change.

"Initially I thought maybe we could gather at a local bar," remembers Thompson. "But then I had the idea to take it a step further and make it more active. I thought, 'Why not take it from a passive drinking experience to a more dynamic experience?' It can become a spinoff to further activism."

The fruit of Thompson's idea was visible last Friday afternoon as the Soquel Avenue sustainability shop Greenspace filled with over 60 slightly toasted city officials and environmental activists (Nu_z left before they got really drunk). On the stage was Mayor Ryan Coonerty, local permaculturist and business owner Ken Foster, Moss Landing Marine Laboratory marine biologist Stacy Kim and local author Chuck Tremper. The group was discussing Tremper's new book, As the Oceans Rise. The book delves into the history and science of emerging climate change solutions, including some from our very own back yard.

Coonerty, who was featured in the book, was more than happy to knock a few back and chat about Santa Cruz's role in transitioning to a more climate-friendly society. For Coonerty, who also heads up the yuppie group Santa Cruz Next, which co-sponsored the event, meeting up for drinks isn't just a way to dull the pain; it's also a practical way to come up with grassroots-based solutions.

"Not only is it great to have people come together and share these innovative ideas, but it's a way to bring together people who wouldn't normally meet each other to address such a pressing issue," said Coonerty, fixing himself a snack. "Really, that's the only way we're going to solve it."

Indeed, the Green Drinks idea sets itself apart from the usual civic- or business-oriented mixer by being explicitly about making connections between different spokes of the environmental movement--the researchers, policymakers and average citizens praying for change. As Thompson notes, there is also a generation gap within the local environmentalist movement that needs bridging. She's hoping Green Drinks can lay down the foundations.

"We really need a dialogue between the older hippie environmentalists and the younger environmentalists," says Thompson. "They have very different perspectives."

GREEN DRINKS takes place next on May 23 at Greenspace, 1122 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. A panel of green business entrepreneurs will be addressing the role of economics in the environmental movement and the question of local vs. green products.

One-Stop Browsing

Thank Gaia! Well-meaning citizens who can't decide whether they should spend their Saturday afternoon cleaning up the mess in their local river, learning how to distill biodiesel or planting a row of trees can now look to an easy, one-stop website for help. Ecocruz.org offers budding greenies a rational way to divvy up their time and money among the long list of nonprofit environmental groups and "green" businesses offering their services in Santa Cruz County.

The idea started back in November of 2006, when the folks at Ecology Action noticed there were a lot of nonprofit environmental groups within the county that were either offering overlapping services or were duplicating efforts. In a flash of inspiration, the nonprofit group decided to call together a Collaboration Summit, at which over 80 environmental groups agreed to buddy up, increase communication and present a unified front to the public through a website. A year and a half later, the digital seed planted at the summit has finally blossomed.

Ecocruz.org allows greenies to scan a calendar of all environmental events, see what fresh news has come out of local environmental groups, determine where their volunteer time would best be spent and decide which business deserves their greenbacks.

As if this wasn't enough, plans are also under way to allow environmental groups featured on the website to trade volunteers, program activities and other information to ensure efforts are not being duplicated and citizens looking for volunteer opportunities are not left idle. Being green was never so easy.

The website will be having its coming-out party at the Earth Day Santa Cruz festival, an event that has been revitalized this year through a partnership of the city of Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz County, Ecology Action and Save Our Shores. The official launch of the website will share the festival stage with an array of live entertainment acts, a selection of delicious food options and a plethora of environmentally themed educational booths.

EARTH DAY SANTA CRUZ is Sunday, April 27, 11am-4pm, at the corner of Lincoln and Cedar streets in downtown Santa Cruz.


Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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