Saturday, July 20, 2013

One more front page centerpiece, and another story that reminded me community news can be a lot of fun to report.

Monterey Bay Aquarium camp teaches girls about marine science

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A flock of Elegant Terns greets kayakers from Young Women in Science they... ( Shmuel Thaler )
MOSS LANDING -- A group of middle school girls from Monterey and Santa Cruz counties spent the week learning about ocean conservation in Monterey Bay Aquarium's bilingual Young Women in Science camp.

The camp packs a lot into a week, from surfing and boogie boarding, to meeting with local research groups and female scientists who serve as teachers and role models. One morning's activity was kayaking at Elkhorn Slough, a hot spot of biological diversity with its unusually high number of endemic species of birds, fish, mammals and plants.

As the girls got ready to paddle, their rows of boats sat, looking like bright yellow, beached whales, a few feet from the water while the guide from Monterey Bay Kayaks gave a rundown on slough safety that ended with a call for questions.

Only one hand shot into the air.

"Is this for emergencies?" asked Jennifer Lopez, a petite, outgoing 12-year-old from Salinas with glittery pink glasses, holding up the orange plastic whistle tethered to her life vest.

Luckily, the whistles stayed quiet throughout the morning. The girls toured the tranquil slough, with curious sea otters, which they had spent the previous day studying, swimming along side them and flocks of elegant terns flying overhead.

The Young Women in Science program was established in 1999 in response to what Claudia Pineda Tibbs, the Aquarium's Hispanic marketing and public relations coordinator, called an alarming lack of women and minorities studying and pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math, commonly called STEM.

"STEM careers were really targeted toward men and toward people who were not of color," Pineda Tibbs said.

"It's really to have the girls see that there are women in science, and break that perception of what a scientist looks like," she added. "Scientists can be women, mothers, people of color."

Pineda Tibbs said the biggest challenge, in the beginning, was getting parents to agree to let their kids to participate in the program, especially in the Latino community, where she said some families are not used to girls spending all day out of the house with a program that's not directly related to school. One of the benefits of the program being bilingual is it allows the girls to share what they learn about conservation with their families and friends, no matter what language they speak.

Now, the program fills quickly. Each year, two first-year Otter Camps accommodate 72 girls and one Ocean Guardians Camp for returning students takes another 45. The final camp of the year will be next week and is fully booked.

The girls join the camp with an array of backgrounds and interests. While the program is bilingual and most campers receive scholarships to cover at least part of the $200 cost, there are no requirements for family income, language or even interest in a career in science.

"Some of them say, 'I want to be a police officer,' some say they want to be marine biologists or they want to work in fashion," Pineda Tibbs said of the participants. "And that's OK because, ultimately, it's inspiring conservation of the ocean. And everyone can do that."

The program incorporates other aspects of conservation, as well, including recycling and composting lessons. The coordinators try to make sure the lunches provided are as close as possible to zero waste.

While the girls' families are only asked to pay a maximum of $200 for the program, the aquarium's cost per participant is about $1,000, including busing the girls around Monterey Bay, activities and lunches. Most of that money comes from grants, membership revenue and donations to the Aquarium's Children's Education Fund.

Campers who are interested in science careers have options to continue with related programs in high school and college.

Rita Medina, 19, of Watsonville, is working her first job this summer as a program assistant for Young Women in Science. She has been involved ever since her years as a camper, and was a volunteer for the Teen Conservation Leaders program in high school. She said the program has helped her decide to study marine biology when she starts at Cabrillo College in the fall.

"I'm getting paid and it's my first job," Medina said. "I really love it."

Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at

  • To donate to Monterey Bay Aquarium's Children's Education Fund, go to:
  • For information about Young Women in Science, or to register for that or other Monterey Bay Aquarium programs, go to:
  • Bull riding event kicks off Big Week in Salinas

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    Robin and Phil Adkins of Corralitos share a blanket Wednesday night at the Professional... ( SCS )
    SALINAS -- The Professional Bull Riding Pro Touring Event held its own Wednesday night at the Salinas Sports Complex as the unofficial kickoff event of the California Rodeo Salinas.

    The event filled the stadium as the crowd cheered and country music blared, ushering in the 13th annual PBR event in Salinas.

    Mandy Linquist, marketing manager of the California Rodeo Salinas, said the PBR event has always taken place on the Wednesday of Big Week, as rodeo week is known.

    "People are already in the Western lifestyle mindset," Linquist said.

    "They're busting out their jeans and their cowboys boots and they want to go to as many events as possible this week."

    Linquist said about 8,000 people attended last year's PBR event and that ticket sales are slightly up this year.

    The event draws cowboys from across the country, as well as some international contestants.

    The mood behind the chutes was mixed.

    Ryan McConnel, 26, originally from Bloomfield, N.M., was first in line and nervously waited for his chance on Shameless. McConnel was quickly bucked off as his fiancee, Rebekah Zacarias, of Clovis watched from across the arena.

    At 26, McConnel said the sport doesn't get any easier with age.

    "It gets tough and you don't want to get a lot worse off than you already are," McConnel said.

    Sean Willingham, a 32-year-old veteran bull rider from Summerville, Ga., has been a professional in the sport since before the PBR stopped in Salinas and has been riding more than half his life.

    "It's a young man's sport, for sure," Willingham said.

    Willingham was scheduled to ride a bull named Oops on Wednesday. He waited for his turn at press time for this story.

    Early in the program, defending California Rodeo Salinas champion Shane Proctor, 28, of Moorsville, N.C., was in the lead with a score of 86.

    Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at

    California Rodeo Salinas
    WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 1:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
    WHERE: Salinas Sports Complex, 1034 N. Main St., Salinas
    COST: $7 to $20

    California Rodeo Salinas kicks off Thursday

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    VERN FISHER/MONTEREY COUNTY HERALD Bray Armes hangs onin the steer wrestling at the California...

    SALINAS -- The 103rd annual California Rodeo Salinas begins its four-day run Thursday at the Salinas Sports Complex.

    Mandy Linquist, the rodeo's marketing manager, said she's been attending the event her whole life.

    "There are people who've been coming here for 60 or 70 years," Linquist said. "It is great to be part of something that's got a legacy like that."

    As an appetizer for rodeo fans, the 13th annual Professional Bull Riding Touring Pro Event will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Salinas Sports Complex, the same location as the rodeo.

    The rodeo's main events begin 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, the performance begins at 1:15 p.m.

    Thursday's California Rodeo Salinas will begin with the grand entry and crowning of 2013 Miss California Rodeo. Bull riding will be the first event in the arena and one of this year's speciality acts, Cowboy Kenny's Steel Rodeo Tour, will also debut Thursday and continue for every performance of the rodeo.

    Cowboy Kenny is a motocross champion from Oklahoma who will perform a motorcycle jumping act.
    Other events include mutton busting, open-ranch doctoring and the traditional rodeo events such as barrel racing, team roping, tie-down roping, bull riding and bronc riding.

    The Salinas rodeo hasn't always included such an array of events. When the event began, more than a century ago, it was known as the Wild West Show and mostly featured local cowboys and cowgirls riding bucking horses. Still, the show drew crowds of 4,000 strong.

    This is the first year motocross has been part of the rodeo.

    "We typically try to change up the acts each year to keep it new and fresh," Linquist said.

    Linquist said she's expecting 45,000 spectators for the four-day event. Sunday usually draws the largest crowd, about 13,000.

    Tickets range from $7 to $20.

    Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at

    California Rodeo Salinas
    WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday Professional Bull Riding Touring Pro, 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 1:15 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
    WHERE: Salinas Sports Complex, 1034 N. Main St., Salinas
    COST: $7 to $20
    California Rodeo Salinas Carnival
    WHEN: 4-10 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday
    WHERE: 295 Sun Way, Salinas
    COST: $3 to enter, $25 for unlimited rides weekdays, $30 for unlimited rides Saturdays and Sundays

    Saturday, July 13, 2013

    Watsonville, Santa Cruz community events to discuss juvenile incarceration issues

    SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz Community Coalition to Overcome Racism will host two screenings of the film "Juvies," about the California juvenile justice system.

    The events will be accompanied by dinner and open discussion sessions with Spanish translation.

    Jenn Laskin, a longtime teacher and law student interning with the Santa Cruz County Probation Department, organized the events. Laskin said she and the group Barrios Unidos, which works to prevent youth violence, are trying to establish a permanent support group for friends and families of incarcerated youths, something she said is lacking in the community.

    "Everybody knows somebody," Laskin said. "Our country incarcerates more people than any other country. There's all kinds of reasons why people get into the system."

    Both screenings are open to the public

    "Juvies" follows 12 teens incarcerated in Los Angeles County Juvenile Hall who were charged as adults.

    The system changed in 2000, when voters approved Proposition 21, shifting the authority to charge minors in adult court from judges to district attorneys and allowing the options for crimes other than murder.

    "Courts used to look at the potential for a juvenile to be rehabilitated," Laskin said. "Now, it's just whether the prosecutor thinks they deserve it."

    Rob Wade, assistant district attorney for Santa Cruz County, said only serious violent crimes, such as shootings or stabbings, but not simple fistfights, are eligible for direct filings in this county. Each person's role in the crime is considered, so everyone being charged will not necessarily be direct filed because one person is.

    "Just because you're a juvenile, doesn't mean you're going to get direct filed," Wade said. "There's a real gravity to the decision to direct file someone and we don't do it for all violent crimes."

    When minors are convicted in adult court, Wade said, they serve their time in juvenile facilities until they turn 18.

    Yesenia Molina, an intervention and prevention specialist at Barrios Unidos, works with kids in Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall. She said she doesn't think charging minors in adult court deters crime or reduces recidivism.

    "If you were going to get out, even then, you would be such a different person because your adolescence was entirely taken away," Molina said. "They don't have the opportunity to develop themselves as adults in the right way."

    Rather than discouraging gang affiliation, Wade said direct filing, and the prison system in general, often encourages it by putting people in an environment permeated by gang culture, where they often choose to be housed with others members of their gang.

    Direct filing will be a topic of discussion at the screening events, as well as other legal issues affecting families of incarcerated kids, such as gang enhancement sentencing and what Laskin calls "the school-to-prison pipeline."

    "When kids are missing time in school, it's harder for them to go back to school," she said. "And when they're in the corrections system, it's easier for them to stay there."

    The problem is exacerbated by underfunded school systems. A 2008 study by Pew Charitable Trusts found California spends 2.5 times more on corrections than education.

    Laskin said that race and location can complicate the issue.

    "The same crimes committed by white kids in Santa Cruz get rehabilitation or treatment," she said. "South County gets more enforcement."

    Gang enhancement sentencing means that if prosecutors determine a crime was related to a gang, judges can add years to a sentence.

    Wade said his office uses the recommendations of local police to decide whether to add a gang enhancement to a charge.

    "As prosecutors, we have an ethical obligation to charge what we think we can prove," Wade said. "We do that with a good-faith belief that we think that person is a gang member."

    Prosecutors charge people with a gang enhancement for participating in gang crime even if they are not members of the gang.

    Laskin and Barrios Unidos work with youth to help them understand these laws and to teach them impulse control.

    "There isn't any kind of simple answer to it," Wade said. "Whether gang statutes are deterring crime is a philosophical question, and I'm not sure I know the answer to that."

    Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at

    If You Go
    WHAT: 'Juvies' film screenings, family/community support meetings and dinners. Spanish interpretation and child care will be provided.
    WHEN: 4 to 6 p.m., Sunday in Santa Cruz; 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Wednesday in Watsonville.
    WHERE: Resource Center for Nonviolence, 612 Ocean St., Santa Cruz. Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers, 734 E. Lake Ave., Suite 14 (upstairs), Watsonville.
    COST: Free
    INFORMATION: Contact Jenn at 202-802-7626 or

    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    Front page, my first time covering national news, and my first press conference – although I did get to interview Stone afterward to get a lot more useful detail.

    Scotts Valley survivors of SFO crash describe wreck, confusion

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    Elliot Stone (center) and his fianc Elena Jin (right) make their way to a press... ( SCS )

    SCOTTS VALLEY -- Elliot Stone has had a lifetime of training in martial arts, but none in emergency medicine. Still he was one of the first responders to reach four victims who were torn from the Asiana jumbo jet Flight 214 as it crashed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday.

    The plane came in for a landing flying too low and too slow. The landing gear crashed against the seawall, ripping open the back of the airplane and scattering people onto the runway, while the rest of the plane careened down the tarmac.

    Just seconds came between Stone's realization that something was wrong and the impact. He was seated next to Elena Jin, 23, his fiancee from Santa Cruz whom he had proposed to a day earlier at their hotel in Suwon, South Korea.

    "All that went through my mind was grabbing her arm, looking in her eyes and saying, 'This might be it,' " he said.

    When the plane finally stopped, Stone, 25, said he and his friends and family were able to escape quickly.

    Stone, the owner of Elite Martial Arts Academy in Scotts Valley, and a group of nine people including family and clients, had been in South Korea for 10 days on a vacation and to compete in an international competition in the Korean martial art of ho kuk mu sul.

    He said he's been studying the art since he was 7, and credits it with helping him to remain calm in any situation.


    While in Korea, he tested for his fourth-degree black belt in the sport. One of his students, David Schimmel, 19, of Scotts Valley won first place in the competition.

    On the trip back, Stone and the rest of the group, including Brian Thomson, 45, Elliot's parents, Walter Stone, 64, and Cindy Stone, 63, and his brother Oliver Stone, 29, all of Scotts Valley, and Elena's 16-year-old sister, Alisa Jin, of Santa Cruz, were seated in the middle of the plane above the wings.

    "One of the things that causes me extreme anxiety is the what if," Walter Stone said about his whole family being on one ill-fated flight.

    After the crash, some of the group escaped on inflatable chutes, while Elliot Stone and others had to climb out over piles of rubble and luggage, through holes in the warped, Fiberglass walls of the fuselage, jumping about 5 feet from the tilted wreck to the ground. All were lucky enough to walk away from the crash with just a few scratches and bruises.

    Stone said it only took a minute for the group to reunite on the ground. They hugged and ran away from the wreck, still stranded in the middle of the vast runway. He called his grandmother so she wouldn't worry when the crash made the news. Then they went looking for people they could help.

    Looking back down the path the plane had slid along, Elliot Stone said they saw a woman covered in blood, stumbling toward them, calling out for help from about 500 yards away. He, his father, brother, Schimmel and Thomson ran toward the woman and realized three more were still in the wreckage, at the end of the runway closest to the water of the San Francisco Bay, where the plane had first hit the tarmac. They split up and each stayed with one of the injured women, at least two of whom were flight attendants.

    When an ambulance had not arrived about 25 minutes after the crash, Elliot Stone said he called 911. As soon as police arrived, the men were told to stop and wait with the other survivors.

    "They were yelling at us, 'Go back! Go back!' " Stone said. "But we were finding people."


    About 90 minutes later, a bus took them to the United Airlines terminal, where they waited another six hours.

    "The biggest thing we noticed was just the lack of protocol," he recalled. "It wasn't necessarily individuals' faults, it was just they didn't know the protocol or there was no protocol. No one was directing the show."

    When Elliot Stone and the rest of the uninjured passengers were ushered to the airport, he said they were shuffled around between rooms, told to write their contact information on a list, and not allowed to leave or informed about what was happening. He called CNN and told his story to Wolf Blitzer while he waited.

    "It makes sense that if they were ruling out terrorism or something they wouldn't let us go, but it seemed pretty straightforward what happened," he said.

    The Boeing 777 had taken off in Shanghai and stopped in Seoul before crossing the Pacific on a flight that Stone described as uneventful, until the end. The crash landing injured at least 180 of the 307 people on board and killed two 16-year-old Chinese girls who were on their way to a summer camp in Southern California.

    Stone said he thinks one of the deceased was among the four women he and his family and friends found in their initial search for survivors.

    Despite the ordeal, Stone said thinks he will fly again.

    "We'll get there when get there," he said. "It shouldn't stop us from living our lives."

    Monday, July 8, 2013

    Here's a little story I wrote about the weather. Made the front page.

    Santa Cruz Mountains expecting a hot 4th, road closures county-wide

    SANTA CRUZ -- The upper Santa Cruz Mountains will be scorching this Independence Day, with temperatures topping 100 degrees at elevations above 1,000 feet prompting the National Weather Service to issue an extreme heat warning for the area through 7 p.m. Thursday.

    While the higher elevations will have the county's highest temperatures, the mountain towns are feeling the heat, too. Accuweather predicts a high of 90 degrees for Boulder Creek, 88 for Ben Lomond, 89 for Bonny Doon, 89 for Scotts Valley and 88 for Felton. Overnight lows are expected to be in the upper 50s and low 60s.
    At least one resident isn't fazed by the high temperatures.

    Santa Cruz-based artist Jody Bare works at the un-air-conditioned Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center in Ben Lomond and said she's embracing the heat.

    "When you go in and out of air conditioning, then you really notice it," Bare said. "But if you acclimate to it then you don't really suffer too much."

    Scotts Valley, where a fireworks display is scheduled for 9:15 p.m., is expected to have patchy evening fog.
    Drivers should allow plenty of time to get to holiday events, such as the fireworks show, and expect heavy traffic and road closures throughout the county.

    The coast will be cooler, with morning fog, partial afternoon cloudiness, and temperatures in the mid- to high 70s in Santa Cruz, Live Oak, Capitola and Watsonville.

    Aptos, site of the 52nd annual World's Shortest Parade, beginning at 10 a.m., should be mostly sunny with a high of 72.

    Temperatures are expected to drop several degrees across the county Friday and through the weekend.

    For those looking to hit the waves, is forecasting waves of 1 to 2 feet on Thursday and 2 to 3 feet on Friday and Saturday in Santa Cruz.

    National Weather Service meteorologist Austin Cross reminded those headed to the beaches to be aware of dangerous rip currents despite the calm waters.

    Santa Cruz County holiday travel staying strong

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    Jason Berberian of Castro Valey fires up the stove for breakfast with the Rogers... ( Dan Coyro )
    SANTA CRUZ -- After setting travel records during the Fourth of July holiday last year, the number of Californians vacationing this week is expected to dip slightly.

    "Last year, we had the calendar effect," said Cynthia Harris, spokeswoman for AAA of Northern California.

    In 2012, Independence Day fell on a Wednesday, which spread out holiday travel and allowed many people to vacation the entire week, creating the busiest Fourth of July for travel the state has seen in a decade.

    AAA expects a 0.7 percent decrease this year, though the 4.7 million Californians expected to travel falls within the typical range of 4.2 million to 4.8 million.

    The economy isn't stopping people from taking road trips and booking luxury hotels, a testament to consumer optimism while markets remain uncertain, according to AAA. A family of four will spend an average of $894 during the holiday this year, Harris said.

    "Travel is most indicative of how people are feeling about their discretionary budget," she said.
    Santa Cruz's Dream Inn raised its rates in step with the expected tourism boost. The basic daily room rate is $419 on Thursday through the weekend, about $100 more than this time in 2012, and the hotel is booked for those nights.

    "We raise the rates and see if people keep booking," said Christopher Johnston, supervisor of the Dream Inn. "This year, people are very willing."

    The Hilton Santa Cruz/Scotts Valley is charging $189 for a basic room this week, 5 percent to 10 percent more than last year for the Fourth of July weekend, and the hotel is almost full.

    Jim Maggio, general manager of Seascape Resort, said rates haven't risen from last year, but occupancy has. With a basic room rate of $350, Seascape is nearly booked through the weekend.

    More casual options for the Fourth of July holiday are sold out, too.

    Campgrounds at Seacliff, New Brighton, Manresa and Sunset state beaches and Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park are booked Wednesday through Saturday nights, with only a handful of spaces remaining Sunday.

    The Santa Cruz/Monterey Bay KOA and the Santa Cruz RV Resort are booked through Sunday night.

    "Santa Cruz is one of our most popular places to go," said Dennis Weber, State Parks spokesman. "It's easier to find a campground the further north you go and the further inland you go."

    With a statewide average gas price of $3.99 a gallon, according to AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report, only Hawaii and Alaska have more expensive gas than California.

    "Even if gas prices go up 5 cents or 3 cents before a holiday, that is not preventing a family from taking a road trip," Harris said of the 3.7 million people who are expected to drive more than 50 miles this weekend.

    The average road trip will cover 584 miles, with popular destinations including Lake Tahoe, San Diego, Las Vegas, Zion National Park in Utah and national parks in California.

    Harris said drivers should expect heavy freeway congestion from 3-7 p.m. Wednesday, when many people will be leaving work early for the holiday. Whether driving or flying, she recommends avoiding midday travel.

    "The earlier you leave or the later you leave, you'll see fewer delays," Harris said.

    For those visiting or remaining in Santa Cruz County for the Fourth of July, the sale and use of fireworks are only allowed in Watsonville and the county's only legal fireworks show will be in Scotts Valley, beginning at 9:15 p.m. Thursday in Skypark.

    According to the Sheriff's Office, there are also numerous prohibitions on county beaches, including fireworks, alcohol, glass containers, wood pallets, unleashed pets, vehicles and pieces of wood with nails.

    After a spell of Blogger not working, I'm back up and running. This was a fun story to report last week, and I might have even learned something. But it's tricky to get engineers to speak English, even when they're not old enough to vote.

    Aptos HS Robotics Club wins international competition for underwater robot

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    Contributed Members of the Aptos High School Robotics Club, winners of the international... ( SCS )
    APTOS -- Seventeen-year-old Chris Randolph is the president of Aptos High School's Robotics Club, but his business card gives him a different title: CEO, pilot and director of software engineering for Aptos Mariners Robotics LLC.

    The "company" beat out 29 teams from around the world with their underwater robot, called The Kraken. They designed and built the robot, or remote operated vehicle, to repair a permanent ocean observation system, a collection of sensors used to gather data such as water temperature and salinity.

    The annual competition, held by Monterey Peninsula College's Marine Advanced Technology Education, poses a reality-based problem for students to creatively engineer their way out of each year.

    "At the competition, you'll see ROVs that look completely different, and you'd never guess they do the exact same thing," Chris said.

    The 13-member Aptos team took first place for their mission performance, written technical report and in the competition overall.

    In response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the challenge in 2011 was to build a robot capable of capping an underwater oil well.

    The Aptos team won the international competition that year, too.

    That was also the year Chris joined the team as a freshman, specializing in software design. He's spent the past three years tweaking his program that uses an Xbox controller to command the underwater robot.

    Chris' younger sister, Catie Randolph, 16, started with the team this year as a sophomore and designed The Kraken's claw. Her brother then used his Xbox controller to tell the claw to open locks and doors and unplug and plug in cables on the station.

    While competing with teams from Egypt, Scotland, Singapore and elsewhere, Catie said she stays focused on her job, not on the competition.

    "At the international competition, I don't look at the other teams," Catie said. But when the teams are done competing, they get a chance to network, exchange ideas and make friends with young scientists from across the globe.

    Another requirement of the competition is that teams present their work like a business.

    "There's a lot more to it than just building. A lot more that people expect," said Kayla Zoliniak, 17. As the director of business development, she was in charge of fundraising more than $10,000 for parts and travel to get to the competition in Seattle.

    "She's the other half of my brain," Chris said of Zoliniak. "I may be the technical president, but she does the actual organizing. I just give her word law."

    Chris said Zoliniak also excels in the presentation aspect of the competition, when each team member has to explain his or her portion of the project to the judges. Chris and Katie said that's the hardest part of the competition for them.

    Aptos' team is known for dressing up in suits for their presentation. Now, it's catching on and other teams are stepping up their game.

    In addition to engineering and business, the team also includes specialists in areas such as environmental research and safety.

    Joseph Manildi, a physics teacher at Aptos High and one of the team's mentors, said seeing kids with different interests work together has been his favorite part of the process.

    "They were kids who didn't necessarily know each other (before joining the club)," Manildi said. "And they were able to bond and listen to each others' ideas and realize that they all have something to offer."

    Sunday, June 30, 2013

    My second city council of the week: Capitola. The meeting ended around 11:30 p.m. so this online version is much more detailed than the one that ran in the paper on June 28.

    Capitola City Council approves upscale senior living project

    CAPITOLA -- The Capitola City Council approved a 23-unit housing complex for seniors at 1575 38th Ave. with a 4-1 vote late Thursday.

    The project has been in the works since 2011, and originally was denied by the Planning Commission, which gave a directive to reduce the mass, scale and height of the proposed building. The building has since shrunk by a factor of three from its original 67-unit size, and has gained approval by the commission, but the community remains divided over many aspects of the development.

    "The principle decision is whether or not we're going to overturn the Planning Commission's decision," said Vice Mayor Sam Storey of the Commission's 3-2 vote to allow the project to go ahead.

    The council's approval means the zoning for the property, which is currently the site of Capitola Freight and Salvage, will be changed from neighborhood commercial to planned development, allowing for less setback from the street and a higher overall height for the building.

    For a property to be zoned for planned development, it has to have a unique characteristic that warrants the change.

    "It is upscale senior housing in Capitola, and we do not have that," said Councilman Ed Bottorff.

    He said one of the reasons the Planning Commission denied the project originally was lack of parking.

    With the new design, he said, "I think there's overkill on the parking."

    Nathan Schmidt, the project's transportation planner, said the project is designed to allow 1.4 parking spaces per unit, and he expects fewer than half of those spaces will be used regularly.

    "I'm not a fan of (planned development zoning)," said Mayor Stephanie Harlan, the lone dissenting vote. "I've seen it before and it's a way to get around the rules."

    Harlan called the change "spot zoning," saying that the purpose of zoning is for residents of an area to know what type of development they can expect around them and changing the zoning for one property violates that understanding.

    Harlan also expressed concern that vehicles would still overflow into the spaces at King's Plaza Shopping Center, located across the street from Villa Capitola, on 41st Avenue.

    George Ow, owner of the shopping center, spoke in support of the project. Ow was opposed to the development in its first iteration.

    The center's delivery and garbage pickup areas face the Villa Capitola site, raising concerns about potential noise disturbances.

    "I think we can all agree that there is a need for more senior housing in Capitola and that demographic data show that that need will increase," Maureen Romac, one of the owners of the property, told the council.

    Richard Grunow, community development director for the planning commission, said the new design, with a lower overall height and increased setback from the street, addresses the concerns that led to the agency's original denial of the project.

    In addition to parking, the council debated landscaping, the revised size of the project and even the length of time residents will be allowed to have a live-in caretaker at the property without the project crossing the line from senior housing to assisted living.

    "It seems like cruel and unusual punishment for a person who's starting to fall down to be told you have to move," said Santa Cruz County resident Charles Houdleston, 71.

    Susan Sneddon, Capitola city clerk, said her office has received 38 letters and emails about the Villa Capitola project -- an unusually large volume.

    While most of those letters are from seniors and family members of seniors expressing support for and interest in the project, the city also received a letter signed by 21 residents of Bulb Avenue, the street behind the proposed development, in opposition. Their concerns, as stated in the letter, are "privacy, shading, noise, traffic, parking and incongruency with the surrounding neighborhood."

    Romac said she and her husband, Steve Thomas, co-owner of the property, have collected 180 signatures from supporters, including those of 20 residents of Bulb Avenue.

    Kimberly Frey, of Bulb Avenue, spoke in opposition, saying the development will reduce the amount of sunlight on her property and allow residents of the nearby Villa Capitola to peer into her windows.

    In other action, the council approved an experimental, one-day closing of the Esplanade to motor vehicles, scheduled for Oct. 13.

    Thursday, June 27, 2013

    Watsonville City Council approves wastewater treatment experiment with UCSC

    WATSONVILLE -- The Watsonville City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a lease for WaterLab, an experimental, wastewater treatment facility to be run by UC Santa Cruz at the city's Water Resource Center.

    The project, which is being designed, built and will be run by UCSC students, will be used to test various processes for purifying sewer water into drinking water and other experiments.

    "We'd like the students to be experts in advanced water treatment, so that's why we're building this facility," said Brent Haddad, professor of environmental studies and director of WaterLab.

    "This facility will be capable of producing drinkable water, although there's no intention of anyone drinking it."
    The water used for experimentation by WaterLab will be purified by the city's water treatment plant after WaterLab has conducted its tests.

    Haddad said the project will help prepare students for careers in water resources, an expertise he said will be in demand.

    "Why Watsonville?" Haddad asked. "You have tomorrow's water challenges today."

    Those challenges, Haddad said, include huge agricultural demands on the water supply and the need to protect the Monterey Bay marine ecosystem.

    "I appreciate the fact that you have done your research and noticed what a resource you have here," Councilwoman Nancy Bilicich said.

    UCSC will pay the city a one-time, $18,000 fee to use the space for five years. Haddad said the project is funded by grants and likely will earn at least $50,000 in grant money yearly.

    Kevin Silviera, Watsonville's wastewater division manager, and Haddad have been collaborating on the project since 2009.

    Haddad said WaterLab also could work to reduce the cost of desalination.

    "The technologies used in water reuse and (desalination) are very similar," Haddad said. "At this time they're very energy intensive so if we can take a crack at that, that would really be a service."

    In other action, the council ratified all two-year, union contracts with employees established in the budget passed earlier this month.

    The agreement continues past concessions made by employee unions, saving the city more than $1 million. Those concessions include continuing furloughs that began four years ago, reducing hours and pay by 10 percent. Police will forgo raises and take eight days of furlough each year.

    The council also rejected a claim by former Councilman Emilio Martinez and his wife, Kathleen Morgan-Martinez, alleging harassment, threats and "systematic silencing" during Martinez's time on the council.

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    Tuesday, June 25, 2013

    Finally back to covering politics! This was an advance for a Watsonville City Council meeting, which I also covered.

    Watsonville City Council to vote on UCSC sewer water experiment

    WATSONVILLE -- The Watsonville City Council will decide Tuesday whether to approve a deal with UC Santa Cruz to establish an experimental wastewater treatment laboratory at the city's treatment plant.

    The laboratory, called WaterLab, would occupy extra space at the city's award-winning Water Resource Center. The lab, which would focus on teaching and research on sustainable water treatment processes, would be the first such partnership between the city and the university.

    "It's going to put Watsonville on the map for innovative water technologies and seeing how they can be applied in the real world," said Steve Palmisano, director of Watsonville's Public Works and Utilities Department. "It's a great bridge between the academic world and the real world."

    Built in 2010 for $10 million, Watsonville's Water Resources Center stands out with its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

    The experimental lab would be designed, built and operated by UCSC students, said WaterLab's director, Brent Haddad, a professor of environmental science and director of UCSC's Center for Integrated Water Research.

    "I'd like to be able to demonstrate that these advanced water treatment techniques exist and are reliable," Haddad said. "The best way to do that is to show the world that students can build them and they will work."

    About 300 students have been involved with the project, Haddad said. It's open to students of all majors who are interested in sustainable water supply. He hopes to have the lab operating this summer, if the lease is approved.

    While the technology needed to purify wastewater for a variety of uses already exists, Haddad said, every system is different, such as how dirty the water is and how clean it needs to become.

    Haddad said the system that students have designed for WaterLab is a five-step process to produce drinkable water. The first step is slow sand filtration, which removes many impurities. Then it goes through a process to remove elements such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Next are advanced filtration, reverse osmosis and, finally, ultraviolet radiation to prevent microscopic organisms from reproducing, which effectively kills them in about an hour.

    After those steps are complete, WaterLab will test the results to see if the water is, in fact, potable, and then it will be treated again in the city's normal plant.

    "There aren't a lot of plants that have a goal of potable," Haddad said. "When you look to the end of the 21st century, that's going to be a big need."

    WaterLab will also be used to test other experimental processes apart from the five being implemented to make wastewater potable. Haddad said the project is trying to run the lab without grid-provided electricity.
    In addition, the lab will be off the financial grid.

    "There will be no out of pocket costs; it's basically self-funded," said Kevin Silviera, Watsonville's wastewater division manager. UCSC will pay the city a one-time fee of $18,000 to lease the extra space at the Water Resources Center, at 500 Clearwater Lane, for five years.

    As global need for freshwater increases, the technology of turning sewage into drinking water could become indispensable, and public opinion will be playing catch up.

    "The public perception has always been that we don't want a toilet-to-tap system," Silviera said. "The science is there, no problem, but there's just a lot more work to do make that palatable. No pun intended."

    The City Council is scheduled to vote on the lease agreement at its 6:30 p.m. meeting Tuesday, at the Watsonville Council Chamber, 275 Main St.

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    My second front page centerpiece! Ran Tuesday, June 25.

    Watsonville kids' summer lunch programs saved at Marinovich, Callaghan parks

    Click photo to enlarge
    Adele Eberhart serves food at Loaves and Fishes, Tues., where she and other volunteers... ( SCS )
    WATSONVILLE -- When the Watsonville City Council passed a new, slimmer budget earlier this month, Parks and Community Services' summer drop-in programs at Marinovich and Callaghan parks landed on the chopping block.

    But before that meeting had even ended, local nonprofits were jumping at the chance to save the free lunch programs.

    "I was shocked and alarmed" about the decision to cut the programs, said Chris Johnson-Lyons, head of the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County Inc., a Watsonville-based nonprofit. "If the issue is not having adequate staffing, the Community Action Board can offer some help," she recalled telling the council.

    The board did just that. Within two weeks, Johnson-Lyons had secured the resources to keep lunch on the menu at Callaghan Park.

    Unlike the free and reduced-price lunch programs offered during the school year, kids don't have to prove income-eligibility to benefit from the summer lunch program.

    "Hundreds of low-income youth depend on this program in the summer," Johnson-Lyons said. "Nutritious food may be more expensive than non-nutritious food, and this is a way to help ensure that children are getting a healthy lunch. It's a small but important victory. ... We have to look for those and we have to remember those."

    In addition to keeping the lunch program, the board is now training and paying two high school students and one college student to supervise activities and serve the free meals, which are available to kids and teens ages 18 or younger from Tuesday through Friday. The program starts Tuesday.

    Anthony Saavedra, 16, is one of the students who will be working at Callaghan Park.

    "I thought that would be a really good thing to do, helping kids who don't get enough to eat," Saavedra said.

    A senior at Pajaro Valley High School, Saavedra said he has experience taking care of kids as a camp counselor and a baby sitter for his brothers.

    More solutions offered

    While Johnson-Lyons was volunteering one solution, Margarita Cortez, executive director of Loaves and Fishes Inc., a nonprofit kitchen and food pantry in Watsonville, was texting City Manager Carlos Palacios to propose another.

    "I was watching (the meeting) on Community Television from home," Cortez said. "So, I started communicating that we were still around. I started hearing those comments that there weren't going to be any other programs around."

    Loaves and Fishes serves a free, made-from-scratch lunch at noon every weekday to adults and children.
    The lunch program at Marinovich Park also would have been canceled, but the city Public Works and Utilities Department, which wasn't as deeply affected by the budget cuts, volunteered to provide staffing. Marinovich Park will host a hands-on, environmental science workshop, where kids will have supervision working on activities designed to teach the basic principles of science.

    La Manzana Community Resources provides food for the Callaghan and Marinovich programs, as well as six more in Watsonville and five in Santa Cruz. But the Parks and Community Services Department was responsible for staffing the sites under their purview. With the budget cuts, the department couldn't afford to staff all four of its locations for the program.

    Brad Blachly, assistant director of the Parks and Community Services Department, said the 3 percent budget cut translated to about $108,000 for his department.

    Blachly said the drop-in program serves 35 to 60 meals a day, depending on the location. His department tried to be pragmatic when choosing which programs to cut.

    "We know Loaves and Fishes is right next door to Marinovich Park," Blachly said of the organization less than a block from Marinovich. "There are other options close by for children to get a meal."

    Continuing to feed those in need

    Thanks to the Public Works and Utilities Department keeping the Marinovich program alive, Loaves and Fishes still won't be seeing an extra spike in demand this summer. But the modest community kitchen, located in a renovated Victorian-style home at 150 Second St., is already busy. In the winter, when fewer people have work in agriculture, the kitchen serves 100 to 150 meals a day, said Cortez, Loaves and Fishes' director.

    Summer is normally the low season for hunger.

    "In 2009, we only saw 30 to 50 people in the summer," Cortez said. But Tuesday's lunch drew more than 90 diners.

    "We plan accordingly to meet that need," she said. "We just try to increase our fundraising, because we know that if we don't meet that need, our families will go without."

    Last year, Loaves and Fishes served more than 25,000 meals to about 500 individuals, Cortez said.

    Matilde Barrera, 34, is one of the regulars. She said Loaves and Fishes provides a sense of community, with many of the same people coming for lunch every day and the same volunteers serving.

    Barrera was at the head of the lunch line at noon last week with her 2-year-old son and husband for a hearty meal of beans, rice, quesadillas, salad, milk and abundant strawberries.

    "Where I'm from, in Michoacan (Mexico), there's none of this," Barrera said in Spanish. "They don't help people. That's why I came here."

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    At a glance
    Free summer lunches and activities for kids 18 or younger

  • Callaghan Park, 225 Sudden St., 12:30-1:30 p.m., Tuesday-Friday
  • Marinovich Park, 118 W. Second St., 12:15-1:15 p.m., Tuesday-Friday
  • La Manzana Community Resources 521 Main St., 12:15-1:15 p.m., Monday-Thursday
  • Neighborhood Services, 231 Union St., 12:10-1:10 p.m., Monday-Thursday
  • Ramsay Park, 1301 Main St., 12:15-1:15 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday
  • San Andreas, 295 San Andreas Road, 12:45-1:45 p.m., Monday-Thursday
  • YWCA, 340 E. Beach St., 12:30-1:30 p.m., Monday-Friday
  • Stonecreek Apartments, 300 Bree Lane, noon to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday

    Santa Cruz
  • Beach Flats, 133 Leibrandt Ave., noon to 1 p.m., Monday- Friday
  • Familia Center, 711 E. Cliff Drive, noon to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday
  • Boys & Girls Club Santa Cruz, 543 Center St., noon to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday
  • Santa Cruz Teen Center, 301 Center St., noon to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday
  • Boys & Girls Club Shoreline Middle School, 855 17th Ave., noon to 1 p.m., Monday-Friday