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.

Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at

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.

Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at

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."

Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm at

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
  • Monday, June 24, 2013

    This ran on the front page of the Sunday paper on June 24. My first A1 centerpiece for the Sentinel.

    Watsonville's growing program keeps kids reading all summer

    Click photo to enlarge
    Emily Hernandez shows off her cupcake thursday at the Watsonville Public Library. ... ( Dan Coyro )
    WATSONVILLE -- For Leticia Valdivia and flocks of other parents, summer has long presented a struggle to keep kids engaged in reading and learning, above television and games.

    Valdivia said curiosity drew her into the Watsonville Public Library. She happened to arrive in the middle of drop-in craft time for preschool kids, a weekly event that's part of the library's Summer Reading Program. She signed up both her kids for the program and they sat down at a table with craft supplies and books.

    "I need a place to keep him motivated," Valdivia said of her 6-year-old son. "And, for me, the library's the best place for that."

    The decades-old tradition of summer reading programs at public libraries continues to grow and thrive in Watsonville, in step with the young community it serves.

    The library offers free, bilingual programs for kids and teens, and participation is booming for both.

    The library has grown, too.

    Located in the Watsonville Civic Plaza, the public library occupies two floors of spacious rooms with high ceilings, large windows, cheery light and comfortable chairs. Even the 110,000 volumes have room to spread out. The space was designed to accommodate at least 40,000 more, said the library's director, Carol Heitzig, and most shelves in the children's section have empty space for the collection to expand.

    "They said, 'It's too big! Why'd you build it so big?'" said Hannah Clement, the librarian for the young adults section, recalling the reactions of first-time patrons of the new location, where the library has been since 2008.

    "I asked them, 'Well, what do you think Watsonville's going to be like in 20 years?'" Clement said. "We didn't build a library for this year, we built a library for 20 or 25 years from now."

    Demographically, the city is unusually young, with 31.6 percent of the population younger than 18, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, compared with just less than 25 percent for the rest of California and 24 percent nationwide.

    Those numbers mean not only that Watsonville can expect to keep growing in coming years, but also that a lot of kids are looking for something to do.

    "If they don't have anything better to do, that's when they start to get in trouble," Clement said of her specialty age group.

    In the past few years, participation in the teen program has increased about 50 percent.

    About 90 teens have signed up for this summer's program. A variety of events and prizes, including a Kindle Fire, paid for by the nonprofit Friends of The Watsonville Public Library, help keep them motivated and engaged. But the teen group can still be a tough audience.

    "When teens sign up, being teens, I know I might never see them again," Clement said. "I give them a free book, so I know I've put a book in their hands."

    The children's program, with activities designed for kids from 6 months old to 11 years old, tends to be an easier sell.

    Susan Nilsson, the children's librarian, said about 300 kids in that age range already are signed up, and she expects 400 to 500 registrants before the program ends July 26.

    "No matter what they read, it helps keep up their skills," Nilsson said. "I recommend comic books. They have great vocabulary."

    The activities offered are frequent and varied, so turnout depends on the event and the day.

    Upcoming events include a reading and activities with Deborahlise Mota and Ruth Mota, authors of the book "Don't Bug the Bugs" on Wednesday, and performances by the Banana Slug String Band on July 17, and Boswick the Clown on July 23.

    Many other events recur weekly, including bilingual story times and reading buddies sessions with volunteers from Youth Now.

    Nilsson said about 40 kids usually come to the drop-in, preschool craft time, from 10:30 to noon Thursdays.

    "My favorite thing to do is arts and crafts," Alexcia Thomas-Martinez, 6, said as she happily drew a crayon self-portrait on the back of her paper cupcake craft.

    Alexcia and her younger brother, Izaya, 5, frequent the library with their grandmother.

    Newcomers are always welcome in the Summer Reading Program. There are no required meeting times and readers can sign up at any time during the summer.

    Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at

    If you go
    Summer Reading Program events for children

    All events are free. All are at the Main branch of the Watsonville Public Library, 275 Main St., Watsonville, or the Freedom branch of the Watsonville Public Library, 2021 Freedom Blvd., Freedom. Events that require pre-registration and are already full are not listed.


    One-time events
    Wednesday: An author event for all ages, 'Don't Bug The Bugs.'6:30-7:30 p.m., Main branch
    July 3: Pajama Storytime: Stuffed Animal Sleepover! A bilingual, all-ages event. Bring a stuffed animal. 6:30-7:30 p.m., Freedom branch
    July 9: Storyteller Olga Loya. A bilingual, all-ages event. 6:30-7:30, Main branch
    July 16: Water is SO Delicious. Meet the Water Drop, play fun water games and take home a free, reusable water bottle. Ages 5 and older. 11 a.m. to noon, at the Main branch. 1-2 p.m., at the Freedom branch
    July 17: Banana Slug String Band. An all-ages event. 6:30-7:30 p.m., Main branch
    July 19: Fruit and Vegetable Hat Making. An all-ages event. Noon to 2 p.m., Main branch
    July 23: Boswick the Clown. An all-ages event. 6:30-7:30 p.m., Main branch
    July 24: Play With Your Food. Making art with fruits and vegetables. An all-ages event. 6:30-7:30 p.m., Freedom branch
    Ongoing events
    Drop-in Preschool Craft Time: Drop in, socialize and make a simple craft. Ages 2-5. 10:30 to noon, Thursdays through July. Main branch
    Reading Together Time: An event for kindergarten through fifth grades. 2-4 p.m., Wednesdays through July. Main branch
    Reading Buddies: Volunteers from Youth Now will be at the library to read to children in July. Ages 5 to 8. 1:45-2:45 p.m., Mondays in July only, at the Main branch. 1:45-2:45 p.m., Wednesdays in July only, at the Freedom branch.
    Bilingual Laptime: Stories, songs and activities. An event for ages 6 months to 24 months. 10:30 a.m., Wednesdays through July. Freedom branch
    Bilingual Toddler Time: Stories, songs and activities. An event for ages 2 to 4 years. 11:30 a.m., Wednesdays through July. Freedom branch
    If you go
    Summer Reading Program events for teens

    All events are free. All are located at the Main branch of the Watsonville Public Library, 275 Main St., Watsonville, or the Freedom branch of the Watsonville Public Library, 2021 Freedom Blvd., Freedom. Events that require pre-registration and are already full are not listed.


    Natural Beauty: Use grocery items to make your own body products. 2-4 p.m., Thursday at the Freedom branch. 2-4 p.m., July 11 at the Main branch, second floor.
    Smoothie Party: Learn to make healthy, delicious smoothies. 2-4 p.m., July 18 at the Freedom branch. 2-4 p.m., July 25 at the Main branch, second floor.
    Movie Nights: 6-8 p.m., Wednesdays. Main branch, second floor. 'Ristorante Paradiso,' anime, Wednesday, 'Soylent Green,' 1970s horror film, rated PG, July 10 and 'Charlie and The Chocolate Factory,' comedy, rated PG, July 24

    Saturday, June 22, 2013

    Santa Cruz father, baseball coach fights brain cancer

    Click photo to enlarge
    Kate Doan nuzzles her 3-month-old son Hudson as while she rests outside of the Studio 831 gym in...
    SANTA CRUZ -- This weekend, Nick Doan gets to take a break from his second round of radiation therapy and enjoy a community benefit organized in his honor by doting, lifelong friends in his Westside community.

    A construction worker and beloved baseball coach at Santa Cruz High School, Doan, 33, has spent the past two months fighting an aggressive, inoperable form of brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme.

    Doctors discovered the tumor when Nick started having seizures about a month after his wife, Kate, gave birth to their second child. The cancer first appeared three years ago, in Nick's left frontal lobe. He went through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to stop it. Now, another tumor is growing in an area of the brain used for language. Doctors don't want to operate and risk leaving Nick unable to communicate.

    "On the lighter side, he's made it three years, and most people don't," Kate said with a tense smile, while nursing her baby boy, Hudson. "So, I don't underestimate him for anything."

    In the face of a daunting diagnosis, the family's outlook is one of strength and positivity. It's impossible not to see that in Kate as she sits at a table in the shade outside Studio 831, a Westside gym where she exercises and where Nick's benefit will take place.

    Paige Nutt Smith, a lifelong friend of both Nick and Kate, owns the gym, and it's also where Kate, 34, does her daily CrossFit workout. CrossFit involves a constant variation of functional movements, from Olympic weightlifting to cardio to gymnastics exercises.

    Even with a baby in her arms, she looks more like a professional athlete than a woman who gave birth in March.

    Normally, Kate works as a per-diem nurse, filling in open shifts when full-time nurses can't. But while taking care of Nick, plus their 5-year-old daughter and an infant, she hasn't been able to work. The Doans are now depending on help from friends and family and Emergency Medi-Cal insurance.

    "I tried to get private insurance for him a couple of years ago," Kate said. "But with his history, they just basically laugh at you."

    Two weeks ago, Nutt Smith and another close friend, Nicole Carter, came up with the idea to hold a benefit to raise money for the Doans and to bring the community together around them.
    The women said they've been touched by the community's outpouring of support.

    Businesses have donated numerous items for the raffle and silent auction that will be part of Sunday's event, including massages, haircuts, wine, kiteboarding lessons, skateboards, rounds of golf and stays at the Hilton and Hotel Paradox. The website Nutt Smith set up for people to donate to the family has brought in more than $13,400 from 130-plus donors.

    Carter and Smith gushed about Nick's contagious smile, dry sense of humor and passion for his community and for children.

    "He's the guy who will introduce himself to you and give you the handshake before anyone else will," Carter said.

    The past two weeks have been a blur of planning for her and Nutt Smith. They've been promoting the benefit with fliers at local businesses and social networking.

    "I just want people to come who want to be here," Kate said. "It'll be perfect however it is. It could be five people or it could be 105."

    Carter said more than 1,100 Facebook invites have gone out and 111 people have given their virtual word that they would come.

    With CrossFit workouts, a kids' obstacle course, beer and Jason Williams, of the local band Ribsys Nickel, as master of ceremonies, the three women are hoping the event will help keep up the positive energy Kate and Nick fill their lives with.

    "This isn't an, 'Oh, I'm so sad,' situation," Kate said. "This is a very tough and tragic situation, but we're going to make it."

    Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at

    If You Go
    Benefit for Nick Doan
    WHAT: Benefit event for Nick Doan, a local man who is fighting an aggressive type of brain cancer. The event will include CrossFit workouts for all ages and levels, an obstacle course workout and a bounce house for kids, a barbecue, beer, a silent auction and a raffle.
    WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. CrossFit workout for all ages and all levels at 10. Advanced CrossFit workout at 11. Obstacle course for kids at 11:30. Barbecue and beer to follow.
    WHERE: Studio 831, 2351 Mission St., Santa Cruz
    COST: $40 donation for one or two workouts, a hat, barbecue lunch and beer; $25 donation for one or two workouts and a hat; $20 donation for one or two workouts; $15 donation for barbecue lunch and beer.
    DETAILS: Email

    Thursday, June 20, 2013

    Santa Cruz County police officers run with Special Olympics torch

    Click photo to enlarge
    Lt. John Hohmann (left) lights the torch for Shannon Murphy (right) during the... ( SCS )
    SCOTTS VALLEY -- Seven volunteers from the Scotts Valley Police Department took off running Wednesday afternoon, bearing what they call the "torch of hope" for the Law Enforcement Torch Run. The Special Olympics fundraiser has raised more than $50,000 for the program in Northern California this year.

    With officer Michael Birley, 44, carrying the torch, the runners, including Chief John Weiss, took the last leg of the day's relay -- a seven-mile stint from the Santa Cruz Hilton in Scotts Valley to the Glenwood Fire Station.

    The torch started in Watsonville on Wednesday morning. Police officers from Watsonville, Capitola, Santa Cruz and UC Santa Cruz joined officers from the CHP, California State Parks, Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office and the District Attorney's office to deliver the flame to the Scotts Valley team.

    The relay began June 14 in Tulare County and, after being carried by more than 500 law enforcement personnel, will finish at the University of California Davis on June 28. The arrival of the torch will mark the official start of the 2013 Special Olympics Northern California Summer Games. The games will take place June 28-30, with more than 700 athletes competing in aquatics, bocce, tennis and track and field.

    The torch run is the largest single fundraising effort for Special Olympics Northern California, which serves more than 14,000 adults and children with developmental disabilities throughout the year. Law enforcement personnel give a $25 donation to run in the event and can collect additional donations.

    Wednesday, June 19, 2013

    Santa Cruz nat. history museum gears up for kids' summer events

    SANTA CRUZ -- The Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History will continue its weekly story hours on Thursday with a baby birds-themed gathering, and will launch its biweekly Summertime Saturdays program this weekend with a day devoted to snakes.

    The museum hosts Natural History Story Time, or "Nat Time," for short, every Thursday afternoon with a different theme every week. Summertime Saturdays are every other Saturday, beginning this week, with the final event on Aug. 10.

    During the rest of the year, Saturdays are for Families in Nature, a field trip program. In the summer, the program changes gears and hosts families on museum grounds, usually drawing about 200 guests over the course of the day. Every event has a different theme, but the museum's Education Manager Deborah McArthur said each is a festival-type event, with outdoor activities including bubbles, sidewalk chalk and an ice cream stand starting when the museum opens at 10 a.m. in addition to stories, crafts, music and other theme-specific activities starting at 11 a.m.

    "Summertime is the major season for our family programs," McArthur said. "We want people to have the opportunity to come together and celebrate nature regularly."

    Nat Time, which started last spring, runs throughout the year, but summer is the program's biggest season, McArthur said. The program often moves outdoors at the end of the half-hour session for topical exploration of the nearby beaches.

    "It's nice for people who come regularly," McArthur said of Nat Time. "It's always something different."

    This week's baby birds themed story time will include tours of the museum's nest exhibit and nest-building.
    Nat Time is scheduled for every Thursday of the summer except July 4.

    The city used to fund the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History, but stopped in 2009. The museum now operates entirely as a community-funded, nonprofit and depends on donations, entrance fees and membership fees, as well as volunteer docents.

    The museum will hold a docent training session from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday. The training is open to anyone interested in becoming a docent. Volunteers can also sign up to help with a variety of events on a one-time-only basis at or by calling 831-420-6115, ext. 15.

    Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at


    WHAT: Families in Nature: Summertime Saturdays. Family-oriented, educational events at the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History.
    WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturdays, June 22, July 13, July 26, Aug. 10.
    WHERE: 1305 E. Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
    COST: Free with admission, which costs $4 for adults, $2 for seniors, and is free for museum members, kids and teens younger than 18.

    WHAT: Natural History Story Time
    WHEN: 3:30 to 4 p.m. Thursdays, except July 4
    WHERE: 1305 E. Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz
    COST: Free with admission, which costs $4 for adults, $2 for seniors, and is free for museum members, kids and teens younger than 18.

    Sunday, June 16, 2013

    I had so much fun reporting this story, touring the beautiful greenhouses and getting to spend some time with the community. That's what it's all supposed to be about, right?

    Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers tour shows off local floral economy

    Click photo to enlarge
    Shaz Lint of the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, Sylecia... ( Dan Coyro )

    WATSONVILLE -- The Monterey Bay Greenhouse Growers Open House launched its fourth annual greenhouse tour Friday with an amateur floral design competition among four spirited, local politicians and businessmen.

    Watsonville Mayor Lowell Hurst won the competition and later declared, "I'd rather cut flowers than the city budget."

    Local was the theme of the event, which continues Saturday when six area greenhouses open their doors for free public tours of the farms where they grow roses, succulents, edible flowers and more.

    Even with a diverse and viable local greenhouse industry, 80 percent of cut flowers in the U.S. are imported, with the majority coming from Colombia and Ecuador, according to Kasey Cronquist, chief executive officer of the California Cut Flower Commission based in Watsonville.

    "We're trying to teach people about the field-to-vase relationship and that not all flowers are created equal," Cronquist said. "We're trying to let people know they have a choice."

    Consumers have more than one choice for local flowers. California boasts 225 cut flower growers, providing an annual economic benefit of $10.3 billion to the state, Cronquist said. Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are home to $700 million worth of cut flower activity.

    "If people just knew where flowers came from, I think that number would be a lot bigger," Cronquist said.


    Every day, seven to 10 freight planes loaded with cut flowers land in the U.S. from South America, Cronquist said. In preparation for Valentine's Day, 35 planes arrive daily. And local farms aren't the only things that suffer.

    The carbon footprint from those planes full of flowers is part of the reason author and gardening expert Debra Prinzing advocates staying local for flowers.

    Prinzing said there is often no price difference between a bouquet shipped from New Zealand and sold in a grocery store and one grown here and sold at a farmers' market.

    "Americans are so price focused that we want to buy cheap flowers because we don't think they last very long in the vase," Prinzing said. "The reason we don't think they last long is because we've been disappointed by flowers that are imported. If you buy local flowers, you are getting flowers that were cut yesterday or today, so they last a lot longer."

    In Prinzing's book, "The 50 Mile Bouquet," she discusses the resurgence of American flower farming, an industry with a rich local history.

    Watsonville farmer George Marciel's family has lived the rise and recent decline of that industry. His great-grandfather was the first farmer to grow roses commercially in California.

    Marciel said Pajaro Valley was home to more than 100 rose growers 30 years ago. Now, two remain.

    A fourth-generation rose propagator, Marciel is responsible for selecting which new varieties of roses will be grown at California Pajarosa Floral, one of the greenhouses on Saturday's tour. Each year, more than a hundred different genetic samples arrive from breeders in Italy, France, Germany, Holland and New Zealand. Marciel monitors them and selects varieties based on factors such as color and disease-resistance. This year, he said he chose three new varieties to clone and grow. Some years, none make the cut.

    "It's an art, and some people never figure it out," Marciel said.

    Thursday, June 13, 2013

    There's nothing like writing a happy ending like this one. (And getting to do some follow-up work — see my previous post.)

    Former Harbor teacher missing in Minnesota, found alive

    Click photo to enlarge
    Contributed Mari Ruddy, 48, was reported missing from her St. Paul, Minn., home Tuesday.... ( SCS )

    EDINA, Minn. -- Mari Ruddy, a woman with Santa Cruz County connections who had been missing in Minnesota since Tuesday, was found unconscious but alive on Thursday, according to police there.

    Ruddy has Type 1 diabetes and her family worried that she did not have her pump, insulin or other supplies with her when she went missing early Tuesday afternoon. A missing persons report was filed that night, according to St. Paul police.

    Late Thursday morning, a man noticed Ruddy reclined in the driver's seat of her car in the parking lot of a park in Edina, a first-ring suburb of St. Paul, according to Kaylin Martin, public information officer for the Edina Police Department. The man said he thought she was napping but called police when he saw her there four hours later, at 2:45 p.m.

    "There's no foul play suspected," Martin said.

    But some questions remain unanswered.

    "We are not 100 percent sure (how long she had been unconscious in her car)," Martin said.

    Ruddy was taken to Fairview Southdale Hospital in Edina, where she remains. Hospital officials could not comment on her condition, but a statement was posted from Ruddy's family early Thursday evening on the website that she was stable in the intensive care unit.

    The website, which was established to coordinate volunteers to search for Ruddy and spread the word about her disappearance, first displayed this post that Ruddy had been found on Thursday afternoon: "Mari has just been found unconscious, but alive. We will provide more details as soon as we can. Privacy is requested until more information can be shared. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts."

    Ruddy is the founder and director of TeamWILD, a company that supports and coaches people with diabetes who want to be physically active. She is an avid cyclist and triathlete.

    According to her LinkedIn profile, Ruddy worked as a Spanish language teacher at Harbor High School from 1988 to 1994 and was an assistant principal at Aptos High School from 1994 to 1998. She worked at Watsonville High School as a conflict resolution consultant from 1999 to 2001 before moving to Denver. She has lived in St. Paul for less than a year.

    Follow Sentinel reporter Ketti Wilhelm on Twitter at