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Coonerty’s goal: Keep Santa Cruz weird

Coonerty’s goal: Keep Santa Cruz weird


December 12, 2002
Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ -- Over the years, Bookshop Santa Cruz owner Neal
Coonerty has rattled some cages by creating Newt Gingrich barf bags
and selling Rush Limbaugh’s books for the price of baloney.
Now he’s fighting a one-man battle to “Keep Santa Cruz Weird.”
So far, he’s handed out dozens of homemade rainbow bumper
stickers with those very words. Everyone from street activists to
police have been trying to get their hands on them.
He even stuck one in the hands of Police Chief Steve Belcher. Next
he’s printing up T-shirts, which he says he’ll sell to benefit local street
Saying “Keep Santa Cruz Weird” is a kind of like saying, “Keep sugar
sweet” or “Keep television stupid.” But Coonerty, 56, said there have
been genuine threats to the city’s eccentricity, from out-of- control
housing prices to a City Council that could wind up “legislating (street
musicians) out of existence.”
Coonerty’s modest campaign has the support of Futzie Nutzel, an
ex-Santa Cruzan and former Rolling Stone magazine cartoonist who
thinks the town’s weirdness needs an overhaul.
Nutzel, who moved out of town in 1976 “because it was getting too
crowded,” says present-day Santa Cruz has a “different weird. Now
it’s in-your-face weird. Before, everyone was weird at home. Now
they’re weird on the street. ‘Weird’ is more of a veneer. ‘Weird’ used
to be a personal philosophy.”
Coonerty has urged the council to exempt street musicians from
newly expanded space restrictions downtown, keeping panhandlers 14
feet away from kiosks, benches, crosswalks and other spots.
The council decision Tuesday to reduce that setback to 10 feet for
musicians fell short of what Coonerty wanted. He’d asked for a return
to an older set of space restrictions ranging from 4 to 10 feet but
said the ruling struck him as a fairly good compromise.
Some may find it “weird” to see Coonerty out there with the stickers,
considering he helped create the city’s first “time and place”
restrictions on panhandlers in 1994. That made him unpopular with
street activists back then. Someone went as far as to smash
windows at his store.
He’s getting a thumbs-up from street musicians this time around,
including one named “Cosmic,” for telling the council its new space
rules have gone too far.
Coonerty’s gotten wacky before. He got an on-the-air tongue-lashing
from Rush Limbaugh in 1993 when he sold Limbaugh’s book, “See, I
Told You So,” for $5.99 a pound, the same price as “100 percent pure
baloney, with no additional charge for hot air or the incessant
He added a surcharge to that price, donating the difference to the
Santa Cruz AIDS Project and to the National Organization For Women.
His Gingrich barf bags included a message asking users not to make
the “mistake” of sending any used and soiled bags to Gingrich then
provided Gingrich’s address at the House of Representatives in
Washington, D.C.
Coonerty got his “weird” idea from a newspaper story about a Texas
man who launched a “Keep Austin Weird” campaign because he was
so overjoyed to hear a local radio station play Bing Crosby’s spine-
chilling rendition of “Hey Jude.”
Contact Dan White at dwhite (at)

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Why hasn't anyone asked Neil Coonerty how weird he wanted to keep Santa Cruz when Candi Jackson had her list?

No admission of a change of heart, no apologies for helping create these anti-weirdness laws, THUMBS DOWN for Coonerty from this busker.


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