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News :: Environment & Food : Poverty & Urban Development

Coast Hotel backers pin defeat on Wormhoudt

March 29, 2005

Coast Hotel backers pin defeat on Wormhoudt

Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ — Supporters of the now-dead Coast Santa Cruz Hotel project say 3rd District county Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt secretly orchestrated opposition to the $100 million development plan months before going public with strong objections.

An August memo from her assistant e-mailed to two city planning commissioners detailed more than two dozen concerns "Mardi asked me to share with you," asking to withhold attribution to him or Wormhoudt.

The two commissioners later voted against the project.

Five months later, Wormhoudt went public with her opposition in a Sentinel op-ed in which she criticized the City Council for fostering a process for the project that "deeply divided" the community, and predicted it would "never come to fruition with so much opposition."

Former Mayor Scott Kennedy, a major proponent of the hotel and conference center, took issue with Wormhoudt for not being more open with her opposition and with her criticism of the City Council for not providing more time for public comment.

"What this memo demonstrates is that the 3rd District supervisor’s office was working to defeat the hotel conference center the whole time," Kennedy said. "And they were masking the fact that they were saying don’t tell anybody and don’t associate us with these comments."

Geoffrey Dunn, a Santa Cruz resident and local historian, labeled the memo "secret back-room government at its very worst.

"The 3rd District office has been secretly and covertly influencing City Council actions for years. It’s the big open secret about Santa Cruz city politics," Dunn said. "I’d say it’s about time for the 3rd District office to stay out of city politics and focus on the economic issues in the county."

Wormhoudt, whose supervisorial district covers most of the city of Santa Cruz, was out of town and unavailable to comment.

Andy Schiffrin, Wormhoudt’s assistant, said Wormhoudt declined to formally submit his concerns during the project’s public planning process, and instead preferred to make them available to interested parties.

"My background is in planning and I read most, if not all, the EIRs on projects that get done around the county," Schiffrin said. "That’s what the EIR process is all about, to raise those questions."

Supporters of the Coast Hotel project touted it as a major new tax source for the city.

The plan drafted by the city Redevelopment Agency and hotel owner Western Hotel Properties included tearing down the former Dream Inn on West Cliff Drive and replacing it with a larger oceanfront hotel connected to a six-level parking garage and 23,000-square foot conference center.

The Redevelopment Agency had pledged $30 million to the project, which included ownership of the parking garage and conference center building to be leased to the hotel owner.

The money, city officials said, would have been raised through a bond and repaid during the next 30 years with anticipated new annual tax revenue.

During the past year, the city has spent about $600,000 on bringing the project to this stage, including costs for planning permits and traffic studies, said Ceil Cirillo, director of the Redevelopment Agency.

However, opponents lobbied against the project because of its size, location, expected traffic impacts and financial risk.

In a concentrated effort to overturn the City Council’s narrow approval of the project, opponents launched a 30-day signature drive to put the issue to a citywide vote. Roughly 8,400 signatures, more than twice the required amount, were turned in to the City Clerk and sent to the county Elections Department for verification.

However, on Friday, Western Hotel Properties withdrew its plans because of the bitter divide the project had created in the community and results from a citywide poll that apparently showed marginal support for the project if it were to be voted on by residents.

In his Aug. 26 e-mail, Schiffrin highlighted at least 25 concerns from findings in the hotel and conference center’s draft environmental impact report.

The e-mail, which read, "We have a number of concerns with the draft environmental impact report that Mardi asked me to share with you informally to use as you wish. However, please do not attribute them to me or us," was sent to city planning commissioners Kaitilin Gaffney and Diane Louie, and former Mayor Celia Scott.

Schiffrin’s comments were copied nearly verbatim by city Councilman Ed Porter in his Sept. 23 response to the draft environmental impact report.

In their responses, Schiffrin and Porter both stated, "The two biggest issues with this project and the (draft environmental impact report) concern the aesthetic impacts and the traffic impacts," and "Unfortunately, the traffic analysis is less honest in its conclusions."

Porter said he gathered input from many community members, including Schiffrin, before submitting his response to the project.

"I think the comments are very astute and that’s why I went ahead and put them into the record," Porter said Monday. "Many of those comments I couldn’t write better myself. I had license to use them and that’s what I did."

Porter joined council members Tim Fitzmaurice and Emily Reilly in voting against the project in January and February when the council narrowly approved the $100 million project by a 4-3 vote.

Schiffrin said Porter had his permission to use the comments.

Wormhoudt went public with her project opposition in the Jan. 23 Sentinel op-ed piece, writing "I would urge the council to start the planning process over, with a far more inclusive question and a far more inclusive group of people working together to develop the answer."

Kennedy said Wormhoudt is entitled to her opinion of the project.

"I’m not saying she shouldn’t weigh in on the issues, but this lacked transparency," Kennedy said.

Planning commissioner Gaffney, who was on maternity leave when Schiffrin’s e-mail was sent in August, hardly remembers receiving it.

But she said it had no influence in her decision to vote against the project.

Gaffney and Louie were the two planning commissioners who opposed the hotel expansion plan on West Cliff Drive when the commission voted in January.

"In my case, I thought the project was so inconsistent with our General Plan," Gaffney said. "I don’t think you can equate (environmental) concerns with opposition. I don’t know if Mardi opposes the project or not."

Contact Shanna McCord at

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News :: Environment & Food : Poverty & Urban Development

Hotel plan dropped after survey

Posted on Sat, Mar. 26, 2005

Hotel plan dropped after survey

By David L. Beck

Mercury News

Plans for a beachside hotel and conference center in Santa Cruz were abruptly shelved Friday after a survey showed strong opposition to the project, which would have gone to a referendum later this year.

Jeff Eberle, president of Western Hotel Properties, sent an e-mail to city officials Friday saying the group had ``decided to withdraw from the proposed project to construct a new hotel, conference center and parking structure at the site of the Coast Santa Cruz Hotel.''

The news was greeted with satisfaction by opponents.

"The project is dead," said Bill Malone, spokesman for Santa Cruzans for Responsible Planning. "They should've done this survey six months or a year ago, and then we wouldn't have to go through all this baloney."

The new hotel would have replaced the aging complex often called by its original 1960s name, the Dream Inn, with a larger one, and added a conference center and parking garage. The city council in January committed to building the garage and conference center -- a $30 million bond issue -- and leasing it to the hotel operators.

But the council vote was only 4-3 in favor of the project, which still faced the hurdle of California Coastal Commission approval. When opponents quickly gathered more than 8,000 signatures to put it to a popular vote, the hotel owners, Western Hotel Properties, apparently began to have second thoughts.

A poll commissioned in early March "indicated that fully 71 percent of the community favors the development of a `hotel and conference center in Santa Cruz,'" noted the news release.

But according to one source familiar with the poll data, that number fell to 45 percent when people were queried about this particular project, with 41 percent against. The poll predicted a narrow victory in a referendum, according to the news release, which added, "Our intention is to find common ground. We do not seek conflict or confrontation."

Councilman Ryan Coonerty, who favored the project, said, "I think it's an election we could have won. It just would have been a very close election," leading to "a difficult time in the Coastal Commission."

The death of the project is a blow to those, including city officials and union leaders, who saw it as a way to generate revenue and create jobs.

"I think the long-term economic health of the city requires that we keep looking at a conference and hotel facility in the beach area," said Coonerty.

Opponents had called the proposal "massive." At about 260 rooms, it would have been about 90 rooms larger than the current hotel, while the four-story garage and conference center would have filled what is now a surface parking lot.

Opponents also criticized its design and influence on traffic in both the beach area and on the West Side. And as they did in the 1970s, when the city's progressives banded together to block a similar project on Lighthouse Field, they succeeded.

"That level of controversy is troubling to anyone who's putting a lot of resources into a project," said Councilwoman Cynthia Mathews. The hotel owners' share would have been nearly $70 million.

Malone said he was not surprised at the owners' decision.

"I thought when they realized that there was some opposition to it, the hotel owners would throw in the towel, and that would be an easy way out for the city council four," Malone said. "Now, we can start to figure out what's a good way to meet some of the goals they had hoped to obtain with this project" -- revenue, jobs and business.

Would his group support any such project near the beach?

"We haven't discussed what to do next," said Malone. But this one was "too big a hotel and in the wrong place."

Contact David L. Beck at or at (831) 423-0960.

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Commentary :: Civil & Human Rights : Government & Elections : Government Resources : Health & Drugs : Poverty & Urban Development : Technology

Florida vs. Texas: Jerry Brown on the death of a 6-mo.-old child taken off life support & the Terri Shiavo Case

Florida v. Texas
The death of Sun Hudson - a 6-month-old with a fatal genetic disorder who was taken off life support against his mother's wishes in a Texas hospital last week - adds some depth to the emotional debate over the fate of Terri Schiavo. The MSM are hanging on every twist and turn in the Schiavo case, and protesters have descended on Florida to denounce what they call "murder."

Wanda Hudson, Sun's mother, also considers her son to be a victim of murder. Just as Terri Schiavo's parents believe she could emerge from her vegetative state one day, Ms. Hudson thinks Sun could have defeated the odds with more time on a respirator. President Bush, who signed a bill to allow Schiavo's parents to fight for her life, is in an awkward position on this one.

From an editorial in the Concord Monitor:

On the same day President Bush interrupted his vacation to rush to Washington to sign the Schiavo bill, a Texas hospital removed the breathing tube keeping 6-month-old Sun Hudson alive. According to the Houston Chronicle, the hospital's action, the first of its kind, was made possible by a 1999 bill signed into law by Bush, then Texas's governor.

That law allows hospitals to discontinue life-sustaining care even when doing so runs counter to the wishes of the patient's guardians. Before ending the patient's life under the law Bush signed, however, two conditions must be met. Doctors must deem that there is no chance for recovery and the patient must be unable to pay the hospital bill for continuing care.

It is almost impossible to watch the news and not see Terri Schiavo's face or hear her name. But virtually no one knew of Sun Hudson, who, thanks to another law signed by George Bush, died yesterday. A Texas bioethicist defended the hospital's decision by saying that it was not killing but "stopping pointless treatment."

Many blogs are hosting discussions on this topic - most notably Daily Kos, Sue Bob's Diary and Lean Left. The very different treatment of Terri Schiavo in Florida from that of Sun Hudson in Texas raises questions about what principles are actually driving these actions:

1) A juridical right to life

2) Marital and family values requiring deference to the appropriate family member charged with end-of-life decisions

3) State authority versus federal, congressional or judicial decision making

4) Political exploitation of fundamentalist convictions

What do you think?

The President said: "This is a complex case with serious issues, but in extraordinary circumstances like this it is wise to always err on the side of life."

I think Wanda Hudson would agree.

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News :: Alternative Media

Knuckle Rap


Sept. 3, 2003

"So the FCC won't let me be," rapped Eminem in "Without Me."

Now come rumors that his smack-talking lyrics are the new theme song over at Santa Cruz's Free Radio after the FCC rattled their cage last week with the delivery of a not-so-nice warning letter.

"They gave us a notice of an unlicensed radio operation," says FR's Vinny "V Man" Lombardo, who reports that with just 10 days to respond, FR is trying to get City Council support--a move that would echo San Francisco's recent passage of a strongly worded ordinance encouraging the right of San Francisco Liberation Radio to broadcast and discouraging law enforcement from harassing the station, which got its own FCC knuckle rap in July.

Adding to Free Radio's rancor quotient is the fact that after broadcasting for eight years at 96.3FM, Christian Rock Channel Air One was granted a license this August at that exact same frequency, although it only put in an application this summer and had previously broadcast at 95.9FM.

"And now they've put up a directional antenna in Watsonville, which has cut off a big chunk of our listeners east of Morrissey Avenue. We get calls saying 'We miss you guys' and are we gonna move?" the V-Man reports.

Check out for details of what you can do to help.

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News :: Alternative Media

Spare the Air

Dec. 8, 2004

Spare the Air

Could there be a more fitting headliner for this week's Free Radio Santa Cruz benefit than U. Utah Phillips? No, no, there could not.

By Mike Connor

Airwaves stole from you and me
By a bunch of thieves called the FCC
They don't give a damn what we want and need
They've all caved in to corporate greed
And sold us out to the ruling class
Well the whole damn bunch can kiss my ...
--U. Utah Phillips, 'Talkin' NPR Blues'

The voice of dissent has long spoken loudest through music, so it doesn't come as much of a surprise that a political dissident and master storyteller like U. Utah Phillips would support pirate radio. But when the FCC raided Free Radio Santa Cruz (FRSC), Phillips took it personally.

See, after he was diagnosed with heart disease, Phillips stopped touring and poured his energy into a hobo radio show, Loafer's Glory, which FRSC broadcast locally. And when Phillips got a sudden urge to ride a freight train after a long hiatus, FRSC DJs Lee and John Malkin helped him get another taste, riding the rails with him and talkin' radio all the while.

"When I heard that the goons showed up and appropriated the station's equipment," Phillips fumes, "it was like somebody hurting my family, you know?"

This Friday, Phillips will headline a benefit show at the Rio Theatre to help his friends in their time of need. And he's not the only one championing the station, which has become kind of a cause célèbre. Amy Goodman covered the FCC raid on Democracy Now, after which support for FRSC has poured in from as far afield as Kentucky, where one coffee shop took to serving "pirate coffee" and is donating the proceeds to the station. But FRSC DJ Skidmark Bob says that most of the support came from the local community.

Specifically, a group calling itself Santa Cruz Radio Access Movement (SCRAM) has stepped up to oppose the FCC by broadcasting the FRSC web stream, which has been back online since the day after the raid.

"They got a transmitter and a computer and started broadcasting our stream," says Bob. "They're working with different technologies to make that a better signal and keep us running, experimenting with the new technology that's out there. There are folks that do it from vans, there are wireless types of situations--it's kind of like we're opening up a whole new way of doing pirate radio."

It's a happy situation for FRSC volunteers like Red Momma and her 10-year-old son, DJ Galaxy, who's now free to tear it up on the turntables without fear of being raided and charged with broadcasting without a license, since all they're doing is streaming content over the web, which is perfectly legal. The new arrangement is safer for the volunteers, and will allow them to accumulate equipment in what might someday grow up to be a comfortable, fully functional studio.

"It's almost like we've forgotten we're pirates," jokes Bob, who's grateful that SCRAM now shoulders the broadcasting burden. To Bob's knowledge, SCRAM has not yet been hassled by the FCC.

The Strength of Strings: Multi-instrumentalist Bob Brozman performs at the Free Radio Santa Cruz benefit Friday.

Meanwhile, John Sandidge and Snazzy Productions put together the benefit show featuring Phillips, along with Bob Brozman, The Devil Makes Three, Keith Greeninger and an 89-year-old folk singer named Faith Petric. Phillips specifically requested that Petric be on the bill so that a younger generation could get a taste of the essence of folk.

"She's going like a steam roller," says Phillips, "and she knows more songs than you'd think was humanly possible. I wanted the young people to greet one of the true activists."

The benefit will help FRSC replace the last of the basic necessities like microphones and tape decks confiscated by the FCC, which won't be returning the equipment.

"We passed the deadline to be able to do anything about it in the courts because we were more interested in continuing with the radio station than getting caught up in a big legal battle," says Bob. "Now we're slowly getting back to normal again."

Rally Round the Freak Radio Flag

Of course "normal" is a relative term, and is probably not the best word to describe the programming at FRSC. Coming up on its 10th year of operation in March, the station that has dubbed itself "Freak Radio" has always spoken its mind, no matter what was on it. Bob says the station grew out of an effort of Food Not Bombs, which had grown tired of being misrepresented by the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and, in 1995, decided to launch Pirate Radio as a counteroffensive.

"We wanted to become our own media," says Bob, who's been involved since the station's inception. "It's like Michael Franti said: 'Don't hate the media, become the media.'"

FRSC was the first station in the Cruz to broadcast Democracy Now, which they would record on cassette from KPFA and then play on the air. Serious political programs like Counterspin, Free Speech Radio and of course two daily airings of Democracy Now are now staples of the station, along with local political programming from George (Peace Talks), Emily Hell (Corporate Swine Radio) and Robert Norse (Bathrobespierre's Broadsides) and music shows with Bob, John Malkin and of course Lee, who hosts the Hobo Music Show.

For his part, Phillips likes what he sees going on in Santa Cruz.

"It's a good idea to visit Santa Cruz," says Phillips. "You got a civilized town there--I love the way the mayor went down there and hung up those FCC people, that the federal marshals didn't have a good time in Santa Cruz. That did tickle me."

He was also tickled by a folk music society in Michigan, whom he helped educate about microradio when their local NPR affiliate abruptly discontinued their folk music programming. And then there were the folks behind Free Vermont Radio who, when their public radio station arbitrarily decided to go all classical, encouraged listeners to send their pledges to an escrow account which would be held onto until the programmers came to their senses, which they eventually did.

"I'm a great believer in people's airwaves belonging to the people," says Phillips, who remains critical not only of the FCC selling out to corporate interests, but of NPR doing the same.

"By and large what I'm concerned about is too many of the NPR stations are taking what they use off of the satellite," says Phillips, and there's less and less and less local programming, less and less local public affairs and less and less local musicians."

Thus, another verse from his song "Talkin' NPR Blues," in which Phillips--true to his craft--uses comical imagery to align himself squarely with the DIY movement: "I said 'I love you'/ But if you blow it/ I'll sure as hell let you know it/ I'll knock the radio off the shelf/ Buy a transmitter and do it myself./ Whitebeard the Pirate."

Much like the old radio dramas for which Phillips remains nostalgic, his images often give a hungry imagination a root to chew on, even as they relay a subversive message of resistance.

"Mainly what I really like is the posture of resistance," says Phillips, "that this raid to these [FRSC] folks is not a disaster, it's a bump in the road. They understand how important what they're doing is, and they keep asserting the right to the people's property. They assess the consequences, then go ahead and do the work. They're completely admirable people."

This, from a 69-year-old legend who is still touring to pay the bills, despite health problems and a deep yearning to settle down and continue "Loafer's Glory." For now, he'll have to content himself with the prospect that his audio songbook, including 61 songs accompanied by stories about where they came from, will be produced and distributed with the help of the Indigo Girls next spring. Phillips will continue to tour once or twice a month, happy to see places he's played for years that he thought--before retiring from retirement--he'd never see again.

"We'll see how long I can go," says Phillips. "Right now I feel pretty good, and God knows it's the right time to be out there."

U. Utah Phillips, Bob Brozman, The Devil Makes Three, Keith Greeninger and Faith Petric perform on Friday, Dec. 10, at 7:30pm at the Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $21-$24; available at Etc. Etc. Etc., online at or call 831.479.9421.

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News :: Alternative Media

Merlin Walks the Plank

Jan. 12, 1999

Free Radio Santa Cruz DJ Merlin needs your help. While doing an interview with Live Wire on Jan. 4, Merlin said some derogatory things about lesbians and the porn industry. The radio station received complaints from a few offended parties, and Free Radio's management (yes, even pirate radio has management) fired him Jan. 10. Merlin doesn't have a mean bone in his body, and it was most likely that King Cobra was holding court when he said those stupid things. As Free Radio Santa Cruz's only local DJ who cares about local musicians, Merlin makes Santa Cruz bands feel as if they are important. Plus the streets of Santa Cruz are a lot safer with Merlin on the radio than sitting on a bench and chanting "Owner of a Lonely Heart" to every passerby. Call Free Radio Santa Cruz's voice mail at 427.4523 and tell them to bring back Santa Cruz's biggest, most engaging radio personality.

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News :: Alternative Media

Radio Activists

Jan. 19, 1999


Radio Activists

The recent dust-up at Free Radio Santa Cruz over the pirate collective's dismissal of the foul-mouthed DJ known as Merlin has overshadowed more pressing business matters.

The Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a vote for Jan. 20 on several proposals that would allow the licensing of low-power FM signals, such as the burning 40 watts put out by 96.3 FM. But the National Association of Broadcasters has been fighting the rule changes for years, and it has a lot of powerful friends.

One proposal allows the licensing of stations of up to 100 watts, but excludes stations like Free Radio Santa Cruz from applying for their own signals.

"We've proven this can work; we've risked our asses to bring the issue to their attention," says collective member V-Man. "But we're considered 'pirates' because we've never complied with the FCC." As a friendly reminder of this, an FCC goon showed up at the station's secret location Jan. 14 and served it with a "Notice of Unlicensed Radio Operation."

V-Man acknowledges that there are no easy solutions for how to parcel out signals. One would involve a bidding procedure, but that could price out the very people--low-budget broadcasters--for whom the low-power rules are being designed. V-Man admits that no one has any good ideas for a fair allocation system.

Radio Free Santa Cruz is pressing ahead with plans for a fundraiser Mar. 3 at the Vets Hall to mark the station's fifth anniversary. Meanwhile, the audio and video tapes--now making the rounds--of the Jan. 4 show that got Merlin booted are not flattering to the dumped DJ. Station members, making a distinction between free speech and intelligent speech, canned Merlin after a rant-fest that made even jaded Nüzzites blush.

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News :: Alternative Media

Free Radio Update

Jan. 19, 1999

You've killed your television, but you've still got Days of Our Lives on the radio dial. Disappointed with last week's NFU, Brian, a Free Radio Santa Cruz host, says the station is "strictly a collective" and "do not have a station manager," and that it was a consensus decision by the collective to let Merlin go, because he didn't follow station policy. Merlin did not attend the 15-person meeting on Jan. 9. While racy content generated some phone complaints on previous shows, this was not the basis for his dismissal, according to Brian. V-Man at Free Radio Santa Cruz reportedly was served with a citation from a FCC representative last Friday.

I saw the epic video of Merlin's last show. It is bizarre. There is some mild lesbian banter on the air, the bulk of which comes from the hammy mouth of Merlin's co-host, Hans Groper (who resigned on the air last Saturday). The video features an entertaining verbal tirade and door punching from another radio host after Merlin airs a confidential voice mail of that same radio host on the air.

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