In the News

Santa Cruz City Council OKs more desal spending, bullfrog ban

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1/25/12

SANTA CRUZ - The City Council on Tuesday approved a fifth contract with a San Francisco-based consultant amid ongoing objections from opponents of a seawater desalination plant.

Water Department Director Bill Kocher said the $95,000 contract for Kennedy/Jenks would cover work on the project's Environmental Impact Report expected in April, including responding to public comments and questions about the analysis. The cost will be shared with the city's desalination partner, Soquel Creek Water District.

Not including Tuesday's agreement, the city has approved contracts with the firm totaling $1.48 million since the 2009 fiscal year, Kocher said. The firm has billed the city and Soquel Creek Water District for $1.35 million so far, Kocher said, denying criticism the consultant had caused cost overruns.

"Once again you're being asked for a blank check," said Ron Pomerantz, a 2010 council candidate who opposes the plan.

Tuesday, the council also approved a Water Department's request to ban the sale and possession of live American bullfrogs in an acknowledgement that the invasive species threatens the California red-legged frog and spreads disease. A staff report said several pet stores, "the primary center of live bullfrog commerce in Santa Cruz," reported that the ban would not substantially hurt business.

Also Tuesday, the council, under direction from a state law passed in 2007, approved the Public Facilities zoning as one where emergency shelters can be established as a permitted use not requiring a public hearing. The zone includes government-owned lands only, including schools.

The ordinance, required of all cities and counties, also identifies the Harvey West industrial area and a former cannery site in Seabright as zones where such shelters, offering a bed for six months or less, can be established though a conditional use permit. The city would be required to find those plans are compatible and not a nuisance to the surrounding neighborhood before granting the permit, a process that would allow for a public hearing.

"No matter where emergency shelters go, people will be concerned about them," Councilwoman Lynn Robinson said.

The council began Tuesday's meeting by watching a video of Mike Tomasi, a former homeless veteran and longtime character at council meetings, giving one of his classic speeches criticizing city leaders. His speeches also often offered praise and ended with "all the love I can throw at you."

Tomasi, who died Jan. 16, sat on the front row of most daytime council meetings, and the city placed a large bouquet of flowers at his seat. In a tribute to how Tomasi often greeted them, council members stood in unison to salute the flowers, offering Tomasi a final "Love ya."

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