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September 23, 2021

About Town, Week of Jan. 21

Friday, Jan. 25:

Tarmo Hannula: In the Santa Cruz Harbor this morning I watched a crew of Harbor Patrol personnel load up one of their boats with food, gift certificates, beverages and other treats — all donated food from local restaurants. Their mission was to boat across the Monterey Bay to the Coast Guard Monterey Station to hand over the goods to help them deal with the current government shutdown, now in day 35, the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

“This is our way of helping in difficult times,” said Don Kinnamon, senior deputy harbormaster with the Santa Cruz Port District. “We felt this was a good idea that would help build morale. It was a last-minute thing and it all just came together. We’re especially thankful for the Crow’s Nest restaurant and Cafe El Palomar for their generous donations.”

Kinnamon said the 22-mile trip would take about an hour.

Over at the Aptos Village Project the very first business to open their doors was the Sereno Group this week, a commercial and residential realtor. Coastal Regional Manager Gina Odom said she was excited to get into the new space and is looking forward to seeing the overall project further unfold.

Odom said the business, which is relocating from their previous spot on nearby Spreckels Drive, has 25 agents on board, along with two staff members. Odom said she was happy to learn that the Cat & Cloud Coffee Co. will soon be opening next door to her place. That business also has one location in downtown Santa Cruz in Abbott Square at 725 Front St. and at 3600 Portola Drive in Live Oak. They’re open 6 a.m.-7p.m. every day.

On San Andreas Road I saw several expansive strawberry farms blanketed with some kind of grassy cover crop. But on one farm I saw a group of about 25 field workers busy with the raised beds, most likely planting starters.

Yesterday our reporter Johanna Miller and I briefly walked through Conchita’s Ice Cream in Plaza Vigil to say hello to the owner, Conchita Gonzalez. She’s always upbeat and thankful for her career choice. She told us she’s been at it for more than two decades. The store, which faces East Beach Street, commonly features around 20 flavors of ice cream. That’s when she looked up at the clock in anticipation of the rush from Watsonville High students on their lunch break.

Out in Watsonville Plaza a public works crew was using a cherry picker extension bucket to break down the last remnants of the Holiday in the Plaza lighting and decorations. One worker said it takes about a week to complete. On Friday our editor, Erik Chalhoub, saw the live tree being towed off along Harkins Slough Road past our newsroom by the folks at Auto Care Towing of Watsonville. One worker, Clint Ramer, said they were hauling the tree out to Pinto Lake City Park to plant it. Their work, which involves an 80-ton rotator tow rig and a Low Boy Trailer, not only brings the tree into the plaza, but also hauls it off, all volunteer with no fees.

“Many of us here at Auto Care grew up in Watsonville and this is one way we can give back to our community,” Ramer said. “The citizens of Watsonville treat us with respect. We feel it is our responsibility to give back and help where we can.”

•••

Thursday, Jan. 24:

Tarmo Hannula: I was shocked to read in the New York Times this morning that Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi managed to temporarily scrub President Trump’s upcoming State of the Union, a rare move. She claims she did this because of security risks, since the government shutdown, set in motion by Trump, has now entered its 33rd day and includes the necessary security personnel to monitor the State of the Union event. I get the feeling we’re just in some bizarre holding pattern now as these folks try to come to some agreement on the proposed border wall or just amped up border security.

If you haven’t noticed our area sloughs are showing healthy signs of filling up from recent rains. I spotted a large flock of American white pelicans circling Harkins Slough this morning. Recently I saw about six white-faced ibis, most likely on one of their migratory stopovers. In Soquel Creek at Rio Del Mar State Beach along Moosehead Drive I saw about eight common mergansers, both male and female. The striking birds, with the reddish tufts, usually show up this time of year at that spot. The males are easy to distinguish in that they have large patches of white on their sides.

On my way into Watsonville this morning I heard that someone reported to 911 dispatchers that they saw a man in a camouflage jacket with some kind of rifle at Vista Point, north of Watsonville on Highway 1. Of course, the Sheriff’s Office took this very seriously and showed up quickly in four patrol SUVs. They promptly located a man and had him in handcuffs right away. A few minutes later Sgt. West told me that no gun was found and, after briefly questioning the man, they let him go and he drove off. While there I went to check out the several large informative signs stationed at the Vista Point overlook. They’re packed full of information about the people, land and sea of the Monterey Bay, complete with early day photos, diagrams, pictures of early day apple box and fish canning labels.

The signs are broken down like this:
• Monterey Bay: Lost at Sea. A depiction of various explorers from Europe that started charting the west coast and beyond, starting in 1521. It wasn’t until 1602 that Sebastian Vizcaino put Monterey Bay on the map.

• Bounty: Monterey Bay fishing boom and various industries including the California Powder Works. Blasting powder was quite the business in Santa Cruz in earlier times.

• Riches: The fertile Pajaro Valley.

• Sanctuary: Protecting the wild.

• Deep: California’s Grand Canyon (Monterey Canyon), first charted by James Alden in 1857 aboard the Coast Survey Steamship “Active.” The steep canyon walls measure a full mile in height from bottom to top.

• Ohlone: Dancing on the Rim of the World. This sign depicts the lives of the Native American Ohlone people that lived on the Central Coast, the tools, fishing techniques, food and clothing.

If you’re sailing south on Highway 1 sometimes, I think it’s worth at least a short visit to view these educational signs.

•••

Wednesday, Jan. 23:

Tarmo Hannula: My day started out in the endodontist’s chair in Los Gatos for a root canal on my lower right wisdom tooth. I can’t express how much I’ve been looking forward to this — the Novocain, drilling, x-rays: Bring it on — let’s party! At 3 p.m. today I’ll head to my regular dentist for the final step, the placement of a permanent crown. I’ve never had two dentist visits in the same day so I won’t bother to take off the party hat between visits. I must say the root canal guy did amazing work. I was back in my car inside of 50 minutes for my drive back over Highway 17. The root canal, by the way, ran close to $700. That means the doctor and his staff are bringing in around $700 an hour. And there were several other patients there as well. Wow!

It’s sure interesting to watch the national news about the huge ice and snowstorms blanketing parts of the country. Drastically low temps are sweeping through places like Michigan, Omaha, Illinois, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Kansas and even Birmingham, Ala. The weather folks are saying this is the second series of storms to freeze much of the Midwest and Northeast. About 115 million people are under some form of a winter alert in the U.S. Somewhere around 2,000 airline flights have already been cancelled and flight waivers are being handed out like candy. In Omaha a Southwest jet slid off the runaway while taxiing. No one was injured.

Meanwhile, the warming sun is out around the Central Coast bringing our high up to 64 degrees today; over the weekend it will top out at 70. Our overnight lows are around 43. I read that the snow level in the Sierra is at 110-115 percent of the norm.

As I rolled into Watsonville today I drove through the Pajaro Plaza Shopping Center at South Green Valley Road and Main Street. On one pronounced corner of the center is Corralitos Pizza, which offers 17 kinds of pizzas, salads and more. A sign out front reads “Locally Sourced.” Nearby, Applebee’s has a help wanted sign out front. I’ve seen these signs quite a bit lately in my travels. The Habit burger place on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz has one with this information added on: “Starting pay, $13.50 hour; move up to $15.50.” It strikes me as odd that the former Salvation Army thrift store in Pajaro Plaza has remained vacant for nearly a decade (except for the Halloween Headquarters that comes in for a few months around Halloween). It’s a huge place just sitting there largely empty. Meanwhile Firestone, Baskin Robbins, a self-service laundromat, Subway, Verizon, Big 5, a dollar store, Jack-in-the-Box and others seem to be holding fine.

Yesterday my editor, Erik Chalhoub, and I drove to Watsonville Fire Station II for a tour of their Measure G equipment and a chat with Chief Pablo Barreto about Measure G money going away in 2021. One amazing deal they got, among others, was the purchase of a “Type 3 wild land engine.” They got it used for $35,000, a piece of equipment that typically sells new for close to $450,000. They got it through some bizarre arrangement with Santa Clara Fire. It only has 40,000 miles. Good for Watsonville, a city that has not owned a Type 3 engine in more than two decades.

•••

Tuesday, Jan. 22:

Tarmo Hannula: Well, it’s day 32 of the partial government shutdown, the longest U.S. government shutdown in history. It appears no answers or solutions are coming about any time soon. Among other things, one key element that really has my attention is the weakening of the infrastructure surrounding the federal workers that are currently not working, meaning the restaurants, transportation, cafes, bars and other such businesses that largely thrive on regular visits by fed workers. I’ve heard numerous business owners say that their places have largely been gutted of customers.

Many families are now going to GoFundMe in a plea to solicit donations online to help put food on their tables. By now, you’ve probably heard of numerous nationally run parks (Yosemite, Pinnacles and Joshua Tree come to mind) where trash is piling up and visitors are heading off into the woods in search of nature’s restrooms. I read the people are now showing up at Joshua Tree National Park and chopping down the otherwise protected Joshua trees. And people are now reportedly hunting at Yosemite.

One thing that caught my attention with the difference between Pelosi and Trump is that she has mountains and decades of political experience and Trump has next to none. We’ll see.

Got word yesterday that there was a King Tide that would peak at 5 p.m. Monday. So my wife Sarah and I charged off toward Twin Lakes State Beach (end of Seventh Avenue in Live Oak) and boy were we surprised: It turned out to be a King LOW tide. Not nearly as dramatic, the low tide, none-the-less, was something worth witnessing. The beach was more than doubled in width.

Each year at these occurrences in nature there’s a string of wood pilings that are exposed by receding sand levels on the Twin Lakes beach. This year, however, dozens of such pilings are 2, 3, 4 and even 5 feet above the beach — incomparable with scores of past years. They make for interesting photos around sunset.

According to my longtime friend and historian, Sandy Lydon, the pilings once supported a few kinds of passenger rail service between the west side of Santa Cruz and the Esplanade in Capitola. The pilings at Twin Lakes date from 1903-4 when that line was built. That line was abandoned in 1924 with the proliferation of passenger busses. My suggestion, if you’re interested, is to go down there and park along Lake Avenue (it’s free). To get there, take the Soquel Avenue exit and head over Highway 1 and get to the top of Seventh Avenue, which is sandwiched between two gas stations. Go left toward the sea and make a right on Eaton Street from Seventh and then left on Lake. We usually park about halfway down to the beach along Lake and walk through the harbor to the shore. The pilings are visible off to the left; you can’t miss them. For me, the best time to get there is around 4:45-5 p.m. Those pilings are really dramatic in the orange glow of the sunset. Also, check out the huge shelf of sand carved out by the ocean all along the beach. In places 10 feet of sand has been eaten away!

By then, if you’re hungry or just want a coffee, there are three winners right there. Java Junction, we’ve found, is a fantastic spot to get a cappuccino and sit outdoors at one of their tables and watch the harbor traffic, the surf, and people enjoying the beach. For food, there is Café El Palomar next door. They offer a rich mix of Mexican cuisine at pretty good prices. If you’re into drinking, their pitchers of Margaritas are a good deal.

And, of course, there’s the Crow’s Nest, the old beach and harbor-side eatery since 1969. We’ve found their “Meal With a View” hard to beat. It’s around $10 or so and gives a selection of fish tacos, Tuscan chicken sandwich or their Hula burger. The clincher is this: it comes with one trip to their great salad bar, which is worth the $10 right there. That Meal With a View is only offered upstairs (and not in summer time) and comes with sweeping views of the sea and harbor. Don’t get erroneously trapped waiting with all the people downstairs because they’re waiting for seating on the ground floor. You can walk past them and up the stairs. Try to get a table near the fire pit if it’s a cold night.

Johanna Miller: I am always amazed at how many different specialty skills go into making our town run smoothly every day.

Today at around noon there was some work being done at the intersection of Green Valley Road and Freedom Boulevard. One lane was closed off. It looked like some workers were fixing and/or replacing a traffic light.

A lone man was being hoisted up into the air toward the traffic light in a small cherry picker. He shouted instructions down to the machine operator until he was situated in the right place to work on the light.

I noticed a handful of drivers and pedestrians watching the scene closely with interest. But there were others who seemed annoyed at the hold up, aggressively forcing themselves into the one remaining lane and coming pretty close to knocking over traffic cones.

As much as I don’t want to once again get up on my soapbox about bad drivers in Watsonville, I must at least say this:

Be careful around construction and utility workers!

Waiting one extra light is not that big of a deal. We might be a few minutes late to work or an appointment, but these workers’ safety is important. Without them tending to this equipment, traffic in these intersections would be even worse.

Further down Green Valley Road, I caught a short glimpse of an old farm truck turning onto Green Valley from Holohan Road. The truck was a brown-gold color, obviously a restored classic, with an enclosed wooden flatbed. Three dogs — possibly Border Collies and/or Australian Shepherds — were inside. They barked excitedly, running back and forth.

It was like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

I always enjoy driving on the outskirts of Watsonville, as I often come across quintessential farming scenes. It reminds us of how much of a role agriculture has in our city.

I wrote a piece about the subject in this month’s Focus on Agriculture section. You can read it here: pajaronian.com/article/opinion-connecting-with-agriculture-in-our-community.

My colleague Tarmo Hannula and I have a few possible story ideas for the next Focus on Agriculture, including taking a trip to the Agricultural History Project, located at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, to see what interesting pieces of equipment they are currently restoring and projects they are working on.

There’s a lot to see out there — just be patient when you get stuck behind a tractor!

•••

Monday, Jan. 21:

Tarmo Hannula: As you might imagine, we get heaps of communications in the newsroom, mail from our friendly letter carrier Leo, email, voice messages, texts on our smart phones, fliers and faxes. And not to forget the kind folks that walk through the door with something on their mind.

Friday we got a doozy. It came into our mailbox, a magazine called “Liberty; The Front Line of Faith,” a religious mag. for Jan/Feb. 2019. Besides an embarrassing typo on the front cover (of all things!), which read: “Freedomof Conscience,” it was simply that, another religious piece in the mail. But what got our attention is this: It was addressed to Frank Orr! While we get things addressed to a host of our previous editors, writers and such, Orr, our former editor, died in 1985 — 34 years ago. Wow. We’re convinced these folks are still using a Rolodex. This is by no means a complaint; we’re glad they’re still thinking of us.

On Sunday night, despite words from local meteorologists that the sky would be blotted out by cloud cover, my wife Sarah and I got several long unobstructed views of the lunar eclipse right from our front yard. Granted, several patches of clouds wandered past, entirely covering the moon. But then they’d move on, opening a window for the drama in the sky. It was called the super blood wolf moon and lasted for more than an hour. Lucky for me, there were several commercial jets on approach to the San Jose Airport right over Santa Cruz. I was able to get a couple photos with the long colorful streaks of the jets (thanks to long exposures on a tripod) right below the eclipsed moon. It was a very rewarding evening, clouds and all.

I’ve made it a habit now of going to the Pajaro Valley Certified Farmers’ Market each Friday after work. I almost always meet folks there, see long time acquaintances, touch base with police, business owners and so on. I also regularly buy one or two bunches of flowers, most recently from Santa Rosa Flowers on the Union Street side of the market. She always has little bunches of mums for $3 or clusters of sunflowers for $4. Among other things, it always gives Sarah a lift when I walk through the door with flowers in hand. Sarah always has flowers around the house and we’ve grown accustomed to enjoying the cheer that they offer.

I ran into City Councilman Felipe Hernandez at the market. He said he commonly buys peaches, plums and an occasional basket of strawberries there. Then I ran into Jesus Madrigal, manager of the market, and he said he’s excited about possibly purchasing a new stage and sound system for the market for bands to have a more pronounced spot to perform.

Ivan’s Baked Potatoes always has a line of customers like the roasted corn booth. Of course, the Kettle Pop (popcorn) runs a popular business as well. I bought three artichokes and some yellow onions before heading home to Santa Cruz.

If live theater is your cup of tea, you might look into reservations for the annual “[email protected]” at the Center Stage Theater in downtown Santa Cruz. Sarah and I went Friday and really enjoyed their presentation of ten, 10-minute plays. They have two groups of plays: Night A and Night B. We saw the latter and recommend it. Info can be found at sccat.org. The plays run through Feb. 3.

There was a large fire that roared into the early morning darkness on the 400 block of East Lake Avenue Saturday. Flames largely consumed a detached garage and burned into a tree. No injuries were reported and the cause is still under investigation. Watsonville Police ended up closing down East Lake to allow firefighters the room to spread their gear out and operate more safely.

Erik Chalhoub: I recently stopped into the Friends of the Watsonville Public Library’s bookstore on the first floor of the main library.

Every time I visit the library, I always make it a point to visit the bookstore on my way out to check on the selection. And it’s always changing.

The small cranny where the bookstore is located is filled to the brim with books, magazines, movies and other materials, from thrillers, to fiction, romance, fitness and more. Everything is in such pristine condition, and the best part? Hardcover books are $1, while paperbacks are 50 cents.

I’ve mentioned in a previous article that I never heard about the bookstore until I attended a Friends of the Watsonville Public Library meeting in early 2015.

I’ve bought gems such as “The Waste Lands,” the third installment in Stephen King’s stellar “The Dark Tower” series, for 50 cents, and I’ve also found the entire “Lord of the Rings” series on paperback for $1.50.

Proceeds support the Friends in its mission to benefit the library and its many resources.

•••

For last week’s About Town installment, visit pajaronian.com/article/about-town-week-of-jan-14

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