Friday, Jan. 11:

Tarmo Hannula: On Thursday evening the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture held its monthly mixer at Caliber Collision, the auto body repair place on Walker Street. I met Lisa Mendez, field account executive-Silicon Valley, and she told me the chain business operates in 35 states with 1,000 locations, with 200 of them in California, between Burlingame and Seaside. The company recently merged with Abra, another body repair business. One item that caught my attention, Lisa told me, was that the business has special arrangements for veterans that are interested in getting work at Caliber. Their corporate office is in Texas. The Watsonville location has 13 employees.

Chamber CEO Shaz Roth said she was excited about Caliber opening their doors in Watsonville. She said the overall climate in the Pajaro Valley business community really had her attention.

“I’ve never really seen this before in our area,” Roth said. “It’s not only new businesses, these are new businesses that the community can enjoy. Fruition and Staff of Life — the whole East Lake Shopping Center is going to be a total destination. The more people I tell about this, the more excited they get; and that includes Santa Cruz people. Staff of Life is going to be a huge turning point. I’m learning that things like their cheese department is going to grab people from Monterey and Carmel because they have a huge following down there.”

Roth said the Staff crew did their homework by touring the Monterey area and asked a lot of questions about customer needs and that equation will be folded into the mix of what the business will offer.

Roth also mentioned a new hard cider business that “just got their keys yesterday” for a new location on Hangar Way.

“These businesses that are coming in are offering experiences for people to come and purposely visit Watsonville,” Roth said. “It just took a couple of businesses to take that leap of faith and enjoy the success and now others are following. If you go to Corralitos Brewing, Ella’s at the Airport, or Elkhorn Slough Brewing Co., these places are busy all the time: It just shows that Watsonville is hungry for places like this.”….

On Friday morning I was driving on San Andreas Road when a giant jet passed low overhead. I thought I was witnessing a crash in the making; it was terrifying. As it sank lower and lower I parked, grabbed my camera, snapped on a long lens and grabbed a few shots before it disappeared over a stand of eucalyptus trees. Then I realized it was on a final approach to Watsonville Municipal Airport.

So I raced over to the airport and there it was in front of the terminal, a big green and blue private Gulfstream G5 with the lettering “Sexy Jet” on its side. Someone there told me a woman got off the jet and was spirited away in a private vehicle. Sexy Jet’s web page states that they mostly cater to celebrities and that flights start at $21,000. So of course I booked a round-trip ticket to Paris right away for my wife and I and anyone else that wants to tag along. I also noticed a Gulfstream G4 parked right behind the G5. ….

A few weeks ago I wrote a front-page article about Watsonville Fire Division Chief Rob Ryan retiring after 41 years in the fire-fighting world. When I opened the paper and scanned the article I was stunned to learn that the last sentence had somehow been lost. I must have not hit “save changes” when I added that last sentence. It bothered me because it was my favorite line in the whole darn story: “Following the 911 call down early Friday morning, Ryan hung his helmet up for the final time, handed in his radio, climbed into his private vehicle and drove off into something altogether new.”….

The famous and long-term TV news anchor Dan Rather once said that a person can destroy their career, relationship, marriage, or reputation by tapping one single button on your computer: Send. He went on to stress the importance of proofreading and making damned sure that what you’re sending is what you really want to send. He even added that one single typo (like public vs. pubic — a mistake I’ve made) can turn on you horribly….

The great author James Michener once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”


Thursday, Jan. 10:

Tarmo Hannula: My day started at Rancho Del Mar Shopping Center in Aptos, the place that has a Safeway, Rite Aid and Ace Hardware, to name a few. Major construction is still underway. The center has taken on a different look, to say the least. I believe Comerica moved from their previous location on the east side of the center to a new spot where the Windjammer bar used to be. I caught wind that a new Peet’s Coffee is in the works. It seems a little odd that Aptos Coffee Roasting had to say goodbye but now a Peet’s is being built. I don’t know the inner workings of these things.

I went into Ace and spoke with the owner, Stig Nybo, who said that while business sagged a little during the major construction phase — with cyclone fencing all about — he said his business is starting to pick up again.

“I just can’t say enough about our customers, the return customers that keep coming back and supporting our business,” he said. “Our customers are amazing. We still operate under our same hours and we are here to help you get your hardware needs. I’m looking forward to the new look and the new businesses that coming in.”

Nybo said he heard that a new sushi business is also on the list to open in the center.

I noticed that Susi’s Flowers is still up and running and that there is a sign for a grand opening at Aptos Nails. The place was buzzing with business as I strolled past. I saw a crew from Preferred Plumbing of Watsonville working on the new Peet’s Coffee. The new Erik’s Deli looked like it was open for business.

I almost drove past the new “Rancho Del Mar” sign, a huge concrete construct still sitting on wood planks where it was recently dropped off. It was sitting next to a couple of decorative columns that I imagine will hold the sign up somewhere at the edge of the center along Soquel Drive. The old sign, at the edge of Soquel Drive reads: “C O EL MAR,” so, yes, a replacement is in order.

Inside the center there was also a new business with a large sign that said “locally owned.” The business is called Clean Juice, which I imagine is a juice bar of sorts.

Directly across the street I spotted a new business being built inside a refurbished building, with a huge sign, “Soul Salad.”

All of this is blazing forward right down the avenue from the Aptos Village Project, which, if you haven’t driven by lately, is quite a sight. New homes, businesses, landscaping, new streets and, of course, the remodeling project of the old Hihn Apple Barn that will become the New Leaf food market.

Johanna Miller: Waking up this morning with more back pain and stiffness than usual, I was reminded of my goal for 2019: to find a new place to swim.

I learned to swim not long after learning to walk, and eventually was on the swim team at Jim Booth Swim School — which was at that time located at the gym on Penny Lane off of Green Valley Road.

This led me to eventually join the Cabrillo Threshers, a club team out of Aptos that was part of USA Swimming. We practiced at various locations depending on experience level, including Aptos High School and Simpkins Family Swim Center in Live Oak, and competed across the region.

In Watsonville, there are just a handful of facilities that have pools. Last year the new owners of the gym on Green Valley began closing the pool during the winter months. This is unfortunate, as that facility hosted a thriving community of swimmers and was open to the public year-round.

So, I’m on the search for a new place.

First there’s Gold’s Gym, located right next door to the Pajaronian on Westridge Drive. This pool is on the smaller side but, according to reviewers online, it is kept clean and well-maintained.

The YMCA on Sudden Street recently renovated their pool. When I was younger I was occasionally involved in youth programs with my schools. It was always a bit too chlorinated for me, but from what I hear, that has improved as well.

Watsonville High School has a beautiful, relatively new pool facility, and it holds various swim programs there throughout the year. However, as far as I know, they do not have time slots set up for the general public.

What other pools are located in the area? I’ve considered going to Aptos or even further north, but it’s always nice  to support Watsonville in any way that I can. I’m always open to suggestions.

While I stopped swimming competitively after high school, the activity is still the best kind of exercise for me. It is low-impact and good for building up endurance, and for my back problems. I’m eager to get back into it.

It’s time to take the plunge!


Wednesday, Jan. 9:

Tarmo Hannula: I heard on the news this morning that the surf could reach 27 feet high so I rushed out to the west side of Santa Cruz in hopes of getting photos of heavy surf battering the rocky coastline. Indeed, monstrous waves tumbled in and hammered the shoreline sending huge plumes of whitewater high into the sky. There were scores of people trying to capture the drama on their cameras.

I ran into KSBW TV cameraman Tom Lopez when he crawled out of his news vehicle with camera and tripod in tow at the exact spot I had chosen. We worked the surf for a while and then he was out of there quick because he had a bunch of other shoots on his list for the day….

A slight drizzle fell as I drove south on Highway 1 toward Watsonville. I got a call from work that a bunch of police were surrounding the Wells Fargo Bank on Freedom Boulevard with their guns drawn around 9:45 a.m. Watsonville Police Sgt. Mish Radich said it was a false alarm. About three hours later police got another false alarm at Don Roberto’s Jewelers on Main Street….

I stopped in at the Pajaro Valley Arts, 37 Sudden St. and ran into my long-time friends and PVA board members Wendy Aiken and Hedwig Heerschop. They introduced me to the new executive director, Linda Martin of the Elkhorn area, who took over the position in November. She said she was excited to be at the helm of the gallery and looked forward to the challenges ahead.

They were bracing for their new exhibit, Art To Go, which will run from Jan. 23-March 10. The show will be made of 69 artists and will serve as their annual fundraiser. The exhibit will feature a wide range of media, from jewelry and freestanding sculpture to paintings, photographs and prints. The closing reception and raffle will be held March 10 from 2-4 p.m…..

I watched President Trump’s speech last night about the wall at the U.S.-Mexican border. Follow-up talks and this morning’s newspapers largely dispelled his oration as fiction. Even members of his own administration said many of his claims were just plain false. One example is that Trump claimed terrorists were pouring over the border into the U.S. The New York Times stated: “But his own government’s assessments conclude that he seriously overstated the threat. And counterterrorism officials and experts said there had never been a case of a known terrorist sneaking into the country through open areas of the southwest border.”

Erik Chalhoub: I attended the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Board of Directors’ meeting on Tuesday, where I heard about the fairgrounds’ budget and also learned about a number of projects scheduled for this year.

Among those, crews will soon start adding new windows on the Fine Arts building that look out to the adjacent Paddy Smith Park. New signage and landscaping has also been recently installed near the fairgrounds’ service entrance, and a guardrail will soon be built around the new water tank stationed in the parking lot, to prevent drivers from backing into it….

I drove into the East Lake Village Shopping Center to see if any work was being done on the Staff of Life store, set to fill the spot vacated by Super Max last year. While it was dark inside and no one was around, I did spot a port-a-potty set up outside the building. That could mean construction will start soon.


Tuesday, Jan. 8:

Tarmo Hannula: The morning started out with a light rain and a chill to the air. My day began in the dentist chair. I always feel like I come away from that place with some kind of death sentence. They find all kinds of stuff that needs “major” road construction. But they’re nice folks, helpful, and I’m sure I’m coming out of there a better person.

A light drizzle dampened Highway 1 on my way into Watsonville. I cruised by Watsonville High and it was as dark as a tomb except a bright white sign in the art classroom window that faces Lincoln Street: “Enjoy Your Winter Break.” Classes resume next Tuesday.

I saw a huge crater in the center of the intersection of Blackburn and East Beach streets. A crew from Glosage Engineering out of Richmond were there replacing an aged sewer. That meant, among other things, carving out a deep hole and getting rid of the old sewer that one engineer said was made of bricks, most likely meaning pre-World War II. The job also includes two other sites for similar work, one at Center and Carr streets and the other on Rogge Street. To me it looks like a heck of a lot of hard work to crawl down a ladder into a dark, wet trench and start moving heavy earth and equipment around.

Over on Aviation Way next to the airport I noticed a lot of lights on inside the new Beer Mule beer tap room that has not opened yet. I spoke briefly with one of the owners and he said they were aiming to open this month. They were aligning a lengthy row of beer taps behind a new counter. I noticed a load of new furniture spread out inside the place and outdoor furniture looked like it was mostly in place.

A bit further up Aviation I saw my long-time friend Ron Haedicke with his camera getting some footage of CALSTAR 14, a rescue helicopter that has recently established a new air base at Watsonville Municipal Airport. Pilot Chad Peyton said the copter is a EuroCopter 135 Air Bus and typically carries the pilot, two flight nurses and a patient. They are planning, along with the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, a chamber mixer on Jan. 16 from 4-7 p.m. The catered event will be a grand way to meet the flight crew, learn about CALSTAR services and American Medical Response (our local ambulance service). Everyone is invited. The event will be held outside the experimental aircraft hangar, 60 Aviation Way.

I noticed a crew of workers were busy at Watsonville Plaza this morning breaking down the holiday lights display. It’s a huge undertaking and usually takes a few days.

Tonight President Donald Trump will hold his first-ever national address from the Oval Office to deal with the 18-day stalemate over building a wall at the U.S./Mexico border. The eight-minute address will be followed by a joint response by the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer. It will be aired on a load of TV and radio channels starting at 6 p.m. PST. Put on your seatbelt.


Monday, Jan. 7:

Tarmo Hannula: How typical that I wrote in a weather story, based on what I learned from a conversation with a meteorologist at the National Weather Service, that Sunday would clear up and be mostly sunny. Not even close. It was rainy, blustery and cold. My police radio is going nuts with reports of power lines down, flooding, trees and limbs down and road closures. Toss into the mix a bunch of crashes and spinouts.

My wife Sarah and our grandson, Matthew, who is a U.S. Marine visiting from Georgia where he is stationed, drove to Morgan Hill to see old friends and new friends for lunch Sunday. It was a treacherous drive over Highway 152, with winds whipping the car, rains slashing across the windshield and a few rock and mudslides. Once we got over the hill we made a left onto Watsonville Road and headed toward Morgan Hill.

We were seeing my old UC Santa Cruz pal from back in the early ’80s, Ron Ward, and his father, Paul, who is 95. They live on the old Ward’s Oak Glen Farm on Oak Glen Road. Paul told us it’s actually located in a spot called Paradise Valley, a place his great grandfather named around the time that he bought 75 acres of land in 1894. Paul said his grandfather first grew peaches. He also grew pumpkins in between the rows of trees to feed the cows. Among other things, the family chopped up wood known as valley oak. They’d load it in a wagon and haul it up to San Jose with a team of six and sometimes eight horses. The hardest part, Paul said, was going up a steep hill near a town called Coyote, which is still there.

“The round trip would take two to three days, according to weather,” Paul said. “Now you can drive there in 20 minutes.”

Eventually the Ward family planted what was called Paynes English walnut trees. They had a processing plant and a packing shed there on the sloping land.

Paul Ward said he eventually inherited the land from his father in 1973 and he took over the walnut business.

“Back then, I remember there were around 1,500 people,” he said. “Now there’s around 45,000. There’re huge expensive homes all around here now — it’s really a different place.”
On a whole other note, Paul said he still remembers Matinelli’s juice products from way back. He said he even recalls being in the dormitories in Berkeley where two of the Martinelli sisters lived. That was around 1942-3.

Needless to say, Paul Ward is a walking treasure trove of history about that area.

“The changes I’ve seen in my life have just been incredible,” he mused.

At the same lunch table that day was a group of people we know from China. A young couple (who live in Mountain View now) Wandi and her husband, Xioxiung, and their 10-month-old baby, Zhuoying (I dare you to pronounce it) were joined by his parents, Yali, the father, and Sujie. They had brought an impressive spread of authentic Chinese food including a rice, mushroom, chicken and salted egg mix wrapped in small packets in lotus leaves. On top of that they made oxtail soup. It was delicious, all of it.

Of course, Sarah, who writes the Mixing Bowl column in the R-P, made brownies that were supreme.

Our drive back over the hill along Watsonville Road to Hecker Pass was testy due the harsh weather. We picked our way slowly over the hill. Rolling through Watsonville shocked me as we spotted streams of water rushing across the roadway in numerous places with trees shaking something fierce.

Once we got onto Highway 1 at Airport Boulevard and I kept our speed at about 55 mph. As usual there were motorists blazing along at 70 mph in the heavy winds and rain as though it were a clear sunny day. I’m convinced these folks would drive like that even if there were huge hunks of mud falling from the sky, giant craters opening all around and herds of wooly mammoths charging down the highway.

Erik Chalhoub: It was a wet and windy weekend in the Pajaro Valley. On my drive to work this morning, the roadways were caked with leaves and mud from Sunday night’s violent winds. It also didn’t help that it was garbage day in Royal Oaks, leaving fallen trash cans and bags of trash strewn about.

With the winds and heavy rains, keep an eye out on any trees close to your home. With the rain beating down on it, a large cedar tree came crashing down on our lot Sunday afternoon. It sounded like the earth was ripping apart. That tree seemed perfectly healthy all these years.


For last week’s About Town installment, visit

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