Small Victory

Dear Jane,

Well – wasn’t that an event at the City Council last Tuesday! I could hardly believe it. So many unexpected twists and turns. I was left blinking at the end, not totally comprehending what had just been decided. I’m wondering if council members went home wondering the same thing.

In any case, in the days since, the picture has come into focus. Although we didn’t totally succeed in stopping the Pilot Project, we do now have a year to breath more peacefully and plan our next steps. And the birds can continue to innocently enjoy for at least one more year what little river habitat we humans have left them here in Santa Cruz. No possibility of boats on the river until the fall of 2016. And hopefully, we can figure out a way to stop that.

The process that the Council went through was such an interesting one, wasn’t it? As you know, it really seemed at first that the vote was going to be a slam dunk for the Pilot Project. At the beginning of the discussion, four council members began, one by one, to state their support of the Pilot Project – Pamela Comstock (though she balked at the high price tag of $32,000), David Terrazas, Cynthia Chase, Cynthia Mathews- all expressed their intention to vote for the Project, as we expected. Then Richelle Noroyan spoke. She upset the applecart! She made an alternative motion to require a baseline study on bird populations before any boats were put on the River. I never expected this in my wildest dreams – even though this was an option listed in the staff report.

Noroyan must have struck a nerve.  I still can’t believe that all the council members jumped on board and agreed to postpone the Pilot Project for a year until they had this baseline study. My own theory is that even though the City Council was prepared to accept the recommendation of their staff, they were worried about the strong turn-out from birders and the very sparse showing from paddlers. I’m sure they at least like birds and support wildlife preservation.  An optional approach gave them an out.

Well – that’s not quite the whole story, either, is it? The odd part was that after Noroyan spoke, Micah Posner (who was also a strong supporter of the Pilot Project) then offered an amendment to Noroyan’s motion that would limit the year-long baseline study to two and a half months, and allow a Pilot Project to kick in automatically in 2016 without further Council consideration. That was the final motion that was put before the City Council. And they approved it by a vote of 6 to 1. With Noroyan in the minority! Wait! How did that work? She is voting against her own idea? I finally came to understand that she wanted a year-long baseline study and she wanted the Council to evaluate the baseline study before they continued with the Pilot Project. This would make sense, wouldn’t it – since the baseline study will cost $20,000. Why not use it before you plunge ahead?

Still not enough surprises? There was one more for us. In its motion, the Council also directed the Coastal Watershed Council to pay the entire cost of the Pilot Project, $32,000. I guess Council Member Comstock’s concerns were listened to. I completely missed the moment when that got slipped into the bargain.

Mallard Family Celebrating the Vote
Mallard Family Celebrating the Vote

A couple of days after the council hearing, I walked out on the River and saw a mother MALLARD with 7 very tiny baby ducklings (see above), and a mother WOOD DUCK with 10 very small baby ducklings (too far away to get a photograph). What wonders! I felt such a surge of solidarity with them. And at that moment, guess who came along on his bicycle and stopped to talk to me as I had my binoculars focused on the ducklings? Yes, it was Greg Pepping, leading proponent of the paddling program and Executive Director of the Coastal Watershed Council. We talked for at least a half hour. He asked me how I felt and I told him I was sad that he wanted to put boats on the river and threaten what we were looking at. He listened carefully and was friendly and I did my best to rise to his level of graciousness. Small town politics is certainly interesting.

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