About Town, Week of Feb. 4


Friday, Feb. 8:

Tarmo Hannula: On the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf a crew from Coastline Environmental Demolition of Watsonville was busy Friday morning tearing down the long-standing Miramar Fish Grotto restaurant. The business opened in the late 1920s in what was once called Ernest’s Fish Grotto. Once the building is removed, major repair on the wharf beneath the site will get underway. I have not heard what will be built in its place.

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(Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

In the community of La Selva Beach, State Park Rangers and Santa Cruz County Sheriff's deputies were investigating the body of a woman that was found near the water’s edge of Manresa State Beach early Friday. The incident marks the second woman’s body to be found on a beach in the county in five days. The first woman was found on the popular Cowell’s Beach Monday near the Santa Cruz Municipal Wharf. We have calls into the Sheriff’s Office and SCPD regarding the incidents.

In Van’s Shoes and Repair on East Lake Avenue in Watsonville I spoke with owner Jim van Lanen Friday about his plans to relocate into a smaller facility. Van Lanen, 73, said his grandfather opened the business in 1930.

“We’re another victim of Amazon,” Jim said, a reference to more and more people buying goods online.

Jim said he wants to continue his repair business and trim his shoe sales down to mostly Red Wing Shoes.

“We could operate in a much smaller place now,” Jim said. “Everything changes and I’ve seen a great deal of change here in Watsonville.”

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(Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

I’m still wondering if the railroad overcrossing above Highway 1 in Aptos will be repaired. A tree fell on top of it more than two years ago. Millions of motorists have surely seen the crumpled steel fence atop the bridge.

Johanna Miller: This week I stopped by Watsonville High School to chat with drama instructor David Scott and a few students about this year’s spring musical production.

It was an almost surreal experience walking through the door of the school’s drama classroom, where I took classes in the 2001-2002 school year. Everything felt so familiar despite not having been there in nearly 17 years.

Drama was an interesting class for me. I was shy, and things like improv were difficult. But I remember doing pretty well when we were allowed to write our own scripts and perform them. It was a good experience; high school wasn’t the easiest time for me so the positives stuck out.

I learned from David on Monday that Watsonville High’s drama department is currently struggling. Putting on plays and musicals is becoming more and more expensive, he said, and keeping ticket prices low means they have to sell quite a lot to break even.

It made me sad to hear, as I am a big advocate in keeping the arts in schools.

Later in the week I was at Monte Vista Christian School, where construction is underway on a brand new performing arts center on their campus, to be completed in the 2020-2021 school year.

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Workers build the form for the foundation of a new performing arts chapel at Monte Vista Christian school. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

A friend of mine had attended MVC when we were in high school. I remember going to her graduation and being so impressed and amazed at what a wonderful selection of arts classes and performing groups were available to students.

I understand that WHS and MVC are in opposite situations. One being a large public school composed of mostly local students, the other a private institution that attracts people internationally. To compare them isn’t exactly fair.

But my point is that the arts must be available to anyone — regardless of background or status. Being able to sing, act, create any sort of art should not be dependent on what school you go to.

After all, kids from both WHS and MVC could some day end up at the same college or university, and possibly be cast mates in the same production. That’s great to think about, actually!

You never know where talent can blossom from. And even if a student does not end up in the performing arts industry, they should at least have the experience.

Let’s support keeping the arts in schools — and I mean in ALL of our schools.

NOTE: Mark your calendars for both of the school’s upcoming productions:

• Monte Vista Christian presents: “School of Rock,” Feb. 28-March 7-9.

• Watsonville High presents: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” April 17-28.

•••

Thursday, Feb. 7:

Tarmo Hannula: I was surprised to see the progress in the Rancho Del Mar shopping center in Aptos this morning. New facades, new businesses, upgraded parking facilities, new landscaping and new signage is just part of the project. The Rite Aid store, Ace Hardware and Erik’s DeliCafe look brand new.

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Rite Aid is one of several businesses that got a new look inside the Rancho Del Mar Center in Aptos. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

On one of my routine stops I swung by D’La Colmena in Watsonville to get their breakfast burrito. Their friendly helper at the counter, Carlos, said he‘d been working there for the past 26 years and he said it was a “fantastic” job. He told me he was from Guanajuato, Mexico. Carlos is one of the friendliest people I‘ve met and always makes me feel glad that I stop by that store.

At Pinto Lake City Park on Green Valley Road I was delighted to see a great blue heron. It was stomping through a grassy field near some reeds. I read once in a birding magazine that a good approach to getting close to such birds to take a good photo is this: Do not look directly into the bird’s face, because they take that as a direct threat. The article went on to suggest that you gently move toward the bird while shifting your attention elsewhere and not on them, because they will think you are trying to eat them. Instead, look around and pretend you are picking things up, like you’re foraging, like they are. Once they see you acting that way, as I’ve read, the birds will typically shift their attention elsewhere, giving you, the photographer, a window into their world.

•••

Wednesday, Feb. 6:

Tarmo Hannula: If you’ve never gone to Superior Court to check out the latest trial under way, it might be a worthwhile venture to help bring you up to speed with one aspect of how our society is glued together. Because of my job obligations, I have to check into the court system now and again. Let me say this right off — it’s a bizarre experience, to walk into a room and see a group of 5-10 adults, men and women, in prison jumpsuits, handcuffed, waiting their turn to be heard by the judge. Every story is different. Each person is there caught up in the system for one wrongdoing or another, or perhaps not so at all, false claims, maybe.

I’ve always felt that it would be a great eye-opener for high school seniors to get a front row seat to this. The lawyers, their language, the judge and his or her take on it all — the whole package of how courts and laws work I have found to be a marvel unto itself.

I was in court this morning for the continued arraignment of Patrick Collins, the 36-year-old man charged with blasting a shotgun round into a woman’s face and killing her at her Aptos home on Trout Gulch Road Jan. 30. One small thing I noticed is that he had shaved away his Mohawk hairdo for the appearance.

Though clouds continue to build today, the bitter cold has largely wandered off and the rain is in a holding pattern. There were a few brief sprinkles today and otherwise it was dry. The National Weather Service is saying that the next rain won’t splash through the Central Coast until Friday. And then rain is being predicted through the weekend.

At Monte Vista Christian School today, my colleague Johanna Miller and I talked to several students who were taking part in their annual Make a Change Project Showcase, a joint effort by sixth-graders who fanned out into the community to learn how they can make their community a better place. I’ve covered this event for years and it is always refreshing and inspiring to hear these youths explain their stories, see their exhibits, learn from them and get a sample of their explorations. I have always come away energized by the students and by the friendly and welcoming nature of the people we run into.

While on the campus we noticed a massive construction project under way. Mitch Salerno, Head of School, said the work was for the new Don Price Performing Arts Chapel, which will open for the ‘20-‘21 school year.

•••

Tuesday, Feb. 5:

Tarmo Hannula: My day started with a drive up Old San Jose Road to Summit Road in the Santa Cruz Mountains to take photos of the snow. Even though the sun was out there was still snow draped over the trees, fields and homes. I passed a bunch of families who had stopped to let their kids romp in the snow. One family made a four-foot tall snowman.

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A new "Welcome/Bienvenidos" sign has been installed at the entrance to the Cabrillo College Watsonville Center on Union Street. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

Classes got underway at Cabrillo College Jan. 28. I stopped in the Cabrillo College Watsonville Center on Union Street and noticed a new café in the main lobby of their central building. The woman working the counter said the business, named Drip Coffee, opened that very day. They had an assortment of pastries and bagels, various spreads, a wealth of coffee beverages and other drinks and a selection of snacks.

Speaking of new, the folks at Cabrillo College just installed a new "Welcome/Bienvenidos" sign at the entrance of the Watsonville campus. "We wanted something to make people feel welcome to our campus, and this was it," an office worker said.

I’m not a giant football fan but I usually tap into the Super Bowl — for at least part of the game, anyway. I couldn’t believe how boring the game was. Hardly any big plays, surprises or unorthodox moves. It was like textbook football with almost no risks. I can’t help but feel that, when you consider what people paid for tickets, that those teams owed something to their fans. After all this is the SUPER Bowl, give tour fans something super. I read that some front row best seats went for $22,000! And that the average ticket went for more than $4,000. If I attended and got in there for $50 I would have felt cheated, it was that boring, and — it turns out — it was the lowest scoring Super Bowl on record.

R-P reporter Todd Guild and I drove over to Salinas this morning to interview Maria Cortez, the mother of two children that were shot and killed in Pajaro on Feb. 10, 1994 in some ridiculous mistaken identity gang violence. Jessica was 9 and her brother, Jorge, was 16. We were there because this month marks the 25th anniversary of that tragic day, an event that ultimately led to the creation of the annual Peace and Unity March. Each Feb. 10, scores of families and friends of loved ones lost to gang violence join forces to march through downtown Watsonville while carrying signs, banners and photos in hopes of taking their anti-violence message to the streets.

Interviewing Cortez was very powerful, to say the least. One thing that really struck home for me was that she told us that every day around 3 p.m. — the time her kids were gunned down in and around the El Nopal Bakery in Pajaro — she still feels the pain of their loss.

At last year’s Peace and Unity March, former Assemblyman Luis Alejo, currently a Monterey County Supervisor, said, “We made a promise to ourselves to not forget their names, their faces and their ages. Jessica would be 32 years old today and Jorge would be 37. Would Jessica be a teacher, would Jorge be an engineer? Would they have their own businesses?”

Johanna Miller: This morning many Santa Cruz County residents woke up to a big surprise: snow.

It could be seen from pretty far away. And for people in the higher elevations of the mountains, it was probably on their front lawn.

Looking up from Freedom Boulevard in Watsonville I noticed a dusting on the hills above Corralitos. As someone who usually takes a few short trips to the Tahoe area every winter, I had to remind myself where I was, and how uncommon it was to have snow here.

I’ve only seen snow in Santa Cruz County a handful of times in my life. I remember one of the very first times occurred during Christmastime, when a group of us were out caroling in Watsonville. We had just turned the corner onto Monte Vista Avenue toward a friend’s house when suddenly it began falling.

It was magical.

Now, anyone who has lived or even spent a good deal of time in the snow knows that its charm can wane pretty quickly. It becomes a hazard to drive in, pretty much impossible for bikes, and even walking from your house to the grocery store can be an ordeal.

But for people who aren’t used to it, seeing snow is an exciting thing. Remember a few years ago, when Egypt and other parts of the Middle East experienced their first snowstorm in more than 100 years? The photographs speak for themselves; the looks of joy on the people’s faces were heartwarming.

While last night’s tiny dumping of snow had little effect on Santa Cruz County, the incident reminded me of another thing that happens when a place experiences abnormal weather.

When I lived in Oregon, most of the snow fell east of the small town of Forest Grove where I lived. But we did occasionally get some inches. Sometimes it was just the right amount to cover the town in a soft blanket of white. But other times, it was too much, or the few inches froze and created a sheet of ice. The town turned into an ice rink — and not the fun kind.

Portland and the outlying cities do not have adequate equipment to be ready for the same kind of weather that usually only occurs atop of nearby Mt. Hood. There are limited snow plows or de-icing machines. Residents end up stuck in their homes after only a few inches hit the ground.

It makes me curious about what we would do if we had a big snowstorm in Watsonville. How would we react? After the initial excitement, what could be done?

Of course, in recent years our weather issues seem to be the opposite — hotter temperatures, resulting in massive forest fires and drought.

But with the changing climate, resulting in stranger weather patterns in recent years, you never know.

I guess it’s always smart to be prepared for anything.

•••

Monday, Feb. 4:

Tarmo Hannula: At the Santa Cruz Superior Court suspected murderer Patrick A. Collins made his first appearance early Monday morning before Judge Stephen Siegel. Clad in jail issue orange jumpsuit and shackled at the wrists and ankles, Collins, with his dramatic Mohawk hair cut, addressed Siegel’s questions politely and in a soft-spoken manner.

Siegel asked Collins, 36, if he had an attorney and if he could afford the initial fee of $50 to hire a public defender. Collins told the judge he typically made around $500 a month.

On the afternoon of Jan. 30, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call of a shooting in a residence at 3140 Trout Gulch Road. They found a woman dead from a shotgun blast to the head, a man (who deputies later identified as Collins) with a gunshot wound and another man with a severe stab wound.

A further arraignment was scheduled for Wednesday at 9 a.m. in Dept. 6.

At Twin Lakes State Beach in Live Oak I came upon a massive eucalyptus tree that had toppled over both lanes of East Cliff Drive at Eighth Avenue. Traffic was shut off to north and southbound traffic as a crew from Santa Cruz Public Works grappled with lopping up the tree. Just around the corner a crew from Davey Tree was busy with another downed tree that fell during the night and tore the top off of a utility pole, knocking out power in the area.

The National Weather Service has posted an alert for the snow level to significantly drop to around 1,000 feet. They said as much as 4-8 inches of snow could accumulate at the 2,000-foot level. Highway 9 and Highway 17 could be heavily impacted. Showers are expected through tonight and into Tuesday. National Weather said things should clear up by Tuesday night through Thursday night with the next chance of showers on Friday.

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Watsonville Police take measurements and photos of the intersection of Main Street at East Beach Street Monday as part of their followup investigation into a Dec. 24 crash where a female pedestrian died after being struck by a pickup. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

In downtown Watsonville Monday morning Watsonville Police shut down a swath of Main Street between East Lake Avenue and Second Street. Sgt. Donny Thul said the department’s traffic crew was busy with a continued investigation of a car versus pedestrian crash on Dec. 24 on Main Street at East Beach Street that left 61-year-old Maria Gonzalez-Martinez of Watsonville dead. Downtown quickly turned into a logjam as motorists were forced onto Rodriguez and Brennan streets. Additionally, Thul said the same team would next head up to Freedom Boulevard at Alta Vista Avenue to extend their investigation into another crash from Dec. 23. A female pedestrian died when a car struck her in that heavily travelled intersection. Police said they were expecting to be in the area a few hours starting at noon.

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A good Samaritan empties his water bottle onto an engine fire on Main Street Monday morning. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)

As I swung off the highway onto Main Street this morning I heard on my police scanner a report of a vehicle fire at South Green Valley Road at Main Street. Indeed, as I came down Main Street flames were gushing from the engine compartment of a Toyota Camry with two startled women standing by. It was encouraging to notice how many people stopped and rushed to the scene to dump whatever water they had onto the burning engine where someone had propped the hood open. One man even dumped his coffee onto the flames. Someone eventually stopped with a fire extinguisher and that was that. And no one was injured, even better.

Johanna Miller: In addition to working at the Register-Pajaronian, I also have a part-time job at Cabrillo College’s Visual and Performing Arts Department (VAPA). As an employee at the box office, I sell tickets to shows and help patrons at the Crocker Theater and the Samper Recital Hall. Shows range from small class recitals to our large summer Cabrillo Stage productions.

But on Friday my shift at the theater was a bit different.

I and my fellow VAPA employees met at the Samper hall for a special training organized by the on-campus faction of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. The training was meant to prepare college employees for what to do in an active shooter situation.

Sadly, the amount of mass shootings in the U.S. has increased exponentially in recently years, and school campuses seem to be one of the biggest targets of these incidents.

As Sgt. Robin Mitchell noted, the threat of a shooting is often put to the backs of our minds. We are certain that these horrific situations only take place elsewhere and to other people. We think, “it will never happen to me.”

Unfortunately, we live in highly unpredictable times. Across the country, teachers, school staff and students are being given active shooter training. The point of the trainings is not, Mitchell said, to incite fear or paranoia to people, but instead to learn how to be better prepared as well as alert of their surroundings.

The group of us watched two videos — one created by the Hayward Police Department — which depicted an active shooter situation. Both were quite hard to watch. We then discussed the steps we should take, in an event of a shooter on campus at Cabrillo.

We did run into a couple of challenges during the training. Mainly, the fact that the training was meant for college teachers and staff who work in small classrooms and offices, while VAPA employees occasionally have to deal with a theater filled with hundreds of people.

How can we best secure a building of that size? How can we make sure we do not incite mass panic? Which doors in the building are best to keep locked at all times?

Logistics like this can be challenging, even when there is no imminent danger. The Sheriff’s Office and VAPA staff will be working at coming up with ideas and perhaps doing follow-up trainings this semester. Meanwhile, more departments at the college will be receiving their own trainings.

Hopefully, this effort will make Cabrillo College a safer place for everyone.

•••

For last week's About Town installment, visit register-pajaronian.com/article/about-town-week-of-jan-28

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