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Nūz: Santa Cruz County News Briefs

Scientists dis CDFA plan to release sterile male LBAMs, Arianna Huffington heads for the Central Coast, candidate forum season begins and Nuz ponders the naked truth behind a Santa Cruz County strip search settlement.

My Science Is Bigger Than Your Science

The controversy over how the Central Coast should deal with the potentially devastating light brown apple moth has attracted scientists, government officials, conservationists and local residents like, well ... moths to a flame.

And despite scaling back plans to use aerial pheromone spray to eradicate the pest, the California Department of Food and Agriculture's newest plan to release millions of sterile moths as a reproductive monkey wrench is coming under fire from many of the same opponents who stood up against the spray.

"Basically, there is no way it will work," says James Carey, an entomologist at UC-Davis who specializes in invasive species biology. "The bottom line is there is no evidence that a lepidopterous pest has been eradicated by this technology. They are talking about rearing enough [sterile] moths to release over a 500-square-mile area. That's 500 million moths per week, and it's impossible."

The Sterile Insect Technique was developed in the 1950s and has been used with some success against the screwworm, the Mediterranean fruit fly and the pink bollworm moth. By overwhelming a breeding population with infertile moths, the technology banks on fooling the insects into thinking they've reproduced when they're essentially shooting blanks. The CDFA is promising that after a few reproductive cycles, the moths should die out.

"We said from the offset that the sterile release program would work and that that's where we should be headed," says CDFA flak Steve Lyle. "We've had tremendous success with the Med fly, and opponents who argue against this technology really have no data to back them up. In fact, most of them have no experience studying the LBAM."

Other scientists, like Dan Harder, botany professor and director of the UCSC Arboretum, say the CDFA is trying to discredit the scientists instead of the science.

"The LBAM issue is extremely important to the Central Coast and to me as a botanist," says Harder. "The fact is, I've done extensive research including an extended trip to New Zealand and Australia, where these things are from, and I've found: one, they're not that big of a problem; and two, there is little to no chance of getting rid of them."

Nearly one year ago, the CDFA sprayed areas of Santa Cruz, Capitola, Scotts Valley and other areas of Santa Cruz County with pheromones as part of their effort to eradicate the LBAM. In May of this year, a Santa Cruz County judge ruled that the sprayings were a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act and ordered the CDFA to stop spraying over populated areas.

In June, the CDFA announced the SIT program as an "unanticipated breakthrough" that, along with continued spraying in "rural areas" and using other pheromone-releasing devices like pheromone "twist ties" that hang from trees, is supposed to represent the latest and best in the fight against invasive species. Lyle says the sterile release program, once in full swing, will produce more than 20 million sterile moths per day and that the agency hopes to release the first batch in the spring of 2009.

"We at the CDFA have scientists who represent the bulk of research regarding the LBAM," says Lyle. "Science has shown this sterile release program will work. And the one thing we'd like people to do is to use our science as their foundation as opposed to the opposition's science."

And after poking holes in all the ideas put out by the CDFA, what is "the opposition's science" recommending?

"First off, this thing needs to be reclassified from a Class A pest," says Harder. "Eradication is not possible, and further, it's not necessary. It needs to be contained, sure, but it's not the kind of problem the CDFA is making it out to be."

The Blog Queen Cometh

One of the leading names in journalism and the undisputed queen of the blogosphere is headed to Monterey to deliver a lecture on campaign ethics.

No, not Perez Hilton.

Arianna Huffington, famed author, syndicated columnist and founder of the leftoid website the Huffington Post, is the latest speaker in Monterey Peninsula College's Peggy Downes Baskin Series on Ethics. The lecture will be held in the Monterey Conference Center on Monday, Sept. 8, and will feature Huffington relating difficult ethical decisions she has encountered as a journalist and politician.

Born in Greece in 1950, Arianna Stassinopoulos was educated in England before coming to the United States in 1980, where she eventually became associated with the Democratic Party through her writing and social exploits. Calling herself a "former right-winger who has devolved into a compassionate and progressive populist," Huffington married oil millionaire and former Republican Congressman Michael Huffington in 1986. Later, divorced from both her husband and his party's ideas, she went on to write countless political articles and several well-received books, along with appearing on dozens of television shows like The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher.

In 2003 she unsuccessfully ran as an independent candidate during the recall election of former California Gov. Gray Davis. In 2005 she launched the Huffington Post, which has become one of the most popular sites on the web; in 2006, she was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.

John Yewell, communications director for MPC Foundation (and former news editor at Metro Santa Cruz), says Huffington will bring invaluable insight as both a journalist and a political activist.

"She is definitely the hottest item on the campaign trail today as far as commentators go," Yewell says. "She's got notebooks full of great quotes. She's very articulate and can turn a phrase on a dime. I expect people to come away with a deeper appreciation of what's at stake this election."

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON appears Monday, Sept. 8, at 7pm at the Monterey Conference Center, 1 Portola Plaza, Monterey. General admission tickets are $25. For information call 831.655.5507.

Some Shame, Some Gain

So what's in a humiliation? Sometimes money, as the contestants on Fear Factor and some former inmates at the Santa Cruz County jail know. Over the summer the county shelled out nearly $4 million to settle a class-action lawsuit against the jail for unlawful strip searches conducted between February 2005 and July 2007, when it seems the local constabulary was merrily ordering inmates right and left to drop trou, regardless of whether there was reason to suspect they were hiding weapons or contraband (legit reasons for conducting strip searches).

What caught Nūz's attention was the schedule of damages. The standard mortifying strip search conducted during a booking for a nonviolent misdemeanor is $1,500; it goes up from there. The experience is worth an additional $500 for those who were younger than 21 or older than 60 at the time of the search--or who were pregnant or mentally or physically disabled. Menstruation nets an extra $1,000--roughly equivalent to the $750-$1,250 differential earned if an inmate was strip-searched upon returning to jail following a court appearance where the judge had ordered him or her released.

So wait a minute. An appearance by Aunt Flo is deemed just as egregious an assault on one's rights as being probed all over again after the judge set you free? And it's worse being naked in front of a stranger if you're 18 than if you're 50? Huh?

Sacramento attorney Mark Merin, who received just shy of a tidy $1 million for prosecuting the case, explains (sort of) the rationale behind the damages.

"You take off all your clothes, and there you are, facing somebody who's now going to be examining your body," he says. "If you're female they lift your breasts so they can see if anything is underneath them, then they ask you to turn around and spread your buttocks so they can look and see what you got there. Then you're asked to turn around and squat and cough three times so they can look to see if anything's been shoved up the vagina. It's pretty gross. If you're menstruating, your pad or your tampon has to come out.

"It's a close inspection of the genital area, which is very uncomfortable for a lot of people," he continues. "We found that typically, young people and old people have a more significant reaction, and we also found people with a disability have strong reactions."

Merin goes on to explain that for seasoned criminals, a strip search is routine. For, say, a matron who was caught speeding and had a failure to appear resulting in a warrant, it's anything but (no pun intended). "It could be about the worst thing that ever happened to you," Merin says.

The county jail has reportedly changed its practices and brought them in line with the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches.

Meanwhile, those who were given a little too close a going-over at the county hoosegow between February 2005 and July 2007 have until Dec. 18 to file a claim under the lawsuit;

Merin's office reports that 3,677 people are eligible claimants on the case. They include people who were strip-searched at the jail before arraignment after having been booked on charges unrelated to violence, drugs or weapons and those who were searched after being ordered released by a judge.

Forum Fever

'Tis the season for watching candidates squirm. Santa Cruz residents have three opportunities this week to kick the tires on the wheels of democracy and see how their future representatives hold up.

First up: a chance to see where candidates stand on the parking garage proposed for Cedar and Cathcart streets downtown. On Wednesday, Sept. 3, the Campaign for Sensible Transportation hosts a forum for the 11 candidates vying for four seats on the Santa Cruz City Council. The action starts at 7pm at Louden Nelson Center, 301 Center St., Santa Cruz. The group is busily gathering opposition to the garage; its latest piece of literature features Karl Heiman of Caffe Pergolesi dreaming of a downtown that extends to Cedar Street, while David Jackman of Chocolate opines, "Let's catch up with our times and start allocating our money to public transportation."

Rep. Sam Farr hosts a town hall meeting on Thursday, Sept. 4, at the Vets Hall, 846 Front St., Santa Cruz.

And on Wednesday, Sept. 10, the progressive machine that is the Santa Cruz Action Network, GLBT Alliance and the People's Democratic Club hosts a Santa Cruz City Council Candidates Forum. It should be a good time; they've reserved the Vets Hall ballroom from 7 to 11pm. 846 Front St., Santa Cruz. All events are free.

Nūz just loves juicy tips about Santa Cruz County politics.

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