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This Town's Political Zeal Is Unimpeachable

In calling for an inquiry into Bush's actions on Iraq, Santa Cruz reinforces its reputation of defiance.

September 14, 2003|John M. Glionna | Times Staff Writer

SANTA CRUZ — In this question-all-authority little coastal town, liberal-minded locals aren't spending any of their precious recall energies targeting small fries like Gov. Gray Davis.

Santa Cruz is casting its net for the biggest political fish of all: George W. Bush.

The City Council here has asked Congress to investigate impeaching the president for his handling of the war in Iraq.

Mayor Emily Reilly -- a local bakery owner -- sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) asking if any of "President Bush's deeds" leading up to the 6-month-old conflict could be considered impeachable acts.

While the rest of California may be scrutinizing Davis for his handling of the energy crisis and the state budget, in Santa Cruz they're talking about how the president might have purposely misled the public in order to invade a sovereign nation.

"People here feel like they were lied to," said Reilly. "And they want answers."

The City Council of Arcata, in Northern California, is also considering such a measure.

Unlike some California coastal hamlets, Santa Cruz doesn't consider itself a precious tourist town where business calls the shots and self-satisfied residents fail to pay much heed to what goes on outside city limits.

This defiant burg of 55,000 residents has a long, colorful history of rebellious behavior.

Last year, it became the first of 165 cities to oppose the war in Iraq. In April, Santa Cruz challenged the federal government on behalf of medical marijuana patients by suing the Drug Enforcement Agency and Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft.

The council last year also unanimously passed a resolution asking the federal government to rescind parts of the USA Patriot Act, claiming that the law represented an unwarranted assault on civil rights. At the checkout desk at the public library, officials now warn book-borrowers that the heightened vigil against terrorists means the federal government may be monitoring what they read.

"Warning," it reads in part. "Under the federal USA Patriot Act records of books you obtain from this library may be obtained by federal agents."

From its downtown coffeehouses to its seaside roller coasters, political attitude bristles here. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, local anarchists in the place that calls itself the "People's Republic of Santa Cruz" heckled residents for flying American flags, calling the banners a symbol of revenge. Officials also gave Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) a key to the city for casting the sole vote against military retaliation for the attacks.

The council voted 6-1 last week to call for an inquest into Bush's actions as a raucous audience waved banners reading "God Bless and Keep Bush out of power" and "Honor the Constitution. Impeach Now." A local cafe offers "Impeachment Pie" with an ad showing a picture of Bush appearing dumbfounded. It touts such ingredients as "flaky crust" and "peach filling (no baloney)."

While the U.S. government issues playing cards bearing the pictures of the most-wanted Iraqi leaders, Santa Cruz sells "Operation: Hidden Agenda" cards that include Bush as the ace of spades.

One bookstore features a political sound-off wall featuring anti-Bush editorial cartoons, a question-and-answer "War on Iraq Quiz" and a spoof of a "Star Wars" movie poster that reads: "Gulf Wars: Episode II. Clone of the Attack."

Also known as Surf City, the town is a social and political melting pot of surfers in search of some of the West Coast's best waves, aging radicals, bongo-playing pacifists and Bay Area millionaires who can afford to own property in a town where housing prices average more than half a million dollars -- among the least affordable in the nation.

It's a place where Democrats prevail, with Republicans battling the Green Party for second place. Here, residents don't just glean their news from television or newspapers. They do their research online.

"I'm amazed by how well informed people are who speak at meetings," said Reilly. "And they're not all conspiracy theorists."

Some say it has always been this way. At the library, cafe owner David Jackman read an article belittling the outspoken artists' colony by the sea. "The year was 1879," he said. "Not much has changed since then."

Residents believe the town's modern tone was set a generation ago by one of the first openly gay mayors ever to be elected in a small town. Since then, Santa Cruz has also elected several socialist mayors. Activists say the town has published gay wedding notices in the local newspaper since the 1980s. The town once had more free alternative newspapers than any other its size. And it became one of several leftist California burgs, including Berkeley, to declare itself a "nuclear-free zone."

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