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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

County board backs rodeo, won't cut pay, gets earful from vets

County board backs rodeo, won't cut pay, gets earful from vets
By Jason Hoppin

SANTA CRUZ - The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors wrangled with employee retirement benefits, redevelopment, a sticky veteran's issue and an even stickier move to cut its own pay before finally lassoing the ongoing controversy over a proposed rodeo in Watsonville.

The Santa Cruz County Deputy Sheriff's Association, which represents employees of the county sheriff-coroner, narrowly won board support for a rodeo to be held Oct. 1-2 at the county fairgrounds outside Watsonville. The group is trying to round up support, but was hit with criticism Tuesday before the board narrowly backed the event, 3 to 2.

"This is not a bullfight. This is something that, sure, there might be some pain involved for the animals," said Supervisor Greg Caput, explaining his vote in favor of a resolution supporting the event. "It's tough to explain. There's a benefit and a burden for everything."

A rodeo has not been held in Santa Cruz County since the 1970s. A planned rodeo last year was cancelled amid controversy, but deputies are pursuing it again this year, saying it would help raise funds for community groups.

Supervisors Caput, Ellen Pirie and Chair Mark Stone voted to support the event. Supervisors Neal Coonerty and John Leopold voted against it, with animal rights advocates speaking against it.

"For the county to support an event that is widely believed to be organized animal cruelty is a huge step backward," said Sarah Eryavec of the Santa Cruz chapter of the SPCA.

While the county ended its meeting (figuratively, at least) in a rodeo ring at the county fair, it started the morning with a parade of sorts: veterans spoke en masse to ask that the county to consider reopening the Veterans Memorial Building on Front Street, which has been closed since January 2010 over safety concerns.

The veterans have sought their own advice on the historic 1932 building, which suffers from crumbling concrete and roof issues. The vets latest opinion suggested the building could remain open while repairs are done, and that it was not in imminent danger of collapse.

"It may save the county of Santa Cruz a great deal of money if the board opens up this issue and hears from these experts," said Bob Patton, head of the United Veterans Council of Santa Cruz County.

Veterans also have complained, to the board and through the court system, that they have no alternative meeting place while the county looks at what a repair would cost. County officials are in the later stages of a building assessment, and the vet's building will be considered as part of the county's budget hearings later this month.

"I remain hopeful we will have a solution identified and a plan of action before the end of June," said Nancy Gordon, the county's director of general services.

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