“While live music venues abide in the days of covid, revolutionaries have taken things to the streets and out over livestream. At the corner of 41st and Portola in Pleasure Point, in front of an abandoned service station with weeds growing in the cracks, the Joint Chiefs play to a masked gathering of passersby. A few days earlier, overlooking Monterey Bay from the deck of a private residence, Anthony Arya’s Chasing Ophelia performs to beachgoers below. A neighborhood gathers at The Hook to hear Ted Welty, Alex Lucero, and John Caruth belt out some serious blues while a cavalcade of bicyclists and boarders, toddlers, and dogs on leashes meander past. From side streets to front lawns to the roofs of local businesses, and all via livestream, Santa Cruz surfer, skater, writer, and radio personality, Neil Pearlberg, is turning live music on its ear.”
Grassroots Advocacy Groups Organize to Stem Toxic Runoff
Julie Horner joins a community workday to assist the local effort to stem toxic runoff from burned properties after the CZU Complex Fires.
On a bright Saturday morning in mid-November, about 30 volunteers gathered in the meadow just inside the gate to the community of Last Chance, coffee cups, water bottles, and sunscreen in hand. We had signed up in advance to join Fire Remediation and Recovery Action Days coordinated by a coalition of individuals and the grassroots groups Wildfire Protectors Corps, Santa Cruz Relief, Grow the Change, and CoRenewal to help prevent soil erosion and contain ash and toxins from structure burns by installing material to filter and break down toxic runoff before it enters the watershed. We’d be working side-by-side with environmental leaders, fire remediation experts, volunteers from all over Santa Cruz County, and neighbors from Last Chance who lost everything to the CZU Complex Fire. Over the course of a 3-day effort, as many as 80 volunteers were on hand in Last Chance to work through affected properties one by one. The coalition has visited sites where homes and structures burned in Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek, and Last Chance.
Last Chance is a rugged, back-to-the-earth alternative community in the hills above Davenport and the name of the approximately eight miles of dirt road that winds from Swanton Road at Highway 1 between Waddell and Scott Creeks into the western boundary of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Along its spurs and private drives, few structures were spared by the CZU Complex Fire. With over 100 homesites affected, remediation and recovery has been something property owners have had to do on their own without support from the county or private insurers.
Fire Remediation and Recovery Action Days organizers coordinated with property owners to determine where to assign erosion control teams. Priority was determined by the ability of the property owner to mitigate their own toxins and by areas considered to be the most impacted.
Boulder Creek resident and community leader with Grow the Change, Rebekah Uccellini, and Tiffany Worthington of Wildfire Protectors Corps based in Santa Cruz delivered the welcome and overview before volunteers loaded into 4-wheel drive vehicles, most driven by Last Chance locals. Once at our assigned property many miles into the heart of the community, Oroville based permaculture educator, consultant, and designer, Matt Trumm, who lost his own home in the Paradise Fire and whose work in Paradise has set the standard for community fire remediation, and Mau Rivera of Sherwood Design Engineers talked volunteers through the basics.
Our job was to swale and contour areas around burned structures; lay and stake lengths of straw wattle into the contours to direct runoff; pair the wattles with 20-foot compost socks to absorb toxins; inoculate the wattles with native fungi; and then pack low points on slope with straw to act as catch basins to contain toxins. Mycelium-inoculated wattles, called “myco-wattles,” are part of a pioneering area of study to put living organisms back into the soil to help regenerate the scarred earth while also acting to remediate heavy metals, plastics, and other chemicals from toxic ash. In our case, native oyster mushroom mycelium was provided.
While compost socks and wattles look similar, they each perform a separate role in controlling toxic runoff. Straw wattles are used for erosion control and to direct water runoff away from sensitive areas and toward the compost sock, which is filled with wood chips and other organic materials that are good at containing toxins. Compost socks are most effective when placed about five feet from the burn site, while straw wattles can be used anywhere in the site to control water flow.
Initially, areas are assessed to estimate how rainwater will run off, and colored flags are placed to indicate to handcrews where to apply the wattles and compost socks. Teams then use pick-axes and shovels to create a swale, or shallow channel, in line with the markers where the wattles and compost socks will be laid on contour. Next, crews drive wooden stakes into the wattles and compost socks at specific intervals to hold them in place, about every four feet. Crews then optionally stuff a handful of mycelium-inoculated straw into the wattles at two-foot intervals. Absorbent material can be removed as hazmat after the rainy season.
Work with organizers to help build policy and develop community coalition: wildfireprotectorscorps.org | email@example.com
Chef Eric of Operation Feed the People cooks up community supper every Wednesday evening at Boulder Creek Community Church.
By Julie Horner
A hard year can change your life. “Last summer my dog was diagnosed with cancer. My dad was sick, too, but he beat it.” Accustomed to traveling all over the state providing catering to the festival circuit, Chef Eric had been looking forward to going to Burning Man. The Universe had other plans. “Boy, I really want to do something but I don’t really have a lot of money. I needed something to feel like I wanted to get out of bed each day. And I really wanted to spend time with my dog.”
A professional caterer for over 30 years and owner of Plus 1 Catering, specializing in healthy, locally sourced food for all budgets, the answer quickly became clear. “What can I do? I can feed people. I’m not going to solve world hunger, but no one in my town, my community, will go through that.” So he switched gears and spent the summer set up under a canopy at Junction Park in Boulder Creek doling out hot food to anyone who was hungry.
“Turning on the news and seeing all the division in this country was really discouraging. When someone tells you that your neighbor is your enemy, I don’t believe in that, and I don’t believe in divisiveness. And nobody in my community should go hungry.”
A community’s success is measured by how the worst off are living. “That’s what we should do. We can all look at the TV and get mad. So and so should be doing this or that. But that’s a copout. What are YOU doing to solve the problem?” Chef Eric intended to rediscover the power of authentic everyday relationships. “The presence of light, good energy, positivity – some folks who are perceived as maybe having not so great energy – they begin to change. I felt like I could have a good influence.”
Then the Boulder Creek Odd Fellows approached him and explained what they do; it’s all about helping people. He began the process of becoming a member. “As a member, I can use the facility and have access to their commercial kitchen.”
Operation Feed the People was launched in December 2019 to help make sure that no one in the Boulder Creek community goes hungry. For some time the I.O.O.F hosted a weekly “Boulder Creek Community Dinner” offering handcrafted meals and a safe place to gather from 5:00 until 7:00 pm at the Odd Fellows building in downtown Boulder Creek. The dinner has long since moved to Boulder Creek Community Church, still on Wednesdays, but from 5:00 until 6:00 pm for the winter season, 2020. Boulder Creek Community Church is located at 12465 Highway 9, Boulder Creek.
“Regardless of your race, religion, political views, criminal history, or substance abuse problems, if you are hungry, you deserve access to food.” – Chef Eric
“The crux of it is, it has morphed into more than just feeding people. The main goal is to go beyond providing basic sustenance; the meal incorporates good, nutritious food choices. But it’s the community aspect of it: People are not alone in their struggles. Everyone realizes everyone needs help at some point.” The Boulder Creek Community Dinner allows people to meet and put their heads together to construct creative solutions.
“Every week new people show up and add ideas. I’ve put cans out at businesses around town so people can donate. I’ve planted a seed. I want people to come and have a good time, enrich their experience. What started out one week as basically a pot of soup, has expanded to become an evening of real conversations with real people. No one is on their phone. They are playing board games, interacting with one another. This is how community comes together.”
“We encourage everyone to share their own ideas…use the community to bounce ideas off of. Bring your craft, your idea, promote your solutions.” – Chef Eric
Along with accepting donations of clothing, Chef Eric and his crew cook up extra food into containers, which they freeze immediately and then deliver in relief boxes to anyone in need. For people who can’t get out. “Neighbors stop by to get boxes of food to help the homebound. This gets people to think about their neighbors and friends and family who need help. It has become a network. You sort of feel weird going over there, but if you bring a box of food you feel more comfortable. It’s basically a wellness check.”
Chef Eric believes Boulder Creek has the resources. “We are a small town capable of big things. If I was going to dream big, I hope that we get enough attention, that every town in the nation follows our lead and it gets to Washington: You guys go back to arguing but we’ve got it. We know how to feed ourselves, thanks. Until we can feed everyone in this country, we can’t say to anyone that we’re the best.”
“Feed me and I will come. Tonight I went to Operation Feed the People for the first time. First of all, the food was excellent. But the real treat was to break bread with my community. There were even a dozen teenagers! I believe this is what makes Boulder Creek such a magical place to live. Please contribute to this amazing local cause by just attending! You don’t have to bring anything or give anything. Let’s just come together & be one.” – Chelsea Osenga
While most seemed snug and expectantly quiet on Christmas Eve, well heated and well fed, we castaway wanderers traveled by unexpected invitation through rural northeast county to the church on the Summit. Reluctant and unsure in a dark parking lot, the ragged sound of working man’s hand-bells chimed dimly from within. Forced by the chill we tiptoed inside. A score of stragglers and strangers still bundled in their beanies and down jackets sang in watery unison under the hasty direction of an itinerant salesman in a vintage frock coat.
The room echoed with eternal hollowness, leaders suddenly stricken voiceless and vulnerable, dry mouths clicking. Heads were bowed in awkward indifference; some making peace, others openly checking the hand-held. At last Silent Night’s somber manifest forced all to their feet and the weirdness was banished long enough to briefly unify those within as brothers – a reason, finally, to glance, nod, and look away – the redemption in the scent of cheap white candles shakily lit and just as quickly snuffed.
Without a word, we slipped from the warmth into the night to join Mary and her companion under crisp December stars. Only yards from the glowing holiday windows, living rooms filled with laughter, and the church with its burned-out soul and grocery store Danish, the native forest embraced the travelers in thankful silence. A flask of whisky passed from lip to lip, silhouettes round a rusty dryer drum warming fire. Home and hearth had no roof, no walls, no doors. The Heavens stretched, winking.
Locals Set Adrift Without “The Fishbowl” and Times Together at the Boulder Creek Brewery Outpost
By Julie Horner
On March 29th, 2015 the well-loved Boulder Creek Brewery was gutted by fire. The building remains, an empty shell, at 13040 Highway 9, the epicenter of Boulder Creek. A “For Sale” sign tacked to the façade has signaled the end of an era for months now. They’re not going to rebuild.
Moving to Boulder Creek from Ben Lomond some years ago, refuge and solace was found after tedious upheaval, boxes and belongings, with a late-night plate and a velvety pint. Relative newbies to town at the time, Mo was quick to put us at ease: “No sleep ‘til Brookdale!” he pretend-screamed into an imaginary mic, putting a local twist to the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep till Brooklyn” and setting the scene for life in our new digs. Hell yes, we could stagger home on foot, and all would be right with the world! What a find, Boulder Creek and its Brewery!
Home of original on-site brews such as Dragon’s Breath IPA and Redwood Amber Ale, the Brewery was a hub for wonderful food and good times for local characters and travelers through. After the fire, which is believed to have been sparked by an electrical wiring failure, the heartbeat of a small mountain town was silenced for a few breathless, unbelieving months. The day after the fire, neighbors wandered down in a daze to stand outside the building squinting up at the morning light pouring through where the roof used to be. The brand-new awnings and “Boulder Creek Brewery” sign remained intact as if nothing had happened.
For regulars, the ghostly absence of colorful family friendly community gathered together over a solid meal and a tasty pint was deafening. Rarely has an off-the-hook burger, locally brewed beers on tap, and a catch-up on current gossip (and the wedge-cut fries) been more sorely missed.
Time heals and the spirit of a mountain town always prevails. A stroke of good fortune after bad allowed the business to move sideways and kitty-corner one block to the just-vacated Boulder Creek Music storefront under the I.O.O.F Hall at 152 Forest Street. For the better part of two years, the Boulder Creek Brewery Outpost kept the vibe alive with locals and visitors alike, stirring up small bites in a clever ‘kitchen-in-a-pinch’ and pouring exceptional guest taps. The lifeblood of a small town again found its course, and on most evenings “The Fishbowl,” as the seating area at the front of the establishment became known, would be bubbling with smiling faces, tall tales, and uproarious laughter.
And seasons have turned again. The note taped to a late September window reads: “Nancy’s next chapter coming soon. I will be moving down the road a ways to open Boulder Creek Roadside Café. This will be in the old Burger 9 location. I look forward to having a real kitchen again. Hope to see everyone there. Thank you all for your support.”
Boulder Creek Roadside Café is expected to open its doors in December just a short jaunt north of downtown at 15520 Highway 9, across from Garrahan Park and near the Mountain Store. A hungry, thirsty mountain town anticipates slipping comfortably back into the familiar sharing the day’s travels over exceptional brews and sinking teeth into the best burgers in the county! Stay tuned: www.facebook.com/bouldercreekbrewery