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Peekaboo: Noted Pacific Ave. presidential candidate and eyesore Robert Steffen wants you to have a nice day.


Steffen for Prez!

Passers-by passing by Robert Steffen, the Pacific Avenue homeless man known for his provocative signs and strange garbage sack adornments, may have recently noticed a shift in his demeanor. A quiet but polite "Have a nice day," can now be heard from beneath his plastic veil.

Steffen, 35, has been campaigning for president since last November, most recently from a bench near Bookshop Santa Cruz. But with his poll numbers lagging, he hopes his charm offensive will get voters to pay attention to his "Black Sheep" party platform.

"When I don't speak, people just see the strange signs and this contraption in which I sit. They don't see a human really," he says.

Yet Steffen, his blue bespectacled eyes barely visible in the crack between umbrella and sack, says he intends to stay put until there is more support for his campaign. "I need to have some privacy," he explains. He says it also prevents people from spitting on him.

Steffen says he's a former electrical engineer for the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View who took to the streets because he saw no point in building things for people who didn't appreciate them. He lived in an RV until he was arrested for parking on private land.

His platform includes support for the right to bear arms, legalization of drugs and "total freedom and equality for all humans." He is also vehemently anti-animal rights and supports commercial development on the moon. "Hotels for those who can afford it," he says.

Steffen, whose sign denies the existence of God, says he has plans to fill the role. He wants to use a super-conducting super-collider as a time machine to retrieve the souls of the dead and install them in a heaven on Earth. So far, his new approach isn't getting too much public feedback--except from Christians who want to convert him.

Anchors Away

In a letter dated June 13, the board of directors of the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County has declined to renew the contract of 11-year executive director Lynn Magruder, effective Oct. 15. A July 10 press release says only that Magruder was departing "to pursue her commitment to social services."

Magruder calls use of the word "departure" to characterize her exit "benign," adding, "I didn't resign."

The press release recounts the highlights of Magruder's tenure, saying she "played a crucial role in achieving these impressive accomplishments." Why, then, was her contract not renewed?

The Cultural Council refuses to shed any light on the puzzle. CCSCC board members like Sabrina Eastwood and Ellen Primack are tight-lipped. Citing personnel confidentiality, Cultural Council vice president Trink Praxel is mum. "I can't give the specific reasons for the departure," Praxel says.

Magruder thinks it may have something to do with eight so-called anchor grants awarded last fall. The grants, the council's largest awards, went to Cabrillo Music Festival, Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz Symphony, KUSP, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Kuumbwa Jazz Center, First Night Santa Cruz and Tandy Beal.

According to Laleña Vann, Cultural Council Grants and Outreach coordinator, Tandy Beal received one of the three largest grants for her New Pickle Family Circus and the Tandy Beal Dance Company, which perform both inside and outside of the county. Vann says an objection was raised because board members felt Cultural Council money should be spent on organizations that do the bulk of their work in Santa Cruz County. (Beal has since divested herself of the Pickle business, effective July 1.)

But Magruder says the grants panel, which awards the anchor grants, does not determine the size of the award, and that Vann's indication that Tandy Beal received "one of the three largest grants" was misleading.

The panel, says Magruder, "simply determines if the organization qualifies or not based on existing criteria." Last year, that criteria was based, in part, on the size of an organization's budget.

Magruder also suggests that the anchor grantees exerted influence through their representatives on the board.

"There are people who put their personal interests in front of the community," Magruder says. "Six of [the anchor grantees] sent a letter protesting the amount given to Tandy Beal. It went through a big process of being reviewed, but when they weren't able to prevail on the outcome I believe they went after me personally. They would have liked me to overturn the decision which I didn't have the power to do."

Praxel was circumspect about whether the anchor grant brouhaha played a role in Magruder's departure. "There are no specifics like that that can be identified as any reason for this change."

At least two board members were stunned by the news. CCSCC board member and board of supes president Mardi Wormhoudt was "shocked" to hear of Magruder's departure, saying she had been a pleasure to work with.

Local arts patron Rowland Rebele, whose recent resignation from the CCSCC board was not connected to Magruder's departure, found it "astounding" that her contract was not being renewed. "She's done quite a good job," Rebele says. "My connection with Lynn has been excellent."

Apparently some thought otherwise.

Liz Lindsley, the former education director for the council, will serve as interim director for the next two to six months.

Ready, Set, ...

The filing period for City Council candidates in the November elections opens July 17, and potential candidates are beginning to fall off the political fence.

In Santa Cruz, where voters will elect four council members citywide, at least 10 candidates are committed to or seriously considering the race.

The only incumbent eligible to run for another term, Michael Hernandez, has not announced. Former council member Scott Kennedy says he is currently not a candidate, but might become one. "I wait to see what the field looks like."

Former council member Celia Scott tells Nüz she is not running. "I've really made up my mind, for right now," Scott says, leaving the door open a hair.

The list of candidates who have either thrown their hats into the ring or are expected to do so includes:

* Planning Commission chair Dick Doubrava

* Food and Nutrition Services Transportation director Scott Bugental

* Bakery owner and city transportation commissioner Emily Reilly

* UCSC custodian Pat Clark

* Housing activist Nena Ruiz

* High school teacher Ed Porter

* Noted AIDS specialist Dr. Arnie Leff

Steve Argue, who recently did jail time for punching a police officer, is also rumored to be jumping into the race.

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From the July 12-19, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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