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Feb. 6, 2003

Women in Black speak

Economic stats a mixed bag

Pepper spray settlement?

Change of venue for Preston?

Air district offers amnesty

Water board out of line?

Revamping coastal panel

Help is on the way

Coffey appointed HSU VP

Buyer for Bancorp division?

Concert for Indian land

Correction


Women in Black speak

by EMILY GURNON

Women in Black standing on the Arcata PlazaIT IS LATE FRIDAY AFTERNOON AND, ASIDE FROM THE CONSTANT drone of cars winding their way around the Arcata Plaza, there is a pronounced stillness. Dozens of black-clad women stand in rows at the Plaza's southeast corner, lined up like unmoving figures in a silent game of chess.

The Women in Black, as they call themselves, gather here each Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. to protest war, violence and human rights abuses around the world. With the Bush administration busily preparing for an attack on Iraq, more and more protesters have joined the vigil. What began last summer with just two women has multiplied to nearly 100. Some weeks, as many as 170 have shown up.

"It isn't as much a protest as it is an assertion: We're making a space for peace to happen," said Salina Rain, 56, of Arcata, who started the current gathering back in July. "Because somebody has to do something in order for that to come about. What we find is we really feel linked to all of the women all over the world who are doing this." There are no signs; the presence is the message.

Last Friday's drizzle didn't stop about 80 women, most holding umbrellas, from taking their places on the soggy plaza grass.

Leah Lu of Arcata said she comes to the protests -- when she can -- to do her part in speaking out against war. "I feel like it's really important to make a statement given the momentum we're taking (toward an attack against Iraq)," said Lu, 41. "It's important to make a statement that we want to see a peaceful approach, and that there are other alternatives."

Many women "just show up," because they've seen the gathering and want to take part, Rain said. Others call her for information. But it is not an organization, she stressed. "It is a plain-and-simple, what-you-see-is-what-you-get: women standing in silent vigil."

The women in black movement reportedly started in Israel in 1988, when Israeli, Palestinian and American women gathered to protest the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Since then, it has spread to England, Italy, Azerbaijan and Yugoslavia, as well as the United States. Other Humboldt County gatherings take place in Eureka, Fortuna, Garberville and Willow Creek.

Kathryn Corbett, 63, is one of a smaller group of women who hold a vigil in front of the courthouse in Eureka each Saturday. Though they get more negative response to their action than the Arcata group does, Corbett said that may be changing.

"Today I noticed that some of the big diesel trucks were honking at us," she said on Saturday. "I think the base of the anti-war movement is spreading sideways, to other age groups and social classes; it's encompassing more and more classes of people."

Two groups of women meet for the vigil in Fortuna; one started just last Friday. Its organizer was Doris DeLong, 72, a Fortuna resident since childhood who proudly wears an American flag pin on her lapel. "I love America, and I am so distraught over this situation," she said, referring to Bush's plans for an assault in Iraq. "We have not been attacked. I think we're just plain arrogant."

DeLong's group got its share of insults. One man accused them of being "a bunch of commies." Another roared up to the curb in a low, black sports car. "Uh-oh, this is going to be trouble," DeLong thought. He asked the women if they were protesting the war; yes, they said. "God bless you!" he replied, and roared off.

Reactions from passersby in Arcata on Friday were mostly positive, from drivers flashing peace signs and thumbs-up to the occasional honk. Shannon O'Malley, a sophomore at Humboldt State, watched from across the street. "It's so powerful the way they're not saying anything," she said. "They're not pushing any ideas on you; they're just letting you feel the way you feel. I'm definitely going to be back here."

One man held his own counterprotest, standing directly in front of the women with a large cardboard sign that read, "Support Bush, Not Saddam." He had been asked to move to another spot on the plaza, but refused.

The man, a 48-year-old Eureka resident who declined to give his name, said he disliked war but believed in its necessity. "My perception is a great many people in this community think peace is simply the absence of conflict. They don't understand that freedom has a price, that liberty has a price."

While he stood on the corner, several of the women in black stood in front of him, effectively blocking his sign. One faced him, staring directly into his eyes until he left 40 minutes later. He did not return her gaze.

Women in Black meet at the Arcata plaza each Friday from 5 to 6 p.m.; in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse in Eureka each

Saturday from 12 to 1 p.m.; in Fortuna each Friday at 5 p.m. at the Veterans Building and at 4 p.m. at Main Street and Rohnerville Road. For more information, call 668-5408.


Economic stats a mixed bag

Your house may have made more money last year than you did as a wage earner, according to end-year economic statistics for Humboldt County released Monday.

Of the homes sold in 2002, the median price rose 25.5 percent to $180,000, increasing the value of all homes including those not on the market.

"While this is good news for homeowners, it is troubling to renters and many first-time buyers looking to purchase a home," said Steve Hackett, executive director of the Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County at Humboldt State University.

The percentage of Humboldt County households that can afford a median-priced home fell from 40 percent to 35 percent in 12 months. That number was 50 percent as recently at 1999.

The city of Eureka recently raised the maximum allowable home price from $110,000 to $150,000 for first-time homebuyers to qualify for assistance. Arcata is attempting to raise its maximum allowable price to $186,000 from the current $144,000.

Some relief may come from the county, which recently received a $2.3 million grant from the state. The money will be used to assist about 12 lower-income families and to build a 20-unit apartment building in Redway.

In other year-end economic news, HSU's Index noted "relatively rapid change" in the composition of the workforce. The number of retail jobs continued to grow while those in manufacturing are on a decline.

Overall total employment figures show Humboldt gained about 3,000 jobs in 2002 -- from 54,700 to 57,700 -- and is back to where it was before Sept. 11, 2001.

"We've recovered from 9/11, but we have not gained much overall looking at five-year trends," Hackett said.

The economic Index had some mixed news as well for the lumber industry.

"Five years of decline may finally be reaching an end [even though] the current level of production ... is a numbing 40-45 percent lower than the 1998 peak," the Index reported.

John Manning, who works with Hackett as managing director of the Index, said that cautious optimism stems from a rise in manufacturing orders.

"The graph for lumber, a base industry, appears to be leveling off over the first half of 2002. Orders are trending upward, albeit slowly," he said.

There is some controversy about the Index's statistics on the hospitality industry. The report released Monday says hotel occupancy has been "trending downward for about 18 months" post 9/11, and for the month of December was at the second lowest point since 1994.

Manning said those figures are based on reports received from a select group of hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast operations, a list established in 1994, the first year the Index began collecting statistics.

Don Leonard, executive director of the Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Eureka, takes issue with those numbers.

The bed tax collected by the county and the cities continues to grow at a rate of about 6 percent per year over the last five years through June 2002, Leonard said.

"That's good for the cities and good for the business owners," he said.

He admitted, however, that those figures may be due to rises in room rates, not occupancy, which would boost the amount of tax collected.

In addition, the Index does not take into account the number of large new hotels built since 1994.

In other words, both Leonard and the Index are probably correct: occupancy is down but total revenues are up.

-- reported by Judy Hodgson



Pepper spray settlement?

Protesters who had pepper spray swabbed in their eyes by local law enforcement in 1997 are back in court in Humboldt County and are once again seeking a settlement.

"Our main concern is that people have the right to protest without being tortured," said Noel Tendick, one of the plaintiffs, speaking by phone from Santa Cruz.

The plaintiffs, citing a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling stating that a reasonable person could find what the police officers did "unreasonable" and "excessive," have requested that the county make a deal with them in which they would agree to ban the use of pepper spray on nonviolent protesters.

The county, on the other hand, does not recognize any wrongdoing on its part, and, in partnership with the city of Eureka, has spent roughly $400,000 defending the case.

"We did nothing wrong," said Humboldt County Risk Manager Kim Kerr. "Our policy is appropriate."

But if a court has already ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, why is this case still in court?

After the first trial, held in the Bay Area, resulted in a hung jury, the judge threw it out of court. The plaintiffs contested the action, taking it to the federal appeals court and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court, where their right to a trial was upheld, as was their right to specifically name Sheriff Gary Philp and former Sheriff Dennis Lewis in their lawsuit. And now they're going to get their day in court in Eureka, assuming the county doesn't settle.

In the county's opinion, after the results of the first trial, this one is a no-brainer.

"We hung the jury and had a potential win," Kerr said. "We have to defend what we did." As to the costs of the ongoing legal battle, Kerr said that the county's insurance is covering it.

The new trial date is set for May 12, and at least some of the plaintiffs said they were looking forward to it.

"I grew up in this community and I don't need to be suing this community for years on end," said Spring Lundberg, another plaintiff, who was 17 at the time of the incident. "But whenever we have our trial, we'll have a good rowdy circus of a political trial."


Change of venue for Preston?

Humboldt County Public Defender Jim Steinberg has filed a motion for a change of venue in the Dianna Mae Preston trial. Preston is accused of gunning down Kevin La Porta, 47, in the kitchen of Liu's Oriental Cuisine on July 15, 2002.

A change of venue motion is usually filed by a defense attorney when it's believed that media coverage and/or the defendant's standing in the community will adversely affect his or her chances for a fair trial.

According to police, Preston, 58, said she shot La Porta because he was allegedly molesting his daughter, who is also Preston's granddaughter. Through DNA evidence, Eureka police had cleared La Porta of the molestation claim hours before Preston allegedly shot him.

Preston has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Her trial is set to begin April 1. A hearing for Steinberg's change of venue motion has been scheduled for Feb. 21 before Superior Court Judge Timothy Cissna.



Air district offers amnesty

For the first time, North Coast businesses that have failed to obtain air quality permits can do so without the threat of fines, late fees or other penalties.

Businesses and industries in Humboldt, Del Norte and Trinity counties have until April 30 to take advantage of the North Coast Unified Air Quality Management District amnesty program.

District officials want to create a friendly atmosphere by giving businesses an opportunity for an on-site inspection or audit, without the fear of a penalty, said Lawrence Odle, air pollution control officer.

"It seems reasonable at some point to provide an opportunity for those with the desire to follow the law to do so," Odle said. "This is not a program to catch anyone; that's not the purpose of it. [That] would be counterproductive."

The amnesty helps AQMD staff avoid having to deal with permit violations down the road, Odle said.

To request an on-site inspection or audit for required permits, call the AQMD at (707) 443-3093.



Water board out of line?

When the state Water Resources Control Board went around the California Department of Forestry and ordered Pacific Lumber Co. to do water monitoring, it may have overstepped its bounds, according to a ruling from Humboldt County Judge J. Michael Brown last week.

"[One way to interpret the ruling] is that we needed to exhaust our administrative remedies first," said Susan Warner, the North Coast Regional Water Board's executive officer.

The water board had nearly done just that. It had requested CDF to require the monitoring it wanted during the approval process for a proposed 500-acre harvest plan in the Headwaters forest, only to be rebuffed. So it decided to require its own monitoring in addition to whatever CDF required, and PL sued.

Why? Because they had not tried the final "administrative remedy," in which they are required to negotiate -- in just 10 days -- the state's labyrinthine water quality review system, bringing up substantial new evidence that CDF may have overlooked. That is nearly impossible according to Jesse Noell, of Salmon Forever.

"The official policy is `thou shalt not have one of those appeals,'" Noell said. "The time deadline is so short that there is no way the law will ever get enforced. If you are a big enough company and have enough political connections with the governor then you are magically beyond the law."

Warner said that she believes what the board did was legal, and that until Brown gives them his full explanation for the ruling, they couldn't be sure exactly what it meant, and that in any case no Superior Court ruling could be thought of as final.

"It's not clear to me what the judge's ruling is," Warner said. "I don't think any Superior Court case is precedent-setting."

A lawyer for the water board said as much in a statement after the ruling came out.

PL President Robert Manne said that the case is a vindication of the view that once a timber harvest plan is approved by CDF, that's the final word on the matter.



Revamping coastal panel

While the California Coastal Commission is scheduled to hear a staff presentation on an appeal of Eureka's plans for a Target store Thursday, the state Assembly voted last week to appoint commissioners to fixed two-year terms.

The Assembly voted 48-24 to change the terms of commissioners after a state appeals court ruled last month that the current structure was unconstitutional.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal determined that because the 12 coastal commissioners are appointed by the legislature, and because the commissioners could be removed at will, the commission violated the state's separation of powers.

The Assembly bill will go before the state Senate for its approval. No date has been set for that vote. The Senate is also considering a bill to limit the commission's terms to four years.



Help is on the way

Humboldt County could get almost $4 million in disaster relief from the governor's Office of Emergency Services to offset approximately $5 million in damage from December's record-setting storm.

Although the exact amount of aid coming to Humboldt County won't be known until state inspectors have reassessed the damage, county officials hope to get at least $3.8 million -- or 75 percent of the total damage estimate. State inspections will take place within the next few days.

Cities will also be eligible for funding to repair storm-related damage. Earlier this month Eureka reported about $2 million in road damage from the storm.

Record-setting rainfall, along with high winds, damaged roads, bridges and highways throughout Humboldt County. The storm knocked out electricity and phone service to hundreds of county residents. Some waited days before their services were restored.

The storm also caused about $2 million in damage to private property. Business and homeowners are still waiting to learn whether they will be eligible for federal aid.

The county will hold an applicant's briefing to go over all the damage public entities suffered. The meeting will be held Thursday, Feb. 6 at 9 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors chambers, Humboldt County Courthouse, 825 5th Street, Eureka.

For more information contact Karen Suiker, assistant county administrative officer, 445-7266.



Coffey appointed HSU V.P.

One down and one to go. Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond was "delighted" to appoint Carl Coffey, formerly of CSU Stanislaus, as vice president for administration.

Coffey has been serving as the interim administrative vice-president and will continue to serve in that capacity until he officially takes his new post on April 1.

In addition, Carol Terry, formerly of Eastern Washington University, was hired to replace Shirley Messer as university budget director, and Denice Helwig was appointed special assistant to the president.

A search is still underway for a vice president of academic affairs (aka provost) and a dean of enrollment. Richmond has said he hopes to have his administrative team put together by next fall.



Buyer for Bancorp division?

For the second time in less than a year, Humboldt Bancorp is hoping to sell off its merchant services division, this time to Las Vegas-based First National Bank Holding Company for $32 million.

The deal is $2 million less than the offer made last July by iPayment Holdings, Inc., of Nashville, Tenn. Without explanation, iPayment backed out of the deal last fall. The decision cost iPayment $1 million.

First National Bank Holding Company, the parent of First National Bank of Nevada and First National Bank of Arizona, is the new buyer. The company will change the name of its newest acquisition to Humboldt Merchant Services. All 77 employees currently working for the Humboldt Bancorp's merchant services division in Eureka will retain their jobs.

The sale is expected to be finalized by March 15.



Concert for Indian land

The Wiyot Tribe hopes a benefit concert planned for this weekend in Eureka will help raise funds to buy land on Indian Island.

About 300 people attended a similar event last year, raising $1,000 toward buying back land. That event was organized by Sandy Jensen, who wanted to do something to help the Wiyot people.

Marnie Atkins, this year's event organizer, hopes that the benefit concert will draw people from across the county to listen to music and get information on the Wiyot.

In 1860 scores of Wiyot were killed by white settlers in the infamous Indian Island massacre. The tribe has been trying to buy back land on the island and has established a fund to help in that endeavor.

The concert will be held from 5 to 11 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8 at the Eureka Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at The Works or the Table Bluff Reservation for $12 or at the door for $15.

For more information call (707) 733-5601.



Correction

Due to an editing error, a story in last week's paper mistakenly said Ulysses S. Grant commanded Ft. Humboldt for four months in 1854. Grant, a captain at the time, was merely one of the officers. [the web version was corrected]


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