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February 9, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

The new new Samoa
Owners publish new plans, fire district frets over redevelopment impacts

The Weekly Wrap


RALLY, HO!: Can the next rally please be held in a nice, quiet little corner of the city -- a plashy fen, perhaps, far from the shriek of commerce -- and not at noon on the courthouse steps with all the worker bees rushing to and fro to feed and complete errands and honk up a great big smelly noise? Just kidding, really. Bring it on.

Still, couldn't hear most of what the speakers said at the post-State of the Union address rally Feb. 1, what with logging trucks blaring their horns in a friendly fashion, cars beeping, Uncle Sam up on stage relentlessly squeezing the accordion, and the occasional woman's voice dopplering from the window of a car with an "I like Bush!" Dear me, such a ruckus.

Once, when Uncle Sam himself was softly reading the Declaration of Independence, his words shot out clearly when someone drove by and yelled, "All right, Richard!" People clapped and Sam said, "Ya hear that? Somebody gives a fuck!" Not until Alexander Cockburn got up there did more whole sentences penetrate the confusion. And they were pretty funny sentences. "Did you hear [Bush's SOU] speech?" he asked. "It was a weird speech. Bush is a weird man." The weirdest part, said Cockburn, was when Bush came out in favor of alternative power such as wind, "nucular" and ethanol. "And then he said he was against the hybridization of man and animal. [pause] There goes the centaur vote."

Then a woman walked by behind the crowd, angry and shaky, shouting, "Thanks for all being here! Humboldt County Jail just asked me to leave! Hoopa county detention!"

Dave Meserve could be heard loud and clear, too, actually, promoting self-containment: "It may come a time when we in Humboldt County have to survive on our own!" And David Cobb was a firebrand, loud, thumping, crowd-rousing. Really, I'm beginning to suspect the hearing problem was my own.

Then Haiku came over and tried to mooch a ride back to Arcata.

BAYKEEPER WARNS U.P.: Local watchdog Humboldt Baykeeper notified the Union Pacific Railroad Company last week it intends to sue unless UP cleans up its "Balloon Track" property in Eureka -- home of the proposed "Marina Center"/Home Depot development that got its first hearing at the Eureka City Council Tuesday night, after the Journal's press time. The property, notes Humboldt Baykeeper in a news release, used to be "an undeveloped tidal marsh" before train tracks were looped through it and a maintenance, switching and freight yard installed in the late 1880s.

Pollution from the operations has been seeping into the tidally influenced groundwater, the bay and nearby slough ever since, says Pete Nichols, program director for Humboldt Baykeeper. UP has been under a clean-up and abatement order since 1998, Nichols says, "and they haven't completed the monitoring or really complied with the order yet."

Nichols says a proposal to change the zoning of the Balloon Track property from public use to commercial use would result in a lesser quality clean-up. "If it's zoned commercial -- if it's not going to be residential -- you don't have to consider the impacts to public health. You can just pave it over. Union Pacific polluted this for a hundred years. It should clean it up. It shouldn't just be limited to commercial use because it's polluted."

A Union Pacific official referred inquiries about the threatened lawsuit to the Association of American Railroads. The only person allowed to talk about it over at AAR, Kirk Marckwald, was out of the office and will be unreachable until he gets back at the end of this week.

ST. JOE CEO OUT: St. Joseph Hospital's top dog, Chief Executive Officer Mike Purvis, quit last week after six years with the Catholic nonprofit. His resignation comes during an economic slump for the hospital, which has not met financial goals for the past few months, an executive said.

At a press conference last Wednesday, Feb. 1, Purvis' resignation was officially announced and interim CEO Joe Mark was introduced. Mark, who will take over the post for one year, has been an operational and financial consultant for the hospital since November, working closely with Purvis. Andy Agwunobi, the hospital's recently appointed Chief Operating Officer, spoke for Purvis, who did not attend the press conference, saying the former CEO came to the decision "not easily" after considering the hospital's need for a "fresh perspective" and more "intensified focus" to implement new financial strategies for the strapped institution. St. Joe's money troubles are similar to those of hospitals nationwide, Agwunobi said, including increased costs of health care, labor shortages, fluctuating numbers of patients and inadequate insurance reimbursements. However, he added that the Eureka hospital's quality of care has "stayed the same" and that execs are optimistic for the hospital's financial recovery.

Among the upcoming changes, Mark said St. Joe's wants to engage independent physicians in a partnership with the hospital. "Their strength means our strength," he said. For now, their weaknesses remain more sharply in view, including a looming 2008 state-imposed deadline to seismically retrofit hospital buildings, which at this point is still considered a long-range goal. Also, Purvis is the third executive to leave St. Joe's in the last two weeks -- Chief Financial Officer Galen Gorman resigned Jan. 19 and Mary Anne McCrea, the former chief operating officer, resigned Jan. 17. The timing of the resignations is coincidental, according to Agwunobi, who said Gorman left the hospital for family reasons. Purvis was not available for comment.

'TIS THE SEASON: A couple of key announcements pertaining to what looks to be a spirited election year: Former Eureka Mayor Nancy Flemming officially confirmed last week that she would be taking on Fourth District Supervisor Bonnie Neely, a four-term incumbent, as was widely expected. And Sheriff Gary Philp's campaign committee sent out an e-mail saying that the sheriff will officially kick off his re-election bid next week.

A multitude of local offices will be on the primary and general election ballots later this year: two county supervisors' seats, the mayorship of Eureka and three seats on its city council, two seats on the Arcata City Council and the big one, politics-wise -- the office of the district attorney. Already in: Deputy DA Worth Dikeman to challenge DA Paul Gallegos and fisheries biologist/Democratic activist Pat Higgins to challenge Supervisor Jill Geist. And for Eureka mayor? No official announcements yet, but word is that someone's got a Bohn to pick with incumbent Peter La Vallee.

BYE-BYE, SALLY: I wasn't looking for parachute pants, but that's what I found. It was a sunny day, one of the rare ones in December, and I had somehow found my way into the Salvation Army in Arcata. This was a strange occurrence seeing as how I had started out with the intention of going to a movie.

That is the power of the Salvation Army, one minute you are going about your day, and the next you are in a musky world filled with friendly faces and old clothes. I didn't buy anything that day, merely looked at the strange array of clothing that had found its way from the back of people's closets into the store. It was like a time warp in fashion, with cardigan sweaters, tattered Air Jordans and broken Ab-Lounges lining the walls. Some inventory would never leave those four walls, you could just tell.

The Salvation Army is not about its inventory, however. This fine organization does so much for the community. Revenue from the stores goes into programs such as adult rehabilitation, feeding the homeless, and giving presents to low-income families during the holidays.

The struggling financial situation of Humboldt County's Salvation Army has been going on for well over three years. Unfortunately, they can no longer afford to operate in NorCal, and are forced to close their stores in Humboldt, some as soon as Feb. 18. The cost of competing with the 19 other thrift stores in the county finally took its toll, and it's the county that is suffering. We are losing a great organization that has done nothing but give back to the community. -- Mitchell Reber (Arcata High senior who job shadowed on press day at the Journal)


The new new Samoa
Owners publish new plans, fire district frets over redevelopment impacts


houses on street in SamoaIt's been slow in coming, but the great change long anticipated for the old, historic town of Samoa appears to be inching closer. But it appears that the new Samoa we had been expecting won't exactly be the new Samoa that we'll get.

In 2000, the former company town was bought by Samoa Pacific Group, whose major stakeholders are Dan Johnson, owner and CEO of Danco Builders, and Lane DeVries, CEO of Sun Valley Floral Farms. Shortly after the purchase, Samoa Pacific made a presentation to the county Board of Supervisors about their plan for the town, which included significant new housing development, a retail center, a business park, an RV park and a convention center/spa.

With the publication of the developers' draft Environmental Impact Report last month, it became clear that those plans had been scaled back somewhat.

"We listened to the concerns of all the people within the community and all the jurisdictions out there, and we made changes," Johnson said Tuesday.

In particular, the RV park -- which was to be located across Highway 255, on the parcel commonly known as the "Dog Ranch" -- is no longer part of the development. The Samoa Pacific Group originally had an option to buy the parcel, but let that option slide after abandoning plans for an RV overnighters' facility. The parcel was eventually bought by Eureka businessman Rob Arkley last year.

Also, the extensive commercial center that was once planned for a revitalized downtown has been trimmed, and the convention center that was once central to the developers' plans now only exists as an optional component of the overall development.

But much remains the same: In short, the developers hope to rehab the town's nearly 100 existing homes and build between 282 and 307 new housing units at the site, as well as to revamp the towns public facilities and build a network of bicycle trails. To accomplish this the developers are proposing to first redo the town's utility infrastructure --ºgas, electricity and sewage lines.

Michael Wheeler, a senior planner with the Humboldt County Department of Community Development Services, said that the Samoa Pacific Group is looking at providing a wide range of housing types in the development, including low-income and senior housing. He added that the proposal would be of great help in meeting the county's goals for new affordable housing.

"Here we have a private interest that is willing to put up the money required for the utilities to build that housing," Wheeler said. "It's just an ideal situation, where you have a private developer that is interested and willing to provide a range of housing, and willing to put of the infrastructure to make it happen."

Paula Mushrush, the county's redevelopment and housing coordinator, noted that another aspect of the developers' proposal squares nicely with the county's redevelopment plans, which include a business/industrial park for the Samoa area. However, Mushrush said that although the county redevelopment agency is definitely interested in buying land for such a park, she hasn't specifically been talking with the Samoa Pacific Group's partners.

"Honestly, we aren't in any negotiations for any parcel of property," she said. "There's a lot of industrial-zoned property out there, with brownfield issues, and it could be any one of them."

But the county's pending redevelopment plan is cause for concern among some Samoa residents, as it would divert future increases in property taxes from the town's fire department. Noreen O'Brien, a member of the Samoa Fire Protection District's board of directors, said Tuesday that the combination of expanded development and a freeze on revenues could be devastating to fire protection in the town. O'Brien noted that if both redevelopment and the Samoa Pacific Group's development plans come to pass, her district will have to do a lot more with an essentially static budget.

The district has retained legal counsel and is considering its options, O'Brien said.

Comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report, which can be found on the county planning department's web site, will be accepted until March 11.

Because of the project's scale, its current zoning map and the fact that it is located in the coastal zone, the project will require a number of permits both from local agencies and the California Coastal Commission. It will get its first hearing at the Humboldt County Planning Commission on March 16. Johnson said that he hoped to be able to break ground in the summer of next year.




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