March 11, 2004
GETTING SCARY: The county budget has been sliced down to the bone over the last couple of years, but the message delivered at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting was that far worse is yet to come. County Administrative Officer Loretta Nickolaus told the board that the county will have to expect to cut 20 percent of its budget -- a total of between $8 million and $9 million -- in its 2004-05 budget. Such a move will mean mandatory days off for some county staff, layoffs, further decimation of the Sheriff's Office and possibly even the elimination of entire programs. Reasons behind the shrinking budget include higher expenditures, in the form of health insurance and retirement fund rates, and decreased revenues from the loss of Vehicle License Fee payments and the expected shift of property taxes to the state government. The supervisors voted unanimously to take some preventative action on Tuesday by cutting about $730,000 in spending from this year's budget. The board will begin discussing next year's budget at its March 23 meeting.
ON A ROLL: With DA Paul Gallegos' victory at the polls last week, what will become of Friends of Paul campaign manager Richard Salzman? A relative neophyte in the political game, Salzman nevertheless has to be considered a hot commodity given his organization's overwhelming victory against a well-funded opponent. Reached on Monday, Salzman said that he's considering forming a consulting firm that could work on political issues in the future. "I'm certainly interested in anything that benefits the community of Humboldt County," he said. "In particular, I'm interested in working on school board districts, the harbor district -- local issues." And yes, Salzman said that if he were asked, he would be honored to be Gallegos' campaign manager if the DA runs for re-election in 2006. Meanwhile, some of the campaign's volunteers are trying to keep the momentum rolling. Dennis Huber, who headed the organization's effort in SoHum, said that activists energized by the anti-recall movement were looking for their next project. A probable target: the proposed liquefied natural gas plant for Humboldt Bay.
COSMETIC FIX: Eureka attorney Tim Needham, of Janssen, Malloy, Needham, Morrison, Reinholtsen & Crowley, recently helped win a settlement valued at $175 million in a class-action antitrust lawsuit against manufacturers of expensive makeup. The attorneys involved in the case discovered evidence that cosmetics companies have for decades conspired to keep prices of their products artificially high. The companies agreed to settle the case rather than face trial. Needham said that anyone who purchased products made by companies including Estee Lauder, Clinique and Chanel in the last 10 years would soon be able to receive free cosmetics as reimbursement for the price-fixing scam. Next month, Needham and his colleagues will be taking out ads in newspapers across the country to tell consumers how they may qualify for the giveaway.
ARE YOU THE NEXT KATIE COURIC?: One of Humboldt County's talented young people will soon be getting a crash course in broadcast journalism in New York City, thanks to Cox Communications and MTV. As part of a promotion for MTV's 2004 "Choose or Lose" campaign, which seeks to get more youth to participate in the upcoming elections, the video network is conducting a nationwide search for young would-be news reporters in 16 markets served by Cox -- including Humboldt County. The top finalist from each market will go to New York, and one of the 16 will go on to be a regular MTV News "Choose or Lose" correspondent. "I think it should be someone that's charismatic, speaks well, is enthusiastic -- someone who's into it because they have a genuine interest in the political system," said Deborah Ketelsen, a local Cox representative who will help judge the Humboldt County entries. Tryouts will be held at the Bayshore Mall, behind Borders Bookstore, on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. People who have access to a video camera can also record their own audition tapes and drop them off at the local Cox office by March 19. Contestants must be between the ages of 15 and 25, and if under 18, must be accompanied to the tryouts by a parent or guardian. See www.cox.com/humboldt for more details.
CONNERLY'S HERE: Ward Connerly, the African-American University of California regent who made history by spearheading Proposition 209, the controversial 1996 initiative that banned affirmative action in public education, employment and contracting, is coming to Humboldt.
Connerly will be the featured speaker at the county's regular Republican Party meeting. The event is taking place on Thursday at 6 p.m. at OH's Townhouse in Eureka.
Connerly was the author of Proposition 54, "the racial privacy initiative," which failed at the polls last November.
EEL RIVER SUIT MOVES FORWARD: It sounds technical, but the ruling by Judge Christopher Wilson certifying a class action for about 300 former Eel River Sawmill employees last week was an important step, according to Eureka attorney Bill Bertain. The ruling designates two of the former workers, Thomas Swain and Clifford Crowl, as representatives of the class, and will allow Bertain to proceed with the suit. "Now we can conduct discovery," Bertain said on the telephone this week. The suit maintains that the company was not handed over to employees as the late owner, Mel McLean, intended.
ARCATA SUPPORTS GAY MARRIAGE: The Arcata City Council voted last week to send a letter of support to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who vaulted onto the national stage last month when he starting issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. The letter calls Newsom's action a "breath of fresh air in a nation that has yet to recognize the separation of church and state."
CARLOTTA MILL CLOSING: The Pacific Lumber Co. notified employees Tuesday that it will close its Carlotta mill within the next month. The company said that al least some of the equipment at the Carlotta mill will be shifted to its new, $25 million high-tech operation in Scotia.
CORRECTION: A news item about two Blue Lake men arrested on child porn charges mischaracterized the evidence found by police. ("The Weekly Wrap," Feb. 19.) Videotapes were indeed confiscated from the home of Brian Paul O'Donnell, but while extreme in nature, they contained images of adults having sex, not adults having sex with children; it is not illegal to possess such material. Police found evidence that O'Donnell had purchased child pornography over the Internet, but the U.S. Customs Department, which is heading up the investigation, has not yet determined whether such material is in O'Donnell's computer. Child pornography was found in the computer of the other suspect, Christopher Patrick Woody. Also found in Woody's computer were video files of men having sex with young children. The two cases are not related, and there is no evidence that each man was aware of what the other was doing.
by KEITH EASTHOUSE
County Supervisor Jill Geist wants the Eureka City Council to postpone next week's planned vote on whether the city should enter into an exclusive agreement with Calpine, the San Jose energy company that is looking into building a liquefied natural gas import terminal on the Samoa Peninsula.
In a March 8 letter to Mayor Peter La Vallee and the five council members, Geist said, in effect, that the city would be putting the cart before the horse if it approved the agreement, called an "exclusive right to negotiate," before the company had put forward a project proposal.
"A project of this magnitude will have tremendous consequences to our community and it is crucial that we, as local leaders and decision-makers, have a clear comprehension of the project and the permitting processes," Geist wrote.
"Therefore," she continued, "the time to enter into an agreement is after the project has been formally presented [and] analyzed by staff, [and after] the regulatory and permitting process and the decision points influencing the project are defined."
Calpine is proposing to build a $1 billion terminal that would take supercooled liquefied natural gas from tankers, store it in large tanks on the Samoa Peninsula and then send it via pipeline to Red Bluff in the Central Valley.
Geist expressed concern that local officials might lose control over the project if the city were to give the green light to the negotiating agreement. "I am concerned that the city's pending decision to enter into an agreement with Calpine may be your last decision on this particular project. What the federal and state siting and permitting criterion are and what authority local government representatives have beyond this point is clouded in uncertainty."
There appears to be good reason for Geist's concern. A jurisdictional dispute has broken out over a proposed LNG facility in Long Beach, where the California Public Utilities Commission is challenging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's authority over the project. Meantime, the city of Long Beach, which initially authorized negotiations with Mitsubishi to buy its imported gas, has begun to have reservations about the safety hazard the project might pose. LNG is known to burn fiercely.
La Vallee was out of town and could not be reached for comment on Geist's letter.
City Manager David Tyson on Tuesday said that a decision by the council to approve the exclusive right to negotiate was not tantamount to giving Calpine "site control" over the proposed location of the LNG terminal, the Eureka Municipal Airport. "They can't file a formal application with [the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] without site control," Tyson said.
To get to that point, Tyson added, the council first needs to make its decision on the negotiating agreement. Then a memorandum of understanding needs to be considered among the Board of Supervisors, the city and the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District to have Calpine pay for an independent study of the project, estimated to cost $250,000.
Once the study is done, if the decision is to reject the project, Calpine will go away, Tyson said. But if the decision is to go ahead, then Calpine will apply for the necessary federal and state permits, and jurisdiction will at that point pass out of local hands.
Supervisor John Woolley on Tuesday said he was concerned that city approval of the negotiating agreement might render moot the independent study. He softened that position later in the day, saying that it would be preferable if the city were to hold off on entering into an agreement with Calpine until the independent study is complete.
Supervisor Jimmy Smith said he thinks Geist is "just asking for some caution." When asked if he thought the Eureka council should hold off on next week's meeting, Smith said, "I don't want to go there because I don't want to interfere with their mission.
"But I can tell you," he added, "that this board has already taken on the caution flag. This is too big an issue."
Last month, the supervisors slowed down their consideration of the memorandumof understanding after being roundly criticized for proceeding too fast and for failing to adequately notify and involve the public.
As an alternative to next week's meeting, Geist suggested that the Eureka City Council, the Board of Supervisors and the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District hold a "joint public meeting."
"Calpine representatives could then be present and respond to our collective community questions and concerns prior to any agreements and/or additional actions being taken," Geist wrote in her letter.
by EMILY GURNON
Thanks to the district attorney recall race, last week's election drew an unusually high number of voters to the polls in Humboldt County. Overall turnout of 63 percent -- which may rise to 65 percent by the time all the absentees are counted, elections officials said -- dwarfed the paltry 40 percent reported statewide. Only tiny Alpine County did better: 525 of its 816 registered voters cast ballots.
Humboldt County typically turns out in such proportions for general elections. The presidential race of 2000 drew 72 percent of voters; the races of 1992 and 1984 attracted 79 percent. But in a primary election? The county hasn't seen these kinds of numbers since 1980, when 67 percent of the voters came to the polls.
"People turn out when they feel that there is a personal stake in the election," said Lindsey McWilliams, Humboldt County elections chief, "and for better or worse, the DA recall resonated with people." The turnout was helped by the fact that the recall was a countywide issue, he said.
McWilliams said he was impressed with the number of people who got involved in the Friends of Paul Gallegos group. Volunteers came into the elections office, for instance, to pick up voter registration lists for use in the campaign.
The recall, of course, failed by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent, and vote totals in towns throughout the county reflected the polarization on the issue.
The city of Eureka, Humboldt's largest town, voted similarly to the county as a whole: nearly 35 percent backed the recall, while 65 percent rejected it.
Predictably, those numbers were virtually flipped in Fortuna: 63 percent voted "yes" to recall DA Paul Gallegos, while 37 percent voted no. Sixty-six percent of Rio Dell's voters supported the recall; 34 percent said no.
No surprises in Arcata: A whopping 87 percent of voters within the city limits rejected the attempt to boot Gallegos -- with "no" votes reaching 94 percent in some precincts. Eighty-four percent of Trinidad voters also said no to the recall; the same in Petrolia.
In McKinleyville, nearly 36 percent supported the recall; 64 percent rejected it.
And in Scotia, home of the Pacific Lumber Co. -- no friend of Gallegos' -- 82 percent wanted the DA out.
Representatives of the pro-recall committee did not return calls seeking comment.
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.