Those who work in the juvenile justice system every day are bracing for significant changes due to the passage last week of Proposition 21, Gov. Pete Wilson's Juvenile Crime Initiative.
The new law requires more juvenile offenders be tried in adult court, requires that certain juvenile offenders be held in local or state correctional facilities, and it expands the list of violent and serious offenses for which longer prison sentences are given.
Currently when a youth offender is charged with a serious felony the case can be dealt with either in juvenile court or in adult court. Before the decision is made the court receives an evaluation from the probation department along with input from defense counsel and the district attorney. Then the juvenile court judge makes a determination if the crime and the child's situation warrants transfer of the case to adult court and if the situation warrants immediate incarceration.
Under the new law the decision is strictly up to the district attorney.
"What will happen (after the initiative takes effect) is the juvenile court will be bypassed at the prosecutor's discretion for what are considered to be serious and violent juvenile crime. Residential burglary and robbery are added to the list of serious felonies," said David Lehman, chief probation officer.
"Certainly it gives the district attorney more power," said Humboldt County District Attorney Terry Farmer. "I don't see anything wrong with that since I'm a district attorney."
Farmer sees the change as a means to make the juvenile justice system more visible and ultimately more accountable to the public since the voters elect the district attorney.
"The bottom line is if the response of the district attorney is to put too many kids in juvenile hall, then the reaction will be against the district attorney, not against the system," he said.
"The primary impact I'm concerned about is bed space in the institutions," said Douglas Rasins, who oversees Humboldt County's juvenile facilities as director of institution services.
"Another thing that Prop 21 does is for juvenile offenders who are accused of certain types of crimes is that it mandates that they be brought into custody and detained for a period of time. It takes away the discretion to site and release, release on an agreement to appear, place on home supervision or on informal probation as opposed to regular probation," he said.
"The additional kids coming through will cause a backlog," said Lehman. "What that's going to do is take juvenile hall out of the public safety mix for kids who need short periods of incarceration and release.
"We won't be able to get them in because the beds will be occupied by these guys going through the judicial process. It won't take very many to make that happen because we don't have very many beds."
There are 26 spaces in Juvenile Hall and 18 in the adjoining treatment setting, the Northern California Regional Facility. According to Lehman, the facilities have been overcrowded for 20 years.
"I have resigned myself to do what I can to influence new funds for construction," said Lehman. "Right now on my desk I have Sen. Dede Alpert's request for coauthors for a new juvenile facility bond measure. I'm putting together a packet for the Board of Supervisors to help support that."
Lehman said another major impact will be the loss of diversion as an option. "Traditionally probation services are trained to look at public safety as a risk management issue. Our officers look at the family strengths and the needs of the kid. We see which kids need to go to court and which cases are the ones where we can work with the parents using contracts and divert them away from the juvenile court system.
"The philosophy of the diversion process is that you don't want to expose someone to the judicial process needlessly because of the labeling and stigma that goes on around that. Those things compound that cycle of crime and are hard to defeat."
"The idea (of the initiative) is to hold kids accountable for every criminal act to make sure that the resources that they need are provided. That's not necessarily a bad thing if the resources are there," said Lehman.
Are the resources there?
"If you look at the initiative there is absolutely zero funding for any increase in services anywhere," said Lehman.
"Is it going to cost more money? Of course it is," said Farmer, who mentioned that he might need to hire another prosecutor to handle an increased case load.
The state attorney general's estimate of fiscal impact includes one-time costs of $750 million and ongoing state costs of more than $330 million annually. Potential local costs were estimated as more than $100 million annually with one-time costs running $200 million to $300 million.
Voters don't like bonds
Final returns from the March 7 election found Humboldt County voters disagreeing with the voting majority on a number of state ballot measures --bond measures.
Statewide 63.2 percent supported Proposition 12 for Parks and Water, a $2.1 billion bond issue that provides funds to improve water quality by protecting watersheds and ensuring clean drinking water. In Humboldt 51.3 percent opposed.
Proposition 13, the $1.97 billion Drinking Water Bond passed with 64.8 percent of the state vote but received only 47.5 percent aye vote in the county. Proposition 14, the $350 million bond for library construction received only 46.8 percent locally but passed with 59 percent voting for it statewide.
Proposition 20 guarantees that a portion of annual lottery revenues going to public education will be earmarked for instructional materials. It passed with 53.1 percent statewide but failed locally with 49.1 percent in favor.
The Humboldt vote was in line with a number of other poorer, rural counties in the northern and eastern parts of the state opposing measures that won the favor of a majority of California voters in more urban counties.
Butterfly money delivered
The $50,000 gift from Pacific Lumber Co., to Humboldt State University will be split evenly between the university's forestry and fisheries departments.
James Hamby, general manager of the university's foundation, said the donations will be available at the discretion of the academic programs, for research, scholarships and other efforts to foster student learning, since it is not specified for a certain use.
Pacific Lumber Co. received the funds from Julia Butterfly Hill and her supporters in December as part of the settlement to end a highly publicized protest by Hill.
Hill had spent the last two years living in an old-growth redwood tree on the company's property. In exchange, Pacific Lumber agreed to not cut the tree, Hill called Luna, and others nearby.
Retail sales continue strong
First quarter retail sales slump?
Not according to the February Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County compiled by Humboldt State University Associate Professor Steven Hackett of the School of Business and Economics.
Seasonally adjusted retail sales posted a 7.49 percent increase over the previous month. In a month-over-month comparison, sales were up 30 percent over January 1999, 20 percent over 1998 and a whopping 54 percent over 1997.
The index notes the overall economic trend for Humboldt to be toward slowing growth.
The county's unemployment rate was 6.8 percent last month -- down from 7.5 percent in January and 6 percent in December, according to state Employment Development Department statistics. Of the county's labor force of 60,000 persons, 55,200 were employed during the month.
Although the total number employed is down slightly, the employment sector actually grew by 1.88 percent due to seasonal adjustment. Overall, declines in employment are common and expected in this area during the winter, Hackett said.
Seasonally adjusted occupancy rates for hotels and motels were down 18 percent over last month.
Four leading indicators are tracked by the report to determine the direction of the changes in the county's economy. They are the number of help-wanted advertisements in the Times Standard, the number of claims for unemployment insurance, the volume of manufacturing orders and the number of building permits issued.
The count of help-want ads remained strong -- up 15 percent. The number of claims for unemployment insurance was down 50 percent over the previous month. Nationally, claims for unemployment were also down. In fact, January represented the lowest January national unemployment rate since 1970.
The number of manufacturing orders which shows the activity of the county's employment, also showed a downward trend in all comparisons, with a 17.77 percent drop.
Hackett said that he is keeping a close eye on this sector for a drop in numbers. Historically, when lumber was a much more dominant element in the county's economy, rising national interest rates had a severe impact on the county's economy. However, the diversification helps buffer the economic roller-coaster of interest rates, according to the report.
The number of building permits issued in the county was down 49 percent over the previous month. The decline may represent the result of the mortgage rate increases that have incurred since last summer.
The Web address for the report is http://www.humboldt.edu/~economic/current/index.html.
KNHT -- on the air
Oregon-based Jefferson Public Radio has begun broadcasting on the recently acquired 107.3 FM frequency, but you may or may not be able to hear it. Reception in the Ferndale-Fortuna area is fine but as you get further from its Bunker Hill broadcast site, reception worsens due to "technical difficulties."
"On taking possession of the station we discovered some fairly serious problems with the transmission plant which we acquired with the station," said JPR Executive Director Ron Kramer.
Darin Ransom, director of engineering, said when he came to town to get the station going, he found that the antenna that came with the station was not working correctly. A $6,000 replacement antenna is expected to arrive in the next few weeks.
In the meantime KNHT is broadcasting with only 200 watts of power, a fraction of the 3.3 kilowatts it will use when the equipment is running at full power.
The commercial station once known as KMGX was purchased by JPR for $250,000, relicensed as a noncommercial facility and renamed. The public radio giant from Ashland, Ore. will broadcast its classical/NPR format.
JPR's incursion into Humboldt County, where several public stations already vie for listeners, was a direct result of KHSU's move into the Crescent City market, according to Kramer. When KHSU began as KHSR at 91.9 FM, JPR's translator at 91.7 was bumped off the air.
JPR fired another salvo in the battle for the airwaves in January by filing an application to broadcast at 89.5 FM, another noncommercial frequency in Crescent City.
Terry Green, general manager of KHSU said, "On some level this (filing) reinforces what we had been saying all along, that there was room for another station."
Kramer said that the filing process is complicated by the fact that Christian stations are also noncommercial and thus use the same portion of the dial as public stations.
"It will be about a year before the FCC puts the application on public notice and enables other parties to file competing applications. We hope we get it, but we think it could take years."
He expects at least one Christian network to file a competing application. When that happens, the multiple applications will be adjudicated by the FCC by "a system as yet unknown."
"There was a feeling on our part that, as opposed to having the frequency go to some other non-public radio purpose, it would be good to stake that frequency out for public radio use," he said.
-- reported by Bob Doran and Amanda Lang