April 11, 2002
A lawsuit filed by the city of Arcata to stop the construction of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Building on the Humboldt State University campus has been dismissed.
Judge J. Michael Brown rejected the city's claim that the building, planned for the corner of 15th and Union streets, needed additional environmental review. The university's environmental studies were completed in 1993, and the city claimed they were out of date and insufficient.
Residents with houses close to the property have voiced concerns that the building would be too tall and would attract too much additional traffic for the neighborhood.
Brown's decision was welcomed by the university. President Alistair McCrone, who will be leaving office at the end of the academic year, said in a press release that the school "looks forward to completion of this project for the benefit of our students and faculty."
But it won't be that simple. While construction is now legally free to proceed, it is not financially feasible. The university lost the state funding for the project when construction bids came in $4 million over budget last year. The university now has to wait until November to see if the next education bond passes. That bond would provide money for capital improvements at educational facilities across the state.
And Arcata may not be finished fighting the building's construction. City Councilmember Connie Stewart said she has been talking with municipal governments in other cities with campuses in the California state university system. The cities could take their concerns to the state government, she said, and demand a more responsive attitude.
"We all have similar concerns when it comes to the lack of cooperation on planning issues," she said.
In a startling reversal, Sierra Pacific Industries announced April 8 that the company will sell its timberland east of the Arcata neighborhood of Sunny Brae to a nonprofit land conservation organization.
Sierra Pacific will sell the land to the Trust for Public Land, a national organization that has worked with the logging company since 1989 to transfer its most sensitive holdings to public ownership. The trust is proposing transferring the land to the city of Arcata for management as a community forest.
It remains unclear where the money to pay for the purchase would come from. In a press release, the trust suggested that a mix of private and public funds could be used for the purchase. The property has been appraised at about $2 million.
"I was pleasantly shocked," said Arcata Councilmember Connie Stewart. "We're very appreciative (to Sierra Pacific) for doing this."
David Sutton, senior project director for the trust, said the deal is highly unusual. SPI has sold the trust a lot of land -- over 30,000 acres last year alone -- but in this case, the company had finished all the legally required environmental reviews. It could have begun harvesting the land within weeks.
"It is unusual for them to sell land with an approved THP," Sutton said. "I think it speaks to their recognition of neighbors' concerns."
"This is something we'd hoped for, but I don't think it was anything anyone had expected," said Mark Lovelace, spokesperson for the Sunny Brae-Arcata Neighborhood Alliance.
Lovelace said his organization will now concentrate on seeing that watershed restoration work SPI had proposed to do as part of its harvest would be completed by the city.
"This has changed from being something we were working against into something we are working for," he said.
Humboldt County may be on its way to a modest economic recovery, but not without a few surprises.
That's the picture from the latest Index of Economic Activity, published monthly by Humboldt State University. March's Index, with data covering February, has plenty of encouraging news -- all from unexpected sources.
Lumber manufacturing, the traditional heart of the Humboldt County economy, bucked a long-term trend by increasing 2.9 percent in February. And that simple increase might be more than a fluke.
"I think we'll see a modest recovery in lumber manufacturing," said Professor Steve Hackett, who compiles the monthly index. There are two main reasons: One, recent tariffs imposed on Canadian softwood imports may help stabilize prices for the redwood and Douglas fir Humboldt mills produce. And two, one of Humboldt's idle mills this year may come back on line. Eel River Sawmills of Fortuna was shuttered in February after a long period of financial decline. However, a recent offer to buy the mill and start it up again has been approved by the company's shareholders.
If a steady log supply can be found, Eel River Sawmills stands a good chance of staying afloat. It is widely considered to be a modern, efficient facility and is designed to process the smaller second-growth logs available today.
And demand for lumber should remain high in the short-term, as new home construction sped up in February. Housing starts reached their highest point nationally since December 1998.
The only problem may be future increases in interest rates. Mortgage rates have been increasing in anticipation of a national economic recovery. If they get too high, the cost of building a new home could become a drag on demand for lumber.
Just as lumber manufacturing enjoyed a good month, two sectors that have become mainstays of the county economy had a bad month. Both the housing market and tourist activity declined during February.
The tourism sector dropped 5.1 percent and home sales dropped 12.1 percent. Factor in future increases in mortgage rates and gasoline prices, and the two sectors look even more vulnerable. But Hackett said it was too soon to worry.
"Home sales are a volatile sector," he said. "It's hard to get a good sense of a trend of one month. I feel like the sector is healthy."
"I'm optimistic. The fact we are having a modest recovery nationally will mean people on the West Coast are more likely to plan a North Coast trip," because Humboldt represents a lower-cost alternative to distant vacation spots.
"And gasoline is not a major component of the cost of a trip for a family," Hackett said.
Capping off the month's report was a dose of good news about the county's job market. The unemployment rate fell from 7.9 in January to 6.8 in February, driven by an increase in employment in the service sector.
And the future looks bright, too: The number of help wanted ads in the Times-Standard, used by the Index as an indicator of future performance in the job market, rose 17.5 percent in February.
The Index is available online at www.humboldt.edu/~economic/current/index.html.
Samantha Williams and other Humboldt State students held a protest outside the office of Kathleen Stokes, the university's vice president for academic affairs, April 5. The sit-in is part of an ongoing campaign to reverse Stokes' recommendation not to rehire Assistant Professor of Native American Studies Kathleen Hill. Williams, a 24-year-old Humboldt County native of Tlingit and Choctaw descent, said HSU needs professors like Hill.
"The Native American Studies program is why I even came to HSU," she said.
A long-awaited civil rights lawsuit claiming that two North Coast activists were unjustly targeted as suspects after a bomb destroyed their car got underway in Oakland this week 11 years after being filed.
"We have to pinch ourselves to realize we are really going through with it," said plaintiff Darryl Cherney in a telephone interview from Oakland.
In 1990 Cherney and Judi Bari, both activists with Earth First!, were on their way to a rally in Oakland when a bomb detonated inside the car. Cherney escaped without major injuries, while Bari's pelvis was crushed, confining her to a wheelchair until her death from breast cancer in 1997.
Bari and Cherney filed suit in 1991, claiming their constitutional rights were violated during the subsequent investigation by the FBI and the Oakland Police Department. They were considered suspects and arrested but never prosecuted. No one has ever been charged with the crime.
Cherney blamed the FBI for the 11-year delay. "It's taken them 11 years to give us photos of me lying in the hospital after the explosion," he said.
But the Earth First! legal team also asked for and received a delay last October because of fears that they would not be able to receive a fair trial in the political aftermath of Sept. 11.
THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION IS FAVORING agricultural interests to the exclusion of all other parties as it seeks to resolve the ongoing fight over water in the Klamath River basin, Congressman Mike Thompson said last week.
Speaking from his Eureka office, Thompson expressed indignation that North Coast communities, along with commercial and sport fishing interests and Native Americans, have been left off a government-appointed task force set up to seek a solution to the Klamath situation.
"I think it's more than an oversight that the coastal communities, the river communities, Native Americans and commercial and sports fishermen were left out of the equation. The task force needs to be made up of all the stakeholders," said Thompson, who last week made an appearance at a press conference in Eureka held by an environmental group intended to highlight the Klamath's environmental decline.
"I'm on the Agriculture Committee (in the House). I used to be in agriculture. I support agriculture. But I can't imagine (the Administration) not understanding that we on the North Coast have been suffering economically for years because of the water management practices of the federal government. And now to say, `Too bad North Coast, too bad Humboldt and Del Norte and Mendocino counties, too bad southern Oregon, I'm concerned with farmers in the basin and that's all,' well, that's just not appropriate. You need to be concerned with everybody."
While a relatively wet winter will prevent a repeat of last year's crisis in the basin, a repeat at some point is unavoidable unless all the parties can reach agreement about how to divvy up the water. "The underlying problem is overallocation," Thompson said.
On a related matter, Thompson said the Bush administration needs to carry out a decision made in the Clinton era to return a portion of the Trinity River now being diverted to farmers in the Central Valley as a way to boost the river's declining salmon and steelhead runs. He said the Interior Department's present position that the matter needs more study is unjustifiable.
"We've studied it too long already," Thompson said. "It's pretty clear there needs to be some water returned to the Trinity. The longer we study, the worse the problems are going to become.
"We need to carry out the record of decision," Thompson continued, referring to the 2000 order by then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to restore part of the river's flow to its natural channel. "The fisheries are dependent on that, the river communities are dependent on that. And there's a matter of trust. We did the study and now it's time to live up to our end of the deal."
Thompson said he would probably be a co-sponsor, along with Sen. Barbara Boxer, of a bill that would designate more wilderness areas on federal land in California. He said the bill, still in draft stage, would provide protection to the Kings Range and possibly other areas on public land in Humboldt County.
The 51-year-old Napa Valley Democrat, who has represented the 1st Congressional District since 1998, is being challenged by Lawrence Wiesner, a conservative Santa Rosa accountant. Wiesner has lost two previous bids to take Thompson's seat and is considered a longshot at best.
On national matters, Thompson said there will be "a tremendous debate" on fiscal issues now that the increased spending and tax-cutting priorities of President Bush have put the country in debt. "The idea that this administration wants to increase our debt level when we're already $5.7 trillion in debt, already spending $1 billion a day on interest on that debt ... and to come back and ask that the debt ceiling be lifted with no plan to pay off that debt or to balance our books is terribly short-sighted and a tremendous threat to our economic and national security."
Thompson, speaking before President Bush sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to the Middle East to try and defuse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said Bush erred when he came into office and chose not to continue to seek a solution to the conflict as President Clinton was doing at the end of his term. "It was a mistake not to remain involved in the Middle East (peace) efforts," Thompson said. "This administration didn't do that. They ran on a platform that they weren't going to do that. They told the American people they wouldn't become involved in nation-building and solving the problems of the rest of the world. I think the voters understand that it's important to do that and I think the administration now understands that."
When asked if the U.S. should invade Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein as President Bush has openly called for, Thompson said such an effort at this point in time would be "a bit premature.
"I don't know how this country can do that if there's not some provocation on (Hussein's) part or if there's not some sort of agreement amongst the allies that he's doing what some suspect he's doing and that by stopping him we'll stop terrorism. Right now (that kind of agreement) is not there. We're kind of alone on that."
-- reported by Keith Easthouse
The Humboldt Arts Council announced last week it has appointed an interim director.
Guy Joy, operations manager for the council, will replace outgoing Executive Director Debbie Goodwin. The appointment takes effect April 22.
Joy has held several administrative positions, including director of public relations for the University of California at Berkeley and tourism executive for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Bureau.
The council, which provides fiscal support and exhibition space for the fine arts in Humboldt County, is best known for the Morris Graves Museum, located in the Carnegie Building at 6th and F streets in Eureka.
Two Humboldt State University track and field athletes are at the top of their game -- literally.
Jason Walker and Kate Droz have the best records in all of NCAA Division II track and field for their events.
Walker earned that honor by completing the 3K steeplechase in 8:58.52. Droz threw the javelin 148 feet and 11 inches to claim her spotlight. With six more meets to go, the duo may yet improve their marks.
"There is a lot more to come this season," said head coach David Wells.
The final staff report on how to spend the $22 million the county received as part of the Headwaters agreement has been published.
The report is the result of a two-year process in which the Department of Community Services looked at how the money could best be used to foster economic growth in the county. The recommendations include a mix of revolving loan and grant funds.
The final report will be used as a basis for the Board of Supervisors' decision about how to spend the money. A preliminary version was released earlier this year. The new version includes changes that reflect the public comment the department accepted.
Chief among those changes is the way the report treats venture capital, said Kirk Girard, director of community development for the county. Other changes include a clarification of how watershed restoration projects might qualify for funding and making the charter flexible enough to adapt to changing conditions.
People unhappy with the report still have a few chances to comment. Written comments can be submitted to Jacqueline Debets, 520 E St., Eureka, 95501. Oral comments can be made before the board at a May 6 hearing. The report can be found online at www.co.humboldt.ca.us/planning/index.asp.
Score another point for eco-tourism.
Drawn by Arcata's famed marsh and recycling center and the region's thriving organic farming economy, a national organization of cooperative groceries will hold its convention in Humboldt County June 6-8.
The 46th Annual Consumer Cooperative Management Association Conference will bring more than 300 directors and managers to the North Coast.
They'll be surveying the North Coast Co-op's newly expanded flagship store in Arcata as well as looking at the farms that deliver produce to the store. Then it's on to the recycling center to see where food containers go, and to Fire and Light to watch recycled glass be turned into fine dinnerware and other consumer goods.
But it's more than just a guided tour, said Angy De Simone, Co-op spokesperson.
"They'll also be talking about issues within the cooperative movement, what might be new or upcoming, and what kind of strategic planning they can do," De Simone said.
People interested in attending or volunteering for the convention should call 826-8670, Ext. 134.
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