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April 21, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

Humboldt Printing to shut its doors
Humboldt Beacon up for sale

Ferndale racks up water board fines
Problem is part of larger mess

Sweasey Theater façade near completion


The Weekly Wrap

BSS CONSTRUCTION HALTED: C onstruction at Humboldt State's new Behavioral and Social Sciences Building has been shut down following discovery of a possible seismic fault at the site. An HSU press release issued Tuesday stated that Danco-Swinerton consultants had identified a suspicious "discontinuity" in the soil at the building's site shortly after construction crews returned to work after a winter break. A California State University investigation team was brought in soon afterwards; it agreed that there could be an unmapped fault line running through the site. "It's out of our hands," said Jane Rogers, HSU public affairs officer. "Once a fault is found at a construction site, the CSU Seismic Review Board just takes it." A follow-up investigation should take between 10 days and three weeks. According to the press release, Danco-Swinerton discovered the suspected fault on April 5; HSU President Rollin Richmond last week said that the company, citing increased construction costs, had asked to be released from its contract to construct the building on Feb. 1. See last week's Journal for details (and note the correction below).

SAMOA RESIDENTS EVICTED?: Some residents of the former lumber town of Samoa received eviction notices from the property manager that represents their current landlords, according to one 20-year resident. The resident, who asked to remain unnamed, said she and at least three of her neighbors got letters last week from Danco Property Management saying they were to be evicted in 60 days so that their homes could be renovated. The resident pointed out that this was not the original plan as described by Dan and Kendra Johnson and Lane and Kathryn DeVries, who bought the historic town for a reported $1.7 million in 2000. In 2002, the owners announced that the changes to the town would include a 250-seat performing arts center, a 500-person capacity convention center, a 75-room hotel, a 70-space RV park, a swimming pool, a wastewater marsh similar to Arcata's and a 35-acre industrial park. They also said that once renovated, the houses would be offered for sale at market rates to their current tenants. A representative with Danco Property Management did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday. Dan Johnson said he was unaware of any evictions, and referred questions to the property manager.

CONGRESS INVESTIGATES NUKE RODS: The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, issued a report last week on missing nuclear fuel at three power plants across the country, including Pacific Gas and Electric's Humboldt Bay Power Plant in Eureka, which was closed in 1976. While reviewing its records last summer, PG&E discovered that three fuel rod segments, containing hazardous radioactive uranium used to generate electricity, could not be accounted for. Similar discrepancies at two still-active nuclear plants in Connecticut and Vermont prompted Congress to investigate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's regulations for tracking spent fuel. In its report, the GAO concludes that the NRC -- which is responsible for overseeing nuclear facilities -- needs to tighten its requirements for tracking spent fuel, and to develop inspection procedures to ensure operators comply with the regulations. The GAO's report indicated that PG&E will issue a final report on Humboldt Bay's missing material next month. The company has stated that it believes the rods are lurking about in some hidden corner of its storage pool or that they had been shipped off unaccounted to a certified waste facility sometime in the late 1960s.

EUREKA TO DISCUSS INSTANT RUNOFF VOTING: Eureka's David Cobb, the 2004 Green Party presidential candidate, preached about it constantly during his many media appearances last year -- Instant Runoff Voting, an innovative way to conduct elections. Next Thursday, April 28, Eureka City Councilmembers Mike Jones and Chris Kerrigan will host a town hall meeting to discuss whether to bring IRV to Cobb's hometown. Under the system, voters rank their preferences for each office from first to last, rather than just marking an "X" for their top choice. The city of San Francisco used the system for the first time in its last election, and voters in Berkeley and Burlington, Vt., officially approved its use in future elections. Supporters say that the system is more efficient than traditional run-off elections and allows people to vote for third parties without fear of "spoiling" an election for major candidates. Eureka businessman and major Republican donor Rob Arkley, an opponent, believes it a plot of some sort. "This is the most absurd proposal ever," Arkley wrote in a well-circulated e-mail last week. "It is the move [by] the EXTREME LEFT to take over Eureka." The town hall meeting will be held at Eureka's Wharfinger Building between 6 and 8 p.m.

CATTLE AND GEESE: Can't we all just get along? In the animal kingdom, it's often not that simple. For instance -- every spring, hordes of once-rare Aleutian geese swoop down on Humboldt County pastures, scarfing down grass that was formerly the exclusive province of local cattlemen and their four-legged colleagues. The geese's presence is sometimes resented. But in an ongoing effort to increase the peace, Humboldt State University will host a talk by Matt Johnson, professor of wildlife management, at Humboldt Agricultural Center from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. Monday. Johnson will give the community an update on his current research, which centers on attempts to steer the marauding geese toward publicly owned grasslands. The presentation is part of HSU's "Taking Care of Business" lecture series. The agricultural building is located at 5630 S. Broadway, Eureka. Call 826-3924 to RSVP.

ASSISTED SUICIDE BILL CLEARS COMMITTEE: Nearly two weeks after the death of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who sparked a national debate over right-to-die issues, a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Patty Berg that would allow terminally ill people to end their own lives cleared a key legislative committee last week. Berg's bill, called the "California Compassionate Choices Act," squeaked through the Assembly Judiciary Committee on a vote of 5-4; it must now pass through another committee before going on to the full Assembly, the Senate and governor's office. The bill, which is modeled on Oregon's "Death with Dignity Act," is co-sponsored by Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys).

POWER PLANT BUYOUT: Since its purchase by DG Energy earlier this month, things have been hectic around the Fairhaven Power Company in Samoa. Hectic in a good way, says plant General Manager Bob Marino. "We are extremely busy with projects that need to be done to make the plant more efficient," said Marino on Tuesday. That includes the installation of a "fuel drying" system, to dry the sawdust and woodchips -- or biomass -- that the company burns to make energy. The project will cost around $1.5 million, Marino said. The company is also preparing to build a facility to collect fly ash. The 20 employees who were at the plant before the sale still have their jobs, and Marino said they are pleased with the new ownership. The president of San Diego-based DG Energy Steve Mueller said the company is also looking to buy the Ultrapower 3 plant in Blue Lake. The plan is contingent upon whether enough reasonably priced biomass can be purchased to run the 12-megawatt facility, which has been closed since 1999. Mueller said that between $8 million and $10 million in upgrades at Ultrapower 3 would be necessary. A spokesperson for current owners of the Blue Lake plant, North American Power Group, could not comment on negotiations between the company and any potential buyers.

PEPPER SPRAY TRIAL: A lawsuit stemming from the 1997 pepper spray eye-swabbing of eight logging protesters by Humboldt County sheriffs, Lundberg v. County of Humboldt, went back to trial for the third time last week in San Francisco before federal Judge Susan Illston. The jury was chosen on Tuesday, April 12, and opening statements from plaintiffs' lawyer Dennis Cunningham and defense attorney Nancy Delaney, representing Humboldt County and the city of Eureka, were heard the following day. Plaintiffs took the stand this week and last, and Humboldt County Sheriff Gary Philp was also questioned this week along with other deputies. The crux of the trial is whether police used excessive force when using Q-tips to apply pepper spray to the eyes of protesters who had locked their arms into metal sleeves. The trial is expected to conclude this week or next, between April 21-April 25.

TENANTS UNION CLOSES: After four years, activists at the Tenants Union of Humboldt County have closed up shop, citing a lack of funds. "We have worked hard with our many wonderful volunteers to educate other tenants on their rights and demand that landlords, city governments, and the community make safe, decent housing a priority," the group announced in a written statement.

TEACH-IN EXAMINES WAR: Veterans and activists will be the featured speakers at a teach-in on war, terrorism and repression to be held at Humboldt State and the surrounding community April 27-30. The event marks 30 years since the end of the war in Vietnam and 35 years since four students were killed by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State University. Speakers include Tim Goodrich, who co-founded Iraq Veterans Against the War after an honorable discharge from the Air Force. For more information, see or call 826-9197.

ARCATA UNVEILS AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Eight lucky families are now the owners of new $140,000 duplexes in the Windsong subdivision of Arcata, thanks to a project of the Humboldt Community Development Land Trust. The trust will hold title to the land on which the homes sit. To assure that the homes remain affordable, the resale profit is limited. The land trust was founded by Humboldt Bay Housing Development Corp. to provide permanent affordable homeownership opportunities to those who might not otherwise be able to afford a home.

GENERAL PLAN WORKSHOP: The Humboldt County Planning Commission will host a public workshop on the county's ongoing revision to its general plan next Thursday, April 28. At issue will be the proposed "urban study areas" -- areas which are expected to absorb most of the growth in the county's unincorporated areas over the coming years. County planners have tentatively identified several of these areas -- including McKinleyville, the Cutten area and the urban fringes of many of the county's incorporated cities -- as already possessing the water and sewer infrastructure that will allow development with a minimum of sprawl, one of the priorities set by the Board of Supervisors last fall. The workshop will be held in the Board of Supervisors' chambers at the Humboldt County Courthouse, 825 Fifth St., Eureka, at 6 p.m. Documents relating to the urban study areas can be found on-line at

CORRECTION: In last week's story about Humboldt State's new Behavioral and Social Sciences Building, the Journal incorrectly reported that HSU's media affairs office recently stated that the project was months ahead of schedule. In fact, the press release referenced in the story was from April 2004, not this year. The Journal regrets the error. [The online version has been corrected]

Humboldt Printing to shut its doors
Humboldt Beacon up for sale


In early 10 years after the death of the Arcata Union and the Redwood Record, and just three years since Satellite TV Week ceased publication, it appears that former Fortuna resident Patrick O'Dell is on the verge of dumping the remainder of his once formidable Humboldt County publishing empire.

On Friday, O'Dell's umbrella company, the Humboldt Group, Inc., told clients and employees of one of its subsidiaries, Humboldt Printing, that the Fortuna-based press would close its doors on June 3.

A Humboldt Group official subsequently confirmed that Humboldt Printing's sister company, the Humboldt Beacon newspaper, is up for sale, with several unnamed parties expressing interest in the 103-year-old paper.

In a letter to Humboldt Printing customers, O'Dell wrote the decision to shutter the press -- which currently has 13 employees -- came with "deep regret."

"With mixed emotions of leaving old friends, I would like to extend a sincere thank you to each of our customers for their past business," he wrote. "I wish you many years of continued success."

In addition to the Beacon, the company prints a number of other local newspapers -- including the North Coast Journal, the Ferndale Enterprise, Senior News, Econews and some high-school publications -- in addition to numerous other local jobs, such as Humboldt State University's schedule of classes.

Caroline Titus, publisher of the Ferndale Enterprise, said Tuesday that she had just received the news, and had not yet had time to figure out where her paper would be published in the future. However, she said that she worried that printing at an out-of-town press -- such as the Daily Triplicate's press in Del Norte County, printer of a number of other local newspapers -- would seriously impact her business.

"We are one of the smallest papers in California, if not the smallest," Titus said. "The thought of having to drive to Crescent City to pick up our 1,600 copies every week, or hiring someone to do it for us -- it will be a real hardship for us."

Humboldt Group's announcement Friday follows failed negotiations to sell Humboldt Printing to Security National Servicing Corp., the Eureka-based financial corporation that publishes the Eureka Reporter.

Reporter Publisher Judi Pollace said Monday that Security National, owned by Rob and Cherie Arkley, ceased negotiations to buy Humboldt Printing about three weeks ago, after deciding that it was not a good fit for the company, as the cost of relocating it to Eureka would be too great.

"Obviously, we're a Eureka-based paper, so we wanted to move it to Eureka," she said. "The logistics just weren't right for us."

Pollace declined to comment on whether the Reporter was still considering purchasing its own printing press.

Doe Neal, O'Dell's assistant, said Tuesday that one key factor in the closure of Humboldt Printing was the forthcoming sale of the Beacon -- the last of the Humboldt Group's local papers.

"The newspaper will be sold, therefore leaving Humboldt Printing with no reason to be there," she said.

Neal added that the company would also seek to sell Humboldt Printing's presses and related equipment.

The O'Dell family had owned the Beacon for many years when, in the late '70s, the first wave of satellite television -- the large, ungainly dishes that used to populate suburban back yards -- first swept the nation. Sensing an opportunity, Patrick O'Dell founded Satellite TV Week, a magazine that told dish owners what was on. It quickly became the most popular guide in the country, with subscriptions in the hundreds of thousands.

Profits from the magazine fueled a number of local acquisitions, including, in the late '80s, the Arcata Union and the southern Humboldt-based Redwood Record. O'Dell closed both papers in 1995, consolidating them into the Beacon.

O'Dell relocated to the Napa Valley sometime after purchasing a winery, Johnson Turnbull Vineyards, in 1993. In recent years, he has reportedly devoted much of his attention to the winery, which has since been renamed Turnbull Wine Cellars.

In 2002, he sold Satellite TV Week to a competitor on the East Coast. If the sale of the Beacon goes through, his Humboldt Group will have only one business left in the Humboldt County area -- Swanlund's Camera in Eureka.

Skip Stone, the publisher of the Garberville-based Redwood Times, a subsidiary of the Times-Standard, worked as general manager for the Humboldt Group's news and printing operations during the company's heyday in the mid- to late-1980s. He said Monday that he was saddened to hear about the printing plant's demise, and expressed concern for the future of the Beacon.

"You know, it's been a gradual thing -- slowly unwinding, selling off the businesses," he said. "It's kind of the end of an era."

Ferndale racks up water board fines
Problem is part of larger mess


The city of Ferndale is on the hook for $66,000 in fines to the regional water board after failing to file required reports on wastewater discharge, city officials said.

According to a Feb. 22 letter from the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to Ferndale City Manager Michael Powers, four monthly reports dating back to August 2004 were overdue. The reports list such data as wastewater volumes and pollution levels.

In an effort to resolve the problem, City Councilman Ken Mierzwa made an emergency trip to Santa Rosa last Tuesday to meet with Lisa Bernard and Tom Dunbar of the water board staff. By Thursday, the reports were being faxed in -- a day before the fines would have doubled -- and the charges were no longer accumulating, Mierzwa said.

"It's almost embarrassingly simple, really," Mierzwa said. "Public works took the samples all the way through; they were just not turned in."

Powers, the city manager, said he was under the impression that the reports could be submitted only by a certified wastewater plant operator -- something that Ferndale did not have for several months last year.

But Dunbar, a senior engineer with the water board, said Tuesday that the city's permit for the wastewater facility says that the task can be assumed by another city official. "There's nothing that says only a certified operator can sign or send in these reports."

Powers said the city would appeal the fines.

The financial blow is just part of a larger sewer mess facing the town, officials said. Residents have complained bitterly about proposed sewer rate hikes, which the city says are necessary to maintain the system and eventually build a new treatment plant for the town's 650 connections. The current plant on Port Kenyon Road, built in the early '70s, has racked up over $100,000 in additional fines for "discharge violations" such as excessive levels of ammonia and bacteria.

Meanwhile, the existing system is functioning like one big clogged toilet: The Salt River, which used to be a free-flowing channel to the ocean through which all the wastewater travels, is now chocked with silt.

"We've gotta get flow back from the plant to the ocean," Mierzwa said. "Anything else is a short-term fix." The problem affects more than just the sewer system. "We have dairy farmers who are forced out of business right now because their land is too wet to graze cows on," he said.

In the meantime, Ferndale residents have until June 2 to weigh in on a proposed sewer rate increase, from the current rate of $21 up to $36 per month. (Ferndale's water is billed separately.) The council approved the increase last week, but if more than 50 percent of customers oppose it, it will not take effect.

Mierzwa said the city dearly needs the cash. "We're not building anything without an increase. There is no [new] plant without an increase."

[front of Sweasey Theater under construction]Sweasey Theater façade near completion

Work is nearly done on the new façade for the renovated Sweasey/State Theater, completing the first phase in a project that developer Kurt Kramer estimates could cost from $3.5 million to $5 million.

"We are at a unique position with the funding, in that we have just one underwriter," said Kramer, who figures the whole project could be done by fall 2006. All of the costs of restoring the theater to its 1920-era glory are being covered by Rob and Cherie Arkley.
"Most of these theaters are in a nonprofit status worrying about fund-raising. We haven't had to deal with any of that. It's get the project done and send me a bill and I'll pay you. They know I'm doing everything I can to make it historically accurate but do it as cost-efficiently as possible. "

The next step in restoration is installing a new marquee with the theater's new name: The Arkley Center for the Performing Arts.






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