Record low unemployment
There was another sign last week that the North Coast economy is improving. The April unemployment rate -- 6.1 percent -- was the lowest on record for Humboldt County. That's partially due to seasonal increases in the construction and wood products industries, but many of the jobs are in sectors not dependent on the time of year.
Much of the increase is in the service sector, said Anita Alexander, the North Coast labor market specialist for the state Employment Development Department.
The number of service jobs increased 3.1 percent last year, led by an increase of 14.3 percent in the finance, insurance and real estate industries.
Jobs in the manufacturing of durable goods rose 20 percent from last year. Lumber jobs are experiencing an expected seasonal upswing but are 2.8 percent than last year.
"I would say we will look forward to more record low unemployment figures throughout the summer," said Alexander. The high employment period in Humboldt County is just beginning, so the unemployment rate should go down from here through October.
Garden tour postponed
Garden enthusiasts will have to be patient this year.
The Humboldt Botanical Gardens Foundation garden tour, usually held in early summer, won't happen until Sept. 10.
HBGF publicity coordinator Donna Wildearth said the fundraiser will be late this year because of changes in the committee that organizes the tour.
"It's been harder to organize the event this year It's taken a while to bring together enough volunteers to coordinate the event. It's a major undertaking," she said.
Wildearth said 10 to 12 gardens, located from Eureka to McKinleyville, will be up for viewing when fall is in the air.
"It's a good opportunity to see North Coast gardens at a different time. There are lots of nice things happening later in the season," she said.
This year HBGF's annual plant sale will be held June 4 at the Bayside Grange. Speakers day, July 29, at the Eureka Woman's Club, will feature gardening with native plants. A variety of speakers will lecture about wildflowers, birds, butterflies and Native Americans' use of local flora.
Governor's budget revised
Gov. Gray Davis released a revison of the state budget last week reflecting the latest numbers about the fiscal health of state government.
This year that meant choosing where to put the projected $11 billion surplus. Davis chose to concentrate on education; his plan includes $1.8 billion in discretionary funding for schools. That would mean a 16 percent increase in per-pupil spending over the 1998-99 budget year.
"Our governor made it a priority to give discretionary funds back to local school districts," said Sen. Wesley Chesbro.
But Chesbro wasn't as happy with other portions of the budget plan. The lack of funding for local governments was particularily troublesome, he said. The Senate proposed $1.5 billion for local governments, but Davis includes only $250 million.
"Certainly this will be an area of intense debate and negotiation," Chesbro said.
Another area where the governor's budget places less emphasis than the Senate version is mental health. Davis has asked for an $101 million increase while the senate proposed $300 million.
"The governor's proposed mental health enhancements are good. However, they do not go far enough, " said Chesbro, who chairs the Joint Committee on Mental Health Reform.
Power to the pedals
If you feel sluggish at work on Monday mornings, the answer might not be a second cup of coffee. Studies show that people who bicycle to work are more cheerful than their automobile-driving counterparts.
"I think people get refreshed when they ride their bikes to work," said Scott Kelly, president of the Humboldt Bay Bicycle Commuters Association. And there will be an extra reason to get refreshed in the morning May 25: It's Bike to Work Day.
The association is coordinating a noon rally at Eureka'a Old Town Gazebo with refreshments and a raffle. Also at the raffle will be the first Humboldt Bay Area Bike Map, recently completed by the Redwood Community Action Agency. The map includes bike routes, trails, bird watching sites and basically everything a biking Humboldter could need.
In other two-wheeler news, the Arcata Community Bike Program was toasted last week for its contribution to bicycling in the area. Ten volunteers with the program recieved letters from Sen. Wesley Chesbro commending their commitment to promoting clean air and reducing traffic. The program has turned out more than 250 free bikes for the community.
Davis taps Keene for post
Barry Keene, who served for14 years as state senator for the North Coast, was appointed director of the Department of General Services by Gov. Gray Davis last week. The position requires senate confirmation.
Keene served in the Assembly from 1972 to 1978 and from 1978 to 1992 he served in the Senate. He was recently in the news for requesting that the state Supreme Court require election officials to count the votes of a "blanket" primary. He is a visiting professor of political science at UC Berkeley.
Environmental suit heating up
A lawsuit filed by environmental, Native American and industry groups against the Board of Forestry and the California Department of Forestry took a step forward last week.
The suit alleges that current rules governing how trees are harvested allow for coho salmon to be killed or harmed, known as an "incidental take." The motion for preliminary injunction filed May 19 seeks to stop the approval of new harvesting using the current Forest Practice Rules.
The suit comes on the heels of the board's approval in March of new rules. The rules are "grossly watered down," according to Peter Galvin, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Galvin said that the current rules have come under attack from a wide array of groups, including Santa Cruz County, fishermen's associations and the National Marine Fisheries Service. NMFS scientists have said of a previous version of the rules that they "do not accomplish the objective" of protecting coho.