June 28, 2001
Humboldt Bancorp, parent company of Humboldt Bank, announced last month that it was discontinuing operations at one of its subsidiary corporations and accepting a loss of about $8 million dollars.
Bancorp Financial Services, which was mainly involved in servicing leases for less than $100,000, was closed down as the result of a long-term strategic review, according to wire reports. It was decided after the review that Bancorp Financial Services' prospects does not merit continued investment by the parent corporation, Humboldt Bancorp.
The $8 million loss did not put the Eureka institution into danger, according to company sources. The firm has been able to continue its status under banking regulations as a "well-capitalized" institution.
The Humboldt County Children's Shelter will close its doors July 1 to undergo a state licensing process, shutting down a controversial resource to the emergency childcare community.
The shelter was intended to house children over the age of 6 who had been removed from their homes while more appropriate housing was found. It had evolved into a more permanent facility for high-risk children, said Phillip Crandall, director of Humboldt County's Department of Health and Human Services (see "In the news," Nov. 23, 2000). The problem, Crandall said, was that it had never been intended to serve that purpose and wasn't properly equipped or staffed to do so.
During the shelter's closure, the county will try to beef up the services it provides to meet the needs of high-risk children.
"We want to be able to monitor and stabilize them, and move from there," Crandall said. Children could be evaluated for possible mental illnesses at the shelter and would then be placed in the best treatment setting possible, he said.
In the interim the county won't have a children's shelter -- and that worries Brian Nunn, president of the Foster Parent Association of Humboldt County.
"My concern is that children with high-level needs will be placed in basic foster homes without the level of training or expertise they need to meet the needs of the kids," Nunn said.
Crandall said that a pool of therapeutic behavior aides -- professionals who calm kids down and prevent dangerous behavior -- has been trained to help foster parents with the kids. But Nunn said that isn't enough.
"If this child just came from a residential facility and they say, `We're going to give you an aide for six hours a day and that makes it OK,' but that does not make it OK."
As the power crisis continues statewide, Humboldt leaders are looking at how to cut energy bills --whether or not to jump into the energy production business.
Represented on the newly formed Humboldt Energy Task Force are the county, and several cities and other agencies. The first order of business was to draft a letter of understanding, a written agreement to work together "to help the public become better informed about energy conservation opportunities, provide information on appropriate alternative energy systems and to identify funding strategies for cost-effective energy projects."
The Board of Supervisors, represented by 3rd District Supervisor John Woolley who initiated the task force meetings, and the cities of Arcata and Rio Dell have already signed the letter. Eureka and Blue Lake consider it this week and Ferndale has it on the agenda for its July council meeting. Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District and the Humboldt Bay Harbor and Recreation Conservation District have been participating and are expected to sign.
When it comes to energy conservation issues, Arcata is ahead of the curve. The city established an energy task force four years ago that came up with some energy-saving recommendations. There were members who suggested Arcata should pursue a municipal utility district, an idea the Mayor Connie Stewart quickly dismissed as "a nightmare."
"The fact is we're not power experts," she said with a laugh, "We didn't have the money, the expertise or the need to do it."
Instead the Arcata Council formed the Community Energy Authority.
"It's similar to a redevelopment agency in that it allows the city to seek grant funding to offer conservation education and other bigger scale stuff to citizens," said Stewart.
The countywide task force is taking a similar conservation-based approach for many of the same reasons. Woolley said he sees a potential for adding a power plant but, "whether it's financed entirely by the private sector or by shared financing, any kind of major power generating plant is really long term."
For the short term, "We had to think about what we can do to help now, and that leans toward conservation of energy, not only to help residents but businesses as well," Woolley said. "What we've done is put a few dollars into a contract with Schatz Energy Lab to pull together a technical analysis that will give us a sense of what we can do."
"(The plans) will include solar panels for electricity, solar hot water, weather stripping and educational stuff," said Stewart. "They're researching how much it would cost if we put together a collective body, say 100 households, who wanted to put solar hot water systems on their houses. With a big buy we could reduce the price."
Woolley sees a unified conservation effort as the first step toward municipal power.
"If we can organize ourselves and get experience and discover how we can make things happen, we will be in a position to go to the next level," he said. "We may not be able to form a municipal utility district easily, but maybe we can find a way to capitalize ourselves so we could partner with a firm that would in the long term set up a new power generating plant."
What about the main power plant owned by bankrupt PG&E?
Stewart said any notion to purchase the plant is impossible until the company is out of bankruptcy. And even if it were for sale, the plant is outmoded and would require a major upgrade.
"And do we really want to inherit PG&E's nuclear power plant along with its gas power plant? What entity would be stupid enough to do that?" she said. "For all of those reasons and a lot more, we're not even considering it."
Stewart said even with the whole county working together, there are not enough people here to make municipal power work.
"Our population is not dense enough to make that our focus. I think we need to focus on conservation."
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted June 5 to continue the county's relationship with a controversial group of scientists that help regulate gravel mining.
The County of Humboldt Extraction Review Team (CHERT) is a group of scientists that estimates how much gravel can be taken from the Mad River. Those estimates are used to write an Environmental Impact Report outlining how much can be taken from the river bed without harming salmon habitat. The last EIR was written five years ago; a revision is due within the next year or so.
Gravel miners are upset because during the last round of regulations CHERT probably underestimated the amount they could take. They argued before the board that it was foolish to continue working with scientists who had -- by the county's own admission -- probably been wrong about the amount of gravel they should be allowed to take.
"CHERT said you could take about 200,000 cubic yards without habitat degradation," said Kirk Girard, planning director for the county. A new report from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers suggests the number is closer to 230,000.
"That's where the rubber hits the road," Girard said.
Supervisors reasoned that including CHERT would help attract grant money to fund the new EIR because of their expertise in the area.
The extremely dry weather in Northern California has led officials with the Six Rivers National Forest to put special restrictions on the use of fire on its land.
"Wildland fires that are currently burning on other National Forest lands have exhibited extreme fire behavior, posing a threat to public and firefighter safety," Six Rivers Forest Supervisor Lou Woltering said. "By allowing open campfires only in designated fire safe areas, we hope to minimize any potential wildland fire starts."
The restrictions aren't limited to campfires. Smoking is only allowed in enclosed vehicles and developed recreation sites and internal combustion engines are limited to Forest Service roads. Acetylene torches and explosives are also prohibited. Campstoves and other enclosed flames are permitted with a campfire permit, which are available free at Forest Service offices.
Humboldt State University's proposed construction of a Behavioral and Social Sciences Building on Union Street cleared a legal hurdle June 21 when a lawsuit filed by the City of Arcata to halt its construction was dismissed.
Humboldt Superior Court Judge J. Michael Brown rejected the city's claim that the university's environmental documentation was out of date. The proposed 95-foot-tall building has been attacked by the city and would-be neighbors for its visual impact and potential effects on traffic in the residential neighborhood.
"Now that we have this ruling behind us, it is our hope that we can look to a more productive relationship with the city of Arcata," stated HSU Community Relations Director Elizabeth Hans.
The city is vowing further legal challenges, however. Mayor Connie Stewart said in a press release that the ruling was "a blessing in disguise" and that additional evidence has been found that will bolster the city's position.
Ironically, the legal fight has been rendered temporarily moot by realities outside the courtroom. The building's construction, which was to begin this summer, was postponed indefinitely after bids from contractors turned out to be $4.5 million more than the university had budgeted for.
The building's $17.5 million in state funding reverted to the California University system. The University has said it plans on reapplying for funding.
The Humboldt Redwoods State Park is getting a new general plan and now is the time to put in your two cents on what you'd like to see.
A preliminary version of the plan has just been released by California State Parks. The plan calls for additional interpretive facilities, like an environmental education center and a history program at the Holmgren homestead.
"We're looking at interpretive facilities that will be close to access points so that we can help capture some of the motoring public on the freeway," said Joann Weiler, project manager, in a telephone interview from Sacramento.
The plan only lays out general priorities and not specific proposals, but the park hopes to move to get more people onto the Avenue of the Giants. Part of that approach might be reducing the speed limit and improving signage along the avenue. The idea is to "make it more leisurely and intimate," Weiler said.
Copies of the plan are available at branch offices of the Humboldt County Library, state park offices and through the mail. Call (916) 445-8907 for more information.
Baseball facilities in Arcata and McKinleyville are in line to receive grand slam-sized funding in this year's state budget.
Two parks stand to get $200,000 each for development and improvement. The Arcata Ballpark would use its funds to switch from seasonal to year-round operation. McKinleyville would use their funds to develop the Hiller Sports Complex and Community Park, which would have softball, baseball and soccer fields.
The money is not yet a sure thing, however. The funding requests by state Sen. Wesley Chesbro were included in the Legislature's budget proposal, but Gov. Davis could still veto the monies.
One lane of traffic on Plaza streets will be closed during the Arcata Farmer's market following a decision by the city council at its June 20 meeting.
The plan had initially been to close all traffic on the streets along the perimeter of the Plaza, but opposition by merchants who said such a move would hurt their business has stalled that proposal. The North Coast Growers' Association, which administers the market, hasn't pursued the idea.
The one-lane closure is a stopgap measure, and merchants and representatives of the growers' association are to meet again before the city council reconsiders the issue July 18.
A new vocational training program is opening in Eureka. It won't teach you to design a web page or fix a car; its aim is to teach the art and science of haircuts to potential barbers.
The Humboldt Bay Barber College, located on Fifth Street in Eureka, has started accepting applications and will begin classes soon.
"It's going to train people in the community and give them a chance to go get jobs," said Susan Waddingham, director and sole instructor of the school. Currently, the nearest such school is in Sacramento.
Waddingham, who has been a barber for 28 years and has had her own shop for nine, said the school will accommodate 15 to 20 students at a time. At 40 hours a week, you could be a barber in just 10 months.
The school will be offering haircuts at reduced prices soon after classes begin, Waddingham said. It's not just for daredevils, she said. She will only let students "who have become proficient with the tools" take the shears to an actual head of hair. Call 444-8833 for more information.
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© Copyright 2001, North Coast Journal, Inc.