July 1, 2004
With three seats on the Arcata City Council up for election this November, two of the council's longest-serving members said this week that they plan to step down at the end of their terms rather than seek re-election.
Mayor Bob Ornelas, who has served on the council off and on since 1990, and Councilmember Connie Stewart, who has served since 1996, both said that it was time to move on -- though the always controversial Ornelas gave himself at least some wiggle room in the event he changes his mind.
"I could use a break, and there are probably several Arcatans who think they need a break from Bob," said Ornelas on Monday after estimating his likelihood of retiring from the council this year at "85 to 95 percent."
Ornelas said that the decision to step aside came after realizing that he needed a change of pace in his life. He said that he'd like to take a bicycle trip around Europe, which would take several months.
"It's a position that I'm honored to be elected and re-elected to, but I think Arcata deserves me at my best," he said. "If I'm not 100 percent involved in my city, I need someone else to be involved."
Stewart will be leaving to concentrate more fully on her job as an aide to Assemblymember Patty Berg and to reclaim her personal life, which has been squeezed out by two jobs in government. She said that she did not plan on leaving politics forever, though.
"I'm being very hush-hush about what my dreams are at this point," she said. "We'll see. I have some thoughts, but nothing I'm ready to spew about yet."
Counclimember Michael Machi, whose seat will also be up for re-election in November, said that he would "almost undoubtedly" seek a second term.
One challenger has announced that he will be seeking a position: Paul Pitino, a 58-year-old landscaper and member of the city's Transportation Safety Committee. Pitino said Monday that he's an average guy -- "Arcata average," he qualified -- eager to work on the nuts and bolts issues of city government.
"I'm not there to be a political activist," he said. "My focus is being on the City Council -- not bashing anybody, just getting in there and doing it."
Pitino said that if elected, he would work to provide public restrooms in the downtown area -- a "no-brainer" issue with wide support, he said. He also indicated his support of a citizen initiative to remove fluoride from city water.
Other rumored candidates, who could not be reached by press time, include educator Jim Sorter and Rondal Snodgrass of the Northcoast Regional Land Trust.
People wishing to run in city elections in Arcata, Eureka, Ferndale, Blue Lake, Rio Dell or Trinidad may pick up candidacy papers from their local City Hall beginning July 12. The deadline to return the papers is Aug. 6.
Some milk sold in California contains unsafe levels of perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel, according to a study released last week by the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group.
Ingestion of perchlorate in sufficient doses is believed to hinder the normal function of the thyroid gland, and puts fetuses and young children at risk of developmental problems, the group said.
Because Humboldt County milk was not tested in the study, the question of whether our local milk is safe may be difficult to answer.
Sonya Lunder, an EWG analyst, said Tuesday that her organization is working on the assumption that the perchlorate found in the milk samples originates from a closed defense manufacturing plant located in Henderson, Nev.
Chemicals from the plant have leeched into the Colorado River, water from which is used to irrigate agricultural crops in the Imperial Valley and elsewhere. The EWG believes that alfalfa grown with Colorado River water has been fed to dairy cattle, which have passed on the perchlorate contamination in their milk.
The average amount of perchlorate found in the EWG study was 30 percent greater than the level the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.
The milk samples, taken from Los Angeles, Sacramento, Alameda, Orange and San Joaquin counties, were not identified by brand. Lunder said that given the breadth of the problem -- 31 out of 32 samples tested in the Los Angeles area, for instance, were found to be contaminated -- it would be unfair to single out particular producers.
"We feel that it isn't the individual dairymen or dairy women's responsibility," she said. "We feel that it's solely the responsibility of the Department of Defense and its contractors."
If the EWG's assumption that the chemical is spread through alfalfa is correct, though, it is possible that milk produced locally is more likely to be perchlorate-free.
Frank Giannini, sales manger for Humboldt Creamery, said Tuesday that local dairy cattle get "95 percent" of their food by grazing local pastures. Cattle are generally fed only when extreme weather conditions in the winter prevent grazing.
Though Humboldt Creamery butter is produced outside the county, Giannini said, all its liquid milk products come from local dairies.
"Milk that you buy in the store that has a Humboldt Creamery label comes from our local members," he said.
The Council on Water Quality, a group funded by past and present perchlorate manufacturers, denies that ingestion of the chemical in trace amounts is harmful to health or fetal development.
A spokesman for Safeway did not return the Journal's call.
Fifty years is too long for the salmon of the Klamath River to wait. That is the sentiment of local tribes, environmentalists, fishermen, scientists and local officials who want federal regulators to consider shutting down the dams that constrict water flow on the Klamath.
The power company that uses six hydroelectric dams on the mid-Klamath River has submitted an application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to have its operating license, which expires in March 2006, reissued for another 50 years.
More than 150 people gathered in Eureka last week when FERC held a meeting seeking public comment on the issue.
"Enough is enough," said Leaf Hillman, director of the Karuk Department of Natural Resources in Orleans. "We need to end the suffering of salmon and people. We depend on those salmon."
The hydroelectric project owned by PacifiCorps, a Portland, Ore.-based power company, is spread across 45 miles of the river and generates 150 megawatts of power, serving approximately 77,000 people, according to the power company.
Plagued with low flows and diseases that have killed both juvenile and adult fish, the Klamath has been an epicenter of concern and debate. In 2002, more than 32,000 adult Chinook salmon and steelhead died in the lower Klamath River.
With PacifiCorps seeking a reissued license, attention has shifted from the rerouting of river water for irrigators to the storing of water by the power company. Recent studies by biologists have revealed that hot, shallow pools behind the dams harbor algae blooms, parasites and de-oxygenated water. When released to the lower stretches of the river, the water is harmful for the various species of fish that migrate upstream.
"This is a sterling example of a project that is minimal in terms of energy, but large in terms of the negative impacts that it has on the river," Tim McKay, executive director of the Northcoast Environmental Center told the Journal.
John Coney, a representative for PacifiCorps, told the Journal that the company has worked with tribes in the past and "went beyond what the Bureau of Reclamation was calling for" when they diverted water from the Iron Gate Dam to the lower-Klamath during the 2002 fish kill.
The poor water quality in the river, Coney said, is not the fault of the hydropower company, adding that the water in the upper basin, the river's originating source, is bad to begin with. "The notion that you pull the dams out and the water becomes cleaner and cooler is not necessarily true."
Another concern of environmentalists is that the dams prevent the passage of fish to the upper Klamath Basin.
Creating fish ladders to allow the fish through the dams, particularly the Iron Gate dam, located 20 miles east of Yreka, has been broached as an alternative to removal, but PacifiCorps said that the ladders would be to expensive to install: close to $100 million for the four lower dams, including the Iron Gate. Instead, they have suggested using a "trap and haul" strategy, meaning that fish would be caught and then driven to the other side of the dam.
The energy commission's Eureka meeting almost didn't happen at all. FERC had not scheduled a forum in Humboldt County until the Northcoast Environmental Center rallied other local organizations and officials like the Board of Supervisors, Rep. Mike Thompson and Assemblymember Patty Berg to write letters requesting a meeting here. Other forums were held in Yreka, Ashland and Redding.
Robert McConnell, 55, a cultural resources specialist for the Yurok Tribe, spoke about the lives of future generations of the Yurok Indians who live on the Klamath River.
"Someday I want to tell my grandkids a story about this river. Will it be of a disaster, or will it have a happy ending? That's where FERC comes into play: You can change a part of history that right now is not looking good," McConnell told federal officials.
FERC is scheduled to write an environmental impact statement on the license renewal by December 2005.
Written public comments will be accepted by FERC through July 22.
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.