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July 14, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

HSU quietly raises parking fees
With most students out of town, AS representatives protests sharp hike

Campers skunked but not cowed by unusual attack


The Weekly Wrap

A NOT-SO-BAD BUDGET: After years of distressing news from Sacramento, local governments received a comparatively good deal under a state budget signed Monday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In particular -- and somewhat surprisingly -- the budget fulfills a promise made by Schwarzenegger soon after he took office to replace revenues lost when he slashed the Vehicle License Fee program. The county of Humboldt will receive $2.6 million in "backfill" payments for VLF losses since October 2003. In addition, the ever-threatened Rural Law Enforcement grant program -- designed to help counties that have to police sparsely populated but vast areas -- is once again maintained, meaning that Sheriff Gary Philp will not be forced into laying off employees, as he was last year. However, the governor decided to veto a $24 million budget item that would have funded state environmental and recreational programs, some of which would likely have gone to support the ailing Mad River Hatchery.

BERG SCOLDS LAKE COUNTY: As we reported last week, the Lake County Board of Supervisors sent "no confidence" letters to Assemblymember Patty Berg (D-Eureka) and State Senator Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata) late last month for their failure to oppose a bill that would increase dam inspection fees local governments pay to the state -- not an entirely insignificant expenditure in watery Lake County. Under the new bill, the county must pay around $14,000 in dam fees to the state annually. Last week, Berg fired back, noting that this year and last she had fought hard to retain state rural law enforcement grants when the governor proposed to cut them. Lake County gets about half a million dollars a year under the program. In total, she writes, the county gets around $72 million per year in health care assistance from state and federal agencies. She implies that it is somewhat small of the Lake County Board of Supervisors to get huffy over a relatively tiny increase in dam fees at a time when, despite a budget crisis, plenty of money is still flowing the other way. "We cannot ask our neighbors to shoulder their share of the lifting if we are not willing to do so ourselves," Berg writes. "We will overcome our challenges not by finger-pointing or scapegoating, but by working together for the mutual good. I trust that we will continue to do that."

SUICIDE BILL DEAD: But earlier this week, Berg quietly pulled the plug on her landmark physician-assisted suicide bill, which made national headlines after it was introduced. The Death with Dignity Act, AB 654, reaped only 33 nods from Berg's 79 colleagues. Forty-one votes, including her own, were required. The assemblymember and her co-author briefly tried to switch the bill to the Senate last month, but after getting a lackluster reception last week they withdrew the bill. Berg told the LA Times that she would resubmit it in January: "I think that something that's supported by 70 percent just can't be stopped forever," she said.

TSUNAMI VS. NUKE PLANT: Last month's tsunami warning probably caused many of us on the North Coast to update our emergency awareness reflexes and develop a simple plan for when major earthquakes hit: Get high (in elevation, that is). But if the big wave ever does come again to these shores, like it did in 1964 in Crescent City, it'll also be nice to know that our spent nuclear fuel rods, stored in a pool at the decommissioned Humboldt Bay nuclear power plant, are tucked away in a secure environment. And to date, Pacific Gas & Electric has said they are. But PG&E plans to begin a new study to further define tsunami-proof security at two of its nuclear power plants, Humboldt Bay and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo. PG&E geoscientist Lloyd Cluff visited Indonesia following the Dec. 26 tsunami and brought back ideas for looking into local plant's security, said PG&E spokesperson Sharon Gavin. The $500,000 study will examine the "apocalyptic model," in which a magnitude-9 earthquake triggers a tsunami, and also will model major tsunami action over a period of decades, and from there determine if security upgrades are needed. "This is just sort of an extra look based on models developed after Lloyd went to Indonesia," said Gavin. Michael Welch, of the Arcata-based Redwood Alliance, an environmental group that works on energy issues, was surprised to hear of the $500,000 PG&E study. Welch is on a PG&E citizens advisory board, which has had fruitful discussions on getting the Humboldt Bay plant's spent nuclear fuel out of the pool and into on-site dry cask storage. Last month, PG&E's Cluff gave a presentation to the citizens advisory board on his Indonesia findings. "His presentation led us to believe that already there wasn't any possibility of an impact [at Humboldt Bay] from tsunamis." But Welch said any new research into the plant's safety is welcomed, although he cautioned that the Alliance always takes "with a grain of salt any study undertaken by a major stakeholder." At any rate, if the spent fuel is eventually placed in dry casks, the danger from tsunamis should be lessened, Welch said. "And they're moving forward with that, and everything's hunky dory," he said. "We believe once the spent fuel is in the dry cask storage, it will be safe from any tsunami."

EEL RIVER CLOSES DOORS: The big green mill between Fortuna and Rio Dell -- once famous for the seemingly endless log deck that told northbound travelers on Highway 101 that they were officially entering timber country -- is no more. On Monday, Eel River Lumber Products announced that it would be closing the mill and laying off its employees. The company purchased the mill from Eel River Sawmills, its original owner, in 2003. It is expected to sell its substantial land holdings in the coming months. At its height in the late 1980s, Eel River Sawmills had 450 employees.

TRIBES ABROAD: For the second summer in a row, local tribes and conservationists head to Scotland for the July 22 annual shareholders meeting of ScottishPower, the parent company of PacifiCorp, a utility that manages several hydropower dams that block fish passage and water flow on the mid-Klamath River. Indians from the Yurok, Hoopa, Karuk and Klamath tribes have lobbied to have the power company take down the dams to restore fish spawning habitat on the river. And while talks between the opposing groups have been fairly cordial over the past year, there is no official sign that the company will decommission their utilities or build pricey fish passageways, estimated to cost $100 million. "We're disappointed that their original license application to FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] hasn't been amended at all," said Merv George Jr., administrator for the Klamath River Intertribal Fish and Water Commission. The 50-year federal operating license for the dams expires in March of 2006 and the tribes are pushing to have a resolution before then. Complicating matters somewhat is ScottishPower's recent announcement to sell PacifiCorp to Warren Buffet's MidAmerican Energy Holding Company. PacifiCorp is slated to change hands, for $9.4 billion, within 12 to 18 months, according to a ScottishPower press release. But so far, George said, things have started off on the right foot with the incoming company. This week, tribal members met with CEOs of both PacifiCorp and MidAmerican. "The meeting went really well," George said. "It's the type of dialogue that the tribe has wanted all along because it's best to hear from the people of the river directly. A briefing from someone else doesn't do justice to what our issues are."

HUNTER ANNOUNCES RUN: Dennis Hunter, Eureka's representative on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, announced last Wednesday that he would seek re-election to the seat at a press conference on Woodley Island, not far from the district's headquarters. A veteran of the district, Hunter said that one of his top priorities would be to continue to promote development of the shipping industry on Humboldt Bay. "People in Sacramento and Washington are more aware of the port than ever before, and we've got to keep that momentum going," he said. Not everyone agrees, though, and it seems likely that Hunter will face some competition before voters go to the polls on Nov. 8. Maggy Herbelin, coordinator of the Humboldt Bay Stewards -- a group with an environmental bent -- said Tuesday she is thinking about taking a stab at Hunter's seat. She said that she had concerns about increased shipping on the bay, with its attendant pollution problems. "I feel that if we are going to start doing some barge shipping, we have to look very carefully at the issues surrounding that," she said. "It's very, very important, since we have been gifted with such a beautiful bay, that we take care of it."

REPEATER: Gary Nixon, new to town and ham radio expert extraordinaire (call sign WA6HZT), wants to make one thing very clear: Amateur UHF radio broadcast signals, that is. That's why he approached Evergreen Pulp last month to see if he could make use of its stature and place a repeater on its pulp mill on Samoa. It wasn't, he said, a publicity stunt on Evergreen's part, as a previous Journal report snidely implied. "It's an ideal site," said Nixon. "What makes it good is, the frequencies that this [technology] uses is all line of sight. In this case, you can see that building from anywhere. If you can see that plume, you've got a line of sight shot that will go out to 20 miles." The UHF amateur radio repeater system will be able to receive signals on one frequency and rebroadcast them on another frequency and, through the Internet Radio Linking Project, reach radio operators around the world. Like we said before: Cool.

HSU quietly raises parking fees
With most students out of town, AS representatives protests sharp hikes


["General Parking" sign at lot on Humboldt State University campus]Humboldt State students who drive to school will pay the price come fall semester.

Last week, HSU President Rollin Richmond announced that the school will more than double the price of student parking permits over the next four years in order to help fund a new $12-$15 million, 1,000-space parking structure to be located behind the university library.

HSU officials say the move will discourage students from driving to school and create much-needed revenue that can be used to improve parking and develop alternative transportation strategies.

However, the fee hike goes against the recommendation of the Student Fee Advisory Committee, an advisory body to the president through which students voice their opinion about fees. The committee, comprised of students, faculty and administrators, turned down the parking fee proposal twice, once a year ago and again last semester.

The administration's decision to hike fees in spite of the committee's recommendation comes at a time when the university is desperately trying to attract new students -- and it's already angered some current students still in town during the summer break.

"I'm not opposed to a fee increase," said Associated Students President Nicole Alvarado. "I'm opposed to an inequitable fee increase. We've never asked the students if they want a parking structure."

Alvarado argued that the fee hike is vague and unfair, targeting students to carry the sole burden of the fee. Continuing union negotiations prevent Richmond from raising permit fees for protected staff and faculty. Only student permit costs will rise.

State regulations prohibit CSUs from using general funds to support parking facilities or operations, leaving the university little choice but to raise fees to increase revenues, according to Richmond.

[Rollin Richmond]"I don't have another alternative except to turn to (students)," Richmond [photo at right] said last week.

Currently, a student parking permit costs $135 per academic year. Under the plan approved by Richmond last week, that price will increase by $45 every year until 2008-09, after which future rate increases will be pegged to inflation. Prices for weekly and semester-long permits will increase at the same rate.

According to the university's Parking and Transportation Committee, the body that first proposed the fee hikes, the new garage is slated to be built at the site of the current library parking lot, extending southward to the Campus Apartments, which are scheduled to be demolished. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2007.

Richmond said HSU plans to seek a bond from the California State University system to cover construction costs for the structure. Still, HSU will need an additional estimated $1.2 million per year to cover salaries, maintenance and the interest on the bond. That's where the parking increase comes in. Director of Housing and Parking John Capaccio estimates the fee increase will generate $1.7 million each year for the next four years.

Capaccio acknowledged the fee's weight on students, but noted the difficulty in obtaining revenue form other sources. "Right now (the fee) is not fair," he said. "But if we keep waiting for it to be fair it's not going to go anywhere."

The original proposal for the fee hike notes that increased permit prices would also help cover alternatives to driving to school -- "supporting structures, systems and pathways that facilitate both riding and walking (to HSU)," as outlined in the university's Master Plan.

Richmond said the new structure, in combination with the implementation of alternative transportation strategies like bike paths and more efficient mass transit, would accommodate vehicles while moving toward the goals framed in the Master Plan.

"If we are going to encourage alternative forms of transportation, including bicycles, then we need to move along parallel tracks, acknowledging that we will be using automobiles as a form of transportation," Richmond said.

But Alvarado, who also sits on the Student Fee Advisory Committee, was skeptical. She said that no specific alternative transportation programs were mentioned in the proposal.

"The reality is that they didn't earmark any of the money from this fee for alternative transportation," she said. "It's only going to generate so much money. Where's the money going?"

Richmond said although funds have not been earmarked for specific projects, an April 2005 study of past and future parking issues will enable HSU to plan accordingly to fund alternative transportation.

"We have not just pulled these numbers out of the air," Richmond said. "It is not as though this was just a seat of the pants operation."

Alvarado also expressed concerns about the way the fee was enacted -- at a time when most students were away on summer break.

"It's convenient to raise a fee when students aren't in session and can't voice their collective opinion," she said.

But Richmond denied that there was any intent to deprive students of a chance to comment, saying that he would remind students of the fee increase in the fall and give them the opportunity to register their opinions.

"I don't think the old argument -- that administrators wait around all year to make decision when everyone's gone -- really holds weight," he said.

In a meeting with Richmond last Tuesday, members of the AS Executive Council asked Richmond to consider placing a calendar review date on the fee increase, allowing the SFAC to review the fee and confirm that it has benefited the students and the campus community. The council also requested that Richmond earmark funds for alternative transportation programs, and that he abandon the provision that will allow for automatic fee hikes based on inflation.

Associated Students members plan to meet with Richmond again this week to negotiate.

"If he doesn't listen to us we're going to have to speak a little louder," Alvarado said. "We're definitely prepared to take it further if we need to."

The permit increase is the first in 18 years, when the cost of permits was raised in 1987 from $108 per year to $135 per year. As Richmond and Capaccio point out, after the increase, HSU still has one of the lowest permit costs in the CSU system.

The parking fee hike marks the second time Richmond has overridden the Student Advisory Committee this year. In the spring, Richmond raised the student health fee $44 per semester against the committee's recommendations and despite a 54 percent student vote against the proposal.

If students do decide to buy a permit next semester, they had better hold onto it and park wisely. Two additional fees incorporated in the proposal include a $15 replacement parking permit fee and a $25 parking boot removal fee. About 100 students report lost or stolen permits each year. Both services are currently provided at no charge.

Campers skunked but not cowed by unusual attack


In a bizarre incident likened in rarity to a shark attack, two sleeping children and one adult were bitten in the wee hours of the morning on July 1 when a wild skunk rampaged through their beachside camp on the Lost Coast near Petrolia.

Josie Brown, executive director and co-founder of the Lost Coast youth camp, says everyone was sleeping when the skunk ran through at 1 a.m. "The whole event was over in 15 minutes," she says. "We took this very seriously. We evacuated the campers and staff and took them to the hospital and notified the county health department."

According to Humboldt County's vector control officer, Brent Whitener, the skunk's "very aggressive behavior" toward the members of the Lost Coast Camp group was not your normal skunky summer saunter, but more indicative of the neurological freakout of Mephitis mephitis in the final throes of rabies infection.

In the absence of the skunk, vector control had "to assume it's positive for rabies," says Whitener, who works out of Humboldt County's Environmental Health division. That meant nine people -- the bite victims and others who had contact with the skunk -- had to start the series of prophylactic shots to allay madness and death. Sounds sensational, but rabies isn't nice.

"If any animal [including a human] contracts rabies, it's fatal," says Whitener, if they don't get the post-exposure shots. There's been only one instance of a human surviving full-blown rabies: Last year, doctors miraculously saved a Wisconsin girl who had been bit by a bat in church but didn't get shots. "But that's way off the charts of what's normal," says Whitener.

In general, without treatment, you'll get the Van Gogh brain that scientists see when they examine a rabid wild animal. "We use a portion of the brain and put it under ultraviolet light," Whitener says. "It's like Don McLean's song `Starry Starry Night' [supertitled `Vincent' and about the creator of the famous swirly night-sky painting]. White particles fluoresce, and that's the rabies antibodies."

But don't panic. Rabies is endemic -- but far from epidemic -- in Humboldt's wild animal populations (especially skunk, fox and bat). Whitener says his department tests 75 to 100 animals a year for rabies, and only two to three come up positive. This year, out of 30 tested so far, two animals have been positive for rabies, a bat and a fox. There are anomalous years. "In 2003, we had 17 positive animals in Humboldt County," Whitener says. "I call it the Year of the Fox, because 10 of the 17 were fox." Rabid animals occur throughout the county, he says, and the majority of them are wild.

Attacks are rare in Petrolia, says Denise Goforth, owner of the Petrolia store. Aside from the Lost Coast incident, she's only seen a couple of attacks in her area in the nearly 27 years she's lived there -- one of which involved a fox that bit her daughter "right in front of the store."

"What we saw in the behavior of this skunk was similar to what a skunk did three years ago in that same area," says Whitener. "A skunk crawled into the bottom of someone's sleeping bag and bit their toe." The skunk -- caught in the bag -- was tested and turned out positive for rabies. "The message is," says Whitener, "it is a fact of life in Humboldt County that we have rabies in our wild animals."

That said, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Like, wear a Kevlar mask to bed at night when you're camping outdoors? No, no. Such camping incidents are rare. "The best thing you can do is vaccinate your pets," says Whitener, so if they get bit by a rabid animal, they won't die or turn around and pass it on to you. Also, don't pick up sleepy bats (they suffer a paralytic response to the rabies virus) or dead animals. You don't have to be bitten to get rabies, says Whitener, as contact with saliva through a cut or eczema can also transfer the virus. If you do get bit or have contact with a strangely behaving wild animal, call the heath department to see if you need to start the shot series. Also try to nab that critter for testing, if you can. Tracking it down later may prove impossible, says Whitener.

Brown, of the youth camp, says she was impressed with the county environmental health division's response to the attack. "They were wonderful," she says. As for the Lost Coast Camp -- which serves 120 Humboldt County kids each year, 85 percent of whom get scholarships -- Brown says the attack hasn't scared it off. Attacks like this are isolated incidents, as rare as a shark attack, according to Whitener. And, since the attack, the camp has added a watchful dog to its sleepovers. "I feel like [the Lost Coast] is one of the safest places that I would ever consider sending a child," says Brown.


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