August 22, 2002
by GEOFF S. FEIN
Since the late 1800s the Silva family ran the Francis Creek Rock Quarry just south of Ferndale. The gravel from the quarry helped build the small town, according to Gerald Silva.
In more recent years trucks lumbered up and down a single-lane gravel road, past a 100-year-old cemetery, past the 100-year-old homes on Eugene Street and onto other residential streets lined with Victorian houses. The gravel taken from the quarry was used for roads, highways and farms.
In 2000 the quarry was closed by the county. Turned out Les Silva, who died recently, was operating the mine illegally -- he didn't have the permits to run it.
Now after a two-year hiatus, Les Silva's son, Gerald, wants to reopen the quarry. But some residents want it to remain closed.
The former operation was low-scale, with only a few trucks a week making the run up to the gravel pit. Last month Silva proposed a much larger operation, with trucks going up and down Eugene Street -- and then possibly out to Main Street -- every 30 minutes. Silva told Ferndale officials he is willing to scale back his plan, but until he submits a proposal to the county, no one knows for sure what the new operation will look like.
At the most there would only be about 17 trucks a day, Silva said. It would more likely be two to three trucks a day, he added. Besides, he went on, there will still be hay and logging trucks using the road.
Residents along Eugene Street, located down the road from the quarry, said they can live with the hay and logging trucks, which carry relatively light loads compared to gravel trucks.
Virginia Merrill, who moved to Eugene Street in the 1970s, said it felt like an earthquake every time a gravel truck rolled past her front door.
"The vibration was frightening, causing our homes to quiver and shake like they were mounted on Jello, not terra firma," she said in a letter to Humboldt County Supervisor Jimmy Smith.
Laurie Smith, who lives next door to Merrill, said people are up in arms about having a working pit that close to their homes.
"I hope it doesn't (open)," she said. "We'll see what happens."
She too questions whether the streets could handle fully loaded gravel trucks.
"There are only two routes out of the area: Main Street or Grizzly Bluff Road," Smith said. "Both go through residential areas."
The original proposal to open the quarry came to the Ferndale City Council in June from a contractor working on behalf of Kernen Construction, an Arcata firm hoping to use the gravel from the quarry for highway and other construction projects.
Bruce MacIntosh, project manager for Kernen Construction, said the company is doing a preliminary investigation into opening the quarry.
"We did some geological studies; we spent quite a bit of money. That's the risk of doing business," he said.
Residents' concerns have been blown out of proportion, MacIntosh added.
"It's not a done deal," he said. "There are substantial costs to permitting."
The company hopes to submit its application to open the quarry once it's done assessing the costs, MacIntosh said. The application would go to the county, which will have final say over the project.
The city, on a 4-0 vote (with one abstention), rejected the draft proposal at a meeting earlier this month.
Councilman Don Hindley said his colleagues had a number of issues with opening the quarry: the number of loads coming out of it; whether streets could handle an increased volume of trucks; the safety of children who bike to school or play in the quiet streets; wear and tear on city streets; and sediment runoff into the Francis Creek.
"(Silva's) draft plan was incomplete," Hindley said.
Residents said they didn't like it, said Frank Taubitz, Ferndale city councilman.
"The city sent a letter to the county and said the operation was too large for Ferndale," he said. "It's too big to run through residential (neighborhoods)."
In his June 18 letter to Kirk Girard, director of Humboldt County's Planning and Building Department, Ferndale Mayor Jeff Farley said the proposed project would have a "deleterious effect on the physical and mental state of the city of Ferndale."
But while the debate over the quarry has put Silva at odds with some residents, it may all be premature as he has yet to submit any plans to the county.
Ferndale is known for its Victorian homes and for being a great location for making movies (both Outbreak and The Majestic were filmed there). To walk down Main Street is like taking a step back in time. There is a blacksmith shop, the Ferndale Emporium, Dave's Saddle and Tack shop, the single-story Lentz Department Store and the Golden Gait Mercantile. There is even the Candy Stick Fountain and Grill, right out of the 1950s.
Farley said people pay a good price for a home in a nice quiet community. But many of those who moved to Ferndale didn't know a rock quarry existed within their midst.
But before gravel trucks begin rumbling back up Eugene Street, environmental studies will be required. City officials are also concerned that someone will have to be responsible for taking care of Eugene Street, too.
"We want to make sure someone cleans the gravel off of the street," Farley said. "It shouldn't be the city's responsibility."
Former Mayor Carlos Beneman is concerned that opening the quarry could affect Ferndale's thriving tourism business. Trucks would be passing right by many of the city's bed and breakfasts.
"How long would tourists stay?," he asked. "What kind of financial impact would that have? What is the benefit?"
Beneman believes Silva is trying to avoid spending money on mitigation efforts. But Beneman also believes that if all the required permits are obtained, the community would not look at the quarry with total disfavor.
Still, he questions what the benefit would be for Ferndale and its residents.
"One man's right to enjoy the use of his property ends where others' right to enjoy their property begins," he said.
Mike Wheeler, a planner with Humboldt County planning department, said he has had some initial discussions with Silva and Kernen Construction advising them that the project would require an environmental review.
Mike Oldfield, spokesman for the state Department of Conservation, said that in order to open the quarry, Silva will have to provide a reclamation plan to show how he would bring the property back to a useable state when the mining operation ends. He would also have to prove he has the financial capability to carry out the reclamation plan either through a trust fund, irrevocable letter of credit or surety bond.
In 2000, the Silvas did offer Ferndale an opportunity to buy the quarry. Silva said his family asked a reasonable price, but the city dragged its feet for about eight months.
According to Farley, Silva's selling price was about $150,000.
The city couldn't afford it. Officials had hoped to get a grant to buy the land, but attempts were futile, Farley said.
"It was brought up again before the council, but they felt it was something Ferndale couldn't utilize," he said.
The good news is that despite the state budget crisis, the CalGrant program -- which covers the living expenses of thousands of college students -- has remained untouched.
The bad news is that until the badly divided Legislature passes a budget the money won't be distributed.
"The CalGrants are in jeopardy" of not being doled out in a timely manner, Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin said in a phone interview from Sacramento. "It's great that so many (students) are taking advantage of them, but it's sad that they're taking this year to do it."
California's community college students will be hard hit if the funds are held up. At College of the Redwoods, $630,000 in CalGrants come in each year to cover the expenses of 430 students. That works out to $1,465 per student.
"If it takes the state more than a couple of weeks to pass a budget, our students won't receive the money when they normally would have," said Scott Thomason, CR's vice president for business services.
He said emergency loans would be available on a limited basis, but that there are not nearly enough funds to make up the difference.
Officials with the University of California and California State University systems say they will pay CalGrant awards out of their general funds. At Humboldt State University, that adds up to $1.5 million for 810 CalGrant recipients.
AN INNOVATIVE DEVELOPMENT -- part housing, part farm, part artist's enclave -- is in the works in Arcata. It's environmentally sound, socially progressive, solar powered. It features "live/work" space for artists, a 20-acre organic farm and "work-equity houses" that can be bought with first-time home-buyer loans. It would even create 10 new jobs, perhaps more.
So what's the problem?
The problem is that the 42-acre development -- 22-acres for housing and 20-acres for a "community farm" -- doesn't completely jibe with the city's General Plan adopted last year. It would require the city to annex six acres so that sewer and water lines could be extended. That acreage, it turns out, has been set aside for agricultural purposes.
"We don't want to set a precedent annexing any land down on the bottoms for development," said Aldaron Laird, a member of the Arcata Planning Commission. "We saw no reason to reverse our decision and the City Council's decision less than a year ago. It was a pretty easy decision to reach, really."
The commission voted unanimously last Tuesday to recommend that the City Council vote against any further annexation of agricultural land. The council was slated to discuss the annexation at its Aug. 21 meeting.
The commission's intransigence does not sit well with Joyce Plath, designer of the bottomlands project. "We should not be nixing innovative proposals just because they don't fit in the rules," said Plath, whose past projects include the Marsh Commons Cooperative on Arcata's south side. "We're shooting ourselves in the foot if we want to be an innovative community."
Plath is working on the project with Dan Johnson of Danco Builders. Johnson has built a number of commercial and residential developments over the years and is part owner of the town of Samoa.
While Arcata planners want the six acres, off Foster Avenue, that are under dispute to remain as agricultural land, the fact is that county zoning rules allow both industrial and residential uses. The rub for Plath and Johnson is that to get city services they have to accept city jurisdiction.
Residential development is allowed in the 16 other acres of proposed housing. That land is jointly managed by the city and county in an area just beyond city limits known as the "sphere of influence."
Plath said Marsh Commons and Potawot Village were also at odds with the rules at the time they were proposed.
But the opposition is not so much concerned with the bottomlands project itself as with the precedent it sets for development in what is largely a rural area.
"I'm not against the project. I think it's a good idea," said Lisa Brown, an outspoken opponent of annexation who helped craft the General Plan. "But if he (Johnson) gets the annexation the whole bottoms will be open for developers. They're just going to have to find a way to fit the good parts of the development into the already available area."
Open Door Community Health Centers' is about to open a clinic for teens in McKinleyville.
Information director Carolyn Jones said the clinic, scheduled to open Sept. 3, will provide HIV testing and counseling, birth control and pregnancy testing for teens who previously have had to find transportation to Arcata for similar services.
The walk-in clinic will be located at the same site as the Open Door McKinleyville Clinic, 1644 Central Ave., and will be open Tuesdays from 3 to 5 p.m.
The high demand by McKinleyville teens for information on HIV, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases led to the creation of the new service, said Jones.
"In talking to teens, there aren't readily available family planning facilities in McKinleyville," she said.
Judging by the Arcata clinic, begun by Open Door in 1997, Jones expects that about 200 teens will visit the McKinleyville clinic annually. Taking into account repeat visits, that translates into about 500 annual visits, she said.
In California, minors over 12 can receive certain types of medical services without the permission of their parents. The eligible services include birth control, pregnancy testing or any treatment related to sexual abuse, rape or other forms of abuse.
Jones said that Open Door encourages kids to talk to their parents.
"It could be controversial, we don't know yet," Jones said of the new clinic. "We don't want to upset people."
She said Open Door hasn't run into any problems with the Arcata clinic.
On another front, Jones denied a report in the local press that raised the possibility Open Door could close next month due to the state's $23.6 billion budget deficit. "It's a grave misunderstanding of the complexity of the (state's) budget process," Jones said. "We will not close or lay-off staff on Sept. 1."
Referring to the fact that the 2002-03 budget is now more than a month late, Jones said "this happens every year," she said. "We have a contingency plan in place."
Several years ago the state put in place a system to continue to reimburse clinics that provide services to low income people such as those on Medi-Cal.
Herrmann Spetzler, executive director of Open Door, expressed concern about the budget deficit, and the fact the state will be in a deficit for the next three to five years.
Core services, such as doctor visits, will not be in jeopardy, he said. That is because those services are funded through Medicaid, the federal health care program that began under President Johnson.
What is more vulnerable, according to Spetzler, are state programs providing drug and alcohol treatment and rape crisis intervention. Those programs don't receive federal funds. They are fully supported at the state level.
"But we won't know (about those programs) until the budget is (approved)," he said.
Open Door Community Health Centers has been in Humboldt and Del Norte counties for about 30 years. The agency operates eight facilities in both counties serving about 35,000 people per year. Besides the Arcata clinic, the agency also operates a mobile clinic at South Fork in southern Humboldt.
Redwood Community Action Agency, a Eureka social service organization, has received $500,000 from the California Coastal Conservancy to clean up and improve access to Humboldt Bay's long-neglected South Spit.
The grant will go toward protecting sensitive natural areas, repairing roads, developing parking and picnic areas, removing invasive vegetation and ridding the 960-acre area of hazardous wastes.
One condition of the grant is that projects only proceed in consultation with the neighboring Table Bluff Rancheria of the Wiyot Tribe.
Approval of the grant was delayed for more than a year due to uncertainty about which government agency would manage the site. That responsibility will be assumed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The Pacific Lumber Co., long the largest landowner on the spit, donated 600 acres to the California Department of Fish and Game as part of the 1999 Headwaters agreement. Other agencies that control acreage include Humboldt County (15 acres); the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (160 acres); and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (10 acres). Additionally, Texaco Corp. owns 19 acres.
For years the South Spit harbored a large homeless encampment and served as an illegal dumping ground.
While the improvement work goes forward, the area will be open to daytime recreational use, traditional uses by the Wiyot tribe and waterfowl hunting from October to January.
Security at the Arcata/McKinleyville Airport is about to get tighter.
Congressman Mike Thompson announced earlier in the week the awarding of a $1.4 million grant for security improvements from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The money, administered by the Federal Aviation Administration, will be used to install a video surveillance system; a new boarding ramp to separate people boarding commercial flights from those going out to fly their own planes; and an electronic system capable of locking down the entire airport.
The new ramp would be secured by "biometric locks," or doors that would be opened with fingerprints rather than keys (which are frequently lost by employees).
"These security upgrades will reduce our security risks 30 to 40 percent," said airport manager Dan Horton in a press release. "This money will bring us peace of mind."
A bill to study the benefits of growing hemp has been approved by the Legislature.
Authored by Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, the bill now awaits Gov. Gray Davis' signature. But a spokesman for Davis said he doesn't know if or when the governor will sign the bill. Davis has until Sept. 30 to act or the bill will die.
Strom-Martin, who has unsuccessfully pushed hemp legislation in the past, believes industrial hemp could revitalize the state's agricultural industry. That's why she wants the University of California to study the idea. Many California manufacturers use hemp in their products, but that hemp must be imported, she said.
"That results in money leaving the state, and possibly the country, for a product that can and should be grown in California," Strom-Martin said.
Production of industrial hemp is legal in 25 countries including Canada, France, Germany and China. In 1999, worldwide sales of hemp and hemp-based products totaled $250 million, with U.S. consumers purchasing more than 60 percent of that amount, according to Strom-Martin.
Her bill was largely supported by Democrats; most Republicans opposed it because of hemp's connection to marijuana.
But hemp and marijuana differ. For example, hemp contains only minute trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana. But that hasn't stopped the Drug Enforcement Agency from outlawing the sale of hemp seed and hemp oil food products.
Earlier this year the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily halted the agency's order to allow time to review the case.
Last year Strom-Martin pushed a bill that would have legalized growing of industrial hemp. It died in committee.
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