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Aug. 25, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

Gravel operation draws opposition
Neighbors protest controversial Van Duzen mining site

Humboldt handicrafters hit New York
But gift fair's sluggish sales depress many


The Weekly Wrap

GALLEGOS DISCLOSURE VIOLATIONS: District Attorney Paul Gallegos and his one-time campaign treasurer, attorney Stephen Arnot, have agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to the state Fair Political Practices Commission for violating campaign finance disclosure laws during Gallegos' initial 2002 race for the office. According to FPPC documents, on Feb. 26, 2002 -- just a week before the March 5 election -- Gallegos' campaign committee received a $2,500 contribution from Trinidad resident John Frame. By law, a contribution of that size received so close to election day must be reported within 24 hours; Frame's donation was not reported until well after the election. In addition, the committee failed to provide employer and occupation information for donations totaling $6,835. FPPC spokesman Jon Matthews said Tuesday that Arnot and Gallegos have both signed a stipulated agreement with the commission's staff to settle the matter in exchange for an admission of wrongdoing and payment of $10,000. The full commission will approve or deny the agreement at its regular meeting on Sept. 1. Arnot said Tuesday that he could not speak to the issue while the matter was still pending. But Gallegos said that he and Arnot have agreed to split the fine, and that there was no attempt to deceive the public. "All the numbers are valid, it was just a clerical error," Gallegos said. "It was just sort of a snafu, I guess -- a very expensive oversight." Last year, Gallegos' office attempted to prosecute an accusation brought by the Humboldt County Grand Jury against Fortuna City Councilmember Debi August, one count of which centered on similar disclosure violations. Judge John Feeney dismissed the case earlier this year.

BICKERING IN FORTUNA: Fortuna's City Council was split for a tense moment last Tuesday night when it came time to choose a new council member to fill a seat left open after Fortuna Mayor Tom Cooke died July 31. Of the 11 applicants, council members Mel Berti and Dean Glaser wanted Pat Whitchurch. Councilmembers Debi August and Odell Shelton wanted Doug Strehl. And, as reported by Christine Sackey in The Humboldt Beacon, "fireworks" ensued. Yes, it had to do with the Big Box issue. Glaser, reports Sackey, said he wanted Whitchurch on board to preserve "a quorum" he says he had with Cooke and Berti in favor of bringing Big Box stores to Fortuna.
To which August replied: "I think that's wrong!" In the end, Berti changed his vote to preserve the peace, and convinced Glaser to do the same so it could be "unanimous," and they voted in Doug Strehl, who owns Strehl's Family Shoes & Repair. But then they had to choose a mayor and that proved too contentious, so they put it off till their Sept. 6 meeting. Have fun, Doug.

LOCAL ARTIST DIES IN FOREST: It wasn't unusual for Eureka resident Ingrid Nickelsen to hike deep into the woods by herself, toting her oil paints and easel in search of unique landscapes to render on canvas. But the silent and untold solitude of the North Coast that was reflected in so many of her paintings was a place from where she would never return. Nickelsen, 62, died earlier this month in the woods off of Gasquet-Orleans Road in Del Norte County after breaking her ankle and severely injuring her hip in early August. She was found by hikers on the Doctor Rock Trail in the Smith River National Recreation Area last Thursday, just 300 yards from her truck. Nickelsen reportedly slipped on some unstable shale and fell down an embankment. From there she dragged herself back toward her vehicle but succumbed to exposure and dehydration. Before passing away, Nickelsen reportedly wrote a note and her last will with a charcoal pencil on the back of a map. She was single and worked only part-time at the Northern California Community Blood Bank so no one was aware that she was missing. Humboldt Arts Council President Sally Arnot said that Nickelsen's work will be displayed at the Morris Graves Museum of Art in August and September of 2006. A group show of local en plein air ("in open air") artists, including Nickelsen, will be exhibited at the Cody Pettit Gallery next week for Arts Alive! on Saturday, Sept. 3, 6-9 p.m. Memorial services have not yet been scheduled.

AN ARCATAN IN GAZA: Arcata residents are known for sticking their oars in on issues of international concern, so perhaps it's not so surprising that last week's historic events in the Gaza Strip had the "local angle" so prized by provincial reporters such as ourselves. David Ratner, a reporter for the Israeli daily Haaretz, captured the following scene in an Aug. 18 dispatch from one Gaza settlement, just before the army arrived to remove Israeli settlers from the occupied Palestinian territory: "Roaming around the tent compound of Shirat Hayam with his guitar, Adam, a young American with shining blue eyes and curly hair tied back in a pigtail, looking something like a local Bob Dylan. Adam has been in Israel for two months and came to Gush Katif almost immediately upon arrival. During the past week he has been urging youths to clash with soldiers and avoid speaking with the media. Yesterday, one of the rebellious, rowdy visitors from Hebron set two palm trees on fire in a field between Shirat Hayam and the Muasi houses. Adam sprinted toward the burning trees, screaming. He collected water bottles and tried to extinguish the flames, then threw sand at the fire, climbed the tree and tried to put out the fire with his bare hands. He looked around and saw he was the only one trying to put out the fire, while all the youngsters and children gazed on indifferently. Later, Adam explained why he had to act. `Two years ago, I moved to the city of Arcata in northern California. Among the giant Redwood trees, I found God and became religious. I cannot bear to see someone burn trees,' he said."

HSU RANKS HIGH: Humboldt State University won accolades this month from three prominent publications: U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review and High Times. HSU grabbed 37th place among the top 62 graduate schools in the western U.S. from U.S. News, was named a "College with a Conscience" and one of the "Best Western Colleges" by the Princeton Review and placed eighth out of 10 in High Times' "Top 10 Cannabis Colleges."

PEACOCK RELOCATED: Punjab, the semi-wild peacock whose pitchy mating call caused a spate of summertime quarrels between Eureka neighbors, was safely relocated to a large ranch in Kneeland last week. For months, Fifth Ward resident Kathleen Becker's backyard was Punjab's primary roosting spot and thus became the hub of contention over the bird's fate -- should it remain in the neighborhood, should it be removed, and how? (See "Rally `round the bird," June 9.) Becker's neighbor, Councilmember Mike Jones, publicly vented his frustrations over the peacock's early-morning squawking and went so far as to include the issue on the council's agenda in May, seeking advice on how to evict the bird. Later in June, Eureka Police responded to the alley behind Becker's house after one of Jones' sons reportedly shot a BB gun at Punjab. A plucky Becker rallied peacock allies and gathered 25 signatures from neighbors saying that the bird was "more of an asset than a detriment" to the neighborhood and that they wished for it to go unharmed. Tempers eventually petered out, mating season ended, the persistent honking ceased and now Punjab resides with a flock of peacocks on a 200-acre ranch in Kneeland belonging to Rob Adams. After reading about Punjab's plight in the paper in June, Adams called Becker and offered to relocate the peacock. Since Punjab arrived last week, Adams said that the other peacocks have been slow to welcome the city bird; the other males -- P Major, P Diddy and Master P -- ran Punjab off at first. Adams, who has three children, said that he likes peacocks because they keep snakes and lizards away from the house and they screech if a big animal comes around. Meanwhile, back in the Fifth Ward, Becker is getting used to life without the colorful friend who supplied her with so many bizarre memories, but said that she is relieved that Punjab now has a more suitable home.

BIG IN JAPAN: Grandmother, her lazy grandson Kuko and his best friend, Crazy Eddie, and their puppeteer Corey Stevens, all of Humboldt County, were a hit earlier this month at Japan's largest puppetry festival, in the mountain town of Iida. Stevens, a frequent performer in Humboldt, was the only American among the more than 1,000 puppeteers at the festival, but that doesn't mean nobody got his jokes. Before going to the festival, Stevens studied Japanese for four months with his friend Mie Matsumoto, a translator and HSU Extended Education language instructor who lives in McKinleyville. Matsumoto translated Stevens' Shoe Box Theatre production's script into Japanese. And although Steven's usual shtick is to ad lib during his performances, he couldn't do that in Iida. "Normally, my mind is spontaneously making up jokes, but this time I had to have it far more rehearsed," he says. He found the experience enjoyable. "I wasn't sure that my sense of timing was going to work, but sure enough it did. Everyone laughed at the right places." He says having to stick to the script allowed him to focus less on the ad libbing and more on the action of the puppets. As for the puppets, aside from their borrowed language, they were their usual selves: Stevens' unique blend of Czech-style miniature marionettes, dressed in fairytale fashion, but acting out a contemporary American-style sit-com situation (although Grandmother does have witchy magical powers). A typical story goes like this, says Stevens: "Grandmother will leave Kuko alone in the kitchen and tell him not to make a mess. And Crazy Eddie will come over and they'll get into trouble. Crazy Eddie usually starts the trouble, but Kuko's the one who takes it too far." Stevens says he was invited to come back to Japan for the next festival, and he's also been invited to perform in Korea. He says he'd also like to bring some Japanese puppeteers to Humboldt County someday.

Gravel operation draws opposition

Neighbors protest controversial Van Duzen mining site


DOWN ON THE VAN DUZEN RIVER, JUST A COUPLE OF miles up from the confluence from the Eel, bulldozers and other pieces of heavy machinery last week worked the grounds of Jack and Mary Noble's Van Duzen River Ranch, preparing for the yearly harvest of rock from the river.

Meanwhile, the ranch's neighbors -- a small community known as "Starvation Flats," located just off Highway 36 on Riverbar Road -- are preparing for battle.

Back in April, when the Nobles' application to install an on-site gravel crusher at the site first came before the Humboldt County Planning Commission, the neighbors succeeded in setting the project back until Sept. 1. The planning commission asked the Nobles and county staff to come back with additional information on the crusher's likely effect on the surrounding community.

Now, those same residents are hoping that another strong showing at the Sept. 1 meeting of the planning commission will not only smash plans to put a crusher at the site, but scale back an operation that has a long, controversial history and that they say is out of scale in their small, quiet community.

Two of those residents are Carlos Quilez and Jessica Puccinelli, who retired to their Starvation Flats rental property from the San Jose area a couple of years ago. Both are careful to distance themselves from the stereotypical image of a Humboldt County environmentalist -- tree-hugging, anti-business -- but both say that when it comes to the Nobles' gravel mining operation, enough is enough.

"No one cares about Jack the lumberman," Quilez said at his Riverbar Road home last week. "No one cares about Jack the rancher. But Jack the miner is a pain in the ass."

Quilez is not alone. He has collected almost 50 signatures from River Bar Road residents on a petition that asks the planning commission to deny the Nobles' application for a crusher, an admittedly noisy device that would allow the Van Duzen River Ranch to process its own river rock on-site rather than hauling it away to a third party for crushing.

In the petition, Quilez and fellow signatories charge that the noise, dust and traffic problems associated with a full-scale crushing operation would place an unacceptable burden on people who live near the ranch. But if Quilez had his way, he would also like to see the amount of rock harvested near his home drastically reduced.

Most of the gravel trucks coming in and out of the Van Duzer River Ranch must now pass down Riverbar Road, an extremely narrow, one-lane passageway that passes over a small bridge. When gravel season is in full swing, Quilez said, there is little room for any other traffic -- including emergency vehicles.

"I've seen up to six trucks at a time backed up behind that bridge," Quilez said.

The problem is helped somewhat by a mile-long access road that Noble has built above the Van Duzen, which allows the gravel trucks to bypass about half of Riverbar Road. But the access road -- wider in some spots than the main road itself, and passing just a few feet above the river's summer water levels -- presents its own problems, as it passes behind the homes of Quilez and other local residents. It's not clear which governmental agency, if any, authorized its construction.

Apart from all that, residents say that historically, their community has not been notified when changes to the operation have been before regulatory agencies, such as the planning commission.

At its April hearing, the commission ordered county staff members to notify residents along Riverbar Road when matters concerning the operation came before the planning commission. Though county staff insists that such a program is now in place, Quilez insists that receipt of such notices is still spotty.

Michael Wheeler, a county planner who is working on the project, said Monday that installing a crusher would actually decrease the amount of traffic on Riverbar Road, as it would mean that trucks would not have to haul rock off to another crusher, only to haul it back as gravel for stockpiling.

He added that his department has no say over the access road to the gravel mining site as a "road," in planning terms, must be a route that leads to two or more houses. In any case, he said, only the impact of the crusher will be at issue at next week's meeting.

"Unless they want to try to petition the planning commission to review the [entire] gravel operation -- that isn't up what's up for hearing on Sept. 1," he said.

The Van Duzen River Ranch mining operation has engendered significant opposition from other neighbors on two previous occasions ºonce in 1997, when the county first authorized a permit for gravel extraction and again in 2000, when the authorized take from the river was increased from 40,000 to 100,000 cubic yards per year.

Humboldt County has around 20 permitted gravel-mining operations. The county is reportedly one of the largest producers of gravel in the state.

Humboldt handicrafters hit New York

But gift fair's sluggish sales depress many


The New York International Gift Fair was beginning to wind down when I arrived at the Jakob Javits Center for the close of the five-day marketing marathon to hunt for the Humboldt contingent. The center is a monstrosity, about the size of a professional football stadium, and it was filled to capacity with hundreds of booths presenting housewares from across the nation: everything from a throw pillow to a spatula to a candleholder. And, in the prestigious "Hand Made" area, there was Humboldt.

Just to attend the show is quite an honor. Attendees must be juried in by a panel of their peers, and then, as years pass, sit on a wait list for a spot to open up. This year Arcata had a strong contingent with Fire and Light, Hot Knots, Baroni Designs and Holly Yashi all attending.

Holly Yashi is a veteran attendee. It's been coming for six years. Tisha Macky, after initial shock that the NCJ had someone in New York, said that this hasn't been a very good show.

"It's been real slow," Macky said. "There's not a lot of buyers walking the halls."

She was making the best of it, she said. Taking in what the city has to offer. She said she was looking forward to attending a reading by Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho, and had a copy of Time Out New York, the local entertainment guide, tucked away under her counter.

Holly Yashi, which employs about 35 artisans in Humboldt County, does 11 or 12 shows a year all over the United States. The week before, many of the Humboldt representatives had been in Philadelphia for a similar event.

The general mood among them was fairly downbeat. Several said that this show wasn't bad, comparatively, but that the whole festival circuit has been drying up.

"The trade shows are dying," one Humboldt presenter said, declining to be quoted by name. "It's being taken over by the Internet. It used to be bustling. The halls were filled. [This year] the San Francisco show was a ghost show."

Just down the hall from Holly Yashi, Tara Petersen from Baroni Designs was wrapping up. Baroni started coming to the show just two years ago. It had been juried in years before, but ended up stuck on the wait list for five years.

The season had been lackluster for her as well, but repeat buyers and new business through Baroni's website had been keeping things going.

Several of the people I talked to continued the theme of the decline of the tradeshow industry. There aren't any wait lists to get in anymore. The convention centers themselves are falling apart. Macky told me that earlier in the week, during a heavy summer squall, a leak in the roof had caused a section of the ceiling to collapse, all but taking out one of the booths just 10 yards away.

John and Natali McClury from Fire and Light had set up just a bit down the hall. This was their third show in a row. They'd been on the road since mid-July.

"The Atlanta gift show was awful," Natali said. "This one has been fairly good but only when compared to the other two. The whole handcrafted industry is going through a lot of changes."

John said that most of the other presenters he'd talked to had felt the same way.

There were several reasons cited for the change: the general downturn in the economy since 9/11, the Internet, which, with sites like, has sucked up a lot of the traffic and, interestingly enough, outsourcing to China.

"[Big stores] send people to take pictures and samples and then have it made overseas, directly knocked off," John said. He told a story about one of the other craftsmen who discovered a knockoff on sale that was so exact it fit into his own molds. He said one of his own pieces, a votive candleholder, had been copied almost exactly by furnishings giant Crate and Barrel -- once again, manufactured in China.

But it's not like everything was terrible.

"Don't make it sound too doom and gloom," John said.

Finally, as everyone in the hall was beginning to pack up, I made my way down to Hot Knots, where things were far from doom and gloom. As I arrived co-owner Andrea Shackleton was wrapping up a deal, and apparently had had a stellar show. As she put it, "Knitting is getting very big now."

Hot Knots sells hand-knitted garments and accessories. Their Tara line is made by a cooperative of Nepali women who create the items Shackleton and her sister Gayle design. She said she had been fielding requests for new orders all day.

"It's been really up in the trends for the last few years, great knitted gifts," Shackleton said. "We've had a very big show."

Well, at least someone did. As the day closed and workers started arriving with pallets and hand trucks to ship all the goods, they were off to the next show.

Andrew Edwards is the Journal's New York correspondent.


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