North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

August 26, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Arcata teachers protest lack of contract

STAR test results:
Humboldt kids still lagging, though better than others statewide

More water to Trinity
But feds won't say low flows kill fish


 T H E  W E E K L Y  W R A P

PILLS BLAMED FOR DEATH: Sally Lynn Weber, the volunteer who was found dead in her tent at the Reggae at the River festival, was killed by an overdose of prescription morphine pills that she had stolen, the coroner's office reported. "We found them in her pocket, and they did not belong to her. It belonged to someone else who she was working with at Reggae," said Deputy Coroner Roy Horton. Weber, 40, last resided in the Placer County town of Lincoln but had previously lived in Southern Humboldt. "She offered to clean [the other worker's] tent for her, and she cleaned her tent very well," Horton said.

GREYHOUND CUTS SERVICE: The last Greyhound bus to Oregon left Humboldt County last Tuesday, leaving at least a few confused passengers in its wake. At the Eureka depot Thursday morning, Washington resident Cynthia McGregor, in town for a three-week visit with friends, found out that she'd be traveling down to the Bay Area before transferring to a northbound bus, adding seven hours to her travel time. McGregor was philosophical. "At least I know I'll get there," she said. But for many local residents, Greyhound's route cuts -- part of a budget-trimming reorganization of its service in the northern region of the country -- mean that the ol' Dirty Dog, beloved and loathed in nearly equal measure, may no longer be an option. (The northbound 101 route will stop at Crescent City.) Larry Pardi, transportation supervisor for the Arcata-Mad River Transit System, which acts as the Greyhound agent in Arcata, said that the loss of the route would have the greatest impact on low-income residents. "There's not a lot of people who are choosing between a Beemer and a bus," he said. "The folks who are affected are the folks who need it." Is southbound service on the 101 corridor also on the chopping block? Greyhound won't say, but the company is reorganizing its lines on a regional basis; California-only routes will be studied at some point in the future. "It's all going to be based on the numbers," Pardi said. "The next go-around of cuts -- if [our area is] losing money, we're going to go."

BENNETT TRIAL CONTINUES: In Kabul, Afghanistan, the trial of Fortuna native Brent Bennett wound down last week in what one observer called a "chaotic" Afghan courtroom. Bennett -- along with his presumed boss, Jonathan Idema -- is one of three American citizens arrested by Afghan authorities last month for allegedly running a private jail and torture center in the city. In its Monday dispatch from the trial, the Associated Press reported that the judge in the case had difficulty keeping order, as Idema, prosecutors and even spectators took up the habit of shouting out rebuttals to testifying witness. Idema, who has acted as his own lawyer, has argued that he was contracted by the U.S. government to find al-Qaeda terrorists; Afghan prosecutors charge that the three operated on their own. The AP said that the judge had been slated to rule on the case early this week, but rescheduled the concluding phases of the trial in order to give Bennett more time to find a lawyer.

ART STOLEN: A beaded bag valued at $1,500 was stolen from an exhibition sponsored by the Redwood Art Association last Wednesday. Orr Marshall, a member of the association's board of directors, said that he was just getting ready to close up the gallery when a man came in; the man apparently lifted up a Plexiglas cube covering the bag and absconded with the art while Marshall's attention was elsewhere. "We just hope that having things covered would protect them, but this time it didn't serve that purpose," said Marshall, who at the suggestion of the Eureka Police Department has been scouring local flea markets and secondhand stores in hopes of recovering the bag. Being an artist, Marshall was able to provide a sketch drawing of the suspect for the EPD. The bag was made by local artist Bonnie Etz. Anyone with information is asked to call the EPD at 441-4060.

PEPPER SPRAY HEARING: An evidentiary hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 24, in San Francisco in the case involving a group of logging protesters who sued Humboldt County and the City of Eureka after their eyes were swabbed with pepper spray during a series of 1997 protests. The case is scheduled to go to trial in federal court Sept. 7.

NUKE FUEL NOT FOUND: A search of the Humboldt Bay Power Plant has failed to turn up the "lost" nuclear fuel rod segments, PG&E spokesman Lloyd Coker said in a statement last week. Plant workers have searched the "most likely locations and all easily accessible spaces" in the plant's used fuel storage pool, but to no avail. PG&E, which owns the plant, first reported to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on June 29 that there was "conflicting documentation" regarding some used fuel segments; records indicated they had either been shipped off-site or stored there. "PG&E continues to believe that the segments are either safely stored in the used fuel pool, or were shipped to a facility licensed to accept radioactive material," the statement reads. The investigation is continuing.

KILLER SENTENCING SCHEDULED: The Eureka man who pleaded guilty last week to killing his pregnant wife is scheduled to face sentencing on Sept. 15, the District Attorney's Office said. Abraham Dejesus Santana, 31, fled to Washington state after killing his wife, Sandra Lynn Santana, 30, in their Eureka home in the 3100 block of C Street on April 24. The couple's other children, ages 2, 3 and 5, were found in the home by relatives. They were not injured.

WEST NILE UPDATE : After the confirmation earlier this month of the first West Nile-infected crow in Humboldt County, there have been no additional birds found to have succumbed to the virus, said Brent Whitener, the county's vector control officer. But it is the height of the season for the mosquito that carries West Nile, Whitener said, and humans and animals are still at risk. "We can fully expect with the arrival of the virus that we will see it in humans and horses," he said. Officials recommend using a mosquito repellent with DEET, securing loose window screens, and emptying any containers of standing water where the suspect mosquitos breed, such as boats, children's wading pools and buckets.

CORRECTIONS: Last week's cover story, "Red Tape Bypass," gave two different figures for the price of Dr. Doug Wimer's retainer-based medical practice. The first figure cited -- $1,000 per year -- is the correct one. [The online version was corrected.] Also, in the Aug. 12 story, "Why Reggae?", quotes attributed to Evi Ashenbrucker were reversed with those from her friend, Maia Steffano. It is Steffano who has attended Reggae on the River every year of her life but one, not Ashenbrucker. [The online version was corrected.] The Journal regrets the errors.

Arcata teachers protest lack of contract


In a normal year, Arcata teacher Stephan Hall would have spent the last few weeks working off and on in his classroom at Sunset Elementary School, clearing away the cobwebs and mapping out the year ahead.

This is not a normal year. Teachers in the Arcata Elementary School District have been working without a contract for around a year now, and this summer they've responded with a uniquely educational version of the classic slow-down strike: They've told the administration that they won't work beyond the time that they are paid to work.

Which means that teachers at Sunset, Sunny Brae and Bloomfield schools haven't put in all the hours preparing for the start of school Tuesday -- decorating classrooms, preparing curriculum, labeling desks -- that they would in a normal year. Not officially, anyway.

"To tell you the truth, I'm still going to do [those things], but it will be at home and it will be a little more sketchy," Hall said.

The Arcata Elementary Teachers Association, the union that represents the teachers, has officially been at impasse in its contract negotiations with the district since February. At issue is the size of the teachers' compensation package, which includes wages and benefits like health insurance and retirement funds.

District superintendent Stephen Kelish said that the state budget crisis and rising insurance costs -- in addition to increased pressures due to declining enrollment within the district -- have contributed to the deadlock.

"At this time, we've been unable to agree as to what that total compensation package is going to look like," he said. "Health costs have skyrocketed -- it's putting a real strain on the district's budget."

At the same time, Kelish said, the two sides are finding it difficult to schedule regular meetings with the state-appointed mediator who oversees their negotiations, as schools up and down the state are finding themselves in a similar spot.

Patricia Rosicky, a 31-year veteran teacher in the district and the president of the union's bargaining unit, disagreed with Kelish's assessment of the district's budget situation. She said that the union's ban on volunteer time -- which, as in Hall's case, not all teachers are sticking to uniformly -- was a tactic designed to open up the district to considering other sources of funds it has at its disposal.

"It's not unusual to have disagreement about wages and benefits, but one of the reasons we pushed it is that we really do believe the district has the money to afford it," she said.

Rosicky said that the district could consider using some of the funds it holds in reserve to meet the union's contract requests. She said that the union has been actively working with the school board to present alternate visions for the district's budget that could accommodate the teachers' requests, and has sent one of its members to workshops on budgeting over the summer.

Both sides said they wished to make clear that they don't believe the union's ban on volunteer time will negatively impact the quality of education that parents expect from the district schools.

"I don't anticipate that what they're doing will have any effect on the opening of school," Kelish said. "I consider them to be dedicated professionals, and I know they would never do anything that would have an effect on their students."

While most teachers have skirted the ban in order to prepare for the year, Rosicky said, she did allow that there may be "cosmetic" differences when parents drop off their children on Tuesday.

"It won't be business as usual, but it won't affect the children's education," she said.

The Arcata Elementary Teachers Association was scheduled to meet on Wednesday, after the Journal went to press, to decide what volunteer hours its members would work during the school year. Its members are scheduled to return to the bargaining table in October.

STAR test results:
Humboldt kids still lagging, though better than others statewide


The majority of Humboldt County students scored below proficiency standards in last spring's standardized tests, according to results released last week by the California Department of Education.

The Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program consists of two tests: the California Standards Tests and the California Achievement Tests.

On the California Standards Tests, the ones on which the state places the most emphasis, Humboldt County kids did better overall than children statewide, though only 42 percent of local students met or exceeded the state's proficiency standards in English/language arts, according to Garry Eagles, Humboldt County superintendent of schools. Forty-six percent of Humboldt students met or exceeded the standards for math.

Statewide, 36 percent of students met or exceeded the English/language arts standards; 42 percent met or exceeded the math standards.

"We're pleased that Humboldt County students continued to perform at higher levels than the state as a whole," Eagles said. "Still, we would like more of our students to meet the state's standards for subject matter proficiency."

The tests are intended to provide parents and educators with benchmark numbers to judge how well schools are doing.

Bob Munther, assistant superintendent for the Eureka Unified School District, is one of the many local school administrators poring over the results in preparation for the next year's classes.

"We spend a lot of time looking at these results and trying to figure out what they tell us," he said. "Every school analyzes their test scores to see where they are strong and where they are weak, and they try to adjust their programs accordingly."

But Munther said that raw test scores do not tell the whole story. Factors such as the socioeconomic background of the student body, and whether or not a school is populated with good test-takers who may be lacking in certain fundamentals, are not taken into consideration by the tests.

"We look at the results and compare them with what we know about the kids," he said. "We look at the test scores and we look at the whole student."

Test results for all California schools are available at Click on the "test results" link, then enter the county, district and name of the school you wish to research. You may choose to view results from the California Standards Tests or the California Achievement Tests, as well as results specific to different classes or categories of students. When you are finished, click "view report." The results will appear in the bottom half of your screen.

California Achievement Tests results are graded on a scale of 150 (low) to 600 (high). The online reports give the percentage of students in each grade who received "advanced," "proficient," "basic," "below basic" and "far below" basic scores in various subjects.

More water to Trinity
But feds won't say low flows kill fish


Fearing a repeat of the 2002 Klamath River fish kill, the federal government ramped up delivery of water downstream to the mouth of the river on Sunday. But officials stopped short of endorsing the belief that low flows caused the kill.

Officially, the Bureau of Reclamation began tripling the flow of the Trinity River -- a major Klamath tributary -- last weekend not to provide more water to struggling fish, but to reduce water temperatures.

"[Water temperature] is certainly one of the big concerns -- it's one of the concerns that people began telling us about in the past few weeks," said Jeff McCracken, Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson. McCracken cited communications the bureau received from fish watchdog agencies.

Water coming out of Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River is generally several degrees cooler than water coming out of Iron Gate Dam, on the Klamath's main stem. The increased flow, which is expected to last three weeks, will therefore cool water temperatures downstream of the confluence of the two rivers at Weitchpec.

Trinity River water is also easier to get. McCracken said that the bureau bought 25,000 acre-feet of water from Central Valley farming interests, at a cost of about $665,000, to send down the river in the coming weeks. In contrast, excess water in the Klamath is jealously guarded by farmers upstream.

Federal agencies have been all but prohibited from mentioning low water volume as a contributing factor to fish die-offs downstream since early 2002, when a report by the National Academy of Sciences said that federal biologists had no just cause to shut off water to farmers the previous year in order to save salmon. That assertion continues to be a matter of federal policy despite the fish kill, which occurred in the months following the release of the NAS report.

Troy Fletcher, executive director of the Yurok Tribe, intimated on Monday that the Bureau of Reclamations' recent actions carried a tint of hypocrisy.

"It just shows how inconsistent the government actions really are," he said. "One the one hand, they're saying their actions to provide low flows over Iron Gate Dam don't harm fish. On the other hand, they're putting higher flows down the Trinity so fish don't get harmed."

Next month, a new lawsuit brought by the Yurok and Hoopa tribes against the federal government will begin in federal district court in Oakland. The cause of the fish kill is expected to play a role in the suit, which charges that the government has not fulfilled its "tribal trust" responsibility to provide adequate water for salmon runs.

On Monday, Rep. Mike Thompson will hold a meeting on Klamath River issues at Eureka City Hall. The meeting, which will begin at 1:30 p.m., will include representatives from local governments, tribal authorities, environmental groups and elected officials from Klamath County, Ore. -- home base for many of the upstream farmers who rely on Klamath River water for their crops.

Thompson said earlier this week that he hoped that the meeting would answer some of the questions many people still had about Klamath River issues, including the effectiveness of releasing Trinity River water to help fish that are bound for the main stem of the Klamath.

"If they do a Trinity River release, that's going to encourage fish to come into the Klamath," he said. "If they do that, they're only going to be safe to the point of convergence."

Thompson added that a long-term solution to river issues will require political courage -- a quality that is currently lacking in Washington, he said. In the past, the Bush administration has been accused of favoring Klamath County farmers, a key political constituency, at the expense of concerns voiced by environmentalists, fishermen and tribes. (See "Upstream, Downstream," July 29.)

"The solution to this is for the Bush administration to get off the dime and start trying to fix the problem -- to quit playing politics with the fish that Northern California relies on," Thompson said.



North Coast Journal Weekly

© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.