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September 7, 2000



Medical marijuana ruling

Slow, steady, slow, steady

County has new librarian

Educational politics at HSU

Mental health court likely


On Aug. 22, shortly after the Democratic Convention concluded in Los Angeles, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein made a visit to the North Coast. She started her day in Redding, where she met with law enforcement leaders about the growing problem of methamphetamine, attended a reelection fund raiser at the Carter House in Eureka, and later spoke to members of the Eureka Chamber of Commerce at the Eureka Inn. Here are some highlights of that speech.

ON METHAMPHETAMINE USE. It is a real scourge -- a terrible, terrible drug. ... Methamphetamine, in most places in California today, is responsible for a majority of emergency room admissions. ... California is a point of origin of 80 percent of the methamphetamine in the United States. There are literally thousands of meth labs up and down the state. It causes tremendous pollution, hazardous chemicals, it's highly toxic. It is in many respects the worse drug out on the market.

The Drug Enforcement Agency has agreed to open an office in Redding. And I am going to try hard to get a high intensity drug trafficking grant.

THE STATE AND NATIONAL ECONOMY. In 1992 California was in the middle of a serious recession. It began in 1987. I saw the downturn in revenue coming into the treasury of San Francisco. When I ran for the Senate in 1992, California had a negative gross domestic product, a production rate at a minus 5 percent. Our unemployment was in the double digits, housing was down, everything was down. It was a depressed economy.

In 1993, we had some tough votes in the Senate. The Clinton administration presented an economic recovery plan ... (and) the entrepreneurism of the American people responded. Today there has been a turnarond that frankly, I never thought I would see. Today, with that turnaround, we will [have a budget surplus] of over $100 billion a year. The surplus over the next 10 years is projected to be $4 trillion. ... The bottom line (is), if we in Washington stay targeted in our spending, we can eliminate the entire public debt in next 12 years.

SOCIAL SECURITY. There are those who really depend on Social Security. For over 15 percent of the American people, all they have when they reach the age 65 is Social Security. It keeps them from poverty, it keeps them from being homeless. Don't ever think it isn't important. Social Security was due to go into the red by the year 2034; we have extended it to 2057. The Medicare Trust Fund Part A was scheduled to go into the red in 2012. Now it's 2030.

THE LOCAL ECONOMY. Humboldt and so many north state counties have faced a lot of economic losses due to the decline in the timber and fishing industry over the last 10 years. But I believe that Humboldt particularly is turning the corner. ...

As we diversify our economy and become less of a defense-dependent state, less of a manufacturing state, the Pacific Rim community, where 60 percent of people of the world live, opens a whole new opportunity. This is the only bay without a Foreign Trade Zone. We must get that Foreign Trade Zone designation. We were able to get more than $5 million this year to dredge the harbor, but we've got to bring the business in to justify the dredging.

Sens. Larry Craig and Ron White have introduced a bill, which I am cosponsor of, that I believe will have a directly positive impact on Eureka and Humboldt. As we all know, timber sales in the Western states have been greatly reduced over the past 10 years due to restrictions placed to protect habitat for the spotted owl. This bill would restore payment to timber dependent counties to the high levels of the late 1980s -- the three highest years -- to provide needed revenue for both roads and schools. For Eureka alone that would be another half a million dollars. The bill will be voted on Sept. 15. I believe it will pass and the President will sign it.

NORTH COAST RAILROAD. You've got to be able to move cargo. You can't have businesses and not be able to move the product out of the community.

I don't pretend to know what to do with respect to the Eel River (Canyon rail line). I would hope that this Chamber of Commerce would take on the restoration, the alignment ... of that rail line as a major project. If you are willing to do that, I will try to help you with appropriations wherever I can. I think we can get a state match. I think we can probably importune the (Humboldt County) Board of Supervisors, maybe even use some of their bonded indebtedness, to provide a capital improvement bond to be able to be helpful.

RIVER FLOWS, SALMON RESTORATION. I realize that the effort to restore salmon is an important one and I also recognize that I wrote a couple of letters asking some questions dealing with the Eel and Trinity rivers and some people here didn't take those questions too kindly. ... Be that as it may, we were successful ... in getting $58 million nationally, $9 million has come to northern California, for fish restoration.

GROWING WAGE GAP. California is unlike any other state. We are developing an enormous wage gap. People in the upper one fifth have been benefiting (from the improved economy) to the tune of an increase of 28 percent in income. (But) the bottom one fifth have lost 20 percent in income. That is a very real danger signal.

In 1989, the median family income was about $25,700, 8 percent higher than any other place in the nation. That median income has dropped to about $24,600, 4.5 percent less than outside of California. If you combine that with the fact that of California's 10 fastest growing jobs, seven of them pay less than $11 hour, less than $23,000 per year, you begin to see what's happening in terms of the polarization of the Calfornia people.

MINIMUM WAGE/LIVING WAGE. In California, the minimum wage is $5.65 -- the federal, 50 cents less. A single woman, working with two children, has to work three minimum-wage jobs to survive in the California economy. The thing that we don't want in this state is the kind of warfare that develops from this type of economic discrepancy. We must ... raise the minimum wage.

Today 51 different cities have passed "living wage" (ordinances) -- way above minimum wage. San Francisco last week just passed one at $9 an hour for everybody who does business with the city government. If you work 40 hours a week, eight hours a day, that should be considered adequate work time.

Second, we can expand the earned income tax credit, which you heard Vice President Gore speak of. And the next thing we can do, we can see that it is easy for people to get health insurance.

ON EDUCATION. There are some things that make a difference. Small class size makes a difference. Good instructional material makes a difference. Holding students and teachers accountable makes a difference.

We must continued to increase student spending. We must continue class size reduction. ... And on the ballot this November, please, please vote for Proposition 39. What it would do is lower the voter threshold of voter approval from 66 percent, which is required under Proposition 13, to 55 percent. In the next seven years just to keep even with the population increases, California has to build 300 new schools and 22,000 more classrooms -- just to stay even.

And we must eliminate social promotion. I was educated, K through 8, in public schools. There was no social promotion. You either learned and studied and did your homework and passed the test, or you went to summer school -- or you were held back.

And one other thing. We pay teachers very low for what they do. We have proposed something called a master teacher program to begin on a federal level. Give a teacher who teaches in a public school for 6 to 8 years and is judged to be excellent, I say they should be paid equivalent to that of an administrator. What I have been asking is that we take $50 million in grants to enable schools to add up to $20,000 to the salaries of teachers in a core group of about 20,000 teachers throughout the United States to see what this might do.

We can't find qualified California graduates to fill many jobs in today's workplace. We have to look to China, India and a host of other countries. The cutting edge jobs must go to our students and there is only one way we can do it -- reform our system.

Medical marijuana ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court handed down an order Aug. 29 that may mean the beginning of the end for California's medical marijuana law.

The order reverses a decision that allowed a medical marijuana clinic in Oakland to continue in business. While it is not a ruling that the clinic's actions are illegal, it sends a strong signal that Supreme Court justices take a dim view of California's Proposition 215 -- and might overturn the law.

Here in Humboldt County, District Attorney Terry Farmer said he is not yet going to change his policy with respect to Proposition 215, as it is unclear how the legal battle will turn out.

"This is like a tennis match," he said. "It's too early to take any sort of reading from [the order] at all."

His policy has been attacked by medical marijuana proponents as too stringent or arbitrary, but it allows some patients to possess some marijuana, and would be affected by a Supreme Court ruling against Prop 215.

Slow, steady, slow, steady

Judging by the most recent statistics, the economy of Humboldt County seems to be chugging along in the same rate of slow-but-steady growth that has characterized the entire summer.

August's Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County, published by Humboldt State University Professor Steve Hackett and student Debbie Keeth, shows that unemployment and housing prices are stable while retail sales have returned to normal after a spike in last month's report.

"As far as I can tell, the Humboldt County economy is still perking along," said Hackett.

That is good news, as recent increases in interest rates by the Federal Reserve had raised fears that Humboldt County might hit hard times.

The local manufacturing sector is heavily reliant on the lumber industry, which is very sensitive to interest rate fluctuations. Hackett said, "There would be more mill activity if the fed hadn't tightened as much as they did." The large amount of wealth created nationally in the last 10 years has kept demand for new houses -- and wood products -- from falling through the floor.

July may have been one of the best months ever for the tourism industry on the North Coast. According to the Humboldt County Visitors and Convention Bureau, its organization received more requests for information from prospective travellers than ever before -- and they've been keeping track for more than 20 years. Occupancy rates at local hotels were also up, according to Hackett -- almost 20 percent higher than in 1997.

This month's Index takes a close look at the local housing sector and how the price of a home in Humboldt County has risen. Corrected for inflation, it seems that they haven't increased in price very much at all. That's both good and bad news, said Hackett. Low home prices mean that it's easy for people to buy their own houses. But the fact that most home prices haven't shown a significant increase means that homes "haven't been that super of an investment for a lot of people."

It appears, however, that some people are buying or building very expensive homes. Hackett theorized that these may be people moving in from other parts of the state, where home prices have skyrocketed, giving homeowners a windfall.

"A certain percentage of folks are coming in with a tremendous amount of equity because of rising home prices," he said.

Hackett and Keeth, who publish a variety of economic information about Humboldt County on their website, will soon be involved with the production of another important measure of Humboldt County's economic well-being: the "Prosperity" document. Hackett said that he has offered to help with creating a means to measure growth in wealth to go with the "Prosperity" document.

See this week's cover story for more on "Prosperity" and what it will mean to Humboldt County.

County has new librarian

Humboldt County Librarian -- Judy Klapproth is retiring this October after serving in the post 24 years.

Klapproth's replacement will be Carolyn Stacey, who most recently was a library manager in Jefferson County, Colo. Stacey holds a Masters degree in Information and Library Studies and has extensive experience managing a multi-branch library system.

Educational politics at HSU

Labor Day has come and gone, and the race for the Presidency has begun in earnest.

Among the top issues on the minds of voters is education, and candidates have responded with numerous proposals, policies and much rhetoric.

To help sort it out, the Humboldt State University Education Colloquium is presenting a panel discussion Sept. 11 on the educational policies of the current batch of presidential candidates.

The views of Ralph Nader, George W. Bush and Al Gore and others will be presented and discussed by faculty members. Issues will include school financing, school choice and public financing for public schools. See this week's Calendar for details.

Mental health court likely

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, there were about 11,500 mentally ill individuals incarcerated in California's prison system last year at a cost of more than $500 million. In the view of state Sen. Wesley Chesbro, it's a punishment that doesn't fit the "crime" and a waste of money.

Chesbro-sponsored legislation designed to help reduce the high costs associated with the repeated jailing of mentally ill offenders has passed both houses of the Legislature and is expected to be signed soon by Gov. Davis.

The new law will clear the way for the creation of mental health courts to supervise mentally ill nonviolent offenders and place them in treatment, taking them out of the criminal justice system.

"Studies show that persons with mental illness who receive treatment are far less likely to commit crimes. My bill seeks to address this issue and reduce the costs spent on incarcerating this population," said Chesbro in a press release.


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