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Sept. 16, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Tackling child obesity
Low income kids most likely to be overweight

General plan direction favors in-fill
Supes deny request by developer group for more time


 T H E  W E E K L Y  W R A P

NEW CASINO BREAKING GROUND: Another casino is on its way to Humboldt County, this time in Loleta: The Bear River Band of Rohnerville Rancheria announced this week that it will break ground Saturday on a 32,000-square-foot facility -- complete with 349 slot machines, nine table games, a poker room, sports bar and restaurant -- on its land off Highway 101 on Singley Road in Loleta. Opening date is slated for July 2005. The project has been in limbo for years; an unfinished slab poured by a previous developer will be jackhammered, said gaming director John McGinnis. "Lands acquired after 1988 have to get special approval for gaming," he said. "That was the roadblock before, and it's gone."

WILSON OFF PALCO CASE: An out-of-town judge appointed by the California Judicial Council last week ordered Judge Christopher Wilson removed from overseeing the county's case against the Pacific Lumber Co. Judge K. Peter Saiers of San Joaquin County didn't buy Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen's argument that Wilson's "personal relationship" with Supervisor Bonnie Neely's niece could be construed as a conflict of interest. In a ruling filed Thursday, Saiers called the argument "nothing but smoke and mirrors." But Saiers did grant Stoen's motion to have Wilson disqualified -- known as a "170.1 motion" -- on the grounds that Wilson had earlier agreed to hear the case only if both sides agreed to have him. At the same time, Saiers delivered a defense of Wilson, based on his reading of his earlier preliminary decisions in the case. "The Court read Judge Wilson's written decision on the first demurrer and finds it to be well-reasoned and feels the District Attorney made a huge mistake in filing this 170.1 against Judge Wilson," Saiers wrote. The case will be assigned to another judge.

WORKING ON THE RAILROAD: The North Coast Railroad Authority began cleaning up its old rail yards last week, five years after a Mendocino County court ordered it to do so. Why the delay? "There are three state agencies involved, along with the Attorney General's office, and everything has to be cleared by all four agencies before work can begin," said Mitch Stogner, NCRA executive director. Old ties, abandoned vehicles and assorted railroad detritus -- including some hazardous materials -- may be removed from the NCRA yard in Eureka and smaller facilities in Scotia, South Fork, Fort Seward, Alderpoint and points south. Meanwhile, choo-choo buffs will be excited to hear that the North Coast Logging Interpretive Association has bought back the old Annie and Mary Railroad's Engine No. 101, which made its last run between Arcata and Blue Lake in the early 1980s. The diesel locomotive, which has been faithfully serving a Louisiana paper company these last few years, could become a big part of the tourist train service the NCLIA hopes to run around Humboldt Bay someday.

IVAN THE TERRIBLE : Members of Humboldt State University's department of anthropology were personally touched by the horrendous destruction visited upon the Caribbean by Hurricane Ivan last week. One of the hardest-hit countries in the hurricane's path was Grenada, where the department has run a summer study-abroad program for the last few years. Mary Glenn, anthropology professor, is trying to organize a relief effort in order to help pay back the Grenadans who have given her students so much over the years. Their situation appears dire. "The people I spoke to all say that Grenada has experienced complete and total devastation -- that there are entire swaths of areas that have been wiped free of houses, and that the rest are barely standing," Glenn wrote in an e-mail to supporters last week. "Most trees are completely gone, and the ones left standing have no leaves. On the phone, they said `Grenada is a desert; it's all over, finished.'" People wishing to contribute to Glenn's relief efforts may make a donation using a credit card by calling 826-4943. Essential goods -- clothing, blankets, pots and pans -- may be dropped off at the anthropology department's office beneath the HSU library. The group will also accept donations at an information booth at this weekend's North Country Fair in Arcata.

NATIVE STUDIES SHAKEUP: Students in Humboldt State's Native American Studies program are planning a Friday walk-out in response to the university's decision to remove Professor Joseph Giovannetti from the chairmanship of the department. The professor has had a stormy relationship with the university for many years now; in 2002, he and two other NAS faculty administrators sued the university for discrimination after a dispute broke out over ownership of research the three had undertaken. (The case was settled out of court.) Giovannetti, who will continue to teach in the department, is alleging that the administration's decision to remove him as department chair is retaliation for the lawsuit.

TWO IF BY SEA: Scott Wesley Chase, a 42-year-old Blue Lake man, last week took his kayak and his AK-47 out for some shooting practice on the Pacific Ocean off Trinidad's Indian Beach. The Trinidad Police Department, notified of shots being fired out on the open water, persuaded Chase to return to shore, where he was taken into custody and charged with possession of an illegal assault weapon and recklessly discharging a firearm. TPD Chief Kenneth Thrailkill noted Tuesday that the passing of the federal assault weapons ban, which expired over the weekend, would make no difference in cases such as Chase's; weapons like the AK-47 are still illegal in California.

MAN DIES IN MOTEL EXPLOSION: On Saturday, a suspicious explosion in a Fortuna motel resulted in the death of a man who was in the room and the evacuation of nearby gas stations, Fortuna police said. Charles Douthitt, 41, of Fortuna, who was renting a room at the National 9 Inn on Main Street in Fortuna, died from loss of blood after shrapnel from a blast severed a major artery in his thigh, Humboldt County Coroner Frank Jager said. Witnesses reported hearing gunfire, but Jager said that the noise was actually exploding flammable materials that were apparently ignited by the initial blast. Police have not released the cause of the explosion but said that the possibility of a methamphetamine lab accident has been ruled out. An investigation by Fortuna Police is ongoing.

FATAL CAR WRECK: Donald Lee Frisbee, 68, the owner of the former Frisbee's Used Cars in Eureka, died Sunday evening after his pickup truck crashed into a tree on southbound Highway 101, south of Crescent City. Frisbee's vehicle burst into flames and his body was left charred and initially unidentifiable. The man's family had reported him missing and an autopsy by the Del Norte Coroner's Office on Tuesday confirmed his identity. The cause of the accident is under investigation by the California Highway Patrol.

Tackling child obesity
Low income kids most likely to be overweight


Children across the nation are heavier today than they were a just a decade ago, and numbers of overweight children have more than doubled since the 1970s. A new study shows that North Coast youths are experiencing the same trend in weight gain, and could possibly be ahead of the national curve.

The North Coast Nutrition and Fitness Collaborative released a report last week that briefly examines the numbers of overweight children in Humboldt, Del Norte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma counties. Among the collaborative's findings highlighted at a panel discussion at Alice Birney Elementary School in Eureka last Wednesday was that children as young as 2 in the North Coast region have weight problems.

In Humboldt County, an astonishing 35 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds from low-income families are considered overweight.

It seems ironic that children from families with less money for food are more overweight. But national studies show a correlation between poverty and obesity, and that "food insecurity," or feeling uncertain of where your next meal will come from, is associated with low quality diets. It's a phenomenon that makes sense to Joyce Houston, chair of the collaborative.

"Low-income families are probably eating more high-sugar, high-fat foods because it's inexpensive," Houston said. "They're getting more empty calories."

When this is the case, fruits and veggies fall by the wayside and are substituted for less nutritious options, like fast food. Unhealthy diets combined with a sedentary lifestyle lead to greater incidences of Type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease in adolescents, experts say.

National figures for obesity placed 15 percent of children ages 6 to 19 in the overweight category in 2000, up 4 percent in four years. Houston said that last year, a local study performed by the Humboldt Children's Nutrition Task Force found that at least 20 percent of students ages 6 to 16 in the county are overweight.

Members of the discussion panel that included school officials, government representatives and dieticians noted that children who live in poorer neighborhoods might not get the physical activity they need after school because their neighborhood has higher rates of crime, making outdoor play dangerous.

Garry Eagles, superintendent of the Humboldt County Office of Education, said that ensuring that children have safe walking and biking routes to school should be a priority, as well as making nutritious food available for all students.

"We need to educate kids and parents about healthy choices, then make the choices accessible," Eagles said.

Eagles also suggested ways to bring healthy food options into area schools, including a school garden and a Harvest of the Month program.

Ensuring that those who are eligible for subsidized breakfast and lunch eat at school was also pitched as a way to improve the health of students. A study by the collaborative shows that as children get older, their enrollment in the National School Lunch Program wanes. Reasons for this may include embarrassment or disappointing food choices at the school. While numbers for school lunches served decrease with age, obesity increases, leading officials to believe that children are better off eating what is offered by the school, rather than choosing from vending and soda machines, or eating off-campus.

To stamp out soft drinks and candy consumption, schools in California will eventually dump on-campus vending machines. Eureka City Schools, which are in the midst of overhauling their nutrition policy, have already said no to junk food, eliminating soda and candy vending machines throughout the district and replacing them with fruit juice, water and milk. Critics respond that high school students who crave soda and sweets badly enough will walk off campus to get their sugar fix. To that, Houston says, so be it.

"At least they'll get some exercise on the walk," she said.

Turning the tide on the childhood obesity epidemic will be a difficult task, officials said, requiring a community effort.

"This isn't going to happen in the medical office but in the community," said Terry Raymer of the United Indian Health Services.

Recommendations from the collaborative include increasing funding for school meals and physical activity programs, making donations of nutritious foods to charities, working with land planning commissions to create safe access for walking and biking to schools and for parents to join their children in physical activity.

The Children's Nutrition Task Force will hold a public meeting at 3 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Humboldt County Office of Education, 901 Myrtle Ave., Eureka.

General plan direction favors in-fill
Supes deny request by developer group for more time


The Board of Supervisors chose a scenario for the county's future at a special meeting Monday, even as a group representing builders and developers appeared to lay the groundwork for a future legal challenge to the new general plan.

The board voted 4-0 to endorse the planning staff's Sketch Plan B, which calls for new development to be principally focused in existing communities. In addition, the board endorsed Supervisor Bonnie Neely's suggestion that county staff members specifically address water issues in a chapter of the plan. Supervisor Jimmy Smith was absent from the meeting due to illness.

The board's decision to vote at the meeting was in spite of a request filed by lawyers representing the group Humboldt Economic and Land Plan (HELP), which is comprised of members of the development community. The attorney, Charles Trainor of the Sacramento firm Trainor and Robertson, asked the board to delay the decision for 30 days to give the public additional time to comment on the process.

HELP spokesman Mike Harvey told the board Monday night that despite a number of outreach meetings and other efforts to solicit opinions on the new general plan, county staff did not have a complete picture of what local residents wanted. He contrasted his own group's poll of residents, conducted by a Portland, Ore., research group called Moore Information, with the county's efforts.

"They don't look at the entire population -- they look at an activist segment," Harvey said. "We are the only group that did a scientific survey."

HELP has claimed results of the poll back up the group's contention that the county needs to plan for much rapid and expansive growth, which would require building new homes on land designated for agriculture and timber. Forty-six percent of the 300 registered voters polled agreed that the county should plan for a growth rate of 2 percent per year, one of HELP's fundamental contentions. Only 20 percent disagreed with the statement. In contrast, the county predicts only a 0.6 percent growth rate per year over the next 20 years, based on state Department of Finance projections.

Despite the group's contention that its poll is the only "scientific" survey of county residents' attitudes toward development, there is some question about whether the sample questioned by Moore Information represents an accurate cross-section of residents.

According to demographic information included in the survey, half of the people polled are above age 55. But the state Department of Finance's latest figures on Humboldt County's population show that more than 60 percent of adult residents are between the ages of 20 and 50.

Seventy-five percent of those questioned in the HELP poll told interviewers that they own their own homes. In contrast, the most recent survey of home ownership in the county -- the 2000 Census -- found that only 57.6 percent of residents were homeowners.

The political affiliation of those surveyed -- Republican, Democrat or nonpartisan -- is roughly equal to voter registration in the county.

In a previous letter to the board, Harvey seemed to indicate that HELP was preparing legal action against the board, based on the claim that the group represented the "interests of the majority." After the board had made its decision, though, he said that talk of a lawsuit was premature.

"We aren't pleased with where the county is going, but we look forward to working with them in as positive a way as possible to move the process forward," he said.

Harvey called for the county to form a committee composed of HELP and others -- including the Farm Bureau and the Healthy Humboldt Coalition, an environmentalist group -- to draft a new scientific poll to further gauge the attitudes of local residents to development.



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