September 20, 2001
An attempt by federal regulators to hold Pacific Lumber Co.'s owner responsible for the failure of a Texas savings and loan received a major setback last week.
In a decision published Sept. 13, federal administrative law Judge Arthur Shipley recommended that the Office of Thrift Supervision drop charges against Charles Hurwitz, whose Maxxam Corp. bought Pacific Lumber in 1996.
Hurwitz has been accused of steering the United Savings Association of Texas into bankruptcy in 1988, costing taxpayers $1.6 billion. According to the OTS and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Hurwitz stripped the savings and loan of valuable assets just before it went under, reaping profit from the public's loss.
That allegation is unfounded, according to Judge Shipley. He said in his statement that "not a scintilla of evidence" supports the bank regulator's theories.
Environmental groups interpreted the decision as a setback. Many, including the Sierra Club and the Rose Foundation, had advocated a deal in which Maxxam's debt would be forgiven in return for Pacific Lumber timberlands. The recommendation to drop charges means the regulators don't have any debt with which to bargain.
Shipley's decision could be overturned by OTS Director Ellen Seidman.
Caltrans is putting together its to-do list for the next 20 years and you're invited.
The state transportation agency and the Humboldt County Association of Governments are sponsoring a workshop to collect public comments prior to the drafting of a California Transportation Plan. The plan will guide Caltrans' approach to transportation issues over the next two decades. Issues up for debate include highways, streets, rail, seaports, airports, bicycles and pedestrian concerns.
The workshop will be held Sept. 24 in Eureka's Wharfinger Building. See this week's calendar for details.
The Board of Forestry approved a change in the Forest Practice Rules Sept. 12 that requires state permission for the harvesting of old-growth trees.
The new rule states that landowners who want to cut down a tree sprouted before the year 1800 have to get permission from the state.
The change did not please everyone. A different version, recommended by Gov. Davis, would have required permission for the harvesting of trees 200 or more years old. The Board of Forestry unanimously rejected the idea, saying it would have provided an incentive to cut down trees just before they reach 200 years of age to avoid the new regulation.
The rule change did not mollify environmental activists, who are mounting a campaign for a 2002 ballot initiative that would ban the harvest of trees in existence before 1850.
Sierra Pacific Industries, which plans on harvesting timber on land adjacent to the Arcata neighborhood of Sunny Brae, had a productive relationship with local residents. The company allowed neighborhood advocates unprecedented access to the planning process and was receptive to their concerns.
But that relationship has now soured. Local critics and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention are at odds with the timber company over the big issues of road access and herbicide use.
CDF has asked Sierra Pacific to use pilot cars to escort logging trucks and limit the hours during which the trucks could be operated from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition, the company was asked to forgo entirely the use of herbicides in the timber harvest plan.
Sierra Pacific has declined to include any of the three changes in its timber harvest plan, said Mark Lovelace, spokesperson for the Sunny Brae-Arcata Neighborhood Alliance.
Ironically, Sierra Pacific had been receptive to many of neighbors' concerns, Lovelace said. Agreements were reached on waterbar spacing, maximum road width and other "incredibly small site-specific details," he said.
"To Sierra Pacific's credit, most things were worked out through agreement."
But the big issues of road use and herbicides "are huge issues to the community," Lovelace said, "and they refuse to meet us on them."
Sierra Pacific did not return calls for this report.
Humboldt County's economy bucked state and national trends during August as unemployment numbers dropped to 4.9 percent, according to prelimnary data from the state Employment Development Department.
Data show approximately 500 more people were employed during August than in July. The biggest increases were in state and local government where 800 jobs were added. That helped offset job losses in other sectors, including a 100-worker loss in the sawmill industry and a 200-worker downturn in the service sector.
The improvement means that Humboldt County, for the first time in years, has a lower unemployemnt rate than the state. California as a whole has a 5.2 percent unemployment rate.
The economic picture in Humboldt County remains gloomy (see In the News, Sept. 13), with the lumber, tourism, and retail sectors all experiencing downturns.
In spite of the tragedies in Washington and New York and the recent destruction of its offices, the Northcoast Environmental Center facilitated Humboldt County's participation in the 17th annual Coastal Cleanup Day Sept. 15.
"We had 1,300 people signed up for the cleanup," said NEC Executive Director Tim McKay. That's a step down from last year, when 2,400 people helped to clear Humboldt beaches of trash and debris.
The diminished attendance was partly due to the center's inability to mount the same campaign as normal to get people involved, McKay said. Still operating out of a temporary office space in the wake of a July 25 fire at its offices, the staff was "not able to do what we normally do," McKay said.
Memorial services were also held on the day of the cleanup for victims of the terrorist attacks.
Nevertheless, the people who made it out to beaches did a fantastic job, McKay said. In addition to a "lot of Styrofoam, a tube of shoe goo, a TV, a freezer and a book of erotic poetry," beach cleaners in south Eureka found what looked like an abandoned mechanic's shop.
"There were 30 people down there at the end of Hilfiker, and they pulled out several car bodies and half of a motorcycle," McKay said.
New DNA evidence has surfaced in the investigation of the 1990 bombing of Earth First activist Judi Bari.
Using saliva samples gathered from envelopes, DNA experts have determined that the death threat mailed to Bari in April 1990 was sealed by a man. Likewise, the tests show that the letter claiming responsibility was sealed by a woman other than Bari. [This information has been corrected. It was originally incorrect in the first web posting and in the print edition.]
Bari herself was initially considered the prime suspect in the bombing by Oakland police and the FBI. She consistently denied any involvement in the May 14, 1990, pipe bomb blast that seriously injured her and passenger Darryl Cherney. She died in 1997 of breast cancer.
The new evidence does more than help to clear Bari's name -- it also establishes new links in the case. The person who sealed the letter claiming responsibility for the attack was the same man who sealed an anonymous letter to police in January 1989 alleging Bari was selling marijuana.
A lawsuit against the FBI that alleges Bari and Cherney's civil rights were injured when they became the prime suspects was delayed this week. It is now scheduled to begin in six months.
When considering what to name the Humboldt County Library's new computerized catalog system, Library Director Carolyn Stacey looked to see what other libraries had done.
"The New York Public Library's catalog is CATNYP and Humboldt State's is CATALYST," she said.
One library in Colorado gave up on nifty acronyms altogether and just called its system Fred.
"We in Humboldt County are at least as clever as those folks," Stacey said.
If you have a better name than Fred, pick up an entry form for the Name the Computer Catalog contest at a Humboldt County library. The winning entry's author will receive a $50 gift certificate for books. Call 269-1905 for more information.
Artist Donviéve with her new sculpture, which now graces the entrance to Arcata's Pacific Union Elementary. Not that she can take all the credit for it: The cement form is decorated with more than 600 tiles, one from each member of the student body at Pacific Union last year. It is the culmination for Donviéve of three years as Pacific Union's Artist in Residence, a program sponsored by the Ink People Center for the Arts and the California Arts Council.
While the California Coastal Commission was meeting in Humboldt County last week, members took time out to honor six individuals for their activism in coastal protection. The reception, held Sept. 13, honored:
Cheryl Seidner, chair of the Table Bluff Reservation, for her work on restoring the presence of the Wiyot people on Indian Island and throughout the tribe's traditional Humboldt Bay region.
Lucille Vinyard, long-time supporter of coastal issues, known for her coastal advocacy throughout the state. (Featured on the June 14 cover of the Journal.)
Tim McKay, executive director of the Northcoat Environmental Center, who initiated what is now an international annual Coastal Clean Up Day held last weekend.
Carol Vander Meer, director of Friends of the Dunes, who has provided leadership for the appreciation of coastal dunes habitat.
Aryay Kalaki and Tim Ayres, founders of Coastal Stewards, a citizen-based monitoring group to help local law enforcement in carrying out the purposes of the county's beach and dunes management ordinance.
Pacific Builders got the thumbs up last week from the county hazardous waste officials to begin cleanup following the July 25 fire that leveled a strip of buildings off the Arcata Plaza. (See Aug. 2, 2001 cover story)
Destroyed in the blaze were the Northcoast Environmental Center, Marino's night club and apartments, and the Arcata Paint store, which specialized in auto body paints.
Building owners and Arcata Fire Department investigators had been officially prevented from digging through the rubble until a plan was approved for clean up. Since the historic Marino's building had asbestos siding, demolition and debris removal from the site must be performed by licensed workers.
NEC Executive Director Tim McKay admitted last week that he prematurely went "dumpster diving" in the rubble twice following reports of vandalism at the fenced-off site. Recovered were the NEC's mailing list, just in time to print labels and post the September edition of EcoNews, the NEC newsletter. (The EcoNews August edition was lost in the blaze.) Also recovered were some minutes, McKay said, and a sizable deposit that had been prepared for the bank the day of the fire.
AFD Fire Chief Dave White said investigators will work alongside the demolition crew in its search for clues of the fire's origin.
The Dell'Arte Co. of Blue Lake has been invited to perform a theater piece at the "Africa in America's Memory" Festival in Santa Marta, Colombia, beginning Oct. 1. The event is presented by the International Theatre Institute in connection with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Dell'Arte will present an original play, Pirates!, which was first presented as the troupe's annual holiday show last year.
"The festival is designed to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Colombia and to explore the influence of Africa on the Americas. It is a potent and very timely topic," said Dell'Arte managing artistic director Michael Fields.
Pirates! is "highly physical, comic, musical, visual, accessible-across-languages, and thematically works with the ideas of race, survival and the will to stand up for oneself," Fields said.
"We're honored by the invitation, and we're very much looking forward to the experience."
Caltrans is fine-tuning new street lights in Arcata on Samoa Boulevard at G and H streets that are controlled by a computer and a video camera, the first of its kind in Humboldt County.
The camera -- unlike those in metropolitan areas that are used to record cars that run red lights -- senses the presence of a car or even a bicycle and asks a computer for a green light. It does not store information.
A standard detection system consisting of loops of wire imbedded in the pavement is not capable of detecting smaller vehicles such as bicycles.
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