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September 29, 2005


The Weekly Wrap

Clam Beach idyll (with traffic)

Nine Questions for Mel Berti


The Weekly Wrap

SCOPAC TALKS BREAK DOWN: Back in June, the Maxxam Corp. parent company of the Pacific Lumber Co. announced that it was opening negotiations with the people and institutions it owes $750 million. The aim was to restructure the debt of the cash-strapped Maxxam subsidiary Scotia Pacific (Scopac), which holds title to the bulk of Maxxam lands in Humboldt County and carries the debt in the form of bonds secured against its timber holdings. As the deal currently stands, Scopac must meet interest payments of around $54 million annually to the owners of the timber notes; recently, it has been struggling to make the payments. Maxxam had hoped that a deal could be struck that would reduce that burden. But on Friday, the company announced that it was withdrawing from talks with the noteholders. In a statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said that "insufficient progress" had been made, and that it had recently been advised that the group with which it had been negotiating represented less than 15 percent of a noteholders. On Tuesday morning, an attorney for the group fired back, issuing a press release that blasted the company and laid out the position that Scopac should be a stand-alone company, with an independent board of directors and the ability to sell its timber on the open market. "Scopac's decision to end the discussions is disappointing," said Evan D. Flaschen, attorney for the noteholders, in a press release. "In the noteholders' view, it reinforces our belief that we need to create a new Scopac that is independent of Palco's influence. Scopac's redwood forests are an important resource and the noteholders intend to pursue a more responsible timber harvesting and reforestation program that is sustainable over the long term." In addition, Flaschen stated that contrary to the company's claims, his clients owned over 80 percent of the Scopac timber notes. In a follow-up interview, Flaschen who works with the Hartford, Conn.-based firm Bingham, McCutchen LLP said that while it wasn't the only sticking point in the negotiations, the noteholders' demand that Scopac divorce itself from Palco was a biggie. He said that his clients were committed to reinventing the company's relationships with regulatory agencies, environmental groups and the general public. "Whatever historical baggage there may be with Palco, we want people to recognize that Scopac should be independent and should be judged fresh," he said. "We're here to work with people, and in order to do that we need to be independent." Any number of things could happen now, Flaschen said: Scopac could declare bankruptcy, the noteholders could foreclose or Maxxam could come back to the table. "The ball is really in Scopac's court. Are they interested in reaching an agreement, or do they want this to be an adversarial process?"

HOOPA SCHOOL NEARS CRISIS: Earlier this month, the California Department of Education released its 2005 list of schools throughout the state that failed to meet goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Such schools are designated as "Program Improvement" schools, and are subject to ever-increasing penalties the longer they remain on the list. With the release of the list, Humboldt County got quite a bit of good news: Both Hoopa High and Fortuna Middle School had met the goals, and were therefore removed from potential punishment under No Child Left Behind. But the news wasn't so good for Hoopa Elementary, which entered into its fourth year in Program Improvement by failing to meet federal standards for student proficiency in English and mathematics. Year Four of Program Improvement is a serious one: It mandates the school district to devise a plan to radically revise a school if it fails to meet federal standards this year. The revision can take several forms, including replacing almost the entire school staff, turning the school over to a private management company or the state, or reopening as a charter school. Janet Frost of the Humboldt County Office of Education said that her organization was working with Hoopa Elementary to stave off that outcome. "We have support staff that are working with the elementary school staff, and we'll continue to do so," she said. "We want to provide them as much assistance as feasibly possible. We have every hope and expectation that they'll get out of it next year. Hoopa Elementary Principal Jennifer Lane and Laura Lee George, acting superintendent of the Klamath-Trinity Joint Unified School District, could not be reached for comment. In addition to Hoopa Elementary, two smaller Humboldt County schools are on the 2005-06 Program Improvement list: Pacific View Charter School, a high school program based out of the Loleta Union Elementary School District, and Northern Humboldt Community Day School. The former is in its second year of Program Improvement, the latter the first. In addition, the entire Mattole Unified School District was placed on the list because its charter school failed to make the grade.

BIG GRANT FOR TEACHING HISTORY: The Northern Humboldt Union High School District received a $974,000 federal grant last week for its Northwestern California Teaching American History Program. The grant will fund advanced US History instruction for 105 local elementary school teachers over the next three years. Northern Humboldt will act as the lead agency in partnership with the Humboldt and Del Norte County Offices of Education, the Humboldt State Geography Department, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York, the White House Historical Association, the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum, the Clark Historical Museum, the Humboldt County Historical Society and Blue Ox Millworks. During the school year each group will meet five weeknights and five Saturdays per semester and will read 14 significant books by leading American historians. Teachers will be able to meet or teleconference with some of the authors, and will also have the opportunity to travel to regional and national history conferences and participate in a two-week summer trip to historical sites such as Boston, Plymouth Plantation, New York, Constitution Hall, Gettysburg, Washington D.C. and the White House. Through classwork and travel study teachers can earn up to 15 university credits and count class and travel study time to meet the No Child Left Behind standards for "highly qualified" instructors. Each participant will receive a $1,000 stipend, which can be used to defray the cost of their books, units and other materials. Fifteen positions are still available. The group holds its first meeting Oct. 20 at Arcata High School. Interested teachers and administrators contact Jack Bareilles, the program director at McKinleyville High (839-6492 or via e-mail: jbareilles@nohum.k12.ca.us).

SEX OFFENDER SWEEP: U.S. Marshals and area law enforcement led a sweep earlier this month that nabbed 10 sex offenders for parole violations and for not complying with Megan's Law, which requires convicted offenders to register with the state. Among the 300-plus Humboldt County sex offenders who were targeted during the sweep, 20 are still under investigation, 17 have charges pending, 11 were told to update their registration information and seven were dead. A database of California sex registrants can be viewed at www.meganslaw.ca.gov. The site is updated daily by the state Department of Justice.

FOREVER IN DEBT: Gov. Schwarzenegger wants the City of Eureka to pay and pay and pay. And pay some more. That, at least, is what one might be tempted to surmise following the governor's veto last Thursday of a bill submitted by Sen. Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata) that asked the state to finally release Eureka from its indebtedness for a loan made in 1970. Back in the 1970s, the city of Eureka was embroiled in litigation with Humboldt Bay private landowners over tideland boundaries: The private landowners figured their property extended into the tidelands, said Chesbro legislative aide Bob Fredenburg, but the city said, "No, that's our land," arguing that the city was granted jurisdiction over the state tidelands by virtue of public trust doctrine. City jurisdiction was intended to protect the tidelands from private encroachment and facilitate city redevelopment. The city prevailed, but incurred hefty legal fees. The state, glad to have the city fight what was partly its battle, agreed to loan Eureka $750,000. The deal was that the city could pay back the state with 15 percent of yearly revenues from the Humboldt Bay Enterprise Fund. That has amounted to an average $45,000 payment each year, and to date the city has paid the state $873,000 for the $750,000 loan. The problem, said Fredenburg, is the payment plan never specified an end date. "We assumed it was just an oversight," he said. Senate Bill 742 sought to have payments end by June 30, 2005. The city made the case that the money going to the state would be better kept in the enterprise fund and used to fulfill the city's 1993 Eureka Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which aims to combine public and private projects to enhance tourism, recreation and commercial endeavors and thereby uphold the public trust which, after all, is what the state and city both sought to preserve in the first place. "But the Governor apparently thought [the city] should just keep paying it forever," said Fredenburg.

SAWMILL CLASS ACT: Mild-mannered Eureka attorney Bill Bertain has added a "bully" to his team in his class action lawsuit against Eel River Sawmills, Inc. Bertain has gained the support of two firms, actually, including the firm Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy, of Burlingame, whose attorney Joe Cotchett was written up in the 2005 Northern California Super Lawyers as "The man who bullies the bullies" and "wages war on corporate bad guys" with repeated success. Bruce Simon's the man helping Bertain from the Cotchett firm. Bertain filed the original lawsuit (it's in its fourth amended complaint now) in 2001, on behalf of about 400 employees of the Eel River Sawmills (which has since closed). The suit claims that mill trustees Dennis Scott and Eugene Lucas, among others, failed to uphold a promise made to the employees by Eel River Sawmills founder Mel McLean. McLean and his wife, Grace, founded Eel River Sawmills in the 1950s. Plaintiffs claim the McCleans promised that when they died, the employees would gain majority ownership of the business. They set up an employee stock ownership plan in 1989 to facilitate the transfer. Grace died in 1989, and Mel died in 1999. "Dennis Scott also promised, two weeks later after Mel's death, that the employees would have majority ownership," said Bertain. "And the employees relied on that promise." But the ownership transfer didn't happen, and Bertain sued, alleging among other things that Lucas and Scott received $600,000 each from the sawmill trust "to the detriment of plaintiffs." Judge Lloyd Von der Mehden of Santa Rosa recently overruled the defense's arguments that Bertain's case isn't supportable by law, and a trial has been set for March 2006. "The class action has been certified and the notice has gone out to newspapers and the employees," Bertain said.

WHERE'S MY LIBIDO?: Doctors at the Full Circle Center for Integrative Medicine, a practice that specializes in women's health, were hearing the same stories from their middle-aged and menopausal clients. Their sex drive just wasn't what is used to be a depressing realization that lots of women often remain mum about. That's why doctors from the clinic and other local authorities on women's sexual health decided to put together a workshop to open up dialogue on aging and libido. "Our providers have noticed a near-epidemic of people frustrated with a diminishment in [our clients'] sensual lives," said Lisa Keller, M.D. with Full Circle and a presenter at the upcoming workshop. "We are excited to bring to this conference a wide-ranging set of perspectives for helping women reclaim their natural healing sensuality." Among other things, the seminar will deal with medical and psychological issues affecting sexuality in women, menopause and hormonal influences on vibrancy, prayer and communication, herbs for libido and pleasure and solutions to sexual dysfunction. The workshop takes place Oct. 8, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., at the Humboldt Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Bayside. $60 in advance/$75 at the door. Call 826-2222 ext. 311 for details.

PLAZAPALOOZA: Back in the 1800s, fuzzy-coated cows loafed on the lovely Arcata Plaza, cropping the grass and generally measuring the day in bovine leisureliness. Today, it's those kids with their fuzzy dreadlocks partaking of the grass and marking off the hours with youthful un-ambition. At least, that's how it appears, although not everything is always as it seems. That's why we've got study sessions, to get to the heart of matters and to sort out issues that arise in public spaces like the Arcata Plaza. On Monday, Oct. 3, the city of Arcata will host a study session at 7 p.m. in the city council chambers to discuss "Daytime Plaza" issues. (A previous session apparently hashed out the "Nighttime Plaza" issues.) Those giving presentations on their roles in managing or keeping up the plaza include folks from city parks and rec, the police department and HSU. Be there or be square!

CORRECTION: A painting illustrating last week's arts column, "Health and Well Being," was incorrectly attributed to Julian Lang. The painting is, in fact, by Lyn Risling, the subject of the column. The Journal regrets the error.

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Clam Beach idyll (with traffic)

Story and photos by HEIDI WALTERS

photo of clam beach photo of clam beach
photo of clam beach

I was dozing at Clam Beach one Saturday afternoon, on a sandy rise just above the waveslope the area last wetted by high tide, and the only place vehicles are allowed to drive at Clam Beach County Park. A revving whine and a rumble awakened me, and I sat up to see a blue pickup careening just yards away, leaning into the first swoop of a donut. The truck completed the circle, its driver punched the gas pedal to keep from floundering and zoomed in front of me, where he slammed the truck into another tippy donut. He lurched forward, did it again and sped on. After the truck bounced over two low dunes, I saw two people sit up in a hollow between the dunes where they'd been sunbathing. The truck had passed within a couple of feet of them.

At that moment, I felt like one of those people whom beach-access activist Dennis Mayo rants about, the ones who hate vehicles, period, and want them banished from the beach forever. I mean, if the drivers can't behave . And it made me feel a part of the volatile discussion about Clam Beach and vehicle access. A draft county management plan for Clam Beach, among other things, proposes closing the beach to vehicles (with exceptions for fishing) from March 1 to Sept. 30 to protect the threatened western snowy plover during breeding season. The issue, debated nastily in public, has extended to questions of public safety. On the day the blue truck almost made me the jelly in its donut, I was firmly of the ban-vehicles-from-the-beach persuasion.

Other days, I've had trouble condemning beach drivers. Personally, I'm not fond of sharing that lovely space with cars. But there've been times when a truck has trundled by slowly in the sparkling surf with a tailgate full of laughing kids and I've found it hard to, you know, hate. One day in July, I walked down-bluff from the Hammond Trail, waded through the errant Mad River and crossed the dunes to the ocean. Along the shore two boys on foot were surf fishing. So far they had four red-tailed perch and two big crabs. A guy who'd driven over from the Clam Beach entry point was starting to fish nearby. I asked him what he was after, and he said, "I don't know what they're called, but they're really small and fun to catch. I throw `em back." Now, who am I to condemn a man who drives out and flings a fishing line at the sea on weekends to unwind?

Another day, I returned from the beach to the parking lot to find a pickup mired in the deep crossing, water close to pouring in the bed, hood up and two men tinkering. I thought about the grime and oil smuttering off the truck's underside into the water. I did not feel car-friendly.

This past Sunday one of those rare, all-day sunfests I walked north from the southernmost Clam Beach parking lot to Moonstone Beach, keeping close to the shore's bric-a-brac edge where the waves tickled and ravens and gulls pecked at the froth. Once, a mound of sand heaved after a wave departed and I found a crab hunkered down in vain hope of avoiding the predictable end discovery by a gull, flipped over by a beak and then pecked to death, despite wriggling its legs in protest. Mostly I saw the remains: Those bright orange shells with their goat's head pattern staring back accusingly, empty of meat, amid broken sand dollars, clam shells, kelp fronds and other shoreline detritus. Bird tracks crisscrossed truck and people tracks, and a swath of chunky divots made by the hooves of horses ran over them all. An unleashed black dog came racing along the foredunes, chasing plovers, followed by a jogging man in a yellow shirt.

Five trucks and one horse passed me along the way. One truck sped recklessly through the waves, another drove fast along the top of the wet slope, passing close by a small boy in a gray shirt who'd dug himself into a hole. The other drivers, model citizens, veered slowly around pedestrians. The horse, ridden by a yellow-locked man in a caramel-colored canvas jacket, galloped at waves' edge and then slowed when it passed people on foot. Later I came upon the horse and rider again, turning tight circles by the waves.

The scene at Moonstone was like one of those corny, bright paintings of a town in perpetual carnival. People swarmed the sand and water. All the big 4-by double-cabs that had passed me were parked there. A couple of muddied renegades were parked over on the Moonstone Beach side, which is off-limits to vehicles. Two equestrians cantered about. Climbers dangled off the shore-side rocks. Surfers bobbled in the ocean or napped in the sun, while kids scooted around on those little sand slider boards. Two kites soared, and here came the yellow shirt and his black dog again. The dog stopped, sat, and stared for a long time up at one of the kites, then dashed after its person. I walked over to one of the parked trucks from which several surfers and friends had exited. One of them, Rachel, said they'd come here because the wind was shaping the waves just right. It was easier to drive on the beach, she said, and Moonstone's parking lot "is always full." What would she do if beach driving was prohibited part of the year? "I guess we'd just walk in," she said.

A couple with their well-mannered dog "we pick up after her," assured the woman offered mixed observations. "We're in the middle," said the man. They have friends who drive here. "It's too bad they made trucks like this in the first place," he said, nodding at the gigantic rigs gathered at the Little River's mouth. "But if they're courteous, it's OK. What would make sense to me is if they made the speed limit 5 mph." The woman said, "I wouldn't mind if they closed it to vehicles."

Walking back south, I passed a woman carrying a ratty tennis racquet accompanied by a dog mouthing a green tennis ball. I posed the vehicle-on-the-beach question to her. She said, "I think there's a way for everyone to share the beach." After a pause, she added, "I wish there were fewer cars, or that they went slower." --

 

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Nine Questions for Mel Berti

Story and photo by HELEN SANDERSON

The City of Fortuna has gone through some major transitions lately, chief among them the death of Mayor Tom Cooke and the closures of the Pacific Lumber's Fortuna Mill and Humboldt Printing. Longtime Fortuna councilmember and lifetime Fortuna resident Mel Berti, 66, who's been a butcher at Hoby's Market in Scotia for 30 years, took a break from his work to reflect on the years spent on the council and to mull over the changes ahead.

How does Fortuna distinguish itself from other cities in Humboldt County?

photo of Mel BertiFortuna works together. If you want the lights changed over at the ball field, you call up the fire department and they bring the big ladder and change the lights. If you want new dirt on the football field or baseball field, you have 20 people down there with rakes and shovels; you've got construction guys who bring down their equipment. In bigger cities it's not like that. We've got a good fire department, a good police department. We keep our town clean.

Right: Mel Berti

How long have you been on the council?

I'm on my 22nd year. I've been mayor twice, and now I'm the vice mayor.

Do you think you'll run again?

I will have to wait and see, but probably not. By then I'll have 24 years I still have two and a half years left. There'll come the time when I'll want the freedom to not have to go to a meeting every night so I can go out and enjoy myself.

In what ways are you missing Tom Cooke?

The knowledge he carried through the state was huge. If there was something we needed he could go through the state to get it, because he was recognized by everybody every committee he got on he was either vice chair or chair. It showed what a great work ethic he had. Personally, I lost a real good friend. We'd been working together 22 years.

You've called Palco "Humboldt's Rock of Gibraltar." Do you still feel that way now that things are shaky for the company?

See, what's made it shaky, what's put the crack in there, is the environmentalists. PL's got the lumber, they've got the trees but now they can't cut it. So what that does is soon you start cutting people out of jobs. And what happens here [at Hoby's] is, like lunch hour, we used to have 60 to 70 people in here, now maybe we get 20. We've had to cut employees because we're not doing the same volume. And that happens all the way from here to Fortuna.

Will a big box store change the character of the town?

Some people want to put a picket fence around Fortuna. But we have people who are tired of going to Redding, or Santa Rosa, or Crescent City to shop, so we lose a lot of revenue. If we don't get those box stores, McKinleyville will. People will just drive from Fortuna to McKinleyville. We're gonna lose more money and jobs. When the Bayshore Mall opened [in Eureka] we had to shut down 13 businesses. The same thing can happen again.

What's the mood been like around Fortuna lately?

The people are kind of down. We lost the mill, we lost Humboldt Printing a couple hundred jobs. It's kind of a negative. That's the trouble with all these environmentalists whacking away at PL, all they've done is cost us jobs. They have not done one damn thing to get us jobs in Fortuna.

But then, their mission isn't about jobs it's about saving the environment, right?

Their mission is that they want to shut PL down and then they'll be happy. You know, PL has the strictest logging plan in the state. What bothers me is that the playing field isn't level. You've got this water quality board you don't need those people. They're just eating at the public trough. You can eliminate it, cut out this bureaucratic crap, get rid of them, save the money and put it where you need it. If the water quality board was gone you wouldn't miss them. But [environmentalists] don't care how many jobs they cost an area, just as long as it suits their cause. It's just like [DA Paul] Gallegos and Timothy Stoen their main thing was the lawsuit against PL. The sad thing is that they're using my tax dollars to take jobs from me making a living. Why should that make me happy?

Didn't you support Gallegos the first time around?

The first time, yeah. He covered up what his agenda was. I thought that he was fresh blood coming in with new ideas, who wanted to prosecute people. I know a lot of other PL people who voted for him, too. If he had said, "The first thing I'm gonna do is put a lawsuit against PL and we're gonna use the county's money to do it," how many votes do you think he would of gotten? He wasn't truthful in his campaign. But I'll tell you this: They've got a machine as far as campaigns go, with [Richard] Salzman. Every candidate they helped has won every election since Gallegos got elected. Now I think there is a chink in the armor. I can't tell you which way it will go, but if he [Gallegos] loses, then the other people who were elected the same way might not get reelected. The upcoming DA election will show you which way the county is going politically. If Gallegos loses there will be a shift. I've seen this coming.

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