Inland fires rage on
Humboldt County coastal residents awoke this week to fresh evidence of the inland fires burning in Trinity and Shasta counties.
Following a weekend of blue sky, warm temps and strong northerly winds, the sky Tuesday showed a sun that cut through the morning haze with a glow as red as fire and ash that sprinkled the coastal region. Until this week, the ash and smoky haze had been reserved to the inland region, especially east of Willow Creek near Burnt Ranch and Big Bar, ground zero for major firefighting efforts for over a month now.
Santa Ana-type winds common to Southern California autumns produced 30 mph gusts and low humidity that pushed the wind-driven fire southwest into the Six Rivers National Forest toward the Trinity Alps Wilderness and the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. Flames rose more than 100 feet in some hot spots, including a blow-down area that produced a hot, fuel-loaded fire storm, command center fire officials reported.
Fire crews were concentrated to the north side of the fires. While evacuating Box Camp on the west end, the fires brought on the first casualty. A camp crew member, Dave Muller, 40, of Hoopa, died of a heart attack during an evacuation of a fire camp around midnight Monday.
Meanwhile, the fires are also threatening the salmon habitats at the Horse Linto watershed south of the Tish Tang Ridge. It has also reached the headwaters of the east fork of Tish Tang Creek.
Accompanying wildfires burning across the state from San Bernardino to Big Sur, the North Coast's Onion and Megram fires have scorched more than 73,000 acres, an area larger than the entire Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation. Residents here and other communities along the U.S. Highway 299 corridor have been advised to either leave the area or try to stay inside as the air quality is poor with about five times more pollutants than normal.
Gov. Gray Davis declared a state of emergency in Trinity County last week.
A promise is a promise
Feeling a "deep sense of betrayal," nearly 300 St. Bernard Catholic School teachers, parents and students filed a petition last week asking Archbishop William Levada to reinstate nearly $800,000 in subsidies the diocese had pledged for the current school year.
"The Catholic Church has an obligation to keep its promise to its members," said Bill Barnum, a Eureka attorney and parent.
Barnum said there is a misconception in the community that the school's budget deficit was due to mismanagement or poor planning, but in fact it was part of a planned effort to upgrade the school.
"Four years ago we got a grant to help us expand and upgrade the school, to improve it and make it better," Barnum said. "The bishop (former Bishop Patrick Zeimann) got very excited about our plan and promised to fund it. We were projecting a three-year deficit budget" in order to attract better qualified teachers and upgrade facilities.
"We're asking the diocese to review its (financial) situation," Barnum said.
And that's precisely what the archbishop and his advisers plan, said spokesman Maurice Healy from the church's San Francisco office.
"All efforts are being made to return the diocese to financial health in ways that are fair to individual parishes and schools as well as the entire Diocese of Santa Rosa as a whole," a statement issued Monday read.
The embattled North Coast diocese saddled with a $15 million debt withdrew the subsidies pledged by Ziemann and financial advisers. Last month the new diocese management discovered gross accounting discrepancies. Ziemann resigned amid controversy of alleged sexual wrongdoing with a former Ukiah priest, who is now suing him.
Barnum estimates the combined elementary and high school needs to raise at least $350,000 by Jan. 1 to stay open.
City eyes big pool
If a group of swimming advocates has its way, the city of Eureka may spawn Olympic hopefuls some day.
The city is considering the benefits of building a 50-meter, Olympic-sized swimming pool complex off California Street between Henderson and Buhne streets on little-known, city-owned parkland.
Last week the city council tabled a request to allocate $7,500 for a feasibility study.
"This is a drop in the bucket," Councilwoman Connie Miller said of the design phase cost after the meeting.
Miller said she is challenging the city to take more risks and "to go for it" because she believes the proposal by fellow Councilwoman Cherie Arkley is good for the city's youth and for the economy.
The closest outdoor 50-meter pools are in Santa Rosa and Benicia.
"If we make this community one that people want to live in, we won't be able to keep the companies out," Miller said. "I think (the pool) would be a tremendous draw."
It has happened elsewhere. Las Vegas' 50-meter indoor pool downtown draws 1,500 to 2,000 people a day, said Consultant Randy Mandioroz of Aquatics Design in Carlsbad.
Similar-sized indoor pools cost between $8 million to $12 million to build because a 35,000- to 50,000-square-foot structure is needed to house it, Mandioroz said. Outdoor pools cost about $2 million.
Bari case revived
A federal appeals court in San Francisco last Friday reinstated a 1991 lawsuit filed by the late Earth First activist Judi Bari against Oakland police and FBI agents on alleged conspiracy and civil rights violations.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with an appeal filed in April by codefendant Darryl Cherney and someone working on behalf of Bari. The two said officers falsely accused them of setting a bomb that exploded under Bari's carseat in order "to inhibit their political activities."
The judge's panel, with Judge Stephen Reinhardt writing the opinion, denied "qualified immunity" to the officers, who in May 1990 arrested Bari in her hospital bed and passenger Cherney for the explosion in Oakland. The blast shattered Bari's pelvis and left her with serious internal injuries that caused her pain for the rest of her life. Bari died in March 1997 of breast cancer.
The Alameda County district attorney dropped the charges against the two activists two months later citing lack of evidence. Bari and Cherney filed a civil rights lawsuit against law enforcement the next year.
"Somewhere out there Judi's smiling," said Cherney, her close companion and fellow Earth First activist, on Monday. At the time the bomb went off, the two were organizing logging protests for Redwood Summer of 1990. These demonstrations stirred animosity in the timber industry. As a prominent leader of the radical environmental group, Bari had received many death threats.
But last week's court decision cites reports the officers may have jumped to conclusions with "their suspicions that in the past Earth First had been involved in incidents of environmental sabotage." The judges also noted alleged claims of misinformation in search warrant affidavits.
Regarding the long wait for a favorable decision in such an ordeal, Cherney simply said that sometimes "the wheels of justice are square."
The plaintiffs are asking for a thorough investigation of the crime, their records cleared, damages to pay for attorneys fees and an apology by law enforcement connected with the case, Cherney said.
Wired to school concerns
Twenty-four years a teacher, Virginia Strom-Martin still spends a lot of time in the classroom figuratively at least in this her third year as a member of the California Assembly.
There is, for example, her "telephone bill" one of 11 the Sonoma County Democrat has stacked up on the desk of Gov. Gray Davis. The idea, she explained this past week to Soroptimist International of Eureka at a luncheon in the Eureka Inn, "is to put a hand-wired telephone in every school room." She adds, remembering the Columbine High School shooting, "It's really a safety issue."
She also is "definitely in favor of eliminating the two-thirds majority vote for school bonds." California now has school buildings dating back to World War II, and she cites the Laytonville High School as an example of the run-down condition of the state's schools. "The kids don't deserve that," she said. "When we improve our schools, everybody benefits."
Now one of the 31 female members of the Legislature, Strom-Martin also noted that Davis "in his wisdom, appointed many wonderful women" to administrative positions, including a cabinet that "reads like a Who's Who of Women."
What bothers her is that term limits have put such a damper on effective legislation. She describes her six years in the Assembly as "a very, very, short period of time, and it's amazing how quickly that time comes up." It took half of her allotted six years to get the wiring bill to the governor's desk, citing that as "an example of how long it takes to come to an agreement."
A proposal for a six-plex movie theater complex in McKinleyville received its first public hearing last week.
Owners of the Broadway Cinema 8 in Eureka and the Minor and Arcata theaters in Arcata, have set their sights on a subdivided 11-acre lot behind Ray's Food Place off School Road.
While some residents were excited about the idea of a movie theater in McKinleyville, Eureka developer Don Murrish said, others told the Humboldt County Planning Commission they are concerned that a theater may bring more noise, crime and vandalism and may overburden the community's sewer services.
The matter was continued until Oct. 7, when the panel is expected to vote on a conditional-use permit.
The cinema complex is expected to seat almost 1,000 moviegoers at the project's full 8-plex expansion, with a parking lot designed to accommodate 650 vehicles.
To "avoid a sea of asphalt," Engineer Leonard Whitchurch said the lot will be landscaped.
Community bonds with school
Fortuna voters gave a resounding yes to a $1.5 million bond measure to fix their high school.
Final tallies show 2,735 votes in favor versus 348 against, the county elections office reported Friday. The measure brought out a 28 percent turnout of the 10,920 residents registered voters.
Superintendent Dennis Hanson was very pleased with the results of the bond measure, which will cost the average district taxpayer $7 a year for 25 years.
The state will match the bond measure with $4 million.
One month at a time
Humboldt County is nipping away at its animal control quandary.
For now the county has agreed to contract with Sequoia Humane Society on a month-to-month basis. The contract between the county and Sequoia had expired, and the county was considering another shelter service provider to handle an expected increase of animals due to a new state law.
The legislation extended the shelter holding period from three to six days but the implementation was delayed by another bill until next July.
Sequoia's current facility can probably handle Eureka and Arcata animals, Humane Society Director Ron Lapham said.
"If they (county supervisors) want to decide to have a (long-term) contract with us, they'd better do that pretty soon," Lapham warned. He said the county needs to either upgrade the current shelter or build a new one by next summer.
County Agricultural Commissioner John Falkenstrom was unavailable for comment.
Davis shifts child support
The governor last week signed into law a package of child support reform bills.
Gov. Gray Davis agreed with the Legislature to take child support enforcement from the state's 7,000 district attorneys and give it to a new agency that's supervised by the state.
The bill, authored Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, becomes effective Jan. 1.
Both Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, D-Duncan Mills, and Sen. Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, concurred with the overhaul of a system criticized for its rate of collections about 20 percent. Ranked the lowest in the nation by the California Legislative Analyst's office, the state estimates its delinquent child support at a range from $8 billion to $13 billion and has recommended a new approach to decrease the amount.
But some district attorneys across the state, including Humboldt County's, claim they're doing better every year, and no other agency could improve on a system plagued by parents who either lack the money or the will to pay.
"I don't think our world is going to get better (with the change). I think, as a whole, the program is going to suffer," Humboldt County District Attorney Terry Farmer said after the bill was passed.
A test for the taking
The Humboldt County Mental Health Department is offering depression screenings Oct. 7 from Arcata to Fortuna. County mental health workers will be on hand at the following locations: the North Country Clinic at 785 18th St. in Arcata; Humboldt Senior Resource Center at 1910 California St. in Eureka; at the Bayshore Mall Community Room at 3300 Broadway in Eureka; and the Women's Resource Center at 1131 Main St. in Fortuna.
The county effort was planned in coordination with National Depression Screening Day, a time of recognition for a condition that effects about 10 percent of the U.S. population.
The North Coast's Depressive and Manic Depressive Association is holding a Candlelight Vigil at the Adorni Center in Eureka at 5:15 p.m. Sunday.
Vets' homeless shelter
Homeless Vietnam veterans in Eureka may be closer to having a temporary roof over their heads, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson announced.
The St. Helena congressman, who serves on the Armed Services Committee and himself a Vietnam veteran, helped secure a $308,750 grant that pays up to 65 percent of the cost to prepare a transitional housing unit for veterans who need it. The shelter will offer 30 beds and auxiliary programs like substance abuse treatment.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $475,000.
Eureka opened a veteran's clinic almost two years ago to serve the health needs of local members of veterans.
The Sierra Club has chosen Trinidad resident Lucille Vinyard, 80, to receive its national Special Service Award for her 35 years of conservation work at the national, state and local levels, the environmental organization announced last week.
Vinyard, who lives above Moonstone Beach, began her career as a Sierra Club activist in 1963. She was the driving force behind the formation of the North Group in the Sierra Club's Redwood Chapter, where she served as chairwoman from 1976 to 1978.
For four years Vinyard and other North Group volunteers campaigned to preserve a significant portion of the remaining ancient redwood temperate rain forest on the North Coast.
Their efforts resulted in the 1968 creation of the Redwood National Park, an endeavor that also won Vinyard the club's Distinguished Achievement Award.
The controversial $92 million federal appropriation was granted after Vinyard and others testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee on the matter. The park was expanded in 1978.
The 110,000-acre park the nation's 30th will turn 31 years old this Saturday. Of the 54 national parks, Yellowstone National Park was the first, situated between Wyoming and Montana.
On the North Coast, Vinyard also coordinated the Coastal Cleanup Day for Humboldt and Del Norte counties from 1985 to 1990.
Founded in 1892 by naturalist and activist John Muir, the Sierra Club is the nation's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization with 600,000 members.