November 8, 2001
Hampered by slowing consumer demand and an ailing timber industry, Humboldt County's economy continues to perform better than expected in the face of adversity, according to the latest Index of Economic Activity.
During September almost every sector showed a decline in activity: Retail sales were off, manufacturing was down, and home sales dropped an unprecedented 40.8 percent. But the unemployment rate dropped for the third month in a row, to 4.6 percent -- the lowest level ever recorded by the Index.
Humboldt County may have escaped the fate of rest of California's tourist industry, said Steve Hackett, the Humboldt State University professor who oversees the Index.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, national and global measures of the tourist industry have plummeted. The U.N. has released a report predicting that 9 million people in the tourism industry will lose their jobs -- 1.1 million in the U.S. alone.
In Humboldt County, however, tourism dropped only a fifth of a percent. "We're not really that far off," Hackett said.
It may be because of the nature of Humboldt County as a vacation destination, Hackett said. It is remote from potential terrorist targets but close enough to drive to.
"The events of the past few months may have spurred more automobile-based travel to less populated areas," Hackett said. The image of the redwoods as a safe haven may not cause an increase in tourism, but may "insulate us from the big decreases."
Unfortunately, another sector of the Humboldt County economy is more exposed to weakening national conditions. Timber manufacturing fell 11.3 percent during September.
Struggling with a weak lumber market and cheap imports from Canada, the logging sector has dropped to its lowest level on record, according to the Index. The sector may be suffering an unusually tough month because national markets and transportation systems were stressed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the clear trend since 1997 has been downward.
One barometer of the economy experiencing a surprising upsurge has been electricity consumption. Humboldt County had responded to calls to conserve for the energy crisis over last winter and into the summer, but September saw energy consumption return to record high levels. That's at best a mixed blessing, according to Hackett.
Normally, electricity consumption is a sign of economic activity, because it means stores are open and mills are running, he said. But there doesn't seem to be any big economic upsurge behind September's 6.6 percent jump in electricity use. That leaves only one possibility: Household consumption is up because people aren't conserving.
"People weren't as conservative, probably because their attention was focused on the horrible events going on," he said.
The drop in home sales may not be all bad. While a 40 percent decline sounds awful, it is probably just an anomaly, Hackett said.
McKinleyville real estate agent Sylvia Garlick had an even rosier interpretation of the figure: Home sales are down because demand has outstripped the housing supply.
"We sell the homes as fast as we get them," she said. The large numbers of people moving from rentals to ownership have simply made homes a scarce commodity.
"I haven't seen such a low inventory since 1981," she added.
With all the divergent trends in the Humboldt economy right now, Hackett said making educated guesses about the future is hard. While the employment picture looks good right now, declines in important industries make it "critical to look at what's going to happen over the next couple of months," he said. The Christmas season is going to be extremely important for retailers and several local firms teetering on the edge of profitability may face a breaking point over the winter.
"We're going to learn a lot about how healthy our local businesses are in the next few months," he said.
-- reported by Arno Holschuh
Just months after the filming of The Majestic, Ferndale is updating its film ordinance -- and raising a few hackles in the movie business in the process.
Sent to the Motion Picture Association, the ordinance got awful reviews: The MPA said the document would discourage filming in Ferndale and may even constitute an infringement on the industry's constitutional right to free speech.
At issue is first and foremost -- money. The new ordinance would require a filming permit application fee of $2,000, a cancellation fee of $1,000, and a $100,000 faithful performance bond. MPA spokesman said in a letter to the city the fees and bond are "tantamount to levying a tax on speech the city appears to disfavor; thus, the fee could be construed as a violation of the First Amendment."
"They say our fees are exorbitant compared to other cities where they film, but Ferndale isn't Burbank," said Ferndale Mayor Jeff Farley. Road closures, for example, mean more when you have more than one main thoroughfare.
"Other cities usually have alternative routes and detours. In Ferndale we have Main Street. All our businesses are there," Farley said.
Production companies have also failed to account for Ferndale's postal system. Without home delivery, residents of the Victorian Village have to pick up their mail at the post office which may be inaccessible during filming.
Not everyone is so vociferous, however. Ferndale Councilmember Frank Taubitz, who chairs the committee responsible for drafting the ordinance, said, "It really wasn't an adversarial thing. We sent [the proposed ordinance] off to the commission and they sent back comments. I think it's incumbent upon us to consider their comments, put together what we consider a good ordinance and put it to the council," he said.
Humboldt County Film Commissioner Barbara Bryant, who has been representing the California State Film Commission in the drafting process, emphasized the ordinance was still a draft.
"It's just a place to start. The intent is put together a film ordinance that achieves the maximum benefit for Ferndale while keeping within the industry standards and guidelines," she said.
Farley said that while some elements of the ordinance were negotiable, he didn't support tailoring it to the needs of the film industry.
"We're not rolling over for Hollywood," he said. "It's our way or the highway."
The Majestic opens in December.
Humboldt County is in the process of revising its policy on beach use to better protect a threatened species of shorebird and it looks like the big loser will be vehicle use.
Driving on beaches has been determined to be detrimental to the nesting of Western Snowy Plovers. The small bird's nests are hard to see and easily disturbed by trucks and cars, said Don Tuttle, the county's deputy director of public works.
"Fish and Wildlife has said that vehicles are causing females to flush off the nests, exposing their eggs to weather and predators," Tuttle said.
The draft policy foresees flexible beach closure to react to specific circumstances when plovers are in danger.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will perform surveys on county beaches during the plover's nesting season, March 1 to Sept. 30. If the service finds that vehicles are hurting the plovers, it will alert the Board of Supervisors, which would then close beaches where plovers are being adversely affected.
In addition, nighttime driving would be prohibited on all county beaches under the proposed ordinance.
Driving isn't the only activity that would be restricted: Camping, driftwood collection, fire-building and even kite-flying are regulated more tightly under the proposed policy. It's going to be hard to curtail harmful beach uses, Tuttle said, but the county needs to in order to get "closer to conformance with the Endangered Species Act."
"It's a balancing act between retaining free use of the public beach areas and protecting the plovers when they are there."
A hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held Nov. 16 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the county courthouse.
KHSU, the public radio station affiliated with Humboldt State University, announced Oct. 29 that it netted more than $41,000 during its fall fund drive, $3,000 more than its goal.
The success of this year's drive was absolutely crucial to the station because of fallout from John Stern's financial chicanery, said KHSU Development Director Charles Horn. Stern, who was responsible for KHSU's finances, filed two financial reports for the station that were fabrications. Stern has since been charged with forgery, theft and falsifying records.
In response, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting withheld funds that had been slated for KHSU, placing the station in jeopardy. The funds will be delivered once an audit is completed in February, Horn said. The fund drive monies should be enough to tide the station over until then, he said.
"This incredible result of the community stepping forward puts us on a solid footing," he said.
The rains are here and fire season has ended in Humboldt County public lands.
Both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have declared the fire seasons over. That opens the door to campfires, which had been banned outside of developed campsites.
It also means the BLM will be burning beach grasses.
Piles of the invasive grasses, pulled up because they crowd out native species, have been waiting for the fire hazard to subside.
As people direct their attentions to the recovery efforts in New York and Washington, Humboldt County charities are facing a difficult problem: Money is being donated, but not to them.
"It's just like someone turned the faucet off," said Doris Timm, director of finance and administration for the Humboldt Area Foundation. For the foundation, October was a dry month indeed. Only $25,239 was donated last month, down from $65,947 a year before.
The explanation lies close at hand, Timm said: Sept. 11. "I think it's a sure thing that the money is going to the Red Cross instead," Timm said.
Ironically, Red Cross officials have stated that no more money is needed for attack victims' family members and are urging donations to local causes instead. That's reflected in fundraising efforts like this weekend's HumAid concert: Half of the proceeds collected at the Arcata concert will be given to the local Red Cross (see related story, "Dueling benefits").
"People have to follow their hearts, but they need to think about what's happening at home," Timm said. "We have plenty of problems here in Humboldt County that we haven't even begun to address."
Anti-terrorism security measures hit home in Humboldt last week when federal officials closed the airspace around the Humboldt Bay Nuclear Power Plant to private airplanes.
The Federal Aviation Administration-mandated no-fly zone extends for 10 miles around the now-defunct power plant. That area includes Murray Field, Rohnerville Airport and the Eureka Municipal Airport.
Dan Horton, manager of the Arcata-Eureka Airport, said the airspace closure came as a surprise. Many people, he said, did not have time to move their planes from the closed airports to open fields and are effectively grounded. His airport is now filled and cannot accept further aircraft, he said.
"We have about 10 to 15 extra spaces, but they are full at the present time," he said.
One airborne operation not grounded by the order was helicopter yarding being carried out as part of Pacific Lumber timber harvesting. PL's controversial THP520, popularly known as the "hole in the Headwaters," lies within the 10-mile radius, but helicopters being used to ferry logs out of the area are exempt from the order, said Jerry Snyder, spokesman for the FAA.
Snyder said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles that the helicopters can fly because they carry special "black boxes" that transmit a code identifying them to military aircraft and the FAA. "Since they're squawking a code, they're in contact," he said.
2nd District State Sen. Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, announced Nov. 5 that he will be running for re-election.
Chesbro said he did not foresee a repeat of the exorbitantly expensive campaign fight he won in 1998. More than $6 million was spent in that campaign, mostly by Chesbro's Republican opponent, John Jordan.
Chesbro, who will run unopposed in the primary, has only one rival in the general election, Lake County Republican Peggy Redfearn.
In other election news, Humboldt County Assessor Raymond L. Jerland has announced he will not be running for re-election next year. Jerland, who has held the office since 1994, is endorsing Assistant Assessor Linda Hill to replace him.
Benefit concerts abound in Humboldt County. Almost every weekend, some non-profit organization gathers its supporters -- and their financial support -- with a fund-raising musical event.
This weekend, Humboldt County is suffering from a musical fund-raising glut. HumAid, an eclectic pair of shows to benefit the Red Cross, is vying for your attention with a benefit concert for the Northcoast Environmental Center.
HumAid has the distinction of being one of the best publicized shows to hit the North Coast in recent memory. Frequent advertisements in both broadcast and print media have made it hard for anyone to miss the boat. How is a charity concert getting such overwhelming press? It may have something to do with the people organizing it: an ad hoc group of Humboldt County's media outlets.
The media first got together when Tom Huckabay, general manager of the NCC Radio Group, contacted other media organizations.
"He sent a fax to everyone involved in the media suggesting it might be neat for all the media to get together and do something" to help out after the Sept. 11 attacks, said KHUM's Cliff Berkowitz. He -- and several others -- signed on. "We came up with the concept of a USO-style dance," Berkowitz said.
Then came the tricky part: They found out they weren't the first group with that idea. Loleta insurance man Greg Conners and his wife Carol had already started organizing a benefit two week earlier. Guitarist Ruben Diaz helped with the music. The use of the Loleta Fireman's Hall had been donated by the volunteer fire department. Sound and food services were donated as well.
"We had it all set up and were just about to call the media," said Conners. It turned out that wasn't necessary -- the media called them.
"We got a call from a local radio station person expressing a desire on the part of `Humboldt County's media' to put on a show similar to ours on the exact same date," Conners said. The two events were merged into one with two locations: Loleta Fireman's Hall and the Arcata Community Center.
The two shows have a total of two dozen bands with no discernible musical theme. Everything from a brass band playing "Star Spangled Banner" to Balkan folk music is present, with an extremely wide range between.
Loleta's HumAid begins at noon with Eureka Brass and a VFW color guard. At I p.m. the Tumbleweeds play country folk. At 2 it's East European folkdance music by Chubritza followed by Soul Seekers at 3 p.m. Strawberry Black blasts electric rock at 4, Mike Craghead plays acoustic guitar and sings at 5. Red Cedar offers Native American songs as a lead-in to a moment of silence at 6 p.m., then HumAid organizer Carol Conners is joined by Ruben Diaz, Nadia Snow, Tim Randles and Laura Herbert for a few songs. Going into the evening it's Pungent Funk at 7, Voodoo Blue's big electric blues at 8, Big Bang sound man Mark Mayo's band Black Irish plays at 9 followed by Ruben Diaz and friends.
The Arcata lineup is no less eclectic. Pan Dulce starts things off at noon with vibrant steel drum music. Young guitarist Terrapin Tony plays Dead covers, the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir sings at 1 p.m., California Backwoods plays at 2, Compass Rose at 3, Compost Mountain Boys offer twangy bluegrass at 4, followed by Dr. Squid's classic rock at 5. Sequoia plays after a 6 p.m. memorial moment of silence. At 7 it's funky blues by Deltron 9, Francine and Nymiah strum and sing stirring folk at 8. Austin Alley and the Rustlers play country metal at 9, then it's funk jazz jams by Nucleus at 10 and a dose of hard metal by Iron Rain from 11 until midnight.
"The music is as diverse as Humboldt County," Berkowitz said. The hope is to make everyone from metal-mongers to march fanatics feel at home.
"The basic idea is to make it a very inclusive event that brings together young and old, rich and poor, liberal and conservative," Berkowitz added.
So everyone should go to HumAid, right? Not quite -- before anyone even thought of HumAid, there was already another concert planned for Nov. 10. It's not for the victims of Sept. 11, but rather those of a smaller-scale disaster: the fire that burned the Northcoast Environmental Center to the ground July 25.
"We were disappointed that they decided to do this after we decided to do our benefit, but any given weekend there's a lot of things going on," said Sid Dominitz, spokesperson for the NEC.
Dominitz said the two benefit concerts do not necessarily have to clash. For one thing, the NEC's concert is being held at Café Tomo, which is a smaller venue than either of those being used by HumAid.
"If we get 250 people to come to our benefit, we'll be happy -- and it won't matter if 1,000 people come to HumAid," he said. "Plus, the best groups in the county are at our thing."
One of those groups, the Joyce Hough Band, was in fact voted "Best Band" in Humboldt by Journal readers two weeks ago. The show also includes readings by Humboldt County writers Jim Dodge, Jerry Martien and Freeman House, hard rockin' blues by EPQ, literate rap by Manifest and a DJ to spin for dancers into the wee hours.
"It's local artists coming together for a local cause," Dominitz said. "I don't think that can be minimized."
-- reported by Bob Doran and Arno Holschuh
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