Nov. 11, 2004
TONIGHT SHOW IN
from NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" were calling
around Humboldt County this week, trying to find some subjects
for correspondent Tom Green's "search for the most interesting
people." Green is traveling from state to state and has
so far found, in Arkansas, a duck caller and an 82-year-old pole
vaulter. The California segment will feature Eureka, though it
isn't clear why we're singled out for the honor. This being comedy,
we figure that "interesting" is a polite word for wacky,
and current contenders (submitted to the show by the Journal's
own Bob Doran) include a treesitter and an owl hooter, a spokesperson
said. Green and his crew will be in town early next week, and
the segment is scheduled to air Dec. 1 at 11:30 p.m.
by HANK SIMS
Nearly five years after it first floated the idea, the city of Eureka is beginning work in earnest on the controversial proposal to build a thoroughfare along the shore of Humboldt Bay between Old Town and the Bayshore Mall, while environmentalists are rallying to fight it.
City employees are preparing to do a study of the proposed road -- an extension of Waterfront Drive -- to determine its environmental impact. A meeting is scheduled Nov. 17 to lay the plans before the public.
Environmental Planner Lisa Shikany said last week that the city was looking at doing as broad a study as possible, in the hopes of identifying and mitigating environmental problems with the road extension, which is listed as one of the transportation priorities in the city General Plan.
"We have taken a very expansive approach to including everything we can in looking at the potential impacts," Shikany said. "We've left no stone unturned."
City traffic engineers believe that the road could significantly free up congested city streets, including the Highway 101 corridor. But opponents, including representatives from many local environmental organizations, are raising red flags about the road's potentially harmful effect on the city's revitalized waterfront -- particularly to the Palco (or Eureka) Marsh.
Representatives from the Northcoast Environmental Center, the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), the Sierra Club and the Audubon Society recently wrote the city with a list of objections to what Jennifer Kalt, an EPIC consultant, recently called "that stupid road."
In particular, the organizations are concerned that the road, which will pass between the marsh and Humboldt Bay, will seriously harm concurrent city efforts to rehabilitate the marsh -- a saltwater wetlands area that Eureka acquired in 1985, thanks to a grant from the California Coastal Commission.
The groups charge that the exhaust and noise from an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 vehicles per day that the new Waterfront Drive is expected to carry will cause irreparable harm to the marsh wildlife and seriously detract from its value as a recreational facility.
Mike Buettner, founder of Humboldtwatch.org and a prominent activist when it comes to bay issues, said Monday that he believes the city is being shortsighted by going forward with the road, given the blossoming of commercial and recreational opportunities on the Eureka waterfront of late.
"I think the city has just begun to turn its face toward the bay," he said. "To put a divider between the people and the bay seems like an injustice. I don't know that this is the best solution, in light of all the compromises that will be made."
The California Coastal Conservancy, the agency which paid for the city's purchase of the marsh and provided funds for its long-delayed rehabilitation, has also expressed concerns that the road could violate the terms of its agreements with the city. Those agreements stipulate that the city must refrain from developing property it owns near the marsh if such development would "detract from the project's purposes."
"If extension of Waterfront Drive as proposed by the city were to interfere or inconvenience that Palco Marsh habitat or enhancement activities the Conservancy could be put in the position of having to evaluate its contractual, legal and equitable remedies," Conservancy Project Manager Moira McEnespy wrote in an Oct. 6 letter to the city.
Nevertheless, city staff members feel that the Waterfront Drive extension is the only feasible alternative to worsening traffic problems in Eureka. City Engineer Brent Siemer said last week that gridlock on the 101 corridor during peak hours is becoming an increasingly real threat. Frustrated drivers already detour into residential areas, Siemer said.
"We're getting neighborhoods having problems already," he said. "People are diverting all the way up at Herrick, people are trying Union -- they're all trying all different ways of avoiding 101 already. My thought is that Waterfront Drive gives us some time before 101 becomes a terrible problem."
The city's most recent documentation on the project -- a "notice of preparation" that lists details the plans to look at in its environmental study -- can be found online by going to www.eurekawebs.com/cityhall, then clicking on "City Departments," "Community Development" and "Waterfront Drive."
Shikany said that she hopes that the upcoming meeting will draw a wide cross-section of the community and that people will be encouraged to participate in the process. She reminded concerned residents that the process was still in its early stages.
"The workshop is an additional step that the city has chosen to take to bring the community Into the discussion," she said. "We want to make sure the community Is well informed as to what the project is and why were doing it -- and for the purposes of the EIR, to get input on substantive issues we should address. And we're certainly interested in hearing about potential solutions."
The workshop on the Waterfront Drive Extension Plan will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 17, at Eureka's Wharfinger Building.
What a difference a little competition makes.
That's one conclusion of a report released Monday by Humboldt State University Professor Erick Eschker and graduate student Lara Remke.
The two colleagues studied gasoline prices in Eureka and San Francisco from 1998 through March 2004. They found that prior to 2002, there was little difference in the rise and fall of the cost of a gallon of gas in the two cities, both among the highest in the nation. But all that changed in 2002.
First, due to increased competition in San Francisco from refineries that gave rebates to their own retail outlets, gas prices at all Bay Area retail stations became more competitive and profit margins slimmer. Eureka retailers were not affected and prices here continued to rise.
Then in 2003 Eureka gas prices began to go up but not as quickly as San Francisco's.
It's not so mysterious, Eschker said in a telephone conversation from Chicago Tuesday, where he is doing research while on sabbatical from HSU. The drop began in January in anticipation of the opening of the gasoline station at Costco off Broadway in Eureka, the study showed.
"Costco [gas station] opened in May, but the deal closed in February 2003," he said. "Once people knew Costco was coming, price reductions started and continued." A representative of Costco interviewed for the study said that was typical of price movement in other areas where the retail giant began selling gasoline.
Eschker's study looked at reasons for price movements by comparing the timing of gasoline price changes to changes in other factors. For instance, from 2001 to 2002, the price of gasoline was about 10 cents higher in Eureka than in San Francisco. That difference was likely due to the difference in costs of the state-mandated switch to ethanol as an oxygenating agent in place of the chemical MTBE. San Francisco was able to make the switch more cheaply because of volume and proximity to Bay Area refineries. Eureka had to absorb additional transportation costs since ethanol has to be blended at the Eureka terminal, not at the refineries like MTBE.
Does this mean the public was getting gouged by local retailers?
"We didn't look for price gouging," Eschker said. "You need data that we can't get. We need to open up the companies' books, and that's not going to happen."
Eschker used California State Automobile Association data for the average retail prices for Eureka and San Francisco compared to wholesale or "rack" prices paid by retailers. He was not able to look at other cost factors such as labor and rent of the gas stations that would affect net profits.
"What we did find was that over the last four years [local retailers] have been consistently dropping their markups," he said. From 2002-03, the study shows that Eureka prices went up by 14 cents, but San Francisco's by 30 cents.
"If -- and it's a big if," he said, "If they were living fat, it's been trimmed."
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