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Nov. 11, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Eureka to study impacts of Waterfront Drive extension

Ups and downs at the pump
Duh! -- study finds competition lowers prices


 T H E  W E E K L Y  W R A P

TONIGHT SHOW IN EUREKA?: Representatives 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.

BALLOT MORASS: "They told me a lizard was coming to town," said Elections Manager Lindsey McWilliams last week. "They didn't tell me it was going to be Godzilla." McWilliams and his crew remain swamped by a flood of last-minute absentee and provisional ballots from last week's election. The degree of chaos is such that on Tuesday, McWilliams didn't even have a rough guess as to how many ballots were left to be counted -- though he felt safe in saying that there were at least 5,000. McWilliams said that he hoped the final tally will be available before Thanksgiving. Until then, the outcome of several especially close contests will be left up in the air. Among them are the races for the city councils of Arcata, Rio Dell and Trinidad, the mayorship of Ferndale and representative for Division One of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District.

FRAUD AT THE POLLS?: McWilliams added that he and his staff are looking into allegations of voter fraud at the polls last Tuesday. On that day, he and his staff received a call from Arcata resident Patrick Davis, who was told upon arriving at the polls that someone had already voted under his name. McWilliams went out to the site on election day and determined that someone else had indeed cast Davis' vote for him. McWilliams said that poll workers had a good description of the suspect and would soon forward all evidence to the district attorney for possible investigation and prosecution of a case of voter fraud. District Attorney Paul Gallegos said on Tuesday that his office, which would be responsible for prosecuting violation at the polls, was taking the allegations very seriously. "Certainly, taking someone's vote that's taking a big right away from someone," he said. "If we get credible evidence that can prove a violation, we will be prosecuting them."

FRANCESCONI DEFEATED: Despite a well-financed campaign and an endorsement from the Oregonian, Eureka native Jim Francesconi was defeated in his bid to become the next mayor of Portland last Tuesday. Francesconi -- an attorney, activist and two-term incumbent on the City Council -- was beaten back by former police chief Tom Potter, who garnered over 60 percent of the vote. Beaver State pundits laid blame for Francesconi's defeat at the very force that initially seemed to make him a strong contender -- his hefty, million-dollar war chest, buttressed by donations from the business community. Contrarian Portlanders instead embraced Potter, who limited campaign contributions and, in doing so, was endorsed by Howard Dean and his Democracy for America organization.

SUPES ON THE `COALITION FOR JOBS': On Tuesday, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to ask county attorneys to look into what sort of authority the county might have in preventing anonymous groups such as the "Eureka Coalition for Jobs" from entering into local campaigns. The "Coalition for Jobs," an unknown entity, caused a stir when it ran a last-minute negative campaign against City Councilmember Chris Kerrigan before the election -- a campaign that was ultimately unsuccessful. Supervisor Roger Rodoni, a supporter of Kerrigan's opponent, Rex Bohn, was the lone vote against the proposal.

VINTAGE CAR SOUGHT IN DEATH: More clues have surfaced in a hit and run accident that killed a woman last month. Ronda Didier, 43, of Eureka was struck and killed by a southbound, dark colored pickup truck hauling a trailer on Oct. 8 in Eureka as she attempted to cross Broadway near McCullens Avenue. Eureka Police are looking for the driver, described as a white man in his 60s with white or gray hair. A late 1940s or `50s-style car with a white top and light colored paint was seen traveling behind the truck. Witnesses say that the vintage car followed the truck away from the scene of the crime without stopping. Police believe that the drivers of both vehicles are friends or relatives who were coming back from a rained-out vintage car show in Crescent City. EPD Detective Ron Harpham said in a press release that the tight-knit vintage car community might be able to lend more clues to the case. The truck, a late 1980s or `90s model Ford, had damage to the right fender, hood and headlight, which police say is a standard model headlight assembly with a beveled edge and no trim. Those with information are urged to contact Harpham at 441-4315.

PLAZA TROUBLE: For no apparent reason, one man struck another in the head at the Arcata Plaza, rendering the victim unconscious and sending police on a chase through town. Police say that an unprovoked, 31-year-old Nathan McCauley hit a 36-year-old man in the back of the head, then ran. The victim was sent to the hospital. Police pursued McCauley through downtown and later to the Arcata Community Park on Union Street as he stripped off his clothing in an effort to dodge authorities. APD rallied the California Highway Patrol and Eureka Police Department officers and used a search dog to sniff out McCauley, who was found two hours later hiding in some bushes. He was booked into Humboldt County Jail on suspicion of battery with injury and resisting arrest.

FEW FLU SHOTS ARRIVE: A fresh supply of the flu vaccine has come to Humboldt County, but only those who need it most will get a dose, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Monday. About 1,000 influenza vaccine doses arrived, and more are expected over the next eight weeks. The coveted flu treatments will be dispersed to area physicians, who will give the vaccine to those who are most vulnerable people over 65, children under 5, and those with chronic medical conditions. In the meantime, the public health office recommends that people wash their hands frequently with soap, stay home from school or work if flu symptoms occur, and cover their mouths with a tissue or arm when coughing and sneezing. Public Health Immunization Coordinator Susan Wardrip said that area physicians are contacting their priority patients to arrange flu shots.

DISABLED MAN DROWNS IN BAY: A recently homeless disabled veteran who was trying to bathe in Humboldt Bay fell into the water and drowned this weekend, the coroner's department said. Kenneth Kube, 59, was found floating in the bay near the Adorni Center at 7:50 a.m. on Sunday, Eureka police reported. His wheelchair was on the shore nearby, along with a flashlight. Deputy Coroner Roy Horton said that Kube's watch stopped at 7:30 p.m., the same time as Saturday night's high tide. Kube, who wore a prosthetic leg, lived in a Eureka motel for the past two years, and was kicked out on Saturday for late rent. Horton said that Kube had given his wallet to a friend who promised to pay the rent for him; it never happened, and Kube's belongings were boxed up by motel staff at midday. The man had no relatives in the area, though the coroner's office notified a sister, who lives in the Midwest.

POLICE: MAIL IT IN: In order to devote more attention to severe crimes, the understaffed Eureka Police Department has made what it called the tough decision to decrease its responsiveness to crimes deemed less serious. Effective Wednesday, Nov. 10, EPD officers are no longer responding to crimes that have no suspect involving malicious mischief, petty theft, grand theft or vehicle burglary. Victims will instead be mailed a fill-in-the-blank crime report from the EPD Records Department. If a victim insists upon an in-person response from an officer, the watch commander will call the victim back and decide whether or not to dispatch police to the crime scene. Eureka Police Chief Dave Douglas said that while budget reductions have played a part in the decision to concentrate on more serious crimes, the larger issue for the department is that it receives more calls than ever, 3,500 a month since July, and that it has to decide which calls warrant officer attention. Douglas added that money for Measure L, the county-wide sales tax measure that was defeated, would have provided interim funding for the station but that the EPD would still have made the same decision.

MAN DIES IN JAIL: A man from southern Humboldt died a short time after arriving at the county jail following his arrest on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance. David F. Cleveland, 46, was arrested in Miranda around 10 p.m. on Sunday and held at the Garberville substation before he was taken to the Eureka jail. The Sheriff's Department said that the man was highly combative and disoriented, and was held in a "safety cell" -- a cell with padded walls -- for one or two minutes, in which time he lay down on the floor and became unresponsive but was still breathing. Lt. Pete Jimenez said that Cleveland then stopped breathing; first-aid was performed and an ambulance took the man to the hospital at 3:20 a.m. He was pronounced dead at 3:35 a.m., Coroner Frank Jager said. An autopsy revealed that the man died of cardiac failure.

Eureka to study impacts of Waterfront Drive extension


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 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, 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.

Ups and downs at the pump
Duh! -- study finds competition lowers prices


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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