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Nov. 25, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Preservationists fight demolition of Eureka high gym



The Weekly Wrap

HURWITZ HELPS DeLAY: Newsweek magazine reports this week that Charles Hurwitz is among a "posse of corporate donors" who have opened their wallets to pay for the legal expenses of Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, who is being investigated for an allegedly illicit fund-raising campaign. Hurwitz, the CEO of Maxxam, which owns Pacific Lumber Co., gave $10,000 to the legal defense fund, and has contributed another $24,000 to DeLay in recent years, Newsweek reports. The investigation centers on a committee DeLay created to push a controversial redistricting plan in Texas, which resulted in four new Texas Republicans in Congress and thus consolidated Republican control of the House.

FINAL RESULTS IN: The county's elections department released the final results of the Nov. 2 election Friday, after elections staffers spent two and a half weeks tallying some 6,700 absentee and provisional ballots that were not included in election night returns. Remarkably, given the number of close races throughout the county, the final outcome of the election is roughly the same as it appeared on Nov. 3. In the Arcata City Council race, for instance, Paul Pitino nailed down his third-place slot, behind Michael Machi and Harmony Groves. Pitino said Monday that his top priority is to get a public restroom on the plaza. "I've been talking about it might as well see if we can make it happen," he said. Kaitlyn Sopoci-Belknap held onto her lead in the water district race. Final results varied from the early numbers in two cases, however. In Rio Dell, late votes propelled carpenter Marc Barsanti ahead of incumbent Jack Thompson, giving Barsanti a seat on the City Council. In Ferndale, late votes broke the election night tie for mayor; incumbent Elizabeth Anderson squeaked past challenger Jeff Farley, finishing with a comfortable eight-vote margin of victory and ruining the prospect of a media-friendly coin toss in the middle of Main Street to decide the race. A Blue Lake measure to raise business license fees ended up failing by a single vote. One hundred and twenty-six Blue Lakers who did cast a ballot in the election did not vote on the measure either way. In total, 78.3 percent of the county's registered voters cast ballots this time around.

MCKINLEYVILLE MARINE INJURED: McKinleyville native Alex Nicoll, a 22-year-old Marine Corps lance corporal, was severely injured in the battle against insurgent Iraqi forces in the city of Fallujah last week. According to a Web site friends built to disseminate information, Nicoll was shot several times in the leg and injured by a grenade after becoming trapped in a building during door-to-door fighting. After being rescued he was transported to Germany, where military doctors were forced to amputate his left leg below the knee. He is recuperating at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. Nicoll is the son of Larry and Penelope Nicoll. Well-wishers may post their comments at the "Get Well Alex Nicoll" Website:

COURT STAYS PL LOGGING: In response to a petition from the Environmental Protection Information Center, a state appellate court halted logging on six Pacific Lumber Co. timber harvest plans on Friday. EPIC's Cynthia Elkins charged that the company's logging plans, most of which pertain to operations in the Van Duzen watershed, bent forest practice regulations by allowing the harvest of extremely young trees. Such types of harvesting ignores state rules that the company get "maximum sustained production" from the timber it owns, EPIC claims. "We're saying that this is not only bad for the ecology of the area, but also the economy," Elkins said. Palco spokesman Chuck Center said Monday afternoon that he had not heard of the shutdown and could not offer comment. Both sides were scheduled to file additional arguments with the 1st District Court of Appeal on Tuesday, after the Journal went to press.

SCOTIA INN CLOSED: The Scotia Inn was shuttered last week after Humboldt Hospitality & Entertainment, the company that has been running it for the last few years, declared bankruptcy. The Pacific Lumber Co., the inn's owner, has taken back the grand dame hotel and has suspended operations. Palco spokesman Chuck Center said that the company will have to wait until litigation surrounding Humboldt Hospitality & Entertainment's bankruptcy is concluded before figuring out its future plans for the Inn. This marks the second time this year that one of the county's distinguished old hotels has shut down -- in February, the Eureka Inn closed after a creditor repossessed the historic structure.

ARCATA BANS GMOS: Measure M, the countywide initiative that would have banned the growth of genetically modified organisms, went down to dismal defeat on Nov. 2, following the discovery of scientific and constitutional flaws in its language. But that didn't stop the Arcata City Council from passing its own GMO ban last week, becoming the first city in the state to so act. City Manager Dan Hauser noted on Monday that the law contains several exceptions -- it allows sale of GMO goods at local markets, and it allows scientific study of the organisms to take place in contained research facilities. City government in Arcata seems to be focusing on ecological matters of late. The council also recently renewed its pesticides policy, which bans use of poisons on city property, and the city's energy committee is seeking ways that the jurisdiction can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The committee is seeking comments on its draft greenhouse gas plan, which is available at or at the city clerk's office.

CASTING CALL: Ready for the big time? Casting agents for United Artists are looking for two Native American adolescent boys to star in a major motion picture by the director of L.I.E., Michael Cuesta. The script calls for a 10- to 13-year-old and a 15- or 16-year-old of native or aboriginal descent to play the parts of "Edgar" and "Cecil," unlikely friends at a reform school. Cuestra's L.I.E., a provocative film about an adolescent boy who struggles with his sexual identity and a disintegrating home life, won critical acclaim and film festival awards. Casting director Emily Schweber said that Internet research led her casting company, United Artists, to send press releases to areas with large Native American populations. Schweber said that 500 applications have come in so far and there are still about three weeks left to apply. Acting experience is not necessary for this film. Send a snapshot with name, age and height to Edgar Mint Casting, United Artists, 10250 Constellation Blvd., T-9092, Los Angeles, CA, 90067.

GAS THIEF CAUGHT: A man sought by police in connection with a band of gasoline thieves confessed to stealing gas from Renner Petroleum stations. Ruben Anthony Peredia, 26, was arrested at 5 a.m. Saturday in the Lundbar Hills area of Eureka after an officer noticed that a gold Honda Accord was parked at an odd angle in an area of the street where there were no nearby homes, Eureka police said. The officer then noticed movement in the vehicle and found Peredia hunkered down in the passenger seat. The man said that he had no identification, gave his brother's name as his own, attempted to flee, but was sprayed with Mace by the officer and taken to Humboldt County Jail, police said. Detective Curtis Honeycutt said Peredia later told him that he bought a Renner gas card knowing that it was stolen from a company car. Peredia is one of several people responsible for taking 1,200 gallons of gasoline from Renner Petroleum, police said.

CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER IN HUMBOLDT: The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a veteran civil rights leader and colleague of Martin Luther King Jr., will be touring Humboldt County next week to speak to local children and interested members of the public on the history of America's civil rights movement. On Wednesday, Dec. 1, Shuttlesworth will speak at Humboldt State's Fulkerson Hall (in the music building) at noon and Eureka High Auditorium at 7 p.m. On Thursday, he gives two lectures -- at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. -- at College of the Redwoods' Forum Theater. Each of these events is open to the public.

FENNELL HONORED: The California Fire Safe Council decorated KMUD reporter Estelle Fennell last week, honoring her coverage of last year's Canoe and Honeydew fires, which ravaged the SoHum area last summer. In its commendation, the council said that Fennell "comprehensively reported the fires with a commendable level of professionalism and accurateness" and noted that the firefighters themselves came to depend on KMUD for information about the blazes.

SEE COHO DO THEIR THING: People interested in seeing salmon spawn firsthand can sign up for a new tour offered by Redwood National and State Parks this fall. Park interpreters will lead guided tours of spawning pools on Mill Creek, one of the park's newest acquisitions and one of the most productive coho streams in the state. The tours, which leave from the park's Crescent City headquarters, will be offered twice every Saturday -- at 8:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. -- through mid-December. Call 464-6101, extension 5064, to reserve spaces. The tour is free.

BAD CHECK PROGRAM: The District Attorney's office is encouraging people who receive bad checks to fill out complaint forms. The Check Restitution/Prosecution Program helps hold bad check writers accountable for their swindling, and gets the money back to the businesses or people to whom they were written. Forms are available at, or with law enforcement, the DA's office, or by calling (800) 454-6737.

Preservationists fight demolition of Eureka high gym


If school district officials get their way, Eureka High students will be playing sports in a new gym by 2006. But the planned demolition of the existing gym has become a lightning rod for preservationists and others who are fighting to keep it.

Measure S, a bond measure that Eureka voters approved in March 2002, provided taxpayer money for construction projects at the city's middle schools and high school.

As part of Measure S, Eureka High received $30 million for several major construction projects. The school district plans to build a technology center, art complex and campus plaza, as well as seismically retrofit the main campus building.

But controversy has centered around plans to raze the existing gym, which some say is too historically valuable to destroy.

"It could be put on the National Register today," said Jill Macdonald, an instructor in historic preservation and restoration at College of the Redwoods and a 1983 graduate of Eureka High. "It's certainly architecturally significant."

Building a new facility, however, is the more fiscally responsible choice, said Jim Scott, the Eureka schools superintendent. "We have to invest the bond dollars in a manner that is the most sustainable," he said. The estimated cost to renovate the gym is $10 million, while a new gym would cost around $13 million, officials said. That cost does not include money needed to build a new pool, however -- something that plans for the new gym do not include.

The gym is slated be built on the parking lot next to the current gym and take between 12 and 16 months to complete, Scott said. The building will have two basketball courts, classroom and locker space, and will seat 1,200 spectators at sporting events.

Besides the benefits to students, community members would have access to the new gym for sports programs like adult basketball leagues, Scott said.

Renovation of the existing building would be a long-term maintenance liability and a bad investment for the district, he said.

In addition, the current gym building has significant problems, said Sheldon Reber, director of school and community relations for the Eureka school district.

Reber said that the building has disabled access concerns, humidity seeping through the concrete walls, rust problems, peeling paint, old pipes and high energy consumption.

But some are concerned that the demolition of the Jay Willard Gymnasium would mean the destruction of an historical landmark.

The gym was built in 1947 in the International Style, an architectural design that was developed in the United States after World War II, Macdonald said.

Under the California Environmental Quality Act all buildings over 50 years of age must be evaluated for historical worth before major construction projects can be carried out, said cultural resource consultant Suzanne Guerra. She is working with historic preservationist Alex Stillman on an evaluation. Stillman estimated it will be completed by January.

Age is only one criterion for categorizing a building, said Mary Ann McCulloch, president of the Eureka Heritage Society. Community ties to the building will also be considered in the analysis.

If the consultants determine the building is historically significant, they may recommend the structure be repaired instead of demolished. One possibility is using the building for another purpose, such as leasing or converting the building to a museum.

Eureka resident Fred Griffith also questioned plans for the new gym on fiscal grounds. The list of bond measure projects given to voters specifically included new floors and bleachers for the 57-year-old gym, but not a brand new building.

"We voted to increase our taxes to repair and not replace facilities," said Griffith, who works as a senior vice president at Security National Servicing Corp., owned by Eureka businessman Rob Arkley.

Arkley and his wife, Cherie, donated $384,000 for renovation of the gym's pool, which was completed two years ago, although district officials said that was always considered a short-term fix.

The new gym will not include a pool, and Scott said he did not have an estimate on how much a pool would cost.

Griffith said he is skeptical that the estimated costs are accurate and believes the school district should get a second opinion.

Small school districts often do not have expertise in construction projects and may not receive a fair bargain from contractors and architects, he said.


Ahnie Litecky is a journalism student at Humboldt State University.


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