Congress started out the year in a bitter partisan war over impeachment and ended this week with partisan posturing over next year's elections. But in between, they managed to get quite a few things accomplished.
That was the assessment of Rep. Mike Thompson who sat down with reporters Monday in his Eureka office to recap the first year of the two-year congressional session.
"It's probably easy to break down what happened this year into what Congress did and what congress didn't do. I don't know that what we didn't do wasn't at least every bit as important as what we did do."
Thompson said "not succumbing to the cry for a $800 billion tax cut" and using some of the surplus of a booming economy to pay $130 billion on the nation's $5.6 trillion debt was a significant achievement.
He said debt reduction was the No. 1 goal of a coalition of moderate-to-conservative members known as "Blue Dog" Democrats, of which he is a member.
Thompson also listed HMO and campaign finance reform, passed by the House, and federal funds for "more teachers and cops" as significant achievements.
"HMO reform was probably the most important, followed by campaign finance reform," he said. "Those got out of House with strong bipartisan support. The challenge next year will be to get them through the Senate."
Congress passed funding for 100,000 new teachers and increases in Title I and special education. The good news for Humboldt is that the funds come with flexibility, the congressman said.
"If a school has 40 percent Title 1 kids, for instance, the money can be used for schoolwide programs."
Local law enforcement will find new grant money available, enough to put 50,000 new police officers on the street.
"I hear continually from sheriffs and police chiefs how important the grants are," he added.
Thompson also helped secure $9 million to restore the dwindling salmon population statewide and pledge to try for more next year. But he admitted that amount is far short of what's needed.
"I was hoping for a lot more. We need about $200 million a year for next six years" to have a significant impact on the fishery. That is the amount in pending legislation he has coauthored.
Local health care providers including nursing homes, hospitals and clinics were also pleased that Congress restored $13 billion over the next five years in Medicare cuts from the Balanced Budget Act.
Thompson said he had been hearing that some providers were operating on such slim margins, they "were running the risk of closing their doors."
Asked how he liked the transition from state Senator to a first-term member of Congress, Thompson said, "Oh, I don't know. One of 40 members, chairing the Budget Committee for the state of California to being one of 435, a freshman member of the minority party It's just about the same, I guess ... about the same clout."
Being from California, however, has some significant advantages, he said.
"We're on cutting edge of so many things here," he said. "We are used to doing a good job on keeping downward pressure on healthcare costs, for instance. We're very efficient." Other states are just beginning.
Congress reconvenes Jan. 27 for the President's State of the Union address.
The Ranchotel, which has been used as a winter homeless shelter in Eureka for the past five years, is undergoing room renovations. All 33 rooms will be ready by Dec. 8, with plans to remain open for women and children only through March 31, 2000.
The new owner of the Ranchotel, Alcohol and Drug Care Services, Inc., is "nothing new to the neighborhood," according to Executive Director Lee Brown. "The plan is to go for grants and we have contracted a grant writer. That way we can have the building paid off within a year."
Lunches will be provided and sandwiches will be passed out in the evenings by the Eureka Rescue Mission. No food will be prepared on site; however, there will be a refrigerator and microwave available.
Homeless men will be directed to the Eureka Rescue Mission.
High definition television is coming to the North Coast, but plans to change over to the new technology are stirring up controversy.
Public television station KEET has submitted a proposal to build a tower that will carry the new equipment required for transmitting the digital signal (DTV). When the plan came up for review at the Nov. 18 meeting of the Planning Commission, a crowd of Kneeland residents showed up to protest.
After hearing testimony by KEET representatives and complaints from neighbors about disruption of views and potential health risks, the commissioners postponed a decision and asked planning staff to study the issues further. They will revisit the proposal Dec. 16.
According to KEET Director of Engineering Mark Householter, the station has no choice. They have to make he change to DTV to comply with federal regulations.
"What we're proposing is to put up a 400-foot guide tower to hold our DTV facility. We have to apply for a construction permit by March 2000, and have the facility constructed and be on the air by 2003."
Channel 13 bought 60-plus acres on Barry Road near the present transmitter sites for KVIQ and one owned by James Hoff. KEET currently uses the Hoff tower. The horseshoe shaped parcel surrounds the existing two towers.
Planning Department staff had recommended conditional approval of KEET's plan the condition being the station's adherence to FCC regulations, according to Michelle Nielsen who prepared the report.
"The evaluation had to look at the new KEET tower in conjunction with existing facilities and proposed facilities on the existing tower. Jim Hoff has a conditional use permit for his tower to install additional hypothetical facilities," she said.
KEET's plans go beyond building a tower for its own transmitter. Since all stations must transform operations to DTV within the next few years while maintaining the current transmitters, there will not be enough space on the current towers. The proposed KEET tower is designed to support several transmitters. If all goes according to plan, it will become a source of revenue for the local public television station.
The staff report determined that given the sum of all transmitters proposed, "The project would not cause a significant impact on the environment with regard to radio frequency exposure."
Householter said, "Radiation is regulated by the federal government and we have to meet stringent standards for exposure set by the FCC with input from the EPA along with the OSHA program and the National Bureau of Standards. They have all had input in establishing RF (radio frequency) standards."
A study submitted by KEET shows that with the cumulative radiation from the additional transmitters on the new tower plus those that may be added to the Hoff tower, there is in fact a "hot spot" where the radio frequency concentration would be in excess of regulations, but it is on a fenced portion of the Hoff property. Exposure levels on neighboring properties are within current standards.
Dr. Chris Frolking, who lives near the Hoff tower, said that FCC regulations on radiation exposure may be inadequate and feels that the Planning Department should not have issued a negative declaration on the impact on the project.
"We're concerned about the health effects of the radiation. FCC standards are based on the fact that radio waves are a type of microwave. When they say `hot spot,' they are talking about heat. We're worried about other long-term effects. I don't expect it to kill me when they turn it on, but someone may get leukemia. We just don't know. We are all taking part in a global science experiment. We are all guinea pigs and none of us volunteered."
Frolking says we can live without high definition television and adds, "We'd all be better off without TV."
In other KEET news, the station goes on air with its Holiday Auction fundraiser Dec. 1-3 and Dec. 6-8. Each night at 6 p.m. the station will auction merchandise and gift certificates donated by local businesses. The twice-a-year event raises approximately $85,000 for the station in addition to the annual Pledge Drive for new members, which is held in March.
Avon Breast Health Access Fund has awarded St. Joseph Hospital $50,000 to increase awareness of the life-saving benefits of early detection of breast cancer.
This is the second year in a row the program has been funded by the cosmetic company.
"We were one in 26 nationwide to be chosen last year and one in 23 to be re-funded this year," said Project Director Kate Mott.
Last year's grant resulted in 1,300 women being contacted regarding the need to have breast exams and mammograms yearly after age 40.
"Of those women, 402 came in and four cancers were found," Mott said. Three of the four were found early and successfully treated.
This year's program has been significantly changed. Last year the focus was on community outreach, especially women living in poverty or those who are medically underserved.
"We found outreach can be costly," Mott said. "Our new proposal is based on an `inreach' strategy."
St. Joseph will place trained employees within a medical practice to contact women who are established patients and are behind on their annual checkups.
"It's a personalized telephone contact," she said. Workers call women to talk about the need for regular screening and the eligibility requirements for free breast screening programs.
"We have two programs that are free for low-income women that most people don't know about," Mott said. Free screening is available for women living at 200 percent the federal poverty level which is $1,843 a month gross income for a family of two and $1,373 for a single woman.
The program will place workers in the North Country Clinic in Arcata, the Southern Humboldt Clinic in Garberville, Redwood Family Practice in Eureka and the radiology departments of four hospitals St. Joseph, Redwood Memorial, Mad River and General.
At a press conference announcing the new grant, St. Joseph officials invited several breast cancer survivors to be present. These included 4th District Supervisor Bonnie Neely; Connie Young, owner of the Irish Shop; and Patty Berg, former executive director of the Area I Agency on Aging.
Avon is the largest corporate sponsor of breast cancer awareness.
Stressing the public's right to know the true cost of California's milk policies, the San Francisco-based consumer coalition, Mad About Milk, is suing to force California milk regulators to disclose the monthly milk price reports the state purchases from A.C. Nielsen, and the contract under which the state obtains those reports.
"State officials routinely publish only part of this data the part they believe supports California's milk marketing policies," said Audrie Krause, executive director of Mad About Milk.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture contracts with A.C. Nielsen for its monthly Scantrack Report on Refrigerated Milk and publishes Nielsen's data for whole milk.
Mad About Milk's analysis of last year's Nielsen data, obtained from another agency, revealed that the gap between California and out-of-state milk prices was significantly greater for low-fat milk.
The group contends that milk prices in California are among the highest in the nation as a result of economic barriers that protect the state's $3.7 billion dairy industry from competition. California bans the sale of federally approved milk from out of state and prohibits retail grocers from selling milk at a discount.
The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary will experience its eighth year of hydrocotyle harvesting between Nov. 29 and Dec. 10.
According to information released by the City of Arcata Environmental Services, "Hydrocotyle (commonly known as marsh pennywort) grows extremely fast and if not controlled it will eliminate floating and submergent aquatic plants. Hydrocotyle is valuable to the wildlife of the marsh, but must be maintained to protect plant species and water quality."
During this operation, backhoes and dump trucks will be used. Mark Andre, deputy director of Environmental Services said, "This is usually done in February, but now we're trying it in November to avoid any impact on red-legged frogs. They are more susceptible in the spring months."
The harvested hydrocotyle will be recycled.
"We incorporate it into our sludge composting project. It is a component of that recipe," Andre said.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors unanimously went on record opposing the management plan for Redwood National and State Parks earlier this month.
"One of the concerns is the steady elimination of family-type boating and water skiing from the coastal lagoons because of potential impacts on wildlife and fish," said 5th District Supervisor Paul Kirk in a Nov. 16 letter to the California State Parks and Recreation Commission.
In addition to objecting to the loss of water skiing, particularly on Freshwater Lagoon, the board took issue with the proposal to phase out off-road vehicle use by not issuing any new permits to commercial or Native American fishermen and making existing permits non-transferrable.
Supervisors also object to the proposed elimination of camping on the Freshwater Spit, which they call "one of the few places along the West Coast of the United States where RVs may camp within sight of crashing surf."
The park will implement fees on the spit over the next three years similar to those charged by nearby RV parks. The board recommends that the Orick business community be given the opportunity to develop equivalent type of overnight accommodations for RVs that currently use the spit.