NORTH COAST BATTERED
It was the storm from hell.
Hurricane-force winds and intense rain stomped through the North Coast Dec. 12, leaving residents and PG&E stunned.
One person died on the North Coast when a tree fell on a mobile home. A week later, hundreds of houses in Humboldt County still were without electricity and the utility was taking a second beating, this time in public opinion.
"Physically, this storm damaged more equipment than the Loma Prieta earthquake," said PG&E spokesman Bill Sessa. "There is nothing more devastating to a utility than wind."
The strongest winds locally were 94 mph, recorded near Cape Mendocino in the Petrolia area. Eureka almost broke a record for lowest barometric pressure when it hit 29.06.
"That's within a couple hundredths of an inch of an all-time low in December," said John Lovegrove, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Eureka.
The storm's numbers weren't impressive enough to stop public criticism of PG&E's response, though. From San Francisco to the Oregon border, customers complained -- that they couldn't reach PG&E by phone; that when they finally did talk to a representative, that person was in another part of the state and not familiar with this area; that nobody could tell them when power would be restored.
Many blamed layoffs at PG&E, but Sessa said there have been no layoffs: The company just hasn't filled vacated positions. Most of those were management, he said. Although the company did announce layoffs of 800 field workers earlier this year, the storms of January and March convinced PG&E that would be a mistake.
The utility was working under a fairly new, centralized system, however. In the past repair crews have been spread out across the state, waiting for calls in their specific area. These crews now are located in a few key areas.
"We have as many people in the field as before," Sessa said, "but they come from different places."
That can result in delayed service, he acknowledged, since crews might have to travel longer distances than before. There's also the possibility that the storm that caused the repair crews to travel also has closed the roads they need to travel on. (Highways 101, 299 and 36 were closed at some time during the storm.)
The centralization of crews and service sites is only part of PG&E's efforts to remain competitive in the face of deregulation, Sessa said. The utility expects to be vying for customers in the near future as other companies begin offering electricity and gas.
Sessa said the utility will review its response to the December storm, and "for months ä we will be repairing and fixing damage caused by (it)," he said.
CHECKS IN THE MAIL
Eureka attorney Bill Bertain thinks it was the fourth-largest, possibly even the third-largest, settlement in a securities case -- $150 million paid to former shareholders in Pacific Lumber Co. It won't be the last PL has heard from Bertain, either.
About $17 million worth of settlement checks began arriving in the mailboxes of Humboldt County residents in late December. The payments were made 10 years after Bertain filed the lawsuit on behalf of 220 people, alleging fraud in Maxxam's takeover of PL in 1985. By the time the suit was settled in spring of 1994, Bertain represented about 450 ex-shareholders living in the area, and the civil action had been joined by nearly 4,000 people represented by law firms across the nation.
PL President John Campbell's two sons from a previous marriage received about $80,000, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and Campbell's former public relations man, Dave Galitz, also got a check.
Defendants included brokerage firms such as Drexel Burnham Lambert and Salomon Brothers, and high-profile financiers Michael Milken and Ivan Boesky.
The settlement assigned a value of either $1 or $10 per share, depending on purchase date. The settlement did not include any admission of guilt by the parties.
Bertain also represents a number of clients in a class-action suit alleging economic damage to surrounding communities. This suit is based in part on an article of incorporation requiring PL's board of directors to consider the economic, social and environmental effect of any merger or attempted takeover, Bertain said.
"I believe damages are sizeable," he said.
Doug Bosco has to have decided by now whether he will run for the 1st District Assembly seat being vacated by Dan Hauser.
Jan. 3 is the deadline for filing letters of intent with the Elections Division. Bosco, a four-term congressman who was unseated by Republican Frank Riggs in 1990, was 1st District assemblyman for one term before heading for Washington in 1982.
Other Democrats who have filed to run for the Assembly include John Cumming, a Eureka attorney; Karen Scott of Gualala; Virginia Strom-Martin of Monte Rio; and Richard Marks of Manila. Republican candidates include Margie Handley of Willits; Stephen Henrickson of Windsor; and Humboldt County Supervisor Bonnie Neely.
Harvey Jossen of Eureka has filed as a candidate for the Peace and Freedom Party, and Harry K. Wrench III of Windsor will run as a Natural Law Party candidate.
FULKERSON TO STEP DOWN
Julie Fulkerson announced she won't run for another term as 3rd District county supervisor, but she will support Manila resident John Woolley's bid for that seat.
"I was having too hard a time deciding" whether to run again, Fulkerson said, and the indecision decided it for her.
Fulkerson, owner of Plaza Design in Arcata, has represented the traditionally liberal district since defeating Art Eddy five years ago. Eddy was appointed 3rd District supervisor by then-Gov. George Deukmejian after long-time Supervisor Wesley Chesbro accepted a state position mid-term.
Woolley lives in Manila with his wife, Ann Marie, and two sons, James, 5, and Kevin, 4. He is a project planner at the Northern California Indian Development Council and has served 15 years on the Manila Community Services District Board.
SHELTER OPENS DOORS
An emergency homeless shelter opened its doors in Eureka Dec. 21 -- the first day of winter -- but with limited hours and services.
The Olive Branch in the St. Bernard Catholic Parish building at Sixth and I streets will offer a sleeping place for up to 65 single men, but only between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. Unlike the T Street shelter of the past few years, the Olive Branch facility won't offer food or even coffee.
"We feel lucky to have this," said program manager Randy Rushing from Alcohol and Drug Care Services, whose director, Lee Brown, heads up the homeless project.
The men will be given bedding, Rushing said, and they seek donations of sleeping bags and blankets. The limited amount of space precludes the use of mattresses.
Faced once again with the arrival of winter but no homeless shelter and no organizing committee, community agencies took up the cause with county supervisors. The Eureka Ministerial Association and Catholic Charities led the charge.
The Southern Humboldt Emergency Sheltering Consortium arranged a rotating schedule of churches offering shelter in that area. At least one motel -- the Ranchotel on Broadway -- will honor vouchers distributed to single women and families. Rushing said another motel is expected to join that program soon.
The shelters are expected to be open seven days a week until April 1. The county allocated $60,000 toward the project.
Former Humboldt County Sheriff Dave Renner was booked at the county jail Dec. 19 after a grand jury indicted him on eight counts of embezzlement and falsifying public records.
The special grand jury was convened Dec. 11 to consider charges first aired in the 1994-95 grand jury report. Those testifying in the secret hearings included District Attorney Terry Farmer and Sheriff Dennis Lewis, who defeated Renner in his re-election bid last year.
Farmer had asked the state attorney general to handle the investigation because of a conflict of interest, but that request was denied. Farmer appointed former staff member Bob Hickock as special prosecutor on the case; Renner's attorney, Greg Rael, has indicated he will seek to remove Farmer's office from prosecution.
Renner is scheduled to enter a plea Jan. 5. -END-
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