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Nice to be Nice 

Well, here we are with only a few days left to go in the first and possibly final round of the 2008 contest for the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, and so far there’s been a noticeable absence of juice to the campaigns. Lo and behold, everyone seems to have played above board, more or less. There have been a few mysterious push polls, a few allegations of voter intimidation, a few signs ripped down, but that seems to be more or less it. Still one weekend left, which is plenty of time to pull out a nasty last-minute salvo a la the anonymous “Eureka Coalition for Jobs” slime of 2004, but barring that this seems to have been the cleanest campaign in years.

Strange, considering how much is at stake. The coming board is the board that will finalize the Humboldt County General Plan, which is the county’s Constitution for the next 20 years and upon which tens of millions of revenue — maybe hundreds of millions — are riding. Maybe the right finally realized that the money-driven sneak campaigns of yesteryear were unproductive. Maybe the left finally came to the same conclusions vis a vis unsubstantiated smears and whisper campaigns. If so, we voters owe ourselves our heartiest congratulations.

Looking through this most recent crop of financial disclosure statements is an exercise in tedium, with only the occasional gosh-gee moment to make the effort almost worthwhile. The Humboldt Deputy Sheriff’s Organization donated $2,000 to Third District candidate Mark Lovelace, while Sheriff Gary Philp himself kicked $100 to Bryan Plumley, one of Lovelace’s opponents. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers gave big to each of the rightward candidates in the race: $2,000 to Plumley, $1,000 to First District candidate John Vevoda, $1,000 to the campaign of the late Roger Rodoni. Rodoni’s campaign took in a towering $71,400 this year, much of it after the candidate’s death, and sits on a $23,000 war chest. Everything else was pretty much as expected. The traditional large donors to leftie candidates and causes — Bill Pierson, Ken Miller — gave to left-wing candidates. The traditional large donors to rightie candidates and causes – Hank Pierson, Kurt Kramer – gave to right-wing candidates. Big whoop.

It so happened that the stack of disclosure statements I was handed at Elections Central included several pertaining to elections yet to come, and so perhaps it’s worthwhile to take a gander forward. For the fall election, we noticed that Eureka’s George Clark, former owner of Old Town’s Kyoto Restaurant, has formed a committee to support a probable run for Eureka City Council in the Fifth Ward, the seat being vacated by the term-limited Chris Kerrigan. Clark will run to the leftward of retiring Humbolt County Coroner Frank Jager, who announced for that seat as long ago as last year. Meanwhile, Councilmember Polly Endert, who was appointed to fill Virginia Bass‘ Fourth Ward seat when the latter was elevated to Mayor in 2006, has likewise formed a committee, indicating a desire to retain her spot on the Council.

Meanwhile, the Friends of Wes Chesbro is kicking back into gear. The former state senator and Sacramento fixture, nominally a resident of Arcata, hit the Senate’s term limit wall back in 2006; now he’s tanned, rested and ready for another six years in the state assembly. He’s running unopposed in Tuesday’s Democratic primary and virtually unopposed in the fall, though Eureka’s Jim Pell has offered himself up as a sacrificial Republican candidate. The Chezz has scraped together only a few bucks to date — $1,000 from timber giant Green Diamond, $1,000 from SoCal powerhouse Assemblymember Hector de la Torre, $1,500 from his spiritual brethren in the New Car Dealers Association.

And looking forward yet further, it appears that our soon-to-be-termed out Assembly representative, Patty Berg, is well on track to elbowing aside potential Democratic rivals in her quest to become California’s Insurance Commissioner in 2010. The constellation of Berg-related committees — Friends of Patty Berg, Patty Berg for Insurance Commissioner, Patty Berg Officeholder Account — reported tens of thousands in contributions from various trade groups and large medical practices. Also from Intuit, the makers of QuickBooks® brand software and other fine personal finance products.

Probably somethingshould be said about the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District‘s recent vote to accept an offer of representation by Wall Street megagiant Goldman Sachs. Maybe the first thing is that the deal will almost certainly kill off a couple of more viable ideas, such as the Eureka-Arcata trail and a short-sea shipping route for local goods between Humboldt and the Bay Area. Both of these proposals have come dangerously close to success, and so have had to be quickly and decisively stoppered if the fantasy of turning our duck puddle of a bay into a major international shipping terminal — an ecofriendlyterminal! — is to be sustained. Past feints in this direction have failed miserably. Witness last year’s daffy attempt to bilk Caltrans out of $19 million statewide “traffic congestion relief” funds that theoretically would have opened the railroad line between Samoa and Avenue of the Giants. To relieve traffic congestion, it was said. Even the pork merchants at the California Transportation Commission roused themselves to 86 that one.

The Goldman Sachs deal is a more solid bet: in the first place because it comes from a private party, and in the second because it is so airy. Its main service to the Bay District at this point is the service that a binky provides to a 10-month-old — assurance that the shadows in the hall in the big, scary world are nothing but illusion, and everything is as they imagine it to be. The deal, apparently, is that the Goldman Sachs people will set out to pitch Humboldt Bay shipping and the North Coast Railroad Authority’s decrepit line to investors, and will then put up for auction a “concession” consisting of the assets of these two public entities. In return, Goldman Sachs gets a cut of the action. It envisions that the 10-years-dead railroad and Humboldt Bay’s never-existed container facility will be up and running in three years’ time, according to those agencies’ official yet entirely imaginary timelines. But the deal, as it stands, contains no benchmarks, no escape clauses.

Nevertheless, this is a game-changer. To date, the scandal of the railroad/port dreamers has been their utter failure to look facts in the face — to develop any sort of coherent answer to what you and I might think of as key questions. What does it cost to rebuild 300 miles of washed-out railroad running through the most unstable terrain in the lower 48? Where will the money come from? How will it be recouped? What happens when the railroad washes out again, as it has just about every year throughout its history? How will environmental opposition be overcome? How will opposition from Marin County be overcome? Why would anyone pay extra money to ship Asian goods into Humboldt County, offload them onto Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and wait a couple of days for them to (possibly) arrive in the Bay Area, location of one of the greatest natural harbors on Earth? These questions have been answered with shrugged shoulders, despite the fact that mountains of local public policy depend upon them.

This is just incompetence, the lowest form of scandal. What you’re going to get now is a creature with a different coat. Out of the hands of buffoons and into the hands of sharpies. The questions above still need to be answered. Looking into my crystal ball, I foresee that someone, somewhere is going to get royally screwed. Smart money is on the public.

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Hank Sims

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