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Sour Notes 

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors dealt with a couple of update-worthy matters at its Tuesday meeting, and did so in such a happily kumbaya unanimous manner that you wonder if the board that took shape when Clif Clendenen and Mark Lovelace joined last month might just be the one that was always meant to be, like the sculpture hidden in a plain block of marble.

After morning presentations from a bunch of adorable children and a do-good organization offering needy citizens help preparing their taxes (call RCAA, 269-2016), the board rolled up its sleeves. First up: How to help area fishermen crippled by last fall's shutdown of Eureka Ice, the area's only manufacturer of a product essential to the industry? (See "Waterfront Meltdown," Sept. 11, 2008). Easy peasy -- the board voted to spend $500,000 of the county's Headwaters Fund money on a city of Eureka proposal to build a new facility in cooperation with Pacific Choice Seafoods. If there exist critics who grouse that the Headwaters Fund is good for naught except providing push-paper jobs for bureaucrats (see "Spending Headwaters," Jan. 15), then they are now invited to either tape their mouths shut or jump into the sea in shame. "Let the record show that the vote is unanimous," said Board Chair Jimmy Smith.

Solved. Moving on? How about the Mad River Bluffs, which almost crumbled into the estuary a couple of years ago, taking a few McKinleyville homes along with them? (See "Water, Dirt and Time," March 8, 2007). This was a sticky one -- for a long time, property owners, the county, the McKinleyville Community Services district and various state and federal agencies all maintained that it was someone else's problem. But differences were set aside last year, and now an emergency shore-up is in place, with a bit more work yet to be done. The county staff members delivering a status report received a shower of praise in return, both from the board and through written comments from homeowners who could not be present. Everyone seemed to be feeling good.

But then the board took up a somewhat routine matter authorizing a renegotiated contract with a Del Norte County boy's ranch that takes in some Humboldt County juvenile offenders, and everything went south. Arcata house-free activist Tad Robinson berated the board for making him wait through the other items to address this matter, which he likened to slave labor and other injustices. (I can't recall if he made it to the Nazis this time.) Robinson was voluble. He refused to yield the podium when his time was up, and eventually Sheriff's deputies arrived to take him out of the chambers in handcuffs.

^^^^^

The other notable Debbie Downer this week was none other than the city of Healdsburg, the latest in a string of municipalities up and down coastal Northern California to declare itself at war with the North Coast Railroad Authority.

According to an eye-popping staff report written by Healdsburg Public Works Director Mike Kirn, that town is just about set to break ground on a 64-unit affordable housing project. The project is funded largely by federal tax credits which are on the verge of expiry. Part of the project was to include a foot path near NCRA tracks, part of a larger pathway project that the city has been working on for a few years. Permits to construct the project were conditioned on the pathway. The developer was amenable.

Kirn reports that the railroad authority was initially amenable to the idea. The city holds a long-term "beautification lease" on the tracks that run through its territory, and the pathway seemed to fit the bill fine. And then, on Jan. 9, Kirn says, the authority abruptly informed him that no such pathway would be allowed. Finito, end of story. John Williams of NWP Inc., the company contracted to run hypothetical freight trains on the long-dead public line, had apparently exercised his standing veto.

This led the apparently enraged Kirn to pen one of the most extraordinary staff reports that this connoisseur of the form has ever had the privilege to read. It offers the standard palette of options that staff always presents to elected officials. In this case, Kirn said, the city could order the developer to completely rearrange his project at massive cost, or it could divert the proposed pathway out into streets at not-quite-so-massive cost, or it could drop the project altogether.

But then there was another option, and Kirn phrased it like this. "Make life difficult for NCRA/NWP by starting a grass roots/local agency effort calling for the elimination of all funding for NCRA activities," he wrote. In other words, let's wrestle the bastards to the floor and slit their throats with a straight razor.

And, ho! Such was the path that the city chose to pursue, along with one last-ditch effort to make nice with the phantom railroad. As the saying goes: Healdsburg, you're killing our children! Something like that ...

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Hank Sims

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