POT BUST FOLLOWS SPLIT VOTE
One week after Humboldt County leaders agreed to accept a state grant for marijuana eradication, sheriff's deputies busted the largest indoor growing operation in California history.
More than 12,440 plants were seized June 23 in a building in Three Creeks Valley near Berry Summit. The structure, which had the appearance of a family home on the outside, was in fact constructed specifically for growing marijuana, raiding law enforcement officers found. Plastic flowers were planted in boxes on the surrounding deck and children's toys were scattered in the yard, but the house had no kitchen or bathroom facilities.
Three people were arrested, with more arrests anticipated. The owner of the home was being sought for questioning.
On June 16, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to accept $250,000 in state money to fund on-going pot raids in Southern Humboldt. Supervisor Roger Rodoni, whose represents the southern end of the county, argued the money would be better spent fighting the illicit drug methamphetamine. He compared the war on marijuana growers to Prohibition.
His sentiments have been echoed in Mendocino and Lake counties, where a minority of leaders there have also asked the state and federal governments to shift their efforts to fight methamphetamine.
HOMELESS SITES NARROWED
The Eureka City Council on July 7 is expected to choose a location for a proposed transitional home for the homeless.
Site possiblities for the county-wide facility, known as the Multiple Assistance Center, are:
a vacant lot on Hawthorne Street across from City Garbage Co. and the Eureka Chamber of Commerce;
a vacant lot on Cedar Street near Broadway;
the Fireside Inn on R Street;
Humboldt Door and Window at 139 Y St. near Montgomery Ward and
the former Triplex movie theater on Indianola Road at U.S. Highway 101.
Eureka MAC coordinator Sandra Corcoran said the Hawthorne Street and Indianola Road sites are least desirable and not recommended by the Coalition for Transitional Housing, a volunteer group of private and elected citizens. The final decision, however, will be up to the City Council.
In March, the council selected the project for its 1998 Community Development Block Grant application. Word on the two-year, $1 million grant is expected after July 1.
REMAINS IN LIMBO
The Northwestern Pacific Railroad late last month still hadn't received $7 million in disaster relief it's been expecting from federal officials for a year and a half, despite completion of a draft audit that reportedly clears the rail authority of wrongdoing.
That's left railroad Chief Executive Officer Dan Hauser more than a little upset.
A summary of the draft audit which the Federal Emergency Management Agency refuses to release until it's in final form contained nothing to indicate the railroad had anything to do with "fraud, misrepresentation, illegalities, immoralities or misuse of funds," Hauser said. Yet it does not authorize the release of the $7 million. FEMA officials told Hauser they are waiting for the final audit before issuing the money.
FEMA spokeswoman Terry Thornton said the audit would be available the week of June 28 (after The Journal's deadline), although no firm date had been set. Beyond that, she said, FEMA had no comment pending release of the finalized document.
In response to allegations of embezzlement and misuse of public funds, a federal grand jury subpoena was issued in May seeking railroad records dating back to 1993. At the time, rail officials said three years of FEMA audits would clear the agency of wrongdoing.
The railroad, which has been plagued by storm damage and financial problems, has missed payrolls and has not been able to pay contractors. Some 50 people have been laid off.
You might call it garbage in, garbage out.
Beginning next fall, Humboldt County will haul its trash to Solano County via the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. If the railroad isn't operating, the trash will go by truck to Medford, Ore.
The Board of Supervisors approved the agreement with ECDC Environmental in June, deciding not to consider a proposal from City Garbage Co. of Eureka, which holds the current waste disposal contract.
City Garbage plans to keep its Cummings Road landfill and transfer station open for self-haulers.
Under a Joint Powers Authority agreement, which includes representatives from much of Humboldt County, a temporary transfer station will be open, with a permanent station expected to be up and running in two years.
Once the JPA site is open, it will cost about $65 to dump a ton of garbage with all county fees included, saving residents $13 off the current $78 per ton price.
The railroad might also benefit from the garbage contract. ECDC Regional Director David Gavrich says the trash could provide a base business for the financially troubled railroad, and the railroad could begin back hauling goods from Solano County rather than returning to Humboldt with empty cars.
In other garbage news, the Board of Supervisors awarded contracts to Humboldt Sanitation and Recycling in McKinleyville and Eel River Disposal and Resource Recovery Inc. in Fortuna to establish container sites in unincorporated areas of the county.
County Public Works Director Allen Campbell says these contracts are expected to save the county $40,000 a year. The county was previously losing money on uncollected dumping fees, but the new contracts provide financial incentives for operators to collect full dumping fees.
Dumping rates will not change at the new sites. It will still cost $3.25 for a 30-gallon can and $20 for a cubic yard.
WIN ROUND FOR SLOTS
North Coast Indian tribes scored a win in Sacramento in late June when a Superior Court judge ruled that Gov. Pete Wilson does not have the authority to dictate how the tribe's should operate gambling casinos.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connolly ruled that a gaming agreement between Wilson and the Pala Band of Mission Indians is void, unless ratified by the Legislature.
Wilson had said that the agreement must be adopted by all California tribes with casinos, a deal which was bitterly opposed by North Coast tribes.
According to the judge's ruling, Wilson can negotiate with tribes, but cannot bind the state to an agreement without the consent of lawmakers.
Under the Pala Band agreement, Indian casinos would have lost popular, lucrative slot machines.
Wilson officials promised to appeal.
On Aug. 18 former Humboldt County Sheriff Dave Renner is scheduled to be sentenced on six felony criminal counts stemming from an investigation into questionable accounting and record-keeping habits during his 12-year tenure in office.
In a plea bargain, Renner was convicted June 15 of submitting false claims to a public official in exchange for dismissal of 18 other felony counts.
He faces a county jail term of six to 12 months, must pay $10,000 restitution and can never hold public office again. The court will consider home detention as a safer alternative to jail for the former law enforcement officer.
Considering the nature of Renner's crimes, the punishment is just, said Deputy Attorney General Alexandra Kirk, who prosecuted the case after the county District Attorney's Office was excused due to a conflict of interest.
The expected sentence "seems pretty standard considering the amount of money taken," she said.
Kirk said it is suspected that Renner embezzled about $20,000 and "used it inappropriately for what appears to be the Sheriff's Department. There's no evidence to show that it went into his bank account or anything like that," she said.
About $60,000 was missing from two Sheriff's Department funds, but Renner was charged with just two thefts, of $750 and $2,470. Renner admits he did not keep accurate books, but has always maintained that he did not profit personally from his errors.
The former sheriff, who was defeated by current Sheriff Dennis Lewis in 1994, has been working at the High Desert State Prison south of Susanville. He remained employed in the education department there following his conviction, but it was unclear if he could continue working in corrections given his felony convictions.
Prison spokesman Lt. Paul Edwards pointed out that Renner is a prison teacher, and not working as a peace officer, a job he would immediately lose if convicted of a crime. But because of the Humboldt County conviction, Renner will be subject to administrative review, Edwards said, but that does not necessarily mean he will lose his job.
BUSINESS PARK TAKES FLIGHT
After eight years of planning, public hearings and environmental impact studies, McKinleyville will finally become home to a new Airport Business Park.
When completed, the park will consist of 53 developed acres nearly 1 million square feet of offices, light manufacturing, research and development facilities and general commercial uses. Located between U.S. Highway 101 and the Arcata-Eureka Airport, it will replace what is now grassland visible from the highway.
Ground breaking for the park was June 24, and the first business to set up shop will be a 70-room Holiday Inn Express Hotel, scheduled to open in May 1999.
Developer Steve Moser said numerous studies were required to determine the impact of noise and traffic on the area. Moser agreed to place the park's buildings as close to Boeing Avenue as possible, which he said will cut down on traffic and noise bothering neighboring landowners.
"There will not be any noise, dust, glare or smoke off site," he said.
Moser also said he's planning to have a 25-foot strip of native vegetation planted between the park and nearby residences to help make up for the loss of plant life.
The park, which will take 10 to 15 years to complete, is being financed by Humboldt Bank. Moser would not say how much the project will cost, but acknowledge that it will total "seven figures."
UP FOR NOVEMBER
The Humboldt County library system will have to make do with the books and programs it has at least until November.
Measure A, which would have raised money for the libraries by increasing the county's sales tax rate by a quarter of a percent, failed to gain the two-thirds super majority it needed to pass the June primary.
Both Head Librarian Judy Klapproth and Library Foundation member and county Supervisor Bonnie Neely indicated they may try to put the measure on the November ballot. And they were considering reducing the proposed tax increase to one-eighth of a percent.
In other election news, incumbent Paul Kirk will face attorney Sara Senger for the 5th District Board of Supervisors seat in the November runoff. Voters in the 4th District will be asked to choose between Eureka City Councilman Lance Madsen and incumbent Supervisor Neely.
Sheriff Dennis Lewis, who was running for re-election, beat retired deputy Gary Holder.
In the race for state senate, Solid Waste Management Board Member Wesley Chesbro beat attorney Timothy Stoen for the 2nd District Democratic nomination. John Jordan, winery heir and owner of two Sonoma County coffee houses, took the Republican nomination, beating Mendocino County Supervisor John Pinches.
DIED OF OVERDOSE
North Coast fishing advocate Nathaniel Shaw Bingham, found dead at his Mendocino County home May 9, had ingested a lethal dose of morphine, according to the county Coroner's Office.
But it remained unclear whether the death was accidental or a suicide, said Mendocino County sheriff's Lt. Gene De Geyter. Results of more toxicology test to show how much morphine Bingham took might offer a clue as to whether the overdose was intentional or not.
Bingham, 59, apparently had the pain killer in the house to treat his wife, who died of pancreatic cancer April 25.
Some friends doubted Bingham took his own life because he had so much work-related business scheduled, including a major West Coast fisheries conference he was helping to organize in Fort Bragg.
Bingham was a member of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, involved in the Salmon Trollers Marketing Association and past president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations.
INN COLLATERAL FOR DEBT
Owners of the historic Eureka Inn put the hotel up for collateral as they pay off about $150,000 in late bed taxes, said Eureka City Manager Harvey Rose.
The city set up a payment plan with the hotel in May after Rose brought the problem to the attention of the City Council.
Rose said the hotel's tardiness in paying the transient occupancy tax has been a problem for 18 months.
GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR'
The manager of the McKinleyville Community Services District got a 3.1 percent raise last month.
Bruce Buel oversees an annual budget of about $2.7 million and has 14 full-time employees and 34 part-timers. That's not significant by itself. It's the fact that Buel now makes $85,400 a year that has turned a few heads.
In fact, he makes $4,200 more per year than Humboldt County's chief administrative officer, John Murray. Murray is paid $81,200 annually, oversees a budget of approximately $155 million and has more than 1,800 employees.
By comparison, Fortuna City Manager Dale Neiman makes $68,000 a year (although he has to contribute a portion of that toward his retirement plan) and oversees a budget of $11 million. The city employs 50 full-time workers and another 50 part-time people.
It's that type of information MCSD director Ordell Murphy wanted to look at before approving Buel's cost of living increase last month. But he was out-voted by a majority of his fellow directors.
What the services district did look at were the salaries of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District manager (nearly $80,000) and the Humboldt Community Services District manager (about $66,000).
Board President Ben Shepherd said Buel is worthy of his paycheck. "You get what you pay for. He is an outstanding administrator and he gets what his field commands," he said.
According to "Jobs Available," a publication advertising public sector positions across the country, Buel's salary is in line or better than managers at agencies twice the size or larger than the McKinleyville services district.