Humboldt County's new library may be something to look at from the outside, but inside it's pitifully inadequate. That's according to supporters of Measure A, who say without more money they simply cannot keep the facility open enough hours nor come close to purchasing an adequate number of books.
Library officials want county residents to reach into their pockets to lend a hand. On the ballot June 2, Measure A will seek a quarter-cent hike in the sales tax. That would translate into $2.6 million annually to keep the library and its branches open more, to purchase books, restore bookmobile operations, install Internet sites and increase literacy programs.
But some say a quarter-cent is too high.
The Humboldt Taxpayers League is opposed to the measure, which, they say, would nearly triple the library's budget. However, the measure is supported by the Humboldt County League of Women Voters. The measure needs two-thirds voter approval.
Humboldt County's library system is financed by property taxes, funneled through a special district which generates about $1 million annually. That's not enough money to run the main facility and nine branch libraries. Another $600,000 comes from the county general fund.
If Measure A passes, the general fund would no longer have to be tapped, freeing up general fund money to be used for other programs, said Humboldt County Librarian Judy Klapproth.
The library's financial problems began in 1992 when the state shifted property tax revenues from local government to pay for education. In the 1997-98 fiscal year that meant the Humboldt County library system was out $675,000 it would have received prior to 1992, said county Auditor Neil Prince.
A battle between the state and a team of divers over ownership of the sunken steamer Brother Jonathan has taken a turn in favor of the divers.
The Supreme Court last month rejected California's assertion it owns the wreck and said it's up to federal maritime courts to decide rights to the Gold Rush-era vessel, which sunk off the coast of Crescent City in 1865.
California had sought to claim the wreck, as well as others, for historic, cultural and educational purposes. But Deep Sea Research Inc., the diving team, claimed it found the wreck in 1994 in 250 feet of water.
The state, however, said it owned the vessel based on a 1987 law that gives states first claim to wrecks considered "abandoned." But sometimes private treasure hunters who discover sunken ships first can claim them as "found." A federal appeals judge in San Francisco must now decide that issue.
Efforts to secure the money needed to deepen Humboldt Bay harbor finally proved successful last month, clearing the way for a project officials say will give the economy a significant boost.
Loan commitments totaling $5 million were received from Six Rivers National Bank and the Army Corps of Engineers, the amount needed to free up federal funding for the balance of the $15.2 million project.
The work should be completed in late 1999. With a deeper harbor all but the largest super tankers will be able to navigate into Humboldt Bay with full loads.
Humboldt State University closed one deal and is negotiating another to expand programs and services into Eureka.
Last month officials signed a five-year lease for the Janssen Building, on Second Street in Old Town Eureka and former site of the Humboldt Arts Council, to establish a fine arts center.
The space will be used as a public gallery for contemporary art and as a teaching venue, with the possibility of providing classes to the public, and for students to gain experience in gallery operations.
The rent on the facility is $2,500 a month and will be paid with a mixture of private and public money.
The second project, still in the negotiating stages, is a three-way purchase agreement for the Daly building in downtown Eureka, which would be used as a performing arts center. The complex contains the old Sweasey Theater and several adjacent structures.
As proposed, Eureka would loan the HSU Foundation $700,000 from redevelopment funds to purchase the buildings and parking lot across the street. The parking lot would go to the city for public parking.
The Sweasey Theater, at Fourth and G streets, once held audiences of up to 1,200. Those who have inspected the building say the seats are long gone but the sloping floor, orchestra pit and dressing and storage rooms of the original theater are intact under a false floor and walls.
As of press time, the City Council had made no decision on the plan, which was negotiated by City Manager Harvey Rose.
Some hotel and motel operators are grumbling about what they see as unequal treatment by the city of Eureka.
"We can't be late on our bed taxes," said one motel owner when he learned that the historic Eureka Inn is $150,000 in arrears.
Not so, said Eureka City Manager Harvey Rose.
The city will set up a payment schedule with any business person who falls behind, he said.
As for the Eureka Inn, Rose said, "There's been a problem over the last 18 months. Both sides have been trying to come up with a payment schedule but those attempts have failed so far so I brought it to council's attention.
"The council directed me to proceed with litigation, but we hope the matter will yet be resolved."
Eureka Inn owner John Biord was not available for comment.
Former Sheriff Dave Renner was back in Humboldt County for a court appearance last month, during which Judge Timothy Cissna set his trial date on charges of embezzlement for Aug. 24.
The former sheriff has pleaded not guilty to eight felony counts of grand theft, misappropriation of public funds, false accounting, using public money for personal gain and secreting public documents and funds.
Renner, who was in office from 1982 until 1994 when he was defeated by current Sheriff Dennis Lewis, has been working as teacher since December 1995 at the High Desert State Prison south of Susanville.
Nine candidates are vying for the position of Hoopa Valley Tribal chairman -- including the former chairman ousted after an incident in the San Francisco International Airport last November.
At SFO then-Chairman Duane Sherman Sr. appeared intoxicated and was not allowed to board a flight. Tribal law which prohibits consumption or possession of alcohol while representing the tribe led to Sherman's removal and prompted the special election, set for May 12.
Merv George Jr. (now serving as interim chairman), Eugene Colegrove, Chief Jackson, Clifford Lyle Marshall, Ray L. Matilton, Maude McCovey, Fred Moon Sr., Marcellene Norton and Sherman are running for the office.
Slightly more than 1,100 people are eligible to vote. The top vote-getter will complete the remainder of Sherman's term, which expires in June 1999.
A Humboldt County jury last month awarded $15,000 to Emmett Cartier of Concord in a lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol.
In November 1996 Cartier was pulled over by the CHP for not wearing his seat belt. He was arrested after the officer discovered that Cartier's drivers license had just expired.
His vehicle containing his money, jacket and other belongings was impounded. Once released, Cartier had to hitchhike home with $12 in his pocket and no jacket.
The jury found the CHP guilty of false arrest and false imprisonment but did not award punitive damages.
"We're very happy with the decision," said Les Scher, Cartier's attorney. "My client wanted his day in court. He had an arrest record. He works for a government agency and he wanted to clear his name."
Cartier had visited the county yearly on fishing and camping expeditions. He has not returned in two years but is expected back this summer, Scher said.