North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

January 11, 2001

Two legal challenges left

Big box update

Eyewitness to a rescue

Arcata's behavior ordinances

Over 60, still learning

FERC nixes more water in Eel

Dry year -- so far

PL buys, sells timberland

Two legal challenges left

Relatives of the late Vera Perrott Vietor, founder in 1972 of the Humboldt Area Foundation, are down to their last two legal options in their fight to stop HAF from constructing a 6,500-square-foot administration building on property Vietor left the foundation in her will.

They are asking the state Supreme Court to review a unanimous appeals court decision issued in November -- which, by their own admission, is unlikely -- and they plan to protest a request by the foundation for a building permit extension before the Humboldt County Planning Commission next week.

"We are taking this to the court of public opinion Jan. 18," John Perrott told the Journal in a telephone interview from Texas.

Ironically, HAF officials wouldn't need the permit extension if they hadn't been tied up in court for the past 18 months by the Perrott family.

Trinidad attorney Joe Paladin, representing the Perrotts, says Vera Vietor's will was violated in two ways.

"One was the blacktopping [23 parking spaces and tree removal in 1996] of what Vera wanted `native and unspoiled,'" Paladin said. "The other was invading the principal" of her trust fund to pay for the new building.

"She specifically said they could use the interest but not the principal of the trust," Paladin said.

Humboldt Area Foundation Executive Director Peter Pennekamp said the courts consistently have ruled in HAF's favor. The foundation board requested and received prior approval from the state attorney general regarding the building plans and again on financing.

"The attorney general said [the Perrotts' objections] are utterly without merit," Pennekamp said.

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge J. Michael Brown dismissed the Perrotts' claims Sept. 27, 1999, ruling the will was not breached. "The project appears to be in keeping with the intent of the testator (Vietor), whose first desire was to establish the foundation, and yet maintain the property in its park-like atmosphere," he wrote.

Brown further ruled that the Perrotts, Vietor's nieces and nephews, have no legal "standing," or right to sue. That decision was upheld by the state Appeal Court in San Francisco in November.

Concerning the permit extension request, county Planner Alyson Hunter said she understands the Perrotts plan to protest, but such extension requests are "very routine.

"The project has not been changed. It's just been delayed," she added.

Pennekamp said once the last two legal hurdles are overcome, he is looking forward to breaking ground on the project, "probably within a month or two."

The building project will also include additional parking for 65 cars on the 14.5-acre site off Indianola Cutoff between Arcata and Eureka.

The Perrotts' legal challenges filed against the foundation was the subject of a Journal cover story by George Ringwald, "Legacy of greed," Sept. 30, 1999.

Big box update

Two items involving potential big box retailers were in the news last week.

An agent for the owners of the Bracut Industrial property on the bay between Arcata and Eureka said they have received feedback from the county and other agencies on their proposal for 140,000-square-foot home improvement center and are preparing a response.

Although the county is the lead agency, Eureka city officials, the Coastal Commission and a group called Friends of Humboldt, which successfully fought to defeat WalMart on the balloon tract in Eureka two years ago, are calling for a full environmental impact report.

Some agencies raised specific concerns -- the county Public Works Department, for instance, is concerned with impact of crossing the railroad tracks that run between Highway 101 and the parcel -- the biggest issue is traffic.

"Traffic is the issue," agreed Dave Schneider, who represents the owners Dennis and Arlene Hess.

Caltrans officials told the county that nothing short of constructing an interchange would be able to handle the traffic increase and safety issues.

Schneider said Caltrans has been looking at improving the 101 corridor for years and the project may be able to help.

The Bracut project proposes to demolish 80,000 square feet of old industrial buildings to make room for the single new construction large enough to accomodate home-and-garden center, such as Home Depot or Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse. The parcel owners have declined to name the prospective tenant.

In a possibly related story, the closure of Montgomery Ward on the north end of Eureka opens up other big box possibilities. According to Eureka city officials, the 11-acre parcel is marginally big enough to house a national retailer such as WalMart or Home Depot. WalMart was seeking a parcel 13 acres or larger for a 130,000-square-foot superstore but the company has smaller versions in other areas of the country.

Eyewitness to a rescue

Editor's note: The Journal doesn't usually cover "breaking news," but we are making an exception for an eyewitness account. Staff writer Bob Doran just happened to be aboard the tug, the Nancy Stout, Saturday with Mark Staniland, the husband of Eureka Mayor Nancy Flemming. The mayor, contrary to some reports, was not on board.


[photo of rescue in progress]About 9:48 a.m. As the Nancy Stout pulls away from Woodley Island, skipper Mark Staniland notices a commotion across the bay at the foot of C Street. There is a car in the water and Staniland immediately changes course.

9:51 a.m. On shore, emergency vehicles converge, two Eureka police cruisers and a fire truck with its lights spinning are on the scene. By the time we reach the sinking station wagon, there are another fire engine and more than a dozen firemen and policemen standing on shore. Two sheriff's boats pull up on either side of the car.

9:52 a.m. Staniland easily maneuvers the tug so it drifts into position next to the sheriff's boats. Clark Arquette, a man from Los Gatos, is trapped inside a sinking station wagon full of floating debris. Staniland yells to one of the sheriff's that he has a crow bar.

9:53 a.m. Staniland hands the crowbar to Deputy Sheriff Mike Fridley who hops on top of the car followed by another deputy, Phil Daastol. Those onshore are shouting conflicting suggestions as to how to proceed. The deputies decide to use the crow bar to smash in the rear window of the wagon. The vehicle was sinking slowly, but with two men on top and water pouring in through the broken window, the situation quickly becomes critical. Only a few inches of air space remain inside.

9:55 a.m. Staniland dons a yellow flotation jacket. Several men from the fire rescue crew are still stripping off their bulky slickers onshore. Without hesitation, Staniland jumps into the bay. After Fridley breaks the passenger side window, Staniland, who once served in the Coast Guard, begins pulling things from the car -- a sleeping bag and clothing drifts off behind him. Then he reaches into the vehicle and pulls Arquette through the window with fireman Ross Carollo assisting.

9:56 a.m. Staniland pulls Arquette to shore with two more firemen assisting. Arquette is whisked away in an ambulance.

9:57 a.m. Staniland is back at the wheel of the Nancy Stout, dripping wet, and resumes the trip to his home on Indian Island. When someone on board suggests, "You are a hero," Staniland shrugs it off.

"It's nothing," he says as he grabs a towel to mop up some blood left by cuts he received from the broken car window.

According to Sgt. Pat Freese of the Eureka Police, who was on the scene, officers believe Arquette may have driven the car into the bay intentionally. "The man has mental problems. He was taken to a mental facility," said Freese.

Arcata's behavior ordinances

Two ordinances limiting behavior on the Arcata Plaza were passed Jan. 3 by the City Council over vocal protests by the group targeted by the new restrictions.

One new ordinance prohibits smoking, drinking, dogs, roller skating or skateboarding in Arcata's business area, a broad area around the Plaza and continuing all the way to North Town near the university.

An exception was included for smokers along the north side of Ninth Street, where several bars are located. Skaters and dogs are still permitted in most of the area as long as they are "moving along," said City Manager Dan Hauser.

A second ordinance prohibits sitting or lying down on sidewalks, curbs or streets throughout the city.

The express purpose of the ordinances is to minimize the impact of Arcata's homeless population on downtown businesses. More than a 100 people, many of them transients, were at the meeting Jan. 3 to protest the measures. As the meeting dragged on, the atmosphere got increasingly unfriendly. By 1 a.m., when the meeting was adjourned, three protestors had been ejected from the meeting by police.

While opponents outnumbered supporters of the ordinances by a large margin, they were faced with a council that unanimously favored the ordinance on dogs,
smoking, drinking and skating. The ban on sitting and lying passed 3-2, with Michael Machi and Bob Ornelas dissenting.

Over 60, still learning

It's never too late to teach a mature dog new tricks, as over 100 senior citizens are proving at Humboldt State University.

The seniors, some of them more than 80 years old, are taking classes as part of HSU's Over-60 Program, which offers classes to mature adults for $6 per credit. The program offers the chance to learn and make connections with a younger generation.

Enrollment is underway and classes start Jan. 22. Call Lydia Frick for more information at 826-6198.

FERC nixes more water in Eel

The battle of words surrounding diversion of water from the Eel River to the Russian River saw another skirmish this week, as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission again rejected calls to keep more water in the Eel.

The commission controls the Potter Valley Project, which generates a small amount of electricity and diverts a large amount of water to support residential and agricultural interests south to Marin County. FERC has proposed reducing the amount diverted by 15 percent to protect salmon and steelhead stocks, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The National Marine Fisheries Service issued a "draft opinion" in November assessing the effects of the commission's plan on the threatened fish. The draft was critical of the plan and suggested keeping more water in the Eel.

The commission has now answered that draft opinion, reaffirming its position that the 15 percent reduction in flows should be sufficient to preserve salmonids. If the two federal agencies don't come to an agreement, the commission could decide to go ahead with its proposed plan without NMFS approval.

That would likely open the door to lawsuits, as the ESA specifically requires a biological opinion that claims the commission's action would not lead to the extinction of the species. The fisheries service's final opinion is due by Jan. 23.

Dry year -- so far

Exacerbating fights over the allocation of river water is the current spell of dry weather. Rainfall in Humboldt County has been about half of a normal year so far, said Mike Dutter, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Eureka.

But it's still too early to cry drought.

"We had the same thing happen last year, and we made it all up in February," Dutter said. "We actually ended the year with more than average precipitation. With just a couple of storms up here you can make up a lot really fast."

PL buys, sells timberland

Pacific Lumber had an eventful week, selling off land and buying other parcels and two mills.

The company sold 1,200 acres near Owl Creek Jan. 5 that had been targeted as part of the Headwaters agreement in 1998. The property had been the site of conflict in the early '90s, when PL tried to log it over the protest of environmentalists. Logging was eventually stopped by an injunction issued as part of a lawsuit filed by

the Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville.

The property was purchased for $67 million, a price determined by an appraiser instructed to assess the property as if it were viable timberland. The Legislature had set aside $80 million, leaving $13 million that could potentially be reallocated for further land acquisitions. But Mary Bullwinkel, spokesperson for PL, said the company is not a willing seller of any of its timberland except a parcel around Grizzly Creek, also part of the Headwaters agreement.

PL also donated more than 600 acres of its property on the South Spit to the Humboldt Bay Wildlife Refuge, although Bullwinkel admitted there was little reason for PL to hold on to it.

"There aren't any trees there," she said.

Despite losing more than 1,800 acres in the two transactions, PL actually came out ahead in land holdings this week, as it was announced that a letter of intent had been signed between the company and Eel River Sawmills. According to the agreement, PL will purchase two of Eel River's four mills and about 9,000 of its 25,000 acres of timberland.

The remaining two mills, both in Redcrest, have also apparently been sold, said Eel River President Dennis Scott. Inglewood Forest Products has signed a letter of intent to purchase the two mills and some of Eel River's timberland but not all.

Both Inglewood and PL have said that they plan to operate the mills at current levels, Scott said, which would mean that workers could avoid layoffs that were threatened earlier this year.

"Right now they're talking about running it like we were running it."


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