Feb. 3, 2005
by HANK SIMS
Last month, as the tinkling of the silverware at Ferndale Senior Lunch Club died down, guest speaker Jim Garvey moved to the front of the room and took the microphone. Garvey, a 65-year-old Rio Dell resident, introduced himself calmly and softly, but soon dove into his theme with gusto.
"Our society, across the nation, is growing older at a tremendous rate," Garvey said. "We are going to be a force to reckon with! The Legislature is going to have to take us seriously!"
The medical system is a mess, Garvey said. A friend of his from Southern California, a retired electronics engineer, had done a little research and figured out that the most expensive component of a hearing aid is a microchip that costs about $12 off the shelf. Yet seniors are paying thousands of dollars apiece for them, because although a hearing aid is a relatively simple electronic device, it is available by prescription only.
"People are talking about the drug scandal -- the drug rip-off -- well, what about hearing aids?" he asked.
Garvey wasn't just letting off steam. The retired law enforcement officer serves as the North Coast's representative in the California Senior Assembly, the lower house of the California Senior Legislature.
Created in 1979, the California Senior Legislature -- an all-volunteer organization -- is a semiofficial arm of California government. Every year, senior representatives from all over the state meet in the chambers of the Capitol in Sacramento to develop a list of legislative proposals for seniors in the coming year. The organization then lobbies members of the Legislature to sponsor legislation based on its recommendations.
Over the years, the organization has put together a remarkable track record. Between 1982 and 1999, the Senior Legislature made 170 proposals for new legislation. Of those, 130 have become law -- some of them dealing with far-reaching matters of policy ranging from Alzheimer's care and nursing home reform to adult daycare.
This year, one of the Senior Legislature's top proposals, sponsored by Senior Assemblymember Austin Lucero of San Jose, would deregulate the hearing aid industry so that the products could be sold over the counter at places like Radio Shack. The Senior Legislature estimates that if the proposal is enacted into law, hearing aids could be bought for about $100.
Garvey has also actively championed another of the Senior Legislature's current top 10 priorities -- one put forth by his local counterpart in the Senior Senate, 82-year-old Eureka resident Mary Dennison. Dennison, who sits on the Senior Legislature's Joint Rules Committee, sponsored a proposal that would require denture makers to let seniors know that their names may be engraved on dentures at no charge.
"I had it done last summer -- that's how I came to find out that they don't ask if you want it done," she said. "I asked them, `Can I have my name put in it?' They said, `Sure.' I said, `How much does it cost?' They said, `Nothing.'"
After doing a little research, Dennison discovered that lost dentures were a surprisingly common problem. She said that she talked to one nursing home administrator who told her that she had some 700 pairs of misplaced false teeth in a drawer. With the cost of dentures running upwards of $2,000, losing a pair can be an expensive proposition for seniors on a fixed income.
Though denture manufacturers are required by law to impress the patient's name in new dentures if patients request it, they do not have to tell the patient that the service is available.
"The proposal that I have would spell that out and make it mandatory," she said. "The patient would have to hear about it. Right now, they're not told about it unless they think to ask. And who would think to ask?
"It's a simple thing to do, but it could save a lot of money in the long run."
Garvey's Ferndale appearance was one stop on a tour of local senior centers he is making this spring, getting the word out about the Senior Legislature and soliciting ideas for future legislative proposals. After his speech, he chatted with members of the Lunch Club. Most were excited to hear that there was some hope that the cost of hearing aids could soon be reduced.
One woman said that she had a friend who was going deaf and could not afford a hearing aid. "I said to myself, "My God, I'm going to have to learn sign language,'" she said. "This is really wonderful news." l
Senior Assemblyman Jim Garvey will speak at the Orick Senior Center this Wednesday, Feb. 9, at noon. If you have an idea for practical legislation that could directly improve the lives of seniors, you can contact him at BettyGar@aol.com or 764-5118.
by HANK SIMS
Local environmentalists and residents of the Freshwater area scolded the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors Tuesday afternoon for last week's board decision to send a letter supporting Pacific Lumber Co. to the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.
For nearly an hour and a half, residents objected not only to the content of the letter but the method by which it was approved. The letter did not appear on the agenda published prior to the meeting, as usually required by California law.
Many expressed concern that the supervisors, at Palco's request, agreed to consider the letter as an emergency addition to the regular agenda.
"You have had the wool pulled over your eyes, just like the citizens of Humboldt County," said Eureka resident Jeanette Junger.
The supervisors' letter requested that the Regional Water Quality Control Board review "as soon as possible" 11 timber harvest plans in the Freshwater and Elk River areas that are pending agency approval, and explained that the company was facing economic hardship. The supervisors approved the letter 3-1, with Supervisor Jill Geist voting no. Supervisor Roger Rodoni recused himself and left the room. (Palco is Rodoni's landlord.)
Mark Lovelace, president of the Humboldt Watershed Council, said that it appeared that the supervisors had chosen to put political pressure on a state agency at a critical time.
"In voting to send this letter, this board has stepped into the middle of an intense and ongoing issue," he said. "You've done so at the very last moment, and without any public discussion. The effort of these watersheds to get relief from the serious, harmful flooding they are experiencing goes back seven years."
Freshwater resident Attila Gyenis presented the supervisors with a draft of an alternative letter they could choose to send, expressing solidarity with residents of impaired watersheds.
Palco employee Chris Manson thanked the supervisors for sending the letter "on behalf of Palco's 900 employees and their families" and said that more than 600 residents and community organizations had written similar letters of support.
"The intent of getting your letter was to express the concern of residents of Humboldt County about what effect a delay in getting those THPs [timber harvest plans] passed would have had on the economy," Manson said.
Manson said that he believed that the issue required immediate attention by the Board of Supervisors, as the company believed it was within the water board's power to order its staff to make a decision on the company's THPs immediately.
At the end of the comment period, Supervisor John Woolley said that at the time he voted for the letter he believed it to be innocuous -- it simply asked that the permits be looked at as soon as possible; it didn't ask for them to be approved. Since then, he said, he realized how seriously people were taking the issue.
"Well, the bell certainly has rung," he said. "It certainly caused a lot more angst than I recognized."
Woolley said that he had contacted members of the water board and its staff in order to clarify what the letter had intended.
"I really trust that the water board's staff will do a good job, and weigh in correctly," he said.
County Counsel Tamara Falor assured members of the public that the board did not violate California's Brown Act, which guarantees open public meetings, by making the decision to add the letter to the agenda at the last minute. She said that because the board had agreed, by unanimous vote, that immediate action was required, it had protected itself under the law.
The supervisors' decision to send the letter last Tuesday coincidentally came on the same day the Los Angeles Times published a story revealing that earlier in January, Palco and Maxxam executives had held a then-secret meeting with members of the governor's office and the California Environmental Protection Agency.
The Times reported that according to material received by one of its reporters, the company had said at the meeting that if the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board did not approve its outstanding THPs soon, the company would likely go bankrupt. The company said that it also believed that in the event of bankruptcy, whoever ended up with the company's assets would not be bound by the environmental riders signed by Palco at the time of the Headwaters agreement.
Chuck Center, Palco's director of government relations, said last week that while he did not agree with much of what was published in the story or in the Times' follow-up editorial, the company had been meeting with state government at all levels.
"We've met with several people, including on the governor's staff, just to let them know how severe the situation is at Palco," he said. "We've laid off 37 people and transferred 11 already. We don't want to lay off any more employees. We want to do everything we can to avoid that."
Center confirmed that his company believed that the Headwaters environmental agreements would become null and void if the company went bankrupt.
"That's the position of our advice from counsel," he said. "The agreement was signed with our company, and if we should go out of business and our company were to transfer [to our creditors] -- I don't know how you transfer those agreements."
Woolley said that he did not know about the Times story when the supervisors voted to send the letter last week.
Robert Klamt, senior land and water use analyst for the Regional Water Quality Control Board, told the Journal Tuesday that over the next couple of weeks his agency will be looking at whether it can approve some or all of the THPs in advance of a March meeting designed to place watershed-wide limits on stream discharge in Elk River and Freshwater Creek.
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