North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

February 22, 2001

Thompson on water, energy

Republicans honor Sparks

Seeking athletic direction

Needle exchange doing fine

Mobile medical office grant

Housing help for Humboldt

Thompson on water, energy

SALMON RAVIOLI, A FINE CUP OF COFFEE and the company of Congressman Mike Thompson made for an interesting lunch at Roy's Italian Restaurant for the business leadership of Eureka last Friday.

Thompson was taking part in a legislative conference with the Eureka Chamber of Commerce, outlining his legislative agenda and collecting concerns from those present. While most of what he had to say was positive, some of his report was enough to bring indigestion to the sturdiest stomach.

Take his update on the Trinity River: Documents signed in the closing days of the Clinton Administration by former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt promised to return water to the Trinity. That water is currently diverted via hydroelectric dams to the Sacramento River, where it provides a lot of water and a marginal amount of electricity to Central Valley residents and farmers. Thompson reported that the deal to restore Trinity flows might be in jeopardy.

"I think we ought to be worried" about whether the Bush administration will continue to support restoration of the Trinity, he said. Thompson said he mentioned the Trinity in a conversationS ecretary of the Interior Gail Norton.

"The bad news is she said that, given the power and water shortages [in the Central Valley], she was quite aware of the Trinity."

The push to widen highways into and out of Humboldt County to ease transportation bottlenecks also received some sobering commentary from the congressman. Thompson warned, "As long as it is couched as just a business issue, just a big truck issue, you won't win. You have to have incredible honesty and openness and work together" to make it clear why the community would want to widen highways. And some highway projects are simply unrealistic, he added.

"I don't think there's a person in this room who thinks we're going to put a four-laner through Richardson's Grove. It's just not going to happen."

It wasn't all bad news. Thompson said that the business community should welcome the new movement in Congress to "make endangered species something private landowners don't want to run away from." The idea is to find ways to "compensate landowners for finding ways to manage his land to provide better habitat for this creature," he said.

The estate tax was also on Thompson's agenda.

"The likelihood of the estate tax being repealed is slim, but I honestly believe some reform needs to be done." Farmers and ranchers on the North Coast are forced to sell their land to developers, Thompson said, in order to pay their inheritance taxes.

"A lot of my colleagues are pushing a bill that would save 96 percent of the farms in the country. The problem is that because of (high) California land values, the other 4 percent are here." Thompson is pushing for a bill that would exempt family-owned businesses from the tax.

The energy crisis has so far drawn a lukewarm response from the newly seated president, Thompson said, but the didn't think Bush's reluctance will last.

"It's not hard to see why he [Bush] wants to see the seated governor of the opposing party stew in his juices for a while, but he'll need to step in.

"You can be elected without California, but it's very hard to get re-elected without it," Thompson said. "I think Bush will be focused on how he can be of some help to us."

That help is needed quickly because the crisis is having a dramatic effect on the economy -- not just because energy is expensive but also because PG&E was becoming a black hole for money. Thompson said he knew of two power producers in the area that are owed a combined $26 million by PG&E.

"If you pull $26 million out of the local economy, it has a ripple effect. It will hurt the local economy."

And with California hurting, the rest of the country will feel the pinch too.

"I think most people in Washington know the California energy problem isn't just California's problem."

-- reported by Arno Holschuh

Republicans honor Sparks

Former 5th District Supervisor Anna Sparks was honored as Republican of the Year Tuesday night at the Ingomar Club in Eureka.

Sparks served on the board of the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District from 1978-82 and as county supervisor from 1982-94, including two terms as chair. She was active in numerous community organizations including the McKinleyville Chamber of Commerce, Fishermen's Wives Association and Boy Scouts of America. She was chair of the Republican Central Committee and a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1984, 1988 and 1992.

After she left office Sparks worked in public relations for Louisiana Pacific Corp. in Lake and Mendocino counties. She is currently employed by the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District as a security officer.

Past Republican honorees include Fern Enke (1993), Jerry Partain (1994), JoAnn Stanhope (1995), Joe Russ IV (1996), Harvey Harper (1997), Mel McLean (1998), Robin and Lois Arkley (1999), and Eileen Amos (2000).

Seeking athletic direction

"If it were just a question of who we need to talk to for more money, that would be different," said Claire Knox, professor of child development at Humboldt State University and chair of the school's Athletics Review Committee.

The committee has been re-evaluating HSU athletics in an attempt to address issues like team travel, scholarships, gender parity and facilities. While many issues are funding-related, money isn't the fundamental problem, Knox said.

"We need to know what we want from the athletic program," she said.

To that end HSU is holding a series of meetings to collect information from stakeholders in the athletics program. The first, for community members, was held Tuesday in Eureka. Still to come are meetings with coaches, student government, student athletes and faculty representatives. There will a campus town hall meeting for members of the university community Feb. 27.

Knox said the university is seeking a clear set of values and goals to guide development of the athletic program. "We've tried to address separate individual issues in the past, and I think we're now at a stage where we need to look at the whole package," she said.

Needle exchange doing fine

It had the potential to be controversial, but Humboldt County Public Health Officer Ann Lindsay said the new needle exchange program has proved to be a smooth-running success.

"As of January, 4,900 needles had been exchanged. We're now exchanging several thousand needles a month," Lindsay said.

While supplying drug paraphernalia to addicts may seem counterintuitive, Lindsay said that actual data "do not support the idea that needle exchange programs increase drug use. It's not a risk."

On the contrary, she said. "We've been able to get some people who are exchanging needles into medical care and drug treatment."

There are four sites serving clients on a drop-in basis, in Eureka, Redway, Willow Creek and the Mobile Medical Office. The program has been such a success that there are plans to expand it to more sites.

The Department of Public Health has even been approached by representatives of the town of Klamath, in Trinity County, for advice on how the Humboldt County program works.

"It's an excellent model of harm reduction, reducing the infection risk to drug users and the community" Lindsay said.

Mobile medical office grant

The Mobile Medical Office was awarded a two-year expansion grant last month from the California Endowment, the state's largest health foundation. The $220,000 grant will help fund the expansion of primary health care clinic hours and mental health service to individuals in Eureka, Fortuna, Blue Lake, Rio Dell and Crescent City.

Funds will help pay part-time additional staff -- including a physician, a psychiatrist and a medical assistant -- and related operating costs. The grant will help the program qualify for a change in status that is intended to improve its long-range financial stability. The entire expansion project is expected to cost $600,000 over the two-year period.

The Mobile Medical Office is a nonprofit community health center on wheels providing underserved rural, low-income and homeless individuals in the county since 1990. Founded by Dr. Wendy Ring, the service seeks to improve access to primary health care for those who have difficulty obtaining care through traditional channels due to financial, geographic and cultural barriers.

The recent addition of Dr. Leslie Foote under the grant program has provided additional clinic sites, including a clinic on Saturdays at the Serenity House winter shelter in Eureka for homeless families. Additional funds for the expansion have been contributed by St. Joseph Hospital's Community Needs Network Committee ($25,000) and the state Department of Health Services Rural Health Service Development Program ($150,000). Contributions may be sent to the Mobile Medical Office, P.O. Box 905, Blue Lake 95525.

Housing help for Humboldt

"For a rural community, we have some sophisticated people working on housing issues," said Paula Mushrush, economic development coordinator for Humboldt County Community Development Services.

A total of $2.8 million in low-income housing assistance has recently been awarded from the state's Home Investments Partnership Program. The money will be used by the city of Eureka and Humboldt County for housing renovation. Arcata will use its money for a mix of new construction, housing renovation and financial help for first-time homebuyers. The private, non-profit Humboldt Bay Housing Corp. will build a low-income senior housing in Willow Creek, something corporation executive director Elizabeth Conner said will fill a desperate need.

"There's no place in Willow Creek to retire to," she said. "People had to come to the coast."

The funds will probably be available beginning in late spring or early summer. People interested in low-income housing programs should call the Redwood Community Action Agency at 269-2033.


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