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March 3, 2005
WATER BOARD APPROVES SOME
LOGGING: Following a packed hearing
in Eureka's Wharfinger Building last week, the North Coast Regional
Water Quality Control Board gave Pacific Lumber Co. permission
to log about half of its approved Timber Harvest Plans (THPs)
in the Freshwater Creek and Elk River watersheds. Perhaps predictably,
the decision -- made by the board's executive officer, Catherine
Kuhlman -- disappointed both sides in the contentious battle
over timber harvesting in the impaired watersheds. The company,
which had argued that it would soon face financial ruin if the
harvests were not approved, issued a press release saying that
it would continue to negotiate with the board with the aim of
getting the go-ahead on the rest of its plans, which have already
been approved by the California Department of Forestry. Mark
Lovelace of the Humboldt Watershed Council, the group that has
led efforts to block the THPs, had a more mixed reaction. "We
think it's great that the board is implementing this reduction
in the rate of harvest," Lovelace said. But he added that
he was worried about the precedent set by the decision, as well
as a similar one made in January to benefit the company. "What
we've seen so far is that every time they've asked for more,
they've gotten it." Last week's Water Quality Control Board
announcement comes in advance of the board's proposed new watershed-wide
waste discharge requirements, which will likely limit the total
amount of harvesting in the two watersheds to an amount designed
to place the sediment-filled streams on the road to recovery.
Pacific Lumber is expected to ask the board to approve additional
plans at its March 16 meeting March 16 in Santa Rosa.
ARCATA CAMPAIGN FINANCES: Arcata City Council candidate
Michael Winkler has outspent his five competitors combined, according
to the last round of financial disclosure statements to be filed
before the March 8 election. Winkler has spent around $6,500
in his bid for the one open seat on the council -- the great
majority of the money he donated to his own campaign. Candidate
Mark Wheetley has spent about $2,200. Both Winkler and Wheetley
have bought print advertisements, signage, lists of registered
voters and campaign-related sundries. Aside from Winkler's self-donation,
the largest contribution received by either candidate was $150.
The Mary Scoggin campaign has raised about $800, some of which
she has used to buy radio spots. Greg Allen has raised a little
over $200, which has gone into a Web site and assorted campaign
paraphernalia. Neither Andrew Lord nor Nicholas Bravo reported
any contributions or expenditures.
GLITCHES MAR OSCAR BROADCAST: While most Humboldt County
residents enjoyed Sunday night's Academy Awards ceremony with
no problems, pity those poor souls without cable or satellite
service. Every few minutes, viewers tuned into local ABC affiliate
KAEF-TV's broadcast leapt up in anger as picture and sound were
suddenly replaced by static and white noise. Then, after an undetermined
time, the signal would reappear -- only to go bye-bye again,
usually at some critical moment. In this way, non-cable viewers
missed most of Hilary Swank's and Jamie Foxx's stirring speeches.
(We hear they were stirring, anyway). The final straw came with
the award for Best Picture. As Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand
fumbled with the envelope and joked with one another, broadcast
viewers prayed for just a few more milliseconds of signal. Their
prayers were not answered. Jeffrey Smoller, station manager of
KAEF-TV (slogan: "Serving The Community"), said Tuesday
that the signal problems have been ongoing for the last week
and a half or so, and resulted from the failure of a key part
at its Kneeland transmitter. He said his crew hoped to have everything
back to normal this week.
RE-CYCLING BILL INTRODUCED: Bill Burton, director of the
Arcata Library Bikes program, is a tireless advocate of bike-centric
transportation. Last week, one part of his vision came closer
to reality. Thanks to persistent lobbying from Burton and his
colleagues from around the state, California State Assemblymember
Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach) introduced AB 1103, the "reCycle
bill." If the Legislature passes the bill, a $7 deposit
surcharge would be added to the sale of new bicycles in the state
-- much like the few cents added to soda bottles. People returning
a used bicycle to a certified reCycle center would get $3 of
the deposit back; the bikes could then be used in a free library
program, much like the one he operates in Arcata. "The infrastructure
of bikes has to exist in order for bicycling to be comfortable
to people," Burton said Tuesday. "We're going to California
and saying, `We've got the model.'"
HEAD-ON COLLISION IN SAFETY CORRIDOR:
A head-on collision must have rattled more than a few drivers
passing through the Highway 101 "safety corridor" between
Eureka and Arcata Monday afternoon. Miraculously, though, no
one was gravely injured. At around 1:30 p.m., 20-year-old Eureka
resident Terrance Davis was southbound and nearing the turnoff
to Harper Motors when, for reasons still unknown, his 1984 Toyota
Tercel swerved to the right and hit the guard rail. Davis lost
control of the vehicle, which rebounded left and crossed the
median into the northbound lanes. There, he smashed face-first
into a 1990 Ford F250 pickup driven by 59-year-old Roy Dilley,
also of Eureka. When the dust cleared, it was discovered that
both Davis and Dilley suffered only minor injuries. A passenger
in the Toyota, 27-year-old Eureka resident Shane Sovereign, was
hospitalized with a broken leg.
TROOPS ARE BACK IN TOWN: Soldiers in the National Guard's
579th Engineering Battalion of the National Guard returned to
California last week after serving close to a year in Iraq. A
National Guard spokesman at the battalion headquarters in Santa
Rosa said that 19 soldiers from the Eureka-based Bravo Company
were among the battalion members that arrived in Petaluma last
Thursday. Spc. Jessie Schager, 20, of Fortuna said it's great
to be back, but the transition has been bittersweet. "I've
had a bunch of mixed feelings: I'm happy to be home but I miss
those guys I was over there with. We really formed a brothership,
a bond that you can't break." Schager said that there is
a chance he will be called back to duty in Iraq, but "hopefully"
not for another two years. For now, he plans to move to Redding
to join the SWAT team or a branch of law enforcement.
YOUTH WANT JELLO, TOO: A Humboldt State club that organized
activist Jello Biafra's recent appearance at the university is
steamed about a campus policy that they say discriminates against
youth. The ageist allegations were made after the Network of
Resistance club, which organized the event, was notified a week
before the Feb. 19 event by the HSU Clubs and Activities office
that anyone under 18 would not be allowed into the show. The
notification was made in error, however. People of all ages are
indeed allowed to attend speaking engagements at HSU. The confusion
was the result of botched paperwork filled out by the Network
of Resistance, which listed the event as a "dance,"
said Michael Wilcoxen, director of HSU Clubs and Activities.
Dances and concerts that are held in the university center are
only for those 18 and over. So, in the end, young ones were allowed
into the Biafra event without a problem, but the Network of Resistance
is still pressing the issue, calling for the university to allow
students of all ages to all campus events. A petition calling
for an end to "anti-youth, anti-community policies"
was signed by more than 400 people at the event. The group plans
to give the petition to HSU President Rollin Richmond in about
one month. Anyone interested in signing the petition can call
NUKE FUEL RODS FOUND, MAYBE: Nuclear fuel rods that were
reported missing from the Pacific Gas & Electric Co.'s Humboldt
Bay Power Plant last year may have been found. Fuel rods likely
to be the nuke containers that the company was looking for have
surfaced after seven months of searching the fuel storage pool
at the bottom of the power plant, according to a company report
to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). PG&E first
reported to the NRC in late June that there was conflicting documentation
from the late 1960s as to the whereabouts of three 18-inch fuel
rods, indicating that one of two things happened -- either the
rods had been shipped to another facility or stored in the fuel
pool in Eureka. The rods that were found in late February are
not 18 inches long, but the company speculates that the fragments
are pieces of the original stainless steel containers and the
remaining segments are probably elsewhere in the pool. In a written
statement, Greg Rueger, PG&E senior vice president for generation
and chief nuclear officer, said, " it is most likely that
we have the cut fuel rod segments in our possession. Unfortunately,
their condition after 40 years of being stored under other components
in the pool makes positive identification extremely difficult."
An investigation is continuing.
WASTING AWAY: If budget cuts proposed by President Bush
take effect next year, local anti-hunger advocacy groups fear
that people who already do not get enough to eat will be even
hungrier if food programs, including Food Stamps, school meals,
and Women Infants and Children (WIC) program, among others, are
drained of resources. Anne Holcomb, executive director of Food
for People Inc. in Eureka, Humboldt County's central food bank,
said that most of the food the bank receives comes from the federal
government, and if it is taken away needy people here will go
hungry. Already, Humboldt County ranks third among California
counties in "food insecurity," or people who feel uncertain
of where their next meal will come from, according to the food
bank. Food for People, which distributes food to 27 pantries
in the county -- locations like the Arcata Endeavor and St. Vincent
de Paul -- serves a majority of fixed-income people, including
seniors. "Right now we have seniors choosing between medication
and food. If we take more food away from them we're going to
see costs further down the line, when their health fails, and
they lose their independence and have to go to a nursing home,"
Holcomb said. A provision in Bush's budget is aimed at encouraging
people to donate more food to charities by offering tax breaks
to those who give groceries to the needy.
SENIORS SAVE ON DRUG MONEY: Low-income seniors have until
March 31 to enroll for a prescription drug discount, according
to Medicare Today, a nonprofit public advocacy group. Medicare
beneficiaries -- those ages 65 and older with individual income
less than $12,569 or $16,862 for a couple -- can receive a $600
credit toward their prescriptions. Those who apply after the
March 31 deadline will be eligible for a $450 credit. Call (800)
MEDICARE for details.
decry staffing levels at St. Joe's
Members of the California Nurses
Association (CNA) picketed outside St. Joseph Hospital of Eureka
Feb. 22, airing a list of complaints about the management of
the hospital, chief among them the contention that staffing levels
are dangerously low.
"There are increased issues
of patient health being compromised at our hospital. They are
violating staffing regulations both from the federal level and
the state level," said Lavon Divine-Leal, a medical-surgical
unit nurse who has been at St. Joe's for 30 years.
"It's profit verses patient,
clearly," said Kathryn Donahue, chief nurse rep for the
local CNA chapter. "Our hospital says, `No that isn't true,'
but we live it day in day out."
While Donahue and Divine-Leal
both claim nurses are regularly assigned too many patients, resulting
in a threat to patient safety, Mary Anne McCrea, the hospital's
chief operating officer, said the hospital has adequate staff
"to meet the needs of our patients and our patients' safety."
"We are proud of the hospital's
record of patient safety," McCrea said.
Central to the nurses' concerns
is the implementation of a January 2004 state law, which made
California the first state in the country to establish minimum
nurse-to-patient ratios for all hospital units. Local CNA leaders
contend that St. Joe's is not following those strict guidelines.
Again McCrea disputes the nurses'
accusation, writing in an e-mail response to questions from the
Journal, "Our compliance with mandatory staff ratios
was validated twice this past year by the Department of Health
Services (DHS), which is the agency responsible for monitoring
and enforcement. On two separate visits, DHS surveyed St. Joseph
Hospital, confirmed that we are in compliance, and even said
that we are substantially above the requirements in several areas."
The nurses are also at odds
with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who signed an executive order
last November that significantly alters the nurse-patient ratio
One change under the order maintains
the 1-to-6 nurse-patient ratio in medical-surgical units established
in 2004, halting a shift to 1-to-5 originally scheduled for January
Another change is in rules for
emergency rooms, where 1-to-4 ratios are mandated. The changed
regulations allow hospitals to flex to higher ratios when an
unforeseen influx of patients shows up in the ER, as long as
the hospital strives to increase staffing "as soon as possible."
According to Jan Emerson, spokesperson
for the California Hospital Association, an industry lobbying
group, "The jury is still out as to whether numeric ratios
for every unit are the best way to staff. In many units the ratios
make sense, but the biggest areas the hospitals have had trouble
with are emergency rooms (ER), which by their very nature are
unpredictable, and the medical-surgical units, typically the
most common units of a hospital."
According to Donahue, the local
nurse, "ER is the primary area that was affected. They're
saying that you don't need to staff for `unexpected volume increases,'
except you frequently have unexpected volumes -- that's the nature
of the ER -- that's the reality day in, day out."
The third change is a suspension
of what is known as the "at all times" requirement
for short-term breaks. "If a nurse stepped away to go to
the bathroom, or take any kind of break, she was supposed to
reassign all her patients to another nurse," Emerson explained.
"That meant you had to have extra nurses on the unit `at
all times' simply for the purpose of reassigning for potty breaks
or phone calls."
In an opinion piece about health
care financing run in the Times Standard earlier this
week, St. Joseph Health System CEO Mike Purvis suggests that
California should "permanently modify the `at all times'
interpretation of nurse-to-patient ratios and acute flexibility
in emergency department ratios."
"Hospitals are a dynamic
environment where we don't get to choose the volume of patients.
The volume of patients chooses us, and we have to respond,"
said Emerson. "And when you put all these very restrictive
regulations on hospitals and don't allow for flexibility, it
makes our work very difficult."
Donahue countered that the governor
is just playing to his corporate pals. "Schwarzenegger is
helping corporations to do what they like to do, which is make
profits and give money to the higher end of administration for
their salaries, their benefits, their housing allowances, their
own pensions. It's the corporate system: The top gets a lot of
money, then they see how little they can get away with to keep
the bottom functioning."
Donahue and Divine-Leal both
place the blame for staffing problems and a breakdown in relationship
between nurses and the administration on McCrea.
"We've had to make difficult
decisions, some of which have been unpopular," said McCrea.
"Frankly, we share some of the nurses' frustration at the
pace of resolving many of these issues, but it would be unfortunate
to try to turn this into a personality question when there are
such important issues at stake and the administration and staff
are working hard to resolve them in good faith."
It's not likely that disagreements
over staffing ratios will be resolved soon. Schwarzenegger's
emergency suspension is set to expire March 11, 120 days after
it was declared, and the CNA is lobbying hard to stop it from
being extended or made permanent.
But even before that Schwarzenegger's
changes to ratio rules will be challenged in a lawsuit filed
by the CNA in Sacramento Superior Court. The nurses will be out
in numbers in Sacramento on Friday, March 4, as their suit goes
before a judge.
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