North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

March 22, 2001

Loggers converge

Thompson: no drilling

Economy up, cool-down ahead

Equinox out, Big Lagoon in

Long-term care credit

Loggers converge

The 63rd annual Redwood Region Logging Conference rolls into Redwood Acres this Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The conference is a chance for forest resource professionals to gather and for logging equipment to be displayed.

Historic steam donkeys, locomotives and other antique logging equipment are just a few of the items that will be on display at the largest logging equipment show in California.

This year's theme, Balancing Forests and Forest Communities for Eternity, will be addressed with keynote speakers, daily activities and events.

On Thursday, more then 2,000 students from Humboldt County schools will visit the conference to participate in Education Day. The students will learn about logging, forestry, wildlife and fire safety.

The sawmill shoot-out contest is on Saturday at 11 a.m. and is open to any with a portable sawmill. The contestants will be judged on the amount of board that is cut per hour, lumber recovery, board feet of lumber vs. log scale and the board feet per hour vs. the cost of the sawmill.

Admission to Redwood Acres Fairgrounds is free. Gates are open Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Thompson: no drilling

In hopes to further protect the fragile California coast, a proposal to permanently ban offshore drilling was introduced in Congress last week.

The proposal is in response to concerns that existing restrictions could be challenged by a president eager to boost production.

The legislation, called the Coastal States Protection Act, would require the secretary of the Interior to permanently halt mineral leasing activity in federal water adjacent to any coastal state with a similar moratorium in its own water.

Drilling in state water in California has long been banned, and the passage of the federal legislation would mean no new drilling off California's fragile coastline.

The legislation was introduced by Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif. Both members of Congress hail the bill as "critical to protecting California's precious coastal areas."

Federal water off California is already protected by a congressional moratorium that must be renewed annually. A presidential moratorium also prevents new leases through 2012, but drilling foes say both could be overturned by Republican-controlled Congress and the Bush administration.

However, during President Bush's campaign, he said he would respect the existing moratorium on offshore drilling leases in California.

Democratic lawmakers are not taking any chances.

"California is defined by our coastline," Thompson said. "There is a renewed threat to jeopardize its future with short-sighted oil exploration. This is a timely measure that will provide us with added protections."

The legislation, introduced with six other California members of Congress, will be sent to the Resources Committee for consideration.

Economy up, cool-down ahead

High energy prices and a fall-off in demand for forest products are dragging the Humboldt County economy down, according to the latest Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County. The Index, produced each month by Professor Steve Hackett at Humboldt State University, actually increased 2.4 percent over the month of January -- but problems loom ahead, Hackett warned.

One thousand fewer people had jobs in January than in December. That raised the unemployment rate to 6.7 percent -- a 1.2 percent increase in just one month, a trend that will likely continue.

"I think there's going to be an additional downturn before this thing turns around," Hackett said.

Energy prices have a lot to do with the problem. The timber industry, still a cornerstone of the Humboldt County economy, has been hit hard by the energy crisis. Many mills kiln-dry their lumber using natural gas, and the spike in prices for that fuel has "had a big impact on energy-intensive manufacturers who are already operating on a narrow profit margin," Hackett said.

In addition, waning consumer confidence nationwide has led to a slowdown in new home construction. That has hurt timber concerns already weakened by the energy crunch.

Statistics collected from all of 2000 show that the manufacturing sector in Humboldt County is beginning to diversify. Although 100 jobs were lost in the timber industry last year, other manufacturing businesses created 170 jobs to pick up the slack. Normally, diversification shields an economy from wild swings because as one sector suffers another will flourish.

The energy crunch has hurt almost all manufacturing businesses. John McClurg, president of the Arcata recycled glassware company, Fire and Light, said the natural gas crisis has been "a major hit."

"In December and January, we paid five times as much for our gas as we did last year." The effect on the company has been immediate and dramatic. Unable to absorb the cost increases, the company raised its prices by 10 percent. McClurg said he is investigating other methods of firing the glass kilns, but has not found a suitable alternative.

Increases in energy rates are having one environmentally positive effect. Electricity consumption in Humboldt County has dropped 15 percent since October 2000.

But it's a mixed blessing.

"I strongly favor energy conservation," Hackett said, "but normally there's a correlation between economic activity and energy consumption."

Equinox out, Big Lagoon in

The Vernal Equinox or changing of seasons has always been a time for celebration at Equinox School. A note on the school's website explains the school's name. "Equinox, the time when the sun's center crosses the equator and everywhere day and night are of equal length -- a moment of balance and harmony -- a time of change . . ."

And change is coming for the Arcata alternative elementary school. After 30 years, the school's board of directors voted March 1 to cease operation as a private school as of June 30, 2001.

Equinox has been facing the same problems as many schools in Humboldt County: Shifting demographics have led to declining enrollment. The drop began seven years ago, according to John Schmidt, the school's director and one of four full-time teachers.

"We redoubled our scholarships and increased advertising and outreach," he said. "Still enrollment went down."

The enrollment decline has caused the school to operate at a loss for the last three years. After borrowing $30,000 to meet expenses during the current year, the board looked at options.

"We realized that unless we dramatically decreased our programs or increased class size we could not continue to operate," said Schmidt.

While the closure marks the end of Equinox, the site will not be empty and the students enrolled there will not be forced to switch to public schools. Big Lagoon Charter School, which began operation for the 2000-2001 school year under the direction of former Humboldt State University Professor Jean Bazemore, is planning on taking over the Equinox campus.

The charter school is operating a K-8 program for 24 students at Big Lagoon School and a high school program for 16 kids at the former Merryman's restaurant in Westhaven.

When the single school Big Lagoon District opened its doors to Bazemore, it was facing a more severe enrollment problem than other Humboldt schools.

"Five years ago we had 80 kids," said Principal Bill Hawkins. "Next year, without the charter kids, we would have had 20."

The school board saw the charter school as "an opportunity to keep the lights on," and Hawkins helped write the charter for the new school. The transition has been smooth. The charter school is running at capacity at least at the K-8 level.

"Some of the students come from within the district's boundaries, which stretch from Orick to around Larrupin' Café north of Trinidad. But most charter kids come from elsewhere. Parents drive from Arcata, Blue Lake, McKinleyville -- even from as far away as Ferndale.

"Humboldt County was ripe for a charter school," said Hawkins. "There seems to be a lot of people here interested in alternative education. That's why Loleta has a charter school, Mattole has one, Freshwater has one.

"The content-driven standard-based curriculum we have now, with the testing and accountability, is good up to a point. But in Humboldt County a lot of parents don't see that as the important thing for their children. That's why we offer an alternative."

The parents who were sending their children to Equinox had found their alternative. And they were paying for it. While some students receive scholarships, tuition is $3,100 a year. Charter schools are publicly funded and do not charge tuition, hence the economic advantage.

When the word came that Equinox would have to close, parents did not have many choices. (All other nonreligious alternative schools and private elementary schools that began in the 1970s have already ceased operations.)

"Parents in Arcata were showing interest in Big Lagoon Charter School," said Hawkins. "If we have a lot of parents sign up, we have to find a site. It just so happens that a site may be available in Arcata -- the old Equinox site."

While it was relatively easy to convert a classroom at the Big Lagoon School into a K-8 charter campus, the transition from Equinox, a private school, to "the Arcata Campus of Big Lagoon Charter School" is tricky. State law does not allow private or parochial schools to change into charter schools.

"This is not a private school converting to a charter," said Hawkins. "Otherwise I wouldn't be doing this. It's an opportunity to parents to come on board with a charter school."

Big Lagoon Charter School will rent the Equinox campus, which will still be owned by Equinox. There will be an open hiring process for staff, and everyone involved assumes that Equinox's teachers, some of whom have been teaching there since it began, will apply for the jobs.

Deciding who gets to attend the Arcata campus is another matter. According to Hawkins, the charter petition gives first priority to those who live in the Big Lagoon district and to parents who work in the district.

"After that it goes to first-come, first-served to a point where we have to have a lottery because there's too many. And that's what's happened."

Parents who attended a March 11 meeting to learn about the school discovered that almost all the openings were filled and all they could do was get on a waiting list. The biggest problem was with kindergarten openings for the fall. There are 27 applicants and the ideal class size of 15 will be expanded to 17. The deadline was extended to March 14.

How will they decide who gets to be a BLCS kindergartner? "The petition says you have to put all the names in a hat and do a lottery," said Hawkins.

The lottery was held Friday, March 16. All classes are full except grade 3 which, as of press time, has several openings.

Long-term care credit

People who care for elderly loved ones at home may get some help. Under the new long-term care credit, Californians who provide care to elderly family members may be eligible for a $500 tax credit.

For more information on how you can apply for the tax credit, call 442-3763, ext. 221, or talk to your tax preparer.



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