When Jim Hoff was told by the Planning Department of Humboldt County that his proposed new billboard would only be approved for a 15-year term, he appealed to county. But after Tuesday's meeting of the County Board of Supervisors, he may be sorry that he ever even heard the word "appeal." The board, far from removing the time limit on Hoff's project, shortened it to seven years.
And that's not all. They also stipulated that the sign be made of wood rather than steel and be of a size no larger than the other two on the lot -- significantly smaller than Hoff had hoped.
The board, which had never before so heavily regulated a billboard, may have been moved by the substantial public campaign against this sign. Organizations like Keep Eureka Beautiful, the Sierra Club, and the Northern Redwoods Bed and Breakfast Association had all voiced their opposition to Hoff's proposal and were at the Tuesday meeting to voice their opinion. Of the more than 15 members of the public who came forward at the meeting to add their input, only three were in favor of the billboard: two sign builders and an attorney for a billboard corporation.
Hoff said that he was "confused" by the outpouring of sentiment, especially since he said that some of the businesses that signed onto a letter protesting his sign are billboard advertisers. He claimed some are even his customers.
Michele McKeegan, president of Keep Eureka Beautiful, explained that her group "is not necessarily opposed to all billboards. We just want it to go through a rational review." That review should be provided for in the update of the general plan, which all those present agreed should happen as soon as possible.
Forest protest observers?
The Humboldt County Human Rights Commission offered Tuesday to provide neutral observers during forest protests but the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors said no.
The board voted to deny the request due to insurance liability concerns and because such activity is outside the scope of the commission's duties.
The commission presented evidence that neutral-observer programs in other cities and counties have worked well and caused few problems for the agency administering them. However, County Counsel Tamara Falor said the commission had been created to help ensure that citizens' human rights were not being neglected on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin or religion -- none of which apply to the environmentally based protests the program aimed to observe.
Adley Shulman, secretary for the commission, argued that its mandate was a broad and overarching one, saying that he was "not talking about race, religion or national origin, but we're talking about peace."
Supervisor John Woolley suggested that the commission, county counsel, the county's risk manager and the sheriff draft a neutral observer program that is separate from the Human Rights Commission and bring it back to the board for consideration.
The motion passed unanimously.
State of emergency -- again
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency Monday and will continue to do so every two or three weeks for the foreseeable future. It wasn't due to a toxic spill or last week's mild earthquake but rather a health emergency due to the high rate of substance abuse in the county.
The action, which by state law must be continually renewed, will enable the county to begin a clean-needle exchange program for intravenous drug users that will reduce the transmission of the HIV virus, hepatitis and other infectious diseases.
The county is negotiating with a number of primary care providers, including one physicians' group and several clinics in geographically diverse areas of the county to administer the program.
"The idea is that no one place should become a magnet (for illegal drug users)," said Public Health Officer Dr. Ann Lindsay.
"We are currently discussing protocol, how this thing is going to work," she added. Under discussion are such things as a one-for-one exchange of needles, use of a certain type of needle that is less likely to be reused and training of staff.
Health care workers who meet with clients need to be ready to refer patients to alcohol and substance abuse programs and other medical services if needed, she said.
There are eight or 10 counties in the state with official needle exchange programs. Humboldt is modeling its public-private program after one in Marin County.
"There are programs that have been up and running for years ... in L.A. and San Francisco, but the law has always been murky," Lindsay said.
That "murky ground was cleared up," she said, when a new law went into effect in January, but the law does require that counties declare -- and renew -- a declaration of emergency in order to establish and continue a needle-exchange program.
Lindsay says the hope is that the program "will bring drug users into the treatment fold."
District 3 Supervisor John Woolley said the problem is a true emergency if not a sudden one.
"An examination of the statistical evidence about the amount of drug use in our county and how much it has gone up demonstrates that it is," he said.
Time to count noses
As required by the U. S. Constitution every 10 years, a house-by-house census is being conducted to determine how many seats each state will have in the House of Representatives. But more importantly those numbers are used by government and others to allocate funds for schools, roads, recreation, health care and other public services.
An undercount is something government leaders fear most because that means that until the next census --2010 -- they must provide services to those who may not have been counted.
Census forms were delivered in most cities by mail March 13. There are two types of forms -- the short one which asks for the names of individuals living in the homes along with their birthdate, age, relationship, Hispanic origin, race and if the house is rented or owned. The long form, which one in six people will receive, asks questions such as income, education, ancestry, employment, disability and home heating fuel used.
Until the end of March census takers are visiting homes in the rural areas to drop off and pick up census forms. Beginning April 27, for those who have still not completed the form, census takers will begin revisiting households until July.
For anyone needing assistance with completing the forms, there will be Census Questionnaire Assistance Centers located throughout the county. A center will also be located at the Bayshore Mall.
For questions about completing the form, or if you have not yet received a form, call (800) 471-9424.
Trio skips school
Three Humboldt County high school students are skipping school this week -- for a good cause.
Ashley Vrieze, Byron Stocum and Carly Ross left for Anchorage, Ala., Tuesday to participate in the Speedo Junior National swimming championships.
Ross, who also qualified last year, is competing in the 50-yard freestyle. Vrieze (100-yard backstroke) and Stocum (100- and 200-yard backstroke) are making the junior national trip for the first time. All three qualified for the nationals at the Zone 3 Pacific Swimming Championships regional meet in San Francisco in January.
Coach Paul Mazzarelle, who is accompanying them, said he is very proud of the swimmers.
Asked what it takes to prepare for the finals, Stocum and Vrieze both said, "Work!" Ross said she had to give up a little free time, including vacations, to keep up with the rigorous practice schedule.
Story airs nationally
Ten-year-old Chisa Hughes plays the violin, takes ballet lessons, plays sports and in her spare time, writes award-winning stories.
One story in particular, called "Defeat the Feet," won KEET-TV's Reading Rainbow Young Writers and Illustrators Contest in 1999 and now has been chosen by PBS to be featured on the children's program Zoom Friday, March 24, at 5 p.m. on Channel 13.
The interactive television series features, games, videos, stories, experiments and brain teasers contributed by viewers and performed by a cast of seven kids.
Audiences nationwide will be able to hear the imaginative tale of a young girl whose feet experience a strange phenomenon, and who later visits a scientist to explore the cause of her feet's condition.
Chronicle writer hosts
The Ferndale Repertory Theatre's annual celebrity benefit dinner and auction will be hosted March 25 by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll.
The theme for this year's dinner and auction is "Wranglers and Rhinestones" and will be held at the Firemen's Pavilion in Ferndale. Carroll, who is the author of Near Life Experiences, will help bring his own brand of humor to the event. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. The cost for the evening is $25, and those who dress in the theme will receive a prize at the door.
Among the auction items are the use of a condo on Maui, redwood bark and ancient Roman coins.
The following day, March 26, Carroll will also be present at a brunch at Curley's Grill in Ferndale.
This annual fund-raiser benefits the Ferndale Repertory Theatre. For reservations call 786-5483.
Philosopher to speak
The noted American pragmatist-philosopher Richard Rorty will be at Humboldt State University Friday to deliver a public lecture on the question, "Is science compatible with religious belief?"
Onur Azeri, a graduate student and a lecturer in English, said Rorty, author of Philosophy and Social Hope, is probably the most important living philosopher today. Rorty has consulted with presidents and has spoken before the General Assembly of the United Nations. He is a prolific writer whose essays have appeared in publications ranging from the New York Times and The Nation to the London Review of Books. He is a former professor of philosophy at Princeton and is currently a professor of comparative literature at Stanford.
"He is very literate, very well spoken and he actually works at applying philosophy to some of the higher ideals he feels are important," said Azeri while on a break from his studies. "Those ideals include leftist reform in line with the progressive left of the '20s and '30s. He is very interested in reforming the social injustices that are so prevalent in America today and he thinks of philosophy as a starting point to help solve some of those problems."
Rorty's lecture at HSU is at 3:30 p.m. in the Kate Buchanan Room. Admission is free.
Authors lecture at C/R
Free public lectures will be presented by two northern California writers at the College of the Redwoods campus this week.
The first is Jean Hegland, the author of "Into the Forest," who will speak March 29 from 7-8:30 p.m. A C/R faculty committee chose Hegland's book as its book of the year. A number of courses -- including political science, English and philosophy -- have used the book this year.
The second presenter, Jim Dodge, is the author of "Fup" and other works, and director of creative writing at Humboldt State University. His lecture is March 31.
Seating is limited to 75. Call 476-4370 for more information.
Berg `woman of year'
Patricia Berg of Eureka has been selected by Sen. Wesley Chesbro as Woman of the Year for the 2nd Senate District.
Berg, who has served on the board of directors for the Eureka Twelfth Step House, Humboldt Open Door Clinic, Six Rivers Planned Parenthood and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, will be honored at the annual "Women of the Year" ceremony in Sacramento Monday, March 27.
Berg, who retired as executive director of the Area I Agency on Aging, will be presented with a resolution and introduced on the Senate floor Monday.
Travel writers visit
Eleven members of the Bay Area Travel Writers Association toured Humboldt County for three days this month, dining on seafood delicacies and viewing some of the area's best attractions.
The Humboldt County Convention and Visitors Bureau arranged the press trip, which would hopefully prompt them to write and submit articles about Humboldt County.
Some of the attractions included the new Morris Graves Museum of Fine Arts, lunch at the Samoa Cookhouse and a tour of the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. The writers even were given a tour of the Lost Coast as far south as Cape Mendocino.
The writers and guests were provided complimentary accommodations by hoteliers and innkeepers and area restaurants.
--Reported by Arno Holschuh, Bob Doran, Amanda Lang