North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

April 4, 2002

Two elections next week

Kinetic Museum disbanded?

Klamath river "endangered"

Property taxes due

Shareholders vote yes

Brown wins GOP nod

Two elections next week

The March 5 county election is behind us, but in two small cities the fun is about to begin. There are city council contests in Trinidad and Fortuna next Tuesday, April 9.

In Fortuna, three council seats are open, three incumbents wish to keep them and they are facing three challengers.

The election debate has centered on classic municipal issues: development and budget priorities. Development is happening faster in Fortuna than in any other incorporated area of the county and it is not likely to slacken anytime soon. The population, 10,600, is expected to grow by at least 50 percent before the city runs out of buildable space.

Challenger Gary Kramer has made controlling growth the cornerstone of his campaign. In his candidate's statement, he said he would "do everything to preserve Fortuna's quality of life, rural character and history." Fellow challenger Deborah August is arguing that too much emphasis has been placed on putting commercial activity downtown.

Compensation for Fortuna city workers has become the other big issue. Fortuna's municipal employees, especially police, have long complained that their pay lags behind that of their peers in cities of similar size. All three challengers and incumbent Odell Shelton have said they would support some increase. Two incumbents, Phil Nyberg and Cliff Chapman, have said there isn't enough money in Fortuna's budget to match cities like Arcata or Eureka.

City Manager Dale Nieman has weighed in, supporting Nyberg and Chapman's argument. He said Fortuna only receives $126 per resident in taxes each year. Eureka receives $306 per capita per year -- so they can afford to pay as much as 35 percent more.

Nieman himself has become an issue in the election as well. Challenger Dean Glaser said Nieman has become too powerful, using his control over the flow of information to the council to further his own agenda.

"You do not allow a vicious dog to roam the neighborhood without controls, and at this time the manager is a vicious dog," he said.

Glaser's campaign against Nieman is not without precedent. Similar allegations cost former Eureka city manager Harvey Rose his job in 2000.

Nieman remains philosophical. "Well, I guess he's free to say what he wants," he said.

The candidates:

Cliff Chapman: Incumbent, 62. Executive director of the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce. Supports current city policies on growth and employee compensation.

Odell Shelton: Incumbent, 58. Owns Shelton's Lube. Wants to judge each development project on its individual merits. Open to increasing employee compensation.

Phil Nyberg: Mayor and incumbent, 63 years. Veterinarian. Stands behind the policies he has helped craft.

Deborah August: Challenger, 51. Real estate broker. Wants to shift commercial development away from downtown. Sees increasing police salaries as a public safety issue.

Gary Kramer: Challenger, 56. Retired. Wants to do more to control growth and preserve Fortuna's rural character. Believes municipal employee wages should be around state average.

Dean Glaser: Challenger, 57. Owner, Fortuna Marine. Wants to reduce the amount of influence city manager exerts on council, especially on development agenda. Supports increased police compensation.

In Trinidad four candidates -- Greg Bowman, James Webb, Patricia Morales and Greg McCormick -- will compete for three seats vacated by incumbents. That means there will be only one loser, right? Right, but things could get complicated if the loser is someone other than McCormick, who decided he'd rather not run for office but withdrew too late for his choice to be reflected on the ballot.

"About a week after I decided to go for it, my wife and I found out we were about to have our second kid," said McCormick, a 28-year-old Caltrans engineer.

City Clerk Alex Brehm said, "To his credit, McCormick learned that serving on the council is more than just showing up to meetings." Nonetheless, since McCormick's name will appear on the ballot, there's a possibility that he will be among the winners. If that happens, another election for his seat might have to be held.

Kinetic Museum disbanded?

The Kinetic Sculpture Race Museum, a monument to the achievements of impractical dreamers, may soon become a victim of its own refusal to be sensible.

The museum, which houses outlandish amphibious vehicles used in past Kinetic Sculpture races, is being kicked out of its space in Ferndale's Peers Building. Might the museum's pieces be scattered to the four winds?

That grim possibility is looking ever more likely, said Hobart Brown, founder of both the museum and the race behind it. Brown owns the Peers Building, a former car dealership, with Oakland resident Bill Neil.

Neil wants to sell and Brown said he has reluctantly agreed to go along with it.

"It breaks my heart that it has to go," he said.

Prospects for a new home look dim. Brown said he had some ideas -- "Some zillionaire would buy a piece of land, build a metal barn, put in a toilet and electricity" -- but admitted they weren't likely to be realized anytime soon.

So what's an eccentric artist to do with his disorganized collection of enormous pedal-powered contraptions? Send them to Australia, of course.

"I've been going down to Perth for the last eight years to help them with their race," Brown said. "I called them and I said, `I've got a bunch of these things coming up without homes.' They said they want me to send them over there. I'm looking at putting three or four of them in a shipping container."

Others may be sent to less exotic locales: Some will be housed in Brown's Ferndale art gallery, while others are being offered to people interested in using them in this year's race. A new Kinetic Sculpture Race in Baltimore is also interested.

But any way you slice it, the museum will cease to be. That's a shame, Brown said, because it's intentional chaos is unique among museums.

"There's no other like it. It's isn't organized. That means it doesn't take control away from the viewer. It tantalizes! There's no gold rope, nothing explaining it. It's somewhere between an Easter egg hunt and Willy Wonka's workshop."

The museum's essentially disorganized nature may not be the mainstream's idea of what a educational experience should be, Brown said. But he remains convinced that he -- and his way of thinking -- will prevail.

"The museum shows a lack of control, which is what were all about. It is a philosophy that isn't yet well received all over the world. But someday it will be."

Klamath river "endangered"

U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson (second from right) joined Tim McKay (center) of the Northcoast Environmental Center at the Woodley Island Marina on Tuesday to announce that the Klamath River has been named one of the nation's most endangered rivers. The designation, by the conservation group American Rivers, comes as the fate of the Klamath is being decided by the federal government. The Bureau of Reclamation, which controls the river's flows, has released a draft plan that would give more water to irrigators and less to the river. That draft has come under fire from the state Department of Fish and Game, which says it would hurt protected fish species. A final plan is expected soon.


Property taxes due

Think you have until the 15th to pay your taxes? Think again.

The second installment of Humboldt County property taxes are due April 10 and as of the beginning of the month there was more then $22 million left to be collected.

Individuals who have recently purchased property may not have received a tax bill. Failure to receive a bill will not exempt landowners from a late fee, however.

If you are unsure about whether or not you owe tax, call Humboldt County Treasurer and Tax Collector Stephen Strawn at 476-2450.

Shareholders vote yes

Shareholders in Fortuna's Eel River Sawmills have voted to approve the sale of their company to a Nevada corporation.

The approval was all but a foregone conclusion, because most of the sawmill's stock is owned by the Melvin and Grace McLean Trust. The trust has backed the sale to the Eel River Acquisition Corp. as a way out of the company's money troubles.

The company has struggled for years and laid off the last of its sawmill employees about two months ago. The only employees who still have jobs are in management or at the company's Fairhaven Power Plant.

Brown wins GOP nod

After a lengthy counting process, Lake County Supervisor Ron Brown has been declared the winner of the 1st District Republican state Assembly primary.

Brown beat Mendocino Deputy District Attorney Tim Stoen by just 94 votes after the last batch of absentee ballots was counted in Sonoma County.

Stoen, a moderate, campaigned as the Republican candidate most likely to win a traditionally Democratic seat in the fall election. Brown, a self-proclaimed conservative, campaigned on traditional Republican themes.

He faces Patty Berg, the Eurekan who won the Democratic nomination. Berg is heavily favored.

But Brown said he expects to succeed -- with a little help from another competitor. He plans to include Green Party candidate Doug Riley-Thron in the election as much as possible.

"I've made a deal where I won't appear at any debates where he can't appear," Brown said. "He's going to take a lot of votes from her."




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