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April 8, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Homeland Security hits CenterArts
Once again, a performance involving Cuban musicians is canceled

On the waterfront
HumBoats vs. HSU



NEW CHILDREN'S COUNSELING CENTER: Local pediatrician Christopher Cody announced the opening April 1 of Covered Bridge, a counseling facility for children at 2367 Harrison Ave. in Eureka. "It has been virtually impossible to get kids, especially on Medi-Cal, in to any kind of counseling. The backlog at [county] Mental Health and for private providers is many months, and seems to be getting longer," Cody wrote in a letter to the Humboldt-Del Norte County Medical Society. The new center, where Cody serves as owner and medical director, will take Medi-Cal, as well as other insurances, and will offer services ranging from therapy for anxiety, behavior disorders, depression, eating disorders and attention deficit disorder. For information or appointments, call 443-1130.

DREDGE REPORT: Frank Reichmuth, a longtime official with the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, recently contacted Pacific Lumber Co. CEO Robert Manne with a question. Was a verbal commitment the company made two years ago to provide financial and technical assistance to dredge the flood-plagued Freshwater and Elk watersheds east of Eureka still on the table? In a March 10 letter, Manne gave his answer: Yes, provided residents of the two watersheds drop litigation aimed at forcing the company to pay property damages related to the flooding, which they believe is due to logging-related erosion on PALCO timberlands upstream of their lands. Eureka attorney Bill Bertain, who is representing the property owners, could not be reached for comment. Last fall, 64 residents of the Elk River watershed signed a petition demanding that the water board order PALCO to dredge the sediment-choked waterway.

IN OTHER PALCO NEWS The company last week asked state and federal agencies to consider sweeping revisions to its habitat conservation plan so that it could gain greater access to wooded areas along streams and on steep slopes. PALCO is also seeking greater freedom to operate during wet weather. Meantime, last Friday, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board sent a "cleanup and abatement order" to the company. The order lays out a series of deadlines PALCO is supposed to meet in coming months to address logging-related erosion in the Elk River watershed.

HSU SLASHES SPORTS BUDGETS: Faced with unrelenting fiscal pressure, Humboldt State University announced last week that it would cut its athletics budgets by 10 percent, or $226,000. The cuts will affect all sports teams, but hardest hit this year will be women's rowing, men's and women's track, and men's and women's cross country, which will see their coaching positions reduced to half-time. (Women's softball and men's and women's soccer have already been reduced to part-time coaching positions.) All 12 sports programs will suffer additional cuts, including reductions in graduate assistant positions, travel and support staff. Vice President Steven Butler has proposed reductions of 10 to 17 percent in all "student-support" areas, including sports, counseling, health services, tutoring, career planning and police.

KMART SUES COUNTY: Kmart, the discount retailer that emerged from bankruptcy last year, is suing Humboldt County and some 500 other counties and cities across the country, claiming they assessed the store's property at too high a price and thus overcharged on property taxes in 2001 and 2002. Humboldt County Tax Collector Steven Strawn said Kmart is contesting $23,000 in payments it owes; the county is fighting the suit. (The Wall Street Journal reported that the total amount contested -- $8.6 million -- is "just a little more" than the $8 million the company paid in loans to retain two chief executives in the year before the bankruptcy filing.) A hearing on the tax lawsuit is scheduled for April 17 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Chicago.

PROPERTY TAXES DUE: If you're not Kmart, remember to pay your property taxes by April 12. Payments postmarked by that date will be accepted, but in order to be postmarked, they need to be mailed by the mailbox pick-up time, the tax collector's office notes. Late payments will be assessed a 10 percent penalty, plus $15 per parcel. Failure to receive a bill does not excuse late fees. Questions? Call 476-2450.

BYE-BYE, BBC: The Federal Communications Commission last week gave the green light to Oregon-based Jefferson Public Radio's purchase of local BBC outlet KZPN. The decision comes after a letter-writing campaign that sought to prevent the sale, which would remove the 24-hour BBC World Service currently offered by the Bayside station. On Tuesday JPN Executive Director Ron Kramer extended an olive branch to his opponents: "There were clearly passions associated with this, and we think that's fine," he said. "We salute passion about public radio." Kramer said that the network would now decide whether to run its "Rhythm and News" or its "News and Information" service over its new local outlet, and added that he welcomed feedback. See for contact information. Paul Cienfuegos, a local activist who helped found Friends of the BBC, said his group would seek to appeal the FCC's decision.

HOUSE ACTS ON RAILROAD LOAN: Included in a major transportation bill passed by Congress last week was forgiveness of $12 million in loans to the North Coast Railroad, Rep. Mike Thompson announced. Thompson, a member of the House Transportation Committee, included the loan assistance in the final House version of the Transportation Equity Act bill. The legislation is now set to go to a conference committee for negotiation between the House and the Senate.

HOME DEPOT TO FORTUNA? The possibility of a new big box store opening in Fortuna was the subject of a packed City Council meeting on Monday, where the "overwhelming majority" of the audience spoke in favor of the proposed development, according to City Manager Duane Rigge. Developer Fred Katz, a partner in FHK Cos. of Sacramento, presented a report to council members on the feasibility of his 600,000-square-foot retail project, which city officials estimated would bring in $1.6 million in annual sales tax revenues to the city. A project consultant said that one of the two large retail spaces in the plan would be a home improvement type store, but no retailers have yet signed on as tenants. Katz plans to build the development on Pacific Lumber Co.'s property at Kenmar Road and Highway 101. And, oh yes, he wants the city to help finance the infrastructure improvements necessary for the project.

FIGHTING FOR SALMON: Supervisor Jill Geist's quixotic crusade to re-activate a 45-year-old county contract with the Department of the Interior took another step forward on Tuesday, after the Board of Supervisors voted to send a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton demanding that she release from reservoirs near Weaverville 50,000 acre-feet of Trinity River water. In 1959, the county signed a contract with the federal government that awarded the county that amount of water from the Trinity Reservoir for "beneficial use" of Humboldt County residents, but the water has never been delivered. Today, the county hopes to use the water to protect salmon in the Klamath/Trinity watershed. The county sent a similar letter to the federal government last year but got no response. Geist is writing an op-ed piece on the subject for the Sacramento Bee.

Homeland Security hits CenterArts
Once again, a performance involving Cuban musicians is canceled


[photo of the band Cubanismo]For the second time this year a concert scheduled by CenterArts, a performing arts presenter associated with Humboldt State University, has been canceled, and for the same reason: More aggressive enforcement of immigration rules, particularly as they pertain to Cubans, by the federal Homeland Security Department.

Not only has the May 11 concert by the all-star Cuban jazz band Cubanismo [photo at right] been called off due to visa problems, the group's entire 35-city tour has been nixed.

"On the day they were to pick up their visas the U.S. Embassy in Havana told them that their visa requests were denied," said John Lochen, the booking agent for the Rosebud Agency, which arranged the Cubanismo tour. "As far as I can tell no Cuban artists are being granted visas to perform in the U.S. at this time."

In January CenterArts canceled a show with Spanish flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia because of visa problems. In that case it was a delay in processing a work permit for the band's bass player, Allain Rodriguez, a Spaniard who was born in Cuba.

The heightened concern about terrorism is no doubt part of the reason for the cancelations. But the fact that Cubans in particular are having trouble entering the country likely has more to do with the Bush administration's antipathy for Cuban leader Fidel Castro -- and the steps it has taken to reverse what had been a trend toward normalizing relations with the socialist nation.

Cubanismo has toured the United States every year for 11 years. As a result of the cancelation, "The public suffers; the presenters suffer, the agency suffers," Lochen said.

"But the real burden," he went on, "is borne by the artists. They lose out on a source of income that they count on to support their families. And they are denied the opportunity to perform their art."

Given the situation, CenterArts director Roy Furshpan has held off on booking another Cuban group for the 2004-05 season. "The [shows by Cuban musicians] are not feasible because management companies and agents are not willing to handle them. The reality is that you can spend a lot of time and money booking a tour that probably won't happen."

Timing is crucial in the visa application process. Forms cannot be filed more than six months in advance, but with added scrutiny due to terrorism fears, it can take that much time to process an application.

"We don't generally apply for visas; that's left to artists or management," Furshpan explained. "But what I'm hearing from artists, even those from Canada, is that with the stepped-up screening process it can takes months and months. But with a fast-track fee, you pay $1,000 and you can get your visa processed more quickly."

Furshpan ended up paying the added fee, along with several other presenters, to ensure that members of a Canadian circus company could get their papers done on time for a U.S. tour.

"The intent of the immigration law is, unfortunately, probably necessary," said Furshpan, "but the implementation needs to be thought out better. As it is, it's getting harder and harder to bring international artists into this country. The impact is that our government is limiting what culture we can be exposed to."

On the waterfront
HumBoats vs. HSU


[photo of Jay Dottle standing in front of waterfront, boats in background]To some, Humboldt State University's planned Boating Instruction and Safety Center (BISC) -- a 16,000-square-foot, two-story facility slated for a spot just west of the Adorni Center -- no doubt seems an attractive and logical addition to the ongoing effort to revitalize Eureka's waterfront.

But to Jay Dottle, who has owned and operated HumBoats for the last 10 years [photo at right] , the prospect of HSU's move into the neighborhood seems an invasion -- one that he fears may spell the end for his small Woodley Island boat rental company.

"They're like the Wal-Mart of boating to us," Dottle said Monday.

The university has already secured most of the permits for the building and plans to break ground in October. When completed, the facility will house the HSU rowing team and other watercraft classes. It will also serve as the new home base for aquatics programs open to the public and run by CenterActivities, a branch of HSU's nonprofit corporation, the University Center.

Despite the project's momentum, Dottle is getting ready to mount a campaign that he hopes will stop the project in its tracks.

His main concern is CenterActivities, which rents kayaks, canoes and boats to the public just like HumBoats, but because of its HSU location has always been at a distance. The BISC may change all that.

Dottle has long had a problem with CenterActivities because it has an advantage he doesn't have: Subsidization. Its purchase of equipment is partly funded by a grant from the California Department of Boating and Waterways (DBW), which collects licensing fees from owners of all boats and ships registered in the state.

A comparison of the two services' pricing tables illustrates Dottle's concern. If a boater wishes to rent a canoe for a day, Dottle's price is $60. CenterActivities rents essentially the same canoe for $25. The difference for a full weekend is even more dramatic: $35 at CenterActivities, more than $100 at HumBoats.

"Nonprofits certainly do serve certain needs," he said. "But when the government subsidizes them, and allows them to serve the public at below-market rates, I have a problem with that."

In the past, some of that price disparity has been evened out by the fact that Dottle is located on the water. Customers may simply drive to his Woodley Island dock, rent a kayak and hit the bay immediately. Customers who rent from CenterActivities must haul the equipment from Arcata to a launching dock.

[architectural rendering of proposed boating, instruction and safety center, elevation from bay]

But with the construction of the BISC, Dottle fears his competitive advantage will be erased. Although CenterActivities has assured him that it will not be renting boats to the public at their new location -- a prime spot for walk-up business -- he believes that HSU's own documentation for the project tells a different story.

A 1998 Engineering Feasibility Report on the BISC notes that HSU's Master Plan -- currently under revision -- called for the removal of the university's boat storage facility, where rental boats are currently kept. The report lists the planned elimination of that facility as one of the principal reasons that the BISC was needed.

In addition, Dottle said, the BISC's imposing size leads him to believe that the university must be planning to do more with the facility than simply offer water safety classes.

"I find it hard to believe that a safety and instruction facility needs to take up that much space on the waterfront," he said.

Jane Rogers, spokesperson for HSU, said Tuesday that though final, precise plans for what the university would put in the building had not been completed, she did believe that the CenterActivities operation would contain a rental component that would serve the public.

Rogers added that the university and the city have been talking about the proposed building for years, and that the project has the overwhelming support of the public. "The response we're getting is that the community is really excited about this," she said.

Eureka Mayor Peter La Vallee said Tuesday that he hoped that Dottle's concerns could be addressed through cooperation with the university.

"I'm just glad we're going to have some development on the waterfront, and I hope that the university and Mr. Dottle can work out some sort of mutually beneficial relationship," he said.

But Dottle, who has talked with both HSU President Rollin Richmond and University Center Executive Director Burt Nordstrom about the matter, does not believe the university is interested in such a relationship. Last week, he wrote State Sen. Wes Chesbro with his concerns and in the coming days plans to meet with an attorney to review his legal options.

"It's beyond mediation," he said. "I've met with everyone, and I'm meetinged out. It looks like litigation is going to be the next step."



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