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April 20, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

Don't bag on big boxes
Council members take note --Fortuna wants to shop

9 Questions for Dan Hauser

The Weekly Wrap

KILLED: A SWAT team associated with the Eureka Police Department shot and killed 48-year-old Eureka resident Cheri Lyn Moore in her apartment near the corner of Fifth and G streets in downtown Eureka early Friday afternoon, following a two-and-a-half-hour standoff between Moore and the police that drew hundreds of onlookers.

According to the EPD, the incident began when police received a call from an employee of the county Mental Health Department requesting that the agency dispatch officers to check on Moore's well-being. The Mental Health employee told police that Moore had gone off of her regular medication.

When officers arrived at her apartment, located above Heuer's Florist, Moore allegedly brandished a weapon, later identified by witnesses and police radio traffic as a flare gun. She blasted loud music and began tossing various household items from her second story window down to the sidewalk below.

The police department called in reinforcements and cordoned off the block, placing a sniper on the roof of the building across the street. Apparently, there was no further contact between Moore and the police until she was shot: "Attempts by the Crisis Negotiation personnel to speak with the female [Moore] or anyone else in the apartment were unsuccessful," read a press release. However, the Eureka Reporter wrote the next day that a friend of Moore's had been talking with her on the phone outside the apartment throughout the incident, at least until the police told him to hang up.

The SWAT team was sent in at about 12:30 p.m. Bystanders reported hearing around half a dozen gunshots ring out shortly after the team entered the building, and confirmation that the suspect had been killed followed shortly after.

The precise reasoning behind the decision to enter the apartment and confront Moore is unclear, and the EPD is issuing very few details pending results of two investigations: an autopsy that was scheduled to be performed by an out-of-the-area coronary team on Tuesday, and an investigation by the county's Critical Incident Response Team, an interagency law enforcement squad led by the District Attorney's Office. The EPD has said that "core personnel" -- presumably, officers involved in the raid and/or the shooting, were placed on administrative leave, as is customary with police-related shootings.

In the meantime, some residents are questioning whether the shooting was necessary. A vigil for Moore was scheduled for Tuesday night at 6 p.m. outside Eureka City Hall, after which people were invited to address the Eureka City Council on the issue. Late last month, a group called the Coalition for Police Review filed its intent to circulate a petition that would place the formation of an independent Police Review Commission to investigate allegations of misconduct by the EPD. The group will hold a forum on the issue next Thursday, April 27, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., at the Humboldt County Office of Education, 901 Myrtle Ave.

GUINEA PIG: The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to start the non-renewal process on Larry Parker's Williamson Act land conservation contract for his 40-acre ranch in the Tompkins Hill area.

The reason? Mostly because he refuses to sign a new contract, as required by the county's updated guidelines for administering the Williamson Act, a state program that allows tax incentives to ranchers and farmers. This makes Parker the first rancher to be booted from the Williamson Act based on objections to the new guidelines since the county approved the guidelines last year.

When Parker bought the ranch in May 2005, it came with a contract signed in 1980 by Marvin and Isabel Stapp. Under the county's new guidelines, new purchasers have to sign new contracts. "I'm happy with the old contract I inherited," he said at Tuesday's hearing. The only difference between the old contract and the new one, he says, is a provision in the new one that essentially says the county can at any time unilaterally tweak it in response to changes in state law. He calls that open-ended. "Who would sign such a thing?"

It's an argument that was made vociferously during the past year as some ranchers, their attorneys and county staff battled over the nuances of the guidelines. But a county staff member said Parker wasn't making the argument himself until after a decision earlier this year, in the Tooby Ranch case, determined that "a contract is a contract." He was willing to sign the new contract, she said, until "some people in the community started advising him not to." And if the county lets one guy sneak past the new guidelines, then all the new purchasers will try to ignore the new guidelines, she said.

Parker said he did get an e-mail from someone suggesting he was "the guinea pig for signing the new contracts." But he said he just wants to farm.

That brings up another issue the county's has with his ranch. At the hearing, county staff detailed how before Parker bought the ranch it had been neglected because of illness in the Stapp family. The Williamson Act says a contracted property has to be productive and show commercial gain. The Stapp ranch was in non-compliance for six years. So the ranch could have been booted anyway.

John Butts of the county assessor's office said Parker has cleaned up the place, fixed fences, put a couple of horses on the place, and as of this week there were six cows grazing on the land. Parker said he's recycled thousands of pounds of junk metal, lined up deals with dairies and jam makers, and otherwise worked hard to bring the place up to snuff. "My wife and my kids ... want to have animals, we want to grow crops, we want to live a farm life," Parker said.

If the non-renewal proceeds, over the next 10 years Parker's taxes will gradually increase, from their present $193 annually under the Williamson Act contract (it's an incentive program to keep agriculture alive, essentially), to (by today's fair market share value of the ranch) $6,150 by 2016, when the contract officially terminates.

DRAT THAT CLOUD: Like Pigpen's black cloud of fly-speckled grit that follows him wherever he goes, the Evergreen Pulp Mill's past keeps hanging around. On April 12, the Environmental Protection Agency released its national Toxics Release Inventory of data from 2004.

The EPA puts out this cheery news on industry emissions every year, and sometimes it is cheery. The EPA data shows that, overall, emissions are declining. However, every year, the pulp mill out on the Samoa Peninsula seems to star in the top 10 ranking of California polluters. In 2004 the mill, then owned by Stockton Pacific Enterprises, released 2.3 million pounds of toxics into the environment -- second only to an outfit called Chemical Waste Management in Kettleman City, Kings County (12.2 million pounds). The mill polluted more than the oil refineries in Martinez.

Stockton Pacific was fined last year for the mess it made in Humboldt County's water before it left the mill in the care of new owner Evergreen Pulp Inc. And ever since, Evergreen Pulp Inc. has been busy swatting at a cloud of protest over the mill's continuing expulsion of excess emissions. Evergreen has been given until April 2007 to clean up its act.

BAT SCRATCH FEVER: The County Department of Public Health would like to remind residents, domestic pets and livestock that rabies is going around and to be mindful of wild animals acting strangely in your neighborhood. Following a rabid fox attack that occurred in Willow Creek two weeks ago, more rabid animals have been seen and killed in the county. The public health branch reports that another aggressive fox was discovered in a Willow Creek neighborhood last week and was shot by a concerned citizen. In Fortuna, both a bat and a fox have been tested positive for rabies, and a Miranda woman is undergoing a series of shots after a rabid bat scratched her last month.

The county offers four easy tips to protect yourself and loved ones from rabid animals. One, avoid eye contact with wild or stray animals. Two, report animal bites to the animal control officer. Three, tell children not to pet wild or stray animals. Four, bring pet food indoors at night. Questions about rabies should be directed to the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Environmental Health. Contact the Vector Control Desk at (707) 268-2203, the main desk at (707) 445-6215, or toll free at 1 (800) 963-9241.


Don't bag on big boxes
Council members take note --Fortuna wants to shop


Rub-a-dub dub, three men in a tub, and who do you think they be? A bookeeper, a CEO and a grocery store checker will sit beside the butcher and shoemaker already on the Fortuna City Council, but maybe the more critical question about the newly elected City Council members is who they are not.

Most importantly, they're not opposed to big box stores coming to Fortuna -- a key issue for voters in the Friendly City.

Tax preparer Pat Whitchurch, former Palco CEO John Campbell (who was named mayor Monday night) and incumbent Dean Glaser, a retired grocery store checker, were the top vote-getters in last week's city election. To some degree, each candidate has voiced approval for the proposal to bring a major retailer to town. Glaser and Campbell came out strongly in favor, while Whitchurch took a pro-business tack, saying if land is available for big boxes then let them come.

In recent years, as Sacramento developer FHK Development Co. has eyed Fortuna as a possible haven for a Wal-Mart, Lowe's or Home Depot, shopping has become one of the central concerns in the 11,000-person city, where water and sewer services and annexation of outlying neighborhoods, like Loop Road and Mill Street, are also issues.

Incumbent Mayor Odell Shelton was the only council candidate in the recent election cool to the much-discussed topic of a large retail store, calling Wal-Mart a predator that creates low-wage jobs, more of which Fortuna does not need.

"I'm worried," said Sylvia Jutila, a member of Fortuna First, a group formed with the goal of warning citizens to the dangers of Wal-Mart. "People don't realize the damage it will do to the town. It will just perpetuate poverty that taxpayers will have to subsidize."

In particular, says Shelton, ramped-up fire protection will be necessary, along with two more police officers, whose starting salaries are $50,000 each.

Some say Shelton's loss at the ballot box illustrates Fortuna's rising fever for low-cost shopping.

The longtime public official placed fifth out of six council contenders, garnering only 11 percent of the votes. This election, however, brought out 45 percent of voters, scorching past the typical 25 percent turnout for a Fortuna city election.

On Monday, he said too much of the campaign's focus was on big boxes.

"But did it cost me the campaign? I don't know," Shelton said. "It shows that it's time for a change. I gave it my best for 12 years."

The bigger election issue, Shelton said, should have been the General Plan update, which is scheduled to wrap up in April 2007.

The long-range land use plan will include any rezoning of the 75-acre, Palco-owned parcel where FHK Development Co. has proposed plans for a large retailer. The site, home to a lumber mill that closed last June and took 100 jobs with it, is currently zoned for heavy industry.

The council will decide if and how to rezone the property, possibly incorporating a mix of light industrial, commercial and residential zones. An environmental impact report of the parcel will also be included in the final plan, as well as an economic blight study.

Councilmember Doug Strehl, owner of a shoe store on Main Street, won't say how he feels about bringing a big retailer to town. "It's not worth talking about until we have a project," he said, "and there is no project. We won't know anything until 2007."

If the council creates a commercial zone on the Palco site, then big box talks will likely begin in earnest. For now, the project is on ice.

Still, it's something Strehl must consider, both as a councilman and a business owner. He's already learned that as bigger stores come to the county, little shops must learn to adapt.

When the Bayshore Mall opened in Eureka in the 1980s, Strehl knew he could not compete strictly in the shoe sales market. So he narrowed his focus, apprenticed with a cobbler, and opened a shoe repair shop within his store. His business survived -- thrived, even -- and over the 20-plus years he also started peddling orthopedics. Others weren't so lucky, or business-savvy. Thirteen stores closed down in Fortuna shortly after the Bayshore Mall opened.

Strehl's is "the perfect small-business bob-and-weave success story," said David Reed, coordinator for the Fortuna Business Improvement District, which represents 650 businesses in Fortuna, from Internet-based firms to large corporate chains like Safeway.

Other small businesses would be well-advised to follow Strehl's example should a big box come to the city, Reed said.

And while FBID will not take a pro or con stance on the issue, Reed says that a number of businesses have voiced their concerns to his organization. A few others though, including a vacuum-repair shop, have declared their support of a Wal-Mart, which could conceivably boost their business.

But Reed sees the bigger issue as job creation.

"It's great we're talking about retail, but we also should think about light technical and light manufacturing" -- industries that create better paying, trade-specific jobs, Reed said. He explained that when a retailer opens, it doesn't necessarily attract employees to an area, but usually pulls workers from other retail shops.

Robert Johnson, owner of Green's Fortuna Pharmacy, said his business has weathered the arrival of Rite-Aid, and when a new Walgreens is built on South Fortuna Boulevard, it won't hurt his Main Street business -- it'll probably just attract new customers to his store.

"It's only for the better, because they won't offer the same customer service we do," Johnson said, adding that Green's makes 40-60 home deliveries a day. Otherwise, he said he doesn't discuss the "political side" of the debate.

At this stage in the planning, the coming South Fortuna Boulevard shopping center will include Walgreens, Starbucks, Redwood Capital Bank, Blockbuster, a pizza parlor, a large restaurant and a "clothing or imports store," according to Assistant City Planner Stephen Avis. Construction will begin soon and will likely be complete in late 2006.

Avis said plans for the shopping center, which will be called Strong's Creek Plaza (after the creek that runs through the long-vacant property), were drafted by Ferndale architect David Pierce. The design will have a "distinct Fortuna feeling" -- specifically, a wooden, craftsman look incorporating detailed cornices and knee-braces.

The big picture for Fortuna is that there is not much room to expand. "The city is pretty well built out," Avis said. The remaining vacant parcels are owned by families who have made it clear that they will not sell in their lifetimes. Other landowners, he suspects, plan to sell when property prices are even higher.

The 75-acre Palco site is possibly F-town's last big opportunity for change, and Avis hopes the residents realize their options are not limited to the big box.

"The community doesn't always have to be in a state of reacting to the proposals of a developer," Avis said. Instead, he suggests that the residents come up with ideas for what they want in Fortuna and try to attract those developers.

For instance, an amusement park has been floated as an idea. Avis said that surveys focused on development in Fortuna have been circulated to Fortuna High students. Ideas are also being solicited from Hispanic residents and senior citizens, two of Fortuna's fast growing demographics.

On May 3, the city will host a community workshop to brainstorm ideas for how best to use the city's remaining vacant parcels, including the Palco mill site.



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