North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

April 26, 2001

Sheriff won't return pot

Ward's to become Target

Klamath Symposium set

Midwives program axed

Marshes in McKinleyville?

Manufacturing in the squeeze

Capitol Steps to arrive

Low-income housing grants

Utility tax change

Water board meets

About those $1 checks

Grand Jury wants you

Afternoon with authors

AEDC wins award

Bicycle library?

Sheriff won't return pot

Chris Robert Giauque, a medical marijuana patient, provider and advocate, made the news again last week as he was arrested minutes before his pot give-away on the courthouse steps.

Giauque planned to distribute half a pound of marijuana to anyone who could produce a medical marijuana prescription at 4:20 p.m. on April 20 4/20 but was arrested 20 minutes beforehand. About 50 people stood outside the courthouse to promote marijuana, medical and otherwise. Giauque was released on bail later that day.

420 is slang for smoking marijuana and April 20 has become an unofficial celebration of the drug.

It isn't the first time Giauque and law enforcement have tangled over Giauque's use, distribution and cultivation of marijuana. He was arrested two years ago for the transportation of one ounce for which he had a medical prescription. He has since been trying to have that pot returned.

Sheriff Dennis Lewis has refused to return the pot, even though Giauque was exonerated at his trial and Judge Bruce Watson ordered the drug returned. Lewis claims the conflict between federal and state law leaves him no choice but to keep the pot. Watson addressed the issue during Giauque's trial and ruled that in the case of medical marijuana, there is no conflict.

Lewis was due in court April 24, after press time, to face a motion by Giauque's attorneys to have him declared in contempt of court.

Ward's to become Target

Target, a national department store chain based in Minneapolis, has announced plans to take over the Montgomery Ward's site at 2525 4th St. in Eureka.

Target, a self-described "upscale" chain retailer, will be filling in one of the big holes in Eureka's retail market. The other is JC Penney, which is closing its store in the Bayshore Mall.

Ward's closed in March following the company's announcement in December that it was filing bankruptcy.

Klamath symposium set

Humboldt State University is presenting a symposium on issues surrounding the Klamath River May 22-25. The symposium will span the spectrum of Klamath issues, from water use rights to tribal concerns to environmental contaminants and the effect of all on the several threatened species that rely on the Klamath.

The timing couldn't be better. A recent decision by the Bureau of Reclamation not to divert water from the river to farmers in eastern Oregon and northeastern California has come under attack from both farmers and some government groups.

The farmers have filed a lawsuit alleging that the bureau's decision was illegal in that it ignored the impacts on them. Environmental and commercial fishing groups who have intervened on behalf of the government were joined last week by the Yurok tribe; the farmers have been joined by the county of Klamath in Oregon and Modoc and Siskiyou counties in California.

Representatives of all those groups will be present at the May symposium and will have access to scientific expertise and an open forum to discuss the complex issues. Parties interested in taking part in the symposium should call HSU at 826-3731.

Midwives program axed

Eureka's only midwifery service with 24-hour coverage received notice last week that it would soon be forced to close.

The Midwives of St. Joseph Hospital clinic, which employed four midwives, was told April 17 that it had one month left to operate. Sources inside the clinic speculated the closure may be due to concerns about profitability or the lack of doctors willing to provide medical backup. Backup had been provided by Dr. Scott Gavin of the Center for Women's Health Care, but Gavin is retiring.

St. Joseph Hospital said in a press release that the hospital supports midwifery but thinks the current structure of how midwives are providing care puts them in a "difficult position." The press release said that the "preferred model" was for midwives to be independent with affiliated physicians or part of a physician's practice not working directly for the hospital.

The closure comes months after St. Joseph divested itself of a number of physicians' groups throughout the county it had purchased in recent years, including the Center for Women's Health Care. Most of the groups, like the midwifery clinic, proved to be a financial burden on St. Joseph's, which has lost money in recent years.

Marshes in McKinleyville?

The world-renowned marsh system used to treat Arcata's waste water may get a sister in McKinleyville.

The McKinleyville Community Services District is investigating the possibility of building wetlands as a means of dealing with wastewater quality problems. Tests have shown that McKinleyville's treated wastewater, or effluent, has increased concentrations of ammonia. The increased toxicity could be due to the dry weather this winter, which reduced the amount of rainwater flowing into MCSD's treatment ponds.

The MCSD owns land adjacent to the treatment facilities that could be used for the construction of treatment wetlands but has not yet formally studied the idea. An assessment of wetlands may be part of this year's action plan, which will be voted on in May.

Manufacturing in the squeeze

In the long run, Humboldt County's economy is in the process of diversifying, spreading into new and expanding sectors like tourism and high-tech services. But in the short run, the county is still dependent on manufacturing for its economic well-being and manufacturers, especially timber concerns, are in a tough spot.

"Manufacturing up here has been squeezed," said Steve Hackett, professor of economics at Humboldt State University and executive director of the Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County. "Demand for their products is declining and their costs of production are going up," he said.

"Their profitability is suffering. You might have firms that limp along in the short term, but how long are they going to make it?"

That question has been answered for Eel River Sawmills. The Fortuna-based firm has publicly stated that it will shut down May 31 if it is unable to sell some of its assets. A decline in the market for wood products and increased costs for the logs the mill uses have driven the company into debt, according to President Dennis Scott in an interview in the April 19 Humboldt Beacon.

Manufacturing jobs are important because "they pay better" than other jobs, Hackett said. "A manufacturing worker might make $30,000 plus health and retirement benefits, whereas a retail worker might only make $12,000 to $18,000. Those high-paying craft jobs are very important in an economy like this," he said.

They're also important because they inject new money into Humboldt's economy, he said.

"Income comes into the community from the sale of goods or services that are exported out of the community," he said. When that new money is spent at local merchants, it helps pay the wages of the people who own the shop, the people who work in the shop and the people making the product.

That's why it's important to buy local, Hackett said.

"When I buy groceries, part of that money becomes someone else's income. When they spend that money locally, some of it stays locally," eventually making it back to the person who originally bought the product.

The broader effect of Humboldt's manufacturing problems has yet to be felt because employees are still receiving paychecks even Eel River's crisis won't ripple through the local economy until after the closure. Unemployment actually dropped during March to 6.7 percent from February's 7.2 percent. The job market was led by increases in hospitality, farm work and financial services.

There's still a significant new drain on the Humboldt economy, Hackett said PG&E. The utility's problems are having several negative effects on Humboldt County. The company owes power generators, including Eel River Sawmills, for electricity delivered months ago and it hasn't paid all its taxes to the county.

"But the biggest factor," Hackett said, "is the month-to-month loss of spending power by people who have to spend a lot on their energy bill. That's money that would have been spent on the local economy that's now being exported."

There is some good news for Humboldt's future. The tourism industry looks to be on track for another record year (In the News, April 5). And if the national economy continues it recent cool performance, that could actually help North Coast tourism, Hackett said.

"You'd think vacations are a luxury good, so that it would be the first thing people give up," he said. "But we're a more modest vacation destination," and as people give up their trips to Tahiti, they may point their SUV toward Humboldt.

Capitol Steps to arrive

[photo of Capitol Steps comedy truope]ELAINE NEWPORT, PRODUCER OF THE POLITICAL COMEDY troupe the Capitol Steps, describes herself as a "raging moderate" -- but she admitted she did have a favorite in this year's election campaign.

"We were sort of rooting for Bush because we thought he'd be funnier," she said in a telephone interview from Washington.

The Capitol Steps, a troupe of former congressional staffers who have turned against their bosses and now make a living ridiculing them, will perform next week at Humboldt State University.

"Both sides in politics get a little ridiculous at times," Newport said, but "one side is funnier than the other a lot of the time." That's why the troupe (which contains roughly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats) was secretly pleased by Bush's win.

"He has a lot of potential because he's turning out to be more of an ideologue than we had thought. Anyone who stirs up controversy and conversation is fun," she said. "And he has the whole potential for the malapropisms and the wild college days coming back to haunt him."

Not that they would have spared a Democratic president -- or have been sparing former President Clinton. Newport said Clinton was a godsend during his tenure, quipping that several of the new jobs Clinton liked to boast about creating were as comedians making fun of him. "And fortunately he hung on in the news for a while afterwards," Newport said.

In fact, there's very little that they can't make fun of, Newport said.

"Some things are tough -- wars, floods, stuff like that. But in almost every story there's a politician that's tripping over their words or trying to grab the camera."

The Capitol Steps will be in Arcata May 3. See this week's Calendar for details.

Low-income housing grants

Humboldt County has received more large grants for low-income housing.

Two grants totaling $650,000 were awarded by the California Department of Housing and Community Development. The county received $500,000 to promote owner-occupied homes while the Redwood Community Action Agency will have $150,000 to spend on mobile home repair. Both grants will be administered by RCAA.

"This is the first time in many years that we have had money to repair mobile homes," said Kermit Thobaben, director of planning and programs for RCAA.

Utility tax change

A bill working its way to the floor of the Senate has many city governments worried about their financial future. Senate Bill 62X, authored by Sen. Charles Poochigian of Fresno, would change the way utility users' taxes are computed.

Currently, cities charge utility users a percentage of their bill. As PG&E bills have doubled or tripled, the amount cities receive from the tax has also multiplied. SB 62X states that the tax would be based on the amount of energy used, in kilowatts or therms, rather than on the energy's cost, eliminating the "windfall" that cities are reaping from the crisis.

That windfall is sorely needed at the municipal level, said Dan Hauser, Arcata's city manager. He said that while the city hadn't anticipated the increased revenue it's been getting from the utility users tax, "We also didn't anticipate we'd be paying double to keep the streetlights going."

Hauser estimated that the city will get an extra $50,000 from the tax this fiscal year but will face around $250,000 in additional energy costs.

Water board meets

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board will meet at 9 a.m. April 26 in the Eureka City Council Chambers.

On the agenda are items related to the wastewater from the PG&E Humboldt Bay Power Plant and the city of Fortuna's wastewater treatment plant. Conspicuously absent is a discussion of Pacific Lumber's harvesting activities in five Humboldt County watersheds. The board had scheduled a meeting to decide on the fate of timber harvesting in those watersheds for November of last year.

The meeting was postponed to February and postponed again, this time indefinitely. The board's staff has recommended curtailing PL's harvesting activities in the watersheds as a means of protecting water quality for residents.

About those $1 checks

California residents who paid too much for their vehicle license fee in 2000 which is pretty much anyone who owns a car since motorists were systematically overcharged should recently have received a rebate check from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The checks are at times comically small, with rebate amounts often around $1 or 50 cents. And when postage and printing costs are totaled was it even worth it?

That won't be the case next year, however. Senate Bill 22, by 1st District Sen. Wesley Chesbro, abolishes the rebate and mandates the DMV simply reduce the fee. The bill, which passed last week and was signed by the governor April 19, saves state government $22 million in administrative fees.

"There is no reason taxpayers should be inconvenienced by putting money out and then have to wait to get a rebate check back," Chesbro said.

Grand jury wants you

The Humboldt County Superior Court is looking for applicants to serve on the 2001-2002 Grand Jury.

The jury is a publicly funded government watchdog that observes and investigates county and city governments. An official arm of the Humboldt County Superior Court, the grand jury publishes an annual report card on local government.

Citizens interested in becoming Grand Jury members may call 269-1270.

Afternoon with authors

More than 15,000 adults in Humboldt County are functionally illiterate, according to a U.S. Department of Education Survey. But you can help; All you need to do is sit back, eat some baklava and listen to literature.

The Humboldt Literacy Project will be holding its first fundraiser April 29 at the Morris Graves Museum. Four Humboldt County authors will be reading their works and signing books Joan Dunning, Jerry Martien, Roy Parvin and Neb Roscoe.

Martien, who writes both poetry and prose and teaches writing, said he was happy to help when he was approached by Humboldt Literacy.

"This fundraiser is excellent because it requires the group to go out into the community and tell them about what they're doing here," he said. See this week's calendar for details.

AEDC wins award

The Arcata Economic Development Corp. has been recognized by the California Association of Local Economic Developers for its Microenterprise Assistance Program.

The Economic Development Program Award of Excellence highlights a program that effectively fosters business growth. The MAP program brings together groups of similar businesses for mutual problem-solving and training.

Called peer consulting, this strategy was behind the woodworkers guild and a successful but now financially troubled food business incubator. AEDC has been in negotiations with the city of Arcata to sell Foodworks.

Bicycle library?

[photo of Bill Burton]THESE BIKES ARE ALMOST ALWAYS AIMED AT THE landfill," Bill Burton said as he ran his fingers along the rim of a slightly beat-up bicycle wheel. (photo at left) Around him in the dark garage are donated and salvaged bikes in various states of assembly, from a piles of spokes and gears to a recently reborn 10-speed.

Burton is at the heart of the Community Bicycle Project, which provides bicycles to citizens in Arcata to pedal around the city free of charge. The program has been around for four years, but recent changes may increase its use and success.

The project is now loaning out what are called library bikes. Anyone can put down a $20 deposit and borrow a bike for as long as they'd like. After the bike is returned, the money is refunded. Library bikes are available at Redwood Yogurt Shoppe in Northtown, the Humboldt State Cycling Center on campus, every Saturday at the farmer's market and beginning this week, at the Arcata Co-op.

The bicycle project became known for its "green bikes," restored bicycles simply left unlocked around Arcata for anyone to use. The concept was that you could pick one up, use it and then leave it at your destination for someone else to use.

But Burton said that idea was flawed. People were either negligent or purposefully abusive to the bikes. An old green bike sitting in the corner of the garage during the interview serves as evidence with its front wheel has bent in on itself -- "tacoed," as Burton puts it.

"My guess is it was dropped from an overpass," he said.

But Burton said repair was a minor problem compared to the difficulty obtaining liability insurance. California insurance law makes it nearly impossible to fully shield the program from liability connected to the green bikes and neither the city nor the state wanted additional exposure. The project was dropped from Arcata's budget this year for the first time.

But with the new structure in place, Burton is confident the project can continue and at a cost of $4,000 a year, the price for the city is affordable.

"In four years we haven't even yet spent the price of a good car on this program and we've turned out hundreds of bikes," he said.

People interested in helping with the project should look for members at the Arcata farmer's market this summer.



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