May 13, 2004
HUMBOLDT BANK SLASHES 150 JOBS: Officials with Humboldt Bank and its new parent company, Umpqua Holdings Corp. of Portland, confirmed that 150 employees -- most of them at the Humboldt Bank Plaza in Eureka -- were given notice Tuesday that their positions were being eliminated. Ray Davis, president and CEO of Umpqua, said that no one was being laid off immediately and all were being given the opportunity to apply for other positions in Southern Washington, Oregon or the Central Valley. The cuts, necessary because of "duplicities" caused by the merger, affect 10 percent of the total workforce of 1,500. About 100 of the 150 Humboldt Bank Plaza employees, though no Humboldt-area branch workers, will be affected. But not to worry: On the same day that employees received the bad news, Humboldt Bank opened -- in its soon-to-be-spacious bank plaza building -- a new 4,000-square-foot "career center" to help employees or their spouses find work elsewhere. And the affected employees will each receive $100, an amount sure to help with that new waitressing uniform at the Pantry. "We've gone out of our way to be extremely sensitive to everyone's concerns and desires," Davis said. "In a bad situation, it makes you feel pretty damn good."
CSU BUDGET DEAL: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the leaders of California's two public university systems -- the University of California and California State University -- announced Tuesday that they had signed a "compact" aimed at softening the blow of upcoming state budget cuts. The deal appears to be good for students -- a proposed 40 percent hike in graduate school tuition will be scaled back by almost half, and increases in tuition for undergraduates will be limited to 10 percent over the next three years. And while university budgets will still be cut in the upcoming budget, the compact provides a promise of regular increases beginning in 2004-05. "The new compact between the CSU, the UC and the governor of California will be good for our state and good for Humboldt State University," said HSU President Rollin Richmond in a press release. "Students and their families will have a clear understanding of their costs to attend Humboldt, and the university will have a more predictable budget to try to accommodate student and faculty needs." The deal must be approved by the state Legislature.
MURDERED STUDENT: Raymon Bass, a 17-year-old San Francisco football star who was planning to attend Humboldt State in the fall, was murdered Friday night in an apparently random act of violence. Bass, who was chosen as his high school's prom king, was gunned down as he picked up his tuxedo from a rental service on Haight Street, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. John Haines, the HSU football team's running back coach, had spent some time with Bass over the last few months. Haines said that Bass was a modest kid who worked hard to get his grades up so he could attend college. "He wasn't the type of kid to go, "Man, I'm from a rough neighborhood,'" Haines said. "He never complained about his upbringing. He was just looking forward to his future, and he was very proud of his achievements, as he should have been." Haines added that Bass thought Arcata was "a great place," and he was expecting Bass to firm up his commitment to the school very soon.
SEARCH WARRANTS SERVED ON YOUTH: Eureka High School Resource Officer Louis Altie and other police served search warrants on the homes of five local teens who were pictured on a Web site posing with and displaying assault rifles and semiautomatic handguns. The site, which also mentioned a gang affiliation and featured a "Who Do We Hate" list identifying other local youth, was spotted by a local resident, who tipped off the police. Officers confiscated numerous assault weapons and semiautomatic pistols at the homes, but no arrests were made during the searches. An investigation continues.
MISSING SOHUM MAN: Friends and family of Matteo Ekedal, a 31-year-old Shelter Cove man who was last seen on April 28, continued their search for him last week. Lt. Mike Downey of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office said that two deputies trained in search and rescue were sent to go over areas already searched by the Coast Guard and the Shelter Cove Volunteer Fire Department, but they were not able to turn up anything new. "One of the frustrating things with this is we have a voluntary missing adult who, for whatever reason, decided to leave his home," he said. "And we don't have a specific area to search." Ekedal has brown hair and green eyes, is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs between 155 and 165 pounds. He is believed to be wearing a large-brimmed African sun hat. Anyone who may have information about his whereabouts is asked to call the Sheriff's Office or Ekedal's family at 986-7065.
MAJOR ENDORSEMENT: A Humboldt State University academic committee threw its weight behind a proposed new major in ethnic studies on Tuesday. The University Curriculum Committee voted unanimously to approve the program -- technically, a new ethnic studies "option" in the existing "interdisciplinary studies" major -- following an organized student effort on its behalf. Dr. Christina Accomando, a member of the Ethnic Studies program's faculty, said that around 50 students and professors came to the meeting to support the major. "To me, the thing that came out of this is that there's tremendous student support and tremendous faculty support for ethnic studies," Accomando said. "`This gives HSU the opportunity to fulfill its mission to diversify our faculty and curriculum." University Provost Rick Vrem must approve the new major if it is to be instituted next year; he may make his decision as early as this week.
FBI MANHUNT: The San Francisco office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation parked four big jet-black trucks emblazoned with the bureau's initials in front of the county courthouse Thursday, occasioning puzzled or panicked stares from local passers-by. Turns out the feds had sent up a SWAT team to join the hunt for Francisco Medina Loya, the itchy-fingered fugitive from justice who allegedly shot up a number of police vehicles last Monday night. Brenda Gainey, spokesperson for the Sheriff's Office, said that the FBI's offer of aid was very welcome, as the office's forces have been spread thin since Medina went on his midnight joyride out to the hills around Weitchpec. The SWAT team returned to the Bay Area on Friday, and as of Tuesday afternoon the suspect remained at large.
RADIO ADJUSTMENT: Those who kept one of the buttons on their car radio set to KWPT, the "urban" hip hop station out of Rio Dell known as The Party, may have been surprised this last week to find something different in its place, a classic rock station called The Point. "Same owners, new management," said Dave Roble, new operations manager for KWPT-FM, explaining the format switch. The change came May I, when Roble and new general manager John Butler took over from Greg Mack, who had been running the station for about four years. Roble and Butler are not exactly new to the county -- both worked for KFMI-FM in the '90s when that station shifted into classic rock. According to Roble, The Point, which broadcasts at 100.3 FM with a translator at 102.7, will not follow the typical "classic rock" format. Instead, he said, "We're doing `classic hits' from the '60s, '70s and '80s -- just the hits, without the album cuts."
RENNER MAN ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY: Rex Bohn, 49, has announced his intention to run for the Eureka City Council's 4th Ward seat currently held by Chris Kerrigan. Bohn, an operations manager at Renner Petroleum, said he has the experience necessary to lead Eureka through tough economic times. "I feel that I can do a better job at enhancing business to this area and retaining the quality of life that I've enjoyed," he said Tuesday. The registered Republican has served for 10 years as a gubernatorial appointee to the Ninth Agricultural District Board of Directors, which runs Redwood Acres Fairground, and he also was instrumental in building Redwood Fields, the large youth recreation complex in Cutten, he said.
by KEITH EASTHOUSE
Republican Bill Jones, locked in an uphill battle to unseat U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, says the overarching theme of his campaign is "personal security" --meaning greater protection from criminals and terrorists, and greater economic opportunity. [RIGHT: Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Bill Jones speaks with reporters on the campaign trail.]
"We are at war, and we need to make sure we are taking care of protecting the people of California and America," Jones said in a telephone interview this week.
At the same time, Jones added, there's a need to protect people's job security, so that they have "an opportunity for confidence in the future."
Jones, a 54-year-old Fresno rancher, is visiting the North Coast on May 19, when he will tour the Simpson Timber Co. facility in Korbel and attend a fund-raiser at the Avalon Restaurant, hosted by businessman Rob Arkley and his wife, former Eureka City Councilwoman Cherie Arkley.
Jones is best known as the author of California's Three Strikes Law, which became law in 1994 while he was a member of the state Assembly. Serving as secretary of state from 1994 to 2002, Jones is credited with tightening voting laws. He's known as a specialist in agricultural, trade and water issues.
While that may sound impressive, the fact is he's trailing Boxer in the polls by 10 percent and he's way behind her both in fund-raising and name recognition. Add in the fact that there are more than 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans in California, and it becomes clear that beating Boxer is an extremely tall order.
Nonetheless, the race is attracting national attention because it's being seen as an indicator of whether the GOP, what with the coming to power of Arnold Schwarzenegger, is on the rise in California. In other words, analysts are curious to see how broad the governor's coattails are.
"There is no question California is enjoying a new era of enthusiasm and possibility because of its historic recall election," Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., told the Christian Science Monitor recently. "The question is, is this a new era of Republican possibilities or does it go no further than [Schwarzenegger's] popularity?"
While Schwarzenegger may help Jones, a related question is whether President Bush's difficulties in Iraq will hurt him.
When asked about achievements in addition to the Three Strikes law, Jones said he was one of the driving forces behind a 1996 bond measure that initiated a joint state and federal effort to put together a long-term water plan for California.
According to Jones, the plan went off track after Gray Davis was elected governor in 1998. "The whole concept of coming up with an overall plan was diffused and the approach was to have regional solutions to water," Jones said.
Jones said he was a strong supporter of putting water into storage, such as a reservoir near Williams in the Sacramento Valley that captures releases coming from Lake Shasta down the Sacramento River.
Jones did not mention the Williams facility by accident, saying that he supports whenever possible efforts to "hold and store water in the north rather than take it south."
In terms of North Coast issues, Jones said that while he didn't have a specific "program" to offer, he thinks the port of Humboldt Bay has great economic potential. "I would argue very strongly that there is a huge undervalued asset there," he said.
He refused to criticize, as Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, has, the Bush Administration's policies regarding the Klamath basin. (Thompson has repeatedly blasted the administration for favoring the interests of farmers in the upper basin over downstream fishing interests.)
But he did excoriate Boxer for opposing the administration's Healthy Forests Initiative. The program is aimed at reducing the fire hazard on national forest lands through an aggressive program of thinning. Critics have blasted it as a logging program in disguise.
"If you flew over a national forest versus a properly managed forest, you would be appalled at the difference," Jones said. "There are things w can do to help the timber industry and still protect and conserve our forests."
by EMILY GURNON
A Las Vegas-area man who peddles unbuildable Shelter Cove lots on the Internet was fired from his job as a Realtor in Eureka in 2002 after his employer learned he was posting "for sale" signs on questionable Shelter Cove properties.
The Journal's cover story of April 22 ("Buyer Beware"), about the selling of Shelter Cove lots on the `net, described one of the sellers as Jaime Medina of Henderson, Nev. We quoted a Pleasanton woman as saying she bid on two Shelter Cove lots through Medina's Web site, JaimeMedina.com, only to find that she'd made a big mistake: Medina told her the parcels were a great investment, demanded payment immediately, then refused to give her her money back after she found out the lots were unbuildable, she said.
We were not aware then that Medina, 52, spent a year in Eureka.
Medina, also known as Jaime Medina-Mendez, was a Realtor with the Century 21 office in Eureka for most of 2002, working under broker Jacques Debets.
Reached at his home in Nevada on Tuesday, Medina said he was "really busy," and hung up on a reporter.
Debets said he had his doubts about Medina from the start, and initially turned him down for a job. Medina and his wife and nine children had moved here from Danville, in Contra Costa County, where he had worked for three months. Debets eventually decided to give him a chance.
"I hired him because of his computer savvy. As I got to know him, I watched him like a hawk at everything. He and I started not to agree on how to do things," Debets said.
Medina was also not selling much, despite having a visible presence for some months at Bayshore Mall, Debets said.
The final straw, Debets said, was when he learned that Medina was putting up Century 21 signs on some questionable Shelter Cove lots.
"I went to look at the lots and they were unbuildable, in my opinion," Debets said. He didn't want the good name of his company associated with those parcels. That's when he fired Medina.
Since then, Medina appears to have found his niche in the sale of Shelter Cove properties. Since August of last year, he has sold a half dozen of them, on Internet sites such as eBay, as well as his own, and he currently owns five parcels, according to county records.
He may be back in Eureka on Monday. That's when he's scheduled to be in small claims court with Arcata real estate broker Phil Lazzar. Lazzar said he shared a commission with Medina on a property Lazzar sold, and Medina owes him money.
"I didn't have any difficulty with the deal I did with him, except that he didn't pay me," Lazzar said. He said Medina told him he had sent a check, but the check never arrived.
These days, Medina appears to be selling only properties he himself owns, and, contrary to what we reported previously, he does not hold a real estate license in Nevada. His California license was suspended last year when he failed to fulfill the continuing education requirements.
by HANK SIMS
Former Congressman Dan Hamburg [photo at right] will be coming to Arcata Tuesday to give a presentation about religion and politics, and about his relationship with his guru, Ruchira Avitar Adi Da Samraj. [photo below left]
Hamburg, who since leaving Congress in 1994 has been an environmental activist and a Green Party candidate for governor, said in a telephone interview from his Ukiah home that he was scared and also a little excited about the upcoming event. He looked forward to introducing others to a spiritual practice that attempts to "heal the world from its crazy death wish."
"I've been a devotee for two years," he said. "I'm not an expert, I'm not there as a missionary. I was asked by [Adi Da adherents] in Humboldt to come up and talk about my own experience."
Adi Da, whose "Adidam" organization owns land in Trinidad (see "Adidam comes to the North Coast," Journal, Jan. 14, 1999), was given the name "Franklin Jones" upon his birth in Long Island, N.Y., in 1939. During the `60s, he gained some notoriety as "Da Free John," an author of spiritual books. Today, the Adidam Web site bills him as the "promised God-man" who has the power to "perfectly fulfill the deepest longings of the human heart." Adi Da is currently residing on a small island he owns near Fiji.
Hamburg said that he and his wife learned of Adi Da through an Arcata friend who had supported his congressional campaign. At first he struggled with Adi Da's writings, he said, and he continues to question his own devotion to the guru's rigorous spiritual program. But over time, his background as a student of religion -- he holds a master's degree in the subject from the California Institute of Integral Studies, a San Francisco alternative school -- helped show him the way.
"As a politician I've always been interested in the nexus between politics and spirituality," he said "Like a lot of people of my generation, [the Rev.] Martin Luther King was a huge inspiration."
As a practicing devotee, Hamburg said that he does daily meditation sessions and sends about 10 percent of his income to Adi Da. Despite the apparent similarities, Hamburg said that he didn't think it was fair to compare Adidam to a cult. For one thing, people are free to come and go from the organization without fear of anything worse than griping from former co-worshippers.
"When I quit the Democratic party, a lot of people dumped shit on my head," he said. "If you break the code, there's a price to pay. But in Adidam, the only price is maybe some people think you're a quitter, or that you don't get it. That's it."
Hamburg's speech will take place at 7 p.m. on May 18 in the Hotel Arcata. For more information, call 677-3584.
by JIM HIGHT
OUT ON COPENHAGEN ROAD NEAR LOLETA, where the River bottomland meets the foothills of Table Bluff, Robert Petersen, 85, stands in the shade of a barn and looks out on a landscape full of memories.
"I was born on Cock Robin Island," he says, pointing south toward the river delta, which lay beyond a pasture flecked with grazing Holsteins and a line of alder and willow trees. "I was the only child, so I had to help my father, Niels T. Petersen, on the dairy. We had about 35 cows."
By the 1950s, Petersen and his family were milking 85 cows on the larger Copenhagen Road ranch. Petersen eventually ran the dairy himself with his three sons, expanding the operation to 180 cows.
But as the U.S. dairy industry shifted increasingly toward large industrial farms with up to 10,000 cows, smaller dairies struggled to keep up, and many failed -- a trend visible on Copenhagen Road.
"All along here there used to be dairies," said Robert's son Dave, gesturing down the road toward Loleta. "All but us are gone."
The Petersen Ranch, too, might be just a memory today if Dave and his wife, Cynthia, who run the dairy with Robert's help, hadn't decided to try something different. In 2001, they became the first North Coast dairy ranch to produce certified organic milk.
The first, that is, unless you count the dairies run by Robert and Niels Petersen and virtually every other dairy farmer in the years before antibiotics, growth hormones and other chemicals became standard items in dairy agriculture.
"We didn't have penicillin. We didn't use commercial fertilizer," said Robert Petersen. "It didn't mean anything special. Back then, everything was organic."
But organic does mean something special today -- so special that consumers concerned about the chemicals used in milk production will pay $1.50 or more extra per half-gallon to buy organic milk. That translates into higher prices paid to organic dairy farmers and economic sustainability for a small dairy like the Petersens'.
The Petersens decided to go organic about five years ago after attending a forum at the county fairgrounds in Ferndale. It was sponsored by Humboldt Creamery, the cooperatively owned dairy processor, and Clover Stornetta, a Petaluma dairy processor that was looking for new sources of organic raw milk for its products. The market for organic dairy products was growing at more than 20 percent a year.
Clover Stornetta had its eye on Humboldt and Del Norte county dairies for two reasons. While most California dairies confined their cows in pens and buildings, dairy cows here still grazed on pastures, a key requirement for organic certification. And most North Coast dairies did not use the synthetic growth hormone BST (Bovine Somatotropin), which is banned in organic dairy production. (All dairies in Humboldt and Del Norte counties have since pledged not to use BST.)
"Their cows are out on pasture 12 months of the year and the dairies are 100 percent free of BST," Clover Stornetta President Dan Benedetti said in a telephone interview. "Most of the dairymen in Humboldt and Del Norte counties are already close to organic."
Skepticism, then imitation
As word began to spread among dairy operators that the Petersens were going organic, they faced a lot of skepticism among their peers. "People made fun of us at first," said Cynthia Petersen. "`You're going to go belly up,' they told us."
But at least two other dairy operators were convinced that going organic made sense. Like the Petersens, they learned that certified organic methods were not vastly different from what they were already doing. The main changes required were using only certified organic feed and foregoing antibiotics when treating sick animals (or selling off any animals that receive antibiotics).
"We didn't have to give up using a lot of pesticides and herbicides because we weren't using them anyhow," said Blake Alexandre of Alexandre Dairies, the largest North Coast dairy operation with 2,500 cows on three ranches.
And like the Petersens, Alexandre and his wife Stephanie saw that the premium pricing for organic dairy milk could be important to their economic survival. "Organic prices gave us access to a higher value market," said Alexandre.
Tim and Dorice Miranda of Ferndale also decided to transition their 500-cow dairy operation to organic status, and in 2002, the Petersens, Mirandas and Alexandres began shipping milk in Humboldt Creamery trucks to Clover Stornetta's plant in Petaluma.
At the same time, the Humboldt-Del Norte county dairy industry became the largest producer of organic milk in California. "You are producing more than any area in the state," said Benedetti. "Sonoma County would be next behind you."
In the last year and a half, eight more North Coast dairies have transitioned to organic, and two are reportedly preparing to become certified this year.
LEFT: Got 6,000 gallons? Dave Petersen's certified organic milk awaits pickup.
No local organic brand
Humboldt Creamery has started manufacturing more certified organic products. "We do about $15 million a year in organic sales out of [total sales] of about $70 million," said Humboldt Creamery President Rich Ghilarducci.
The creamery processes locally produced organic milk into powder, which is sold to organic candy and yogurt manufacturers around the world. It has also started supplying two national organic milk brands: Horizon Organic and Organic Valley.
Indeed, the North Coast's prominence in the organic dairy market led national organic dairy trade groups to hold a conference here earlier this year. "We had people from as far away as Vermont and Pennsylvania," said Ghilarducci.
Ghilarducci says there is a lot of interest among North Coast organic consumers in a Humboldt Creamery organic milk brand. "From a production standpoint, though, there's not enough organic milk consumed in Humboldt County right now to make that work economically," he said. "We have to develop markets outside our area to get a large enough scale so we can make it available to consumers here and in other areas."
But even with a gap between local production and consumption, the future of organic dairy in Humboldt and Del Norte counties appears bright, and that's good news for people who appreciate how deeply dairies are etched into the North Coast's cultural and aesthetic landscape.
Freelancer Jim Hight is a former Journal staff writer.
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.