North Coast Journal bannerNEWSBRIEFS

May 13, 1999


School violence jitters

Shaddix guilty of child abuse

Railroad money on track

Forest through the trees

School performance checks

Home sales up in March

County closing clinic

Riding the airwaves

New deal for HSU faculty?

Rural phone service survey

School violence jitters

As the nation ponders school violence in the wake of the Littleton, Colo., shootings that claimed 15 lives last month, copycat threats at other schools continue.

The latest on the list of threatened schools is McKinleyville High. Last week a page was posted on the Internet proposing a similar massacre. A school rally, scheduled for last Friday, was cancelled along with an elementary school district play. Attendence for that day dropped to about 25 percent, Principal Bob Wallace said Tuesday. It has since returned to near normal.

The Web message, removed by law enforcement this week, read, "Now my plans have changed. I'm gonna set a new date. At the next rally I will be there, with my friends, and we will kill everyone. We will have our guns and our pipe bombs. The trench coat mafia will rule at last. &nbspgoodbye. D.G." It ended with an announcement that, "This is just a test of my freedom of speech."

The high school held an informational meeting Monday morning and Wallace has sent a series of letters to parents notifying them of how the school is handling the threats and assuring them school officials are "taking every possible precaution to ensure the safety of students during this unsettling period."

No student rallies will be scheduled for now and school officials will evaluate whether to hold other events on a case-by-case basis, he said.

Wallace is confident the disruption will wind down before the school year ends. Until then, students have the opportunity to participate in an independent study program to substitute regular coursework on campus should their parents choose.

No arrests have been made by the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department. The investigation has involved the FBI, which assured Wallace it has the resources to find the original source of the listing.

A tip line 839-6479 was established to field calls from anyone with information on the case.

The district sought a temporary restraining order last Wednesday on an unnamed student at the school, Wallace confirmed Tuesday, but he refused to say if the court order was connected to the Web site threat.

He said these type of threats are "not unique" to McKinleyville High School. Confirmed threats have surfaced on many other campuses across the nation.

In Eureka, Winship Junior High School is hosting an anger management and conflict resolution seminar Monday at 8:45 a.m. for Stop the Violence Week. The school-wide assembly will feature former educator, probation officer and comedian Michael Pritchard as keynote speaker. It will be held at the school's gymnasium at 2500 Cypress St. Other activities at the school include a student poster contest, messages to Columbine students and a lock-down drill all slated for Wednesday.

On Tuesday at 5 p.m. the Humboldt County Office of Education will be the site for a live teleconference, called "Kids, Guns, Violence How to Make a Difference." It will be held at 901 Myrtle Ave. in Eureka.

The 90-minute satellite broadcast seeks to examine violence against children by children with guns in public schools.

Meanwhile, California lawmakers are also wrestling with the topic.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer joined the Clinton Administration, which held a summit on youth and violence this week, in calling for stricter gun control measures last week.

Feinstein plans to introduce an amendment to a juvenile justice bill moving through Congress that takes aim at the gun lobby, she said in an issued statement.

The amendment would ban future importation of high-capacity ammunition clips. In a six-month period, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approved more than eight million of these clips to enter the country.

It would also stop those under the age of 18 from owning these clips or assault weapons and increase penalties for adults who sell these weapons to minors. Current law prevents a juvenile from owning a handgun.

Boxer wants to require the sale of child safety locks with every handgun sold, she said in an issued statement.

Such calls for stricter gun controls represent a knee-jerk reaction that's not a "long-term solution," according to at least one North Coast gun dealer.

"The more control you put on something doesn't mean laws aren't going to be broken," said Mike Marcelli, who operates Marcelli's 5th Street Shootery and Indoor Pistol Range. "We're not going to prevent school violence until parents take control (of their children)."

Marcelli said law-abiding citizens who own guns should protect themselves against efforts to blame the Colorado shootings on guns.

Still, he believes gun shows should be more regulated. He said he's heard horror stories of "back door" deals at shows mainly on the East Coast, in which questionable buyers have gotten their hands on a complete arsenal.

As for Boxer's support of safety locks, he thinks "every gun should be locked up," and gun safety education should be a priority.

Shaddix guilty of child abuse

Former Sunny Brae Middle School teacher Michael Scott Shaddix may never teach again, but he cannot be labeled a sex offender.

Once charged with sexually molesting two students, Shaddix, 35, pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse last week. In turn, 13 counts of sexual abuse were dropped in the plea arrangement, both attorneys confirmed.

The child abuse charges stem from "mental suffering" endured by the victims, who along with Shaddix' family now live outside the area, Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Maggie Fleming explained. Shaddix faces a maximum penalty of six years probation and one year in county jail. Sentencing is scheduled for June 11.

Fleming reserved her satisfaction with the outcome for sentencing. Until then, she said she thinks it's "appropriate he never teach again." Shaddix may also not be alone with children without another adult present, she added.

Shaddix' defense attorney Greg Rael pleased with the agreement characterized his client's career status as a moot point.

"This fight was not about whether he was going to teach again," Rael said. "There was no question he knew he wouldn't."

Instead, the case was about an "inappropriate emotional relationship" the former teacher had with two of his students, he said. "This was our position all along."

For the emotional abuse, Shaddix expressed a sense of remorse, Rael said, as well as that endured by his own family members as the lengthy case unfolded. The plea bargain followed a trial that ended in January with a deadlocked jury.

"I'm thrilled it's over," Arcata police Chief Mel Brown said Monday. "This case really divided our community."

Brown, whose department handled the initial investigation, made a point of attending the hearing in which Shaddix entered the plea to "provide visible support for the victims and the victims' families in this case."

Railroad money on track

Long-awaited funds for the stalled Northwestern Pacific Railroad are on the way possibly to open the line by early fall, the rail authority announced this week.

First, "major breakthrough" was made in securing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency more than $10 million in U.S. funds earmarked to repair the line closed for over a year, said Allan Hemphill, president of the North Coast Railroad Authority. The authority has awaited $15 million to absorb its $6 million deficit.

The line through the Eel River Canyon region is prone to landslides, and the aftermath of a large one in particular still blocks rail service north of Willits. The rail authority is meeting with FEMA representatives this week to agree on a "permanent solution" to keeping the rail service on track.

NCRA contractors are due to begin work as early as this week on the southern end of the 300-mile line south of Willits. This section may open between six to nine weeks, he said.

Earlier, half of the state funds pledged to move the restoration effort along received a push from Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin.

Forest through the trees

Headwaters, in a word, is not over.

Significant issues related to the purchase of the 7,500-acre redwood reserve from Pacific Lumber Co. by the federal and state government in March remain unresolved and require swift, decisive action, according to a report released last week from the Legislative Analyst's Office.

First, the nonpartisan state office recommends that lawmakers more clearly outline plans to balance habitat conservation and public recreation in the reserve. Conservation and recreation are sometimes at odds, the state office recognized.

The present manager, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, has made "modest improvements," the 15-page report states, including putting up signs, adding a small gravel parking lot and portable toilets to open up the reserve to the public off Elk River Road.

The report also suggests the creation of a group of state and federal representatives to oversee management of the Headwaters property which encompasses the 3,000-acre Headwaters Grove and 4,500 acres of adjacent timber land south of Eureka, east of U.S. Highway 101. A management plan has yet to be developed.

Other proposed buys in the transaction make it necessary to define further land use and restrictions. The state has set aside about $100 million in the $480 million deal to purchase the other 2,500 acres southeast of the Headwaters Grove the Owl Creek property and another tract adjacent to Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park. This is due to be finalized by July 1, 2000.

The fourth issue the report involves allocating enough resources to monitor logging activities and enforce the Habitat Conservation Plan. As part of the deal, this plan dictates how PL's remaining 211,000 acres will be managed in respect to species and habitat protections as well as timber harvest expectations outlined in the HCP's sustained yield plan. The company and participating government agencies had agreed on about 178 million board feet a year as a benchmark for harvest.

PL intends to increase the number of timber harvest plans submitted annually, from 60 to about 90, the California Department of Forestry has reported.

Long-time Humboldt County resident Andrea Tuttle is checking THPs in the Fortuna office this week, among other activities on her rounds as new CDF director.

Tuttle said the level of resources should be more defined in the state's budget process. Right now, it's too soon to tell.

The new director has her hands full. CDF faces a joint lawsuit filed in March in Sacramento by the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Sierra Club challenging the state's decision to approve PL's sustained yield plan on the grounds it violates the Endangered Species Act and state forestry laws.

School performance checks

Millions in federal funds are coming to California schools, Gov. Gray Davis' office announced last week.

The $32 million in federal school "accountability" funds are earmarked for projects designed to raise student performance and potential. States may apply for the funds, as part of the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration Program Congress authorized last year.

The student achievement funds are distributed as grants from the state Department of Education. In turn, the department will award subgrants to qualified local school districts that apply for the funds.

"In schools, as in life, higher expectations demand a higher level of accountability," Davis said in an issued statement.

Making education a priority for the state, the governor has eyed ways to help schools struggling with low academic performance. At least 100 schools in the state are eligible for the funds.

Student performance was highlighted in the North Coast Journal's April 29 issue on college preparation and remedial education.

Home sales up in March

Low interest rates and good economic times are key factors in a 43 percent rise in home sales from February to March, according to the Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County.

The home sales statistics are provided each month by the Humboldt County Board of Realtors and other agencies to Humboldt State University Professor Steve Hackett who compiles the report.

The report indicates that the hospitality industry got off to a slow start in 1999, however March saw occupancy rates for hotels and motels improve. Seasonally adjusted figures show an overall 3.2 percent rise for the year.

A minor decline of .13 percent in retail sales indicates a trend that retail has yet to take off in 1999, the report adds. However long-term retail sales figures indicate continuing economic growth in the county.

The year-to-year figures show an increase of 18 percent in retail sales over March 1998, a 23 percent increase from 1997 and an aggregate increase of more than 40 percent from 1996.

County closing clinic

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors decided last week to close its women's health clinic by a 4-1 vote. Supervisor Bonnie Neeley cast the dissenting vote.

County officials are convinced about 1,300 patients using the 20-year-old clinic can receive service at other medical providers in the area. The clinic's financials have been running in the red, and the county Public Health Department would like to shift those funds to community health programs deemed to benefit a cross-section of the community.

Riding the airwaves

At least one North Coast man will likely look at the Indianapolis 500 a whole different way.

Mike Merkel, 36, is supplying a video camera component in all 33 race cars this year for the event to be aired live on ABC at 8 a.m. May 30.

Merkel makes a carbon fiber air foil that rests on the hoods of race cars for a Maryland-based communications firm. Broadcast Sports Technologies makes the in-car video camera, covered by Merkel's foil, to simulate the racing experience for TV viewers. The company also designed the part the Eureka resident produces under the name Merkel Composites.

Merkel, who has worked for a machine shop and a race car company previously, is excited about his newly found claim to fame.

"I always wanted to be a race car driver," he said. But it was a visit in 1991 to "gasoline alley," the sidelines of the premier auto race, that piqued his interest. He vowed he'd return to the race within five years to take part in it somehow.

He met his five-year goal last year when he supplied 18 cars with the 4-ounce, wind resistant component.

Merkel's grandmother is especially proud of her grandson. The Italian matriarch always asks him if his car part is used by superstar race driver Michael Andretti.

This year he can finally say yes.


New deal for HSU faculty?

In an about-face move that may end a year-long contract dispute, the California Faculty Association reached a tentative agreement with the California State University system this week.

The CFA leadership is recommending approval of the three-year deal to its association, which votes on the "compromise" deal as early as this week. The Humboldt State University chapter received ballots Tuesday and will conduct a five-day campus mail-in ballot. Ballots are due in by May 19.

The CFA is expected to announce the outcome of its vote by May 27, local CFA chapter President Ken Fulgham said, and the CSU board of trustees should approve the deal in early June.

The tentative plan was ironed out in a whirlwind set of meetings between CSU and CFA leaders, including the local CFA President-elect Susan Meisenhelder and Vice-President John Travis due to take office in June.

This move to compromise was a sign the "chancellor (Charles Reed) was listening," Fulgham said. The faculty member leader believed Reed was influenced by HSU's landmark vote of no confidence weeks ago and by confronting a deluge of faculty who picketed his arrival at a meeting in Sacramento recently.

"It's positive all the way around. I'm very excited," Fulgham said, calling the new deal a "phenomenal" change for the better.

As part of the agreement, the CSU faculty will receive an average 5.2 percent salary increase for the 1998-99 fiscal year, CSU announced Monday. This includes the general salary increase of 3 percent, in addition to the performance-based faculty merit increases and service salary step increases that are based on experience.

The latter salary structure designed to benefit junior faculty members was elevated from a 1.5 percent increase to 2.65 percent, he said.

What's more, an appeal process was added in determining salary increases in which a faculty panel has the final say, Fulgham said.

The faculty leader isn't the only one dancing in the halls over the deal.

"All of us at the CSU greatly respect the faculty and know they are responsible for the success of our students and our university," Reed said in an issued statement, pleased with the tentative agreement.

Rural phone service survey

Most people living in rural areas of the North Coast have learned to live with patchy or outdated telephone service. But in mountainous terrain and stormy weather phone service is sometimes unreliable, and it could become a health and safety risk for people unable to call for emergency assistance.

An audit requested by Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, D-Duncan Mills, might be the first step in improving rural phone service. The audit, approved last month by the state's Joint Legislative Audit Committee, will review and gather information on the condition of radio and cellular telecommunications equipment in remote areas, including the First Assembly District.

"The North Coast is a good case study of what goes on in rural areas throughout the state," said Carol Gaubatz, consultant to the Select Committee on Rural Economic Development, which is chaired by Strom-Martin.

Gaubatz said this study will also address the limited economic opportunities for rural residents unable to access the Internet. Internet access is also a problem for rural schools, Gaubatz said, because state law requires that all schools teach Internet skills a task difficult to accomplish in areas where telephone service is unavailable.

Gaubatz said students at a K-12 elementary school south of Shelter Cove are bused 60 miles round-trip to Leggett because their school isn't wired for the Internet.

Phone service has become of nationwide concern in recent months, but the cost not the quality of service is what has most people up in arms.

The Federal Communications Commission recently proposed an end to rate-averaging, which makes it possible for rural customers to pay the same amount paid by urban customers, even though the rural service costs more to operate. City-dwellers complain they are actually subsidizing rural areas and say that de-averaging would save them money. Strom-Martin says that if rate de-averaging is allowed, rural residents will never see the level of their service improve.

As part of its study, the Bureau of State Audits will examine the impact rate de-averaging will have on rural areas. "We want to stave off that threat (of de-averaging) with good information," Gaubatz said.

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