North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

June 26, 2003

Golden shovels at Daly's

Computerized voting machines may be on the way
Critics worry about potential for abuse

The man behind the funny money

Pileup in the safety corridor

North Fork Eel protected

Board cuts jobs

Democrats to slam recall

Rash of robberies

No new home for Educare

Cell tower approved

Arcata budget passed

Fire chiefs rebuffed


Golden shovels at Daly's

The shovels were spray-painted gold when Eureka city officials and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony last week in front of the long empty Daly's Department Store building.

City Councilman Mike Jones introduced a series of movers and shakers who all celebrated the start of work on refurbishing the newest portion of the three-part structure. Among them was Steve Strombeck of Strombeck Construction, who purchased two portions of the building from businessman Rob Arkley and his wife Cherie. The Arkleys recently bought the Daly's complex from the Humboldt State University Foundation. They held onto the old State Theater portion and plan on restoring it and giving it to a local nonprofit.

One speaker at the ceremony was former Humboldt Bank president John Dalby, who was introduced as the "proposed CEO of the proposed Redwood Capital Bank" ("proposed" since the bank has not yet received its required charter). Strombeck said the bank would be his tenant.

Strombeck's first step will be to build a Victorian-style façade that looks similar to the exterior of the original building that occupied the site (that building was torn down in 1937). [See photo below]

One major unanswered question: What are the plans for the oldest portion of the property, one of the last unreinforced masonry buildings in Old Town?

When another developer, Dan Ollivier, was negotiating to buy the building last year, his plan was to tear down the brick portion to make way for a parking lot. Strombeck said he is still exploring his options and hasn't decided what to do with the old building. "I'm just doing one step at a time," he said.

State Theater, Eureka Printing building, city scene
The original building housing Eureka Printing, c. 1930s

stucco building
Daly's Department Store Building, 1949

architechtural rendering
Architechtural rendering of the proposed new building for the Daly's site

Computerized voting machines may be on the way
Critics worry about potential for abuse


By the time the 2004 elections roll around, Humboldt County voters may be choosing the next president not with No. 2 pencils but with the touch of a finger on a computer screen.

A federal law passed last year is spurring the change. The 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAPA) requires, among a host of sweeping changes, that a disabled-friendly voting machine be available in each polling place by 2006.

The only machine that currently fits that definition, said Humboldt County elections chief Lindsay McWilliams, is called a "touch-screen." In such a system, the voter is taken through several different screens, showing different races, and votes by touching a finger to a particular choice. When the voter is finished, the computer displays all the votes and offers an opportunity to change or correct selections.

Rather than install only enough machines to accommodate the disabled, Humboldt County hopes to replace its entire "optical-scan" system -- in which voters fill in their ballot choices with pencil and the cards are read by a scanner -- with the new system.

"The reason for that is if we have an optical-scan-based system, we're required to print ballots for at least 80 percent of our registered voters," McWilliams said. "If we only have to print ballots for absentee voters, then we can save $30,000 every county-wide election."

McWilliams estimated that buying and installing the touch-screen system would cost between $1.5 and $2 million. Humboldt County has $987,000 being held for it out of state voting modernization funds -- from last year's Prop. 41 -- and the federal government may pony up more. But the state funds are not guaranteed; Humboldt County must put a plan in place to spend them, or they will be given to another county.

McWilliams said his office is currently working on a request for proposals (RFP), seeking bids from computer companies that make the touch-screen systems. He will ask the Board of Supervisors to approve the RFP in about a month, he said.

Assuming the county finds enough money, the new system could be in place as early as the November 2004 presidential election -- although that may be a stretch, McWilliams said.

The touch-screens are not without their critics, who fear that letting a computer keep track of ballots would mean risking corruption and abuse.

"A voter's ballot is one of the most important documents that exists in a free society," said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Davis. "To entrust this document to an entirely computerized system run on secret software with no paper audit trail is to ask voters, candidates (winners and losers alike) and parties to exercise blind trust in the voting system." Alexander made her remarks in written testimony before the California Help America Vote Act Advisory Board, which is working on implementation of the new law.

"The prudent thing to do while vendors improve their technology to provide an audit function is to limit the deployment of electronic voting machines to one per polling place to comply with the HAVA and state disability access requirements, and retain paper-based systems for other polling place voters and for absentee voters," Alexander said.

McWilliams said he understands the concerns, but expressed confidence in the touch-screen system.

"Riverside County has been using a touch-screen system since 1999 and getting rave reviews," he said. Alameda County has also implemented it. "Bigger counties are doing this with what appears to be great success. [And] my personal experience with the technology makes me feel comfortable with it."

He stressed that the equipment would be put through a dry run before an actual election, and that members of the public are invited to participate in the testing of it.

"The potential for mischief is nil," he said. "Our safeguards are very, very good, and we are not going to let those slip just because we're adopting some new technology."

The man behind the funny money


"If we were to sit on the plaza for a while and watch the people walk by, I'd be able to point out to you all of the families that have money and those that don't; and do you know why?

"It's not what they wear or how they talk," Fhyre Phoenix went on. "You can see it in their faces, the lines in their faces. Wealthier people don't have the same struggle. The stress and discomfort that poor people live with is written right on their face."

Fhyre Phoenix, 49, wants to see those stress lines diminish. With his Community Currency project he plans to subsidize workers who receive less than $10 an hour -- what Phoenix regards as a minimal living wage. The "money" they are funded with will then be used to buy goods and services from other members.

The new money, which hit the streets in mid-May, supplements low-income employees with 100 community dollars a month for the first year they are involved in the program. In return, the applicant must offer a service to the community, for which they will be paid partially in community dollars. Additionally, they must pay $10 a month in "real money" to advertise their work in a publication called the Arcata Bay Bioregion's Community Currency Directory.

The service that the currency holders offer, Phoenix hopes, will be something that the person loves doing. He said the work most people do for the traditional greenback is not fulfilling.

"Can you imagine if everyone was doing what they were passionate about and getting paid for it?" Phoenix said. "We'd be living in a much happier place if that were the case."

Phoenix became concerned with wage issues when he was 14. Working on a farm in Connecticut, he and eleven other boys were paid $1 an hour -- 60 cents less than minimum wage. Phoenix rallied the other boys to strike if they were not given a 25 percent pay increase. The strike never took place. The farm owner listened to the grievances and increased everyone's pay.

Since then, Phoenix has been involved in an array of labor and activist work. At various times he has been a public school union president, executive director of three non-profits including Arcata House, an ACLU representative and grant writer for a number of agencies including St. Vincent de Paul's. Along the way he earned a master's degree in human services administration.

Phoenix called the currency project a culmination of all his past experience.

But the community cash is only the beginning. Bigger plans for Arcata have been filtering through Phoenix's imagination. His vision for the future, in fact, can be seen by anyone carrying a five-dollar denomination of Community Currency. The colorful artwork on the bill, created by local artist Joyce Jonte, depicts part of Phoenix's dream for Arcata.

Three distinct differences are apparent in the rendering of the town square. The statue of McKinley is no longer in the center of the plaza. Replacing the monument to the 25th president, which has watched over the town square for close to 100 years, is a gazebo.

"I want to sell McKinley on eBay," Phoenix said. "It's well past time that we take [the statue] down. A colonialist president should not be honored here in the first place; it's a disgrace to Americans."

The proceeds of the sale, Phoenix suggested, could then be used to revamp the plaza, which would be used by bands, like those that play at the farmers' market.

Other out-of-sync elements in the 5-dollar community note is the absence of the Bank of America, which currently stands on the corner of G and Eighth streets. Taking its place is the Northcoast Community Organizing Center -- another project that remains a vision. The center would be a training facility for community activists.

In the meantime, Phoenix is content with providing the public with a little more colorful pocket change. Currently, 52 people have their services listed, many with multiple skills to offer, among them yoga instruction, singing lessons, computer consulting and horse training, to name a few.

The most famous and successful community currency project began in 1991 in Ithaca, N.Y. Paul Glover, founder of the Ithaca HOURS project, said that for any community currently project to be successful, established merchants must accept it.

"We began with whoever was willing to begin, and let the rest see the benefits as we grew," he wrote in an e-mail response to a reporter's query.

Pileup in the safety corridor

What began as a routine traffic stop along the Highway 101 safety corridor Sunday afternoon ended up as a five-vehicle pileup in which two California Highway patrol cars were damaged.

The incident began at 4:40 p.m. when CHP Officer Dave Blood spotted a southbound Toyota Corolla without a current registration sticker. When he pulled the car over north of Jacobs Avenue, between Arcata and Eureka, Blood discovered that the driver, Jonathan Moreno, 26, of Eureka, was driving without a license. A check of the database showed he also had outstanding warrants from the Humboldt court dating from May 2000, when he failed to appear after being cited for driving without a license, without registration and with no proof of insurance.

Moreno was arrested, handcuffed and secured in the front seat of Blood's vehicle. Officer Katherine Smith was called to the scene to provide back-up. Tow-truck driver Theodore Urbina arrived and began hooking up Moreno's vehicle for impoundment.

It was then, at 5:03, that a 1987 Lincoln Town Car driven by 50-year-old Betty Sue Kindley of Eureka suddenly drifted off the road. She rammed Smith's patrol car and sent it slamming into Blood's patrol car, which then plowed into Moreno's Toyota, popping the smaller car up onto the hood of Blood's Crown Victoria. To top it all off, Smith's patrol car soon burst into flames from fuel leakage in the engine compartment.

Kindley, who apparently was not wearing her seat belt, was removed from beneath her steering wheel and taken to St. Joseph Hospital along with Urbina, who had been unable to jump out of harm's way. Moreno was examined before being booked into Humboldt County Jail.

A dispatcher for Pacific Towing reported that Urbina was released from the hospital but did not go to work on Monday. The extent of Kindley's injuries was unclear.

According to Capt. Steve Pudinski of the Highway Patrol's Arcata office, Kindley was not "under the influence" when the accident took place. He said that the temporary loss of two cruisers would not impact enforcement along the safety corridor.

North Fork Eel protected

The U.S. Forest Service violated the law when it allowed livestock grazing along a federally protected stretch of the North Fork of the Eel River, a federal judge ruled last week.

Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton of San Francisco said that the Forest Service violated the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and other federal laws by permitting the grazing. Five grazing allotments are located in the vicinity of the 15-mile stretch of the North Fork Eel, designated a federal Wild and Scenic River in 1981.

The ruling was a major victory for two environmental groups, the Environmental Protection Information Center, based in Garberville, and the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Ariz.-based organization. The two groups contended that the grazing was damaging water quality and fish habitat.

Board cuts jobs

The Board of Supervisors approved the county budget for the upcoming fiscal year on Tuesday and the bad news was that 237 positions will be cut.

The good news is that most of those positions are currently vacant. But that was small consolation to the county employees who will lose their jobs.

The county is currently facing a $3.2 million shortfall. Although the imbalance will be redressed by the recent cuts, that does not mean the county's money troubles will go away -- not with the state government in the throes of an epic budget crisis.

"We're going to find ourselves back here next year," said County Administrative Officer Loretta Nicklaus. "We need a multi-year approach to deal with the budget."

Democrats to slam recall

The central committee of Humboldt County's Democratic Party is coming out against the effort to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos.

Party officials will announce their opposition at a press conference on Thursday at the Eureka Inn. Supervisor John Woolley, an opponent of the recall, is expected to be on hand.

According to a source, the committee believes that the main claim of the recall's proponents -- that Gallegos is soft on crime -- is bogus. One piece of evidence for that, the source said, is that the filing of violent and serious felony cases over the first five months of this year is up 23 percent compared to last year, when Terry Farmer was the district attorney.

Rash of robberies

Eureka police believe the same man may be responsible for three bank robberies in the city since June 14.

The man, described as white, in his late 20s to early 30s and about 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall with a thin build and blond hair, was still at large as of press time Tuesday.

The rash of robberies began on June 14 at the Wells Fargo Bank on G Street. A week later, on June 21, Humboldt Bank in Henderson Center was hit. The third heist took place on Monday at U.S. Bank on Fifth Street.

Anyone with information about the robberies is asked to call the Eureka Police Criminal Investigations Unit at 441-4300.

No new home for Educare

For lack of a motion by the Arcata City Council last week, a local daycare has been denied a future home.

Humboldt Educare's lease on its current daycare facility will expire in 2005. It is presently located on Union Street on the old Equinox school property (now Big Lagoon Charter School). The proposed site for the new preschool was located just across the street, on Samoa and Union, in a wetlands area.

In addition to being concerned about allowing construction in an environmentally sensitive area, council members did not like the fact that a second phase of construction -- a residential complex that would have been located on a parcel adjacent to he Educare building -- was not before them last week.

"It looked like a way for [developer Steve] Strombeck to get his foot in the door to build housing on that property, and less about Educare's new building," Mayor Bob Ornelas said.

Strombeck said at the meeting that in exchange for being allowed to fill in wetlands to build the project, he would rehabilitate other wetlands in the same general area.

Cell tower approved

A controversial cell phone tower planned for the Arcata Bottoms has been approved by the county.

In a 4-2 vote last week, the Humboldt County Planning Commission granted Cal-North Wireless permission to operate a 50-foot tower near Moxon Lane and School Road.

The City of Arcata has said it will appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors. Residents of the area have opposed the tower, arguing that exposure to the radio waves may pose health risks. Supporters have said the emissions are within safety thresholds set by the Federal Communications Commission.

Arcata budget passed

The Arcata City Council adopted the city's 2003-04 budget last week with no layoffs, though a handful of vacant positions have been frozen and fees for a number of services have been raised.

In addition, the balanced budget comes at the expense of the city's reserve fund, about $200,000 of which -- a third of the total fund -- is being used to cover rising costs for such things as employee health insurance and retirement benefits.

Fire chiefs rebuffed

At a packed meeting Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors did not grant a request from the Humboldt County Fire Chiefs' Association for $378,000 in Proposition 172 funds.

However, the board directed that a committee be formed to analyze how to better support local firefighters.

Proposition 172, voted into law in 1993, was set up in part to allocate a one-half percent sales tax to county and city public services. County staff maintains that fire districts do not fall into the category of either city or county entities and are therefore ineligible for the money. This, in conjunction with tight budget times, means the county "is in no position to give consideration to a redistribution of these funds to support outside agencies," according to a county staff report.


A news item in last week's paper about a business park in McKinleyville contained errors and omissions. The 53-acre parcel near the Arcata/Eureka Airport, site of the Holiday Inn Express, presently has 15 acres that are serviced by roads, water and sewer pipes. The longtime owner of the property, McKinleyville developer Steve Moser, is now extending that infrastructure to 25 additional acres on the property, bringing the total usable land to 40 acres. Three buildings will soon be built there: an 8,000-square-foot office building, to be occupied by Moser Properties, Bay Point Mortgage and as many as three additional tenants; a 2,000-square-foot building, which at this point has no tenants; and a 5,000-square-foot facility that will house an accounting firm, Hartley, May and Abrahmsen.



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