North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

July 3, 2003

Whither big box?
Humboldt is not paradise for larger retailers

In the euthanasia room
Meet the two women who put down animals no one wants

Talking with Mike Thompson
George W. Bush is not his favorite guy

Grand Jury finds
utility tax flaws,
juvenile hall overcrowding

Puppy killers caught?

Arts Council scales back

Oyster operation curtailed

From bad to worse

Headwaters appeal

Polluter fined

Seeking funds

Whither big box?
Humboldt is not paradise for larger retailers


The new Target store is on its way, and while the people of Eureka said no to Walmart, the City Council recently rejected an ordinance that would have restricted large retail development. So will another "big-box" store appear on the Humboldt horizon any time soon?

Time will tell, but the fact is that on a number of counts -- demographics, land availability, regulatory realities -- the Humboldt Bay region is less than ideal for the big guys.

A possibility in Fortuna

Still, rumors continue to circulate. Consider the case of Fortuna.

The Pacific Lumber Co. has been talking with a developer about selling a portion of its Fortuna mill site, just north of Kenmar between Highway 101 and Fortuna Boulevard, to a big-box retailer. The developer involved may be Fred Katz -- who floated the unsuccessful idea of building a new, larger Kmart on the store's Eureka site.

"There have been some discussions as to the plausibility" of such a development at the PL site, said Fortuna City Manager Duane Rigge. "This could come to nothing. Or it could be just what people perceive it to be: the possibility that PL sells their property to a developer and the developer tries to put it forward as a regional shopping center," with three to five large retail stores, he said.

At this stage, Rigge said, "They're not putting anything on the table." But he said people who might be worried about Pacific Lumber cutting employees should take heart. "PL's not talking about eliminating any workforce. They're talking about relocating it to another site. It's not like the mill would go away; it would go away in that location."

Nobody directly involved is commenting about the possible deal. (Neither Katz nor Pacific Lumber officials returned calls for this story.)

"At this point nothing has been submitted," said Liz Shorey, Fortuna's city planner. "I only know the same rumors everybody else has heard."

Fortuna is often mentioned as a possible site for future development, partly because of its business-friendly reputation. "We get phone calls all the time from people who want to do business in the city," Shorey said. "A couple times a year we might get someone from a big-box broker."

But there are currently no applications to the city for a big-box store, she said, and there are very few, if any, parcels of land that would accommodate one without a rezoning. "Our commercial zone is mostly built out."

The one development that is currently in the works is a 60,000-square-foot project east of Fortuna Boulevard off Kenmar. It will include four buildings of 15,000 to 17,000 square feet each -- considerably less than the approximately 40,000 square feet, or about 10 acres, required for a Walmart-type store.

Sue Long of Wendt Construction, the builder of that site, said the prospective tenants are confidential. "But I can tell you it's definitely not a big-box," she said.


Eureka presents several obstacles to big-box development. There's not a lot of vacant land. The land that is available may be in the coastal zone (where projects are subject to another layer of regulatory review) or in a wetlands area or in former industrial zones that need environmental cleanup.

"I don't know of a 10-acre piece of property in the city of Eureka that is totally clean and clear and ready for development," said Sidnie Olson, senior planner for current planning. A developer might be able to acquire several properties and merge them, however, or buy an existing site and tear down what's there.

"It's going to depend on the developer, and what they want to do, and how far they're willing to go" to accomplish the project, Olson said.

Arcata is probably the last place a big-box would locate -- given its political stance on development. (It became one of a few cities across the country that have set a cap on the number of chain restaurants within their borders.)

That leaves the unincorporated areas.

The prime site for a big-box would have to be somewhere in Humboldt's central population area. "Certainly, anywhere north of McKinleyville and south of Scotia/Rio Dell would be definitely outside the window of where a big-box would consider locating," said Tom Hofweber, the man in charge of advance planning for Humboldt County.

The last proposal that came across Hofweber's desk, over a year ago, involved a Lowe's home improvement store. The company was thinking of building on the Bracut Mill Yard property along Highway 101 between Arcata and Eureka.

The problem? Caltrans said a highway overpass or interchange would be needed to cope with the added traffic -- at an estimated cost of $6 million or $7 million, Hofweber said.

Lowe's said no thanks.

McKinleyville decided late last year not to accommodate big-box developments -- or at least those with a traditional big-box design.

Farther south, Alton could be developed into a commercial area, and Caltrans is proposing a highway interchange in the area, Hofweber said.

Not enough growth

But in the end, Humboldt's population growth -- or rather lack of it -- could put a crimp in any plans for large new retail.

In the `90s, there was considerable interest on the part of large retailers in locating here, when the "growth curves" were looking good, Hofweber said. "From that standpoint, Humboldt County got on the radar," he said. But "the trick for big-box retailers is continued, sustained, substantial growth," and Humboldt doesn't fit the bill, he said.

"Our growth is actually off from what it was," he said. And the people who are moving in -- to buy the region's increasingly expensive homes -- are retirees from other parts of the state.

"We're too old," Hofweber said. "People over 60 will become a much larger proportion of our population in the coming years." Meanwhile, the number of people per household has dropped to less than two. "We're not getting young families, and we don't have the labor base" to support them, Hofweber said. "Stores want young families."

A better question than where the next big-box might go is does the community even want one, said Jacqueline Debets, economic development coordinator for the county.

Big-box stores usually set up shop in large metropolitan areas that have more people and more traffic, she said. In Humboldt, people are accustomed to a different environment.

"Most people don't want the population to change dramatically," Debets said. "If they wanted to live in an area of 10 million people, they'd live in the Bay Area."

In the euthanasia room
Meet the two women who put down animals no one wants


Molly cook and Wanda Regan in the euthanizing roomCarrying the drugged blue heeler in her arms like a sleeping child, Molly Cook [at left in photo] placed it gently on the steel surgical table. She had brought the dog, a male, from the kennel into this small concrete room adorned with posters of puppies and kittens. Beneath rows of colored muzzles was a bowl of dog biscuits -- a final morsel of comfort to make the animal's departure less frightening, and the job less painful.

No one in the room knew the dog's name or his age, although he was not old. He had been tied to a tree outside the Sequoia Humane Society in Eureka six days before, as vicious as he was scared. He was yet another abandoned animal left for someone else to deal with.

Cook and Wanda Regan [at right in photo] , both "euthanasia technicians," are the people who deal with these unfortunate dogs and cats. They are the only employees at the shelter with both the qualifications and the emotional wherewithal to put animals to sleep, as it used to be termed. Still, the job takes its toll.

While they are sympathetic with many animal owners who bring their pets to the shelter, both women expressed frustration with the lack of responsibility that people take for their cats and dogs. And they expressed resignation at the horrendous slaughter of eight puppies last week in Blue Lake.

"I've seen so many cases of animal abuse over the years that it doesn't surprise me at all. It just makes me sad," Regan said.

After ending an animal's life, Cook and Regan usually opt to stay in the office and away from the public -- the people filtering through the shelter's doors with pets to leave behind.

"When a person walks in with a box full of kittens after I just had to put one down, sometimes I just feel like yelling at them, so I usually stay back here and calm down for a while," Cook said.

With kitten season in full swing, the shelter has been inundated with the palm-sized felines. In total, the shelter is harboring 128 cats and kittens, more than Cook has seen at any one time in the three years she's been at the shelter. Last week their office space, equipped with a computer, filing cabinets and stacks of boxes, took the overflow: a cage of kittens and a mother cat.

Shelter cat in cageOccasionally the women would break from talking about what they do to look at the kittens playing. They said putting down kittens is the most difficult part of their job.

"It's not as hard to put down an animal that's sick, in pain or vicious beyond adoptability," Regan said. "But when there's a perfectly adoptable, healthy kitten that has to be euthanized because there's no room here -- well, that's the worst."

A woman from Garberville came to the shelter two weeks ago with 17 kittens, black and brown, their eyes not yet opened. Cook took 20 minutes to give the woman a tour of the facility and explain that there was no room at the inn, so to speak, and that the kittens would eventually be killed if she left them. The woman drove away without them anyway, crying.

The bottom line, according to Kathleen Kistler, director of the humane society, is that people need to spay and neuter their animals. Although the humane society does not perform the surgery at their facility, pets leave the shelter only on the condition that a veterinarian will sterilize them.

"People continuously drop off [animals] and they don't see the emotional impact it is has on our workers," Kistler said. "They work here because they really care about animals, not to be animal killers."

One year from now, the humane society will become a "no-kill" facility. The shelter will end its 22-year contract with the county and become an adoption shelter. The county will then take on the responsibility of harboring and euthanizing unwanted animals. That will take place at a new facility planned for Airport Road in McKinleyville.

In the meantime, more animals continue to flood the shelter, and the women reluctantly accept the duty that no one else at the humane society has been able to regularly perform.

By Regan's estimates, the heeler, also known as an Australian cow dog, weighed less than 25 pounds but made up for its size with a wild temperament. He had to be snared before being untied from the tree and brought into the shelter at the end of a 5-foot pole.

"He was so out of control I can't imagine that someone managed to get him into a car to bring him here," Cook said.

Now the dog lay limply on the black rubber mat covering the surgical table, a tiny portion of his pink tongue lolling out lazily. (He had been sedated beforehand in the kennel, known as the "doghouse.") With Cook watching, Regan shaved a small section of his front leg and wound a tourniquet around the limb. With a vein protruding she then stuck the dog gently with a needle. Blood rushed back into the vial and mixed with the sodium pentobarbital. Regan paused, as if to allow for a prayer or a final good-bye.

Slowly she pushed the poison in, withdrew the needle and waited. The dog began to gently snore. Regan stroked the gray fur of the heeler's sides and kept her hands close to its ribcage, monitoring the heart. As his pulse slowed, a hush came over the room. Regan spoke softly, in the past tense, looking down at the dog dying under her touch. "He was actually pretty cute," she sighed.

Talking with Mike Thompson


Congressman Mike Thompson admits -- grudgingly -- that George W. Bush is popular. But he doesn't think the president's domestic agenda is in sync with what most Americans want.

"The majority of Americans want a healthy vibrant economy. I don't think his domestic agenda has addressed that. The majority of Americans want an equitable tax system. I don't think his tax policy and his continued efforts to reduce taxes in a way that disproportionately affects the population is what the American people want.

"I don't think the American people want to be $6.4 trillion in debt," he went on, "or on a 10-year course of being $12 trillion in debt. I don't think the American people want to be paying $1 billion in taxpayer money every day to pay off just the interest rate on our national debt. In 10 years it will be over $2 billion every day."

He was speaking from his Eureka office on a recent morning. It may have been chilly and foggy outside, but it was clear Thompson was just getting warmed up.

"I don't think the American people want our environment pillaged in the way this administration seems hell-bent to do. I don't think the American people want decisions on issues such as Klamath River water flows to be determined by what is in the economic interests of the few in the upper basin, [or] have that policy result in the death of 38,000 spawning salmon.

"I don't think the American people want a health care system whose delivery will be left up to a couple of private sector insurance companies and prescription drug manufacturers," Thompson continued. "The American people want fairness, they want jobs, clean air, clean water, good schools. I don't think that is the national agenda right now."

It was an impressive performance, even powerful. And clearly heartfelt. But then the Napa Democrat has always had a reputation for speaking his mind.

He's also proving to be resilient. It's not easy being a Democratic congressman in the House, where the Republican leadership regularly stifles meaningful debate; yet Thompson doesn't display much frustration or fatigue. As he told another newspaper this week, "I'm not going to stop. I'm going to keep going."

On Monday, Thompson took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony out at the South Spit, which will be reopened to the public for the first time in six years. Thompson and others pushed for the rehabilitation of the area, which had become a refuge for homeless people and transients. The area will be administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and will be open to a variety of uses, including hunting and hiking.

But aside from that, Thompson hasn't had much to beat his chest about lately. His most recent setback came last week, when his prescription drug plan was denied a hearing by House leaders. He continues to fight an uphill battle in the Klamath River Basin, where a more equitable division of water between North Coast fishing communities and irrigators in southern Oregon is opposed by the Bush administration. A bill that would increase funding for salmon restoration efforts faces uncertain odds, as does legislation that would allow for the safe disposal of more than 500 million obsolete computers, which can leak heavy metals into the environment.

Thompson thinks the Republicans' determination -- or obsession -- cutting taxes could drive the country to financial ruin. As an example, he pointed to a bill recently passed by Congress that cuts taxes by $330 billion. Not long afterward, according to Thompson, Tom DeLay, a powerful House Republican from Texas, vowed on the floor of the House that more tax cuts are coming. The next day, Thompson said, DeLay's "on television signing a bill that increases the debt limit by $1 trillion."

"Americans need to start connecting the dots because our grandkids are being saddled with a debt today that they're going to have trouble paying off," Thompson added.

Are Republicans trying to defund the federal government?

"That's my read. My read is that the more money they are able to cut loose is fewer dollars to pay for programs, and that they're somehow suggesting that government programs are bad. But these are the same programs that build highways and roads and bridges and overpasses. Whenever anyone is stranded off the coast of Humboldt County it's a federal vessel or helicopter that goes out and rescues you. It's Social Security. It's Medicare. It's veterans' retirements and veterans' health care. All good programs.

"Having said that, we need to show constant vigilance to make sure that these programs are doing what they are supposed to do and that we're getting the best bang for our taxpayer dollars," Thompson went on. "But that's different than spending all the money so you can't fund the programs. Doing that all you do is make the cracks more wide and [allow] more people to fall through the cracks. If that's the agenda, that's going to cripple our domestic economy."

On international matters, Thompson said he had two concerns about the situation in Iraq. One is that American forces have yet to find Saddam Hussein. With 200,000 American soldiers in the country, he's worried that chemical or biological weapons could still be used against U.S. troops. "I've always thought he has had [chemical and biological weapons]," Thompson said.

Thompson's other complaint is that the administration deceived the public in making its case for going to war with Iraq. "We were told that our country was at immediate risk if we didn't go into Iraq and topple this dangerous regime. We know now that that was not the case. We know now that the data [the administration] presented to the American Congress and the American people was shaky at best."

Grand Jury finds utility tax flaws, juvenile hall overcrowding

The Humboldt County Grand Jury found a number of things to criticize about the city of Eureka's utility users tax, which voters extended through 2007 by a narrow margin last November.

Since the city accepts lump sum payments from those collecting the tax, there are no itemized statements of exactly where the money comes from. Therefore the city cannot audit the account to make sure everyone pays who is supposed to pay.

The 2002-03 Grand Jury Report, released Tuesday to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, also concludes that due to fairness issues, Eureka should quit taxing cell phone users and TV services, and it should notify large utility users that they may have have been overcharged by paying in excess of the city's $1,000 cap.

Perhaps the prickliest issue of all raised in the jurors' report: the direct tie established by the City Council between the tax and police raises.

"Police personnel, and their political action committee, were encouraged to support [the tax] for their own monetary self-interest.

"The grand jury recommends that the City of Eureka refrain from promising future salary increases subject to voters' approval of a taxing measure" which is set to expire by law.

For the second year in a row, the grand jury faulted the county for overcrowding in juvenile hall. The 26-bed facility often has up to 40 detainees, the report noted.

The Board of Supervisors said there is some federal funding available that could help the problem, but the county doesn't have the money to match grants and to provide the additional staff that would be required.

The grand jury report also reported on the following:

Jurors investigated the deaths of four inmates of the Humboldt County Correctional Facility during 2001. One inmate died of a head injury that occurred prior to arrest. He had been booked into the county jail by an Arcata police officer who failed to mention to jail personnel that the person had been kicked in the head during a fight. The jury recommended that the APD create guidelines for providing information concerning prisoners' physical well-being. A second inmate died that year from cardio-respiratory failure due to alcohol and drug intoxication. Two more died by suicide; one suffocated using a plastic bag, another hung himself from a doorknob using his own socks.

While investigating the death of an invalid under the care of an in-home care provider, jurors found that the state of California pays workers who care for disabled people even though some are untrained and have not had their backgrounds checked. The jury has recommended that the Board of Supervisors publicize a registry where trained caregivers are listed.

The jury examined the county's lack of response to reports of animal abuse at the Band of Mercy animal refuge, some of the complaints dating back to 1994. Because no county department oversees nonprofit animal refuge facilities, complaints of neglect were ignored. The refuge was condemned in 2002 and its owners convicted of animal abuse. The jury recommends that the county establish oversight procedures.

The report found Eureka police to be uncooperative when asked to provide information to the grand jury regarding citizens' oversight and the city's response to grievances. Three EPD officers declined to testify when asked by the jury. The jury recommended that the Eureka city manager encourage EPD to comply or risk a formal subpoena.

jury noted a warning from the county's Human Rights Commission: The county is becoming more polarized due to increased incidents of racial tension, economic disparity and sexual orientation. The jury is advising the Board of Supervisors to develop additional mediation programs to ease cultural conflicts and to establish a computerized filing system to record complaints. The jury also found that vacancies on the commission and an inadequate filing system make it harder for the county to look into potential human rights violations brought before the agency.

-- reported by Judy Hodgson and Helen Sanderson

Puppy killers caught

Two brothers have been arrested and charged with felony animal cruelty for the slaughter of a litter of eight puppies in Blue Lake last week.

Adam and Paul Curtright, both in their 20s, were arrested by police on Monday and are in custody at the Humboldt County Jail.

Some of the 6-week-old pups were shot; others had their throats slit. One had its skull crushed. A ninth puppy that has since been named Lucky was shot and had its leg shattered, but is recovering.

Blue Lake City Councilman Sherman Schapiro found the dead puppies in some brush while on a morning jog.

After the killings made headlines, Blue Lake Police received a number of anonymous calls. A few callers expressed suspicion that an adult dog at Paul Curtright's Arcata residence matched the description consistent with the puppies -- thought to be border collies or McNabs. After surveying Curtright's residence, police saw what appeared to be the mother dog scramble out from under Curtright's trailer, attached to a large chain. Curtright was eventually arrested, along with his brother, who lives in McKinleyville.

In memory of Lucky's litter mates, the Sequoia Humane Society will offer discounted fees for spay and neutering this fall. Call 442-1782 for more information.

Arts Council scales back

Like so many other organizations that use public funds, the Humboldt Arts Council is tightening its belt.

Driving the cutbacks is the anticipated demise of the California Arts Council, which until recently provided the HAC with $41,000 a year. Another funding source, the $1 million Lila Wallace endowment, is also in trouble due to poor performance of stock investments.

The loss of the California Arts Council funding will bring an end to the area's thriving Artists in Schools program, according to HAC board president Sally Arnot.

"Humboldt County has something like 60 artists-in-residence in schools that were funded by a state/local partner program. Without the $41,000 from the state, those positions will disappear. To me that's the saddest thing. The impact will really hit the children."

To further save money, Arnot said that the Morris Graves Museum of Art would no longer be open on Wednesdays, and that the number of shows per year is being reduced. Additionally, the gallery will begin requesting a $3 donation for entry on all days except during the monthly Arts Alive! events.

Finally, HAC is turning to attrition. While the executive director, Guy Joy, who recently announced that he is stepping down, will be replaced, the woman who is replacing him, Barbara Garza, will not. She has been serving as the organization's development director.

Joy, who will retain his position on the board of directors, said the organization is in a transition stage. "We're definitely shifting from being grant-funded, as most nonprofits are, to an earned income organization."

Oyster operation curtailed

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has ordered Coast Seafoods to stop planting or seeding new oyster beds near the eelgrass habitats of Humboldt Bay.

The cease and desist order, which took effect Monday, was issued because of the potential danger to the eelgrass and the aquatic life it supports, said David Ammerman, regulatory biologist with the corps.

According to the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) in Garberville, Coast Seafoods has been farming oysters in Humboldt Bay since 1950, and, in the process, "destroying extensive areas of eelgrass beds that are vital nurseries to many important fisheries, such as Dungeness crab, herring, rockfish, salmon and steelhead."

The company has 15 days to respond to the order in writing, Ammerman said. Meanwhile, it is allowed to retain the existing oyster beds until those are ready for harvest.

The company did not return a call seeking comment.

From bad to worse

The state budget deadlock is imperiling the College of the Redwoods' fall semester. Meantime, the $38 billion state deficit is forcing further budget cuts at Humboldt State University.

The first blow was delivered last Wednesday, when State Controller Steve Westly announced that he wouldn't be able to release around $200 million to the state's 108 community colleges this month. Why not? Because the state Legislature has not approved a budget for the current fiscal year, which began on Tuesday. Another $200 million that the colleges are expecting in August may also be unavailable if the budget impasse continues.

The bottom line is that there may not be money available to pay the salaries of roughly 1,000 CR employees. In the past when the Legislature has been unable to adopt a budget in time for the new fiscal year, employees have still been paid. It was assumed that once the budget was passed, it would cover those expenses. But a recent state Supreme Court decision bars Westly from allocating monies to community colleges that don't have budgets.

Two days after the CR bombshell, HSU officials made public their own bad news: a proposed 30 percent student fee increase to cope with the possibility that $9.5 million may need to be taken out of this year's budget. The estimated spending rollback is $1.4 million higher than the cut proposed in Gov. Gray Davis' budget. Recently, the state Legislature has been debating additional cuts to the California State University system budget.

Even if the additional cuts are not necessary, every major program and service, from academic affairs and athletics to support services and class size, would be seriously affected, according to university officials.

Headwaters appeal

The state has appealed a lawsuit brought by Pacific Lumber Co. that claimed water regulators did not have the authority to monitor the company's logging operations in the "Hole in the Headwaters."

Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed the opening motion in the case Monday with the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco.

Pacific Lumber sued the state in 2001 after the State Water Resources Control Board ordered the company to monitor the water quality of the south fork of the Elk River, near a logging operation, in the 720-acre Hole in the Headwaters, an area retained by PL as a part of the Headwaters Forest deal.

The company's logging had already damaged the north fork of the Elk River and other rivers, the state argued.

The company asserted that since the Department of Forestry had already issued a timber harvest plan for the site, which did not include water quality monitoring, the water board did not have the authority to require PL to monitor the water.

The state disagreed.

"The analogy we offer is, just because someone has their driver's license, that does not mean they can go around willy-nilly dumping their oil into rivers and streams," said Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for the Attorney General's office.

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge J. Michael Brown sided with PL. The state is appealing the lower court's ruling.

PL did not return a call seeking comment on the case.

Polluter fined

The owner of Figas Construction of Eureka was fined $50,000 for water pollution and diversion of a stream, the Humboldt County District Attorney announced last week.

Robert Leslie Figas, 48, pleaded guilty on June 24 to two misdemeanor counts: for polluting water by dumping dirt where it could pass into Telegraph Creek, and for unlawfully diverting, obstructing or changing a stream.

The state Department of Fish and Game investigated the case when witnesses reported seeing a bulldozer dump a load of soil into Telegraph Creek, upstream from Shelter Cove.

Various agencies worked with Figas and his co-defendant, Robert Hemberger, to prepare a work plan and repair the damage, which threatened Shelter Cove's drinking water. Hemberger pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors in the matter last year, and was fined $20,700.

Half of Figas' $50,000 fine was suspended, and he was placed on 24 months probation.

The plea bargain indicates "business as usual in Humboldt County is over," said Deputy District Attorney Paul Hagen.

Seeking funds

The Arcata volunteer fire department has begun a $3 million to $5 million fund-raising effort to build a new station on land purchased by the group a couple of years ago.

When built, the station will house the department's new $550,000 ladder truck -- which is too big to fit in any of the existing stations. (It is currently being housed in a temporary building behind the Mad River fire station.)

The three stations used by the department -- Arcata, Mad River and McKinleyville -- all have 10-foot doors, and the new station will need 14-foot doors in order to accommodate the truck, said Asst. Chief Ed Trigeiro.

The 2-acre property, which was purchased by the volunteers and not the fire district, is located at 11th and M streets in Arcata, and includes the Bug Press building as well as a vacant lot and a couple of garages, Trigeiro said.

The department, which is staffed by 12 paid personnel and 49 volunteer firefighters, is responsible for covering a 62-square-mile area that includes McKinleyville, Arcata, Bayside, Manila, several miles up Fickle Hill Road and as far as Essex Lane off Highway 299.



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