North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

July 4, 2002

Parking tax proposed for Eureka

 Tracking HIV

Local economy gaining

The torch has been passed

Don't play with fire

Fleeing is pointless

Parking tax proposed for Eureka

The city of Eureka should impose a tax on businesses to help resolve the chronic problem of scarce parking downtown, the latest Humboldt County Grand Jury report says.

The report, which comes out each July, does not specify the size of the tax. Nor does it say whether the tax should be limited to downtown businesses. But it does note the obvious -- the recommendation is likely to stir controversy.

"City staff stated that business owners threatened litigation or bankruptcy if assessed for parking," the report noted.

In 1988 the city proposed a parking assessment district, construction of two multilevel parking structures and an additional street lot. The plan offered to split the costs equally between the city and businesses most directly affected. The proposal was quickly shot down and the city has been "gun-shy" ever since, said Brent Siemer, director of public works.Grand Jury report cover

"Employees make up the lion's share of the parking demand," Siemer said, and studies indicate employees resist parking more than a block from work. A large parking structure would therefore likely go unused.

And then there's the city's image to consider.

Tight parking is "a tiger the city wants to have prowling around," Siemer said. "If [street parking] were too plentiful, people may think it's a ghost town."

The annual Grand Jury report is aimed at fostering improvement in the performance of municipalities and is often influential. This year's version made these additional findings regarding Eureka's parking situation:

The city has spent $188,000 on parking studies over the past 23 years and downtown parking remains a problem.

The city aggravated the parking situation with its new waterfront development. The cobblestone streets and intersections along 2nd Street removed a total of 40-50 parking spaces.

The city regularly approves development projects with inadequate parking.

Ninety-eight percent of available downtown city lot parking is used by business owners, employees and residents, leaving just 2 percent for shoppers. (City surveys show just 12 percent of the spots on street are used by shoppers and the remainder employees and residents.)

Downtown workers routinely move their cars up to three times a day to avoid parking tickets in two-hour zones.

The city is out of compliance with federal handicapped parking requirements, which it says it can't afford to comply with.

In addition to the proposal for a parking tax, the report calls upon the city to consider more parking meters, improve its planning and find a way to come into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Each year the Grand Jury examines several county departments and other public agencies and programs. A report is issued at the conclusion of the grand jury year of service -- the beginning of summer -- and the investigated entities have until Aug. 30 to respond to findings of deficiency.

One county department, the county counsel's office, was examined for the first time and found in a certain amount of disarray. The report noted problems with morale and with productivity. A work furlough system -- which allows employees to take unpaid leave -- a four-day work week and a job-sharing arrangement have reduced the office's ability to complete legal work for other county departments, according to the report.

Another problem -- that 20 attorneys and staff are in two locations -- should be remedied by a planned consolidation this fall, the report said.

Jurors scrutinized the county parks system and found it underfunded and understaffed, a common finding for county departments and programs.

The Grand Jury also found shortcomings in cleanliness and in compliance with disability access at sheriff substations in Hoopa and Garberville. The Garberville substation also needs to be expanded, the Grand Jury said, since it is used to accommodate the California Highway Patrol, state Fish and Game, the Drug Enforcement Agency and other law enforcement personnel in times of need.

A new state-of-the-art facility in Eureka that serves troubled youths in Humboldt, Del Norte, Mendocino and Lake counties got high marks, as did a day treatment program for youths in need of rehabilitation. The county's Juvenile Hall, however, is chronically overcrowded and understaffed, the report said, and the county should expedite grant funds to expand the facility and increase staff.

Some of the Grand Jury's investigations are complaint-driven. This year a resident of Henderson Center in Eureka complained about the county's purchase and renovation of a house for use by the county's Healthy Moms' Program, a day treatment program for mothers-to-be with alcohol and drug problems. The report found the county at fault for not thoroughly inspecting the house prior to purchase, causing excessive remodeling costs. But the jurors had nothing but praise for the program itself.

"The Humboldt County Grand Jury commends the staff of the Healthy Moms' Program for the vital service they are providing to the community and in addition commends the Board of Supervisors for their continuing support of the program."

The full 43-page Grand Jury Report is available at all branches of the Humboldt County Library.

-- reported by Judy Hodgson

Tracking HIV

People who test positive for HIV in California will now have their cases recorded in a database, giving the state a better picture of the extent to which the virus that causes AIDS is spreading throughout the population.

Under new rules that took effect July 1, whenever a person is diagnosed with HIV it will be reported to the state, though not by name. Instead, a code that includes the last four digits of the patient's Social Security number will be used to preserve privacy.

California is the eighth state to institute reporting with codes instead of names, recognizing concerns about discrimination. California is the 47th state to adopt an HIV tracking system.

The state Legislature approved the change in 2000.

The primary reason for the new reporting system is that starting in 2005 federal funding will be based on both HIV and AIDS statistics. Previously, the prevalence of HIV was extrapolated from the number of AIDS diagnoses. But with new advances in treatment, fewer HIV-positive people are coming down with full-blown AIDS, making AIDS data a less reliable source of information.

"I've always been a fan of HIV reporting because with AIDS reporting you're really just looking at the tip of the iceberg," said Ann Lindsey, public health officer with the the Humboldt County Health Department.

In Humboldt County 204 people have been diagnosed with AIDS since 1984, but the rates have dropped since the early `90s, and no one has died of it since 2000.

However, HIV infection rates in the county are a complete unknown, making it hard to target preventative measures.

"We know that in other states the 16-to-24-year-old demographic is [showing] a lot of infection, but here we don't know that," said Jeoffrey Barett, a senior public health nurse and the county's AIDS program coordinator. "Without that [information], if you're going into a high school somewhere to teach AIDS education it's a hard sell."

Patients who are recieving treatment for HIV will also have their diagnoses reported under the new law.

In the end, the new data should bring better and possibly more funding to the county to foster AIDS awareness and combat the disease itself.

"The good thing about HIV reporting is that it will finally bring data-based planning to the AIDS effort," said Barret.

Local economy gaining

Things are looking up for Humboldt County's economy, which appears to have pulled out of the recession it became mired in late last year.

"The local economy has recovered much of the ground lost during the recession. A modest local recovery may be solidifying," says the Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County, a monthly report put out by Humboldt State University.

According to the Index, three of the four "leading indicators" of economic performance were positive in May (the latest month for which figures are available) -- manufacturing orders and building permits were both up, while unemployment insurance claims were down.

However, the picture is not entirely rosy. Of the six economic sectors the Index tracks, just two registered growth in May -- lumber manufacturing and retail sales. Other sectors such as home sales dropped just slightly; the only sector to have a significant falling off was tourism, which was down 11 percent from May of last year.

Both economics professor Steven Hackett and John Manning, managing director of the Index, said the drop in occupancy rates in local hotels and motels is disturbing. But they said it should not be taken as an indication of a bad summer tourism season. They also said it's a bit puzzling since local tourism officials say inquiries from potential visitors are up.

"We can't reconcile the occupancy rates we're seeing on the one hand with the interest that they're seeing at the visitor's bureau," Hackett said.

The torch has been passed

"So much for Iowa State," said new Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond, glancing at his new campus identification card. The comment amounted to an official goodbye to the university where he had been provost for the past seven years.

On Monday, Richmond officially took over from Alistair McCrone, who served as president for 27 years. The occasion was marked by a sort of mobile news conference, with the peripatetic new president touring the campus with members of the media in tow.

Richmond came to the campus after attending a retreat for the presidents of the California State University system, where the new state budget was discussed.

Richmond said the budget looks pretty good this year, but that there would be "more opportunity from the university to suffer from a bad budget" next year due to the budget deficit.

Richmond also said that he looked forward to working with the community and finding out what Humboldt State can do for Northern California.

Don't play with fire

Fire restrictions are now in effect on all U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands in Humboldt and Mendocino counties, including the King Range National Conservation Area.

According to a press release from the agency's Arcata field office, the restrictions are as follows:

1. Internal combustion engines (automobiles, ATVs -- basically everything except chainsaws) are limited to established roads and trails.

2. Fireworks are illegal period. The sole exception is on July 4, when state fire marshal-approved fireworks can be used in posted areas on Black Sands and Mattole Beaches, and the Samoa Dunes Recreation Area.

3. Smoking is only allowed inside enclosed vehicles and at developed campgrounds and recreation sites.

4. Campfires and barbecues are only allowed in the designated areas of developed campgrounds and recreation sites. Portable stoves are allowed but only with a campfire permit.

Speaking of campfires, the U.S. Forest Service put out guidelines to help prevent your cheery blaze from turning into a roaring inferno -- and reminded the public that fireworks, even the "safe and sane" variety, are not allowed on National Forest lands.

Campfires cause about a third of the fires in the Six Rivers National Forest annually, but following these guidelines should help prevent that:

1. Campfire permits are required outside of a campsite. Free permits are available at any Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management or California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection office.

2. Build campfires away from overhanging branches, steep slopes, rotten stumps or logs, dry grass and leaves. Stockpile firewood away from the fire.

3. Scrape away litter, duff and any burnable material in a ten-foot wide circle to keep a small campfire from spreading.

4. Keep water available nearby, and you must keep a shovel with you so you can keep the fire from spreading to the surrounding area.

5. Never leave a fire unattended. A breeze may come up while you're gone and spread the fire.

6. Make sure your campfire is out. Drown it with water, and be sure all burning material has been extinguished and cooled. Feel the coals and ashes; make sure no roots are burning. Never bury a fire; it may smolder and break out again. Crush out cigarettes on something that won't burn like a rock, not a log or on the ground.

"Your campfire is your responsibility," said Six Rivers National Forest Officer John Wendt in a press release. "You can be held accountable for the cost of suppression. More important than that, firefighters and the public are in danger when runaway campfires spread. We want everyone to be safe."

Or, more classically, only you can prevent forest fires. Happy burning.

Fleeing is pointless

Warning: The brand-new, all-white 2002 Chevrolet Camaro sneaking up behind you might not be driven by someone in the throes of a mid-life crisis; instead, it could be a California Highway Patrol officer in hot pursuit.

The Garberville CHP office is the first on the North Coast to receive the new patrol cars, which will not sport the traditional black-and-white, two-tone paint job. Seventy-two others will be deployed statewide in coming weeks.

The $25,000 sports cars can reach speeds up to 160 mph.

Besides being all-white, several stealth features have been introduced to catch violators unawares. For example, what appears to be a ski rack on the roof is actually a bank of flashing lights waiting to be turned on. And the shotgun that used to stand up between the front seats will now lie out of sight on the floor to the left of the driver.


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