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July 14, 2005
A NOT-SO-BAD BUDGET:
After years of distressing news
from Sacramento, local governments received a comparatively good
deal under a state budget signed Monday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In particular -- and somewhat surprisingly -- the budget fulfills
a promise made by Schwarzenegger soon after he took office to
replace revenues lost when he slashed the Vehicle License Fee
program. The county of Humboldt will receive $2.6 million in
"backfill" payments for VLF losses since October 2003.
In addition, the ever-threatened Rural Law Enforcement grant
program -- designed to help counties that have to police sparsely
populated but vast areas -- is once again maintained, meaning
that Sheriff Gary Philp will not be forced into laying off employees,
as he was last year. However, the governor decided to veto a
$24 million budget item that would have funded state environmental
and recreational programs, some of which would likely have gone
to support the ailing Mad River Hatchery.
BERG SCOLDS LAKE
we reported last week, the Lake County Board of Supervisors
sent "no confidence" letters to Assemblymember Patty
Berg (D-Eureka) and State Senator Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata) late
last month for their failure to oppose a bill that would increase
dam inspection fees local governments pay to the state -- not
an entirely insignificant expenditure in watery Lake County.
Under the new bill, the county must pay around $14,000 in dam
fees to the state annually. Last week, Berg fired back, noting
that this year and last she had fought hard to retain state rural
law enforcement grants when the governor proposed to cut them.
Lake County gets about half a million dollars a year under the
program. In total, she writes, the county gets around $72 million
per year in health care assistance from state and federal agencies.
She implies that it is somewhat small of the Lake County Board
of Supervisors to get huffy over a relatively tiny increase in
dam fees at a time when, despite a budget crisis, plenty of money
is still flowing the other way. "We cannot ask our neighbors
to shoulder their share of the lifting if we are not willing
to do so ourselves," Berg writes. "We will overcome
our challenges not by finger-pointing or scapegoating, but by
working together for the mutual good. I trust that we will continue
to do that."
SUICIDE BILL DEAD: But earlier this week, Berg quietly pulled the
plug on her landmark physician-assisted suicide bill, which made
national headlines after it was introduced. The Death with Dignity
Act, AB 654, reaped only 33 nods from Berg's 79 colleagues. Forty-one
votes, including her own, were required. The assemblymember and
her co-author briefly tried to switch the bill to the Senate
last month, but after getting a lackluster reception last week
they withdrew the bill. Berg told the LA Times that she
would resubmit it in January: "I think that something that's
supported by 70 percent just can't be stopped forever,"
TSUNAMI VS. NUKE
PLANT: Last month's tsunami warning
probably caused many of us on the North Coast to update our emergency
awareness reflexes and develop a simple plan for when major earthquakes
hit: Get high (in elevation, that is). But if the big wave ever
does come again to these shores, like it did in 1964 in Crescent
City, it'll also be nice to know that our spent nuclear fuel
rods, stored in a pool at the decommissioned Humboldt Bay nuclear
power plant, are tucked away in a secure environment. And to
date, Pacific Gas & Electric has said they are. But PG&E
plans to begin a new study to further define tsunami-proof security
at two of its nuclear power plants, Humboldt Bay and the Diablo
Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo. PG&E geoscientist
Lloyd Cluff visited Indonesia following the Dec. 26 tsunami and
brought back ideas for looking into local plant's security, said
PG&E spokesperson Sharon Gavin. The $500,000 study will examine
the "apocalyptic model," in which a magnitude-9 earthquake
triggers a tsunami, and also will model major tsunami action
over a period of decades, and from there determine if security
upgrades are needed. "This is just sort of an extra look
based on models developed after Lloyd went to Indonesia,"
said Gavin. Michael Welch, of the Arcata-based Redwood Alliance,
an environmental group that works on energy issues, was surprised
to hear of the $500,000 PG&E study. Welch is on a PG&E
citizens advisory board, which has had fruitful discussions on
getting the Humboldt Bay plant's spent nuclear fuel out of the
pool and into on-site dry cask storage. Last month, PG&E's
Cluff gave a presentation to the citizens advisory board on his
Indonesia findings. "His presentation led us to believe
that already there wasn't any possibility of an impact [at Humboldt
Bay] from tsunamis." But Welch said any new research into
the plant's safety is welcomed, although he cautioned that the
Alliance always takes "with a grain of salt any study undertaken
by a major stakeholder." At any rate, if the spent fuel
is eventually placed in dry casks, the danger from tsunamis should
be lessened, Welch said. "And they're moving forward with
that, and everything's hunky dory," he said. "We believe
once the spent fuel is in the dry cask storage, it will be safe
from any tsunami."
EEL RIVER CLOSES
DOORS: The big green mill between
Fortuna and Rio Dell -- once famous for the seemingly endless
log deck that told northbound travelers on Highway 101 that they
were officially entering timber country -- is no more. On Monday,
Eel River Lumber Products announced that it would be closing
the mill and laying off its employees. The company purchased
the mill from Eel River Sawmills, its original owner, in 2003.
It is expected to sell its substantial land holdings in the coming
months. At its height in the late 1980s, Eel River Sawmills had
For the second summer in a row,
local tribes and conservationists head to Scotland for the July
22 annual shareholders meeting of ScottishPower, the parent company
of PacifiCorp, a utility that manages several hydropower dams
that block fish passage and water flow on the mid-Klamath River.
Indians from the Yurok, Hoopa, Karuk and Klamath tribes have
lobbied to have the power company take down the dams to restore
fish spawning habitat on the river. And while talks between the
opposing groups have been fairly cordial over the past year,
there is no official sign that the company will decommission
their utilities or build pricey fish passageways, estimated to
cost $100 million. "We're disappointed that their original
license application to FERC [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission]
hasn't been amended at all," said Merv George Jr., administrator
for the Klamath River Intertribal Fish and Water Commission.
The 50-year federal operating license for the dams expires in
March of 2006 and the tribes are pushing to have a resolution
before then. Complicating matters somewhat is ScottishPower's
recent announcement to sell PacifiCorp to Warren Buffet's MidAmerican
Energy Holding Company. PacifiCorp is slated to change hands,
for $9.4 billion, within 12 to 18 months, according to a ScottishPower
press release. But so far, George said, things have started off
on the right foot with the incoming company. This week, tribal
members met with CEOs of both PacifiCorp and MidAmerican. "The
meeting went really well," George said. "It's the type
of dialogue that the tribe has wanted all along because it's
best to hear from the people of the river directly. A briefing
from someone else doesn't do justice to what our issues are."
RUN: Dennis Hunter, Eureka's representative
on the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District,
announced last Wednesday that he would seek re-election to the
seat at a press conference on Woodley Island, not far from the
district's headquarters. A veteran of the district, Hunter said
that one of his top priorities would be to continue to promote
development of the shipping industry on Humboldt Bay. "People
in Sacramento and Washington are more aware of the port than
ever before, and we've got to keep that momentum going,"
he said. Not everyone agrees, though, and it seems likely that
Hunter will face some competition before voters go to the polls
on Nov. 8. Maggy Herbelin, coordinator of the Humboldt Bay Stewards
-- a group with an environmental bent -- said Tuesday she is
thinking about taking a stab at Hunter's seat. She said that
she had concerns about increased shipping on the bay, with its
attendant pollution problems. "I feel that if we are going
to start doing some barge shipping, we have to look very carefully
at the issues surrounding that," she said. "It's very,
very important, since we have been gifted with such a beautiful
bay, that we take care of it."
REPEATER: Gary Nixon, new to town and ham radio expert extraordinaire
(call sign WA6HZT), wants to make one thing very clear: Amateur
UHF radio broadcast signals, that is. That's why he approached
Evergreen Pulp last month to see if he could make use of its
stature and place a repeater on its pulp mill on Samoa. It wasn't,
he said, a publicity stunt on Evergreen's part, as a previous
Journal report snidely implied.
"It's an ideal site," said Nixon. "What makes
it good is, the frequencies that this [technology] uses is all
line of sight. In this case, you can see that building from anywhere.
If you can see that plume, you've got a line of sight shot that
will go out to 20 miles." The UHF amateur radio repeater
system will be able to receive signals on one frequency and rebroadcast
them on another frequency and, through the Internet
Radio Linking Project, reach radio operators around the world.
Like we said before: Cool.
raises parking fees
With most students out
of town, AS representatives protests sharp hikes
State students who drive to school will pay the price come fall
Last week, HSU President Rollin
Richmond announced that the school will more than double the
price of student parking permits over the next four years in
order to help fund a new $12-$15 million, 1,000-space parking
structure to be located behind the university library.
HSU officials say the move will
discourage students from driving to school and create much-needed
revenue that can be used to improve parking and develop alternative
However, the fee hike goes against
the recommendation of the Student Fee Advisory Committee, an
advisory body to the president through which students voice their
opinion about fees. The committee, comprised of students, faculty
and administrators, turned down the parking fee proposal twice,
once a year ago and again last semester.
The administration's decision
to hike fees in spite of the committee's recommendation comes
at a time when the university is desperately trying to attract
new students -- and it's already angered some current students
still in town during the summer break.
"I'm not opposed to a fee
increase," said Associated Students President Nicole Alvarado.
"I'm opposed to an inequitable fee increase. We've never
asked the students if they want a parking structure."
Alvarado argued that the fee
hike is vague and unfair, targeting students to carry the sole
burden of the fee. Continuing union negotiations prevent Richmond
from raising permit fees for protected staff and faculty. Only
student permit costs will rise.
State regulations prohibit CSUs
from using general funds to support parking facilities or operations,
leaving the university little choice but to raise fees to increase
revenues, according to Richmond.
"I don't have another alternative
except to turn to (students)," Richmond [photo at right]
said last week.
Currently, a student parking
permit costs $135 per academic year. Under the plan approved
by Richmond last week, that price will increase by $45 every
year until 2008-09, after which future rate increases will be
pegged to inflation. Prices for weekly and semester-long permits
will increase at the same rate.
According to the university's
Parking and Transportation Committee, the body that first proposed
the fee hikes, the new garage is slated to be built at the site
of the current library parking lot, extending southward to the
Campus Apartments, which are scheduled to be demolished. Construction
is tentatively scheduled to begin in 2007.
Richmond said HSU plans to seek
a bond from the California State University system to cover construction
costs for the structure. Still, HSU will need an additional estimated
$1.2 million per year to cover salaries, maintenance and the
interest on the bond. That's where the parking increase comes
in. Director of Housing and Parking John Capaccio estimates the
fee increase will generate $1.7 million each year for
the next four years.
Capaccio acknowledged the fee's
weight on students, but noted the difficulty in obtaining revenue
form other sources. "Right now (the fee) is not fair,"
he said. "But if we keep waiting for it to be fair it's
not going to go anywhere."
The original proposal for the
fee hike notes that increased permit prices would also help cover
alternatives to driving to school -- "supporting structures,
systems and pathways that facilitate both riding and walking
(to HSU)," as outlined in the university's Master Plan.
Richmond said the new structure,
in combination with the implementation of alternative transportation
strategies like bike paths and more efficient mass transit, would
accommodate vehicles while moving toward the goals framed in
the Master Plan.
"If we are going to encourage
alternative forms of transportation, including bicycles, then
we need to move along parallel tracks, acknowledging that we
will be using automobiles as a form of transportation,"
But Alvarado, who also sits
on the Student Fee Advisory Committee, was skeptical. She said
that no specific alternative transportation programs were mentioned
in the proposal.
"The reality is that they
didn't earmark any of the money from this fee for alternative
transportation," she said. "It's only going to generate
so much money. Where's the money going?"
Richmond said although funds
have not been earmarked for specific projects, an April 2005
study of past and future parking issues will enable HSU to plan
accordingly to fund alternative transportation.
"We have not just pulled
these numbers out of the air," Richmond said. "It is
not as though this was just a seat of the pants operation."
Alvarado also expressed concerns
about the way the fee was enacted -- at a time when most students
were away on summer break.
"It's convenient to raise
a fee when students aren't in session and can't voice their collective
opinion," she said.
But Richmond denied that there
was any intent to deprive students of a chance to comment, saying
that he would remind students of the fee increase in the fall
and give them the opportunity to register their opinions.
"I don't think the old
argument -- that administrators wait around all year to make
decision when everyone's gone -- really holds weight," he
In a meeting with Richmond last
Tuesday, members of the AS Executive Council asked Richmond to
consider placing a calendar review date on the fee increase,
allowing the SFAC to review the fee and confirm that it has benefited
the students and the campus community. The council also requested
that Richmond earmark funds for alternative transportation programs,
and that he abandon the provision that will allow for automatic
fee hikes based on inflation.
Associated Students members
plan to meet with Richmond again this week to negotiate.
"If he doesn't listen to
us we're going to have to speak a little louder," Alvarado
said. "We're definitely prepared to take it further if we
The permit increase is the first
in 18 years, when the cost of permits was raised in 1987 from
$108 per year to $135 per year. As Richmond and Capaccio point
out, after the increase, HSU still has one of the lowest permit
costs in the CSU system.
The parking fee hike marks the
second time Richmond has overridden the Student Advisory Committee
this year. In the spring, Richmond raised the student health
fee $44 per semester against the committee's recommendations
and despite a 54 percent student vote against the proposal.
If students do decide to buy
a permit next semester, they had better hold onto it and park
wisely. Two additional fees incorporated in the proposal include
a $15 replacement parking permit fee and a $25 parking boot removal
fee. About 100 students report lost or stolen permits each year.
Both services are currently provided at no charge.
skunked but not cowed by unusual attack
In a bizarre incident likened
in rarity to a shark attack, two sleeping children and
one adult were bitten in the wee hours of the morning on July
1 when a wild skunk rampaged through their beachside camp on
the Lost Coast near Petrolia.
Josie Brown, executive director
and co-founder of the Lost Coast youth camp, says everyone was
sleeping when the skunk ran through at 1 a.m. "The whole
event was over in 15 minutes," she says. "We took this
very seriously. We evacuated the campers and staff and took them
to the hospital and notified the county health department."
According to Humboldt County's
vector control officer, Brent Whitener, the skunk's "very
aggressive behavior" toward the members of the Lost Coast
Camp group was not your normal skunky summer saunter, but more
indicative of the neurological freakout of Mephitis mephitis
in the final throes of rabies infection.
In the absence of the skunk,
vector control had "to assume it's positive for rabies,"
says Whitener, who works out of Humboldt County's Environmental
Health division. That meant nine people -- the bite victims and
others who had contact with the skunk -- had to start the series
of prophylactic shots to allay madness and death. Sounds sensational,
but rabies isn't nice.
"If any animal [including
a human] contracts rabies, it's fatal," says Whitener, if
they don't get the post-exposure shots. There's been only one
instance of a human surviving full-blown rabies: Last year, doctors
miraculously saved a Wisconsin girl who had been bit by a bat
in church but didn't get shots. "But that's way off the
charts of what's normal," says Whitener.
In general, without treatment,
you'll get the Van Gogh brain that scientists see when they examine
a rabid wild animal. "We use a portion of the brain and
put it under ultraviolet light," Whitener says. "It's
like Don McLean's song `Starry Starry Night' [supertitled `Vincent'
and about the creator of the famous swirly night-sky painting].
White particles fluoresce, and that's the rabies antibodies."
But don't panic. Rabies is endemic
-- but far from epidemic -- in Humboldt's wild animal populations
(especially skunk, fox and bat). Whitener says his department
tests 75 to 100 animals a year for rabies, and only two to three
come up positive. This year, out of 30 tested so far, two animals
have been positive for rabies, a bat and a fox. There are anomalous
years. "In 2003, we had 17 positive animals in Humboldt
County," Whitener says. "I call it the Year of the
Fox, because 10 of the 17 were fox." Rabid animals occur
throughout the county, he says, and the majority of them are
Attacks are rare in Petrolia,
says Denise Goforth, owner of the Petrolia store. Aside from
the Lost Coast incident, she's only seen a couple of attacks
in her area in the nearly 27 years she's lived there -- one of
which involved a fox that bit her daughter "right in front
of the store."
"What we saw in the behavior
of this skunk was similar to what a skunk did three years ago
in that same area," says Whitener. "A skunk crawled
into the bottom of someone's sleeping bag and bit their toe."
The skunk -- caught in the bag -- was tested and turned out positive
for rabies. "The message is," says Whitener, "it
is a fact of life in Humboldt County that we have rabies in our
That said, there are things
you can do to protect yourself. Like, wear a Kevlar mask to bed
at night when you're camping outdoors? No, no. Such camping incidents
are rare. "The best thing you can do is vaccinate your pets,"
says Whitener, so if they get bit by a rabid animal, they won't
die or turn around and pass it on to you. Also, don't pick up
sleepy bats (they suffer a paralytic response to the rabies virus)
or dead animals. You don't have to be bitten to get rabies, says
Whitener, as contact with saliva through a cut or eczema can
also transfer the virus. If you do get bit or have contact with
a strangely behaving wild animal, call the heath department to
see if you need to start the shot series. Also try to nab that
critter for testing, if you can. Tracking it down later may prove
impossible, says Whitener.
Brown, of the youth camp, says
she was impressed with the county environmental health division's
response to the attack. "They were wonderful," she
says. As for the Lost Coast Camp -- which serves 120 Humboldt
County kids each year, 85 percent of whom get scholarships --
Brown says the attack hasn't scared it off. Attacks like this
are isolated incidents, as rare as a shark attack, according
to Whitener. And, since the attack, the camp has added a watchful
dog to its sleepovers. "I feel like [the Lost Coast] is
one of the safest places that I would ever consider sending a
child," says Brown.
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