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July 21, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

Play dead
War and dress-up in Sequoia Park

Credit card commotion
Disgruntled coffeehouse customer
calls business' bluff, goes to Starbucks


The Weekly Wrap

SCOPAC AVOIDS BANKRUPTCY: On Monday, the Maxxam Corp. informed the Securities and Exchange Commission that one of its subsidiaries, Scotia Pacific -- the legal entity that owns and manages most of the company's local timber holdings -- would be able to meet a $27.9 million payment to bondholders that came due this week. Previously, the company had warned that it might not have enough cash to make the payment and that bankruptcy could be imminent; in the event, a $2.2 million loan from Pacific Lumber -- the legal entity that manages milling and marketing of timber -- was enough to keep Scotia Pacific out of bankruptcy court. Still, as Maxxam noted in its SEC filing, the company's long-term cash flow problems are far from solved. Some of the company's opponents stated that bankruptcy might not be an entirely negative outcome, all in all. "The Maxxam-created debt crisis will eventually trigger a shift in ownership that will reduce or eliminate [Maxxam CEO and majority stockholder] Charles Hurwitz's control over Scotia Pacific and Pacific Lumber," wrote Larry Evans, president of the board of directors of the Environmental Protection Information Center, in a letter to local newspapers Tuesday. "This presents an important opportunity to influence a new management and create an agenda for stability and balance of nature and economy." Meanwhile, the company has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn a recent ruling by the State Water Resources Control Board that severely limited logging in the Freshwater and Elk River watersheds on the grounds that harvesting would further damage those impaired streams.
CHESBRO CHAT: Sen. Wes Chesbro (D-Arcata), chair of the California Senate's Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, was back home this week to take a breather and talk about what he's been doing in Sacramento. He said the state passed a "responsible and fair budget" last week, but complained that Gov. Schwarzenegger "continues to engage in partisan and polarized politics." Chesbro noted triumphs: protecting wages of in-home care workers, repaying the vehicle license fee loan, fully funding transportation projects including improvements on Highway 101 and maintaining rural Sheriffs' funding. He said the state has whittled the deficit down to $5 billion-$7 billion. "The single biggest frustration in the budget is that we continue to underfund schools," he said. He had supported a proposal to engage more tax dollars to bring per-pupil spending above the national average, he said, but it was postponed in interest of not delaying the budget. He hopes to see the education funding go to a vote this fall. Another bitter disappointment, he said, was the governor's vetoing of $150 million in projects, including $24 million for salmon restoration, game warden and state park ranger positions and a heritage trout program. "California has a long history of funding these programs" from resource extraction revenues (including oil), he said, "and this governor has departed from that long-standing tradition."

ALGAE ICKY, DEADLY: These days it's hard to tell if algae is good for your health or bad. Ask your natural food grocer more about the specifics, but in the meantime stay away from the blue-green variety that is floating in rivers, particularly the South Fork of the Eel, and in Big Lagoon. In past summers, the killer algae has bloomed in both locations. Keep in mind, however, that blue-green algae comes in a variety of colors -- green, brown or red, according to the County Department of Health -- and normally forms large scummy mats on the water's surface, where flows are low and temperatures are high. The toxins from decaying algae are potent enough to kill dogs -- nine have died in area waters since 2001 -- and can harm small children. People are advised to wash themselves and their pets with clean water after swimming to avoid rashes and sickness. The Department of Health also advises owners of private water systems to check for algae near water intakes. Filter water first to remove algae cells and then disinfect the water without boiling, otherwise toxins will be released.

DIRT DILEMMA: DANCO Builders are close-mouthed about a recent report in the July 5 Arcata Eye that said LACO & Associates --their engineering consultants on a Bayside Road development -- had severely underestimated the cost of removing contaminated dirt from the site. The article said LACO made a "tenfold error" when it recorded its estimate of the cleanup cost as "$150,000," when the estimate was $1.5 million. Last week, DANCO spokeswoman Lindsey Myers said she was "not at liberty to talk about the project." She said the Eye article was "inaccurate about the contaminated soil and about the numbers. We don't know exactly what the error was at this point." She said she'd have more information after a July 26 meeting. The development includes plans for Humboldt Educare, which has been plagued with problems in finding a building site and is operating in temporary digs. If the estimate error is as grave as reported, and the project is held up, it could mean more delays for the school site. "It's been so long since we started fundraising," said the school's head supervisory teacher Christina Oneal. "It's been, `We're gonna build, we're not gonna build.' It goes back and forth, and so it's kind of hard, because I don't know what to tell the parents."

AW, THE HUMANITY: While it was temporarily moored at the McKinleyville Airport due to wind and low clouds last week, the sponsors of a nationally touring multicolored blimp took the poor flying weather as an opportunity to blitz local media about the airship's presence. But the first, and favorite call that came in to the Journal was from a concerned citizen who alerted reporters to the "big-ass dirigible" floating above Arcata. Turns out the colorful, Haring-esque aircraft is owned by Ameriquest Mortgage Co. and was painted by kids. It stopped at ACV en route to Seattle during a nationwide tour as an "inspirational symbol of achievement, encouraging kids everywhere to set their goals high and accomplish their dreams." Sounds good to us. According to Ameriquest, more than 5,000 children painted 40,000 sq. ft. of canvas that encases the blimp.

BIGBUCKS: And why not? Why shouldn't the premiere Bigfoot researcher make some money from his efforts? "I've been doing this for 33 years," rants Tom Biscardi on the phone, adding he and his "24-7" team of investigators have recorded more Bigfoot sightings than anyone. He's miffed at anyone who raises her eyebrows at his charging journalists, along with everyone else, $5,000 a head to go along on his planned Aug. 21 expedition into the Bigfoot Caverns near Happy Camp to roust out a Bigfoot. His team has spent weeks setting up cameras and other recording equipment at the site. "I'm tired of the ridicule, and I'm tired of the baloney. What happens here is, all these scholars, all these PhDs, they go on TV, and where do you think they get their material? From me. And they're the ones who get the lecture tours, who get to write their books, and they're the ones getting paid, and then they refute my work. Let me ask you this, do you work for free? Do you get a paycheck? Well, I think it's about time I did, too. So, now I've had it, and I'm tired of it, and I'm gonna hang up my spurs after this." Biscardi hopes his blockbuster expedition will finally shut up the hoo-hawing skeptics and wink-winking media. A Canadian team is going to provide a pay-per-view live webcast to 65 countries. Biscardi shies from naming the cost of the expedition. But he is confident they'll capture a Bigfoot. There've been frequent sightings in the caverns area, including three last week, he says, and he knows where the lair is. "Right now there are two male adults there," he says. "They know something is up because of all of our activity around there." So, what happens when they catch one? "We're out to seek, search, capture, detain and transport it to a facility" where "the PhDs" will study the animal and test its DNA, Biscardi says. "And after, we'll release it."

Play dead
War and dress-up in Sequoia Park

story and photos by JOHN DOOLEY

Unbeknownst to most, there has been a killing spree right under our noses. Deep in the redwood forest of Eureka's Sequoia Park, young men and women have been wounding and slaughtering each other, and if 21-year-old Lance Christian Lorenzen has his say, the mayhem will continue.

[Lorenzen holding sword]Lorenzen, 21 [photo at left] , is a local construction worker who moves houses for a living during the week and masterminds this virtual killing spree every Sunday behind the Eureka Zoo, leading groups of 20 or more willing combatants into battles of wits and warfare in so-called Boffer Wars, or Live Action Role Playing (LARP) games.

Park visitors are often surprised when a roaring army rampages out of the trees at full gallop, but Lorenzen does his best to respect the park's other users. The group keeps to the woods for the most part, though they do field battles in the grassy area at the park's entrance too.

"Doing it every single week for going on a year and a half now, nobody has ever complained, except for the time we had a heavy metal band to fight to, Cycle of Violence," he says. "Everybody totally loved it. It was perfect, because we're all slaying each other and in the background there was live heavy metal playing. It was cool because they played on the center ridge behind everything, so at either base you could fully hear the music."

Lorenzen says the largest turnout had more than 60 people running amok through Sequoia Park, killing each other with foam-padded weaponry. As a general and soldier, Lorenzen insists there's more to it than a battle rush.

"There are all aspects of war in it," he says, "hunting people by yourself, line fighting, defending an outpost where there's three of you and 20 of them, knowing when to run and when to stand your ground. You can't really describe it as a singular feeling. It's an incredible experience for everybody. I've never had anybody tell me that it sucked after they played."

Live Action Role Playing games are a global phenomenon, with countless official and amateur chapters that practice variant styles of simulated battle-play.

Gamers of 10 dress in themed costumery ranging from medieval sword and sorcery to vampirism, zombie garb, Star Wars regalia and other genres too numerous to mention. There are already differently themed orgs here in the county, and more are coming.

Jennifer Cootware, who recently moved here from San Diego, has formed her own local faction, Humboldt LARP, and is currently working on a detailed rulebook.

"What [Lorenzen is] doing is based on the old rules of Imperium," she says, talking about one of the oldest LARP networks. "I don't think they create characters, and don't use magic. My intent is to create something similar with magic to give people a choice, and to have something that doesn't compete with what he does, but to give an additional place to play."

[men with swords and bayonets in woods]

Lorenzen's army may look ragtag, wearing padded street clothes and carrying hand-made weapons heavily padded with foam and blobs of duct tape, but as some of the players will attest, it's not for the weak-kneed. His is the down and dirty LARP variety. Think Magnificient Seven combined with Lord of the Flies. The battles are physical and demanding, yet kids as young as ten take up weapons, hunt their prey and fight it out.

"When I first started doing this," Lorenzen says, "I was calling up every person I could possibly think of and having them come out." In order to get people to play, he paid for their gas out of his own pocket. Now he and his friends cart them in by the vanload.

Things do get rough out there, especially with younger children going head to head against adults. Lorenzen defends his group's tactics, even though some kids are taking some rough punishment.

"We tell the kids that will happen and they've got to be ready. There's no real age limit -- I will look at the kid, and if I can tell he can obviously stand up and probably take a hit, then I'll let him play.

"I don't hit the little kids hard, because I understand. Most of our people are nice, but when we were out there last Sunday, there were a couple assholes out there. But the thing is, when you're fighting multiples by yourself, you tend to swing wildly because it's easier to keep people at bay like that. But you know, when you're doing a backhand swing and a little kid comes up behind you, which is generally their tactic, they may get popped with a wild swing. It happens. They just get a stinger, and they're fine. They don't get all bruised up, they're all right. And they come back."

So how brutal is it out there?

"You only have to touch with your blade," he insists. "You don't have to hit any harder than is necessary. That's why we let little kids play. We're not trying to blast anybody. It's not like the SCA [Society of Creative Anachronism] where it has to be a solid hit. They're like, a worldwide club. They use rattan weapons and they're weighted like real swords, they use heavy armor, and that gets really expensive. I don't have that kind of money."

As far as any kind of referee action, Lorenzen says basically gamers come to him, but that others have taken responsibility. "Last year, people came to me when they have disputes. Since then, everyone got to know each other, so everyone pretty much follows the rules. They're really nice. I'm surprised at how well everyone gets along"

And why might things be better this year? Fewer adult beverages, perhaps?

"Well, last year there was a lot of alcohol involved -- like kids would come up to me and basically say my lasting legacy was underage drinking on Sundays. The kids would go out there and get all plastered, but after a while it got really annoying because people ... they wouldn't get into fights, but they couldn't fight."

Lorenzen invites anyone in the mood for a little killing to show up at noon, any Sunday until winter hits. Gamers can bring their own weapons, or choose from the dozens he's got in the armory.

"You can make any kind of armor and weapon you want, as long as it doesn't hurt people and goes along with the rules. Just show up at the park, that's all you have to do. Nothing more than that, and bring everybody you can." l

For those interested in Humboldt LARP, .

Credit card commotion
Disgruntled coffeehouse customer
calls business' bluff, goes to Starbucks


Businesses are not supposed to set a minimum purchase price for customers using credit cards. Who knew? Jonathan Speaker kind of did. That's why he put up a fuss in an Arcata coffeehouse after he was told that he needed to make a bigger purchase if he wanted to use his credit card.

Speaker, the co-owner of Streamguys, a local provider of Internet audio streaming services, was meeting a job applicant last week for an interview at Sacred Grounds, a popular Arcata, wi-fi-rigged café. He ordered two mochas before realizing he had no cash. So, like many of the plastic-carrying masses would do, he went to swipe his credit card. But not so fast, the barista told him -- if he wanted to pay with his Visa he had to buy $10 worth of something.

A steamed Speaker thought that was baloney, told more than one employee as much and eventually left, sans mochas.

"I did not want anything other than two mochas and I told them that they, in fact, could not place a minimum purchase for using Visa," Speaker said in an e-mail. "Of course I got nowhere and was forced to go to another coffee establishment."

He later wrote to Visa Corporate and was told that he was right: Merchants are not allowed to establish a low dollar amount for purchases.

Apparently, this question comes up a lot. In the company's Frequently Asked Question web page it says: "Q: Can merchants set a minimum purchase or charge a fee for using my Visa card? A: Visa merchants are not permitted to establish minimum transaction amounts, even on sale items. If you run into a problem like this with a merchant, please notify your Visa card-issuing bank."

The problem for businesses that sell not-so-expensive items, like coffee drinks, is that when people use credit cards for low-priced items, the merchant loses out.

Beth Dominick, president of Sacred Grounds, said that credit card transactions cost her a minimum of 20 cents.

"It's an additional few pennies depending on how big the sale is. So, for someone like Plaza Design, it makes sense because a $1,000 couch is not going to cost them proportionately what it costs us for a dollar cup of coffee."

Sacred Grounds had reservations about installing the credit card machine three or four years ago, figuring that it might be more hassle than it was worth. When Dominick told Humboldt Bank -- who sold the café their credit card machine -- that they were going to set a minimum limit, the bank warned them that it was illegal.

"But it was like, `Everyone in town is doing it,'" Dominick said.

Not everyone is doing it, but some other coffee shops do set minimum transaction prices -- like Jitter Bean, which requests a $3 limit, and Ramone's on Harrison Street in Eureka, which draws the line at $3.50.

Sacred Grounds' $10 minimum is sort of loose, Dominick said.

"What the employees are supposed to say is that [a] purchase be at least $5 to use the machine," she said. "So they are not supposed to tell them `No, you can't.' We just explain to them that if a significant portion of the purchase is being eaten up by the credit card fees we're going to have to raise our prices."

Until last week, Sacred Grounds had a piece of paper taped near the register that cited the $10 minimum rule and suggested that customers facing the only-got-credit dilemma purchase a $10 coffee card, which buys $12 worth of drinks.

"That way it makes sense for us to run the card and they're getting more for their money," Dominick said. "But that guy [Speaker] didn't want to hear about that."

The sign has since been removed.

From now on, Speaker said that he will get his coffee at Starbucks, which has no minimum limit.

"I would prefer to support my local coffee establishments," Speaker said. "But if they are not going to accommodate me why should I give them my business?"

Speaker has since filed an official complaint with his bank.

Other local cafes like Hank's Coffeehouse in Bayside, Has Beans in Eureka, Old Town Coffee and Chocolates in Eureka and Muddy Waters in Arcata take cards and do not set a minimum transaction fee. Others, like Gold Rush in Eureka and 321 Coffee also in Eureka, only take cash and local checks.


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