North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

August 30, 2001

Former congressman sued

A zoo, a pool and Arkley cash

CR enrollment up

Humboldt's budget hangover

St. Bernard's bounces back

Restating the obvious

Weed-free input sought

Eel River Plan opposed

McCrone to retire from HSU

Former congressman sued

Alleging breach of contract, a Santa Rosa company is suing former U.S. Rep. Frank Riggs.

Riggs, who represented the North Coast in the House from 1991 to 1998, took over as chairman of DriWater Inc. when he left office. He quit just six months later and has been accused of not fulfilling his obligations to the company, according to a report in the Aug. 25 Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

The company's board of directors includes one-time political allies of the former congressman who gave Riggs a 5 percent stake and a $3,000 monthly salary. The compensation was given with the understanding he would use his connections to attract investors and government contracts, the report said.

DriWater Vice President Kent Courley charged Riggs "never did anything" in return for his salary and stock. DriWater has asked Riggs to return the stock, valued at about $370,000, but he has refused.

The company makes an irrigation gel which releases water into the soil over time.

The suit was filed in Sonoma County Aug. 10. A pretrial conference is scheduled for Dec. 11.


A zoo, a pool and Arkley cash

The Sequoia Park Zoological Society is about to become the latest recipient of Arkley family generosity.

Eureka businessman Robin Arkley and his wife, City Councilmember Cherie Arkley, have offered to donate an undisclosed but reportedly significant amount to help the zoo implement a master plan adopted in 1993.

The Arkleys have helped fund several other projects in Eureka in recent years, including the donation of $2 million to cover the city's shortfall on the waterfront boardwalk project, the purchase and donation of the historic Eureka Theater, the purchase and restoration of a building to house a ballet company, and the renovation of the Eureka High School swimming pool.

In a private business venture, the Arkleys purchased the historic Vance Hotel in Old Town and funded its rehabilitation.

The swimming pool restoration work contracts went to bid last week and work should begin in October, said Sheldon Reber, spokesman for Eureka City Schools. If all goes well the pool could be in use as early as next January. The project is estimated to cost between $275,000 and $300,000.

The Arkleys' remarkable string of charitable gifts hasn't been trouble-free, however. A $3 million offer from the couple to help the city purchase the piece of land known as the "Balloon Tract" was turned down by the City Council last June.

CR enrollment up

The Eureka campus of the College of the Redwoods has experienced a leap in enrollment: The community college will be serving about 11 percent more students this year than last.

Enrollment at the Eureka campus was 4,707 last year. This year it is 5,259.

"We certainly are pleased," said Paul DeMark, public information officer for the college. "We feel we have the capacity to grow."

Casey Craybill, president of the college, said in a written statement the increase was helped by "improved outreach efforts," including the free distribution by mail of class schedules.

CR has also been expanding its offerings. This is the first year classes will be offered in the school's hospitality and tourism program, DeMark said. Ten new full-time instructors were hired by the Eureka campus as well.

Enrollment grew by 17 percent at all CR campuses combined.

Humboldt's budget hangover

When Gov. Davis signed the state budget into law July 26, he used his veto power to kill funding for a program that provides healthcare for mothers and children.

The Maternal Child and Adolescent Health program lost all its money from the state general fund. It is a move that will end up costing more than it saves, according to Dr. Rebecca Stauffer, director for the program in Humboldt County.

"We are one of the very few prevention-based programs," Stauffer said. Because it provides services like prenatal care, the program saves money by preventing expensive health problems.

The cut saves the state $2,644,000 out of a $101 billion budget, or a little less than .003 percent of the total budget. But its impact on county finances could be broad because the funds are used to leverage matching funds from the federal government, Stauffer said.

"Our share of the state money is about $24,000, but because it's matchable to federal dollars, the financial impact is more like $84,000," Stauffer said.

A bill to restore the funding has been introduced in the Assembly and is being supported in the senate by 2nd District Sen. Wesley Chesbro.

Money for community colleges was also vetoed by the governor (see CR budget cut by Davis, Aug. 23) and a similar bill has been introduced to restore that funding.

St. Bernard's bounces back

St. Bernard's Catholic schools were on the ropes last year. Class sizes had been whittled down to unsustainable levels by years of declining enrollment and the school lacked a principal to lead it out of the woods.

But with enrollment numbers up with a new principal in place, the school has declared itself on the mend.

Enrollment is the key issue for the school, where the size of the student body had dropped 30 percent from 447 in 1996-1997 to 304 in 2000-2001. This fall enrollment is up by 11 children to 315, according to a statement released by the school.

"Obviously we want to grow more. Ideally we would be in the area of 500 students," said Patrick Daly, who took over as principal a year ago.

Daly said that while enrollment growth is still a priority, St. Bernard's is now on stable footing. "I'm very excited about the future of St. Bernard's," he said.

Restating the obvious

Once again, the national press has told us something we already know: The North Coast is a great place.

Eureka/Arcata was chosen as one of Outdoor Magazine's "Ten Dream Towns." (Never mind that they are two towns, thank you very much.) The article's author waxes poetic about the redwoods, the mountains and the fog. There's even a favorable reference to the "fishy warehouses" of Eureka.

Of course, familiar Arcata stereotypes are sprinkled throughout the article: Visitors are advised that ordering a cup of coffee without bringing your own mug is "unthinkable." Everyone in town either stocks groceries, works at Humboldt State University or agitates for leftist causes.

Humboldt also received a stunning review in an article in the Spring 2001 Jeep News, a magazine distributed by the carmaker to Jeep owners and dealers. Between odes to Jeep's "awesome sound system" and "innovative suspension," there is ample praise for Humboldt's hills, towns and -- most of all -- beaches, which "require aggressive driving".

Humboldt County is likely to receive a lot more media attention in the near future, as the Outdoor Writers Association of California holds its fall conference here Sept.15-18. Let's hope they remember their mugs.

Weed-free input sought

Horse owners and cattlemen who bring hay or straw onto national forest land may be required to buy special weed-free versions of the products under a proposed Forest Service rule.

The rule, which is still open for public comment, is intended to stop the spread of noxious weeds on Forest Service land. Most hay and straw contain seeds from weeds that are baled with the crop, but certified hay and straw is available which does not contain viable seeds. The rule would mandate that only such hay or straw could be brought into national forests.

To comment on the proposed rules, write to the Forest Service at 1323 Club Drive, Vallejo, CA, 94592.

Eel River plan opposed

PG&E's latest plan for the Eel River has won grudging approval from the Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service but is being criticized by the Department of Interior.

Much of the Eel River's summer flow is diverted to feed the Russian River, and with it agriculture and development in Mendocino and Sonoma counties. That diversion is managed by PG&E through its Potter Valley Project. Critics maintain the diversion has starved Eel River salmon and trout of water needed to survive.

In 1998, after 10 years of study, PG&E announced it agreed and wanted to reduce the amount of water diverted by 15 percent. Scientists at NMFS took issue with the plan, saying it didn't leave enough water in the Eel to restore that river's fisheries. Then in May NMFS said it was in productive negotiations with PG&E and close to a solution both found acceptable.

But now the Interior Department has said the new proposed plan, which allows managers greater flexibility to adjust flows to deal with adverse conditions and includes higher summer flows for the Eel, isn't good enough. It isn't yet clear what changes Interior desires in the new plan.

The plan has also been criticized by tribal groups and the Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission.

McCrone to retire from HSU

[photo of McCrone]"It's not the sort of thing I aspired to since boyhood," said Alistair W. McCrone of his career as president of Humboldt State University. "I wanted to be a geologist."

He will soon get the chance again to follow his dream career in the earth sciences: McCrone announced his retirement Aug. 22 at the annual faculty-staff convocation. He commented on his remarkable run as president in an emotional and reflective press conference Friday.

McCrone, who will turn 70 in October, has held the office at HSU since 1974. He is the longest-serving president in the California State University system and the second longest-serving president in the history of the system.

Born in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1931, McCrone followed his love of geology through the educational system, earning a doctorate from the University of Kansas in 1961. He worked with oil exploration parties in his native Canada during the 1960s but had settled into academia by 1969 and became an associate dean at New York University. He moved the University of the Pacific in Stockton in 1970, where he served as academic vice president and professor of geology.

Then in 1974 someone from the CSU chancellor's office called him.

"The phone rang one day and I was asked if I would be interested in these presidencies, one of them being at Humboldt. I was invited to the presidency and I accepted," he said.

The role of the president in the 27 years he held the office has been "to release the talents that are already there all over the place and enable people to do their jobs not only according to their technical abilities but also according to their style," McCrone said.

McCrone's own style has provoked some criticism as being a little too distant by some faculty members, who traditionally have an adversarial relationship with administrators. John Travis, president of the HSU chapter of the California Faculty Association, said McCrone was "available but not responsive" especially in the last few years.

McCrone also addressed the matter of the employment of John Sterns, the former director of university advancement who allegedly perpetrated widespread fraud in the university's finances. (See Journal cover story, "The case against John Sterns and HSU," Aug. 16.) Asked whether he felt responsible for Stern's ability to embezzle more than $60,000, tamper with trust funds and inflate donation numbers by about $15 million, McCrone said yes.

"As president, you can't say you didn't have any connection."

The Sterns scandal did not prompt his resignation, McCrone said.

"I've been contemplating this for years," he said, basing his decision on the realization that he had "reached a certain number of accumulated years."

"You think, `Well, there are a few years left if I am blessed with good health.'" He expressed an interest in spending those years travelling or teaching geology.

McCrone said he was proud of the identity that evolved at HSU during his tenure. The heart of that identity was the growing "consciousness of environmental problems and the need for their address."

HSU is an institution "where the curriculum is suffused with a value system."


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