North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

September 13, 2001

Yakima Inc. sold again

Homebuilders sue school

Economic indicators
grim, grimmer

Deputy to challenge sheriff

Housing on the head?

HSU sniffs out scholar of year

Career night coming up

$1.2 million for tribes

County's budget improves

SAT, STAR, students

Senior friends needed

Yakima Inc. sold again

Seek and ye shall find.

This spring Yakima Products Inc., one of the North Coast's more successful nontimber manufacturing concerns, made it known it was shopping for a new owner and a capital infusion. It got both late last month.

Yakima's parent corporation, Kransco, sold Arcata-based Yakima -- one of the two largest producers of cartop carriers for sports equipment in the world -- to Watermark Inc. of South Carolina. The sale price was just over $91 million.

"We see this as a platform for growth," said Duncan Robbins, Yakima president and chief executive officer. "The new owners will be looking at us to grow substantially, adding assets and new products lines."

One of those product lines will be the manufacture of top-of-the-line personal flotation devices (PFDs) manufactured in Boise, Idaho. The Boise division was added to the company manufacturing and assembly plant in Tijuana, Mexico, and shipping facility in San Diego. The company's headquarters -- with 135 employees including engineers, marketing and sales personnel -- is expected to remain in Arcata.

The company began in 1979 when two Arcata residents, Don Banducci and Steve Cole, bought a mom-and-pop company that manufactured foot braces for kayaks from a couple in Yakima, Wash. (hence, the name). Once relocated in Arcata, the company added car racks and other gear to its product line and grew to more than $20 million in annual sales when it was purchased by Kransco in 1994.

Homebuilders sue school

The Northern California Association of Home Builders filed a lawsuit last week against Pacific Union School in Arcata over a new construction fee the school imposed this spring.

Effective May 13 anyone building or remodeling within the school district's boundaries is assessed an additional fee. For residential construction, for instance, the charge is $2.05 per square foot.

The lawsuit charges that the fees are based unjustly on the premise that the school is experiencing overcrowding as a result of new construction.

"We know that 43 percent of Pacific Union's students are transfer students [from other districts]," said Bob Higgons, representing the builders' association.

"We're not opposed to the state law [that allows the imposition of construction fees]. We pay them in McKinleyville," he added.

In fact the builders' association sued the McKinleyville Union School District 10 years ago. The case went to mediation and the builders settled for a 75-cents-per-square-foot fee on new construction.

The lawsuit cites as an example a couple in the district who are building a 2,100 square-foot house. Their school fee charge was $4,321.

McKinleyville is the only district collecting the fee, which was intended to mitigate additional expenses to the school from population increases. Hydesville has fees on commercial projects only, but the rural district in fact has no commercial construction.

Higgons said the case make take several years to resolve.

Economic indicators grim, grimmer

Although there is one bit of good news for the local economy (see In the News story on Yakima), the short-term indicators are bleak, according to this month's Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County.

Lumber manufacturing, a vital source of income for Humboldt's economy, dropped 4.7 percent during July (the latest month for which data is available). Declining lumber manufacturing has become a trend in Humboldt County. July's figures were 11.5 percent less than 2000, 14.9 percent less than 1999, 19.7 percent less than 1998 and 23.4 percent less than 1997.

Although timber's contribution to the local economy has dwindled in recent years, often other sectors have risen. Home sales, retail, and tourism have all grown in importance over the last five years.

Not so last month. All three sectors showed a decline in comparison to their June performance. Retail sales dropped 6.1 percent during June, reflecting consumers' lack of confidence in light of recent economic weakness. The sector is still performing better than it had in past years -- it is 9 percent more active than in 2000 -- but mounting consumer debt and a tougher job market mean the downward slide is likely to continue.

Home sales decreased 8.9 percent in July, although Humboldt County homes still fetched high prices. The median price for a home in Humboldt rose 15.6 percent over the last year.

Economists have theorized that the price increases are due to refugees from the San Francisco Bay Area's overheated real estate market. When homeowners cash out their equity in homes there, they can afford to buy relatively inexpensive homes here. That's great for sellers, but rising real estate prices in a declining economy will make it harder for natives to buy a home.

Most disturbing is the sudden decline in the tourism sector. Tourism as measured by occupancy rates at local hotels declined by more than 10 percent during July. It was the worst July since 1997.

The economic downturn is already having effects on the employment picture. There were 1,100 fewer people employed in Humboldt in July than June, a decrease of 1.9 percent. That includes a 4.7 percent decrease in the normally robust service sector. The only ameliorating factor was a 1.7 percent increase in manufacturing employment, driven by seasonal increases in logging and agriculture that will evaporate this fall.

And the kicker? The worst is probably yet to come. Help wanted ads, an indicator of how the job market will look in the near future, declined 13 percent during July. Again, this July was the worst month since the mid-1990s for this indicator.

The Index is compiled by Steve Hackett, a professor at Humboldt State University.

Deputy to challenge sheriff

A 28-year veteran of the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department announced his intention this week to challenge his boss, Sheriff Dennis Lewis, in next year's election.

Gary Philp, chief deputy and head of the Humboldt County Correctional Facility, said his decision stems from his lack of confidence in current leadership of the department.

"One thing I think we've lacked [in this department] was we never really had a strong focused leader at the top," Philp said in a telephone interview Monday.

Philp, a fifth generation resident of the county, joined the force in 1973 and has served under the last three sheriffs.

"Sheriff [Gene] Cox was an old-time sheriff and a man of integrity," Philp said.

Cox was shot and killed in 1982 while off duty, coming to the aid of a friend. Dave Renner was elected to succeed him. Philp said he had backed Renner's opponent, Ray Shipley in that close race, but had been promoted several times under Renner. Renner served until 1994 and later went to prison after pleading guilty to charges involving missing funds and destruction of records.

When did he notify his current supervisor he was going to run?

"We had a conversation a couple of months ago. He wasn't happy," Philp said.

Lewis, who has not announced his intention to run for reelection or not, had a particularly controversial first term, 1994-1998. He was the primary law enforcement officer who approved the application of liquid pepper on the eyelids of anti-timber demonstrators in 1997, a case that gained the county negative international media attention and is still in the courts. It was also the year Lewis sideswiped a passenger car and failed to stop on his way to a call in Southern Humboldt, an incident that was covered up by local media for six months before it surfaced during the election.

Lewis won reelection in 1998 against a former deputy from Southern Humboldt, Gary Holder, who was on medical retirement from the force.

Housing on the head?

The view might be spectacular but the Coast Guard housing facilities on Trinidad Head are getting old and are not too conveniently located. Those are two reasons being cited by Coast Guard officials who are looking to swap the units for some closer to its base in McKinleyville.

The Coast Guard's desire certainly caught the attention of Trinidad Mayor Dean Heyenga.

"We're definitely interested," said Heyenga, who is planning to ask the council this week to authorize a letter expressing that interest to the Coast Guard and to Sen. Barbara Boxer. Boxer sits on the Commerce Committee which oversees the Coast Guard.

The federal government deeded 40-plus acres of the head in the early 1980s to the city of Trinidad. The Coast Guard retained two acres, one that had radio and equipment and another with two multiunit houses.

HSU sniffs out scholar of year

William Wood, Humboldt State University's Scholar of the Year, doesn't want to be known as the skunk man.

But that's how he's best known -- as the man who identified previously unknown compounds in skunks' defensive spray and devised a home remedy for neutralizing the smell on pets.

During his 25 years at HSU, the chemistry professor has also investigated a natural athlete's-foot remedy found in deers' hooves and how mushrooms deter slug attack. He stands as a pioneer in the field of chemical ecology -- the study of how plants and animals use chemicals to convey messages. Wood will present a free lecture on the subject Sept. 13 (see this week's calendar for details).

And the skunk-spray remedy? One quart hydrogen peroxide, a quarter cup baking soda and a teaspoon of liquid detergent. Lather, rinse, repeat if necessary. Just don't store the stuff in a closed container -- it releases oxygen and might explode.

Career night coming up

Humboldt County high schoolers who wonder what life after graduation holds can find some answers Sept. 17 when Eureka High School hosts the annual Humboldt/Del Norte College and Career Night.

Representatives of more than 50 colleges, universities and vocational schools will be there to make their pitches, as well as recruiters from the armed services. Information will be available to help seniors decide what kind of further education is right for them and how to achieve it. A booth on college admissions testing will explain the SAT and ACT tests.

For more information, call 441-2595.

$1.2 million for tribes

Two Humboldt County tribes will receive more than $1.2 million in grants to improve law enforcement as part of a program from the federal Department of Justice.

The Yurok Tribe Department of Public Safety has been awarded $547,000; the Hoopa Valley Tribal Police Department will receive $733,000. Both will use the money to pay for new police officers, training and equipment.

The Community Oriented Policing Services program, or COPS, targets areas with high crime rates and limited resources. Over the past two years, the program has provided more than $62.4 million to tribal law enforcement agencies nationwide.

County's budget improves

The perennially cash-strapped Humboldt County government is finding itself a little better off than expected this September. Windfall yields and unexpectedly low costs over the last year combined to give the county a $4.2 million boost.

Half of the money isn't additional revenue or savings at all, but just a matter of timing. The county's Department of Social Services filed for reimbursements from the state earlier than usual this year and is getting its funds in time for inclusion in this year's budget -- meaning that money won't be there next year as expected, said Karen Suiker, assistant county administrative officer.

"That money is not a net gain," she said.

Other sources include lower than expected utility bills and costs for indigent defense, salary savings caused by unfilled staff positions and a surge in timber and sales taxes. None of those factors are expected to repeat themselves, Suiker said.

And the extra money won't plug the hole in the county's budget by itself -- it represents just a little more than 2 percent of this year's $185 million budget.

"But in the grand scheme of things, it helps," Suiker said. "We can go a long way toward positioning ourselves for next year," when costs for health care are projected to increase dramatically.

It can also be used to start paying down the county's debt, Suiker said. Her office recommends that part of the money be used to increase contingency and reserve funds. The board of supervisors must adopt a final budget by the end of September.

SAT, STAR, students

Looking at their performance on the Scholastic Assessment Test, you'd think everything was fine in Humboldt's high schools. Students' average scores are significantly higher than state or national averages. There was even a slight improvement over last year's numbers.

"But sometimes you look at these tests and they don't tell the whole story," said Janet Frost, spokesperson for the Humboldt County Office of Education.

In the case of the SAT tests, the rest of the story lies with the majority of Humboldt County students who don't even take the voluntary college entrance exam. "When you look at SATs, you're looking just at kids who plan to attend college," Frost said.

The state's STAR tests, on the other hand, test a broader group of students. And the story there isn't quite so rosy: While STAR scores for local high schools have improved slightly, they aren't nearly as strong as SAT scores.

That's at least partially because while wealthier students and schools seem to be doing well, their less fortunate peers are not.

"When we see printouts where they've broken down test results according to socioeconomic factors, students from affluent families do better," Frost said. STAR scores at Arcata High, where only 10 percent of the students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, were 20 to 40 points higher than those at Hoopa Valley High, where 86 percent are eligible for the free lunch program.

That disparity will become even more important when the high school exit exams come into effect in the 2003-2004 school year, Frost said. Because low-achieving students could have their high school diplomas withheld, "schools need to have intervention programs so that students don't just move through the grade levels," she said.

"We need kids who come from homes where the parent hasn't been highly educated to move up and be able to achieve and be successful as adults."

A key may be reducing class size. Class sizes for elementary students were reduced for the 1996-1997 school year. Elementary school STAR scores have improved dramatically.

High school classes have not received the same treatment. But that may change now, Frost said.

"I think that with the new high school exit exam in place were going to see more legislative interest in high schools."

Senior friends needed

If you know someone who deserves recognition for their efforts to better the lot of senior citizens in Humboldt County, speak up. Nominations are being accepted for the 2001 Senior Friend Awards.

Both organizations and individuals are eligible for the awards and age in not a criteria. The person's (or group's) contribution can be voluntary or a professional duty. For information contact Suzy Smith at 442-3763.

-- reported by Judy Hodgson and Arno Holschuh



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