North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

September 27, 2001

Bills move to governor's desk

Gatherings in wake of crisis

Business lobbyist for Eureka?

Rail operations terminated

Animal cruelty in Eureka

New bank president named

Sterns pleads not guilty

Fishery closed early

Bills move to governor's desk

Assemblymember Virginia Strom-Martin had a rough time of it the last week of the legislative session, Sept. 10-14.

"We worked until midnight on Monday, Tuesday was the tragedy, Wednesday and Thursday we were there past midnight. Then on Friday we didn't get finished until 3 in the morning. By the end of the week we'd had it," she said.

Caught in the annual last-minute rush to pass bills before the session closed, Strom-Martin, along with Sen. Wesley Chesbro, were denied the luxury of time for contemplation or quiet grief after the terrorists' attacks on the nation. Some battles were set aside to be addressed in next session. Both Strom-Martin and Chesbro are interested, for example, in putting a bond measure on the November 2002 ballot that would provide $11.4 million for school facilities. But both of the North Coast's state legislators saw a number of their own bills advance to the governor's desk.

To comment on any of the following bills, write directly to Gov. Gray Davis, State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814. You can also send e-mail to

Assemblymember Virginia Strom-Martin:

AB671 -- Timber exemption regulations. Current law allows landowners to convert up to three acres of timberland to other uses without a timber harvest plan. That legal provision, often called the three-acre loophole, has been used by logging operators to skirt timber harvesting regulations. This bill would limit such conversions to one per six years.

AB140 -- Rural telephone grants. AB140 uses money from the Public Utilities High Cost Fund to provide grants to communities that still need service, including several in Humboldt County. This bill was vetoed last year.

AB26XX -- Energy efficiency loans. Originally a separate bill, Strom-Martin folded this legislation into a larger bill at the last minute to ensure its passage. It extends a program that provides loans to businesses retrofitting for energy efficiency.

AB466 -- Training for teachers. As academic standards are introduced in California schools, it becomes increasingly important that teachers know what those standards are and how to teach them. This bill provides $80 million for teacher training in standards-based math and language arts.

AB295 -- Broadening the API. The Academic Performance Index is used to make decisions about how well a school is performing and can affect how much funding it gets. Right now, it's based on the STAR tests alone. Strom-Martin proposes bringing other measures into the index. "It's a very important bill, but I am not very hopeful the governor will sign it," she said.

Sen. Wesley Chesbro:

SB311 -- College fees for children of heroes. This bill extends for two years a waiver on college fees for children of state employees killed in the line of duty. "I'm hoping that I can make the waiver permanent next year," Chesbro said.

SB908 -- Completing the Coastal Trail. The California Coastal Trail was identified as a part of the state's plan for the coast in 1975, but it has yet to be completed. Passage of this bill would direct the California Coastal Conservancy to write a plan for the completion of the 1,200-mile long trail.

AB1673 -- Delays the Marine Life Protection Act. The act includes a provision to set aside areas as marine preserves. That has North Coast fishermen up in arms, as the preserves happen to be their most productive fishing grounds. Chesbro amended this bill to extend the public comment period for another year.

SB573 -- Dentists for rural areas. Many rural areas are suffering a shortage of quality dental care. This bill would ease the red tape for out-of-state dentists wishing to relocate to underserved areas in California.

AB1602 -- $2.6 billion park bond authored by Chesbro will be on the March ballot. This bond is particularly good for rural areas like Humboldt County because the funds are not allocated on a strictly per-capita basis. "Under that system, towns like Trinidad get a tiny amount of funds," Chesbro said. This bond measure has a much higher level of minimum funding. Each county will get at least $1.2 million, and each city at least $250,000.

Gatherings in wake of crisis

The Redwood Peace Coalition and some religious and environmental groups have scheduled open meetings to formulate a response to the terrorism of Sept. 11 and to discuss a response to possible U.S. retaliation.

There is an open forum Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 321 Coffee in Eureka and Wednesday, Sept. 26, at the Bayside Grange in Bayside.

"We have the Quakers, the Unitarians, Earth First, Veterans for Peace, the Interfaith Council and the H.O.P.E. Coalition," said the Bayside event organizer Kathleen Lowder.

What group is she representing?

"I'm a mom with a kid," she said. "There are about 15 moms like me. I guess we could call ourselves moms for peace," she said.

Saturday, Sept. 29, the Garberville Veterans for Peace are taking a bus to a peace demonstration in San Francisco. The bus will leave the VFW Hall in Garberville at 6 a.m. Call 722-4669 for information.

Business lobbyist for Eureka?

When decisions on highway spending, port development or land use are made in Sacramento, they can have a profound effect on Humboldt County. Some in the business community feel they need to find a way to more closely monitor that decision-making process.

"We're soliciting and evaluating proposals from various lobbyists now," said J Warren Hockaday, executive director of the Eureka Chamber of Commerce.

The idea came up when the Eureka Chamber started asking other area chambers to help create a legislative agenda to present to representatives in state government.

"In those meetings we talked about where we could go to achieve our goals. One of the things that came out was: `Should we have a professional advocate in Sacramento?'"

The answer, said Hockaday, was that an interest and need existed for local businesses to be better represented than they are now.

But the hiring of a lobbyist to press the North Coast's agenda in Sacramento is still just a proposal. Hockaday said the Eureka Chamber is exploring how much one would cost and he said it was clear Eureka would need the help of other chambers.

"We're attempting to bring other chambers together in a more collective sense," he said, not only in assessing interest in hiring a lobbyist but "creating a more regional perspective" that also includes Del Norte.

"The more we can speak with a regional voice, the stronger we will be," Hockaday said.

Rail operations terminated

A financial dispute between the Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co. and the government agency that oversees the rail line has temporarily stopped what little traffic there was on the North Coast's railroad line.

Northwestern Pacific, the company employed by the North Coast Railroad Authority, ceased operations as of Sept. 14. The company claims the NCRA owes it approximately $320,000 for extraordinary maintenance costs.

The railroad authority, a state agency formed in 1990 to oversee the line, rebutted that it could not verify that those costs are legitimate. The authority's board voted Sept. 19 to hold Northwestern Pacific in default and terminate the contract.

The authority is looking for a new operator and is seeking arbitration on the disputed debts.

It isn't the first time Northwestern Pacific's owner, John Darling, has had problems with the track. He also owns Rail-Ways Inc., which had been contracted to operate the railroad in 1998. That contract became moot when storms made the track impassable that winter. Rail-Ways Inc. has since filed for bankruptcy.

The dispute is a further setback for the troubled rail line, which has been closed frequently since it was purchased by the NCRA in 1991. The southernmost portion of the track, from Schellville to Petaluma, was reopened in February. There had been hopes the track would be reopened to Willits by the end of the year.

It will not, however, affect the $60 million included in last year's state budget for repairs on the railroad. The bulk of that money has yet to be disbursed.

The eventual goal is to reopen the line along its entire 286-mile length, from Schellville, near Sonoma, to Eureka.

Animal cruelty in Eureka

A Eureka man charged with poisoning five cats is facing a sharply reduced jail sentence following a hearing last week.

Dan Evans, a resident of the 2500 block of Summer Street, is alleged to have fed cats tuna that had been laced with antifreeze. He was charged with five felony counts of animal cruelty by the Humboldt County District Attorney's office, but those counts were reduced to misdemeanors by Judge J. Michael Brown at a Sept. 21 preliminary hearing.

"This is a penal code section that can be charged either as a felony or a misdemeanor," said Deputy District Attorney Allison Jackson. "The defense made the motion to have it reduced to a misdemeanor. We vigorously objected."

It isn't the first case of animal cruelty in Eureka this year. Dale Morton was sentenced to 10 years and two months in prison after he was discovered killing and mutilating animals in January.

"It's very troubling to our office when people hurt and abuse animals like this," Jackson said. "If you find someone who is hurting animals like this, they often have the capacity to do the same to humans."

New bank president named

Paul Ziegler, a Fortuna native and 20-year veteran of the banking industry, has been appointed to the presidency of Humboldt Bank.

Ziegler had been serving as executive vice president of Humboldt Bank's parent company, Humboldt Bancorp. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Graduate School of Banking and has served as vice chairman of the California Bankers' Association Region 1. He replaces John Dalby, who will now concentrate on commercial lending.

Humboldt Bank, established in 1989, has more than $516 million in assets and is the biggest subsidiary of Humboldt Bancorp. Other banks owned by Humboldt Bancorp include Capitol Valley Thrift, Capitol Thrift and Loan, and Tehama Bank.

Sterns pleads not guilty

John Sterns, the former Humboldt State University administrator accused of defrauding the institution of more than $50,000, pleaded not guilty in Humboldt Superior Court Sept. 20.

Sterns' alleged misdeeds, detailed in a California State University audit, include doctoring expense accounts, falsifying donation records and dismantling financial security measures. (See "The Case Against John Sterns and HSU," Aug. 16.)

The most serious accusations involve manipulations of donation data. Estimates are that Sterns booked more than $15 million in nonexistent donations to the university.

The criminal charges against Sterns include forgery, theft and falsifying records. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 15.

Fishery closed early

The North Coast fishing industry received another setback Sept. 14 when the Pacific Fishery Management Council announced the early closure of two species of deepwater fish and one rockfish.

Deepwater fish like Dover sole are caught using trawl nets. Too many of them were caught early this season, and in an effort to protect the fishery, the council voted to close the season.

Groundfish harvests have fallen by roughly half over the last 20 years. Regulatory solutions, including a buyout for half of the fleet, have been discussed.



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