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Oct. 7, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

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Building literacy
Local couple raises money for school in Laos


 T H E  W E E K L Y  W R A P

CANDIDATES RAKE IT IN: Eureka City Council candidate Rex Bohn took in a few thousand dollars more than his opponent, incumbent Chris Kerrigan, as of Sept. 30, according to campaign finance statements filed Tuesday. Bohn's campaign raised $70,000, including nearly $52,000 in cash, a $4,900 loan to himself and more than $13,000 in nonmonetary contributions such as raffle items. Kerrigan, meanwhile, brought in $43,000 in cash and $8,000 in nonmonetary gifts, for a total of about $51,400. Among Bohn's top givers: developer Steve Strombeck ($1,705), the Mercer-Fraser Co. ($1,700), Mary Schmidbauer of Schmidbauer Lumber ($1,250), and Reggie Cross of Redwood Marine, Linda Olson of RAO Construction, Larry Debeni of Coastal Care Centers, Mad River Lumber, and Ted Contri of Contri Construction in Carson City, Nev., at $1,000 each. Kerrigan logged $3,900 this year from his father and stepmother, Michael and Tina Kerrigan of Eureka; $4,000 from Sedgefield Properties, run by Bill Pierson of Pierson Hardware; $2,250 from Pierson and his wife; $2,480 from Arlene Banducci of Eureka; $2,000 from Richard Cogswell of Petrolia; and $1,000 from Elizabeth Harwood of Eureka.

HOW TO REPLACE CONNER? More than 70 residents attended a special meeting of the Arcata City Council last Thursday, many of them expressing concern about a proposed solution to replacing Councilmember Elizabeth Conner, who resigned her seat earlier in the week. The council has 30 days to either appoint someone to fill out the remaining two years of Conner's term or call a costly special election. While most members preferred appointment, a number of citizens decried that option as the less democratic alternative. "How much is democracy worth? How much is confidence in the City Council worth?" asked resident Jeff Knapp, referring to the $18,000 the city estimated it would cost to hold a special election. In the end, the council voted 3-1, with Councilmember Michael Machi dissenting, to accept applications from potential appointees. But on Monday, the story took a turn, with an anonymous donor offering $18,000 to the city for it to hold a special election. City Manager Dan Hauser said that such an election would be unprecedented; Arcata has opted for appointment on all four other occasions it has had in the last 40 years to fill a council position. The council was scheduled to discuss the matter further at its regular meeting 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6 (after the Journal went to press). Meanwhile, the city will take applications from aspiring nominees through 5 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11.

PALCO ORDERED TO PAY $6 MILLION: Judge John Golden of Lake County last week ruled that the Pacific Lumber Co. owed $6 million to attorneys for Garberville's Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) and the United Steelworkers of America. The award follows Golden's July 2003 decision in a suit against the company brought by the two organizations, which charged that Palco's Sustained Yield Plan -- the 1999 document meant to direct the company's logging operations over the next 100 years -- does not ensure adequate environmental protection. Golden ruled for the plaintiffs on that occasion, and the $6 million award was meant to pay for their attorneys' time. Chuck Center, Palco director of government relations and external communications, said the company did not need to appeal Golden's decision on attorney's fees directly. He said the company's appeal of Golden's original ruling was already working its way through the state's appellate courts, and expressed confidence that a higher court would throw out Golden's original ruling -- attorney fees and all. "The check is not in the mail yet," said EPIC's Cynthia Elkins, who noted that she expects a favorable ruling from the appellate court within a year.

EQUIPMENT PROBLEM AT AIRPORT: HSU's CenterArts had to turn back a sold-out crowd at the Van Duzer Theatre Sunday night. The problem? The show's star attraction, comedian and chat-show host Bill Maher, couldn't fly in to the Eureka-Arcata airport. This wasn't because the caustic, Bush-bashing comic was on a terrorism watch list, as some might suspect, but because the airport was experiencing technical difficulties. Jacquelyn Hulsey, the county's airports manager, said that the airport recently installed a new glide slope antenna, a navigational device that helps planes land in the fog. The Federal Aviation Administration had tested the antenna last week and everything appeared to be shipshape -- but the system failed a subsequent test, taking it off line. Then the fog rolled in, scotching Maher's flight. Hulsey said she wasn't sure how many flights in to Eureka-Arcata have been canceled, but noted that her team and the FAA have been working on the problem and hope to get the antenna back up in the next few days.

WATER LEAK REPAIRED: The Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District announced Friday that it had found and repaired a 100-gallon-per-minute leak in one of its main lines. The leak, which was eventually located near the corner of L. K. Wood Boulevard and Diamond Drive in Arcata, prompted water-saving measures in Arcata, the Samoa Peninsula and the unincorporated areas around Eureka.

CRASHES CLAIM STUDENTS: Two Humboldt State University students died in recent weeks from car accidents. Freshman Hannah Chastain-Shannon, 18, of Grass Valley was killed after her car swerved across the U.S. Highway 101 median and flipped onto its roof on Sept. 28. Chastain-Shannon, known as Zoe by her friends, was driving her 1994 Honda Civic southbound from the McKinleyville area with four passengers, all fellow freshmen, at 12:41 a.m., when she lost control of her vehicle on the wet pavement. She suffered severe head trauma and died at the scene, while the passengers escaped with minor injuries, the California Highway Patrol said. Everyone was wearing safety belts. The CHP said Chastain-Shannon was likely steering the car from side-to-side for laughs and lost control of the car. A memorial service was held at the university and counseling services were offered to students. Earlier in the month, in another single-car accident around 8:25 p.m. on Sept. 9, Courtney Barton, 21, of Weed died after her eastbound car crossed over the westbound U.S. Highway 299 near Whiskeytown in Shasta County, plummeting over an embankment, CHP said. The car flipped several times and was partially submerged in Whiskeytown Lake. The CHP said Barton's accident occurred because she was speeding, and that alcohol and drugs were not a factor. HSU held a memorial service and planted a tree in Barton's name on Sept. 14.

MORE FATALITIES: Two southern Humboldt men were killed in separate traffic accidents just over a mile apart from each other on Highway 101 Saturday, the CHP reported. At 4:30 a.m., Jerry Carter, Sr., 46, of Rio Dell died when his 1993 Isuzu Rodeo left the highway and overturned near Metropolitan Road, between Rio Dell and Fortuna. That evening, at around 6:15 p.m., 26-year-old Donovan Deike of Scotia was headed southbound on 101, just north of Alton, in his 1995 Chevy Camaro. Piercy resident Michael Ricklefs and his family -- his wife Kimberly and their 10-year-old son -- were traveling northbound in their 2002 Toyota Tacoma. As the two cars neared the Highway 36 exit, Deike turned left, directly into the path of Ricklefs' vehicle, which was traveling at about 65 miles per hour. Ricklefs and his family flipped over and came to rest on their roof. Deike was transported to Redwood Memorial Hospital, where he died. The Ricklefs were treated for minor to moderate injuries. All were wearing their seat belts.

CHECK SCAM: David Van Helden, a 44-year-old Carlotta resident wanted locally on numerous counts of financial fraud, was arrested in Newport, Ore., Monday. According to Eureka Police, Van Helden stands accused of defrauding local financial institutions of over $20,000. Eureka police were in Oregon seeking Van Helden's extradition Tuesday. EPD spokesperson Suzie Owsley said Tuesday that evidence suggested that Van Helden could have been part of a large-scale -- possibly international -- counterfeiting ring.

MISSING TEEN FOUND: The Eureka Police Department announced Monday that Josephine "Josie" West, a 15-year-old Eureka resident, had been located in Berkeley over the weekend. West was returned to her family, who had first reported the child missing on Aug. 27.

LOCAL DEBATES: Reporters from the Journal are among those questioning local candidates during this season's League of Women Voters debates, broadcast over PBS affiliate KEET-TV, Channel 13. Candidates for the state Assembly -- incumbent Democrat Patty Berg, Republican Ray Tyrone and Libertarian Ken Anton -- will debate tonight (Oct. 7). Eureka City Council candidates Chris Kerrigan (incumbent) and Rex Bohn will face off on Wednesday, Oct. 13. On Friday, Oct. 15, the focus shifts to the national stage, as Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) defends his record against Republican Lawrence Wiesner and Green Pam Elizondo. Finally, on Tuesday, Oct. 19, proponents and opponents of the county's anti-GMO Measure M square off. All debates start at 7 p.m., except for the Eureka City Council race -- that one will start at 8 p.m., immediately after the third Bush-Kerry debate. Viewers may call in with questions for the candidates.

BODY IDENTIFIED: The body of a Eureka woman discovered by forest activists who were hiking near Grizzly Creek State Park in Carlotta was identified as Lori Ann Jones, 38, after the Humboldt County Coroner's office obtained a fingerprint match this week. Coroner Frank Jager said that Jones had been dead for less than a month when she was discovered on Sept. 28, and appears to have been murdered, although the official cause of death cannot be released pending further investigations by the Sheriff's Department. Deputy District Attorney Worth Dikeman said that Jones was on the witness list for an upcoming murder trial, though he said there is no evidence that her death was connected with the trial. Anyone with information about the case should call the Sheriff's Department at 445-7251.

VETS' GARDEN SLATED FOR PAVING: At least one veteran is fighting a proposal to pave the small veterans' garden in the public parking lot at Eighth and F streets in Arcata to make space for more cars. The proposed changes -- part of the larger Arcata downtown streetscape plan -- include the addition of four to six parking spots where the garden and commemorative plaque for Vietnam and Korean vets now reside. The memorial was dedicated in 1968. Garden caretaker and Vietnam veteran Robert Hepburn circulated a petition at Saturday's Farmers' Market to stop the plan. Arcata City Manager Dan Hauser said Tuesday that the issue is more complicated than giving up four parking spots: Without removing part of the garden, the traffic through the new lot could not enter and exit from F Street, as planned.

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Building literacy
Local couple raises money for school in Laos


[John and Souk Mitchell]The chalkboard is a wooden board covered with a coat of black paint, and the teacher stands before it while students sit side-by-side at uneven split-log tables, reciting their lessons and scraping their feet along the dirt floor. There is no bathroom, no playground, no crayons, and other than the children's mismatched clothes, there's no color.

Bamboo separates the older children from the younger ones, rain finds its way through the old thatch roof or pours in from the open windows. That's the way things have been for a long time in Ban Longya, a small village in Laos.

John and Souk Mitchell of Kneeland hope to change that [photo at right] .

For the past two years, the couple has been raising money to build a better school in Ban Longya, Souk's hometown, where grade five is currently the end of the line for education. Students who want to continue in school, as Souk did, move away to a larger town or the country's capital, Vientiane, which is three days away by car.

In Ban Longya, a small town cradled in a valley of the mountainous northwest corner of Laos -- a landlocked country the size of Utah with Vietnam, Thailand and China as neighbors -- there are 200 children, four teachers and two classrooms. Chalk is rationed by the government, and the teachers use it sparingly because when it runs out, they don't get more until the next month. [photos below]

"Teachers here [in the United States] are concerned about not having enough computers," John Mitchell said. "Try to get by when you're worrying about having enough chalk, or if the roof is going to leak, or if you're going to get paid.

"When I'm over there I realize how spoiled we are here. We just have no idea how everybody else is living."

Forty percent of Laotians live in poverty, according to the CIA World Factbook. Only 52 percent of the country is literate. Education, John hopes, will help eventually lift the village out of economic despair.

John, 56, is a retired PG&E employee and longtime Kneeland resident. He and Souk, 29, met on a bus trip through Laos, and married five years ago in Ban Longya, then later in a second ceremony in Kneeland. Before moving here, Souk worked in the duty-free shop at the airport in Laos, a job she landed for her English-speaking skills. It paid $100 a month -- big money compared to teachers, who receive $30 monthly. The Mitchells have gone back to the village on a few occasions, spending close to a year of their married life there.

During a visit two years ago, village elders asked the couple if they could earn enough money in America to build a new school for the children.

"So I said, `Yeah, we can do that,' even though I really didn't know what it was going to take," John said.

After budgeting for a much-improved but still modest schoolhouse -- plans include five classrooms, a bathroom, and a multipurpose room -- the Mitchells calculated that they would need $10,000 to build the school. So far they have raised $7,500 from donations and sales of Laotian goods and cuisine and are banking on additional donations to rake in the remainder before they leave for Laos in January. [photos below]

Their fund-raising venture began by getting development support from the Ink People Center for the Arts in Eureka.

"Admittedly, it's kind of different for us," said Libby Maynard, executive director of the Ink People. "We've done international artist exchanges before, but never something quite like this."

Maynard had a special interest in the Mitchells' project in Laos; she lived and went to school there for a year as a teenager.

"The country is just amazing, the people are genuine, open, joyful. They make you feel very welcome," Maynard said. "They're poor, but they can do a lot with very little."

The Ink People has helped the Mitchells get the project off the ground with publicity and fund-raising, and are currently helping the couple edit video footage that they shot in Laos to create a half-hour documentary about Ban Longya. The project was taken under the Ink People's wing in part, Maynard says, because the Mitchells want to maintain the cultural traditions of the village rather than imposing American values upon the people, something she has seen even well-intended aid groups do before.

"The U.S. sometimes goes in [to a foreign country] and tries to Americanize the people, but they have their own culture and beliefs. It's important we don't undermine them," Maynard said. "We want to support their culture and give them the benefits of the rest of the world."

To coincide with the artistic mission of the Ink People and to raise money for the school, Souk collects Laotian textiles and displays and sells them here. The tapestries often go for more than $100 a piece. Currently in Laos, the same fabrics are sold for $2 to $3 a scarf to Vientiane merchants, who then sell them to Japanese buyers for about $100 each, John said.

"[Laotians] are losing their culture because it doesn't pay the bills," he said. "The world is changing very quickly and these children need the skills to deal with that, but without better schools they will be barely literate, they won't know much about money: People will continue to take advantage of them because they know less."

Future generations, the Mitchells hope, will be able to stem the tide of the cultural drift. In addition to language and mathematics, a focus on traditional art, music and storytelling will be part of the curriculum at the new school.

"We're not looking too far ahead. Right now, they just need the basics," John said. "We gave each child a pencil and notebook last time we were there and they were so thankful."

John went on to talk about the slow but rewarding process of raising the funds for the school.

"I'm not a rich person, but I could refinance my house and get the money without anyone's help, but I want my friends and my family, and people around me to be a part of this with Souk and I.

"It feels good to give something back."

Donations for the Ban Longya Project can be made in care of The Ink People, 411 12th St., Eureka.

[group of schoolchildren standing in front of buildings in town]
Children in Ban Longya, Laos (above) currently attend classes in a dilapidated two-room schoolhouse (below).
[old school house constructed with poles and sticks, open air sides]
[old school classroom with benches and chalkboards on stands, stick and pole construction

Construction of a new school modeled after one recently built in Oudomsay Province is scheduled to begin in January. (photo below)
[new school building]



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