Oct. 28, 2004
WATERMARK MOVING TO PORTLAND: WaterMark, the Arcata company whose brands include Yakima, announced Tuesday that it was moving its corporate headquarters to Portland, Ore., during the first part of 2005, and taking 70 of its 147 Arcata employees with it. Sixty-five workers will stay in Arcata, and between 10 and 15 positions will be eliminated, the company said in a written statement. "It became clear that we needed to relocate some of our operations in order to attract the top talent that is essential to meet our goals," said CEO Jim Clark.
BALLOON TRACK STUDY AXED: In a reversal of its previous, long-standing policy, the Eureka City Council voted 4-1 last week to kill efforts to develop a master plan for the vacant Balloon Track, a 34-acre parcel on the edge of the downtown and Old Town neighborhoods. Earlier this year, the council had applied for and received a $45,000 grant from the Headwaters Fund to finance a community-wide effort to find consensus on the best uses of the land. That money will have to be returned. Councilmember Chris Kerrigan, the sole holdout on the vote, later said he was "puzzled" by the council's reversal -- just a few weeks ago, he said, the council had listed the Balloon Track plan as one of its top priorities for the coming year. Five years ago, Wal-Mart had looked into putting one of its superstores on the site; Assemblymember Patty Berg, one of the leaders of the successful fight against Wal-Mart, likewise declared herself mystified by the council's decision last week. "I don't like the community being shut out of the process," she said. "So I would like to know why [the council] did it."
ALCOHOL NOT CAUSE OF CRASH: Results from a blood alcohol test have confirmed that the driver in a fatal collision was not drunk, but further chemical drug tests have yet to be completed, the California Highway Patrol said. Deann Hash, 43, of Eureka, was driving her Ford Explorer westbound on Greenwood Heights Road in Kneeland last Tuesday morning when she ran off the road at 35 miles per hour and crashed into a log, killing her 6-year-old daughter, Katie Alisha Hash, who was in a car seat, and injuring her other daughter, 8, and herself. The CHP said that Hash appeared to be intoxicated and was taken into custody on suspicion of driving under the influence. Drug test results are expected in a couple of weeks, the CHP said. Hash is not in custody.
ANOTHER CHILD KILLED: A 6-year-old from Eureka was killed Saturday in a car accident near Klamath, and the driver who caused the crash is in jail for allegedly driving under the influence, the California Highway Patrol said. On Oct. 23, Joei Sanches, 28, of Eureka, was driving northbound on U.S. Highway 101 with her 6-year-old, Elizabeth Sanches, and 1-year-old, Ethan Sanches, when their Ford Explorer was hit by a Jeep Wrangler driven by Jeffery Sibley, 48, of Fallon, Nev., according to the CHP. Sibley was traveling southbound when he swerved into the northbound lane, striking the Sanches' car. Elizabeth Sanches was pronounced dead on the scene and Joei Sanches, Ethan Sanches and Sibley were taken to the hospital for injuries. Sibley was arrested and remains in custody.
TREE SNAGS DEBATE: Westhaven residents are rallying to save a redwood tree that they say is a unique community landmark. The dead redwood, called "eye of the needle snag" for the sewing needlelike hole in the upper part of its trunk, stands on Westhaven Drive next to power lines, something the Pacific Gas and Electric Company says is a hazard. At the urging of the California Department of Forestry, PG&E has been planning for close to a year to cut the tree down. Earlier this month the conflict came to a head when a pajama-clad neighbor stopped a contractor from removing the tree one early morning. Susan Morton of Westhaven, said that the tree is sturdy and not a threat to the power lines. PG&E spokesman Lloyd Coker said that the snag is in the company's right of way, and were it to fall against the lines, it could start a fire or leave 600 people without electricity. Meanwhile, 5th District Supervisor Jill Geist has weighed in on the debate, saying that the tree is in the coastal development zone and therefore, the power company must have a permit to cut down the snag.
WEST NILE TALLY: Mosquito season officially ended Oct. 10, but the Department of Public Health is continuing to test dead birds for West Nile virus. Humboldt County Vector Officer Brent Whitener reports that to date 13 birds were infected in Humboldt County out of 45 birds tested; results from five of those birds have not yet been received. No cases of human or horse contraction were found in the county, but human infection got closer to county lines last week when a Lake County person tested positive for the virus. Whitener said that surveillance of the virus will continue at least until Nov. 1. The county requests that citizens finding a dead bird call 877-WNV-BIRD (877-968-2473) to file a report.
RICHMOND NAMED SCIENCE FELLOW: HSU President Rollin Richmond was recently inducted as a Fellow by the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Richmond, a geneticist, was awarded for his research in genetics and evolution. The academy is the fourth largest natural history museum in the world and has acknowledged the contributions of 300 scientists. Richmond was one of 15 new members inducted on Oct. 12. He was nominated by a former professor at San Diego State University.
LIBRARY SHUT DOWN: The Humboldt County Library and its branch libraries will be closed this week, and will reopen Nov. 2. The library, which has struggled under severe budget cuts, shuts its doors for one week every quarter to save money. Staff will not be paid for the time off. Anyone who has books due this week will not be charged overdue fines while the library is closed.
CHANGE YOUR BATTERIES: To ensure that residents have working fire alarms, the Fortuna Police Department will check smoke detectors at residents' homes and replace old batteries, free of charge. Those who do not have a smoke alarm can get one for free, installed by police. Call the FPD at 725-7550.
by HANK SIMS
Last year, the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District rocketed to the forefront of public consciousness when an entrepreneur offered to buy excess water out of the Mad River, bag it up in massive plastic containers and tug it down to Southern California by sea.
The outcry over the proposal effectively torpedoed the idea, but this election season is showing that public interest in the workings of the previously obscure agency has remained. For the first time in recent memory, two incumbents on the district's board of directors are being contested by active, energetic challengers.
In the first division, which covers most of Eureka, nine-year incumbent Vern Cooney is facing opposition from activist Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap. Meanwhile, McKinleyville minister Javan Reid is challenging 12-year incumbent Harold Hunt, a rancher, in the Water Board's second division, which includes McKinleyville and surrounding areas.
A former chief of the Eureka Fire Department, Cooney, 67, jokes that with only nine years on the board he has for some time been its "junior member." Nevertheless, he feels that he has enough tenure to say that the district has historically been one of the most well managed municipal water utilities around.
However, Cooney said that he is concerned about declining industrial use of water in the district. In the district's first days, 80 percent of its costs were borne by its industrial customers -- the two pulp mills on the Samoa Peninsula. Now, with only one mill still in operation, that has fallen to 45 percent. If the financially troubled Stockton Pacific mill were to go under, municipal customers would be forced to assume the entire costs for the district's operations.
"Right now, it's not the water bag issue," he said. "This is the big issue."
Cooney said that he did not have an immediate solution to the problem, but believed that the district should continue to try to market its current 20-million-gallon-per-day water surplus, and believed that his experience managing budgets could work in the district's favor.
Sopoci-Belknap, 25, is an active member of the Green Party and the director of Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, a Eureka-based activist organization. According to its mission statement, the goal of Democracy Unlimited is to "[educate] citizens about the illegitimate seizure of our authority to govern ourselves."
In a recent interview, Sopoci-Belknap said that she decided to run in order to bring her experience studying international law and trade agreements to the board. She said that the board lacked experience in such matters during the water bag debate -- and that with water scarcity becoming an increasing problem worldwide, such issues would become increasingly important.
If elected, she pledged to bring the community to the table when it comes time to discuss future deals involving the district's excess water capacity.
"That's one of the things that we, as a community, need to decide," she said. "Is it more important to have cheap water? Or is it more important to maintain local control of our water? Or is there some win-win solution?"
Sopoci-Belknap said that she didn't propose to answer these questions -- instead, she said, she would engage in public outreach and try to form a community-wide planning effort to develop solutions.
In the second division, the 77-year-old Hunt is campaigning on a platform of continuity -- he said that the district has done an excellent job of assuring that the public has a steady supply of clean, relatively cheap water.
"We've got a heck of a good board, and I think they watch out for the public's interest just about as good as anybody," he said. He noted the new $10 million water treatment facility northeast of Arcata the board recently brought on-line.
Hunt said that the district recently demonstrated its high level of professional competence when it quickly fixed a serious leak in one of its main water lines in the Arcata area. He agreed that the board needed to try to find new ways to market its water, but said that he opposed the water bag proposal.
"If something comes along that is really, really worth considering, one way or another it will get before the public," he said. "But personally, I was not in favor of the water bag."
A minister and former member of the McKinleyville Community Services District's board of directors, Javan Reid, 60, said that he has been interested in California water issues for decades. He said that the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District is somewhat unique in that it has the sole responsibility for maintaining an entire watershed -- that of the Mad River, from which the district receives all its water.
Reid said that he would like to see the district take a more active role in the ecological management of the Mad watershed.
"I would like to see the district take the lead in managing the river for water quality and fisheries habitat," he said. "This district is in an ideal position to work with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the HSU Fisheries department, the Coastal Commission -- all those are ideal relationships that could be developed soon."
Reid said that he, too, opposed the water bag idea, and supported the idea of attracting clean industry to the region through use of the district's surplus water. But he said that current residential water rates were not at a crisis level -- water here is still much more affordable than in other parts of the state, he said.
"The water is pretty cheap," he said. "When I was on the CSD, the cheapest thing on our budget was the water. Sure, I think we need to seek anything we can to share the cost among users. But I don't think people should think the water is expensive."
A third candidate in the second division race -- fisheries biologist Randy Turner -- has dropped out, in order not to split votes between himself and the other challenger. He has formally endorsed Reid, who he said shares many of his values and ideas.
by HANK SIMS
Sheriff Gary Philp and District Attorney Paul Gallegos both made grim presentations to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday. They talked about how their departments' abilities to carry out their mandated duties to serve and protect the citizenry have been imperiled by two years of drastically reduced budgets.
They both said they feared what would happen if future cuts are required next year. "Reduced staffing levels will impact public safety and the safety of our officers," Philp said. "Our past reductions have cut us to the bone."
Though they didn't address the topic directly, it was clear that they were there to speak in support of Measure L, the controversial 1 percent countywide sales tax increase on Tuesday's ballot.
If passed, Measure L would raise the sales tax to a total of 8.25 percent throughout the county -- except in Trinidad, where the rate would be 9.25 percent. It would automatically expire in 2009 unless the electorate voted to restore it. The measure contains provisions that would prevent any of the revenues from the tax being taken away by the state. Half of the revenues generated by the measure -- about $12 million annually, according to forecasts -- will go into the county general fund. The other half would be split among the county's seven incorporated cities.
To hear most local elected officials tell it, the measure is a last-gasp effort to prevent severe cutbacks in county services such as law enforcement, the library and the county's health care initiatives for the poor and indigent.
Over the past few years, the state budget crisis has taken a toll on county services. A general hiring freeze has left hundreds of county jobs unfilled in order to make ends meet.
Third District Supervisor John Woolley said that with the increasing costs of medical and workers' compensation insurance, the county's budget is looking at even greater cuts in the future.
"If Measure L does not pass and we face still significant increases, all these things will have to come up and we'll face much deeper cuts," Woolley said. "If we don't have Measure L to help us, local government just becomes that much more destabilized."
To make matters worse, the county is currently operating almost entirely without cash reserves. The county had a $2.4 million reserve fund in June; all but $100,000 of it was spent in order to balance this year's budget.
Leo Sears, president of the Humboldt Taxpayers' League, has been one of the measure's strongest critics. He has charged that county government has not done enough to tighten its belt in the wake of the state budget crisis. In particular, he said last week, the county has refused to consider discontinuing its "benefit allowance" packages for elected officials and management employees, has continued to allow most of its employees to work a 37.5-hour week and has dropped its support of Proposition 65, which would have stopped the state from taking funds from local government.
"This, to me, is unconscionable on the part of the cities and counties," Sears said. "They give more to the state on the one hand and ask for more from us on the other hand."
But Woolley said that none of those solutions are as simple as they may appear, and they don't do enough to close the expected budget shortfall. The 37.5-hour work week is a matter of contracts developed through negotiations with employee unions, he said -- something that can't simply be changed overnight. Likewise, the "benefit allowance" -- which costs the county some $800,000 -- is often written into the county's contracts with its management employees.
"[Proposition] 65 was going to have a great deal of opposition, in part from state school administrators, that would have made it problematic," he said, adding that a substitute measure agreed to by Gov. Schwarzenegger -- Proposition 1A -- would offer some, but not all, of the protections of 65.
Sears also opposes the provision of the measure which would split the funds between the county and the city, as he said that the crises in the cities are not nearly as severe as those faced by county government. He said that both Eureka and Fortuna have loaned money to their redevelopment agencies -- money which could be recalled to those cities' general funds whenever they need it.
He added that it would have been "a hell of a lot more honest" for the county to propose a half-cent increase in sales tax for its own purposes, and then allowed any city with budget problems to put its own measure forward.
Woolley said that he was not involved in drafting the language of the measure, but that the county had a long-standing history of cooperation among governmental bodies.
"To say that the cities have not lost resources is not being very real," he said. "There have been plenty of reports about their loss of services."
by HANK SIMS
With the election only a few days away, a controversy has broken out surrounding the campaign against Measure L, the 1 percent sales tax increase, and campaign finance papers in the Yes on L camp reveal an unusual funding scheme involving money from the 1999 anti-Wal-Mart fight.
The Humboldt County Taxpayer's League has mounted a high-profile ad campaign against the measure -- including print and billboard ads -- which has cost the league around $20,000 to date, according to Leo Sears, league president. However, it has not filed any financial disclosure statements with the county election office -- an apparent violation of California election law.
Sears said that before the league took on the campaign, an attorney -- whom he declined to name -- told him that as a 501(c)4 organization, the league is exempt from campaign finance regulations.
Robert Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies and the former general counsel of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said on Monday that this argument doesn't hold water.
"If any group is saying `vote yes' or `vote no' on a ballot measure, and spending $1,000 or more, they should be filing their expenditures," Stern said. "It's real clear."
At Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Bonnie Neely -- a vocal proponent of Measure L -- took the Taxpayers' League to task for hiding its donor list from public scrutiny. She said that with ethics in government and politics a growing issue in the county, it was disturbing to see the league bending campaign finance law.
"[The public] is continuously asking us to play by the rules," she said. "Here we have accusations and claims being made by an organization that is not playing by the rules."
Neely went on to quote from a publication entitled "How to Defeat Local Sales Taxes," which is published on the Web site of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, an organization founded by the author of 1978's Proposition 13. The publication recommends that local groups form opposition committees to oppose local sales tax measures and notes that "campaign filing obligations will generally be incurred if $1,000 or more is received or spent in a calendar year."
Sears declined to voluntarily name the donors who had given money to the league on behalf of the campaign, except to say that they were all members of the league. As regards election law, he said, the league will stick by the advice its attorney gave it until he hears differently from the state.
"If they tell us something different, we'll do something different," he said.
Meanwhile, according to disclosure forms filed with the county elections office, the Yes on Measure L campaign -- which has taken out print, radio and television ads -- is being financed entirely by money left over from the fight against a Eureka Wal-Mart five years ago.
On Oct. 14, the Think Twice Committee, which was formed in order to oppose 1999's pro-Wal-Mart Measure J, wrote a $13,240 check to the Yes on Measure L campaign. The money represented the entirety of the funds left over from the No on Measure J campaign, which have been sitting in a bank account since 1999.
Neely, who, along with soon-to-be Assemblymember Patty Berg, was one of the co-chairs of the Think Twice Committee, said on Tuesday that she had authorized the use of the remaining Think Twice funds to promote Measure L.
"We felt that this would do the greatest good for the community -- would have the greatest impact on the delivery of services," she said.
Among the last donors to the Think Twice Committee were the Pacific Lumber Co. ($1,000), the Simpson Resource Company ($1,000), the Democratic Central Committee ($500) and a San Francisco chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers' Union ($5,000). As these were the last donors to Think Twice, it is essentially their money -- donated to oppose Wal-Mart -- which is being used to support Measure L.
Chuck Center, PALCO director of government relations, said that the company has not taken a stand on Measure L, and could not comment on the use of its anti-Wal-Mart donations without further study.
Stern said that such transfers of funds are legal under California law.
by BOB DORAN
More than one of the 10 candidates running for three seats on the Arcata City Council described the upcoming election as "a crossroads" for the council -- but that's an exaggeration.
It's true that the departure of veteran council members Connie Stewart and "Bad" Bob Ornelas, coupled with the surprise resignation of Elizabeth Conner, necessitates an infusion of new blood, but with one exception, none of the candidates is suggesting a change of course for the decidedly progressive city.
The choice for Arcata's voters in the nonpartisan race is more along the lines of choosing which flavor of progressive they prefer. For the most part the candidates agree that creative solutions must be found to seemingly insurmountable problems, like the conflict between transients and shoppers on the plaza. Everyone wants to see more affordable housing, but without sacrificing precious open space.
This is a race where even the centrist candidate is slightly left of center. The sole incumbent, Michael Machi, wants to "continue on as a voice of moderation" on the council, and it's likely that he will appeal to the conservative side of Arcata, although he is not particularly conservative -- he notes that he "wants to see Bush out of office as much as anyone else on the council."
The challengers include activists of various stripes. Fresh HSU grad Harmony Groves comes off as the eco-grooviest of the lot. A car-less bicycle rider who earns her living selling solar panels, she fought a successful battle to save the student run recycling program on campus.
Lawyer Greg Allen is a Green Party activist who, among other things, helped craft the city's Prop. 215 medical marijuana guidelines, and more recently introduced an Arcata anti-GMO ordinance currently under consideration. He is also the author of several civil liberties initiatives now in circulation, including one that would set up a police review board and one that would do away with the law requiring dance permits.
Other Greens in the race include Paul Pitino, whose claim to fame is a successful fight against the Janes Creek West subdivision, and Jhym "Fhyre" Phoenix, a self-described "visionary" who counts the creation of a local barter program, the Community Currency Project, among his accomplishments.
Veterans for Peace activist Jim Sorter, an Arcata High grad, points to his years of experience as a school administrator as indicative of an ability to balance budgets and serve as a mediator for diverse groups.
Rob Amerman, who works for the campus public radio station, KHSU, paints himself as an insider with knowledge gained through experience working in the City Manager's office and as station manager for the city's now-defunct Arcata Community Access Television, a position that often put him at odds with that station's vociferous supporters.
Amerman's tenure at ACAT made him a chief target of the campaign's loose cannon, Nicolas Bravo, an HSU student who spiced things up at candidate forums with charges that city government is awash with corruption. At one point in the campaign Bravo publicly apologized "for all the negativity I've been spewing." On Tuesday, he abruptly resigned from the race, then later that day said he was back in.
It should be noted that the race also included a couple of stealth candidates who did not campaign actively. Brooke "Christine" McClure, a CR art student who described her run as "performance art," skipped all of the forums. Mark Owens, owner/operator of a new candy store on the plaza, at least had a good excuse: He was left homeless by a fire this summer.
Too hard to chose three from the pool? Don't worry; you'll soon have a second chance, as will any unsuccessful candidate. Nominations for the March election to fill Conner's vacant seat open Nov. 15. Watch for round two as spring approaches.
Staff writer Helen Sanderson contributed to this report.
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