North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

November 16, 2000

 The state of voting

Measure G for Humboldt?

County's teens vote 3 parties

Unemployment at all-time low

Fewer students, fewer schools

Movie theater reopens Friday

PL vs. water board

PL logging in Mattole 

NPR host to visit HSU

The state of voting

No matter who they voted for, Humboldt County citizens can look at the recent controversy over confusing punch card ballots in Florida with a certain satisfaction: It couldn't happen here.

"Humboldt County used to use the punch card ballots, but we don't do that anymore," said County Administrative Services Director Lindsey McWilliams.

The punch card system is more prone to error than other systems, a problem that is "compounded when you use a butterfly ballot" like those used in Palm Beach County, Fla., he added.

About 4 percent of the votes in Palm Beach County had to be disqualified because they were filled in (or punched out) incorrectly. By comparison, only about 0.5 percent of the ballots were disqualified in Humboldt County.

Measure G for Humboldt?

Mendocino County voters passed an interesting ballot initiative Nov. 7 -- one that could be coming to a voting booth near you. Measure G, sponsored by the Mendocino County Green Party, allows individuals to grow and harvest up to 25 marijuana plants for personal use.

It is the first recreational marijuana decriminalization law in the United States -- but both the district attorney and sheriff of Mendocino County have said they will continue to enforce state and federal marijuana prohibitions.

Lisa Reiser, spokesperson for the Humboldt County Green Party, said trying such a measure in Humboldt County "has not been discussed but is not outside the bounds of possibility."

Humboldt County District Attorney Terry Farmer echoed his Mendocino counterpart and said that impossible was exactly what such a law would be.

"As an expression of public opinion, it's valuable. But until state and federal prohibitions change, our hands are tied."

County's teens vote 3 parties

If you thought Nader posed a threat to the Democratic Party this election, just wait till today's Humboldt teens can vote.

The results are in from TeenVote 2000, a comprehensive mock election organized by KEET-TV and the League of Women Voters.

Teens from across Humboldt County gave Green Party presidential candidate Nader a whopping 22 percent. It was a Democrat's worst nightmare, with Gore scoring a meager 32 percent and Bush winning with just 41 percent of the vote.

While teens seemed to vote to the left of their parents in the presidential contest, they were more conservative in one local race.

They chose Walt Giacomini as 1st District county supervisor over Jimmy Smith, who is seen as the more liberal of the two. In the actual vote Smith won with 53 percent of the vote.

In the Arcata City Council race, the teens chose Connie Stewart, Bob Ornelas and Dwain Goforth -- close but not the same as the adult vote. In the actual election, Michael Machi was elected instead of Goforth,

Eurekan teens reinforced the wisdom of their parents' choices by duplicating them: They elected Chris Kerrigan and Virginia Bass-Jackson to the two City Council seats up for election.

Only 479 teens voted in the mock election, although more than 2,200 were registered.

Amanda Tobin-Schlef, spokesperson for KEET-TV, said that she thought it might have been due to some confusion because this was the first time for the project. She said TeenVote organizers were focused on increasing participation during the next elections.

Unemployment at all-time low

Several economic indicators suggest Humboldt County will experience an unusual upturn in the economy during the fourth quarter.

Humboldt State University Professor Steve Hackett, who publishes a monthly Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County, said the county normally experiences a downturn at this time of the year. But September data show "all the indicators are pointing towards more economic activity in the next few months."

Employment figures led the way with help-wanted ads increasing 18 percent over August. That not only represents a short-term employment rally but also seems to be part of a trend.

Help-wanted ads were up 13 percent over last year, 54 percent over 1998 and 66 percent over 1997. There were 18 percent fewer claims for unemployment insurance in September than in August, which Hackett uses in the Index as a barometer of newly unemployed. Preliminary data for October shows Humboldt County with just 4.6 percent unemployment -- an all-time low.

The number of building permits increased 84 percent during September, suggesting that the construction industry will have plenty of work. Hackett said the increase, which was mostly due to residential building in unincorporated parts of the county, was probably due to "low mortgage rates."

Even manufacturing orders, which had been on a downward slide, showed some signs of recovery. The orders for future manufacturing production, which indicate how much manufacturing activity we will see in the near future, increased by almost 1 percent in September.

The manufacturing sector in Humboldt County seems to be slowly diversifying. There were 400 more jobs in manufacturing this September than in 1999. Of those new jobs, 200 were in the lumber and wood products, the traditional heart of manufacturing in Humboldt County. But 200 more were in new manufacturing ventures, "companies like Wing Inflatables or Kokatat," Hackett said. Humboldt County will help insulate itself from the roller-coaster ride of timber prices by diversifying into other sectors, he added.

But it's not all good economic news.

"The tempering factors are what's happening at Eel River and high oil prices," Hackett said.

Eel River Sawmills announced Oct. 30 that it was laying off as many as 130 workers -- which is not reflected in the most recent Index. And high oil prices have a profound effect on Humboldt County, he said, because our remote location makes us dependent on shipping.

Fewer students, fewer schools

In the face of declining student population, the Southern Humboldt Unified School District is forming an advisory committee to consider school closures.

The sprawling district's eight schools cover the area from Blocksburg to Shelter Cove and from Piercy up to Dyerville, a total of 773 square miles.

Over the last six years enrollment has fallen almost 25 percent -- from 1,657 in 1995 to 1,277 in 2000 -- compared to a countywide decline of about 2 percent a year, said Janet Frost of the Humboldt County Office of Education.

"We have to do something to remain fiscally sound," said Susie Jennings, principal of Whitethorn School and district assistant superintendent. "We have fewer students and that means fewer dollars."

How much less money is coming in? There have been an average of 76 fewer students per year over the last five years. Since base funding is about $4,000 per student, that means on average about $300,000 less each year.

Cynthia Grover, assistant to the district superintendent, said Southern Humboldt is an area where it is likely student numbers will continue to drop since there is little new housing being built and not much job growth.

The district's board of trustees has begun recruiting members for a Citizens' Advisory Committee on School Closure/Restructuring.

The committee -- which will include parents, teachers, classified staff and community members -- will have the task of deciding which school or schools to close. Jennings said that ideally the board would like to see a report by January to plan for changes in the 2000-2001 school year.

Superintendent Clif Anderson has suggested that the committee will be looking closely at the K-5 Whitethorn School; Agnes Johnson Elementary, a K-6 school in Weott; and Ettersburg School, a one-teacher K-3 school west of Garberville.

These tiny schools have a slight funding advantage in that they fall under the state's Necessary Small Schools program. More controversial is the possible closure of Miranda Junior High School which serves 85 7th and 8th graders from all over Southern Humboldt.

"The board has been looking at creating K-8 schools throughout the district for several years," said Jennings. "But no decision has been made yet. That's why we're having a committee look at it.

"If they find another way to deal with the funding issue, that would be great."

Movie theater reopens Friday

The Fortuna Theater, closed since the beginning of the year, reopens Friday night with a special event. The city of Fortuna will celebrate the completion of the project with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 6:30 p.m., followed by a screening of the box office hit Charlie's Angels with proceeds benefiting the Fortuna Fire Department's Santa Sleigh project supplying toys for needy children.

The theater has been renovated by Dave Corkle's Petaluma-based company, Cinema West, with assistance from the Fortuna Redevelopment Agency. The agency supplied a $10,000 facade grant and a $65,000 loan that helped purchase the movie house. Corkle created a triplex by dividing the balcony into two screens and restoring the 45-foot screen downstairs. It will be the largest screen between Santa Rosa and Portland, according to City Manager Dale Neiman.

Corkle is working toward expanding the complex by adding another three screens. Neiman said the redevelopment agency is considering a loan request of $450,000 for the project. Corkle has already purchased the adjoining property, two single-family houses behind the theater. One house has been donated to the redevelopment agency. The plan is to relocate it for sale to a qualified low or moderate income family.

Loaning Corkle another $450,000 would have several benefits, Neiman said. Since the loan would be at the current rate of 9 percent, it is 3 percent more than the 6 percent the city is currently earning.

The additional benefit comes from an increase in market share projected as a jump from 60 percent to 85 percent of Fortunans attending movies.

"That will mean more people will be shopping and going out to dinner in Fortuna," said Neiman.

PL vs. water board

A decision on the fate of a large portion of Pacific Lumber's timberland is in the hands of the state Regional Water Quality Control Board -- and it's going to stay there for a while.

A water board meeting that could have profound effects on what PL is allowed to do on watersheds that make up a fifth of its land has been postponed from Nov. 16 to Feb. 15.

The land in question consists of five watersheds -- Stitz Creek, Jordan Creek, Bear Creek, Freshwater Creek and the north fork of the Elk River. According to a report by the water board staff, Pacific Lumber harvesting practices have caused damage in the watersheds and would continue to do so even if operating under the environmental guidelines of the Headwaters agreement.

The staff report documents how the company "significantly increased the rate of harvest" in these watersheds starting in 1987. It alleges this harvesting corresponded with "adverse impacts to surface waters," specifically increased levels of silt. That siltation has made the water unfit to drink and contributed to flooding in the watersheds. (See "Muddy waters in Elk River," In the News, June 8).

The report has been attacked by PL, which claims that the Habitat Conservation Plan it operates under as part of the Headwaters agreement is sufficient to protect water quality. PL spokesperson Mary Bullwinkel said water quality issues related to harvest practices were normally addressed by the forest practice rules.

"Here at PL, our HCP exceeds the forest practice rules, so we feel water quality will be protected," Bullwinkel said.

The policy options put before the board by staff include limiting the rate of harvest in the watersheds; requiring more intense monitoring of the streams; accelerating a complex analysis and watershed recovery process called the Total Maximum Daily Load process; or taking no action at all.

Staff expects to have policy recommendations by early December.

PL logging in Mattole

Logging operations began last week on Pacific Lumber land in the Mattole River Valley. Opponents of the logging announced in a statement Friday that "all legal remedies have been exhausted" and attempts to stop or curb the logging were now in the hands of activists in the woods.

Activists report that as of Monday, only one tree has been cut. There are no tree-sits, but a road blockade has been set up. Sheriff's deputies removed protesters from the site Friday, allegedly using pepper spray on two individuals who were not apprehended.

NPR host to visit HSU

Bob Edwards, the voice of National Public Radio's "Morning Edition," speaks at Humboldt State University Thursday, Nov. 16. The event is presented by KHSU, 90.5 FM, which airs his program Monday-Friday from 5-8 a.m.

As host of the newsmagazine "Morning Edition," Edwards conducts more than 800 interviews each year covering politics, international affairs, education, labor, economics, sports, the arts and entertainment.

Edwards began his career at NPR in 1974 as a newscaster on the afternoon show "All Things Considered." He later served as co-host and helped in the transition toward news and away from entertainment.

When "Morning Edition" debuted in 1979, Edwards was brought in for 30 days as a "temporary" host -- and he ended up staying. The daily radio show grew to become the most listened to program on public radio, with 8.4 million listeners each week.

Edwards will speak to HSU journalism and political science students in the morning. From 3 to 4:30 p.m. he will give a lecture in the Kate Buchanan Room.


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