North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

Nov. 21, 2002

PIP on way to acquiring Sweasey building

Fish kill study to be approved in D.C.

Hurwitz escapes -- again

Son arrested for
father's murder

PL headed back to court

Board knew of Redding M.D.

A $21 billion problem

Dirty bomb drill

Recycling reprieve?

Fujitsu gift to HSU

Fortuna drug use on rise

Sturgeon suit

Another tree attack

Toilet tax tanks

Seniors beware

McKinleyville substation

PIP on way to acquiring Sweasey building



According to the group's director, Sue Bigelow Marsh, plans are moving ahead to purchase the old State Theater, aka the Sweasey building, part of the Daly complex, to turn it into a performing arts venue. The deal, financed by Eureka developer Donald Murrish, is set to close by the middle of next month, barring complications.

"It's just clicking right along," Marsh said. "Unless the building falls down I think we're okay."

Under the current deal, Murrish would purchase the entire complex from the city of Eureka's redevelopment agency, and then PIP would purchase the State Theater from him.

The group has been homeless since it lost the World Premiere Theatre, which was located over the Lost Coast Brewery in Old Town Eureka.

The new digs will be expensive, more than $330,000 with a $100,000 down payment. Marsh said the group has raised about a third of the down payment so far. Assuming the rest of the money is obtained, the purchase will be well worth it, she said.

"When you look at how [the theater] was constructed, how it was put together, it's a really beautiful piece of architecture; it's gorgeous," she said. "It's ugly right now, but it has a charm."

Right now what Marsh described as a beautiful art deco theater is hidden under the drab 1950s-era Daly building department store.

When the theater was turned into a store the ceiling was lowered, concealing what Marsh described as a "phenomenal" fly system (a system of weights and pulleys that can raise and lower lights or scenery suspended over the stage) minus the ropes. The false floor conceals sloping audience seating, similar to that of the Ferndale Repertory Theatre but with an orchestra pit as well.

inside Sweasey buildingUnderneath the building is a basement the same size as the theater itself, which PIP plans to turn into a costume and set storage area and rehearsal space that could be used by all of the local theater companies.

"[PIP] will never use [the practice rooms] all the time, and we have no intention of doing so," Marsh said.

PIP plans to renovate the building in two stages. The first stage would be to get the theater itself working in a versatile 200-seat "black box" format, where audience seating and stage setup could be rearranged to accommodate different types of performances, from plays to conferences.

Marsh said it would be similar to the format of the World Premiere Theatre, only twice as big.

The front of the theater would be turned into an art gallery/lobby that would be part of the Arts Alive! circuit.

The second stage (no pun intended) would be restoration of the theater to its original Vaudeville-era glory, opening up the balcony, raising the ceiling, sinking the orchestra pit, and cleaning up the original architecture. When completed the theater will seat 400 to 500 people.

Marsh said that PIP had decided to do the project in two phases to make it more affordable; the entire cost is likely to range into the millions of dollars.

"If we tried to do it all at once we'd have to spend four or five years rasing money, and by that time the building would have fallen apart," Marsh said.

If everything goes smoothly and PIP acquires the building in mid-December as planned, it will still be another six or seven months before the theater is performance-ready. Marsh said the first performance is tentatively scheduled for late June.

Meanwhile, PIP is in overdrive trying to scare up the capital to make its dream a reality. Among other events, the group is holding a "Night at the Speakeasy" fund-raiser at the Wharfinger building Saturday.

Marsh said the group is seeking money "every single way it possibly can," including pursuing grants from both public and private foundations as well as looking to community members for funding. Thus far they have found the community very receptive.

"Luckily there's a wonderful community around here with disposable cash who are also very, very civic-minded," Marsh said. "Half of them necked in the balcony when they were teenagers, so there's a real emotional attachment to this theater."

Despite the long negotiations with the city of Eureka, and several setbacks including an erroneous press report that said the building was going back to Humboldt State University, PIP has struggled on undaunted.

"We should never be afraid of saying we can turn something around and do something big," Marsh said. "It was all worth the fight, and we've got a long way to go."

Fish kill study to be approved in D.C.


IN A MOVE THAT COULD UNDERMINE ITS scientific credibility, a much-anticipated federal report on the Klamath River fish kill will be routed through Washington D.C. for approval before it is released to the public, an agency official said this week.

John Engbring, supervisor of all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service offices in the Klamath basin, downplayed the significance of the decision to run the report by the director of fish and wildlife, Steve Williams.

"This was an event of national significance, so I don't know that it's that unusual," Engbring said in a telephone interview from his Sacramento office.

dead fish in shallow riverThe report, along with others, could have a significant impact on the key question of what factor or factors caused an estimated 33,000 salmon and steelhead to die in the lower Klamath River in September.

A scientific determination of that question could, in turn, affect another key issue: how much Klamath River water should go to farmers in southern Oregon and extreme northern California and how much should be allowed to flow downstream.

Dave Hillemeier, fisheries biologist with the Yurok tribe, expressed skepticism that the fish and wildlife report would seriously tackle the question of whether low water flows caused the die-off. "We all know what it's going to say. It's going to say that it's inconclusive as to what caused the fish kill."

Engbring said the report would initially focus on determining the magnitude of the fish kill -- not on answering the question of whether low flows caused or contributed to the fish kill.

He said he didn't know if that subject would even be addressed.

Troy Fletcher, executive director of the Yurok tribe, said tribal officials were informed last week about how the report would be handled. He said that running it by political appointees in Washington raises "serious concerns about this administration's ability to produce an unbiased scientific report."

Noting that fish and wildlife researchers produce reports on a regular basis, Fletcher added: "How many of those reports have to be approved by the director of fish and wildlife?"

A fish and wildlife scientist who asked not to be identified said requiring a scientific report of this sort to be endorsed by the director was out of the ordinary. But the source said it was "not surprising" given the extent to which the fish kill has become a political issue.

Tim McKay of the Northcoast Environmental Center in Arcata agreed. "Given the current state of politics in Washington D.C. this doesn't surprise me in any way," McKay said.

In the wake of the fish kill, the environmental center and other conservation organizations filed a lawsuit in late September charging the federal Bureau of Reclamation with violating the Endangered Species Act. Specifically, the groups are alleging that the bureau pressured federal scientists last spring to endorse a plan that provides insufficient protections to coho salmon, a federal threatened species.

Protest sign saying "Bush kills salmon"

A protest sign at a rally last spring for greater
protections for Klamath River fish.

While the vast majority of fish that died in September were fall chinook, some coho also perished.

The Yurok tribe has declared its intention to intervene in the lawsuit, arguing among other things that the reclamation bureau violated its tribal trust responsibilities by failing to protect the tribe's fishery.

The fish kill occurred entirely within the boundaries of the Yurok reservation on the lower Klamath. However, half of those fish or more were destined to pass through the Hoopa reservation and spawn in the Trinity River, a tributary of the Klamath.

In addition to the fish and wildlife report, several studies are in the works regarding the fish kill, including one by the Yuroks and one by the state Fish and Game Department.

Both the tribe and the state have been critical of the reclamation bureau's decision to cut flows on the Klamath this year by 43 percent -- a move that made available more water to the irrigators favored by the Bush administration, but may have had disastrous results for what was shaping up to be one of the biggest runs of fall chinook on the Klamath in recent years.

While it remains to be seen what the scientific reports say, the consensus at this point is that the fish kill happened primarily because of low water flows.

"There wasn't enough water to stimulate the fish to move upriver, so they just remained in the lower part of the river," explained Hillemeier, the biologist with the Yuroks.

Hillemeirer said that given the large number of fish in the river, the traffic jam was a perfect breeding ground for disease.

According to Gary Stacey, a fish and game official, the fish succumbed to a bacterial infection known as gill rot as well as to an external parasite.

Both pathogens are normally present in the river, but apparently conditions are generally not as ripe for their spread as they were this year.

For example, there were low water flows in a few years in the 1990s, but no major fish kills.

Agricultural groups have argued that there is no proof low water contributed to the die-off and that the fish kill may have been simply a natural phenomenon caused by drought.

Hurwitz escapes -- again


CHARLES HURWITZ, PRESIDENT AND CEO of Maxxam Inc., the parent company of Pacific Lumber Co., has once again managed to evade a multi-million-dollar federal lawsuit.

Not only that, the man who was deeply involved in the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s appears to be milking the legal system in a bid to force the government to pay millions in damages for bringing litigation against him.

Last week the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) announced it has dropped its $250 million suit over the 1988 collapse of United Savings Association of Texas, a Hurwitz-owned savings and loan.

In October the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) settled a related case with Hurwitz for $206,000; a far cry from the original $820 million the government had sought. The settlement also restricts Hurwitz from any dealings with a federally insured bank for three years.

Last year a federal judge rejected OTS' efforts to force Hurwitz to pay $820 million in damages.

The judge recommended that all charges against Hurwitz be dropped and the OTS not get any monetary damages. The $206,000 that Hurwitz has agreed to pay is restitution to the government and not damages.

In a statement released to the media, Hurwitz said, "Maxxam and its employees have been vindicated. However, our happiness is tempered by the reality that we have had to spend enormous resources to defend ourselves against two government agencies' claims that never should have seen the light of day."

In 1988 Hurwitz was a director and officer of United Financial group, the parent company of United Savings Association of Texas.

Hurwitz has maintained his innocence, arguing that the federal suits, filed nine years after the savings and loan collapsed, were politically motivated to force him to turn over control of ancient redwoods in the Headwaters forest.

Environmentalists had hoped the government would accept Pacific Lumber timberlands in lieu of payment.

Hurwitz reportedly offered a "debt for nature" trade; however, the deal became pointless after California and the U.S. government bought the Headwaters forest and associated groves for $480 million in 1999.

In 2000 Hurwitz filed suit against the FDIC and the OTS seeking to recoup the $43 million he says he spent defending himself. Hurwitz argued that the government's suit was supposed to be based on banking claims and not on acquisition of redwoods.

"It's important that a message be sent to the FDIC that it should never again behave in a political, illegal and unethical manner," Hurwitz said in his release.

An FDIC source said last week that the bulk of the $43 million that Hurwitz is seeking from the government was money he spent conducting unnecessary legal maneuvers.

For example, Hurwitz's lawyers filed more than a dozen motions seeking millions of pages of documents from the FDIC. Hurwitz's lawyers also conducted dozens of depositions with FDIC personnel, the FDIC source said.

"He was burning up money himself," the source said.

Son arrested for father's murder

Benjamin Woods, 17, suspected in the beating death of his father, John Woods, 55, of Arcata, was arrested Monday by the California Highway Patrol in Siskiyou County.

Woods, found wandering along a road between Weaverville and Yreka, is being held in a juvenile facility in Siskiyou County. He is awaiting transfer to Humboldt County.

Arcata Police had been looking for the 17-year-old since Friday when they found John Woods dead at his home at 1835 Roberts Way.

Police have not discussed a possible motive or whether the 17-year-old and his father had any history of disputes.

Benjamin Woods is a senior at Arcata Hhgh School and a member of the school's cross country team.

Woods' mother lives in Arcata. His parents are divorced.

The homicide is the second of the year for Arcata. The first took place in June when Lisa Ann Thomas, 32, was shot and killed by former boyfriend Donald Peeler, 38, at her Sunny Brae apartment. Peeler then shot himself, dying the next day at a hospital.

PL headed back to court

Pacific Lumber Co. officials will have to go to court next month to show why the company is not in contempt of court for continuing logging operations despite a judge's order to stop harvesting.

At a Dec. 9 hearing, Pacific Lumber and the Environmental Protection Information Center, a Garberville group, must go before Judge John Golden -- again -- and explain why he should or should not suspend logging on at least 100 timber harvest plans.

Environmentalists are suing the company over its Sustained Yield Plan, a state-approved set of guidelines which is supposed to govern logging on the company's timberlands for the next century.

In August, Golden told Pacific Lumber to cease logging; the company resisted, arguing among other things that the order was confusing.

Not surprisingly, the company's logging this fall has led to numerous protests by environmentalists, including camping out in trees, in an effort to slow or stop logging.

Two tree-sitters were arrested this past weekend after being removed from trees by Pacific Lumber climbers.

Board knew of Redding M.D.

A former patient of a Redding cardiologist suspected of performing unnecessary heart surgeries said he alerted the Medical Board of California 10 years ago about Dr. Chae Hyun Moon.

Felix Elizalde, president of the Alameda County Board of Education, said Moon told him in 1992 that he faced death unless he had emergency surgery. Elizalde got a second opinion and learned he didn't need the surgery.

Medical board officials said they have no record of Elizalde's complaint.

Moon and Dr. Fidel Realyvasquez Jr. are both under investigation by the FBI, IRS and the U.S. Attorney's office for allegedly overbilling on Medicare claims and for performing needless heart bypass surgeries. Authorities are closely examining the medical records of 201 of the doctors' patients, 167 of whom died.

Last week a judge blocked an attempt by the state medical board to suspend the doctors' licenses.

Moon and Realyvasquez both work out of Redding Medical Center. The facility handles heart patients from across Northern California, including some from Humboldt County.

Although Moon's and Realyvasquez's Redding practice is under heavy scrutiny, neither doctor has been charged with any crime.

Moon took to the Internet last week to defend himself against the accusations made by former patients and federal authorities.

The site contains accounts of the FBI investigation and medical board cases, legal filings by Moon's lawyers, press releases and five short videos of Moon talking about himself and his cardiology practice.

A $21 billion problem

Two months after state lawmakers wrestled with an almost $24 billion deficit, a legislative analyst in Sacramento said California will face a $21 billion deficit next year.

That means that it may take longer than anticipated for California to rebound from its current economic slump.

Elizabeth Hill, the legislature's nonpartisan economic adviser, said the deficit, combined with lower-than-expected state revenues, slow personal income growth and declines in the stock market, could lead to additional cuts in state programs.

Just like this year, a wide variety of programs will be on the chopping block, including education. Additionally, lawmakers will have no choice but to look at the possibility of raising taxes.

Leading the effort to balance next year's budget in the Senate will be Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata. Chesbro, elected to a second four-year term Nov. 5, was named chair of the Senate Budget Committee last Thursday.

In September Gov. Gray Davis signed a $98.9 billion budget. The budget was 67 days late and and relied on cuts, borrowing and increased revenues to balance a $23.6 billion deficit.

Dirty bomb drill

Last Thursday Humboldt County got what could be its first taste of 21st-century disaster preparedness, but with a title straight out of the McCarthy era: "Operation: Red Terror."

The exercise, which took place at St. Joseph Hospital, simulated a "dirty bomb" attack on a local high school.

A second exercise, held at Mad River Hospital, was also designed to test emergency preparedness in the event that a non-nuclear device is detonated and disperses radioactive material.

In addition to the two hospitals, the Eureka Police Department, the California Office of Emergency Services and the California Emergency Medical Services Authority all participated in the simulations.

Pat Lynch, emergency preparedness coordinator at St. Joseph, called the disaster drill there "very successful." At Mad River, Tina Wood, staff development coordinator, said the drill went well "but there are a few things to iron out."

Part of the exercise had to do with the process victims must go through to decontaminate their clothing.

Recycling reprieve?

Arcata's curbside recycling program may continue, at least for a few more months.

At its Nov. 6 meeting, the City Council seemed to be leaning toward letting the program's contract with Arcata Garbage Co. expire at the end of the year.

However, Environmental Services Director Steve Tyler says the contract should be extended so that the program can continue into next year.

The council is expected to discuss the contract extension at its Dec. 4 meeting.

Tyler hopes to give the council a new recycling contract in February.

The city may face a daunting task of trying to meet the state-mandated diversion of 50 percent of its waste from landfills if it decides to drop curbside recycling.

Recently, the city was granted a three-year extension to cut in half the amount of waste it sends to landfills.

Fujitsu gift to HSU

Humboldt State University's Quantitative Sciences Laboratory received a $30,000 gift from Fujitsu Laboratories of America to help pay for 25 new computers and other upgrades.

The university lab supports mathematical research by faculty and students.

This is the second monetary gift from Fujitsu to the university this year. In April, the company gave $4,200 to the HSU chapter of the Society of Women Engineers to support student research.

Fortuna drug use on rise

Drug use among Fortuna high school students is on the rise, despite urine testing every two weeks of athletes and students known to have drug problems, and daily physical checks of students suspected of using drugs.

The biggest increase has been at East High, the district's continuation school. Fortuna High has had a slightly smaller increase, according to Superintendent Dennis Hanson.

Administrators and teachers are seeing more students under the influence of marijuana.

Despite the spread of drug use, the testing program started six years ago was described as successful by Hanson, largely because of a decrease in repeat offenders. Only one student has continually failed the drug tests since they were initiated, Hanson said.

Sturgeon suit

The Environmental Protection Information Center is suing the National Marine Fisheries Service for dragging its feet in declaring the green sturgeon an endangered species.

By law, the fisheries service was supposed to respond to the group's request to list the species in July.

In Humboldt County, only the Klamath River is considered viable spawning habitat for the fish, a primitive, bottom-dwelling species that can live up to 70 years and reach 7 feet or more in length.

Another tree attack

Eight shore pines and four redwoods are the latest victims of vandals who have been damaging trees in Arcata since this past spring.

Arcata Police have no leads in the six-month-old case.

The 12 trees, standing along Samoa Boulevard near the traffic roundabout by Buttermilk Lane, had their tops broken off sometime between Oct. 26 and 27. The trees will be replaced at an estimated cost of $750.

The first report of vandalism to Arcata trees occurred in May at Community Park. Spruce, cedar and alder trees were vandalized in August at both Shay and Westwood parks.

Toilet tax tanks

Lost amid the election hoopla was the rejection by Ferndale voters of a plan to raise the city's business license tax to pay for maintenance of public restrooms along Main Street.

Residents voted 224 to 181 against increasing the fee from $48 to $90. They said the hike was too drastic; they also questioned whether the funds would actually go toward maintaining the bathrooms. City officials are prohibited from permanently allocating General Fund money for a specific use.

Ferndale spends about $10,000 annually to maintain the facilities. Earlier this year the Ferndale City Council said it could no longer afford the cost.

City officials are dipping into the city's reserve fund to cover the expense.

Seniors beware

Senior citizens are the target of a telephone scam in which callers claim to be informing seniors of changes to their health benefits.

In reality, they're trying to steal their money.

No one locally is known to have been taken in by the scam; it's not even clear anyone in the area has been contacted. But the Eureka Police Department was recently notified of the scam and wants to get the word out.

Here's how it works: Senior citizens are asked to give out their personal checking account and Social Security numbers to a representative from a company called the "Medicare planning center." Seniors are told that the usual $95 service fee has been waived. They are then passed on to a "supervisor" who verifies the information.

Seniors are also given a toll-free 800 number to call if they have any questions. The number is bogus.

McKinleyville substation

McKinleyville residents could get a Humboldt County Sheriff's substation by the end of the year. The substation would replace a smaller sheriff's office currently located in the Pierson Park parking lot.

That office is staffed during the week by deputies and volunteers. Newly elected Sheriff Gary Philp's proposal would increase the size of the office space and create a secure area to park sheriff vehicles.

Building a substation was a campaign issue for Philp back in March.

The McKinleyville office was originally built with funds made available from the Mad River Rotary Club.

The Sheriff currently operates substations in Hoopa and Garberville. The Hoopa substation is staffed with a sergeant and six deputies. The Garberville site has a sergeant, correctional officer and five deputies.

Philp will submit his proposal to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors before the end of 2002.


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