North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

December 14, 2000

Rate hikes are coming!

Sales tax cut looms

Vaccine supply manipulated?

Boardwalk project setback

Economy steady, jobs grow

Adopt a family

Sales stopped in
Six Rivers

California goes country?

McKinleyville clinic to close

Rate hikes are coming!

"We are projecting increases in commodity procuring costs as high as 50 percent, and that could be reflected in rate increases as high as 50 percent," said Lloyd Coker, a spokesperson for Pacific Gas and Electric, in a telephone interview from Santa Rosa.

Coker said that PG&E has been trying to warn customers since September, but that many people were only now realizing how much of a burden this could place on them this winter.

Many PG&E customers are upset about the increases, and some are taking political action (In the News, Dec. 7). Coker said that PG&E isn't to blame for the price increases, because it does not profit from the procurement of natural gas.

"We just pass the cost changes through to customers," he said.

If people are having difficulty paying utility bills, Coker said, there are several options. Consumers interested in energy-saving tips, for instance, can call PG&E's "Smarter Energy Line" at 1-800-933-9555.

If customers have a balance they cannot pay off, they can call 1-800-743-5000 to arrange a payment plan. That's also the number to call to see if you qualify for financial assistance.

Sales tax cut looms

Here's some good news for the new year: Beginning Jan. 1 your shopping trips will become just a little bit cheaper.

California's flush financial condition has triggered an automatic cut in the sales tax. The reduction is the result of 1991 legislation that specified the sales tax was to be cut by one quarter of 1 percent if the state's reserves exceed 4 percent of revenues, and if they are expected to do so again next year.

The change isn't monumental. On a purchase of $100, you'll save a quarter.

The consumer windfall may not last forever, as the tax rate is automatically increased again if reserves fall below 4 percent of annual revenue.

Vaccine supply manipulated?

Delays in manufacturing and shipping this year's flu vaccine have injected a bit of chaos into Humboldt County's distribution system and prompted Rep. Mike Thompson to ask for a congressional investigation.

The problem started earlier this year when one of the three strains of flu in the vaccine turned out to be slower in reproducing than expected. This caused a slowdown in vaccine manufacturing (In the News, Nov. 23).

Most doctors did not receive their supplies of the vaccine on schedule, said Susan Wardrip, spokesperson for the Humboldt County Public Health Department, and that put more pressure on the department's vaccine clinics.

"As it became available, people went to where it was instead of going to the doctor's office," she said. They came in such numbers to the county's clinics that the department exhausted its supply of vaccine. Three flu clinics scheduled for December have been cancelled.

Thompson (D, St. Helena) has asked for an investigation into reports that the vaccine manufacturers manipulated distribution of the medicine to maximize profits.

"Reports have been circulating about possible profiteering by vaccine companies in light of the ... vaccine shortage," Thompson stated in a letter to the General Accounting Office, the congressional auditing and investigative body which will conduct the probe.

The letter points out that some doctors are reported to have paid as much as $8 a dose to get the vaccine early. Public health providers like the county health department pay as little as $1.70 per dose but received the vaccine much later.

If the reports are true then "high-risk patients who rely on public health clinics and hospitals are being subjected to needlessly and potentially dangerous delays," Thompson stated.

Members of Congress are to meet Dec. 14 to discuss the scope and timing of the investigation. In the meantime, people who still need the vaccine should call their doctor. Mad River Hospital is also conducting a flu shot clinic Dec. 15. See this week's calendar for details.

Boardwalk project setback

The Eureka boardwalk project was dealt a setback last month when bids were open and the lowest bidder was $2 million over the engineer's estimate.

"It's typical on a project like this to ask for an engineer's estimate at the time they do design work," said City Manager David Tyson. "The engineer was partially unaware of the costs of mobilization, the cost to bring equipment in here to do the work that needs to be done."

The Seattle company had estimated it would cost $4.9 million to build the boardwalk linking C and F streets along the waterfront. That figure has been revised to $6.8 million.

Tyson said he hopes to bring alternative financing plans back to the Eureka Council at its Dec. 19 meeting. One possible source of additional funding is the state's infrastructure bank, which makes low-interest loans for economic development projects.

"Our original estimate was $7.7 million. It's a competitive process and they turned us down. But in the last couple of weeks they have indicated that they are willing to reconsider," Tyson said.

Another option is to phase in the project and build the boardwalk from E Street to the foot of G Street with funds now available.

"In any case we have to go back out to bid and it will just take more time," Tyson said.

Economy steady, jobs grow

The Index of Economic Activity for Humboldt County shows that the county economy continues to grow and provide new jobs despite recent layoffs at the Eel River Sawmill and Fluhrer Bakery. A total of 1,800 jobs were created in September alone.

The Index uses unemployment claims as an indicator of newly unemployed and help-wanted ads as an indicator of new job openings. Both were up in October, the last month for which data was available. Help-wanted ads increased 7.2 percent and unemployment claims were up 35 percent over September.

It's clear that there is movement in the labor market, but it was hard to tell exactly who was going where.

"We don't know where these newly unemployed are being absorbed," said Deborah Keeth, a student who tracks Index indicators along with Professor Steve Hackett of Humboldt State University.

Hackett suggested that there might even be a departure of manufacturing workers.

"They may be going to an area where there are more vibrant manufacturing labor markets," he said.

"We have seen some increases in the services sector," Keeth added. The services sector is likely to increase as the holiday shopping season progresses with pay scales traditionally well below those of manufacturing.

Adopt a family

Concerns about confidentiality make it especially difficult for families affected by domestic violence to access help like other needy groups during the holidays.

That's why Humboldt Women for Shelter, a nonprofit group that helps survivors of domestic violence, runs its own holiday gift program.

Melody Moulton, who works on the children's staff at HWS, said that it was especially important for these families to know the community supports them because they often cannot afford to travel to see their relatives.

Donors may request a list of family members' ages and sexes to help them shop.

Those interested in adopting a family in the community may call 444-9255.

Sales stopped in Six Rivers

A decision by federal judge in Seattle Dec. 8 temporarily shut down all timber sales on federal land in the Pacific Northwest. The ruling was aimed at the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is required under the Northwest Forest Plan to provide National Forests and Bureau of Land Management districts with permits for timber sales. The permits are supposed to certify that the proposed cuts will not threaten the existence of salmon by disturbing its habitat. Judge Barbara Rothstein ruled that NMFS had not been careful enough.

"There is a discrete and immediate harm posed to listed species by logging and timber activities," she stated in her ruling. The ruling halts about 170 timber sales throughout Northern California, Washington and Oregon, including two sales in the Six Rivers National Forest, said Forest Supervisor Lou Woltering. The first is a 3.7 million board feet sale to Timber Products of Yreka. The second is about 400,000 board feet and has not been awarded to a buyer yet. Neither sale has been harvested.

Woltering said he was unsure when the harvests could begin again.

Local timber companies said that while they are disappointed at the ruling, few will be seriously affected by it.

Spokesperson Jackie Deuschle said that Simpson Timber Co. doesn't purchase timber from national forests.

Mark Anderson, a forester with Schmidbauer Lumber in Eureka, said, "There hasn't been enough from Six Rivers to support any of the sawmills in years. It's not positive; every little bit hurts. But we mostly get our logs from nonindustrial timber owners."

However, Bruce Taylor Sr., owner of Blue Lake Forest Products, said, "National forests are really important to us."

Ten years ago, the company depended on sales from public lands for 50 percent of its log supply. That figure dropped to 20 percent in 1999 and this year the company "will be lucky to get 10 percent," he said.

"For it to stop entirely, that's quite disturbing."

Jan Hasselman, an attorney with the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund of San Francisco, said that the ruling doesn't mean logging on federal lands must stop.

"They are just going to have to go back and make sure these impacts to salmon are being considered," he said.

California goes country?

Don't tell Arcata, but Humboldt County might be the new home for country music in California. Largo Vista Entertainment is scouting the state for a picturesque, rural location with highway access to hold a major country music festival. Sound like some place you know?

Jensen Rufe, Humboldt County film commissioner, said he thinks Humboldt is the perfect home for the California Country Music Festival, planned to debut in 2002.

"Humboldt is rural enough and it seems like it's country music-oriented as a whole," he said. "And this is certainly an area that has experience putting on music festivals."

The property owners would have to give up about 250 acres for about five weeks, but they "would stand to gain a substantial fee."

If you have ideas or suggestions, call Rufe at 444-6633.

McKinleyville clinic to close

After the new year, general medical services will no longer be offered at the North Country Clinic office in McKinleyville. Effective Jan. 1, the clinic's two practitioners, Dr. Diane Dickerson and Jeff Hanwright, PA-C, will see patients at the North Country Clinic in Arcata.

Those who were receiving care at the clinic have two choices: Follow the practitioners to Arcata or switch to Open Door's clinic in McKinleyville.

In January of this year Open Door Community Health Centers took over administration of the North Country Clinic. Herrmann Spetzler, Open Door's executive director, said changes, which have mostly been on the administrative level, have been beneficial to both organizations.

"Now we do not have two separate sets of audits, two separate sets of grant writers and so forth."

The two clinics in McKinleyville were offering essentially the same services at different ends of the same building.

"The reality is that within 20 feet we had two sets of medical records, two labs, two sets of receptions and nurses. And neither clinic was running at full capacity."

Spetzler emphasized the fact that North Country's McKinleyville facility will still be used for community health services.

"We have a five-year lease. We will have other services here including mental health and acupuncture and we've been getting pressure to add dental service."


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