Business / Economy

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Coastal Commission Laments Timeline, 'Objects' to Trinidad Hotel Project

Posted By on Thu, Jun 13, 2019 at 10:48 AM

An artistic rendering created by the Trinidad Rancheria of what its proposed Scenic Drive hotel project would look like from Trinidad Bay. - TRINIDAD RANCHERIA
  • Trinidad Rancheria
  • An artistic rendering created by the Trinidad Rancheria of what its proposed Scenic Drive hotel project would look like from Trinidad Bay.

A conflicted California Coastal Commission voted 6-3 yesterday to object to the Trinidad Rancheria’s proposed 100-room hotel project on Scenic Drive, finding it inconsistent with state coastal protections.

Commissioners made clear during the nearly two-hour hearing in San Diego that the main consistency issue lies with water, and namely whether the city of Trinidad has the capacity to supply water to the project. The city currently has several studies underway but can’t commit to providing water to the proposed five-story hotel adjacent to Cher-Ae Heights Casino until they are complete, which is expected to happen before August.

Multiple commissioners lamented that the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which has jurisdictional oversight of the project because it is on sovereign tribal land, repeatedly declined staff requests to postpone Wednesday’s hearing until the commission’s meeting in August, which would have allowed for more local input and — potentially — completion of the water studies. Before the vote, several commissioners indicated they intended to vote to object to the project at this time but urged the Rancheria to resubmit its application so it can be heard at the August meeting.

After the meeting, Trinidad Rancheria Economic Development Corporation CEO David Tyson told the Journal in an email that the Rancheria would decide how to proceed after conferring with BIA officials.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Eureka Council Rejects Humboldt Made's Proposal, Moves Forward with Virginia Marketing Firm

Posted By on Tue, Jun 4, 2019 at 6:34 PM

screen_shot_2019-06-02_at_8.25.52_am.png
Meeting in closed session on the heels of recent revelations that staff had materially misrepresented the extent of issues with Humboldt Made’s proposal to provide marketing services for the city, the Eureka City Council voted this evening to direct the city manager to negotiate the $370,000 annual contract with the other finalist, Eddy Alexander, based in Virginia.

The closed session decision — which City Attorney Bob Black said was reached by general consensus — comes amid serious questions about the city’s request for proposals process that had led to staff’s recommendation to award the contract to Humboldt Made. On May 21, the city council went against that recommendation and instead voted to have both finalists interviewed by a new review panel appointed by the mayor that was to include at least one council member and marketing experts.

But that panel interview never took place as revelations about errors with Humboldt Made’s initial proposal — and how they were misrepresented to the public and the council — consumed the process. Black took on reviewing the issues and told the Journal he planned to report his findings to the council this evening, as well as applicable law, under a closed session agenda item listed as “significant exposure to litigation.”

"The legal standard that we're looking for is did it give one proposer a competitive advantage and, if so, the irregularity would not be considered a minor matter," Black told the Journal on Friday. "It would put it out of bounds for a waiver."

The city issued a request for proposals for the marketing contract back in February, severing decades-long ties with the Eureka-Humboldt Visitors Bureau, and set a proposal deadline of April 5. The RFP required interested firms to submit both print and digital copies of their proposals by the deadline, warning that submittals that weren't timely or complete "shall" be rejected.

Staff initially indicated that Humboldt Made submitted an incorrect draft of its print proposal and the correct draft of its digital proposal by the deadline, with the sole issue with the incorrect copy being a duplicate page that took the place of another page. Humboldt Made was allowed to resubmit the print proposal, staff said, on April 8, the next business day.

But after a Journal inquiry led to Black's review last week, the city's administrative staff found that Humboldt Made had not in fact submitted a correct digital copy of the proposal before the deadline and that corrections in the resubmitted print copies were far more extensive than staff had originally represented.

Because the contract in question is for more than $100,000 in city funds, the city's procurement policy states that the city council is the sole entity with the power to waive "irregularities" in the bid process. Tonight, the council voted not to waive the irregularities and thus to reject Humboldt Made's proposal. In a separate vote, the council then directed City Manager Greg Sparks to move forward with negotiating the contract with the other finalist, Eddy Alexander.

Both votes will come back before the council in open session on June 18 in the form of resolutions.
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Sunday, June 2, 2019

Eureka Staff Repeatedly Provided Council, Public Inaccurate Information About Marketing Contract Process

Posted By on Sun, Jun 2, 2019 at 9:11 AM

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During a tense May 21 Eureka City Council meeting, council members lamented that what they deemed a flawed process used to select finalists for a $370,000 annual marketing contract had broken the public’s trust.

Things have since gone from bad to worse amid new revelations, including that staff has repeatedly and materially misrepresented key facts about how the process played out.

The Journal has learned the council will meet in closed session to discuss one case of “significant exposure to litigation” stemming from the process that led to city staff recommending the council award the marketing contract to Humboldt Made, which already runs the Eureka Visitors Center, over a nationally acclaimed Virginia firm, Eddy Alexander. On May 21, the council opted to hold off on awarding the contract and to instead conduct another round of interviews with the two finalists, this time with marketing experts and a couple council members on the interview panel.

But the Journal has found that staff repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the public — and the council at the May 21 meeting — about problems with Humboldt Made’s initial proposal submittal and that of another firm that didn’t make the final cut. The problems were in fact so substantial that City Manager Greg Sparks says that, knowing what he knows now, Humboldt Made’s proposal should have been rejected and not considered, quickly adding that he doesn’t want to get out in front of City Attorney Bob Black, who is expected to brief the council on the findings an internal review of the matter and the legal ramifications on Tuesday.

At the heart of the matter is the question of whether Humboldt Made submitted its proposal complete and on time and, if not, whether that “irregularity” is something that should be considered non-material — the kind of thing that can be waived while maintaining a fair process — or substantive enough that it gave Humboldt Made a competitive advantage.


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Friday, May 31, 2019

Julie Benbow Tapped to Head Visitor's Bureau After Supes Extend Contract

Posted By on Fri, May 31, 2019 at 11:29 AM

HUMBOLDT COUNTY VISITORS BUREAU
  • Humboldt County Visitors Bureau
The Humboldt County Visitors Bureau’s board of directors has named Julie Benbow as the tourism organization’s interim executive director.

Benbow steps into the role Tony Smithers held for decades until his unexpected death in January. And the board’s announcement comes on the heels of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote Tuesday to extend the county’s contract with the bureau for another two years.

The board’s vote was a huge win for the bureau, as staff had recommended the board weigh continuing to give the bureau more than $350,000 annually to market Humboldt County against putting those funds out in a competitive request for proposals process. The city of Eureka took that step earlier this year and has since opted to spend its roughly $370,000 in annual marketing funds with another firm. (Two finalists — Humboldt Made and Eddy Alexander, based in Virginia, are currently vying for those funds.)

When the supervisors began discussing the issue Tuesday, it initially appeared the board was seriously considering moving away from the bureau, with Supervisor Estelle Fennell suggesting just a six-month contract, which would have allowed the bureau to continue marketing the county through the tourism season but give the board the flexibility to go in a different direction before next year. Supervisor Virginia Bass seconded Fennell's motion but said she'd like to see the contract extended a bit longer, pointing out that the bureau has been in "turmoil" since Smithers' unexpected death in January.

Supervisor Steve Madrone then voiced strong support for the bureau, saying he'd like to see it given another two years — enough time for it to regroup and develop a plan to work closely with other organizations and the county. Supervisor Rex Bohn liked the idea.

"You guys know I always agree with Supervisor Madrone," he quipped. "Jesus, this is going to be tough: He nailed it. ... I think (the bureau) got a wake up call and what you're going to do is have an invigorated visitors bureau."

As bureau Board President Mark Rowley indicated during public comment at Tuesday’s board meeting, the bureau is working to reinvent itself — conducing a full organizational audit and analyzing everything it is and isn't doing — and in a press release this morning it indicated staff plans to present a new strategic marketing plan to the board by the end of the year.

“The Board is committed to using this time to establish new strategies and collaborations with (the) goal of attracting visitors and increasing tourism revenue throughout Humboldt County,” Rowley said in the press release.

See the bureau’s full press release copied below and watch Tuesday’s board meeting on the issue below (the visitor's bureau conversation begins at the 2:03:00 mark).


News from Humboldt County Visitors Bureau
EUREKA, Ca – On Tuesday May 28th, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, acknowledging the importance of the tourism industry for economic development, voted unanimously to fund the Bureau for two more years. The Bureau has a history of successful marketing and getting valuable national and international media coverage.  In 2018, tourism brought an estimated $416,000,000 into the County. In the next few months, the Bureau will be working with partners and stakeholders to develop a strategic marketing plan to be presented to the Supervisors by the end of the year.
          With the sudden passing in January of Bureau Director, Tony Smithers, and the redirection of City of Eureka funding, the Board of Directors developed a transition plan and meet regularly to initiate the actions necessary to increase marketing initiatives and strengthen the organization’s scope and membership.
On May 29th, the Board named Julie Benbow the Interim Executive Director to provide support during this process and to lead the Bureau as it moves forwards. Julie comes with thirty years of non-profit leadership in San Francisco and Humboldt County.
“The Board is committed to using this time to establish new strategies and collaborations with goal of attracting visitors and increasing tourism revenue throughout Humboldt County,” said Board President, Marc Rowley.
For more information, please contact Julie Benbow at julie@visitredwoods.com or 707-443-5097.
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Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Deadline Looms for Comments on Controversial Wind Power Project

Posted By on Tue, May 28, 2019 at 2:11 PM

An artistic rendering of what the turbines will look like from the town of Scotia. - TERRAGEN
  • TerraGen
  • An artistic rendering of what the turbines will look like from the town of Scotia.
With the deadline to comment on the draft environmental impact report fast approaching, debate over a proposed wind farm on a ridgeline to the south of the Eel River Valley is heating up.

The project, developed by Terra-Gen, a large, San Diego-based renewable energy company owned by the private equity firm Energy Capital Partners, would see up to 60 large wind turbines built atop Monument Ridge and Bear River Ridge. Once operational, the farm would contribute an estimated 155 megawatts of renewable energy annually, enough to continuously power 40,000 homes, according to the company. The project is slated to come before the Humboldt County Planning Commission — the governing body with authority over the project permits unless its decision is appealed to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors — in July. The deadline to comment on the project’s draft EIR is June 5.

Project proponents point to global climate change, stressing the urgency of transitioning local and national energy grids away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy sources, stressing that time is running out to reverse course. And while they concede the project comes with environmental impacts, they argue that those have to be weighed against the carbon footprint of doing nothing and carrying on with an energy grid largely tied to natural gas. To some extent casting critics as NIMBYs who want other communities or regions to suffer the impacts of their energy consumption, proponents argue that it’s only fair that Humboldt County shoulder the impacts of its energy usage.

“What is the environmental impact of more of the same?” Natalynn DeLapp, a project consultant, said on KMUD’s Monday Morning Magazine, adding that one of the impacts outlined in the draft EIR is the visual impact of placing as many as five dozen 600-foot-tall turbines dotting the ridgelines. Some might view that as a blight on the landscape, but DeLapp said she chooses to look at it differently.

“Personally, I look at them and see innovation and our human capacity to evolve and look for new solutions to our ongoing energy needs,” she said.

The project is also slated to create some 300 jobs during construction, as well as 15 permanent ones, and generate an estimated $2 million annually in local tax revenue once operational.

But critics of the project — including some in the environmental community, the Bear River Rancheria and the Wiyot Tribe — believe there has to be a better way. They stress the scope of environmental impacts associated with construction of the wind farm and its continued operations.

Adam Canter, tribal biologist for the Wiyot Tribe, said Bear River Ridge is a special place to the Wiyot, considered a “prayer spot,” from which one can see almost all of the tribe’s ancestral territory. He noted that the proposed site is a “giant coastal prairie” with high coverage of native grasses and plants that would be forever impacted by the project.

Additionally, Canter said the tribe worries about impacts to wildlife and migratory bird species, most acutely the California condor, which is planned to be reintroduced to the North Coast in 2020.

“It is probably the tribe’s most sacred bird and part of the Wiyot creation story,” Canter said.

The tribe believes in the urgency for renewable energy, Canter said, adding that most residences on the Table Bluff reservation have solar panels, but believes the proposed project “is going to be pretty catastrophic.”

Ken Miller, describing himself as a concerned citizen, appeared with DeLapp on the KMUD show and stressed that while many of the farm’s environmental impacts will be plain to see — 17 miles of newly paved access roads, a 25-mile clear-cut transmission corridor and thousands of trips by 90-foot trucks — he said others will be hidden. He charged that in all of its estimates of carbon-reduction, Terra-Gen has failed to factor in the carbon costs of construction and materials, which include tens of thousands of yards of concrete, more than 2 million pounds of carbon fiber for the turbine blades and some 24,000 gallons of oil annually to operate the turbines.

Canter and Miller both referred to the project as “green washing,” with Miller noting Terra-Gen is owned by Energy Capital Partners, a private equity firm with some $19 billion in energy sector holdings and just Monday announced the acquisition of all of Canadian Utilities fossil fuel-based electricity generation assets, which were valued at $621 million.

Having crunched the numbers, Canter points out that based on Terra-Gen’s own carbon displacement estimates, the proposed local project would reduce carbon emissions by 372,000 metric tons a year.

“You would have to build 162 wind projects of this capacity to reduce the national footprint by just 1 percent,” he said.

The problem with rejecting this project, DeLapp said, is there currently isn’t a better proposal on the table. Nearly a decade ago, she said she opposed a similar proposal from Shell Wind Energy and heard a bunch of concerns similar to those being voiced now. But times have changed, DeLapp said, and there’s more urgency than ever to move away from fossil fuels.

“Here we are 10 years later and Humboldt County is still no closer to having a decentralized energy system … and we are not meeting our energy goals,” she said in the KMUD interview.

Terra-Gen will be hosting a community meeting on the project this evening, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the Old Steeple, 246 Berding St. in Ferndale, with another planned for 6:30 p.m. on June 3 at the Winema Theater, 125 Main St. in Scotia. Click here to read more about the project — including the 800-page draft EIR. Comments on the EIR can be sent to: Humboldt Wind Project Planner, County of Humboldt, Planning and Building Department, 3015 H St., Eureka, CA 95501 or emailed to CEQAResponses@co.humboldt.ca.us.

The deadline to comment is June 5.
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Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Council Delays Marketing Vote Amid Transparency Concerns

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2019 at 6:56 PM

One of Eureka's tourist sights. - FILE
  • File
  • One of Eureka's tourist sights.
The Eureka City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to delay selecting a marketing services provider after questions were raised about the fairness of the process, with several council members pointedly voicing frustration at the lack of information provided to them, despite their requests.

So after several hours of discussion and public comment, the council opted to conduct another round of interviews with a new five-member panel to be selected by Mayor Susan Seaman. The item is scheduled to come back to the council June 18.

“One thing I really appreciate about being in office is public trust is everything. ... If we don’t have public trust, we don’t have anything,” Councilmember Kim Bergel said before the vote. “We’re not going to be able to move forward. It just trumps everything and the trust has been broken and that’s so unfortunate. So unfortunate. And so disappointing.”

At issue is a $370,000 annual contract to promote Eureka as a destination for visitors from near and far after the city decided earlier this year to end its decades-long association with the Eureka-Humboldt Visitors Bureau, primarily over a dissatisfaction with the bureau’s focus on selling the region’s redwoods as a tourism pull despite Eureka’s overwhelming role in bankrolling the countywide marketing effort.

After requesting proposals, two contenders made the final round for consideration — Humboldt Made, which currently runs a visitors’ center out of the Clarke Museum and spearheaded the Friday Night Market in Old Town, and the award-winning and highly regarded Virginia firm Eddy Alexander.

But, days before the staff recommended the council move forward with Humboldt Made in a narrow decision, Lost Coast Outpost published a series of text messages between the nonprofit’s Executive Director Alanna Powell and Rob Holmlund, the city’s direct of community development, that show she knew about staff plans to put marketing services out to bid before the issue went before the council and, in her role as the head of the visitor's center, had been asked to provide input on the request for proposals as it was being crafted by staff.

The disclosure led council members and members of the public to raise concerns about the selection process, which included a written proposal and two interviews with a 10-member panel.

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Friday, May 17, 2019

Town Hall Aims to Bridge 'Empathy Gap' on Transitional Housing

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 3:40 PM

Eureka has more homeless people than shelter beds. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Eureka has more homeless people than shelter beds.

True North Organizing Network will host a town hall meeting tomorrow afternoon on the need for transitional housing locally.

The meeting — scheduled from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church at 625 15th St. in Eureka — is intended to bridge the “empathy gap” organizers feel exists in conversations about finding shelter for those currently living without. To that end, the meeting will feature “testimonials” from people who have benefitted from transitional housing.

There’s an acute need for additional shelter and transitional housing in Humboldt County, where nearly 1,500 people were living homeless and without shelter earlier this year, according to the biennial point in time count directed by the Humboldt Housing and Homeless Coalition. That puts Humboldt County’s per-capita rate of homelessness at nearly three times the state average.

In addition to there being a shortage of shelter beds locally, there are also few options for transitional housing — or housing arrangements that get people off the streets and out of shelters, allowing them to build rental histories before transitioning into more traditional housing arrangements. A number of proposed transitional housing projects — including one from local philanthropist Betty Chinn, who wanted to use 11 donated construction trailers to house a few dozen people — have stalled in the face of neighborhood concerns.

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The Pink Lady is Up For Sale

Posted By on Fri, May 17, 2019 at 11:10 AM

AMY KUMLER
  • Amy Kumler

The Pink Lady is up for grabs and for a cool $1.2 million, the Queen Anne Victorian house can be yours. Known for its elegant exterior and blush color, the four-bedroom vacation rental hit the market May 13.

The Pink Lady has stood on M Street for 130 years, first as a wedding gift to William Carson’s eldest son Milton Carson in 1889. After Carson died in 1912, Milton moved into the Carson mansion but the Pink Lady stayed in the family for eight years. After its departure from the Carsons in 1920, it passed through many hands but was most notably owned by two German sisters who used it as a boarding house until 1942, when it was seized as Nazi property. Before 2016, it was used as an office space before being turned into a vacation rental.

Coldwell Banker Cutten Realty Realtor Jill MacDonald said the iconic property has gained serious consideration from a couple of prospective buyers and she's held a few viewings since the listing went up. It's also on the New York Times real estate page.

“Since putting the listing up on social media, it’s spreading out and gaining a lot of attention,” MacDonald said. “My son even called me and asked me, ‘Mom did you put the Pink Lady listing up?!’”

The owner, she said, put many significant improvements into the property when she bought it a few years ago, adding that it’s now in great condition, "fabulous" and ready for a new proprietor.

While the Pink Lady is currently set up as a vacation home, its future is uncertain, depending on the desires of its next owner. Mike Reinman, owner of Redwood Coast Vacation Rentals (where the Pink Lady is listed), said that while it’s up for sale people can still rent the Pink Lady for their Humboldt County visit. Reinman believes the mansion will most likely continue as a “late 1800s Queen Anne/Eastlake Victorian” vacation rental.

“Its demand has grown a lot and has done pretty well, even in this economy.” Reinman said. “It’s a beautiful place to stay and a great place for weddings and private events."

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Local Breweries Plan a Beer and Oyster Event on the Same Day as Oyster Fest

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2019 at 5:09 PM

The logo for Eel River Brewing Co.'s June 15 event. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • The logo for Eel River Brewing Co.'s June 15 event.

Six Rivers Brewery, Mad River Brewing Co. and Tap Room, Redwood Curtain Brewing Co., Lost Coast Brewery and The Booth Brewing Co. are getting together for a local beer showcase with oysters at Eel River Brewing Co. in Fortuna. They're calling it Schuck Yeah and it's set for June 15, the same day as the Arcata Bay Oyster Festival from which all six local breweries have been effectively shut out. Last month festival organizer Arcata Main Street made an exclusive and controversial deal with Crescent City's SeaQuake Brewing, which will be donating two kegs for every keg purchased and be the only beer flowing on the plaza this year.

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Friday, May 10, 2019

Lack of Water Threatens Trinidad Rancheria Hotel Project

Posted By on Fri, May 10, 2019 at 1:32 PM

An artistic rendering of the proposed hotel project at Cher-Ae Heights Casino off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • An artistic rendering of the proposed hotel project at Cher-Ae Heights Casino off Scenic Drive south of Trinidad.
The planned 100-room Trinidad Rancheria hotel at Cher-Ae Heights Casino appears stalled at the state level because of an inability to come up with a definite source of drinking water for the facility.

Located on the bluffs of Scenic Drive, a mile south of city limits, the planned hotel is outside of Trinidad's water service area, which is designated by the city's General Plan. The city is in the process of studying its own limited water supply from Luffenholz Creek and does not yet know if there would be enough water to accommodate all present and future users within the existing service areas and the hotel, especially during drought years.

Approval for the hotel is currently being considered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) but it won't move forward until it receives "concurrence" from the California Coastal Commission that the project will not violate the California Coastal Act, which requires that developments in the coastal zone have a definite source of drinking water.

The California Coastal Commission has found other problems with the plans for the five-story building, as well, including incongruity with the pristine ocean views around Trinidad Head, possible issues with wastewater disposal and its location upon an unstable bluff top. Coastal Commission staff has recommended it object to the project.

Although the commission was initially scheduled to hear the project in April, the BIA — acting on behalf of the Trinidad Rancheria — requested it delay holding a public hearing on the project to allow the Rancheria to provide additional information. The Coastal Commission responded by re-scheduling the project hearing from April to June, when it will meet in San Diego.

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