Government

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Eureka City Manager Greg Sparks to Retire by Year's End

Posted By on Wed, Jul 17, 2019 at 3:31 PM

Eureka City Manager Greg Sparks has announced his plan to retire at the end of the year in a letter sent to the mayor and city council.

“It has been my great personal and professional pleasure to have served as City Manager of Eureka since May 2014,” Sparks wrote in his retirement letter. “After 40 years of working in local government, I plan on retiring by the end of 2019.”

Sparks, who hailed from West Des Moines, Iowa, was tapped for the city manager position in 2014 after then-City Manager Bill Panos resigned abruptly after only nine months in office.
Greg Sparks
  • Greg Sparks

Before coming to Eureka, Sparks was the city manager for West Des Moines. In his 40 years working in local government, Sparks has served as town manager for Mountain Village, Colorado, and city Aadministrator in Owatonna, Minnesota, and Worthington, Minnesota.


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Sunday, July 14, 2019

More Than 200 Protest Immigrant Detention Centers

Posted By on Sun, Jul 14, 2019 at 9:57 AM

Participants in the candle-lighting ceremony had to protect their flames from gusts of wind blowing along Fifth Street. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • Participants in the candle-lighting ceremony had to protect their flames from gusts of wind blowing along Fifth Street.
The Lights for Liberty Eureka: Vigil to End Concentration Camps attracted more than 200 attendees to a candlelight vigil at the Humboldt County Courthouse at sunset Friday evening.

This local vigil, intentionally using the term "concentration camps," was one of two held countywide as part of Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps, a nationwide event Friday to protest conditions faced by refugees at the Mexican border, according to Terry Supahan, executive director of True North Organizing Network that organized the event.

Attendees of all ages brought protest signs or created them at the event, and one protestor carried an upside down American flag, a universal signal of "distress."

The event's formal presentation included testimony from community members and local spiritual leaders and ended in prayer and a call for community action. The event closed with a symbolic candle-lighting ceremony and imprompto singing of "This Little Light of Mine" with updated lyrics and other protest songs.

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Friday, July 12, 2019

Huffman to Immigrants in Advance of ICE Raids: 'Know Your Rights' (VIDEO)

Posted By on Fri, Jul 12, 2019 at 4:34 PM

Jared Huffman. - CONGRESS
  • Congress
  • Jared Huffman.
With President Trump’s promised weekend immigration raids looming, North Coast Congressman and lawyer Jared Huffman has released a video for his constituents outlining their rights should immigration agents come knocking.

The roughly four-minute video (embedded below) features Huffman’s brief remarks, followed by a Spanish translation by Congresswoman Lucille Royball-Allard. Huffman also urges constituents with questions to call his Eureka office.

“As always, my team is here to help,” Huffman said. “Please protect yourself and know your rights.”

See the video from Huffman’s office below, followed by the press release issued this afternoon.



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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

EPD Investigating White Supremacist Group's Local Recruiting Efforts

Posted By on Wed, Jul 10, 2019 at 5:01 PM

The Henderson Center flier, cropped so as not to show the group's name or contact information. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • The Henderson Center flier, cropped so as not to show the group's name or contact information.

UPDATE:
The Eureka Police Department has issued a press release, which you can read here.

PREVIOUSLY:
The Eureka Police Department is investigating an apparent militaristic white supremacist group that is recruiting locally, both through social media and fliers posted around the county.

A flier with an image of an assault rifle was found posted in a free library stand in Henderson Center this morning, reading: “White youth! This entire system hates you and wants to see our race dead organize with us and bring an end to it.”

The flier was created by a group named after an apparent reference to the effort to recruit young people to fight for Nazi Germany detailed in the book All Quiet on the Western Front. Another flier reading “It’s okay to be white” and including a bar code that linked to the group’s Instagram page was found on a Eureka street a few weeks back by local photographer Mark McKenna.

“It’s deeply concerning and something we’re looking into,” said EPD Chief Steve Watson, adding that an EPD detective has been assigned to research the group and the department has contacted the FBI and a local terrorism liaison office coordinator. “Obviously, it’s concerning to see anything that looks to be a hate group and it’s more concerning that there’s an assault weapon on there.”

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Friday, July 5, 2019

Coasties Rescue Stranded Hiker

Posted By on Fri, Jul 5, 2019 at 12:19 PM

A MH-65 Dolphin helicopter conducts a cliffside rescue after a hiker became stranded near the base of the sea cliff in Patricks Point State Park in Trinidad, California, July 4, 2019. The hiker was hoisted aboard the Dolphin and transported to local emergency medical services with no reported injuries. - U.S. COAST GUARD PHOTO COURTESY OF ARCATA MAD RIVER AMBULANCE SERVICES
  • U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Arcata Mad River Ambulance Services
  • A MH-65 Dolphin helicopter conducts a cliffside rescue after a hiker became stranded near the base of the sea cliff in Patricks Point State Park in Trinidad, California, July 4, 2019. The hiker was hoisted aboard the Dolphin and transported to local emergency medical services with no reported injuries.

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a 22-year-old man who fell off a cliff while hiking in Patrick’s Point State Park yesterday evening.

According to a press release, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay got a call reporting a hiker stranded at the base of a sea cliff around 6:45 p.m. and launched its Dolphin helicopter to attempt a rescue.

Once on scene, the helicopter located the hiker and lowered a rescue swimmer, who brought the man safely on board the helicopter. The man was evaluated by Arcata Mad River Ambulance Services and determined to be uninjured.

“This case was an excellent example of the interoperability among first response agencies here in Humboldt County,” said Cmdr. Brendan Hilleary, chief of response at Sector Humboldt Bay, in a press release. “I’m very thankful that we were able to support our state parks partners and bring this hiker safely back to his family."

Read the full Coast Guard press release copied below:

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Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Grand Jury: No 'Silver Bullet' to Solving Homeless, Offers Strategies

Posted By on Tue, Jul 2, 2019 at 4:48 PM

With an overwhelming rate of homelessness in Humboldt County, the civil grand jury released a report recommending four key strategies. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • With an overwhelming rate of homelessness in Humboldt County, the civil grand jury released a report recommending four key strategies.

The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury, a board of citizens impaneled for a year to look into governmental issues, released a report today making recommendations on how to address the region’s overwhelmingly high homeless rate.

The 38-page report looks back at the recommendations from the consulting group Focus Strategies that led the city of Eureka and the county of Humboldt to adopt resolutions supporting a Housing First approach to addressing homelessness in 2016.

The report states that it will take years for the affordable housing stock to catch up with the current demand and, in the interim, “our current and future unsheltered homeless will need somewhere legal to stay, both day and night.”

“While creating more usable shelter is necessary, speeding up the rate at which affordable housing is generated will go a long way to address our homeless crisis,” the summary states. “Local jurisdictions working on their Housing Elements are including creative and forward-thinking solutions to encourage production of affordable housing. Local government should incentivize implementing these solutions.”

While noting in a press release that there is no “silver bullet that will eradicate homelessness in Humboldt County,” the grand jury puts forward 10 recommendations that “if implemented, could significantly improve the quality of life for many of the County’s residents—both homeless and housed—while the affordable housing crisis persists.”

These recommendations include that the county board of supervisors revise the housing element to provide for shelter solutions and affordable housing, work to reduce barriers at existing shelters (like accommodating partners and significant others, providing space to store personal property) and find an ongoing funding source for the Housing Trust Fund. Additionally, the grand jury recommends expanding the role of the county’s Homeless Solutions Committee to include both looking at shelter projects and affordable housing, that the city and county work together to find suitable locations for both a homeless day center and a supervised safe parking program, that the county and city resume monthly meetings on shared issues related to homelessness and that they both work to develop plans to provide financial incentives for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units to house very-low income residents on their properties.

Read the full report here.

Editor's note: This story was updated from a previous version to clarify that a quote included came from a Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury press release, not the full report, and to include more information about the grand jury's recommendations.
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Friday, June 21, 2019

Does California State University have a $1.5 billion slush fund?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2019 at 11:42 AM

Humboldt State University - FILE
  • File
  • Humboldt State University
A report released by California’s state auditor this week looked like a bombshell: California State University has been sitting on a $1.5 billion budget surplus, it found, failing to fully disclose the existence of the money to legislators and students even as it raised tuition and lobbied for more state funding.

That includes $62.4 million at Humboldt State University.

CSU, however, quickly disputed the audit’s conclusions, saying it has been transparent about the reserves and that it needs them to cover short-term debts, pay for one-time expenses such as new buildings, and hedge against a possible recession.

HSU spokesman Frank Whitlatch told the Times-Standard on Thursday that about two-thirds of those HSU funds were earmarked for certain expenses, including “housing, parking fees, which has a designated purpose, the student union, the university center.”

Readers who care about higher education might have questions. We thought we’d answer a few.

What exactly were the auditor’s concerns?
CSU tuition has almost doubled over the last decade, funding a sizable increase in the university’s reserves, State Auditor Elaine Howle found. But CSU, she wrote, continues to argue that it has only two options to avoid cutting programs: getting more state dollars or raising tuition even more.

“By failing to disclose this surplus when consulting with students about tuition increases or when projecting CSU’s resources and needs to the Legislature, the Chancellor’s Office has prevented legislators and students from evaluating CSU’s financial needs in light of its unspent financial resources,” Howle wrote.

$1.5 billion — that’s a lot, right?
The surplus could cover about two-and-a-half-months of expenses for CSU, says the university, which serves nearly 500,000 students. Chancellor Tim White likened it to a family savings account, or the state’s rainy day fund.

About $662 million is earmarked for short-term debts, White told CALmatters, such as when the university has to front financial aid checks to students before it receives the funds from the federal government. He said the university is saving $376 million toward capital projects, including deferred maintenance on buildings, and a final $459 million in case the economy goes south.

“If we didn’t have that reserve, when the economy flattens we’d either have to offer less or raise tuition more than we otherwise would,” said White. “We don’t want to do that.”

The revelation of the funds—which the university is holding in separate investment accounts outside the state treasury—comes a week after state lawmakers signed a 2019-2020 budget that increases CSU funding by about $400 million to pay for an additional 10,000 undergraduate slots at the overcrowded system.

“Had we known (about the surplus), would things have gone differently? That’s the $1.5 billion question,” said Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, who chairs a subcommittee on the education budget. “Is that the right amount to have in a reserve, or are some of these monies available to address student needs today?”

Was this money really “hidden?”
The university says the reserve funds have been hiding in plain sight, pointing to a 2017 trustee meeting and other correspondence with legislators in which the investment accounts were discussed. CSU has even launched a new financial transparency website that allows users to view university spending down to the campus level.

The audit, however, says that while lawmakers might have known about the total balance in the accounts, they weren’t necessarily aware how much was being held in reserve.

“That issue never came up,” said McCarty, when asked if legislators discussed the surplus during budget hearings.

The law requires CSU to discuss any proposed tuition increases with the Cal State Student Association. But the university did not provide information about the reserves to students during conferences that led to a tuition hike in the 2017-18 school year, the audit found — an omission that student association president Mia Kagianas called “disappointing and concerning.”

“Students deserve accessible information on the institution’s budget in decision making processes that directly impact their lives,” Kagianas said in a statement.

Administrators didn’t bring up the reserves with students, White said, because they would never use such one-time savings to cover ongoing operating expenses.

That’s actually smart fiscal policy, said Kevin Cook, a higher education researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California. “It’s a good idea for the system to have these reserves, because if revenue goes away and they have to tap into the reserves, then they can preserve access,” he said. “But obviously if they’re making money and not disclosing it, then that’s an issue.”

Wait, didn’t something like this happen with the University of California recently?
Yep. UC President Janet Napolitano came under fire after a 2017 state audit found she’d set up a secret $175 million fund for special projects that she hid from the university’s regents.

The CSU reserves are nearly ten times as large as the amount Napolitano reportedly squirreled away. But there are key differences: Napolitano also faced accusations of using the money to provide above-market pay and benefits to her staff, and pressuring campuses to change their responses to an auditor’s survey. No such charges have been raised so far in relation to the current audit.

Still, CSU has faced criticism before for its financial management—including last year, when it gave raises to highly-paid executives just after successfully lobbying the Legislature for more funding. A pending bill would bar the university from raising executive pay within a year of any tuition increase.

What else did the audit find?
The audit also examined CSU’s parking system, criticizing the university for raising the cost of student permits as high as $236 a semester without significantly increasing the number of spaces. Administrators failed to consider alternative transportation options such as shuttles, buses and bicycles before building expensive parking garages, the audit found. Auditors focused that review on four campuses: Channel Islands, Fullerton, Sacramento and San Diego.

While the audit did not find that the university misused any of the parking proceeds, it highlighted disparities in parking fees, with students paying nearly three times what faculty and staff pay to park. The average parking permit for students costs about $171—compared to $68 for faculty and $70 for staff.

Mary Washington, a lobbyist for the student association, said students had hoped the audit would offer ways to ease the burden on them. Earlier this year, San Diego Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber had proposed a bill that would have required campuses to lower the cost of student permits, but it stalled.

As it stands, university labor contracts require faculty and staff to pay less than students.

“It’s one of those issues that’s so simple—anyone can understand it and see that it’s morally not the right thing,” Washington said. “Something should be done.”

White said he accepted the challenge to “think more deeply about alternative transportation” and agreed with students’ concerns that charging them more for parking was unfair. “I think as we go into the future, that will be something we will be working hard to make more fair for our employees as well as for our students.”

What happens now?
The Legislature’s audit committee could call a hearing, at which both the auditor and CSU would testify. Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who sits on the CSU board of trustees, has also called for a discussion of the audit at the trustees’ July meeting.

— Adria Watson contributed to this report. This story and other higher education coverage are supported by the College Futures Foundation.
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UPDATE: Sheriff Outfits Some Jail Staff with Body-Worn Cameras

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2019 at 10:44 AM

SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
In response to a sharp spike in inmate assaults on officers, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office is outfitting some correctional officers in the jail with body-worn cameras that it hopes will increase safety.

According to Capt. Duane Christian, the office purchased 14 cameras — seven to be worn on day shifts and seven on night shifts in the jail’s celled housing units. These units generally house the jail’s higher security inmates and have also been the locations of most assaults on officers.

Christian said outfitting correctional officers in the jail’s dormitory-style housing units would have been too costly at this time, noting that the sheriff’s office has committed $90,000 for the purchase and maintenance of the cameras — and legally required storage of the footage — for five years.

While the press release from the sheriff’s office touted the cameras tools to enhance safety in the jail, Christian said they will also be used to collect evidence for potential prosecutions of illegal activity within the jail and also as a means to vet allegations of employee misconduct.

The cameras will not be used in the medical wing  or in the jail’s pat-down room, where officers conduct intake interviews with people being booked into the jail. Christian said this is for two reasons.

“One is HIPAA privacy for the inmates and the other is the hope that if an inmate is experiencing a medical emergency, such as ingesting drugs, they would not be hesitant to tell the nurse out of fear of receiving additional charges,” he wrote in an email to the Journal. “The inmates’ safety is most important in those situations.”

While Sheriff William Honsal has long stated that he hopes to outfit his patrol deputies with body-worn cameras, the costs associated with purchasing another 50 cameras and storing all recorded footage for the legally required two years is high and has thus far proven prohibitive. Based on the cost of the 14 cameras for a portion of the jail’s staff, outfitting the entire patrol division could cost more than $300,000.

Additionally, Honsal said there are some other challenges. A full rollout of body-worn cameras would require that resident deputies and others working in remote areas be able to upload massive amounts of footage to cloud storage, which necessitates high-speed internet connections. The sheriff’s office would also need to dedicate one or two full-time staff positions to editing and redacting video footage to be used in court or released to the public, Honsal said, adding that some other agencies have “gotten themselves in trouble” by deploying body-worn cameras without fully understanding what the costs and staff demands would be.

Nonetheless, Honsal said he sees today’s announcement as the first phase of a tiered implementation he hopes will ultimately see all his deputies wearing cameras.

“It’s a great testing platform,” he said, adding that he hopes to review the program in a year or so with an eye toward planning a full, department-wide deployment of the technology.

And, Honsal added, the cameras in the jail are already having an impact. He says assaults on officers have decreased in the two months or so officers have been using them.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Clearing Overturned Semi Will Close 101 for About an Hour

Posted By and on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 at 3:06 PM

A big rig crashed near Big Lagoon. - CALTRANS
  • Caltrans
  • A big rig crashed near Big Lagoon.
UPDATE: Caltrans is readying to shutdown U.S. Highway 101 for about an hour today, starting just after 3 p.m., to clear away a semi that crashed off the road near Big Lagoon.

The accident occurred around noon, leading to controlled traffic in the area, but the closure will be necessary for get the large “rig wheels-down,” according to a Facebook post.

The driver was uninjured, according to the CHP Traffic Incident Information Page. According to Thom McMahon, who reports he was second on the scene, there were two occupants of the big rig–neither had more than minor injuries.

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Friday, June 14, 2019

After 70 Years, Remains of Eureka Man Killed in Korean War Return Home

Posted By on Fri, Jun 14, 2019 at 1:16 PM

Elden Justus - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Elden Justus
U.S. Army Sgt. Elden C. Justus, of Eureka, was 23 years old when killed during the Korean war. Almost 70 years later, his remains are coming home.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced today that Justus was accounted for April 16 and will be laid to rest in Arcata next month.

According to a press release, Justus was a member of the Headquarters Battery, 57th Field Artillery Battalion of the Seventh Infantry Division and was one of approximately 2,500 U.S. soldiers deployed in late November of 1950 east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. The combat team was engaged by overwhelming numbers of Chinese forces, according to a press release, and by Dec. 6 the Army had pulled out approximately 1,500 wounded service members. The remaining soldiers had either been captured or killed in enemy territory.

Justus could not be accounted for and was recorded as missing in action as of Dec. 6, 1950.


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