Monthly Archives: June 2010

Planners vouch for opposition to eminent domain

From the June 30, 2010 issue:

By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer

A majority of the Planning Commission has indicated support for a General Plan Update policy that promotes county opposition to eminent domain land purchases by state and federal agencies.
The wording of the policy was supported by a majority of the Commission during its June 24 review of the Update’s public lands section. It states that the county “shall not support state or federal (land) acquisitions” that are done through eminent domain processes but names exceptions, including the need for eminent domain actions to protect public health, safety and welfare.
Eminent domain allows government purchases of land whether property owners agree to them or not, as long as they’re done at “fair market value.”
Regarding land buys, Supervising Planner Tom Hofweber told commissioners that the county has written letters to the state opposing its parkland acquisitions of farm and timberlands.
But Commissioner Ralph Faust, a former attorney for the state’s Coastal Commissioner, said the county can’t stop state and federal eminent domain actions.
“To think that we can actually do something, to legally mandate the actions of state and federal agencies is simply wrong – it’s constitutionally wrong and it’s legally wrong,” he continued. He described the county as a “creature of the state,” one that can “do no more or no less than the legislature allows it to do.”
Faust added that it would be more constructive to define the county’s role as attempting to “build cooperative relationships rather than thumbing our nose and telling them that we think we know what’s best for them.”
Commissioner Dennis Mayo disagreed. “I’d never suggest thumbing our noses at state or federal agencies but I have suggested that they don’t thumb their nose at us many times,” he said.
Mayo also opposed the wording of a related policy that would have the county support land buys that are included in the “adopted management plans” of state and federal agencies. He said some of those purchases could be harmful to the community and cited the Marine Life Protection Act as an example.
“It’s going to be an adopted management plan and it’s going to just devastate this community,” he said, adding that similar actions are done on a land use level that he strongly disagrees with.
“If you’re trying to import the sagebrush rebellion to Humboldt County, I think you’re just spitting in the wind,” said Faust. But when it came to a straw vote on the eminent domain policy, he was in the minority.
The commission was split, however, on the wording of a policy that defines public access to natural areas and waterways.
Mayo and Commission Chairman Jeffrey C. Smith wanted the definition expanded to accommodate “multiple modes” of access, including vehicles and ATVs.
“I think it’s discriminatory for us to develop a public access policy that doesn’t provide at least for the possibility of motorized or OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) uses,” said Mayo.
Although he acknowledged the impacts of “bad actors,” Smith said that motorized vehicles don’t cause damage. “ATVs by their very design have the ability to put very low ground pressure down – much less than, frankly, the human foot,” he said. “So it can be a responsible method of transportation in the hinterlands.”
Mayo, Smith and Commissioner Denver Nelson supported the motorized vehicle accommodation while Faust, Commissioner Mary Gearhart and Commissioner Mel Kreb supported the policy’s staff-recommended language, which broadly encourages “maximum public access.”
Commissioner Bruce Emad was not at the meeting, but at the commission’s June 17 meeting, he had said that specifying access to motorized vehicles is troublesome.
The commission continued the hearing to its July 8 meeting.



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NHUHSD to talk about school bond/tax hike

Just a reminder:

The governing board of the Northern Humboldt Union High School District will hold a special board meeting to discuss the possibility of putting a school bond on the November ballot. According to the agenda, this is an information item and not an action item.
This special meeting will take place Tuesday, June 29 at 6 p.m. in the Arcata High School Multi-Purpose/Conference room.


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Mutilated dog carcass found on beach

From the 6.23.10 issue

(Out of concern for their safety, several people interviewed for this article asked that their real names not be used. Some of the names in this story are fictional, but the story is true.)
By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer

On Monday, June 6, Sarah Jones (not her real name) was hard at work, cleaning the beachfront house of her client Melissa Jackson (not her real name).
Jackson’s house had a beautiful view of Trinidad State Beach, being situated on the bluffs overlooking the ocean. Jackson, a frail senior, spends almost all her time there.
Jones stepped out on the deck for a minute, and noticed a vulture flying by. Seagulls were more common on the beach, and she couldn’t help but wonder what the big black bird was doing. She watched it land on the bluffs just below the house, and then stepped back indoors to finish her chores.
A few minutes later, she saw another vulture, or maybe it was the same one returning, and a few more soon after that. They all seemed to be congregating at the same spot, which wasn’t that far away from the house.
Jones took a closer look at the bluff this time, and noticed that there was a body about the size of a large dog lying dead on the bluffs.
Jones told Jackson to come and take a look, and the women quickly decided to call for help. They knew the Trinidad no longer had a police officer, so they called City Hall, and told City Clerk Gabe Adams what they had seen.
Adams told Jackson to call law enforcement, but he also realized that the frail senior needed some immediate assistance, and he asked city worker Eddie Gray (not his real name) to see what he could do.
Gray went to Jackson’s house, climbed down the bluffs, and saw the dead dog. It was not a pretty sight. Its head had been removed; it had been skinned; and its legs, shoulders, and haunches had also been taken.
The deputy came out, and made his report. There was not much else to do, other than bury the remains, which Gray did.
Although rumors are flying, nobody knows how or why the dog met its demise. Until the Sheriff’s Department figures out what is going on, pet owners would be well advised to keep a close eye on their animals.


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Scientist: Current fog amounts are normal

From the June 23, 2010 issue:

By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer

In a visit to Humboldt County, the scientist whose research shows an overall decline in fog levels over the last century said that the trend is mostly seen before 1950 and is probably not connected to carbon emissions.
Dr. James Johnstone of the University of Washington described his widely reported research to local meteorologists and biologists on June 16 at the National Weather Service Office on Eureka’s Woodley Island.
Johnstone said that on average, coastal fog levels have decreased by about one-third since 1901, a conclusion that’s led to speculation about impacts to redwoods.
But the reduction trend has not been seen in the last decade and was strongest in the first half of the 20th century.
“You see most of the trend occurring before 1950,” Johnstone said in response to a reporter’s question about the potential link between fog reduction and global warming. He added that fog levels have been normal since 1998.
“If I were to have come across this data in 1997 and showed you the record from 1951 to 1997, it would look as though the fog was about to fall off the table and disappear in about another 15 years,” Johnstone said. “But starting in 1998, things restabilized at a level comparable to the early fog record.”
It appears that the trend toward reduced levels of fog is not a current one. “While we do see evidence of that long, gradual change – most of which happened in the early part of the century – at least for the last decade or so, things seem to be fairly stable,” said Johnstone.
Considering that, global warming is not suspected to be a culprit of the overall fog reduction. “There’s nothing that stands out in the data that shows me that this is connected to large-scale temperatures or carbon dioxide,” Johnstone said.
Daily record-keeping of fog levels has been very precise at airports in Humboldt County and Monterey since 1951 and in Sonoma County since 2003. Johnstone relied on temperature records to gauge fog levels prior to 1951.
Fog is important to redwoods because they conserve water when their leaves are saturated with moisture and lose it through sap transpiration during dry spells, causing drought stress. But changing climate conditions and population levels are routine for trees as long-lived as redwoods.
Johnstone said that there’s “good tree ring and sedimentary evidence” that California has “undergone major, major droughts that dwarf anything that we’ve seen in the modern record.”
“The 1,000-year-old trees that are out here have survived that sort of thing,” he said, adding during glacial periods, the population of redwoods was perhaps five or ten percent of what it is today.
Fog production is encouraged by the temperature contrast between cool coastal areas and warm inland areas. Sea surface temperatures influence coastal climate and Johnstone found that fog production spiked in 1951, when ocean surface temperatures were cooler.
In that year’s summer period, there was an average of 14.8 hours of fog per day, with 13 fog-free days. In 1997, when fog production dipped to a minimum, the daily fog average was 6.4 hours, with 62 fog-free days.
Last summer, however, the daily fog average was in the normal range at a little over 10 hours.
Still, there are segments of the data record that show decreasing contrast between coastal and inland temperatures.

Johnstone found that between 1901 and 1925, the average difference was 9.6 degrees Celsius. Between 1951 and 2008, the overall difference was 6.3 degrees.
“That’s pretty substantial climate change, I would argue,” said Johnstone.

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Election results hinge on additional counting

As of today, June 18, we’re still waiting for results. FYI

From the June 16, 2010 issue:

By Daniel Mintz
Press Staff Writer

Vote-counting in the June 8 primary elections is ongoing but it appears that several key contests will be decided in November.
Undersheriff Mike Downey will be the county’s next sheriff, however, gaining a 67 percent majority vote over DA Chief Investigator Mike Hislop.
Run-off elections will decide who will be the county’s District Attorney, Fifth District supervisor and Assessor. The status of the Fourth District supervisor election is more tenuous because one of its candidates is close to the 50 percent vote mark.
There are over 6,000 countywide absentee and provisional ballots left to count. It could be another two weeks before certainty is achieved with the election results.
In the Fifth District supervisor election, Ryan Sundberg, a member of the Trinidad Rancheria Tribal Council, got 2,278 or 39.43 percent of the vote. Former Headwaters Fund Board Chairman Patrick Cleary got 30.58 percent with 1,767 votes.
Humboldt Bay Harbor District Commissioner Patrick Higgins is in third place, with 1,529 or 26.46 percent of the vote. Contractor Jeffrey Lytle has 3.41 percent with 197 votes.
The counting of the remaining votes could change the content of a Fifth District runoff, as it’s possible that Higgins could ultimately get more votes than Cleary.
Cleary and Higgins shared the election’s progressive vote. Sundberg is seen as a conservative candidate, as much of his considerable financial support has come from developers, Realtors and construction-related businesses.
But in an interview, Sundberg said his “connection with the district” through being a lifelong resident of McKinleyville is what contributed to his vote-getting, along with a platform that emphasized job creation, affordable housing and quality of life.
“I consider myself a moderate,” he said. “I’ve gotten support from very liberal people, to conservatives to everything in between.”
Sundberg’s lead in the primary doesn’t necessarily make him a favorite for November. If Cleary’s second place showing holds, he’s expected to attract most of Higgins’ support base and some voters could be put off by the news of Sundberg’s no contest plea to a DUI charge two days before he announced his candidacy for supervisor.
Asked if he thinks it will have an impact on the November election, Sundberg said he hopes it won’t. “I’m hoping people will realize that I made a bad mistake and I take full responsibility for it,” he continued. “It will never happen to me again and I’ve removed alcohol from my life.”
Is it a valid campaign issue? Sundberg doesn’t think so. “I want to stick to the issues and run a positive, clean campaign,” he said.
So does Cleary. Asked about Sundberg’s DUI, he declined comment except to say, “It’s not something I plan to be talking about.”
Cleary said the election results “are pretty close to what I was expecting.” The close margin between himself and Higgins was not surprising, he continued. “I’m pretty sure Pat Higgins and myself have a lot of common support,” Cleary said.
In the DA election, incumbent Paul Gallegos’ vote count stands at 11,207 or 39.72 percent of the vote. Former County Prosecutor Allison Jackson got 10,448 votes, about 37 percent of the total. Paul Hagen, a former environmental prosecutor who worked in Humboldt and other counties, got 5,229 votes, 18.53 percent of the total.
Local Attorney Kathleen Bryson, who ceased her campaign several weeks before the election, got 4.61 percent of the vote.
The uncounted votes won’t change the upshot of the DA election results – Gallegos and Jackson will run against each other for the November vote. Hagen was seen as a splitter of the vote for Gallegos, so the incumbent is going into November as the favorite.
Hagen, however, may endorse Jackson, as both respect each other and share the same views about the incumbent.
In the Fourth District supervisor election, Eureka Mayor Virginia Bass is close to winning outright, with 48.83 percent or 2,335 votes. Incumbent Supervisor Bonnie Neely’s vote count is at 1,455, 30.43 percent of the vote.     Eureka Councilmember Jeff Leonard’s grass roots campaign delivered only 977 votes, 20.43 percent of the total. Leonard probably diverted more votes from Bass, so Neely will have some work to do if the remaining vote count confirms a runoff election.     Incumbent County Assessor Mari Wilson was the top vote-getter in the Assessor election, with 39.31 percent of the vote or 10,834. Former County Supervisor Johanna Rodoni is in second place with 34.48 percent or 9,504 votes. Realty appraiser Jon Brooks got about 26 percent of the vote.
Wilson is the favorite for November, as Brooks had progressive support and Rodoni shares some of the same financial supporters as Sundberg and Bass. Brooks’ votes are likely to lean toward Wilson.
Carolyn Crnich, who ran unopposed and remains the county’s clerk and registrar of voters, said that 3,000 yet-to-be-counted absentee ballots came into the Elections Office on June 7 and June 8. Some 2,800 more were dropped off at polling places on election day and they are also uncounted.
There are also about 550 provisional ballots – those whose eligibility needs to be confirmed – left to count.
The number of ballots counted as of press time was 29,381, said Crnich.
She said her original estimate of one to two weeks for counting the remaining ballots may have been “a little optimistic.”
So the election isn’t over. “There’s a lot of work left to be done,” said Crnich.


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Trinidad may put controls on vacation rental homes

From the June 16, 2010 issue:

By Elaine Weinreb
Press Staff Writer

Trinidad came a step closer to regulating its controversial vacation dwelling industry, which opponents say its threatening to turn the town into a giant motel strip.
Vacation homes now consist of 15 percent of Trinidad’s limited housing stock.
City Councilmember Julie Fulkerson has been a vocal advocate of limiting the number of vacation homes, saying that there are already too few permanent residents in the village to fill local government positions and do the volunteer work that is necessary to keep the community thriving.
Other people view it as a property rights issue. Banning vacation rentals, they say, would not change the fact that Trinidad housing is already unaffordable for most people.
Neighbors of vacation home rentals have complained about noise, loud parties, overflowing parking, and overloaded septic systems.
At the June 9 meeting of the Trinidad City Council, an advisory committee composed of vacation dwelling owners, managers, and their neighbors proposed a set of regulations, which were hammered out during a series of nine meetings over the past several months.
“We learned to appreciate each other’s views and see different perspectives, whether you agree with them or not,” said Trinidad resident Mike Reinman, who owns several vacation rentals.
Under the proposed regulations, all vacation rental establishments would have to register with the city, and pay an initial $100 fee, which would be reduced in subsequent years to $45. Only one vacation rental would be allowed on each residential parcel.
The number of visitors would be limited to two per bedroom, plus an additional two people. Parties, weddings, and other events not hosted by the property owner would be forbidden.
All parking would have to be entirely on-site. Visitors could not park on streets or in front of neighbors’ houses. Vacation homes would have to maintain a discreet residential appearance.
Each vacation home would have to set up a sign near the front door, showing the name and contact number of a local contact person, who must live within 25 miles of Trinidad. Complaints about noise, parking, or other problems would be directed to the contact person, who would be expected to deal with the problem promptly.
The committee also recommended that the “bed tax” be raised from 8 percent to 10 percent.
No existing vacation homes would be grandfathered in; all would have to go through the same process to get started.
Tom Davies, who chaired the advisory committee, said that the group was split over the issue of capping the number of vacation rentals, but that those opposed slightly outnumbered those who favored it.
Mayor Stan Binnie wondered whether economics would eventually limit the number of vacation rentals, and asked committee member Mike Reinman, who owns several, whether the competition had affected his business.
Reinman said his business had decreased in recent months, but blamed it on the slow economy. He agreed that a natural leveling-off process would happen sooner or later.
Gail Saunders, a longtime Trinidad resident, who manages a chain of vacation rentals, said she is eager to be a good neighbor, and wants to know when visitors misbehave.
On the whole, the City Council seemed pleased with the recommendations, and will incorporate them into a draft ordinance within the next two months.

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Whooping Cough

Here’s the raw press release:

Date: June 18, 2010

Contact: Mike Goldsby, 268-2195

State Public Health declares Pertussis Epidemic

Local public health officials are closely monitoring reported cases of Pertussis, commonly called Whooping Cough, in light of a dramatic rise of the illness in other parts of the state. Counties with notably high rates include Del Norte, Sonoma and Marin.

“So far, we have two confirmed cases in Humboldt County,” said Health Officer Dr. Ann Lindsay. “But we are urging people to take precautions and get vaccinated, because Pertussis cases usually peak in August and September.” She said the incidence of cases tends to fluctuate on a 3- to 4-year cycle, with the highest incidence in Humboldt in 2005.

There have been 5 reported deaths so far this year in California, much higher than the number reported in the same time period last year.

Ron Largusa, Epidemiologist for Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, said local data clearly shows pertussis affects children age 9 and under more than any age group.

“About 65% of our cases in the last ten years have been in children under the age of 10,” said Largusa.  A possible contributing factor is insufficient vaccination coverage in school-age children.

Public Health Branch Director Susan Buckley encourages parents to make sure their children are immunized.  “The state-supplied vaccine is available at Public Health and we will waive the $15 administration fee for anyone who cannot pay,” said Buckley.

For an appointment for pertussis and other vaccinations, call the Public Health Clinic at 268-2108. Walk-in requests for services are still welcome and staff will accommodate these requests as soon as possible.

Pertussis Fact Sheet

The children’s vaccine called “DTaP” protects against diphtheria and tetanus as well as pertussis. Risk of death from pertussis is greatest in infants. All five deaths in California this year have been in infants under 3 months of age.

Getting the pertussis vaccine does not guarantee 100% immunity to the disease, but a vaccination will guarantee against a severe case of pertussis in infancy.  Even contracting the disease does not provide complete immunity from getting it again.

The best way to protect infants from pertussis is to give the DTaP vaccine on time at 2, 4 and 6 months of age.  An additional dose is recommended at the 15-18 month check up and again at the pre-kindergarten doctor visit.

Protection provided by the childhood series fades over time.  Adolescents and adults can get a booster vaccine for pertussis and tetanus.  Parents, siblings and caretakers should be vaccinated against pertussis to protect infants who are too young to be immunized but at high risk for serious infection.  Other precautions for pertussis include washing your hands, covering your coughs and staying away from infants when you are ill.

Named for the distinctive sound made after a severe coughing spell, whooping cough starts with very mild cold-like symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose and sometimes a cough.  Over the next 1 to 2 weeks, the cough progressively worsens and becomes severe. Infants and young children are at risk of developing life-threatening complications, including pneumonia.

For an appointment for pertussis and other vaccinations, call the Public Health Clinic at 268-2108. Walk-in requests for services are still welcome and staff will accommodate these requests as soon as possible.

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