Housing Prices, Location Filming , Homelessness, Rain and the Harbor

HOUSING  PRICES: The December Humboldt Economic Index  published a couple of weeks ago showed a dip in County housing prices that would be pretty scary if it continues, but it probably won’t.  Median home prices in Humboldt fell from $264K to $234K, but not to worry. Dr. Erick Eschker of the HSU  Economics Department advises that the figures should be read as a four-month moving average and provided an additional graph that shows the dramatic shift since 2006 and the slow upswing we are now experiencing. The Index of Home Sales is 24.3% higher than at this time last year, which is nice.

FILM/TV INCENTIVES :  The Economist (Jan 17) reports that Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles has appointed  Tom Sherak, “an old industry hand” to lobby in Sacramento for the city’s interests in luring the industry back to LA.  Film and TV production in California has been decimated by the grander film subsidies and incentives offered by other states. New Mexico and Louisiana have been particularly aggressive,  and  California was particularly late in realizing that they needed to get into the incentive game also. Mr Sherak may find this a difficult year in which to persuade the legislators of the urgency, with so many other unfunded needs. Humboldt County, by the way, is doing well, even in the rain. Cassandra Hesseltine, our Humboldt-DelNorte Film Commissioner, reports that filming locally has become a year-round activity in the last couple of years, not limited to the “good weather”. She says the right now crews are in town filming a print ad and a reality show, about which she didn’t want to say too much but it wounds like a well-known hairy creature from Willow Creek is involved. Let’s wish Mr Sherak well in his new job. Film is definitely one of our strengths.

HOMELESSNESS DOWN, NOT UP:  Considering all the focus on homelessness lately, I am amazed that so little attention has been paid to Daniel Mintz’ excellent piece in the Mad River Union which gives some good solid numbers to think about (Eureka’s homeless count was 1100 in 2011, 650 now). This is a problem which will never be solved without clarity on the extent of the problem. Sadly, 37 homeless students were identified in the  Northern Humboldt Area.

HUMBOLDT BAY HARBOR WORKING GROUP: Maybe it was the rain, but the Group’s meeting on Wednesday was the most downbeat I have attended. Three speakers discussed short-sea shipping and were refreshingly honest. Most of our lumber goes to LA, and we can’t even fill a barge from up here. The labor doesn’t pencil out either. The Harbor Commission study on the East-West rail initiative was definitely putting a damper on the proceedings as without East-West, or even with it, it appears that at present we just don’t have enough cargo to make it short-sea shipping worthwhile, and a Walmart center in Gerber won’t do it either. I  personally feel that the old North-South rail route is a much better idea and could not only move freight but revitalize the tourist and rental car businesses, but what do I know?

Happy Lunar New Year! See you next week.

The Winter of Our Discontent-Trains to Vancouver, NVB is Sold and the Chinese are Coming, and Coming and Coming

Well, here we are in late January, freezing to death, looking at a drought and coming off a lousy crab season. There IS good news- getting to someplace even colder is now easier.

TRAIN SERVICE BETWEEN EUGENE AND VANCOUVER, B.C.- it’s begun, and it’s a ten to twelve-hour trip with inconvenient departures although the website states in several places that the schedules are to be adjusted in the near future. The new Cascades line overlaps in places with the Coast Starlight, so don’t get them confused while reading the schedules.The State of Oregon bought the two trains with stimulus money and each carries 286 passengers, bicycle storage, outlets, wi-fi etc. The trains were built by Talgo, the US subsidiary of a Spanish company. The multinationals seem to have more faith in US rail than do the Neanderthals running Amtrak. Look at what Siemens is doing in Sacramento: building something like 30 locomotives of which two will end up on the West Coast (and creating thousands of good jobs). I hope to take this train over the summer but as you all know getting to Eugene from here involves either a four-hour drive and finding a place to stash your car OR a tortuous three-bus ride from Arcata to Redding then hooking up with the Starlight to Eugene. The best train seems to be the one that leaves Eugene at 2pm because it’s ALL TRAIN, no long bus rides.  It’s a 10 hour ride, all the amenities are promised, including a lounge car, and the fare is as low as $73.  Ticket sales are healthy and the State of Oregon did two smart things with this $38M purchase: they bought rolling stock designed to handle the higher speeds if/when high-speed rail becomes an option and they planned ahead of time for increased demand in 2017 when service increases between Seattle and Tacoma. Check out their website– even the food menus look good.  The North Coast Journal (Dec 12, 2013) did an excellent summary of the hassles involved in trying to get to Portland from here. Every little bit helps. And if you go all the way to Vancouver, don’t forget your passport (or birth certificate and photo I.D.) 

NORTH VALLEY BANK PURCHASED BY TRI COUNTIES: Effective in mid-2014, some of us will be sending our mortgage payments to Chico-based Tri Counties Bank, a merger that will result in a combined workforce of 1100 employees, and a network of banks stretching from Crescent City to Bakersfield.  With $3.5B in assets, $3.1B in deposits,  $2.2B in gross loans, and 80 branch offices, the new Tri Counties Bank will be the 26th largest in the State. The banks have issued the usual disclaimers about how this change will be painless to customers.

CHINESE TOURISM TO U.S. TO TRIPLE BY 2020: As I prepared to enter the China Buffet in Eureka, a group of Chinese diners emerged and zeroed right in on me. (They always do- I must look helpful.) None of them including their driver spoke much more English than I do Chinese, but they knew what they wanted. “Redwood Park”, they kept saying. “Redwood Park”.  Their van was labelled “Joy Tours:” but it was getting dark and I couldn’t figure out whether they would get more joy going south to Humboldt Redwoods State Park, or north to the National Park so I pointed them north, figuring they’d get a kick out of Paul Bunyan at Trees of Mystery. The next day I called Tony Smithers at the HCCVB and asked him about Joy Tours. He was aware of them but apparently the bureau has not specific outreach to Asian visitors.

I suspect that will be changing in the future. 1.5M mainland Chinese visited the US in 2012 and their numbers are expected to reach 5.7M by 2020. California is the most popular destination, followed by New York.  Relaxed visa restriction and rising household income are fueling the growth. The LA Times reports that Chines tourism to LA rose 21% in last year and that “Chinese tourists are the second biggest-spending foreign visitors to the U.S. – just behind Indians and ahead of Australians, Brazilians and Japanese- with a average budget of $4400 not including airfare.”  Meanwhile, U.S. hotels are not well-equipped for Chinese visitors, especially in terms of Mandarin-speaking staff and Chinese dietary needs. The Chinese tend to stay longer than other tourists (42 nights average) and 36% are here for conventions or business meetings. Talk about a bonanza being dropped in our laps! Gung Hay Fat Choi, everyone. And a Happy Year of the Horse.

REMINDER: Next Friday, January 31 is the deadline for applying for the Fisherman’s Terminal restaurant opportunity, details in our last week’s issue. 

 

 

 

 

The Week in North Coast Business- A Golden Opportunity on the Waterfront; More Airport News

FISHERMAN’S TERMINAL RESTAURANT/MARKET

Ever wanted to run a restaurant?

Check this out: “The City of Eureka is soliciting proposals  from qualified restaurant/cafe’ operator(s) to establish a restaurant/cafe’ and retail seafood counter at the Fisherman’s Terminal Building located at #4 C Street and Waterfront Drive.” The announcement from the City continues, “An outdoor patio area for alfresco dining is also incorporated into the space. The restaurant/cafe’ is located at the east end of the Fisherman’s Terminal Building with unparalleled views of picturesque Humboldt Bay, and is adjacent to the newly  constructed C Street Market square, the Madaket docking facility and Ticket Booth, and Old Town”. The announcement adds, “A low-interest loan may be available to a qualified applicant.”

This is a tremendous opportunity for some entrepreneur to play a major role in our waterfront revitalization,  and a couple dozen have already expressed interest.  To receive a complete Request for Qualifications package or ask any questions, contact Judy Harrison, Economic Development Coordinator, by email at jharrison@ci.eureka.ca.gov or call (707) 268-1830.  Here’s some more info from Economic Development. Be patient if it takes them a while to get back to you; there are only four 1.5 people in the section and this is a major undertaking. DEADLINE FOR SUBMITTAL IS JANUARY 31, so get busy and be a part of Eureka’s history! And make some money, too.

AIRPORT TURBULENCE: First, the good news, for frequent flyers anyway. The TSA has opened three enrollment centers to enable frequent airline passengers to pass through security more quickly. Once enrolled in the program, flyers will be excused from removing shoes, belts and jackets and from having to remove their laptops to display to the TSA screeners. What’s the catch? Well, they have to be fingerprinted and pay an $85 fee, good for five years. Where are these enrollment centers? At Sac International, Stockton and- wait for it- EUREKA!!! According to the AP, the centers went online on the 15th and, by the way, they refer to our airport as EUREKA, not that six-word name that I can never remember.

So that’s the good news. The bad is that airport usage from 2007 thru 2012 is wildly inconsistent, with SFO increasing by  27% and Oakland and Burbank DOWN by 31%. San Jose declined by 22% while Sacramento,  which just opened its new $1B Terminal B (“B” for  “Billion” I suppose) has declined by 18%. I find this puzzling. Who wouldn’t rather fly into Oakland or San Jose than SFO, given a choice? With the recession, the choices are realigning and becoming fewer in number. See the “Fly Humboldt” Facebook page  for more info. Also,  Ms. Emily Jacobs, Administrator at ACV, has promised us an update on airline recruitment efforts in the near future.  So watch this space!

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Redding Trying for More Flights, Storage Wars Humboldt Style, and “The Country of the Year”

REDDING WANTS FLIGHTS-  Redding airport officials and civic leaders, including representatives of the mega- Bethel Church,  have met or are scheduled to meet with representatives of United Airlines, SkyWest Airlines, American, Delta and Alaska Air with an eye to restoring direct service to LA perhaps as soon as this summer. Shasta County has built up a nonbinding travel bank of $1M and Modesto is hurrying to do the same. Now is the time to start pushing for schedule changes because SFO will be losing one of its runways for several months  due to repairs. Note to self: avoid SFO during that time.  Everyone wants the LAX routes.

The Bethel Church in Redding welcomes 12,000 visitors a year,  many of whom come in by air, but many more of whom come by car from Sacramento or SF. The church has basically taken over their Civic Auditorium. and is a major player in the Redding economy. Think of  all the rental cars and hotel rooms! That’s like 3 or 4 Jazz Festivals.  We’ll bring you an update soon on local efforts to to bring us more service through ACV.  Sorry, I can’t remember the six-word name they want us to call it. I figure this, too, shall pass.

 STORAGE WARS, HUMBOLDT STYLE- A couple of weeks ago I showed up at one of those storage locker sales you see listed in the Times-Standard.  I wanted to see it if in anyway resembled what you see on TV.  The sale was at the Myrtle Avenue Storage Center, the one across the street from John’s Liquors and the taco truck whose name I can never recall but which serves darn good food. A group of about 20 folks were waiting for the sale which was advertised as five units but had shrunk to two by the time of the opening bid.  The facility manager, Chris Mikkelson, went over the rules and then led the folks who were interested to a second-level unit. They trooped upstairs and came back down pretty fast. The upstairs unit went for $25.

Then we went to inspect the other unit. It was PACKED, I mean really PACKED, to the gills. Anyone who claims they  can tell what’s in one of these has got to be psychic.  All I could see was the ends of boxes.  The second unit went for $25 dollars. The bidding was not as fast or frantic as they try to make it sound ; I didn’t have any trouble following it. Also the successful bidders were given till the end of the next day to vacate the locker.  Very civilized, as I had envisioned a frantic race to truck everything out immediately.

Mr Mikkelson told me that these units are very seldom vacant and are mostly rented by people in the neighborhood, which cuts down on the number of abandoned units. Anyway, if you have a truck and want to try your luck watch for the ads. This particular facility is a Kurt Kramer property  and immaculately maintained. I don’t think they all are. When I get a chance to follow a winning bidder through the whole process, I’ll report back but I don’t think any fortunes were made the other day.  Good excuse for a taco, though.

“COUNTRY OF THE YEAR” – Well, there’s nothing like losing a contest you didnt’ even know they were having. The Economist has named as it’s “Country of the Year” a place that is dealing with some of the same issues that the Redwood Coast is. This country has legalized gay marriage and drugs -ALL drugs- in the last few months.  It’s 3M citizens don’t make the news very often and on the map it looks like a sort of tumor growing out of the top of its neighbor, Argentina. Yes, I’m talking about- wait for it-URUGUAY.  We might do well to observe the effects of legalization there, if there are any. If anyone is organizing a field trip, let me know. 

Murder in the Cathedral- the Unthinkable, the Unacceptable

Back in the 1930’s when T S Eliot was writing his Nobel prize-winning play about the conflict between Henry II and his Archbishop, Thomas a Becket, a conflict that resulted in Becket’s death at the hands of four soldiers who may or may not have been carrying  out the King’s wishes, he picked a title that reflected the true horror of the situation. He called it “Murder in the Cathedral”.  A church or cathedral  is supposed to be a place of refuge. Unlike Becket, Father Freed was not murdered on the very altar, but for “cradle Catholics” like myself, the horror is palpable. I haven’t considered myself a Catholic since I was sixteen but you don’t have to be Catholic or Christian or religious in any vein in to be deeply disturbed by this crime and the death of an innocent man who by all accounts was a gift to the community.

Thank God there is a suspect in custody.  But we have already made the news on CNN and CBS and believe me,  there is no more efficient way to destroy the reputation of a city than a notorious murder.  Nor can we claim it’s the fault of the drug industry. No, this was an act of sheer evil, hard to comprehend but there it is. The candidates who seek office this year will all face the question: how do we combat evil in our midst while maintaining our civilization?

The Catholic Church is a huge and powerful organization which has been so poorly governed in recent years that systematic child abuse has been tolerated. That seems to be changing due to the refreshing candor of the new Pope and hopefully he will stay in office long enough to make some real changes. I will never be a Catholic again but I heart this Pope and while all the usual second-guessing and faultfinding with the police has already started, let’s think about the ways to honor Father Freed, the Pope and each other.  The New Yorker’s year-end cover was a cartoon of the Pope making snow angels. Religion should have a sense of joy. Hard as it may be, it is our job to reclaim that. Even us nonbelievers.

As for me, I’m leaving my Christmas lights up a few days longer than usual.  I think a lot of people are. They provide that sense of joy. We could use it this year.