Train Nuts, Morons, and Our Wack Harbor Election

Well, our sleepy little Harbor District is stealing all the attention in the upcoming November election.  As a First District resident,  I didn’t even get a ballot since the two doofuses who were supposed to run and were too incompetent to turn in their signatures left the field to Larry Doss who gets the job unopposed. Disgraceful!

So the action is all in the Second and Fifth Districts, and might be summarized as Higgins and Dale vs. Rotwein and Angeloff. There have been many strange issues and red herrings brought up in these races and very little clarity. Greg Dale either DOES or DOES NOT have a conflict of interest.  The Harbor District DOES or DOES NOT owe millions of dollars to the EPA. It IS binary!

Leo/Hank: One of the mini-issues has been Leo Sears’ shyness about being named a rail supporter  by Hank Sims of LOCO. Hank, of course, is famous for having labelled rail supporters “morons” in a discussion about restoring the North/South, or Eel River route.  I remain  proudly one of those “morons”  and I believe that restoring rail traffic to Marin would be a reasonable investment in our infrastructure, considering  it could be done for half a billion and would result in a world-class tourist attraction if done right and properly integrated with trails. On the other hand,  the East-West rail line being promoted by Angeloff  is lunacy.  It would cost at least a billion, have no tourist potential and have nothing to haul that doesn’t already have more efficient ways to get to market.

I cannot stress too strongly the difference between the two rail routes. East-West is a joke; North-South a noble endeavor.    No one who has ever personally ridden the train through the Eel River Valley is opposed to opening it up again.  No one. Yes, it will be expensive and will require more environmental safeguards than before but we would end up with a world -class tourist attraction which would attract folks who don’t necessarily enjoy backpacking.

 I was for several years a member of an amorphous group called the  Committee for Port/Rail Development.  At least I think that’s what they were called.  I have no written records of them although I must have attended several dozen of their monthly lunches at the Cookhouse.  Kaye Strickland was the wonderful lady who ran those lunches. I’m almost positive that’s where I met Leo. The group was not only amorphous-it was pretty much chaotic.  I don’t think they kept any attendance figures nor was any money collected.  Every once in a while Charles Ollivier would stand up and give an impassioned oration. There was a lot of discussion but nothing ever HAPPENED. Out of frustration, Mark Matteoli and some other guys started a committee called RAPIT but it was pretty short-lived. If you stroll into one of the monthly lunches being held by the “Humboldt Bay Harbor Working  Group” that evolved out of the 2012 Prosperity campaign,  you might think you’re in a time warp.  About 80% of the HBHWG were also involved in the CPD. More disclosure: I bailed from the Prosperity effort when we got to the point of recommending a full study of the East-West rail option. I didn’t think East/West would fly and I thought that would be the end of it.  Silly me! The CPR-backed Rotwein and Angeloff campaigns are pushing East/West as a route for moving their chesnuts or cherries or something.   If I’m a moron, these guys are lunatics.

A delicious complication appears to be on the horizon: Leo has taken out a Fictitious Business Name Statement in the Mad River Union announcing the establishment of something called “Economic Growth and Stability” located at TWO addresses in Eureka, which seems like a typo. The nicer house is located in the heart of Henderson Center and sports a huge Rex Bohn poster in the hedge. All roads led to Rex, apparently. So what’s Leo up to?  We could call and ask but what would be the fun in that? Stay tuned.

When I get around to having my “MORON AND PROUD” t-shirts printed up, I’ll let you know.  Meanwhile, the Times-Standard ran my letter the other day in which I advocate voting for Greg Dale and Pat Higgins. Wish I could vote!I

Letter to the Times-Standard, “Vote for Greg Dale and Pat Higgins”

The current Harbor Commission has, by and large, done a fine job in getting the District’s finances under control and setting a new course in the post-pulp mill era. The incumbents who are running for re-election, Greg Dale and Pat Higgins, deserve your vote. They bring experience and dedication. Their challengers bring flimflam and half-truths. The choice is clear. Vote for Pat Higgins and Greg Dale on November 3!


Tower Bridge Fundraiser Sells Out In 15 Seconds

Sacramento’s Tower Bridge is the venue for a farm-to-fork dinner coming up on September 27 which sold out nearly 700 tickets in 15 seconds. That can happen with online fundraising.  Ticket prices ranged from $175 to $625, and the Sac Convention & Visitors Bureau’s CEO was heard wishing he had a bigger bridge to work with.

Now I’m NOT for one minute suggesting we have a dinner on the Samoa Bridge. People would be shivering so hard the structural integrity would be threatened.  But I think the concept of using an unlikely venue is a great one.  Isn’t everyone tired of the Wharfinger? Everyone is tired of seeing men traipse around in high heels, too. It stopped being funny about forty years ago when women quit wearing them. 

We have some great possibilities here.  The Timber Heritage Society has rolling stock at Samoa that could be used for excursion runs to Eureka. What about the recently closed fire station near Myrtle/West? Everyone loves fire stations. For that matter, what about the OLD fire station on J Street near Eureka High? That is a really neat building inside. Maybe you could charge for giving people a chance to slide down the pole. Hey, I’m trying. 

My point is, before you plan another pancake breakfast or car wash, think about our unique resources and use them as intelligently as the folks in Sac have done. They’re just like us, except they have more money. 


NonStop Sac to Boston, Siemens Shows Off

“Please come to Boston in the springtime..” Remember that song? Well, you might not make it by springtime but starting June 18 and continuing till September you’ll be able to fly to Boston NONSTOP from Sacramento on Jet Blue for as little as $199 each way. Take your kids on the Freedom Trail! Or catch the train up to Montreal- a one day ride- and show them a foreign country. That last would be my plan and I’m almost excited enough about it to consider flying again.

In other transportation news, Siemens is having a kind of expo on February 25 and 26 on the Capitol Steps to advertise its bid re: the HSR contracts. Again, it sounds like a lot of fun for train freaks (like me) and kids (like me.)  Check it out here or if the link doesn’t work check the Feb 12 edition of the Sacramento Business News.

Planes and Trains- Transportation Updates

AIR- Redding gets a grant.  Redding has been awarded a $450,000 grant from the Dept of Transportation in the form of a revenue guarantee to help SkyWest defray the cost of replacing their current turboprop (Embraer Brasilia) service with Canadair Regional Jets, according to the Redding Searchlight Record. The grant requires a $50K match and does NOT guarantee that jets will return to Redding but is a necessary first step in that direction. SkyWest recently pulled out of Modesto and is discontinuing service to Chico in December.

RAIL-HSR is on the way.   The California High-Speed Rail Authority took the first step toward actually buying trains, opening bids for a billion-dollar contract to build trains and maintenance facilities. Siemens, which has a location in Sacramento, will be among the bidders, and interest from Chinese and Japanese manufacturers is expected to be strong. The specs are that the trains must be able to deliver passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in three hours. If Siemens prevails, the economic benefits to the Sacramento area would be substantial.

MORE RAIL– The Economist reminds us that HSR is nothing new, in fact it’s been around for 50 years, just kinda slow in coming to California. Fifty years ago this week the Osaka-Tokyo line commenced operations and has “since whisked 5.6 billion passengers across the country without a single serious accident.  Punctuality?  The average delay is  less than a minute.” Japan’s HSR, at 200 mph,  is actually pokey compared with China’s Shanghai maglev  (430 kph) or the maglev being developed to update the Tokyo-Osaka run to a speedy 500 kph, about an hour’s time. This will cost $47B, but the Japanese have a government that is willing to invest in infrastructure. 

STILL MORE RAIL– Closer to home, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Appellate court found that the North Coast Railroad Authority and its partner the Northwestern Pacific Railroad can expand freight service without further environmental review.  Specifically, the panel found that freight rail traffic is interstate commence and not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act.  The envronmental groups that brought the suit, Friends of the Eel River and Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, had not announced at press time whether they would appeal. The NCRA’s next step is to raise $5M to rehabilitate the tracks between Windsor and Cloverdale and to recruit customers for the freight service between Napa and Windsor which currently runs twice a week. 


Graduation Day- “Reach for the Stars”

Saturday the 14th was my cousin’s kid’s graduation day from UC Santa Barbara. I wasn’t expecting much aside from heat and chaos so I was pleasantly surprised that the graduation speaker actually had something to say that was memorable.

His name is Jose Hernandez and he was born in French Camp. If you’ve ever known anyone from French Camp, you know it is a migrant labor settlement. He spoke of following his parents as they moved from job to job picking  strawberries, lettuce, whatever. Finally a teacher took an interest in the family and convinced the parents to settle near Stockton so that the kids could get a real education.

One night in 1972, the family watch Gene Cernan walk on the moon. Jose told his father, “That’s what I want to do”.   His father told him that he could do it but he needed to make himself a roadmap to follow. “And don’t skip any of the steps.”

Jose graduated from high school in Stockton although he had not learned English until he was twelve. He earned a BSEE from the University of the Pacific and then an MS from UC Santa Barbara. He joined the Johnson Space Center and held a number of assignments while applying for the astronaut program. He applied again, was rejected again.  NASA let it be known they would like their personnel to know some Russian (for space station work). He learned Russian.  He pursued every avenue they suggested. Finally,  after TWELVE TIMES,  he was accepted into the 2004 astronaut class and on August 28, 2009 he achieved his dream: two weeks on the Space Shuttle Discovery. He sent the first tweet from space in Spanish.

 Since then he has run for Congress, unsuccessfully. Clearly we haven’t heard the last from him.  His “Reach for the Stars” foundation encourages kids to explore careers in space.  The gloom and doom which was underlying the ceremony due to the recent murders in Isla Vista could have taken over, but didn’t have a chance after Jose finished speaking. It was a good day, and he didn’t skip any of the steps.

FOOTNOTE: The road from the Bay Area up here is an AWFUL ROAD which seems to get worse every year. I kept thinking how much it would be to be riding a bus or a nice relaxing TRAIN. Talk about reaching for the stars! 




“Fighting Intensifies Following Election”

My heart sank when I read this. It CAN’T get any worse, can it?  Then I realized I was reading about Ukraine. Here, to give you something to think about besides the elections are accounts of two meetings in the last 48 hours, the County Airport Advisory Committee and the Humboldt Harbor Working Group.  On the  latter website, look up at the banner and click on “Community Forums” to see what’s coming up.

The Airport group meets on the 4th Tuesday of each month, currently at the Prosperity Center, 520 E Street. Eureka. I won’t give a blow-by-blow description because they have a very competent secretary, Mr. Fenton,  who provides minutes of the meetings, so here’s just a few of the juicier items that came up.

-The Quest For Another Carrier.  A small delegation from ACV ( Gregg Foster and Emily Jacobs, according to the Fly Humboldt Facebook page) staff will travel to Edmonton for a meeting on June 3 with THREE major airlines. These meetings were described as something like Shark Tank with numbers and load factors being bandied about. Apparently we were the only small airport to get meetings with THREE possibles, so that’s good work. This is against a backdrop of United cutting service to Vegas and cutting a Portland route which also serviced Eugene. Not specifically addressed at the meeting but clearly on everyone’s mind was trend by UAL and other majors to dump their low-volume routes in favor of jumbo jets (the “Dreamliner”) carrying big crowds to big cities. We wish the ACV folks well in Edmonton.  If you’ve ever been there, you know they’re not going for fun.

-Infrastructure issues at ACV are going to be critical as the new Courthouse spurs expansion. Right now there isn’t even a safe way for pedestrians to get from the Holiday Inn to the airport without running across Airport Road with their baggage and limited visibility. HCOAG was at the meeting yesterday to present their initial plan for ground access. This will be a high priority since killing tourists  is bad for business. The remarks was made that “We have so many needs,  and not much money.”  The word “insurance” was used at least 30 times during the meeting, just another factor in a complex operation. They will be working with Moser Properties to develop safe pedestrian and bus access

-The FAA is not the easiest agency to work with.

-The proposal to rename the airport the gawdawful “California Redwood Coast -Humboldt County Airport” is alive and well and the Committee will be writing to the BOS and to Jared Huffman soon for backing. Those of us who want to stop this abomination should act quickly.  This County has already provided enough fodder for the late-nite comedians.  Maybe the FAA will save us from ourselves.

EAST-WEST CONNECT- Ryan Burns was at the sparsely-attended Harbor group meeting and provided his usual excellent reportage on LOCO so I won’t duplicate him, not that I could. Bottom line is they’re looking for $300,000 for another study and have already been turned down by CALTRANS.  This will be a long slog, but I’m a north-south advocate, so what do I know?

The Timber Heritage Association-Sleeping Giant in Samoa

Speeder train at aSamoa

Speeder train at at Samoa

The last time I went to one of the Humboldt Bay Harbor Working Group’s monthly   community forums I noted how downspirited everyone was after listening to an hour of “no”.  No, the east-west train doesn’t pencil out. No, there isn’t enough identified freight to make it work. No, no, no. Yesterday’s meeting was completely different. The Timber Heritage Association reminded us that there are FEASIBLE projects to bring more jobs and more tourists, and everyone left in a good mood. There ‘s a lot of work ahead, but as someone said, there’s a light at the end of this tunnel.

(In view of the NCJ column by Marcy Burstiner regarding Brown Act violations, let me clarify that the meetings I attend on the fourth Wednesday of each month are the HBHWG’s PUBLIC forums and are not an inter-agency advisory committee subject to the Brown Act.  I do not attend the AHHA , don’t intend to , don’t know if anything will come of it.  The monthly forums are strictly informational, usually worth attending and represent a lot of hard work by Susanna Munzell and her committee. Glad we got that straightened out.)

Back to the THA which since 1977 has worked hard for a railroad museum and a round-the -Bay tourist train,  and is shortly starting its summer schedule of speeder rides (if you haven’t been on one, speeders are crew cars that look kind of like a caboose.) They run from the Samoa Cookhouse on a short run, only 20 minutes or so but by God, it’s a train ride. Your kids will love it and so will you. The speeder rides are in Samoa four times a year, in Old Town Eureka twice, in Fortuna for the Apple Harvest Days and and have recently started runs in Loleta (check the schedules on the website.)  The steam train rides at Ft Humboldt are all done by THA volunteers during the summer months. By now it should be clear that the THA is a major refuge for train nuts (like me) and they have rolling stock scattered around the county until a real museum can be organized. If you have never ventured down the road behind the Cookhouse, go check it out. They have several train cars right there, all of which are worthy of preservation.

Pete Johnston, who delivered the excellent presentation, pointed out that the Skunk is the major tourist attraction in Mendocino now and if we had a train museum and an opportunity for a train ride, that would be enough to get tourists to stop HERE, rather than shooting past us to Bend or other places with train-related attractions. Did you know the Samoa roundhouse is one of only four on the entire West Coast? That the THA is sustained by 6000 hours of volunteer labor a year?  That’s dedication and one day it will benefit the entire county.

So go ride the speeders and support the THA. I’ve donated before but never joined up but I have now, just wrote them a check for $25 and if I can do it , you can, and should.  They have a couple of fundraisers coming up and last year the Salmon, Oysters Ales and Rails BBQ in August was completely sold out (500 tickets.) Trains have been a big part of Humboldt County history and if the THA has its way they will be a part of its future, as well. .


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.