It was announced in the Sacramento Business Journal today that Cerebus, which bought and downsized Albertson’s, has reached a deal to buy Safeway in a $9B deal.. No details at this time about Redwood Coast implications. We will be following this story, believe me.
I went into The Works yesterday to get the new Pharrell CD and to see if they could order me an old Fred Neil album that I must have lent to someone and found that they’re not taking new orders! Darren (who works with Bandon , the owner who bought the business from Larry Glass) said that business has been so bad lately that The Works is definitely in jeopardy. The move to “C” Street gave them a bigger space for performances and readings but they lost a lot of the foot traffic they had over on “F” Street.
You know the story. A dollar you spend at Target or another chain or ITunes or Amazon leaves the county; a dollar you spend in a local business is recirculated locally. Plus I don’t know another place in Eureka that will take special orders; if anything happens to The Works, where will I go when I want to replace my CD of Donald Fagan’s New York Rock and Soul Review (Mike McDonald, Phoebe Snow, Boz Scaggs etc) that is wearing out I’ve played it so much? Or some wonderful old vinyl records? Clearly this is a quality of life issue, and anyone who is familiar with (for example) Amazon and their practices knows that’s not the answer. No, the answer is to support our local businesses much as we support our local farmers. So whenever there’s a break in the rain, go down and do some shopping at The Works, 210 “C” Street in Old Town or order over their phone which is 442-8121.
I’ll see you down there. Oh, and they’ll have the Pharrell CD next week.
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. .
You may have heard by now that the second largest grocery chain in the country (after Kroger) is in talks with a potential buyer. The announcements have been coy about the identity of the potential buyer but speculation has centered on Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm that bought 600 Albertson’s stores in 2006, and pared the lot down to 200 over the next seven years.
Safeway, headquartered in Pleasanton, is the fifth-largest employer in the East Bay and currently owns 1400 stores. It has already divested itself of 213 stores in Western Canada and is in the process of unloading 72 Dominick’s stores in Chicagoland, apparently getting itself in shape for a sale. Safeway is being closed-mouthed about negotiations as would be expected. The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represent Safeway employees, are posting updates on their website, as available. Cerberus was involved in a similar takeover of the Albertson’s chain in 2006 which , according to the Union, “did not go well”. If any stores are closed, you would expect them to be stores in low-income areas or historically unprofitable stores. Considering the long distances between the North Coast stores (Crescent City, McKinleyville, Arcata, Eureka and Fortuna, with Eureka already converted one store to a VA Clinic) one would think the remaining stores were safe, but who knows?
Traditional grocery stores have come under intense pressure from competitors such as WalMart, Dollar General and on the other end of the spectrum, Whole Foods. Kroger’s reported a 3% growth for the first three quarters of 2013 while Safeway showed less than 2%. Whole Foods reported 5%, which if you’ve shopped in their stores explains their nickname, ”Whole Paycheck”.
Let’s hope that things go smoothly and well for our friends and neighbors who work for Safeway. Change happens but hopefully this will be positive change.
Ed Asner, the “Lou Grant” of television fame, star of numerous films and a lifelong labor and civil rights activist, will speak at the annual meeting of the Shasta-Tehama-Trinity chapter of the ACLU on Saturday, March 22. The meeting is free and open to the public and will take place at the Pilgrim Congregational Church, 2850 Foothill Boulevard in Redding from 1-4 pm. Donations will be accepted to support the programs of the local ACLU chapter.
Asner, who is 83, and has been nominated for 20 (twenty) Emmies and won seven. He also has had an extensive voice acting career, his most recent success being the animated “Up”, currently in rotation on HBO and other channels. He is the only actor to win televisions’s highest honor for playing the same character in a sitcom and a drama. He was president of the Screen Actors Guild for five years and has been active in a variety of causes both involving the rights of the working performer and other causes such as human rights, world peace, environmental preservation and political freedom. Recently, with actor Mike Farrell (MASH) has been outspoken in his criticisms of the Obama administration’s Syria policy.
I would expect high interest in this event, so get there early and carpooling would be an excellent idea. I hope to be there. They don’t make ‘em like this guy anymore.
For additional information, call (530) 410-8761.
Here’s some food for thought. You might see a few surprises.
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IN HUMBOLDT COUNTY(January): 7.9%
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IN SAN FRANCISCO: 4.8%
UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IN MEXICO: 4.76% (December 2013) (Time Magazine) Yes, Mexico!
SHASTA COUNTY MEDIAN HOME PRICE JAN 2014: $180K (DataQuick)
HUMBOLDT COUNTY MEDIAN HOME PRICE JAN 2014: $247K (HAR)
CREEPYIEST CREDIT CARD: Capitol One, which according to the LA Times, recently sent its cardholders a contract renewal authorizing the com[any to contact its cardholders by any means including visits to home and workplace, and gives permission to “modify or suppress Caller ID and similar services and identify ourselves on these services in any manner we choose.”
MINIMUM WAGE PROPOSED by LA lawmakers for employees in large hotels: $15.37/hour.
APPLE Computer now has more stores in Shanghai than in San Francisco. (Economist)
CHINA’S $3.3 TRILLION consumer economy is about 8% of the total, and is likely soon to overtake Japan as the world’s second-biggest consumer. Half of the world’s new shopping malls are being built in China. (Economist).
MOST CONGESTED HIGHWAY IN CALIFORNIA: I-5 in LA County. “In 2012 alone, vehicles spent an extra 6.6 MILLION hours on the road, due to heavy traffic.” (LAT).
PERCENTAGE OF AMERICANS WHO BELIEVE THE SUN GOES AROUND THE EARTH: 26% (National Science Foundation).
NEW FORMAT: Shorter but more frequent posts. Feedback welcome.
I didn’t attend the HCDCC meeting Wednesday night because I’m still recovering from the Cold of the Century and it’s just as well. Two members, Melinda Ciarabellini and Marion Brady , are no longer members and party discipline is the reason. The HCDCC has been flooded with new members whose identity as Democrats is shaky or at least awfully recent, but all you have to do is go down to the Election Office and sign the paper, and poof, you’re a Democrat. That’s the American Way.
As for me, I’ve been a Democrat since infancy. One of my earliest memories is of Election Night 1952 when all my teacher relatives were crying in the kitchen. I didn’t even know what “Nixon” meant, but I knew it was bad. I DID vote for a Republican once- Milton Marks in San Francisco. I was comfortable voting for him because he shared my liberal, pro-Labor philosophy. Folks like this are nowadays referred to as “Eisenhower Democrats”, if you can find one. Unfortunately, politics have become extremely polarized since the ’08 elections as I’m sure you all know.
I was a voting member of the HCDCC for 4 or 5 years. I went though the awful procedure of gathering signatures (need 20 currently registered Democrats in your supervisorial district, which is harder than it sounds). I attended many many meetings, staffed register-to-vote tables, spent lots of money (for me) on donations. But in the last year or so, I’ve lost my enthusiasm. When we had our first heated discussion about supporting non-Democrats and the punishment that would result, it was pretty clear we were talking about blatant and unmistakeable PUBLIC support. The waters became murky immediately when Marian Brady made the case that she wasn’t really supporting Joe Bananas or whatever his name was- she was WORKING for him, so that was okay. I never was clear on whether the rules applied to the non-voting members.
Fast forward to last Fall. I had resigned as a voting member because this blog takes up a lot of time, but when it was announced that we were having the Democrat of the Year Dinner at the Ingomar Club I knew I was running with the wrong crowd. I organized a counter-dinner in Fortuna for those of us who were uncomfortable with paying the Ingomar for our dinner, and it was a great evening. But it’s getting harder and harder to find common ground among the HCDCC members. Look what we’re got: HumCPR devotees, GPU devotees like me, union folks, environmentalists all in one “big tent”. It’s hard to find a common thread, except on social issues. Friendships have been strained. The HCDCC leadership is pushing to make every election a partisan election. I am not enthusiastic. Look what partisanship has done to us nationally: gridlock. I voted for John Fullerton. I’d do it again.
I’m still an associate (non-voting) member of HCDCC and I just signed up to help with their June fundraiser, but now you know where I stand when I write about business. I’m pro-environment, pro-union, AND pro-business. Tough work but someone’s got to do it.
Politics can be destructive and ugly, as was demonstrated Wednesday night. As Will Rogers used to say,
”I am a member of no organized political party. I am a Democrat.”
I thought that flu shot was supposed to save me from the shivers, shakes and runny nose that has kept me inside all week, but I guess that was a different strain. This week you’re getting some stories from near and far that Redwood Coast businesses, citizens and consumers may find of interest.
3-D PRINTING HITS REDDING: Both Shasta High School and Enterprise High School have purchased and deployed MakerBot Replicator2 machines at $2300 each and students are experimenting with them right now. We know they’re being used in biotech and and architectural design but I just saw a statement that they’re being used in the CULINARY field but it didn’t explain how. Well, you could design a heckova wedding cake with one of these things, and at $2300 they’re definitely affordable. Shasta High is using them to make team souvenirs, for starters.
TONIGHT SHOW LEAVING BURBANK: and taking 160 well-paying jobs with it. About three years ago, we were having lots of exposure on the show because apparently one of the producers fell in love with Humboldt. Remember Tom Green and the guy in Old Town swinging the firepot around? Green named Duane Flatmo the Most Interesting Person in California. I don’t think Jimmy Fallon is going to show us that kind of love. Hopefully Jimmy Kimmel can be lured up here and shown the light.
JANUARY HUMBOLDT ECONOMIC INDEX: From those wonderful people at HSU, shows the median home price creeping back up again, from last month’s $234K to $247K, and home sales the strongest since July 2005. Our county unemployment rate is currently 7.9%, California’s is 8.3% and national is down to 6.7%. Here’s the complete update and I’m going back to bed to watch Pawn Stars. Stay warm and dry. It’s apparently going to be a dreadful weekend.
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.
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.