What We Have to Be Grateful For on the Redwood Coast- a sampler

Counting your blessings on Thanksgiving Day, on the Redwood Coast, is an overwhelming job, which is why I am not trying to be inclusive. Here are just a few items which have come to my attention lately, for which we should give thanks.

First, we should give thanks and remembrance to the three loggers who died on the weekend of October 19-20. It doesn’t seem to me that enough attention was paid to these incidents and we can never give enough emphasis to the dangers of logging.

Let’s also, on the verge of the Christmas holiday, remember the 25 or 30 of our friends and neighbors who have lost their jobs due to the closure of Ray’s Food Place in Eureka. I never saw more than two or three customers in the place and I don’t know how they kept it  open as long as they did, but it’s gone now. If you know any of those employees, show a little more kindness than usual.

Let’s be grateful for the farsighted educators of Ferndale High School for purchasing a 3-D  printer for their engineering class. The friendly staff has advised that Mr. Michael Baggot, 786-5900, can be contacted for a possible appointment to observe the machine. ‘Way to go, Ferndale!

Let’s also be grateful for community groups like the Humboldt Area Saltwater Anglers (HASA) who devote many hours to the welfare of our precious Bay. Here is a link to their newsletter, which is a great one. It will take a minute or two to load, but is worth the wait. What a pleasure to see our friends Ben Doane and Pat Higgins and thanks to Casey Allen for keeping me on the mailing list.

Not local but still neat: did you know that there is a movement afoot to install chargers for electric and hybrid vehicles all along Route 66? There’s a festival coming up in Kingman, AZ to commemorate the Mother Road going green.

We can be grateful that despite what seems like an all-out effort by Amtrak to stifle our passenger trains, the Surfliner and the San Joaquin have more riders than ever.  

And finally, not local but I bet he’d love the Redwood Coast, movie star Kirk Douglas, who has survived blacklisting, bad movie roles, strokes and God knows what else, has just published his TENTH novel at the age of 94. Long may he wave, and I hope I have his ambition at his age. Have a great holiday and don’t forget to count your blessings. 

 

 

GPU Update, How NOT to Present before the Board of Supes, and More on Megabus.

By now you know that the 13-year saga of the General Plan Update is mired in a review of basic principles which were agreed upon ears ago and now- what a surprise!- seem to need amending. This is not because the County has changed.  It’s more due to the political climate and the emergence of HUMCPR as a force.  I went down to lend my voice to sticking with the original principles, largely because the extreme length of this plan update is ridiculous and I wouldn’t like to see Humboldt County come in for (more) bad publicity  for dragging out this process even further. If we end up on 60 Minutes for this , it will be an exception to the rule that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  This is bad.  We will be known for  two things in this State: marijuana and ineffective government.  A bad combination, don’t you think?

      Also, I can’t think of anything more harmful to effective economic development than unclear or shifting zoning.  I got there early because I though there would be a huge crowd.  There were only five people signed in to speak when I signed in. The vast majority (I believe about 40 people spoke) sort of materialized during the meeting and didn’t sign in at all, so that part is apparently optional.

      I have presented before the Planning Commission and the Supes several times but never as poorly prepared as last night. I ripped my notes out of the printer and went flying out the door, no review, no prep.  I stumbled and fumbled through my remarks which were basically a plea to stick with the original principles, since the revisions seemed to me to be vague and enabling sprawl. Some of the other  presenters- Dan Ehresman, Scott Greacen- were forceful and effective. Others sounded like they needed to be wound up. IF YOU DO THIS BE PREPARED.  Sometimes public testimony really does have an effect. Don’t know about yesterday, but it definitely did in the Forster-Gill situation. 

      When they started going through the new/old language principles my ADD kicked in and I left, probably to rejoin the process at the next meeting on October 7. Many of the attendees last night were realtors, paid representatives of environmental groups or CPR folks and some had been involved in the process for years. I will never be a Supervisor because $80K is not enough to do this kind of mind-numbing analysis. I would go nuts.

Let’s see how the Supes do.  If you haven’t attended these meetings, you should show up on the  7th.  If you’re going to speak, practice a little first. We heard some awfully poor presentations and it was hard to tell what point some of the folks were trying to make. And I used to think the Supervisors were overpaid…..

MORE ON MEGABUS

With no trains, miserable air service and ever-climbing gas prices, many Redwood Coast businesses and their employees are taking a second look at bus transit. We featured Megabus a few posts back but didn’t mention their parent company , Stagecoach Group, which is headquartered in – wait for it- SCOTLAND. At least they didn’t paint the buses plaid. In America their revenues are up 22% in the last three months. That’s callled growing like wildfire, but the best news for us is that Greyhound is having to upgrade its service in order to compete. We can only pray…..

 

Trains, Planes and Buses??!!?

Last week,  a friend who needed to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco decided to try the Megabus.  His verdict? Unequivocal approval.

He took the overnighter which leaves LA’s Union Station at 1145pm and arrived in San Francisco (the CALTRAIN station) at 645am, no stops. The bus was new and immaculate, a double-decker carrying at least 100 passengers. There was free wi-fi and each seat had its own charging station. These buses are green-certified and Megabus is now serving Sacramento and San Jose.

Megabus,  Bolt Bus  (affiliated with Greyhound) and other intercity bus services reflect a national trend.  The Chaddick Institute at Depaul University came up with these figures comparing 2011 to 2012 :

Intercity bus:                    7.5% growth

AMTRAK, available seat miles:  3% growth, revenue passenger miles: 2.6% growth

AIRLINES, domestic, available seat miles: .4% growth

AIRLINES, domestic, revenue passenger miles: 1.4% growth

The entire study is available at their website.  Note that these figures do NOT include the “Chinatown” bus services as they do not have published schedules.

We know that the airlines are strapped, which makes them reluctant to add marginal airports such as Arcata to their service areas. Will we ever have alternates to the current United/ Greyhound monopolies? Not as long as United and Greyhound can get by with the shoddy service they currently provide. I can’t see Megabus being able to fill a double decker bus with our amount of traffic- until and unless United raises its fares to an intolerable level (which they’re pretty close to). A more likely scenario would be for Greyhound to upgrade its service.  Even if Greyhound were to upgrade its buses (by a LOT) there will always be those who, even in our eco-conscious community,  wouldn’t be caught dead riding a bus.  Those attitudes will take a long time to change.

As for me, I’d rather ride a bus or other public transport that I KNOW will arrive at my destination rather than continue to play airport roulette. (“Folks, we’re going to have to land at Redding…no, San Francisco…no, Redding”.)  Even Greyhound doesn’t get fogged out.

A final note: I drove to SF to pick my friend up and was appalled at the state of 101, the potholes, unfinished road with those awful grooves, and especially the situation around Willits.  I had always opposed the Willits bypass because I didn’t think it was necessary- who can object to slowing down through a charming town?  But on Friday at 3pm it took almost an hour to get through Willits.  Then on Sunday it was back to “normal”, just the usual slowing.  I assumed the Friday crunch was due to vacationers headed for the lakes, but that was just my impression. Let’s hope the controversial and expensive bypass will improve traffic speed and safety for the entire community, not just summer vacationers.

 

The Power of Showing Up, Lost Credibility and Railroad News

The Power of Showing Up-Have you ever been to a school board meeting? I hadn’t until the special meeting on July 11, ostensibly to discuss the “Future of the Eureka High School Automotive Program.” I learned a few things.

One thing I learned is that NO ONE SHOWS UP at the typical school board meetings, at least the Eureka City Schools board meetings. There were about 70 people in attendance; typically they get half a dozen. Another thing I learned was that the ECS officials in attendance (Van Vleck, Olson and Eagles) had no intention of engaging in a real discussion. Van Vleck presented a PowerPoint show to convince the crowd that the current curriculum could not be sustained. He was so desperate to make his point that he actually presented the results of a KINS telephone poll in support of his position. I learned that there is a vast range of competence and conscientiousness among the five members of this particular board.

When it came to community input, we were limited to three minutes each. The speakers included graduates of the program, and representatives of many local dealerships. As it got close to 10pm, it seemed that the tide had turned, the Board members were making plans for a followup meeting on the next Friday and I went home. The only two elected officials in attendance, Marian Brady and Rex Bohn, stayed until the bitter end, bless their hearts. You could have knocked me over with a  blackboard eraser when I read in the next day’s  paper that the Friday meeting was off and a 3-2 vote had been taken to close the program. I don’t know who did what to who to finally end up, a couple of days later, with a compromise that essentially saved the program but I learned a third valuable lesson:  DON’T LEAVE EARLY.  The bureaucrats have all the time in the world and they can wait till the wee hours of the morning if need be, to get their way.  You’d think I would have learned by now.  I should mention that Mr. John Fullerton was consistently clearheaded and effective in moving things along. Let’s hope the message has been received that the taxpayers, stakeholders and students want the program. As Woody Allen says, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  If that crowd hadn’t shown up,  the program would be gone for sure. 

Lost Credibility-  “Reputation is a bubble” as the saying goes, or maybe a balloon that, once popped, cannot be reconstructed.  Just about everyone in the County has weighed in on the Dan Johnson debacle. I expect to hear any day now that the President, both Popes and Jay-Z have issued statements. The point is that NO ONE is defending Mr.  Johnson’s actions. The best that his friends can do is point out that he has made charitable contributions, as any major businessperson in the county does. Well, good for him. However, the idiocy he demonstrated in believing that he,  and only he, could read and recall a letter that was published in Newsweek and probably a dozen other publications is profound and calls into question his basic judgment. It takes a certain type of megalomania to do what he did.

I thought of that during the Healy Brothers Building block party: Mr. Kramer celebrating another excellent project, Mr. Johnson hiding from his constituents and issuing snarky non-apologies.  We need maturity in our civic leaders. Please consider running for the school boards in your area. Our kids need you.

The Train -as you probably know the $20K study by the folks in Washington state concluded that the EastWest route(s) are not viable and would cost over a billion to construct, even if a clear strategy for its use were developed.  This brings us back to where we were in the beginning, with the North-South route costing somewhat less but more importantly, offering transportation for the cargo we know is available- tourists. Tourists to fill our hotels.  Tourists to rent cars and go on tours and excursions and swing around in the treetops. As anyone who has ever ridden the train down to San Rafael will tell you, the train ride through the Eel River Canyon could easily be one of the major tourist attractions on the West Coast. A different aspect of the rairoad issue will be the subject of the Harbor Working Group’s July meeting, which takes place Wednesday noon at the Samoa Cookhouse and will feature a talk on the possibility of shipping between here and Stockton. (Click on “Community Forums”.)  These meetings are always interesting. ‘Nuff said.  

The Week in Redwood Coast Business- renaming the airport, charging for the Oyster Festival, getting no love from our homies and train vs turkey

Renaming the Airport- The sorry spectacle of a town renaming its airport to attract visitors is a plot worthy of a comedy, one of those good British comedies with Peter Sellers .  The good news is that it will take the proposed name change at least a couple of years to be approved so perhaps someone or thing will come along in the meantime to save us from ourselves.  “California Redwood Coast – Humboldt County Airport” is too long, was obviously , like a giraffe, put together by a committee trying to please everyone, and leaves unanswered the question : what about those obnoxious folks in Mendocino who think THEY have a Redwood Coast? The Mendocino -Sonoma Chamber calls  itself “The Redwood Coast Chamber”. There are so many other “Redwood Coast” businesses down there I almost decided to call my blog something else.

What if instead of perpetual confusion, the airport promoted clarity? Why not spend the money on educating folks that the Eureka-Arcata Airport is in Humboldt County, home of the Redwoods? I called the always-affable Tony Smithers of the Visitors and Convention Bureau and asked for his estimate of the number of tourists we host yearly.  He guesses he number is around 1.5 million all but one or two percent of whom arrive here by means other than air travel.  So if changing the airport’s name would double the traffic there (it wouldn’t- I’m just stretching for an example) the number of air-arriving visitors would go from 30,000 to 60,000.  Would these folks be visitors who wouldn’t come here otherwise? That seems to be the hope. Frankly I think the drive UP here is just as much of a draw as the attractions in Humboldt area,  but only time will tell.

By the way, our friends in Redding just concluded an unsuccessful campaign to attract another carrier and are heading back to the drawing board.  In a climate where airlines are squeezing the passengers for every dime and shutting down as many routes as the government will let them,  attracting more service to a marginal market like Redding or ACV will be quite a trick.  

O Oysters, Come and Walk with Us- The Oyster Festival is making a  brave and necessary change by  instituting a $10 admission charge. I was a volunteer, selling drink bracelets a couple of years ago, and it was obvious something had to change. The drink bracelets didn’t stay with the purchasers for long and the frenzy for beer would cause an onlooker to think they were at a beer festival, not an oyster festival.  I’m looking forward to this weekend, fence and all.  Kevin Hoover’s thoughtful editorial in the Eye lays it all out .

General Patton- Mike Patton,  surely the most influential musician ever to emerge from the Redwood Coast, (sorry, Sara Barielles), was featured in the Critic’s Notebook of the June 3 issue of the New Yorker, as an “indefatigable vocalist and visionary” on the occasion of the Manhattan concert introducing the fourth album by his current band, the “frenetic and experimental post-rock” Tomahawk. “General Patton” , as they dubbed him, the lead singer of Faith No More and founder of Mr. Bungle, among other bands,  is a true original but I haven’t heard of him playing up here, ever. Twenty years ago, when I was getting ready to move back here, Details magazine quoted him as saying, of Eureka,  “It’s a void. There’s absolutely nothing to do there. I mean nothing.”  I wonder if he has been back here since?  He won’t be around this summer, that’s for sure. He’s touring Europe with Tomahawk, opening for Nine Inch Nails.  The Film Commission has been trying to get the attention of Jeff Bridges (whose grandparents ran the Vance Hotel) for years but hasn’t been able to lure him up here. I believe he actually grew up in Petaluma. If the Redwood Coast is to market itself as being a cradle of creativity we need these folks. Incidentally,  After Earth is getting universally terrible reviews, which is a shame, but kudos to Cassandra Hessletine and crew for luring that production here.

Terror on the train- Finally,  as if the problems with starting up any kind of rail service to the Redwood Coast weren’t fraught with perils enough, the current issue of the RAILPAC newsletter reports that at 11am on June 1 in West Mansfield MA, a wild turkey crashed through the window of an Amtrak train, stopping service on all tracks. “The engineer was covered with  glass…and the engine compartment was full of the remains of the turkey, making it unusable”. You can’t make this stuff up.  Thank God no one took pictures. 

Stay hungry. Stay creative. Now, more than ever? 

How Much Is A Train Worth, Part Deux

“I rode the train today.”   

Speeder train at Samoa

        Now there’s a startling statement from a Humboldt resident.  Okay, it was only one of the speeders that the Timber Heritage Society is planning to run this summer, and only a 20 minute ride from Samoa Cooklouse to the point where the tracks get sketchy, but it was a train, by God. For train nuts like me, a quick fix is better than nothing.

      For all the talk in the news about trains lately, we seem to be moving further and further away from the reality of regular service.  The recent Prosperity exercise involved 19 “Citizen Action Teams”, two of which recommended at least exploring the feasibility of an east-west route from here to Gerber or thereabouts. Some of our most prominent citizens are advocating the study, which would  cost as little as $100K, but no one wants to pony up the money and, as we know, the County is strapped. Personally, I think if the matter could be laid to rest one way or another- What’s the cost? What’s the cargo? Will the Feds grant easements or sell off land?- I think the $100K would be well-spent.

(As a matter of disclosure, I served on the “Harbor Revitalization” team, although my role was mostly to provide publicity for the town meeting we had at the Labor Temple. Good turnout, lots of interest, lots of concerns.)

          The latest development is the pressure on the County supervisors to engage in “railbanking” the tracks around the Bay. I wouldn’t be so skeptical of railbanking if someone could give me just one example of tracks that were railbanked and successfully brought back to life as a railroad. They keep telling me they exist, but no one seems to have any specifics. Once you cover something with asphalt, it’s pretty much out of play.

          Yes, it’s hard out here for a train nut.  I’ll get my fix in October, when we’ll be riding the Empire Builder from Portland to Chicago (THE best Amtrak route).  But in Humboldt County unless the THS manages to get its round-the-bay tourist run going, no one is going to be saying, “I took the train today.”

How much is a railroad worth to you?

near the Vista del MarAs I write these words I am in the County Supervisors’ chambers, trying to stay awake while the board members of the North Coast Railroad authority, or six of them, spend half an hour consulting with their Ukiah attorney on the legal definition of the word  “train”.  The issue at hand is the Timber Heritage Society’s plans to offer speeder rides on the NCRA’s track and everyone’s desire to avoid liability in case of an accident.

The NCRA is no more disfunctional than any other governmental body- have you ever sat through a Planning Commission meeting? The NCRA folks come to this meeting in Eureka with a major victory under their belt: on July 13, rail service was restored from Schellviile to Windsor. The next phase will restore service- freight service- all the way to Willits. Willits!  How galling that Willits will become a veritable hub of rail transport while in Eureka the train is becoming a distant memory.  The folks in the Bay Area will be able to take a pleasant jaunt to Willits, transfer to the Skunk for a wondrous scenic ride and arrive in Fort Bragg relaxed and ready to spend money. I can see those dollars flying away, dollars that we need right here in Humboldt.

When I was a kid we often took the train to San Rafael. The train went through 52 tunnels and as a scenic ride it’s up there with the Glacier Express in Switzerland. I am an unabashed advocate of passenger rail, one of the tribe Hank Sims has labeled “morons”.  I believe Hank’s motives are pure. Unlike some of the rails-to trails advocates we’ve been hearing from lately, he’s not motivated by personal gain; he’s just horrified at the $500M price tag of restoration through the Eel River Canyon. That figure is on the high end, the sum frequently cited by the “no train-it’s hopeless” crowd.

Let’s accept the $500M figure. If Humboldt County were to pay the entire cost, each man, woman and child would  have to kick in $3759  for the  joy of riding the rails. If the costs were spread across the five counties that would see the immediate benefit (Del Norte, pop. 20,000, Humboldt 130,000, Mendocino 90,000, Marine 261,000 and Sonoma 493,000) the per capita cost goes down to  about $500. Our tax system doesn’t work that way and the benefits would clearly extend to those outside the North Coast, so if we assume all California will benefit from freight and passenger service which costs a fraction of trucking costs and pollutes less (LOTS less) the cost would be $13.33 per capita. Of course there will be ongoing maintenance, dwarfed by the ongoing costs of our heavily subsidized  road system, which no one seems to complain about. The issue isn’t money. We’ve spent more money on dumber projects.

I am a skeptic regarding the east-west route recently proposed for study. Fine, it should be studied, but that project would be starting from scratch, and has little if any tourist potential.  On the other hand, quick transit to the I-5 corridor is very desirable. That’s why our friends up in Coos Bay have reactivated their train route to Eugene.  Anyone who can get cargo to Coos Bay will be two hours from I-5 and its many possibilities and distribution centers. When I visit my friends in Eugene, I fall asleep to the distant sounds of a train. Ah, music….

So how much would a railroad mean to your business? To your life? Let’s hear YOUR thoughts!  After all, you’ll be paying for it.