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Counting Rings



We're celebrating a rather significant anniversary here at the Journal — our 25th. Where were you and what were you doing in 1990, the year the Journal was born?

I was often in a one-room office on the third floor of the Carson Block Building in Old Town Eureka with my two business partners — Carolyn Fernandez and Rose Welsh, both graphic artists. We had an ad agency called Adworks, no employees and maybe a half dozen clients. (A big shout out to Miller Farms and Mid-City Motor World.)

Two years prior, I had been fired from my dream job as editor of the Arcata Union. Unofficially, the publisher told me, I "wasn't friendly enough" to the timber industry. I told him, "I wasn't taught that in journalism school" and packed my belongings in a cardboard box. I thought my journalism career was pretty much over.

At the ad agency we created marketing plans for our clients that included direct mail, print ads, TV and radio commercials. One of the publications we placed ads in was something new called the North Coast Journal — an unattractive monthly newspaper, folded into quarters and distributed in coffee shops. The original founders took journalism seriously, something that was sorely lacking in Humboldt County in 1990. Long story short, we bought the Journal from them for a pittance (they were leaving town), completely redesigned it and re-launched with our first issue in July. We struggled financially for eight years as a monthly, and then converted to a weekly on Sept. 3, 1998. We were embraced by readers — and finally by more advertisers. Today the print Journal is read by almost half the residents of Humboldt County every week.

I'm 68 now. I've been retired from the day-to-day operations of the Journal for almost two years. (Carolyn and I are still majority stockholders and I retain the title of publisher.) When I checked in to see what the plans were for the anniversary edition, our editorial team was busily scouring through those first editions. They decided to take a fresh look at three topics: homelessness, the economy and — remember 1990? — Timber Wars.

About the economy: Bottom line is it's still precarious but in a very different way. Back then, it was the rapid decline in timber and manufacturing jobs. Today the big unknown is the effect possible of marijuana legalization in 2016. How fast will that air leave our economic balloon?

Homelessness is still very much with us. The faces continue to change. I remember when we first put a homeless man's face on the cover, I started getting calls from Trinidad readers saying they mysteriously couldn't find the Journal anywhere. I found out later a guy from the chamber of commerce was dumping them all in the trash. Bad for tourism! (Paul Kirk later became my county supervisor for the sprawling 5th District. Unfortunately.)

And the Timber Wars are pretty much over. The reasons are varied. I was out with a camera on the Samoa peninsula when the national media came to town for an event called Redwood Summer. Louisiana-Pacific gave its guys some time off, told them to put on clean shirts and wave pre-made signs. The enviros were out in force, too, demonstrating and singing — all very colorful and rather benign. Later I covered the not-so-benign pepper spray incidents. I was on the scene that day outside Congressman Frank Riggs' Eureka office when our sheriff ordered officers to use pepper spray on the demonstrators. One officer sprayed directly into someone's face from about 12 inches away. Even more effective was the application directly into the eyes using a Q-tip and liquid pepper spray in a paper cup. Of course nobody was killed or maimed. We never had videos of what went on in the woods either, how those demonstrators were arrested — some of whom claimed they were dragged by their hair.

The 1990s was a decade of timber companies behaving badly with Pacific Lumber Co. leading the pack. One Thanksgiving, PL (later rebranded PALCO) ordered its timber fallers into the woods to cut on Wednesday afternoon, knowing enviros could not get a court order to halt the logging until Monday morning. In four and a half days, all the targeted old growth trees were horizontal. PL doubled its cut for years and other timber companies followed suit, racing to cash in on old growth before they could be stopped. Even Miller-Rellim out of Crescent City cut the ancient forest that served as a magnificent background for the film Return of the Jedi.

The Timber Wars subsided with more pressure and lawsuits from environmentalists, more government oversight and, frankly, so little old growth left to cut. Tensions have eased, too, because timber companies began to change. I like to think it was partly because of Humboldt State University and other schools, which were turning out some good forest scientists who went to work in the timber industry.

These are just three topics from our first year. But boy, what fun it was to cover Eureka City Hall's string of fired city managers (four in 10 years). Then there was one memorable profile I did of Democratic political activist Cindy Watter, who was moving out of the area. She said her biggest disappointment was that the proposal to locate a University of California campus on the North Coast had failed. "Unfortunately, we discovered people on the right saying they didn't want any more environmentalists up here and people on the left saying they didn't want any more people."

That's the North Coast. Don't you love it? And by the way, where were you in 1990 and what do you remember?

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