Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

Short Attention Span



A couple of weeks ago former Arcata City Councilmember Elizabeth Conner told us that she was "seriously considering" a run for supervisor in the wake of long-time Third District incumbent John Woolley's surprising decision to take his name out of the running for this year's election. We assumed that Conner was speaking euphemistically. Political language has been so debased over the years that automatically we took "seriously considering" to mean "definitely going to run, but can't yet say so for strategic political reasons."

Well, shame on us. Conner may be a savvy player in all sorts of policy matters, but her soul (and her language) have survived her intense exposure to the machinery of democracy. We should have known that Conner would say what she means and mean what she says. And so, on Tuesday, just before a Board of Supervisors' meeting focusing on low-income housing — her signature issue — she told us that she would not be running after all.

Conner said that she finally decided that she'd rather stay focused on core policy issues rather than spread out over a variety of them, as a supervisor must. "It's not where I want to be, and hopefully I can be a lot more effective on the issues I care about — affordable housing and planning — on the outside," Conner said. "I'll probably try to be working with all the candidates to strengthen their position and bring attention to the affordable housing issue."

But look out, because two brand new candidates are jumping into what's becoming a very swampy Third District race. They are Lee Ulansey of Kneeland and Christopher Lehman of Arcata. Both paid their money to the county elections office and pulled papers earlier this week, just ahead of the Wednesday (March 12) deadline. We can offer you a short and no doubt incomplete pr?©cis of their credentials.

Ulansey was thrust into the political limelight late last year. He emerged as a leader of the coalition that sprang up to oppose the county's moves to restrict building on lands zoned for timber production. He is the head of HumCPR, the organization that was born of that movement. He looks to be the sole conservative in the race. He couldn't be reached by deadline.

Lehman is a relative newcomer to the local political scene, but not to Humboldt County or to politics in general. He's a 30-year-old native of the county who moved away to go to school at UC Davis, then ended up working as a legislative aide and a fundraiser for State SenatorDon "The Don" Perata, the Democratic party boss out of the East Bay. Though he's still working in state politics, he moved back to Arcata a couple of years ago.

"I just really feel like Humboldt County is at an important moment in its history," Lehman said when asked why he decided to throw in. "We've really been a resource economy for the last hundred years or so, and we're really starting to change over."

Meanwhile, as of Tuesday afternoon Arcata City Councilmember Paul Pitino, activist Mark Lovelace and Humboldt Bay District Commissioner Mike Wilsonwere all still in the running.

More troubled timesfor the North Coast Railroad Authority, the little state-owned defunct railroad company that thinks it can. Remember that joint appeal the authority and the Bay District made to the California Transportation Commission back in January?

We wondered about it at the time. (See "Town Dandy," Jan. 24.) The idea was that the railroad and the Bay District would together skim off $19 million of state funds earmarked for traffic congestion relief, and that this money would be used to rebuild the 10-years-dead railroad between the Samoa Peninsula and Avenue of the Giants, apparently so as to facilitate a ramped-up gravel mining operation around the Eel and Van Duzen rivers and to give the railroad authority some excuse to continue to exist. Also, there would have been some funds for the Bay District to start to fix its problems at the entrance to the bay, which has filled up with sand and debris and become perilously difficult to navigate.

Well, as we noted at the time, in this traffic congestion relief proposal there was no mention whatsoever made of any existing traffic congestion between the bay and Avenue of the Giants, nor was there any mention of how this scheme might alleviate such congestion even were it to exist. And so we sort of wondered how it might pass muster with a state agency theoretically tasked to look deeply at such things. But then we didn't really wonder, because propping up the corpse of the non-extant railroad seems to be the only perk our local Democratic leaders are interested in obtaining from the state apparatus, and the California Transportation Commission is a politically appointed body.

But a lot of stuff happened between then and now. For one, Assemblymember Patty Berg broke ranks to actually oppose the NCRA/Bay District application on principle. "While I certainly support expanding union jobs, reducing diesel emissions and improving Humboldt Bay safety, I believe a successful port and rail plan should not depend on harming the North Coast's environment," she wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to Bay District CEO David Hull. "Therefore, I cannot support your request to the California Transportation Commission."

Then, just recently, CTC staff recommended that the commission roundfile the proposal on several grounds at once: that it did not include any data on air quality improvements the project would make, that it didn't have the required matching funds in hand, that its proposed timeline was screwy. (Not at all a new development for the NCRA, that last one.) What's more, CTC staff wrote, it's packaging together two separate projects — there should have been two separate applications. So there probably won't be any money for the Samoa-South Fork Express, and there probably won't be any money for the real problems on the bay, either.

Also, remember that big lawsuit against the railroad authority filed by Marin County and the City of Novato? That goes to trial next week. If the Marinites win, as they show every indication of doing, it's back to square one — again — for the railroad that would not die.

Three quick things —two notices and a contest announcement.

First: There's going to be a big town hall meeting in Eureka next week about crime and policing. It sounds really good. Chief Garr Nielsenwill talk about the changes in the department since he took over last year, and there'll be representatives from the county drug task force and other agencies. That's on the evening of Thursday, March 20, 6:30 p.m., at the Wharfinger building (1 Marina Way, Eureka.)

Two: The Mendocino Redwood Company, one of the bidders in the Pacific Lumber bankruptcy, will be coming through town in the coming week to pitch its proposal for the future of the company. They'll be at the Fortuna River Lodge on Saturday at 10 a.m. and at Eureka's Red Lion Inn at 2 p.m. the same day. They'll also be at the Wharfinger at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Finally: As you may remember, the Journal itself happens to be one of the "unsecured creditors" in the Pacific Lumber bankruptcy case. Our status in the case gives us the right to vote in this month's election that should determine the fate of the company. There are several proposals on the table, and we've talked about each of them in recent "Town Dandy" columns, including last week's. We'll put links to more information on the North Coast Journal Blogthing.

Here's our challenge for you: Which of the plans should we vote for? We'll tell you right now that we're leaning toward the Mendocino Redwoods proposal, as our lawyer recommends, but we're fully open to being swayed. Are we in the wrong? Should we vote for a different plan, or several of the plans? Write us and tell us why. Especially if you're one of those who happens to be aspiring to public office right now.

We'll condense and collate your arguments and present them in this space in two weeks' time, right after voting in the case closes. We have to make sure we get our ballot to the court in time, so your deadline is March 20. Get persuading!

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