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Lawsuit only way to get highway concerns addressed

For the past five years members of the Friends of Del Norte have been questioning the reasoning and environmental analysis behind the Caltrans highway widening project of highways 197 and 199.

We have been engaged on this issue by writing letters to the editor, to our congressmen, and the California Transportation Commission about our concerns, and by writing detailed comments to Caltrans regarding its quest to widen seven spot locations.

Caltrans states that the purpose of the project is to allow Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) trucks to enter our county along the highways, even though such unfettered oversize truck access runs contrary to shared goals of increasing traveler safety. This highly ill-conceived project has now been approved by Caltrans, which found “no significant impacts” through its Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Assessment process.

However, due to the inadequacy of the environmental review, many questions and concerns remain unanswered, forcing our organization to resort to legal action to protect all motorists and the Smith River, a nationally significant natural jewel.

We believe that our county supervisors and our Local Transportation Commissioners are doing a disservice to our community by never questioning the adverse impacts and lack of need, both economically and practically, for this project. This is especially true now since Highway 299, at Buckhorn Summit, is under construction to allow STAA trucks, thus creating an I-5 to Humboldt and Del Norte County access, and completely changing the context for justifying an STAA project in the Smith River Canyon.

California Focus: Marsy's law example of a good proposition

On a sunny California day in 1983, a woman loading bags into her car trunk in a supermarket parking lot was suddenly confronted by a gunman who forced her into the car, tied her up and drove her away.

Minutes later, in another parking lot, he blocked another car’s attempted exit from a space and, with help from an accomplice, kidnapped one of the two women in it. He then drove both his victims to a remote canyon, where he and the accomplice and one other man repeatedly raped the women before stealing their purses and leaving them.

The gunman, Michael Vicks, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison thanks to laws that provide stiffer sentencing in cases involving guns.

Imagine, now, that you are one of those rape victims and encounter Vicks — who you believed was behind bars for good — in a random encounter in a store.

That sort of thing happened to another woman, Marcella Leach, whose daughter Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas, was stalked and murdered by an ex-boyfriend, coincidentally also in 1983. Only a week after that killing, Leach entered a grocery store after visiting her daughter’s fresh grave and was stunned to be confronted by the accused killer, freed on bail without any notice to the victim’s family.

A desire to minimize those sorts of encounters was behind the 2008 Proposition 9, also called Marsy’s Law and the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act, sponsored primarily by Marsalee’s brother Henry, an electronics multimillionaire.

It requires that victims and their relatives be notified of every bail or parole hearing involving persons accused of harming them.

Church sets missionary program Wednesday

As we watched the horrible news this past week while tragedy blew through Oklahoma, we heard frequent references to May 3, 1999. But it was the day after — May 4, 1999 — that will remain forever etched in my memory.

I was working in a small, privately-owned hospital in New Boston, Texas. Primarily specializing in foot surgery — the owners were podiatrists — we also did a moderate amount of med-surg care, some simple surgeries, and delivered a few babies every month.

We had an active emergency room. A small one, with two exam rooms.

I was assigned to the ER that day. During the morning, no one had presented for care, so the routine was for the ER nurse to help out on the floor. As I delivered a dose of medication to a patient, she called my attention to the TV news, and that would worry me the rest of the day.

The weatherman was telling about a tornado heading for Abilene, Kan., where I had a daughter and three grandkids. And there was no way I could call to check on them until after I got off duty at 3:30 p.m.

3:15 p.m.: Noting the time, I begin to relax a little — it would only take me a couple minutes to get home, as I lived close to the hospital — and I could pick up that phone.

3:20 p.m.: The hospital administrator came flying through the halls announcing “Code brown, code brown — get everyone away from the windows!”

“Code Brown” means “tornado on the ground and approaching.” Worry about my family had to be pushed aside for the next five hours as we put 60 people through our little ER.

Coastal Voices: Waste Authority not a problem

I applaud the intentions of anyone who wants to come up with ideas to save the city and county money by doing things differently. But dissolving the Solid Waste Management Authority (SWMA) would not be one of those ideas.

There is a long list of reasons to keep it in place, as well as some fears to dispel.

The state of California mandated the closure of the Crescent City landfill because it was not in compliance with environmental regulations.  It also mandated that waste be reduced by 50 percent. The SWMA was formed to monitor the old landfill site (to prevent future fines) and build a transfer station. 

What do proponents of dissolving the SWMA mean when they say they want to privatize waste? It already has been privatized. Recology does trash collection, Julindra does recycling, and Hambro runs the transfer station.

And since Recology and Hambro had to do a lot of initial capital investment to purchase equipment, they have relatively long-term contracts.

What’s more, the SWMA’s budget is paid for by these three organizations in the form of fees at the transfer station and a franchise fee that the SWMA charges Recology and Julindra. The SWMA is funded  by the partners, not by taxpayers.

Rates tend to “jump” because once a new contract is negotiated, the contracted partners have limited power to raise rates, while the cost of doing business continues to rise. So by the time the next contract is negotiated, the partners sometimes need to make market corrections. 

Coastal Voices: Supreme Court must rein in Coastal Commission

Two events, one published and the other yet to be reported, are causing me pause.  The question that comes to my mind these days is our system of checks and balances. Both events involve the omnipotent California Coastal Commission.

Event 1: A May 9 Triplicate headline reads, “Lots at Pacific Shores Sought: Airport needs wetlands as set-aside for project.”

I rhetorically ask why property owners in the Pacific Shore development are being solicited to sell their parcels at garage sale prices. At face value it would appear that clustering those lots might help to satiate the unreasonable 4:1 acre ratio mandated by the commission to permit the expansion of the airport.

As a supervisor, I am charged with a countywide fiduciary responsibility. The property clusters newly acquired from the private sector could be turned over to a public conservancy for future wetlands considerations. The current government ownership of property in Del Norte County thereby would increase from approximately 78 percent to a higher percentage. Results: less property tax revenue generated, less services offered.

If we continue to convert private property into public lands, we remove property tax income from our already threatened ability to afford adequate public services, such as police protection, fire suppression, clean streets, quality drinking water, waste management, and a host of other public benefits.

At what cost to public safety do we add more, often inaccessible, public areas to this county? Would you prefer the ability to walk through a wild marshland to your inability to drive down a public street in your neighborhood that no longer can be maintained due to the lack of public funds? 

How do you like the sheriff’s current inability to afford more than two patrol cars per shift? Would you like to have an improved air terminal and commercial air transportation to Crescent City Airport or would you prefer to continue joining your many traveling friends who drive to the Medford, Arcata or even the San Francisco airports? These questions travel right to the root of healthy economic growth for Del Norte County.

House Calls: Preventing teen tragedies

Emergency responders tend to students portraying drunk driving accident victims at a previous Every 15 Minutes event at Del Norte High School. Del Norte Triplicate file / Rick Postal
Every 15 Minutes event at high school next week; parents advised to converse with kids about drinking, driving

House Calls runs monthly. Today’s column was written by Rita Nicklas, Emergency Department coordinator at Sutter Coast Hospital.

Every 15 minutes someone in the United States dies in an alcohol-related car crash.

Drinking and driving has become a serious issue among American teenagers.

In order to drive safely, a person has to be alert, capable to make and carry out decisions based on what is happening around them. This coordination while driving becomes difficult under the influence of alcohol.

Alcohol leads to loss of coordination, poor judgment, slowing down of reflexes and distortion of vision, all of which may cause an accident. The statistics related to alcohol and driving paint a gruesome picture about the entire trend.

Did you know that car crashes cause more teen deaths each year than drugs, violence or suicide?

Did you know that this year, like every year, more than 5,000 teens will likely die on America’s roads?

Did you know that 400,000 teens suffer serious driving-related injuries every year, and many of these are alcohol related?

Did you know that three out of four teens killed in drunk driving accidents were not wearing seat belts?

Church Notebook: Church starting garden

I keep hoping for a good run of nice warm weather, but it never lasts long enough when it comes.

I want to grow some veggies, but I keep remembering last year — how beautifully I had tomatoes, peppers, squash and pumpkins growing — and how suddenly over a couple weeks they curled up and died, no matter what I did.

So thus far, I have two tomato plants and four mild jalapeno plants, and a bunch of seeds that I’m looking at longingly.

Should I do it?

Nothing tastes better that home-grown vegetables. And last year, I discovered yellow tomatoes and yellow bell peppers, and

I’m hooked.

I’ll probably go ahead and plant them, though I’m going to need help — at least until that pinched nerve in my back gets resolved. That is definitely not a fun thing to have. But as I’ve often said before,  I’m happiest when surrounded by green, growing things. And a few days ago, someone emailed ne about a gadget that will make sounds that will repel those masked four-legged bandits, so perhaps it will be worth it to try again.

California Focus: Immigration change vital, but not enough

Last fall’s overwhelming, more than 3-1 Latino vote for President Obama has at last gotten leading Republican politicians to realize they can’t permanently treat all 11 million undocumented immigrants like criminals.

Gradually, too, from possible president candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to former presidential candidate and Arizona Sen. John McCain, they are coming to accept the notion that any significant plan to change American immigration policy must include some path to citizenship for illegals who have lived and worked many years in America.

They are still far from convincing all their party mates that shifting to this stance and abandoning their far more hard-line past positions favoring mass deportation is suicidal for the party in a nation where Latinos are the fastest-growing population element and voter bloc.

Tony Quinn, a former Republican political operative and now co-editor of the California Target Book guide to state politics, calls GOP leaders favoring changes in their policy “Republicans who can count.”

They are, he said, “moving to take over the party with a mission to stop alienating the fastest growing parts of the American electorate.”

Changing immigration law to create a doable path to citizenship, of course, will not be enough. (And there is some doubt that the 13-year waiting period included in the immigration reform package now before the U.S. Senate fits into the doable category.)

The GOP will also have to convince Hispanic voters its candidates are the best choices on the other issues salient to Latinos — the same ones at the top of other Americans’ agendas. Those include job creation, education reform and health care, according to the latest survey by Latino Decisions, whose polling of Latinos before last November’s election correctly forecast an Obama margin of about 75 percent to 25 percent among Hispanics.

Coastal Voices: We can find ways to help homeless

When you see someone truly in need and you say to them, “go, be warm and well fed,” but you turn your back and walk the other way, where is the compassion? For your words “be warm and well fed” are empty and meaningless without the action to actually help someone be warm and well fed.

I have written before about the “small town kindness” of the people that live here in our town and once again, today I am amazed. My friend Donne, the office manager at Safeway, overheard a customer speaking long distance to his mother in Fresno: “Mom, I’m sorry, I don’t know what to do, since losing my job, little Michael (3 years old) and I had to sleep out on the street last night. He was so hungry and cold, can you please send us bus money to come home? 

Imagine the pain for that grandmother that was down to her last $20 which she wired to her son and grandson to help get them back to Fresno.

When Donne heard that, she jumped into action. She gave the boy a bag of chips she had and when he devoured them she knew she had to help. So off to the deli they went, and at her own expense, she bought them breakfast.

When Brian, our store manager, got the story, he rallied all of us to chip in for this little family to buy a bus ticket to get home to mom and grandma. Not only did he say, “be warm,” he took the man and his little 3-year-old home to his home to spend the night, have some dinner and outfit little Michael with some outgrown clothes from his own son.

Can you imagine the relief to all, to the grandmother, in Fresno to know that the kindness of strangers would provide for her son and grandson till they got home to her, and to the young father to know his own son would not be cold or hungry for that night?

Church Notebook: Remembering all the mothers in our lives

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

Mothers come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, but the ones that really matter are the ones we call our own.

And they come in a few different categories: our moms, mothers-in-law, step-mothers, grandmothers — we usually can count quite a few for each of us. That is, of course, unless you fit into that senior citizen group with me — then that list has grown shorter.

The most maligned, of course, and joked about, is the mother-in-law.

At 73, I don’t have any of those folks left — and I have held all those titles in my own right. But one very special lady in my past was my mother-in-law.

“Ma” was the best mother-in-law anyone could have, and I really loved her. She was half Cherokee, and there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do — except one. She was deathly afraid of snakes.

She taught me to cook and grow things — for food and for beauty. And she taught me how to make wedding cakes. She taught me how to do a lot of things — except one. I would watch entranced as reams of beautiful lace flowed from her fingers as she tatted — but try as she might to pass on that skill, that was one thing I was completely inept at.

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