Fishing town struggling in wake of tsunami

By Matt Drange

California Watch

 It's been four months since tsunami waves generated by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan ravaged the harbor in Northern California's Crescent City, destroying pilings and sinking 16 boats after ripping them from their docks.

But the diminutive harbor is still a long way from functional, crippling to a local economy dependent on the fishing industry. Tsunami victims, meanwhile, are finding little help in disaster relief, much of it in the form of reimbursements and loans they can’t afford.

Excluding the inmates who reside in Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City is home to about 4,200 people. The town already took a significant hit when most of the lumber mills and fish processing facilities were shuttered in the last decade, forcing hundreds to leave in search of jobs. Once home to eight lumber mills and three fish processing plants, Crescent City is down to just one of each.

“In a small community, when you lose 100 jobs, it's a big impact. Maybe five years ago, in the good ol' days, if you will, it wouldn't have been so bad,” said Bill Renfroe, executive director of Crescent City's Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority. “But today, with everybody struggling, it's a serious impact.”

Tsunami surges deposited more than 78,000 cubic yards of sediment in the inner boat basin, making it as shallow as four feet in some areas and effectively shutting out boats longer than 15 feet. The harbor is the largest Dungeness crab exporter on the West Coast. At one time, it had more than 100 fishing vessels; now there are only a handful.

The chemicals within us

JenniferSitting before a Senate subcommittee is a young mother. She is slim, pretty, intelligent . . . and full of dangerous chemicals.

Molly Jones Gray of Seattle testified this week in Washington, D.C., regarding human exposure to toxic chemicals.  After participating in a study conducted by the Washington Toxics Coalition, a pregnant Gray was horrified to learn that her body contained a variety of dangerous chemicals. Gray said she was testifying not only on her own behalf, but also for her 7-month-old son Paxton. She told the Senate Subcommittee on Superfund, Toxics and Environmental Health:

On behalf of my son Paxton and all other children, I am asking for your help to lower our body burdens of chemicals that come between us and our health.

The Toxics Coalition conducted a study testing nine pregnant women from Washington, Oregon, and California for five groups of chemicals: phthalates, mercury, so-called “Teflon” chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds, bisphenol A, and the flame retardant tetrabromobisphenol A.

The study, entitled Earliest Exposures, examined the blood and urine of the nine women in their second trimester.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Washington domestic partnership law passing; Maine same-sex marriage law losing

rita_hibbardwebIt may be that if you call the union "marriage," it loses at the ballot box. Washington voters are appearing to approve a domestic partnership law that gives same-sex couples all the benefits of marriage without the label, while Maine voters are turning down a gay marriage law.

The Washington domestic partnership ballot measure was leading narrowly statewide as ballots were counted Tuesday night, the Seattle Times reports, and leading strongly in King County returns. The measure, a referendum on a law passed earlier this year by the Legislature, was doing well in the metropolitan Puget Sound area, and being rejected in the more rural areas of eastern Washington.

The Maine vote is widely considered a stinging defeat to gay marriage advocates, especially because it occurred in New England, which has been more receptive to other areas of the country to same-sex unions. It follows on the heels of a similar pattern in California, where voters overturned a gay marriage law at the ballot box last year.

The New York Times reports:

"With the repeal of the same-sex marriage law, Maine became the 31st state to reject same-sex marriage at the ballot box. Five other states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire and Vermont — have legalized same-sex marriage, but only through court rulings and legislative action.

-- Rita Hibbard

California reverses welfare position

Caught between falling budgets and the rising ranks of the unemployed and underemployed on welfare, the state of California has suspended employment assistance services such as child care subsidy for welfare families, according to The New York Times' Erik Eckholm

After vigorously pursuing policies to push more welfare recipients into the workforce, the state is also dropping work requirements and penalties for single parents with a child aged 1 to 2, or those with two children under 6.

By 2011, the state's welfare-to-work program CalWorks will enforce stricter rules for participants to reduce costs.  Until then, the state is slashing those programs because they are ineligible for stimulus act funds. 

The reversal of a decade's worth of welfare policies worries many who supported the cultural change effected by California's carrot-and-stick approach to getting welfare recipients back to work.




Mr. Schwarzenegger did wring savings out of the state’s welfare-to-work program, known as CalWorks, and achieved a future tightening of the rules. But those changes do not start until July 1, 2011. In the interim, to save $375 million a year, the state is trimming the employment assistance programs at the heart of the welfare-to-work approach, especially subsidized child care, and suspending work requirements for a large share of recipients.

Those programs were selected, in large part, because they were not eligible for extra federal money under the stimulus act.

--- Kristen Young

Rita Hibbard's picture

Going, going green: hybrids might not make the cut in California

Driving a hybrid isn't green enough these days.

Maybe not enough to earn a California HOV lane sticker when you're a solo driver, anyway.

California lawmakers appear ready to up the ante on hybrid car owners who have enjoyed driving solo in the multi-passenger vehicle lanes, the Los Angeles Times reports. Stickers granting that privilege to 85,000 California hybrid drivers are set to expire in January of 2011. Proposals to extend the program would exclude most of the vehicles currently included in the program.

 Instead, lawmakers appear likely to offer the carpool lane exemptions to drivers of vehicles powered by electricity, natural gas or some other alternative fuel. A competing bill would offer it only to drivers of hybrid vehicles achieving fuel economy rates of 65 mpg or better, much higher than the current generation of hybrid cars.

"We're bummed," said Cathy Margolin, president of the 250-member Orange County Prius Club. "I drive from Newport Beach to Torrance to teach four times a week, and it saves me an hour every day on the 405."

-- Rita Hibbard

Cali boosts clean energy -- from other states?

California Democrats and environmentalists didn't like the executive order signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday, but all the other Western states might.

Surrounded by smiling energy company executives, Schwarzenegger's decree will require California's electric utilities to draw at least a third of their power from wind, solar and other renewable resources by 2020, according to the LATimes' Marc Lifsher.

Sounds good, right? 

But California Democrats and environmentalists had been slogging through crafting their own bills to that effect for nine months, and they had support from some utilities as well as labor unions. 

Schwarzenegger said he slapped those bills down because they would favor alternative power produced in California at the expense of other Western states, increase the cost to consumers and compromise electric utilities' easy access  to renewable power.

As of July 2009, California's unemployment rate was pressing 12 percent, but hey, we're all suffering.  Send the jobs up the coast!

- K. Young

Salton Sea unites interests of enviros, ag

Our reporting trip to the Salton Sea is over, and we're headed back over the mountains to LA catch a plane. I'd love to stay a few more days, because it's turning out that the Salton Sea is a man-bites-dog story in another sense from the one I cited yesterday.

Here's why: After years of hearing about how the agriculture that surrounds this key stop on the Pacific Flyway is harming the sea, it now turns out that ag and the Sea's defenders are making common cause.

That's because what the farmers need is water. And what the Sea needs is water. And they're both going to lose it.

As part of a massive reordering of the way water is used in Southern California, something like 2oo,000 acre-feet of water a year -- that's roughly 100,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools -- will be withdrawn from use by farmers whose Imperial Valley fields surround the Sea.

Now, you need to understand that water flows into the sea, but not out. Something like six feet of water evaporates every year. And why is it a "sea" if it's inland? Because the Colorado River water that's diverted into the farm fields around here carries with it a small amount of salt, along with pesticides, fertilizer and selenium. Over the years, water dumped on the farm fields flowed eventually into the sea, carrying its light load of salt. But as the water evaporated, it left behind a larger and larger load of salt. (Update/clarification 9/12/09: I realize in re-reading this that it might not be clear that a lot of the salt ending up in the sea is actually leached from the farm fields immediately surrounding it. I guess I also should have mentioned that the Salton Sea already is saltier than seawater.)

So long as water continues to flow into the sea, and continues to evaporate, the water gets saltier and saltier.

From the shores of the Salton Sea...

I'm in Southern California, on the shores of the famous Salton Sea, gathering information for a forthcoming InvestigateWest project on the Pacific Flyway.

This is the desert -- albeit one with water running all over the place in concrete aqueducts, and green fields of hay, courtesy of the irrigation.