Author Archives: The Ferndale Enterprise

More noise complaints filed over motorcycle racing at fairgrounds

Ferndale City Councilman urges board of supervisors to encourage fair association to open up meetings for public input

From the July 27, 2017 print edition

Ferndale residents got a hint of what the planned August 5 motorcycle racing event at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds will sound like when half-a-dozen motorcyclists took the to the fair’s dirt horse racing track on Thursday and Friday afternoon.

The practice session came out of the blue for many residents, prompting more calls to the Ferndale Police Department, which responded by an officer taking “victim witness statements” from those who objected to the noise.

“We were taken by surprise,” said Fifth Street vacation rental owner Lynn Shoblom. “Our guests arrived to blasting noise from the motorcycle practice.”

Shoblom said she has had to make a disclosure on her vacation rental listing page about noise that may possibly generate from the fairgrounds with motorized events. Shoblom and her husband complained to the Ferndale City Council at its June meeting after that month’s monster truck show.

The fair association’s newly-hired Bill Morrill, who holds the title of development director, said some adjacent residents to the fairgrounds were notified in advance of the two-day practice session. The Shobloms however were not. Neither was Stephen Avis, another Fifth Street resident who has complained about the noise and is concerned that motorized events will become a regular occurrence at the fairgrounds. The Petersen family, located at the corner of Arlington and Main and also vocal opponents to motorized events at the fairgrounds, said they were not notified. The Shobloms said Morrill hand-delivered a letter to them after the motorcycle practice occurred.

The letter informs “neighbors of the Humboldt County Fair” that the main event on August 5 — described as the Humboldt Half-Mile inaugural — will begin at 4:30 pm and be finished by 7:30 pm.

However, the California Flat Track Association’s Angie Schone told The Enterprise this morning that riders will take to the track starting at 11 am with amateur heats getting underway at 2:30 pm.  She said “around ten” riders will be on the track at a time practicing and “up to 14 or 16” during the afternoon races. She confirmed that there are no noise limitations placed on the riders except what is required by the American Motorcycle Association.

“In any case both practices and main event will not go past 8 pm,” states the letter signed by the fair’s general manager, Richard Conway. “This interim event will not occur more than once a year if it is well supported and generates much needed income for the fair.”

Dwindling resources

The fair association’s bottom line has dropped drastically over the past few years since Conway became the manager in 2013. The Enterprise has documented the association’s spending and budget overruns throughout the last four-plus years, including the decision by the fair association to spend more than $70,000 unsuccessfully defending a lawsuit filed by this newspaper, which successfully placed the fair association back under the California Public Records Act so that the public is ensured access to the fair association’s financial records — a condition of its lease with the county, which owns the fairgrounds.

The lawsuit was the second piece of litigation that the fair association has lost regarding its financial records and its effort to keep them from the public.

Hush, hush

Meanwhile, at the July 19 Ferndale City Council meeting, residents asked the council and the mayor what is being done to enforce the city’s noise ordinance. The council and mayor were silent on the issue.

“When will we know more about the noise ordinance review?” asked resident Karen Burkhardt.

At the June council meeting, after residents spoke in favor and against the monster truck show and the upcoming motorcycle racing, mayor Don Hindley — in an unusual break from protocol — said the council and the mayor, not city staff, would review the current noise ordinance and report back to the public. Attempts to reach the mayor this week were unsuccessful.

Ferndale City Manager Jay Parrish said last week that the city attorney stated that the city cannot enforce its “zoning” ordinance on the county-owned fairgrounds. The city’s noise ordinance, however, is not a “zoning” law but rather is listed under the nuisance section of the city’s ordinances. Parrish later said that he made a mistake in describing the ordinance to the city attorney and expected to receive more information from him by the end of this week.

Resident Arne RW Petersen asked the council why the Ferndale Police Department responds to other noise complaints at the fairgrounds, calls of a loud truck on Main Street and dogs barking but yet won’t enforce the noise ordinance with motorized events at the fairgrounds.

“That’s kind of surprising, since we had a monster truck show, that they went after a report of a loud truck,” he said. “As for dogs barking, I have to ask, my dogs were really frustrated during the monster truck show and were barking continuously and they’ll probably do the same during the motorcycle racing.  So, are the police going to show up and ask me to quiet my dogs?” Petersen also referred to the police chief in the past cancelling a concert at the fairgrounds and a marijuana competition.

Petersen read from the 2016 city council approved draft Noise Element of the city’s General Plan which states that the “city shall protect individuals from existing or future excessive noise levels that can interfere with sleep, relaxation and health.” The existing law on the books states that its is unlawful to make any “disturbing, excessive or offensive noise which causes discomfort or annoyance to a reasonable person.”

“Why is this ordinance not being enforced?” asked Petersen. “I’m not asking you to change the ordinance.  I’m just asking for the ordinance on the books to be enforced.”

Petersen also pointed to the Transient Occupancy Tax that the city last year required the fairgrounds to start collecting and forwarding to the city. The city argued at the time that because the fair association in 2015 changed its tax classification from an affiliate of a government entity to a private non-profit, it was now required to follow the city’s bed tax ordinance and collect the tax from its overnight camping guests.

“They were asked to pay it by you and you accepted it,” said Petersen. “That’s an enforcement of the law.”

Sunshine seeker

On Tuesday morning, Ferndale City Councilman Patrick O’Rourke addressed the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, urging supervisors to get involved with an effort to make the fair association do its business in public, such as it had for decades, so that Ferndale residents have an opportunity to learn about potential activities at the fairgrounds and comment on them prior to decisions being made.

Fair board meetings for years were governed by the state’s public meeting law — the Ralph M. Brown Act — until February of 2015. That’s when the fair association changed its tax classification and went behind closed doors. For a while following the 2015 structural change, the fair board would allow “community comment” for a few minutes before retreating to a closed meeting.

Recently, since The Enterprise has threatened yet a third lawsuit seeking the board to go back under the Brown Act, the board has opened up its agenda slightly for the public to listen to fair business but has not agendized a public comment portion on its agenda for seven months.

“Communication has been lacking with the public and neighbors,” said O’Rourke. “And, because the fairgrounds sits within the city of Ferndale, everyone comes to the council chambers when there is an issue. We feel somewhat powerless to do a lot about it because, again, the county owns the property and the county’s tenant is the operator.”

O’Rourke said he plans to “reach out to the entire board (of supervisors) to try and get a handle on how to make things better.”

With the fairgrounds lease coming up for renewal in 2018, O’Rourke urged supervisors to “think about a joint powers authority” to perhaps take over the fairgrounds and “make meetings more open and allow public comment.

“This really needs to be handled and I hope it gets on the agenda soon,” he said.  “”We’d like to either have changes made in the lease or otherwise deal with it.”

Costly closed door policy

The Humboldt County Fair Board recently rejected The Enterprise’s contention that the fair association is a local agency and belongs legally under the Brown Act and should do its business in view of the public, as it had been for so many years. The fair association is currently paying its lawyer $200 per hour to fend off The Enterprise’s pending lawsuit, which seeks to open up the fair board’s meetings to the public.

According to recent invoices from the fair board’s attorney, it also paid Oakland attorney Randy Andrada his hourly fee to do “internet research” regarding the Columbia Journalism Review — the premiere journalism journal, published by Columbia University since 1961. In its spring edition, the magazine featured Enterprise publisher and editor Caroline Titus and her multiple efforts to bring transparency to the fair board and her defense of the First Amendment, a free press, and freedom of speech. The fair board also paid Andrada to research the female reporter who wrote the short feature on Titus.

The spending of fair association money on two attorneys it has retained comes at a time when the fair is strapped for cash and, according to Conway, is seeking “much-needed income for the fair” from such events as the August 5 motorcycle races.

Safety first

In preparation for the Aug. 5 event, the organizer — the California Flat Track Association (CFTA) — is making safety a priority. On the association’s Facebook page, a follower asked about the exposed steel poles that currently exist where the inside rail was on the half-mile racetrack. The association posted a picture of motorcyclists on the track with the poles in the background. The association stated that the poles will be taken out prior to the Aug. 5 event. The fair association plans to install a new inner rail by the time horses arrive at the track, usually the week before the first day of racing, which would be Aug. 18 this year. The last time the fair association held motorized racing was in 1947. A race driver was killed at the meet, according to the Enterprise archives.

“In the first tragedy to occur at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds, a capacity crowd of 4,000 watched Warren (Slim) Healy drive his racing car through the fence of the infield just south of the grandstand to meet instant death in the semi-final event of the auto races Sunday. Healy was 26 years of age and made his home in Santa Clara, coming here last week with other drivers for the racing event. “Swerving to avoid crashing into two cars that had locked wheels ahead of him on the straightaway in front of the grandstand, his car plowed through the infield fence and came to a halt near the fairgrounds band stand. A portion of the wooden rail fence struck the driver, killing him instantly. He is survived by his wife and small daughter who witnessed the fatal accident,” reported the newspaper.

The CFTA on its Facebook page raved about the half-mile Ferndale track, noting that they clocked a quad at 80 mph “and he was only in third gear.” Facebook poster Kenny Goldie asked the association if there would be any more test days for Ferndale before the event.

“Unfortunately, getting access to a half-mile or mile track for testing is extremely challenging and expensive,” replied the CFTA. “Days go into prepping, there are noise, dust and neighbor concerns, liability, the list goes on.”

The CFTA is also promoting Bear River Casino Resort for those planning on attending the Ferndale competition, with a special hotel rate.

(Disclosure: The Enterprise publisher/editor is married to the former general manager of the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. The Enterprise also operates a vacation rental a mile from the fairgrounds and has received complaints from guests about the motorized event noise, including last week’s practic, from the fairgrounds and has passed those complaints on to the Ferndale Police Department.)

Ferndale schools chief questions his qualifications upon 2010 hiring

From the July 6, 2017 print edition

At his last school board meeting of his professional career, Ferndale’s outgoing schools chief Jack Lakin’s departing remarks were perplexing, to say the least.

Lakin chuckled about not having worked as a principal before being hired in May of 2010 for the positions of both Ferndale High School principal and Ferndale Unified School District superintendent.

During a report to the board last Friday evening on the eve of his retirement the next day, Lakin said when he was recently reviewing the applications for who was going to replace him, he realized that he wasn’t qualified when he was hired by a 3-2 vote of the board more than seven years ago.

“I got about halfway through (reviewing the applications) and suddenly realized, oh my god, no wonder everyone was concerned about hiring me because I’d never even been a principal,” said Lakin at the board meeting in the Mabel Lowry Library at the high school. “Then I thought, yikes, what was I thinking applying for this job because I’d never even been a principal somewhere.”

Lakin’s 2010 resume stated that he had been a principal of a Eureka continuation school.

Lakin’s hiring in 2010 was controversial, to say the least. His hiring came on the heels of the school board voting 3-2 in 2009 not to renew experienced superintendent and principal Sam Garamendi’s contract, prompting a federal lawsuit filed by Garamendi. The district eventually settled out of court with Garamendi and paid him $140,000. Prior to the settlement for many months, the district paid Garamendi a salary while he was on administrative leave and paid a substitute superintendent/principal. The same trustees who voted against Lakin getting hired were supporters of Garamendi and voted to renew his contract.

Lakin is the step-son of former long-time Ferndale superintendent Charlie Lakin. The younger Lakin began his career at Ferndale High School, where he attended once as a student and taught for approximately seven years. He then went on to Eureka High School as a teacher, athletic director and head football coach. He is now the North Coast Section Athletic Commissioner — a position also held by the elder Lakin. There were 21 applicants for the position when Lakin was hired. Former trustee Emil Feierabend voted against Lakin, as did current trustee Jerry Hansen. The trustees who voted for Lakin in 2010 included a cousin of Lakin’s and a former employee.

According to Lakin’s 2010 resume, the two years prior to his hiring in Ferndale, he was an assistant principal at Zane Middle School. From 2006-2008, Lakin stated he was assistant principal at Eureka High School and a full-time principal at Humboldt Bay High School, a continuation school.

When asked by The Enterprise in 2010 how he held two-full time positions at the same time, Lakin said that the “form was a little awkward,” referring to the Ferndale job application, adding that he held two-job titles at the same time paid by two funding sources.

Lakin received his administrative credential in 2007 from Humboldt State University.

When asked Tuesday via text message why he stated at last Friday’s meeting that he hadn’t been a principal before but yet stated on his resume he was a principal at Humboldt Bay High School for two years, Lakin replied, “alternative education program.” When asked to clarify his statements made last Friday about the board hiring him and concerns from the community at the time, Lakin stated in a text late Tuesday night that, “the point I was trying to make was the qualifications I had at the time didn’t measure up to the qualifications I had in my brain as I was looking through the most recent applications.”

Current trustee Jerry Hansen said this week that Lakin’s statements on Friday were understandable but unexpected.

“I wasn’t surprised, cause I knew he wasn’t qualified,” said Hansen.  “I was surprised he said it.”

Lakin’s 2010 hiring prompted much public comment from those in support of him, along with residents asking the board to look for someone with more experience.

Board president at the time, Stephanie Koch, stated that “all stakeholders were able to be part of the process” when Lakin was hired and that he was the “top-rated” candidate.

The Enterprise multiple times in the last month has asked Lakin to sit for an “exit interview” to reflect on his time in Ferndale. He said he would consider the request but did not take the newspaper up on its offer.

Lakin’s tenure in the Ferndale school district was fraught with controversies, including events which placed the Ferndale High School football program on probation for one season in 2012 after allegations of a string of racial taunting by Ferndale fans. Consequently, his handling of the probation caused headlines when he stated that he wasn’t aware of an option to appeal or challenge the probation even though three days earlier he had written a letter to the section protesting the probation and demanding that the NCS reconsider its penalty. Then there was the handling of student-athletes who participated in under-age drinking at a party directly across from Lakin’s office while a school dance was held in the gym in the fall of 2010. He also ignored or delayed responding to multiple public records requests, which ultimately landed the district in a lawsuit with this newspaper in 2016. The district ended up writing a check for $5,500 to The Enterprise’s lawyer in a quick settlement. (The district has again ignored a public records request and is for the second time under Lakin’s watch entangled in another lawsuit).

Lakin was highly criticized in a 2014 public meeting by district staff and parents over input into the state-required Local Control Accountability Plan. Multiple complaints were heard against him in closed session, including ones filed by the girls soccer team and criticism from the girls volleyball team (2012) about his treatment of them behind closed doors. Despite the complaints, trustees voted several times to renew his contract and grant him raises.

At several of the board meetings where his contract was up for renewal, members of the Humboldt County Fair Association board of directors, as well as football boosters, showed up to the meetings to support Lakin.

Then there was the 2012 controversy surrounding closed-sessions with the board regarding complaints against Lakin and football coaches that included one student allegedly being bullied in open session by student-athletes and parents prior to going behind closed doors with trustees. (A 2012 editorial by this newspaper regarding the treatment of the student athlete by the board and coaches won a national award in 2013 from the National Newspaper Association.)

In 2012 there was an independent investigation into the alleged inappropriate behavior by coaches to students that resulted in the conclusion that the district would adopt “clear policies about appropriate language and communication between coaches and students athletes.”

Perhaps the issue that cost the district the most during Lakin’s stint was that of the defeat of a $4.8 million modernization and building bond the district floated before voters in November of 2016. Lakin blamed the defeat, according to his November 12, 2016 opinion piece in The Times-Standard, to an “intense negativity by a few, who unfortunately had a significant impact on a majority of the voters.” Lakin, however, drew the criticism of many when he walked out of a Ferndale Chamber of Commerce meeting, just prior to the election, under heavy fire of questions and challenges to his answers about the bond and the impact on property owners for the next three decades.

While Lakin wouldn’t sit down with The Enterprise to discuss his last seven years in the district, one of the highlights he might point to as a success for the district was the acquisition of more than $2 million over the next five years to help low-achieving students at Ferndale Elementary School. The federally-awarded School Improvement Grant is set to bring in more professional development staff that will work with the district to aid teachers in areas like English, science and math. During the next school year, an after-school program is set to begin, paid for by the grant.

During Lakin’s time, the demographics of the student population at Ferndale Elementary School have changed significantly, according to the district’s draft Local Control Accountability Plan. The Hispanic/Latino enrollment at the school has seen an increase from 14 percent to 23 percent and the socio-economically disadvantaged subgroup has risen from 27 percent to 49 percent. The elementary school has been deemed as in “Program Improvement” status by the state since the 2011-2012 school year.

Prior to Lakin’s arrival with former FES Principal Paul Meyers at the helm, the school’s test scores were high and in April of 2010, the school was named a California Distinguished School by the state. Meyers left the district upon Lakin’s arrival. During Lakin’s seven years, the school has seen two elementary school principals come and go with the third, Renee Henderson, hired in 2015.

On Friday evening, with trustee Stephanie Koch absent, Lakin told the board, the three members of the public present and the newly-hired principal/superintendent that it had been a “privilege” to work for the district for the past seven years. He gave a shout-out to the school district and the fairgrounds for “what they offer the community. “I think they are a big part of what makes this a unique and special place,” said Lakin. “Thank you all very much.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, cupcakes were offered to celebrate Lakin’s retirement.

Hydesville school chief explains why she doesn’t want Ferndale trustee Cory Nunes’s pot grow approved; Nunes fails to respond to public records request . . . forces lawsuit

From the June 29, 2017 print edition

Why exactly doesn’t the superintendent of the Hydesville Elementary School District want Ferndale school board president Cory Nunes’s marijuana grow expansion near her school?

Lisa Jager, head of the 190-student kindergarten though eighth grade school, says she and parents “worry about the safety of the kids” with the issues related to marijuana-growing operations such as the one co-owned and co-managed by Nunes.

Nunes did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Jager has asked the county of Humboldt to deny Nunes’s application to permit his existing grow, which he also wants to expand, according to his application to the county. Nunes’s proposed expansion of his one-acre grow on Riverbar Road, which has been in operation prior to January 1, 2016, includes the use of up to nine employees, according to his application.

“There’s been a lot of transient population, which has hung out on school grounds,” said Jager. “They bring signs of growing and just having those kind of issues around school bus stops is very concerning to parents.”

Jager (as reported in the June 8 Enterprise) specifically told the county’s Building and Planning Department, which circulated Nunes’s application to various public entities for comment, that his operation and planned expansion presents a “potentially dangerous environment for students.

“We have community members calling the school who see the fluctuation in the population coming in and out, especially during different seasons,” said Jager.  “They don’t have a familiarity with the people coming and going. The nature of the business, the crime that it’s brought into Humboldt County and how it impacts students.”

Jager said in addition she is concerned about the safety of her students at bus stops along Riverbar Road.

“It’s kind of a crazy road,” she said.  “In general, traffic is pretty fast and with an increase in traffic . . .”

Meanwhile, Nunes ignored several public records requests made to him by this newspaper, prompting a lawsuit against the district.

In March, the newspaper sent an email to Nunes’s email address listed on the district’s website and asked the board president to provide copies of any emails related to district business. Nunes did not respond to the request. A second request was made, with the warning that if he did not respond, he would force the newspaper to seek a judicial remedy. Again, Nunes did not respond.

The California Public Records Act requires public officials to respond to requests for public documents within ten days.

In January of 2016, the district paid The Enterprise’s attorney $5,500 in a settlement after district superintendent Jack Lakin ignored a public records request from the newspaper. He too was warned before the litigation was filed that if he didn’t respond, he would force the newspaper to seek a judicial remedy.

For several years, the district violated the California Public Records Act by not responding to or stalling in responding to requests for public records. After The Enterprise sued the district, responses were promptly made. That is until now.

In a statement issued by Lakin in January of 2016 after the check was written to The Enterprise’s attorney, Lakin said, “At the December School Board meeting we reviewed the policy regarding Public Records Requests and have also put in place additional safeguards to avoid this from happening again.”

After Lakin was served the most recent lawsuit as district representative, he contacted The Enterprise editor attempting to verify what correspondence the district had not provided.

“It looks like the missing item is the letter from fairgrounds . . . will scan and send tomorrow,” wrote Lakin in a text. “Please let me know if there are other missing documents. My oversight. My apologies.”

Lakin, however, had already provided the “fairgrounds letter” and apparently did not realize that his board president had ignored public records requests.

On Tuesday night, trustees met in closed session to discuss the lawsuit. Before retreating behind closed doors, the Enterprise editor asked why the names involved in the lawsuit were not listed on the board agenda, per the requirements of the Brown Act — the state’s open meeting law. The agenda only stated “pending litigation” as the subject matter for the closed session. Lakin said he wasn’t aware that the law required the litigation to be identified and said he would check with the district’s lawyer in closed session. When the board came back into open session, Nunes reported they had discussed the lawsuit and named the parties involved, per the requirements of the Brown Act.

Ferndale City Council talks marijuana-growing boundaries

From the June 29 print edition

Should the city of Ferndale expand its sphere of influence in order to prevent marijuana grows from being permitted just on the other side of the fence separating the city limits from property in the county? That was the topic discussed by the council at its June 21 meeting at Town Hall as it considered how best to avoid the type of situation currently being debated just across the river by the Fortuna City Council, its city residents and the County of Humboldt — a situation where the county has issued a grow permit for a parcel of land bordered on three sides by property within the city limits of Fortuna.

“I’ve talked with (Fortuna City Manager) Mark Wheetley and Doug Strehl on the council in Fortuna and they’re obviously very concerned about having major grow sites right up against the city limits,” said Ferndale Councilman Patrick O’Rourke. “I want to make sure we’ve got our heads on straight on a situation that’s coming up with the change in the marijuana laws and where folks can grow.”

Councilman Michael Sweeney suggested the council consider expanding the city’s sphere of influence to include agricultural lands surrounding Ferndale, noting that Ferndale’s current General Plan includes only the Francis Creek watershed as being within the sphere.

“That gives us some influence over what occurs there,” said Sweeney. “We might be able to expand it.”

A buffer zone of one-half mile from the city limit boundaries was suggested as a possible distance that might fit into such an expansion.

City Manager Jay Parrish reported that he’s also discussed with Wheetley the challenges currently facing the Friendly City and that the matter has been included in the monthly meetings of city managers throughout the county. Parrish also suggested that policies of the California Coastal Commission might also prove useful in the debate about where marijuana might be legally grown in the Eel River valley and where it cannot.

“I did hear that the Coastal Commission is not accepting and permitting that (pot grows),” said Parrish. “All the cities are considering supporting Fortuna’s position. As cities, we’re talking about a one-half mile buffer where that can happen.”

According to Parrish, the Coastal Commission’s jurisdiction goes all the way from the coast inland to the mouth of the Van Duzen River.

Mayor Don Hindley did not sound as optimistic that changes to the city’s sphere of influence would make a difference as to what property is permitted by the county for marijuana operations.

“My personal opinion, and it’s just my personal opinion, is I think the Board of Supervisors are more interested in (collecting) fees,” said Hindley.

In other business, Parrish reported to the council that he is looking for a new location to handle the vegetation anticipated for removal in this year’s Francis Creek cleanup project. The project, now entering its third year, is carried out by a group of 20-30 volunteers who spend about one month removing vegetation and debris from Francis Creek, from Van Ness Avenue to the community park, materials that add significantly to winter flooding if not removed. According to Parrish, the site used for the past two years where debris has been taken, located on Wildcat Road about one mile south of the Capetown-Petrolia sign, is no longer available.

“The person who owned it decided he didn’t want to do it anymore,” said Parrish of the former site that previously had the necessary permits to receive such materials. Parrish said that Fortuna’s wastewater facility was among the locations being explored as an alternative because of its composting capabilities within the facility. Volunteers will conduct a walk-through of Francis Creek in July, with cleanup work planned once again during the month of August.

The council also approved the city’s 2017-2018 budget and received an update on the Francis Creek pedestrian bridge project. Councilman Dan Brown was appointed as Ferndale’s representative for the California League of Cities, with councilmen Doug Brower and O’Rourke appointed as alternates.

From the size of appetizers to fair entertainment, fair board talks upcoming event

From the June 29, 2017 print edition

The Humboldt County Fair Association Board of Directors for the first time in more than a year let a sliver of light into its regular monthly meeting on Monday night by allowing the public to sit in on a few business items listed on its agenda.

Since the fair board went underground in February of 2015, a vast majority of its discussions and business has been done behind closed doors. Prior to 2015, the association’s meetings were open and governed by the state’s open meeting laws.

Monday night, with only The Enterprise in attendance, directors bantered about before the start of the meeting. With directors Clare Bugenig and Cindy Olsen getting married on Saturday, directors teased Bugenig about his nuptials and why Olsen wasn’t at the meeting.

“Where’s the bride?” director Johanna Rodoni asked Bugenig.

“God damn Bugenig wore her out, she couldn’t make the meeting tonight,” said director Mel Berti. “Did you take in oxygen? . . .It’s like branding calves.”

“You guys are something else,” said Bugenig.

Sixteen out of 18 directors were present for the meeting with Dr. Fred Van Vleck, superintendent of Eureka City Schools, arriving slightly late to the meeting, along with director Sandy Hanks. Along with Olsen, director Mandy Marquez was absent.

Under Executive Committee reports, board president Tim Renner said the committee met on June 19 and reviewed “the goals for 2017 and where we are up to for the second quarter.” He said the members discussed the caterer for the VIP room during fair time “quite extensively,” deciding that Ferndale’s Sweet Basil will again cater the room and Friendship Square. Rodoni asked if the commitee obtained other caterers for the job. Renner said they did but decided to “go with” the caterer they had the prior year.

“Could they make the hors d’oeuvres any smaller,” quipped director Wayne Wilson. “They made them so small. They couldn’t make them any smaller.”

“Yea, that was an issue,” said Rodoni. “That’s why I thought we were looking for someone else.”

Director Duane Martin stated that the Finance Commitee had met and reviewed building and grounds rental rates and “came out with a proposal” that directors will vote on at the next meeting. Directors unanimously approved the financial reports with no questions asked. The financials show the association with an operating cash balance of approximately $130,000 at the end of May with a net loss of $53,000 year to date.

During the general manager’s report, Richard Conway informed directors about the June 21 Ferndale City Council meeting concerning the noise issue surrounding the June 8-9 monster truck show at the fairgrounds. Conway told directors that “we had a lot of people there in support” and that “our statements and presentation were well received.

“We had lots of positive feedback after the meeting,” said Conway. “(Director) Dave (Mogni) had a great statement and presentation and opened a lot of eyes and made a lot of people change.”

Conway told directors — all of which except one live outside the city limits — the fair office received two complaints about the noise. He did not inform them of the 17 complaints received by the Ferndale Police Department.

Conway also informed the board that the California Horse Racing Board last Thursday approved the fair association’s license application for its seven-day race meet this August and September.

“It was uneventful,” said Conway. “We told them the upgrades and improvements and how recruiting was going. It was very brief. The license was approved.”

Conway did not inform directors that CHRB Commissioner Jesse Choper asked Conway why the fair experienced a 28 percent drop — approximately $1.8 million — in handle on last year’s race meet and a 20.47 percent drop in attendance at the races. Conway told Choper that it was because the association no longer received approximately $120,000 in subsidies — or so-called host fees — from Golden Gate Fields (GGF). When a GGF representative was asked later by The Enterprise if the elimination of the subsidies from the Bay Area track caused Humboldt’s handle to drop $1.8 million, as well as the decline in attendance, Scott Daruty replied, “No it did not.”

When asked for a clarification by The Enterprise, Conway said he stood by his statement.

“The lack of host status on Wednesday and Thursday made the difference in our purses and commissions.”

When informed that purses — the prize money awarded to horsemen — were actually on a per race average more in 2016 than in 2015, Conway had no additional explanation.

Directors also heard from new “development director” Bill Morrill. He showed the board a final draft of this year’s fair poster. and gave a run down on entertainment planned for the fair.

“We have an almost complete entertainment calendar with a few holes,” he said.  “I’m working with Steve Sterback (of Ferndale) to fill in.”

Morrill also handed out raffle tickets for directors to sell, as they have done in past years and said he was finishing up a television commercial with vintage footage of the fair from 1948 filmed by Ferndale’s Jack Tipple.

With the conclusion of the public portion of the meeting, directors went into executive session to discuss contract negotiations “and matters which relate to or which may lead to potential litigation.”

As soon as The Enterprise editor left the room, a director quickly slammed the door shut.

Residents call for fair board to do its business in public; newspaper in negotiations with fair association in effort to put meetings back under Brown Act

From the June 29, 2017 print edition


That was the overwhelming theme running throughout the public comment section of the June 21 Ferndale City Council meeting regarding the recent monster truck show at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. Or lack thereof.

Ferndale Chamber of Commerce President Karen Pingitore said she wasn’t in town for the June 9-10 monster truck event, but wanted to talk to the council “about how we got to this point.

“We need to open the lines of communication between the Humboldt County Fair, the city of Ferndale, I’d like to say the chamber of commerce and other citizen groups that are interested in making sure that the use of that facility when it changes in this way . . . we’re all on the same page, whether it’s noise or any other factor that comes about,” said Pingitore — a co-founder, along with Enterprise publisher Caroline Titus, of Friends of The Fair, which has provided more $40,000 to the fair association for improvements on the fairgrounds, including funds to build a new junior livestock office. “Quite honestly, there needs to be a strategic plan for that facility,” said Pingitore. “It’s 65 acres of unknown when horse racing goes away potentially . . . we need to know what’s going to happen out there. We don’t control that unless we all communicate and work together doing it.”

With the fair association board doing the vast majority of its business behind closed doors for the past two years means that the community was not given an opportunity to learn or comment about the controversial monster truck show until this newspaper reported on it or saw a poster for it on Facebook.

Prior to February 2015, the Humboldt County Fair Association Board of Directors was governed by the state’s open meeting and public record laws. It had operated in the light of day with public input for decades prior as it was organized as an affiliate of a government entity and received and spent public monies as it still does today. Meetings were noticed to the public, opportunity for public comment was made available at each meeting and on each topic on the agenda and all business was done in public except for a few items allowed to be discussed by law in closed session. Directors, however, wanted out from the scrutiny of the public and changed their tax status two years ago to a private non-profit. Some stated it was because the fair would only be eligible for some grants if it was a 501(c)(3) non profit. However, the long-standing tax classification of an affiliate of a government entity provided the same if not better tax deductible opportunity for those making donations, according to tax experts The Enterprise interviewed at the time.

(While other county fairs in California’s network of 78 state-owned and county fairs are non-profits, only two don’t voluntarily operate under the state’s public meeting laws and provide opportunity for public participation, according to research done by The Enterprise in late 2014.)

When they announced the change, some directors said meetings would still be public but that changed quickly. Initially, after the change a “community comment” portion of the meeting was on the fair board’s monthly agendas. The open portion of the meeting would last a few minutes before the public was asked to leave. Lately, however, there has been no community comment notice on the agendas and the vast majority of business done behind closed doors.

“We have the opportunity for someone to address the board at everyone of those meetings,” Humboldt County Fair General Manager Richard Conway told the city council last week.

Conway’s statement, however, was in direct contradiction to the fair board’s agendas for the past seven months. The last “community comment” noticed on the fair board’s monthly agenda was in November of 2016.

Prior to Conway’s employment as general manager in 2013, former 22-year fair manager Stuart Titus served two terms on the city council and was mayor twice. Titus said that he decided to get involved with the city and volunteer on the council when he was the fair’s manager in part to build a good relationship between the city and the fairgrounds and to keep lines of communication open. He also contributed a column on a regular basis to this newspaper, reporting on activities happening at the fairgrounds.

In recent years, the relationship between the city and the fair association has been strained, with the association proposing a rap concert and a marijuana competition — both of which never occurred after community concern and issues the city’s police chief had with the proposed events.

Fifth Street resident Jennifer Raymond told the council last week that her biggest concern was that the “fairgrounds, which is an integral part of our community, has gone underground.

“We have no idea what’s coming up,” she said. “The posters for the monster truck destruction derby were not even posted around town. These decisions are being made behind closed doors . . . what can we do to approach the county supervisors and the fair board to get more transparency in terms of what’s going to be happening at the fairgrounds and input from this community so things that are happening there are beneficial to all of us.”

Conway said that a list of events is available at the fairgrounds office and that his “door is always open.”

Resident Jim Stretch asked if the fair “would be open to having another meeting before any more events to hear from the community.

“I’d like to have a dialogue with the fair board,” said Stretch. “I understand it wasn’t noticed so we couldn’t have that conversation. The respect and mutual support that we’ve had for 121 years is based on that communication.”

“Again, we have a list of events,” said Conway.

“Public input would take a lot of sting out of this conversation,” said Stretch. “At least people are heard. I’m talking about the front-end process.”

Councilman Patrick O’Rourke agreed that the fair association needs to provide “better communication with the public.

“I actually went to a fair board meeting a couple of years ago and yes, it was open for public comment, and then closed immediately. The rest of the business was done in closed session.”

O’Rourke said as a public benefit private non-profit organization, the fair association “has a right to do that, but I’m not sure it’s the best practice.”

Councilman Michael Sweeney agreed with O’Rourke and Pingitore.

“The writing seems to be on the wall that in some point in time they will lose horse racing,” he said. “It behooves us as a community to have a partnership with the fairgrounds and county to develop some kind of strategic plan to carry fairgrounds and the revenues it generates for local businesses and the city itself and open up communication.”

Meanwhile, The Ferndale Enterprise is currently in negotiations with the HCFA over whether HCFA will agree to follow the Brown Act, as it has historically. However, the Enterprise’s attorney, Paul Nicholas Boylan, advises The Enterprise not to discuss those negotiations, which, if successful, will provide for better public oversight of HCFA’s decisions.

“If, however, these negotiations fail, it will likely lead to another round of litigation between HCFA and the newspaper,” said Boylan.

(Disclosure:  The Enterprise editor and publisher is married to former fairgrounds manager Stuart Titus.)

Noise made at Ferndale City Council meeting by both sides of monster truck sound issue; council to review current noise law

From the June 29, 2017 print edition

The Ferndale City Council will sometime in the future review the city’s existing noise ordinance to see if it wants to make any changes to the law.

That was the consensus reached June 21 at a packed council meeting after more than an hour of public comments regarding the noise made by the June 9-10 monster truck event held at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. More than 50 people packed the council chambers. Many lived in the city of Ferndale and many lived outside the city limits. All had strong views on the issue leading to applause after many speakers from those in favor of more motorized events at the fairgrounds and those concerned about the noise generated by the events.

A flat-track motorcycle event is scheduled for August 5 from 12 pm to 8 pm at the fairgrounds, according to the California Flat Track Association Facebook page, with no sound restrictions as other tracks and races sometimes require.

Show and tell

The sound of motorcycles racing was demonstrated by residents Arne and Arne RW Petersen — father and son — who live at the corner of Main and Arlington, adjacent to the fairgrounds. When Humboldt County Fair Association Director Dave Mogni began addressing the council, the Petersens went outside and played a tape of motorcycle racing through a speaker on their truck parked alongside the chambers.

“Disruptive, isn’t it?” said Arne RW, a mechanical engineer who later explained that the motorcycle tape was at 50 decibels and that he measured the monster truck sound level at 85-90 decibels at the high school the night of the monster trucks.

“That’s what we lived through two weeks ago,” said the elder Arne.

The two — the youngest a descendant, he says, of Dr. Theodore Dwight Felt who began the Eel River Jockey Club in 1866 and started what would eventually become the Humboldt County Fair — apologized for the disruption, but also stated that bothering the council and those in attendance was exactly the point they were trying to make with noise that was far less, they said, than what was generated by the monster trucks and disruptive to their peace and quiet at their residence.

“Just stand there, Dave,” urged Ferndale Unified School District Trustee Kenny Richardson. “We’ve got all night.”


Enterprise staff photo
Humboldt County Fair Association Development Director and Loleta resident Bill Morrill, left, is blocked by Ferndale Police Chief Bret Smith from Main Street residents Arne and son Arne RW Petersen, right, outside Town Hall during last week’s Ferndale City Council meeting. The Petersens used a speaker on their truck during the council meeting to play a soundtrack of motorcycle racing in an effort to demonstrate excessive noise. Morrill attempted to disconnect the sound system from the Petersens’ truck, which in turn led to a verbal dispute and the chief stepping in. The Petersens voluntarily stopped the sound and apologized to the council and residents in attendance after they said they made their point to those inside the packed council meeting who were there to discuss the city’s noise ordinance in connection with motorized events at the fairgrounds.

As Mogni attempted to continue to address the council, Humboldt County Fair Association Development and Loleta resident Director Bill Morrill stormed outside and attempted to disconnect the sound system. The Petersens blocked their truck from the fair representative. Police Chief Bret Smith got in-between Morrill and the Petersens as Morrill yelled at the Petersens. The two eventually voluntarily turned off the sound after they said they made their point to the council and those in attendance.

Life Choices

Mogni, in his prepared statement that he managed to read for the most part to the council, listed the organizations that he no longer belongs to in Ferndale — the chamber of commerce, Ferndale Rotary and the Native Sons of the Golden West. The 20-year owner of the Ivanhoe restaurant, bar and hotel, and the more recent owner of The Palace bar, Mogni told the council that he and his wife “pay a handsome amount of property tax, sales tax and occupancy tax that help support this community.

“My family have owned and operated businesses on Main St., Ferndale for 60 years,” stated Mogni, referring also to his father’s closed gas station on the corner of Main and Ocean, which recently was painted by a chamber volunteer after many years of being an eyesore to some. “I might suggest to those in this room who haven’t owned a business in Ferndale, it isn’t easy and it takes a lot more than putting an open sign out and watching the customers pour through the door,” said Mogni, who cited other events in Ferndale such as the Kinetic Sculpture Race, Foggy Bottoms Milk Run and Bargain Lovers Weekend. “And all these events, and many others that come and go over time, create inconveniences for all of us at some time,” said Mogni, adding that the money generated by the events “creates income and taxes that support the infrastructure of this great community we live in.”

Mogni said he chooses to live outside the city, in the country.

“Some of us choose to live away from the noise created by other people, or mother nature, and some of us chose to live away from it all,” he said. “Whatever our choice, we live with it.”

Mogni urged the council not to change the current noise ordinance which states in part: “It shall be unlawful for any person to make, continue or cause to be made or continued, within the limits of the City of Ferndale, any disturbing, excessive or offensive noise which causes discomfort or annoyance to any reasonable persons of normal sensitivity residing in the area.”

“We have ordinances in place to protect us today, they have worked for years,” he said.  “Please don’t change them and create tighter restrictions that reduces attractions, thus traffic, and make it more difficult than it already is to own a business in this town.”

As he left the podium, Mogni scoffed at the Petersens’ demonstration of noise levels and stated sarcastically, “Classy.” The fair director later left the meeting when the Petersens addressed the council again and before the city councilmen discussed the issue further.

Business impact

However, while the monster truck event may have brought business to Mogni’s establishments, the noise generated by the monster truck event had a negative effect on Lee Shoblom’s business — a vacation rental on Fifth Street.

“We had no advance notice,” he told the council. “People come here for what this place is all about. It’s not monster trucks and motorcycles.”

Shoblom said along with two nights of excessive noise, there was additional noise on Sunday morning as the monster trucks were loaded up to leave town. He told the council he had to buy his guests dinner in an effort to mitigate the impact.

“I can appreciate once in awhile these things happening, but on an ongoing basis, this just can’t be a part of our future,” he said.

Weighing in

The mother of city councilman Doug Brower told the council that at her home on Rose Avenue at McKinley Avenue, the monster trucks were “a little loud,” but that the event was “all part of living in this community.

“I don’t think Ferndale should be a dead town,” she said, adding that she has also heard concerts at the fairgrounds from her home.

Arlington Avenue resident Jerry Bruga read fellow resident Duane Martin’s letter to the council, since Martin was out of town. The letter supported the monster truck event. Martin did not identify himself as a fair director in the letter.

Francis Street resident Martin Tubb said the monster trucks were “really loud” at his home more than a mile away and that he wanted future motorized events “prevented” at the fairgrounds.

Rose Avenue resident Jay Russ, a motorcycle enthusiast and racer, said he supported motorcycle events at the fairgrounds. He said that his father, grandfather “and maybe great-grandfather” were on the fair board and that he has “specifically lobbied some of the fair board members to consider motorcycle racing on the track.

“A lot of people come to these events,” said Russ, who said he travels to motorcycle races around the state. “They are not bad people and they spend money like everyone else.”

Russ said that he “appreciates” the fair board expanding spectator events and that, while he understands the noise issue, “motorcycles have mufflers and sound tests.” (However, according to the California Flat Track Association Facebook page on the “Humboldt Half Mile Pro/Am August 5 event at the fairgrounds, there are no sound restrictions.)

Former fair director Jeff Farley “didn’t think it was excessive, but then again I’ve lived here all my life.”

Francis Street resident Sylvia Tubb commented that motorcycle races held in other cities are “masked by freeways and other noise.

“In this little community, there’s nothing to muffle that sound,” she said, adding that the monster truck show on Saturday night went to 9:45 pm. “We live over a mile away and that’s very late. Some of us are in bed already.”

Resident Pat Lyndon said it wasn’t fair that the police chief has to interpret the noise ordinance when complaints are made and that there needs to be some “definable” decibel levels in the ordinance. He encouraged the city officials to meet with the fair board and “negotiate what is fair and expected.”

Not about the fair

Arne RW Petersen again addressed the council, stating that the issue is the change of use of the fairgrounds from horse racing to motorized racing.

“I love hearing the horse racing and hearing a concert occasionally. That’s not intrusive,” he said. “But we are talking about motorcycle races which are deafening. Everyone knows that people in races wear ear plugs. The people sitting in the grandstands wear plugs. We’re across the street and are expected to endure or wear ear plugs. And, yes, we understood when we moved into Ferndale there would be a certain noise level and yes, people chose to live outside the community — and by the way, most of the fair board does live outside this community — they weren’t infringed upon. This has to stop before it gets started, and I’m not against motorcycle racing.  I’m not against monster trucks. It just doesn’t belong in the city limits.”

Harrison Street resident Bill Dexter urged the council to enforce the current noise ordinance “for the peace and quiet enjoyment of the community.”

More noise

“I made a complaint the night of the monster trucks when I flagged down a police officer,” said Arne Petersen. “I was told to go to the city council meeting. The police did not enforce the noise ordinance but enforced it right out here tonight. No offense to you, chief.”

“You were disrupting the council meeting,” shouted the fair’s Bill Morrill.

“Get your facts straight,” said Chief Smith, addressing Petersen from a side table.

“I said, ‘Do you want me to turn it down,’ and you said, ‘Yes’,” Petersen replied to the chief. With that, Mayor Don Hindley slammed his gavel down, and yelled at Petersen, “You either address us or you’re done.”


Humboldt County Fair General Manager said the fair received two complaints — via an email from councilman Michael Sweeney’s wife and “someone who lived behind the Farm Shop on Rose Avenue who said it was excessive and unbearable.

“We didn’t receive any other calls or issues,” said Conway.

Chief Smith said his department received 17 complaints.

“We don’t want to have issues with neighbors,” said Conway. “We’re trying to bring family-friendly events to the community.”

Ferndale resident Felice Phillips said she attended the monster truck event and that it was well attended by families and children.

“There’s a huge part of this town that is my age or younger with children and they want and enjoy these activities to do with their families and children,” she said.

“It’s not a question of whether we like the event or not,” said Arne RW Petersen. “The fairgrounds could raise 1,000 pigs over there and make a lot of money, but we’d have to put up with the smell . . . that was a recording of the beginning of a motorcycle race and it didn’t reach anywhere near the level that an actual race would. I mean, do we want motor sports in town or do they need to find another place?”

“Hell yes we want them in town,” shouted Kathy Phillis from the back of the room.

“Yet another person that lives outside the city,” commented Petersen.

Council comments

With public comment concluded, the council took up the issue. Councilman Brower stated that where he lives on Eugene Street he hears music from the Old Steeple at the corner of Berding and Ocean, as well as a “few events” at the Masonic Lodge on Francis Street.

“We don’t get to sit in and regulate what Paul Beatie (owner of the Old Steeple) does at the steeple,” said Brower. “I think we should look at the ordinance. I just don’t see the problem.”

Brower said he wasn’t in town for the monster truck event but that if he had been, he would have “loved to take my kids to the event.”

Councilman Dan Brown said he “grew up in racing” and worked at a monster truck event in Crescent City last year. He said he was “amazed” at the amount of kids at the event.

“As a city, we need young families,” he said. “That’s what makes the city vibrant.” He warned about changing the ordinance and making it specific to the fair. “It has to be for everybody,” he said, adding that during Ferndale parades the fire trucks are loud. He said he had to open his Fifth Street back door to hear the monster truck engines. “It’s part of living by the fairgrounds,” he said, adding “that considering 5,000 people were at the fairgrounds, five hours of noise spread out over two nights doesn’t seem big. It really doesn’t.”

Councilman Patrick O’Rourke said he could hear the event from his commercial district Main Street apartment.

“At one point, it did compete with our television in our bedroom, which is only five feet away,” he said. O’Rourke suggested studying the existing ordinance and perhaps making some amendments to the ordinance that “apply to everyone, not just the fair.”

Councilman Sweeney said he agreed with O’Rourke. He also agreed with a point made earlier that with the uncertainty around horse racing, there needs to be a “community partnership with the fairgrounds and the county to develop some kind of strategic plan. “And within that plan, identify uses that are compatible, more desirable, less desirable,” said Sweeney.

Mayor Hindley concluded the topic, by stating that the city council will be “looking at the ordinance to see if there are changes we want to make.” He said he didn’t want the issue to go to the city planner or the planning commission — as is the usual course of action — “because we work cheaper than the planner.”

Miserable people?

Meanwhile, other residents weighed in on the topic on Facebook, including the husband of the fair assocation’s bookkeeper. Dave Griffiths blamed the complaints over the noise on “miserable people” who want “others to be miserable too.

“There are just a handful of people who don’t want the fair to succeed and they’ll do anything to make it happen,” he wrote.

As horse racing fields fall short around state, Humboldt County Fair general manager tells state racing board that upcoming race meet will grow by 44 percent

From the June 22 print edition

You might say they’re betting on a long shot, hoping that nobody sees them make the wager.

With operating funds steadily declining and the 121st Humboldt County Fair (HCF) just two months away, fair officials are nonetheless showing early signs of optimism as they begin focusing on the seven-day portion of the event that includes horse racing at the two-week extravaganza in Ferndale that this year overlaps with many of the county’s school calendars.

According to information submitted to the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) to acquire a license required to conduct racing during the August 23-September 4 HCF, fair officials plan on offering 12 races per day on each of seven days the popular event is scheduled to occur over a 13-day period. (The fair will be closed on Monday, August 28.) Last year, on average, the fair ran 8.33 races a day for a total of 50 races over a six-day period. The CHRB is set to approve the HCF license at its meeting this morning in Santa Anita.

And, they’re off?

The HCF racing license application, signed by HCF General Manager Richard Conway, states that a total of 84 races will be offered over the space of two weekends, with Thoroughbred horses running eight of those races, and the balance of four races being made up of either Arabian horses or mules. Conway’s prediction is a 44 percent increase each racing day over the average number of races offered up last year.

The fair manager did not respond to inquiries from this newspaper regarding the large anticipated increase in races.

According to the application, racing will begin at 3:07 pm on Fridays and 2:07 on all other days, including the Monday, September 4 closing day of the fair on Labor Day. With each of those two starting post times, the 12th and final race of each day is set for either 7:37 pm, or 8:37 pm. Purse money offered for the 2017 race meet, or the amount paid to the top five finishers in each race, is projected at $389,727, compared to $366,970 paid last year. This amount includes a $15,000 purse for the running of the Humboldt County Marathon stakes race.

Handle history

According to information submitted to the CHRB, the handle bet on Ferndale’s races last year was $4,705,809 compared to $7,268,797 in 2012 when eight days of racing was offered. Track attendance in 2012 was 41,304 compared to 28,263 last summer. In January of 2013, the fair association did not renew long-time fair manager Stuart Titus’s contract and instead hired Conway. That coming August, under Conway’s management, handle dropped almost $2 million and attendance at the races locally dropped by almost 16 percent, according to information provided by Conway to the CHRB. The following year in 2014, the fair association dropped back down to six days of racing instead of eight.

Realistic expectations?

Humboldt’s application is in stark contrast to that of the Sonoma County Fair (SCF) in Santa Rosa, which also submitted a license application for CHRB approval at today’s meeting. Its application stated that Sonoma would conduct eight races on Thursdays and Fridays and 10 on Saturdays and Sundays. The SCF, which has a total of 11 days of racing, will offer just over $1 million in purses. Golden Gate Fields is predicting it will run between nine and 11 races during its weekend competition.

In terms of marketing and promotion of the 2017 race meeting in Ferndale, the CHRB was presented an outline of what the HCF plans to do in order to attract race fans, as well as comparisons of what it has done over the previous five years. The HCF racing license application states that a total of $60,000 will be allocated toward advertising the event and that a marketing/development director had been hired to lead the association’s efforts.

Numbers game

The association also stated in its application that, with the help of its new director, a total of $250,000 in sponsorship support could be generated this year, an increase of $32,500 it said in the application was received last year. A comparison of sponsorship funds included in the application, and those included in the association’s year-end financial documents, however, show discrepancies. According to the HCF 2016 year-end financial, a total of $184,142 was recorded as sponsorship money, not the $217,500 reported to the CHRB in this year’s application. Similarly, comparative numbers for 2013, 2014 and 2015 also did not match up. The HCF told the CHRB that it had received $203,000 in sponsorships in 2015, compared to the $143,322 included in its year-end financials. For 2014, the figures were $200,000 compared to $131,900 and for 2013 they were $160,000 compared to $123,140.

Conway said in an email to The Enterprise that the differences were because of the addition of “in-kind” donations to the sponsorship program.

The application also provided the CHRB with the association’s plan to hold another fundraising event during this year’s fair. While not providing any detail to the concept, the application nonetheless stated that an event is planned for Monday, September 4, when it’s hoped that $50,000 can be raised for improvements to the “back stretch and barns.”

Back to school

This year marks the first time the HCF will be conducted in the August 23-September 4 timeframe after Conway made a motion at a California Authority of Racing Fairs meeting to move the fair later in the year. According to information from the Humboldt County Office of Education, high schools in the Eureka, Arcata, and McKinleyville districts begin classes during the week of August 23. Fortuna High School begins even earlier, with opening day coming on August 14. Ferndale schools are scheduled to begin classes on August 28, as will many elementary schools in the county.

Figures don’t lie

At the end of the day, fair officials are likely hoping their long shot wager pays off, due to the precarious financial position their records indicate, going into a unique and challenging period.

As previously reported in The Enterprise, the HCF Association’s operating reserves have decreased from $500,000 at the beginning of 2013 to $216,000 in April, 2016 and approximately $110,000 in April of 2017. (The Enterprise has had to sue the fair association twice in a successful effort to keep the association’s financial records as public documents, per the association’s lease with the county dictates. In the last lawsuit, the fair association chose to spend more than $70,000 of its the association’s own money fighting from going under the California Public Records Act with its financial documents. It dipped into its own funds because its insurance carrier refused to cover the fair association after the association cost the California Fair Services Authority more than $50,000 in a similar lawsuit.)

With monthly operating costs running between $30,000-$40,000 per month and non-fair revenues trickling in at a pace lower than that, the association will need to continue using portions of the $110,000 to make payroll and pay expenses in the two months leading up to opening day of the fair.

In 2016, when the HCF conducted six days of racing, financial documents indicate that racing actually lost money, with total revenues from racing coming in at $460,189 and expenses finishing at $528,656, or a loss of about $11,000 per day. The big unknown is what the impact will be from adding one more race day to the program. Things could very quickly become tight, if racing revenues once again under produce, if sponsorships don’t come in as expected, if attendance drops precipitously, or all the above.

Only time will tell if the long shot bet pays off.

(Disclosure:  The Enterprise publisher and editor is married to Stuart Titus.)

We get letters

From the June 15, 2017 print edition

Monster Truck noise impacted business

Dear editor: This past weekend we were subjected to unbelievable noise levels from the monster truck event held at the fairgrounds. We felt like our beautiful tranquil town of Ferndale was under assault, and it was. As owners of a vacation rental located across from the fairgrounds, the last thing in the world our guests, who come to Ferndale for peace and quiet, and ourselves, expected to deal with was monster trucks. We gave our very understanding guests a gift certificate to a complimentary dinner to try and make up for their partially-ruined vacation.

The beautiful village of Victorian Ferndale is known for its quaint charm, historic Victorian buildings and quiet way of life. It is on the Forbes List of Beautiful Towns in America and on the 10 Most Beautiful Towns in California. How in the world would monster trucks and the upcoming scheduled motorcycle races in August fit in that description?

We, who live and visit Ferndale, do so for a reason and that is the peaceful and tranquil lifestyle that we all enjoy. We know that during the annual county fair the speakers will be on for the horse races, and an occasional tractor activity, that hardly compares to monster trucks revving huge engines and crashing into things, let alone motorcycles racing for two days. The noise levels both nights (we measured them) were off the charts during the monster truck event, some even reaching into dangerous levels of hearing damage. Our pets were frightened, as probably the horses, cattle and wildlife.

Ferndale has under law, a noise ordinance and it was broken both nights during the event and at 7 am on Sunday morning, as the trucks were revving up their engines to depart. The police station and city hall had numerous calls complaining of noise on both evenings as well as Sunday morning. If we want to keep our beautiful village as the special, tranquil, quaint place that everyone loves to live and visit, we cannot allow this to happen ever again. Shame on The Humboldt County Fair Association for exposing our town to this outrage and complete disturbance to our way of life. We will lose revenue from all the visitors who come here to experience the beauty and tranquility of our unique village and our way of life. Ferndale Residents please attend the Ferndale City Council Meeting at City Hall on June 21, to protest and stop this travesty from ever happening to Ferndale again.

Lynne and Lee Shoblom


Quiet, please

Dear editor: Saturday evening, standing behind Ferndale High gym, looking over fence at race track and grandstand, watching monster something going on. Crowds scream. Something Roman (Ancient) happening at fairgrounds. Not sure what. Eardrums pounded (90 decibels as measured by a neighbor). Overwhelming odor of, what is it, fossil fuel exhaust? Yes! Is it also what pure testosterone smells like? Moment of Silence. Someone sings the national anthem. Crowd cheers. No, not Rome. It’s America. It’s an American Circus Maximus. Make lots of noise, loud enough for all to hear clear across town, destroy stuff, run over things, pollute the air and the airwaves, rev those engines, flex those muscles, show your power, do something raucous but wicked fun, let the world know your big, bigger, biggerest (yes, biggerest), make money, make money any old way – for fair board, for Rotary Club, for monster truck tour. Make money, to hell with your neighbors. At home now. It’s 9:15 pm, and the roaring has intensified, like the last bangout explosion of fireworks on the 4th of July. It comes in through the upstairs windows. Revving, screaming, weedwhacker noises on high dosage of steroid. Crowd goes wild. Finally, it’s over and quiet once again.

An odd event, this. Police chief thinks its ok; certainly the out-of-town (not so) fair association board members think it’s ok. But I don’t think it’s ok, and I don’t think I’m in the minority on this one. If the fair board plans a repeat performance of this kind of event, well, I think it’s time for the community to attend a fair association’s gathering, make lots of noise, and tell them what you think. Also, there will be a city council meeting on June 21. There is an item on the agenda concerning revisiting our current noise ordinance. Attend; speak up, if this evening disturbed you. By the way, Arne and Paulina Petersen deserve a prize for Public Political Art Installations. The sign on their front lawn says it all. Remember their “Toilets in a Row”? A masterpiece!


Jere Bob Bowden,


(Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to the Ferndale City Manager, the city council and the police chief and forwarded to us.)

NO monster trucks or motorcycle racing at the fairgrounds! Monster trucks equal monster noise. As far as I’m concerned, the monster truck event going on tonight is “disturbing, excessive, and offensive noise.”

Martin Tubb


(Editor’s note:  The following letter, written by a Ferndale city councilman, was sent to the Humboldt County Fair Association board of directors, its general manager and board chair and forwarded to us.)

To Humboldt County Fair Association:

Kindly advise me as to the date, time, and location of your next board of directors meeting. I also note that your website lists an area for meeting agenda and for minutes, although none are included/listed under that section of your website. When attempting to access those sections, there is a note indicating: “To Be Announced. We appreciate your patience, while we diligently work on updating the site with the most accurate and latest information!” When do you anticipate that the “agenda and minutes” portion of your website will be updated? Approximately two years ago, I attended one of your board meetings and following a very short period for public comment, you went immediately into closed session. At that time, I was told (by your board chair) that you hoped to open a larger portion of your board meetings to the public, “soon.” Has that happened, yet? If not, when do you anticipate opening your meetings to the public, versus just reserving closed sessions for legal, personnel, and real estate negotiation matters – in alignment with “best practices” in nonprofit governance? Also, as required by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service kindly provide me with a link to, and/or a complete copy of, your IRS form 990 filing for your most recent fiscal year end. Please advise and kindly reply to the questions posed in this e-mail by/before June 15, 2017. If you prefer, you are welcome to call me directly at with response(s)/update to these questions and to indicate when I can pick up a copy of your most current IRS form 990. Thank you so much. With best wishes for a very successful 2017 Humboldt County Fair! Blessings!

Patrick O’Rourke


Irish greetings

Dear editor: I just read about your battle with the Humboldt County Fair Association and had to drop you a line. Congratulations on your well-earned awards! I’m a hack myself and have worked for national papers in Ireland and Britain and while we have small provincial papers, we don’t have anything like the network of tiny newsrooms you have in the US. There’s something magical about the enthusiasm of the North American small press. Reading your story gave me a warm glow in the pit of my stomach and I wanted to thank you for it. I also love your “stay in a newsroom” scheme, it’s absolute genius. (Just in case you’re wondering, I read about you in a Columbia Journalism Review report that was circulated by a contract newspaper printers in the UK, called The Newspaper Club. You can print your own paper through them, no matter how few copies you require.)

Best wishes,

Michael O’Kelly

Galway city, Republic of Ireland

Does motorized racing at fairgrounds trigger state’s environmental review law?

From the June 15, 2017 print edition

With the Humboldt County Fair Association introducing motorized events on the fairgrounds racetrack, does the change in use require the association or the county to do a state-required environmental review to assess the impact of noise and air quality?

On Friday and Saturday night, the fairgrounds was host to a monster truck event which prompted noise complaints from some residents and on August 5, during the daytime, a motorcycle event will occur on the track.

Stephen Avis, who lives on Fifth Street and has been a vocal opponent to both events, says that the change in use from horse racing to motorized events triggers a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. Avis is also the contracted city planner for the city of Ferndale but clarified that he is speaking as a neighbor of the fairgrounds.

“Traditionally, the racetrack has been used for non-motorized racing events,” said Avis in an email. “This is certainly the case for the last three years, the period of time deemed ‘past history,’ according to the law, for a particular activity. The recent monster truck demolition tour event was not presented as a race and may represent a new ‘use’ for the racetrack not previously contemplated or considered. In a similar way, the upcoming flat track motorcycle races are indeed a racing event but is a change in the nature of what is being raced; motorized vehicles vs. horses. This may also represent a change in use based on the historical record.”

A CEQA environmental report provides public agencies and the public in general with detailed information about the effect in which a proposed project or change in use is likely to have on the environment. In this case, changes at the fairgrounds impact noise and air quality. Oftentimes, mitigation measures are adopted during a CEQA process in an effort to minimize effects.

“CEQA is a tool, not an end in itself,” Avis said. “It provides quantifiable scientific information to be evaluated by decision makers . . .”

CEQA has an exemption for public facilities such as the fairgrounds. However, when a fairgrounds changes its historic use — horse racing in this case — to motorized racing, the law states that a CEQA analysis is required before the start of the new activity. (In last week’s Enterprise, we reported on the CEQA lawsuit filed by several members of the Russ family and the O’Rourke Foundation — of which Ferndale Mayor Don Hindley is the head — against the state’s Coastal Conservancy. The local group alleges that the conservancy’s CEQA Environmental Impact Report on the proposed Eel River Estuary Preserve near Centerville Beach was not adequate and that certain issues had not been addressed.)

Meanwhile, there is confusion over who is the lead agency when it comes to the county fairgrounds. Avis said the property is subject to county zoning regulations and to CEQA. However, with the fairgrounds located within the city limits, can the city require an environmental review? Ferndale City Manager Jay Parrish said he had no comment until after Wednesday’s council meeting, where the city’s noise ordinance has been put on the agenda for a discussion. Avis said in his email to The Enterprise that the role of CEQA with regard to the fairgrounds was confirmed by Steve Werner, senior planner for the county of Humboldt. However, fellow senior planner John Miller said that the county’s Planning & Building Department “does not have a role in project approval for county-owned land located within cities,” and referred questions about the issue to the county’s attorney. Werner did not respond to The Enterprise’s questions.

“Situations that involve superior jurisdictional property within an inferior jurisdiction’s boundaries can be challenging because it falls outside the normal role of government,” said Avis. “The role of local government may be limited with regard to zoning standards for the fairgrounds but that does not preclude it from playing an important role in providing input through the CEQA process on potential impacts and their effects on the community as an environmental impact.”

Wednesday’s city council meeting begins at 7 pm at Town Hall.