Northern Exposure: Covering issues of Northern California

Published: Sunday, Mar. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3E

Science foundation sends telescope to Tulelake

• TULELAKE – The day an 11-inch-diameter telescope arrived at Tulelake High School was when Jeannie Smith was fully convinced that she and her students were embarking on a real astronomical adventure.

"It's a big, amazing telescope. On the stand it's taller than I am, and I'm 5-foot-10," said Smith, who teaches junior high school science and math at the rural Modoc County school with 180 students.

Tulelake is the northernmost of 13 schools participating in an 18-month citizen science research project exploring the outer solar system. Led by planetary scientists at Cal Poly and the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., the project focuses on Kuiper belt objects – KBOs – large, frozen bodies that orbit the sun beyond Neptune. The most famous KBO is the dwarf planet Pluto.

Although Kuiper belt objects have not changed significantly in 4.5 billion years, scientists do not have a good understanding of their size or exact paths, said John Keller, a Cal Poly scientist.

Students will be observing KBOs during 10 events when their shadows pass between Earth and a specific star. Knowing the distance between the school recording sites, which include Susanville and as far south as Tonopah, Nev., will allow the scientists to calculate the size of the objects.

When not in use for the research project, Smith plans to invite the entire Tulelake community to use the telescope and camera equipment provided by the National Science Foundation.

"We have clear and beautiful skies here. This is an opportunity of a lifetime," she said.

Turtle Bay hotel project in court over wage rules

• REDDING – Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding's internationally acclaimed cultural arts and education center, took its battle with construction unions to a Shasta County judge last week in an effort to save a $20 million hotel complex originally scheduled to open next year.

In a writ filed in Shasta Superior Court, Turtle Bay seeks to overturn a state Department of Industrial Relations ruling that requires the nonprofit organization to pay prevailing wages to workers building its proposed Sheraton hotel.

Labor groups support the hotel project, said Andrew Meredith, president of the Northeastern California Building and Construction Trades Council. But he argued that a 2010 agreement authorizing Turtle Bay to construct a for-profit hotel on city-owned land represents a form of subsidy that triggers the state's prevailing wage laws.

Turtle Bay maintains that nothing of value has been exchanged, said Mike Warren, the CEO. Constructing the hotel at prevailing wages would add an additional $3 million to the costs, threatening the proposed hotel and Turtle Bay's future operations, he said.

At issue is whether building on city-owned land is "a sweetheart deal" for Turtle Bay, as Meredith said, or an agreement providing "no value to Turtle Bay," as Warren contended. The Department of Industrial Relations originally upheld Turtle Bay's argument but overturned it in January on an appeal filed by the unions.

The controversy has statewide implications beyond the Shasta County dispute. The unions will "vigorously defend the integrity of the state's prevailing wage law," Meredith said.

Warren said Turtle Bay hopes to resume negotiations with the unions that would allow the hotel project to proceed, benefiting both local workers and the public.

Del Norte welcomes L.A. refugees

• DEL NORTE COUNTY – Angelenos, among the state's most urban residents, are flocking to northwestern California to live in Del Norte County, one of the state's most rural.

While the 43 people who relocated to the coastal county last year don't quite qualify as a horde, they represent the largest migration to Del Norte County after the 91 people who moved in from neighboring Humboldt County.

The new Del Nortians must be former UC Humboldt students who moved to the area "to get away from their families" and found a fresh, attractive way of life, said Tamera Leighton, executive director of the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission.

In addition to these migration patterns, the county's 2013 Economic and Demographic Profile reveals that residents use more electricity per capita than the statewide average, enjoy cleaner air and a 15-minute average commute to work.

"There is no commute hour here. Drive time is always the same, day in and day out," Leighton said.

She said she is always hopeful that the profiles, which the county has been receiving for about 12 years, will reveal an improvement in the cycle of poverty, low literacy and poor health that grips Del Norte. But some changes are just a long time coming, Leighton said. The county's poverty rate has increased 1.4 percentage points between 2000 and 2010, according to the profile.

Jane Braxton Little | Special to The Bee

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