Jan. 29, 2004
DEFENDING HIS BOSS: On Tuesday, Wes Keat, the deputy district attorney in charge of deciding what crimes to charge criminals with, took issue with pro-recall replacement candidate Gloria Albin Sheets' claim that District Attorney Paul Gallegos had mishandled a child molestation case. "There is no way for me to clear up in a few words the great swirl of mischaracterizations, half-truths and over-simplifications which revolve around this case," Keat said in a statement. "[B]ut a political candidate who knows neither the law nor the facts publishing a blast against an incumbent is easy to understand." The case pertained to 39-year-old Pedro Martinez Hernandez, of Ferndale, who pleaded guilty to continuous sexual abuse of a child on Jan. 6, and as a result is facing 16 years in prison. Sheets claimed that by failing to prosecute multiple incidents of abuse -- police estimated there were about 2,900 -- Gallegos missed an opportunity to obtain a longer sentence. "Unfortunately, his continued incompetence and failure to learn from his costly mistakes places our community in grave danger," Sheets wrote. While barred from speaking to the specifics of the case, Keat concluded that a defendant in Hernandez's situation -- he is also facing federal immigration and associated charges -- would likely be imprisoned until he reached his mid-70s, and deported afterwards.
STUDENT SLAIN: Humboldt State University is mourning freshman Terrell Sherrills, 18, a computer information systems major who was murdered at a Los Angeles house party over the holidays. According to a story in last week's LA Weekly, Sherrills -- the son of peace activist Aqeela Sherrills, who has been instrumental in negotiating peace treaties between L.A. street gangs -- was shot in the back at close range in the Ladera Heights neighborhood on Jan. 10. He died shortly afterward. "The only thing we can think of as far as motive is that Terrell wore a red sweater in a predominantly blue or Crip gang area," Detective Martin Rodriguez told the Weekly. A memorial for Sherills is being held on the HSU campus Feb. 5. Call 826-3369 for information.
OUCH! Humboldt State University's budget for the upcoming academic year would be slashed by almost $6 million under a proposal released last week by the office of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Enrollment would decline by 5 percent, from the current 7,450 "full-time equivalent" students to roughly 6,900 under the proposal."It's not going to be easy. It's a bad cut," HSU President Rollin Richmond said in a prepared statement. The reductions at HSU are part of a larger budget cut for the entire California State University system. Schwarzenegger is calling for an 8 percent cut system-wide, or a loss of $220 million. As a result, nearly 17,000 students who would have entered a CSU school will not be able to.
OLD FLAP: Arcata attorney Steve Schectman, the anti-recall, pro-Gallegos replacement candidate, found himself at the center of media scrutiny last week after the Times-Standard revealed that he had lost a dispute with former employees a few years back. The employees, some of whom were members of the environmental group Earth First!, said that Schectman refused to pay wages he had owed them from work they had done on two high-profile lawsuits he filed against the Pacific Lumber Co. Schectman said that they were apprentices who were taking advantage of a California Bar Association program that allows budding attorneys to learn their trade on the job, rather than in a law school. As such, they were trading their time working on the suits in exchange for a legal education rather than wages. The California Labor Commission sided with the employees, in what Schectman said was the first case of its kind that dealt with the bar's legal apprenticeship program. Schectman said that only four of the 12 apprentices in his program sued -- "In my opinion, some of the people got a little bit greedy when we settled the Stafford landslide suit," he said, referring to the tiny town near Scotia that was hit by a debris torrent on Jan. 1, 1997. The other suit had to do with the death of David "Gypsy" Chain, who was killed by a falling redwood in September 1998.
BERG PANS RECALL: The embattled DA got a lift -- of sorts -- from Assembly member Patty Berg last week. In a carefully worded endorsement letter sent to local media, Berg outlined her reasons for opposing the recall. "My position has always been that recalls are only appropriate when serious malfeasance or corruption is found," she wrote. "I don't think it's right to overturn the results of a regularly scheduled election simply because of political differences." But Patty, is he a good DA?
BACKING WORTH: The Fortuna Police Employees' Association joined other local law enforcement groups in endorsing Deputy DA and recall replacement candidate Worth Dikeman last week. In a press release, the group said the vote was unanimous. "The FPEA strongly believes that because of Worth's lengthy work experience, his commitment to a positive working relationship between law enforcement and the District Attorney's Office and his overall dedication to the justice system, that he would be an excellent candidate for the position of District Attorney," wrote Sandi Bertain, president of the organization and niece of Eureka attorney Bill Bertain, a diehard Gallegos supporter.
A GOOD SIGN? Michael Twombly, of the Friends of Paul Gallegos, a group formed to fight the recall, announced last week that pro-Gallegos lawn signs have been flying out the doors, to such an extent that the campaign has completely run out of them. Twombly assures those who would still like to get a sign that a new shipment will arrive at Friends of Paul HQ on Feb. 6.
GUARDING THE RIVERS: The Eel, Trinity and Klamath rivers would receive additional protection from development projects under a bill approved by the State Assembly Tuesday. The legislation, sponsored by Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata), amends the California Wild & Scenic Rivers Act to require state agencies to ensure the protection of the rivers before issuing permits that authorize the construction of nearby roads, dams and bridges. The bill, SB 904, now goes to the State Senate.
by BOB DORAN
When a Southern Oregon radio station announced plans to acquire Bayside-based British Broadcasting Corp. outlet KZPN last September, it was expected that the new station would be broadcasting by January.
But a misstep by Jefferson Public Radio in jumping through Federal Communications Commission hoops has postponed transfer of the KZPN license -- and if a dedicated group of local listeners has its way, JPR won't take over at all.
An e-mail campaign launched in December by Arcata activist Paul Cienfuegos urged faithful BBC fans to write to the FCC. "There are indications that [the transfer] can still be stopped, or at least delayed," Cienfuegos wrote.
To that end he and Arcata attorney Jamie Flower formed what Flower called "an ad hoc committee of interested listeners," to explore ways to maintain local control of KZPN. The group felt they might have time to act, in part because none of them had seen a public notice of the transfer in a local newspaper.
When JPR Executive Director Ron Kramer was contacted by the Journal earlier this month, he said the required notice has been posted in the Times-Standard in October.
It turns out that a notice was posted. But it announced JPR's acquisition of another station, an AM radio frequency in Mendocino. "When the affidavit of publication came back here, no one read it in detail and we didn't realize that a mistake had occurred," Kramer explained in a recent e-mail to Flower.
JPR posted a corrected notice in the T-S on Jan. 9. Cienfuegos said that means the deadline for filing objections is extended until Feb. 9.
Andree Ellis, the FCC official in Washington, D.C., handling the pending transfer, said she was not sure what effect the delayed posting would have. Due to the added complexity of objections and the mistake by JPR, she is having an FCC lawyer look at the case, which she said "could take at least a couple more weeks."
Meanwhile Cienfuegos and company are "trying to lay the groundwork for a purchase of the station and frequency by either KEET-TV or a new `Friends of KZPN' group which would either leave the [BBC] programming intact, or diversify it with more international news and opinion."
KEET-TV made an offer to buy KZPN prior to JPR's purchase announcement. Flower is making a presentation to the KEET board this week to see if they are still interested.
On Monday, KEET Executive Director Ron Schoenherr said he was not sure if the board would be "willing to pick it up again. We had arranged for some financing, but it's probably no longer available. Personally I believe it would be a great asset for KEET to have the radio station.
"KZPN could just transfer the license to us right now without a fee if they wanted to," Schoenherr continued, "but if they want money, [at this point] acquiring it would require some sort of fund-raising, and I don't know if the board wants to get into that."
Kramer said this week that "we have a contract with the seller. KEET has no standing in the situation." Regarding the New Friends of KZPN and their desire to continue BBC programming, Kramer said, "We will listen to the community." Information on how to contact the FCC is available at www.fcc.gov. Jamie Flower can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile in the world of local television, Eureka-based ABC affiliate KAEF Channel 23 will be changing hands, perhaps as soon as April, pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
KAEF, its sister station in Redding KRCR, and 11 other stations owned by Lamco Communications have been acquired by BlueStone Television LLC, a division of Providence Equity Partners Inc., a multi-billion dollar investment firm with holdings in communications and media companies worldwide.
Calling the purchase "a great vote of confidence from a company that buys stations for a living," KAEF Station Manager Jeffrey Smoller said the deal would have "nothing but positive effects."
Smoller has been at KAEF since July. He said he hopes the new owners will move toward "becoming more locally responsive" -- for example, by increasing sponsorships of area events. However, he said it's unlikely that viewers will notice much of a change in the station's programming.
Typically, the face of a local affiliate is its news department, but KAEF discontinued its half-hour local news program in February 2001 because it was losing money.
Smoller said when he talks with KAEF's new owners he "will discuss the feasibility of bringing back [local news]." But, he added, "I can't promise anything. We have to be sure that we'll be able to [get advertisers] to pay for it."
by HANK SIMS
If a newly formed group of local food safety activists gets its way, a controversial Mendocino County proposition that seeks to ban the growth of genetically modified organisms may soon be coming to Humboldt County.
According to Martha Devine, a Green Party activist and a member of the committee, the Mendocino County measure listed on the ballot as Measure H has sparked enthusiasm not only locally, but also in Sonoma County.
"It's turning into kind of a bioregional resistance to the onslaught of genetic engineering as it's being promoted by the Bush Administration," she said.
Genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are plants or animals that have had their DNA chemically altered to produce desirable characteristics. Critics of the technology have charged that it has not been adequately tested for safety, and several countries including many European nations and Japan have placed tough regulatory restriction on its use.
Devine said the fact that GMO plants may cross-pollinate with other crops posed a threat to local organic farmers and their customers.
"If someone is growing GMO corn, which we know has the ability to drift pollen for 3 miles, how do we know that's not affecting people who are growing organic corn for the Farmers' Market?" she said.
At press time, it could not be determined whether farmers are already using genetically altered crops in Humboldt or if they plan to.
Devine said that her group has held two organizing sessions in recent weeks, and it will soon be circulating petitions to put the proposed amendment before Humboldt voters in November. To qualify for the ballot, proponents must submit 5,000 valid signatures from registered Humboldt County voters by July 7.
In recent weeks, Measure H, which Mendocino County voters will decide on on March 2, has become that county's equivalent of the local DA recall a hotly contested, politically polarizing ballot measure that has generated reams of debate and national media attention.
The measure would ban any resident from growing "organisms whose native, intrinsic DNA has been intentionally altered or amended with non-species specific DNA." If passed, it will be the first of its kind in the country, and will serve as a test case on the ability of local governments to regulate GMOs.
Measure H has already drawn strong opposition from large agribusiness conglomerates. Last month, the California Plant Health Association (CHPA) a trade group representing the industry filed a lawsuit challenging the wording of a pro-H argument in the county's sample ballot. A Mendocino Superior Court judge ruled against the association.
In addition, the CPHA is a member of "Citizens Against Measure H," a group that has spent $60,000 in an attempt to defeat the proposed ordinance.
Elizabeth Brazil, campaign coordinator for Citizens Against Measure H, said on Tuesday that the measure would harm county residents with increased taxes, greater government intrusion into private life and less access to potentially helpful technology.
"Our complaint is that it's a poorly written measure, and they need to go back to the drawing board," she said.
But many prominent citizens including the Mendocino County sheriff and owners of several large wineries have endorsed the measure, saying that GMO agriculture would damage the county's burgeoning organic farming industry.
The Committee for Humboldt Green Genes will hold a public forum at the Bayside Grange on Feb. 15 at 5 p.m.
by HANK SIMS
The shape of the Eureka business community is set to be rearranged on Monday as the Eureka Inn is slated to go up on the auction block. (See "Inn Trouble," Jan. 18.)
Meanwhile, beleaguered inn owner John Biord was slapped with a nuisance notice by the county last week as trash left by a tenant on property he owns in Willow Creek has gone uncollected for months.
The looming sale of the Eureka Inn follows the foreclosure by Wells Fargo Bank, which holds a first mortgage on the property currently valued at nearly $700,000. Wells Fargo has the power to call off the auction if Biord reaches terms with them. The auction is scheduled for 10 a.m. at Fidelity National Title Co. in Eureka.
It is not known whether Fountaingrove Inn LLP -- a Santa Rosa-based company that has expressed an interest in the inn -- will make a bid for it at the auction. On Tuesday, Bill Carson, Fountaingrove's general manager, said that the decision was in the hands of the company's owners.
"Everybody has the information, I just don't know what's going on," Carson said.
Biord declined to comment on whether he was still seeking to maintain control of the company.
The Park Corp., a Cleveland-based financial and manufacturing firm, holds a second mortgage on the inn believed to be worth several million dollars. Ray Park, the company's chairman and a longtime friend of the Biord family, said this week that he hoped that Fountaingrove or a similar hotel company would be able to acquire the inn at auction.
"I don't know what will happen, but that's what I would like to see happen," he said, adding that new capital investment in the inn would be good for the city of Eureka.
The Rotary Club of Eureka held its last meeting at the inn -- at least for the time being -- on Monday. The club announced that next week's meeting would instead be held at the Wharfinger Building. The meeting will mark the first time in the 80-year history of the club that one of its regular meetings will not be held at the inn.
The announcement caused some long-time members to wax nostalgic. One of them, Charlie Strope, led the club in singing "Auld Lang Syne."
Club president Brian Papstein said that the move to the Wharfinger stemmed from the uncertainty surrounding the inn's future. A new owner may conceivably want to evict the club for a time in order to do work on the building, Papstein said, and the club wished to find other quarters at least until the ownership question was resolved.
Meanwhile, the county's code enforcement unit last week filed a "notice of nuisance" on one of the five adjoining lots owned by Biord and his wife Deborah in the Willow Creek area. The notice followed months of complaints by neighbors to the county's environmental health department.
The home, on Timberline Drive, has been vacant since July, neighbors said. The former tenants of the property did not take their trash with them, and may have vandalized the property.
Jeff Conner, county code enforcement investigator, said that though the property had large piles of trash and at least two abandoned vehicles on it, it did not pose as significant a nuisance as most of the other properties he inspects.
"Most of the places we deal with have more significant collections of debris," Conner said. "Many of the cases we deal with are methamphetamine clutter. That's not the case here."
Biord said Tuesday that he would try to sell the property soon, which he hoped would resolve the issue.
"The tenants trashed the place," he said. "It needs to be cleaned up, and the new owners of that property will be cleaning it up."
If the lot is not cleaned up within 30 days, the county may assess fines of between $100 and $10,000 per day. Back property taxes totaling $34,000 are currently owed on the Willow Creek parcels -- if they are not paid, they may be seized by the county tax collector and sold at public auction this summer.
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.