April 14, 2005
PALCO LOGGING OVERTURNED:
An official from the State Water
Resources Board dealt a blow to the Pacific Lumber Co. last Wednesday,
staying a previous decision by a lower body to allow the company
to log up to 75 percent of its approved timber harvest plans
in the Freshwater Creek and Elk River watersheds. The action
was prompted by an appeal filed by the Humboldt Watershed Council.
In his decision, Richard Katz, a member of the state board, found
that harm would likely result to the residents of those watersheds
if the logging were allowed. Katz also turned aside arguments
that the company and its contractors would suffer serious financial
harm if it were not allowed to proceed with the THPs. "[T]he
evidence clearly indicates that Palco is largely responsible
for the circumstances in which it now finds itself," he
wrote. In a press release, company CEO Robert Manne said that
he would fight the stay. "Palco will request an immediate
appeal to the full state board and we are confident that the
full board will overturn this one individual member's decision,"
he said. Katz's appeal came just as the company announced that
it was seeking to refinance $750 million in long-term debt.
story & photo by HANK SIMS
On the surface, all appears well at the construction site of Humboldt State University's long-projected new Behavioral and Social Sciences building. The construction area has been fenced off, a foundation dug and a large crane stands ready to start moving materials.
Late last month, Humboldt State's media affairs office sent out a press release announcing that the project, which is scheduled to be completed in October 2006. [Corrected from original version]
[Right; Danco-Swinerton Construction equipment at the BSS building site on Humboldt State University campus, April 11. ]
However, the Journal has learned that on Feb. 1, Danco-Swinerton, a partnership between local construction company Danco Builders and the San Francisco-based Swinerton Builders, asked to be released from its $23.5 million contract to construct the building, citing increased construction costs since the company entered a successful bid to design and construct the building two years ago.
In an e-mail message last week, HSU President Rollin Richmond, who was out of town, confirmed that Danco-Swinerton officials working on the project had asked Humboldt State administrators to release or renegotiate the contract. Richmond further affirmed that his team had denied the request.
"We tried to understand their situation as best we could and felt particularly badly that a local group would suffer from the rapid increase in construction costs," Richmond wrote. "However, to modify or delay the contract would almost certainly have resulted in a loss of a badly needed building on the HSU campus that is designed to emphasize the cultures of our local tribal nations."
Danco president Dan Johnson said last week that he knew nothing about the attempt to have his company released from the contract. He referred all questions on the topic to Steve Brucker, Danco-Swinerton project manager for the building.
"As far as we're concerned, the project is moving along as planned," Johnson said.
In a telephone interview from Swinerton's Portland office, Brucker declined to comment on his company's negotiations with the university.
"We're fulfilling the obligations of the contract," he said. "Anything beyond that is not public information. It's not our company policy to disclose business operations."
Richmond stated that he also learned that a Swinerton executive had taken the request to the California State University Chancellor's Office.
On Monday, Richmond declined to elaborate further on the details of Danco-Swinerton's request to be released from the contract, such as who in the company had made it and how much the company is now expected to lose on the building.
"Suffice it to say that there are good people on both sides and we're working together to resolve this hard issue," he said.
The Behavioral and Social Sciences building, which will eventually house 10 academic departments and a new CSU Native American Center, had a long, controversial history even before ground broke on the site last year. First announced by former HSU President Alistair McCrone in the early '90s, the project lingered in a drawer, unfunded, until 2000. It then became the subject of a dispute between the university and neighbors of the Union Street site, who faulted the original design for being ugly and out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood.
The city of Arcata quickly took the residents' side in the dispute, launching a lawsuit that sought to force the university to prepare an Environmental Impact Report that would document and mitigate the building's likely impacts to the neighborhood. The city lost that lawsuit in April 2002.
But shortly after taking office in July 2002, Richmond said that he would respond to concerns by seeking a new design for the building. In May 2003, the university formally put out a new request for proposals in a "design/build" competition that sought, among other things, to minimize the building's impact on the community, improve its design and maximize its energy efficiency and use of sustainable materials.
Danco-Swinerton was one of three teams to submit a proposal, and design judges rated its proposal the best.
In the proposal, Danco-Swinerton stated that it had five goals for the project, one of which was to "complete the work on time, within or under budget, with no [legal] claims, to the satisfaction of HSU."
The proposal further stated that the partnership was well positioned to meet the university's budget goals, due to the fact that one of the companies involved was local.
"Our local team members bring firmly established relationships with local subcontractors to ensure our budget and schedule," it read. "We have a thorough understanding of local market and construction conditions as well as previous experience on the HSU campus."
The other bidders -- Turner Construction of New York and the S. J. Amoroso Construction, Co. of Redwood City -- each turned in proposals that met the $23.5 million cap for the project. However, judges rated their proposals lower in several categories, including building design, site design and sustainability.
by EMILY GURNON
A veteran prosecutor in the District Attorney's Office is the subject of a federal court case involving charges that he excluded three potential jurors from a trial because they were Native Americans.
Deputy District Attorney Worth Dikeman, 59, was the prosecutor in the Humboldt County murder-for-hire case of Richard Craig Kesser of Fortuna, who was convicted in 1992 of plotting with his fiancée, Jennifer Gayle Leahy, to kill his former wife, Mary, for her insurance money. They hired hit man Stephen Chiara, who completed the deed. Kesser was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
In the process of selecting a jury for the trial, Dikeman elected to "strike" jurors from the potential pool, as attorneys are allowed to do. But the current dispute arose when he excluded three Native Americans from the jury pool.
According to a published opinion filed by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in December, Dikeman gave the following explanation in Humboldt County Superior Court following his striking of the three Native Americans, one of whom worked for a tribe:
"My experience is that Native Americans who are employed by the tribe are a little more prone to associate themselves with the culture and beliefs of the tribe than they are with the mainstream system, and my experience is that they are sometimes resistive of the criminal justice system generally and somewhat suspicious of the system."
Attorneys are not allowed to exclude jurors on the basis of characteristics such as race or religion. When they do, they risk having a reversal of the verdict and a new trial ordered.
Dikeman also gave other, non-race-based reasons for excluding the jurors, such as the fact that one woman's husband was a recovering alcoholic, as was the alleged murderer, and might be sympathetic to him on that basis.
It is for that reason that a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court, on a 2-1 decision, denied Kesser's petition in December, essentially siding with Dikeman -- as have the trial court, the state Court of Appeal, and the federal district court.
Dikeman said this week that he is angered by the allegations.
"It is wrong to exclude a particular group from a jury. I didn't do it. I never do it. And four courts have said I didn't," he said.
Allegations of jury bias "are frequently made, and they are rarely granted," Dikeman said.
But the 9th Circuit judge who dissented in the ruling did not mince words when describing Dikeman's actions.
"In Batson [a Supreme Court case involving jury bias], our highest court specified that `the Equal Protection Clause forbids the prosecutor to challenge potential jurors solely on account of their race'," wrote Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson. "Yet that is precisely what the prosecutor did in this case when he smeared an entire race of people, expressly assuming that Native American people are unwilling to adhere to `our laws,' and thereby implying that they are unfit for jury duty."
Kesser's appellate attorney, William Weiner of San Francisco, said he has filed a petition to have the case reviewed by the full Circuit Court. That petition is pending.
"I think it was unfortunately quite clear that Mr. Dikeman believed that Native Americans were biased," Weiner said earlier this week. "He cited some way that Native Americans were resistive to `our laws' and then knocked them off."
Most prosecutors "don't do that because they're not that stupid," he added.
Joanne Kesser, the defendant's mother, said Tuesday that she and her late husband were involved in the painful process of testifying for the prosecution in her son's case. She found Dikeman to be respectful and considerate.
"He knew how hard it was on our family, and he went out of his way at all times to make it as easy as he could," she said. "As far as [the jury bias claims], I didn't have an opinion one way or another about it."
by BOB DORAN
Reggae on the River may no longer have a home at French's Camp after this year due to a breakdown in contract negotiations between event organizers and the family that owns the land. [Right: The tents of 10,000 campers line the Eel River for Reggae. Photo by Kim Sallaway]
For more than 20 years, Humboldt County's largest music festival has drawn thousands of fans from around the world to a particular bend in the Eel River just south of Richardson's Grove State Park. Event organizers confirm that this year's 22nd annual festival could be the last to be held at French's Camp.
While the potential location change will not impact this year's Reggae on the River, scheduled for Aug. 5-7, French's Camp owner Pat Arthur said, "It has a future this year only. The lease will be up Sept. 1."
The plan after that? "Well, I plan to be quieter," said Arthur, who turned 77 last year. "I know there are going to be a lot of disappointments," she added, "but I've been disappointed too, my family has been. We can take just so much."
According to Pat's son, Mark Arthur, "My mom is getting older and she doesn't want to deal with the hassles. She's tired of her friends asking, `Why are you doing this to us?' She's tired of her neighbors complaining about the garbage in their yards and complaining that security has kind of fallen apart the last couple of years."
Taunya Stapp, who recently took over as executive director of the Mateel Community Center, which coproduces the festival, conceded that, "There are logistic problems at French's Camp. For one, it impacts the town of Piercy. [Traffic] gets backed up and people can't get to work. It's only three days a year -- and there's a tremendous amount of economic good created by the event -- but we still are aware of the problems."
After the Mateel's seven-year contract for the use of French's Camp ran out at the end of 2004, the Arthurs proposed a revised three-year contract. "I guess the Mateel and People Productions didn't want to sign that," said Mark Arthur. "My mom was asking for a little bit more money; I think $3,000 more [per year, but] the money really isn't the issue."
Neither side would discuss contract specifics.
Mark Arthur denied rumors that he has been negotiating with other promoters interested in using the property for concerts. While the terms of the old lease allowed for just one concert a year, he noted that, "That was one of the things I wanted to change in the new contract. We as a family want to develop the west side of the river and that wasn't permitted. Personally I would like to see more events [at French's Camp]. Maybe not just one big event; there could be four weekends, maybe a little hip-hop one weekend, a little old school another, who knows what else."
Both Stapp and Carol Bruno, head of the concert promotion group, People Productions, seemed unfazed by the prospect of moving the mammoth festival to a new location. Is Reggae on the River a site-specific event? "Absolutely not," said Stapp. "The event itself is mythic. You carry that myth wherever you go. If we have to move it, I see it as an opportunity."
Where else could you put 15,000 dancing campers for a long weekend in August? "Basically I have 20 options I am developing at this point and 50 percent of them are overwhelmingly exciting. This is an opportunity. We're prepared for this," said Stapp.
Future plans for the festival were on the agenda for a Mateel Community Center directors meeting scheduled Tuesday night after the Journal went to press.
Said Stapp, "We have the potential, depending on what the board decides, to make this event something that doesn't impact the people around it, to find a way to mitigate the problems from the get-go and choose [a new] location with that in mind."
While further negotiations with the Mateel are at an impasse, Pat Arthur did not completely rule out allowing Reggae to return to French's Camp. "At this point I'm not certain," she said. "If it goes well this year there's always that possibility If they behave themselves, it may happen [again]."
Reemphasizing the fact that she is not considering leasing the land to other music promoters, Arthur launched a final dig at Reggae organizers. "If I were to do anything, I would sell it -- and not to the Mateel and not to People Productions, not at all," she said.
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