North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News
COVER STORY  |  CALENDAR

May 2, 2002

Farmer backs attorneys' bid to protect jobs

Playing umpire with three strikes

 Kids staying in school

Local author honored

Too good to be true?

Humboldt Bank closes branch

Walk a sacred path

Head Start fall enrollment

Taxpayer league meeting

Good news for Bill

Get on the bus

Not the 'Big One'

Pac Bell pipeline held up

NEC Art Auction

Klamath redux

More water for the Trinity


Farmer backs attorneys' bid to protect jobs

by KEITH EASTHOUSE

OUTGOING DISTRICT ATTORNEY TERRY FARMER supports a controversial bid by the County Attorney's Association to gain greater job security for district attorney prosecutors, a senior member of Farmer's staff said Tuesday.

Deputy District Attorney Worth Dikeman said Farmer has dropped his longstanding opposition to changing county attorneys from at-will employees to civil service employees. Dikeman said Farmer has backed off in deference to District Attorney-elect Paul Gallegos, who made a campaign promise on behalf of stronger job protections.

"It is my understanding that (Farmer's) opposition no longer exists. And as Paul has assured us that he supports (a change to) civil service status, it seemed the time was ripe.

"It's kind of like stars colliding, if you will," Dikeman added.

But it is precisely the timing of the bid for a new employment contract for county attorneys that is disturbing to some. One attorney who requested anonymity said that if the effort is successful, it will prevent Gallegos from making whatever staff changes he deems are necessary when he assumes office in January. Gallegos upset Farmer, a 20-year incumbent, in the bitterly fought March primary election.

"One of the reasons he got elected was to make changes. And to deprive him of that after he's been elected is the worst kind of politics," the attorney said. Another source characterized the job security bid as an attempt by Farmer "to control the office from the grave."

Farmer, who has served as district attorney for the past 20 years, did not return telephone calls made to his office and to his Eureka home on Tuesday.

Gallegos, who only learned of the bid for a new contract when he received a mass e-mail last week, has accused the association of trying to go behind his back. He has also affirmed his support for job security for the team of prosecutors that he will be in charge of next year.

In an interview with the Journal this week, he said he was "offended" and "disappointed" that the association did not wait until after he took office. Since it didn't, he said the effort amounts to "an attempt to subvert the will of the people."

"Evidently, they don't want there to be any house cleaning. They want to make sure that things stay the same." Noting that he has met with district attorney prosecutors and assured them he's not out for revenge, Gallegos said: "I have been working to calm their fears. I thought things were fine. But now I have to ask myself if that's the case. The message I've been sent here is that things aren't as good as I thought they were."

Gallegos said that relations have been decidedly chilly with Farmer ever since the election. "He won't talk to me," Gallegos said.

The association, which includes both prosecutors and public defenders, plans to vote on a new contract by May 10. The issue is likely to come before the Board of Supervisors in early summer.

In addition to driving a wedge between Gallegos and his future staff of attorneys, the job security bid has split the attorneys who work for the county. Prosecutors supported Farmer during the campaign and openly criticized Gallegos as unqualified. It is this group that is apparently concerned that Gallegos will fire them.

Public defenders, who will also vote on the contract, say their courtroom counterparts shouldn't worry about getting fired if they're doing their jobs.

Peter Martin, County Attorney's Association representative, said a new contract would still give the district attorney the power to dismiss prosecutors for just cause, such as insubordination. "All this prevents are arbitrary firings that are politically motivated," Martin said.

Others, however, say giving county attorneys civil servant status would simply turn them into bureaucrats who would be all-but-impossible to fire.

"It's a bad idea. You're going to get deadwood in there that you can't get rid of," one attorney said.

"It's a few individuals putting their (job security) interests ahead of the best interests of the county," the attorney added.


Playing umpire with three strikes

When California's "three strikes, you're out" law was passed seven years ago, it was predicted by critics that California's court system would be swamped with jury trials and its prison system would be stuffed with petty criminals doing mandatory life sentences.

"That hasn't happened in Humboldt County," said Jim Steinberg, the county's chief public defender.

The law stipulates that if a defendant in a felony criminal trial has two prior offenses, he or she is automatically eligible for a 25 years-to-life sentence. Steinberg was among the county's most vocals opponents of the law when it was passed. But he said that it hasn't caused the catastrophes he himself predicted because of the even-handed approach with which three strikes has been applied here.

"My impression is that in many other counties, three strikes has been used with greater frequency than here," he said. "That's purely because of the policies of the DA," he said.

Steinberg said his chief legal adversary, District Attorney Terry Farmer, had only used the three strikes law on around 20 occasions, and had pursued the 25-to-life sentence to a successful conviction less than five times.

"You know, Terry and I have for many years had opposing obligations at the professional level," Steinberg said. "But when I compare his office with cases I see from around the state, I think his office has acted more responsibly." That responsibility includes being willing to settle when the third felony is minor.

The three-strikes law has still been a huge blunder for California's criminal justice system, Steinberg said. In the best-case scenario, as here in Humboldt County, it makes pleading your innocence a high-stakes game: If you turn down settlement offers and then lose, you will automatically be headed to prison for a long time.

"I imagine a number have decided to plead guilty because of the threat of a three-strikes sentence," Steinberg said.

In the hands of some prosecutors, the law can be outright draconian. In November, a federal appeals court overturned the third-strike sentence of Leandro Andrade. Andrade's third strike? Shoplifting $154 of videotapes from a San Bernadino store.

"Some DAs have acted irresponsibly," Steinberg said. "It's impact has been far less dramatic here."

The three strikes intiative was the subject of a Journal cover story in 1994, "Bye, Bye, Ricky." Ricky Spahn was thought to be a poster boy for the new law: A repeat offender with a history of residential burglary, he was being set up for a three-strikes sentence after a nonviolent residential burglary.

But Spahn pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity -- and won. He was never sentenced under the three-strikes law, or any law, and is now in a state mental hospital.


Kids staying in school

The dropout rate for public high school students in Humboldt County fell to just over 2 percent during the school year that ended last June. That's the lowest rate in a decade.

Humboldt County Superintendent of Schools Louis Bucher pointed to two reasons for the improvement: greater focus in the curriculum on career preparation, and new educational alternatives for students having trouble in the traditional high school environment.

"We offer students who may get lost a chance to filter their way back in," explained Brian Stephens, assistant superintendent of the Northern Humboldt Union High School District. Those chances include independent study programs and community day schools, which prepare ninth- and tenth-grade students for entry into mainstream high schools.

"The real reason for the decline," Stephens said, "is that we've had excellent parent and community support. This couldn't have happened without their support."



Local author honored

Author Freeman House of Petrolia was honored earlier this month with the American Academy of Arts and Letters Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award of $10,000.

House will be presented with the award at a May 15 ceremony in New York "the self-described center of the world," as House put it.

House, a former salmon fisherman and executive director of the Mattole Restoration Council, won the award for his first book, Totem Salmon: Life Lessons From Another Species. The book was published in 1999 and is now being taught in universities across the nation.

"As a commercial fisherman I noticed that the salmon population was crashing," explained House. "I fell in love with the drama of the salmon, and, as a fisherman, writing this book was a way to give something back."



Too good to be true?

There may not be many trains on the Northwestern Pacific rail line in the next few months, but the North Coast Railroad Authority is looking for someone to serve as an operator.

The operator does the actual work of running a railroad on tracks owned by the authority. The authority terminated its relationship with former operator John Darling last year, claiming Darling had defaulted on his track-maintenance responsibilities.

Authority official Leo Sears emphasized the need for an operable railroad on the North Coast, stating that it was necessary for a viable economy.

"The timber and fishing industries are in decline, and tourism will never be a good economic base. It's fickle with low-paying jobs," said Sears. "We need to develop our deep water port and get the railroad going. Companies are always looking to expand, always looking here, but they leave when they see there's no railroad or harbor."

Ted Niemeyer, a developer from Illinois, has expressed an interest in buying parts of the North Coast corridor outright. Sears, however, remains unconvinced.

"If he (Niemeyer) is what he puts himself out to be, I would do handstands. I'm not against it, I just have to be skeptical," Sears commented.



Humboldt Bank closes branch

In another bit of bad news for the local economy, the Loleta branch of Humboldt Bank is expected to close July 26.

Bank President Paul Ziegler said the branch was "not economically viable. "The standard for a bank to be profitable is in the $15-20 million range of deposits, and the Loleta branch has around $7 million," Ziegler said.

Ziegler said the bank would work with the community of Loleta on finding an appropriate use for its building, which is on the National Historic Registry.

"Our customer base has been fantastic and we will do everything we can to have a presence in the community. This is a very emotional issue for our employees and the community," said Ziegler. Customers' accounts will be transferred to the bank's Fortuna branch, and all Loleta employees have been offered positions elsewhere within the company, he said.

Guy Sovereign, general manager of the Loleta City District, said the building could be used as a community event center, with art shows and historic displays of community memorabilia.

If the district can acquire the bank's building, Sovereign sees the closure as "not a bad factor at all," and hopes to install an ATM, a luxury the present Loleta Bank doesn't have.



Walk a sacred path

Opened to the public last month, The Christ Episcopal labyrinth in Eureka can be visited on the third Sunday of each month.

The labyrinth, used for walking meditations, has the same design as the labyrinth at France's famous Chartres Cathedral (not to mention San Francisco's Grace Cathedral).

Call Judy McGinty at 268-1388 for more information.



Head Start fall enrollment

"We don't believe children learn without their parents," stated Christy Snyder of Northcoast Children's Services.

Offering free developmental programs with medical, dental, nutritional and social services for families, Head Start and Early Head Start are recruiting families for September enrollment. "We're inclusive of the whole family, providing parents with education and assistance with medical and dental services," Snyder said.

Head Start offers preschool for 3- and 4 year-olds, while Early Head Start provides support for pregnant women and infants up to age 3.

Call 822-7206 for more information.



Taxpayer league meeting

Members of the North Coast Leadership Roundtable have been invited to the Humboldt Taxpayers League's annual general membership meeting, scheduled for the Eureka Inn on May 8. The gathering, which includes dinner, will feature guest speaker Jonathan Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. Jarvis was the driving force behind Proposition 13, the controversial 1978 initiative that dramatically cut California's property taxes.

The cost for the dinner is $30 a plate. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 442-8299, or emailing lhenderson@shn-engr.com.



Good news for Bill

The effort to renovate and expand the Sequoia Park Zoo has received a boost: the zoo will be the beneficiary of the money raised from this year's Humboldt Cup Yacht Race.

That's good news for zoo animals like Bill, the oldest living chimpanzee in America. It's also good news for the prairie dogs, who will trade in their current habitat for a larger and more natural ecosystem under the renovation. A redesigned entrance, expanded petting zoo and new community center are also planned.

Racers in the Humboldt Cup are helping by asking community members to sponsor a yacht. Any money collected will go directly to the Sequoia Zoological Society.

The race course runs two laps around Humboldt Bay, beginning and ending at the Wharfinger building.

The Humboldt Cup starts May 10, at 6 p.m.



Get on the bus

A Mother's Day Gathering to Celebrate Life will convene at the Nevada Test Site over the holiday weekend.

Sponsored by The Redwood Peace and Justice Center and the Volunteers for Peace, a biodiesel-powered Peace Bus Caravan will be leaving May 9 for the site from the Arcata Peace and Justice Center at 1040 H St., and will be making a pick-up stop at the Redway Post Office.

The test site saw more than 1,000 above-ground and underground nuclear explosions from the 1950s to the early 1990s. In addition to highlighting that history, the gathering will also call attention to another Nevada locale -- Yucca Mountain, which has been proposed as a dumping ground for high-level nuclear waste.

Led by spiritual leader Corbin Harvey, the gathering is hosted by the Western Shoshone in order to create a spiritually based community of nonviolent resistance.

Contact Andy Lundberg at the Redwood Peace and Justice Center for more information at 822-7455.



Not the `Big One'

Many North Coast residents noticed a quick jolt last Sunday at 5:43 in the evening. The earthquake measured 4.4 in magnitude, with the epicenter located 11 miles northwest of Ferndale. No damages were reported.



Pac Bell pipeline held up

Were it not for the California Transportation and Highway Department, a planned Pacific Bell fiber-optic cable linking Humboldt County with the Bay Area would be just months away from being built, according to a spokesperson with the telecommunications company.

Caltrans owns the best corridor of land in southern Humboldt along which to locate the fiber-optic cable: Highway 101. Pac Bell has formed similar agreements with Caltrans to use rights-of-way before, but this time the agency is asking for monetary compensation -- a first.

"We've met nearly all the environmental requirements and moved forward on the other parts of the job that do not involve Caltrans," said Pac Bell spokesperson Heather Alexander. She said the company would only need about two months to install the cable once Caltrans gave its OK.

"We've always paid the cost to return the area to its original state, but we've never been asked to pay fees before -- and we believe we shouldn't have to," she said.

Pac Bell hasn't been asked to pay in the past because it has never used a freeway right-of-way before, said Caltrans spokesman Royal McCarthy. He said Caltrans has traditionally kept utilities out because of the inconvenience maintenance would cause to drivers.

Fiber-optic cables do not present much of a maintenance problem because they rarely need repair, McCarthy acknowledged. But he said installation of the cable along the SoHum freeway requires compensation under state law.


NEC Art Auction

The Northcoast Environmental Center, a pioneer organization for environmental activism, will be hosting its annual auction and dinner extravaganza on Saturday, May 4, at the Arcata Community Center.

The event features a gourmet meal by Abruzzi's and diners will have the chance to bid on dozens of items, from rare books and exotic getaways to antiques, massages, raft trips, wine and more. In addition, nearly one hundred local artists and craftspersons have contributed to the NEC's cause by donating their works outright for the auction.

NEC Executive Director Tim McKay promises that the bidding should be "spirited and lots of fun. There's a great variety to choose from."

A rather special event this year, McKay is hoping for a large turnout in order to help the NEC rebuild and regroup after its headquarters suffered a devastating fire last July. The fire wiped out nearly thirty years worth of files and archives from the NEC's environmental library.

"The artists and all those who have donated to the auction have been unbelievably generous," stated McKay, "It's truly a reflection of how important this place is, and an affirmation of our place in the community."

McKay also noted how the community has been extremely responsive to the needs of the NEC, and many have donated documents as "equally unique" as those lost in the fire.

Among the art and handcrafted goods to be auctioned are paintings, fabric art, sculpture, pottery and jewelry.

Included in the lot is a nine-foot-high wood sculpture by Connie Butler, made from a chunk of Monterey cypress found on Moonstone Beach. Other contributing artists include John Wesa, Bill Van Fleet, Lisa Marie Waters, David LaPlantz, Ann Anderson and Leslie Price.

For a sneak peek at the art available, visit the Plaza Grill in Arcata or the temporary home of the NEC, located at 575 H St. in Arcata.

Tickets to the event are $40 and can be purchased at Strictly for the Birds in Eureka or at The Works in Arcata or Eureka and at the Center itself. Reservations are required.

For more information call 822-6918, or go to www.necandeconews.to.



Klamath redux

In the spring of 2001, environmentalists and fishermen sued the federal Bureau of Reclamation, claiming the agency needed to allow more water to flow down the Klamath River to support threatened salmon species. They won, and the bureau agreed to stop diverting as much Klamath water to farmers in southern Oregon and northern California.

This year, they're having to do it again.

The same coalition of environmental groups and fishermen's associations has filed essentially the same lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation. The plaintiffs allege -- again -- that the Bureau's plan for allocating water in the Klamath system ignores the agency's responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act.

"I don't think the biological needs of the fish have changed, and I don't think the requirements of the law have changed," said Todd True, staff attorney with Earthjustice, the environmental law group arguing the case.

The lawsuit alleges that the reclamation bureau did not give the National Marine Fisheries Service adequate time to determine whether the water diversion will pose an unacceptable threat to threatened salmon and suckerfish.

The bureau's decision-making process has become political rather than scientific, reflecting the anti-environmental stance of the Bush administration, said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman's Associations.

"It's hardball politics -- nothing to do with science," he said.



More water for the Trinity

Federal District Court Judge Oliver Wanger has directed that more water be allowed to stay within the Trinity River. Nonetheless, the bulk of the river's flow will still be diverted toward the Central Valley.

Wanger's ruling will retain another 100,000 acre-feet of water, but that is still 200,000 acre-feet less than former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's 2000 restoration plan calls for. That plan was based on almost 20 years of environmental studies and investigations.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is seeking to gut Babbitt's plan. The plan is vehemently opposed by hydropower and agricultural interests, who are challenging it in court.

 


COVER STORY  |  CALENDAR

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