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May 4, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

Sun Valley's May Day dilemma:
flowers, or power to the workers?

11 Questions for Casey Crabill

The Weekly Wrap

DOUGLAS SPEAKS: The murmuring has died down somewhat, but many of the questions remain. On Thursday morning, Chief Dave Douglas, head of the Eureka Police Department, held a press conference to answer questions on the April 14 police shooting of downtown resident Cheri Moore, a 48-year-old mentally ill woman who held off officers with a flare gun for two and a half hours before a SWAT team entered her apartment and engaged her, resulting in her shooting and death (see last week's cover story, "Scenes from a Shooting," for more details). And while he was able to provide some basic facts about the confrontation that hadn't yet surfaced, and to announce that the officers who confronted Moore would not be facing charges, it could be weeks before questions about the wisdom of the EPD's strategy in confronting Moore begin to be answered.

In a long and sometimes confrontation encounter with reporters, a defiant Douglas began by laying out findings from Moore's autopsy and initial conclusions reached by the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT), an interagency police task force charged with investigating the shooting. The autopsy showed that Moore had been shot several times: Five times with a rifle and three to four times with a semiautomatic shotgun. Each of the officers involved in the shooting, as well as a third who was in the apartment and wielding a non-lethal weapon, were placed on administrative leave following the incident; it was expected that they would return to their jobs this week. Furthermore, Douglas said, CIRT had found that the officers "broke no laws" in discharging their weapons on Moore, as she had aimed her weapon at them after they gained entry to her home.

The deeper question is why police decided to storm the apartment in the first place. Douglas said the action was a tactical approach that had been formulated moments before the opportunity to implement it arose. Originally, the EPD felt it had two options: Talk Moore down or confront her. As the afternoon wore on, though, the EPD came up with a third plan: Wait until Moore appeared at her window empty-handed, then use that opportunity to enter the building and catch her unarmed. Soon after the police decided to follow this course, Moore did show up at her window without the flare gun. The SWAT team forced her door open and went down a hallway to the room where Moore was located. When Moore saw them, Douglas said, she picked up the gun and began to aim it at the officers. That's when they opened fire.

At the press conference Douglas was asked why the police had not tried to use the friend with whom Moore had been in contact throughout the standoff to help defuse the situation. He said that the police wished to use their own, professional negotiators, and that the friend could not be placed into a potentially dangerous situation. Douglas was asked whether, in retrospect, the third plan the police had developed made sense. The EPD knew that she was mentally unstable, they knew that she was homicidal and/or suicidal, they knew that she would have plenty of warning, since they would have to break down her door. Given all that, could the police really have expected the fact that she was momentarily unarmed to make a difference?

Douglas insisted that the plan was sound: "It should have worked. It should have worked. We thought it would. We wouldn't have done it otherwise."

Hank Sims

IDES OF MAY: Hospital Partners of America, a four-year-old health care company based in Charolotte, N.C., that creates physician-owned acute care hospitals, has expressed interest in buying the financially strapped St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka, though buyout talks are said to be in the early stages. At a forum for hospital employees last Thursday, staff was told by Interim CEO Joe Mark that Hospital Partners — which purchased Shasta Regional Medical Center in Redding from Tenet Healthcare in 2004 — has not yet visited the Eureka facility nor fully examined St. Joe's finances, and therefore discussions are preliminary. Bonnie Hamant, an RN in the urgent care department, said that at the meeting, Mark also commented that the letter Humboldt County supervisors sent last week to St. Joseph's corporate office in Orange County requesting to delay massive job cuts was essentially pointless, and layoffs would happen as scheduled on May 15.

Meanwhile, as layoff day nears, Hamant said the atmosphere is tense at the hospital, and she sees a rift forming between non-union employees and unionized nurses, with some "at-will" employees expressing approval of the CEO's plans for cuts. "I think some of them actually believe that nurses are the problem," she said. Some workers, Harmant added, have accepted severance packages and left the hospital early, with the option to be rehired in six months. Managers, she said, have already told staff how many full-time equivalent positions will be cut from each department. In the urgent care unit, where Hamant works, it was revealed that three part-time employees will be cut, she said. Six nurses work in urgent care currently, and the RN with the least seniority will likely have to go. In addition, hours of operation for urgent care will be scaled back from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. to 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.

On Saturday, St. Joe administrators, doctors and the board of trustees — union nurses were not invited — met St. Joseph Health System CEO Deborah Proctor and other health system executives at the Fortuna River Lodge to discuss the Eureka hospital's financial crisis. Cardiologist David Ploss attended the meeting and said nothing new was discussed, nor was the potential Hospital Partners buyout. "There wasn't anything that really gave anybody more clarity about what's going to happen in the future," Ploss said, adding that St. Joe administrators gave no indication as to which of the three options — to keep the nonprofit hospital, sell it or create a public hospital funded through taxes — they prefer.

At the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors Meeting on Tuesday, Interim CEO Joe Mark reported that the nonprofit institution is creating a physicians advisory group, a business advisory group and possibly a task force, with the intention of developing a recommendation for the direction of the hospital by July 2006. Community Health Alliance of Humboldt-Del Norte Director Allan Katz told Mark and the supervisors that his organization would like to be part of discussions with the hospital in the future.

— Helen Sanderson

YES ESA, NO ESA: Last Tuesday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it won't add the Siskiyou Mountains salamander and the Scott Bar salamander to the Endangered Species Act list. That prompted an immediate, litigious response from several groups including the Environmental Protection Information Center and the Center for Biological Diversity, who had petitioned for the federal listing. They filed a 60-day notice to sue over the decision.

Both species of salamander are skin-breathers — no lungs — who live on rocky slopes under older trees in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California. The Scott Bar salamander was only recently distinguished as separate from the Siskiyou Mountains species — something enviros had hoped might give it more clout with the feds. The conservation groups said the Bush Administration had stripped other protections, ones specified in the Northwest Forest Plan, which required federal agencies to survey critical habitat and protect the species from logging and other impacts. And even though the Fish and Wildlife Service said last week that those protections were re-instated in January, the enviro groups said they suspect they'll be dumped again in the future.

The feds, however, said no matter: Threats from logging "have declined dramatically" and, besides, the salamanders "have also been found to exist in areas that have already been clear-cut."

The feds also said state laws are sufficient for the sallies. The Siskiyou Mountains salamander, for example, is listed as threatened under the California ESA. But, countered the groups, the California Department of Fish and Game might be considering de-listing it.

In somewhat of a reversal in thinking, meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied two petitions that sought to de-list the Western snowy plover. The tiny shorebird skitters around shorelines of the Pacific Ocean in California, Oregon and Washington, and nests among up-slope dunes.

The petitioners, the city of Morro Bay and the Surf-Ocean Beach Commission of Lompoc, tried to convince the government that the ocean-side plovers were not distinct genetically from their inland relatives. The feds dared to differ and said, furthermore, that the Western snowy plover's numbers remain small in many areas along the coast, and the bird is still in danger from over-eager unleashed dogs and recreating humans.

Heidi Walters

SLOW GAME: Slowly, haltingly, moves the Big Lagoon Rancheria's big Barstow casino project through the wheel of potential great fortune.

The Big Lagoon Rancheria agreed last year to join with another California tribe, the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians (near San Diego), to build a double-casino/double-hotel extravaganza in the southern California desert town of Barstow. Big Lagoon had originally planned to build a casino at Big Lagoon. The state balked, saying the lagoon was too environmentally sensitive for such a project. And they'd been engaged legally over the matter until the governor said, hey, Big Lagoon, take your game to Barstow!

Meanwhile, a third tribe, the Chemehuevi of Lake Havasu (closer than the other two tribes), also wants to build a casino in Barstow — exclusively. Chemehuevi supporters got enough signatures to put a measure on the June ballot that would create a casino zone in Barstow that includes land the Chemeheuvi would build on but excludes the site where Los Coyotes and Big Lagoon want to build their project. (Barstow, like any good wannabe casino town situated nicely along the well-trod route to Las Vegas, I-15, is smilingly opening its arms to all comers.)

But even without that interesting tangle, the mere process of building an off-reservation casino is cumbersome: There have to be city-tribe agreements, the governor has to sign gaming compacts with the tribes, the land has to be put into trust for the tribes, and the state legislature has to ratify the gaming compacts. Big Lagoon and its Los Coyotes partner are slowly jumping through the hoops. But last week Sen. Wes Chesbro, who supports the Barstow casino project and who introduced a bill to ratify Big Lagoon's and Los Coyotes' gaming compacts, suddenly gutted the tribal casino text from the bill before it got to the senate. It was replaced with text proposing a California Veterans Home Veterans Bill of Rights — quite another matter (we think?).

Agents for the third tribe interpreted this as near-victory: "There appears to be no support for the compacts in the legislature," Larry Tenney, a representative for the Chemehuevi, was quoted as saying in the San Bernardino Sun.

So, did Chesbro have a change of heart? No, said Chesbro spokesperson Darby Kernan. It was just a broken arm.

"One of the tribal chairs with the Los Coyotes tribe, who was supposed to testify at the full senate hearing, broke her arm," Kernan said. "She's a very elderly woman, and she's a powerful speaker, and we wanted to accommodate her. So we gutted the bill and put it in Senate Bill 168." That bill will begin its journey later and eventually work its way to the full Senate. "It was just to buy time. The bill is very much alive.

Heidi Walters


Sun Valley's May Day dilemma:
flowers, or power to the workers?

story and photo by HEIDI WALTERS

Long before May Day took a bloody turn for the better, so to speak in 1886, when people in this country actually died so that we could have an 8-hour work day it was chiefly a day for flowers and celebrations of spring. And, most years, flowers and spring still seem to dominate the May Day landscape, with that dark period of growth and painful progress hanging in the shadows.

Except this year, when May Day returned loudly to the theme of workers' rights, as hundreds of thousands of workers marched through cities including hundreds in Eureka demanding immigration legislation reform and some form of amnesty for the estimated 12 million undocumented people working in the United States.

Out at the Sun Valley Floral Farm where flowers run the show every day this national Day of Protest posed a bit of a dilemma as different May traditions clashed. The floral farm's workforce is 55-60 percent Hispanic, according to Sun Valley Group President Lane DeVries, and nationwide the immigrants' rights protests leading up to the May Day marches have prominently featured Latinos. But because it is May and Mother's Day is approaching this is the busiest time of year for the floral farm. One day's loss of production could be devastating, the company's management decided, and that wouldn'tphoto of Guadalupe Sicarios and Salvador Pineda help the workers in the long run.

So they decided to ask everyone to come to work on Monday instead of taking the day off to join the march in Eureka. "We're celebrating May Day right here at the farm," DeVries said last week. But DeVries, who immigrated legally to the United States 22 years ago from Holland, said he supported the cause behind the day of protest. "Our nation is made up of immigrants. We're all descendants at one point of people who came to this country and built this country." He himself became a citizen in 1991.

Right: Guadalupe Sicarios and Salvador Pineda.

In solidarity with the nationwide movement, he said, the company would participate in the buy-nothing component of the May 1 protests. "Except lunch," said DeVries. "We're going to buy our employees lunch on May Day. But our purchasing manager is going to put on an apron and gloves and spend the day on the production lines." And that's what they did.

Last Friday out at the floral farm, a few Latino employees wandered one by one into Salvador Pineda's office to share their thoughts on the rising crescendo of protests for immigrant rights. While another employee made forays to the "tulip line" to find workers willing to talk to a reporter, the salt-and-pepper-mustachioed Pineda, who is director of safety and training, sat at his desk with a map of the world on the wall behind him and talked about his own venture into this country 29 years ago as a young man seeking to learn about flowers.

"I studied agriculture, in school, in Mexico," he said. His first job when he came to the United States without documents was in the fields "picking cherries, picking mushrooms" and so on, in the Salinas area. In 1986, he qualified for amnesty. The rest of his family mother, brothers, sisters have remained in Mexico.

"Eventually, I worked in a place where they grew flowers," Pineda said. Finally he came to the Sun Valley farm in Arcata. "I like the flowers that's why I came here."

He planned to be at work on May Day. "This time is very busy for us, and I'm the safety director I want to be here," he said. "We don't have a brakes factory. The flowers don't stop growing just because something is happening."

Pineda said that all of the immigrant workers at the farm are legally in this country the farm won't hire people who can't show the proper documents, he said. But he said he thinks undocumented workers ought to be given a chance in this country. "If they are already here and are already working, and if they are a plus for the community, there should be a way to integrate them. I wouldn't be so concerned about the people who want to come here and who have good intentions."

Susana Esteves walked into Pineda's office in a plastic apron, pulling off her work gloves. She'd been washing tulips. With Pineda helping translate, Spanish to English, Esteves said she planned to work on May 1, although a family member who had a night job was going to join the march in Eureka.

She said working immigrants already here, who don't have documents, should be given amnesty. "Why not, if people are working?"

Guadalupe Vega came in next, also from the tulip line. Vega is from Sinaloa, Mexico. Her husband came to this country first, and then she followed later with their children. She has worked at the floral farm since she came to this country.

Vega said she didn't think the march was necessary, because from what she's heard, amnesty is already a strong possibility for the nation's undocumented workers. And a march might give the wrong idea. "I think not buying anything, not buying gasoline or food, is enough support," she said.

After Vega went back to the tulip line, Guadalupe Sicairos came into the office wearing a black ball cap, his jeans dirty from work. He, too, planned to work on Monday, but he would not buy anything that day "to show that it affects the economy."

"I think that it's OK if people want to do their march," Sicairos said. "But I think we should work. I have my priorities: My family first, then my job and then whatever is next playing fútbol, whatever."

Sicairos came to this country legally as a student and later an employer helped him get the proper work documents to stay. But he said that hasn't stopped people from treating him with suspicion.

"I believe that sometimes people are discriminated against just because they are Mexicans," he said.

He was going to school in Sinaloa when he received permission to come to the United States to attend culinary school. He did, focusing on Italian cooking, and after three years of study and an internship at an Italian restaurant, he moved from San Mateo to Humboldt County with his culinary school certificate in hand. But when he applied for a job at an Italian restaurant in Eureka, the manager scoffed at him, he said.

"He said, `No, you can't cook Italian food you're Mexican,'" recalled Sicairos. "I showed him my certificate from the cooking school, and he said, `No, that's fake.' And so then I gave him the telephone numbers" of the school and the place where he'd interned. "I felt very bad, then. I studied almost three years, only to be told `No.'"

So he applied for a job at the Sun Valley Floral Farm and was hired. Not long after, he heard from the restaurant manager in Eureka, who said it looked like Sicairos been telling the truth after all about his Italian cookery training, and did he want the job? "No way," said Sicairos.

Neither Esteves, Vega nor Sicairos were fond of another idea that's been kicked around by some legislators back in Washington building a fence along the border to keep out illegal immigrants. "I think it's a bad idea, because it's like going to the past, like the Berlin Wall," said Sicairos.

Friday afternoon, the local group Democracy Unlimited sent out a last minute e-mail alert encouraging "respectful calls to Sun Valley Floral Farms requesting that they give workers the day off." The alert gave Sun Valley's main phone number. But by the end of the day, and through Monday, Sun Valley's management said it received maybe only one or two calls.

"I didn't receive any phone calls myself," said DeVries, Monday afternoon.




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