North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

May 6, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Going too far?
TV ads about risk of law enforcement cuts spark complaints

Wave of the future?
Project would convert ocean energy into electricity

Going to court
Judge Christopher Wilson rejects Palco's bid to dismiss DA's fraud suit


 T H E  W E E K L Y  W R A P

ARMED AND DANGEROUS: A Crescent City man exchanged fire with police as he led them on a two-county high-speed chase late Monday night and early Tuesday morning. As the Journal went to press late Tuesday afternoon, police from 14 different law enforcement agencies were still in the middle of an intense manhunt for 29-year-old Francisco Medina Loya in the rural northeast of Humboldt County. The incident began when officers from the Crescent City branch of the California Highway Patrol attempted to pull over the suspect's Lincoln Navigator at 10:45 p.m. Monday night, to serve him with a warrant for allegedly stalking and threatening his ex-wife. Medina continued driving, and eventually turned around and fired on the officers, breaking out their windshield, police said. He was next spotted around midnight on Bald Hills Road, north of Orick, where he had pulled over to unhitch a U-Haul trailer from his vehicle. A group of biologists working in Redwood National and State Parks drove up to the suspect with the intention of asking him if he needed help, but Medina fired several shots at them as well. No one was hit. The Hoopa Valley Tribal Police found him at the other end of Bald Hills Road at about 1:30 a.m.; a shootout ensued, and an officer's windshield was again shot out. The Humboldt Sheriff's Office picked up Medina's trail around the small town of Johnsons, on Highway 169 east of Orick, at around 6 a.m.; by 7 a.m., they too were exchanging shots with the suspect. An hour later, they found his car parked behind a rural residence, but he was not found inside. Loya is described as a Hispanic male, 5 feet, 8 inches tall, with black hair, brown eyes and a bowl haircut. His driver's license lists his weight as 165 pounds, but officers familiar with him say he has "lost a lot of weight lately."

TRINITY DEVELOPMENTS: Bruce Babbitt was right. That's the gist of a court-ordered environmental document released last week which recommended a flow regime for the Trinity River that is essentially identical to the plan put forward by the former Interior Department secretary in the waning days of the Clinton administration. The draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement was ordered by Fresno U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger and grew out of a legal challenge to Babbitt's decision mounted by Central Valley farming and power interests. Meantime, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is hearing an appeal on the case, ordered that more water be sent down the Trinity this year. As much as 90 percent of the Trinity's flow has been diverted to the Central Valley since the completion of a federal diversion project in the early 1960s.

TRINIDAD MURDER-SUICIDE: Last Friday, the Trinidad Police Department discovered the bodies of residents Fred Hunt, 47, and Debbie Paris, 49, in their Cushman RV, which they had parked at a space rented from the Trinidad Bay Trailer Court in early March. The couple were determined to have been dead for around three weeks at the time their bodies were found. Police Chief Kenneth Thrailkill said Monday that police believe Hunt shot Paris with a small-caliber pistol, then turned the gun on himself. Thrailkill said that neighbors in the trailer park, located just to the west of Murphy's Market, heard the couple arguing on April 7, followed by two small cracking sounds which didn't seem worth reporting at the time.

PEACEMAKER: Arcata resident Russ Shaddix, a friend to the county's youth, minority and economically disadvantaged populations for more than 30 years, was awarded the 2004 Humboldt County Peacemaker Prize at a special ceremony at Eureka's First Congregational Church Sunday night. The 64-year-old Shaddix, a member of the board of directors of the local St. Vincent de Paul, said that the honor came as a surprise, given that there are so many people in the community who do good work. "This is a real giving county," he said. "People who move here want to give and reach out to the community." Claire Reynolds, director of community relations for KEET-TV and a member of the panel that chose the winner, said that it was tough to choose a winner for the biannual prize. "It was a difficult decision, for sure," she said. "The nominees were fantastic, and it was an honor to meet them all." The award comes with a $4,000 grant, which Shaddix said he is still considering how to spend in order to make the biggest difference. "I'm going to take some time and think about it," he said. "It's not often you get a hunk of dough like that."

SCHOLARSHIP: Arcata resident Sage Matthews, a 26-year-old single mother and College of the Redwoods student, got a big vote of confidence last week from a foundation that helps "young people of exceptional promise reach their full potential through education." Matthews, an aspiring fashion designer, was one of only 27 students nationwide chosen for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarships, worth $30,000 per year for up to three years. She will start school at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco in the fall.

Going too far?
TV ads about risk of law enforcement cuts spark complaints



A graphic series of television advertisements sponsored by the Humboldt Deputy Sheriffs Organization raised eyebrows around the North Coast last week.

The ads, intended to mobilize support for the Sheriff's Office's budget in anticipation of upcoming cuts, feature harrowing scenes of domestic violence. A voice-over warns that a smaller Sheriff's Office budget could mean that deputies would not be able to respond as quickly to such events. At the end of the ads, people are asked to call their representative on the county Board of Supervisors.

In light of the state budget crisis, the board has asked all county departments, including law enforcement, to turn in budget proposals 20 percent below current funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

Simultaneous with the television campaign, advertisements appeared in local newspapers, including the Journal, carrying the provocative headline, "Is Your Public Safety a Priority? Not in Humboldt County."

Dave Morey, president of the Deputy Sheriffs Organization, said Tuesday that the ads were intended to draw attention and get people talking.

"We're doing it to let the public know and make them aware that the Sheriff's Office is in a crisis situation," he said. "I think that we would be remiss not to bring this to the public's attention, and then have these cuts going through without people knowing what they would mean."

Supervisor Jill Geist said Monday that the ad campaign has generated a number of calls to her office. She said most of the callers did not complain about the budget cuts, but about the startling nature of the ads themselves.

"Last week, I received a lot of phone calls from people who were outraged," Geist said. "They thought it was fear-mongering."

Geist said she and her fellow supervisors have made preservation of law enforcement a top priority in next year's budget. She also said the ads, in targeting the board, failed to send people to the decision-makers who could actually make a difference in the upcoming budget crunch -- state legislators and other representatives of state government.

In the last two years, the county's discretionary general fund budget -- which funds law enforcement, the district attorney, public works, parks and many other county services -- has been cut by nearly half, with a projected $20 million budget for the coming year, Geist said. The Sheriff's Office's portion of that fund currently stands at $10 million.

Sheriff Gary Philp said that it was important for the public to understand that the ads were taken out by the Deputy Sheriffs' Organization -- a labor group that represents deputy sheriffs, DA investigators and probation officers -- and not by the Sheriff's Office, which is a county agency.

"They're looking out for the well-being of their members, and I'm looking out for the well-being of the office," he said. "Most of the time we work together, but not always."

Philp, who stopped short of directly criticizing the ads, said that he had met with members of the Deputy Sheriffs Organization a few weeks ago to lay out the difficult budget decisions that his office and the county as a whole will have to make in the coming months.

The Board of Supervisors will hold a special session on the 2004-05 budget on Thursday, May 20, at 9 a.m.

[NOTE: The special session date has been corrected . An incorrect date is in the print edition.]

Wave of the future?
Project would convert ocean energy into electricity


A proposal by a Minnesota alternative energy company to convert energy generated by ocean waves off the Humboldt Coast into electricity will have to overcome a potential hurdle that could literally gum up the works: Sediment.

Mark Thomas, president and CEO of Independent Natural Resources, Inc., based in Eden Prairie, Minn., said Monday that the large amount of sediment discharged into the ocean every winter by the Eel River could make siting a facility in that general area less than ideal.

"It might be a problem," Thomas said, speaking by telephone.

There has been talk of locating the project, which would include an array of floating pumps connected by pipes to onshore facilities, off Table Bluff near the southern tip of Humboldt Bay, on land owned by the Wiyot Indian Tribe. Another possible location is near Centerville Beach, offshore from a former naval facility that is in the process of being transferred to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

While both sites have their advantages -- at Centerville, for example, there are two 50,000 gallon storage tanks ideal for storing the seawater that has been pumped ashore -- they are both in the vicinity of the Eel's sediment plume. The problem, according to Scott Willits, an Arcata-based engineering consultant, is that the grit could interfere with the proper functioning of the pumps, called "sea dogs."

Both Willits and Thomas said Wiyot tribal officials and fishermen's groups raised questions about how sediment might affect the pumps last week during a visit by Thomas and Doug Sandberg, vice-president of the company. It's not clear whether the concern is limited to the general vicinity of the mouth of the Eel River. Other possible locations include an area between Clam Beach and the mouth of the Mad River, and near the town of Trinidad.

Willits said the sediment problem, and other issues, would be explored by a "siting committee" made up of members of the Wiyot tribe, fishermen's groups, and representatives from Humboldt State University. The committee "will look at the various sites and evaluate which ones are most appropriate," Willits said.

Sandberg said the first step in deploying the pumps is to place one of them in the ocean for a winter to see how they hold up. To date, testing on the pumps has been limited to simulated ocean conditions in the laboratory.

If that first test is successful -- and Sandberg said the company's goal is to do the single-pump test over the coming winter -- then the next step is to build a containment structure out in the ocean that would be anchored to the sea floor and would contain 16 pumps in an area about the size of half a football field.

The pumps, located beyond the crashing of waves, would nonetheless be driven up and down regularly as waves of force move toward the shore. That oscillation would send seawater from the pumps via pipelines up a cliff to a reservoir, which in turn would send the seawater back down the cliff into a facility where turbines would create electricity. The juice would feed into the power grid, while the seawater would be returned to the ocean.

The estimated cost of this project, which Sandberg said could provide enough power for as many as 580 homes, is $3 million. A larger project that is envisioned, an array of 200 pumps spread over an area larger than five football fields, could provide enough electricity for as many as 300,000 homes, Sandberg said.

Thomas and Sandberg gave a presentation of the concept last weekend at the RTC Tech Expo at Redwood Acres Fairgrounds in Eureka.

Going to court
Judge Christopher Wilson rejects Palco's bid to dismiss DA's fraud suit


After a puzzling nine-month delay, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson issued a ruling Friday allowing most of District Attorney Paul Gallegos' fraud suit against the Pacific Lumber Co. to proceed.

The ruling dismisses -- with a few important exceptions -- Palco's "demurrer" motion, which sought to have the landmark lawsuit thrown out of court.

Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen, who is prosecuting the case for the county, said Monday that he had no explanation for the lengthy delay in Wilson's ruling. Lawyers for both sides presented their arguments on the dismissal motion last summer.

"We're just glad we got it," he said. "We think the judge ruled in our favor on the guts of our complaint."

In particular, the county will still be allowed to seek financial penalties for every tree the company has cut under its "sustained yield plan" (SYP), formulated during the negotiations over the Headwaters Forest in 1998 and 1999. In previous documents filed with the court the DA's office has said it will seek penalties of up to $2,500 per tree, which if accepted by the court could add up to penalties totaling as much as $250 million.

In addition, Wilson rejected the company's invocation of a legal precedent -- the "Noerr-Pennington" doctrine -- with which it made the argument that statements it made during the negotiations over Headwaters were protected by the First Amendment. Stoen had previously called this strategy the "right-to-lie" defense.

On Monday, Palco issued a press release that characterized Wilson's ruling as a blow to the DA's case. The company pointed out that Wilson did not agree to slow the company's current rate of harvest, as Stoen had requested. Also, Wilson prevented the DA from seeking to have the company reimburse the $300 million the state and federal government paid for the Headwaters Forest, unless either of those entities join the DA's lawsuit.

"This case has caused enough problems," said Palco CEO Robert Manne in the press release. "For the county's sake, I hope the DA evaluates very carefully whether it should proceed."

Manne pointed out several instances in Wilson's ruling in which the judge cast doubt on the DA's ability to win the lawsuit when it goes to trial. Wilson wrote that the legal theory behind the lawsuit was an "ill-suited vehicle" for the charges against the company, and that proving the DA's case would be a "tall order."

But Stoen said that proving the company's intent to defraud the public would be a trivial matter when the case went to trial. The more difficult part, he said, would be to convince the court that the high per-tree penalties sought in the suit were justified. He said that Wilson's description of the merits of the county's suit was probably inserted as a way to console the defendants in the case.

"If a judge rules against somebody, he wants to cushion the blow," he said.

Ken Miller, a local activist who served as an unpaid consultant to the district attorney's office when the lawsuit was being drafted, said that Palco's take on the ruling was reminiscent of the failed effort to recall Gallegos, which was funded in large part by the company.

"The recall attempt by Pacific Lumber showed us how they mischaracterize, misrepresent and lie," he said. "This is just another example of their willingness to spin this decision in a way that mischaracterizes its significance, which is a green light to move ahead with the fraud case."

The DA's lawsuit charges that Palco knowingly defrauded the government during negotiations that led to the purchase of Headwaters Forest by the public. Specifically, it alleges that the company provided environmental regulators false data on the relationship between timber harvesting and landslides, and failed to properly notify the government when more accurate data became available.



North Coast Journal Weekly

© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.