Pepper spray back in court?
The 9th District Court of Appeals ordered a new trial last week for nine North Coast anti-logging protesters whose eyelids were swabbed with pepper spray by arresting officers.
In 1997, in three separate incidents, law enforcement in Humboldt County sprayed at extremely close range and swabbed liquefied pepper spray directly into the eyelids of protesters at the Scotia headquarters of Pacific Lumber Co., in the woods near Bear Creek, and in the Eureka offices of then-Congressman Frank Riggs.
Images from police videotapes, showing young women screaming in pain, were shown on television worldwide, creating a firestorm of protest denouncing the use of pepper spray on nonviolent demonstrators.
The unanimous decision by the three-justice panel restores a lawsuit alleging that Eureka police officers and Humboldt County sheriff's deputies used excessive force. Jurors deadlocked 4-4 after the first trial in San Francisco and the Federal District Judge Vaughn Walker ordered a new trial. Walker later dismissed the case.
Walker also had granted qualified immunity to Sheriff Dennis Lewis and Deputy Gary Philp during the trial and two did not testify. The appeals court ruled Walker "erred" in granting the immunity and said the questions of excessive force and immunity should be decided by a jury.
"A reasonable fact-finder could have concluded that using pepper spray bore no reasonable relation to the need for force," Judge Harry Pregerson wrote in the 29-page opinion.
Police routinely use pepper spray on violent suspects but the three incidents were the first known use on peaceful protesters.
Eureka attorney Nancy Delaney, representing the city and county, said she will ask the entire 9th District Court to hear the matter.
"The decision was disappointing from a legal standpoint," Delaney said. "There is a great deal of intellectual dishonesty in the opinion."
If the court declines to take the case, the case may go back to trial.
Split ruling in Stafford case
Judge John A. Feeney tossed out some charges but kept others in a case filed by 50 residents of the town of Stafford against Pacific Lumber Co. The residents' homes were damaged or destroyed by a landslide in 1997 that they allege was caused by Pacific Lumber's negligent timber harvesting.
In his ruling, Feeney said that PL can't be held accountable for the consequences of timber harvesting as part of a state-approved harvest plan. That did not, however, grant it immunity from claims of negligent land stewardship after the fact.
William Bertain, attorney for the plaintiffs, said that he believes this ruling represents a shift in legal interpretation.
"It would appear that the entire regulatory scheme for timber harvesting would be thrown off balance if this ruling were to remain in place," he said.
Jared Carter, PL's general counsel, disagreed, saying that the ruling "is consistent beyond any question with the statutory law of California." He added that PL does not believe its harvesting is to blame for the landslide.
Bertain said he will go before Judge Feeney May 26 to ask for clarification of the ruling.
Bigger jets, but when?
Officials at the San Francisco Airport (SFO) have filed a petition asking the Federal Aviation Administration to limit the number of flights arriving from the Arcata/Eureka Airport. But United Express has some objections to the plan.
SFO, suffering from some of the worst ratings for on-time flights, announced it will ask the federal agency to limit the number of 30-seat turboprop planes currently used by United Express for feeder flights to San Francisco.
"The airport is proposing that United Express fly nothing smaller than a 50-seat regional jet out of San Francisco to four markets -- Eureka/Arcata, Sacramento, Fresno and Monterey," said Steven Hart, vice president of market development for Sky West, parent company for United Express.
"There are a number of problems with the proposal, not the least of which is the fact that we do not have any such jets flying in the United Express system today," he said.
United Express flies Brazilia turboprops that hold 30 passengers with 12 flights a day into Humboldt County's airport in McKinleyville.
Hart said that so far Sky West has received no official notice from SFO officials.
"All we know about this proposal is what we've read in the press."
Hart said the airport has made similar suggestions in the past. "What's new is that they plan to go to the FAA and see if they can have them make rules that would force us to implement their suggestions."
Hart said he doubts that the FAA will buy into the plan. "It really is unheard of for any airport to dictate to any airline how it is they operate and what equipment they fly."
Hart said the company's long-term plan calls for a shift to 50-passenger regional jets into and out of SFO, planes that will probably fly to the Arcata Airport. They have 10 such jets on order but utilizing the new planes is partially dependent on current labor negotiations with United pilots.
"Right now there is an agreement in place with United's pilots limiting the number of regional jets United's partners can fly to a total of 65 nationwide. Sky West has 10 of those 65 (operating outside of California). This is an industrywide issue: Pilots at mainline carriers like United view (regional jets) as a threat to their job security."
Even if the pilots agree to the additional regional jets, a transition would take several years since Sky West has long-term leases on its Brazilia fleet.
Hart said that there is no doubt the change will come.
"It's not an if question, it's a when. We hope it will be sooner rather than later."
HSU branch in Crescent City?
State Sen. Wesley Chesbro introduced legislation last week that calls for a study to determine the feasibility of establishing a branch of Humboldt State University in Crescent City. The new institution would use the existing facilities of the College of the Redwoods Del Norte branch campus.
The HSU center would provide upper division courses, complementing the curriculum at CR, said Traci Perry, Chesbro's chief of staff. While the plan would give students the opportunity to take both lower and upper division courses, the two institutions would still function as separate entities, she said.
Chesbro's office has been receiving requests for a regular college campus in Crescent City, but it's not going to happen soon.
"There are a whole group of cities lined up that want a campus," said Perry. She said members of the Crescent City community see Chesbro's proposal "as the first step of a larger plan."
In a written statement, Chesbro said that an off-campus center would be the beginning of a "process that will hopefully bring a campus to Del Norte County."
Humboldt County on the grow
With its booming economy, California has been growing by leaps and bounds in terms of population and new job creation. But Humboldt County often lags behind -- way behind.
That may be changing, according to two recent reports.
Humboldt's population grew 1.4 percent last year compared to 1.7 percent statewide, according to May 3 press release from the state's Department of Finance.
That may seem modest, but after several years of no population growth, those are welcome numbers, said Steve Hackett, a professor of economics at Humboldt State University.
Hackett, who compiles a monthly report called the "Index of Economic Activity," said there is other good news to report.
"There was a big jump in help wanted ads," he told the Journal. "Advertising counts soared during the month of March, rising by 18.8 percent. Help wanted ads increased by 44 percent over 1999 and 56 percent over 1998," the report read.
One of the most important trends in the local economy is the slow change away from wood-based industries, he said. Wood-based industries still account for 75 percent of the manufacturing jobs, but that percentage "is going down slowly," Hackett said.
The manufacturing sector continues to lose importance as a source of employment.
"If you look at the statistics over the year, manufacturing has gone down and services have gone up," said Anita Anderson of the state's Employment Development Department.
Two very visible examples of retail job growth are the new Appleby's and Walgreens franchises in Eureka. Together they added about 170 jobs to the economy.
Hackett tracks manufacturing orders and building permits activity in addition to help wanted ads and unemployment claims.
Fingerprints for food stamps
Most people reach to their wallet when they need to prove their identity. Driver's licenses, Social Security cards or military IDs may work when you register to vote, but beginning June 8 the Humboldt County Department of Social Services has something else in mind: your thumb.
It may sound futuristic, but the department's new Statewide Fingerprint Imaging System is very real. It uses fingerprints to assure that applicants are not already receiving aid under a different name in another county.
Carole Patton, staff services manager for the department, said that until now the only method they had was to check for matches on Social Security numbers. Now they can search a digital database for fingerprint matches.
The fingerprints won't be shared with other agencies, however. State law prohibits such data sharing. Even if welfare fraud is suspected, the case is handled by an investigative unit inside the department. If fraud is detected, the case is referred to the district attorney.
Humboldt Bay trail eyed
Humboldt Bay hikers, bikers and birdwatchers have more reason to smile these days. The concept of a scenic trail around Humboldt Bay got a boost recently when the Coastal Conservancy granted $107,000 to fund a Humboldt Bay Trail feasibility study.
The study, by the Redwood Community Action Agency (RCAA), will determine what the potential obstacles and cost of a trail will be.
"Providing recreational access to the bay is long overdue," said Sen. Wesley Chesbro, who spoke out for the grant as a member of the board of the Coastal Conservancy. Supporters say the trail could attract ecotourism dollars, as well as provide recreational access for residents.
"About 90 percent of Humboldt County's population lives around the bay, so most of them can benefit from improved access," said Sungnome Madrone, director of natural resources services for the RCAA.
Madrone said neighbors of the proposed trail can relax, because "there is no way this project will take private property from anyone or propose access to private property unless there is a willing landowner."
Bald head for monkey bars
With any luck, Bill Cannady is going bald.
The Jefferson Elementary School principal has agreed to shave his head clean if the charity auction May 13 raises more than $1,000. The auction, which begins at 2:30 p.m., is to raise money for a new playground. The school has raised $43,000 and is $5,000 short of its goal.
More than 25 businesses donated services and goods to the auction, including golf course fees, meals at restaurants, a guided trip down the Klamath and -- of course -- hair styling.
Class of 2000 largest ever
When Humboldt State University holds its graduation May 13, more than 2,100 students will make the walk. It's the largest class ever, 100 more than in 1998.
Sean Kearns, director of university communications, said the ceremonies will be carried on the internet and cable television, a practice started last year. And the event will probably contain a few surprises as usual. One year a marriage proposal was delivered by a new graduate wearing a chicken suit, he recalled.
But the significance of the day for the graduates and their families remains.
"You always realize just how much goes into the achievement and just how proud the individuals are who have stuck with it," said Kearns.
Due to full motel rooms and bustling restaurants, more than $3 million will be funneled into the area economy during the three-day event.
HSU sports raise big bucks
How can you tell who the biggest sports booster in town is? He's the guy driving the '66 Lincoln Continental.
The car, along with a jet ski and several vacation packages, was auctioned at the 15th annual Celebrity Dinner and Sport Auction two weeks ago. The auction, which featured San Francisco 49er Terell Owens as a speaker, raised almost $100,000 for HSU sports programs.
Fund-raising goals exceeded
Karen Miller is busy saying "thank you" these days.
She is campaign chair of United Way of Humboldt which just completed its 1999 fund-raising effort by exceeding its goal by $40,000.
According to Miller, $301,670 was raised. That's 16 percent over its goal of $260,000.
The money will go to support such community groups as the Boys and Girls Club of Humboldt County and Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
How much will go to which groups is yet to be determined because of a provision that also allows donors to direct their United Way contributions to organizations not affiliated with United Way.
The final budget allocations should be available in a month or two, Miller said.