May 27, 2004
BAD ACTOR: The Pacific Lumber Co. has been slapped with 325
violations of state forest practice rules and of its habitat
conservation plan since the signing of the Headwaters agreement
in 1999, according to information uncovered by the Garberville-based
Environmental Protection Information Center. The violations,
documented in a report the environmental group is releasing this
week, were issued by the California Department of Forestry, which
regulates private lands logging in the state, and by the California
Department of Fish and Game, charged with ensuring that the conservation
plan, a cornerstone of the Headwaters deal, is adhered to. EPIC's
program director, Cynthia Elkins, said late Tuesday that the
violations inflicted "irreparable damage to fish and wildlife
habitat" and included "an extremely disturbing pattern"
of illegal cutting within streamside "no-cut" zones.
She said one of the more egregious violations was the felling
of an 8-foot-wide redwood on company land in Freshwater that
stood immediately adjacent to a stream. While the violations
produced only "minimal" financial penalties, Elkins
raised the possibility that the forestry department might do
what it did in 1998, the last time it was faced with a slew of
Pacific Lumber violations: suspend the company's timber license.
Elkins said her organization is exploring its legal options in
the wake of the findings. Pacific Lumber spokeswoman Erin Dunn
did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
by HANK SIMS
The city of Arcata, known for taking steps to limit the influence of big business, is promising to take its fraught relationship with corporate America to a whole new level this summer.
Last week the city became one of the first in the nation to pass a resolution rejecting the legal concept of "corporate personhood" -- the notion that incorporated businesses should have most of the same civil rights, including freedom of speech and freedom from illegal search and seizure, that people do.
The resolution, passed by a 4-1 vote, calls the concept a threat to democracy -- in part because it enables corporations to provide financial backing to candidates in city elections. It asks the city's Committee on Democracy and Corporations to host a series of town hall meetings meant to elicit ideas about how Arcata might address the problem with concrete measures -- such as a legally binding ordinance.
"The resolution is a statement of our beliefs and our concerns," said Councilmember Dave Meserve on Monday. "Now that we've got the resolution, we can go beyond it."
Corporate personhood became part of United States law in 1886, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Southern Pacific Railroad, like slaves recently freed in the Civil War, enjoyed the right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment.
In recent years, some anti-corporate activists have chosen to focus their efforts on overturning that and other Supreme Court decisions which have made corporate personhood the law of the land. One organization, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, is trying to get 50 cities to pass resolutions similar to Arcata's, with the aim of bringing the issue to the national stage. In 2000, the Mendocino County town of Point Arena became the first American city to pass such a resolution. The Berkeley City Council will consider its own version in June.
Molly Morgan, a member of the league's board of directors, said that personhood is a useful "talking point" in challenging the actions of corporations, as many people dislike the idea that corporations enjoy the same civil rights as citizens.
"It's a very easy thing to explain to a person on the street," she said. "The basic idea is not hard to communicate. Our hope was that as people looked at this they would start to consider what corporate rule does to our society."
The Arcata resolution goes beyond the one passed in Point Arena in that it calls for the creation of city laws that would deny personhood rights to at least some types of corporations. The specific details of such laws will be worked out at the town hall meetings planned for the coming months.
Meserve suggested several forms such laws could take. Corporations could be denied the right to donate to city elections, or they could be considered by different standards when applying for building permits and business licenses. If Wal-Mart were to decide to build a store in Arcata, an anti-personhood ordinance might give the council legal grounds to block them from doing business in the city.
But Councilmember Michael Machi, the only member to vote against the resolution, said Tuesday that ideas like the ones envisioned by Meserve were nothing more than wishful thinking, given the Supreme Court's 118-year history of affirming corporate personhood. He said that any attempt to challenge such a longstanding law is bound to end up costing the city money at a time when it doesn't have much to spare.
"The city attorney will have to review the ordinance in every way, shape, and form, to see that it will in some way be legal," he said. "And I can't imagine what the committee would come up with that would be legal. It's just about a guarantee for us to be taken to court."
Meserve said he expected that perhaps activist groups battling corporate personhood would want to foot the legal bill in the event that the city is sued. He also assured local businesses that a personhood ordinance could be drafted in such a way that it would not affect the rights of small, Arcata-based corporations.
And he suggested that the extra money the city will spend in the course of drafting an ordinance would be well spent, given that it has brought the issue to the fore.
"People are talking about it," he said. "Just getting it out in the open is a great victory to start with."
In 1998, Arcata voters passed a ballot measure that led to the formation of the Committee on Democracy and Corporations, which was charged with studying the effect of corporations on civic life in the town. Four years later, the committee sponsored an ordinance, now city law, limiting the number of chain restaurants allowed to operate in Arcata -- the first law of its kind in the nation.
Danielle Chien, a ninth-grade student at Arcata High School, bested 49 other students to win the 2004 California State Junior High Spelling Bee Championship. Held at Miller Creek, a middle school in San Rafael, on May 15, the competition pitted students from 27 counties in grades seven through nine. It ended, as spelling bees tend to, when the contestants finally got stumped. The word was calvados, a French brandy made from apples. First Chien, who until then hadn't missed a word, failed to spell calvados correctly. That gave Nicholas Elsbree, a seventh-grader at Jacoby Creek, and Christopher Cusack, a Santa Barbara County eighth-grader, both of whom had each misspelled one word up to that point, their chance. But they missed, giving Chien the big prize; Elsbree and Cusack tied for second. Which, of course, is still something to be very proud of. And we think it's remarkable that two of the top three finishers were from Humboldt. By the way, Chien and Elsbree are not flashes-in-the-pan. Two years ago, as a seventh-grader at Pacific Union, Chien came in third at the same competition she won this time around. Also that year, Elsbree won the state's Elementary Spelling Bee Championship.
Local employees of SBC Communications (formerly Pacific Bell) joined their colleagues across the nation in a four-day strike last week, as representatives from the company and the Communications Workers of America entered into negotiations over a new contract. According to Wallace Niebel (center), a six-year veteran of the company, around 60 local employees walked off the job countywide, leaving about 10 managers to fill their shoes. Niebel said that the strike was in response to company demands that employees pay greater premiums for health care benefits, among other belt-tightening measures. "The company's trying to use the specter of the economy as an excuse -- but in fact, the company's doing very well," he said. On Tuesday, union negotiators reached a tentative agreement with the company that, if approved by the union, would protect current health care benefits and bar employee layoffs over the next five years.
by KEITH EASTHOUSE
It's not easy to penetrate the Redwood Curtain, which may explain why news of a controversy over recent rule changes in the nation's organic food standards caught at least one local official off guard.
Annie Eicher, organic farming program coordinator for the University of California Cooperative Extension, said Tuesday that she was unaware of the criticism being leveled by activists and some members of the organic industry against changes in what are known as the National Organic Program standards.
The changes, made behind closed doors by officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture last month, allow for greater use of antibiotics and hormones in organic dairy cows, permit an increase in pesticides in organic agricultural operations and let fish meal containing synthetic preservatives and even toxins be fed to livestock owned by organic operators.
Eicher, when told of that last change, said it may be "of concern" in terms of blurring the distinction between organic and non-organic dairy operations.
Bill Schumacher, produce manager at the North Coast Co-op, didn't know much about the rule changes, either. But he said he didn't think they were terribly important, at least in terms of the organic products carried by his store. He said, for example, that virtually all the produce carried by the Co-op is certified by other entities aside from the agriculture department.
The organic dairy business is a bright spot in Humboldt's mostly gloomy economic picture. In just three years, 12 organic dairy operations have popped up in the county, and North Coast dairies lead the state in organic dairy production. (See "Back to the (organic) future" in the May13 NCJ.)
Eicher said Tuesday from her Eureka office that local organic dairies cover nearly 4,000 acres, most of it in the Ferndale and Loleta area and to an extent in the Arcata Bottom. She said an additional 500 acres have been certified organic for the production of hay and silage (feed for livestock).
The outcry generated by the changes in the rules was the subject of a recent front-page story in the San Francisco Chronicle. Much of the anger has to do with the changes themselves and the possibility that they could undermine consumer confidence in the organic label. But there is also consternation over the way in which the rule changes were made: They were issued in the form of three "guidances" and one "directive" by administrators with the USDA's National Organic Program, who did not seek public input and did not consult with members of the National Organic Standards Board.
The 15-member board, established through congressional legislation in 1990, was told of the changes the day before they were announced. The board has fired off a letter in protest.
An official with the agriculture department said the new rules were simply interpretations of existing standards and not new regulations requiring public scrutiny and review. The official said the purpose was to bring consistency to standards that have been interpreted in sometimes contradictory ways.
Eicher said the lack of consistency might be the result of the fact that the government does not directly regulate organic producers. Instead, producers work with a "third-party certifying agent" approved by the agriculture department. These agents often interpret the standards in different ways -- for example, one might allow organic dairy farmers to use antibiotics in certain circumstances, while another might not.
Eicher said it's important to have some flexibility. While the standards require that organic livestock spend a certain amount of time outdoors, difference in climate from region to region is a complicating factor. "It's difficult," Eicher said. "The weather in Montana isn't the same as the weather in California. If it's freezing outside, you may need to have your animals indoors."
At the same time, Eicher said many, in the organic dairy industry at least, want the standards interpreted in a more consistent way. That was one of the things that was discussed at a conference held in Eureka earlier this year by national organic dairy trade groups. "There was a pretty general consensus that the [National Organic Program] needed to do something to rectify the situation of having certifiers making different interpretations," Eicher said. n
Journal staff writer Hank Sims contributed to this report.
Former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Barbara Boxer, touched down in Humboldt County last week for a tour of the Simpson mill in Korbel. At a press conference at the mill on May 20, Jones voiced strong support for President Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative, an effort to thin timber and brush from lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service to reduce the wildfire hazard. He also said that the federal government needs to reduce the number of regulations to put more timber workers into the forests. "This company, and others like it, form the backbone of the North Coast and the Northern Californian economy," he said. The previous night, local businessman Rob Arkley and his wife, former Eureka City Councilmember Cherie Arkley, hosted a fund-raiser for Jones at their home.
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.