North Coast Journal Weekly link to homepageIn the News

May 27, 2004

The Weekly Wrap

Curbing corporations -- again
Arcata tackles 'corporate personhood'

The thrill of victory

Show of force

Muddying the waters?
New rules could render organic label meaningless

On the hustings


 T H E  W E E K L Y  W R A P

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.

RIO DELL RECALL FAILS: The county elections office confirmed on Tuesday that the effort to recall three members of the Rio Dell City Council has failed to make the ballot. Organizers needed 401 signatures from city residents to put the recall on the ballot, but examination of the recall petitions revealed that only around 330 of the 430 signatures organizers turned in were valid. City Manager Eli Naffah said he was glad that the issue was resolved. "Hopefully, we can move on to more productive things for the city," he said. Citizens upset with the city's direction can take heart, though -- two of the five council seats will appear on the November ballot, and citizens have until Aug. 6 to throw their hats into the ring.

PROSTITUTION CRACKDOWN: The Eureka Police Department conducted a sting operation in the Old Town area on Friday that resulted in the arrest of eight women, ages 22 to 61, for prostitution. Capt. Murl Harpham said Tuesday that the department has been receiving complaints about the "boldness" of some prostitutes from business owners in the neighborhood, and that this sting operation had been planned for some time. "We have to get officers to pose as marks, and we have to get the time to go down there in plain cars," he said. Harpham added that, as a rule, similar sting operations targeting the customers of prostitution followed busts of the prostitutes themselves. "Usually when we do something like this we do the women first, so when we put our [undercover] women down there, [the prostitutes] are gone," he said. "It cuts down on the competition."

FRESHWATER SPIT RULING: On Monday, Judge J. Michael Brown of Humboldt County Superior Court ordered the California Department of Transportation to hold off on giving Freshwater Spit over to Redwood National Park. The ruling was something of a vindication for Ed Salsedo, Orick resident and former owner of the Logger Bar, who for the last four years has been battling for economic development on the spit. Brown accepted Salsedo's argument that Caltrans was intending to award the land to Redwood Park instead of offering it for sale -- a violation of the department's stated policy. Caltrans must now take the issue to the California Transportation Commission.

HATCHERY FRIENDS ORGANIZE: A group of local residents dedicated to saving the Mad River Fish Hatchery have formed a nonprofit. Jim Childs, secretary for the new Friends of the Mad River Fish Hatchery, said that the group has already raised around $42,000, but still needs some $80,000 if the hatchery is to remain open next year. Childs said that local businesses have been very supportive, as has the California Department of Fish and Game, which ran the hatchery until budget cuts forced it to abandon operations. The Humboldt Crabs will throw a benefit for the hatchery on July 7 -- all ticket proceeds from that day's game will be donated to the cause.

PALCO PAYS FOR FIRE: The California Department of Forestry announced on Monday that the Pacific Lumber Co. has reimbursed the state for the cost of extinguishing two wildfires that broke out near company operations in Freshwater earlier this year. Though Palco admitted no wrongdoing in the fires, the CDF has determined that they erupted after debris burns that the company was overseeing escaped from its control. In settling the case, Palco agreed to pay $8,335.37 into the state's general fund.

REMEMBER HIM? Seventies-era heartthrob Erik Estrada, the motorcycle-straddling "Ponche" Poncherello on the wildly popular "CHiPs" TV show, is still a highway patrolman at heart. On Saturday, June 5, Estrada -- whom the California Highway Patrol bills as an "actor/icon" -- will appear at Ray's Food Place, 3460 Broadway, Eureka, to help the CHP promote the correct use of children's car seats. According to the CHP, 80 percent of children nationwide are buckled into their seats incorrectly. If parents wish to learn the correct way to buckle their kids up and simultaneously fulfill a teenage fantasy, they will be accommodated at Ray's between 10 a.m. and noon on a first come, first-served basis.

SEATBELTS, ANYONE? Estrada's visit comes at the tail end of "Operation ABC," a nationwide drive to raise seatbelt awareness, which began on May 24 and will end June 6. Local police agencies will target drivers not wearing their belts in addition to the traditional Memorial Day Weekend crackdown on drunk drivers. Officer Stefanie Barnwell of the Arcata CHP station said Tuesday that fully half of the fatal accidents locally this year have involved both drunk driving and failure to wear seatbelts. However, Humboldt County drivers are apparently more safety-conscious than their counterparts elsewhere -- Barnwell said statistics show that an astonishing 98 percent of drivers on local highways do buckle up.

Curbing corporations -- again
Arcata tackles 'corporate personhood'


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 holding trophy]The thrill of victory

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.


Show of force

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.


Muddying the waters?
New rules could render organic label meaningless


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.

[Bill Jones standing at podium in front of Simpson Timber Co. building,  with five onlookers]On the hustings

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.




North Coast Journal Weekly

© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.