June 5, 2003
by ANDREW EDWARDS
TO STEP INTO V & N BURGER BAR ON SAMOA Boulevard in Arcata is to step into a world that, beyond a panhandler in the parking lot, seems far removed from the liberal politics and dreadlocked youth of this iconically liberal town. Old men in flannel, blue jeans, suspenders and baseball caps chat about cars over meaty handfuls of hamburger and wavy-cut french fries. The young waitress knows their names.
And next to the counter window stands a sign proclaiming in large red letters: "Gallegos Recall Petition Here." In smaller print, the sign says: "We need a DA who's tough on drugs and violent crime. Instead, we've got Paul Gallegos."
"We've been getting a really good response," said manager Terra Smith, displaying a sheaf of filled-out petition forms with 20 signatures each.
In the burger joints, in the supermarkets, in the auto parts stores, in the gun shops, "the silent majority" of Humboldt, as they refer to themselves, is restless, and the signatures, according to recall proponents, are pouring in.
"A lot of people have come to us and said `where are the petitions?'" said Fortuna Mayor Mel Berti, speaking from work at Hoby's Market in Scotia. "It's going very well. It's not like we have to go out and beat on doors."
Reacting to PL suit
The recall was forged in the firestorm surrounding the DA's filing of a fraud lawsuit against Pacific Lumber Co. in late February.
Chuck Giannini, the owner of the Napa Auto Parts in the Valley West area of Arcata, said Gallegos had finally revealed his true colors as an environmental advocate.
"I think that was his whole thing all along," Giannini said.
After kicking off on May 17, the petition campaign against Gallegos has proceeded in impressive fashion. Those leading the recall effort must gather the signatures of 15 percent of registered voters in Humboldt County, just over 11,000 people, by October to get a recall on the ballot.
In southern Humboldt a well-organized operation is sending people door-to-door. Volunteers are also manning tables (they'll be at Safeway in Fortuna this weekend), and displaying petitions in friendly businesses. In northern Humboldt, according to Robin Arkley Sr. of Arcata, the effort is not particularly organized, but is still doing much better than expected.
Last week the recall received a huge boost when the Humboldt Deputy Sheriff's Organization, primarily a labor organization that represents sheriff's deputies, probation officers, deputy coroners, welfare fraud investigators and the DA's own investigators, made a surprise announcement in support of the recall, and immediately followed it up with advertisements in the Times-Standard.
"We decided to come out publicly [because] we thought it would be important," HDSO President David Morey said. "Sometimes it sways people who would have sat on the fence."
The Eureka Police Department's employees union, which has been critical of Gallegos's performance in the last four months, is also expected to back the recall drive, perhaps as early as this week.
Recall supporters are aiming to have all their signatures in by July so the recall can be on the ballot at the scheduled election this fall. If they don't make it until the October deadline, the recall won't be voted on until next year.
According to Morey, HDSO's executive board had been thinking of supporting the recall effort when it was approached by leaders of the recall.
Rick Brazeau, an Arcata political consultant and one of the key political strategists behind the recall effort, strenuously denied that any such interaction took place.
"We didn't approach [Morey]," Brazeau said. "I didn't approach them to take a position on this, no way. [But] I'm glad they did."
One way or the other, after being asked for its opinion, the board decided to take the matter to the membership, many of whom had already expressed an interest.
So, on the evening of Monday, May 19, the board called an emergency meeting in its Eureka office. It went on for two-and-a-half hours as members hashed things out and weighed pros and cons. Still, according to Morey, the discussion was fairly one-sided.
"There wasn't anyone who stood up and said we're not giving [Gallegos] a fair shake," Morey said.
Probation officers were reportedly angry at their increased case load (more people on probation equals fewer people in jail equals a DA soft on crime, they argued). Deputies were reportedly angry about Gallegos's new marijuana policy, what they saw as excessive plea bargaining (a charge that in the past had been leveled against former DA Terry Farmer), and statements by Gallegos to the effect that he didn't need to be "chummy" with police.
In the end, by Morey's estimate, 70 percent of the organization voted to support the recall. Many voted by proxy.
Investigators cry foul
It was decided at the meeting that the organization would present a unified front to the public.
But that quickly unraveled.
Angered at the implication that they were in support of recalling their boss, and that details of the vote had been released, the DA's nine investigators issued a press release stating they, at least, did not support the recall effort.
"Numbers [like the percentage of the internal vote] should not be thrown out like that. That's one of the things we're most pissed off about," said investigator Chris Andrews. Andrews, who said he was speaking for all the other investigators, declined to comment further.
Morey said that fear of retribution may have motivated investigators' dissent.
"Right now [the DA] is sitting down and massaging layoff figures," he said. (Of course, so is the head of every other county department due to the state budget crisis; the DA's office is facing a 25 percent cut in funding next year, about $500,000).
Gallegos angrily denied any sort of intimidation.
"Now [Morey's] saying that [the investigators] are not saying what they want and they're cowards. That really pissed me off," he said. "It's one thing to say that about me, but to say they would lie out of fear is a fantastic insult."
He also attacked Morey's tough-on-crime stance. He said Morey had recently failed to show up to testify in a case he had worked on.
But Gallegos acknowledged that he may have failed to connect with the rank-and-file in the Sheriff's Department.
"To the extent that I've made them feel that we're not a part of a team, that would clearly be a failure on my part," Gallegos said, adding that before the vote he had thought that their relationship was going well.
He referred to the rest of their charges against him as "freakin' lies."
So, are they?
No clear pattern
The recall may have been born out of the anger, fear and disillusionment generated by Gallegos's lawsuit against PL, but it has since moved on to more standardized complaints against any DA: he's a liberal, he's weak on crime -- essentially the same general complaints leveled by the sheriff's organization.
The new marijuana policy, one of Gallegos' campaign issues, caused resentment from the start, with law enforcement criticizing it as too liberal.
"In the sheriff's office we honor the laws of California whether I agree or disagree, [but] I do think [Gallegos' policy is] too liberal," said Sgt. Wayne Hanson, head of the Sheriff Department's drug enforcement unit.
It is certainly at the liberal end of the spectrum, but it is not alone. Del Norte and Sonoma counties both have 99 plant limits, like Humboldt. Mendocino has a limit of 25. Shasta puts its foot down at two.
Hanson also criticized the guidelines, which depend on a combination of garden canopy size and plant limits, as "extremely convoluted." The limit under Terry Farmer was 10 plants.
The rate of plea bargains, which account for between 90 percent of convictions nationally, hasn't significantly increased either, according to Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtzen, at least not in his court.
"I have not personally observed any increase in plea bargains entered now than in the previous administration," Reinholtzen said. "But then again, I'm just one judge."
Sentences haven't come down either, according to Reinholtzen, with the possible exception of the plea bargain agreement reached in the Eureka drive-by shooting case. The two shooters were each offered seven years in state prison, a decision EPD criticized heavily. So far the sentences haven't been made final.
Probation officers' complaints of a rising case load, a major concern according to Morey, may just be a statistical blip, according to the head of the county's probation department, Bill Burke.
"Even if we saw a blip on the screen with increased numbers, that wouldn't necessarily reflect a change in policy. To draw conclusions after four months time is hasty and unscientific," Burke said. "A conversation in a hallway between two people who may or may not have information becomes part of a belief system. A few conversations down the line, it takes on a life of its own."
Burke said the average case load under Farmer was 70 to 80 cases a month. That was up significantly in January and February to around 90, but settled back down in March and April, only to shoot up to 108 in May.
Gallegos said that the increase in referrals to the probation department was due to an increase in felonies: The DA's office's felony filings are up 20 percent.
Bottom line: this early on, there doesn't seem to be anything but anecdotal evidence against him. As Burke pointed out, four months is a short amount of time to see a pattern.
by BOB DORAN
THE INFAMOUS FIBER OPTIC GAP THAT HAS DENIED THE HUMBOLDT Bay region high-speed Internet access will soon be bridged thanks to an agreement announced Monday by the California Department of Transportation and SBC, formerly Pacific Bell.
The pact ends a two-year impasse between the state agency and the telecommunications giant that had held up construction of 21 miles of fiber optic cable between Redway and Scotia, the only uncompleted portion of a line linking Eureka with Ukiah. But it does not end their legal dispute, which began when SBC sued Caltrans last year, maintaining that the right-of-way fees the state agency was demanding were illegal.
That issue will have to be resolved in court. The good news for Humboldt is that Monday's accord, in which SBC agreed to place $1.4 million in disputed fees in an escrow account, will allow the long-awaited construction project to move forward. SBC spokesman John Britton predicted that the job would be done by early fall.
Humboldt County's business and education leaders, who had been exasperated by the construction suspension, expressed satisfaction at the deal. One education official told the press that local schools will not only have faster Internet access once the line is completed, they will also have improved videoconferencing capabilities.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson said the line "will help to overcome the barriers of distance, not only for local businesses and individuals, but also for public schools and college students."
The escrow concept was floated by SBC last October, but the agreement signed this week is different. It involves less money -- $1.4 million instead of $2.1 million. And, in a concession by SBC, it does not include the issue that was the sticking point last year: a requirement that Caltrans "waive federal and state sovereign immunity defenses."
The smaller escrow account is due to the fact that SBC is scaling back the project. Instead of laying three lines, or "interducts," at a cost of $6.40 per linear foot, the company will lay only two.
The core issue in SBC's lawsuit, though, remains unresolved: Can Caltrans demand right-of-way fees along a freeway?
"We've been laying telecommunications infrastructure in this state since 1878, before there were even highways. Never before has Caltrans tried to hold us up for millions of dollars," said Britton, the SBC spokesman.
"We don't allow anything along the freeway unless we absolutely have to," countered Caltrans official Rick Knapp. "It would be unprecedented if they were allowed to put [cable] in for free. All other communications providers who have placed fiber optics in a freeway have done so with a permit and an agreement to pay access fees. That's what they're trying to get away from doing."
In the event SCB loses, Britton warned that ratepayers might be penalized. "If we have to pay millions for rights of way, what do you think that's going to do to people's costs? Eventually people in your area are going to face higher telecommunications costs because the millions that Caltrans wants to pocket will have to be paid by somebody."
Under financial pressure because of a federal requirement to go digital, Humboldt's only public television station announced some belt-tightening measures this week.
By July, the staff of KEET-TV Channel 13 will have one less employee, decreased work hours for two full-timers, a 3 percent pay reduction and fewer employee benefits.
"These budget cuts are difficult for staff, but they would rather take a cut in pay than reduce the level of service the station provides to the community," KEET's Executive Director, Ron Schoenherr, said in a prepared statement.
The $3.6 million cost of the digital conversion -- mandated by the Federal Communications Commission -- has been halfway met. However, an additional $207,000 must be raised by the end of September in order to match grants recently awarded to the station.
KEET is not the only public television station facing the digital mandate. Similar stations across the country have been given the ultimatum to make the switch or lose their broadcast license.
Dianna Mae Preston, the Trinidad woman charged in the shooting death of her granddaughter's father, was found guilty of first-degree murder with a special allegation of lying in wait.
The three-man, nine-woman Napa jury convicted Preston on May 28 of killing Kevin LaPorta, 47, after ambushing him in the parking lot of his Eureka acupuncture office on July 19.
Preston told police she shot LaPorta because she believed he was molesting the toddler, though semen found on the child was not his.
The jury heard testimony this week on whether Preston, 59, is insane. If found insane, she will be held in a psychiatric facility. No death penalty is being sought in the case.
Calling it an effort to "expedite" forest health projects, the Bush administration announced last week that it is dropping a requirement for environmental studies before logging or burning trees to prevent forest fires.
The new rules, which have drawn the ire of environmentalists, affect 190 million acres of federal land considered at risk for catastrophic wildfires (including Six Rivers National Forest in Humboldt and nearby counties).
Local radio station KHUM and Arcata Mayor Bob Ornelas have offered rewards for the safe return of William McKinley's thumb.
The bronze digit was broken off the statue of the 25th president, which has stood guard over the Arcata Plaza since 1906, some time last month.
Ornelas has offered $500 for the thumb's return. KHUM has said it will give a stack of CDs as tall as the person who returns the thumb or leads authorities to its capture. The station has temporarily changed one of its slogans from "Keeping the Hum in Humboldt County" to "Keeping the Thumb in Humboldt County."
Anyone with information is urged to call the Arcata police at 822-2428 or (put "Thumb" in the subject line).
A human leg found on the coast off Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park may have belonged to a Humboldt County resident.
"We're working on a possible match out of the Humboldt County area, a missing person case," said Detective Gene McManus of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Department.
A rock climber from McKinleyville, Rebecca Kimber, found the leg May 15, with its boot still attached.
McManus said the portion of leg, which included the area from below the knee to the foot, probably belonged to a male and had been in the water for more than 60 days. The boot was larger than a size 10, he said.
A sample of the leg was sent to the state Department of Justice lab in Berkeley for DNA testing.
The Northcoast Environmental Center in Arcata is hosting a public meeting June 9 on the potential hazards of radiation from cell phone towers.
The meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., will feature Susan Clarke of the Institute of Media Research, based in Cambridge, Mass. Clarke is a public health researcher.
On May 15, the Humboldt County Planning Commission tentatively endorsed a 50-foot tower proposed for the Arcata Bottoms by Cal-North Wireless. The approval was given despite concerns raised by county staff and Arcata officials that the tower, slated to be disguised as a wooden pole, would be inconsistent with the area's rural character.
A final vote will be taken June 19.
A DC-8 aircraft was circling the sky above the Humboldt Bay region earlier in the week to test the calibration of instruments used to measure aerosols, particles floating in the atmosphere.
Data from the mission will be used to better understand the contribution that particles -- such as sea salt, dust and pollution -- have on the global climate.
The 1960s model DC-8, based at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., looks like a typical commercial aircraft aside from its NASA markings.
Funeral services will be held this week for Capt. Andrew La Mont, 32, the U.S. Marine from Eureka who was killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq on May 19.
A rosary is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday, June 6, at Sander's Funeral Home in Eureka. A mass will take place at St. Bernard Catholic Church in Eureka at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 7, followed by burial at St. Bernard Cemetery.
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.