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June 9, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

Rally 'round the Bird
Eureka city councilmember, neighbors feud over wild peacock

Eureka's mystery blogger


The Weekly Wrap

TAXPAYERS LEAGUE SUIT: Not since last year's Calpine controversy has Eureka been quite as shaken up as it is now, after the Humboldt Taxpayers League filed suit against the Eureka Redevelopment Agency and developers Glenn Goldan and Dolores Vellutini last Thursday. The suit has already given birth to a full-page Times-Standard ad, a flurry of heated e-mails between the two sides and impassioned Sunday morning commentary in at least one neighborhood grocery. Things looked to get hotter still Wednesday afternoon at the Samoa Cookhouse (after the Journal went to press) as Goldan and Vellutini promised to confront their accusers at the Taxpayers League's regular monthly meeting. At its base, the lawsuit alleges that Goldan and Vellutini -- both of whom are building high-profile developments on the Eureka waterfront -- have legally improper relationships with the Redevelopment Agency, an arm of city government. Both of them became members of the city's Redevelopment Advisory Board, a citizen panel that makes recommendations to the agency, in 1994; since that time, both contracted with the agency to develop waterfront lots. In his filing with the court, Neil Shapiro, the Taxpayers League's Monterey-based attorney, argues that the two's public and private roles amount to a legally prohibited conflict of interest. In their defense, Goldan and Vellutini said that they have always stepped aside when any matter pertaining to their personal business came before the board, even on contracts that they had not yet bid on but possibly intended to. They also questioned the League's motives and its timing -- one of the contracts in question was signed as early as 1995.

AUGUST CASE HELD UP: The questioning of jurors in the trial of Fortuna Councilmember Debi August was delayed on Monday, after the forewoman of the Humboldt County Grand Jury that accused her of improper activities in office voluntarily released a trove of new documents to Judge John Feeney after allegedly being told to destroy them. According to a report in Tuesday's Times-Standard, former grand jury forewoman Judith Schmidt told the court that her successor, Darlene Marlow, had told Schmidt to delete the material in question from her computer. Instead, Schmidt retained an attorney and submitted it to the court. The Times-Standard said that Schmidt would be questioned by attorneys this week. Attorneys on both sides of the case are under a gag order and could not comment on the story.

PEPPER SPRAY MOTIONS FILED: Attorneys on both sides of the "Pepper Spray Eight" case have filed their post-trial motions -- and it would seem that last month's ruling in favor of the activists has done little to settle the matter in the minds of the disputing parties. On the one hand, attorneys for Humboldt County and the city of Eureka are asking Judge Susan Illston, the San Francisco federal judge who oversaw the most recent version of the trial, to reverse the jury's decision. Nancy Delaney, the attorney representing the city and the county, said Tuesday that such a move was necessary in case Illston became inclined to order her clients to pay the other side's attorneys fees -- an order Delaney said she considered unlikely, though, as the jury awarded the activists only nominal damages. Meanwhile, attorneys for the plaintiffs have asked the judge to issue an order banning police from using pepper spray against nonviolent activists. The court is scheduled to hear arguments for both motions on June 27.

COURT PROTECTS FED POT BUSTS: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal agencies have the right to arrest and prosecute medical marijuana patients, despite California's ground-breaking Proposition 215, which legalized the drug for patients whose doctors prescribed it to them. The ruling will have no effect on state law, which is administered locally by the offices of the sheriff and district attorney. Redway lawyer Ed Denson, a specialist in marijuana cases, said that he didn't think the court's ruling would lead to an intensified federal crackdown on medical marijuana users in California. The feds just don't have the resources, he said. "Because of practical matters, they've been limited to prosecuting very large cases," Denson said. "They've been very reluctant to do anything under a thousand plants, and there are very few medical cases in that range." However, he said, some growing cooperatives run by patients or clinics could conceivably be large enough to draw the Drug Enforcement Agency's attention.

IHSS WORKERS RALLY FOR RAISE: The county's In-Home Support Services workers presented petitions with over 2,000 signatures in support of their demands for a raise to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Currently, the workers -- employees of the county's Health Department who take care of elderly or infirm people in their own homes -- earn only the state minimum wage, with no hope of advancement, according to Sarah Sherburn-Zimmer, an IHSS employee active with the United Domestic Workers Union. However, she said that state and federal grants will fully compensate the county for IHSS wages up to $9.50 per hour, including health insurance. Hitherto, the county has not acted on the workers' demands. Sherburn-Zimmer said that she hoped the petitions would wake them up. "We're sure they want to do the right thing, and we want to show them that it's a priority for the community," she said Monday.

CAL CONNECTED IN TOWN: Humboldt County residents are used to psychedelic buses, but a psychedelic RV? That swirly orange-and-green monstrosity roaming local streets this week belongs not to upscale Deadheads but to California Connected, the statewide public television news magazine. The show is returning to the county to film two specials on the region, with segments on Pacific Lumber, juvenile mental health and plans to build a wave-powered electrical plant. Autumn Doerr, the show's road trip producer, explained Tuesday why the show films so many of its pieces in Humboldt County. "It has a little bit of Alaska feel to it," she said. "People go there to start over." The shows will air on local public television affiliate KEET-TV, Channel 13, on June 17 and June 24 at 10 p.m.

NEW HUMCO GOVERNMENT GUIDE: In an effort to promote informed participation in Humboldt County government, the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County has published "A Citizen's Guide to County Government," a free pamphlet with detailed information about elected and appointed offices, intergovernmental bodies and other public agencies. The 21-page guide includes descriptions of functions and services, contact information and more about the Superior Court, the Board of Supervisors, city councils, school district boards, county revenues and budgets and many others. Copies of the free guide are available online at or by calling the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County at 442-9252.

E-WASTE ACCEPTED: Arcata and Eureka community recycling centers will offer free electronic waste collection this weekend. E-waste includes computers, scanners, printers, microwaves, stereos, cell phones, VCRs and similar items. The centers will not be accepting appliances such as refrigerators, washers and dryers. Normally, electronic waste is only accepted at the Eureka location, which usually charges a fee of 25 cents per pound. Arcata collection will be held Saturday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at the recycling center's10th and N sts. location. The Eureka location will collect e-waste Sunday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Waterfront Drive at the parking lot facing the bay. Enter from the foot of Washington St.

CORRECTION: In last week's story on a meeting between the Pacific Lumber Co. and Mattole residents ("Palco rolls out Mattole watershed plans," June 2), geologist Gary Simpson was mistakenly identified as an employee of the Pacific Lumber Co. In fact, Simpson works for SHN Consulting Engineers & Geologists, and his comments were intended to laud the fact that Palco had engaged independent local scientists such as himself to work on company studies. The Journal regrets the error.

Rally 'round the Bird
Eureka city councilmember, neighbors feud over wild peacock

by Helen Sanderson

No one is denying that the caterwauling mating call of a peacock can be annoying.

But whether or not the sound is so vexing that it warrants inclusion on Eureka's City Council agenda and calls to police is a question that has residents of one Eureka neighborhood joining forces to protect a semi-wild specimen from City Councilmember Mike Jones' crusade to banish it from the city.

[peacock perched on deck railing]Around October, the peacock showed up in Eureka's Fifth Ward near the corner of Huntoon and C streets. It has been there ever since, often in the yard of Kathleen Becker and her partner, Linda Byrd.

"My neighbors have all said to me, `He's beautiful, he's special,'" Becker said last week.

Though it often frequents other homes as well, the bird has become such a part of Becker/Byrd household that they have given it a name -- "Punjab," after the peacock's native pecking grounds in India.

So when animal control officers arrived at Becker and Byrd's house on June 1 asking to go into their yard to capture the peacock, Becker said no.

"I wanted to do some research about this first and see what other neighbors thought about it," Becker said.

It was only after this incident that they found out that the neighbor most opposed to the peacock's presence was their representative on the city council, Mike Jones, who had brought the matter to the city council weeks earlier after it had kept him awake several nights.

Becker decided to take action. After talking to some nearby neighbors the next day, and finding that other people liked the peacock, Becker canvassed the neighborhood with a petition.

Twenty-five neighbors from 19 households in the area where the bird roosts signed the petition stating that they "consider [the peacock] more of an asset than a detriment to our community. We are advocates for this animal and do not wish to see him harassed, impounded, or harmed in any way."

At the May 17 council meeting, Jones requested city staff to explore how the city should go about removing the peacock from the area. He said that neighbors had contacted him to complain about the noise.

No action was taken at the meeting, but City Attorney Dave Tranberg said that staff has looked into the issue and that it is animal control's job to settle the dispute and possibly find a new home for the bird.

[Mike Jones]Some neighbors see Jones' measures as blatant impudence and a waste of the council's time and taxpayers' money.

"Two weeks ago someone broke into my ATV trailer and took some wrenches," said Bud Nees, a retired postal worker who has lived in the neighborhood for 34 years. "My renters' window in his car was smashed, and nothing is ever done. But when they use city resources to hunt down a bird -- the only nuisance is [Mike Jones], and he doesn't represent the people in his neighborhood. He didn't ask any of us what we thought."

Animal Control Officer Rob Patton said Eureka police are is still looking at how they should proceed with the issue, and that one option is to relocate the bird to the Trinity Lake ranch of another officer who keeps a flock of peacocks.

According to Patton, residents from three neighborhood locations have called Animal Control to complain about the peacock.

The dispute between Jones and the neighborhood's pro-peacock faction came to a head Saturday, when Nees heard someone shooting a BB gun down the alley. From his driveway, Nees saw Punjab fly off a fence, letting loose with four or five loud squawks as he descended into a neighbor's yard.

Nees, 71, ran down the alley to where the shots came from -- Mike Jones' yard. He questioned Jones' son, who is in his 20s, about the gunshots.

"I asked the kid, are you shooting at that bird and he said, `What's it to you?'" Nees recalled, adding that he told the young man to leave the bird alone.

"And he says something to the effect of, `I'll shoot anything I want.' One thing leads to another and he says, `I'll jump over the fence and come down there and we'll have it out.' And I said, `Come on.'"

Meanwhile, Becker called 911 while Byrd went outside to see what was going on. By that time, Jones and his wife had arrived.

"They started shouting, `It's not your business, get out of here,'" Byrd later said. "Then the son says, `Why don't you go back and kiss your girlfriend.' He said, `I can have a friend come over and beat you up.'"

Jones said that his son was not shooting at the peacock. Public Information Officer Suzie Owsley confirmed that police did not find evidence that the bird was shot at.

"[My four sons] have all been taught not to shoot the bird," Jones said. "They shoot cans, Pepsi cans, root beer cans. When I was a kid I did the same thing. I may have even shot a bird once."

The police have been to the Jones' house before, when Becker called them after one of Jones boys allegedly shot at robins in her yard a few months ago.

[peacock feather]Becker and Byrd said that they have been the target of petty harassment from the Jones' for years. According to the couple, who are avid gardeners, their rose bushes have been cut down and plants run over with a truck by the Jones boys, who have also yelled homophobic taunts like, "Kill all the fags!"

In the summer of 2002, before Jones was elected to council, the family posted a placard in support of Proposition 22 -- a 2000 state measure that banned gay marriage -- on the back of their house, facing into Becker and Byrd's back yard. It was not visible to any other household.

Jones said that Byrd and Becker vandalized the Prop. 22 sign when it was in his front yard in 2000 and he kept it as a memento. (Becker denies vandalizing Jones' sign, but did admit that she had taken a sign from someone else's front yard.) He said that he did not know that his sons placed the sign on the back of the house years later.

As for their comments he said, "Boys will be boys."

Eureka's mystery blogger


When Dan Rather and 60 Minutes ran a story on President George W. Bush's military service based on shaky documents last year, the universe of on-line diary-scribblers and unpaid Internet commentators known as "bloggers" jumped on the case, proving the documents false and forcing a personnel shake-up at CBS News.

In January, bloggers seized upon and published supposedly off-the-record comments made by CNN Chief News Executive Eason Jordan at the annual Davos World Economic Forum. Jordan had said that he knew of instances when U.S. armed forces deliberately targeted journalists in Iraq; after his words became public, he was forced to resign.

The pseudonymous local blogger Captain Buhne doesn't have such grand ambitions -- at least, not yet. But over the last few months, his Buhne Tribune has made an earnest attempt to influence Humboldt County news coverage.

But unlike many of the more well-known national media bloggers, Buhne is less concerned with a publication's politics than with its prose.

"I am dumbfounded by the number of newspapers in this town, and yet not a single one deviates from the same boring, official angle on every story!" he wrote in a recent e-mail interview.

To that end, Buhne, who said that he is a Humboldt County native in his early 30s and a "media addict," has tweaked the noses of various local newspapers with satirical, scandal-mongering posts. Early last month, it was the Times-Standard's turn, as a classified ad soliciting local nude models "between the ages of 18 and 20" for an adult website received Buhne's scrutiny.

A few weeks later, his attention turned to the Eureka Reporter, a newspaper that so prides itself on its patriotism that it carries a regular column entitled "Essence of Americanism." Noticing the Reporter's nameplate, which features a fluttering U.S. flag, Buhne looked up federal regulations on the use and display of the flag and discovered that the newspaper was apparently in violation of several of them.

In particular, federal law states that the flag may not be used for "advertising purposes," may not be printed on material that is intended for one-time use and may not have writing printed on it. (The Reporter's initial "T" is superimposed over the flag in the paper's logo.)

"Here's what you can do: Boycott this traitorous rag until it cleans up its act," Buhne wrote. "Contact the publisher -- right now -- and cancel any subscription or advertisement placed with them Finally, demand an apology -- in writing -- to our brave men and women of the armed forces, who daily shed blood to protect our nation."

Though the words may have been harsh, Buhne said by e-mail that he isn't really all that concerned about what the paper does with its logo. Rather, he issued a challenge to the Reporter, and all other local papers -- if you don't want to suffer such indignities, publish something interesting and stop condescending to your readers.

"Does any young, starving reporter really think `the Dixieland Jazz Festival is a great time for all,' or whatever?" Buhne asked in an e-mail. "Or that Pastels On The Plaza is newsworthy, for the same reasons, every year? Of course not. He's probably got Metallica on his iPod, and he's forcing himself to be interested in whichever lame event he's been assigned to cover."

The Buhne Tribune can be found at


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