June 15, 2006
WHERE'S THE DOT? The Journal went to press last week without a winner's dot by the name of the District Attorney Paul Gallegos, who fended off a feisty challenge from Worth Dikeman, a deputy DA who had the backing of most of the county's cops. Some precincts in Scotia, Rio Dell, Fortuna and Hydesville had trouble transmitting their results to the election headquarters by telephone, so they had to be driven in by car for tallying.
"Gallegos held at 53 percent all night, so [those rural precincts] really didn't change things," said election chief Lindsey McWilliams. Voter turnout was so-so — about 46 percent, down from a normal 52 percent for a local mid-year election but still respectably above the statewide turnout of 34 percent. Measure T, banning corporate money contributions to local campaigns, passed with 55 percent. Jill Geist handily won re-election for 5th District supervisor. In the 4th District, 20-year incumbent Bonnie Neely (44 percent) must face a run-off against former Eureka Mayor Nancy Flemming (31 percent). Both are registered Republicans. Democrat Richard Marks, who pulled 25 percent of the vote in that race, is still being coy about who he might endorse, but politicos are betting on Neely, with her lengthy list of local Dem endorsers.
One other election tidbit from McWilliams: Keep an eye on the growing trend of last-minute, issue-oriented gobs of money. Eureka businessman/philanthropist Rob Arkley wrote a $100,000 check to a committee that opposed Proposition 82, the tax-the-rich-to-pay-for-preschool measure. It's called "527" money, after the federal law that allows tax-exempt organizations to engage in political activities, often through unlimited soft money contributions and sometimes from a single individual. Get used to it.
— Judy Hodgson
CITY TRUMPS STATE: You remember those four wooden billboards of 50s and 60s vintage that blew down in that big storm in 2001, on the stretch of 101 from the Bayside Cutoff north to downtown Arcata? You know, the ones Viacom then started to rebuild before the City of Arcata stomped its foot down, cited its city sign code of 1999, and said, "Whoa, you gotta get a permit from us before you do that, buddy." The billboards, though not all on city-owned property, were within the city limits.
OK, so most of you forgot about it. Anyway, after Arcata told Viacom it had to get a permit, Viacom sued the city, accusing it of violating Viacom's civil rights under federal law as well as elbowing in on state jurisdiction under the Outdoor Advertising Act — in other words, its permit from Caltrans would do quite nicely, thanks.
In late 2002, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge J. Michael Brown ruled in favor of Viacom, and in 2003 the trial court awarded Viacom $37,483.94 in damages (lost rent) and $39,104 in attorney fees, and told the city to butt out of Viacom's billboard re-erection.
Arcata appealed. Last Thursday, June 8, in California's First District Court of Appeal, a three-judge panel upheld Arcata's appeal and reversed the ruling, saying, "[T]he inescapable conclusion is that the State Act not only does not categorically prohibit local legislation, it explicitly and repeatedly invites augmentation from local authorities. ... As previously mentioned, Viacom never applied for the permit required by the City. ... Until this administrative process is completed, any claim Viacom might have for damages is premature."
Because it appealed, Arcata never did pay those damages and fees. So there's no refund to shout for. As for what Viacom might do next — that's up in the air (Viacom's attorney, Bill Barnum, was out of town Tuesday).
But the city's happy. "I'm just delighted with the ruling," said City Attorney Nancy Diamond. And the billboards? Well, the city exercised another form of local control over at least one of them, on city property, during the lawsuit-entangled years since the 2001 windstorms: When its lease expired, the city didn't renew. "So that billboard went away," said Diamond. Two others are on private property. Another, a two-sided one, just north of the Bayside Cutoff, is on city property. Viacom's two leases on that board will expire in 2009. Current city sentiment? Bye-bye billboards.
— Heidi Walters
SOUND THE ALARM: It was quite a surprise, back then, a couple of years ago. Two of Humboldt County's local fire districts — all of which have been very hard-pressed for cash in these lean times — asked property owners to tax themselves just a little bit more, so that each district could provide more than just a skeleton crew and busted-up equipment in service of their communities. The two districts were the Arcata Fire District, which serves liberal Arcata, McKinleyville and environs, and the Humboldt Fire District No. 1, which serves the conservative Cutten area and other Eureka outskirts. Which group of property owners agreed to up their own taxes?
Maybe this time it will be different. Facing what Arcata Fire Chief John McFarland is calling a "crisis-mode" budget, the district is going back to the community with hat in hand, asking property owners (the only citizens with a say in the matter) to vote for a "benefit assessment" — essentially, a hike on property taxes — that would keep the district in the black, and maybe allow it to fix some of its equipment if the need arises. Ballots, which are mailed out to property owners, must be returned in the enclosed envelope by July 20.
McFarland said Tuesday that he was hopeful that this time, things would go the district's way. He said that after the failure of the district's benefit assessment proposal in 2004, he met with opponents to see if their objections could be met. This time around, he said, the district has removed an "elevator clause" from the benefit assessment proposal, meaning that there is no provision to automiatically increase the tax to keep pace with inflation. Also, written into the law is a clause that mandates citizen review of the assessment in 2012, which could lead to a reduction or elimination of the tax hike if it is warranted. The additional funds generated by the proposed assessment — some $1.2 million per year — would be targeted at staffing and equipment.
The district will be taking its show on the road in upcoming weeks, meeting with interested groups and explaining the particulars of the current proposal to local organizations. Citizens of the district who wish to attend one of these presentations — or who may want to arrange one for their own service club, neighborhood association, etc. — can call the AFD's headquarters at 825-2000. You can find more information about the proposed benefit assessment at arcatafire.org.
— Hank Sims
HORSE WRECK: If there was ever any question, Roger Rodoni (left) is now indisputably the John Wayne of Humboldt County's elected officials — sorry, Jill. On Sunday, the Second District Supervisor was branding cattle — as in searing cows on the butt with a hot iron, people — when his horse fell and rolled around on his right leg, breaking it. "He basically had a horse wreck," surmised Kathy Hayes, administrative secretary for the supes.
The injury required surgery Monday at Redwood Memorial Hospital. Hayes reported Tuesday morning that Rodoni would remain in the hospital a few more days, and that thus far the laid up official has kept in "constant contact" with board chair John Woolley concerning SoHum goings-on. She was unsure when Rodoni is expected back at work, nor did she reveal whether or not the accident caused him to cry. In the meantime, Alan Bongio stepped up to fill in for Rodoni as guest speaker for the Humboldt Taxpayers' League meeting at the Samoa Cookhouse, where he was to discuss the county's proposed redevelopment agency on Wednesday (June 14). Get well soon, Roger.
— Helen Sanderson
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