June 16, 2005
DA'S PALCO LAWSUIT
DISMISSED: The lawsuit that has
defined county politics for two and a half years has been thrown
out of court. Late Tuesday afternoon, Judge Richard Freeborn
upheld the Pacific Lumber Co.'s objections to the fraud lawsuit
filed against the company by the District Attorney's office in
February 2003, shortly after DA Paul Gallegos and his deputy,
Tim Stoen, took office. Essentially, Freeborn agreed with every
argument made by Palco in their motion to dismiss the case. Specifically,
he agreed with company claims that the alleged deception committed
by the company during the negotiations with state and federal
agencies over sale of the Headwaters Forest -- even if true --
is protected by the First Amendment, under a legal precedent
known as the Noerr-Pennington doctrine. "Plaintiffs can
not state a cause of action because PALCO's actions are constitutionally
protected by Noerr," Freeborn wrote. The case filed by the
DA alleged that the company intentionally defrauded the public
by presenting false data on the relation between logging and
landslides in late 1998; the company later presented a final,
corrected version of the data to a regional office of the CDF
-- rather than to the agency's headquarters in Sacramento, as
procedure allegedly required -- two days after a final Environmental
Impact Report on future management of the companies lands had
been released. The company then asked for, and got, the right
to log more intensively. In his ruling, Freeborn wrote that at
the stage of the process in question, the company could be considered
to be involved in "lobbying" -- a constitutionally
protected right to petition the government -- rather than undergoing
adjudicative review by agencies. Freeborn cited an earlier case
to show what is legally allowable under the umbrella of lobbying
activity: "Misrepresentations are a fact of life in politics,
and lobbying is the sine qua non of democracy." It
is not known if the District Attorney's Office will appear the
ruling; Gallegos and Stoen could not be reached for comment.
DO THEY HAVE A CASE?: Around 150 emotional residents attended a meeting of the Humboldt Taxpayers League last Wednesday, most of them asking -- or demanding -- that the group abandon a lawsuit filed on June 2 against the Eureka Redevelopment Agency and developers Glenn Goldan and Dolores Vellutini, who have both served on the city's Redevelopment Advisory Board. As of press time, the Taxpayers League had not dropped the suit -- which charges that the developers had an illegal inherent conflict of interest when they entered into contracts with the Redevelopment Agency for separate waterfront projects -- but the league did vote to hold its suit "in abeyance" and enter into talks with the other parties so that their concerns might be addressed outside court. If the suit goes forward, it will seek to void the contracts between the developers and the city, one of which dates back nearly 10 years. Does the league have a case? Neil Shapiro, the Monterey-based attorney representing the league, certainly thinks so. Shapiro said last week that his client does not allege that Goldan and Vellutini, in their roles as members of the advisory board, participated in any way in the drafting or approval of contracts that they eventually entered into with the city. Rather, he said, the mere fact that the two served on the board at the time the contracts were approved is likely to be enough to make the contracts illegal under state Government Code section 1090. To make that case, Shapiro said he would have to show in court that the Redevelopment Advisory Board -- a group that technically only has the authority to offer advice -- in fact operates, by default, as the decision-making entity for redevelopment projects. He noted that out of over 50 recommendations the advisory board made to the city council -- which functions as the board of directors for the redevelopment agency -- only two were eventually reversed. But Steve Levin, Political Reform Project Manager for the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, isn't so sure of Shapiro's argument. He noted that the case Shapiro makes apparently relies on in-house regulations from the Fair Political Practices Commission, a state agency that administers the Political Reform Act -- a completely separate body of law. What that would mean to a judge is hard to say, Levin said: "The FPPC regulations would certainly be persuasive, but not necessarily binding."
GRAND JURY FOREPERSON QUIZZED: Judge John Feeney suspended the selection of jurors in the upcoming trial of Fortuna City Councilmember Debi August last week in order to deal with reams of new material submitted to the court by former Grand Jury Foreperson Judith Schmidt. Schmidt -- whose 2003-04 grand jury formally accused August of conflict of interest a year ago -- took the stand on Thursday and Friday to testify that the current foreperson, Darlene Marlow, told Schmidt to destroy materials pertaining to the August investigation that were in her possession. August's defense team had subpoenaed such documents months earlier; when Schmidt came forward last week, it became clear that many of the papers in her possession had not been disclosed on that occasion. On Friday, Schmidt testified that most of the new documents would normally have been placed in the grand jury's files, and so should have been available to the defense earlier. However, she did note that it was routine practice to prune the files occasionally, eliminating irrelevant material, in order to keep them at a manageable size.
HOOPA ELECTION TUESDAY: Signs plaster the main drag into the Hoopa Valley Reservation: "Vote for Duane Sherman Sr." The tribal election is June 21, and this time tribal chairman Clifford Lyle Marshall is up against contender Sherman -- a former tribal chairman who lost to Marshall in the last election. Apparently the battle "has gotten down right dirty," according to a letter-to-the-editor by Allie Hostler in The Hoopa People newspaper. The race is close: in the primary, chairman Marshall had 309 votes over Sherman's 267. Family ties are close in the Hoopa Valley and emotions are running high. The issues facing the tribal chairman, according to a tribal member who asked for anonymity, include the disputed Hoopa-Yurok Settlement Act, under which the tribes are supposed to share timber proceeds from the Hoopa Reservation. "Duane wants to fight for the full amount [and give none to the Yurok], and Marshall wants to settle and get on with it, share the wealth," the source said. Other issues include economic development, Trinity River flows and health care.
BAYSIDE BOMB CONNECTION: After a six-week undercover investigation into an April 30 bombing in Stockton, federal and state agents served five search warrants in Stockton and one in Bayside last week. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, two machine guns and components for two pipe bombs were seized at Steven Little's Jacoby Creek Road residence in Bayside on June 8. Little's son, Michael Little, 40, of Stockton was arrested and charged with maliciously damaging a building and the illegal manufacture and possession of machine guns. The Stockton bomb was detonated outside of Union Planing Mill, a business Little formerly contracted with through his own company, M & L Molding and Machine, which is located just a block and a half away. No one was injured in the blast, which caused thousands of dollars in damage, the ATF said. Also arrested were Jeffrey Keefover, 34, and Steve Nemee, 35, both of Stockton. Steven Little was not arrested or charged with any crimes as of Tuesday, according to an ATF spokeswoman.
WE'RE STILL DIRTY: You'd think an oil refinery in Martinez would rank higher in toxic releases than a pulp mill in Samoa. But according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's newest Toxics Release Inventory report, Stockton Pacific Enterprises' pulp mill (now called Evergreen Pulp and under new ownership) was the sixth highest toxics-release site in California in 2003, and the top toxics-release site north of the Bay Area, with 1.6 million pounds going into the air, land and water. The Tesoro refinery in Martinez released 1.3 million pounds of toxics. The pulp mill mostly released methanol -- 1.4 million pounds into the water -- but also some ammonia, methylethylketone and nitrate compounds. The mill's toxics releases have declined since the 2002 TRI inventory, which reported a release of 2.1 million pounds of methanol, and lesser amounts of other chemicals. The EPA's website notes that toxics released don't always equate to human health hazards nor necessarily to law violations. Methanol, for example, isn't a "recognized" toxicant to humans, but it is a "suspected" developmental toxicant and neurotoxicant, among other things. On the EPA's website, you can find a county, see who's polluting it and follow each chemical released to read about its implications. Go to www.epa.gov/region09/toxic/tri/report/03/california.pdf.
NEW SEPTIC SYSTEM RULES TO COME: When statewide wastewater treatment regulations are enacted sometime around 2007, Humboldt County residents, along with other rural and suburban homeowners in California, may be forced to fix their old septic systems. The State Water Resources Control Board recently released a draft of stricter septic system regulations that they hope will help reduce groundwater pollution. Kevin Metcalfe, Humboldt County's environmental health specialist, said that California's Region 1, which includes Humboldt County, has had more stringent criteria regarding wastewater treatment since the 1980s, so the North Coast is generally in good shape, but there will still be challenges to face. "My general impression is that there will be more work for local enforcement for record keeping, monitoring and reporting to the state and more requirements for homeowners for maintenance of their systems." In particular, Metcalfe said that the unincorporated areas around Humboldt Bay in the Arcata/Eureka plains, up through Trinidad and Westhaven will be affected by the new rules. The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board will hold a public meeting on July 18 in Santa Rosa, 7 p.m. at 5550 Skylane Blvd., Suite A. For more information visit www.waterboards.ca.gov/ab885 or call (916) 341-5518.
LOCAL TEEN ABSTINENCE PROGRAM: From Eureka to Rohnerville, eight county schools have accepted a non-political, non-religious program advocating sexual abstinence for teens. Director Maureen Brundage and Counselor/Trainer Audrey Bodeker gave a presentation on the program, called STAND (Students Taking Abstinence in a New Direction), at the Republican Party Central Committee meeting last Thursday. "Our main goal is just to teach healthy relationships," Brundage said. "We really want people to learn about self-respect." Both women emphasized that the program is all-inclusive, without discrimination based on sexual preference, religious beliefs or sexual history. Bodeker teaches the six-day course during the health and safety section of the high school curriculum, where it is often paired with conventional sex education programs. Her presentations include information on sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and AIDS and condom risks. The program is not yet funded; Bodeker said much of STAND's work is on a volunteer basis, since many schools just don't have the money to pay for it.
CORRECTION: Because of an editing mistake, a recent story ("Palco rolls out Mattole watershed plans," June 2) misidentified Mattole resident Maureen Roche. Though Roche regularly volunteers for the Mattole Salmon Group and is a former employee of the organization, she is not currently a "member," according to the group's executive director. The Journal regrets the error.
by HELEN SANDERSON
Local Solutions can be found online at www.localsolutions.org.
story & photos by HEIDI WALTERS
TO GET TO THE HOOPA VALLEY RESERVATION off Highway 299, you turn north at Willow Creek onto the Bigfoot National Scenic Byway (Hwy 96) and follow the Trinity River about a dozen miles. The road's a winding affair, with a couple of tight turns that might make Bigfoot himself duck and shimmy a little to swing his big self through the bends. Imagine, then, that you're a big house trying to negotiate those curves back out to Hwy 299.
Plenty of new houses -- or halves of houses -- will be making that twisty trip soon, from the Hoopa Modular Building Enterprise's new, 65,000 square-foot white-and-green metal factory to awaiting foundations in cities, towns and reservations in California and neighboring states. The extra-sturdy structures, ranging from two to four bedrooms and one to two levels, will be Uniform Building Code-compliant, personalized, many-windowed homes worthy of any nice stick-house neighborhood. And they won't have steel chassis, like mobile homes.
At full production in a few years, five trucks (hauling five modules equaling two-and-a-half houses) will travel Highway 96 per day, five days a week. Other trucks will come in daily with wholesale-purchased building supplies. Bill Bobbitt, a modular housing consultant hired by the tribe to start and run the new enterprise, said he had his doubts at first.
"When I did the feasibility study, the first thing I did was look at that road and say, `Boy, I hope we can deliver these things,'" Bobbitt said. After talking with CalTrans, they designed a special transporter and decided to keep the house modules around 16-by-70 feet or less, with folding roofs, in order to squeeze them down the road cost-effectively.
No bent road was going to stop the Hoopa Valley Tribe's dreams of pulling out of a jobs-poor, housing-scarce slump. "We've been dormant too long," said tribal chairman Clifford Lyle Marshall, sitting in his office Monday talking over a small stick model of a traditional Hoopa home, or "xhonta," on the table. In the old days, he said, the tribe came together to build a house. It's like that now, only the factory-built houses are not only being sold to tribal members, but to homeowners off-rez as far south as San Diego and north to Vancouver, Wash. The houses will be sold on a three-tiered pricing schedule, with Hoopa tribal members getting the best deal and other tribes the next best deal.
"One of the things people need is affordable housing," Marshall said. He rattled off a list of social ills in Hoopa Valley: domestic violence, drug abuse, truancy. "The remedy for all of them is a stable economy, and a good job where you can buy a home and feed a family." He said the tribe suffers 50 percent unemployment. Timber revenues (the tribe's main income) have declined under the tribe's sustainable harvest rules. So the tribe invested nearly $7 million in the new modular housing factory, which employs almost 50 people, mostly tribal members. That number could rise above 100.
Inside the factory Monday morning, several newly trained workers heaved their first house's first wall, already insulated, onto its edge. Next to it was the first floor, plumbed and wired. Overhead pulleys waited to pull materials to stations outfitted with bright yellow scaffolding. There was a happy, whistle-while-you work industrious feeling in the air. Open doors let in sunlight and a cool breeze. "This is a positive thing for the reservation, because it's supporting tribal members and kids and other Indians," said employee and tribal member Robert Hodge, Jr. He fought fires before this job. Another tribal member and factory employee, Randy Cook, also once relied on seasonal jobs. He hopes to buy a house next year. "That's incentive to come to work," he said.
At the corporate office across the river, Hoopa Modular sales coordinator Hayley Hutt talked about her "dream come true." Hutt worked in Arizona in real estate and spent much of her life outside of the valley. She came home to have her baby girl, now 14 months old, got the job, and plans to buy a modular home next year.
"I live with my mom in a HUD home," she says. She could get her own HUD home from the government housing program, which is expensive and restrictive. "My only other option is to get a builder out here, which is too expensive, or a mobile home. So, yeah, to come home and have this job opportunity and be able to buy a home and raise my daughter here -- it's unbelievable."
CEO Bobbitt said the modular enterprise could bring in up to $27 million in gross business volume per year. Chairman Marshall anticipates positive ripples from the factory for hundreds of miles: work for truckers, on-site assemblers, support businesses. "The deli [in town] is already going down to the plant and taking orders," Marshall said. "Forty-five people are buying gas to go to work. So there's money already coming in."
The high school even has a new construction vocational program. Maybe that, and the hope of a job and a house, will change how some high school grads, once they turn 18, spend their newly acquired tribal minors' trust money, said Marshall. "Per capita, the ones turning 18 now are looking at $30,000," he said. "We're trying to convince kids not to go buy a car, total it out, and end up walking down the road. Buy a house, and they'll have a home for life."
New houses could start winding down the road in July. You can take a tour of the new Hoopa modular plant at an open house this Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Monday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
PHOTOS: Tribal members Randy Clark, left, and Robert Hodge, Jr., have learned new skills and risen to supervisory position at the new modular plant.
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