July 22, 2004
KEEP THE DAY JOB : In
an, um, unusual motion filed with Judge J. Michael Brown
on Tuesday, Eureka attorney Greg Rael describes the turns of
events leading to Brown's dismissal of charges against Rael's
client, Fortuna City Councilperson Debi August, in some rather
high-falutin' language. "What commenced as a comedy of errors
has been portrayed by the People as a Shakespearean tragedy,
complete with court conspirators working mischief most foul,"
Rael writes in his motion. "As we shall see, no skullduggery
transpired." In the "Acts" that follow, Rael chides
Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen for his intemperate statements
about Brown's actions, but he concedes that the dismissal of
charges was the result of a paperwork mixup and therefore probably
should be reversed. "Undoubtedly, the Court is not well
pleased with the recent history of the case," Rael writes
in the "Epilogue." His Honor should be forgiven if
one of the Bard's sayings springs to mind: "The first thing
we do, let's kill all the lawyers." The charges stem from
a Grand Jury accusation that August had improperly lobbied the
city of Fortuna's Planning Commission on behalf of a developer.
The most serious charges were dropped when a motion Stoen filed
on time was overlooked.
AS THE 20TH CENTURY CAME TO A CLOSE, the U.S. Dept. of Food and Agriculture (USDA) began a move into the electronic future, slowly shifting the federally funded Food Stamp Program from paper food stamps to "Electronic Benefit Transfer" cards (EBT) similar to the bank check cards accepted at almost any store.
While the change made things easier for Humboldt County's welfare office, which made the switch to EBT beginning in August of last year, an important group of food distributors was left out in the cold: the growers who sell their produce at local farmers' markets.
The solution: a new program using wooden tokens. Michelle Wyler from the Food for People food bank got the program going in time for the spring reopening of the Farmers' Market with grant funding from the California Nutrition Network, an organization funded by USDA supporting work for cancer prevention programs.
"Part of cancer prevention is getting people to eat more fruits and vegetables," said Wyler.
"They're our wooden bucks," said T Griffin, manager of the North Coast Growers Associations' Arcata Farmers' Market, explaining that the wooden coins are technically "manual vouchers."
"It's scrip, a system that allows us to accept electronic transfer cards without a bank machine. We don't have access to a phone line, so we had to respond to the change with something else."
Food stamp holders, who used to be able to pay the farmers with their food stamps, now take their electronic card to the NCGA table at any of the local farmers' markets and ask for a specific amount of scrip. Griffin or one of her counterparts calls in the request with a cell phone, and a few minutes later the shopping begins.
"They can spend the bucks at any eligible farmer's booth on fresh fruit or vegetables, cheese, honey, just about anything but flowers," said Griffin.
by HANK SIMS
The pending sale of local CBS television affiliate KVIQ to Sainte Partners II, owners of Fox 29, will likely be stalled for the next few months, as the Federal Communications Commission ponders the final arguments filed by the stations and the Blue Lake Rancheria.
The rancheria -- which operates the Blue Lake Casino and Mainstay Business Solutions, a temp agency, on behalf of its members -- is attempting to acquire the station itself.
"Blue Lake feels that it has a real contribution to make to the community," said Joseph Godles, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who is representing the rancheria.
In its FCC filings, it argues that the FCC should not grant Sainte Partners a "duopoly waiver" that would allow the company to operate two television stations in the same market. One of the standards that Sainte must meet to receive such a waiver is that no other buyer for the station could be found.
Santa Rosa-based Ackerley Media Group, which owns KVIQ, has stated in the past that Sainte Partners was the only bidder for the station, but in recent filings the rancheria has countered that it made an overture to the station through local businessman Patrick Cleary months before Sainte made an offer. Cleary is the general manager of Lost Coast Communications, which operates radio stations KHUM and KSLG out of Ferndale.
"They had expressed some interest in a media property," Cleary said last week. "I told them `You know, KVIQ is for sale.'"
Cleary said that he agreed to make a phone call to people he knew at Clear Channel, the broadcasting giant of which Ackerley is a subsidiary.
He said that he and Eric Ramos, president of business operations for the rancheria, had talked about working together but had never discussed specifics about the potential partnership.
When Sainte Partners later made a bid for the station he removed himself from the deal.
"Basically, [Fox 29 and the rancheria are] both very good clients of mine," Cleary said. "I just made the introduction, before I knew there was a conflict."
Cleary said that Lost Coast Communications has great expertise in marketing and "localism," and, if asked, would be interested in talking with whoever ends up owning KVIQ about a potential partnership.
In a written response to Blue Lake's previous filings, a Clear Channel executive says that Cleary did contact him in the fall of 2003, but that the call was only of an exploratory nature: Cleary did not identify exactly who he represented and no concrete offers were made. The company further states that KVIQ was listed with a large media broker that conducted a search for buyers, and that it never received a formal inquiry from anyone but Sainte Partners.
The rancheria counters that Ramos had placed multiple calls to KVIQ station management after Cleary contacted Clear Channel in order to find out how to bid on the station. It charges that no one returned his calls.
Asked on Tuesday if he had received messages from Ramos, KVIQ station manager John Burgess said, "To the best of my recollection, no."
The rancheria also claims that Sainte Partners and Ackerley Media failed to provide adequate information about each of the stations' finances, another requirement for the waiver. Attorneys for the companies dispute the charge.
by HANK SIMS
TRINITY: In a major victory for the Trinity River and the Hoopa Valley Tribe, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2000 federal order that increased the amount of water released into the river each year to protect salmon runs.
The Westlands Water District, which provides diverted Trinity River water to its agriculture clients in the Central Valley, had charged that the process that culminated in the order violated the National Environmental Policy Act in that it did not take into account the change's effect on fish in the Sacramento River. In December 2002, a federal district judge sided with Westlands.
The Ninth Circuit's July 13 ruling, which took effect immediately, essentially overturned the district judge's decision. The order allows only half of the Trinity's water to go to farmers, as opposed to the nearly 90 percent allotted to them in the past.
Byron Leydecker, president of the Friends of the Trinity River, said Monday that much work still needed to be done before the water given back to the Trinity by the court can actually flow down the river -- bridges needed to be reinforced, and one private home has to be moved.
"It's a major step forward," he said. "We have to set up a restoration program to prove that the water does what it's supposed to do, but as for now it's a great victory."
A Westlands spokesperson said last week that the district was considering its legal options, and may file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
KLAMATH: Representatives of the four Klamath River tribes -- the Klamath, Karuk, Hoopa and Yurok -- is garnering immense press coverage during their mission to Scotland, which began last week. The tribes hope to raise awareness of Klamath River issues during the annual shareholders' meeting of ScottishPower, the multinational conglomerate that controls most dams on the Klamath.
"We're being well received over here," said Merv George Jr., an administrator for the Klamath River Inter-Tribal Fish and Water Commission and a former chairman of the Hoopa Tribe. "We're like rock stars -- everyone's stopping and staring at us as we walk around."
George said that the tribes had hired a local media consultant to help arrange for press exposure and had met with Scottish activist groups and members of the Scottish Parliament.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is in the process of reviewing the dams, which are owned by ScottishPower subsidiary PacifiCorps, based in Portland, Ore., with an eye toward renewal of their permits. The tribes, which protested outside a FERC meeting in Eureka last month, recently decided to make their case to the owners of the company.
"We figured it was time to up the ante," said George. "We're going to tell shareholders that their subsidiary company is causing major harm to the resources in the Klamath basin."
Meanwhile, a Congressional subcommittee met in Klamath Falls, Ore., to discuss proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act that would make it more difficult for regulatory agencies to withhold Klamath water from upstream farmers in order to protect endangered or threatened fish.
ELK: On July 13, the Humboldt Watershed Council lodged a strong complaint against a California Board of Forestry committee studying whether to list the Elk River as a "sensitive watershed" requiring special forestry rules to preserve the health of the stream.
Mark Lovelace, president of the HWC, says that both the current membership of the committee and the process by which new members are nominated are so troubling that all work should come to a halt until a more "clear, transparent and objective" process can be developed.
Lovelace said that administrators at the Board of Forestry have not provided the public with information on how members on the committee are selected, or even who selects them.
"We've asked them, `Who are you looking for? How many people are you looking for?'" Lovelace said. "They tell us, `Well, just wait a bit and you'll find out who's on the committee.' They're not recognizing the need to have a public process."
Lovelace added that he is troubled by the fact that among the current membership are representatives of Pacific Lumber, which logs in the Elk River Watershed, and The North Coast Regional Water Quality Control District, which filed the original petition to list the Elk River as a sensitive watershed last year.
"It's like putting the plaintiff and the defendant on the jury," he said.
EEL: A coalition of environmental groups and fishing advocates filed a lawsuit July 14 in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals demanding that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission either require fish ladders at Scott Dam in Mendocino County or consider removing them entirely.
The coalition said that providing fish access above Scott Dam would help restore 120 miles of prime salmon and steelhead habitat.
In January, the FERC decreased the annual amount of Eel River water diverted to the Russian River at Van Arsdale Dam in Potter Valley (Mendocino County). The decision was reaffirmed at a meeting of the commission in June, but commissioners at that time declined to take action on fish passage.
"State law requires that owners and operators of a dam require fish passage," said John Beuttler, a fisheries expert with the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, a member of the coalition. "Today, we have the technology to do that, but for some reason FERC told us to go pound sand. We said, `No, we're going to pound you -- in court.'"
Scott Dam is operated by Pacific Gas and Electric.
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.