North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News
COVER STORY  |  CALENDAR

August 1, 2002

Acupuncturist wanted custody of daughter

 Bayside Grange gets recognized

Their town

Survey: Child care
workers poorly paid

Rancheria plans bus service

School bonuses on the way?

Logging protests continue

A spate of blazes

Dump it

College smokers beware

A new dental clinic



Acupuncturist wanted custody of daughter

by GEOFF S. FEIN

Kevin LaPorta, the Eureka accupuncturist who was shot and killed two weeks ago by the grandmother of his 19-month-old daughter, was planning to mount a legal battle to gain custody of the child at the time of his death, according to two people who knew him.

Carlene Richardson, a friend and patient of LaPorta's, said the acupuncturist intended to seek custody as soon as allegations that he had molested the girl were found to be untrue.

"He wanted to spend as much time with his daughter as possible," Richardson said.

A former patient who asked not to be identified confirmed that LaPorta intended to gain custody of his daughter.

Police exonerated LaPorta of the molestation charges hours before he was gunned down in a Chinese restaurant in Eureka by Dianna Mae Preston. Preston said afterwards that she shot LaPorta because he had molested her granddaughter.

A police source said that was what motivated Preston -- not a desire to prevent LaPorta from launching a custody battle.

According to a source, there were "visitation issues" between LaPorta, 47 and Heather Pearce, the mother of the child. Pearce, who has not spoken to the press since the murder, could not be reached for comment. Pearce, who is 38, and LaPorta were not married.

Richardson said LaPorta was a devoted father.

"I really appreciated (LaPorta's) desire to be a good dad. More than anything else he wanted to care for his daughter and to do what was best for her."

Richardson along with friends and former patients of LaPorta, attended a private gathering on Sunday to pay their respects to the acupuncturist. LaPorta was a generous man, whose death is "surreal, shocking and sad," said Liz Finger.

She and her son had been LaPorta's patients for five years.

"He was well respected, highly regarded and an important community member, as well as a gifted healer," she said. "(Kevin's death) is a tragedy at many levels. "

LaPorta kept pictures of his little girl in the office, Finger said. "She was an important part of his life."

Finger last saw LaPorta about six weeks ago. She said LaPorta mentioned he was having difficult times. She declined to provide details.

LaPorta had been an accupuncturist since 1987.

"People are very sad about what happened to him," said one Eureka accupuncturist. "A lot of people liked him."

Tom LaPorta, the victim's brother, said Kevin was a busy guy. Besides running the accupuncture clinic, Kevin had a farm on Lower Mad River Road in Dinsmore where he raised animals and grew fruit trees. Tom is now trying to find a home for the rabbit, geese, ducks, cats, dogs and yaks that his brother raised.

"He loved those animals like his family," Tom LaPorta said.

Kevin LaPorta is also survived by his mother who lives near the Bay Area.

On July 19, the day LaPorta was shot and killed, investigators told Pearce, of Trinidad, that LaPorta was no longer suspected of molesting the child.

"DNA evidence found on the child came back (that it) was not LaPorta's," said Rob Wade, Humboldt County deputy district attorney.

Eureka detectives are continuing their investigation to determine who, if anyone, molested the child.

Detectives allege Preston, donning a wig and sunglasses, lay in wait outside LaPorta's clinic. He was shot as he walked to his pick-up truck. Preston then followed LaPorta into Liu's Oriental Cuisine, and shot him two more times. LaPorta died inside the restaurant. Preston surrendered to Eureka police without incident.

According to Wade, the district attorney's office has filed first-degree murder charges against Preston as well as a felony charge for using a firearm and causing great bodily injury or death. Both charges carry a minimum of 25 years in state prison.

Preston will also be charged with special circumstances for ambushing LaPorta. Those charges alone could result in a sentence of life without parole, Wade said.

Given that she's 58, Preston could spend the rest of her life in prison if convicted.

A law enforcement official said it is unlikely authorities will seek the death penalty.

Preston is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Aug. 2 in Eureka. She is being held in the Humboldt County jail on $1 million bail.


Bayside Grange gets recognized

by ANDREW EDWARDS

PANCAKE BREAKFASTS. AFRO-CUBAN DRUMMING. Square dancing. Choir rehearsals. All have taken place at the Bayside Grange, a fixture in the life of Bayside residents for six decades -- and a structure that is now gaining state recognition.

The 61-year-old building will formally take its place on the California Register of Historical Resources this Friday for "its association with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of California history at the local level," according to its nomination for historical status.

"What that means is that it makes our Grange hall eligible for state and federal funds," said Maggie Gainer, a professional grant writer for Humboldt State University, who wrote the proposal to the state. "It will help us in pursuit of funding for repairs."

An estimated $250,000 -- $50,000 of which has already been raised -- is needed to preserve the historical integrity of the Grange and prepare it to endure another 60 years of Humboldt County weather.

Planned projects include a seismic retrofit of the foundation, plumbing work, repair and replacement of exterior siding, a paint job and asbestos removal.

At the same time, requests from the community for a better sound system for musical events, along with improved lighting and ventilation, would also be addressed. The main goal, according to Gainer, is to make the upgrades while "still keeping it the old Grange that everybody loves."

The first Grange in the county was Arcata's L. K. Wood Grange, founded in 1873, only 33 years after Wood led the first overland expedition to Humboldt Bay. It was established during the original populist Grange movement, which started after the Civil War to maximize the political clout of rural farmers by forming mutual benefit associations.

The Bayside Grange No. 500, Patrons of Husbandry, the current Bayside Grange's official title, was founded in 1932 as a fresh wave of the Grange movement swept the country during the Great Depression.

The Patrons of Husbandry is a fraternal organization, similar to the Masons, which continues to this day. The order has official ceremonies, degrees (levels of initiation) bestowed on individual Grange members and regalia, but all of that has faded away in Bayside as the Grange has become more of a community center.

"Ridge Simpson (the current Grange master) went down south [to another Grange] and did his degree work," said Susie Van Kirk, a local historian with expertise on the Grange. "He said probably nobody else would want to go through that."

The hall was built by Grange members in 1941 when the organization realized it needed a bigger meeting hall. The Grange hall has continued in use as a community center ever since. Even today the hall is constantly booked for events, including dances and concerts associated with the annual Folklife Festival.

Despite its frequent use, the Grange Hall had fallen into disrepair in recent years with maintenance bills outstripping revenues from renting the hall. In response, the members of the Grange held a "visioning" session in April of last year to imagine the Grange's future.

It was agreed that making the Grange a more attractive place for youth and using it as a resource to build community spirit were worthy goals. But the main priority was the physical restoration of the hall.

Its designation as a historical building will certainly help with that.

"It makes you eligible for more programs, state and nationwide," said Gainer. "We're going to be asking everybody who's got any resources."

Tax deductible donations can be made out to the Jacoby Creek Land Trust Grange Renovation Fund. Call 822-4448 for more information.


Their town

Not many people can say "I own this town!" and mean it. Two area couples, Dan and Kendra Johnson and Lane and Kathryn DeVries, are notable exceptions. In December 2000 they bought the town of Samoa outright for over $1.7 million. Now they're revealing what they want to do with the place. Their plans, made public at a press conference Wednesday, are nothing if not ambitious: completely renovating Samoa at a cost of $50 million over 10 years.

"This is just the beginning," said Dan Johnson.

Lane DeVries said the project would revitalize Samoa. "As the years have gone on the town has slowly gone downhill. We have a vision of restoring the town to its past glory."

Major improvements on the 256-acre site will include a 250-seat performing-arts center, a 500-person capacity convention center, a 75-room hotel, a 70-space RV park, a swimming pool, a wastewater marsh similar to Arcata's and a 35-acre industrial park, modeled on the Alder Grove industrial park. [Conceptual model of Samoa, courtesy of Danco Construction, is below]

Conceptual aerial model of Samoa, showing shoreline, docks, boats, landscaping, various buildings and greenspaceThe owners also plan to renovate the Samoa Cookhouse, a popular restaurant, as well as all of the town's housing, much of it built at the turn of the century by timber companies.

Once renovated, the houses would be offered to their current tenants for sale, although not at a discount. Those that aren't snatched up would then be sold on the open market, along with new houses that will also be built.

The key to the project's eventual success, according to a press release by the owners, is a partnership between the county and the private developers.

"Complex projects like this one require both public and private efforts to be successful," Johnson said.

The county has already secured a $200,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to do a "brownfields" study to evaluate industrial contamination at the site. An $18,500 Community Development Block Grant for site planning has also been secured.

"What they're proposing is great for the county," said Supervisor Bonnie Neely, who is particularly enthusiastic about the new industrial park. "For a long time we've known that there's been a lack of affordable and properly zoned land for light industrial [businesses]."

Neely is spearheading a county effort to expand Eureka's "free enterprise zone" into Samoa to promote business opportunities through tax incentive measures. A complementary idea is to include Samoa in a "foreign trade zone" to further promote growth with duty-free importation of manufacturing materials. Such zones already exist on parts of the Eureka waterfront.

--reported by Andrew Edwards


Survey: Child care workers poorly paid

At least half of the child-care workers in Humboldt County are making slightly above California's minimum wage, placing many employees below the federal poverty standards, according to a new survey.

The survey, conducted by the Local Child Care Planning Council of Humboldt County, also found that 18 percent of child-care facilities in the county offer no health or retirement benefits to employees.

Complicating the problem is that many child-care jobs are part-time, said Carol Hill, executive director of the Humboldt Child Care Council, a separate nonprofit agency.

Hill delivered the survey's findings to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors July 23.

At times it is very challenging to find qualified staff and staff who demonstrate common sense and good judgment, she said.

Low wages and lack of benefits are major reasons that many child care workers quit to find higher paying careers, the survey reported.

"It's a severe problem in the county and in the nation," Hill said.

The survey found that 34 percent of employees quit their jobs for a better paying one; 25 percent quit because they were moving out of the area; 14 percent quit to continue their education and 12 percent left when the job ended.

In the past year, four child-care centers closed in Humboldt County, Hill said. One of the factors was that the centers were unable to attract employees because of low wages.

"It made it a challenge to keep them appropriately staffed to meet the licensing standards," she said.

According to the survey, 25 percent of child-care workers are making less than $7 an hour; 24 percent make between $7 and $8 an hour; 26 percent make between $8 and $10.49 per hour; and 25 percent make $10.50 or more. Only 4 percent earned more than $15 an hour.

California's minimum wage is $6.75 an hour.

The centers able to pay the highest wages are associated with public colleges and school districts, the survey found.

More than 95 percent of child-care workers (aides, assistants) with two dependents, are living below the federal poverty level. Many have to take two jobs to make ends meet, the study reported.

Only site supervisors and center directors are able to earn enough to place them above federal poverty levels.

The median wage for a center director is $10.75 an hour; for site supervisors it is $12.07 an hour.

Only 41 percent of child-care facilities offer both health and retirement benefits; 18 percent offer no benefits; 29 percent offer only health benefits; and 12 percent offer only retirement benefits. However health benefits are available only for full-time employees in eight of 15 centers that offer health benefits, the study reported.

Of the 19 agencies that responded to the survey, only five provide comprehensive medical, dental and vision benefits for full-time employees. Only one program provides the same benefits for part-time workers.

There are 89 active licensed child-care centers and 162 active licensed family child-care homes in Humboldt County.

-- reported by Geoff S. Fein




Rancheria plans bus service

After six years, bus service may be returning to the city of Blue Lake. In addition, the communities of Fieldbrook and McKinleyville, and the city of Arcata may be included in a new route proposed by the Blue Lake Rancheria Transit System.

The Rancheria is holding a meeting Thursday in Fieldbrook to discuss options for the new service.

"This is not a shuttle service [to the casino]," said Donna Lawson, transit director.

The plans call for regular bus service hourly between Blue Lake and Arcata, and a loop through Fieldbrook and McKinleyville to Arcata about every three hours. Blue Lake has been without bus service since 1996.

The bus will link up with Humboldt Transit Authority and the Arcata Mad River Transit bus service at the transit hub in Arcata.

The buses will not share any similar routes with either transportation service.

Lawson said the Rancheria has received a federal grant to purchase the bus. In addition, organizers are hoping for federal Transportation Development Act funds through the city and the county.

Bus fares will be $1.35 per trip with discounts available for seniors and for books of 10 passes.

Lawson said the purpose of the meeting is to determine what times residents would like to see the new service come through Fieldbrook and how often bus service would be used.

The meeting will be held Thursday, Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m. at the Fieldbrook Grange. For more information call 668-5101.




School bonuses on the way?

Thirty-three Humboldt County public schools will share $270,000 in school performance bonuses once the state budget is approved.

In just the second year of the statewide program, Humboldt County's bonus increased by $83,000, demonstrating an improvement in standardized test scores, said Louis Bucher, superintendent of the Humboldt Office of Education.

But the budget stalemate in Sacramento has Bucher wondering when the district will see the funds. Some newspapers around the state have said the money will be disbursed this week.

"I'd have to talk with the finance people here to see if that money is coming," Bucher said.

Bucher said he believed that Gov. Gray Davis -- whose office issued a press release about the awards Monday -- "will do everything in his power to see this through, that this money will be given to the schools."

More than $67 million has been earmarked for schools up and down California. The funds are for the 2001-02 school year.

Last year 13 districts and 18 schools in Humboldt County qualified for the bonuses. Those numbers increased to 18 districts and 33 schools this year.

"It shows a positive growth trend," Bucher said, as well as an increase in student performance.

The bonuses are allocated to schools on the basis of students' performance on achievement tests.

Less than half of California schools qualified for bonuses in 2001.

The funds will be divided between teachers, staff and school site councils. Site councils can use the funds to buy books and computers, Bucher said.

"(They can spend it on) whatever contributes to further (student) improvement," he said.



Logging protests continue

There were several developments last week on the logging protest front, as one activist continued a Gandhi-style fast, others chained themselves to the axles of logging trucks, and a civil liberties group called for monitors to observe civil disobedience actions.

On July 25, members of Mattole Forest Defense stopped a logging truck in front of the Carlotta mill on Highway 36 and proceeded to chain themselves underneath the idling vehicle. Several activists were reported to have vomited from the fumes.

Blake Odom, meantime, is in the midst of a 30-day water-only fast to protest the logging of old-growth Douglas fir in the Mattole watershed; as of Tuesday of this week, she was in her 17th day of fasting.

Meanwhile, the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project asked the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors to direct the county's Human Rights Commission to provide observers for future logging protests. The monitoring project was founded in the 1980s to address local civil rights issues. It has members in Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties.



A spate of blazes

The Eureka Fire Department is doing its part to fight the series of wildfires that have broken out in extreme Northern California in recent days.

Fire Chief Eric Smith said that two fire engine crews have been sent to Del Norte County to aid in the battle against fires burning north of the town of Gasquet. The crews are part of a California Department of Forestry and Fire protection "strike team," Smith said.

Additionally, a state fire engine from the Office of Emergency Services that is housed in Eureka has been sent north to fight the blazes. Its primary task will be structure protection.

"We're just a small player in this," Smith said. "But the assignment we took is a great assignment for us" because it exposes city crews to forest firefighting tactics.

Meantime, the Stanza Fire, burning near Happy Camp close to the Oregon border, had torched 2,263 acres by the end of Tuesday. Klamath National Forest spokesman Brian Harris said the blaze was 30 percent contained and should be completely corralled by Aug. 4.



Dump it

Looking for a place to dump all that unsightly lawn and garden waste?

Arcatans can dump woody yard waste for free on Saturdays at Northcoast Quality Compost, on 3000 St. Louis Road, south of the West End Road/Spear Avenue roundabout.

All you need is a current Arcata water bill or receipt and "dumpage" is yours between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.



College smokers beware

The habitat may be dwindling for another endangered species in Humboldt County: the college smoker.

The California State University board of trustees took its first step toward restricting smoking on campuses, including Humboldt State University. The new proposal would give university presidents authority to set smoking regulations, such as banning smoking within 20 feet of campus buildings or barring it from campuses altogether.

Presently, smoking on campuses in the CSU system is regulated by state law.



A new dental clinic

Open Door Community Health Centers, which has health care clinics in Eureka, McKinleyville and Arcata, is opening a dental clinic in September.

The clinic, funded in part by a $100,000 grant from the federal Health and Human Services Administration, will be located in a renovated bank building in the Burre Center on Myrtle Avenue in Eureka.

The clinic will almost triple the capacity of dental clinics in Humboldt County to serve low-income people.

The new clinic has also received assistance from local sources, notably a $150,000 grant from St. Joseph's Hospital.


COVER STORY  |  CALENDAR

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