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October 27, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

9 Questions for Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap


The Weekly Wrap

MCKINLEY HERE FOR NOW: In 1901, early in his second term, President William McKinley was shot twice by a "deranged anarchist" (the term used in the official White House website bio). He died eight days later. Five years later, a 26-ton bronze statue of the 25th president was erected in Arcata's town square. Now, 100 years on, the notorious imperialist is under attack again --- this time by spiritual guidance and wellness counselor Michael Schleyer, who collected petition signatures to have McKinley's massive likeness removed from the peace-loving town. The matter was brought before the city council, where Schleyer's plan was shot down last week by progressive Councilmember Harmony Groves, who cast what many would consider the swing vote in favor of Ol' Bill. Removing the statue would be a waste of time and thousands of dollars, it was decided, and the three-hour meeting was adjourned on a sour note for some. But McKinley may get the boot yet --- the McKinleyville Chamber of Commerce reportedly contacted Arcata city officials with an offer to give their town's namesake a home. If Schleyer or some another McKinley-condemning Arcata resident can collect enough signatures (1,236) from other Arcata voters, the issue can be placed on an upcoming ballot.

FIRE WHODUNNIT: All the Eureka Fire Department is saying about the boardwalk fire that consumed the partially constructed Bayfront One Waterfront project is that somebody did it. No one, at least no one with a badge, is going so far to say that it was arson, or even where the fire started, just that they know where the fire started and that a human is the culprit. The investigation is continuing, of course, and there is no telling when it will end. Surveillance from surrounding businesses is being reviewed by investigators. Meanwhile, the rubble is being cleaned up and the Bayfront One group intends to rebuild and complete the structure, a mixed-use residential/commercial project, by 2006.

KLAMATH KABLOOEY: A report released this month by the National Forest Protection Alliance and the Environmental Protection Information Center listed the Klamath National Forest as a "threatened forest," just a shade better off than the 12 forests the report calls "endangered." "America's Endangered National Forests: Lumber, Landfill or Living Legacy?" examines the economics of the nation's wood products market and concludes that while wood products from national forests represent a steady two percent of the country's wood consumption, it's an amount "that comes at the highest ecological cost to our nation's environment," says Jake Kreilick of the National Forest Protection Alliance. Scott Greacen, of EPIC, says the Klamath National Forest is threatened by efforts to continue logging old-growth trees "deep in the Salmon River backcountry," but adds that "there are real signs that the forest [administration] is starting to get the message. They've canceled poorly considered projects, and some district rangers, like Alan VanDevere on the Happy Camp district, are really focusing on the small-diameter thinning projects that everyone agrees need to happen."

FATAL COLLISION: Two cars collided as they approached a construction zone on Highway 101 just south of Eureka last week, leaving one man dead. On Oct. 21 at around 11 a.m., Leslie Joseph Martin, 79, of Ferndale, was driving his 1985 Ford pickup north near Hookton Road when he swerved into the left lane to avoid CalTrans construction work. In doing so, he struck a car driven by 19-year-old Pamela Anderson of Scotia, according to the California Highway Patrol. Anderson, whose 1-year-old child was in the back seat, was able to regain control of her car, but Martin was not. The pickup spun around and flipped onto its roof in the median. Martin died on the scene. Anderson and the child were uninjured. CHP said that construction markers stretched back almost a mile ahead of where the accident occurred, and they are not sure why Martin was so late in responding to the sign to switch lanes. An investigation is continuing.

TSUNAMI OOPS: Boy, some people are really gullible! Oregon residents in Portland, Eugene and other coastal towns who heard a tsunami warning and earthquake report over the Emergency Broadcast System last week just assumed that there really was a 7.0 magnitude quake off the coast of Eureka on Oct. 19 and a big wave was approaching the coast. Well there wasn't an earthquake, you sillies, just a little mistake by someone working at the National Weather Service station in Oregon. No need to get all upset. The Eugene Register-Guard, however, reports that people were distressed indeed. Hotels evacuated customers and fire and police departments were inundated with calls of concern. But, wait a minute --- what were those people doing gabbing on the phone with emergency workers anyway?

HARDCORE VOTER GEEKS: Attention election wonks! Lindsey McWilliams, Humboldt County's elections manager, is trying to establish a formal "observer panel" that will scrutinize the county's election processes and offer suggestions for improvement. Members of the panel (as well as the public at large) have the opportunity to take part in a couple of upcoming events. This Saturday at 10 a.m., the elections department will hold a "Logic and Accuracy Panel" at its offices (3033 H St., Eureka). The LAP is a two-hour dry run of the county's voting machinery; staff will be on hand to explain the process and answer questions. On Wednesday and Thursday (Nov. 2 & 3), the department will hold three "Schools of Instruction" for its inspectors and precinct workers at the county's Agricultural Center (5630 S. Broadway, Eureka). Observer panel members will also be able to watch ballot casting and counting activity all day and night on Election Day, Nov. 8. "Having voters watch the election process increases the awareness of what is involved in successfully conducting an election and helps foster confidence in the election," writes McWilliams, a former journalist, in a press release. "Locally, observers have tended to be part of political campaigns which have not necessarily approached the process with total objectivity." Forgive McWilliams his confusion of "which" and "that," and give him a call at 445-7841 if you'd like to participate.

GOT IT: Many thanks to the approximately 392 readers who called, wrote, e-mailed, faxed and sent messages by carrier pigeon with the full story on the Myrtle Avenue domes, the topic of last week's "Reader's Request." In spite of the faulty memories of several of our once-valued informants (all of whom now languish in the doghouse) it has been conclusively proven that the domes first housed Ming Tree Realty, a firm that has long since grown too large for the domes' somewhat oppressive confines. Larry O. Doss, scion of Ming Tree's Doss family, confirmed Tuesday that Ming Tree build the domes in the mid-70's, originally with the intention of selling more of them to private parties. However, the county's building department at the time balked at the structures, so the plan didn't work out. They made for pretty nice offices, though, Doss added. Remember: Send your burning questions to newsroom@northcoastjournal.com, and put "Reader's Request" in the subject line.

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9 Questions for Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap

by Hank Sims

In recent weeks, petitioners from an ad hoc group called the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights have been out gathering signatures to place an initiative --- called the "Fair Elections Ordinance" --- on the June ballot. The initiative, which requires some 4,500 signatures by January in order to be put before voters, would ban non-local corporations from contributing to political campaigns in Humboldt County.

On Tuesday, the Journal spoke with Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, a member of the HCCR. Sopoci-Belknap is director of Democracy Unlimited, a Eureka-based anti-corporate education and activism group. Last year, she was elected to represent the Eureka area on the board of directors of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water Board.

1. What is the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights?

The Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights is a group of people that has come together because we are concerned about involvement by large corporations in our local elections in years late, including Maxxam's financing the attempted recall of the district attorney last year and also, in 1999, when Walmart tried to change Eureka's zoning laws by ballot initiative.

2. Who is in the coalition?

At this point, we're calling ourselves a coalition because there's broad support. The measure that we're running has been endorsed by a number of labor unions, the Democratic Party and over 100 individuals who have signed on as endorsers. If you want to see that list, you can go to our web site: votelocalcontrol.org.

3. This is largely a symbolic sort of thing, isn't it? If this measure were put on the ballot and voted in by the voters of Humboldt County, there's very little chance that it would be upheld in any sort of court challenge, isn't that right?

Actually, that's totally incorrect.

4. Really?

We did research and looked at the other cases where laws restricting corporate contributions have been thrown out by other courts, by both the Supreme Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and what we found is that the courts actually said that there were reasonable situations where a community could restrict corporate involvement in politics, if the community felt that corporate involvement was undermining the electoral process.

So what we did is we tracked the language from those cases, where the court said, "Had these laws been passed because of corporate corruption, or corporate participation undermining democracy, then we would have held them up."

5. I thought it was sort of well established that political campaign contributions were defined as speech by the courts. No?

But what the courts have also said is that there are conflicting rights. The community also has a right to elections that the citizenry believes are free of corruption and are preserving the democratic process. So it's not that corporate rights are all-encompassing; a community also has the right to protect the integrity of its elections.

That's why the courts specifically said had these other laws been passed in such a way that the reason was that corporate involvement was undermining the electoral process, then actually we would have held those laws up. The other communities were not being explicit about that being the reason why they were doing it. We are being explicit.

6. So you're trying to forge new ground, here. There's no community that has passed a similar sort of law that has stood up to a court challenge, is there?

Exactly. But there is also no community that has passed such a law for the reasons that we are trying to pass ours. After we wrote all this, we actually found a law review article written by a professor at Loyola that went through it and said exactly this --- that a community could pass such a law, it would just need to do it in exactly the way that we are. So that was nice, to find that.

7. I notice that in the text of your ordinance, you say that it would not apply to local corporations, but you don't specifically define what a local corporation is. What would be considered a "local" corporation?

Actually, if you look under "definitions," there's a definition of "local corporation." A local corporation is one that has all its employees in Humboldt County and all its stockholders in Humboldt County, and its headquarters in Humboldt County, and its primary place of business in Humboldt County, and is not owned by another corporation.

8. How many signatures do you have so far?

Last night, we had just over 2,800. And there's people out today, so I'm sure there'll be more by the end of the day.

9. You're confident?

Yes. This is not going to be a problem at all. We have had a lot of support from a lot of people, and we've had a lot of success in getting people to sign it. So no, we're not worried about that part. l

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