Nov. 6, 2003
SENTENCED TO 40 DAYS Not all treesitters
and their supporters get off with a slap on the wrist. Naomi
Wagner, 58, of Petrolia, was sentenced Friday to 40 days in jail
for resisting arrest during the protest surrounding Pacific Lumber's
removal of treesitters from the Freshwater area last March. Wagner,
a member of Earth First, had locked herself to the base of a
tree. Her sentence is scheduled to begin Nov. 30, but Wagner
said she is considering an appeal. Left unresolved for Wagner
and other protesters is the question of whether or not PL actually
owns the land the protesters were allegedly trespassing on. The
jury in the case involving Wagner and her co-defendant, Amy Gershman,
deadlocked on the trespassing charge after defense attorney Ed
Denson challenged prosecutor Ed Borg to prove PL's ownership
of the land. The DA's office subsequently dropped Wagner's trespassing
by HANK SIMS
THE CITY OF TRINIDAD TURNS 133 YEARS OLD this week, having been officially incorporated on Nov. 7, 1870. But if the anniversary was ever marked by fireworks or parades, don't look for them this year. Even if it could afford them, the city is hardly in a festive mood.
Nowadays, Trinidad's quirky experiment in self-government -- it is the fourth-smallest incorporated city in the state -- poses a troubling question: Can just 320 souls effectively band together to fend off the larger and wealthier forces that threaten their interests? As things stand, it looks more and more likely that the answer is no.
Because of intervention by the state, the city has been unable to settle its 11-year-old legal dispute with resident John Frame [in photo at left] over the Wagner Street Trail. That dispute has nearly bled the city's coffers dry, and Trinidad now teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. These stressors on the body politic have resulted in a third problem, one potentially as serious as the first two. The town's citizenry has become bitterly divided, and mutual recrimination has resulted in a City Council that seems more interested in placing blame for the city's situation than finding a solution.
"It's all gone to hell," longtime resident Jim Cuthbertson says of his city.
It could be that there is no solution for the town, apart from dissolution. Trinidad has had a good, long run -- 133 years is nothing to be ashamed of, by any measure. Perhaps it's time to think about throwing in the towel.
From a financial perspective, things may have looked a little brighter for the city back in August, when it voted to settle its litigation with Frame by closing the Wagner Street Trail. In return, Frame promised to drop his lawsuits and to pay the city's legal costs if any trouble arose over the agreement.
"I sort of naively thought that if the city and John Frame reached an agreement, we were done," says Councilmember Chi-Wei Lin, who was appointed by the council to negotiate with Frame.
The problem turned out to be that the trail, which passes between and behind Frame's homes, isn't the city's to close. The state Coastal Conservancy, which owns public access rights on the trail, sued, and a judge ordered the city to keep the trail open. This effectively voided the city's settlement agreement with Frame, and now the city is on its own again and paying its own legal bills.
The state is suing the city, and even though the state is not seeking monetary penalties against it, Trinidad must still pay legal fees it can ill afford. In addition, the failure of the settlement agreement means that Frame will refile the lawsuits he had against the city before the settlement was reached.
Frame says he understands that the city is financially strapped, and he would like to find a way to settle their dispute without further litigation. He's says that he doubts it's possible, though, given that the city has been unwilling to address his concerns. "There may not be a way -- I don't know," he says.
As everyone in city government realizes, this is very bad news. Though the City Council more or less split when the settlement agreement came before it in August -- the final vote was 3-2 in favor -- both sides agree that the litigation over the Wagner Street Trail must end if the city is to remain solvent. The city has budgeted a grand total of $6,000 to spend on litigation over the trail in its 2003-04 budget; it has already overshot that by a couple thousand dollars.
Five years ago, the city had nearly $300,000 in cash reserves. Stagnant revenues and increased expenses, resulting mostly from the Frame litigation, have brought that down to just $45,000. This year, the city is borrowing $40,000 from its water fund, which is supposed to be dedicated to maintaining the pipes and sewers, just to keep the lights on.
As things stand, the city has no way to pay that money back. It is counting on its citizens to approve a one percent hike in local sales tax next year, which will give an annual $70,000 boost to the city's general fund. Others think more drastic measures are necessary.
At its most recent City Council meeting -- they are held only once a month -- Mayor Dean Heyenga, who opposed the settlement with Frame, was sharply rebuked by Lin when he brought forth a proposal to sell half an acre of city land.
"You have been accused of acting like a king before," Lin said. "I see the pattern now. You are manipulating, using the opportunities you have to get what you want."
Heyenga responded with a sigh. "Let's beat up on the mayor," he said.
Lin insists that this kind of sniping, which is a frequent feature of council meetings these days, is simply politics, and it doesn't interfere with his personal relationships. He says that he still has a key to Heyenga's house, which he was able to provide to the mayor's daughter when she showed up in town a few weeks ago.
"Even my friends that were against the settlement are still my friends," he says. "No one has criticized me personally. We agree that we leave politics in the town hall."
Which is precisely where, at a meeting of the city's planning commission last month, one woman reacted to a speech of Lin's by whispering a decidedly personal criticism into a friend's ear.
"He should be taken out and shot," the woman said.
So the city will, in all likelihood, have to continue to fight expensive legal battles, without having the money to do so. As its funds dwindle, its political culture will probably continue to coarsen. What's the solution? One possible answer, which has been discussed before in the town, would be to disincorporate, to dissolve the city and hand management of the town over to the county.
"It's a huge question," says former county supervisor Julie Fulkerson, a Trinidad resident and an opponent of the idea. "Even if it were a possibility, it would be a very complex, expensive, time-consuming process."
But others, like longtime resident Tom Odom, who has served on the City Council and is now a member of the Planning Commission, says that disincorporation is at least worth thinking about.
"People say, `Jeez, we lose our identity,'" Odom says. "But I don't think we really lose our identity -- look at Garberville and Willow Creek. They're not incorporated."
There are at least a few ways disincorporation could come about. The citizens of the city could put the proposal to a vote. If 74 of Trinidad's 293 registered voters signed a petition in favor of the idea, it would be put up for a general vote. Then, if at least half the voters approved, the city would be no more.
But there is another, perhaps more likely scenario. If the city became unable to meet its bills, either the City Council or the county Board of Supervisors could propose dissolution of the town.
Unlike the city itself, it's not a pretty prospect.
by HANK SIMS
The Pacific Lumber Company has recently contributed "significant" time and money to the drive to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos, according to an internal company letter obtained by the Journal.
The letter, which is printed on Pacific Lumber letterhead, is signed by CEO Robert E. Manne and addressed to company employees.
If the letter is authentic, the move represents a switch in position for the company, which is the subject of a multimillion dollar fraud suit brought by the DA shortly after Gallegos took office. Previously, PL had stated that it would not take a stand in the recall effort.
"As a company, we had not participated in the recall effort until recent weeks when our employees, community members and the recall committee sought our support," read the letter, dated Oct. 24. "We decided to contribute time and money to the effort to give the voters of Humboldt County an opportunity to decide the question of recalling the DA for themselves.
"In that spirit, PALCO and other businesses and individuals, who are concerned about the DA's actions, contributed significant funds to ensure that the voters would have their say. To date, our support has totaled more than $40,000 in `in-kind' support of the signature gathering effort."
The Committee to Recall Paul Gallegos' most recent campaign finance disclosure forms, which cover a three-month period ending Sept. 30, make no mention of any Pacific Lumber donations to the campaign. Instead, they show only $500 in donations from three employees of the company and Britt Lumber, a PL subsidiary.
Committee spokesman Rick Brazeau said that he was not certain what, or how much, the company had given to the campaign, but said that the information "will be filed at the appropriate time."
Manne's letter was sent the day after the committee handed in more than 16,900 signatures gathered in support of the recall. During the previous week, the campaign hired an out-of-town signature-gathering firm, US Petitions, to orchestrate a last-minute push for signatures. During the push, signature gatherers were paid a fee of $8 per signature, which led some to believe that the campaign had received a large infusion of cash in its final days.
In the letter, Manne calls the county's lawsuit against the company "baseless and politically motivated," and asks, rhetorically, whether the company should simply "sit back and allow [it] to happen." He also charges that the Gallegos administration undermines the moral fabric of the county.
"[A]re the citizens to sit back and allow the family values of Humboldt County to be deteriorated on a weekly basis by our new DA?" the letter asks. "If we had known this, would we have voted for him? I think not."
Repeated calls to Manne and other PL officials were not returned Tuesday.
Richard Salzman, coordinator of the pro-Gallegos Alliance for Ethical Business, said on Tuesday that the letter confirms what Gallegos supporters had long suspected -- that PL was behind the recall drive.
"In PALCO's world, this is how you fight a lawsuit," he said. "You remove the prosecutor."
The Oct. 24 letter, together with an earlier Manne letter to PL employees on Sept. 11, also provides insight into how the CEO views critics of the company's logging practices.
In the earlier letter, Manne discusses "character and integrity," and argues that the DA's office, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Environmental Protection Information Center and residents of the Freshwater area are all lacking in those qualities.
"The only conclusion I can reach as to why they continue their attacks against us is that they lead empty lives and need to put blame on everything around them in order to negatively impact those that are happier than them," Manne writes. "This gives them power with their constituents and importance in the eyes of their friends and other PALCO haters."
Mark Lovelace, president of the Humboldt Watershed Council, said that Manne's characterization of the company's critics was wide of the mark.
"I know that there are people in the community who believe that the environmentalists just want to shut down the timber industry," he said. "That is simply not the case, and I would expect a more nuanced view from the CEO of the company.
"I don't know which is worse -- if he believes this stuff or if he doesn't believe it, and just puts it out there to divide the community."
Reached at his office Tuesday, Gallegos said that he was not a "PALCO hater" and did not have a "get PALCO attitude."
"Pacific Lumber is a defendant, one of the thousands of defendants we have here," Gallegos said. "They are entitled to a presumption of innocence, they are entitled to a day in court. Let's settle this case in court."
by EMILY GURNON
Should Eureka High School students be able to get birth control and other health services on campus without their parents' permission?
That's the question administrators are asking parents in a telephone survey they plan to wrap up by Friday.
"The kids want it, the staff want it; the question was, did the parents want it?" said Kristine Fabian of the Marshall Family Resource Center, where the new teen clinic is now offering sports physicals, immunizations and other services two mornings a month, with prior consent of parents.
The clinic, run by Open Door Community Health Centers staff, is located on the old Marshall Elementary campus, which is across the street from and now part of Eureka High. Funding for it comes partly through Medi-Cal billing by Open Door and partly by a grant Fabian procured from the California Endowment.
Other local high schools -- including McKinleyville and Fortuna -- do offer on-campus family planning services without parental consent, which is allowed under state and federal law, Fabian said.
But when the proposal came before the Eureka school board last spring, three members, including Lisa Pace, were against it.
Pace, who was campaigning to keep her seat in Tuesday's election, said she believed it would send a mixed message to the high school's 1,700 kids. Parents should be "teaching kids that there are consequences to their behavior, especially if you want a long-term, healthy marriage, which most people want."
The board then suggested that school officials do a parent survey. The results of the poll, which is sampling roughly one out of every five Eureka High parents, will be presented to the school board on Nov. 19, Fabian said. The board could then take action that night on whether to approve a continuing contract with Open Door that includes provision of "walk-in" services, such as family planning.
Principal Pat Faeth said he supports the clinic. "I believe that family planning services should be made available to youth as prescribed in the law," he said. As to the criticism that schools inappropriately assume the role of parents, he said it's unavoidable. "Unfortunately, that's the only way some of our kids are going to make it in today's society. A lot of kids don't have strong family support at home."
Student Steve Gyenis, 17, said there are kids who will have sex no matter what. "This is high school. If they're going to do it, it's up to them," he said. Going to the clinic is "better than getting a transmitted disease."
Pace, whose election was not decided by press time, said that even if a strong majority of the parents surveyed supported the clinic, she would not. "I really am against it," she said. "A lot of the parents that talk to me, they don't want it on campus, and I'm trying to listen to the parents."
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.