by JOURNAL STAFF
From the start, Paul Gallegos has been making news. First, he defeated Terry Farmer for the office of Humboldt County District Attorney in March 2002 -- shocking hordes of election-watchers who believed that the upstart private defense attorney didn't have a prayer. (The Times-Standard was so embarrassingly unprepared for a Gallegos victory that they couldn't locate him on election night for comment.)
Gallegos hired as his assistant Tim Stoen, who, opponents pointed out, was the No. 2 man (and later whistleblower) to the infamous Jim Jones of the Peoples Temple, the religious cult that committed mass suicide in the Guyana jungle in 1978.
Then, within weeks of taking office in January, the more liberal DA increased the number of marijuana plants a medical patient could grow with a doctor's OK to 99, as long as the plants' canopies fit into a 10-by-10-foot area. Under Farmer, 10 plants was the limit.
Gallegos stepped into the spotlight again in April when he injured himself surfing and had to be rescued by the Coast Guard. Opponents were quick to question why he was surfing on "county time," since the accident happened on a Friday. Gallegos has countered that he puts in far more than a 40-hour week.
But Gallegos' most controversial move to date was the filing in late February of a fraud lawsuit against Pacific Lumber Co. -- a move that sparked fury in the timber industry and jubilation among environmentalists. (Attorneys on both sides are still waiting for a ruling from Judge Christopher Wilson on PL's July 28 motion to dismiss the case.)
Just two weeks after the suit was filed, a rumor started that Robin Arkley Sr., flaming conservative and former owner of Blue Lake Forest Products, was offering $5,000 to anyone who wanted to start a recall campaign against Gallegos.
Someone did. The campaign, which drew supporters from law enforcement, including the Eureka Police Officers Association and the Humboldt Deputy Sheriffs Organization, began collecting signatures in May. Gallegos' supporters pointed out that the signature-gathering was not exactly done by the book, with petitions left out in the open at stores like Hoby's Market in Scotia and the V&N Burger Bar in Arcata, and 11th-hour petitioners paid $8 per signature to come in to Humboldt County, presumably register to vote here, as the law requires, then collect the lucrative John Hancocks.
At one point, observers wondered if the campaign was going to peter out. But -- thanks in part to a $40,000 contribution to the recall effort by Pacific Lumber -- organizers managed to submit some 16,000 signatures to the county elections office, meeting the requirement of approximately 11,000 verified signatures, by the October deadline.
Now, Gallegos, 42, is preparing to fight for his job: Three attorneys have come forward to campaign for DA in the recall election, set for March 2. The first to announce was Steve Schectman, 51, a private civil attorney who has had his own celebrated bouts with Pacific Lumber. (He represented the mother of David "Gypsy" Chain, a forest activist who was killed by a felled tree during a 1998 protest, in a negligence case against the company that resulted in a monetary settlement.) Schectman said he was throwing his hat in the ring to carry on Gallegos' policies in case the recall is successful. Also running is longtime prosecutor Worth Dikeman, 58, who has 18 years experience in the DA's office and is one of its most respected prosecutors. Calling himself a "very reluctant candidate," Dikeman said he too supported Gallegos and wanted to join the race to make sure there was an experienced prosecutor to run the office if Gallegos is booted out.
The third candidate is the only one actively campaigning against Gallegos: Gloria Albin Sheets, 58, who worked for eight years under Terry Farmer and a brief period under Gallegos. (She says she was dismissed; the county says her position was eliminated due to the loss of a grant.) Albin Sheets has echoed many of the stated concerns of the recall supporters -- alleging that Gallegos is soft on crime, for instance -- and she is the only candidate to say she will reevaluate the DA's lawsuit against Pacific Lumber.
Through it all, Gallegos has maintained a calm, professional demeanor, saying he will continue to concentrate on his job. His supporters seem energized by the task at hand, and the DA has become something of a cause celebre among progressives. (One recent fund-raising event was said to have been attended by "every liberal in Humboldt County.") We don't doubt that Gallegos, the recall and the suit against PL will be among next year's top stories, too.
-- Emily Gurnon
Maybe it was Paul Gallegos' fraud lawsuit against Pacific Lumber. Or perhaps it was the increasing polarization between the local timber industry and its opponents. Whatever it was, 2003 saw a large number of developments on the logging front -- both in the woods and the courts.
Gallegos' lawsuit got the ball rolling. Filed in February, it accused the company of concealing critical information during the 1999 Headwaters negotiations. The alleged deception enabled the company to log as many as 100,000 redwoods on unstable slopes that it otherwise wouldn't have been able to get at. The DA's office announced that it was seeking as much as $250 million in damages.
Then came what might be called the battle of Freshwater. Activists had taken to the trees big time in the steep area right off Greenwood Heights Road, arranging themselves into an "Upper Village" and a "Lower Village." The location seemed ideal for the protestors: It was easy to access, for one thing, and because of that, the prospect of frequent media coverage seemed likely.
The press certainly paid attention, but whereas a few years ago Pacific Lumber loggers might have only been able to toss rocks at the tree-sitters, now the company had a new weapon: tree climbers. Methodically, and to hear the tree-sitters tell it, in some cases violently, activists were taken down from the trees beginning March 17 and arrested. It took some doing, but eventually the "villages" were all cut down -- save for a single redwood named "Jerry," after the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, which had been occupied for nearly a year by Julia Butterfly Hill's heir apparent, Remedy, aka Jeny Card.
In May, the Garberville-based Environmental Protection Information Center seemed to score a major victory when Judge John Golden invalidated a pillar of the 1999 Headwaters deal, the Sustained Yield Plan. Intended to govern harvest rates over the next 100 years, the plan was deemed invalid because no such document exists -- at least not in a form usable by regulators or members of the public.
Activists read the order as requiring an immediate halt to logging on PL's land. There was even some talk that if the SYP is invalid, then so are all the logging permits that have been issued under its auspices. In other words, all the logging that has been carried out on PL lands since the signing of the Headwaters deal in the spring of 1999 has been illegal.
In the end, though, the ruling had little practical effect. Citing concerns about undue economic harm to the company, Golden did not shut down any logging. His ruling may still be useful to activists as precedent in future litigation, but otherwise it was a hollow victory.
Timber news in the fall was dominated by a demand from more than 60 residents that Pacific Lumber be made to dredge the Elk River, which floods at the drop of a hat due to excess sediment deposition from surrounding timberlands (see "Last Resort," Oct. 16); and by the contents of an Oct. 24 letter to PL employees from CEO Robert Manne, in which he blasted residents of Elk River and the adjacent Freshwater basin for "extorting" money from the company.
-- Keith Easthouse
The distant rumblings of a coming catastrophe were first heard in January. By December, local government was up to its neck in the worst budget crisis in memory.
Early in the year, before the 2003-04 budget was to be finalized, most local governments took preventative measures. The county instituted a hiring freeze, leaving unfilled positions vacant. Then, around mid-year, the numbers came in -- and they were worse, even, than most had feared.
Certain county services suffered especially. The Sheriff's Office, which many would consider the county's most important, front-line service, got a triple hit. The first was due to general county downsizing, when all departments were asked to make 15 percent reductions in their budgets. Then came the loss of a $500,000 state grant for rural law enforcement. Finally, there was the near-total loss of receipts from the state's Vehicle License Fee program, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gutted immediately upon taking office. In total, the office has had to cut $1.7 million from its budget.
"We've cut back everywhere in the department we can," said Sheriff Gary Philp. "We've got nowhere else to go, except salaries."
County government was far from the only local agency to feel the pain. Cities, schools and special districts also slashed personnel and services. In June, at a contentious and painful meeting of the Board of Supervisors, fire chiefs from around the county showed up to beg for funding from the county, which itself had all too little to give.
Assistant County Administrative Officer Karen Suiker said that none of the financial crises she's seen -- she's been with the county more than 20 years -- compare to what local governments have gone through in recent months.
"This has been the most challenging budget year. I think next year is going to be even more challenging. But I think this county is going to rise up and meet the challenge." She did acknowledge, though, that it's going to take more than can-do spirit to solve the problems the county finds itself in. At some point, money will have to be found -- or more fires will burn unchecked, more criminals will go unpunished and more people will go hungry.
-- Hank Sims
Once touted by a local agent as "the last affordable coastal real estate in California," Humboldt County seems determined to shed that reputation. The affordability of housing in the county hit an all-time low in October, according to the Humboldt Association of Realtors, with the median sales price of a single family home peaking at an astounding $222,000. That's a price that only 26 percent of county residents can afford, the association calculates.
The rise in home prices over the last two years or so is "unprecedented for this area," said Bruce Rupp, president of the Realtors' group. "Individuals, particularly young families trying to buy a home, are having a very difficult time. Even with those low-interest, no-money-down loans, people are just not able to buy in."
And rental rates have been rising, too, putting the squeeze on working families. "It's pretty hard to pay $600 or $700 a month for an apartment when you're making $10 an hour," Rupp said.
Those who already own property may be happily watching their equity soar, but for would-be homeowners, "it signals trouble," said HSU economist Erick Eschker, director of the university's monthly Index of Economic Activity. That's especially true given the fact that county unemployment rose slightly in October, from 5.1 to 5.3 percent.
The solution? Increase the supply of housing, Rupp said.
"We are going to have to find ways to provide additional housing and thereby lower the cost of housing for people," he said.
Driven at least in part by migration of equity-rich homebuyers from places like the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California, the rising cost of housing has ominous ripple effects. One of those is the plummeting enrollment in Humboldt County schools -- the number of students dropped 6.5 percent between 2001-02 and 2002-03 -- which in turn means less money for local districts.
"The biggest threat to us is affordability of housing," said Steve Kelish, superintendent of the Arcata Elementary School District, earlier this year. "We're just not getting the kids moving in here because their families cannot afford to live here."
Next boomtown -- Crescent City?
-- Emily Gurnon
Humboldt State University's new president started his job in July of 2002, and this year, Rollin Richmond has established himself as a dynamic leader whose ideas and openness have brought new energy to the campus -- and the larger community -- despite the dire budget outlook.
"I don't want anything I say to be a putdown of [former president] Alistair [McCrone], but I believe Rollin Richmond is a much more inclusive leader," said Arcata Mayor Bob Ornelas. "And he's made a great first impression."
Richmond has mended fences with the outside community on a number of fronts, not least of which is plans for the new Behavioral and Social Sciences building -- which had brought the university to a nasty standoff with the city of Arcata. Richmond made an effort to reopen the lines of communication with the building's opponents, and the university eventually made some changes in the building's design and location.
"The relations between HSU and the community, I haven't seen them this good in 20 years," Ornelas said. "I feel like for the first time we're at the same table and on the same page as HSU."
Supervisor John Woolley said Richmond took the initiative to get to know people in the community. "It's a different style, I think. He's been a dynamo. His energy is quite remarkable and I think he's gotten to know our community quite well."
He's made an impression on campus, as well, scoring points for his willingness to communicate bad news as well as good.
"His whole management approach is very different from the previous administration: more inclusive, much more open. Decisions are made with all of the players involved and all the input is really making a big difference," said Dr. Luke George, professor of wildlife management and this year's HSU Scholar of the Year. "I truly think he's energized the campus.
"Unfortunately, he landed at a time when cutbacks are so severe," George continued. "In some ways it does make for opportunities, and I think having him there is going to be a very positive force even in these hard times."
-- Emily Gurnon
To understand what kind of year Dave Meserve has had, you need only know this: He got more media attention than Paul Gallegos.
Not locally, perhaps. But nationally and internationally, the pony-tailed, 50-something hippie with the broom mustache and goofy grin was Humboldt's biggest star.
How big? Well, the Green Party member was prominently featured in a front-page article in the Washington Post, appeared on broadcasts by Fox News and CNN, and made newspapers in Europe. He was even interviewed by Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite television network.
Meserve's drive to fame started back in January when, after only a few weeks on the job, he persuaded his fellow council members to approve a resolution condemning the USA Patriot Act, which gives law enforcement sweeping powers to conduct terrorism investigations. Then in April the council, at Meserve's behest, went a step further and passed an ordinance requiring city department heads to refer potentially unconstitutional federal requests made under the law to the City Council for review -- particularly requests that might violate someone's civil rights. In other words, Arcata made it illegal to comply with the act.
Since no other community in the country had done that, the press took notice. One of the first things reporters wanted to know was who was behind this, and so Meserve found himself in the spotlight.
Despite his strong political views, Meserve is an unassuming fellow -- but that didn't stop him from doing a little exulting. "I campaigned on the platform that the federal government is stark raving mad and I'm glad they put that on the front page of the Washington Post," Meserve told the Journal when the media frenzy was at its height.
Figuring he was on a roll, Meserve started pushing next for a resolution demanding President Bush's impeachment -- on the grounds that he had launched an unprovoked attack against Iraq and had lied to Congress and the American people to gain support for the invasion. (See "Man on a mission," Sept. 18.)
His fellow council members didn't hand Meserve what he wanted this time around -- given political realities, it was recognized that there was no way Bush could be impeached before next year's presidential election. By October, a compromise was struck: The council sent a letter to Congress asking for an investigation into whether President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney committed impeachable offenses in the buildup to the Iraq war. Meserve, who was scheduled to go to Washington, D.C., to take part in a conference on the USA Patriot Act, hand-delivered the letter to the House Judiciary Committee.
-- Keith Easthouse
When it emerged in the summer that a San Jose energy company called Calpine was talking with local business and political leaders about the possibility of constructing an LNG, short for liquefied natural gas, import terminal on the Samoa Peninsula, one thing seemed clear: Here was a new acronym.
Like so many first impressions, that one turned out to be untrue. LNG was an old controversy. It also became clear that LNG wasn't some new, exotic substance. It was just the same blue gas many of us cook with and heat our homes with every day.
What's different about LNG is that it's been made so cold -- on the order of 260 degrees below zero -- that it has condensed into a liquid. Why convert it? Because in its liquid form it takes up 600 times less space than it does when it's a gas. Chilling it, in other words, makes it possible to transport vast amounts of natural gas at an affordable cost. The downside is that concentrating natural gas in this way greatly increases its danger. It makes possible the ignition of an enormous amount of gas in one place.
The unusual fire hazard posed by LNG was made clear way back in 1944, when 2 million gallons of the stuff escaped from a defective storage tank and spilled into the streets, and ultimately the sewer system, in Cleveland. A ferocious fire ensued that killed 128 people.
60 Minutes examined the public safety hazard posed by LNG in a broadcast in the late `70s. The news hook was that LNG projects were popping up all over the place due to rising demand for natural gas.
That's also the case today, which is the fundamental reason behind the Calpine project.
Like the proposal by an Alaska businessman to haul millions of gallons of water from the Mad River to points south in giant bags, the proposal floated by Calpine is nothing if not ambitious.
Nine hundred foot long tankers, the largest ships ever to enter Humboldt Bay, would come in at the rate of two per week. Their hazardous cargo, 33 million gallons worth per ship, would be pumped into storage tanks -- probably two in number -- standing 150 feet tall and 250 feet across. A "regasification" plant would warm the fuel, back into its normal vapor form. The gas would then be sent via a new, 36-inch pipeline under Humboldt Bay and out to Red Bluff, a distance of 155 miles, where it would feed into the Central Valley's energy grid. It would also power a new 220-megawatt power plant that would replace the aging PG&E facility that the Humboldt Bay region still depends on. The entire construction project, which would include building a new dock, would likely take three years and cost $750 million.
This is more than talk as Calpine has sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars on preliminary studies. Company officials shrugged off a decision by the Eureka City Council earlier this month to deny Calpine access to the Eureka Municipal Airport in exchange for doing a feasibility study. The advantage to that location is that it is closer to the harbor entrance and farther from populated areas. Another possible site is the 80-acre, defunct Simpson pulp mill property; the difficulty there, however, is that should an LNG fire break out, Bayshore Mall, among other places, could be at risk. (See "Destination Humboldt Bay?" Nov. 6.)
-- Keith Easthouse
It was never a secret, exactly -- people had been talking about the fact that 2nd District Supervisor Roger Rodoni held a lease on a substantial portion of Pacific Lumber land since he first ran for the office in 1992. Rodoni had been living and raising cattle on the land, called the Rainbow Ranch, since 1969.
But Rodoni's arrangement with PL moved to center stage earlier this year, after he joined three other supervisors in denying DA Paul Gallegos' request to the board for outside legal help in his suit against the company. Critics said that Rodoni should have recused himself from the vote -- that his lease of the land amounted to a conflict of interest when voting on PL-related matters.
The conflict of interest seemed even more glaring when details of the lease hit local papers in June. The land in question amounted to around 9,000 acres, including a house and a barn, and for it Rodoni paid only $4,200 per year -- or $350 per month.
Despite the ensuing outcry, Rodoni maintained that the amount he pays for the ranch is fair. He said that only about one-third of the land is suitable for cattle grazing -- his primary use of the land. He noted that by the terms of the lease, he is responsible for maintaining the property's structures and roads. And he chided his critics as city folk who don't understand the demands of rural living.
Nevertheless, the issue continues to strike a chord. As recently as last week, a citizen addressing the Board of Supervisors again chastised Rodoni for voting on the question of outside counsel. With Rodoni up for re-election in March, the supervisor is sure to be hearing more such criticism in coming months.
Meantime, the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state agency charged with policing conflict-of-interest laws, has opened a file on the case -- meaning that sooner or later its investigators will probably be asking questions of him.
-- Hank Sims
it the beginning of a trend, or was it just a very bad year? Whatever the case, the startling amount of violence related to the marijuana trade this year has everyone -- from dealers to cops to everyday citizens -- on edge.
"It seems to be in most cases that the violence involves deals or transactions made with people from out of the area," says Sheriff Gary Philp. "And it appears that the clientele are people that they ought not to be dealing with."
On Aug. 11, Southern Humboldt residents Chris Giauque and Rex Shinn were both reported missing to the Sheriff's Office -- neither has been found, and both are believed dead. Giauque, a prominent medical marijuana advocate, had been on a trip to the Spy Rock Road area of Mendocino County -- the precise purpose of the trip was unknown, but was presumed to have involved drugs. Shinn was believed to have been murdered in a drug deal gone bad. The incidents were probably unrelated.
Two weeks later, Whitethorn teenager Sean Akselsen was shot dead near Briceland. Three unidentified African American males from the Bay Area or Sacramento are suspected in the murder -- they had apparently been staying in the Garberville area for a few days, looking to score, before they met Akselsen.
Those were the worst incidents this year, but far from the only ones. There were two home invasion robberies connected with the drug, in Arcata and Manila. A carjacking and attempted murder in the Dyerville area was rumored to be related to a marijuana deal. There was a murder and car chase just over the Humboldt County line near Willow Creek in November -- a deal gone bad.
The robbers' greed is the principal cause of the violence, of course -- but the deplorable self-interest of some locals involved in the industry helps insure that this unacceptable situation becomes ever more common.
"We have a lot of people who are reticent to come forward because they're afraid they'll get in trouble," Philp says. "We certainly try to tell them that there's no more serious crime than the taking of human life."
-- Hank Sims
For two years, the county was held hostage in a fight between Caltrans and SBC Communications over the details of a deal to finish a fiber-optic line that would modernize the region's communications infrastructure. Then, in June, the two behemoths of government and industry reached agreement, and the work was completed in a few weeks.
Local business leaders rejoiced, briefly. Then they and local elected officials turned back, with renewed vigor, to the more difficult problem of moving people and goods -- rather than bits and bytes -- in and out of the county. The year was notable both for their efforts, which seemed to shoot off in every direction at once, and for the combined forces of geology and bureaucracy that seemed set against them at every turn.
Throughout last winter, conditions on local highways were worse than usual. Highway 101, the county's main artery, was closed both north and south several times -- most notably at Confusion Hill, near the Mendocino County border. That experience led to an ambitious plan to reroute the troubled section of road to the other side of the canyon, but a tight funding deadline meant that numerous and complicated permits and environmental reviews would have to be completed in record time. All of that is still in the works.
Supervisor Bonnie Neely led an effort to secure funds for the rebuilding of Highway 299's Buckhorn Summit, which would allow U.S. standard-sized cargo trucks to enter the county for the first time. The massively expensive project would require large infusions of federal dollars. When Sen. Barbara Boxer made a swing through town, she promised to help -- but the county gave itself $50,000 in Headwaters Grants to hire a lobbyist for the issue, just in case.
The North Coast Railroad Authority gave up, for the time being, the effort to restore train service to the county. The better part of a $41 million state grant it had been awarded a few years ago evaporated, and the authority could not even attempt to breach the storm-wrecked Eel River Canyon section of the line without that money.
Officials from the Port of Humboldt Bay began talks with the Port of Oakland about a partnership under which container truck traffic could be diverted here from the gridlocked Bay Area.
And a $10 million plan to extend the runways at the Eureka-Arcata airport in McKinlyeville was announced in the fall -- the county's planning department said the change was necessary to accommodate more and larger planes, but neighbors began to organize in protest.
-- Hank Sims
© Copyright 2003, North Coast Journal, Inc.