Friday, February 28, 2014

Injunction in Alderpoint Water Lawsuit Denied

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 4:19 PM

click to enlarge A log is wedged under one of Alderpoint Water District's leaking tanks. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • A log is wedged under one of Alderpoint Water District's leaking tanks.
Water tank construction will continue in Alderpoint after a judge today denied an injunction against the state’s payments for the project.

Eureka-based contractor Mercer-Fraser is suing the Alderpoint Water District over its bidding process from last year. The company said the lowest bidder was unfairly awarded the project. Read about the lawsuit in this week’s cover story, available online here.

Reached by phone following oral arguments, Alderpoint Water District’s attorney Clare Gibson said she was “very pleased” with today’s ruling, which she said showed the district’s need for a safe water supply outweighed any alleged problems with the contract.

In a detailed ruling adopted today, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner outlined his reasons for denying the injunction, saying that the potential harms to the environment and customers served by the water district outweighed potential harm to taxpayers from an unfair bidding process.

“If work stops, the District’s customers will continue receiving unsafe drinking water and the aging redwood tanks will continue leaking thousands of gallons of water per day during the worst drought in California’s history,” Sumner wrote. “Additionally, stopping work would jeopardize the District’s ability to complete the project on its limited budget. The court finds these compelling reasons not to grant the injunction.”

While he wasn't ruling on the lawsuit itself, Sumner also wrote that “Mercer-Fraser is not reasonably likely to establish Cal Electro’s bid was non-responsive, much less that any non-responsiveness was consequential,” suggesting that the suing contractor is not likely to prevail in its lawsuit against the water district. Read the tentative ruling (which was adopted today)here.
The attorney representing Mercer-Fraser did not immediately return a phone call.

“I hope they go away,” Gibson said. “I just don’t see how that they believe that they could prevail based on the merits. Then again I couldn't believe that they’d begin with this case to begin with.”
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Planning Commission Seeks Guidance from 'Bosses'

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2014 at 11:33 AM

click to enlarge GP.jpg
Facing a riled-up public, some of the newest members of the Humboldt County Planning Commission found themselves on the short end of two votes Thursday night. For the second meeting in a row, Supervisors Chambers was about half-filled by angry and demanding trail advocates, along with a smattering of fisheries biologists.

One contested vote was over whether to send a letter to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors pleading for more time to re-work the General Plan Update, now 14 years into the process. (On Jan. 13, commissioners were given a 45-day deadline to complete their review of the GPU’s Conservation and Open Space element.) That pleading draft letter never came to a vote. Instead, on a 4-3 vote, commissioners approved a letter asking the board, “respectfully, to review the work we’ve completed so far and give us further instructions,” said Commissioner Susan Masten, who made the motion. “It would help to have guidance from our bosses.”

Lee Ulansey — the founder of the private corporation Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights (HumCPR), who joined the commission just a year ago along with Commissioners Robert Morris and Alan Bongio — disagreed saying, “I’m uncomfortable with time restraints. … We need more time.” (Five of the seven commissioners have joined the panel within the last 13 months. Masten and David Edmonds were appointed in 2011.)

The contentious meeting lasted three and a half hours with members of the public testifying at every opportunity. The last hotly disputed vote came just minutes before everyone was asked to vacate the Humboldt County Courthouse due to a 9:30 p.m. curfew. Commissioners were attempting to collectively make seven previous “straw votes” taken over the past two months final with one vote of the commission. The seven previous straw votes to change parts of the Conservation and Open Space element were flashed up on the screen before a bleary-eyed public. One included a modification to Section BR-S5 — reducing the building setback buffer for fish-bearing streams from 150 feet back to 100 feet, the limit established in the General Plan of 1984.

Gordon Leppig, an environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, asked commissioners to “re-evaluate” their Jan. 30 vote on BR-S5, streamside protection, because it “was not science-based.” Others testifying said it was also not in compliance with state and federal law.

The streamside protection reduction failed to gather the four votes needed to be passed on to the Board of Supervisors. Commissioners Masten, Edmonds and Noah Levy voted no; Commissioner Kevin McKenny, appointed just weeks ago, abstained.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Law Enforcement Responds to Jail Policy Concerns

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 7:40 PM

click to enlarge Undersheriff Bill Honsal (standing) responds to a community member's question at Wednesday's meeting. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Undersheriff Bill Honsal (standing) responds to a community member's question at Wednesday's meeting.
In a meeting organized by local interfaith church leaders, a panel of Humboldt County’s top law enforcement officers addressed concerns this afternoon about the Humboldt County jail’s release policy. Marketed as a general community safety discussion, the meeting arose out of criticism of the jail’s policy to release inmates detained for being drunk in public during late-night hours — but passions were clearly still high over the killing of Father Eric Freed, who was named by multiple community members and remembered in a moment of silence following the meeting.

Sheriff Mike Downey addressed the jail’s policy in the Journal article “Dead of Night," and reiterated his office’s stance that people detained for being drunk or on drugs must be released when they’re determined sober by jail staff. Holding them longer would violate their constitutional rights, he told the crowd.

During the moderated response to community questions, jail Capt. Ed Wilkinson told the crowd that six other counties around California hold inmates until daylight hours before releasing them — four of them citing a lack of transportation options in the middle of the night. Wilkinson said he was hoping to get more information about those jail policies.

More perspective on the meeting, including responses to many community questions, can be found here.
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Mills' Plan for Policing Eureka

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 8:45 AM

click to enlarge MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
In the face of some notable crime rates, new Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills is overhauling the department, instituting a massive reorganization that will change both the way residents interface with the department and how its commanders are held accountable.

Mills, who came to the city in November from San Diego, said his plan is to carve the city into two geographic areas, each of which will be commanded by one of EPD’s lieutenants — Tony Zanotti and Len Johnson — who Mills plans on making acting captains. The idea, as Mills explains it, is that breaking up the city will allow EPD commanders to better get to know neighborhoods, and their specific crime problems. And, he said, it will give residents a clearer point of contact.

“It should be a more seamless process, allowing us to better identify problems, as opposed to just responding to incidents,” Mills said.

The goal, Mills said, is also to make his department’s commanders more accountable, adding that under the new structure Zanotti and Johnson will both be on call 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

“It’s accountability methodology,” Mills said. “I can tell you this, if crime continues to go up for the next five years, you’ll be looking for another police chief. So, why shouldn’t I be holding my commanders accountable?”

And, Mills said, he will focus a lot of that accountability on proactive policing efforts, pushing his acting captains and their sergeants to spot trends and ongoing problems and then try to address them holistically.

But, Mills conceded, the reorganization is only one component of what has to be a multi-faceted effort from the department. Mills said EPD’s records division and data collection methods are outdated. Consequently, he’s looking to hire a crime analyst in the coming fiscal year.

The analyst, Mills said, will use GPS mapping technology to look at areas of high crime intensity, which he hopes will allow the department better understand the types of crimes that concentrate in certain neighborhoods of the city. Once the department has a better understanding of that, he said, it will be able to look at layered solutions, including community education and outreach and targeted patrols.

But EPD also has other staffing issues that need to be addressed before the department can fire on all cylinders. Mills said his department currently has six vacant officer positions it's working to fill, as well as a number of dispatch positions.

Office recruitment and retention have historically been problems for EPD, so Mills said he’s taking a proactive approach to getting more boots on the ground. He said he’s gone to the College of the Redwoods Police Academy to make his pitch, telling cadets that if they want to “learn how to be the best cop in the busiest department in the region, then come work for us.” Mills said he’s also actively recruiting from the ranks of the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office correctional officers and reaching out to some non CalPERS agencies in the state to recruit their retiring officers, hoping to lure them up to Eureka with the prospect of earning a salary to accompany their retirement checks.

Recruitment is only half the issue, Mills said, as EPD needs to do a better job of retaining the officers it has. While pay is certainly a large part of that issue — EPD’s officers are paid at least 25 percent less than their counterparts in the San Francisco Bay Area — Mills said the department simply needs to treat its officers better. “I’ve stressed that we need to treat everyone with a lot of respect and dignity, especially our employees,” he said. “Cops tend to eat their young, but we need to make sure everyone feels appreciated, wanted and needed here.”

Once the department is fully staffed, Mills said he hopes to form another Problem Oriented Policing (POP) team. Currently, EPD’s POP team has all the work it can handle, Mills said, adding that the vision is to ultimately have a separate team for each of EPD’s two geographic areas.

Mills said that, in the coming months, he’ll be looking for community input to help the department break Eureka down into neighborhoods and identify specific unique problems in each. “Geographic policing is one of the main tenants of community policing,” Mills said. “The main thing I’m trying to communicate and get across is that we need to be more responsive to the community, and this is our effort to do that.”
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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Planning Commission Meeting Canceled

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 4:09 PM

click to enlarge Courthouse_Web.png
The Humboldt County Planning Commission's special General Plan Update meeting scheduled for tonight has been canceled due to a lack of a quorum, according to county Planning Director Kevin Hamblin.

After last week's meetings caused quite a stir, tonight's meeting was expected to be heavily attended. Hamblin said the commission is still scheduled to meet Thursday, which will be its last chance to finish its review of the Conservation and Open Space element of the GPU before shifting focus to the Housing element.
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From the Publisher: Poking a Hornet's Nest

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 2:03 PM

click to enlarge NCJ.jpg
Editor's Note: The following is a column by Journal Publisher Judy Hodgson that will appear in this week's print edition, which hits streets tomorrow.

Don't miss Marcy Burstiner's "Media Maven" column in this week's print edition. Real and potential Brown Act violations are popping up with such frequency now, it's like a game of Whack-A-Mole. Did the Eureka City Council think it could keep secret the names of an advisory committee to help select the next city manager? Really? (Kudos to the Times-Standard for filing a Public Records Act request last week. On Feb. 24, the city caved and released the names.)

I've been having flashbacks: Journal readers long in the tooth likely remember the wild and crazy '90s. A newly forged majority on the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors wanted a more "developer-friendly" staff and canned the head of the Planning Department (and his boss, the county administrative officer). In picking a replacement, they "invited" two developers to sit in on interviews that were closed to the public. Long story short, the Journal demanded they stop — "cure and correct" was the first legal step — and when they refused, we ended up in court. Two years later, a Humboldt County Superior Court judge found the Board of Supervisors in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act of the state of California.

Here's my favorite part of the introduction to the Brown Act that the Eureka Council might consider framing: "The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."

In her column Marcy also mentions "ad hoc" committees, which seem to be increasingly popular these days. These committees are temporary, appointed by elected officials to look into a matter and give them advice. As long as there isn't a majority of elected people on the committee, no public notice is needed and the public can be excluded.

Remember the General Plan Update ad hoc committee that was supposed to work out the kinks and get the long-overdue plan ready for county supervisors? It disappeared recently. Here's why: The current Planning Commission, not the previous one that prepared the GPU in the first place, now has a solid majority of developers including two members of Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights, a private corporation with a private membership list and lots of private dollars. HumCPR backed four of the current five supervisors and was rewarded with two seats on this powerful commission. My guess is they — HumCPR's Lee Ulansey and Robert Morris — didn't like what they were hearing from the ad hoc committee, but we don't know because those meetings were private. Next thing we learn is the Board of Supervisors took the GPU from the ad hoc committee and tossed it back to the commission so these new pro-development commissioners could rewrite each element to better favor ... you know, developers.

They are meeting twice a week to quickly unravel 10 years of public input. One vote last week, for example, was to reduce the setback buffer for perennial, fish-bearing streams from 150 to 100 feet. I have to ask, commissioners, "Why not 10 feet?" (Where are the scientists here for guidance?)

Another controversial vote last Tuesday stripped language from the plan supporting the creation of a countywide trail system. That vote poked a hornet's nest and trail advocates showed up last Thursday to complain. Word continues to spread, and as we go to press this Tuesday, I suspect they may have to call the fire marshal to tonight's hearing.

Watching the tapes of last week's commission hearings, I was struck by a ray of hope — one clear, firm voice of reason, Commissioner Susan Matsen, appointed by Supervisor Ryan Sundberg. She said she was pretty disturbed by Ulansey's claim that "the last commission did not get it right and this commission is going to fix it." She said, "I feel we are not giving due consideration to all those individuals" who worked on the GPU for more than 10 years.

Amen.

And readers, please be reminded that while we had no say in the "ad hoc" committee's work, the current stripping of the plan is happening in public — every Tuesday and Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers of the County Courthouse. Hope to see you there.
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EPD Standoff Ends Quietly with Bull Horn

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 10:08 AM

click to enlarge EPD.jpg
An hours-long standoff in Old Town Eureka with an armed suspect ended peacefully this morning.

Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills said his officers were called to Second and C streets shortly after 11 p.m. to a call reporting a gunshot. Mills said a 26-year-old male, later identified as David Geter, was at his residence and arguing with some people through his back window. It appears that, during the argument, Geter fired a round at the group. “One of them yelled, ‘I can’t believe you’re shooting at me,’” Mills said.

Officers responded and set up a perimeter around the residence, Mills said, and made multiple efforts to contact Geter, first by his cell phone, then through relatives and finally using a “good, old-fashioned bullhorn.” Once officers were able to contact Geter, Mills said he agreed to exit the residence peacefully and was taken into custody shortly before 2 a.m.

“This is one of those things were our folks did a great job,” Mills said. “They slowed things down, didn’t rush in and took their time, and ended up with a good outcome.”

Geter was arrested and booked into the Humboldt County jail on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon following the incident, according to Humboldt County Sheriff's Lt. Steve Knight.
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Monday, February 24, 2014

Walkin' Turkey

Posted By on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 4:53 PM

Well, look, there go Jack Lincoln and Leatherface, strollin' through Old Town. 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY HEIDI WALTERS
  • Photo by Heidi Walters
Maybe you've met one of these birds before. If not, know this: When you and turkeys do meet, their person — Nick (not pictured) — might encourage you to dance with them. Please, do. We like the free entertainment. And if that sensitive glob below-neck turns white, your turkey pal's feelin' good.

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Eureka Releases CM Search Panelists' Names

Posted By on Mon, Feb 24, 2014 at 3:59 PM

click to enlarge Eka.jpg
After refusing to do so when asked by the Times-Standard last week, the city of Eureka today released the names of private citizens who will serve on a panel interviewing city manager candidates later this week.

The citizen’s panel is comprised of Kurt Kramer, Heidi Benzonelli, Dale Maples, J Warren Hockaday, Jack Crider and Lorene Dunaway, and will sit down with the three unnamed candidates — one local and two from out of state — on Feb. 26.

See the city’s full press release below. For more information on the city’s search, see past Journal coverage here. And, also, be sure to check out the Times-Standard story by Lorna Rodriguez that pushed the city to release the list of panelists.

The following is a press release from the city of Eureka:

The City of Eureka will be conducting a second round of interviews with 3 candidates for City Manager on Wednesday, February 26, 2014. Council has designed a process in consultation with the City’s recruiter Phil McKenney of Peckham and McKenney. The process is designed to obtain input from the community as well as other City Managers in the area.

That process is as follows:

• Six City Manager candidates were initially interviewed on February 3, 2014 by the Mayor and Council. The top three candidates have been invited back to interview before an oral board made up of community members and local City Managers.

• The Mayor and each councilmember recommended a citizen to serve on a community panel oral board to interview the City Manager candidates. (Panel A)

• Local City Managers, a prior City of Eureka Manager and the County Administrative Officer will act as another oral board to interview candidates. (Panel B)

• Both oral boards will provide input to Phil McKenney of Peckham and McKenney. Mr. McKenney will then meet with the Mayor and Council to review the panel comments.

• Candidates will meet with the Mayor and City Council in a 90 minute interview.

• The Mayor and Council will then either select a candidate or consider additional recruitment steps.

Oral boards are routinely kept private to safeguard the recruitment process to ensure that each applicant receives a fair assessment and to protect the candidate’s privacy. In addition, the City has a legal duty to protect the deliberative process and ensure that the thought processes of the decision-makers, the Mayor and Council, are not impaired. The City of Eureka wants to make sure there is a level playing field for each applicant.

In the interest of transparency, the names of the individuals serving on the oral boards are:

Panel A:
Kurt Kramer
Heidi Benzonelli
Dale Maples
J Hockaday
Jack Crider
Lorene Dunaway

Panel B:
Philip Smith-Haynes
Karen Suiker
Randy Mendoza
Regan Candelario
Jay Parrish
Jim Test
David Tyson

The Mayor and Council do ask that the process be allowed to proceed as designed and that the privacy of the City Manager candidates be respected.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Firpo Responds to Plea Deal Critics

Posted By on Sun, Feb 23, 2014 at 9:14 AM

click to enlarge Elan Firpo
  • Elan Firpo
The Elan Firpo for District Attorney campaign issued a press release Saturday in response to criticism the candidate has received for a plea agreement she reached in a fatal Arcata stabbing case.

“Some decisions are not universally popular,” Firpo states in the release. “It is the job of the District Attorney’s office to make tough decisions based entirely on the facts that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to all twelve jurors. That is what I did here. I’m not proud of this disposition, and it doesn’t feel like justice to the victim’s family or myself. Unfortunately, it is the reality of the situation under the law.”

Earlier this month, news broke that 35-year-old Juan Ferrer had pleaded not contest to aggravated involuntary manslaughter stemming from the November stabbing death of Douglas Anderson-Jordet, a local chef, in downtown Arcata. Firpo, a deputy district attorney, negotiated the plea deal that will likely see Ferrer serve about two years in county jail. Backlash to the deal was swift, and to date two of Firpo’s three campaign opponents — former prosecutors Allan Dollison and Arnie Klein — have publicly criticized Firpo’s pleading a murder charge down to involuntary manslaughter in the case.

In the release, Firpo offers her rundown of facts in the case and closes with a jab at her opponents, who she says are forcing a public airing of the case that Anderson-Jordet’s family had hoped to avoid.

“They had hoped to avoid exactly this public forum discussion,” Firpo states. “Unfortunately, my opponents, who are long on rhetoric and short on facts, have attempted to take advantage of this unfortunate case to their political advantage.”

Past Journal coverage of the plea deal can be found here, and includes a rundown of the known facts of the case, comments from Ferrer’s defense attorney and a breakdown of California homicide law.

See the entire press release from the Firpo camp below.

Press release from the Elan Firpo for District Attorney campaign:

Ms. Firpo responds to concerns about Ferrer disposition

I understand the community concern about the disposition in the Ferrer case. On its face, a man is killed and the man that did the killing is sentenced to 4 years in jail, of which he will serve 2 years.

But the facts not previously made available to the public paint a different picture. After reviewing hours of video, talking with independent witnesses and reviewing the autopsy results, discussing the evidence with law enforcement and the family of the victim, it became clear that this was a case of manslaughter – not murder.

The facts would have shown that:

• Mr. Anderson-Jordet, the victim, was inflamed in his demeanor that evening. A bartender would have testified that the Victim was making homophobic statements to other patrons that evening before the incident.

• An independent witness would have testified that she overheard the argument between the parties and that the victim was yelling homophobic, sexist, hateful statements at the defendants.

• Video surveillance showed that the victim was behind the defendants walking down the street, and the victim was overheard to yell at the defendants “I am still behind you”.

• The defendant’s would have testified that the victim approached them in an angry manner and took a swing at them. And that he was a stranger to them, with whom they had no prior quarrel.

• The defense would have brought testimony that the victim was an angry person when he had been drinking, and occasionally used street drugs. The People would have brought testimony that the victim was a hard working man with a good job.

• The autopsy results show that the victim died of one knife wound, at a severe angle, that unfortunately pierced the victim’s heart.

A jury trial in this case would have become a trial of the victim’s character, for the determination of whether this was voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. The People would have had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants were NOT defending themselves in a hate crime.

In a best case jury trial scenario, Mr. Ferrer would have been found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. He would have been sentenced to a term of three years in prison (because he has no prior record), of which he would have served 85%, or approximately 2 years and 6 months. A plea agreement was reached to ensure that Mr. Ferrer would serve the maximum term for involuntary manslaughter allowed by law: 4 years, which, owing to the Governor’s Realignment Program, he will serve 2 years in county jail.

In other words, a best-case-scenario result at jury trial would have resulted in an additional 6 months of custody time for Mr. Ferrer.

The family and involved law enforcement officers were consulted before a plea was made. We agreed, after careful consideration of the evidence and the law, that this was the best disposition for the case. It doesn’t bring back Mr. Anderson-Jordet, and nobody is “happy” about this disposition.

Some decisions are not universally popular. It is the job of the District Attorney’s office to make tough decisions based entirely on the facts that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to all twelve jurors. That is what I did here. I’m not proud of this disposition, and it doesn’t feel like justice to the victim’s family or myself. Unfortunately, it is the reality of the situation under the law.

The family of Mr. Anderson-Jordet have reviewed this letter, and are disappointed that it had to be written. They had hoped to avoid exactly this public forum discussion. Unfortunately, my opponents, who are long on rhetoric and short on facts, have attempted to take advantage of this unfortunate case to their political advantage.

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