Government

Friday, July 22, 2016

Eureka 'Evaluating Options' After Court Ruling

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 2:59 PM

The dash camera in a Eureka Police Department patrol car. - THADEUS GREENSON
  • Thadeus Greenson
  • The dash camera in a Eureka Police Department patrol car.

The city of Eureka is “evaluating its options” with regard to this week’s appellate court ruling that it must release a police dash camera video capturing the controversial arrest of a 14-year-old suspect.

In its published opinion released late Tuesday, the California First District Court of Appeals ruled that the video in question cannot be considered a confidential police officer personnel record as the city claimed. Consequently, the court upheld a May 21, 2015, ruling by Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson, which granted a Journal petition seeking release of the video and found the public’s interest in the release of the video outweighed any privacy concerns.

In a press release issued this afternoon from the office of City Manager Greg Sparks, the city states that its interest in fighting release of the video was “not to quash transparency but to ensure that the right of privacy of police officers in their personnel records was not eroded.” The press release then quotes Eureka City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson lamenting the court’s ruling.

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City of Eureka: Pick Up Your Stuff

Posted By on Fri, Jul 22, 2016 at 12:12 PM

A former camp in the PalCo Marsh. - FILE
  • File
  • A former camp in the PalCo Marsh.
On Tuesday night the Eureka City Council voted 4-0, with councilmember Kim Bergel absent, to approve a Storage of Personal Property Ordinance that will allow the police department to tag, then bag property left on city land.

The ordinance comes as a response to recent issues with people leaving items behind after staying in designated sleeping areas on Del Norte and Koster streets, where the city has stated it will not enforce its no-camping ordinance during nighttime hours. Under the ordinance, police will leave a note for people who have left items behind, then, after 24 hours, they will remove the property and store it for up to 90 days. The ordinance includes phrasing that says people who do not comply can be ticketed.

Discussion and public comment on the ordinance were relatively short, compared to that for a similar ordinance pitched in September of last year. Councilmember Natalie Arroyo expressed concern that the ordinance would add another way to "cite people with very little resources." 

"My hope is that our staff will be really thoughtful with regards to the penalty section," she said, adding that she would prefer it not to be in the ordinance at all.

The city is currently using its Shelter Crisis Resolution to create rotating sleeping areas where homeless people can pitch a tent between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., so long as they pack up their stuff and leave first thing in the morning. But according to a report delivered by Eureka Police Department Capt. Brian Stephens during the meeting, the previous designated sleeping spot at the foot of Del Norte Street became piled with personal property that was not removed during the day. 

"The property surrounding that parking lot is a public space," Stephens explained. "We had no justification to make them move out of that area. By the end of the 30 day period, we took a 40 yard dumpster out of there. We have seen an accumulation of property, above and beyond what they can move from one place to another. What we’re trying to avoid is having property stored out in Wharfinger’s field where other people might want to use that property."

Stephens referred to the Marina Way property, which will be the next site for sanctioned sleeping, beginning July 28. Currently people are sleeping in a Koster Street parking lot. 

"Each area presents a unique challenge for us," said Stephens in a phone interview yesterday. He added that there are still five Connex shipping containers containing unclaimed property removed from the PalCo Marsh when it was cleared of encampments on May 2. The city recently sent out a press release stating if said property is not claimed by Aug. 5, it will be destroyed.

To date, Stephens said his department has been contacted by two people to make appointments to recover their property, but neither showed up. The boxes are on an undisclosed city property. Stephens said the police department will work with people who don't have photo identification, but they must make an appointment and come prepared to take all of their belongings with them. Personal property removed from city land under the new ordinance will fall under the same guidelines.

When asked if people coming to pick up their property could be cited for violating the ordinance, Stephens said it was a "difficult" question to answer.

"By the letter of the law they could receive a ticket," he said. "But in the spirit of the ordinance, it's an individual officer thing.That ordinance will help the most by letting us mark the property." 



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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Arrest Video Can't be Kept Confidential, Appellate Court Rules

Posted By on Thu, Jul 21, 2016 at 2:58 PM

The dash camera in a Eureka Police Department patrol car. - THADEUS GREENSON
  • Thadeus Greenson
  • The dash camera in a Eureka Police Department patrol car.

A Eureka police video depicting the arrest of a 14-year-old suspect can’t be considered a confidential personnel record and must be released to the public, an appellate court has ruled.

The court’s unanimous decision upholds a May 21, 2015 ruling by Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson, who granted a Journal petition seeking release of the video, finding the public’s interest in seeing the video outweighed any privacy concerns.

The city of Eureka, which objected to the video’s release, along with Humboldt County counsel, appealed Wilson’s ruling, arguing that he erred by not affording the video the protections granted to police officer personnel records. Because the Dec. 6, 2012 arrest led to a citizen complaint and was used as a part of an internal affairs investigation into one of the arresting officer’s conduct, the city argued the video was a part of the officer’s personnel file and should consequently be barred from release.

But in its 12-page ruling authored by Presiding Justice Barbara Jones, the court dismissed that argument, finding the video was not generated as a part of an internal affairs investigation or a record relating specifically to an officer’s advancement, appraisal or discipline.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Eureka Seeks Dismissal of PalCo Marsh Lawsuit; Plaintiffs Look to Make it a Class Action

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2016 at 11:46 AM

A camp on the waterfront. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • A camp on the waterfront.

The city of Eureka is asking a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit brought by 11 people challenging the city’s May 2 eviction of the PalCo Marsh homeless encampments.

Meanwhile, Peter Martin, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, has informed the court he intends to turn the case into a class action suit, which could bring in additional plaintiffs and increase potential liability for the city.

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Monday, July 18, 2016

Jail Adds Suicide Netting to Budget

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2016 at 12:52 PM

A version of the suicide netting that may go up in the jail, as included in the budget request. - HUMBOLDT COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS
  • Humboldt County Department of Public Works
  • A version of the suicide netting that may go up in the jail, as included in the budget request.
The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors will discuss tomorrow whether to add a provision for suicide netting to the Humboldt County jail's budget. The item comes after a rash of suicide attempts — 12 in 2015 — in the facility, one of which proved fatal. Two of the 12 attempts involved inmates jumping from the top of a stairwell onto the floor two stories below.

In its request for the budget amendment, the sheriff's department states the "purchase of the suicide prevention netting will significantly improve health and safety in the Correctional Facility by eliminating inmates' ability to jump over the existing railings on the second tier." The estimated cost of the netting is $216,731, which will come from a Revenue Community Corrections trust, and not the county general fund. The jail is also requesting an additional $159,988 from the same source for a computerized mail screening system that "will detect both visible and non-visible drugs that may have been folded or soaked onto paper."

Staff confirmed there have been no new suicide attempts since 2015.

The board will also discuss a slew of school bond measures and the renewal of agreements between the county and several regional mental health treatment facilities. Check this link tomorrow after 9 a.m. to watch the meeting live.
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Friday, July 15, 2016

Eureka City Council Set to Discuss Food Trucks, Personal Property

Posted By on Fri, Jul 15, 2016 at 3:36 PM

THINKSTOCK
  • Thinkstock
The Eureka City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to allow food trucks or "mobile vendors" to operate in specifically zoned sections of the city, potentially pass a storage of personal property ordinance and (probably) grant two more contracts to the Mercer Fraser Co.

The mobile vendors ordinance, which was discussed at length July 5, updates several portions of the current municipal code related to coastal zoning and zoning regulations to allow food trucks in almost all sectors of the city, provided the operators have been deemed to "not be a threat to public safety." On July 5, the council decided to modify the bill slightly, adding language that would except vendors from requiring council approval to vend on city property during special events.

The council will also discuss whether or not to pass an ordinance governing the storage of personal property on city land. City Clerk Pam Powell said this ordinance was brought forward after continuing "property issues" in the area of the recent temporary homeless sleeping area on Del Norte Street. A similar ordinance was introduced in September of 2015, but was ultimately tabled after protest. Instead, in October, the council passed the Open Space Property Management Plan, which restricted use of building materials in what was then the city's largest homeless encampment, at the PalCo Marsh.

The ordinance, as currently written, includes language mandating that the city inform people that their personal property will be removed from city land, allows the city to impound property if it is not removed within 24 hours and requires the storage of personal property for 90 days. There are some exclusions to these obligations, such as items that are deemed hazardous or pertinent to a crime investigation. The ordinance also states that failure to remove property within 24 hours is a crime, and that a person can reclaim their belongings at the Eureka Police Department after establishing proof of ownership, defined as describing the property and where it was located. Photo identification will not be required. 

In the language of the ordinance, storage of personal property in public areas is referred to as a "public health or safety hazard that adversely affects residential and commercial areas."

Currently the city's Parks and Recreation Department, with the occasional help of the Sheriff's Work Alternative Program, is responsible for cleaning up city land that has been used as a temporary location for homeless people to sleep. According to the department's director, Miles Slattery, a 6-yard dumpster placed at those locations is being emptied on a weekly basis, and yesterday, when people were moved from the foot of Del Norte Street to a parking lot on Koster Street, staff filled an additional two 40-yard dumpsters. Slattery said the ordinance would give EPD an extra tool " for them to not allow that kind of accumulation to occur in the first place." He also said the population at the sites has increased in the last few months, from around 30 people camping to closer to 50.

The council's consent calendar Tuesday also includes declaring Mercer Fraser Co. the low bidder on two contracts, a pipeline project with a $2.5 million award and maintenance paving project worth $175,521. Mercer Fraser also recently won the bid to build the Eureka Waterfront Trail through the PalCo Marsh, where many of those camping on Koster Street formerly stayed.


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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

In Solidarity

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 at 3:29 PM

About 100 people gathered at the Humboldt County Courthouse yesterday for a candlelight vigil to honor those killed in violent altercations across the country over the past week. - MARK LARSON
  • Mark Larson
  • About 100 people gathered at the Humboldt County Courthouse yesterday for a candlelight vigil to honor those killed in violent altercations across the country over the past week.
A crowd of about 100 people gathered at the Humboldt County Courthouse last night for a “solidarity vigil,” an event promoted through word-of-mouth and social media. The vigil’s Facebook page asked, “What must change so that these systems meant to protect us, truly protect all of us — especially our loved ones who are Black, Native, brown, LGBT…?”
 
Tamara McFarland, of Bayside, one of the informal organizers of the “Solidarity Vigil for Our Beloved Community,” arrived early to place 11 framed portraits of recently killed black persons and the five deceased Dallas law enforcement officers on the courthouse steps.
 

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Who Gets a Vote in Eureka? Ballot Measure Set For November.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2016 at 5:26 PM

An old ward map for Eureka. The wards remain the same, but some of the council members have changed since this was put together (Natalie Arroyo now represents the 5th, and Kim Bergel represents the 3rd). - FILE
  • File
  • An old ward map for Eureka. The wards remain the same, but some of the council members have changed since this was put together (Natalie Arroyo now represents the 5th, and Kim Bergel represents the 3rd).
Eureka voters and their representatives appear to be fairly fired up about democracy, although they have a different opinions about how that democracy is best expressed. This was apparent in Tuesday night’s city council meeting, in which the council voted 3-2, with Marian Brady and Melinda Ciarabellini dissenting, to put an item on the November ballot that would have voters decide on a true ward system.

As previously reported, the city currently has a strange hybrid system, in which councilmembers are required to live in the ward they represent, but are voted in by the city at large. A switch to a true ward system would mean that councilmembers in a particular ward could only be voted in by residents of that ward. It would also shield the city from potential litigation, claims Eureka City Attorney Cyndy Day-Wilson. During the meeting, Day-Wilson cited other cases in which cities were sued for inadequate representation of minorities.



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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Eureka Mulls Going True Ward

Posted By on Sat, Jul 2, 2016 at 10:40 AM

An old ward map for Eureka. The wards remain the same, but some of the council members have changed since this was put together (Natalie Arroyo now represents the 5th, and Kim Bergel represents the 3rd).
  • An old ward map for Eureka. The wards remain the same, but some of the council members have changed since this was put together (Natalie Arroyo now represents the 5th, and Kim Bergel represents the 3rd).

The Eureka City Council will consider Tuesday whether to scrap its long-maligned electoral system.

Currently, Eureka has a kind of hybrid system. Each of the council’s five members represent a ward of the city, within which they were required to reside when they ran for office. This provision has seen a lot of council hopefuls moving into new homes and apartments in the lead up to elections and a host of carpetbagging allegations. But when it comes to Election Day, the contests are decided through a citywide vote, meaning a resident of the 1st Ward has as much say as anyone in the 5th Ward as to who will ultimately represent the 5th.

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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Grand Jury Blasts County Procurement Process

Posted By on Thu, Jun 30, 2016 at 9:54 AM

humboldt_seal.jpg
On Wednesday the Humboldt County civil grand jury came out with another startling report: The county is not adequately tracking how millions of dollars in contracts are being spent.

The report alleges a lack of accountability, lack of transparency, lack of consistent terminology and a lack of oversight. Over the last decade, an increasing number of county departments have been consolidated, which the HCCGJ says is partially responsible for “a duplication of efforts in the contract process and a lack of regular review for millions of dollars of county expenditures.”

Procurement – the process of buying supplies, equipment or third-party services – is usually overseen by a single contract administrator, who only attaches his or her name to projects which have received his or her scrutiny. But the rules governing this process in Humboldt County are allegedly slipshod, with “no consistent terminology describing roles in the contract writing or review process.” The county administrative officer was also occasionally excluded from this process, according to the report. Each individual branch within the county appear to have its own individual systems in place for hiring and evaluating contracts, rather than a uniform process used across the county administration.

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