Government

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Eureka Rotary, Volunteers Go Rogue, Clean up Problem House

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 10:39 AM

Before the cleanup. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • Before the cleanup.
After a day's work. - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • After a day's work.













What a difference a day, a backhoe and 10 volunteers can make.

A couple of weekends ago, the Rotary Club of Eureka organized a cleanup of a long troublesome property on the corner of Summer and Del Norte streets. The place was a mess. A junk car sat in the driveway, almost consumed by piles of trash and debris, including an old stove, furniture, clothes and even a few hypodermic syringes.

The place has been vacant, save for one tenant is in the process of being evicted and some squatters, and some neighbors have reportedly taken to dumping trash in its front and back yards. The property itself is a foreclosure owned by Nationstar Mortgage, a Texas company with a portfolio of more than $400 billion in properties.

The city of Eureka is currently fining Nationstar $1,000 a day for code violations on the property. The tab is up to almost $100,000, according to Deputy Public Works Director Brian Issa.

“We started fining them as soon as the bank took over (ownership),” Issa said. “It’s very difficult to get these big banks to do something and I don’t like to spend taxpayer money cleaning up their messes. That being the case, I prefer just to fine them to the hilt … I have to admit, I get a little bit of a warm fuzzy out of it.”

Issa said the place on Summer and Del Norte is emblematic of a larger issue, which is that at any given time, there seems to be some property in Eureka owned by a national bank that is left unattended and winds up being a magnet for squatters and illegal dumpers. The city can procure a warrant and send in a crew to clean these properties up, Issa said, but it’s an expensive process (around $10,000) that demands a lot of staff time.

And, generally, Issa said that because the properties are vacant and unattended, they don’t stay clean for very long. Plus, Issa said he has a philosophical problem with spending taxpayer dollars to clean up a bank’s mess. Instead, the city opts for the $1,000 per day fines, which add up quickly.

“If they’re not going to take care of problems that they have all the resources in the world to do,
we’re going to soak them a little bit,” Issa said. “We’re going to make it hurt.”

Ultimately, Issa said the money collected from these fines — typically more than $100,000 a year — goes to other targeted enforcement actions by the department that it believes will have a more lasting impact.

But Issa said he realizes these properties have an immediate impact on those who live around them, which he said makes the recent Rotary volunteer day so welcome. The volunteers were able to do something that would have been much more difficult — and expensive — for the city to take on.

“Technically, what they did is not legal,” Issa said. “Technically, they trespassed. We can’t do that. But kudos to them. They took on a neighborhood problem and addressed it.”

Rotary Club of Eureka President Matthew Owen said about 10 people turned out for the cleanup event, including his wife and Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass. He said the local McDonalds provided breakfast for the volunteers, Pierson Company donated a backhoe and operator for the effort, and Humboldt Recology donated a large Dumpster to haul away the trash.

When people stopped by while the crew was working to ask what they were doing or thank them, Owen said he tried to stress that this is something any neighborhood group can do. He also said he spent some time later that week knocking on doors in the area and encouraging people to take ownership of their neighborhoods and get involved.

He said he was disappointed to drive by a few days later only to see trash again accumulating on the property. For his part, Issa urged anyone with a problem house in their neighborhood to call the building department at 441-4155 or its inspection request line at 441-4043. And he said people shouldn’t delay, as these houses can “spiral out of control quickly.”

Other folks looking to get involved with cleaning up Eureka can participate in a citywide cleanup from noon to 1:30 p.m. on March 25. The group will be gathering in the McDonalds/Park City parking lot near the Bayshore Mall and dispersing from there. McDonalds will provide free lunch to those who participate.

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Alleging Public Defender is Already Failing Clients, Attorney Asks to Fast Track Lawsuit

Posted By on Sat, Mar 18, 2017 at 3:40 PM

FILE
  • file
Eureka attorney Patrik Griego is asking a judge to expedite the process of determining whether newly hired Humboldt County Public Defender David Marcus meets minimum state qualifications to hold the post.

Griego, who filed a lawsuit earlier this month challenging the county’s controversial hiring of Marcus, is asking a Humboldt County Superior Court judge to allow him to serve subpoenas immediately, forgoing the 20-day waiting period usually required in similar cases. In a motion filed with the court Friday, Griego argues it’s imperative that the case be resolved quickly, alleging Marcus is already making mistakes that compromise his clients’ rights.

“He has appeared in court unprepared and has failed to secure continuances for clients based on a failure to follow court rules,” Griego writes in the motion, adding that “attorneys working for Mr. Marcus are gravely concerned about the well-being of the office and the indigent clients it serves.”

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Sessions: Marijuana Only 'Slightly Less Awful' than Heroin

Posted By on Fri, Mar 17, 2017 at 1:52 PM

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. - GAGE SKIDMORE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons
  • U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions tossed some more shade on marijuana this week, adding to growing concerns that a federal crackdown is looming for the $7 billion industry.

Speaking about efforts to combat violent crime and “restore public safety” before a group of state and local law enforcement in Richmond, Virginia, Sessions spoke about the need to curb the nation’s growing heroin epidemic.

“So we need to focus on the third way we can fight drug use: preventing people from ever taking drugs in the first place,” Sessions said in the prepared speech. “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use. But too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana — so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sundberg Selected for Coastal Commission

Posted By on Thu, Mar 16, 2017 at 2:54 PM

Ryan Sundberg - COUNTY OF HUMBOLDT
  • County of Humboldt
  • Ryan Sundberg
Gov. Jerry Brown’s office announced today that Humboldt County Supervisor Ryan Sundberg has been appointed to the North Coast regional seat on the California Coastal Commission.

Sundberg will be the first Native American to serve on the powerful commission charged with determining the fate of California’s 1,100 miles of coastline.

The McKinleyville resident replaces Del Norte County Supervisor Martha McClure, who suffered a resounding defeat at the ballot box in June. He sought out and was recommended for the post by supervisors in Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties, as well as the Humboldt County Mayor City Select Committee, which also forward the name of Trinidad Mayor Dwight Miller.

Sundberg takes the seat following a time of upheaval on the quasi-judicial body, including the controversial firing of the former director last year and a series of news reports on the cozy relationships that some commissioners had with lobbyists and developers, including McClure.

Read the announcement from Brown’s office below:
Ryan Sundberg, 41, of McKinleyville, has been appointed to the California Coastal Commission. Sundberg has served as a member of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors since 2010. He was a tribal council member at the Trinidad Rancheria from 1994 to 2010 and an insurance agent at Farmers Insurance from 2003 to 2010. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $100 per diem. Sundberg is registered without party preference.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Sheriff Downey: 'It Has Been An Honor to Serve'

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 11:27 AM

Sheriff Mike Downey addresses members of  his office and local officials during a departmental review Monday before his retirement in May. - COURTESY OF THE SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy of the Sheriff's Office
  • Sheriff Mike Downey addresses members of his office and local officials during a departmental review Monday before his retirement in May.
Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey thanked the men and women under his command during a departmental review on Monday as he counts down to his last weeks in office and the end of a three-decade-long career in law enforcement.

“It has been an honor to serve the people of Humboldt County. It has been an honor to serve you guys,” he said.

More than 100 members of his department and local officials attended the noon gathering at the Sequoia Conference Center, with Downey personally shaking hands and speaking with each person as he walked down the line of seats set up in the room.

The sheriff, who was first elected in June of 2010, announced last month that he would retire in May.

Downey said he’s seen a lot of changes during his 31 years with the sheriff’s office in Humboldt County, but the main tennent and vision of law enforcement remains the same: providing “good reliable service to the public.”

“You can never forget that,” he told the members of his department.
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Sunday, March 12, 2017

United Changes Schedule, Drops a Flight

Posted By and on Sun, Mar 12, 2017 at 2:43 PM

The new, bigger jet that will be coming into the Arcata-Eureka airport. - UNITED
  • United
  • The new, bigger jet that will be coming into the Arcata-Eureka airport.
United Airlines is dropping one of its daily flights between Arcata-Eureka and San Francisco but is switching to a larger plane for the route and will still be able to accommodate the same number of daily passengers.

Jonathon Guerin, a senior manager for United Airlines, said the reason for reducing the number of flights is efficiency. The airline is switching to a larger jet for the route, which will be able to transport 400 passengers daily spread across three flights — just four passengers fewer than the route used to be able to accommodate with four flights.

Of course, fewer flights means less flexibility for travelers.

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Humboldt County Grand Jury Wants You (to Serve)

Posted By on Sat, Mar 11, 2017 at 10:27 AM

humboldt.png
The Humboldt Chapter of the California Grand Jury Association is currently seeking applicants for the next year of service.

The county Grand Jury does lengthy investigations of different issues related to local government. Reports on these investigations, which usually come out in May or June, are archived on the county’s website under dry titles like “Best Practices in Purchasing/Procurement” or “Americans With Disabilities Act,” but if you actually read the reports you’ll find sometimes blistering prose that would be at home on the front page of any newspaper, such as “Humboldt County Leadership and a Trail of Broken Promises,” and tales of fiscal mismanagement that could curl any taxpayer’s lips.

Without the deep digging of the grand jury, who would have known, for example, that there was little-to-no oversight of some third party contractors hired by the county to make sure the money spent actually correlated to services performed? Other past reports have found that the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office had “evaded” its responsibilities by not informing indigent detainees of their right to transportation after serving jail time (2015), and that the Humboldt County Planning Department had lousy customer service (2012).

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Griego Files Suit Challenging Public Defender Hire

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 1:29 PM

David Marcus - SCREENSHOT FROM THE LASSEN COUNTY TIMES DIGITAL ARCHIVES
  • Screenshot from the Lassen County Times digital archives
  • David Marcus
Local attorney Patrik Griego followed through this morning on his threat to file a petition with the Humboldt County Superior Court asking a judge to step in and block the county’s recent hire of David Marcus as its next public defender.

The petition for a writ of mandate, filed as a public interest lawsuit, alleges that Marcus does not meet the minimum qualifications for the position required by the state as outlined under Government Code Section 27701. The code specifies that a public defender hire must have spent the year preceding his or her appointment as a practicing attorney in all the courts of the state.

Marcus served as Lassen County’s public defender from 2005 to 2011, when he left, reportedly to take a job as CEO of a dental clinic. In his resume submitted to Humboldt County, he indicates he worked for the Walnut Creek law firm Cella, Lange and Cella from 2012 through 2016 as a contract attorney while living in Florida. But it’s unclear exactly what he did for the firm, and Griego alleges he doesn’t meet the minimum qualification of having been a practicing attorney in all the state’s courts for a year prior to his hire.

Specifically, Griego alleges Marcus has not practiced in any criminal, juvenile, family law or conservatorship court — or any other in the state — since his departure from Lassen County.

After meeting in closed session Tuesday to discuss Griego’s threat of litigation, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors issued a press release touting Marcus’ more than 20 years of experience in criminal law — in Lassen County and as a deputy public defender in San Bernardino — and stating that he “has significant criminal law experience and meets all statutory requirements for the position.”

In his filing, Griego points to a letter of opposition the California Public Defender’s Association submitted to the state Legislature back in 2011, when it was considering a bill that would allow superior court judges to be eligible for public defender appointments.

“While each office of the public defender in California is unique, two things are consistent,” the quoted portion of the opposition states. “Entry level deputy public defenders are not assigned cases for which more senior level public defenders are more adequately qualified and every chief public defender has at a minimum several years of practicing in criminal cases immediately prior to being appointed or elected chief public defender. These consistencies are not coincidental, bur rather necessary to ensure that indigent defendants we are tasked with representing are providing zealous advocacy required by the Constitution.”

Griego’s petition is filed on behalf of John Does 1 through 10, unnamed people currently represented by the public defender’s office. Unless the board of supervisors is “compelled to comply” with the government code, Griego argues, the petitioners will be deprived of their due process rights and right to counsel guaranteed under the 14th and Sixth amendments to the Constitution.

Attempts to reach Marcus for this story were unsuccessful.

If Griego's suit is successful, the county could be deemed liable for his attorney fees.

See past Journal coverage of Marcus’ hire and the controversy surrounding it here. And find a copy of Griego’s court filing here
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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Updated: Last Chance Grade Losing More Ground

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 4:02 PM

The lasted  slip out at Last Chance Grade. - CALTRANS
  • Caltrans
  • The lasted slip out at Last Chance Grade.
Update: Motorists traveling along the Last Chance Grade on U.S. Highway 101 south of Crescent City should expect up to 20 minute delays - day or night - as Caltrans works to stabilize a section of roadway there that slipped out on Wednesday.

Caltrans District 1 Facebook post:
TRAFFIC ADVISORY / UPDATE: Motorists using U.S. Highway 101 at Last Chance Grade in Del Norte County (~10 miles south of Crescent City) should anticipate one-way traffic control via temporary traffic signal with 10-to-20 minute delays at ALL HOURS.
Delay lengths are subject to change, and we will update the public with any new changes to delays or work schedules.
Originally, we had anticipated that 60-minute delays would be necessary at this location during nighttime hours only. However, our engineers, field staff, and contractors have found a way to further minimize impacts to traffic while performing the work in a more efficient manner. As the nature of work changes, however, the delay schedules may change as well.
Previously:
A Caltrans spokesperson said today that experts are working on an emergency plan to shore up a section of Last Chance Grade that hasn’t moved in a few years but yesterday lost another 10 feet of roadway.
In the meantime, the geologically active portion of U.S. Highway 101 — located approximately 10 miles south of Crescent City in Del Norte County — remains open to one-way controlled traffic.

“Our priority is to keep the roadway open as long as it’s safe,” Caltrans District 1 public information officer Myles Cochrane said.

He emphasized that the area is currently under 24/7 monitoring during inclement weather along with “near real-time monitoring equipment” to keep a close eye on any movement.

With a long history of instability, the segment of 101 is down to 18-feet of roadway in that section and any further loss could lead to a highway closure, Cochrane said, adding that construction crews were headed to the site this morning. The current plan, he said, is to drive in “left over piles from the Willits bypass project to shore up the area so it doesn’t slide any further.”

"Of course, we will close it down if we have to,” Cochrane said.

That status of the roadway is subject to change and Caltrans will be posting updates. The approximately 9-mile stretch is the subject of a major replacement effort due to the frequency of roadway failure and mounting maintenance costs to keep the vital highway connection open.

According to Caltrans Economic Impact Study, the closure of 101 at Last Chance Grade would result in: $1.3 million per day in travel costs for commercial and passenger vehicles — $450 million each year, as well as $300 to $400 million in reduced economic output in Del Norte County, 3,000 to 4,000 jobs lost, and $130 million in lost wages annually.

Caltrans District 1 Facebook post:
U.S. Highway 101 about a half mile north of Rudisill Road (Last Chance Grade) is experiencing the failure of a retaining wall. This is at the location where 24/7 one-way traffic control with a temporary signal has already been in effect.
The highway lost another 10' of width and is down to 18' for the one lane of traffic. Caltrans staff believe the highway is still safe and the highway remains open at this time. Staff will remain onsite 24/7 to monitor the highway to ensure public safety.
We will provide updates as needed until repairs have been completed.

Updated Caltrans District 1 Facebook post:

UPDATE: U.S. Highway 101 at Last Chance Grade in Del Norte County will be under intermittent full closures during NIGHTTIME HOURS ONLY to accommodate equipment working at the side of last night's slide on the south end of the grade.

The closures are to allow large equipment to drive "micro-piles" (steel rods approx. 8 inches in diameter which will be filled with concrete) into the ground below the remaining lane to ensure that it stays stable. Crews will drive one pile at a time, remove the equipment to allow traffic to clear, then resume driving piles.

This work will be done between 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. until this portion of emergency repair work is completed. Motorists should anticipate 60-minute delays during nighttime hours. Daytime traffic remains under one-way traffic control, but should not experience further delays as a result of this work.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Supes Support Marcus, Face Lawsuit by Week's End

Posted By on Tue, Mar 7, 2017 at 4:25 PM

FILE
  • file

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors is standing by its newly hired public defender, even if it’s a stance that will soon land it in court.

The board met in closed session this morning to discuss a local lawyer’s threat that he would ask a Humboldt County Superior Court judge to step in and block the county’s hiring of David Marcus as its new public defender unless the board backed away from the hire or proved Marcus meets the state’s minimum qualifications for the post. Immediately after adjourning from closed session, the board sent out a press release defending Marcus and his qualifications.

“Mr. Marcus has significant criminal law experience and meets all statutory requirements for the position,” the board stated. “We look forward to working with him as our public defender.”

Marcus' hiring has come under a spate of fire from local defense attorneys, who first criticized the hiring process — in which the board sought input from an advisory panel made up primarily of law enforcement officers and the county’s chief prosecutor — and later took aim at Marcus’ resume. Marcus, who served a controversial tenure as Lassen County’s public defender, has not practiced criminal law in five years, during which time he reported working as a contract attorney for a Walnut Creek firm while living in Florida.

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