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The Push 

It appears that there are lots of people who don't want to believe it, but they've yet to settle on a preferred version of events. Some say it never happened, that it's just a "publicity stunt." Others say it's being blown all out of proportion -- just an everyday pissing match, and a pox on both their houses. Still others are trying to twist it around the other way, figuring that the alleged victim must be at fault, somehow.

Last Wednesday's happenings at Avalon Restaurant, at which Rob Arkley, the county's richest man, a developer who will soon be unveiling Humboldt County's most controversial new building proposal in nearly 10 years, allegedly shoved and threatened "to destroy" Eureka City Councilmember Larry Glass, are going to be with us for some time. If the allegations are true, then Arkley committed a serious crime -- a felony, in fact. And on Tuesday, Glass confirmed that he would be pressing charges in the matter.

Since this is an ongoing criminal investigation, and a very serious one, it's important at this stage to stick to what is known. Only one witness has publicly come forward to give his version of events, and that's Arkley's lieutenant, Security National Vice-President Randy Gans. Speaking to the Eureka Reporter -- Arkley's newspaper -- Gans said that Arkley and Glass had a "verbal discussion" only.

But if the story was concocted on the fly -- if Glass is "acting like a publicity-seeking politician," in Gans' words -- then it must be noted that it was concocted and disseminated with astonishing speed, and by people who have heretofore shown no inclination to lie or dissemble about such matters, or about any matters. That includes Glass himself. The calls started coming into the Journal first thing Thursday morning, long before the story hit the papers or the radio. We heard from one eyewitness who saw Arkley shove Glass twice, hard, just as Glass alleged. This eyewitness did not want to go on the record to newspapers, but said that he had reported what he had seen to Eureka Police Chief Garr Nielsen, and would cooperate in any investigation.

Then we spoke to someone at the event at Avalon (a reception for the California Coastal Commission) who had not seen the shoving, but had heard about it while still there. Marshall Spalding, manager at Eureka's Courthouse Market -- an essential hub for Eureka gossip -- says he also heard about it that evening, from patrons who came to the market after they left Avalon. Spalding, a nice guy and no ideological opponent of Arkley, wouldn't give names of his eyewitnesses, but he wasn't afraid to go on the record himself.

"It did happen," Spalding said Monday. "We all know it happened. If all those people were there in Avalon, why would they deny it? He was obviously frustrated, probably about all these anti-growth people around here."

Before his election, Glass was affiliated with a group known as Citizens for Real Economic Growth. The group was formed to oppose Arkley's proposed Home Depot-anchored Marina Center development on a 30-odd acre vacant parcel abutting Eureka's waterfront. He handed out "anti-Arkleyville" stickers in his record shop. The environmental report for the Marina Center is due out sometime in the next few months, which will give the City Council its first opportunity to weigh in on the project. At Avalon, according to Glass, Arkley threatened Glass about his upcoming vote on the Marina Center -- that Arkley would "destroy" him if he voted against the project.

When this first came out, Glass said that he would not press charges in the matter. He said he told the Eureka Police Department his story to get it on paper, but he would not take it any further. Reached Tuesday, he said that changed after he attended a meeting of the League of California Cities in Sacramento over the weekend.

"It's not about me, it's about being an elected official," he said. "You can't let this kind of thing go on in a community and expect democracy to go on like it's supposed to. No matter who's doing it." Glass recounted the story for a police investigator Tuesday afternoon.

There's at least three sections of the California Penal Code that seem to apply, if Glass' allegations are true. Penal Code Section 71 deals with threatening a public official, and is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a year in jail. Section 271(1)(a) deals with physical assault of a public official -- one year in jail. And Section 85 deals with attempting to sway a public official's vote through "corrupt" means. It carries a punishment of two, three or four years in state prison.

None of the preceding paragraph is meant to vouch for the truth or falsity of the claims being made, which are now in the hands of the police department. It is only to demonstrate that these are not trifling matters -- that whatever this is, it is not a "pissing match."

When they're notbowing and scraping and begging to be spared from her ire, people in the local news business love to throw darts at our monthly "Media Maven" columnist, Professor Marcy Burstiner (Columbia School of Journalism, Class of '89). She's a wash-up, they assert. "Ivory-tower journalo-queen," as the saying goes. Hands too dainty to hold a four-by-eight spiral-bound notebook.

But when you're right, you're right, as Prof. Burstiner has demonstrated time and time again in her 11 months of service. And last week's column, another enraged bunker-buster dropped headfirst on the harried Humboldt County media, was no exception. To recap: Local reporters display an inexcusable ignorance of goings-on in Sacramento. Considering that so much of our economy depends upon the state budget, there is no justification for reporters' lack of interest in California politics and government.

Prof. Burstiner backed up her argument with ample documentation culled from the pages of the Times-Standard and the Eureka Reporter. But perhaps some readers still weren't convinced. If so, I would direct them back to last week's issue. Read Prof. Burstiner's column again. Then let your eyes drift across the fold to the space occupied by your humble servant.

By now, hundreds of readers have called or e-mailed to cackle at me. First up was McKinleyville's Mike Harvey, former grand poobah of the local chapter of the Republican Party. John Garamendi is California's insurance commissioner, eh? Harvey sneered. He's scheduled to be termed out of office in 2010, is he?

That wave of nausea rising in my stomach told me that Harvey had something on me. He did. Turns out that this Garamendi character ran for lieutenant governor last year and won. And that a certain Steve Poizner, a Republican from someplace called "Los Gatos," was elected as his replacement. So, to recalibrate somewhat: Our representative in the state assembly, Patty Berg, is not seeking to replace Garamendi as the Democrats' insurance commissioner in 2010. Rather, she will be seeking to oust the Republican usurper.

Believe me, the Journal regrets the error.

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Hank Sims

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