by Jim Hight
Is the California Highway Patrol infringing on citizens' rights in its search for illegal drugs on North Coast highways?
For some citizens who've been pulled over in the CHP's recent hunt for drug traffickers, the answer is an emphatic "yes!"
Operation Northcoast, in its third year (previously called Harvest Sweep), consists of 10 officers, each looking for drivers transporting drugs along the Highway 101 corridor (and to a lesser extent along Interstate 5 north of Redding).
According to civil liberties activists, people who've been stopped and the CHP itself, the operation involves aggressive enforcement of vehicle code violations, with the objective of snaring drug traffickers in the process.
Here's the drill. An officer or officers stop a motorist for any violation, no matter how minor. They ask questions about drugs and weapons, and often request to search the vehicle.
If the driver does not consent to a search, the officer may decide that he has probable cause to search: inconsistencies or nervousness in the driver's statements, something seen in plain view or something smelled by the officer or the dog that often accompanies a team.
The CHP says its officers operate completely within the law, and that the drug problem justifies such heightened enforcement.
"(The officers) are all supposed to be inquisitive and aggressive, trying to apprehend all (drug law) violators," said Hal Rosendahl, a sergeant at CHP headquarters in Arcata.
"We don't have people coming up and turning themselves in for drug trafficking ... We want our officers to aggressively enforce the law, within the confines in which we have to operate."
As a measure of the operation's success, Rosendahl points to the number of arrests made and quantities of drugs seized. As of early December, 125 arrests had been made. Drugs seized included 224 pounds of high-grade pot, 10 pounds of meth and 2!/2 pounds of coke. And in the second week of December, the CHP seized large quantities of meth, coke and pot and made 12 arrests on Interstate 5.
These results, say Rosendahl and other CHP spokesmen, have generated a positive response from citizens. "We've gotten a lot of good feedback, letters congratulating us, thanking us for getting drugs off the streets," said Officer Adam Jager of the Redding CHP office.
But in southern Humboldt and Mendocino County, the operation has evoked outrage and protests.
William Ryan of Oneonta, Ga., said he was stopped for no seat belt while driving his son and an elderly friend from Alderpoint to Garberville. Ryan said four CHP cars surrounded the vehicle, and one officer bombarded him with questions about felony warrants and drugs. He was ordered out of the truck while another officer asked the female passenger, who owned the truck, if they could search her vehicle.
"She was good enough to say 'y'all can search my truck.' They tore up her truck, her purse, really took advantage of the situation and held us for 30 minutes or more." The search turned up nothing, and Ryan was cited for not wearing a seat belt.
Mary Korte of Willits said a CHP cruiser tailed her from Laytonville to Willits. She repeatedly pulled over to let the car pass and was eventually stopped for driving erratically.
"The officers were deferential and unfailingly polite," she told the Willits News, but "once having made the stop they were going to search, come hell or high water ... 'You know, it's that time of year and we have to be concerned,'" she quoted one officer.
Korte consented to a search, which turned up nothing, but she felt her rights were violated in the process. "They wore me down. I was so terrified, I had visions of my car being impounded and me being taken off."
Civil Liberties Monitoring Project in Redway has catalogued a number of these stories. One attorney defending a client in a Mendocino County arrest has 15 declarations from people who believe they were illegally searched. And others have written letters to newspapers.
"I was intimidated and browbeaten into allowing a full search of my car ... a more invasive and less polite search than I have encountered crossing international borders," wrote Lawrence Hayes of Berkeley in the San Francisco Chronicle.
CHP officers counter that citizens are free not to answer and to refuse consent for a search. "The officers can ask any questions they wish. You, being an American citizen, can refuse to answer any question," said Rosendahl.
And inquisitiveness is a useful tool for officers, he said. "If an officer asks, 'Where are you on your way to?' and they say 'I'm on my way to so and so,' but they're headed in the wrong direction, then the officer has a reason to be suspicious. If you're a person who's doing a drug deal you may get nervous (when stopped by police)."
A spokesman for CLMP conceded that officers have every right to ask questions, while citizens can choose whether to answer.
"But unless the cops are going to rigorously play by their own rules -- and unless citizens trust that cops will play by their own rules -- there's a strong inhibition on the part of most citizens to exercise their right even if they know it to be their right," said Mark Drake.
"My position is that the police fully recognize and exploit that inhibition."
Operation Northcoast ended in late December, at least temporarily. But the drug-hunting stops, questions and searches can be -- and are being -- performed by any CHP officer. "Rest assured there are officers out there doing these interdictions," said Rosendahl.
Emmett Cartier of Concord, Calif., has filed a complaint with the CHP over false arrest and abuse he allegedly suffered on Nov. 10 in southern Humboldt. Cartier's story fits the pattern of Operation Northcoast stops: pulled over for not wearing his seat belt, questioned aggressively, then searched.
Cartier didn't consent to a search. His driver's license had expired three days earlier, so the officer told him his car would be impounded. When he photographed the car to document its condition, he was arrested for interfering with an officer. Then his briefcase and car were searched "with quite a bit of diligence," he said.
On the drive north to county jail he said the officer insulted him. And at the jail, the officer pushed his head against a wall, he said.
A CHP spokesman said the agency could not comment on Cartier's complaint because it was under investigation. But he said the officer involved was not a part of Operation Northcoast.
Pilots aren't the only ones worried about the loss of Federal Aviation Administration flight service on the North Coast.
At a Dec. 4 meeting in the Samoa Cookhouse, several members of Citizens for Port Development voiced concern that the loss of local FAA staff would discourage air-freight shipping in and out of the county.
Vee Sorensen, field representative for Rep. Frank Riggs, sought to calm the group. "The congressman will not let this happen," she said.
Local pilots are circulating petitions urging the FAA to abandon its plan to replace the 24-hour-a-day weather observers with a remote-controlled system.
But pilots may feel safer after the FAA powers up a new radar station at Rainbow Ridge, south of Ferndale, which will provide better coverage than existing radar. "Coming into Arcata on instrument approach now they lose you at 5,200 feet," said Ron Dean of Redwood Flying Club. "With this new, modern, high-tech installation ... they expect to be able to see planes right to the ground. ... It should help offset some loss of service (provided by the weather observers.)"
Don Banducci stepped down as president of Yakima on Nov. 1.
"I sent my first and last e-mail to all company employees one hour before the announcement was made," Banducci said in a telephone interview last month.
In 1979, Banducci -- along with his wife, Maggie, and Jan and Steve Cole -- purchased a tiny Washington company that made foot braces for kayaks. The company pioneered and added other high-tech sporting goods to its product line -- including a multi-purpose car roof rack recognized around the world as the top in its class. By the 1990s, Yakima Inc. sales grew to more than $20 million a year.
When the two couples sold the company in 1994, Banducci remained as president and Steve Cole, vice president for engineering, under contract through 1998.
There was an uproar in the company in 1995 when the new owner, John Bowes, announced that the assembly and shipping operations -- about 40 of the 140 jobs -- were being moved from Arcata to San Diego and Mexico (Journal cover story, January 1996).
Banducci weathered that storm, but he began to lose interest, he said, in a company he no longer owned.
Banducci said he is cannot discuss the termination except to say the decision was mutual and his salary will continue.
"Officially, I am still a new products consultant, but it is very part time, maybe five-six hours a week," he said.
Banducci has an interest in two other enterprises: an inflatable kayak company called Wings, and Fire and Light, producing dishes from recycled glass.
"I'm also playing the drums again," Banducci said.
Anglers and environmentalists are asking the state Fish and Game Commission to act at its February meeting in Monterey to revoke a permit allowing Coast Seafood Co. to take bat rays in North Humboldt Bay.
For more than 20 years, the company has had a permit to trawl for bat rays and trap rock crabs, species that eat the oysters Coast Seafood farms in the bay. In 1996, despite the trawling, the company lost so many oysters it temporarily laid off most of its 100 workers.
After a Dec. 5 hearing by the commission in Eureka, Coast Seafoods submitted a plan to protect its oyster beds with fences, to use larger-mesh nets (to avoid taking species other than bat rays), to trawl for shorter periods and to pay for an observer to watch the trawling.
But bay partisans say the revised trawling procedures will still harm halibut and sturgeon.
"Fishermen, environmentalists and the Audubon Society believe that Coast Seafoods must do much better than that before they'll agree to an extension on the depradation permit," said George Jewell, who runs a fly shop in Fortuna and writes a weekly fishing column for the Humboldt Beacon. Jewell noted that the company's harvesting operations may be damaging the eel grass beds that serve as the foundation for marine life in the bay.
Underlying the conflict is the larger issue of managing Humboldt Bay's marine resources. "Fish and Game has just not done a good job of managing the marine resources in that bay for a long time," said Jimmy Smith, a harbor commissioner.
"We're looking at developing a comprehensive resource management plan for the North Bay," he said.
Heavy storms brought floods and damage to many parts of Humboldt County in November and December. The region was deluged by rainfall 50 percent above average levels, peaking Dec. 8 when the National Weather Service in Eureka recorded 4.87 inches in 24 hours, just .05 inches shy of a record.
Flood damage was most extensive in Ferndale, where Francis Creek flooded on Dec. 8. Fortuna, Arcata and other communities also sustained flood damage from swollen creeks.
Reports in the Times-Standard and Humboldt Beacon newspapers blamed upstream timber harvest and development for worsening flooding. "More buildings, roads and pavement create more runoff. Less permeable ground ... sends sheets of rain down the streets and drains," said the Beacon in a Dec. 12 editorial calling for a moratorium on new building until the city "break(s) ground on Rohner Creek drainage improvements."
Louisiana-Pacific Corp. will close two plants in El Sauzal, Baja California, Mexico, at the end of this month. The company was criticized for exporting jobs when it opened the brick plant and lumber remanufacturing mill in 1989. The decision to close the plants was made because the company "decided it would take too much to modernize them," said spokesman Bill Windes.
In response to speculation published in the Dec. 5 Santa Rosa Press Democrat that L-P would sell its Samoa pulp mill, Windes said: "Of all three pulp mills, this is the one that we'd most likely find a buyer for ... but as far as it being on the auction block, I haven't heard about it."
The City of Eureka and Eureka Main Street want input into plans to redesign the Gazebo at Second and F streets and Clarke Plaza at Third and E streets. This is the first review of the parks' design since benches were removed more than a year ago due merchant concerns over transients.
Martha Jain, an architect from Holmes Biord, will present design concepts for public comment Jan. 11 from 9 a.m. to noon at Celestino's, 421 Third St.
A volunteer task force has been working for three years to update the Housing Element of Humboldt County's General Plan. The update -- required by state law -- addresses every conceivable housing issue in unincorporated county territory.
Some members of the task force are most excited about what they believe are creative solutions to the homelessness crisis: allowing for smaller lot sizes in new subdivisions and "nomadic housing parks.
"(Such a park would be) a place that's legal, safe, sanitary, with hot and cold running water, laundry, telephone, electricity and some type of supervision where the folks that you'd put in the category of homeless could stay," said Dan Taranto, task force chair.
The update goes to the Planning Commission Jan. 16 at 7:30 in the board of supervisors' chambers. To obtain a copy of the plan on PC computer disk, contact Michael Richardson at 445-7541, ext. 23.
A popular teacher at Sunnybrae Middle School in Arcata was charged with child molestation in December. Michael S. Shaddix allegedly molested two seventh-grade girls between 1989 and 1991. At press-time, Shaddix had not entered a plea in response to the charges.