North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

January 17, 2002

And then there was one

Sudden death for redwoods?

5th District supervisor race: round 1

$5 million man found dead

Karuk skater to Olympics

T-S reporter Anderson dies

Uniontown Kids closes doors

An award for the road

Philps, Lewis may be liable

Pesticides, forest fires

Trespass charges dropped

Sawmill sale pending?

And then there was one

What a difference a year and a half makes.

In the summer of 2000 the North Coast was being served by three television stations, each generating hours of daily news programing. The fierce battle for ratings and ad revenue between KIEM, KVIQ and KAEF was reported in the Journal cover story, "More news, more often," June 29.

At the time KVIQ, No. 2 in the ratings with a staff of 20 gathering and preparing news shows, had increased its programming to 22 hours a week -- up from five. By comparison, the No. 1 rated news team, KIEM, had a staff of 15 and KAEF, three.

As of last week only KIEM remains.

KAEF was the first to drop local newscasts, in February of last year. In May KVIQ owners the Ackerley Group furloughed 12 employees and severely curtailed news coverage. Ackerley, in the process of selling KVIQ to Clear Channel Communications, pulled the plug on its Eureka-based newscast last week.

For the time being KVIQ will retain its Eureka-based sales staff and commercial production crew as well as veteran reporter Dave Silverbrand.

Silverbrand will contribute to the 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. regional newscasts that originate from KTFY. The Santa Rosa station broadcasts 6-9 a.m. daily and has a popular 7 p.m. newscast for its North Coast viewers.

Sudden death for redwoods?

In 1995 people in Marin County began to notice something wrong with their tan oak trees. The leaves start to turn brown, followed by the appearance of bleeding cankers in the trees' bark.

Then the oaks died. Sudden oak death had arrived in California.

The disease, identified as fungal pathogen phytophthora ramorum, is on its way to Humboldt -- and it may be capable of infecting the redwoods that have become the county's emblem.

"There's nothing out there to stop the spread of a pathogen like this," said Leonel Arguello, chief of vegetation management for Redwood National Park. He noted that the disease has been found both to the south and the north of Humboldt County, and will probably inevitably spread here.

But there is good news. Researchers at UC Davis have shown that redwoods have the potential to be a host tree for the fungus, but there is no evidence to show that it will prove fatal in the towering conifers.

"To my knowledge, they haven't made the connection that this thing is killing or even infecting the redwoods," Arguello said.

If the disease carries over to redwoods, the consequences could be dire. Not only would the county lose a symbol, it would also lose its economic foundation.

"The state would almost certainly slap a quarantine on the movement of raw wood products," Arguello said -- including any lumber that hasn't been kiln-dried.

"That has everyone worried."

5th District supervisor race: round 1

Six candidates vying for 5th District supervisor did their darndest Monday night to tell Orick residents what they wanted to hear.

Specifically Orick residents wanted to know what the candidates would do about the lack of rural law enforcement, the illegal trash dumping, the pot-holed roads, the confounded rules of the county Planning Department and dire economic straits of residents who have watched poverty grow in their community since the establishment on Redwood National Park in 1968 and the park's expansion in 1978.

They didn't get a lot of answers, just a lot of sympathy.

Vic Taylor of Trinidad, a retired administrative analyst for Pacific Bell, said it took him four years to subdivide a piece of land and he, too, is fed up with all the rules. "And the Coastal Commission does whatever it darn well pleases," he said.

John Corbett, recently retired after 20 years as general manager of the North Coast Co-op, told a story about his mom's house burning to the ground and her inability to rebuild in a timely fashion -- until the testing period for septic systems was over for the year.

Mike Harvey, an insurance agent who said he is not accepting any donations in the primary, said the Planning Department was "in need of a little overhaul."

And Ben Shepherd, a retired elementary teacher and co-owner of A&L Feed in McKinleyville with his wife, Wendy Wahlund, called planning "a moving target" that depends on who is at the counter that day.

But Jill Geist, an environmental compliance analyst for the city of Arcata, wasn't quite as quick to bash county planners. She told the gathering that while the rules for building codes were more black and white, planning issues are more "subjective" --often require interpretation by city and county staff.

Daniel Pierce, a machinist who said his only experience with planning was a neighborhood project to build a Habitat for Humanity complex, said, "I really got into this race by accident when two sheriff deputies showed up at my place with their weapons drawn" in a case of mistaken identity.

Among the solutions proposed Monday by the candidates to various county problems were:

Quit wasting money "going after the marijuana issue" (Pierce). Establish a penalty for county sheriff deputies who train here and leave in less than three years for better-paying jobs (Taylor). Allow certain home-based businesses without special or conditional use permits (Shepherd).

The Monday forum, hosted by the Orick Chamber of Commerce, was just the first round in the race to replace retiring 5th District Supervisor Paul Kirk. If no one receives more than 50 percent of the vote March 5, a run-off will be held in November for the nonpartisan office.

-- reported by Judy Hodgson

$5 million man found dead

Michael Schwartz, who made off with $5 million of Humboldt Bancorp money in early December, has been found dead in a West Palm Beach, Fla., apartment.

Schwartz stole the money by simply driving away with it. Under contract with Humboldt, Schwartz was responsible for replenishing 140 ATM machines that are backed with Humboldt Bancorp cash. Schwartz owned the machines, located at grocery stores, bars and other nonbank locations in New Jersey and New York.

In December Schwartz was reported missing by friends and coworkers. A cursory investigation revealed he wasn't travelling light: An estimated 45 cubic feet of $20 bills, totalling $5 million, were also missing. An arrest warrant was filed by the FBI Dec. 12.

The trail led to Florida, where Schwartz was found dead on Christmas. He is believed to have died by choking on his own vomit after a two-week drinking binge.

Much of the money has been recovered. About $3 million was hidden at an abandoned beach house close to the apartment where Schwartz had rented a room.

Ted Mason, CEO of Humboldt Bancorp, said while he was relieved to hear $3 million had been found, the money had been covered by insurance.

"This goes a long way to recovering all our money," he said.

The company plans to continue funding privately owned nonbank ATMs, Mason said. "We've been funding 1,350 ATMs across the country for 22 different organizations. It's a profitable piece of banking."

Karuk skater to Olympics

A Humboldt County native is on her way to the Olympics next month.

Naomi Lang and her Russian-born ice dancing partner, Peter Tchernyshev, won the U.S. National Championship in LA last week-- for the fourth straight year. The top two couples automatically qualify to represent the United States at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The couple's free dance earned them three perfect scores of 6.0.

Lang, profiled in a Journal cover story Dec. 20, is a member of the Karuk tribe, born and raised in Humboldt County. At age 8, Lang left the county when her mother graduated from Humboldt State University and moved to Michigan.

Limited coverage of the competition was carried live on

ESPN 2. A rebroadcast of the competition highlights will be shown Sunday, Jan. 20, at 3 p.m. on ABC.

T-S reporter Anderson dies

David Anderson, who reported for the Times-Standard for more than a decade, is dead of congestive heart failure at the age of 61. He died Monday afternoon at Mad River Hospital after losing consciousness on the way to a doctor's appointment.

A Vietnam veteran and Yale graduate, Anderson came to Humboldt County in the early 1970s and worked as a reporter for the Times-Standard. In 1976 he left to return to New England where he grew up. He worked for the Lewiston Sun-Journal, in Lewiston, Maine, for several years and later returned to Humboldt County.

According to the Times-Standard, he returned to that paper's staff in 1993 as assistant city editor. He later covered the environmental beat, politics (including city and county government) and served on the editorial board. In recent years, he wrote most of the paper's editorials.

Anderson was featured on the cover of the Journal in 1997 in connection with his involvement in theater. He was one of the founders of the Pacific Art Center Theater in Arcata and appeared in many productions including Waiting for Godot and The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which he played Falstaff.

An avid birdwatcher, Anderson wrote for and edited Birding In and Around Arcata, a guide to local birdwatching funded by the city. In December he participated in the annual Christmas bird counts, something he had done for years.

Although Anderson had requested no services, a gathering is planned for Sunday at 2 p.m. at 231 Dean St. in Manila. For more information, call 442-4525.

Uniontown Kids closes doors

"I'm perfectly willing to pay for good child care," said Tina Wood. "I'm just unable to find it."

Woods, a staff development coordinator at Mad River Community Hospital, isn't alone. More than 20 families who take their children to Uniontown Kids, located in Arcata, are about to lose their child care.

"We've been given 30 days notice," she said.

The child care center closure, caused by financial considerations, worries parents who say the brand of care given there is unavailable at other providers.

"I think the biggest concern is the lack of care for infants and toddlers," said Pam Lindstrom, Uniontown Kids' co-owner. Her center accepts children as young as six weeks, and that's hard to find.

Care for small children isn't the only facet of Lindstrom's operation that will be difficult to replace. Uniontown Kids is a center-based program -- not located in a caretaker's home. That means there are several adults present, so one can call in sick without throwing a wrench into the works, Lindstrom said. It also allows the center to remain open long hours, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. And Uniontown Kids provided what's called curriculum-based care -- care that follows an educational curriculum.

Wood said she and her husband have scoured the area looking for another source for curriculum-based care and have come up empty-handed.

"Most places have a waiting list of six months," she said.

The need for care may exist, but financial conditions do not support continued operation of the school, Lindstrom said. "The business has been operating in the red for the last two years. We've just run out of fiscal resources."

The center charges about $550 a month for infant or toddler care but was becoming unable to meet the financial burden of proper equipment and staff levels.

Lindstrom, who also owns the Moore Avenue Children's Center and works as the principal at Worthington Elementary in Eureka, said she is a "kid person." As such, she loved being able to provide the service but said she could not justify the financial sacrifices necessary.

"When you're having to cash in your retirement to pay someone's salary, you have to re-examine your commitment," she said.

An award for the road

The Humboldt County District Attorney's child support enforcers are among the best in the state. Too bad the program is being dismantled.

The Department of Child Support Services, until this year a part of the District Attorney's office, hunts down deadbeat parents. Last year the office had a 92 percent success rate. The state recognized that success with an award and a $90,000 check at the Jan. 8 meeting of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.

But the state giveth and the state taketh away. The program was forced out of the DA's office by a state law passed last year.

Many DAs have had trouble meeting their obligations to enforce child support and "frankly, some DAs don't take this that seriously," said Humboldt County DA Terry Farmer. Failures at some big DA offices led the Legislature to make child support an independent department across the state.

That may make the program less effective, Farmer said, as the new department won't carry the authority of the DA.

"If you were a parent, which letter would you respond to quicker: The one from the DA or the one from some group called the Bureau of Child Support?"

Philps, Lewis may be liable

A Jan. 11 decision by a federal court has restored the possibility of legal liability for using pepper spray to two Humboldt County law enforcement officials.

Sheriff Dennis Lewis and Chief Deputy Gary Philps were named in a lawsuit filed by environmental activists who had pepper spray swabbed on their eyelids during 1997 logging protests.

On three different occasions, activists who had chained themselves together were swabbed multiple times across the eyes with liquid pepper spray or sprayed in the face at close range. Neither the application method nor the close distance were recommended by the chemical's manufacturer.

The protests of the pepper spray incidents were widely broadcast on national and international television.

An attorney for Lewis claimed the sheriff was immune from prosecution. Under a legal standard called "qualified immunity," law enforcement officials can be exempt from prosecution for force used in the line of duty -- if the force could have been considered reasonable.

The 9th District Court ruled that Lewis and Philps did not qualify for immunity.

"Taking the facts as we presented them, no office would have considered that amount of force reasonable -- or constitutional," said Brendan Cummings, attorney for the protesters in a phone call Tuesday.

The case has been bouncing back and forth through the legal system for years. The original trial ended in a hung jury in 1999. A mistrial was declared and the case dismissed. The protesters appealed to the 9th District and succeeded in getting the case reinstated against the county.

Last week's decision reinstates the two officers as defendants. The case is expected to go to trial this year.

Pesticides, forest fires

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection didn't sufficiently study the side effects of firebreaks, according to a recent ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge David Garcia.

Garcia's Jan. 7 decision may halt the implementation of CDF's new Vegetation Management Plan. He ruled that CDF needs to examine the impacts of using herbicides to keep vegetation from growing back in firebreaks -- even if it isn't CDF applying the chemicals.

The vegetation plan is intended to reduce the likelihood and severity of future wildfires by clearing shrubs and small-diameter trees. In southern California, the CDF has executed controlled burns in chaparral country since 1981.

In the late 1990s CDF began drafting a new plan that would include the construction of firebreaks on private timberland. Once the firebreaks had been cleared, however, CDF would leave the maintenance to the property owners.

And maintenance means herbicide use, said Patty Clary, executive director of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics. If CDF knows herbicides will be used as a result of its program, the state carries the responsibility for studying the environmental impacts.

"You can't just write an environmental impact report about taking these trees out without including how the fuelbreaks will be maintained," she said.

But that's exactly what CDF did: A discussion of herbicide use in the draft version of the plan was deleted in the final version. CDF officials argued that because they didn't plan for the use of herbicides, they shouldn't have to study the impacts.

However, "CDF had a duty to evaluate and consider the use of chemical controls because the use of herbicides was part of the program as defined in the draft," Garcia said in his ruling.

Garcia's decision will temporarily stop CDF from clearing brush under its new plan. It is unclear when a new or revised plan will be produced.

CDF did not return calls for this report.

Trespass charges dropped

The charges filed against five protesters arrested for trespassing on Pacific Lumber Co. property Oct. 24 have been dropped.

"The people who had seen [the protesters trespassing] were not able to say that the defendants in court are the same ones," said Terry Farmer, Humboldt County district attorney.

The protesters had been gathered to talk to loggers heading into the "Hole in the Headwaters." The harvest of the second-growth timberland has been controversial, because the land -- barely -- lies within the boundaries of the Headwaters preserve. PL, which owns the property, began harvesting this summer.

Sawmill sale pending?

Eel River Sawmills, the beleaguered Fortuna mill that has threatened for months to go out of business, announced this week that it has found a buyer.

The Jan. 14 press release says the company "has entered into an agreement to sell substantially all of its operating assets to Eel River Acquisition Corp." That includes 24,000 acres of timberland and the Fairhaven Power Plant in Samoa.

Who is behind that corporation is not clear at press time. Dennis Scott, CEO and president of the sawmill, declined to comment, saying only that Eel River Acquisition was a privately held Nevada corporation.

ERS has barely been holding its head above water for years (see "Going, going, gone?," Journal cover story, Oct. 25, 2001). After warning workers that they might be laid off over Christmas, the company said it had two buyers interested in the sawmill facilities.

There is no mention of when the sale would be finalized.



Comments? E-mail the Journal:

North Coast Journal Weekly

© Copyright 2002, North Coast Journal, Inc.