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February 23, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

The Green Revolution
Why does no one attend local meetings of Arcata's second-largest party?

9 Questions for Cheryl Seidner

The Weekly Wrap

THE DEDAZO: For something like 70 years, it went off without a hitch. A few months before an upcoming "election," the Mexican president, leader of what used to be a one-party state, would make a public appearance to introduce the person he had chosen to succeed him. Six years later, just as he was finishing his term, the new guy would introduce the next new guy. Six years after that, the next new guy would introduce the next next new guy. It was called the dedazo -- the big finger, the tap on the shoulder. Mexico could run things this way and still call itself a democracy because it had a fig leaf: A couple of repressed fringe parties offered up challengers in each election, even though they knew that the ruling party would stomp all over them at the polls.

Does this remind you of anything? If it doesn't, ask yourself: When was the last time there was anything resembling a Democratic primary race for the North Coast's seats in the state legislature or Congress? Can you remember? It was exactly a decade ago, as it happens. That's when Eureka's Virginia Strom-Martin nudged out ex-Congressman Doug Bosco for the chance to represent local Democrats in the state Assembly, and when attractive carpetbagger Michaela Alioto finished first in a crowded field of Democrats itching to take on Rep. Frank Riggs. Strom-Martin won, Alioto didn't. In the four Assembly and Congressional and two state Senate primaries that followed, the season has been deafeningly quiet. If there have been debates of ideas, or of policy, or of strategy concerning upcoming elections, those debates have taken place behind closed doors, before a new candidate is anointed.

On Monday, Assemblymember Patty Berg and State Sen. Wes Chesbro, who is being termed out of office this year, called a press conference to announce that both were endorsing Sonoma County resident Pat Wiggins' bid to replace Chesbro in the Senate. (Rep. Mike Thompson, who could not make the event, said in a press release that he supported Wiggins as well.) Wiggins has a long and distinguished record in politics; she is a former member of the Santa Rosa City Council and was a three-term member of the state Assembly, before term limits forced her out in 2004. She's done a lot of work on Sudden Oak Death Syndrome, has organized efforts to promote smart growth over sprawl and helped beat back Alaska Water Exports, the company that had tried to secure river water from Humboldt and Mendocino counties to ship by "water bag" down to southern California.

If her short speech at Monday's press conference is anything to go by, the dedazada also appears to care very deeply about some things that don't get much attention in Sacramento. Near the end of her short talk, she mentioned that she is a big supporter of vocational education projects. She started rattling off statistics -- only 25 percent of California kids graduate from college, she said -- but didn't get very deep into her stump speech before her disgust overtook her. "No one gives a damn about these kids," she said, fairly spitting the words out.

She'll do just fine. And two years from now, when Berg is termed out and Chesbro makes the switch down to the lower house, that'll be just fine, too. Don't worry about it.

WATER BOARDER BOOTED: The governor appointeth, and the governor booteth. A year ago, on Feb. 15, 2005, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Dennis Leonardi, along with several others, to the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. On Feb. 10, 2006, the Ferndale owner and manager of Leonardi Dairy sent the Governor his letter of resignation -- but not because he wanted to.

During a recent Senate exercise to confirm his appointment -- these things typically happen a year after the actual appointment -- the Senate decided that Leonardi didn't meet the "10-percent rule." That's the federal rule that says a person can't serve on a state water board if he or she garners 10 percent or more of his or her income from a business with a wastewater discharge permit. Leonardi Dairy's milk is processed at the Humboldt Creamery, which has a wastewater discharge permit, and the state computed that into a violation of the 10-percent rule. Leonardi's lawyers disagreed, saying it really amounted to just 3 percent of his income. Nevertheless, the governor asked him to resign.

Judging by his letter to the governor, Leonardi was crushed -- not only because he had just been named board chairman in December, but because he'd spent the past year immersing himself in water issues. "This resignation is particularly saddening given the vast amount of work ahead ..." Leonardi said in his letter, which the Ferndale Enterprise printed in its Feb. 16 issue.

On Tuesday, Catherine Kuhlman, executive officer of the water board, said the board's "really going to miss Dennis' leadership. He's a really straightforward guy, and really clear. He'd been on the board a year, he knew where he wanted to go. And we just lose the momentum now." She said the issue of the 10-percent rule "had been vetted a year ago, at the Governor's office, and so it was just surprising to see that the issue came back up." She said the 10-percent rule's a little baffling, anyway. "That's one of the things people feel very troubled by with the 10-percent rule. An environmental organization can have someone on the board, but people that are actually working the land, farming and growing things, can't serve." As for why Leonardi's appointment was suddenly yanked away, she speculates that the state is beginning to give the rulebook a closer read. She suspects that'll be a trend, spreading to other boards -- at least in California. "I did some research, I called some other states, and they said, `What's the 10-percent rule?'"

PRAISES, WARNINGS: No, the recent warning from the Accrediting Commission Team for Community and Junior Colleges to the College of the Redwoods isn't as ominous as it sounds, says Paul DeMark, CR public information officer. It just means the college has to hurry up and communicate how much it has progressed since the accrediting team roamed the campus and interviewed its subjects last October and in 1999. "It's better to get recommendations," DeMark said. "A warning -- we haven't had that before. But it just means we have to do a progress report quickly. These are [our] peers, they're here to help [us]."

As a result of the earlier, routine interviews, the college had received seven recommendations for improvement. One of the recommendations was that CR institute a means for evaluating its programs and making decisions based on data, said DeMark. "We've known we've need to have a department of institutional research, to be able to follow through on how our policies are doing, if they're successful or not." Since the team's October visit, CR secured a $1.6 million five-year Title III grant from the U.S. Department of Education to establish just such an office. So that can be something sent off in the progress report. DeMark said the college has dealt with many of the perceived deficiencies since the actual visitations by the accrediting team.

CR also received eight commendations from the team for setting aside funds for post-employment retirement benefits, professional development offerings, progress toward equity and diversity in hiring and "cultivating a common purpose and collective vision and commitment to student success that is evident at every campus and instructional site."

TRUST FUND TOME: In the semi-harried weekly newspaper biz, press releases come and keep coming, and press releases go down into the recycling bin (digital or otherwise), with rarely a nod of appreciation to the person who wrote it. This week we decided to change all that, and to thank Richard Johnson of Trinidad for the bubbly media release he sent last week in regards to the Trinidad Police Trust Fund, a recently formed nonprofit with a goal of raising cash for a new police station (the old one was condemned).

The press release/prose poem -- titled "Why a Trust Fund in Trinidad?" -- takes two pages to get to the point, which, of course, is to ask for money for a new police station. Normally this delay would be irritating for an impatient reader, or a reporter accustomed to the inverted pyramid style of writing. But in the case of this particular press release, the two pages of babbling serve to highlight that windy route of digressions and detours one must delicately navigate before arriving at the embarrassing juncture when you must change gears, stop prattling and start asking for money. Some media-savvy people have no qualms soliciting funds for their causes, but the shier ones are occasionally the people we notice instead, especially when they write things like this: "Wave at a Trinidad officer and he, or she, will smile and wave back. In big cities, the cops are more likely to tail you -- they'll just know you are up to no good if you waved at them." Or like this: "Given the scope of their responsibilities, and their relatively modest presence, the police in Trinidad do an exceptional job looking after the town's residents and the area's far larger legions of visitors. They do so with a style more like that of a traditional English Bobby than an American cop."

Precious! Still, there are, no doubt, some who disagree with this assessment of Trinidad's finest. After all, it was only a few months back when a number of townspeople called Police Chief Ken Thrailkill a Gestapo agent for pursuing an identity theft case against political campaigner Richard Salzman (the case was dropped). In a phone interview, Johnson said he would like the police department and the community to have a friendly relationship, and that they really need some money for a new station. Interested parties can write to the Trinidad Police Trust Fund at P.O. Box 1039, Trinidad, CA, 95570.


The Green Revolution
Why does no one attend local meetings of Arcata's second-largest party?


Two weeks ago, Jesse Goplen, a 27-year-old Humboldt State student who has been serving as chair of the Arcata Greens -- a local chapter of the Green Party -- sat down and wrote out a long mea culpa and a call to arms. He asked for forgiveness from his fellow Green Party members for actions he had taken a month earlier, and asked them also to rise up and help reform an organization that had been running, as he put it, on "autopilot."

What was Goplen apologizing for? On Jan. 17, members of the Humboldt Coalition for Community Rights -- a group affiliated with Eureka's Democracy Unlimited, which is itself affiliated with Green Party politics -- gave a press conference at the office of the Humboldt County Elections Department. HCCR supporters were there to announce that they had gathered some 7,600 signatures from Humboldt County citizens in support of the "Humboldt County Ordinance to Protect Our Right to Fair Elections and Local Democracy," an initiative that seeks to ban out-of-town corporations from donating to local political campaigns. The signatures were more than enough to put the initiative on the June 2006 ballot. It was a big success.

Shortly afterwards, though, the Arcata Greens came out with a press release attacking the HCCR initiative. The release said that the Arcata Greens believed the initiative to be blatantly unconstitutional, and noted that Greg Allen, an attorney and member of the Arcata Greens, would be putting forward a competing initiative, one that would place a hard cap on all donations in local races.

In his letter, Goplen said that he had come to regret voting to approve the press release.

"You see, it almost seemed like the press release was timed to kick sand in the face of progressives who supported the measure, just at the height of their grassroots PR campaign," he wrote. "My friends in the Green Party couldn't be doing that, could they?"

They could, he concluded. But even more interestingly, Goplen gave details about how the resolution came to pass. In fact, he said, only two actual members of the Arcata Greens voted in favor of the initiative -- he and Allen, the only two Arcata Greens present at the meeting. A third vote was provided by Charles Douglas, a gadfly journalist/activist/political campaigner and a resident of Eureka, who allegedly asked Goplen if he could use Goplen's Arcata address "for the purposes of the meeting." Goplen agreed, he later wrote, and so Douglas provided the quorum necessary to approve the anti-HCCR press release.

The tale raises many questions, not the least of which is: Why do only two people attend a meeting of the Arcata Greens, the organization that should speak for a polity of Arcata citizens with national renown? Ten years ago, Arcata became the first jurisdiction in the country to elect a Green Party-majority City Council, and stood as a much-cited exemplar for Greens nationwide for years to come. More people are registered Green in the city than are registered Republican. Moreover, the Green Party is purportedly all about grassroots work on local issues, about paying attention to what happens in your own watershed. Why don't people come to meetings?

Bob Ornelas, one of the first wave of Greens elected to the Arcata City Council, said Monday that for him, the Green Party is more about a movement than about an institution, and that he thinks that many others feel the same way. No one wants to go to more meetings when they've got work to do, he said. And those who do want to attend meetings often find that the agenda is predetermined by a cliquish group at the top. He mentioned Allen and Douglas, in particular.

"The Greens became a cornucopia of oddballs, locally," he said, adding that many people find that there are much more effective ways to do political work.

"There's been a shift of a number of Greens over to the local Democratic Party, because [the local Democratic Party] is Green," he said. "The local Democrats have shown themselves to be every bit as progressive and much more effective than the local Green Party."

After the Arcata Greens issued its press release condemning the HCCR initiative, the three currently serving Green members of the Arcata City Council -- Dave Meserve, Harmony Groves and Paul Pitino -- issued a press release of their own, saying that they supported the initiative and that the Arcata Greens did not speak in their names.

Groves said last week that she, too, had attended only a few meetings of local Green Party chapters. She said that she found the meetings had a "hostile environment," and expressed surprise that Greens like Douglas had not been more supportive of her work. She and Democracy Unlimited's Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, who was recently elected to the board of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District, are frequent targets on the several web sites that Douglas runs, some of which bear the logo of the Green Party.

"When you think about elected women from the Democratic or Republican party, they get so much support from their parties," Groves said. "In fact, we get the opposite of support."

In his letter, Goplen asked Arcatans registered Green to turn out at the regularly scheduled meeting of the Arcata Greens last Wednesday evening. Paul Pitino, another of the current City Council members, was one of the several who did so. He, like the rest of them, arrived at the groups' regular meeting place only to find the doors locked, and Allen and Douglas nowhere in sight. However, they did manage to pass a resolution overturning the previous resolution, and registering the party's official support of the HCCR initiative.

Pitino said that he didn't know how often he'd be able to attend future meetings of the Arcata Greens. For one, he said, the regular meetings were scheduled on the same night as meetings of the City Council. But he did hope that people would begin to get more involved.

"I ask that as many people as possible show up to Green events," he said. "And understand that when Dave [Meserve] and Harmony and I aren't there, we're probably at a council meeting."



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