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April 13, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

Bridgeville big news again
From general stores to yoga retreats ... what's next?

WALKOUT: Hundreds of students and other members of the Humboldt State University packed the campus Quad at noon last Thursday, after organizers associated with the annual "Take Back the Night" anti-rape coalition arranged a snap rally and classroom walkout . The walkout, which was immensely well attended for a noontime event, was put together in about "10 hours of insanity," according to organizer Willa Damon, and was intended as an instant response to news that a student had been raped on campus a few days earlier.

According to a University Police Department press release, the rape occurred at around 7:40 p.m. on the night of Tuesday, April 4, near the west end of Laurel Avenue, next to the stairs that lead from the campus library's parking lot down to LK Wood Boulevard. The victim reported that she was suddenly approach by a man wearing a ski mask, gloves and a black and red jacket and brandishing a knife. The victim said the man, who was later described as a Caucasian adult around 6 feet tall and of slender build, forced her into a silver Saturn 4-door sedan and there assaulted her. The victim later drove herself to the hospital, where evidence of the assault was confirmed.

Attendees of the rally chanted and sang along with the organizers, many of them despondent over the fact that such a crime could happen in this day and age, in a community as small and peaceful as Arcata and Humboldt State. Many broke down in tears. Activities were arranged: Women were offered a crash course in self-defense, men the opportunity to join a group devoted to stopping sexual assault. One professor who walked out of class with her students said that she, too, had been a victim of rape, and that it was long past time to put an end to it. She issued a challenge and a warning to the male students in attendance: "All of you guys who are heterosexual, you will be with someone who has been raped. I guarantee it."

The UPD is still seeking leads in the case of Tuesday's assault, and it asks anyone with information to call 826-5555. The annual "Take Back the Night" event -- an international rally against sexual violence -- will be held locally this Friday evening, from 6 p.m. until midnight, on the Quad.

MUM'S THE WORD: A former employee of the Pacific Lumber Co. turned belated whistleblower last month, when he filed a wrongful-termination suit alleging that in early 2004, Palco President Robert Manne ordered him not to report evidence of contamination at a site where an unlined storm water retention pond was to be built as part of a new sawmill operation.

Jimmy Dan Cook, who was Director of Business and Community Development at Palco at the time and in charge of making sure the sawmill and pond construction complied with environmental laws, alleged in his lawsuit that as the site was dug up for the new pond, workers uncovered a dump site filled with asbestos, plastic-bagged garbage, mysterious barrels "with unknown contents" and "shop residue." Cook's suit said he raised concerns about contamination at the site, was told to hush up, and when he resisted "was subjected to repeated verbal abuse and threats from ... Manne." He alleges he "suffered significant anxiety and emotional distress" that led his doctor to place him on disability in August 2004. Cook also alleges he was fired in 2005, which the company disputes.

Although the suit was filed on March 6 in the Humboldt County Superior Court, it didn't hit the news until the Los Angeles Times reported it on April 7. Oddly, that same day, Eureka's Times-Standard reporter Kimberly Wear tried to get a copy of the lawsuit from the court's records department, as she related in an April 8 story: "A clerk there denied the existence of the lawsuit on Friday afternoon and refused to look up the case, saying she had already tried earlier in the day," Wear wrote. So Wear found a copy through other means.

Palco's Chuck Center told the L.A. Times that "These allegations are not correct" and that Cook had not been fired. Palco spokesman Chris Manson told the Times-Standard's Wear that he expects it will be "proven that the allegations and assertions ... in the lawsuit are baseless." (Palco's not talking to the Journal -- "for now," said Manson last week, in response to a request for an interview for an unrelated story.)

Cook's attorney, Zachary Zwerdling, said Tuesday that Cook had been agonizing over the decision to file suit. (Zwerdling, incidentally, was dubbed a 2006 "Northern California Super Lawyer" last month by the publishers of Law & Politics magazine and San Francisco Magazine, following peer votage.)

Pacific Lumber has one month to file a response to Cook's charges. Meanwhile, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, North Coast Region, has told media that the agency would monitor water quality in the area and seek records from Palco on the pond's construction.

CLAN DIKEMAN: The June 6 election is now about seven and a half weeks away, and it's maybe a bit surprising that it's taken this long for things to heat up in what will surely be that date's most contentious contest. For better or worse, though, it's looking more and more like the battle for district attorney will be nearly as acrimonious as 2004's failed recall attempt against incumbent DA Paul Gallegos, the wounds from which are still raw on both sides of the aisle.

In recent days, Deputy DA Worth Dikeman, who is seeking to take the position of the county's top law enforcement official away from Gallegos, objected to the way in which state Assemblymember Patty Berg (D-Eureka) and the Humboldt County Democratic Central Committee have gone about endorsing candidates. Dikeman, a lifelong Democrat, charges that both organizations have been cavalier in the manner in which they have gone about endorsing (or, possible, preparing to endorse) a candidate in the race.

In a response to Berg, who announced her endorsement of Gallegos last week, Dikeman charged that the assemblymember neglected to do her homework before lending her name to the Gallegos campaign. "It disappoints me deeply that she did not speak with me before endorsing Gallegos," Dikeman wrote, adding that in his four years in office Gallegos has done "significant damage to both the District Attorney's office and our criminal justice system."

The 22-member Democratic Central Committee has yet to endorse a candidate in the race, though a subcommittee on endorsements has backed Gallegos and the full organization could do so as early as its regularly scheduled meeting on the evening of Wednesday, April 12 (after the Journal went to press). In another open letter, Dikeman asked members of the committee to refrain from voting to endorse in the race, as the committee, he said, had traditionally refrained from supporting one Democrat over another for district attorney, a non-partisan office. (Committee members have said that the organization has picked between Democrats in the past.) In addition, Dikeman asked DCC chair Patrick Riggs to refrain from voting on the endorsement question, as he previously served as Gallegos' campaign spokesperson during the recall.

These purely political issues, as well as substantive ones concerning the duties and functions of the district attorney, will likely be among the topics discussed at the candidates' first debate, to be held this Thursday (April 13) before the Humboldt County chapter of the Republican Party. The debate will be held at 6:30 p.m. at OH's Townhouse (corner of Sixth and Summer streets, Eureka).

BIG FBI BUST: A federal grand jury last week indicted McKinleyville resident Christina Kim, 42, with identity theft, mail fraud and 49 counts of bank fraud, saying that the former owner of the Chosun House Korean restaurant in Arcata had for nearly eight years stolen personal information from foreign students studying at Humboldt State and used the information to receive bank loans and open credit card accounts in their names. Kim is also charged with using the names and identities of several of her own family members for the same purpose, creating at least 12 false identities in total, according to the indictment.

"She would use the monies to pay for personal expenses, including a new home; designer clothes, shoes and handbags; and jewelry," the indictment reads. "She would not pay back the monies fraudulently obtained from the banks and credit card companies. All in all, Kim defrauded financial institutions of approximately $1 million."

The charges follow a year-long investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigations into Kim's activities, which , according to the indictment, are believed to have started in October 1998. Among the other specifics offered by the paperwork filed in the case: Kim allegedly told the Farmer's Insurance company that she had owned a well-known ancient painting by a Korean artist, and that the painting had recently been stolen from her. She apparently successfully persuaded the insurers to pay her $91,000 for the loss. In fact, according to the indictment, she had never owned the painting in the first place.

A spokesperson for the FBI said Tuesday that the case was originally referred to the agency by the Arcata Police Department in early 2005, and that both the APD and HSU's University Police Department worked closely with the agency in investigating it. Kim was scheduled to be arraigned on the charges Wednesday morning (April 12) in federal court in San Francisco.

CLARIFICATION: In last week's cover story, "Scrubs and Suits," a comment by Marc Levin was mischaracterized. It attributed the following comment (not a direct quote) to Levin: "Other doctors `cherry-pick' from money-making services at the hospital by starting their own outpatient centers for things like urology, gastroenterology and outpatient surgery, leaving St. Joe's with cases that don't pay."

Levin said in a follow-up call that Humboldt Radiology's new outpatient facility could be considered a local example of "cherry-picking," but local gastroenterologists and urologists have not engaged in the practice. "In fact, they looked at free-standing consumer models and made a conscious decision not to do it here," Levin said. "They recognize the need to work with the hospital [for its survival]."


Bridgeville big news again
From general stores to yoga retreats ... what's next?


This isn't the first time the sale of Bridgeville has generated national coverage. In fact, it's not the second time either.

When the 83-acre town on the banks of the Van Duzen River was first hawked on eBay in late 2002, news sources far and wide descended on the sparsely populated town, grabbing interviews with various townspeople and former owner Elizabeth Lapple.

The sale came to a close at the height of the hoopla, following a last-minute bidding frenzy that reached $1.78 million. But the buyer had a serious case of remorse after realizing the town was in major disrepair, and backed out of the deal.

In 2004, the town made headlines again when Bruce Krall, an Orange County mortgage banker, bought it on the traditional market for $700,000.

Two years and "hundreds of thousands" of dollars in repairs later, Krall has put the town back on eBay, with an asking price of $1.75 million. Included with the acreage are seven rental houses, a main house, four cabins, a vacant machine shop and café, a 136-year-old functioning post office, two Quonset huts and nine individual parcels.

Krall explained that he's selling because his family does not want to relocate to the remote area and manage a retreat center, which was his plan. Ideas for a hideaway for artists, yoga or meditation enthusiasts or family counseling groups have been kicked around.

"It's still my dream," Krall said.

Krall was so intent on the idea that he secured conditional use permits from the planning commission for an 80-person facility and a new septic system.

After articles ran in newspapers like the Los Angeles Times Krall said he has been inundated with e-mails and phone calls from potential buyers, some as far away as Belgium.

Local resident and Bridgeville Community Center organizer Mike Guerriero said he's pleased with Krall's renovation efforts and hopes the next owner will fulfill the plans for a resort and also have a good relationship with Bridgeville School, of which he's been a board member.

However, Guerriero, a softspoken graphic artist who has lived on 40 acres outside of town for 26 years, said that not everyone in the town welcomes the limelight.

"It's good for the owner of the place because he's able to achieve a huge amount of PR," he said. "But it's throwing a lot of attention on a really small community that doesn't necessarily want to have a lot of attention focused on it."

But it seems the media's infatuation with the Humboldt County hamlet won't end at least until the bidding closes on May 4.

Back in 1973 when Laura June Pawlus decided to sell the tiny wooded town 25 miles east of Fortuna, she wrote a letter about Bridgeville to the LA Times and they picked up the story; so did Time and The New York Times. Pawlus' pitch worked. Lapple, who was living in Los Angeles, bought Bridgeville that year for $150,000.

Pawlus is now deceased but her daughter, Jessie Wheeler, 62, kept those old articles, along with a lot of other memorabilia from the place where she grew up. "I'm like the town historian," she said in a phone call from her Eureka home, where she relocated from Bridgeville just a few years ago. She recalled that her family's house didn't have electricity until she was 13 years old.

Wheeler's family purchased the riverfront property in the early 1900s when it was on the stagecoach route. It was a bustling place back then, she said.

Her relatives managed a two-story, 18-room hotel; they ran the general store, owned a blacksmith shop and a livery stable, rented out small houses and ran the post office -- her great grandmother, grandfather and mother all served as town postmaster.

When Wheeler's grandparents married in Fortuna around 1910, they traveled the dirt roads back to Bridgeville by horse and buggy. It took them two days.

And it seems to longtime resident Joyce Barnwell, 76, that a slower pace was a good thing for Bridgeville. The town was actually more active, she said, before the county replaced the original bridge, built in 1925, with a new one that makes for a smoother, faster drive.

"That bridge didn't help any," Barnwell said. "Now you just go swooshing by."

Another change that drove some people away from the town, Wheeler said, was when the Lapples raised the rent back in the 1970s.

"So many of them moved to Campton Heights [in Fortuna] they called it Little Bridgeville," she said.

In 1977, the Lapples sold Bridgeville to a Christian group, but later foreclosed on the property when payments weren't made.

Over the past 30 years, Bridgeville steadily fell into disrepair and by the time Bruce Krall bought the place a massive cleanup was needed.

Wheeler, who still visits the Bridgeville Community Center regularly, said 40-foot tall "mountains of refuse" covered in blackberry brambles dotted the property. Krall described the mess as "not to be believed."

"Everything looks a lot nicer now," said Wilma Buergler, owner of Swain's Flat Outpost, about 5 miles from Bridgeville in Carlotta.

Buergler and her husband bought Swain's 5 years ago, made repairs to the 6-acre property and, just like Krall, are now selling so they can move to San Diego, where their extended family lives.

Swain's went on the market last week.

"You can see it at," she said.

And while there have been no bids placed on Bridgeville yet, Krall said that's not unusual, as anyone who's bought goods on eBay knows that "90 percent [of the bids] usually come in the last half-hour."

Krall is confident the property will sell but conceded he has "mixed emotions" about letting it go.

"It's not without some sadness, that's for sure," he said.



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