June 3, 2004
|N E W S A N A L Y S I S|
KINETIC ROBBERY: As Scott Berelson
led the pack of kinetic racers through Old Town Sunday in a two-wheel
contraption called the Surly Burly, he glanced over to where
he had parked his truck the night before. It was gone. After
the second leg of the race ended, the electrical contractor and
bicycle mechanic from Truckee went back to his parking spot on
Third between O and P streets. All that remained of his 1998
Toyota Tacoma truck was the shattered glass left on the pavement.
Gone, in addition to the vehicle, were the tools he needed to
dismantle his sculpture, a unicycle, a boogie board and a wetsuit.
Instead of throwing in the towel, Berelson with the help of some
friends went on to ace the race, meaning he completed each portion
without blundering. This was the third time Berelson has competed
in the Kinetic Sculpture Race, and despite having his rig stolen,
he said that he hopes to participate again in 2005. Nonetheless,
he was shaken by the incident and was brought to tears while
recounting the episode to a reporter. Anyone with information
regarding a white Toyota Tacoma truck with a camper shell and
California license plate number 5N66654 should call the Eureka
Police Department at 441-4060.
JOGGER KILLED IN TRINIDAD: A drunk driver struck and killed a Vancouver, Wash., jogger who was in town for a romantic weekend with his new wife, the coroner's office and California Highway Patrol reported. Bryan Skadiang, 39, was jogging Sunday morning along Patrick's Point Drive north of Seawood Drive about 8:45 a.m. when Matthew David Ford, 30, of Novato, lost control of his Honda Insight hybrid and hit Skadiang, officials said. Ford was taken to Mad River Hospital for treatment of minor injuries and later booked into Humboldt County Jail on suspicion of felony DUI, the Highway Patrol reported. The time of the accident suggested to Officer Stephanie Barnwell that Ford's condition "was a carryover from the previous evening," she said, adding that the Memorial Day weekend netted a total of six DUI arrests for the Humboldt area CHP. Coroner Frank Jager said Skadiang and his wife, Karol, had been married only a couple of months. The family did consent to donate Skadiang's organs. "It's the only good that will come out of that," Jager said.
DRIVER CRASHES DOWN EMBANKMENT: A Hayfork man spent the night in his mangled Chevy truck after it plunged down a steep embankment on Kneeland Road south of Mountain View Road on Saturday, the CHP reported. Dean M. Lawson, 58, was traveling south when he ran off the west edge of the road about 10 p.m. on Saturday, but was not rescued until a local rancher spotted the vehicle about 8 the next morning. Lawson, who was not wearing his seatbelt, was taken to St. Joseph Hospital with major injuries.
NEELY NAMED: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed three Republicans to serve on the California Coastal Commission last week among them Humboldt County Supervisor Bonnie Neely, who replaces her colleague, Supervisor John Woolley (a Democrat), as the commission's North Coast representative. Appointed along with Neely were Meg Caldwell, a lecturer at Stanford University, and Steven Kram, an executive with the William Morris Agency (a show-biz talent firm that represented Schwarzenegger back when he was an actor). Their appointments took effect immediately. The Coastal Commission has long been the bane of developers, and a faction of the Republican Party made an effort to eliminate it entirely a few years ago. But in a press release, Schwarzenegger struck a conciliatory note: "California's coastline and beaches are some of our most valuable assets," he wrote. "I am confident that Meg, Steven and Bonnie will represent the interests of all Californians as we strive to protect and restore our coast for the sake of future generations."
PROTECTING PLOVERS : Vehicle traffic and dogs will be banned for 30 days on Gold Bluffs Beach north of Orick to give a nesting pair of snowy plovers a chance to rear their chicks. The restriction, announced last week by Redwood National and State Parks, is being imposed for a month because the chicks will not be able to fly before then, biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. The plover is a federal "threatened" species.
Fourteen county employees will lose their jobs, a wide variety of services to the public will be scaled back and the salaries of many public servants will be cut in the upcoming fiscal year under the budget passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
In addition, the county will spend nearly its entire savings nearly $2.4 million and will leave more than 200 vacant positions unfilled in order to keep the county afloat during the statewide budget crisis.
"These are essential positions that are going away, and services are going to be less for all of us," said Supervisor Jimmy Smith.
The cuts affect nearly every county department, but certain high-profile services such as those provided by the Sheriff's Office, the county library and the Public Works Department are particularly hard hit.
The Sheriff's Office will lay off eight people, including one sergeant, an evidence technician and four secretaries. In addition, the office will have to leave seven deputy and two investigator positions unfilled, and will close its main office in Eureka to walk-in business on Fridays.
The county library will reduce its open hours at each of its branches by between 10 and 20 percent and will close down entirely for one week every three months. The Public Works Department will hold off on much of its standard upkeep work on county roads, focusing its effort only on the county's "critical routes."
The District Attorney's Office laid off a senior prosecutor, Nandor Vadas, last month because a domestic violence grant ran out, DA Paul Gallegos said. Vadas got a job with the federal magistrate's office, Gallegos said.
Other departments have devised different strategies for coping with the loss of funding. Employees of several including the Assessor's Office, the County Administrative Office and the Board of Supervisors itself have accepted voluntary, across-the-board pay cuts of 5 to 10 percent. District Attorney Paul Gallegos and Assistant DA Tim Stoen each took a 10 percent cut.
In a report to the board, County Administrative Officer Loretta Nickolaus laid out the causes of the budget crisis. The cost of providing health insurance to county employees is expected to increase by 10 percent in the upcoming year, and an increased share of payments into the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) will cost around $2.3 million.
In addition, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed state budget involves taking some $2.5 million in property taxes from the county as part of a maneuver to balance the state's budget. Nickolaus told the board that Schwarzenegger was in the process of revising the proposal, which may result in the tax money being returned to the county.
After several weeks of special sessions to allow for input from heads of county departments and members of the public, the board was able to finalize the budget relatively quickly on Tuesday. Supervisors asked for only one change from Nickolaus' final recommendations to find $10,000 to support the Youth Service Bureau's teen shelter programs for at-risk youth. The $10,000 would keep the programs alive while the bureau pursues a $100,000 federal grant.
Supervisor Bonnie Neely, who has been working with the bureau and the county's Department of Health and Human Services to find other sources of funding for the programs, spoke in favor of the expenditure.
"I think it would be a mistake to lose $100,000 coming into the county because we didn't put forward the $10,000," she said.
Because of a legal technicality the board could not authorize the $10,000 grant at Tuesday's meeting, but a "straw vote" showed unanimous support for the proposal.
Supervisor Jill Geist thanked managers of the county's various departments for leading the way. Earlier in the year, each department was asked to provide a statement showing how it would cut 20 percent from its budget. Those statements formed the basis of the total countywide budget adopted on Tuesday.
"The departments have worked phenomenally to bring back budgets that they can work under and still provide basic services to the community," she said.
For many, the fact that only 14 employees had to be laid off out of a current workforce total of more than 1,650 was a tribute to the county's fiscal responsibility. The county instituted a hiring freeze more than two years ago, with the result that when the crisis hit, empty positions could be cut instead of actual employees.
After the meeting, Public Works Director Allen Campbell said that this approach led to a more painless downsizing than otherwise would have been the case.
"We quit hiring people two years ago, unless it was absolutely necessary," he said. "Through attrition, we're just kind of going down with the budget."
Assistant District Attorney Tim Stoen's current and former bosses both said Tuesday that he has no history of sexual harassment complaints against him.
When asked if he had ever heard of other individuals expressing such concerns, either in Stoen's current or former jobs, District Attorney Paul Gallegos said, "Absolutely not."
Mendocino County DA Norm Vroman served as Stoen's supervisor for "two or three years" and said he's known him for 25 years.
"Tim Stoen doesn't possess the type of personality that would do something like that," Vroman said. "He's a very thoughtful, caring person, and I've never known him to be uncircumspect in his comments to either males or females. But when you're in a public office, you're fair game for everyone."
Stoen, 66, is reportedly under investigation following a sexual harassment complaint by a woman in the DA's office.
Stoen found out May 18 that an unnamed person in the office had made "unspecified charges" against him, he said Monday in a written statement to the press.
A May 28 article in the Times-Standard quoted Supervisor Jill Geist as saying that Stoen was being investigated and that he was on leave from his job.
"I have never been on leave. I have never been asked to be on leave," Stoen said in his statement. He also said that there is no truth to the allegations.
He said that the county's personnel director "suggested to me that it might be `in your own interest' not to work inside the office for a few days `to avoid being set up.'
"Although I had to continue working in the office to have access to files, I chose to do as much work as possible at home as a matter of prudence. It was totally my choice," Stoen wrote.
Geist said Tuesday, "If I used the wrong term, my apologies. My understanding was that he was not in the office."
Stoen also excoriated the Times-Standard for printing further details from unnamed sources.
"You have no right to defame people through anonymous sources," he said.
Gallegos said Tuesday that he could "neither confirm nor deny" the existence of an investigation, but he confirmed that Stoen is not on leave.
In general, Gallegos said, his policy is to take any allegation seriously. "If concerns are expressed to us, then we feel it warrants attention." County policy provides for the Board of Supervisors to handle any investigation, but the DA's preference is to have a "neutral outsider" do the inquiry, Gallegos said.
At the same time, he said, the existence of an investigation "is not necessarily an indication of any sort of grievous conduct on anyone's part."
In recent e-mails to the Journal, Stoen's supporters have suggested that the charge against him is suspicious for its proximity to the failure of the DA recall attempt and the failure of the effort by Pacific Lumber Co. to have the DA's fraud case against the company thrown out of court. The assistant DA is the chief litigator on the Pacific Lumber case.
Stoen himself, who declined to talk to the Journal on Tuesday, alluded to the suspicions in his written statement.
" the possibility of a set-up is hardly far fetched," he wrote. He said that Geist was quoted as saying that a supervisor had initiated the investigation. "One wonders who that might be."
|N E W S A N A L Y S I S|
Some might have had that sensation when news broke last week that the Garberville-based Environmental Protection Information Center had uncovered evidence that the Pacific Lumber Co. was logging illegally.
According to an eight-page report by the group titled "Setting the Record Straight," the company has been slapped with 325 violations since it signed the Headwaters agreement in 1999. About 75 percent of the violations were for the illegal cutting of trees -- some of them old growth giants -- in streamside areas. The remainder had to do with cutting in areas that had been set aside for the marbled murrelet and the northern spotted owl, both protected species.
Most of the noncompliance notices -- 227 -- were issued by the California Department of Fish and Game for failing to comply with provisions of the document that forms the cornerstone of the agreement: the habitat conservation plan, which is supposed to govern logging on the company's 211,000 acres for the next 45 years. The remaining 98 violations were issued by the California Department of Forestry for breaking state forest practice rules.
PL's chief scientist, Jeff Barrett, in a written statement Tuesday, accused EPIC of deliberately distorting the facts. He said that the violations of the conservation plan are actually "noncompliance reports [that] are most often errors with little or no environmental effect." He compared them to actual breaches of state forestry rules, which he said the company considers "significant because they usually involve some impact on the environment."
The familiarity of the situation stems from the fact that, generally speaking, this has all happened before, or something like it. In 1998, the forestry department pulled Palco's timber license after the company had racked up hundreds of violations of state logging regulations from 1994 to 1997. Those violations were not brought to the public's attention by the agency, often criticized for favoring timber interests. Instead, environmentalists uncovered them.
"Once again, it's falling on the shoulders of EPIC to uncover this information and press for action," program director Cynthia Elkins said in a telephone interview last week.
Of course, it's the media's job to reveal such matters, so there has evidently been a lack of aggressiveness on the part of the local press the Journal included. More troubling, perhaps, is Fish and Game's silence on the matter. Even as the number of violations of the conservation plan piled up 82 in 2001, 79 in 2002, 116 last year, according to the EPIC report -- the department apparently did nothing to notify the public. In fact, while it periodically issued press releases about a host of comparatively minor matters -- like penalizing duck hunters -- Fish and Game was publicly giving the impression that Palco was adhering to the conservation plan.
"We think Pacific Lumber is dealing in best faith to comply" with the habitat conservation plan, Michael Valentine, general counsel for Fish and Game, told the San Francisco Chronicle in an article that appeared last year. In that same article, a forestry department spokesman was quoted as saying that Palco's compliance with the conservation plan was improving over time. The reality, it now appears, was just the opposite.
Bill Condon, a senior environmental scientist with Fish and Game, confirmed the number of violations in an interview with the Times-Standard last week. He said that not all of them were serious, but that some were -- including two incidents in which Palco was fined $100,000 for logging trees in restricted areas. Condon could not be reached for comment by the Journal.
Elkins said imposing penalties after the fact is not enough; regulators need to head off violations before they occur.
"The agencies' lack of actions to prevent further violations and damage is just as disturbing as PL's egregious violations," Elkins said.
Forestry department deputy chief John Marshall said Tuesday that most of the state forest practice rules violations were relatively minor "paperwork" violations. He said that since the signing of the Headwaters deal, CDF had imposed financial penalties of "several thousand dollars apiece for two or three violations [for] harvesting in areas where harvesting was not supposed to occur."
Under the terms of the Headwaters agreement, CDF can levy financial penalties of up to $10,000 per day for each violation. Elkins said that the forestry department should be treating some of the violations of the conservation plan as also being violations of state regulations.
For months now PL has conducted a seemingly expensive television and print advertising campaign touting its environmental achievements.
In the view of Elkins -- and others -- the EPIC report completely undermines that effort.
"PL believes that if they tell the big lie often enough, people will start to believe it," Elkins said. "But that theory is running up against another maxim -- you can't fool all of the people all of the time."
Someone else, someone with plenty of hands-on experience trying to regulate the company's logging operations who asked to remain unidentified, put it more succinctly.
"I think their PR campaign is total bullshit."
© Copyright 2004, North Coast Journal, Inc.