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June 12, 2003

Tower slated for Arcata Bottoms called hazardous
Researcher says homes are too close

Supes opine on bid to recall DA
At least two are opposed

To shoot a boar
County Supervisor Roger Rodoni leads reporter on wild pig chase

Failed frame-up?

Police group backs recall

Not so bad?

SoHum schools lose

Alien-eating goats

Bear spotted

Tower slated for Arcata Bottoms called hazardous
Researcher says homes are too close


A 50-foot cell phone tower proposed for the Arcata Bottoms would be located too close to residences and could pose a health hazard, a public health researcher said this week.

Susan Clarke of the Media Research Institute in Cambridge, Mass., said that given the microwave radiation danger posed by cell towers, houses should be no nearer than 1,000 feet and probably should be at a distance several hundred feet beyond that.

The Cal-North Wireless tower slated for the Arcata Bottoms would stand as close as 430 feet to the nearest house.

Speaking before the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Clarke urged the supervisors to place a moratorium on cell tower construction. She said more consideration should be given to the potential health hazards of cell towers before policymakers approve them.

Tom McMurray of Cal-North Wireless told the supervisors that all his company's projects are in line with Federal Communication Commission standards. "We comply [with] all the regulations. This debate should really be in front of the FCC and Congress."

Clarke said that exposure to microwave radiation from cells towers can result in headaches, memory loss, and sleeplessness. The microwaves have even been found to interfere with pacemakers, hearing aids and electric wheel chairs, she added.

Clarke said most scientific studies have focused on short-term exposure to microwave radiation, not the steady exposure that residents living in close proximity to a cell tower would receive. If anything, she said, long-term exposure is likely to result in more serious health problems.

Supervisor John Woolley, whose district the Cal-North tower would be located in, stopped short of endorsing Clarke's call for a moratorium. Instead, he called for the drafting of an ordinance that accommodates both the public's health concerns and the wireless communication industry's need for more towers. He proposed that such an ordinance be drafted by August.

Meantime, Woolley said, the potential environmental and health impacts of the tower proposed for the Bottoms should be studied further prior to a meeting June 19 before the Humboldt County Planning Commission. Last month, the commission tentatively approved the tower despite concerns raised by citizens about health impacts -- and despite objections from county staff and Arcata officials that the tower, slated to be disguised as a wooden pole, would be inconsistent with the area's rural character.

Following the meeting, Clarke suggested that citizens should draft their own ordinance controlling cell tower construction.

"It's important that the citizens are as active in the process as possible," Clarke said. "It's their health that's at stake."

Supes opine on bid to recall DA
At least two are opposed


In an indication of how local political leaders feel about the effort to recall District Attorney Paul Gallegos, two Humboldt County supervisors said they were opposed and a third expressed concern that it was further dividing an already fractured community.

Of the four supervisors who spoke to the Journal, none came out in favor of the recall. The fifth, Supervisor Bonnie Neely, did not return repeated telephone calls. Neely's husband, Terry Farmer, was defeated by Gallegos in last year's election.

The strongest objection was raised by Supervisor John Woolley, who said that the recall effort, coming just months after Gallegos took office, was premature.

"I can't support a recall movement for someone who has essentially just started his job," said Woolley, the most liberal voice on the Board of Supervisors.

Also taking a stand against the recall was Fifth District Supervisor Jill Geist, the newest member of the board.

While the supervisors have no control over the recall movement, their views on the matter could prove influential; the Board of Supervisors is the most powerful group of elected officials in the county.

At the least, the stand of supervisors, who represent different districts, could shed light on how the electorate might vote if sufficient signatures are gathered to put the recall on the ballot later this year.

In addition to saying that the recall effort was premature, Woolley said it lacked sufficient grounds. "All the things that have been charged against him don't rise to the level of recall," Woolley said.

Geist said the recall was bad for the county.

"[A recall] would inherently contribute to divisiveness and I don't think it's in the county's best interests," Geist said. "We need to work together and this is just driving a wedge in our community."

Jimmy Smith, often the swing vote between conservatives and liberals on the board, declined to take a position on the recall. But he echoed Geist in saying that he didn't like the impact it was having on Humboldt County.

"This is yet another division in the community," Smith said. "I would love to see a downgrading of the high nervousness and tension that is reaching a critical level in the community, on a whole range of issues."

Roger Rodoni of the Second District, who has publicly criticized Gallegos' controversial fraud lawsuit against the Pacific Lumber Co., steered clear of the recall issue.

"There are some things I try not to think about," Rodoni said. "I don't have a position."

To shoot a boar
County Supervisor Roger Rodoni leads reporter on wild pig chase


Rodoni standing with his gun on hillside with view down to riverROGER RODONI'S LEATHER BOOTS CAME DOWN LIGHTLY ON THE GRASS and torn earth as we stalked up the hill. He had his rifle, a long black-barreled .50-caliber muzzle loader, made in Italy, hanging in his right hand. The sun was fading, smearing the trees and hillside with a gray-pasty haze.

We came up over the hill, and there they were: seven or eight wild pigs in an open expanse.

"The white one down in front is the one you want," Rodoni whispered, looking through his field glasses.

It was a dirty, white, thick-necked pig. I raised my rifle, a .270-caliber Remington Rodoni had lent me, and focused inexpertly on the quarry we'd been hunting for nearly 10 hours. The crosshairs lined up shakily on its muddied side. It was maybe 30 yards away.

Its head was down in the dirt, rooting. Surrounded by its companions, it looked almost domesticated. Not full-grown, not a hard customer. The wooden weight of the rifle pressed against my shoulder. It would be no contest.

"Do I just shoot it?" I asked, looking back over my shoulder.

"Sure," Rodoni said, grinning under his goatee at my hesitance.

I looked back into the scope, trying to line the crosshairs up behind the shoulder blade, the heart. I didn't feel expert enough to hit it behind the ear, Rodoni's recommendation. The image wavered. I didn't want to miss. I took a breath, and the rifle tugged back into my shoulder with a broken jolt.

Conflict of interest?

We'd left after coffee on a gray, overcast morning in Rodoni's big blue diesel truck, with his two dogs, Dotty [photo below right] and Maggy, in the back. An antler-handled revolver in a leather holster sat in the cab between us.

Roger Rodoni, a large beefy man of 62 and Humboldt County's Second District Supervisor, lives with his wife Janice in a large mobile home set at the top of a green field above the Eel River off Stafford Road, just south of Scotia.

Dotty the dogRepresenting the ranchers, homesteaders and timber families that inhabit his sprawling southeastern district, Rodoni presents a deeply libertarian voice on the board. He doesn't like big government. He can't comprehend gun control. He says he likes to connect the dots, look at the reason for things.

Recently, he's run into controversy over the fact that he leases more than 5,000 acres out in Mattole country from the Pacific Lumber Co.

Critics say Rodoni has a conflict that should preclude him from voting where PL is concerned. Rodoni has denied any conflict, most publicly at the Board of Supervisors meeting in early March before he voted against District Attorney Paul Gallegos' request for authorization to hire an outside law firm in his controversial fraud lawsuit against PL. (While Rodoni derided the lawsuit at the meeting, he also raised concerns about expending scarce county resources during a harrowing budget crunch.)

The allegation against him is not simply that PL is his landlord; it's that he is the supposed beneficiary of a sweetheart deal. It has been claimed publicly that Rodoni pays $4,200 a year to run 150 cows while one of his neighbors pays $17,000 to run 170 cows. Rodoni, in an interview with the Journal prior to the hunting expedition, said he only runs 65 animals and that none of his neighbors has nearly that many cattle. He said most of his ranch was just steep, stumpy slopes populated by deer and a few hogs.

The ranch, located on a mountainside above where Oil Creek and Rattlesnake Creek join to form the Upper North Fork of the Mattole River, is a place apart, sometimes incredibly so. Rodoni told a story about how one April a freak storm snowed them in for about a week. When they were finally able to get out, he wrote a note for his daughter, then attending Ferndale High, explaining why she hadn't been able to make it to school. It was rejected. The school secretary didn't believe that it could be snowing in the mountains that April, when down in the valley everything seemed comfortable, if a bit soggy.

On the long drive up and over the ridge Rodoni said the incident illustrated the fundamental disconnect between modern society and nature.

"People think pork chops come from the supermarket," he said.

He recalled a time when some friends from the city had spent a few days with him on the ranch. When they left they remarked that now they had to return to the real world.

"I said, `No, you're wrong. This is the real world,'" Rodoni said. It was the world they lived in that was fake.

When we got off U.S. Forest Service land onto his ranch he slowed down the truck to a steady trundle to "see if we can scare up a pig."

The hogs we were after are feral versions of the common barnyard pig. They are not native to California. Instead, they escaped from Spanish settlers centuries ago and since have bred with Russian boars introduced as game animals in the 1920s. Now they're ubiquitous, running wild in almost every California county.

Nearing the house Rodoni lives in when he's at the ranch -- a sprawling electricity-free, redwood affair -- we saw two of them, large and brown, lounging in the shade of some oak trees not 20 yards away.

They were females and their bellies were "full of pig," he said, pointing out the distended teats and stomach. We were after boar.

Old Humboldt

By then it was mid-morning. The sun was shining beautifully, crisply illuminating an expansive vista of wooded hills, peaks, valleys and twisting creeks that rolled out in all directions.

Rodoni first moved out to this land in 1969, five years after the catastrophic flood of 1964 tore his family's house, barn and most of their land up by the roots and sent them spinning down the river into the Pacific. They've never had electricity and until recently, when a cell tower went up, phone calls were impossible as well.

Rodoni is Humboldt County to the core, born in Scotia, like so many others, at Pacific Lumber Co's hospital. His father did odd jobs for PL and ran a 20-cow dairy on his land in Stafford.

"It was a different world," Rodoni recalled. "People would think nothing of seeing a 12-year-old boy riding [his bike] across Eureka with a shotgun across the handlebars. They would just think, `Oh, he must be going hunting somewhere.'"

Rodoni said he has developed two habits over the years: thinking and watching. For about eight years a young intellectual lived out at the ranch, doing odd jobs taking care of the place. Rodoni and he used to share books and between repairing fence lines they'd talk over what they'd read, sometimes page by page.

He's a diarist and writes regularly for his own enjoyment. He's also a raconteur, telling tales about Humboldt's past slowly, deliberately, setting up the listener for the punch line to get his point across.

And then there's hunting. It wasn't too long ago that he used spears to hunt boars. He said spear hunts never fail to reveal how easily a cultured, modern human being can turn into a howling savage.

He related the story of a schoolteacher's wife who'd been dragged along on a spear-hunting expedition. At first she dismissed the whole thing as "testosterone-fueled bullshit." As the hunt progressed, however, she became more and more interested. When the moment of truth came, with the hog cornered down by the river, Rodoni asked who wanted to get it. "Me," she said. She took a spear and ran it through.

Closing in

After a break we set out on Rodoni's four-wheeler, the guns strapped up front and the dogs running behind.

After motoring along a ridge, past the cell tower Rodoni had mentioned earlier, we dipped into the valley and saw the first hint of "pig sign."

It was a rough patch of earth, evidently gouged out by the snout of the creatures we were looking for. He sent me down the mountainside with my rifle to scout out the shady draws that lay along the treeline below us. I trudged down and, seeing nothing, met Rodoni where the treeline met the road. He was listening. A snorting sound floated on the breeze from the valley below. I would have sworn it was a pig.

"Grouse," Rodoni remarked, his spectacled face cocked under his white cowboy hat. We climbed back on his ATV.

We saw more signs, wallows and ruts in the springs running out of a grassy lower hillside.

Back at the house we ate lunch: bread, a beef stew and some cans of MGD, resting out the hottest part of the day under an oak tree hung with rusting traps of all shapes and sizes.

Rodoni with beerAs the sun began to crawl down the other side of the sky we set out again, in the opposite direction. We saw some magnificent deer, and bear tracks down near the river, but still no pigs.

As we drove along slowly, Rodoni's eyes scanned the hillside; he was looking for pigs sleeping behind rocks.

The sun was beginning to go down when we stopped on a hillside with a view far down into the rolling valley where we'd seen signs earlier in the day.

We stood there for a while just looking. It was a beautiful view. Tiny cows and tentacles of forest creeping up draws from the creek at the bottom of the valley cast long shadows in the dying sunlight.

"There's your boar," Rodoni said, pointing. He handed me the binoculars he'd been looking through.

There, down in the valley, was a huge hog, rising up, stretching after his afternoon nap.

After testing the wind he recommended I proceed down the slope to our left and then come across and catch him. I set off, almost sliding down the slope in my haste. But by the time I got to the bottom the pig had disappeared. Rodoni gestured from up above to come back up.

"Did you see where he went?" I asked, winded after trudging back up the hill. He just pointed. There across the valley in a small green field I could just make out a herd of pigs rooting in the twilight.

We dropped off the dogs, who were just about done for, at the truck. Rodoni grabbed his curved hunting knife. And then we drove back, coasting down the hill, parked the ATV under a snaggy oak, and approached our quarry.

The kill

Dead boarI lost focus in the sight when I pulled the trigger. The pigs were scuttling for the brush. The white pig was flopping across the field as if not completely in control of its midsection. I tried to shoot again, forgetting that I hadn't pushed a new cartridge into the bolt-action rifle's chamber. I snapped it back and the golden shell popped out.

I walked across the torn field, the colors rapidly fading. The pig was still flopping, now lying in the grass. I felt sorry for it, and mumbled an apology, not so much for killing it as for failing to kill it as fast as I would have liked. Rodoni was grinning happily; we'd finally done what we came to do.

I shot it again in the back of the head. It kept twitching where it lay in the tall grass. I shot it one more and it lay still.

"Have you got that pig good and dead?" Rodoni called across the field. I just looked at it. I've eaten pepperoni, pork, I thought. This is just a piece of meat now.

Rodoni came up and cleaned the pig, quickly reaching in to pull the innards out of the chest cavity. The bullet, which had left a small bloody hole in the boar's white side, had torn its liver and the lower part of its lungs to shreds.

It was pretty big, less than 200 pounds, but maybe only a few years old. The rest of the hogs in the field were sows, Rodoni said. We pulled it down the hill behind us, and he strapped it on the back of the ATV as the sun finally faded completely.

Failed frame-up?

Before she murdered Eureka acupuncturist Kevin LaPorta, did Dianna Mae Preston try to frame him as the molester of his 18-month-old daughter?

That's one of the possibilities Eureka police are examining two weeks after Preston, 59, was convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting death last July of the 47-year-old LaPorta.

Spurring the continuing investigation are two lingering questions: Why was semen found on the child, and whose was it?

"I'm still pursuing the case. I've got some extremely slim possibilities, but quite frankly, I need help from somebody out there who knows something about this case and will give me a call," said Detective Robert Metaxas.

Preston, the toddler's grandmother, said she shot LaPorta in the parking lot of his Eureka acupuncture office because she believed he was molesting the child during visits with her. (Preston's daughter, Heather Pearce, and LaPorta were not married.)

Preston gunned down LaPorta just hours after it was determined that the semen on the child was not his.

Metaxas said police have made a determination on whether or not the child was actually molested, though he declined to reveal that information, saying the case was still open. He said police do not believe LaPorta or Pearce planted the semen.

"The donor may know who put it there, or the donor may not even have a clue that his semen was on the child," Metaxas said. "Obviously, this semen got there somehow. I'm looking for some help from the community, [someone] out there who may know something."

Metaxas said police have not ruled out the possibility that Preston planted the evidence.

The Napa jury that heard the Preston case also determined that she was sane at the time of the killing. She faces life in prison; sentencing will take place at Humboldt County Superior Court within the coming weeks, Deputy District Attorney Rob Wade said.

Police group backs recall

The Eureka Police Officer's Association has voted unanimously to support the recall drive against District Attorney Paul Gallegos.

"Our major concern is that the safety of the communities and the neighborhoods of Eureka has declined," spokesman Bob Martinez said at a press conference Tuesday. "What concerns us is not just the last six months, but the next six months. Safety is our primary concern."

Gallegos responded in a press release Tuesday afternoon: "For the past five months my office has aggressively prosecuted everything from domestic violence to elder abuse to drug dealing. I'm disappointed by the association's decision, but I remain committed to working with the law enforcement community to prosecute criminals and protect Humboldt County residents."

The association is primarily a labor organization that represents more than 50 police officers, evidence technicians, animal control officers, property clerks and police service officers of the city of Eureka. Its membership does not include Police Chief David Douglas or other higher-level managers in the police department.

The announcement comes two weeks after the Humboldt Deputy Sheriffs Association threw its support behind the recall, claiming that Gallegos was soft on crime.

That action engendered its own controversy. The DA investigators who belong to the group quickly made clear that they supported their boss. More recently, the probation officers in the group have had their ability to make objective sentencing recommendations called into question by a defense attorney.

Martinez, in what amounted to a warning to Gallegos, said the police association might play an active role in the recall campaign, perhaps taking out ads, if the DA doesn't demonstrate a greater concern for public safety.

As with the sheriff's group, the police association did not provide many specifics -- beyond citing what has drawn virtually all of the criticism, a plea-bargain agreement Gallegos accepted in a drive-by shooting case.

The original vote to support the recall was made about a month ago, but no public action was taken at that time. According to Martinez, the officers first wanted to meet with Gallegos in private. A meeting took place last week that "cleared the air considerably," but when another vote was called the unanimous decision stood.

Both Martinez and officer Curtis Honeycutt, the association's vice-president, stressed that this is not going to hurt their working relationship with the district attorney's office.

"We're professionals," Honeycutt said.

Not so bad?

The county workforce cuts are coming, and though things don't look great, they're certainly better than they could have been.

According to Administrative Officer Loretta Nicklaus, the county is hoping to reduce the number of people laid off next year to fewer than 10.

"I think we have a good chance," Nicklaus said in a phone interview at press time on Tuesday. "We're talking to a lot of people about time off, voluntarily furloughs and retirements. We're hoping to save enough."

Over the last two years the county has cut its budget by 30 percent. That belt tightening, which included department consolidations and a hiring freeze, means the measures that now appear necessary will not be as severe as they might have been.

The layoffs that do need to be made are likely to fall particularly hard on the legal end of county government. The District Attorney's office, Public Defender's office, conflict council, alternate council, the Probation Department and the county coroner's office are all looking at layoffs.

Additionally, there will be funding cuts in county animal control and in the University of California Cooperative Extension program.

SoHum schools lose

The third time wasn't a charm for Southern Humboldt schools.

The Southern Humboldt Joint Unified School District lost its third attempt to raise taxes at the polls on June 3, when just 62 percent of voters approved Measure D, a $75-per-year parcel tax. The measure needed a two-thirds majority, or 67 percent, to pass.

The money is needed to keep Agnes J. Johnson Elementary School in Weott open, and to continue offering smaller class sizes, some high school courses, and activities such as music, drama and sports, supporters of the tax measure said.

About 55 percent of the district's 4,770 voters turned out to cast their ballots in the single-issue election.

Grassroots organizers, who have mounted increasingly aggressive campaigns, said they would try again to drum up support for the struggling district.

Alien-eating goats

California State Parks has hired an Oregon company to help it get rid of invasive weeds by opening parkland to herds of goats.

What park officials see as pesky exotic plants that disrupt natural habitats, the goats see as lunch.

"The goats actually prefer eating many of the exotic plant species over native species," said Jay Harris, senior resource ecologist for the state parks, in a written statement.

The goats, brought in by Caprine Restoration Services/Western Weed Eaters of Redmond, Ore., have already started their work on the English ivy at Patrick's Point State Park, and will be invited to sample the yellow star thistle at Humboldt Redwoods State Park in early July.

Control of the invasive plants is a high priority for the state parks, as such plants displace native species and affect nutrient cycles, hydrology and the frequency of wildfires, Harris said. The goats are an economical, environmentally friendly alternative to other plant-removal methods, such as mechanical removal or herbicides.

Bear spotted

A black bear was sighted near Guintoli Lane in the Valley West area of Arcata last week.

The bear was seen snuffling around two of the area's mobile home parks late at night.

Officers of the Arcata Police Department rushed to the scene and caught sight of the browsing bruin as it trundled back to the woods. They let the animal go.



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