North Coast Journal WeeklyIn the News

August 29, 2002

Nightmare on Erie Street

 Forest to be rededicated

One boss

County fears budget cuts

Cracking down on
wine and song

Stayner guilty

A not so foggy summer

No annexation

Daly Building sold -- again

Less than green

Language comes alive

Nightmare on Erie Street


house, with full dumpster trailer and hazard coneTWENTY-ONE THOUSAND POUNDS OF RAT-INFESTED TRASH have been removed from the driveway of 2504 Erie St., Eureka, the building that used to be known as the Band of Mercy Animal Rescue. The animals are gone but the yard and the inside of the house are still filled to the brim with refuse (earlier this week, junk could be seen literally spilling out of one window).

The owner, John Martin, is considering tearing down a wall of the house so that he can go in with heavy equipment to clear the house out or possibly just demolish the building altogether. His ex-wife, Linda Sue Martin, and Larry Lawson Decker, who together ran the Band of Mercy, are out on bail, living in Eureka. But only now is the story behind the degradation coming out: how an animal shelter went bad and managed to slip through the cracks in county law enforcement for years.

Eight years ago Myra Mintey and her husband moved into the house across the street from Band of Mercy. According to her it was bad back then and steadily got worse until she felt she had to report it to the authorities.

"I would call animal control every single day for months at a time," Mintey said. "It was like pounding your head against a brick wall."

At times, the county responded -- most notably when a videotape made by a neighbor of rats exiting the house through an upstairs window led to the first of several trash cleanups on the property. But the county did nothing to address the real problem: the deplorable living conditions inside the shelter itself.

The most obvious issue was the stench.

"The smell on a warm night got so bad that it was just overpowering," Mintey said. "You couldn't even walk down the street."

According to Richard Hutchison, whose accounting office shares an alley with the Band of Mercy, one tenant refused to move into the apartment above his office because she couldn't handle the smell.

Then there were the animals.

"I never saw animals abused, but I saw sick animals," Mintey said. "The cats always had diarrhea. They always had sores all over them."

The Band of Mercy also had dogs and other animals, including a pig, chained in the front yard. The dogs, which Mintey described as pitbull mixes, would bark at passers-by, causing neighbors to worry they would get out.

"I used to carry a little pipe in my purse, but what would that do against a dog?" Mintey said. "I ended up carrying a can of Mace."

back section of house showing boarded up and overgrown areas.In addition to everything else, automobiles were abandoned in front of the house on numerous occasions.

Neighbors repeatedly asked the county to do something about the shelter, but the answer always came back the same: "Our hands are tied." That answer was reiterated by officials interviewed for this article.

"To go into a private residence we need warrants, court orders," said John Falkenstrom, Humboldt County's agricultural commissioner and head of Animal Control. "My staff are not peace officers, they're public officers. We have to follow a procedure called due process. It's slow, it's cumbersome, and to the public it can be incomprehensible, but it has to be followed."

Head of County Environmental Health Brian Cox echoed that thought.

"There were definite concerns, the rat population for instance, but it's like I said, we weren't invited into the house," Cox said.

Cox and Falkenstrom's claims do not completely jibe with the law. A section of the state penal code titled "Animals in specified places without proper care or attention" empowers animal control officers -- not just police officers -- to go onto private property to seize animals they believe are being abused or neglected. It reads: "When the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that very prompt action is required to protect the health or safety of the animal, the officer shall immediately seize the animal." The statute says nothing about warrants or court orders.

The county's arguments are similar to those made by Eureka animal control after a young female dog was found near death last spring after being forced to spend all of its life in an outdoor cage. Complaints about that property were also made, but to no avail. The dog, named "Phoenix" by those who tried to save its life, later died.

According to Falkenstrom the reason the situation on Erie Street couldn't be dealt with was that Humboldt County doesn't have a "humane officer" -- a specialized animal abuse investigator who would be empowered, much like sheriff's deputies, to enter a building based on probable cause and fully investigate any suspected violations.

doorway of garbageThe county hasn't had a humane officer for over 10 years. To make matters worse, it couldn't hire one if it wanted to since only humane societies and nonprofit organizations are allowed to employ them.

"To me it's ridiculous," said County Supervisor John Woolley. "We have to examine why that law was written and try to find some group that can combine law enforcement and animal control."

Joan Biordy, an attorney who participated in the Band of Mercy rescue, was critical of the county. "It's a sad commentary that this county's leadership has such disregard for the pain and suffering of innocent animals. My pleas and others went unheeded. Many of those animals had to suffer more than if [the county] had done its job."

Falkenstrom said that nuisance complaints are the lowest priority at animal control.

"Our priorities are bite complaints, dogs on school grounds, dogs harassing individuals. Way down, further down and probably last are noise problems, odor problems," Falkenstrom said, adding there are 640 dog bite complaints in the county each year and only three animal control officers.

One thing appears indisputable: The violations at the Band of Mercy shelter were "egregious," as Falkenstrom put it.

Inside the house and the fenced back yard, human and animal feces were piled up with layers of newspaper reaching as high as six feet in some places, totally covering the floor, burying the sink. The one piece of furniture in the house, a bed, was surrounded by piles almost up to the level of the sleeping surface.

In the back yard, hemmed by massive blackberry hedges, dogs were kept in ramshackle kennels overflowing with filth.

Twenty-five dogs, 45 cats, three turkeys, a rabbit and eight chickens were rescued from the residence, and so far the clean up crews have trapped more than 84 rats.

Of the 25 dogs, only five survive. The rest, beyond hope, were killed by euthanasia.

"The dogs weren't euthanized just because of mange," Miranda said. "They had medical problems, open sores and aggression. As they (Martin and Decker) brought them out they bit at them. I don't know what they were doing to them in there, but it wasn't just neglect."

He said that some of the dogs were so mangy that they had almost no hair at all, and that they were so covered with fleas that it looked like their skins were crawling.

Of the cats, 14 had to be put down, mostly because of the presence of feline AIDS and other illnesses, as well as general bad health.

How could it have gotten like that?

Over the years Band of Mercy Animal Rescue deteriorated into the stuff that an animal lover's nightmares are made of, but it wasn't always like that.

"Linda and those guys (at the Band of Mercy) worked their fingers to the bone and nobody was helping them," said Patricia Shear, formally of For Pets' Sake, a Eureka charity that promoted spaying and neutering pets and worked with Band of Mercy.

Harriet Willard, who was also involved with animal charities in Eureka, said that she knew of times where Martin and Decker had gone without food in order to provide for their animals.

There is a general consensus that Martin always had a soft spot for animals and was compelled to take them in.

"Up until the day she was arrested she probably thought she was doing good," Falkenstrom said.

Mintey spoke of a time when a neighbor's cat had a litter of kittens under their porch and Martin went around the neighborhood trying to collect them and take them to Band of Mercy.

She would also, according to Miranda and others, take in cats she found in Dumpsters behind supermarkets and dogs that she found on the street. No creature was refused, and eventually it got out of control.

"I think they just got senile. They were overwhelmed and there were no contributions. I know it was disgusting, but how many years did she do this before it went bad?" Shear said.

That doesn't seem to hold much water with other members of the animal rescue community, however, or with the neighbors.

"You can chain a child to a bed and feed it too, but what good is that, what kind of quality of life?" Mintey said.

Miranda stressed that whatever Martin and Decker had done in the past, they had broken the law and should pay the price.

"People say `Why get mad at her (Martin), she tried,' but it was not a [shelter], it was an animal dungeon," Miranda said. "It's criminal what they did in there."

Forest to be rededicated

In 1952 the Rotary Club of Eureka purchased 80 acres of coastal redwoods and turned over the deed to the state of California to become part of Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. A dedication ceremony was held that year on Labor Day.

This Labor Day, Sept. 2, that same old-growth forest will be celebrated by a rededication ceremony and a visit by Richard King, of Fremont, Calif., the immediate past president of Rotary International.

King will join area Rotarians at the grove in the morning. He will be the featured speaker at the Rotary Club luncheon in Eureka.

One boss

By the end of the year, the more than 1,500 caregivers who provide in-home services to the elderly and disabled in Humboldt County will finally have a single employer -- the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors.

By a 4-0 vote Tuesday (with Supervisor Bonnie Neely absent), supervisors took the first step toward establishing a public authority for in-home support services. The ordinance is expected to be adopted on Sept. 3. Under Assembly Bill 1682, adopted in 1999, counties must establish an employer-of-record ordinance by the end of 2002.

Many of those who provide in-home care receive no benefits and are often paid around $6.75 an hour, California's minimum wage. With the supervisors serving as the employer, caregivers will no longer have to enter into individual private agreements with clients to deliver services. The end result will mean many employees will no longer be part of the working poor, said Beverly Morgan Lewis, director of the county's Social Services Department.

John Inman, who served on the advisory committee looking at the issue, said it's a disgrace that people are working without an employer of record.

"Who, for minimum wage, would want to change an adult diaper?" he asked.

The program could cost the county upward of $5.3 million a year, depending on the wages and benefits of employees and staff, and how many people use the service. The county would be responsible for conducting background checks on prospective employees.

County fears budget cuts


WHILE LEGISLATORS IN SACRAMENTO HAMMER out the state's fiscal year 2002-03 budget, Humboldt County officials are hoping the state doesn't look to the counties to solve its budget woes.

But should the state decide to withhold funds that it normally provides to counties, an array of public programs and services here could be in deep trouble.

The greatest fear is that the county's health and human services department could be severely affected, said Karen Suiker, assistant chief administrative officer for Humboldt County.

"The state is talking about reductions," Suiker said.

The concern is that the state could limit the county's ability to claim expenditures for programs that the county is mandated by law to provide. Such programs include those aimed at curbing drug and alcohol use, assisting low-income children, preventing sickness in the elderly and tracking the incidence of AIDS.

In the past, the state has covered part of the cost of providing these services. But with the budget crunch in Sacramento, the "reimbursements," as they are called, may shrink or dry up altogether, leaving counties solely responsible.

The county's budget fears are not limited to health and human services. Almost every department is operating at a deficit. But because of a $5.5 million carry over from last year, and a contingency fund of $1.5 million, departments such as the District Attorney's office will operate with a balanced budget.

"There is an imbalance in almost all (departments), but we'll make that up from general-purpose revenues," Suiker said.

Those revenues include property taxes, sales taxes and vehicle license fees. Humboldt County receives about $9 million annually from the state due to license fees.

Another frightening scenario is that the state may stop providing that money.

"If that is shaved, every general fund department will be affected," Suiker said. "We'd have to make up the imbalance from other general fund sources."

Among the departments funded from the general fund are the Sheriff's Department, the Parks Division and the District Attorney's office.

The county library system is in particular trouble. In part because of the state's willingness to shift property taxes toward schools, libraries are in "dire straits," Suiker said.

The county's 11 libraries will continue to operate their normal hours, but any further reductions in state funds could mean a change in those hours, she said.

While the library will be able to maintain current

services and staffing levels, its budget for buying books has been depleted, Suiker said.

Another concern is that the cost of providing services is outpacing the amount of money brought into the county by property taxes (property taxes are not soaring, thanks to the county's relatively low -- 2.5 percent -- annual growth rate).

Like every other employer, the county is also struggling to cope with the rising cost of health insurance. Additionally, salaries for county employees have increased by 5 percent compared to last year.

In 2003 the county could face an even more drastic situation. Suiker said it's possible there won't be any carry-over of funds while at the same time the county's share of the cost for the state employees retirement fund will increase (the county contributes to the fund because county employees are under the state's retirement plan).

"We (will be) looking at huge budget impacts," Suiker said. "It's going to be challenging."

It won't be clear what the impacts are to the county this fiscal year until state legislators stop wrangling and finally approve a budget (it's two months overdue). Any additional cuts pushed by state officials would mean the county would only have nine to 10 months, instead of a full year, to make up the difference.

The Board of Supervisors, meantime, is expected to approve the county's $201 million budget on Sept. 24.

Cracking down on wine and song


THE KEG CLOSED NOT LONG after one biker blew a hole in the chest of another with a shotgun. Flinn's Inn burned. So did Marino's. Jennifer's Jazz Bar became Sacred Grounds. And the Jambalaya is now just a restaurant.

For live-music venues in Arcata, it is only the non-violent, the strong-willed and the fire-retardant that survive. Which is another way of saying that there are hardly any places to go in Arcata these days if you want to listen or dance to music that doesn't come out of a stereo speaker.

"Arcata is, as far as I know, the only college town in the state that doesn't have a club with music, dancing and alcohol," said Jack Golden, who owns the south-side-of-the-Plaza building that used to house Cafe Tomo, yet another defunct nightclub. "I wouldn't have rented to anyone who wouldn't have done music and dancing; that's the one thing that's missing in Arcata's circle of night life."

After Cafe Tomo shut down in late November last year, Mazzotti's, an Italian restaurant in Old Town Eureka, acquired the lease. It also acquired Cafe Tomo's "conditional permit," which allowed late operating hours and dance bands.

In December the city, under the auspices of Alcoholic Beverage Control, a state agency, issued a letter adding six new restrictions to the building's long-standing alcohol permit, restrictions that would make it nearly impossible to keep the building as the music venue it once was.

Among them: cutting back the hours of operation to 1 a.m. rather than 2 a.m. on weekends, and from midnight to 11 p.m. on weekdays; limiting sound levels to what can only be heard in the building; requiring the policing of the surrounding area to prevent crowds from gathering outside, ostensibly to prevent the sidewalk from being blocked; requiring the owners to secure a permit from the city each time they "occasionally" allow dancing ("The key word is occasional," Golden said. "On the occasions they allow it."); and requiring that food be served until closing.

Golden feels that last requirement in particular is an economic hardship. On a weekend it means the kitchen would have to remain open until 1 a.m., something that is not required of other restaurant/bar establishments in Arcata such as the Humboldt Brewery, and the Alibi, which both stop serving food at 10 p.m.

"We felt that we were being punished for some of the problems that Cafe Tomo brought with it," said Jason Hodges, one of Mazzotti's four owners, which opened Tuesday without a liquor license.

The Arcata Police Department has come out in direct opposition to Mazzotti's being a regular venue for music.

"They can have bands, but it can't be their primary function," said Chief Chris Gallagher of the Arcata Police Department. "What I didn't want was a repeat of Cafe Tomo's. People would drink to excess, and we'd have nothing but problems with fights and drunk folks hanging around all hours of the night."

Which isn't to say that the chief is opposed to music altogether. "I'm a musician, and I love being able to hear good music, too. We just have to find the right place and the right mixture."

Mazzotti's owners initially were planning a restaurant/dance club along the lines of Cafe Tomo. But when faced with opposition from the city, they backed down, not wishing to derail the restaurant's opening.

"Our main thing is selling pasta not booze," Hodges said. "We didn't get what we wanted but that is part of the deal."

Hodges said that no music is scheduled "for the foreseeable future."

The city's stand in the Mazzotti case is part of an overall plan to reduce the amount of alcohol-related incidents. According to Arcata police, there were 1,100 alcohol-related arrests in the city last year. That statistic was cited when the city applied for a $62,000 state grant to combat alcohol abuse through a combination of education and enforcement. The grant came through in early July.

The California State University system, of which Humboldt State is a part, signed a "memorandum of understanding" with Alcoholic Beverage Control earlier this year vowing to reduce student boozing.

So far the police department has run only one operation with the grant. It targeted liquor stores by sending in minors to try and buy alcohol or get others to buy alcohol for them. Police have also been monitoring the bars, overseeing ID checks at the doors and generally looking over the establishments.

Bar owners say they feel harassed. They say the only violation of state liquor laws on record for an existing Arcata bar was a citation for failing to display a "no one under 21 allowed" sign at Sidelines several years ago.

"I could understand if there was a huge problem of underage drinking," said Michael Castanzo, owner of Sidelines. "But it's kind of like a family over here, and we really try to keep minors out of our bar."

Overall, the owners expressed the opinion that the police department as well as city staff and the City Council are out of touch with what the citizens want.

"We're getting to be like that town in the movie Footloose. Don't go and have fun, don't go drink and have a good time with your friends, and no dancing," said Justin Ladd, 38, owner of Alibi and who has lived in Arcata his entire life.

Golden plans to take his case before the council as soon as possible.

"A Taliban mentality is falling over Arcata," Golden said. "Here we are fighting for the freedom to do what we want and these people in the city think that they can take it away from us? This is not some little Bible belt town in the Midwest, and nobody wants it to be one."

Former staff writer Arno Holschuh contributed to this report.

Stayner guilty

Motel handyman Cary Stayner has been found guilty of the 1999 slayings of Carole Sund, 42, her daughter Juli, 15, both of Eureka, and Silvina Peloso, 16, a friend from Argentina.

A jury deliberated only five hours before reaching its verdict on Monday in the highly publicized case.

Stayner, already serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole for the decapitation of naturalist Joie Armstrong in Yosemite National Park, could face the death penalty.

The defense pleaded for a lesser conviction of second-degree murder, arguing that Stayner was insane at the time he committed the killings (a three-hour taped confession left little doubt as to his guilt). The prosecution said Stayner knew right from wrong and carefully planned the murders and then took steps to cover up his crime.

A not so foggy summer

In case you haven't noticed, it's been a bit sunnier than normal this summer around Humboldt Bay. The ever-present fog has been, well, less ever-present. The reason? Probably the fires in Oregon.

According to Kelly Redmond of the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno, Nev., the entire California coastline, from San Diego to the Oregon border, has been cooler than is typical for this time of year.

"In the last three to four weeks Eureka has been three to four degrees below normal," Redmond said. "Often when it's cooler it's foggier; but (we have) no reports of above normal fog (conditions)."

Redmond said the scarcity of thick fog may be due in part to the Biscuit Fire that has burned more than 500,000 acres in the Kalmopsis Wilderness Area in southwestern Oregon. As of Tuesday, the Forest Service reported that the fire is 90 percent contained.

Fog may have difficulty forming because of smoke and ash from the fire, Redmond said.

"(There are) a significant number of smoke particles in the air," he said. "It could interfere with the way fog forms."

The smoke particles also are intercepting sunlight, hence the cool weather.

Things should change next month. September is expected to be warmer than usual, while the rest of the year will have normal temperatures, according to Nancy Dean, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Eureka.

Meteorologists are predicting a mild El Nino this winter, but Humboldt County most likely won't be affected.

No annexation

The Arcata City Council has put a damper on a housing development planned for the Arcata bottoms.

Though some elements of the plan -- the brainchild of developers Joyce Plath and Dan Johnson -- were lauded as innovative, the city drew the line at the developers' requests to annex six acres of land that the city's General Plan had designated for agricultural purposes only. While no official action was taken at a meeting last week, the council made clear what direction it would like the development to take.

Daly Building sold -- again


The Humboldt State University Foundation announced on Wednesday that it has entered into an agreement to sell the historic Daly Building complex to developer Don Murrish.

The deal, now in escrow, would bring to a close the university's failed effort to transform the downtown Eureka landmark into a performing arts center. The foundation bought the property in 1998 using a $700,000 interest-free loan from the Eureka Redevelopment Agency.

The university said Murrish's plans include selling the Sweasey Theater portion of the building to Plays-In-Progress, a community group that has announced plans to renovate it as a venue for theatrical performances.

The announcement from the HSU Foundation suggested that "the remainder of the property would be developed for a variety of uses," but did not specify what. Murrish was unavailable for comment at press time.

Eureka developer Dan Ollivier, who owns the Gross Building next door, had previously offered HSU $550,000 for the property -- minus the old Daly parking lot across G Street which was traded to the city as part of HSU's purchase.

Ollivier`s plans called for development of the portion of the structure next to the Sweasey. He wanted the city to demolish the building on the F Street side to make way for a parking lot.

Murrish is a North Coast developer who has been involved in numerous projects from Fort Bragg to Bend, Ore. Local Murrish projects include the Broadway Cinema in Eureka, the Mill Creek Shopping Center in McKinleyville and Walgreens on Broadway.

In announcing the sale, Humboldt State University President Rollin Richmond said, "We are pleased that the development of the Daly Building complex will accomplish some of the objectives sought both by the city and Humboldt State University. We are very pleased that Mr. Murrish and Plays-In-Progress are committed to a vision that, in its own way, will add vitality to this neighborhood."

Richmond also thanked the City of Eureka and the redevelopment agency for their support at the outset of the project and for their patience when time came to chart a different course. Officials with the redevelopment agency have criticized the university for its lack of attention to the Daly complex.

"Humboldt State believes that an important part of its mission is to contribute to the economic and cultural strengthening of our community," Richmond said. "We look forward to other opportunities to work with the City of Eureka to develop mutually beneficial projects. Indeed, Humboldt has a legacy of addressing the social, cultural, economic and environmental needs of the North Coast in ways that are consistent with our educational mission."

Less than green

How green could a candidate be who allows a billboard advertising his environmental credentials to be posted in a national wildlife refuge?

That's the question some have raised after Doug Thron, Green Party assembly candidate in the upcoming November elections, decided not to remove the billboard, located in a protected wetlands along Highway 101 just north of Eureka.

Thron said that originally he didn't know the area was part of the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Once he found out, he decided to let the billboard stand -- he figured it would only be up for a couple of months and couldn't do much damage. There was also a monetary consideration -- he's spent about $7,000 for advertising and has raised only $12,000 to date.

Still, it would seem that Thron has stained his green reputation, at least a little -- after all, Viacom, the company that he bought the billboard from, is being sued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for illegally using federal land for its billboards.

Language comes alive

A new Web site, "Karuk Language Resources on the Web," will give visitors links to two language collections where they can hear a Karuk word or phrase and get its English equivalent.

The new site grew out of the increasing demand for more information on the Karuk language. In 1999 the Karuk language class of Hoopa Valley High School set up a Karuk language Web site. It averages about 200 visits a month.

The new site was designed by Happy Camp High School students along with Susan Smith, a student and teacher of the Karuk language and a member of the Karuk Restoration Committee, and Diane Oliver, advanced multimedia technologies teacher at Happy Camp High School.

The Karuk have lived along the Klamath River for several thousand years. They were officially recognized by the U.S. government in 1979.

Today there are approximately 2,700 Karuk, mostly living in northeastern Humboldt County.

The address for the "Karuk Language Resources on the Web" is:



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