Dec. 26, 2002
by KEITH EASTHOUSE
SPORTING A BLUE SWEATER (AS OPPOSED to a coat and tie) and a relaxed smile, Terry Farmer looked ready for some serious R & R. Instead, as he presided over a small news conference in his office in downtown Eureka last week, the outgoing district attorney of Humboldt County made it clear that he's far from ready to fade into the sunset.
"I've accepted a position with the Solano County District Attorney's office," he said, looking into a television camera. "I'm really excited about it."
That Farmer, 58, would relocate to a county a couple of hundred miles to the south caught many by surprise, not least because it means that he will be living apart from his wife, Supervisor Bonnie Neely. "We won't be the first couple that works in different places for awhile," he said, indicating that his wife would continue in her position with the five-member board that sets policy for the county.
It was startling news for another reason: the man who was the dominant figure in law enforcement in Humboldt County for 20 years was now going to have a boss, Solano County District Attorney David Paulson. "I've known him for some period of time," Farmer said. "He's a district attorney of high integrity and professionalism and he's got a great staff down there."
(In addition to Farmer, Paulson just brought on board former Sonoma County D.A. Mike Mullins. "It's not unusual to hire former DA's. They want to stay in the [prosecutorial] role," Paulson said in a telephone interview last week.)
Farmer, who was upset by Eureka attorney Paul Gallegos in an election last March, starts his new job in mid-January. He will be a senior deputy prosecutor, a position that Farmer hopes will involve more courtroom work than has been possible for him as D.A., where much of the job is administrative and managerial. It's also going to give him the opportunity to work with younger attorneys and help them try cases -- "I'll be kind of a quasi-supervisor," Farmer said. And, in case you're wondering, he said the pay is roughly the same -- over $100,000.
Still, won't it bug him to play second-fiddle after all those years calling the shots? "I think I'll handle it wonderfully," Farmer said, a genuine look of liberation on his face. "I frankly welcome stepping away from that public position that being the leader requires. It's not like I always need to be the leader to feed my ego."
An example of the downside of being a public figure was the speculation that went on for months after the election as to what he would do next. One much-whispered-about theory was that his wife would secure him a plum position of some sort with the county.
He was aware of the rumor. "You don't see that, do you?" he said, a tired grin on his face. "One of the things I'm not going to miss is the rumors that seem to love to flow around this county."
Sheriff Gary Philp told the press last week that Farmer's decision to relocate will ease the way for Gallegos. "I'm sure he feels it's best to go to an office where he can let the person replacing him bring in his own style," Philp said. "It sounds like an option that works for both of them."
Farmer said he thought Gallegos' recent decision to make Tim Stoen of the Mendocino County District Attorney's office his right-hand man was a good move. "He needed to appoint someone who knows something about the business," Farmer said, not without a bite.
Farmer is one of three fixtures on the local government scene whose run is coming to an end. After 12 years, Nancy Flemming is no longer mayor of Eureka. After 30 years, Don Tuttle is about to step down from his post as Humboldt County's point man on the environment. And on Jan. 6, when his successor, Paul Gallegos, is sworn in, Farmer will no longer be the D.A.
Farmer's loss to Gallegos ranks as one of the biggest political upsets in memory. Farmer had won five straight elections dating back to 1982, he was the head of a successful department, his challenger was a 39-year-old upstart whose experience was limited to private practice (of course, so was Farmer's when he was first elected).
Pundits cited various factors in trying to explain Farmer's defeat: He didn't spend enough money on the campaign (an allegation which didn't carry much weight since Farmer actually spent slightly more than Gallegos); he was on the wrong side of the medical marijuana issue (even though Farmer's prosecution of pot offenders was much more realistic than the hard line of former Sheriff Dennis Lewis, who refused to return a single ounce of medical marijuana to a card-carrying patient when ordered to do so by the court, some voters apparently saw little difference between them); he didn't take Gallegos seriously (true, but then, as Farmer said, "nobody took him seriously").
Another issue that didn't hurt him when he won re-election in 1998 is one that Farmer believes hurt his chances four years later -- was his involvement in Sheriff Lewis' decision to daub pepper spray on the eyelids of timber activists during a protest in 1997. Farmer said last week that while he was consulted by Lewis ahead of time, he did not specifically know the manner in which deputies were going to apply the chemical. "It has been painted that the officers were in essence trying to torture the protesters. I know that that was not their motivation."
It's a sign of Farmer's dominance as D.A. that to this day few observers credit Gallegos with running a smart campaign, despite the fact that he skillfully exploited the district attorney's vulnerability, not only on medical marijuana, but also in arguing that not enough attention was getting paid to prosecuting violent crime and hard drugs, particularly methamphetamines.
While it's clear the defeat was bitter for Farmer, it's also clear that at this point it's water under the bridge. "I could second-guess every day of the week, but I've come to realize it's not a bad thing. It's good for the office and good for me. My time of being a public person as district attorney is over and I'm happy about that, frankly.
"I'm one of the most recognized people in Humboldt County," Farmer went on, saying that he wasn't bragging, just stating a fact. "It's hard to go anywhere without people knowing who you are. In that respect, you're always working, you can't get away from it. Being a public person gets old."
Farmer's tenure as D.A. was not without its frustrations. His toughest case, one he tried himself, was the infamous Donald Hanson murder trial of the late 1980s. Hanson was accused of fatally shooting his twin sisters, then setting their house on fire to cover the crime. It was charged as a death penalty case, and the jury ended up acquitting Hanson. "In retrospect, there were holes in the case that I'm not sure were fully appreciated at the time that came out during the trial," Farmer recalled.
After recapping the details of the Hanson case, Farmer said something that made it obvious he is an intense competitor. "For us athletes who were too short, too small, to slow to be successful in that arena, being a trial attorney is an opportunity to have that same experience without needing those physical skills. Going to trial is a rush. When the jury comes in, you either win or lose. It's right there in front of you."
After enduring the agony of defeat following the Hanson verdict, Farmer became philosophical. "Over time you take a more reflective view and you realize our criminal justice system is not perfect. This country was created by rebels who hated government and wanted to make sure centralized authority didn't have too much power.
"Every system involving human beings is going to make a mistake," Farmer went on. "If we make a mistake [in this system] more often than not the bad guy goes free, not the other way around. We set it up that way."
It can be frustrating, Farmer added, "but you temper that frustration with [imagining] what society would look like if the alternative were true."
On the up side, Farmer said he was particularly proud of establishing the county's Child Abuse Services Team, a conglomeration of prosecutors, police and social workers focused on making the interviewing of child abuse victims at once more effective and less traumatic. "It's dramatically increased our ability to successfully prosecute child molesters," Farmer said.
He also takes pride in having assembled what he called a first-rate group of attorneys. "I can't claim credit for all their successes, but I'll claim credit for getting them here." Of the 15 deputy district attorneys presently on staff, Farmer hired all but one of them.
Surprisingly, Farmer did not mention an innovation that he has been widely credited for: hiring attorney Paul Hagen, who has investigated and successfully prosecuted environmental violators.
When asked what advice he had for his successor, Farmer stared out his office window (which affords a sweeping view of Humboldt Bay) for several seconds. Then he said, in effect, enjoy it while you can. "You come into this job with a great pile of chips and good will and then you start making decisions and you piss people off."
Sometimes, the hardest decisions -- such as whether to go for the death penalty -- pass by with little public scrutiny. Other times, obviously sound decisions get blasted -- like the time Farmer obtained manslaughter convictions against two individuals who had each inadvertently killed someone; friends and relatives of the victims were outraged because they thought the perpetrators should have been charged with murder. "At the time, you smile and say `They don't know what they're talking about.' But no one likes to look out there and see people marching around with signs saying what a scumbucket you are."
How did Farmer handle it all over the years? "I may not have always made the right decisions, but I always felt comfortable in my ability to make decisions and to know that the decisions I made I gave a lot of thought to."
-- Staff writer Geoff S. Fein contributed to this report.
New bank and Arkleys may setp in
by JUDY HODGSON
THE BAD NEWS? FOR THE SECOND TIME IN A year, the Daly building complex in downtown Eureka has apparently failed to close escrow due to non-payment of funds by a developer.
The good news is that there may be new buyers waiting in the wings with cash for the property, which includes half a city block of boarded-up buildings, including the historic State Theater.
Developer Don Murrish, whose commercial projects include the Mill Creek Marketplace in McKinleyville and the Broadway Cinema in Eureka, had made a $20,000 deposit on the Daly Building. Murrish's plan was to spin off and resell the theater, one of three buildings in the complex, to a nonprofit theater group called Plays In Progress (PIP). PIP had been raising money for a down payment, but as of last week was far short of its goal.
Murrish was supposed to close escrow Friday afternoon by paying an undisclosed balance to the Humboldt State University Foundation -- or forfeit his deposit.
Murrish's plan was similar to one proposed by developer Dan Ollivier last year. Ollivier had agreed to buy the complex for $550,000 and resell the State Theater to PIP. But in July, Ollivier lost his $10,000 deposit when he could not come up with the balance.
Murrish has been tight-lipped about his plans for the rest of the building. On Monday he was just as tight-lipped about what happened with the deal, saying only, "I need to speak with the university."
According to Bob Schulz, HSU's director of fiscal services, Murrish had not called by noon Monday. "To the best of our knowledge, escrow did not close," said Schulz.
Businessman Rob Arkley and his wife, former councilmember Cherie Arkley, confirmed last week that they want to buy the State Theater, restore it as a performing arts center and give it to a nonprofit group, North Coast Dance (formerly Redwood Concert Ballet), to manage. The theater would be available for use by all community theater groups, HSU and College of the Redwoods, and for private concerts, he said.
"It would be a wonderful venue for performances and it would give [North Coast Dance] a consistent revenue stream," he said.
Arkley said he is not interested in the two adjacent Daly Department Store buildings, but he confirmed there is another group that is: a new banking venture headed by former Humboldt Bank president John Dalby.
According to sources, the as-yet-unnamed bank is less than a year away from starting up and officials involved in the venture want it located downtown.
Reached by phone Monday, Dalby would not comment on the bank project or its need for a building.
The city of Eureka, which still holds the note on the Daly property owned by HSU, may play a pivotal role in the eventual sale. City Manager David Tyson said the City Council was approached about a month ago to consider returning the city parking lot at 4th and G streets to private use for potential buyers. The lot was originally part of the Daly complex, but when HSU bought the property, the lot was deeded over to the city as a $185,000 partial payment.
"It was brought to the [former] council in closed session. The direction was that they would like to see a specific proposal," Tyson said. (Three of the five City Council members are new as of December.)
Arkley said any development in the downtown core area is dependent upon adequate parking for tenants. He estimated that, including seismic work, restoring the State Theater could take millions.
If the Arkleys are successful in teaming with the new bank to purchase the Daly parcels, it will be the latest in a series of philanthropic gifts to Eureka and local nonprofit groups. Their gifts include over $500,000 given to Redwood Concert Ballet to purchase and renovate a building across from the Daly Building. (See "Putting Nutcracker Together Again" in the Dec. 12 issue of the Journal.)
Ironically, had Cherie Arkley won her bid to become the next Eureka mayor last month, the Arkleys would have been prevented from purchasing the State Theater and other properties within the city's redevelopment boundary because of potential conflicts of interest.
Since Cherie Arkley left office, the Arkleys bought a building next door to their Security National Servicing Corp., at 5th and E streets. They also bought nearly the entire block of retail buildings directly across 5th Street, from the corner of 5th and E to Eureka Office Supply Co.
Arkley said his plan is to tear down the back half of those structures for private parking and renovate the store fronts to lease to local and national tenants.
-- Staff writer Bob Doran contributed to this report.
A stalemate between crab fishermen and crab buyers has finally come to an end now that both sides have agreed to a purchase price of $1.40 per pound.
The weeks-old standoff threatened to keep crab off of tables for Christmas.
Crab fishermen took to the sea
Saturday for the first time since the season opened
Fishermen had originally sought $1.85 per pound; sea food companies countered with a price of $1.40 per pound. As the two sides continued to hammer out a deal, the fishermen asked for $1.60; in response, the processors dropped their buying price to $1.25.
[On the docks of First street in Eureka. Photo by Andrew Edwards]
Pacific Choice, which buys almost 60 percent of crab caught in Humboldt County, expects a large catch this year. Last year, fishermen up and down the West Coast hauled in 3 million pounds of crab. In an average year fishermen can catch up to 9 million pounds.
On Monday, on the docks off First Street in Eureka, two boats were selling Dungeness crab directly to customers.
"The public gets a better deal by doing this, and it supports the local [crab fishermen] too," said Carl Allen, a 33-year veteran crab fisherman who was selling crab off his 56-year-old wooden fishing boat, Papoose.
Allen's claim of offering a bargain was confirmed by a call to the Safeway store on Harris Street in Eureka. His boat was selling crab for 50 cents less per pound.
Allen said that his boat usually fishes, but that he was just buying from other boats this year.
"We only deal with local guys," Allen said.
He said that people from as far away as Chico, Red Bluff and Yreka had stopped in to pick up crab for the holidays.
Incoming District Attorney Paul Gallegos has picked his new right-hand man, filling a position that has been vacant for nearly 10 years.
Tim Stoen, currently of the Mendocino County District Attorney's office, was picked by Gallegos based on his impressive prosecutorial credentials.
After graduating from Stanford Law School in 1964, Stoen went directly into prosecution as an assistant district attorney in Mendocino County, following that with a stint in charge of special prosecutions in San Francisco. He went from there into a private practice where, in the late `70s, he was a personal legal advisor to Jim Jones. His 6-year-old child was one of many who died in the mass suicide in Guyana.
During the `80s and `90s he continued in private practice, working on a variety of cases before returning to the Mendocino County District Attorney's office to head up the Economic Crime Division, which mainly deals with white-collar crime.
Stoen cannot officially be hired until the first meeting of the Board of Supervisors after Gallegos is sworn in on Jan. 6.
In an effort to deal with a backlog of $100 million in road infrastructure maintenance and potential budget cuts, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to get homeowners in new subdivisions to pay for road maintenance.
The policy change means developers will be able to charge homeowners between $100 and $250 annually in road maintenance fees. The new fee plan, however, is not scheduled to go into effect until next year.
The county's road maintenance budget is $7 million, $2 million less than it was in the late 1980s. The budget, however, will most likely drop further if Gov. Gray Davis makes good on a call to cut county road maintenance funds while trying to shore up a $30 billion budget deficit.
A hearing on a proposed cell phone tower in the Arcata Bottoms has been delayed until Feb. 6 at the request of county planning staff.
The Humboldt County Planning Commission was scheduled to hold its hearing last week, but U.S. Cellular Corp. was unable to submit its redesign in time for the meeting.
Originally the company had proposed a 150-foot tower; however, complaints from Arcata residents about the size of the tower combined with the need for an environmental impact report led U.S. Cellular to scale back its plans.
The company has now proposed a 70-foot tower that will resemble a water tower.
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