Monday, November 24, 2014

Ready, set, squash

Posted By on Mon, Nov 24, 2014 at 12:55 PM


Time’s a’creepin’ up on you Humboldt gardeners planning to put a little GMO oomph into your winter gardens — some genetically modified beans or broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower, perhaps? (We’re mainly looking at you, rebel Nathan Rex, and your promised GMO squash garden.)

On Dec. 2, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors is set to certify the results of the November election. Measure P, which bans the growing, cultivation or propagation of genetically modified organisms, passed with 61 percent of the vote. Ten days after the board certifies the vote (Dec. 12, if all goes as planned), the ban goes into effect. Nobody is permitted to grow new GMOs — except in a controlled laboratory setting — after that. However, those who already have crops growing before the ban date will have until Jan. 1, 2016, to eradicate them.

Humboldt County Agricultural Commissioner Jeff Dolf — whose department is in charge of enforcing the new law — told the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors recently that he’s still refining the details of the new enforcement program and will report back in early 2015. 

“There is still a lot for me to work out in terms of reviewing the language of the ordinance,” he said, adding he’s consulting with counsel as well as with a geneticist.

Opponents to the ban have said that the ability to vaccinate animals might be impacted by it. Dolf said he’s pretty sure state law trumps local ordinances in that regard, in particular state law require rabies vaccines for dogs and brucellosis vaccines for female bovines. But he's double-checking.

Enforcing the ban, which will be complaint-driven, could get expensive if enough complaints come in that require laboratory testing. But Dolf said he doesn’t have cost estimates. Looking to Trinity and Mendocino counties isn’t much help, he added — they’ve had bans in place for years, and there’s been just one complaint, in Mendocino, which proved unfounded. Those counties were not known for growing GMO crops in the first place, he said, whereas Humboldt has grown GMO silage (corn feed for livestock).

We haven't heard of other GMO crops being grown here in Humboldt. And we tried, to no avail, to reach Rex, the would-be ban-defier who raised $800 from sympathizers in a gofundme campaign so he could plant genetically engineered squash. 

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Plane Crash Investigation Continues; Autopsy Scheduled for Tomorrow

Posted By on Mon, Nov 24, 2014 at 11:55 AM

  • Folsom Urgent Care Center
  • Dr. Douglas Pleatman
The Federal Aviation Administration continues to investigate a small plane crash near Garberville on Friday that killed Jerold Phelps Community Hospital’s chief emergency room doctor.

Humboldt County Deputy Coroner Roy Horton said an autopsy has been scheduled for tomorrow to determine the exact cause of death for Douglas Todd Pleatman, 59, an El Dorado County doctor who commuted by plane to work at the Garberville hospital. Horton said witnesses said they saw Pleatman’s plane circling the area near the Garberville airport before they heard the plane’s engines stop, at which point the plane collided with a tall fir tree, clipping off one of its wings, and crashed into the South Fork of the Eel River.

Pleatman, the plane’s sole occupant, was found deceased when authorities arrived.

According to an Associated Press article, Pleatman was a champion skydiver, whose two true passions in life were skydiving and medicine. He lived in Cameron Air Park Estates, where “wide streets double as taxiways and oversized garages serve as airplane hangers,” according to the story.

Pleatman also worked as a physician at the Urgent Care Center of Folsom, whose webpage included the following bio:

Douglas Pleatman, MD graduated with honors from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He is board certified in both Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine. Having worked in both specialties he feels that Urgent Care is a great combination of both disciplines.

Dr. Pleatman is an instrument-rated private pilot, flies a Piper Comanche and is a member of the Sheriff’s Air Squadron. He is also a national champion skydiver and a former member of a professional air show team. He has been scuba diving in the South Pacific, Asia, the Caribbean and enjoys travel.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Judge Denies 'Unseemly' Motion in Kneeland Murder Case

Posted By on Sun, Nov 23, 2014 at 12:53 PM

Mikal Wilde
  • Mikal Wilde
The federal case against a Kneeland man accused of murdering a worker on his marijuana farm will continue to trial, a judge ruled this week.

Through his attorney, J. Tony Serra, Mikal Xylon Wilde had argued that the six-count indictment charging him with cultivating more than 1,000 marijuana plants with intent to distribute and murder in the commission of a narcotics offense should be thrown out because federal marijuana laws are “arbitrary and irrational,” violating his rights to due process and equal protection granted under the Fifth Amendment.

Prosecutors allege Wilde, 32, gunned down two of his workers at a large-scale marijuana growing operation in 2010, killing Mario Roberto Juarez-Madrid and critically wounding Fernando Lopez. The shootings allegedly occurred after the two men demanded to be paid for the work they’d done and returned to their homes outside of Sacramento. Wilde — who was facing severe financial troubles and had recently filed for bankruptcy — allegedly told the men he’d take them home but returned to the property armed with a handgun and opened fire.

Serra, an eccentric San Francisco attorney who’s known for his vow of poverty and taking up criminal cases to fight for larger causes, had filed an 80-page motion with the court that was essentially a full-scale attack on the federal Controlled Substances Act’s classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, the same designation given to heroin, ecstasy and LSD. The motion — which makes a compelling read for critics of federal marijuana law — includes legal arguments with titles like “Cannabis is not a ‘gateway’ drug and does not cause death or brain damage” and “Cannabis by itself does not cause fatal car crashes nor adverse effects on driving performance.” In it, Serra argues that “cannabis prohibition itself is irrational, because when one compares the social effects of prohibition against the social effects of decriminalization, a rational balancing test or cost benefit analysis overwhelmingly favors decriminalization.”

Marijuana has medical benefits, Serra argues, which have been recognized by a host of states, evidencing its misclassification.

The federal government countered that there was nothing medical about Wilde’s alleged operation and that Wilde is trying to politicize what is inherently a murder case. “Defendant Mikal Wilde is charged with murder in the course of running a large marijuana cultivation operation,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office states in tis opposition. “By voicing discontent with the particular federal schedule that Congress has determined governs marijuana, he opportunistically attempts to ally himself with those advocating differing views — through peaceful means — as to the proper legalization and/or regulation of marijuana. Wilde is the last individual that the community endorsing marijuana legalization should, and likely would, embrace. His motion is unseemly, but is also without legal merit.
“… Defendant cannot point to any state where growing approximately 1,600 marijuana plants for wide distribution is lawful or would not have been prosecuted by the federal government,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office continued. “Nor is there any state where arming people working on the marijuana grow with firearms, and then murdering them, is lawful or would not be prosecuted.”

In his ruling, federal Judge Edward Chen explains there are two types of scrutiny courts can apply to challenges of laws passed by Congress: strict scrutiny and a rational basis review. Strict scrutiny, Chen explains, is reserved for those laws that “infringe upon fundamental rights,” and therefor should be held to a higher standard. Rational basis review, on the other hand, is a “more relaxed and tolerant form of judicial review,” one that is generally deferential to Congress’ lawmaking function.

In Wilde’s case, Serra argued that the strict scrutiny review should apply because the cultivation, use and possession of medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation should be considered a fundamental right. Chen doesn’t entirely disagree with the argument, just its application. “The Court is not necessarily unsympathetic to the argument that the use of medical marijuana might one day be considered fundamental,” Chen wrote. “But even if there were a fundamental right to medical marijuana sufficient to involve more rigorous scrutiny than rational basis, it would be of no assistance to Wilde here. There are no allegations in this case that Wilde’s large-scale marijuana grow was intended for medicinal purposes or was otherwise compliant with California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996. … Rather, the indictment alleges that Wilde employed armed workers to protect a large illegal marijuana operation, and that Wilde murdered one such worker and attempted to murder another. … The alleged facts in this case stand in stark contrast to… similar cases where individuals with serious medical needs have sought to establish a constitutionally protected right to use marijuana for medical treatment.”

So the next question, Chen explains, is figuring out which version of the rational basis test to apply to Wilde’s case: traditional review, which upholds a law if “any state of facts reasonably can be conceived to sustain it,” or a more rigorous rational basis standard that gives the court the latitude to strike down a law it finds to be arbitrary, irrational or unreasonable. The problem for Wilde is that the more rigorous review is reserved in case law for those laws that are discriminatory in nature, the state initiative grounded in animosity toward those affected, the ordinance reflecting nothing more than irrational prejudice. “Namely, these cases involve situations where a legislative classification appears to have been based on animus or a desire to harm a politically unpopular group,” Chen explains.

“By contrast, Wilde has submitted no evidence that Congress passed the CSA, or chose to list marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, because of animus or some discriminatory legislative purpose,” Chen writes. Consequently, the basic rational basis test should be applied to his motion.

From there, Serra’s motion was dead in the water. Chen pointed to a whole host of facts that could be “reasonably conceived to sustain” Congress’ having classified marijuana as it did and notes that a court may not simply substitute its policy judgment for that of Congress’.

“This court has little difficult concluding that under some ‘reasonable conceivable state of facts,’ marijuana’s classification in Schedule 1 of the CSA is rationally related to a legitimate government interest,” Chen writes. “For instance, Congress could rationally conclude that marijuana should be classified as a Schedule 1 substance because it might be abused by, or cause harm to, minors. … Given the continuing debate over marijuana, this court must defer to the legislature’s judgments on disputed factual issues.”

Wilde remains slated to stand trial February, but it seems likely Serra may appeal Chen’s ruling to a higher court.
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Friday, November 21, 2014

UPDATED: Bergel Takes Lead in Ward 3 Race; City on Cusp of History

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 1:05 PM

The Humboldt County Elections Office has released its post-election update, which can be found here. The notables, other than Bergel's apparent come-from-behind victory, are the passage of Eureka City Schools' bond measure and the narrow failure of that of Jacoby Creek School District.

It looks like Eureka’s going to seat what’s believed to be the first all-female city council in its history, after Kim Bergel has pulled out an improbable upset of incumbent Ward 3 Councilman Mike Newman.

Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich said the elections office is preparing to release a post-election update that shows Bergel — after finishing Election Day trailing Newman by 104 votes — now has a 46 vote lead. The results are not final, however, and Crnich said there is only a “slim” chance they change in any substantive way before they come before the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors for certification.

Crnich said the current count has Newman with 3,313 votes to Bergel’s 3,359. After taking just 42.87 percent of the early vote-by-mail ballots and 54.13 percent of the Election Day vote, Bergel took 54.94 percent of the 1,398 ballots counted after Election Day.

Final voter turnout for the county was 50.65 percent, Crnich said, with 51.64 percent of Eureka’s registered voters casting ballots.

For more in depth look at the numbers in the Ward 3 race, and a glimpse at the historic feat of empanelling Eurkea’s first all-female council, check out prior Journal coverage herehere and here.

The Journal will update this post when the updated results are released this afternoon.
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No Criminal Charges Against Officer in Tommy McClain Shooting

Posted By on Fri, Nov 21, 2014 at 11:39 AM

  • From the 'Justice For Tommy McClain' Facebook Page.
  • Tommy McClain
There will be no criminal charges against Stephen Linfoot, the Eureka police officer who shot 22-year-old Tommy McClain to death on Sept. 17.

A District Attorney’s office press release states, “After reviewing the [Critical Incident Response Team investigation] report in its entirety, the District Attorney’s Office concluded that the evidence does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an officer committed a crime. Therefore, no criminal charges will be filed against any officer. …”

The press release describes the event of the evening that resulted in McClain’s death, matching statements made by Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills following the incident. The Journal wrote about the EPD’s protocol following the shooting, and asked experts about officers’ handling of the situation.

Brian Stephens, the EPD sergeant who initially confronted McClain but did not fire his weapon, according to reports, was recently promoted to EPD captain as part of Mill’s restructuring plan.

DA Paul Gallegos’ comment from the press release:

“Thomas McClain’s death is a terrible tragedy. He is mourned by his family, his friends and this community but it was not caused by any criminal activity that I can see on the part of the law enforcement officers. My heart and my prayers go out to Thomas McClain, his family and friends and the law enforcement officers involved in this terrible tragedy. It is my sincere hope that time brings comfort and solace to all.”
Full press release below:

Continue reading »

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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Keep Biting Those Nails

Posted By on Thu, Nov 20, 2014 at 1:07 PM

  • Manuel J. Orbegozo
The Humboldt County Elections Office is zeroing in final election tallies, and has inched closer to determining the final number of ballots outstanding in the nail-biter of a race for Eureka’s Ward 3 city council seat.

When the dust settled from Election Day, incumbent Mike Newman led challenger Kim Bergel by 104 votes, having taken 50.76 percent of the vote to Bergel’s 48.8 percent. The Journal did some numbers crunching the following morning and estimated that Bergel would need there to be at least 1,200 outstanding ballots in the race to have a chance at bridging the gap, barring some kind of statistical anomaly in voting patterns. Well, it looks like this one’s going down to the wire; the final tally of yet-to-be-counted ballots is right in that neighborhood.

Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich said today that 1,065 vote-by-mail ballots remain at play in the race, a number that includes those dropped off at the polls on Election Day and those that came into the elections office on Monday and Tuesday of election week. Additionally, Crnich said 236 provisional ballots were cast at Eureka polling locations that have yet to be vetted and counted, and another unknown amount of damaged ballots from the polls still have to be tallied (Crnich estimated this number to be “fewer than 100”). So, all told, that leaves between 1,065 and 1,401 ballots still at play in the race, depending on how many of those provisional ballots are valid and the final tally of damaged Eureka ballots.

In the final election night results, Newman took 56.61 percent of the early vote-by-mail ballots, but just 45.51 percent of the vote at the polls on Election Day to Bergel’s 54.13. Traditionally, late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots trend more in the direction of the Election Day tallies.

So, if we chew the numbers Crnich provided today, here’s what we get: With 1,065 outstanding ballots, Bergel would need to take 54.92 percent to take the lead; with 1,401 outstanding ballots, she’d need to take 53.75 percent.

In the three-way race Newman won to take office back in 2010, Newman took 48.18 percent of the early vote-by-mail ballots and 41.98 percent of the Election Day tally to take a 171-vote lead over runner-up Ron Kuhnel. Newman then took 43.12 percent of the ballots tallied after Election Day to push his margin of victory to 183 votes.

The outcome of the Bergel-Newman race remains too close to call, but Crnich said she’s hopeful the county will release a post-election update tomorrow that should provide some clarity.
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anchors Aweigh!

Posted By on Tue, Nov 18, 2014 at 4:15 PM

  • From Lindsay Housaman's Facebook Page.
The North Coast has a new TV news program. Back in spring the Journal caught wind that KRCR out of Redding was launching a news program to rival our local NBC affiliates at KIEM.

The news program, which debuted yesterday at 6 p.m., apparently (although they have web content dating back to Sunday), will air at 6 p.m. on KAEF ABC 23 and at 10 p.m. on KBVU Fox 28 — two of KRCR’s local sister stations.
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
The station came together in the downtown Eureka KAEF building under the guidance of assistant news director Lindsay Housaman, who will anchor the program. There are four reporters: Candase Chambers, Tyler Dahlgren, Katherine Harwood, and Nick Prete; and weatherman Mike Krueger.

The Journal hasn’t caught a broadcast of the program yet — if you saw the debut, tell us what you think. 
  • From Lindsay Housaman's Facebook Page.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

AHHA Talks Housing for the Homeless

Posted By on Mon, Nov 17, 2014 at 10:59 AM

Every folding chair was filled at the Eureka Women's Club last Saturday as politicians, activists, community organizers and concerned citizens gathered for the Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives Forum. The forum, which was coordinated by AHHA (Affordable Homeless Housing Alternatives), featured a presentation on creating alternative housing villages followed by workshops and a call to action.

  • Stephen Smith

Andrew Heben, a co-founder of Eugene, Oregon's Opportunity Village, delivered a short slideshow presentation. The affordable village model is a cluster of small homes with a communal kitchen, bathrooms and a democratic system of management. It costs, Heben says, $3 a night to house a person there, with a third of the money supplied by the residents themselves. The rest of the money is contributed by private charitable organizations. The total cost per year to house 15 people in an affordable village model? About $29,000, just a hair under the estimated amount taxpayers pay every year to cover the costs associated with one person's chronic homelessness.

The affordable village model does have some drawbacks. Opportunity Village does not allow children. It may not be appropriate for the drug addicted or mentally ill, if these residents are disruptive to the communal atmosphere. (See Jim Hight's article, "It's Time for an Opportunity Village," for more information.) And it's supported by private benefactors, not government funds.

Among the attendees to the forum were county supervisors Virginia Bass and Rex Bohn. 

"This is a conversation that has to be had," said Bass, "It's exciting to see how many people are willing to talk about this issue. Resolving it will be challenging, but anything worth doing is a challenge."

Sitting next to Bass, a man who identified himself only as John and claimed to have been homeless for close to twenty years, chimed in.

"I think there would be a big problem with theft in a place like that. That's always a problem on the street. So what are they going to do about it?"

Nezzie Wade, a sociology professor at Humboldt State University and co-founder of AHHA, opened the event with some sobering numbers. As many as 1,600 people in Humboldt County have nowhere to get "safe, legal sleep." These figures include over 200 children. Wade said that momentum around this issue is growing.

"As we enter the cold and wet season, and as we enter the holidays when people's hearts might be a little more open, it's increasingly important to highlight the complex issues around prosperity and poverty."

The next meeting to address these issues is scheduled for Dec. 6 from noon to 3 p.m. at the Jefferson Community Center, 1000 B St. in Eureka.
  • Stephen Smith
  • Stephen Smith

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Friday, November 14, 2014

UPDATE: Coroner Announces Retirement, Supes Push Toward Consolidation

Posted By on Fri, Nov 14, 2014 at 3:26 PM


The board of supervisors voted unanimously today to begin the process of consolidating the sheriff’s office and coroner’s office. The board asked the county administrative officer to draft an ordinance that would fold the employees and functions of the coroner’s office into the sheriff’s department, and create one elected sheriff/coroner position.

Humboldt County has had an independently elected coroner since 1905, and has mulled consolidation at least four times in the last 35 years, according to a  . The move could potentially help cash-strapped and overworked coroner’s office employees.

Coroner Dave Parris (who’s retiring in January) and Sheriff Mike Downey have expressed support for the consolidation, with Downey saying that he would not accept a temporary appointment to the coroner position.

From the report:
Of California's 58 counties, 48 will have a combined Sheriff-Coroner as of January 2015, including all of the counties adjacent to Humboldt. In fact, since the last time the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors considered this question—in 2009—two additional counties (Fresno and Marin) have voted to combine a formerly separate Coroner's Office into a consolidated Sheriff-Coroner. Of the 10 remaining counties, five have an office of Medical Examiner as permitted under Government Code Section 24010. This leaves only four counties besides Humboldt with a separate Coroner's Office not headed by a physician. In 10 of the counties having a consolidated Sheriff-Coroner, that office also includes the Public Administrator function.

Humboldt County Coroner Dave Parris announced his retirement today, just several months after being re-elected. He will leave the position at the end of January.

In his announcement, Parris said the coroner's office is severely underfunded and recommended that the office be consolidated with the sheriff's office, echoing problems the Journal wrote about here.

Parris' letter:

Continue reading »

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HSU's New Big Cop on Campus

Posted By on Fri, Nov 14, 2014 at 1:45 PM

  • Linked In
Humboldt State University reached all the way across the nation to pluck its new chief of police, Donn G. Peterson, a major in the Broward County (Florida) Sheriff’s Office, who will begin at HSU in January.

According to the HSU Lumberjack, Peterson was appointed the position but still needs to pass a background check. Current Chief Lynne Soderberg will stay on until Peterson has comfortably transitioned to the area.

Peterson is apparently a California boy — he graduated from Analy High School in Sebastopol in 1982, according to his resume — but he attended police academy and served as a commander, captain and major in South Florida for the past 25 years.

In 2011, Peterson rescued a baby during a tense standoff in Pompano Beach, according to CBS Miami.
  • CBS Miami
“Peterson, a SWAT commander, was able to use various tools he found in the back yard of the home to rip a hole in the back wall of the house and gained access into a room where the baby was alone in a bassinet,” the report reads. “Peterson was able to leave the home with the baby without alerting [the suspect], who was elsewhere in the house, police said.”

Peterson’s family is in academia, according to a cover letter, and he’s an experienced law enforcement instructor.

“My leadership style is to lead-by-example,” he wrote. “As a proponent of leadership development and succession planning, I consider myself to be eminently approachable with effective communication and listening skills. I’m both a problem solver and a self-starter.”

Peterson beat out more than 40 applicants for the job, including Sonoma State University deputy police Chief Sally Miller, who was a finalist.
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