Government

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Speakers Urge Arcata City Council to Seek State Help in Lawson Case

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 9:55 PM

Jill Larrabee, left, waits to speak at the Arcata City Council meeting regarding the Josiah Lawson case and joined others in calling on city officials to call the DOJ or another outside agency to assist the investigation. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Jill Larrabee, left, waits to speak at the Arcata City Council meeting regarding the Josiah Lawson case and joined others in calling on city officials to call the DOJ or another outside agency to assist the investigation.

Almost two dozen people gathered in the Arcata City Hall lobby before tonight's city council meeting, prepared to ask the council to seek outside help in the David Josiah Lawson investigation after a criminal grand jury declined to hand up indictments in the case, sending it back to the Arcata Police Department for further investigation.

Lawson, a sophomore at Humboldt State University, who was fatally stabbed at an off campus party in the early morning of April 15, 2017. Kyle Zoellner, a 23-year-old McKinleyville resident, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson’s murder but a Humboldt County Superior Court judge dismissed the case, saying there was insufficient evidence to Zoellner to stand trial.

Interim Police Richard Ehle turned the investigation over to the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office in November, telling the Journal there’s "unequivocal physical evidence” linking a specific suspect to the murder. On March 13, the Humboldt District Attorney’s Office sent out a press release reporting that a criminal grand jury convened Feb. 28 declined to indict anyone in connection to the crime and, “therefore, no charges will be filed in this case,” the release said. (In Humboldt County, a criminal grand jury consists of 19 people, 12 of whom must to find there is “probable cause” that a crime was committed by a suspect to hand up an indictment.)

Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn vowed to continue the investigation, saying that APD will re-interview witnesses and investigate old leads. A couple of days after the announcement, Lawson’s mother, Charmaine Lawson, came to Humboldt County and spoke at HSU and the Humboldt County Courthouse about her disappointment on the criminal grand jury’s decision.

Arcata City Councilmember Sofia Pereira listens to speakers during the public comment section for non-agenda items. All of the speakers asked for the council to call for an outside agency to take on the investigation of the murder of HSU student Josiah Lawson. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Arcata City Councilmember Sofia Pereira listens to speakers during the public comment section for non-agenda items. All of the speakers asked for the council to call for an outside agency to take on the investigation of the murder of HSU student Josiah Lawson.

“We’re not going to stop fighting: This doesn’t end,” she told the crowd in front of the courthouse on Friday. “Thursday’s decision doesn’t end. (District Attorney) Maggie Fleming, if you can hear me, you have me fighting harder. I’m fighting harder.”

Between the turnouts at HSU and the courthouse, hundreds had gathered in support.

On Monday the Justice for Josiah campaign posted a call to action on Facebook: “Please use your voice and privilege to stand with Charmaine in seeking Justice for Josiah.”

When the floor at the Arcata City Council meeting opened for public comment, 11 people stood and began to form a line behind the podium. Most of them urged the city council to write to the California Department of Justice to take on the case.

“We are angry and frustrated, but this is typical,” Jill Larrabee told the council. “No one is surprised with this outcome. We are asking you to do everything in all of your power to ask the DOJ to take on the investigation and prosecution of this case. … Each and every one of you has connections and has power, use your connections to get this out of Humboldt County. … We are not going anywhere.”

Kelsey Reedy, center, an HSU alum and community member, listens to speakers asking the Arcata City Council to call for outside help in the Josiah Lawson homicide investigation. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Kelsey Reedy, center, an HSU alum and community member, listens to speakers asking the Arcata City Council to call for outside help in the Josiah Lawson homicide investigation.
Most of the speakers also asked about the Police Foundation report. Last September, Arcata hired Police Foundation, a nonprofit, to investigate APD’s controversial response the night of Lawson’s death. According to a Sept. 10 memo, Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer said the nonprofit will “review the police department’s response and to make recommendations for improving major criminal events, including response to, and investigation of, catastrophic, multiple-victim and/or multiple-witness incidents in the future,” with the report expected by the end of last year.

During public comment this evening, Richard Kossow questioned the timeline.

“Six months ago, we were told that an organization called Police Foundation had been retained to look into how the Arcata Police Department dealt with this homicide in April of 2017. I’ve heard nothing since,” he said. “It seems to me that it’s time that we start to get some kind of understanding of what that investigation has shown or some acknowledgment from you that the investigation has gone on.”

At the end of the public comment period, Diemer addressed the concerns over the Police Foundation report, saying the city received communications with the nonprofit that has completed its investigation of the report. She said the final report should be expected by May, but added that if the report indicates anything that could impede the Lawson investigation, it would not be made public. But, she added, the council intends to make the report public as soon as it is able.

After the public comment period, Mayor Brett Watson addressed speakers’ calls for the California Department of Justice to intervene.

“We have sent letters to the Department of Justice and the Attorney General and we are working on new, refreshed letters — new letters — and a new call for their help to step in,” he said, adding that the city is also recruiting local politicians to solicit their connections to seek help from the state.
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Thursday, March 14, 2019

State Approves $40 Million for Environmental Studies at Last Chance Grade

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2019 at 9:45 AM

Workers gather data from load sensors on a retaining wall at one of the fail points. - PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA
  • Photo by Mark McKenna
  • Workers gather data from load sensors on a retaining wall at one of the fail points.

The California Transportation Commission has agreed to provide $40 million in funding to complete environmental studies of the Last Chance Grade project, North Coast State Sen. Mike McGuire announced this morning.

“We all made a commitment four years ago to get the job done with the Last Chance Grade and today’s vote moves the project forward, more than ever before in history,” McGuire said in a press release. “We have been grateful to partner with Assemblymember (Jim) Wood, Congressman (Jared) Huffman, the Del Norte Board of Supervisors, Crescent City Council, the California Transportation Commission and Caltrans on this critical project. This is a true testament of what can be accomplished when we all work together for the North Coast.”

The roughly 4-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 101 just south of Crescent City known as Last Chance Grade has been failing for years. As the main artery for people and goods to travel between Eureka and Crescent City, the risk of a massive slide and a long-term closure carries large economic impacts, which is why officials have been scrambling for years to find a solution.


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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

McGuire Applauds Death Penalty Moratorium That Halts Executions of Two Humboldt County Inmates

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2019 at 10:48 AM

Mike McGuire
  • Mike McGuire
North Coast State Sen. Mike McGuire issued a statement this morning applauding Gov. Gavin Newsom’s plan to halt state executions in California and shutter the lethal injection chamber at San Quentin State Prison for his tenure in office.

Newsom’s decision offers an immediate — if temporary — reprieve to the state’s 737 death row inmates, including two from Humboldt County, and has drawn some criticism, including a tweet from President Donald Trump who indicated he’s “not thrilled” with Newsom’s plan. McGuire, meanwhile, commended Newsom’s moratorium

“The death penalty is an archaic and unjust system, disproportionately condemning people of color and those with disabilities,” McGuire said in a statement. “There is absolutely no evidence that the death penalty makes Californians safer, and it is both incredibly costly and burdensome. This is the right step to take, while the Legislature and administration work together to make our criminal justice system stronger and more just.”

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Monday, March 11, 2019

With McKinley Headed to Ohio, We Look Back (Slideshow)

Posted By on Mon, Mar 11, 2019 at 2:09 PM

McKinley is prepared for transport. - COURTESY OF THE CITY OF ARCATA
  • Courtesy of the city of Arcata
  • McKinley is prepared for transport.
The statue of William McKinley that stood sentry at the center of the Arcata Plaza for more than a century has officially begun the 2,500 mile trip to his new home.

Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer confirmed that a transporter picked the 9-foot bronze up from the Arcata corporation yard, where it has laid in repose on the back of a flatbed truck since Feb. 28, when the statue was removed from the plaza by crane before dawn. The removal came just a couple of weeks after the Arcata City Council approved the plan and agreed to send the statue to Canton, Ohio, which has pledged to pay some of the removal and relocation costs and is home to McKinley’s presidential library and museum. (The council previously voted to remove the bronze last year. That move was subsequently upheld by Arcata voters in November after a group of residents and the Wiyot Tribe said they found it to be an offensive symbol of genocide and imperialism.)

Staff stabilize the McKinley statue to be transported to Canton, Ohio. - COURTESY OF THE CITY OF ARCATA
  • Courtesy of the city of Arcata
  • Staff stabilize the McKinley statue to be transported to Canton, Ohio.

Diemer said the statue’s first stop will be at a restoration shop in Ohio that will try to repair McKinley’s patina, which was damaged in October when someone vandalized it with an acidic substance.


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Friday, March 1, 2019

UPDATE: Man Who Drowned in Eel River Flooding Identified

Posted By on Fri, Mar 1, 2019 at 2:12 PM

The Eel River, flooding. - CALTRANS
  • Caltrans
  • The Eel River, flooding.

UPDATE:
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Office has identified the man who drowned in the Eel River's floodwaters Wednesday night as Benito Nunez-Rodriguez, 35, of Ferndale.

PREVIOUSLY:
The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office has released the details of last night’s rescue effort in the flood waters of the Eel River, which was unable to save a man who’d tried to walk through 4 to 5 feet of water to his home.

According to a press release, the Sheriff’s Office dispatched deputies to a residence in the 800 block of Sage Road in Ferndale on a report of a man who’d been overtaken by flood waters and three people trapped inside a tractor.

The deputies learned that the man had left a barn at about 7 p.m. and attempted to walk through the flood waters to his nearby home. He then became “distressed by the fast moving current” and two adults and a juvenile attempted to rescue him with the tractor.

But the tractor stalled in the high flood waters before it could reach the man, stranding the three people inside, who soon lost sight of the man they were trying to save. Once on scene, deputies also learned that three more juveniles were inside a nearby residence, stranded by the floodwaters.

The Sheriff’s marine unit, search and rescue posse and the Ferndale Volunteer Fire Department all responded to conduct a rescue effort. The marine unit was able to reach the tractor and successfully ferry the three people trapped inside to safety, as well as the three juveniles in the residence.

A Coast Guard helicopter also responded to search for the missing man but, due to dangerous conditions, the search was suspended shortly before 11 p.m. Deputies resumed the effort this morning, and found the man dead. The release does not specify where.

The Humboldt County Coroner’s Office is withholding the man’s name until his family can be notified of his death.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct an error regarding the time that search efforts were suspended. The Journal regrets the error.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Trinidad Rancheria’s Plans to Put the Harbor into Federal Trust Raise Concerns as Key Hearing Nears

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 at 12:40 PM

The full moon rises over Little Head, Trinidad Pier, and Trinidad Harbor. Trinidad Head is the silhouetted land mass on the right. - DAVID WILSON
  • David Wilson
  • The full moon rises over Little Head, Trinidad Pier, and Trinidad Harbor. Trinidad Head is the silhouetted land mass on the right.
In January of 2000, the Trinidad Rancheria purchased the rundown pier in the town harbor, along with nine adjacent parcels of commercial land, including a boat launch, bait shop, vacation rental and the Seascape Restaurant from a private owner. With the help of several state and federal grants, the Rancheria replaced the rotting wood pier with a concrete and steel dock. It also replaced the Seascape's septic system, constructed two public restrooms, removed the illegal fish cleaning station at the pier and installed a stormwater capture and treatment system for runoff from the pier, improving the water quality in Trinidad Bay.

The Trinidad Pier is more than just a quaint and picturesque addition to the landscape. It services a fleet of commercial winter crab fishing vessels, as well as numerous year-round commercial and sport businesses. It also contributes heavily to the city's economic base.

The Rancheria, located a half mile south of the city of Trinidad on Scenic Drive, has generally been seen as a good neighbor. In addition to the harbor improvements, it resurfaced a mile of decaying road on Scenic, and has taken on the responsibility of being the designated shelter in the event of an emergency.

But over the past two years, the Rancheria has been doing something that is raising eyebrows in Trinidad. It has petitioned the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place its harbor property into federal trust, which would effectively remove it from the city's jurisdiction.

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McKinley is Off the Plaza

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 at 9:25 AM

CITY OF ARCATA
  • City of Arcata
With little fanfare and under a cloak of darkness before dawn this morning, the statue of President William McKinley was removed from the center of the Arcata Plaza, where it had stood for more than a century.

Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer said city staff, having received direction from the city council Feb. 20 to move forward as expeditiously as possible with the removal, seized a brief break in the rain this morning. Diemer said she and a work crew arrived at the plaza around 4 a.m. to determine if conditions were safe enough to remove the the nearly 9-foot-tall bronze and decided to give it a try.

She said it took about an hour to get a crane into position and at about 5:30 a.m., McKinley was harnessed up and the crane made the first attempt to lift it off its roughly 26-ton granite pedestal. It came off easily, Diemer said, and staff was able to lower it safely and securely into the back of a city truck. From there, it was driven to a city corporation yard, where it sits now.
The now McKinley-less plaza. - IRIDIAN CASAREZ
  • Iridian Casarez
  • The now McKinley-less plaza.

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Monday, February 25, 2019

101 Opened After Slide South of Crescent City

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2019 at 9:04 AM

A slide left boulders and trees covering U.S. Highway 101 last night. - CALTRANS
  • Caltrans
  • A slide left boulders and trees covering U.S. Highway 101 last night.
U.S. Highway 101 between Klamath and Crescent City has reopened after a slide closed it last night about 8:50 p.m.

Caltrans District One tweeted almost exactly 12 hours later at 8:50 a.m., “US 101 OPEN, One-Way…Expect 15-20 minute delays.”

Crews worked through the night and early morning hours to get the road re-opened after the slide, which came down at milepost 14.9 in the failing 3-mile stretch of highway south of Crescent City know as Last Chance Grade.
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Sunday, February 24, 2019

Big Changes Considered for 101 Through Eureka

Posted By on Sun, Feb 24, 2019 at 10:45 AM

Eureka Police Sgt. Gary Whitmer has worked traffic 13 of the 20 years he’s been on the force and said high collision rates have always been a problem. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Eureka Police Sgt. Gary Whitmer has worked traffic 13 of the 20 years he’s been on the force and said high collision rates have always been a problem.

Few people drive through Eureka for the fun of it. If you approach the town from the north during the morning commute, you're often greeted by a long line of stalled traffic waiting to get through the intersection at V and Fourth streets. On a bad day, the back-up may begin out on the freeway. Once you get past V Street, the same situation repeats at R Street.
The intersections of Fourth Street at V and R streets are prone to backups during the morning commute. - GOOGLE MAPS
  • Google Maps
  • The intersections of Fourth Street at V and R streets are prone to backups during the morning commute.
The signals never seem to synchronize, so that you have to stop at a lot of red lights as you drive through town. Then, on Broadway, some of the intersections are almost surreally bad and making a left turn can feel like a life-threatening venture. And that's if you're a driver, in the relative safety of a vehicle, to say nothing of the poor pedestrian trying to cross Broadway, or Fourth or Fifth streets in the many areas that lack traffic signals.

Bicyclists also take their lives in their hands, scuttling along the narrow shoulder of the street between the 30 mph traffic and parked semis, ever on the lookout for opening car doors and vehicles scooting in front of them to grab a parking space.

According to the California Office of Traffic Safety, among 94 similar sized cities throughout the state, Eureka had the second highest number of pedestrians hit on its streets in 2016 and 11th highest number of accidents involving bicyclists. Overall, it had the 17th most injury collisions of California cities with populations between 25,000 and 50,000.

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Friday, February 22, 2019

Harbor District Declares State of Emergency

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2019 at 9:13 AM

harbor_logo.png
The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District voted unanimously at a special meeting yesterday to declare a state of emergency due to increased sedimentation in the channel into Humboldt Bay that is causing dangerous conditions and imperiling the county’s fuel supply.

The vote came after the district received the results of depth testing by the Army Corps of Engineers, which found that the 48-foot deep channel is currently at about 21 feet, filled with sediment that washed out of the Eel River during storms last month. The shallowing of the channel is creating large cross waves and “extremely large sneaker waves” around Buoy 9, an area known as “Rock and Roll Alley,” according to a staff report. The conditions are imperiling local recreational and commercial fishing boats, as well as the commercial shipping industry, including the fuel ships that deliver 6 million gallons of gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel to the Chevron fuel dock every nine days.

“These conditions place an extreme hazard to life, property and the environment,” the staff report states.

Chevron released a statement this morning through the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office indicating that operations are not currently being disrupted.

"The Chevron Eureka terminal is currently operating at normal levels of supply and has not experienced any supply issue related to Humboldt Bay shoaling," the statement says. "Chevron and our shipping agents are aware of the recent shoaling (silt buildup) at the Humboldt Bay entrance, and we understand that the Harbor Safety Committee has a plan in place to address the shoaling impacts on others such as our community's commercial ships and fishing fleet. Chevron has supplied fuel to the North Coast reliably for generations without interruption and we plan to continue that practice."

The district — as well as other local agencies that have similarly declared a state of emergency — are hoping the Army Corps will move quickly in dredging the channel. But the dredging season doesn’t start up again until June and the Corps’ dredges are currently in dry dock, prompting Harbor District Executive Director Larry Oetker to caution the board that the earliest reasonable hope for dredging would be in April. In the meantime, conditions are likely to worsen.

As a result, the district is urging some forward planning. It has asked Chevron to consider making smaller, more frequent deliveries — which would make for safer passage through the channel — and is also urging local fuel providers to store as much gas on site as possible.

In the meantime, North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman told the Times-Standard that his office is working with the Army Corps of Engineers, trying to speed up its timeline for dredging.
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