Friday, August 16, 2013

Humboldt County in political turmoil, by Mike Geniella,

As of the April 16, 2012 web capture, for the Mendocino County — District Attorney — Criminal Division, web page, Mike Geniella is listed as the department's public information officer, and unlike earlier versions of the web page, [such as July 26, 2009, or August 16, 2001 web capture] which list multiple contact information for the various employees and offices, all citizen contact generated by the web resource is now funneled solely through Geniella, with no other department phone numbers or emails listed.

The revolving door between newspeople and the political flacks employed to manage them is so swingingly ingrained that any idea of an adversarial press serving as government watchdogs is ridiculous to pose. Mr. Geniella does a fair job of laying out the surface matter without loss of journalistic credibility---a talent clearly called for in his new government job. But he confounds concepts like "ecoterrorism," as rising from radical vegetarianism, when clearly the issue is about abuse of the environment caused by croney capitalism, if not the provably criminal kind.

Interesting that it takes "outsiders" like newly elected county District Attorney Paul Gallegos, and his new hire Tim Stoen, to take on entrenched local interests, but what about when Tim Stoen was the defender of an insider status quo in neighboring Mendocino County?

It reminds me of the definition of: What is too much sex? Answer: Anybody having more sex than me. The same is true for political plundering.

April 6, 2003, Press Democrat, Humboldt County in political turmoil, by Mike Geniella,

Residents -- weary of tree sitter conflicts, lawsuit against Pacific lumber -- launch D.A. recall effort

The forcible removal of tree sitters from Pacific Lumber Co. timberland has attracted national attention, but it's only one of several hot issues that have tempers flaring in redwood country.

"In my six years on the board, I've never seen such turmoil," Humboldt County Supervisor Roger Rodoni said.

New county District Attorney Paul Gallegos is the target of a recall movement after just three months in office because of a civil fraud lawsuit he allowed his top aide to file against Pacific Lumber.

Meanwhile, county officials, struggling to cope with deep budget deficits, are angry over rising costs to police the tree-sitting actions. So far, the county has spent at least $40,000 to assist in ridding Pacific Lumber timberland of tree sitters who are persisting in violation of a court order.

And by week's end, a fierce new debate had broken out over the involvement in the tree-sit action of a Michigan Earth First activist who has served a federal prison term for arson-related animal rights activities.

A week ago, activist Rodney Coronado allegedly confronted a climber hired by Pacific Lumber to remove tree sitters, and warned that he was no "pacifist hippie. My actions speak louder than my words."

Pacific Lumber spokesman Jim Branham blamed rising tensions in part on the presence of Coronado, whom he labeled a "convicted ecoterrorist."

Coronado couldn't be reached for comment, but Earth First organizers Darryl Cherney and Karen Pickett confirmed Friday that he had been assisting in the tree-sit action.

Role of activist defended

While Cherney and Pickett acknowledged Coronado had served a federal prison term for aiding and abetting arson in connection with the radical Animal Liberation Front, the two longtime North Coast activists said he was a "thoughtful, caring" person whose only role locally was to help plan strategy.

"Besides, he's left the area," Cherney said.

The flap over Coronado has added new fuel to the political turmoil in Humboldt County, which was already reeling from the recall effort against Gallegos.

Soon after he became district attorney in January, he stunned the county's business and political establishments by hiring as his top aide Tim Stoen, former chief legal adviser to cult leader Jim Jones and a one-time Mendocino County prosecutor.

But the astonishment turned to anger when Stoen, with Gallegos' blessing, filed a fraud lawsuit against Pacific Lumber seeking up to $250 million in damages.

The lawsuit alleges that Pacific Lumber deliberately provided false data during negotiations leading to the $500 million Headwaters Forest acquisition by the state and federal governments. Stoen and Gallegos have proceeded with the suit despite statements from government attorneys involved in the Headwaters deal that their allegations appear unfounded.

Retired lumberman Robin Arkley of Arcata is among the longtime Humboldt County residents who are seething.

Arkley said he put up $5,000 to launch the recall effort because he believes people are fed up with nearly two decades of rancor over Pacific Lumber operations.

'Take back our county'

"We're going to take back our county from the environmentalists, tree sitters and outside agitators," he said.

Three weeks after launching its controversial campaign to forcibly remove tree sitters from redwoods marked for logging, Pacific Lumber admits progress is slow.

Foul weather is a factor. And so are continuing concerns about safety. But mainly, a steady stream of young activists has arrived in the Freshwater region east of Eureka to replace the five tree sitters taken down so far.

"I think there are more tree sitters up now than before," said Earth First organizer Pickett. She said it has been no problem to find replacements for the tree sitters who have been removed.

Company spokesman Branham said that may be true, but the company isn't going to be deterred from its efforts to remove the tree sitters so logging crews can proceed with state-approved timber harvesting plans.

Removal 'a slow process'

"Admittedly, it's a slow process. We knew that when we started. But we're going to get them out of the trees," he said.

So far, only five tree sitters, including a woman who perched in one redwood for nearly a year, have been brought down. Pacific Lumber has cut down two of the once-occupied trees. Limbs have been cut from the base up in other trees to discourage reoccupation.

"This week we removed platforms and gear from two more trees, and then cut the limbs at the lower levels to make it more difficult for them to climb back up," Branham said.

County Supervisor Rodoni is unhappy about local environmental leaders' support for the tree sitters.

Rodoni blames them and outsiders -- activists, attorneys and "professional agitators" like Coronado -- for fueling what he says has become "a war between good and evil."

As for District Attorney Gallegos, Rodoni said the newly elected official can blame only himself.

Rodini said because Stoen and Gallegos ignored the responses of state and federal agencies to their fraud lawsuit, they are likely to find themselves aligned against state and federal attorneys as well as the company's lawyers.

As part of the Headwaters agreement, which imposed the strictest logging regulations in state history on Pacific Lumber, the state and federal agencies are obligated to help defend its terms.

Gallegos and Stoen were dealt a serious setback last month when dozens of logging trucks surrounded the county courthouse in Eureka while the Board of Supervisors inside debated their request for extra money to hire a Bay Area law firm to assist them in the Pacific Lumber lawsuit. Rodoni and other supervisors voted 4-1 to deny the request.

"There was no way we were going to let that happen, given the questionable circumstances surrounding the lawsuit," Rodoni said.

Stoen said despite the setback, he's confident the case can be won.

Stoen confident of winning

Stoen contended evidence will show that the company gave false data to government agencies during the Headwaters negotiations, a move that ended up with Pacific Lumber's being allowed to log a larger volume of trees under a 50-year management plan.

"This is not an environmental case. This is a fraud case. All I want to do is expose wrongdoing," he said.

Stoen acknowledged he was unprepared for the uproar that followed filing of the lawsuit, and the accusations that have been leveled against him.

"I know I have been accused of coming up here and creating more divisions in the community. I know people are talking about my past," Stoen said. "But I did what I felt was right."

Accused of being outsider

Rodoni and retired lumberman Arkley scoffed at Stoen's explanations. They accused him of being among the outsiders who have inflamed tensions unnecessarily.

Arkley acknowledged recall efforts are typically difficult to bring to a vote, and costly.

"But we've got the support and money to do it," he said.

Rodoni said a recall campaign may only add to the divisiveness.

"But I'm afraid by now the lines are drawn," he said. "A lot of folks are sick of the antics, and tired of having a bunch of subversives who pass themselves off as peace and love advocates rubbing their faces in it."

You can reach Staff Writer Mike Geniella at 462-6470 or

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