Confidential to Corpus Christi Federal Bankruptcy Judge Richard S. Schmidt: All is forgiven.
The first few months of the Pacific Lumber bankruptcy case — the first few months of 2007 — were full of patent absurdities, and you bore some of the brunt of our ridicule. Who can forget the great "phone-booth office" scam, in which corporate scalawag Charles Hurwitz of Maxxam, the man who ran a great Humboldt County institution into the ground for personal profit, invented a ludicrous shell company in your town and folded all his Humboldt County assets into it overnight? The ploy was devised simply to get the Pacific Lumber bankruptcy case into your courtroom, and you swallowed it. The Hurwitz team thought you were a pliable buffoon. So, frankly, did we.
But oh, my, how wrongly we both did read you. We could listen in to the hearings by telephone, but we couldn't see your arched eyebrows. Over time, it became quite clear that you weren't buying any bullshit, and that you actually cared for the people on the ground here in Humboldt County more than you did for the shysters with the cash. You fulfilled your duty to the law faithfully, and the money men received every bit of their due consideration under the terms of the code. But when the law vested you with the latitude to make a judgment, you ruled for the people.
Now Humboldt County prepares to welcome its new Mendocino County overlords. The Mendocino Redwood Company, whom Schmidt declared the winner in the high-stakes battle for the remains of Pacific Lumber's assets, has already laid the groundwork for an excellent reception. As Schmidt noted in his ruling (in which he gave a tiny shout-out to the Journal and other papers), it was the overwhelming favorite. The county hasn't been this united over a forestry since before 1968, when Redwood National Park was founded and the timber wars began. Palco workers favored Mendo Redwoods. So did companies who did business with Palco. So did the business community. So did (most) environmentalists. The company promises to run Palco as Palco always should have been run — on a sustainable basis, allowing for timber work to continue here indefinitely, and redwood forests with them.
But the case isn't over yet. The noteholders — the Wall Street firms whom Maxxam owed about $730 million, and who had an alternate and far less comprehensive and sustainable plan — believe that they are owed money above and beyond the $510 million the court awarded them. There will be a hearing on the matter on June 30, and Schmidt's final ruling won't be stamped until shortly after the matter is decided. Even then, there is a chance that the court of appeals might award the noteholders a stay, preventing Mendo from assuming control until the higher court has a chance to hear the matter. Barring such complications, though, the deal is about done. Mendocino Redwoods could be running the place in a matter of a couple months.
It would be a shame if the noteholders, who started out as the environmental champions in this matter, arguing for an old-growth timber ban and sustainable rates of harvest on the very floor of the court, now ended by queering the deal. Was it only tactical? Back then they were positioning themselves against Hurwitz, the big bad guy. Now, in order to distinguish themselves from Mendo, relative newcomers to the game, they're starting to position themselves as the bad guys. Which makes you wonder how sincere they were to begin with.
Many congratulationsto all candidates in the recent supervisorial election. Thanks, especially, to those who failed to make the cut: Ferndale's John Vevoda and Arcata's Bryan Plumley and Paul Pitino. Everyone who has ever been close to the experience knows that running for office in Humboldt County is not much fun. Left, right or none of the above — it doesn't much matter. The people of Humboldt County all carry around a Boschian horror show in their heads, and the picture therein is their principal guide to local political matters. Roughly half of the county is going to consider you a villain or a dupe, no matter who you are.
So Jimmy Smith and Mark Lovelace — victors in the First District and Third, respectively — are due our congratulations. But Vevoda, Plumley and Pitino, each of whom faced long odds from the beginning, are due our thanks. If it weren't for people of their fortitude, we wouldn't have elections at all. All local elections would look like the local elections for state legislature, the Democratic Party establishment handing out positions by fiat. There'd be no politics at all.
So, bravo, Vevoda, Pitino and Plumley! Bravo!
Matters are more complicated in the Second District. Much more complicated. This because there was no clear victor in Tuesday's three-way race, and also, of course, because the incumbent, Roger Rodoni, was killed in an automobile accident just a month before the election. He remained on the ballot.
As it happened, Rodoni and challenger Clif Clendenen ended Tuesday in a virtual tie. Just 16 votes separated them, out of 6,629 counted. Rodoni was ahead, finishing first out of three, but that will change. There were still thousands of absentee ballots left to be counted when polls closed, and by the time the final report is prepared, around the end of this month, Clendenen will almost certainly have pulled ahead. As has been previously discussed in this space (see "Town Dandy," Nov. 16, 2006), late absentee votes skew heavily toward the lefty demographic. In this race, that means that the late votes will trend toward Clendenen and SoHum's Estelle Fennell, away from Rodoni.
What happens next? It had been everyone's understanding that the California Elections Code was written in such a way that the top two living vote-getters — Clendenen and Fennell — would compete in a runoff election in November. Now that appears not to be the case. The current understanding seems to be that write-in candidates will be allowed in November, meaning that Rodoni's wife, Johanna, whom Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been appointed to fill the remainder of Rodoni's current term on the board, may compete as a write-in candidate if she so chooses. This would essentially amount to a do-over of the recent election, with Team Rodoni's stuffed campaign coffers put to the service of a Johanna write-in race. This time around, a simple plurality of the votes would take the day.
According to Carolyn Crnich, the county's clerk-recorder, the office of the Humboldt County Counsel has endorsed the notion that a write-in campaign is kosher, despite what had been previously thought. Also, the Times-Standard received corroborating confirmation from the California Secretary of State's Office. Still, some have their doubts, and it wouldn't be too surprising to see the matter end up in a court of law in the next few months.
The quick reversal of opinion on the legality of a November write-in has led, inevitably, to dark mutterings about intimidating phone calls to elections personnel, supposedly by attorneys employed by one moneyed right-wing interest or another. It was said that expensive sharks promised to bring a world of hurt upon anyone who dared to disallow a Rodoni write-in campaign.
"You've been reading the blogs!" Crnich accused the Journal when questioned about the matter. (Guilty.)
"I don't know where that came from," she said. "Not true! I have not received phone calls from any attorneys, or at least from anyone identifying themselves as attorneys. And I haven't received any bullying phone calls from anyone."