Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

A Federal Case



By the time you read this, it’ll probably be either the second or third day of the big Federal Bureau of Investigation dope raids that were launched Tuesday morning. What a Tuesday we had! If you didn’t follow the action blow-by-blow on that day, go back and check the North Coast Journal Blogthing – ncjournal.wordpress.com. We followed along with events as they developed as best we could, and the traffic to the site on that day exceeded our previous best day ever by a factor of 12.

We even got a little preview of the action. The feds chose to stage at the River Lodge in Fortuna, which happens to have a live web cam. D’oh! That, plus a couple of scattered bits of information, allowed us to make the call on Monday night — something big was going down. And so it did.

To recap: About 500 personnel from federal and state law enforcement agencies made large-scale marijuana busts in Southern Humboldt, and at one house in Arcata. An FBI spokesperson announced that several more days of busts were on the way. It was, according to the spokesperson, a culmination of a two-year investigation instigated by the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. What was not said, but what was certainly clear, is that the case they were seeking to make appears to go way beyond marijuana. There were agents from the IRS and the Postal Service present. The FBI was the lead agency. The Drug Enforcement Agency was nowhere to be found.

Both the Sheriff’s Office and the FBI said they had no interest in raiding medical marijuana dispensaries or medical marijuana patients. The operation, they said, was targeting large-scale commercial growers. In total, the agents came packing 29 warrants — 27 from a federal court, it was said, and two from a state court.

What are they after? He didn’t quite out and say it, but in an interview with radio station KSLG’s John Matthews, the FBI spokesperson on the scene — Joe Schadler — dropped hints that they were after a particular organization. Singular. To speculate wildly, this might tend to suggest that law enforcement is looking at the case through the other end of the telescope. Unless you’re talking about organized crime from Mexico, which local law enforcement has presumed to operate here in the last few years, there is no “cartel” of SoHum dope growers. And the raids targeted private homesteads, not public or timber land. What is the “organization”? Perhaps its only an organization in that the people busted may have been selling to the same person, or group of people.

We’ll know soon whether the operation has any connection to actual, bad crimes — violent crimes. Perhaps it does; more likely it does not. In which case, what will it accomplish? Well, the price of dope has fallen steadily over the last few years, and the regular Mom ‘n’ Pop marijuana farmers populating the hills around Humboldt County have had to plant more and more to keep their income up. The reason? Oversupply. Everyone and their uncle is a dope grower, at least in Arcata. As always, the net effect of prohibition-style federal operations will be to reestablish a decent, inflated price for the product. Growers who don’t end up in jail might end up sitting pretty this time next year.

In the nextcouple of weeks, the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District will contrive to sell one of its principal assets — the Redwood Dock in Samoa, which it acquired a couple of years ago — to private investors. Actually, “sell” is probably overstating the case. In all likelihood, the district will more or less give it away, as the North Coast Railroad Authority gave a 99-year concession to a private operator (NWP Inc.) free of charge. The logic being that private capital will accomplish what the Bay District and the Railroad Authority — public agencies, both — cannot. The logic is that private capital will build the grand international shipping terminal envisioned for Humboldt Bay, at the same time resuscitating the 300 miles of moribund railroad track between Samoa and the Bay Area.

The obstacles to this vision have been chronicled in these pages ad infinitum (“Town Dandy,” passim). They have never been addressed. They cannot be addressed, at least by public agencies, because both the railroad and the harbor district must be all things to all people. They must project massive amounts of freight to be considered financially viable; they must project very little freight to be palatable to environmentalists and Marin County residents whose neighborhoods the trains will pass through. So, in the end, they must have no projections at all.

Offload the public assets to a private firm, though, and you’ve solved most of your political problems (if none of your financial, geotechnical or environmental ones). That’s why the upcoming deal with Goldman Sachs — which is offering to peddle the port and rail assets in exchange for a slice of the action — is, sorry to say, a stone-cold certainty. Elected representatives from both public agencies can remove themselves, and hence the public, from the equation. And they have the votes to do it.

But if you’d like to pop some popcorn and watch it go down, you can head to the Wharfinger Building in Eureka Thursday evening at 7, where the Bay District will be meeting to discuss the deal. No action will be taken then, but the district will talk about its brand-new business plan, which coincidentally (?) includes talk of just the sort of deal that Goldman Sachs allegedly sprung on the district’s board out of the blue. The deal itself will be cut a couple of months down the line. In the meantime, the Humboldt Bay Stewards, a nonprofit group, is planning a big symposium on the deal to take place sometime in early August.

Meanwhile, the North Coast Railroad Authority recently lost an appellate court case seeking to quash the lawsuit brought against it by the city of Novato, Marin County and a slew of environmental organizations. The suit will proceed. It alleges that the railroad violated the California Environmental Quality Act in preparing for the reopening of the southern end of the line; plaintiffs demand that the agency’s CEQA documentation take into consideration the “entire project” — including the mass cargo the Authority and the Bay District say they’ll soon be shipping through Humboldt Bay.

How does the NCRA respond to this loss? According to a Willits News article, they respond by saying that they’ll take the case to federal court. Why? Because suddenly the railroad authority, a state agency, wants to make the case that it is not bound by California environmental law at all!

Federal court, eh? Maybe they’ll see some people they know in the hallways.

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