Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

Booty and the Barrister



Much of Tuesday's Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting was taken up by the annual appointments to the various commissions, committees, subcommittees, agencies, panels and etc. whose presence is customarily graced by one or more members of the board. The list was long. Sometimes no one could recall what exactly the commission or committee in question was supposed to do. On more than one occasion it was determined that the agency or panel under consideration hadn't met for several years, if indeed it ever had. These occasions were savory, as they put one vaguely in the mind of a cherished story out of Borges, or maybe Kafka or Camus.

So everyone was ready for a bit of a chuckle when, about two-thirds of the way down the list, the board's new chairman, Jimmy Smith of the First District, got to the item labeled "North Coast Railroad Authority." Smith, who generally presents a sober front, burst out with a grin, and that seemed to signal everyone else that it was OK to follow suit. Ten years dead, except in the mind of believers, that's basically where the railroad stands these days. The smiles, which were followed by short gut-bursts of laughter all around, told the story: Which among the members of the board would willingly throw his or herself into that pit of pain?

New supervisor Cliff Clendenen of the Second District leaped up and grabbed the reins. He said that the railroad, most of the Humboldt County stretch of which passes -- or used to pass -- though his district, needed leadership. "I'd really be interested in applying good critical thinking in tackling those challenges," he said.

"Let the record note that, without objection, Supervisor Clendenen is appointed to that committee," Smith said, working the crowd for a few more appreciative laughs. "Good luck with that," said Jill Duffy (lately Geist) of the Fifth District.

Clendenen will get busy soon enough. Recently, NWP, Inc., the bullying private company that now more or less runs the (public) railroad authority, recently came clean about its plans on the tracks that run through Clendenen's domain. In a letter to the authority's directors, NWP's John Williams says he wants to pull about 6,000 rail cars of gravel out of the federally designated Wild and Scenic Eel River, ship them to Humboldt Bay and barge them elsewhere. By some back-of-the-envelope calculations, 6,000 cars equals about double the current gravel production of all Humboldt County.


Well, well, well -- how times have changed! Remember last week, when we were talking about the city of Eureka's principled decision to stand and fight for Measure J? The citizen initiative, approved by a thumping 57 percent of that city's electorate, banned military recruiters from initiating contact with children under the age of 18. The initiative itself is almost certainly illegal, and in fact the U.S. Department of Justice lickety-split filed suit to have it overturned. No matter -- Eureka pledged scarce resources to defend the thing, at least for a while. The Arcata City Council, we predicted, was sure to follow suit after we went to press, and its own version of the initiative -- Measure F -- was named in the same suit.

That Arcata would stand tall seemed a safe bet, given that Arcata is Arcata. But, no! In fact, Arcata city government turned tail at its Wednesday meeting, asking for more time to weigh the pros and cons. Sounds reasonable enough, but it turns out that the Dept. of Justice exacted a price for the delay: The City Council agreed to suspend all Measure F enforcement until it could get around to making its mind up about what to do. For the time being, Measure F -- approved by 73 percent of the voters -- is dead. And this because the City Council, unlike Eureka's, let it die, at least temporarily.

Former City Councilmember Dave Meserve, one of Measure's F's proponents, is livid. "Can it be that the Arcata City Council, knowing that 73 percent of the voters cast their ballots for Measure F, will not step up to defend the voice of the people?" he asks. "Can it be that they will force Eureka to bear the brunt of defending the measures in federal court?"

Well, maybe Arcata will eventually step up, join Eureka and put shoulder to wheel. And Meserve has another offer: Costs can be kept to a minimum, he says, because proponents of the initiatives have secured the pro bono services of none other than legendary San Francisco civil rights attorney Dennis Cunningham! You remember Cunningham: In 2002, he spanked the FBI while representing Earth First! organizers Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney in their wrongful arrest/freedom of speech lawsuit. In 2006, he spanked the county of Humboldt and the city of Eureka while representing the Pepper Spray Eight, the young nonviolent protestors whose eyes law enforcement personnel had swabbed with that noxious chemical.

Your correspondent once watched Cunningham work for six weeks straight, and I tell you from experience that you underestimate him at your peril. The city of Arcata is urged to stop dithering and accept this offer toute de suite.

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