Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

Hundred Flowers Bloom



The big headlines from last week’s Bay District election focused on the McKinleyville area, and rightly so. Up there, port development skeptic and fisheries biologist Pat Higgins utterly crushed 16-year incumbent Charles Ollivier, perhaps the loudest voice in favor of the dubious proposal to bring mass industry back to Humboldt Bay (see “Views of the Bay,” Oct. 25). Higgins’ margin of victory is a mandate, by any definition of the term — he beat Ollivier 65-35. Probably the main plank of his platform was his enthusiastic support of the proposed Eureka-Arcata pedestrian trail, and his cruise to victory could fairly be interpreted as a progressive surge up in the once-conservative Fifth District.

But what of the Second District — the southern section of the county, stretching from Fortuna to the Mendocino County border? Down there, incumbent Roy Curless, an Ollivier ally, barely edged aside challenger Carlos Quilez, who shared Higgins’ skepticism about the direction the Bay District has taken in recent years. What does that squeaker of a race say about politics in the Second District?

Bill Thorington, Fortuna resident and CEO of the Mazzotti’srestaurants, worked on Quilez’s campaign. And while the defeat of his candidate stung, on Tuesday Thorington found plenty of reasons to be heartened by the result.

“I think the people voted strongly for a progressive candidate,” Thorington said. “The election was extremely close, which tells me that the people from SoHum and Fortuna alike voted for the progressive candidate. And no matter where you live, the conservatives voted for the incumbent.”

Looked at in one light, the Curless-Quilez matchup can be seen as a dry run for next year’s main event — the effort to unseat Second District Supervisor Roger Rodoni, the conservative-slash-libertarian who has held the seat for the last three terms. Thorington is one member of an ad hoc group of Second District residents of a progressive bent who have been meeting over the last year or so in an attempt to craft a strategy to depose Rodoni when he comes back up for election next year.

Previous attempts to topple the incumbent have fallen far short. That may be because Rodoni has in the past managed to appeal to both sides of the Schizophrenic Second: Though he’s a strong advocate of property rights and extractive industries, which appeals to the conservative Fortuna area, he also takes a laissez faire approach to the marijuana industry. That wins him many friends up in the hills around Garberville.

But Thorington and his group consider these old stereotypes about the district to be far outmoded. Recently, the group commissioned a poll that showed SoHum and Eel River Valley voters to be on the same page on many key issues — small-town values, community forestry and the health of the Eel River, to name a few. The poll and Quilez’s narrow loss, together with the sudden universal unpopularity of the Pacific Lumber Company, may give Rodoni opponents an opening.

But already there’s some strife, due to the fact that two center-left candidates have already announced their candidacy: Fortuna apple farmer Clif Clendenenand former KMUD News Director Estelle Fennell, who announced her candidacy on Monday. This causes Thorington to fret somewhat. Mindful of the election of three years ago, when three progressive candidates failed to garner 50 percent of the primary vote against Rodoni, Thorington fears that a great number of candidates will blur the focus of next year’s race. (If Rodoni gets more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary election, he will be returned to office; otherwise, the top two finalists in the primary face off in the general election.)

Meanwhile, there’s yet another lefty candidate for the Second District who may be on the verge of entering the race. That would be Rio Dell resident Steve Harris, district representative for Operating Engineers Local No. 3 and one of the fabled “Three Amigos” of Humboldt County politics, along with his pals Richard Marks and Richard Mostranski.

Reached Tuesday afternoon, Harris said that he wasn’t prepared to make an announcement either way. But he said he was seriously considering it, and his decision would largely depend on whether or not he felt the other candidates in the race would adequately represent labor issues.

“I’ve thought about it, and I’ve actually formed an exploratory committee,” said Harris. “That’s as far as I’m going today. Film at 11.”

It happenedjust a moment too late for last week’s paper, but the Board of Supervisors last week took a great big deep breath on the timber production zone issue that has so riled spirits in recent weeks (see “Town Dandy”s from Oct. 11 and Nov. 8). The board had considered last week whether to extend a moratorium on building in lands zoned for timber production; when the four votes required for the extension were not forthcoming, it instead decided to let the moratorium lapse later this month.

The swing vote was Supervisor Jimmy Smith, who represents the outskirts of Eureka and the Ferndale area. Reached after the vote, Smith said that he wasn’t comfortable continuing the emergency ban on building in timber country, given that he’d received an immense amount of feedback from concerned property owners.

“What I heard — and if you were in my office, I’d show you the list — was literally hundreds of contacts by e-mail and phone,” he said. “And universally the concern I heard was that the process had speeded up.”

As we noted last week, the temporary ban began life last month as a way to sink the Houston-based Maxxam Corp.’s bid to keep hold of the Pacific Lumber Company. Maxxam had proposed to subdivide some 22,000 acres of its land to build an ultra-luxury development of 160-acre “kingdoms.” The board’s moratorium was a way of letting the bankruptcy court know that the plan would never fly.

And the mission was accomplished, apparently — at the following hearing, the judge in the bankruptcy case made numerous references to the moratorium and cast a skeptical eye at the company’s plans. Last week Smith defended the board’s rationale in passing the original moratorium, deeming it necessary to preserve the county’s say in Maxxam’s reorganization plans.

“There’s no doubt about that,” Smith said. “And at least the way it was explained to me, there wasn’t an option to go down and participate [in the bankruptcy proceedings]. We didn’t have any standing in the court. And I didn’t see it until the week before, what the proposed plan was.”

But once the county had made its point, Smith said, he didn’t see any need for extending the moratorium, considering its consequences to other timber landowners. Instead, the board voted to go ahead with its plans to permanently update its building regulations in timber lands, possibly instituting changes that would require extensive permits for new homes on lands so zoned.

The county’s Forestry Review Committee took a look at the proposed changes at its meeting last week. And while the committee didn’t take any immediate action, chairperson Mark Andre said last week that he believed that the county could eventually reach some sort of equitable resolution to the issue.

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