On the Eve of Harbor District Election, Rail Buffs File Conflict of Interest Suit Against Sitting Commissioner

Hank Sims / Today @ 4:27 p.m. / Politics

Harbor District Commissioner Greg Dale photobombs the press conference announcing a lawsuit against him. Center: Leo Sears. Right: Bill Bertain.

This election season got a shot to the ribs today as a local ship booster and his ship-boosting attorney filed a lawsuit against the entire Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District, and particularly against Second Division incumbent Greg Dale, who is running for reelection. 

The lawsuit – filed by east-west rail advocate Bill Bertain on behalf of his client, Citizens for Port Development member Leo Sears, both longtime train boosters – charges that the district violated state conflict-of-interest law by entering into various contracts with Coast Seafoods, Dale’s employer.

At a press conference on the courthouse steps this afternoon, neither Sears nor Bertain took too much trouble to deny the fact that their lawsuit is felicitously timed for the Nov. 3 election, in which Dale is being challenged by Rio Dell business consultant Nick Angeloff. Like both Sears and Bertain, Angeloff has been a strong supporter of the idea that the district should focus its economic development efforts on rehabbing railroad lines – or building entirely new ones – to the Port of Humboldt Bay, along with rehabbing port infrastructure to transform it into a player in international shipping.

The hardcore port development boosters are politically at war with the Harbor District’s current board of directors, who have turned their economic development efforts toward other industries – seafood processing and the like – after the port development craze of the 2000s nearly bankrupted the district. According to rail and shipping boosters, that shift has been a mistake.

“The election is in early November, and if this has an effect on the election, then so be it,” Bertain said of his conflict-of-interest suit this afternoon. “But the purpose of this is to bring it to the attention of the court and to get the matter resolved.”

Do Sears and Bertain have a case – even though they acknowledge that Dale scrupulously recused himself on all Harbor District matters having to do with his employer? Possibly, but they might have an uphill battle proving it.

The suit centers around several contracts between the district and Coast Seafoods, a large seafood company based in Washington. Those contracts include the lease of oyster bed space in Arcata Bay and a processing facility in the former pulp mill in Samoa, which the district acquired two years ago. They include, in addition, a $1.25 million loan that Coast Seafoods gave to the district to help finance the removal of mass quantities of hazardous materials left at the pulp mill site by its former owners.

Sears and Bertain accuse him – and the district generally – of having violated California Government Code Section 1090, which broadly states that local governments may not enter into contracts with the employers or businesses of those elected officials who serve on the local government’s board, if the board member in question can be said to have benefited financially from the contract.

Dale, they charge, can be said to have benefited financially because he is an employee of the company. Therefore, they say, he has an “interest” in the outcome of any contract negotiations. Despite Dale having recused himself from the Harbor District’s internal deliberations or voting on the Coast Seafoods contracts, therefore, those contracts were illegal. So long as Dale is on the board, they believe, any business between the Harbor District and Coast Seafoods is illegal. 

The lawsuit seeks for all contracts between the district and the company to be declared null and void.

However, there are also various exceptions to the broad rule laid out by Section 1090, and it is here that Bertain and Sears will have to fight to prove their case. If the elected official has only a “remote” financial interest in a contract with a company that he owns or works for, then such contracts are perfectly legal.

The code contains many definitions of “remote” financial interests, but the one that is most relevant is codified in Government Section 1091(b)(2). An interest is remote, it says, if

  • The company in question has 10 or more employees,
  • The board member has worked for the company for at least three years before taking office,
  • The board member owns less than three percent of the company’s stock, and
  • The board member is neither an officer nor director of the company, and “did not participate in directly forming the company’s bid”

If the lawsuit goes forward, it seems certain that it’s the last item on this list that will be contested most heavily. At least in common parlance, “officers” and “directors” of a company are usually members of that company’s board of directors, which Dale is not. It’s unclear what this particular section of law considers an “officer” or “director,” as it doesn’t seem to be defined in the statute. Bertain and Sears include as evidence that Dale is listed as an agent for service of process in the California Secretary of State’s online business entity database, but they will have to show that this means he is also an “officer” of the business.

Either that or they will have to demonstrate that Dale directly participated in shaping his company’s bid in the various contracts Coast Seafoods has with the district. The only evidence they include to this effect were statements allegedly made by Dale at a September meeting of the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce, in which he said that “he was the one who started the process of making the loan to the Harbor District.”

Dale himself showed up for the Bertain/Sears press conference this afternoon, and after it was over he expressed confidence that neither he nor the district has violated any laws. His only involvement in the $1.25 million loan, he said, was that early on he told the owner of Coast Seafoods that the toxic materials on the pulp mill site posed a threat to water quality in Humboldt Bay.

“I brought the issue up to the owner of our company, and that is well within our rights,” Dale said. He added that the district’s attorney has been well aware of his activities both as a district representative and a Coast Seafoods employee, and that they’ve been careful throughout to keep his actions on the right side of the law.

“This is a political stunt, and it is absolutely not a coincidence that these folks, who have been sending me these threats for the last month and a half, are doing this on the day that absentee ballots come out,” Dale said. “I’m pretty confident that the voters of the Second Division will see through this, and that they’ll move forward, and that we’ll have a decent election.”

Violations of Section 1090 are criminally prosecutable by local district attorneys, and California’s Fair Political Practices commission may seek civil penalties against elected officials who are deemed to have violated the law. Bertain said today that he had not yet notified either Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming or the FPPC of his client’s claim, but that he would do so shortly.



Vegetation Fire on South Broadway No Problem for Humboldt Bay Fire

Andrew Goff / Today @ 4:24 p.m. / Fire!

Photos: Kevin Bayless

Just before 4 p.m., scanner traffic indicated that there was a “heavily involved” vegetation fire on South Broadway, near the intersection with Purdue Street, across the highway from King Salmon. The first Humboldt Bay Fire truck on the scene reported the fire at about 50 feet by 20 feet in size, and in heavy brush. 

The fire was quickly contained — they’re mopping up now — but LoCO superfriend Kevin Bayless was kind enough to file some nice photos. 

Body Found in Scotia Identified

Andrew Goff / Today @ 1:38 p.m. / News

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office press release: 

On Friday, October 2, 2015 at about 12:30 p.m. the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to the report of a foul smell from a possible deceased subject on North Court, Scotia.  When deputies arrived on scene they located a dead body. The deceased subject was later positively identified through fingerprints as Justin Joseph Nevis, age 32, of Sacramento County.

Due to the location and decomposition of the body, it is possible this case is associated with case 201504517 – Investigation of a home invasion. An autopsy is pending to determine exact cause of death.

Anyone with information for the Sheriff’s Office regarding this case or related criminal activity is encouraged to call the Sheriff’s Office at 707-445-7251 or the Sheriff’s Office Crime Tip line at 707-268-2539.



OBITUARY: Jared Foster, 1985-2015

Andrew Goff / Today @ 1:13 p.m. / Obits

[The following obituary was submitted by Jared’s loved ones. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here. Email news@lostcoastoutpost.com.]

It is with sad and heavy hearts that we announce the sudden passing of Jared Lee Foster on September 25th 2015. Jared was born in Eureka California on July 6th 1985, and grew up in Arcata and Willow Creek. He later graduated from Arcata High School in 2004.

As a kid Jared loved the outdoors, fishing and hunting with his father Lonnie Foster. During the summer he enjoyed rafting with his stepfather, Dan Shields, mother, Jennifer Shields, and sister Danielle Shields. He was quite the water dog! Jared and his little sister Danielle were very close growing up, he loved to tease and scare her as much as he could, however they also enjoyed going to the river together and shared many laughs along the way. As a teenager he very much enjoyed motorcycle riding on Fickle Hill with his father. He was a thrill-seeking, fearless boy, and still was into his adulthood. His love and passion for the outdoors never seemed to cease: Into his 20s Jared enjoyed logging and tree trimming all over Humboldt County, he was self taught and had a real gift when it came to trees. Jared also loved spending his days with his son Emmett, four years old. They enjoyed riding quads all over the ranch in Willow Creek, as well as playing in the river. Emmett and his father shared so many precious memories that he will hold on to forever. 

 Jared had a very compassionate, charming, loving, and funny soul. Touching many hearts while he was with us including the amazing bonds he had with the many pets we shared. He always did his best to do the right thing, and was so loyal and such a good friend to those he cared about. He very much enjoyed his life at the ranch in Willow Creek and spending time with family on Fickle Hill in Arcata. Most of all Jared was happiest when he was spending time with his son Emmett who he adored and loved deeply.

Jared leaves behind his son, Emmett Foster, his mother and stepfather Jennifer and Dan Shields, little sister, Danielle Shields, his father Lonnie Foster, Carrie Foster, Ashley and Dillon. His grandparents: Dennis and Phyllis Musselman, Darol and Marilyn Foster, Joe and Kay Bartels, Colleen and John Lewis. Aunt Jackie and David Prendergast, Uncle Geoff Musselman, Uncle Cody and Heather Lewis, Uncle Jamie and Aunt Jennifer Foster, Aunt Shawna and Greg Thorson, and several cousins.

There will be a celebration of life for Jared Foster on November 7th 2015. We will inform you of a place as soon as possible.


‘Sign Our Weed Bills, Governor’; Assemblymembers to Hold Rally on Courthouse Steps

Ryan Burns / Today @ 12:38 p.m. / Government , marijuana

Assemblymember Jim Wood brought a live marijuana plant to the Capitol back in July.

Jim Wood, our local Assemblymember and author of Assembly Bill 243, will co-host a rally on the Humboldt County Courthouse steps Tuesday morning with fellow Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), two of the four lawmakers credited with Assembly Bill 266. The legislators behind the historic marijuana regulation bills passed last month have been on a tour, of sorts, urging Governor Jerry Brown to sign the bills into law.

They’ll be joined locally by Humboldt County supervisors, Sheriff Mike Downey, Dan Ehresman of the Northcoast Environmental Center as well as other representatives from enviro and cannabis groups. 

Here’s the press release from Wood’s office:

WHEN: Tuesday, October 6, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

Superior Court of California, County of Humboldt

825 Fifth Street, Eureka

WHAT: Assemblymembers Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), and Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) rally to urge Governor Brown to sign AB 243 and AB 266 (Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act), a package that would regulate the medical marijuana industry in the state.

AB 243, authored by Assemblymember Jim Wood will establish state regulations that cannabis growers have to follow and require cannabis growers to adhere to all environmental laws. AB 266, authored by Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), and Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), creates a regulatory framework for the medical marijuana industry that would require state and local licenses for medical marijuana businesses.


  • Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg)

  • Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale)

  • Humboldt Board of Supervisors

  • Sheriff Michael Downey, County of Humboldt

  • Other Local Law Enforcement Representatives

  • Dan Ehresman, The Northcoast Environmental Center

  • Sierra Club, California League of Conservation Voters, and California Trout

  • Medical Cannabis Industry Representatives 

JOHN HARDIN: This Isn’t a Bomb Either

John Hardin / Today @ 8:06 a.m. / Op-Ed

I’ve written before, about how few Americans are capable of making anything for themselves anymore, but the story of MacArthur High School freshman Ahmed Mohamed, who was detained at school and eventually arrested because he brought the digital clock he built from a kit to school, blew my mind.

First, it blew my mind that there’s still a 9th grader out there who would rather build an electronic kit than slaughter virtual aliens while driving recklessly through cyberspace.

Second, it blows my mind that teachers were alarmed rather than delighted by this. A decent science teacher would have asked Ahmed how he built his clock, and how it works, and then ask him if he’d be willing to put the clock on the wall, where they would use it to tell time for the rest of the semester. You never know, another kid might find himself staring at that clock, counting down the minutes till the end of class, and think:”I wonder if I could build a clock like that.” At worst, it sells educational electronic kits; at best, it launches technical careers.

Finally, it blows my mind the most to imagine the cognitive dissonance between Ahmed who saw an electronic kit and thought, “That looks cool! I want to build that clock” and teachers and cops who thought, “Why would anyone want to build a clock? Why doesn’t he just look at his phone if he wants to know what time it is?” Clearly the defeat of human creativity is complete. We have become such passive, conformist consumers that we now consider building your own clock a form of dangerously deviant behavior. It’s a brave new world.

I’m sure the entire experience traumatized Ahmed in ways that even a trip to the White House and a personal visit with President Obama won’t entirely erase. The kid likes circuit boards, but now he thinks that he is freakishly weird for liking circuit boards. This will become a defining moment of his life, and he will probably always feel self-conscious and nervous about how people might react to him, a Middle-Eastern man, buying electronic components, for instance. His innocence is lost.

I sympathize. I loved circuit boards as a kid, and I still do. I loved taking radios apart, and I assembled a few electronic kits, but not many of my projects from that era ever worked as well as Ahmed’s clock. As a kid, I didn’t quite get the hang of soldering electronic components.

In the past decade, however, I have rediscovered my inner nerd, mastered my soldering technique and built myself a small collection of electronic musical instruments and audio gear, including a Thrermin, a suitcase full of circuit-bent toys, an all-tube guitar amplifier, and a stereo tube pre-amp. This past summer I built my most ambitious project yet. WARNING: This is not a bomb either!



More about it at lygsbtd.wordpress.com

Be on the Lookout: Eureka Police Seek Sexual Assault Suspect

John Ross Ferrara / Yesterday @ 4:05 p.m. / Crime

Eureka Police Department press release:

Markis Shirley

On 10-4-2015, at about 0555 hours, Eureka Police Officers responded to a locale downtown motel for a report of a rape that just occurred. Investigators have developed probable cause to arrest Markis Shirley for the sexual assault. If any person has information where Shirley is located call EPD Dispatch Center at 441-4044. If any person has information about this crime please contact Detective Harpham at 441-4305. Shirley is described as a BMA, about 6’1”, 135 lbs with black hair and brown eyes.