Pretzel logic

The ironies surrounding the dynamics behind the Esplanade House expansion abound. On the night of the Planning Commission vote, Commissioner Nancy Wolfe excused herself from discussing and voting on the issue because she had received a campaign contribution in excess of $250 from project developer Greg Webb when she unsuccessfully ran for council last year. However, City Councilmembers Larry Wahl and Steve Bertagna are free to discuss and vote on the issue when it comes before them on appeal, even though they’ve each received contributions greater than $250 (actually, it’s more like $1,000) from Webb. They do not have to conflict out because the state elections code says only planning commissioners cannot vote on projects connected to those who’ve contributed more than $250 to their campaign funds within the past year. Wahl was investigated by the state Fair Political Practices Commission for that very thing while he was still a planning commissioner, just before he was elected to the council last year. The law seems to add insult to injury to commissioners who run for council and fail.

Mayor Dan Herbert, who’s also received significant financial contributions from Webb, must conflict himself out because he lives too close to the project. He can’t get involved because his vote in theory could potentially alter the property value of his home. The irony here is that proponents for the Esplanade House have cited studies that show such projects do not affect local property values. Councilmember Rick Keene, who along with Wahl and Bertagna will likely vote to grant the appeal, has also received significant contributions from Webb—though, as with Herbert, the statute of limitations on his contributions has expired. The final irony is that a vote to allow the appeal would contradict Webb’s wishes, meaning that his contributions—when it comes to this matter, at least—were not well spent.

Issues like the Esplanade House can often bring out the ugly side of human nature. Don’t get me wrong. Though misguided, many of the neighbors opposed to the new facility have nothing against the Esplanade House’s mission; it’s just that they think their property values could shrink should the project move close to them. They don’t want to take a chance. After the June 19 City Council meeting, a group of about 30 of them gathered in front of the council chambers to discuss their next plan of action. Watching, I couldn’t help but think of them arming themselves with pitchforks and torches and trying to chase Frankenstein’s monster through the streets and out of the village. But that’s not really fair. What is fair, however, when pointing out how ugly these campaigns can get, is calling attention to the letter to the councilmembers from chiropractor James R. Engler, who claims to be concerned about the children who live in the Esplanade House. “The children are expected to go to schools, such as Emma Wilson, where they will stand out as poor and disadvantaged. It is likely that they may not be accepted and [will be] ridiculed by their classmates.” He later writes that if the project is moved to Whitman Avenue, as proposed by Wahl, “the children will be able to go to Chapman school, where they will fit right in and be accepted.” Pretty offensive letter there, Doc.

Tim Crews, the feisty Glenn County publisher, journalist and muckraker whose court tango last year landed him five days in jail and international attention, is the target of legal action again. Cassandra M. Ferrannini, the attorney for Colusa County, has subpoenaed Crews in connection with a story he wrote and published in The Sacramento Valley Mirror about a Colusa County whistleblower. In its defense of that whistle-blowing case, which has to do with alleged illegal toxic dumping, the county subpoenaed Crews, asking for every article he’s ever published concerning Enloe Hospital, lawsuits against Colusa County, exposés on Glenn County and/or hazardous waste dumping and environmental issues in Colusa County. Crews says he has neither the time nor the inclination to gather up all those stories, probably more than a thousand, but suggests the county could purchase them all as back issues. He says the suit is aimed at punishing him for any number of stories he’s written critical of Colusa County, such as his series called, "When the good old boys go bad." Crews, who seldom minces words, says the Colusa officials "can fucking pound sand," as far as he’s concerned.