The war comes home

A journalist tries to penetrate the secrecy surrounding ‘Operation Full Court Press’

The six-county paramilitary operation dubbed “Operation Full Court Press” ended this week, and by all accounts it was a big success. In an onslaught that at times harked back to the Vietnam War, law officers from all over Northern California raided more than 90 marijuana gardens, yanked more than 600,000 pot plants from the Mendocino National Forest, found nearly a ton of processed herb, seized 38 weapons and 20 vehicles, and arrested 132 Mexican nationals.

With one noteworthy exception, local reporters bought the carefully packaged information fed them by law enforcement and didn’t grouse about what was held back. Granted, it was a good story with great visuals, and ridding the forests of illegal pot gardens run by Mexican crime bosses is a worthwhile endeavor. Environmentally they’re a disaster, and citizens should be able to walk in the forest without worrying about running into armed guards.

But early on the operation was shrouded in secrecy. Tim Crews, the irascible editor of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, made dozens of phone calls trying to find out why there were so many helicopters and men in camouflage outfits at the Willows airport, but nobody was willing to talk. When he finally reached the operation’s spokeswoman to ask how many officers and helicopters were involved and how much it was costing, she said the information was “embargoed” until Aug. 1. As Crews pointed out, “embargoed” meant “censored.”

Aug. 1 has come and gone, and Crews still isn’t getting answers to his questions. So, as is his wont, he’s submitting Public Records Act requests right and left. “I bet [the operation] cost $20 million,” he says. He’ll know for sure soon enough.

Of course, if marijuana were legal, there would be no pot gardens and no need to spend millions of dollars eradicating them.

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Responding to my item last week about how redistricting would affect Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, Charlie Schaupp wanted me to know that in fact Nielsen was going to run in the new District 3, which is shaped much like the current District 3 now represented by Dan Logue. By agreement, Logue will move to Grass Valley to run in the new District 1, Schaupp said. That mountain district includes all of far northeastern California, from Grass Valley to Goose Lake.

Schaupp, who was one of Nielsen’s opponents in the 2008 Republican primary, said he got the info from Bruce Ross, editorial-pag editor of the Redding Record Searchlight. I e-mailed Ross, who confirmed that he’d gotten it “from the horses’ mouths.” Cliff Wagner, Logue’s chief of staff, would say only that Logue was “keeping his options open.” He did confirm that Logue owns a home in Grass Valley.

If Nielsen does run in District 3, he’ll have to continue the charade that has him living in a doublewide mobile home near Gerber. His actual home, in Woodland, is outside the district.

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Congratulations to the Chico City Council for approving a wood-burning ordinance last week, and to the local folks who fought for it. Studies have shown that mandatory programs are far more successful than voluntary ones. The council listened to the people and wisely put citizens’ health first.

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.