Thursday, July 5, 2001
A Bad ReadThat whoopin' and hollerin' over at the county courthouse last Friday was environmental attorneys Fran Farina, Michael Stamp, Zan Henson and Richard Rosenthal celebrating the final chapter of the September Ranch case. That wailing and gnashing of teeth would have been hopeful developer Jim Morgens and his attorney Tony Lombardo when Judge Richard Silver ordered Morgens to write a check for (no tears, now--might blur the zeros!) about a half million dollars to the Fab Four.
The case was actually upheld in February in appeals court, but it was left to Silver--who originally heard it--to decide who owed what to whom. Evidently Farina and Stamp so persuasively argued that Morgens' fantasy 100-house subdivision in Carmel Valley relied on trumped-up water rights that they got a little treat from the judge: a 1.5 multiplier, which means they got all their fees plus half again more.
"It was, for me, a vindication," Farina exults. "I think it was the culmination of Judge Silver realizing how hard we worked and how many obstacles were put in our way."
Yeah, sure. Squid's got a better theory. It might be that Silver was impressed that Stamp and Farina's case was published and that it's getting statewide attention. And it might be that he feels sorry for them for having to stumble through the paper blizzard that Lombardo generated. The Ghostwriter's file was 5,000-6,000 pages long (three times as long as project files normally are, Farina notes) and stuffed with useless, out-of-order papers. Worse, many critical documents were missing and had to be tracked down.
But Squid says the Law of Enlightened Self-Interest prevailed here: Stamp and Farina weren't the only ones who had to slog through the mind-numbing compendium of BS assembled by Lombardo. Silver read it, too--all 6,000 pages of it, and it just might be that on this one, Lombardo papered himself and his client into a very expensive corner with nothing interesting to read.
Croaked OaksSquid had heard that the killer fungus called "sudden oak death," related to the blight that wiped out Ireland's potatoes in the 1840s, had killed up to 80 percent of the trees that make up the forest canopy in areas of Marin County and Santa Cruz County.
According to new research published this week, the murderous organism has also been found to be spreading to California buckeyes, madrone, arrowwood and bay laurel trees.
Scared half to death that this species-vaulting might lead the disease to come after the loligo family, Squid called the University of California agricultural extension office in Salinas, but their plant pathologist is on vacation. Seemed like that would have been the perfect person to talk to. The UC extension office suggested calling the San Benito County extension office. Whaddaya know? Their tree guy is on vacation too.
Squid finally found someone in the know: Bob Roach, assistant agricultural commissioner for the county. But he was not re-assuring.
"Uncounted hundreds to thousands have died," he said. "It's been confirmed in Big Sur, over a fairly wide area."
A bill in the allegedly tree-loving Assembly that would spend $10 million at the problem has been cut to $5 million. (At press time, the final budget had not passed.)
The "sudden oak death" fungus spreads fast and there isn't much Roach's office can do right now besides tell people not to move oak trees from where they fall. "This is extremely serious," he says. "It could be very bad if a large percentage of the oak trees died."
For further scary reading, Squid suggests www.suddenoakdeath.org.