Mike Geniella, former reporter for the Press Democrat, moved to Ukiah in 1985, where he began covering the timber beat. Before his retirement in 2008, he wrote about everything from sawmills to tree-spiking. Geniella says he didn’t know “one end of a redwood tree from another" when he started, but after much talking, reading and studying old newspaper clips, he began to gain context and understanding of the nascent, jumbled and tragic battles between the timber industry and Earth First! activists in Mendocino and Humboldt counties. He was on the scene when tensions escalated—pushed to a fever pitch by the clear-cutting practices employed with increasing regularity after Texan oil executive Charles Hurwitz, CEO of the Maxxam conglomerate, purchased Pacific Lumber.
Sometime in the late 1980s, Geniella was introduced to Judi Bari when she dropped by his office with Darryl Cherney, who introduced the future Earth First! leader as his “sidekick.” Bari would soon go on to surpass Cherney in terms of influence and power within the environmental movement. Geniella describes Bari as “quick and clever” and “savvy about her leadership role.”
“That’s when I first saw how determined she was and how bright she was,” explains Geniella during our conversation at a Healdsburg coffee shop. After publishing an article in which he connected operations by the FBI against Earth First! in Arizona, Montana and California, Geniella ended up on the FBI radar. It’s still unknown just how much of an influence a staggering FBI memo had on thwarted attempts to remove Geniella from the timber beat in 1990. Quite the old school reporter, Geniella salted our conversation with liberal "goddamns" and "fucks" (edited out for the sake of editorial brevity), as he talked with a frank and direct honesty about nearly losing his job at the Press Democrat in the early 1990's.
What was it like covering the timber beat during the era of Judi Bari, Earth First! and Charles Hurwitz?
It was an intense period and everyone was getting scrutinized, including the newspaper. It was a very difficult time for everyone, including me. It was in this climate that the bombing occurred.
What are your thoughts on the bombing itself and the initial accusations that Bari and Cherney had bombed themselves?
I never bought too much into that theory. Knowing Judi at that point, the notion that she would knowingly sit on top of a bomb that had clearly been placed under the front seat of the car was inconceivable. Whatever Judi was about, killing herself in the name of martyrdom was not one of them.
How did the whole FBI memo situation come about?
For being a jaded newspaper man, I do have a Pollyanna side to me. I was approached by a freelance writer. She wanted to do an interview about my coverage of the timber beat, thinking that I was explaining how the newspaper works, and providing insights into the working of the media business. The writer (Lynn Dahl) typically was published in the North Coast Journal, but she decided to give the interview to Bruce Anderson and the Anderson Valley Advertiser. Anderson re-crafted the lede of the story to focus on Redwood Summer. The story starts off as if the point is Redwood Summer, rather than some, ‘who is this guy?’
What happened next?
The editors of the PD were angry that the interview appeared in the AVA. It was like the police breaking the code of silence. The issue became that the interview ended up in the AVA. We got into a conflict and they said they were going to take me off of the timber beat. I suggested to them that if they took a high profile reporter off of a high profile issue, that probably was going to raise a lot of unpleasant issues, and of course, it did.
I went down first to talk to them about it. It was a Monday morning, and Bruce Kyse and Chuck Buxton said we need to meet you—I think it was Cloverdale, some restaurant—and that’s when they informed me that they were taking me off the timber beat. I was very unhappy about that. One, I just thought it was unfair and bullshit. But more importantly, I realized that what they didn’t see at the time was that it was going to create an even bigger problem. And it did. The paper became the object of the notoriety. The Columbia Journalism Review ended up laying in on them. So this was not just a spat locally. I felt horribly caught in the middle of it all.
Two, it’s funny how we as humans in crisis act, and sometimes the bad decisions we make. In this case, I made the first mistake. They made the second big mistake, beyond taking me off. That was an internal decision. The publicity got to the point where they wanted me to make a statement that I had agreed with them. That I had agreed on my removal, and that my actions had created “the possibility of a perceived bias.”
That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?
That was like a professional death threat, had I signed it. They had it all typed up. They wanted me to sign it and they were going to distribute it. They wanted me to be removed because I had created this possiblity of a perceived bias. It was a death warrant. Would any other newspaper hire a reporter who said, “I was so dumb I created a bias, a potential bias”? Now, it became a very difficult situation. It ended up with my demand that I be returned to the timber beat. They were trying to whitewash it. My refusal to sign the document, of course, prolonged that. I simply had to say no. It was a very tense period. I was being advised by people about potential litigation.
There was a gentleman by the name of Elie Abel. He had been a White House Correspondent for the New York Times, the NBC White House Correspondent, the Dean of the Stanford School of Journalism, and the Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism. By chance, his daughter lived in Ukiah. She was the director of the local museum there.
The PD editors set a deadline. They said: you need to sign this by noon Saturday or we’re printing the story. And when I said I’m sure I can’t do that, I was warned that they were going to take the public hammer to me with this possibility of perceived bias. The night before the deadline, I’m sitting at home—my wife and I had four little boys at the time. I felt that my future as a journalist and our family’s economics were at stake. But my wife looked at me and said, “You have to do what’s right and if that means that we have to pack our bags and move on, then we have to do that.” So that’s how serious it was.
How did Elie Abel end up helping you?
We spoke on the phone for about an hour. I met him at the office the next day and he helped me draft a response to the editors.
Here’s this distinguished man who comes in and sits down. And I looked at him I said, well, I guess I have really fucked up. You get doubts in your own mind, even though I was sure, I still had that kind of doubt. He held up his hand and said, “You did nothing to warrant this. They are totally overreacting. I’m astounded that they would ask you to take the bullet for them.” Although, as we now know, that’s a very common practice in many places. But that was the watershed moment. He even offered to help me find a job.
Did you end up leaving the Press Democrat?
I decided that if they would return me to the timber beat, I would stay. I really didn’t want to uproot myself. On the other hand, though, I knew it was inevitable that I had to be returned. That was probably October 1990. So the editors and I entered into a kind of truce. Mr. Abel had advised me not to demand to be returned immediately. In my statement back to them I said a journalist should be judged by their work, not by what they might do.
They asked whether I had participated in Redwood Summer and I said that I had been asked for my observations about Redwood Summer. Huge difference.
What happened after you returned to the paper that January?
It was still a difficult period and I don’t know if anyone was happy. I don’t know if it was ever resolved. As soon as I returned to the timber beat, officially, it was as if it never happened. I proposed an ethics discussion so people could avoid this crap. Whatever I did, what I told Abel, whatever I did and whatever red flags it raised, it was unintentional. I hadn’t turned into some political activist. My whole point was that we should talk about this as reporters and professionals. But that never happened. I still believe that it was a missed opportunity, professionally.
How did you find out about the FBI memo? What did were the contents of the memo?
Three or four years later, when Judi was involved in the lawsuit against the Feds for civil rights violations, her defense team got access to all of the files. Judi’s role in all of that was organizing those files, reviewing them. It was an immense undertaking for her, but she did it. She called me one day, and she says, “So Geniella, I have a little document here that you’re going to find most interesting.” And I said, “What’s that?” And she said, “Oh, I won’t even talk about it, I’ll just fax it to you.” And I thought, again her credibility was such, that I thought, “okay.” A minute or so later, here comes this fax.
It’s this memo from Richard Held at San Francisco FBI headquarters to William Sessions, who was the FBI director at the time in Washington, D.C. I still have a copy of it somewhere. The subject was “Mike Geniella.” I was going, “What the. . . ?” An then it goes off and explains who I was, how I had covered these logging issues in Northern California, how I had gone to Arizona and Montana doing a bigger piece on Earth First activists, and essentially saying the basis of that and the investigation of a lot of accusations and few substantiated charges filed. From an FBI perspective, I’m sure they didn’t want to read that, but in fact that was the case. They’d already begun to trod out terrorism - “They were terrorists.” But it was a good, solid story.
The climate was such in Mendocino County and the North Coast, were all these people dangerous or not? This memo then cited that series of stories. The second paragraph said that they believed this reporter had distorted and manufactured facts, to deliberately set out to embarrass the FBI and diminish their case. This kind of scathing thing. So, in conclusion, it was asking Washington, should we voice our concerns to the publisher of the Press Democrat or should Washington take the concerns to the New York Times, the owners of the Press Democrat? It wasn’t a question of should we do this, it was where is this complaint going, to Santa Rosa or the New York Times? There was some allusion about the removal. There was something about bias. Even though it was three or four years after the fact, it was pretty stunning.
What was the timing of the memo in relation to the attempts by PD editors to remove you from the timber beat?
The memo was sent out roughly 35 days before I was taken off the timber beat. The timing was horribly coincidental, if you want to believe in coincidence. It was not only stunning to see that I was the subject of some FBI bullshit, but then, of course, as Judi quickly had pointed out, she said you need to look at the date very closely. So I’m stunned by reading the contents, and my second sock to the stomach was the realization that this was 3-4 weeks before I was taken off the timber beat.
I don’t care which side of the street you’re on, it raises the question; Did they talk to the publisher and/or to the New York Times management? And did I inadvertently give them the excuse to take me off the timber beat?
But here’s the problem with all of this crap. And that’s what it is, when it gets down to it, crap. So, I was back, writing great stuff about timber-related issues.
You stayed on the timber beat? You were never actually taken off?
I returned after that two month period and I stayed. Then, I did two things. I first went to the editor—Bruce Kyse, who’s now the publisher—and Chuck Buxton, who was actually the editor in charge of all of this.
I went to them and showed them a copy of the memo and I asked them if they’d ever been contacted by the FBI, and they insisted that no conversation ever occurred between them and the FBI. Professionally, I’ve accepted that because that’s what they assured me, and I have absolutely no reason to suggest that they aren’t telling the truth. However, I think that they would agree that the mere fact that that document exists raises the legitimate question of “did someone pressure or convince either the. . .” It doesn’t take much to imagine the New York Times executive management picking up the phone and saying, “I don’t care what this is about, get that asshole off the beat, we don’t want this.” I’m not saying that happened, but it’s certainly legitimate given what we all know about FBI memos and collusion and all of this.
So I was assured that there was no contact, and I accepted that.
From the PD editors, but that still leaves the New York Times…
It leaves the question still open. I’m not going to weigh in on that. My bottom line is that I asked and was assured that the local editors did not have anything to do with anything, or any contact. I think that’s crucial to say—contact. So I’m going to accept that. But I have no problem talking about it because, frankly, I think the FBI memo speaks for itself. What did you boys do? And who did you talk to?
So to follow that up. There’s such a thing as the Freedom of Information act. So I went through that process thinking, well there’s a paper trail somewhere and it will tell me perhaps who was in contact with whom and what time?
I get this official letter back from the FBI saying, we have no file on you.
But your name was the subject of the memo…
So I filed another one, and then followed it up with a call to the FBI person in Washington who handled these things, and said, “I have a real issue with this.” Because I’m sitting here with an official, FBI memo in front of me. It’s initialed. It is an FBI document and it says “Subject: Mike Geniella.” Not Redwood Summer. And are you telling me that there’s no file and that this document doesn’t exist? And they said, “We don’t know. Where did you get that?” So I told them, “Well, it’s part of litigation but frankly it doesn’t matter. Where is Mike Geniella’s file? That’s what I want to see.” We don’t have it. Doesn’t exist. They never confirmed the existence. I said, “Well, what about this memo that I have?” And they said, “We can’t comment.”
The FBI just shut down. They said there was no profile on Mike Geniella, which was hard to believe given Redwood Summer and the whole cast of characters that they did have files on. But more importantly, clearly Mike Geniella was the subject of an FBI thing and it’s in a file someplace. And that was kind of the final roadblock. I couldn’t go anywhere, other than, thank God, I have a copy of it. I provided a copy to everyone I thought should have a copy of it.
Last year, in the article Hack Job, we wrote about concerns over the implementation of PG&E's reliability pruning program. Critics like Forestville tree service company owner Darryl Sukovitzen accused the new "trimming regime" of being irresponsible and corrupt, and arborists and homeowners shared stories of trees being cut within an inch of their life, without regard for the health of the tree or the safety of homes below.
Nevertheless, a PG&E spokesperson told us that all of the company's pruning is performed within International Society of Arboriculture guidelines.
According to an article in today's Press Democrat, though, the power company is at again, planning to cut down thousands of trees under high-voltage power lines across Sonoma County. They say it'll protect the local power grid from blackouts. Those who live near the trees says that the plan goes way too far, taking out oaks and oleanders that don't necessarily pose a threat.
Could this be a case of putting a financial bottom line over the preservation of the trees?
For more, see Save Our Sonoma Trees, an organization fighting the tree-cutting.
I spent last week researching and interviewing for this week's news story "Taking the Power Back: Fighting Citizens United on the Local Front."
In the course of working the article, I had to teach myself about the ins and outs of the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The more I dug into the story, the more complicated it became (not so unusual), especially when state and federal campaign finance rules and regulations are taken into account.
This video, created by the people behind the Story of Stuff, was one of the resources that helped me to understand the generalities and implications of the Supreme Court's decision to grant unlimited power to corporations when it comes to election campaign spending. The fact that it's a cartoon, made in a way that even an eight-year-old could understand, was a plus.
The Move to Amend website contains more information about the proposed amendment, along with information about the Occupy the Courts action scheduled for Friday, January 20 across the U.S.
And finally, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert having been having fun over at Comedy Central with the whole notion of Super PACs.
"Best dollar we ever spent," Volagi posted on Twitter.
The jury announcement was made today, and sends a clear message about noncompete clauses, says Volagi co-owner Robert Choi. "We hope that the jury is sending a message to Specialized that this was unjust in a way," he told Bike Radar today, immediately after the trial.
All charges against Barley Forsman were dropped. Technically, Choi was found in violation of a noncompete clause by helping found Volagi while still employed by Specialized, but the symbolic $1 in damages shows the jury obviously felt that the "Big S" wasn't hurt in a substantial way.
Volagi was also able to keep their Longbow Flex patent, their frame design and "the color red."
Specialized Mike Sinyard issued his own statement to Bike Radar: “This lawsuit was a matter of principle and about protecting our culture of trust and innovation. We respect the ruling of the court in our favor. We are very satisfied with the outcome and the damages set at $1.00. We really want to put all our passion and time into growing the sport of cycling.”
In researching this week's Bohemian news story on the case, I looked through Specialized's very aggressive pre-trial brief, and I somehow doubt that Sinyard is "very satisified" with a $1 payment, especially considering that Specialized was demanding restitution of $1.5 million in legal fees alone.
For their part, Volagi appears to be planning a 100-cyclist ride from Cotati to Specialized's Morgan Hill headquarters to settle their debt. "Each one must bring a penny," their Twitter feed says.
For more, see this week's news story about the local bike community's reaction to the lawsuit.
But according to Santa Rosa Airman James Goodwin, the skies of Italy weren’t the fighters’ only battleground. While the 332nd was fighting Germans, the 477th, a Tuskegee-trained group that would never go overseas, was fighting segregation in the south. Leslie Williams, a 92-year-old San Mateo resident and member of the 477th participated in the events of the famed Freeman Field Mutiny, in which 162 arrests were made.
“We were unhappy because we had more people at Freeman Field than the white officers did, but we couldn’t use the officers’ club or tennis courts,” Williams recalls. This feeling was exacerbated by the fact that white officers were often promoted much faster than the black pilots. “They would be teaching us, and they hadn’t even gotten as much experience as us,” Williams says.
On April 5, 1945, several groups of three black officers entered the all-white club. They were refused service. When they were sure they were being discriminated against as a whole, the men donned their best uniforms and made an orderly parade to the club door. “Someone told the white officers that we were coming, so they stationed someone outside the front door,” Williams recalls. Sixty-one officers were arrested.
Charges were eventually dropped against all but three officers, who were then sent to what Williams calls “The Stockade.” At Fort Knox in Kentucky, Williams says they were placed in a special, high-security wing of the prison. “It was a stockade in every sense of the word. There were barbed wire fences and floodlights and they couldn’t get in or out. They could look out from the barbed wire fence and see German prisoners of war who were more free than they were,” he says.
Two of them were eventually released, but one, Lieutenant Roger Terry, was convicted of jostling the officer stationed at the club door and received a dishonorable discharge. “That’s like a felony,” Williams says. “He endured the stigma from that for many years. That’s what prejudice is all about.”
Meanwhile, 101 officers were briefly arrested (some for a second time) for refusing to sign a document stating that officers’ clubs would be segregated. The atmosphere was strained even for those who weren’t arrested, Williams says. “We couldn’t assemble in groups of three. It was a very tense time,” he remembers.
News of the arrests spread nation-wide, and due to pressure from labor unions, black organizations and politicians, charges against the 101 were dropped. Several black pilots were elevated to command roles afterward as well. Truman didn’t sign his order integrating the military until 1948, but Williams says the 477th sees their protests as at least partially responsible for his decision.
“We all feel, all of us, that we helped instigate that,” he says.
It's been written up all over the North Bay, and yes, it's true: Sean Penn lent his A-list Hollywood celebrity status to the Norman Solomon campaign for Congress on Tuesday at the Mystic Theater in Petaluma. Penn introduced Solomon, praising his "extraordinary energy as a servant to the people." The Academy Award-winner told the story of a trip that the two took to Baghdad, when where he witnessed Solomon "not flinching" and not running away while protesting Iraqi women took batons and bludgeons to the head from police. Looking slightly disheveled in a black suit and white button down shirt, Penn made connections between the campaigning journalist, anti-war and anti-nuclear activist and the legacies of Senator Paul Wellstone and retiring congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, urging the crowd to stand up in "District Two." Penn was ushered on and off the stage from the green room quickly, and did not interact with the crowd.
After the brief introduction, Solomon spoke for about 30 minutes about the importance of rejecting right-wing populism, farmworkers' rights, the rejection of fear and racism, and the billions spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We are in five wars at the same time, and that is five too many," Solomon told the cheering crowd. At one point, he was interrupted by a middle-aged man in the balcony who shouted for a good two minutes about how Solomon should "be a statesman and call for a general strike." The man was ushered out of the building, and it was interesting to see the crowd boo his calls for a general strike while they cheered Solomon's later endorsement of the Farmworkers Union and labor unions like the SEIU—the very people who would lead and benefit from a worker's general strike. Maybe it was the man's bellicose approach?
And at least one person wasn't impressed with a famous actor's appearance in small-town Petaluma. What do you think he's planning on doing with that chain?
At this year's festival, on April 8, 2011, they're presenting a Lifetime Achievement Award to Susan Sarandon
. Yes, that Susan Sarandon. Meaning that Susan Sarandon is going to be in Sonoma. At the Sebastiani Theatre. In person.
Be still our beating hearts.
Festival Director Kevin McNeely says in press-release-ese, "We look forward to welcoming Ms. Sarandon and having her enjoy our unique Festival where we celebrate the very best in film, food & wine.
"We say: It's SUSAN SARANDON!And also, holy cow.
And furthermore, why isn't her incredible "Church of Baseball" speech from Bull Durham on YouTube? Instead, enjoy this Lionel Richie-assisted montage:
[display_podcast]Hey KZST—drop Delilah and hire Ted Williams!(Video courtesy Columbus Dispatch)
Who Knew? There are 46 registered Tea Party members in the Bay Area and they're hosting Fiorina tomorrow at the MV Community Center. No media allowed. CA Nurses are protesting. Here are some deets:
Nurses, environmentalists, and other workers will protest a no-media-allowed event Senate candidate Carly Fiorina is holding Friday, Sept. 10 in Marin that they say symbolizes how the ex-CEO is “too extreme for California” and out of touch with the needs of California families. Fiorina is speaking to a private strategy meeting called by Bay Area Tea Party leaders. Supporters of the protest include the California Nurses Association and the North Bay Central Labor Council.
What: Protest Carly “Too Extreme for California” Fiorina
When: Friday, Sept. 10, 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Where: Mill Valley Community Center, 180 Camino Alto, Mill Valley, Calif.
Nurses at the event will also continue their efforts to present Fiorina with a certificate lauding her award by Portfolio Magazine as one of the 20 Worst CEOs in American History.
whither the wine tasting
Go north on Highway One through the little town of Jenner. At the end of town, pull over in to one of the turnouts to take in the awesome sight of the Russian River's entrance into the ocean, Goat Rock to the south, seals, gulls, pelicans, surfers at the river mouth. Continue north as the road follows the coast, looping down through two small gulches, then rising up again onto a straightaway. To your right are the newly protected Jenner Headlands.
Just after the entrance to Muniz Ranch, you will see a steep ridge rising ahead. This is our destination, the first ridge in from the coast, rising rapidly to 1,600 feet, marking the end of the mountain building more than a 100 million years ago when the spreading ocean floor was subducted under the continental edge. Here the San Andreas Fault comes ashore again, paralleling Highway One. As the road snakes up the ridge with hairpin turns, blind curves, steep drop-offs, and few guardrails, take in the breath-taking and sometimes terrifying views of ocean and cliffs, coastal grasslands and brush rising into oak, redwood, fir, bay laurel, buckeye, madrone and maple. Keep your eye out for the wildlife that live here: hawks, vultures, owls, rabbits, foxes, raccoons, deer, coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions.
About 4.4 miles north of Jenner, the Meyers Grade turnoff is on the right. Notice the advisory against trucks and trailers. You are now at 600 feet. While the road winding and rising before you may seem mild compared to the dramatic stretch of seacoast you have just navigated, beware. In the 2.6 miles to our destination, the land rises on an 18 percent grade. Engines overheat on the way up, brakes on the way down. It is an unforgiving road, with many blind curves, no shoulders, and often blanketed in a dense, zero visibility fog.
You have seen no commercial establishments since Jenner—just the coast, parkland and ranchland. The road is fenced for grazing cattle and horses but sometimes fences break. Watch out for leaping deer. As the climb gets steeper, passengers can look back at the sweeping view behind them. On a clear day you can see Bodega Head and beyond that, Point Reyes. Not so long ago, this road was a trail. For thousands of years, this was the land of the Kashaya who called themselves "The Keepers of the Land."At 2.6 miles from Highway One you will see on the right the gate to 15001 Meyers Grade, the site of Fort Ross Vineyards' planned retail tasting room and events facility. The 6,000 square-foot tasting room would be open year round without an appointment. The owners have also asked for 18 special events with 200 people. Despite strong community opposition, the Board of Zoning Adjustments approved the permit, reducing events to 10 with 100 people. The owner can apply in one year to have this restriction lifted.An ad hoc group of residents is appealing that decision before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Sept. 21, at 2:10pm. This ridge-top is a non-commercial, rural, residential, water scarce area, designated a scenic resource. It is a high risk fire zone, with dangerous, barely maintained roads and already stretched thin emergency services. The costs to the local community and environment must be weighed against the supposed benefits of increased tax revenues and one-and-a-half tasting room jobs. Is this an appropriate place for the sale and serving of alcoholic beverages, sometimes to large groups of visitors?
More than two and a half million visitors a year come to the Sonoma Coast to directly experience the power and beauty of nature, hiking, camping, fishing, surfing and cycling in this magnificent, unique and fragile ecosystem. Wine tasting open to the public and large events emphasizing alcohol consumption, where they are not now permitted, would be an unprecedented and dangerous intrusion and belong in established commercial areas on major, well maintained, roads, such as Highway One and Highway 116.Written comments can be submitted to: Permit and Resource Management Department , 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa, CA 95403. Contact Cynthia Demidovich at 707.565.1754 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.Susan Kennedy is a poet who has lived in West Sonoma County since 1982.