The signs, in the front yard of the Arne Petersen family’s home, were in reaction to an apology issued by the Ferndale Booster Club, Ferndale Youth Incorporated and the five performers involved in a controversial blackface performance at a November 2 youth fundraiser at the Ferndale Community Center.
According to the press release, an off-duty officer witnessed Renner and his wife removing the signs from the home at 1183 Main Street on Saturday evening at about 8:45 pm and putting them in a pick-up truck. The off-duty officer believed the circumstances were suspicious and called the Ferndale Police Department. Other officers responded and contacted Jesse and his wife, who had returned to the area of the residence “because they believed something had fallen from their vehicle,” stated the release.
Renner, during the officers’ investigation, admitted to taking the signs, according to the release. The couple said they left the signs beside the roadway on Hwy 211. However, when officers and Renner returned to the alleged location of the signs, neither the officers nor the Renners could locate the stolen signs.
A call by The Enterprise to Jesse Renner’s place of employment was not returned. His petty theft citation includes a notice to appear in court.
Meanwhile, Paulina Petersen said when officers knocked on their door after they caught the culprit, she as first was “mad.
“Then I became really sad,” said Petersen. “They essentially spit on the grave of every veteran that has fought for our rights.”
Petersen, a mother of a son currently stationed with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, said she and her family have the right to display signs on their property and are disgusted that someone would actually trespass and steal the signs, essentially bullying them into remaining silent.
Petersen and her husband have raised five children in their multi-cultural family and she said over the past 25 years she has witnessed bullying and racism at Ferndale High School and in the community — both by students and community members involved with school activities.
“Not only have we personally experienced it, but we’ve watched other people go through this, and when they come to us to see what to do about it, they are afraid to speak up, because of the bullying that goes on in this community,” said Petersen.
The Petersens, in a letter to the editor in last week’s edition, said that they will not “be pressured into being silent” and that the signs were their stance against “this racist bullying element” in Ferndale.
“It’s all about the kids,” said Paulina on Tuesday. “What kind of example are we as a community setting for them if we constantly allow acts of racism and then bully those that dare to speak out?”
“We know we can’t change the adults, but hopefully the kids will realize when they leave Ferndale that some of the behavior we’ve recently witnessed will not be tolerated across the bridge,” said Arne Petersen.
On Sunday, the Petersens put up new signs. One of them stated, “Signs stolen by Ferndale alumni. Another ‘teachable moment’.” Jesse Renner was a 1997 graduate of Ferndale High School. Ferndale Unified School District Superintendent and Ferndale High School Principal Jack Lakin in an editorial submission to the county’s daily newspaper, called the blackface performance a “teachable moment.”
The Petersens said they don’t know when they will take their signs down. For now, they said they remove them every evening so that they do not get stolen again.
Performance at community homecoming event ignites firestorm of criticism with allegations of blackface racism
From the November 7 print edition
A lip sync performance at Saturday night’s community homecoming fundraiser at Firemen’s Pavilion is the subject of widespread controversy this week, with allegations of blackface and racism after one attendee painted his skin black and donned dreadlocks to imitate singer Rick James and surrounded himself with four men dressed in women’s clothes and wigs to perform the 1981 song “Super Freak.”
Video of the performance was put on YouTube by the wife of Ferndale’s Don Mobley, the individual who depicted Rick James. The video was widely shared on Facebook by those that organized and those that attended the evening. Photos from the evening were emailed by supporters of the event to The Enterprise for publication.
While many have decried the incident, others have come to the defense of the individuals, saying they meant no harm.
Meanwhile, a Ferndale Youth Incorporated (FYI) board member said the non-profit organization is holding a special meeting tonight to discuss the controversy surrounding the performance. Dennis Leonardi did not attend the event, which was organized, in conjunction with the Ferndale Booster Club, by FYI — which funds school-aged youth activities. The booster club raises funds primarily for the athletic departments of the Ferndale school district.
FYI’s board president Stephanie Koch, also the current president of the Ferndale Unified School District Board of Trustees, did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment on the incident. Her brother was part of the performance and she was in attendance.
Fellow FYI board member and event organizer Pat Cowan also did not respond to The Enterprise. Former Ferndale school superintendent Alan Brainerd, also a FYI board member, said he did not attend the event and didn’t have enough information about what occurred to comment. Ferndale Booster Club President Tony Enos also did not respond to a request for comment. On Facebook, Enos told one person offended by the video and who asked him to take it down, that the booster club would also be meeting on the incident.
Blackface has been in the national news recently with three San Diego high school coaches suspended for donning blackface while dressed in costume as characters from “Cool Runnings.” Painting oneself with black paint to depict a black person is considered offensive to African Americans because of the painful historical context of blackface, according to the Eureka branch of the NAACP president, A.V. Powell.
“What’s fun to some people is offensive to other people.” said Powell, who said several people whom he knows that watched the video called it “repugnant” and could not watch all of the five-minute video.
Mobley did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Two Ferndale residents, who did not wish their name be used because of fear of backlash, said they left the event offended by the performance.
Julie Petersen Duden, shortly after the video was posted by organizers, asked Cowan and Enos to take it off the Internet.
“This video is shocking and disgusting,” said the Ferndale High School graduate, who now resides in Texas and is the adoptive mother of two African American sons. “I am ashamed of Ferndale. Do people seriously not know how racist this is? I ask you to please remove this immediately.”
Enos did eventually remove it. Cowan, as of press time, had not, stating underneath the video, “OMG, what a great addition to the evening.” Cowan had teased the performance in the Humboldt Beacon in its October 31 issue, stating that the event’s planning group promises “surprise entertainment to bring the crowd to their feet.”
Ferndale’s Marc Daniels, who attended the event as a volunteer bartender, said “it was definitely offensive.
“I thought it was outrageous in light of the recent new face we’re supposed to be putting on our town,” said Daniels, referring to other allegations of racism in Ferndale. “I think it was done possibly intentionally. I think in this day and age, most people would find it offensive.” Daniels said he has friends who are African American and that he would have been “mortified” if any of them had been in attendance that night.
“They clearly would not have found it funny or charming,” he said.
After news of the video appeared on the local news site Lost Coast Outpost, mostly anonymous comments began to pour in. The Outpost’s News Director Hank Sims said the comments, nearing 750 as of this edition’s press time, were the most the site had ever accumulated on a single story. Early Wednesday afternoon, the YouTube video posted by Gina Mobley was removed, but it remained on the Outpost site.
Comments defending the performance primarily stated that no racist overtones were intended and that no offense should be taken to the performance that was meant in humor. Some lashed out at both the news site and this newspaper. Some comments criticized the sexual lyrics of the song and that the performance choice was not a good idea for a fundraiser aimed at seeking money for youth and sponsored by a youth organization. Others took issue with the sexual dance moves by the four men dressed as women.
Ferndale’s Ron McQueen, who is African American, said he didn’t find the video of the performance amusing.
“I’d like to think that we are close to outgrowing that phase of our social development where an ethnic group can go and find some other individual from another ethnic group that is not a positive representation of that group and denigrate them,” said McQueen, adding that he does not allow himself to take offense “at every incident like this.
“Otherwise, I’d be upset every time I see the Dixie flag. I only allow myself to be appalled by so many things,” he said, adding that his more than two decades of living in Ferndale “for the most part” has been positive for himself, his wife and children.
“I do really respect those that objected to it (the performance),” he said.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn, who attended the event and conducted a live auction, said he thought the performance was “pretty amusing.
“I can see people’s point but it didn’t offend me,” said Bohn. “I didn’t go back to two years ago and put it in perspective, knowing full well there was an issue two years ago.”
Bohn is referring to the Ferndale High School football program being placed on probation by the North Coast Section in 2012 for alleged racial taunting of opposing players by adult fans. The taunting allegations, in part, were made by the grandfather of an African American visiting player. More allegations surfaced when Ferndale traveled to a Richmond high school to compete.
The grandfather, Stephen Walters, said on Tuesday that the performance seen on the video was “very sad.”
In 2008, confederate flags were removed from student vehicles at Ferndale High School by former superintendent Sam Garamendi. The school held an assembly on campus to explain to students the meaning behind the flag and the reminder of slavery and oppression.
From the October 10, 2013 edition
The Humboldt County Fair needs our help
On October 24, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) is scheduled to decide on 2014 racing dates for the Humboldt County Fair. The only option to keep the tradition of racing at the 117-year-old Humboldt County Fair alive, is for the fair to be given exclusive race dates for at least one week in August. The list of horse racing organizations opposed to that option is likely to include much bigger and powerful entities. In 2010, the fair faced a similar dilemna before the CHRB. But, with the help of our readers, the board heard and learned how important the Humboldt County Fair is to our local economy and by a slim margin (a 4-3 vote), Humboldt received a week of exclusive race dates which helped rebuild the fair’s finances and created what is now the fair’s largest reserve ever.
Without exclusive race dates, however, that reserve could quickly dwindle.
We can do this again!
Public opinon counts, and time is of the essence.
Let your CHRB commissioners know how important the Humboldt County Fair and its financial success, which is dependent on horse racing, is to our community.
Below is a sample letter to send to the CHRB.
Here are the email addresses of the CHRB commissioners:
Chair David Israel: firstname.lastname@example.org • Vice-Chair Chuck Winner: email@example.com
Bo Derek: JackieW@chrb.ca.gov • Jesse Choper: firstname.lastname@example.org
George Krikorian: email@example.com • Richard Rosenberg: firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Beneto: JackieW@chrb.ca.gov
If you’re in the Twitterverse, tweet Chairman Israel @RealDavidIsrael
and urge him to approve Humboldt’s request for one week of exclusive race dates
David Israel, Chairman
California Horse Racing Board
1010 Hurley Way, Suite 300
Sacramento, CA 95825
Dear Chairman Israel and fellow CHRB commissioners:
Please accept this letter as requesting that the Humboldt County Fair Association be allocated one week of non-overlapped racing dates for 2014.
Historically, the Humboldt County Fair has always found a way to survive while running concurrent race dates in August. Given the dramatic changes to horse racing over the past several years, however, it is simply unreasonable to expect that trend to continue. The significant decrease in the owner, trainer and horse components of the industry reflects only the beginning of the challenges regarding overlapped dates.
All we are asking for is a chance to show what the Humboldt County Fair can produce on its own. It is our sincere desire to free our operation of a set of subsidies which have sustained our program for the past few years.
One week of exclusive race dates proved in 2010 as the only way the Humboldt County Fair can generate enough purses and commissions to sustain a race meet, while not relying on other racing entities to help support it. The California Authority of Racing Fairs proposal before you at your October 24 meeting reflects the same proposal as in 2010. The board supported it then and we urge the board to support it again.
Our community may be small, but the economic impact of our fair is huge. Our fans are among the most enthusiastic you will find anywhere and our historic setting bodes as a picture-perfect image for the sport of horse racing. Our community supports the Humboldt County Fair and with your help we can continue to provide racing opportunities to horse owners, trainers and fans at California’s smallest racetrack.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this very important matter.
Will state board bypass Sonoma County Fair in favor of Humboldt race meet? CHRB set to decide October 24; heavy industry opposition to Ferndale’s proposed 2014 racing calendar expected
From the October 10, 2013 edition
The Humboldt County Fair racing program once again finds itself on the ropes, fighting for its future.
And, with desperate moves as of late to secure its position, fair representatives appear to have alienated nearly all the key players in the ring of an increasingly contentious world of California horse racing politics, as tracks fight over smaller pools of horses and the dwindling dollars of a declining industry.
Earlier this year, fair representatives touted receiving support from the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF) to race two weeks in 2014 without being overlapped by another racing entity, something that has never occurred in the history of the 117-year-old fair.
That support from CARF, which is made up of other racing fairs, has wavered in recent weeks, however, with the battle for 2014 race dates heating up in meetings of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), which ultimately decides the racing calendar.
At Tuesday’s CARF meeting in Fresno, Humboldt received support from fellow racing fair members to ask for one week of non-overlapped racing next August, with the understanding that the group should leave room for negotiating should opposition to the proposal prove too much to overcome at the October 24 meeting of the CHRB.
“We should go in with flexibility to negotiate, depending on how it looks for the voting outcome with the full racing board,” said CARF Executive Director Chris Korby at Tuesday’s meeting, “I don’t think we should go in committed unequivocally to the scenario — it’s all or nothing for the Humboldt County Fair that week in August. Humboldt can take that position but I don’t think CARF should.”
At a CARF meeting in May, Korby was among those who supported Humboldt requesting two weeks of unoverlapped racing in 2014.
At the January 15, 2010 meeting of the CHRB, it was Korby who argued against the Humboldt County Fair’s request to be given one week of non-overlapped racing that year, countering the proposal presented by former Humboldt County Fair General Manager Stuart Titus. Titus prevailed in that meeting, receiving a vote of 4-3 from the CHRB.
Meanwhile, Korby went into detail Tuesday to explain his rationale for leaving room for negotiation in the proposal.
“We’re anticipating strong resistance to Commissioner Benito’s plan with Humboldt running a week solo,” said Korby. “Golden Gate Fields and the TOC (Thoroughbred Owners of California) as well will almost undoubtedly oppose it.”
Commissioner Steve Benito is one of seven governor-appointed members of the CHRB and author of the proposal approved by CARF at Tuesday’s meeting.
Moving away from traditional race date calendars, Benito’s option would add an additional week of racing at the California State Fair in July, but take away one week of racing in Santa Rosa in August, so that Humboldt can have a week to itself.
In addition to opposition from Golden Gate Fields (GGF) and the TOC, representatives of the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa will also strongly oppose the Humboldt proposal.
“If the industry wants to suggest that the strongest fair meet have less days, I don’t think that makes a lot of economical sense,” said Sonoma County Fair General Manager Tawny Tesconi in a phone interview with The Enterprise on Tuesday. “It doesn’t really do a lot for the industry.”
Considered by many as the premier county fair racetrack in California, Santa Rosa enjoys the unique position of offering races on both a one-mile dirt racetrack as well as an interior turf track, and is strongly supported by owners, trainers and jockeys.
“I’d like to think that the commissioners have the best interest of horse racing in mind. To give up three of the strongest days of fair racing to a fair that had a mediocre handle doesn’t make sense,” said Tesconi referring to Humboldt’s disappointing August meet.
Meanwhile, efforts by Humboldt County Fair representative and the fair’s Walnut Creek pro-bono attorney, Jim Morgan, to address the shortage of horses at this year’s fair appears to have been too-little-too-late.
In an agreement that was brokered in November of 2012 for this past August’s Ferndale meet, neither Morgan nor anyone else representing the fair appeared to have considered memorializing the agreement in writing until July 18, 2013. In January of 2013, the fair association voted not to renew long-time general manager Titus’s contract. The fair hired interim general manager Richard Conway at the end of March. Those last minute efforts became evident in a series of emails from Morgan to representatives from GGF, Del Mar and the TOC. The Morgan emails were obtained from CARF by the Ferndale Enterprise through a California Public Records Act request.
In a July 18 email to Josh Rubenstein, vice-president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Morgan attempted to confirm Del Mar’s role in subsidizing Humboldt as part of last November’s agreement.
A July 27 email from Morgan to Rubenstein and TOC representative Joe Morris was aimed at clarifying GGF’s part of the bargain. It reminded Rubenstein and Morris of GGF’s commitment to not run claiming races for horses valued at $5,000 or less.
In another email to Morris and Calvin Rainey of GGF, this one dated August 16 (during the Humboldt fair), Morgan pointed to the less expensive claiming races offered at the Bay Area track as “severely limiting the available horse population for Humboldt to their detriment.”
Morgan went on in the Aug. 16 email to ask GGF to honor its previous offer, stating, “Your urgent attention to this matter would be greatly appreciated and will minimize the damages that Humboldt has as a result of your documented refusal to abide by agreements made with the CHRB.”
It was not until August 21, toward the end of the fair race meet, that Morgan finally received a response from GGF, when Rainey said, “We at GGF are trying the best we can to help Ferndale. We carded one claimer for Saturday this week going a mile—a race not offered in the Ferndale (Condition) book.”
It was also not until Aug. 21 that Morgan receive a response from Korby, whom he had previously solicited for CARF support in the matter.
In his response, Korby said, “Please send over a copy of the agreement between Humboldt and GGF so we can review before deciding on any next steps.”
No such an agreement had ever been reduced to writing by Morgan, or any other representative of the fair.
Results of the 2013 Humboldt County Fair race meeting were impacted by a lack of horses to provide for competitive fields, as well as a lack of jockeys to ride them. The on-track betting handle was down 15 percent and the lackluster races were noted on television by the CHRB Chair David Israel at the board’s September meeting.
With Ferndale headed to another showdown at the CHRB’s Oct. 24 meeting, interim general manager Richard Conway told The Enterprise on Wednesday that public pressure on the board is welcomed.
“Any support we can get will help,” said Conway by telephone. “I know Sonoma is really riling them up to keep three weeks and are getting their (county) supervisors involved. It certainly wouldn’t hurt.”
Email questions from The Enterprise to fair attorney Morgan and Conway regarding the current situation and Tuesday’s CARF meeting were not answered. Conway was present at the Fresno meeting. Morgan participated by telephone. Listening to the meeting in Ferndale at the fair’s board room were two out of the fair’s current 18 directors — Duane Martin and Jeff Farley.
Meanwhile, The Enterprise has donated in this issue a full-page ad urging the public to contact CHRB members. A similar effort was launched in 2010 and helped the fair obtain exclusive race dates which led to a revenue windfall that has resulted in the fair in January having the largest reserve in its history.
No fair financials available for directors: board takes no action on former manager claim or status of interim general manager
From the October 3, 2013 edition
Humboldt County Fair Association directors Monday night congratulated themselves and staff members for what they say was a successful 2013 fair. No detailed financial information for the 12-day August fair was presented at the September 29 meeting, noticed publicly for the fair boardroom but, now after a remodeling, referred to as the V.I.P. or “sponsorship” room.
Interim General Manager Richard Conway said August financials will be made available to the board at the October meeting.
Initial figures provided by Conway to The Enterprise in August show paid attendance for the 12-day event unchanged from 2012; food concession, carnival and parking revenues up and alcohol sales, racing attendance and betting handle down.
Meanwhile, no action was reported after directors retreated to an hour-long closed session at the beginning of the meeting, accompanied by the association’s contracted attorney — Cyndy Day-Wilson, who is also the attorney for the City of Eureka.
Two items listed on the agenda for the closed meeting were a conference with the attorney over anticipated and significant exposure to litigation and the employment of the general manager position.
Former long-time general manager Stuart Titus (husband of The Enterprise’s publisher and editor) has filed a claim against the association, alleging his contract was not renewed in retaliation for reminding directors to follow the state’s law governing public meetings, and that the association unlawfully restricted his First Amendment rights when they threatened his employment if The Enterprise made directors “look bad” in the newspaper. Titus plans on taking the association to federal court with a civil rights lawsuit.
In regard to the second closed session item, board president Tim Renner said that directors had stated that after the fair they would decide whether to give Conway the permanent title of general manager or continue a search for a new manager.
No action was taken on either item in closed session, said Renner.
Upon reconvening, directors shared highlights from the fair. Director Al Cooper commented on former Ferndale High ag teacher Bill Fales’ tomatoes. Director Lawrence Dwight noted the positive comments logged on the fair’s Facebook site. Renner said the camel rides and zip line in the livestock area were successful and that fairgoers were pleased with a new midway layout.
With no business on the board’s agenda and six out of seven board committees not having held meetings in months, reports from committee chairs were brief.
Finance committee chair Duane Martin said without all the financial information from the fair, he wants to wait until the October meeting to review numbers. He said the committee will begin work on next year’s budget before the next full board meeting. No finance committee meeting has yet been scheduled.
Marketing and entertainment committee chair Dave Mogni said entertainment sponsorships were up from $78,000 last year to $130,000. He recognized the voice of the fair, Brytann Busick, as having a “great reception.” Theme days, such as the Ladies Hat Day at the races, were successful, said Mogni, adding that more work can be done on building the Hispanic Heritage day, “especially getting the community involved in that one.”
He said moving the midway stage from its historical location and opening up the food court was a success. He said that the Buildings and Grounds committee might want to consider building a permanent stage in the forestry area — the new home for the midway stage — for year round rentals. The only “downside” to the entertainment lineup was the IGX booth — a video game attraction — where attendance, said Mogni, was “a little weak.”
Director Travis Low commended the “gals” handling the hospitality room, aka the boardroom.
“I think they were unbelievably efficient and friendly,” he said, referring to Megan Davie and Meredith Griffiths, daughters of the fair’s business manager, Bonnie Griffiths.
Cindy Olsen, chair of the Racing Committee, read from a prepared statement. She noted achievements in a “transition year,” including that of the appearance of famed jockey Russell Baze and the enlargement of the winner’s circle. She said the track had “never been better” and noted that the horse ambulance was never needed on the track.
Olsen blamed the reduced horse population on Golden Gate Fields running a competing meet. She also referred to Golden Gate not honoring an agreement made in 2012 to not offer cheaper claiming races. Olsen made no reference to a reduced Ferndale horse population because of Portland Meadows race track running in concurrence with Ferndale.
“The stands were full and the weather terrific,” she said.
(Conway said at the conclusion of the fair, racing attendance was down four percent and on-track betting was down 15 percent, according to the CHRIMS Inc., a pari-mutuel accounting organization.)
“The racing committee continues to accept the challenge presented by other large and influential players in our industry who would prefer to usher us off our traditional August dates,” Olsen read. “We cherish our 117-year tradition and vow to battle to preserve our August race meet despite powerful opposition.”
When asked by The Enterprise how the racing committee is functioning when it hasn’t held a meeting in over a year, president Renner informed The Enterprise editor she was not allowed to ask questions, only provide comment. The same response by Renner was given when The Enterprise asked who was giving direction to pro-bono Walnut Creek attorney James Morgan, who is representing the Humboldt County Fair before the state’s horse racing board.
Nominating committee chair Bob Prior said the association board still has three openings after the resignation earlier this year of the board’s president, vice president and chair of the Buildings and Grounds committee. Two individuals have submitted their names: Rigoberto Matias of Matias Restaurant in Ferndale and Mandy Marquez of US Bank. Director Jeff Farley said he has spoken to Kevin Jenkins, owner of McKinleyville Ace Hardware and the Ferndale Kitchen Store, and that Jenkins is interested in serving on the board. The three openings are an at-large position and the other two represent Loleta and Eureka, said Prior.
Under the “general manager’s report” on the agenda, Conway said the majority of feedback regarding the fair was “positive” with very “few negatives.”
“As these reports come in, in most areas we are up financially,” said Conway, noting the dip in racing. “The majority of other areas we are up and have seen an increase.”
Conway said the junior livestock auction, run by a separate non-association related committee, was up $140,000. That figure differs by $46,000 from the official report provided by the Junior Livestock Auction Committee and reported by The Enterprise on August 22. The committee stated that the gross sales were up $94,000 from $316,000 in 2012 to $412,000 this year.
The board then adjourned for libations and snacks. The public, three members of the media and a fair volunteer, were allowed to remain in the room and were not asked to leave for a “private social hour,” as has been the usual practice at this year’s board meetings.
From the September 26, 2013 edition
Hold all tickets
You may not be a horse-racing enthusiast and Enterprise coverage of the world of horse racing may seem untimely long after the starting gate has been put back in the barn, but there’s a reason this newspaper continues to travel long distances to keep covering the politics surrounding horse racing in an effort to keep its readers informed — $7 million worth of reasons.
The economic impact of the Humboldt County Fair and its race meet, estimated in 2009 dollars at almost $7 million, is huge not only to our small town but the entire county. With the horse racing industry on a painful downward spiral, it’s getting increasingly more difficult for California’s smallest track to hang on. It’s every race track for itself these days and the horsemen follow the money — whether that be to Portland, Oregon or Albany, California as they did this past August, bypassing the Fernbridge exit. This year’s Ferndale meet was a disappointment . . . or, in the words of the fair’s own pro-bono “special counsel,” a “tragedy.”
The future of horse racing in Ferndale is not looking bright. With a change in riders midstream in the fair’s leadership (let’s get the disclosure out the way — they booted this editor’s husband as fair manager) and the fair’s governing structure going underground (basically, no public meetings), those in the saddle have chosen a new strategy that isn’t playing out to be an odds-on favorite with the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) and other racing entities in Northern California.
The new regime at the fair celebrated in the spring by paying its public relations firm to issue a press release that the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF) — a group of Northern California racing entities — was supporting Ferndale’s bid for two weeks of exclusive race dates in 2014 and 2015 by attempting to rob a week of racing from the Sonoma County Fair. Two weeks would be a windfall for the little track and fair officials were jubilant. Now, with a less than stellar race meet on the books, local fair officials are hopefully realizing that they were played by CARF, an organization that was only interested in blowing smoke Ferndale’s way in an attempt to penalize the Sonoma County Fair — a founding member of CARF, that recently bailed from the organization because CARF wouldn’t reduce their member costs in a declining industry. CARF, earlier this month, changed its tune and quickly backed off supporting Ferndale’s quest for two exclusive weeks.
Meanwhile, at last week’s CHRB meeting, the Humboldt County Fair’s volunteer attorney from Walnut Creek, now our main spokesman, threw Golden Gate Fields under the bus publicly (we’ve already severed our positive relations with the Sonoma County Fair), by blaming them for our dismal meet. Ferndale was also embarrassed publicy when the chair of the horse racing board told how he received a call from someone affiliated with our fair, asking him to overrule a jockey’s suspension because Ferndale was desperate for riders!
As negotiations drag on for next year’s race dates, we are keeping our fingers crossed but holding our bets that Ferndale will prevail and get at least one week of exclusive race dates from the state board. That’s what happened in 2010 and that’s a major part of the reason our beloved fair had the largest reserve ever at the beginning of this year.
We would be remiss, however, if we did not urge fair officials to have another entry nearing the gate. In other words, a Plan B.
Several years ago, the state paid for fair board directors to participate in a strategic planning session and look ahead to the possibility of the Humboldt County Fair sans horse racing. It’s time to now get serious thinking about a fair without the ponies. The writing is on the wall.
However, if fair board members decided to embark on a responsible route for our treasured 117-year-old tradition, we hope that they do it in an open and transparent manner.
While they may have squeaked by the county’s Grand Jury by sitting through a one-hour Brown Act training session, they are currently miserably failing at adhering to state law regarding public records. We thought the local school district was bad. The Humboldt County Fair Association is the grand champion when it comes to not making its writings and activities public. There has not been a meeting of the fair’s Racing Committee since July 2012! And we wonder why the meet bombed? Or, could it be that the public’s business is being done behind closed doors? We guess the latter.
Convene a community group, combined with the fair board, and hold open and transparent meetings on what the fair would look like without horse racing as its centerpiece. With an estimated 60 percent of the fair’s revenue generated by horse racing, all input should be welcomed and encouraged.
The fair’s volunteer attorney told the CHRB that the new interim manager is “extremely competent,” gets along with what’s left of the board and was a cheap claimer. There’s no question that hiring him at a reduced cost without benefits has saved the fair money. However, what’s at stake for this community in these changing times could cost us all a great deal.
The ownership of this paper has been personally involved in the fight to save horse racing in Ferndale for the past 22 years. Now more than ever, strong leadership, knowledge, experience and foresight are needed.
We hope the fair board thinks outside of its exclusive club house, and is inclusive of the tremendous resources in the rest of the county that have a vested interest in preserving the core mission of the Humboldt County Fair — promoting agriculture.
Humboldt County Fair attorney calls 2013 race meet “a tragedy;” no decision once again by state’s horse racing board on 2014-’15 dates
From the September 26, 2013 edition
“If you can’t attract enough horses to run more than five races, and they can’t attract enough jockeys to ride the races, there’s a question about economic viability….”
Those were the words of Chairman David Israel at last Thursday’s meeting of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) when it met in Los Angeles to discuss future race dates for the Humboldt County Fair (HCF), as well as other tracks in Northern California.
“I turned around on opening day of Humboldt on television and there were only five races; not exactly what I was looking for,” said Israel at the September 19 CHRB meeting held at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds.
The 2013 Humboldt County Fair race meet saw a decrease of about 20 percent in available horses, six fewer races than the previous year and an approximate 15 percent decrease in on-track wagering.
As in past years, Humboldt ran its 2013 race meet simultaneously with those at Golden Gate Fields (GGF) in the Bay Area and Portland Meadows in Oregon. Shortage of horses, however, was not the only problem for Humboldt this year, as the CHRB chairman was to learn during the August event.
“Later in the Humboldt meet, I got a call from someone, very enthusiastic and affiliated with the Humboldt Fair,” continued Israel. “He didn’t realize that it probably wasn’t appropriate. He asked me if it would be possible to stay the suspension of a jockey who was to serve days while in Humboldt, because if he were suspended they wouldn’t have enough jockeys to ride the horses,” said Israel. “Fortunately, I’d already not stayed the decision.”
It was against the backdrop of these less-than-desirable 2013 circumstances that Humboldt representatives attended the Sept. 19 meeting of the CHRB and requested two weeks of non-overlapped race dates in 2014 and 2015. Running exclusively without competition from other tracks would enable the HCF to reap major financial gains needed to keep its struggling meet afloat.
Meanwhile, the HCF’s Walnut Creek pro-bono attorney “for all issues related to horse racing,” in a letter to the CHRB called this year’s fair race meet a “tragedy.” James Morgan placed the blame for Humboldt’s disappointing 2013 results directly on GGF.
Others, however, have also placed blame for the lack of horses and trainers — despite optimistic statements by HCF officials leading up to the August meet, projecting record turnouts — on Portland Meadows offering equal or better purses. (According to HCF stall manager Kevin Ingram, an estimated 40 horses were transported to Portland rather than Ferndale.)
According to a Sept. 17 letter from Morgan to CHRB members, Humboldt’s dismal outcome this year was because of, in his opinion, GGF’s decision to not honor parts of a verbal agreement made in October of 2012.
Part of that agreement called for GGF to not offer claiming races for horses running for less than $5,000. According to Morgan’s testimony last Thursday, GGF offered numerous races for the cheaper valued horses, and thus was, he said, directly responsible for Humboldt’s disappointing results.
“Humboldt’s meet was a tragedy of less than full grandstands and empty fields (of horses),” said Morgan. “Those races (of less than $5,000) were supposed to belong exclusively to Humboldt, as a condition of the Golden Gate Fields license to run with overlap.”
Morgan’s testimony last week differed somewhat from his statements on Sept. 10 at the monthly meeting of the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF) in Sacramento.
At that meeting, Morgan stated, “We had a horrible scenario, where we had full stands, overflowing stands, but empty fields.”
According to Morgan’s letter to the CHRB, GGF “breach” of its verbal offering from last winter cost the HCF about $590,000 in handle. On average, this amount would earn the fair about $24,000 in commissions and another $24,000 in purses.
In his Sept. 17 letter, along with his statements at the CHRB meeting, Morgan’s pleas suggested that Humboldt should be offered exclusive dates in 2014 in exchange for the alleged damages GGF levied on Humboldt this year.
Despite Morgan’s bleak report on this year’s race meet, he told CHRB members in his letter about improvements to the Ferndale fairgrounds winners circle and saddling paddock, and said the fair is saving “tens of thousands of dollars” by hiring new interim general manager Richard Conway to replace 22-year manager Stuart Titus. He called Conway “extremely competent and able to work harmoniously with the fair board.”
Chairman Israel refused to discuss Morgan’s letter, however, since Morgan did not give a copy to GGF, saying that it would be inappropriate to discuss Ferndale’s allegations without the Bay Area track being included in correspondence sent to the board.
Final decisions on race dates for 2014 and 2015 were tabled for another 30 days by the CHRB, with Israel appointing two members of the board to an ad hoc committee in hopes of producing a calendar agreement among all the Northern California racing entities.
Commissioner Steve Bonito from Sacramento will join Commissioner Jesse Chopper from Berkeley to act as moderators when all fairs with horse racing meet with representatives from GGF, as well as owners and trainers of Thoroughbred horses that race in northern California.
Chairman Israel charged the group to return next month to the board with an agreed-upon racing calendar for 2014 and 2015.
A calendar submitted by Morgan concludes that the San Joaquin County Fair will not race in 2014, although no such decision has been announced by Stockton. It also assumes that GGF will give up two weeks in August so that Humboldt can run unopposed. In exchange for giving up the two prime weeks in August, Morgan assumes that GGF will return to racing in September — less than desirable dates that GGF previously vacated.
Emails to Morgan, Conway and the fair’s board president Tim Renner, with questions from The Enterprise about the CHRB meeting and other racing-related questions, did not receive a response.
Conway said on Tuesday that he didn’t know who the person “affiliated” with the fair was that called the CHRB chair, asking him to remove the jockey suspension so that the the Humboldt meet would have enough jockeys.
Prior enthusiasm wanes for requested ’14-’15 HCF race dates; fair officials hear wake-up call on current state of horse racing
From the September 12, 2013 print edition
At the end of the day, they chose to do battle with the bigger of two foes.
That was the outcome Tuesday when representatives of the Humboldt County Fair argued for non-overlapped 2014/‘15 race dates during the monthly meeting in Sacramento of the California Authority of Racing Fairs (CARF).
After receiving a reality check on the current state of an industry on the decline, local fair officials have decided to take their case to state officials.
CARF represents the six fairs in northern California that conduct live horse racing each summer. Tuesday’s meeting was a prelude to an all-important meeting of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) on September 19, when a final decision could be made to allocate next year’s race dates throughout California.
Those representing Humboldt at Tuesday’s meeting included interim general manager Richard Conway, director David Mogni and Jim Morgan, the east Bay Area attorney acting as spokesperson for the fair on a pro-bono basis. Morgan was the primary spokesperson for Humboldt.
Fair officials were jubilant earlier this year and issued a press release on the matter, when CARF members voted at their May meeting to support Humboldt running un-overlapped in 2014, in a proposal that would have taken away one week each from the Sonoma County Fair in Santa Rosa and from Golden Gate Fields (GGF).
Support for that proposal, however, began to erode at Tuesday’s meeting as other perspectives were brought into view.
“I think what we need to do is propose (racing) calendars that are better for racing in northern California, not better for an individual fair,” said CARF Executive Director Chris Korby. “That’s going to be a persuasive argument (to the CHRB), not ‘It’s better for me, Mr. Commissioner’.”
As Humboldt’s only voice in the debate, Morgan argued vehemently to the contrary.
“We cannot, not any of our fairs, can run overlapped with Golden Gate Fields,” said Morgan. “Why are we singled out? It’s about equity, Chris.”
The future of horse racing at the Humboldt County Fair has been on the precipice for several years, as the overall industry continues to suffer from an economy of scales not supportive of profitable outcomes.
Bay Meadows, a one-time Bay Area cornerstone in horse racing, closed has long since gone out of business. Hollywood Park in Southern California will conclude its historical place in horse racing at the end of 2013.
“Talking about equity or parity is a mindset of the past,” said Korby. “We’re no longer in a world where the industry will continue to support unprofitable meets.”
Referring to the 2010 Humboldt County Fair, Morgan reminded the group of the only year when the fair ran un-overlapped and generated first-time profits for the race meet. Humboldt County Fair former manager Stuart Titus in 2010 was able to obtain a slim 4-3 vote from the CHRB, allowing Ferndale to run for one week without any other signal being on a satellite feed out of Northern California for internet and off-track wagering. Titus’s contract was not renewed by the fair board earlier this year.
“When we ran without overlap, we had record profits, and we contributed to the consolidated purse fund,” said Morgan.
At the same time as CARF is preparing its own race calendar proposals for the CHRB, other industry participants are doing the same, with GGF expected to submit a proposal for 2014 which once again overlaps Humboldt.
Golden Gate Field’s proposal also has the support of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the California Thoroughbred Trainers and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
“One of the things this group has to consider is what the previous position is with important players in the industry, the CHRB being the most critical player,” said Korby. “My view of the board is they will be predisposed to support the calendar presented by GGF.”
Citing the ongoing challenges of even the larger players in the business, Korby contributed additional thoughts to the matter.
“Golden Gate Fields is struggling more than you think, which is one reason why I think the CHRB and the TOC will support the calendar proposed by GGF,” Korby added. “Because they feel they have to defend Golden Gate Fields to keep them in business.”
Morgan continued in his attempts to dissuade Korby’s position, by further pointing out the difficulty of racing simultaneously with a much larger racing organization.
“You’re just going to euthanize the runt of the litter, because they don’t make as much money as some others,” said Morgan. “I’ve spent a career fighting for little guys. I think we have a chance with the CHRB and that this group has a chance.”
At the end of the meeting, CARF members elected to support Humboldt’s request to race August 13-24, 2014, while sidestepping any action that might have shown additional support that those dates be run un-overlapped.
Without Ferndale acquiring un-overlapped race dates, it runs the risk of again having a shortage of riders and horses, as was the case at this year’s race meet in August, and having to eventually start using its reserves to pay to put on the meet.
Ferndale Police Chief Bret Smith is reporting a drug bust on Market Street on August 14.
After stopping Gabe Town, 18, in the 1200 block of Main Street for no front license plate, Ferndale officers smelled the strong odor of marijuana, according to a news release. After searching the truck, they found 126 grams of processed marijuana, 13 grams of concentrated cannabis, ammunition and over $2,000. Town’s residence at the corner of Market Street and Hwy 211 was later searched. Officers found 400 growing plants and a butane/hashish lab. With assistance from the Humboldt County Drug Task Force, Town was arrested, as was his father, Colin Town, 41. The two face a number of allegations, including manufacturing controlled substances, transportation/distribution of marijuana and a felon in possession of firearms.
Two minor children were in the home. They were released to their mother, Francine Town, who was cited and released by law enforcement. The younger Town was also arrested on an allegation of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Here’s the press release from the FPD:
On 8-14-13 at 1455 hours, Ferndale Police Officers stopped a vehicle on the 1200 block of Main Street for no front license plate. While speaking with the driver, who was identified as Colin Town, officers smelled the strong odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle.
Officers conducted a search of Town’s truck and discovered 126 grams of processed marijuana, 13 grams of concentrated cannabis, ammunition and over 2,000 dollars in cash. Officers learned Town was a convicted felon prohibiting Town from possessing ammunition.
Ferndale Police and the Humboldt County Drug Task Force (DTF) later executed a search warrant in the 1700 block of Market Street in Ferndale.
As a result of the search warrant, DTF Agents located:
400 growing plants of marijuana
A butane/hashish lab
Processed marijuana and hashish
DTF Agents and Ferndale Police Department arrested the following individuals:
Gabriel Town, 18 years, for:
Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor
Manufacturing Controlled Substances
Transportation/Distribution of Marijuana
Possession of Marijuana for Sale
Colin Town, 41 years, for:
Manufacturing Controlled Substances
Cultivation of Marijuana
Possession of Marijuana for Sale
Possession of Marijuana for sales
Felon in possession of firearms
Felon in possession of ammunition
Gabriel Town and Colin Town were booked into the Humboldt County Jail for the above-mentioned charges. DTF Agents cited and released Colin Town’s wife, Francine Town.
The Ferndale Enterprise was notified Friday that it has won two national awards for editorial writing. One editorial stressed the importance of freedom of the press, the other concerned bullying in the local school district.
The National Newspaper Association (NNA), based in Columbia, Mo., has recognized Enterprise editor and publisher Caroline Titus, author of both editorials, with a first place award for a May 17, 2012, editorial titled “Assurance.” The editorial dealt with the Humboldt County Fair Association board’s threats to Titus’s husband’s job — long-time general manager of the fair — if he didn’t assure board members that they would be “made to look good” in The Enterprise and if he kept asking the association to adhere to the state’s open meeting laws. Titus’s contract was not renewed after 22 years by an 11-8 vote in January. (Read the editorial here.)
“Excellently paced, well written and exposes a conflict between cronyism and freedom of the press,” stated the judges’ comments. “Newspapers can and should shine the light of public scrutiny where it needs to be shone.” Continue reading