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Healdsburg timber owner’s checkered land-use history followed him to Sonoma County

Eureka attorney, landowner and timber operator Ken Bareilles had been battling state land-use regulations for some 50 years before he bought his forested property outside Healdsburg in 2015.

He’d been fighting for others, too. In his role as criminal defense attorney, he said he represented numerous loggers confronting a slate of new guidelines when the state’s 1973 Forest Practice Rules, enforced by Cal Fire, went into effect.

“To me the CDF guys are just cops, is all they were,” he said, using the older acronym for Cal Fire, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “I’m a criminal defense attorney. I’m not intimidated by cops.”

“Yeah,” he added. “I’ve had lots of violations.”

He carries a 2009 felony conviction for illegally subdividing 2,900 acres in Humboldt County that he acquired in the 1970s with hopes of creating 111 20-acre parcels. His hopes were dashed by negative public input and environmental issues, according to court records and press accounts.

Unhappy with revised maps calling for bigger, but fewer, lots and a large agricultural open space designation, Bareilles sued the county in a case that was later dismissed. Though no new subdivision maps were created or approved, Bareilles later illegally sold off dozens of 40-acre lots over the 1980s, ’90s and early 2000s, even though the purchasers would be unable to sell, lease, finance or transfer their parcels or obtain building permits, court records say.

When Humboldt County took action in 2007, partly in response to widespread code violations, only three counts for violating state law fell within the statute of limitations. Bareilles pleaded no contest to one felony count assuming he could persuade a judge to change it to a misdemeanor.

It didn’t work.

Even as he fought to withdraw his plea and minimize the consequences, Bareilles’ probation was revoked in 2011 for violations of county and state Fish and Game codes. They included illegal grading, altering a streambed, conducting timber operations outside his permit area and contributing to pollution in a stream designated critical habitat for steelhead trout.

A team of investigators who returned to the site during a storm in January 2012 witnessed substantial amounts of sediment flowing into nearby tributaries from which it flowed downstream toward Redwood Creek during the salmon and trout spawning and rearing season, state Fish and Wildlife said. At one point they recorded an estimated 10 cubic yards of liquefied soil entering a tributary, the agency reported.

A decade earlier, Bareilles was served with a formal Cleanup and Abatement order for water quality violations related to a timber harvest in northwest Mendocino County. The order was issued by the same regional water quality board that is investigating his logging operation near Healdsburg now. The earlier issues included surface erosion, poorly designed and constructed road drainage and watercourse crossings, and sediment loss along 2 miles of road that followed a fish-bearing tributary of the South Fork Eel River.

Bareilles said none of that has relevance to the current situation on Felta Creek, where a year-and-a-half-long salvage logging operation has generated multiple notices of violation from Cal Fire, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, primarily related to insufficient erosion control measures and risk to the salmon-bearing creek.

Bareilles maintains what errors occurred at the Felta site were the fault of his licensed timber operator or were due to inaccurate information from his registered forester.

But he also says claims he damaged the creek are simply incorrect, and he’s prepared to take his case to court if necessary.

“I’m an upright person,” Bareilles said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan (she/her) at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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