Author Archives: Paul Seeman

Eel River Dam Removal

Removing these dams will make the Eel River California’s longest free-flowing river and will reconnect salmon and steelhead with almost 300 miles of cold-water habitat! Located about 20 miles northeast of Ukiah, Scott & Cape Horn dams are over 100 years old and no longer generate electricity. CalTrout and our partners including the Round Valley Indian Tribes and Trout Unlimited have long advocated for a free-flowing Eel River to improve the health of the river and its salmon and steelhead populations.
Scott Dam. Credit: Kyle Schwartz
.PG&E Confirms Plan to Begin Full Removal of Eel River Dams
All in-river facilities to be removed; Eel will be the longest free-flowing river in California 
On November 17, 2023, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) released the initial draft of its plan to remove two dams on the Eel River. The plan calls for the complete and expeditious removal of most of the Potter Valley Project facilities. PG&E must provide the plan to federal regulators as part of the license surrender process triggered by the utility’s decision to divest from the financially unviable Project, which has not generated power since 2021.  PG&E must submit a final Draft License Surrender Application (LSA) and Decommissioning Plan to federal regulators in May 2024, and a Final LSA in January 2025.
“The Round Valley Indian Tribes have relied on the Eel River and its fishery since time immemorial. Today marks a historic first step in restoring this important cultural and natural resource to health,” said Lewis “Bill” Whipple, President of the Round Valley Indian Tribes Tribal Council.
“CalTrout has been a staunch advocate for removing the Eel River dams and restoring this important watershed from headwaters to estuary,” said Curtis Knight, executive director of California Trout. “The draft plan calls for removing Scott and Cape Horn Dams, two of Northern California’s most harmful fish passage barriers, and restoring the Eel River to a free-flowing state.”
“Dam removal will make the Eel the longest free-flowing river in California and will open up hundreds of stream miles of prime habitat unavailable to native salmon and steelhead for over 100 years,” said Brian J. Johnson, California Director for Trout Unlimited. “This is the most important thing we can do for salmon and steelhead on the Eel River, and these fisheries cannot afford to wait.”
The Eel River once supported runs of up to a million salmon and steelhead each year, but those numbers have plummeted to a fraction of historical numbers. Scientists recognize that a healthy and free-flowing Eel River has the potential to play a key role in the rebound of these fisheries throughout the North Coast region.
PG&E’s plan also includes – as an alternative for evaluation – a revised framework proposal from a regional group to negotiate terms for a new diversion facility that could support ongoing limited water diversions into the Russian River watershed after removing the dams, provided such diversions are consistent with the full recovery of the Eel River ecosystem to self-sustaining, harvestable populations. Proponents of the proposal include the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Trout, Humboldt County, Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, Round Valley Indian Tribes, Sonoma County Water Agency, and Trout Unlimited.
“Critically, this new proposal includes a commitment from all proponents that funding, permitting, and construction of a new diversion will not delay PG&E’s decommissioning and dam removal,” said Johnson. “It represents a viable framework for a two-basin solution and we are committed to working with our partners to develop it further.”
“We agreed to work with Russian River water users on this effort because we believe strongly that the best thing we can do for salmon and steelhead is to get these dams out of the river as quickly as possible,” said Knight. “If we can work out a deal, that is the best way to make that happen.”
“The Tribes are pleased to join with their partners in creating a path to a solution that ensures the survival and recovery of our most precious resource,” added President Whipple.

The Potter Valley Project includes two Eel River dams, a diversion tunnel that moves water out of the Eel River watershed and into the East Branch of the Russian River, and a powerhouse. The Project’s owner, PG&E, has allowed its license for the operation to expire and is currently working with federal regulators to develop a license surrender and decommissioning plan for the facilities.
Located on the Eel River 20 miles northeast of Ukiah, Scott and Cape Horn Dam are over 100 years old. Equipment failures in 2021 caused Project owner PG&E to permanently suspend hydropower operations. Water storage levels in Lake Pillsbury, the reservoir created by Scott Dam, have been reduced by more than 25% due to increased seismic safety concerns with the dam. Scott Dam completely blocks fish passage to high-quality cold-water habitat in the Eel River headwaters. The smaller Cape Horn diversion dam has a faulty fish ladder that needs to be revised to meet current environmental standards.
Conservation and commercial fishing groups have long advocated for a free-flowing Eel River. In 2023, American Rivers named the Eel one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, citing the Potter Valley Project dams as major factors driving Chinook salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey toward extinction.

The target date for dam deconstruction to begin is in 2028, pending review and approval from the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission.

Malibu Lagoon Chumash-Polynesian Connection

Archaeologist Terry Jones of California Polytechnic State University acknowledges that the Malibu Lagoon Chumash could have encountered Polynesian master navigators, who gave their tomol building skills to the Chumash.

The Chumash called themselves “people of the tomol.” They called their canoe a “house of the sea.” For the Chumash people of the Southern California coast, the sewn-plank canoe, or tomol, was an all important part of their lives. Alfred Kroeber talks about the possible Chumash-Polynesian connection in his 1939 book:
“There is a definite climax in [the southern California] area among coast and island Gabrielino and Chumash, whose culture was semi-maritime, with seagoing plank canoes. Although this climax culture was likely to have been further developed locally once it had taken root on the Santa Barbara Islands, its spontaneous origin on the mainland coast and growth to the point where it could reach the islands are hard to understand on the basis of either a Californian or a Sonora-Yuman culture basis. There is therefore a possibility that its impetus came in part either from the Northwest Coast or from across the Pacific, to both of which regions there are sporadic but fairly specific parallels: harpoon, canoe, round shell fishhooks, psychological cosmogony…..but the abundant archaeological evidence shows that this puzzling local climax culture as a whole far antedates any Caucasian contacts.”

(Handbook of California Indians, Alfred Kroeber, 1939:44-45)

Among North American Indians, only the Chumash, and later the neighboring Gabrielino, built sewn-plank canoes. In the Western Hemisphere, this technology is otherwise known only from the coast of Chile and among Pacific Islanders. The tomols were able to carry large loads for long distances which could allowed for navigation across the Pacific.

See also,

Rename the Northern Channel Islands

Please consider signing the petition to change the Channel Island names back to their original Chumash –

From the petition: “Honoring the Chumash and other California Indigenous peoples takes many forms. Officially recognizing original place names is one example of how the contributions of Indigenous peoples can be incorporated into constructing inclusive historical narratives. The recent renaming of Patrick’s Point State Park to its Yurok name of Sue-meg began the healing and repairing process by acknowledging the rightful and last standing name of this important cultural landscape, a landform critical to the identity and function of the Yurok people. The Northern California Channel Islands in all their beauty should be referred to by their original names as Chumash ancestors did for thousands of years.

Fortunately, the Chumash documented numerous place names in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, including the Northern California Channel Islands. Therefore, we the signed below request that the Northern California Channel Islands be changed from Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, and San Miguel back to their Chumash names of ‘Anyapax, Limuw, Wima, and Tuqan respectively.”

Reentry “Simulation” Program

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia has developed a Reentry Simulation program that recreates some of the struggles and challenges faced by individuals who are transitioning from incarceration back into society.

The goal is for participants to gain an understanding of the significant obstacles faced by men and women attempting to navigate the system upon their release from incarceration and returning home to their communities. In their words, “to walk in the shoes of one who is returning home gives invaluable insight for professionals who are tasked with helping those individuals achieve a successful reentry.”

In the program, participants assume the identity of an ex-offender and receive a packet of materials, including a “Life Card.” The “Life Card” explains the reentrant’s criminal background, current living situation, current job situation, and the specific weekly tasks that must be accomplished in order to avoid the risk of being sent back to prison for non-compliance with the requirements of his or her supervised release. In a series of 15 minute segments, the “reentrants” navigate a series of stations that represent the many places a returning citizen must navigate in real life on release. Each table has random elements which produce real life uncertainty when dealing with each of these agencies and organizations. Some of these stations include DMV, Probation, Court, GED, Bank, Employer, Social Services, Church, Pawn Shop, Landlord/Rent, Transportation, Health Clinic, Treatment, etc. Additionally, there are “monitors” and “officers” who check “Life Cards” to aid Probation Officers in assessing each reentrant’s level of compliance. They also identify those who may need increased levels of supervision.

In between each of these segments (at the end of each “week”) reentrants return to their “housing locations,” which can be home, the halfway house, homeless shelter or jail, depending on how successful they have been in satisfying the conditions of their release and accomplishing their assigned tasks. They then engage in a guided discussion with the event facilitators debriefing them with regards to their experiences and helping them reflect on their successes and failures.

A full description is here:

Marin County recently put on this Reentry Simulation through their Whole Person Care program:

Underground Scholars at UC Santa Cruz

The Underground Scholars Initiative (USI), a peer support system for previously incarcerated and system impacted students, has come UC Santa Cruz, with a new chapter that began operations this past fall. Beginning with a single program at UC Berkeley in 2013, the program now operates at seven UC campuses, providing services such as counseling support, financial literacy, internship and job opportunities, and a community of individuals from diverse backgrounds that members can rely on before and after graduation. 

Although higher education is one of the best predictors of successful reentry, without the support and resources available through programs like USI, formerly incarcerated individuals are eight times less likely to complete college than their peers according to the Prison Policy Initiative. The Rising Scholars Program in the community college system, Project Rebound in the Cal States, and USI chapters in the UC system all work to improve those numbers by encouraging enrollment and retention through resources and support.

As Daniel Davis, a member of the UCSC USI community puts it: “We find that people that have been impacted by incarceration often don’t fit in with the crowd that is typically at a world-class university. A sense of belonging is something that has to be cultivated through resources, community, and general acceptance.”

“Having [an] exposure to a diversity of people and things really helps people to put in perspective and take control over their lives,” said core leadership team member and fourth-year UCSC transfer student Missy Hart. “[We encourage them to] take control over their lives, their stories, and help them in a way that’s going to be positive for themselves and everyone else around them.”

Funding for the USI chapter at UCSC comes from the Renaissance Scholars Program, Services for Transfer and Re-entry Students (STARS) – both student support offices at UCSC – and from individual donors and grants, including from the original UC Berkeley chapter. A large part of the funding went to hiring a director, Joshua Solis, a recent UCSC graduate.

“It was through the overwhelming support of STARS and Renaissance Scholars that allowed for Underground Scholars at UCSC to emerge as a support program for formerly incarcerated and system impacted students,” Solis said. “The funding that was allocated to Underground Scholars emphasizes their commitment in building capacity for supporting all of our students at STARS.

The UCSC Underground Scholars are hosting a virtual introductory event on Wednesday, February 24:


The newly created California System-Involved Bar Association – CSIBA – has as its mission to increase access to legal education and State Bar of California licensure for people with prior criminal justice system involvement. The brainchild of Frankie Guzman and James Binnall, themselves attorneys with histories of criminal justice system involvement, CSIBA hopes to harness the energy and commitment of others similarly situated to provide education, mentoring, and advocacy to achieve that mission. Here is the project vision:

“The California System Involved Bar Association is above all else – a community. Our members are invested in the successes of those who come after us, as we understand that to effectuate real, lasting change, we must continually give back to our population. When one achieves their goals, we all benefit. 

One of the primary purposes of CSIBA is to offer our community a sense of hope. Often, our population is discouraged from pursuing a career in law because “people like us can’t do that” or “are not allowed to do that.” We are here to dispel those myths. Our members, all formerly incarcerated or system involved, are practicing attorneys specializing in a variety of areas of law and working in a host of different fields. For example, our members include licensed attorneys who are professors, policy advocates, and non-profit leaders.

Though hope is a necessary first step, we understand that without resources, hope is of little value. Along those lines, we have built a statewide network of members to help formerly incarcerated and system involved individuals to achieve their dream of becoming a licensed California attorney. From admission to law school through licensure, members are available to share their stories, offer encouragement, and strategize next steps. In short, we will walk with you on your path to becoming an attorney.

Too often our population is viewed as having an abundance of deficits.  Many talk about formerly incarcerated and system involved people as having needs and posing risks.  It is our belief that such an approach overlooks the assets, strengths, and attributes that we have as a population.  All of us have navigated the criminal justice system – and for some of us that included incarceration.  Still, we have come out on the other side wiser and stronger.  This demonstrates a type of resilience and character that we believe translates into being a successful attorney. This group is about that belief – the belief that we make good, ethical lawyers.

Thank you for visiting our site. We appreciate your interest and if you are formerly incarcerated or system involved, please reach out, join a meeting, and start to work toward your dream of entering the legal profession. If you are simply interested in our organization, we welcome your help. We collaborate with a vast array of stakeholders, because we know the difficulties our population faces and the necessary assistance we all need.

– James M. Binnall & Frankie Guzman
CSIBA Co-Founders & Co-Executive Directors”

Paul Seeman is a member of the CSIBA E-Board.

Voter Suppression On Trial – Live!

In 2018 the Florida electorate approved Amendment 4 to the Florida constitution, restoring voting rights to citizens with felony criminal records. A few months later, the Republican-led Florida Senate drew up a payments bill, requiring those citizens to settle all financial obligations before they could register to vote. Governor DeSantis signed the bill into law in June 2019, and shortly thereafter a coalition of Floridians and voting rights organizations sued Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, arguing that a law that requires payment of all legal fines, fees and restitution before a citizen can register to vote amounts to an illegal poll tax. That case has gone to trial today, Monday April 27, 2020, in the Northern Districtsof Florida.

The case sits squarely at the intersection of the civil rights movement for formerly incarcerated people, the criminal justice reform movement, and the acrimonious partisan battle over voter suppression issues. Because of COVID-19 and the resulting shutdown of court systems, the trial is being held in a virtual digital courtroom, and as a result anyone can listen in on the live audio feed:

Call-in (571) 353-2300

Access code 034872985



That is the title of a first-of-its-kind empirical study of the effects of state laws limiting public access to criminal records – commonly known as “expungement.” It is worth quoting the abstract in its entirety:

 “Laws permitting the expungement of criminal convictions are a key component of modern criminal justice reform efforts and have been the subject of a recent upsurge of legislative activity. This debate has been almost entirely devoid of evidence about the laws’ effects, in part because the necessary data (such as sealed records themselves) have been unavailable. We were able to obtain access to deidentified data that overcomes that problem, and we use it to carry out a comprehensive statewide study of expungement recipients and comparable non-recipients. We offer three key sets of empirical findings. First, among those legally eligible for expungement, just 6.5% obtain it within five years of eligibility. Drawing on patterns in our data as well as interviews with expungement lawyers, we point to reasons for this serious “uptake gap.” Second, those who do obtain expungement have extremely low subsequent crime rates, comparing favorably to the general population—a finding that defuses a common public-safety objection to expungement laws. Third, those who obtain expungement experience a sharp upturn in their wage and employment trajectories; on average, within two years, wages go up by 25% versus the pre-expungement trajectory, an effect mostly driven by unemployed people finding jobs and very minimally employed people finding steadier or higher-paying work.”

The paper is available here.

The Innocent Defendant’s Dilemma

In the classic game-theory “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” the puzzle is that two suspects questioned separately may end up getting harsher punishment when they both cooperate with law enforcement and implicate their accomplice than if they each stay silent – even though it appears they will get more lenient treatment if they cooperate.

The normal game is described in detail in Wikipedia:

Prisoner B

Prisoner A

Prisoner B stays silent
Prisoner B betrays
Prisoner A stays silent
Each serves 1 year Prisoner A: 3 years
Prisoner B: goes free
Prisoner A betrays
Prisoner A: goes free
Prisoner B: 3 years
Each serves 2 years

A real life version of this is the innocent defendant’s dilemma – a defendant who pleads guilty or no contest in return for a more lenient sentence, while maintaining their innocence – an “Alford” plea – may end up facing harsher treatment later on in the process than a defendant who is factually guilty and is therefore able to truthfully express remorse in return for more favorable outcomes in probation, parole, or other collateral consequence contexts.

We know for a fact from the evolution of DNA testing and the popular scope of “Innocence Project” investigations that innocent defendants do plead guilty. Those cases are almost always serious felonies, so it is hard to know the real extent of the problem or practice in the criminal justice system as a whole, but in a 2013 study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology – “The Innocent Defendant’s Dilemma: An Innovative Empirical Study of Plea Bargaining’s Innocence Problem”, (Volume 103, Issue 1) a controlled experiment found that more than 50% of a sample of college students were willing to falsely admit guilt for a perceived benefit.

That finding makes an interesting bookend to a paper in the Missouri Law Review – “Plea Best Not Taken: Why Criminal Defendants Should Avoid the Alford Plea” (68 Missouri Law Review 1 (2003)) discussing how the legal system assumes and allows innocent defendants to plead guilty – an “Alford” plea – or nolo contendere, but then assumes guilt for post-sentencing, rehabilitation, and other collateral consequence purposes. As the authors of that article point out, because of the lack of “remorse” that goes with a continuing claim of innocence, those defendants may be treated more harshly after the Alford or nolo plea than others who are in fact  guilty of criminal conduct and are able to express remorse and regret in return for favorable treatment in probation, parole, or other collateral consequence contexts:

“Availing oneself of an Alford plea may result in a stiffer sentence than that imposed on someone who merely pleads guilty…Courts have consistently upheld sentence aggravation for defendants who have pled guilty, but maintained their innocence based on their “lack of remorse.” In addition, courts have revoked defendants’ probation because after utilizing the Alford plea and asserting their innocence, they fail to admit their offense as part of a probation-mandated counseling program. Finally, courts have upheld the denial of parole to defendants who have utilized the Alford plea, professed their innocence, and then failed to admit their guilt while in prison.”

Just one more small example of how the over-criminalization and over-charging that drive our plea-bargain based system of criminal adjudication leads to systemic injustice and hypocrisy.

Bail Reform Challenge In California

The historic bail reform legislation passed in California last year, described in a blog post here in August 2018, is being challenged by the bail bond industry. As described by the LA Times,  a national coalition of bail agency groups has collected enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot in 2020 that would overturn the reform legislation and restore the money bail system.

Bail bonds are a $2-billion national industry, and there are 3,200 bail agents registered in California.

Pending the referendum, bail reform based on the new law – SB 10 – continues. At least 11 counties are employing roughly 40 different pilot pretrial programs to reduce the number of people cycling in and out of jail, and as many as 49 California counties are using risk assessment tools, or tech analyses that help courts determine which defendants are fit for release and which pose a risk to public safety or of not coming back to court. California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who helped craft the state’s bail law, has assembled a working group to evaluate pretrial programs and make recommendations on next steps now that the law is on hold, and Gov. Gavin Newsom earmarked $75 million in his budget proposal last week for counties over the next two years to implement and evaluate pretrial efforts in up to 10 courts.