Wednesday, 29 November 2023


NORTHERN CALIFORNIA — The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation has partnered with the Sierra Club, Yolo County Farm Bureau, and local residents in a lawsuit to challenge a Yolo County cannabis ordinance.

Proponents said the lawsuit does not seek to stop cannabis cultivation and related businesses in Yolo County, or to prevent county residents from profiting from the cannabis industry.

Instead, they said it would simply require the county to comply with California environmental law by evaluating the full and real impacts of cannabis cultivation, and mitigate those impacts, before adopting an ordinance regulating it.

Adhering to this process is what the California Environmental Quality Act requires, and these same requirements apply to every other regulated land use.

“The cannabis industry has a place in Yolo County, just as cannabis has a place in the medicine cabinets of many people in California,” the Tribal Council of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation said in a statement on the lawsuit. “But sensible cannabis permitting can’t happen until the county is clear-eyed about the problems overconcentration creates, especially in sensitive areas around schools, near cultural heritage sites, and in smaller communities like those in the Capay Valley.”

The “green rush” to the Capay Valley — which is composed of rural communities west of Interstate 505 from Madison through Rumsey — created widespread blight and land uses incompatible with the organic farming practices and ecotourism for which the area is known.

Additionally, the Capay Valley’s location in the northernmost part of the county makes cannabis farms there difficult to reach and more expensive to regulate for inspectors and sheriff deputies, including deputies subsidized by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

With more than half of the grows concentrated in the Capay Valley, local residents have become unduly burdened, the lawsuit’s proponents said.

The suit stems from what the proponents said are flaws in the environmental review process that produced a cannabis land use ordinance the Yolo County Board of Supervisors adopted.

One key flaw cited by the groups who are suing is the county's refusal to compare the impacts of cannabis cultivation to Yolo County's rural environment and agricultural landscape before the grows existed.

By proceeding in this fashion, the county's environmental document necessarily missed significant cannabis industry impacts, the proponents said.

While the county agreed it made sense to protect the upper Capay Valley from an over concentration of grows, its ordinance allows cannabis grows to now concentrate in the lower Capay Valley, burdening small rural communities, schools and businesses, particularly in Madison and Esparto, the lawsuit proponents said.

These communities are among the poorest and most diverse in the county, with Esparto and Madison having the highest percentage of Latino residents (55.3% and 76%, respectively), and with Madison ranking as the most impoverished.

The groups bringing the suit said Yolo County’s rulemaking is unclear even on the issue of the Capay Valley’s boundaries, which is defined one way in some legal documents, and another way in the proposed ordinance.

The plaintiffs said cannabis cultivation poses adverse impacts for residential rural communities, also arguing that its production is fundamentally incompatible with traditional agriculture in Yolo County, and the county needs to account for that reality through appropriate mitigation.

The full extent of the increased costs and harms created by the industry cannot be known because the county refused to consider impacts of cannabis cultivation authorized as of 2017, without any environmental review. The lawsuit filed Thursday seeks to correct that error.

Stolen mail recovered during the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office investigation. Courtesy photo.

NORTH COAST, Calif. — Authorities are investigating what they said is a massive fraud and mail theft case that they believe has more than 100 victims throughout inland Mendocino County.

Mendocino County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jay Vanoven said Sharon Kathleen Smith, 43, of Potter Valley and Charles Maxfield, 46, of Willits have been identified as the suspects in the case.

Shortly after 1 a.m. Sept. 25, Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies responded to a report of a suspicious vehicle in the area of West Road and Spring Valley Road in Potter Valley, Vanoven said.

He said a resident noticed a vehicle parked near mail boxes in the area and believed the occupants may have been stealing mail. As the resident approached the vehicle, it sped away and was last seen in the area of Spring Valley Road.

The first responding deputy encountered the vehicle, a 2004 Ford Focus, on Spring Valley Road. Vanoven said the deputy noticed the vehicle came to an abrupt stop before he made contact with it.

As the deputy approached the vehicle on foot, he noticed the driver seat was vacant. When the deputy contacted the passenger, Sharon Smith, he heard what sounded like a person running away through the nearby brush, Vanoven said.

Vanoven said evidence later found within the vehicle identified the driver as Charles Maxfield, who was known to be on Post Release Community Supervision, or PRCS, for convictions related to mail theft. Maxfield was also known to have an outstanding arrest warrant for violating the terms of his PRCS.

Additional deputies arrived and searched the area for Maxfield but were unsuccessful, Vanoven said.

A search of the vehicle revealed a massive amount of mail and numerous identification documents, none of which were addressed or issued to Maxfield or Smith. Vanoven said deputies also located in the vehicle numerous blank checks, a laptop computer and a portable color printer.

Sharon Kathleen Smith, 43, of Potter Valley, California, was arrested on Saturday, September 25, 2021, on charges related to a fraud and mail theft case. Mendocino County Jail photo.

A photocopy of a California Identification Card depicting Maxfield was located with the printer. The ID card contained the full identification of a person other than Maxfield, Vanoven said.

Based on this initial investigation, deputies determined Maxfield and Smith were in fact actively stealing mail, and using the identifying information gathered from the mail, to commit fraudulent and felonious acts.

Smith was arrested and booked into the Mendocino County Jail on charges of felony defrauding or acquiring personal identifying information and conspiracy to commit a crime, and a misdemeanor probation violation.

A search warrant for Smith's residence, located in Potter Valley, was secured and served. Vanoven said no additional evidence was located.

Based on the nature of the crimes, a request to increase bail and to restrict the source of bail was granted by a Mendocino County Superior Court judge. Vanoven said Smith's bail was set at "no bail" and should bail be set, she will be required to prove that the funds used to post bail were not feloniously obtained before bail will be granted.

Maxfield remains outstanding at this time, Vanoven said.

Vanoven said further investigation of the evidence revealed no less than 100 separated victims' identifying information had been acquired by Smith and Maxfield.

This information likely had been used, or was being possessed with the intent to use, in the commission of multiple felonious offenses, Vanoven said.

Deputies, with the assistance of the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office Investigations Division, are continuing to follow up with victims related to this case, according to Vanoven’s report.

Vanoven said mail was found addressed to persons in Ukiah, Calpella, Potter Valley, Redwood Valley, Reeves Canyon and Willits.

Moving to protect public health and the environment, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday proclaimed a state of emergency in Orange County to support the emergency response to the oil spill off the coast of Huntington Beach that originated in federal waters.

“The state is moving to cut red tape and mobilize all available resources to protect public health and the environment,” said Gov. Newsom. “As California continues to lead the nation in phasing out fossil fuels and combating the climate crisis, this incident serves as a reminder of the enormous cost fossil fuels have on our communities and the environment.”

At the governor’s direction, the state has deployed personnel from the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services to the incident command in Long Beach to closely coordinate with the U.S. Coast Guard, local agencies and responsible parties on the response, cleanup and mitigation of the oil spill.

In addition, agencies from across the administration are on the ground actively supporting various elements of the response, including staff from California State Parks, California Volunteers, California State Lands Commission, Cal Fire and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, among others.

Gov. Newsom has led an effort to phase out the use of fossil fuels, fight the climate crisis, protect our environment and support the health of every Californian.

California has not granted new offshore leases for oil production in over 50 years and Gov. Newsom has directed the California Air Resources Board to analyze pathways to phase out oil extraction by 2045.

In January 2019, just after taking office, Gov. Newsom opposed the Trump administration’s proposal to expand oil and gas exploration and production off of California’s coast. He urged the Department of the Interior to withdraw California from further consideration for renewed offshore oil and gas development and asked the Bureau of Land Management to shelve its proposal to open new areas of public land in California for oil and gas lease sales.

A new advance warning sign south of Chico, California. Photo courtesy of Caltrans.

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. — Caltrans has installed a permanent advance warning system at the intersection of northbound State Highway 99 and Neal Road south of Chico.

Motorists will see an electronic board displaying the message “Caution Slow Traffic Ahead” when vehicle speed slows to 25 miles per hour or less at the traffic signal-controlled intersection.

The message will stay on until vehicles resume traveling above 25 miles per hour.

“Caltrans has worked with the California Highway Patrol and local partners to implement a series of safety measures on northbound Highway 99,” said Amarjeet S. Benipal, Caltrans District 3 director. “The new intersection advance warning system upholds our commitment to help motorists arrive safely to their destinations.”

Other safety countermeasures include the installation of two traffic signal warning signs with flashing beacons and rumble stripes placed across the two northbound traffic lanes.

These transverse rumble stripes are made of thermoplastic material which, when driven over, create noticeable sound and vibrations to warn drivers of an approaching intersection where they may be required to slow down or stop.

Caltrans District 3 maintains more than 4,385 lane miles of state highway in 11 Sacramento Valley and Northern Sierra counties.

A hatchery worker shows off an adult spring-run Chinook salmon. Photo courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the California Department of Water Resources have announced a joint effort at the Feather River Fish Hatchery in Butte County to aid in offsetting impacts to spring-run and fall-run Chinook salmon resulting from this year’s extreme drought conditions.

Under this joint initiative, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, or CDFW, and the California Department of Water Resources, or DWR, are taking a two-part approach supporting Feather River salmon populations to guard against impacts observed during the state’s last multi-year drought, as well as protect against impacts observed in recent years due to a nutrient deficiency.

“During California’s last extended drought, we observed significant declines in Sacramento Valley fall-run Chinook salmon stock contributions to the state’s sport and commercial fishery,” said Colin Purdy, environmental program manager for fisheries in CDFW’s North Central Region. “We’re trying to get ahead of any drought-related impacts this time by taking these actions and trying to keep these populations as stable and healthy as we can.”

First, the agencies will try to increase the number of spring-run Chinook salmon successfully spawning in-river by returning healthy adults that have returned to Feather River Fish Hatchery that are in excess of those needed to meet hatchery production goals and have been treated with a nutrient supplement.

Second, in anticipation of decreased recruitment to the ocean fishery, fall-run Chinook salmon production at the hatchery will be increased from 6 million to 7.75 million smolts.

“Even though wild salmon and hatcheries are well studied throughout California and the Pacific Northwest, our community of dedicated state, federal and university scientists continues to uncover new information,” said Jason Kindopp, manager of DWR’s Feather River Program. “Managing hatcheries and salmon populations presents new challenges every season and using the best data available helps inform our actions to fit the moment.”

Earlier this spring, adult spring-run Chinook salmon collected at the Feather River Fish Hatchery were provided a thiamine supplement injection to protect against impacts from Thiamine Deficiency Complex, or TDC.

TDC was first observed in Central Valley Chinook populations in 2019, and results in early egg and fry mortality in progeny from affected adults.

This year, once spring-run spawning production goals are met, the hatchery will return any excess, healthy adult broodstock that have been treated for TDC back to the river to spawn naturally and promote in-river production.

“The thiamine deficiency has been showing up in returning adults these past few years due to a change in ocean food resources. This year, providing the thiamine supplement at the hatchery will help production both at the hatchery and in the natural spawning areas,” said Jason Julienne, senior environmental scientist, supervisor for CDFW's North Central Region Hatchery Program. “By returning thiamine supplemented adults to the river we can maximize the benefit of that action to the Feather River spring-run population.”

The spawning of spring-run Chinook salmon by CDFW staff during September was successful with more than 3 million eggs harvested.

The spawning of fall-run Chinook salmon at the Feather River Fish Hatchery will begin in early October with the goal of producing 7.75 million fall-run Chinook salmon smolts to be released in the spring of 2022.

The Feather River Fish Hatchery is a California State Water Project facility owned and maintained by DWR, which funds hatchery operations. CDFW operates the hatchery, including fish spawning, rearing and stocking activities.

Gina Rae Bean, 43, of Fort Bragg, California, was convicted of a fatal hit-and-run crash in 2019 that killed a skateboarder. Mendocino County Jail photo.

NORTH COAST, Calif. — A Mendocino County judge on Thursday convicted a Fort Bragg woman of a felony in the 2019 death of a skateboarder.

Gina Rae Bean, 43, was found guilty after a trial in front of Presiding Judge Ann Moorman.

Bean was convicted of a felony, leaving the scene of an accident resulting in the death of another person, in this case, 21-year-old Calum Pulido, also known as Calum Hunnicutt.

The state Vehicle Code mandates that the driver of a vehicle involved in an accident resulting in the injury or death of a person must immediately stop the vehicle and render aid including summoning emergency help.

State law also requires a driver to report the accident without delay to the nearest law enforcement agency.

Criminal charges accused Bean of failing on the night of July 18, 2019, to stop, render aid or notify law enforcement of a crash on Highway 1 at the intersection with Little Lake Road.

Pulido was skateboarding with a friend at about 10:45 p.m. July 18. He was heading west on Little Lake Road when he was struck and killed by a northbound vehicle driven by Bean.

Court proceedings were delayed for a year because of a variety of reasons including COVID restrictions.

Eventually Bean and her private attorney waived her right to a jury trial and agreed to a trial before Judge Moorman in Mendocino County Superior Court.

The court trial began on Sept. 20 and over a total of five days prosecution and defense witnesses testified in front of Judge Moorman.

Bean testified on her own behalf at the court trial. Judge Moorman heard final arguments on Tuesday and took the case under submission.

Judge Moorman announced the guilty verdict on Thursday. Sentencing of Bean is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 3.

The Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office said Bean faces up to four years in state prison.

Bean also could be placed on supervised probation for no more than two years. Under law, however, Bean must serve county jail time. With credits, Bean could serve between 45 and 180 actual days in jail.

The California Highway Patrol and the state Department of Justice crime laboratories in Eureka and Sacramento developed evidence after the vehicle involved in the fatal accident was found hidden, and already under repair.

District Attorney investigators assisted prosecutor Eloise Kelsey in the trial preparation and developing additional evidence.

Judge Moorman found co-defendant, Ricky Faustino Santos, 37, also of Fort Bragg, was not guilty of being an accessory after the fact. Santos faces no further court proceedings, the District Attorney’s Office reported.

Upcoming Calendar

12.02.2023 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
12.02.2023 5:00 pm - 8:00 pm
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12.03.2023 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
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12.09.2023 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
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12.16.2023 9:00 am - 10:00 am
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