Saturday, 22 June 2024


LAKEPORT – A mediation held Friday for the various parties involved in a series of lawsuits revolving around the Vista Point Shopping Center didn't end up in a settlement, according to the city of Lakeport's attorney.

Steve Brookes said the day's mediation results don't mean the suits can't be settled in the next few months, although he said it's hard to predict how long the legal matters might take to resolve.

Brookes, along with attorneys from Meridian Investments, Superior Acquisitions and Park National Bank took part in the mediation, held in Walnut Creek. Excused from the proceedings was Donica, the company owned by Matt Riveras, who purchased the shopping center from the city late last year.

The web of lawsuits around the center goes like this.

Park National Bank is suing Meridian Investments in an attempt to foreclose on the $1.9 million loan for the lease on the shopping center's buildings, which Meridian has held for many years. Meridian reportedly began defaulting on the loan in late 2007.

Donica has filed a notice of default against Meridian, saying the condition of the shopping center's buildings broke the lease.

Park National then named Donica in a suit which Riveras told Lake County News earlier this year was an attempt by the bank to get its money back and prevent him from getting the property.

Superior Acquisitions, whose owner Barry Johnson made an unsuccessful bid for the shopping center last year, filed a lawsuit against the city and Mayor Buzz Bruns in April. By selling the land to Riveras, the suit claims the city violated an exclusive negotiating agreement it had entered into with Superior Acquisitions in 2004 for the property.

Finally, the city is counter suing Johnson, saying he was negligent in managing the Will-O-Point Resort. The city alleges the trailer park's uncapped sewer cleanouts led to an April 2006 city sewer system overload and a release of treated wastewater, which ultimately cost the city millions to remedy with state regulators.

All of the parties were ordered to the Friday mediation, although Donica was excused, Brookes said.

The exact nature of what was discussed in the proceedings is confidential, said Brookes. However, he said the various parties, which were kept in separate rooms, exchanged information and shared their versions of the complex story with a mediator, who took notes.

“The majority of the discussion was between Meridian and the bank and Superior,” said Brookes.

Donica, Brookes added, is supposed to attend a December settlement conference with the other parties.

In January, Park National Bank's foreclosure suit against Meridian will go to trial. “Their issue is how much are they going to get paid.”

Brookes said the parties involved in the mediation appeared willing to have another session, which he said isn't unusual in mediation proceedings.

This month a large amount of discovery is preparing to take place in the various suits involving the city, Johnson and Riveras, Brookes said.

“Everybody's going to be deposing everybody for a couple of months,” he said.

Because Brookes himself is a potential witness on the city's behalf, he expects outside counsel will be hired to represent the city and Bruns, but he has no estimate on the potential cost.

The additional legal fees the city may incur also won't be covered by the city's insurance carrier, which ruled the matter is a contractual dispute not covered by its memorandum of coverage, as Lake County News has reported.

The December settlement conference will likely shed light on whether or not a conclusion is possible in the near future, but Brookes said he doesn't know if the matters can be solved by year's end.

“The variables are many at this stage,” he said.

Brookes is scheduled to give the City Council an update on the mediation in closed session following the public portion of the Tuesday council meeting.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


LUCERNE – Lucerne FLOW (Friends of Locally Owned Water) elected new board members and officers Thursday night, in a meeting which had been delayed a month.

The board members are Craig Bach, Charles Behne, Gregory Cavness, Karen Kennedy, Jerry Morehouse, Louise Talley and James Wilkie.

The board members agreed on Behne as president; Bach, vice president; Talley, secretary; and Kennedy, treasurer.

Their next meeting is Thursday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. at the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center.

The group agreed its immediate goals are to seek nonprofit status and to consult with the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) on the process for becoming a Community Service District which would operate the town's water system.

The organization was formed in September of 2005 and has been registered as a California corporation since October, 2006.


LAKE COUNTY – As local, state and presidential campaigns head into the final month before the November election, it's a busy time at the Registrar of Voters Office.

From now until the Nov. 4 election is certified, it's crunch time, said Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley.

Staff are now dealing with the election year influx of new voter registrations, working on absentee mailings and other preparations that are necessary in a presidential election year.

On Sept. 23 the office received its absentee ballots. With the ballots came the need for extra help. So, the same day the ballots arrived, Fridley's four permanent staffers – two of which are part-time – were joined by six employees who will offer extra help during election season.

Elections staff is currently in the process of preparing thousands of vote-by-mail ballots for absentee voters. Fridley said the first day they can begin mailing absentee ballots is Oct. 6.

In recent years there has been a significant shift among Lake County voters to absentee voting, said Fridley.

Today, 44.3 percent of county voters vote by absentee ballot in Lake County. Among the county's 33,680 registered voters, 18,727 vote at precincts and 14,953 are registered to permanently vote by mail, with 182 of those people either serving in the military or living overseas, Fridley said.

Those voting at precincts have the option to use electronic voting machines, which remain a controversial election-related topic because of security concerns raised by officials including California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

Lake County has one electronic Hart InterCivic eSlate voting unit per precinct, as required by the Help America Vote Act. In 2006 the county spent more then $567,000 on 50 electronic machines, as Lake County News has reported.

However, Lake County doesn't rely on such machines. Fridley said the county continues primarily to use the paper-based Mark-A-Vote optical scanning system, which has been in use locally since 1983.

Only three counties in California – Lake, Sonoma and Madera – continue to use the Mark-A-Vote, said Fridley.

Last August, Bowen reported that the eSlates were among several electronic voting systems that required additional security. In December 2007 she conditionally reapproved the Hart InterCivic voting machines with a lengthy list of security requirements.

Fridley's office follows an audit procedure to help deal with security concerns. She said votes registered on the machines aren't tallied on electronic equipment. Rather, the voting information is transferred to a printed ballot which is marked onto a Mark-A-Vote ballot.

Looking at voter statistics this year, Fridley noted that voter registrations are up, said Fridley.

“Every presidential year the registration and the turnout is higher,” she said. “Statistically, that's how it plays out.”

The Elections Office currently is receiving about 25 voter registrations a day. Fridley said most of those registrations are new.

That registration rate is about the same as it was for the February primary election, she said.

From Jan. 1 through Sept. 23, there have been approximately 1,326 new registrations. Fridley said that's a good rate for an election year.

Lake County's registration report for September showed it has a 71.86-percent voter registration rate, higher than the state average, according to the California Secretary of State's Office. In all, Lake County has 46,714 people who are eligible to vote.

In partisan statistics, 43.32 percent of Lake County voters are registered Democrats, compared to 30.64 percent for Republicans, 3.19 percent for the American Independent Party and 1.14 percent for the Green Party.

The California Secretary of State reports that the state's voter registration is now at 69.79 percent, slightly behind the 70.91 percent statewide registration recorded in September 2004. While there are 16.1 million voters registered in California, up from 15.6 million in 2004, there also are 1.1 million new eligible voters this year.

The state's partisan voter registrations mirror those in Lake County, with Democrats leading with 43.91 percent, followed by Republicans with 32.32 percent, the American Independent Party with 2.06 percent and the Green Party with 0.72 percent, according to state reports.

Presidential years typically have a higher turnout, which Fridley expects to be the case again this year.

For the 2000 presidential election, 69.9 percent of the county's voters cast a ballot, said Fridley. Of those, 20.2 percent voted absentee and 49.7 percent at precincts.

In November 2004, precinct voting fell to 42.3 percent and absentee voters rose to 32.8 percent, for a 75.2 percent overall turnout, said Fridley.

Those wishing to register to vote in the Nov. 4 election must have their registration postmarked no later than Oct. 20, Bowen's office reported.

Registration forms can be downloaded at or picked up at the Registrar of Voters Office, 255 N. Forbes St., Lakeport; the Department of Motor Vehicles; city clerk's office; public library; or post office.

The Registrar of Voters also will mail a registration form to a potential voter; call them at 263-2372.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


LAKE COUNTY – A San Francisco man sentenced last month to prison in connection with a 2005 break-in is appealing his sentence.

Renato Hughes, 24, was sentenced on Sept. 8 by Judge Arthur Mann to eight years in state prison on charges including burglary and assault with a firearm related to a Dec. 7, 2005 incident at a Clearlake Park home.

With time served and a 15-percent time credit, Hughes was expected to serve just over four years of the sentence.

At the time of the sentence, Hughes' defense attorneys, Stuart Hanlon and Sara Rief, indicated an appeal would be filed.

Hanlon and Rief were right. On Sept. 10, an appeal with filed with the Lake County Superior Court and forwarded to the Court of Appeals, said Sean Keane of the San Francisco-based First District Appellate Project, which represents prisoners in appellate cases.

Although Hughes previously had private representation, Keane said the court has ruled Hughes is indigent, which qualifies him for the First District Appellate Project's services.

An attorney has not yet been assigned to Hughes' case, Keane said.

Court records show that the court recorder has to get the trial transcript to the appellate court by Oct. 30.

Keane said the matter itself likely will be dealt with through an exchange of letter briefs. If the judges and attorneys request it, the case could have oral arguments.

Because of the length of the trial and the massive transcript, Keane said he didn't expect a briefing on the case to be issued until next February.

“There's probably not going to be any actual events in the case for a while,” he said.

While Hughes was found guilty in August of burglary and assault with a firearm, he was acquitted in of two counts of first-degree homicide by a jury in Martinez, where the trial had been moved due to a change of venue motion.

Because Hughes was alleged to have been taking part in a violent crime that could result in death, he was charged with the deaths of friends Christian Foster and Rashad Williams under the provocative act doctrine.

However, it was homeowner Shannon Edmonds who actually shot the men as they ran from him home. Edmonds was not charged in the case.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


LAKE COUNTY – It could end up being another record year for illegal medical marijuana eradications in Lake County. {sidebar id=99}

The local seizures of illegally grown plants on public and private lands this year is fast approaching last year's record total, according to Lt. Dave Garzoli of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Over the last several years Lake County has led the state in the number of illegal marijuana plants eradicated. State and local officials have attributed the rapid growth in illicit marijuana grown locally to the county's many remote areas where the plants and growing operations are easy to hide.

The Mendocino National Forest itself has been a particular target, with officials estimating that the illegal grows are causing extreme damage to natural resources and wildlife, as well as posing danger to humans who happen across them.

So far this year, the amount of processed marijuana and firearms seized, as well as arrests, are down, according to statistics provided by Garzoli.

However, this year saw the first reported homicide related to a marijuana grow, as Lake County News has reported. A Santa Rosa man's body was found in an illegal pot garden off Highway 175 near Middletown. Initial report indicated he may have been attempting to steal marijuana to settle a debt owed him by one of the growers.

The most recent number for eradicated plants in Lake County this year is about 470,000, said Garzoli – compared to last year's total of 507,000.

That's despite getting a late start on eradication activities this year, said Garzoli.

“Our whole operation hinges on the availability of helicopters,” he explained.

Garzoli said the helicopters normally used in finding marijuana were put into emergency service when the state was hit by hundreds of wildfires earlier this summer.

The state Department of Justice's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting – known by the acronym CAMP – has provided eradication assistance to the sheriff's office for much of the summer, said Garzoli.

CAMP's operations for the year are getting set to wrap up, however. The Department of Justice's Burean of Narcotic Enforcement confirmed to Lake County News that CAMP's last day of operation for this year's summer harvest season is Oct. 17.

The sheriff's efforts continue year-round, said Garzoli.

“We've got our own funding from DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and we'll continue to fly up until it starts raining,” said Garzoli.

At that point, rather than looking for plants they'll be focusing more on looking for vehicles in the Mendocino National Forest, Garzoli said.

Garzoli estimates he'll have firm numbers on the season's eradications by mid-November. Indoor grows could add to a larger end-of-year total.

The flyovers will cease for the rainy and then resume next March, when law enforcement looks for illegal marijuana garden planting. Garzoli said that early intervention helps address the thousands of seedlings being planted at that time.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


LAKEPORT – On Tuesday a Clearlake teenager was ordered to stand trial for the fatal stabbing of a schoolmate in June.

Gabrielle Rachel Varney, 18, was in court Tuesday for a preliminary hearing on a first-degree murder charge and the special allegation of using a knife in the June 5 death of 17-year-old Heather Valdez, a fellow student at Carle High School in Lower Lake.

The preliminary hearing resulted in Varney being ordered to stand trial for Valdez's death.

Varney is alleged to have stabbed Valdez in the neck with a folding pocking knife after Valdez began hitting her. The incident was part of an after-school confrontation that occurred when the girls got off the bus near their Clearlake homes, as Lake County News has reported.

In June, Varney – who told police that she didn't intend to stab Valdez – pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“The preliminary hearing is virtually meaningless here because this case will ultimately be decided by a jury,” said Varney’s defense attorney, Stephen Carter of the Law Offices of Carter and Carter.

Carter wouldn't offer details about his plans to defend the teen.

“We will not tip our hand at this point since our defense will not be presented or made public until the jury trial,” he said. “The preliminary hearing is a necessary step in the march toward the jury trial and we are happy that a trial date will be set now that it is over.”

Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff declined to discuss the prosecution's allegations in the case. He said Deputy District Attorney John DeChaine will prosecute Varney.


Carter said the court date to set the jury trial will take place on Oct. 14.

Varney remains in the Lake County Jail.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


LAKE COUNTY – The much-needed rain that arrived around the county on Friday made roadways slick and likely contributed to a series of vehicle collisions that continued to occur throughout the day and into the night. {sidebar id=100}

The California Highway Patrol on Friday issued a reminder to county residents that the first major rain of the fall season was making area roadways extremely slippery.

The cause of the slick conditions, according to a report by CHP Officer Adam Garcia, is a film of oil that accumulates on the roadway and rises when the rains begin to fall – creating a “slip and slide effect.”

From noon to midnight there were six collisions reported along Highway 20, with at least one of them resulting in minor injuries. Another on Highway 29 shortly after 2:30 p.m. involved two vehicles and resulted in minor injuries, while no injuries were reported in a crash involving two vehicles on Highway 175 at Cobb Elementary.

Shortly before 11 p.m. a vehicle was reported having crashed into a ditch on Soda Bay Road just west of Park and was on fire. Rocks also were reported in the roadway on Highway 29 just north of the Coyote Grade.

Garcia's report explained that vehicle control rests on four little contact points where your tires touch the pavement.

If rainwater builds up between tire and road, traction is broken and results in hydroplaning, which is what happens when the tread "channels" on the tire cannot conduct all the water from between the tire and the road. That forces the tire to ride on top of the water that's in between, like surfing, according to Garcia.

Hydroplaning's risk increases along with speed; it doesn't usually occur at speeds below 35 miles per hour, Garcia reported.

Many crashes are caused by driving too fast for current conditions, so when rain or snow arrive, Garcia said the first thing to do is slow down. Reduce your speed by a third in the rain and by at least half in the snow, and more if ice is present. It's also important to slow down if you encounter fog.

The importance of adjusting one's driving to weather conditions can be a matter of life and death.

CHP statistics show that last year in California 106 people were killed in collisions that occurred in rainy, snowy or foggy conditions.

More than 7,696 people were injured in crashes under similar weather conditions, according to the CHP.

The National Weather Service reports that the unseasonably strong low pressure system that brought rain to Northern California on Friday is expected to result in showers on Saturday morning, with the likelihood of rain expected to decrease as the day advances.

The weather is expected to clear by Sunday, with some clouds but no rain forecast next week, the National Weather Service reported.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


LAKE COUNTY – The California Highway Patrol is urging motorists to pay special attention when it comes to ensuring children are safely secured in vehicles.

Motor vehicle crashes are one of the leading killers in California for children ages 14 years and under, with unrestrained or improperly restrained children being the No. 1 contributing factor.

“You can never be too careful when it comes to protecting your children,” said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. “The best way to keep your child from becoming a grim statistic is make sure they are properly secured in their safety seat.”

According to CHP statistics, statewide for 2005 to 2007, out of the 148 passenger vehicle occupant fatalities among children under 6 years of age, an estimated 89 – or 60 percent – were totally unrestrained.

To help combat the problem, the CHP has obtained a $1 million federal grant from the Office of Traffic Safety. The money will provide the CHP with the means to strengthen its enforcement and education efforts statewide with a combination of seat belt and safety seat usage surveys, in addition to child passenger safety presentations.

“This grant will help us arm parents and child care providers with valuable information and equipment that can save their child’s life,” said Commissioner Farrow.

In addition to the 20 checkup events and 125 safety presentations, 25 of which will be to individuals for whom English is a second language, the Statewide Highway Restraint Enforcement Campaign (SHREC) II will provide for safety seats to be distributed to parents whose seats don’t measure up to current safety standards.

CHP Officer Adam Garcia said the Clear Lake area CHP office has benefited from the $1 million grant, which helped buy them safety seats for distribution. Local CHP officers also have participated in five car seat checks held at various locations within the county.

Money from the federal grant also will be used to increase the number of technicians certified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to perform child safety seat inspections at CHP Child Safety Seat Fitting Stations.

Garcia said the grant funded local CHP officer hours at car fitting stations.

There are four such stations in Lake County:

  • Clearlake: Lake County Fire Protection District Station, Olympic Drive; telephone 994-2170.

  • Kelseyville: California Highway Patrol, Highway 29 and Live Oak Drive; telephone 279-0103.

  • Middletown: South Lake County Fire Protection District Station, Highway 175; telephone 987-3089, Extension 1.

  • Upper Lake: Northshore Fire Protection District Station, Main Street; telephone 275-2446.

Commissioner Farrow urged parents and other caregivers to buckle up themselves and set a good example for children.

You may report unrestrained children in a motor vehicle to the California Highway Patrol by calling 1-800-TELL CHP.


LAKE COUNTY – Sales of local homes continue to be slow, with August showing a sales decrease compared to the previous month while, at the same time, showing improvement over August 2007.

Home prices also are continuing to fall, according to recent real estate reports.

Fifty-eight homes closed escrow in August; that's a 34.1-percent decrease from July, but is 9.4 percent above August 2007 sales numbers, according to the Lake County Multiple Listings Service (MLS). The median home price in Lake County also fell in August by 11.7 percent.

Across the state, sales increased 56.7 percent while the median price of a home fell 40.5 percent, the California Association of Realtors reported recently.

“Sales are now 85 percent above the monthly trough for this cycle, which occurred in October 2007, and for the first time this year are ahead of 2007 in year-to-date terms,” said California Association of Realtors President William E. Brown.

“While this is encouraging news, we don’t expect to see a housing market recovery until prices stabilize and the number of distressed properties on the market declines,” Brown said. “Sales gains continue to be driven by the large share of deeply-discounted distressed sales in many parts of the state.”

The median price of a home in Lake County during August 2008 was $207,500, down from the $235,000 median for August 2007, according to the MLS.

However, the August 2008 median price actually increased 3.8 percent compared with July’s $200,000 median price.

“Although the month-to-month decline in the median price was the smallest in a year, it’s still premature to say that the median price has begun to stabilize,” said California Association of Realtors Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young.

“While sales appear to have turned the corner, the median will experience additional downward pressure as we move into the off-peak season in the coming months, and will continue to face pressure from distressed sales," she said. "Sales are just one of the variables that must fall into place before we see real improvement in the market.”

Highlights of Lake County’s resale housing figures for August 2008:

  • Lake County’s Unsold Inventory Index for existing, single-family detached homes in August 2008 was 19.5 months, compared with 26.2 months (revised) for the same period a year ago. The index indicates the number of months needed to deplete the supply of homes on the market at the current sales rate.

  • Thirty-year fixed-mortgage interest rates averaged 6.48 percent during August 2008, compared with 6.57 percent in August 2007, according to Freddie Mac. Adjustable-mortgage interest rates averaged 5.26 percent in August 2008, compared with 5.67 percent in August 2007.

  • The median number of days it took to sell a single-family home was 95 days in August 2008, compared with 121 days (revised) for the same period a year ago.

Ray Perry is a Realtor with CPS Country Air Properties. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


CLEARLAKE – Nearly a month after receiving major injuries in a traffic collision a local man has died.

Everette Weller, 65, of Clearlake died on Sept. 27 at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.

Garcia had no information about the precise cause of Weller's death.

Weller was injured on the afternoon of Sept. 1 near Kelseyville when his motorcycle collided first with a BMW and then a Ford Ranger that were stopped on Highway 29, which was closed due to another vehicle collision, as Lake County News has reported.

Despite Weller's attempts to avoid the crash, he was unable to stop his motorcycle in time. The collision caused Weller to be thrown from his 2006 Harley Davidson motorcycle and onto the pavement, according to the initial CHP report.

Garcia said the cause of Weller's crash was determined to be “unsafe speed for roadway conditions.”

However, Middletown resident Wendell Langford – who, along with three family members, witnessed Weller's crash – faulted CHP for not putting out flares or having traffic control in place after the first collision.

“He didn't have a chance and a prayer,” said Langford, who insisted that Weller couldn't have seen the stopped traffic around a curve in the road.

Langford said he warned authorities on scene about his concerns about traffic control before Weller was involved in the crash. He said it was later that he witnessed a sheriff's deputy controlling traffic.

He said Weller was wearing a skull cap helmet, not a full helmet, and that he saw the injured man had sustained major head trauma.

Langford also approached CHP's local commander, Lt. Mark Loveless, about the incident, as well as CHP's Sacramento office.

Garcia said Loveless is reviewing the investigation into Weller's crash, as well as the allegations regarding traffic control.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


SACRAMENTO – State Climatologist Michael Anderson of the Department of Water Resources is encouraging California residents to participate in a volunteer program to measure precipitation.

Rainfall captured in backyard rain gauges will be logged on an Internet-based weather network developed in Fort Collins, Colo. by CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network.

California is the 36th state to join the network which has more than 11,000 volunteers currently.

The nonprofit CoCoRaHS network is sponsored in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service and other individual contributors and organizations, including Cooperative Extension.

The long-term goal of CoCoRaHS is ultimately to recruit one volunteer observer per square mile in urban areas and one volunteer observer per 36 square miles in rural areas for all 50 states.

“There is no substitute for accurate, local measurement of the weather,” said Anderson. “This data will help not only during short time-scale events like storms and floods, but also serve as an added tool for recording and analyzing climate change.”

Home-based and amateur rain spotters take daily rainfall measurements and report them to the CoCoRaHS Web site, Each volunteer is asked to read the rain gauge each day at the same time and upload the measurement to the website. The result is more precise information about where rain, snow and hail falls and in what amount.

Anyone with an interest in weather and access to the Internet can sign up. The only equipment needed is a cylindrical rain gauge available from the network for $23 plus shipping. Simple training is available at


LAKEPORT – In the aftermath of last week's purchase of Washington Mutual by JP Morgan Chase, the message to Washington Mutual customers both locally and across the nation is to hang on as the changeover takes place.

There's also good news for local branches, which a company official said will remain open.

Last Thursday, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. – FDIC – and the government's Office of Thrift Supervision facilitated the sale of Washington Mutual to JP Morgan Chase Bank for $1.9 billion.

FDIC officials have emphasized that customer deposits are fully protected.

"For all depositors and other customers of Washington Mutual Bank, this is simply a combination of two banks," said FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair. "For bank customers, it will be a seamless transition.”

Bair said there would no interruption in services and, as she predicted, Washington Mutual branches around the country – including Lakeport's – have continued on, with the Washington Mutual name on the door and, until just this weekend, on the bank's Web site.

When calling Lakeport's branch, the automated phone service as well as branch employees continue to identify themselves as Washington Mutual.

The Lakeport branch forwarded all questions about operations to corporate officials.

Tom Kelly, a Chicago-based spokesman for JP Morgan Chase, told Lake County News that Washington Mutual customers will continue to see the familiar name at the bank for a long time, as the internal transition takes place.

Usually large purchases like this take months, said Kelly. But the JP Morgan Chase deal has been a whirlwind by comparison, with the bank making the bid for Washington Mutual last Wednesday night and closing the deal the next day.

“The good news for customers is, nothing changes for them,” said Kelly.

Customers – many of whom began pulling their funds before Washington Mutual was sold – are now backed by JP Morgan Chase, a $2 trillion institution, said Kelly. That, he said, amounts to a stronger base.

JP Morgan Chase also will take on some of Washington Mutual's mortgages, along with branches and bank accounts. It did not assume the company's stock or debt, Kelly added.

Washington Mutual's $1.9 billion price tag was a fraction of what it would have been had the bank been in good shape, said Kelly. He said JP Morgan Chase feels the deal is a fair one.

One of the best pieces of news for Lake County and other North Coast customers is that JP Morgan Chase plans to keep the existing Washington Mutual branches in operation, said Kelly.

That means that the 12 jobs in the Lakeport branch are safe, and jobs in other North Coast locations – Ukiah, Willits, Cloverdale, Santa Rosa and Ft. Bragg – appear secure for the time being.

JP Morgan Chase, which has branches in 17 states, has no California locations, Kelly explained, so Washington Mutual's 688 California branches proved one of its main attractions.

With the two banks coming together, Kelly said their combined resources now include a nationwide network of 14,000 ATMs and 5,400 branches.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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