Tuesday, 23 April 2024

News

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The new playground equipment that Justin Lazard donated to the city of Lakeport. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




NOTE: This article includes some explicit terms that may not be appropriate for children.


LAKEPORT – A New York man who recently made a gift to the city of Lakeport is facing trial this March for charges stemming from a July 2006 arrest.


Justin F. Lazard, 42, goes on trial March 3 for indecent exposure and annoying or molesting a child, according to Deputy District Attorney Ed Borg.


Lazard – an actor, writer and former model – recently gave a new set of playground equipment to the city, which was dedicated in a small ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, as Lake County News has reported.


The case against Lazard alleges that he was sitting on the metal railing that runs along the sidewalk at the lakeshore in Library Park, just north of the playground area, exposing himself and masturbating during the July 4, 2006, festivities.


Lazard's attorney, Paul Swanson, did not return a call seeking comment on the case.


Lt. Brad Rasmussen of the Lakeport Police Department said Lazard was arrested at about 6:18 p.m. July 4, 2006, after three officers on foot patrol encountered him. Lazard was allegedly sitting alone on the railing, with his genitals exposed.


Rasmussen said Lazard was told to stop but didn't, so the officers grabbed him. Lazard allegedly resisted arrest and began fighting the officers, so Rasmussen tasered him. That gave Lazard the dubious distinction of becoming the first person to be tasered by the police department's new tasers.


There was no evidence that Lazard was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, said Rasmussen, and he offered no explanation for his alleged behavior.


Rasmussen said that, following the taser incident, Lazard received a medical clearance from paramedics at Lakeport Fire Protection District, which is standard procedure after use of a taser on a subject.


Both charges currently against Lazard are misdemeanors, Borg said. The annoying/molesting charge would carry a one-year maximum sentence, while the longest sentence for the indecent exposure charge is six months.


“The most he's facing is one year in county jail,” said Borg. “It would be extremely unusual for him to get that.”


Since Lazard doesn't have much in the way of a criminal record beyond the 2006 charges, Borg said he's more likely to receive probation if he's convicted.


However, Borg added that conviction on the charges would require mandatory registration as a sexual offender in California and possibly New York, where Lazard now lives.


Borg said the playground equipment donation Lazard made to the city of Lakeport hasn't been brought up in relation to his criminal case.


However, it's proved to be a thorny issue for Lakeport officials, who at first didn't realize Lazard had been arrested on the indecent exposure charge by police in 2006.


Kevin Burke, interim city manager and police chief, said that Creative Playthings, the Framingham, Mass.-based manufacturer of the playground equipment, contacted city Public Works Director Doug Grider about the donation about six months ago.


“Our public works staff did not know who the individual was,” said Burke, adding that city staff also haven't had contact with Lazard.


However, it came to their attention sometime during the process of formally accepting the equipment that he was the source of the donation, said Burke.


“At that time it was discussed at length amongst city staff about whether or not we should accept the donation,” Burke said.


Ultimately city staff decided to accept the equipment – which came with no strings attached of any kind – because it would offer a substantial benefit to the children who use the park, he explained.


Burke said the city was aware of the potential public perception that it was an attempt by Lazard – who also is the heir to a banking fortune – to buy his way out of trouble.


However, coming from his police perspective, Burke suggested that many people accused of crimes do some kind of restitution.


Considering the sensitive nature of the the charges against Lazard, Burke said he is planning to have city public works staff remove the plaque on the equipment.


The plaque reads:


“This playground is dedicated to the children of Lakeport, CA,

Creating Childhood Memories

Donated by Justin Lazard, 2008.”


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


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LAKE COUNTY – Lake County wines are claiming “Best of Class” awards at this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and several other Lake County wines are winning medals at the prestigious annual event.


Wildhurst Vineyards, Steele Wines, Shannon Ridge Winery and Shed Horn Cellars are among the producers receiving the Best of Class distinction for their wines, according to judging results posted recently.


More than 60 professional judges tasted over 4,700 wines earlier this month. The public will have an opportunity to sample the competing wines on February 28 in San Francisco.


“It’s not surprising to see that Lake County wines are among those chosen as the best by the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition judges,” said Shannon Gunier, executive director of the Lake County Winegrape Commission. “Our wineries are making some of the top vintages in the nation. California and the rest of the country is hearing about Lake County because of our wine.”


“Lake County made a very good showing at this competition,” Wildhurst winemaker Mark Burch agreed.


Wildhurst’s 2007 Reserve Chardonnay took Best of Class in the “Chardonnay: $14 to $19.99” category. Burch noted that Wildhurst also garnered awards for its 2007 Sauvignon Blanc (double gold), 2007 Home Ranch Zinfandel (Gold), and Merlot (silver) in their respective categories.


Both the Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc have been “very consistent” winners in competitions since 2006, according to Burch. The Chardonnay is produced from “outstanding stock” and is competing with cooler climate Chardonnays, he explained. Chardonnay from our region “is getting a lot of interest.” As for the Sauvignon Blanc, Burch looks to produce a 2008 with “more intensity” this year and continue the award-winning reputation.


Cabernet Sauvignon from Lake County took the top honors in two categories.


Shed Horn Cellars and Shannon Ridge Winery took Best of Class in the “$25 to $34.99” and “$15 to $24.99” divisions, respectively.


Both award winners can be credited to winemaker Mike Wood, according to Adawn Wood who, along with Mike, owns Shed Horn Cellars.


The Woods are “so excited” to have won, said Adawn, because the wine came from “a little winery” – 400 cases produced each year – which entered its first competition only last year.


At the Orange County Fair, Shed Horn received a gold for its 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and a silver for its 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. Mike Wood, also the winemaker for Shannon Ridge, has 26 years of winemaking experience, said Adawn, but this year was Shed Horn’s first time competing in the San Francisco Chronicle’s contest.


Touted as the “largest competition of American wines in the world,” the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition features a record number of competitors from throughout the United States. This year’s Sweepstakes winners include four from California, one from New Mexico, and another from New York.


Other Lake County award winners include Ceago Vinegarden (gold, “Merlot up to $14.99,” and gold, “Syrah/Shiraz $15 to $24.99”), Langtry Estate (double gold, “Cabernet Sauvignon $5 to $44.99”), Writers Block (gold, “Petite Sirah”), Benziger Family Winery (gold, “Bordeaux Blends $45.00 and over”), Steele (gold, “Dry Rose” for its Cabernet Franc Rose), Brassfield Estates (gold, “Zinfandel $15.00 to $24.99”), and many silver and bronze winners.


For a complete list of winners, including additional Lake County winery and vintage winners, see the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine Competition Web site, www.winejudging.com/medal_winners_2009/index.html.


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Barack Obama becomes the nation's 44th president on Tuesday, January 20, 2009. Photo courtesy of barackobama.com.

 

When Barack Obama stands before the nation on Tuesday to be sworn in at the 44th president of the United States, he'll be at the center of a centuries-old ceremony invested with ideals, hopes and symbols.


Presidential inaugurations have been going on since 1789, when George Washington took his oath as the nation's first president.


But the ceremony in which Washington was invested with the country's leadership has changed, evolved and been refined over the years, with each of his presidential successors adding a special touch to reflect their own vision of the country they were to lead.


Obama's inaugural event could end up being the largest, with the National Mall thrown open to the millions of people estimated to be in the nation's capitol for the event.


People from around the country – including several from Lake County – are making the trek to Washington, DC because of the desire to see the first president of African descent begin his tenure as the nation's head.


The ceremony will take place on the US Capitol Building's West Portico, facing out toward the National Mall, at noon Eastern Standard Time, and 9 a.m. on the West Coast.


So, how has the ceremony developed, and how has it changed? Let's take a brief look at the ceremony, with the help of historical documents from the Library of Congress and the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.


Presidential inaugurals: The early days


General George Washington was said to have been offered the kingship of the fledgling United States, a country that sought to sever itself from King George III's British sovereignty.


But Washington, who had fought hard to see the new nation on its own, turned down that offer, and instead taken part in a search for a proper name for the country's new chief executive and the proper form of the accompanying ceremonies.

 

 

 

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George Washington, as the country's first president, would leave an indelible mark on the office and the ceremonies surrounding it.
 

 

 


Washington's popularity was such that he was was elected to two terms, in 1789 and 1792, running unopposed both times and getting 100 percent of the Electoral College vote, the only president ever to have that distinction.


When it came time for his inauguration, it was a ceremony very different from that which will be witnessed by the world this Jan. 20.


George Washington was inaugurated on April 30, 1789, in a formal ceremony that took place at Federalist Hall before a joint session of Congress in New York City, then the nation's capitol, according to a history of the event provided by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.


Histories of the event say he was led into the chamber and seated in a chair that faced Congress, with the House on one side and the Senate on another, according to an account of the event provided by Eyewitness to History's Web site.


After a brief address from Vice President John Adams, the swearing-in itself took place on a balcony overlooking Wall Street, with Robert Livingston, chancellor of State of New York, administering the oath. Afterward the crowd was said to have let out three big cheers for the new president, who then went back inside to give his inaugural address.


By the time Washington was inaugurated again four years later, on March 4, 1793, the ceremony already was undergoing modifications.


For one, the ceremony moved from New York to Philadelphia, and the oath was administered by Supreme Court Associate Justice William Cushing.


Rather than an April swearing-in, the ceremony month moved to March, which would remain the time of the ceremony until Franklin Roosevelt's first swearing-in on Jan. 20, 1937. Only when presidents died did the ceremony deviate from the regular schedule.


Unique men, unique touches


When Washington's successor, John Adams, was sworn in on March 4, 1797, the ceremony remained in Philadelphia. It was an event that proved the United States' leaders would peacefully relinquish and transfer authority at the bidding of the citizens.


Adams was the first president to take the oath of office from a chief justice, in this case Oliver Ellsworth.


In 1801, Adams' successor and, at the time, bitter rival, Thomas Jefferson, also would employ the chief justice in his ceremony.


In a March 2, 1801, letter to Chief Justice John Marshall, Jefferson wrote that he intended to take the oath of office on March 4, 1801, in the senate chambers.


"May I hope the favor of your attendance to administer the oath?" he wrote in the letter, found today in the Library of Congress.


He also asked Marshall, "I would pray you in the mean time to consider whether the oath prescribed in the constitution be not the only one necessary to take? It seems to comprehend the substance of that prescribed by the act of Congress to all officers, and it may be questionable whether the legislature can require any new oath from the President."


Marshall received the letter and wrote back the same day, March 2. "I shall with much pleasure attend to administer the oath of office on the 4th, and shall make a point of being punctual."


As to the oath itself, "The records of the office of the department of state furnish no information respecting the oaths which have been heretofore taken," Marshall wrote. "That prescribed in the constitution seems to me to be the only one which is to be administered. I will however enquire what has been the practice."


Marshall would go on to administer the oath of office nine times for presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson – the most times a chief justice has participated in inaugurations since.


Jefferson's inaugural was the first to take place in Washington, DC, in the US Capitol's Senate chamber.


In 1809, the presidential inauguration had its first inaugural ball, on the evening of Saturday, March 4, the same day as President James Madison was sworn in. Tickets to the event, held at Long's Hotel, cost $4 each, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.


Other presidents would bring their own unique touches. President John Quincy Adams took his oath on a volume of law on Friday, March 4, 1825, the first president to wear long trousers rather than knee breeches.


For his March 4, 1837, inaugural, Martin Van Buren would ride to the US Capitol with his predecessor, Andrew Jackson, the first time outgoing and incoming presidents traveled together.


William Henry Harrison would be the first president to arrive in the capitol by train for his 1841 ceremony. The accompanying ball and parade were planned by the first citizens inaugural committee to form.


Harrison gave the longest inaugural address in history – 8,445 words, compared to the shortest, 133 words which Washington gave at his second inaugural. Harrison would die a month later of pneumonia, which historians believe came about due to his exposure to bad weather at the inaugural.


His death was the first for a sitting president. His vice president, John Tyler, would take the oath from Chief Judge of the US District Court William Cranch in a private ceremony at the Brown's Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.


James K. Polk's 1845 inaugural ceremony would be the first one reported over a telegraph and the first depicted in a newspaper illustration in the Illustrated London Times.


Franklin Pierce affirmed his 1853 oath but didn't swear it, and is said to have recited his 3,329-word address from memory. The 1857 ceremony of his successor, James Buchanan, was the first to be photographed.


In 1861, with the Civil War about to break out, Abraham Lincoln's inaugural was marked by a procession surrounded by armed cavalry and infantry, with riflemen perched in the US Capitol's windows.

 

 

 

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Abraham Lincoln's 1861 inaugural ceremony had extremely tight security due to the tensions that eventually led to the outbreak of the Civil War. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
 

 

 


Wearing his trademark top hat, Lincoln was sworn in by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney on a Bible purchased by William Thomas Carroll, clerk to the Supreme Court. During his second inaugural four years later, blacks marched for the first time in the inaugural parade.


Moving pictures made their debut at William McKinley's 1897 inaugural, the first recorded on a movie camera. For McKinley's second inaugural, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies was first formed to arrange the ceremonies.


Theodore Roosevelt, at 42, became the youngest president in history in September 1901 when McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt's first swearing-in took place in Buffalo, New York, where he was said to not have used a Bible or any other book during the brief oath.


William Taft would be accompanied by his wife, Helen, on the return ride from the US Capitol to the White House after his 1909 inaugural. Following his one term as president, Taft would become chief justice of the US Supreme Court, and in that capacity would administer the oath of office to Calvin Coolidge in 1925 and Herbert Hoover in 1929.


President Woodrow Wilson's wife, Edith, rode with him to and from the US Capitol for the inaugural in 1917, a year that also marked the first time the inaugural parade included women participants.


The first president to make his way to and from his inauguration in an automobile was Warren Harding in 1921. Harding also honored Washington by using the same Bible for his swearing-in – owned by St. John's Masonic Lodge, No. 1 – as Washington used in 1789.


Calvin Coolidge's 1925 inaugural had the distinction of being the first to be nationally broadcast on the radio. For Herbert Hoover's ceremony four years later, the event was recorded by a talking newsreel.


Franklin Roosevelt and wife, Eleanor, would add attendance at a morning worship service to inauguration day solemnities in 1933.


That same year, the 20th Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted; it set the time for inaugurals at noon Eastern Standard Time, and moved the date permanently to Jan. 20. Roosevelt's second inaugural in 1937 would take place in January; that event also would be the first time that a vice president – in this case, John Nance Garner – would be sworn in at the same ceremony, a practice which continues today.


Harry Truman's 1949 inaugural was the first to be broadcast on national television.


In 1953, Dwight Eisenhower used the Bible Washington used in his first inaugural, which Harding also had used.


John F. Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic president, added poetry to the inaugural – famed poet Robert Frost read a poem for the occasion at the 1961 event.


The next swearing-in ceremony took place far from Washington, DC. On Nov. 22, 1963, Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office from the only woman ever to administer it – Sarah T. Hughes, a US district judge of the Northern District of Texas – in the conference room aboard Air Force One at Love Field, Dallas, Texas. John F. Kennedy had been fatally shot earlier that day.


Historian Michael R. Beschloss' book "Taking Charge: The Johnson White House Tapes, 1963-1964," recounts Johnson as saying he spoke with Robert F. Kennedy shortly after President Kennedy's assassination. Robert Kennedy, according to Johnson, urged him to take the oath of office immediately, an account disputed in William Manchester's book, "The Death of a President."


On Aug. 9, 1974, Gerald Ford took the oath of office in the White House after Richard Nixon became the only president to ever resign from office.


The inauguration would move to the west front of the US Capitol in 1981, with Ronald Reagan's swearing-in. Reagan would have the distinction of having the warmest and coldest inaugural days on records – 1981 and 1985 respectively.


Another innovation would be introduced to the ceremonies in 1997, when Bill Clinton's inauguration would be broadcast live on the Internet for the first time.


Obama's event has special touches of its own


Prior to Barack Obama taking the oath of office on Tuesday, his vice president, Joe Biden, will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.


Chief Justice John Roberts then will lead Obama through the 35-word oath, an honor chief justices have had since 1797. It will be the 69th time the oath has been given, according to Library of Congress records.


Obama will call on history in adding his own special touches to the ceremony.


He identifies strongly with Lincoln – another president from Illinois – and so will lay his hand on Lincoln's 1861 inaugural Bible as he takes the oath of office prescribed in the US Constitution's Article II, Section I: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

 

 

 

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Abraham Lincoln's 1861 inaugural Bible will be used by Barack Obama at his inauguration on Tuesday, January 20, 2009. The book is housed at the Library of Congress. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.
 

 

 


Following the swearing-in, Obama will give his much-anticipated inauguration speech, and afterward he and Biden will travel back to the White House to view the inaugural parade and begin a daylong celebration that will include inaugural balls in the evening.


The inauguration and its accompanying events officially conclude on Wednesday morning, with a national prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral.


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


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THE GEYSERS – The Geysers area saw a 3.0-magnitude earthquake Thursday evening.


The quake was reported at 8:16 p.m., centered one mile north northwest from The Geysers and five miles west northwest of Cobb, according to the US Geological Survey.


The US Geological Survey reported that the quake was located one mile north


Late Thursday, six responses – two each from Kelseyville, Middletown and Camptonville, the latter located 175 miles away – reported feeling the quake.


The last earthquake measuring more than 3.0 on the Richter scale occurred on Jan. 4, when a 4.2-magnitude earthquake was recorded near The Geysers, as Lake County News has reported.


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


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Lynn Andre and Cindy Ustrud, members of Lakeport Parks and Recreation Committee, cut the ribbon on the new playground equipment on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



LAKEPORT – Children visiting Library Park have a new play structure to enjoy thanks to the donation of a generous visitor to the county.


On Wednesday afternoon, Cindy Ustrud and Lynn Andre, members of the Lakeport Parks and Recreation Committee, were joined by city public works and parks staff members as they cut the ribbon on the new playground equipment.


Justin Lazard, 42, a model, actor, writer, producer and banking fortune heir donated the equipment to the city for the playground, according to Andre.


Lazard, who recently visited the county, initiated the project in the latter half of 2008, Andre said.


The city, Andre explained, was contacted by Creative Playthings, a Framingham, Mass.-based playground equipment manufacturer, which informed them that the project had been arranged and paid for by Lazard several weeks before the announcement.


Creative Playthings then sent a representative to Lakeport to aid in design and site preparation. City staff worked with the manufacturer while the equipment was being manufactured in Massachusetts.


While Creative Playthings was fashioning the needed parts back east, public works foreman Craig Timm and lead man Bob Bartel, along with Matt Hartzog and Chris Johnson, removed the old park equipment and prepared the site to the companies specifications. Parks foreman Richard Lubecki and Andres Gonzalez also were in on the project.


The project came together in December when city employees and Creative Playthings staff worked side by side to assemble the new play structure, according to parks and recreation committee members.


Creative Playthings donated 50 percent of the money needed to put the finishing touches on the play site grounds, providing a safe and sanitary surface that should last for many years.


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

 

 

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} A plaque commemorating Justin Lazard's gift to the city on the new playground equipment. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 

 

 

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The new equipment is located in Lakeport's Library Park. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 

 


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Denise Rushing (back row, left), her partner, Loretta McCarthy (back row, right) and Wanda Harris traveled from Lake County to Washington, DC this week to witness Barack Obama's inauguration. Courtesy photo.

 

Editor's note: Supervisor Denise Rushing and several local residents are in Washington, DC this week to witness Barack Obama's inauguration. The following is an eyewitness report from the nation's capitol.


WASHINGTON, DC – Wow. That is the one word I would use to describe our first day in Washington DC.


The entire city is abuzz with the energy of this upcoming inauguration — from the airport to the downtown. I am struck by the diversity of those arriving, all races, ages ... and particularly the number of young people and families with children.


Thousands stream in, and everyone is bundled up in their winter gear – it is COLD here. Faces are absolutely beaming with the excitement of the event, mine too. Loretta and I decided that we would attend the Sunday public concert, joining thousands upon thousands in a celebration of America. This proved to be a providential decision (more on that below).


We are staying at a well-stocked condo near the pentagon, a great location—and courtesy of Wanda Harris' ingenuity, we scored a great price, too.


Our first full day in the city fell on a Sunday, so I thought that bus transportation to the Metro train into DC might prove to be tricky. Thankfully, in this area, buses run frequently on Sunday. Not only that, we are located right on the bus line and have two directions to choose from — one heads to the Pentagon Metro station and the other heads to Crystal City Station. This first venture out, we had only waited a few minutes when the first bus appeared and soon, we found ourselves at the Crystal City Metro station, buying a ticket (Metro is very similar to BART).


Our first order of business yesterday was to pick up our tickets to the inauguration Tuesday and the California Bash that evening. The Capitol South Metro station is only a few steps from the Cannon Office building, home of Congressman Mike Thompson’s office. We quickly found his office at 231 Cannon and met with Mike Thompson’s aide, Jonathan Birdsong. There, we chatted a bit about the happenings of the week in DC and what is going on in Lake County.


Next stop was the Hyatt Regency where we picked up our tickets to the California Bash at the Air and Space Museum that evening. The theme seemed appropriately named: “Flying to the Moon.”


The Hyatt experienced some trouble with its security system — alarms went off in the lobby with a female voice over the loudspeaker urged us to “Please exit the building immediately,” even as live people were announcing, “False alarm, false alarm, come back inside!” Naw. we had our tickets … enough of the Hyatt. I noticed that even with alarms — no one seemed scared even — everyone is celebrating here. Fear? Too much excitement to let fear intervene.


At this point, we embarked on our two mile walk toward the Lincoln Memorial. Each block more and more people gathered, and larger and larger numbers of street vendors appeared selling t-shirts and buttons and hats and calendars and gloves and hand warmers. The brisk walk and the jovial crowds created an atmosphere of pure celebration — all drawn to this first event. Barack Obama and his family would be there ...


We did not make it all the way to the Lincoln Memorial — though we could see the concert stage in the distance from our vantage at the base of the Washington memorial. The crowds were massive. We felt drawn to come and even more drawn to stay.


Fortunately large audio speakers and video screens gave us a view of the stage. The opening invocation by Gene Robinson had us all crying … you can view it here (it was left off of HBO “We Are One” special, too bad): www.streetprophets.com/storyonly/2009/1/19/121035/677.


Wow. Wow. Loretta and I agreed that if we saw nothing else in Washington, that experience would have been worth the trip. What an invocation … what an experience with our fellow Americans. This common experience cemented our love of democracy, our love of who we are as a people and that we are called to renew our country and our land in these difficult times.


Then, Barack Obama and his family were introduced. Amazingly, they were there and with us for the entire concert! The music, the readings … Barack and Michele and their children were not only celebrating with us, they were celebrating US! From time to time, the camera would pan over to Barack and Michele, singing the songs we all love by Garth Brooks, Stevie Wonder, John Mellencamp, Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban and so many more. The event ended with a powerful speech from Barack Obama —setting expectations for the difficult task ahead.


We all have work to do.


On the way back, I bought a red Obama 44th President ski hat to keep my ears warm on Inauguration Day. Our tickets have us in the “Blue Standing” area — that puts us to the right side facing the dais where the president will be sworn in Tuesday morning.

 

 

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Marjorie Moore of Martinez, Wanda Harris of Hidden Valley Lake, Congressman Mike Thompson, Lori Anzini of Humboldt County and Joanne Peterson of Contra Costa County visit over the weekend. The Northern California group is in Washington, DC this week for Barack Obama's inauguration. Courtesy photo.
 


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WASHINGTON – The House Committee on Ways and Means voted Thursday in support of a comprehensive economic recovery package to provide tax, health and unemployment relief to families while also encouraging businesses to create new jobs.


Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) helped draft and voted in favor of the legislation, which passed the Committee by a vote of 24 to 13.


The bill includes several alternative energy tax provisions authored by Congressman Thompson. The legislation will now be combined with other components of the recovery package from other House Committees into H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for consideration by the full House of Representatives next week.


“We need to make sure that working families are getting help through these tough economic times,” said Congressman Thompson. “By providing tax relief and assistance with health care costs to working families, and making investments that will create green jobs, we’re going to make sure that all Americans will benefit from this recovery package. I will continue to work with my colleagues to make sure that this legislation effectively and efficiently delivers a boost to the economy, so that taxpayers get the most out of their investment in our country’s future.”


H.R. 598 would also provide tax incentives to businesses to help them expand their payrolls and make broad investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency programs.


“Investing in alternative energy is a smart thing to do,” said Thompson. “For example, the solar energy tax provisions I authored will make it easier for businesses and homeowners to have solar panels installed. This will create green jobs and at the same time reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Not only will this help us in the short term, it will also enhance the long-term security and sustainability of our economy.”


The package provides payment incentives to encourage the widespread adoption of Health Information Technology (HIT) to modernize American health care, cut red tape, eliminate redundant care and reduce health insurance premiums for millions.


At Thompson’s urging, the bill also allows telemedicine facilities to be eligible for grants. At the markup, Congressman Thompson spoke out against an amendment that would have hurt rural doctors’ ability to use HIT funding. The amendment was eventually defeated.


Thompson also worked closely with committee leadership to make sure that rural communities would be guaranteed their fair share of distressed area bonds. These bonds can be issued by cities and counties to help pay for infrastructure projects and job training programs. As a result of Congressman Thompson’s advocacy, rural areas with lower populations will not be penalized when funds are distributed by the states.


 


The larger package of recovery provisions that will be considered on the House floor next week include unprecedented accountability requirements.


Funds for projects would be distributed through existing formulas to programs with proven track records. How funds are spent, all announcements of contract and grant competitions and awards, and formula grant allocations would be posted on a special Web site created by the president.


This Web site will include explanations from governors, mayors or others making funding decisions personally certifying that the investment has been fully vetted and is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.


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SACRAMENTO – California is among 39 states testing horses that may have been exposed to a highly contagious venereal disease of horses, contagious equine metritis (CEM).


California Department of Food and Agriculture veterinarians have quarantined 14 mares and are working with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and regulatory veterinarians in other states to identify any additional exposed horses as this nationwide disease investigation unfolds. Following a course of negative cultures and treatment, the mares will be released from quarantine.


In mid-December 2008, a CEM-infected quarter horse stallion was detected in Kentucky during routine testing for international semen shipment.


The USDA and Kentucky animal health authorities quickly initiated a disease investigation, leading to the identification of more exposed horses.


To date, nine stallions have been confirmed to be infected: four in Kentucky, three in Indiana, one in Wisconsin and one in Texas; and a total of 334 exposed stallions and mares in 39 states have been identified and placed under quarantine by state animal health authorities, pending test results.


CEM is considered a bacterial foreign animal disease and has only been detected in the US on three previous occasions, in 1978 in Kentucky, 1979 in Missouri and in 2006 in Wisconsin. In all instances, the disease was controlled and eliminated quickly.


CEM is not known to affect humans or other livestock. It is spread between mares and stallions during mating or with infected semen used in artificial insemination. It can also be transmitted on contaminated breeding equipment. Stallions do not exhibit any clinical symptoms, but the infection may cause fertility problems in mares.


Additional national CEM information may be found on the USDA’s Web site at www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/hot_issues/cem/index.shtml.


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LAKE COUNTY – The number of people around the nation and here in Lake County who faced losing their homes in 2008 grew substantially over previous years, according to a new report.


RealtyTrac, a company which tracks foreclosure rates around the United States, released its 2008 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report last week.


The news for 2008 wasn't good: RealtyTrac's report states that foreclosure activity increased 81 percent nationwide over 2007 and 225 percent from 2006.


In all, there were more than 3.1 million foreclosure filings – default notices, auction sale notices and bank repossessions – on more than 2.3 million US properties. Some properties had more than one foreclosure filing, according to the report.


RealtyTrac also reported that 1.84 percent of all U.S. housing units – amounting to one in 54 – received at least one foreclosure filing during the year, up from 1.03 percent in 2007.


In Lake County, the percentage increases are even more stark.


In 2006, Lake County had 265 foreclosure filings, and 553 foreclosures in 2007, a 108-percent increase, according to RealtyTrac records.


For 2008, foreclosure filings in Lake County ballooned to 1,176, a 112-percent increase over 2007 and 343 percent over 2006's reported numbers. That number ranked it No. 19 among California's 58 counties for the most foreclosure activity.


Looking at the states, Nevada, Florida and Arizona were the top three when it came to the largest foreclosure activity increases in 2008, RealtyTrac reported.


California came in at No. 4, with a 110 percent increase over 2007. RealtyTrac noted that the state's foreclosure activity has gone up by 498 percent since 2006.


In addition, California had a total of 523,624 properties that received a foreclosure filing in 2008, which RealtyTrac said was the nation's highest state total.


California also had the most cities in the top 10 US metro areas for foreclosures, including Stockton at No. 1; Riverside/San Bernardino, No. 3; Bakersfield, No. 4; and Sacramento, No. 9.


RealtyTrac reported that foreclosure filings were reported on 303,410 US properties in December, up 17 percent from the previous month and up nearly 41 percent from December 2007.


However, the company noted that, despite the spike in December, foreclosure activity for the fourth quarter was down nearly 4 percent from the previous quarter but still up nearly 40 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007.


"State legislation that slowed down the onset of new foreclosure activity clearly had an effect on fourth quarter numbers overall, but that effect appears to have worn off by December," said James J. Saccacio, chief executive officer of RealtyTrac.


Saccacio said the big jump in December foreclosure activity “was somewhat surprising” given the moratoria enacted by both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, along with programs from some of the major lenders and loan servicers aimed at delaying foreclosure actions against distressed homeowners.


California passed SB 1137, which required lenders to provide written notice of their intent to initiate foreclosure proceedings 30 days prior to issuing a notice of default (NOD), resulted in a reduction of NODs from 44,278 in August to 21,665 in September.


Notice of Default filings then surged by 122 percent, to over 42,000, in December, according to RealtyTrac, which noted that similar patterns have occurred in other states, such as Massachusetts and Maryland, where similar types of foreclosure prevention legislation has been enacted.


"Clearly the foreclosure prevention programs implemented to-date have not had any real success in slowing down this foreclosure tsunami,” said Saccacio.


Last month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced $7.8 Million in federal grant funding to Help California homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages. He said those homeowners will be eligible for free counseling on how to avoid foreclosure.


The California Housing Finance Agency and HUD-approved counseling groups in partnership with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation were awarded the $7.8 million grant in addition to the previous $8 million grant awarded to California earlier in 2008, according to Schwarzenegger's office.


The grants are part of new federal program enacted in late 2007 to help homeowners avoid foreclosures, the governor's officer reported.


Counseling is available to homeowners who have defaulted on their mortgages or are in danger of defaulting on their mortgages. Homeowners in those situations can arrange counseling by contacting one of the counseling agencies in their area or by visiting www.yourhome.ca.gov.


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


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LAKEPORT – A former Lucerne Alpine Senior Center director was in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing to see if he will stand trial on charges that he embezzled funds from the center.


Rowland Mosser, 64, of Lucerne, went before Judge Richard Martin along with his wife, Jayne Sleeper Mosser, 61.


The Mossers were arrested last April. Rowland Mosser was charged with four felony counts including embezzlement, grand theft by an employee, grand theft and keeping a false record of government funds, while his wife faces a single felony count of committing grand theft, as Lake County News has reported.


Rowland Mosser was the center's director from July 2002 to August 2005.


Deputy District Attorney Gary Luck is prosecuting the case, alleging that the theft and embezzlement activities occurred between Jan. 1, 2005, and Aug. 12, 2005.


Defense attorney Judy Conard represented Rowland Mosser, with Mitchell Hauptman defending Jayne Mosser.


The proceedings lasted close to three hours and were punctuated by frequent breaks as Luck and the two defense attorneys waded through the detail-heavy case.


Anticipating that the hearing would not be finished on Wednesday – and it wasn't – the Mossers waived their right to a continuous preliminary hearing.


On the stand for the entire time was Ron Larsen, a retired captain with Clearlake Police who was hired as an investigator by the District Attorney's Office in March 2007, specifically for the purpose of investigating the senior center's finances, which also had been the center of a grand jury investigation.


Larsen recounted interviewing witnesses – including former center board members and employees – who gave information on alleged financial irregularities.


Former center board member Marilyn Johnson spotted Mosser at a bank in mid-2005, where he allegedly had a $15,000 check made out to the center. Larsen recounted that Johnson stated that Mosser cashed the check, paid in cash the wages of several employees who were with him, and then left with the remainder of the money.


Larsen also interviewed Jim Swatts, who in 2005 was elected chair of senior center's board of directors. He and Mosser had a “strained” relationship, Larsen said, using Swatts' words.


Swatts told Larsen that he asked Mosser in August of 2005 to present a financial statement on the center during the open portion of a center board meeting, which Mosser refused to do. Mosser did, however, reportedly present it to the center board in closed session.


In the mean time, Swatts reportedly began to discover more about the center's financial situation, including levies on bank accounts and outstanding judgments against the center, and finding out that some food distributors would only take cash or provide no services at all because of money the center owed them, said Larsen.


At the August 2005 senior center board meeting, Mosser presented the financial report to the board in closed session, along with his typed resignation. Larsen said that Swatts directed the center secretary at that time to prepare a document stating that Mosser was on immediate leave and that he needed to turn in his keys to the building.


Defense raises numerous objections


As Larsen presented his findings under Luck's questioning, Conard and Hauptman did their best to trip up the prosecution, firing objection after objection at Luck's questions.


In all, at least 33 objections were lodged, faulting Luck for failing to provide foundation, asking leading questions or attempting to introduce hearsay. Martin sustained several of the objections.


The rapid fire of objections prompted Luck at one point to explain that he had had conversations with the defense about how he would be allowed to present his evidence at the preliminary hearing through Larsen's statements, rather than having to present voluminous documentary evidence.


With the defense appearing to disagree with how the hearing should go, Luck explained that if he had to begin going through the documents piece by piece – and there are an estimated 13,000 pieces of paper in the prosecution's case – a continuance would be needed to retrieve all the documents.


“The case is overwhelming as it relates to paper,” Luck said, adding that the investigation itself took a year and a half to go through all of the documents.


Luck said the need to introduce documents now also could extend the preliminary hearing by several days. “I was trying to do, in one day, work that will probably require three to four days,” he said, with multiple exhibits to be entered into evidence.


Martin directed Luck to present as much of his case as he could, since the judge had delayed four other cases that had been set for trial on Wednesday. “I want to use this day and get the most value out of it that I can,” Martin said, noting that the courts are struggling to keep up the their caseloads.


Continuing through his reports on various witness statements, Larsen recounted interviewing Lucerne resident William Ellis, a longtime center member and treasurer who was involved before, during and after Mosser's tenure.


Ellis told Larsen that he did financial reports for the center board of directors, compiling the reports by going through receipt books and bank statements. By early 2005, Ellis stated that he had trouble getting the information from Mosser, who would never get him the full information he requested.


In reviewing the documents in the case, Larsen said he went through “boxes and boxes” of documents and records at the center, reconciling checking accounts and bank statements, cashed checks and computer files from before, during and after Mosser's time as executive director.


When Mosser became executive director in 2002, the senior center had seven checking accounts, said Larsen. By early 2005, four of the accounts had been closed, with the remaining three accounts hit with court-ordered levies, which resulted in any money being put into those accounts being sized by creditors.


Larsen also stated that he had discovered a payment from center funds for the electricity bill at the Mossers' home on Sixth Avenue in Lucerne.


Investigator examines bank accounts


In order to access records on the Mossers' bank accounts over a period of several years, Larsen served a search warrant at Westamerica Bank's Upper Lake branch.


From March 2003 to August 2003, Larsen calculated about $167,600 in deposits in the form of checks with Jayne Mosser's name on them from the Emmett A. Larkin Co.


Based in San Francisco, the Emmett A. Larkin Co. provides “full service execution, clearing and custody services for other broker dealers and investment advisors,” according to the company's Web site.


Hauptman objected to the statements, asking their relevance. Luck replied that he was attempting to show that the Mossers had money coming in from investments.


“Within a two-year window, all that money was gone,” said Luck.


At the time the Mossers' checking account was closed in 2005, they had no source of income besides Rowland Mosser's income as the center's executive director, Luck explained.


“When their money disappears, that's when the Lucerne Senior Center's money disappears,” Luck alleged.


Luck said that the couple enjoyed a lifestyle that resulted in them spending the money down in a “very short period of time.”


In 2002, the Mossers had less than $10,000 in deposits in their checking account. That increased slightly after he went to work for the senior center. By 2003, the Larkin deposits begin, totaling more than $167,600.


Throughout 2004, there was just over $24,000 in deposits in the Mossers' account, said Larsen. By the time the account was closed in February of 2005, the account was overdrawn by $483.


Larsen used documents he found at the senior center – receipts and copies of checks – to calculate $28,538.75 in reimbursements the center paid to Jayne Mosser from January to August of 2005.


Former center employee Aura Thomas also spoke with Larsen, explaining how she paid the center's bills, did the payroll, kept records and handled cash during her time there from 2004 and 2005. Thomas compiled financial reports based on information Rowland Mosser provided.


According to Larsen, Thomas said Jayne Mosser was at the center a lot, and did a lot of shopping for the center, turning in the receipts for reimbursement.


Larsen outlined the center's debt in August of 2005, when Rowland Mosser left. He calculated more than $40,000 that was owed to major creditors, with many more smaller debts outstanding as well.


In contrast with the center's deteriorating financial condition, Larsen testified that a California Department of Aging official provided him with the amounts of money that the agency allocated to the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center over a period of several years.


The breakdown is as follows: 2002-03, $77,992; 2003-04, $81,431; 2004-05, $88,709; 2005-06, $38,888 for first half of the year, Larsen said.


He also testified that Brenda Pier, a certified public accountant who worked for the Lucerne center from 1998 through November 2004, said she eventually left her post because she was unable to get “accurate, up-to-date financial information” from Rowland Mosser.


Larsen said on Jan. 30, 2008, he served a search warrant at the Mossers' home on Sixth Avenue. He found no records there relating to the senior center or its bank accounts, or any other information relevant to the case.


Luck asked Larsen to go over deposit amounts into the senior center's accounts from 2002 to 2005.


Larsen's calculations suggested that the numbers changed dramatically. In 2002, the accounts had $66,164 in deposits, followed by $73,295 in 2003.


In 2004, the deposits began to drop, with the accounts showing $43,078 in deposits. By the following year, the deposits had fallen to $2,812.


Larsen said deposits began to climb again in late 2006, with $11,384 between August and the end of the year, and $11,942 in funds recorded in deposits from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, 2007.


During Mosser's last few months at the center, he had organized a duck race fundraiser. Ellis told Larsen that Mosser had said he didn't have the more than $1,200 needed to pay a t-shirt maker for the shirts, which Ellis did as a donation to the center.


As Luck began attempting to enter documents into evidence, Hauptman and Conard objected, questioning how the documents were prepared. At least one of the four documents Luck addressed Wednesday appeared to have been hung up by those objections, while Martin overruled other objections.


After the several hours of complex testimony, the court recessed shortly after 3 p.m. The hearing will continue on Feb. 10, which will give Luck and Larsen an opportunity to prepare their documents in an effort to convince Martin to hold the Mossers for trial.


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


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The US Capitol Building on Tuesday, January 20, 2009. Photo courtesy of whitehouse.gov.

 

 

LAKE COUNTY – Thousands of Lake County television sets were tuned to news stations throughout the day on Tuesday, witnessing the celebration that accompanied the inauguration of President Barack Obama.


Watching parties were organized at the Greenview Restaurant in Hidden Valley Lake and at Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa in Kelseyville for the morning swearing-in ceremony, which occurred at just after 9 a.m. for the new president.


For those who couldn't watch the ceremonies during the day, a celebratory gathering was held at the Saw Shop Gallery Bistro in Kelseyville Tuesday evening.


Hosted by the Democratic Party of Lake County, the event featured a big screen television replaying taped footage of the swearing-in, Obama's inaugural speech and the parade through Washington, DC, as well as live broadcasts from inaugural balls taking place around the nation's capitol.


People talked, enjoyed hors d'oeuvres and wine, and watched the events unfold. The walls were festooned by large banners reading “Yes We Can” and “Yes We Did.”


“We feel and we know that we have a lot of work to do, but now we feel that we have a leader – a leader that will listen to us,” said Kelseyville resident Rebecca Curry, a leader in the local Democratic Party.


Curry said Obama's election was a powerful event. During this past voting cycle, the state's voter registration increased by more than 1.7 million voters.


Obama's philosophy, said Curry, is to bring everybody into the process in a nonpartisan way.


For Daniel Tabron, 48, inauguration day started early.


Tabron got up at 3 a.m. to watch CNN, celebrating the election of a man who, like himself, is black.


He said he hopes that Obama's election will have the affect “that people will look at each other and start to realize that we need each other and that it’s not just a Democrat or Republican thing.”


“I hope that people realize that if one suffers we all suffer,” said Tabron. “I’d like to believe that this president and his administration can drive this message home to all Americans.”


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

 

 

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County residents celebrated President Barack Obama's inauguration at a Tuesday night celebration in Kelseyville. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 


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LAKEPORT – A public hearing Tuesday will explore using grant funds for a study to help with the sale of the historic Lucerne Hotel.

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the board chambers at the Lake County Courthouse, 255 N. Forbes St., Lakeport. TV 8 will broadcast the meeting live.

Beginning at 10 a.m., the board will discuss the possibility of transferring Community Development Block Grant program income money from the Business Expansion and Retention Revolving
Loan Fund to finance other projects, including curb, gutter and sidewalk projects in the Northshore Redevelopment Project Area and a feasibility study for the Lucerne Hotel property.

The hotel, which has housed the Lucerne Christian Conference Center for many years, has been put up for sale by its owners after bookings for Christian retreats and camps in the coming year began to drop significantly, as Lake County News has reported.

On Jan. 13 the board discussed possibly becoming involved with buying the property to hold it for a new buyer or assisting with active marketing it to assist in a speedy sale. At that time, supervisors approved looking at using grant funds for a study to look at the building's structural integrity and also conducting an appraisal.

Other items on the board's agenda include the following.

Timed:

9:15 a.m.: Public hearing on the Planning Commission’s recommendations for approval of proposed amendments to the Lake County Zoning Ordinance pertaining to bed and breakfast inns, detached
granny units and creating a new category of off-site signage for certain shopping centers and business districts.

9:45 a.m.: Public hearing on Planning Commission's recommendation for approval of a one-year time extension of the Vintage Faire General Plan of Development for applicant De Nova Homes; project is located at 20740 and 20830 State Highway 29, Middletown.

10:30 a.m.: Appointment of District 1 Lake County Planning Commissioner and administer Oath of Office; and consideration of applications from members of the public for appointment to miscellaneous Lake County committees, commissions and advisory boards.

11 a.m.: Public hearing on Ronald Jacobs' appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision to grant the appeal of Erik Thorsen, trustee, Edgar F. Thorsen Trust, regarding the issuance of a lakebed encroachment permit and supporting California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Notice of
Exemption to Ronald Jacobs for the construction of pier/covered deck/gangway/suspended platform/covered electric boat lift; project is located at 1925 Westlake Drive.

Untimed items:

– Consideration of recommendation for award of bid for Fourth through Fifth Avenue Lucerne Sidewalk Improvement Project; and consideration of proposed agreement for construction
inspection services for Lucerne Sidewalk Improvement Project.

– An ordinance establishing annual payments for lakebed encroachment permits and annual lease fees – (second reading).

The board also will hold a closed session to discuss labor negotiations.

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

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