Saturday, 13 July 2024


WILLITS – On Wednesday Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies arrested a Willits man who was high from sniffing a chemical and who burned a portion of carpet at a Willits casino.

Gerald Crandell Simpson, 40, was taken into custody for inhaling toluene, an industrial solvent used as an intoxicant, and for arson, according to a report from Lt. Ron Welch.

On Wednesday shortly before 9:30 a.m. deputies were dispatched to Black Bart Casino regarding a patron under the influence of toluene, Welch said.

Upon their arrival deputies contacted Simpson, who was seated near the front of the casino. Welch said Simpson allegedly had evidence of toluene consumption on his person – including paint on his hands, face and clothing – as well as the heavy chemical toluene odor about his person.

Simpson was under the influence to the point he could not answer questions, nor walk without assistance, Welch said.

Deputies learned through their investigation that Simpson had entered the casino while under the influence. While in the casino, Simpson allegedly had lit a napkin on fire dropping in to the floor, burning a portion of the carpet, Welch said.

Simpson was arrested and booked into the Mendocino County Jail on charges of toluene influence, and arson of property, Welch said. Bail was set at $100,000.

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LAKE COUNTY – A Lower Lake woman died over the weekend in a crash in Mendocino County.

Diane Denise Whitehurst, 41, was killed in the head-on collision, which occurred on Highway 20 west of Marina Drive near Lake Mendocino, according to Officer Marian Holcomb of the Ukiah area California Highway Patrol Office.

Holcomb said Whitehurst and two passengers were traveling westbound on Highway 20 in a 1997 Ford van when Whitehurst, who was traveling about 60 miles per hour, crossed the double-yellow lines.

She collided head-on with a 2004 Chevrolet Silverado pickup driven by Martin Zuniga Pena, 45, of Williams, Holcomb said.

Whitehurst died, and her passengers – whose names were not immediately available – were injured. A 27-year-old male from Redwood Valley riding with her had major injuries and a 20-year-old female passenger from Finley had minor injuries and denied medical care, according to Holcomb.

Pena suffered minor injuries and his 29-year-old female passenger, also from Williams, had moderate injuries. Holcomb said that everyone but the young woman from Finley were transported to Ukiah Valley Medical Center for care.

As to the reasons for the crash, Holcomb said, “Alcohol may be a factor.”

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UKIAH – A report released Monday found that two peace officers who used Tasers on a man who later died last October used justifiable force.

Mendocino County District Attorney Meredith Lintott said Monday that her office completed its investigation into the Oct. 12, 2009, death of Christopher Belknap, who died after a violent unprovoked attack against a Mendocino County Sheriff’s sergeant.

Lintott determined that the use of Tasers by a Mendocino County Sheriff’s sergeant and a Ukiah Police Department sergeant was a legally justifiable use of force against Belknap.

On Oct. 12, 2009, at approximately 8:30 p.m., a Mendocino County Sheriff’s sergeant was parked in the parking lot of 740 South State St., Ukiah, when he observed Belknap – a parolee released from prison the prior week – waving his arms in an agitated manner, according to the report.

Belknap approached the sergeant, who got out of his patrol vehicle and was immediately attacked without provocation, Lintott reported.

After being physically struck by Belknap several times, the sergeant deployed his Taser, striking Belknap in an attempt to subdue him. The report said Belknap continued the assault on the sergeant as backup officers arrived on scene.

A Ukiah Police sergeant observed Belknap attacking the sheriff’s sergeant and deployed his Taser in an attempt to stop the assault. Lintott's report said Belknap was then restrained in handcuffs and placed onto the ground.

Shortly afterwards Belknap lost consciousness and became unresponsive, officials reported. Medical personnel were called to the scene and Belknap was transported to Ukiah Valley Medical Center. Life saving efforts was administered and Belknap died a short time later.

A forensic autopsy determined that the cause of death was “sudden death” due to “excited delirium” with a contributing factor being “methamphetamine toxicity and bullous emphysema.”

In addition, a forensic toxicologist found a high level of methamphetamine in Belknap’s blood and determined that this high level can result in violent and irrational behavior. The Mendocino County Coroner ruled the death as accidental.

The investigation was conducted by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office Bureau of Investigations at the request of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office and the Ukiah Police Department per the countywide protocol, Lintott reported.

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Pictured are the four teams that took part in the 30th annual Lake County Academic Decathlon competition on Saturday, February 6, 2010, in Upper Lake Calif. Two teams came from Lower Lake High School, and one team each came from Middletown High and Upper Lake High. Also pictured are coaches Ryan Callen of Middletown and Nancy Harby of Lower Lake. Courtesy photo.

LAKE COUNTY – The Lake County Office of Education has reported the final scores for all four teams that competed in last weekend's Lake County Academic Decathlon.

The 30th annual competition was held in the gymnasium at Upper Lake High School on Saturday, Feb. 6, as Lake County News has reported.

Upper Lake High School, coached by Steve Harness and Anna Sabalone, won the overall title again this year, with a total score of 36,779.8 out of a possible 60,000 points.

Nancy Harby coached Lower Lake High Team 1 and Lower Lake High Team 2, which scored 29,295.5 points and 25,514.5 points, respectively.

Coach Ryan Callen's Middletown High School Academic Decathlon team scored 22,685 points.

Decathlon officials also reported that a tie occurred in the scoring for the top scoring student from each school or team.

Honors-level stuent Teodora Toshich previously had been reported to have received the gold medal for Lower Lake High Team 2, but Bianey Madrigal, also an Honors level competitor, tied for the gold medal.

Upper Lake High now moves on to the state competition, which will take place in Sacramento March 12-15.

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MENDOCINO COUNTY – A Willits man has been arrested after he confessed to stealing an expensive saddle and then selling it.

Jason Garth Gilstrap, 46, was arrested on Feb. 4 on charges of burglary, forgery and possession of stolen property in the case, according to a report from Capt. Kurt Smallcomb of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

On Jan. 12 Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies received a report that a western saddle valued at $2,500 and farrier equipment valued at $200 had been stolen from a barn at 998 Hearst Willits Road sometime in the previous 24 hours. Smallcomb said deputies took a burglary report at that time.

On Jan. 29, an employee of the Black Horse tack store contacted the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and advised that she had purchased a saddle matching the description of the stolen saddle, according to the report.

Smallcomb said the woman later saw a picture of the saddle she had purchased on a flier placed on a bulletin board by the victim of the theft. She called the owner of the saddle and advised she was now in possession of his stolen property.

The employee told deputies she purchased the saddle from a white male in his forties for $250 on Jan. 28. Smallcomb said she was able to provide the deputies with the false name used by the suspect, his physical description and that of a companion he had with him that day. She also was able to provided an accurate description of the suspect's vehicle.

Based on the vehicle description provided by the Black Horse employee, deputies were able to locate the suspect's companion. Smallcomb said information gleaned from that interview led to the identification of Gilstrap, whose identity later was confirmed by a photo lineup shown to the tack store employee.

Gilstrap confessed to using a false name to sell the stolen saddle, Smallcomb said. He was arrested and booked into the Mendocino County Jail. Bail was set at $15,000.

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Upper Lake's Academic Decathlon team won the countywide championship at the competition held in the school's gym in Upper Lake, Calif., on Saturday, February 6, 2010. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



UPPER LAKE – Before a packed audience Saturday night in the Upper Lake High School gym, the school's Academic Decathlon team added another countywide title and numerous individual medals to its cache of accomplishments.

The 30th annual Lake County Academic Decathlon was held at Upper Lake High on Saturday. Testing began at 8:30 a.m., with community members invited to attend the competition's finale, the Super Quiz, which began at 4 p.m.

Three schools took part this year: Upper Lake, Lower Lake – which had enough students that it created two teams – and Middletown.

Parents and community members crowded into Upper Lake's gym for the event, which had as its theme this year the French Revolution.

In honor of that theme, veteran Lower Lake coach Nancy Harby donned a black beret. Some of her students wore versions of the red Phrygian – or liberty – cap, a conical hat first worn in ancient times that symbolized freedom and which was adopted by the sans culottes, who were volunteers in the French revolutionary army.

During the Super Quiz, teams worked their way through 45 questions about that turbulent and bloody period of French history, answering questions about the Thermidorian Constitution, the Old Regime, Girondins and Jacobins, and the downfall of King Louis XVI.

The Super Quiz involved students from the three categories of competition – Varsity (grade point averages of 2.99 and below), Scholastic (GPAs of 3.0 to 3.74) and Honors (GPAs of 3.75 to 4.0) – answering questions in nine rounds. Each was given 10 seconds to give an answer.

At the end of the Varsity round, Lower Lake Team I and Upper Lake were tied with seven points each, followed by Middletown with five points and Lower Lake Team II with two points.

The three Scholastic rounds of questions followed. Lower Lake Team I led with 14, Upper Lake had 11, Middletown had nine points and Lower Lake Team 2 had six points.

Then came the Honors round. By the end of the 45 questions, Lower Lake Team I had extended its lead, coming out on top with 19 points, followed closely by Upper Lake with 17, Middletown with 13 points and Lower Lake Team II with 10 points.

With the Super Quiz completed, it was up to the judges to tally up the day's competition and announce the winner.

While the calculations took place, Upper Lake High's band played several musical selections from the revolutionary period, the best known among them being “La Marseillaise,” written by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792, and later becoming France's national anthem.

Then Lake County Superintendent of Schools Superintendent Dave Geck, who was the master of ceremonies for the evening, announced the winners. Lower Lake High Principal Jeff Dixon, Upper Lake High Principal and Superintendent Patrick Iaccino and Middletown High coach Ryan Callen handing out the awards.

The following is the list of award winners at Saturday's competition.

Written essay

Bronze: Spence Hadden, Varsity, Lower Lake

Silver: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake

Gold: Laura Wold, Honors, Upper Lake

Speech, impromptu

Bronze: Courtney Havrilla, Honors, Upper Lake

Silver: Devin Hoyt, Scholastic, Upper Lake

Gold: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake


Bronze (tie): Teodora Toshich, Honors, Lower Lake Team II; Alyssa McCosker, Honors, Lower Lake Team I

Silver: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake

Gold: Justin Harrison, Honors, Lower Lake Team I

Language and literature

Bronze: Tiffany Criss, Varsity, Upper Lake

Silver: Elizabeth Perkins, Honors, Lower Lake Team I

Gold: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake


Bronze: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake

Silver: Joe Riggs, Scholastic, Lower Lake

Gold: Tiffany Criss, Varsity, Upper Lake


Bronze (three-way tie): Sean Grant, Scholastic, Lower Lake Team II; Tiffany Criss, Varsity, Upper Lake; Ian Weber, Scholastic, Upper Lake

Silver: Roy Hankins, Scholastic, Upper Lake

Gold: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake


Bronze: Ian Weber, Scholastic, Upper Lake

Silver: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake

Gold (tie): Roy Hankins, Scholastic, Upper Lake; Joe Riggs, Scholastic, Lower Lake


Bronze (tie): Courtney Havilla, Honors, Upper Lake; Tiffany Criss, Varsity, Upper Lake

Silver: Corey Cherrington, Scholastic, Lower Lake Team I

Gold: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake


Bronze: Spence Hadden, Varsity, Lower Lake Team I

Silver: Joe Riggs, Scholastic, Lower Lake Team I

Gold: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake

Varsity top scorers

Bronze: Spence Hadden, Lower Lake

Silver: Tiffany Criss, Upper Lake

Gold: Ben Mullin, Upper Lake

Scholastic top scorers

Bronze: Devin Hoyt, Upper Lake

Silver: Roy Hankins, Upper Lake

Gold: Joe Riggs, Lower Lake

Honors top scorers

Bronze: Courtney Havrilla, Upper Lake

Silver: Alyssa McCosker, Lower Lake

Gold: Laura Wold, Upper Lake

Top scorers on each team

Upper Lake High School: Ben Mullin, Varsity

Middletown High School: Nick Speridon III, Honors

Lower Lake High School Team 2 (tie): Teodora Toshich, Honors; Bianey Madrigal, Honors

Lower Lake High School Team 1: Joe Riggs, Scholastic

Super Quiz

Silver: Lower Lake Team I

Gold: Upper Lake

Winning teams

Silver: Lower Lake Team I

Gold: Upper Lake

At the competition's end, Geck told the audience that keeping the Academic Decathlon and performing arts programs intact “really depends on us as a community.”

He added, “It will take all of us to keep these kinds of program going.”

With the competition over for another year, the student decathletes congratulated each other and offered high fives to teammates and their opponents from other schools.

Upper Lake was led this year by Anna Sabalone, a former student decathlete now in her second year of coaching, and Steve Harness.

Sabalone called the experience “purely and simply overwhelming.”

This year proved more challenging than last year because Sabalone had “a fully new crop of kids.”




Upper Lake High academic decathlete Ben Mullin was the high point winner again this year at the Lake County Academic Decathlon, held in in Upper Lake, Calif., on Saturday, February 6, 2010. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



She started the new year with only two experienced decathletes – Ben Mullin and Courtney Havrilla. On top of that, she lost half of her Academic Decathlon class before the year had even started, and she didn't know if she would have enough students to fill the team.

She worked to convince students to stay with it long enough to “get the bug.”

Those getting the bug included the statuesque Tiffany Criss, wearing a broad smile and plenty of medals around her neck after the competition.

A senior, Criss credited her friend, Ben Mullin for talking her into joining the Academic Decathlon team this year.

Mullin last year was the high point winner, and he kept his title in grand style this year, ending the evening with 13 medals around his neck.

However, even with those awards, Mullin hadn't accomplished everything he'd set out to do.

He had a bet with two of his friends that if he didn't beat them in the mathematics competition he would dye his hair pink and paint his fingernails.

Teammate Roy Hankins topped him in that category, so Mullin admitted he had to honor the bet.

Sabalone said she'll give her students a few days off, which will include a victory movie day on Tuesday.

Then it's back to work to prepare for the state Academic Decathlon, which will be held in Sacramento March 12 through 15.

Asked if he has anything riding on how he competes at the state meet, Mullin said, “I would not accept any more bets.”

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

MENDOCINO NATIONAL FORESTS – The Mendocino National Forest’s Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trail system will be closed to vehicle traffic for two weeks as of Wednesday, according to forest officials.

The closure order covers the entire forest, including the Grindstone and Upper Lake Ranger Districts.

The forest's main office reported that the closure is scheduled to be lifted on Wednesday, Feb. 24, conditions permitting.

The closure is the result of wet weather patterns over the past month, which have saturated trails. Additional storm systems in the current forecast are likely to bring more water to the forest and trail system.

Using the trails in their current condition would result in damage not only to the trails, but would also impact other resources including soils, water quality and wildlife habitat, officials reported.

“We appreciate the public’s understanding and cooperation with the temporary OHV trail system closure,” said Forest Supervisor Tom Contreras. “By closing the trails now and preventing further damage, we are reducing the risk of longer closures for costly repairs and restoration efforts. Waiting for things to dry out will help us continue to provide quality recreation areas for OHV riders.”

The Emergency Trail Closure for the Mendocino National Forest is formally referenced under Order Number 08-10-01.

Violation of this closure order is punishable by a fine of no more than $5,000 for an individual, $10,000 for an organization, or up to six months imprisonment or both.

For more information, please contact the Mendocino National Forest at 530-934-3316 or visit .

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LAKE COUNTY – Although it's known for its clean air, Lake County got dismal grades on the American Lung Association's latest Tobacco Policy Report Card.

The report, released last month, gave the state of California a failing grade in battling tobacco's lethal effects, despite the fact that the state once had been a national leader in the effort.

“It’s time to raise the grade,” said American Lung Association in California President and Chief Executive Officer Jane Warner, who pointed to mixed results across all levels of the state. “For all Californians, strong tobacco control policies must be a top priority.”

The annual report card looked at 373 cities and 34 counties throughout California and graded them on how they protect citizens from the effects of secondhand smoke in outdoor environments and multi-unit housing.

Specifically, the rankings are based on the ordinances cities and counties have in place covering smokefree outdoor environments, smokefree housing and tobacco sales reductions, with each of those areas averaged to reach an overall grade.

The city of Clearlake received an F grade, with no points earned for requiring dining, entryways, public events, recreation areas, service areas and sidewalks to be smokefree.

The report also found no nonsmoking units, common areas or disclosures under housing grades, and in reducing tobacco products the city had no points for such issues as tobacco retailer licensing and requiring conditional use permits.

The county received identical marks, based on the report.

The city of Lakeport fared slightly better.

Although it received an F grade overall, Lakeport received a D in outdoor air grades because it earned three points for having smokefree recreation areas, which were established in Ordinance No. 859, unanimously accepted by the council on Nov. 21, 2006, according to city records. An earlier version of the ordinance included provisions regarding smoking in front of businesses, which the council removed.

The county and cities weren't alone in their grades. The report listed 271 cities and counties that received overall F grades.

Four cities – Richmond, Albany, Calabasas and Glendale – received overall A grades, according to the report. In addition, 24 cities and counties received A grades for smokefree outdoor air regulations, six earned A grades for smokefree housing and 60 obtained A grades for reducing sales of tobacco products.

The report was released last month in Richmond, where officials pointed out that the city had, in one year, raised its F and D grades to A grades after enacting new ordinances. The city now has the strongest smokefree housing ordinance in the nation, prohibiting smoking in 100 percent of all multi-unit housing, which accounts for some 34 percent of all housing in the city.

California received low grades overall for failing to adequately fund tobacco prevention and control programs, which are reportedly now at less than one-fifth the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended level.

Doug Gearhart, Lake County Air Quality Management District's pollution control officer, said the report is really a review of policies with a view toward protecting nonsmokers, and is looking for local rules that go beyond the basic state laws, which include not being able to smoke within 30 feet of a public building entrance.

Smoking is an air quality issue, Gearhart said. He said the state has determined that secondhand smoke is a toxic air contaminant.

The report gave California high marks for state laws that protect the public from secondhand smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces.

At the same time, however, the state received D grades for California's failure to raise the tobacco tax and provide cessation treatment and services to help people quit smoking.

Pam Granger, tobacco programs manager for the American Lung Association's North Coast region – stretching from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border – said that although Lake County's local grades don't look great, the report's grades can be an impetus to moving forward.

She said the whole point of the report is to increase public awareness as well as give the association a chance to recognize leadership when improvements have been made.

The Bay Area and the North Bay region – including Sonoma and Marin counties – have some of the best and strongest grades in the state, said Granger.

In Santa Rosa, efforts started when a bus operator went to the city council to complain about smokers coming into buses, she said.

In other areas, tenants in multi-housing units have raised the issue of clean air concerns. Granger said studies have shown that there is a 65-percent exchange in the air in common areas, meaning people are being exposed to secondhand smoke from their neighbors. That's of special concern in living situations where there are young families and seniors.

In Rohnert Park, the mayor had lived in a multi-unit housing complex and advocated for stricter rules to protect tenants, said Granger.

She said multi-unit housing where smoking restrictions have been put in place have benefited from fewer fires and lower replacement values for carpet and inside fixtures when a tenant moves out.

Addressing secondhand smoke is important because of its long-term health impacts on people, and its more immediate impacts on people with compromised conditions, who can have serious reactions in as little as 20 minutes, she explained.

“That's why we care,” she said.

Smoking is the sixth-largest cause of death in the United States, said Granger. “That you can stop.”

The measures that local governments can take don't have to be expensive, said Granger. They can include signs and some basic restrictions on where people can smoke.

Some areas also have stricter regulations in dealing with tobacco sales. Granger said in Marin County officials can pull a tobacco license if sales are made to minors. In the cities of Ukiah and Willits they have compliance checks that are paid for by Mendocino County. The city of Oakland has a licensing program that charges retailers $1,500 which supports the enforcement program.

Granger said she offers implementation support for cities that want to put new control measures in place.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, California now ranks 32nd for its $.87 per pack tax, far below the national average of $1.34, according to the American Lung Association in California report.

Tobacco remains a major cause of concern for public health in California, according to the report, and costs taxpayers more than $18 million every year.

The state is home to nearly four million smokers, and tobacco is still California's No. 1 preventable cause of death. The report estimates that 36,684 people die annually because of the effects of smoking, a number that is more than the deaths resulting from alcohol, HIV/AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

Joy Swetnam, who works with Lake Family Resource Center's Lake County Tobacco Education Program, said the report doesn't look at ongoing efforts to reduce smoking.

She said decisions have to be made locally about whether or not a community supports the kinds of measures the association is seeking, such as changes in multi-unit housing rules.

Swetnam said there is a lot of movement right now in the two cities and the county to work at reducing things like underage smoking, an effort which takes time and education and community support.

“So we get a failing grade but it's not like we're not working on it and haven't been working on it,” she said, noting that the county just renewed its contract with the tobacco education program.

She said the county wants the program to continue with the youth purchase survey, which helps keep merchants aware of state and federal laws covering tobacco sales to minors.

Meanwhile, there is big support for trying to get the anti-smoking message out to younger students – such as fourth through sixth graders – but tobacco youth prevention funds have dried up, and funds are only available for high school-level education, Swetnam said.

“All the legislation in the world is not going to keep a child from starting smoking, because they don't have the education,” said Swetnam, noting that getting to high school and junior high students is too late.

She said many children start smoking as young as 11 or 12 years old, and some girls now are chewing tobacco to control their weight.

Complete report cards for all cities and counties may be accessed at along with complete scoring criteria.

The report card's release coincided with that of the American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control 2009 national report card, which not only graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia but the federal government as well.

That report gave California an A for smokefree air, but D grades for cigarette tax and cessation coverage and an F for tobacco prevention and control spending.

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CLEARLAKE – Clearlake's city administrator is painting a bleak picture in the city's midyear budget review, and suggesting that the city may need to look at options like bankruptcy or divesting itself of parts of its jurisdiction in light of what could be ahead.

City Administrator Dale Neiman will make the presentation to the council at its meeting at 6 p.m. this Thursday, Feb. 11, in the council chambers at Clearlake City Hall, 14050 Olympic Drive.

In his report to the council, Neiman recommends the council provide comments and direction “on the serious financial issues” the city is facing and direct staff to evaluate the process for filing bankruptcy or detaching areas of the city to return to the county's jurisdiction.

He reported that the city has reduced staff by 30 percent and cut services. “Unfortunately, there is no way to provide appropriate services and make further cuts,” he wrote. “Without additional revenues, there is no way to solve the budget crisis.”

General fund revenues are 10-percent below budget projections, a trend that could result in the general fund being down by $356,755. That will leave the general fund with either a very small balance or a negative balance at year's end, according to Neiman.

The city's Proposition P police fund had a negative balance at the start of the year, and is projected to be in the red by $204,161 by July 1, for a total negative city cash balance of $428,630 at the end of the year, he said.

Redevelopment bond funds have been used to cover negative cash balances, but Neiman said redevelopment is supposed to have $373,000 less than the budget estimated.

He said the city receives less revenue than cities of similar size, with services costs that are much higher that similarly sized cities.

Neiman's report suggested that, if the funding trends continue, major issues will be facing the city, among them reduced policing and higher crime rates, degradation of paved streets and failing infrastructure, and citizen demand for services the city can't afford.

Beyond the initial mention of seeking bankruptcy or divestiture, Neiman's report does not go further into those proposals.

The other business item on the agenda for Thursday is consideration of confirming assessments for administrative penalties for failure to abate a public nuisance.

Also on the agenda for Thursday is the Anderson Marsh Interpretive Association's information report on the 2009 Old Time Bluegrass Festival, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's presentation of an autographed photo of President Barack Obama to the city.

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KELSEYVILLE – The inaugural Kelseyville Olive Festival, an event which focuses on the olive industry in Lake County as well as other local agriculture, is making its debut next month.

The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 21, at the Kelseyville Olive Mill, located at 5625 Gaddy Lane in Kelseyville.

The festival will feature locally produced olives and olive oil, education and demonstrations, olive oil and olive recipe contests for amateurs and professionals alike, and a variety of other contests and activities for the whole family.

Vendors offering olive-related and other local products will be present the day of the event, offering samples, selling food, soaps, lotions, trinkets, and more, as well as providing educational materials about olives and our local industry.

There is no cost to attend the festival; samples and demonstrations are free of charge. Wine and beer tasting will be available for a $10 fee.

Several related contests will be held up to and during the festival, including a poster contest, amateur recipe contest, olive pit spitting contest, and “people’s choice” contests, such as the professional recipe contest, open to professional chefs and caterers, the olive oil contest, and cured olives contest.

The Kelseyville Olive Festival is presented by Rosa d’Oro Vineyards and the Kelseyville Olive Mill & Wine Co. Both companies are located in Kelseyville and produce wine and olive oil.

Event proceeds from the silent auction, raffle, wine store sales, and wine and beer tasting will benefit the Lake Family Resource Center. The Resource Center is a 501(c)3 nonprofit agency in Kelseyville that provides several programs in Lake County, including the Healthy Families Program, Rape Crisis Center, 24/7 Community Crisis Line, Behavioral Health Services, Early Head Start, Lake County Tobacco Control Program, Domestic Violence Assistance, and the Adolescent Family Life Program. For more information, call 707-279-0563.

For more information about Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, visit or call 707-279-0483. For information about Kelseyville Wine Co. and Kelseyville Olive Mill, visit or call 707-279-2995.

For more information about the Kelseyville Olive Festival, contact Livia Kurtz, Rosa d’Oro Vineyards, at 707-279-0483 or visit

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People who follow me on Twitter or friend me on Facebook will already know about this, but to tell everyone: I have recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

What no one but those really close to me knows is that my daughter and I are big fans of the TV series “Futurama,” a sci-fi cartoon set in the year 3001. Our daily conversations are dotted with quotes from the program, and (because she chooses not to watch the show) my wife has no clue what we are talking about. “A wondrous thing happened why not?” How can she not understand that?

I mention this because I am once again growing sunroots in my garden. Years ago when I had a bigger garden I had a huge patch of them growing there. I really like them.

Sunroots are a potato-like tuber that grows underground and looks like really fat ginger. They are a great food for diabetics because sunroots store their starch in the form of inulin (a polysaccharide) and not carbohydrates. Diabetics can eat sunroots all day long without having blood sugar problems.

You might not be familiar with this vegetable because they’ve gone through a little identity crisis. For a long time sunroots went by the name “Jerusalem Artichokes” but the title just confused people since they aren’t from Jerusalem and they aren’t anything like an artichoke. They’re actually a variety of sunflower.

I personally don’t care for the new name, since to me it sounds like it was created by a marketing team of third graders. I prefer the name “sunchoke,” although I realize it doesn’t sound very appetizing. It does however remind me of the Futurama joke when they were talking about using a “smell-o-scope” to explore space …

Fry: "Hey, as long as you don't make me smell Uranus." (he laughs)

Leela: "I don't get it."

Professor: "I'm sorry, Fry, but astronomers renamed Uranus in 2620 to end that stupid joke once and for all."

Fry: "Oh. What's it called now?"

Professor: "Urectum. Here, let me locate it for you."

How can my wife not love humor like that?

The new marketing name aside, sunroots are going to be showing up more and more in America’s food baskets because not only are they good for diabetics – and we seem to be homogenizing into a nation of them (I guess I should start saying “us”) – but because they are a vegetable native to North America and grow like weeds.

Since they are native they don’t need much for special attention and are super productive which makes them cash cows for farmers. Imagine if you will, preparing a planting bed, planting the tubers and then ignoring them for months then harvesting buckets full of produce.

Sunroots are so prolific that if you want to grow them in your garden you should plant them in an out-of-the-way section in which you don’t have any intention of doing anything else, because they will reseed themselves if even the smallest of tubers is left behind. Because they are so prolific, some people consider the sunroot to be a noxious weed.

Sunroot tubers found in the grocery store will grow if planted, but many more interesting varieties are available online.

In the spring find an out-of-the-way area in your garden, work into the soil some steer manure, compost and your favorite fertilizer. Plant the tubers 3 or 4 inches deep and at least a foot apart. Mulch the area with straw, water occasionally, and watch as numerous stalks grow from each tuber.

In the fall frost will kill the tops and you can harvest the tubers as needed, leaving the extras in the ground for storage. It helps to leave at least part of the dead stalks on the plant so you can find the remaining tubers when you want them.

I’ve never tried it, but it is said that the leaves can be made into a tea that relieves the pain of Rheumatoid arthritis.

When I had my last sunroot patch I harvested so many sunroots that my family got sick of them, so I gave them to the local shelter, coworkers, even people walking down my street. The nice thing is that if you don’t want to harvest the roots you can just leave them in the ground until you want them.

I don’t have a lot of room in my garden but I’ve ordered a rare heirloom variety of sunroots to plant in my yard and hopefully I can keep it happy yet also keep it in check. The plants are huge and dense. They make a perfect wind break. They grow to be 8 to 10 feet tall and the stalks grow so thick that an you might as well consider a patch of sunroots as a fence.

They are a great organic farmer’s friend. Birds love them because the flowers contain tiny seeds and the plants provide great cover.

Sunroots were “discovered” in a tribal garden in Cape Cod by Samuel de Champlain (in 1605 ACE) who sent them to his homeland, France. He called them “Canadian Artichokes” since he thought they tasted like artichoke hearts.

A Swedish Naturalist then renamed them “Topinambour” after a cannibalistic tribe from Brazil (that’s a long, dull story) and they are still called that in France today.

They became mildly popular and traveled around Europe and eventually made their way to Italy. Since sunroots are a member of the sunflower family and produce an abundance of yellow flowers that turn to follow the sun throughout the day, the Italians called them “Girasole” meaning “turning to the sun.”

The name “Jerusalem Artichoke” is actually a mispronunciation of Girasole Articocco. Europe really embraced the sunroot as an animal feed; pigs love them.

Finally in 1620 The English Oxford dictionary makes mention of “The Artichokes of Jerusalem.”

So if the sunroot is so wonderful and easy to grow why isn’t it more popular today? People throughout history have looked at food and associated its appearance with what it can do.

For example, many foods that resemble genitals are thought of as aphrodisiacs. Sunroots are knobby and misshaped and resemble a leper’s hand, so it came to be thought that sunroots caused leprosy. There’s nothing like the threat of a disfiguring disease to whet the appetite! So sunroots were dropped off the menu like the population during the plague.

Good news, everyone! Sunroots are returning to popularity, and it’s a good thing too. They’re high in free glutamines, amino acids, iron (almost 20 percent RDA), potassium and low in calories.

Scrub them with a vegetable brush and use them raw in salads or cooked in almost anything. Boil them and toss them with butter and chives. Always try to eat them with the peel on since most of the nutrition is there.

What do they taste like? Raw, their texture is like water chestnuts or like jicama, but they’re sweeter. Cooked, they can best be described as a cross between potatoes and artichoke hearts. They are popular in France cooked as a fritter, but then they are also pickled, put in soups and salads, fried, and they have even been roasted and used as a coffee substitute. You get the idea.

The sugar (fructose) produced in one acre of sunroots could produce twice the amount of alcohol of corn or sugar beets, and in Germany they produce a spirit made from sunroots called Rossler. Some people have predicted that they could be used to produce the automobile fuel of the future.

Since I try not to keep any secrets, I’ll tell you the last thing you should know, and it’s not very flattering for the sunroot. Some people may not digest the inulin in sunroots well and this will translate into flatulence and sometimes stomach cramps. In the 18th century they were called “the windy root” and some children like to call it “fartichoke.” This doesn’t happen to everyone, but now at least you are forewarned.

A new season of “Futurama” will be starting in a few months, unless Fathers Against Rude Television stops it. How can you not love that humor?

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community. Follow him on Twitter, .

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