Tuesday, 23 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – While California's unemployment rate remained unchanged in December, Lake County's rate pushed higher, hitting 18.5 percent, state officials reported Friday.

The California Employment Development Department's latest report on unemployment noted that the state's overall rate in December was 12.4 percent, the same as for November, but up from the 8.7 percent unemployment seen in the state in December 2008.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the nationwide unemployment rate for December was 10 percent, also remaining unchanged from November. The December 2008 national unemployment rate was 7.4 percent.

The lowest unemployment among the state's 58 counties was reported in Marin, which had a 7.8 percent unemployment rate. The highest rate, 27.7 percent, was reported in Imperial County.

In Lake County in December, approximately 4,570 people out of the 24,710-member labor force were unemployed, an increase of 180 people over November, according to the report's statistics.

Within the county itself, the following unemployment rates were reported: Clearlake Oaks, 26.8 percent; Nice, 25.6 percent; city of Clearlake, 25.2 percent; Middletown, 22.5 percent; Lucerne, 19.3 percent; Kelseyville, 18.1 percent; city of Lakeport, 16.7 percent; north Lakeport, 16.3 percent; Cobb, 15.3 percent; Hidden Valley Lake, 15 percent; Lower Lake, 14.8 percent; Upper Lake, 7.6 percent.

Lake's neighboring counties registered the following unemployment rates: Colusa, 25.9 percent; Glenn, 15.9 percent; Mendocino, 11.5 percent; Napa, 10.2 percent; Sonoma, 10.1 percent; and Yolo, 13.7 percent.

The state's unemployment rate is derived from a federal survey of 5,500 California households. A survey of 42,000 California businesses that measures jobs in the economy – which the Employment Development Department noted is less statistically variable than the federal survey – found that California's nonfarm jobs totaled 14,148,000 in December, a decrease of 38,800 over the month.

The year-over-year change – December 2008 to December 2009 – showed a decrease of 579,400 jobs, down by 3.9 percent, the Employment Development Department reported. That followed a loss of 17,600 jobs in November.

Meanwhile, the federal survey of households showed a decrease in the number of employed people – estimating 15,978,000 Californians held jobs in December, a decrease of 88,000 from November, and down 973,000 from the employment total in December of last year, the Employment Development Department reported.

The report also estimated the number of people unemployed in California was 2,254,000 – down by 19,000 over the month, but up by 648,000 compared with December of last year.

The Employment Development Department reported that there were 792,764 people receiving regular

unemployment insurance benefits during the December survey week, compared with 781,449 in November and 655,445 in December 2008. New claims for unemployment insurance were 80,873 in December 2009, compared with 84,738 in November and 87,979 in December 2008.

In December, three job categories – information; financial activities; and educational and health services – added jobs over the month, gaining 10,600 jobs. Educational and health services posted the largest increase over the month, adding 7,500 jobs, according to the report.

Eight categories reported job declines for December totaling 49,400 jobs. They included mining

and logging; construction; manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; other services; and government. Trade, transportation and utilities posted the largest decline over the month, down by 15,300 jobs, the Employment Development Department reported.

The report also explained that in a year-over-year comparison – from December 2008 to December 2009 – nonfarm payroll employment in California decreased by 579,400 jobs, down by 3.9 percent). One industry division, educational and health services, posted job gains over the year, adding 22,800 jobs – a 1.3-percent increase.

Ten categories – mining and logging; construction; manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; information; financial activities; professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; other services; and government – posted job declines over the year, down 602,200 jobs, the agency said.

In addition, trade, transportation and utilities employment showed the largest decline on a numerical basis, down by 127,100 jobs, a decline of 4.6 percent, while construction posted the largest decline on a percentage basis, down by 16.1 percent, a decrease of 116,100 jobs, according to the Employment Development Department.

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 http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

Viola Liu and Ryan Barrett were found stranded in the snow during a helicopter search of a remote part of Lake County on Saturday, January 23, 2010. Courtesy photos.




UPPER LAKE – A Fremont couple reported missing this past week after leaving for a camping trip have been discovered alive in a remote part of Lake County, stuck in the snow.

Ryan Barrett and Viola Liu, both 31, and their three dogs were located near their Toyota Tacoma pickup truck with the help of a privately hired helicopter late Saturday afternoon, according to family members.

Details of their specific location weren't immediately available, although family members had indicated the search was going to take place in the Upper Lake area, near where the couple had purchased gas on Jan. 16. Barrett's uncle, Richard Jenkins, was reportedly flying with the helicopter crew.

Genevieve Glassy, Barrett's stepmother, said the couple had crossed a road that washed out as a result of recent storms.

Shortly after 4:30 p.m., the helicopter with the couple and their dogs was en route to Lampson Airport outside of Lakeport, according to radio reports.

Glassy said Barrett had called his younger brother to say that he was OK but that he had to go, because his cell battery was running out. In the last several days, family and friends had worried because both Barrett's and Liu's cell phones had only gone to voice mail.

Lake County News will post updates on the story as they become available.

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 http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .




When establishing a living trust, married persons – and registered domestic partners – with significant separate property assets must decide whether to transfer their separate properties into a single joint trust, or into individual separate property trust(s). This is often very relevant in second marriages, and later in life marriages, where significant separate property assets and step-children are usually involved.

Maintaining one’s separate property’s identity is important because at death or divorce it belongs to that one spouse alone. Assets acquired prior to marriage, or received as a gift or inheritance during marriage, are separate property, unless co-mingled and transmuted into community property.

Community property, however, belongs equally to both spouses. It is divided 50-50 at death or divorce. Everything acquired during marriage, particularly marital earnings, is presumed to be community property.

When significant separate property is involved, there are multiple concerns with using a single joint trust.

First, including separate property in a single trust with community property and/or the other spouse’s own separate property, risks losing the separate character of these assets.

The separate property might be sold and the proceeds co-mingled with community property or the other spouse’s separate property. It will be difficult, or impossible, to distinguish the proceeds from the original separate property.

Second, assets in a joint trust will usually be managed by both spouses while they are alive and competent, and thereafter their children or beneficiaries.

That may not be desirable for separate property. The spouse with the separate property may not want to share control and management of the separate property with the other spouse. Also, and more worrisome, is that the stepchildren may later manage the separate property when both spouses are no longer able to manage their affairs.

Third, the surviving spouse, if left in charge of the separate property, may consume the separate property before using their own property – to the detriment of the children of the spouse owning the separate property.

What are the solutions?

The best solution, when substantial separate property assets are concerned, is to create two separate trusts to hold each spouse’s separate property estate. If necessary, a joint trust may be established to hold “community property” assets.

Alternatively, the separate property assets may be held a common trust but be controlled by a “special trustee” appointed by the spouse owning the separate property. Initially that spouse would be the special trustee.

The successor special trustee, who steps in at disability and/or death, would be that spouse’s own children or beneficiaries. The trust would say how the separate property is to be used for the benefit of the contributing spouse, the other spouse, and the children.

Protecting their children, as well as themselves, motivates people to ensure that their separate property is maintained as such, is separately managed, and is separately distributed at death (and not co-mingled with the other spouse’s estate).

Whether to use a separate property trust or use a common trust with a special trustee(s) in charge of separate properties, entails examination of individual circumstances such as the nature of the assets, the size of estate, and the quality of familial relationships involved.

Dennis A. Fordham, attorney (LL.M. tax studies), is a State Bar Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Law. His office is at 55 1st St., Lakeport, California. Dennis can be reached by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 707-263-3235.

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An Air Shasta helicopter sets down at Lampson Airport in Lakeport, Calif., on Saturday, January 23, 2010, after successfully locating Ryan Barrett and Viola Liu, both of Fremont, Calif. The couple had left for a camping trip on Saturday, January 16, 2010. Because of the number of people on the helicopter, two trips had to be made to transport everyone safely from the remote area in which the couple were found near Elk Mountain Road above Upper Lake, Calif. The picture was taken when pilot Dave Everson returned with Barrett's uncle, Richard Jenkins, and two of the couples' dogs. Photo by Martin Pacheco.




UPPER LAKE – Tips from county residents knowledgeable about the Upper Lake area and a helicopter search are credited with helping locate a Fremont couple stranded in the mountains above Upper Lake since last weekend.

Ryan Barrett and Viola Liu, both 31, and their three dogs were located alive and uninjured near their Toyota Tacoma pickup truck at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, said Barrett's uncle, Richard Jenkins of Corte Madera.

The couple were found near Mendocino National Forest roads in a remote area off of Elk Mountain Road above Upper Lake, Jenkins said.

“They seem fine,” Jenkins said shortly after 5 p.m. Saturday.

After a frantic week of searching and hearing nothing from Liu or Barrett, family and friends of the couple expressed relief and joy at their safe return.

The couple, who left home Jan. 16, had stopped at an Upper Lake gas station later that day, which was one of the few clear clues their family and law enforcement had to go on in trying to find them.

With no reported sighting of the couple, law enforcement didn't deploy search and rescue operations, according to Ginny Bratlie, Barrett's mother.

Bratlie, who had traveled from Olympia, Wash., was working with her other son, Sam, from his Albany home, to muster resources and locate help to find the young couple.

As part of their efforts, the family decided to hire a private helicopter company, Bratlie said.

Jenkins made contact on Saturday with pilot Dave Everson, owner and chief pilot of Redding-based Air Shasta Rotor & Wing, and arrangements were made to do a helicopter search on Saturday afternoon.

Meantime, a Bay Area news station had run a story about the missing couple on Friday evening, and area residents who saw the broadcast contacted the family to give suggestions about where the couple might have gone if they had traveled into the mountains above Upper Lake.

“Without that information, we would have not known where to look,” said Jenkins.

At about 3 p.m. the Shasta Air helicopter with Everson, Jenkins and other family on board took off from Lampson Field outside of Lakeport.

Another pilot with the company, Martin Pacheco, credited Ryan O'Keven with being “the real hero” of the search.

O'Kevin knew the area well and had contacted the family after the news broadcast. Pacheco told Lake County News that O'Keven guided Everson to the Bear Creek Campground and to a campsite where he believed the couple would be, but there was no sign of the pair.

From the Bear Creek Campground, the helicopter followed a snow-covered road toward the ridge. As they flew over the area, they spotted human and dog footprints in the snow that had fallen in the last few days. Pacheco said they followed the footprints until they found Barrett, Liu and their three dogs.

Jenkins said that, within a half hour of the air search beginning, the couple were spotted.

“We actually found them pretty quickly once we got into the area,” said Jenkins.

He said Everson was able to maneuver and land in a narrow clearing to pick up the couple.

Because of the number of people on the helicopter, it took two trips to get everyone back to Lampson Field. Jenkins and a cousin of Barrett's had to get off and wait with the couple's two huskies while Liu, Barrett and their Labrador retriever were transported, Pacheco said.

There were clouds overhead, said Jenkins, and as they were waiting for Everson to return, sleet began to fall.

Jenkins said the couple had driven into the area on Saturday, and has crossed a creek in their two wheel drive pickup. The recent heavy storms caused the creek to rise, and they were unable to get back across it.

At that point, stranded in the snow, the couple found a small shed or cabin, where they had been staying, said Jenkins.

They found a can of tomato sauce in the cabin and were living off of that over the last few days, he said.

On Saturday morning they started to hike out of the area, and that's when Jenkins said they found them, in an area between forest roads M-1 and M-10, which is about 15 miles north of Upper Lake, according to the Mendocino National Forest.

Within hours of their discovery, the couple were on their way home to Fremont. A sheriff's official had traveled to the airport to see if Barrett and Liu needed medical attention, which they didn't, Jenkins said.

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 http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

Fremont residents Viola Liu and Ryan Barrett left their home on Saturday, January 16, 2010, and haven't been seen or heard from since, according to family and law enforcement. Courtesy photos.



LAKE COUNTY – Family members and law enforcement are seeking information about the whereabouts of a missing Fremont couple who stopped in Lake County last weekend.

Ryan Barrett, his girlfriend Viola Liu and their three dogs left home for a camping trip on the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 16, according to Barrett's uncle, Richard Jenkins of Corte Madera.

“They were scheduled to return home on Monday evening, Jan. 18,” said Jenkins. “We have not heard from them.”

Jenkins said his family filed a missing persons' report with the Fremont Police on Wednesday.

Barrett and Liu, both 31 years old, hadn't given their families a definite destination for their camping trip, according to Jenkins.

Family told Bay Area media that they had found evidence on Barrett's laptop that he had been looking at maps for various areas around Northern California.

The couple haven't answered their cell phones, which go straight to voice mail, according to information issued by the Fremont Police Department.

A small break in the case came when it was discovered that Liu's credit card was used for gas in Upper Lake on Jan. 16, according to Genevieve Glassy, Barrett's stepmother.

Jenkins said his nephew is familiar with the mountains. Barrett had with him a tent, sleeping bags, camping gear, dog food, freeze dried food and water.

“We think they may have been camping in the back country near Upper Lake and were caught in the recent storms,” Jenkins said.

That's a very real concern; Lake County Public Works reported on Friday that a portion of Elk Mountain Road was closed due to heavy snow, and as much as 3 feet of snow had fallen in that area as well as along Bartlett Springs Road. Four wheel drive with chains is required in both areas, where work to reopen the roads isn't scheduled to begin until Monday.

Barrett and Liu are driving a red 2005 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck with a red camper shell; the pickup's license plate number is 7P61451, according to the Fremont Police.

Barrett is a white male, 5 feet, 9 inches tall, 150 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. Liu is a Chinese-American woman, standing 5 feet, 7 inches tall, 130 pounds, with brown hair with highlights, and brown eyes.

The three dogs accompanying them include two huskies and a Labrador retriever, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said he'll be in Upper Lake area on Saturday to put up flyers in an attempt to help locate the couple.

Anyone with information about the couple is asked to call the Fremont Police Department at 510-790-6800, or dial 911 to contact local authorities, who also have been notified of the missing couple's possible presence in the county, Glassy said.

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 http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .



Ryan Barrett and Viola Liu are driving a red 2005 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck with a red camper shell; the pickup's license plate number is 7P61451. Courtesy photo.

LAKE COUNTY – Power outages, difficult road conditions and wet weather were still in evidence around Lake County on Thursday, as the winter storms continued.

The storms, which began earlier this week, have turned out to be good news for the county's water supply, with creeks and Clear Lake all noting measurable improvements, according to US Geological Survey gauges stationed around the county.

Clear Lake was reported at 2.72 feet Rumsey late Thursday, having risen from below 1.0 foot Rumsey less than a week ago, the USGS reported.

Traveling along county roads proved challenging in some parts of the county, particularly the Cobb area, which continued to get snow on Thursday. Lake County Public Works reported that chains were required on all county maintained roads in Cobb.

One reader reported that on Thursday morning motorists traveling along Highway 175 between the Cobb school and Loch Lomond were sliding sideways on the road and blocking traffic because they lacked chains or four-wheel drive capability on their vehicles.

The California Highway Patrol reported a jacknifed truck that blocked the roadway between Loch Lomond Road and Harrington Flat Road at around 9:30 a.m. on Highway 175 in the Cobb area, with eight other vehicles reported stuck due to snowy conditions. Over an hour later the road was reopened.

During the course of the day the county's roads department responded to the Cobb area, where they plowed the roads and put down sand.

Throughout the rest of the day, reports would continue to come in about vehicles stuck in the snow or trees down across roadways in the Cobb area, according to the CHP. A noninjury solo vehicle collision reported just before 3:30 p.m. had a vehicle dangling over the embankment on Bottle Rock Road, three miles from Kelseyville.

Other roadway trouble spots around the county on Thursday included Scotts Valley Road near Lakeport, closed between Highway 20 and Laurel Dell Road due to flooding; Rose Anderson Road, from Maria Vista Road to Van Dorn Reservoir Road in the Middletown area, closed due to a downed power pole and lines; and Douglas Terrace in Lucerne, closed because of a downed tree and power lines, according to the roads department.

Snow was reported falling in the Bartlett Springs and Elk Mountain Road areas, where roads were open. However, county officials urged anyone traveling in those areas to have chains and four-wheel drive.

Also on Thursday, power outages continued in Cobb.

Jana Morris, a spokesperson for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., reported that two separate outages affecting nearly 700 customers were reported at about 2:30 p.m.

Both outages appeared to be storm related, Morris said. Power was restored later in the evening.

To see some of Thursday's snow fall in Cobb, see area resident Roger Kinney's video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_grz-TEjFI .

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 http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

ANGWIN – Firefighters were able to save an Angwin home that caught on fire Saturday morning.

The fire occurred at a residence in the 500 block of White Cottage Road in unincorporated Napa County, according to Napa County Fire Marshal and Cal Fire Battalion Chief Pete Muñoa.

The home's only resident observed smoke coming out of the eaves of her home and called 911 just before noon, Muñoa said.

Units and 21 firefighters from Angwin, Las Posadas and St. Helena stations of the Napa County Fire Department and Cal Fire responded to the fire, which Muñoa said caused moderate damage to the single story structure.

He said the fire was reported contained at 12:30 p.m. but units remained at scene performing overhaul and salvage until 3:15 p.m.

The blaze is believed to have been started by an electrical malfunction which occurred in an outlet in the living room ceiling which started the fire in the attic, Muñoa said.

No injuries were reported, Muñoa added.

Damage is estimated at approximately $80,000 with a property save of over $200,000, he said.

The home cannot be occupied due to the damage, and Muñoa said the home's resident is being assisted by the Seventh Day Adventist Church at Pacific Union College.

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Local resident Greg Dills took this picture of the collision that occurred on Friday, January 22, 2010. He said he was about sixth on the scene, and when he arrived steam was still coming of the vehicles, emergency vehicles pulled up few minutes later. He took the above photo before he turned around and used Soda Bay Road to get home.



were injured in a head-on traffic collision that occurred Friday afternoon near Kelseyville.

Gregory Austin, 42, of Clearlake, Nicolas Chavez, 26, of Hidden Valley Lake, and 30-year-old Clearlake resident Sunny Gardner sustained injuries in the crash, which occurred just before 3 p.m. Friday, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Tanguay.

Austin was driving his 2000 Toyota Corolla southbound on Highway 29, south of the portion of Highway 175 that leads to Cobb. According to the report, as Austin was traveling southbound, he lost control of his vehicle for an unknown reason.

Tanguay said Austin's Toyota crossed over the painted solid double yellow lines and struck the 1997 Ford F-250 truck that was pulling a U-Haul trailer and was driven by Chavez.

The two vehicles came to rest blocking both lanes of traffic of Highway 29 in front of Kelseyville Auto Salvage, Tanguay said.

REACH air ambulance transported Austin to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for two possibly broken legs, Tanguay said. Gardner, a passenger in the Toyota, sustained minor lacerations and complained of pain. Chavez also complained of pain and sustained minor injuries.

All three men were wearing their seatbelts in this collision and the air bag in the Toyota was deployed, said Tanguay.

The CHP said alcohol is not believed to be a factor in this collision.

Officer Jake Bushey is investigating the crash.

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Bryan Scobey of Santa Rosa is believed to have gone missing of his own volition, and now is being sought by authorities who allege he embezzled a vehicle from his employer. Courtesy photo.



SONOMA COUNTY – A Santa Rosa man who disappeared from work last week appears to have gone missing on his own, and now is wanted on embezzlement charges, law enforcement officials reported late Thursday.

Bryan William Scobey, 35, is no longer considered a missing person, but Sonoma County Sheriff's detectives are actively seeking him for allegedly embezzling company property – including a pickup truck – from his employer, Hitmen Termite & Pest Control Inc., according to Sgt. Tim Duke.

Duke said a male subject told authorities that he had driven Scobey to Reno, Nev.

The latest information in the case follows a week of exhaustive work both by authorities and Scobey's friends, who started Facebook and MySpace pages, and even launched a Web site, www.findbryan.com , to help find him. On Thursday, nearly 2,000 people had signed up to be Scobey's friend on Facebook.

His friends also had raised money to hire a private investigator, but Randy Hill and Bob Ramme, who led the effort, reported on the Facebook page Thursday that they were suspending the private investigator.

Late Thursday, Scobey's friends on Facebook shared different reactions, from disbelief to relief that he is alive. Many also were preparing to offer him support and encouragement for when he returns, as well as offering to raise money to assist Scobey's wife and three stepchildren.

Duke said that at approximately 5:21 p.m. Jan. 13 the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office was contacted by a concerned representative of Hitmen Termite & Pest Control Inc. who wanted to check on the welfare of Scobey, one of their employees. Scobey had reportedly worked for the company for several years.

The Hitmen representative reported to the sheriff's office that the company's vehicle assigned to Scobey, a pickup truck, was last known to be in the area of Freemont Drive and Burndale Road in Sonoma.

Several deputies were summoned to check the area in an attempt to locate Scobey or his company vehicle, Duke said. The Sonoma County Sheriff's Office helicopter, “Henry-1,” assisted in the search.

During the intensive four-hour search for Scobey, several law enforcement resources were utilized in an attempt to locate him and his vehicle, Duke said.

The company vehicle Scobey was assigned had a global positioning satellite (GPS) device installed. The GPS company was contacted and was able to establish the last known location of the vehicle and time the GPS stopped functioning, which was at 8:39 a.m. Jan. 13. The area was checked but neither Scobey nor the company vehicle was located.

Scobey had a company cell phone, Duke said. The cell phone carrier was contacted and revealed the last phone call made from Scobey's phone occurred at 8:49 a.m.

Duke said it was apparent that the GPS and cell phone, both belonging to the company, had been disabled. Preliminarily, it was unknown if Scobey or another source disabled the devices.

Authorities deemed Scobey's disappearance suspicious and it subsequently became a missing person's case, the investigation of which was delegated to detectives in the Sonoma County Sheriff's Violent Crimes Unit, Duke said.

Detectives continued to use existing law enforcement resources and implemented additional resources in an attempt to locate Scobey and his company vehicle, Duke said.

Investigative leads took detectives to the city of Yreka, in Siskiyou County. Detectives worked with local law enforcement authorities and ascertained that Scobey arrived in Yreka on Jan. 13. He allegedly stopped in Yreka on his way to Portland, Ore. – which is listed as his birthplace on his MySpace page.

Scobey was traveling by himself, driving the company vehicle, and appeared to be in good health, according to the report.

While in Yreka, Scobey ran out of money. Duke's report said that Scobey allegedly sold tools and other items off the company vehicle that belong to Hitmen Termite & Pest Control Inc.

On the night of Friday, Jan. 15, Scobey allegedly befriended what Duke called “an unwitting subject” to drive him to Reno. The subject agreed, and in exchange for driving Scobey to Reno, Scobey told the man that he could keep the Hitmen Termite & Pest Control vehicle.

Scobey is being sought for embezzlement of a company vehicle and items that he took and sold without the permission of his employer, Duke said.

Duke said that the Hitmen truck was located and will be returned to the company. Several tools and other items Scobey allegedly sold or bartered have also been recovered.

Anyone with information on the case should contact the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office at 707-565-2511.

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My wife and I joke that our house is bugged with hidden microphones or video cameras, because many times I’ll say that “blank” is going to be the next big thing, and then in the not so distant future, it is.

Other times I have written about a specific food of some sort and within weeks there is a television show about the very same product. I’ll call out, “Honey, Alton Brown won’t stop copying me!”

As an example, a few years ago I tried everything to get seeds for a Caribbean culinary herb called culantro and couldn’t find them anywhere. Now numerous seed catalogs have them. Now, I am not so egotistical that I think it was my numerous requests that made culantro easy to find in the United States, but rather it was the growing popularity of Caribbean cuisine across the country.

But then again, when circumstances like this keep happening to me over and over, it does make me wonder. I know that the world doesn’t hang on my every word, and I’m hoping that the house isn’t really bugged (Shhh! Don’t tell them that I know!). It’s just that I watch for food trends and search out new ingredients, and since other people are doing the same thing we sometimes end up in the same place.

My latest prediction is that Middle Eastern food is going to become very popular. I’m not going very far out on a limb on this one since most of the food magazines are already starting to feature Middle

Eastern foods regularly.

There are lots of Americans over in that area of the world right now who may very well develop a liking for the food and will want it when they return home. This generally happens after a war, when service men and women return from a region the cuisine from that region experiences a surge in popularity here at home.

I had hoped that Middle Eastern food would give me several new vegetarian foods that my daughter would like, but no such luck. She’s rejected nearly everything as “too spicy.” I thought my final saving grace would be falafel, and personally, I love it.

Falafel is made of mashed garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), onions and spices which are formed into balls, deep fried, then stuffed in a pita. It is very flavorful, has a nice crunchy exterior, and is vegan. Falafel is the consummate Middle Eastern sandwich.

Raw dried garbanzo beans store very well, especially in dry climates, so they would naturally be popular in the Middle East. This is the standard form of garbanzos used in falafel in Middle Eastern homes.

Here in America people use canned garbanzos more often, but it is said that since the canning process cooks the beans it changes the texture of the final product.

I have only been cooking falafel at home for a few years, and while I do notice a difference from pre-packaged and fresh made, I haven’t been able to detect the difference between using canned versus dried beans. Cooked canned, raw dried and pre-packaged falafel mix are all available locally.

I, of course, couldn’t just use the packaged mix; no, I needed to make it from scratch. So I experimented with all sorts of recipes using both dried and canned garbanzo beans.

One recipe from a best-selling cookbook actually didn’t work at all and the falafel balls would disintegrate immediately upon entry into the oil. I couldn’t figure out why this had happened since (for once) I followed the recipe to the letter. After a little research I found this disintegration was a common complaint for many recipes.

Some sources recommended that an egg be added to the rest of the mix and try again. I didn’t want to settle for that (the dish would no longer be vegan) and so I tried various changes to my method. I tried tightly packing the balls and loosely packing the balls and found that both disintegrated. Obviously

it was the recipe.

I finally found that the reason for the disintegration was because the falafel mix was too moist. Your falafel mix can become too wet from too many onions or over-processing the mix. That is the main purpose of the flour in the recipe: to dry up the mix.

If the mixture is much too wet the balls will disintegrate immediately upon dropping them into the hot oil. If the balls just crack the mix is just slightly too wet. If they stay perfectly formed the mix is just right. The reason my instructions have you heating your oil after you make the mix is to allow some time to let the flour absorb any moisture in the mix.

If you are interested in trying falafel but don't want to jump in with both feet, the pre-packaged “just add water and cook” stuff you find in the rice and beans area of your grocery store is actually pretty good. It has a slightly grainier texture than making it from scratch, but it still isn’t bad. One Middle Eastern cookbook I have actually recommends using this pre-packaged product and focused on the condiments and serving.

Originally an Egyptian dish made out of fava beans, falafel was most likely created by early Coptic Christians in Egypt for eating during meatless holidays like Lent. Eventually it was adopted by almost every Middle Eastern nation that then developed their own version of it. Some regions and cultures still use the fava beans, alone or in a combination with garbanzos.

Israel adopted chickpea falafel as a way to “fit in” to the area at the end of the Diaspora when the nation started to form. Now it is considered their national dish. This of course caused a problem. The Palestinians claim that their recipe was stolen by the Jews.

Today, falafel is sold as a street food in pita sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, hummus and sesame seed based tahini sauce, not only in Israel but throughout the Middle East. Sometimes called “the hot dog of the Middle East,” they are also eaten plain or crumbled on salads.

Recipes for falafel are pretty standardized with only small changes occurring from place to place. For instance parsley is a standard ingredient but is sometimes substituted with or accompanied by cilantro in some recipes. I like to add green onion tops, personally. Cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes are the standard spices.

Shapes even are different depending on region or use. The most common shape for falafel is in ping pong-sized balls. Some recipes call for the balls to be flattened into disks, sometimes as thin as a pancake.

They are then deep fried, typically in olive oil. Although it may seem blasphemous I like falafel with yogurt based Greek Tziziki sauce in a pita with the other usual condiments. I find adding hummus a little redundant (hummus is also made from garbanzo beans), like putting ketchup on a tomato.

Older and more authentic recipes call for removing the fine skin from the beans and mashing the garbanzos instead of using the food processor. I tried it, but it was just too difficult and too labor-intensive to even finish that method so I ran right back to the food processor.

And just a fair word of warning: if you’ve never had falafel, to put it delicately it is a “bean” based product, which may have certain side effects. I sound like I’m playing a trombone after eating it.

Lastly, if you want another prediction of what I see in the future of cooking … culinary centrifuges. You just watch, in 10 years max, they'll be all the rage with chefs everywhere.

Did the microphones get that?


1 cup dried chickpeas or one 16 ounce can, drained

1/2 large onion, roughly chopped (about 1/2 cup)

1 ½ tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1 ½ tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon green onion tops, chopped

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 teaspoon cumin, ground

½ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (up to a teaspoon can be used if you like it hot)

1 teaspoon baking powder

4 to 6 tablespoons flour (I use a garbanzo/fava flour but plain white flour is fine)

Oil for deep frying (at least three inches deep with at least four inches from the top of the oil to the top of the pot you are using)

Note: If using dried garbanzos you will need to rehydrate them overnight in a large bowl covered with at least two inches of water.

Add all of the ingredients except the flour and the oil to your food processor and blend thoroughly; be sure you don’t overly mix into a paste. The finished product should look slightly grainy but roll nicely into balls. Add flour little bits at a time if you need to dry out the dough at all. After adding the flour you should have a dough-like texture.

Now, Heat the oil to 350 degrees

Roll the mixture into balls about the size of ping pong balls (smaller is OK, but larger won’t work out as well). Carefully drop each ball into the oil. I use a spoon to lower the balls into the oil and fry them until they are darker than golden brown, but not dark brown. They should float at that stage. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and let drain for a minute on paper towels, then serve.

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, http://twitter.com/Foodiefreak .

LUCERNE – A repair van parked at the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center this week was reported stolen, according to officials.

The center was closed last week in order to repair water damage from a leaking pipe, as Lake County News has reported.

ServPro, a company that specializes in fire and water cleanup, had reportedly sent three vans to the center on Thursday. One of the vans, which was left unlocked with the keys inside, was stolen, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Steve Tanguay.

The bright green van with the orange ServePro logo was last seen heading eastbound on Country Club Drive at about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Tanguay said. On Friday, it still hadn't been recovered.

A CHP officer was dispatched to the center to take a report, Tanguay said.

Anyone with information should call the CHP's Kelseyville office at 279-0103 or call 911.

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 http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

Lake County Public Works staff unclogged a drainage in Lucerne on Wednesday, January 20, 2010. A portion of nearby Foothill Drive and homes close to the area were threatened with possible flooding due to the drainage. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




LAKE COUNTY – Heavy rains and even snow created challenges for residents around Lake County on Wednesday.

The rains, which had begun over the weekend, continued in steady fashion over many parts of the county Wednesday, with local creeks running fast after swelling with runoff.

County Roads Superintendent Steve Stangland, already shorthanded due to staff illnesses and vacations that already were scheduled, was trying to concentrate his crews on populated areas of the county, including Lucerne, where water was pooling on roadways and clogging drainages.

In Clearlake Oaks, road crews continued to deal with a collapsed retaining wall at Beryl Way, Stangland said.

Stangland also had his crews ready to respond with snow plows to the more remote areas of the county, including Bartlett Springs and Elk Mountain, where snow had fallen.

Snow plus more hail also hit the Cobb area, which has been hammered by all manner of storms this week.

Area resident Roger Kinney reported that Cobb once again saw thunder and lightning on Wednesday. Earlier in the week the thunder and lightning had been so fierce in his area, at 3,000 feet elevation, that it had set off his wife's car alarm. He said it snowed late into the night there.

Numerous rock and mud slides were affecting county highways, according to the California Highway Patrol.

A slide, complete with uprooted trees, was reported on Soda Bay Road near the Ferndale Resort in the morning, the CHP reported. Later in the day, boulders “the size of a vehicle” were reported along Highway 29 at the Coyote Grade in the early afternoon.

Winds helped knock down more power lines and trees on Wednesday.

A pine tree that fell along Bottle Rock Road on Tuesday was still causing headaches for road crews a day later. Stangland said they hoped to see the portion of Bottle Rock Road Between Sulphur Creek Road and Highway 175 reopened late Wednesday.

Some utilities were affected by the storms, including AT&T services because of the Bottle Rock Road situation. Later in the day, parts of the county were affected by a Mediacom Internet service outage that lasted well over 12 hours.

Wet weather is expected to continue through the week's end, but with precipitation forecast to taper off.

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 http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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