Saturday, 02 March 2024

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DAVIS – Working closely with entrepreneurs, community leaders, lenders, farmers, and families, USDA Rural Development California invested more than $550 million in California’s rural economies in 2008.


Late last month, USDA Rural Development State Director Ben Higgins released the agency’s Annual Report, outlining the full array of USDA Rural Development assistance delivered in the Golden State in the prior fiscal year.


“For our employees and the hundreds of rural communities they serve, 2008 was an enormously successful year – arguably our most successful ever,” said Higgins. “Collectively we invested more than $550 million in our state’s rural communities – an increase of well over $100 million from 2007. In doing so, USDA Rural Development helped create thousands of new jobs and played a significant role in mitigating economic uncertainties faced by hundreds of businesses, families, and local and tribal governments in rural California.


Over $210 million was invested to support entrepreneurs in rural areas, organizations which assist small and emerging businesses, and renewable energy production in California. These investments, primarily made in the form of loan guarantees to private businesses, saved or created almost 4,000 jobs in rural communities throughout the state.


Nearly $69 million in grants and loans were provided to California rural communities for facilities and infrastructure, including water distribution and wastewater treatment systems, telecommunications, hospitals, health clinics, schools, and to meet the needs of rural law enforcement and fire suppression agencies. Rural areas eligible for community programs funding are generally defined as those with a population fewer than 20,000.


An additional $180 million was provided to create first-time homeownership opportunities for hundreds of rural families, including many who took advantage of USDA’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Program.


USDA Rural Development’s Mutual Self-Help Housing Program enables groups, generally eight to 10 families, to work together over the span of 15-18 months to build their own homes under the guidance of a construction expert. USDA Rural Development helps with construction financing with local housing developers and extends low-interest loans to new homeowners.


The agency’s Multi-Family Housing Program, which makes grants and loans for new construction and repair of apartments for low-income tenants, and for construction and renovation of farmworker housing, contributed over $97 million to the investment total.


“We’re proud of our accomplishments in 2008, and look forward to even more success through fiscal year 2009,” said Higgins. “California’s rural communities have real needs for improved infrastructure, economic development, affordable housing, and investment capital. As long as these critical needs exist, USDA Rural Development will play a role in helping create healthy, vibrant rural communities.”


To view the USDA Rural Development California 2008 Annual Report, visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/ca.


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LAKEPORT – The parent company of the Lake County Record-Bee gave employees some not-very-happy holiday news this week, telling them that the company is cutting its matching contributions to the 401(k) retirement plan.


The Denver-based MediaNews Group, which has owned the Record-Bee since 2001, made the announcement in a letter sent to employees' homes last week as well as a memorandum distributed on Monday.


The news comes as employees in Lakeport and around the company await a round of layoffs slated to happen any day, according to sources who have asked not to be identified due to fear of retribution.


Lake County News obtained a copy of the memo, sent Monday by Jim Janiga, senior vice president of human resources for MediaNews Group's California Newspaper Partnership, in which he informs employees that the company's matching contribution to the 401(k) plan will be suspended Jan. 1, 2009, “for an indefinite period of time.”


Janiga added that the suspension will run through all of 2009 but “could possibly be reinstated beginning in 2010.”


“The decision to suspend the matching contribution was not made lightly,” Janiga wrote. “This is an expense reduction needed to help offset still declining revenues, a trend we are all too familiar with and which continues to impact the newspaper industry and most all private and public sectors throughout our local, state and national economies.”


A summary annual report on MediaNews Group's retirement and savings plan, obtained by Lake County News, notes that 11,880 people were participants or plan beneficiaries as of Dec. 31, 2007.


The value of the plan's assets, after liabilities, was $238,414,653 on Dec. 31, 2007, up from $208,963,645 on Jan. 1, 2007, the report noted.


For the period of Jan. 1, 2007, through Dec. 31, 2007, the plan had total income of $51.5 million, which included MediaNews Group's $5.8 million in contributions, $21.1 million from employees, $4.6 million in other contributions and $19.9 million in investment earnings.


Earlier this month, William Dean Singleton, MediaNews' chief executive officer and its principal owner, asked unions at the Denver Post, another of his 53 daily newspapers, as well as the Denver Newspaper Agency to reopen labor contracts.


Singleton said he needed to cut $20 million in expenses immediately, according to a Rocky Mountain News report.


That request, made to the unions on Dec. 12, came a day after Moody's Investors Services downgraded nearly all of the company's $1 billion in debt further into junk status, reaching a non-investment grade rating of “Caa3,” which according to an Associated Press report is the third-lowest rating on Moody's scale.


Moody had previously downgraded MediaNews' debt in May. Three months later, the company sold its Connecticut newspaper holdings, including the Connecticut Post and seven non-daily newspapers, to Hearst Corp.


The rating downgrades are based on Moody's lowered opinion of the company's ability to meet its financial obligations after a 16-percent decline in revenue for the third quarter, and concerns over a revolving $175 million credit facility that comes due in December 2009, according to the Associated Press.


The Associated Press noted that the downgrade also has the impact of making it harder for MediaNews to find new financing because of default concerns.


In press reports Singleton has steadfastly maintained his company is financially sound and honoring its financial commitments.


The Record-Bee traditionally has been among MediaNews' strongest performers, outpacing advertising revenues of its larger, urban sister papers.


However, despite its stronger performance, the paper and its staff are facing cuts in staffing, which continues a trend in employee reductions at the newspaper.


Since 2001 the editorial staff of the Record-Bee and Clear Lake Observer-American combined has been reduced from 12 employees to eight, with at least another position on the line in the upcoming layoffs. Of those staff reductions, two have been reporter positions.


Those cuts in editorial are in addition to numerous other layoffs experienced throughout the paper's departments, including composing, press and accounting.


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


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LOWER LAKE – A Sunday afternoon crash near Lower Lake resulted in minor injuries.


The collision occurred shortly before 4 p.m. on Highway 29 about a half-mile north of Lower Lake, according to the California Highway Patrol incident reports.


One vehicle was reported to be off the road and power lines were blocking the highway's northbound lanes, the CHP reported.


Pacific Gas and Electric was called to the scene. CHP reported that all lanes of the highway were open shortly after 4:15 p.m.


A mother and daughter, whose names were not available Sunday evening, were involved in the collision and were treated at St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake for minor injuries later in the afternoon, the CHP 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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A vehicle got stuck in the middle of Putah Creek on Wednesday, but the occupants appeared to escape harm. Photo by Rick Hamilton.

 


MIDDLETOWN – Some four-wheeling fun led to a dangerous predicament Wednesday, when a vehicle ended up stranded in the middle of Putah Creek.


Hidden Valley Lake resident Rick Hamilton said the vehicle was in the middle of the creek at Hartmann Road on the east side of Highway 29 at about 2:50 p.m. Wednesday.


Two people were standing on top of the hood and a third person was on one of the nearby banks.


Hamilton said he reported the situation, and two fire trucks showed up but left shortly thereafter.


A California Highway Patrol vehicle and the fire captain's pickup later were on scene, Hamilton said.


No information was available from the CHP late Wednesday.


Hamilton said four-wheeling takes place in the creekbed and the surrounding area.


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 – A 3.0-magnitude earthquake was reported near The Geysers Tuesday evening.


The quake, recorded at a depth of 1.1 miles at 7:31 p.m., was centered three miles east of The Geysers, four miles south southwest of Cobb and four miles west northwest of Anderson Springs, according to the US Geological Survey.


Four people reported to the US Geological Survey that they felt the quake – two in Cobb, one in Middletown and one in Longview, 823 miles away.


The last quake of 3.0 magnitude or above recorded in the county occurred on Dec. 21, as Lake County News has reported.


Some Cobb-area residents have considered recent earthquake activity out of season.


However, giving another viewpoint, Anderson Springs resident Meriel Medrano believes winter – particularly January and February – are actually the worst times of the year for the area's seismic activity.


Medrano said that they continue to have many small quakes in the area but the larger quakes seem not to be occurring as often.


The shallower earthquakes have been linked to geothermal production at 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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LAKE COUNTY – The California Highway Patrol's maximum enforcement period over the Christmas holiday yielded only a few arrests for driving under the influence.


The CHP ratcheted up its coverage on county roads from Dec. 24 at 6 p.m. through midnight on Sunday.


Officers made only two arrests for DUI in that time, according to jail arrest reports.


The first was on Christmas day, when Francis Boettcher Jr., 56, of Windsor was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and causing bodily injury.


The only other arrest of the maximum enforcement period came on Sunday, when the CHP arrested 51-year-old Marsha Schefcick of Lakeport for allegedly driving under the influence and willful cruelty to a child, according to jail records.


The CHP is expected to hold another maximum enforcement period for the New Year's holiday.


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


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SACRAMENTO – The Department of Water Resources (DWR) first snow survey of the 2008-09 winter season is holding a little promise, with higher snow content than was recorded in late 2007.


The survey, conducted Tuesday, indicates snow water content is 76 percent of normal for the date, statewide. This time last year, snow water content was 60 percent of normal statewide.


While this year’s water content is higher than last, winter storms arrived late. It is too early to tell whether improved figures will translate into a better water year than the state experienced last year, when winter storms ended early leading to California’s driest spring on record.


Electronic sensor readings show northern Sierra snow water equivalents at 54 percent of normal for this date, central Sierra at 76 percent, and southern Sierra at 99 percent. The sensor readings are posted at http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/snow/DLYSWEQ.


In Lake County, where water supply is largely dependent on rainfall and snowpack from the Mendocino National Forest, Clear Lake's level on Wednesday was 1.16 Rumsey – the measure specifically used for Clear Lake. That's 0.11 Rumsey below Dec. 31, 2007.


The Mendocino National Forest conducts snow surveys beginning in late February. This past year, the first forest snow survey noted levels 156 percent of average, while measurements at the same time in 2007 had showed 92 percent of normal. However, dry conditions in both years led to lower readings later in the spring.


Lake County's creeks also appear to be running low. US Geological Survey stream gage measurements noted the following readings on Wednesday:


  • Kelsey Creek was discharging at 14 cubic feet per second, well below the median of 32. The creek's minimum recorded reading is 3.9, recorded, in 1991, while its maximum is 3,500 cubic feet per second, recorded in 1997.

  • Cache Creek at Hough Springs near Clearlake Oaks was discharging at 18 cubic feet per second, with a median reading of 47. Its minimum is 1.7 (recorded in 1977) and maximum is 7,300 (recorded in 1997).

  • Cache Creek near Lower Lake, discharging at 4.7 cubic feet per second, with a median reading of 2.9. Its lowest reading, in 1991, was 0.19; its highest, in 1997, was 4,530.

  • Putah Creek near Guenoc, discharging at 41 cubic feet per second, with a median reading of 126. Minimum reading was 2.4, recorded in 1937, while its maximum, in 2006, was 4,650.


California's water picture remains uncertain, despite the fact that Tuesday's measurements indicate an improvement over last years initial snow survey figures.


DWR Director Lester Snow noted that “the strain on California’s water supply persists.”


“Recent regulatory actions that further limit pumping through the Delta and deficits from the previous two dry years will require a very wet year to relieve the drought,” said Snow. “We must take immediate steps to protect the Delta ecosystem, conserve more water and develop additional groundwater and surface storage facilities to meet our future needs.”


Storage in California’s major reservoirs is low. Lake Oroville, the principal storage reservoir for the State Water Project (SWP), is at 28 percent of capacity, and 44 percent of average storage for this time of year.


Continuing dry conditions and court-ordered restrictions on Delta water exports are limiting water deliveries to farms and urban areas. DWR’s early estimate is that it will only be able to deliver 15 percent of requested State Water Project water this year to the Bay Area, San Joaquin Valley, Central Coast and Southern California. Increased precipitation this winter could increase this figure.


In December 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a Delta smelt Biological Opinion which could reduce Delta exports by 20-50 percent. In December 2007, Judge Oliver Wanger restricted pumping to protect the Delta smelt, resulting in a 25 percent reduction in water deliveries. In a November 2008 decision, the California Fish and Game Commission implemented take restrictions for the longfin smelt which also could reduce water delivery pumping.


A Biological Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service to protect salmon and steelhead is expected in March. These regulatory actions have and will continue to significantly decrease deliveries to homes, farms, cities and industry by both the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.


Snow water content is important in determining the coming year's water supply. The measurements help hydrologists prepare water supply forecasts as well as provide others, such as hydroelectric power companies and the recreation industry, with needed data.


Monitoring is coordinated by the Department of Water Resources as part of the multi-agency California Cooperative Snow Surveys Program. Surveyors from more than 50 agencies and utilities visit hundreds of snow measurement courses in California’s mountains to gauge the amount of water in the snowpack.


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LAKE COUNTY – The California Highway Patrol will conduct a maximum enforcement effort over the New Year’s holiday weekend which begins Wednesday, Dec. 31, at 6 p.m. and continues through midnight, Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009.


“Consider this a warning,” said Clear Lake Area CHP Commander, Lieutenant Loveless, “We will be out there taking a zero tolerance approach and will arrest you if you are drinking and driving.”


CHP officers arrested 1,397 motorists statewide for driving under the influence (DUI) during this year’s Christmas MEP compared to 1,661 in 2007, according to a CHP report.


During that same time period, 37 people died in the collisions that occurred in California compared to 43 in 2007. Among those killed this year, 15 were not wearing a seatbelt.


“Remember to designate a non-drinking driver before the celebrating begins, watch your speed and always wear your seatbelt,” Loveless added.


Along with the increased enforcement effort, the CHP is asking motorists to help keep the state’s roadways safe by calling 911 to report a suspected drunk driver. Callers should be prepared to provide dispatchers with a description of the vehicle, its location and direction of travel.


“The holiday season is a time for family, friends, and celebrations; unfortunately it is also a time when we see too many alcohol-related highway fatalities,” said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. “Even if we save just one life by getting the message out, that is one life that has been spared.”


In keeping with the state trend, during the Christmas MEP, the Clear Lake Area had less DUI arrests, but also showed a drop in traffic collisions, according to CHP Officer Adam Garcia.


Three drivers were arrested for DUI by the Clear Lake Area compared to 10 in 2007, Garcia reported.


He also noted that in 2008 there were seven traffic collisions with three injured and zero fatalities compared to 11 collisions with three injured and zero fatalities in 2007.


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LAKEPORT – A woman who surrendered dozens of dogs to Lake County Animal Care and Control earlier this month also is being investigated for keeping a wild animal on her property.


The woman, whose name has not been released by local officials, surrendered 70 small breed dogs to county officials after a complaint was made about the animals on Dec. 16, as Lake County News has reported.


Also found on her property at the time was a raccoon, which Animal Care and Control said was turned over to state Fish and Game officials.


Game Warden Loren Freeman told Lake County News that he was investigating the case.


He said Animal Care and Control notified him that they had found the raccoon. "I advised them to seize it."


Under California law it's a crime to possess certain wild animals, including raccoons, Freeman explained.


One concern about raccoons is that they carry rabies but have subdued symptoms when suffering from the disease, he said.


Freeman said keeping wildlife like raccoons is a misdemeanor; convictions can result in up to $2,000 in fines and six months in jail, "but it's typically not nearly that high."


He said he sees one or two cases a year of local people keeping wild animals as pets. "We do have quite a problem" when it comes to keeping wildlife, he added.


"Raccoons, opossums, squirrels – people seem to take them when they're cute and cuddly," said Freeman.


People usually take the animals when they're babies and hand-raise them. "They don't really domesticate," said Freeman.


Freeman said there also is a big problem with people attempting to keep deer as pets.


Deer get food aggressive as they get older, and then people try to release them back into the wild. Freeman said there have been numerous cases where the animals have to be destroyed for public safety reasons.


When people are found with wildlife, Freeman said Fish and Game has several options on what to do with the animals.


First, they can return the animal to where the people got it, putting it back out into the wild.


Second, they can ship it out of state. This works in cases where people have brought animals like alligators from another area. It also works with such animals as ferrets, which are legal to keep as pets in other states but aren't legal in California.


The third choice, said Freeman, is to destroy the animal.


That, unfortunately, appears to be the option for the raccoon in this case.


"I looked at rehabilitating this one and it's not an option," he said, adding that the local wildlife rehabilitation program at Spirit Wild on Cobb is unwilling to take the animal.


The raccoon also has issues because it's been exposed to humans and to dozens of dogs, he said. Trying to release it into the wild likely would not be a success.


"The only choice is to destroy the animal to protect the rest of our population," he said.


Freeman said the investigation could lead to a formal complaint process and prosecution through the District Attorney's Office.


Freeman said it's unfortunate when animals are taken from the wild and then have to be destroyed due to safety reasons.


Taking the animals from their homes in the wild, he added, ultimately is "the wrong thing."


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


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SAN FRANCISCO – On Tuesday California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. filed suit in federal court to block an “audacious attempt” by the Bush Administration to gut provisions in the Endangered Species Act mandating scientific review of federal agency decisions that may threaten endangered species and their habitat.


“The Bush Administration is seeking to gut the Endangered Species Act on its way out the door,” Attorney General Brown said. “This is an audacious attempt to circumvent a time-tested statute that for 35 years has required scientific review of proposed federal agency decisions that affect wildlife.”


The new regulations, initially proposed by the Departments of the Interior and Commerce in August 2008 and made final on Dec. 16, largely eliminate a requirement in the Endangered Species Act that mandates scientific review of federal agency decisions that might affect endangered and threatened species and their habitats.


The changes allow federal agencies to undertake or permit mining, logging, and other commercial activities on federal land and other areas without obtaining review or comment from federal wildlife biologists on the environmental effects of such activities.


The new regulations are the most significant changes to the Endangered Species Act and its implementing regulations in 20 years.


Now that these regulations have been adopted, many decisions on whether to permit commercial activities on protected land will be made at the discretion of federal agency project proponents, according to Brown's office. These agencies generally lack adequate biological expertise and have incentives to conclude that their projects will not have adverse affects on endangered and threatened species and their habitat.


The changes also eliminate the requirement to consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on species and ecosystems from proposed federal projects. Federal agencies now no longer need to consider the possible adverse impacts on species like the polar bear from commercial projects that require federal approval or funding such as highway construction and coal-fired power plants.


The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges that the Bush Administration:


• Violated the Endangered Species Act by adopting regulations that are inconsistent with that statute;

• Violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider the environmental ramifications of the proposed new regulations; and

• Violated the Administrative Procedures Act by not adequately considering public comments submitted by the Attorney General and numerous other organizations and concerned citizens.


The Attorney General’s lawsuit follows three similar lawsuits challenging the regulations filed earlier by environmental groups.


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NICE – Three people were arrested on drug charges during a parole search in Nice Monday, including a local woman who has a bail bonds business.


Marcia Ann Morris, 56, of Upper Lake, who owns Marcia Morris Bail Bonds, was arrested Monday morning along with parolees Jeffrey Scott Boulerice, 38, and Joel Martin Langan, 51, according to Lt. Dave Garzoli of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.


At about 8:55 a.m. Lake County Sheriff's deputies conducted a parole search at the home Boulerice and Langan share, Garzoli reported. When the deputies entered the home they contacted the two men along with Morris.


Garzoli said Deputy Steve Herdt found a jacket containing a small baggy of methamphetamine in one of the pockets. In the same pocket was a Marcia Morris Bail Bonds business card folded into a “bindle” that contained a quantity of methamphetamine.


Morris then is alleged to have told Herdt that the meth was hers and that she had begun using the drug about two months ago, according to Garzoli.


During the search Herdt also found a spoon and a syringe that contained evidence of intravenous drug use and a small amount of meth which are alleged to have belonged to Boulerice, and items alleged to belong to Langan including a syringe and two glass pipes used for ingesting meth, Garzoli reported.


Morris was arrested for possession of methamphetamine and booked into the Lake County Jail with bail set at $10,000.


Boulerice was arrested for possession of methamphetamine and a hypodermic syringe, while Langan was arrested for possession of paraphernalia and a hypodermic syringe.


Langan and Boulerice both remained in the Lake County Jail on felony parole violations Monday evening.


Morris had posted bail and was released.


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COVELO – Authorities are looking for a man alleged to have been responsible for a shooting on Christmas.


The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office is searching for 30-year-old Eugene Winter Hawk of Covelo, according to a report from Lt. Rusty Noe.


Noe reported that Winter Hawk is wanted for allegedly attempting to murder a 17-year-old male from Covelo.


Mendocino Sheriff's deputies were dispatched to a field behind 108 Yuki Boulevard in Covelo at 11:12 p.m. Thursday on the report of a shooting, Noe reported.


When they arrived the victim had been transported to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital via helicopter with a single gunshot wound to the upper chest, according to Noe.


Deputies located a crime scene that indicated there had been multiple subjects involved in a fight. Witness information revealed that during the fight Eugene Winter Hawk Lincoln pulled a gun of undetermined caliber and shot the victim one time.


Noe said the victim underwent surgery at Santa Rosa Memorial, was listed in stable condition and will survive.


Lincoln and the others suspected of fighting fled the scene and were not located.


Anyone with information is asked to call the Mendocino Sheriff's tip line at 467-9159.


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