Wednesday, 07 June 2023


LAKE COUNTY – Earlier this month a task force netted 24 arrests as part of a round of compliance checks on people convicted of sex crimes and other violent offenses.

On Oct. 15 and 16, members of the Region II Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Task Force conducted a two-day enforcement operation in Lake County, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

The focus of the operation was to conduct probation or parole searches and compliance checks on registered sex offenders and other felons convicted of domestic violence, child abuse, and drug related offenses, Bauman reported.

The task force consisted of six teams of five officers each from 13 different law enforcement agencies.

The two-day operation covered communities across the county and the check of approximately 110 locations resulted in a total of 21 felony arrests, three misdemeanor arrests and five new cases requiring further investigation.

The 24 arrests were based on charges relating mostly to parole or probation violations, possession of narcotics or illegal weapons, being under the influence of narcotics or alcohol, and outstanding warrants.

In some cases, the arrests for violations of probation or parole entailed illegal contact with minors, possession of pornography, possession of computers with internet access, and possession of alcohol or drugs.

Sheriff's Det. Mike Curran, the designated SAFE Task Force Agent for Lake County, said the operation was the most successful multi-agency effort he has coordinated in the 18 months the grant has existed in Lake County.

Bauman reported that the agencies participating in the two-day operation included the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Lake County District Attorney’s Office, Lakeport Police Department, Lake County Probation Department, Lake County Narcotics Task Force, California Highway Patrol; Clear Lake Area State Parks, Lake County Animal Care and Control, State Parole, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, Napa County Sheriff’s Department, Marin County Sheriff’s Department and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department.

The SAFE Task Force is funded by a grant provided by the Law Enforcement Branch of the California Office of Emergency Services and administered through the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department.

SAFE Task Force operations are conducted periodically in Lake and other counties within Region II to enforce the compliance of sex registrants and other convicted felons on parole or probation.


LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's unemployment rate hit 10 percent for September, the highest rate for that month in a dozen years.

However, Dennis Mullins of the Employment Development Department's Labor Market Information Division's North Coast Region said that, looking at the county's employment trends, he believes rates should start to drop soon.

September's 10-percent rate was up 0.2 percent from August's 9.8 percent, noted Mullins, and 2.4 percent above the September 2007 rate of 7.6 percent.

At 10.0 percent, Lake ranked 49th among the state’s 58 counties, said Mullins.

Neighboring county rates included 8.8 percent for Colusa, 6.4 percent for Mendocino, 9.4 percent for Glenn, 6.9 percent for Yolo, 5.2 percent for Napa and 5.8 percent for Sonoma, according to Employment Development Department statistics.

Marin had the lowest rate in the State at 4.7 percent and Imperial County had the highest with 24.5 percent, Mullins said.

The comparable California and U.S. rates were 7.5 and 6.0 percent, respectively, he added.

The highest unemployment rate recorded in Lake County so far this year was 10.5 percent, which it reached in January, as Lake County News has reported. March and July both recorded 10.2-percent unemployment rates.

Mullins reported that year-over job growth in Lake County was led by trade, transportation and utilities, which added 80 jobs; followed by private educational and health services, 70 jobs; and government, 30 jobs.

At the same time, year-over job losses occurred in leisure and hospitality, which led decliners by dropping 90 jobs, followed by natural resources, mining and construction, declining 40, other services which lost 20, and 10 lost jobs each for information and financial activities, he said.

The farm, manufacturing, and professional and business services had no change over the past year, Mullins noted.

From August to September, statistics show that the county lost a total of 560 jobs in all industries, with 530 coming in the farming sector alone; that period coincided with the end of the local pear season. Other sectors such as retail; trade, transportation and utilities; and transportation, warehousing and utilities lost jobs during that time, Mullins reported.

One big jump was in local and state government jobs, with 200 of those added from August to September, statistics show.

Mullins said that rural counties this year appeared to have eclipsed the higher unemployment rates they suffered in late 2001 after the country was hit by an economic downturn.

In 2001, Lake County's average unemployment rate was 7.1 percent, which rose to 8.3 percent in 2002 and 9.2 percent in 2003, according to Employment Development Department numbers.

By 2004, the numbers started to drop as part of a natural cycle, Mullins said.

And, indeed, the 2004 average rate dropped to 9.1 percent, lower than the previous year despite recording an 11.3-percent unemployment rate in January of that year, a rate which it hadn't seen since 1998.

The average unemployment numbers show that 2005 and 2006 also were better, at 8 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.

Then, in 2007, the numbers began to climb again, rising to 8.5 percent. If this year's numbers continue on their current trend, the 2008 average is likely to be higher.

But Mullins said it's important to balance the tough economic news with an understanding of the trend.

Looking back further, Mullins said the county went through a cycle of dropping employment and a sagging economy in the early 1990s, and it took about five years to move through that trend.

“We're in a similar type of cycle,” he said, adding that Lake County is only about a year into that trend.

While Lake County's unemployment rate is high, Mullins said it appears to be peaking, which means it should begin to decline over the next five years as part of another recovery cycle.

The very seasonal nature of Lake County's economy – with agriculture and tourism important factors – makes for more notable employment trends, with spring usually showing better employment rates, he said.

Mullins also pointed out that Lake County actually gained 10 jobs in September 2008 over the same month last year, reaching 15,320 private industry jobs. At the same time, Mendocino County's much larger employment pool lost 530 jobs, falling from 33,270 to 32,740, with manufacturing hardest hit. That same sector in Lake County was unchanged.

Adding jobs as Lake County did, Mullins added, is out of the ordinary for the state right now.

Also notable is that Lake County's civilian labor force grew by 820 over the past year, said Mullins, while Mendocino's only grew 290.

“Comparing Lake to Mendocino kind of gives you some perspective,” he said.

Across the state, the housing and financial sectors have been hardest hit when it comes to job loss, said Mullins.

He said that when the housing bubble burst in the last few years, the impact on housing and construction reverberated through the rest of the economy as jobs were lost and sales slowed.

Mullins added that California's counties are following state and national economic and employment trends.

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MORGAN VALLEY – A fire that was first reported Saturday afternoon and burned overnight was contained on Sunday, fire officials reported.

The wildland fire was reported in the 5900 block of Berryessa-Knoxville Road, according to Cal Fire.

Four hand crews and an unspecified number of engines worked the fire on Sunday, when it was contained, Cal Fire dispatchers reported. The last report of its size was 20 acres.

Cal Fire noted one hand crew was left on the scene overnight to continue mopping up.

The fire's cause is under investigation, according to Cal Fire.

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LAKE COUNTY – At a time when many families are finding themselves challenged financially and needing help, local residents can offer some assistance by donating canned food on the annual “Make A Difference Day,” which takes place this Saturday, Oct. 25.

AmeriCorps members will collect canned and nonperishable food from people in front of local grocery stores from 10 a.m to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Stores where collections will take place include Hardester's Markets in Middletown, Cobb and Hidden Valley Lake; Red and White Market in Clearlake Oaks; Riviera Foods in the Clear Lake Riviera; Sentry Market in Nice; Grocery Outlet, the Willow Tree Shopping Center and Bruno's Shop Smart in Lakeport; and John's Market in Kelseyville.

Lake County Hunger Task Force members will then pick up the food and take it to senior centers, food banks and food pantries, said task force member Lorrie Gray.

The food donations will be made available to local families at the Lake County Community Action Agency, Lakeport Food Cupboard, Lake County senior centers, Gleaners and the Middletown-based Catholic Charities.

The effort is made possible through a partnership between Lake County Hunger Task Force, Catholic Charities and Lake County AmeriCorps.


SACRAMENTO – When it came to getting bills signed into law in the state Legislature this year, state Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) led the pack.

Wiggins had 17 bills signed this year, up from 11 last year, according to her spokesman, David Miller. That number doesn't include the bills she co-authored with another legislator.

Those 17 bills put Wiggins ahead of the other 39 state senators and all of the Assembly.

Assembly member Patty Berg (D-Eureka) had 10 bills signed into law this year, with two vetoed, according to her office.

Legislators sent a total of 1187 bills to the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, and he vetoed 415 of those measures, for a record rejection rate of 35 percent, Miller reported. Wiggins had seven bills vetoed.

“All of us who work for members of the legislature feel each and every one of our respective bosses’ bills are important of course, but in a practical sense, Sen. Wiggins’ bills included measures that removed obstacles for businesses – a sentiment this governor obviously shares – measures which protected consumers, measures which protected both business and consumers alike, and measures which were good for both people and the environment,” said Miller.

He added, “She had some other very practical bills that were vetoed, as well, but by and large she was able to successfully move a large number of bills that will positively impact a broad range of Californians.”

Lists of the signed and vetoed bills follow, with brief summaries of what each bill was intended to do.


SB 157: Non-Profit Organizations

Over the past several years, there have been a number of laws passed pertaining to winemakers and winegrape growers participating with nonprofit organizations at charity events, including pouring wine for tasting as well as taking orders for wine to be filled back at their wineries or businesses. This bill would make all of those laws consistent, has passed both houses of the Legislature. Signed Sept. 26.

SB 562: Salmon Restoration Funding

Allocates nearly $5.3 million in Proposition 84 funds to the state Department of Fish and Game for coastal salmon and steelhead fisheries restoration. Prop. 84 (the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act) was approved by California voters in 2006. Gov. Schwarzenegger signed this bill into law on April 11, a move which also enable our state to leverage up to $20 million in federal funds for salmon this year.

SB 579: Firefighters

Authorizes Los Angeles County to permit firefighters who retired after April 1, 2007 to reinstate from retirement and work beyond the retirement age, as long they meet certain physical requirements. Signed June 2.

SB 607: Home Winemakers

According to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, a section of state code forbad competitions for wines made by home winemakers, including those held at county fairs or the state fair. This bill, which Gov. Schwarzenegger signed on June 6, updates the law to officially legalize such events.

SB 608: Judges’ Retirement

This bill makes several changes to the provisions governing the ability of a member of the Judges Retirement System I to elect an optional settlement prior to retirement. It restores the ability of judges that have attained the minimum age for service retirement with at least 20 years of service to elect to designate their spouse to receive an optional settlement in lieu of a pre-retirement death benefit. Signed on Feb. 28.

SB 634: Olive Oil Standards

Each year sees increases in the volume and types of high quality olive oil produced in California, some of which rivals the best oils produced in the world. This bill recognizes that growth and progress by establishing standards for olive oil in California, in line with international standards. Signed on Sept. 30.

SB 662: Veterans Homes

This bill makes technical clarifying changes to the Military and Veterans code regarding management of the state’s Veterans Homes. Gov. Schwarzenegger signed this bill into law on July 22.

SB 780: Funding for Rural and Underserved Telephone Services

Allows for the continued funding of a program paid for by all customers of home and cellular telephone services to protect rural and underserved areas of the state from outrageous phone bills. Signed on Sept. 26.

SB 911: Hot Air Balloons

Allows for the continued exemption of hot air balloon operators from regulation by the California Public Utilities Commission (the PUC) in order for the industry to be able to maintain reasonable priced liability insurance for carrying passengers. Signed on Sept. 30.

SB 1016: Landfill Disposal

Requires cities and counties to measure the amount of waste that is actually deposited in a landfill as opposed to the amount that they could supposedly divert. Will give the California Integrated Waste Management Board a more accurate and timely portrayal of how cities and counties meet the 50% diversion requirement. Signed on Sept. 26.

SB 1093: San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority

This bill is a cleanup measure to last year’s SB 976, which transferred multiple city-operated ferry systems under one state organized ferry system. Specifically, SB 1093 ensures that the level of ferry service in the cities of Vallejo and Alameda are not diminished, and that no downtown redevelopment projects designed around the ferry system are negatively impacted. This bill also requires that if the state takes possession of any ferry facilities or vessels, the city will receive just and reasonable compensation. Signed on Sept. 27.

SB 1123: PERS-Governor’s Pension Commission

Proposes to enact certain recommendations of the Governor's Pension Commission, which met during 2007, relating to: a) retirement and health benefits for employees and retirees being adopted by various California public governing bodies in open, public session, and b) the creation of a State Advisory Actuarial Panel, composed of professional pension actuaries, to discuss and suggest "best practices" for actuaries employed by public retirement systems. Signed on Sept. 27.

SB 1149: Rural Telephone Grants

This bill continues funding for a grant program that provides residential telephone services and cellular coverage to people who are considered to be low-income and/or live in rural areas where no telephone services are currently offered. Signed on Sept. 27.

SB 1431: State Park Easements

This bill seeks to clarify that the state Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) can use conservation easements to protect and preserve state park lands, and enable DPR to make grants to state or local government agencies, or nonprofits, to purchase and hold conservation easements for protection and preservation. Signed on July 17.

SB 1627: Accountability of Board of Pilot Commissioners

This bill places the Board of Pilot Commissioners (Board) under the jurisdiction of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency for the purpose of ensuring appropriate oversight, accountability, and transparency of the Board. The board should be as robust as possible to make certain pilots are properly trained and licensed, so that environmentally devastating accidents, such as the Cosco Busan incident, are minimized or, prevented. Signed on Sept. 29.

SB 1690: Crab Bill

This bill will create an industry advisory group for California crab fishermen, which will ultimately develop recommendations for a sustainable crab fishery. Signed on Sept. 30.

SB 1699: Design Build for Hospitals

This bill allows Sonoma Valley Hospital to use a “design-build” bidding process to build new hospitals or retrofit existing hospitals. The design-build process is different from a typical bidding process for construction projects because it consolidates the design and construction phases for constructing a building to be done by a single entity, which will save SVH time and money. Signed on Sept. 27.


SB 623: Posted Prices of Gasoline

This bill would have required owners of gas stations to post the price differences between purchases of gasoline with cash and with credit cards. Vetoed by the governor.

SB 992: Adult Recovery Maintenance Facilities

Creates a new category of licensed rehabilitation facilities called Adult Recovery Maintenance Facilities, and gives the Alcohol and other Drug Programs (ADP) authority to ensure these facilities are offering quality services to people in rehabilitation. Vetoed by the governor.

SB 1167: Auto Insurance/Steering Consumers

This bill requires the insurance commissioner to convene a task force that would address “steering” issues and issue a report of their findings and recommendations to the Legislature by December 2009. Some auto insurance representatives continue to persuade consumers to make their vehicle repairs at certain auto body shops, even if the consumer has already selected a shop. Such “steering” is a result of lax existing anti-steering laws that need to be reevaluated in order to protect consumer choice. This bill has passed both the Senate and Assembly. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 1167 on Sept. 26.

SB 1376: PERS Omnibus Bill

This bill is the annual "housekeeping omnibus bill for the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) that makes many technical, non-substantive word changes in the STRS Law, or repeals obsolete or non-operative sections of that law. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed this bill on Sept. 26.

SB 1442: Supplemental Instruction/Career Technical Education

This bill clarifies that schools can teach career technical education courses in their after-school or summer school programs. This bill has passed both houses of the Legislature. Vetoed on Sept. 28.

SB 1557: Smart Growth Planning

This bill adds a provision to the State’s Smart Growth planning priorities that seeks to address green house gas emissions. It would strengthen state law with regard to land use by updating Assembly Bill 857, a landmark piece of legislation (signed into law in 2002) to address state practices re: land use. Unfortunately, the provisions of AB 857 have largely been ignored, making SB 1557 necessary. Vetoed by the governor.

SB 1645: Energy Design Element

This bill would require the Energy Commission to update its Energy Aware Planning Guide, and require the Commission to work with the state to develop climate change and energy models for local government general plans. This bill has passed both houses of the Legislature. Vetoed by the governor on Sept. 28.


AB 572: Adult Day Health Care

Modernizes current statute regarding job descriptions and definitions for adult day health care centers, conforms existing law with recent industry reforms, and provides flexibility for transportation and meals.

AB 990: Spud Point Marina

Provides Sonoma County with a process to adjust fees that the marina can levy on consumers.

AB 1889: Potter Valley Unified School District

Allows the district to convert to a four day week.

AB 1952: Veterans' Business Licenses

Code clean-up to ensure all veterans receive waiver of city, county and state business license fees.

AB 2149: Elder Financial Abuse Prevention

Prohibits financial advisors from using titles like "certified senior advisor" unless they are recognized by an accreditation organization and meet certain standards.

AB 2150: Elder Financial Abuse Prevention

Prohibits insurance agents from using titles such as "Senior Life Insurance Expert" or Certified Senior Financial Advisor" unless the Insurance Commissioner has specifically authorized the use of the title.


AB 2527: Targeted Case Management

Fixes language in statute that prevents non profits and joint powers agreement entities from claiming Targeted Case Management funds.

AB 2747: End-of-Life Care

Requires health care providers to discuss all legal options for end-of-life care upon request of a terminal patient.

AB 2840: Congressman Mike Thompson

Names a portion of land in “south spit” after Mike Thompson.

AB 2842: Medicare Part D Fraud Prevention

This bill, modeled after a Maine law, prohibits cold-calling and bait and switch tactics used in Medicare sales.


AB 317: Adult Day Health Care

Allows an adult day health care center to receive reimbursement for partial days of attendance if the center is forced to evacuate during a declared emergency.

AB 2543: Geriatric and Gerontology Student Loan Repayment Program

Establishes a student loan repayment program for social workers and marriage and family therapists who work in geriatric care settings. Also prioritizes physician loan repayment for geriatrics.

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Sutton Family Farms is awash in fall colors, from bright orange pumpkins to golden corn. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

LAKEPORT – Few things symbolize October as much as a bright orange pumpkin, and there aren't many better ways to spend a warm fall afternoon than working your way through a spooky corn maze.

If you want to find both together, then it's time for a visit to Sutton Family Farm's pumpkin patch and corn maze, which are in full swing again this season.

This is the fourth year that owners Michael and Stephanie Sutton and their daughter, Samantha, have had a maze at their Scotts Valley farm.

The Suttons moved to Scotts Valley seven years ago from Marin County. Originally, they planned to grow pears, Samantha Sutton explained, but they knew nothing about pears and soon changed to the crops they harvest today.

Sutton estimated about 350 people a day are visiting the farm on the weekends this month.





Step into the corn maze -- there's different challenges for all ages. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



The Suttons' maze is shaped from a field of silage corn – used for feeding livestock – because it features taller stalks, which makes for a more challenging trip through the maze, Sutton explained.

She said the maze also has grown every year – both in size and difficulty – and now measures four and a half acres. The challenges offered in the maze are designed for people of all ages.

Some visitors to the maze Saturday said that younger children can be expected to take an hour or more to get through the maze, with adults taking 45 minutes or less.

The cost for the maze is $6 per person, with children 4 and under entering for free.

Then there are the hundreds of bright orange homegrown pumpkins, as well as gourds, that visitors can take home with them for Halloween.

There also are Dutch Draft carriage rides, offered on weekends only, which take visitors for a 20-minute tour of the farm.

The Suttons will host Rocktoberfest, featuring several local bands playing at the farm, on Saturday, Oct. 25.


Sutton Family Farms is located at 2405 Scotts Valley Road, telephone 263-6277.


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Dutch Draft horses pull visitors in a carriage around the farm in a weekend-only feature. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



Darian Munson was arrested Monday evening in Clearlake for an Aug. 26 homicide in Bay Point, California. Photo courtesy of Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office.



CLEARLAKE – A local man has been arrested in connection with a Bay Area homicide.

Contra Costa County Sheriff's deputies and Clearlake Police on Monday night arrested Darian Nikia Munson, 31, of Clearlake.

Munson was being sought in connection with the fatal stabbing of 25-year-old Derrell Wood, said Jimmy Lee, spokesman for the Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office.

The stabbing occurred shortly before 11:30 p.m. in Bay Point on Aug. 26, said Lee.

"What we understand is that there were a number of people gathered for an event after a funeral," said Lee.

Most of those gathered were friends and family; Lee said Wood and Munson don't appear to have been related but they knew each other.

At some point a confrontation occurred and it's alleged that Munson fatally stabbed Wood. Lee would not divulge the precise details of the crime, including how many times Wood was stabbed.

Lee said a $1 million arrest warrant was issued for Munson, who was considered armed and dangerous. Contra Costa County Sheriff's deputies searched the county for Munson but were unable to locate him.

Officials had initially though Munson was in the Pittsburg or Richmond areas, according to a press statement Lee issued on Oct. 17.

"The detectives continued to work the case and developed some information that he was in Lake County," said Lee.

Lt. Mike Hermann of the Clearlake Police Department said his department worked with Contra Costa deputies to search for Munson, beginning at his parents' Clearlake home.

After not finding him there, they moved on to check some other locations, eventually locating Munson at the Sunset Lodge on Lakeshore Drive at around 6 p.m. Munson was taken into custody without incident, Hermann said.

Hermann added that he knows of no previous contacts between Clearlake Police and Munson.

Munson, whose booking sheet lists him as a laborer, remained in the Lake County Jail on the $1 million warrant on Tuesday, according to jail records.

"We'll be looking to get him back here as soon as we can," said Lee.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said Munson was scheduled to be transported to Contra Costa County on Wednesday.

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CLEARLAKE – A vacation home was destroyed in a Friday night fire, according to a local fire official.

Lake County Fire District Battalion Chief Willie Sapeta said the fire in the doublewide trailer, located at Scenic Road and Manakee Avenue, was dispatched at 10:32 p.m. Friday.

Fifteen firefighters along with three engines, a water tender and two medical units from Lake County Fire were on scene within five minutes, said Sapeta. They were joined by two Cal Fire engines and an engine from Northshore Fire's Clearlake Oaks station.

When firefighters arrived, the trailer was fully involved, according to Sapeta.

Sapeta said it took close to an hour for firefighters to contain the trailer fire. They had the added danger of downed power lines in the area, which made their efforts more challenging.

Two adjacent structures, a mobile home on the burning trailer's east side and a garage on the northeast, both sustained minor damage, he said.

The main trailer itself was a total loss, Sapeta added.

The trailer was vacant at the time of the fire. He said no firefighters were injured in attempting to control the blaze.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Sapeta said.

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CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks County Water District Board's Saturday meeting to introduce a proposed water and sewer rate hike to customers proved vastly different from a previous meeting in August that also looked at raising rates.

For one, the August meeting, which lasted just over two hours, saw close to 100 angry residents packed into the East Lake Grange, shouting at the board over a nearly 40-percent propose hike.

Saturday's meeting, held at the Northshore Fire District's Clearlake Oaks firehouse, lasted approximately 40 minutes and was attended by about 25 people who, for the most part, appeared convinced of the necessity of a 17.7-percent increase that would go into effect in November.

The other difference notable between the two meetings was that the board now has two new members, with Frank Toney and Harry Chase being joined by Mike Benjamin and Judy Heeszel. Benjamin, now board president, and Heeszel took seats vacated after the last meeting by Pat Shaver and Mike Anisman. Another seat, vacated by Helen Locke, will be filled next month.

"This is going to be a different hearing from what we had the last time," said Benjamin, who admitted that he had "raised hell" at the last meeting himself, which in his case included starting a recall effort against Shaver and Anisman.

Before opening the meeting to public comment, Benjamin explained the new rate proposal, which was the result of work done by the board, General Manager Darin McCosker and the recently formed district finance committee in the wake of the August meeting.

In recent months, the district's serious financial situation has come into sharper focus, but it's by no means a new problem, which Benjamin made clear.

He read from a July 2004 rate hike proposal notice to ratepayers, which warned that the district was experiencing "economic strain" due to unexpected and sharply rising expenses, coupled with years of no rate hikes for sewer and water services.

One example of rising costs: Over a six-year period, the district's annual liability and worker's compensation costs tripled, rising from $27,629 to $76,147, and it was hit by more than $200,000 in charges to remove biosolids from its sewer plant.

The 2005 budget, in turn, pointed again to those increasing costs and to an aging infrastructure. The district also had, by that time, lost an estimated $100,000 to Proposition 1A and nearly $30,000 to the Lake County Redevelopment agency. In all, that budget narrative estimated a potential deficit of $474,000, Benjamin explained.

"We consider these pretty dire warnings," he said.

The rate hike that was approved at that time didn't even cover the cost of living increase, said Benjamin.

Benjamin said the district now is about $200,000 in debt, of which around $152,000 is old debt incurred more than six months ago. He added that the district is running between $10,000 and $12,000 in the red each month.

The 17.7-percent increase, raising the base rate for a single-family dwelling from $56.24 to $66.19, will address the debt that hasn't been addressed in previous years. Benjamin said the total increase for each home would be no more than $9.95.

Chase pointed out that audits of the last three years are under way, and Benjamin said the board will take the results of those audits to the community next year, when it comes time to consider whether or not another another increase is needed.

In the mean time, the district is down two and a half employee positions, which it won't be filling, and is instituting a wage and hiring freeze in the coming year, Benjamin said.

During a relatively brief public comment period, the board fielded questions about cost differences between mobile homes and stick-built homes, whether the district was being impacted by foreclosures – it's not, said McCosker – and how district rates compared to other areas (the district is better off than some areas like Lower Lake and Spring Valley that could be facing big hikes).

Clearlake Oak resident Ross Christensen thanked the board for the work they had done, saying he felt the last proposal was "more like a knee-jerk reaction."

He followed up by asking if the district had looked at selling treated wastewater to local farmers or getting a return on the water it pumps to The Geysers.

McCosker and Benjamin said they'll consider numerous ways to increase the district's revenue and are pursuing a $4 million US Department of Agriculture grant, but they need to stabilize the financial situation first.

"This has to be a lengthy healing process," which has just started, said McCosker.

He added that, over the next year to 15 months, he and the board, assisted by the finance committee, will go through the district's procedures from top to bottom to fix the problems. "This is a complete rebuild."

One woman said she would not be able to pay even the additional $9.95 a month. "I'd have to choose between food and water."

McCosker said they had crunched the numbers "as much as we can crunch 'em" to find the best solution.

Toward the end of the meeting, Benjamin made a special request to district ratepayers – asking them to pay special attention to their December bills.

Last December, the district sent out bills totaling $150,000. The following month, when the payments were expected, the district only received $49,000.

Getting only a third of its payments this coming January could prevent the district from making its payroll or paying its bills, said Benjamin. "We just won't make it."

One audience member had suggested that the holiday bill problem may have been partly due to the district not sending out bills, as in his case.

McCosker, who took over as general manager in January, said the office is running very smoothly now, with longer hours, live people answering phones rather than the former"voice mail hell" and an overall emphasis on customer service. "I apologize that hadn't been done that way in the past."

Chase emphasized the district's financial situation will be reevaluated next year before the board considers charging customers any more money. "We're not real interested in overburdening the customers, because the customers own the water district."

Keeping in mind the statement by one ratepayer earlier in the meeting that the proposed rate hike would hurt her, Chase suggested that the district should begin looking at ways to help low-income customers, as Pacific Gas and Electric does.

"We're going to turn everything this company does inside out," added Benjamin.

He ended by thanking the community members for "a very pleasant meeting," which was so amicable that it even ended with the audience giving the board a round of applause.

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SOUTH LAKE COUNTY – On Tuesday afternoon officials shut down a portion of Highway 29 over Mount St. Helena for several hours due to a bus fire that in turn caused a small grass fire.

The California Highway Patrol reported that Caltrans closed Highway 29 at Tubbs Lane in Napa County and also on the Lake County side of Mount St. Helena due to the fire involving a tour bus, which first was reported at approximately 12:48 p.m.

Power lines also were reported to be down in the area, requiring the assistance of Pacific Gas and Electric to cut power to the lines before they caught fire.

Michael Selmi of Cal Fire's Incident Command Center in St. Helena said the tour bus caught nearby grass on fire, burning one and a half to two acres on each side of the highway. He said firefighters have contained the blaze.

No one on the bus was injured, Selmi reported.

Selmi said the highway was expected to be closed until about 5:30 p.m.

Cal Fire remained at work for several hours mopping up the fire area, he said. “We'll be on scene there for a while.”

Selmi said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

CHP reported that one-way traffic control was instituted at around 6:30 p.m., and the roadway was clear and fully reopened about an hour later.

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Families were an important part of the grand opening event on Saturday. Photo by Aimee Gonsalves.


HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – Despite the economic concerns that face much of the country, several small businesses celebrated opening their doors as part of a community celebration on Saturday afternoon.

The grand opening for Hidden Valley Lakes' Hardester's Plaza had something for everyone – a chance for businesses to introduce themselves, pets in Halloween costumes and a range of family friendly events. In every direction there were smiling children enjoying ice cream cones and hot dogs.

Many of the business owners out at the plaza on Saturday expressed a very hopeful outlook for the future, with the belief that, if the community sticks together, it can get through the hardships of the current economic situation.

People are definitely taking into consideration how they spend their money these days, but the advice from Linda Fergusson of New York Life is to spend your money within your community. Fergusson offers insurance and financial services.

Fergusson said she's concerned but positive about south Lake County’s economic standing. She believes if residents continue supporting local stores and if more people start their own businesses it would help the community.

Ross Hardester of Hardester's Market shared an opinion similar to Fergusson's.

Hardester said he believes people are nervous about starting new businesses but if the community supported its local economy by spending their money here – versus, for example, shopping where they commute to work – it would help the county come through these tough times.

Shelley Weiser with H&R Block and Shelley Weiser Bookkeeping said that her business has felt the effect of the economic struggle because so many small businesses are closing their doors and no longer in need of bookkeeping services. However, she's hopeful for the future, adding that the community needs to attract more businesses,which would create local jobs.

Not seeing a dropoff in business these days is Ting's Thai Kitchen, owned by Charlie and Ting McFarling. The restaurant, which opened in the spring, offers authentic Thai food. Charlie McFarling noted that business is staying steady.

Although new to the plaza location, Patricia Tyrrell said her Guangxi Martial Arts school has been working with children and adults for many years. When it comes to finding activities that are close to home, and good for your body and mind, martial arts may have something to offer, she suggested. Besides self-defense, martial arts teach confidence and respect, which are very important for children.

Another unique business at the plaza is Chic la Chef to the rescue, which offers a Wednesday night take-out service for families. They'll also offers a “Budget Busters” class in November in which they'll teach class participants how to create meals their whole family will love without spending a fortune at the grocery store.

The new Hidden Valley Pet Palace hosted a doggy pet costume contest Saturday afternoon and the winner was Bailey the bride, a cute little Chihuahua.

Pet palace owner Terri Gonsalves said she's nervous as a new business owner given the hard times. However, she said she's excited about what she is doing and hoping to make a positive start with her new business. She offers grooming and a full line of pet care supplies.

And if you bring your dog in for pampering you can get pampered yourself at Patrice Ryan's Dream Salon, which opened in February.

Ryan said she's optimistic that the economy will get better soon. She added that business is good and they're excited to meet more clients.


Aimee Gonsalves is a new writer for Lake County News. Disclosure note: She is the daughter of Terri Gonsalves of the Hidden Valley Pet Palace.




Children had a chance to take a turn in the jumphouse on Saturday. Photo by Aimee Gonsalves.





Dogs came dressed up and ready for the Halloween pet costume contest. Photo by Aimee Gonsalves.






The contest winner was Bailey the Chihuahua, dressed as a bride. Photo by Aimee Gonsalves.




LUCERNE – The Lake County Code Enforcement Division will soon be moving its operations to Lucerne.

The entire division will be located on the second floor of the Lake County Visitor's Center, located at 6110 E. Highway 20, according to Community Development Director Rick Coel, whose department also covers Code Enforcement.

“We have set Oct. 29 as the start date for the move to Lucerne,” said Coel.

He said that he thinks it will take a week to complete the move and for staff to begin working out of the Lucerne office.

“We plan to rotate staffing in a way that allows us to keep one staff member at our courthouse office during normal business hours,” he added.

The division originally was slated to move to Lucerne earlier this year, as Lake County News has reported. However, Coel said a number of logistical issues had to be resolved, resulting in delays.

Code Enforcement staffing has been updated effective Thursday, according to Code Enforcement Manager Voris Brumfield.

Staff includes Beverly Westphal, countywide abandoned vehicle abatement; Allison Garrett, overseeing Lucerne, Glenhaven, Spring Valley, Clearlake Oaks and Clearlake Park; Roderic Hilliard, who is in charge of Lower Lake, Middletown, Cobb Mountain, Kelseyville, Finley and the Clear Lake Riviera; and Kimberlee Heckard, whose territory includes Lakeport, Upper Lake, Blue Lakes and Nice.

Larry Fabisch, whose territory had included the Northshore areas, has been placed on administrative leave, Coel said.

Fabisch was arrested last Saturday morning for charges including cultivating and possession of marijuana and carrying loaded firearms in public. The former president of the county's employees' union, Fabisch told Lake County News that he has medical marijuana cards which allow him to have the marijuana.

Coel said there are several reasons for the move to Lucerne, including a desire to locate a county office on the Northshore, which also will allow Code Enforcement staff to make a more efficient response to complaints in that area.

The move also will give staff more elbow room, as Coel described the office space in the courthouse on N. Forbes Street in Lakeport as “crowded.”

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


Upcoming Calendar

06.07.2023 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Clearlake City Council special meeting
06.07.2023 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
East Region Town Hall
06.08.2023 7:30 am - 8:30 am
Rotary Club of Middletown
Middletown Art Center
06.09.2023 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
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06.10.2023 8:30 am - 10:30 am
Guided nature walk
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Crafters group
06.10.2023 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Ladies of the Lake Quilt Guild
06.10.2023 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
06.12.2023 10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Ladies of the Lake Quilt Guild
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