Tuesday, 23 July 2024


NICE – Sheriff's officials are reporting that three individuals arrested in connection to an alleged Saturday night drive-by shooting are suspected of being gang members.

Authorities also are on the lookout for other possible suspects related to the incident.

The Lake County Sheriff's Office issued a report Monday afternoon that details the arrest of 20-year-old Roberto Garcia and two female juveniles, all of Ukiah, in connection to the Saturday night incident. The shooting took place in Nice, as Lake County News has reported.

Sgt. Brian Martin of the sheriff's Investigation Division reported that Mendocino County Sheriffs arrested Garcia and the two girls early Sunday morning before turning them over to Lake County.

Martin said the arrests stemmed from a late night drive-by shooting in the 3600 block of Lakeview

Drive in Nice.

The three are suspected of participating in the shooting, using a small caliber firearm, reported Martin. They allegedly shot out the window of an unoccupied vehicle and left several bullet holes in the car.

Martin reported that no injuries were reported as a result of the shooting.

Deputy Frank Walsh, who Martin said led the investigation, identified the three suspects as being occupants of a late model Lexus sedan that was spotted in the area at the time of the shooting.

Garcia was arrested for felony vandalism, discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle and participating in a criminal street gang, Martin reported. He remains in the Lake County Jail, with his bail now listed at $41,000, according to jail records.

Martin said the names of the females are not being released due to their age.

Sheriff's investigators are exploring the motivations for the shooting and looking at the possibility that other suspects were involved in the crime, Martin reported.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Sgt. Jim Samples, supervisor of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office Gang Unit, at 262-4200.

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January's skies at 9 p.m. Jan. 15.


LAKE COUNTY – If you hear dogs barking on a cold January night, they just might be two hunting dogs alerting their master, Orion, to the presence of a rabbit.

But we’re getting ahead of our story. Let’s start at the beginning.

In January, the winter skies are dominated by what may be the most beautiful of all constellations, Orion the Hunter.

Look at our January star chart – Orion is below Mars, which is now fading from its December brightness as it begins to move away from the earth.

Orion is framed by four bright stars that represent his shoulders and feet. There are three stars in a line in the middle of Orion – they represent his belt.

In Greek mythology, Orion was a great hunter who boasted he would eventually kill all of the wild animals on earth.

This boast angered Gaia, the earth goddess, so she sent a scorpion named Scorpius to kill Orion. Scorpius was successful, stinging Orion on the heel.

To commemorate the Orion versus Scorpius main event, both were placed in the night sky. To prevent them from fighting, Orion was placed in the winter sky, while Scorpius was placed in the summer sky.

Below Orion’s belt is a magnificent object that can be seen through a telescope – it’s called The Great Orion nebula, and it looks like the picture below.


The Orion nebula, courtesy of Astro Cruise.

The Orion nebula is a huge cloud of dust and gas. New stars are born here, and we sometimes refer to this object as being a star nursery. Through a telescope of any size it is beautiful to behold.

Every great hunter should have some hunting dogs. Orion is no exception. Look at the star chart and locate Canis Major and Canis Minor. Those names are Latin for “Big Dog” and “Little Dog.” Canis Major has the brightest star in the sky, Sirius.

Sirius is sometimes called the “Dog Star,” for obvious reasons. In addition to being the brightest star, Sirius is also a double star. A tiny star rotates around Sirius like our planets rotate around the sun. This star is called “The Pup.”

The following photograph shows the Dog Star and Pup.


Sirius and Companion, courtesy of NASA.



We mentioned the two dogs barking at a rabbit. That would be Lepus the Hare on our star chart. Lepus is a faint constellation originally cataloged by the ancient Greek mathematician-astronomer, Ptolemy.

On our star chart, you will note the bright full moon will light up the night sky on Jan. 15.

Keep that in mind, because in February we’ll talk about the eclipse of the moon that will happen at the end of that month.

For more information about astronomy and local astronomy-related events, visit the Taylor Observatory Web site at www.taylorobservatory.org.

On Jan. 12, starting at 8 p.m., the observatory will be open to the public. The life cycle of stars will be the featured topic.

John Zimmerman has been an amateur astronomer for 50 years. He is a member of the Taylor Observatory staff, where, among his many duties, he helps create planetarium shows.


LAKEPORT – A judge ruled Thursday that a case charging a California Highway Patrol sergeant with felony theft and elder abuse lacked sufficient evidence for prosecution.

Lake County Superior Court Judge Arthur Mann concluded that Timothy Poindexter of Kelseyville couldn't be held to answer for the case based on the evidence against him, according to statements from the District Attorney's Office and Poindexter's defense team.

“Obviously, we're very happy,” said Judy Conard, one of Poindexter's attorneys in the case.

Poindexter's lead attorney, Jamie Thistlethwaite of Santa Rosa, couldn't be reached late Thursday for comment.

The ruling followed a preliminary hearing that stretched across several days, said Deputy District Attorney Joyce Campbell.

The District Attorney's Office charged Poindexter, 48, last June, alleging that between October 2004 and June 2007 he had taken advantage of an elderly Finley couple during a real estate transaction.

Poindexter pleaded not guilty to the charges in a June 8, 2007 court appearance, as Lake County News has reported.

“The primary question was whether or not the defendant had tricked the elderly victim out of some farming equipment by saying it went along with real estate that was sold,” said Campbell.

Poindexter purchased an 18.7-acre property with a pear orchard on Finley Road East from the couple, paying $300,000, according to court documents obtained by Lake County News. Escrow on the property closed in 2005.

No Realtor was involved in the sale, according to the investigation, with Poindexter taking care of the paperwork.

Campbell said Thursday that a paragraph of the real estate contract added farm equipment valued at more than $25,000 that the couple said they had not originally agreed to include in the property sale.

The older man who sold Poindexter the property was adamant that he had not filled in the portion of the contract for the farm equipment, said Campbell. She added that the disputed paragraph had a handwritten alteration, which only was initialed by Poindexter and not the elderly seller.

In addition, the escrow officer testified in court that it was clear to her that the equipment was not included, Campbell said.

The case also had alleged that Poindexter had gained the older man's trust by visiting his home while in uniform, and while driving his CHP patrol car. “The elderly victim was indeed very impressed with him and there developed a relationship of trust,” said Campbell.

The investigative documents revealed that the men had gotten along at first, with Poindexter agreeing to allow the couple to store some of their belongings and equipment there. However, the older man alleged that his access to his belongings was blocked by Poindexter, who stacked his own property around those items.

Later, the men engaged attorneys who exchanged numerous letters either demanding the elderly couples' access to their belongings or that the couple refrain from returning to Poindexter's property.

Conard said Mann, who took an hour to finalize his ruling following the end of testimony in the hearing, provided a “very thorough” decision on the matter.

“Mr. Poindexter had a reasonable belief that the property in question does in fact belong to him,” she said, and it was a point with which she said Mann agreed.

What should be stressed, Conard added, is that Poindexter did not abuse his power in any way. “He has a claim to title.”

The case was a complex one, said Campbell, with many critical aspects to it.

She said that the elderly male victim – now in his 90s, and a World War II veteran – was “rock solid” as a witness, but on the stand he was forgetful of some details, which she suggested influenced the case's outcome.

Issues of memory and forgetfulness make elder financial abuse cases especially difficult to handle, said Campbell, who is retired but works on a part-time basis with the District Attorney's Office on cases involving seniors.

Keeping that in mind, Campbell said prosecutors work hard to make sure they can corroborate all the evidence in elder abuse cases. They thought they had done so in this case as well, she added.

Conard stated that the case ultimately should have been taken up in civil – not criminal – proceedings.

The case's turn in criminal court isn't entirely over, however.

“It is a felony so our office does have the option to refile if we feel it's the right thing to do,” said Campbell.

She added that the District Attorney's Office has not yet made a decision on whether it will pursue the case further.

Meanwhile, Poindexter's future in the CHP is still not clear.

After he was charged, the CHP placed Poindexter, a 26-year CHP veteran, on administrative leave, the CHP reported.

That's where Poindexter remains today, Fran Clader, a spokesperson for CHP's Sacramento headquarters, said Thursday. “His current status is, he's on administrative time off.”

Clader said Poindexter will remain on administrative leave “pending the completion of an internal investigation” by CHP.

She could not comment on whether Poindexter was seeking reinstatement.

Clader added that, because of the Peace Officer Bill of Rights, the CHP can't share the eventual outcome of that internal investigation.

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NICE – Authorities have arrested a Ukiah man and two female juveniles in connection with an alleged drive-by shooting Saturday.

Sheriff Rod Mitchell confirmed Sunday afternoon that a drive-by shooting had taken place Saturday night, but added that no one was injured.

Roberto Garcia, 20, was arrested early Sunday morning on felony counts of discharging a firearm from a vehicle, shooting at an unoccupied dwelling/vehicle and vandalism with property damage, according to Lake County Jail records.

“I can also confirm that two juveniles, both female, are in custody in relation to this offense,” said Mitchell.

Mitchell added, “We are not comfortable discussing motive publicly at this stage of the investigation.”

A “be on the lookout” for the suspects was issued across law enforcement radio frequencies about 11:18 p.m. Saturday in response to the shooting.

Mitchell said more information would be released Monday.

Garcia, whose occupation is listed as a server, remained in jail on $30,000 bail Sunday.

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LAKEPORT – Contra Costa, San Diego or Los Angeles counties – those are the three choices for a new venue for a controversial trial, but during a Friday hearing the prosecution and defense couldn't agree on any of the three.

On Friday morning District Attorney Jon Hopkins and San Francisco defense attorney Stuart Hanlon had disparate views of where the trial of 23-year-old San Franciscan Renato Hughes should be moved.

In November Hanlon won a change of venue request for Hughes after months of attempts to do that in appeals to the state's appellate and supreme courts.

Hughes is accused under provocative act theory of the deaths of two friends allegedly taking part with him in December 2005 home robbery.

It wasn't until a jury actually was seated in November that retired Alameda Superior Court Judge William McKinstry decided to grant Hanlon's change of venue request, citing his concern over the number of potential jurors who had been dismissed for various reason.

The Judicial Council of California's Administrative Office of the Courts is responsible for choosing possible venues when a change is granted, which isn't often, as Brad Campbell, the Administrative Office of the Courts' supervising analyst, told Lake County News last month.

A report Campbell submitted to Judge Arthur Mann last month said the office contacted the superior courts of Alameda, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and San Joaquin to look for a suitable new venue.

Campbell wrote in the report that factors considered in looking for a new venue included ethnic diversity, transportation, availability of appropriate court facilities and support staff, and ability to accommodate the media.

Los Angeles and San Diego were available to accommodate Hughes' trial without undue burden, said Campbell. Fresno County indicated it could host the trial after March 1, but it would require a judge and staff.

During the brief hearing Friday morning, which lasted about 20 minutes in Judge Mann's Department 3 courtroom, Mann revealed that on Thursday Contra Costa County was added to the list.

“Contra Costa can now handle this case in late March or early April,” said Mann.

Hughes was present at the hearing, sitting beside Hanlon in a black- and white-striped Lake County Jail uniform.

For Hanlon, who has a teenage son and wants to be able to return home from court every night, Contra Costa was the best choice.

Not so for Hopkins, who argued that Hanlon's “publicity moves” have saturated Bay Area counties, including Contra Costa.

Hopkins cited TV and radio shows, and numerous articles by the area newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle in his argument. He added that Hanlon has used a group based in Richmond – located in Contra Costa County – to protest the case on the courthouse steps.

Contra Costa, Hopkins stated, “would be a county this case could not go to without a full survey and analysis of how it would affect people.”

Neither was Los Angeles an ideal choice, according to Hopkins, who called it a “logistical nightmare” that would significantly increase costs for the trial, including housing of witnesses.

Of the three, San Diego is the best choice, said Hopkins, thanks to the courthouse's close proximity to the airport, making it easy to transport witnesses in and out.

Responding to Hopkins' concerns about publicity in Contra Costa County, Hanlon said, “He didn't mind all the media when it was in Lake County.”

Contra Costa is close, said Hanlon, and therefore more convenient for everyone involved.

“Either Los Angeles or San Diego is incredibly expensive,” Hanlon said.

Another concern for Hanlon is San Diego's black population, which he said is below the state average – a number that Hanlon did not specify.

Hanlon said he didn't believe a survey would find that Contra Costa County residents knew much about the Hughes case.

Hopkins replied that the court had records of all the Bay Area media coverage. The Lake County publicity for the case, he said, was far less than that witnessed by the Bay Area.

“This issue with the publicity in the Bay Area is widespread,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins said he was disappointed that the Administrative Office of the Courts didn't contact Sacramento County to gauge its superior court's availability. Sacramento, he said, has a “well-balanced diversity,” and hasn't had the Bay Area media to influence it.

He also addressed Hanlon's comments about a certain black population level being a factor for choosing a venue. “Mr. Hanlon seems to think there's some support for his position.”

Only seven California counties exceed the state average for black population figures, said Hopkins.

According to Hopkins, Hanlon took a petition to the state Supreme Court asking them to consider race in addition to other factors in determining a change of venue. “The Supreme Court denied that petition,” he said.

Hopkins asked Mann's court to contact Sacramento County's presiding judge to ask that they consider making their court available for the case.

Both Hopkins and Hanlon indicated their desire to further argue their cases for specific venues.

Mann asked what evidence Hopkins planned to present against moving the trial to Contra Costa. Hopkins indicated he would submit copies of radio and television broadcasts, in addition to copies of stories published by Bay Area publications which Hopkins said were already in the court's possession.

Mann gave Hopkins a Jan. 17 deadline to submit those materials in preparation for the next hearing.

The case will return to Mann's courtroom on Jan. 22, at which time defense and prosecution will present their cases to Mann, who must ultimately decide where Hughes' trial should move.

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The state's snowpack is getting off to a thin start, but state officials hope that the storms that started hitting areas of Northern California on Thursday will give the state's water supply a much-needed boost.

The state Department of Water Resources held the first of five manual snow surveys for the 2007-08 winter season on Thursday near Echo Summit off Highway 50, on the way to Lake Tahoe.

Thursday's readings showed the statewide snowpack averaging 60 percent of normal, only one percentage point above this time last year, according to Water Resources.


Electronic sensor readings show Northern Sierra snow water equivalents at 64 percent of normal for this date, Central Sierra at 53 percent and Southern Sierra at 69 percent, Water Resources reported. That's compared with 68 percent, 55 percent and 52 percent, respectively, compared to the first survey in January 2007.

Water Resources hydrologists use the readings to forecast the state's water supply in the coming year.

Although the readings show the season isn't off to a great start, Water Resources officials cautioned that it's still early, and pointed to rain, snow and wind that started arriving Thursday.

Forecasters called for the Central Valley to receive several inches of rain, while at least 5 feet of snow is expected in high Sierra elevations.

In Lake County, Thursday's rains gave area creeks a charge, with the US Geological Survey's stream gauges showing dramatic upsurges in water levels.

Arthur Hinojosa, chief of Water Resources' Hydrology Branch, said in a Thursday statement that Sierra snow levels are expected to begin at 6,000 feet and drop to below 4,000 feet through the weekend with another weaker system forecast across Northern California early next week.

“The pending storms should provide the state with a much needed helping of snow,” said Hinojosa. “We hope to get close to the January average precipitation for the Northern Sierra over the next week.”

Officials said the surveys are particularly significant this year because last year’s snowpack yielded only 30 percent of the normal water content.

Reservoirs are low, as well, with Lake Oroville holding only 35 percent of its 3.5 million acre foot capacity, 55 percent of average for this time of year, according to Water Resources.

Because less-than-normal water supply conditions exist, the initial State Water Project allocation for 2008 was placed at 25 percent of water contractors’ requested amounts, Water Resources reported.

Snowpack 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 each month to gauge the amount of water in the snowpack.

The next survey will take place in early February, Water Resources reported.

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LAKE COUNTY – Most of the county's residents had power restored to them by Sunday following outages that resulted from powerful winter storms that arrived late last week.

Overall, it was another day of more mile weather on Sunday, although forecasters continue to predict more rain this week.

That break in the weather proved important to Pacific Gas and Electric power crews.

On Sunday afternoon PG&E reported that most of the power outages in the county had been resolved.

PG&E spokesperson Jana Schuering said about 70 people were still out of power in Clearlake Sunday evening, with about 100 other customers between Clearlake and Hopland also believed to still be out of power.

Schuering said crews planned to work through the night to restore the power supply to those customers.

About 5,500 residents in Mendocino County – most of them along the coast – were still out of power Sunday night, Schuering said.

Since the storms hit Friday, about 2 million PG&E customers from Eureka to Bakersfield have lost power, the company reported. Of those, 1.9 million have had power restored.

As of Sunday, PG&E reported that the storms had damaged 527 miles of power line, 567 poles, 536 transformers and 696 crossarms throughout the company's coverage area.

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CLEARLAKE OAKS – A Lower Lake woman is facing felony charges for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from her employer.

Michelle Lynn Davis, 23, was arrested Jan. 2 by Lake County Sheriff's Detective Corey Paulich, according to jail records.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff said a felony warrant was issued for Davis, who then turned herself in.

“She's been charged with embezzlement and with a special allegation that the amount embezzled was over $150,000,” Hinchcliff said.

Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Cecil Brown said Davis is accused of taking the money from her employer, Shannon Ranches of Clearlake Oaks.

Brown said Davis had been with Shannon Ranches, a vineyard management consulting business, for five years. The occupation listed on her booking sheet is bookkeeper.

The investigation was triggered, said Brown, when the company noticed suspicious uses of business checks and a credit card.

Hinchcliff said he couldn't discuss the specifics of the case, which is so new that it has yet to be assigned to a deputy district attorney. Davis also has not yet appeared in court for arraignment, he added.

Davis' case constitutes one of the larger embezzlement prosecutions the District Attorney's Office has dealt with recently, said Hinchcliff.

If convicted, Davis could face up to five years in prison, Hinchcliff said.

Shannon Ranches, owned by Clay and Margarita Shannon, was a precursor to the couple's Shannon Ridge Vineyards and Winery, which has won both praise and awards for its wines, produced from winegrapes grown in Clearlake Oaks.

The Shannons also have become known for their generosity to community causes. They have assisted in Clearlake Oaks improvement projects, and last month volunteered one of their trucks to transport flooring materials from Southern California to the Clearlake Skate Park so the park can be repaired and reopened.

A company representative said they could offer no comment at this time.

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MIDDLETOWN – A traffic collision Thursday afternoon left three people trapped in a vehicle.

The California Highway Patrol reported that a single vehicle collision was reported at 2:50 p.m. on Highway 29, one mile south of Twin Pine Casino in Middletown.

The vehicle was 15 feet over the roadside, with three people trapped inside, the CHP's incident logs reported.

Cal Fire and CHP responded, with “extensive extrication” needed to get the people out of the car. Highway 29 also was reportedly closed for a time – reopening shortly before 5 p.m. -- while the crash victims were removed.

CHP Officer Adam Garcia, spokesman for the Clear Lake CHP Office, said late Thursday afternoon that he had no information on the people who were involved.

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Cobb resident Roger Kinney, who lives at an elevation of 3,000 feet, photographed the snow on Cobb that fell Saturday. Pictured is a firefighter; Kinney said the fire department came to check on everyone to make sure they were OK.


LAKE COUNTY – Snow fell in parts of Lake County Saturday, but overall there was a slight break in the severe winter weather, with forecasters calling for more rain over the next several days.

Snow covered Cobb and the Lake Pillsbury areas, and dusted the tops of the hills along the Northshore, but there was a window of clearer weather Saturday, before rains began to return in the evening.

Meanwhile, Pacific Gas and Electric's workers were still struggling to repair damage and restore electricity to customers around the state, including Lake County.

PG&E spokesperson Susan Simon said Saturday evening that approximately 1,151 Lake County residents remained out of power in four outages, with the largest in Kelseyville.

Simon had no information on when those customers could expect to have their power restored.

Statewide, PG&E reported that its crews have been working around the clock since Friday morning to restore power and repair damage from the storms.

Across its service region, stretching from Bakersfield to Eureka, 450 miles of power line, 469 power poles, 409 transformers and 525 crossarms, have been damaged, according to PG&E.

The company reported that the storms caused 1.9 million customers to lose power. Of those, 1.6 million had power restored by late Saturday. Fifty-five thousand Bay Area customers still lacked power.

The North Coast and Sierra Nevada were among the hardest hit areas, PG&E reported.

The National Weather Service predicts rain through the rest of the weekend and into early next week in Lake County, with chances of continued showers through next Saturday.

Northern areas of the county, including Lake Pillsbury, remain under a winter storm warning, with snow expected to continue through Monday. From Tuesday through Saturday, showers are predicted.

Caltrans reported Saturday night that all state highways in Lake County remained open with no restrictions.

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Lenny Matthews of Lucerne took this picture of snow along the way to Lake Pillsbury Saturday.




Cobb resident Robert Lynch captured this picture of damage left behind by Cobb's heavy rains.



LAKE COUNTY – The worst weather predictions came true Friday, as high winds and heavy rains battered the county, with downed power lines and flooding closing roadways.

And, while in some areas waters were starting to recede and rainfall was lessening, the National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for northern Lake County – which includes the Lake Pillsbury area – through 4 a.m. Saturday.

Weather Underground reported Friday that between Thursday and Friday morning Cobb had received 8.3 inches of rain, with just under 4 inches falling in Lower Lake, 1.92 inches in Lakeport and about six-tenths of an inch in Clearlake Oaks.

The US Geological Survey's stream gauges showed Kelsey, Cache and Putah creeks running so high they were almost off the charts.

Clear Lake also has begun to rise, according to the survey's measurements. The lake water along the Northshore Friday had turned brown due to runoff.

Wind gusts of as high as 40 miles per hours were expected in areas of the county, according to Weather Underground.

High winds and wet weather contributed to fallen power lines and trees around the county, said Lake County Roads Superintendent Steve Stangland.

Downed power lines, in turn, resulted in power outages.

Thousands of customers around the North Coast were out of power Friday, said Pacific Gas and Electric spokesperson Jana Schuering.

Shortly before 12:30 p.m. Schuering said 55,000 customers remained out of power, through 509 separate outages, in the North Coast region, which includes Lake, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

The outages were so numerous that Schuering said she was unable to separate out just which ones were in Lake County.

In Clearlake, that city's Public Works Department reported all streets were open Friday afternoon.

The City of Lakeport's Public Works Department reported one street closure – on North Street, between Ninth and 10th – Friday afternoon, due to water. Water that had partially covered some city streets, including some close to downtown, had receded by afternoon.

County Public Works, which includes the Roads Department, is issuing county road updates every half hour because of fast-changing conditions, said Stangland. The updates can be found at the county's Web site, www.co.lake.ca.us.

“We're opening roads almost just as fast as they've been getting closed,” said Stangland.

Water had covered Lakeshore Boulevard at Lyons Creek near Lakeport, Witter Springs Road near Upper Lake and the new bridge on Perini Road at Siegler Canyon Road near Lower Lake, but Stangland said the roadways reopened once the water receded.

Road crews were working around the clock to keep on top of the situation, said Stangland. “It's going to be a continuous thing.”

In some cases where roads remained closed due to downed power lines, it was because road crews were waiting for PG&E to respond. “We won't even touch the tree if it has lines in it,”he said.

Crews hadn't had to help respond so far to accidents, Stangland said.

The California Highway Patrol reported numerous road hazards in Lake and Mendocino counties Friday, many appearing to be weather-related.

Caltrans had no road or lane closures in Lake County on Friday afternoon, said Caltrans District 1 spokesman, Phil Frisbie Jr.

“Currently, there's a lot going on in Mendocino County,” said Frisbie. “Lake County looks pretty calm right now, relatively.”

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Creeks and streams around the county rose due to the rains and runoff. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




Some streets in Lakeport were partially flooded on Friday. Waters later receded. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




LAKE COUNTY – The state and federal governments are doing battle over greenhouse gas standards that would have far-reaching effects on air quality and would require improvements in new vehicles and the fuels Californians – and Lake County residents – use every day.

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. sued the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of the State of California Wednesday, saying the EPA was “wrongfully and illegally” blocking the state's landmark tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions standards.

Brown's lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, challenges the EPA's refusal to allow the state to implement its emissions law, which Brown's office reported requires that motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions be reduced by 30 percent by 2016.

Fifteen other states or agencies have pledged to join the suit as intervenors, according to the Attorney General's Office.

Brown's office reported that cars generate 20 percent of all human-made carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and at least 30 percent of such emissions in California.

To go into effect, California's new emissions standard required a waiver from the EPA, which the agency's administrator, Stephen Johnson, refused to grant.

In a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger dated Dec. 19, 2007, Johnson denied California's request for the waiver.

That same day, Johnson's office released a statement in which he said new federal energy legislation would set mileage standards.

"The Bush Administration is moving forward with a clear national solution – not a confusing patchwork of state rules – to reduce America’s climate footprint from vehicles," Johnson said. "President Bush and Congress have set the bar high, and, when fully implemented, our federal fuel economy standard will achieve significant benefits by applying to all 50 states.”

Johnson's Dec. 19 statement also noted that EPA “has determined that a unified federal standard of 35 miles per gallon will deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks in all 50 states, which would be more effective than a partial state-by-state approach of 33.8 miles per gallon.”

EPA reported that it held two hearings on California's waiver request and reviewed more than 100,000 written comments and thousands of pages of technical and scientific documentation received during the public comment period, which lasted from April 30 to June 15.

The agency's conclusion: Because greenhouse gases are fundamentally global in nature, EPA did not conclude that California's request met the Clean Air Act's criteria of meeting “compelling and extraordinary conditions.”

Brown shot back that the EPA's finding reversed decades of agency practice and ignored the dangerous consequences of global warming to California – including a severely reduced snowpack.

Brown also said Johnson's letter was “shocking in its incoherence and utter failure to provide legal justification for the administrator's unprecedented action.”

He added that under 1963's federal Clean Air Act, California is “expressly allowed” to impose environmental regulations that are more strict that required by the federal government because of the state's “compelling and extraordinary conditions” which include unique topography, climate, and high number and concentration of vehicles.

The Clean Air Act also empowers the state to challenge the decision, said Brown.

Until the Dec. 19 decision, Brown reported that EPA had never turned down a request from California for a waiver, granting approximately 50 over the last 40 years for catalytic converters to leaded gasoline regulations.

Brown added that the National Academy of Sciences has reviewed the waiver system and strongly supports maintaining California's role as “a proving ground for new-emission control technologies that benefit California and the rest of the nation.”

According to Brown, 15 other states or state agencies — Massachusetts, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington — are joining Wednesday's lawsuit as intervenors.

California's auto emission rules have survived previous challenges.

In December, Brown's office reported that the U.S. District Court in Fresno rejected the auto industry's challenge to California's law, concluding that both California and the EPA are equally empowered to limit greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles

A similar effort to overthrow the law also had failed in September, according to Brown's office, when a federal court judge in Vermont ruled against an automobile industry group trying to block the state from implementing the emissions standards.

What the standards mean for Lake County

Bob Reynolds, who heads Lake County's Air Quality Management District, said that any air quality rules the state enacts are likely to fall on the district in some fashion or another.

He said many people believe the district is a county department, but it isn't. Rather, it's a state-created, regional agency which regulates stationary pollution sources – such as business and industry – and open burning, and must enforce regulations and laws imposed by the federal, state and local governments.

The emission standard, said Reynolds, “will affect us and, at the same time, it needs to affect us.”

“Global warming is very real,” he said, adding that enough scientists have signed onto the idea that the argument about its validity should be over.

The state hasn't gone into detail about how the standard will be rolled out, but Reynolds said he believes its most direct impacts on Lake County will be in the form of the fuels and new vehicles that residents will have available to them in the future.

Carbon dioxide, said Reynolds, is California's main focus when it comes to greenhouse gases. The new standard, he added, would require that new cards have reduced carbon dioxide emission, and Brown's lawsuit boils down to whether or not California can write its own carbon dioxide rules.

Air quality in California has special challenges, which Reynolds say make these heightened rules necessary.

“Our air dispersion in California is far worse than anywhere else,” he said.

In areas like California that are located east of an ocean, Reynolds said emissions don't disperse as they do in other places.

A pollutant released in California will have 10 times the air quality impact than it would in, for example, Miami, he said.

In California smoke doesn't disperse well upward because of stronger and more frequent weather inversion, which is one of the reasons for more limited burning rules, Reynolds explained.

Carbon dioxide, said Reynolds, can be especially problematic in confined spaces, where it displaces oxygen. California's dispersion issues, therefore, make the greenhouse gas more of a challenge.

Air pollution control in the United States has benefited due to California's initiatives, said Reynolds.

That, he added, is an essential argument of Brown's case against the EPA.

And although the EPA believes that California's situation doesn't justify increasing the standards, Reynolds said, “My guess is that's an argument they'll lose in court.”

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


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