Wednesday, 04 October 2023


LAKE COUNTY – The California Department of Transportation recently awarded $52 million to cities and counties for 139 projects funded through the state’s Safe Routes to School program, which is designed to give students in grades K-12 easier and healthier ways to safely travel to and from schools.

State Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), who represents much of the North Coast in the 2nd Senate District, was a co-author of the original bill (AB 1475, by Assemblywoman Nell Soto) establishing Safe Routes to School funding in 1999. A number of communities in the 2nd District – which stretches from Solano County to Humboldt County – received funding in the latest cycle.

According to CalTrans, the Lakeport schools – Lakeport Elementary, Terrace Heights, Terrace Middle School and Clear Lake High School – received $499,860 in grant funding for a street improvement project, the total cost of which is $555,400.

Caltrans reported that the project will include constructing curb, gutter and sidewalk, and a retaining structure, and installing crosswalks, traffic signs and fences. Improvements will be completed along Hartley Street, from the intersection with 20th Street to 428 feet south of the city limit.

Since the program’s inception, Caltrans has awarded $196 million for 709 Safe Routes to School projects. In 2007, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 57 (also authored by Nell Soto), extending Safe Routes to School funding indefinitely.

On its Web site, Caltrans describes Safe Routes to School as “an international movement that has taken hold in communities throughout the United States. The concept is to increase the number of children who walk or bicycle to school by funding projects that remove the barriers that currently prevent them from doing so. Those barriers include lack of infrastructure, unsafe infrastructure, lack of programs that promote walking and bicycling through education/encouragement programs aimed at children, parents, and the community.”

The highly competitive program (local school districts, boards, city councils and state agencies can request funding through yearly application cycles) has enabled communities to increase the safety of children walking or riding to school.

“Pedestrian accidents have been a leading cause of fatal injuries for school-aged children, including in school zones lacking crosswalks or sidewalks,” Wiggins said. “That is one of the many great things about this program: Funds can be used for crosswalks, pedestrian and bicycle pathways, bike lanes, sidewalks and a number of ‘traffic calming’ measures.

“By creating a more hospitable environment for children to walk or ride to school,” Wiggins added, “we are also helping to promote exercise, which is a necessary component of the effort to reduce the incidence of obesity in our young people.”

Thirty years ago, 60 percent of children living within a two-mile radius of a school walked or bicycled to school. Today, that number has dropped to less than 15 percent, according to information provided by Wiggins' office.

Roughly 25 percent commute by school bus, and well over half are driven to/from school in vehicles. And back then, 5 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 were considered to be overweight or obese, Wiggins office reported. Today, that number has climbed to 20 percent.

These statistics point to a rise in preventable childhood diseases, worsening air quality and congestion around schools, and missed opportunities for children to grow into self reliant, independent adults.


LAKE COUNTY – A federal judge has found that juror misconduct and a breach of due process requires a reexamination of whether or not a man sentenced to death in 1984 for killing his wife was mentally competent to stand trial.

Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. of the U.S. District Court for California's Eastern District made the ruling March 17 in the case of Gerald Frank Stanley, 63, whose appeal was made on his behalf by federal defenders.

Stanley was convicted of the Aug. 11, 1980 murder of his wife, Cynthia Rogers Stanley, in Nice, according to case records.

Damrell ordered proceedings to begin within 30 days of his ruling on whether or not a new competency hearing – nearly a quarter-century later – should be held.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins said he intends to appear in Butte County Superior Court – where Stanley's trial was moved due to pretrial publicity – on Thursday morning.

There, Hopkins will ask Judge Sandra McLean to set a hearing on the feasibility of holding a retrospective competency hearing in the case.

Stanley reportedly shot his wife with a sniper rifle while she was at her father's resort in Nice, according to Lake County News research into the case. Stanley then fled the scene, with authorities launching one of the largest manhunts in county history in an attempt to find him. Stanley later was arrested at his mother's Anderson home.

Robert Crone, then the Lake County District Attorney, prosecuted the case, which was reported to have cost the state $1 million, research of the case revealed. Crone and his prosecution team lived in Butte County for nearly a year while the trial was under way.

On Feb. 7, 1984, Stanley was sentenced to die in the gas chamber, according to State Department of Corrections documents. He has remained on San Quentin's death row since then.

Hopkins emphasized that Stanley's guilt is not in question, and he's not going to be released. In fact, Damrell upheld the finding of guilt in the Stanley case, as has the California Supreme Court, court records show.

“The guilt stands,” said Hopkins.

If the competency trial is held again and Stanley is ruled incompetent, he would no longer be subject to the death penalty and instead would be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, Hopkins said.

One of the factors cited in Damrell's ruling was juror misconduct in the trial's competency phase, court documents show.

At the beginning of the Stanley trial's penalty phase – in which jurors were to consider whether he was to receive the death sentence – doubts about Stanley's competency were raised, Hopkins explained.

That resulted in a three-month break in the proceedings while a competency trial took place, and Stanley was ruled mentally competent to stand trial, Hopkins said.

Later, however, it was found that one of the jurors in that trial allegedly was guilty of misconduct because she failed to state that she had been a violence victim, said Hopkins. That was a concern because it could have affected her ability to make an impartial decision.

Damrell's ruling also pointed to a statement by an expert witness in the case that Stanley was incompetent as of 1981, which contradicted that witness' previous testimony.

The issue now, said Hopkins, is a complicated one.

“We have to engage in the process of deciding his competency 25 years ago,” he said.

Such proceedings are not unheard of, said Hopkins, although they're rare. He pointed to other, similar cases in other federal circuit courts where retrospective competency hearings have been ordered. “There is some precedent.”

In addition to pursuing the request for a hearing on the feasibility of a retrospective hearing, Hopkins also asked to have Stanley brought from death row to the Butte County Jail in Oroville, a duty that fell to Butte County Sheriff Perry Reniff's office. Stanley is expected to remain in custody in Oroville during the proceedings.

Hopkins also plans to file a motion to have Stanley's case brought back to Lake County if it's decided to go through with a new competency trial.

Originally, the defense was granted a change of venue due to pretrial publicity. However, Hopkins believes he can successfully argue that enough time has passed that the case is no longer well known locally, and a competency proceeding could find an unbiased pool of jurors.

Stanley's federal appeal is not being carried out at his request, according to previous statements Stanley has made to this reporter.

Several years ago Stanley began trying to have the appeals process stopped with the help of Jack Leavitt, a Hayward-based attorney, according to interviews with both men.

Stanley stated that due to his failing health he was seeking an execution date and, if one was granted, he had offered to disclose the location of the body of Diana Lynn Ramel, a woman with whom he was romantically involved and who disappeared in February 1980. He has stated he did not kill her.

He did, however, murder his first wife, Kathleen Rhiley, in 1975 as she was taking their children to school in Concord, according to Lake County News research. Stanley served four and a half years for that crime.

At one point Stanley also was believed to have been involved in the murder of a young Redding woman, Sheryl Ranee Wright, who was last seen the day before Cynthia Rogers was shot, according to case research.

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HIDDEN VALLEY – The man accused of stabbing two children last week had no local adult criminal history, according to court records.

Thirty-one-year-old James Robert Pagan was arrested Friday for allegedly stabbing a 10-year-old girl to death and injuring another 14-year-old girl, as Lake County News has reported.

Pagan was reportedly being held in the Lake County Jail on $1 million bail. He did not appear in the inmate search on the sheriff's Web site Monday; however, the site has not been recording new bookings since late last week.

Authorities have not officially confirmed the two victims' identities, which sources told Lake County News were the children of a local physician.

Sheriff's deputies originally arrested Pagan on charges of murder, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, according to a sheriff's office statement on Saturday.

Lt. Dave Garzoli of the sheriff's investigations branch released additional information later Saturday that reported another charge – willful cruelty to a child – had been added.

Before his Friday arrest Pagan appears to have had little contact with local authorities.

In a search of Lake County Superior Court records, Pagan's name only showed up once – for a May 2007 traffic citation.

A search of criminal records in other counties where Pagan is believed to have lived previously also turned up no evidence of him having issues with the law as an adult.

As of Monday afternoon, a criminal filing against Pagan for the stabbing case had not been logged in the Superior Court records system.

Regarding the circumstances of this recent case, no further information has been forthcoming from investigators.

A sheriff's office statement on Saturday said further information would be available on Monday, but nothing more has so far been released.

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LAKE COUNTY – Two local school districts are included in a newly released list of schools from around the country affected by a beef recall announced by federal officials last month.

Lakeport Unified School District and Konocti Unified School District are among hundreds of school districts across the United States named in the 226-page report, released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service. Only five states – Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi and New Hampshire – didn't have schools included in the report.

Board members from both districts Lake County News contacted late Thursday were not comfortable offering comment on the situation at this time because they had little information on the new report.

Lake County News also was unable to contact district administrators late Thursday. Konocti Unified's office was reported this week to be closed due to spring break.

The beef in question – 143 million pounds of it – was produced by the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. in Chino between Feb. 1, 2006 and Feb 4. 2008, the USDA reported.

The report stated that not all school districts listed had any of the beef in their inventory when the recall began. Nor did the fact that a school district or “school food authority” was included on the list indicate that those schools, in fact, had received the recalled beef.

The report did not include information on quantities of beef school districts might have received.

The USDA reported that some of the recalled meat was part of the commodity beef the USDA supplies to the National School Lunch Program. In addition, the agency said that “schools may have purchased Hallmark/Westland beef commercially.”

USDA Food and Nutrition Service officials reported that, of the 143 million pounds of beef recalled, 50.3 million pounds were used for federal nutrition programs. Of that 50.3 million pounds, 19.6 million pounds were consumed and 15.2 million pounds were placed on hold, while several millions pounds more were being traced.

USDA reported that it notified all school districts to “hold and immediately discontinue use of any Hallmark/Westland commodity beef products in their inventory” on Jan. 30.

U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service reported on Feb. 5 that it had, the day before, suspended inspection at Hallmark/Westland “based on the establishment's clear violation of Federal regulations and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.” The company's operations also were suspended.

On Feb. 17 the USDA notified states that beef the company supplied was being recalled due to “regulatory noncompliance,” the agency explained.

That's because the the slaughterhouse was found to be using “downer” cattle – cows unable to stand or walk due to injury or illness – for slaughter, according to a report from the Humane Society of the United States.

Such animals are not to be slaughtered for food, according to the USDA, because of concerns that they may have a higher risk for certain diseases – ranging from Salmonella to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known more commonly as mad cow disease.

Making the situation worse was that the slaughterhouse's employees were found to be guilty of using extremely cruel practices, including using forklifts and electric prods in forcing the animals to slaughter, according to the Humane Society. An undercover investigator with the group gathered videotape evidence of Westland/Hallmark's practices, which the group then turned over to San Bernardino County prosecutors.

Any products included in the recall are no longer in use at the schools, USDA reported, explaining that the agency worked with states to “quickly provide replacement commodity product” from approved sources.

No reports of illness related to the recalled ground beef have been made, according to USDA. The agency also “has given assurance that the health risk of consuming the affected beef is negligible,” and remains confident in the supply of food in the National School Lunch Program.

Beyond the recall, the packing company has bigger problems. On Feb. 15, the San Bernardino County District Attorney filed felony animal cruelty charges against two employees the company had terminated, according to a statement that same day by Secretary of Agriculture Ed Schafer.

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NORTHSHORE – A power outage Wednesday afternoon left homes and businesses along the Northshore dark for more than four hours.

The blackout began shortly before 4 p.m., said JD Guidi, a spokesman for Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

Approximately 5,030 customers along Clear Lake's eastern side were affected, Guidi explained.

Power was fully restored to all customers by 8:14 p.m., he added.

Guidi said the outage was caused by equipment failure.

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Local unemployment levels from January of 2006 through February 2008.


LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's February unemployment rate was an improvement over January's, according to the latest report from the Employment Development Department.

The preliminary February 2008 unemployment rate was 9.6 percent, down 0.9 percent from the revised January rate of 10.5 percent, but 0.2 percent above the year-ago, February 2007 rate of 9.4 percent, according to Dennis Mullins, of the EDD's North Coast Region Labor Market Information Division.

At 9.6 percent, Lake ranked 36 among the State’s 58 counties, Mullins noted. Some surrounding county rates included 7.0 percent for Mendocino, and 4.9 percent for Sonoma.

Marin and San Mateo had the lowest rate in the State at 3.9 percent and Colusa had the highest with 18.9 percent, according to Mullins. The comparable California and U.S. rates were 6.1 and 5.2 percent respectively.

Total industry employment increased 920 jobs (6.8 percent) between February 2007 and February 2008, ending the year-over period with 14,530 jobs, Mullins' report noted.

Mullins said year-over job growth occurred in farm; manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; information; private educational and health services; other services; and government.

Year-over job losses occurred in natural resources, mining and construction; professional and business services; and leisure and hospitality, he added.

The industry sector with no change over the year was financial activities, Mullins reported.

The government sector led industry gainers adding 770 jobs over the year, according to Mullins. Farm and private educational and health services were up 200 and 110 respectively. Trade, transportation and utilities increased 40; manufacturing was up 30; information and other services gained 10 jobs each.

Natural resources, mining and construction led decliners dropping 110 jobs over the year, Mullins said. Professional and business services and leisure and hospitality were down 90 and 50 respectively.

Mullins said that EDD encourages those who are filing for unemployment insurance benefits to do so on-line through its Web site at Online claim filing is the fastest, most convenient way to apply for unemployment benefits, and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's District Attorney asked a Butte County judge Thursday to grant his motion to move forward with a retrospective competency hearing in a 1980 murder conviction.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins went before Judge Sandra McLean in the case of Gerald Frank Stanley, 63, who was sentenced to death in 1984 for the murder of his wife, Cynthia Rogers Stanley.

On March 17 a federal judge – citing juror misconduct – threw out the competency trial that was held in late 1983 as part of Stanley's original prosecution after questions of his mental state were raised, as Lake County News has reported.

Hopkins asked Judge McLean for a hearing on the feasibility of retrospective competency proceedings; at the same time, he's planning to file a request for a change of venue in order to move the case back to Lake County. The trial was moved in 1983 because of pretrial publicity, he explained.

McLean granted Hopkins' request for a hearing on his motions, which is scheduled for 11 a.m. April 24 in Oroville, Hopkins said.

Stanley, based on a removal order filed by Hopkins, was transported from San Quentin State Prison's death row to the Butte County Jail in Oroville.

Hopkins said Stanley appeared in court Thursday, after having spent the morning fighting with jail nurses over his medications. Stanley has previously stated to this reporter that he suffers from a variety of health complaints, including heart issues.

Upset over the issues with his care at the jail, Stanley made demands to the court that he be transported back to San Quentin, said Hopkins.

When it came time to appoint a defense attorney for Stanley in these current proceedings, Stanley requested Mark Olive, according to Hopkins.

Olive, a Florida attorney who has specialized in defending death penalty cases for 30 years, has previously worked on Stanley's defense team, although Stanley has stated in the past that he did not want Olive and other federal defenders to act on his behalf.

Hopkins said Olive wasn't present at the Thursday hearing, although two federal defense attorneys were present. McLean appointed Chico attorney Dennis Hoptowit to represent Stanley.

While his mental competency has been questioned, Stanley's guilt in the murder was upheld in the recent ruling and in a California Supreme Court ruling, according to court documents.

In the original trial, Stanley was ruled competent and sentenced to the gas chamber. He has remained on death row since February of 1984.

If a retrospective competency hearing were held and Stanley was found incompetent at the time of his original trial's penalty phase, he would no longer face the death penalty and instead would serve out the remainder of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole, according to Hopkins.

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SOUTH LAKE COUNTY – Lake County fire units responded to a tanker fire Tuesday that closed down Highway 20 for several hours.

The tanker truck, carrying 7,500 gallons of kerosene, caught fire at about 9:30 a.m. one mile west of Mitchell Flat and several miles into Colusa County, according to the California Highway Patrol.

A CHP report issued late Tuesday explained that Dennis R. Moody, 59, of Willits was driving the 2007 Peterbilt tank truck pulling a silver tank trailer at or near the 55 mile per hour speed limit when the drive-line broke, causing it to bounce below the undercarriage.

The drive-line bounced into the tank, causing it to puncture, according to the CHP report.

A spark was then ignited by the loose drive-line, causing a fire to break out in the undercarriage. CHP said the fire spread to the tanks and ignited the kerosene in them.

When Moody noticed the mechanical problem and saw the fire, the CHP report said he immediately pulled over to the right shoulder.

Moody left the vehicle and went to a safe area while awaiting the arrival of emergency personnel, CHP reported. He did not suffer any injuries.

Northshore Battalion Chief Pat Brown reported that his district sent one water tender and a battalion chief to the blaze as part of its mutual aide agreement with Williams Fire Department.

Williams sent two engines, two water tenders, a rescue unit and two chief officers, Brown reported.

Also responding was Lake County Fire Protection District with a water tender and Cal Fire with an engine, according to Brown.

Brown said the tanker was fully involved when the fire units arrival. The truck's aluminum tanks had split open, which he said such tanks are designed to do so an explosion won't result.

Firefighters decided to let the fire burn itself out due to the size, said Brown.

The fire burned a half-acre of grass, but Brown said the biggest concern was the environment, including a small stream just downhill.

Firefighters were successful in keeping the waterway clear because they let the fire burn down before applying about 15 gallons of foam, said Brown.

The roadway was completely closed until 12:30 p.m., when CHP opened the eastbound lane to one-way traffic control.

Caltrans advised that they would be on scene conducting cleanup until about 9 p.m., and advised drivers to expect delays due to continuing traffic control.

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SACRAMENTO – Thirty-six Clear Lake High School students, led by registered nurse Rachelle Maher and three chaperones, recently took a two-and-a-half-hour bus trip to visit the “Bodies Revealed” exhibit in Sacramento.

The exhibit offers an up-close examination of the human body in a manner unique to public display.



The exhibit shows the human body in a number of positions. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


More that 200 separate exhibits ranging from individual internal organs to full-sized examples of the circulatory, skeletal and muscular systems at various stages of dissection are viewable from multiple angles.

The students maneuvered through nine galleries while listening to individual, handheld audio devises that access prerecorded information describing details for each item on display.



Students get an up-close look at the human form. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


The exhibition has been designed to change the way people see themselves.

“The educational impact of the exhibition is immeasurable,” wrote Dr. Roy Glover, chief medical director for Bodies Revealed. “For centuries, the medical community has learned about the inner workings of the human body through the sturdy of real specimens and now it’s possible for the public to gain an intimate knowledge as well.”



A closer look at one of the bodies on exhibit. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


The exhibition concludes its swing through Sacramento on March 31. The hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is located at 2040 Alta Arden Way, Sacramento. Call 1-888-263-4379 for ticket information.



Students take a closer look at human bones. Photo by Harold LaBonte.


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The exhibit looks both at bone structure and musculature. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




The human heart, up close. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



THE GEYSERS – A minor earthquake was felt in The Geysers and Cobb area Thursday afternoon.

The US Geological Survey reported a 3.3 earthquake occurred at 2:04 p.m. It was centered two miles northeast of The Geysers, three miles west of Cobb and six miles west northwest of Anderson Springs.

The earthquake was so shallow that no depth was recorded, according to the USGS.

USGS reports noted that the quake was felt in Middletown, St. Helena and Santa Rosa.

In Cobb, resident Roger Kinney reported feeling the quake. He said the quake's shallowness made it seem like it was much larger.

Kinney also reported feeling three smaller quakes that occurred within minutes of the 3.3 temblor.

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LAKE COUNTY – Officials are reporting that traffic is beginning to move after it was closed down along the Highway 20 corridor into Colusa County due to a truck fire.

The California Highway Patrol reported a big rig tanker on fire shortly before 10 a.m. on Highway 20 one mile west of Mitchell Flats and several miles into the boundaries of Colusa County.

CHP reported that the truck, which was giving off heavy smoke, was completely blocking the highway after the fire began. At least three CHP units were on scene.

Just after 11 a.m. the Chico Dispatch Center reported that the truck – a double tanker carrying 75,000 gallons of kerosene – was “still an active burn” and that it was going to be allowed to burn out.

At shortly before 1 p.m. CHP reported one lane of traffic has been reopened.

Previous to that, traffic was being either turned around or rerouted onto southbound Highway 16 when possible.

Updates will be provided as more information becomes available.

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LAKE COUNTY – The state budget is months away from taking its final form, but a multibillion-dollar deficit anticipated in the 2009-2010 fiscal year and cuts proposed earlier this year have Californians concerned about parks, schools and a variety of other services.

In January Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released his proposed budget, which suggested 10-percent, across-the-board cuts of all state departments.

One of the most shocking proposals contained in Schwarzenegger's severe budget-cutting plan was the closure of 48 state parks, including Clear Lake State Park and Anderson Marsh State Historic Park, as Lake County News has reported.

The future of parks and other critical funding is likely to come into clearer focus later in the spring.

Roy Stearns, spokesman for the State Parks Department, told Lake County News that a lot is riding on the governor's “May revise,” the updated budget document he'll submit shortly.

That document, said Stearns, will be based on additional information the governor has received since his initial budget was released in January. It will the be up to the state Legislature to respond and begin hashing out a final budget.

So far, said Stearns, the parks department hasn't received any indication of what changes might be in store.

If the budget were to pass as it is now written, “We would absolutely be closing some parks,” said Stearns.

“After more than a decade of repeated cuts, all the efficiencies are gone in our department and the only viable alternative is to close some to keep others open and marginally healthy,” he said.

Stearns said the Assembly and the Senate are now holding hearings, and State Parks Director Ruth Coleman and her staff have been before budget committees of both houses at least once. “What we have heard from both Republicans and Democrats is that neither wants to close parks, but so far, there is no clear proposal as to how to fill our $13+ million reduction to not have that happen,” Stearns reported.

Parks officials don't believe they'll actually have to lay off permanent employees, said Stearns. “We have about 300 vacancies in the department and the reductions called for in the present budget proposal would eliminate about 136 positions and we feel we can cut vacancies to keep real people.”

Stearns said that will mean that, in many cases, workers will have to move to an area where there is a park with a vacancy requiring their specific job skills.

Local resources could be lost

Richard Bergstresser is a Humboldt County park ranger and board member with the State Park Peace Officers Association of California, a labor organization representing the state's park rangers and lifeguards.

The closures, said Bergstresser, will take good, well-paying jobs out of the community, and cause upheaval for many longtime parks employees, not to mention the lose of important tourism opportunities.

Local parks Superintendent Jay Sherman said he has four full-time ranger positions, a part-time office assistant and five full-time maintenance personnel. In addition, the parks employ four seasonal maintenance positions and about eight more season visitors services staff who collect entrance fees, and conduct school, campfire and Junior Ranger programs.

Two local field ranger positions are vacant with the December retirements of husband-and-wife team, Tom and Val Nixon. Tom Nixon began work at Clear Lake State Park in 1981; his wife started there seasonally in 1978.

Val Nixon told Lake County News that the park hasn't been able to fill the positions she and her husband held because of a statewide ranger shortage. Instead, a ranger trainee is scheduled to begin at the park in July.

The Nixons now volunteer at Clear Lake State Park. Val Nixon said there were threats before of closures but “we've never seen a list before,” or seen a park closure.

Sherman added that, in his 17 years as a State Parks employee, he hasn't seen closures, although he's seen reduced hours and days that parks were open to the public.

The good thing about the park closure proposal is that it has rallied support for parks, said Nixon. She said she's been pleased to see local residents rally to speak up on behalf of parks.

Sherman agreed. “The community is doing a fantastic job getting the word out.”

However, threatening to close – and actually closing – parks can result, ultimately, in a loss of public support, Nixon said.

The California State Parks Foundation reports that the two local state parks attract nearly 150,000 annual visitors and generate more than $334,000 in revenue – not counting impact on area businesses and the hospitality industry.

Nixon said Clear Lake State Park, especially, is extremely busy during the summer. However, parks are expensive to run and “never run at a profit,” she said.

Sherman added that Clear Lake State Park is popular both for camping and day use, and is widely visited by area residents.

Day use passes at Clear Lake State Park cost $5, $2 at Anderson Marsh, said Nixon. Both parks offer $1 off for seniors.

It was those overly affordable day fees that state Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill proposed last month should be raised in order to keep the parks open.

Hill's office analyzed park user fees and determined that they haven't kept pace with inflation. She suggested increasing park fees, which she estimated could raise $25 million, roughly half of which could be used to offset the closures and the rest could be used to go toward ongoing maintenance.

Sherman said the parks had a small, across-the-board fee increase about four years ago.

Closing the 48 parks would save a mere $8.8 million, a drop in the bucket when looking at the state's budget, said Bergstresser. The costs, he said, could be much higher. “It's going to be a major hit across many sectors of the economy.”

Unforeseen consequences

But Bergstresser pointed to another concern that he says hasn't gotten as much attention – just what will happen to these mothballed parks?

Lake County's parks are under the Northern Buttes District, headquartered in Oroville, said Bergstresser. That would mean already short-staffed parks in Colusa and Oroville would be required to send over staff on an occasional basis to check on Anderson Marsh and Clear Lake State Parks.

The result, he said, would be serious neglect issues, which could lead to vandalism and natural degradation.

Sherman said, in the worst-case scenario of a park closures, he thinks it likely that someone would be left as a caretaker for local park lands.

Once closed, Bergstresser said it's unlikely that the parks could be counted on to either be maintained or reopened, considering a current backlog of $1 billion in deferred maintenance for state parks.

Sherman said deferred maintenance for local parks goes back many years, but recently they've been catching up. They're now finishing up improvement to Clear Lake State Park's day use picnic area and this fall intend to begin upgrades, repairs and replacements to the parks water and wastewater system.

Other planned projects include making the park more accessible under Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and improving Dorn trail, Sherman said.

The Clear Lake State Park Interpretive Association also is raising money to build an education pavilion, he added.

It's hard to know, Bergstresser said, if the closure proposal is just a shot across the bow at the beloved state parks, or if it really will happen.

The “unprecedented” action of park closure was threatened during Gov. Pete Wilson's administration, said Bergstresser.

“State parks, as a whole, have been on a starvation diet for the last 20 years, since the Wilson administration,” he said.

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