Tuesday, 16 July 2024


A dead black bear was found in the marijuana garden near where two men were arrested on Thursday, June 24, 2010, near Kelseyville, Calif. Photo courtesy of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.




KELSEYVILLE – Two Ukiah men were arrested last week after deputies discovered them camping among illicit marijuana garden sites.

Jaime Padilla Busio, 31, and his brother, 37-year-old Benjamin Padilla Busio, were arrested on the morning of June 24, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman said two deputies assigned to special enforcement were conducting surveillance on June 24 on two marijuana grow sites identified a week prior during a helicopter over flight in the Kelsey Creek area of Kelseyville.

After locating two additional grow sites in the area, the deputies found a camp among the grows occupied by the brothers. Bauman said both men were arrested without incident.

During their surveillance, deputies counted and later eradicated a total of 9,209 marijuana plants from four different grow sites maintained by the two men, according to Bauman's reported.

The men had diverted water from Kelsey Creek and dammed the water in some places, and Bauman said bags of fertilizer also were located throughout the creek’s watershed area.

A dead black bear also was located near one of the grow sites, Bauman said. Although the animal appeared to have been dead for only about a week, neither of the men claimed knowledge of how it died.

The Busios were booked at the Lake County Jail on felony charges of cultivating marijuana and possession of marijuana for sale. Bauman said they also were charged with misdemeanor Fish and Game violations relating to diverting and polluting natural water resources.

He said both men remain in custody on a bail of $10,000 each and both have immigration holds in place.

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Deputies found bags of fertilizer throughout the Kelsey Creek watershed area while eradicating illegally grown marijuana on Thursday, June 24, 2010, near Kelseyville, Calif. Photo courtesy of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.




No trespassing signs were found near the illegal marijuana gardens. Photo courtesy of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

The quilt block

HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – A local man died Friday when he pulled out in front of another vehicle while attempting a U-turn on Highway 29 and was broadsided.

James Dyment, 55, of Hidden Valley Lake died at the scene of the crash, which the California Highway Patrol said occurred on Highway 29 north of Grange Road in the Hidden Valley Lake area at about 1:20 p.m.

A family traveling in the second car involved in the crash escaped with minor injuries, according to the CHP report.

Officer Dallas Richey reported that Dyment, who was driving an Acura Integra southbound on the highway, pulled his vehicle onto the right shoulder and began to make a U-turn in the path of a Toyota Camry driven by Michael Damiata, 40, of Lakeport.

Damiata, traveling southbound at 55 miles per hour, didn't have time to brake or take evasive action and the front of his vehicle hit the driver's side of Dyment's car, Richey reported.

Dyment was pronounced dead at the scene, Richey said.

Damiata and family members traveling with him – Rachelle Damiata, 40, and two boys, ages 11 and 9 – were transported to St. Helena Hospital Clearlake where Richey said they were treated for minor injuries, including abrasions.

Richey said neither of the drivers was suspected of driving under the influence, and everyone riding in the two cars were wearing their safety belts.

The south county area also saw another serious crash early Friday afternoon, according to Richey.

That second collision occurred on Highway 175 south of Middletown, where Richey said an elderly woman's vehicle hit a tree, causing the vehicle to flip over.

The woman was flown out to an area hospital, but Richey did not have further details immediately available about the incident or the woman's condition.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

SACRAMENTO – The California Highway Patrol reported that over the weekend two more of its officers died, bringing to five the total of officers who have died in the line of duty in less than two months' time.

Early Sunday morning Officer Justin McGrory, 28, was struck by a motorist as he stood by the side of the road while conducting a traffic stop on Interstate 15 in San Bernardino County, the CHP reported. McGrory, who had been with the CHP for nearly three years, died later at an area hospital.

Later that same day, 48-year-old CHP Officer Brett Oswald, a 20-year CHP veteran, was waiting next to his patrol vehicle while at a collision scene in San Luis Obispo County when he, too, was struck by a vehicle, dying at a hospital later that night.

“No words can describe the loss felt by our department and the families of these fallen heroes,” said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. “As we mourn their recent loss, our brave and dedicated officers vow to honor the memory of their fallen comrades by continuing to carry out the CHP’s mission of providing the highest level of safety, service and security to the motoring public.”

Also lost since the start of May are Officer Daniel Benavides, Officer Thomas P. Coleman and Officer Philip Ortiz.

Benavides, 39, a three-year CHP veteran, was killed May 7 when the Cessna 206 fix winged aircraft he was piloting while patrolling Imperial County crashed near Brawley.

On June 11, Coleman, 33, was riding his CHP motorcycle in San Bernardino County during a pursuit and crashed into the side of a tractor trailer. Coleman, who had served with the CHP for seven years, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Ortiz, 48, was conducting an enforcement stop on the right shoulder of the San Diego Freeway on June 9 when he was struck from behind by a vehicle being driven on the right shoulder of the freeway. As a result of the collision, Officer Ortiz sustained major injuries, and died June 22. He was a 28-year CHP veteran.

The CHP reported that it appreciates the assistance and outpouring of support it’s received from throughout the nation.

For more than 80 years, CHP officers have put their lives on the line to make sure roadways and communities are safe. During that time, 220 uniformed members of the organization have made the ultimate sacrifice in their efforts to make California’s roadways some of the safest in the nation.

“It's times like these that re-emphasize how dangerous this profession is and it strengthens the resolve of the men and women of the CHP,” said California Association of Highway Patrolmen President Rob Nelson. “It is imperative that the loss of these officers serve as a reminder to the public to be cautious when approaching emergency incidents on the highway.”

In 2007, the Move Over, Slow Down law went into effect in California. This law requires a person who is driving a vehicle on a freeway and approaching in a lane immediately adjacent to a stationary authorized emergency vehicle that is displaying emergency lights, or a stopped tow truck that is displaying flashing amber warning lights, to move out of that lane when legal, safe and practicable, or slow to a reasonable and safe speed.

“Many of these tragedies involving our officers and other highway workers and emergency personnel could be avoided,” added Commissioner Farrow. “While the department is committed to the highest level of training for every officer, it is every motorist’s responsibility to drive attentively and exercise caution on the roadway.”

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Winemaker Scott Simkover, owner of Smiling Dog Ranch, took home gold/first place for his Backyard Zin and dry-farmed Merlot, as well as Best in Show for best red wine of the day. He credits vineyard manager Larry Rogers for growing good winegrapes.

Officials display the marijuana seized from 11 individuals who were arrested in the Mendocino National Forest on Aug. 30, 2009. Photo courtesy of the Lake County District Attorney's Office.


LAKEPORT – On Thursday a Santa Rosa man was convicted of numerous charges related to cultivation and sale of illicit marijuana.

A Lake County Jury in Lake County Superior Court Department 3 returned guilty verdicts against Franco Banales-Pacheco for cultivation of marijuana, possession of marijuana for purpose of sale and transportation of marijuana, according to the Lake County District Attorney's Office.

Banales-Pacheco was one of 11 individuals who were arrested in the Mendocino National Forest on Aug. 30, 2009, the district attorney's office reported.

United States Forest Service law enforcement officers, assisted by Lake County Sheriff’s Office personnel, seized approximately 91 pounds of processed marijuana “bud,” 11 pounds of unprocessed marijuana and more than 10 pounds of marijuana seeds from the 11 defendants who were occupying two SUVs driving out of the Snow Mountain Wilderness Area at approximately 3:30 a.m., the report explained.

Forest Service Officer Ben Hughes noted that at the time of the arrest various law enforcement agencies had seized approximately 198,629 marijuana plants within four miles of that location that same year.

Banales-Pacheco was the last remaining defendant to be adjudicated. Two individuals were dealt with in the juvenile system, and eight adults were convicted following guilty pleas, with sentences ranging from probation with county jail to two years in state prison, according to the district attorney's office.

The evidence at trial indicated that the responsible individuals were part of a professional drug trafficking organization utilizing public lands for large scale marijuana grows, the report noted.

Banales-Pacheco is scheduled to be sentenced on July 26.

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COBB – Cobb Mountain Elementary School has once again been honored for its efforts to encourage healthy lifestyles and exercise among its students and the community's members.

The California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports announced that the school was among 127 schools across the state that had been named finalists in the Governor’s Challenge Competition.

“I’m thrilled to be able to recognize Cobb Mountain Elementary School’s efforts,” council Chair Jake Steinfeld said in a written statement on the award.

He thanked Cobb Mountain Elementary Principal Tracy Skeen for stepping up as her school’s Governor’s Challenge coordinator.

“You are clearly passionate about getting your kids active and making sure they eat well and I’m a big believer that passion leads and everything else follows,” said Steinfeld.

With local schools out for summer, Skeen couldn't be reached for comment late last week.

Kenny Rogers, executive director of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, said the council has been administering the Governor’s Challenge Competition for schools in California for five years now.

He said this year was a record-breaking one for the Governor’s Challenge, with more than 1.3 million students from 2,649 schools participating statewide.

More people participated in the California Governor’s Fitness Challenge this year than in all the other 49 states combined, the council reported.

Rogers said the participants recorded more than 11 million days of physical activity in this year's competition.

He said he thinks there are a number of reasons for the large participation this year.

Over the last five years, the competition has increasingly gained traction, and during that time Rogers said the results of physical fitness have been recognized by educators, students, parents and community members.

He said more teachers are seeing the benefits of physical activity on their students' health, self-esteem and academic success.

Last year, the council conducted a study of the entire county of Stanislaus, where the top 15 schools had twice the rate of academic performance improvements as the rest of the state thanks to fitness programs, he said.

Rogers said children's brains are affected by exercise, which he called “medicine.”

He credited Cobb Mountain Elementary for realizing early on the value of physical activity and its benefit for students.

The school joined the fitness competition in 2007, and ever since all of its students have participated, he said.

In the four years that the school has participated in the fitness competition, it has always been an award finalist, which Rogers called “remarkable.”

Last year, the school was named a regional winner and received $5,000, and previously has won three $1,000 Front Runner Awards awards, according to Rogers.

At the same time, Cobb Mountain Elementary has been one of the county's top-performing schools in the annual Academic Performance Index.

In 2009, it had the highest API score in the county, with 880, 48 points higher than the next closest school, according to state records.

Basic participation in the fitness challenges involves taking part in a one-month challenge, after which a person receives a certification of completion. However, Rogers said the real goal is to promote ongoing activity.

Not only can students take part, but staff, faculty, parents and community members are encouraged to get active along with the children. Rogers said.

“That's what we're trying to push, is when people are active together, it makes it more fun,” and Rogers said that will make it a lifelong habit. He credited Skeen, the parents and community for banding together.

Cobb Mountain Elementary had all of its 165 students taking part this year, with 21,490 active student days, according to council records. In addition, 16 other people signed up, for an another 1,312 active days.

Rogers said Cobb Mountain Elementary now goes into the next competition level, which requires they submit an essay to show how they support physical activity. The regional winners will be announced later this year.

Concurrent with the competition, Rogers said the council also is seeking nominations for its Spotlight Awards, which honors teachers and principals and gives winners $10,000 for their schools.

He said the deadline to submit nominations is Wednesday, June 30; see www.calgovcouncil.org/Spotlight/.

For more information about the competition, along with records of participating schools, visit www.calgovcouncil.org.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

Princess Abby, a Chihuahua mix owned by Kathleen Francis of Clearlake, Calif., was named the World's Ugliest Dog at the annual contest at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, Calif., on Friday, June 25, 2010. Photo by Grace Chon of Shine Pet Photos, www.shinepetphotos.com.

PETALUMA – A Chihuahua mix from Clearlake with a hard luck story has become the newest World's Ugliest Dog.

Princess Abby, accompanied by her owner Kathleen Francis, won the 2010 World’s Ugliest Dog Contest before a packed crowd at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma on Friday evening.

Helping her clinch the title was the pooch's hunched and peculiar walk due to her back legs being longer than her front.

Princess Abby also is missing an eye, and had an audience-pleasing ability to dance on her two hind feet for treats.

Francis said that Princess Abby was rescued off of Clearlake's streets five months ago, and was found malnourished and flea-infested.

When Francis spotted her, she promptly adopted her.

“She’s my best friend,” said Francis, who recently fell on hard times and works at a local department store for minimum wage. “Abby’s done more for me that I’ve done for her.”

Event organizers reported that entries in this year's contest were up.




The finalists in the World's Ugliest Dog contest celebrate on Friday, June 25, 2010. Photo by Grace Chon of Shine Pet Photos, www.shinepetphotos.com.



Princess Abby won out over a field of 14 tough competitors, among them past winners Pabst, whose underbite helped him clinch the 2009, and Rascal, who comes from a four-dog family dynasty of winning ugliness and earned the title in 2002 thanks, in part, to his wild hair and protruding tongue.

Chinese Cresteds have dominated the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest in the past decade because of their mohawk hair, toothlessness, protruding tongue, lack of fur revealing often unusual skin and general bumpiness.

This year, however, it was all about Abby, who won the pedigree class before going up against the winner of the mutt division, a terrier mix known as Chopper. Comic and contest emcee Jon Reep said Chopper was so hairy that if he was dropped in the gulf, he’d absorb all the oil himself.

Princess Abby then went on to beat Pabst and Rascal and take home $1,600 in prizes.

The contest had three celebrity judges: television celebrity and vet Karen “Doc” Halligan, HawthoRNe television star Christina Moore, and Vertical Horizon lead singer Matt Scannell in addition to Reep, who emceed. Reep has appeared on numerous comedy shows and was the winner of Last Comic Standing: Season 5.

The contest went an extra 30 minutes but the crowd of 3,000 plus stayed rooted to the spot until Princess Abby was declared the winner.

The contest sponsor was House Of Dog, which provided Princess Abby and Francis with another check for $1,000 and a year round modeling contract.

The Sonoma-Marin Fair has been conducting this contest for 22 years and in the last four years has received international attention for it.

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LAKEPORT – The city of Lakeport is hosting an invasive species boat inspection event on Saturday, July 3.

The event will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Third Street boat ramp in Lakeport.

Hot dogs and sodas will be provided to the first 200 children – under 18 years of age – between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Show your inspection receipt to a participating Main Street business and get a great discount on your next purchase. A list of participating businesses is available on the city’s Web site, www.cityoflakeport.com.

Inspections will be provided free of charge.

Stickers for boats that pass inspection will be available for $7.

A hot water, low pressure cleaning station will be available for boats and/or other watercraft that have been identified as suspect for infestation.

Join the movement to help keep invasive species out of Clear Lake – get your boat inspected July 3.

Visit www.cityoflakeport.com for more information.

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Collecting a sample at the main adit, or entrance, to the Helen Mercury Mine near Middletown, Calif. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.

MIDDLETOWN – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will hold a public meeting this Tuesday, June 29, to discuss the cleanup project for the Helen mercury mine, located near Middletown.

The meeting at Jesus Christ Fellowship, 21443 Pine Road, Middletown, will begin at 7 p.m. and is expected to last until 9 p.m.

The BLM will present the draft final engineering evaluation and cost analysis for the mine, which will identify the agency's preferred alternative for the response actions to be taken at the site, officials reported.

“The meeting will give the public an opportunity to look at the problem of abandoned mercury mines and the alternatives available to reduce or eliminate those problems at these particular mines,” said Gary Sharpe, supervisory resources management specialist in the BLM Ukiah Field Office.

Sharpe said that participants in the meeting will hear a presentation about the site and alternatives available for remediation. There also will be opportunities to ask questions and provide written comments, he said.

The Helen mercury mine is located in the Dry Creek Mining District southwest of Middletown. The mine was worked from 1874 to 1922 for mercury ore.

The mine site includes approximately 100 acres of BLM-administered public land. Mercury-bearing material is exposed in cuts, slopes, open pits, mine retort waste and waste rock piles.

The BLM also announces the availability of the administrative record that contains all documents, including the draft engineering evaluation and cost analysis, that the BLM has used to support its decisions on appropriate response actions taken at the site so far.

The administrative record is available for review during normal business hours, Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at the BLM’s Ukiah Field Office, 2550 N. State St., Ukiah.

The BLM strongly encourages interested members of the public to comment, in writing, on the documents, especially the engineering evaluation and cost analysis, contained in the administrative record.

All comments must be received in writing on or before July 17 to be considered and responded to in the final engineering evaluation and cost analysis decision. The comment period began June 18.

A BLM page on the site can be found at www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/prog/aml/project_page/helen.html.

Comments can be provided at the public meeting, through the BLM’s Web site at www.ca.blm.gov/ukiah, by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., by fax to 707-468-4027, or by mail to BLM Ukiah Field Office, 2550 N. State St., Ukiah, Calif., 95482.

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Some of the delicious raspberries grown at Love Farms on Cobb Mountain. Photo by Esther Oertel.


If I were asked to create my ultimate fantasy meal, raspberries would be prominently featured. The mere thought of such succulent globes of ruby sweetness makes me salivate.

Imagine standing on rich volcanic soil at the base of Cobb Mountain in the midst of lush potato leaves, an array of lettuces and miniature plum trees. It’s an unusually temperate Lake County summer day and the breeze wafts around you. In your view are gently sloping hills, a blue afternoon sky and little puffs of white cloud.

Someone ahead of you turns, offering a bright ripe berry in their outstretched hand. You take it, gratefully, and place it on your tongue. As the berry crushes in your mouth, a grenade of sweet flavor bursts inside your head.

The rest of the afternoon you can’t stop thinking of the rare taste of that fresh plucked berry.

That was me on Monday at Love Farms, where it took quite a bit of self control to refrain from picking the dozens – if not hundreds – of raspberries I passed after Teale Love handed me that fateful first berry.

Oh yes, we moved on and talked about his lettuces, fruit trees and chickens, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those incredible raspberries. So here I am, days later, with raspberries on my mind. Thankfully, I can write about them for you.

The Love Farms raspberries will last another few weeks. If, like me, you’re in the mood for some, be sure to visit his booth early on farmers’ market days. He’ll be in Lakeport’s Library Park Wednesday evening and at Kelseyville’s Steele Winery Saturday morning.

Eat some for me – please! – and put me out of my raspberry induced misery.

This seemingly simple berry is a powerhouse of antioxidants. They’re also packed full of folic acid, vitamin C, B vitamins and dietary fiber, among other nutrients.

Research shows that raspberries possess almost 50 percent higher antioxidant activity than strawberries, three times that of kiwis, and 10 times the antioxidant activity of tomatoes, each of which are themselves a good source of antioxidants.

If antioxidants can be described as shields against the free radicals that cause damage to our cells, then raspberries are mighty strong warriors wielding them!

Berries, including raspberries, are increasingly viewed as having a profound impact against the diseases of aging, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, macular degeneration and age-related mental decline.

If you eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away, it would be prudent to consider including a bowl of raspberries in your daily regimen, as well.

An individual raspberry is actually a group of little fruits (also called drupelets), each bearing seeds. The seeds provide most of the fiber in raspberries, which are rightly considered a fiber dense fruit, as over 30 percent of our daily requirement for fiber is contained in a mere cup of them.

And they are every bit as tasty as they are healthy!

There is no more perfect way, in my humble opinion, to eat raspberries than fresh out of hand. Having said that, I concede that raspberries are a delicious addition to many recipes.

When I was a girl, our family restaurant served peach melba, a popular dessert at the time. Vanilla ice was topped by peaches, which, in turn, were topped by raspberry sauce.

A simple fresh raspberry sauce is a wonderful tool to have in your dessert arsenal. Below I share a recipe for raspberry coulis made with fresh berries. (“Coulis” is a French word for sauce or puree, and is pronounced cool-LEE.)

Since raspberries pair well with chocolate (both dark and white), imagine this fragrant, delicious sauce draped over vanilla ice cream on a chocolate brownie, or over a white chocolate mousse or cheesecake.

As a culinary aside, when making your mousse or cheesecake, it is important to use real white chocolate, which is made with cocoa butter. Cheap imitations contain no cocoa products and use hydrogenated oils or palm oil instead. It may look like a similar product, but the flavor and texture is not the same.

Almonds also pair well with raspberries; hence a perfect trio of flavor is created when raspberry coulis is drizzled over a chocolate-almond torte or a chocolate mousse flavored with a bit of almond extract.

An alternative is to flavor whipped cream with almond extract and top the mousse and coulis with it, then finish the dish with slivered almonds.

Lemon is another happy match for raspberries, and the coulis is delicious over lemon cheesecake or a lemony custard.

A summertime take on traditional peach melba is to spread fresh peach halves with a mixture of melted butter and brown sugar and grill them. Then create your dessert using the grilled peaches.

Fresh raspberries freeze well and can be used to make a raspberry granita. (Granita is the Italian version of ice or sorbet and generally has large, crunchy crystals.)

Use about 1 ½ pints (roughly 12 ounces) raspberries that have been frozen fresh. In a blender or food processor, blend with sugar, honey or agave syrup to taste, about half a cup juice (such as cranberry-raspberry) and the zest and juice of a lemon.

Place mixture in a zipper-sealed bag and lay it flat in the freezer. Every 30 minutes or so until granita is completely frozen, squeeze the bag to break up large ice crystals.

Break up mixture a bit with a fork before serving this rustic-looking, refreshing summertime dessert.

What about dishes other than dessert?

Try fresh raspberries in a salad with butter lettuce, grapefruit sections, watercress or arugula and avocado. Top with a drizzle of sweet vinegar and mild oil.

Brush chicken or pork with a raspberry glaze the last 15 minutes it’s on the grill. To make a sweet-tart glaze, heat fresh raspberries with vinegar, water, diced shallots, brown sugar, dry mustard, a few grinds of black pepper and salt to taste. Simmer until the shallots are tender, about 15 minutes.

Or make a raspberry salsa by adding jicama, apples, jalapeno peppers, green onions, raspberry vinegar and grated ginger to fresh raspberries for sweet-spicy-tangy accompaniment to meats, fresh fruit and cheese.

Doesn’t a cold fruit soup sound refreshing for a hot Lake County summer day? To make a simple soup with fresh raspberries, heat them with a bit of water, honey to taste, lemon zest and a cinnamon stick until barely hot. Add sliced fresh peaches and other fruit as desired, such as pineapple or apple, and chill until cool. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche.

If I’m placing my order for my ultimate meal, in addition to all those wonderful fresh raspberries, I’d choose grilled wild salmon, asparagus, garlic mashed potatoes and my mother’s chocolate mousse. How about you?

On a personal note, I’ll be doing a culinary demo at the farmers’ market at Clearlake’s Redbud Park this Friday, July 2 (watch for me near the Lake County Community Co-op booth), and I’ll be teaching on the culinary uses of lavender at Chic Le Chef in Hidden Valley Lake on Sunday afternoon, July 11.

Raspberry coulis

Makes about 1 cup

2 cups fresh raspberries (when out of season, frozen will do)

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Bring berries and sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until mixture starts to thicken, about 15 minutes.

Press mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, using a spatula to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard seeds and skins. Stir in 1 tbsp lemon juice.

Taste and add more lemon juice or sugar, if desired.

Coulis may be served warm or at room temperature.

Esther Oertel, the "Veggie Girl," is a personal chef and culinary coach and is passionate about local produce. Oertel owns The SageCoach Personal Chef Service and teaches culinary classes at Chic Le Chef in Hidden Valley Lake. She welcomes your questions and comments; e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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People who receive personal injury or medical malpractice awards usually do so in the form of structured settlements – usually annuities).

Structured settlements ensure that the beneficiary receives his or her payments gradually over their expected lifetime.

Often persons receiving the injury awards are already receiving needs-based government benefits, such as SSI and/or Medi-Cal.

In such cases, a special needs trust is usually established to receive all payments that would otherwise go directly to the beneficiary. The structured settlement and the special needs trust work together. Let us examine how this works.

A structured settlement turns a lump sum settlement award into a secure and steady stream of income for the disabled person’s lifetime.

Typically, some, or all of the settlement award is used to purchase an annuity contract that provides a steady stream of income.

When a special needs trust is in existence, the income payments are paid to the trustee of that trust and not to the beneficiary, so as to protect the needs-based government benefits.

The risk with investing the entire lump sum award into a structured settlement is the inflexibility of the structured settlement and the eroding effect that inflation has on fixed incomes.

If money is needed to make a large purchase or to pay for an emergency expense, the structured settlement is unavailable, except to the extent of the fixed payments – which may not be enough.

Also, the rising cost of living eats away at the purchasing value of the structured settlement’s fixed income payments.

Any modest index for inflation doesn’t usually keep pace with inflation, which often results in a declining standard of living for the beneficiary.

Accordingly, a proper balance must be struck between how much of the settlement award goes toward funding the structured settlement, and how much goes directly into the special needs trust.

Structured settlements are complex and often involve a life care planner, an independent financial planner, and a structured settlement broker, all working together.

Any remaining portion of the award that is not invested in the structured settlement is assigned to to the trustee of the special needs trust.

The purpose of the special needs trust is to preserve the needs-based government benefits that would otherwise be lost if the beneficiary received the money directly, instead of being received by the trustee.

The trustee of the special needs trust has absolute discretion over whether, how and when to use the trust’s funds to supplement the government benefits being received by the person with special needs. Otherwise, the trust funds would be considered available and countable resources for purposes of continued eligibility to receive, or to qualify for needs based government benefits.

Giving the trustee a portion of the lump sum settlement award up front –with the remainder placed into the structured settlement – allows the trustee more money on hand to meet the beneficiary’s immediate needs at the outset.

The trustee could then buy a home, purchase a van that is modified for persons with disabilities, and deal with emergency needs.

In addition, the trustee could invest some of that money into other investments that might partially offset the effects of inflation associated with fixed income payments.

In conclusion, careful consideration and planning for the immediate and future needs of the special needs beneficiary are necessary at the time before the personal injury award settlement is committed to a structured settlement.

Reaching the correct solution requires enlisting the assistance of professionals with whom the trial attorney that won the settlement award may or may not be used to dealing.

Engaging a special needs trust attorney is, therefore, advisable in order to bring in the necessary expertise.

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

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Upcoming Calendar

07.16.2024 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Lakeport City Council
07.17.2024 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Free veterans dinner
07.18.2024 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Clearlake City Council
07.20.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.23.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park
07.24.2024 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
ReCoverCA Homebuyer Assistance Workshop
07.24.2024 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
ReCoverCA Homebuyer Assistance Workshop
07.24.2024 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
ReCoverCA Homebuyer Assistance Workshop
07.27.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
07.30.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at Library Park

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