Sunday, 21 April 2024

News

SACRAMENTO – Based off of his “four-legged stool” blueprint, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an historic budget package on Friday that aims to solve California’s $42 billion deficit.


Schwarzenegger's office said that the bipartisan budget package takes the necessary steps to reduce spending, bring in new revenue, improve the business climate and create jobs, and make government more efficient.


First District Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) voted for the package, which he called “a compromise of deep cuts and revenue increases that required both sides of the aisle to make concessions.”


Said Chesbro, “The cuts we made are the most severe in the history of California budgets. All Californians will be asked to make sacrifices, either in the form of service cuts or paying a little more in taxes to return our state to solvency. If we had not acted on this solution now – if we had waited any longer – the pain for all Californians would have been worse.”


Chesbro said he doesn't like taxes, or cutting spending on education and other vital programs. “But the Legislature had to act now,” he said, explaining that failure to act would have jeopardized California’s eligibility for federal economic stimulus funds. Thousands more Californians employed in the public and private sector would have lost their jobs as one project after another was shut down, he added.


On Friday Schwarzenegger used his line item veto authority to cut $958 million from the 2009-10 budget's general fund.


Those line item cuts include at least a 10-percent reduction to most of the constitutional offices; replacing general fund appropriations with federal funds that the state otherwise would not receive for higher education; and, finding additional savings within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.


Other features of the budget include a strengthening of the rainy-day fund, opening up of primary elections and elimination of legislative pay raises during deficit years.


“We have achieved a great victory for California today,” Schwarzenegger said. “By staying focused on what was best for the people of our state and not the special interests, we were able to come together and solve our $42 billion deficit and also find meaningful and lasting solutions to our broken budget system.”


Despite having to make some tough decision, the state is “back on the best path forward,” said Schwarzenegger. “We will continue to work with our most important partners – the people of our great state – to ensure we never again face the kind of catastrophic budget scenario we experienced this year.”


The budget includes $14.9 billion in spending reductions, Schwarzenegger's office reported.


The reduction from most constitutional officers’ budgets, which resulted from the line item veto, will achieve $47 million in savings, according to the governor.


He added that the cut to the constitutional officers' budgets reflects equity among all executive branch agencies for the state employee compensation reductions within the budget through furloughs, elimination of positions, overtime reform and reducing paid state holidays. The constitutional officers will have the flexibility to implement the savings within their own offices.


Higher education will receive federal funding to replace general fund monies in the amount of $255 million each to the University of California and California State University systems. Additional savings of $400 million will come from California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation through continued reforms and other cost saving measures that will not jeopardize public safety.


The budget includes temporary revenue increases totaling $12.5 billion through a one-cent increase in the state sales tax, an increase in the vehicle license fee to one percent and an increase in the personal income tax that federal stimulus funding will likely help offset. The vehicle license fee will also include an additional ongoing 0.15 percent increase that will be dedicated to local law enforcement programs. Additionally, the state will bring in revenue through modernizing the state lottery and bringing in $5 billion in 2009-10 that will offset the need for additional tax increases or program cuts.


Chesbro said the budget package he voted for will have a far less negative impact on the First Assembly District than what the governor had originally proposed.


He said the Legislature saved the rural sheriffs program and greatly reduced the impacts of deferred payments to county services. They also saved the California Conservation Corps., minimized cuts to education spending and made sure schools will be repaid in the future. Schools also received greater flexibility in how they spend state funds, and cuts to health and human services were limited.


Without the budget solution, Chesbro said veterans would have been among those to suffer first and most severely. “The state was in real jeopardy of losing federal funds needed to care for those who served in the armed forces and fought for our freedom.”


Chesbro said the budget sought to keep the state's workforce intact. The vast services those workers provide includes everything from ensuring environmental protections, to building transportation projects, to helping people file unemployment claims, to fighting wildfires.


The governor said he fought hard to include needed economic stimulus to help create jobs and boost the state's economy at the same time as the budget asks Californians to pay more in taxes while reducing their services.


The budget includes incentives and gives a competitive edge to companies that are creating jobs for Californians and to encourage companies to expand in and relocate to California. Also, a “new hire” tax incentive will target small businesses that create new California jobs in the coming two years – when we need them most, officials reported.


The package also provides for more public-private partnerships and design build authority to create more jobs and build projects quicker and more cost-effectively for the taxpayer. As well as, incentives to lure television and movie production back to California.


Other budget highlights include flexibility for categorical education funding allow local schools and districts to use it as they see best fit to serve children and keep more money in the classroom. And the state will move forward this year to reorganize its IT functions to save an estimated $1.5 billion over the first five years and creates a new streamlined, cabinet-level office for the state’s energy-related functions helping California focus on energy stability and eliminating redundancy.


Schwarzenegger's office reported that one item of importance to the governor – that was highlighted among his campaign promises – was that the rainy-day fund, or the budget stabilization account, will be increased and reformed making budget spending more predictable and stable.


Additionally, through the budget package, Californians will have the opportunity to enact true reforms for the state including open primaries to provide more moderate candidates and eliminating pay raises for elected officials when California is spending more money than it is taking in.


The structural changes to put California back on track will go before voters. Schwarzenegger said he intends to form a partnership with the people to pass these ballot initiatives.


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MIDDLETOWN – Budget cuts are affecting school districts all over Lake County, and a planning session held last week by the Middletown Unified School District Governing Board aimed to consider solutions to the shortfalls ahead.

The board met Feb. 11 for their annual strategic planning event to gather input on the direction for the district, according to district Superintendent Korby Olson.

With the long range forecast for the budget looking bleak, ways to save money while still providing high quality learning dominated the discussion, Olson said.

Olson said the school site councils from all of the schools and some other individuals were invited to attend the meeting and look at several key areas including, school configuration, fiscal solvency, educational options, student learning, technology projects and facilities.

The topic of school configuration was a discussion focus. Olson said ideas ranged from closing schools to grade reconfiguration to maximize resources. The fate of Cobb Elementary and Minnie Cannon Elementary were both discussed as the group grappled with the expense of operating small schools.

Olson said no decisions were made at the meeting, but the sentiment was clear that other options for decreasing costs should be considered before closing schools.

Cobb has been among the highest performing schools in the region and the top performer in Lake County since the Academic Performance Index was introduced, Olson said. A new school facility for Minnie Cannon is in the planning stages, so closing either school is no longer being considered.

Another topic of note was a discussion of increasing the Middletown High School graduation requirements to align with the requirements for admission to the University of California and California State University systems. Olson said several other districts in the state have made this move to assure that all students who graduate have the option to attend a university.

The board looked at other cost saving and revenue generating ideas, including charging a fee for bus transportation. Olson said the board has considered charging fees for bus rides in the past, but felt that they had not had enough input from parents on the topic to consider this option.

In other action, newly appointed Board member Lynette Carrillo took the oath of office.

Olson said the planning meeting took the place of the regular business meeting, so a board meeting was scheduled for Feb. 25 in the Middletown multi-use room at 7 p.m. Middletown Unified School District is located at 20932 Big Canyon Road. For more information call the district at 987-4100 or visit www.middletownusd.org.

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LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's congressman said Friday that the economic stimulus bill will benefit not just the nation by the North Coast in the effort to get the sluggish economy revitalized. {sidebar id=122}

Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) spoke with a group of North Coast journalists Friday, shortly before the House of Representatives voted 246 to 183 to pass the updated version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (H.R. 1), which will spend $787 billion on the nation's recovery.

But the bill didn't meet the approval of Republicans and wasn't unanimously accepted among all Democrats in Congress.

 

In the House, no Republicans voted for the bill, and seven Democrats crossed the aisle to vote against it, with one Democrat not voting at all.

The bill had passed through a conference committee to work out the differences between previously approved versions of the bill that had passed through the House and Senate.

On Friday evening, the Senate also approved the updated version of the bill on a vote of 60 to 38. There were three Republicans who voted for it, with unanimous support from Senate Democrats.

Thompson, who would cast his aye vote a short time after the teleconference, said the bill is designed to jump-start the economy through a variety of measures – tax benefits for families and small businesses, substantial investment in infrastructure and innovation, and job creation.

It's important to move quickly, he said. “We've got a situation where the economy is hemorrhaging jobs – thousands of jobs – as we speak.”

The stimulus bill is supposed to create three to four million jobs, give $116 billion in tax cuts to 95 percent of working families and shift the economy to a basis of renewable energy through $50 billion in new funding and tax incentives, according to Thompson. Another $110 billion would repair and modernize roads, bridges, transit and waterways.

“It helps California a lot,” he said.

The state stands to receive $26 billion from the recovery package, to be used for everything from roads and bridges to upgrading schools, Thompson explained.

A bill analysis found it will create 400,000 jobs in California and 8,000 just in his district alone.

Thompson's district includes Lake, Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino and Napa counties, and portions of Sonoma and Yolo counties. Of those, the most recent unemployment report, which covers December 2008, has Lake with the highest unemployment, 13.1 percent, an 11-year high, as Lake County News has reported.

“We need to do this and we need to do it quick,” he said.

Thompson helped draft key energy tax provisions, including a new investment tax credit for facilities to manufacture green technologies in America rather than shipping those manufacturing jobs overseas.  The provisions also will provide grants to incentivize businesses to invest in renewable technology today, rather than waiting until the economy improves.

He also was able to secure several key provisions in the final stimulus bill that will make crucial investments in green energy technology and led efforts to provide $4.6 billion in critical funding for the Army Corps of Engineers, which he said was left out of the original bill, prompting him to write to President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The provisions he authored would make it easier for state and local governments to finance the purchase of solar systems and will have access to $2.4 billion in new energy conservation bonds to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill includes $287 billion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses, which Thompson said accounted for 38-percent of the bill.

Projects Thompson listed that would be important for his North Coast district include work on the Sacramento Delta levee system and the silted-in Crescent City Harbor in Del Norte, as well as the Napa River, which flooded in late December 2005 and early January 2006 and caused more than $115 million in damage to Napa and the surrounding communities.

Thompson, who said he went to each of the counties in his district to ask them for a list of “shovel-ready” projects, didn't have a current list of projects that would take place in Lake County, but he'll work with the county on such a list.

County Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Cox said Friday that local officials don't yet know how the county may benefit from the package.

For the folks on Main Street, there will be a reduction in capital gains tax on the sale of small businesses, businesses would be eligible for new vehicle sales tax deductions, and individuals also will be assisted in purchasing solar energy equipment.

Individual taxpayers could see up to $400 in tax cuts on their tax bill, or $800 for couples, said Thompson. Anyone subject to the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is set to expire – about 28 million people nationwide, or 50,000 people in the First Congressional District – would see tax relief.

The bill also includes $7.2 billion to expand broadband Internet access in rural and underserved areas.

“It's real short in regard to what we need,” Thompson said.

That money will be spent in a few ways, he explained. For one, it will be used to expand broadband in rural areas where it's already used. It also will be installed in areas where it isn't already present.

“It's certainly good for rural America, that's where the holes are,” said Thompson. “It will help our district a lot.”

He and Rep. Anna Eschoo, a Bay Area colleague in California's Congressional Delegation, both wanted to see more done on behalf of broadband expansion in the bill, but there wasn't enough room to add the money needed.

Thompson said he and Eschoo plan to soon introduce legislation that would use bond funding to continue the broadband expansion effort.

Republicans maintain skepticism on stimulus package

Speaking on the floor of the House Friday, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) spoke against the stimulus bill, saying that the GOP's economic recovery plan would create twice as many jobs at half the cost as the Democrats' plan.

“When you look at some of the spending in this bill, it will do nothing about creating jobs in America,” Boehner said. “Tell me spending $50 million for some salt marsh mouse in San Francisco is going to help a struggling auto worker in Ohio? Tell me how spending $8 billion in this bill to have a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and Las Vegas is going to help the construction worker in my district.”

He also criticized passage of the bill when he said that not one member of the House had time to read all 1,100 pages before the vote.

Boehner said Republicans have been excluded from the process altogether, and their ideas about how to solve the crisis were ignored.

US Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) spoke against the bill on the Senate floor Friday.

“This isn’t Monopoly money. It’s real. It adds up – and it has to be paid back, by our children and by their children. And the American people still don’t have the facts about the total cost,” he said.

McConnell said it isn't timely, targeted or temporary, three critical points that he said the president's own top economist outlined for the stimulus.

The bill contains an extraordinary sum of money that deserves an extraordinary level of scrutiny, McConnell said, adding that it's laden with pork, including $300 million for new government cars, $50 million for out-of-work artist and $165 million to maintain and build fish hatcheries.

Thompson dismissed such criticisms. “The Republicans have had every opportunity to participate in this,” he said. “I don't think there's been any shortage of effort in trying to work with Republicans.”

The American people want members of Congress to work together, said Thompson.

He contrasted the president's bipartisan efforts with those employed by the previous administration, recalling a meeting between the Blue Dog Coalition – a group of moderate and conservative Democrats, of which Thompson is a member – and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Thompson said Cheney told the group, “You all seem like nice guys, but we don't need you.”

Arguments over waste

Thompson also challenged the assertions that the bill is filled with pork and earmarks.

“There aren't any earmarks that jump out at me,” said Thompson. “The president has said that he didn't want any earmarks in the bill.”

An analysis of the House version of the bill by FactCheck.org found it essentially earmark-free, although the Senate version contained several items that could be considered pork – such as $198 million in benefits for Filipino veterans and $500 million for National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Md. (For the full analysis, see FactCheck.org: A look at claims about the stimulus bill.)

Still, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste issued a statement Thursday urging Congress to vote against the stimulus bill.

“The compromise bill yielded little improvement for taxpayers,” said council President Tom Schatz. “In exchange for a paltry extra $13 a week in tax relief, Congress is saddling American families with thousands of dollars a month in new spending obligations and huge interest payments on the national debt going forward indefinitely.”

Schatz said there were no efforts to address the mismanaged and unnecessary  programs that waste billions of dollars every year.

Not everyone in Congress is perfectly happy with the bill, Thompson said. “You can put me on that list.”

He wasn't, for example, happy to see a $15,000 first-time homebuyer credit in the House's original version of the bill reduced to $8,000 in the final version. The first bill also included stronger language on school construction, which he said was a deal breaker for some in the Senate who didn't think anything should be done in the way of building new school facilities.

However, Thompson said, “There's enough in this bill to like.”

On Saturday, President Obama said he plans to sign the bill shortly.

Obama said the money must be spent “unprecedented accountability, responsibility and transparency.” he said he's asked his cabinet and staff “to set up the kind of management, oversight, and disclosure that will help ensure that, and I will challenge state and local governments to do the same.”

Soon to be launched is a new Web site, www.recovery.gov, which will allow Americans to see where the money is going and to offer comments and ask questions, said the president.

“Ultimately, this is your money, and you deserve to know where it’s going and how it’s spent,” he said.

Obama said he plans to introduce a proposal that involves restoring discipline to the federal budgeting process.

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

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THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED; THE US GEOLOGICAL SURVEY HAS UPGRADED THIS QUAKE FROM 3.3 TO 3.7 MAGNITUDE.

 

THE GEYSERS – A 3.7-magnitude earthquake hit The Geysers area early Friday morning.

The quake occurred at 2:29 a.m., and was centered one mile north of The Geysers, five miles west southwest of Cobb and seven miles west northwest of Anderson Springs, according to the US Geological Survey.

The US Geological Survey report noted that the quake was recorded at a depth of 1.4 miles.

Residents of Kelseyville and Cobb reported feeling the quake, which also was felt as far away as El Cerrito and San Francisco, according to the US Geological Survey's shake reports.

The last earthquake measuring 3.0 or above reported in Lake County occurred on Jan. 22, measured 3.0 on the Richter scale and was centered one mile northwest of The Geysers, as Lake County News has reported.

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

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CLEARLAKE OAKS – A Nice man was arrested following a collision Sunday on charges that he was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana.


The California Highway Patrol reported that 19-year-old Ricardo Medina was arrested following the crash, which occurred at 10 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 15.


Medina was driving his 1991 Red Chevy Blazer westbound on Highway 20 east of Mitchell Road in Clearlake Oaks, while 57-year-old Pamela Joseph of Clearlake Oaks was driving her 1994 green Ford Explorer eastbound on Highway 20, the CHP reported.


The CHP report said Medina was unable to negotiate a right curve in the road and crossed into the eastbound lane and struck Joseph’s vehicle head-on.


Both vehicles sustained major damage and came to rest blocking the westbound lane, according to the CHP.


Joseph sustained major non-life threatening injuries while Medina only sustained minor injuries. The CHP said both parties were taken to Sutter Lakeside Hospital by Northshore Fire Protection District ambulance.


Medina is suspected to have been under the influence of alcohol and marijuana at the time of collision and was booked into the Lake County Jail after being released from the hospital, the CHP reported.


CHP Officer Joseph Wind is investigating the incident.


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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009 has gone through different versions as the two houses of Congress have considered and debated it, and a new analysis shows that, while some of its tax-saving provisions have been scaled back, taxpayers should still see numerous tax breaks.


The tax and accounting arm of Thomson Reuters, the New York-based news organization, analyzed the various versions of the bill and arrived at the following list of tax breaks which survived the negotiations process to make it into the final version.


Jim Seidel, chief tax analyst from the Tax & Accounting business of Thomson Reuters, said were some significant changes in the House and Senate bills.


What follows are some highlights of what survived, which is expected to be signed soon by President Barack Obama.


AMT patch. Only the Senate bill included the one-year AMT “patch,” without which millions more people would have been hit with the dreaded alternative minimum tax for 2009. This version survived; the patch will be in place for 2009.


Homebuyer credit. The House provision basically won out over the Senate's; it removes the repayment requirement and bumped up the refundable first-time homebuyer credit to $8,000, unless the home is resold within 36 months of purchase. This would apply for homes bought after 2008 and before Dec. 1, 2009.


Breaks for new car buyers. For tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2008, the Recovery Act adds an increased standard deduction for state or local sales or excise taxes imposed on the purchase of a new motor vehicle. Only taxes on up to $49,500 ($24,750 for a married person filing separately) of the purchase price may be deducted. The deduction phases out between modified AGI between $125,000 and $135,000 ($250,000 and $260,000 on a joint return). The deduction is available for the purchase of a new passenger automobile or light truck with a gross vehicle rating of not more than 8,500 pounds, or a motorcycle or motor home.


New credit for workers. Both bills contained a new refundable tax credit, which in the final version has been reduced to 6.2 percent of earned income up to a maximum credit of $400 for individuals and $800 for working families. The credit starts to phase out at income levels (AGI) above $75,000 ($150,000 for joint filers). (In the earlier versions, the maximum credit was $500 for singles or $1,000 for couples.) The credit, which will apply for 2009 and 2010 only, can be claimed as a reduced amount of income tax wage withholding, or through a credit on a tax return.


Said Seidel, “It is anticipated that taxpayers' reduced tax liability under the provision will be quickly implemented through revised income tax withholding tables produced by IRS.”


Economic recovery payments. While not technically a tax provision, only the Senate bill had a one-time payment of $300 for retirees, disabled individuals, Social Security beneficiaries, SSI recipients, and veterans receiving veterans' disability compensation and pension benefits. Now, it's $250 instead of $300, with an analogous provision to give the same amount to certain government retirees who are not eligible for Social Security benefits. Any amount received under this provision reduces the amount available under the above workers' credit.


Expanded earned income tax credit (EITC). Both the Senate and House agreed to expand EITC, and the end result is a temporary increase to the EITC to 45 percent of the family's first $12,570 of earned income for families with three or more children for 2009 and 2010. For example, in 2009, taxpayers with three or more qualifying children may claim a credit of 45 percent of earnings up to $12,570, resulting in a maximum credit of $5,656.50. The Recovery Act also increases the beginning point of the phase-out range for all married couples filing a joint return (regardless of the number of children) by $1,880.


New education tax credit. Both the Senate and House bills expanded the HOPE education tax credit for 2009 and 2010, making it available for four years of post-secondary education instead of only two at a rate of up to $2,500 of the cost of tuition and related expenses per year (100 percent of the first $2,000 of expenses and 25 percent of the next $2,000). The final version also makes 40 percent of the credit (i.e., a maximum of $1000) refundable. The credit phase-out threshold also has increased to over $80,000 ($160,000 for joint filers), making it more available than before to higher income taxpayers.


Computers as an education expense. The Senate bill, but not the House bill, allowed computer technology and equipment to qualify as an education expense that can be paid from a Code Sec. 529 plan for 2009 and 2010. This provision survives in the final version.


Unemployment compensation exclusion. Only the Senate bill provides a temporary suspension of federal income tax on the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits received in 2009. This provision also survived.


Transportation fringe benefits. Only the Senate bill increased the maximum monthly exclusion for employer-provided transit and vanpool benefits (currently $120) to the same level as the exclusion for employer-provided parking (currently $230). That provision remains in the final version.


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The Big Sulfur Creek fish ladder is meant to help steelhead migrate the waters more easily. Photo courtesy of Calpine.

 

 

MIDDLETOWN – Earth-friendly technologies and sustainable ways of supporting energy and business were a theme in Lake County on Thursday.


In the morning, Congressman Mike Thompson was on hand for the dedication of the county's solar array near Lakeport. Then, on Thursday afternoon, he made the trip to the Calpine Visitors Center, where he was honored by Calpine, which named a new fish ladder on Big Sulfur Creek in his honor.


Supervisors Jim Comstock and Jeff Smith, as well as state and federal officials, were on hand for the presentation at the Calpine Visitors Center.


The Big Sulfur Creek fish passage project is a joint project between Calpine, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Game.


Completed last October, the fish ladder was shaped to create stable streaming flow conditions along its margins at moderate to high water levels. It includes ladder steps designed to provide juvenile fish passage at lower flows, and allows upstream fish migration over a wider range of stream flows compared to traditional fish ladders.


Calpine spent six years working on the project, beginning in 2001, said Calpine Senior Vice President Mike Rogers.


“This really is an exceptional example of sustainability,” said Rogers, who added that it's an example of industry and government coming together on an important project.


The company had been meeting with officials from state Fish and Game when the subject of Russian River steelhead came up, Rogers said. The fish were having trouble migrating through a part of the river.


Specifically, a road crossing on The Geysers property, consisting of a triple concrete box culvert, was found to be a partial barrier to fish migrating upstream, according to a Calpine report.


So began what would be years of what Rogers called “formidable tasks” – from studying the stream to designing a project, getting complex permits and diverting the stretch of river while the fish ladder was constructed, said Rogers.


The end result was unobstructed, year-around access to the largest suitable spawning and rearing habitat on Big Sulfur Creek – one of the largest tributaries to the Russian River – above the confluence with Squaw Creek, according to Calpine.


Officials explained that steelhead trout spawn from December through April in coarse gravel areas of small streams and tributaries where cool, well-oxygenated water is available year-round.


David White of NOAA explained that the steelhead is a threatened species, and Big Sulfur Creek is a unique habitat. The fish ladder maximizes the amount of habitat available in the river, he said.


To underline the project's importance, White explained that the Russian River's steelhead runs were estimated to have 65,000 fish in the 1970s. In recent years, that number has plummeted to between 3,000 and 6,000 steelhead.


The reduction in habitat and dewatering of stream tributaries were devastating the steelhead population, White said.


But there's hope that the steelhead – which is very sensitive to environmental conditions – will come back. White said two adult steelhead were found at the project site, along with close to 2,400 juveniles. They also found 1,000 yellow-legged frog tadpoles, two California giant salamanders and about 1,000 red-legged salamander larvae.


The creek is home to a very rich assembly of California native fishes, said White.


Rogers paid tribute to Thompson, who was on the short list of candidates considered to lead the federal Department of the Interior.


Thompson lauded the work of the NOAA scientists, who he said are doing good scientific work for the government.


He said fish are an environmental canary in the mine shaft.


“If the fish aren't living where they're supposed to be living, something is wrong,” said Thompson.


Thompson recalled that he and Calpine go back a long way.


While he was in the state Legislature in the 1990s, the effort got under way to put in place Lake County's effluent pipeline to The Geysers – where the treated wastewater is injected into the steamfields to help generate geothermal power.


Thompson was elected to Congress in 1998 and when he got to Washington, DC, he started working on the pipeline issue. It was placed in a bill but the Army Corps of Engineers said it would not allow the project even if the bill was approved.


“I was up against the wall,” said Thompson.


He said he received a call from a White House staffer asking if he was still going to support the bill in which the pipeline was included, and Thompson said no.


A short time later he got a call from the President Bill Clinton asking why he was changing his vote.


Thompson said he told Clinton about Lake County's pipeline and the problems he was having with the Army Corps of Engineers.


“It is so, so wonderful when you're needed,” said Thompson, recalling how the problem was suddenly solved and the pipeline was allowed to go forward.


“Renewable energy is so important to us and our future,” Thompson said.


He said he hopes to see the steelhead numbers recover after a 90-percent drop in fish numbers since the 1960s.


For the First Congressional District, steelhead and salmon are a big part of the economy, heritage and culture, Thompson said.


A trip had been planned to go to the fish ladder, but Calpine officials said concerns about a rock slide on the road preempted the trip. Instead, visitors were taken up to see The Geysers site.


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

 

 

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From left, District 1 Supervisor Jim Comstock, David White of NOAA, Congressman Mike Thompson, Calpine Senior Vice President Mike Rogers, District 2 Supervisor Jeff Smith and Bruce Carlsen of Calpine gathered for the dedication Thursday, February 19, 2009, at the Calpine Visitor Center in Middletown. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

 

 

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The Big Sulfur Creek fish ladder before the recent storms. Photo courtesy of Calpine.
 

 

 


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WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) has been reappointed Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis and Counterintelligence for the 111th Congress.


Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) announced the subcommittee assignments.


“Mike Thompson led active oversight efforts as a subcommittee chairman in the 110th Congress, and I am pleased that he will repeat this role again,” said Chairman Reyes. “As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, Analysis and Counterintelligence, his efforts are critical to ensuring that the men and women of the Intelligence Community receive the resources and authorities that they need to keep the country safe.”


Thompson will also serve on the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.


“I am honored that my colleagues trust me to help ensure our nation has the best intelligence programs in the world and that we are using our capabilities effectively and responsibly,” said Thompson. “The men and women who serve our country by gathering intelligence are one of our nation’s best assets, and I look forward to assisting their efforts.”


This is Congressman Thompson’s second term as chair of the subcommittee.


As chairman, Thompson will direct hearings, investigations and legislative initiatives under the subcommittee’s jurisdiction.


The subcommittee authorizes the budgets and activities of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the national security elements of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the intelligence elements of the Departments of State, Energy, Treasury and Homeland Security.


“Securing peace and stability around the world cannot be done without effective intelligence gathering,” said Congressman Thompson. “My belief in the power of good intelligence to create a world without terrorism has only been strengthened by my experience on this Committee. We must continue to work for a world where intelligence is our best weapon, and war is our last resort.”


Thompson, a Vietnam combat veteran, served on the House Committee on Armed Services from 1998 until 2002.


He was appointed to the Committee on Ways and Means in the 109th Congress, where he currently serves on the Health and Select Revenue Measures subcommittees.


Visit Thompson's Web site at http://mikethompson.house.gov/.


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Two great things that go great together, wine and chocolate, were the focus of the Saturday event. Photo by Ryan Eldredge.


THIS STORY HAS BEEN CORRECTED REGARDING THE NUMBER OF TICKETS SOLD; IT ALSO HAS BEEN CLARIFIED AS TO THE PROVIDERS OF THE CHOCOLATE.

 

LAKEPORT – A benefit for the Lake Family Resource Center, the third annual Wine & Chocolate fundraising event, held on the second Saturday of February each year, was a roaring success this year.
 
With between 400 and 500 tickets sold before the event, many more braved the inclement weather and snow-capped mountaintops to pay at the door and enjoy the fruit of Lake County vines masterfully paired with chocolate by sommeiler Stephanie Cruz-Green, owner of Focused on Wine in Kelseyville.

Specialty workshops on food and wine pairing, wine sensory and olive oil tasting also were held.
 
Mt. Konocti Growers was the venue once again for the event, which supports the programs of the Lake Family Resource Center. This year, however, the event was expanded into two of their buildings instead of just one.
 
The largest fundraiser for the center, Wine & Chocolate attracts visitors from around California to indulge in delicious wines and decadent chocolates.

Hooper’s Chocolates, a division of Windsor Confections – whose motto is “Gourmet Chocolate with a Mission” – along with Bruno's Shop Smart and other sources provided tasty chocolate treats that were paired with many Cabernets, Zinfandels, Syrahs and other red varietals.  

This year, the event also featured a Wine Store, where event-goers could purchase the wines they favored most.

Twenty-eight wineries with grapes grown in Lake County, most with local wineries, poured their varietals for the benefit of “strengthening families.”

The Lake Family Resource Center, founded in 1995, serves more than 4,500 individuals each year in Lake County through violence prevention, intervention and treatment, child and youth development, parenting education and personal development, and health and wellness.

The center also is working to build a new domestic violence shelter in Kelseyville.

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

 

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Mireya Turner pours wine at the Saturday event. Photo by Ryan Eldredge.

 

 

 

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Twenty-eight wineries poured their wines at this year's Wine & Chocolate. Photo by Ryan Eldredge.

 

 

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After months of deadlock and a budget session that lasted nearly four days this week, state legislators on Thursday approved a state budget package that – while it's agreed that it's far from perfect – is expected to be a positive step for the state.


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger congratulated legislators for passing the budget package to address the state's $42 billion budget deficit.


“I am extremely proud of the members of the legislature, both Republicans and Democrats, who had the courage to stand up and put the needs of Californians first,” he said. “Rather than approaching this unprecedented crisis with gimmicks and temporary solutions, we took the difficult but responsible steps to address our entire $42 billion budget deficit and pass historic bipartisan reform measures.”


Schwarzenegger said it's a “difficult” budget, but, he added, “we have turned this crisis into an opportunity to make real, lasting reforms for California.”


State Sen. Patricia Wiggins, who represents Lake County in the state Senate, said the budget will help the state address its budget with a view toward the future.


“This budget, which includes spending cuts, revenue increases and borrowing, is not a pretty budget, but it’s a necessary budget,” she said. “It’s a budget which spreads the burden across the people and businesses of this state, but it’s also a budget which includes economic stimulus and government reforms.”


Wiggins said the budget addresses the state's short-term deficit problem while paving the way for long-term solutions such as economic growth and job creation.


“And if we receive our fair share of economic stimulus funds from the federal government, we will be able to reduce some of the borrowing and spending cuts, and lower some of the taxes, that we approved earlier today,” she said.


The budget deal makes moot a lawsuit filed against State Controller John Chiang last Friday by numerous counties – Lake among them – in reaction to Chiang's announcement that he would begin withholding payments to counties due to the state's budget crisis, as Lake County News has reported.


Chiang said the move was necessary because there wasn't enough cash left in the state's bank account to pay all of its bills. He stated that he was forced to delay $3.3 billion in payments to local governments, state contractors and taxpayers this month.


Chiang said Thursday that the long-overdue budget deal won't immediately fill the state's treasury.


“The Department of Finance has promised to provide us within a week with the data we will need to update our cash flow analyses and determine how to manage the state’s payments through the end of the fiscal year,” he said. “Once this budget plan provides the needed cash in the treasury, my office will work around the clock to get delayed payments out the door.”

 

County Chief Administrative Office Kelly Cox said local officials are still trying to figure out how the budget ultimately will affect local jurisdictions.


Paul McIntosh, executive director of the California State Association of Counties, told Lake County News on Thursday that 37 bills – that, stacked up, were about 1 foot thick – made up the budget package.


One of the biggest areas of concern was a proposal that arose during the budget negotiations that called for delaying payments for mental health, CalWorks and several other benefits program services to counties for a period of seven months, as Lake County News has reported.


“That is not in this budget package,” said McIntosh.


There may, however, be some payment deferrals in June and July, he added.


“It's much more amenable language to counties than was originally proposed,” said McIntosh.


There also are plans for a May 19 special election, which will feature six different propositions related to the budget. McIntosh said those propositions include proposals to divert monies from Proposition 10, which imposed a cigarette tax, and Proposition 63, a mental health services fund measure; a spending cap; and a proposition that would look at the state lottery.


The special election is estimated to cost counties $80 million, said McIntosh. Counties are asking for language to be included in the legislation so they will be reimbursed for the costs of the election, as they were last year's February presidential primary.


McIntosh said the budget includes cuts in health and human services, particularly to program recipients, and some county administration cost reductions.


“We're grateful that the Legislature has solved this issue,” McIntosh said.


Although the Legislature doesn't have the power on its own to change the budget process, McIntosh said there is a building recognition that the process is “absolutely ridiculous.”


He said a petition is circulating to change the vote percentage needed to pass a budget from the two-thirds currently required to 55 percent.


McIntosh said counties and the state have a dysfunctional relationship that goes back 30 years, to the passage of Proposition 13.


Proposition 13 shifted total fiscal responsibility to the state, and removed a great deal of power from Boards of Supervisors when it comes to deciding how funds are spent. McIntosh said that, as a result of Proposition 13, only about 10 percent of county budgets are now discretionary.


As for the calls from some people that a constitutional convention is in order, McIntosh said to be careful what you wish for. The concern, he said, is that some interests might try to take over that process.


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


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Though a naturopath, my specialty is Ayurvedic medicine. It’s the world’s oldest written form of indigenous medicine (over 5,000 years old). Much of what we find even in traditional Chinese medicine has its roots in Ayurveda.


Acupuncture is one example of this. Acupuncture was developed after the Chinese discovered Ayurvedics using gold and silver needles on patients over 4,000 years ago. This practice is called “marma.”


But enough of Ayurveda for now. Let’s talk about some general principles of wellness.


When the very young child walks into the kitchen and mommy is sweeping the floor s/he may ask: “Mommy, why are you creating all this dust in the air?” Obviously mommy knows something the child does not. And that is this: One must get rid of the old and dirty in order for the new and clean to emerge. And then some general maintenance should take place before the next cleansing.


These three principles of creation hold true for the kitchen, home, yard, town, city, country and, indeed, the entire universe. In Ayurveda we call this universal process sattva, rajas and tamas: creation, maintenance and destruction. In sociological terms its called thesis, synthesis and antithesis (create, maintain and destroy).


So you ask, “What does this have to do with health?” Everything.


Would you wax a dirty floor? Would you clean an already clean floor? There is an order to creation that makes things work best.


I’ll wax politically for a moment. We get rid of one president and at least some of his policies in order to replace those policies with new and (hopefully) more workable and beneficial ones. We maintain the new policies until they prove unworkable or unsuitable and then the process starts all over again.


Now here’s my point. Job No. 1 for greater experience and realization of health and vitality is to clean out the “pipes” of the system. Clean out the toxic waste sites before we rejuvenate the system.


And what are the main toxic waste sites of the body? The liver, colon and kidneys. Can toxins, parasites heavy metals, bacteria and fungus be elsewhere in the body? Absolutely. But cleaning these main transformers and processors of nutrients is vital. They can easily become clogged and be overwhelmed by the above invaders and eventually cause disease and even life threatening situations. Taking even the finest herbal rejuvenate without first cleansing will often only push toxins deeper into the tissues.


So first consult with an experienced natural health professional and s/he will then give you an herbal/nutritional protocol that will 1) detox and cleanse. Then 2) rejuvenate and, finally, 3) maintain with healthy eating instructions as well as lifestyle practices such as meditation, yoga, breath work and appropriate exercise.


And remember, health is a lifestyle.


To your health!


Steven West, ND is a Kelseyville- based naturopath and nutritionist. He graduated form the Institute for Natural Health Studies and has been in practice in California for 18 years.


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The ancient Greeks are the first on record with the suggestion that something would taste better because of where it came from, although the idea must certainly go back to before historical records.


The Greeks traded with many different cultures, and wine was imported from other regions. Greek merchants started marking the earthenware jugs that wine was stored in (called amphorae) with symbols that denoted where the wine came from, and people came to prefer wines from certain regions.


The Hungarians created the idea of systematically designating official “growing regions” in 1730, taking note of the conditions of the soil, sun exposure and the potential to develop disease.


The idea of growing regions slowly became popular throughout Europe, and by 1935 the French officially started the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine and eventually established the Appellation d’Origine Controlee label (AOC) in the 1950s as the official French government brand.


This system is now used worldwide for wine, coffee, tea, cheese, lentils; the French even have an AOC label on a breed of chicken. The French breed of chicken called Poulet de Bresse has a red comb, white feathered body and blue legs which are, of course, the colors of the French flag.


If you remember from my article on the High Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), there is little difference between an AVA and the French appellation system (AOC). They both designate specific areas based on terrain, climate and soil conditions for growing a particular item.


Probably the world’s most famous appellation is Champagne, which produces the renowned bubbly drink that, if made anywhere else in the world, must by law be called “sparkling wine.” Some winemakers will skirt around this by putting “methode champagniose” on the label, meaning made by the Champagne Method. Many countries have now adopted similar systems of “environmental pedigrees.”


The Red Hills AVA was established in 2004 and contains numerous wineries on more than 31,000 acres. There are many independent vineyards in the AVA that don’t have wineries of their own but grow grapes to sell to wineries within the AVA, throughout the county, and even to neighboring counties.


The most noticeable factor of the vineyards in the AVA is that the soil is predominantly red lava from the area’s dead volcanoes. Although the total acreage of the Red Hills may seem quite large, the amount of acres that are suitable for vineyards is actually rather small.


The climate of the Red Hills AVA is very similar to the Rhone Valley and Bordeaux region of France, so grape varietals from those areas grow really well in the Red Hills AVA. Rhone variety grapes like cooler conditions, while Bordeaux variety of grapes like a warmer situation. The Red Hills AVA provides both.


If you want to have a little giggle at wine advertisements you can have one when they mention the rich soil of the vineyards. The truth is that better wines come from poorer soils compared to farms that grow things like corn, lettuce or similar crops. If the soil is too rich and organic the vines grow too fast and the grapes are too big. Wine tastes better if the grapes are half-starved.


This is why the Red Hills AVA is so good for vines: lava isn’t really a nutrient. The soil of the Red Hills is more like compact sand and porous lava rocks. Water trickles down and sits 3 to 9 feet below the surface, forcing the vine to reach down deep with its roots to get a drink and making a really strong healthy plant in the process.


All sorts of wild life call the Red Hills home. In visiting these various vineyards while researching this column, I personally saw deer, a cougar, jackrabbits and several types of birds of prey. Reports from the vineyards include boar, bears and turkeys making appearances on the properties. The Red Hills has the benefit of plenty of land to share with the wildlife of the area and still have vineyards dotting the landscape. Some of the larger vineyards leave sizable wild areas cutting through their property (called wildlife corridors), which not only gives wildlife a place to survive but cuts down on damage from wildlife in the vineyards by leaving native habitat on which they can forage.


Bryan Kane of Sol Rouge admitted that the deer fence around his vineyard was the single highest cost of his vineyard. Deer fences were a common site as I visited various vineyards. Large wineries that have hundreds of acres of vines can afford to lose some of their crop to wildlife, but smaller ones like those of the Red Hills can’t survive with that kind of damage because every vine matters. In Napa and Sonoma counties, damage from wild pigs on occasion has been so substantial that wineries invite hunters to their properties in order to thin out the populations.


The Red Hills seem to have been anointed with the name “red” in order to color code which wines should be grown there. The red wines of the AVA, in my not-so-humble opinion, are the best I’ve ever tasted. Even people who prefer white wines, like me, will find many red wines from the Red Hills that they will love.


My original idea of mentioning all the awards the Red Hills vineyards and wineries have won for their wines was quickly thrown out since there are so many they would take up too much room of the article. This isn’t to say that white wines from the AVA aren’t great also but the reds steal the spotlight.


Many of the people I spoke to about the Red Hills made a point to mention that the Mayacamas mountain range that passes through Napa is the same mountain range that runs through Lake County. As much as Napa has touted itself as the nation’s absolute superior AVA, you should keep in mind that climate and terrain are not respecters of arbitrarily drawn county line designations.


Being a part of the same mountain range, it simply stands to reason that much of what makes wines grown in Napa of such high quality would also make Lake County wines of a similar quality. But then Lake County has the advantage of having the cleanest air in the state.


The Red Hills vineyards are also at a higher altitude than Napa vineyards, which produces a greater intensity of flavor in the grapes, and they have the benefits of the Red Hills volcanic soil. So conditions in the Red Hills are similar to Napa, plus ... plus ... plus.


Napa valley growers are aware of the superiority of Lake County grapes and are looking north to take advantage of it. Many wineries in Napa buy Lake County grapes to mix with their own wines, and there are some who have started vineyards of their own in Lake County to be able to ship the grapes to Napa to blend with their wines. Some Napa valley wineries have to add tannins and tweak their wines in order produce a flavor similar to how Red Hills wines taste naturally. Buying Lake County grapes allows them to gain the benefits without having to start or market a new label. Nevertheless, Napa is out of land and so when they need more grapes they are looking to Lake County.


I found a common denominator when I spoke to vineyard owners, growers and winemakers in the Red Hills. They all came specifically to the Red Hills to grow their grapes and make their wines there because of the unique characteristics of the place. They didn’t choose the Red Hills because the land was cheap or easy to grow on but purposefully sought out the conditions the Red Hills AVA provides.


They have pride in the fact that their wines are grown in the Red Hills; this is evident when you look around at things that are produced in the AVA. Bottles are marked “Red Hills” while most other wines from in the county don’t mention their AVA or the county at all on their bottles. Gregory Graham sells shirts with his winery’s name and “Red Hills” right along with it. The pride in the Red Hills really shows.


Cougar’s Leap Winery, which started as the Black Frog Ranch/Vineyard, sits at an elevation of 2,300 feet and has 80 acres, 35 of which are planted with two varietals. They are completely off the utilities grid (they produce their own electricity, water, etc.). They chose the name Cougar’s Leap because cougars have been seen on the property. The property is accented with retaining walls made of huge blocks of obsidian which were removed from the ground when the vineyards were planted.


Fortress Vineyards owns 340 acres, 70 of which are planted with six varietals. What sets them apart is that half of the vines are white and the other half red. They are located on Benson Ridge at 2,000 to 2,400 feet in elevation. The large rocks and boulders pulled from the soil during the soil preparation and planting process were placed about the property and give it a fortress-like appearance, giving the vineyard its name.


They are on the way to producing their own wines but some of the grapes are currently being sold to Napa. Barbara Snider is co-owner, and describes the vineyard as being a high altitude, mountain vineyard that gets direct lake influence, since they are actually on Mt. Konocti. She also explained that her musque clone vines grow very well in the climate. They have no immediate plans to expand.


Gregory Graham Winery sits between 1,800 and 2,000 feet above sea level with 35 acres, 27 of which are planted with grapes of four varietals. He waters his vines with well water from two wells on the property. His property gets less fog and clouds than most areas of the county so his vines get more growing time, are faster to go to flower, and are harvested later in the season so they can really pack in the flavor. It should also be noted that all of Graham’s red wines are estate grown, fermented and bottled.


The Moore Family Winery sits right on the edge of the Red Hills AVA. They own 100 acres, 14 being planted with three varietals and more to come in the near future. At 3,000 feet above sea level, their tasting room is reported to be the highest altitude tasting room in California. They have a couple of manmade ponds that are used for irrigation and swimming, and one is stocked with fish. (All of these wineries are mocking me with their personal fishing ponds; it’s like some sort of conspiracy!) They are also in the process of digging a cave/conference center into the side of the mountain they are on.


Obsidian Ridge has 112 acres, 105 of which are planted with four varietals at an elevation of 2,350 to 2,640 feet. Their name is a nod to the fact that, just to plant the vineyard, they had to remove 200 tons of obsidian (aka bottle rock) from the property. Obsidian is still a large component of their landscape, with some pieces weighing a couple of hundred pounds.


Red Lava Vineyards owns 80 acres, with 10 being planted only with Syrah for now. There are plans to expand, which even include a winery in the future. The vineyard is not far from Beckstoffer Vineyards, with a southern exposure overlooking Thurston Lake on a 14- to 16-percent grade. Every morning has a strong lake breeze flowing across the vineyard.


Sol Rouge Vineyards and Winery owns 70 acres, with six planted including nine varietals. They have an irrigation pond left over from when the property was a walnut orchard. Bryan Kane, the owner of Sol Rouge, told me that the Red Hills AVA gets the grape skins to grow thick and this gives you better color, flavors and tannins into the final product. He also mentioned how he searched the entire state looking for where he wanted to grow the best grapes and chose the Red Hills because it had everything he was looking for in order to produce the factors that he wanted in his wines.


Snows Lake Vineyard owns 2,300 acres, 800 of which are planted with seven varietals. All of the varietals are red wine grapes, 75 percent of the acreage going to Cabernet Sauvignon. They are between 1,900 and 2,400 feet in elevation and are owned by the Ladera Management Co.


They not only have their own label of Snows Lake Cabernet Sauvignon called “One” and a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend called “Two,” they also sell grapes which are used in 10 to 12 branded products including Cakebread Cellars, Hawkscrest, Dynamite, Cartlidge and Browne, Rosenblum Cellars and Jade Mountain, just to name a few. Listening to John Adriance, the chief operating officer at the vineyard, speak about Snows Lake was a real treat, just watching someone talk about something they are truly passionate about.


Wildhurst Winery, although they have no vineyards of their own in the AVA currently, has one wine, a Syrah, which is made from grapes purchased from an “undisclosed source” in the Red Hills AVA.


Steele Winery also doesn’t have a vineyard in the AVA, but produces a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Beckstoffer Vineyards in the Red Hills.


There are many more wineries and vineyards in the AVA, and I have a list of about a dozen more people I wanted to talk to and visit, but there just wasn’t enough time to get to everybody.


Amusingly, when I first considered writing one column about all of Lake County’s AVA’s, one of the winemakers in the Red Hills said that it would take at least an entire column just to cover the Red Hills and look at that, he was right.


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


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