Thursday, 18 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – Now in its 12th year, the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual four-day event led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited, kicks off on Friday, Feb. 13 and runs through Monday, Feb. 16.

This family-friendly event invites everyone to count birds anywhere – backyards, parks or wilderness areas – to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the United States and Canada.

Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to expert birders. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or if you're truly inspired, you can count for as long as you like each day of the event.

As the count progresses, the Great Backyard Bird Count Web site is updated so that anyone with Internet access can see what is being reported here in Lake County or anywhere in the United States and Canada.

Located along the major bird migration route, the Pacific Flyway, Lake County is home to more than 300 species of birds, according to the Redbud Audubon Society, making spotting many different types of birds in your backyard easy.

For a family outing, you can watch birds at the Rodman Slough Park or join the Saturday morning guided bird and nature walks hosted by the Lake County Land Trust at the Rodman Slough Preserve.

The guided walk is free and begins at 8 a.m. in the summer and fall; 9 a.m. in the winter and spring. Walks begin at the Rodman House, at the corner of Westlake Road and the Nice-Luceren Cutoff in Lakeport.

Other locations to easily spot many types of birds include Clear Lake State Park and Anderson Marsh State Historic Park.

In the 2008 count, 37 reports were submitted that included nearly 150 different species of birds in Lake County.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is important because scientists can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are.

Bird populations are dynamic and constantly changing due to a myriad of reasons, and documenting the migration, movement and distribution of so many so many different species in such a short time would be impossible for even a team of scientists.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, some of the questions that can be answered by the data collected in the Great Backyard Bird Count include:

  • How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?

  • Where are winter finches and other "irruptive" species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?

  • How will the timing of birds' migrations compare with past years?

  • How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?

  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural and natural areas?

  • Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?

The Great Backyard Bird County Web site includes everything you will need to participate including bird identifications, educational materials for teachers and parents, and even a contest for photographs of birds.

For more information and to download a checklist to participate, visit

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


The emaciated 25-year-old Arab gelding was reported to Animal Care and Control this week. Courtesy photo.



LAKEPORT – Lake County Animal Care and Control officials are investigating the case of an older horse found emaciated and suffering from various health problems earlier this week.

Bill Davidson, Animal Care and Control's deputy director, said the agency received an anonymous complaint on Wednesday about the 25-year-old white Arabian gelding.

He said officers responded to the property where the horse was being kept near Lower Lake and found him significantly underweight. Other horses also were on the property but weren't in similar shape.

An examination by veterinarian Dr. Jeff Smith of Middletown confirmed that the horse was about 150 pounds under normal weight, was borderline anemic and suffering from dental disease, said Davidson.

The horse, which is being kept at the shelter on Helbush, is now on medications to address his various health problems, said Davidson. “We're basically doing everything we can.”

Davidson said they have high hopes for the horse, whose prognosis appears positive. “He's feisty. He's alive, he's good.”

For an elderly fellow, the horse has a lot of kick left in him, said Davidson, which is why they think he'll make it.

“We're going to monitor it for a minimum of several weeks,” said Davidson.

The horse isn't out of the woods yet, said Davidson. “We certainly have high hopes for it, though.”

The case is being investigated as a neglect case, he said. Davidson added that he anticipates the case being forwarded to the District Attorney's Office for prosecution.

Davidson said his office always has horse cases. “They don't always end up in impoundment.”

They're also not yet seeing the spike in horse surrenders due to the economy that have been noted in other areas, said Davidson.

“We are anticipating it for spring and summer,” he said.

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


NICE – A 12-year-old boy who was hit by a van Wednesday night sustained major injuries and is in care at a Bay Area Hospital.

The collision that injured the young Nice resident occurred just before 8 p.m., according to California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.

Garcia said 82-year-old Charles Becker of Nice was driving his 1994 Ford Econo van on Manzanita Avenue eastbound, east of Highway 20 in Nice, when the collision occurred.

The 12-year-old was riding a bicycle without a helmet, proper lighting or functional brakes when he was struck by Becker's van, said Garcia.

A preliminary investigation, led by CHP Officer Randy Forslund, indicates that the bicyclist rode directly into Becker's path and was struck, according to Garcia.

The minor bicyclist sustained major life-threatening injuries, and was flown to Children's Hospital of Oakland.

Garcia reminded the public that all persons under age 18 are required to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, skateboard or scooter.

When riding a bicycle during darkness all bicyclists are required to have a white front headlamp that is visible to 300 feet, a red reflector that is visible 500 feet to the rear, and white or yellow reflectors visible to the front and rear of each pedal, said Garcia.

He added that parents of minor could be given a citation if there child is in violation of these laws even if they are physically not with the child at the time of violation.

Anyone who witnessed the Wednesday is asked to call the Clear Lake Area CHP office, 279-0103.


T. Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.

my only weapon is my pen

and the frame of mind I’m in …

Poet, from There’s A Riot Goin’ On

Sylvester Stewart, circa, 1971

Actually, there’s still a riot goin’ on in my CyberSoulMan head regarding an incident that happened to me in small claims court here in Lake County a few years back. I’ll get to that shortly.

I’d like to go back even further though, in an attempt to illustrate part of the formative childhood of T. Watts, back when the brainwash was new.

I was a CyberSoulChild, living in San Francisco, city of my birth. I actually cannot remember not having a television. One of my favorite TV shows was entitled “Captain Fortune.” It was, obviously, a children’s show, full of fantasy, magic and the like.

One of the cool things Mr. Captain Fortune could do was have one of his young charges take a crayon to an easel and mark it up all crazy and then actually redraw the mass into anything the little tyke or tykes desired. It was like, total subliminal domination of my 5-year-old mind. This cat could make something out of nothing. Pure alchemy. My mini psyche shouted, “Eureka!”

Several years later, I had a similar experience in my eighth grade math class. It was taught by a young whiz kid with a southern accent named Mr. Williams. He was a genteel, handsome type, natty dresser, really popular with the students and, I imagine, females in general.

Mr. Williams, through a series of seemingly algebraic formulaic smoke-and-mirrored sleight of hand, proved to the class that 1 + 1 = 3. There. It had happened again. I had been shown by someone that I had a modicum of faith in, that the impossible was occasionally possible. Mr. Williams, bless his heart, did undo his fraudulent math lesson to illustrate to our teenaged sensibilities that people can be made to believe anything.

Here folks, is where the bloggy gets foggy. I’m easing toward my tale from the cryptic courtroom now.

You see, I was a Lake County landlord a few seasons back. I learned that there are some very fraudulent renters out there. These are people who make a living at renting for free. They’ll show up like the all-American family. They have maybe one or two vehicles and a couple of children. They will be slightly short of the total move-in costs to secure the rental of your property and have a less-than-stellar credit report as well.

They’ll give you a story that will tug at your heart. You agree to rent them your property. They pay the rent fine for a couple of months. Then suddenly they can’t pay the rent because they are separated. The wife and children are gone and the husband has a sad story. This goes on for close to three months.

Then their former landlords make contact with you, the current landlord. You compare notes. It’s a ruse. You discover they scammed more than one former landlord the same way. You might even catch your tenants at Kmart acting very unseparated, spending your mortgage money. The husband refuses to vacate your property.

You explore your legal options. In my case I decided to use a legal reference handbook for landlords taking their tenants to court. I file all the papers, to evict the tenant(s) and sue for back rent and property damage.

On the day of court reckoning, I walk in the courtroom dressed like a lawyer. You know, sport coat, tie, slacks, shined shoes. I spy a popular Lake County doctor in the courtroom dressed for business as well. We acknowledge each other and wait for the judge.

Lot on the plate of some of these judges. Makes them a little late sometimes. One pleasantry about the proceedings is that the court stenographer is my neighbor.

His Honor finally saunters in and we do the “All rise.” He calls the doctor’s case and quickly finds for the doctor. The doctor is able to hear the nature of my case before he leaves the courtroom. His Honor calls my case. At some point during the proceedings His Honor scowls at me like I’m a menace there to do harm to the defendant, who looks like he slept in his clothes.

Rather than give you the blow by blow, let me just suffice to say that after presenting my case and finally getting the sheriff to give my tenant the boot, His Honor asked me where I got my legal advice. When I told him the title of the legal handbook he angrily told me that I was misinformed, that I was not eligible for the two and a half months back rent and all I could be awarded was a $200 cleaning fee.

Hey, wait a minute, I’m thinking. This is some negative alchemy. This judge is trying to convince me that I’m wrong, when I know I’m right. All my i’s are dotted and my t’s are crossed. This is bad mojo. The impossibly unfair has the shady scale of justice on its scanty side.

But wait, there’s more proof. I ask my neighbor the stenographer what she made of the court action. She said something to the effect of, “I don’t know what came over the judge. I’ve never seen him act like that before. He acted like you did something to him.”

I bumped into the doctor a few days later. He too, was surprised that I didn’t get the verdict I was seeking.

I’ve gotten out of the land lording business. Nothing lasts forever. Not even unrighteous judges who ignore scandalous behavior. Me? I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Maybe next I’ll write about Rush Limbaugh’s pain pill connection. Papa’s got a brand new bag!

Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts.

T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at


MIDDLETOWN – The finishing touches on Twin Pine's new casino have wrapped up, according to the project's construction management company.

JE Dunn Construction Co. of Sacramento said the construction officially was completed on Thursday.

Soon to be completed is the construction of an adjacent four-star luxury hotel, slated to be finished this month.

JE Dunn served as construction manager for the $30 million casino and hotel project, which the company reported was brought in ahead of schedule and under budget.

The groundbreaking for the project was held in October 2007, as Lake County News has reported.

Twin Pine Hotel and Casino is owned by the Middletown Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians. The Architect is Group West Companies PLLC of Seattle. KPFF Consulting Engineers served as the structural and civil engineering firm.

The 52,220 square foot casino is fabricated from structural steel with an exterior of cedar shake siding and log timbers. Casino construction was completed within a 10-month time frame.

The casino has expanded areas for gaming, including slot machines and table games; it also contains a restaurant, kitchen, bar, shops, a wine tasting room and administrative areas.    

The casino’s rustic high-end interiors and finishes have the ambiance of a vintage winery. The bar area features brick walls and brick barrel vaulted ceilings. Other amenities include hand-blown chandeliers with grape bunch clusters, large wood timbers and a water wheel.   

The three-story wood and cedar shake hotel houses 60 rooms, including several large suites. The 43,000 square foot hotel features luxury finishes, with hand-crafted cherry millwork throughout, as well as granite counters for all the tabletops and cabinets. The rooms have coffered ceilings and wood beams.

JE Dunn was selected for the project because of its extensive experience in building hotels and casinos, including Bear River Casino in Humboldt County, as well as numerous gaming facilities throughout the US.

“It has been an exciting project,” said Sarah Dohmeyer, senior project manager for JE Dunn.  “The Tribe was wonderful to work with. They are pleased because we completed the casino within a 10-month time frame and several weeks ahead of schedule.”

Middletown Rancheria, which established Twin Pine Casino in November 1994, entered into an alliance with the Mohegan Tribe and Nation of Connecticut to build the new casino and hotel, according to an October 2007 report from the tribe.

The Mohegan Tribe owns and operates Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, said to be the world's largest and most successful casino destination, and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania.


Konocti Unified Board President Mary Silva (left) and Board Clerk Anita Gordon during the Wednesday night board meeting, during which possible school closures were discussed. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LOWER LAKE – Facing the prospect of a $1 million budget cut next year and the year after, the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees is taking a hard look at potentially painful measures to keep the district afloat, including the possibility of closing some schools. {sidebar id=119}

About 60 people – parents, teachers and classified staff – attended the Wednesday evening board meeting at the district office in Lower Lake to hear the recommendations of two groups, the Committee on Consolidation of Services and the Attendance and Enrollment Revenue Improvement Committee.

The district's board formed the committees in October and tasked them with finding ways to save on expenses and increase revenue, respectively.

Bill Cornelison, the retired Lake County Office of Education superintendent, headed up the services consolidation group, whose membership included district, county and city officials, plus representatives from the office of education and Yuba Community College.

“The district, like all districts in California, is facing severe budget deficits and budget challenges, not only for the coming year but also for the present year,” said Cornelison, noting that the full implications of those budget issues aren't yet known.

In a half-hour presentation, Cornelison offered the group's recommendations in several areas – transportation services, nutritional services, cooperative endeavors with local government, and grade realignment and school closure.

Cornelison said the group came together with open minds, focusing on benefits for students, possible savings, impacts on certified and classified staff, and possible community reaction.

The recommendations for most of the service-oriented areas of study included joint purchasing with other governmental entities in the county, shortening bus routes, a central cafeteria location, coordination of recreation programs for children, having technology staff review ways to save money, and joint grounds and maintenance.

But it was the recommendations about possible school closures and realignment of grades that drew the most attention.

“This is not a pleasant task to talk about,” Cornelison said.

School closures have been talked about around the state, evoking a great deal of emotion and personal feelings, which Cornelison said the committee tried to take into account.

The committee eventually came up with a total of 10 proposals, which they narrowed to four, Cornelison said.

Those recommendations were as follows:

  • Close Oak Hill Middle School (473 students) and change Pomo, Burns Valley and Lower Lake Elementary schools into K-8; potential cost savings, $400,000 to $968,000.

  • Operate four K-8 schools with East Lake Elementary (195 students) closing; potential cost savings, $0 to $250,000.

  • K-8 with grade separation with two schools and Oak Hill Middle School closing; potential cost savings, $540,000 to $1.1 million.

  • Retain existing alignment with Burns Valley Elementary (404 students) closing; potential cost savings, $0 to $250,000.

Konocti Unified's board will hold public hearings throughout the district to give the community an opportunity to weigh-in on the alternatives, said Cornelison (see sidebar story, “Public meetings on school closure proposals”).

On the other side of the coin, Dr. Nancy Todd chaired the revenue committee.

She said she believed they could bring in more than $1.5 million if all students came to school every day and they gained back interdistrict transfers.

“When you have these awful weighty decisions to make, it's good to remember your strengths,” Todd said, lauding the district for its successful efforts in the past to deal with social and funding issues.

Committee recommendations include convening a standing committee to deal with attendance; involving teachers, parents and older students in understanding the revenue increase that comes with student attendance; create incentives for sites and students to improve attendance rates; designating someone to work with the media and other visual reminders of progress.

The committee's suggestions also included motivating students by letting them earn units for work satisfactorily done, rather than semesters; publicizing student success; offering specialty courses in trades, technology and health care; and investigating what's involved with shifting to operating K-8 schools and a high school.

Todd said she hoped the the conversation leaves the public with the impression that, despite the district having to make cuts, children are left at the center of the process and the community is respected.

Community members, teachers against closing schools

Glen Goodman, the librarian of Lower Lake High School, said the approach to the district's budget issues starts with the assumption that enrollment is going down, but he said he expects to see just the opposite as more people move to Lake County because of its affordable housing.

He suggested that if the district closes schools, it also needs to factor in the cost of reopening them once enrollment starts to go up again.

The people most likely to decide to take their children out of the district because of school closures are those parents who are most involved, and whose students do the best in school. That, he said, could impact the district's test scores.

He suggested a progressive approach to education, much like he sees at Carle High School, which could attract students.

“This is a monstrous project that we're considering embarking on, and I think it's based on old information, declining enrollment,” he said. “I think the best bet for us is to just forge ahead with making a better education.”

Parent Cale Page said he's against school closures. He said his daughter told him she was treated as the person she wanted to be, not the person she was, at her school. As a result, she's doing well in school, where Page said the teachers do a great job.

If district leaders are wondering what kind of student they would lose by closing schools, it would be his daughter, said Page.

Oak Hill Middle School teacher Bill Meyer asked Superintendent Bill MacDougall if he was wiling to reject the school closures recommendation if the state went in a positive direction.

“The answer is absolutely,” said MacDougall.

Dana Moore, the district's director of maintenance and operations, said the district is looking at 18 empty classrooms and a midyear cut of between $850,000 and $1.2 million, with more possibly to come next fiscal year.

There hasn't been any talk of more money coming to the schools, and none of the prospects look good. “And that's why we're here,” Moore said.

Carle High School teacher Angie Siegel said she spent 10 years as a middle school teacher, including several years at Oak Hill Middle School, where she said the staff has worked hard for the students.

She said middle schools are much maligned. “The real issue is puberty,” she said, explaining that children are going through a lot of changes.

“I'm a big believer in middle school,” she said. “They're a special breed of cat.”

Oak Hill Middle School teacher Paul Leiferman, who also is president of the Konocti Education Association, said he has been a middle school teacher for more than 30 years – “by choice,” he emphasized – and he agreed with Siegel that a lot of work has been done at the school.

He said he deals with some of the toughest kids in the county, and has about 20 in his classroom who the district wouldn't want near fourth and fifth graders.

The No. 1 most important issue should be what's best for the kids, and are they prepared when they get to the high school, he said.

Board offers its perspective

Board members assured the audience that they wanted to make the best choices for the district and its students.

“Our main concern is the students and doing right by our students,” said Board President Mary Silva.

Trustee Herb Gura said he had no idea how he would vote, but that recommendations from the committees were only one factor he would consider. “It matters to me a lot how this affects students and families and staff.”

He admitted the district is facing a very scary situation, but noted that the district has been careful in its spending, which he credited to district chief business officer Laurie Altic.

“So just hang in there and we'll see what happens,” he said. “I don't have any answers at this point, either.”

Another board member, Hank Montgomery, said he's a big fan of middle school, and credited Oak Hill Middle School with helping his children be successful.

He emphasized that the board has made no decision yet, and said he doesn't feel limited by the committees' recommendations.

The closure of schools ultimately rests with the board, said Montgomery, which is why they're planning to hold meetings around the district in an effort to get input.

Everything is on the table, and nothing is sacred when it comes to looking for ways to make ends meet, said Montgomery.

He said the discussion of consolidating other services across – while not as controversial – also is significant, Montgomery said. “This board began discussing this years ago.”

The board had directed Dr. Louise Nan, the former superintendent, to discuss that idea with other districts, Montgomery said. “No one would listen, no one would even entertain that.”

He added that the board believes consolidating services is consistent with the district's philosophy that cuts happen as far away from the classroom and students as possible.

Board Clerk Anita Gordon agreed with Montgomery. She added that she's extremely frustrated by what's happening in Sacramento with the state Legislature and the state budget. There's nothing citizens can do but live with those decisions that come from the state.

“And you're seeing that tonight,” she said.

Board member Carolynn Jarrett referred to a list of ideas that came from the board's Jan. 24 budget workshop, which summarize what they want for the schools. The overriding goal stated in that document was that all students graduate from the K-12 system, with intervention, safety, class size reduction and classroom personnel – the first priority, and last to be cut – listed among the priorities.

She said the district is trying to preserve the quality programs it has. Jarrett said the district had to cut $1 million last year, and they have may to cut $1 million next year and again the year after.

“On March 11 we are going to have to make a decision, because we cannot continue the status quo,” Jarrett said. “We have to come up with something different.”

To see the committees' full recommendations, visit the Konocti Unified School District Web site,

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


NORTH COAST – The North Coast's state senator has accused a state agency of failing to take action to help struggling salmon populations.

State Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) sharply criticized the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) on Jan. 29 for failing to take emergency steps to prevent salmon fisheries from collapsing. Her critique was issued after the DFG failed to place new restrictions on a gold mining practice that threatens the state's imperiled salmon populations.

Wiggins, who chairs the legislature's Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, also said she is considering new legislation to limit the use of "suction dredge" gold mining, which involves the use of large dredges to vacuum rock and sand from rivers and creek beds, killing fish. Coho salmon, in particular, are at great risk from this practice, according to Wiggins' office.

Wiggins led a group of legislators in writing a letter to DFG officials in support of a petition from environmental organizations and the Karuk Indian Tribe, whose lands include portions of the Klamath River, asking DFG to restrict suction dredge mining along the Klamath. Her office said the department has thus far refused, and officials there have yet to begin a court-ordered review of the situation.

“California's once-thriving salmon populations have plummeted to the point that they face extinction unless we take immediate action,” Wiggins said. She added that it will take courage and bold action on all our parts to bring the fisheries back to healthy levels.

Jordan Traverso, a DFG spokesperson, said the agency had no comment in response to Wiggins' statements.

However, DFG sent a letter on Feb. 2 to the leaders of the Karuk Tribe and several environmental groups, in which the agency explained that the petition for emergency action failed to provide
“substantial evidence that the magnitude of the potential harm caused by suction dredge mining to the state's fisheries is so great that an emergency exists” under the Administrative Procedure Act.

Last year, commercial fishermen were told to stop fishing for ocean salmon, and it is expected they will be told to do so again this year, according to Wiggins' office.

“Even though this puts tremendous pressure on them, their families and their local economies, they understand the need to regenerate the stock,” she said. “However, a small group of recreational miners are allowed to continue suction dredge mining on the streams that serve as nurseries for spawning salmon. It is more than unfair to ask an entire industry to make sacrifices while these other activities continue.”

Wiggins said the lack of appropriate action is one factor contributing to high rates of unemployment in the fishing industry, and that "it's time for our government to step up. If the Department of Fish and Game is unwilling to place the burden of rebuilding fisheries fairly upon all users, I will continue to take legislative action to get government to do its job."

Accordingly, Wiggins says she is considering re-introducing a measure that would put a temporary halt on suction dredge mining until DFG completes its court-ordered mandate to fix long-term regulations.


EJ Crandell, far right, addresses the crowd at a rally to bring attention to American Indian civil rights issues in Sacramento on Thursday, February 5, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




SACRAMENTO – Braving a February rainstorm, Indian activists from around California gathered on the steps of the State Capitol Building on Thursday to seek the help of legislators, the state's citizens and each other in fighting what they believe is an attack on Indian communities that's coming from the inside.

The “Tribal corruption is not traditional” event, sponsored by United Native Americans Inc. and the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization (AIRRO), featured numerous speakers who addressed a large crowd for more than an hour and a half, beginning at noon.

Common themes emerged during the day – tribal governments violating civil rights, including attacking free speech; the rising tide of disenrollments that is taking place around California and the nation; and a call to state legislators and Congress to find a remedy.

Quanah Brightman of United Native Americans Inc. faulted tribal leaders for abandoning their responsibilities to communities, and only taking care of themselves.

“We should not tolerate this in our communities,” he said. “We should not tolerate this at all.”




Quanah Brightman of United Native Americans said the demonstration was an important step in taking issues of disenrollment and the corruption of tribal leadership to the federal government. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



Nice resident Wanda Quitiquit, an AIRRO member who along with three dozen family members received a disenrollment resolution from Robinson Rancheria in November, warned that the practice of kicking members out of tribes could eventually lead to extinction of native tribes.

“Today we are raising our voices as a wake up call,” said Quitiquit.

The disenrollments of more than 50 members of Robinson Rancheria are leading to other problems, including a young woman being beaten and several evictions of disenrolled families, Quitiquit said.

John Gomez Jr., who in 2004 was disenrolled by the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, said the tribal leaders responsible for pushing members out have forgotten what it's like to be Indian, because they're not helping each other.

He estimated 2,500 California Indians have been disenrolled and hundreds more denied benefits.

Gomez said there's hope. “There are a lot of people in Indian Country who are standing up to this oppression.”

But if the oppression and disenrollment continues, Gomez said it will consume Indian Country.

California is ground zero for the problem, said Gomez.

While tribal leaders have all of the resources at their disposal, including millions of dollars, Gomez said the opposition has people.

It's the responsibility of Indians to come together to fight the destructive forces in their communities, he said.

“This is not the Indian way,” said Gomez. “It's a desecration to our heritage, it's a desecration to our culture.”

Norman “Wounded Knee” DeOcampo, a Miwok from Vallejo, recalled his support of Proposition 5 in 1998, the ballot measure that legalized gambling in California.

DeOcampo said the hope that he originally had for tribal gaming hasn't transformed into a reality of care and benefit for all Indian people.

But he recounted that his mother used to tell him, “You only lose when you give up.”





Wanda Quitiquit, foreground, listens to a speaker during the rally in Sacramento on Thursday, February 5, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




So, despite being disenrolled from his tribe, DeOcampo said he's continuing to fight for reform in Indian Country on behalf of his ancestors and the generations to come.

Lois Lockhart, disenrolled from the Pinoleville tribe in Mendocino County, cited tribal law in addressing the actions of tribal governments that choose to remove members from their rolls.

“It is against the law to take away our civil rights,” said Lockhart, a former tribal administrator at Sherwood Valley Rancheria, where she was able to reclaim membership after losing her status at Pinoleville.

She said the Pomo people have a saying – do good, and good comes back to you. In the same way, bad actions end in a bad response.

Lockhart was in grade school when her tribe was terminated, or dissolved. In the 1970s, her tribe would be restored, and then she later faced Pinoleville's disenrollment action.

She urged people to learn more about tribal law to arm themselves in fighting injustice.

Lockhart said there is so much that native elders sacrificed for their descendants to be here today.

In contrast, she said, “This new breed of Indians – I don't know who they are or where they came from.”

Clayton Duncan, a member of Robinson Rancheria in Nice, accused the Bureau of Indian Affairs of backing corrupt tribal leadership around the state.

“BIA, you're in charge,” he said. “You need to step up to the plate and listen to the majority of people.”

Carla Foreman-Maslin, president of AIRRO, was disenrolled along with more than 70 members of her family from the Redding Rancheria, where her late father, Bob Foreman, had been the first tribal chair.

For Foreman-Maslin, the fact that her father didn't see justice before his death is a source of great sorrow.

“This is a shameful time for us,” she said.

But as long as Indians are alive and breathing, they can fight disenrollments, she said.

She read a message from friends in the Oneida Nation of New York, where tribal members also have seen forms of oppression, including 14 families having their homes bulldozed.

EJ Crandell – who was elected Robinson Rancheria's chair last June, after which the election was decertified following a complaint lodged by sitting Tribal Chair Tracey Avila – said some tribal leaders just want to keep the status quo.

At the same time, other tribal members are afraid to speak up, for fear they'll be pushed out of the tribe, he said.

Crandell urged everyone to keep fighting the fight.

Mark Anquoe, a Kiowa who originally came from Oklahoma and now lives in San Francisco, works with the American Indian Movement (AIM).

“That enrollment roll is not what makes you Indian,” said Anquoe.

After the United States is long gone, Indians will remain, Anqoue said.

“We're all gonna get through it,” he said. “We're gonna stick together because that's what real Indians do.”

Brightman, who celebrated the birth of his new baby daughter the night before, said after the rally that taking the concerns to the state Legislature is the first step in presenting the issues to higher levels of the US government, including Congress.

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


Lakeport Fire Protection District firefighters work on a blaze that broke out on the morning of Wednesday, February 4, 2009, along Soda Bay Road. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



LAKEPORT – Lakeport firefighters and air quality officials responded to a fire Wednesday morning that may have been a control burn that got away.

The fire, which burned about two acres, was first reported at about 11:30 a.m. east of the 2700 block of Clipper Lane and on the lake side of Soda Bay Road.

Lakeport Fire Protection District sent four engines and a water tender, seven firefighters and Chief Ken Wells. Two Cal Fire personnel from Kelseyville also were on scene.

Lake County Air Quality Management District staff also were on scene to investigate the burn, which officials said appeared to have started out as a control burn.

Two men on scene appeared to have been tending the fire went it got out of control, burning thistle and berry bushes and large tree branches that were being cleared from the land, and spewing thick smoke into the midday sky. A slight breeze from the south southeast may have contributed to the fire getting away.

Wells said they believed the fire had been permitted. If an investigation by air quality and fire officials reveals it wasn't, Wells said the property owners could be held liable for covering firefighting costs. That report could come out next week.

Clipper Lane residents were concerned about the nearby burning field, but Wells said the threat to the homes was reduced by the high humidity.

Lakeport Fire engines returned to the station just past 4 p.m. after getting the fire under control and mopping up.

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




The fire burned about two acres, fire officials reported. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



LAKE COUNTY – If you see a letter arriving in your mailbox warning of your property value being overassessed, a Lake County official advises you to toss the letter in the trash.

Just this week, residents around Lake County began receiving letters from a company going by the name “Property Tax Reassessment.”

“We just got our first indication of that thing this afternoon when the phone started ringing,” Jim Campbell, Lake County's chief deputy assessor, said on Friday.

Property Tax Reassessment, which the letter says is based in Los Angeles, is not a government agency or even a recognized company, said Campbell.

“It's just strictly a scam,” he said.

Campbell said the letters began spreading around Southern California recently and have since spread north.

Press reports from around the state are warning communities to ignore the letters. In San Luis Obispo County the county assessor reportedly is planning to forward the letters to the county counsel and district attorney.

Online consumer watchdog groups also are warning that the letter is a scam.

The letters look real enough, listing the property owners' specific assessment values – which Campbell said to have been drawn from county records, which are public.


An example letter Lake County News obtained estimated how much property tax savings the property owner could realize if they paid $179 for reassessment services before Feb. 26. After that date, a $30 late fee is added.

“Upon receipt of your service fee, Property Tax Reassessment will thoroughly review your individual property value. If, after our review, it is determined you do not qualify for a reduction, your service fee will be immediately refunded,” the letter states.

Campbell said the services which the letter offers to property owners are done by the Lake County Assessor's Office – for free.

He said the letter has incorrect dates for the reassessment process, which already has passed for this fiscal year.

“It's just strictly a scam,” said Campbell, who called the effort to take funds from property owners through this kind of misinformation “totally immoral.”

Property Tax Reassessment has no listed physical address; in the letter it directors property owners to send checks to P.O. Box 25519 in Los Angeles, an address which at one time was reported to have belonged to ISU Insurance Services, whose Web site lists no connection with Property Tax Reassessment.

Likewise, the letter lists a phone number, 888-879-4259, which does not show up in any phone listings or reverse searches.

When Lake County News called the number, a female answered and said it was not the number for the company.

You can, however, pick up the phone and call the assessor's office at 263-2302, which Campbell urges property owners to do if they have any questions.

The bottom line, said Campbell, is that the services offered in the letter are “totally unnecessary,” and no one should pay the fees.

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


LAKE COUNTY – On Saturday, it will come down to this – eight months of strenuous academic study squeezed into five hours of testing.

It's called the Lake County Academic Decathlon, and it's a yearly showcase of the county's best and brightest students, who devote themselves to a rigorous scholastic commitment for months in order to have the honor of being the county champ, with a view to going for the gold at state.

Despite being a small rural county, Lake's academic decathletes have pretty much rocked it over the last decade. They've put on exciting exhibitions of skill and knowledge, and made not just their parents and teachers proud but also their community.

Upper Lake has been a state small school champion in recent years. In fact, in recent years, Upper Lake has been a bit of a juggernaut, gobbling up eight consecutive first place wins. Then, in 2007, Lower Lake ended the streak by winning the gold, with Upper Lake coming back with a win in 2008.

Robin Totorica, a Lake County Office of Education staffer who helps organize the yearly event, said this year's theme is Latin America.

Testing for the students will being at Middletown High School early on Saturday morning, said Totorica.

The day of exhausting tests will culminate in the excitement of the Super Quiz, the only part of the event open to the public. Totorica said that begins at 4 p.m. in the Middletown High multipurpose room, 20932 Big Canyon Road.

The winner of the county competition will advance to the California State Academic Decathlon, which is celebrating its 30th year. That competition will take place from March 13 through 16 in Sacramento.

Four schools will compete locally this year – in addition to Upper Lake and Lower Lake, there will be Clear Lake High and Middletown High, the latter of which will host this year's competition. A call to Middletown's coach was not returned.

Anna Sabalone, Upper Lake's coach, said the studying begins for the competition the previous May. “As soon as one year ends, the next begins.”

There are new dynamics to this year's competition. For one, this is Sabalone's first year on the job as Upper Lake's coach. She succeeds Tina Moore, who in sports terms was rather like the Bill Walsh of local academic decathlon competitions. Moore challenged her students beyond the classroom, and organized extracurricular trips overseas for interested students. Last fall, the group journeyed to Egypt.

Sabalone, who had assisted Moore with the academic decathlon preparation while she was still a substitute teacher, brings particular skills of her own, as well as experience having been an Upper Lake academic decathlete herself, under Moore's tutelage. She holds a master's degree and is an Upper Lake High grad, class of 2000.

“I kinda knew what I was getting into, or so I thought,” she said. But she's quick to add, “It's been worth it.”

Sabalone, who has taken over the school's art department, was a history major in college, and is scrappy enough to disagree with some of the answers to questions in the study materials. She's even taken her disagreements to the officials who prepare the tests. Sometimes they even change the materials, she said.

Nancy Harby, at the helm of the Lower Lake Academic Decathlon team, is a nine-year veteran of the contest.

This year she has a particularly interesting mix of students, among them a larger-than-usual representation of Hispanic American students excited that Latin America is this year's topic.

“The decathlon is really magic,” said Harby, no matter the subject.

Her students are getting excited and nervous – especially those who are competition veterans.

She says that, win or lose, it's participating that's the real victory for the students.

Teams are nine students in size; Harby has 17 total academic decathlon students. Sabalone said she started out with more than 20 students vying for nine team spots and two alternates.

Many exceptional young people are standouts in the competition.

Returning this year to Upper Lake's squad is 17-year-old Kyle Coleman of Upper Lake, who has been a medal winner in previous years, and just recently was named a winner of a $20,000 scholarship from the Horatio Alger National Scholarship Program.

He'll be facing tough competition from Lower Lake's Emmalena Illia, 17, of Clearlake Park, a senior in her third and final year of competition. She's been accepted to Mills College in Oakland.

Illia, the student representative on the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees, said it's crunch time, with lots of last-minute study and minimal sleep.

The standout student – also a talented athlete, known for racking up three point shots on the basketball court – spent last weekend reading through a packet of information on evolutionary biology, the topic of the Super Quiz. She said the connection between evolutionary biology and Latin America is that Charles Darwin spent time in the Galapagos Islands, where he drew information to develop his theory on evolution.

Illia said preparation also has included trips to Bay Area museums, study of art from the Mayan period to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and lectures by professors. She said her strengths are art and literatures, and she's hoping also to put in a strong performance in science.

Who will win this year?

Sabalone said she thinks her team has a decent chance of holding their own, but the academic decathlon is far different than sports, where you can scope out your competition.

“With the academic decathlon, you throw yourself in there and hope you've done enough,” she said.

Said Illia, “We have a lot of seniors on our team this year so we have a lot of experience.”

That includes a strong math element, with teammates who have taken on the challenging work of pre-calculus and calculus.

But Illia doesn't take anything for granted. “All the other teams are always strong and always great competitors,” she said.

Harby said the competition itself is transformational for her students. “More than anything I want them to get that love of learning.”

Most of her students go on to college, said Harby. “We do well here.”

She is, however, worried about why lies ahead for the academic decathlon program.

“I hope our program continues with all the budget cuts,” she said.

Harby said the district is starting to look at programs that don't serve a lot of students, which is the case with the academic decathlon.

“We have the reality of that razor of the budget cuts, the ax coming at us,” she said. “Everyone here is fearful of the impact of the state budget.”

Sabalone said she has enjoyed the dynamic of her group of students, who have done a great job in their studies. The competition, she said, inspires them to go above and beyond ordinance performance. “My biggest hope is my students have no regrets.”

She added, “Win or lose, it will be an interesting Saturday.”

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


WASHINGTON – On Wednesday President Barack Obama signed legislation into law that will provide health care to 11 million children from working families.

The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) was created in 1997 to provide health care coverage for children in families that earn too little to afford health insurance for their children but too much to qualify for Medicaid.

The bill signed by the president Wednesday reauthorizes SCHIP through 2013 and preserves the coverage for all 7.1 million children currently covered by SCHIP, including 1,538,416 children in California and an estimated 1,600 Lake County children.

The bill also extends health care coverage to 4.1 million additional low-income children, who are currently uninsured. The bill is fully paid for.

“This is only the first step,” the president said. “As I see it, providing coverage for 11 million children is a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American.”

Congressman Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena) was invited and attended the ceremony at the White House.

“Today change came to America as our country took the first major step towards reducing the number of children who don’t have health insurance,” Thompson said in a written statement. “The State Children’s Health Insurance Program has been an extraordinary success – over 1.5 million children in California get their health care through this program. However, over a million and a quarter kids are still uninsured in our state alone- which is just plain wrong.”

By signing the bipartisan bill into law, almost 700,000 uninsured children in California and 4 million uninsured children across the country will now have access to health care, said Thompson. “Our children deserve a healthy start and this legislation gives kids that chance.”

“Passage of SCHIP will result in hundreds of children in Lake County getting the health care they need and deserve,” said Gloria Flaherty, executive director of the Lake Family Resource Center. “This will mean healthier children, families and communities – and peace of mind for parents. We are proud of our congressman for his continued support and dedication to this cause, our president, for making children’s health a priority, and our country for recognizing that children’s health is important to all.”

This bipartisan bill has been endorsed by dozens of organizations, representing millions of Americans – ranging from business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses and Business Roundtable to the American Hospital Association, AARP and Families USA.


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