Monday, 22 July 2024


CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks County Water District Board officially received the resignation of one of its members on Wednesday, and took several steps to adjust its procedures in response to requests from ratepayers.

Longtime board member Pat Shaver submitted her resignation on Monday, as Lake County News has reported.

On Saturday, during a meeting to discuss the district's proposed rate hikes for water and sewer services, numerous community members had called for Shaver's recall, along with that of board Vice President Mike Anisman.

Community member Mike Benjamin circulated a petition for a recall notice of intent effort against both Anisman and Shaver. During Wednesday's meeting, he served the paperwork on Anisman.

The board will advertise Shaver's open position and seek applicants to fill it, with district General Manager Darin McCosker reporting that the position must be filled in 60 days.

Several actions were taken at the meeting to address transparency and the district's fiscal situation.

The board voted to hire Larry Bain to do audits for 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08, which are mandated by the state. The cost will be $23,700, the lowest of three bids submitted.

In addition to fulfilling state requirements, it's hoped by the board and ratepayers in attendance at the meeting that the audits will clear up the district's financial picture.

Bookkeeper Jana Saccato said the district owes nearly $189,000, not counting new bills that have just come in. She assured ratepayers that there is enough money to cover all checks being written, which wasn't the case in previous years, when thousands of dollars in late fees and overdraft charges accumulated on the district's checking account.

Documents Saccato provided to the board show that the board's checking account went from more than $56,000 at the end of July to just over $7,000 on Aug. 18, as the district continues to try to pay off outstanding debt.

Income and expense comparisons for January through July of 2007 and 2008, prepared by Saccato – which board members said weren't prepared under the previous general manager – showed the district's income is starting to more regularly outpace its bills this year, largely the opposite of 2007.

Board member Frank Toney's proposal to form a standing finance committee also was approved. The committee will include Toney and McCosker, board member Harry Chase and Mike Benjamin.

Town resident Judy Heeszel indicated interest in participating, and McCosker suggested adding Bob Summerrill, a former board member who submitted a detailed set of suggestions for goals the committee should pursue.

Because it's a standing committee, it will be subject to the Brown Act, which requires agendas being posted 72 hours in advance of meetings.

In response to requests from ratepayers, the board decided to move meeting times to allow for more public participation.

The board usually meets in the afternoon on the third Wednesday of the month. However, at the Saturday rate hike meeting community members asked the board to move the meetings to a time when more people could attend. The meetings will now be held on the third Thursday of the month at 7 p.m.

McCosker said Wednesday that his staff has been overwhelmed by requests for documents by community members in light of the rate hike proposal and the growing concern over the district's fiscal health.

Saccato also reported that the district received 427 letters opposing the 39.4-percent rate increases for sewer and water. The district is now proposing other rate hike options, including 25 percent and 10 percent.

For information about the open board position, visit the district's Web site at

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


CLEARLAKE OAKS – In the wake of a heated public meeting over the weekend in which community members began calling for the recall of two Clearlake Oaks County Water District Board members, one of the members in question has resigned and the second is deciding if he should follow suit.

Pat Shaver, the longest-serving member of the district board, confirmed Monday that she had tendered her resignation to district General Manager Darin McCosker earlier in the day.

However, Shaver would not offer a comment to Lake County News about her reasons for resigning.

The district's board held a public hearing on Saturday evening at the Eastlake Grange to receive public testimony about three proposed rate hike options – 39.4, 25 and 10 percent – one of which officials have said is necessary to help stabilize the district's shaky financial picture.

At that meeting the board was criticized for its handling of the meeting, which began with audience members asked to submit questions in writing rather than giving testimony and asking questions at the podium. Eventually, the board did welcome ratepayers to take the microphone.

Shaver was absent from the meeting and board Vice President Mike Anisman, angered by what he said was an abusive barrage from audience members, walked out a half hour into the meeting, which ran for more than two hours.

Community member Mike Benjamin – who had criticized the board for the way it conducted the meeting – then circulated two petitions to file a notice of intention to begin a recall effort on both Anisman and Shaver.

“There were so many people that wanted to sign that thing that I ran out of spaces for signatures,” Benjamin said Monday.

Benjamin said he actually took five petitions to the meeting – one for each board member, the others being President Helen Locke and directors Frank Toney and Harry Chase.

However, he said he felt both Toney and Chase conducted themselves properly at the meeting, so he chose not to pursue an effort to oust them.

Anisman had written a comment on Lake County News in which he indicated he planned to tender his resignation as well. However, he said Monday evening that he was still making up his mind about what action to take.

Benjamin said he was still prepared to pursue the notice to begin the recall against Anisman, saying his walking out of the meeting “was the absolute worst thing in the world he could have done.”

A former elected official himself in the Yuba County city of Wheatland, Benjamin said elected officials don't have the luxury of getting their feelings hurt. “This is business. It isn't personal.”

Over the last several months, Benjamin has been a fixture at board meetings, and board members also have called on his knowledge of the Brown Act and running public meetings.

He had warned Shaver at a June meeting that he thought she should be recalled.

Water board member Frank Toney had posed this question at Saturday's meeting: Who will step up and take the seats of the board members who leave?

Benjamin, who turns 62 in November, said he is willing to serve in order to get the district straightened out, but maintained he likes being retired and wasn't preparing to get back into public service. “All I'm trying to do is help.”

Board President Helen Locke said Monday that Shaver's seat on the board will be filled by appointment. The district will publish the opening, take applications and make a choice.

Locke, Toney and Anisman were elected to the board last November. All three told Lake County News in previous interviews that they had no idea about the district's financial condition until after they were seated on the board earlier this year.

The board is set to meet at 3 p.m. this Wednesday. Not on the agenda for that meeting is a discussion of passing a rate hike, which the board agreed to postpone, at raterpayers' request, until it held another community meeting fully explaining all three rate hike options.

On Wednesday the board will consider proposals for audit services to conduct two past due audits and a third that's coming due now.

Toney's suggestion to form a finance committee will be considered, and McCosker also will ask the board to allow him to appoint district bookkeeper Jana Saccato as board secretary, a job he has been holding down in addition to other duties.

Also at the request of ratepayers, the board on Wednesday will consider moving its public meetings from 3 p.m. on the third Wednesday of the month to 7 p.m. every third Thursday.

In the wake of Saturday's tense meeting, Locke said she had considered offering her own resignation.

In the end, however, she decided to stay and continue working on the district's issues.

“We've got to keep the place running,” she said. “I'll hang in there as long as I can.”

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


LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's jobless rate climbed in July, topping June's rate and showing a significant rise over the same time last year.

The county's preliminary July unemployment rate was 10.2 percent, up from the revised June rate of 9.5 percent and 1.9 percent above the year-ago, July 2007 rate of 8.3 percent, according to Dennis Mullins of the Employment Development Department's North Coast region office.

Mullins said that, at a 10.2 percent unemployment rate, Lake County ranked 47th among the State's 58 counties.

Some surrounding county rates included 10.5 percent for Colusa, 6.6 percent for Mendocino and 6.1 percent for Sonoma, according to Mullins.

Marin had the lowest rate in the state at 5.0 percent, said Mullins, and Imperial County had the highest with 23.3 percent. The comparable California and U.S. rates were 7.6 and 6.0 percent, respectively.

Mullins reported that total industry employment increased 380 (2.6 percent) between July 2007 and July 2008 ending the year-over period with 15,110 jobs.

Year-over job growth occurred in manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; information; private educational and health services; leisure and hospitality; and government.

Year-over job losses occurred in natural resources, mining and construction; professional and business services; and other services.

Farm and financial activities were industry sectors with no change over the year.

Mullins said government led industry gainers adding 220 jobs over the year. The private educational and health services sector was up 90 jobs and trade, transportation and utilities gained 70. Leisure and hospitality increased 20, and manufacturing and information were each up 10 jobs.

Professional and business services led decliners dropping 20 for the period, said Mullins, with natural resources, mining and construction, and other services each down 10 jobs.

Eight industry sectors gained jobs or held steady over the year, and three declined, according to Mullins.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a statement on the state's unemployment picture, saying the entire nation continues to suffer through a slow economy that is affecting jobs and families here in California, and he's working with legislators to include in the state budget an economic stimulus package.


“Construction and financial services continue to struggle in California, but I am encouraged about recent increases in housing purchases and that other job sectors – while they do not have the robust growth we want or expect in California – are holding steady,” Schwarzenegger said.


PARADISE VALLEY – A Clearlake Oaks man was arrested early Wednesday morning after he hit a semi while allegedly driving under the influence, with the crash also resulting in a fuel spill.

The California Highway Patrol arrested Raju Thakorbhai Patel, 36, said CHP Officer Adam Garcia.

Patel was driving a 2007 Honda Civic eastbound on Highway 20 east of Verna Way close to Paradise Cove when the crash happened at about 3:05 a.m., according to Garcia.

Garcia said Haraoki Saito, 40, of Sacramento was driving westbound in a 2009 Volvo tractor trailer pulling a two-axle trailer when Patel reportedly sideswiped the semi.

Patel suffered minor injuries in the collision, said Garcia, while Saito was not reported to be injured.

Along with CHP, Lake County Sheriff's deputies, Caltrans, Cal Fire and Northshore Fire Protection District responded to the scene early Wednesday due to a diesel spill on the roadway.

Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown, who was incident commander for the spill, said the collision caused a puncture in the semi's fuel tank, which released between 20 and 25 gallon of diesel.

He said the fuel covered about 200 feet of roadway across both lanes, which made it necessary to shut down the highway while the spill was cleaned up.

Brown said six Northshore Fire personnel with one engine, four Cal Fire firefighters and a Cal Fire engine, and Caltrans took care of the spilled fuel.

The firefighters grabbed their shovels and quickly went to work to contain the fuel. “It did not get into any of the creeks or off the road,” said Brown, which prevented him from having to call in Environmental Health.

Brown said the highway was reopened around 5:30 a.m.

CHP Officer Steven Tanguay arrested Patel at about 7:40 a.m., according to jail records.

Patel was booked on a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence, with bail set at $5,000, his booking sheet noted. He was released later Wednesday morning.

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


North Coast state Sen. Patricia Wiggins is under fire for a statement she made to a pastor during a recent state Senate committee hearing.

The incident that has garnered the Santa Rosa Democrat heavy criticism occurred during a joint hearing of the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications and Assembly Natural Resources committees on Aug. 6.

Rev. Robert Jones, government affairs director for the Sacramento-based California Association of Black Pastors and pastor of Oak Park United Methodist Church, was giving testimony during a hearing to discuss global warming.

He asked the committee to consider input from members of ethnic and lower-income communities when addressing global warming and emissions standards. When new fees are implemented to address such issues, Jones said those communities suffer the most.

“Excuse me, but it think your arguments are bull****,” Wiggins said.

Committee Chair Sen. Christine Kehoe immediately interjected and began talking with Jones, keeping the hearing moving.

A clip of the hearing and Wiggins' comment were posted on YouTube, and has generated nearly 36,000 hits.

Since then, Wiggins has sustained harsh criticism for her words.

She's also attempted to apologize to Jones. In an Aug. 12 letter to Jones she wrote, “I did not intend to be aggressive, disrespectful or vulgar. Unfortunately, my directness and poor choice of words may have left the wrong impression and were, in hindsight, inappropriate for a legislative hearing. Nor did I mean to be insensitive to the important role of the California Association of Black Pastors.”

In the letter Wiggins asked Jones for a second chance and an opportunity to personally meet with him to apologize for the incident.

David Miller, Wiggins' spokesman, said she immediately regretted her words and has attempted ever since the committee hearing to meet with Jones, to no avail.

Initially, Wiggins thought she had heard Jones say that he believed he was asking for minority-owned businesses to be exempt from the regulations, which Miller said she realized later wasn't what he said.

Wiggins at one point did have a meeting scheduled with Jones and some of his colleagues, but they didn't show up to the meeting or call to say they weren't coming, and have offered no response since, said Miller.

A call Lake County News placed to Jones' church was not returned.

Critics of the senator have seized on the opportunity to go after her. The California Republican Party reportedly sent out a news release with a link to the YouTube video.

Likewise, the Capitol Resource Institute launched a phone call and email campaign demanding Wiggins publicly apologize to Jones, saying she displayed “shocking contempt for the people she was elected to serve.”

“This type of behavior from an elected official is simply unacceptable,” Karen England, executive director for Capitol Resource Institute, said in a written statement.

Miller said he wouldn't offer an excuse for Wiggins' remark, which she herself feels is inexcusable.

It's an unfortunate situation, said Miller, considering Wiggins' strong belief in the kind of environmental justice Jones was seeking, that drafting environmental regulations should be an inclusive process.

Wiggins was elected to the state Senate in 2006. She previously represented the North Coast in the state Assembly.

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


Ratepayer Judy Heeszel questions the board about use of company trucks and who drives them at the meeting on Saturday, August 16, 2008, as Bill Rett waits his turn to ask a question. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

CLEARLAKE OAKS – A Saturday night meeting to discuss a proposed rate hike in the Clearlake Oaks County Water District saw anger and frustration on the part of ratepayers and the launch of a possible recall effort of two board members.

Close to 100 ratepayers crowded into the Eastlake Grange on Highway 20 for the meeting, which ran more than two hours.

At times the tone of the meeting was tense, with some district customers shouting at board members, prompting board Vice President Mike Anisman to walk out.

That left board President Helen Locke and board members Harry Chase and Frank Toney to meet a quorum, since the fifth and longest-serving member of the board, Pat Shaver, did not attend.

The district initially proposed a 39.4-percent hate hike on both water and sewer rates, which district General Manager Darin McCosker said was initially believed necessary to stabilize the district's finances and make needed capital improvements, including upgrades to its High Valley tanks, as Lake County News has reported.

In the past few weeks, however, McCosker has developed two alternate rate hike proposals, one for 25 percent and another for 10 percent, which are now believed sufficient to help the district make ends meet. Ratepayers argued they hadn't been formally noticed about those options, and they asked for more information on them before a decision was made.

McCosker explained that the district's rates were currently among the lowest in the county, and that the proposed 39.4-percent increase would make the district the fifth-highest for water, with the sewer rate hike at the same amount likely to make the district's sewer rates amongst the most expensive.

He said rates haven't been raised in several years while, at the same time, the district dealt with a major sewage spill and cleanup in 2000, and had several large projects in the years since then.

Some financial measures he's proposing include reducing purchasing, paying bills on time to avoid penalties, completing complex projects in-house, a spending freeze which already is in effect and making adjustments to employee benefits.

The district takes its water from Clear Lake, paying $50 an acre foot to Yolo County for the water, said McCosker. That's not a bad price compared with some areas. “Raw water costs are astronomical throughout California,” he said.

McCosker said the district has two past-due audits with another audit coming due shortly. But his understanding of the district's financial shape is changing, and has developed more in recent months. In March, two months after he took over as general manager, he said he thought a 50-percent rate increase was necessary. But that belief has changed.

He also suggested easing into a number of capital improvements over the next few years with smaller rate increases.

The audits, and the ratepayers' concerns about the district's true budget picture, would be a recurring theme throughout the evening. Many people suggested the audits – which are required by state law –should be completed before a rate increase is considered.

As tempers flared, with people yelling at the board – sometimes several at once – Anisman became frustrated. “You don't have the right to speak to us like animals,” he told the audience.

When the yelling continued, Anisman picked up his things and walked out only a half-hour into the meeting, with several audience members immediately demanding he be removed from the board.

Many people wanted to know how the district got into its current situation. McCosker said it was not altogether unexpected, based on the result of its last audit for the 2004-05 fiscal year.

That audit, said McCosker, warned that the district's reserves, at $1.3 million in 1998, were down to $385,000 and the district needed to raise rates before the reserves were completely gone. Before McCosker took over as general manager in January, reserves were down to $13,000.

Locke said the district's former board as well as its previous general manager, Ellen Pearson, “were being too nice” in not raising rates.

During the course of the evening other ratepayer questions centered around why the district hadn't instituted a hiring freeze, water quality and chemical usage, having two staffers drive around to check meters (necessary, said McCosker, because it's quicker and the district still does meter reading with a meter book and not handheld processors, which would cost $20,000).

Within the first hour several people got up and left the meeting, frustrated over what they felt was a lack of forthright answers. Several people also didn't like having to submit written questions to the board.

Former board member Bob White, who failed to win reelection last November in the same election that saw Toney, Anisman and Locke elected, said he lost because he told people the truth about the district's situation.

He blamed the other board members on the previous board – including Chase and Shaver – for giving Pearson everything she wanted. White then went on to suggest both Chase and Shaver should be removed from the board.

“The past general manager took this water district down,” he said.

He also urged community members to give the new board a chance.

The board was roundly upbraided by town resident Mike Benjamin for its handling of the Saturday meeting. Benjamin, who has attended regular board meetings in recent months, read from the Brown Act, which explained how the public had a right to get up and ask questions during meetings rather than submit questions on cards.

“You have not allowed public testimony here at all tonight. You have only provided a lecture,” he said, getting a big round of applause.

Locke said during the meeting that the board was going to take its input gathered at the Saturday meeting and make a decision at its regular meeting this Wednesday.

Jim Burton, Clearlake Oaks' retired fire chief, suggested they call another special evening meeting and bring back more specifics on the three rate hike proposals. “You're going to have a lot of really ticked off people here if you try to pass this thing next Wednesday,” he said.

Benjamin returned to the microphone, stating the meeting was the most important the board has had in several years. He asked where Shaver was – Locke said Shaver had said she couldn't make it – and then asked if Anisman's leaving was an appropriate act.

One audience member yelled “Recall!” Benjamin then pulled out two copies of a petition for a notice of intention to circulate recall petitions on both Shaver and Anisman, and asked who would be interested in signing them, with several people indicating they were.

Toney asked who was going to step up and take those two spots on the board as Benjamin went to the back of the room and began collecting signatures.

Susan Burton urged the board to formulate a plan, which includes a completed audit, in order to move forward. She asked for them to show why the rates needed to go up and said then she would be willing to do her part and pay higher rates. Burton also asked them to consider night meetings to encourage more public participation.

“Let's get a plan, let's get an audit, let's get going,” he said.

Locke asked the crowd if they wanted another meeting to explore all of the rate options, which was answered with a definite “yes.”

The board's next regular meeting is at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 20, at the district office, 12952 E. Highway 20.

Benjamin said after the meeting he received enough signatures to get started on the notice of intention to circulate the recall petitions against Anisman and Shaver.

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




Water board President Helen Locke and board member Harry Chase listen to public comment during the meeting on Saturday, August 16, 2008. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



MIDDLETOWN – A Hidden Valley Lake man received major injuries in a crash that occurred Monday evening.

Joshua Terry, 30, was injured in the collision, which occurred at 6 p.m. on Highway 29 north of the Dry Creek Cutoff, reported California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.

Garcia said Terry was riding his 1991 Suzuki Sport motorcycle northbound on Highway 29. Traffic ahead of him came to a stop and he struck the rear of a 2003 Volkswagen Golf driven by 69-year-old Ivonne Robertson of Clearlake Oaks.

The collision caused Terry to be ejected from the motorcycle, which resulted in major, non-life-threatening injuries, Garcia said.

REACH helicopter transported Terry to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Garcia said neither Robertson nor her passenger, Laver Robertson, was reported as being injured.

The collision is a reminder of the need to maintain a high visual horizon. Garcia said this means

keep your eyes up and looking down the road.

Many drivers focus on the road only five or eight seconds ahead, Garcia noted. Instead, drivers should look about 15 to 20 seconds ahead of the vehicle, farther if possible.

Garcia said this gives a driver time to recognize and avoid most potential hazards before they become a


He said you'll see lane restrictions or construction areas, traffic congestion, truck entrances, mishaps and other hazards.

Keeping your eyes focused far down the road – instead of just past the end of the hood – creates more

reaction time for hazards, according to Garcia.

Officer Efrain Cortez is investigating the incident, Garcia said.


MIDDLETOWN – A Saturday evening crash that sent a local man to the hospital with serious injuries is believed to have been alcohol-related, officials reported Monday.

Juan Morales-Vasquez, 20, of Clearlake sustained major injuries that were not life-threatening in the single-vehicle collision, said California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.

Morales-Vasquez was driving a 1989 Nissan Pathfinder southbound on Butts Canyon Road near Oat Hill Road at about 4:18 p.m. Saturday when he went straight through a left curve in the road, losing control and rolling the vehicle, Garcia said.

Garcia said Morales-Vasquez was ejected from the Pathfinder, and later transported to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he was released to the hospital's care.

Vasquez-Morales is suspected of driving under the influence, said Garcia, with CHP planning to arrest him once he's released from the hospital.

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


Do you have an herb garden? If not, keep reading; if so, also keep reading while knowing that you better off than the other category.

My perennial herb garden is just outside my kitchen door. I put it in the very first week I moved into my home. It contains a large patch of chives, thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano and, just for the beauty and diversity, a bunch of milkweed plants.

I like having an extra large patch of chives since they die off during the winter, so in the summertime I use them like crazy. Not only can you use the leaves of the chive plant but the entire plant is edible, much like a small green onion. Asian cooks will take a small bundle of the whole plants, tie them in a knot, then batter and deep fry them. Trust me ... YUMMY!

The flower blossoms also are edible, giving a mild oniony yet beautiful bite to any salad. Just remember to add them after you toss in the dressing, otherwise they lose a lot of that beauty and look like something that you should fish out.

Thyme has got to be my favorite herb; there is something about that flavor that goes well with everything. Don’t believe me? Try taking a couple of melons, cut then into cubes, and toss in a bowl with a tablespoon of honey and a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves, then serve chilled.

There are many different types of thyme, and what will work best in your kitchen all depends on what your tastes are. I grow two varieties, an English thyme and a silver thyme. The first one is green, and the second is variegated (green and white leaves); this way I can use them for different applications.

For instance, variegated thyme wouldn’t look good in a spaghetti sauce. You’d keep looking at these small white flecks in your food and feel like you should pick them out. Although TV chefs usually recommend striping the leaves from a sprig of thyme I rarely do. With the exception of recipes like the melon one above, I prefer to throw the entire sprig into a sauce or dish and then fish out the branch later when it’s done cooking.

Sage is available in many colors/varieties and loves our climate here in Lake County. Being an evergreen plant, it is available to us year-round. Where would our Thanksgiving turkey be without the flavor of sage? Sage is considered medicinal and/or magical by many cultures and religions. It was also considered by the ancient Greeks to have such protective qualities that they would be stunned if a man died while sage grew in his garden.

If you are looking to deer-proof your yard, then add some rosemary – deer hate it. One of my goals in life is to have my own organic farm, and one of the first things I would do is put up a rosemary hedge to keep out the deer naturally.

I love to cut long branches of rosemary and use them as skewers for meat, and I never make lamb without rosemary. When you plant rosemary, be sure to give it plenty of room because it can grow 5 feet high and wide, or if you have a small space just be sure to keep it trimmed. I use rosemary so much that its size isn’t a problem in my garden; it’s constantly trying to keep up with my demand for it. Rosemary has long been used to improve memory, and modern studies have added some credence to this belief.

My garden is organic, so I’ve learned to live with sharing my garden with plenty of moochers, a.k.a., pests. This year my rosemary plant is covered with caterpillars. No big deal, I just brush them off before I cook with them (the rosemary, not the caterpillars). Similarly, every year my tomatoes get a couple of hornworms, and instead of getting all upset, we name them and have fun watching them grow. My tomato plants are healthy enough to handle the infestation without worry.

I grow asclepias, a.k.a. milkweed or pleurisy root, in with my herbs because the addition of genetically diverse plants in a garden makes it healthier and reduces pest problems naturally. Asclepias are the sole food for monarch butterflies, and I like seeing the little critters flittering about the garden. The plants also attract hummingbirds, and it has been fun to watch the interaction of these assertive birds with my wife’s cats. Asclepias are toxic to humans, so although they are in my herb garden I don’t eat them.

Oregano is great in many cuisines. Not only does it work well in spaghetti sauce but also in guacamole and taco seasoning. There are many different varieties, so talk to your garden center staff about what kind you should grow. Sicilian oregano is purported to be one of the most flavorful varieties.

I used to grow other herbs in my herb garden, like savory and marjoram, but I found I didn’t use them enough to justify them taking up the space in my small garden. I grow annual herbs like parsley, dill and basil elsewhere in the garden.

The thing you have to understand if you do plant an herb garden is ... be patient and let it grow. Too many people plant an herb garden and start harvesting from it that very year. With annual plants like basil and parsley that’s fine, but slower growing perennials need a year to become established and really produce well for you. Rosemary plants will eventually become five feet tall, sage will become a couple of feet tall, chives will actually divide and multiply themselves into a small patch. If you start harvesting the very first year then you will be cheating yourself in the long run.

Basil is an annual herb, meaning it will completely die over the winter and will need to be replanted in the spring. A variety called “Genovese basil” has been named the best tasting basil by “The International Pesto Society” (boy, there is a club out there for everyone!), and that has been my variety of choice for years.

Basil is very fragile, so make sure to plant it when all chance of frost is gone. When using basil, try not to cut it until the very last second – anywhere stainless steel touches basil it will turn black in just a couple minutes. Some chefs recommend tearing basil by hand to avoid this unsightly reaction.

Let’s talk parsley. Never mind that “curly” parsley that you get on the side of your plate when you eat at the diner, flat-leafed Italian parsley is what you want. It has a much fuller flavor and is easier to chop to add to dishes. Parsley is a biennial, which means it will live for two years before it flowers and dies. If you have a pet rabbit, plant parsley as a treat for it. I planted an extra large patch of parsley to share with my daughter’s bunny, and it was a very happy bunny! You can put your bunny in the parsley patch and come back an hour later; trust me, it ain’t leaving voluntarily.

Men, you should also keep in mind that subconsciously – and even not so subconsciously – women think that a single man who can keep a plant alive would make a good husband/father, since it shows responsibility and care. As a result, a man with a garden is viewed as more attractive to women since he shows that he can take care of a living thing. Consequently, even if you aren’t a big cook, having an herb garden can benefit you. Just remember that the plants need to look healthy or the effect is lost.

For this following saltimbocca recipe veal is typically used, but my daughter refuses to eat veal (remember, petting zoo vegetarianism) so I changed it slightly. You can follow the same instructions using veal if you wish to stay traditional. Saltimbocca means “Jump in the mouth,” as if someone said, “I didn’t eat them all, they just jumped into my mouth!” This recipe alone is my main reason for growing sage. I buy prosciutto at the mega-market – just check in the specialty meats area by the deli.

Chicken Saltimbocca (Recipe serves 2)

2 chicken breasts

8 slices of Prosciutto

12 sage leaves

12 toothpicks (unflavored)

1/2 cup of flour

4 tablespoons butter

Lay the chicken breasts on a cutting board and split each of them horizontally so you end up with four identical but thin breast slices. Be very careful doing this; it helps if your knife is extra sharp. Using the smooth side of a meat mallet gently pound the chicken breast halves even thinner without going to the point where you are destroying them. Put two slices of prosciutto on top of each chicken breast and, using the waffle side of your meat mallet, gently pound the prosciutto into the chicken as if you are trying to meld them into one piece of meat. (If you don’t have a waffle-sided meat mallet, try using a couple of forks to stab the two meats together over and over again.)

Position three sage leaves on each breast on top of the prosciutto. Using the toothpicks, pin the sage to each breast.

Heat a non-stick pan to medium on the stovetop and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Gently dredge each breast in flour as the pan heats, and then place one or two of the breast slices in the pan (depending on size of your pan). Cook for one minute on each side or until done. Add the rest of the butter as needed to cook remaining pieces.

Serve each person two slices but expect them to want more, so increase this recipe as needed. And be sure to remind dinner guests to remove the toothpicks themselves.

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.


Firefighter Phil Mateer surveys the burned landscape. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



LOWER LAKE – On Tuesday, firefighters and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. employees remained at work on the scene of a fire that broke out the previous day.

The fire, located along Highway 29 near Manning Flat, was sparked mid-afternoon Monday, caused a highway closure and burned approximately 182 acres, as Lake County News has reported.

Downed power lines may have been a contributing factor, according to Cal Fire.

Along Highway 29, PG&E trucks were at work through the day, replacing more than a dozen power poles. Some of the poles were at the roadside, and some others were located in steeper terrain 50 to 100 feet east of the roadway.

The work required one-way traffic control in the area all day until about 4 p.m.

No homes were in danger, although DNA Quarry was nearby.

There, three Cal Fire hand crews spent the day working to put out hot spots and clean up the fire lines.

Many of the firefighters had worked into the night and were relieved about midnight, returning after about four hours of rest.

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The fire burned much of a small hill. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



PG&E spent the day replacing about a dozen power poles in the area. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



Phil Mateer and crew on water break. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



Rookie firefighter Anthony Oandason takes a well-deserved rest with a cold drink of water. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



Konocti Conservation crews set out to cover fire lines. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



A closer view of the burned landscape. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



Trees on the hillside were badly burned in the Monday fire. Photo by Harold LaBonte.




Lori Burke shot this view of the fire from the Clear Lake Riviera.


LOWER LAKE – State and local firefighters moved quickly to suppress a fire that broke out along Highway 29 near Lower Lake Monday afternoon.

The fire reached approximately 182 acres, Cal Fire reported late Monday evening. Earlier in the day, acreage estimates had reached 300 acres, but officials said that number was scaled back due to better mapping.

Cal Fire's Incident Command Center reported that the fire was dispatched at 2:18 p.m.

The fire necessitated shutting down a portion of Highway 29 near Diener and Manning Flat as firefighters worked to contain it.

California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia said Point Lakeview at one point was being used as an alternate route. However, that road also was closed at about 3:16 p.m., with the fire reportedly cresting the ridge.

CHP reported shortly before 6 p.m. that Point Lakeview could be reopened. CHP reported that Highway 29 itself was reopened shortly after 9 p.m.

Cal Fire led the suppression effort, with five air tankers, three helicopters, 11 fire engines, six bulldozers and five hand crews, along with resources from local fire districts, including a five-engine strike team that was called for before shortly before 4 p.m.

Witnesses at the scene reported large Cal Fire air tankers were dropping retardant on the fire, with helicopters also making water drops.

The air tankers were released at 6:46 p.m., with the helicopters released by 7:30 p.m., according to reports from the scene.

Power lines were down at the scene, with some onscene reports indicating the possibility of a blown transformer.

Pacific Gas and Electric spokesperson Jana Morris said that 4,800 customers served by the company's Konocti power substation – serving areas including Kelseyville and Cobb – were out of power mid-afternoon.

The outage's cause, said Morris, appeared to be the downed power lines, but why the power lines had fallen was still being investigated.

She said at 2:35 p.m. PG&E received a call from a customer who reported a loud noise that they thought had come from a transformer, but Morris could not confirm Monday that a transformer had in fact blown.

All 4,800 customers had power restored to them by 5 p.m., Morris said. Cobb resident Roger Kinney reported that the power was off in Cobb about two hours.

Vehicles being routed onto Highway 175 to avoid the fire encountered a solo vehicle crash on Highway 175 near Cobb, which took place just after 4 p.m. and resulted in the vehicle and some nearby grass catching fire.

Cal Fire, which took the call, reported the fire was very small and quickly contained. The vehicle was destroyed. Minor injuries to the occupants were reported by CHP.

Officials with Cal Fire said late Monday that the 182-acre fire scene was still being mopped up. The downed power lines are believed to be a contributing factor, Cal Fire reported.

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Val Onellion of Clearlake photographed these two Cal Fire helicopters in the Diener Road area.



Phyllis Clement took this photo of the fire from across Clear Lake on Monday afternoon. Cal Fire and local firefighters were continuing to fight the fire, which initially was reported after 2 p.m., as Highway 29 was closed to through traffic.



The fire also could be seen in Clearlake, as shown in this photo by Cobb resident Brenda Crandall.



A view of the fire photographed from the front yard of James and Karin Green, who live in the Clear Lake Riviera.



Rick Hamilton captured this shot of Cal Fire putting out a small grass fire sparked by a vehicle crash on Highway 175 just after 4 p.m.




MIDDLETOWN – A crash near Middletown on Saturday evening resulted in major injuries for a man involved.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the crash, which appeared to only involve a single vehicle, was reported at around 5:05 p.m. on Butts Canyon Road at Oat Hill.

A male subject was ejected from his vehicle. The man, who did not speak English, was conscious but bleeding, according to the CHP.

Cal Fire emergency responders were directed to conduct an alcohol check on the man before he was life-flighted to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital.

A CHP unit later was sent to the hospital to get a blood draw on the man.

No further information – including the man's identity – was available late Saturday.

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


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