Friday, 19 July 2024


CLEARLAKE – Lake County health officials on Friday offered an update on efforts to monitor a natural release of geothermal gases discovered this week in Clearlake.

Reports of a noxious odor in a Clearlake neighborhood on Wednesday afternoon led to the discovery of a naturally occurring release of gases including hydrogen sulfide, as Lake County News has reported.

The Lake County Air Quality Management District (LCAQMD) conducted initial testing of air samples at a site located in a vacant lot where the gas was observed to be venting from a hole in the soil.

Calpine Corp. environmental staff provided additional laboratory testing of the vent gases, according to the report from Lake County's Environmental Health and Public Health departments.

Testing revealed the presence of hydrogen sulfide at levels capable of causing adverse health effects, officials said.

In addition to LCAQMD, Lake County Fire Protection District, city of Clearlake Police Department and Public Works Department, and Lake County Health Services all responded to the site.

Many residents of the neighborhood in Clearlake are familiar with the periodic venting of geothermal gases, the report stated.

The noticeable increase is the consequence of saturation of the soil by recent heavy rains, causing gases that are normally present in low concentrations in the soil to collect in pockets and release to the surface through any available channel. This concentration of the gases can be seen as a bubbling in the soil and can be detected as a rotten-egg or skunky odor.

The gases are comprised of a mixture that includes hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and methane.

Hydrogen sulfide is known to produce a range of harmful health effects depending on its concentration and the duration of exposure. In addition, venting of the gases to an enclosed space can be dangerous by displacing oxygen necessary for breathing.

Responders to the Clearlake incident near Robinson Avenue and Division Street conducted air sampling at the site of the initially discovered vent. Hydrogen sulfide levels were found to be significantly elevated at the source, with levels that would be expected to cause eye and respiratory tract irritation and potentially more serious effects with prolonged exposure over hours.

Temporary measures were taken to reduce the release by covering the site with plastic sheeting, which reduced the hydrogen sulfide levels in the immediate area to less than half of the initial measurements. Levels taken at the closest home, approximately 60 feet from the site were only 1 percent to 2 percent of the original level at the source.

Residents in the immediate vicinity of the gas release were notified and advised to consider precautionary evacuation on a voluntary basis.

With assistance from the American Red Cross, one family was housed in a local hotel, officials reported.

Additional air sampling over a wider area, including Burns Elementary School, was conducted early Thursday morning. There were no detectable levels of hydrogen sulfide at the school.

A Public Health advisory also was distributed to residents in the areas impacted by the geothermal gas release.

Since hydrogen sulfide gas can produce symptoms, the health advisory encouraged residents of the affected neighborhood with recent, unexplained onset of irritation of the eyes, nose or throat, difficulty breathing or worsened asthma, headaches, poor attention span or poor memory to see their doctor for evaluation.

Young children and people with existing medical conditions are generally considered more susceptible to the adverse effects of this type of exposure. Staying away from the source of exposure is the recommended prevention and treatment.

As of mid-day Thursday, air samples from approximately 50 feet away from the geothermal vent showed essentially little to no detectable levels of hydrogen sulfide. Although levels may fluctuate slightly, these findings provide reassurance that significant exposure can be avoided by simply staying at least 50 feet away from the vent site, reducing the level of concern for households in the area.

Later in the day, with the assistance of Calpine engineers, a filtering device was installed to filter the escaping gas.

Following installation of the device, the filtered air showed no detectable hydrogen sulfide. This device will remain in place as long as necessary and will continue to be monitored by appropriate agencies.

With the filtering device in place, concerns about exposure of neighborhood residents largely subsided, but responders remain at the scene and are currently reassessing some leakage of gas that has been detected adjacent to the filtering device, officials reported.

Multiple agencies continue to monitor the area and, though the initial vent area has been capped, additional vents may be present.

Additional measures may be necessary if significant vents or large areas of gas release occur.

This seasonal release of naturally occurring gases is a temporary situation that is expected to resolve once the soil is no longer saturated with water, according to the report.

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UKIAH – Finding help in Mendocino County is now easier than ever before.

On Thursday – dubbed "2-1-1 Day” – FIRST 5 Mendocino, Mendocino County Health & Human Services Agency and United Way of the Wine Country announced the countywide launch of the 2-1-1 Mendocino phone service.

By simply dialing 2-1-1, Mendocino County residents can reach a caring, trained specialist, who will match their needs with local community services, such as housing and shelter assistance, senior services, employment assistance, physical and mental wellness, and much more.

Available 24 hours a day, 2-1-1 is also an integral component of Mendocino County’s disaster-response infrastructure.

“Mendocino County is proud to become a 2-1-1 service area that is financially supported by the county and the private sector," said Mendocino County's Assistant Chief Executive Officer Carmel Angelo. "This leveraged public-private partnership is based on the knowledge that 2-1-1 is a vital public communication vehicle through which individuals, families and whole communities gain access to comprehensive and up-to-date health, housing and human service information.”

In California, more than 90 percent of the state is covered by 2-1-1. Nationally, 2-1-1 serves 75 percent of the American public.

In the Bay Area, 2-1-1 was introduced in San Francisco County in early 2006, in Santa Clara County in early 2007, Alameda County in mid 2007, Contra Costa, Napa, Marin and Solano counties in 2008, and Sonoma County in 2009.

Walter Collins, president and chief executive officer of United Way of the Wine Country, said, “Finding help in Mendocino County is now as simple as dialing 2-1-1 – residents can quickly connect with local community services that meet their needs.”

He noted that without 2-1-1, people often make up to nine phone calls before finding the correct service, while many give up before getting the help they need.

Collins added, “2-1-1 is simple, easy-to-remember, toll-free, and available 24-7. Both on a daily basis and in times of disaster, 2-1-1 is the one number people need to know to get help and information."

The 2-1-1 Mendocino effort is a public-private partnership between FIRST 5 Mendocino, Mendocino County Health & Human Services Agency, and United Way of the Wine Country. In addition to these founding partners, 2-1-1 Mendocino is generously supported by PG&E, Bank of America and Community Foundation of Mendocino County.

For everyday needs and in times of disaster, 2-1-1 is an easy-to-remember, toll-free phone number that connects Mendocino residents with local community services, such as food, shelter, counseling, employment assistance, quality child care and more. It's confidential and available 24 hours a day.

The service also serves as a vital link for individuals seeking to volunteer and provide resources to nonprofit organizations.

The service's Web site,, includes a searchable database. There are more than 500 agencies and services in the 2-1-1 Mendocino County databases.

The 2-1-1 service’s role in disaster response and recovery has been important in major events across the country.

The importance of 2-1-1 during disaster was underscored during the October 2007 wildfires in Southern California, where 2-1-1 San Diego call volume peaked at 30,000 calls a day – up from 800 daily – as residents sought information about evacuation sites, road closures, shelters, medical assistance, pet and large-animal care and more.

Calls to Texas’ statewide 2-1-1 system increased from 2,500 to more than 10,000 a day after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as people sought food, shelter and other assistance. Three weeks after Katrina, more than 170,000 Texas callers had received 2-1-1 assistance.

When a major disaster strikes Mendocino County, 2-1-1 will provide residents with critical information about evacuation routes, food and shelter, as well as support with finding new jobs and permanent housing during long-term recovery.

In the United States, 2-1-1 started in Atlanta in 1997, and currently reaches approximately 198 million people through 2-1-1 systems covering all or part of 41 states.

In 2000, responding to advocacy by the Alliance of Information & Referral Systems (AIRS) and United Way of America, the Federal Communications Commission agreed to designate 2-1-1 as the nationwide three-digit community services telephone number.

In January 2007, both houses of Congress re-introduced the Calling for 2-1-1 Act, which will authorize $250 million to state entities to help implement and sustain 2-1-1.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ruled in 2003 that 2-1-1 service would be established on a county-by-county basis, as opposed to deploying a statewide system.

California’s first 2-1-1 service launched on Feb. 11, 2005, in Ventura County. In Southern California, 2-1-1 is available in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Diego and San Bernardino Counties.

What's the difference between 2-1-1, 6-1-1, 9-1-1, etc.? The following is a breakdown.

2-1-1: Community services

4-1-1: Directory assistance

5-1-1: Traffic and transit

6-1-1: AT&T repair service

7-1-1: For hearing impaired

8-1-1: Underground utility lines

9-1-1: Life-threatening emergency services

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CLEARLAKE – Clearlake's city administrator is painting a bleak picture in the city's midyear budget review, and suggesting that the city may need to look at options like bankruptcy or divesting itself of parts of its jurisdiction in light of what could be ahead.

City Administrator Dale Neiman will make the presentation to the council at its meeting at 6 p.m. this Thursday, Feb. 11, in the council chambers at Clearlake City Hall, 14050 Olympic Drive.

In his report to the council, Neiman recommends the council provide comments and direction “on the serious financial issues” the city is facing and direct staff to evaluate the process for filing bankruptcy or detaching areas of the city to return to the county's jurisdiction.

He reported that the city has reduced staff by 30 percent and cut services. “Unfortunately, there is no way to provide appropriate services and make further cuts,” he wrote. “Without additional revenues, there is no way to solve the budget crisis.”

General fund revenues are 10-percent below budget projections, a trend that could result in the general fund being down by $356,755. That will leave the general fund with either a very small balance or a negative balance at year's end, according to Neiman.

The city's Proposition P police fund had a negative balance at the start of the year, and is projected to be in the red by $204,161 by July 1, for a total negative city cash balance of $428,630 at the end of the year, he said.

Redevelopment bond funds have been used to cover negative cash balances, but Neiman said redevelopment is supposed to have $373,000 less than the budget estimated.

He said the city receives less revenue than cities of similar size, with services costs that are much higher that similarly sized cities.

Neiman's report suggested that, if the funding trends continue, major issues will be facing the city, among them reduced policing and higher crime rates, degradation of paved streets and failing infrastructure, and citizen demand for services the city can't afford.

Beyond the initial mention of seeking bankruptcy or divestiture, Neiman's report does not go further into those proposals.

The other business item on the agenda for Thursday is consideration of confirming assessments for administrative penalties for failure to abate a public nuisance.

Also on the agenda for Thursday is the Anderson Marsh Interpretive Association's information report on the 2009 Old Time Bluegrass Festival, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's presentation of an autographed photo of President Barack Obama to the city.

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Work continued late Thursday, February 11, 2010, to install a scrubber system off of Division Avenue in Clearlake, Calif., where a natural hydrogen sulfide leak was discovered the previous day. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

CLEARLAKE – For the last day and a half local health and public safety officials have been working to put safety measures in place in response to a natural hydrogen sulfide leak discovered in a Clearlake neighborhood.

The leak was found in an empty lot off of Division Avenue between Pearl and Uhl avenues late Wednesday, according to Doug Gearhart, Lake County's air pollution control officer.

Work continued throughout the day on Thursday to put equipment in place that would help diminish the problem, Gearhart said.

On Thursday evening, Gearhart and crews were finishing up operations to mitigate the leak, which was giving off a very strong sulfur smell reminiscent of a truckload of rotten eggs.

In addition to Gearhart from Lake County Air Quality Management, officials working to install the equipment and manage the scene included Lake County Fire Protection Battalion Chief Willie Sapeta, Clearlake Police Chief Allan McClain and some of his officers, Environmental Health Director Ray Ruminski, Clearlake Public Works Director Doug Herren, as well as Office of Emergency Services and Lake County Public Health staff.

Ruminski estimated there were eight homes within 200 feet of the leak.

“Nobody's in acute danger at this point,” he said.

Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless but highly flammable gas that is emitted by volcanoes and hots springs. An Occupational Health and Safety Administration fact sheet on the gas explains that it is heavier than air and collects in low-lying, poorly ventilated areas, and is both an irritant and an asphyxiant.

Such leaks aren't uncommon in Lake County, which owes its geothermal resources to the volcanic forces underneath the ground that emit such gases. Ruminski said it's part of the landscape, and it's one of the reasons why Lake County and surrounding areas have mineral springs.

Ruminski said that in an industrial setting like the geothermal operations at The Geysers, there are occupational health and safety staff who manage gases like hydrogen sulfide on a routine basis.

In certain concentrations, hydrogen sulfide can be poisonous, and when strong enough “it's very, very dangerous,” said Ruminski.

Ruminski said there was a similar incident of a natural hydrogen sulfide leak in the Clearlake area several years ago.

In that instance, a family with small children found the gas entering their home, he said.

He added, “They never did go back in that particular case.”

Gearhart said there are many such vents around Clear Lake giving off hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide and methane.

“This is the first one strong enough to be considered a health hazard,” Gearhart said.

Ground saturation had sealed the natural fissures through which the gas normally escapes, Gearhart said. So the gas ended up moving laterally until it could find a spot to get out, doing so in a concentrated fashion.

He said they made a gravel cone – which they later covered with soil – to help direct the gas through the vent, which was a large white pipe with a charcoal filter on the top. Ruminski called it a “scrubber system.”

A small, battery-operated fan that can run for weeks at a time exerts a slight negative pressure that is helping draw out the gas, Gearhart explained. A venting hose was placed so that it ran up a nearby power pole.

“We're creating an easy spot for the gas to come out,” he said.

By late Thursday the rotten egg smell was still extremely strong, but Gearhart said, “This is really good for what it was.”

The equipment setup at the Division Avenue site is considered a short-term measure, Gearhart said.

“The is a temporary thing but we don't know how long it will be needed,” he added.

By summer he said the ground will be dry and the gas will start moving out of natural fissures again.

The readings were zero after the equipment was in place, Gearhart said.

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The white pipe, part of the scrubber system, includes a charcoal filter which helps disperse the hydrogen sulfide found leaking out of the ground off of Division Avenue in Clearlake, Calif., on Wednesday, February 10, 2010. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

WILLITS – On Wednesday Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies arrested a Willits man who was high from sniffing a chemical and who burned a portion of carpet at a Willits casino.

Gerald Crandell Simpson, 40, was taken into custody for inhaling toluene, an industrial solvent used as an intoxicant, and for arson, according to a report from Lt. Ron Welch.

On Wednesday shortly before 9:30 a.m. deputies were dispatched to Black Bart Casino regarding a patron under the influence of toluene, Welch said.

Upon their arrival deputies contacted Simpson, who was seated near the front of the casino. Welch said Simpson allegedly had evidence of toluene consumption on his person – including paint on his hands, face and clothing – as well as the heavy chemical toluene odor about his person.

Simpson was under the influence to the point he could not answer questions, nor walk without assistance, Welch said.

Deputies learned through their investigation that Simpson had entered the casino while under the influence. While in the casino, Simpson allegedly had lit a napkin on fire dropping in to the floor, burning a portion of the carpet, Welch said.

Simpson was arrested and booked into the Mendocino County Jail on charges of toluene influence, and arson of property, Welch said. Bail was set at $100,000.

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LAKE COUNTY – A Lower Lake woman died over the weekend in a crash in Mendocino County.

Diane Denise Whitehurst, 41, was killed in the head-on collision, which occurred on Highway 20 west of Marina Drive near Lake Mendocino, according to Officer Marian Holcomb of the Ukiah area California Highway Patrol Office.

Holcomb said Whitehurst and two passengers were traveling westbound on Highway 20 in a 1997 Ford van when Whitehurst, who was traveling about 60 miles per hour, crossed the double-yellow lines.

She collided head-on with a 2004 Chevrolet Silverado pickup driven by Martin Zuniga Pena, 45, of Williams, Holcomb said.

Whitehurst died, and her passengers – whose names were not immediately available – were injured. A 27-year-old male from Redwood Valley riding with her had major injuries and a 20-year-old female passenger from Finley had minor injuries and denied medical care, according to Holcomb.

Pena suffered minor injuries and his 29-year-old female passenger, also from Williams, had moderate injuries. Holcomb said that everyone but the young woman from Finley were transported to Ukiah Valley Medical Center for care.

As to the reasons for the crash, Holcomb said, “Alcohol may be a factor.”

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Sgt. 1st Class David J. Hartman, 27, and two fellow soldiers died on Wednesday, February 5, 2010, in Timagura, Pakistan after their unit was hit by an improvised explosive device planted by insurgents. Photo courtesy of the US Army Special Operations Command.



LAKE COUNTY – An effort is under way to raise funds to assist a local family that lost a son last week in a bombing in Pakistan.

Sgt. 1st Class David J. Hartman, 27, died in Pakistan Feb. 3 after he and members of his unit were hit by a roadside bomb planted by insurgents, as Lake County News has reported (see the full story here: elseyville family mourns son killed in roadside bombing in Pakistan ).

Hartman, a member of the Army's special forces, was on his way to the opening ceremonies for a girls' school when the bombing occurred.

He left behind a wife, a young son and a baby on the way. His father, Greg, and stepmother, Kate, live in Kelseyville, as do other family members.

A memorial service for Hartman is planned for this weekend in Los Banos in Merced County, where he was raised, according to Ginny Craven, founder of Operation Tango Mike, who has been working to assist the family.

Hartman is to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery in a ceremony in the near future, Craven said. While the military will cover some expenses, that does not include air travel, lodging, food, ground transportation and incidentals for extended family members.

Donations are being accepted to assist the Hartman family during their time of need.

Craven said donations may be made care of Operation Tango Mike at Umpqua Bank, 805 11th St., Lakeport, or by mail to 5216 Piner Court, Kelseyville, CA 95451.

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Pictured are the four teams that took part in the 30th annual Lake County Academic Decathlon competition on Saturday, February 6, 2010, in Upper Lake Calif. Two teams came from Lower Lake High School, and one team each came from Middletown High and Upper Lake High. Also pictured are coaches Ryan Callen of Middletown and Nancy Harby of Lower Lake. Courtesy photo.

LAKE COUNTY – The Lake County Office of Education has reported the final scores for all four teams that competed in last weekend's Lake County Academic Decathlon.

The 30th annual competition was held in the gymnasium at Upper Lake High School on Saturday, Feb. 6, as Lake County News has reported.

Upper Lake High School, coached by Steve Harness and Anna Sabalone, won the overall title again this year, with a total score of 36,779.8 out of a possible 60,000 points.

Nancy Harby coached Lower Lake High Team 1 and Lower Lake High Team 2, which scored 29,295.5 points and 25,514.5 points, respectively.

Coach Ryan Callen's Middletown High School Academic Decathlon team scored 22,685 points.

Decathlon officials also reported that a tie occurred in the scoring for the top scoring student from each school or team.

Honors-level stuent Teodora Toshich previously had been reported to have received the gold medal for Lower Lake High Team 2, but Bianey Madrigal, also an Honors level competitor, tied for the gold medal.

Upper Lake High now moves on to the state competition, which will take place in Sacramento March 12-15.

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MENDOCINO COUNTY – A Willits man has been arrested after he confessed to stealing an expensive saddle and then selling it.

Jason Garth Gilstrap, 46, was arrested on Feb. 4 on charges of burglary, forgery and possession of stolen property in the case, according to a report from Capt. Kurt Smallcomb of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

On Jan. 12 Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies received a report that a western saddle valued at $2,500 and farrier equipment valued at $200 had been stolen from a barn at 998 Hearst Willits Road sometime in the previous 24 hours. Smallcomb said deputies took a burglary report at that time.

On Jan. 29, an employee of the Black Horse tack store contacted the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office and advised that she had purchased a saddle matching the description of the stolen saddle, according to the report.

Smallcomb said the woman later saw a picture of the saddle she had purchased on a flier placed on a bulletin board by the victim of the theft. She called the owner of the saddle and advised she was now in possession of his stolen property.

The employee told deputies she purchased the saddle from a white male in his forties for $250 on Jan. 28. Smallcomb said she was able to provide the deputies with the false name used by the suspect, his physical description and that of a companion he had with him that day. She also was able to provided an accurate description of the suspect's vehicle.

Based on the vehicle description provided by the Black Horse employee, deputies were able to locate the suspect's companion. Smallcomb said information gleaned from that interview led to the identification of Gilstrap, whose identity later was confirmed by a photo lineup shown to the tack store employee.

Gilstrap confessed to using a false name to sell the stolen saddle, Smallcomb said. He was arrested and booked into the Mendocino County Jail. Bail was set at $15,000.

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LAKE COUNTY – It's time once again for local nonprofits to apply for funds made available through Lake County's premier fundraising organization.

The Lake County Wine Alliance Board of Directors this week announced that nonprofit organizations, agencies and programs in Lake County may now apply for a share of the proceeds from the 2010 Lake County Wine Auction.

The 11th annual benefit will be held on Saturday, Oct. 16, at the National Guard Armory in Lakeport.

The Wine Alliance has contributed $770,202 in proceeds to Lake County groups since the inception of the annual charity event in 2000.

This past year, 18 nonprofit organizations – including agencies, programs and high schools – received $57,200 from the proceeds of the 2009 wine auction held last September.

Awards are made in the fields of the arts, health services and the community.

Proceeds include ticket sales, donations from sponsorships, live and silent auction income, and sales of special edition, fine art posters by Lake County artist John R. Clarke.

Local wineries, winegrape growers, restaurants and other businesses are generous supporters through their donations to the live and silent auctions and to the food and beverages served at the gala affair. Other Lake County and regional businesses provide support through sponsorships.


Applications need to be postmarked by March 5, 2010. Application forms may be obtained online from the Wine Alliance Web site, , or by contacting Judy Luchsinger, chair of the Beneficiaries committee, at 707-263-3280, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The charter of the Wine Alliance directs its efforts to foster the arts, benefit health services, and support the community, while promoting Lake County as a premier grape growing and fine wine region.

The Wine Alliance is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization of Lake County wineries, winegrape growers, and business and community supporters that annually presents the wine auction as a fundraising charity benefit.

Members of the Wine Alliance board are Margaret Walker-Stimmel, president; Marie Beery, vice president; Pamela Shine-Duncan, secretary; Rob Roumiguiere, treasurer; and Kaj Ahlmann, Judy Luchsinger, Wilda Shock, and Janet Thompson, directors.

The Lake County Wine Alliance may be contacted by phone, 866-279-9463, or by mail to P.O. Box 530, Kelseyville, CA 95451.

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MENDOCINO NATIONAL FORESTS – The Mendocino National Forest’s Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trail system will be closed to vehicle traffic for two weeks as of Wednesday, according to forest officials.

The closure order covers the entire forest, including the Grindstone and Upper Lake Ranger Districts.

The forest's main office reported that the closure is scheduled to be lifted on Wednesday, Feb. 24, conditions permitting.

The closure is the result of wet weather patterns over the past month, which have saturated trails. Additional storm systems in the current forecast are likely to bring more water to the forest and trail system.

Using the trails in their current condition would result in damage not only to the trails, but would also impact other resources including soils, water quality and wildlife habitat, officials reported.

“We appreciate the public’s understanding and cooperation with the temporary OHV trail system closure,” said Forest Supervisor Tom Contreras. “By closing the trails now and preventing further damage, we are reducing the risk of longer closures for costly repairs and restoration efforts. Waiting for things to dry out will help us continue to provide quality recreation areas for OHV riders.”

The Emergency Trail Closure for the Mendocino National Forest is formally referenced under Order Number 08-10-01.

Violation of this closure order is punishable by a fine of no more than $5,000 for an individual, $10,000 for an organization, or up to six months imprisonment or both.

For more information, please contact the Mendocino National Forest at 530-934-3316 or visit .

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LAKE COUNTY – Although it's known for its clean air, Lake County got dismal grades on the American Lung Association's latest Tobacco Policy Report Card.

The report, released last month, gave the state of California a failing grade in battling tobacco's lethal effects, despite the fact that the state once had been a national leader in the effort.

“It’s time to raise the grade,” said American Lung Association in California President and Chief Executive Officer Jane Warner, who pointed to mixed results across all levels of the state. “For all Californians, strong tobacco control policies must be a top priority.”

The annual report card looked at 373 cities and 34 counties throughout California and graded them on how they protect citizens from the effects of secondhand smoke in outdoor environments and multi-unit housing.

Specifically, the rankings are based on the ordinances cities and counties have in place covering smokefree outdoor environments, smokefree housing and tobacco sales reductions, with each of those areas averaged to reach an overall grade.

The city of Clearlake received an F grade, with no points earned for requiring dining, entryways, public events, recreation areas, service areas and sidewalks to be smokefree.

The report also found no nonsmoking units, common areas or disclosures under housing grades, and in reducing tobacco products the city had no points for such issues as tobacco retailer licensing and requiring conditional use permits.

The county received identical marks, based on the report.

The city of Lakeport fared slightly better.

Although it received an F grade overall, Lakeport received a D in outdoor air grades because it earned three points for having smokefree recreation areas, which were established in Ordinance No. 859, unanimously accepted by the council on Nov. 21, 2006, according to city records. An earlier version of the ordinance included provisions regarding smoking in front of businesses, which the council removed.

The county and cities weren't alone in their grades. The report listed 271 cities and counties that received overall F grades.

Four cities – Richmond, Albany, Calabasas and Glendale – received overall A grades, according to the report. In addition, 24 cities and counties received A grades for smokefree outdoor air regulations, six earned A grades for smokefree housing and 60 obtained A grades for reducing sales of tobacco products.

The report was released last month in Richmond, where officials pointed out that the city had, in one year, raised its F and D grades to A grades after enacting new ordinances. The city now has the strongest smokefree housing ordinance in the nation, prohibiting smoking in 100 percent of all multi-unit housing, which accounts for some 34 percent of all housing in the city.

California received low grades overall for failing to adequately fund tobacco prevention and control programs, which are reportedly now at less than one-fifth the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended level.

Doug Gearhart, Lake County Air Quality Management District's pollution control officer, said the report is really a review of policies with a view toward protecting nonsmokers, and is looking for local rules that go beyond the basic state laws, which include not being able to smoke within 30 feet of a public building entrance.

Smoking is an air quality issue, Gearhart said. He said the state has determined that secondhand smoke is a toxic air contaminant.

The report gave California high marks for state laws that protect the public from secondhand smoke in enclosed public places and workplaces.

At the same time, however, the state received D grades for California's failure to raise the tobacco tax and provide cessation treatment and services to help people quit smoking.

Pam Granger, tobacco programs manager for the American Lung Association's North Coast region – stretching from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border – said that although Lake County's local grades don't look great, the report's grades can be an impetus to moving forward.

She said the whole point of the report is to increase public awareness as well as give the association a chance to recognize leadership when improvements have been made.

The Bay Area and the North Bay region – including Sonoma and Marin counties – have some of the best and strongest grades in the state, said Granger.

In Santa Rosa, efforts started when a bus operator went to the city council to complain about smokers coming into buses, she said.

In other areas, tenants in multi-housing units have raised the issue of clean air concerns. Granger said studies have shown that there is a 65-percent exchange in the air in common areas, meaning people are being exposed to secondhand smoke from their neighbors. That's of special concern in living situations where there are young families and seniors.

In Rohnert Park, the mayor had lived in a multi-unit housing complex and advocated for stricter rules to protect tenants, said Granger.

She said multi-unit housing where smoking restrictions have been put in place have benefited from fewer fires and lower replacement values for carpet and inside fixtures when a tenant moves out.

Addressing secondhand smoke is important because of its long-term health impacts on people, and its more immediate impacts on people with compromised conditions, who can have serious reactions in as little as 20 minutes, she explained.

“That's why we care,” she said.

Smoking is the sixth-largest cause of death in the United States, said Granger. “That you can stop.”

The measures that local governments can take don't have to be expensive, said Granger. They can include signs and some basic restrictions on where people can smoke.

Some areas also have stricter regulations in dealing with tobacco sales. Granger said in Marin County officials can pull a tobacco license if sales are made to minors. In the cities of Ukiah and Willits they have compliance checks that are paid for by Mendocino County. The city of Oakland has a licensing program that charges retailers $1,500 which supports the enforcement program.

Granger said she offers implementation support for cities that want to put new control measures in place.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, California now ranks 32nd for its $.87 per pack tax, far below the national average of $1.34, according to the American Lung Association in California report.

Tobacco remains a major cause of concern for public health in California, according to the report, and costs taxpayers more than $18 million every year.

The state is home to nearly four million smokers, and tobacco is still California's No. 1 preventable cause of death. The report estimates that 36,684 people die annually because of the effects of smoking, a number that is more than the deaths resulting from alcohol, HIV/AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.

Joy Swetnam, who works with Lake Family Resource Center's Lake County Tobacco Education Program, said the report doesn't look at ongoing efforts to reduce smoking.

She said decisions have to be made locally about whether or not a community supports the kinds of measures the association is seeking, such as changes in multi-unit housing rules.

Swetnam said there is a lot of movement right now in the two cities and the county to work at reducing things like underage smoking, an effort which takes time and education and community support.

“So we get a failing grade but it's not like we're not working on it and haven't been working on it,” she said, noting that the county just renewed its contract with the tobacco education program.

She said the county wants the program to continue with the youth purchase survey, which helps keep merchants aware of state and federal laws covering tobacco sales to minors.

Meanwhile, there is big support for trying to get the anti-smoking message out to younger students – such as fourth through sixth graders – but tobacco youth prevention funds have dried up, and funds are only available for high school-level education, Swetnam said.

“All the legislation in the world is not going to keep a child from starting smoking, because they don't have the education,” said Swetnam, noting that getting to high school and junior high students is too late.

She said many children start smoking as young as 11 or 12 years old, and some girls now are chewing tobacco to control their weight.

Complete report cards for all cities and counties may be accessed at along with complete scoring criteria.

The report card's release coincided with that of the American Lung Association's State of Tobacco Control 2009 national report card, which not only graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia but the federal government as well.

That report gave California an A for smokefree air, but D grades for cigarette tax and cessation coverage and an F for tobacco prevention and control spending.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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