Friday, 14 June 2024

News

LAKE COUNTY – The annual burn ban for 2008 will end on Monday, Nov. 10, with Cal Fire declaring an end to fire hazard season.


Lake County's joint Fire and Air Quality Management District’s open burning program has incorporated both fire safety and air quality management since 1987.


The program has greatly contributed to the community’s superior fire safety and air quality, according to county Pollution Control Officer Doug Gearhart.


Burn permits are required for all burning in the Lake County Air Basin. Contact your local fire protection agency for a burn permit or the Lake County Air Quality Management District to obtain a smoke management plan.


A smoke management plan is required for all burns over 20 acres in size, multi-day burns, standing vegetation burns, and whole tree or vine removals over an acre.


A fee is required for all burn permits, payable at the time the permit is issued. Agricultural and residential burn permits, as well as smoke management plans, are $22 and land development/lot clearing burn permits are $68.


Only clean dry vegetation that was grown on the property may be burned. Residential burn permits require a one-acre or larger lot, a burn location that is located at least 100 feet from all neighbors and 30ft from any structure.


Land clearing burns require special permits available at your local fire agency. Burn only the amount of material that can be completely consumed during the allowed burning hours. Read your burn permit carefully and follow all the conditions.


Each day of the burning season is designated as a “no burn day,” a “limited burn day” or a “permissive burn day.” On no burn days all open burning is prohibited, unless an exemption has been given for a specific burn.


Burning is generally allowed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. only on permissive burn days. Read your permit for allowed hours of burning.


The daily burn day status information is available for North County at 263-3121 and South County at 994-4444.


Consider using the vegetative waste pickup provided with your waste collection services or composting as an alternative to burning leaves. Contact your local Fire Safe Council for chipping information. For South County go to www.southlakefiresafecouncil.org or your local fire station, for all other areas of the county call 279-2968.


The law requires that an able-bodied adult supervise all fires. Burning even a small amount of illegal material can result in toxic ash and smoke that contain cancer-causing substances and contribute to other health problems.


Burning prohibited materials can also result in significant fines. Some people have smoke allergies and/or respiratory problems and their health is degraded by even small amounts of smoke. Please be considerate of your neighbors.


A permit does not allow you to create health problems for others and you can be liable for fines and other costs associated with your burning.


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LAKE COUNTY – A man convicted nearly a quarter-century ago of a brutal murder is due to return to court next spring for a hearing in which the case will be made to retry the issue of his mental competency.


Gerald Stanley, 63, was sentenced to death in February 1984 for the August 1980 shooting death of his wife, Cynthia, as Lake County News has reported.


In March, federal court Judge Frank C. Damrell, citing juror misconduct, ruled that a new hearing was needed to determine whether or not Stanley had been mentally competent to stand trial. A female juror in that original case, according to Damrell's finding, may have been a victim of domestic abuse but had not disclosed it to the court.


On Tuesday District Attorney Jon Hopkins returned to Butte County, where the trial was held in 1983 and early 1984 due to a change of venue, to set a date for a hearing to argue whether or not a new competency trial should be held.


Stanley, citing ill health, waived his right to appear in Butte County Superior Court, said Hopkins.


A hearing on the feasibility of a new competency trial is scheduled for March 2, 2009, in Butte County Superior Court, said Hopkins. He estimated the hearing could take one to four days to complete.


A readiness conference for that hearing will take place on Feb. 19, 2009, he added.


“We have all the issues framed and ready,” he said.


On Tuesday, Stanley – through his court-appointed attorney, Dennis Hoptowit – asked to be allowed to represent himself at the hearing, said Hopkins, a request the court denied without prejudice, meaning he can make the request again.


At the March hearing, Hopkins will argue that it is possible to have a trial on Stanley's mental competence, even after more than 25 years.


“In some cases it's extremely difficult to reconstruct the mental state of a person,” said Hopkins.


But in Stanley's instance, Hopkins believes he can show that Stanley was competent, just as the original 1983 competency trial found.


While not all of the witnesses who gave testimony at the 1983 trial are still alive, Hopkins said their testimony is available in transcript form. And those court transcripts, which featured the testimony of two psychiatrists and civilian witnesses, can help prove the case, said Hopkins.


He added that Stanley himself at the time insisted that he had no mental issues, but that it was Stanley's lawyer who had wanted him tested.


“This was a disagreement between his lawyer and Mr. Stanley over strategy and practices in the penalty phase,” Hopkins said.


No one ever diagnosed Stanley – who had previously been convicted of killing his first wife and was believed to have been involved in the death of another – as having a mental disability, said Hopkins.


“It doesn't have the same challenges that it would have if there had been evidence of mental disorder,” he said.


However, because Stanley's original attorney raised the issue, it stopped the criminal proceedings. Hopkins said he also could argue that, because there was no mental disability diagnosis, the court shouldn't have entertained the attorney's concerns at all.


“I believe that current-day mental health experts can examine him and review the medical histories and determine whether there is evidence that he had a mental disorder at the time,” said Hopkins.


While the court has upheld Stanley's guilt in the murder case “that phase of the trial was found to have no problems” the federal court has put of its determination of whether or not the death penalty stands until the competency issue has been resolved, Hopkins said.


If the competency is resolved, it will be sent back to the federal court. “The next thing they'll do is review our competency proceedings and then turn to the death penalty proceedings,” said Hopkins.


He said he's not sure how long it would take to make that death penalty determination.


After so much time, it appears increasingly unlikely that Stanley will be executed.


The California Department of Corrections reports that there currently are 677 inmates on San Quentin State Prison's Death Row, 64 of whom have been on death row longer than Stanley.


Lake County's only other death row inmate is Jerrold Johnson, sentenced to death in November of 2000.


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


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LAKE COUNTY – North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson won reelection handily on Tuesday, while Wes Chesbro, a former state senator, won election to the state Assembly.


Thompson, first elected in 1998, represents the First Congressional District, which includes Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Humboldt and Del Norte counties, and portions of Yolo and Sonoma counties.


One of the biggest fundraisers among the California congressional delegation, Thompson was elected to his sixth term over challengers Zane Starkewolf, a Republican from Davis, and Green Party candidate Carol Wolman of Mendocino County.


Thompson's margin of victory this time around was decisive, as it has been in previous elections.


Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office reported that Thompson received 143,513 votes, or 68.2 percent of the vote, with 94.7 percent of precincts reporting shortly before 3 a.m. Wednesday. Starkewolf received 49,798 votes (23.6 percent), and Wolman took 17,272 votes (8.2 percent).


In Lake County, Thompson received 13,397 votes, or 66.2 percent of the vote. Starkewolf received 5,328 votes, or 26.3 percent, and Wolman had 1,508 votes, representing 7.5 percent.


Districtwide, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, Chesbro received 106,766 votes, or 70.5 percent of the vote, topping rival Jim Pell, who took 44,822, or 29.5 percent. In Lake County the margin was 12,866 votes (64.7 percent) for Chesbro, 7,028 votes (35.3 percent) for Pell.


Thompson thanked First District voters “for putting their faith in me once again to be their voice in Washington.”


During a visit to Lake County late last month Thompson predicted Sen. Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States, and he heralded Obama's victory Tuesday.


“I look forward to working with President-elect Obama to rebuild our economy, end the war in Iraq, reform health care, and put in place sustainable, affordable energy policies,” Thompson said in a written statement.


"Today we affirmed the strength of our democracy by voting for leadership based on the power of ideas, rather than the power of fear,” Thompson said. “In record numbers, Americans made history and created a better future for our great nation.


"Our country's strength also comes from our diversity, and today we have made our country stronger by putting Barack Obama in the White House,” Thompson continued. “He has the tools to be one of our greatest presidents, and in the face of such enormous challenges his vision and leadership will help bring the change our country so desperately needs and wants.”


During his Oct. 23 visit to Lake County, Thompson met in Lucerne with local chapters of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.


Thompson said at the time that health care is now on the top of everyone's agenda in Washington.


“We're going to get into health care reform in a big way in January,” he said.


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


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MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – Beginning Nov. 15, the Mendocino National Forest will start charging fees at several campgrounds and recreation sites.


On the Upper Lake Ranger District, sites at the Oak Flat Campground at Lake Pillsbury will be $5 per night. Sites at Penny Pines and Deer Valley campgrounds will be $6 per night.


On the Grindstone Ranger District, sites at the Dixie Glade, Fouts, Little Stony, Mill Creek, North Fork and South Fork campgrounds will be $5 per night. A $6 per launch few with be implemented at the Sacramento River Boat Launch at Lake Red Bluff.


On the Covelo Ranger District, sites at the Howard Lake, Howard Meadows and Little Doe campgrounds will be $6 per night.


“The Mendocino National Forest is committed to providing high quality recreation facilities and opportunities to Forest Visitors,” said Recreation Officer Tricia Christofferson. “Ninety-five percent of the fees charged at developed recreation sites like these remain on the forest and are spent operating, maintaining and improving public recreation facilities.”


Christofferson said that, by charging nominal fees at these developed recreation sites, the forest will be able to continue to offer services and improvements at these sites.


For more information, please contact the Forest at 530-934-3316 or visit www.fs.fed.us/r5/mendocino.


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Lyle and Deanna Madeson's photo of a sailboat on Clear Lake will be featured in the raffle. Courtesy photo.

 

 

LAKEPORT – Artwork being offered in the latest fundraiser auction and raffle for the Barbara LaForge Memorial Fund will be shown at the Lake County Arts Council's Main Street Gallery during the First Friday Fling.


The event will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the gallery, 325 N. Main St., Lakeport.


The Lake County Arts Council has become a supporter of the fundraiser, begun earlier this year by artist Gail Salituri of Inspirations Gallery. Salituri was a friend of LaForge, who was murdered in her downtown frame shop in October 2002.


Salituri is raising funds to donate in her friend's memory to the Lake Family Resource Center for its domestic violence shelter project.


“Our financial goal is slightly under $2,000 and we hope to have those funds by this month to make our first donation to the Lake Family Resource Center by Christmas time,” said Salituri.


On display this Friday night will be a framed lithograph of a San Francisco cable car by noted local watercolor artist John Clarke. The 16-inch by 20-inch lithograph, which retails for $300, is a raffle item, with tickets selling for $5 each or five for $20.


Clarke's “Golden Gate Bridge” lithograph will be featured in the silent auction, with the opening bid set at $110.


New to the auction will be the work of photographers Lyle and Deanna Madeson. Their framed photograph of a sailboat on Clear Lake, valued at $125, will be a raffle item.


Salituri's original oil, “Springers Pond,” will be included in the silent auction, with the opening bid at $300. The painting, valued at $1,650, measures 18 inches by 24 inches.


Main Street Pizza has donated a gift certificate for merchandise in their new restaurant which will be raffled on Friday.


All custom frames are donated by Sheri Salituri, director of Inspirations Gallery and Frame Shop.


Winners in the raffle and silent auction will be announced Nov. 15.


Donations can be made to the Barbara LaForge Memorial Fund at 165 Main St., Lakeport, or to any Westamerica Bank.

 

 

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John Clarke's lithograph of a cable car is part of the raffle.
 

 


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LAKE COUNTY – School board races for the Konocti and Middletown Unified school districts, and for Yuba College's Board of Trustees were decided on Tuesday, and a south county fire measure got voter approval.


The Middletown Unified School District Board of Trustees had two seats available, which went to William Wright, with 1,365 votes (26.8 percent) and Sandy Tucker, 1,117 votes (21.9 percent), according to the Lake County Registrar of Voters Office.


Runners-up were Jean Rudy-Goulart, 965 votes (18.9 percent); Kim Bladel, 937 votes (18.4 percent); and David Riccio, 709 votes (13.9 percent).


In that district, voter turnout was 64.8 percent, according to the Registrar of Voters Office.


Comparatively, voter turnout for the Konocti Unified School District Board race was at 54.9 percent.


In that district, Mary Silva won reelection decisively, with 3,071 votes, or 35.7 percent of the vote. Also reelected Tuesday was Hank Montgomery, with 1,917 votes (22.3 percent). Runners up were Gigi Mattos, 1,833 votes (21.3 percent) and Lynda Davis Robinson, 1,774 votes (20.6 percent).


In the race for Yuba Community College Trustee, Benjamin Pearson took 4,070 votes (52 percent) over Mark Bredit's 3,751 votes (48 percent).


South Lake County Fire's Measure B was passed with a 73 percent to 27 percent vote (2,886 votes to 1,067, respectively).


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


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THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN CORRECTED AND CLARIFIED REGARDING THE CHARGES IN THE SUIT, A QUOTE BY THE RECORD-BEE PUBLISHER AND WHERE A LETTER THAT HAD CONCERNED THE COURT WAS PUBLISHED.


LAKEPORT – On Thursday the Lake County Record-Bee made its second trip to court in two weeks' time to defend itself against a libel and defamation suit.


Former Clear Lake Riviera Community Association Board members Sid Donnell, Alan Siegel and Sandra Orchid each sued the newspaper for $7,500 “for defamation of character for libelous publication of false charges against each of the plaintiffs” in the paper's June 20 edition.


In court they argued that the paper's coverage of the association was lopsided and unethical. They said the paper printed dozens of letters – many of which accused them of illegal activity – and failed to fact-check them, while at the same time not agreeing to print a rebuttal from Donnell.


Named as a co-defendant with the newspaper was Clear Lake Riviera resident Darrell Watkins, who had written some of the letters in question, particularly a June guest commentary that accused the association board of, among other things, breaking “nearly every law on the books.”


The case, brought in small claims court, was heard Thursday morning in Judge Vincent Lechowick's courtroom.


Shortly after Lechowick called the case he questioned Watkins about a letter he had written that was published earlier this week by Lake County News.


The court clerk had circulated to the bailiffs and the court a copy of the letter, which described freedom of speech defenses in terms of metaphorical gunfire and bullets being aimed at the plaintiffs. An extra deputy had been called to the court before the session due to the clerk's concerns.


Lechowick, nodding to his two bailiffs, said he had fire power himself. “Is it a threat to the court or a physical threat?” the judge asked Watkins, adding that it “wasn't very wise” to make such statements.


Watkins objected and said the judge's comments were prejudicial.


Record-Bee Publisher Gary Dickson, standing at the defendant's table with Watkins, affirmed that the paper had printed the guest commentary that was at the heart of the complaint filed by Donnell, Siegel and Orchid.


Initially, Donnell said he sent a letter to Dickson with their response to Watkins' letter, as well as a request that the newspaper investigate the facts for themselves to see if the association was guilty of wrongdoing.


Dickson acknowledged receiving the letter and said he had agreed to print the rebuttal. “That offer stood until we were served.”


The initial letter, which Siegel came well before the lawsuit service, wasn't published. Siegel said the paper had said the letter was fine with some minor editing, but it didn't make print. After that, when the paper received its notice of being sued, Dickson said he contacted a corporate attorney who advised against printing it altogether.


Lechowick asked why Dickson printed Watkins' letter without “calling your legal beagles,” yet refused to print the other side. Why, Lechowick asked, was that OK?


Dickson said the corporate attorney said printing Donnell's letter at that point was not in the newspaper's best interests.


Lechowick shook his head and frowned. “Good legal advice might have been to print it,” he said.


As to the substance of Watkins' letter, the judge remarked, “I'm not clear that it's libel per se.”


“Mr. Watkins borders on accusing you of a crime,” said Lechowick, adding that he wasn't sure Watkins had actually done so, hyperbole aside.


Lechowick questioned the three plaintiffs about what damages they had suffered.


Siegel, named a California Teacher of the Year in 2005, said he is a part of a large and prestigious education committee, and had previously received many offers to participate in other such groups. After the barrage of letters, he said those professional offers stopped. He also was introduced over the summer to a cousin he had never met who had read the letters and coverage and told him he was a “bad man.”


“Our view is that the Record-Bee created this situation,” Siegel said.


In addition, on the Record-Bee's online comment boards, run by Topix.net, Siegel said they received death threats and that when they asked the paper to do something about the comments they had refused.


“They consistently deny any responsibility,” said Siegel, adding that the association employees have called the sheriff's office due to issues of harassment.


He described how the newspaper wrote a story when three unhappy property owners – of a total of about 2,800 – were standing outside of the association office with signs earlier this year, protesting board actions.


Siegel said Record-Bee reporter Tiffany Revelle called him to say they were doing a story and that it didn't look positive for the association. Siegel asked her to give him her word that she would attend the next association meeting to see the situation for herself.


Revelle never showed up, he said, and months later when she approached him for another article Siegel confronted her about breaking her promise. He said she apologized at that point and said her managing editor, Rick Kennedy, wouldn't let her attend. During the same period, the paper published another 20 or so letters about the association, according to Siegel.


For his part, Donnell said he suffered damage to his reputation as well as embarrassment, and can no longer serve as a volunteer in his community because of it. Orchid said much the same, noting that in her job at the Lakeport Regional Chamber of Commerce she's been approached by numerous community members asking her why she is breaking the law.


In publishing the letters, Dickson said the Record-Bee did nothing more than newspapers have done in this country for centuries, and in doing so provided an open forum that is protected by the US Constitution's First Amendment.


Losing the case, said Dickson, could have a detrimental effect on the paper, to the point of forcing it to cease printing letters to the editor if there's a danger that they could end up in court repeatedly.


On Oct. 24, a libel suit filed against the Record-Bee by Dr. Camille Keene was dismissed in Lake County Superior Court with the help of a motion used to fight strategic lawsuits against public participation – or SLAPP suits, as Lake County News has reported.


However, Dickson said that the anti-SLAPP protection only was offered in superior court, not small claims court.


Nevertheless, he argued that Watkins' letter was protected opinion and received additional protections under the doctrine of “substantial truth.” The newspaper had no reason to believe the letter's contents were untrue and so printed it. Dickson added that the newspaper employed no malice in doing so.


“We were only conducting business as usual,” said Dickson.


Arguing in his own defense, Watkins presented evidence to back up his assertions that the homeowners association had broken numerous laws.


He called as a witness Ozella Mitchell who testified that she had been hit by large fines of $250 a month by the association for not cutting brush on her property. Mitchell, who eventually cleared her property, said the association was at the point of “terrorizing” her over the issue.


Watkins said state law prevents homeowners associations from collecting fines in this way, and added that the association's own covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) don't allow for fining and lack a fining schedule. He provided copies of the CC&Rs to emphasize his point.


Siegel responded that the association has been assessing fines for 30 years.


Watkins also brought up the issue of the association allegedly paying its secretary as an independent contractor rather than a regular employee. Lechowick said that's a case of tax avoidance, not evasion, which isn't illegal.


Next, Watkins called as a witness John Stoddard who – like Mitchell – had been fined by the association over brush on his property. The fines eventually totaled more than $20,000. State law, Watkins alleged, said such fines must be reasonable.


“If they break California law then they're operating illegally, that's my opinion,” said Watkins.


Watkins said the association's new bylaws also haven't been accepted by the necessary vote of homeowners, which Donnell called an “allegation.”


The association's bylaws specify term limits, said Watkins. He accused Donnell and Siegel of breaking the bylaws by continuing to serve past the end of their terms.


Donnell replied that Watkins didn't quote the entire bylaw section about term limits, and explained a director's term ends when successors are elected and qualified.


Siegel had gone off the board in June 2006 and was reappointed to fill a vacancy in October 2006; Donnell was appointed to an empty seat in January 2006. Both men were reappointed by the board in June 2007, which they said was due to lack of participation. Siegel said in court that the association board approached him for the vacancy, not the other way around.


Returning to the issue of Donnell's rebuttal, Lechowick asked Dickson, “By not printing that letter, doesn't that imply some sort of malice?”


He then asked Donnell, “One-sided reporting doesn't give rise to libel claims, does it?”


“They (the Record-Bee) showed absolutely no interest in determining the truth of Mr. Watkins' allegations,” said Donnell. By not investigating Watkins' claims the paper showed “reckless disregard for the truth,” Donnell added.


Siegel said that while they were was trying to get the newspaper to publish Donnell's rebuttal letter, the paper went ahead and published several more letters criticizing the association. “The Bee has pushed a non-issue to create controversy and sell newspapers.”


The result has been angry people bothering association employees and concerns for the former board members' safety, said Siegel. One new board member already has resigned due to the situation, he said.


Watkins wanted to call Tony Gniadek, a recently elected board member, to discuss term limits for board members, but Lechowick wouldn't hear the testimony, not deeming it relevant.


Then, Watkins called Revelle forward to question her about whether or not Siegel had tried to pressure her regarding covering the story. Revelle promptly invoked her rights under the California Shield Law and refused to discuss her interaction with Siegel.


Watkins then called Kennedy, who said the paper printed a total of 47 letters and guest commentaries about the association, about a third or more were from Watkins and others critical of the group.


Siegel asked Kennedy if he had told Revelle not to go to the association meeting she had promised to attend. Kennedy said he might have.


When pressed by Siegel about Revelle having made the promise to attend, Kennedy said, “Reporters should not be making promises in the field.” He added that Revelle had not mentioned to him that she had promised to go to the meeting.


Kennedy said that, anytime between January and June of this year, when the debate was raging, Siegel or his co-defendants could have chosen to write a letter. But they asserted their rebuttal was in answer to Watkins' June letter.


Turning to Kennedy, Lechowick again asked why they didn't publish the rebuttal on the advice of an attorney when they had published so many letters without such advice. He didn't get an answer.


Siegel asked Kennedy about the paper's policy of only allowing a letter writer two letters per month. Kennedy said that hasn't been a policy under his leadership. (It should be noted that such a policy was in force at the newspaper for many years prior to Kennedy's becoming editor.)


Lechowick asked Dickson if the newspaper would publish Donnell's rebuttal letter.


“I don't see any reason why we shouldn't,” Dickson replied.


At that point, after more than two hours of discussion, Lechowick announced that he would take the case under submission and mail decisions to the parties.


On Friday, Dickson told Lake County News that the newspaper now intended to publish the rebuttal it had previously refused to print by Donnell.


“It will be sometime early to mid next week,” he said.

 

However, Donnell has since withdrawn his request that it be printed.


Whatever the outcome of this case, there appear to be more legal troubles ahead for the association.


On Oct. 20, Stoddard filed suit against the association and its current board, along with Siegel, Donnell, Orchid, past board member Boone Bridges and Does 1-100. He's seeking injunctive relief and alleges several legal violations against the association.


At one point, Watkins had attempted to submit a copy of the lawsuit into the record, but Lechowick refused to accept it, saying that anyone can make any allegations in a suit, and it was no proof of wrongdoing.


Before their court appearance on Thursday, Donnell, Siegel and Orchid were served with the new suit. No date for a hearing has yet been set.


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


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Voters at the grange in Finley cast their ballots Tuesday morning. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 

 


LAKE COUNTY – From one end of Lake County to another, Tuesday's presidential election proved an energizing exercise in democracy, as citizens voted for presidential, congressional, state and local elections.


The election brought out enthusiasm in young and old voters alike, who made their way to polls in steady numbers throughout the day.


Sen. Barack Obama, elected the nation's 44th president, won handily in Lake County, with 11,986 votes, or 58.3 percent of the vote, compared to his rival, Sen. John McCain, who received 8,034 votes, or 39.1 percent.


Other presidential candidates on the ballot were Ralph Nader, 224 votes (1.1 percent); Bob Barr, 118 votes (0.6 percent); Cynthia McKinney, 112 votes (0.5 percent); and Alan Keyes, 88 (0.4 percent).


Lake County Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley had told Lake County News she expected a high turnout, which is common for presidential elections.


During the last month, Lake County's registered voter rolls swelled to 75 percent, with the county's vote-by-mail – or absentee numbers – growing to 51 percent, as Lake County News has reported.


The ballot count for Tuesday – which was posted by Fridley's office at 12:08 a.m. Wednesday – showed a turnout of 59.5 percent overall, with 10,991 precinct ballots cast and 9,920 absentees.


That percentage is about 10 percent below the 2000 presidential election turnout, and about 16 percent below turnout for 2004, according to numbers supplied by Fridley's office.


The more compelling story to be found on Tuesday was that of the people coming to the polls and the people volunteering to ensure the election ran smoothly.


Lake County News visited 12 polling places – representing 29 precincts – around the county on Tuesday as residents were taking part in the historic election.


From Nice to Clearlake Oaks, from Clearlake to Lakeport to Middletown, the story was much the same – turnout was big.


Precinct staffers also reported that voters were, in many cases, waiting for the polls to open at 7 a.m., with steady voter turnout over the ensuring hours.


“It's been a very interesting day,” said DeAnn Fawcett, a volunteer poll worker at the Lutheran Church Parish Hall on Country Club Drive in Lucerne. She estimated voter turnout in the Lucerne precincts to be up by 75 percent over the previous presidential election.


At the grange hall in Finley, election inspector Joan Luke said voters were coming through the doors steadily all day, with an expectation that voting would busier toward day's end.


At the Nice Community Baptist Church, Steve Merchen and fellow election volunteers also noted high turnout.


They, like others witnessing the election, told poignant stories of people who took part in the voting.


Nicole Ventura, one of the volunteers at Nice's polling place, said an elderly man came to vote with his daughter earlier in the day. The man hadn't voted in years but made a point of going to the polls to cast his vote on Tuesday.


Another man, said Ventura, announced to poll workers that he hadn't voted since Richard Nixon ran for president.


At the Orchard Shores Clubhouse in Clearlake Oaks, a steady stream of voters continued visiting the polls into the evening.


“It's been very busy all day long,” said election volunteer Pat Brotherton.


She said she witnessed a “real change of attitude of voters this time,” with more voters showing optimism and an upbeat attitude.


Her fellow volunteer Gwen Bushell agreed. “The interest has been sky high compared to what it has been.”


They also said they saw families coming in to vote together.


In Lower Lake, Gary Pickrell, an election inspector at the Lower Lake United Methodist Church hall, noted more turnout than the June primary.


“We've been busy from the start,” he said.


Voting in Middletown and Hidden Valley was also reported to be brisk by election volunteers, who said the day was going smoothly.


Poll worker Teri Fox at the Middletown Lions Club said in the few years she had been working as a volunteer this was the largest turnout they had.


At the Hidden Valley lake Firehouse, poll workers estimated they were seeing an average of 34 voters an hour.


With the optimism there also came concerns about the election's outcome.


Hidden Valley Lake resident Elizabeth Leathers said she hoped her vote wasn't in vain, adding, “I hope that the Bush administration has nothing to do with the outcome.”


Election volunteer Suzy Reicks, working at Clearlake City Hall, said the spirit of the day was very positive, with voters waiting patiently during the busier periods of the day, such as after school got out mid-afternoon.


She said there were many first-time voters – both young and old – making their way to the ballot box, and many parents also brought their children along.


One little girl who accompanied her mother to the polls shortly before 8 p.m. was allowed to drop her mom's ballot into the box, and afterward got an “I voted” sticker to wear home.


Many young first-time voters also wanted to drop their own ballots in the box, said Reicks.


Voting machines: Different communities, different receptions


While registered absentee voters outnumber voters who are registered to cast their ballots at precincts, Tuesday's turnout showed more votes cast at polling places.


Each polling place has one InterCivic eSlate electronic voting machine, overseen by a trained technician. The machines saw different levels of use around the county.


Lucerne election volunteer Jack DeVine said there had been definite interest in the polling places voting machine, which was used mostly by younger voters.


The machine in Nice was widely used, with more than 40 people casting their vote electronically as of 5:30 p.m., according to Merchen. In the June primary, about 30 people had used the machine in Nice.


However, many people stayed with their paper ballots. In Nice, when offered a paper ballot or the voting machine, one woman replied, “Paper, definitely.” A man said, “I don't do electronics.”


The machines had less use in Clearlake, Clearlake Oaks and Lower Lake, poll workers reported.


Anthony Lewis, who oversaw the machine at Clearlake City Hall's polling place, said the machine worked fine, with the only glitch being when it briefly ran out of paper. He said he's used it himself and it's a reliable voting option.


Lake County News correspondents Harold LaBonte and Aimee Gonsalves contributed to this report.


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


 

 

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Poll workers oversee voting operations at Del Lago in Lakeport. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 

 

 

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The first box of ballots arrives at the Lake County Registrar of Voters Office from a Lakeport precinct on Tuesday night. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 

 

 

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Ballot counting at the Registrar of Voters Office in Lakeport went on well into the night. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 

 


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LAKEPORT – An attorney who formerly represented children in civil and criminal cases in the Lake County courts is scheduled to go to trial early next year on child pornography charges.


Robert Wayne Wiley, 75, is set to go on trial on Jan. 27, 2009, on two counts of possessing child pornography, according to Deputy District Attorney Ed Borg. The trial date was set at an Oct. 29 court appearance.


Calls to the office of J. David Markham, Wiley's attorney, have not been returned.


Wiley was arrested on a single count of possessing the materials in September of 2007, after which his contracts for representing juveniles in criminal and civil matters were immediately terminated, as Lake County News has reported. The children portrayed in the materials are not alleged to have been children he either knew or represented.


The District Attorney's Office did not formally charge Wiley until earlier this year. In July he was in court to plead not guilty to four felony counts of possession child pornography.


According to court documents, all local judges have recused themselves from the case, so Judge Harry N. Papadakis, a retired Fresno County Superior Court judge, is hearing the case.


The filing against Wiley alleges that on Feb. 27, 2007, a bailiff in Lake County Superior Court's Department A – where Wiley regularly appeared in the course of his work – found a thumb drive in the courtroom's jury box.


The bailiff plugged the device into a computer to see if he could identify who it belonged to, and that is when he is alleged to have discovered pornographic images of children. Afterward, the bailiff turned the thumb drive over to Det. Mike Curran of the Lake County Sheriff's Office, who passed it on to District Attorney's Office Investigator Craig Woodworth.


Woodworth is assigned to the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force, headquartered in Napa, and has expertise in examining computers, said Borg.


Investigators later served a search warrant on Wiley's home and Lakeport office, where they located “several devices” found to contain child porn, according to court documents.


One of the devices, a hard drive, is part of the case's evidence, which was sealed at Borg's request.


Wiley's preliminary hearing was held in two installments, the first on Sept. 17, with the hearing continued to Oct. 10.


Before the hearing began on Sept. 17, Markham, Borg and Papadakis had an informal meeting in chambers to try to reach a resolution.


“We are talking about settling the case for various reasons,” Borg told Lake County News.


Immediately following the Sept. 17 hearing, Woodworth helped Papadakis review the materials on the hard drive in the judge's chambers.


When the case returned to court Oct. 10, Markham successfully argued for reducing the four felony counts to two.


Those two charges would correlate with two occasions Wiley was alleged to have been found in possession of the pornographic materials. The first alleged instance was on Feb. 27, 2007, when the thumb drive was discovered in the courtroom, and the second was on Sept. 20, 2007, when a search warrant led to the discovery of additional materials. That also was the date Wiley was arrested.


Borg argued on Oct. 10 that Wiley had allegedly admitted to being in possession of the materials for years – at least a year and a half to two years, according to statements in court.


Papadakis, who viewed the materials, stated, “There is also the issue of art versus pornography.”


However, he added, “The court was satisfied that this was what we refer to as child pornography.”


Wiley has worked for about two decades in the local courts, and was considered an expert in juvenile justice matters.


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


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LAKEPORT – Nearly 70 workers at Lakeport Skilled Nursing have a new contract as part of an agreement reached this week between United Healthcare Workers West and Horizon West, the facility's owner.


Lakeport Skilled was one of six facilities, with 500 workers, who this week ratified a new master contract with Horizon West, a for-profit company operating nursing, assisted living and retirement facilities throughout California and Utah.


In addition to Lakeport Skilled, the other facilities involved are Foothill Oaks Care Center in Auburn, Heritage Care Center in Sacramento, Monterey Pines Skilled Nursing Center in Monterey, Placerville Pines Care Center in Placerville and Sierra Healthcare Center in Davis.


Union officials said the agreement was reached by a 97-percent margin after six months of contract negotiations led by an elected rank-and-file bargaining team and was settled on the eve of a strike at four homes.


Union spokesman Blinker Wood said Lakeport Skilled has 67 workers who are members of the union.


The settlement – which a union statement called “historic” – includes a number of new standards for nursing home workers throughout the country and follows the pattern set by contracts won at Mariner Health Care and Sava Senior Care earlier this year.


Important issues for Lakeport Skilled and other homes included staffing levels and health care affordability, said Wood.


Key elements of the settlement include:


  • Wage increases of up to 25 percent over three years and wage scales at all six facilities. These increases take a significant step toward closing the wage gap between hospital and nursing home workers in Northern California.

  • Quality of Care Committees that will give frontline caregivers a role in staffing and other patient care decisions. These committees provide for third party mediation if no agreement can be reached.

  • Successorship language so that if a facility is sold the new owner must abide by the contract. While standard in many hospital contracts, this is an important first for the nursing home industry in California.

  • Defined-benefit pension for workers at all six facilities.

  • A Code of Conduct for organizing which will allow UHW to organize 18 non-union Horizon West facilities in Northern California without employer interference.

  • Participation in the UHW Joint Employer Training and Upgrade Fund giving Horizon West workers the opportunity to participate in career ladder training and upgrade programs.


UHW members’ settlement with Horizon West differs significantly from recent agreements reached between SEIU International and a number of nursing homes in Southern California. Those settlements do not include many of these key standards won by UHW members, including wage scales to ensure equity, a defined-benefit pension plan, successorship protections or a code of conduct for organizing non-union workers. Most notably they do not establish quality care committees or any other real mechanism to give frontline caregivers a direct voice in patient care issues.


Under the agreements reached so far this year by workers at Mariner, Sava and Horizon West, UHW nursing home workers now have the opportunity to organize nursing home workers at 22 homes across California which is more than the number of homes UHW was able to organize under the prior Alliance model. Most importantly, newly organized workers will be granted full collective bargaining rights and the ability to have a real voice in their negotiations and their union.


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Jim Comstock of Middletown will be the new District 1 supervisor. Courtesy photo.
 

 

THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED.

 

SOUTH LAKE COUNTY – After trailing Susanne La Faver by less than a dozen votes in the June primary, James Comstock came through on Tuesday with a decisive victory to claim the District 1 supervisorial seat.


Comstock received 2,369 votes, or 53.1 percent of the vote, to the 2,096 votes – amounting to 46.9 percent – for La Faver.

 

La Faver issued a statement Wednesday congratulating Comstock on his win.


“I wish to express my most grateful thanks to my wonderful supporters and volunteers for all your effort, time and contributions,” she said. “I sincerely appreciate your encouragement and your passion for the well-being of District 1 and Lake County. We must remain involved and help keep Lake County the wonderful place we are proud to call home.”

 

In June, La Faver had received 811 votes to the 800 received by Comstock. They had topped a field of six candidates, and La Faver and Comstock set out over the next several months to pick up the votes that had been split between the four other candidates in the primary.


Comstock, who was reached early Wednesday morning after just receiving the final vote tally, said he attributed his win to his efforts to meet with south county residents and listen to their needs, wants and desires.


His campaign, he said, was about improving the south county's economic situation and providing opportunities for the community's young people, tasks which he acknowledges won't be easy but which he is committed to pursuing.


“This is about serving,” he said. “This isn't about me winning.”


Comstock will succeed Supervisor Ed Robey, who is retiring at the end of this year after three terms on the board.


The two men are on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, with Robey – currently serving as board chair – known for more liberal stances while Comstock is a conservative who believes in less government, not more.


As a result, Comstock's election will represent a major shift in the board and its approach to a variety of issues.


Case in point: On Tuesday, the board was set to hold a second reading on an ordinance to ban genetically engineered crops, which had initially been approved on a 3-2 vote Oct. 21.


Comstock, whose family has a 1,700-acre ranch outside of Middletown, has been an opponent of the ban, which Robey authored and took to the board.


While Comstock looked on from the gallery Tuesday, the board's three-hour discussion of the ordinance and some proposed modifications resulted in the matter being continued to Nov. 18, when a revised ordinance and more information about the formation of an advisory committee will be presented.


Comstock said the matter has been rushed through, and said he expects there will be an attempt to get a revised version passed by the board before Robey's term ends.


The GE ban will be one of the first orders of business for Comstock once he's sworn in this coming January. He said he wants to see the issue resolved in an equitable manner.


Comstock added, however, that if the board were to accept a revised version of the ban that he would work to overturn it.


“I firmly believe that this should be worked out without government intervention if possible,” he said.


That includes relying on local experts and an advisory committee to explore the matter further. “I believe the cart was put in front of the horse here,” he said, adding that the process has been “skewed.”


He's also not a supporter of rent control, and the board on Tuesday also discussed a rent stability agreement that has been in the works for years.


Comstock said if landlords can't raise rents they don't improve their property. However, he said he supports the agreement's voluntary approach.


During the election Comstock walked all of the south county's mobile home parks, and found some of them to be “an absolute disaster” and “an embarrassment.”


“Code enforcement needs to be in there now,” he said, recalling when many of those parks were resorts more than 40 years ago.


Comstock portrayed himself as the candidate for change in the south county. “I firmly believe that District 1 has been underrepresented.”


In the final weeks of the campaign, questions were consistently raised about Comstock's relationships with pro-development forces in the south county, which he said was a manipulation by Robey and others opposed to his campaign.


Comstock had received a $10,000 campaign donation from the Luchetti family, who bought their ranch from Comstock's father decades before. “They have no intention to developer their property, just as we have no intention to develop ours,” said Comstock.


He added that if he were a developer, he would have developed his land before now – such as during the time when his family was struggling to pay off the crushing inheritance tax that hit them in the wake of his father's death 30 years ago.


“I don't live the rural lifestyle, every day, wanting to see us paved over and looking on San Jose,” he said.


Comstock said he likes to see cows grazing on the land, but believes property owners have rights, which includes development.


As he gets ready to take his seat in January, Comstock will step down from his seat on the Middletown Unified School District Board of Trustees, which he has held for nearly two decades. He'll also be getting extra help on the ranch and working to maintain his current clients in his financial services business, but will no longer be expanding his efforts.


“I ran for this to serve the people of District 1 and the county and that's what I plan on doing,” he said.


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


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LAKE COUNTY – As the nation prepares to head to the polls on Tuesday, state and local officials are reporting record voter registration levels.


California Secretary of State Debra Bowen reported Friday that 17.3 million Californians have registered to vote, nearly a million more voters than were registered in October 2004 and nearly two million more than this same time in 2000.


Those 17.3 million account for 74.56 percent of the 23.2 million eligible voters in California, according to Bowen's office. That's up from the 69 percent statewide registration Bowen reported in September.


While this October's percentage is down slightly from the 75 percent registration recorded in October 2004, and the 80.21 percent registration in October 1996, California still has more registered voters now than ever before, with the state's population continuing to grow.


Here in Lake County, the numbers of registered voters also have grown, especially in the last month.


The September registration report showed that 71.86 percent of Lake County's 46,714 eligible voters were registered to vote, according to Bowen's office.


Her Oct. 20 report put Lake County's registration up to 75.18 percent – above the state average – with 35,154 voters prepared to go to the polls.


Since the start of January, Lake County's voter rolls have grown by approximately 2,800 voters, up just 1,474 in the last month alone, since Lake County News last reported on voter registration numbers.


In her more than two decades on the job, Lake County Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley said this year's registration is the highest amount she's seen for any election, including presidential elections, which she said typically draw larger voter interest.


In preparing for the big day on Tuesday, Fridley said, “I expect a big turnout.”


The number of voters registered to vote by mail – or absentee ballot – also has grown.


Last month, the percentage of absentee ballots was at 44.3 percent. Fridley said for the election her office has issued 17,947 absentee ballots, which accounts for 51 percent of the county's registered voters. That's up by nearly 3,000 voters from the 14,953 Fridley reported as being registered to vote by mail permanently last month.


So far, she added, 9,711 absentee ballots already have been returned to her office.


Because of the number of absentee ballots they'll be counting this year, Fridley said her office will begin tallying those votes between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Tuesday, although they can't release the results until after 8 p.m.


She said county Chief Administrative Officer Kelly Cox and County Counsel Anita Grant have volunteered to be on hand to help her with the counting Tuesday.


Analyzing the numbers


On a statewide level, Democrats lead registration with 44.4 percent, compared to 31.4 percent for Republicans, according to Bowen's report. Third parties account for 4.3 percent of voter registrations, and “decline to state” has risen to its highest level ever, 19.9 percent.


The numbers in the latest report put Democrats up slightly from their 43 percent registration of four years ago, while Republicans have declined from 34.7 percent.


Both Democrats and Republicans have shown overall declines in registration since October 1992. That year, Democrats reported 49.1 percent registration and Republicans 37 percent, compared to 3.6 percent for third parties and 10.3 percent for decline to state voters.


Locally, Bowen's report showed that the number of eligible voters in Lake County grew from 46,454 in January to 46,758 in October.


In Lake County, the October report has Democrats at 43.5 percent of registered voters, or 15,292, up from 13,094, or 42.97 percent, in January.


Republicans had 10,545, or 30 percent, of registered voters, in October, an increase from 10,075 registered voters but down from the January percentage of 31.14 percent.


The third-highest designation was “decline to state” voters, who came in with 7,335 voters or 20.87 percent in October, compared to 6,488 or 20.05 percent at the year's start.


American Independents come in at 3.37 percent, with 1,183 registered voters, up slightly from 3.25 percent and 1,053 voters in January. The Green Party reported 380 registered members, or 1.08 percent, down from the 414 voters, or 1.28 percent, at the start of the year.


Other parties showed the following changes: Libertarians, 214 (0.61 percent) in October, 212 (0.66 percent) in January; Peace and Freedom, 131 (0.37 percent) in October, 129 (0.40 percent) in January; and “other,” 79 (0.24 percent) in October, 74 (0.21 percent) in January.


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


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