Wednesday, 24 July 2024


LAKEPORT – The Soper-Reese Community Theater renovation project continues to move forward, but it still needs the community's financial support to meet an important fundraising goal.

The volunteers who are guiding the theater's renaissance are currently gearing up for a major upcoming fundraiser, the second annual Concert Under the Stars on Sept. 8 at Jim Fetzer's Ceago Vinegarden in Nice.

On Monday evening, a small reception was held in the theater lobby, which included a tour of the renovations, for local wineries who are supporting the theater effort. They were able to see improvements including the theater's new heating, ventilation and sprinkler systems.

Donna Peterson, a member of the Soper-Reese Fundraising Committee, said they have open houses for the public about every six weeks or so and invite them in to see the theater's progress.

Peterson, a lifelong Lake County resident, said she is impressed that so many newcomers to the ocunty have such passion about this theater, a place where so many locals went on their first dates many, many years ago.

John Ross, chairman of the Renovation Committee, helped give the tour Monday.

“I was a member of the Clear Lake Performing Arts and we needed a theater – that’s how I got involved,” he said.

Ross and a dedicated cadre of volunteers got the stalled project back off the ground and are beginning to see some progress.

Moving forward has been a matter of putting one step in front of the other, said Ross. But in a short time the group has made remarkable progress.

Construction is taking place in two phases, Ross said. When it's completed, the theater will seat about 380 people.

In addition to theater productions, Ross said they also will show movies that you wouldn't see in local theaters at the Soper-Reese in a digital format.

Mike Adams, a member of the theater's building committee, said the special places in the county – the gazebo in Lakeport, the streetlights in Kelseyville and Lakeport, and now the theater project – build upon one another.

Jim Fetzer of Ceago and Rick Gunier, marketing director of Shannon Ridge Winery, visited the theater to see the work on Monday.

Wineries including Brassfield Estates, Six Sigma, Ceago, Langtry Estate & Vineyards and Shannon Ridge are banding together to help get the theater open, said Ross.

“We need this theater in the community,” said Fetzer.

Gunier agreed. “It's a good project for our entire community.”

Fetzer has supported the effort through hosting the annual fundraiser. “Last year’s event was spectacular and we believe this year’s will be even better,” he said.

Ross said they have high hopes for the fundraiser, which will help them overcome their next big hurdle, which is meeting a challenge to the community from Jim Soper, who has been a major contributor to the effort over the years.

Nina Marino, chair of the theater's fundraising committee, explained the challenge: If the theater's supporters can raise $300,000 from the community, he will donate another $200,000 to the effort. Right now, the group is at the $214,000 mark.

Ross called the community's support to far “impressive,” and also reported that the county gave the theater a $30,000 grant. “That's quite a vote of confidence.”

But they still need those extra funds in order to pay for the theater renovation's second phase.

Ross and Marino both believe the Sept. 8 event at Ceago will get them close to their goal.

Tickets for the event are $100 per person. The evening will feature a gourmet dinner and plenty of great wines from Ceago, Brassfield, Six Sigma, Langtry and Shannon Ridge; and a piano concert under the stars.

And don't forget the music. There will be performances by a string quartet, a harpist and a brass ensemble, as well as offerings of Bolivian and Peruvian music on instruments including flutes, panpipes and guitar.

The event also will feature a silent auction with some special prizes, including lunch with Jim Fetzer at Ceago.

Fetzer credits Ross' leadership with gaining community support for the theater project.

“We’re working it together and we’re having so much fun,” he said.

Tickets are going quickly; to buy yours call Nina Marino, Soper-Reese Fundraising Committee chair, 279-4082.

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


LAKEPORT – A fire that broke out Saturday afternoon in the Alterra Drive area of Lakeport had panicked residents fighting the blaze with water buckets and shovels alongside firefighters.

Alterra resident Tyler Elsa said he looked across the street and saw smoke coming from a field behind residences on the north side of Alterra Saturday afternoon.

Neighborhood residents, still shaken up by a fire that broke out in the area on June 23, grabbed shovels and buckets of water to try to contain the fire.

Elsa said he called 911 to ask for more help as the fire started burning toward a woman's house. By that time he said the first firefighters already had arrived on scene.

Captain Rick Bergem of Lakeport Fire Protection District said Sunday that the fire call came in about 4:15 p.m. Saturday.

Lakeport sent two engines and a water tender to the fire, said Bergem. In addition, Kelseyville Fire and Northshore Fire's Upper Lake station sent one engine each, with the US Forest Service sending an engine and water tender. About 15 firefighters responded.

Bergem said several neighborhood residents were using garden hoses to keep the fire off the fences lining Alterra.

Alterra Drive's water system has low pressure, said Elsa, which made it difficult to use hoses on the fire.

Firefighters didn't have issues with the neighborhood's low water pressure thanks to the water tenders, said Bergem.

The fire burned a pumphouse, partially damaged the garage of a home on Wright Lane and scorched about two acres of grass in an adjacent field and got into some trees in an old walnut orchard in the area, Bergem said. No other structures were in immediate danger.

Firefighters were at the scene until 6:30 p.m. mopping up, said Bergem.

Elsa said his neighbors' fast action was responsible for stopping the fire from doing more damage. Even children were out working to stop the fire, said Elsa.

The fire's cause is still under investigation, although it appears to have started in the field next to the homes, said Bergem. The field had been mowed but some cut grass hadn't been removed.

The June 23 fire on Alterra was caused by a man who was mowing a lot in the heat of the day, sparking the fire, adjacent to the neighborhood of about 30 homes.

That fire caused several homes to be evacuated while 36 firefighters from Lakeport, Northshore, Kelseyville, Lake County Fire Protection, the Forest Service and Cal Fire fought the blaze with 10 engines and air tankers, according to a report from Lakeport Fire Chief Ken Wells.

The 4.5-acre blaze destroyed a barn, one family's playhouse, neighborhood fences and some junker vehicles, as Lake County News previously reported.

Local and state fire officials have reported that equipment such as mowers are a leading cause of fires during the summer fire season.

Bergem said the fire season for Lakeport Fire has been “pretty quiet,” with a lot of little incidents but no major fires so far.

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


UPPER LAKE – Caltrans is negotiating with landowners along Highway 20 to purchase parcels the agency said it needs to complete a safety project to widen the highway, and it's possible that eminent domain could be used in the process.

Phil Frisbie Jr., Caltrans' spokesman for its operations in Lake and Mendocino counties, said Caltrans is planning a $9.4 million safety project to widen the two-lane highway, provide 8-foot shoulders, and upgrade culverts and public road approaches.

The project, which runs between Upper Lake and Nice, originally was scheduled to be constructed next summer, but had moved ahead rapidly enough that Caltrans expected to start work this summer, said Frisbie.

However, Caltrans originally needed to acquire 46 property parcels along the road's right-of-way to have the area needed to complete the improvements, said Frisbie.

Negotiations have put the project back on a 2008 construction schedule. “We are still hoping to have this go out to bid spring of 2008,” said Frisbie.

Now, they're down to three parcels and three landowners, Frisbie explained. “We hope that we will still be able to settle directly with them.”

However, the agency is preparing to file eminent domain proceedings should they be unable to resolve the negotiations, said Frisbie.

“The courts have not been involved at this point,” said Frisbie. “We are just proceeding with the paperwork.”

Because of the nature of the negotiations, Caltrans would not release the names of the property owners in question.

Supervisor Denise Rushing said she was called by two of those property owners who were concerned about how much of their property Caltrans intended to take.

One landowner, an older man, is losing a significant portion of his land, which is covered by heritage oak trees and located along a blind curve that Caltrans wants to eliminate, Rushing explained.

Rushing said she has spoken with Caltrans and they're negotiating with the man in order to settle the matter without resorting to eminent domain.

A woman who was set to lose a larger portion of her land also contacted Rushing and Assemblywoman Patty Berg's office, who sent a representative to sit in on the negotiations, Rushing said.

In the case of both property owners, said Rushing, “They felt the Caltrans offer was inadequate.”

The property owners also were concerned about the process being used to take their property, said Rushing.

Frisbie said Caltrans would rather settle amicably with the property owners, but will move forward with eminent domain if necessary.

“We are still fully working with the landowners, still hoping for a quick resolution,” he said.

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


SOUTH LAKE COUNTY – An extensive, multicounty investigation is under way into the shooting deaths of three elk and one deer that occurred Saturday.

State Department of Fish and Game Warden Lynette Shimek told Lake County News that three bull tule elk – one massive bull, another large bull and one spike – as well as a doe deer were found shot at about 7 a.m. Saturday.

Hunters in the area witnessed the killings, said Shimek. Each of the animals were found approximately 50 yards apart on private property on the northeast side of Cache Creek.

Shimek said a total of five Fish and Game Wardens – including she and Loren Freeman from Lake County and several others from other areas – were at the site all day Saturday, along with four Lake County Sheriff's deputies, California Highway Patrol officers and the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office Henry 1 helicopter.

Cal Fire also responded, helping recover the bodies of the animals, said Shimek.

“They assisted Fish and Game in processing all of the meat so that none of it would go to waste,” she said, adding that the meat has been donated to charity.

In the case of the tule elk, Shimek said they belong to a protected herd. While there is hunting for the herd, only two tags are issued each year for a hunt in October.

Shimek said that, despite these recent killings, this year's hunt likely will continue. An incredible effort goes into organizing the annual tag drawings, she said, with thousands of people putting in for the hunting permits.

No arrests have been made so far, said Shimek, with the investigation expected to continue over the next several weeks.

“We have several suspects that are going to be questioned in the case,” she said.

Shimek expressed her gratitude to the agencies that assisted Fish and Game in responding to the site of Saturday's poaching and conducting the initial investigation.

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


HOPLAND – If you want to educate yourself on a more sustainable way to live here in Lake County, you’re in luck – the 12th annual SolFest is just around the corner and up over the Hopland grade.

Leading experts in all things sustainable, green and organic will be on hand Aug. 18 and 19 at the Solar Living Institute in Hopland to answer questions and give workshops with hands-on demonstrations.

In addition to the workshops, over 150 exhibitors will be showcasing the latest in energy and fuel-saving technology and products.

While you’re browsing the exhibits and attending workshops getting inspired about what you could incorporate into your life and home, you can sample tasty organic foods, beer and wine as well as listen to world-class music and entertainment.

District 3 Supervisor Denise Rushing believes events like SolFest are important for Lake County residents to attend.

“We have a great deal of work to do to create a healthy relationship with this place in which we all live,” Rushing said. “That work starts with imagining what is possible.”

Rushing believes in sustainability so much that for the last year, Massey Burke, a Solar Living Institute instructor who specializes in natural building and permaculture education, has been leading workshops on Rushing’s organic walnut farm to construct a straw bale and cob cottage where some Lake County residents are learning what natural building is all about.

“At Solfest, we can learn and share: we learn what others are creating and share information and great ideas including ways to harness energy from the sun, natural building materials and methods, ways to restore damaged lands and waters, and ways we can sustain our own spirit and joy in the work ahead,” Rushing said.

Speakers and entertainers at this years’ event include world-renowned author Alice Walker, legendary songwriter and guitar wizard Bruce Cockburn, singer and songwriter Dar Williams and even the Big Tadoo Puppet Show that will ride into Hopland in their bus fueled by vegetable oil.

“One of the most exciting elements of SolFest is the opportunity to attend over 60 workshops related to almost every aspect of sustainability,” said Lindsay Dailey, workshop director for the Solar Living Institute. “From business opportunities in solar to green burials to international community-building.”

There are workshops on how to drought-proof your land, home wetland/gray water systems, natural building, the future of food, permaculture, pumping water with wind power and much more.

“There will be experts traveling from around the country to share their expertise in our six workshop tents,” Dailey said, “and we invite the local community to partake in this unique educational opportunity.”

For more information, visit the following sites.

Denise Rushing’s cottage in progress:


Schedule for SolFest:

Solar Living Institute:


MIDDLETOWN – A motorcyclist who may have been drinking received major injuries in collision Friday evening.

The California Highway Patrol's incident logs reported that a solo motorcycle collision took place at about 6:30 p.m. at 20700 Jerusalem Grade Road at Canyon Road near Middletown.

The rider, who witnesses said had “a lot to drink,” was flown to a Sonoma County hospital, but the CHP did not specify which hospital in particular.

Because of the extent of the rider's injuries, CHP was unable to get a statement. They did report that the subject may have possible bleeding on the left side of the brain.

A blood sample was ordered from the motorcyclist due to concerns about driving under the influence.

No further information about the crash or the rider's condition was available Friday night.

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


This is the second article in a two-part examination of a recent state decisions regarding the county's voting machines. The first article, “Secretary of State: County's voting machines require additional security,” was published Tuesday.

LAKE COUNTY – On Aug. 3, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen decided to decertify and recertify – with additional security measures – the Hart InterCivic eSlate electronic voting machines used by Lake County and several other counties.

As Lake County News reported Tuesday, Bowen's decision requires Lake County Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley to work with Hart InterCivic in order to create a plan to address the security concerns Bowen said her review found.

State Chief Deputy Secretary of State Evan Goldberg told Lake County News that the review looked at electronic voting machines and optical scan systems.

State law requires Secretary of State Debra Bowen to review voting systems, and she may do so at any time, said Goldberg.

So, why review the systems when they already had been certified previously by the federal government and previous secretaries of state?

“They were put through a review process but the review process never included security,” said Goldberg – either on the state or federal levels.

Bowen initially wanted to include eight voting systems in the review, but those machines not being used in the 2008 election were allowed to opt out, and the time frame and resources available also limited the study's scope.

“That's why it wound up there were only three systems that were reviewed,” he said.

Bowen's effort included a team of researchers – called the “Red Team” – from the University of California, Davis. A 14-page overview report from the team's principle investigator, Matt Bishop, stated that the team's specific goal was to identify and document how the systems might be vulnerable to tampering or error that could result in critical election data being altered.

The team considered several questions, said Bishop, including what the systems are required to do, who might threaten the systems, the environment in which the systems are used. They did not, however, evaluate the likelihood of any attack being feasible, but only described the conditions a hacker would need to be successful.

The team was split into two teams, one of which – led by Robert P. Abbott and based at the Secretary of State's Sacramento office looked at the Hart eSlate system, which Lake County uses, and the Diebold system.

The team found that the eSlate's mobile ballot box could be altered during an election, and that post-election safeguards to prevent data from a tampered mobile ballot box from being counted “can be easily bypassed.”

Lake County Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley last year purchased 50 Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines, one for each of Lake County's polling places.

Fridley said the mobile ballot box is secured in a judge's booth controller unit by a serial-numbered, tamper-proof lock. The number is recorded when it's issued and is confirmed when it's returned to the Elections Office. Elections Office staff removes the lock when the votes are downloaded to be counted during the official canvass.

They also found they could remotely capture the audio from a voting session on an eSlate with audio enabled, which would violate the voter's privacy, the report stated. In addition, the machines could be forced to accept multiple bar codes which could lead to erroneous vote totals.

Fridley said she has e-mailed Hart and they are looking into the concerns about capturing audio.

Regarding the eSlate machines, Goldberg explained, “The Hart System was deemed to be less vulnerable to certain kinds of attacks than the Diebold or Sequoia system.”

Counties like Lake that use the Hart machines must meet several conditions to guarantee security, and must submit a plan to the state within 45 days of Bowen's decision.

Of the state's 58 counties, 37 have only one voting machine per polling location, as in Lake County's case, said Goldberg. It's the 21 other counties, some of which have multiple machines per polling place, that will face the most change.

Elections official concerned about study

Steve Weir, president of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials, told Lake County News that he's a healthy skeptic of electronic voting machines and that he welcomed a tough review of them.

But Weir said he was concerned with how Bowen conducted the review, beginning on March 22, when she gave county elections officials only six days to respond to the draft standards she proposed to use for the process.

Normally, according to state administrative code, such information needs to be in print for a month; Weir said that rule can be waived but only in extraordinary circumstances.

Goldberg responded that there is no legal requirement for the secretary to provide county elections officials a comment period, but that she did so anyway, although it was very short due to her “desire to get the review started as rapidly as possible.”

And, Goldberg added, Bowen didn't release her final criteria until May 9, which was because she had given elections officials more time to respond.

“She wanted to make the review process as open and transparent as possible,” said Goldberg. “I think she wishes the period could have been longer, and act it did turn out to be longer.”

Weir said Bowen again gave officials only days to respond when her initial reports on the review were released late in July. He said she released them on the afternoon of Friday, July 27, when hearings were scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday, July 30. On Aug. 3 she released her final decision, when he said actually had until Aug. 6 to do so under his interpretation of election code.

Three things about Bowen's study bother Weir. First, he said, she should have stated definitively that the machines included no “malicious code” and hadn't actually been tampered with in a real-world voting situation. Bowen could have settled that debate but didn't, said Weir.

Weir said he liked the idea of having the machines put through a tough test. “I like the idea of seeing my system tested against standards, and I mean really tested,” adding that he has a “healthy skepticism” of the voting machine vendors.

But his second issue with the process is that he said Bowen didn't have a protocol in place for the tests to penetrate the systems' defenses, which the National Institute of Standards and Testing had suggested was necessary.

He said the machines' defenses weren't tested, which he said was “patently unfair.”

His third concern is for the accessibility issue. By saying the machines had problems but were good enough to serve the disabled only “sent a terrible signal to the accessibility community” that they're separate and not really equal.

The need for voting accessibility, and Florida's voting issues during the 2000 election “landed us where we are today,” said Weir about electronic voting.

In the end, he said he believes Bowen simply ran out of time, with the California primary's deadline being moved up four months to February 2008.

At some point in the future, Bowen wants to review all systems, said Goldberg, although there's no time frame set up to do so at this point.

States including Ohio, Kentucky and New Jersey are now beginning similar voting machine reviews, said Goldberg. New Mexico and Florida already have banned the machines due to security concerns.

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


LUCERNE – As concerns begin to mount about potential new rate increases for Lucerne's water system, two groups who focus on the town's water issues will host a community meeting this week.

Lucerne residents will meet Saturday, Aug. 18, to discuss the latest rate increase requested by California water service (CWS). The meeting will be at the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center, country club Drive at 10th Ave., at 12:30 p.m.

Lucerne Community Water Organization and LucerneFLOW sponsor the meeting. They offer a 50-percent rebate on breakfast at the senior center to those who attend the meeting. Breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to noon and costs $6. Both organizations will open nominations for new members of their boards of directors. Elections will be in September.

The current application from CWS affects several other of their water districts in California, including Chico, Salinas, East Los Angeles, Livermore, Los Altos, Mid-Peninsula, Stockton and Visalia, with requested increases ranging from 21.3 percent in Lucerne to 49 percent in Chico.

The company serves about 500,000 customers in California and has districts in New Mexico, Washington State and Hawaii.

The CPUC public advisor's office said this week that organizations or individuals which wish to intervene in the case must file a notice of intent within 30 days of the CPUC pre-hearing conference, which has not yet been scheduled.

The company said the current request is necessary because the California public utilities commission (CPUC) is attempting to streamline its process, and the next general rate increase will not be filed until July 1, 2009, with rates agreed on from that filing to be effective Jan. 1, 2011 or later.

The purpose of the current filing is to pass on to the rate payers centralized services costs in 2008 but delay the next general rate increase until January 1, 2011. Cal Water filed a General Rate Case for the Redwood Valley District's Lucerne system in August 2005, which resulted in a 121-percent rate increase that became effective in August 2006.

Because of discounts negotiated when attorney Steve Elias intervened before the CPUC on behalf of Lucerne, most ratepayers saw increases of about 65 percent. The company had asked for a 246-percent general increase.

Centralized services costs include payroll, benefits (including employee health care and pension costs), taxes, transportation/fuel, and facilities maintenance that are common to all operating areas.

In contrast, the General Rate Case review examines local costs specific to each district, such as local operation and maintenance expenses, plus a reasonable return to the company and its stockholders for the investments in infrastructure, including water treatment facilities, main replacements, wells, and storage tanks.

On Aug. 1, the San Jose corporation announced its second quarter 2007 financial results and declared its 251st consecutive quarterly dividend. The dividend per common share is $0.37, compared with $.31 per common share in the second quarter of 2006. Net income was reported at $7.7 million, up from $5.7 million for the second quarter of 2006.

Revenues increased by $14.7 million, or 18%, to $95.8 million, attributed to a $9.9 million increase in water sales to existing customers, a $4 million increase in rates, and $0.8 million in sales to new customers.

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LAKE COUNTY – As the wave of home foreclosures continues to climb across the state and the nation, new numbers suggest a steady increase of foreclosures also is occurring here in Lake County.

A report from DataQuick Information Systems of La Jolla, a company that tracks foreclosure rates statewide, found that lenders sent California homeowners the highest number of mortgage default notices in over a decade in this year's second quarter.

Those high default numbers are the result of flat or falling prices, anemic sales and a market struggling with the excesses of the 2004-2005 home buying frenzy, according to DataQuick.

Lenders filed 53,943 Notices of Default (NoDs) during the April-through-June period, DataQuick reported, up 15.4 percent from 46,760 for the previous quarter, and up 158 percent from 20,909 for second-quarter 2006.

The second quarter's default level was the highest since 54,045 NoDs were recorded statewide in fourth-quarter 1996, according to DataQuick. Defaults peaked in first-quarter 1996 at 61,541. A low of 12,417 was reached in third-quarter 2004.

Trustees Deeds recorded, or the actual loss of a home to foreclosure, totaled 17,408 during the second quarter, the highest number in DataQuick’s statistics, which go back to 1988. That was up 57.8 percent from 11,032 for the previous quarter, and up 799.2 percent from 1,936 for last year’s second quarter.

The prior peak of foreclosure sales was 15,418 in third-quarter 1996, the low was 637 in the second quarter of 2005, according to DataQuick.

DataQuick reported that most of the loans that went into default last quarter were originated between July 2005 and August 2006. The median age was 16 months. Loan originations peaked in August 2005. The use of adjustable-rate mortgages for primary purchase home loans peaked at 77.8 percent in May 2005 and has since fallen.

On primary mortgages statewide, homeowners were a median five months behind on their payments when the lender started the default process. The borrowers owed a median $11,126 on a median $342,000 mortgage.

On Notices of Default, the county with the highest percentage increase statewide was Yuba with a 280-percent increase; the lowest was Kings with a 50-percent rise.

For trustee deeds, the high number belonged to Yolo County, which skyrocketed 10,200 percent. Santa Cruz's trustee deeds climbed 253.8 percent in comparison, the lowest number reported in the state.

Lake County's foreclosure rates below state average

DataQuick spokesman Andrew LePage said Lake County's numbers are higher than recent years, but they're still below the staggering state average. And the most recent numbers also indicate a slight dip from the previous quarter.

In the first quarter of 2006, there were 51 Notices of Default in Lake County, said LePage. A year later, 97 Notices of Default were recorded in the first quarter of 2007, a 90.2-percent increase, LePage said.

In 2006's second quarter, there were 58 Notices of Default, compared to 2007's 109, an 87.9-percent increase over the year to date but down 3 percent from the first quarter of the year, said LePage.

As for trustee deeds, where the foreclosure process is completed and a home is taken away, there were seven in the first quarter of 2006 versus 31 in 2007's first quarter, LePage said, a 342.9-percent increase.

In the second quarter of 2006, there were 11 trustee deeds; in second quarter 2007, there were 48, a 336.4-percent jump but, again, down slightly – about 6 percent – from the previous quarter.

Neighboring counties recorded the following numbers for the second quarter, with percent increases indicating the rise from the same quarter the previous year:

  • Notices of default – Sonoma, 462, 128.7 percent increase; Napa, 128, 172.3 percent increase; Yolo, 232, 201.3 percent increase.

  • Recorded Trustee Deeds – Sonoma, 163, 805.6 percent increase; Napa, 34, 1033.3 percent increase; Yolo, 103, 10,200 percent increase.

“The key thing to watch is if things will level out in the next few quarters,” said LaPage.

If it doesn't level off, it means the problems are deeper than just peak lending activity to late summer 2005, he added.

Recent foreclosure activity “probably has more to with bad lending and borrowing decisions,” said LePage.

Many of the lending practices pointed to as likely causes for the climbing foreclosure rates – teaser and adjustable rates, and interest-only loans – were not new, LePage said.

If here was anything that was new, said LePage, it was how widely those loans were used.

Home sales don't appear heavily influenced

Thomas Pelandini, the Lake County Association of Realtors president for 2007 and operations manager for CPS Country Air Properties, said the local real estate market is fluctuating, but those changes don't appear linked with foreclosure activity.

The California Association of Realtors' most recent report on home sales stated that sales in June decreased by 24.7 percent compared with June 2006 while, at the same time, the median price of existing homes increased 3.2 percent. The association reports that the focus on foreclosures is causing some homebuyers to take a “wait-and-see” attitude, while homes priced to sell continue to move.

The same is true in Lake County, said Pelandini. “Pricing seems to be the critical element.”

Looking at residential statistics countywide from January through July of 2006, Pelandini said there were 550 listings sold with a median price of $299,000.

During the same period this year, the number of listings sold was 472, a 10-percent decrease, said Pelandini. The median price for the homes sold was $275,000, a 9-percent drop, he said.

“It seems to be fluctuating month to month,” Pelandini said. “There's no consistent upward trend or downward trend.”

The market is expected to enjoy a rebound in 2008 and 2009, Pelandini said.

Historically Lake County hasn't had a major foreclosures problem, said Pelandini.

As for current activity, “There are foreclosures here, and most agents have done a pretty quick cram course on short sales,” he said.

In recent years, with an influx of homebuyers coming to the county to look for second or retirement residences, the buyers tend to have higher incomes and more secure financial footings, which help avert foreclosure activities, Pelandini explained.

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


LAKEPORT – Local elections officials are still trying to sort out the possible impacts of the California Secretary of State's decision to decertify some electronic voting systems used across the state.

“I know it affects us, but I don't know everything that affects us just yet,” said Lake County Registrar of Voters Diane Fridley.

Fridley said that Secretary of State Debra Bowen's Aug. 3 decision included Hart InterCivic's eSlate voting system, which Lake County uses.

Bowen withdrew approval for the Hart InterCivic system, then reissued a conditional approval, which will require additional security measures, according to Bowen's office.

The InterCivic system “will be required to comply with increased security and post-election auditing procedures,” a statement from Bowen's office explained.

Besides Lake, counties using eSlate include Humboldt, Orange, Madera, San Mateo, Sonoma and Yolo, according to the Secretary of State's office.

Bowen's office reported that direct recording electronic voting systems manufactured by Diebold and Sequoia also were decertified.

In the case of the InkaVote Plus system by Election Systems and Software, the company didn't submit information that would allow its system to be reviewed, according to the Secretary of State's office. That system was decertified and the company has since submitted the requested documents.

County purchases machines to meet federal law

The federal Help America Vote Act required counties to purchase the voting machines in an effort to comply with disability access requirements, said Fridley. The act requires at least one such machine at each polling place.

In accordance with that, in 2006 the county purchased 50 eSlate machines, one for each county polling place, at a cost of $567,910.67, said Fridley. That figure didn't include additional necessary equipment, such as a laptop computer.

Proposition 41 funds – in the amount of $321,390.02 – helped the county pay for the eSlate system, said Fridley. She is asking for reimbursement for the remainder of the costs from the Help America Vote Act, a lengthy and difficult process, she added.

She said she chose the eSlate system because she believed it was the most user-friendly.

Fridley said the electronic voting system was used for the first time in the June 2006 election.

In the system's most recent use in November, 53 votes were cast countywide using eSlate, said Fridley, out of 19,575 total votes cast. Fridley said out of 20 polling place sites, 11 machines were used and 9 weren't; not all of the machines were utilized in the November election.

Most of Lake County's votes were cast by absentee ballot, 10,316 to be exact, said Fridley.

With so many people switching to absentee voting, why the need for voting machines?

Fridley said not all states have allowed permanent absentee voting as California has.

System has paper backups

Lake County has a blended voting system, said Fridley, which includes not just the eSlate but the paper-based optical scan Mark-A-Vote, used since 1983.

Only Sonoma, Madera and Lake counties have that “blended system,” where the votes that are cast on the eSlates are actually duplicated on the Mark-A-Vote ballots, said Fridley.

Money had been available for Lake County to go to a completely electronic system, but Fridley said, “I'm glad we didn't,” in light of these recent problems and because of the fact that, if the county had needed to completely upgrade due to decertification, money might have been available for that effort.

Lake County uses a complicated auditing processing of checking eSlate paper receipts against the system's audit trail, Fridley said. A two-person auditing board then creates a Mark-A-Vote paper ballot record which is counted and tallied along with the official ballots. The backup will be the paper receipt off the eSlate along with the records from the mobile ballot box.

Some counties have an entirely electronic system, including audits and optical scans. “We do have issues but not as many as those counties that have the total package,” said Fridley.

Fridley said her office is working with Hart to come up with a plan to meet Bowen's requirements for security and auditing. She said many of the security requirements have been in place since the eSlates were used in June 2006.

An Aug. 4 statement from Hart InterCivic said Bowen's assessment was not a realistic risk assessment.

“Putting isolated technology in the hands of computer experts in order to engage in unrestricted, calculated, advanced and malicious attacks is highly improbably in a real-world election,” the Texas company's statement read.

Hart InterCivic said it will work to meet Bowen's requirements, and that it is continuing to improve the security and technology of its machines, which are used in thousands of jurisdictions across 11 states.

Fridley said she spoke with Hart representatives on Aug. 9, and said a working group composed of representatives from counties and cities that use the machines will meet to discuss the security procedures that Bowen is requiring.

Lake and Madera will actually be represented by an elections official from Sonoma County, said Fridley, because those three counties use the same blended voting system and have the same concerns.

Fridley said she doesn't foresee having to buy new machines. “As long as we meet the security issues we shouldn't have a problem.”

In June, Bowen announced she was forming a Post-Election Audit Standards Working Group to review security and reliability of the state's voting systems, and decide if post-election audit standards needed to be strengthened.

At the same time, Bowen launched a “top-to-bottom review” of voting systems currently certified for use in California elections, according to her office.

Bowen didn't specifically look at blended systems like Lake's, said Fridley.

Fridley also voiced her concern that the systems were tested in a lab, not a real-world scenario, and that Bowen's criteria for the review “was pretty broad and not very specific.”

Tomorrow, the state chief deputy secretary of state discusses the reasons the review was necessary; the president of the California Association of Clerks and Elections Officials explains his concerns about the review protocols.

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


LAKE COUNTY – A Cal Fire battalion chief said Friday that the agency has been able to determine causes for two out of three large fires that took place in the county in July.

Eric Hoffmann is battalion chief for fire prevention in the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit, which also covers Solano, Colusa and Yolo counties.

Hoffmann investigates the causes of fires throughout the unit. He gave a report on the causes for the July fires.

– July 28: A fire that originated at the back of Robinson Rancheria's property burned 128 acres as it moved up into the hills and in the direction of Nice. A few small sheds were destroyed but no major structures were in danger, and no injuries were reported.

The blaze's cause, said Hoffmann, was children with matches.

Because of the circumstances, Cal Fire is putting together a package to bill the parents of the child responsible, although he said they haven't determined the specific child.

The fire required extensive use of aircraft, including four air tankers for the space of a few hours, and three helicopters throughout the fire's duration. Although the fire was contained that same day, firefighters remained on the scene until Monday to put out hot spots.

Hoffmann estimated the cost would be over $50,000. “We don't even have an estimate right now.”

Children playing with fire cause about 1 percent of the fires Cal Fire deals with every year, said Hoffmann. Locally, he added, the percentage of playing with fire cases is slightly higher.

Cal Fire's fire prevention specialists train on how to deal with juvenile fire setters, said Hoffmann. They have a special program geared toward children ages 6 through 11, which is intended to educate them about the dangers of fire and playing with matches.

Hoffmann said for more of those younger children, fire is an object of curiosity. By the time the children hit their early teens, their fascination with fire can cross the line into reckless fire starts.

The program has been successful, said Hoffmann; he said a veteran fire specialist reported she never had a child go through the program who was a repeat offender.

– July 16: A fire that ignited in the afternoon moved quickly through 100 acres of dry grassland near the Noble Ranch subdivision off of Spruce Grove Road between Lower Lake and Middletown. There were no structures damaged and no injuries.

The tentative cause of the fire was a plastic tarp that blew into a power pole. The tarp caused two lines on the pole to short, Hoffmann said.

The short caused one of the lines to break, Hoffmann explained, and when it hit the ground it ignited the grass.

– On July 14, a fire broke out along Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks, burning between 15 and 20 acres.

That fire, said Hoffmann, was the only one of the three for which they were unable to find a cause.

Hoffmann said the biggest cause of wildland fires in the Cal Fire unit is a combination of equipment and vehicles, which account for about 30 percent of fires.

Among pieces of equipment, which alone account for a 25 percent of fires, the No. 1 culprit is the lawnmower, especially those heavier mowers made for irrigated lawns, now dry fields, said Hoffmann. Welding, cutting and grinding tools also have caused fires.

Vehicles account for about 12 percent on their own, said Hoffmann, with fires usually starting due to faulty exhaust systems that come in contact with vegetation. That was the case last summer, with fires along Highway 29 near Middletown attributed to a catalytic converter.

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


SACRAMENTO – The return of West Nile virus to California this year is renewing calls for horse owners to make sure their animals are vaccinated.

So far in 2007, five horses have been diagnosed with the disease – all have been either unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated.

None of those equine cases were found in Lake County. However, two were in Sonoma, two in Kern and one in Sacramento County.


“Outbreaks of West Nile virus are still a risk for horses,” said California State Veterinarian Dr. Richard Breitmeyer. “Horse owners should contact their veterinarians as soon as possible to ensure vaccination status is current. If people get the necessary shots for their horses now, the animals will have optimal protection against the disease.”


Signs of West Nile virus include stumbling, staggering, wobbling, weakness, muscle twitching and inability to stand.

Horses contract the disease from carrier mosquitoes and are not contagious to other horses or people. Not every horse exposed to the virus will die.


California's Department of Food & Agriculture is collaborating with state, federal and local agencies to detect and respond to the disease in California.

For more information, click on Questions may be e-mailed to CDFA at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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