Sunday, 25 February 2024

News

Before I return to my discussion of the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), we have breaking news on the federal stimulus bill that was recently signed into law.


I will get back to the AMT because that still is a major issue that is not going away; however, we need to learn about all the provisions that have just been announced. This law contains important information on the AMT.


I mentioned in an earlier article, when a major new bill is passed, first the headlines, then the basic details and then a bit later the procedures and how this all will work.


We have passed the first step and now are in step two while step three should take a bit of time. Most of these provisions are for tax years 2009 and 2010 but a number do apply to tax year 2008.


First a correction: the federal new homebuyers' credit is for homes purchased BEFORE Dec. 1, 2009. I believe I mentioned the end of the year, which in this case would not be accurate.


The vast majority if the federal stimulus bill affects tax year 2009 and 2010. This means there could be outstanding opportunities available depending on your situation. There are, however two major provisions that effect tax year 2008.


The first concerns net operating losses for small businesses.


A net operating loss is a situation when expenses exceed income. If their expenses are investment or business, then the excess or net operating loss – NOL – can be used as a deduction for other years.


Currently, the federal allows either a carry back of two years or a carry forward. A carry back means that one must amend that return and apply the losses. Generally this means that they will get a refund from that year. It also expends the statute of limitations for that year, so it is a trade off.


The statute of limitations defines how long the Internal Revenue Service or the Franchise Tax Board (FTB) have under normal circumstances to examine your return. Under normal circumstances, the IRS has three years and the FTB has four years. If used, the taxpayer must go back to the second previous year and then apply anything left over to the next year and then into the future. An option to this is to forgo the carry back and just use this loss on future tax returns. I’ve mentioned just the basis; the actual rules are quite a bit more complicated.


There is a new NOL for small businesses. A small business is defined by having gross receipts of under $15 million dollars, and this is an average of year years. Under these new provisions, small businesses that generate an NOL in years either beginning or ending in 2008 will have expanded carry back options. This will allow the businesses more freedom to carry back an NOL, amend a previous tax return and receive a refund.


An affirmative election must be made on the return and there are some traditional rules and complex details so be sure to discuss this with an accountant if you are not familiar with the rules. The state has not conformed to this provision, so there will be timing issues if you have an NOL. This provision has two major benefits, the first is that this allows you to get a refund faster and allows more options to select a carry back year with the highest tax brackets.


The other major change affecting tax year 2008 is the first-time homebuyers' credit. This is an extension of the credit form 2008 with some major change. This applies to purchases made after Jan. 1, 2009, and before Dec. 1, 2009. Remembers that if the purchase is close to either date, make sure escrow begins or ends within the applicable dates. The maximum credit is increased to $8,000 and the repayment provision has been eliminated.


To increase the speed of receiving a refund, you can claim the credit on the 2008 return, even if purchased in 2009. There are three major limitations if you make this election;


You qualify only if neither you nor spouse has owned a principal residence for at least three years as of the date of purchase. You have to live in the residence for at least three years or you have to pay back the credit and the credit will be reduced if your income is $75,000 or more and completely eliminated at $95,000 and for married, the numbers are $150,000 and $170,000.


Not to be out done, California has passed their own version of the credit. As too often happens, the California bill is quite different from the federal provision.


The California credit is for the purchase of a brand new, never-occupied home. The credit is $10,000 and there are no income restrictions. The details are:


1. The credit is available if you purchase a personal residence on or after March 1, 2009 and before March 1, 2010. You must occupy the home as your residence for at least two years or the credit must be paid back. Remember to watch the dates very carefully; when it said after March 1, 2009, that means escrow statement must be dated after that date.


2. You take a third of the credit per year, so if you purchase the home in 2009, you get one-third of the credit on tax years 2009, 2010 and 2011.


3. The seller must provide you with a certificate that they obtain from the Franchise Tax Board within one week of purchase.


4. There is a limited funds for this credit, soothe fact that you qualify and make all the steps properly does not mean that you will actually receive the credit. The FTB has announced that they will have a counter on their website to let people know the status of the fund.


5. So, if you are considering this credit, you should act as fast as possible.


As a reminder, a major part of the California bill is that the sales tax will increase by 1 percent starting April 1.


So we see that of the two major bills passed, the federal stimulus and the California budget bill the federal tends to give some tax breaks while the California bill tends to increase tax. I will write more about these bills in my next article and of course will get back to the Alternative Minimum Tax because it’s still very important and is part of the new federal stimulus bill.


Jon Meyer is a local tax accountant and enrolled agent with more than 25 years experience in tax preparation. The office of Jon the “Tax Man Meyer” also offers retirement planning and insurance options. For more information call 928-5200.


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THE SPELLING OF A WITNESS' NAME HAS BEEN CORRECTED.


LUCERNE – Northshore Fire officials are still trying to determine what caused a fire that destroyed a Lucerne man's home on Friday evening.


The fire was dispatched at approximately 8:18 p.m. Friday to 6856 Lakeshore Boulevard, the home of George Riehl.


Neighbors initially had been concerned that Riehl, injured in a motorcycle crash a few years ago, was still inside. However, he was safely evacuated.


Sitting on the ground about a block down the street from his burning home, Riehl was crying out, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!”


Some neighbors took the chance to get away from the scene, where propane tanks were said to be located.


One woman took her two small children and walked down the street and away from the street crowded with emergency responders, saying that if anything else exploded she wanted her children to be safe.


Fire hoses were stretched out for blocks and water was running down the streets from the house, tucked in at the end of Lakeshore Boulevard in the Lucerne Riviera.


A total of 10 Four Northshore Fire vehicles – including four trucks, two battalion chiefs, Chief Jim Robbins, two ambulances and another large pickup – plus two Lake County Sheriff's patrol vehicles responded to the scene.


“We're not sure what the cause was,” said Robbins, explaining that Riehl had driven up to the house and parked on power lines that the fire had knocked down.


The downed lines were sparking and hampering firefighters from getting into Riehl's home, said Robbins. Pacific Gas and Electric was called to the scene to deal with the power line issues so firefighters could work on the fire.


Barry Mac Leod, who lives next door in another home owned by Riehl, was standing in bare feet outside of his home, trying to find his dog and two cats. His wife took a cat out of the garage, tucking it into her coat.


He said he was in his kitchen when he heard barking dogs, then his daughter said that Riehl's house was on fire. About that time he said he heard an explosion, which he guessed came from a small propane tank on the side of Riehl's house.


Mac Leod said he got his grandson and family out of the house, then rescued his motorcycle from the garage, but hadn't been able to find his dog or second cat.


He said he used a garden hose to put out one of the burning power lines as the fire reached a point over his house. Mac Leod also wetted down the back of his own home and tried to put out the fire burning Riehl's home.


“His home is completely gone,” said Mac Leod.


As he was speaking another loud explosion from the direction of Riehl's home was heard. Acrid-smelling smoke came from the house and floated down the street.


The fire damaged the back of Mac Leod's home and its eaves, Robbins said.


Mac Leod pointed out that it was Friday the 13th. “I just mowed the lawn today, too.”


He said he was grateful he was there and able to take action.


“If we hadn't gotten home it might have taken everything,” he said, adding that he feared the fire could have reached two or three other homes, all of which are built in close proximity to one another along the street.


An arson investigator was called to the scene to help in determining the fire's cause.


Northshore Fire engines were still returning to quarters at nearly 1 a.m. Saturday after working on the scene all evening. One engine was reported to be staying on scene all night.



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 – The public is invited to attend a series of upcoming meetings on the recently completed draft of the Shoreline Communities Area Plan.


The Lake County Community Development Department will host two town hall meetings this month to introduce the draft plan.


The first town hall meeting is scheduled to take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, March 23, in the Rose Room at the Lucerne Senior Center, 3985 Country Club Drive, Lucerne.


The second meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, at the Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, 15900 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks.


During these meetings Community Development Department staff, along with members of the Shoreline Communities Area Plan Advisory Committee, will be present to provide the public with information concerning changes in policies, zoning and land use designations that are proposed by the Draft Shoreline Communities Area Plan.


The advisory committee and the Community Development Department developed the draft area plan.


When adopted, the plan will provide a policy framework and plan to guide future growth within the planning area.


The planning area includes the communities of Lucerne, Kono Tayee, Paradise Cove, Glenhaven, Clearlake Oaks, Spring Valley, the unincorporated areas north of the city of Clearlake including portions of Clearlake Park, and all of the outlying rural areas around these communities to the eastern county line.


The Draft Shoreline Communities Area Plan is available for review on the Web at www.co.lake.ca.us.


Copies of the draft area plan are also available at the county libraries, and at the Community Development Department, located on the third floor of the Lake County Courthouse.


For more information, contact Kevin M. Ingram, the project manager, at 263-2221.


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WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the first time in four years, public opinion about government secrecy has leveled off, although more than seven in 10 adults still consider the federal government to be secretive, according to the 2009 Sunshine Week survey by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University.


Sunshine Week takes place March 15 through 21. It puts the focus on the public's right to know about what its government is doing, at all levels.


Since 2006, the percentage of adults who believe the federal government to be somewhat or very secretive has grown steadily; from 62 percent in 2006 to 74 percent in 2008. The latest survey finds 73 percent characterizing federal government as secretive.


This mood is perhaps buoyed by the nearly eight in 10 adults who think President Barack Obama's Freedom of Information directive calling for a presumption of disclosure is the right thing to do.


“Trust in government has been on the decline for some time in the United States. The previous administration's disclosure policies certainly contributed to public skepticism,” said Jerry Miller, director of the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. “People now appear more optimistic, but still guarded, about President Obama and the current administration's disclosure practices under the Freedom of Information Act.”


As in previous years' surveys, people see their state and local governments as more open than the federal system. At the state level, 54 percent view government as open, 44 percent as secretive. People also are more trusting of local public officials. More than half, 56 percent, say their local government is very or somewhat open, with 44 percent rating it as very or somewhat open.


“The more open our government, the more inclusive the processes that impact our everyday lives,” noted Rich Boehne, president and chief executive officer of The E.W. Scripps Co.


Two-thirds of adults (67 percent) say they've heard of the federal Freedom of Information Act, and when told about it, slightly more (77 percent) think it is a good law. However, hardly anyone surveyed had ever used it. Nine in 10 adults (94 percent) have never requested information using a FOIA request. None of this, of course, dulls their skepticism about compliance with the law: 61 percent say they believe the federal government only sometimes, rarely or never obeys FOIA law.


“It's heartening there is a reversal in the downward trend of public confidence in the openness of the federal government,” said Andrew Alexander, co-chair of the American Society of Newspaper Editor's FOI Committee.


“But it's sobering to note that more than half of those surveyed said they still believe their government only sometimes, rarely or never abides by disclosure requirements mandated by law,” added Alexander, who is ombudsman at The Washington Post.


The survey of 946 adults was conducted by telephone from Feb. 16 through March 11 by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University under a grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation. The survey has a margin of error of about 4 percentage points.


The survey has been commissioned by ASNE for Sunshine Week since 2006, Sunshine Week is a non-partisan open government initiative led by ASNE, with print, online and broadcast media; public officials; civic groups and non-profit organizations; public and special libraries; educators and students; religious leaders; and others. It is primarily funded by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.


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Martin McClure visits with one of his kindergarten students, 5-year-old Sean, at the Friday rally. McClure was among dozens of local teachers to receive pink slips this year. Photo by Maile Field.

 

 


LAKEPORT – A sea of people in various shades of pink descended on Lakeport's Courthouse Square Friday afternoon, rallying to show their support for education in these uncertain times.


Educators, parents, students, community members and a few canines festooned with pink ribbons were on hand for the “Stand Up for Schools” event, coinciding with “Pink Friday” – the deadline day for districts to give pink slips to teachers for the coming fiscal year.


The afternoon rally in downtown Lakeport was punctuated by the incessant honking of passing cars, their drivers hitting the horns to show support for schools, teachers and students.


More than 100 local teachers, administrators and classified employees have received layoff notices so far this year, and at this point just how many of them stand to be hired back isn't yet known.


But what is certain is that California is “racing to the bottom,” according to Lake County Superintendent of Schools Dave Geck, who told the more than 200 people crowded into the square that California is now ranked 47th among the nation's 50 states in per-student spending.


Here in Lake County, local schools are being forced to cut more than $5 million in the coming fiscal year after having cut out $3 million to help balance the budget last September, he said.


The result is growing class sizes and loss of vital programs such as art, music, sports, and after school intervention and tutoring programs. Some districts are planning to close their library doors for all or part of the day, he said, while some districts are closing entire schools. That's the case in Konocti Unified, which on Wednesday voted to close Oak Hill Middle School.


Geck said that now, more than ever, schools need stable funding, but that aim is being defeated by a broken state budgeting system, and legislators need to know the budgetary cuts they're making are undermining students.


The state, he said, needs to commit to longterm funding for schools. Referring to stimulus money coming from the government, Geck called schools “the real economic recovery vehicle.”


While California's schools are ranked at No. 47 for the amount of funding devoted to each student's education, the massive budget cuts will push California to dead last for per-student spending, Geck said.

 

 

 

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Community members rallied on Friday to support local educators in the face of massive state budget cuts that will impact education. Photo by Lenny Matthews.

 

 


At the same time, the state's schools are saddled with the highest standards and expectations, and schools need the resources to meet those high performance requirements, said Geck.


He added, however, “We can't get overwhelmed by the bad news.”


Action is needed, said Geck, as the state begins gearing up for a special May 19 election which will examine new funding sources for schools. Getting out the message about the importance of voting in that election is critical if future cuts are to be avoided and California's race to the bottom is to be pulled up short.


Geck said the community must stand up for students, “Because they're depending on us.”


Local attorney Doug Rhoades, in a gray suit punctuated by a pink shirt, said he supports spending his tax dollars on the future, in the form of students.


Rhoades said his own children are no longer in the school system, but he wants his grandchildren to be able to have the finest teachers and education they can. He said he would rather pay higher taxes if it meant having better education.


Lakeport Unified School District Board member Bob Weiss said the Stand Up for Schools event was the beginning of community organizing.


He challenged everyone in the crowd to think of 10 people who weren't there and get them to work for education.

 

 

 

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More than 200 people showed up in downtown Lakeport for the rally. Photo by Maile Field.
 

 

 


Weiss suggested that coordinated calls to Gov. Schwarzenegger's office and local legislators were in order, as well as a trip to Sacramento.


“We need a traffic jam down there,” he said.


Looking on during the event was Martin McClure, now in his 10th year of teaching.


A six-year resident of Lake County, last year McClure made the move from teaching in Ukiah to teaching kindergarten at Lakeport Elementary.


On March 6, he received a pink slip, a day after Lakeport Unified School District's board voted to lay off a total of 17 classified employees and teachers as part of a plan to address $800,000 in revenue shortfalls.


McClure doesn't know what to expect; it's not yet known whether the district will be able to hire him back.


“If they can they will,” the said. “They don't know. There's no money.”


The situation should become clearer after April 30, when the district holds kindergarten roundup and will get an idea of its kindergarten enrollment in the coming year. “That will be the first indication,” McClure said.


McClure said he really wants to keep teaching in the district. “I love teaching at Lakeport Elementary.”


He doesn't want to have to make the move to another school, but he's not ruling out the need to do that. If all else fails, McClure said he'll start putting together his resume.


McClure said it was uplifting to see so many people come out to support education. He's concerned that a lot of people still don't understand the budget games the state is playing at local districts' expense.


Legislators are trying to deal with the bad economy at the expense of education, “and that's just wrong,” McClure said.


Pam Klier, president of the Lakeport chapter of the California Teachers Association – who organized the Pink Friday event – said they had no idea so many people would come out to show their support.

 

 

 

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Eighth-grader Shao-jia Chang, 13, is tying a pink ribbon into the hair of eighth-grader Alice Crockett, 14. Both are Lakeport students. Photo by Maile Field.
 

 

 


What's next for teachers here and across the state?


“That's the big question, isn't it?” Klier said.


For years, a teacher shortage has been talked about, but with so many teachers no out of work, Klier said perhaps no such shortage still exists.


Many teachers affected by the recent round of layoffs – nearly 18,000 statewide, laid off as part of the effort to meet $11.6 billion in cuts to California's schools in grades kindergarten through 12th grades – still don't know what's ahead, said Klier.


Teachers and community members now need to figure out a way to channel the kind of energy that was in evidence on Friday afternoon, fortified with pink rice krispie treats and cotton candy.


Klier said a lot of attention will now be focused on the May election.

 

 

 

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Ric Hayes, a library clerk who is being laid off, shared his story Friday. Photo by Maile Field.
 

 


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


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LOWER LAKE – Many people – from board members to teachers to parents – had predicted that no one would be entirely happy with the decision the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees ultimately would make to meet address a $1.2 million budget cut in the coming fiscal year.


Those predictions proved true Wednesday night, when the board – in a 3-2 vote – directed Superintendent Dr. Bill MacDougall to close Oak Hill Middle School.


Board members Hank Montgomery and Herb Gura were the dissenting voices in the vote, which came at the end of a special four-hour meeting held in the Lower Lake High School gym, with about 100 people in attendance.


The meeting ended shortly after the vote, with board members sitting in a strained, grim-faced silence as people – some of them unhappy Oak Hill staffers and parents – filtered out of the gymnasium. Some called out angry comments to the board.


The district board has hosted nine meetings on possible consolidation measures to close the budget gap. Most of those meetings had focused on public comment, but Wednesday night was the board's first opportunity to discuss it as a body.


They came to the table having heard MacDougall's proposal – which included closing Oak Hill Middle School – at a meeting held March 4.


The board heard presentations from business manager Laurie Altic and Dana Moore, the district's director of maintenance and operations. Moore gave an in-depth description of the logistical aspects of moving students to new school facilities and how to improve schools to take on additional students.


Closing Oak Hill and moving its 473 students to other schools was part of two separate recommendations.


In the first, schools (not including the high school) would be converted to K-8, for a savings of $1,025,680, with a $265,980 cost to shift students for a net savings of $759,700. Facilities costs would amount to $475,500, but Moore said those funds are specifically for building projects, and can't be used in classrooms.


The second recommendation called for closing the school, converting Pomo Elementary to grades fourth through eighth, while Burns Valley becomes K-3, and Lower Lake and East Lake are K-8. That also would save the district $1,025,680, with $170,376 to shift students for a net savings of $855,304. Facility costs would be $510,500.


The board also voted to support continuing class size reduction measures, which MacDougall estimated would save the jobs of 13 to 15 teachers.


Board members give their perspectives


When it came time to discuss the choices – whether to close the school and realign some grades or choose another route – Montgomery was clear that he opposed Oak Hill's closure.


The proposal to close the school, he said, “has become more a referendum on Oak Hill and what it does rather than is this the best way to save money.”


Montgomery credits his children's success in college and beyond to their time at Oak Hill. “They had a tremendous experience.”


So he was troubled to hear Oak Hill become the focus of so much negative comment at the public meetings, which he said made him sad “to the very core of my existence.”


He said he's tried to think he way through closing the school, but he can't justify it. “It seems to me that closing Oak Hill is not the solution.”


Board member Carolynn Jarrett said that, based on the public hearings, she believed the relationship between school staff and parents isn't there, despite the teachers' hard work to improve the school.


Jarrett, who taught elementary school in Konocti Unified for 18 years, said for her it was a financial decision. She favored closing Oak Hill and transitioning to K-8 schools, and using the knowledge of elementary and middle school teachers to benefit students.


Said Gura, “It's such a complex decision, and anything we do affects so many other things.”


If the district didn't have its financial issues, Gura said he wouldn't even be considering closing a school. Gura said he had three children who have successfully gone through Oak Hill, with a fourth who was looking forward to the school.


He said he still many questions about the logistics of the move, and wanted to hear what the rest of the board had to say.


Board Clerk Anita Gordon, who has been on the board 10 and a half years, called the district's budget challenge “the most difficult subject matter I've ever faced sitting here in this chair.”


Gordon worked at Oak Hill for two years, and said she admired and respected the school's staff. “Teachers there are doing amazing things.”


Like Montgomery, she was saddened to hear so many negative comments made about the school in public meetings, because she knows the work the teachers and administrators are putting into the school.


But Gordon said she was thinking about the money, adding that there isn't a district in the state not having the same discussion.


The choices before the board, Gordon said, were both gut-wrenching and horrible. “They're not anything we wish to do.”


If Oak Hill was left open, that wouldn't address the looming cuts, said Gordon. They also could face the loss of students whose parents don't want them to attend Oak Hill.


Closing the school, added, Gordon, made the most sense monetarily.


Board President Mary Silva, whose four children attended Oak Hill, said it hurt to have to close the school.


“I don't know what else to do,” she said. “I don't know where else that money is going to come from.”


She said she couldn't see spending money from the district's reserves because of concerns about what the next fiscal year might bring.


“This board really has to look at all the options and make sure we're making the best choices for all the children, not just particular sites,” Silva said.


Gura asked Montgomery for his ideas – he noted he usually had good ones – on other options for how to trim the budget.


Montgomery said he had a few ideas, but none of them were big ticket items. He said they could revisit staffing ratios and take a line-by-line, surgical approach to the budget.


He said closing Oak Hill will delay the district's budget problems, not solve them. Montgomery said they needed to anticipate unintended consequences, otherwise, “We're going to wander off into the darkness.”


Montgomery asked the board to take more time to go over the budget and give the decision the time it deserved. The extra work, he said, would be nothing when compared to what it will do to the district to close one of its schools.


Silva said the district already has given out 52 pink slips to teachers, and said they'll be able to rehire teachers if the school is closed. “We're a tough district. We'll make it.”


Jarrett, referring to information Altic had provided earlier in the meeting, noted that the middle school model is expensive, more so than elementary schools. “We need to get lean.”


She said she was cautiously trying to urge the process along. “I don't think we have a lot of time for this.”


Other solutions offered


The board heard from 10 speakers, many of them speaking against closing Oak Hill.


Carle High School teacher Angela Siegel offered several options for getting through the budget crisis, agreeing with Montgomery's idea of going through the budget “surgically.”


Her suggestions included drawing small amounts from the district's reserves, saving an estimated $350,000 by not filling some positions, dropping some expensive software programs and not requiring a techie to be called every time a minor computer issue arose.


She suggested that, in the long run, it would cost more money to make the changes the district proposed.


Parent Liberty Perry said the situation was affecting a lot of lives and, whatever the decision, it was going to be hard, and no one would be completely happy with it.


“I just ask that you make this in a timely manner so these teachers that were given pink slips know what to do with their lives and their kids,” she said.


Burns Valley teacher Katherine Mullin said the process has produced a lot of anxiety for teachers and is affecting the staff at her school.


“This ongoing conversation is taking its toll. Our aides are scared to death. We have almost none left,” she said.


The sooner they know what's going to happen the better all of them can cope, said Mullin. She said her husband, who teaches in another district, also received a layoff notice.


Mullin said that every bit of energy she spends on the issue “is one little piece of me that the children of this district don't get, and they need every bit that I can offer them and they deserve it.”


The longer the district waits, she said, the less quality teachers it will be able to access, pointing out that two of the best young teachers she's seen have given their resignations and plan to leave the district.


Glen Goodman suggested the district's proposals were an expensive way to save money. Meanwhile, they still didn't know how much federal stimulus money they might receive that could help the situation. The district also could lose students and, along with them, attendance-related funding.


“It just seems to me that there's go to be a better way,” he said, urging the board not to hurry but to take the time to make the right decision.


Oak Hill Middle School teacher Tracy Lahr defended the school, and said the students haven't been asked what they want.


Oak Hill is a community, Lahr said. Closing the school isn't a win-win situation.


Another Oak Hill teacher, Paul Leiferman, said the school and its teachers take a lot of vitriol from the community. “There are those of us who are really tired of it,” he said.


Leiferman, who has taught at the school for 10 years, recalled one of his young students, a girl whose home was filled with abuse, but who – with the help of teachers – improved her grades and got onto the volleyball team.


One day she'd served some aces and went home looking forward to telling her story to a family member, only to find the man had hung himself.


“Those are the kinds of things we work through over there,” Leiferman said.


He said he wished more people knew about such stories.


Not a pleasant decision


MacDougall told the board that district staff already has gone through the budget line by line – as Montgomery had suggested they do – in order to find other cuts. If there had been a panacea, they would have used it already.


“It is not a pleasant situation whatsoever,” MacDougall said.


He said the board could direct him to go back through the budget, line by line, but he guaranteed they would arrive at the same conclusions.


Jarrett moved to direct MacDougall to close Oak Hill, with Gordon seconding. Silva joined the two in voting for the proposal, with Gura and Montgomery voting no.


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


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For me, purchasing shrimp is a moral dilemma. I have to have conversations with a pantheon of deities in order to just put a package of shrimp in my shopping cart.


Why would something as simple and tummy-rubbing as shrimp do this to my already fragile psyche? Because the methods used to get it to my grocer’s seafood case are environmentally detrimental.


Both wild-caught shrimp and farm-raised pose problems that just make me squirm. When I was younger I was Mr. Environmentalist. My school reports were always about natural power sources (that was before it was called “alternative energy” or “green energy”). As a teen, I wrote letters to the leaders of foreign governments about environmental issues and my concerns about their countries’ practices. There is even a law in Minnesota (my homeland) dealing with the proper disposal of toxic chemicals that I was the instigator for and major force behind.


Now I’ll admit in recent years my stance has softened and I’m not walking around with petitions to get free dental care for the whales anymore, but I still consider environmental factors when I go to the grocery store. Deciding what kind of shrimp to buy brings these issues to the front of my mind.


Let’s start with wild-caught shrimp, which has been the bane of environmentalists for a long time. I was once an activist against shrimp trawlers. Shrimp caught by trawl is the worst environmental disaster since the seven plagues. A giant net is dragged behind the boat scooping up everything in its path. Law requires a special escape hatch to allow turtles to escape, but everything else goes in.


When full, the net is pulled in and dumped onto the deck of the boat. The crew then picks through all of the creatures and removes the shrimp individually. Once all the shrimp are pulled out the remaining “bycatch” is dumped back into the ocean, most of it now dead or near death. Seagulls follow these boats because they know that eventually a smorgasbord of dead fish will be served from the back of it.


Shrimp trawlers catch approximately 2 percent of the world’s shrimp but produce one-third of the world’s bycatch. The ratio of sea life caught in the nets that isn’t shrimp but that will inevitably die on the deck of the boat ranges between 5 to 20 pounds of bycatch for every 1 pound of shrimp caught. The thought of up to 20 pounds of sea life dying so I can have 1 pound of shrimp is very distressful to me.


The fact that wild shrimp have to fight for survival makes them have thicker shells (thicker shells mean more flavor), firmer flesh and more complex flavor. There is even a movement starting promoting that wild shrimp be sold with identifiers, like American Viticultural Areas or special regions, similar to what oyster farms did with marketing “Blue Points” and “Hog Island.”


While the flavor of wild shrimp is usually better than farmed shrimp, the quality can vary a great deal. After all, the shrimp has had no standards placed on it until it hits the processor. So now I have to consider ... wild shrimp will most likely (though not definitely) taste better than farmed, but what about all of that wasted sea life?


Farm-raised shrimp was the savior of the ocean when it was first started but the profit caused a problem. It was TOO profitable. Everyone wanted in and shrimp farms sprang up all over. Farming solves the issue of the massive amounts of dead bycatch, but miles and miles of coastal mangrove forests have been cleared to make the shrimp farms. Mangrove forests create intertidal habitats where the trees grow in a great tangle of roots and branches, giving prime breeding and nursery habitat for countless aquatic species. The removal of these forests now leaves these small creatures no place to hide from predators.


The shrimp farms feed the shrimp fish meal until they reach a harvestable size, at about four and a half months. Farm-raised shrimp is not fed for a week prior to harvest, which not only saves money for the farmer but cleans out the digestive tract (sand vein) of the shrimp so they don’t need to be de-veined.


The flavor of farmed shrimp isn’t generally quite as good as wild-caught, but the consistent quality is assured. It is so reliable that a plate full of farm-raised shrimp look like they were cloned. Yet the loss of the intertidal habitat that shrimp farming has caused may result in grave damage to the species that used to breed in them. Though the effects may not be felt for another decade or more, by then it may be too late to repair the damage.


I get a sad chuckle at the idea that the very bycatch that shrimp trawlers throw out as waste into the ocean to rot could be kept and turned into fish meal that the shrimp farmers could then use. I guess it’ll be a while before we live in that world of cooperation. All these issues make me want to become a vegetarian, but when you look into the eyes of a young potato and it just tugs at your heart ...


Shrimp is a lot like fowl. Just like chicken, turkey, guinea hens and hummingbirds all taste differently, shrimp varieties taste different from each other. Where the shrimp lived and what it ate greatly affects the taste. All shrimp are high in calcium, iodine, and protein. The cholesterol levels in shrimp actually improve the levels of LDL to HDL and lowers triglycerides, so in the end shrimp is great food for dieting. But it should be mentioned here that the only seafood species higher in cholesterol than shrimp are squid and caviar. A typical meal of 10 medium/large sized shrimp gives you about half of the American Heart Association’s recommended daily amount.


Personally I believe one of the reasons that shrimp is so popular in American cuisine is because the average person doesn’t know what a poorly cooked shrimp looks or tastes like. When I look at grocery store pre-cooked shrimp I cringe because most of it looks overcooked already. You can tell if shrimp is overcooked by looking at it. Perfectly cooked shrimp will make a “C” or half moon shape. If the shrimp makes a full-circled “O”, or even a full curl like the number nine, that shrimp is overcooked, and though it will still taste like shrimp it will be overly chewy. If you want truly superior tasting shrimp you need to buy it raw with the shell on, cook it in the shell and peel it yourself.


Cooking the shrimp with the shell on will give you more shrimp flavor, but if you want to flavor your shrimp with a traditional Louisiana shrimp boil or Old Bay seasoning you will want to peel the shrimp first.


So with all of this information about shrimp, I bet you’re wondering: when I do buy shrimp, what kind do I purchase? Most of the time I get farm raised tiger shrimp, but once in a while one of the deities in my head get me to purchase wild shrimp. Gotta go with what they recommend.


This recipe will cook a dozen shrimp perfectly.


1 pound (about 25) medium/large shrimp


Fill your largest (2 quarts) pot about 2/3 full with water and add a generous amount of salt, old bay or whatever seasoning you like. Cover, heat to a furious boil, and then add shrimp, replace the cover and immediately turn off the heat. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes until shrimp is done. (If you don’t know what size your pot is or what size the shrimp is just figure two-thirds water to one-third shrimp; the cooking process for any size shrimp or pot will stay the same.)


Drain the water. You can serve the shrimp immediately hot with melted butter, but if you’re cooking the shrimp ahead you’ll want to throw the shrimp in an ice water bath to chill them down and stop the cooking process.


I’m not a big fan of cocktail sauce since anything you eat with it tastes like cocktail sauce and nothing else, but my daughter loves it so I make it. One day I left her at home with a bunch of shrimp and no cocktail sauce and she called me to get instructions on how to make it!


The following recipe is what I came up with for her to make herself if it ever happens again. It’s very simple, so feel free to add or subtract anything you like (for example, herbs could do some wonders). This recipe is enough for half a pound to a pound of shrimp, depending on how heavy a dipper you are.


Cocktail sauce


2 tablespoons ketchup

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/8 teaspoon prepared horseradish sauce

1 or 2 shots of hot sauce to taste


Mix, chill, serve.


Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


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Lakeport Police arrested Adan Casares late Thursday for allegedly robbing a teenager at knifepoint earlier in the day. Lake County Jail photo.

 

 

 

LAKEPORT – Lakeport Police have apprehended a man wanted in connection with a Thursday armed robbery.


Adan Lupercio Casares, 40, of Lakeport was arrested shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, according to Lake County Jail records. He's being held on $10,000 bail.


On Thursday morning a 16-year-old teenager reported that a man had approached him at the Lakeport Car Wash on Martin and S. Forbes streets, showed him a folding knife and demanded his money before fleeing on foot, as Lake County News has reported.


Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke said Casares matched the description of the suspect, and was known to the department's officers through prior contacts.


Burke said the investigation into the armed robbery is continuing.


Armed robberies in Lakeport are rare, said Burke.


While a certain amount of petty thefts occur as part of the normal crime pattern, he said they haven't yet seen an increase in crime due to the economy.


Burke said the topic of correlating crime to the current economic situation is a hot topic in law enforcement circles these days.


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


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UPPER LAKE – On Thursday morning the Upper Lake High School Academic Decathlon team will set out for the 30th California Academic Decathlon, to be held this weekend in Sacramento. {sidebar id=133}


It's become a regular trip for the dedicated group of students – who have won the state small school championship in previous years.


They're led this year by teacher Anna Sabalone, herself a former member of the team who is in her first year coaching.


The team won the county Academic Decathlon title in February. After a little time off to rest and recover from various bouts of colds and flu, the team members are now in final preparations and getting excited for the weekend competition, Sabalone said.


“It's the culmination of nearly a year's worth of work,” Sabalone said.


Upper Lake's team members will be among 60 teams and more than 500 students from 39 counties and regions across the state, including public and private high schools, that will participate in this year’s competition, according to a California Academic Decathlon statement. “Latin America” is this year's study topic.


Once the Upper Lake team gets to Sacramento, they'll have two days of studying before the competition begins on Saturday morning, Sabalone said.


Sabalone said the Saturday competition, which will take place at California State University, Sacramento, will include all the testing, to be followed on Sunday by speech and interview, also at Sacramento State.


The Super Quiz, which is open to the public, will be held on Sunday at Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium. Sabalone said awards will be given during a Monday ceremony. The team will come home later that day.


But the emphasis for her is on the experience and the competition itself, which she said sticks with the students long after the pencils are set down.


Upper Lake is in Division 3, the small schools category; middle-sized schools fall into Division 2 and large schools into Division 1.


Upper Lake's February score, 34,736, ranks it eighth out of 20 Division 3 schools.


In years past, Lower Lake High School, who has battled Upper Lake for the top local spot over the years, also has been invited as an at large school. But, unfortunately, that's not the case this year.


That's the result of a change in the state competition's method of inviting at large schools, said Ken Scarberry, California Academic Decathlon director.


Scarberry said the state's 39 Academic Decathlon coordinators, who meet regularly, have been negotiating for years to change the process of making invitations based on county enrollment, which is how the competition originally was set up.


What that meant is that counties with many teams – in Southern and Central California there are areas with as many as 60 teams competing – were able to send only a few teams. At the same time, some smaller Northern California areas, with fewer teams, were getting to send a larger proportion of their competitors.


This year, for the first time, they're going an a score basis, said Scarberry.


The winning team of each region is guaranteed to advance to the state competition, and any open spots go to the next-highest scoring teams. He said all of this year's invited, at-large teams have scored more than 40,000 points.


“We have the best of the best represented across the state on that level,” said Scarberry.


For Lower Lake, he said, the incentive is to shoot for the 40,000 range.


Smaller schools can score in that range, he said, pointing to a small Central California school that's scored more than 40,000 points yet has a student body of less than 600.


He said there are a handful of states across the country that are actually looking at this concept. Scarberry added that many states don't use scores as a basis to invite teams to the statewide competition.


Upper Lake's entire team has been nominated for a Stars of Lake County Award in the student of the year category; individual team members Benjamin Mullin, Stephanie Tregea and Thonyoon Chao were nominated individually, as was Emmalena Illia, a Lower Lake academic decathlete.


Sabalone said her students already are excited about starting work on next year's study theme – the French Revolution.


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


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Mike Wilhelm lives in Lake County these days, but he was a fixture in the Bay Area music scene in the 1960s. Courtesy photo.

 

 

 

Earlier this week I was surfing for vinyl on Ebay and I came across a collectible copy of the Flamin Groovies album entitled “Now” from 1978. Packed away in my CyberSoulMan arsenal of facts is the knowledge that the Groovies were No. 4 on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Bay Area Bands, a list which was published in the Chron’s pink section at dawn of the new millennium. I actually have a copy of that article in my personal archives.

 

Virtuoso musician Mike Wilhelm, former lead and rhythm guitarist of the group, as some of you well know is a Lake County resident. Wilhelm also played in one of San Francisco’s first psychedelic bands, The Charlatans. This is the man that Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead proclaimed was his favorite guitar player way back in uh, nineteen and sixty-seven. I’ve been privileged to become gradually acquainted with him over the last couple of years. Recently he gave me several tracks of music he produced for air play at KPFZ.

 

So, as kind of a favor in return, I called up Wilhelm to let him know that a nice copy of some of his recorded work was available for bid on Ebay. Just in case there was a gap in his archives. We music aficionados have to stick together you know.

 

Brother Wilhelm has his stuff together. He already has two copies of “Now.” But the call set the stage, if you will, for a very cool musical dialogue that I would like to share with you.

 

When I finally realized we were talking some deep cultural Americana information and started taking notes, we were knee deep in a conversation about the great Johnny Otis. Johnny Otis has had an extraordinary music career also. Bandleader, composer, producer – you name it in the world of rhythm and blues, Mr. Otis has done it. He discovered (Little) Esther Phillips, Etta James, Sugar Pie DeSanto and a host of other huge names in R&B. Though he was of Greek ancestry, Johnny Otis always purveyed an African-American persona.

 

Wilhelm talked about growing up in L.A. and watching the Johnny Otis television show every Friday night in his home. Reminiscing about the rich diversity present in Southern California in his childhood, Wilhelm recalled the other King of Western Swing, Spade Cooley. Cooley had a big band and a Saturday night TV show. Cooley had become an actor through his association with Roy Rogers and parleyed that into a very successful TV show. Throw in Lawrence Welk’s TV show in conjunction with Wilhelm’s parents' classical music collection and stuff he sought out on radio, Mike Wilhelm couldn’t help but be exposed to a lot of great music.

 

Wilhelm and David Crosby were tight before Crosby joined the Byrds. This was during the pre-rock folk scene days. Crosby was with Les Baxter’s Balladeers at the time.

 

Wilhelm spoke of playing a gig as a Charlatan at the Fillmore with Arthur Lee & Love. Arthur Lee & Love were once upon a time L.A.’s biggest rock band. Lee wouldn’t tour outside the West Coast. He brought Jim Morrison and the Doors to Elektra Records who soon became L.A.’s biggest band.

 

The most moving part of Wilhelm’s dialogue was his sharing of how Blues legend Brownie McGee gladly taught Wilhelm licks on the guitar that have continued to further his playing and appreciation of the blues to this day.

 

Wilhelm told hilarious anecdotes about finally moving to San Francisco’ Japantown in about 1963. Upper crusty white neighborhood on one side, black neighborhood on the other. A mysterious mixture of no man's land in between.

 

He said that most of the time, he chose to live in the black neighborhoods as the rent was more affordable and it was infinitely easier to rehearse your band in the ‘hood. People wouldn’t call the police if you were too loud. They’d simply knock on your door if you were bothering them.

 

In Wilhelm’s words, “I functioned well in that milieu. It wasn’t until the rents in the ghetto got as ridiculous as they were in the nice neighborhoods that I moved out. I survived no problem. People would come up and say, 'Hey, gimme 50 cents.' I’d say, 'I ain’t got nothin’ but trouble.' They’d say, 'I heard that' and leave me alone. They didn’t want any of that! I get by that way. Carry a walkin’ stick and dress sharp. People would ask me, 'How can you live down there?' I’d tell ‘em, it’s just like any other neighborhood. You just get to know your neighbors a little bit and it’s probably better in some respects. If you’re rehearsing your band in your dining room and your neighbor’s got to get up in the morning and go to work, he’ll just come over and communicate that to you and let you know when a cool time would be.”

 

Not wanting to be all take and no give, I told Wilhelm my Percy Mayfield story.

 

Percy Mayfield was the legendary songwriter and artist who wrote and sang some killer rhythm and blues hits for himself and people like Ray Charles. I stood with him in the alcove of a nightclub one morning from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. at his behest until his irresponsible booking agent of a ride showed up. I still remember his plaintive plea. “Don’t leave me, little brother.” It was like, my blues duty.

 

Finally, Wilhelm told me his Jimmy Reed story. It was like two stories in one.

 

The first was about how Wilhelm had observed Jimmy Reed in a bout of creative professionalism, told the audience he was having technical difficulties. Reed left the stage to relieve himself and returned a few moments later and announced the technical difficulty solved. He then proceeded to wow the crowd.

 

The second part of the story was near the end of Reed’s performing career. He was sober from booze. Reed was playing and singing magnificently. Between sets, Wilhelm and his friend asked Jimmy Reed to play a certain tune. Reed replied, “I can’t find a recording of that.”

 

Wilhelm’s friend asked, “What do you mean?”

 

The blues great replied, “Ever since I quit drinking, I can’t remember my tunes. I’ve had to relearn all my material off records. If I can get that record, I’ll be glad to do it for you next time.”

 

There it is. The case of the gap in the archives. It’s like a Dr. John song. Right place, wrong time!

 

Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts!

 

*****

 

Upcoming cool events:

 

Konocti Vista Casino presents Andre Williams & Friends, Friday, March 20. 2755 Mission Rancheria Road, Lakeport. 707-262-1900.

 

Blue Wing Blue Monday Blues: Twice As Good, Monday, March 16, 6:30 p.m. at the Blue Wing Saloon & Café. 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. 707-275-2233.

 

Calling For Light: A Spring Concert of Poetry and Music. Carolyn Hawley, piano, plays Chopin and original works. Accompaniment to poetry. T. Watts, accompaniment on trumpet. Lake County Poets Laureate Mary McMillan, Sandra Wade, Carolyn Wing Greenlee, James BlueWolf and Jim Lyle. Sunday, March 15, 3 p.m. Galilee Lutheran Church, 8860 Soda Bay Road, Kelseyville. Tickets cost $10 in advance at Watershed Books, Lakeport, and Wild About Books, Clearlake. $15 at the door. Children free. A benefit for KPFZ 88.1 FM.

 

T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. 

 

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CLEARLAKE – Lake County Animal Care and Control is investigating a Wednesday incident in which a dog bit a volunteer Meals on Wheels driver, who required nearly 100 stitches.


Deputy Animal Care and Control Director Bill Davidson said the dog, taken into custody on Thursday morning, is currently in quarantine at the Lakeport shelter.


The dog, said to be a pitbull mix, attacked the female driver as she was delivering a meal to a client at a location in downtown Clearlake off of Lakeshore Drive, according to Linda Blackstone, program coordinator at the Highlands Senior Center.


“It was not our client's dog, it was her neighbor's dog,” said Blackstone.


The dog first bit the driver on the hip, said Blackstone. The woman turned and as she did so the dog let go of her hip and clamped onto her arm. She was then able to pull away, but in doing so a lot of flesh was stripped from her arm.


Blackstone said the dog's owner took the Meals on Wheels driver to St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake, where the injured woman received about 98 stitches. It took two and a half hours to complete the stitching procedure, but surgery wasn't necessary.


The driver is now at home recovering, said Blackstone.


Davidson said the dog will stay at the shelter for at least 10 days, the length of the normal quarantine period. He said shelter staff were able to confirm that the dog has been vaccinated for rabies.


He said Animal Care and Control's investigation is continuing.


“The owners have been completely cooperative with our efforts,” said Davidson.


Whether the dog becomes the focus of a vicious animal abatement it yet to be determined, said Davidson, and will depend on the circumstances.


Blackstone said she reminded her Meals on Wheels drivers to be very careful of dogs in the wake of the Wednesday attack.


The situation also puts into focus a problem for Meals on Wheels drivers: Blackstone said this was the fourth dog bite incident the center's drivers have dealt with in two years.


“It's getting to be too much,” she said.


That's led them to start looking for pepper spray for protection, said Blackstone. The center also plans to send out letters to its clients asking them to contain any dogs they may have.


“We don't want to have to deny anyone services,” said Blackstone.


People who have elderly neighbors who receive Meals on Wheels services also are asked to please keep their animals secured. In doing so, they'll protect drivers and make sure the critical nutritional services to seniors aren't interrupted.


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 – The organizers of a business expo planned for this weekend say the response from the business community has been overwhelming, with spaces filling up ahead of the Friday deadline.


Karen Long and Kendra Runyon of Big Diva Promotions have organized the inaugural Around the Lake Business Expo, which takes place in the theater building at the Lake County Fairgrounds, 401 Martin St., this Sunday, March 15, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


Long and Runyon reported Wednesday that spaces have filled up, and now they're hoping that the community will come out and show support for local businesses.


They say that visitors will have a chance to win several great prizes, from a free dinner to a hotel stay and other great gifts. Come out and spin the Twin Pine Casino wheel, get goodies from Radio Shack or buy your season pass and apparel from the Lakeport Speedway at the expo.


Several businesses and individuals – including Twin Pine Casino, Lakeport Speedway, Konocti Vista Casino, Darling's Vitamin Connection, Dallas Shaul and Curves – have donated prizes, the event organizers reported.


Admission for the public is free.


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


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Upcoming Calendar

28Feb
2Mar
03.02.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Special Olympics Polar Plunge
3Mar
03.03.2024 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Pianists Benefit Concert
10Mar
17Mar
03.17.2024
St. Patrick's Day
31Mar
03.31.2024
Easter Sunday
1Apr
04.01.2024
Easter Monday
15Apr
04.15.2024
Tax Day

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