Wednesday, 19 June 2024

News

CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks County Water District Board's Saturday meeting to introduce a proposed water and sewer rate hike to customers proved vastly different from a previous meeting in August that also looked at raising rates.


For one, the August meeting, which lasted just over two hours, saw close to 100 angry residents packed into the East Lake Grange, shouting at the board over a nearly 40-percent propose hike.


Saturday's meeting, held at the Northshore Fire District's Clearlake Oaks firehouse, lasted approximately 40 minutes and was attended by about 25 people who, for the most part, appeared convinced of the necessity of a 17.7-percent increase that would go into effect in November.


The other difference notable between the two meetings was that the board now has two new members, with Frank Toney and Harry Chase being joined by Mike Benjamin and Judy Heeszel. Benjamin, now board president, and Heeszel took seats vacated after the last meeting by Pat Shaver and Mike Anisman. Another seat, vacated by Helen Locke, will be filled next month.


"This is going to be a different hearing from what we had the last time," said Benjamin, who admitted that he had "raised hell" at the last meeting himself, which in his case included starting a recall effort against Shaver and Anisman.


Before opening the meeting to public comment, Benjamin explained the new rate proposal, which was the result of work done by the board, General Manager Darin McCosker and the recently formed district finance committee in the wake of the August meeting.


In recent months, the district's serious financial situation has come into sharper focus, but it's by no means a new problem, which Benjamin made clear.


He read from a July 2004 rate hike proposal notice to ratepayers, which warned that the district was experiencing "economic strain" due to unexpected and sharply rising expenses, coupled with years of no rate hikes for sewer and water services.


One example of rising costs: Over a six-year period, the district's annual liability and worker's compensation costs tripled, rising from $27,629 to $76,147, and it was hit by more than $200,000 in charges to remove biosolids from its sewer plant.


The 2005 budget, in turn, pointed again to those increasing costs and to an aging infrastructure. The district also had, by that time, lost an estimated $100,000 to Proposition 1A and nearly $30,000 to the Lake County Redevelopment agency. In all, that budget narrative estimated a potential deficit of $474,000, Benjamin explained.


"We consider these pretty dire warnings," he said.


The rate hike that was approved at that time didn't even cover the cost of living increase, said Benjamin.


Benjamin said the district now is about $200,000 in debt, of which around $152,000 is old debt incurred more than six months ago. He added that the district is running between $10,000 and $12,000 in the red each month.


The 17.7-percent increase, raising the base rate for a single-family dwelling from $56.24 to $66.19, will address the debt that hasn't been addressed in previous years. Benjamin said the total increase for each home would be no more than $9.95.


Chase pointed out that audits of the last three years are under way, and Benjamin said the board will take the results of those audits to the community next year, when it comes time to consider whether or not another another increase is needed.


In the mean time, the district is down two and a half employee positions, which it won't be filling, and is instituting a wage and hiring freeze in the coming year, Benjamin said.


During a relatively brief public comment period, the board fielded questions about cost differences between mobile homes and stick-built homes, whether the district was being impacted by foreclosures – it's not, said McCosker – and how district rates compared to other areas (the district is better off than some areas like Lower Lake and Spring Valley that could be facing big hikes).


Clearlake Oak resident Ross Christensen thanked the board for the work they had done, saying he felt the last proposal was "more like a knee-jerk reaction."


He followed up by asking if the district had looked at selling treated wastewater to local farmers or getting a return on the water it pumps to The Geysers.


McCosker and Benjamin said they'll consider numerous ways to increase the district's revenue and are pursuing a $4 million US Department of Agriculture grant, but they need to stabilize the financial situation first.


"This has to be a lengthy healing process," which has just started, said McCosker.


He added that, over the next year to 15 months, he and the board, assisted by the finance committee, will go through the district's procedures from top to bottom to fix the problems. "This is a complete rebuild."


One woman said she would not be able to pay even the additional $9.95 a month. "I'd have to choose between food and water."


McCosker said they had crunched the numbers "as much as we can crunch 'em" to find the best solution.


Toward the end of the meeting, Benjamin made a special request to district ratepayers – asking them to pay special attention to their December bills.


Last December, the district sent out bills totaling $150,000. The following month, when the payments were expected, the district only received $49,000.


Getting only a third of its payments this coming January could prevent the district from making its payroll or paying its bills, said Benjamin. "We just won't make it."


One audience member had suggested that the holiday bill problem may have been partly due to the district not sending out bills, as in his case.


McCosker, who took over as general manager in January, said the office is running very smoothly now, with longer hours, live people answering phones rather than the former"voice mail hell" and an overall emphasis on customer service. "I apologize that hadn't been done that way in the past."


Chase emphasized the district's financial situation will be reevaluated next year before the board considers charging customers any more money. "We're not real interested in overburdening the customers, because the customers own the water district."


Keeping in mind the statement by one ratepayer earlier in the meeting that the proposed rate hike would hurt her, Chase suggested that the district should begin looking at ways to help low-income customers, as Pacific Gas and Electric does.


"We're going to turn everything this company does inside out," added Benjamin.


He ended by thanking the community members for "a very pleasant meeting," which was so amicable that it even ended with the audience giving the board a round of applause.


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


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CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks County Water District Board will take a new rate proposal to the community on Saturday, and this time its hoping for a better response from ratepayers.


At the board's Thursday night meeting, directors voted unanimously to present the 17.7-percent base rate increase at a community meeting that will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Northshore Fire District's Clearlake Oaks firehouse on Highway 20.


In August, the board held a meeting in which they presented a proposal for a nearly 40-percent increase along with some lesser hike options to ratepayers. That meeting saw community members shouting at the board, prompting then-board Vice President Mike Anisman to leave. Mike Benjamin began a recall drive against Anisman and board member Pat Shaver, who did not attend the meeting.


Since then, Anisman, Shaver and board President Helen Locke have resigned. Benjamin has since been appointed to the board and is now president.


On Thursday, the board – which includes Frank Toney and Harry Chase – voted unanimously to appoint Judy Heeszel to the fill one of two remaining vacancies. Heeszel was one of several people seeking the appointment, among them Dena Barron, Lee Wisdom and Lowell Estep.


Heeszel began attending board meetings regularly this summer when concerns about the district's financials and the resulting initial rate hike proposal became hot topics around Clearlake Oaks. Since then she has served on the district's finance committee, which she said has taught her a lot. "My whole attitude has changed."


Another board vacancy will be filled at the board's Nov. 20 meeting.


Heeszel and her fellow board members have significant challenges ahead. The district has more than $200,000 in debt currently, with more than $152,000 of that being old debt, said Jana Saccato, the district's secretary.


Benjamin said payroll and expenses are going down but the district is still short about $10,000 a month.


He said the rate proposal, which will take the base water and sewer rate from $56.24 to $66.19 per month per single family dwelling, was carefully crafted to have as little impact as possible on district customers. Overall, customers should not see more than a $9.95 monthly increase. The price of water will not go up.


"You're not going to pay any more for water, you're not going to pay any more for sewer," said Benjamin.


Besides catching the district up on a monthly basis, Benjamin said the increased revenues from the proposed rate hike should help the district slowly rebuild its reserves "as painlessly as possible." Those reserves once totaled about $1.3 million but were drained as the district took on capital improvements while having no rate hikes over several years, as Lake County News has reported.


Audits of the district's books are now under way, according to General Manager Darin McCosker.


Benjamin said the plan is to take the results of the audits back to ratepayers in a year, give them an update on the district's financial situation and decide what needs to be done next.


If the community approves the raise in rates, it would go into effect Nov. 1, said Benjamin.


Along with that, the district has pledged to put a wage and hiring freeze into effect for its employees for the next year, said Benjamin. "These are guarantees we're going to make to the community."


Benjamin said the board also is looking at its procedures, employee benefits and wage packages to find other ways of reducing costs.


Board members and district staff said the creation of the finance committee has made a huge difference in operations and the ability to focus on the financial challenges. McCosker, in particular, said it had taken a lot of pain out of his job.


Toney thanked Benjamin and fellow board members for forming the committee, which he said he had proposed six months ago but which the previous board had shot down.


The finance committee met once a week for seven weeks straight, up until this last Tuesday, each meeting lasting about three hours as members works on the rate proposal.


The committee still has a lot to do in looking at other ways to bring the district's finances into better shape, said Benjamin.


The group will take a little break for a while, as the focus now shifts to getting the rate hike approved.


Looking forward to Saturday's meeting, Benjamin said, "We're hoping for a completely different response from what there was the last time."


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


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BLUE LAKES – Law enforcement officials are still searching for two suspects who led police and California Highway Patrol on a high-speed pursuit last Friday.


The chase took place around 9 p.m. Friday, leading from Ukiah to the Blue Lakes area, as Lake County News has reported. Law enforcement was in pursuit of a stolen white Ford Focus registered out of Eureka.


Capt. Justin Wyatt of the Ukiah Police Department said the pursuit began just south of the city limits, and continued eastbound on Highway 20.


Ukiah Police officers were joined by one Ukiah-area CHP officer, said Wyatt. Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies also were reported to be involved in the pursuit.


Wyatt said the subjects in the Ford Focus hit a deer near Lake Mendocino but kept going.


Once in Lake County, Lake County Sheriff's deputies responded to assist, according to reports from the scene.


Also responding were local CHP officers, said CHP Officer Adam Garcia.


“Our officers went out and helped out with the perimeter and search for them,” said Garcia.


Wyatt said the vehicle chase ended at Le Trianon Resort, where the subjects abandoned the vehicle and fled the scene on foot.


“We don't have the people in custody so it's still under investigation,” said Wyatt.


A be-on-the-lookout alert was issued to law enforcement to look for the suspects, but Wyatt did not offer any more information about the situation, including descriptions of the people being sought, due to concerns about jeopardizing the case.


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


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LUCERNE – The Lake County Code Enforcement Division will soon be moving its operations to Lucerne.


The entire division will be located on the second floor of the Lake County Visitor's Center, located at 6110 E. Highway 20, according to Community Development Director Rick Coel, whose department also covers Code Enforcement.


“We have set Oct. 29 as the start date for the move to Lucerne,” said Coel.


He said that he thinks it will take a week to complete the move and for staff to begin working out of the Lucerne office.


“We plan to rotate staffing in a way that allows us to keep one staff member at our courthouse office during normal business hours,” he added.


The division originally was slated to move to Lucerne earlier this year, as Lake County News has reported. However, Coel said a number of logistical issues had to be resolved, resulting in delays.


Code Enforcement staffing has been updated effective Thursday, according to Code Enforcement Manager Voris Brumfield.


Staff includes Beverly Westphal, countywide abandoned vehicle abatement; Allison Garrett, overseeing Lucerne, Glenhaven, Spring Valley, Clearlake Oaks and Clearlake Park; Roderic Hilliard, who is in charge of Lower Lake, Middletown, Cobb Mountain, Kelseyville, Finley and the Clear Lake Riviera; and Kimberlee Heckard, whose territory includes Lakeport, Upper Lake, Blue Lakes and Nice.


Larry Fabisch, whose territory had included the Northshore areas, has been placed on administrative leave, Coel said.


Fabisch was arrested last Saturday morning for charges including cultivating and possession of marijuana and carrying loaded firearms in public. The former president of the county's employees' union, Fabisch told Lake County News that he has medical marijuana cards which allow him to have the marijuana.


Coel said there are several reasons for the move to Lucerne, including a desire to locate a county office on the Northshore, which also will allow Code Enforcement staff to make a more efficient response to complaints in that area.


The move also will give staff more elbow room, as Coel described the office space in the courthouse on N. Forbes Street in Lakeport as “crowded.”


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


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LUCERNE, Calif. – A county code enforcement officer arrested over the weekend on several drug-related charges says he was wrongly arrested because he has medical marijuana cards, while sheriff's officials say his arrest was justified due to the amount of marijuana in his possession.

Larry Morris Fabisch, 54, of Nice was arrested early Saturday morning and booked into the Lake County Jail on charges of possessing more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, planting and cultivation, possession for sale and carrying loaded firearms in public.

Fabisch has worked for the county for nearly 20 years, and has spent the last five years as a code enforcement officer. He's also a past president of the Lake County Employees Association, the union representing county employees.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said a deputy spotted Fabisch's gray Chevrolet SUV parked near Lakeview Market alongside Highway 20 in Lucerne at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

Fabisch, who was accompanied by his son and two of his son's friends, told Lake County News he had stopped briefly there to point out the county's Visitor Center, the second floor of which is supposed to be a new home for Code Enforcement officers.

The deputy pulled up behind Fabisch's vehicle, which then moved off and began driving through Lucerne in an “erratic” fashion, before being stopped at Robin Hood Way and Foothill Drive, said Bauman.

Fabisch said he was on his way home from the Sierras where he had grown the marijuana for himself and his 20-year-old son, Thomas – who also has a medical marijuana recommendation – on family-owned land.

He and his son were on their way to drop off his son's two friends, Justin Stephanson, 19, of Scotia, and Aaron Stephanson, 20, of Lucerne, at a Lucerne residence when they were stopped.

Inside the SUV the deputy allegedly found 89 pounds of recently harvested marijuana plants, said Bauman, who didn't have an actual tally of the number of plants involved.

“It's considered significant,” he said of the amount of marijuana alleged to be in Fabisch's possession.

A small amount of processed marijuana also was found, along with a small revolver and a small caliber rifle, said Bauman. Fabisch said the firearms are used for shooting in the hills with his son.

Bauman said Fabisch got out of his vehicle and went back to the deputy's car; at that point he refused to return to his vehicle and so he was detained, said Bauman.

Fabisch said he was trying to show the deputy – who was joined by a second deputy and a sergeant – his two medical marijuana cards, which he placed on the patrol car's hood.

He accused the deputies of being unnecessarily rough with him. Fabisch said he was pointing to his cards when one of the deputies grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back to handcuff him. Fabisch said he wasn't attempting to resist arrest.

Fabisch said the deputies disregarded his medical marijuana cards. “They were not wiling to listen to anything.”

Bauman said Fabisch was arrested due to the large amount of marijuana in his possession. “He had way more than anyone with a card is allowed to have,” said Bauman.

According to Fabisch, his medical marijuana recommendation allows him to have 25 plants or five pounds of processed marijuana.

During the stop, Thomas Fabisch fled the scene, said Bauman. Larry Fabisch said he understood his son's fear about whether or not his medical marijuana card was going to be accepted. “Who's going to stick around to find out when they're handcuffing dad?”

Aaron Stephanson told the deputy that he had assisted Fabisch with harvesting the marijuana; Justin Stephanson said Fabisch had picked him up in San Andreas late on Friday.

Bauman said Fabisch was transported to the Lake County Jail after his arrest and booked. He posted his $10,000 bail at about 10:30 a.m. Saturday and was released.

Code Enforcement Division Manager Voris Brumfield did not return a call seeking comment on the situation, and Community Development Director Rick Coel – whose department includes Code Enforcement – said he did not have any information on Fabisch's case.

Fabisch took Tuesday and Wednesday off and planned to return to work Thursday. He said he was anxious about what to expect when he returns to the office.

County Personnel Director Kathy Ferguson said the county has no personnel policies regarding arrests. She forwarded Lake County News copies of the county's alcohol and drug policies, which allow testing if an employee is believed to be impaired. An employee's use of medical marijuana under Proposition 215 isn't covered by those policies.

Fabisch said he has been open about his use of medical marijuana, and has had a card for about seven years. He said he has a long list of medical issues, including heart bypass surgery two years ago and severe “cluster” headaches which, when they occur, require him to go to the emergency room for treatment.

He said he never uses medical marijuana while on duty. “I don't abuse it at work. I respect it.”

Fabisch challenged his arrest, saying that Proposition 215 – the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996 – does not impose limits on the amount of medical marijuana a patient may have. Attempts to impose such limits, such as SB 420, have been ruled unconstitutional by California courts.

While SB 420 sets a baseline of six mature plants or half a pound of processed marijuana per patient, it also states that patients can be exempted from those limits if their doctor says they need more, according to California NORML, a group dedicated to reforming the state's marijuana laws.

He's enlisted the services of Stephen Tulanian, a formidable defense attorney who previously helped win marijuana activist Eddy Lepp acquittal in the county's first medical marijuana trial.

Fabisch said he is due in court on Dec. 1. In the mean time, he said he doesn't expect authorities will return to him the medical marijuana that was seized.

Officials are planning to seek the same drug charges as those filed against Fabisch against his son – who also will be charged with resisting a law enforcement officer – and the Stephansons, whose stories aren't adding up in the opinion of investigators, said Bauman.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at [email protected].

 

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LAKE COUNTY – Caltrans District 1 reports that $1 million of the $46 million in federal Safe Routes to School funds awarded last week will go to local agencies in Lake and Mendocino counties.


The federal Safe Routes to School program is designed to give students in grades K-8 easier and healthier ways to safely travel to and from schools.


The City of Clearlake will receive $311,530 to close a half-mile gap in a bike lane on Dam Road. A section of Dam Road which is in poor condition will also be rebuilt and widened to accommodate the new bike lane.


Caltrans reported that these improvements will benefit students attending Lower Lake Elementary School, Oak Hill Middle School, Lower Lake High School, Blue Heron and W. C. Carle High.


The county of Lake will receive $474,480 to provide sidewalks, bulb-outs (rounded sidewalk extensions which protrude into an intersection which shortens the distance needed to cross a road, and which tend to slow down traffic), and crosswalks along sections of Route 20 in Clearlake Oaks.


Those improvements will benefit students attending East Lake Elementary School, according to Caltrans.


The City of Fort Bragg will receive $214,000 to provide, at various locations, sidewalks, bulb-outs, crosswalks, accessible curb ramps, and construct bicycle and pedestrian trails.


Also, at Fort Bragg Middle School, sidewalk barriers will be installed to discourage jaywalking.


Caltrans said the improvements will also benefit students attending Dana Gray Elementary School and Redwood Elementary School.


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CLEARLAKE – For years, it's been known as Redbud Community Hospital, but that's about to end.


Adventist Health officials announced late Friday that Redbud Community Hospital is undergoing a name change, and will henceforth be known as St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake


The new name becomes effect on Nov. 3, at which time the hospital will hold an inauguration ceremony on its campus to honor the past and celebrate the future.


Hospital administration said the switch is meant to better reflect the joint operating partnership between St. Helena Hospital in Napa County and St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake. Under that agreement, the hospitals coordinate a comprehensive spectrum of health care services for Napa, Lake, Solano, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.


“This process began more than two years ago as the two hospitals aligned their governing board, executive team, operations and many regional positions,” said JoAline Olson, the hospital's president and chief executive officer. “St. Helena Hospital has an excellent reputation in Lake, Napa and surrounding counties and is known for its high quality patient care and patient satisfaction, as well as its centers of excellence.”


Linda Gibson, senior vice president of operations at Redbud and a longtime senior administrator at St. Helena Hospital, said, “With the name change, we are extending the St. Helena brand and reputation to Lake County and strengthening our position as a regional provider of health care services.”


St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake is investing approximately $10 million in new and upgraded facilities in Lake County, including an emergency department expansion, remodeled surgery suites, a sophisticated electronic medical records system, a new hospital front entrance, new equipment, and a new family health center in Kelseyville.


In addition to being the second largest employer in Lake County, the hospital provided the following services last year: 76,000 rural health clinic visits, 57,000 outpatient visits, 15,000 emergency department visits and 1,600 in-patient visits.


Both St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake and Napa's St. Helena Hospital are part of the 19-hospital network of Adventist Health, a nonprofit, faith-based health system operating in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington.


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THIS STORY HAS BEEN CORRECTED REGARDING THE NUMBER OF VACANCIES BEING FILLED AT THE THURSDAY MEETING.

 

CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks County Water District's board will consider filling one of its two vacancies when it meets Thursday.


The meeting will take place beginning at 7 p.m. at the district office, 12952 E. Highway 20.


Two director seats, vacated last month by Mike Anisman and Helen Locke, have to be filled. In September, Mike Benjamin was appointed to fill a vacancy that resulted from the resignation of longtime board member Pat Shaver, as Lake County News has reported.


Benjamin, who has since been named the board president, and fellow directors Frank Toney and Harry Chase will consider candidates to fill one of the remaining two seats, according to the agenda. As soon as a new directors is chosen, they will be administered the oath of office.


In other business on the Thursday agenda, county Deputy Redevelopment Director Eric Seely will give a presentation on a proposed mural design for the water treatment plant's clearwell tank.


The board also is scheduled to discuss a report from the Finance Committee, draft minutes from the Sept. 18 meeting, financial reports and a discussion of several customer appeals.


General Manager and Chief Water Plant Operator Darin McCosker will give a report before the board adjourns into closed session to discuss an appeal by an employee.


To see the full posted agenda visit the district's Web site, www.clocwd.com.


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 – For the last three years, Sam Laird, 34, has led the District Attorney's Victim-Witness Division, a post he took over in March of 2005.


Now, Laird is saying goodbye to his old job as he leaves to move closer to family on the Central Coast.


Laird originally joined the division in February of 2001 as an extra help advocate before being offered a permanent position a few months later as an elder abuse advocate. He came to the agency with no experience, but quickly picked up what he needed to know on the job.


Since that time, Laird has navigated the challenges of reduced funding and a growing caseload, and dedicated untold hours of his own time to representing victims and, most recently, to building a new interview center that is dedicated to abused children.


Now, Laird is moving on – he's accepted a job with Monterey County's Resource Management Agency, a vast organization that umbrellas several departments and also oversees the natural resources of Monterey Bay.


Laird, who was raised in Gilroy and Santa Cruz, has family in the area, and has been longing to take his young daughter and two dogs and return there for some time. “It was an offer I couldn't refuse.”


But, he adds, that doesn't mean leaving was easy. “There will never be another job like this, ever,” he said of leading Victim-Witness.


Laird said Lake County's Victim-Witness Division is considered one of the best in the state, thanks to the quality of its people. “Everybody here is dedicated and solid.”


The division has more advocates even than Sonoma County, and offers a wider range of services, including help with restraining orders and working closely with law enforcement on investigations, said Laird.


“We're awfully active for a little county,” he said.


Laird said he followed the example set for him by his predecessor, Mike Blakey, who he said had a maverick approach that emphasized getting things done on behalf of crime victims.


Blakey is credited with starting the division in 1984, and over his more than 20 years of service became a widely respected advocate for victims' rights.


Laird trained under Blakey and, he said, followed his playbook. “I just continued to do the same things he did,” said Laird.


Besides making smart choices, Laird also brought personal experience to his job. As a young man he was brutally attacked in Monterey, on the night before his brother's wedding.


He said a police officer dismissed the attack as a bar brawl with several sailors who were in town. Laird, however, said he didn't know the men and was on his way home when they jumped and beat him.


Based on that, he said he knew what it was like to be dismissed by an official who has made up their mind about a case before having all of the facts. He said he let that inform his approach to the victims he has worked with at the division.


District Attorney Jon Hopkins said Laird has had “a very large impact” on the county's victim services operation.


“Not the least of which is his work on the project which successfully built the Multi-Disciplinary Interview Center (MDIC) building for interviewing children at the Victim-Witness property,” said Hopkins. “This was accomplished almost exclusively by community contributions of labor, materials, ideas and support. Rob Brown and the Kelseyville Rotary were the main players in this effort, and Sam was a crucial liaison and driving force.”


The MDIC center is certainly one of Laird's most visible and moving contributions to the community. Last year the effort to build the center got under way, with Laird, Brown and a host of community volunteers spending their weekends at work on the building behind the main Victim-Witness center.


Today, the little building on N. Brush Street is complete. A June 30 dedication celebrated the building and all of the people who made it possible. (See New interview center puts focus on safety, security of child victims.) It offers a safe haven where investigators can interview victimized children in a secure and comfortable environment.


The biggest challenge of his old job, said Laird, was getting the necessary funding.


“Since the war the funding has been an issue, and it's not going to get any better,” he said.


He also worried that the government's recent bailout package might end up impacting services like those offered by the division. “That money's got to come from somewhere.”


Even on the state level, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut out funding for numerous domestic violence and victim funds, Laird pointed out.


While the funding is the most difficult, there are other day-to-day challenges, such as the human pathos of dealing with those who have been hurt either directly or indirectly by crime.


Laird said every day is different – advocates don't know if they'll be called to the hospital or to a murder scene.


Finding qualified people who can face those daunting circumstances, and be strong enough to keep their focus in the midst of human suffering, is another challenge, said Laird.


Somehow, he managed to do it. Laird said he tried to surround himself with the best people he could, who care and want to do the right thing in advocating for crime victims. Hopkins credited Laird with assembling an outstanding team of advocates.


Laird said he's seen an increase in the division's caseload. When he began in 2001, they were seeing between 900 and 1,000 new cases each year.


Last year, that number was up to 1,400, said Laird, with more cases of drunk driving, simple assaults and domestic violence being reported.


The factors behind that increase are many, Laird theorized – including a bad economy and social unrest.


However, just as critical a factor may be the division's outreach efforts, which are drawing attention to the services they have to offer. As a result, people are getting a lot better at reporting crimes, he added.


Hopkins said Laird has worked tirelessly to obtain and keep numerous grants that fund essential prosecutors, investigators and victim advocates so that the District Attorney's Office can meet the public safety needs of Lake County.


“Sam was an integral member of the team that built our Elder Abuse Unit, and I still get glowing reports about his dedication from victims and families he worked with in that unit,” said Hopkins.


Laird said he will be assisting Hopkins in Victim-Witness-related matters until they recruit his successor, which may take several months at least. Finding the right person for a job that deals with such sensitive issues can be a challenge.


“We will miss Sam and his commitment to victims, and his contributions to the office,” Hopkins added.


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 – This week the spotlight is being placed on the dangers lead can hold for children's health.


Sunday, Oct. 19 through Saturday, Oct. 25 is Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.


Lead poisoning may have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. It caused Beethoven’s erratic behavior, his death and maybe even his deafness. It is lead poisoning, and it still affects children throughout California.


Lead can damage a child’s brain and nervous system. It's especially dangerous for children under age 6 because their rapidly growing and developing bodies absorb more lead. This can cause permanent learning and behavioral problems that make it difficult for children to succeed in school.


The 2007 Census indicates there were approximately 4,094 children under the age of 5 and more than 10,000 children enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12 in Lake County.


School statistics show that 60 Lake County children ages 7 through 15 were identified having emotional disturbances and 589 children ages 5 to 18 have specific learning disabilities. Lead exposure may play a part in these behavioral and learning problems.


A blood lead test is the only way to know if a child has lead poisoning. Most children at highest risk are those who live or spend time in older housing built before 1978 which may have deteriorating lead-based paint and lead-contaminated soil and dust.


Health officials say children should be tested at both 1 and 2 years of age. Also, children 3 to 6 years old who are at risk should also have a blood lead test.


Parents can talk to their child’s doctor about getting tested for lead. According to data provided by Lake County Health Officer Dr. Karen Tait,152 blood lead tests were done in Lake County detecting one elevated lead level.


If an average of 200 young children are screened annually, at best only about 25 percent of the population can be reached. With the local prevalence of lead levels estimated at about 0.6 percent, the county should expect to have roughly 25 children under age 5 with lead poisoning.


Common sources of childhood lead poisoning include handmade ceramic tableware, especially imported pieces decorated with lead-based glaze or paint. Traditional home remedies can include Azarcon, Greta and Pay-loo-ah. Traditional cosmetics can contain Kohl and Surma.


Increasing amounts of imported toys, candies and food products are entering our country. Web sites such as www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/Recalls/allhazards.htm, www.HealthyToys.org; www.calpoison.org or www.calpoison.org provide names of manufacturers and products to be avoided or which are safe to buy.


Work clothes, shoes and workers themselves are often exposed to lead if working with lead smelting, making or recycling batteries and repairing radiators. Parents can change into clean clothes and shoes before getting into their cars or going home. Dirty clothes and shoes can be bagged and washed separately from all other clothes with running the empty washing machine again after the work clothes to rinse the lead out.


When painting or remodeling, always follow lead-safe work practices: use plastic sheeting on the ground and furniture while working; wet surfaces before sanding and scraping; and wet mop the area at the end of the day. Never dry scrape, dry sand or use a heat gun to remove lead-based paint as these create dangerous dust and fumes.


Washing one’s face and hands with soap and water before leaving work and then taking a shower and washing one’s hair, preferably at work or as soon as you get home, is recommended. Parents and caregivers can all help to prevent childhood lead poisoning by wiping clean or taking off shoes before entering the home.


Washing children’s hands and toys is always a good idea. Good nutrition helps children’s bodies resist lead poisoning. Each day children need to be served three meals and two healthy snacks which include calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yogurt and tofu. Iron-rich foods include lean meats, beans, whole grain cereals, dried fruit and dark green vegetables. Vitamin C rich foods such as fresh, canned or frozen fruits and WIC fruit juices are recommended.


Children who receive services from Medi-Cal, Child Health and Disability Prevention or Healthy Families are eligible for free testing. Private health insurance plans will usually pay for the test.


To find out about eligibility for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, call Lake Family Resource Center at 262-1611or toll free, 888-775-8336.


Contact the Lake County Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at Easter Seals, 263-3949, for more information about childhood lead poisoning prevention and intervention.


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LAKE COUNTY – With the cost of fuel for heating expected to rise this winter, many Americans may seek out alternative sources of fuel, and that could increase the incidence of home fires.


The American Red Cross and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) have released results of a September survey showing the majority (79 percent) of Americans are concerned about the rising cost of heating their homes, and many will use an alternative heating source to reduce their bills this winter.


The survey identified additional behaviors related to appliance maintenance and cooking that could also present home fire hazards this winter.


This follows an extremely long and dry fire season on the North Coast. In June and July, wildfires destroyed thousands of acres, and local Red Cross groups set up four shelters to help people who were forced to leave their homes.


Now, as evening temperatures drop, local residents may be thinking of using ways of heating their homes that turn out to be deadly.


With a costly heating season set to begin, the survey results provide a critical opportunity to remind people about the things they can do to prevent home fires and keep their families safe and warm this winter, said NFPA President James. M. Shannon.


“If people use alternative heat sources to reduce energy costs, it is critical they use devices that are new or in good working order, and they turn off units when they go to bed or leave the room,” Shannon said.


According to NFPA reports, cooking and heating are the leading causes of home fires.


The survey revealed the majority of Americans are concerned about the rising cost of heating their homes (79 percent), and that 48 percent of households will use an alternative heating source to reduce their bills this winter. Alternative heating sources include portable space heaters, stoves, ovens and fireplaces.


One third (3 percent) of people with fireplaces reported they never cleaned or inspected their chimneys. The survey also found 23 percent of respondents did not consider it essential to make sure someone is home when food is cooking on the stove.


Respondents also revealed another unsafe behavior, which is disabling (37 percent) smoke alarms when they go off in a non-testing situation. More than half (53 percent) of the households surveyed have not taken any of three common actions in most home fire escape plans, which includes discussing with family members how to get out of the home, deciding on an outdoor meeting place and practicing the plan.


NFPA and the American Red Cross offer these and other safety tips:


  • Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you must leave, even for a short time, turn off the stove.

  • Give space heaters space by keeping them at least 3 feet from anything that can burn. Turn off heaters when you leave the room or go to sleep.

  • Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas.


For additional fire safety tips visit the American Red Cross at www.redcross.org/homefires or the National Fire Protection Association, www.firepreventionweek.org.


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