Wednesday, 24 July 2024


Law enforcement and fire personnel cleaned up the crash scene for about an hour on Saturday, March 21, 2009, near Kelseyville. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



KELSEYVILLE – A head-on collision that occurred Saturday morning near Kelseyville resulted in major injuries, with three people being transported to the hospital.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the crash occurred just before 11 a.m. on Highway 29 just south of Live Oak Drive.

The two vehicles collided in the middle of a long, sweeping curve south of Live Oak. The vehicles involved were a Ford Crown Victoria and an Isuzu Trooper.

Both vehicles came to rest on the righthand side of the northbound lane, with the SUV on its roof and the Crown Victoria incurring major front end damage.

CHP, sheriff's deputies and fire personnel responded to the scene.

Three medic units transported three subjects to Sutter Lakeside Hospital. Major injuries were reported, but names and specifics of those involved were not available at the scene.


Traffic in both directions was backed up nearly three-quarters of a mile. CHP kept at least one lane passable while crews worked to clear debris and load vehicles for transport.

CHP reported that the roadway was clear just before noon.

Harold LaBonte contributed to this report.

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The small SUV was badly damaged after having been on its roof following the crash. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



SACRAMENTO – California's unemployment rate continued to edge upward in February, according to a new report.

California’s unemployment rate increased to 10.5 percent last month, the Employment Development Department reported Friday. The agency reported that nonfarm payroll jobs declined by 116,000 during February.

The U.S. unemployment rate also increased in February to 8.1 percent.

Preliminary February unemployment numbers for Lake County are 15.9 percent, down slightly from 16 percent in January, as Lake County News has reported. Lake's February unemployment numbers gave the county a rank of No. 42 among the state's 58 counties, an improvement over its No. 47 ranking in January.

In January, the state’s unemployment rate was 10.1 percent, and in February 2008, the unemployment rate was 6.2 percent. The unemployment rate is derived from a federal survey of 5,500 California households.

In February Marin had the state's lowest unemployment rate, at 6.8 percent. The highest unemployment in a county was found in Colusa, at 26.6 percent.

Lake's neighboring counties showed the following February unemployment numbers and statewide rankings: Napa, 8.5 percent, No. 8; Sonoma, 9.1 percent, No. 10; Yolo, 12 percent, No. 27; Mendocino, 11 percent, No. 22; Glenn, 16.4 percent, No. 46.

The survey of 42,000 California businesses measures jobs in the economy. The year-over-year change (February 2008 to February 2009) shows a decrease of 605,900 jobs (down 4.0 percent).

The federal survey of households, done with a smaller sample than the survey of employers, shows a decrease in the number of employed people. It estimates the number of Californians holding jobs in February was 16,621,000, a decrease of 47,000 from January, and down 495,000 from the employment total in February of last year.

The number of people unemployed in California was 1,950,000 – up by 80,000 over the month, and up by 824,000 compared with February of last year.

Survey shows areas of job growth, loss

EDD’s report on payroll employment (wage and salary jobs) in the nonfarm industries of California totaled 14,534,800 in February, a net loss of 116,000 jobs since the January survey. This followed a loss of 76,600 jobs (as revised) in January.

One category, information, added jobs over the month, gaining 7,900 jobs. Ten categories (natural resources and mining; construction; manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; financial activities; professional and business services; educational and health services; leisure and hospitality; other services; and government) reported job declines this month, down 123,900 jobs.

Construction posted the largest decline over the month, down by 30,900 jobs.

In a year-over-year comparison (February 2008 to February 2009), nonfarm payroll employment in California decreased by 605,900 jobs (down 4.0 percent).

Two industry divisions (natural resources and mining and educational and health services) posted job gains over the year, adding 31,000 jobs. Educational and health services showed the strongest gain on both a numerical and percentage basis, adding 30,900 jobs (a 1.8 percent increase).

Nine categories (construction; manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; information; financial activities; professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; other services; and government) posted job declines over the year, down 636,900 jobs.

Trade, transportation and utilities employment showed the largest decline on a numerical basis, down by 159,900 jobs (a decline of 5.5 percent). Construction posted the largest decline on a percentage basis, down by 18.5 percent (a decrease of 155,100 jobs).

In related data, the EDD reported that there were 768,762 people receiving regular unemployment insurance benefits during the February survey week. This compares with 717,525 last month and 480,504 last year. At the same time, new claims for unemployment insurance were 76,303 in February 2009, compared with 75,514 in January and 49,321 in February of last year.

EDD reportedt is now opening its call center phone lines from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays

beginning March 21 in continued response to increased demand for unemployment insurance benefit assistance.

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COBB – A big rig crash shut down a portion of Highway 175 on Cobb for several hours Thursday evening.

The crash was reported at 4:41 p.m. at Highway 175 and Socrates Mine Road, according to the California Highway Patrol.

A big rig was said to have hit a utility pole and lost its load of rocks and asphalt, which blocked both lanes of the roadway and knocked down phone and power lines, the CHP reported.

The report said the driver suffered minor injuries.

Caltrans, CHP and Cal Fire were among the responders attempting to get the roadway reopened. Caltrans brought a scraper to clear the lanes as well as closure signs. Pacific Gas and Electric also arrived at the scene to move wires out of the roadway.

The CHP issued a statement shortly before 6 p.m. reporting that the roadway would reopen a half hour later.

The roadway did open briefly before 7 p.m. but closed once more shortly before 7:30 p.m., according to the CHP.

The CHP reported that the roadway finally reopened just before 9 p.m.

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


LAKE COUNTY – The winter-like storm that moved into Lake County Friday is expected to continue affecting the county throughout the day on Sunday and overnight temperatures are forecast to dip below freezing overnight, according to the National Weather Services in Sacramento.

Because this is a cold weather system, thunderstorms and hail are possible on Sunday, the National Weather Service predicts.

Gusty winds will continue throughout the day and daytime high temperatures will only reach the mid-40s, which have been closer to our overnight temperatures for the previous week.

This past week, Northern California has experienced above-average temperatures. That was until Friday, the same day as spring officially began.

The storm is forecast to move out of Lake County by Sunday afternoon with clear skies overnight, leading to a drop in temperature.

Many plants may be vulnerable overnight as the temperature drops below freezing and into the 20s, according to the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Services stated that on Monday temperatures are predicted to return to normal with highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s and remain that way throughout most of the week, with clear and sunny skies.

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


The Lake County Winery Association's new executive director, Monica Rosenthal. Courtesy photo.



MIDDLETOWN – Lake County Winery Association’s (LCWA) Board of Directors has named Monica Rosenthal as its executive director.

The association made the announcement Friday.

Rosenthal, the former planning commissioner for District 1, has extensive experience in the wine industry.

Her responsibilities as executive director will include oversight and implementation of Association initiatives including marketing of Lake County, its wines and wineries, and industry communications.

“The time is right for the Lake County Winery Association to step up and take a leadership role in promoting its wine and wineries,” says Kaj Ahlmann, LCWA chairman and owner of Six Sigma Ranch, Vineyards & Winery, Lower Lake.

“Recently we created a strategic mission statement, a roadmap for making Lake County and its wine industry top-of-mind with consumers and the trade,” Ahlmann said. “Monica brings to the LCWA a depth of knowledge and contacts that will help us to realize our goals both locally and nationally.”

Prior to joining the LCWA, Rosenthal served on the Lake County Planning Commission for two years. From 2005 to 2007 she served on the board of the Lake County Winegrape Commission.

Her wine industry experience is varied and extensive. She managed the Beaulieu Vineyard Wine Club for three years. During her nine years at Buena Vista Winery, she served as events coordinator, tasting room manager, public relations assistant and director of market support. Rosenthal handled private events for Carmenet Winery for about five years.

In 1997, Rosenthal and her husband David planted a few acres of vineyard; today they farm approximately 20 acres of Viognier, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with a few vines of Petite Sirah and Syrah.

The Lake County Winery Association was the brainchild of a handful of wineries that came together two years ago with the idea of creating a marketing group that complemented the Lake County Winegrape Commission by promoting the interests of Lake County wineries.

Matt Hughes, owner of Zoom Wines, served as the association’s first chairman, and took the LCWA from concept to reality.

Notable achievements under his leadership included the creation of an industry website (, inviting influentials such as Bay Area concierges to Lake County to experience the depth and breadth of Lake County and its wines, and bringing the Lake County Wine Adventure under the umbrella of the Association.

During this time Susan Mesick was hired as a marketing and communications consultant to help get the newly form group up and running. Today the LCWA has 25 members and 13 associate members.

Lake County wineries or businesses interested in joining the Association may contact Monica Rosenthal at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Sequoia Dreyer, 9, of Clearlake sits outside of the Lower Lake High School gymnasium on Wednesday, March 18, 2009, as the Konocti Unified School District Board of Trustees prepared to meet. The fourth grader at Pomo Elementary has a little brother who attends school there as well, and she was against seeing the school converted to fourth to eighth grades. "I don't want to be separated from him," she said. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



LOWER LAKE – A week after a majority of the Konocti Unified School District's board voted to close Oak Hill Middle School, a united board on Wednesday agreed to convert all of the district's elementary schools to include kindergarten through eighth grades.

The vote followed an in-depth presentation by members of the district's management team that looked at the pros and cons of turning the schools K-8 versus a plan that would have configured East Lake and Lower Lake Elementary schools to K-8, and converted Burns Valley Elementary to K-3 and Pomo Elementary to fourth through eighth grades.

The district voted to Close Oak Hill Middle School on March 11 as part of a plan to cut $1.2 million from the upcoming fiscal year's budget, as Lake County News has reported.

District Superintendent Bill MacDougall said the district's administrators began meeting last Thursday to weigh the pros and cons of the different reconfigurations, with meetings continuing this week.

“We've been working very, very, very hard,” MacDougall said.

Management team members Jeff Dixon, Pat St. Cyr and and Patty Langston presented the pros and cons. Dixon, the Lower Lake High School principal, said they were chosen for the duty because they're believed to be the most neutral members of the team when it relates to the proposed changes.

The lists of pluses and minuses for each plan that district administrators compiled clearly favored the K-8 model. Administrators held that the model fosters greater relationships between students, parents and faculty; creates safer campuses; requires fewer transitions for students; keeps siblings together; and maintains equity between sites.

At the same time, it will mean boundary shifts, loss of electives and programs, stretched resources and larger class sizes in seventh and eighth grades.

Dixon said district administrators considered going K-8 districtwide is considered to be “the least hassle” and the easiest transition, with the emphasis on relationships for students, teachers and families. Administrators were concerned that the alternative would see more students slip through the cracks. For that reason they offered their “overwhelming support” for converting all district elementary schools to K-8.

Board President Mary Silva asked about the prospect of some programs being lost or watered down.

Lower Lake Elementary Principal Greg Mucks told Silva and the board that it would be a mistake for any of the district's principals to claim they would be able to keep all of the programs currently offered at Oak Hill Middle School.

“What we're going to do is our best,” he said.

Mucks and Pomo Elementary Principal April Leiferman also went over boundary changes and possible enrollments for the various schools under the different grade alignment scenarios.

Board Clerk Anita Gordon asked about growth possibilities for the district's schools, which Mucks said he believes exists. Interdistrict transfers also were accounted for in their calculations, although he added, “We may not be able to grant very many more.”

Board member Hank Montgomery, who last week voted against closing Oak Hill along with Board member Herb Gura, reminded fellow board members that he had asked at the March 11 board meeting about the ramifications for the other school sites if Oak Hill closed. He said he felt he had received an assurance at the time that the other schools could handle the additional enrollment.

However, Montgomery said the message he was getting from Wednesday night's meeting was that the only way to accommodate the shifting student population was to open up another school. They hadn't previously discussed an alternative school for grades fourth through eighth as a way to make the enrollment shifts happen.

MacDougall said there are a few options for reconfiguring the schools, and that they can fit all of the students at the district's schools – minus Oak Hill – without the alternative school.

He said taking some of the more difficult students in the lower grades and having them go through a system similar to Carle High School would help more students graduate.

Montgomery said that he was hearing a boundary realignment and opening an alternative school were necessary, which he hadn't heard before. “It feels like it's coming piecemeal rather than having everything on the table to look at.”

He said he wanted to see the big picture – “so that we know what it is we bought.”

MacDougall said he thought of it not as a piecemeal approach but one that was being presented step by step. That's because each part is contingent on a board decision.

The board still has an issue of school programs to consider down the road, MacDougall said.

Once the board decided they wanted a K-8 program, MacDougall said he would design a K-8 program “that will surpass anything in Lake County.”

Montgomery said he believed many of the public hearings at the district's schools, which had been held to take community input on the options relating to school closures and realignments, would have gone differently if parents knew boundary realignments were being considered. “I don't think people understood that was part of what we were looking at.”

MacDougall said boundary shifts had been identified as a possibility early on.

Board member Carolynn Jarrett said they needed to come to the realization that there's no way to make $1.2 million in cuts and have everything next year that they have now. She said they need to identify priority programs and make sure they continue.

She said the district has been talking about alternative programs for elementary school students for a number of years. “This is an extremely opportune time for us to be meeting those needs.”

Said Montgomery, “We have discussed an alternative elementary program for years but up to this point we have not decided to create one,” he said.

With some issues being pulled from the night's agenda – including recommendations on alternative education program for grades fourth through ninth – Montgomery said he assumed the district wasn't prepared to deal with it.

Silva said she wanted to make sure the district's seventh and eighth grade students will get the services they need to succeed in high school.

Mucks said they'll try to get teachers who can deliver high quality programs, but even then they will come nowhere near the electives and programs Oak Hill Middle School currently has, and the programs could be diluted.

However, he said he believed the K-8 model provides for deeper relationships between students, families and the community, adding that stronger student achievement will be a result.

“This is a big change in this community,” said Silva, noting that community members were counting on the board to make the right decisions for students.

Debra Malley, principal of East Lake Elementary School in Clearlake Oaks, explained to the board that “a K-8 is an elementary school, not a middle school.”

She said the school has followed the exact curriculum as Oak Hill, but it looks different at an elementary school. Malley has worked with Mike Brown, Lucerne Elementary's principal and superintendent, to get ideas from him about how to help improve East Lake.

“It's working. We have our bumps but I want to stress it's an elementary school, not a middle school,” she said.

Troy Sherman, principal of Burns Valley Elementary, told the board he has a superb staff. “We will do the best we can to make it happen,” he said of the transition.

Sherman added that a decision made soon will give the schools more time to plan.

Jarrett said the decision before the board was whether to go K-8 or split some of the schools up. A former fourth grade teacher, Jarrett said she didn't want to ask third graders to transition to another school, which she saw as an additional burden.

That comment received a round of applause from the several dozen people in the audience, many of them with signs that had slogans such as “Unity in K-8.”

Jarrett said a phone survey of parents found that 48 percent favored the K-8 option as opposed to 33 percent who wanted to see Pomo and Burns Valley split up.

Gura said it was clear to him that the K-8 was the most popular with the administration and community, although he was concerned about electives and the music program, the latter being one of the district's greatest strengths.

Silva said she knows the district can make the transition. “I believe in this district and I believe we will make it work.”

Montgomery asked to hear from audience members before a vote was taken.

Many people – including students and parents – had submitted yellow forms to speak to the board. But when Gordon asked if they wanted to speak or if they wanted the board to vote, the response was a united, “Vote!”

Gura made the motion to convert the district's elementary schools to K-8, with Jarrett seconding. The vote was 5-0, and was greeted with a round of applause.

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




While researching the Red Hills AVA, I went to talk to Stephanie Cruz-Green at Focused On Wine in Kelseyville. After all, she knows more about wine than I could ever hope to know, so what better a resource could I make use of?

I asked her what she knew or thought about American viticultural areas (AVAs), and she took a stance that completely caught me off guard. She started to talk about the actual growers and how so little credit is given to them. She went on to say that if the farmer doesn’t know how to prune a grapevine properly then he can screw up those vines for three years before they can recover (I don’t think she actually used the term “screw up”; that might be me paraphrasing her). Then as the grapes grow they have to be treated in a certain way.

For instance if the grapes themselves don’t get enough direct sunlight hitting them they will have a vegetal taste to them, and if they get too much direct sunlight they will get sunburned. The grapes need to be positioned perfectly to be their best. The people doing the actual tending of the vines need to have this knowledge to contribute to the wine becoming its best. I left Stephanie with the feeling that I wasn’t being handed the usual facts that are constantly regurgitated to fluff up a column, but that I was being provided with an entirely new way of looking at an AVA and wine making.

Some people argue about just how important an AVA designation may be. While an AVA does attest that the grapes come from an area that is unique in character and consistency, the quality of the grapes is dependent on the grower to make them reach their full potential.

Using grapes from a particular AVA or appellation doesn’t guarantee a great wine. Without the techniques and expertise employed by a knowledgeable grower, grapes grown in a superior terroir could still end up being less than they have the potential to be. Then these grapes have to be given to a winemaker who can recognize their potential and take them to the next level.

So while having an AVA designation is a great way to get notice for a unique location, it’s still necessary to enhance that location with a great farmer and then honor that farmer with a great winemaker who can tie everything together. Stephanie had really jarred my mind; the thought that wine making is a chain which may begin with a great AVA but then needs a knowledgeable farmer to choose a grape varietal best for that area, then plant in the best place, care for the vines in the best way, and this is all before a single grape is ever produced.

Established in 1981 near Middletown is the Guenoc Valley AVA. The AVA consists of 21,349 acres, most of which are in Lake County but a portion overlaps into Napa County. Langtry Estate & Vineyards are the only grape growers in the AVA. Guenoc was the first AVA designation that contained only one winery, but other appellations have since become officially recognized AVA’s that only contain one grower; Benmore Valley, also in Lake County is an example. Langtry owns about 1,000 acres of the valley with 340 planted with four varietals. The altitude of the valley is 980 and nearby Middletown is 1106.

The soil in the AVA is alluvial, meaning it was put there by running water eons ago. If you’ve ever seen sand in the street after a rain you understand the basic idea of the process. The valley contains a large amount of serpentine. It’s a beautiful shiny blue/green rock but very difficult to grow in. You can actually see tons of the serpentine next to the road and embedded in the hillside as you drive up to the Langtry tasting room.

To get an idea of what it is like to grow in the serpentine soil of the valley, imagine a bathtub full of dinner plates (placed randomly, not stacked) then filled with soil and a vine planted in it. You can see that the roots would have a difficult time working their way around the buried dinner plates and down to the bottom of the tub, because once a root gets around one dinner plate it encounters another one below it and must work its way around that one, only to find another plate, and so forth.

This is the situation grape vines of the Guenoc AVA face. Not only that but the serpentine leeches out magnesium that, in excess, can be toxic to vegetation, so the grower must constantly be watching the vines looking for signs of stress so he can treat the soil and lower the concentration of magnesium before it kills the vines. Stephanie’s comments on the importance of the grower couldn’t have been timelier.

Although the AVA is only six miles from Middletown the weather is noticeably different. Middletown gets more rain and more moderate temperatures throughout the year. The vines are irrigated since the root system is so shallow, but luckily the valley has a good water supply with seven jurisdictional dams and about 25 ponds and lakes. The valley also gets less fog than Middletown.

There is considerable wildlife in the area and the deer fences constantly have to be repaired and reinforced whenever the local bears try to give their opinions on where gates should be. The bears regularly pull down the deer fencing and the winery repairs the damage with extra large wooden posts. Guests to the property are warned that if they choose to go jogging they should be vigilant for cougars, and I don’t mean Kim Cattral. Birds of prey are seen all over the area.

The Langtry Estate & Vineyards, recently also known as Guenoc, gets its name from the English stage actress Lillie Langtry, who bought a part of the valley in 1888. She produced some excellent wines from her vineyards, and at one time claimed her Claret to be the best in the country. The property lines have changed greatly in the years since it was in her possession, though some of the vines she tended are still producing fruit. The current vineyard also shares its property with an Angus cattle ranch. The estate has also started a large composting project to deal with the typical organic debris that a vineyard produces, which is just one of the sustainable farming practices it employs.

Nobody can give me a positive history on the origin of the name Guenoc, but in my research I believe I have come close to what might be the true story. There is a lake in the valley currently called McCreary Lake named after a past resident of the property. This lake was originally known by the three small villages that lived around it by the name Wen’nok. These tribes became known to the local whites as the “Guenoks,” most likely a mispronunciation of the name Wen’nok. However, that general area was the home to both Southern Pomos and Lake Miwoks, and I couldn’t find anybody from either of the tribes who recognized the word “Wen’nok.” But I give my sincere thanks to everyone who did try to find a translation for me.

Historical records claim the lake to be full of catfish, suckers, minnows, and “pike of two kinds, large and small,” but I was once again thwarted at being able to fish the lake as the roads were impassable at the time. It looks like I’ll have to start my own vineyard in order to have my private fishing pond.

Hopefully I have given enough evidence to finally lay to rest the question of where the name “Guenoc” came from; otherwise it may just come down to cleaning out Lillie Langtry’s basement to find and old toboggan with the word painted on it.

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.


LAKE COUNTY – Scams seem to be never-ending, and a new crop of them are popping up, aiming to take advantage of people who are vulnerable in the current economic situation.

The following are several new scams reported to Lake County News by local residents in officials.

The bottom line on all of them – don't respond and never give out your personal information to such solicitations.

Foreclosure scams run amok

With thousands of homes being lost across the state to foreclosure, many people are looking for help to save their homes, and the result is many predatory practices are springing up.

The state Department of Consumer Affairs, at its Take Charge California Web site has a page set up just to address various scams (

At the top of the current scam list is the foreclosure topic.

The Department of Consumer Affairs urges that anyone seeking foreclosure relief should take special precautions with anyone who is not their mortgage lender.

Some of their tips:

  • Don't transfer title or sell your house to the foreclosure rescuer. Fraudulent foreclosure consultants often promise that if the homeowners transfer title, they may stay in the home as renters and buy it back later. The foreclosure consultants claim that transfer is necessary so that someone with a better credit rating can obtain a new loan to prevent foreclosure. But beware – this is a common scheme “rescuers” use to evict homeowners and steal all or most of their home’s equity.

  • Don't pay money to people who promise to work with your lender to modify your loan. It is unlawful for foreclosure consultants to collect money before they give you a written contract describing the services they promise to provide and they actually perform all the services described in the contract, such as negotiating new monthly payments or a new mortgage loan.

  • Don't pay your mortgage payments to someone other than your lender, even if he/she promises to pass the payment on to the lender. Fraudulent foreclosure consultants often keep the money for themselves. Don't sign any documents without reading them first. Many homeowners think that they are signing documents for a new loan to pay off the mortgage they are behind on. Later, they discover that they actually transferred ownership to the “rescuer.”

  • Don't ignore letters from your lender. Consider contacting your lender yourself, as many lenders are willing to work with homeowners who are behind on their payments.

  • Do contact a housing counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who may be able to help you for free. For a referral to a housing counselor near you, contact HUD at 1-800-569-4287 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or

If you transferred your property or paid someone to “rescue you from foreclosure you may be a victim of a crime. If that's your experience, please register a complaint with the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit at or by calling (800) 952-5225 (TTY (800) 735-2922).

Scam preys on support for military

An e-mail scam now circulating via e-mail purports to come from a soldier – names change on the e-mails, but have included Sgt. Deborah Taylor and Sgt. Sarah Curtis Hulburt – who claims to be a member of the US Army USARPAC Medical Team, which supposedly deployed to Iraq at the beginning of the war.

In the e-mail's narrative, the writer promises to share “highly classified information” gained at the forefront of the war. The e-mail includes a link to a BBC story from April of 2003 regarding a stash of nearly $200 million in US and foreign money found in Baghdad.

The writer claims to have happened upon a large amount of money and asks for the receiver to respond to an e-mail if they're interested in assisting her “to both our benefit.”

If you receive an e-mail from an unknown individual asking for information, don't respond.

Beware the sweepstakes letter

The rule is, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.

So if you receive a letter in the mail from the “Sweepstakes Audit Bureau” based in Dallas, Texas, that says a $12 million prize has gone unclaimed and asks for a $5 research and data fee – to be paid by check, cash or money order – it's best to put it in the shredder.

The letter doesn't clearly say the sender has won anything, and the back of the letter reportedly says the fee only qualifies the person who sends it in to receive a listing of unclaimed prizes.

Locally, there's been at least one case of an elderly resident receiving the letter and bringing it to the attention of law enforcement.

Mystery shopping scam

A local resident reported receiving a letter from “Shoppers Viewpoint Inc.” which includes a cashier's check for $5,000.

It's another scam, because the check is reportedly counterfeit.

Instances of such letters have been reported not just locally but across the country. A report from Aiken, South Carolina, noted that legitimate companies don't send out cashier's checks or require you to send money.

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LAKEPORT – The Diocese of Santa Rosa has settled a civil lawsuit filed last year that named the diocese and a former Lakeport priest.

The lawsuit, filed by Christopher Griego, 31, of Tracy, had alleged he had been sexually abused by Father Ted Oswald, 63, between 1988 and 1995, as Lake County News has reported.

Dan Galvin, the diocese's attorney, confirmed the case was settled but would offer no other details about the settlement.

“Out of respect for the plaintiff we're not going to comment,” he said.

Bishop Daniel Walsh reportedly broke the news of the settlement to St. Mary Immaculate parishioners earlier this month during mass, but he offered church members no details.

Hayward attorney Richard Simons, who represented Griego in the case, is out of the office this week and won't return until next Monday, so could not be reached for comment.

The suit, originally filed in Sonoma County Superior Court in January of 2008, had initially named only the diocese. However, Simons filed an amended complaint adding Oswald's name to the suit. Galvin told Lake County News last summer that the suit was seeking $2.5 million in damages.

Oswald served as priest at St. Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Lakeport for 20 years. A Vietnam veteran, he earned his master's of divinity degree in 1984 from a Roman seminary.

On June 1, 2008, at the end of Sunday mass, Oswald told his parishioners that he would be taking a leave from his post until the case was resolved.

Both the Lakeport Police Department and the Lake County District Attorney's Office said no criminal complaint about the abuse allegations had ever been filed with their agencies.

Oswald maintained his innocence after the suit was filed and vowed to fight the allegations. As a young priest, Oswald had helped investigate a sexual abuse case in Arizona.

Last summer, after he went on a leave of absence from the parish, Oswald also took leaves from his volunteer chaplain posts with Lakeport Police Department and the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Lt. Brad Rasmussen of the Lakeport Police Department said Wednesday that Oswald is a former chaplain for the department.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said he believed Oswald was still officially on a leave from service to that agency.

Dierdre Frontczak, the diocese's spokesperson, said Oswald remains a priest but he is now retired. “He is no longer in active ministry.”

Because he's been removed from the ministry, he can't come back and hold mass, Frontczak said.

She said the diocese hasn't “laicized” Oswald, meaning they haven't officially removed him from the priesthood.

“It's not done often,” said Frontczak, explaining that church leadership usually takes that step only when a priest asks to be released from the priesthood to marry or if the priest has been egregiously defiant of the church's morality rules.

Rev. Thomas Diaz, the diocese's director of vocations, currently is acting as St. Mary Immaculate's priest, said Frontczak. She said she does not know if Diaz will be permanently appointed to the spot.

The diocese doesn't have as many young priests coming into the vocation, Frontczak said. She thinks that's a problem all over the western United States.

The road to becoming a priest, she said, has become “a more thoughtful process,” with many more tests, evaluations and interviews to determine whether candidates are right for the priesthood.

“It's not for everybody,” Frontczak said.

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


T. Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.




people can be so cold...
Carole King, circa 1971

The music business can be so funky and strange. Kind of a microcosm of the world at large.

I guess it's not so strange that in the dark corridors of the history of humankind the spike-heeled boot of the rich and powerful is often poised at the tender jugular of the underpaid, underprivileged, overduped and much-maligned underclass. Even in the music biz. Especially in the music biz. The bloodthirsty boot takes a crooked path to the top.

A CyberSouMan mouthful, to be sure on this Sunday morning, but breaking it down for your ultimate understanding is my intent.

Friday night I journeyed again to the city of my birth, San Francisco. I drove down to catch the nucleus of the phenomenal Los Angeles South Central Septet that used to be called War. They are appearing as the Original Lowriders as a result of the courts stripping them of the right to use the name War.

The group had its genesis in the decade of the '70s, when British invader Eric Burdon, formerly of Animals fame, swooped into L.A. and observed the funky, Latin-tinged chops of the band who, at the time was backing former NFL great Deacon Jones. They were then calling themselves Deacon Jones & The Nite Shift.

Partnering with Jerry Goldstein's and Steve Gold's Far Out Productions, the group morphed into Eric Burdon & War. The hits started coming: “Spill The Wine,” “Love Is All Around,” “Black Man's Burdon.”

The band went on tour with Eric Burdon. Indeed, Eric Burdon & War was the house band at the last jam that Jimi Hendrix played in public at Ronnie Scott's club in London. A day later, Hendrix left this life. Shortly thereafter, a burnt out Eric Burden abandoned the tour with the group. War was on its own.

The hits kept coming: “Cisco Kid,” “The World Is a Ghetto,” “Slipping Into Darkness,” “Why Can't We Be Friends,” “Lowrider” and the inimitable summer love groove, “All Day Music.” There were of course, many more.

Sometime during Jerry Goldstein's tenure with War, he secretly had the band's name trademarked. So he gets to decide who can use it. The original seven members of the group War were Howard Scott, Harold Brown, B. B. Dickerson, Charles Miller, Lonnie Jordan, Papa Dee Allen and Lee Oskar.

By the time Jerry Goldstein's fuzzy legal maneuvering became law, the face of the band had changed. Charles Miller and Papa Dee Allen were deceased. The courts forbade Scott, Brown, Dickerson and Oskar from using the name – or “even formerly known as.”

Howard Scott told me years ago that Goldstein made his case so tight the fellows couldn't even appear as “Raw,” which is War spelled backwards!

In a strange musicos-make-strange-bedfellows backdoor move, Goldstein allows keyboardist Lonnie Jordan to use the name with six other guys who perform as War. That, my CyberSoulChildren, is why my fellows The Original Lowrider band, despite being four of the original seven members of War, cannot appear as War.

At the height of his court-induced “powers” Mr. Goldstein has pulled the plug on a gig of The Original Lowrider Band when the promoters invariably used “formerly known as War” in a radio spot.

A little more on Goldstein. He's been in the business a long time and has made considerable dollars doing so. No question there. For many of the past 25 years, in conjunction with suppressing the creative talents of the entity formerly known as War, Goldstein had been the manager of another funk master, Sly Stone.

What possible creative positive function could Goldstein have performed with Sly in all those years? Let's see. Did Sly release any new music under Goldstein's watch? Not much. Concert appearances? Even less. Let's see, I wonder if Jerry Goldstein had a hand in the selling of Sly Stone' s publishing to Michael Jackson? Apparently. Who benefited from that?

Sly didn't really do much of anything lately until he joined his youngest sibling Vet “Little Sister” Stone in 2007 for a tour of Europe. On the subject of brother Sly's then-manager Goldstein, Vet is quoted in her soon-to-be published memoir as saying, “How on earth can an artist have a manager for 25 years who generates no work?”

Brings to mind another real life soul music funk opera: the great Sam Cooke.

Cooke had a record label before Motown founder Berry Gordy. The future looked incredibly bright for Cooke when he was shot to death in December of 1964 under dubious circumstances.

His last will and testament disappeared overnight. When the smoking gun cleared, all of Sam Cooke's publishing magically belonged to his bookkeeper Allan Klein. To this day ABCKO Records receives all Sam Cooke's royalties. His family gets nothing.

If you follow the history of the fight for recording artists rights and royalties, there have been many pioneers who have made it better for artists in the business. Little Richard, Ruth Brown, Peggy Lee, Prince and others have overturned many plantation/sharecropper master-slave policies of major record labels, management, contractual and otherwise.

Much more needs to be done. All that glitters is not gold in the record business – even if you have a gold record. Depends on how you connect your dots and who's watching your back.

Oh, back to The Original Low riders at Yoshi's. They turned it out. Hadn't played San Francisco since 1996. It seems nobody knew who they really were. That seems to be changing now. It was a packed house. Saturday night is sold out.

The original group War was on the ballot for nominees to the 2009 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They didn't make it this time. Perhaps they will in the near future. Perhaps a little healing and reconciliation will replace the greed of Big Business. You know, just rewards for the artist. A little easing back on the beat down tactics of the greed machine would not only be nice but is desirable as well.

For a cool Web site visit

Keep prayin', keep thinkin' those kind thoughts!

T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at


WASHINGTON, DC – On Thursday the House of Representatives passed legislation that would impose a stiff penalty on bonuses given by companies such as AIG that received government rescue funds.

Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Napa Valley) joined a bipartisan group of members voting for H.R. 1586, which passed the House by a vote of 328-93.

“It’s a slap in the face to tax paying Americans when failing companies spend taxpayer dollars on outrageous bonuses,” said Thompson. “By closing this loophole, we are fulfilling the promise made to taxpayers that their money wouldn’t be spent on executive bonuses.”

The legislation passed Thursday by the House will tax bonuses from companies that received $5 billion or more in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds.

The bill would impose a 90-percent tax on bonuses paid after Dec. 31, 2008. The tax would also apply to bonuses paid by entities affiliated with these companies.

Thompson's office reported that the bill would not affect anyone receiving a bonus with adjusted gross income below $250,000 or employees of companies that have received $5 billion or less in TARP funds. This tax would not apply to any bonus that is returned to the company in the same taxable year that the bonus is paid.

“As much as I dislike using the tax code for this purpose, the bonus debacle was an exception I’m willing to make,” said Congressman Thompson.

The bill the House passed Thursday is very similar to legislation written by Congressman Thompson earlier this week. On Tuesday, Congressman Thompson introduced H.R. 1572, the “Taxpayer Protection Act,” which would subject any entity that received assistance under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 to a bonus tax rate of 90 percent.

Senate leaders have indicated that they will introduce and pass legislation to address this issue soon.

The action by the House of Representatives followed a Thursday latter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

In that letter, Geithner outlined steps the Treasury Department has taken to recoup the payments made to AIG employees as well as future payments.

Geithner asked AIG's chief executive officer, Edward Liddy, about the retention bonuses paid to employees within the financial products division, “the very division most culpable for the rapid deterioration of AIG.” The contract, he said, were found to be legally binding by AIG's lawyers, and the Treasury Department's attorneys found that it would be “legally difficult” to prevent them.

Geithner said he demanded Liddy scrap or cut hundreds of millions of dollars in additional payments due this year and beyond, which he said Liddy committed to do on terms that are consistent with the executive compensation provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the administration's executive compensation guidelines and the interests of the American taxpayers.

The Treasury Department is working with the Department of Justice “to determine what avenues are available by which we can recoup the retention awards that have been paid,” wrote Geithner.

A contractual commitment will be imposed on AIG to pay the Treasury Department from the operations of the company the amount of the retention awards just paid. “In addition, we will deduct from the $30 billion in assistance an amount equal to the amount of those payments,” he said.

The company also will be subject to strict executive compensation provisions enacted by Congress in the ARRA, Geithner said.

“But in working to resolve the AIG bonus problem, we should not lose focus on the larger issue it raises,” Geithner wrote.

“This situation dramatically underscores the need to adopt, as a critical part of financial regulatory reform, an expanded 'resolution authority' for the government to better deal with situations like this,” he wrote.

“Such a resolution authority should include a comprehensive and broad set of regulatory tools that would enable the government to deal with financial institutions, like AIG, whose failure would pose substantial risks to our financial system, but to do it in a way that will protect the interests of taxpayers and innocent counterparties,” Geithner wrote. “Without this expanded authority, the government has been forced to take extreme measures to prevent the catastrophic collapse of AIG and allow the time necessary for its orderly wind down.”

Geithner said the public ire that has fallen on Liddy is unjustified, since he took over last year at the request of the US government to help rehabilitate the company and repay taxpayer funds, and in doing so inherited a difficult situation.

He said he looks forward to working with Congress “to modernize our financial regulatory system in way that protects the American taxpayer, meets the challenges of a dynamic global market and reduces the chance that we will face a financial crisis of this magnitude in the future.”


MIDDLETOWN – A woman lost in the wilderness in the south county is back home safe after emerging from the woods unharmed on Wednesday.

Heidi Marlene Fichthorn, 50, found her way back to Harbin Hot Springs after being reported missing on Monday, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman said sheriff's deputies responded to Big Canyon Road, north of Middletown, on Tuesday at about 8:30 p.m. on a report of suspicious circumstances involving a missing person case initially reported the previous day.

A passerby had reportedly picked up a 70-year-old woman identified only as “Omi” of Harbin Hot Springs on Big Canyon Road, six miles north of Harbin Springs Road, said Bauman.

Omi had sustained some injuries from an apparent fall she took while hiking with Fichthorn, also of Harbin Hot Springs. Bauman said Fichthorn had been reported as missing from the Harbin Hot Springs Retreat on Monday due to unknown circumstances but Omi’s absence had apparently gone unnoticed.

Omi told deputies she and Fichthorn had left Harbin on Sunday at about 1 p.m. to go on a hike and at some point during that night in the woods, the two became separated and presumably lost, said Bauman.

Bauman said Omi had apparently remained in the wilderness area north of Harbin for the next two days and at some point, she took a fall and sustained her injuries. She had no further information on Fichthorn’s whereabouts. Cal Fire Rescue personnel responded for treatment of her injuries.

Officials immediately launched a search and rescue operation to try and locate Fichthorn, Bauman said.

The Lake County Sheriff’s Office coordinated as many as 75 volunteers searching the wooded areas north of Harbin Springs Road throughout the night and into the early morning hours on Wednesday, according to Bauman.

Air support was provided during the night by REACH out of Lampson Field in Lakeport and when day broke, California Highway Patrol and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office both responded helicopters to assist with the search.

At about 10 a.m. Fichthorn emerged from the woods just north of Harbin Springs Road and reportedly got a ride from a passerby back to the Harbin Hot Springs Resort where she met up with search personnel, Bauman reported.

He said Fichthorn was relatively uninjured and confirmed she had initially left the retreat on a hike with Omi on Sunday but became separated that night and she had spent the next two days lost in the wilderness.

Agencies assisting with the search for Fichthorn included search and rescue personnel from Lake, Contra Costa, Mendocino, Sonoma and Sacramento counties. REACH, Cal Fire, CHP, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, Lake County K-Corps and personnel from the Harbin Hot Springs Retreat also assisted while sheriff’s volunteers supported command and coordination of the search operation, Bauman said.


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