Monday, 22 July 2024


CLEARLAKE – Wal-Mart is looking to expand its Lake County presence.

Wal-Mart officials met with city of Clearlake staff on Dec. 5, at which time they submitted an application to expand their current store on Dam Road, said City Administrator Dale Neiman.

Kevin Loscotoff, a Wal-Mart spokesman, confirmed the plans.

He said the Clearlake Wal-Mart was built in 1994 and is 109,000 square feet, an “average-sized” store for the time in which it was built.

Loscotoff told Lake County News that the corporation wants to expand the store to about 148,000 square feet. The expanded store isn't being called a supercenter.

Stores are designed specifically for the communities they're meant to serve, said Loscotoff.

The reason Wal-Mart is moving forward with its expansion is that the demand from the community has grown so significantly that “it's actually surpassed the intended original customer demand,” Loscotoff said.

As part of the expansion, Loscotoff said the store's exterior and interior will be updated, with new fixtures and design, and wider aisles to make shopping more comfortable and convenient. The exterior will feature updated but no new signage.

“It is intended to be a store of the community,” he said, noting that the corporation is very excited about the expansion.

Perhaps the most notable changes will be that the tire and lube express services will be replaced by new general merchandise and a full service grocery, according to Loscotoff.

He said Wal-Mart has been expanding its grocery services at stores all over the country due to demand.

Wal-Mart is reported to be the world's largest retailer, with grocery sales also on the rise. The corporation owns a chain called Neighborhood Markets, which are groceries only, said Loscotoff.

Despite the recession, Wal-Mart has continued to show rising profits. Its November sales report shows a 6.5-percent growth rate for its US stores that the corporation said exceeded expectations, and was punctuated by a strong Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

Loscotoff said they don't have a timeline for the expansion at this point, which he said will be dictated by the city's administrative process.

Neiman also, couldn't specifically outline a timeframe for the expansion.

“What we told them was that they were going to have to do an EIR (environmental impact report),” said Neiman. “They already knew that.”

Neiman said an EIR was completed on the prior project, which city staff is currently reviewing to see if it is applicable here and how much remains valid. Once city staff is done with the review, they'll discuss with Wal-Mart what they've found.

He said he suspects there are a lot of issues from the prior EIR that won't need to be addressed this time. However, Neiman added that he expect Wal-Mart will have to conduct a drainage study and build a retention basin for the site. He believes that the building's current facilities have been sized for full development.

Neiman confirmed that Wal-Mart officials didn't bring up the “supercenter” designation, which he said usually covers much larger stores closer to 200,000 square feet or above.

In the city's review, they also will look at potential square footage limitations. Neiman said that, based on the city's zoning ordinance, there are three factors that affect building size – landscaping, parking and current building size.

“Typically it's those three factors in relation to lot size that tell you what you can do or can't do,” he said.

Loscotoff said the expansion will result in new job opportunities for the community, but he didn't have a projected number of jobs that will be created at this time.

Wal-Mart is carrying on several other store expansions around Northern California at this time, said Loscotoff. “We continue to see strong demand from the customers,” he said.

As one example, the company reported that it is expanding its Willows store to a supercenter.

“We're proud of our ability to be able to allow our customers to save money so they can live better,” Loscotoff said.

Other local businesses were concerned at the news of the Clearlake Wal-Mart's proposed expansion into the grocery business.

Dennis Darling, president of Foods Etc., anticipates the expansion will make it difficult for other area grocers.

The city already has several grocery stores – Foods Etc., Ray's Food Place and Safeway, said Darling.

“Clearlake doesn't need another 50,000 square feet of grocery, I can tell you that,” said Darling.

Darling likened Wal-Mart to the Borg Collective from the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” television series. The collective is made up of cyborgs that go around assimilating everything in its path.

“They're not good for local communities,” Darling of Wal-Mart.

He added that the idea that Wal-Mart will generate more money for the community has been proved wrong time and again. Rather, he said they cannibalize current businesses.

Ray's Food Place, located next door to the Clearlake Wal-Mart on Dam Road, could be affected the most.

Dan Cepeda, director of marketing for C&K Market Inc. of Brookings, Ore., which owns 60 Ray's Food Place and Shop Smart stores in California and Oregon, said they've been affected by Wal-Mart expansions in other markets.

“Wal-Mart definitely impacts local business whenever they bring their stores to a town, either new builds or expansions such as a supercenter,” Cepeda said.

He added, “We definitely would expect to be impacted by that move of theirs,” at the Clearlake store.

Cepeda said Ray's Food Place will continue focusing on its strengths – customer service, clean stores and fully stocked merchandise. Bigger retailers can't quite match them on that level, he said.

Ray's Food Place has six stores in the greater Grants Pass, Ore. area, said Cepeda. In the same area, Wal-Mart expanded a store to a supercenter. “Our stores fared very well,” he said. “Sales continue to be strong.”

Initially, there is always a drop off in sales, and then it begins to pick up again, he said.

Customers usually come back, said Cepeda. “Once the thrill of a new retailer is gone, they decide what it is they really want most.”

Neiman said Wal-Mart's proposed expansion is one of several commercial projects currently before the city, including a proposed Walgreens and Starbucks, a new Rite Aid, a Calvary Chapel project and the ongoing negotiations for the city's airport property.

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LAKE COUNTY – A local effort to raise funds to build a new domestic violence shelter has received a major donation of $100,000.

The effort to build Freedom House, spearheaded by Lake Family Resource Center, received the $100,000 check from the Lake County Foundation in October, said the center's executive director, Gloria Flaherty.

She called the donation “a dream come true.”

Lake County Foundation Board members Dr. Bob Gardner, Randy Djernes, Katherine Williams and Darlene Hamm facilitated the donation, which came from the Northfield, Illinois-based Fred B. Snite Foundation, said Flaherty.

Earlier this year, the Lake County Foundation had reported receiving a $25,000 donation from the Snite Foundation for their work in the community, as Lake County News has reported.

The funds are meant to support the operations of the domestic violence shelter program and assist with the construction or purchase of a new shelter facility, Flaherty explained.

Lake County Foundation Executive Director Randy Djernes said the Snite Foundation donated the money to them because they were planning to build a local domestic violence shelter.

“As it turned out, $100,000 wasn't enough,” said Djernes.

So the Lake County Foundation decided to partner with the Lake Family Resource Center, whose effort already was under way.

The donation to Freedom House is among the larger ones offered by the Snite Foundation in recent years, based on its reports to the Internal Revenue Services, obtained by Lake County News. Many of their donations are in the $10,000 and $25,000 range. The Snite Foundation's 2007 tax documents indicated an investment portfolio valued at more than $19.1 million and total assets of $15.7 million.

Flaherty said Lake Family Resource Center has raised $1.3 million of the $2.6 million needed to construct Freedom House, a 14- to 25- bed facility which the center plans to build on 1.4 acres on the corner of Live Oak Drive and Highway 29 in Kelseyville.

Of that $1.3 million, $175,000 has come from the county, $100,000 from the Lake County Foundation and the rest from private donations.

The largest portion of the money, $1 million, is a 10-year forgivable loan that the California Department of Housing and Community Development, through the Emergency Housing Assistance Program, awarded to Lake Family Resource Center this past May, as Lake County News has reported.

Unfortunately, that $1 million could now be in jeopardy, since the Emergency Housing Assistance Program is among those impacted by the state's recent halt of projects due to cash flow issues, said Flaherty.

The timeline for raising the rest of the money to construct the shelter depends on the economy and what the state does, Flaherty added.

The economic downturn is offering other opportunities, which Flaherty, said includes exploring the purchase of a current facility for less than it would cost to build a new one.

Whether they end up buying an existing building and renovating it or building something new, it will be good for the local economy, said Flaherty.

Lake Family Resource Center's temporary shelter currently is full, she said.

At one point, the occupancy was down to five residents, but now they're expecting eight to nine people over the holidays.

The end-of-year holidays usually see fewer people at the shelters, because people try to hang on for the children, said Flaherty. Afterward, the local shelter usually sees an upsurge.

She said it's too early to attribute current occupancy rates to the strains the economy puts on families, but she added that historically hard economic times like this one have seen increases in the number of people at domestic violence shelters.

“We have certainly seen an upturn in the number of people we're providing services to over the last year,” she said.

The next fundraiser event for Freedom House will be the Wine and Chocolate event on Feb. 14, 2009, said Flaherty. This year they'll add olive oil tasting to the event. “We're kind of excited to add that to our repertoire.”

For more information about how you can help the Freedom House shelter effort, call the Lake Family Resource Center at 262-1611 or visit them online at

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Capt. Russell Perdock of the Lake County Sheriff's Office (at right behind cars) speaks with a tow truck driver who arrived to remove Sukhbir Singh's car from alongside of Highway 20 on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


UPPER LAKE – A Ukiah man has been arrested for allegedly firing a handgun at a local man in what officials are calling a case of road rage.

Sukhbir Singh, 36, a gas station owner, was arrested Wednesday afternoon near Upper Lake, according to a report from Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman said the California Highway Patrol received a wireless 911 call at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday reporting that shots had been fired from a vehicle traveling westbound on Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks.

No one was injured as a result of the incident, Bauman said.

Information about the suspect vehicle – described as a black Lexus sedan – was relayed to the Lake County Sheriff's Dispatch and sheriff's deputies responded to the area of the reported shooting, according to Bauman.

Singh's vehicle was located about 20 minutes later, spotted by Deputy Steve Herdt on Highway 20 in Upper Lake, Bauman said. Herdt stopped Singh's vehicle about a block east of Government Street and detained him without incident. Singh was alone in the car.

Bauman said the victim in the alleged shooting, 47-year-old Bruce Hutchins of Clearlake Oaks, was in the area and positively identified Singh as the shooter.

The alleged weapon, a .22 caliber revolver, was recovered during the car stop, said Bauman.

Radio reports from the scene indicated that Singh has several handguns registered to his name, ranging in size from .22 caliber up to .44. He also is reported to have a history of speeding tickets.

At the scene, Capt. Russell Perdock said Herdt was leading the investigation into the alleged shooting.

Singh was arrested and transported to the Lake County Jail, where he was booked on a felony charge of negligent discharge of a firearm and a misdemeanor charge of brandishing a firearm, with bail set at $11,000.

He was released from jail later in the evening and is due to appear in court on Friday, according to his booking information.

Bauman said more information on the case will be available on Thursday.

Correspondent Harold LaBonte contributed to this report.

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COBB – Dozens of earthquakes have hit areas of Cobb Mountain and The Geysers since Sunday, with one of them measuring 3.0 in magnitude.

The quakes began after 1 a.m. Sunday morning, culminating in a 3.0-magnitude quake that occurred at 4:36 p.m. Sunday, according to the US Geological Survey.

Recorded at a depth of eight-tenths of a mile, the 3.0 quake was centered one mile from The Geysers, four miles west southwest of Cobb and six miles west northwest of Anderson Springs.

Over the following hour, a series of smaller quakes – some as large as 2.4 in magnitude – followed in The Geysers and Anderson Springs areas.

In all, 25 quakes hit Anderson Springs, Cobb and The Geysers on Sunday, the US Geological Service reported.

Cobb resident Roger Kinney, who regularly updates Lake County News on happenings in his area, reported that the earthquake activity had seemed to spike about 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Kinney said the earthquakes usually calm down a bit in winter, but they've continued coming this year.

The quakes continued into Monday. Kinney said he felt a quake shortly after 10 a.m. that he described as “more of a rolling motion than the usual, BANG-SHAKE type of quakes.”

A 2.9-magnitude quake that occurred shortly before 6 a.m. woke up Anderson Springs resident Joan Clay.

Clay said she immediately called Calpine's hotline to report the quake.

She said the severity of the quakes depends on where a person lives in Anderson Springs.

Clay added that the quakes seem to occur when it's raining.

“We have them all the time,” she said.

The last time an earthquake measuring 3.0 in magnitude or above hit that area was on Dec. 14, when a 3.1 was recorded near The Geysers.

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SACRAMENTO – With a new year on the horizon, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) wants to remind motorists of a handful of new laws, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that go into effect in 2009.

"The overall safety of the motoring public is our primary concern," says CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. “Not only will these new laws enhance a motorist’s safety, many of them are a step toward ridding the roadways of drunk drivers and the tragedy they cause.”

Below are the major changes to driving regulations and vehicle equipment.

Texting while driving (SB 28, Simitian). This new law makes it an infraction to write, send or read text-based communication on an electronic wireless communications device, such as a cell phone, while driving a motor vehicle. Previously this was only illegal for individuals under 18 years of age, but now has been expanded to all drivers.

Driving under the influence (DUI) zero tolerance (AB 1165, Maze). This new law prohibits a convicted DUI offender from operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol level (BAC) of .01 percent or greater while on probation for DUI. The law requires the driver to submit to a Preliminary Alcohol Screening (PAS) test, a portable breath test to determine the presence of alcohol. If the driver refuses, or if the driver submits and has a BAC of .01 or greater, a citation will be issued, the driver’s license will be taken and driving privileges will be suspended. In addition, the vehicle will be impounded.

Ignition interlock devices (IID) (SB 1190, Oropeza). This new law reduces the BAC from .20 percent to .15 percent or more at the time of arrest to trigger a requirement for the court to give heightened consideration for the installation of an IID for a first-time offender convicted of DUI of an alcoholic beverage.

Ignition interlock devices (SB 1388, Torlakson). Effective July 2009, this new law transfers authority for the administration of mandatory IID programs from the state courts to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). This law also authorizes the DMV to require any driver convicted of driving with a suspended license due to a prior conviction for DUI to install an IID in any vehicle that the offender owns or operates.

Alcohol-related reckless driving (AB 2802, Houston). This new law requires the court to order a person convicted of alcohol-related reckless driving to participate in a licensed DUI program for at least nine months, if that person has a prior conviction for alcohol-related reckless driving or DUI within ten years. Additionally, the court is required to revoke the person’s probation for the failure to enroll in, participate in, or complete a licensed DUI program.

Global positioning systems (GPS) (SB 1567, Oropeza). This new law allows a portable GPS device to be mounted in a 7-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield on the passenger side of the vehicle, or in a 5-inch square in the lower corner of the windshield on the driver’s side. These are the only two locations on a windshield where a GPS device can be mounted. The GPS device can only be used for navigational purposes while the motor vehicle is being operated, and it is required to be mounted outside of an airbag deployment zone.

Motorcycles (AB 2272, Fuentes). This new law changes the definition of a motorcycle by deleting the weight limitation and deleting the separate definition for electrically powered motorcycles. The law will now allow fully enclosed, three-wheeled vehicles to have access to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes regardless of occupancy.

Clean air stickers: Misuse and penalties (SB 1720, Lowenthal). This new law makes it an infraction for anyone who forges, counterfeits, falsifies, passes, or attempts to pass, acquire possess, sell, or offer for sale a genuine or counterfeit “Clean Air Sticker.”

911 telephone system abuse (AB 1976, Benoit). This new law increases the penalties for any person who knowingly uses, or allows the use of, the 911 telephone system for any reason other than an emergency. Those who misuse, or allow the misuse of, the 911 telephone system are guilty of an infraction, and subject to either a written warning or a fine.

Special license plates (AB 190, Bass). This new law, when approved by local authorities, allows veterans whose vehicles display plates honoring Pearl Harbor Survivors, Legion of Valor recipients, former American Prisoners of War, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, or Purple Heart recipients to park their vehicles that weigh not more than 6,000 pounds gross weight, without charge, in any metered parking space.

Studded pneumatic tires (AB 1971, Portantino). This new law allows the use of pneumatic tires with retractable metal-type studs, year round, as long as the studs are retracted between May 1 through October 31.  However, the law prohibits a tire with retractable metal-type studs on a vehicle from being worn to a point that the metal-type studs protrude beyond the tire tread when retracted.

Spilling cargo loads (AB 2714, Keene). This new law eases restrictions on cargo loads of straw or hay to allow individual pieces that do not pose a threat to life or property, to escape from bales of straw or hay that are being transported by a vehicle upon a highway, so long as those bales are loaded and secured according to federal regulations.

Assault on highway workers (SB 1509, Lowenthal). This new law provides an increased penalty for assault and battery crimes committed against Caltrans highway workers who are engaged in the performance of their duties.


CLEARLAKE OAKS – Fourteen area residents working as contractors without licenses were arrested during a sting operation conducted last week in Clearlake Oaks. {sidebar id=114}

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB), in cooperation with the Lake County District Attorney’s Office, performed the undercover operation on Dec. 10.

Members of CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Unit posed as property owners and took bids on projects that included fencing, landscaping, roofing, painting and exterior trim, the agency reported.

When the suspects offered bids over $500, they were arrested and given a notice to appear for contracting without a license. The license board reported that California law requires a state contractor’s license for home improvement jobs that are valued at $500 or more in material and labor.

CSLB investigators issued 14 notices to appear, five administrative citations and two warning letters.

James Arthur Lee Jr., 36, of Lucerne received both a notice to appear and citation after he bid $9,000 for the labor portion of a fencing project. The license board reported that Lee is no stranger to CSLB or breaking the law – he has received two prior CSLB citations for unlicensed activity.

In addition to Lee, those arrested were Ronald Carl Peterson, 38, of Clearlake; Bruce Suter, 57, of Clearlake; Gary Benson, 57, of Hidden Valley; Ronald Trader, 48, of Cobb; Luis Rodriguez, 42, Kelseyville; Jerry Heidebrect, 51, of Lower Lake; Jack Paulin, 52, of Lakeport; Stephen Cova, 40, of Clearlake; Blair Kirkpatrick, 41, of Lakeport; Benjamin Perry, 48, of Lakeport; Rodney Miller, 52, of Lower Lake; Richard Jensen, 39, of Kelseyville; Herson Prmando Marroquin, 39, of Nice; Mei Hing Dye, 46, of Lakeport; Daniel Morgan Dye, 61, of Lakeport; Jack Conrad, 59, of Kelseyville; and David Wilhelm, 52, Lakeport.

Venus Stromberg, a CSLB information officer, said the number arrested during this sting – 14 – is an average number in any given sting around the state, with some netting as many as 30 at a time.

Those arrested last week are facing misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license when they appear in Lake County Superior Court on Feb. 9, 2009, said Stromberg. The charges carry a potential sentence of up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.

For repeat offenders, “the penalties just keep increasing,” she said, with higher fines and the potential for jail time.

Those operating without licenses in state or federally declared disaster zones can face felony charges, said Stromberg, who said that's the case for those arrested in a sting in a Southern California fire scene recently.

She said there are concerns about unlicensed contractor activity in Lake County but added, “It's a common problem, frankly, throughout the state.”

Unlicensed contractors tend to prey on the elderly, she said, and that's a concern for a place like Lake County, which has a large senior population.

The license board conducts a sting once a week somewhere within the state, said Stromberg, noting that there are field offices for the agency throughout the state.

A key to holding the stings is cooperation with local law enforcement, who often provide the impetus for the actions by calling CSLB to request their help, said Stromberg.

The CSLB reports that unlicensed operators are part of a multi-billion dollar underground economy that takes jobs away from legitimate contractors, and tax dollars from schools, roads and law enforcement. Illegal operators never carry workers’ compensation or liability insurance, and homeowners have little recourse if something goes wrong with an unlicensed operator.

Stromberg said she believes there is more sensitivity to the issue right now because everybody wants to get a deal in order to stretch their dollars. At the same time, legitimate contractors are not getting as much business because of the economic situation.

To qualify for a license, a contractor must verify four years of journey-level experience in the trade, pass both a trade and license law examination, and post a license bond. Stromberg said the license board works with unlicensed contractors in order to help them get their licenses.

Stromberg said the CSLB currently is watching two other cases involving unlicensed contractors in Lake County.

One involves the case of Ronald Paul Odbert, 71, of Nice.

Stromberg said Odbert was working on a trailer for a 63-year-old woman who is a cancer patient even though his contractor's license had been revoked in 2005.

His record shows an outstanding civil judgment, an outstanding contractor's bond payment and failure to meet worker's compensation requirements.

He is alleged to have diverted approximately $20,590 from the woman's project for his own personal use, said Stromberg.

Odbert also is alleged to have required an excessive down payment of $10,300 for a project he failed to complete, and also failed once again to maintain proper workers' compensation.

Stromberg said Odbert's case is going to court. He's due to appear in Lake County Superior Court on Jan. 16.

The second case involves 54-year-old Larry Brown of Lakeport, who the license board is investigating for allegedly defrauding at least three elderly victims in Lake County.

Brown, operating under the name “All Seasons Tree Service,” has allegedly taken large down payments or full payment for tree trimming, deck repair and fences and never returned to finish the work. There also are reports of him soliciting work in Sonoma County, according to the license board.

Late last month, the CSLB Statewide Investigative Fraud Team investigators delivered a case against Brown to local prosecutors that includes multiple felony charges of elder abuse, grand theft, diversion of funds, in addition to misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license and illegal advertising.

Brown has a long history of run-ins with local law enforcement authorities and a prison record, according to the license board. He also was on parole from a prior drug and theft conviction.

The CSLB and Lakeport Police believe there may be additional victims and are encouraging them to come forward. Anyone who has contracted with or has information about Larry Brown is asked to contact CSLB at 916-255-4602.

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LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's unemployment rate continued to climb in November, hitting the highest level in 11 years.

The state Employment Development Department reported that Lake County's unemployment hit 12.4 percent in November, up from 11.2 percent in October and well above the 8.9 percent unemployment Lake County experienced in November 2007.

California's unemployment rate was 8.4 percent, up from October's 8.2 percent rate, with 32,000 more people unemployed, and the total number of people out of work across the state now rising to 1,562,000. In November 2007, California's unemployment rate was at 5.7 percent.

Likewise, the United State's unemployment rates climbed in November, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, rising from 6.5 percent in October to 6.7 percent in November. Approximately 37 states and the District of Columbia reported their rates rising from October, and 49 noting higher unemployment this year than last. The state of Wyoming reported growing employment and a surging economy, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

Lake County's November rate is the highest unemployment level the county has seen since March of 1997, according to historical data compiled by the Employment Development Department.

Approximately 3,220 people were out of work in Lake County in November – approximately 980 more than were out of work in November 2007 – a number that hasn't been surpassed locally since March of 1994, when 3,250 people were out of work and unemployment was 14.7 percent.

The county's November unemployment rate ranked it at No. 49 among the state's 58 counties.

Marin County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state, with 5 percent unemployment. Next in the top five were San Mateo, 5.5 percent; Orange and San Francisco, tied for third with 6.1 percent; and Santa Barbara came in at No. 5 with 6.3. percent, the Employment Development Department reported.

Imperial County had the highest unemployment in the state, with 23.4 percent.

Lake's neighboring counties recorded the following rates: Napa, 6.5 percent, No. 6 statewide for employment ranking; Sonoma, tied with Napa for sixth place with 6.5 percent; Yolo, 9 percent, No. 28 statewide; Glenn, 10.8 percent, No. 39 statewide; and and Colusa, 18 percent, No. 58 statewide.

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A young Charles Dickens in a portrait painted by American artist Francis Alexander in 1842, the year before "A Christmas Carol" was written. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.



LAKEPORT – One of the world's great Christmas stories will be offered in a special Saturday production at Lakeport's Soper-Reese Community Theater.

Charles Dickens' “A Christmas Carol” will be performed at the Soper-Reese and also broadcast live on Lake County Community Radio, 88.1 FM beginning at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 20.

The theater, located at 275 S. Main. St. in Lakeport, welcomes people to attend the performance for free.

The performance, based on Tony Palermo's radio adaptation of the story, will have a cast of 12 directed by Soper-Reese Artistic Director Bert Hutt. Before the production begins, the audience will be shown a demonstration on the sound effects' production and given background on radio dramas.

Dickens' story of redemption and love was published on Dec. 19, 1843, making it 165 years old this year.

“A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas” was written in only about two months, at the same time as he was working on his novel, “Martin Chuzzlewit.”

The 31-year-old Dickens sat down to write his “ghostly little book” in October of 1843 at his home at 9 Osnaburgh Terrace, London. By that time, he already was a well-known writer, thanks to “The Pickwick Papers,” “Oliver Twist,” “Nicholas Nickleby” and “The Old Curiosity Shop.”

But despite begin well-known, Dickens had financial pressures. He and his wife, Catherine Hogarth, already had four children with a fifth on the way.

A 1905 version compilation of Dickens' Christmas books, which included commentary by his son, Charles, said that the author was hoping to make a thousand pounds with the book, although it made several hundred pounds less, despite being a great literary success.

The first version of the book included 6,000 copies, was 166 pages in length and cost five shillings. It quickly sold out and was followed by second and third editions. It had sold 15,000 copies by the end of 1844.

Within a few months of the book's publication, it reportedly was the subject of stage adaptations.




Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim in an 1899 illustration by George T. Tobin.



Like “Oliver Twist” before it, “A Christmas Carol” brings into sharp focus Dickens' concerns about social injustice, a theme that would follow him throughout his life, thanks to his own childhood travails. His father was sent to the Marshalsea debtors' prison and Dickens, as a 12-year-old boy, had to go to work in a blacking factory to help his family make ends meet.

Dickens wrote to a friend about his first Christmas book, noting, “Its success is most prodigious.” His son also reported that Dickens received letters from readers describing how they kept the book “about their homes and hearths.”

He noted in another letter that he “wept, and laughed, and wept again, and excited himself in a most extraordinary manner in the composition.”

In all, Dickens would write five Christmas books, including “A Christmas Carol.” The other four were “Chimes,” “The Cricket on the Hearth,” “The Battle of Life” and “The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain.”

But it was “A Christmas Carol” that, for many, signaled a change in the way Christmas was celebrated in England and, later the rest of the world.

It was about that time that the holiday was getting a new emphasis. Just a few years before, in 1841, Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert set up the first Christmas tree at Windsor Castle, a custom the prince consort brought with him from his native Germany.

Dickens' main character in “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge, undergoes not just a change in how he celebrates Christmas, but how he relates to others and, ultimately, how he sees himself in the world.

The book addresses the themes of basic human connection, the importance of relationships with others, the power of love and kindness, and the ability to redeem oneself and one's sense of hope.

Lord Jeffrey wrote to Dickens about the book, noting, “You should be happy yourself, for you may be sure you have done more good by this little publication, fostered more kind feelings, and prompted more positive acts of beneficence, than can be traced to all the pulpits and confessionals in Christendom since Christmas, 1842.”

“A Christmas Carol,” more than a century and a half later, still has much to tell us. And in these times when the haves and have nots seem as far apart as they were in the early days of Victorian England, Dickens' story of hope has a special relevance.

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The Ghost of Christmas Present, illustrated by George T. Tobin in 1899.



LAKE COUNTY – On Wednesday a former Clearlake resident convicted of murdering his mother was denied parole.

The Board of Parole Hearings decided against giving parole to James Robert Isvich, 46, following a lifer hearing at California State Prison, Solano, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff.

Hinchcliff attended the hearing to argue against Isvich's release.

Isvich was convicted of the second-degree murder of his 56-year-old mother, Patricia Erickson, and sentenced by Superior Court Judge Robert L. Crone to 16 years to life on Jan. 14, 1991, said Hinchcliff.

Hinchcliff said Isvich's minimum eligible parole date was March 31, 2001. In April of 2000 Hinchcliff attended a parole to oppose Isvich's release.

According to investigation reports by the Clearlake Police Department, Ivsich was living with his mother at the time of her death at their residence on Alvita Avenue in the city of Clearlake.

Ivsich was abusing alcohol and had been verbally abusive and threatening toward his mother on previous occasions, according to witnesses.

When officers arrived at the Alvita Avenue residence on May 1, 1990, they found Erickson inside the residence with two stab wounds, one in her chest and one in her back, Hinchcliff said. Ivsich was sitting in a chair with a bloody fixed blade knife lying next to him. His blood alcohol level shortly after the incident was .32, four times the legal limit for driving.

Ivsich initially told investigators he did not remember what happened except that he was home with his mother when she suddenly fell over with a knife in her back, said Hinchcliff.

Subsequently, Isvich told investigators that he had left the house and when he returned home he gave his mother a hug and found a knife in her back, according to Hinchcliff.

Isvich reported changed his story again, telling investigators he came home and an unknown intruder ran out of the house past him and he found his mother with a knife in her, Hinchcliff said.

Hinchcliff noted that Ivsich’s next parole hearing will be in three years.





The holiday season is here and that means holiday parties, and I want to let the hosts of these parties to think about: A) Serving crab; and B) inviting me to have some.

Crab in the American culture is considered a luxury item while most Asian cultures consider it a staple. That is why crab purchased in grocery stores is sold at a premium price, but crab sold in Asian markets is much more economically priced, many times as a loss leader.

The flavors, textures, sizes and intimidation factor of crabs vary greatly so there are many choices to consider when thinking about what kind of crab to serve. I hope the information I give here will help you in your selection. The important thing to remember about any type of crab is to thaw your crab as slowly as possible, because quick thawing causes the meat to lose liquid.

King crab

Harvested in the Arctic waters of the Bering Sea, the king crab can grow to be 6 feet from end to end. SCUBA diving clubs in Alaska have “King Crab Rodeos” where a diver will try to grab a king crab and wrestle with it to the surface; the loser naturally gets eaten by the winner.

There are several subspecies that get sold under the king crab name, but it’s like comparing Cornish game hens to capon, they all taste like chicken. The large legs are sold at a higher price than the smaller legs so it can be more economical to by smaller ones and shell them ahead of time so no one knows.

The “merus” section of the leg, the leg closest to the body, is the most prized among seafood connoisseurs. The merus can best be compared to or thought of as the thigh portion of each leg. Personally I agree that the closer to the body the better the meat, with the meat out of the “toe” having a definite waxy texture and taste.

The commercial king crab fishing season is only three months long (mid-October to mid-January), so if you want the freshest crab possible ask to see the shipping tag. Grocery stores are required by law to keep these tags on hand a full 90 days after all of the crab is sold. The tag will tell you when the crab was caught and shipped. They are caught at sea, taken to processors where they are immediately cooked, cut into manageable sizes and then frozen for shipping.

The flavor of king crab is very rich, sweet and salty, with a nice firm texture. The flavor holds up in a variety of recipes, but bear in mind that the crab is already cooked so you don’t want to overdo it.

Prices vary from season to season but you can expect to pay between $10 and $20 dollars a pound at the grocery store, and more if you buy online. But be reassured that the meat to shell ratio is about 40/60 depending on the size of the legs.

This is my favorite type of crab.

Dungeness crab

The favorite and local crab of the West Coast, Dungeness crabs are a staple at Thanksgiving to many California families (my in-laws included). Caught in the cold waters of Northern California all of the way up to Alaska, the Dungeness season starts in November and continues on to June, so crab being sold in October on special has been frozen for a considerable time and is being “dumped” to make way for the new season. It is usually cooked at the seafood processors before being sent to market, although live crabs are available on occasion at some stores.

Only the males are harvested, while the females are returned to the water so they can continue to breed. The meat is moderately flavored, unique and there is plenty of it. Most grocery stores will clean the major parts of the crab at your request, which essentially entails taking apart the crab and presenting you with the leg clusters.

The yellow liquid inside the body is referred to as crab brains, but if the crab had that much brains it wouldn’t have wound up in the grocery store. It actually is made up mostly of the crab’s liver and other organs. This chunky fluid is considered a delicacy in many cultures throughout the world. Some like to spread it on bread like butter, while others stir it into sauces or seafood stews.

When purchasing Dungeness crabs I look for ones with barnacles on them. The presence of barnacles lets you know that crab hasn’t shed for some time ensuring plenty of “filling.” Crabs sold upside down will be moister since the back of the crab acts like a bowl holding moisture inside the crab instead of allowing it to leak out.

When “picking” or cleaning the meat out of a whole Dungeness crab, look forward to getting about 25 percent of the crab’s weight in meat. You can expect to pay between $3 and $8 per pound.

This is my favorite type of crab.

Blue crab

This is the East Coast’s favorite crab. They are an aggressive crab that will actually lunge at anything it thinks is a threat (maybe that’s an East Coast thing). The population of Blue crabs on the American East Coast can no longer meet the demand, and so the majority of Blue crabs are now from Asian fisheries.

The meat is milder flavored than most other crabs and the claw meat has a mild bitterness to it while the body meat is much sweeter. Claims of males being meatier than females aren’t very impressive since only 15 percent of the body is edible meat. But when the crabs shed their old shell and before their new shell hardens, they are caught and sold as soft-shelled crab and are almost 100 percent edible, after only a couple of adjustments.

The soft-shelled crab is what is used in sushi bars “Spider rolls.” The internal organs of these crabs are also considered a delicacy and are called “mustard” on the East Coast.

Blue crabs are available on the East Coast live, and to the rest of the nation are sold frozen or as shelled “picked meat” in buckets/plastic containers. They are usually cooked whole and shelled at the table, or the picked meat is made into crab cakes. Southeastern U.S. has a fondness for “She-crab soup,” which, as the name implies, is made from female crabs.

The price for whole blue crabs varies by size, and the picked crabmeat varies in price based on where on the crab the meat came from (backfin, lump and claw are the three main areas). For whole crabs expect to pay $5 to $10 each, and $7 to $20 per pound of picked meat.

This is my favorite type of crab.

Snow crab

Snow crab is just a marketing term for several species of similar-looking crabs. Like the several species of King crabs, they look and taste alike. They are found in the icy waters of the Arctic region of both the Atlantic and Pacific, are caught and then immediately cooked at the processors.

At the height of their popularity they were caught almost to the point of irreversible damage to their survival, but quick regulations and harvest limits saved the species. Only males are harvested while the caught females are released.

Snow crab season runs from mid-October through the end of May. The crab being alive at the time of cooking is a vital factor in the processing; if a crab is dead when it is cooked the meat will stick to the shell and make extraction difficult. They are then cut into sections, frozen, and shipped to buyers.

The meat is sweet, full-flavored and easy to extract and eat. The usable meat per cluster is typically around 30 to 40 percent.

This is my favorite type of crab.

Stone crabs

These are the only “renewable” resource of crabs. Only one claw of each stone crab is allowed to be harvested. The crab is trapped, retrieved and, making sure that it still has another claw to defend itself, one claw is removed. In about 18 months the removed claw grows back and the other claw can be removed. This can be done numerous times over the lifetime of the crab.

The claw shell is so hard that ordinary shell crackers won’t work easily on them, so processors now saw several slices into the claw after cooking to make it easier to consume. They are caught in the waters from the Carolinas down to Mexico, with the primary catch coming from Florida.

Stone crab season is from mid-October to mid-May. They have firm, sweet flesh that can sometimes have a bitter or iodine-like hint to them. You’ll need about a pound and a half per person.

Avoid purchasing any Stone crab claws called “lights” as they have less meat in them. I have not seen them in the stores locally, but online you should expect to pay $12 to $50 per pound, depending on size.

This is my favorite type of crab.

The bad news

All of the world’s crab fisheries are dangerously overfished. Agencies around the world are enacting self-imposed limitations in order to save the species. The most recent statistics show that demand for crab is so great that they are hovering just above the endangered species list, but hopefully not crossing onto it.

Since king, snow, and Dungeness crabs live several hundred to several thousand feet down on the ocean floor we really have no way of actually taking an accurate population count. We can only guess at their numbers by gaging how many we catch.

There’s also the added factor that though they release females and undersized crabs back into the ocean, there is no proof that they make it back to the safety of the bottom alive. They may very well die of decompression or be eaten by predators on the way down.

The world’s record king crab was/is 25 pounds ‒ currently 18 pounds is considered giant and average size is 10 pounds showing that we are harvesting younger and younger ones all the time just to meet the demand.

I haven’t included the nutritional information today like I usually do, because with crab that can be pretty depressing. It’s true that crab is high in sodium and has more cholesterol than my doctor would like, but I’m not advocating crab as a daily meal.

But I am recommending it as a party and holiday treat, like eggnog! Speaking of eggnog, I love that too, and since you now know my favorite type of crab I’ll be expecting those invitations to start pouring in.

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.


NICE – Lake County Sheriff's deputies arrested a Lucerne man on Monday after they found him to be in possession of homemade explosive devices.

Eric Vonrenegar, 59, was arrested Monday night at Robinson Rancheria Resort and Casino, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman said that the deputy assigned to the Northshore area responded to Robinson Rancheria's casino parking lot shortly before 9 p.m. on a report of an intoxicated subject attempting to leave in his vehicle.

When the deputy arrived he found Vonrenegar seated in his idling pickup truck in the parking lot of the casino, said Bauman.

After several attempts to get Vonrenegar to exit his truck, Bauman said he eventually complied and while he was being detained the deputy learned he was a convicted felon on active parole.

Bauman said the deputy conducted a search of Vonrenegar’s truck pursuant to the terms of his parole and in the glove box, he found two suspicious devices wrapped in tape. One of the devices had what appeared to be a fuse attached to it and on further inspection, the deputy determined both devices were packed with smokeless black powder and appeared to be home made explosive devices.

Vonrenegar told the deputy that the devices had been left in his truck by another subject months prior and that he had just been holding on to them until he could find the subject to return them, Bauman said.

Vonrenegar was not determined to be intoxicated as initially reported. However, he was arrested and later booked at the Lake County Jail for felony possession of a destructive device and felony violation of parole. Bauman said he is being held without bail pursuant to the violation of his parole.


ROBINSON RANCHERIA – Late last week, certified letters that dozens of Robinson Rancheria Band of Pomo tribal members were dreading began to arrive.

Sent out to several dozen Pomo, the envelopes contained resolutions for each person, passed in a 3-0 vote held by the Robinson Rancheria Citizens Business Council on Dec. 5, informing them that they had been disenrolled from the tribe and their names removed from its rolls.

The resolutions were signed by Tribal Chair Tracey Avila and Secretary-Treasurer Kim Fernandez on Dec. 10.

Avila had previously told Lake County News that 60 of Robinson's 347 tribal members had been under consideration for disenrollment.

On Tuesday, she said six people had proved their lineage and so were allowed to retain their tribal membership, while several more had asked for special consideration to be able to secure documents proving their lineal descent from tribal members on the tribe's original rolls.

EJ Crandell, who was elected tribal chair in June in an election that was decertified by the tribe's election committee, has asserted that as many as 74 tribal members faced disenrollment, and supplied Lake County News with a list of about 50 names of people who he said had confirmed receiving the disenrollment resolution.

Crandell's wife's family was among those disenrolled. He said he's concerned that he and his immediate family may be next.

Gone for the people receiving the resolutions are free access to the rancheria, health care services, food services for homebound seniors, pensions and per capita payments funded by Robinson Rancheria Resort and Casino.

Some were fired from jobs before the disenrollment resolutions were approved, which Crandell and other tribal members critical of the council said were retaliatory actions. Avila denied that, saying the firings were based on poor job performance and were unconnected to the tribe's action.

Most of the disenrollees don't live on the rancheria, said Avila. Those who do live on the rancheria are concerned about losing their homes, but Avila said the tribe doesn't plan to take action to remove them because the homes were funded through a program that supports Indian housing. “We can allow them to live there,” she said.

Among those removed from the rolls include the entire 35-member Quitiquit family, which includes decorated veterans, and traditional artisans and basket makers.

Avila said the people who were disenrolled have been “on the table for many, many years.”

The council changed its enrollment ordinance because it conflicted with the tribe's constitution, said Avila. A provision in the enrollment ordinance was removed that had allowed for membership in the tribe through adoption of individuals whose names appeared on a 1940 tribal census roll and their lineal descendants.

Avila said the council is trying to clean up its ordinances in order to stabilize operations.

She traces the tribe's issues with its rolls back to termination of tribes in the 1950s and 1960s, when many tribes lost land and federal recognition. Many Indians didn't have a place to go and some were adopted into other tribes, such as Robinson.

Avila said the tribe has to take care of its own members first before they can help anyone else. The goal is to use the proceeds from Robinson Rancheria Resort and Casino to help the tribe, but Avila said the casino – while it's an important revenue source – doesn't pull in the kind of business found among the bigger gaming tribes' casinos.

Crandell and other opponents of the disenrollments allege that Avila and the rest of the business council – Curtis Anderson Jr., Kim Fernandez, Stoney Timmons, Nicholas Medina and Buffy White – are taking the actions ahead of a January election for the tribal leadership. They said the members who are disenrolled supported Crandell's election.

Avila denies that. “It just happened at this time,” she said. “I wish this had been dealt with earlier.”

Also just taking place are additional payments to existing tribal members, who reportedly each received $400 checks in the last few weeks. Avila said those payments are not connected to the disenrollments.

She said she considers the disenrollments an internal tribal matter, and doesn't understand why anyone outside of the tribe should be concerned about it.

Are more disenrollments planned? “As far as I know, no,” said Avila.

Group meets to rally disenrollees

On Saturday, the American Indian Rights and Resources Organization – AIRRO for short – held a board meeting in Upper Lake to discuss strategy for assisting the tribal members who received the disenrollment resolutions.

AIRRO President John Gomez, whose family was disenrolled by the Pechanga tribe, is helping lead the families through the process of appealing their cases to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Robinson Rancheria's 1980 constitution calls for the Bureau of Indian Affairs' involvement with determining tribal membership.

Article 3, Section 3 states: “The official membership roll shall be prepared in accordance with an ordinance adopted by the governing body and approved by the Secretary of the Interior or his authorized representative. Such ordinance shall contain provisions for enrollment procedures, enrollment committees, application form, approval or disapproval of application, rejection notice, appeals, corrections and provisions for keeping the roll on a current basis.”

In his experience – both personally and working with AIRRO – Gomez said disenrollments usually occur before important tribal elections.

The other important function of the Saturday AIRRO meeting was to offer hope and support to people whose worlds have been turned upside down by the tribe's actions.

AIRRO Chair Carla Foreman-Maslin, along with her husband, Mark, and her brother, Bobby, traveled from the Redding area for the meeting.

Foreman-Maslin is the daughter of the late Bob Foreman, Redding Rancheria's first tribal chair, who died last month at age 72. The 76-member Foreman family was disenrolled from the Redding Rancheria in 2004 after other tribal members began circulating a rumor questioning their lineage.

“We thought we were the only ones,” Foreman-Maslin said. “I'd never heard of disenrollment.”

Foreman-Maslin wept as she recounted how, at the request of tribal leadership, her family exhumed the bodies of her grandmother and great-great-grandmother in order to prove their lineage through DNA testing. The family was stripped of its tribal membership despite those tests proving their ancestry.

“To have to do that and live with this recurring nightmare is wrong,” she said.

AIRRO was born when the Foremans and other tribal members hit by disenrollments came together to unify and fight for Indians' civil rights, she said.

“It hurts your whole core, your heart, your spirit,” she said of the pain of being alienated from her tribe.

Gomez agreed about the pain and the trauma disenrollment leaves in its wake.

“You never get used to this, even though we've lived through it. You never get used to this, even when it happens to other people,” he said.

He said he and other AIRRO members realize it's their responsibility to help other Indians facing life without their tribe, “but it never gets easy.”

Gomez said it was hard to see the Quitiquits – who had become a part of the AIRRO family long before they were disenrolled – face this now. “When this happened here, it became personal for us,” said Gomez, who was with the Quitiquits when they began receiving their disenrollment resolutions late last week.

A crisis exists in Indian Country as a direct result of the disenrollments, said Gomez.

AIRRO pledged to assist those cut out of Robinson's membership. “We'll fight with you, we'll fight for you,” Gomez said. “And you guys are going to win. I believe that in my heart.”

Robinson Rancheria's constitutional clause giving the BIA authority over tribal membership gives the Quitiquits and the others fighting for their memberships a unique opportunity to appeal the tribal council's decision, said Gomez.

Over the last five years, AIRRO and its support network of advocates and attorneys have been able to create some inroads and awareness in the California Legislature, Gomez said.

As a result, earlier this year they were able to help stop SB 331, introduced by state Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles) and supported by the Barona Tribe of Mission Indians, a Southern California gaming tribe.

The bill would have created a new infraction with fines if a person was found guilty of trespassing on tribal lands. While the bill was in the Assembly a clause was inserted that would mean it didn't apply to former tribal members, after which the bill was pulled. Gomez said the bill was meant to oppress disenrollees.

AIRRO is working to get more notice from Congress on the disenrollment issue. Going through the courts hasn't been a success, Gomez said.

“The courts have not been our friends,” he said. “The courts have always deferred to sovereignty.”

He said a 1978 US Supreme Court ruling in Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez the court deferred to tribal sovereignty and in doing so took away the rights of individual Indians to sue tribes for Indian Civil Rights Act violations.

That, in turn, has set the stage for the kinds of human and civil rights violations which AIRRO says is scarring Indian Country now.

“This is a sad day because it's continuing to happen,” he said.

He told the disenrollees, “The worst thing that could happen is for you to just lie down and accept it.”

Luwana Quitiquit, a traditional Pomo artisan and former tribal council member, told Lake County News last week that she plans to fight the decision to disenroll her family.

“I'm ready to fight,” she said. “They're not going to make me cry. I'm going to fight all the way.”

The only way to win, she said, is for all of those facing separation from the tribe to work together.

BIA will look at appeals

Earlier this month, Lake County News ran a three-part series on the disenrollment issue. On Dec. 5, the first day the series ran, North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson wrote a letter to BIA Regional Director Dale Morris, citing the Lake County News article and his concern over his local Indian constituents facing disenrollment. He asked Morris about what recourse is available for Indians who are disenrolled.

The issue arose locally just as Thompson was being discussed as a possible interior secretary candidate in the cabinet of President-elect Barack Obama.

Troy Burdick, superintendent of the BIA's Sacramento-based Central California Agency, said the BIA usually can't get involved in disenrollments because most tribes' laws don't provide for a BIA review process on membership disputes.

“Congress has the ultimate authority to decide whether or not any federal agency is going to have the authority to review or overturn those types of things,” he said.

BIA doesn't currently have the general authority to intervene and Congress – which is aware of that problem – isn't ready to grant the BIA more latitude, said Burdick.

However, the BIA is getting involved in the case of the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians, whose tribal constitution – like Robinson's – also allows the BIA a role in membership issues. Late last month the BIA halted that tribe's attempt to disenroll between 60 and 80 members.

Robinson's disenrolled members currently are in the process of sending appeals to the BIA. Burdick said the appeals will be sent to him first.

“I have not seen any of those appeals yet, although I understand they're on their way,” he said.

He would then review the appeals and quickly pass them  on to Morris' office, where a decision will be made. How long it might take to deal with the appeals is hard to specify, he said.

Few tribes have provisions in their constitutions, like San Pasqual and Robinson, that allow the BIA to be involved in enrollment matters, said Burdick.

While the Robinson Rancheria constitution allows for the BIA to have a say in its membership, Avila said the agency can't make the tribe recognize members they've disenrolled. “They can't get that involved in it,” she said.

Said Burdick, “That's her opinion.”

Robinson's disenrollment does, however, provide the BIA – and Burdick himself – with a very rare situation, especially if the tribal council refuses to accept the agency's ultimate opinion on the disenrollments.

Just what the BIA would do in that case is hard to predict. “I can't say whether there will be any sanctions or not,” Burdick said.

He added, “This is the first time I've encountered this.”

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


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