Saturday, 22 June 2024

News

UKIAH – Officials are investigating the cause of a collision earlier this week involving a Lake Transit bus.


The California Highway Patrol's Ukiah office reported that the crash occurred at 1:10 p.m. Tuesday on Hensley Creek Road near Ukiah.


Bus driver Ruby Joann Scribner, 59, of Clearlake was driving the 2003 Freightliner passenger bus eastbound at approximately 30 miles per hours in a 35-mile-per-hour zone when the crash took place, the CHP reported.


The bus suffered a “mechanical failure” with its steering control, according to the CHP. That caused the bus to veer to the right and collide with a telephone pole guide wire.


CHP said the bus came to rest facing north and blocking the westbound lane.


Scribner suffered no injuries, and neither did passengers Marty Cook of Lodi or Tonya White Rock of Upper Lake. The CHP said that another customer, Mara Isabec Aguilar of Upper Lake, complained of pain.


The collision's cause is still under investigation, the CHP noted in its report.


Lake Transit Manager Mark Wall said he couldn't confirm if the crash was caused by a mechanical failure. He added that the bus suffered minor damage.


Paratransit Services of Bremerton, Wash., holds the contract to operate the Lake Transit.


Wanda Gray, operations manager for Lake Transit, referred questions on the collision to Paratransit's corporate office, which did not return a Wednesday call.


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


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LAKE COUNTY – A man convicted of a 1995 murder has been denied parole in his first hearing before the Board of Prison Terms.


Fred Gene Stillman, 50, had his parole hearing on Nov. 19 at Avenal State Prison in Kings County, according to former Lake County District Attorney Gary Luck, who is now working as a part-time deputy district attorney.


Luck, who prosecuted the case before he was elected district attorney, attended the parole hearing to argue against Stillman's release from state prison.


In November 1995 Stillman was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and use of a deadly weapon in the murder of Bart Jackman earlier that same year, Luck said.


Stillman was found guilty of slaying Jackman outside of the Landmark Lounge in Clearlake, said Luck.


Stillman, his wife Luanne and daughter Jennifer all participated in the crime. Luanne Stillman was found guilty by the same jury that convicted her husband of assault with a deadly weapon. Jennifer Stillman, who was 16 years old at the time of the crime, was tried as a juvenile.


Fred Stillman received an indeterminate term of 16 years to life, according to Luck. During the same trial, Stillman also was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon on Michael Betts and was sentenced to an additional four-year term.


Luck said Stillman first had to serve two years of the four-year term before starting his life sentence on the murder conviction.


Based on his sentence, Stillman first became eligible for parole on Nov. 22, 2009. Luck said a parole hearing is generally conducted at least one year prior to the anticipated parole release date.


At his first hearing, Stillman's parole was denied, said Luck.


The commissioners denied parole, Luck said, citing Stillman’s lack of viable parole plans, insufficient participation in alcohol and substance abuse treatment, and lack of progress in completing any educational goals.


Luck said their decision also was impacted by the fact that Stillman was involved in several fights while in prison which would cause him to still present an unreasonable risk to public safety.


In concluding the hearing, the commissioners informed Stillman that he must make significant changes in his behavior and progress in completing his educational goals during the next five years if he hopes to get a parole release date at his next hearing, according to Luck.


The commissioners for the Board of Prison terms extended the time until Mr. Stillman’s next parole hearing for a five-year period. Luck said this means Stillman must serve another full five years in prison before he is again eligible to have a parole hearing.


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LAKE COUNTY – Lake County artist Renee Geare will hold a sneak preview showing of her oil painting project, 100 “Views of Mount Konocti,” at Lake County Wine Studio in Upper Lake throughout the month of December as part of a benefit to support the county's purchase of more than 1,500 acres on the mountain.


The show will open on Friday, Dec. 5, with refreshments and live entertainment from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The studio also will have live entertainment on Saturday, Dec. 6, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.


A proud and active member of the California Art Club, Oil Painters of America, Lake County Arts Council, and the Konocti Plein Air Painters, Geare has studied art privately and in small groups with renowned artists Rafael Maniago, Margot Lennartz, and Junn Roca. She is most influenced by Edgar Payne and the early California impressionists.


Geare’s passionate expressions of life in Lake County are of museum-quality. One of her paintings hangs in the Naval Historical Museum in Washington D.C.


The project theme coincides with the current efforts by Lake County to acquire 1,520 acres on top of Mount Konocti. The acquisition is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, encompassing all four peaks, and putting much of the mountain into public hands for perpetuity. The goal is to raise $2.6 million by September 2009.


In enthusiastic support of the project, Geare and Lake County Wine Studio will donate a 20 percent portion of the sales to help preserve Mount Konocti as open space. Informative materials about the acquisition effort will be available at the Studio and also can be seen online at

www.PreserveKonocti.org.


Live entertainment will be provided by Blue Collar, a band comprised of Lake County musicians Carl Stewart on vocals and guitar, Bill Bordisso on accordion and saxophone, and Joe Geare on stand-up bass.


Wine tasting and paired appetizers will be available both days for $5 with a portion of proceeds donated by Lake County Wine Studio toward the acquisition of Mount Konocti.


Friday’s event will feature Zoom Wines’ 2006 “Top of Konocti” Zinfandel with winemaker, Matt Hughes. The organic zinfandel grapes for this release are from the Fowler vineyard on top of Mount Konocti.


Saturday will feature Sol Rouge’s Lake County wines with winemaker, Bryan Kane. Highlights will be the 2007 Gypsy Blanc and 2006 Syrah, with the 2007 Rosé, 2006 Gypsy, 2006 Grenache, and 2006 Cabernet also available. Sol Rouge is nestled on base slopes of Mount Konocti.


Lake County Wine Studio is located on the corner of First and Main Streets in historic Upper Lake, across from the famous Tallman Hotel and Blue Wing Saloon and Café.


For more information, call Susan Feiler at 293-8752 or 275-8030.


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LAKEPORT – A Lakeport man has lost his appeal of a conviction handed down earlier this year for attacking and stabbing a man during a March 2007 gang attack.


On Monday, First Appellate Court justices agreed unanimously in a three-page decision to uphold the 15-years-to-life sentence that Ricardo Tapia Muniz, now 20, received from visiting Judge Galen Hathaway on May 2.


Muniz was prosecuted for stabbing and critically injuring then-19-year-old Clearlake Oaks resident Alex Larranaga near Library Park on March 16, 2007.


The prosecution had alleged that Muniz and four fellow defendants had attacked Larranaga – who had just emerged from a nearby restaurant where he had dinner with his family – because they believed his brother was a rival gang member and thought he had "flashed" gang signs at them.


In an agreement with the District Attorney's Office, Muniz pleaded guilty to aggravated mayhem and an enhancement that he committed the crime for the benefit of a criminal street gang. In exchange for the pleas, an attempted murder charge and a special allegation of causing great bodily injury were dismissed, according to court documents.


On May 28, Muniz filed his appeal, in which his attorney raised no specific issues with the prosecution but asked for an independent review of the case record, the justices noted in their decision.


"We discern no error in the sentencing," wrote Justice Ignazio Ruvolo. "The refusal to grant probation, and the sentencing choices made by the trial court were consistent with applicable law, supported by substantial evidence, and were well within the discretion of the trial court."


Justice Ruvolo added that the restitution fines and penalties amounting to $2,000 imposed against Muniz were supported by the law and facts, and that Muniz was represented by an attorney at all times.


The District Attorney's Office said in May that the sentence requires that Muniz serve a minimum of 15 years before he is eligible for parole.


Muniz, according to court documents, is serving his sentence at San Quentin State Prison.


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


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Brad Shelden of Shelden Signs and Lighting works on the cypress tree in Lakeport this week. Photo by Harold LaBonte.
 

 

 

LAKEPORT – As the holiday season begins, an event this weekend will focus on remembrance and gratitude.


Hospice of Lake County's “Light Up A Life” benefit is currently gathering sponsorships and will culminate in a tree-lighting ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 29, following the Dickens Christmas Faire lighted parade.


The focal point of the lighting ceremony will be a cypress tree located in Museum Park on Main Street in downtown Lakeport. Jan Parkinson of Hospice Services said this is the first time the tree has been a part of the ceremony.


The Light Up A Life event offers the public an opportunity to honor a friend co-worker or loved one by sponsoring a single light on a chain that will decorate the tree, she said.


Parkinson stressed the fact that honorees are not limited to those who have passed on. She encourages individuals and businesses to honor employees as well as loved ones living or who have passed.


Sponsorships are available for $10, said Parkinson. Each individual honored will have their name entered in a printed record of the event. In addition, each person honored will receive a letter acknowledging the honor as well as the name of the person or organization making the donation.


The ceremony will include a tree lighting, lighting of candles, sing-a-long, and sharing of love and respect, according to Hospice Services.


This past week, Brad Shelden of Shelden Signs and Lighting, worked at the end of his 76-foot boom and ladder truck to install 1,400 feet of lighting cable on a 85-foot cypress.


The lights being used this year are actually LEDs (light emitting diodes) that consume up to 80-percent less electricity compared to standard filament lights. Approximately 5,600 LEDs make up the chain of lights.


Shelden worked two full days to decorate the tree. Parkinson was on hand to watch as part of the installation took place.


Hospice Services of Lake County is committed to supporting patients and their families through the end of life process through medical, emotional and spiritual support.


They help keep patients comfortable, provide visits and support to patients and families, and also provide bereavement counseling and camps for survivors.


Sponsorships may be arranged by calling 263-6222 or visiting the Hospice office at 1717 S. Main St. in Lakeport.


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


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It would take more than 240 years from the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth in 1621 before Thanksgiving was regularly celebrated as a national holiday. Beginning with George Washington, the early US presidents regularly issued proclamations calling for separate national days of thanksgiving. However, it was during the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln's presidency that the holiday began to be marked annually. The following address is Lincoln's Oct. 3, 1863, proclamation, which set the stage for the holiday to begin the following month.


The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.


Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.


No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.


It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.


In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.


Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.


By the President: Abraham Lincoln


William H. Seward, Secretary of State


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LAKE COUNTY – The California Highway Patrol (CHP) reminds motorists to plan ahead this holiday and help make the state’s roads a safer place.


“Thanksgiving always produces a high volume of traffic; therefore, the CHP intends to provide as much visibility as possible in order to ensure a safe holiday weekend,” said CHP Lt. Mark Loveless, commander of the Clear Lake Area office.


The official Thanksgiving holiday driving period begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 26, and continues through midnight on Sunday, Nov. 30. During this time the CHP will implement the Maximum Enforcement Period (MEP), putting every available officer on the road.


“Be well rested when you start and allow extra time in case of congested traffic,” said Loveless. “Drive safe, drive sober and wear your seat belt.”


In addition to busy roadways, inclement weather is another obstacle motorists may encounter. Rain, fog, wind and snow have been known to create not only frustrating, but hazardous conditions for drivers. Those traveling through the mountains should carry chains in their vehicle.


Last year, during the Thanksgiving MEP, 41 people died in 4,337 collisions that occurred in California. More than half of the vehicle occupants killed were involved in alcohol-related collisions.


“Thanksgiving is a time for us all to be thankful for what we have. If fewer people lose their lives on our roads and highways, I will have something else to be truly thankful for," said CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow.


Another sobering statistic, 1,628 people were arrested by CHP officers for driving under the influence last year over the Thanksgiving holiday; a nearly 2.5-percent decrease from the same time period the previous year.


The Thanksgiving MEP is also an Operation Combined Accident Reduction Effort (CARE) holiday. Operation CARE is a joint program of the nation’s highway patrols that promotes safe driving on interstate highways during holiday periods.


CARE highways in California include Interstates 80, 40, 15 (San Bernardino to the Nevada border) and 5 (Bakersfield north to the Oregon line).


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WASHINGTON, DC – The Internal Revenue Service is looking for taxpayers who are missing more than 279,000 economic stimulus checks totaling about $163 million and more than 104,000 regular refund checks totaling about $103 million that were returned by the U.S. Postal Service due to mailing address errors.


“People across the country are missing tax refunds and stimulus checks. We want to get this money into the hands of taxpayers where it belongs,” said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We are committed to making the process as easy as possible for taxpayers to update their addresses with the IRS and get their checks.”


All a taxpayer has to do is update his or her address once. The IRS will then send out all checks due.


Stimulus checks


It is crucial that taxpayers who may be due a stimulus check update their addresses with the IRS by Nov. 28. By law, economic stimulus checks must be sent out by Dec. 31 of this year. The undeliverable economic stimulus checks average $583.


The “Where’s My Stimulus Payment?" tool on this Web site is the quickest and easiest way for a taxpayer to check the status of a stimulus check and receive instructions on how to update his or her address. Taxpayers without internet access should call 1-866-234-2942.


Regular refunds


The regular refund checks that were returned to the IRS average $988. These checks are resent as soon as taxpayers update their address.


Taxpayers can update their addresses with the “Where’s My Refund?” tool on this Web site. It enables taxpayers to check the status of their refunds. A taxpayer must submit his or her social security number, filing status and amount of refund shown on their 2007 return. The tool will provide the status of their refund and in some cases provide instructions on how to resolve delivery problems.


Taxpayers checking on a refund over the phone will be given instructions on how to update their addresses. Taxpayers can access a telephone version of “Where’s My Refund?” by calling 1-800-829-1954.


Unsure?


Taxpayers not sure of which type of check they may be due should check on a potential economic stimulus check first because of the looming deadline. See instructions above.


For most people


The vast majority of checks mailed out by the IRS reach their rightful owner every year. Only a very small percent are returned by the U.S. Postal Service as undeliverable.


Through September 2008, the government distributed 116 million economic stimulus payments with only about 279,000 checks being undeliverable. Meanwhile, the IRS has distributed more than 105 million regular refunds this year with only about 104,000 being undeliverable. In both cases, well under one percent of refunds or stimulus checks were undeliverable.


Avoiding future problems


The IRS encourages taxpayers to choose direct deposit when they file their return because it puts an end to lost, stolen or undeliverable checks. Taxpayers can receive refunds directly into personal checking or savings accounts. Direct deposit is available for filers of both paper and electronic returns.


The IRS also encourages taxpayers to file their tax returns electronically because e-file eliminates the risk of lost paper returns. E-file also reduces errors and speeds up refunds.


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LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – A Lucerne man believed to have been responsible for numerous burglaries and several more attempted break-ins over the last month has been arrested.

Raymon Narvaes, 25, was arrested Sunday evening after being found in a vehicle with a trunk filled with stolen property, according to Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Bauman said that, during the first two weeks of November, the sheriff’s office responded to and investigated an inordinate number of residential burglaries in the north Lakeport area.

A total of 24 burglaries and seven attempted burglaries have been reported in the west and Northshore communities of Clear Lake since the beginning of the month, said Bauman.

He said seven burglaries and two attempted burglaries that included two stolen vehicles were reported at several different mobile home parks in that area. Five other homes in the area of Lakeshore Boulevard north of the city also were burglarized.

The burglaries began to extend to the communities of Nice and Lucerne on the Northshore of Clear Lake, said Bauman.

As recent as Monday, 12 additional burglaries and four additional attempted burglaries had been reported in those areas, he said. Most recently, the Lakeshore Boat and Dry Storage on Lakeshore Boulevard north of Lakeport and the Clear Lake Boat and Storage on Soda Bay Road south of Lakeport had also reported break-ins to five of their storage units.

At the same time, sheriff's patrol and detective branches began to develop connections between the burglaries, Bauman said.

At about 6:15 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 23, an observant deputy patrolling Lucerne saw a maroon Pontiac run a stop sign on 14th Avenue, Bauman said.

The vehicle was stopped and the occupants were identified as 55-year-old Fred Ralph Pearl of Nice and Narvaes, who already had been a person of interest in the rash of burglaries throughout the month, according to Bauman.

While the deputy was detaining Pearl and Narvaes, Bauman said Narvaes admitted to being a convicted felon and having a gun in the trunk of the car.

Bauman said when the deputy went to retrieve the weapon, he found the trunk also contained several bags containing numerous items of jewelry, electronics, credit cards, keys and other items suspected to be stolen.

Some of the items were tracked back to a resident of the Meadow Point Mobile Home Park on Highway 20 in Upper Lake, said Bauman. When the woman was contacted and shown the property recovered from the car stop, she had not realized she had been the victim of yet another burglary.

Bauman said Narvaes, whose profession is listed as chef on his booking sheet, was arrested on felony charges of possessing stolen property, being a felon in possession of a firearm and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. Narvaes was subsequently booked at the Lake County Jail with bail set at $250,000 bail.

Pearl was released at the scene of the traffic stop as Narvaes claimed responsibility for all the stolen property and Pearl had no evident connection to the property, said Bauman.

On Monday, as sheriff's detectives questioned Narvaes at the county jail about the recent rash of burglaries, he reportedly admitted to committing a number of the crimes, including one of the related vehicle thefts, said Bauman. Narvaes also reportedly agreed to accompany investigators to point out the homes he had burglarized.

By the end of Monday, Bauman said Narvaes confirmed burglarizing four of the homes at the Perk’s and Sterling Shore Mobile Parks in north Lakeport, one of the homes at the Castlewood Estates Mobile Home Park in Nice, and two other homes in Lakeport and Nice.

While detectives are not convinced Narvaes has admitted to all the burglaries he has actually committed, Bauman said it can't be concluded that he is solely responsible for the recent rash of property crimes.

Bauman said many of the burglary cases remain pending further investigation and, as always, homeowners should continue to be cognizant of the security of their homes and those of their neighbors.

Inside the Lakeport city limits, a spate of robberies targeting mobile home parks also have occurred this month, as Lake County News has reported. Lakeport Police officials continue to investigate those break-ins, some of which appear to be related to each other.

Bauman said it's a possibility that the burglaries in the city and the county could be related, but detectives haven't yet reached that conclusion.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at [email protected].

 

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HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – The Hidden Valley Lake Association Board meeting on Nov. 20 drew residents from around the community concerned about the recent lockout of association workers affiliated with a union. {sidebar id=108}


There was a mixed point of view as far as what should be done concerning the lockout of union workers, which began last weekend, as Lake County News has reported.


HVLA workers at the meeting who are affiliated with Laborers International Union of North America Local 139 stated that the lockout occurred after a scheduled meeting between the two sides was canceled due to the union representative being sick.


Lawyers for the union workers contacted HVLA to inform them of the representative's illness but the association reportedly sent someone to the negotiation meeting any way. The lockout occurred shortly afterward, according to union workers.


In a press release given to community members late last week, HVLA General Manager Jim Johnson said the association locked out the union personnel “because of financial concerns regarding the ongoing union contract negotiations.”


Johnson stated in the press release, “These concerns are based on the $644,644 loss the golf course experienced in 2007 and the loss of $424,325 through September of this year.”


The statement said the lockout will end and employees will be allowed to report back to work as soon as HVLA management and the union can reach an agreement regarding salaries, cost of living increases and benefit payment allocation.


On Thursday evening, the HVLA board heard from many people on the subject, some siding with Hidden Valley Lake, but most came to speak on behalf of the union workers.


Hal Muskat, who has lived in Hidden Valley Lake for 12 years, described what is happening as “horrible.”


Muskat said that the work done by the union personnel is what justifies homeowners in Hidden Valley Lake paying their association dues.


He suggested that residents withhold their association dues from HVLA and instead put their money into an escrow account. This way, Muskat said, people are still paying, but the association can't get its hands on the money until the union workers are put back to work.


Another resident suggested that the golf course be boycotted until union workers were able to do their jobs again.


The board also heard from an emotional Lora Darling, wife of one of the golf course maintenance workers who is currently part of the lockout.


The Darling family will not be able to have Thanksgiving this year and with Christmas just around the corner they fear that the holiday will be ruined for their family as well, she said.


Darling pleaded with the board to put unionized employees back to work as this lockout is really hurting her friends, neighbors and family.


HVLA has offered union workers their vacation pay now to try to help with the financial hardship of the lockout, but many workers didn't agree with this offer, as they said they work hard for their vacations and didn't to use them that way.


After the open session time was ended by HVLA Board President Don Dornbush, most of the union workers left all at once. “You guys are a disgrace!” were their parting words to board officials.


On Nov. 19, HVLA released a list of comments relating to union negotiations.


Among other things, the association stated that, as of Oct. 31, union personnel were paid about $77,600 a year more than the union contract requires. Officials also maintain that they have not requested or suggested that the hourly rate of any union member be reduced.


The association stated that HVLA management suggested to the union that they be allowed to consider full-time employment as 32 hours per week – which is the same as all other HVLA employees – as opposed to the current guaranteed 40 hours per week. The reason, according to HVLA, was that reducing the hours was an alternative to laying off personnel. They said the union did not agree with the recommendation.


HVLA management said it has proposed a 4-percent pay increase effective Nov. 1 and a 3-percent increase effective for each of the other two years of the contract, which is consistent with what the rest of the staff will receive.


The union has reportedly requested that HVLA pay the entire benefit packet of over $6 per hour worked for each employee, which the association says will amount to about $163,000 for union employees. This is in addition to their hourly rate of pay, and could equate to $12,480 per employee per year.


Responding to comments Local 139 business manager Dave George made to Lake County News last week, HVLA said that both sides – not just the association – have introduced lawyers into the negotiations process this year.


HVLA officials also stated that the association has not refused to advise the union as to the salary of each union employee, as George had stated. The association said it provided more than 2,000 pages of documents that Local 139 had requested; when the union again requested salary information, it was provided on Nov. 3.


The lowest salary being paid for any union person is $11.60 per hour, according to HVLA, which it said exceeds the required union contract rate of $9.56 per hour.


“In fact, all union personnel are paid more than the required union contract rate,” the association stated. “The average pay for all union personnel is 20 percent above the required union contract hourly rate. The rate of pay for union personnel currently ranges from $11.60 to $21.20 per hour.”


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With the Foodie Freak columns I want to help people discover places and foods they may not have experienced before and to save money when cooking at home. So when I made a recent change at home I thought it was something that I wanted pass on.


Theresa is a cashier at my local mega-mart and she has become accustomed to hearing me moralize about making everything myself. One day when I purchased pre-packaged macaroni and cheese in a box, she looked at me as if I was purchasing a dirty magazine and seemed a tad disappointed in me. I laughed uncomfortably and said, maybe a little too loudly, “My wife and daughter like this stuff!” Theresa smiled and went back to scanning my groceries.


It’s not that I’m an elitist snob that only eats truffles and caviar; I just prefer to make foods myself and from scratch. If you make food yourself at home you can make it healthier than the pre-made pre-packaged items you find on the store shelves – to me even salad dressing tastes better if it doesn’t come out of a jar or bottle.


It pains me to see families with shopping carts full of boxed dried “meals” and I just want to tell them, “You can make that same dinner at home, almost just as easily, with less fat, less salt, and for pennies on the dollar – think how much more money you could have in your pocket every month!”


And then one day I was making tacos at home and thought, “Why do I keep buying these packets of taco seasoning? There must be a better way!” Spices are expensive, and spice mixes are even worse. After all, not only are you paying for the individual spices, but then you’re paying someone to mix them together and put them in all new pretty packaging.


So I started researching taco seasonings and experimenting with what I liked best, and here’s the funny part: I also wanted to experiment with fajitas seasonings and started to look for a fajita spice recipe – and found that they were basically the exact same spices as the taco seasoning recipes! So why buy a packet that says “taco seasoning” and another packet that says “fajita seasoning” when you can mix up your own jar of spices to your own taste and use it for whatever type of meal you’re having?


Once I experimented a bit and felt I had a great taco seasoning put together I made tacos for lunch for my daughter’s school. I also threw together a fairly simple taco sauce just for fun. Later, the students and teachers were begging for the taco sauce recipe, and I didn’t remember how I made it! So I had to spend a while playing around with different ideas and think that I have finally recreated it, and have included it here for you to try.


The taco seasoning recipe I have included will season one pound of ground beef. As a time saver you can make it in quadruple batches and then just use 1/4 cup taco seasoning to 1 pound cooked drained ground beef and 1/4 cup of water. The seasoning mixture will hold its flavor well for three months.


One of the spices I included in the taco spice mixture is smoked paprika and I can’t recommend it highly enough to you. It adds a new dimension to dishes that I can’t live without now. Not only does it improve taco seasoning but goulash, ratatouille and osso bucco all become dishes fit for royalty when adding some smoked paprika. It’s available at many local mega-marts so look for it on the spice rack on your next shopping trip.


Readers may have noticed that I rarely list salt in my recipes and the reason for that is just that salt is such a subjective flavor, and with its health/diet issues I prefer you make salt decisions in your own home. For me, these recipes are fully flavorful enough.


In an effort to share these (in my opinion) fantastic seasonings and sauce with the world, I’ve tried to get commercial kitchen/bottling companies to take my recipes and start a line of specialty food products, but they either want thousands of dollars up front or they don’t return my calls or letters at all. So my failure to start a line of specialty foods is now your benefit. Here are my recipes for taco seasonings and sauce.



Taco/Fajita seasoning


1 tablespoon dried onion flakes

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder

1/4 cup water


For tacos

1 pound ground beef


Mix all of the dry ingredients and set aside. Brown ground beef in a skillet and drain any excess fat. Return to heat and add spice mixture and water, stir until well mixed and slightly thickened (about one minute). Remove from heat and serve.


For fajitas

1 pound sliced beef strips


Mix all of the dry ingredients and set aside. Brown your favorite fajita beef strips, then add grilled onions, bell peppers, seasoning mix, 1/4 cup water and the juice of one lime, cook until onions and peppers are slightly softened.


Taco sauce


1 can (7.5 oz) Chipotles in Adobo

1-15 ounce bottle (1 and 1/2 cups) raspberry vinegar

1 1/4 cup brown sugar

3 cloves of garlic


Add all ingredients (including the adobo sauce) together in a blender and blend until very smooth (i.e., give it at least a minute). Pour through a strainer or mesh to remove seeds. Pour into storage containers (once washed, the raspberry vinegar bottle acts as a perfect serving vessel) and refrigerate over night to let the flavors meld. Makes about three cups, and will keep in refrigerator well for several months. You can hold back the adobo sauce that the chipotles come in from the recipe for a milder sauce, and also to make it even milder you might wish to add some ketchup. As the recipe is written the sauce is spicy to the taste but without being overwhelming while inside a taco.


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


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