Friday, 01 March 2024

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This is the first installment in a two-part investigation into the challenges currently faced by organizers of the Miss Lake County Pageant.


LAKE COUNTY – The 45-year-old Miss Lake County Scholarship Organization is in turmoil.


For the first time in decades, there has been no summer pageant, which the new organizers are pushing back to January 2010 due to lack of resources and time constraints.


Many past contestants have only just now received scholarship funds or are still waiting to be paid for their participation with the fall college semester already well under way.


Pageant officials also allege that they can't account for money and the “queen's closet,” which over the last few years has supplied dresses and costumes for pageant contestants, which has resulted in a Lake County Sheriff's Office investigation now being reviewed with the help of the District Attorney's Office.


In addition, there are allegations that locally raised funds might have been co-mingled and used to fund scholarships for contestants in Bay Area pageants.


“This is a sad situation,” said Bob Arnhym, president and chief executive officer of the Miss California Organization, which issues franchise agreements to pageants like Miss Lake County.


Sandra Orchid, one of the new pageant directors, said it feels like they're starting from scratch this year.


They have renamed the organization – now called the Miss Lake County Scholarship Program – and have established a new Web site, www.misslakeco.org, after the former executive director, Trish Combs, refused to turn over the former Web site and maintained that she owns the name “Miss Lake County Scholarship Organization.”


Orchid said the committee believes Combs should have handed over to them several thousand dollars, as is customary when an executive director leaves the position.


“Where did that all go?” Orchid asked.


Struggle over leadership


The problems appear to have started last year, following the 2008 pageant.


Last October, Combs, the program's executive director since 2005, moved with her husband, Dr. William Combs to Washington state.


Before leaving, she had recruited Lakeport business owners Tino and Kathy Gamber to succeed her in running the pageant.


Arnhym said he issued the Gambers a temporary franchise agreement in August, however, they “quickly withdrew” because they weren't happy with the organization's financial reports.


Combs alleged that the Gambers were “torpedoed” by others who she didn't identify.


Tino Gamber's take on the situation is markedly different from Combs'.


“Trish Combs left us with a bag of worms,” he said. “Because of that we decided to step down.”


Over the years the Gambers, who own the Lakeport clothing shop All About Me, have made numerous donations to the organization and the young contestants, including giving contestants everything from gowns to shoes.


They also put on a fashion show in 2008 to help cover the funds that the group would ordinarily have made from July 4 fireworks sales, which were canceled last year due to fire concerns, as Lake County News has reported.


Tino Gamber said they donated $5,000 to the organization as a result of the fashion show.


When Combs was preparing to leave, she sought the couple out to take over the organization's leadership. “She came to us and thought that we would be the right team to take it over,” Tino Gamber said, noting his wife was to act as executive director.


But Gamber said Combs wouldn't turn over the organization's account books to he and his wife, and said there were similar issues on other Bay Area pageants where Combs had been involved.


“Nobody could seem to get the records out of her,” he said.


The Gambers also had repeatedly demanded an accounting of where the $5,000 they donated to the organization went, but Tino Gamber said Combs has never given it to them.


He said he and his wife don't know that the organization ever got that money. Pageant officials reported that Combs' previous committee reported never hearing of the Gambers' donation.


“There's a lot of money that was donated, not just from us but from other people in the community,” Tino Gamber said.


After Combs relinquished the organization's control to the Gambers, they retained it for only a short time because they believed something was wrong.


When the Gambers stepped away, local pageant committee members contacted the state pageant's field director about the fact that there was no one to oversee the contestants.


State officials asked Sandra Orchid and Carla Butler if they were interested in leading the organization, and the Miss California Scholarship Program issued them a new franchise agreement on Dec. 10, 2008.


In interviews with Lake County News held in recent months, Combs claimed she was still the local pageant's executive director.


Combs' last franchise agreement was signed two years ago, and only was good through the end of August 2008, according to pageant documents.


“It's kind of sad for the pageant,” as well as for the community, which is skeptical now about supporting the group, Gamber said.


Although Combs maintains she's still executive director, pageant officials notified her last December, in writing, that a franchise agreement had been signed with the new group, headed by Orchid and Butler. At that time she also was told of the organization's concerns about her meeting the obligations to title holders.


When Combs refused to acknowledge the written notifications about the change in the franchise agreement, local pageant officials told her in person that same month.


With new leadership in place, local pageant officials began to realize there were problems. Sheriff's records show that they made a report alleging missing funds in January, a month after taking over.


Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office confirmed that the agency has investigated “allegations by current members of the organization's management, that as much as $50,000 in funds and property belonging to the organization is missing or unaccounted for and that Ms. Combs may be involved.”


Bauman said the case was sent to the District Attorney's Office for review in June to determine if the case even constitutes a criminal complaint.


“They may file a complaint for embezzlement, determine more follow-up investigation needs to be conducted for a criminal complaint, or determine the case is a civil matter and not a criminal one,” Bauman said.


District Attorney Jon Hopkins confirmed his office has the case.


“It has not been referred to us for prosecution,” he said. “It has been the request of the detective working the case to have one of our attorneys review the case and work with him on further investigation.”


In January, the same month as the local pageant made its reports to the sheriff, a property the Combses owned on Mission Rancheria Road went up for trustee sale as part of a foreclosure action.


Then, in September, a home they owned in Corinthian Bay also went up for a foreclosure trustee sale. According to county records, both properties appeared to have had significantly more owed on them than their original purchase prices several years previously.


The Gambers spoke to the Lake County Sheriff's Office, which has been conducting an investigation into the case. They were told that Trish Combs told investigators that the money is hers, she can do whatever she wants with it and doesn't owe anyone an accounting.


Combs said she's also been devastated by allegations that are being circulated about wrongdoing. “I've shed many tears, things I have heard.”


New committee hits roadblocks


Butler, whose daughter, Taylor-Paige, is this year's Miss Lake County, said the group is struggling financially, and it was a challenge to get funding to take them to this year's state competition, held in June.


Butler said the queen's closet, which was established to help support contestants of all income levels, is gone.


In addition to the $5,000 given to the organization last year by the Gambers, an anonymous donor also gave the group $5,000 last year after it voluntarily didn't sell fireworks due to fire concerns, she said.


She said there should have been $20,000 in the organization's account by now.


When they asked for accounting books, they were told there were none. “All the records are gone,” Butler said. “The bank accounts are gone.”


In addition to the local committee asking for all accounting books, funds and the queen's closet, the state pageant also has repeatedly asked Combs for a financial accounting.


Over the last two months, contestants have started to be paid as parents have sent registered letters and local and state pageant officials have pressed Combs on the payments. An accounting the current directors compiled showed that out of $7,000 in awards, $5,200 has been paid.


Combs also said she took out a newspaper ad to seek past contestants, and extended an Aug. 8 deadline for them to apply for their scholarships.


“These girls did what they were asked to do, period,” said Orchid, explaining that Combs finally was forced to come through with the funds.


A local appearance by Miss California also required months and repeated requests by pageant officials before Combs paid for it.


Then there are the concerns about the possibility that local funds went to support out-of-area pageants.


Combs placed $4,000 in deposit with Scholarship Associates, which is the holding organization for scholarships in connection with the Miss California Scholarship Program. But $1,500 of that funding reportedly was to go to pageants in San Jose, San Mateo and Redwood City with which Combs had been associated.


All of that money is now completely gone, said Orchid, and it appears local money went south to help the Bay Area pageants.


Representatives from those other organizations told Orchid that they had had to pay their own expenses because of also not getting funds they requested, and that they didn't know the source of the funds Combs put into their events.


Miss Redwood City-Miss San Mateo County Scholarship Organization did not respond to requests from Lake County News about working with Combs. The Miss San Jose Pageant wouldn't comment.


Contestants confused about the process


Some of the unfolding situation resembles misunderstandings and miscommunication.


Many of the contestants also were reportedly told by Combs that they had another year to apply for their funds, despite the fact that Combs had set an Aug. 8 deadline.


Jennifer Humble, 18, the first runner up in the 2008 pageant, received $1,200 in late August, which she needs to help pay for her schooling at Dominican University of San Rafael.


However, Orchid said Humble is still owed $1,000 from the previous year. Also owed $400 is Taylor-Paige Butler, this year's Miss Lake County.


Humble told Lake County News in an interview this past summer that the process to get the scholarship money was confusing for both her and her fellow contestants, who, at that point, didn't know what they needed to do to get their money and were “in the dark.”


Katie Murphy, 17, this year's Outstanding Teen, who had tried for months to get her money also was kept waiting for her $1,200 until Aug. 17, according to the group's accounting.


Orchid said when Murphy requested her scholarship from Combs, she was told to fill out a form, but Orchid maintains there isn't a form. Combs, however, said there is, and said she would send it to whoever requested it.


Murphy, whose sister Erin competed four years ago, said her parents had to pay for all of her expenses – from clothing to the hotel stay in Fresno for the state competition – out of pocket this year.


While her sister had the use of the queen's closet, Katie Murphy said this year's contestants didn't.


Murphy said she sent an e-mail to Combs asking her for shoes and shorts from the closet. She received no response, then Combs' son showed up with the wrong pair of shoes and some shorts.


At one point, Murphy – who had no evening gown for the competition – was loaned a dress by a woman at the competition. “People were kind of sympathetic to us,” Murphy said.


Saundra Combs, a former Miss Lake County, was once again in the Miss California Pageant this year, this time representing Culver City. Murphy said she saw Trish Combs at an orientation in relation to her daughter's presence in the competition.


“She came up to me when I was alone and said 'hello,' which I thought was bizarre,” said Murphy.


Murphy said Trish Combs offered to sponsor an ad page in the sponsor booklet, which officials confirmed that she did.


Tomorrow: Background on how the pageant runs, red flags arise and the committee works to rebuild.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

 

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LUCERNE – Photographer Ron Keas caught a great October sunset as it went through a variety of colors on Saturday.

 

 

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Judy Luchsinger (at right) announces her plans to run for Lake County Superintendent of Schools at a rally on the courthouse steps in Lakeport on Friday, October 16, 2009. Photo by Marie Newsom.
 

 

 

LAKE COUNTY – Another race is forming as the 2010 election season nears, this time for Lake County superintendent of schools.


Dr. Judy Luchsinger told a group of about 75 people at the Lake Court Courthouse in Lakeport on Friday afternoon that she intends to challenge incumbent Dave Geck in next year's election.


Luchsinger, 64, previously held the job for 16 years. She was defeated by Dr. Bill Cornelison in the 1994 election and left office in January of 1995.


Geck, who came up through the ranks of Cornelison's office, succeeded him after being elected in 2006.


Hearing of Luchsinger's intent to run, the 61-year-old Geck said Friday that he believes his office has been providing excellent services to the school districts around the county.


“I'm sure we'll have interesting conversations,” he said of the election challenge.


The election next year will determine who will oversee the district, which has 120 employees and a $16 million annual budget.


The superintendent's job has a five-step salary schedule, with a superintendent's pay determined by his Board of Trustees. Geck currently makes $122,000 a year, about two and a half times the salary of a county supervisor.


Luchsinger said she's running on a platform of fiscal accountability and developing quality management systems to improve the district's performance.


She said she's been asked by many people to please run again. “I thought long and hard about it,” before finally deciding to take it on, she said.


The recent grand jury report, which among other things faulted Geck for signing a form that allowed a former administrator to apply for a credential program for which she wasn't qualified, was a basis for many people asking her to run, said Luchsinger.


However, Luchsinger said she preferred to focus on what she can offer the educational office.


Thanks to her previous experience, “there will be no learning curve,” Luchsinger said.


Luchsinger received her doctorate degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, before moving to Lake County 42 years ago.


She taught high school English and math classes in Lakeport, and her four children went through the local schools. Luchsinger now has a young grandson attending local schools, and she lives in Lakeport with her fiance.


While she was county superintendent, she started collaborative efforts to purchase insurance for all districts jointly and brought the Academic Decathlon program to local schools. During that time there also was a collaborative district purchasing program for all the schools.


After leaving elected office, Luchsinger started her own consulting firms. Today, she works with corporations on three continents on quality and environmental management systems.


She'd like to bring those same systems to local education.


Addressing the recent community discussion about school district consolidation, Luchsinger explained, “You have to know that a school district is sort of a center of a community.”


She said the county office of education allows districts to remain small by taking on some duties. “That's what a county office can do for a district,” she said.


Luchsinger said countywide consolidation “probably doesn't make sense,” although very small districts that are in close proximity might consider it because that's a scenario where it might work best.


Among Luchsinger's goals are reestablishing fiscal accountability in the Lake County Office of Education.


She said she's been concerned that the cost of running the office has exploded since she left office in 1995.


That's what she told her audience on the courthouse steps Friday.


While teachers are working harder than ever with larger class sizes, “the quality of education has been compromised,” she said.


Responding to Luchsinger's criticisms, Geck said, “When you look at the cost of the office you have to measure it against the service and programs provided.”


Luchsinger said she thoroughly enjoys working with teachers, and appreciates what can be accomplished when organizations develop a culture of performance.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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The crash occurred shortly after 7 a.m. Monday, October 19, 2009, near the intersection of Highway 20 and Hillside Lane. Photo by Chuck Lamb.



THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED.

 

CLEARLAKE OAKS – Two drivers involved in a Monday morning crash between a pickup and a big rig escaped serious injury.

The collision occurred shortly after 7 a.m. near the intersection of Highway 20 and Hillside Lane, according to the California Highway Patrol. The names of the two male drivers involved weren't available on Monday.

Highway 20 was completely closed for about a half hour, and it took nearly two and a half hours to fully clear the roadway, the CHP reported.

CHP Sgt. Scott Moorhouse, who was the scene's incident supervisor, said the crash involved a Chevrolet pickup truck headed westbound and a tractor trailer loaded with groceries that was headed eastbound to the Clearlake Oaks Tower Mart for a routine delivery.

Moorhouse said the pickup, because of speed and weather, lost control and slammed into the tractor trailer.

The collision caused the tractor trailer's saddle tank to rupture, with diesel fuel ending up on the highway and cleanup required, he said.

Responding to the scene along with CHP were Caltrans, Northshore Fire, Cal Fire and Lake County Environmental Health, said Moorhouse.

The pickup driver was taken to Sutter Lakeside Hospital where he was treated, said Moorhouse. “Surprisingly it was very, very, minor injuries.”

The tractor trailer's driver sustained no injuries, Moorhouse said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

CLEARLAKE OAKS – A longtime Clearlake Oaks resident who works for Caltrans has received a prestigious award for his quick action during a vehicle crash in July of 2008.


Frank Toney was one of 20 Caltrans employees – out of 20,000 statewide – to receive the Governor's Safety Award this month.


This coming February will mark Toney's fourth year with the agency. He is a highway maintenance worker whose duties include traffic control, mowing, paving, plowing snow, picking up dead animals, responding to vehicle wrecks and hazardous materials spills.


He's one of 10 Caltrans workers at the Clearlake Oaks yard; another 10 are based in Lakeport.


Toney, a 35-year Clearlake Oaks resident, received the award for his quick thinking and fast action that he took on July16, 2008.


At the end of the day he'd left the Clearlake Oaks maintenance yard but had to go back.


“I was returning to work because I had forgotten my lunchbox,” he said.


That put him at the scene of a vehicle crash involving a Mediacom truck and a plumbing van. The crash had trapped a 13-year-old boy in the van's front passenger seat.


Toney said he pulled over and spoke to the boy's father, who told him about the child being trapped.


A longtime emergency medical technician, Toney found a crowbar and started prying open the van's back door open.


“The only way to get to him was through the back area,” said Toney.


When he got to the child, who was complaining of abdominal pain, he put a cervical neck brace on him and helped keep him in place until the ambulance arrived.


Toney said a helicopter was needed to transport the child to the hospital.


Rather than landing on the highway and potentially causing a major traffic backup, Toney suggested the helicopter land in the Caltrans yard, and left the boy in the care of a paramedic while he went to move a dump truck to make room for the helicopter. It was the first time Toney remembered the yard being used for a helicopter landing.


“Mr. Toney’s quick actions aided in providing prompt medical evacuation of the injured teenager and prevented closing of Highway 20 during peak vehicular traffic hours,” said the nomination that his supervisor submitted to the state on his behalf.


A few weeks after the crash the boy and his family came to visit with Toney and thank him. The child was doing OK after having sustained a lacerated liver and a concussion.


It was around this past Labor Day that Toney found out he was to receive the award.


Toney said he's especially grateful to his superintendent, Dan Ramirez, and his supervisor, Brennan Ladao, for nominating him.


“I was really excited about going to meet the governor,” he said.


He wouldn't get the chance, because, due to budget cuts the ceremony with the governor was canceled. Instead, a party was planned at the Ukiah maintenance yard, where Caltrans District 1 Director Charles Fielder was scheduled to give him the award.


However, Toney said he wasn't able to attend, because he was on jury duty in a trial lasting three weeks, which ended about two days after the Oct. 6 party.


He said he enjoys his work with Caltrans, noting, “Every day we're doing something different.,” and he gets to work outdoors. “It's an exciting job.”


If he could ask for one thing, it's that people would slow down when they come into Caltrans work zones. Toney said he sees many people drive too fast when Caltrans workers are nearby, making the situation dangerous for workers.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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The former location of Lakeside Hospital has been the Lakeside Health Center's home for 10 years. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

 

 


LAKEPORT – It's been 10 years since a dilapidated former hospital was given new life as a renovated health clinic, and on Friday a gathering commemorated that transformation and a decade of health services offered to those in need.


Lakeside Health Center, located at 5335 Lakeshore Blvd., inhabits a building that once housed Lakeside Hospital.


Since 1999 the clinic – one of three run by Mendocino Community Health Clinic Inc., which also has facilities in Willits and Ukiah – has offered a variety of health services to low-income families.


Clinic and organization employees and community members gathered Friday to celebrate its decade of service at an anniversary luncheon.


John Pavoni, chair of the Mendocino Community Health Clinic Inc. Board of Directors, said the old hospital was built in 1949 and had 33 beds.


In the late 1970s the hospital moved next door to the current Sutter Lakeside Hospital location, and the building then housed a convalescent home before sitting vacant for a time, Pavoni said.


When the clinic organization began looking for a location in Lake County, they found the empty building, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, with broken out windows.


Thanks to a $1 million loan from US Department of Agriculture's Rural Development, they renovated the building and opened for business.


Today it offers dental, medical services and psychiatric services to both children and adults. They also have obstetrics, which Chief Executive Officer Lin Hunter wants to expand.


Services are available in both English and Spanish.


Pavoni said Lakeside Health Center is a major local treatment center for HIV and hepatitis C, and it participates in national collaborations to track the most effective treatments for those diseases as well as diabetes and heart disease.


They've voluntarily pursued accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAHO), said Pavoni. “It's quite a bit of work to do.”


The Lakeport clinic sees hundreds of people a day. Numbers for Thursday showed close to 60 regular doctor's visits, 52 pediatric patients and 47 dental visits, according to Chief Operating Officer Carole Press.


“The regular medical community is afraid of us,” because they perceive the clinic as taking patients, said Pavoni.


But Press added, “We're really a safety net provider.”


As a federally qualified health center, Lakeside Health Center offers a sliding payment scale for patients, and also takes Medicare and Medi-Cal, Health Families and some private insurance, Press said.


Hunter estimated that the Lakeside Health Center has between 6,000 and 7,000 patients that it serves, with a total of 24,000 patients in the organization's entire Lake and Mendocino County service area.


Hunter said Mendocino Community Health Clinic Inc. recently lost $2 million in Medi-Cal reimbursements for 15,000 visits. The organization's total budget is about $21 million.


The clinic's main facility has 10 to 15 exam rooms and a 10-chair dental facility.


“They're always full,” Hunter said of the dental department. “It's a huge need in this community.”


They're especially proud of their pediatric care facility. Located behind the main building in a newly renovated and expanded facility, the pediatrics center opened in February.


There, Dr. Marlene Quilala sees children in exam rooms decorated with colorful floor tiles and exam tables shaped like dinosaurs, hippos and school buses.


At the luncheon on Friday Heidi Dickerson of Congressman Mike Thompson's office presented the clinic with a plaque commemorating its service to the community in its first decade.


For more information about the center visit www.mchcinc.org/centers/lakeside-center.php or call 707-263-7725.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

 

 

 

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Lakeside Health Center's colorful pediatric medical clinic has dinosaur- and hippo-shaped exam tables to make children feel more comfortable. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 

 

 

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The clinic sees thousands of patients annually. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

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one day baby

I’ll be in the blues hall of fame …

Sugar Pie Desanto


The Queen of the West Coast Blues, Sugar Pie DeSanto, turned 74 years young this past Friday. Earlier in the week, on Oct. 12 and 13, she gigged at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Your CyberSoulMan was road manager for Madame DeSanto’s four-show excursion.


Show biz logistics are a trip. The age old adage that the show must go on is somewhat akin to death and taxes. In order to execute my duties as road manager, I had to leave home at 1:50 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 11, for the three hour drive to Jim Moore’s (Ms. DeSanto’s manager) home in Oakland. I parked my car at Jim’s and we swung over to the House of Sugar, swooped her up and headed for San Francisco Airport. Did I mention that I had to place a wakeup call at 4 a.m. to the Queen? It was the only scheduled call on the trip that I made that she didn’t beat me to the punch and call me first.


We flew out of San Francisco on schedule and through the wonder of time and space travel landed in Minneapolis at about 1:30 p.m. The temperature was an unsizzling 34 degrees. I fondly remembered the day before in Lake County when the midday temperature was in the 80s.


After we deplaned and headed toward baggage claim, I called the club owner who patched me into a three way conversation with our driver Johannes who was waiting for us at carousel 14. Johannes welcomed us to Minnesota and whisked us to our hotel. Yes, it was a five star.


When I finally reached my room after securing Sugar Pie DeSanto in hers, I called the band director, one Curtis Obeda, a left-handed guitar slanger, whose band the Butanes had backed Sugar Pie 12 years ago in St. Louis. I was soon to find out that the Butanes had been voted best Blues band in Minnesota, seven years running.


It was my job to coordinate a rehearsal but it wasn’t gonna happen on Sunday. It seems that the rest of the band was working other jobs though they had rehearsed the material three times using the charts Jim Moore had sent. A tentative plan was made to rehearse on Monday.


Coincidentally, Curtis Obeda’s wife Lolly was being honored as Blues DJ of the year and the festivities courtesy of the Minnesota Blues Society, was being held that very night. Curtis invited Sugar Pie and I. Of course we said of course.


The affair was held at Famous Dave’s Barbeque and we had a rollicking good time. The food was great as was the music. Many folks came to our table and acknowledged Sugar Pie. At about 10 p.m. Curtis took us back to the hotel. I was pretty well done for the day. Of course Sugar Pie the artist needed good rest too. Tomorrow was a big day.


To be continued next week ...


Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts.


*****


Upcoming cool events:


Monday, Oct. 19


Side of Blues with Jim Switzer. 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or www.bluewingsaloon.com .


Thursday, Oct. 22


Open mike night, 6 p.m. Blue Wing Saloon & Café, 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or www.bluewingsaloon.com .


Sunday, Oct. 25


Sunday brunch at the Blue Wing Saloon & Café from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Don Coffin (bluegrass guitar and mandolin) performs from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. 9520 Main St., Upper Lake. Information: 707-275-2233 or www.bluewingsaloon.com .


West Fest 40th Anniversary of Woodstock, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Free event. Acts too numerous to list. For more information go to 2b1records.com .


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

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“Pot Stickers are the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful food I’ve ever known in my life.”


OK, that’s paraphrasing a line from one of my favorite movies, “The Manchurian Candidate,” but I really mean it. They’re my idea of a comfort food.


I don’t remember when I had pot stickers for the first time in my life but it was probably when I was in the military. I experimented with a lot of different cuisines back then. I hadn’t yet started to do much cooking, but these little Asian dumplings were really enchanting.


Pot stickers got their name because the dumplings are typically fried and they stick to the pot. Removing them involves steaming them in the covered pan until the pan releases them.


I enjoy them so much that a few years ago I started making them at home. The salty sour sauce that is served along side of them (try saying that three times fast) infatuates me so much that I want to drink it when the pot stickers are all gone.


Pot stickers are so popular and have infiltrated the mainstream cuisine so thoroughly that they can even be found premade in the frozen foods section of many grocery stores. This fact gives me the giggles, since pot stickers are rumored to have been invented by a famous Chinese herbalist as a treatment for frost bitten ears.


Another story about the creation of pot stickers tells of a cook for a Chinese emperor who accidentally overcooked them. He knew the potentate wouldn’t be pleased with improperly cooked food, so he told him that the crispy part was done on purpose (trust me, the phrase “I meant to do that” marks the creation of many popular recipes and is the mantra of many chefs). The ruler ended up liking the crisp bottom and the recipe lived on. And so, I imagine, did the cook.


The creation of pot stickers is said to have taken place over 7,000 years ago in China. Because of this long history in a well-traveled culture, they have had a chance to be introduced to many countries that adopted them and adapted them to local ingredients and tastes.


In China they are called “jiaozi,” but also and more accurately “guotie” (which means pot stick). In Japan they are called “gyoza” and in Korea “mandu”; there is the Mongolian “buuz,” the Turkish “manti” and even the Slavs have “pierogi.” Joyce Chen coined the term “Peking Ravioli” in the 1950s in her restaurant as a way to sell pot stickers in the mainly Italian neighborhood where her restaurant was located. The list goes on and on. Among each cultures’ versions there are great variances to the recipe, and even several different types within a culture.


Pot stickers are often confused with Chinese dim sum. They are both a type of dumpling, but the main difference is in the cooking method. Dim sum are steamed, while pot stickers are first pan fried and then steamed.


Chinese dim sum also often have numerous fillings to choose from, so you can really enjoy a variety of them more or less – “I could never figure out what that phrase meant, ‘more or less.’” While pot stickers aren’t technically dim sum, they are usually served along side them.


Pot stickers were introduced into Japanese cuisine around the 17th century, and just like the Chinese pot stickers they branched into several types: sui-gyoza (boiled), mushi-gyoza (steamed), age-gyoza (deep fried) and yaki-gyoza (pan fried), just to name a few varieties.


Pot stickers can contain many different types of meats, fish or vegetables, and in the case of pierogi, mashed potatoes and cheese. There are even different thicknesses in the pasta wrapper that the filling is packed in. The thickness of the wrapper many times is what determines the name of the dumpling.


Almost every major grocery store carries won ton wrappers and those are the very same ones used for pot stickers. Many stores even carry both circles and squares, and different sizes of these as well. Pot stickers and gyoza are typically made from very thin, circular shaped wrappers, but feel free to use any of these to make your own. You are only limited by your imagination.


Pot stickers are typically sealed with a decorative fold or crimp but don’t worry if you have trouble making it look just right. I’m not an expert in doing this either; I still practice it from time to time, but I usually wind up getting frustrated and just fold them in half without the decoration. The important thing is just to make sure the seal is tight.


If you are like me and aren’t a skilled wanton wrapper crimper but really want them to look perfect, there is good news. There is actually a gyoza maker where you place your wanton wrapper then your fillings then fold the mold over it seals the pot sticker and gives a somewhat crimped traditional look to the final item. Look for a “gyoza press.”


Here are a few tips on making pot stickers:


  • 3 ½-inch gyoza skins can be found locally in packages of 60. They are smaller, thinner and more delicate than other wonton wrappers, so you may want to try making larger pot stickers for practice.

  • Shred the cabbage for the filling finely while you bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil the cabbage for two to three minutes (until tender) then immediately drain and cool the cabbage. This ensures a nice texture in the finished pot sticker.

  • Lightly moisten two paper towels and place the gyoza wrappers between them as you make the pot stickers. This will keep the wrappers from drying out and yet keep them handy during the assembly process.

  • When you’ve put the filling into the wrapper use your middle finger (since your index finger will most likely have bits of filling on it) to dip into the water and wipe halfway around the edge of skin. Then fold over while gently trying to push out any air bubbles.

  • You can replace the steaming water with chicken stock if you would like to add more flavor.

  • Steaming the pot stickers will typically release them from the pan but you may want to have a fish spatula handy just in case.


Your average pot sticker has about 50 calories, with roughly half of those calories being from fat. If you are interested in entering the International Gyoza Eating Championship in Los Angeles (Aug. 22, 2010), just keep in mind that the record is 231 gyoza eaten in – get this – 10 minutes.


This recipe also will work well with ground chicken, fish, shrimp or lobster (beef and lamb are just too heavy, and turkey might be a little dry).


Now I just have to figure out “How did the old ladies turn into Russians?”


Pot stickers/gyoza


1 pound ground pork

1/2 cup shredded and boiled green cabbage

1/4 cup chopped green onion tops

4 teaspoon soy sauce

2 teaspoon sesame oil

2 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoon fresh ginger grated or smashed

1 teaspoon garlic powder

60 3 ½-inch round gyoza or wonton skins

A couple of teaspoons vegetable oil for frying

Small bowl of water for sealing

Water for steaming.


Thoroughly combine the first eight ingredients; set aside.


Have a sheet pan or other large dish or area to place your completed pot stickers. Put one wonton skin onto your work surface and, using a teaspoon as a measure, scoop up one spoonful of the meat mixture and place it in the center of the wonton.


Dip one finger in water and use it to moisten the edge of one half of the skin. Fold the wonton wrapper over and push out as much air as possible without tearing the skin, and press the edges firmly together forming a seal. Set onto the sheet pan with the seam pointing up like a fin.


When finished assembling all of the pot stickers, prepare a large frying pan with a cover by pouring in about a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Heat the pan over medium heat and add the pot stickers in a single layer, not touching each other. Let cook for two to three minutes until they get a crispy bottom or are firmly stuck to the pan. Add about a quarter to a half a cup of water or stock to the pan and cover, and let steam for two to three minutes more or until the pot stickers no longer stick to the pan.


Remove gently with a spatula and add the next group of pot stickers, repeating the process until complete. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce below.


Simple pot sticker dipping sauce


One part soy sauce

One part rice vinegar

One part water

A couple of drops of sesame oil (or sesame chili oil)


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. Follow him on Twitter, http://twitter.com/Foodiefreak .

LAKE COUNTY – September saw Lake County and California's unemployment rates decreasing, while the national unemployment rate continued to rise.


The latest report from the Employment Development Department showed that Lake County's September unemployment rate was 14.7 percent, down from 15.3 percent in August but up from the 10.2-percent rate recorded in September 2008.


Last month, approximately 3,800 Lake County residents were reported to be unemployed out of a total labor force of 25,890 people, compared to 2,590 people out of work a year ago in a workforce that then measured 25,340 residents.


Statewide, the unemployment rate measured 12.2 percent, with just over 2.2 million people unemployed, according to the Employment Development Department. That's down slightly from the 12.3-percent rate measured in August, when 2.25 million people were out of work.


California's September 2008 unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, at which time almost 1.4 million people were unemployed, according to state records.


The number of people unemployed in California last month was 2,247,000 – down by 13,000

over the month, but up by 799,000 compared with September of last year, according to the Friday report.


The US unemployment rate increased in September, rising to 9.8 percent from 9.7 in August, and up from 6.2 percent in September 2008, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.


In September, Lake's neighboring counties registered the following unemployment rates: Colusa, 14.5 percent; Glenn, 13.8 percent; Mendocino, 10.1 percent; Napa, 8.7 percent; Sonoma, 9.9 percent; and Yolo, 10.9 percent.


Counties with the lowest and highest unemployment rates, respectively, were Marin, with 8 percent, and Imperial, with 30.1 percent.


The Employment Development Department reported that in September California's nonfarm jobs totaled 14,200,400, a decrease of 39,300 over the month, according to a survey of 42,000 California businesses. The year-over-year change – from September 2008 to September 2009 – showed a decrease of 732,700 jobs or a 4.9 percent reduction.


A federal survey of households, done with a smaller sample than the survey of employers, showed a decrease in the number of employed people, the agency reported.


That survey estimated the number of Californians holding jobs in September was 16,137,000, a decrease of 6,000 from August, and down 896,000 from the employment total in September of last year.


EDD’s report on payroll employment – wage and salary jobs – in the state's nonfarm industries totaled 14,200,400 in September, a net loss of 39,300 jobs since the August survey. This followed a loss of 7,200 jobs in August.


The Employment Development Department reported that two categories – natural resources and mining, and trade, transportation and utilities – added jobs over the month, gaining 4,100 jobs. Trade, transportation and utilities posted the largest increase over the month, adding 3,900 jobs.


At the same time, nine categories reported job declines this month, down 43,400 jobs, according to the report. Those categories included construction; manufacturing; information; financial activities; professional and business services; educational and health services; leisure and hospitality; other services; and government. Construction posted the largest decline over the month, down by 14,100 jobs.


From September 2008 to September 2009, nonfarm payroll employment in California dropped by 4.9 percent or 732,700 jobs, according to the Employment Development Department. One industry division, educational and health services, posted job gains over the year, adding 11,800 jobs, a growth of 0.7 percent.


The report also noted that 10 categories had job declines totaling 744,500 over the year. The categories included natural resources and mining; construction; manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; information; financial activities; professional and business services; leisure and hospitality; other services; and government.


Trade, transportation and utilities employment had the largest decline on a numerical basis, down by 172,400 jobs or 6.1 percent, according to the report. Construction posted the largest decline on a percentage basis, down by 19.0 percent, a decrease of 144,000 jobs.


Approximately 744,924 people received regular unemployment insurance benefits during the September survey week, the report noted, compared with 790,099 in August and 500,962 last year.


The Employment Development Department reported that new claims for unemployment insurance were 69,160 in September 2009, compared with 69,488 in August and 53,418 in September of last year.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKE COUNTY – A Community Food Assessment for Lake County has begun and two surveys are under way to help discern what food items are currently being grown and produced locally, as well as the potential demand for those products at retail and institutional outlets locally.


The information collected will be used to inform a local food guide and an effort towards a coordinated online ordering and distribution system for local food producers and buyers.


The surveys can be taken online at http://lccfa.wikispaces.com . Those without Internet access may take the survey or request a copy by contacting Lake County Community Food Assessment information line at 707-995-9060.


Copies of the producer survey is also available at the Agricultural Commissioner’s office at the Lake County Agricultural Center in Lakeport and both surveys are available in the Lake County Administration office at the Courthouse in Lakeport, or downloaded from the Web site.


Deadline to fill out the surveys is Oct. 25.


Having the surveys completed by all Lake County producers and buyers is critically important for the success of this project.


For more information about the Lake County Community Food Assessment, contact JoAnn Saccato at 707-350-1719, or Terre Logsdon at 707-263-2580.


With a grant award to Sutter Lakeside Hospital from the California Endowment on behalf of the Health Leadership Network (HLN), the HLN is able to fund this project with administrative support provided by the Lake County Marketing and Economic Development Program.

ST. HELENA – The Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) plans to start down staffing equipment and personnel starting Monday, Oct. 19.


Due to rain and cooler temperatures the unit is beginning the transition from summer staffing levels to winter staffing.


The unit includes the State Responsibility Areas (SRA) within the counties of Sonoma, Lake, Napa, Yolo, Solano and Colusa.


The transition from summer staffing to winter staffing results in the release of seasonal fire suppression employees, down staffing some fire equipment, and the termination of contracts for fixed wing aircraft such as air tankers.


Chief Ernie Loveless points out that “the reduction in staffing and resources is indicative of a major reduction in the wildland fire danger. However, residents need to remember that even with the welcome rains, a period of dry windy conditions could dry fuels to the point where wildland fires are possible.”


Cal Fire is prepared to quickly “ramp up” if conditions here or elsewhere in the state dictate.


The transition to winter staffing however, does not signal the end of fire protection responsibilities for Cal Fire locally.


Cal Fire provides year round emergency response as the fire department for Napa County, the town of Yountville, the South Lake Fire Protection District and The Sea Ranch. Additional response is also provided by contract to the Cloverdale Fire Protection District and to Sonoma County in both the western and southern portions of the county.


The agency also provides personnel and incident management expertise for emergencies statewide, including earthquakes and floods.

Only death and taxes are certain; sometimes they even come together. So everyone should know some basic tax issues associated with inheritances.


The taxes potentially involved are federal estate taxes, federal and state personal income taxes, federal and state fiduciary income taxes, and local real property taxes. Let’s examine them separately.


Federal estate taxes now only affect persons transferring more than $3.5 million at death to their surviving family, excluding gifts left to the surviving spouse – there is an unlimited marital deduction for transfers to surviving spouses.


The $3.5 million is the net worth of the decedent considering all assets, including life insurance. Also, a generation skipping transfer tax may apply when more than $3.5 million is left to related persons more than one generation younger than the decedent (e.g., grandchildren), unless the intervening generation has predeceased the decedent, or is left to unrelated persons who are more than 37.5 years younger.


What about personal income tax? Personal income tax only applies to transfers of items of income in respect of a decedent (IRD).


What is IRD? IRD is anything that would have been included as ordinary income on the decedent’s annual tax return, if received while alive.


Examples include unpaid retirement monies (such as IRAs, annuities, and 401(k)s) and earned but unpaid compensation. Not included as IRD is life insurance. The proceeds are not subject to income tax unless an exception to the “no taxation” of life insurance proceeds applies.


The receipt of property – other than IRD – is not income taxable; there is, however, often an income tax opportunity for the beneficiary who receives property from a decedent. Specifically, any appreciation in value that occurred while the decedent owned the property is eliminated at death and will not be subject to capital gains income tax. That is, the beneficiary receives a so-called “step up in basis” based on date of death appraisal.


For example, if the decedent bought his house in 1970 for $75,000, the decedent had a purchase cost basis of $75,000. If he dies on June 25, 2009, when it is worth $250,000 and leaves it all to his son, then the son’s basis for income tax purposes is stepped up to $250,000, thus eliminating all $175,000 of appreciation when the son sells.


If a deceased person’s estate is held within a trust or probate estate, then a so-called fiduciary income tax return is usually required, and taxes may be due at the estate level. Because trusts pay taxes at the highest graduated rate once their taxable income reaches around $11,000, it is prudent to distribute the taxable income out to the beneficiaries prior to the trust’s own tax year end to avoid paying higher trust tax rates. Taxation of trusts is a very complex, so rely on a qualified tax expert here.


Next, death can trigger a reassessment in value for local (county) real property taxes. With the exceptions of the interspousal transfer exclusion and parent child transfer exclusion for transfers of one’s primary residence and up to one million dollars in other additional real property to surviving children (and sometimes grandchildren), all other transfers trigger a reassessment in tax value to the recipient at time of transfer.


Accordingly, when a decedent’s estate consists of real property and other substantial assets and one child wants to receive a particular real property asset, there is a planning opportunity if the real property in question is left directly by the parent to that child.


Otherwise, if that child buys out his or her siblings, then the portion that is purchased from the other siblings will be reassessed, as there is no exclusion for transfers between siblings.


In conclusion, there are numerous tax opportunities and pitfalls to be considered carefully when planning and subsequently administering a person’s estate.


Dennis A. Fordham, attorney (LL.M. tax studies), is a State Bar Certified Specialist in Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Law. His office is at 55 1st St., Lakeport, California. Dennis can be reached by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 707-263-3235.

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