Sunday, 14 April 2024

News

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

 

 

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


The association made the announcement Friday.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

 

 

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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WASHINGTON, DC – On Tuesday Congressman Mike Thompson (D-Napa Valley) introduced the “Taxpayer Protection Act,” which would impose a 90 percent tax on all bonuses paid by businesses such as AIG that received rescue money from the government.


Public outrage has been mounting over the last week, in the wake of the announcement that AIG was paying $165 million in bonuses to executives.


“It’s outrageous that some of the same bankers who helped create this economic mess are now going to be rewarded for their failures with taxpayer dollars,” said Thompson. “By taxing all bonuses paid out by companies that received money to help them stay afloat, we’ll send a message to these folks that business as usual is no longer acceptable. I would prefer to tax these bonuses at 100 percent but that level is considered confiscatory and doesn’t pass legal muster.”


Currently, the IRS withholds 25 percent from bonuses less than $1 million and 35 percent for bonuses more than $1 million dollars.


Under Congressman Thompson’s legislation, any entity that received assistance under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 would be subject to a bonus tax rate of 90 percent.


Thompson is a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over all tax-related matters coming before Congress.


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


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


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


Foreclosure scams run amok


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


The state Department of Consumer Affairs, at its Take Charge California Web site has a page set up just to address various scams (www.takechargeca.ca.gov/besafe/scams.shtml).


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


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


Some of their tips:


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

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

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

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

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


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


Scam preys on support for military


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


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


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


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


Beware the sweepstakes letter


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


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


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


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


Mystery shopping scam


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED WITH ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FROM THE FIRE DISTRICT.


CLEARLAKE OAKS – Officials have offered new information regarding a crash that occurred late Monday.


The collision occurred shortly before 5 p.m. Monday on Highway 20 near Walker Ridge Road, as Lake County News has reported.


Officer Steve Tanguay reported that 23-year-old Josephine Boylen of Oceanside was driving her 2006 Chevy Malibu eastbound on Highway 20, east of Walker Ridge road. Sally Ford, 23, of Stockton was riding as Boylen's passenger.


Tanguay said he didn't yet have information on the crash's cause.


Northshore Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Pat Brown said the area where the crash took place, at mile marker 44.19, has had six major vehicle accidents in the past two years, which Caltrans officials confirmed to Lake County News.


Brown said that they've conducted four rope rescues in the area, all of which use a lot of equipment, manpower and advanced training.


The vehicle went off the roadway and was down a 75-foot embankment, according to Northshore Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Pat Brown. He said a low-angle rope rescue was necessary to rescue the two women from the crash.


Sixteen personnel from Northshore Fire and Lake County Fire Protection districts, and the Williams Fire Authority, Brown said. The response was part of a mutual aid program established between the Williams Fire Authority and agencies in Lake County.


Brown said extrication included using power equipment that had to be lowered down in stokes liter. Both patients were then secured and raised up the hill using rope rescue. With extrication and rescue the first patient was loaded into a medic vehicle within 45 minutes.


Tanguay said Boylen was transported by Lake County Fire Protection District ambulance to St. Helena Hospital Clearlake for minor injuries, while Ford was transported by a Northshore Fire Protection District ambulance to a landing zone, and was taken by REACH to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital for moderate injuries.


In all, Northshore Fire has conducted six rope rescues in the last two years, said Brown. Rescue 7511, based at the Clearlake Oaks Fire Station, is set up as a medium Office of Emergency Services rescue vehicle. He said it was purchased by St. Helena Hospital Clearlake, with Northshore Fire purchasing all of the equipment.


Brown added that rope rescue training has been supported by each fire district and the Lake County fire chiefs.


Officer Mark Crutcher is investigating the collision's cause, Tanguay said.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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One major advantage to leaving your real property to your children (and in some limited cases to one’s grandchildren) is California’s exclusion from real property tax reassessment (Revenue and Tax Code section 63.1).


This is because if you owned the real property for many years prior to the transfer at death, then your tax base is usually low in today’s prices. Preserving your low tax base for your children when they inherit can sometimes be a tricky issue. Let’s now examine two hypothetical scenarios frequently encountered in the administration of a deceased parent’s estate.


The first scenario is where the parents leave their entire estate equally amongst all their children and the trustee or executor wishes to do a so-called “non pro rata” in-kind distribution of the deceased parents’ estate; that is, to transfer title to one residence “in-kind” entirely to one child (usually) and to transfer other offsetting estate assets (e.g., other real property or cash) to the other child(ren).


The real property tax issue raised herein is whether the transfer of the home to one child alone qualifies entirely for the parent to child reassessment exclusion, or whether involves a partial transfer of ownership interest amongst the children (e.g., a disguised sale of the other children’s inheritance rights in the real property to the sole child who ends up with 100 percent ownership).


In order for 100 percent of the property’s value to qualify for the exclusion the transfer must be entirely between parent and child; meaning that no child exchanged or sold his/her inheritance interests in the subject real property as there is no exclusion from reassessment for inter sibling transfers. This means proving that the other child(ren) who did not receive a property interest in the real property received other estate assets such that all children ultimately received an equal share of the estate when the estate is fully settled.


That entails current appraisals of the estate assets (valid at time of distribution) and in-kind and/or cash distributions to the other children that offset the value of the real property received by one child so that the shares of each child are equal.


For example, if you have two children and two residences of equal appraised value then one residence can go from the parent’s estate to each child and be covered by the parent child exclusion. If, however, one residence is say worth $50,000 more than the other, then $50,000 in additional value (cash or appraised property) must also go to the child receiving the lesser valued home.


Next, the second scenario is where the deceased parents’ home is substantially all of their estate’s value and the trustee or executor in settling the estate wishes to give that home to one child but still treat the other children equally with cash.


Here the trustee or the executor must loan cash from a third party – never from the children – both to create liquidity and to reduce the net value of the residence. Then the encumbered property can be distributed to the child who must takes subject to the loan and the other children receive offsetting cash (derived from the loan).


In the end each child ends up with the same value (albeit one with real property and the others with cash). It is imperative that the cash loan not be provided by the child who is to receive the real property, because this will be treated by the assessor as a purchase by that child of the other children’s inheritance rights in the real property – e.g., a sale not exempted by the parent child exclusion.


Dennis A. Fordham is an attorney licensed to practice law in California and New York. He earned his BA at Columbia University, his JD at the State University of New York at Buffalo,and his LL.M in Taxation at New York University. He concentrates his practice in the areas of estate planning and aspects of elder law. He can be reached at dennis@dennisfordhamlaw, by phone at 263-3235 or at his office at 55 First St., Lakeport.


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THIS STORY HAS BEEN UPDATED.


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


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


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


The report said the driver suffered minor injuries.


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


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


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


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


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


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COBB – Faced with county and state permit violations, Bottle Rock Power Corp. is currently working to sort out violations related to its geothermal operations on Cobb Mountain.


The power plant, currently owned by a partnership between US Renewables Group and Carlyle/Riverstone Renewable Energy Infrastructure Fund I, reopened in 2007 after being closed for many years. The Department of Water Resources had originally operated the plant.


Last fall, neighbors in the area began holding a series of public meetings with county officials and plant representatives over their concerns with a variety of plant-related issues, from noise and truck traffic to the disposal of materials created by geothermal drilling, as Lake County News has reported.


Rick Coel, director of Lake County's Community Development Department, said the county sent the plant violation notices in the second week of January.


“Bottle Rock has been working pretty feverishly to rectify some of these problems,” Coel said.


Melissa Floyd, the county's geothermal coordinator, said the county's issues with the plant involve drill cuttings left in a meadow, grading roads and firebreaks, reporting and contingency plans, construction of berms around drill pads, financial assurances, sumps – ponds used to store materials from the drilling – and freeboard, which is the space between the top of the materials in the sumps and the top of the basin.


The county required Bottle Rock Power to come into “substantial compliance” by March 1, with the understanding that some items on the list will require waiting until the dry season because they involve substantial grading, said Floyd. She said she's received contingency plans for the completion of additional measures. The completion dates range from the coming weeks to after the end of the rainy season.


The State Water Resources Control Board also cited the plant last fall based on complaint from a neighbor, said Joe Karkoski, acting assisting executive officer.


A concern for the state was that the plant had not collected necessary data on their operation, he said.


Then there was the issue of freeboard and disposal. “Those are issues that are potential threats to water quality,” said Karkoski.


However, he noted that the problem is being addressed. The plant lowered the level of materials in the sumps to achieve the required 2 feet of freeboard to prevent overtopping, thus restoring the safety margin. He said Bottle Rock Power hired a consultant to work with the state on the resolving the violations.


Karkoski said the agency hasn't made a determination that any water quality problems in the area have resulted from the operations.


The state also was concerned about improper disposal of materials from the sumps on a meadow. However, Karkosi and Guy Childs, a State Water Resources Control Board engineering geologist, said the plant was looking at moving those materials in early November and the plant has since changed its disposal practices.


“That's part of what our conversation is going to be with them, is to get them on track and make sure they're taking care of this material properly,” said Karkoski. “At this point they're being cooperative and responding to the issues that have been raised.”


This is the only dealing the water board has had with Bottle Rock Power, said Karkoski.


He said the agency has a progressive enforcement policy, which begins with working with a discharger to come into compliance. If that doesn't work, they pursue other options, with the more severe possibilities being fines of $1,000 a day.


“Our feedback from the state and the county is that we are meeting their expectations,” said Bottle Rock Compliance Manager Karon Thomas.


Thomas said the plant was working on the issues prior to the issuance of the notices of violation.


“The materials from the meadow were removed, they were never meant to stay there,” she said.


The nonhazardous soil drill cuttings were completely cleaned up prior to Oct. 15, said Thomas, which is a month earlier than the state indicated.


The meadow has since been hydroseeded and the materials taken to a facility, Thomas said.


She said she believed the plant's neighbors misunderstood what the procedures were and what actually was happening with the drill cuttings.


Thomas said the plant also has a permit proposal for a dewatering unit to handle rainwater in the sumps in order to ensure the freeboard margin is maintained. She said 3 feet of freeboard has been achieved at the Francisco and Coleman drill sumps.


Reid Morgan, community liaison officer, said each of the meetings with the community “has been better than the last one,” in terms of general progress being made.


He said the noise levels of the drill pads appear to have been handled through a three-level system of sound walls, blankets around the rigs and walls around the rigs' diesel engines.


Plant officials are working on road maintenance and improvement issues, and have completed a road study. Work on High Valley Road and the bridge will have to wait for better weather, said Morgan. They're also monitoring the speed of truck drivers and plant personnel on the roads.


Neighbor David Coleman has mixed feelings about the plant's work to handle its issues.


“The power plant is attempting to do things,” he said. “The problem I have is they made so many mistakes from the beginning.”


Coleman's family members were some of the area's original homesteaders in the 1860s. His property is adjacent to more than 300 acres which are occupied by the plant's operations.


The steamfields at the location were operating in the 1970s, he said, and the plant began operating in the early 1980s. Some of the drill sites are even named for his family.


He said the plant's original permits clearly lay out how it's supposed to be operated, and he faults the current owners for failing to comply with those guidelines.


“I think they're worried,” he said of the plant's operators. “They're making a dramatic effort to make changes.”


While he said the materials in the sumps and drill cuttings aren't toxic “per se,” when considering the chemicals in the ground and those used in high temperature drilling, “over a number of years this stuff adds up.”


He said he's not as concerned with sound issues from the plant, which he said has always been loud.


“I can live with the sound, whereas I can't live with the stuff that's going into the system,” he said.


Coleman is pleased with the state's rapid response to the plant's violations. He said he has friends who work with state government who told him that it's unheard of to get a notice of violation within six months.


And he's upfront in noting that he is the one who complained about the plant to the state. In fact, he said he has contacted many state and local agencies, and will continue to do so, in an effort to keep the heat on Bottle Rock Power so that they comply.


He added, “I've tried to cut them more slack than some of my neighbors have.”


Coleman added that he's been on good terms with the plant's operators since they started.


He maintains the sumps are illegal. The basins have 2-foot-thick clay liners that permit specifications say are only good for eight months. The sumps have been in use for 30 years. He said the sumps have been compromised and may have been leaking into the ground for years.


Coleman said his contact at the plant is Morgan, who he called “a very realistic person.” He said if he shows Morgan a problem, he's willing to accept it and work on it.


Still to be addressed, however, is an issue brought up at a recent community meeting with the plant's operators late last month, in which it was noted that a steam line is starting to fail.


Coleman said he's also asked for core samples to be conducted on the meadow and around the sumps to find if the liners have failed. “They say it's in the works.”


The next step, Coleman said, is for the community to get a time line of when the plant's improvements will be done, who will do them and the process that's involved.


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


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Upper Lake High School's Academic Decathlon team, pictured here after their win at the county level on Saturday, February 7, 2009, placed sixth among small Division 3 schools at the 30th annual California Academic Decathlon, held in Sacramento March 13 to 16. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 

 

 


UPPER LAKE – Upper Lake High School's academic decathletes put on a strong performance in the California Academic Decathlon over the weekend, with one student capturing 10 individual medals.


The team, led by former academic decathlete and first-year coach Anna Sabalone, placed sixth out of 20 teams in Division 3, the category for small schools, according to the final results released by state officials on Monday.


This year's topic was Latin America. The competition took place in Sacramento.


Upper Lake's team consisted of Kyle Coleman, Courtney Havrilla, Belarmino Garcia Jr. and alternate Sarah Barnes, honors category (grade point averages of 3.75 to 4.0); Marisa Feliciano-Garcia, Stephanie Tregea, Thonyoon Chao and alternate Hannah Johnson, scholastic (GPAs of 3.0 to 3.74); and Chae Carter, Ben Mullin, Megan Morgan and alternate Brenda Mendoza, varsity (GPAs of 2.99 and below). Sabalone is head coach, with Steve Harness acting as assistant coach.


The competition emphasizes teamwork. However, one Upper Lake student emerged as a star in the competition – Ben Mullin, who was among the county competition's most decorated individual academic decathletes.


Mullin was the highest scoring student in Division 3's varsity category, with a point total of 7,172.1. Overall, he was ranked 41st amongst highest-scoring students. More than 500 students from 39 counties competed.


In addition to winning top honors for the division's varsity category, Mullin also placed first amongst Division 3 varsity students in the Super Quiz and social science; tied for first in interview and speech; and placed second in art, economics, essay, language and literature, and music.

 

 

 

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Ben Mullin, pictured here in February, won 10 individual medals at the state Academic Decathlon competition, held March 13 through 16, 2009, in Sacramento. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

 


Mullin's teammate, Marisa Feliciano-Garcia, won second place in the Division 3 scholastic category for her performance in the interview.


The overall winner for all divisions was Ventura County's Moorpark High School, with 50,752.9 points.


Upper Lake scored 35,444.5 points in competition, up from the 34,736 points it scored to win the Lake County Academic Decathlon title in February, as Lake County News has reported.


Finishing ahead of Upper Lake in Division 3 were Acalanes High School, Contra Costa County, 37,879.9 points; Marysville High School, Yuba County, 36,087.8 points; Ponderosa High School, El Dorado County, 35,849 points; Summerville High School, Tuolumne County, 35,694.2 points; Davis High School, Yolo County, 35,523.9 points.


Overall, Upper Lake's team finished 46th out of 60 teams in large, middle and small school divisions.


In the Super Quiz, Imperial County's Central Union High School placed first in Division 3 with 4,005 points. Upper Lake finished 12th overall in the Super Quiz, with 3,340 points. Los Angeles Unified's El Camino High School topped all divisions in the Super Quiz with 5,650 points.


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


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