Thursday, 18 July 2024


The front entrance of the Serenity Cove resort, according to an artist's rendering.


CLEARLAKE – A vacation complex to be built on an existing resort has earned the enthusiastic support of the Clearlake Planning Commission as well as city residents, who say the project will help the city's tourism and its look.

At its regular meeting Nov. 6, the Clearlake Planning Commission approved a use permit for Serenity Cove, a 138-unit vacation condominium project, said Commissioner Al Bernal.

The project also will include a restaurant open to the public, a 50-slip marina, a clubhouse, swimming pool and pier/dock, according to city planning documents.

Serenity Cove is currently known as Funtime Resort, but is commonly known as the old Garner’s Resort on Old Highway 53, Bernal explained.

Proposing the development is the firm Serenity Cove LLC, based in San Francisco.

The group includes Leo Cassidy, John McMahon and Damian Johnston, three Irishmen who met after arriving in the United States, Cassidy told Lake County News in an interview.

“We've been friends for a very long time and have been going to the lake there for 20 to 25 years,” said Cassidy.

Since then, he said he's gotten to know every inch of the lake, and watched the community go through transitions. “I've seen seen a lot of changes all through the years there,” Cassidy said.

Recognizing the area's potential, and understanding its resort past, Cassidy said he and his partners began exploring purchasing property for a development.

First, they looked at the Lamplighter Resort, but Cassidy said the “previous regime” in the city's building department raised enough issues with the plan that he walked away from it.

Next, the group began looking at Garner's Resort three years ago, going through a due diligence process because of the potential risk involved in the sizable project. He said they purchased the resort two years ago and began working with city staff on the project.

The five-story condominium development will include 138 units with one, two or three bedrooms in order to serve everyone from single visitors and couples to families, said Cassidy. The entire development will be accessible from the water and open to the public, Cassidy said.

A boardwalk will link to nearby Anderson Marsh State Park, which has plans to expand its walking trails, Cassidy said.

“We put a lot of thought into this,” he said.

The hope, he added, is for the resort to draw back tourism to Clearlake, offering a place with amenities that will appeal to everyone from fishermen to families.

Cassidy also hopes the resort will help draw bass tournaments back to Clearlake. “All the fish are not in Lakeport,” he said.

He suggested Serenity Cove could be a mini Konocti Harbor.

Cassidy said he has been in construction for many years, and has completed developments around the country, most of them much bigger than this one. He said some of his projects include high rises in Miami and Honolulu.

City approves project basics

Clearlake City Administrator Dale Neiman processed the Serenity Cove use permit.

“My conclusion, it's a good project for the city,” Neiman said.

Neiman said the resort currently is permitted for 128 units, so the development Cassidy and his partners are proposing would only increase that by 10 units.

He said there will be a homeowners association, and he foresees retirees, people seeking second homes and young professionals buying the resort's condominiums.

The resort currently has 17 older mobile homes, none of which are in good condition, along with one RV, said Neiman.

Eight of the mobiles are occupied by a total of 16 permanent residents, said Neiman. A survey of the property owners discovered two very low income households, five low income households and one in the moderate income bracket.

Neiman said the residents will need to be relocated before construction can begin. He said it hasn't been decided if relocation assistance will be provided.

None of the residents came forward to ask for assistance at the Nov. 6 Planning Commission meeting, said Neiman. Two of the residents spoke at the meeting and said they saw no problem with the development.

Project gets enthusiastic response

Bernal said a large crowd came to the Nov. 6 Planning Commission meeting. Besides the developer, speakers included resort residents, neighboring property owners, Clearlake business owners and Clearlake Vision Task Force members. He said no attendees at the meeting spoke against the project.

Cassidy said he believes the project is receiving support because “this is a development the City of Clearlake is crying out for.”

The commission had to resolve three issues prior to giving approval for the use permit, according to Bernal. Those issues were the five-story height of the three buildings on the site, preservation of the oak trees on the site and traffic safety concerns for entry and exit to and from the project. The issues were resolved.

The height of the building, said Bernal, will not be an issue for fire protection and will not result in restrictions of views from adjoining properties.

By letting the developers build upward, said Neiman, the city was able to get an exchange on open space, which will help preserve almost all of the eight-acre property's numerous oak trees.

Bernal said only five of 38 mature oaks, some already diseased, will be removed.

On the issue of traffic, the area of the property that faces Old Highway 53 will include road widening to allow for turn lanes, lessening the traffic concerns, Bernal reported.

“What impressed me the most is we've got outside investors and developers that see the potential of Clearalake – the water, the climate – and they're willing to invest in us,” said Bernal.

The quality of the proposed development, its efforts to promote the city and tourism, and the developers' efforts to work with the city, resort residents and neighbors, all strengthened the project's appeal, Bernal explained.

In addition, he said the project dovetails with the goals of the Clearlake Vision Task Force report, which seeks to improve the city's tourism as a way of strengthening the economy.

An added benefit is that the project is a major upgrade of a property currently already used as a resort facility, Bernal said.

Resort won't be built right away

Everyone agrees that construction on the Serenity Cove resort project is still at least two years out.

Bernal said the Planning Commission's use permit approval is the first step towards actual construction of the project.

Next, the developers must gain approval by the State Department of Real Estate and process a subdivision map through the City of Clearlake, Bernal explained.

Then, said Neiman, the developers need to solidify financing, finish construction drawings and submit them to the city, and satisfy the different utility companies' requirements.

When building starts will depend largely upon the market, which has now slowed down, said Cassidy.

The pricing of the condominiums also will depend on how the market looks in a few years, said Cassidy.

By that time, the developing partners will have decided on the materials for the project, which Cassidy said he considered to be “green.” No decision has been made about using solar power, he added.

Cassidy is confident that the market will turn a corner, and he said he believes the coming decade has a lot in store for Clearlake.

“I believe there's going to be major changes up there,” he said.

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An artist's rendition shows the resort's marina.




The resort's restaurant, accessible from the water, shown in an artist's rendition.




An artist's conception of how the resort would appear from the street.




The resort would be accessible from nearby park land.





CLEARLAKE – It isn't every day that you can get a guy with a gun on his hip to cheerfully serve you breakfast or lunch.

But that was just the case on Thursday, when local law enforcement officers could be found – complete with smiles and speedy table service – at Main Street Bar and Grill for “Tip-A-Cop,” a fundraiser for Lake County Special Olympics.

Officer Adam Garcia of the California Highway Patrol said the event, which took place between 6:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., raised $1,758 in tips. Main Street Bar and Grill owner Sam Polo matched that amount, bringing the total to approximately $3,516.

“Sam is very generous to us today,” said Garcia.

Garcia said the the agencies participating included the Lake County Sheriff's Office, Probation Department, CHP, Lakeport Police and Clearlake Police.

“I think it's a worthy cause for our community,” said Garcia.

Approximately 65 athletes, ranging in age from 5 to 65, take part in Special Olympics locally, said Special Olympics volunteer Kristina Navarro.

In Lake County, there are events for the athletes year-round, said Navarro. A bowling tournament is scheduled for Nov. 24 at Lakeside Lanes.

Athletes also can compete to qualify for regional events, Navarro said.

There are two Tip-A-Cop events each year, said Navarro – besides the Clearlake event, there is one in Lakeport, which is held earlier in the year – along with a Torch Run and the Scorchin' Torch Poker Run.

Ruth Fortino, who has worked as a waitress at the restaurant for seven years, said the officers and deputies were doing well on their table-waiting assignments, and all were “eager to help.”

“It's been fun,” she said.

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LOWER LAKE – Downed power lines late Wednesday closed Highway 29 and resulted in a fire.

The California Highway Patrol reported that live power lines were down across the roadway at Highway 29 and Murphy Springs Road at just after 8 p.m.

Lake County Sheriff's deputies, CHP, Pacific Gas & Electric and local firefighters responded, according to the logs. Cal Fire also was called but later canceled, according to Cal Fire's Incident Command Center.

At 8:23 p.m. sheriff's officials reported a fire had broken out in the area, according to the CHP logs.

At the same time, traffic was being routed around the closed roadway so that cars came out at Hidden Valley, according to the CHP.

CHP reported that the roadway had reopened by 9:23 p.m.

The downed power lines were caused by a tree falling into the lines a quarter-mile south of Murphy Springs Road at 7:55 p.m., said PG&E spokesman JD Guidi.

Approximately 58 customers were affected, Guidi said. Power was restored to all customers by about 10 p.m.

Harold LaBonte contributed to this report.

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UPPER LAKE – Dry weather, possible annexations and system upgrades have all been concerns for the Upper Lake County Water District this year, but the district reports that it's managing the challenges through planning and help from its customer base.

It's been a dry year across the state, and the impacts have been hard on some areas of the county. But Rachelle Henry, general manager for the Upper Lake County Water District, told her board at its Nov. 15 meeting that the district's customers have stepped up.

The district didn't issue a call for conservation, said Henry. But their pumping hours for this October totaled 150, down from 231 at the same time last year.

Henry told Lake County News in an interview after the meeting that she hasn't seen a year this dry during the five years she's been with the district.

“Our wells are down, definitely,” she said.

But the district's customers – accounting for 402 hookups – took on the matter of saving water, she said.

“I'd like to get the word out there about how grateful we are to our constituents,” she said.

Understanding annexation issues

The district's board is now in the process of reviewing a basic annexation agreement that the district could possibly use when future projects are presented, said Henry.

Two possible annexations looming in the future are the Meadow Point mobile home park near Judy's Junction restaurant and the Habematolel Pomo's proposed casino project, said Henry. The district originally was told that the tribe wanted to break ground for the casino in 2008.

Neither project has made a formal application to the district for annexation, Henry said.

However, Habematolel members attended the district board's Oct. 10 meeting to give the district a check for $7,727.33 to cover an engineering study. Henry said the study explored hooking the casino up to the district as well as other alternatives to provide water to the project.

If the tribe does make formal application to join the district, Henry said that the district doesn't have to approve it.

A Bureau of Indian Affairs environmental study on the casino had a lot of holes in it, according to district board members. Henry sent a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs dated June 18, in which she outlined some of the issues, including pointing out that water quality and supply and hydrologic studies needed to be completed prior to the project's approval, not after.

She also explained that the bureau used a 2001 opinion survey on Upper Lake residents' response to a community arch as a basis for community acceptance of the casino. The casino, she pointed out, wasn't on the drawing board at that time.

Henry and the district's board members said they want the district's current customers to weigh in on any possibly annexations.

District upgrades under way

Henry reported that the district's master plan calls for updating its outdated pipe.

Today, 6-inch pipes are considered minimum size for systems such as Upper Lake's, yet in some places they found pipes as small as 2 inches, she explained. They've already replaced several areas of the small pipe to bring it up to accepted standards.

Board Chair Allen Merriman pointed out that the district has had fewer broken pipes and leak problems recently.

Henry said the district doesn't have a hookup moratorium.

The small district does, however, needs money to make system improvements, said Henry.

Last May, capacity expansion and connection fees rose from $3,000 to $10,200, Henry said. A district study found the overall fee should cost $20,400, but the district decided to reduce the fee.

In other district news, at a special meeting Nov. 28, the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) will hold public hearings on the spheres of influence updates for the Upper Lake, Clearlake Oaks and Konocti County Water Districts, according to LAFCO documents.

The Upper Lake district's next board meeting will take place Dec. 12.

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Craig Lemke was sentenced to 68 years to life in prison on Thursday. Lake County Jail photo.


LAKEPORT – A man found guilty last month of robbing an elderly couple received a stiff sentence Thursday.

Craig Alvin Lemke, 45, of Lakeport was convicted Oct. 2 of a February 2006 home invasion robbery in Lower Lake, as Lake County News previously reported.

Lemke was found guilty of two counts of first degree robbery, first degree burglary, elder theft, two counts of false imprisonment of an elderly person and grand theft of firearms, according to a previous report from Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff.

Lemke also was found guilty of several special allegations, including two previous “strikes,” three prior prison terms between 1986 and 1996, committing a felony while released on own recognizance and crimes against elders were found to be true, Hinchcliff reported in an October interview.

Lemke's attorney, Jason Webster, attempted to get one of the strikes dismissed, but Judge Stephen Hedstrom didn't agree, said Hinchcliff.

On Thursday, Hedstrom sentenced Lemke to 68 years to life in prison, Hinchcliff said.

The prior strikes, which Hedstrom wouldn't discount, doubled the sentence, said Hinchcliff.

Lemke's prior strikes, said Hinchcliff, “arose out of a case just like this.”

In that particular case, Hinchcliff said Lemke went into a home, bound a man and his 15-year-old nephew with tape, and robbed them.

“He went to prison for that for seven years,” Hinchcliff said.

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CLEARLAKE OAKS – Three men are recovering after they were injured in a single-car collision on Wednesday morning.

California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia reported that the crash took place at 7:37 a.m. Wednesday on Highway 20.

Andrew Colsen, 38, of Lakeport was driving a 1993 Jeep Wrangler eastbound on SR-20 west of Harvey Boulevard near Clearlake Oaks when the collision occurred, Garcia reported.

According to Garcia, Colsen continued traveling straight while in a right curve, which caused the Jeep to go off the north road edge and hit a tree.

Although Colsen was wearing his seatbelt, the shoulder harness was disconnected, causing him to strike the steering wheel with his chest, according to Garcia.

Colsen sustained major non-life threatening injuries, said Garcia, and was transported to Sutter Lakeside Hospital by Northshore Fire District rescue personnel.

Passengers Bruce Blair, 48, and Bill Galloway, 30, both of Nice, also sustained moderate to major injuries in this collision and were treated at Sutter Lakeside Hospital, Garcia reported.

Garcia said neither speed nor alcohol are believed to be a factor in the collision.

Officer Brendan Bach is investigating the incident, Garcia said.

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LAKE COUNTY – The county's October unemployment rate edged slightly upward from September and was noticeably higher over October 2006, according to the latest state figures.


Lake County’s October 2007 unemployment rate was 7.4 percent, up 0.4 percent from September and 1.4 percent above the year-ago, October 2006 rate, according to a report from Dennis Mullins of Employment Development Department's Labor Market Information Division.

October's jobless 7.4 percent jobless rate in Lake County compares to a seasonally unadjusted rate of 5.4 percent for California and 4.4 percent for the U.S., Mullins reported.

Some surrounding county rates included 9.2 percent for Colusa, 5.0 percent for Mendocino and 4.4 percent for Sonoma, Mullins added. Marin again had the lowest rate in the state with 3.8 percent and Imperial County had the highest at 20.3 percent.

Lake County's October unemployment rate ranks it 44 among the state's 58 counties.

Total industry employment increased 470 jobs (3.1 percent) between October 2006 and October 2007, ending the year-over period with 15,810 jobs, according to Mullins' report.

Year-over job growth, Mullins reported, occurred in farm; trade, transportation and utilities; information; private educational and health services; leisure and hospitality; other services; and government.

Year-over job losses occurred in natural resources, mining, and construction; and professional and business services, Mullins noted.

Industry sectors with no change over the year were manufacturing and financial activities, Mullins added.

The farm sector again led industry gainers adding 190 jobs for the year, according to Mullins. Private educational and health services gained 120 jobs and government added 100.

In addition, Mullins reported that trade, transportation and utilities gained 50; leisure and hospitality, and other services were up 30 jobs each; information picked up 10 jobs.

Losing jobs, according to Mullins, were natural resources, mining and construction, which shed 50 jobs, and professional and business services dropped 10 for the year-over period.


LAKE COUNTY – The judge who was to preside over the double murder trial of a San Francisco man brought proceedings to a halt Thursday when he granted the defense's request to take the trial to another county. {sidebar id=31}

Judge William McKinstry, a retired judge from Alameda County assigned to the Renato Hughes Jr. trial, granted defense attorney Stuart Hanlon's change of venue motion the fourth such motion Hanlon has made this year, according to District Attorney Jon Hopkins.

“I'm still speechless,” said Hopkins late Thursday.

Even Hanlon admitted to being surprised, but said it was necessary because of the jury's exposure to the media.

He said 50 percent of those jurors seated had been exposed to media reports about the case.

“I'm really glad it happened,” Hanlon said of the venue change motion being granted.

Hughes is being tried under the provocative act theory for the murders of his friends, Rashad Williams and Christian Foster, who were shot to death by Shannon Edmonds as they ran from his home on Dec. 7, 2005.

Edmonds was not charged for the deaths of Williams and Foster, who – along with Hughes – were allegedly in his home to rob him. Hopkins told Lake County News in a Wednesday interview that former District Attorney Gary Luck didn't believe they could prove a case against Edmonds.

But the provocative act theory holds Hughes responsible because he took part in a crime that resulted in a lethal response – in this case, Edmonds' shooting of Hughes' two friends.

Judge makes decision after jury seated

McKinstry did not cite racial composition or media coverage as the basis of his decision, said Hopkins.

Rather, McKinstry granted the venue change based on the number of jurors excused for various causes, said Hopkins.

“He added up the number of challenges without any regard for what they were based on,” said Hopkins.

In the case of one prospective white male juror dismissed on Wednesday, that included religious beliefs, according to this reporter's courtroom observations.

McKinstry said the number of challenges “gave him a doubt as to whether there could be a fair trial,” Hopkins reported.

Hanlon, however, claimed McKinstry talked about media exposure and race issues in making his decision.

The issue of Lake County's small racial minority came out in the jury selection process, said Hanlon. The court originally issued 350 jury questionnaires, with most of the people being selected as prospective jurors have little or no contact with blacks.

The selection process, said Hanlon, “convinced the judge that this was not the right place for the trial.”

Hanlon said race impacted all of the factors the court needed to explore in making the decision, including the size of the community, the nature of the community and media coverage. “Race is not a separate factor, it's part of the whole mix.”

Earlier on Thursday, a jury had been seated after a three-week selection process, Hopkins reported. The jury consisted of seven women and five men. It was, mostly white but had some Hispanic members, although Hopkins did not have a precise number.

Those jurors will now be dismissed, said Hopkins.

“I thought the jurors that came in proved that they could be fair and impartial,” said Hopkins.

Hanlon said there is “nothing wrong” with Lake County. “I think many African Americans get a fair trial here given the nature of the charges.”

It will now be up the state Administrative Office of the Courts to choose three alternate counties where the trial can be held, Hopkins said.

The choice of counties will depend upon a variety of factors, including available facilities, the amount of publicity the case has received there and whether a judge is available to hear the case, said Hopkins. It's not yet been determined if McKinstry will stay with the case.

Hopkins suggested that the Bay Area's counties are off limits because of media coverage, with reports about the trial reaching even more people than those centered in Lake County.

The prosecution and defense will return to court Dec. 14 to find out if the Administrative Office of the Courts have selected three counties, said Hopkins. He said he couldn't be certain three counties would be chosen by that time.

Once they are chosen, however, there will be a hearing and “the judge makes the call” about where the trial will be held, said Hopkins.

Hanlon didn't say which county he thought the trial should go to.

However, he stated, “If we get to a county that has a more diverse makeup and population of people, we're going to win this trial.”

Hanlon said he is going to begin work on researching where the trial should be held, a matter he said he wasn't in a position to talk about at this point.

Exploring ways to keep the trial local

The county will have to pay a higher bill to try the case in another venue, said Hopkins, but just how much it will cost isn't known at this time.

Hopkins said he needs to explore what remedies might yet be available to him in keep the trial local.

He said there is the possibility that he could file a writ for review by the appellate court, seeking to keep Lake County as the venue.

“I'm not convinced that I'm going to do that at this point,” he said.

Saying he wants to get the trial done as soon as he can, Hopkins explained that if the trial is held in a nearby county and it won't cost Lake an excessive amount of money to move it there, he will likely go along with McKinstry's decision.

However, if it's likely to be moved much farther away at a greater expense, he may do the writ, he said.

“There are a lot of variables I've got to consider,” Hopkins added.

With the change of venue motion granted, the trial likely won't begin until early next year, Hopkins said.

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LAKEPORT – The case of a young San Francisco man who is to be tried for the murder of two childhood friends took another turn Wednesday, with the arrival of advocates from the California State Conference of the NAACP. {sidebar id=30}

In a noon press conference on the courthouse steps, representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) California conference stated that no justice can be found in Lake County for 23-year-old Renato Hughes, who is being held responsible for the deaths of Christian Foster and Rashad Williams on Dec. 7, 2005.

The man who actually shot the two men as they allegedly ran from his home, Shannon Edmonds, has not been charged in the case. But Hughes is being tried under the provocative act legal theory, which holds him responsible for his friends' deaths because they were allegedly engaged in a crime – in this case a residential robbery – that could result in a lethal response.

NAACP is asking that Renato Hughes be released from custody and that his case be moved from Lake County.

Judy Hughes, Renato Hughes' mother, was also there to speak on behalf of her son. She also sat in on the lengthy jury selection process that continued throughout the day Wednesday.

Ken Nelson, president of the NAACP Richmond Branch, said the California State Conference of the NAACP unanimously voted Oct. 29 to advocate in the case.

“There is absolutely nowhere in America that this kind of situation should go on and not be addressed,” Nelson said. “Nowhere should someone be allowed to shoot and take the life of another human being and not be held accountable.”

The NAACP has dubbed Hughes, Foster and Williams the “Clearlake 3,” and compared them to the “Jena 6” of Jena, Louisiana. The Jena 6 are six black students charged with second-degree attempted murder in the wake of rising racial tensions at their high school.

“We believe this is worse than Jena 6, right here in Lake County, California,” said Nelson.

Nelson added, “We know that there is no way that Renato Hughes Jr. will receive a fair trial in Lake County.”

The NAACP filed an amicus brief in the Hughes case Wednesday in support of Hughes' case being moved out of the county.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins said in a late Wednesday interview that the brief is meant to support a motion to move the trial that Hanlon is expected to make – but hasn't yet done.

In addition, Nelson said the NAACP plans to file paperwork with the California Attorney General and the US Attorney General by week's end seeing charges be filed against Shannon Edmonds “for the violence we know he has committed.”

Nelson said they also are seeking an investigation by the California State Bar into possible prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Hopkins.

Ida Johnson, an officer of the state NAACP conference, said the pool of jurors did not represent Hughes' peers.

“There's nobody his color, there's nobody his age, there's nobody of his standing,” said Johnson. “Everybody that I saw in the pool was over 35.”

By the time the morning recess was called, the jurors seated in the jury box so far consisted of seven women and five men, all white, based on this reporter's observation of the proceedings.

Aqeela El-Amin Bakheit, president of the Lake County NAACP branch, said she had a “slightly different” view of the case, which she has followed since its beginning. El-Amin Bakheit has bee a fixture at court dates and also has visited Hughes in jail.

She said she wasn't going to talk about the local chapter's difference with the state. “We stand with the state conference. Our slight differences are not a big deal.”

The bigger issue, said El-Amin Bakheit, is justice.

“Wherever the trial is held, I just want to make sure the young man has a fair trial,” she said.

Just where the state NAACP wants the trial moved is unclear.

“We're looking for an area where we believe he will get a fair trial. Where that is, we'll leave that up to the attorneys,” said Nelson.

Hopkins: Come and see the evidence

Following Wednesday's jury selection session, Hopkins said that if the NAACP goes through with seeking to have the case moved, it won't be the first time.

The state NAACP has gone to the state attorney general twice with this case, once with former Attorney General Bill Lockyer and, after he left office, to his successor, Jerry Brown, Hopkins said.

After completely reviewing the case, including reading transcripts of the preliminary hearing, both Lockyer and Brown responded with letters declining to remove the case from Hopkins' office, he said.

The attorney general got involved again when defense attorney Stuart Hanlon made a recent motion to have Hopkins removed from the case, and the Attorney General's Office argued against that, too, said Hopkins.

“They've really had three times to have the Attorney General's Office say they see something wrong here and step in, and they haven't,” said Hopkins.

Responding to the allegations about his office's failure to prosecute Edmonds, Hopkins explained that the decision was made by Gary Luck, who Hopkins succeeded as district attorney late last year.

“Gary's view was that it was not something that could be proven,” said Hopkins.

To make the case stick, the District Attorney's Office would have had to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Edmonds had not acted in defense of himself, his home or his family, said Hopkins. Luck considered all the evidence and concluded the case couldn't be made.

Hopkins invited anyone who has questions to come to the trial and listen to the evidence, which includes audio from a surveillance camera that picked up the alleged attack by Hughes, Foster and Williams in the Edmonds home.

During that attack, Dale Lafferty, the son of Edmonds' girlfriend, Lori Tyler, was bludgeoned with a baseball bat, which reportedly caused long-term disabilities, including brain injuries, according to previous statements by Hopkins.

It's that kind of evidence that Hopkins said he is using as the basis of his decision to push forward with the case.

Trials are the place for the kind of debate about motive and evidence that the NAACP is trying to carry on in the public arena, said Hopkins.

“It's kind of interesting to me that they don't believe in the jury trial system and they want to go on a personal attack because they can't get anywhere with the arguments they've been making,” he said.

Hopkins said the NAACP's statements show that they misunderstand Lake County and its makeup. And for Hopkins, who had thousands of black clients while a public defender in Los Angeles, their allegations about his unfairness to blacks is particularly troubling.

“It's a pretty sad commentary,” he said.

Just when the trial will get started is still up in the air, said Hopkins.

On Thursday jury questioning continues, he said. Although the jury could finally be seated on Thursday, he expects Hanlon could file a change of venue motion which will cause a pause in the proceedings.

Next week, the court is adjourned for Thanksgiving, said Hopkins, which means the trial's beginning – if it isn't subject to a venue change – could be another week out.

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LAKE COUNTY – A man sentenced Thursday to a hefty prison term for a home invasion robbery has filed an appeal.

Judge Stephen Hedstrom sentenced Craig Alvin Lemke, 45, to 68 years to life in prison for the February 2006 home invasion robbery of an elderly Lower Lake couple, as Lake County News previously reported Friday.

Lemke was convicted by a jury of the crime on Oct. 2.

The stiff sentence resulted, in part, because the jury found Lemke was guilty of two prior “strikes,” one of them a similar home robbery, Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff said Thursday.

On Friday, Lemke's attorney, Jason Webster, reported that Lemke filed an appeal on Thursday, the day of the sentencing. However, Webster said he wasn't able to further discuss the appeal.

Along with Lemke, Joe Moncivaiz Jr. was accused of taking part in the robbery. According to a previous report from Hinchcliff, the two men had bound the elderly couple with tape before stealing thousands of dollars in cash, guns and ammunition.

Moncivaiz admitted his participation and pleaded guilty to first-degree burglary, Hinchcliff stated in an October interview.

Webster said Moncivaiz received a “substantial deal” in the case and was reportedly sentenced to only four years in prison.

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LAKEPORT – The selection of the jury for the Renato Hughes case has been completed, with the trial set to begin after the Thanksgiving holiday.

District Attorney Jon Hopkins reported Thursday afternoon that the main jury panel was seated, but that four alternates still needed to be selected.

Hughes, 23, is being tried for murder in the deaths of Rashad Williams and Christian Foster, who he was allegedly accompanying during a residential robbery in Clearlake Park on Dec. 7, 2005.

Williams and Foster were shot by homeowner Shannon Edmonds as they allegedly ran from his home. Hughes' presence with them caused him to be prosecuted under the provocative act theory, which holds him responsible for their deaths because he was allegedly taking part in a crime that could result in a lethal response.

With the jury seated, defense attorney Stuart Hanlon made a motion to have the trial moved from Lake County, said Hopkins.

On Wednesday, state officials with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People came to Lakeport to advocate for Hughes' release and a change of venue, as Lake County News has reported.

Also on Wednesday, NAACP attorney Stratton Barbee filed with visiting Judge William McKinstry an amicus brief in support of Hanlon's change of venue request.

Hopkins was set to begin his response to the change of venue motion at 1:30 p.m.

If the trial stays in Lake County, Hopkins said it will begin Tuesday, Nov. 27.

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MIDDLETOWN – The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will host a meeting in Middletown Wednesday evening to discuss the cleanup of a local mercury mine.

BLM will host the meeting on the proposed cleanup plans for the Oat Hill Extension Mercury Mine near the Napa-Lake county line.

The public meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, at the Jesus Christ Fellowship Building, 21443 Pine St.

The Oat Hill Extension Mercury Mine, in the James Creek Watershed between Middletown and Calistoga, produced mercury from the 1870s until 1944, according to BLM.

According to a BLM report on the mine, the land to be cleaned consists of 25 acres of public lands administered by BLM. The site contains a mercury mine processing mill, a historic miner's cabin and approximately 500,000 tons of mercury mine wastes.

Because the tailings at the mine site have high levels of mercury, which can be dangerous to human, BLM reported that it closed the area to protect the public exposure to mercury and dangers, including mine shafts and unstable buildings.

David Lawler, abandoned mine lands coordinator in the California state BLM's Division of Energy and Minerals, said the mercury tailings at the site are eroding into James Creek.

James Creek, in turn, flows into Pope Creek and then into Putah Creek. From there, the water moves to Lake Berryessa and, ultimately, the Bay-Delta. He said BLM is trying to prevent the mercury from reaching those major state water sources downstream.

Lawler said the Oat Hill Extension Mine itself was a relatively small mine, producing about 1,000 flasks of mercury – or 76,000 pounds – during its operation.

Gary Sharpe, assistant field manager for the BLM’s Ukiah Field Office, said the Oat Hill Extension property is the site of the original mercury strike. The larger Oak Hill mine developed around it.

The main Oak Hill Mine, said Lawler, was the fifth largest mine in terms of production in California, and one of the largest in North American, producing 165,000 flasks of mercury.

The land BLM is proposing to clean up is surrounded by privately owned land, where the owners are doing some cleanup, said Lawler.

Another old mercury mine, the Corona mine, also is located nearby, Lawler said.

At Wednesday's meeting, Sharpe said BLM officials will explain the mercury contamination issues at the mine, describe removal alternatives, discuss engineering evaluations and present cost analysis information.

The BLM is seeking the community's input to help determine the best ways to contain and stabilize hazardous substances at the historic mine, Sharpe said. That input, along with the agency's technical expertise, with be used in the decision-making process.

Other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Geologic Survey, the Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board will be involved in the decision making related to the cleanup effort, said Sharpe.

BLM has been evaluating the mine cleanup for about two years, said Sharpe, with a characterization and engineering report starting about a year ago.

A firm estimate on how much the cleanup will cost wasn't available, but Sharpe said some other mercury mine cleanups have ranged between $500,000 and $5 million.

Just how the cleanup will be conducted will be made at the state level, said Sharpe. “The decision ultimately will be made by BLM.”

That decision, he added, should be made within the next six months to a year.

“Mercury is a concern for a lot of people and a very difficult thing to control,” Sharpe said.

For the final engineering evaluation and cost analysis on the Oat Hill Extension mine, visit

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


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