Wednesday, 24 July 2024


SACRAMENTO – A flurry of activity has been going on in the state Legislature, as deadlines begin to loom for legislators.

David Miller of Sen. Pat Wiggins' office said legislators are working to be ahead of the deadline, which arrives in about three weeks, by which time they must move their bills out of the house of origin – either the Senate or Assembly – in order to continue through the process of becoming law.

Last Thursday, the State Senate approved five of Wiggins' bills, sending the measures off to the Assembly for consideration.

Only one measure, SB 1016, required a voice vote (36-0 in support); the remaining bills were approved as part of Thursday's consent calendar.

Highlights of the five bills are as follows:

– SB 108, which seeks to expand the types of non-profit organizations that can allow wine sales orders to be taken by wineries at their events to include “civic leagues”, “social organizations” and “voluntary employees’ benefit associations.”

Among the examples of the kinds of organizations to be added if SB 108 becomes law are the Kiwanis Club, League of Women Voters, Lions Club, and the California Retired Teachers Association. Expanding the list will benefit non-profit groups, consumers and wineries, enabling individuals to order wine that may not be readily available and helping wineries to build brand awareness.

– SB 560, which seeks an assessment of the adequacy of services provided to the blind and visually impaired residents at the Veterans' Home of California at Yountville. Amended slightly since its introduction in late February, SB 560 would require the Little Hoover Commission on California State Government & the Economy to submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature by Sept. 1, 2008, assessing the adequacy of services provided to the veterans residing at Yountville.

– SB 562, which seeks to amend the Williamson Act’s definition of “agricultural commodity” to add plant products used for producing bio-fuels, as well as to redefine "open space use" under the Act to add land enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program or Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

The Williamson Act conserves agricultural and open space land by allowing private property owners to sign voluntary contracts with counties and cities, enforceably restricting their land to agriculture, open space, and compatible uses. In return, county assessors must lower the assessed value of the contracted lands to reflect their use as agriculture or open space instead of the market value.

“Growing crops for bio-fuels is a recent phenomenon in California, but is clearly an agricultural use,” Wiggins said. “Similarly, enrolling property for federal land conservation subsidies and cost-sharing payments is clearly an open space use. My bill would allow the Williamson Act to keep pace with changes in our agricultural industry while adhering to the constitutional principles behind the Williamson Act.”

– SB 813, which seeks to clarify that a provision in the state elections code pertaining to the death of a candidate prior to a vote of the people applies only to primaries and not runoff elections.

The 2006 election for Mendocino County District Attorney featured three candidates running in the June primary: incumbent Norm Vroman died just 47 days prior to a runoff election. County officials invoked one provision of the election code (Section 15402) requiring that the ballots be counted but were subsequently sued over whether another provision rendering the election null and void (Section 8026) should have been invoked instead.

The Appellate Court ordered a special election that negated the results of the primary, setting a new precedent given the intent and history of Section 8026. “In light of the turmoil resulting from the 2006 Mendocino County D.A. race and the subsequent lawsuit and court ruling, I introduced this bill to clarify once and for all that Section 8026 does indeed apply only to primary elections,” Wiggins said.

“My bill would further clarify that if a candidate dies within 68 days of a run-off election, Section 15402 applies to govern the results of that election. The Legislature never intended Section 8026 to apply to run-off elections and doing so results in unnecessary costs, delays, and added confusion for voters.”

– SB 1016, which would create incentives for local jurisdictions to divert 50 percent or more of their solid waste away from landfills through source reduction, recycling and composting.

According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, cities and counties diverted more than 46 million tons of solid waste from landfills in 2005 for an estimated statewide diversion rate of 52 percent. The CIWMB notes that almost 70 percent of jurisdictions have received approval for their diversion rates while about 30 percent have either been granted a time extension or are on compliance orders.

SB 1016 would provide an incentive to cities and counties with diversion rates in excess of 50 percent by easing some of the requirements in their annual reports to the CIWMB.

For more information about Wiggins and her legislation, or to contact her office, visit



WASHINGTON, DC – On Thursday, a key provision to reduce waste and abuse of reconstruction funding for Iraq and Afghanistan was included in the 2008 Defense Authorization bill and passed through the House by a vote of 329 to 27.

The provision was based on a bill introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson in the last three Congresses called the War Funding Accountability Act.

"Accountability is no longer optional for the federal government," Thompson said in a statement. "Americans deserve to know where their tax dollars are going, and Iraq and Afghanistan are no exception."

Specifically, the Defense Authorization bill requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report every six months on the handling of contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Thompson's office reported. The GAO will report on the value of contracts, how the contracts were awarded and whether the contracts are achieving results.

The bill also expands the authority of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction to include all reconstruction funding regardless of source or fiscal year.

"We've found that contractors in Iraq charged $45 per case of soda and $100 per 15-pound bag of laundry," said Thompson. "Brand-new $85,000 trucks were abandoned if they had minor mechanical problems. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found that $8.8 billion was handed over to Iraqi ministries with virtually no tracking of what it was spent on. Meanwhile, families and communities are raising money to send our service members armor and supplies."

Thompson said the Defense Authorization is meant to make sure tax dollars to to where they belong -- “protecting our troops, not lining the pockets of contractors.”

He added, “This bill will scrutinize every single contract and contractor to ensure it's in the American public's best interest."

The provision was strongly supported by the Blue Dog Coalition, of which Thompson is a member. This group's sole purpose is to promote fiscally responsible government spending.

This action comes on the heels of a damaging report issued by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction detailing continued and egregious abuses in the government's funding of the war in Iraq, Thompson's office reported.

Inadequate facilities and non-functioning equipment built by highly paid contractors, insufficient monitoring of government contracts and billions of dollars unaccounted for due to inefficiencies and bad management are just a few of the examples of waste, fraud and abuse detailed in the report.


LAKE COUNTY – Citing extraordinarily high health care costs, Blue Shield of California is pulling its health care plan out of Lake County, a decision expected to affect nearly 2,100 county government employees and family members.

On Tuesday, the CalPERS Board of Administration approved Blue Shield's plan to stop offering its health maintenance organization (HMO) plan in Lake and three other rural Northern California counties, according to Karen Perkins of CalPERS' Public Affairs Office.

CalPERS, based in Sacramento, is the country's third-largest provider of health benefits. It currently offers insurance and benefits to 1.2 million state and public agency employees, retirees and their dependents.

Blue Shield asked to withdraw its HMO health care product from Lake, Napa, Plumas and parts of El Dorado counties, citing health care costs 78 percent above the state average, Perkins reported.

CalPERS said it will provide other health care options to public employees in lieu of the withdrawn Blue Shield coverage.

The plan change will impact about 9,100 CalPERS members among the four counties, including 1,200 in Lake County, Perkins said.

Those affected locally are primarily state and county employees; the cities of Lakeport and Clearlake are not CalPERS subscribers, Perkins noted.

The move is expected to save $30 million in premiums, CalPERS reported.

“For years, other members [outside the four counties] have, in effect, subsidized these costs, but costs have become so high we are not able to continue this,” said George Diehr, Chair of the CalPERS Health Benefits Committee. “We are disappointed that providers in this area were not able to be responsive to the need for more affordable care.”

Blue Shield finds higher costs

Perkins said Blue Shield originally looked at 11 rural Northern California counties before settling on the four in question.

In Lake County in particular, a Blue Shield study found health care costs were 89-percent higher than the statewide average, according to CalPERS.

Blue Shield asserted that hospitals “are a key driver of health care costs,” in Lake County.

Annual hospital costs are estimated by Blue Shield to be 175 percent higher in that county – $3,923 per day, compared with $1,429 per day. Average hospital inpatient costs are 61 percent higher in Lake County – $8,325 per day, compared with the statewide average of $5,166 per day.

Representatives from Sutter Lakeside Hospital and Adventist Health's Redbud Community Hospital could not be reached for comment at midafternoon on Blue Shield's assertions.

Perkins said the study found several “common denominators” amongst the four counties in question.

“Some of the issues are that in these counties what we've found overall is that a greater percentage of the population are receiving services that are categorized as 'chronic,'” she said.

“Chronic” diseases, she said, include asthma, diabetes, congestive heart failure and kidney failure. Cancer, she added, is not among those diseases.

Along with having a population that has more chronic health conditions, the study found Lake County had higher-than-normal hospital, surgery and pharmacy costs.

From September 2006 through February 2007, Blue Shield conducted Regional Council meetings in Lake County to identify health care cost drivers and discuss ways to improve affordability in the county, CalPERS reported.

During that time, Blue Shield sought assistance from physicians and hospitals to organize them into health care delivery networks that would reduce costs and enhance delivery of care, according to CalPERS. However, Blue Shield reported their efforts met with limited success.

There is a lack of alternative health facilities, said Perkins, with more procedures that could be done on an outpatient basis having to be done in the local hospitals.

The US Census Bureau's most recent population estimate for Lake County is 65,933, of which 16.2 percent – or 10,549 people – are above the age of 65.

Could those numbers account for the the higher incidences of chronic conditions found?

Perkins said she wasn't aware if the Blue Shield study disseminated those numbers, although it was referenced in the Regional Council meetings.

“They didn't pinpoint it as being the main cause, necessarily,” she said. “They referenced it in passing.”

Kathy Ferguson, the County of Lake's personnel director, said the county worked with Blue Shield on its Regional Councils, which studied the health care costs.

As to the findings about Lake County's health care costs and unique conditions, Ferguson said, “The information they were providing seemed to be accurate.”

What the changes mean for employees

Ferguson said the Blue Shield HMO plan being eliminated is the most popular among county employees. While the choices aren't as great as in a preferred provider organization – or PPO – and there are higher premiums, there typically aren't deductibles with HMOs, she explained.

Information provided from CalPERS shows that of the more than 1,700 employees in Lake County who subscribe to CalPERS health coverage, nearly 1,200 use the Blue Shield plan.

The plan covers a total of 2,105 people, which includes the employees and their family members, CalPERS reported. Of those, about half live in and around Lakeport and Kelseyville.

The changes resulting from Blue Shield's exit will take effect Jan. 1, 2008, said Ferguson, at the start of the health plan year.

CalPERS reported its members in Lake County will continue to receive quality health care either through one of the system’s other HMO or PPO offerings.

Members also can enroll in an additional PPO plan – PERS Select – approved by the board Tuesday. PERS Select is provided at a lower cost than the standard PPO, and utilizes a smaller panel of doctors and specialists identified by Blue Cross of California as meeting certain efficiencies and patient satisfaction standards.

In addition, CalPERS reported that some members in Lake County can also take advantage of the Rural Health Care Equity Program, which would provide a subsidy of up to $1,500 per year.

Ferguson said she was waiting to receive the final information on the proposed changes to the other CalPERS health plans.

She said she's not certain how reenrollment in the other plans will happen, but in the past, when there have been plan changes, CalPERS has simply switched employees over to plans they believe will be the most popular, allowing employees to change later if they choose. That results in less of a paperwork headache for county staff.

Health care plans leaving the county isn't new, said Ferguson.

“HMOs have come and gone out of the county several times before,” she said.

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


The Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser leads a statewide church organization and also pastors Clearlake Oaks Community United Methodist Church. That church has been an active force in working to make the Oaks a better place. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


CLEARLAKE OAKS – Christian activism may evoke ideas of politically conservative evangelicals for many people.

The common perception leaves out progressive, mainstream groups and churches who say that they're succeeding in furthering the goals of social justice and compassion.

To find a local expression of that part of the story, one needs look no further than Clearlake Oaks Community United Methodist Church.

The church's senior pastor is Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser, who also serves as executive director of the California Council of Churches and its sister organization for public policy advocacy, California Church IMPACT.

California Council of Churches, a nonpartisan organization based in Sacramento, received the first Father Robert Drinan Award on April 28 from the California Democratic Party, during its annual convention in San Diego.

State Democratic Chair Art Torres presented the award to Schlosser. Torres cited Church IMPACT's successful Capitol and grassroots lobbying for social justice legislation and its campaigns for statewide ballot propositions that reflect their moral values.

The Drinan Award recognizes courage in the struggle for social justice.

The California Council of Churches and California Church IMPACT represent 21 Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations with 1.5 million members in the state. The council was created in 1913 “to educate faith communities to pursue justice through study and service, equity, and fairness in the treatment of all people, in particular those most vulnerable in society,” according to its mission statement.

"We have a different perspective on the place of faith and public policy than do conservative church members," said Schlosser. "We address policy coming from a faith perspective. We have no desire to impose our values nor to create a theocracy. We don't evangelize; we educate and advocate."

The council educates church members on the moral values involved in major public policy issues while Church IMPACT advocates for legislation and budget items on issues ranging from poverty to nonviolence and environmental protection to civil rights, Schlosser said.

Schlosser said the council's primary focus is working at the state level to create an unconventional measure of worth, “a moral economy, that includes everyone.”

IMPACT, he said, lobbies for and against legislation, applying spiritual and moral principles to legislative issues. Schlosser said the group lobbies in Sacramento for those who might not otherwise have a voice there.

“The primary part of our mission is to advocate for justice and equity for all people, especially the most vulnerable,” he said.

IMPACT also creates study guides for congregations on issues such as child care and health care.

Health care is a primary focus for the group right now, he said, which has six proposal for universal health care. They're also working on immigration reform, Schlosser said.

Church IMPACT won victories including helping secure the first part of the path-breaking clean-air act, achieving several key bills on poverty issues, and passing the state's path-breaking hate crimes legislation and women's rights bill, Schlosser said.

In addition, he said IMPACT helped convince Assembly members to vote for Assemblyman Mark Leno's same-gender marriage equality bill in 2006, giving the bill the majority it needed to pass.

In the 2005 special election, its non-partisan "IMPACT Sundays" campaign is believed to have provided enough votes to help defeat the closest two initiatives on the ballot, parental notification and the

anti-labor so-called "paycheck protection" initiative.

The Democratic Party initiated the Father Drinan award following the January death of Rev. Robert Drinan, a Catholic priest and former Democratic Congressman, who brought his values and dedication to social justice to his political work.

Schlosser said the California Council of Churches and IMPACT were deeply honored to receive the award. “Father Drinan was a model for us all. He led by example showing us that we have a duty to stand for principles that shape our public policy. He also showed us how moral courage and commitment are compatible with respect for people with differing views."

While faith organizations can accept acknowledgments from political parties such as the Drinan award, Schlosser said it's “unethical” for faith groups to give support to any political organization.

"We believe in the separation of church and state," he said. "We work closely through our advocacy organization, Church IMPACT, with legislators from both parties, and we are glad that our voice for

justice has received recognition. We would be happy to accept an award for that from anyone."

Church works for a better community

A resident of Sacramento, Schlosser drives to Lake County two to three days a week in his role of church pastor.

Schlosser became the church's senior pastor following the sudden death in 2005 of the congregation's beloved pastor, Bill Thornton, who, along with his wife, Ruth Canady, had guided the church.

Canady, Schlosser said, decided she didn't want to be the church's main leader, but would rather do pastoral work with people who were sick or otherwise in need.

So Rev. Benito Silva-Netto, superintendent of the United Methodist Church's Shasta District, contacted Schlosser, saying the church "really needed a community-minded, progressive pastor to help carry forward the church's goals for making The Oaks a better place," Schlosser said.

"I came up and preached a few times and I loved the church and they seemed to like me so here I am," Schlosser said.

Bishop Beverly Shamana subsequently appointed him as the church's pastor, he said.

Schlosser, who was ordained in 1979, said the church in Clearlake Oaks shares values with the California Council of Churches.

"The church in Clearlake Oaks and the council both look at spirituality as something that should be a positive, inclusive force in society, and not a judgmental, excluding force," Schlosser said. "The church tries to work on a very specific local level on some of the same issues."

The Oaks is also a good place to put to the test those ideas about social justice, according to Schlosser.

"In the Oaks, it's obviously a very challenged area economically," Schlosser said, with people struggling to find employment and health care. "Those are two of the things that I see most frequently."

With the church's No. 1 priority being to make Clearlake Oaks a better place for all of its residents, it set out to identify the greatest needs and respond to them, said Schlosser.

So the church created L'il Acorns Preschool to help working families, which Schlosser said has been a "resounding success."

The needs of seniors are also apparent in the community, said Schlosser, and are another big focus for the church. The congregation itself illustrates the area's large senior population, with Schlosser estimating that more than 80 percent of the church's membership is over retirement age.

"These are primarily people who aren't retired from life," he said of his flock, adding that the congregation includes some of the most active 80 years olds he's ever seen.

The church is imbued with community spirit, he said, with many members involved in projects and working for others, including cooking meals for people and providing transportation to those who need it.

He said the list of creative ways church members support each other is endless.

That includes outreach to the community at large. The church is preparing to break ground later this year on a 4,500-square-foot community center next door to the church and preschool on The Plaza, said Schlosser.

The church plans to provide counseling, outreach and other services to the community, along with senior daycare, said Schlosser. They're also working with the firm Eskaton to build a new senior housing complex in the Oaks and with Lake County Redevelopment on the Plaza redevelopment


What's next for the council

Earlier this month, the California Council of Churches joined with other national and regional faith groups to launch an initiative for a nuclear free world.

The effort came in response to a proposal by the Bush administration for a build-up in nuclear weapons, according to a statement from the council.

The council is lobbying members of Congress to reject the plan, which would require a minimum of $150 billion.

Schlosser said he can see a better use of the funds.

“It is immoral for so much money to be directed into weapons development when so many human needs are going unmet. Here in California, people need quality, affordable health care and instead the funds that could pay for it are going to an unnecessary expansion of our bloated nuclear arsenal.”

The California Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches and the National Religious Partnership on the Nuclear Weapons Danger announced that they plan to spread the word about the nuclear weapons build-up over the next several months in an effort to stop it.

Schlosser called the decision to abandon peace and prepare for war “immoral.”

“California is already threatening to cut out spending for every child whose parents cannot meet welfare work hour obligations,” he said. “We are choosing to spend money on weapons, which can obliterate our civilization, rather than spending for health, education, and humanity. This is utterly unacceptable in a civilized society.”

For more information about the California Council of Churches and its activities, visit To learn more about Clearlake Oaks Community United Methodist Church call 998-9435.

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




LAKEPORT – A Lakeport couple was acquitted this week of felony charges in a case alleging possession and cultivation of drugs for sale.

A jury listened to testimony for two weeks, and on May 14, returned verdicts of not guilty on all felony counts against William and Janice Hodges, according to attorney Doug Rhoades, who represented William Hodges. Janice Hodges was defended by attorney Mitchell Hauptman.

The couple had been charged with possessing both methamphetamine and marijuana for sale, illegally cultivating marijuana and maintaining a place for the sales or use of controlled substances, Rhoades reported.

Janice Hodges was separately charged with being under the influence of a controlled substance, Rhoades said. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty to that charge as well.

The jury returned a single guilty verdict for both on a misdemeanor charge of illegally possessing a hypodermic syringe, according to Rhoades.

Both Hodges were arrested following police and Narcotics Task Force raid of their home in Lakeport on July 8, Rhoades said. Police seized several items of alleged contraband, including cash, methamphetamine, packaging materials, weapons and 62 marijuana plants of various sizes from the couple’s back yard.

The defendants maintained that the growing marijuana was legal, and within the guidelines of California’s Compassionate Use Act (Medical Marijuana), Rhoades said.

Both defendants, and another adult, for whom Mrs. Hodges acted as caregiver, had valid marijuana use certificates at the time of the raid, Rhoades said. The defendants disavowed any possession or sales of controlled substances.

The defendants will appear before the trial judge, Richard C. Martin, on May 21 in Department 2 of the Superior Court for sentencing on the single misdemeanor, Rhoades reported.


The light brown apple moth female (right) is much larger than the male (left). A male moth was found in Napa County last week. Courtesy photo.


The light brown apple moth has been found in neighboring Napa County, state and federal officials confirmed Wednesday.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that a single adult light brown apple moth was found May 9 in a residential area of Napa.

Officials made the announcement following lab confirmation by Department of Food and Agriculture entomologists, with supporting confirmation by USDA scientists.

“This moth is a threat not only to agriculture but also to our urban environment our landscaping, our parks and our natural habitat,” state Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura said in a statement. “We are moving quickly to detect the extent of any infestation and contain the problem in the smallest possible area.”

The Department of Food and Agriculture, USDA and the county agricultural commissioner's office have already begun setting and collecting additional traps in the area to determine the extent of the problem. No additional moths have been found in the vicinity to date.

The light brown apple moth, which is native to Australia, was first detected in the Bay Area in February, state officials reported. Since then, it has reached nine counties Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin, Monterey, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Mateo and now Napa.

More than 2,000 moths have been detected in those nine counties since February, the Department of Food & Agriculture reported, with most of the moths found in Santa Cruz, which officials believe may be an original infestation point.

Trapping is taking place in 40 of the state's 58 counties, but so far Lake hasn't been added to that list. However, trapping is taking place in Mendocino, Sonoma and Yolo.

Officials say the light brown apple moth is of particular concern because it can damage a wide range of plants including many commonly found in our urban and suburban landscaping, public parks and natural environment.

The list of agricultural crops that could be damaged by this pest includes as many as 250 plant species, from grapes and pears to citrus and stone fruits. The pest damages plants and crops by feeding on leaves, new shoots and fruit.

On Tuesday, SB 556, a piece of urgency legislation introduced by North Coast Sen. Patricia Wiggins to address the moth issue, passed the Senate Agriculture Committee. The bill would create an advisory task force to advise Kawamura on the moth issue.

“As we find out more about the spread of this pest, the department and the Legislature will be better able to assess what resources and programs California may need to protect our precious and vulnerable agricultural products from potential harm,” she told the committee at the hearing.

This week, the USDA informed county agricultural commissioners that Mexico has implemented restrictions on shipments of certain fruits and vegetables to that country from the infested counties.

In addition, the USDA reported that seven states – Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Oregon and Wisconsin – have asked the Department of Food & Agriculture for advance notification of shipments from the quarantined counties.

Late in April state agricultural officials established a quarantine to cover the affected counties, which required inspections and clearances for shipments of plants and fruits from within the affected counties.

On May 2, the USDA added a federal quarantine regulating movement of plant materials between California and other states, with similar inspection requirements as those found in the state quarantine.

USDA and the Department of Food & Agriculture reported that they have assembled a technical working group comprised of international experts on light brown apple moth to discuss survey and mitigation strategies to safeguard against this potentially damaging pest and prevent its further spread.

The group will meet in San Jose today and Friday, May 17-18, to discuss California's situation and make recommendations about the project.

For more information on the light brown apple moth, visit the Department of Food and Agriculture's Web site,

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


MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – A young man who was found dead in the Mendocino National Forest earlier this spring appears to have died of natural causes, officials are reporting.

As Lake County News reported previously, a young man who was in a remote part of the forest with his father died and his body was recovered by Lake County Sheriff's Office officials March 29 near Hull Mountain.

It was later discovered that the man's body was located in Mendocino County, so the investigation was turned over to the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.

The young man, identified as Jovanny Perez-Ortiz, 22, was with his father, Alfredo Perez, when he died, reported Lt. Rusty Noe, the Mendocino County Sheriff's chief deputy coroner.

Perez then reportedly walked all day to reach the Soda Creek Store near Lake Pillsbury, where he reported his son's death and authorities were called.

Noe said he was lowered from a California Highway Patrol helicopter into the area where Perez-Ortiz's body was, on a steep hillside. There was no evidence of anyone else being with Perez-Ortiz and his father, Noe said.

This week, Mendocino officials reported the final results of Perez-Ortiz's autopsy and toxicology results.

Perez-Ortiz's toxicology results came back clear, said Tia Turner of the Mendocino County Coroner's Office. Nothing was found in his system that would have caused his death, which has been ruled natural, Turner said.

Last month, Captain Kevin Broin of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office said he expected the toxicology tests would play a big role in understanding the young man's sudden death, and said at the time the department would wait for those results before making a final ruling on the death.

Resolution to the case was prolonged, said Broin, because of the involvement of several agencies, including the National Forest.

Noe said Perez-Ortiz was a Mexican national, as was his father, but both had Santa Rosa addresses.

The men were in a very rugged, remote area, said Noe. “They were up in an area where most people don't go hiking.”

Those circumstances had given rise to concerns that the men were there to locate a site for an illicit marijuana garden, which has become an increasing problem in the Mendocino National Forest. Last year, the forest was the site of the largest amount of illicit marijuana seized in the state.

As to what they were doing in the remote area of the forest, Noe said, “There was really no evidence to indicate that they were there to cultivate marijuana.”

Perez-Ortiz's death has been ruled accidental, said Noe, with no signs of foul play.

Mike Ricker, a Redding-based National Forest Service special agent, assisted in the investigation.

“When somebody is lost in the forest or injured, as it becomes more detailed, if they need more investigations done, they refer it to this branch,” he said.

Perez-Ortiz's situation was “a real sad case,” said Ricker.

Ricker said his part in the case was investigating the activities of the two men in the forest.

The Forest Service relies on the sheriff's determination on the cause of death, said Ricker.

On Friday, Ricker – who has since been working on another case – said he hadn't yet determined if he needed to continue an investigation into what men were doing in the forest.

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WASHINGTON – On Thursday, an amendment introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson to prohibit gang-activity in the military passed the House as a part of the 2008 Defense Authorization bill.

The amendment revises military command policy to prohibit service members from associating with criminal street gangs, whether on duty or at home.

Thompson introduced the amendment because a growing number of gang members in the military are returning to the streets armed with combat training, putting local law enforcement at a dangerous disadvantage.

"Gang members with military training present a serious danger to society," said Thompson in a statement. "We must work to stop this disturbing trend while it is still emerging."

The FBI has documented members of nearly every major street gang on both domestic and international military installations. The FBI's National Gang Intelligence Center released a report on Jan. 12 that detailed gang-related activity in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Findings include:

– Since 2004, the FBI and El Paso Police Department have identified more than 40 military-affiliated gang members stationed at Fort Bliss in Texas.

– Officials at Fort Hood, Texas have identified nearly 40 gang members on base since 2003.

– Nearly 130 gang and extremist groups have been identified at Fort Lewis in Washington in the past 24 months.

"I realize that some gang members join the military to change for the better and those folks would not be affected by this amendment," said Thompson. "But some are not there to change. This amendment would require the military to identify street gangs so that it can either help to weed gang members out of service or deter them from gang life."

Thompson's amendment was included in the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1585) by a voice vote last night. The measure authorizes $503.8 billion in budget authority for the Department of Defense (DoD) and the national security programs of the Department of Energy (DoE), and $141.8 billion to support ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during fiscal year 2008.

The Defense Authorization passed the House 329 to 27. This measure was lauded for improving our military readiness, which has been seriously depleted from the multi-year wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It also includes funding to equip our troops with better equipment, armor and training and funding to provide our service members with better health care, pay and benefits.

"This is a first step toward stopping gang members from getting in the military in the first place," said Thompson. "I'm also going to keep working with the FBI, the military and local law enforcement to keep these dangerous criminals off our streets."


SACRAMENTO – The Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday approved the following bills by Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D – Santa Rosa):

– SB 557, which seeks to include qualified doctors of audiology among those medical professionals who may be appointed by the administrative director of the Division of Workers' Compensation as qualified medical evaluators.

The bill’s sponsor, the California Academy of Audiology, asserts that an audiologist is the most qualified professional to determine whether a hearing loss would impair a worker's ability or whether a hearing loss was secondary to noise exposure on the job.

– SB 565, which would create the position of hospital and health services director at the Yountville Veterans’ Home.

Yountville is the only state veterans’ home with a hospital. Yountville has an emergency room, skilled nursing facility, pharmacy, and an Alzheimer unit. Yountville has a medical director and a nursing director but no one to administer and coordinate the medical care and medical personnel for all the facilities on the property.

Veterans and veterans’ advocacy groups believe that patients would be better served with a hospital and health services director on-site.

– SB 581, which would transfer the Volunteer Firefighters Length of Service Award System away from CalPERS and direct administrative responsibilities of the program to the California State Fire Employees Welfare Benefit Corporation.

Currently there are approximately 54 fire departments participating in the program, and 128 volunteer firefighters who are receiving monthly payments and who are eligible for the death benefit. The total membership is comprised of 3,983 volunteer firefighters and the balance in the fund is approximately $2.6 million.

In 1998, CalPERS changed the methods and assumptions it used in determining the administrative costs of the VFLSA. Since that time, the administrative costs have increased from $10,000 to an estimated cost of $139,025 for 2007-08.

The system is funded entirely by contributions from contracting fire entities and investment earnings.

– SB 861, which would authorize the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA) to use $5.5 million in previously allocated state funds for environmental cleanup of rail lines.

Specifically, this bill would allow the NCRA to use $5.5 million in funds allocated through the Transportation Congestion Relief Program to meet cleanup obligations under an environmental remediation consent decree ($4 million), along with some administrative responsibilities.

The authority would be prohibited from spending more than $500,000 annually on administrative expenses.

Monday's actions mean that all four bills are now eligible for a vote by the full Senate.

Wiggins represents California’s 2nd Senate District, which stretches from Solano County to Humboldt County and includes part or all of Lake, Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma Counties as well. Visit her Web site at


LAKEPORT – Officers from nearly all of Lake County’s law enforcement agencies on June 2 will team with about 30 local Special Olympics athletes in a run to bring the Northern California Special Olympics Torch to Lake County.

According to volunteer Kristina Navarro, about 25 officers from the California Highway Patrol, the Lake County Sheriff's Office, Probation Department, District Attorney’s Office and Animal Care & Control, as well as both the Lakeport and Clearlake Police Departments, will participate in the ceremonial running of the “Flame of Hope.”

Similar torch runs are being held throughout cities and towns in Northern California, Navarro said, which will lead to the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics Northern California Summer Games.

The Flame of Hope run helps raise awareness of Special Olympics programs and the many athletes who those programs benefit.

There will be five routes for the Law Enforcement Torch Run around Lake County, Navarro reported.

– The Torch Run kickoff will begin at 10 a.m. on Second Street and Clover in Upper Lake, during Wild West Days; that segment of the run will end at Main and Highway 20 at 10:45 a.m.

– The second segment will take place in Clearlake, from Austin Park to Moran's Pharmacy on Lakeshore, from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m.

– The run then moves to Middletown, traveling from Middletown High School to Perry's Deli on Calistoga, lasting from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

– Route four takes place along Main Street in Kelseyville from 1:30 to 1:40 p.m. Runners will travel from Westamerica Bank to Patti's Petals.

– The final leg of the run takes place in Lakeport between 1:50 and 2 p.m. along Main Street. That segment will begin at Natural High school and end at the Lake County Fairgrounds on Martin Street, during the People Services Chicken-Que.

All runners are being asked to come to the closing ceremonies at the fairgrounds.

Those desiring to participate in the run can do so by completing a registration form. For a $25 registration fee, participating runners will also receive a special torch run T-shirt and a ticket to the Chicken-Que.

Proceeds from the torch run will to toward support of the Lake County Speical Olympics program.

For additional information, contact CHP Officer Josh Dye at 279-0103, or Navarro at 349-3689.

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


SACRAMENTO The Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed a bill by Assemblywoman Patty Berg that would protect Californians from the kind of red tape fiascos that kept doctors from Hurricane Katrina victims.

“Emergency response should be free from red tape during disasters,” Berg, D-Eureka, said in a statement. “These are life and death situations.”

Assembly Bill 64 would require California officials to recognize the out-of-state medical licenses of emergency volunteers during a declared state emergency, according to Berg's statement.

At the same time, Berg said the bill would create a system for California’s health care workers to register their credentials so that other states could benefit from their expertise in a disaster.

During the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, volunteer doctors and nurses were prevented from giving aid because they lacked Louisiana medical licenses, Berg reported.

Dr. Dan Diamond, a physician from Seattle, told the San Francisco Chronicle that it took five days for him and other doctors to get on the ground in New Orleans as opposed to 48 hours during the Indonesian tsunami aftermath in 2004.

“Each hour a doctor or nurse is delayed is an hour that a Californian goes without help,” said Berg. “Red tape should not cause Californians to die.”

Assembly Bill 64 is part of a multi-state effort to create a national registry. Kentucky enacted similar legislation, and six other states have introduced legislation.

AB 64 now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

For more information about Berg and her legislation, or to contact her office, visit her Web site at


CLEARLAKE – Oak Hill Middle School will receive more than $2 million over the next several years to help reduce class sizes and boost performance.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell recently submitted to the State Board of Education a list of 488 low-performing schools from throughout California that will receive dramatically increased new funding to invest in programs aimed at boosting student achievement. Oak Hill was on that list.

The funds, according to O'Connell's office, were allocated through the Quality Education Investment Act that was passed last summer.

The act was part of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by O’Connell and the California Teachers Association against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Department of Finance for failing to properly fund Proposition 98 in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 budget years.

"The Quality Education Investment Act allows us to invest significant resources for some of our lowest-performing schools," O’Connell said. "We can change the direction of these schools by hiring new, motivated teachers, decreasing class size, improving the student-to-counselor ratio, and providing more assistance and training for existing teachers and principals.”

The Quality Education Investment Act provides $2.7 billion over seven years to the selected schools, O'Connell's office reported.

When the Act is fully implemented by fiscal year 2008-09, the funds will be distributed on a basis of $500 per pupil for grades kindergarten through third, $900 per pupil in grades fourth through eighth, and $1,000 per pupil for grades ninth through 12th. In the initial funding year (fiscal year 2007-08), the amount distributed to schools will be slightly lower.

Schools eligible for the new Quality Education Investment Act funding were elementary, secondary, and charter schools that ranked in the lower deciles of 1 or 2 as determined by the 2005 Academic Performance Index (API) base.

Oak Hill's 2006 Academic Performance Index score was 620, the second-lowest score in the district.

Oak Hill, which has grades sixth through eighth, will receive $332,971 for six years, with a smaller amount the first year, said Konocti Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Louise Nan.

Beginning in the 2007-08 academic year, Nan said the school will start receiving funds for startup and planning purposes.

“The main focus of the grant is to reduce class size to 25 or fewer students and provide professional development,” she said.

The professional development includes 40 hours of training per teacher, she said.

The school's contract limit is current 32 students per teacher, said Nan. “We staff at around 29 to 1.”

Class sizes vary depending on the subject area, said Nan, with physical education classes having the largest enrollments.

The school must undergo academic reviews of test scores, and meet specific goals over the first three years of the grant in order to remain eligible for the funds, Nan explained.

At the end of seven years, the district must be prepared to “ramp down,” said Nan, which would include going back to regular class sizes.

“That could result in a layoff of staff,” she said, although normal staff attrition – such as through retirement – could reduce staff without layoffs.

The Quality Education Investment Act, said nan, is “an experiment in adequate funding,” with the state interested in seeing if more money really works in solving the problems of certain schools.

“If there is a strong difference, perhaps the legislature will see its way clear to continue funding the program in the long run,” she said.

As to why Oak Hill has been a lower-performing school, Nan said the district has been exploring that question.

“We've just completed a complete review through a district school liaison team,” she said.

The school district's board recently approved the team's recommendations, and will begin implementing them in the 2008-09 school year.

One of the primary recommendations suggests breaking up Oak Hill into a group of smaller “learning communities,” a process Nan said would have taken place even without the Quality Education Investment Act funds. Those changes at Oak Hill will begin next fall.

The learning communities will be established within each grade level and will include the core academic areas of math, science, history, social science, and language arts, according to the recommendations.

Teams of teachers will share the same group of students throughout the day in order to create a “school within a school,” the plan says. Focus will be placed on creating a culture of success for all students, and teachers will be trained in strategies aimed at engaging students in particular grades and subjects, the plan says.

Staff culture will be encouraged to create a culture of “Our Kids” vs. “The Kids,” which will include adding student activities and celebrations, mentoring programs between grades, social skills classes, repairing the school's exterior in time for the new school year, increase a feeling of safety at the campus through a perimeter fence, and coordinating community volunteer activities at the school, according to the report.

Schools that submitted applications were then randomly selected using a process that accounted for statutory requirements for geographic and grade-level distribution.

Up to $2 million will be allocated to county offices of education across the state to annually monitor the implementation of this investment program in funded schools.

Upper Lake High School Principal/Superintendent Patrick Iaccino had reported earlier this year his intention of applying for the funds, however, that school wasn't listed among the recipient schools. Iaccino could not be reached for comment for this article.

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


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