Sunday, 16 June 2024

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. – A Rohnert Park man pleaded guilty to 61 felony burglary counts this week and as a result will face more than 60 years in prison when he's sentenced next month.


Sonoma County District Attorney Stephan Passalacqua reported that on Monday James Gregory Stone pleaded guilty to the 61 charges, including 29 counts of residential burglary. Stone also pleaded to possession of an assault weapon and a bomb device.


The pleas came in on the day Stone's trial was to start, Passalacqua said.


“It is clear that the majority of the items recovered were taken from more than 50 burglaries of Rohnert Park homes and that Stone’s crime spree had gone on for over a decade,” said Assistant District Attorney Diana Gomez. “It is very fortunate that he was finally caught.”


Most of the charges relate to residential burglaries that occurred while the homes’ occupants were asleep, the District Attorney's Office reported.


Almost all of the homes were within a two block radius of Stone’s Rohnert Park home. During a search warrant of Stone’s residence, a cache of stolen property was discovered, including personal identifications, bicycles, golf clubs, firearms and power tools, according to the report.


Detectives from the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office were able to determine that the stolen property came from residential burglaries of the defendant’s neighbors over the past decade, beginning as far back 1998, officials said.


Sentencing is set for Sept. 30. Passalacqua's office said Stone faces a maximum term of 64 years and eight months in prison.


No plea bargain was made and no promises were given as to any sentence he may receive, Passalacqua said.


Deputy District Attorney Michael Li was the prosecutor assigned to the case. Sonoma County Sheriff’’s Detective Sal Borruso was the lead detective.


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NORTHERN CALIFORNIA – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proceeding with a full review of a rare San Francisco plant, thought extinct in the wild until 10 months ago, for possible listing under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).


In its initial review of a petition to protect the Franciscan Manzanita (Arctostaphylos franciscana), the service determined that there is sufficient information to conduct a more detailed examination.


At the end of a more exhaustive thorough status review, commonly termed a 12-month review, the service will decide whether to protect the species under the ESA.


Monday's announcement opens a 60-day public comment period, which closes Oct. 12. The service encourages submission of any relevant scientific and commercial data regarding this species. Useful information for the review includes biological information, genetics, habitat needs, historic and current range and populations, habitat and conservation measures.


The plant first had been discussed for protection in 1976, but was not listed at that time because it was thought to be extinct in the wild since 1947.


That changed in October 2009, in a most improbable manner.


A botanist driving south from the Golden Gate Bridge spotted a plant in the gore point of the 19th Avenue exit from Doyle Drive. He thought it might be the Franciscan Manzanita. The plant had been uncovered during vegetation clearing for the Doyle Drive reconstruction project.


The chance discovery led to a three-month effort by Caltrans, the Presidio Trust, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the California Department of Fish and Game to save the plant.


In December 2009 they completed an agreement that resulted in moving the plant to a new location last January. Biologists also took cuttings and planted seeds as part of a comprehensive agreement to save the unique plant.


The wild plant, with its 11-ton rootball, was moved on Jan. 23. Monitoring indicates it is doing well so far. Cuttings and seeds taken from the single wild plant also are growing.


Specimens and cuttings from at least three of the last wild plants have been raised in herbariums since 1947. Cultivars have become available in commercial trade.


A petition to list the manzanita on emergency basis was submitted to the service by the Wild Equity Institute, California Native Plant Society and Center for Biological Diversity in mid-December 2009.


By then a cooperative conservation plan had been developed and an agreement to move and protect the plant was completed. Petitioners were advised in January that an emergency listing was not warranted, but that the Service would proceed with a normal review process.


Monday's notice in the Federal Register is the first step in a standard review process of a petition to protect a species under the ESA.


The threshold for a positive 90-day petition finding is “that amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted.”


Based on the status review, the service will complete a 12-month finding on the petition, which will address whether the petitioned action is warranted, as provided in section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act.


Information should be submitted by one of the following methods:


  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the box that reads “Enter Keyword or ID,” enter the Docket number for this finding, which is -[FWS-R8-ES-2010- 0049]. Check the box that reads “Open for Comment/Submission,” then click the Search button and find the icon that reads “Submit a Comment.” Find the correct rulemaking before submitting comments.

  • U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: [FWS-R8-ES-2010-0049]; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.


The service will post all information received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means posting any personal information included in the submission (see the request for information section on the site for more details).


The Federal Register notice can be found at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/.


Additional information on the species can be found at www.fws.gov/ea/news_releases/2010_News_Releases/NR--Franciscan_Manzanita_+90-day_finding--2010.htm.


For information on how the species came to be discovered can be found at www.fws.gov/arsnew/regmap.cfm?arskey=27687.


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On Tuesday, August 10, 2010, California Highway Patrol officers and a tow company remained at the scene of a big rig crash on Highway 29 outside of Lakeport, Calif. Photo by John Jensen.
 

 

 


LAKEPORT, Calif. – A wreck involving a big rig and a smaller vehicle resulted in minor injuries and closed down a portion of Highway 29 on Tuesday.


The crash, which took place just north of the Nice-Lucerne Cutoff, was reported just before 3:30 p.m.


A small vehicle and a semi collided, with the big rig over on its side, according to witnesses.


The California Highway Patrol reported that there were four crash victims who were out and walking but had sustained injuries.


Caltrans personnel were called to the scene to assist with setting up cones around the blocked southbound lane, the CHP said.


The truck was reported to be leaking diesel fuel, according to the CHP.


A full report on the individuals involved in the crash and the extent of their injuries wasn't available from the CHP Tuesday evening. Minor injuries were reported.


It took several hours to investigate the scene and remove the vehicles.


At around 6:30 p.m. several CHP officers were still examining the scene. The big rig had been set upright but still hadn't been removed from the highway median at that point.


About an hour and a half later the truck had been towed off the highway.


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


 

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From left, Realtor Bob Willroy hands the keys to Hoberg's Resort in Cobb, Calif., to Daniel Kottke, a member of Cobb Mountain Partners LLC. They're accompanied by Dan Nelson, the resort's manager. The documents for the resort's sale were recorded by the Lake County Recorder's Office on July 23, 2010. Photo by Sandy Hoberg Fox.
 

 

COBB MOUNTAIN, Calif. – One of the county's most famed resort properties has passed into new ownership, with the new owners looking at opportunities to restore it to its former glory.

The sale of Hoberg's Resort, located at 15205 Highway 175 on Cobb Mountain, closed late last month, with the transfer documents recorded by the Lake County Recorder's Office on July 23.

Cobb Mountain Partners LLC, a Delaware corporation with offices in Palo Alto and San Jose, purchased the property from the Maharishi Global Administration Through Natural Law, documents showed. In all, six parcels totaling just over 50 acres were part of the sale.

Real estate listings said the property included a 40,000-square-foot lodge with another 100 buildings and a large swimming pool.

Dan Nelson – who is managing the property for Cobb Mountain Partners LLC, which incorporated July 12 – told Lake County News that the sale was supposed to have closed about nine months ago.

Negotiations had been under way for a while, he said, but finally concluded this summer.

He said he could not disclose terms of the sale, but county documents stated that the seller carried $1.75 million, and the transfer fees for title totaled $2,200. Recorder staff said the fee is determined at a rate of $1.10 per $1,000 of sale cost, for an estimated total price of $2 million.

The property had variously been listed for just over $2.9 million and $3.5 million.

Attempts to contact representatives for Maharishi Global Administration Through Natural Law so far have been unsuccessful.

The past magic of the resort – which marks its 125th anniversary this year – “just really awed the investors and the partners,” Nelson said.

“They just had to have it,” he said.

The new Web site for the resort, http://Hoberg'sclub.com, has stirred a lot of community interest – Nelson said they've already received a couple hundred phone calls at their corporate offices – but he said that the resort hasn't yet undergone any renovations, and that the pictures and plans on the Web site don't represent its actual condition. It's merely a conceptualization launched nine months ago.

“We're not saying it's going to look exactly like that because we don't know for sure at this point in time but it was one of the conceptual ideas,” Nelson said.

The group of investors includes members of the entertainment business. Nelson, who is acting as manager for the group and isn't himself an investor, also works in the entertainment industry and is chief executive officer of Action 3D Entertainment.

He said the investors are considering a wide variety of uses for the property – from housing a movie set to hosting a film festival, as well as creating a resort similar to Hoberg's in its heyday. However, Nelson added there are no specific plans yet.

Whatever the plans turn out to be, Nelson said it will bring a lot of people to Cobb Mountain and Lake County.

“It's an amazing place,” he said of the resort, noting that you can feel the vibe of what it was like 50 years ago.

Nelson said there has been a lot of speculation about who the investors are. While he didn't offer any information, he did provide a picture of the handing over of the resort's keys to Daniel Kottke, one of the group.

Kottke, 56, an inventor and computer engineer, was Apple's first official employee, and he – along with Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak – assembled and tested the first Apple 1 computer, according to his biography.

A storied history

Members of the Hoberg family couldn't be reached for comment, but a 2007 book by Donna Hoberg, “Resorts of Lake County,” showed Hoberg's in its early and mid-20th century glory.

The resort had a swimming pool, hotel, airport and an outdoor dance pavilion known as the “Pine Bowl” that drew big band notables such as Tommy Dorsey, Xavier Cugat, Walt Tolleson, Harry James and Freddy Martin, the band of the latter including a young performer named Merv Griffin.

Founded in 1885 by Gustav and Mathilda Hoberg, Hoberg's Resort would attract notables from around the country. Renowned botanist Luther Burbank stayed there, as did Earl Warren in 1946 when he was governor of California, the book recounted.

Hoberg's also reportedly had a sister resort, Hoberg's Desert Resort in Borrego Springs, Calif., which burned in 1958 but later was rebuilt, according to a history of the Southern California resort.

However, financial difficulties eventually ended the Cobb resort's operation, according to Donna Hoberg's book.

For two years after George Hoberg's death in 1970, the family operated it as a boarding school, the book explained.

In January 1974 the family sold it to Maharishi International University, according to county documents.

In the years since the land was recorded under the ownership of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's World Plan Executive Council and, eventually, the Maharishi Global Administration, county records showed. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the founder of the Transcendental Meditation movement.

During the time it was owned by the maharishi's organizations, County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox said it wasn't operated as a public resort, but was used only for the organizations' members.

Nelson said it appears that the resort property wasn't used actively over the past 10 years, with not much work being done on the facilities.

“It's a monumental task to take on the repair and renovation of the place,” he said.

The resort's new owners already are starting to do cleanup and small repairs, Nelson said.

“It will require a tremendous amount of cost and a tremendous amount of work and commitment from everybody to get everything back to where it needs to be, where we can have guests back at the facility,” Nelson said. “It will require an army of people to really bring this place back.”

Resort reopening a promising possibility for the county

Cox, who himself has never been inside Hoberg's facility, is hopeful for what may be ahead for the resort.

“I think it could have a tremendous positive impact on the local economy and the county's revenues,” he said.

Resorts have had an important part in Lake County's history. Beginning in the 19th century they began drawing visitors to the county to enjoy hot springs and mountain air.

The establishments bring in transient occupancy tax – or TOT – for the county, with those funds in turn used for marketing and economic development efforts.

The visitors who come to the resorts also impact other businesses – restaurants, grocery stores and a variety of other merchants, economic studies have shown.

When Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa closed last November, it meant substantial impacts for county businesses and TOT, as well as many lost jobs, as Lake County News has reported.

The country's economic recession also impacted tourism, and a number of county resorts currently are on the market.

Those on the multiple listing service include Cobb facilities Edie's Resort, $875,000, and Pine Grove Resort, $1,295,000; the 10-acre lakeside Ferndale Resort in Kelseyville, listed for $1,495,000; Saratoga Springs in Upper Lake, a 260-acre retreat offered for $2.2 million; and Willow Point in Lakeport, located on the water, with 61 park spaces, priced at $4.95 million.

The notable resort that's missing from the listings is Konocti Harbor, which was to be sold as the result of a federal court case that was settled in 2007.

The US Department of Labor sued the resort's owner, Lakeside Haven, the convalescent trust fund for Local 38 of the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Journeymen, for having diverted millions of dollars in pension funds to operate the resort, as Lake County News has reported.

The federal court ordered WhiteStar Advisors of Boca Raton, Fla., to act as the independent fiduciary and oversee the resort's sale. WhiteStar Advisors Managing Director James Bishop has not returned phone calls from Lake County News seeking an update on the resort, which also is not listed for sale on the WhiteStar Web site.

Despite the impact of losing Konocti Harbor's TOT, a review of the first quarter TOT for Lake County shows, according to Cox, “We're not doing that bad.”

Cox couldn't go into specifics about what the resorts pay in TOT – that's confidential – but he added that TOT revenues so far this year were “better than what I thought.”

He said Hoberg's is a unique facility that could have a big impact on the county's economy.

“I welcome the opportunity to work with the new owners and help them make it a great success,” he said.

Nelson said more plans for the resort will be forthcoming soon, with updates to be posted on the Web site.

He said community members are invited to send resumes and information about their skills to the group at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

The owners will be hiring “quite a large number” of Lake County residents to help with the resort's transformation over the coming year, he said.

Nelson called the local enthusiasm “wonderful.”

“We're very excited and looking forward to working with the local Lake County citizens,” he said.

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

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From left, Julio Castellanos, Knute Zollo and Sean Fahnholz were arrested on Monday, August 9, 2010, and charged with the armed break-in of a home in Kelseyville, Calif. Photos courtesy of the Lake County Jail.




 


KELSEYVILLE, Calif. – On Monday Lake County Sheriff's deputies arrested three men alleged to have been responsible for an armed break-in at a Kelseyville home earlier in the day.


Arrested in the case were Sean Christopher Fahnholz, 19, Julio Antonio Castellanos, 18, and Knute Zollo, 20, all of Kelseyville, according to a report from sheriff's Sgt. Brian Martin.


Martin said that on Monday just before 5:30 a.m. a 35-year-old Kelseyville man called to report that he could hear prowlers trying to break into his home.


While on the phone with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center, the man reported that three armed suspects had forced entry into his residence, Martin said.


Responding deputies activated their lights and sirens; upon hearing the sirens, the suspects left the house and fled the scene, according to Martin.


After the man provided descriptions of the suspects, deputies searched the area and located them at a nearby residence, Martin said.


He said the name and address of the victim are being withheld pending further investigation, as are details of any weapons involved.


Fahnholz and Zollo were being held on $10,000 bail each, while Castellanos was booked on an additional no-bail felony probation hold, according to Lake County Jail documents.


Anyone with information concerning the incident is urged to call the Lake County Sheriff’s Office Investigation Division at 707-262-4231.


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LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Local Search and Rescue and K-Corps members responded with more than 100 other rescuers to help locate an elderly woman who was reported missing on the coast this weekend.


Mendocino County Sheriff's officials reported Tuesday that 76-year-old Naomi Alice Kerwin of Albion was found alive at 7 p.m. Monday in the Albion Ridge Road.


Kerwin had been reported missing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, according to Lt. Dennis Bushnell of the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office.


Kerwin, who suffers from Alzheimer's, had last been seen on Saturday walking her terrier Rosie in the Albion Ridge Road area, Bushnell reported.


Bushnell said Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies began an immediate search of the area before Mendocino County Search and Rescue and the Albion Fire Department were called out. The search was fully under way at 10 p.m. Saturday with 12 personnel.


On Sunday morning, officials requested more personnel, air units and K-9 teams, with approximately 60 personnel involved, Bushnell said. Additional agencies involved in the search were Cal Fire, the California Highway Patrol, Sonoma County Search and Rescue and Marin County Search and Rescue.


Also included in the search were members of Lake County Search and Rescue and K-Corps, according to Sgt. Gary Basor, the Lake County Sheriff's Office's Search and Rescue coordination.


He said the sheriff's office received a mutual aid request Saturday shortly before 10 p.m.


“We responded with 17 members of our Search and Rescue team,” which included K-Corps, Basor said.


When Kerwin was found Monday night, she was 200 feet off the road down a hill in dense brush, Bushnell said.


Basor said the location where Kerwin was located was about a quarter of a mile from the point where she was last seen.


“She was dehydrated and somewhat lethargic, probably wasn't going to last the night based on what my team has said,” Basor said.


The Lake County technical rope rescue team – composed both of Search and Rescue members and teenage K-Corps members – assisted with packaging Kerwin and pulling her up out of the canyon, according to Basor.


During the search Bushnell said there were 160 searchers from various agencies on scene, with resources including people on foot and ATVs, as well as mounted and air units.


He said Kerwin was OK and had returned home.


This was the first call out for the local Search and Rescue in a while, said Basor.


“Search and Rescue-wise, it's been relatively quiet,” he said.


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

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James Hersey of Spring Valley, Calif., captured this shot of a Cal Fire helicopter dropping water on a fire near Clearlake Oaks, Calif., on Monday, August 9, 2010.




CLEARLAKE OAKS – Firefighters started off the week with a quick response to a fire along Highway 20 on Monday.


The fire was located near Clearlake Lava in the 14000 block of Highway 20 in Clearlake Oaks, according to Cal Fire.


Initial reports from the California Highway Patrol indicated the fire was about a half-mile off the highway, near a power transformer.


Michael Selmi of Cal Fire's Incident Command Center in St. Helena said the fire was dispatched at around 10:30 a.m. Monday.


It burned five acres, and no structures were threatened, he said.


He said Cal Fire and Lake County Fire responded to the fire together.


Cal Fire alone sent five engines, two crews, two dozers, three fixed wing and a helicopter, in addition to the Lake County Fire resources, Selmi said.


The fire was contained shortly before 12:30 p.m., Selmi said, with mop up continuing for a few more hours.


While the fire's cause was still under investigation, Selmi said Cal Fire officials believed a bird flying into a power line may have sparked it.


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

 

 

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A Cal Fire helicopter gets water from a pond to drop on a fire near Clearlake Oaks, Calif., on Monday, August 9, 2010. Photo by James Hershey.
 

TALMAGE – On Sunday Mendocino County Sheriff's officials arrested a Talmage man who is suspected of setting several fires.


Vernon James, 40, was taken into custody and charged with arson, according to a report from Capt. Kurt Smallcomb.


At 11 p.m. Sunday a deputy was dispatched to 2501 Old River Road in Talmage in regards to a vegetation fire. Smallcomb said the deputy contacted Ukiah Valley Fire Chief Dan Grebil who was on scene.


An investigation into the fire scene revealed that the cause was believed to be suspicious in nature, Smallcomb said.


The deputy contacted James, who was standing on his porch viewing the emergency service activities. Smallcomb said the deputy had been earlier advised that James has been suspected of being involved in numerous suspicious fires, ranging from Redwood Valley – where James used to reside – to Talmage, where numerous suspicious vegetation fires have been investigated by Ukiah Valley Fire Personnel.


Smallcomb said the deputy was able to obtain a statement from James, who admitted to being responsible for the current vegetation fire. James also admitted to starting three different vegetation fires on this date by using his lighter in the dry grass.


The most recent fires were adjacent to the Caravan Mobile Home Park located on Old River Road, Smallcomb said.


James was placed under arrest and transported to the Mendocino County Jail, according to Smallcomb.


Ukiah Valley Fire Personnel along with Cal Fire and Mendocino County Sheriff's deputies continue to conduct further investigation into suspicious fires in the area which James may be responsible for, Smallcomb said.


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John Lee Hooker Jr. was a featured performer at the Blue Wing Blues Festival on Friday, August 6, 2010. Photo by T. Watts.
 

 




UPPER LAKE, Calif. – It has been this correspondent’s pleasure to witness the four season metamorphosis of the Blue Wing Blues Festival from a neighborhood musical gathering to a full-fledged, world-class entity.


There are larger festivals, of course, but if you are looking for upscale, intimate down-home funky blues, you will indeed find it at this event.


The all-weekend affair kicked off Friday, Aug. 6, with the new, expanded version of Lake County’s Side Of Blues.


With the relatively recent addition of guitarist Eric Roach, Side Of Blues has elevated its sound to another level.


The interplay between Roach and harmonica ace Tom King propels the band into a high energy very danceable mix. In addition the band features Bobby Pfanmuller on drums, Tommy Ing on bass and Anita Elliott on keyboards.


Their well-received set was heavy on the Chicago Blues with covers of Little Walter and Jimmy Rogers as well as Jimmy Reed’s post Chicago material.


The main lead vocal chores were ably handled by King. Roach sang lead one song and Elliott lent her sultry-smooth vocals on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Little Walter’s “Hate To See You Go.”


When the band left the stage to boisterous, hearty applause, they came back to do Jimmy Rogers’ “Walkin’ By Myself” as an encore. Fine performance.


The son of legendary Mississippi Delta born Bluesman John Lee Hooker is rapidly becoming a legend himself. The two-time Grammy-nominated John Lee Hooker Jr. bounded onstage with greetings of “Upper Lake! Upper Lake!”


The Hooker Band launched into a burning set of blues and R&B that ingratiated itself immediately with the crowd. The band consisted of Michael Rogers on drums, Angelo Asanti on guitar, Elpher Legaspi on keyboards and Jack Starnes on bass.


Through a great monologue on a song entitled “Extra-Marital Affair,” Hooker Jr. made it clear that the road from seedy tenderloin hotels to the Tallman is not so far removed as one might think, despite the hazards of drugs, jail, infidelity and divorce.


In an exclusive pre-performance interview, Hooker revealed that he is drug-free and happily married, and not taking those side trips anymore.


In a rollicking, cutting edge set that included sing along audience participation, a tribute to Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Charlie Musselwhite and his dad, and a Funky Ass Booty Dance Contest, Hooker and band claimed Upper Lake as their own. They pulled out all the stops despite having a Saturday 7 a.m. flight out of San Francisco.


The crowd would not be satisfied without Hooker’s rendition of his dad’s classic “Boom Boom.” The band did an encore song simply titled, “Boogie.”


After the set Hooker graciously signed copies of his new CD, “Live In Istanbul.” The two-disc set includes a killer animated video. A blues first! You heard it first right here.


Saturday night’s opener was Boogie Piano Queen Wendy DeWitt. As reported 16 months ago when she last played the Tallman Hotel’s Concerts With Conversation series, DeWitt is a gifted stylist. She is fluent in the styles of the great masters of blues and boogie piano. The list includes Otis Spann, Memphis Slim, Big Maceo, Joe Duskin, Meade Lux Lewis, Little Brother Montgomery, Pete Johnson and a host of others.

 

 

 

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Wendy DeWitt wit Kirk Harwood on drums performed at the Blue Wing Blues Festival on Saturday, August 7, 2010. Photo by T. Watts.
 

 

 


Dewitt is quite capable of holding a crowd’s attention without accompaniment but came to this year’s engagement with a drummer, Kirk Harwood.


DeWitt and Harwood kept the crowd’s rapt attention throughout. So intense was her captivation of the guests that even the dancers remained seated throughout, slack-jawed in awe of DeWitt’s dexterity and comic timing.


She closed with a Memphis Slim tune and left to a standing ovation. Of course she was convinced to do an encore. DeWitt offered up tasty servings of the aforementioned styles. She included compositions penned by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Fats Domino, Ahmet Ertegan, Gershwin and many others.


Lady Bianca and her band hit the stage just before dusk and immediately had the crowd dancing and swaying to left/right blues. After the second up-tempo number she slowed it down to a slow blues. Off in the corner, if you will, slow-dragged DeWitt and her drummer Kirk.


Bianca is a great pianist-storyteller and her monologues and tunes, co-penned by her husband Stanley Lippet, have great hooks. (Wake up man, it’s time to go home to your wife!)


On one medley which included what she called her stalking song – “Should’na Made it So Good” – Bianca told a tale of divorce, bar pickup of a nerd who turned into a muscle-bound stalker overnight. It was hilarious.


Her gospel background is infused with blues, R&B and country. She is fond of covering Elvis songs as well. She did a version of “Don’t Be Cruel” that was great. She also does a Lippet/Bianca Thornton penned called “The Oprah Winfrey Show” that is pure unadulterated country.


Bianca is a great artist, and a fine closer with stellar accompanists, including Steve Gannon on guitar and Michael Skinner on drums. Of course they did an encore as well.


I was not in attendance on Sunday night when Lake County’s own Twice As Good opened for Bernie Butcher’s new favorite guitarist, Daniel Castro. Twice As Good always tears it up so it must have been rockin’.


Did I mention the food? It was superb. Babyback ribs, Halibut Steak and chicken grilled to barbecue perfection. Perfect sides to match. The Butcher’s, Lynn and Bernie, did it again.


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

 

 

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LUCERNE, Calif. – The state's Division of Ratepayer Advocates and California Water Service Co. have reached a proposed settlement agreement covering the company's general rate case request for hikes across its many districts around the state, including Lucerne's water system.


The 600-page proposed settlement document, which was filed June 28, is for the 2009 general rate case. It still must be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to make a final decision by the end of the year in time for the agreement to become effective on Jan. 1, 2011, the company and the DRA reported.


Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey O'Donnell, who traveled to Lucerne in March to host a public meeting on the rate hike, is now writing a proposed decision, said Patrick Hoglund, the DRA's lead on the case. The DRA is a division of the CPUC.


Last week O'Donnell's ruling scheduling briefs and issues yet to be addressed was posted, with the judge giving the company, the DRA and the intervenors August and September deadlines for filing briefs that he will consider in his final decision.


Cal Water originally requested statewide rate increases for 2011 of 16.75 percent, totaling $70.6 million for its 460,000 customers across its 24 California districts, as Lake County News has reported. The company also requested $24.7 million, or 5.04 percent, in 2012 and $24.7 million, or 4.79-percent, in 2013.


The terms of the settlement recommend $34.4 million – or about a 7.1-percent average increase statewide – according to Hoglund.


Cal Water reported that the settlement also included $7 million of rate relief once certain capital projects are completed.


For Lucerne, where the settlement notes that Cal Water has 1,279 customers, the company wanted rate increases of 54.9 percent in 2011, 7 percent in 2012 and 6.6 percent in 2013.


Hoglund said the DRA originally had proposed a 30.6-percent increase for Lucerne, which ultimately is proposed to see rates climb by 41.6 percent for 2011.


“In these settlement negotiations there is give and take on various positions,” he said.


Darin Duncan, Cal Water's rates manager, gave a very preliminary estimate for Lucerne of a 2-percent increase in 2012 and another 2 percent increase in 2013.


“The good news is it's not 55 percent,” said Craig Bach, president of the Lucerne Community Water Organization, a group that formed in 2005 to combat a 273-percent increase for the Lucerne water system that Cal Water proposed. The final increase in that rate case was about 120 percent.


“Until we own our own water, we're going to be victimized by corporate water,” said Bach, who believes Cal Water ended up getting everything it actually wanted in the proposed settlement.


Duncan said the company thinks the proposed settlement is a fair one, and that the Division of Ratepayer Advocates did a very thorough job in analyzing both expense projections and proposed infrastructure projects.


“If the administrative law judge upholds the settlement, I think we will be able to proceed with some very important water projects to increase the reliability of our water systems,” he said.


“There are many projects that will be deferred to future general rate cases that are important to the long-term health of the water systems,” Duncan said. “However, before agreeing to defer these projects, we involved the local system operators for all of the 24 systems in California to ensure we did not defer a project that was critical to have today.”


He said the company hasn't calculated statewide percentages. Hoglund said increases for 2012 and 2013 would be determined later in a separate attrition filing that incorporates inflation, customer growth and infrastructure projects, as well as any advice letter projects that may be completed by the time that filing is made.


Hoglund said settlement talks between Cal Water and the DRA began in April and continued through most of May, with an extension to file the settlement requested and received from the judge. That's because drafting the document took longer than they had anticipated, Hoglund said.


Due to the CPUC's recent schedule, it's now requiring rate cases to be filed on all districts at once, rather than eight at a time, as has been done in the past, according to Hoglund.


As a result, while past documents would have been about 100 pages or slightly larger, Hoglund said this one is 600 pages.


Hoglund said one of the things that had affected a number of districts in the general rate case was the number of positions that Cal Water wanted to add, totaling 75 throughout the state.


“Our initial recommendation had a very low number,” he said, with the settlement ultimately agreeing to 29.


“Of those 29, 11 are actually positions that were carried over from prior years that had not been filled,” he said.


Duncan said the positions will be located in the general office and in the districts.


Previous rate hikes had covered those unfilled positions. When asked if the company can now collect rate hikes to cover those same 11 positions again, Hoglund replied, “The answer would be yes.”


As of last September, of 96 previously requested employee positions, 23 hadn't been hired, Hoglund said.


He said it's difficult to say where those dollars for unhired employees go. The general rate case requires companies to make a reasonable estimate of costs and revenues required to operate, and the forecast revenues need to cover not just expenses but give the company an opportunity to earn a rate of return.


“It's not a specific, hard and fast plan for the utility,” he said. “They have some operational leeway.”


Hoglund said everything is done on a forecast and estimate basis, so there's an expectation that “it's not going to be exactly right.”


However, if the company is continually forecasting and requesting additional employees but not filling the positions, “That's problematic,” Hoglund said.


The goal is for companies to get better at planning and forecasting, he explained. “For something like hiring employees, we can point out to the company that here are areas of concerns.”


Duncan said the company acknowledges that it had difficulty in the past filling all of its approved positions.


There were a number of reasons for that – from its human resources department not being set up to hire as many people as needed to a wave of retirements and critical background checks, which slowed the process.


“We have now identified all bottlenecks to the hiring process and have outsourced some of the background checks and other hiring requirements that make sense and have made strives to eliminate hurdles,” Duncan said. “I am confident that we will be able to hire the new employees in a timely manner, while ensuring we have the best people working on the water supply for our customers.”


As for what ratepayers can expect next year, “The actual rate design has not yet been done,” said Hoglund, explaining that will part of O'Donnell's proposed decision.


While no party intervened on behalf of Lucerne, Santa Rosa resident Jeffrey Young intervened on behalf of the Marin County community of Dillon Beach, located south of Bodega and west of Tomales. This is his third rate case in nine years.


Cal Water is one of two water companies in the community, covering about 250 homes, Young said. The community has both low income members and those who are extremely affluent, with about 20 percent of the residents living there full-time.


Rates for customers of Cal Water's customers will go up 78 percent if the settlement is approved, less than half the 153 percent the company had sought. Dillon Beach recently had another 33-percent increase, Young said.


While negotiations are still going on regarding a rate support fund, which Young said could help Lucerne's rates, he added, “I am not going to disagree with anything that's in the settlement.”


However, the settlement is still very much in discussion, with some of the communities disputing costs of projects and other items listed in the proposed settlement, according to communications exchanged between the parties.


Back in Lucerne, Bach and other town residents are complaining about water quality. Despite the town having a new multimillion dollar water plant, many people are complaining that the water coming out of their taps has a strong odor they attribute to the summer's algae blooms.


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

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