Thursday, 18 July 2024


LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's unemployment rate hit 10 percent for September, the highest rate for that month in a dozen years.

However, Dennis Mullins of the Employment Development Department's Labor Market Information Division's North Coast Region said that, looking at the county's employment trends, he believes rates should start to drop soon.

September's 10-percent rate was up 0.2 percent from August's 9.8 percent, noted Mullins, and 2.4 percent above the September 2007 rate of 7.6 percent.

At 10.0 percent, Lake ranked 49th among the state’s 58 counties, said Mullins.

Neighboring county rates included 8.8 percent for Colusa, 6.4 percent for Mendocino, 9.4 percent for Glenn, 6.9 percent for Yolo, 5.2 percent for Napa and 5.8 percent for Sonoma, according to Employment Development Department statistics.

Marin had the lowest rate in the State at 4.7 percent and Imperial County had the highest with 24.5 percent, Mullins said.

The comparable California and U.S. rates were 7.5 and 6.0 percent, respectively, he added.

The highest unemployment rate recorded in Lake County so far this year was 10.5 percent, which it reached in January, as Lake County News has reported. March and July both recorded 10.2-percent unemployment rates.

Mullins reported that year-over job growth in Lake County was led by trade, transportation and utilities, which added 80 jobs; followed by private educational and health services, 70 jobs; and government, 30 jobs.

At the same time, year-over job losses occurred in leisure and hospitality, which led decliners by dropping 90 jobs, followed by natural resources, mining and construction, declining 40, other services which lost 20, and 10 lost jobs each for information and financial activities, he said.

The farm, manufacturing, and professional and business services had no change over the past year, Mullins noted.

From August to September, statistics show that the county lost a total of 560 jobs in all industries, with 530 coming in the farming sector alone; that period coincided with the end of the local pear season. Other sectors such as retail; trade, transportation and utilities; and transportation, warehousing and utilities lost jobs during that time, Mullins reported.

One big jump was in local and state government jobs, with 200 of those added from August to September, statistics show.

Mullins said that rural counties this year appeared to have eclipsed the higher unemployment rates they suffered in late 2001 after the country was hit by an economic downturn.

In 2001, Lake County's average unemployment rate was 7.1 percent, which rose to 8.3 percent in 2002 and 9.2 percent in 2003, according to Employment Development Department numbers.

By 2004, the numbers started to drop as part of a natural cycle, Mullins said.

And, indeed, the 2004 average rate dropped to 9.1 percent, lower than the previous year despite recording an 11.3-percent unemployment rate in January of that year, a rate which it hadn't seen since 1998.

The average unemployment numbers show that 2005 and 2006 also were better, at 8 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively.

Then, in 2007, the numbers began to climb again, rising to 8.5 percent. If this year's numbers continue on their current trend, the 2008 average is likely to be higher.

But Mullins said it's important to balance the tough economic news with an understanding of the trend.

Looking back further, Mullins said the county went through a cycle of dropping employment and a sagging economy in the early 1990s, and it took about five years to move through that trend.

“We're in a similar type of cycle,” he said, adding that Lake County is only about a year into that trend.

While Lake County's unemployment rate is high, Mullins said it appears to be peaking, which means it should begin to decline over the next five years as part of another recovery cycle.

The very seasonal nature of Lake County's economy – with agriculture and tourism important factors – makes for more notable employment trends, with spring usually showing better employment rates, he said.

Mullins also pointed out that Lake County actually gained 10 jobs in September 2008 over the same month last year, reaching 15,320 private industry jobs. At the same time, Mendocino County's much larger employment pool lost 530 jobs, falling from 33,270 to 32,740, with manufacturing hardest hit. That same sector in Lake County was unchanged.

Adding jobs as Lake County did, Mullins added, is out of the ordinary for the state right now.

Also notable is that Lake County's civilian labor force grew by 820 over the past year, said Mullins, while Mendocino's only grew 290.

“Comparing Lake to Mendocino kind of gives you some perspective,” he said.

Across the state, the housing and financial sectors have been hardest hit when it comes to job loss, said Mullins.

He said that when the housing bubble burst in the last few years, the impact on housing and construction reverberated through the rest of the economy as jobs were lost and sales slowed.

Mullins added that California's counties are following state and national economic and employment trends.

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


MORGAN VALLEY – A fire that was first reported Saturday afternoon and burned overnight was contained on Sunday, fire officials reported.

The wildland fire was reported in the 5900 block of Berryessa-Knoxville Road, according to Cal Fire.

Four hand crews and an unspecified number of engines worked the fire on Sunday, when it was contained, Cal Fire dispatchers reported. The last report of its size was 20 acres.

Cal Fire noted one hand crew was left on the scene overnight to continue mopping up.

The fire's cause is under investigation, according to Cal Fire.

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


CLEARLAKE – For years, it's been known as Redbud Community Hospital, but that's about to end.

Adventist Health officials announced late Friday that Redbud Community Hospital is undergoing a name change, and will henceforth be known as St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake

The new name becomes effect on Nov. 3, at which time the hospital will hold an inauguration ceremony on its campus to honor the past and celebrate the future.

Hospital administration said the switch is meant to better reflect the joint operating partnership between St. Helena Hospital in Napa County and St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake. Under that agreement, the hospitals coordinate a comprehensive spectrum of health care services for Napa, Lake, Solano, Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

“This process began more than two years ago as the two hospitals aligned their governing board, executive team, operations and many regional positions,” said JoAline Olson, the hospital's president and chief executive officer. “St. Helena Hospital has an excellent reputation in Lake, Napa and surrounding counties and is known for its high quality patient care and patient satisfaction, as well as its centers of excellence.”

Linda Gibson, senior vice president of operations at Redbud and a longtime senior administrator at St. Helena Hospital, said, “With the name change, we are extending the St. Helena brand and reputation to Lake County and strengthening our position as a regional provider of health care services.”

St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake is investing approximately $10 million in new and upgraded facilities in Lake County, including an emergency department expansion, remodeled surgery suites, a sophisticated electronic medical records system, a new hospital front entrance, new equipment, and a new family health center in Kelseyville.

In addition to being the second largest employer in Lake County, the hospital provided the following services last year: 76,000 rural health clinic visits, 57,000 outpatient visits, 15,000 emergency department visits and 1,600 in-patient visits.

Both St. Helena Hospital-Clearlake and Napa's St. Helena Hospital are part of the 19-hospital network of Adventist Health, a nonprofit, faith-based health system operating in California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington.


SACRAMENTO – When it came to getting bills signed into law in the state Legislature this year, state Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) led the pack.

Wiggins had 17 bills signed this year, up from 11 last year, according to her spokesman, David Miller. That number doesn't include the bills she co-authored with another legislator.

Those 17 bills put Wiggins ahead of the other 39 state senators and all of the Assembly.

Assembly member Patty Berg (D-Eureka) had 10 bills signed into law this year, with two vetoed, according to her office.

Legislators sent a total of 1187 bills to the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, and he vetoed 415 of those measures, for a record rejection rate of 35 percent, Miller reported. Wiggins had seven bills vetoed.

“All of us who work for members of the legislature feel each and every one of our respective bosses’ bills are important of course, but in a practical sense, Sen. Wiggins’ bills included measures that removed obstacles for businesses – a sentiment this governor obviously shares – measures which protected consumers, measures which protected both business and consumers alike, and measures which were good for both people and the environment,” said Miller.

He added, “She had some other very practical bills that were vetoed, as well, but by and large she was able to successfully move a large number of bills that will positively impact a broad range of Californians.”

Lists of the signed and vetoed bills follow, with brief summaries of what each bill was intended to do.


SB 157: Non-Profit Organizations

Over the past several years, there have been a number of laws passed pertaining to winemakers and winegrape growers participating with nonprofit organizations at charity events, including pouring wine for tasting as well as taking orders for wine to be filled back at their wineries or businesses. This bill would make all of those laws consistent, has passed both houses of the Legislature. Signed Sept. 26.

SB 562: Salmon Restoration Funding

Allocates nearly $5.3 million in Proposition 84 funds to the state Department of Fish and Game for coastal salmon and steelhead fisheries restoration. Prop. 84 (the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act) was approved by California voters in 2006. Gov. Schwarzenegger signed this bill into law on April 11, a move which also enable our state to leverage up to $20 million in federal funds for salmon this year.

SB 579: Firefighters

Authorizes Los Angeles County to permit firefighters who retired after April 1, 2007 to reinstate from retirement and work beyond the retirement age, as long they meet certain physical requirements. Signed June 2.

SB 607: Home Winemakers

According to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, a section of state code forbad competitions for wines made by home winemakers, including those held at county fairs or the state fair. This bill, which Gov. Schwarzenegger signed on June 6, updates the law to officially legalize such events.

SB 608: Judges’ Retirement

This bill makes several changes to the provisions governing the ability of a member of the Judges Retirement System I to elect an optional settlement prior to retirement. It restores the ability of judges that have attained the minimum age for service retirement with at least 20 years of service to elect to designate their spouse to receive an optional settlement in lieu of a pre-retirement death benefit. Signed on Feb. 28.

SB 634: Olive Oil Standards

Each year sees increases in the volume and types of high quality olive oil produced in California, some of which rivals the best oils produced in the world. This bill recognizes that growth and progress by establishing standards for olive oil in California, in line with international standards. Signed on Sept. 30.

SB 662: Veterans Homes

This bill makes technical clarifying changes to the Military and Veterans code regarding management of the state’s Veterans Homes. Gov. Schwarzenegger signed this bill into law on July 22.

SB 780: Funding for Rural and Underserved Telephone Services

Allows for the continued funding of a program paid for by all customers of home and cellular telephone services to protect rural and underserved areas of the state from outrageous phone bills. Signed on Sept. 26.

SB 911: Hot Air Balloons

Allows for the continued exemption of hot air balloon operators from regulation by the California Public Utilities Commission (the PUC) in order for the industry to be able to maintain reasonable priced liability insurance for carrying passengers. Signed on Sept. 30.

SB 1016: Landfill Disposal

Requires cities and counties to measure the amount of waste that is actually deposited in a landfill as opposed to the amount that they could supposedly divert. Will give the California Integrated Waste Management Board a more accurate and timely portrayal of how cities and counties meet the 50% diversion requirement. Signed on Sept. 26.

SB 1093: San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority

This bill is a cleanup measure to last year’s SB 976, which transferred multiple city-operated ferry systems under one state organized ferry system. Specifically, SB 1093 ensures that the level of ferry service in the cities of Vallejo and Alameda are not diminished, and that no downtown redevelopment projects designed around the ferry system are negatively impacted. This bill also requires that if the state takes possession of any ferry facilities or vessels, the city will receive just and reasonable compensation. Signed on Sept. 27.

SB 1123: PERS-Governor’s Pension Commission

Proposes to enact certain recommendations of the Governor's Pension Commission, which met during 2007, relating to: a) retirement and health benefits for employees and retirees being adopted by various California public governing bodies in open, public session, and b) the creation of a State Advisory Actuarial Panel, composed of professional pension actuaries, to discuss and suggest "best practices" for actuaries employed by public retirement systems. Signed on Sept. 27.

SB 1149: Rural Telephone Grants

This bill continues funding for a grant program that provides residential telephone services and cellular coverage to people who are considered to be low-income and/or live in rural areas where no telephone services are currently offered. Signed on Sept. 27.

SB 1431: State Park Easements

This bill seeks to clarify that the state Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) can use conservation easements to protect and preserve state park lands, and enable DPR to make grants to state or local government agencies, or nonprofits, to purchase and hold conservation easements for protection and preservation. Signed on July 17.

SB 1627: Accountability of Board of Pilot Commissioners

This bill places the Board of Pilot Commissioners (Board) under the jurisdiction of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency for the purpose of ensuring appropriate oversight, accountability, and transparency of the Board. The board should be as robust as possible to make certain pilots are properly trained and licensed, so that environmentally devastating accidents, such as the Cosco Busan incident, are minimized or, prevented. Signed on Sept. 29.

SB 1690: Crab Bill

This bill will create an industry advisory group for California crab fishermen, which will ultimately develop recommendations for a sustainable crab fishery. Signed on Sept. 30.

SB 1699: Design Build for Hospitals

This bill allows Sonoma Valley Hospital to use a “design-build” bidding process to build new hospitals or retrofit existing hospitals. The design-build process is different from a typical bidding process for construction projects because it consolidates the design and construction phases for constructing a building to be done by a single entity, which will save SVH time and money. Signed on Sept. 27.


SB 623: Posted Prices of Gasoline

This bill would have required owners of gas stations to post the price differences between purchases of gasoline with cash and with credit cards. Vetoed by the governor.

SB 992: Adult Recovery Maintenance Facilities

Creates a new category of licensed rehabilitation facilities called Adult Recovery Maintenance Facilities, and gives the Alcohol and other Drug Programs (ADP) authority to ensure these facilities are offering quality services to people in rehabilitation. Vetoed by the governor.

SB 1167: Auto Insurance/Steering Consumers

This bill requires the insurance commissioner to convene a task force that would address “steering” issues and issue a report of their findings and recommendations to the Legislature by December 2009. Some auto insurance representatives continue to persuade consumers to make their vehicle repairs at certain auto body shops, even if the consumer has already selected a shop. Such “steering” is a result of lax existing anti-steering laws that need to be reevaluated in order to protect consumer choice. This bill has passed both the Senate and Assembly. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 1167 on Sept. 26.

SB 1376: PERS Omnibus Bill

This bill is the annual "housekeeping omnibus bill for the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) that makes many technical, non-substantive word changes in the STRS Law, or repeals obsolete or non-operative sections of that law. Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed this bill on Sept. 26.

SB 1442: Supplemental Instruction/Career Technical Education

This bill clarifies that schools can teach career technical education courses in their after-school or summer school programs. This bill has passed both houses of the Legislature. Vetoed on Sept. 28.

SB 1557: Smart Growth Planning

This bill adds a provision to the State’s Smart Growth planning priorities that seeks to address green house gas emissions. It would strengthen state law with regard to land use by updating Assembly Bill 857, a landmark piece of legislation (signed into law in 2002) to address state practices re: land use. Unfortunately, the provisions of AB 857 have largely been ignored, making SB 1557 necessary. Vetoed by the governor.

SB 1645: Energy Design Element

This bill would require the Energy Commission to update its Energy Aware Planning Guide, and require the Commission to work with the state to develop climate change and energy models for local government general plans. This bill has passed both houses of the Legislature. Vetoed by the governor on Sept. 28.


AB 572: Adult Day Health Care

Modernizes current statute regarding job descriptions and definitions for adult day health care centers, conforms existing law with recent industry reforms, and provides flexibility for transportation and meals.

AB 990: Spud Point Marina

Provides Sonoma County with a process to adjust fees that the marina can levy on consumers.

AB 1889: Potter Valley Unified School District

Allows the district to convert to a four day week.

AB 1952: Veterans' Business Licenses

Code clean-up to ensure all veterans receive waiver of city, county and state business license fees.

AB 2149: Elder Financial Abuse Prevention

Prohibits financial advisors from using titles like "certified senior advisor" unless they are recognized by an accreditation organization and meet certain standards.

AB 2150: Elder Financial Abuse Prevention

Prohibits insurance agents from using titles such as "Senior Life Insurance Expert" or Certified Senior Financial Advisor" unless the Insurance Commissioner has specifically authorized the use of the title.


AB 2527: Targeted Case Management

Fixes language in statute that prevents non profits and joint powers agreement entities from claiming Targeted Case Management funds.

AB 2747: End-of-Life Care

Requires health care providers to discuss all legal options for end-of-life care upon request of a terminal patient.

AB 2840: Congressman Mike Thompson

Names a portion of land in “south spit” after Mike Thompson.

AB 2842: Medicare Part D Fraud Prevention

This bill, modeled after a Maine law, prohibits cold-calling and bait and switch tactics used in Medicare sales.


AB 317: Adult Day Health Care

Allows an adult day health care center to receive reimbursement for partial days of attendance if the center is forced to evacuate during a declared emergency.

AB 2543: Geriatric and Gerontology Student Loan Repayment Program

Establishes a student loan repayment program for social workers and marriage and family therapists who work in geriatric care settings. Also prioritizes physician loan repayment for geriatrics.

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


Sutton Family Farms is awash in fall colors, from bright orange pumpkins to golden corn. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

LAKEPORT – Few things symbolize October as much as a bright orange pumpkin, and there aren't many better ways to spend a warm fall afternoon than working your way through a spooky corn maze.

If you want to find both together, then it's time for a visit to Sutton Family Farm's pumpkin patch and corn maze, which are in full swing again this season.

This is the fourth year that owners Michael and Stephanie Sutton and their daughter, Samantha, have had a maze at their Scotts Valley farm.

The Suttons moved to Scotts Valley seven years ago from Marin County. Originally, they planned to grow pears, Samantha Sutton explained, but they knew nothing about pears and soon changed to the crops they harvest today.

Sutton estimated about 350 people a day are visiting the farm on the weekends this month.





Step into the corn maze -- there's different challenges for all ages. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



The Suttons' maze is shaped from a field of silage corn – used for feeding livestock – because it features taller stalks, which makes for a more challenging trip through the maze, Sutton explained.

She said the maze also has grown every year – both in size and difficulty – and now measures four and a half acres. The challenges offered in the maze are designed for people of all ages.

Some visitors to the maze Saturday said that younger children can be expected to take an hour or more to get through the maze, with adults taking 45 minutes or less.

The cost for the maze is $6 per person, with children 4 and under entering for free.

Then there are the hundreds of bright orange homegrown pumpkins, as well as gourds, that visitors can take home with them for Halloween.

There also are Dutch Draft carriage rides, offered on weekends only, which take visitors for a 20-minute tour of the farm.

The Suttons will host Rocktoberfest, featuring several local bands playing at the farm, on Saturday, Oct. 25.


Sutton Family Farms is located at 2405 Scotts Valley Road, telephone 263-6277.


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




Dutch Draft horses pull visitors in a carriage around the farm in a weekend-only feature. Photo by Harold LaBonte.



LAKE COUNTY – This week the spotlight is being placed on the dangers lead can hold for children's health.

Sunday, Oct. 19 through Saturday, Oct. 25 is Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Week.

Lead poisoning may have contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. It caused Beethoven’s erratic behavior, his death and maybe even his deafness. It is lead poisoning, and it still affects children throughout California.

Lead can damage a child’s brain and nervous system. It's especially dangerous for children under age 6 because their rapidly growing and developing bodies absorb more lead. This can cause permanent learning and behavioral problems that make it difficult for children to succeed in school.

The 2007 Census indicates there were approximately 4,094 children under the age of 5 and more than 10,000 children enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12 in Lake County.

School statistics show that 60 Lake County children ages 7 through 15 were identified having emotional disturbances and 589 children ages 5 to 18 have specific learning disabilities. Lead exposure may play a part in these behavioral and learning problems.

A blood lead test is the only way to know if a child has lead poisoning. Most children at highest risk are those who live or spend time in older housing built before 1978 which may have deteriorating lead-based paint and lead-contaminated soil and dust.

Health officials say children should be tested at both 1 and 2 years of age. Also, children 3 to 6 years old who are at risk should also have a blood lead test.

Parents can talk to their child’s doctor about getting tested for lead. According to data provided by Lake County Health Officer Dr. Karen Tait,152 blood lead tests were done in Lake County detecting one elevated lead level.

If an average of 200 young children are screened annually, at best only about 25 percent of the population can be reached. With the local prevalence of lead levels estimated at about 0.6 percent, the county should expect to have roughly 25 children under age 5 with lead poisoning.

Common sources of childhood lead poisoning include handmade ceramic tableware, especially imported pieces decorated with lead-based glaze or paint. Traditional home remedies can include Azarcon, Greta and Pay-loo-ah. Traditional cosmetics can contain Kohl and Surma.

Increasing amounts of imported toys, candies and food products are entering our country. Web sites such as,; or provide names of manufacturers and products to be avoided or which are safe to buy.

Work clothes, shoes and workers themselves are often exposed to lead if working with lead smelting, making or recycling batteries and repairing radiators. Parents can change into clean clothes and shoes before getting into their cars or going home. Dirty clothes and shoes can be bagged and washed separately from all other clothes with running the empty washing machine again after the work clothes to rinse the lead out.

When painting or remodeling, always follow lead-safe work practices: use plastic sheeting on the ground and furniture while working; wet surfaces before sanding and scraping; and wet mop the area at the end of the day. Never dry scrape, dry sand or use a heat gun to remove lead-based paint as these create dangerous dust and fumes.

Washing one’s face and hands with soap and water before leaving work and then taking a shower and washing one’s hair, preferably at work or as soon as you get home, is recommended. Parents and caregivers can all help to prevent childhood lead poisoning by wiping clean or taking off shoes before entering the home.

Washing children’s hands and toys is always a good idea. Good nutrition helps children’s bodies resist lead poisoning. Each day children need to be served three meals and two healthy snacks which include calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yogurt and tofu. Iron-rich foods include lean meats, beans, whole grain cereals, dried fruit and dark green vegetables. Vitamin C rich foods such as fresh, canned or frozen fruits and WIC fruit juices are recommended.

Children who receive services from Medi-Cal, Child Health and Disability Prevention or Healthy Families are eligible for free testing. Private health insurance plans will usually pay for the test.

To find out about eligibility for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, call Lake Family Resource Center at 262-1611or toll free, 888-775-8336.

Contact the Lake County Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at Easter Seals, 263-3949, for more information about childhood lead poisoning prevention and intervention.


CLEARLAKE – A vacation home was destroyed in a Friday night fire, according to a local fire official.

Lake County Fire District Battalion Chief Willie Sapeta said the fire in the doublewide trailer, located at Scenic Road and Manakee Avenue, was dispatched at 10:32 p.m. Friday.

Fifteen firefighters along with three engines, a water tender and two medical units from Lake County Fire were on scene within five minutes, said Sapeta. They were joined by two Cal Fire engines and an engine from Northshore Fire's Clearlake Oaks station.

When firefighters arrived, the trailer was fully involved, according to Sapeta.

Sapeta said it took close to an hour for firefighters to contain the trailer fire. They had the added danger of downed power lines in the area, which made their efforts more challenging.

Two adjacent structures, a mobile home on the burning trailer's east side and a garage on the northeast, both sustained minor damage, he said.

The main trailer itself was a total loss, Sapeta added.

The trailer was vacant at the time of the fire. He said no firefighters were injured in attempting to control the blaze.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Sapeta said.

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


CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks County Water District Board's Saturday meeting to introduce a proposed water and sewer rate hike to customers proved vastly different from a previous meeting in August that also looked at raising rates.

For one, the August meeting, which lasted just over two hours, saw close to 100 angry residents packed into the East Lake Grange, shouting at the board over a nearly 40-percent propose hike.

Saturday's meeting, held at the Northshore Fire District's Clearlake Oaks firehouse, lasted approximately 40 minutes and was attended by about 25 people who, for the most part, appeared convinced of the necessity of a 17.7-percent increase that would go into effect in November.

The other difference notable between the two meetings was that the board now has two new members, with Frank Toney and Harry Chase being joined by Mike Benjamin and Judy Heeszel. Benjamin, now board president, and Heeszel took seats vacated after the last meeting by Pat Shaver and Mike Anisman. Another seat, vacated by Helen Locke, will be filled next month.

"This is going to be a different hearing from what we had the last time," said Benjamin, who admitted that he had "raised hell" at the last meeting himself, which in his case included starting a recall effort against Shaver and Anisman.

Before opening the meeting to public comment, Benjamin explained the new rate proposal, which was the result of work done by the board, General Manager Darin McCosker and the recently formed district finance committee in the wake of the August meeting.

In recent months, the district's serious financial situation has come into sharper focus, but it's by no means a new problem, which Benjamin made clear.

He read from a July 2004 rate hike proposal notice to ratepayers, which warned that the district was experiencing "economic strain" due to unexpected and sharply rising expenses, coupled with years of no rate hikes for sewer and water services.

One example of rising costs: Over a six-year period, the district's annual liability and worker's compensation costs tripled, rising from $27,629 to $76,147, and it was hit by more than $200,000 in charges to remove biosolids from its sewer plant.

The 2005 budget, in turn, pointed again to those increasing costs and to an aging infrastructure. The district also had, by that time, lost an estimated $100,000 to Proposition 1A and nearly $30,000 to the Lake County Redevelopment agency. In all, that budget narrative estimated a potential deficit of $474,000, Benjamin explained.

"We consider these pretty dire warnings," he said.

The rate hike that was approved at that time didn't even cover the cost of living increase, said Benjamin.

Benjamin said the district now is about $200,000 in debt, of which around $152,000 is old debt incurred more than six months ago. He added that the district is running between $10,000 and $12,000 in the red each month.

The 17.7-percent increase, raising the base rate for a single-family dwelling from $56.24 to $66.19, will address the debt that hasn't been addressed in previous years. Benjamin said the total increase for each home would be no more than $9.95.

Chase pointed out that audits of the last three years are under way, and Benjamin said the board will take the results of those audits to the community next year, when it comes time to consider whether or not another another increase is needed.

In the mean time, the district is down two and a half employee positions, which it won't be filling, and is instituting a wage and hiring freeze in the coming year, Benjamin said.

During a relatively brief public comment period, the board fielded questions about cost differences between mobile homes and stick-built homes, whether the district was being impacted by foreclosures – it's not, said McCosker – and how district rates compared to other areas (the district is better off than some areas like Lower Lake and Spring Valley that could be facing big hikes).

Clearlake Oak resident Ross Christensen thanked the board for the work they had done, saying he felt the last proposal was "more like a knee-jerk reaction."

He followed up by asking if the district had looked at selling treated wastewater to local farmers or getting a return on the water it pumps to The Geysers.

McCosker and Benjamin said they'll consider numerous ways to increase the district's revenue and are pursuing a $4 million US Department of Agriculture grant, but they need to stabilize the financial situation first.

"This has to be a lengthy healing process," which has just started, said McCosker.

He added that, over the next year to 15 months, he and the board, assisted by the finance committee, will go through the district's procedures from top to bottom to fix the problems. "This is a complete rebuild."

One woman said she would not be able to pay even the additional $9.95 a month. "I'd have to choose between food and water."

McCosker said they had crunched the numbers "as much as we can crunch 'em" to find the best solution.

Toward the end of the meeting, Benjamin made a special request to district ratepayers – asking them to pay special attention to their December bills.

Last December, the district sent out bills totaling $150,000. The following month, when the payments were expected, the district only received $49,000.

Getting only a third of its payments this coming January could prevent the district from making its payroll or paying its bills, said Benjamin. "We just won't make it."

One audience member had suggested that the holiday bill problem may have been partly due to the district not sending out bills, as in his case.

McCosker, who took over as general manager in January, said the office is running very smoothly now, with longer hours, live people answering phones rather than the former"voice mail hell" and an overall emphasis on customer service. "I apologize that hadn't been done that way in the past."

Chase emphasized the district's financial situation will be reevaluated next year before the board considers charging customers any more money. "We're not real interested in overburdening the customers, because the customers own the water district."

Keeping in mind the statement by one ratepayer earlier in the meeting that the proposed rate hike would hurt her, Chase suggested that the district should begin looking at ways to help low-income customers, as Pacific Gas and Electric does.

"We're going to turn everything this company does inside out," added Benjamin.

He ended by thanking the community members for "a very pleasant meeting," which was so amicable that it even ended with the audience giving the board a round of applause.

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


CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks County Water District Board will take a new rate proposal to the community on Saturday, and this time its hoping for a better response from ratepayers.

At the board's Thursday night meeting, directors voted unanimously to present the 17.7-percent base rate increase at a community meeting that will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Northshore Fire District's Clearlake Oaks firehouse on Highway 20.

In August, the board held a meeting in which they presented a proposal for a nearly 40-percent increase along with some lesser hike options to ratepayers. That meeting saw community members shouting at the board, prompting then-board Vice President Mike Anisman to leave. Mike Benjamin began a recall drive against Anisman and board member Pat Shaver, who did not attend the meeting.

Since then, Anisman, Shaver and board President Helen Locke have resigned. Benjamin has since been appointed to the board and is now president.

On Thursday, the board – which includes Frank Toney and Harry Chase – voted unanimously to appoint Judy Heeszel to the fill one of two remaining vacancies. Heeszel was one of several people seeking the appointment, among them Dena Barron, Lee Wisdom and Lowell Estep.

Heeszel began attending board meetings regularly this summer when concerns about the district's financials and the resulting initial rate hike proposal became hot topics around Clearlake Oaks. Since then she has served on the district's finance committee, which she said has taught her a lot. "My whole attitude has changed."

Another board vacancy will be filled at the board's Nov. 20 meeting.

Heeszel and her fellow board members have significant challenges ahead. The district has more than $200,000 in debt currently, with more than $152,000 of that being old debt, said Jana Saccato, the district's secretary.

Benjamin said payroll and expenses are going down but the district is still short about $10,000 a month.

He said the rate proposal, which will take the base water and sewer rate from $56.24 to $66.19 per month per single family dwelling, was carefully crafted to have as little impact as possible on district customers. Overall, customers should not see more than a $9.95 monthly increase. The price of water will not go up.

"You're not going to pay any more for water, you're not going to pay any more for sewer," said Benjamin.

Besides catching the district up on a monthly basis, Benjamin said the increased revenues from the proposed rate hike should help the district slowly rebuild its reserves "as painlessly as possible." Those reserves once totaled about $1.3 million but were drained as the district took on capital improvements while having no rate hikes over several years, as Lake County News has reported.

Audits of the district's books are now under way, according to General Manager Darin McCosker.

Benjamin said the plan is to take the results of the audits back to ratepayers in a year, give them an update on the district's financial situation and decide what needs to be done next.

If the community approves the raise in rates, it would go into effect Nov. 1, said Benjamin.

Along with that, the district has pledged to put a wage and hiring freeze into effect for its employees for the next year, said Benjamin. "These are guarantees we're going to make to the community."

Benjamin said the board also is looking at its procedures, employee benefits and wage packages to find other ways of reducing costs.

Board members and district staff said the creation of the finance committee has made a huge difference in operations and the ability to focus on the financial challenges. McCosker, in particular, said it had taken a lot of pain out of his job.

Toney thanked Benjamin and fellow board members for forming the committee, which he said he had proposed six months ago but which the previous board had shot down.

The finance committee met once a week for seven weeks straight, up until this last Tuesday, each meeting lasting about three hours as members works on the rate proposal.

The committee still has a lot to do in looking at other ways to bring the district's finances into better shape, said Benjamin.

The group will take a little break for a while, as the focus now shifts to getting the rate hike approved.

Looking forward to Saturday's meeting, Benjamin said, "We're hoping for a completely different response from what there was the last time."

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


Families were an important part of the grand opening event on Saturday. Photo by Aimee Gonsalves.


HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – Despite the economic concerns that face much of the country, several small businesses celebrated opening their doors as part of a community celebration on Saturday afternoon.

The grand opening for Hidden Valley Lakes' Hardester's Plaza had something for everyone – a chance for businesses to introduce themselves, pets in Halloween costumes and a range of family friendly events. In every direction there were smiling children enjoying ice cream cones and hot dogs.

Many of the business owners out at the plaza on Saturday expressed a very hopeful outlook for the future, with the belief that, if the community sticks together, it can get through the hardships of the current economic situation.

People are definitely taking into consideration how they spend their money these days, but the advice from Linda Fergusson of New York Life is to spend your money within your community. Fergusson offers insurance and financial services.

Fergusson said she's concerned but positive about south Lake County’s economic standing. She believes if residents continue supporting local stores and if more people start their own businesses it would help the community.

Ross Hardester of Hardester's Market shared an opinion similar to Fergusson's.

Hardester said he believes people are nervous about starting new businesses but if the community supported its local economy by spending their money here – versus, for example, shopping where they commute to work – it would help the county come through these tough times.

Shelley Weiser with H&R Block and Shelley Weiser Bookkeeping said that her business has felt the effect of the economic struggle because so many small businesses are closing their doors and no longer in need of bookkeeping services. However, she's hopeful for the future, adding that the community needs to attract more businesses,which would create local jobs.

Not seeing a dropoff in business these days is Ting's Thai Kitchen, owned by Charlie and Ting McFarling. The restaurant, which opened in the spring, offers authentic Thai food. Charlie McFarling noted that business is staying steady.

Although new to the plaza location, Patricia Tyrrell said her Guangxi Martial Arts school has been working with children and adults for many years. When it comes to finding activities that are close to home, and good for your body and mind, martial arts may have something to offer, she suggested. Besides self-defense, martial arts teach confidence and respect, which are very important for children.

Another unique business at the plaza is Chic la Chef to the rescue, which offers a Wednesday night take-out service for families. They'll also offers a “Budget Busters” class in November in which they'll teach class participants how to create meals their whole family will love without spending a fortune at the grocery store.

The new Hidden Valley Pet Palace hosted a doggy pet costume contest Saturday afternoon and the winner was Bailey the bride, a cute little Chihuahua.

Pet palace owner Terri Gonsalves said she's nervous as a new business owner given the hard times. However, she said she's excited about what she is doing and hoping to make a positive start with her new business. She offers grooming and a full line of pet care supplies.

And if you bring your dog in for pampering you can get pampered yourself at Patrice Ryan's Dream Salon, which opened in February.

Ryan said she's optimistic that the economy will get better soon. She added that business is good and they're excited to meet more clients.


Aimee Gonsalves is a new writer for Lake County News. Disclosure note: She is the daughter of Terri Gonsalves of the Hidden Valley Pet Palace.




Children had a chance to take a turn in the jumphouse on Saturday. Photo by Aimee Gonsalves.





Dogs came dressed up and ready for the Halloween pet costume contest. Photo by Aimee Gonsalves.






The contest winner was Bailey the Chihuahua, dressed as a bride. Photo by Aimee Gonsalves.




LUCERNE – The Lake County Code Enforcement Division will soon be moving its operations to Lucerne.

The entire division will be located on the second floor of the Lake County Visitor's Center, located at 6110 E. Highway 20, according to Community Development Director Rick Coel, whose department also covers Code Enforcement.

“We have set Oct. 29 as the start date for the move to Lucerne,” said Coel.

He said that he thinks it will take a week to complete the move and for staff to begin working out of the Lucerne office.

“We plan to rotate staffing in a way that allows us to keep one staff member at our courthouse office during normal business hours,” he added.

The division originally was slated to move to Lucerne earlier this year, as Lake County News has reported. However, Coel said a number of logistical issues had to be resolved, resulting in delays.

Code Enforcement staffing has been updated effective Thursday, according to Code Enforcement Manager Voris Brumfield.

Staff includes Beverly Westphal, countywide abandoned vehicle abatement; Allison Garrett, overseeing Lucerne, Glenhaven, Spring Valley, Clearlake Oaks and Clearlake Park; Roderic Hilliard, who is in charge of Lower Lake, Middletown, Cobb Mountain, Kelseyville, Finley and the Clear Lake Riviera; and Kimberlee Heckard, whose territory includes Lakeport, Upper Lake, Blue Lakes and Nice.

Larry Fabisch, whose territory had included the Northshore areas, has been placed on administrative leave, Coel said.

Fabisch was arrested last Saturday morning for charges including cultivating and possession of marijuana and carrying loaded firearms in public. The former president of the county's employees' union, Fabisch told Lake County News that he has medical marijuana cards which allow him to have the marijuana.

Coel said there are several reasons for the move to Lucerne, including a desire to locate a county office on the Northshore, which also will allow Code Enforcement staff to make a more efficient response to complaints in that area.

The move also will give staff more elbow room, as Coel described the office space in the courthouse on N. Forbes Street in Lakeport as “crowded.”

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


LUCERNE, Calif. – A county code enforcement officer arrested over the weekend on several drug-related charges says he was wrongly arrested because he has medical marijuana cards, while sheriff's officials say his arrest was justified due to the amount of marijuana in his possession.

Larry Morris Fabisch, 54, of Nice was arrested early Saturday morning and booked into the Lake County Jail on charges of possessing more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, planting and cultivation, possession for sale and carrying loaded firearms in public.

Fabisch has worked for the county for nearly 20 years, and has spent the last five years as a code enforcement officer. He's also a past president of the Lake County Employees Association, the union representing county employees.

Capt. James Bauman of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said a deputy spotted Fabisch's gray Chevrolet SUV parked near Lakeview Market alongside Highway 20 in Lucerne at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

Fabisch, who was accompanied by his son and two of his son's friends, told Lake County News he had stopped briefly there to point out the county's Visitor Center, the second floor of which is supposed to be a new home for Code Enforcement officers.

The deputy pulled up behind Fabisch's vehicle, which then moved off and began driving through Lucerne in an “erratic” fashion, before being stopped at Robin Hood Way and Foothill Drive, said Bauman.

Fabisch said he was on his way home from the Sierras where he had grown the marijuana for himself and his 20-year-old son, Thomas – who also has a medical marijuana recommendation – on family-owned land.

He and his son were on their way to drop off his son's two friends, Justin Stephanson, 19, of Scotia, and Aaron Stephanson, 20, of Lucerne, at a Lucerne residence when they were stopped.

Inside the SUV the deputy allegedly found 89 pounds of recently harvested marijuana plants, said Bauman, who didn't have an actual tally of the number of plants involved.

“It's considered significant,” he said of the amount of marijuana alleged to be in Fabisch's possession.

A small amount of processed marijuana also was found, along with a small revolver and a small caliber rifle, said Bauman. Fabisch said the firearms are used for shooting in the hills with his son.

Bauman said Fabisch got out of his vehicle and went back to the deputy's car; at that point he refused to return to his vehicle and so he was detained, said Bauman.

Fabisch said he was trying to show the deputy – who was joined by a second deputy and a sergeant – his two medical marijuana cards, which he placed on the patrol car's hood.

He accused the deputies of being unnecessarily rough with him. Fabisch said he was pointing to his cards when one of the deputies grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back to handcuff him. Fabisch said he wasn't attempting to resist arrest.

Fabisch said the deputies disregarded his medical marijuana cards. “They were not wiling to listen to anything.”

Bauman said Fabisch was arrested due to the large amount of marijuana in his possession. “He had way more than anyone with a card is allowed to have,” said Bauman.

According to Fabisch, his medical marijuana recommendation allows him to have 25 plants or five pounds of processed marijuana.

During the stop, Thomas Fabisch fled the scene, said Bauman. Larry Fabisch said he understood his son's fear about whether or not his medical marijuana card was going to be accepted. “Who's going to stick around to find out when they're handcuffing dad?”

Aaron Stephanson told the deputy that he had assisted Fabisch with harvesting the marijuana; Justin Stephanson said Fabisch had picked him up in San Andreas late on Friday.

Bauman said Fabisch was transported to the Lake County Jail after his arrest and booked. He posted his $10,000 bail at about 10:30 a.m. Saturday and was released.

Code Enforcement Division Manager Voris Brumfield did not return a call seeking comment on the situation, and Community Development Director Rick Coel – whose department includes Code Enforcement – said he did not have any information on Fabisch's case.

Fabisch took Tuesday and Wednesday off and planned to return to work Thursday. He said he was anxious about what to expect when he returns to the office.

County Personnel Director Kathy Ferguson said the county has no personnel policies regarding arrests. She forwarded Lake County News copies of the county's alcohol and drug policies, which allow testing if an employee is believed to be impaired. An employee's use of medical marijuana under Proposition 215 isn't covered by those policies.

Fabisch said he has been open about his use of medical marijuana, and has had a card for about seven years. He said he has a long list of medical issues, including heart bypass surgery two years ago and severe “cluster” headaches which, when they occur, require him to go to the emergency room for treatment.

He said he never uses medical marijuana while on duty. “I don't abuse it at work. I respect it.”

Fabisch challenged his arrest, saying that Proposition 215 – the California Compassionate Use Act of 1996 – does not impose limits on the amount of medical marijuana a patient may have. Attempts to impose such limits, such as SB 420, have been ruled unconstitutional by California courts.

While SB 420 sets a baseline of six mature plants or half a pound of processed marijuana per patient, it also states that patients can be exempted from those limits if their doctor says they need more, according to California NORML, a group dedicated to reforming the state's marijuana laws.

He's enlisted the services of Stephen Tulanian, a formidable defense attorney who previously helped win marijuana activist Eddy Lepp acquittal in the county's first medical marijuana trial.

Fabisch said he is due in court on Dec. 1. In the mean time, he said he doesn't expect authorities will return to him the medical marijuana that was seized.

Officials are planning to seek the same drug charges as those filed against Fabisch against his son – who also will be charged with resisting a law enforcement officer – and the Stephansons, whose stories aren't adding up in the opinion of investigators, said Bauman.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at [email protected].



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