Monday, 29 November 2021

News

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A snow plow travels the Hopland Grade Tuesday morning. Photo by John Jensen.

LAKE COUNTY – With snow falling in the higher elevations, commuters need to be prepared for adverse conditions as they travel area roads and highways.

 

The California Highway Patrol reports that Mount St. Helena is now closed due to snow, according to Josh Dye, public information officer for the Clear Lake CHP office. 


This afternoon, the county's Public Works Department reported that four-wheel drive and chains are required on Elk Mountain Road, Bartlett Springs Road, Bottle Rock Road and Gifford Springs Road.


As for area highways, at 3 p.m. Caltrans reported no delays or restrictions on Highway 175 over the Hopland Grade.


However, earlier in the day, due to the snowy condition across Highway 175 to Hopland, chains were required on all vehicles except those with both four-wheel-drive and snow tires on all wheels.


For those traveling along Highway 101, Caltrans reported chains or snow tires were required from seven miles north of the Sonoma/Mendocino County line to the junction of Highway 175 in Hopland. There also were chain requirements near Willits, Caltrans reported.


No traffic restrictions are reported for Highways 20, 29, 53 or 281, according to Caltrans.


Please use caution when driving, and be particularly cautious of ice on the roadways.


Lake County News will update you on any adverse changes in weather conditions.


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


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LUCERNE The Lucerne Alpine Senior Center will be the site of a community meeting hosted by Greg Dills, watershed coordinator for the East Lake and West Lake Resource Conservation Districts (RCDs.) The event will be held on Wednesday, March 7, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and will discuss a new method of resource management for the area.


Citizens of Lucerne recently approached Dills to see if the Coordinated Resource Management and Planning (CRMP) process might work for their watershed, as it has in so many other areas of the county.


This voluntary, grassroots approach to land management and planning originated in the 1950s and is still an effective problem-solving method today.


This system of management has seen successful throughout the entire state, but perhaps nowhere more than Lake County. Many of the sub-watersheds in the Upper Cache Creek Watershed have formed successful groups; if the citizens of Lucerne decide to adopt the process, it would be the tenth such group in the county.


The neighboring Nice Watershed Group was recently nominated for the Stars of Lake County Volunteer Group Award, and has been extremely instrumental in cleaning-up the Nice area.


It also was influential in the passage of the new OHV ordinance. The group's concerns about erosion and subsequent damage to water quality, caused by illegal off-road vehicles, put a spotlight on this serious trespassing issue.


Other groups have also made valuable contributions to their local watersheds.


The Big Valley CRMP, Lower Lake Watershed Council, Middle Creek CRMP and Scotts Creek Watershed Council all participate in annual creek cleanups in their areas. Along with watershed group volunteers, local high school students, 4-H members, Boy Scouts and other concerned community members participate in these events. It's hard work, but very rewarding, and their dedication contributes to the reduction of illegal dumping.


The different groups may focus on different concerns, but the approach is the same. Volunteers work together with the tribal, city, county, state, and federal governments, their neighbors, local businesses and other service organizations to solve local problems at the local level, in a cooperative manner.


The Scotts Creek Watershed Council worked with the West Lake Resource Conservation District, Bureau of Land Management, State Department of Conservation, and private landowners to secure grants to complete a fire break on the ridge line of Cow Mountain. They also held meetings for fire safety education.


The Lower Lake Watershed Council works with award-winning Carle High School students, and has developed a student water quality monitoring team. The group is also in the process of implementing a stream-bank restoration project. The project entails working with local, county, state, and federal agencies, but is accomplished by volunteers at the local level.


The Middle Creek CRMP quite literally dug an abandoned earth moving equipment out of the creek. These dedicated volunteers worked diligently with county officials and local business owners to see this task accomplished.


The group also designed and installed road signs along a dangerous stretch of road for the protection of wildlife and unsuspecting motorists. In addition, they join together with the Scotts Creek Watershed Council to support West Lake RCDs very popular "Kids in the Creek" program.


The Chi Council for the Clear Lake Hitch monitors and collects data on this historic fish. Volunteers all over the county stop at bridges and creekside turnouts to track the Clear Lake Hitch, found only in Lake County.


Volunteers from all of the groups in the Upper Cache Creek Watershed trained and participated in a citizens' water quality monitoring team. This team was given special recognition by the Upper Cache Creek Watershed Alliance at the recent Year in Review; an event that celebrates and highlights the accomplishments of the watershed volunteers throughout the entire county.


The list of contributions that East Lake and West Lake Resource Conservation Districts and their various watershed groups make to the communities in Lake County is long and impressive. Citizens of Lucerne who attend this meeting may choose to adopt the same path to problem-solving success that these other groups have enjoyed.


Voris Brumfield, code enforcement manager for the County of Lake, will also address those in attendance. Brumfield will report actions the county will be taking on Morrison Creek and other areas.


Don't miss this informative meeting at the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center, located at 10th and County Club Drive in Lucerne.


Be sure to mark March 7, 6:30 to 8 p.m. on your calendar, and plan to attend.


Contact Dills at 263-4180 x12 for questions or additional information.


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Left to right, back row: teachers Steve Hamann, Angie Siegel, Alan Siegel, Martha Bakerjian; front row, left to right, secretary Barbara Dye, Principal Bill MacDougall and Verna Rogers. Courtesy of Carle High.
 

CLEARLAKE For educator Bill MacDougall, successful education relies on smaller classrooms, and allowing teachers to get to know, understand and nurture their students.


MacDougall knows what he's talking about. For 13 years he's been principal of William C. Carle Continuation High School, which the state Department of Education last week named a model continuation high school for the third time.


“We've been on a good run,” he said.


MacDougall has been an educator for 28 years; for 20 of those years, he's worked in administration. He started his career in a one-room Humboldt County continuation high school.


His belief in nurturing his students has created family bonds. He said that on Thursday one of the students from that one-room schoolhouse walked into Carle to say hello.


Carle's successes in educating at-risk students isn't the result of luck or an accident. MacDougall put together a faculty of five teachers who he said are among the top professionals in the county. They include Steve Hamann, Martha Bakerjian, Verna Rogers, and Alan and Angie Siegel. Keeping the school office running smoothly is secretary Barbara Dye.


All of Carle's teachers have been mentor teachers, or have been selected as a Northern California Continuation Educator of the Year, said MacDougall.


Angie and Alan Siegel were both named county teachers of the year, with Alan Siegel winning State Teacher of the Year honors in 2005.


“This is an amazing group of educators,” MacDougall said.


MacDougall said his team of teachers is crucial to the success of Carle's students. He said he didn't want teachers of average skill.


“I wouldn't want my child to be taught by someone who was an average teacher,” said the father of five, four of them students he welcomed into his family.


MacDougall said the time for education change in the U.S. is now. Schools have gotten too big and impersonal, he said, with teachers expected to educate hundreds of students without being able to get to know them.


MacDougall said Carle, and other continuation schools like it, need to be replicated throughout education. These smaller schools, he said, can try new things and not be afraid to fail, and the result is that they've all come to the same conclusions about the need to focus on students.


At Carle, where there are 95 students this year, MacDougall said they've been able to prove that the formula for successfully reaching students includes smaller teacher-student ratios, with increased emphasis on creating relationships between teachers and students.


“We spend 80 percent of our staff time weekly talking about each and every student,” said MacDougall.


They don't focus on tardies and policies, he said, but on what actually works for the kids.


MacDougall said it's also important to look at parents and students as clients, and for teachers to be mindful of the “gift and responsibility” of time with students, which becomes even more crucial for kids whose parents are absent.


He said his staff is constantly amazed by their students.


These are kids, said MacDougall, who, in many cases, have had terrible hardships to overcome. Most come from backgrounds of poverty. Eighty-seven percent of their students receive free or reduced-price lunches, he said.


Students come on a voluntary basis. Many are referred by counselors at other schools, he said, or make the request themselves. They must, however, qualify to attend, which includes showing the proper maturity level and desire to succeed, which can be shown through attendance and a lack of discipline referrals.


Eighty-percent attendance is required at Carle, he said. The students also are required to do community service, he added.


MacDougall said there's only one rule at school: respect.


The result is students who want to connect, and actually like being at school.


During a recent session of Saturday school, at which only two students who needed to make up attendance time were expected to show up, MacDougall said 10 kids came, because they found out school was open and they enjoy the activities there.


That's because the school provides food, shelter and intellectual stimulus, said MacDougall. “Why wouldn't you want to come?”


MacDougall said it takes three things to be a successful adult: show up, put in extra effort and be nice (it doesn't hurt, he said).


“If I can get the kids to do those three things, I know they're going to be successful in their work,” he said.


Part of the school's family atmosphere, included Carle's own cat, Jack, who died last May. MacDougall said Jack wandered into the school several years ago, sick and hungry, and missing an eye and an ear.


With love and care, Jack blossomed. “He was a tremendous symbol of our school,” said MacDougall.


He said it was inspirational to him to see the kids interact with Jack, who brought out their compassion and acceptance.


MacDougall said 95 percent of Carle students go to college, trade school,s the military or directly into employment, a number he believes is high compared to other schools across the county.


The other 5 percent, he said, get constant phone calls and other communication from school staff in order to encourage them toward school or jobs. “We do not let up,” he said.


MacDougall said substance abuse is the No. 1 reason that the members of that 5 percent don't make it. Crank is the most devastating drug by far, he said, followed by alcohol, although the more troubled students abuse several substances.


Although many of Carle's students going to college, MacDougall said they found that many of those same students weren't going back for a second year.


The way to change that, he said, was to go beyond the educational basics and increase the rigor of Carle's curriculum, in order to give students a better foundation. MacDougall credits that decision with giving Carle some of the highest Academic Performance Index scores in the county.


The safe, encouraging atmosphere at Carle isn't just rewarding for the kids; for MacDougall, it's also been a place of growth and reward.


“I have never been in an environment where I have grown more as a human being and as a man,” he said. “You can't help but be a better human being after watching the kids.”


He added, “I'm very, very grateful to be here. It does something for your soul and your spirit, and that's not something that you usually see in schools.”


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


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NICE – A local couple are suing the City of Burlingame and several of that city's police officials over allegations of civil rights violations.


Dennis and Angela Ostini of Nice filed the case in U.S. District Court Feb. 16. It names the City of Burlingame, Police Chief Jack L. Van Etten, Officer Jarel Peters and Sgt. Jeff Downs.


The Ostinis are asking for $1.4 million in damages for an incident they say occurred in 2005, while they visited family in the city.


The couple themselves have law enforcement connections: Dennis Ostini is a Lake County Sheriff's sergeant. “He supervises Boat Patrol for us,” Sheriff Rod Mitchell said Friday.


The attorney for the Ostinis, who discussed the case with Bay Area news outlets over the last week, declined a request by this publication to interview her clients.


Angela Ostini told the San Francisco Chronicle last week that on July 10, 2005, she found out her brother, Samuel Giardina, had died unexpectedly. Her loud weeping caused neighbors to call the police to report a disturbance.


When they arrived, she told the Chronicle that Peters put his hand on her and kept telling her to calm down, and Ostini told him to remove his hand. Peters then reportedly shoved her into a chair. loudly berated her and threatened to have her taken for a mental evaluation.


Burlingame City Attorney Larry Anderson said Monday the city didn't have an official statement on the lawsuit.


“We tried to come to some resolution last year with Mrs. Ostini and weren't able to do so,” Anderson said.


Ananda Norris, Ostini's attorney, told Lake County News that Peters had lost a family member shortly before the confrontation with Ostini.


“The Burlingame Police Department was aware that Officer Peters was emotionally unstable and was unfit to carry out his duties as a police officer,” said Norris.


She added that Peters should have been able to have had a mourning period away from the “rigors of ordinary police work.”


“The Burlingame Police Department not only required him to be at work but asked him to go out on calls of distress involving potential acts of violence that were likely to trigger the debilitating emotions that would afflict any human being in a similar situation,” Norris said.


By doing so, said Norris, Burlingame Police put community members at risk.


Ostini and her brother were very close, Norris said. Giardina was nine years older than Ostini, and the last member of her immediate family. “They spoke daily and saw each other at least three days a week,” Norris said. “Angela and Sammy suffered the loss of both of their parents and helped each other to remember the good times they experienced as a family. Sammy was Angela's best friend and true confidant.”


Norris said Angela Ostini has been in a “state of arrested grief” since the July 2005 encounter. “She remains traumatized by Officer Peters' actions and the department's failure to resolve this matter fairly and swiftly has compounded her emotional distress,” Norris said.


Proceedings in the case aren't scheduled to begin until May, when a case management conference is on the calendar.


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


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MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – Two men reportedly lost overnight in the Mendocino National Forest were found Monday afternoon.

 

Lt. Pat McMahon of the Lake County Sheriff's Office reported Monday that the Lake County Search and Rescue Team found 29-year-old Cody Dobbs of Clearlake and Nicholas T. Lolonis, 24, of Upper Lake, who had gotten lost in the forest on Sunday.


At 8:57 a.m. Monday Dobbs' girlfriend, Jenny Sutherland of Upper Lake, had reported that Dobbs and Lolonis had driven to the forest's Bear Creek area on Sunday, looking for a piece of property, McMahon said.


They had last spoken to Sutherland via cell phone at 4 p.m. Sunday, when they reported they had gotten lost but obtained a map for a forest ranger, reported McMahon.


Authorities early on Monday hadn't been able to identify the ranger with whom the men had reportedly been in contact, McMahon added.


Search and Rescue, along with U.S. Forest Service personnel, began searching the area Monday, and were concerned that weather – including possible snowfall – might complicate the search.


However, the men were located early Monday afternoon, McMahon said. No injuries to the men were reported.


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


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CHP Officer Barnes examines the suspect's car. Photo courtesy of CHP.

CLEARLAKE OAKS - The California Highway Patrol has arrested a Clearlake Oaks man who allegedly left the scene after hitting a bicyclist with his vehicle on Saturday.


Josh Dye, public affairs officer for the Clear Lake Area CHP office, reported that Jon Somdahl, 58, of Clearlake Oaks was arrested Monday for felony hit and run.


Somdahl was charged with hitting Joshua Lundquist at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, Dye reported, as Lundquist rode his BMX bicycle on the right shoulder heading eastbound on Highway 20.


Lundquist was just east of Oak Grove Avenue in Clearlake Oaks when he allegedly was struck from behind by Somdahl's vehicle. Dye reported that it was raining when the collision is alleged to have taken place.


Somdahl then allegedly fled the scene, according to Dye's report.


Lundquist was transported to Sutter Lakeside Hospital where he was treated for his injuries, including head trauma.


CHP Officers Domby and Barnes analyzed the evidence at the scene and developed leads on the suspect vehicle, Dye said.


Their investigation led them to a suspect vehicle at a Clearlake Oaks residence, less than half a mile from where the Saturday collision occurred.


At the residence they located Somdahl, who was arrested and transported to the Lake County Jail, Dye reported.


Somdahl is being held on $10,000 bail, according to the jail's arrest records.


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


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LAKE COUNTY – While car thefts were down statewide in 2006 and more stolen vehicles were returned to their owners statewide, local statistics show a sharp growth in car thefts, according to a recent report from the California Highway Patrol.


Locally, 155 vehicles were stolen and 152 recovered, said Josh Dye, public affairs officer for the Clear Lake CHP Office. The following year, 186 stolen vehicles were stolen, and 160 recovered, Dye added.


That amounts to a 20-percent increase in local car thefts, relative to statewide statistics.

 

The CHP said there was a 5.5-percent decline in car thefts statewide between 2005 and 2006, which amounts to 14,399 fewer cars stolen.


In 2006 the majority of cars stolen were recovered, according to the CHP, which said 90 percent of the 247,896 cars stolen in 2006 were reunited with their owners.


CHP Commissioner Mike Brown said car theft is a “crime of opportunity.”


“A little bit of prevention can go a long way, but when a car is stolen, the tools we have now are helping to return the stolen cars to their rightful owners,” Brown said.


The CHP reported it's a part of 16 county-funded vehicle theft task forces across the state, which include various law enforcement agencies that use bait cars to combat auto theft.


Those bait cars are outfitted with a global-positioning system (GPS) and a video camera, which hep track the location, speed and direction of the vehicle being tracked, the CHP reported.


Officers are tipped off when a thief attempts to steal a car; as soon as officers are in position, the engine can be disabled with the click of a computer mouse and officers can arrest the suspect inside, according to the CHP. The video footage is then used as evidence in court to prosecute the suspect.


That bait car technique, the CHP said, has proved to be a successful deterrent – more than 95 percent of the time, if an activation occurs on a bait car, the thief will eventually steal the car and will also be arrested.


The CHP reported that in 2006, the department made 357 arrests from bait car deployments.


“Criminals are beginning to wonder what is, and what isn’t, a bait car,” said Brown.


In the effort to recover stolen cars, the CHP uses the automated license plate recognition (ALPR) system, which has helped the agency to seize or recover 868 wanted or stolen vehicles, worth more than $7 million. In the process, CHP also arrested 535 suspects through the period ending September 2006.


The system, mounted onto marked patrol cars, reads license plates of vehicles and compares them against the state's database of stolen and wanted vehicles, the CHP said. Currently, the CHP reports it has a 73-percent recovery rate using ALPR.


“It’s like an electronic hot sheet; it allows officers to obtain information instantly on a car’s license plate to see if it belongs to a stolen car,” said Brown.


Stanislaus County, an area particularly hard hit by vehicle theft in recent years, has noticed a difference since the implementation of the new auto-theft technology. That county saw a 40.6 percent decrease in the number of vehicles stolen from 2005 to 2006.


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


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The Bottle Rock Power plant has been under renovation for about a year. Photo courtesy of Gary Snedaker.

KELSEYVILLE A long-closed geothermal plant is expected to be online once again in early March.

 

Santa Monica-based US Renewables Group (USRG) purchased the Bottle Rock Power plant in September 2005, said Lee Bailey, USRG's co-founder and a partner in the firm.

 

USRG is involved with a number of alternative power operations, said Bailey. Their holdings include biomass, landfill methane, ethanol and biodiesel plants.

 

Bottle Rock is USRG's only geothermal plant, Bailey said, although the company is proposing to build two to three other such plants in California.

 

Last June, Riverstone Holdings and The Carlyle Group, in the form of the Carlyle/Riverstone Renewable Energy Infrastructure Fund I, acquired from USRG a "significant stake" in the Bottle Rock plant, according to a company statement.

 

Riverstone is a New York-based private equity firm that focuses on energy and power.

 

The Carlyle Group, based in Washington, D.C., is a multinational firm that has major defense and aerospace contracts. Some of those connected with the company over the years have included former President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker, along with former British Prime Minister John Major. Some critics of the current war in Iraq have accused the company of war profiteering.

 

The Bottle Rock plant was built and operated by the Department of Water Resources (DWR), said Bailey, who used the power for its own operations.

 

Gary Snedaker, the Bottle Rock plant's project manager, said DWR closed the plant in 1990 due to a "lack of steam." However, he said, the plant required significant repair, cleaning and new drilling, and DWR wasn't receiving very much compensation for the energy it was producing.

 

When the plant shut down at noon on Sept. 16, 1990, it was producing 12 megawatts, said Snedaker, although its capacity is 55 megawatts, a level it had operated at when it opened in 1985.

 

Fifty-five megawatts, he said, can power about 55,000 homes, he said. When the plant comes back online, it will produce 20 megawatts.

 

"We fully intend on getting the plant past 30 megawatts," said Snedaker.

 

Bailey said USRG already has an exclusive contract with Pacific Gas & Electric, who will purchase the power the plant generates.

 

After DWR closed the plant, Bailey said, it changed hands, eventually purchased for $5 million by partners from Little Rock, Ark., and New Orleans.

 

Those owners, he said, were found to be involved in an illegal pyramid scheme scheme, and were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At the same time, he said, the Securities Exchange Commission put the plant into trusteeship.

 

Bailey said USRG found out about the plant and bid for it through court proceedings.

 

The purchase was scheduled to close Sept. 1, 2005, but Bailey said the stock certificates and ownership documents were located in New Orleans. In a safe. Underwater.

 

USRG had to wait until the documents could be retrieved and brought to California, said Bailey; in the mean time, more bidders were trying to come forward.

 

"It was a colorful transaction," he said.

 

Plant renovation, said Bailey, began in February 2006. The three-story plant is located on 160 acres that are leased from the Coleman family.

 

An East Coast native, Snedaker is partner in Integral Energy management, a company partially owned by USRG that has the Bottle Rock plant's operations and maintenance contract. He was sent out to lead the renovation because of his extensive experience with energy production, from coal and gas turbine plants to a Nevada geothermal plant.

 

Snedaker said when the plant was closed, some of the major equipment was mothballed, and the geothermal wells plugged. For the most part, he said, most of the major pieces of equipment had been left sitting, with little attention.

 

There's been a lot of work involved in getting the plant back online, said Snedaker.

 

"It has been a significant overhaul," he said. "We have gone over every system in the plant."

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A staffer repairs a piece of equipment at the plant. Photo courtesy of Gary Snedaker.

 

When DWR operated the plant, Snedaker said, they had 10 production wells that produced steam. DWR had plugged those wells, seven of which have been successfully reopened, Snedaker said, and two new ones are now being drilled.

 

The wells, between 8,000 and 9,000 feet deep, produce water that averages 345 degrees, he said. When the plant reaches the 30 megawatt level, it will produce between 500,000 and 600,000 pounds of steam per hour.

 

The plant's 19 permanent employees are local, said Snedaker, with a former Calpine employee appointed to the plant manager spot.

 

There have been a number of regulatory requirements at all different levels of government, including county and state, in order to get the plant back producing geothermal power again, said Snedaker.

 

Those included public hearings, he said, which had good turnout.

 

"The residents of this area are very well-informed about geothermal," he said.

 

The result was intelligent questions. "We were very pleased with the feedback from the community," he said.

 

That doesn't mean there were no objections or concerns, and Snedaker.

 

However, he said, community members treated them fairly with their questions. The public hearings were held this past September, he said, and the plant eventually got the approval to move forward.

 

The company doesn't anticipate concerns with increased seismic activity as a result of geothermal power production, although that concern has been raised in the community in recent years.

 

Bailey said he doesn't believe there's any evidence to show that steam reinjection increases seismic activity.

 

However, Calpine has acknowledged that reinjection at the Geysers has increased frequency and magnitude of seismic activity in the area.

 

The Web site for The Geysers, owned by Calpine, states: “The phenomenon of seismicity associated with geothermal power production has been known and acknowledged for decades. With the expanded geothermal development beginning in the in the 1970's, there was a measurable increase in the frequency of 'microearthquakes,' or earthquakes registering under 3.0 on the Richter scale.”

 

When it comes to geothermal production, Snedaker said Lake County is a key area.

 

"This is the largest area of geothermal in the world," he said.

 

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

 

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LAKE COUNTY – A wet and windy Sunday is predicted - but the rains that moved through the county last night should decrease to showers today, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) in Sacramento.


A breezy Sunday with gusts from the Southwest to 40 mph and showers are predicted during the day on Sunday, with high temperatures to be in the mid to upper 40s.


Snow level will remain around 3,000 feet during the day, with accumulations up to 3 inches over higher elevations according to the NWS. Snow level will drop to 2500 feet overnight, with lows in the mid 30s.


Rain is likely on Monday, with snow levels remaining around 3,000 feet. Highs are expected to be in the mid 40s, lows in the mid 30s.


Colder air is predicted to move into the county Tuesday and Wednesday lowering snow levels.


Contact Terre Logsdon at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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LAKE COUNTY – The District Attorney's Office's new unit created to prosecute cases involving driving under the influence has just won its first conviction.


The DA's Office, led by District Attorney Jon Hopkins, successfully prosecuted Anthony Francisco Moreno, who was found guilty on Feb. 22 of felony driving under the influence of alcohol, felony driving with a blood alcohol level above 0.08 percent and misdemeanor driving on a suspended license, according to a statement from the DA Office's Victim-Witness Division.


The charges were felonies because Moreno had been convicted of at least three previous driving under the influence cases, including one felony for which he was on probation in Sonoma County.


The jury further found that Mr. Moreno willfully refused a blood or breath test.


Moreno crashed his vehicle on Highway 175 near Mathews road on Thanksgiving night, and refused to submit to a blood test even after the California Highway Patrol officer explained to him that he was required by law to submit to the test.


Upon Moreno's refusal to take the test, the CHP officer called for additional officers to meet him at the hospital where a blood sample was obtained without Moreno’s consent.


That test showed that Moreno had a blood alcohol level of 0.14.


This was the first felony DUI jury trial for the Lake County District Attorney’s new DUI Vertical Prosecution Unit.


The unit’s primary focus is the investigation and prosecution of all DUI cases in Lake County. Members of the unit also provide community outreach to raise public awareness on the dangers of driving under the influence.


Funding for this program is provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


“This is the type of case we had in mind when we applied for the grant from OTS, and this is the type of defendant we want to target in order to make the streets of Lake County safe to drive,” Hopkins said. “I want to commend our team, and we plan on them having this same success in the future.”


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LAKE COUNTY The comforting, homey aroma of wood smoke belies the dangers inherent in the common fireplace.


This is the time of year when, for many homes, it's common to have a fire in the woodstove.


However, it's important to be aware of wood smoke's possible health impacts, because the smoke can result in substantial air pollution, and improperly maintained wood stoves and heaters can result in health problems for those who use them.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Web site reports that wood smoke includes carbon monoxide, organic compounds including air toxins, and fine particles, which the EPS said are formed when unburnt gases cool as they go up the chimney. Those fine particles can be seen as white smoke, the EPA reported.


While the EPA says that wood smoke pollution affects everyone, risk depends on a person's exposure to the smoke, along with age and health.


Certain populations are at special risk, according to the EPA, including infants and young children; those with cardiac or respiratory conditions (such as asthma); the frail elderly; and anyone with diabetes-related vascular conditions.


Wood smoke can affect people both inside and outside of their homes, the EPA reported.


"Wood smoke is not good for you," said Bob Reynolds, director of the Lake County Air Quality Management District (LCAQMD).


Reynolds said the greatest health risks are for people exposed to wood smoke in their homes due to improperly maintained stoves or for those who burn wood treated with chemicals such as creosote.


The smoke is a particular health concern, he said, because dangerous toxins enter the lungs and then go directly to the bloodstream and lymph nodes.


The LCAQMD Web site says, “Generally wood stoves and fireplaces are not clean from an air emissions perspective; even when the burning devices are EPA approved they are likely to create localized degradation and air quality impact when used in dense residential areas.”


The EPA report on wood smoke reported that poorly installed or leaking wood heaters can cause excessive levels of carbon monoxide in the home. Carbon monoxide, EPA explained, deprives the body of oxygen, impairing thinking and reflexes.


Symptoms can range from headaches and fatigue at low exposure levels, to flu-like symptoms at moderate levels, to carbon monoxide poisoning and death in high-exposure cases.


Particulate matter generated by burning can cause short-term health concerns, the EPA reported, such as throat and eye irritation, runny nose or bronchitis. In addition, it makes existing heart and lung conditions bronchitis, asthma and emphysema worse, according to the EPA.


Air toxics can cause eye irrigation and headaches, or have much worse affects, such as permanent damage to the body's systems respiratory, nervous, reproductive, immune and developmental, the EPA reported.


Even worse, the EPA said that certain air toxics generated by burning can cause cancer.


What to do? First, both the EPA and Reynolds urge making sure your stove is cleaned and in proper working order.


A major caveat from Reynolds: Avoid burning treated wood.


Reynolds said his department has dealt with only about 10 complaints in the last year from people who say their neighbors' wood burning is causing them discomfort. Most of these complaints, he added, have arisen within residential developments.


When confronting such a problem, he urges people with complaints to first approach the woodstove owner.


Reynolds said he's found that, generally, people try to be cooperative when problems are brought to their attention, and are willing to make modifications, including raising chimney heights.


The EPA suggests making sure that stoves are properly assembled, that flues are the right size and the stoves are properly located and configured.


LCAQMD suggests operating wood stoves and heaters according to manufacturers' recommendations, and having the chimney swept annually. The agency offers guidelines for what woods to burn (they suggest seasoned hardwood rather than softwood), and urges consideration of alternatives fuels, including wood pellets and propane.


For more information on health concerns and stove safety, visit the EPA Web site, www.epa.gov/woodstoves/healtheffects.html or www.epa.gov/woodstoves/efficiently.html; or the Lake County Air Quality Management District Web site, www.lcaqmd.net/.


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


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LUCERNE – State and local officials are taking a close look at the finances of the Lucerne Senior Center, after center board members asked for help in accounting for funds they say came up missing nearly two years ago.


Jim Swatts, the center's executive board president, and J.J. Jackson, the center executive director, both agree that they have been unable to account for between $150,000 and $175,000 in funds from the center prior to taking over leadership of the center in the summer of 2005.


Sheriff Rod Mitchell confirmed this week that an investigation into the center's finances had recently been “revived,” thanks to interest from the Lake County Grand Jury.


Mitchell explained that the center investigation had been opened last year, but that his staff had been unable to continue because homicide and burglary cases had taken precedence, and investigating personnel changed.


The Grand Jury came to Mitchell and asked about what information he had in the investigation, and eventually opened up their own, Mitchell said.


“They're having someone with accounting experience look at it,” he explained.


“It's really the right way to approach a white collar crime-type investigation,” Mitchell added.


Mitchell said his staffers don't have the skills of forensic analysis specific to accounting investigations.


So he and the Grand Jury are collaborating on the investigation. “I'm lending money to help pay for the staffers,” he said.


Mitchell said he's grateful for the Grand Jury's efforts, because “it may provide the resolution that this case needs.”


The District Attorney's Office also is getting involved, said Mitchell. He and DA Jon Hopkins are networking to move the case forward, and Hopkins is lending extra investigators from his department to the effort.


Mitchell would not comment on whether or not the investigation was looking at any specific individuals.


Hopkins confirmed involvement in the case, and said he and Mitchell have discussed working together to finish the investigation.


As to the case's particulars, Hopkins said he could not comment. “I don't want it (the investigation) to run into any problems getting finished,” he said.


Documents in the care of Swatts showed numerous financial oddities, including many checks in large amounts – some has high as $6,000 – written from the center to the center, which then were cashed with no accounting of where the money went.


There are also dozens of checks to then-senior center employees which bounced, and resulted in those employees suing the center through the state Labor Division's Department of Industrial Relations. Swatts and Jackson said the state has ruled the center must pay $9,000 in back wages to four staffers, along with a $3,000 fine.


At times, the center's financial needs were so serious that center board members and private individuals wrote large checks to cover the center's bills. One individual wrote a $7,200 check to cover the center's Pacific Gas & Electric bill.


Documents showed that state Employment Development Department quarterly wage reports in 2004 weren't filed, medical premiums for employees weren't paid and the Lucerne center was borrowing thousands of dollars from the Lakeport Senior Center for purposes including keeping its Meals on Wheels program going.


Swatts and Jackson say there are many missing documents missing, which makes it impossible ever to conduct an official audit of the years before 2005.


They have slowly found more documents that showed the center's tenuous financial situation. Swatts said he and another senior center staff member have delivered two boxes of materials to Deputy Attorney General Jeff Ogata in the California Department of Justice.


Calls to Ogata's office were not returned. Gareth Lacey, spokesman for the California DOJ, said he could not confirm or deny if the agency's charitable trusts division received a complaint about the Lucerne Senior Center.


Neither Hopkins or Mitchell said they had yet had any contact with DOJ in the case.


Through a lot of hard work, senior center officials have managed to put the center on a better track. Jackson estimates that the center's overall debt is now at about $120,000.


The center and the county are working on an agreement in which the county would buy the center's thrift shop building for $150,000 and lease it back to the center for $1 a month. That, said Swatts, would help the center pay its debts and re-roof the main building.


Lake County News will continue to follow the case and publish updates as soon as they are available.


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


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