Sunday, 21 July 2024


This is the introductory column of Lake County News' new food writer, Ross A. Christensen. His columns will run on Sundays.

OK, I admit it: I’m a foodie on a freakish scale. In addition to the usual appreciation for fine foods that makes a person a “foodie,” I love heirloom vegetables, organic foods, and exotic meats. I take a keen interest in all the different aspects of food production, including fiddling about in my own garden.

I love to research how things are grown all around the world, like checking weather patterns in Southeast Asia to see if this is going to be a good year for Tellicherry pepper. I even have my own signature six-peppercorn blend, the contents of which are a strict secret. I know, I know, as my wife is always saying, “Pull UP!” So yes, I admit it, I love food to the point of obsession.

So now that you know a little about my love of gastronomy, I thought I would tell you a little about the fun time of year that we are in ... Seed Catalog Season! This is the time of year that my Lay-Z-Boy is surrounded and covered with catalogs, as I examine them in an effort to narrow down what I will be growing this year.

Every year I try to find one unique item that I’ve never grown before. This year I’m planting Mexican Sour Gherkins, a type of cucumber that grows to be the size of a teaspoon. Perfect for pickling! I’ll still have the usual tomatoes, onions, artichokes, herbs, etc.

I’m always looking out for a more flavorful and bigger tomato. This year I am going to start the process of hybridizing my own variety of tomato out of “Coustralee,” “Zogola,” and “Omar’s Lebanese” tomatoes. I’ll also have a couple of a tomato plants that I grew last year called “Quingza” just for eating. I just love to garden.

Tomatoes utterly love our climate. The warm to hot summer temperatures here are similar to the tomato’s native Central and South America, the lack of summer rains helps prevent fungal diseases, and our high altitude intensifies flavors in the fruits more than gardens at sea level.

If you’re interested in improving the flavor of your tomatoes even more, I will let you in on a little secret of my own. Don’t water your tomatoes so much. When I won “Best Tomato of Show” at a North Bay festival (with a cherry tomato called “Matt’s Wild Cherry”) a man approached me and asked for some advice. He commented that he watered his tomatoes twice, and even sometimes three times a day, and he wanted to know how many times I watered mine.

You could see the astonishment in his face when I told him, “Two or three times per year.” I explained to him how every time you water your tomatoes, you water down their flavor. How do they get enough water then? I use a very intensive method for growing tomatoes which requires a lot of preparation before the actual planting begins but which makes the plants mostly self-sufficient. If you would like to learn more, feel free to e-mail me for specifics.

I now want to make a plea with the public at large. When I lived in Santa Rosa, every couple of weeks during the growing season I would harvest all of my extra vegetables and bring them to the local battered women’s shelter. I’m a firm believer that although your next-door neighbor may LIKE getting your extra harvests, there are places out there that actually NEED them. With the recent success of the Wine and Chocolate event (which benefited the new battered women’s shelter), it renewed my belief that these types of programs need to be supported on a continuous basis. If you are a gardener who wishes to donate your extra produce, please contact me. I am willing to start a program that will deliver garden fresh fruits and vegetables to the current and new domestic violence shelters.

If you don’t have a garden and still wish to donate something, then you are also welcome to contact me. I can arrange to have your food picked up and delivered to the shelter. Together we can change our community for the better.

My personal e-mail address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Ross A. Christensen is an award-winning gardener and gourmet cook. He is the author of "Sushi A to Z, The Ultimate Guide" and is currently working on a new book. He has been a public speaker for many years and enjoys being involved in the community.


Vista Point Shopping Center, located at one of the entry points into Lakeport, is at the heart of a foreclosure action filed against the company that owns the building leases. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LAKEPORT – The company that has held the lease on the buildings at the Vista Point Shopping Center for three decades is facing foreclosure by the bank that holds its loan and eviction by the new owner of the property the center sits on.

Foreclosure proceedings were filed last November against Oakland-based Meridian Investments by Park National Bank, which holds the $1.9 million note on the Vista Point lease, according to court documents. Named as a co-defendant was Dianne Walters as the representative of the estate of her husband, Bill Walters, a Meridian partner who died last summer.

Last fall the city sold the nine-acre property underneath the 113,288-square-foot shopping center to developer Matt Riveras for $1,001,000, as Lake County News has reported.

Riveras said he filed a default against Meridian earlier this year seeking its eviction from the ground lease because of failure to perform and late payment.

Meridian has held the lease on the buildings since 1978, when it entered into a lease agreement with the City of Lakeport, according to the city's purchase contract with Riveras. With the ground purchase Riveras inherited that lease, !-- @page { size: 8.5in 11in; margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in which was scheduled to run for another 20 years.

As the city was preparing to finalize its sale to Riveras last October, Jeff Walters, Bill Walters' son who was representing Meridian, and Presidio Development Partners LLC of San Francisco asked the city to reconsider selling the land to Riveras and put a $1.2 million counter offer on the table.

By the time that offer was made in late October, Meridian had allegedly defaulted on an Oct. 1 loan payment, according to court documents. Meridian's filed response denies that it missed that or subsequent payments.

Jeff Walters, who Lake County News contacted about the situation, said he had no information about the foreclosure action.

Calls to Park National's attorneys were not returned. Meridian's attorney, Steve M. Morger, called the situation a “garden variety foreclosure,” and offered no further information on Meridian's reaction to the suit.

Donica was named by Park National Bank as a co-defendant in the judicial foreclosure in an amended complaint filed on Feb. 22.

Park National is seeking a number of findings from the court, including right to enter the property and collect rents or have a court-appointed receiver do so; a judgment for at least $1,914,103.02, which is the loan's principal through Nov. 20, in addition to accrued default interest; and whether Riveras' company, Donica LLC, can claim an event of default on the ground lease and commence its own repairs on the center.

A receiver has been appointed to manage the center, court documents show.

In the court documents, Park National said Riveras approached the bank to inform them that he planned to make $2 million in repairs to the property, which would be billed to Park National. The bank also accused Riveras of hatching a “scheme” to try to purchase Meridian's lease at a significantly lower price that its value.

Riveras said there was no scheme, merely an offer he made based on his experience in banking. He explained that most banks holding such notes usually have purchased them for pennies on the dollar.

Park National turned down his offer, Riveras said, saying they wanted in excess of $2 million.

Situation led to ground lease default action

Riveras said after he took possession of the center's land he asked Meridian to sign an Estoppel agreement, which new landlords often ask tenants to sign. It is meant to provide the new landlord with information on the tenant's situation; it also can be used to confirm lease requirements.

He said Meridian refused to sign it. Riveras said he also wasn't aware that, at that point, they had defaulted on the loan payment to the bank.

In addition, Meridian was late on its payment to him as the property owner, Riveras said, which jeopardized the company's ability to maintain their lease.

Riveras sent Meridian a letter asking for a response by Jan. 28 outlining their plans to remodel the center's buildings. He said they never responded, and about that time he was notified that the shopping center buildings had been placed in receivership.

Finally, Riveras filed a notice of default on the lease against Meridian based on the condition of the property.

He explained that the reason he is named in Park National Bank's suit is a simple one. “If my default were to beat their default I would get the property and they wouldn't get their money.”

The lease is supposed to go for a foreclosure sale at some point, and Riveras believes the bank will end up purchasing the lease rights.

“Nobody in their right mind would pay $2 million for this hornet's nest,” he said.

City Attorney Steve Brookes said the sale had been scheduled for last Friday but was postponed.

The effort to improve the center, Riveras added, continues to move forward.

Riveras said he met recently with Park National Bank to give them time to work out their issues separate from his.

He said he doesn't plan to let up on Meridian, with his civil action to evict the company moving forward.

“Right now my only interest is still the same,” he said. “I want to develop the property and make it a viable center again and with all of these people throwing lawsuits in the way it just postpones what I'm able to do with the property.”

Park National's suit said Donica – and its predecessor, the city – should have known of the center's condition. “ ... During all the years the property was in purported disrepair, Donica, through its predecessor never once raised an issue regarding the purported condition of the property,” Park National alleges.

The city did make such an effort, said Brookes. While the city hasn't done a complete inspection of the property, it did notify Meridian that certain improvements were required, said Brookes.

After the old Thrifty store's roof caved in Meridian took some steps to make the building safer, said Brookes.

City permit records also show that the company had taken out a permit to replace the roof but eventually voided it out. Meridian also fixed electrical concerns at the center after the city sent them a notice requiring it.

Riveras said when the city owned the property it should have put the lease into default based on the poor condition of the buildings. “In hindsight I bet they wish they would have.”

He added, “I'm coming in to do what the city should have done years ago, and that is either force Meridian to perform and redevelop the property and comply with their lease or get out and I'll do it.”

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


LOWER LAKE – As children in the Konocti Unified School District head back to school today following spring break, school officials are preparing to deal with students' reactions and questions in the wake of a classmate's murder.

School was out for spring break on March 21 when Tessa and Kristen Walker were stabbed near their Hidden Valley Lake home.

Ten-year-old Tessa died later that same day at Redbud Community Hospital. Her 14-year-old sister is home and recovering, the family reported.

The two girls and another sibling were all students in the Konocti Unified School District, where Assistant Superintendent Cliff Lantz said counselors are preparing to offer support to students, some of whom may be confronting the news of the little girl's death for the first time on Monday.

Lantz said the district has a crisis intervention team – composed of school counselors and psychologists – that mobilizes in situations such as this one

“Whenever there is any kind of disaster or anything like this, that team automatically gets called and activated,” he explained.

The last time Lantz said he was involved in the team's activation related to a shooting event about a year ago.

Staff at all district schools will be ready to respond if children have questions about this current situation, he said.

However, he added, “The focus will be Lower Lake Elementary, which is where the little girl attended.”

There, he said, the principal, counselor, psychologist and the little girl's teacher “are all aware of the situation and prepared to deal with it,” he said.

However, many of the counseling team's members have been away, so there will need to be some additional planning and discussion when school reopens Monday as they find out the children's reaction to the news, Lantz explained. The team will then decide if they'll need extra help.

If they do need assistance, the county's Mental Health Department is prepared to respond, said Director Kristy Kelly.

“We follow their lead,” she said. “We make ourselves available.”

Kelly said she has as many as 10 staff members who are trained as responders in tragic situations such as this one.

Dr. Terence Rooney, Mental Health's deputy director for clinical services, is in charge of contacting the schools to let them know the county is ready to offer assistance, which he has done in this case, Kelly explained.

“It's part of our essential services to offer psychological support in crisis,” she said.

The last time Mental Health offered its assistance was in response to the death of a faculty member at a local college, Kelly said. Kelly's staff held a debriefing for the school's faculty.

Mental Health also has a critical incident stress debriefing process, said Kelly, which offers support to emergency personnel in particularly stressful situations.

Lantz said it sometimes takes children a while to begin dealing with issues of death and grief. “When the event occurs everyone kind of talks about it on a very superficial level, and then in a few weeks really start thinking about it.”

Perhaps an even more important issue, he said, is helping Tessa Walker's siblings return to school and their studies when they're ready, while minimizing their trauma.

The critical question to answer, said Lantz, is this one: “How do you protect them yet maintain their involvement and integration in school?”

That, he added, is the most difficult piece of the puzzle.

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


LAKE COUNTY – A national animal rights group is getting involved in a local animal cruelty case.

The Humane Society of the United States, the nation's largest animal protection organization, announced that it wrote to Lake County District Attorney Jon Hopkins Friday, calling for aggressive investigation and prosecution – if warranted – of two girls accused of microwaving a hamster.

The girls, ages 14 and 15 years old and Lower Lake High School students, were arrested March 31 and remained in Juvenile Hall until April 3, charged with intentional animal cruelty for microwaving the hamster, as Lake County News has reported. The hamster lost three of her four feet but has otherwise recovered.

The teens are due to go to court April 18, according to Clearlake Police Officer Carl Miller, the school resource officer who led the investigation.

"Those who abuse animals can be dangerous to people," said Dale Bartlett, the Humane Society of the United States' deputy manager for animal cruelty issues. "Americans have no tolerance for violence against the creatures who share our world."

The Humane Society, which monitors incidents of cruelty across the United States and provides input to prosecutors in more than 200 cases annually, reported that it also offered Hopkins' office its support and resources.

Humane Society officials reported that getting the serious attention of prosecutors in cases involving allegations of animal cruelty is an essential step in protecting community safety. That's because the connection between animal cruelty and human violence is well documented.

The group pointed to studies that show a correlation between animal cruelty and all manner of other crimes, from narcotics and firearms violations to battery and sexual assault.

“Strong, carefully considered sentencing that includes incarceration, psychological treatment, and a ban on pet ownership is the most effective available tool for reducing recidivism and interrupting the cycle of criminal behavior,” a Humane Society statement noted.

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


LAKE COUNTY – Local school officials said this week that they destroyed cases of beef products in February after receiving word from the US Department of Agriculture that the meat in question could have come from a slaughterhouse under investigation for using sick and injured cattle.

Two local school districts – Konocti Unified and Lakeport Unified – were among districts in 45 states believed to have received some of the 143 million pounds of recalled beef, according to a USDA Food and Nutrition Service report released last week.

The beef in question came from the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing Co. in Chino between Feb. 1, 2006 and Feb 4. 2008, as Lake County News has reported.

The slaughterhouse was shut down in early February after a Humane Society of the United States investigation helped uncover the company's slaughter of “downer” cattle – animals so sick they can no longer stand or walk – and cruel practices employed by laborers on the animals.

Erin Smith-Hagberg, superintendent of Lakeport Unified School District, told Lake County News that the USDA is very efficient with their recall notifications to school districts.

Smith-Hagberg said the district's cafeteria director received an e-mail from the USDA about the recall on Feb. 5.

Lakeport Unified did not receive any direct products that were on the recall list, according to Smith-Hagberg. However, a processing company that the district uses may have received some of the beef.

Smith-Hagberg said that, as a precaution, the district immediately disposed of the 10 cases of beef products that came from that particular processing company.

Lakeport Unified serves 1,200 lunches and 300 breakfasts each day through its food services, said Smith-Hagberg.

That compares with the nearly 2,000 lunches and 900 breakfasts served on school days at schools in the Konocti Unified School District, said Marla Peterson, director of Konocti Unified's Child Nutrition Program.

Peterson said Konocti Unified received 206 cases of processed beef products from Westlands/Hallmark. The district was notified of the issue with the meat on Feb. 15.

“We've never had a recall this huge,” said Peterson, who has worked with the district for 25 years.

Because the recall covered meat produced at the Chino slaughterhouse in a two-year period, Peterson said she's sure some of the beef was served in the district at some point.

The USDA, however, has reported that no illnesses have been reported because of the meat, which was recalled for regulatory noncompliance.

At the time of the recall, the cases of beef were still located in Konocti Unified's central freezer facility and hadn't yet been distributed to the various schools, said Peterson.

As soon as she was notified, Peterson said she called the schools' cooks to apprise them of the situation. They kept dishes using similar beef products off the menu “just to make sure,” she added.

“We had to destroy the 206 cases on our site,” she said, with that product valued at a little under $2,800.

The destruction process included making two trips to the landfill, where the USDA required that the beef had to be plowed into the ground, said Peterson. A landfill official and warehouseman also had to sign a USDA affidavit confirming that the meat had been destroyed.

Peterson said the district diverts the ground beef it receives as commodity to a processor, where the meat is made into products. The district's processor had another 11,000 pounds of the meat. She added that the processor is handling that meat's destruction.

The USDA said it will provide replacement commodities.

“We were pretty lucky,” she said.

Peterson said it's not uncommon to get recalls on some items produced by private companies, such as a recent green bean recall. She added that the California Department of Health sends out regular updates on food recall issues.

However, she said this was the first time a recall involved products distributed by the USDA.

Denise Moore of the California Department of Education's Food Distribution Program told Lake County News that, in all, state schools received 15.8 million pounds of recalled beef valued at $24 million.

Of that, it's estimated that 4.2 million pounds – or about 152,216 cases of beef – have been destroyed, with the remainder having been consumed, said Moore.

However, Moore said that only 78-percent of school districts have responded to requests the Department of Education has made for information about their beef supplies, so estimates of how much may have been consumed could change.

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


Congressman Mike Thompson and wife, Jan, during his talk at the Saturday evening ravioli feed. Photo by John Jensen.


LAKEPORT – This weekend Congressman Mike Thompson once again donned his red apron and – in a nod to his Italian heritage – cooked up and served huge amounts of pasta to host one of the community's largest annual dinners.

The annual ravioli feed, hosted by Thompson and wife Jan at the Lake County Fairgrounds Saturday evening, drew hundreds of residents from around Lake County and across parties in a gathering that has continued to grow larger over the last few years, according to organizers.

Several local elected officials – including Supervisors Jeff Smith, Ed Robey and Denise Rushing, Clearlake Council member Joyce Overton, Assembly hopeful Wes Chesbro and former supervisor, Gary Lewis – joined Thompson to serve up dinner, while Public Nuisance provided the music.

Appreciation for wine was a theme of the evening. More than 20 local wineries poured their product, and Thompson's talk to the crowd touched on the region's growing reputation for wines.

“Lake County is there,” said Thompson. “They are top of the list.”

He added that local wine producers “make it very easy for me to promote a good product.”

Turning to matters in Congress, Thompson said the nation shouldn't put its children in debt. He pointed to bad policies adopted by the administration and the last Congress which continued bad fiscal policy.

For those reasons Thompson said the House of Representative has adopted “pay-go” rules, that, with some exceptions, require the house to only pass legislation that it can pay for. The Senate has yet to adopt those rules, he added, but they're necessary to improve fiscal responsibility and manage debt.

Thompson, a Vietnam veteran who was awarded a certificate of appreciation for his efforts on behalf of fellow vets from the local Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 951 before the dinner started, said this Congress has raised funding for the Veterans Administration to its highest levels ever.

That action was necessary, he said, because the growing veterans community has tremendous needs.

Thompson also touched on other issues, including Congress' passage of the most aggressive energy policy ever, increases in funding for education and the road ahead.

Millions of new voters are coming out to participate in the process of electing new leadership, said Thompson.

“People really want to change the direction of this country,” he said. “I'm looking forward to doing that with your help.”

He adding, “I'm glad that we're in this together.”

The Saturday event – with its relaxed, casual atmosphere – was likely a welcome respite for Thompson, who has been under scrutiny since last week in the wake of an Associated Press report that a trip he and two fellow Democrats in the House of Representatives took to Iraq in 2002 was secretly financed by Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency.

Thompson and his fellow lawmakers aren't being accused of any wrongdoing, especially since the trip was approved by the State Department.

The congressman took the trip so they could see for themselves the situation in the country prior to the US launching its war on Iraq.

Thompson ultimately voted against entry into the Iraq war.

His annual visit to Lake County also came at a time when he's in the midst of a campaign for reelection.

The field of candidates this year for Thompson's First Congressional District seat include Mitch Clogg, Democrat, Mendocino; Doug Pharr, Republican, Napa; Zane Starkewolf, Republican, Davis; and Carol Wolman, Green, Mendocino, according to the California Secretary of State's Office.

He said his challengers are accusing him of either being too far to the right or too far to the left.

“I'm right back where I've always been – in the middle, working with both sides,” he said, earning a round of applause.

Thompson said he's looking forward to continuing to work with his Lake County constituents for a long time to come.

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



Hundreds of county residents filled the hall at the Lake County Fairgrounds Saturday. Photo by John Jensen.



Faded At Four is rocking on in the competition. Courtesy photo.


LAKE COUNTY – Local rockers Faded At Four remain in the competition for a recording contract and a shot at fame in a contest that pits talented bands from around the country and the world against each other.

Lake County Bodog Battle of the Bands Finalists, Faded At Four took Hollywood by storm in the latest round of competition for the $1 million recording contract on March 12.

The five-member band was once again complete with glove-wearing guitarist Chris Murphy returning to the group after his brief hiatus from the band.

Murphy joined his fellow band members, vocalist Jon Foutch, guitarist Brian Kenner, bassist Martin Scheel and drummer Chris "Pencil" Sanders on the stage of the Avalon in Hollywood.

Several of their fans made the trek to Hollywood to see this band compete for a place on the reality TV series, Bodog Battle of the Bands as once again, another venue was filled with chants of "Faded Faded Faded" by fans proudly displaying their support in their Faded At Four T-Shirts. Fans were presented with a special treat in Faded's performance, their new song, written for their Bodog performances called "Faded."

Faded At Four started their journey with Bodog in July 2007 by registering at the Bodog Web site and submitting their bio and music for judging by online voters.

Shortly after registration, they became No. 1 in the San Francisco division and rapidly moved up the ranks to become No. 3 in the nation, securing their spot in the live competitions.

In October the band performed in their first live round, the audition round to show the judges that they were a real band with real musical talent by traveling to San Francisco to compete at 12 Galaxies.

Moving on with seven other bands from that round, Faded at Four prepared for the "Impress the Judges Round" again at 12 Galaxies in December by offering their fans a bus ride to the venue, food and drink on the bus, a Faded At Four t-shirt and admission to the venue for one flat fee. Fifty fans packed the venue and voted their favorite band into the next round in January.

January's Semi-Regional Finals found Faded At Four facing off with 11 other bands. Their fans once again offered their loyal support by loading on buses to attend the show at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.

This time fans from Sacramento joined their Lake County counterparts and three buses were brought to the show. Faded At Four, with their fans help, moved on to the Finals in March in Hollywood.

One band out of the 12 that played at the Avalon in Hollywood moved on to the reality series. Two more bands may join the reality series participants by fan voting online.

The Wildcard vote takes place from April 1 to April 30 on Bodog Battle of the Bands Web site. Faded at Four's fans may vote for them once daily by logging onto the Bodog website and casting their vote.

The winners of this nation wide voting will be announced on Bodog's Web site in May.

Faded At Four is competing in the Bodog Battle Wildcard voting along with MTV2's On The Rise online voting. Links to both of these sites can be found at Faded At Four's Web site, where fans can go vote for Faded every day.

Faded At Four also will return to the studio to complete their long-awaited album, "Collateral" along with playing at many venues in the area. Fans are advised to check Faded At Four's Web site for

upcoming shows that they are working on in multiple counties in the area along with the latest updates from this local band who is helping to put Lake County on the map!

Those wishing to book Faded At Four in a venue near them can contact the band by sending an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Fans can get on the list to receive news and updates about this band by sending an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Bugsy the hampster is recovering and has a new home, while the juveniles who allegedly injured her are facing animal cruelty charges. Photo courtesy of Lake County Animal Care and Control.


LAKE COUNTY – A teacher's compassion and quick thinking helped save a small animal in a case of animal cruelty the likes of which local officials say they haven't before encountered.

Lake County Animal Care and Control and Clearlake Police reported that two girls have been arrested and are in Juvenile Hall, facing charges of intentional animal cruelty for putting a hamster in a microwave. Their names have not been released because of their age.

“I've never seen anything like this,” said Clearlake Police Officer Carl Miller, who worked with Animal Care and Control to investigate the case.

Nor had Animal Care and Control Officer Morgan Hermann, who said she hasn't encountered an animal cruelty case involving children in her five years with the agency.

Amazingly, the little hamster, a female named Bugsy, survived the ordeal, said Hermann.

Animal Care and Control received an anonymous call about the Bugsy's case last week, said Hermann, while the students in question – who attend schools in the Konocti Unified School District – were on spring break.

She said she called Miller, Konocti Unified's school resource officer since last September, who Hermann said conducted the entire investigation, which wrapped up Monday.

Miller said that the microwave incident occurred in December, and that it was widely known at the school where the girls attended.

One of the girls recently brought Bugsy back to school to give her back to her original owner, said Miller. That's when a teacher, who had heard about the situation, took custody of the hamster to protect it from further harm.

Miller said he considers the case a serious one.

Animal advocacy groups also consider such cases of special concern. A report by the Humane Society of the United States explains that children who are allowed to harm animals are more likely to be violent later in life.

After getting the call Hermann took Bugsy to Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic to be checked out.

Although Bugsy survived, she didn't come away from the experience unscathed, said Hermann.

Three of Bugsy's four tiny feet were burned off, leaving just one front foot, the left front, for her to eat with, said Hermann.

The wounds had healed since the incident occurred, and Bugsy is plump and getting around OK, said Hermann. “The hamster is doing very, very well.”

The two girls alleged to have injured Bugsy remain in Juvenile Hall, said Miller.

As for Bugsy, she was released by Wasson Memorial on Monday, said Hermann.

The little hamster will be going back to live with the woman who rescued her and had been taking good care of her since, said Hermann.

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


Dean Gotham, president of the local Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, braved the gloomy Friday weather to sell clovers commemorating MIAs, POWs and victims of Agent Orange. Vietnam veterans locally also will mark the first Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day on Sunday, March 30. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LAKE COUNTY – It's been decades since Vietnam veterans made their way home from the war, only to meet – in the worst cases – outright abuse, or disapproval and lack of acceptance because they had been sent to fight in an unpopular war.

Now, however, thanks to the growing appreciation for their sacrifices, Vietnam veterans are poised to celebrate their first national day of remembrance.

On Sunday, the first “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in the United States will be commemorated.

It's been a long time in coming – 35 years, to be exact.

March 30 was chosen because it was on that date in 1973 that US Armed Forces completed withdrawal of combat troops from Vietnam.

US involvement in Vietnam began in an advisory capacity in 1961, with troops arriving in 1965, in an effort to prevent Communism spreading across the rest of Southeast Asia.

In all, more than 58,000 US Armed Forces members died in the war, with another 300,000 returning home wounded, according to federal records.

The “Welcome Home” day received federal approval last year. That followed years of lobbying by Whittier resident and Vietnam veteran José G. Ramos, who founded the Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day effort in 2000, according to

On Feb. 16, 2007, California Congresswoman Linda T. Sanchez introduced House Resolution 189, “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that a 'Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day' should be established,” according to congressional records. Sanchez was joined by 54 co-sponsors on the bill.

The bill passed on a 381-0 vote on June 25, 2007, according to House voting records. North Coast Congressman Mike Thompson, a Vietnam vet, was among those casting votes in favor of the resolution.

Next, on Aug. 1, 2007, California Sen. Barbara Boxer introduced the Senate version of the bill, Senate Resolution 289. The Senate passed the resolution unanimously on Nov. 8, 2007.

Both resolutions noted: “... Members of the United States Armed Forces who served bravely and faithfully for the United States during the Vietnam War were caught upon their return home in the crossfire of public debate about the involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War ...”

On his Web site Ramos reported that the bill was sent to President George W. Bush, with the request that he sign it and make it a national holiday. The bill didn't receive the president's signature, despite efforts by Ramos and others to get him to do so.

Veterans honored locally

Local veterans are joining their fellow soldiers across the nation in marking the day by their own kinds of activism and outreach.

This year, there aren't any organized local events planned for the Vietnam veterans commemoration, said Dean Gotham, president of the county's Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 951.

Instead, groups like his are focusing on outreach to the community and education about veterans issues.

On Friday, Gotham braved the cold, rainy weather to stand outside Bruno's Shop Smart to offer clovers – orange for Agent Orange victims and black for POW/MIAs – as part of a fundraiser for the group.

“I'm shocked at how well it's going,” said Gotham.

He added that it's the first time the commemorative clovers – similar to the “Buddy Poppies” sold on Veterans Day and Memorial Day – have been offered locally, or possibly even in the state. “We may be breaking new ground.”

Agent Orange refers to the herbicide dumped on Vietnam in an effort to defoliate jungles. Use of the chemical – millions of gallons of it were dumped on the country – had huge impacts on soldiers and civilians, both American and Vietnamese, who were exposed to it. Numerous health issues, from dozens of forms of cancer to birth defects, have been attributed to it.

The black clovers Gotham handed out to donors were a reminder of the soldiers still missing and unaccounted for in Vietnam. The National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia reports there are 1,763 US soldiers who have never returned from the Vietnam War.

There are a total of 8,000 veterans in Lake County, said Gotham, based on information he's received from the county's Veterans Services Office. Of that number, Gotham estimated that “a good chunk” are Vietnam vets.

In addition to Bruno's, clovers also will be available for donation this weekend at Konocti Vista Casino, K-Mart, Sentry Market and Lakeport's Safeway, according to Gotham.

All the proceeds will benefit Chapter 951's outreach programs – everything from emergency financial and housing assistance, to providing help with benefits and rides to medical appointments.

For the last two Christmases, the chapter also has extended its efforts to include seniors at area convalescent homes in its “Seniors Not Forgotten” program, in addition to providing memorial scholarships, a Christmas Fund and sponsorship for Little League teams, the chapter reported.

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


The little female hamster survived the abuse and is in a new home. Photo courtesy of Lake County Animal Care and Control.


LAKE COUNTY – Two girls arrested earlier this week in an animal cruelty case have been released temporarily from Juvenile Hall.

The 14- and 15-year-old girls, students at Lower Lake High School, were released from Juvenile Hall Thursday after their Monday arrest for microwaving a hamster, said Officer Carl Miller of Clearlake Police.

“They are on 15-day home detection until they go into their jurisdictional hearing,” Miller said.

Miller, a school resource officer for the Konocti Unified School District, conducted the investigation into the case.

The girls, Miller explained, allegedly put the hamster in the microwave twice back in December. His investigation was unable to confirm allegations that the girls also had put Bugsy in other appliances, such as a clothes dryer.

Miller said the girls, when confronted with the allegations, admitted they had done it, and he said they showed no remorse.

Their alleged reason for putting the little female hamster in the microwave was because they were bored, said Miller.

“They said they only did it for five seconds,” he said.

The hamster lost three of her feet following the microwave incident, Officer Morgan Hermann of Lake County Animal Care and Control told Lake County News earlier this week. However, the hamster has made a recovery and is living with a teacher who reportedly confiscated her from one of the girls, who had brought the little animal back to school.

Miller said a veterinarian's exam of the hamster showed the burns she suffered were consistent with what a microwave would inflict.

When the girls go to court April 18, Miller said they'll make their pleas. If they plead not guilty, they'll be subject to a trial by judge. A guilty plea would likely result in a quicker resolution.

If convicted, Miller said the girls could face anything from probation to a year in the California Youth Authority,

He expects they'll receive 30 days in Juvenile Hall and a few years of probation if guilty verdicts are delivered. “Anything more than that is highly unlikely.”

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


LAKE COUNTY – The Stars of Lake County Community Awards honored local heroes Sunday night at the annual awards ceremony, held at Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa in Kelseyville.

The Lakeport Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event, reported the following award winners.

  • Man of the Year: Dave Fesmire.

  • Woman of the Year: Ginny Craven.

  • Large Business: Shannon Ridge Winery and Vineyard.

  • Small Business: Kerrie's Quilting.

  • Youth Advocate, Volunteer: Helen Finch.

  • Youth Advocate, Professional: Adam Garcia.

  • Male Student: Erik Jameson.

  • Female Student: Krista Collins.

  • Agriculture Award: Lake County Farm Bureau, California Women for Agriculture.

  • Arts Award, Amateur: Shelby Posada.

  • Arts Award, Professional: Ron Keas.

  • Volunteer: William Barrows and Connie Miller.

  • Marla Ruzicka Humanitarian Award: Susie Wiloth.

  • Senior of the Year: Floyd Surber.

  • Best Idea: Team DUI.

  • Organizaiton, Nonprofit: Lakeside Dental Clinic.

  • Organization, Volunteer: Sponsoring Survivorship.

  • Lifetime Achievement, Male: Don Emerson.

  • Lifetime Achievement, Couple: Robert and Nadine Strauss.

  • Lifetime Achievement, Female: Joan Steele Holman.

  • Local Hero: Javier Batres.

  • New Business: Wild About Books.

  • Environmental: Tom and Val Nixon.

  • Spirit: Kacey Tallman.


LAKE COUNTY – The California Department of Transportation recently awarded $52 million to cities and counties for 139 projects funded through the state’s Safe Routes to School program, which is designed to give students in grades K-12 easier and healthier ways to safely travel to and from schools.

State Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), who represents much of the North Coast in the 2nd Senate District, was a co-author of the original bill (AB 1475, by Assemblywoman Nell Soto) establishing Safe Routes to School funding in 1999. A number of communities in the 2nd District – which stretches from Solano County to Humboldt County – received funding in the latest cycle.

According to CalTrans, the Lakeport schools – Lakeport Elementary, Terrace Heights, Terrace Middle School and Clear Lake High School – received $499,860 in grant funding for a street improvement project, the total cost of which is $555,400.

Caltrans reported that the project will include constructing curb, gutter and sidewalk, and a retaining structure, and installing crosswalks, traffic signs and fences. Improvements will be completed along Hartley Street, from the intersection with 20th Street to 428 feet south of the city limit.

Since the program’s inception, Caltrans has awarded $196 million for 709 Safe Routes to School projects. In 2007, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 57 (also authored by Nell Soto), extending Safe Routes to School funding indefinitely.

On its Web site, Caltrans describes Safe Routes to School as “an international movement that has taken hold in communities throughout the United States. The concept is to increase the number of children who walk or bicycle to school by funding projects that remove the barriers that currently prevent them from doing so. Those barriers include lack of infrastructure, unsafe infrastructure, lack of programs that promote walking and bicycling through education/encouragement programs aimed at children, parents, and the community.”

The highly competitive program (local school districts, boards, city councils and state agencies can request funding through yearly application cycles) has enabled communities to increase the safety of children walking or riding to school.

“Pedestrian accidents have been a leading cause of fatal injuries for school-aged children, including in school zones lacking crosswalks or sidewalks,” Wiggins said. “That is one of the many great things about this program: Funds can be used for crosswalks, pedestrian and bicycle pathways, bike lanes, sidewalks and a number of ‘traffic calming’ measures.

“By creating a more hospitable environment for children to walk or ride to school,” Wiggins added, “we are also helping to promote exercise, which is a necessary component of the effort to reduce the incidence of obesity in our young people.”

Thirty years ago, 60 percent of children living within a two-mile radius of a school walked or bicycled to school. Today, that number has dropped to less than 15 percent, according to information provided by Wiggins' office.

Roughly 25 percent commute by school bus, and well over half are driven to/from school in vehicles. And back then, 5 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 11 were considered to be overweight or obese, Wiggins office reported. Today, that number has climbed to 20 percent.

These statistics point to a rise in preventable childhood diseases, worsening air quality and congestion around schools, and missed opportunities for children to grow into self reliant, independent adults.


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