Friday, 03 February 2023

Opinion

Kelseyville Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David S. McQueen. Courtesy photo.

KELSEYVILLE, Calif. — In October, Paulene Raffaelli, our bus driver on route No. 1, was headed back to the bus barn after dropping off her last student when she came across a brush fire next to the road.

Nobody was around and the fire was freely burning not far from the base of Mount Konocti.

Paulene immediately sprang into action. She stopped her bus and grabbed the fire extinguisher that each bus is required to carry. She was able to get the fire out with the extinguisher, and then another motorist stopped and used water they had on hand to douse the area.

Honestly, they may have just stopped the next big fire here in Lake County.

Paulene is a great example of the awesome people working at Kelseyville Unified and throughout Lake County schools. She represents one of the many employees who make up our “classified” staff — those who support students without using a teaching credential.

Our teachers get a lot of well-deserved credit for their amazing contributions, and I’ll keep throwing plenty of kudos their way.

But today, I’d like to talk about the employees behind the scenes who keep our schools running day in, day out, year in, year out, while the teachers work their magic in the classrooms.

Bus drivers and transportation

Many students start and end their school day with our bus drivers, who safely transport kids to school, rain or shine. Our drivers help set the tone for the day and without them, some kids wouldn’t get to school on time (or at all).

We also have other great employees in the Transportation Department. Our transportation secretary, Jessica Lorenzen, does an amazing job of keeping track of the bus passes and making sure everyone is transported to and from their correct locations. She helps keep the whole department rolling (no pun intended).

And our district mechanic, Gerald Sarver, keeps our buses and all district vehicles safe and maintained according to California Highway Patrol regulations. When called upon, he can also jump behind the wheel to drive a bus.

Skilled maintenance and groundskeepers

Those buses drop students off at well-maintained campuses thanks to our maintenance and grounds crew.

It’s hard to describe the variety and complexity of projects required to keep district facilities in good working order. Not only do our crew members take care of existing buildings and grounds through repairs and maintenance, they also perform alterations and new construction in accordance with local, state, and federal standards.

Thanks to the Maintenance Department, we can provide safe, efficient, and clean learning environments for students and staff.

Not only that — our crew makes sure indoor and outdoor athletic facilities and fields are in great shape, so the whole community can enjoy them.

We are lucky to have a skilled and hard-working team that takes such pride in their work.

Custodians

And who keeps those campuses and district facilities clean? That would be our custodians. Not to be gross, but have you ever thought about all the ways that hundreds of students could make a campus dirty?

Well, our day and night custodians can tell you. Yet, each morning when students and staff arrive, they are greeted with clean classrooms, gyms, cafeterias, restrooms, and offices.

Thanks to our custodians, we start each day with empty garbage cans, litter-free outdoor areas, and great-smelling disinfected surfaces, making all of our school sites and departments great places to work, teach, and learn.

Secretaries and clerks

Once the day is in full swing, it’s often up to our school secretaries to keep things running smoothly. I think they’d agree that “other duties as assigned” might be their main responsibility.

They complete all sorts of clerical tasks, but that’s just the start of it. They reassure sick kids while they’re waiting to be picked up, they smooth ruffled feathers when people arrive in a bad mood, they call parents when students forget their lunch or PE clothes, and they help their principal hold down the fort.

If you went to school at Kelseyville Elementary in the last couple of decades, you know Pat McGrath. She’s a fixture. Having a familiar face in the office year after year provides a stable, reliable environment and that’s good for everyone.

Aides (instructional, special needs, noon duty, language and more!)

Our aides work with students one-on-one and in small groups. Like secretaries, they also spend a lot of time on other duties as assigned, from providing extra support on difficult instructional concepts to helping students through the process of losing their first baby tooth.

Our special needs aides work with students with disabilities to support them and help them gain skills in all sorts of areas.

Campus monitors

When it comes to keeping kids safe and on track, our campus monitors are essential. They keep an eye out to prevent problems and address little issues so they don’t become big issues.

They report problems right away. Having an extra set of eyes on students is so helpful. Our administrators really appreciate the work they do.

Food service workers

When it comes to our most important need–basic health–our food service workers take care of business. They make sure students have healthy meals so they can concentrate on learning.

Our schools provide breakfast and lunch and our food service workers nourish students with more than just food–they nourish kids with kindness, putting smiles on student faces every day.

Nurses

Nurses also keep kids healthy. During the pandemic, our nurses went way beyond the call of duty. Now that things have mellowed a little, they’re able to focus on health and wellness overall.

This can mean everything from taking a student’s temperature to assessing whether a student should be referred to a physician for more follow-up.

Technology analysts

While the IT Department isn’t a health-related department, they do improve our mental health every day.

Have you ever had a computer problem at a crucial moment? Imagine having 30 little faces looking up at a screen that suddenly goes blank (if you’re over 50 years old, think of a chalkboard where everything is suddenly erased).

At Kelseyville Unified, our two-person technology team fields calls all day every day to keep everyone productive (and less stressed).

In October, the IT Department received 330 help tickets, with an average response time of five hours and an average ticket close time of two days. Of those 330 tickets, 165 were completed by our incredible network analyst, Josh Crook.

Library clerk

Information doesn’t just come in the form of technology — sometimes it comes in books! Our library clerks introduce students to all the wonderful resources available in our libraries, opening up whole new worlds of information.

Registration staff

And before students can appreciate any of the wonderful services above, they have to get registered to attend school in our district.

For the 2022-23 school year, our Welcome Center staff handled more than 330 new student enrollments, presenting each new Kelseyville Unified family with a friendly introduction to our district.

Without classified workers, schools would come unglued. I wish I could mention everyone by name. They all deserve to be recognized. They keep our district running and provide tremendous support to students and faculty.

If you get the chance, be sure to thank these unsung heroes. And if any of these jobs sound like a good fit for you, you can view local job openings at EdJoin.org.

Dr. David S. McQueen is superintendent of Kelseyville Unified School District.

Dr. Becky Salato. Courtesy photo.

Last month, the Department of Education released student test results that confirmed what we all feared: the COVID-19 pandemic had devastating consequences on reading and math scores for students in every state across almost every demographic.

Konocti Unified School District was no exception — our students didn’t perform well. Unfortunately, this continues a trend that began even before the pandemic.

In truth, COVID simply revealed more of what we already knew: our kids’ scores reflect a lack of access to the kinds of resources and support available elsewhere. We have structural challenges (like limited internet access) and social challenges (like limited employment and health care).

We’re not here to make excuses or bury our heads in the sand. We understand the problems we face and we’re working hard to address them, but we cannot be successful unless schools and families work together.

For the last two years, everyone was isolated and relationships suffered. Schools and families did not have the opportunities to connect. Just like kids are relearning how to get along with each other and engage in learning, schools and families also need to relearn how to work together.

As a school administrator, I don’t expect you, as a parent, to agree with everything your child’s school does. I even understand the need for you to come in and blow off some steam when you’re frustrated. But then, I need you to roll up your sleeves and work with us to help your child thrive.

When parents and educators speak with a single voice about the value of education, it makes a huge difference. If schools say one thing and parents say another, kids will choose their favorite option. If we work together, we can instill a passion for learning that will allow our students to soar.

Let’s take a look at some of the unique challenges facing our community and school district.

Staffing

First, we’re navigating our way through a severe teacher shortage. This is another statewide (and nationwide) problem, but one that’s hitting Lake County hard. As a rural area, recruiting can be difficult, especially attracting top talent from outside the area. Most California school districts partner with nearby universities to funnel recent graduates into the teaching profession and into their schools, but we don’t have that option. Right now, many of our teachers are in the process of getting their teaching credential. Either they’re on a short-term waiver while they apply to a credentialing program or they’re in a program,teaching and going to school at the same time.

Social and economic challenges

Second, although our community has some wonderful upsides, including its natural beauty and slower pace of life, it also has its fair share of social and economic challenges that make it harder to recover from the pandemic as compared to wealthier communities. It’s no wonder that so many local students are struggling with their mental and physical health.

Growing enrollment

Third, while most California school districts have shrinking enrollment, our enrollment is growing — and fast. That puts a lot of strain on an already overburdened system, making the first two challenges even tougher.

The good news is that we’re on the path to overcoming these obstacles. I’m excited to share some of our plans and progress.

Recruitment and retention

To combat the teacher shortage, we’re focusing on both recruitment and retention. To attract new teachers to the district, we offer the best benefits package in the county. We’ve also become much more strategic in our search, reaching out to teachers from communities across the country that are similar to Lake County but may not pay as well as we do.

To retain our teaching staff, we offer ongoing support from our wonderful classified staff, professional development and training opportunities, and in-classroom mentorship. This is especially helpful for our newest teachers who are often passionate, homegrown locals who simply need a little extra support while they finish their credential and find their footing in the classroom.

Teaching is an incredible career, but it isn’t easy, even for our veteran teachers, so we are always looking for outside-the-box ways to show our teachers how much we value them. For example, to make it easier for our teachers to remain in the workforce, we are in the process of developing a day care program for employees.

Community partnerships and extra support

With all the social and economic barriers we have to overcome, it can sometimes feel like other communities are going over hills while we’re climbing a mountain. To make an impact in this area, KUSD offers a number of programs and initiatives to support students both inside and outside the classroom.

We start by making sure students have enough to eat by providing breakfast and lunch (and snacks). In addition to academic support, we offer a multitiered system to support students socially, emotionally, and physically so they can engage in learning.

We also partner with community providers to meet students’ needs. Healthy Start provides kids with free clothing, and local health care providers offer medical and behavioral health care via an on-site clinic. We’re leaning into health and wellness because we believe that when kids feel better, they do better.

Academic programs

To do better academically, students need to feel supported based on their individual skill and level of progress. To that end, we’ve implemented a corrective reading program to help our third through seventh graders catch up. We’re training our math teachers to make the subject more fun and hands-on, so it’s easier to grasp. Our goal is always to have the latest and most appropriate tools and resources to teach.

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that we’re not where we want to be with test scores. Even so, we’ve made progress through the pandemic. We have more staff with more training. There are better plans in place to measure our progress and we’re establishing the structural and foundational elements needed to succeed down the road. That’s the sign of a good team — that we’re never happy where we are.

I know we can improve test scores — especially when schools and families work together. In fact, I think we’re already on our way. Like I always say, we’re getting better at getting better.

Dr. Becky Salato is superintendent of the Konocti Unified School District.

From left, State Senate Majority Leader Mike McGuire, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and Congressman Mike Thompson. Courtesy photos.


LAKE COUNTY, Calif. — Rural areas like Lake County need champions, people who don’t overlook small communities or their unique cultural and economic values.

It’s especially true now, when political stakes seem the highest and most volatile in decades.

That is prompting us to share our support for the reelection of State Sen. Mike McGuire, Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry and Congressman Mike Thompson.

These three leaders, whether on their own or working together, have forcefully championed Lake County, especially as it has endured a decade of disasters and rebuilding.

They’ve consistently been there to find ways to help dust us off and get us back on our feet, whether it was facilitating the rebuild in Anderson Springs, which McGuire skillfully coordinated against seemingly huge odds; finding state funding for the Middle Creek Restoration Project, which Aguiar-Curry did in her championing of improving Clear Lake; or getting repeated disaster assistance from the federal government, which Thompson has facilitated. That’s just a brief sampling.

McGuire, now California’s Senate majority leader, has been a legislative Energizer Bunny, and it’s that seemingly inexhaustible energy that has been critical to helping Lake County as it’s been buffeted by fires, floods and now COVID. He and wife Erika, are now the proud and busy parents of young Connor (shout out to the “Corn Dog,” as he’s known).

Aguiar-Curry, raised in the Sacramento Valley and ever-mindful of the importance of the land and its preservation, has been just as reliable a champion of Lake County, and has always shown a genuine interest in seeing it succeed. She is steady, determined and supportive.

Their efforts for Lake County can’t be fully listed here.

However, with friends like that, it’s hard not to be optimistic, and we are looking forward to how they will continue to work with Lake County in the years ahead. We offer them our enthusiastic support.

Representing a ‘new’ district

On the federal level, Thompson is running to represent the new Congressional District 4 on the November ballot.

The first Vietnam veteran to serve in the California Legislature, Thompson has been a consistent and powerful advocate for veterans, such as advocating for service members impacted by Project SHAD, an experiment conducted in the 1960s that left those exposed to harmful chemicals with years of devastating illnesses. In fact, it was through his efforts that we first learned about that issue.

He also played a critical role in finally bringing a Veterans Affairs clinic to Lake County. The clinic, which opened in 2010, had been on the drawing board for more than a decade and likely would not have ever become a reality had it not been for Thompson’s consistent advocacy. That clinic has been a triumph in a county with one of the higher per-capita veteran populations in the state, at last count about 8%.

Going back to George W. Bush’s presidency, when there was a real attempt to privatize Social Security, Thompson would have none of it. He held a memorable town hall on a Saturday in Lake County to explain the plan, which would have placed the safety net for millions of seniors at the mercy of the stock market — which hindsight shows us would have been just as disastrous as Thompson surmised.

Throughout the years, Thompson has played a key role in many other important projects in Lake County, whether it was funding for the 2002 effort to renovate the Kelseyville Senior Center or the Full Circle project.

Keeping all of those past accomplishments in mind is important. It establishes a track record.

Thompson previously had represented a congressional district that included all of Lake County. However, in a redistricting process that followed the 2010 Census, Lake County was split between Thompson and Congressman John Garamendi, with Thompson representing the county’s southern half as part of Congressional District 5 and Lake County’s northern half combined with areas of the Sacramento Valley as part of Congressional District 3 under Garamendi.

Now, as a result of the 2020 Census, new lines have been drawn. Lake County’s leaders and community members advocated for having the county back in one congressional district, and that is how it turned out.

In December, the 2020 California Citizens Redistricting Commission finished its work, which included redrawing the state’s Congressional District 4 to include all of Lake and portions of Napa, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo counties.

Thompson had vowed to continue to champion all of Lake County even when the county was split 10 years ago, and our observation is that he kept that promise.

As an illustration: Even before the new district lines take effect, Thompson has been working on countywide projects. He’s already secured $3 million in federal funding for the new recreation center project in the city of Clearlake.

Even before the large amounts of money made available in recent years in response to the coronavirus, Thompson has worked hard to make sure Lake County received the resources it has needed to make critical advances in infrastructure and services. He also was there to support county officials as they dealt with the pandemic.

Thompson is continuing to be proactive. Earlier this year, well ahead of taking the Clearlake area back into his coverage area, Thompson reached out to the city of Clearlake about the new recreation center plan. The project is another of the truly transformational projects Clearlake is undertaking, and Thompson has included it in the federal budget for key funding.

Then there was the Safe Routes to Schools project in Kelseyville, which received that same critical federal funding this spring thanks to Thompson’s efforts. That project is making key sidewalk improvements along Konocti Road in order to ensure children get to classes safely.

He and Garamendi also have joined forces to lead a request to President Joe Biden to expand the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument to include the Walker Ridge area. Garamendi and Sen. Alex Padilla introduced legislation to expand the monument. Thompson had introduced the original bill to create the monument, which President Barack Obama created in 2015.

The latest effort will give the Walker Ridge area back its original name, Molok Luyuk, which means “Condor Ridge” in Patwin, the language of the Yocha Dehe Wintun people.

These aren’t useless “pork” projects or ego-driven. They’re meaningful, they are about safety and building community, and about meeting real community needs. Those that have been completed have been successful, and continue to contribute to Lake County.

Thompson also has made himself available to speak about important situations at the federal level.

On Jan. 6, 2021, while he and his staff were still sheltering in place as the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol unfolded, they stayed in contact with Lake County News and other media to let constituents know what was occurring.

It was hard to fathom just what was taking place, but then, as now, Thompson was clear on what was going on: It was an insurrection. He wanted people to know what was happening on the ground, and we remain grateful that he was willing to make himself available during a time of incredible stress and utter chaos.

There are many other issues we feel Thompson has rightly championed, including modernizing and expanding health care and the work to make it truly accessible for all, improved prescription drug prices, continued protection of Social Security and support for improved infrastructure and community recovery.

As he prepares to once again formally represent all of Lake County, we ask that he keep an eye on some specific issues.

One key project we recommend to him is protecting Lake Pillsbury. Efforts to remove the Scott Dam have largely been formulated without Lake County at the table, which is nonsensical considering that Lake Pillsbury is located in Lake County.

This appears to be a water grab by other interests, couched in terms of what’s best for fish. But maintaining the dam while creating better passage options for fish is the more affordable option, and ideal because it avoids pitting fish against people in a zero sum game approach.

Reservoirs like Lake Pillsbury also are critical for fire protection. Lake Pillsbury, in fact, proved a key water source in the fights against the forest-devouring Mendocino and August complexes.

Additionally, Lake County’s state legislators and county leaders will need Thompson’s continued support to get the Middle Creek Restoration Project over the eventual finish line.

That project, which will restore 1,650 acres as wetland in order to improve lake health and lessen flood risk, has been going on for decades. However, between Aguiar-Curry, McGuire and Thompson, the completion of the project finally is appearing likely.

There also is the troubling matter of the levees in Upper Lake, where community members are concerned that the conditions of the levees could result in a breach and a devastating flood.

The federal Natural Resources Conservation Services appears to be a potential funding source to make needed levee improvements. Once the county of Lake settles on the alternative it will pursue for the levees, we believe Thompson’s help will be critical in securing the funds to preserve that historic community and protect its residents.

Beyond that, there are many more causes we anticipate that will require Thompson’s support — whether it’s broadband, historic preservation work, continuing the work of expanding health care, or offering more support for veterans and their families.

In all of those things, we’re confident that Mike Thompson will continue to be a strong advocate for, and friend of, Lake County. As such, he gets our vote.

The Lake County News Editorial Board is composed of Editor and Co-Publisher Elizabeth Larson and Co-Publisher and Site Administrator John Jensen.

Citizens Caring for Clearlake volunteers cleaning up trash at Borax Lake in Clearlake, California, on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. Photo courtesy of Dave Sena.

On Nov. 3, I had the pleasure of spending the day with a group of unsung heroes cleaning up the shoreline of Borax Lake.

This day was in the planning for over a year by a small group of residents that realized the drought and low lake level presented the opportunity of a lifetime to clean up the littered Borax Lake shoreline.

Barbara Christwitz of Citizens Caring for Clearlake contacted me one day and said that Calpine had reached out to her and wanted to send some volunteers to help.

I rounded up my good friends Ann and Dave to help. Ann had inspired me a couple of years ago to start doing something about the endless littering and dumping that occurs on Sulphur Bank Drive along Borax Lake.

I have been coming to Clear Lake since the early 1990s and my wife Christy grew up in Nice and went to Upper Lake High School.

I remember the first time I visited Clear Lake. We drove over Mt. Saint Helena and as we drove into Lower Lake, I remember thinking this looks like a place from another time. I had not seen a Fosters Freeze since I was a kid. I was drawn to the natural beauty of the lake, local wildlife, excellent fishing and relaxed pace of life.

As we drove onto Sulphur Bank Drive, I witnessed what looked like a sprawling landfill. There was litter, tires, appliances and abandoned vehicles everywhere.

For years I drove by this travesty lamenting the seeming lack of concern about the problem. Several years ago, I noticed things were starting to look much better in the area. Ann informed me that there was a group of concerned citizens cleaning up the area. I decided to join the cause.

Borax Lake in Clearlake, California. Photo courtesy of Dave Sena.

A group of about a dozen volunteers spent the day picking up over two tons of litter, tires, appliances, used hypodermic needles and trash along the shoreline of Borax Lake.

We managed to clean up the entire shoreline in a day, leaving only a handful of piles of larger items which we hauled away in the next few days.

My plea to those that continue to litter and dump their unwanted belongings in this area is this. The Borax Lake area is a special place with an important history and all of us that live here bear responsibility to future generations to keep it pristine.

These are challenging times and going to the landfill can be costly. Littering and dumping is not the answer.

The items we hauled away included tires, TVs, appliances, scrap metal, cans and bottles, all of which are recyclable items that can be taken to the local landfill for free.

Citizens Caring for Clearlake will provide landfill vouchers for those that cannot afford to pay the landfill fees for other items.

I invite you to join the group of volunteers who work tirelessly to keep this area looking beautiful.

You can contact Barbara of Citizens Caring for Clearlake at 707-995-0940 to volunteer and to obtain landfill vouchers.

I assure you that it will be a fulfilling and rewarding endeavor.

Dave Sena lives in Clearlake, California.


Citizens Caring for Clearlake volunteers at Borax Lake in Clearlake, California, on Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022. Photo courtesy of Dave Sena.

Tim Gill. Courtesy photo.
Learning a new language is challenging and bridging two cultures can be confusing.

In the Konocti Unified School District, we have a significant number of English learners and Spanish-speaking families who face these hurdles every day.

Because we want every student to succeed, our goal is to help English-learner students learn enough English to fully participate in school. And for this to happen, we need to be able to communicate effectively with families, so students get the support they need at school and at home. When students are proficient in English, it increases their chances of success now and later in life.

This is where our wonderful team of bilingual family liaisons comes in. Marissa Ornelas of Pomo Elementary, Erika Suarez of Lower Lake High School, Karen Santana of Lower Lake Elementary, Liliana Garcia of Konocti Education Center and East Lake School, Vanesa Lozano of Lower Lake High School and Mayra Pantoja of Burns Valley Elementary are invaluable in connecting school staff with families and students. I'm grateful for our liaisons every single day.

Broadly speaking, they provide academic, social, and emotional support to Spanish-speaking students and other English learners. These students represent about 25 percent of our student body — that’s one in four students.

More specifically, our liaisons help Spanish-speaking students communicate and learn, and that starts with academics. In the classroom, liaisons provide a critical link between teachers and students, translating and answering questions so they can talk with one another. Sometimes the most powerful support they provide is simply to lend an ear, which can make all the difference to a student struggling to keep up.

In addition to classroom work our liaisons are trained administrators of the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California, or ELPAC, and as such, they oversee more than 1,000 crucial tests every year.

In short, our liaisons are a vital part of the education we provide to English learners here at KUSD. Without their presence in our schools, a quarter of our students and families would struggle with basic communications with the district.

When I asked a few of them recently about why they do this work and what it means to them, I loved their responses, so I’ll share a few here.

Liliana Garcia said, “The most rewarding part of my job is building a relationship with students. I want to be the person I didn’t have growing up in school.”

Karen Santana has similar motivations. “My goal is to help students like I’ve been helped,” she told me.

Erika Suarez said, “Families and students have become part of my family. My favorite thing is seeing students graduate.”

Our newest liaison, Vanesa Lozano, said, “I take pride and joy in what I do, and appreciate all the trust families give me. The best part of my job is making the education process easy for El parents.”

Marissa Ornelas, our longest serving liaison, feels much the same way. “The best part of coming to work is helping the parents and children. I love my children. I want to be the person parents can identify with.”

In addition to helping students excel in the classroom, liaisons make life easier for KUSD families.

Just because a student is proficient in English doesn’t mean their parents are. In fact, while a quarter of our students are Spanish speakers, about 36% of KUSD families speak Spanish at home.

For Spanish-speaking parents and guardians to successfully interact with English-speaking administrators, teachers, and staff, they sometimes need help from our liaisons.

When a Spanish-speaking parent comes to school to speak with their child’s teacher, for example, a liaison can translate the conversation, ensuring smooth communication.

Our liaisons also work with Spanish-speaking families to discuss their student’s English language proficiency, translate individualized education programs for special education students, and participate in parent-teacher organization meetings.

Each month, we host District English Learner Advisory Committee meetings. They're an opportunity for parents of English-learner students to engage with KUSD around their student’s education, district events, and important English-learner issues. Our liaisons are essential during these meetings, making our time with parents and families more productive and efficient for everyone.

While I’ve been speaking specifically about our bilingual family liaisons, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Patty Voss. In addition to her many other responsibilities, Patty serves as the liaison between the bilingual family liaisons and our district office. In addition to performing much of the same amazing work as our liaisons, Patty coordinates all KUSD English-learner services. Patty has been with KUSD for more than 30 years and is universally loved and respected for her work with our students and their families.

In summary, if you're not a Spanish speaker or the parent of an English learner, you might not get the chance to know these educators, so I wanted to share just how lucky we are to have them.

Whether they work with your kids or not, our liaisons make our school district and community better. And for that, they deserve our gratitude and appreciation.

Tim Gill is director of instructional support services for the Konocti Unified School District.

Extensive clearing on Point Lakeview Road near Lower Lake, California, points out the problems with Lake County’s hazardous vegetation ordinance. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

LAKE COUNTY, Calif. — An extensive unpermitted grading project at 10919 Point Lakeview Road demonstrates a serious problem with the county of Lake’s hazardous vegetation ordinance.

Last spring I saw a “notice to abate” posted on this property and became concerned that some overzealous clearing may take place.

Then, in April I noticed a substantial part of this property being graded. I called the Lake County Planning Department and was transferred to Tod Elliott, the county’s grading enforcement officer who responded to my concerns.

Elliott went to the site and halted the grading. In a followup call, I learned from Elliott that the grading had been allowed because of a “miscommunication” between the county planning department and the property owners, Jordan Lane Properties LLC.

Only bare dirt remains in most of the graded area. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

Elliott told me that workers were on their way to clearing the whole 60-acre property and thanked me for reporting the violation.

When I asked if any mitigation would be required for clearing of approximately 15 to 20 acres of native California chaparral habitat during nesting season, Elliott told me that he wouldn’t require mitigation because it really wasn’t the property owners fault, it was a “miscommunication,” and he felt it unfair to penalize the property owner.

I filed a Public Records Act request with the county to find out how this was allowed and who gave the permission to grade the hillside. What exactly was the “miscommunication?”

The answer I got was that the only communication was the “notice to abate,” that was placed on the property. There was no other communication between anyone at the county.

Jordan Lane Properties LLC is owned by Bruce J. Myers and Thomas K. Meyers of Colusa. They created the LLC in January 2018 according to the Secretary of State’s Office. They are linked with agricultural companies in Colusa, including a rice mill, California Family Foods.

Elymus Glaucus is a native bunch grass that grows along county roads. It remains green much later into the dry season than non-native grasses and is less flammable. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

As an LLC, Jordan Lane Properties owns over 200 acres of native chaparral in this vicinity along Point Lakeview Road. I sent them a certified letter regarding this situation which they have signed for, but have not replied to.

As conservation chair for the Redbud Audubon Society and someone who has been an active environmentalist in Lake County for decades, I have long been attempting to reveal to county residents and officials the value of Lake County’s main habitat — chaparral.

I understand the need for vegetation management along roads, near property lines, and near homes. I clear shrubbery around my home. I live here too and am as concerned about fire as anyone.

However, if you look at the county’s vegetation management ordinance, it essentially says that any vegetation in the unincorporated areas of Lake County is hazardous.

The ordinance needs to be clarified. When a property owner’s land is posted, they need to understand what is expected and what is not allowed, and not use the notice as an excuse for unpermitted grading.

Piles of brush have been left on the graded property. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

Also, if it is truly a fire concern issue, are we going to grade all of our native vegetation out of existence because of fear of fire?

Chaparral sequesters carbon like any other green living plant. Extensive destruction of vegetation exacerbates climate change which is the driving force behind the catastrophic wildfires we have seen over the past years.

Chaparral is a unique biome, native only to California, parts of Southern Oregon and Northern Mexico. It is home to many song birds like California towhees, wrentits, scrub jays, California thrashers and more.

Small mammals also make chaparral their homes. Songbirds nest in chaparral and the fact that such extensive destruction was done during nesting season is unconscionable.

Along with birds and mammals, chaparral also hosts a variety of native plants, many of them flowering plants that provide nectar for both honey bees and many species of native bees.

On the one hand, the County’s Tourism Improvement District is constantly touting the scenic beauty of this area, while on the other hand the county is allowing uncontrolled grading and other unsightly projects.

More unsightly grading on the Jordan Lane property. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

This isn’t the first time that a property owner has seemingly taken advantage of a vegetation management warning to do wholesale grading of their property. The county grading ordinance requires that no more than 10,000 square feet of native vegetation can be graded without a grading permit. Such a permit often requires some California Environmental Quality Act review and, for larger projects, biological studies.

I’ve been battling destructive grading projects for years. At least when a property owner goes through the process, they are required to do proper studies, including erosion control and biological review.

The Audubon Society has worked with local grape growers and managed to get some concessions regarding wildlife corridor protection and other mitigating factors. When someone just starts grading, with no permit, many environmental protections are not possible.

My concern is that this company will someday be applying for permission to plant a vineyard or a cannabis development. Also, because there is no mitigation, the site is a total eyesore on one of the most scenic roads in the county.

Native Salvia, or Sonoma sage has been completely graded. Salvia is an effective ground cover, not as flammable as non-native grasses, and is a source of nectar for pollinators. Photo by Roberta Lyons.

The property owners were required to do some “cleanup,” but the property still looks terrible, compared to the better-managed shaded fuel breaks around communities and along other roads.

There needs to be smoothing out of the land, replanting of some shrubbery and native grasses and forbes and removal of piles of dead shrubs and boulders.

One of the things that happens when all native plants are removed is that non-native grasses invade. These grasses are highly flammable, light easily and carry flames quickly to bordering chaparral.

The intelligent form of vegetation management along county roads is shaded fuel breaks, leaving the native forbes like Sonoma sage and native grasses in place, to hold in the soil and prevent invasion of star thistle, non-native grasses and thistle.

Since my initial contact with Tod Elliott, I have not had any questions answered or concerns acknowledged.

This causes grave concern to me, and should to other county residents who care about the health and beauty of what remains of our countryside.

Roberta Lyons lives in Lower Lake, California.

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