Monday, 27 May 2024


Helping survivors of last year’s wildfires prepare to rebuild, California has completed state-managed debris removal operations for the 2022 wildfire season centered in Siskiyou County.

Debris removal crews cleared, tested and released all 218 enrolled properties impacted by the Mountain, McKinney and Mill fires.

Overseen by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, or Cal OES, and the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle, the state works with counties to sign up households for the Consolidated Debris Removal Program to clear eligible fire-related debris from burned properties at no cost to property owners.

“Removing disaster debris gives survivors a path to rebuild,” said Rachel Machi Wagoner, director of CalRecycle. “We thank our state, local and federal partners for their shared commitment to assisting the communities devastated by wildfires.”

State crews cleared burned metal and concrete, ash and contaminated soil from the last of the 183 homes, as well as 7,027 wildfire-damaged trees in danger of falling on public accessed roads.

“We’re proud to work with our partners to ensure wildfire survivors can properly recovery and rebuild following an intense fire season,” said Ryan Buras, Cal OES deputy director of Recovery.

Cal OES continues to provide technical and financial assistance to Placer, El Dorado and Madera counties managing debris removal from the Mosquito and Fork fires.

Among the communities affected by the 2022 fires was historic Lincoln Heights in Weed, one of the oldest rural Black neighborhoods in the west.

California has safely cleared over 23,000 disaster destroyed properties from 60 fires since operations began in 2007.

The Unified Cannabis Enforcement Taskforce’s latest operation sized more than $42 million of illegal cannabis. Courtesy photo.

Continuing its strong first quarter momentum, the Unified Cannabis Enforcement Taskforce, or UCETF, conducted a highly coordinated operation in Kern, Tulare and Kings counties on May 11 and 12.

The extensive multiagency operation served 51 search warrants on 52 illicit cannabis cultivation sites, resulting in over 50,000 illicit cannabis plants being eradicated and over 1,300 pounds of processed cannabis destroyed.

The estimated cash value of the illegal cannabis is over $42 million. Along with this large seizure, officers located six sites with banned pesticides/chemicals that illegal growers were using on their cannabis crops. Thirteen firearms were also seized along with 125 grams of cocaine.

Personnel from 13 different state and local agencies, including 130 officers, participated in the operation, which had been coordinated for many preceding weeks.

“The support, dedication and hard work of this multiagency taskforce speaks volumes to the success of this operation, which prevented a huge amount of illicit cannabis from entering the supply chain,” said David Bess, Chief of Enforcement for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). “This is disruption at its finest. These communities can sleep better knowing these illicit operations have been shut down.”

Several criminal charges will be filed with the Superior Courts for various crimes related to illegal cultivation of cannabis, felon in possession of a firearm and environmental crimes, which ranged from use of banned pesticides to allowing pollutants to enter ground aquifers.

Participating agencies included: CDFW, Department of Cannabis Control (DCC), California Department of Parks and Recreation, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Department of Toxic Substances Control, California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, California State Water Resources Control Board, Kern County Sheriff’s Department, Kern County Probation Department, Tulare Sheriff’s Department and the National Guard Counter Drug Operations.

Between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2023, UCETF seized 31,912 pounds of cannabis and other cannabis products that had an estimated retail value of $52,644,020. In addition, 52,529 cannabis plants were destroyed, $95,646 in cash was confiscated and four firearms were seized. Read more about the Q1 results.

Created in 2022, UCETF has been charged by Governor Newsom to better align state efforts and increase cannabis enforcement coordination among state, local and federal partners. The taskforce is co-chaired by the DCC and CDFW and coordinated by the Homeland Security Division of Cal OES. The taskforce includes more than two dozen local, state and federal partners working together to disrupt the illegal cannabis market.

A roadwork project will result in travel delays on Highway 70 in Butte County, California. Photo courtesy of Caltrans.

BUTTE COUNTY, Calif. — Caltrans is alerting motorists to expect travel delays over the next two years on Highway 70 through the Cresta area of the Feather River Canyon due to construction.

Crews have set up an automated traffic signal to manage one-way traffic control from the Shady Rest area to one mile south of the end of the construction zone. Motorists can expect up to a five-minute delay.

In June and July, motorists can expect long delays because of rock blasting operations. Rock blasting may occur anytime from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays starting Thursday, June 1.

During these operations, motorists may expect a temporary closure of the highway and up to a three-hour delay around the construction area to allow the contractor to clear debris and ensure the roadway is safe for travel.

The rock blasting operations are part of a project to raise the existing roadway by five feet, shore up the embankment with rock material to protect against future flood damage and build a retaining wall along the hillside.

Caltrans advises motorists to expect travel delays along the Highway 70 corridor between Jarbo Gap in Butte County and the Greenville Wye in Plumas County. Caltrans and PG&E have projects scheduled at various locations in both counties.

Caltrans advises motorists to “Be Work Zone Alert.” The department will issue construction updates on Twitter @CaltransDist3 and on Facebook at CaltransDistrict3.

For real-time traffic, click on Caltrans’ QuickMap or download the QuickMap app from the App Store or Google Play.

Nathan Gabriel Garza, 18, was fatally shot on Aug. 16, 2020, in American Canyon, California. On Friday, June 9, 2023, Garza’s killer, Christopher “Roly” Young, 26 of Martinez, was sentenced to life in prison for the killing. Courtesy photo.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA — Napa County District Attorney Allison Haley announced on Friday the sentencing of convicted murderer Christopher “Roly” Young to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the shooting death of 18-year-old Nathan Gabriel Garza of Fairfield.

Young’s sentencing is the culmination of a thorough investigation and lengthy trial in which Napa County Deputy District Attorneys Taryn Hunter and Diane Knoles proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was solely responsible for the Aug. 16, 2020, murder.

Several of Garza’s friends and family members were present in court today including his mother, Tracy Garza, who read a witness impact statement to the court.

“My world, my family, my very being was shattered when Nathan was taken from us,” she said. “It has taken almost three years for the justice system, the honorable men and women in law enforcement and the Napa County District Attorney’s Office, and a panel of brave and dedicated jurors to find Christopher Young guilty of all charges, describing and depicting the ruthless murder of my son Nathan Gabriel Garza. No parent or loved one should have to see or hear what we have endured during this process. We live with this knowledge and horrifying images every moment, of every day, of our lives.”

On May 11, a Napa jury convicted Young, age 26, of Martinez, of first-degree murder in connection with the killing of Garza, who was shot twice in the back by the defendant while fulfilling curbside delivery orders at Safeway in American Canyon where he worked.

Immediately after shooting Garza from the Cadillac sedan he drove to Safeway, Young sped away from the parking lot and abandoned his vehicle nearby on Cattail Drive.

Napa County Sheriff’s deputies apprehended Young shortly after receiving several reports of the defendant hopping fences and entering back yards of neighborhood homes.

The jury also convicted Young of shooting from a motor vehicle, felon in possession of a firearm, felon in possession of ammunition, and giving false information to a police officer, and found true the special circumstances of personally and intentionally discharging a firearm, firing a weapon from a vehicle with the intent to inflict death, and of lying in wait.

Judge Elia Ortiz sentenced Young to two consecutive terms, one term of life without the possibility of parole and the other of 28 years to life.

Judge Ortiz also ordered a restitution amount to be paid to Garza’s loved ones and to the California Victim Compensation Board.

Garza was a recent graduate of Rodriguez High School and was working a summer job at Safeway in American Canyon before continuing his studies at Diablo Valley College.

He was a young man who had his whole life ahead of him before he was ambushed by Young, who was a stranger to him, Napa County Deputy DA Knoles said.

“Thankfully the jury saw through Young’s contrived defense and convicted him on all charges and allegations,” Knoles said. “The defendant has not demonstrated a shred of remorse for Nathan or for his devastated family. We are grateful that this sentence provides justice by ensuring that he will never again be a threat to anyone and that he will be punished to the fullest extent possible.”

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA — Napa County District Attorney Allison Haley on Wednesday announced the filing of murder charges against two Santa Rosa men accused of selling fentanyl to a Napa teenager resulting in her death.

The filing of charges against Alan Jazeel Martinez, age 22, and Luis Fajardo Melgoza, age 20, marks the first time in Napa County law enforcement history that the Napa DA has charged a supplier of fentanyl with murder in connection with a fentanyl-related death.

In addition to the murder charges, Martinez and Melgoza are charged with the sale of a controlled substance to a minor; transportation for sale a controlled substance; possession for sale of a controlled substance; conspiracy to commit a crime; and child abuse likely to cause great bodily injury or death.

Further, the District Attorney’s Office opted to charge the defendants with the following aggravating factors, recognizing the unique circumstances present in this case: violence, cruelty, viciousness, or callousness; vulnerable victim; inducing others to participate in a crime; inducing a minor to participate in a crime; and planning, sophistication, and professionalism.

It is alleged that on May 10, 2022, and again on May 16, 2022, Martinez and Melgoza sold the victim fentanyl-laced pills that killed her.

The case involves 17-year-old Monica Flores, who was found deceased in the bedroom of her Napa home by members of her family on the morning of May 25, 2022.

Martinez and Melgoza are being held at the Napa jail without bail and are due today at the Napa County Superior Court for an arraignment hearing scheduled for 2:30 p.m.

A third defendant in this case, Erika Garcia Chavez, age 23, is being charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and possession for sale of a controlled substance.

Carlos Villatoro. Courtesy photo.

NAPA COUNTY, Calif. — Napa County District Attorney Allison Haley announced on Thursday the hiring of former Napa Valley Register reporter Carlos Villatoro as the Napa County DA’s Office’s new public relations and media officer.

Villatoro comes to the DA’s Office from the Medical Board of California, where he led the board’s communication efforts as its public information manager.

As the DA’s new public information officer, or PIO, Villatoro will lead media relations and digital and in-person outreach efforts for the agency.

The newly created position is a critical part of the DA’s management team.

“Bringing Carlos onto our team signals our intentional efforts to keep the public informed, engaged and apprised about what we do to keep our community safe,” Haley said. “This includes case updates, public safety tips and crime trends. His technical skills will also help modernize and streamline the presentation of evidence in the courtroom, allowing the Napa DA’s Office to advocate for the public and crime survivors with increased sophistication.”

Villatoro is no stranger to Napa. He graduated from Napa High School in 1994 and worked as a general assignment reporter for the Napa Valley Register for nearly seven years before becoming the editor of the Patch website in Dixon.

During his time with the Register, Villatoro also served as the editor of Napa Valley Hispanos Unidos, the Register’s Spanish-bilingual newspaper.

Prior to his career in government communications, Villatoro served as a social media assignment editor for CBS 13 (KOVR-TV, West Sacramento).

Villatoro graduated from California State University at Sacramento with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and communications and is bilingual and bicultural.

In 2010, Villatoro was named Napa Valley’s Hispanic Citizen of the Year.

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