Sunday, 14 July 2024


Lake County park advocates took their message of saving parks to the state capitol on Monday. From left, Leona Butts, Bobbi Towne, D.A. Butts, Madelene Lyon, Neil Towne and Val Nixon. Courtesy photo.

LAKE COUNTY – An intrepid group of local park supporters went to Sacramento Monday to let state leaders know that they're not willing to accept seeing state parks closed.

About half a dozen people made the trip to take part in Park Advocacy Day, which this year has special meaning in light of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to close 48 state parks – including Clear Lake State Park and Anderson March State Historic Park – in order to address the state's budget shortfall.

The California State Parks Foundation reported that more than 300 people participated in the event Monday in an effort to ward off threats to parks.

Clearlake Oaks residents Leona and D.A. Butts were among those making the trip, taking with them thousands of signatures opposing the park closure. Leona Butts is a member of the Clear Lake State Park Interpretive Association's board of directors.

Also there were Madelene Lyon of Kelseyville, Clear Lake State Park Interpretive Association president; Val Nixon of Kelseyville, a recently retired park ranger who worked at Clear Lake State Park; Lower Lake resident Joey Luiz; Kelseyville residents Neil and Bobbi Towne; and Supervisor Rob Brown and his son, Tyler.

The day gave park advocates a chance to meet with legislators and representatives of the Schwarzenegger administration.

Legislators received good reviews from the group for their receptiveness to the message of saving parks.

Schwarzenegger's representatives? Not so much.

In a meeting with Thomas Sheehy, deputy director of legislation for the state Department of Finance, and Bismarck Obando, Schwarzenegger's acting director of external affairs, Butts, Nixon and Luiz recounted a terrible experience.

Luiz said Supervisor Rob Brown “really laid it on them and told them how the people of the county felt.”



From left, Lower Lake resident Joey Luiz; Bismarck Obando, Schwarzenegger's acting director of external affairs; Thomas Sheehy, deputy director of legislation for the state Department of Finance; Supervisor Rob Brown; Brown's son, Tyler; and Leona Butts of Clearlake Oaks. Photo by D.A. Butts.


However, the group recounted that Sheehy cut off Brown during his presentation. He then gave them the equivalent of a fifth-grade lecture on state finance and went so far as to accuse the delegation of caring only about their parks and not the state's fiscal situation.

Sheehy told the group that the governor needed their support of his 10-percent, across-the-board budget cuts, said Buttes.

Nixon said the group tried to offer a set of alternatives to the cuts, but overall they received a cool, condescending reception.

Schwarzenegger's staffer, Obando, couldn't even be bothered to listen to the group, instead sitting through the meeting with his attention on his palm pilot, Nixon said.

“We were very surprised by how rudely the constituents of Lake County were dealt with,” said Nixon.

Luiz said he asked Sheehy and Obando if they had ever explored the impacts on rural communities that the park closures would have.

“There was no answer to that, so of course they didn't,” he said.

Nixon said the officials didn't seem to grasp the importance of the parks to Lake County and its economy. Nixon explained that the 150,000 visitors who annually visit the two state parks bring dollars to businesses around the county.

Outside of that meeting, the rest of the day was wonderful, said Nixon. “We went and we participated in a very meaningful day.”

The group met with Assembly member Patty Berg and a staff from Sen. Patricia Wiggins' office. The North Coast districts of both legislators are being hit especially hard with proposed park closures. Berg and Wiggins both communicated their support for parks, said Nixon.

Nixon said she also ran into former Sen. Wes Chesbro, who is now running for Berg's seat, and he also was supportive of saving state parks.

State Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell was another supportive voice, said Nixon. He pointed out to park advocates that education relies on parks, which Nixon verified, saying more than 1,000 school children visit Lake County's parks annually.

In all, the day illustrated that people love and want to maintain their parks, said Nixon.



Residents from around the state voiced their opposition to opposing parks. Photo courtesy of Leona Butts.


Nixon also called Sheehy's office Tuesday to register her disappointment in the Monday meeting. “They should be accountable to us.”

She said Sheehy called back and was perfectly polite.

“We did learn that our petitions and our presentation were taken to the governor's office, so that's where they are now,” Butts added.

“It's hard to feel like you made any progress but I feel like we did,” said Luiz.

However, officials didn't reveal what's ahead for parks, and offered no hope that the cuts might be set aside.

The potential closures, said Nixon, won't garner future support for parks. In order to inform the public of the value of putting land aside, they need to see it.

Butts said park supporters continue to gather signatures to send to the governor. For more information call her at 998-3027.

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



Children and adults alike shared the message of keeping parks open. Photo courtesy of Leona Butts.




On Monday, the “Save Our State Parks” (SOS) Campaign hosted a rally on the West Steps of the Capitol in protest of the proposed cuts to state parks.

More than 300 participants – including Lake County residents – decried Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's position to close 48 California state parks and reduce lifeguard staffing on 16 state beaches.

“Never before have California’s state parks been under such assault,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation. “From plans to build a six lane toll road through San Onofre State Beach to a proposal to add transmission lines through protected desert wilderness, to this latest proposal to shut down 48 of California’s magnificent state parks, the attack on state parks has been unprecedented.”

Goldstein said the gathering demonstrated that state parks are essential to Californians’ quality of life and government can’t ignore the will of the people.

With picket signs and banners, legislators, mayors, environmentalists, teachers and park users unified to send the Legislature and the governor a message that closing even one state park is unacceptable.

These proposed cuts impact nearly every Californian. More than 77 million people visited California state parks last year and this year, 9,000 camping reservations for opening day in May have been logged, an increase of more than 20 percent over last year. Meanwhile, millions of teachers and students continue to utilize state parks for affordable educational activities.

“Throughout the state, hundreds of volunteers work to improve our state parks and raise greater awareness about all the benefits our state parks have to offer to Californians," said Randy Widera, president of the California League of Park Associations. “We will continue fighting to keep all of our state parks open as they are essential to our communities and should be preserved as a lasting legacy for future generations.”

These cuts along with a reduction in lifeguard staffing, results in a little more than $13 million in savings to the state, or one-thirteenth of 1 percent of the state budget. However, those savings are negated when factoring in the loss of tourism dollars to local economies.

“Our history is an immutable part of our state’s culture. These parks generate millions of dollars of revenues for our state and local economies and their closure will do very little to assuage the debt we are facing,” said Sen. Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria). “What we stand to lose if we close these parks and historical monuments is far greater than any monetary benefit we gain from their closure.”

“Access to our state parks is among the investments we hold most dear in California. Today’s budget crisis represents the greatest threat to our parks in a generation,” said Assembly Budget Committee Chair John Laird (D-Santa Cruz). “The solution is not to shut down state parks, eliminate lifeguards at our state beaches, or pave new roadways through our parks. Our state parks are a legacy for the future. We should spend the next several weeks talking with the people of California about what kind of California we want to have, how we’re going to save our parks and how we should fund them.”

The governor’s proposal calls for the closure of 18 state parks, 16 state historic parks and museums, three state beaches, nine state recreation areas and two state reserves.


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..


MIDDLETOWN – A bomb threat Tuesday caused officials to evacuate hundreds of students from Middletown High School.

South Lake County Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Jim Wright said his agency, along with Cal Fire and the Lake County Sheriff's Office, responded to the incident, evacuating students and staff and accounting for everyone who should have been on campus.

The bomb threat was called in at about 1 p.m. Tuesday, said Kevin Colburn, public information officer for Cal Fire.

The caller reported that a bomb was located in one of the lockers, said Colburn. The voice in the message was muffled and officials couldn't make out if it was male or female.

All students and personnel were evacuated to a nearby field, said Colburn.

Middletown High School Principal Chris Heller did not return a phone call seeking comment. Also unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon were sheriff's officials.

Lake County Office of Education reported that Middletown High has approximately 574 students, 30 teachers, two administrative staff and one counselor.

“We went in and did a cursory search,” said Wright.

Fire officials said the search took about a half hour, and included all of the lockers.

Sheriff's investigators eventually concluded that the threat wasn't credible, said Wright.

In all about 20 personnel from the various agencies assisted in the evacuation, said Colburn.

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


LAKE COUNTY – With the arrival of spring it's also the season for increased illegal dump cleanups around the county.

Starting in March Lake County Code Enforcement began tackling what has become an annual task of cleaning up dump sites in remote areas, said Code Enforcement Manager Voris Brumfield.

“In last year's budget we requested funds to start illegal dump cleanups,” she explained.

On March 8 Code Enforcement began with cleanups near Upper Lake, Nice and Clearlake Oaks, said Brumfield.

Moving to another spot along the Northshore, on March 29 Code Enforcement cleaned up the Morrison Creek area, said Brumfield, which also had been cleaned up about a year ago.

Later this month, cleanups will take place at sites in Kelseyville and Cobb, Brumfield added.

The cost to do the cleanups is more than $5,000 per day, said Brumfield. The county will apply to California Integrated Waste Management Board for reimbursement.

Brumfield said most cleanups take place during the spring, when the weather is more mild and there is less concern about running into rattlesnakes.

The California Integrated Waste Management Board reports that illegal dumping is a problem throughout the state. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by jurisdictions around the state in cleaning up dumped materials, while private land owners also find themselves paying to remove garbage dumped on their land.

Code Enforcement's Web page on the county Web site has more information on illegal dumping and how to help prevent it.

To report dumping to Code Enforcement, call 263-2309 during working hours or contact their 24-hour hotline message phone at 263-2308. Illegal dumping also can be reported by calling 1-888-DFG-CALTIP.

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..


NICE A 9-year-old boy was injured late Tuesday morning after he rode his bicycle into the path of an oncoming vehicle.

California Highway Patrol Officer Mike Humble said the collision happened at 11:55 a.m. on Manzanita Avenue west of Hudson Avenue in Nice.

Humble said the child rode his bike out of a private driveway and into the street. A 71-year-old Nice man was driving eastbound on Manzanita in a Mercury sedan, and couldn't get his car stopped in time to avoid hitting the boy on his bike.

The 9-year-old, who was wearing a helmet, is believed to have suffered fractures to both legs, said Humble.

He was flown to UC Davis Medical Center for treatment due to the extent of his injuries, Humble said.

Humble said Officer Nick Powell is investigating the incident.

Another collision – a solo vehicle versus a tree – that resulted in major injuries was reported on Highway 20 in Lucerne late Tuesday but no further information was available because CHP offices had closed.

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


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..


MIDDLETOWN – A group of industrious high schoolers and their teacher want to make sure that anyone who needs a computer gets one.

Project PC, a division of the Earth and Spacial Technology (EAST) class at Middletown High School, is offering free computers to community members, according to teacher and EAST Advisor Dan Renninger.

The only requirement is that those who apply for the computers can't already own one, and must sign the Project PC Terms of Agreement. In return the group will provide a refurbished computer, a 20-minute lesson teaching new computer owners how to set up and use the machines, and an informational pamphlet.

The computers come complete with an installed copy of Windows 2000 Pro, OpenOffice 2.3, anti-spyware software and a variety of other programs that are useful during everyday computer use, Renninger explained.

Project PC formally got started during this school year. “This is the first year we were able to do it successfully and get it off the ground,” said Middletown High senior Bobby Oertel, who is leading the student project.

Currently six students – three seniors and three freshmen – spend about four hours a week – in addition to extra time on their own, refurbishing computers or helping with other tech issues around the school and, as a result, saving the school a lot of money, said Renninger.

“This was a student-initiated project,” he said. “They felt there was a need in the community to provide technology for people.”

He added, “They had skills with computer and they felt that they could give back.”

Oertel added that it's a chance for the seniors to share their knowledge with the younger students.

He said Project PC so far has given away 15 computers to individuals, and another eight have been put to work in the Minnie Cannon Elementary School library, where they replaced older computers.

Renninger said Redbud Community Hospital donated about 70 older computers to the effort. “That's the biggest batch we've received.”

In addition, Langtry Estate and Vineyard also has promised another set of computers, said Renninger.

The challenge now, said Oertel, is getting the word out. They have plenty of computers ready and can have many more – as many as 50 – prepared for new homes within a week.

Renninger said his students are working hard and doing a great job. “They're good kids, they've got good hearts.”

Added Oertel, “It's just a great way to help the community.”

It's not only a great community service, but an excellent way for the students to hone their skills in preparation for careers in information technology, said Renninger.

Oertel said he's planning to pursue a career in the technology field.

Project PC also is accepting more computer donations, either PC or Macintosh – anything community members or businesses want to donate, said Renninger.

He added that any materials they can't use will be recycled.

For more information about the free computers or to donate machines contact Dan Renninger at 987-4140, Extension 4010.

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..


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