Tuesday, January 29, 2008

No shipping containers on your front lawn

Nice to pass an ordinance the scope of which you have no idea about...good job, local government. Also, city council meeting stats at 7:00, finishes at 9:00, two stories are written by ~11:00. Boo-yah!


Willows bans shipping containers
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows — Willows residents can’t park their cars on their front lawns.

They soon won’t be able to put metal storage containers there either.

Willows City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ban the use of the containers, citing three main concerns.

“It’s not beneficial to the attractiveness of the community,” said one council member. “It’s not a safe unit to have,” said another. “These aren’t legal buildings,” said a planner.

If a second vote on a related resolution proceeds next meeting as planned, the ban, legally a zoning ordinance amendment, will go into effect on Sept. 13.

No one present was sure how many people would be affected. Plannning Commission Chairman Larry Domenighini said he couldn’t estimate how many containers there were in Willows. Asked at the end of the meeting, City Planner Karen Mantele said “less than a dozen.” Council members interjected, proclaiming it was definitely more than that.
Also uncertain was whether the containers owned by the school district were covered under the regulation; the district is not.

City Attorney Gary Krupp wasn’t present to answer the question definitively; nor was Fire Chief Wayne Peabody to answer fire safety questions. Apparently no one had their numbers, either.

Council members Heather Baker and Vince Holvik seemed to at times have second thoughts.

Before the ordinance was adopted, Ms. Baker wondered about the impact on people owning these containers.

“How much does it cost to remove them?” she asked.

“I don’t feel it’s our problem,” replied Vice Mayor Peter Towne.

“I feel it is,” shot back Ms. Baker, saying that people who can afford to build containers to store their material would likely do so.

After the ordinance was adopted, Mr. Molvik reconsidered the situation if aesthetics were not at issue, thinking of two containers the city owns that sit in a side alley.

“What if it’s in the middle of your backyard, invisible from the street?” asked Holvik.

“It still gets back to, these aren’t legal buildings,” said Domenighini. “They don’t have to meet standards.”

Could they be made legal and regulated?

No, said Mr. Domenighini, adding that the relevant code is statewide.

Mr. Domenighini said a “backyard” compromise was considered but rejected, with planners fearing “shades of gray.”

Numerous parties present pointed out that containers filled with lumber might be a fire hazard; they also said that containers might be placed on six-foot setbacks between properties designed to prevent fires from spreading. One party said there had been fire department complaints about the matter.

“Other jurisdictions everywhere in California are looking for ways to regulate [storage containers], ways to control it,” said City Manager Steve Holsinger.

“Who knows what’s in them?” said Holvik.

Police get 30% raise

The favorite lede [sic] I've written in a while.


Willows police get 30% raise
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Got your down payment ready now, officer?

Willows police and fire personnel will be given a minimum 20 percent raise by this July and another 10 percent raise by next July, in accordance with a resolution approved unanimously Tuesday night by the city council.

“Right now, Willows is 15 percent behind its peers” in wages, said City Manager Steve Holsinger, justifying the increase.

“Thirty percent is a lot on first blush,” council member Vince Holvik said. “And it’s a lot on second blush too.”

But Mr. Holvik praised the plan and its formula for wage increases based on the city’s cost increases, calling Mr. Holsinger “visionary.”

“It’s something that may not be standard now, but may be standard years from now,” he said.

Also at the City Council meeting, Glenn County Sheriff Larry Jones presented Willows Police Officer Kelly Meek with an award for her action in stopping a suspicious vehicle. Officer Meek’s actions led to the gathering of important information in a murder case.

Immediately following, a group of citizens were recognized for completing a 14-week training course in police work and situations they face. Among them was Kelly Meek’s husband Jon.

“Jon, I think your wife set the bar a little high,” joked Mayor Jim Yoder.

“If you see a see a suspicious vehicle, call for help,” added Mr. Holvik.

California gambling is a racket

Sam takes a turn at the editorial side and enjoys his role as libertarian polemicist.


Better slots than more tax increases

California gambling is a racket, and Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97 are another round in the never-ending battle over who gets the spoils.

These propositions extend four Indian tribes the right to install about 20,000 more slot machines in San Diego-area casinos, in addition to the 60,000 that already exist statewide. In return, the tribes would kick back part of the loot — excuse us, pay a proportion of the revenue — to the state's General Fund. California would get under $200 million in the next few years, but "in the low to mid hundreds of millions of dollars" annually approaching 2030, according to the state's legislative analyst.

Supporters and opponents of the propositions are special interest groups who have picked sides depending on how big a piece they got of the pie, or how much they think they will lose.

In favor: 30 Indian tribes and California public officials.

Opposed: Labor unions, teacher unions, and Nevada casinos.

Our bottom line: revenue from a racket is better than raising taxes. Yes on Propositions 94, 95, 96 and 97.

Illegal immigrant

This one was really touching. Immigration took this guy and I'm trying to find him now.


Deported to Mexico four times, but life is here
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Editor’s note: Seeing a police report about a man who had been deported four times, MIRROR reporter Sam Bhagwat went to the Glenn County Jail to talk to him. Deportation, he found, was only the beginning of the story.

“At 40, Gustavo Sanchez could be my father; yet his pleas almost put me in judgment of him. Perhaps, I was his main link to the outside world. He asked this 19-year-old kid to contact his son for him, and to get him an injury lawyer. ‘I’ve told you my whole life,’ he said afterwards, ‘and I didn’t know your name.’” Mr. Sanchez is currently in the Glenn County Jail on an immigration hold. (Translated and narrated to Mr. Bhagwat by fellow inmate Jorge.)

Willows — Gustavo Sanchez only attended school until the second grade, then dropped out; he preferred to work. He was planting tomatoes, planting corn, watermelon; picking tamarind.

When he was 14, he came to the U. S., but his uncle gave him money to go back because he couldn’t find work; he was too young.

A victim of California

He came again when he was 16. He met a girl; they began drinking and partying. He was arrested after they were in a fight. The police told him they would have to get back together or he’d be up to a year in jail.

After that, he was arrested for drinking and deported. He came back the next day. Seven years passed. He worked construction for a company that builds homes in California.

They stopped him because he had a ticket and was smoking dope; they deported him again. He came back again, they deported him in Arizona when he was trying to come to California. He came back again.

He hasn’t found any way to stop the police from catching him. They appear out of nowhere, so he always feels someone is watching. He feels like he is a victim of California.

He had an accident in June of 2006 and cannot work. He was drywalling a garage ceiling while standing on a scaffold; turning around he fell through, onto a pipe. He takes eight pills a day to fight infection, and 12 to fight pain. Sometimes the pills don’t work, he says, and he feels the same as the first time the pain struck. Now, he lays in bed and gets up only to take his medication.

A small apartment to live with his children

He would like an opportunity to interact with his children. They were born here: a son, Gustavo Jr., 19; daughter Maria, 17; son Roberto, 16. Their mother was the same girl he was talking about earlier, an American; they’ve been separated for 15 years because of fighting.

And the mother of his children is in prison. Gustavo Jr. is in Lodi, in prison; Gustavo Sr. would like to get hold of him, but he is locked up, and the police took Gustavo Sr.’s wallet, with his son’s address in it, and wouldn’t give it back.

Maria is living in a foster home, but when he’s free Gustavo goes often and visits. She would like to live with him, but she cannot because of his record. Roberto is with another family, but CPS won’t give him the number. Gustavo doesn’t know why.

He can’t afford to send money to Gustavo Jr., because he doesn’t know what will happen. He won’t sign the deportation papers. He only wants one more opportunity to interact with his children: he sees them, but cannot be with them. He just wants a small apartment to live here with his children.

A person of the streets

He believes in God and does not take substances anymore, he doesn’t smoke, drink, do drugs. In 1998, he lived with a lady in a Christian home in Bakerfield. The lady rescued him from the streets, turned him into a Christian; he went to about four or five days of church a week, at night.

“They believe that when you’re living with drugs, that’s one life, but in church, that’s another,” he said.

He would like to erase his record because he has changed. He apologizes to the community for being a person of the streets. He has been arrested on license charges, DUI and possession of a controlled substance.

Couldn’t come back for 35 years

Before, immigration would just release him when he would tell them his name; he does not know why not now. He is really sick; he will not sign deportation papers because he wants a lower bail. Right now, it’s $12,000.

What would he do if they deported him?

He would have to come back. Over there he has nobody, all of his family are over here. That is why he is waiting until they lower his bail.

They told him this time, he couldn’t come back for 35 years. What’s the point? After 35 years, he will most likely be dead. Before, they told him five years, one year, six months.

I asked again about deportation.

He doesn’t know what he would do. He is really sick; he cannot jump the gate or run quickly [to cross the border].

He has nothing in Mexico now. All of his family is here, 60 to 80 relatives altogether. His mom is legal; he also has some legal brothers, nieces, and sisters-in-law. They’re in Yuba City, Marysville, Sacramento, Oregon, Washington ... but he doesn’t associate with them much. He has always been alone with his mom.

Everyone is well-off except for him. He doesn’t know why.

I show him the police report, and ask why he uses a false name, Gustavo Dias.

His name is Gustavo Sanchez Aguilar. He apologizes for using a different name. Every time he gives that name, he is deported.

Dias is his uncle’s name. He used a residence card with it; the card expired in 2006. He’s not sure whether it was fake or real; he got it from the lady in the Christian house.

Because we come risking our lives

He’s worked in construction, the fields, a nursery, packaging rice, and for five years in Marysville drywalling. Right now, he needs a job that he can do with one hand. He would prefer construction.

It’s easy finding work without a permit. In Red Bluff, when he was 15 or 16, his boss used to tell him, go to school in the morning, work in the afternoon. He preferred to work.

He would say he was 20. His boss would say he was 11 or 12; he would insist on him going down to school. After that he worked in a rice plant in Maxwell; he had a fake ID.

He has never had any problem with ID when working, only when he went into town.

He hopes [California] can accept his apology for the things he’s done.

He doesn’t want anything to do with his past; he would like an opportunity to be right in this country. Because we come risking our lives, and sometimes we fall into drugs and alcohol, when we are young. He doesn’t want any problems now. He apologizes for using things that end life; it’s better to get close to God. He did not understand this.

Olive oil

This one was pretty cool; I'd never been on an actual farm until I wrote this. I got a pretty good picture of Gus Lohse pointing to one of his plants.


Artois to have ‘largest olive oil processing plant in the Americas’
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Artois — Olive oil is coming here, big time.

A new trend in agriculture has triggered plans to build the "largest olive oil processing plant in the Americas" here in Glenn County, and could provide nearly 50 jobs during harvest season this year, a number that will likely double in years to come.

Glenn County has long been home to traditional olive orchards, which grow large, hand-picked fruit intended for table consumption – the "put it on your fingers" type. In contrast, the new fruit is smaller, not suited for children’s play-eating but perfect for oil production.

In 1999, California Olive Ranch brought three varieties of olives grown in Spain and Greece to Oroville to see how they fared in California weather. Seeing good results, they’ve planted 1,800 acres in Glenn County, and in December submitted plans to build the olive oil plant a couple of miles east of Artois.

California Olive Ranch success has inspired others.

"Four or five years ago, there wasn't one tree" in Glenn County, said Bill Krueger, a local UC farm advisor. "Now, there's more oil olive trees than table olives."

Krueger estimates that 4,000 acres of oil olive trees have been planted, with around half ready for harvest this fall.

Some farmers, like Gus Lohse of Carriere Farms, have even uprooted some old table olive trees to make room for the new oil olive trees.

What's driving the change?

Economics, says Mr. Lohse. Oil olive varieties are worth less money, but are far cheaper to grow. Mechanically harvested, the fruit may be bruised. Since oil olives are bound for pressing, that’s not a problem.

With recent concerns about finding labor to pick fruit during harvest season, growing mechanically harvested fruit is just smart business.

“People will often say, ‘I didn’t get my [table] olives picked because I couldn’t find any pickers,’” says assistant agricultural commissioner Jean Miller. With oil olives, "one machine can pick what it takes 40 laborers to do," says Alan Greene, vice president of sales and marketing at California Olive Ranch.

The machine is “over the row,” sitting on top of the row of dwarf trees, shaking the fruit off into baskets on both sides. The trees are kept in long rows by trellises; as they age, they will need continual trimming to keep them short enough for the machine.

That’s a challenge, but the list of benefits – to farmers and to the county – goes on.

The biggest is jobs.

Mr. Lohse says that he uses five hands to work each machine, adapted grape harvesters that can cover 300 acres in harvest season.

Mr. Greene wouldn’t give similar numbers for California Olive Ranch. But doing the math with Mr. Lohse's, THE MIRROR estimated that around 35 workers will be needed for the nearly 2,000 acres in harvest this season. Within two to three years, as currently planted trees grow to maturity, that number will grow to around 70.

Some of those jobs will no doubt replace other picking jobs. But because oil olives are hardier and “can go in on ground that others can’t,” as Mr. Greene puts it, the new trend will create new jobs that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

And if all goes well at the processing plant — plans are under consideration now by the county — it will employ a handful of workers this year. But in a few years, Mr. Greene says, it will be at full capacity, employing another 30 to 50 workers.

While the plant will employ mainly receiving-type labor to handle the fruit, jobs in the field will be different than traditional olive harvesting jobs.

“This replaces hand-picking jobs with skilled equipment operator jobs,” Mr. Greene said.

Mssrs. Greene, Krueger and Lohse list other advantages. Oil olive plants don’t use much pesticide, for one. Mr. Lohse says he hasn’t applied any so far, because his plants haven’t needed them.

Because these olives are less susceptible to pests, Mr. Krueger points out, they can also expand the tax base for county pest management services while requiring little work themselves.

Water is another plus. There are over three times as many trees per acre than table olive trees, but they need less than half the water, 18 to 24 acre-inches instead of four acre-feet.

On the marketing side, Mr. Greene and Mr. Lohse are enthusiastic as well, noting that current domestic olive oil production is less than 1 percent of domestic olive oil consumption.

Mr. Krueger is enthusiastic too, but has a few reservations.

"What they don't tell you is, every olive-oil producing country looks to the U. S. as their salvation," he said, pointing to Spain and Italy, Australia, South America and northern Africa.

And while production is currently going well, Mr. Krueger continues, there are three main unanswered questions for the future.

"Can you maintain that sort of production? Can you maintain the mechanical harvestability? And can you sell the oil at a price that's profitable?” he asks. “It’s one giant experiment."

Mr. Lohse acknowledges the point but calls oil olives instead an “opportunity,” arguing the economics make sense enough to deal with the uncertainty.

"We're all learning how to do this,” he says. “Many of the answers we'll only get along the way."

Friday, January 18, 2008

From Mom, with love

By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

If I had to compile a list of the 10 most annoying questions to answer, “Tell me about yourself,” would probably be number one.

Sadly, it seems to come up over and over again. College admission essays. Cover letters for jobs. And now, my first day on the job. Thanks, Tim.

I suppose I could pen something sarcastic and self-promoting. “Sam Bhagwat, a junior in economics at Stanford University, felt so tragically unmotivated by taking econ classes that he crammed all his earthly possessions into his friend’s mom’s minivan, rolled down the windows, and drove off to Glenn County, CA.”

But really, I’d rather leave it to my mom. She’s been doing it for 19 and a half years, after all.

So without further ado:

The Sacramento Valley Mirror: Tell me about your son.

Haika Gay: “Oh my God, ‘Tell me about your son’? Ask me the next question.”

Valley Mirror: No.

Haika Gay: “Oh God, how do I do this. I can’t do this off the top of my head. Can I think about this and call back?”
Valley Mirror: [rolls eyes] Sure.

Fifteen minutes later, the organized part of her personality had taken over, and she was responding to my questions with lists.

Valley Mirror: Tell me about your son.

Haika Gay: “A tall kid with a goofy smile. Absent-minded. Intense. Awkward. Honest. Straightforward. Lacks common sense. Hardheaded. Stubborn.”

Valley Mirror: Why’s he here?

Haika Gay: “He’s in Willows because he’s been going to school continuously since he was little; he needed a break, some time to think, some time in the working world.”

Valley Mirror: What’s his most annoying quirk?

Haika Gay: “His forgetfulness.

“He forgets things he has to do, forgets places he has to be. He was flying from Philadelphia to Florida. Got there too late, went to the wrong terminal, and ended up having to re-buy the ticket I already bought – at three times the price. Any number of late fees he’s had to pay … He forgets his retainer, forgets his phone charger, forgets his electric toothbrush; is always packing at the last minute; is always assuring me he has everything and always forgetting something.”

And in conclusion?

“Drives me crazy and makes me laugh all at the same time. I love him to death.”

Despite neglecting the first rule of reporting (“If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out”), Sam is excited about spending the next six months in Willows, and is determined that his listed faults will not interfere with his job. Forgetfulness? Notes!

my first story

I'll be posting all the stories I write, after they're published, in case family and friends are curious what I'm up to. Tim Crews, my boss, heavily edited this one with background info.

Asst. D.A. Stewart runs for judge; Viegas for supe
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows — Sleepy Glenn County politics is getting a jolt with Assistant District Attorney Dwayne Stewart running for judge.

That means that if Family Law Commissioner Peter Billiou Twede runs, as is expected, it will be the first contested judicial race in more than 20 years.

Four major positions are up in this election, set for five months from now: Glenn County Superior Court Judge and supervisor seats for the First, Third, and Fifth districts.

Mr. Stewart has taken out papers for the soon to be vacated Superior Court Judge position, currently held by the Hon. Angus Saint-Evens, who is retiring. Mr. Stewart is seeking the bench, according to a county elections office signature-gathering sheet he signed last Thursday.

Judge Saint-Evens would not comment on the upcoming elections, and Mr. Stewart, who diligently tried to return our calls, unfortunately missed connecting.

Glenn County Fair Board member and former Orland Police Chief John Viegas says he’s thinking about setting his sights on the District One Supervisor seat, held by Thomas M. McGowan. Mr. Viegas is thinking pretty hard; he signed the signature-gathering sheet Monday.

District One is the Orland doughnut, or a vaguely circular piece of turf outside the city limits.

Mr. Viegas says his candidacy was in an "infancy stage." He had few specifics down yet – including whether he would even run – but waxed poetic about “change,” “common sense,” and “a positive direction.”

He wants to “look at the economic situation in Glenn County” and “find out what all the issues are, find out what direction people want to go.”

Mr. Viegas continued, “I’m friends with Tom McGowan and his family. I’m not running in a negative light.”

He says he will take a “common sense approach to things,” such as zoning issues and code enforcement issues, while “making Glenn County more desirable as a parent, and for businesses … more user-friendly.

"This is all new to me, as to running for an elected position," he said.

By comparison, Mr. McGowan was sparse with his comments, saying he wasn't sure whether he'd run for re-election. “When I decide to announce [my candidacy], my family will be the first ones to know, and obviously they don’t.”

Mr. Viegas was hired as chief of police when Mr. McGowan was on the Orland City Council. His hiring was a decision Mr. McGowan supported, but Mr. McGowan would comment neither on Mr. Viegas' candidacy nor Mr. Viegas' job performance.

Mr. Viegas was a Chico Police captain after leaving Orland.

No one has begun to gather signatures for the District Three seat, but first-term incumbent John Amaro is planning to run for re-election, saying he's interested in keeping the rural way of life while providing job opportunities.

"My biggest interest is the growth of the county and being part of that," he said.

Orland School Board member Leigh McDaniel told THE MIRROR that he plans to run for Mr. Amaro’s post.

For the District Five seat, currently occupied by seven-term supervisor Keith Hansen, there's not so much open hat-throwing as stealthy circling.

No one has yet started to gather petitions for the well-worn District Five seat, and Mr. Hansen says he's not running again. So potential candidates have approached Mr. Hansen seeking endorsements, and Mr. Hansen has urged associates to run. Each unsuccessfully, so far.

Four years ago, Mr. Hansen decided at the last minute to run for re-election. This time around?

"I don't know what could change my mind," he said. "It's time for me to get on to other things."

Candidates have until March 7 to file declarations of candidacy and submit signatures or filing fee, or March 12 if the incumbent is not running for re-election.