Monday, March 31, 2008

local firefighter wins award

Glenn County firefighter named “top teacher”
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows — He’s the top forest firefighting instructor in California. And Hawaii, Samoa and Guam.

For this year, at least.

And that wasn’t even his day job.

Jess Smith, 56, is a retired Willows fire department captain, honored on Feb. 28 with a fire instructor of the year award from the Forest Service.

Working for 25 years as a consultant for the Forest Service, he traveled around California on off days, teaching forest workers urban firefighting techniques like putting out car fires or dealing with hazardous materials.

“He had a really good grasp of how to integrate our instructors (with equipment),” said Forest Service training officer Bob Bell, a longtime friend, colleague and former student of Mr. Smith. “When we started going to our newer-model fire engines … he had that structural side, teaching how to use those kind of pumps, mentoring our instructors, getting us to where we are now.”

Now, Jess Smith and his wife Jan travel around California for their nonprofit, training volunteer fire departments.

That’s when time allows out of his other “retirement” job, being the Glenn-Codora Fire Department’s consulting Fire Chief .

The couple was attending an annual forest firefighting conference in Reno, standing in the back of a large conference room. Then Mr. Bell, who was leading the session, made a surprise announcement: Mr. Smith won the regional instructor of the year award, one of two recipients.

“I cried,” said Jan Smith.

“And I had to stand (on the stage) when he was talking all about me,” complained Jess Smith, good-naturedly.

“There were like 150 top brass there,” added Jan.

Mr. Bell emphasized this wasn’t something Mr. Smith won for one act.

“He got the award for 25 years of service,” Mr. Bell said. “He has a true passion for safety, and for doing things right. He’s got a true compassion for the student, making sure the student actually understands.”

Asked why he specifically won the award, Mr. Smith demurred, saying it would be difficult to answer that question.

“He’ll turn red,” his wife explained.

new global warming regulations

Global warming adds to building costs
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Willows — Global warming: now causing problems in a theater near you.

Developers are paying almost $8,000 for extra analysis of their planned housing development south of Orland, in order to comply with a new statewide emphasis on preventing climate change.

And that’s only the start.

Mentioned at last Tuesday’s board of supervisors meeting, the news was met with sarcasm by Tom McGowan, who asked when the state would be doing something about global cooling.

But state legislative action has left climate change skeptics out in the cold.

“Whether it’s real or not doesn’t matter,” said Dan Obermeyer, head of Planning and Public Works. “It’s the law.”

Assembly Bill 32, passed in September 2006, requires that emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane be cut 25 percent by 2020.

Actually achieving the goal will be largely a local responsibility, falling into the hands of agencies like Planning and Public Works.

The first preliminary statewide guidelines are coming in 2010.

But last April, the state Attorney General filed a lawsuit against San Bernardino County, accusing the county of failing to consider effects on climate change when designing a 25-year growth plan.

Now counties like Glenn are scrambling to take steps so that the AG’s office doesn’t “knock on our door,” as Mr. Obermeyer put it.

The office already sent the county a letter three months ago, concerned about the effects of a proposed dairy.

Short- and long-term effects of regulations could be diverse, and are extremely tentative as of now; major players are still in the dark.

Kevin Tokunaga, program manager of the county’s Air Pollution Control District, says he “can’t even anticipate what the state will do.”

These unknown plans, says Mr. Obermeyer perhaps unhelpfully, will have an unknown cost to county residents.

But Mr. Obermeyer does have some ideas for what’s coming. He notes that principles considered good planning ideas, like creating more compact communities, are also good for reducing greenhouse gases.

In Glenn County, that would mean centering development around Willows and Orland and away from smaller hamlets like Elk Creek.

Mr. Obermeyer mentions a past proposal floated to encourage development around Fruto.

Though the idea fell through for other reasons, climate change effects would be another argument against it, because residents would have to drive at least to Willows or Orland for work and errands.

The exception would be if encouraging development in a smaller town like Artois helped it cross a threshold where, for example, it could support a school.

Asked if he was going to set the less-miles-driven tone by moving from Lake County to Glenn County, Mr. Obermeyer noted that his wife’s business was in Lake, so one of them would have to commute.

Another idea, though Mr. Obermeyer says it’s just floating around in his head at the moment, would be that farmers could obtain and sell “carbon credits” for converting rice fields — which emit carbon dioxide — into orchards, which suck the gas up.

For his part, the only specifics Mr. Tokunaga could give was that old refrigerants like methyl bromide, that depleted the ozone layer, were “on the way out.”

One big factor in how all of this will affect Glenn County is how regulations are designed.

Regulations could be guidelines or rules; they could be market-based carbon credit systems, or they could be detailed specifications, like a current regulation that counties must retire certain diesel vehicles by certain dates, and phase all of them out by 2035.

In the past, says Mr. Obermeyer, the air regulation board has been inclined toward restrictive regulations. But this time, they’ve said publicly that they’ll be starting with guidelines.

Reactions to such regulations may vary depending on whether people think global warming is real and really a threat.

For his part, Mr. Obermeyer, who plans on being at his current job in 2010 when the air board regulations come out, is convinced it is.

In the worst case, he says, Glenn County will be coastal area.

(That’s extremely unlikely: worst-case scenarios do have almost all snow in the Sierra Nevadas melting, but only a 2-foot sea level increase by 2100, and all of Glenn County is more than 100 feet above sea level.)

The VALLEY MIRROR reporter mentions Superman plot where villain Lex Luthor plans to make megabucks by buying up dirt-cheap Western desert, then turning it into coastline by triggering an earthquake to make California fall into the ocean.

Mr. Obermeyer laughs, and he cites an assessment he read of significant environmental problems.

“Global warming is so significant, that there aren’t any other problems.”

law library, pt. 3

Law library ignores free, easy services.
Part 3 of 4
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Cost per month: over $800. Users per month: 4.5. Their satisfaction: very low.

Those are the vital statistics of the county’s law library system, two computers in Willows and one in Orland, hooked up to the legal research site LexisNexis.

And while the law library is moving again after drifting rudderless for years, the board is just starting to discuss basic problems related to service quality, oversight and publicity that have brought the library to where it is now.

Meanwhile, they seem reluctant to accept outside guidance.

Butte County law librarian John Zorbas has already helped some Glenn County residents over the phone, like an Orland resident who needed help with Social Security forms.

But when ibrary activist Dan Bailey relayed Mr. Zorbas’s willingness to come and offer advice, the law library board backed off, wanting to concentrate first on upgrading the slow, outdated computers.

“We need to get ourselves straight before we try to assimilate even more information,” argued Judge Angus Saint-Evens, a board trustee.

Some of Mr. Zorbas’s ideas for Butte County aren’t applicable to low-budget Glenn County: field trips to a physical building, a float and information booth at a public parade.

But others are free, easy, and have been neglected by Glenn County.

Mr. Zorbas mentions the state’s online “ask a law librarian” system; during business hours, anyone on the Internet can send text queries to California law librarians and get a real-time response.

Mr. Zorbas is enthusiastic about the system; when helping out, he recalls, the main problem he saw was overload: multiple people simultaneously sending him 200-word queries and expecting immediate responses.

Law library computers in Willows and Orland do not even provide a link to the website, on Mr. Zorbas prefers helping over the phone, and is willing to assist other Glenn County residents, but no contact information is easily available to law library patrons here. (Mr. Zorbas’ work phone number is 538-7122)

“Law libraries are very unterritorial,” says Mr. Zorbas. “If a person wants help, they get help, no one cares what county you’re from.”

On a publicity level, Mr. Zorbas says that in Butte County court clerks, law enforcement, and Paradise public library staff all refer people to him.

Court executive officer Tina Burkhart says she’s heard her court clerks referring people to the law library, and Sheriff Larry Jones said that he personally has done so as well.

Still, at the end of the day, Butte County law library still receives 100 times as many visits as Glenn County — disproportionate for a county with only seven times as many people.

Other problems in Glenn County lay on the administrative level: no one’s been paying any attention.

In 2001, a set of 10,000 rarely-used law books that used to comprise the county law library were replaced with a computer system.

And then the books disappeared.

Accounts of what happened to them differed, and minutes of the board’s meetings, which might provide an answer, don’t exist — if the board even met to decide the issue.

Supervisor Keith Hansen, as chairman of the board of supervisors, has been formally a member of the law library board twice in the last 10 years — but Mr. Hansen doesn’t remember going to any meetings either year, saying he “(hasn’t) been on it for a long, long time.”

Today, it’s not books but money floating around: the law library is paying almost $4,000 a year to handle the administrative costs of the county’s A-87 accounting system.

This has been going on for at least two-and-a-half years. Yet it was concluded after a February board meeting that A-87 does not apply to the law library, because the law library is by statute independent from the county.

In that case, if the payment is legal it must be approved by the board — and the board has not met for four years. A financial report was prepared and delivered in December 2006 to the Board of Supervisors by law librarian and county counsel Tom Agin, but the error was not corrected and payments have continued since.

Without the board’s presence, minor oversight has occured as when Mr. Agin presented the financial report to supervisors (without the board’s backing). But no one — including Mr. Agin, who has “law librarian” as an official duty — acted similarly without the board’s authority to stop the payments.

Resolving such confusion is necessary for the law library to be effective.

law library, pt. 2

Rudderless for years, law library suffers
Part two of a series
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror

Cost per month: More than $800. Users per month: 4.5. Their satisfaction: very low.

Those are the vital statistics of the county’s law library system, two computers in Willows and one in Orland, hooked up to the legal research site LexisNexis.

But the question isn’t really “what happened?”

It’s “What didn’t happen?”

The board governing the law library is reconvening after several years of inactivity. Today, the law library in neighboring Butte County receives 100 times more visitors than Glenn County, and the board is in violation of numerous state regulations.

Rule: boards must meet regularly each month.

Reality: the board didn’t meet with a quorum for at least four years.

Rule: boards must elect a secretary, to “keep records and full minutes in writing.”

Reality: nope. Minutes don’t exist for meetings held before this year — they weren’t in the files of the county counsel, who is also the law librarian, or the board of supervisors’ office. Staff at the Superior Court Friday said they didn’t know if they had files on the law library.

Rule: boards must make a yearly report to the board of supervisors, along with a financial report “showing all receipts and disbursements of money.”

Reality: a review of the last 10 years of supervisors’ meeting minutes shows only two financial reports. One was given by County Counsel Tom Agin without the board’s authority; the other was given by then-County Counsel Belinda Blacketer, whether she had the board’s authority is not clear. Neither report included other details.

Some of these requirements may seem excessive, designed for larger counties. Nonetheless, it applies to all counties.

Law library board members aren’t paid, so monthly, hour-long meetings attended by five lawyers who bill at $100 hourly would cost the lawyers $6,000 annually. Call that public service, in lieu of pro bono work.

That seems a large overhead for administering a fund with $10,000 annual expenses, especially when former chairwoman and chief of the Glenn County Branch of the state’s Department of Child Support Services Carroll Ragland opined at a meeting that “‘it’s a problem meeting monthly because we don’t do anything,’” according to law library devotee Dan Bailey.

(When Ms. Ragland was reached and told the MIRROR wanted to talk about the law library, she immediately asked how we obtained her direct line — we used Google — before declining comment.)

But when no one in charge knows what’s been going on for the last 10 years, it’s clear than unless at least some attention is paid, the system won’t work.

Interviewed for a related story in May 2007, County Counsel Tom Agin said that the board’s inactivity was not a problem because “nobody has complained about the libraries."

Though Mr. Agin was on vacation and could not be contacted for this article, executive secretary Penny Arnold confirmed that the county counsel’s office received few complaints about the current LexisNexis system.

One wonders how much communication is going on, then.

Three librarians in Willows, one in Orland, and recorder’s office staff interviewed for last Saturday’s article documented extremely rare usage and frustrated patrons, extending back three or four years.

Talking to two Willows librarians, all this reporter had to do was mention the subject, and the women launched into extended complaints about the law library system.

High cost and low usage isn’t a new problem: serving as law librarian in 1979, Judge August Saint-Evens remembered around 10,000 volumes stored in the judges’ chambers, the courtroom and the jury room, and around 200 arriving every year. The cost was “astronomical.” There was “very, very little” traffic, all lawyers.

When former County Counsel Belinda Blacketer took the job in 2001, she disposed of the books.

(Where the books went is not clear. Available records don’t say. No one would buy them. Dep. Admin. Officer Sandy Soeth, looking around the basement, saw a few books from the’70s and ’80s in the courthouse basement and thinks the rest were thrown out. Judge Saint-Evens heard they had been packed up and given to a university library.)

Instead of the books, a CD-based system from Westlaw was used for the next two years — and it didn’t work so well either.

Mrs. Arnold recalled that it would constantly have problems, which she would have to sort out. Few people used it: again, mostly lawyers.

“It was a nightmare,” Mrs. Arnold said.

It’s not clear that has changed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hmong family shot at on Sacramento River

Hmong family shot at on Sacramento River
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Not a scenario you usually prepare for when planning a fishing trip.

Thao Xiong, 47, was spending a peaceful Saturday on the Sacramento River with his family, when they were shouted and then shot at by an Orland man armed with a rifle.

A highway patrol airplane served to scare Bradley Holtz, 22, away, and he was captured after a half-an-hour chase in bushes near County Road 52.

Mr. Xiong of Oroville was fishing on the east bank of the river with sons Pau, 25, and Chee Meng, 1, wife Mee Kong, 42, and nephew Kai Thao, 38.

The family is Hmong; Thao Xiong thinks that their ethnicity prompted the incident.

Launching at the Butte City boat ramp at 8 a.m., the crew traveled upstream for 10 or 15 minutes and fished for about two hours.

On the west side of the river, Mr. Xiong saw a blue pickup park directly opposite them, on the west side of the river. Mr. Holtz emerged and began to yell at Mr. Xiong and his family.

Because they were on different sides of the river, the family could not understand Mr. Holtz. There was no one else around he could be talking to. Though afraid, they ignored Mr. Holtz to avoid trouble.

Then Mr. Holtz reached into the driver’s side of his truck and pulled out a rifle, a Ruger 223.

“After noise yelling, he open fire,” said Thao Xiong.

The three or four shots came from waist level, and went diagonally, south of Mr. Xiong’s boat.

The family tried to move farther up the bank of the river and stay out of sight, but Mr. Holtz drove his truck 100 yards north and fired two or three more shots.

He then leaned against the front of his pickup and stared at the group for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, Pau Xiong called 911 at 11:14 a.m. At 12:02 p.m., the plane arrived and found the family, at which point Mr. Holtz drove off.

Sheriff’s deputies and highway patrol were near the scene, but deputies were slowed by a locked gate on a levee road that didn’t extend all the way to the scene. When the plane spotted Mr. Holtz’s pickup in an orchard, a highway patrol officer turned on his lights and tried to apprehend Mr. Holtz, but Mr. Holtz drove off through the orchard, between County Roads 55 and 56. The plane followed the vehicle south of County Road 52, when Mr. Holtz stopped his pickup, left his rifle there, and took off on foot.

Apprehended by sheriff’s deputies in the bushes wearing a torn white shirt, Mr. Holtz was ordered to the ground at gunpoint. He claimed he was been out hunting on his grandmother’s property, and gone out with his pocketknife to kill a wounded coyote.

He was charged with negligent discharge of a firearm, evading an officer, and driving on a suspended license, and booked into Glenn County Jail.

Thao Xiong and his family went home after the incident. Mr. Xiong said he was happy that everyone was safe.

budgets, pt. 2

Bye, bye, budget problems?
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
It’s a simple column of figures. Fifteen of them.
Ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars, they sit near the right edge of a lined page, handwritten by Finance Director Don Santoro, photocopied and distributed to a special Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
On the left are short notes and various abbreviations, confusing to the uninitiated: PPW, HSA, FTE.
But on the bottom is an all-important total: $1,793,000.
That’s a preliminary sum that the county’s department heads have figured out how to save out of next year’s general fund, almost all of the projected shortfall.
Some money was saved by finagling personnel shifts: an Agricultural Department biologist will work on Health Services solid waste problems; the court will pay the salary of a sheriff’s deputy providing security.
Other dollars will be saved by simply having fewer people: the sheriff’s department will leave five deputy positions open, something Sheriff Larry Jones said would be a “strain” on services.
There was some concern about why the process was needed.
“How did we get here?” asked chairman Mike Murray. “We suffered from ‘the sky is falling, the sky is falling’ each budget year.”
But the mood was generally congratulatory.
“The input was better than I’ve had in a long time,” said Mr. Santoro.
“The department heads have shown why Glenn County is such a great place to live and work,” said supervisor Tom McGowan.
County department heads will now go forward with preparing budgets based on projected revenue, though final numbers won’t be in until Sacramento passes its budget.
“I’m glad they didn’t postpone it any longer,” said Sheriff Jones. “We need to get down to brass tacks.”

budget stuff, pt. 1

By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
Solve the budget crisis: play musical chairs.
Moving money around was the theme in Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting regarding how to weather this year’s fiscal crisis.
The general revenue fund is short 10 percent, so department heads strategized how to replace missing local dollars with non-local grant money. For each all-purpose local dollar, the county spends almost three federal and state specified-purpose grant dollars.
So there’s lots of potential for financial juggling.
Planning and Public Works has around a million and a half gas tax dollars to spend on roads over three years — so department head Dan Obermeyer brought in a proposal to spend the whole sum in two years and give janitorial staff road maintenance jobs.
The proposal would free $500,000 for next year.
Supervisor Tracey Quarne drew laughs after noting that Mr. Obermeyer had come up with half a million dollars in 24 hours and asking what he was doing the rest of the week.
Health Services head Scott Gruendl mentioned working with Sheriff Larry Jones to get partial grant funding for a domestic violence position, though Sheriff Jones says that’s likely on hold for now.
Unfortunately, mused supervisor John Amaro, the actions under consideration would be more of “applying a Band-Aid” than addressing long-term problems.
“It’s not a Band-Aid anymore,” replied supervisor Tracey Quarne. “It’s triage now.”
The two other ways to solve the problem, noted supervisors, were cutting costs and increasing revenues.
While over 80 suggestions were e-mailed to the supervisors by department heads, few went under discussion by the board.
At least one seemed to already be in place.
Mr. Obermeyer merely recommended that an incentive program be put in place “to give rewards for employees and the general public” for ideas that helped cut costs or expand service. But Mr. Gruendl asked employees for cost-cutting ideas and then rewarded the top three — of 41 he sent to supervisors — with gift cards to a restaurant of choice, Starbucks and Wal-Mart.
When supervisors called for revenue-generating proposals, finance director Don Santoro came up with ideas like raising sales and utility taxes.
“When I talked about revenue generation, I was not thinking of additional taxes,” said Tom McGowan.
“What else did you have in mind?”, replied Mr. Santoro.
Mr. Santoro submitted savings estimates for a plan to cut both staff pay and workweek hours by 10 to 12.5 percent. Though the plan would eliminate almost the entire shortfall, it was panned by department heads.
Sheriff Jones said he knew of five officers that would go elsewhere if the plan was to go into effect; Child Services’ Carroll Raglund and Mr. Obermeyer made similar claims of distress, but without giving figures.
Noting that his department got only six percent of total revenue from the general fund, Mr. Obermeyer said that he would “have a hard time penalizing (the other) 94 percent of my staff.”
Department heads also warned of service cuts.
Chief Probation Officer Brandon Thompson noted that closing juvenile hall, a possibility, would save $175,000 a year. But, he warned, the $90 per day cost of taking teens to an out-of-county juvy would likely result in police simply citing and releasing all youth committing crimes short of murder or violent burglary.
Given a proposal to sponsor Orland’s Community Expo to the tune of $750, supervisors cited budgetary problems in turning them down — instead paying for it out of their own pockets.
The budget session of Tuesday’s meeting was a veritable Who’s Who of Glenn County; in addition to Mr. Obermeyer, Mr. Gruendl, and Sheriff Jones, Chief Probation Officer Brandon Thompson, Agricultural Commissioner Mark Black, and Willows police chief Bill Spears attended. The usually half-empty chambers were almost full.

Sam the amateur apologist

Whether or not Mormonism has serious problems, Larry Judkins’ column Saturday about the religion certainly does.

I take issue with two aspects of my colleague’s piece: his facts and his perspective.

The perspective first: Mr. Judkins says he writes his column for atheists and those on the fence.

Regular readers may remember a previous column about walking out of a Democratic party meeting after Orland city council member Byron Denton offered a prayer. In that piece, Mr. Judkins substitutes high moral dudgeon for actually talking to believers.

For example: why does Mr. Denton feel his prayer was appropriate? Or, would a prayer have been appropriate that asked simply for fellowship and help in achieving justice - goals I’m sure Mr. Judkins shares? These questions are both fruitful and interesting. But Mr. Judkins fails to ask them.

Instead, in that piece as well as his Mormonism column, he ignores the other side entirely: neither fair nor intellectually honest.

So for context, here’s a bit of Mormonism 101.

Mr. Judkins argues that the few non-grammatical changes in Mormon scriptures - the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants - since Joseph Smith’s time are evidence that Mormonism is “blatantly false.”

Not so. As Mr. Judkins noted, Joseph Smith called the Book of Mormon the “most correct” of all books in helping a man “get nearer to God.” The Book of Mormon title page reads: “if there are faults they are the mistakes of men; wherefore, condemn not the things of God.”

This isn’t textual infallibility, as Mr. Judkins seems to claim, any more than saying my history paper was the “most correct” in my class implies that it was flawless.

Now, imagine that my history paper was 500 pages long, and I completed it in around three months by dictation, without notes or a library. Imagine moreover, that I said that I had not composed this work, which I call the Book of Mormon, but rather with divine help translated it from an ancient record. How could someone decide whether I was possibly telling the truth, or had invented the entire story from whole cloth?

One of Mr. Judkins’ claims is that the history paper was doctored when convenient, evidence it was invented. But this is baseless.

Mormons believe God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, though united in purpose, are three distinct entities. In developing this doctrine, Mr. Judkins says, text was purposefully changed from “mother of God” in 1830 to “mother of the Son of God” in 1835. The text was changed, but claims of ulterior motives don’t hold water, because the phrase “Son of God” already appears in the original 1830 version – a mere six verses later, when the writer “beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men.” (1 Nephi 11:24)

Moreover, Mr. Judkins fails to note the Mormon doctrine of continual revelation, that “that (God) will yet reveal many great and important things (pertaining to his kingdom?).” In this light, and with the view that prophets like Joseph Smith aren’t perfect fax machines from God, some mistakes are expected, and to be corrected as further understanding is received.

Another way of testing whether the history paper is accurate is to try to determine how accurate the local color is; whether it describes the time and place written about.

Tell the average person to write about far-distant historical settings without going to the library. What do you know about 11th century Tibet? “Well, it exists...and it was probably very mysterious...and romantic?” Knowing nothing, the resulting piece will be filled with anachronisms and inaccuracies.

So, are Mormon texts filled with such inaccuracies? Mr. Judkins does claim they are “easily disproved...hoaxes.” Really?

For example, the beginning parts of the Book of Mormon, set in 6th century BC Palestine, contains some remarkably accurate details. A father renames after his sons valleys and rivers located three days’ journey from a city, an act foreign to the Western mind but quite natural to Arabian nomads. The journeying party camps at a large, fertile area on the coast of desolate Arabia that was unknown in 1830.

Mr. Judkins says the “Book of Abraham,” which Joseph Smith claimed to have translated from an Egyptian papyrus, is a hoax because portions of the text were rediscovered and no similarities were found. Again, evidence that Joseph Smith is inventing things.

However, the Book of Abraham contains elements also present in other, later discovered Jewish apocrypha but not present in the Bible or in 1830. Details like how Abraham’s father tried to have him killed but failed and later repented, or how contemporaries were sacrificing their children.

I’m not trying to definitely prove anything here; I merely wish to show that Mr. Judkins is wrong – and somewhat insulting - when he claims that Mormonism has been proven blatantly false.

Finally, here are some scattered responses to Mr. Judkins’ scattered attacks.

A quick search on for “family values” – the use of which Mr. Judkins decries as hypocritical - returns a smattering of pieces: praising firm, loving parenting, decrying illegitimacy, and putting the home as the “basis of a righteous life.” It’s unclear what the past practice of polygamy has to do with any of this. Besides, polygamous families were families too.

And Mr. Judkins accuses the Mormon church of not repudiating past racism. Certainly, there have racists among the membership and leadership of the church, along with most of white society in the 1800’s and most of the 1900’s. Still, it should be noted that Joseph Smith ran for president in 1844 on an abolitionist platform.

Certainly, Mr. Judkins can cite opposing evidence on many details. And maybe he’s right. But not noting how Mormons themselves view the issues he raises - ignoring relevant ideas like continuous revelation - is simply unfair. Even in the limited space of a newspaper column.

flushing $10k/year down the tubes, pt. 1

this was an adventure, the first precise big-scope multi-parter I've done. parts 2, 3, and 4 to follow.
Law library shell game, no books, little access
First of a series
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

When retiring judge Angus Saint-Evens was the law librarian, he recalls, the shelves were overflowing so much that then-Judge Roy MacFarland canceled the county’s subscriptions to law journals.

That’s a problem Glenn County has no part of today.

Instead, the books have all disappeared from the shelves, replaced by a subscription to a legal resource site patrons and librarians find frustrating.

Neighboring Butte County has some advantages over Glenn County: seven times the population and almost twice the per-person funding.

Yet almost 100 times as many people use Butte’s system – far more than is proportional.

The typical crowd there is diverse.

In addition to attorneys and those representing themselves, said Butte County librarian John Zorbis, the Oroville institution will attract people who have a lawyer, "to do their homework, see what their attorney is doing."

Law libraries are mandated by California statute, and funded by a portion of the fees paid to file a civil case. In Glenn County, that fee is $20 per case, totaling around $10,000 per year.

For the last four years, the money has been used almost entirely to fund three little-used public-access computers equipped with LexisNexis, a legal research software: one in county offices, one in Willows' library and one in Orland’s. And though Orland librarians want to use funds on much cheaper books, there isn't any money left.

In Lewis v. Casey, a case governing prison law libraries, the Supreme Court wrote that law libraries were meant to ensure "meaningful access to the courts."

Though this standard doesn’t apply to law libraries outside prison, it's hard to argue that frustrated users are, in fact, enjoying "meaningful access."

Patrons’ primary problem seems to be that the system isn’t very user-friendly. LexisNexis is intended for legal professionals; the legal software seems about as easy for the average person to navigate as the legal system.

Some local librarians say they can’t figure out how to use the service, making it impossible for them to help patrons.

“If you have questions about the law library, ask LexisNexis,” said Willows library aide Lisa Hill sarcastically. “It never works. No one can use it.”

“I tried it three or four years ago,” said fellow library worker Lesli Nelson. “I couldn’t figure it out.”

It took this reporter, a Stanford student, some 90 minutes on the system to find three pages of basic state laws governing child custody.

Meanwhile, the law library board – meeting with a quorum twice this year after a four-year hiatus – is thinking of spending the money on upgrading the computer system, consisting of some five-year-old Pentiums on dial-up modems, accepting bids of up to $500 to analyze the system.

While librarians note that the computers are old, they say the LexisNexis system is more of a problem.

“If you get a site that’s user-friendly, the connection doesn’t matter that much,” said Orland head librarian Marilyn Cochran. “I would say the content is much more important than the means of delivery.”

Ms. Cochran wants to buy the Matthew Bender series on federal codes, which would run about $300-400 to update every year, but, because of LexisNexis expenditures — about $7,500 per year — simply doesn’t have the budget. As a result, all she has is a “Do It Yourself” series on law.

Ms. Cochran says that while she’s mostly speculating, she thinks most irregular customers don’t have the means to pay for an attorney, and are coming in for help with child support and divorce cases.

"We've had a couple patrons who tried to follow up on their cases," said Willows librarian Nicole Whitaker. 'They couldn't."

“It’s a nice try,” Ms. Cochran says of the system, “but it hasn’t quite worked out.”

Sidebar: Here’s the math.

Butte County law librarian John Zorbis says that he gets 18 to 20 visitors a day, which is about 100 visits per business week, or 450 per month.

Glenn County has computers in three locations: Willows library, Orland library and the assessor’s office in Willows.

Three Willows library workers gave various estimates of usage; the average was about one visit a month.

At Orland Free Library, head librarian Marilyn Cochran reported two or three visitors per month. Excluding regular users like law library gadfly and Mirror ad salesman Dan Bailey, Ms. Cochran said that would drop to less than one a month. But we’ll work with the two to three number.

And Debbie Lagrande of the recorder’s office, where the computer now in the assessor’s office was for several years, reported less than one visitor a month.

Less than one visit per month, plus two to three, plus one, is generously, 4.5 visits.

So that’s 450 visits per month for Butte County, 4.5 per month for Glenn.

Friday, March 14, 2008

jobs cut, but more importantly, student demonstration averted

Fewer cuts at WUSD
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Still bleeding, but not so badly.

The result from Thursday’s school board meeting: Willows High is keeping a threatened counselor position, an act that averted a planned student demonstration. But funding cuts will still mean four fewer full-time positions in Willows Unified next year.

Gone are a high school keyboarding position, six periods of instruction at Willows High in areas like creative woods and weight training, and one teaching position each at Murdock Elementary and Willows Intermediate School.

Additional cuts were averted when the teachers’ union gave around $150,000 budgeted for classsroom use, back to the district to avoid layoffs. The money allowed the district to avoid cutting the counseling position at Willows High and to keep third grade classrooms at 20-to-1 teacher-to-student ratios.

“It’s a perfect example of cooperation,” said teacher’s union president Mike Dennis. “We’re all in the same boat.”

“I know it sounds cornbally,” he added. “But it’s true.”

The agreement may have prevented a demonstration at Willows High, where students planned to walk out of school to nearby Memorial Hall at 1 p.m. Thursday afternoon to protest the planned elimination of counselor Tom Bryant.

The administration got wind of the plans, and vice-principal Jerry Smith, in charge of discipline, called the organizers into his office Thursday morning.

Mr. Smith said that he showed the students the new plans to keep the counseling position, as well as telling them that “truancy is truancy,” no matter whether from skipping school or planning a demonstration.

After that, the demonstration was called off.

While each piece of news traveled at various speeds around the school, no students were seen walking out, or gathering in Memorial Hall, at the scheduled time.

Presumably well-informed student body president Alex Ballew said she heard of the plan around 8 a.m. and that it had been called off around 10:45 a.m. Meanwhile, an anonymous caller told the MIRROR of the meeting at 12:15 p.m., and called back at 12:30 p.m. to tell us it was off. Neither planned to participate.

more drama, this time more well-founded

Conflict over conflict of interest
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows — Discussion about the actual proposal before the Willows Unified School District trustees Thursday — to cut four jobs — took a few minutes at most.

But debate raged about conflicts of interest, centered around board member Susan Domenighini, also the principal of Glenn County Office of Education charter school William Finch, which competes with WUSD for students.

“As we face these incredibly difficult choices, we’re at risk of bleeding kids,” said Laurel Hill-Ward. “Finch is the competition.”

But other board members wondered how this applied to them.

Brandon Thompson pointed out that at his day job as county chief probation officer, he received $36,000 from GCOE to pay one of his officer’s salaries.

Alex Parisio noted that his mother-in-law is a teacher at Willows Intermediate School.

And he asked what would happen if the children of chairwoman Sherry Brott wanted to take creative woods, a class being cut from Willows High.

Advising the board, counsel Matt Juhl-Darlington centered warnings on “perceived conflicts of interest” instead of delving the details of what exactly constituted one. He made care to note that he wasn’t “acting as a lawyer.”

In the end, Ms. Domenighini recused herself from a vote on cutting jobs.

territorial fights keep us in business...

GCOE fires shot over WUSD finances
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Willows – Here we go again.

A letter written by Glenn County Office of Education Business Manager Randy Jones has sparked a new flap between GCOE and the Willows Unified School District.

The letter, delivered to its recipients Thursday afternoon and discussed at the board meeting that night, turned the public forum into a public pile-on the county office, questioning their motives and what they were attempting.

“I’m concerned — disturbed — about the games GCOE is playing,” said Willows Unified superintendant Steve Olmos.

“I find it really frustrating,” said chairwoman Sherry Brott afterwards.

Business manager Steven Rudy was “appalled.”

The letter from Mr. Jones seems on its face ordinary, “written to follow-up on [a] meeting with Steven Rudy Monday,” and containing minutes: recommendations for revising an interim budget report.

But after a heated and detailed explanation by Mr. Rudy, Willows Unified staff and board members saw the memo in a much harsher light.

Mr. Rudy’s first complaint was that Mr. Jones had committed a bureaucratic no-no: going over his head.

Mr. Jones sent the letter to Dr. Olmos, Mr. Rudy’s boss, and the school board, Dr. Olmos’ bosses, without carbon-copying Mr. Rudy.

Mr. Jones, reached later, said he did not send a copy to Mr. Rudy because Mr. Rudy is a consultant and “we work with the board and employees of the board.”

But Dr. Olmos says Mr. Rudy is a regular employee — not a consultant.

The letter arrived Thursday afternoon at 3:30, meaning the first time board members saw it was when they walked in city hall Thursday night for the 7 p.m. meeting.

The short notice may have been partially responsible for the sharp tone.

“When I get something like this, I usually sleep on it,” said Mr. Rudy in a brief lull from GCOE criticism. “It makes me more even-keeled.”

School districts must submit two reports on their finance every year, giving a positive, qualified or negative report. GCOE has a month to review each report.

On Dec. 15, Willows Unified submitted its first interim report. On Feb. 15 — a month late — Mr. Jones sent back a brief review.

While listing seven problems for the district to consider and address, he agreed with the district that “a positive certification is appropriate.”

Mr. Jones called his Thursday assessment an “in-between letter” between his first review on Feb. 15 and an upcoming review.
“Because it’s advisory,” Mr. Jones said, “Glenn County Office of Education has the ability to make comments anytime during the year.”

Except that, according to Dr. Olmos, GCOE hasn’t actually received any new information since Feb. 15; why was the information in this current letter not delivered then?

“They go from positive to negative in three weeks,” he said.

And ‘advisory’ isn’t how board meeting participants think GCOE sees the relationship.

“They see it as adversarial,” said board member Laurel Hill-Ward.

Asked twice about the relationship between the two entities, GCOE’s Mr. Jones explained how it was supposed to work: “the county works cooperatively with the districts,” “bringing issues they need to consider to the board’s attention.”

The third time, he briefly commented about the current situation.

“There’s always room for improvement and we can be more assistive,” he said. “Provided they communicate with us.”

At the school board meeting, there was no such brevity on current disputes. The discussion morphed from complaints from the letter into an re-airing of past complaints about GCOE, lasting over half an hour.

Mr. Rudy’s concerns that the Feb. 15 letter was merely a “rubberstamp” rather than a review led Ms. Hill-Ward to ask: “What are we getting for our money?”

And Ms. Brott tied together as “not professional” behavior Mr. Jones sending this letter above Mr. Rudy’s head, with GCOE superintendant Arturo Barrera carbon-copying letters addressed to the school board to the city council as well.

“I don’t understand why we can’t have a good relationship,” she said.

It’s unclear how much the two entities are talking to each other.

Mr. Jones said he was unable to come to the meeting because of family obligations. Around 30 people were in the room Thursday night — including board member Susan Domenighini, a full-time GCOE employee.

But reached Friday at 3 p.m., Mr. Jones said he had “not heard any information about what happened.”

I'm not promising the moon, I'm promising a large spherical lunar object

No incumbent, and no platforms from the challengers yet.

With Tom McGowan announcing Tuesday he won’t stand for re-election, an ex-police chief and a businessman will be vying to fill his seat, from a doughnut-shaped district around Orland.

“These are difficult times,” Mr. McGowan told the board of supervisors. “It’s no time for someone with a narrow agenda.”

For now, Mr. McGowan can rest assured: neither candidate has formulated enough of an agenda to be considered narrow.

Former Orland police chief John Viegas, a registered Democrat, says he’s still getting his paperwork together. Though he first took out papers a month and a half ago, his platform is still one of generalities: “time for change,” “innovative ways to generate new revenue sources,” “a new tax base in this community,” “maintaining growth in the future.”

Former Hay Wagon manager Bill Payer, who took out papers last Tueday, is more of a fresh face. Turning 39 in April, he’s younger than all current supervisors.

A businessman, Mr. Payer is a registered Republican and currently involved with Northern California Septic and Transport.

Mr. Payer has a wife, Anita, grown daughter Aeraseana and stepson Dylan; his stepdaughter Hannah attends Hamilton High.

Mr. Payer cites fiscal responsibility as his biggest issue, saying “you can’t spend more than you can make,” and that both agriculture and “planned growth” were important. As for a platform, Mr. Payer said that he couldn’t be more specific than that.

Neither Mr. Payer nor Mr. Viegas attended today’s board of supervisors meeting. Both said they had work obligations.

Asked whether they would be seeking Mr. McGowan’s endorsement, Mr. Payer replied that though he didn’t know Mr. McGowan well, he “would be looking forward to talking to Tom in the near future.”

Mr. Viegas laughed when asked whether he was still “friends with Tom McGowan and his family,” as he asserted in a Jan. 15 interview. When similarly asked about a McGowan endorsement, he had a simple reply.

“No comment — on or off the record,” he said.

Nomination papers for Mr. McGowan’s seat must be filed with the county elections office by March 12. Election day is June 3.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

local kid's baptism by fire

By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
Willows— Kalen Souza’s baptism by fire is over, almost before it begins.
It’s Sunday at Thunderhill Park, and hundreds of amateur motorcyclists have flocked from as far away as Idaho to race on the four-and-a-half mile long dirt course.
Souza, 16, is a sophomore at Willows High School, living a few miles east of town. He’s ridden motorcycles since he was 4; he rides now in a half-acre lot on his family’s pig farm, and in the hills up by Elk Creek.
But he’s never ridden in organized competition before.
At two on Sunday afternoon, Kalen is at the starting line of the weekend’s last race, sitting among a hundred motorcycles with engines sputtering like chainsaws. Noxious blue exhaust fills the air as parents and spouses stand by on the sidelines.
“I love to live vicariously through my kids,” jokes the father of a fourteen-year-old. The surrounding dads laugh.
Then the noise recedes as a prayer is offered.
“Keep ‘em safe, Lord— that’s what we mostly pray for,” the announcer intones. “We’ll give You the glory.”
The shotgun fires and Kalen kicks off, near the end of his group.
The newcomer
It may be the beginning of the race, but it’s the end of a long weekend for Kalen, one that started for him at half-past-six Saturday morning in foggy, hundred-foot-visibility darkness outside the entrance to Thunderhill. In their pickup, Kalen and his father Don sign a waiver releasing the park for anything that may or may not happen to Kalen on the racecourse.
“Do both parents have to sign the release form?” asks Don.
“Just forge it,” jokes Kalen.
In the dining hall, Kalen and Don navigate through forms while more experienced men, and a large contingent of women, sit around chatting over coffee. The main question is when Kalen will be racing; times are determined by categories by age, gender, experience, and engine size.
Saturday morning starts at nine-thirty with the yea-high tykes — age groups 4 to 6 and 7 to 8. Later racing are groups like “Divas,” women ages 35 and up, and “Gentlemen,” men ages 60 to 75.
Kalen hopes to race with other 12 to 17 year old beginners, a class he thinks he’ll have a chance in. Unforunately, his engine is too big, so he’s consigned to the open beginners’ race, the last of the weekend. Twenty dollar bills change hands quickly for the entrance fees, which run in the high tens of dollars; Kalen just fills in a blank check his employer and sponsor gave him.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything”
That motorcycle racing has its own subculture is apparent upon entering Thunderhill, where rows and rows of trailers sit for the weekend in the parking lot. Kalen is a newcomer to this organized competition, but he’s the second generation in the family. Don was a motorcross and flat bike racer when in his 20’s and 30’s, and gave Kalen at age three his first motorcycle as a Christmas present. They race now, in the hills near Elk Creek — “he’s starting to beat me,” laughs Don.
Kevin Murray, Kalen’s employer and sponsor, is a former and still occasional high-speed racer. He’s been training Kalen every weekend for the last two months.
When the circuit comes around to Willows, he’s planning to leave the repair shop on the course to Kalen and concentrate on his racing.
“I’m going to have to turn down a lot of money,” says Kevin. “But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
He rides off in a 2-foot-high motorcycle, top speed 80 miles an hour. A friend once gave Kevin $20 to ride it from one freeway exit to another. I ask Kalen if he’d do that for a hundred bucks.
“Maybe,” he replies. “But the ticket would be more than that.”
Ruts in the road
Kalen has Saturday off from working at Kevin’s shop, but stays from sunrise until 5 p.m. anyway — freezing in the 45-degree weather, watching what he can of the course and hoping to gather intelligence on the course from other racers. He comes back Sunday around noon, after picking out a pig to raise for the county fair.
He’s nervous; the weather is better, but the course is well-worn, full of a motorcyclist’s eternal demon: ruts.
“Like the second turn off the pavement,” says Kalen, pointing in the distance. “(The ruts) make you want to follow where other people have gone, but you want to have free control. Or you can have one tire in one rut, and one in another, and flip sideways.”
As Kalen dresses, donning a kidney strap and a thin, slippery two-ply suit — “when you hit the ground it moves, instead of taking your skin with it,” he explains — his cheering section gathers to offer advice.
“Good luck and just ride your own race,” says Kevin. “Just do your own thing.”
His goal is to finish the race.
“I fell maybe 20 times”
Kevin and I watch the whole race, trying to catch a glimpse of Kalen. We can’t make him out for sure; the mud covers where his number on the bike, but we find someone making pretty good time that we think it’s him. No such luck, we find out later: Kalen was out after a single lap, injuring his elbow in a crash on the backside of the course. He sits in a folding chair in front of Kevin’s shop, telling of his travails.
“I fell maybe 20 times in that one lap,” recounts Kalen to the sympathetic audience. Kalen. “Four times before I got started. Just ruts, and mud, and boards....I just about (got impaled) on one of those poles, I flew over it...I was just out of control 80 percent of the time. ”
He tells how he went out with a bang: stopped at the lap checkpoint, he kept kicking his motorcycle to get the engine to re-start. When it did, the bike ran through and quickly dispersed a crowd of about 20 people nearby.
Cheering-on turns promptly into consolation.
“You gotta admit, that was a lotta fun,” prompts Kevin.
“It’ll be a lot of fun a week from now,” replies Kalen jestingly. “I’m ready to go home and go to sleep.”
“It was your test, your-,” starts Kevin’s wife Sharon, acting like a doting mother.
“Baptism by fire,” I interject.
Someone says that Kalen’s schoolmates will probably needle him about what happened.
“Just tell them, you try it,” replies Don.
So next year? I ask Kalen. “Maybe,” he replies, saying he’ll need to start preparing three months beforehand.
Well-wishers continue to drift by. Did you finish? No, not exactly. How’d he do? “He learned a lot,” answers Kevin optimistically.
Kalen’s not there yet.
“Mud sucks,” he says, smiling.

We just spent $24,000 on banned items? Whoops..

While schools in fiscal crisis, state rules put over $200k off-limits.
Orland spends $24,000 on banned items anyway
By Sam Bhagwat
of the Valley Mirror
Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
Glenn County schools are facing a budget crisis, with Willows facing a $1 million shortfall for next year.
Meanwhile, districts are figuring out how to spend $482,000 given last year in a block grant for PE, art, and music. Willows and Orland, which received about two-thirds of the money between them, have around $180,000 left.
They can’t use the money thats left to stem a possible hiring freeze or teacher layoffs — though Willows’s superintendant says he would if he could.
But they can’t spend it on nailed, bolted, or cemented-down items — like basketball courts — that are related to arts, music, and athletics, either.
Or, at least, they’re not supposed to: Orland schools used $24,000 for playgrounds anyway.
The entire episode shows a gap between state and local priorities. Grant administrator Nancy Carr said the grant was intended to pay for teacher training, as well as to buy supplies and equipment.
It would not provide for any “building, site, or infrastructure improvements.” Ms. Carr said there were other grants for that purpose, and gave an example in which art supplies were “key” but infrastructure — a track field — was “nice to have.”
Were the restrictions put in place becuase Sacramento had more expertise than local districts?
“I’ve made 18,000 phone calls since January 2006, talking to those who receive funds about good profesisonal development, about what art education is,” she said.
She added that she “would never presume to tell anyone, ‘I know more than you do,’” but that some districts might have “forgot” about art education since 1978, after the passage of Proposition 13.
Enter local priorities: what Glenn County schools want to buy.
Willows Unified eyed using part of its $143,000 to get new gym lockers, but couldn’t.
“They’re nailed to the wall,” explained superintendant Steve Olmos.
Desired basketball courts were also a no-go: cemented in the ground.
Meanwhile, Orland Unified seems to have overlooked the restrictions, using part of its $180,000 at Mill Street and Fairview School on playgrounds, with “fitness clusters” for calisthenics: climbing and swinging on rings. That’s infrastructure — not allowed.
When told about Willows not putting in the lockers, business manager Laura Holderfield hypothesized the difference “could be that (playgrounds) are not attached to buiildings.”
Doesn’t matter, said Ms. Carr. But she noted that the grant did not have teeth: “I cannot take back the money.”
Told of Ms. Carr’s comments, Ms. Holderfield laughed. “That’s kind of what we figured,” she said.
The grant-uncompliant items were only part of the spending. Willows used the money to buy a 30-foot radius, canopied acoustical shell; risers; software for the art-department; musical instruments for the elementary. Orland purchased weight room equipment, portable goals, a volleyball net, musical instruments, and high school art supplies.
And what about cuts this year; would school districts prefer to use that money to stem them?
“Absolutely,” said Dr. Olmos of Willows. “But that’s not an option.”

taking care of the elderly

props to my mother for calling parenthood a benevolent dictatorship as I was growing up. Only now do I appreciate that she was right.


Benevolent dictators guard county elderly
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

It may be the smallest department in the county, but department isn’t really the right word for the public guardian’s office, anyway.

More like fief. Dominion. Or perhaps protectorate.

Though its two rulers are headquartered in a two-room office tucked behind the sprawling Human Resources building, the citizens of this protectorate are scattered from Eureka to Riverside.

The population of 47 isn’t too suitable for empire building. They're elderly Glenn County residents with family unable or unwilling to care for them, and they end their days under the legal guardianship and care of Jeannie Rakestraw and Becky Wunsch. The majority have dementia or Alzheimers.

Call it a benevolent dictatorship.

Usually, that’s parenthood. But “we’re the county mothers,” as Ms. Rakestraw jokingly puts it when Ms. Wunsch makes me tie my shoes before I leave.

The job comes with a dose of affection.

Those with dementia “don’t get worse, they don’t get better,” says Ms. Rakestraw. “It’s a horrible, horrible disease.”

“You can’t help but get close to some of them.”

Ms. Rakestraw and Ms. Wunsch pay bills, manage assets, and monitor care of those under their guardianship. They consult with families when possible, about half the time. Outright starvation is never an issue; MediCal will cover nursing home care costs for those with assets under $2,000. But nine out of 10 people under their care will be cremated, because there is no money for a funeral.

New citizens usually come through referrals by other public agencies, like the police, rather than families.

Sometimes, neighbors will call 911 with concerns about the person. Or, Ms. Wunsch says, when they’re manic they “always think someone’s knocking on the back door.”

“Law enforcement will realize what’s going on.”

But not having a lot of family referrals is okay by them; they realize they’re more of a last-resort safety net.

“We don’t know their (specific) needs,” says Ms. Rakestraw. “We don’t know what their wishes and desires are. Family and friends are better positioned than us.”

“People don’t know about us until they need us. And that’s the way it should be.”

“(People) ask, ‘what’s a public guardian? What do you do, guard the public?’” Ms. Wunsch laughs.

Glenn County’s small population presents some challenges; openings in-county are rare and care mostly generalized, so conservatees end up elsewhere.

“Even though SunBridge is a fine facility,” says Ms. Rakestraw, “It’s not for meant Alzheimer patients. You have to have a secure, locked facility with a perimeter fence to provide psychotropic drugs.”

Larger jurisdictions, such as Los Angeles County, often have specialists dealing only with issues like real property or mental health, said Gene Kent, executive secretary of the state public guardian association.

"In smaller counties, the same person will wear all those hats," said Mr. Kent. "(You've) got to be a jack of all trades."

And more people per worker: Los Angeles County has twice as large a caseload. It also has 60 public guardians.

The far smaller two-woman office here can make for some interesting dynamics – especially because the duo has been working together for 11 years.

“Sometimes when I’m having a PMS day, Jeannie just shines the light on me,” says Ms. Wunsch.

“Don’t print that,” she adds quickly.

in which I talk to a bank bigshot

Foreclosures up eightfold in last two years
By Sam Bhagwat
of The Valley Mirror

Home sweet home no more.

Foreclosures in Glenn County are up sharply, from four in 2005, to eight in 2006, to 31 in just the first nine months of 2007.

The problem isn’t so much that more people are getting into financial trouble, statistics show, but that more people aren’t able to dig themselves out.

Foreclosure proceedings start when banks file a notice of default against a borrower, indicating that they’re behind on their payments. From that point, the homeowner has from four to six months to negotiate with the lender before their house sold at a public auction.

Compare 2005 to the first nine months of 2007. Only about twice as many people received notices of default in 2007 — but eight times as many were foreclosed out of their houses.

Once a homeowner starts getting behind on payments, lenders want their borrowers to have a plan to get back on track.

“We as a lender are always better off with someone in their house as opposed to owning the house,” said Rick Hagstrom, chief operating officer of Tri-Counties Bank. Houses, he says, are a “dead asset;” banks must also set aside extra reserves when sitting on them.

Thus, if a solution looks possible or probable, a lender may wait four or five months after the missed payment to file a notice of default. Mr. Hagstrom gave the example of a couple going through a divorce; a bank would await the outcome for three or four months before doing anything.

But if the buyer seems to have no hope of paying, or is stonewalling, he said, the lender will often file as soon as one month later.

Mr. Hagstrom said that recent foreclosures have been heavily concentrated in suburban areas with “explosive growth” in the last five to seven years. That’s what makes these statistics strange for sleepy Glenn County.

“You have a bit of that in Orland,” said Glenn County Title President Rick Thomas — but nowhere else.

Unfortunately, the MIRROR was unable to reach any defaulting homeowners; those listed in the phone book had defunct numbers.

But the current upswing in foreclosures is unlikely to trigger a sudden batch of bargains on the county steps. Around 95 percent of homes auctioned there will be purchased by the bank.

“Many people show up,” said Mr. Hagstrom, “but few will (outbid) the lender.”