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In the News - Friday, March 26, 2010


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)



MARCH 1995 ~ MARCH 2010

The Kaweah Commonwealth has been telling readers things

they won't read, hear, or see anywhere else for



Village Market burglarized

   There is no doubt that the recent economic woes have lots of folks feeling hunger pangs, but this messy caper that occurred Wednesday, March 24, at Village Market in Three Rivers still has detectives wondering why food was the loot and not just the usual liquor and cigarettes.
   Village Market owners Greg and Nataliya Dixon, as well as a Tulare County Sheriff’s Department forensic team, were summoned after a resident from the adjacent Village Apartments noticed the damage to the front entrance of the Sierra Drive store.
   The roof, the back door, and the front entrance were all heavily damaged. There was lots of broken glass at the front entrance and reportedly about $2,000 in inventory missing.
   The property damage was just some of the evidence at the taped-off crime scene that delayed for several hours the normal 8 a.m. opening of the busy store. Apparently, sometime during the night or early-morning hours, thieves chopped their way through the roof and dropped in for some after-hours pilfering of the half-century-old market’s meat inventory and other items not itemized in the sheriff’s report.
   Evidence at the scene indicates that a vehicle had been parked at the southwest corner of the store whereupon the perpetrators gained access to the roof. A forensic investigator documented some tire tracks in the hope that identifying the vehicle might lead to the apprehension of the burglars.
   Once inside, it appeared that the suspects had no exit strategy. Attempts were made to pry open the heavy receiving doors at the back of the building but to no avail. A pry bar was reportedly left wedged between the steel doors.
   The suspects then turned their attention to the front doors, consisting of aluminum and glass. A can of peaches was found burst open on the floor just inside of one of the doors, its contents splashed on the door and the floor inside.
   One of the doors had evidence of attempts to push or bash it open from the inside to the extent of bending the heavy-gauge aluminum frame. Another peach can was found outside, intact but battered after it had apparently been thrown at the door to break the glass so the thieves could exit from their self-imposed trap.
   Both the front and rear doors could have been easily opened from within had the bandits simply turned a latch (front door) or pulled a chain (rear door). The police report estimated the property damage to be about $30,000.
   Anyone with information in the case is encouraged to call the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department at 733-6218.
   Brian Rothhammer contributed to this story.

Tulare County General Plan 2030 Update:

Public comment period is now open

   In California, there is no more important document than the state-mandated general plan. When a new general plan is released it’s a huge event — an event that in Tulare County will affect the quality of life of every resident, business, visitor, and anyone who is even thinking about coming here — today, tomorrow, and for many years to come.
   The production and release of this current 2030 Update — which is actually four separate documents consisting of 700, 900, 600 and 175 pages, respectively, and exponentially expanding with each round of the process — is a huge step on the road to completion.
   Like it or not, the General Plan will eventually be completed and adopted. The key to the plan’s adoption and successful implementation is how well it balances the needs of its stakeholders and the people who live and work under its jurisdiction.
   And this is why Tulare County residents need to participate in the process. Review the plan, which is available at every library in the county and online, and submit comments.
   To get to the next step in the process, there will be rounds of public hearings and reams of testimony, both written and oral comments that must be incorporated into the text and, eventually, the final version of the completed documents.

  GENERAL PLAN HISTORY: When most general plans in California cities and counties were first being adopted in the 1950s and 1960s, the issues were more clearly delineated. But as each entity completed a general plan, it was apparent that some elements were missing and that new conditions called for new considerations.
   But growth and development in California throughout its 160 years of history has remained a constant. Hence, the guiding principle of all general plans is that they are a blueprint for the future and furnish guidelines as to where and how new development will occur.
Tulare County completed its first general plan in 1964. Since that time, it has employed an amendment process to make changes of which four are allowed each year. But so much has changed in the past 50 years the old plan has become obsolete.
   Planning for the inevitable, Tulare County had the foresight to create a rural lands plan in the 1960s that effectively preserved agricultural lands on the valley floor below 600 feet in elevation; and a foothills management plan to guide development in areas above that 600-foot threshold.

  “What those policy-making documents tended to do in the past was to encourage some of that new growth to go to the foothills,” said Eric Coyne, spokesperson for the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. “Others chose to live in fringe areas near cities in rural zoning that was either adjacent to cities or the boundaries where cities might one day expand.”
   Ironically, Coyne said, it is the fringe areas where there is the most potential for conflict. The folks who live there like their rural lifestyle and now find themselves at odds with expanding cities on one side and ranchers on the other.

  “The new plan seeks to bridge some of those gaps and plans for the development that someday might be extended to those areas,” Coyne said. “The County has worked diligently to strike a balance with the cities, but there are issues on which we must agree to disagree.”

  WHAT’S NEW: In the 2030 update, Coyne said, it would be foolish to ignore the growth projections for Tulare County. The current population in Tulare County is 425,000; in 20 years the experts are predicting that population will be 750,000.

  “We know that 75 percent of that growth will occur near cities but the other 25 percent will be in rural areas and the foothills,” Coyne said.
   To better plan for that growth, the new General Plan includes hamlet and mountain service-area boundaries so development can be encouraged to cluster around communities like Three Rivers. Coyne said it makes sense from an infrastructure standpoint because these clusters will be easier to service.

  “In the old plan when we planned for growth it was a given that the automobile was the key to circulation, and development was haphazard,” Coyne said. “Now we’re looking at alternative modes of transportation like biking, buses, and trains and places where walkable core developments are feasible.”
   New methods of transportation make mixed-use communities possible and that’s good planning, Coyne said. Smart planning leads to more desirable results.
   Among other new elements of the plan is a 175-page climate action plan that was mandated by state legislation and a comprehensive water quantity evaluation. The Board of Supervisors mandated the water analysis because water is the key to the future of Tulare County in both sustaining agriculture and providing for new growth, Coyne said.

  “This plan is the culmination of nearly a decade of work and contains some new thinking about Tulare County’s future,” Coyne said. “But we need to adopt this plan as quickly as possible so that its broad umbrella of policy can apply good planning practices to each of our individual community plans.”
   In a special insert in the March 26 print edition of The Kaweah Commonwealth are Tulare County-created documents that explain in detail the General Plan 2030 Update and the revisions. The deadline for public comments is provided, as are the locations where the public may access the document and the address where the comments should be delivered.

Public comment sought for

backcountry ranger stations

   If you attended the local National Park Service’s planning workshop last month, it became crystal-clear that planning affects every division, department, project, employee, and literally every dollar the federal government spends in the local national parks. The most recent planning effort centers around three remote wilderness ranger stations that less than one percent of park visitors will ever see, let alone visit.
   But these wilderness cabins — Le Conte and Rae Lakes in Kings Canyon National Park and Crabtree in Sequoia National Park — play a vital role in the protection of some of the most pristine wilderness in the lower 48 states. The planning is necessary, and even urgent, because all three of the aging ranger stations are rapidly deteriorating.
   To determine the appropriate action, park planners are in process with an Environmental Assessment. Essentially, this is a report to document what’s needed; that is, the paperwork of choice for a project that is not controversial or expected to have any significant impacts on other resources or the environment.
   This latest EA document was released March 15. Its distribution to interested parties signaled the start of the comment period, part of the public review stipulated by law, to be open for 45 days; comments on this EA are due by April 30.
   Each of the three existing ranger stations was built ca. 1970. The cabins are primarily utilitarian not historical because each existing structure replaced an older one that had deteriorated.
   The summary of the 178-page EA document presents four alternatives. These range from rebuilding from the ground up to removal altogether. The no-action alternative still calls for regular maintenance as needed.
   Alternative three, the management-preferred alternative, is advocating replacing the existing structures with new ranger cabins. With the exception of LeConte, the new stations would be built in the same footprint.
   The LeConte ranger station would be relocated away from sensitive bighorn sheep habitat. At any rate, the project is an excellent reason to strap on a backpack this summer and visit all three sites via the John Muir Trail.
   Comments may be posted online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/seki or submitted via mail or email. For more information, call 561-3131.

It’s official: Zapalac will vie for Sheriff

   John Zapalac, currently the Chief of Police for the City of Woodlake, filed papers this month that will place him on the June ballot for Tulare County Sheriff-Coroner. He will be running against the incumbent, Sheriff Bill Wittman.
   This is Zapalac’s second attempt to unseat Wittman, who has served as Tulare County’s sheriff since 1995.

  “This June, the voters of Tulare County will make choices on many issues,” said Zapalac. “The most important choice they make will hinge on the future of law enforcement in Tulare County.”

  “Our problems are grave,” he continued. “Gang violence has taken root in the rural communities and they export their drugs and violence to the cities.”
   Chief Zapalac has been a member of Tulare County law enforcement for 28 years. He has pledged to fight gangs and drugs, fight early release of criminals, and address juvenile crime, in part by introducing early-intervention programs.
   Voters will decide who will be Tulare County’s sheriff-coroner during the Primary Election on Tuesday, June 8.

California to vote on

marijuana legalization

   California could be the very first state in U.S. history to legalize pot if voters approve a measure that qualified for the November ballot this week. And it could bring the cash-strapped state some much needed revenue.
   But this measure, known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act, is bound to be controversial and puts California once again on the forefront of the nation’s debate over drug laws.
   The initiative would allow adults 21 or older to possess up to an ounce for personal use. Currently, possession of an ounce or less of pot has been a misdemeanor with a $100 fine.
   The initiative would also allow adults to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana per residence or parcel.
   Supporters of the measure say it would allow police to focus on serious crime, undercut Mexican drug cartels, and make it harder for teenagers to buy marijuana.
   Opponents say passage would cause the same kind of social ills as alcohol and tobacco and put more demands on law enforcement.
   The measure will appear on the Tuesday, Nov. 3, Consolidated Districts Election ballot.

Roads and parking lots

resurfaced at Lake Kaweah

   All roadway surfaces and parking areas managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Kaweah are in the process of being repaved and resurfaced. The improvement projects are made possible by The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (stimulus funds).
   Here is the project schedule:
   From Monday, March 29, to Wednesday, April 7, the Horse Creek Campground and picnic area will be closed to vehicle access.
   The Lemon Hill Recreation Area, including the boat launch, will reopen today (March 26) after being closed since March 22.
   The lower road at Slick Rock will reopen to vehicle access Saturday, April 10; the boat launch and parking area remain open.
   The Kaweah Recreation Area and boat launch was closed two weeks ago, but has since reopened to the public.

Lake Kaweah gets solar stimulus

   The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced last week that Lake Kaweah is one of nine park and dam operations in the Sacramento District that will use stimulus dollars to install solar panels. When completed, the new system will furnish nearly half of all the electricity needed to operate at Lake Kaweah.
   The $1.26 million contract to provide and install the solar systems was awarded to Women’s Empowerment Partnership Inc. of Bell Gardens. The contractor was assisted in the procurement by the Small Business Administration’s program that helps disadvantaged or minority-owned firms secure federal contracts.
   Sustainability is one of the Corps’ seven environmental operating principles implemented in 2002, part of an organization-wide commitment to include more enhancement and protection in its projects.

  “These projects are doing exactly what the stimulus dollars were intended to do,” said Phil Holcomb, a Sacramento District operations manager. “It’s providing business opportunity to a small business and allowing local people to do the installations.”
   Other area facilities receiving solar installations are Pine Flat Dam (Fresno County) and Lake Isabella (Kern County). All are scheduled for completion by June.

‘Last Season’ author

releases new book

   Three Rivers nonfiction readers and park history buffs will remember Eric Blehm for his gripping account of the mysterious disappearance of Randy Morgenson while on duty as a Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks backcountry ranger in the award-winning The Last Season (HarperCollins, 2006).
   Eric is back with a book worthy of critical acclaim. In The Only Thing Worth Dying For (HarperCollins, 2010, 375 pages, hardcover, $25.95), Eric leads readers into the secret world of Special Forces soldiers. These men were the first Green Beret team to fight in Afghanistan after 9/11.
   The book chronicles the critical three weeks of the first American military unit to operate in the Taliban-held south of Afghanistan: Operational Detachment Alpha 574. For the first time, members of ODA 574 have broken their silence to tell the story about how they were tasked with seeding a rebellion among the Pashtun in southern Afghanistan.
   But with only a small team, a few donkeys, some battered trucks, and a smattering of local guerillas notable for their penchant for running away at the beginning of every fight, ODA 574’s mission seemed quixotic at best.
   Two extraordinary men, however, formed a quick friendship and were able to accomplish in a matter of weeks what Pentagon planners prayed could get done in half a year.
   One of those men was Hamid Karzai, now the president of Afghanistan who was, at the time, an obscure tribal leader and “emigre statesman” of Afghanistan. The other was Jason Amerine, the West Point-educated captain of ODA 574.
   Eric tells the spellbinding story of how Amerine led his 10 Green Berets past infinite obstacles to the first American victory in the Taliban south — and to the first politically significant victory in the entire war. From being dropped into enemy territory in the dead of night, to Captain Amerine’s quick realization that “There was no master plan for Afghanistan,” to the conventional-warfare-biased bumbling of General Tommy Franks, the bullet-sweating of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the perplexing behavior of CIA spooks, The Only Thing Worth Dying For brings readers into the challenge-fraught world of the elite 11 soldiers who forged a new Afghanistan.
   The book’s account of the role each member of ODA 574 played in the fight for Afghan democracy, including the two team members who gave their lives — the first Special Forces soldiers fallen in the War on Terror — helps readers understand the cost of the war beyond dollar signs and deficits. This book, more than anything, demonstrates exactly what it is that constitutes the only thing worth dying for.
   As a part of his research for the book, Eric personally interviewed President Karzai.

  “The research and writing of The Only Thing Worth Dying For was as much of a revelation for me as it will be for readers,” said the author. “This fascinating story has never been told in any detail, mostly because, until now, the tightly knit Special Forces team kept their silence about what happened in Afghanistan.”
   Jason Amerine, now a major, said, “Eric Blehm was the one writer that I, and men from ODA 574, felt could do right by our team members who lost their lives in Afghanistan by telling the story of our mission as we experienced it. It was this confidence in Eric, his genuine desire to get it right, that encouraged us to work so closely with him in order to tell a chapter of American history that, so far, has not been told.”
   Eric is meticulous in his research and writing. The proof is in the product.

  “It was an honor that the families of the fallen members of the team met with me and blessed this project, their only request being that I tell it like it happened,” said Eric. “Only then did team members let me into their deepest and darkest memories, which is what allowed me to tell their story.”
   When the book was first released in January, Eric was on the talk-show circuit, appearing on cable news shows and radio programs.
   Within a couple of weeks, The Only Thing Worth Dying For was listed on the New York Times bestseller list, where it remained for two weeks.
   Eric’s future plans include writing a second book about another mysterious disappearance in Kings Canyon National Park. He lives in San Diego County with his wife and two children.
   The Only Thing Worth Dying For is available at booksellers nationwide.

Bathtub race is good, clean fun

   The Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce invites residents and visitors to pack a picnic and visit Lake Kaweah tomorrow (Saturday, March 27) and spend the day surrounded by green hills, white sand, granite boulders, a plethora of wildflowers, and snow-covered mountains. If this isn’t enough, then feast your eyes on the ingenuity of a dozen or so “Bathtub Teams” that will participate in a contest to earn money for local causes.
   The teams will represent several groups, agencies, and businesses: Three Rivers Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance, Three Rivers Bread Basket, Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, Pro Youth HEART, Lake Kaweah volunteers, Comfort Inn & Suites, Community Presbyterian Church, Reimer’s Candies, Sequoia Motel, Team Diana, and Three Rivers Bed and Breakfast. Their mission is to convert a cast-iron bathtub into a floatable, steerable vessel using recyclables and downed tree branches.
   Several awards will be presented, such as: Mostly Likely to Sink, Most Creative, and Most Attractive; but the main goal is to build a “boat” that will float across the designated channel.
The winner will win the pot of all the teams’ pledges to donate to their favorite charity.

  “So pack a lunch, bring the children and grandchildren, and come on down for some good old-fashioned fun,” invites Leah Catherine Launey, event organizer and SFCC board member. “Don’t have time to make lunch? Let our local markets and restaurants do it for you!”
   The picnic will also feature other friendly competitions such as sack races, wheelbarrow races, and three-legged races.

Veterans Center to reach out to Three Rivers

By Brian Rothhammer

   The Mobile Vet Center is on its way to Three Rivers. Not only will Christopher Selby (E3, USN ret.) and Guadalupe Sanchez (Lance Cpl., USMC ret.) be offering services to combat veterans this weekend, but they are seeking to hire local contractors (Clinical Social Worker, Psychologist) to provide services here on a permanent basis.
   Chris and Lupe will be easy to spot in their 39-foot mobile outreach unit at the Three Rivers Arts Center on North Fork Drive from 4 to 8 p.m. on Friday, March 26. On Saturday, March 27, they will set up at the Slick Rock Recreation Area at Lake Kaweah.
   The converted RV is fully outfitted as a mobile office and outreach center with two offices, six phone lines, computers, fax, Wi-Fi and, more importantly, Chris and Lupe to provide a better understanding of the Veterans Administration and to help fellow veterans and their families navigate through it all.
   By the tens of thousands, young Americans from all walks of life join the Armed Forces of the United States. Their reasons for joining may be as complex and diverse as the people themselves but by the end of their military training three things take precedent above all others; duty, honor, country.
   For many, their civilian lives and the familiar luxuries that go with them are soon traded for a life unimaginable to any who have not lived it. These days, active duty involves armed combat in distant lands. After their tours of duty are over they rotate back to the States and are expected to simply resume a civilian existence.
   By the late 1970s, there was a developing public awareness of the difficulties faced by returning veterans from Vietnam and southeast Asia. In 1979, the Vet Center Program was established by Congress to help ease the transition to civilian life.
   In 1991, the program was expanded to include veterans of the armed hostilities in Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, and Kosovo/Bosnia. In 1996, World War II and Korean War combat vets were included.
   The year 2003 saw the inclusion of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Family members of the above-mentioned veterans may also receive services from the Vet Centers.

  “This is a new thing,” said Chris of the Rural Health Initiative and its Mobile Vet Centers.
   A fleet of 50 of the specialized units hit the road nationwide in July 1996 with five servicing the Golden State.

  “We are over 80 percent veteran staffed, and we are here to bring services to our guys,” he continued.

  “All a veteran serviceman or woman (or family member) needs to do is come on in and ask for services,” he said. “Veterans can enroll for readjustment counseling and on the same day we can set up a referral to Dr. Middleton, our contracted counselor in Visalia. We are looking for qualified contractors in the Three Rivers/Lemon Cove area to provide additional services.”

  “Computers are valuable tools,” said Guadalupe, “but to me it’s more personal. I’m more of a pen-and-paper kind of guy. It’s about people, not numbers.”
   Lupe’s words echo the statement of the Vet Center website; we understand, and most of all, we care.
   If you are a combat veteran or know of one who may benefit from readjustment counseling services, or for any information regarding the Mobile Vet Center services, call Christopher Selby at (559) 487-5660.

Spring has sprung

on the North Fork

   Uno is the newest member of the Wood ‘N’ Horse Stables family. Uno is so-named because he is the first foal born to his 14-year-old appaloosa mother.
   Owned by Erin Farnsworth, a World Champion member of the Wood ‘N’ Horse Show Team, Justa Native, also known by her stable name “Pie,” gave birth on Monday, March 15, at 1:45 a.m.
   Stable owner Christy Wood had a closed-circuit monitor set up in the paddock so she could keep an eye on the expectant mother from her bedroom.
   Uno is brown with one white fetlock and a blaze face. But according to Christy, his coat will lighten to look more like his appaloosa mother’s as he gets older due to the telltale sign of the white circle around his eyes.


Alfred Martorano
1922 ~ 2010

   Alfred F. Martorano, a former resident of Three Rivers, died Saturday, March 20, 2010, at his daughter’s home in Coal Valley, Ill. He was 87.
   A memorial service will be held at a later date. Memorials may be made to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org). The family is being served by Trimble Funeral and Cremation Center in Coal Valley.
   Alfred was born August 24, 1922, to Dominic and Lena Helen Gagliardi Martorano in Trinidad, Colo. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
   In 1951, he married Mary Ann Otis in Los Angeles. He was a biochemist.
   Alfred was preceded in death by a son, Jamie Martorano.
   In addition to his wife of nearly 60 years, Mary Ann, Alfred is survived by 10 children and their spouses, Frank and Faith Martorano of Ringwood, N.J., Ann Marie and Scott Powers of Santa Barbara, Christine and Jon Martinez of San Diego, Theresa and Brad Keleher of Coal Valley, Ill., John and Janet Martorano of Albany, Joann Martornano of Portland, Ore., Philip and Mary Martorano of Pittsburgh, Penn., Beth and Bryan Smith of Aptos, Joseph Martorano of San Francisco, and Stephen and Lucila Martorano of Santa Barbara; 22 grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; seven sisters; and one brother.
   Alfred’s family invites friends to sign his guestbook or light a candle in his memory at www.trimblefuneralhomes.com.

Virginia Botkin
1927 ~ 2010

   Virginia May Botkin of Visalia died Sunday, March 14, 2010. She was 82.
   Virginia was born June 18, 1927, to Dorval Wallace and Versa May Beamish in Visalia. Because her parents were both deaf-mute, Virginia grew up communicating with American Sign Language.
   Virginia and her younger sister Rosalie (Shiffert) loved to sing and often performed together in the Exeter Lions Club Follies.
   Virginia graduated from Visalia Union High School (now Redwood). In 1949, she married William Franklin Botkin.
Bill and Virginia raised their three children in Exeter. She was a homemaker who particularly loved family gatherings and time spent in Mineral King.
   Virginia was preceded in death by her husband of 53 years, Bill, in 2002, as well as her parents and sister.
   She is survived by son William “Billy” C. Botkin of Visalia, son Michael Botkin and wife Jana of Three Rivers, and daughter Laurie Metz of South Lake Tahoe; aunts, uncles, many nieces, and one nephew.
   At Virginia’s request, there will be no service.
   Remembrances may be made to the Mineral King Preservation Society, P.O. Box 286, Exeter, CA 93221, or a charity of the donor’s choice.

Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior
1920 ~ 2010

  Stewart Lee Udall, former Secretary of the Interior, died Saturday, March 20, 2010, at his home in Santa Fe, N.M. He was 90.
Secretary Udall was born January 31, 1920, in St. Johns, Ariz. He was one of five children raised on a small subsistence farm in the northeastern corner of the state, not far from Zuni and Navajo reservations.
   Udall attended Thatcher Junior College and the University of Arizona. He interrupted his studies to serve as a Mormon missionary in New York and Pennsylvania and as a B-24 tail gunner in Italy during World War II.
   After the war, he returned to finish his degree and attend law school. In 1954, Udall was elected to Congress and held the seat until President Kennedy tapped him to become Secretary of the Interior.
   He served in this position from 1961 to 1969. He was responsible for helping to write numerous pieces of legislation to conserve and protect public lands, including the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Preservation Act, and the Land and Water Conservation Act.
   During his tenure, the National Park Service added four national parks — Redwood, Guadalupe Mountains, North Cascades, and Canyonlands — six national monuments, nine recreation areas, 20 historic sites, and 56 wildlife refuges.
   He was a committed outdoorsman who fought for clean air, clean water, and on behalf of wildlife and wild places.
   In 2001, Secretary Udall was preceded in death by his wife Erma Lee Udall.
   He is survived by their six children and eight grandchildren.


THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
41841 Sierra Drive (Highway 198), Three Rivers, CA 93271
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