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In the News - Friday, April 30, 2010


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

—JAZZAFFAIR 2010 photos (PDF)


Sheriff's candidates

highlight town forum

  At the top of the May agenda for the Three Rivers Town Hall meeting is a candidates’ forum featuring Sheriff Bill Wittman (incumbent) and John Zapalac, Woodlake Police chief (challenger). The meeting will be held Monday, May 3, 7 p.m., at the Three Rivers Memorial Building.
   The two candidates are both tough on crime but have some basic differences in law enforcement styles and philosophies about being Tulare County’s top cop. Sheriff Wittman is hoping that his experience of more than a decade as county sheriff will be a deciding factor in the Tuesday, June 8, election.
   Wittman, who attended high school in Tulare and College of the Sequoias in Visalia, served as a City of Visalia policeman for 25 years prior to joining the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department. He has served as Sheriff since 1995.
   Under Sheriff Wittman the department has completed a modernization program that has seen a drop in agricultural-related crime and what his supporters describe as a successful war on gangs and drugs.
   In 2008, Sheriff Wittman was instrumental in coordinating a multi-agency task force that eradicated record amounts of illicit marijuana growing in the foothills of Tulare County. Since Wittman has been the county’s sheriff, the department has garnered more than $50 million in law enforcement grants.
   Zapalac attended school in Santa Ana in Orange County and attended COS and Chapman University before earning a master’s degree from Fresno Pacific. He continued his advanced education while he became a career cop. He served as a Tulare County Sheriff’s Department officer from 1981 to 1997, which included a stint as a Three Rivers resident deputy.
   One of the basic differences that Zapalac sees in his candidacy is that he would like to promote a higher standard of education for the department. He has served as the chief of the Woodlake Police Department since 1998.

  “I’m not looking for a new job, I have a good job” Zapalac told a Three Rivers audience at his last appearance at a candidates’ forum. “But I would like the opportunity to reduce crime in the county just like we have done in Woodlake.”
   In Woodlake, Chief Zapalac’s proactive programs for dealing with youth and gang members has had a significant impact on reducing crime. His Camp Zap, an overnight camp he operates for area youth at his Lemon Cove ranch, has helped lots of local youth make the right choices to avoid becoming entangled in the legal system.
   The Three Rivers audience will have some tough questions for both candidates. For example: How do they propose to deal with the ongoing trespassing and river-use issue that seems to become potentially more explosive with each summer season?
   Underscoring that issue is the response time on 911 calls for Sheriff’s deputies that can be an hour or more or, on some occasions, not until the next day. Chief Zapalac has said that response time is totally unacceptable; Wittman has responded in the past by assigning more deputies locally during certain periods of the tourist season.
   One possible solution that’s been offered is that during the peak visitor season, Three Rivers could have two resident deputies that would spell each other. Of course, that would take more revenue to pay for an additional officer.
   The money could be made available from Three Rivers transient occupancy tax revenue that currently is being used elsewhere in the county. Three Rivers generates approximately 75 percent of all the transient occupancy tax that is collected in unincorporated Tulare County.
   Also on the evening’s agenda is a presentation by David Mills on the activities of the Community Services District (CSD). Mills, a current board member, will also answer questions on the Alta Acres project and other water quality-related issues.
   Bill Haxton, who is the director of the annual Concert on the Grass, has requested time to announce details about a performing arts camp to held in June in Three Rivers. The classical music camp will bring world-class soloists to Three Rivers, a series of concerts, and some students and visitors too, he said.
   For information on the upcoming meeting, which is sponsored by the Three Rivers Village Foundation, call Marge Ewen, 561-0123.

Whitewater rafting season underway

  Although a few rafting companies have tried to get a jump start on the local commercial season, the sporadic April trips have been made mostly during less than ideal conditions. With temperatures flirting with the 90-degree mark for the first time this year, that really big snow will finally start a more dramatic flow down the Kaweah drainage.
   By Mother’s Day, look for lots of rafters and some tricky whitewater that should be ideal for rafting as peak daytime flows should eclipse 2,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) with some late afternoon water approaching 2,500 cfs.
   The companies permitted to conduct commercial trips under the County of Tulare’s whitewater rafting ordinance are listed as follows: All-Outdoors Whitewater Rafting, American River Recreation, Adventure Connection, Gold Rush Whitewater Rafting, Kaweah White Water Adventures (No. 1 and No. 2), Whitewater Voyages, and Whitewater Connection.
   Private rafting is legal but is subject to all trespass and applicable county laws. Only experienced rafters should attempt to raft the Kaweah River; all others should do so in the company of a professional guide.
   Even when the water appears to be safe for river swimming, don’t even think about it. The current water temperatures remain in the upper 40s and can immobilize a swimmer in less than a minute.

Smash-and-dash crime

is wakeup call for all

  For folks attending last Friday’s TRUS softball/baseball games, there was a cruel dose of reality for those who take their security in Three Rivers as a given. That’s because while dozens of local parents and fans from visiting Sequoia Union School were watching games nearby someone was breaking into a car parked on the street by the driveway of the First Baptist Church.

  “It was bizarre that my window was smashed and they took my briefcase that was on the floor,” said Esther Zurcher of Three Rivers, who was the victim of the crime. “My purse was on the front seat but they never saw it under a jacket.”
   There was little of monetary value in the stolen briefcase but lots of paperwork, notebooks, and cosmetics important in keeping a Visalia music teacher tracking on a busy schedule.
   Others who were at the game expressed disbelief when they heard about the crime. Several parents said their keys and other valuables were in their cars that could have easily been targeted.
   The smashed window will cost $200 out of pocket to repair, Esther said.
   Deputy Al Brockman filed the incident report. A witness reported seeing a white Toyota pickup with two male occupants leave the scene about the time the smash-and-dash occurred.

  “It’s crazy,” said Sue Sherwood, superintendent of the 160-student Three Rivers School. “But the time has come that we all need to secure our valuables and lock our vehicles.”
   Sue said other than some sporadic vandalism, there really hasn’t been any recent crimes reported at or near the school.
   Deputy Brockman said there are a lot of desperate individuals out there so everyone needs to be vigilant to avoid becoming a victim. Anyone who has information in this case or any crime may call the Sheriff’s dispatch, 733-6221.

Subway opens in Woodlake

by Brian Rothhammer

  City officials hailed the grand opening of Woodlake’s new Subway restaurant on East Antelope, just east of Valencia Blvd., on Thursday April 22. Subway brings a variety of fresh sandwiches and other nutritious alternatives as well as more job opportunities.
   Owner Cody Goswick looks forward to serving the community and praised his relationship with the City of Woodlake.

  “I couldn’t have asked for better hospitality,” he said of the gracious hand extended by Mayor Raul Gonzales and the people of Woodlake in making the opening a resounding success.
   Woodlake resident Sarah Medrano had managed the Farmersville location since it opened and is now manager of the sparkling new store. Twelve new jobs have been created with Goswick and Medrano optimistic about the location’s future growth.
   All sandwiches are made to order on oven-baked bread and are hot or cold, per the customer’s preference. Subway also offers personal-sized pizza, salads, flat bread, wraps, and kids’ meals ideally suited for a school lunch break. Naturally, they have drinks and sides that include apple juice, fresh brewed iced tea in various flavors, milk, and sodas.
   Catering services are also available as are vegetarian platters. The new Woodlake Subway even offers a selection of quick, fresh breakfast items for a healthy morning boost.
   The Subway brand was ranked as the number-one franchise of 2010 by Entrepreneur magazine. There are 32,791 Subway restaurants in 91 countries.

El Rancho Gradne and

los suenos grandes

(big dreams)

by Keith Merritt

  Though some of our neighbors may speak a different language, our dreams for ourselves and our children are much the same. That’s what Pam Lockhart of Three Rivers discovered when, in 2007, she took over management of the largest outdoor market in Tulare County.
   The El Rancho Grande Swap Meet takes place every Sunday at Road 152 and the Tulare-Lindsay highway. There are pony rides, snow cones, nursery stock, produce of all kinds, and a lot of original Mexican food served at old-fashioned cantinas (and the swap meet is proud of their kitchen’s 100-percent approval rating with the County of Tulare Department of Environmental Health).
   Spending nearly every weekend there, Pam has discovered “a world of seriously hardworking, respectful, close-knit families.” Impressed by the way the families work together and respect one another, and having a daughter of her own in college, she decided as one of her many upgrades at the swap meet to initiate a scholarship program to benefit employees and students of vendors.
   The El Rancho Grande Swap Meet is a place where vendors come to sell their wares and, thanks in part to this scholarship program, their children come to dream big dreams. Those dreams are pictorially represented by a large mural in a “green area” newly developed at the swap meet. The mural depicts traditional Mexican folk dancers, transitions into farm workers picking oranges, and concludes with two graduates in caps and gowns.

  “The mural focuses on the rich heritage, shows the journey to new opportunity, and stars education as the key to more opportunity,” explained Lockhart.
   To apply for scholarships, students submit letters about their experience working at the swap meet and their educational goals. The letters reveal hardworking children rising at the crack of dawn, loading produce for long days of outdoor vending, and enduring freezing cold Tule fog in the winter and the searing heat of summer.
   While many of their peers may be enjoying their weekends off, these students are working hard. This determination also shows in their grade point averages, which are impressively high.
   The success stories inspired Lockhart to turn the grounds of the swap meet into a park so working conditions would be improved. She began to offer scholarships to give new hope to those who feel like their family can’t afford the cost of college. Federal aid programs only cover a fraction of the cost of higher education, and there is a continuing need to raise funding for El Rancho scholarships.
   In the future, the park will feature a wall that lists scholarships given to memorialize family members or friends, and there will also be memorial plaques on benches.

  “This group is working hard, and facilitating the educational process will only elevate society as a whole,” said Pam. “The opportunity and process is deeply rewarding.”
   The renovation of the grounds has been led by Pam’s husband Greg Lockhart with the assistance of local artisans Jean Roy and Zach Zachary and many family members, who all have contributed their expertise, artistic talent, and/or hard work. Pam considers the work to be a large and challenging art project and strives to make it the best it can be, so that all who visit and work there will benefit.

  “To follow the Swap and be a part of the fun, become a fan on Facebook,” invited Pam. “We are listed as El Rancho Grande Swap Meet. To participate in funding scholarships in the name of loved ones or organizations, contact us at 471-6624. We award scholarships in $250 increments, but 100 percent of any donation will be directed toward these scholarships.”

Rain can't stop the

running of the Roping

by Nancy Brunson

  Prospects for the 60th annual Three Rivers Lions Team Roping looked bleak after the heavy rains of Wednesday, April 21. Jim and Karen Waggoner, the stock contractors for the event, received several phone calls inquiring as to whether some or all of the ropings would be cancelled, but the arena was dry enough Thursday morning to get things underway.
   After low turnouts on Thursday and Friday, attendance began to improve and sign-ups for Saturday and Sunday almost eclipsed last year’s totals. When all was said and done, over 1,200 teams roped at this year’s event.
   High money saddle winners were Matt Alger (2.5 & under) and Jordan Warrack (3 & over). Dozens of barrel racers and pee-wee ropers competed as well, and 147 youngsters scrambled after some pretty frisky pigs.
   Live music Thursday through Saturday night kept the excitement going into the evening, and competitors and spectators alike enjoyed the picture-perfect weather throughout the weekend. Local volunteers and students earning community service hours turned out in record numbers to help the Three Rivers Lions Club keep services running smoothly.
   Difficult economic conditions have had a negative impact on roping events throughout the western states over the last year, but the Three Rivers Lions Team Roping is a favorite for many of the participants. Plans are already underway for 61st annual event.
  Nancy Brunson is an organizer of the Three Rivers Roping.

Notice of Death

Levi Gilton
1982 - 2010

   Levi Gilton, a former resident of Three Rivers, died Monday, April 26, 2010. He was 27.
   Levi was currently living in Hutchinson, Kan. He is survived by his wife, Kim, and two daughters, Saundy, 6, and Neva, 2.
A fund to assist Levi’s family has been set up at Valley Oak Credit Union.
   A local memorial service is being planned, date and time to be announced.

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
MAIL: P.O. Box 806, Three Rivers, CA 93271
(559) 561-3627 FAX: (559) 561-0118
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