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In the News - Friday, December 12, 2008


—See this week's FRONT PAGE (PDF)

The reason for the season:
Christmas tree Santa visits Three Rivers

   Yes, Three Rivers there is a Santa Claus. If after all these years anyone out there still doubts then maybe last weekend they should have visited the Three Rivers Mercantile.
   What happened there was nothing short of a miracle on Sierra Drive. Here’s some of the back-story that’s bound to be one of the most heart-warming good deeds of this holiday season.

  “I really didn’t know a thing about what was happening until one of the employees told me what was going on two days later,” said Mike McCoy, owner of Three Rivers Mercantile. “But a real life Santa came calling Wednesday night [Dec. 3] and apparently, after the store was closed, bought up all the remaining Christmas trees, donating them for each customer who might come by to pick one up.”
   McCoy said the number was around 120 trees of the almost 200 that came in from Oregon in this year’s annual order. The deal was negotiated with the Three Rivers Volunteer Firefighters who annually man the Christmas tree lot and receive the profits from the sales.
   According to John Hanggi, spokesperson for the volunteer group, the unexpected gift translated to thousands of dollars being donated to the local firefighters’ coffers. But the best part was seeing the smiles on the customers’ faces when they went to pay for their tree and were told that Santa had already taken care of the bill — as much as $75 or $100 for the tallest trees on the lot.
   A volunteer, who wanted to remain as anonymous as the donor, said this was a nice gift for the community and will help a lot of local shoppers stretch their holiday gift-buying budget in these tough times.

  “These trees weren’t the inexpensive smaller Scotch pines, but grade-A spruce and Douglas fir, some topping out at eight feet,” said McCoy. “We realized after doing this for the last couple years that our Three Rivers customers want a bigger tree, one that looks good against a two-story window or in a room with a higher ceiling.”
It didn’t take long for the word to spread around town that something wonderful was happening at the Mercantile. The inventory was gone by Sunday afternoon.
   Most of the Christmas tree shoppers made additional donations, and the contagious giving spread joy all around town.
“I can’t wait to see what happens next year,” said McCoy. “Some folks are bound to wait on the sidelines a day or two just to see if the Christmas tree Santa might return.”
   A couple things are for certain. The spirit of old St. Nick is alive and well, and random acts of kindness are always in season in Three Rivers.

Scenic highway talks

are a hot topic

   In Three Rivers, a community known for its town meetings, push a hot button and they will come. The proposed scenic highway designation for Highway 198 has proven to be that hot-button topic and, since the ordinance was introduced at the November 3 meeting, there has been no shortage of folks who want to weigh in on a local issue that is certainly among the more important of our time.
   Another round of two meetings held Monday, Dec. 8, at the Three Rivers Historical Museum and the Memorial Building, respectively, played to packed houses and left the county’s lead planner, David Claxton, feeling relieved and a little more confident that out there somehow, somewhere, is a Kaweah Scenic Highway ordinance. Not just any ordinance, Claxton said, but one that can work and let live in Three Rivers.
   Claxton admits there’s lots of meaning in the “work” part of that statement because most of the opposition to the new scenic highway ordinance is coming from a cadre of business owners, most of whom own property along Sierra Drive.

  “I think in general those meetings were very productive, and I was pleased with the turnout of the business owners at the Chamber meeting and the number of residents who came later that evening to attend the Town Hall,” Claxton said. “It’s part of a process and, on Monday, we had an opportunity to deal with most of the misconceptions.”
   The misconceptions among the business owners, Claxton said, stem from trying to answer questions like these:
   What’s going to happen to my business if my place burns to the ground? Am I going to be able to rebuild in the same footprint or do I have a new setback requirement to deal with? How much will it cost, and who is actually going to review my construction plans?
   When the Chamber meeting began, the chairperson called for a show of hands of those opposed to a scenic highway, and nearly every hand in the room shot up. At the conclusion of the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, another informal vote was called.
   This time it was more like one-half in favor and one-half opposed. Claxton, who presented at both meetings, calls that progress in the right direction. One business owner said some statements made by Glenn McIntyre, owner of Gateway Restaurant and Lodge, were pivotal in the Chamber meeting and may have influenced other business owners to change their minds.
   The Gateway, at least the frontage part of the building, pre-dates every other business in town, and has always had to deal with a 10-foot setback from a highway that can sometimes in summer be backed up and extremely busy with tourists entering Sequoia National Park.

  “When the planner [Claxton] explained that I could be granted an exception because of the limitations of my site that was pretty much what concerned me,” said McIntyre. “There are some obvious benefits from a scenic highway for businesses if more visitors can find Three Rivers on the map.”
   But even more important than more tourists, some homeowners and business owners wondered out loud if County of Tulare officials and Caltrans can be trusted to do what’s right when it comes to the rules and the exceptions. A number of attendees at both meetings pointed out that most of the regulations are already on the books yet the problem of compliance has been compounded by the county’s inconsistent enforcement.
   Claxton assured everyone that the corridor protection plan ordinance as it is written is only a draft. There will be ample opportunities, he said, to make changes even if that means drawing boundaries excluding the central business section of Three Rivers.

  “I think we all need to see how this process plays out,” Claxton said. “The new ordinance doesn’t add any new important regulations but it will streamline planning for Three Rivers. That’s a win-win for everyone.”

Valley man confesses

to local burglaries

   When Lindsay police detained Juan Carlos Melendez on Thursday, Dec. 4, on suspicion of possessing stolen property, they might have solved two recent Three Rivers burglaries that, when they were discovered, appeared to have only a slight chance of ever being solved. The big break in the case came when Melendez, 30, confessed to burglaries at Three Rivers Drug and The Thingerie.
   In those recent burglaries that occurred during the weekend of October 11 and 12, there were no signs of forced entry and, according to one investigator, the perpetrator knew exactly where to look for a spare key to enter the nearby Thingerie, a popular thrift store operated by the Three Rivers Woman’s Club.
   Even more remarkable was the fact that drugs and valuable jewelry items were left untouched. What was reported missing was $300 in cash from the drug store and $50 from the thrift shop.
   After Melendez confessed, he was charged with two counts of burglary, a drug charge, and violation of a probation related to a DUI. He remained in custody earlier this week and was scheduled to make a preliminary court appearance related to the charges.

Sleigh fuel

   When Santa’s hybrid sleigh switches from reindeer power to gasoline, it’s a comfort to know that the price of fuel remains in a downward spiral. Gas prices have dropped below $2 per gallon in Three Rivers for the first time since 2004.

Weekly tip

   Wash your hands often. This is a proven method that aids in the prevention of a cold or the flu. Colds and flu are more prevalent in the winter because people are gathered indoors together. In addition, the air is drier, both indoors and out, which dries nasal passages, making them more susceptible to viruses.

Speaking Out:

About those gas prices
by Ken Friesen
   Want to make someone hate you really quickly? Tell them you wish gas prices would go back up, and you think we should ask our legislators for a $1.00/gallon consumption tax on gasoline.
   That should lose you a few friends. Yet this seemingly illogical proposal might make a lot of sense right now, as America tries to move rapidly toward energy independence and a fossil-fuel free future.
   What is the logic of paying more for gas when we may be in the midst of a recession, and the only good thing on the horizon is the possibility of cheaper gas prices for months or years to come? With $4/gallon gas, consumers were starting to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, driving fewer miles, and generally becoming more energy conscious.
   The last time that happened was in the 1970s (1973 and 1979), when oil embargos hit and we were faced with dramatically higher gas prices. Do you see the trend here? Oil prices up, we use less oil; oil prices down, we consume more oil.
   The 1980s and 1990s, dominated by low energy prices, brought us to our current dependence on foreign fossil fuels and the rapid increase of carbon dioxide in our skies. In 1973, we imported 30 percent of our oil; by 2006 we imported 60 percent.
   Between 1985 and 2005, the average fuel economy of American cars and light trucks actually went down. Higher oil prices have been the most effective way of making our country increase energy efficiency and reduce reliance on foreign oil.
   It happened in the mid 1970s and was beginning to happen over the last two years. It is likely that if cheap gas prices continue, consumers will be lured again into buying larger vehicles and driving more.
   Why a $1/gallon gas tax now? We need to make our economy more green, reduce global warming, and become more efficient and competitive with Europe and Asia. The tax would fund clean alternatives to fossil fuels, especially wind and solar, plug-in hybrids, all-electric cars, light rail, high-speed rail, and second-generation bio-fuels that actually help the environment.
   Both presidential contenders were united on the need to move toward energy independence and tackle global warming. A gas tax would make certain this would happen in the most efficient manner possible. The money would go straight from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.
   Why a $1/gallon gas tax now? We are very familiar with $4/gallon gas prices, and it would be easier to live with higher prices now than having to try to adjust once again to high prices in the future. To have any chance of locking in the positive effects of high gas prices, we need to keep prices high enough for change to take effect.
   European countries tax gas at a much higher rate than in the U.S. Consequently, prices throughout most of Europe and Japan are nearly double those of the United States, and those countries, not surprisingly, are much more energy efficient and are promoting alternative energy much more than the United States.
   Why a $1/gallon gas tax now? With the economy hurting and job growth at a standstill, what the country desperately needs is an effective and environmentally-responsible way to jumpstart the economy. The billions the $1/gallon gas tax would raise would go a long way toward starting new industries and getting the economy moving again.
   Why a $1/gallon gas tax at all? No one likes more taxes. But a tax like this has a proven record: we often tax a perceived social problem and use the funds toward a solution. Taxes on cigarettes fund anti-smoking campaigns. Taxes on alcohol fund drunk-driving awareness campaigns.
   A tax on gas would work immediately toward ending two persistent problems related to fossil fuel consumption: global warming and dependence on foreign sources of energy. And the tax is equitably borne out: you pay based on how much you consume.
   Will it be easy or popular? Of course not. But the best examples of America’s history are those where we see past our own selfish interests and strive for a greater good. In this case paying $1/gallon more in gas will help us, our children, and many generations to come live lives less dependent on foreign sources of energy and more dependent on renewable energy.
   So go ahead and make your neighbor angry. Call for a gas tax now!
   Ken Martens Friesen teaches political science and history at Fresno Pacific University. He drives a car that runs entirely on waste vegetable oil.

Special delivery

   Airman First Class Sam Basham of Three Rivers is currently stationed at Manas Air Force Base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Last week, he and his fellow airmen received special treats celebrating the Christmas season from Three Rivers Girl Scout Troop No. 988/Service Unit 15.
   Ruk Martin, troop leader, and her Girl Scout troop assembled special treats, Christmas cards, and Christmas decorations. The girls especially enjoyed the task because it was for someone they actually knew and had grown up with in Three Rivers.
   On Thursday, Dec. 4, Sam received two big boxes filled with DVDs, PlayStation 2 games, snacks, cookies, candy, and personal care items. The boxes included enough for six to eight people so   Sam will be sharing the gifts with fellow airmen currently onboard or scheduled to arrive next week to start their deployment cycle.
   Back at home, Sam’s parents, Bob and Mo Basham, will be delaying this year’s Christmas celebration until his return to the states, which will be about December 28 at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash. During his leave, an open house will be scheduled in Three Rivers so that family and friends can stop by and visit with Sam.
   Sam attended Three Rivers School and is a 2007 graduate of Exeter Union High School. He joined the Air Force in August 2007.

Costco to host booksigning

by six regional authors

Saturday, Dec. 13, 11 am-4 pm
Visalia Costco

   California historian and author Bill Secrest will be among several local authors appearing at the Visalia Costco on Saturday, Dec. 13, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. He will be available to sign California’s Day of the Grizzly and some of his other titles along with several other local authors including John Bergman with his just-released The Southern San Joaquin Valley: A Railroad History and Three Rivers’s own Jay O’Connell, author of the critically-acclaimed Train Robber’s Daughter. Other authors onsite will be Ron Hughart, Chris Brewer, and Robin Michael Roberts. Come by Costco and visit with these authors and view what promises to be an unsurpassed collection of historic photos, documents, and artifacts, and... GIVE THE GIFT OF LOCAL HISTORY! All books will be sold at Costco’s discounted prices. SEE TWO BOOK REVIEWS BELOW:

Book tracks extermination

of grizzlies in California
by Jay O’Connell
   In California’s Day of the Grizzly, William B. Secrest — a longtime California historian perhaps best known for his books on California outlaws and badmen such as California Desperadoes and Perilous Trails, Dangerous Men — takes a fascinating look at a powerful animal so prevalent in the state’s early history that, well... look at our state flag and that pretty much will tell you.
   In one respect, the subject matter isn’t really a departure for Secrest because the grizzly bear, like so many of the outlaws Secrest has written about, was by turns feared and admired, hunted and persecuted, captured and even exhibited.
   By examining the relationship between those who flooded into California after statehood and the Gold Rush and the great grizzlies who roamed the hills and plains of what had been a sleepy and isolated Mexican province of cattle ranches and little else, Secrest provides an entertaining California history lesson.
   Readers will be amazed and even horrified by the numerous firsthand accounts of grizzly bear attacks, culled from the diaries of early explorers, miners’ journals, contemporary newspaper accounts, and many newly discovered letters and records. Of course, there are many stories of attacks that aren’t strictly first-hand accounts, owing to the fact that dead men tell no tales.
   Of course, the grizzlies ended up losing more battles than they won. Hunted for meat, sport, and out of fear and ignorance, grizzlies were attacked mercilessly. Secrest’s book is ultimately a narrative of the extermination of the grizzly in California.
   While the book is brimming with grisly accounts (yes, the pun is intended) of bear attacks on people, perhaps even more horrifying are the numerous accounts of bear and bull fights. During the early decades of California statehood, brutal public spectacles of “bear baiting” and bear-and-bull fights continued to be popular.
   Rather than offering condemnation of the practice through the point of view of our modern sensibility, Secrest instead shows how a few contemporary journalists railed against these brutal and inhumane practices, although much of the criticism levied against the practice was for the rowdiness it promoted on the Sabbath or the danger of escaped animals wreaking havoc.
   One Sacramento newspaper editor, John Morse, raged against “those disgraceful exhibitions known in California circles as a ‘bull and bear fight,’” until the city council finally voted a ban on Sunday fights in 1856. Morse was livid, however, when the exhibitions continued on different days of the week. Nonetheless, progress was made and eventually there were no more bear and bull fights in California.
   As dangerous and feared as the grizzly was in early California, it is perhaps surprising the number of bears that ended up in captivity simply for amusement or exhibition. One such exhibitor in early California was a trapper, hunter, and failed businessman named James Adams who became, in many ways, the P.T. Barnum of bear men.
   Indeed, as we learn in California’s Day of the Grizzly, it was that famous circus promoter who is credited with giving Grizzly Adams his nickname.
   Secrest skillfully weaves the story of Grizzly Adams, the real man, into his narrative of the grizzly bear in California. It will probably surprise many who only know of him as a television and movie character that Grizzly Adams actually was a real person.
   It may also surprise many local readers where one of the last grizzly bear hunts in California occurred. The book ends with an account, offered by Alfred Hengst in the Visalia Times Delta, which tells of what may very well have been the last grizzly killed in California, trapped and then shot by Jacob Rice in Three Rivers in 1926.
   Secrest points out that “indications are that Mr. Rice’s bear was the last documented grizzly killed in California, although there were occasionally other reported sightings.”
   In closing, Secrest laments the passing of the California grizzly: “When the hunters, poisoners, ‘sportsmen,’ and animal promoters were through, the great bears had been totally annihilated, killed off... exterminated!”
   Secrest concludes that “The grizzlies were too big — too big in size, too big a threat to stockmen, too big a danger to families. But was annihilation the only answer? Surely, there was a humane way to deal with an animal that, basically, asked merely to be left alone.”
California’s Day of the Grizzly is an entertaining, thought-provoking and wonderfully illustrated volume, and readers will never look upon our state flag again without a renewed appreciation for the grizzly it bears.

Book review: On the trail of

the Valley’s historic rails
by Jay O’Connell
   Also featured at the Costco gathering of local authors is the brand-new book by local railroad historian John Bergman. This beautiful hardback volume contains over 250 photos, maps, and diagrams, including 16 pages of photos in full color. It makes an impressive gift for history buffs and railroad enthusiasts alike.
   As described in the book jacket, the southern San Joaquin Valley was a vast, mostly uninhabited desert until the arrival of the railroads. Blessed with wonderful soil, a climate to grow almost anything, and the Sierra mountains water supply waiting to be developed, the Valley’s potential could not be realized without a way to transport its products.
   When the “Big Four” pushed their Central Pacific Railroad to Goshen and continued with the Southern Pacific destined for Needles and Los Angeles, the Valley was opened up and farmers and ranchers came to the newly-founded railroad towns. With the arrival of the second railroad, the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley, competition drove freight rates down and more farmers were attracted to settle in the fertile south San Joaquin.
   The Southern San Joaquin Valley: A Railroad History, Fresno to Bakersfield tells the story of the arrival of these railroads and of the many short-line railroads and branch lines that were built to reach and connect all parts of the Valley to the nation’s railroad grid.
John Bergman grew up on a farm near Tulare and developed an early interest in local history and especially in railroads. His fascination with railroading led to his employment for two summers with the Santa Fe Railway in Bakersfield and an additional three years with the Southern Pacific as a brakeman in the early 1960s.
   Leaving the railroad for better working hours to spend time with his young family, John has spent more than 35 years in the banking industry, but all the time retaining his interest in railroads through historical research and photography.
   John has previously written A History of the Sunset Railway, published by the Kern County Historical Society, and A History of Reedley’s Railroads, published by the Reedley Historical Society. He has also had articles published in various historical society magazines and publications and taught a course at Fresno Pacific University with his son-in-law on “Railroads and the Development of the West.”
   He looks forward to sharing his love of railroads and their role in Valley history with shoppers at Costco this Saturday, Dec. 13, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.


SFCC sponsors Hero Appreciation Months

   The Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce, along with more than 40 participating member businesses in Three Rivers and Lemon Cove, will present the Chamber’s third annual Hero Appreciation Months from January to March 2009. This special program recognizes local and national public safety and defense personnel during the three-month period with special events held in their honor and special discounts offered on their behalf.
   All current and former firefighters, EMS personnel, law enforcement, peace officers, armed services personnel, and military veterans, together with their families are invited to enjoy the region.

  “The Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce organized these Hero Appreciation Months as a way to recognize the everyday heroes who put their lives on the line to keep our country and our communities safe,” said Leah Catherine Launey, Chamber director and event organizer. “This is really a way for the Chamber and its member businesses to give back to those who give their all to keep us safe.”
   New this year, the Chamber’s popular Heroes Months’ 20-percent discount cards will be available for pick-up beginning this month. Each discount card is good for the entire three-month period and provides heroes and their families with discounts for lodging, dining, services, and more.
   Members of the interagency Hidden Fire crew who were issued pre-authorized discount cards during fall 2008 are encouraged to return to Three Rivers to enjoy their discounts and any scheduled events.
   A special event with speakers and refreshments, free and open to the public, will be held on the fourth Friday of each Heroes Month at 7 p.m. at the Chamber office. The Friday, Jan. 23, event will honor current and former firefighters, EMS personnel, and their families.  The Friday, Feb. 27, event will honor current and former law-enforcement personnel, peace officers, and their families, and the Friday, March 27, event will honor active and former members of the Armed Forces, veterans, and their families.
   During the January to March period, the Three Rivers Library will exhibit displays honoring heroes; the students at Three Rivers Union School will write poetry or essays; and the TRUS after-school program will feature local heroes and their contributions to the community. In addition, area churches will include special prayers for heroes at worship or prayer services, and the Three Rivers Historical Society Museum will display documents and exhibits on the role of local heroes.
   For more information, contact Leah Catherine Launey, event organizer, at 561-4270, or the Sequoia Foothills Chamber of Commerce at 561-3300 or toll-free: (877) 530-3300.

Hero Appreciation Months participants
   The following restaurants, retailers, service providers, and lodging establishments will offer discounts of 20 percent on merchandise, services, and lodging to qualified card bearers during January, February, and March 2009:
   Wuksachi Lodge, Sequoia Gifts & Souvenirs, Buckeye Tree Lodge, Comfort Inn and Suites, Gateway Restaurant & Lodge, Kaweah River Guest Ranch, Lazy J Ranch Motel, Log House Lodge B&B, Plantation B&B, Rio Sierra Riverhouse, Sequoia Motel, Sequoia River Dance B&B, Sequoia RV Ranch, Sequoia Village Inn, Sierra Lodge, Three Rivers B&B Three Rivers Hideaway, Western Holiday Lodge, Anne Lang’s Emporium, Reimer’s Candies & Gifts, Pizza Factory, River View Restaurant & Lounge, Sequoia Cider Mill Restaurant, Serrano’s Mexican Restaurant, We Three Restaurant & Bakery, Handweaving by Nikki, Ja Nene Natural Body Products, Nussentials, Rosemary’s Remembrances, Three Rivers Drug*, Three Rivers Mercantile*, Totem Groceries & Gifts*, Advanced Therapeutic Massage, Kathryn Dunaway Esq., Kaweah Marina*, Launey Mediation, River of Life Massage Therapy, Rocky Springs Barn & Breakfast, Sequoia Sightseeing Tours, St. Anthony Retreat*, The Carpenter, Wood ‘N’ Horse Training Stables.

Bold = Discount card pick-up location (cards may also be obtained at the SFCC office inside the Three Rivers Historical Museum)
* = Discount restrictions or specific items excluded

Vying for the county crown

   Ten young women, all of whom are local students, will compete to see who will be Miss Tulare County 2009. Tracy LaMar of Three Rivers, a student at College of the Sequoias, is among the 10 finalists who were selected to compete through an audition process.  

  The Miss Tulare County Pageant will be held Saturday, Feb. 21. It is sponsored by the Visalia Charter Oak Lions Club, and each contestant will receive a scholarship. Three Rivers has produced two Miss Tulare County winners in recent years.

The colors of the season

are red and GREEN

   There is more trash generated each year during the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s than any other time of the year. As much as one million extra tons of solid waste is generated nationwide each week during the holiday period.
   Here are the top five recommendations to make this a more environmentally-sensitive holiday:

  —Give a green gift by making sure it contains recycled material. Products made from recycled materials include furniture, shoes and clothing, and even fireplace logs.

  —Use your imagination while wrapping gifts. Reusable gift boxes can substitute for wrapping paper, as well as fabric, cloth shopping bags, the comics section, and so much more.

  —Don’t think trash; think recycling. Save boxes, packing materials, ribbons, and wrapping paper for next year.

  —Donate or recycle old electronic items. Donate or recycle TVs, computers, and cell phones when replaced by a new one. It is illegal to throw e-waste in the trash.

  —Trees can keep on giving. Plant or donate a living tree. Cut trees may be recycled.

   These stories and so much more in the weekly print edition of The Kaweah Commonwealth.


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
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