From the daily archives: Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By Luke Phillips
The Holtville Planning Commission voted Monday to move forward with issuing a business license for Macgalies Wine & Spirits, operated by resident James Horn, but some conditions will have to be met.
Horn is currently looking for office space in Holtville to run book-keeping and records-keeping for a business he’s had in the works for nearly a decade. He plans to import fine wines from Southern Africa to sell nationwide.
Horn already has deals with wine producers in Paarl Valley, South Africa, an area that has been compared to the famous wine-producing region of Bordeaux, France, and warehouse space set up in Los Angeles, but wants to run his office operations out of Holtville.
It has been a struggle for Horn to get a business license in the city because his business is technically a wholesaler, which is not allowed in Holtville’s downtown business district. Horne took the issue to the Holtville City Council in May and has been working with city manager Laura Fischer and the planning commission to work around the technicality. Horn needs the approval of the city before he can move forward with an application for a license from the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Department.
“All I want to have here is a desk, a computer, and a phone,” Horn said. “It’s been very, very complicated and taken a long time to figure out.
The planning commission voted unanimously to move forward with Horn’s license, assuming he is able to meet the conditions set forth including notifying the owner of his office space that he will be running a business that sells alcohol, and agreeing not to store or sell alcohol of any kind at  the office.
Horn says he’s been working to set the business up for the past eight years, and the end is finally in sight.
“After all these years, I’m so close,” Horn said.
Horn says he will be importing only the finest quality wines and isn’t interested in the so-called ‘entry-level’ wines.
“I want to bring quality wines to the Imperial Valley,” Horn said. “I only want the best quality, so I can build my reputation.”
The wine will be imported from De Zoete Inval Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa, a wine producer that he has been working with for the past five years. Horn says he discovered the area, and it’s great wine, after three scouting trips to South Africa. He says it will be the first time wine from the region has ever been brought to  the U.S.
“I’m trying to start a very large operation,” Horn said. “I hope to do well.”
Horne says he already has deals with several casinos and fine restaurants including the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas and several upscale eateries along the coast.
“They’re just clammering to get their hands on this stuff because it’s so rare,” he said.
Horn says if his operation is as successful as he thinks it’s going to be, he eventually wants to move his whole operation to the Imperial Valley, and with the newly built Highway 7 leading directly from the border, Horn says Holtville will be a likely location.
“I’d like to open a Type 9 warehouse, which is something that’s never been done in the Imperial Valley,” he said. “And I’d like to see it happen in Holtville. Why should it be in Calexico or somewhere else? Why not Holtville?”


By Rich Lamance

A missile transport vehicle is escorted by a security forces detail and a UH-1 helicopter on its way to a fixed underground facility. The 341st Missile Wing has 150 missiles spread out over 13,800 square miles. (U.S. Air Force photo)

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. – They call this part of Montana “Big Sky country,” with rolling plains, few trees and lots of, well, sky. It’s also where the son of a Brawley couple calls home, with a job of protecting the U.S. in an area slightly larger than the state of Maryland.
Air Force Senior Airman Michael C. Ruelas, son of Manuel and Socorro Ruelas of  Brawley, is a security force armorer at this intercontinental ballistic missile base, one of only three remaining in the U.S.  The 341st Missile Wing is one of the largest units in the Air Force, with 150 Minuteman III missiles spread out over 13,800 square miles within 15 missile alert facilities, and more than 4,000 military and civilians, making it the largest complex of its kind in the western hemisphere.
Ruelas is assigned to the 341st Security Support Squadron with the responsibility over millions of dollars worth of weapons equipment. “My job here on the base consists of keeping track of $6.1 million worth of weapons, ammunition, and equipment needed to complete our nuclear mission here at Malmstrom Air Force Base,” said Ruelas, a 2004 graduate of Brawley Union High School.
To support such a large operation requires help from just about every corner of the Air Force career specialties.  Everything from admin to chefs, missile crewman, missile alert officers, security forces, helicopter pilots and maintenance, communications, services, medical and dental – it all adds up to one of the biggest support operations in the military.
“Without the work of my fellow airmen and me, we would not be able to fulfill our daily mission in protecting our nuclear weapons,” said Ruelas.
For Ruelas and other airmen stationed here, Montana is either one of the best places to be stationed or one of the worst. Montana can be a haven for the outdoorsman and traveler with major national parks like Glacier and Yellowstone just a few hours away.  For others, being in an out-of-the way place like Malmstrom, with no major metropolis or urban centers nearby, can make a tour seem isolated.
“Life in Montana has been a different lifestyle from back home,” said Ruelas. “The snow and constant weather changes make it hard to adjust to Montana.
Ruelas has been in the Air Force for three years. “I have enjoyed my Air Force career and I plan on having a great career saving my country,” he said.


By Phil Mestomack
(This week, the Weekly-Chronicle’s resident gastronome Phil Mestomack starts the latest summer restaurant survey.  Whose cuisine will reign supreme this year?)
If there’s one thing that is resoundingly American, it’s the steak.  A slab of finely selected beef, sometimes aged to bring out more flavor, fire grilled, usually finished on a broiler to a perfect medium rare.
Accompanied by a simple green salad, a baked potato and a ramekin of au jus, the meal is as extravagant as it is simple, yet so difficult to accomplish well.
This year, the Imperial Valley Weekly – Calexico Chronicle – Holtville Tribune will be in the search for the best steak in the Valley.  There are four restaurants we will be testing, but which ones will be a closely guarded secret.
This survey will focus on one of the more popular cuts available, the Rib eye steak, which is the bovine equivalent to the pork chop.  If a restaurant does not have a rib eye steak on the menu, the closest equivalent will be judged in its place.
All steaks will be requested at medium rare doneness, considered by many to reflect enough cooking time to properly cook the steak, while still retaining enough of the original flavor of the meat.
Criteria for judging –
Meal Quality:  What the meal comes with, how well the steak tastes, and how close to medium rare was the steak will be included in this category.
Service:  How well were we served, how well did the staff serve other customers, how fast requests were dealt with.
Atmosphere:  Does the restaurant environment contribute or subtract from the steak eating experience.
Price and value:  While steaks are traditionally among the more expensive items available on a menu, price will be a factor in determining how well a steak is compared to lesser and more expensive items.  In other words, a good steak at a reasonable price will be valued higher than a really good steak that is really expensive.
With the criteria out of the way, let’s begin.
The Town Pump, located in Westmorland at 200 West Main Street, has a long standing reputation as one of the best restaurants in the northern half of the county.  The restaurant, once located next to the Westmorland Fire Department building, specializes in steaks and seafood, much like steakhouses on the East coast.
Recent changes to the Town Pump include a dance floor and one of the few full service bars north of Keystone Road.
Our party didn’t have reservations, which is what the restaurant prefers, but we arrived early and were seated with little delay.  Within thirty minutes, two very large parties of more than 10 arrived and service was naturally focused on them.  Still, our entrées meals arrived hot.

The meal:  All entrées at the Town Pump come with a choice of soup or salad and a choice of baked potato or French fries.  In addition to the steak, an onion ring, a ramekin of au jus and a cut cucumber were on the plate.  We were also served a platter of roughly cut vegetables and a large scoop of butter.
Towards the end of the meal, a freshly baked loaf of bread was put on our table.
The steak itself was cooked very well.  As it was a bone-in Rib chop, parts closer to the bone were rarer than parts that weren’t.  Still, the meat was tender and flavorful, much as you’d expect from a long established steakhouse.
One issue was with the silverware, though.  The old, very small steak knives took too much effort to get at pieces near the bone.
Price of the meal:  $18.99 for a bone-in rib eye steak.
Atmosphere:  The inside of the dining area is typical of steakhouses, with an modest level of internal lighting, seats that have
Over the summer, the Town Pump will be open from Tuesday through Sunday from 5 pm with no set closing time.  For reservations, call (760) 344-4841



For years the City Holtville has been actively seeking grant funds to make improvements along the Alamo River.  After much preparation and several collaborative efforts with local groups and organizations, the City’s efforts have paid off in a big way. The City of Holtville has been allocated $430,468.00 from the Recreational Trails Program of the California Department of Parks and Recreation for a public nature trail along the Alamo River—a first of its kind in the region.  The Program was highly competitive, receiving 64 applications statewide and awarding to only seven jurisdictions a cumulative total of $2.3 Million.  The City of Holtville is the scheduled recipient of the second largest amount of funding, second only to the City of Santa Ana.

The project will consist of 0.52 miles of a non-motorized recreational trail commencing from the recently acquired Earl Walker Park, at the west entrance of Town, to the City’s future community park site at 4th and Holt Avenues.  The trail project proposes two Staging Areas, each with a parking area, restrooms, bicycle racks, and other amenities.  Two pedestrian bridges across the Alamo River will facilitate access and enjoyment of this natural resource.

This grant is supplemented by other funding that has been received by the City for this project area, including a recent Environmental Protection Agency Grant in the amount of $92,000 funded through the Border Environment Cooperation Commission earmarked to clean up and protect the Alamo River from illegal dumping, erosion and sedimentation.  Both of these successful grants were written by The Holt Group, Inc. a local planning and engineering firm.

Creating a healthy and vibrant community is an important part of the City Councils vision for Holtville.  Council members, Mayor Colleen Ludwig, David Bradshaw, Jerry Brittsan, Richard Layton and Bianca Padilla are excited about the City’s future.  Their decision to apply for grants and other funding opportunities has paid off.  The City of Holtville hopes to have the trail open to the region by the end of 2011.


Attorney General Edmund G. Brown announced today that 3,500 investors, whose holdings in auction rate securities were frozen in the financial crisis of 2008, have recovered $1.4 billion through a settlement the Attorney General hammered out with Wells Fargo affiliates.

“We went to bat for people who believed their investments were like cash,” Brown said, “but discovered after the financial meltdown that they couldn’t get their hands on even a dime of their money for two long years. Now, because of the settlement, they have all of their money back.”

The investors, big and small, included retirees, working families, small businessmen, and charities. Nearly half are Californians, who received $695 million through buybacks of their securities by Wells Fargo.

Many invested in the securities because of assurances they were “like cash” — safe and liquid. The securities turned out to be neither. Unable to sell the securities, investors were stuck.

More than 90 percent of the owners of the securities elected to take the Wells Fargo buyback offer under the settlement.

“Getting this money back takes a lot of pressure off me,” said Johanna Markley of Newport Beach, who suffers from cancer. “I wondered who would fight for us.”

“I’m retired and over 70 years old,” said William O’Brien of El Dorado County. “It was frustrating to have that money just sitting there for over two years and being unable to access it when we needed it.”

“Getting the investment back has helped save jobs in our company,” said Boris Levine, a San Francisco businessman.

Brown said Wells Fargo was co-operative throughout the repayment process and did what it said it would do.

In November, the Attorney General reached a settlement with Wells Fargo Investments, LLC; Wells Fargo Brokerage Services, LLC; and Wells Fargo Institutional Investors, LLC. The buybacks were made pursuant to that agreement.

Auction rate securities are long-term bonds whose interest rates are adjusted frequently at auction. If there are no takers for the bonds, they can become frozen and effectively worthless.

The Attorney General’s Office has submitted a request for dismissal of its action against Wells Fargo in San Francisco Superior Court, signaling the successful completion of the repayments.

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