From the daily archives: Friday, January 14, 2011

Total of 221 Pounds

ANDRADE, Calif. – U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Andrade port of entry on Wednesday discovered 128 packages of marijuana in the gas tank, all four doors, and both rear quarter-panels of a 1999 Dodge Durango.

On January 12 at 4 p.m., a CBP officer encountered the 25-year-old male driver of the Durango accompanied by a 28-year-old female and her minor child when they entered the port for inspection.  The officer determined the vehicle and occupants needed a more intensive examination so he pulled them aside.

During the inspection, officers found marijuana packages hidden throughout the vehicle: 52 packages in the gas tank and 76 in the vehicle’s doors and rear-quarter panels.  Total weight of the marijuana was 221 pounds, with street value of more than $100,000.

The driver and female passenger, both U.S. citizens, were arrested.  The minor child, also a U.S. citizen, was turned over to the custody of a member of the mother’s family.

CBP seized the vehicle and marijuana.


All hospitals in California are now linked to a statewide emergency communication system that will enable them to share information quickly and securely during a disaster, Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health, announced today.

“This communications partnership strengthens our ability to share emergency information between California hospitals and the California Department of Public Health,” said Horton. “It will help us better prepare for disasters and save lives.”

California’s 435 general acute care hospitals are enrolled in the California Health Alert Network (CAHAN), the State of California’s Web-based information and communications system that is available around the clock for state and local preparedness efforts. CAHAN links health and emergency response partners together to provide:

  • Rapid and secure communication among state and local health agencies, hospitals and other emergency response partners;
  • Dissemination of information from state authorities about likely or imminent dangers; and
  • A secure collaborative environment to develop and share information for emergency preparedness planning and response.

With the addition of three San Bernardino County hospitals — Ballard Rehabilitation Hospital, Mountains Community Hospital and Victor Valley Community Hospital — a two-year project to enroll every California hospital in CAHAN is now complete. Nearly 33,000 emergency response partners participate in CAHAN.

C. Duane Dauner, president of the California Hospital Association, said, “In any disaster, timely communication and information is essential. CAHAN is a vehicle that allows this to happen. California hospitals are pleased to be a part of this cooperative network which will assist hospitals and the State in preparing for and responding to disasters and in other ongoing operations.”

CAHAN was used by state authorities to share emergency information during last year’s gas explosion in San Bruno, the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 and wildfires in Southern California in 2007 and 2003, as well as for other emergencies and regular dissemination of important emergency preparedness information. CAHAN participants receive alerts and notifications via pager, e-mail, fax and phone.


Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced that her office had stopped Bioelements, Inc., a cosmetics company operating in California, from engaging in “a blatant price-fixing scheme” in which it prohibited retailers from selling its products online at a discount.

“Bioelements operated a blatant price-fixing scheme by requiring online retailers to sell its products at high prices,” Harris said. “Price manipulation harms consumers, competition and our business community. We will continue to be vigilant in protecting our markets from these kinds of abuses.”

The settlement is one of the first applications of California’s strict, pro-consumer antitrust law banning vertical price-fixing in the wake of a controversial 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that weakened federal law in this area. Vertical price-fixing occurs when companies along the distribution chain conspire to set the price of a product or service at an artificially high level. In California, prices must be set independently — and competitively — by distributors and retailers.

Bioelements markets a line of human beauty-care products under its BIOELEMENTS trademark, offering skin products it claims have quasi-medicinal properties such as reducing wrinkles. These products — known as “cosmesceuticals” because they supposedly merge the attributes of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals — are sold at beauty salons across California, as well as on the Internet.

An investigation initiated by Harris’ predecessor as attorney general, Edmund G. Brown Jr., revealed evidence that since 2009, Bioelements had entered into dozens of contracts with other companies that required them to sell Bioelements’ products online for at least as much as the retail prices prescribed by Bioelements. (There were no express pricing requirements for products sold in person or in shops.)

In doing so, Bioelements violated California’s antitrust and unfair competition laws.

Under the settlement, in the form of a stipulated court judgment signed Tuesday by Riverside Superior Court Judge Harold W. Hopp, Bioelements is required to:

– Permanently refrain from fixing resale prices for its merchandise

– Inform distributors and retailers with whom Bioelements made price-fixing contracts that Bioelements considers the contracts void and will not try to enforce them

– Pay a total of $51,000 in civil penalties and attorney fees.

The 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision Leegin Creative Leather Products, Inc. v. PSKS, Inc. sharply curtailed federal antitrust law pertaining to vertical price-fixing, but did not affect California’s strict state antitrust law. In the last three years, the California Attorney General has sent two open letters to Congress urging passage of legislation reinstating federal safeguards against vertical price-fixing schemes like Bioelements’. In February 2010, the Attorney General obtained an injunction under California law against another cosmetics company, DermaQuest, Inc., which halted a price-fixing scheme similar to Bioelements’.


Chris Furguson
Next Monday, children from all over the country will spend the day known as Martin Luther King Jr. Day away from school, but few of those students, even from schools named after the civil rights leader, recognize or remember much of the controversy surrounding the man and his holiday.
Martin Luther King Jr. was born in January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia to Martin Luther King Sr. and Alberta Williams King.  King Jr. also had an older sister, Willie Christine King, and a younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King.
With formally graduating high school, King Jr. began attending Morehouse College at the age of 15 and graduated in 1948 with a bachelors of arts in Sociology before enrolling at Crozier Theological Seminary and graduating with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1951.  King Jr. eventually received a doctorate in Philosophy in 1955
Influenced by the non-violent ideas of Mahatma Ghandi and Howard Thurman, King began non-violent protests of the Montgomery Bus System after Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, one of the “Jim Crow” laws that was enforced by the city ordinance.  These boycotts would last for more than a year and would lead to the bombing of King’s home.
The boycott ended with a US District court ruling in Browder v. Gayle, ending racial segregation on all public buses in Montgomery.
King would later be a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and participated in several non-violent protests throughout the South.
King’s most famous moment, the March on Washington, took place in 1963.  King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, regarded as one of the finest speeches in American history, provided a rallying point for American civil rights legislation passed in 1964.  King would win the Nobel Peace Prize that same year.
Walter Jefferson, now 74, was a 27-year old man from Maryland when he attended the March and King’s speech.
“That moment changed my life,” said Jefferson.  “Until that moment, I had no idea how passionate someone could be.  It made me look into the situation down there and I didn’t like it one bit.”  Jefferson eventually moved to the South and began volunteering with local groups trying to change attitudes and laws.
In King’s later years, he expressed opposition to the Vietnam War and began a Poor People’s Campaign.  King also expressed an attitude towards “Green Power (money)” in the face of the militant “Black Power” movements of Malcolm X.
On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated by James Earl Ray while giving a speech on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis
King’s non-violent methods were mimicked by other activists, most notably Cesar Chavez in California.
Martin Luther King Day has been celebrated as a federal holiday since Congress established it in 1983, although it did take a veto busting majority (338 to 90 in the House of Representatives and 78 to 22 in the Senate) before an initially reluctant President Ronald Reagan signed the measure into law.
The day was first celebrated on January 20, 1986.
Resistance to the holiday has been pointed.  In 1986, then Arizona Republican governor Evan Mecham rescinded his state’s involvement in the holiday days after coming into office.  In 1990, when the voters failed to pass a proposition to recognize the holiday, the NFL moved the Super Bowl from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA.
Influential rap group “Public Enemy” would also publish a song entitled “By the time I get to Arizona,” in which they describe the assassination of then governor Fyfe Symington for his opposition to the holiday.
Arizona voters would eventually recognize the holiday in 1992.
In other states, the day was celebrated but not named after King.  New Hampshire celebrated “Fast Day” and “Civil Rights Day” before choosing “Martin Luther King Jr. Civil Rights Day” in 1999.
In 2000, South Carolina recognized the day as a state holiday, making them the last to do so in the nation.


By Luke Phillips
Holtville City Council member Jerry Brittsan took the opportunity during the public comments portion of Monday’s council meeting to revive the debate on the city’s utility tax.
Brittsan has been on a personal crusade to remove the tax, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of the city’s operating budget, since last July.  But he hasn’t made much headway with the council.
“Since approximately the middle of July last year, I’ve been attempting to get some information to the council regarding a decision on the utility tax,” Brittsan said. “I specifically requested that it be agendized on the 14th of December. I was not afforded the agenda item tonight, so it is my intention to go the petition route. I need 52 names on a petition to create a ballot measure that would call for the stopping entirely of the utility tax by July 1.”
Newly-installed council member Mike Goodsell agreed that the issue needs to be discussed, but called on the council, and councilmember Brittsan, to take things slowly and carefully.
“Jerry may feel that there’s been a lack of traction on his issue,” Goodsell said, “and I would whole-heartedly jump in and try to help him with traction, but I wouldn’t want to see us jump off a cliff on this thing and find out after the fact that we couldn’t afford to do it very well. It would impact a lot of things, but to be fair to the voters we should probably consider where those impacts would be and weigh out the decision in a measured response rather than just doing away with it in July. He (Brittsan) deserves to have it on the agenda and it needs to be discussed.”
Mayor David Bradshaw didn’t rule out the possibility of cutting the utility tax, but made sure to remind the public that the tax break would come at a cost.
“If that’s what our public wants we can certainly do that,” Bradshaw said. “If we want to vote for less taxes I think that would be an easy vote, but we have to think about what we’re going to cut. We can either do layoffs or stricter code enforcement, or cut our public health and safety. There’s not really much you can go after. I do think we need to take a longer, harder look at it.”
Brittsan agreed that cutting certain services in the city would be a tough job, but he argued that the public simply can’t afford these extra services during the current economic downturn.
“Understandably we can’t afford it,” Brittsan said. “But this tax has been in place for 20 years. We’ve got people that are on fixed incomes, we’ve got senior citizens, we’ve got people on unemployment, we’ve got people on disability that are trying to scratch out a living. We’ve got businesses that are trying to scratch out a living and we’re imposing all kinds of things on them as far as parking and such, and then on top of that they’ve got to pay the utility tax on all their utilities. I don’t know about anybody else in this room, but I pay 30 to 40 dollars a month on utility taxes, and I’m on a fixed income. I think that it’s time that the city thought more of the residents than they do of spending this money.”
A large crowd was gathered in the council chambers Monday to watch the proceedings and one of them took the opportunity to speak in agreement with Brittsan. Shane Brady, owner of Holtville Mini Storage on Main Street, made his feelings clear to the council and says he has no sympathy for them.
“I told myself that I was going to keep my mouth shut, but I can’t do it,” Brady said. “They (the city) gave me three months to make a $780,000 improvement and my question to you is how does it feel? How does it feel to run a city that’s going to go bankrupt when they take the utility tax away? It’s a financial hardship, but you guys impose financial hardships through the city manager and the city planner on a regular basis to my business and other businesses in the community. How does it feel? How does it feel to come up and say we have no money? Because that’s what you guys did to me and the only way that I got you to stop was to get a lawyer. So I can understand your position about not putting a financial hardship on the city, but you guys, you city council people and our city manager and our city planner put financial hardship on our businesses. I come to one city council meeting and once I’m done with that council meeting, three weeks later I get a letter that says I’m no longer permitted in the city of Holtville, that I’m a nuisance to the residents of Holtville and I’m going to be fined $500 a day and six months in prison. You’ve got to be kidding me. So now we’re going to do away with this utility tax and I find no sympathy. Even though it’s going to hurt my business and other businesses, I don’t find any sympathy that it’s a hardship for the city. Turnaround is fair play I guess. Tit for tat. I don’t like to see it, but that’s the way I feel. I love Holtville, I invested my money in Holtville and I know today that since I spoke I’m going to get banged for it, I’m going to get in trouble, I’ll get another letter issued. I just opened Pandora’s Box. So you guys run a city without any money, because that’s what you’re doing to me, saying run a businesses without any money, because I’ve got $780,000 worth of upgrades to do. I guess that’s all I have to say.”
After a round of applause from the crowd, Mayor Bradshaw responded to Brady’s comments.
“To answer your question about how it feels, it feels like we’re a city in the state of California,” Bradshaw said. “I don’t know if you understand how the laws work, but we don’t impose jail time. These are state laws. Those aren’t our laws, they’re state laws. If you want to be a city and get money in California you have to comply with all these things. Those aren’t things that we sit around and think up.”
Brady responded in turn, saying “I would expect that in the small city of Holtville that sooner or later we’d take a look back at our state government and our federal government and say no more grant money. Because all that grant money has too many issues attached to it, too many regulations that come with it. I would say no we don’t want your money from the state, we don’t want your regulations, we don’t want your mandates, we don’t want your purse, we don’t want the money if there’s anything attached to it. “Goodsell pointed out that many of the regulations in the city are only guidelines from the state and are not mandated.
“Code enforcement is a choice of this council,” Goodsell said. “Don’t let anybody tell you different. It was my first indoctrination that I got when I met with the city manager. She turns out to be the bad guy, (city planner) Justina (Arce) turns out to be the bad guy, but we give them the direction to enforce these codes. We have a choice whether or not we’re going to go along with guidelines from the state. Not every city is going out there with the fervor that Holtville currently is with code enforcement. And that is well known by businessmen that have businesses in other cities in the valley. We don’t need that reputation to continue to the determent of business here.”
City Treasurer Pete Mellinger also weighed in on the issue and urged the council to move slowly.
“I have been a resident of this town now for 50 something years and I can assure you as your city treasurer that if we were to suddenly reduce and do away with the utility tax this year, or within the next two or three years, you will see a dramatic reduction in the things that are available in this city and it will not be able to recover any of the things that we’re getting used to that are good for the city,” Mellinger said. “As your city treasurer I want to emphasize that this sudden approach of starting a petition to do away with the tax is going to have a devastating effect upon the treasury of this city. I hope that you will think and look into it very closely before you do anything as drastic as that. I’m willing to look at it, but I can assure you, even before you look at it, that the current utility tax is the only thing that keeps this a decent city to live in and a safe city to live in. We need to be very careful how fast we move on this. Jerry seems to think that we’ve been moving to slow on this, but I think we need to move very, very slowly or we’ll have something happen here in Holtville that will be very detrimental to us all.”
The council eventually decided to bring the issue back as an information item at their January 24 meeting and directed City Manager Laura Fischer to bring them more information. Fischer pointed out that she had already provided the numbers on the utility tax, but said she would try to gather more details.
“Right now I’m hearing that you want information, but I don’t have your ultimate goal,” Fischer said. “If your ultimate goal is to eliminate the utility tax and for me to tell you what effect that’s going to have,  I could probably give you just a little more detail, but this is pretty much the information that you’ve been requesting.”
After the public comments portion of the meeting, a crowd of residents gathered outside of city hall and had a lot to say on the issue.
“I think we have bloated salaries,” said one man who refused to be identified because he fears reprisal from the city. “We have at least three people on the payroll that are making more than $100,000 a year.”
Another resident who also refused to give his name said that he thinks the city’s fire department is over-funded and is a prime target for cuts.
“I live across the street from the Fire Department and I see them driving around in their fleet of SUVs. I think we have more fire engines in this city than we do houses. I remember when the whole force used to be volunteers,” he said.
The same man also had some choice words for city manager Laura Fischer.
“I think we need to do a serious discussion, but without her sitting in there. We don’t need her and we don’t need her spite. If I stood up and gave you my name I’m sure she’d be over to fine us for something. It’s just a bunch of B.S. that they’ve pushed on us for 15 years.”

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