Best little weekly on the Grapevine

Submitted: Aug 04, 2007

For reasons unknown to Patric Hedlund, editor of the Mountain Enterprise, and to the Badlands editorial staff, we received a press release on the Enterprise's recent success garnering three awards for excellence in journlaism from the California Newspaper Publishers Association. What is more remarkable, for an CNPA award, the Enterprise in an independent newspaper serving unincorporated towns near and along the Grapevine and in the Los Padres National Forest.

The story gets better. We contacted Hedlund because we were interested in the the paper's reporter staff of "volunteer community reporters." Hedlund informed us that much of the Enterprise copy is written by volunteers from the various communities the 4,000-subscription weekly covers. In fact, one of the paper's chief missions is training good volunteer community reporters to get both sides of the story in the sprawling rural area it covers. The stories are edited by professional journalists on the Enterprise staff.

As a recent example, she told the story of being contacted by a Pine Mountain resident, LaVonne L. Lewis, Ph.D., R.N., a psychologist and an emergency room and critical care nurse. Lewis' husband had discovered a dead bird on her porch, Lewis contacted Kern County about how to deal with the carcass and later contacted the state about how to deal with Kern County. Finally, she wrote the story that appears below. This report, it turned out, was part of a much larger breaking story that Kern County is the leading county in the state for human cases of West Nile Virus, which prompted state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, to request that the governor declare a state emergency in Kern County.

The cause of the independent weekly, fact-based journalism and the promotion civic dialogue around public process is well served by the Mountain Enterprise.

Badlands editorial staff
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7-19-07
The Mountain Enterprise
Tiny Mountain Newspaper Wins Three Statewide Journalism Awards
California Newspaper Competition Draws More Than 4,000 Entries

FRAZIER PARK, CA – The Mountain Enterprise, which serves a cluster of mountain villages in the Los Padres National Forest (a tri-county area of Kern, Los Angeles and Ventura counties) has won three awards for excellence in journalism. A team of volunteer community reporters and the woman who founded the newspaper 41 years ago were all invited to accompany the paper’s owners to the awards ceremony at the historic Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco on Saturday, July 14.

During the 119th Annual Convention of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, The Mountain Enterprise received:
• First Place award for its series telling how mountain residents worked together to respond to a 700-home development project that produced a six-volume Environmental Impact Report without disclosing that the water table was plunging in the area on which it wished to build;
• First Place for its newly launched website (www.MountainEnteprise.com)
• Second Place for its public service series about the deaths and endangerment of mountain residents caused by inadequate ambulance response in an area of Kern County served by a private ambulance company owned by the Mayor of Bakersfield.

Management and ownership of The Mountain Enterprise was assumed by Publisher Gary Meyer and Editor Patric Hedlund in August of 2004. The two are producers of award-winning documentary films and investigative articles, including an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

More than 4,000 entries were received by the statewide newspaper association from over 400 contest participants throughout the state. Newspapers compete with their peers in categories set by size and frequency of circulation.

Context in which The Mountain Enterprise works:

A deluge of industrial and residential developments are poised to explode into the Interstate 5 region known as the Grapevine. The Mountain Enterprise's coverage area has become ground zero for a convergence of deep-pocket interests ready to do battle with environmental litigators, starting this winter of 2007-08.

Tejon Ranch Company's 270,000 acres is the largest contiguous parcel of privately owned land in California. This year, TRC hopes to launch the 23,000-home Centennial project in northern LA County and the 3500-home, seven resort hotel Tejon Mountain Village in southern Kern County. Meanwhile, adjacent developments are lining up applications for about two thousand additional homes..

The area in which these developers wish to build is targeted by environmentalists as a critical habitat to many rare species of plants and wildlife, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Environmental and conservation groups have lined up on both sides of the issues, some casting their lots with TRC's plans, others against.

The Mountain Enterprise has covered the issues as they arise for public consideration, aiming always at the needs of residents and businesses to stay informed about the coming changes, while also examining possible strategies for developing a stronger local economy.

First Place Series
The paper closely reported detailed findings in a series of hearings hosted by the Mountain Communities Town Council and added original reporting about the Frazier Park Estates development proposal.

When community reporter Doug Peters analyzed the housing project’s six volume Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for data regarding water studies, Editor Patric Hedlund and Publisher Gary Meyer worked with him to explain clearly how ground water measurement data had been scattered throughout the report in a confusing manner.

When Peters assembled the data and presented it in a graph published in the paper, readers learned that the water levels in the proposed development area (near Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec) had fallen significantly over a period of 11 years.

Following a Kern County public presentation of the DEIR, the The Mountain Enterprise published the Planning Department’s subtle verbal assertion that, according to the development plan, Frazier Park’s Fire Station 57 would be closed and moved three miles away to the housing development site. After significant and well-informed public input by letter and email during the 45-day comment period, Kern County’s Planning Department withdrew the DEIR and required the developer to perform a complete rewrite.

Best Website

The Mountain Enterprise received a First Place award for “Best Website” within the new site’s first few months of operation. The site, www.MountainEnterprise.com went online in December 2006.
It is a feature-filled yet simple-to-use site, designed for high functionality and user convenience. Back issues of the paper can be searched using a full range of Google-like search tools. It also contains significant additional material in the Community FYI areas. This year, The Mountain Enterprise’s full 42 years of history are being prepared for inclusion in the archive.

Public Service

In addition to the two First Place awards, The Mountain Enterprise’s coverage of ongoing community efforts to bring full-time Advanced Life Support (ALS) paramedic services to the outlying areas of the Mountain Communities received a Second Place award for Public Service reporting.

After Pine Mountain resident Harold Bailey died of a heart attack in 2005 while waiting more than an hour for an ambulance to arrive, The Mountain Enterprise reported the groundswell of community action that persisted to demand improvements by private company Hall Ambulance Service and in standards set by Kern County’s Emergency Medical Services Department.

On May 29, 2007 the Kern County Grand Jury recommended that County Fire Department establish paramedic services in Pine Mountain and that “Kern County Fire Department and private ambulance companies resolve their differences” regarding public safety in medical emergencies. Kern County Fire Chief Dennis Thompson has announced that a third firefighter will be on duty at Station 58 in Pine Mountain during all shifts by August 1 and that his goal is to have firefighters licensed as ALS paramedics on the mountain within the next two years.

Outstanding Reporting

A fourth series by The Mountain Enterprise received the CNPA Certificate of Achievement. The Mountain Enterprise provided in-depth reports about actions of the El Tejon Unified School District (ETUSD) board of trustees, then-superintendent John Wight and Frazier Mountain High School’s principal to offer a Philosophy of Intelligent Design course in early 2006.

While ETUSD’s superintendent provided soundbites to national TV news networks from the campus, The Mountain Enterprise published interviews with the teacher offering the course and the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed with eleven other parents requesting that the course be stopped. During the final days of the class, ETUSD Superintendent John Wight called the Kern County Sheriff’s Department to have publisher Gary Meyer and editor Patric Hedlund of The Mountain Enterprise arrested while reporting on the high school campus—a right and responsibility of the press on behalf of the public, protected by state and federal law.

The paper dedicated a forum for the community’s ongoing dialog about Intelligent Design in its pages for more than a month.

The lawsuit was settled and the superintendent resigned five months later, thirty minutes after being shown a videotape of himself taking gasoline, allegedly for personal use, in six trips within four hours from school district gas pumps, and appearing to pump the fuel into a system of gasoline containers assembled in the rear seat area of his car. When the board president refused to discuss the existence of the videotape and the reason for the superintendent’s sudden departure, a public records request submitted by The Mountain Enterprise secured release of copies of the videotape. The newspaper also published a carefully documented history of serious problems in a previous district where the former superintendent had served. See “El Tejon Unified School District” under “Community FYI” at www.MountainEnterprise.com for those stories.
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8-3-07
Mountain Enterprise

West Nile Virus May Be Here To Stay ... LaVonne L. Lewis, Ph.D., R.N.
http://www.mountainenterprise.com/full.php?sid=1320

West Nile Virus is a growing problem in Kern County. Last month two elders died of the disease in this county. The State of California reports that there are 56 reported human cases of the virus and 38 of those are in Kern County. This makes us the number one county in the state dealing with this disease.

So what is being done about it? From what I have seen, not nearly enough.

On Monday, July 23 a dead bird was found on our Pine Mountain porch by my husband. He followed the recommendations of the State of California. The dead bird was reported at 3:30 p.m. Monday to www.westnile.ca.gov, the website for the California Department of Health Services.

That report was sent by fax to Kern County Environmental Health Services at 3:42 p.m. by an employee identified as Clarence (the last names of state employees are not allowed to be given to the public, he said).

Another state employee then called my husband to tell him to "bag the bird" himself and leave it outside the house. The county, he was told, "would pick it up within 24 hours." He was also told "if the bird is not picked up after three days, just discard it." Much to the dismay of our family, the bird was never picked up by Kern County to be tested.

I called the California Department of Health Services on Thursday July 26 to speak with Lakeyssia (again, we were told that last names not allowed to be given by state employees) at (877) 968-2473.

She checked the computer record to confirm that the report had been logged by the state and that Kern County Environmental Health Services was informed within 12 minutes by fax. Lakeyssia stated that the protocol requires that the animal be picked up within 24 hours. She was quite surprised that the protocol was not followed and that the bird was not picked up.

I then placed a call to Kern County Environmental Health Services and spoke with Mat Constantine at (661) 862-8700. His response was appalling. He said he felt that testing animals was "wasting resources."

Constantine said, "West Nile Virus is here—we already know that—so why test?" He said he feels the money should be used in prevention and education. He stated that there are no funds in the county to have employees driving (sometimes for a couple of hours) to pick up a dead animal. He said sometimes he has to pull people from other jobs in order to pick up a dead animal.

I replied that from an epidemiological point of view it is important to know how many animals might be infected in a given area. That information can then be used to prevent human deaths by finding and treating the source (such as standing water).

I asked him, hypothetically, if they found 35 infected dead animals in an area like Pine Mountain, would he think that would be valuable information? There was a prolonged pause on the phone.

I stated that this would be very valuable information leading to possible spraying to prevent loss of human life.

Constantine agreed, but said he feels there is just not enough money to do it. So the question arises: how many dead and infected animals are not being picked up for testing in our county?

The California Department of Health Services has since called me to apologize for this entire unfortunate situation. The supervisor (Stan) said he is going to call the county to try to seek a resolution, as the State is very concerned about the disease. Kern County seems to be having difficulty acknowledging the magnitude of this situation. The numbers speak for themselves, 38 out of 56 human cases are here in Kern County. What is it our taxes are paying for?

LaVonne L. Lewis, Ph.D., R.N. is a Psychologist and an Emergency Room and Critical Care Nurse. Her family lives in Pine Mountain
----------------------

BREAKING NEWS: State of Emergency Declared in Spread of West Nile Virus

At 10:00 a.m. Thursday, August 2 Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Kern County due to the three-fold increased spread of West Nile Virus (WNV). Of 56 cases of WNV reported in California this year, 38 of them are in Kern County. Colusa and San Joaquin counties were included in the declaration to prevent the spread of this mosquito-borne disease. This year there have been four deaths in California due to West Nile Virus (two in Kern County, one in San Joaquin County and one in Colusa County).

In The Mountain Enterprise issue on the news stands today, Thursday, August 2, see the story about how a Mountain Communities family's efforts to get Kern County 's health officials to test a dead bird found on their deck reveals a dysfunctional system for protecting the public against West Nile Virus in Kern County.

In an August 1 letter to State Senator Dean Florez, D-Bakersfield, the governor said, "I agree that there is a need to address this issue to protect our fellow Californians against an epidemic. To that end, tomorrow I will proclaim a state of emergency within the counties of Kern, Colusa and San Joaquin, the counties hit hardest by the virus. My proclamation will make financial assistance available to the local vector control districts and direct State agencies to take proactive measures to protect Californians from further spread of West Nile Virus."

Senator Florez requested a minimum of $48 million from Gov. Schwarzenegger. The governor responded that he, "will make as much funding as immediately needed to combat this virus at the local level."

The Thursday morning press release said "since taking office, Governor Schwarzenegger has invested more than $15 million to fight the West Nile Virus. California has one of the most comprehensive West Nile Virus surveillance and control systems in the U.S. The state deploys surveillance and detection technology to track specific areas of West Nile Virus activity and alert local agencies so they can target their mosquito control activities."

The story in The Mountain Enterprise revealed that such "surveillance and control" systems were not being fully implemented in Kern County.

Watch The Mountain Enterprise for an update about the specific measures Kern County will now take to protect the public against WNV.

HERE IS THE DECLARATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY:

"Today I'm taking action to help the counties hit hardest by West Nile Virus. My proclamation makes financial assistance available to the local vector control districts and directs state agencies to take proactive measures to protect Californians from further spread of this deadly virus. I will continue to ensure our local agencies have whatever resources they need to fight the spread of this disease," said Governor Schwarzenegger.

For more information about West Nile Virus, visit http://westnile.ca.gov.

Full text of the Governor's emergency proclamation:

A PROCLAMATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY

WHEREAS when compared to the same time last year, there has been a three-fold increase in the number of people infected by West Nile Virus; and

WHEREAS since 2002, West Nile Virus has infected hundreds of people and caused multiple deaths in California, including four deaths this year; and

WHEREAS the recent upturn in foreclosures this year has increased the number of vacant homes this summer with unattended and untreated pools, which has exacerbated the spread of West Nile Virus; and

WHEREAS local governments have made sustained efforts to minimize the spread of the virus, and the state has supplemented these efforts by dedicating over $15 million over the last three years to mitigate the virus's effects; and

WHEREAS despite those efforts to eradicate West Nile Virus, the virus remains a threat, and further efforts to control the spread of the virus and to reduce and minimize the risk of infection are needed; and

WHEREAS the Mosquito Vector Control Association of California, which is composed of 61 local vector control districts, is seeking state assistance in addressing the potential for a West Nile Virus epidemic in California; including a request for funding for surveillance activity and abatement efforts; and

WHEREAS control of West Nile Virus may require immediate actions to limit the population of adult mosquitoes and mosquito larvae, and those actions may include the ground and aerial application of pesticides in urban, suburban and rural areas; and

WHEREAS there are also numerous and significant incidents of Valley Fever, especially in Kern County; and

WHEREAS due to the magnitude of the threat, the size of the affected areas and the need to control the spread of the virus across jurisdictional boundaries, the conditions are beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment and facilities of any single county, city and county, or city, and require the combined forces of a mutual aid region or regions; and

WHEREAS under section 8558(b) of the California Government Code, I find that conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property exist within the Counties of Kern, Colusa and San Joaquin caused by the threat of West Nile Virus.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, Governor of the State of California, in accordance with the authority vested in me by the California Constitution and the California Emergency Services Act and, in particular, sections 8625, 8567 and 8571 of the California Government Code, HEREBY PROCLAIM A STATE OF EMERGENCY to exist within Kern, Colusa and San Joaquin Counties, and hereby issue the following orders:

IT IS ORDERED that the Department of Public Health shall allocate up to $1 million dollars as needed, to local vector control agencies to identify potential mosquito habitat and to treat those areas to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus in the three above-listed counties and other counties identified by the Department of Public Health.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health shall allocate up to $350,000 to local vector control agencies for surveillance purposes to provide an early warning of the incidence of West Nile Virus so that proper control measures can be taken by the local vector control agencies to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus in the three above-listed counties and other counties identified by the Department of Public Health.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health shall coordinate with the State and Consumer Services Agency, the Resources Agency and the Department of Food and Agriculture to develop a plan using best management practices for implementation by the appropriate state agencies for the early detection of West Nile Virus on state-owned properties and appropriate mitigation and abatement measures. Funds in the amount up to $150,000 shall be allocated for the purpose of developing this plan.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health and the Department of Food and Agriculture shall work with the Mosquito Research Program at the University of California, Davis, to determine what resources are needed to further advance the research on the ecology and the epidemiology of West Nile Virus.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health shall work with (1) local vector control districts to utilize their existing power pursuant to Health and Safety code section 2053 to inspect and abate vector or public nuisances, with special emphasis on the removal of standing water in untended pools and containers on vacant property; and (2) the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and local public health departments to notify lenders, realtors, mortgage brokers and others whose responsibilities include managing vacant homes to ensure that pools and other containers that can hold water are drained and maintained empty to prevent the spread of West Nile Virus.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Heath shall implement a supplemental program of mosquito control, including health advisories and technical assistance, in the above-listed counties to assist those counties and the mosquito and vector control agencies within those regions to minimize the proliferation of mosquitoes and to reduce the transmission of West Nile Virus.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all agencies and departments of state government utilize and employ state personnel, equipment and facilities for the performance of any and all activities consistent with the direction of the Department of Public Health in an effort to address and mitigate this emergency, and consistent with the State Emergency Plan as coordinated by the Office of Emergency Services.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health enter into such contracts as it deems appropriate, in consultation with the above-listed counties and the mosquito and vector control agencies within those regions, to provide services, material, personnel and equipment to supplement the West Nile Virus mitigation efforts in those jurisdictions.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the provisions of the Government Code, the Public Contract Code, the State Contracting Manual and Management Memo 03-10, along with all Department of Pubic Health policies, applicable to state contracts, including, but not limited to, advertising and competitive bidding requirements and approvals for non-competitively bid contracts, are hereby temporarily suspended with respect to contracts to provide services, material, personnel and equipment to supplement the West Nile Virus mitigation and abatement efforts in the above-listed counties to the extent that such laws would prevent, hinder or delay prompt mitigation of the effects of this emergency.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health shall consult with the county agricultural commissioner prior to the application of "prohibited materials," as defined in subdivision (p) of section 110815 of the Health and Safety Code, to agricultural land used for the production of certified organic foods.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Department of Public Health work with local public health departments to take appropriate actions to minimize the incidents of Valley Fever in the above-listed counties.

I FURTHER DIRECT that as soon as hereafter possible, this proclamation be filed in the Office of the Secretary of State and that widespread publicity and notice be given to this proclamation.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of California to be affixed this 2nd day of August 2007.

______________________________
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
Governor of California
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For the probable origins of West Nile Virus in the US, see Lab 257 by Michael Christopher Carroll, pp. 28 et seq. -- Badlands

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