Court-Ordered Money Disbursed
Thursday, February 6, 2003
The Robles del Rio Lodge in Carmel Valley recently awarded four Monterey County environmental groups $35,400 for conservation projects.
The cash-$10,000 each to the Sierra Club, LandWatch, and the Big Sur Land Trust, and $4,500 to Helping Our Peninsula''s Environment (HOPE)-is part of a 2002 lawsuit settlement involving water-credit profiteering. The four organizations received the money last week.
In 1999, the county supervisors approved plans to allow the Carmel Valley Lodge to sell water credits to 19 property owners for a record price of $150,000 per acre foot-more than eight times the normal rate. Activist Ed Leeper and his Save Our Peninsula committee immediately filed a lawsuit against Monterey County and Robles del Rio Lodge to stop the water sale.
Four years later, both the lodge and the county reached settlement agreements with Leeper.
The settlement allowed the lodge to sell water credits to the 19 property owners. However it required Robles del Rio to pay $173,000 in legal fees; deposit $13,000 into a trust account to monitor water use by the property owners; "retire" 2.23 acre-feet of water drawn from the environmentally damaged Carmel River; buy water-reduction equipment for the Del Mar French Laundry; and set aside $35,000 for the future purchases to retire additional water.
Because the lodge did not spend the $35,000 to conserve water within the year, the settlement required Robles Del Rio to turn over the cash to Save Our Peninsula, which was charged with distributing the funds for water conservation projects, according to Richard H. Rosenthal, attorney for Leeper. "[Robles Del Rio Lodge] didn''t buy the water credits for the purpose of abandoning the water, the one-year came up, and boom, the money was distributed last week," Rosenthal says.
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Even though African Americans represent only 12 percent of the United States population, they account for almost 38 percent of all reported AIDS cases. In fact, HIV/AIDS is the number one killer of African Americans between the ages of 25-44.
February 7 is National Black HIV/ AIDS Awareness Day, and the Monterey County AIDS Project (MCAP), along with Urban Ragz Apparel Store, is hosting an informational event with free AIDS testing and prizes. Participants who fill out a survey will receive a ten-minute phone card.
The need for outreach, in particular to the Black community is great: the rate of AIDS cases reported in African Americans is more than twice the rate among Hispanics, and eight times the rate for whites. Traditionally, there have been difficulties in dispersing information about AIDS, a subject many are uncomfortable with.
"Culturally, there are barriers in doing outreach to the church membership," says Wayne Johnson, Executive Director of MCAP. "People have difficulty talking about sex in general, and especially words like gay or condoms. We would like to be able to find the secret formula to move past that."
Kim Batiste, African American Outreach Coordinator for MCAP, says the time is now for community leaders to form an AIDS outreach program in conjunction with local ministries.
"The churches want to address the issues but they are scared in the way it could be presented," she says. "We are very tactful. They need to take a chance and let us come speak on a youth night."
"There''s a lot of guilt and shame walking into an AIDS agency," she points out. "You have to get honest about what you are doing so we can assess the risks."
During an assessment, Batiste won''t allow the typical excuses to fly when she''s giving out safe sex advice.
"African American men are in denial," she says. "They tell me they don''t use condoms because they don''t fit them. When I give my presentations to women, I blow up a condom bigger than my head. I tell the women if that doesn''t fit your man, then you don''t want him anyway."
And while abstinence is Batiste''s first message for safe sex, alarming statistics show the need for additional services.
"I believe in abstinence, and I have teenagers of my own," says Batiste. "I tell the churches we would like to think our children are not participating in behaviors that are risky, but the reality is that they are and we need to educate them. The reality is they are not abstaining."
The Feb. 7 event will be from 5-7pm at Urban Ragz Apparel Store, 1776-A Fremont Blvd., Seaside. Call 392-1400 for more information. MCAP offers free and painless AIDS testing, Monday-Friday, at their offices at 780 Hamilton, Seaside. Call for hours 394-4747.
PG Low-Interest Loans Target Senior Citizens
For many senior citizens on fixed incomes, a home repair need is completely out of the question. A leaky roof, a burst water heater, clogged plumbing and faulty wiring are major nuisances that these homeowners have to put up with.
The City of Pacific Grove wants to get the word out that for low-income and very-low-income residents, low-interest and deferred home improvement loans are available. Julie Uretsky, associate city planner, says in PG, most who qualify are older citizens.
"The main reason that these people are seniors over 60 is that generally, if you are a new homeowner in PG, the home prices are so high that you probably don''t meet the income requirements," she says. "A lot of the seniors are living on a fixed income-like $800 a month from social security."
The maximum income allowed to qualify for the loans is determined at 80 percent of the county median income. That currently works out to $30,150 for a family of one, $34,450 for a family of two, and $38,750 for a family of three. For those with much lower incomes, both the interest and principal payments are deferred until the home is sold or the title is transferred.
With only $50,000 left in the pot for this fiscal year, Uretsky says that only one or two loans will be given out in the next few months. But it''s highly likely that more funds will be available come summer.
"People are saying when funds are low like they are now, why should we advertise and get people''s hopes up?" she says. "But I''d rather have a waiting list and come July 1 have people ready to go."
-Jessica Lyons, Brett Wilbur