What the county is talking about this week

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Protest Unrest

The California State University Employees Union, which has been in negotiation for several months with the CSU system for a 2.5-percent pay raise, held a spirited rally outside a bargaining session July 26 at Cal Poly. Union members from as far away as Bakersfield banded together outside the Cal Poly administration building with signs and screams. "We're all getting involved!" said Cal Poly employee John Price. The groups were still in negotiation as of press time.



Arroyo Grande wreck kills three

A car accident in Arroyo Grande on July 20 killed three childhood friends - Gabriel Gonzalez, 20, Jessica Jacome, 19, and Manuel Medina, 18. Driver Andre M. Quintanar Sr., 19, and Lupe Castillo experienced moderate injures in the crash.

The accident occurred on Oak Park Boulevard, south of the intersection of Meadowlark Drive, when Quintanar swerved to avoid a small animal in the road. The gold Honda went sideways and was broadsided by a Mini Cooper traveling in the opposite direction. Jasmine Axelson, the driver of the Mini Cooper, suffered minor injuries.

CHP Officer Scott Peterson said drugs and alcohol were not factors in the crash, and Gonzalez and Castillo were not wearing safety belts. Medina and Quintanar were wearing safety belts, although it's unknown whether or not Jacome was, said Peterson. However, he added, in this type of accident it's unlikely that a safety belt would have saved Gonzalez's life.

The CHP is recommending to the district attorney that Quintanar be charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

"In an accident that results in death and the driver survives, vehicular misdemeanor manslaughter is always considered and recommended by the investigating body," said Peterson.



Messina receives three years probation

On July 25, Steven Messina was sentenced to three years probation for an incident that occurred on March 19, when he hit a police officer with his vehicle in Paso Robles.

The incident occurred after Messina's father called the Paso Robles police asking for help bringing his son to safety. Messina had recently lost both a friend in a car accident and his job. His father, also named Steven, previously told New Times that he called police because he believed his son was drunk and possibly suicidal.

When police tried to stop Messina, 29, he struck an officer with his vehicle and the officer shot him. Messina suffered injuries to his hand and arm and the officer suffered bruises to his leg.

According to the district attorney's office, Messina was originally charged with attempted murder, assault on an officer with a deadly weapon, hit and run with injury, driving under the influence with injury, driving under the influence with a prior over .08, and felony battery of a peace officer. Messina agreed to a plea bargain so he could be released from prison. He got credit for three months time served and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor DUI with injury, no contest to the felony battery charge, and no contest to felony hit and run with injury.

"I believe the police had no right to shoot him," said Messina's attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu. "He's going to be suffering for the rest of his life and he should be compensated."



First case of West Nile found in SLO County

The San Luis Obispo County Health Department has reported this year's first case of West Nile Virus in the county, discovered in a dead crow in Atascadero on July 6. Last season, the first confirmed case was found in late July, so we're about three weeks ahead of last year, said Curtis Batson, director of Environmental Health Services for the county.

Only one human case was reported in SLO last year, although there were about 800 confirmed cases throughout California. The virus, which is spread across long distances by migratory birds and around smaller regions by the local mosquito population, is usually very mild in the first year it appears.

Cases of infection are generally much more severe in the second year, Batson explained. Two years ago, for example, there were only seven human cases of the virus in the state.

Bird infections are a leading indicator of what's to come, but horses may be the most susceptible to the disease. Among humans, 80 percent of those infected will not even report any symptoms. In severe cases, most common among people over the age of 50, the virus can cause inflammation of brain tissue.

There is no cure for West Nile Virus, but a vaccine is available for horses. The best way to protect yourself from the virus is to drain standing water - in bird baths, ponds, and kiddie pools - to eliminate opportunities for mosquito breading.

The most common form of mosquito abatement used in this county is a larvicide, a naturally occurring bacillus very specific to mosquitoes that poses no danger to fish or humans. The granular larvicide is applied to bodies of stagnant or slow-moving water, including Laguna Lake, as well as other lakes and drainage ditches around the county. An adulticide - a spray used against adult insects - is the least efficient last resort, and almost never used in SLO County.



LOCSD members drop request for restraining order

With the vote to approve bids on sewer construction behind them, Los Osos CSD directors Richard Le Gros and Stan Gustafson have decided to drop their case against Cayucos resident and Los Osos businessman Richard Margetson. Court documents indicate that their request for a restraining order was made for the explicit purpose of excluding Margetson from voicing his opinion during a critical decision-making period.

A concerned citizen and local real estate agent, Margetson has long followed the intimate fiscal details of the Los Osos fire tax and contentious sewer project. On April 6, Margetson attended a CSD finance meeting and took to the podium during public comment to ask the board not to accept the construction bids that came in 46 percent above any estimate.

Addressing the finance committee, and specifically the proponents of the downtown sewer project, Margetson told them, "If you accept these bids, I will call in all my IOUs... ."

At that point, Gustafson and Le Gros reportedly felt as if they were being personally threatened. Le Gros stated in his request for a court order that he "perceived [Margetson's] comment as chilling, aggressive and a threat to me and my family's safety."

What the board did not hear, according to Margetson, because he was cut off, was that he would call in his IOUs, "just like I called in the troops on the fire tax."

Gustafson, in his request for a restraining order, expressed similar concerns: "I believe he was threatening my life."

On July 19, however, Le Gros and Gustafson dismissed their case against the active citizen, admitting that Margetson "did not harass, attack, strike, threaten, assault, hit, follow, stalk" them.

Through the declaration of his attorney, Karol Vogt, Le Gros even acknowledged that he was "seeking the injunction for the critical time period during which he, as a director of the Los Osos CSD, would be voting on the controversial Los Osos sewer project."

Because the CSD had voted 3 to 2 in favor of proceeding with construction, "[Le Gros] believes the need for the injunction is past."

Attorney Mark Goldowitz, of the California Anti-SLAPP Project, traveled down from Berkeley to defend Margetson in this case. The Anti-SLAPP Project is committed to defending citizens against SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).

Minority CSD Director Julie Tacker maintained that there was never any basis to the board members' claims, but that their behavior sends a clear message: "If you speak out, we will fight you."

Keith Swanson, who has also followed the issue closely, suggested that the two directors "are threatened by intellect more than anything else."

Sewer backers celebrated a victory on Tuesday when Superior Court Judge Douglas Hilton tentatively ruled against an initiative that would allow Los Osos voters to decide on the treatment facility's location.



Accessibility award ceremony to feature Tony DeBlois

Each year the Paul Wolfe Accessibility Advocacy Award is given to a person, group, or business in San Luis Obispo County that goes out of its way to create a barrier-free world for people with disabilities.

This year's awards ceremony will feature Tony DeBlois, a blind, autistic pianist who has Savant Syndrome. The 29-year-old DeBlois, who lives in Randolph, Mass., has been playing the piano since he was 2.

The award's selection committee, which is made up of representatives from organizations who serve people with disabilities, has chosen a winner from suggestions made by the public, Chambers of Commerce, cities, and the county of San Luis Obispo.

The award ceremony will take place on July 30, from 4-6 p.m., at the Clark Center in Arroyo Grande. Info: 489-9444.



Clarkson dies

Longtime local radio broadcaster Danb Clarkson died Monday night of kidney problems. Clarkson most recently of KVEC 66 was 66.



This week's news was compiled and reported on by staff writers Abraham Hyatt, John Peabody, and Jeff Hornaday. Managing Editor King Harris contributed.

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