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Newsletter, TV station heads allege meddling by Yountville Veterans Home

A newsletter for residents of the Veterans Home of California has gone dormant after more than seven decades, and its editor is pointing the finger at overseers of the state-run retirement community in Yountville.

The Observation Post, which began publishing shortly after World War II, has been on hiatus since January, according to editor John Rickman, who blamed the state Department of Veterans Affairs for what he called a pattern of suppressing controversial stories and delays in printing and shipment.

“We’ve basically been robbed of our magazine,” Rickman, who has directed the Observation Post for 2 ½ years, said during a recent interview.

Rickman’s complaints have been echoed by the former director of another Veterans Home media outlet – KVET, a closed-circuit television channel for the more than 830 residents of the nation’s largest retirement home for former troops and their spouses. Jac Warren stepped down as the station head in January after a dispute over airing a discussion of California’s law allowing doctors to give lethal drugs to terminally ill patients – a right CalVet does not allow residents of its eight Veterans Homes to exercise on the premises.

According to Rickman, CalVet oversight of the Observation Post tightened in 2013 when the agency gave the Yountville home’s administrator the power to deny publication. Among the articles Rickman alleged were suppressed or slowed were reports on the uses of the home’s morale, welfare and recreation fund, which pays for on-campus leisure programs, and a Rickman-penned column about the Islamic religion.

After the arrival of Joshua Kiser as the Yountville home’s spokesman in 2016, Rickman said, the Observation Post’s printing schedule grew increasingly erratic and tardy.

“For eight months, we have been three or more weeks late,” said Rickman. “My July Fourth issue came out on July 27; my Black History Month issue never came out at all. It was very frustrating. Four of those months it was because (Kiser) forgot to get in a purchase order for the paper (to) Minuteman Press in Napa. The other four times, he didn’t even give me an explanation.

“Eventually myself and Dan Goodman, the assistant editor, got frustrated knowing our work was going to come out late. We jokingly ran the date of one issue as ‘November-ish,’ which Josh objected to. The issue finally came out on Nov. 30.

“As one guy said to me, Josh Kiser’s desk is where dreams go to die.”

Attempts to contact Kiser this week were unsuccessful.

In a Wednesday email, CalVet spokesperson June Iljana said the agency suspended the Observation Post “pending a reorganization of our published products due to a required review of our associated budget.”

“With a sharply reduced budget following new rules on the use of Morale, Welfare and Recreation funds, we need to streamline our efforts to ensure the funds are expended in a responsible manner,” she wrote, referring to a 2016 state law centralizing leisure funding at veterans’ homes into a central account.

The conflict came to a head Jan. 23, when Rickman emailed the Veterans Home spokesman about the printing delays for the newsletter. “We realize that you have a lot on your plate so we were wondering if it would help if we sent you reminders every few days so that in the rush of your busy day you don’t forget to do important things,” the editor wrote Kiser, according to an email shared with the Register.

In a reply that evening, Kiser informed Rickman that the Veterans Home would suspend the Observation Post immediately “due to the ongoing lack of quality” of the newsletter and “the tremendous number of resources required to produce a visually and grammatically acceptable publication,” and added CalVet would review whether to allow it to resume in the future.

“Josh claims it was too much work to correct my grammar,” Rickman said of the episode, adding tartly: “The day you can correct my grammar is the day you can shovel dirt in my face.”

Meanwhile, Warren left her post directing the KVET station at the Yountville home in January.

The resignation came seven months after Veterans Home staff blocked the station from airing a broadcast from Grant Hall of a discussion on California’s assisted-death law at which Kathryn Tucker, a longtime advocate for patients seeking doctors’ assistance to end their lives, spoke, Warren said.

After a KVET staff member finished shooting video of the forum, a Veterans Home staff member confiscated the memory card from the camera to prevent its airing on campus, she said last month.

Broadcasting the assisted-death forum on a CalVet-based channel would have violated state policies against using a state resource for political purposes, said Iljana, the agency spokesperson. Staff did not approve the telecast because the forum “focused on changing the regulation rather than educating residents,” she said.

Although California passed Senate Bill 128 legalizing the practice in 2015, CalVet won’t allow doctors to provide lethal drugs at the eight retirement homes it runs for military veterans and their spouses. Instead, it drafted a policy in 2016 requiring those living at its veterans’ homes to leave the premises before using life-ending substances, a requirement critics have called a form of eviction.

Having doctors participate in residents’ deaths would imperil about $68 million a year in annual federal funding to CalVet, the agency has said.

Riding 'swervy,' Napa students enjoy thrill of a bike rodeo
J.L. Sousa, Register 

West Park Elementary School students participate in a bicycle rodeo hosted by the Napa Police Department on Wednesday.

Zipping and weaving on bikes and scooters between mini orange traffic cones and (mostly) stopping at the appropriate street signs, students from West Park Elementary school participated in a bike rodeo on Wednesday morning.

Hosted by the Napa Police Department and a group of regular volunteers, the crew set up a cycling course on the playground, complete with stop signs, railroad crossings and other “obstacles.”

Students were invited to ride the course while practicing safe cycling habits.

Fourth grader McKenna Bumgardner said the bike rodeo was “super fun.”

“Getting to know more about bike safety and learning tips” is a good thing, she said.

The bike rodeo was fun “because we got to learn some new things,” said Alynna Ceja, a fourth grader. “Like when a train is coming, we don’t go around it – we wait until the arm comes up.”

J.L. Sousa, Register 

Joel King, far right with the Napa County Bicycle Coalition, operates the railroad crossing at a bicycle rodeo at West Park Elementary School on Wednesday. The event was hosted by the Napa Police Department.

Emma Mendez, also in fourth grade, said she liked “riding all the curves and doing the swervy part,” of the bike rodeo course. “You get to go at any pace you want.”

Jack Irons said that he likes riding a bike because “it’s quite fun to feel the air on your head. And doing tricks is cool too.”

Madison Perkins, a fourth grader, said she didn’t want the bike rodeo to end. “I’d ride for a whole day” if she could, said Perkins.

J.L. Sousa, Register 

West Park Elementary School fifth-grader Madison Hall is fitted with a helmet at a bicycle rodeo hosted by Napa Police on Wednesday.


Volunteer Walt Custer – who drives a bus for the Napa Valley Unified School District – was on the West Park campus Wednesday morning with a portable bike repair tool kit and fix-it station. By mid-morning, he’d already helped tighten a number of brakes, adjusted seats, pumped up a few tires and completed other quick fixes.

“We want to make sure their helmets fit and their bikes are working properly and safe,” said Custer.

J.L. Sousa, Register 

The Napa Police Department hosted a bicycle rodeo at West Park Elementary School on Wednesday.

The program was created “to make sure our kids are safe when they’re riding their bikes, scooters and skateboards,” said Napa Police Department officer Tristan Cline.

Cline said the bike rodeo includes classroom presentations on bike safety. The program aims to visit every elementary school and talk to thousands of kids each school year.

Cline said one of the biggest misconceptions about bicycle safety is when to ride on the sidewalk and when to ride in the street.

The officer said that once a child is old enough, he or she should transition to street riding in bike lanes or going with traffic. That is the safest way to cycle, he said.

Another big part of the program is if any student needs a helmet, one will be provided, Cline said.

“It’s a great program,” said Cline. “This age group is great. They soak it up.”

“It’s wonderful,” said Joanne Duncan, bike rodeo volunteer.

“Traffic in Napa can be dangerous,” she said. “This is just a reminder for them to be careful on the road and wear a helmet.”

J.L. Sousa, Register 

West Park Elementary School students ride the course at a bicycle rodeo hosted by the Napa Police Department on Wednesday.

West Park parent Tami Heine said the students look forward to the bike rodeo because it means they get to do something they don’t normally — riding bikes during school.

As a parent, Heine said that she appreciates the safety lessons that officers and volunteers teach the kids.

“Parents can tell them they need to wear a helmet, but they pay attention (when) they hear it from an officer.”

Napa wine industry gains traction for strict bottle labeling laws

Backers of strict location-based wine labeling, including those from the Napa wine industry, gained momentum in their efforts in March, taking their tune to the halls of the U.S. Congress and earning an official nod from lawmakers in the process.

Members of the Wine Origins Alliance, a mingling of wine regions worldwide, met with legislators in early March to stress their wish for stronger laws regarding “accurate and clear” wine labeling. Founded in Napa in 2005, the 23-member Alliance seeks to counter what they say is the misuse of specific wine place names, like Napa Valley, in the labeling of wines.

For David Pearson, chair of the Napa Valley Vintners Board of Directors and Napa’s representative on the Wine Origins Alliance, the premise of the group’s work is “so simple that it shouldn’t require persuasion for anybody; that wine labels should be correctly labeled and correctly identify the origin of the grapes as labeled.”

In meeting with lawmakers, the group cited the results of a recent poll of 800 wine consumers, of which 94 percent said they support laws that would “protect consumers from misleading wine labels.” The poll also relayed that 70 percent of those consumers feel that allowing winemakers in the U.S. to use the names of foreign wine regions in labeling their wine is “deceptive” and makes it harder to prevent the misuse of American wine region names on foreign bottles.

In the U.S., recognized wine regions – called American Viticulture Areas, or AVAs – are protected by rules requiring that if a wine is labeled with the region’s name, 85 percent of the wine must be made from grapes grown in that AVA. However, no such protection exists for the use of foreign names like Champagne, Port, Chianti or Chablis, which are regularly used in labeling by American winemakers.

Representing the French regions of Bourgognes and Chablis, Christian Moreau was among the international members of the Alliance to meet with U.S. lawmakers this month.

“For Burgundy and especially Chablis, it’s nice to join this venture,” Moreau said, “because you know, Chablis is probably one of the wines which has been most bastardized around the world, especially in [the U.S.] by the big company Gallo, with their jug wine called Chablis.”

Moreau noted though that in the last 10 to 15 years, he and others from the region had come across less jug wine erroneously dubbed “Chablis.”

As for the group’s overall mission and their approaching Congress, Moreau said, “I think we have to respect the consumer. I think this is very important for the future of the wine trade.”

The group has been steadily gaining traction over the years and added new member regions as recently as last year. During Vinexpo Bordeaux, an international wine trade show held last June, the group welcomed representatives from wine regions in British Columbia, Texas and Australia’s McLaren Vale. Each became the newest signatories of the Alliance’s credo, the Joint Declaration to Protect Wine Place & Origin.

Now, with their meeting of lawmakers in Washington, the group has earned a resolution from the U.S. House of Representatives acknowledging the value of wine region distinction and declaring that the legislative body “supports efforts to promote awareness of and appreciation for distinctive American wine-growing regions in the United States and abroad.”

Noting that the U.S wine industry today accounts for 10 percent of global wine production, the resolution read, in part, that once AVAs and other region names are protected in a foreign country, “it helps vintners effectively promote their products and increase awareness of their region.”

As the Alliance continues to build on its movement, integral to its cause will be “region hunting” for more potential members, Pearson said. “Because the more people that get into the Alliance, the more that there’s motivation, as far as I can see, for other regions to be at the table. Why would you not want to be at this table?”

For now, Pearson said, “The group has got momentum and enthusiasm and determination. And it’s something when you get the French and Californians in a room together and we’re not arguing over anything.”

Napa bookkeeper admits to stealing $170,000 from Jefferson Car Wash

A bookkeeper accused of stealing more than $170,000 from her employer pleaded no contest to 14 counts of embezzlement last week in Napa County Superior Court.

Katarina Francesca Peralta, 28, of Napa worked as a bookkeeper for Alta Portfolio, also known as Jefferson Car Wash, and several other companies owned by George Altamura, between March 2014 and August 2015, according to a brief prepared by the Napa County District Attorney’s Office.

After she stopped showing up for work that August, Altamura, who police said was 84 years old at the time of the incident, hired a new bookkeeper. That new bookkeeper, Shannon Eckerman of Napa, discovered that Peralta had been stealing thousands of dollars each month from the business for most of the time she had been working there, prosecutors said. The amount totaled more than $170,000.

Peralta was responsible for collecting rents, making bank deposits and posting deposits in Quickbooks.

Car wash employees would take the cash earned at the car wash and, along with associated receipts, drop it off at Wells Fargo Bank. After that, an office manager with the business would pick up the cash and receipts and bring them back to Altamura’s office, where two employees would count everything, making sure it all matched up.

The final step was Peralta’s. She was responsible for taking the cash and depositing it into the Alta Portfolio account at the bank, prosecutors said.

Eckerman discovered that, instead of putting all the cash from the car wash into the business’ Wells Fargo account, Peralta would keep part or even all of the money for herself. Occasionally she would deposit more than she was supposed to, but, according to prosecutors, it “nowhere near” made up for what was missing.

Eckerman also discovered that some QuickBooks entries had been changed.

A warrant was issued for Peralta’s arrest Aug. 31, 2016, and she was arrested on March 15, 2017 and held in Long Beach before being transferred and booked into the Napa County jail.

Peralta, who had pleaded not guilty to the charges, was set to go to trial on Monday, but instead pleaded no contest to 14 counts of felony embezzlement last Friday. For each charge, Peralta also admitted to special allegations of aggravated white collar crime and property damage.

Her sentencing is scheduled for July 12. She is currently out on bail.