Budget plans — Tuolumne County supervisors received a warning this week that dead trees coupled with road failures could decimate the county's surplus in the years to come. Staff advised the elected officials not to take too much from the money set aside for tree mortality to fix roads. Both problems, in addition to raises county staff will get in coming years, will strain an already tight budget. This all sounds like terrible news, but the good news comes in the fact this an early warning. Supervisors have time to consider how to address the problems rather than facing a crisis as some school districts in our area have.
Essay winner — Congratulations to Savannah Wittman who wrote a moving essay about how she learned the lesson of giving back to her community, of adopting what she called “a servants heart.” The idea began in sadness at the death of her grandfather, who was a retired Air Force captain. Seeing the military funeral sparked something in the Sonora teenager that caused her to think deeply about her place in the world and what she owed to her nation. Her essay began with the most beautiful visual. “It's a cool summer morning and the sun breaks over the hills as I watch men and women in uniform fold an American flag that adorned the casket of my grandfather,” she wrote. That alone is worth the $30,000 college scholarship she won as the national winner of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy contest.
Long road — It looks like the long and tedious negotiations over the Greenley Road-Mono Way intersection are coming to an end. Sonora City Council approved the plans for the reconstruction of this strange intersection this week. And the deal to buy the property where Ken Keagy's Corner Gas station is located appears to be close. The roadwork will serve everyone who drives that stretch as well as the cancer center now under construction.
The Calaveras County Sheriff's Office and Calaveras County District Attorneys Office should explain what happened in the case of Merarda Estudillo and Guadalupe Arrellano. On Sept. 20, Calaveras County Capt. Jim Macedo staged an elaborate news conference to reveal the findings of a months-long investigation into what he called human trafficking. He showed photos of camp cots lying in the open. Trash everywhere. Food stored haphazardly. And he described a harrowing tale of four men held against their will, forced to harvest a large and illegal marijuana crop in West Point. The details shocked the community.
The men were able to flee, he said, after they heard they were going to be murdered when the harvest was over. The men's names were not released. “This is a direct result of the greed and money that’s involved with marijuana,” Macedo said. He said the street value of the crop was between $18 million and $60 million. Ten thousand dollars in cash was seized.
Guadalupe Sierra Arrellano, 43, known as “Lupe,” and Medara Urbietta Estudillo, 44, known as “Daniella,” were arrested on suspicion of human trafficking, kidnapping, battery with serious bodily injury, terrorist threats, cultivating marijuana and possessing marijuana for sale. They were held in the Calaveras County Jail on $800,000 bail. By the time of the arraignment on Nov. 7, Estudillo had been deported to Mexico. But in early February, she pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor pot charges and was given credit for time served.
The other charges were dismissed. Same for Arrellano, who remains in jail on misdemeanor charges, but her bond was reduced to $5,000.
The sheriff this week referred all questions to the District Attorney, who could not be reached. It often happens that charges are reduced in favor of a plea, but this seems a bigger reduction than most, and the District Attorney should explain why the evidence presented in such a public way last year did not support the charges.
The office may feel it can't comment on the case because a trial is scheduled for April for the misdemeanors pending against Arrellano.
But the state's case against Estudillo is over.