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Mondavi Picket

Laid-off farmworkers at the financially troubled Robert Mondavi Winery recently received an unpleasant surprise along with their pink slips. According to some farmworkers, the severance package the winery offered this year--two weeks pay for every year worked plus three months of health insurance--was roughly half of what farmworkers were offered last year. While the company has stated that this year's severance packages are fair, 25 workers, some of whom have worked for Mondavi for decades, picketed the company's Oakville Winery Oct. 29 and 30 to protest the reduced severance package. The company announced the layoff of 360 employees last month, and is currently negotiating a $1.3 billion buyout offer from beverage industry mega-corporation Constellation Brands Inc.

Flows Downhill

It looks like the 50 residents of the Faerie Ring campground in Guerneville won't have to find a new place to live this winter after all. Citing problems with the campground's septic system that date back to January, county code enforcers threatened owner Jim Friedman with a $27,598 fine at an abatement hearing Oct. 14. Such campgrounds are home to more than 1,500 low-income people living in Sonoma County. After the hearing, Friedman submitted plans for a new septic system, and the penalty was reduced to $9,797. That's good news for Faerie Ring residents, many of whom would have been out of a home if the campground was shut down and subject to Sonoma County's new law regarding the homeless that makes it a misdemeanor to camp outside of a campground or live in a vehicle.

Death-Row Real Estate

How hungry are Marin County's developers for new land? Their appetite was on full display at an Oct. 27 forum that discussed the proposed expansion of death row at San Quentin Prison. It seems the prison, with its posh bay view, would make a great site for commercial and residential development, or so say county officials and realtors. Problem is, with nearly 6,000 prisoners, including more than 600 on death row, San Quentin is currently operating at twice its designed holding capacity--thus the proposed $220 million expansion, which includes a new maximum security compound to house 1,408 inmates. Developers argue that the prison, built in 1936, has outlived its usefulness. Corrections officials argue that re-siting the facility is not feasible. For most prisoners on death row, the gas chamber offers no escape from the squalid conditions: according to the Death Penalty Information Center, since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, California has executed just 10 prisoners (Texas leads with 325 executions), ranking it 29th in the country when it comes to state execution rate.

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From the November 3-9, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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