January 10-16, 2007

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By Patricia Lynn Henley

$1 million for farming

The score is dairy, $1 million, developers, zero, for 178 acres in West Marin County. The Marin Agricultural Trust (MALT) and the California State Coastal Conservancy each coughed up $500,000 to buy a $1 million conservation easement on the highly visible Cerini Ranch along the Tomales-Petaluma Road on the southern edge of the village of Tomales. The complete 505-acre ranch was owned by the Cerini family from 1925 to 2005. The 178 acres covered by the conservation easement contained several parcels, making it ripe for development, says Elisabeth and& Dairy, an agricultural collaboration between John Williams and Long Meadow Ranch. In exchange for the $1 million, they forfeited the existing rights for as many as 10 building sites and agreed to limit development to one single-family residence for a ranch manager or owner. Approximately 110,000 acres in Marin County are zoned for agricultural use, and MALT now has agricultural easements on about 38,000 acres. "The more land that's protected, the better it is for everybody," Ptak says.

More Medicare kinks

The road to privatizing Medicare is clearly not a smooth one, and the Feds (and the seniors who depend on them) are bouncing through yet another pothole. Most private insurance companies offering Medicare healthcare and drug plans made significant changes for 2007, including increasing premiums and dropping some drugs. Medicare recipients had from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31 to accept their revised policy or switch to a new one. Except, oops, five companies serving a total of 250,000 Medicare beneficiaries nationwide didn't get the official notice of their changes out by the Oct. 31 deadline; some weren't mailed until mid-December. The companies that were late to the mailbox included Anthem, ElderHealth, Healthnet, Torchmark and United Health, according to Jack Cheevers, spokesman for the San Francisco region's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. "I'm sure they all had different problems and different degrees of lateness," Cheevers says. One company reported a fire at its printing plant, Cheevers adds, and another discovered errors after the documents were printed and had to start over. There will be no penalties imposed on the companies, but they're required to extend their open enrollment period (allowing recipients to switch plans) until March 15. The companies had until Jan. 5 to mail notices of this change to their policyholders. Let's hope they made it to the post office this time around.

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