By Daryl Kelley
A troubled Ojai neighborhood’s search for solutions for gang violence moved to a public forum Wednesday night, as the Police Department fielded questions from members of a frightened, frustrated and quietly angry community.
“It’s important that the community take a stand,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Bruce Norris, discussing a second gang-related shooting in six months. “If we sit back and look out the blinds, they’re going to take over. Police can’t be effective by themselves.
“Call us,” he told 18 residents of the lower Drown, Oak and Waite streets neighborhood in Ojai at a gathering at Chaparral Auditorium
But if Norris’ plea was for residents to take back their neighborhood by banding together and helping police, they let him know they were not convinced police were doing all they can to make it safe again.
“There’s a perception that you guys aren’t doing anything,” said Rick Bisaccia, a Drown Street property owner.
By Nao Braverman
It has been a year and two months since the city of Ojai’s implemented the social host ordinance, a law that imposes a $1,000 fine to those who host parties where underage drinkers are present. Both adults and minors can be cited.
So far sheriff’s deputies have cited a total of 12 in the Ojai Valley since the ordinance was enacted, including six within the city limits. The city’s ordinance defines a party with underage drinkers as a gathering of five or more minors where at least one has alcohol or is under the influence of alcohol. The unincorporated areas of the Ojai Valley fall under the Ventura County social host ordinance which was enacted almost three months later and is slightly stricter, fining those who host a gathering with two or more minors where one has alcohol or is under the influence of alcohol.
Four of the violators in the city were male and two were females. Five of those cited in the city were between the ages of 19 and 23 and one was 49. All citations were prompted by phone calls to the Police Department from neighbors.
At last night’s council meeting, Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris discussed the ordinance with council members and reported on its effectiveness to date.
By Daryl Kelley
Despite an increase in reported serious crime, Ojai was generally a more peaceful city last year than it was in 2005, the city police chief says in a new report.
Although major crime was up 16 percent in 2006 because of more thefts, calls for help to the police dropped sharply overall, writes sheriff’s Capt. Bruce Norris in a report the City Council is expected to consider Tuesday evening.
The new report — a detailed supplement to last month’s statistics for major crimes — also finds that police responded more quickly to emergency calls last year than the year before, and made more arrests on felony charges. But misdemeanor arrests were down, including those for possession of narcotics and drunk driving.
The same trends were found in the Ojai Valley overall.
By Sondra Murphy
Because Mark Ditchfield was involved in so many aspects of this community he loved, it is no surprise that many people are grieving his death this week.
“We lost a great friend,” said Kevin Hendrick, who has known Ditchfield since junior high school and has a lot of fond memories of his time spent with Mark and their buddies. “You know what we liked about the ‘Big Ditch?’ Everything.” His sentiments were echoed throughout the valley as friends, co-workers and neighbors learned of the death of Ditchfield on Monday.
At Tuesday’s Ojai Unified School District board meeting, President Rikki Horne said, “We’ve had a very sad death in the district, that of Mark Ditchfield. It is a real loss to our district and community.” Ditchfield worked in the grounds department for the school district for over 20 years and his thorough knowledge of school sites and Ojai served him well. As a veteran member of the local Classified School Employees Association, Ditchfield was both inspirational and a grounding force in its activities.
By Lenny Roberts
Two Southern California men were arrested Thursday on federal charges that allege they sold firearms and ammunition to straw buyers who were purchasing the weapons on behalf of convicted felons and other prohibited persons, said John A. Torres, Special Agent in Charge, Los Angeles Field Division, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
According to an affidavit filed in this case, during a five-year period, 897 firearms linked to a crime or illegally possessed were traced back to Boulevard Sales & Service in Compton and another Boulevard Sales store located in American Hay and Mercantile in Oak View. Of these traced guns, at least 29 were connected to murder investigations, ATF agents say.
Authorities executed federal search and seizure warrants at the retail stores in Compton and Oak View Thursday. At the stores, hundreds of firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition were seized. Arrested without incident at their residences were Stephen Patrick Virgilio, 36, of Huntington Beach, and Carlos Rodriguez Castellanos, 52, of Downey. Locally, prosecutors allege that a convicted felon, acting as a confidential informant, visited the Oak View store on Feb. 8, identified himself as having a non-violent felony on his record, and allegedly asked an employee if his girlfriend could buy a gun.
By Sondra Murphy
Golden State Water Company spokeman Keith Switzer faced more than 100 hostile customers and a barrage of questions Monday evening at the Chaparral School Auditorium.
The purpose of the meeting was to give the community a chance to discuss Golden State’s most recent Public Utilities Commission application for rate increases. If approved by the PUC, rates will go up in 2008 by about 44 percent, a raise that is expected to yield GSWC a revenue increase of $1,432,900 in 2008.
GSWC claims rate increases are needed due to rising operating costs for the purchase of wholesale water, increased federal and state regulation, increases in the cost of labor and taxes and for continued investment in water system infrastructure improvements in Ojai.
By Misty Volaski
Got rats? That’s your problem.
“In general, if people have a rat infestation — which is becoming a problem in lots of places with this dry weather — it is the private property owners’ responsibility” to remove them, said County Supervisor Steve Bennett.
That doesn’t sit too well with several Meiners Oaks residents.
A little over a month ago, after months of complaints from neighbors, an El Conejo Drive family was found to be in violation of several county codes. They were ordered to clean up their property and get rid of the hundreds of rats living in their junk-filled yard. Humane Society officers took some 200 rats off the property that day, but untold numbers of the nocturnal rodents still remained.
In response to questions posed by OVN reporter Sondra Murphy, Golden State Water Company Vice President Patrick Scanlon explained how customers are billed and the reasons for the proposed 44.27 rate increase. Of particular interest is the “Monthly Service Charge.” Comments are welcome.
Read the letter
By Nao Braverman
The soft pattering of hundreds of gigantic hooves against the dirt slowly died down as the small herd of buffalo slowed to a halt.
“I want to make sure the babies don’t get trampled,” said Regina Quiñones who owns 33 of more than 100 bison that were living on the arid Ozena Valley Ranch property. “Some of them have already died like that.”
The bison had been circling the perimeter of their pen and suddenly stopped to look around as if they weren’t sure which way to go.
By Daryl Kelley
Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten confirmed Friday that he has begun an investigation into an anonymous phone message circulated Thursday that accused Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, who represents the Ojai Valley, of harassing county employees.
“We’re going to try to get to the bottom of this,” Totten said in an interview. “A section in the (law) restricts automated calling systems in a rigorous way…And the penalty is $500 per violation.”
That means that whomever circulated the anti-Bennett message could face a huge fine, he said, since many county residents received the calls. Between 10 and 20 residents called his office to complain, Totten said.
“Without exception they were upset that someone would call and leave such a message.”
It is against state law to circulate a recorded message without a live person being on the line before the message begins, so the recipient can decline to hear the message, the top prosecutor said.
UPDATE: After the attempted murder charge was changed to assault with a deadly weapon, Jimmy Villalpando was released after posting $90,000 bail. He failed to show up in court, as promised, and a $250,000 warrant has been issued for his arrest.
The drive-by-shooting on the 300 block of Drown Street a week ago generated a mixed response from Ojai residents at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
While one Drown Street resident said that she hadn’t slept well since, others in the neighborhood considered the shooting to be an isolated incident and did not feel threatened.
Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris explained that suspect Jimmy Villalpando was an Oak View resident and a transplant from the Ventura area, with some reported gang ties in Ventura, and was currently being detained on $90,000 bail.