By Sondra Murphy
The Ojai Valleywide Discussion lured about 160 community members back for the final meeting Sunday at Nordhoff gym. 1st District Supervisor Steve Bennett and staff focused on the top two issues as defined by attendees in the previous two discussions. The No. 1 issue was disaster preparedness.
With Southern California fires fresh in the collective consciousness, proactive ways for local residents to prepare for emergency events was greeted with enthusiasm. As Bennett said, “It’s time for us to take the valley’s preparation to another level that gets the public more involved.”
Capt. Bruce Norris, chief of the Ojai Police, and Chief Bob Roper of the Ventura County Fire Department were on hand to speak about emergency preparedness in the Ojai Valley. One of the areas that earlier meetings identified as needing improvement is communication and Norris concurred, referencing reverse 911 as a great bridge to that goal. “We call portions of the county where there happens to be a disaster,” said Norris. “(911 operators) can phone a lot of numbers in an affected area and give information about evacuation.”
Norris said that county supervisors are supporting expansion of reverse 911 into this area for use during any type of emergency, such as fire, flood or earthquake. Ongoing communication among emergency responders is about to get a much-needed boost, as well. “Red Mountain, by Oak View, is getting ready to change out a microwave tower that will greatly enhance the communication ability of the Ojai Valley,” said Norris. He said that Sisar Peak is also to get an upgrade and both will expand the range capabilities of responding personnel.
According to Norris, the Ventura River County Water District is allowing an AM radio tower to be built on its property to allow for emergency broadcasts that anyone may tune into in the event of a disaster. Grant funds in the amount of $50,000 have been identified to help pay for the tower, which will not be dependent on other power sources for functionality and, if the project continues to go smoothly, Norris estimated the system could be in place in about six months.
Roper next explained that Community Emergency Response Training classes teach people skills to help their families and neighbors during a disaster. “The Day Fire ran for 30 days and the Zaca Fire ran for 60 days,” said Roper, adding that CERT trainings are most helpful in long-term disasters because responding agencies prioritize order of assistance in such a way that may delay response time to individual neighborhoods.
“CERT training teaches a little about disaster psychology. It teaches how to bring CERT trainees together,” said Roper, important processes in allowing people to assist their own communities. “It’s about family helping family and neighbor helping neighbor.” Once rescue agencies finish helping high priority locations, such as hospitals or care homes, neighborhood CERT coordinators can give them crucial triage information.
Roper encouraged participants to sign up for the next round of CERT training scheduled for Jan. 16 and said Ojai Rotary Club West is creating a DVD from class sessions. The DVD will be available to purchase in December by contacting Stephanie Midgett at 646-1470. For a preview, visit rotaryojaiwest.org and click on CERT.
The attendees next moved into groups based on their residence addresses to help define neighborhoods that are accessible to each other for CERT team purposes. Residents then listed vulnerabilities and resources in order to help with eventual county prioritization in emergency situations.
Bennett said that data from the discussions, including the other issues in the top eight, would be made available to everybody on the discussion groups web site. “People interested can take that data and run with it,” said Bennett. He said that the discussions were initially set up with two objectives in mind: “To establish win-win goals that residents could work toward and to give people the opportunity to make connections that they would not normally make.” Participant responses still being tallied are showing those goals were successfully met and “are overwhelmingly positive,” said Bennett.
The other issues that made it to the top eight include creating a valleywide recreation district, expanding youth programs, decreasing car use in the valley by expanding the public trolley and other alternatives, and preserving existing open space in the valley.
Cindy Cantle from Supervisor Bennett’s office also mentioned the $10,000 grant the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation recently received from the Allstate Insurance Company to develop a disaster preparedness web site. The site will be designed, built and authored by Ojai’s youth. “We are hoping it is up and running by spring,” project director Bobbi Balderman later told OVN.
The Ojai Valley Wide Discussion web site may be accessed at countyofventura.org /ovwd/default.aspx. Data collected from the final meeting will be posted in the coming weeks.
By Daryl Kelley
First came ferocious winds and killer freezes, then this week’s devastating firestorms. This has been a year of cataclysmic natural disasters for Southern California. And now comes a stealth invader that could add enormously to the toll for 2007.
The quagga mussel, a pernicious and prolific mollusk that overwhelms freshwater lakes like Lake Casitas, poses such a threat to fisheries and waterworks that the state enacted an emergency law this month allowing lakes to be closed to boaters altogether and contaminated boats to be seized.
Anyone who fails to report a quagga mussel infestation is subject to a fine of up to $1,000.
Reacting to the threat, directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District said this week that they would close Lake Casitas, which hosts 26,000 boaters a year, if state and federal officials don’t come up with a plan to halt the northward spread of the mussel.
“This organism eats plankton that fish need to live, and it attaches to every hard surface such as the dam and pumps and filters and spills ways,” board President Russ Baggerly said. “It could cause such damage we couldn’t afford to fix it. … The solution of last resort is to close the lake to all private uses.”
Baggerly said the need to act is urgent, because the mussel, a native of Russia that was transported to the Great Lakes by ships two decades ago, was found in Lake Mead and Lake Havasu in January. It has since been discovered by dive teams in six lakes in Riverside and San Diego counties that are also part of the Colorado River distribution system. Lake Wolford near Escondido has been closed to public boaters by local officials.
A single boat entering Lake Casitas after fishing in an infested lake could bring the mussel here, Baggerly said. Quagga mussels have been found in concentrations of 30,000 to 50,000 per square foot, officials said, clogging water treatment and distribution systems to such an extent that they can hardly function.
Baggerly told the board that since 87 percent of boaters who use Lake Casitas come from outside this area, “we are overexposed to this infestation. It’s only a few hours away.”
Casitas board members said they’re taking the threat seriously.
“It sounds like the basis for a good horror movie,” Director Bill Hicks said.
The board authorized a team of Casitas officials to meet quickly with state and federal water officials and lawmakers to press the seriousness of the issue.
Casitas officials will ask the federal Bureau of Reclamation and the state Department of Fish and Game to implement a system that identifies boats that have been in infested waters in a computer database and with non-removable stickers, so officials at other lakes can keep those boats out or make sure they have been cleared of mussels.
“We need to give the (state) Department of Fish and Game the courage to protect us,” Baggerly told the board.
He said he has met with officials that operate Lake Piru near Fillmore and Lake Cachuma near Santa Barbara and that they will act in unison to try to force some action.
The state is already keenly aware of the problem.
Indeed, authorities reacted immediately after the quagga mussel was found in Lake Mead in Nevada on Jan. 6, forming a task force to identify the scope of the problem and attempt to halt the mollusk’s migration.
Since then, state officials have hosted education programs for water officials, biologists and game wardens intended to raise red flags about the seriousness of the infestation.
Rob Weinerth, a Lake Casitas Recreation Area staffer, attended a briefing in San Diego County last week, and reported to the board Wednesday.
“The (message) in San Diego was this is coming your way,” Weinerth said. “We have an opportunity to keep it out … But we don’t have to tools to identity this stuff properly.”
Even if Casitas were to hire inspectors to scour every boat, a process that would take at least 30 minutes, it is difficult to find the tiny quagga larvae, he said.
“They feel like sandpaper, but so do a lot of boats,” he said.
Quagga mussel larvae can be killed with water heated to 140 degrees or with an acid mixture sprayed onto boats, he said.
He has asked for such decontamination kits, Weinerth said.
For now, noted Director Jim Word, “We’re at the mercy of whoever brings the boat. Whether what they say is true.”
“Yes,” Weinerth said, “they could lie to us.”
The quagga mussel, a native of eastern Europe and Russia, found its way to the Great Lakes in the United States in 1988 and then was discovered early this year in a series of lakes and streams in the Colorado River watershed that feeds into Southern California.
According to the Department of Fish and Game, the mussels have been found in San Vicente Reservoir, Lake Murray Reservoir, Lower Otay Reservoir, and Lake Dixon in San Diego County and Lake Skinner and Lake Mathews in Riverside County.
“They present a serious threat to California’s environment, water delivery systems and recreational boating,” according to a Fish and Game statement released last week. “Quagga and zebra mussels clog water intake structures such as pipelines and screen, impair plumbing operations at power and water treatment plants, and contaminate vessels. They alter the food web by filtering out substantial amounts of phytoplankton necessary for fish and other species, and changing the pH of the waters they infest with their wastes.”
State Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman had said in a previous announcement:
“With quagga mussels on the move from the Nevada border to inland San Diego County, we need the public’s help to keep them from going farther. Once the quagga are established in a waterway, they have significant environmental, recreational and economic impacts.”
Although they range from microscopic to the size of a fingernail, the mussels are prolific breeders and attach themselves to hard and soft surfaces, such as boats and aquatic plants.
The mussels damage boats by blocking engine cooling, jamming steering equipment and increasing drag and destroying paint, the state release said.
They also “wreak havoc with the environment, disrupting the natural food chain and releasing toxins that affect other species. Spread of the quagga could result in millions of dollars in damage to water transport facilities.”
State officials asked boaters of infected lakes to inspect for mussels, wash hulls with hot water, remove all plants, drain water from boats and dry them. And not to enter another lake for at least five days.
Boat inspections are being conducted at a number of Department of Food and Agriculture border inspection stations and around the state.
As of Oct. 2, about 74,000 boats have been checked. About 8,200 boats contained water that needed to be drained. More than 70 vessels have been quarantined.
Thus far, the mussels have not been found in California’s State Water Project (SWP), which draws its water from northern California watersheds.
A multi-agency taskforce that includes the Department of Fish and Game, the Department of Boating and Waterways, the Department of Water Resources and California State Parks has responded with surface and underwater inspectors to determine the extent of the quagga threat. For more information on the quagga mussel response, visit the DFG website.
A public toll-free number, (866) 440-9530, has been established for boaters and anyone involved with activities on lakes and rivers seeking information on the mussels.
City also issues new bond, saving $1.5 million by refinancing redevelopment debt
By Nao Braverman
The Ojai City Council decided, Tuesday night, that maintaining a moderately diminished skate park was better than pouring money into a facility that would soon be replaced, and certainly better than having no park at all.
City manager Jere Kersnar explained that the $10,000 budgeted for skate park repairs this year was not enough to bring the entire facility to a safe and serviceable level.
That left the council to decide between digging into the city’s general fund for the remaining $20,000 to make the $30,000 total needed for a thorough skate park makeover, shutting it down altogether and reallocating funds toward the construction of a new permanent park, or using the $10,000 to repair the more popular and less costly equipment while removing the remaining dilapidated obstacles, and maintaining a somewhat reduced park until it is replaced by a permanent facility.
Council decided on the latter, given that plans for a new permanent skate park seem to be moving quickly with the Skate Park Task Force scheduled to present their progress at an upcoming meeting.
“I would like to save the money and use it towards a permanent park,” said Councilwoman Sue Horgan. “From what it looks like we might have a permanent park by spring. I might even be in favor of saving that $10,000 for the new park and shutting down the existing park altogether.”
Councilwoman Hanstad said she agreed except for the last bit.
“I would hate to have no skate park at all until spring,” she said. Councilman Steve Olsen agreed with Hanstad. And the council made a unanimous decision to remove some of the park’s present equipment, and use the $10,000 budgeted to repair what is left of it until a new facility is built.
Also on the topic of city funds, the Ojai Redevelopment Agency decided to issue a new 2007 tax revenue allocation bond, in order to refund an outstanding 1997 tax allocation bond, saving the agency a total of $1.5 million.
Essentially a refinancing, the new bond would be issued in a large pool of tax revenue allocation bonds, from other redevelopment agencies, through the Association of Bay Area Governments.
The refinancing would decrease the city’s interest rate from about 6 percent to 3.5 or 4 percent at most, said the city’s finance director Susie Mears, cutting Ojai’s debt service costs by $1.5 million.
In addition the refinance also allows the city to access funds by 2012 instead of waiting until 2022, which would be required if the city were to keep its current bond. This makes it possible for the Redevelopment Agency to pay back some of its debt to the city.
Redevelopment agencies often borrow money from the cities they serve, said Mears. Ojai’s Redevelopment Agency still has not paid back the $3.4 million it borrowed from the city to get started. If the Redevelopment Agency can access some funds by 2012, however, it could begin paying the city back, thus helping replenish the city’s depleted general fund.
“We did an analysis of the refinance and we are going to come out great on this project,” said Mears.
Sheriff’s Gang Unit makes arrests after gang-related attacks
By Nao Braverman
Six suspected Ojai Valley gang members were arrested on Oct. 17 and 18 after a month-long investigation by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Gang Unit. Investigators examined the events of three separate attacks over the past month and arrested Kyle Root, Christian Hames, Fidel Duran, Rocky Holbert, and two juveniles.
Twenty-year-old Root, 18-year-old Hames and a juvenile suspected to be an Oak View Gang member, were charged for assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly attacking a 39-year-old male and 65-year-old female on the 500 block of Santa Ana Boulevard in Oak View on Sept. 18.
Gang investigators believe the Santa Ana Blvd. location to be the residence of a rival Ojai Surenos Locos gang member and suspect the attack to be a retaliation for a separate attack committed by the rival gang.
Duran, 18, a suspected member of the OSL was arrested for conspiracy in relation to a Sept. 27 incident where Duran, along with previously arrested Gabriel Arellano and another OSL member, allegedly threw a cup filled with soda into a car occupied by two female adults and a 2-year-old toddler, on Ojai Avenue at Fox Street, striking the female passenger. Investigators believe that at least one of the passengers had ties with an OVG gang member.
Holbert, 18, was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon during the most recent Oct. 6 OVG attack where six individuals, ranging from 13 to 20 years old, were hit with a metal pipe, in front of Dahl’s Market in Oak View. Though the victims had no association with any gang, the assailants mistakenly identified them as members of the OSL gang.
The OSL, a Hispanic criminal street gang based in Ojai, has about 15 to 20 gang members and has been in the area for about 20 years said Ojai Police Capt. Bruce Norris. The OVG, a predominantly white, territorial, criminal street gang that claims the unincorporated area of Oak View, has about 10 to 15 members and has also been around for about 20 years, probably going by different names in the past, Norris said.
He added that the the conflict between the two gangs appears to be racial and territorial.
Though the police department has been working to tackle problems with the two gangs fighting over the past two years, gang-related violence in Ojai had been very low this year, up until the middle of September, said Norris.
The six person, Sheriff’s Gang Unit, created in February, was introduced to address a recent rise in gang-related crime within Ventura County, and is often called upon where a gang enhancement is included in the charge.
Residents are encouraged to call the Gang Tip Hotline at 1-88858GANGS to anonymously report criminal gang activity.
Ojai Valley Museum celebrates century-plus of news-making
By Sondra Murphy
The Ojai Valley Museum is throwing a reception and party for the Ojai Valley News Oct. 28 from 3 to 6 p.m. The museum is celebrating this newspaper’s coverage of the local scene since 1891 with an exhibit titled “History Happens.” Besides news stories selected from over the decades, the exhibit features trade equipment and art.
Several museum workers contributed to the project. Fred Kidder, director of creative services, worked with volunteer Roger Conrad to design and set up the displays of printing equipment, OVN archived pages and newsroom gear of bygone days. Richard Hoye and former museum director Jane McClenahan spent weeks on research for the exhibit before Kidder and Conrad took about five, seven-day workweeks to assemble the exhibit.
A graphic designer, Kidder especially appreciates some of the old, first edition issues on display. “The typography is beautiful,” he said. “What a valuable resource those newspapers were.”
Three local artists contributed original sculptures inspired by news racks and commissioned specifically for the exhibit. Steve Grumette, Doug Lochner and Sylvia Raz each created works they hope convey the many facets of news and its importance in keeping people connected to their individual communities, as well as to society at large.
Grumette chose to convert a news rack into a television set, but much had to happen first for his “News & Views” sculpture to take shape. The rack Grumette received was a little beat up. He spent one day taking it apart and realized that he would need some help in order to make the surface as clean as he wanted it. He found a man named Bill Driggs of Custom Industrial Finishes in Port Hueneme to sandblast the parts down to bare metal and repaint the surfaces.
Then came reassembly of hundreds of pieces, after which “It reminded me of a television set on a little table,” said Grumette. He proceeded to convert the frame into a television, complete with screen images, doilies, a piggy bank and rabbit ears. The result is a departure from the photo mosaics and digital giclée Grumette has been creating for about 10 years.
Grumette has lived in the Ojai Valley about 21 years is also known for his work in local theaters and has several projects coming up. He will take part in the Lux Radio Theater version of “The Lady Eve” being performed at The Gables in November with OVN columnist Mel Bloom, among others. Grumette will also perform in a radio play version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Ojai Art Center in December.
In his museum contribution titled “Isis,” Lochner bypassed the news rack to create a sculpture from a variety of metal to resemble a human form. “My goal in the piece was to somehow tie the newspaper to the community and I kept coming to the idea that the newspaper reflects the community in which it serves,” said Lochner. “The female is holding a double-sided mirror, so she sees herself and her surroundings.”
“Isis” consists almost entirely of metal. Lochner dressed the body in a diamond plate steel metal jacket with a skirt of patina acid finish metal that uses a process that accelerates the natural weathering in metal. The mirror represents the newspaper and three commemorative quarters serve as jacket buttons denoting the 75-cent cost of the OVN. The figure is topped with the only non-metal component: a very Ojai-esque straw hat.
Lochner has lived in the Ojai Valley for about 10 years and been producing art all his life. He works with glass and metal a lot in his craft and has lately produced large monoliths. Metal work involves forging, welding, cutting, bending, grinding and polishing the material and he often uses tractors to move the heavy pieces. “This has been a fabulous distraction from doing real work and hopefully the community will appreciate it,” said Lochner.
Raz converted her news rack into a robotic form called “Extra! Extra!” The glass head is made of an old lamp while the creature holds a battery charger in one hand and an electrical calibrator in another. This self-professed queen of ecology wanted to make her rack into a person selling newspapers, and intends the lamp to symbolize enlightenment, while the other parts charge the reader with calibrated news.
“They are all recycled parts,” she said. “I feel incredible satisfaction when I find something old and give it new life.” Raz has lived in the Ojai Valley for about 10 years and has been an artist for 30. She works in a variety of media, but enjoys making found objects into art, as she did in the museum piece.
“I just feel the Ojai Valley News does quite a job here in town. Since I get excited about events in the community, I was excited when I got invited to participate in the exhibition.” She also creates works from old Barbie dolls and has lately been experimenting with zippers in her work, one of which can currently be viewed at the Ojai Art Center.
The Oct. 28 “History Happens” reception costs $20 and will feature speakers and offer prizes, food and drink. For tickets or more information, call the museum at 640-1390.
Council to now consider measure aimed at formula fast-food and ‘big box’ retail stores
By Nao Braverman
After two strikes, city staff finally brought forth an ordinance to protect Ojai from the proliferation of chain stores that was accepted by the Planning Commission at Wednesday night’s meeting. With the rejections of two previous ordinance drafts behind them, all seven of the Planning Commissioners agreed to recommend the new ordinance to the council, as written.
Though not quite as radical as the emergency moratorium currently in effect, which temporarily bans chains altogether, the new ordinance would put Ojai on the map as a city that rejects formula fast-food and big box chains. Similar to San Francisco’s and Sausalito’s ordinance it also requires that any incoming chain business have a public hearing, where locals would be invited to comment.
Though vocal members of the public have voiced increasingly divided opinions aboutsuch an ordinance, the newly proposed draft appeared to be an even compromise. As it amended the definition of “formula retail” to a business that maintains ten or more locations with three or more standardized characteristics, increasing the standardized characteristics from two to three, it dropped many formula services from the “formula business” category entirely, quieting the concerns of local residents who were afraid of keeping out Ojai’s much-needed services. Some services such as insurance companies and banks, they argued are almost invariably chains.
While Scott Eicher, chief executive officer of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, and local developer Ron Polito both cautioned that creating a 10,000-square-foot cap on formula business might be a problem if existing buildings with a larger square footage such as Starr Market or Rains were to close, planning commissioners and other community members said they were confident that both chains and locals could find ways to fill those spaces.
A chain grocery store, for example, could lower its standardized features, change its sign and omit uniforms for Ojai, so that they would no longer fall into the formula retail category, said Planning Commissioner Susan Weaver.
Even if that fell through, city attorney Monte Widders confirmed that the City Council could call for a text amendment extending the 10,000square-foot cap to something larger if so needed.
Some community members thought the ordinance should be stronger but accepted staff’s recommendation nonetheless.
“I think what we have in front of us tonight is a reasonable compromise,” said a local resident and author of a recent ballot initiative regarding chain stores.
Local resident Marika Natalie added that that keeping as many corporations out of Ojai as possible has broader implications.
“We have the first generation of children whose life expectancy is shorter than their parents.” she said, referring to the ban on fast food chains. “that is because mass corporations find any way they can to make money with out any intimate connection with their customers. … Ojai has a foothold, there is no reason to give that up.”
With a relatively brief discussion, the Planning Commission unanimously agreed to recommend the ordinance.
“This is a great opportunity for us to use our creativity and make Ojai what we want it to be so I would recommend that the city pass this,” said Planning Chair Tucker Adams.
In other planning news, commissioners continued the discussion on the Ojai Valley Community Hospital’s proposal to build a prefabricated metal building to be used for storage purposes.
Many nearby residents came forward with noise complaints and other building code violations regarding the hospital and argued that the storage facility was ugly and would reduce their property value.
Hospital representatives Mary Jo Garrett and Joe Panushka said that building a cement block wall, though it might reduce noise problems, would be too costly and might hinder their plans to expand their emergency room for which they were already behind schedule.
Planning Commissioner Troy Becker suggested that hospital representatives meet privately with nearby residents to discuss the matter before returning to the next planning meeting with a proposal.
Meiners Oaks County Water District board Secretary Sherrie Russell, Director Karol Ballantine, board President Bill Reynolds and Vice President Jim Barrett explain to residents their reasoning for a proposed rate increase, which threatens farm users with a 500 percent rate hike. Some have accused the board of piggybacking onto Golden State Water’s recent proposal for a 43.95 percent rate increase within their district.
By Daryl Kelley
Another month, another Ojai Valley agency is hiking water rates to astronomical levels for agriculture. And farmers are saying they’ll be forced to walk away from their orchards if things don’t change.
This time, the Meiners Oaks County Water District has proposed rates that would increase the amount farmers pay to water their crops up to 500 percent or more.
But barraged by angry farmers, district directors delayed a decision this week, citing the absence of one board member. They said they’d make a final decision Nov. 20 when all five directors are present.
“We’re very conflicted right now,” said Director Karol Ballantine. “If this is wrong … we can put a committee of citizens together to come up with an alternative. This (rate change) is not forever. It can be changed.”
But directors for the small community-based water agency, which has consistently offered the lowest water rates in the valley, said they had no choice but to impose only the second rate hike in the last 15 years.
Since 2004, the district’s aging water pipes, meters and storage tanks have begun to break, said board President Bill Reynolds, and officials have had to draw down reserves from $2 million to $1.3 million to pay for repairs. The budget deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30 was more than $500,000, he said, compared with an overall annual budget of less than $1 million.
In previous years, no money has been budgeted for infrastructure repairs, so it is simply falling apart, and will cost millions of dollars to replace, he said.
“At this rate, we have two or three years of reserves, and then we go negative,” Reynolds said. “And we’re not allowed to do that … What we’ve been doing is dipping into the till to cover repairs (of) things that actually get the water to your house.”
Even with a 79 percent hike in its base rate for residential customers, the average Meiners Oaks resident would still only pay $29.50 a month for water, officials said.
Indeed, only about 10 percent of the district’s 1,283 customers — the vast majority residential — filed protests of the proposed rate increase. And just 30 showed up to question the hike in person.
Several of those were farmers, whose rate would increase from 31 cents for each 100 cubic feet of water (748 gallons) to a maximum of $2 per unit on a tiered pricing scale that penalizes those who use the most water.
Farmers said that was not fair, since they have no choice but to water their crops, or to let them die.
“These increases are 500 percent to 700 percent for us,” said Steve Barnard, who farms 20 acres of avocados. “You need to be creative and think this thing through because there’s going to be some real nasty results.”
In an interview, Barnard said the cost to water his avocados would increase from about $7,000 a year to about $40,000. His trees are only five years old, and the freeze ruined his crop this year, so he hasn’t made a profit yet, he said.
“So, with this, I have to make a decision: Do I just turn the water off and let the trees die?” he said.
Another farmer, Camille Sears, said in an interview that she’d already pulled out 270 of her 1,300 tangerine trees and is thinking of taking out another 300 because of water costs.
“I planted those trees, so it’s heartbreaking,” she said. “The farm is my retirement. But now the Water District is saying we’re not sure we can serve you anymore.”
In comments to the board and a nine-page written analysis of flaws in the new rate structure, Sears detailed what she sees as legal problems with the proposal.
The district maintains that its new rates are fair because everyone would pay the same for water, with the only difference being the size of a customer’s water meter and how much water is used.
That jibes with a state Supreme Court decision last year interpreting a 1996 statewide proposition that requires that all water customers be treated equally and that they pay for the cost to deliver their water, district officials said.
But Sears said the district’s notice of its rate increase was so flawed that a judge would immediately strike it down. For example, she said, the district failed even in basic arithmetic, stating that its proposed increase in the base rate for homes, from $14 to $25 a month, was a $9 increase, when, in fact, it is an $11 increase.
And, she said, the district’s method of implementing its increase would be anything but equitable because it would punish the 33 farmers who use nearly one-quarter of the district’s water, and does not reflect the true cost of delivering water to them.
Sears said a powerful statewide taxpayers’ group is ready to jump into the Meiners Oaks fight if the water agency approves its new rates.
“I’ve talked with the people at the Howard Jarvis Foundation and you will be litigated if you go forward with this,” she told the board. “Please don’t make us sue you.”
She offered an alternative proposal: imposition of a base fee of $30 a month for all customers, plus 75 cents per water unit after that. That would raise the extra $230,000 the district needs for repairs each year, while keeping the typical resident’s rate relatively low, she said. “And I don’t think it would put farmers out of business.”
One after another, farmers said that would be the result under the proposed rates.
“A tree just needs so much water,” said grower Alan Walbridge. “This water rate will be up like 10 times for me … This is going to completely put me out of business.”
Other speakers voiced support for the farmers.
“Food security is a huge, huge issue,” said Dulanie La Barre. “We need to be encouraging farmers and community gardeners, not discouraging them … Let’s find something that works better.”
Other speakers, while acknowledging that the district needs more money for repairs, said capital improvements should be underwritten through the sale of bonds, and paid off through property taxes, which are deductible.
In the end, agency directors seemed poised to adopt the new rates.
“I’ve been here 27 years, and this district has been wholly neglected. It’s falling apart. And as we’re speaking, we’re losing money. We’re up against a wall here,” said Director Jim Barrett. “We are, quite frankly, fighting for our existence. “
But then they backed away from a decision until the full board, including absent Carrie Mattingly, could be present.
And one director, Beth Von Gunten, said she wasn’t comfortable with the proposal.
“I’d like to have a chance to go back to the drawing board,” she said. “For agriculture, once you’re down, you’re down. If people stop watering trees, they die.”
Barrett then moved to delay the vote.
But Sears said she was not encouraged by the delay.
“You don’t need a crystal ball to see they’re going to vote 4-1 or 3-2 on this,” she said. “They’re going to ignore my comments. They’re going to blow me off.”
By Sondra Murphy
Oak View resident Dwayne McCullough has been donating blood regularly since 1976. On Oct. 11, he gave his 400th unit and was honored by United Blood Services staff in Ventura with cake and a commemorative plaque.
McCullough began giving blood while working at 3M and said his main motivation at the time was getting a long break from the office. Having the uncommon blood type of AB positive made McCullough popular with blood bank staff, who initially requested that he be on call to donate. Eventual advancements in technology changed the way blood is processed, increasing McCullough’s donation frequency.
Since the early ‘80s, McCullough has traveled to UBS in Ventura to give blood. The technology has changed since he first started his donations. “The machines have improved and the time frame needed to collect it has gotten faster. The machines are capable of separating out whatever they need from the blood,” said McCullough. Donors go back to computer terminals, where they may watch a movie, satellite television or use high-speed Internet during the appointment. When finished, donors are offered refreshments.
“I was on call for eight years or so and would get called once a year, maybe,” said McCullough. “Then they started the pheresis program, where they take the platelets.”
According UBS platelet nurse Judith Youngquist, platelet pheresis is a procedure in which the blood is filtered, platelets are separated and the remaining fluids are returned to the donor. “Platelets are cell fragments necessary for blood to clot. They only live for five days and must be kept at room temperature,” said Youngquist. She said it takes eight to nine platelet donors to collect one full unit. The platelets cannot be used after five days have passed, compared to 42 days for a unit of blood.
There are various types of pheresis techniques used to separate white blood cells, blood platelets and plasma. Youngquist, herself a platelet donator, said platelets are used for cancer, leukemia and surgery patients. People can donate up to three platelet units at a time, depending on their platelet count. Unlike iron levels in the blood, there is nothing a person can do to increase blood platelets.
“Dwayne is perfect for platelet donation. He gives up a split unit at one time,” Youngquist said, meaning two units. “Dwayne is fantastic.” She explained that, due to processing, platelets from any blood type may be used for anyone who needs them.
“A donation takes two, two-and-a-half hours, so these donors are very dedicated and we honor these donors,” said Youngquist. Platelet donations may be made up to 24 times a year, so McCullough gives blood about every two weeks. If he is sick or has been injured, such as when he broke his leg four years ago, McCullough must reschedule his donations.
Each appointment includes a questionnaire period, checking his vital signs and testing his blood for iron levels. He is a painting contractor, which gives him the flexibility needed for such a commitment. He has no special diet. “Most donors, I think, are more conscious of taking care of themselves,” said McCullough.
After so many years of giving blood, McCullough said that his arms have developed a little scar tissue, but not enough to prevent his donations. “It’s something that, once you get in the habit of it, you just do it,” he said, noting that most people don’t really think about donating blood until there is a catastrophe or someone they know needs it. “It’s one of those easy ways of contributing to the community,” said McCullough. “It’s such a good feeling when you walk out. It’s really lifesaving.”
United Blood Services is Ventura County’s only local blood supplier serving all Ventura County hospitals. “We are very thankful for people like Dwayne McCullough who is a truly dedicated donor,” said Holly Nash, donor recruitment manager for United Blood Services. “We wouldn’t be able to provide the level of service to Ventura County hospitals that we do without donors like Mr. McCullough.”
More information about donating with United Blood Services is available by calling (800) 715-3699, 654-1600, or going online to bloodhero.com.
Libbey’s philanthropy honored with first Ojai Day in 1917, was revived in 1991
By Linda Harmon
Ojai Day was created in 1917 as a public thank-you to one of Ojai’s more famous benefactors, Edward Libbey. The event began with a flourish but soon withered away, according to former Nordhoff teacher Craig Walker who led a small group that reincarnated the event in 1991.
Today the Ojai Day web site proclaims its main focus, “To feature the work of local artists” and provide “an opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Ojai.”
According to Walker, the 1991 celebration was organized by The Friends of the Arcade, a volunteer group banded together to raise funds to retrofit the Arcade for earthquake safety and maintain the landmark. The group included, among others, David Bury, Joan Kemper, Dale Hanson and Walker. After successfully completing the retrofit, they decided to celebrate the community’s thank-you to itself.
The group hired Jody James, an ex-student of Walker’s, to organize this revived Ojai Day.
“I started at the very beginning,” said James. “I was working in the special events office in Ventura putting on the street fairs. Craig had this idea and came down to pick our brains. Since I had had Craig as a teacher in high school and lived in Ojai, I agreed to help put his idea into action. It was a blast and Craig began a great event.”
The displays and the participants were far fewer than today, but Walker considered it a success and the Ojai Day tradition was reborn.
Later, in 1993, the city took over the event and began organizing it through the Recreation Department under Carol Belser. James stayed on, and, along with Belser, enlarged the scope of the event to include hayrides, car shows, bed races, multiple musical and dance performances, a Chumash village, a teen area, a wellness area and more. James still organizes the event, held on the third Saturday of each October.
One of the day’s main attractions is the yearly street mandala, painted the Friday evening before Ojai Day at the intersection of Ojai Avenue and Signal Street. A traditional mandala celebrates the fleeting reality of existence representing a journey inward. Ojai’s first street mandala was painted by local artists Larry Heitz, Tony Gilliam, Steve Bartolemeo and Lisa Sauvageau. Each year it is re-painted in a different incarnation and removed at Ojai Day’s end. During the day the mandala provides one of seven stages where local bands and the popular Aztec dancers perform.
Another tradition is the Ojai artists’ banners. The 55 banners were designed, painted, and signed by local artists symbolizing what Ojai means to them. Each banner was traditionally sponsored by a local business to help pay for the expense of the day and hung in the Arcade arches. That has changed this year with the Historic Preservation Commission ending the practice in the Arcade.
“A lot of the businesses would request a particular artist,” said James. “In the past we’ve always sold out the banners. This is the first year we were not allowed to hang them with sponsors’ names in the Arcade, but we did hang them on Matilija Street. We were disappointed with the decision, but things evolve.”
A large part of the day’s success can be attributed to a laid-back but embracing management style that has kept the tradition alive despite tough budget cuts to its already modest budget. James says the event is a continued success because of its volunteers with their longstanding expertise and support, as well as the newcomers who provide fresh insights and renewed energy.
Each year brings something new to the celebration. This year there will be an organic market representing agriculture, which is an important part of Ojai, both past and present. Also expect Libbey Park to be filled with a larger presence of environmental groups. In tune with the popularity of Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore and the founding of the local Ojai Valley Green Coalition, Ojai Day will be capped off with a joint benefit for the Green Coalition and the Ojai Film Society. They will be showing the environmental film, “The 11Th Hour” with Leonardo DiCaprio, at 5 p.m. at the Ojai Playhouse; suggested donation is $10.
“It has been an amazing journey,” concludes James. “The event is never the same, it grows and changes with the community. I just try and keep up with it and do my best to keep in mind the mission that Craig started with.”
Courtesy of petfinder.com
A pack of ghosts and goblins at your door can scare your pets, but ghouls are not the only thing to beware of on Halloween. Kellyann Conway, director of animal training and behavior at Animal Planet’s Petvideo.com Pet Video and a certified, award-winning trainer, offers these tips to make sure everyone has a howlin’ good time this Halloween.
First, beware of unsafe holiday decorations. Wires and electrical cords are an invitation to your teething pets or those who just like to chew on whatever is available. Use a cord container to prevent wires from being chewed.gnawed. Also, avoid dangling decorations that your pet may become tangled inentangle your pets.
Carving a pumpkin is fun – but placing a candle inside of it may be hazardous to your pet. Candles are easily knocked over and can burn wagging tails, paws and noses. So forget the candle and use a glow stick or battery-operated tea light instead.
Keep your bowl of candy up and away from your pets’ reach. Most people know that dogs and cats shouldn’t have candy – especially chocolate, which is toxic, but even the candy wrappers can be hazardous if swallowed. So remember, no matter how much your pet begs for a sweet, no sharing. If you think your pet has eaten something he shouldn’t have, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Before the trick-or-treaters begin, take your dog on a nice long walk. The exercise will help her relax later. Make sure she’s on leash during her walk in case you encounter any early trick or treaters. Dogs can easily be “spooked” by costumes, especially those with little people in them.
While most pets prefer to go au-naturel – some seem to enjoy dressing-up. If your pet will be in costume for Halloween, make sure it’s safe and comfortable. Always avoid masks or any other costume parts that might impair his or her vision, hearing or breathing.
Your pets can be easily overwhelmed by trick or treaters coming and going. Manage your pets by limiting their access to the door. Use a leash or a baby gate or put him in his crate or even in a separate room while the trick or treaters are out and about. Turn on some music to muffle the knocking and doorbell ringing and prepare a yummy chew or catnip toy to help keep him occupied so he knows what a good boy he is.
Finally, keep your pet inside on Halloween. People have been known to tease, injure pets or steal pets and worse on Halloween.
To find other Halloween and other animal care tips, visit the following web sites:
Petfinder.com is an online database of pets that need homes in over 10,000 animal placement organizations in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The site has facilitated over 10 million adoptions in the 10 years since it launched. Thanks to its sponsors, Petfinder.com is free to both visitors and to its animal placement organization members. Purina signed on as the Web site’s premier sponsor. Other exclusive sponsors are BISSELL Homecare, Inc., a manufacturer of home cleaning and floor care products, PETCO, a national pet supply retailer that sponsors in-store adoptions and provides coupon books for new adopters, The Animal Rescue Site, and Merial, maker of the number one veterinary-recommended flea and tick preventative FRONTLINE(r), and heartworm preventative HEARTGARD(r).
Animal Planet’s Petvideo.com is a comprehensive website featuring free training videos on many essential dog and cat behaviors such as house training, chewing, jumping, litter box training, scratching, spraying and much more. The website also provides step by step instructions on teaching obedience and fun tricks, pet care tips along with funny and heartwarming user-submitted videos.
By Lenny Roberts
A 17-year-old girl was seriously injured Wednesday morning in a single-vehicle crash on Creek Road south of Hermosa Road.
According to CHP Officer Ron Erickson, the victim was northbound in Creek Road when she lost control of her 1997 Toyota Rav4. Erickson said the girl, later identified by Nordhoff assistant principal Susana Arce as Salina Butterfield, was “probably traveling at a high rate of speed” when her car left the road, spun back off the road to the right and crashed into a block wall made of river rock.
Arce said Wednesday afternoon that Butterfield, a senior at Nordhoff, was undergoing surgery at the Ventura County Medical Center after being transferred from the Ojai Valley Community Hospital where she was initially taken by Ojai Life Line paramedics. Butterfield was unconscious when extricated from her SUV by county firefighters, according to Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris.
Her injuries, according to Erickson, included an open skull fracture and several contusions of the left side of her body. It was not known if she was wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, listed at 6:45 a.m.
By Daryl Kelley
County Supervisor Steve Bennett, who helped lead a campaign to close a loophole that allows moderate-income residents to be priced out of mobile home parks, said this week that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of a reform bill does not end a statewide effort to change a flawed law.
“We’ll try again next year,” Bennett said. “There will be an effort, but I don’t know what would get the governor to change his mind. His veto certainly indicates he’s more responsive to pressure from park owners than park residents.”
Bennett described the governor’s veto of a bill that sailed through the legislature as devastating to mobile home residents who’d counted on low space rents to stretch retirement savings and low or moderate incomes.
“There are thousands of people who are going to get hurt by this,” he said. “You are going to see an enormous transfer of wealth from park residents, including low income, to park owners.”
All 13 mobile home parks in the Ojai Valley — and many hundreds of mobile home owners — -could eventually be affected by a 1995 state law that allows park owners to subdivide their properties and sell off each coach space.
The law generally protects low-income park residents as long as they don’t move and want to sell their homes. But it allows space rents of moderate-income residents to rise to market levels over four years, although they otherwise may not be forced out to sell their space.
An income of $51,600 a year or more is considered moderate income in Ventura County. The standard for a single person is about half that amount.
The owner of one local park, Ojai Oaks Mobile Home Park in Mira Monte, has begun the process of selling spaces to the highest bidder. In Ventura County, four park owners have applied, as have more than 30 statewide.
“With this veto,” Bennett said, “it will grow fast now.”
There are about 5,000 mobile home parks in California.
The effect of park owners selling spaces, instead of renting them under local rent controls, will be to transfer the ongoing value of the space from the renter to the park owner, Bennett said. So instead of renters being able to sell their coaches for a substantial amount, based on low rent for their spaces, they will have little left to sell, he said.
“A coach that could have sold for $75,000, will now sell for $5,000 or $10,000,” the supervisor said. “And that goes for low-income residents, as well, when they need to move into a care facility. The low-income protection for their space goes away when they move. So it’s a huge transfer of wealth.”
The bill Schwarzenegger vetoed last Friday would have preserved rent control protections for all park residents, not just those with low incomes. And it would have given 300 cities and counties that oversee rents in mobile home parks a veto over conversions.
In explaining his veto, Schwarzenegger said in a statement that rent controls for park residents who are low-income remain in place, because they are guaranteed by existing state law.
“While the bill’s intent is to preserve low-income housing, it also extends rent control in certain circumstances to mobile home owners in much of the state no matter what their income level,” he said. “It is unclear what state interest is served by the extension of rent control to those who do not have an economic disadvantage.”
The governor said he understood the position of senior citizens who’d contacted his office about the issue.
“I understand the importance of having stability in your living situation,” he said. “This need for stability was eloquently expressed by many seniors throughout California who have written to me on both sides of this bill.”
Some park residents opposed the reform bill, the governor noted. And representatives of a statewide park owners association have said that many residents like the law as it is, because it allows them to buy their spaces, improve their coaches and take advantage of equity gains like other homeowners.
An attorney for Ojai Oaks Mobile Home Park, for example, has said that 30 to 40 of the 125 renters at that Mira Monte park want to buy their spaces.
Schwarzenegger urged lawmakers to try again next year “to find a solution that provides true balance for all the stakeholders involved.”
But Bennett said Schwarzenegger’s argument was unconvincing, and that he didn’t yet see how either side could compromise on the key issue of dispute: whether to keep local rent-control ordinances in place.
As things stand, those local laws are replaced by a state law once a park owner notifies the local government that a subdivision will take place and a single space is sold.
Bennett maintains that the state law provides little protection, even to low-income residents, because there is no state agency to enforce it and residents would have to sue park owners to force them to follow the law. Most simply don’t have the assets to do that, he said.
When Bennett began his campaign to reform state law in the spring he told park residents that indications were that the governor favored the position of park owners. But over the summer, he said, Schwarzenegger received thousands of letters and e-mails from concerned residents, including perhaps 500 from Ojai Valley residents.
“The lobbying effort at least caused him to indicate that he had an open mind,” Bennett said. Now, coach owners must do it all over again, and try to find a way to gain some leverage with the governor, he said.
“But the bottom line is that park owners will not compromise the one issue, rent control, that we must have,” Bennett said. “So this veto is devastating.”
Fast-food outlets, big box stores ruled out in designated downtown areas
By Nao Braverman
After a joint workshop between City Council members and Planning Commissioners on Sept. 19, Ojai’s city staff considered the comments of their constituents and drafted yet a third proposed city ordinance, intended to protect Ojai from the proliferation of chain stores.
The new draft, to be presented at tonight’s Planning Commission meeting, bans formula fast-food chains and so-called big boxes of more than 10,000 square feet, citywide, which would keep out even the smallest Wal-Mart or Costco and, of course, the formerly proposed Subway sandwich shop. It also adds additional restrictions to the size and frontage of businesses within Ojai’s already existing Downtown Commercial Land Use Designation, a portion of Ojai’s central downtown commercial area, slightly smaller than the proposed Historic Preservation District.
Though the new ordinance does allow formula businesses other than fast food to open in the city, their approval is contingent on a conditional use permit which requires public notification and a public hearing, thus providing an opportunity for the frequently requested public input from local residents on each and every chain opening within the city.
The new ordinance does, however, loosen its definition of formula business used in previous ordinance drafts from one that maintains 10 or more locations and employs two or more of the following characteristics: standardized merchandise or menu, standardized facade, standardized decor or color scheme, uniform apparel, standardized sign, trademark or service mark, to one that maintains 10 or more locations and employs three or more of the former characteristics. This modification was made to accommodate chain service businesses which local residents rely on. When city staff was asked to make a distinction between formula service and formula retail businesses at previous meetings, city attorneys cautioned that it would be considered discrimination to do so and thus could be deemed unconstitutional. But they recently discovered that by increasing the number of required standardized characteristics in the chain store definition from two to three, many service-oriented businesses would drop out of the formula business category all together. Most chain insurance companies, for example, may have 10 or more outlets, but like many other services-oriented businesses, do not share decor, facades or uniform apparel with other locations.
The new ordinance provides additional protection to the central downtown area by restricting formula businesses of more than 2,000 square feet and more than 25 feet of frontage from the city’s Downtown Commercial Land Use Designation which includes the north side of Ojai Avenue from Ventura Street to Montgomery Street, including the former Texaco station, and the Arcade Plaza as well as the Ojai Playhouse and Fitzgerald Plaza on the south side of Ojai Avenue.
Under these restrictions, if the owner of Starr Market decided to sell its business to Ralphs, the chain grocery would not be allowed to open without changing its sign, name or uniforms to fit Ojai’s small-town character since the current Starr Market building is larger than the 10,000-square-foot ordinance restriction for formula retail. This might prompt Planning Commissioners to consider a more lenient size restriction in order to accommodate grocery stores, city manager Jere Kersnar speculated.
“I don’t know if it will, but we will look at those considerations at the upcoming meeting,” he said.
Also to be considered is that technically the new ordinance would allow a Starbucks to open within the Arcade Plaza as long as it decided to give up one of its standardized features, maintain the Mission Revival-style architecture of the rest of the Arcade, paint the storefront Benjamin Moore Navajo White, and discard their traditional awning and green lettering.
They would, however, still be subjected to a review, where the public could rightfully bash or extol its pecuniary plans.
“We think this ordinance is reflective of what the council and commission wanted,” said Kersnar.
The Planning Commission meeting begins at 7:30 this evening at the City Hall Council Chambers.
By Nao Braverman
After meeting diligently since May, and setting up the groundwork to begin fund raising, members of the Ojai Skate Park Task Force are ready to begin collecting some cash.
“Our current skate park is bad,” said Judy Gabriel, local parent and member of the task force. “My son came home today with a split elbow and there is a hole the kids are falling into.”
A crew of task force members came to the City Council meeting Tuesday night to ask for some guidance and a more solid affirmation of commitment from the city.
With the dilapidated skate park on its last legs, and a new permanent park in the mind of local skaters and on the city’s back burner for years, a task force comprised of youth skaters, veteran skaters, Rotarians, local parents, and council representative Steve Olsen, was formed.
Essentially commissioned by the city in February, the Task Force met weekly to design a future permanent park, determine what materials should be used, devise a plan to keep it safe and maintained, and come up with a cost estimate for construction.
Eight months later, with the long, hard, nonlucrative efforts of Task Force members, the planning has been completed, even with a newly formed, state recognized nonprofit organization called Sk8 Ojai, to collect funds.
But one thing missing was affirmation from the city, which Task Force members feel has left them hanging.
At a prior meeting city manager Jere Kersnar said that city staff had been holding off on giving any direction to Task Force members because they were waiting on a decision from the board of Ojai Unified School District. The school board, owners of the property slated for the new permanent park, were reluctant to commit to extending the current lease any further, he told council members. The school board property, currently has a 15-year lease with the existing temporary park, where Task Force members have planned for the new park to be built.
Kersnar said he was concerned about putting public funds into a project that had only a 15-year life span but did not give a definitive direction to Task Force members.
With a great deal of preliminary work behind them, Task Force members wanted some response from the city Tuesday evening. Without knowing whether the city agreed to build the new skate park on the school board property, whether they would have to find another location, whether their current lease with the school board property was secure, or whether the city could give them any financial backing, they could not begin to collect funds and progress to further planning, said Task Force member Sage Intner.
“How much time and effort are you willing to give?” she asked.
Olsen wanted to know if the current skate park’s lease with the school board was ironclad for the next 15 years.
City attorney Monte Widders said he was not sure, nor could Paulette Whiting, filling in for Kersnar, answer the question.
Mayor Carol Smith said she was willing to support the construction of a permanent park at the temporary park’s current location, even with only 15 sure years ahead.
“I’m willing to be optimistic and say 15 years is a lot,” she said. “I think their refusal to renew the lease is just prudent business practice. Who knows, they might decide to renew it 15 years down the line.”
Other council members agreed to support the Task Force and chided city staff for not following through on the skate park issue.
“I see this as our park and our responsibility,” said Councilwoman Sue Horgan. “I am not happy with staff’s work on this. It is their responsibility to follow the direction that I think the council has already given them, and I don’t think they’ve done that.”
Horgan made a motion for staff to return on the second meeting in November with a report on a lease agreement, some long-term financing options for the park, and to report on existing maintenance at the temporary skate park. The motion passed unanimously with some applause from Task Force members.
By Nao Braverman
bell of Arkansas and Academy Award-winning actress, moved to Ojai in the early 1980s to escape the anonymity of Hollywood.
Born to Nell, a school board secretary, and Maurice Steenburgen, a freight-train conductor, she set out to New York to study acting, and worked her way into the theater industry. But it was more than her big brown eyes and smokey Southern drawl that landed her several roles in hollywood. Her classic beauty may have played a role in casting her as in “Back to the Future III” as a quaint western lady, who won the affections of mad scientist, Doc. But she also had a knack for finding the subtle humor in every character and putting it to its best use.
Such is evident in her role as an eccentric and frustrated amateur singer in “The Butcher’s Wife” and her Academy Award-winning role in “Melvin and Howard.” There, playing Melvin’s poor and discontented housewife, who nurtures an inconsolable passion for dancing in Las Vegas, she made her big break.
Having been raised in a warm, close-knit Southern town, Steenburgen found, several years into her career, that she yearned for a more intimate community once again, most importantly for her two children, Lilly and Charlie McDowell.
“Ojai made sense to me, in comparison to L.A. where your comings and goings were anonymous,” she said. “I wanted Lilly and Charlie to have a community of people.”
And that is exactly what Ojai provided for her and her children who made lifelong friendships during their 12 years living in the East End, the last of which they commuted between the small town and their home in West Los Angeles.
But with her children grown and her husband, Ted Danson, working often in the city, Steenburgen decided to go back to Los Angeles, and sold their place.
Then, about two years ago, she and Danson decided to buy a home in the East End again, suddenly realizing that it fit the life they wanted to carve out for themselves.
“I have so many friends there,” she said. “I love the land, the people, and the community spirit. I love how people are trying to keep it protected. I’m proud of the community that has kept its heart and integrity, away from big chains, and prides itself on environmental awareness. I also realized that Ted wanted the same thing.”
Though work has been busier than ever, which is never considered a bad thing in Steenburgen’s field, she and Danson always make time to host charity events and donate money to causes they feel strongly about, namely environmental issues such as the American Oceans Campaign, and benefits for Oak Grove School.
Always generous friends, the comedic couple even hosted Larry David, producer of Seinfeld, and the notoriously off-beat sketch comedy show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” for a summer getaway. Though certainly a most entertaining lodger, she and Danson almost regretted taking him in, she jokes, because after the smallest household event, David would pull out his little spiral-bound notebook and start writing it into his improvised sketch comedy act.
“Half the show has been making fun of Ted,” she laughed. Not to leave Steenburgen out, she also made appearance on David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” last weekend, dodging lascivious advances by a limo driver. David, later in the show, playing himself as usual, planned to be buried in a graveyard next to Danson and Steenburgen, before he and Danson start bickering.
“That’s just his version of me,” Steenburgen laughed. “It’s not me, and It’s not the mansion I live in, that appeared on show.”
She recently finished filming ‘Numb,’” where she plays a psychiatrist to the protagonist played by Matthew Perry who suffers from depersonalization disorder. Once again in a role with a comic twist, her character is strangely turned on by the patient’s condition and has an affair with him. The film was awarded and sold out at the Ojai Film Festival over last weekend.
After spending a day in Ojai to attend the film’s West Coast premiere, she is off to shoot her upcoming film “Step Brothers” by Judd Apatow, the writer and director of “Knocked Up” and “Superbad.”
On an aberrantly clear day in Los Angeles she and Danson often dream of being in their small-town get-away in the valley.
“We tell each other things like ‘I wonder what it’s like in Ojai today, I bet it’s so pretty and green in Ojai,’”she said.
By Lenny Roberts
The Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office has confirmed that the skull discovered Friday morning outside the Ojai Police Station on Ventura Street is that of an Asian male.
Senior Deputy Medical Examiner Craig Stevens said the skull, covered in yellow lacquer, appears to be that of a man between 20 and 50 years old, and that the man may have died sometime anywhere between three years and an unknown number of decades ago.
Eric Buschow, the senior deputy assigned to the case, said the skull was packaged and brought into the police station by an employee.
“From time to time, people come across skeletal remains,” Buschow said. “What’s unusual about this is that it appears that someone put it next to the Police Station. We’re not sure why they did what they did or possessed it in the first place.
“Typically, if someone finds something, they would notify us and we would pick it up. In this case, because it was left there, it raises a lot of questions.”
Stevens said the skull will be sent to a state laboratory in Sacramento for DNA testing.
Anyone with information about this skull is asked to call Buschow at 494-8226.
By Daryl Kelley
Despite a rare splash of September rain, the Ojai Valley experienced its driest year in recent history as a new rainfall season began this week. Indeed, precipitation for 2006-2007 may have matched the lowest ever.
“It could be the driest year in recorded history,” said Ron Merckling, spokesman for Casitas Municipal Water District. “Matilija Dam received 7.84 inches, which means this year was a virtual tie with the previous record of 7.83 inches set in 1877.”
That compares with an average annual rainfall of about 25 inches at Casitas Dam. The lowest previous rainfall in recent history was in 1960-1961, when 8.77 inches fell. Not even during the drought of 1986-1991 did rainfall drop below 9.46 inches in a year.
As a result, Oak View-based Casitas diverted no water from the Ventura River into its huge reservoir this year, Merkling said.
In just the last two years, and despite an average rainfall year in 2006, water stored behind Casitas Dam has dropped from nearly 251,000 acre-feet to about 211,000, records show. Casitas Reservoir is still about 83 percent full, but that’s down from 90 percent in the spring. And Merckling noted that declines accelerate sharply if dry years repeat.
Lake Casitas was only about half full after the six-year drought.
New data also shows, Merckling said, that the drought and a late-summer heat wave prompted local farmers to buy far more water from Casitas than in the previous year — 42 percent more in August and 40 percent more in September.
That was partly the result of groundwater basins not being refilled with saturating rains, which caused some wells to run dry, forcing the purchase of more reservoir water, he said.
“Groundwater has been depleted much more this year than in normal conditions,” Merckling said.
Such conditions prompted Casitas to begin new water conservation programs in the spring, including a $150 rebate for old, water-wasting washing machines and toilets. That program is still under way, Merckling said, and all Ojai Valley residents qualify, even those who do not buy water from Casitas.
“We could use a lot more requests,” he said.
Another conservation program, a survey of water use by farmers, found startling results.
A survey team from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo evaluated the irrigation practices of 35 local farmers and found a need for improvement.
The so-called “distribution uniformity”evaluations, found that local farmers’ irrigation by drip and micro-sprinkler systems were only about 66 percent effective, compared with a statewide average of 85 percent effectiveness, Merckling said.
“A low distribution uniformity means that fields were watered unevenly and most likely produced lower crop yields,” Merckling said.
Common problems, he said, were that farmers did not water often enough, and that they watered for too long when they did.
“They often applied more water per cycle than the soil could store,” he said. “And about half watered too infrequently.” Ojai Valley soils are often rocky and shallow, he said.
About three-fourths of the participating farmers made immediate changes as a result of the survey, Merckling said.
Meanwhile, local water agencies have accelerated their efforts to work together on water conservation, he said. They will meet to discuss those plans next Wednesday, he said.
“There’s a lot more coming on water conservation,” he said. “We’re concerned about the potential for a prolonged drought.”
School district defends actions as parents sue over classroom book
By Sondra Murphy
A legal case against Ojai Unified School District involving the use of a book that addresses bullying has returned to Ventura County Superior Court. An Oct. 22 trial date is scheduled for “Luttrull v. Ojai Unified School District.”
In an ironic turn, plaintiffs alleged harassing behavior by school district employees toward parents and their children after they complained about the book.
The suit centers around Jodee Blanco’s memoir titled “Please Stop Laughing at Me” assigned to San Antonio Elementary School fifth-grade students. Some parents objected to the frank language, feeling it was inappropriate for elementary students.
OUSD superintendent Tim Baird said that the district met with the concerned parents and removed the book from its elementary curriculum. Unhappy with subsequent actions by district staff and the OUSD board, three parents subsequently filed a lawsuit of miscellaneous complaints on behalf of their daughters and one parent.
Originally filed in September 2005, the case was moved to the Federal Ninth District Court in Los Angeles early in 2006 to address eight federal causes of action. OUSD attorney, Jonathan Light, filed motions to dismiss several causes of action based on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of gender, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Some plaintiff’s complaints were filed on the basis of Title IX violations because only fifth-grade girls were assigned the book.
The legislative history of Title IX suits have hinged on “deliberate indifference” towards student or parent complaints and most of the plaintiff’s causes of action attempt to illustrate examples of such indifference by teachers, administrators and board members.
Two federal judges from different phases in the lawsuit cited undisputed facts about OUSD’s handling of the complaints at issue – specifically when staff met with parents or students and removed the book from curriculum – as adequate measures by district staff to show that claims of deliberate indifference were not supported.
Light said all eight of the federal causes of action were thrown out during this phase in proceedings, leaving one county cause of action remaining. The core issues in those dismissed are: sex discrimination, harassment and retaliation as to minor plaintiffs, harassment and retaliation as to plaintiffs (parents of the minors in question), civil rights violations as to minor plaintiffs, civil rights violations to plaintiffs (parents), intentional infliction of emotional distress as to minor plaintiffs, negligence as to plaintiff (parent), and civil conspiracy as to all plaintiffs.
The seventh cause of action, “negligence as to minor plaintiffs,” remains for the county to hear. “It is now entirely a county case,” said Light, adding that the federal decisions simplify the proceedings.
Besides nine causes of action being reduced to one, Light said the list of school district defendants has been reduced from four teachers, a specified school board member and two administrators to teacher Linda McMichael, principal John LeSuer, Baird and the Ojai Unified School District. The plaintiffs have also reduced from three to two former San Antonio Elementary fifth-grade students represented by Betty Craven and Rosalyn Luttrull and Jeff Luttrull, M.D.
In his Jan. 8 decision, United States District Judge Andrew J. Guilford wrote, “This action arose from a school teacher’s well-meaning, yet ill conceived attempt to create harmony on a schoolyard playground by introducing a book with adult content to fifth-grade girls. Unfortunately, this school teacher’s efforts mushroomed into a full-fledged controversy when the misguided actions of this well-meaning teacher were followed up by the misguided actions of well-meaning parents. This court is now asked to determine whether any of the actions of the participants in this schoolyard saga resulted in a violation of federal or state law.”
Julie Christie stars with Gordon Pinsent in the acclaimed drama, “Away from Her,” about an Alzheimer’s patient, screening Saturday. Christie, a former Ojai resident, will also be on hand for questions after a screening of the classic film “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” on Friday.
By Nao Braverman
Ojai’s eighth annual film festival, “Enriching the Human Spirit Through Film,” showcases the work of local talents and, world-renowned artists who convey positive messages through their cinematic accomplishments.
The festival, beginning Thursday and closing Sunday, will screen a series of narrative, animation, and documentary films at the Ojai Playhouse, the Ojai Art Center, Matilija Junior High School and outdoors at Libbey Bowl.
What was once primarily a series of off-beat films hosted by the Ojai Film Society has now expanded into its own nonprofit organization; an annual weekend event, 70 miles from Hollywood including seminars and workshops with industry icons.
In the midst of academy award winners, including acclaimed cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond and legendary British star, Julie Christie, the festival also highlights a documentary by Ojai’s own novice filmmaker, Lisa Snider.
Snider’s “The Price of Paradise,” illustrates the need for affordable housing amid Santa Barbara’s escalating real estate, and how it has come to affect the community. A Santa Barbara County employee at the time, Snider launched this debut piece, without any ambitions of cinematic success, but rather to awaken viewers to the dire need of affordable housing for Santa Barbara’s workforce.
Working for the city’s director of Community Development and Housing, she started filming “The Price of Paradise,” as a publicity stunt to spread awareness of the housing shortage, an issue which became closer to her heart as the project progressed. She hired on Ojai producer Mike Anderson, owner of Extra Mile Productions, and his cameraman Austen Collins, who cooperatively propelled the primarily educational piece into a more artistic venture with some creative camera work.
With a budget of less than $30,000, the Ojai crew shot the piece on high quality video in a hurried six months, and had it edited down to a polished piece three months later in time for the Santa Barbara Film Festival earlier this year, where it was promptly accepted and well received. “The Price of Paradise” screens Sunday 3 p.m at the Ojai Art Center.
Also at the festival this year, academy award winner, pop icon of the 1960s and former Ojai resident Julie Christie will attend the screening of her most recent cinematic performance in “Away From Her,” Saturday 12:30 p.m at the Ojai Art Center. The film in which Christie plays an Alzheimer’s patient who breaks her husband’s heart by transferring her affections to another man, received rave reviews.
On Friday at 5:30 p.m., Robert Altman’s unconventional 1971 western “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” filmed by Vilmos Zsigmond, in which Christie was nominated for an Academy award for her role opposite Warren Beatty, will be screened at the Ojai Playhouse.
Zsigmond, a Hungarian-born acclaimed cinematographer who settled in Los Angeles and gained prominence through his work on “McCabe & Mrs. Miller,” will also be attending the screening with Christie.
Opening with a pizza party at the Ojai Arts Center, at 5:30 p.m., the first movie of the festival is a free screening of “In the Shadow of the Moon,” a documentary surviving crew members of every Apollo mission, is showing at 7:30 p.m. at Libbey Bowl.
The weekend festivities closes with “Why Ojai?” at Matilija Junior High School. The film is a regional piece about why the enclave has become a spiritual center and special place for locals in the valley.