Ruling could be worth millions, set precedent for other federal ‘takings’
By Daryl Kelley
After a series of setbacks in a costly 2005 lawsuit, the Casitas Municipal Water District scored a legal victory potentially worth tens of millions of dollars last week when an appeals court panel agreed that the federal government had seized district property by forcing it to provide water for a fish ladder built for the endangered steelhead trout.
In a split decision, the three-justice panel also ruled that Casitas was not entitled to reimbursement for $9 million the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation forced it to spend to build the fish ladder on the Ventura River.
But property rights lawyers said that the 2-to-1 ruling could still carry nationwide significance if it remains in place after an expected request by state and federal lawyers that the case be reconsidered by the full 11-justice federal appeals court in Washington.
“Casitas’ position has been vindicated,” said Washington attorney Roger Marzulla, a property rights specialist who represents the water district. “This ruling says that when the government takes water from private use that’s a property taking.”
And J. David Breemer, a principal attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property rights group in Sacramento, said the Casitas decision “is very important because it says your water can’t be taken without you being paid for it.”
Before last week’s ruling, Breemer said, the presumption was that the government had a right to take water being used by a private party without compensation to satisfy federal environmental law, such as the Endangered Species Act.
“Now the presumption is that they’ve got to pay for that water,” he said. “The (legal) burden’s on them to make sure they’re not taking water without compensation.”
If the Bureau of Reclamation is forced to pay for water to operate the fish ladder, the bill could total $1 million to $2 million a year, officials said. That compares with Casitas’ annual budget of $15 million.
Casitas estimates that it takes at least 3,200 acre-feet of water a year to guarantee that the steelhead migration can occur. The district charges farmers $371 an acre-foot for water and residential customers $444. It also estimates that it would cost at least $600 an acre-foot to import water for the fish ladder during a prolonged drought.
That means that the value of the 3,200 acre-feet is at least $1.12 million and as much as $1.92 million, said Casitas representatives. (An acre-foot of water meets the needs of two typical households for a year.)
Lawyer Marzulla said that a water appraiser and broker hired by the district has placed the total value of the water the district could lose for the fish ladder over decades as at least “tens of millions of dollars, and it could go as high as $80 million.”
But Casitas is not counting its money yet.
Indeed, the five elected directors of the water district are split 3-to-2 on whether it’s a good idea to continue with the suit.
Last year, the board majority voted to press the litigation for a third year despite a steep $500,000 cost and repeated setbacks, while the board minority said the suit was a waste of money and would undercut the Endangered Species Act if Casitas won.
That split persisted this week.
“We’re not doing this because we’re opposed to the Endangered Species Act,” said board President Jim Word. “We’re doing it because the cost of this water should be borne nationally and not just by people in our district.”
Director Bill Hicks said the appeals decision shows Casitas was right to persist with the suit.
“It’s vindication,” Hicks said. “This decision says you can’t just come in and take somebody’s water without paying for it. I don’t want to hurt the federal government or the Endangered Species Act, but I think our ratepayers should be made whole.”
Pete Kaiser was the third in support of continuing the suit.
But Director Russ Baggerly, who along with Richard Handley, voted to end the suit last year, said the district’s case is far from decided.
Although siding with Casitas, the appeals panel sent the case back to the claims court for more argument by both sides, he noted. And Baggerly said he expects lawyers for the state of California and the federal government to appeal the panel’s decision because the bulk of state and federal law does not support it.
“I don’t think anyone should get too excited about this decision,” Baggerly said. “This is the first time Casitas has won anything in all of these decisions by the court. And this case is certainly not over yet.”
State and federal lawyers maintain that the water Casitas gathers in its reservoir is owned by all of the people of California and not by the water district, and that it can be used by government agencies for the common good without compensation. It fact, that procedure is common when enforcing the Endangered Species Act.
Last year, a federal claims court judge agreed with that argument, ruling that a constitutional property right was not involved when the federal government required Casitas to provide water without compensation.
The claims court judge ruled that the Casitas case had to be considered under federal law that deals with the government’s simple regulatory constraint of water use, and not as a “physical taking” of private property. Water agencies have rarely, if ever, won compensation in a case argued under such rules, officials have said.
But now, after the appeals panel decision that Casitas water was constitutionally protected property, the case appears wide open again.
The panel’s majority ruled: “We have reversed … based solely upon our determination that the governmental actions at issue are properly analyzed under a physical takings rubric.”
But a third justice, in dissent, found that a physical taking had not occurred, citing California state water law and the legal doctrine that water rights are held as a public trust by all people and not as individual property.
Attorney Breemer, the property rights advocate, said he expects government lawyers to ask for a review of the panel’s decision by the full 11-justice federal appeals court in Washington. They have 10 days to make that request, Marzulla said, but that motion must be based on the argument that the appeals panel “overlooked a critical issue of fact or law.”
For now, the water district’s lawyer said, “Casitas’ position has been vindicated.”
The Casitas district provides water for about 65,000 people and nearly 5,700 acres of farmland in the Ojai Valley and Ventura.
Vote unanimous to support Measure P’s $89 per parcel for local schools
By Nao Braverman
With more than $1 million cut from the Ojai Unified School District’s annual budget, local officials publicly agreed at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, that they believe the community needs to step up and take care of its own schools.
Council members voted in unanimous support of Measure P, which would allow the school district to levy a tax of $89 per parcel within the district boundaries for seven years. The measure, intended to bring the school district out of a devastating financial crisis, is the school district’s last resort, according to school board President Steve Fields.
“We have come to the end of our road,” he said. “We spent much of last spring holding public meetings to discuss potential cuts needed to close this year’s budget gap. We made significant cuts to many areas, including transportation and food service. We were able to keep all of our community schools open and maintain our class sizes. I don’t see how we can make any more cuts this coming year that won’t dramatically impact our children’s education.”
School district officials estimate that the parcel tax could bring in around $400,500 each year for the district’s depleted budget, although the estimate is very rough, said Mike Caldwell, chairman of the committee to get Measure P passed.
The numbers are hard to estimate since the proposed parcel tax would offer an exemption to seniors 65 years and older. With roughly 9,000 parcels in the district boundaries, the school board estimated that about half of them are seniors. That gives them a ballpark figure of about 4,500 parcels at $89 per parcel. The seniors who want the exemption would have to take the initiative to apply for it themselves.
But Caldwell says it was important to allow seniors, particularly those who are on a fixed income or are living solely on Social Security, to opt out.
When a parcel tax measure for the school district failed to pass about three and a half years ago, that was partially because many local seniors campaigned against it, he said. The previous measure proposed a higher parcel tax of $150 per parcel, he said.
“This measure is asking for a very minimal number compared to the current needs of the school district,” said Caldwell.
But Measure P’s proponents are making it as digestible as possible since it needs a two-thirds majority vote to get passed.
With the school district facing financial shortfalls because of the compounded results of the dramatic drop in enrollment and unreliable state and federal funding, the parcel tax the need for funds is urgent, said Fields.
“I know some people question supporting a parcel tax if they don’t have children in the school district,” said Fields. “However, I believe strongly that a community cannot be a healthy vibrant community without a good school system. Good schools maintain property values. Good schools provide workers for our local businesses. And good schools ensure that our next generation will be able to tackle the huge issues that they surely face.”
The school district has already made dramatic cuts in administration and staff and has seen salaries fall in comparison with others throughout the county, said Fields. While the Save Ojai Schools campaign and Ojai Education Foundation have raised considerable funds, they are not enough to maintain the quality education that the school district has offered to local students to this date.
The measure states that it is proposed in order to maintain small class sizes with highly qualified teachers, and keep the existing arts programs, libraries and schools, all which would be in jeopardy without additional funds, according to Fields.
“Clearly this is an issue that faces our community that is of utmost importance,” said Mayor Sue Horgan. “The school board members have done a great job at trying to manage this impossible situation. It is going to take a two-thirds vote to pass, which is difficult to accomplish. I believe so strongly in this important measure.”
Council members agreed and a motion to support the measure was passed unanimously.
By Lenny Roberts
A driver’s license checkpoint on West Ojai Avenue Thursday morning resulted in 19 citations — eight of which were issued to motorists who were driving without or on suspended licenses.
The other 11 citations were issued to people for either not having a license in possession or for incorrect classification. Those cited for not having valid licenses or driving while suspended had their cars towed and face steep recovery fees.
Senior Deputy Jim Popp, Ojai’s traffic enforcement and accident investigation officer, said a total of 542 vehicles were stopped between 9 and 11 a.m. in front of the old Ford dealership. A large road sign provided by the Oxnard Police Department and set up by the Ojai Department of Public Works was placed between El Paseo Road and the actual checkpoint stating “Driver’s License Checkpoint Ahead.”
The purpose of the exercise, according to Senior Deputy Jim Kenney, one of three motorcycle officers from the Thousand Oaks Police Department assigned to the detail, was to ensure safety.
Kenney explained there is not probable cause required to stop people when staging a driver’s license checkpoint. Further, law enforcement agencies often do, but are not required to provide advance notice of checkpoints to the public via the media.
“The California Vehicle Code requires that anyone operating a motor vehicle on a public highway have a driver’s license,” Kenney said. “During a DUI checkpoint, we try to establish a probable cause.”
Ojai Police Department Administrative Sgt. Maureen Hookstra said statistically, checkpoints of this kind help ensure traffic safety by getting unlicensed people off the roads.
At least one valley resident voiced opposition to being stopped. Entering the city, Jennifer Guernsey was stopped and asked to present her license. When she refused and asked why, it was explained that probable cause was not needed. She argued if announcements were made for DUI checkpoints, prior notification should be made for license checkpoints. “It’s a way to get illegal aliens,” Guernsey said angrily. “They were very condescending and I didn’t appreciate that. The whole process is unconstitutional and a waste of taxpayers’ money when we have all these crimes like drugs.”
Kenney was pleased with the outcome of Thursday’s checkpoint, but did not know if future checkpoints were planned within the city. “This would be considered a success based on the number of cars checked and the people cited,” he said.
By Nao Braverman
Jennifer Moss, aka “Earth Friend Gen,” arrived in Ojai Sept. 25 for a visit back to her old stomping grounds.
“I am enjoying the sunshine,” said Moss, who has traded in her G-string and pasties for a more conservative bikini, at least for today.
Moss left Ojai for Ashland, Ore., in early May, which she says is really beautiful with lots of nice people.
She drove to Ojai in a rented van and arrived today with her bicycle, and a heart-stamped globe, which she carts around on the back of it.
“What I would like to do is get a Dodge Sprinter and convert it to run on bio-diesel,” she said.
She expects to be in Ojai for a few weeks, but she’s not sure. After that Moss may go back to Ashland for a while, but her plans are up in the air.
“There are a lot of different opportunities in my life,” she said. “Once I get my van I want to be a world traveler.”
Getting a van and converting it to run on alternative fuels is part of her attempt to focus on tackling environmental issues.
“I want to work with organic farmers and eco-villages,” she said. From now on she wants her name spelled G-e-n, which also stands for Global Environmental Network.
She was recently interviewed on NBC (will play after the commercial) and the media focus has motivated her to be a more concentrated spokesperson for love, life and peace, she said.
Moss says she wants to channel the media attention she has recently received toward various, lesser-known environmental and health issues, for which she is a proponent.
“I want to keep working on sharing earth-friendly tips and sharing the naked truth,” she said. “For example, most people don’t know that canola oil is not healthy … it really isn’t good for your body.”
She says she is learning to be more peaceful, and to work with people toward positive change.
“A lot of people in this society don’t know what I am doing,” she said. “They think I want to hurt children or sell myself sexually but it’s not true. I was born this way, and I love our children.”
What she strives for is to help children, and work with them on creating a sustainable eco-friendly world, she said.
She is staying in Ojai to help a friend fix up his house and organize it for a few weeks, perhaps. After that, she’s off to wherever her world-traveling path will lead her.
Ojai Valley residents are expected to be more self-reliant and prepared when the next valleywide emergency occurs, be it earthquake, fire or flood.
The local disaster preparedness drill on Sept. 17 went extremely well with no major glitches, according to local officials.
The goal was to establish effective communication methods among citizens, volunteers, the Police Department and Fire Department, in the event of a disaster, said 1st District Supervisor Steve Bennett. With those mechanisms in place, local residents and Community Emergency Response Team volunteers should be able to respond more calmly and efficiently during major catastrophes.
CERT volunteers counted a total of 684 “OK” signs in the Ojai Valley within an hour of the drill, indicating that 684 households are prepared for a disaster and know to put up a sign when a real event occurs. An “OK” sign posted on the window of a house during a real disaster should show that members of the household are safe, and signals CERT volunteers to move on to others in need.
Volunteers divided themselves into nine neighborhood groups to count signs Sept. 17. Local participants were asked to post “OK” signs on their homes for the drill. In the breakdown, Mira Monte volunteers counted the highest number of neighborhood participants, with a total of 225 “OK” signs. Casitas Springs had the least, with no volunteers and no participants, according to the East City area CERT volunteer coordinator, Paul Garth. Meiners Oaks volunteers counted the second highest number of participants, 153 “OK” signs, the East City area, which runs from Signal Street to Gridley Road came in third with a count of 101 signs. West City, which runs from Signal Street to the beginning of Highway 33, counted 84 signs. Arbolada-Foothill volunteers came in next with 46 signs, and the East End of Ojai had 44 signs posted. Oak View volunteers counted 30 participants in their neighborhood and Upper Ojai volunteers counted only one.
The first test of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department’s reverse 911 system effectively made 12,000 calls in 10 minutes, according to Bennett. The Sheriff’s Department staff will have to work on a few minor technical issues to address unanswered calls, however.
Sean Kellythorne, incident commander for the citizen drill said that the communication between volunteers, the Police Department, and Fire Department went exceptionally well. Members of the Ojai Valley Amateur Radio Club accompanied CERT volunteers on their “OK” sign count and relayed information to Kellythorne through portable amateur radios. He then transferred information to the police and battalion chiefs.
“Fire Department and Police said that the communication between volunteers, the Police Department, and Fire Department went exceptionally well. Members of the Ojai Valley Amateur Radio Club accompanied CERT volunteers on their “OK” sign count and relayed information to Kellythorne through portable amateur radios. He then transferred information to the police and battalion chiefs.
“Fire Department and Police Department officials really see the value of this operation,” said Kellythorne.
“We had over 100 people on the streets which is almost 10 times the amount that the Fire Department could field. To say they were pleased would be an underestimation.”
Garth said that 40 more people signed up for the next CERT training and that local volunteers are hoping to get a much higher count for the drill next year.
“This is a classic example of the community wanting to help itself, and the government helping them do that,” said Bennett. “It was essentially a citizen’s drill that we helped coordinate. It’s the best kind of partnership when the government helps the people help themselves.”
To sign up for CERT training call Bennett’s office at 654-2703. To register a cell phone number for reverse 911 calls go to the county web site at countyofventura.org.
50 neighbors downriver from Matilija Dam come out to express fears, concerns about project
By Sondra Murphy
Demolishing Matilija Dam is the easy part. The hard part is deciding where to put the enormous amount of silt and sediments built up behind the dam.
The county invited residents of one neighborhood impacted by the project to a meeting Wednesday at Nordhoff High School to discuss this and other issues.
The Ventura County Watershed Protection District is working with the United States Army Corps of Engineers to remove the dam. The dam has been a barrier between endangered southern steelhead trout and their historic spawning grounds since it was built 60 years ago as a flood-control project.
According to a feasibility study conducted by the Corps of Engineers in 2004, demolition is expected to occur sometime between 2010 and 2012 and will cost, including silt removal, more than $100 million.
Plans to construct a levee west of the properties on Oso Road, as well as a high-flow bypass for the Robles Diversion, were detailed by Ventura County Watershed Protection District’s Peter Sheydayi. He also addressed one of four potential storage sites for silt south of Meyer Road. About 50 people attended.
Also at the meeting were Doug Chitwood of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, project manager Darrell Buxton, environmental services manager Pam Lindsey, and Keith Filegar of the county’s Real Estate Services Division.
Several representatives of various water districts were in attendance, as well.
Conspicuously absent was County Supervisor Steve Bennett, whose valleywide disaster drill was taking place at the same time as the meeting, a scheduling blunder criticized by resident Jodi Heath.
Relocating the removed sediment in the amount of 2 to 6 million cubic yards will be no mean feat. The people who attended the meeting apprehensively sat through the first half hour of slide show presentation reviewing the history of the dam and asked a few questions as the anxiety among them grew more vocal. Besides doubt that the levee, planned to be built south of Meyer Road near the Ventura River trailhead, would serve to protect their community from flooding, several people expressed concern that the levee would, instead, increase the dangers of flooding to their homes and properties by changing the contours of the river bed.
Many were also angry that the project’s 23 participating agencies were now considering their river bottom neighborhood as a disposal area, something that was not addressed in a 2006 public meeting. Previous information indicated that an area near the Baldwin Road bridge would be the disposal site. That zone is still on the list of possibilities, as well as two others downstream near Foster Park.
Still in the design phase, the project also includes flow bypass pipes to move slurry from the dam area and around populated areas to rejoin the river. “Any features that involve construction, involve noise,” said Sheydayi. Several people questioned the odor factor during the process, but no answer was given.
Heath and others also asked about the truck traffic route for delivering dam materials into the proposed disposal site. “It hasn’t been decided yet,” answered Sheydayi, “but probably down Meyer Road … Right now, we’re working with Casitas as to where the route will be. A portion is on federal land and a portion is on OVLC land and a portion is on privately owned land.” Church of the Living Christ largely owns that private property. During the 2006 meeting, project coordinators mistakenly thought the property belonged to the Land Conservancy and so had ruled out the area for disposal.
After the meeting, resident Bob Collins summed up what others had voiced during the two-hour discussion. “They wanted to find a cheap place to dump the stuff,” he said. “They should take that silt and spread it thin. In my 50 years of construction, I’ve never seen it done like this. There are certain fundamental understandings in the industry we just don’t do and we don’t dump trash on people’s property.”
Well safety in the project area was also questioned, but none of the agency representatives had information about exact locations. “There are at least six to eight wells down there and they don’t know where they are,” complained resident Warren Davis.
As the meeting progressed, conversations overlapped, Tempers flared and no one expressed support for the project. Sheydayi informed the crowd that there would be a design oversight meeting on Oct. 2 at 9 a.m. at the VCWPD offices in their Saticoy conference room at 11251 B Riverbank Drive. “Obviously, everybody down river is going to have their own perspective and at those design meetings we will decide what criteria we will use to decide which disposal site to use,” Sheydayi said. For more details, go to matilijadam.org.
Investigation continues in fatal car crash
By Daryl Kelley
Prosecutors will ask Friday that the arraignment of Oscar-winning screenwriter Roger Avary on possible charges related to a fatal car crash near Ojai be delayed at least until next month, because government investigators have not completed an inquiry into the January accident.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Lief said this week that witnesses of the late-night crash that killed an Avary house guest and injured Avary’s wife are being re-interviewed, and that criminal charges, if any, would then be filed against Avary, who was driving his sedan when it crashed into a telephone pole.
“We just want to make sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s dotted before we proceed,” Lief said. “We don’t want to file it and not have everything ready to go. So far, there’s been no change in circumstance about what we know.”
If follow-up interviews confirm what prosecutors think are the facts, “… there is no doubt that certain charges will be litigated by this office,” he said. “Additional investigation will indicate whether any other charges might be justified and whether special circumstances might be justified.”
In July, prosecutors tentatively decided to charge Avary, who won an Academy Award for “Pulp Fiction” in 1994, with gross vehicular manslaughter while being intoxicated, according to case documents. The district attorney’s office forwarded that charge to the court clerk. But court officials delayed an official filing until closer to arraignment and until prosecutors completed their investigation and decided on the final charge, if any.
This week, Lief would not comment on what the possible charge might be. But in July prosecutors, while acknowledging that an investigation was ongoing, said the gross vehicular manslaughter charge was the most likely. It carries a maximum penalty of 11 years in prison, considering the injuries in this case.
Instead of the vehicular manslaughter charge, prosecutors have said they have considered charging Avary with driving under the influence of alcohol and causing injury or death, a less serious charge that carries a maximum of seven years in prison in this case.
Defense attorney Mark Werksman said Tuesday that he was pleased with the delay, if it means the district attorney is giving the case the full review it deserves.
“If they need more time, we’re happy to give them more,” he said, “because we want to make sure whatever happens here is the right thing and the fair thing.”
Werksman said Lief told him Monday that prosecutors hadn’t decided what charge to file.
“The DA told me yesterday they don’t know what they’re going to charge, if anything,” he said. “Right now, there are no charges.”
Previously, Werksman said that the 42-year-old Avary denies being intoxicated and thinks the crash was caused by a tire blowout.
“He denies being under the influence,” Werksman said. “He did lose control (of the car). We know that a tire blew, then he lost control. It was a dark night on an unlit curve.” Nor was Avary speeding, the lawyer said.
For prosecutors to file either of the intoxication charges they have acknowledged considering, they would have to show that Avary had a blood-alcohol level of at least .08.
But defense lawyers have sometimes successfully challenged laboratory tests that led to a blood-level determination once they gained access to blood samples, or other tests, on which prosecutors decided the defendant was intoxicated.
In addition to Avary’s blood-alcohol level, Werksman has said key evidence will be an analysis of damage to Avary’s 2000 Mercedes coupe.
“There are things we can’t learn without court orders, once the case is filed,’’ he said in a July interview.
On Jan. 13, Avary was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and felony drunken driving after the car he was driving skidded and crashed into a telephone pole on Ojai Avenue near Boardman Road about 12:30 a.m. The Avarys live nearby in the East End of the valley.
The district attorney’s office submitted the manslaughter charge to the Superior Court in July, and prosecutors said they expected the court to officially file it shortly before Avary’s scheduled arraignment on Friday. But now an arraignment will not occur until next month, at earliest, Lief said.
Andreas Zini, 34, who was visiting Avary from Italy, died in the single-car crash, apparently from internal injuries, authorities said.
Avary’s wife, Gretchen, also suffered serious injuries after being thrown from the car when it crashed. According to Ojai police, Avary failed to negotiate a turn in the highway and crashed into a power pole.
Avary was uninjured, but his 40-year-old wife was taken to Ojai Valley Community Hospital. She was released about a week later as she recovered from a ruptured bladder. She also sustained a leg injury.
Werksman has said Avary is “grief stricken” about the accident.
Aaronson survives tragic Chatsworth rail accident
By Nao Braverman
Ojai resident Joel Aaronson was headed home from his office in Sherman Oaks on the second car in the Metrolink train when it collided with a Union Pacific Corp. freight train in Chatsworth on Sept. 12.
He was taken to the Northridge Hospital Medical Center where he is being treated for a fractured femur.
“I remember sitting on the train reading a book, and then I remember being on the floor with my knee under the seat, unable to move,” he said. “I remember nothing between those two events.”
Aaronson lay motionless and in shock on the floor of the second car, until his cell phone rang. It was a call from his daughter in Minnesota, who knew nothing of the crash.
“I usually call my kids every Friday after work to wish them a happy Shabbes,” he said. “I wished her a happy Shabbes, then I told her I had been in an accident. I told her to call Barbara and then I said, ‘I love you’ and hung up the phone.”
Barbara Aaronson, Joel’s wife, had just gotten home from work when she got the phone call and immediately called her husband.
“He said, ‘There’s been an accident. I can’t move, don’t worry, I love you,’ and hung up,” she said.
Then she turned on the television, saw the news, and immediately headed out with a friend to the Northridge Hospital Medical Center, where most of the victims were supposedly staying, she said. On the way over they received a call from Joel Aaronson, in the ambulance, who told them he was on his way. He was one of the patients that did stay in Northridge although the majority of patients were actually taken elsewhere, his wife said.
Before the ambulance picked him up Joel had made a few phone calls to his secretary at work, and to some people from the Jewish Federation that he was expecting to meet later.
“I couldn’t tell them anything except that I had been in an accident,” he said.
He had a tingle in his hands that he was concerned about, and he couldn’t move very well, he said.
“I thought if it was my time, then it would be my time. If it was not, somebody would come and get me.”
Fortunately, the emergency response team did come to get him. Injured passengers were divided into three triage areas.
“I was aware the entire time, but it was like I was in another world,” he said. “It was like watching a ‘M.A.S.H.’ episode, one knew that one was there, but at the same time it seemed unreal.”
Aaronson arrived at the hospital just minutes before his wife. His face was smashed up and bleeding and his arms were bruised. But four days later he was doing much better, according to his wife who was with him at the hospital Tuesday morning.
“It could have been much worse,” she said.
Aaronson said he hopes to have enough of his strength back to be able to leave the hospital this week, but isn’t sure how long it will take to recover.
“I figure I’ll be out of commission for eight or nine months,” he said.
He said he hasn’t even thought about whether he will take the train again, which he used regularly to commute to Moorpark where he had a car parked. He would ride from there to an office in Sherman Oaks where he works as an attorney, and then take the train back to Moorpark to get home.
“It will take some time to get over it,” he said.
Ojai resident Tom Michali was also headed home on a Metrolink, two trains after the one that collided with the freight train Friday.
It’s a commute he makes four days a week on his way home from his architectural office in downtown Los Angeles. To avoid the congested freeways, he catches a train from Union Station to Ventura and then drives home. The ride is better than suffering through traffic, and is usually on time, he said. But Friday evening Michali had to transfer to a bus in Van Nuys. The train broadcasted an announcement that the trip would be delayed because of a collision, but there were no further details.
By the time Michali arrived in Burbank, however, the word spread among passengers that the wreck had killed some people and injured many more. They had yet to discover that it was the country’s deadliest rail disaster in 15 years.
“Everyone called their families and I called my wife right away so she would know I was alright before the news got to her,” he said.
He added that a number of co-workers had called his cell phone from the office to make sure he was OK. Michali was taking a different train than the one that crashed, as there are only a few that go all the way to Ventura from Union Station. But his would have passed on the same railway through Chatsworth, just a half an hour after the incident.
“Everyone that was on my train knew they were on there by the grace of God,” he said. Michali said he will continue to take the train to work, as getting in a car crash is probably still more likely than another train accident, unfortunately.
“It really puts things in perspective,” said his wife, Nancy Michali. Michali’s first thoughts when he heard about the accident were about how short life can be. “It just makes you start thinking about your life, and whether you’re prepared to die, “he said.
The train accident occurred after an engineer, who was killed in the crash, had failed to stop at the final red signal, according to an Associated Press article. The commuter train was carrying 220 people, 138 were injured and 25 killed in the accident.
At approximately 1:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Sheriff’s Deputy Jacob Valenzuela was on patrol in the Tico Road area of Mira Monte when he spotted David Campus, 20, of Ojai, who had several warrants. According to Senior Deputy Jim Popp, “Valenzuela saw Campus, Campus saw Valenzuela, and the chase was on.” Campus allegedly tried to evade arrest, but neighbors and local business owners in the area assisted in the arrest by tipping officers off to his location.
Photo and report by Rob Clement/rashneon.com
Jonathan Mosqueda, 22, was arrested Monday night after he crashed his Ford Taurus at Signal and Summer streets. According to Police Chief Bruce Norris, a pursuit began when Deputy Gunnar Dyke spotted and attempted to stop Mosqueda near the Garden Terrace Restaurant following an alleged domestic incident. The suspect vehicle then sped eastbound toward Gridley Road, and eventually headed westbound on Grand Avenue. Norris said Dyke backed off the chase at Grand Avenue and Drown Street as Mosqueda blew stop signs and reached a speed Dyke estimated was too excessive to make the turn where Grand Avenue becomes Signal Street. Mosqeda reportedly then fled the scene of the crash and was tackled by Dyke a short distance away. He was arrested for evading a police officer, resisting arrest, and on suspicion of driving under the influence. He was transported to the Ojai Valley Community Hospital with an ankle injury and scrapes and cuts on his scalp.
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services will be participating in the Ojai Valley OK Drill on September 17th by launching a test Reverse 911 call to residents in the Ojai Valley.
The Reverse 911 system has been used several times in the last year to notify Ventura County residents of evacuations, criminal investigations and community policing activities. Calls have been distributed to residents and businesses utilizing 46 onsite telephone lines to deliver the Reverse 911 message.
The purpose of the Reverse 911 call on September 17th will be to test the Mass Call feature, which enables the usage of up to 2000 offsite phone lines to deliver messages to residents. “This method of delivery will be important when critical information needs to be disseminated to residents immediately or if there were ever an issue with the 46 onsite phone lines,” said Cynthia Elliott, Public Information Officer for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services.
In a real Reverse 911 activation, the system will attempt to call phone numbers within the specified area two times. Since this is only a test, the system has been programmed to only attempt each number once and include only residential listed, non-listed and cellular telephone numbers. The geographic area that has been designated for the test includes selected areas of Casitas Springs, Oak View, Ojai Valley and the Upper Ojai region. In total, 11,236 residential numbers will receive the Reverse 911 call the evening of September 17th.
The message that residents will hear when they receive the Reverse 911 call will be: “This is the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department with a test Reverse 911 message in conjunction with the Ojai Valley OK Drill. To participate in the drill: establish and practice your Disaster Plan, tune your radio to AM 1610 for disaster information and post your “OK” sign at 7:00 PM so it’s visible from the street. For more information on the Ojai Valley OK Drill, please call 805-654-2703. When you are prepared, Ventura County is too! Thanks for doing your part.”
Questions regarding Reverse 911 may be directed to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services at (805) 648-9283.
For more information the Ojai Valley OK Drill, please call 805-654-2703 or visit their website at http://ovok.countyofventura.org.
For Matt Haag’s video interview with spokeman Paul Garth, click HERE.
By Nao Braverman
If you ever see a flash of yellow go by on Ojai Avenue it might be Barbara Mashburn.
The lifetime Ojai resident has frequently been seen driving a bright yellow electric vehicle around Ojai. It’s yellow now, but freshly decorated every season. On Christmas it has splashes of red and green, and on the Fourth of July it’s patriotic.
“For Halloween it’s going to have autumn leaves and pumpkin lights,” she said.
“It was just an old yellow thing when I got it,” she adds dryly. “But people were about to run me over, so I decorated it for safety.”
She says all this with a smirk that suggests she might know something that you don’t, but she isn’t about to tell you just yet.
If we’re lucky Mashburn will get dressed up as a bee for the holiday. But if not, her electric vehicle, dubbed “Barbara’s Hummer” as it says on her license plate, has its fair share of black-and-yellow bumble bee accessories. The contraption has a built in heater, powered by solar energy, and is always lit with solar powered lights that she put in herself.
“There are probably a lot of people wondering who’s driving around town in this little yellow hot rod, but don’t have the nerve to ask,” she said. “Of course the kids always do.”
Up until this year when the school district had to make budget cuts, the school bus would stop right in front of Mashburn’s house and the children getting off would stop to marvel at her eye-catching front yard display. The lawn is crowded with porcelain bees, stuffed bees, plastic bees of all shapes and sizes. There’s even a wrought iron bench covered in toy bees, and a wreath that says “bee happy”. Sometimes her manx cat, Bee Bee, wanders in and out.
“I used to hide in the carport and listen to the kids making comments about my yard,” she said. “But it don’t bother me.”’ The front yard is nothing, according to Mashburn, “You should see the back yard and the inside of the house,” she said.
People have been giving her bee toys ever since she acquired the nickname, “Bar-bee.” In high school there were seven Barbaras in every class, so they called her “Bobby Bean Pole” because of her tall wiry frame. Then there were too many Bobbys. So when she started to tend bar, Bar-Bee just stuck, she said. After getting so many bee gifts, she decided to add to the collection herself.
For those who have seen the Signal Street home that belongs to the “Duck Lady,” with an impressive toy duck collection in the front yard, strikingly similar to Mashburn’s bee garden, that’s one of Mashburn’s best friends. She was the one that Mashburn called on after suffering a heart attack several years ago, Mashburn said. And, of course, they shop together.
Mashburn says she’s lived in only two places her whole life. The first house in Mira Monte had a farm with pigs, cows, an old mule, and one of Ojai’s first organic gardens. As a young girl she climbed Mount Whitney with the Sulphur Mountain Girl Scouts and helped found the Frazier Park Girl Scout Camp. At 27, she moved out of that house into the home where she has been living for about 40 years. That was when Ojai was known for having a church, a bar and a gas station on every corner, she said.
Mashburn, who served Ojai’s oil rig workers at two of the valley’s oldest bars, The Hut and The Hub, claims to have worked her way down the streets of Ojai as a bartender and waitress years ago. Back then there was only one cop and he wasn’t even a cop, really, just a constable, she said. “He drove an old Ford Model T pickup. And he didn’t look like a cop but more like the Lone Ranger with a white hat and all those guns on his belt.”
Since then a number of establishments have changed names or closed down but Mashburn served plenty of drinks at the Elbow Room bar in the Arcade, which was next door to the Mighty Bite hamburger joint with a card room in back, and she also had shifts at the Hitching Post. She later waited tables at Boots and Saddles, a bar and grill where the Golden Moon restaurant now stands. .
After so many gigs, Mashburn designed a float for the Independence Day parade dedicated to Ojai’s veteran waitresses, called “Old Waitresses Never Die, They Just Lose Their Tips.”
Only waitresses who had served tables for 25 years in Ojai were given a place on that float which was adorned with T-bone steaks made of Styrofoam. Little kids would throw change onto the float as tips.
“We never planned it that way, but by the end of the day there was enough money for each of us to get a drink at the Elbow Room,” she said.
By the time Mashburn was managing the snack bar at the Soule Park Golf Course, she was raising her two kids, Icy and Kevin Mashburn. Icy is now a teacher at Mira Monte School and Kevin manages a Carrows in Camarillo. Icy’s real name is Isaline, she added, but since her grandmother was Isa for short, they had to give her daughter a different nickname so there was no confusion.
“I went into labor on my mother’s birthday,” said Mashburn. “I was supposed to have my daughter by midnight. But I didn’t, so to get out of the doghouse I named her after my mother.”
Mashburn also had a stint at the O-Hi Frostie. “I went to City Hall more than once to protest when the owner got run out,” she said. She knew owner, Rick Henderson when he was just a busboy at The Oaks at Ojai and she was a waitress. “I was his first boss,” she said.
The Frostie was one of the last remnants of the old Ojai that Mashburn remembers as clear as day. Back then, few people had fences and you could pick an orange or an apricot from their trees because they could get a peach from your yard, it didn’t matter, she said. You could also swim any day in the Ventura River because it never dried up. There was more for the kids to do back then, she said, with the bowling alley still thriving and a miniature golf course across the street where the fire station is now. When she first got a job at The Hub, it was owned by old-time Hollywood actor Rory Calhoun and his friend, Specks Edde.
Edde left the bar to his ex wife, Verna. Verna’s ghost was later blamed for anything in the bar that was missing, or wasn’t put where it was supposed to go.” But she also bought you drinks on your birthday,” Mashburn adds. Those were the days when almost every bar was owned by a woman, she said. Mashburn claims to have known everyone in town and said the only real celebrity visits, aside from Calhoun, were from actresses Loretta Young and Ann Miller.
For her last working years, Mashburn was an occasional care giver. She’s also done a lot of plumbing around the valley. As a single mother she laid the shingles on her own roof, and did all the handiwork herself.
“I’m also known around town as Josephine Plumber,” she said. “That’s my other nickname.”
Now it’s just her, her miniature cat, and a vegetable garden she tends to out back.
“How are you going to get almost 70 years in that little space in the corner of the newspaper?” she asked.
By Sondra Murphy
A benefit concert for an Ojai woman battling cancer is offering a day of entertainment and education to local residents.
Guitarist Robben Ford and his band will appear at Matilija Junior High School Auditorium, 703 El Paseo Road in Ojai, on Sept. 21 at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. The benefit concerts are to raise funds for friend Tara Jeffery’s medical expenses due to breast cancer.
Jeffery is a member of the Ojai community who owns Ojai Pilates and Wellness Center and also performs as a singer.
Ford is to perform in his hometown between international tours and will be joined onstage by his bandmates, Toss Panos on drums and Travis Carlton on bass. Ford is a five-time Grammy nominee and was named one of the Top 100 Guitarists by Musician Magazine. The opening act will be local guitarist and singer Jonathan McEuen.
“I had met Tara through my wife, Anne,” said Ford. “Anne and she are good friends, so when this all happened, my wife asked me if I would be willing and interested in helping to raise benefit funds for Tara. I’m very happy to do it, but my wife is the one doing all the work. She’s the one making all this happen.”
“I take pilates from Tara and we became friends,” Anne Kerry Ford said. “The moment I met her, she was just one of those people who was always so generous and willing to go the extra mile. When she had to have her surgery, she mentioned how much it was really stretching their finances, so I mentioned it to Robben thinking he could be one of many performers and he said ‘I’ll just bring my band up.’ Then everything just happened one, two, three, like it was meant to be.”
The 7:30 concert on Sept. 21 is a newly added second show, as the earlier show sold out before it was publicized. Producers expect the second show to sell out quickly as well. “The first show sold out just by merit of people e-mailing each other,” said Anne Kerry Ford. “A little underground buzz was created which, as a producer, you hope will happen.”
“I will have my regular touring band,” said Robben Ford about playing the concerts. “I’m very excited about this group. We’re going to record a live album in San Francisco in January. The three of us have such a good musical connection, so the shows are fun, for us and the audience. It rocks, it’s soulful, very groove-oriented and, I think, will have a lot of great songs.”
Concertgoers will be able to become better educated about cancer. As an added attraction to the event, the Ventura County Medical Resource Foundation’s mobile mammography unit will be present to perform mammograms and distribute information on the day of the shows. The new mobile unit has been traveling the county for about a year in effort to make medical screenings more accessible to women of all cultures.
Self-paying women and men may receive a mammogram for $65, but the mobile facility also has a sliding scale based on income, accepts insurance and MediCal, and offers several sources of funding assistance to qualifying patients. In this way, some screenings are provided free of charge to some patients.
“What makes this program special and stand out form other programs is there are 23 organizations that came together and looked at developing accessible breast and cervical cancer screenings,” said VCMRF executive director Victoria Chandler. “They looked at how we were going to solve the need for the county to deliver screenings for our community members who have problems with transportation.” This includes disadvantaged and at-risk people lacking resources or insurance to get cancer screenings on their own.
“The mobile mammography unit encourages the sense of safety and privacy for women of all cultures and, for women who are completely outside the safety net, it provides access to breast cancer screening, as well as other medical care, for themselves and their families,” said Chandler, adding that the outreach program was created to increase the quality of life and prevent suffering while helping to reduce the cost of treating diseases.
“The mobile mammography unit tends to go to different county-run clinics around Ventura County,” said Sheila Murphy of VCMRF. “Dr. Connell Davis is the medical director for the Santa Paula clinic and an Ojai resident and friend of Tara Jeffrey. When she found out about the concert, she thought it might be a good idea to bring the mobile unit to it.”
The MMU had not yet come to Ojai, so the staff agreed that it was a good opportunity. “We’re very happy that the mobile mammography unit is going to make its way into Ojai and that women will be made aware of it,” said Murphy.
“Tara is doing great and teaching and looks incredibly beautiful,” said Anne Kerry Ford. “It’s really boosted her spirits to have the whole community involved.”
“All of the proceeds are going to Tara,” said Robben Ford. “Everyone is working complete gratis here. It’s a real group effort.” The event is being produced by Anne Kerry Ford and Rain Perry, both also singers. Co-producers are Pesticide Free Ojai and Theater 150. Jeffery has performed at the theater in the last few years.
Admission is $35. Tickets are available at Ojai Creates, 606 E. Ojai Ave., 640-6558; Cardinali Brothers Music Store, 139 W. El Roblar Drive, 646-2098, or by logging on to brownpapertickets.com. Anne Kerry Ford and Perry also plan to sell concert tickets this Sunday at the downtown Farmer’s Market behind the Arcade in Ojai.
For more information about Ventura County Medical Resource Foundation’s mobile mammography unit, visit vcmrf.org/programs/mobile-mammography.
we became friends,” Anne Kerry Ford said. “The moment I met her, she was just one of those people who was always so generous and willing to go the extra mile. When she had to have her surgery, she mentioned how much it was really stretching their finances, so I mentioned it to Robben thinking he could be one of many performers and he said, ‘I’ll just bring my band up.’ Then everything just happened one, two, three, like it was meant to be.”
The 7:30 concert on Sept. 21 is a newly added second show, as the earlier show sold out before it was publicized. Producers expect the second show to sell out quickly as well. “The first show sold out just by merit of people e-mailing each other,” said Anne Kerry Ford. “A little underground buzz was created which, as a producer, you hope will happen.”
“I will have my regular touring band,” said Robben Ford about playing the concerts. “I’m very excited about this group. We’re going to record a live album in San Francisco in January. The three of us have such a good musical connection, so the shows are fun, for us and the audience. It rocks, it’s soulful, very groove-oriented and, I think, will have a lot of great songs.”
Concertgoers will be able to become better educated about cancer. As an added attraction to the event, the Ventura County Medical Resource Foundation’s mobile mammography unit will be present to perform mammograms and distribute information on the day of the shows. The new mobile unit has been traveling the county for about a year in an effort to make medical screenings more accessible to women of all cultures.
“What makes this program special and stand out from other programs is there are 23 organizations that came together and looked at developing accessible breast and cervical cancer screenings,” said VCMRF executive director Victoria Chandler. “They looked at how we were going to solve the need for the county to deliver screenings for our community members who have problems with transportation.”
“The mobile mammography unit tends to go to different county-run clinics around Ventura County,” said Sheila Murphy of VCMRF. “Dr. Connell Davis is the medical director for the Santa Paula clinic and an Ojai resident and friend of Tara Jeffery. When she found out about the concert, she thought it might be a good idea to bring the mobile unit to it.”
“Tara is doing great and teaching and looks incredibly beautiful,” said Anne Kerry Ford. “It’s really boosted her spirits to have the whole community involved.” Robben Ford said, “All of the proceeds are going to Tara. Everyone is working completely gratis here. It’s a real group effort.”
Admission is $35. Tickets are available at Ojai Creates, 606 E. Ojai Ave., 640-6558; Cardinali Brothers Music Store, 139 W. El Roblar Drive, 646-2098, or by logging on to brownpapertickets.com. Anne Kerry Ford and Perry also plan to sell concert tickets this Sunday at the downtown Farmers’ Market behind the Arcade in Ojai.
By Lenny Roberts
Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Dunn will officially begin his tenure as Ojai’s police chief Monday, Sept. 22. He is a 20-veteran law enforcement officer and Camarillo resident hand-picked by Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks to replace the outgoing chief, Bruce Norris.
Norris has managed the Ojai Sheriff’s substation and Ojai Police Department since being appointed to replace Gary Pentis in March 2005.
We provided the questions addressing some key issues, and Dunn provided the following responses:
Q. As you know, yearly crime statistics can be misleading in small communities. What do you see as the major crime issue in the Ojai Valley and how do you intend to address it? What are other issues of importance?
A. While the most recent crime statistics show the lowest crime rate in the Ojai Valley area in years, I understand that there are still areas of criminal activity that need to be and in most cases are being addressed.
One in particular, is the on-going gang activity. Gangs and the criminal acts they conduct affect everyone in the community. The gang-associated violence, graffiti, and intimidation affect every resident, business owner, and visitor. To address this issue, the Sheriff’s Department has taken a very aggressive approach to identifying and tracking gang members and arresting those responsible for committing crimes. To that end, the Ojai Station has deputies assigned to track and investigate gang related crimes. In addition, the Sheriff’s Gang Unit has and will continue to assist and, in some cases, spearhead investigations and arrest gang members in our community.
Recently another area of concern has been a spike in thefts from vehicles. Ojai station deputies and detectives are actively investigating these thefts and attempting to identify the perpetrators. We ask that residents be vigilant in reporting suspicious individuals in the areas around their homes and business. I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that it is extremely important to remove all valuable property and lock your vehicles even if you are only going to be away from your vehicle for a short period of time. These thieves tend to be opportunists and are looking for vehicles people leave unlocked while unoccupied.
Q. The conception or misconception is that Ojai serves the county as a disproportional training ground for rookie deputies, and those deputies may be more aggressive when they actually go on patrol after serving long periods of time in the custody division. What are you thoughts?
A. This is a misconception. The Sheriff’s Department, like most other law enforcement agencies, is seeing an increase in the attrition rates of senior personnel. The Ojai Station has indeed seen an increase in the number of trainees, however, the increase in trainees has been department wide. The Ojai Station still has a very capable and well-experienced cadre of senior personnel. The time deputies have spent in detention services has and will continue to provide the Sheriff’s Department and the contract cities we serve, with mature and well-seasoned deputies. These deputies are very attuned to the criminal mindset. As far as being more aggressive, I have not seen or heard of any issues with long assignments in detention services leading to a more aggressive patrol deputy.
Q. Do you plan any immediate or long-term changes in personnel or the daily operation of the substation?
A. I do not plan any immediate changes in personnel at the Ojai Station. It is too premature to comment on any possible long-term changes.
Q. What additional resources would you like to see in Ojai?
A. As with any public administrator, I can always find benefits in additional staffing and resources. As a realist, I understand that there has to be a balance between budgetary issues and the needs of the communities we serve. We will always strive to provide the best service possible with the resources we have. Any requests for additional resources will be brought to the attention of the city manager and city council.
Q. Is it an advantage in a small community for the citizens to know and trust law enforcement officers who they frequently see or is it natural for deputies to have a tendency to become complacent after long-term service here?
A. Certainly there are benefits to knowing and becoming comfortable with deputies. The increase in communications between deputies, residents, and business owners has great benefits. We, as a department, strive to provide the communities we serve with quality law enforcement services and endeavor to earn the trust of the citizens of the county. As with any employer, we have a wide variety of employees with varying personalities. Some deputies do very well working in one area for long periods of time, while others find a periodic change of assignment more satisfying. It is our responsibility to ensure that the deputies assigned to a specific station do not become complacent and that they continue to provide quality service to the community.
Q. How important is community-based policing in Ojai?
A. It is extremely important. I would like to see a marked increase in the interactions between the deputies and the communities they serve. Other station personnel and I will be looking into several ways to increase our contact and cooperation with the community residents and business members. It is my intention to increase the community’s involvement in problem solving and their awareness of the law enforcement issues in their areas.
Q. How are you preparing to manage law enforcement in Ojai after never being assigned here as a deputy?
A. I have and will continue to communicate with Capt. Norris and other members of the department who currently work at the station or have worked at the station in the past. In addition, I have met with the city manager and other members of the community.
Q. Is there a message that you would like to convey to the people of the Ojai Valley?
A. I am very proud to have been appointed to serve the city of Ojai and the communities of the Ojai Valley. I will work very hard to ensure that they receive quality service from the Sheriff’s Department. I look forward to becoming a part of the community.
By Lenny Roberts
For the past nine years, Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Loes has dedicated himself to law enforcement in the Ojai Valley. That dedication recently came to the attention of the community when he was overwhelmingly selected by his peers and supervisors as the Ojai Valley’s Officer of the Year for 2007-2008.
“Chris is very deserving of this honor, and I’m proud to have him as a member of the team,” said Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris.
Norris explained with a station full of hardworking and conscientious deputies who work together day and night under the most difficult of circumstances, the selection process is not easy, and the 39 deputies assigned to patrol the city and unincorporated areas of the valley must know each other’s strengths, weaknesses, personalities and character.
“If I have a difficult case to work, I call on Chris,” Norris added. “He is one of the most effective and tireless deputies I’ve met. Though easy-going and friendly, you don’t want him after you if you’ve committed a crime. He has great investigative skills, and he has a knack of being in the right place at the right time. It’s deputies like Chris who help keep the crime rate low in the Ojai Valley.”
Loes started in law enforcement as a reserve police officer with the Santa Barbara Police Department, and came to the Sheriff’s Department in 1994. After graduating from the Sheriff’s Academy, he was assigned to the main jail where he worked for less than a year before his first patrol assignment in Camarillo. He is one of Ojai’s four field training officers and a member of the Ojai bike team.
In 1997 he received the department’s Medal of Merit for assisting his partner after a near-fatal car accident. In 2002, he was chosen as the Mothers Against Drunk Drivers Officer of the Year.
“Chris has been in law enforcement for 16 years, but still works with the enthusiasm of a rookie deputy,” Norris said. “He is consistently in the top third in the station in arrests and field contacts. His patrol sergeant says he has one of the strongest work ethics he has seen, and he never says no to an assignment.
“When I told Chris he had been selected as Officer of the Year, in his respectful and humble way, he tried to convince me that others in the station were more deserving. He did his best to decline the honor, saying, ‘I don’t need the recognition. I just work hard and do my job.’ I finally had to tell Chris he didn’t have any choice.”
Loes lives in the valley with his wife, Laura, and their children, Caprice, Delaney and Jacob.
OUSD gets conflicting advice on how to plan as standoff in Sacramento grinds on
By Sondra Murphy
Public school district administrators must wish they could send truant officers after our state legislators as the California budget stalemate drags on.
At Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Ojai Unified School District board, the state fiscal crisis had the panel and audience alike harshly grading the poor performance of our representatives in failing to provide the dollars owed to schools during record-breaking budget delays.
Assistant superintendent of business and administrative services Dannielle Pusatere gave the 2007-2008 unaudited actual financial report to the board, but there were no surprises since the district has been poring over figures for months in making tough choices about staff and program cuts from the loss of more than $1 million from its $25 million annual budget.
Because of the many sources and categorical funds, school finances are always tricky to account for, but they are currently extra challenging, “because we’re without a state budget,” said Pusatere. “They are statutorily required to give us state aid, so they’re going to give us more money than we should have in some areas, but less in certain categoricals.”
For example, cost of living allowances are currently given to schools at 6 percent, but, based on the May revision from Sacramento, are expected to be rescinded after categorical funds are reinstated. Once the state budget has been approved, Pusatere anticipated the numbers would even out during the adjustments.
“There is not much agreement right now,” said superintendent Tim Baird about the malingering state budgeteers. Public school districts were advised last spring to plan their budgets based on the May revision, but now advisors are suggesting otherwise. “When we establish a budget and hire personnel, we are locked in for a long time,” said Baird about OUSD. “There are some repercussions for the state in terms of borrowing money. There will be some cash flow issues for some state agencies.” Baird added if the state ends up giving school districts less than projected in May, OUSD could be faced with making midyear cuts.
The budget crisis has served to mobilize valley parent groups in working to help OUSD keep programs in schools as funds decline. As PTAs and PTOs have been doing since their beginnings, local parent organizations continue to give to their neighborhood schools as best they can.
These efforts were reported on Tuesday as members of each school’s parent group gave specifics about their extensive contributions of time, energy and money to their various sites. Also referenced were the groups’ involvement in the Save Ojai Schools campaign facilitated by the Ojai Education Foundation in order to avoid school closures this year as declining
enrollment and dwindling education funds hit the district hard.
The SOS campaign garnered more than $62,000 in welcome donations, but does not rescue the district from perpetual fiscal calamity. The board acknowledged the contributions of the strong parent involvement in OUSD schools and positive campus climates and pride.
“I think parent involvement in our schools is so hugely important and is what makes our schools work so well,” said member Rikki Horne. “You’re providing so much to the kids.”
“This is just an amazing group of people,” said Baird. “I’ve been in many classrooms this week and there are many parents in those classrooms. Everyone is so charged with enthusiasm.”
With the many layoffs that have taken place over the past decade, OUSD should be used to the presence of volunteers as parents have historically served to fill the void created by eliminated employees. Employees whose jobs are preserved often end up with a greater workload while hours, benefits or dollars are shaved from their contracts.
Baird will address the Rotary Club of Ojai-West next Tuesday in support for Measure P this November. State budget delays make the outcome of the parcel tax initiative important to maintaining the solvency of OUSD. The ballot measure will ask voters to approve a tax levy of $89 per parcel annually for seven years to help maintain small class sizes, retain highly qualified staff and continue to offer fine arts and athletic programs, avoid school or library closures and improve student proficiency in core curriculum. Unlike the failed parcel tax attempt of 2005, property owners over the age of 65 would be allowed an exemption from the tax.
With so many variables contributing to budget uncertainties, the board voted to schedule a budget study session on Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. OUSD board and administration will examine their options in meeting financial obligations and start a priority list in expectation of needing to cut $1 million per year for the next three years. Enrollment figures will likely be solid enough by that date to be factored into the effort.
Merchant sidewalk displays focus for commissioners
By Nao Braverman
With a weakening economy nationwide, and a number of visible commercial vacancies downtown, planning commissioners agreed that Ojai’s small businesses need as much help as they can get.
That could mean re-examining the city’s regulations regarding the outdoor display of goods.
“One thing that downtown Ojai is lacking is the sight of festivities,” said local resident and developer Ron Polito at Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting. “Our local merchants need everything including hooks to draw people into their stores.”
Introducing himself as a representative of the local business community, Polito pleaded with commissioners to consider easing up on their regulations of outdoor displays in town. He cited Westridge Market’s colorful fresh fruit and vegetable stand as one exemplary display that is aesthetically pleasing and entices people to come to the store.
Historically the city has entirely prohibited local businesses from putting anything out onto their storefront sidewalks. However, a recent amendment allows them to do so, provided that the business owner obtains a conditional use permit.
But since it is so recent, the city still does not have a defined policy in place to process such requests. Planning commis-sioners discussed various options, primarily a tiered approach which would allow businesses to get a permit to display some items, such as flowers and fruit at the first tier, without having to plead their case in front of the Planning Commission. The second tier would be for other items such as mannequins and apparel, and would require Planning Commission approval. The third tier would prohibit certain items from outdoor display that are not aesthetically pleasing and clutter walkways, such as pallets of water and bags of pet food.
A number of local merchants asked commissioners to allow struggling local stores some forms of outdoor display.
City manager Jere Kersnar even suggested the possibility of creating an additional sidewalk alongside the Arcade Plaza to allow for outdoor seating and displays in Ojai’s central walkway, currently too cramped for such use.
Commissioners acknowledged that a portion of the chain store ordinance would also have to be re-examined regarding the use of vending machines. As dispensers of pre-made “junk food,” they would probably be prohibited under the recently passed ordinance regulating formula retail.
Most commissioners agreed that they were not particularly concerned about soda machines, but would not want to lose water dispensers.
Commissioners were collectively displeased with the look of a proposed design for a six-unit condominium project at 601 Pearl St. Currently a single-family home near the Ojai Valley Trail, the new development would turn into six two-story structures facing a central circular garden.
“It is in a nice small neighborhood and I would like to see more interaction with the community,” said Planning Commissioner Tucker Adams. “Right now this design makes it seem like they are cutting themselves off from the rest of the neighborhood.”
Fortunately at the design review stage, the project was the exact antithesis of what Ojai’s planning commissioners generally like. With driveways facing the street, a rigid design that was more auto-centric than pedestrian friendly and essentially excluded the rest of the neighborhood, planning commissioners didn’t think the design fit in Ojai.
Planning Vice Chair Susan Weaver asked the applicant to return with a design that was more innovative and aesthetically pleasing, more pedestrian friendly and energy efficient, and had better access to the bike trail.
Commissioners also voted to consider implementing a form-based planning policy. Form-based planning is intended to create the antithesis of suburban sprawl, explained Katrina Schmidt, city planner. Instead of emphasizing the use of buildings, form-based codes focus on the facade, features, type and dimensions of structures. Overall they are intended to improve an area’s quality of life by structuring neighborhoods to encourage community involvement, pedestrian activity, and decrease the need for people to commute to work.
Commissioners said they would welcome a consultant on form-based planning to educate the commission in the future. The ideas seem to provide a framework for the concepts that Ojai’s planning commissioners are constantly trying to present to applicants, said Weaver.
“I wish the man who presented the concept for the Pearl Street condominiums were here for this discussion,” she said.
By Lenny Roberts
Bruce Norris’ tenure as Ojai’s chief of police is coming to an end.
City Manager Jere Kersnar said Wednesday that Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Dunn has been appointed as Norris’ replacement effective Sept. 22.
Kersnar said the decision to approve Dunn was his, noting that members of the City Council do not have input into the selection process.
“The Sheriff’s Office has assigned him here,” Kersnar said, “and I appoint department heads.”
Dunn, a Camarillo resident, brings more than 20 years of law enforcement experience to the position of Ojai’s top cop. He originally served six years in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department before being hired by Ventura County in 1994, where he has served as patrol deputy in Camarillo, Fillmore and Sheriff’s Headquarters in Ventura, and in the Court Services and Major Crimes bureaus. His most recent assignment has been that of watch commander in the Sheriff’s Communication Center.
Dunn was born in Los Angeles and spent several of his childhood years living in a the rural area of Sandpoint in northern Idaho. At 13, his family moved to Camarillo. He graduated from Camarillo High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix in 2004. He is currently working toward a master’s degree in emergency services management at California State University Long Beach. He enlisted in the United States Navy Reserves at 17 and remains an active member. He received a commission in the Navy on June 1, 2007 and currently holds the position of executive officer for Navy Reserve Security Forces at Naval Base Ventura County. He will assume the position of the commanding officer of that reserve unit in November.
Dunn and his wife, Gina, have two teen-aged sons, and are active in their community through coaching youth sports and the Boy Scouts of America program.
In a prepared statement, Dunn wrote, “I look forward to serving the City of Ojai and the surrounding communities in the Ojai Valley area. My wife and I look forward to spending more time in Ojai and taking advantage of the numerous events, festivals, and activities Ojai has to offer.”
Norris replaced former chief Gary Pentis on March 27, 2005. Norris, a 26-year law enforcement veteran at the time, served as watch commander and captain in charge of the Technical Services Bureau, which encompasses the county’s Crime Scene Investigation Unit. Norris, a Ventura resident, said he will return to the duties of watch commander at the Government Center.
Kersnar said Norris will be remembered for being responsive to the community, and for his part in implementing and enforcing Ojai’s Social Host Ordinance — a policy that has since been adopted by the county and several cities.
“The department has done a good job, and Bruce in particular has been the active face of the department by addressing our crime issues as well as some of the social issues,” Kersnar said.
Feds signal that move to open lake for water skiing, other sports unlikely
By Daryl Kelley
Confronted with concerns about expanding recreation in and around Lake Casitas, federal officials assured Ojai Valley residents at a recent meeting that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s goal is to protect the local environment, not degrade it.
Officials of the local Casitas Municipal Water District, which manages the lake, said after the meeting that they were encouraged by what they hope may be a new era of cooperation with federal officials.
“It was positive,” said water district general manager Steve Wickstrum.
And Russ Baggerly, a Casitas board member, said this week: “I think we saw a change in their attitude.”
About 50 people appeared at an Oak View public workshop last Thursday evening to ask that the bureau do nothing that would further clog roadways, pollute valley air or diminish the quality of drinking water from Lake Casitas.
The bureau’s Robert Epperson, federal manager of the U.S.-owned Lake Casitas waterworks and watershed project, told residents that a new recreation plan is designed to accommodate new federal law, and not to turn the Casitas Recreation Area into a bustling urban preserve.
“There are some things that have to be updated,” Epperson said.
But federal officials are not wedded to new recreational options — such as water skiing, horseback riding and bicycling — listed as possible uses for the lake area and 3,500 acres owned by the bureau north of the lake, he said.
And, in an interview after the meeting, Epperson said he takes seriously complaints he heard Thursday evening, and in an earlier meeting with Casitas district officials.
The Casitas district manages the federally owned project, and Casitas officials have been sharply critical of the new plan.
“Based on comments here, I would say half to two-thirds of what’s being discussed would be dropped,” Epperson told the Ojai Valley News. “That’s why we’re having this meeting tonight, to hear what the community thinks.”
For example, Epperson said water skiing at Lake Casitas was raised as an alternative because he received more than 100 e-mails in support of that option after a hearing in 2006. No water skiers showed up Thursday to support that option, however, while several speakers opposed water skiing.
New information from state health officials also indicates that a multimillion-dollar expansion to the lake’s new water treatment plant might be required if Casitas were to open the lake to swimming and water skiing.
“The state Department of Health Services now says the (existing) water treatment plant might not be adequate, depending on the number of people who swim in the lake,” Epperson said. “And if there’s no funding for expansion, (water skiing) just doesn’t happen.”
Underlying all discussions of the new recreation plan is a history of conflict between the Bureau of Reclamation and the Casitas district.
Casitas has spent more than $500,000 on a lawsuit that seeks reimbursement of about $9 million that the Bureau of Reclamation required the district to spend to help restore the Ventura River run of the endangered steelhead trout.
And in 2003, the bureau issued a cease-and-desist order, prohibiting Casitas from making any more changes at the recreation area after Casitas built its popular, money-making water park without federal approval. Construction of the park sparked a legal challenge by environmental groups.
Then, at a special meeting two weeks ago, Casitas officials voted to spend $25,000 to have legal and environmental experts review the new recreation plan after board members said they thought it might be a power grab that violates law and Casitas’ contracts with the bureau.
But after the meeting last week, Director Baggerly said he thinks relations with the bureau may have turned a corner. He, Wickstrum and director Pete Kaiser also met with Epperson privately Thursday morning.
“I said what we ought to do is lock the doors and talk this out and get rid of old baggage,” Baggerly said. “And their response was, ‘That’s what we’re doing here, right?’”
Epperson said in an interview that the bureau’s relationship with Casitas and former general manager John Johnson was “contentious.” Building the water park without consulting federal officials was a particular problem, he said.
“But things have changed a lot with (new management), and for the better,” Epperson said.
“I think we’ll be able to work together and be friends as they see we’re working toward the same goals.”
Kaiser, however, said he was still skeptical. He questioned why the bureau was rushing its new recreation plan through, with a Sept. 25 deadline for public comment.
“They’re trying to roughshod this through as quickly as possible,” he said. “Who is going to pay for all of these expansions in recreation?”
Of particular concern to the Casitas board is the bureau’s apparent plan to turn over management of the 3,500-acre Teague Watershed area north of Lake Casitas to the U.S. Forest Service, rather than leaving it under control of the Casitas board.
The watershed, purchased by an act of Congress in the 1970s, was intended to be left as open space once a handful of residents who lived there had died. Only two such residents remain.
But under the new plan, the U.S. Forest Service would have a station there and camping and horseback riding might be allowed. Casitas officials said they think such activities could pollute the lake with toxic runoff.
But after meeting with Epperson, Wickstrum and Baggerly said there might be some advantage in Casitas managing the watershed along with the Forest Service.
The Forest Service’s presence would enhance law enforcement in the area, they said.
That federal agency’s presence would also acknowledge the reality of the current situation — that Casitas does not have the manpower to patrol the watershed. Over the years, that allowed so much illegal dumping along rural roads in the area, that the federal bureau had to haul away 25 truckloads of trash a few years ago, Epperson said.
“So since 2006, we’ve had a memorandum of understanding with the Forest Service,” he said. “We’ve asked them to help us control that area.”
The new recreation plan would allow the Forest Service to build a new station in the watershed to replace one now located at a sharp curve on state Highway 150 on Coyote Creek.
Epperson said the new station would be about the same size as the old one, would have a new septic system and would be a mile or two from the lake, so floods like those in 1998 would not flush sewage into the lake.
Baggerly acknowledged that Casitas had done a poor job of managing the Teague Watershed, because of a lack of money and manpower.
“That’s really true, and I apologize for that,” he said.
But Casitas should remain a part of any management team for the watershed, he said. “Casitas doesn’t want to be cut out of the picture,” he said. And he said the new Forest Service station should be located south of Highway 150, not in the area the bureau proposes.
Epperson said the bureau will accommodate Casitas, and has already agreed to extend the agency’s comment period on the new plan to Oct. 10.
Of the public comments at Thursday’s hearing, those of longtime Oak View resident Barbara Cunningham were typical. She said families who’d lived in the Teague Watershed for generations had been forced out by federal officials to maintain lake purity.
But now, she said, the same agency is proposing opening up the watershed and expanding recreation.
“It simply means more traffic, more air pollution,” she said. “That’s the lake that provides our drinking water. And I don’t want to see water skiers in my drinking water.”
The Bureau of Reclamation’s draft Lake Casitas Resource Management Plan and its related environment statement are available for public review here. E-mail the BLM project manager at email@example.com for questions or comments.
The comment period ends Sept. 25.
By Nao Braverman
Are Ojai’s street sweepers actually doing their job or just kicking up dirt and debris? Several local residents and business owners who claim to have been caught in a dust cloud behind the city’s street sweeping vehicle, wanted to know.
“The streets are full of contaminants, insecticides, urine, rubber from cars,” said Ernie Salomon, owner of the Matilija Plaza Group. “Now all you have is a machine that sweeps that stuff up into the air.”
According to Salomon the local street sweeping vehicle would be more efficient if it “sprayed the streets down and then sucked up the debris,” as some Los Angeles County motor sweepers do. But Ojai’s machine just blows the filth right back into the atmosphere, he said, citing the sweeping mechanism’s “old technology.”
Ojai has been using the same company and services for at least 20 years, according to Venco Western’s spokesperson Bill Barrett. A 2006 Ojai Public Works report shows that the the city used to pay Venco Western directly for street sweeping services but decided to transfer the services to Ojai’s solid waste collector, E.J. Harrison & Sons at the end of July 2006.
E.J Harrison & Sons now includes street sweeping in their solid waste contract with the city and charges residents about 95 cents more for street sweeping in their trash collection bill every other month, saving the approximately $48,000 yearly cost to the city’s general fund.
While residents are now paying for street sweeping service, instead of the city, the service itself has not changed, said public works director Mike Culver. While the payment now goes first to E.J. Harrison & Sons, E.J. Harrison & Sons still contracts Venco Western to do the actual sweeping, he explained.
Barrett said that the company has been using the same methods and technology they used when the city of Ojai paid them directly. Venco now gets about $88 more each month after the new arrangement.
Venco employees use a Tymco Model 600 heavy duty sweeper, and service alternating routes throughout the city on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The machine drives across the street side sweeping dirt and debris with a gutter broom which sprays a fine mist of water to keep the dust down as much as possible, said Barrett. A pick-up head on the vehicle is supposed to suck up the debris being swept off the streets.
Several residents have complained that the sweeper doesn’t use water. But Barrett insisted that a fine mist of water should always be emitted from the machine as a dust suppression mechanism. The machine uses very little water however, and hardly leaves a mark, so residents might not be able to see it, he added.
Culver said that Venco’s street sweeping employees could have run out of water, or could have been driving the vehicle too quickly when residents sighted unhealthy clouds of dust rising from behind their machine.
An Ojai Valley News reporter did not notice any dust cloud and ample water was being used on by the street sweeping machine Tuesday morning, however.
According to the 2006 public works report, the city decided to contract with E.J. Harrison & Sons also because they provide recycling services and recycle the debris through California Wood Recycling. The recycling company takes dirt and debris transferred from Venco to E.J. Harrison & Sons, screens it and reuses the organic matter as soil amendment.
The recycling of street debris included in the street sweeping contract with E.J. Harrison & Sons helps the city comply with Assembly Bill 939. The 1989 Integrated Waste Management Act mandates California cities to significantly reduce their contribution to landfills.
Rainwater harvesting talk makes splash in Ojai with supply, price issues simmering
By Linda Harmon
While 38 million Americans were glued to their TV sets Thursday night watching Barack Obama accept the Democratic presidential nomination, more than 200 people gathered at Chaparral Auditorium to hear how to conserve water at the Ojai Valley Green Coalition’s monthly presentation. They came to listen to Jim MacDonald, director of building and safety for Ventura County, and Brad Lancaster, author of several books on rainwater harvesting, outline ways to stretch our annual rainfall.
“I’m here to find out about gray water systems,” said local plumber Alex Doran. He didn’t have long to wait as MacDonald outlined not only the new gray water code but also the history of building codes, and how they are implemented and can be amended by city and county governments.
“I’m not an expert,” said MacDonald. “No one has applied to my office for a gray water permit since it took effect but I am looking forward to working on one and learning more firsthand. Everything is available online that I will go over tonight and is on our web site.” Ending his presentation on a positive note he said the codes in general are moving to more environmentally favorable solutions.
Lancaster, an Arizona State University professor, began by stating he hoped California would “follow in the footsteps of his native Arizona and New Mexico and allow gray water to be captured without a holding tank.”
Ventura County code now requires a tank for using gray water, recycled water coming from your laundry, kitchen and bathroom sinks, and shower drain.
According to Lancaster, gray water can be safely reclaimed for irrigation purposes and storing it is more problematic than diverting it for immediate use. He prefers systems which do not include storage tanks or pumps, as they add maintenance and cost.
Lancaster said 30 to 50 percent of water used by the average homeowner is used for landscaping and 95 percent of that can be supplied by rainwater and gray water harvesting.
Lancaster then outlined his eight basic steps to water abundance. He advised his audience to be observant and start slow, but start.
“Growing up in Tucson, I watched the down-drafting of our aquifers and our environment steadily degrade over time,” said Lancaster, showing slides of his area taken in 1940 and 1980, illustrating the disappearance of two rivers and the native trees that had lined their banks. “Our water table dropped at a rate of 4 feet per year.”
After the awed noises from the crowd subsided, Lancaster gave more statistics.
“More rain falls in Tucson than it consumes in one year,” said Lancaster, showing slides that included average rainfall in Tucson, 3.94 billion gallons.
Lancaster said he saw that as a gift and a challenge.
According to Lancaster, earthworks can capture the rain and store it in our biggest “tank,” the Earth. Earthworks are a system of small berms and basins, made simply with materials like dirt, rocks and homemade mulch. They use the force of gravity and plants, “our living pumps,” to move water through an entire ecosystem, eliminating the cost of mechanical irrigation systems and their maintenance.
Lancaster next showed slides of landscape projects that featured these and other harvesting techniques, emphasizing the need to abandon the predominant strategy of draining sites via storm drains. He urged rainwater harvesting instead of sending it to the ocean. He said earthworks and their planting systems can slow and capture the water by increasing soil penetration and using trees and plants to pump the water into the soil and refurbish the underground water table.
Lancaster actually showed before and after slides of sites with these rainwater harvesting techniques applied. The before slide illustrated the “heat island” effect, exposed pavement alongside dry compacted earth with no trees. In the after slide featuring earthworks, trees and plantings flourishing, shading the roadway and pedestrians, surviving only on the harvested water and providing a “cool island” effect.
“By achieving 75 percent shade over roadways you can lower the temperature by 10 degrees and the trees will also help with flood control by absorbing and cleaning runoff,” said Lancaster. “We can create a dynamic living sponge to retain our water.”
“In Tucson, 12 inches of rain falls in an average year, with an average residential street draining 1,000,000 gallons of water per mile per year,” said Lancaster. “The water from that mile can sustain over 400 native trees per mile, or a tree every 25 feet on both sides of the street.”
Lancaster, who has presented nationwide, impressed audience member, Ojai Planning Commissioner John Mirk.
“It’s exciting to see things that are actually being done and we actually get twice as much rain here,” said Mirk after the presentation. “I loved the street treatments, the whole idea of a meandering street. I think there are definitely a lot of these things that we can do here.”
“It was a tad disappointing not to have more city and county officials present,” said Ojai Valley Green Coalition Director Deborah Pendrey, who was nonetheless pleased with the turnout. The OVGC purchased a set of Lancaster’s books to donate to the library. “It is important for us to move the concepts presented forward so the Ojai Valley doesn’t come to look like a few of the ‘before’ shots Mr. Lancaster shared.”
Mirk, Ojai City Councilwoman Carol Smith, and council candidate Betsy Clapp, were the only officials Pendrey saw in attendance.
“We can either take the path to scarcity or the path to abundance,” said Lancaster in closing. “If you think what you do is a drop in the bucket, great! We can fill a bucket with a lot of little drops.”
For more information go to rainharvesting.com or e-mail Jim.MacDonald@Ventura.org.