By Daryl Kelley
City Council has delayed re-submission of a state-required plan to increase the number of legal dwellings in Ojai partly because of concerns that the new plan would go too far in trying to get owners of illegal dwellings to upgrade their properties.
In March, the council voted to submit to the state a new Housing Element plan that would eventually add 427 legal dwellings in Ojai, using as a cornerstone an amnesty program that would encourage owners of about 300 illegal dwellings to upgrade them to legal standards.
Surprisingly, the state responded by essentially embracing the amnesty proposal, a tactic that is still novel in California.
But on Tuesday two council members backed away from parts of the amnesty plan that they said go too far with incentives to participate, while failing to crack down on offenders if they fail to join the program.
“I don’t think this is something we want to do,” said Councilwoman Sue Horgan. “We’re going to be rewarding people who have ignored the rules at the expense of people who’ve followed the law.”
Councilwoman Betsy Clapp endorsed the amnesty concept, but said the council needs more time to study implementation guidelines. More public comment is “necessary because of the impact on neighbors,” she said.
“It needs more work,” she said. “It’s important for the council to have more time to study this.”
Councilman Steve Olsen provided the third vote to delay re-submission. He said the plan should not be returned to the state until the results of a city environmental report, expected to be complete next month, can be included. But in an interview he said he is comfortable with current amnesty program guidelines.
Mayor Joe DeVito said he was ready to move ahead by promptly re-submitting the plan, as did Councilwoman Carol Smith.
Smith said the city should offer the amnesty program, with strict health and safety guidelines: “How in the world will the (neighborhood) get worse from an amnesty program? … This is an excellent opportunity for us to update these slums.”
Indeed, the amnesty program has been embraced by the council majority, and by the community in general, because it could clean up neighborhoods while also helping to meet state mandates that cities provide more housing, especially for low-income residents.
On Tuesday evening, however, some community members urged the council to rethink parts of the amnesty program, which would be voluntary and would not crack down on owners if they failed to upgrade illegal units to city-approved building and safety standards.
They said it provided too many carrots, but not enough sticks. “It won’t work as a voluntary program,” said resident Leonard Klaif. “The sticks are non-existent. How many of these units are powered by electrical cords to the main house? … How many people are going to die before we get serious?”
At the end of the amnesty period, in 2014, the city needs to force owners of illegal residents to obey the law, he said.
Resident Heidi Whitman also endorsed the amnesty program in concept, but said the city is making far too many concessions to owners of illegal dwellings.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to offer all of these concessions,” she said.
In a letter, Whitman outlined her objections, stating: “I cannot believe that staff is proposing to eliminate every condition that was established to make these units blend in throughout Ojai’s single-family residential neighborhoods.”
Specifically, she objected to guidelines that permit the units to be larger than 640 square feet and up to half the size of the main house; fail to mandate a minimum lot size for second units; allow encroachment into setbacks between dwellings; delete requirements for design and architectural standards; eliminate parking requirements and eliminate fees.
Nor would the city require a public review of the suitability of a second dwelling on a property, she noted. She proposed, instead, creation of a review committee of property owners from neighborhoods throughout the city.
Tom Figg, the city’s consultant on the housing plan, said that his survey of cities where amnesty programs have been successful found that owners of illegal dwellings balked at participating if they faced city permit and utility connection fees, plus fees to other jurisdictions such as school districts and the county.
So, Figg proposed waiving about $2,000 in fees per unit to the city and trying to convince other entities to also waive about $13,000 per unit. City Redevelopment Agency funds might be used to cover those waivers, the housing plan says.
A public benefit from the amnesty plan, Figg said, would be imposition of so-called “affordability covenants” attached to units requiring significant exceptions to city zoning standards. Those covenants would restrict occupancy to low-income people for 20 years.
Figg’s plan would not crack down on illegal dwellings at the end of the amnesty program sign-up in five years. None of the cities with amnesty programs have such a code enforcement crackdown, he said. “None use code enforcement as a hammer.”
Instead, Figg said Ojai could require sellers of dwellings to give buyers a record of all building permits on file with the city, so buyers could determine if the second unit was legal.
Even without an enforcement hammer, the city anticipates that just 70 out of about 300 owners of illegal dwellings would participate.
For now, as the council awaits completion of the related environmental study, the council directed Figg to contact other jurisdictions — such as the School District, water and sewer agencies, and Ventura County — to seek fee waivers on illegal dwellings, and to meet with the Board of Realtors to see if agents would assist property owners throughout the amnesty process.
City manager Jere Kersnar said the environmental report would be done next month, reviewed by the Planning Commission in September and go back to the council in October. The housing plan could then be re-submitted to the state.
Figg said that was cutting it close to a deadline for compliance and the beginning of implementation of a housing plan set by the state. That deadline is June 2010.
However, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development has yet to impose a penalty on cities that fail to meet its mandates for new housing plans, or implementation of those plans.
The number of new dwellings the state requires of each city is based on regional housing needs. Each city is required to submit a Housing Element plan showing how it will meet its share of the housing demand.
Ojai officials dealing with OUSD’s appeal
By Daryl Kelley
Amid growing frustration from supporters of a new skate park, Ojai city officials have agreed to produce a time line by the end of next week for development of the proposed new concrete facility on the town’s main street.
At the same time, however, the City Council also set a public hearing for Aug. 11 to consider the Ojai Unified School District’s appeal of the city Planning Commission’s approval of the skate park’s design.
The new $350,000 skate park, funded mostly by community donations but with a $100,000 city contribution, would replace a tattered wooden structure near OUSD headquarters on Ojai Avenue.
The site is owned by the School District and leased to the city for skate park use until 2023.
The School District has balked at allowing construction of a new, permanent structure without its approval of design and construction plans, as provided by the district’s lease with the city. The district hasn’t approved those plans, or even received them, it maintains.
The School District has also expressed concerns about the level of maintenance and adult supervision at the current skate park.
To try to work better together, the city and OUSD have directed two council members and two school board members, along with top administrators of each agency, to meet Aug. 5 to try to resolve differences. Carol Smith and Betsy Clapp will represent the council, while Steve Fields and Linda Taylor will represent the district.
But, even with efforts to speed up a nearly two-year effort to build a new skate park, several community members complained to the council Tuesday evening about the lack of progress following an outpouring of support that produced about $250,000 in donations and pledges by a June 2008 city deadline.
Now, more than a year later, skate park supporter said they’ve seen little progress. And one critic even accused the City Council and school board of colluding to block construction so the district could build a tax-producing commercial project on the site.
“Citizens worked really hard to meet your (June 2008) deadline,” said Wendy Hilgers, a Skate Ojai member. “But that was the only deadline ever imposed. What’s happening with the skate park?”
Skater and campaign volunteer Dave England told the council pointedly: “This is an outrage. Everywhere else has the greatest skate parks. These young kids … they helped raise all of this money, and nothing happened.”
Then he cited a published commentary that theorized that “you guys are in cahoots with the school district … I think somebody needs to be held accountable for this heel-dragging.”
That prompted a sharp response from the council.
Mayor Joe DeVito denied that any such collusion had occurred.
And Councilwoman Smith said the process had been slowed by four to six months because there were “too many cooks” — the Skate Ojai organization and the city — trying to move the project along without effective coordination.
Skate park designers “apparently got mixed signals from Skate Ojai,” and came up with a project costing $475,000, not the $350,000 that had been raised.
“So don’t point your finger like that,” she responded.
In rebuttal, Skate Ojai’s Chet Hilgers said he talked with designers after the meeting in which they produced the over-budget park design.
“They said the city didn’t provide them with things they requested,” he said. “You don’t know the whole story. Come and talk to us, Carol … This has been such a learning experience for everyone in this town: how the city is so dysfunctional.”
In turn, DeVito challenged Skate Ojai to produce a list of things that need to be done by them and the city, and who is responsible for them. He said city staffers had asked for information from Skate Ojai and never gotten it.
“I want it on paper,” the mayor said.
Raw nerves were also evident among other council members, some of whom were not pleased with how slowly the city staff had moved the project along.
Council Members Clapp and Sue Horgan, both of whom ran for election last fall on a platform that featured skate park construction, said the process had to move ahead quickly.
“I think the council really does want this to move forward,” said Clapp. “But we have no control over the School District, and that could be a huge impediment.”
And Horgan added: “No one is happy about how long this has taken … Let’s get the skate park done.”
Councilman Steve Olsen said he was “embarrassed” by the skate park’s lack of progress. He praised Skate Ojai and said the park proposal would not exist if not for that hardworking volunteer organization.
“But there are so many unknowns,” Olsen said. “If we end up in litigation with the School District, that could take really a long time. I don’t know what else we could have done, but I’m embarrassed on this issue.”
City manager Jere Kersnar and Dale Sumersille, Recreation Department director, said the project was moving along and that the School District’s appeal would not slow the progress.
Kersnar said some of the problems developed because the city was counting on volunteers recruited by Skate Ojai to do some of the design work. That type of two-headed direction hadn’t helped, he said.
Still, Kersnar said he’d have a skate park time line ready by the end of next week.
Sumersille said screening of soil, electrical and structural engineering firms would take place within the next week and that deficiencies in the preliminary design would be addressed. She said a “soft time line” would be made public by next Friday.
“I’ll list all the stages and the maximum time needed for each step,” she said.
And Kersnar said, “We certainly are going to develop a time line.”
Sumersille said she’d confer next Thursday with Mayor DeVito and Skate Ojai to talk about how things are going.
“Let me know the time,” DeVito said.
Patrick McPherson, of the Ojai Valley Democratic Club, said his 200-member group supports building the skate park at its present location and asked the council to “take all action necessary, including litigation” to make that happen.
In a side issue, Skate Ojai volunteer Judy Gabriel told the council that skaters had been painted in broad strokes in comments by School District officials about drug use at the skate park. She said she and Wendy Hilgers reviewed Sheriff’s Department logs to see how many times officers had been called to the skate park in the last year and a half.
She said there had been only 27 calls to the skate park and the adjacent Park & Ride lot and Chaparral Auditorium facilities. By comparison, there had been 106 calls for service to Matilija Junior High, 137 calls to Sarzotti Park, 416 calls to Libbey Park and 734 calls to Nordhoff High School.
“There’s an integrity issue here,” she said. “Our kids are being used as scapegoats … The School District wants to develop that property. I ask you to really stand up for the kids … They feel dissed.”
Sheriff’s Capt. Chris Dunn, who functions as Ojai’s chief of police, cautioned the council about giving too much weight to such statistics. For example, the Nordhoff figure is inflated because there is a police officer on campus and the officer forwards complaints from other locations as well as from the high school, he said.
The School District has addressed crime, security and maintenance issues in letters to the council.
In a June 15 letter, former superintendent Tim Baird said the school board had not been presented with a plan for the new skate park and that outstanding issues needed to be resolved.
“The concerns of the district are, in no small part, associated with the past operation and maintenance of the existing facility,” Baird wrote. Among the problems, he wrote, were the lack of a rest room, security fencing, a drinking fountain and adult supervision.
“Twice this year principal (Marilyn) Smith (of Chaparral High School) has taken the district’s drug-sniffing dog to the skateboard facility and on both occasions the dog found drugs, paraphernalia and alcohol on the property,” Baird wrote.
But, Baird added: “The (city Redevelopment) Agency must understand that the district desires, above all, a safe and attractive public recreational facility that we can all support and be proud of located on the main street of the city of Ojai. The district wants to be of service to the community and to our youth; and not have its property serve as the source of unreasonable and preventable risks, liabilities and public complaints.”
Fourteen-year-old suspect being tried as adult in April homicide
By Daryl Kelley
A 14-year-old Mira Monte resident pleaded not guilty Thursday to murdering a 16-year-old Chaparral High School student at an unsupervised teen party in April.
Alex Medina entered the not guilty plea to charges of killing Seth Scarminach in Superior Court, not juvenile court, because prosecutors filed murder charges against him this month as an adult because of the circumstances of the crime.
Prosecutors allege that Medina, who investigators say was an associate of an Ojai street gang, committed a gang-related offense.
Medina faces a charge of homicide with the use of a knife, and committing a crime for the benefit of a criminal street gang.
That gang-related charge makes the potential penalties more severe. The maximum sentence that could be sought is 25 years to life in prison. Medina is not eligible for the more-severe sentence of life without the possibility of parole because of his age, prosecutors have said.
“We considered all the facts about this particular case – criminal history, life history, and the current offense – that DA looks at the entire person,” said Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Mike Frawley earlier this month.
According to autopsy results, Scarminach died of multiple stab wounds shortly before 2 a.m. on April 26 during a party at a house in Meiners Oaks.
The alleged gang involvement, along with the heinous nature of the crime and the youth of the victim and alleged perpetrator, prompted a community outcry, culminating in a town hall meeting on June 18 attended by about 350 people.
A court date of Sept. 17 was set for an early disposition conference, the usual procedure in criminal cases, court officials said.
FROM: Sgt. Joe Evans
Eastwood picks famed pianist for Mandela movie
By Cole Bettles
Ojai is home to many legendary musicians and Roger Kellaway is one of them. He plays and composes for a multitude of genres and said, “Each type of music has its own excitement.” Few musicians are lucky enough to create a successful career, but Kellaway found a way.
Recently, Kellaway received a call from Clint Eastwood. “He asked me if I would come over to the studio and do some work for him at the piano,” said Kellaway. One or two phone calls later, Eastwood asked Kellaway to help him with the score for his new movie. Eastwood, a jazz pianist, has a developed a score for the movie, but Kellaway was called in to refine the score and add some of his own colors.
“Clint and I are friends. He narrated for a project of mine, ‘Visions of America,’” said Kellaway. Kellaway composed music for “Visions of America,” a film that documents American democracy with photographs from another Ojai resident, Joseph Sohm. Kellaway is thrilled to work with Eastwood again and said, “I am most excited about conducting a full orchestra.” The orchestra is currently comprised of 44- strings, but he hopes to add a few more.
Eastwood’s movie, “Invictus,” is planned to be released sometime this fall so it can meet the academy’s deadline to be eligible for an award. The movie will star Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon and Scott Eastwood. “Invictus” is a William Ernest Henley poem that Nelson Mandela, the former South African president who was jailed for his major role as an anti-apartheid activist, often recited. Eastwood’s film is a biography of Mandela and concentrates on his life after the fall of apartheid in South Africa, including his first term as president. The movie also emphasizes how the 1995 Rugby World Cup served as an opportunity to unite his countrymen.
In two weeks, Kellaway will begin working with Eastwood at the Warner Brothers Studio. “One thing I really enjoy is being on the movie lots. Standing in front of a giant screen and conducting a full orchestra is one of the most exciting parts of being a musician,” said Kellaway. Although this is a thrilling task for Kellaway, he admits it will be quite stressful. Kellaway and the crew will score and mix the movie in only four days.
Kellaway lives in Ojai with his wife, Jorjana. Kellaway works from his home office around the clock and said, “I am really busy right now. It seems like I am always working on three or four projects.” To check out Kellaway or to buy some of his music, visit his web site at rogerkellaway.com.
Big vote effort brings small town close to $100,000 prize
With a massive marketing effort that included thousands of e-mails, postcards, signs and word of mouth, Ojai has earned a shot at becoming America’s “Best Tennis Town.”
If chosen during the U.S. Open, Ojai will earn $100,000. from the USTA to be used for communitywide tennis programming or facility enhancements. The second and third prize winners will receive $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, to be used toward the same purposes.
To win, Ojai must beat out Independence, Kan., and Midland, Mich.
The ultimate winner of the “Best Tennis Town” search will be announced during the 2009 U.S. Open, which will be held from Aug. 29 through Sept. 13 at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City.
“The search for America’s ‘Best Tennis Town’ is the USTA’s first-ever nationwide search to identify the local area — from small, rural towns to large, urban metro areas and everywhere in between — that best exemplifies the passion, excitement, spirit and impact that tennis brings to the local level,” according to the USTA press release.
Tennis towns from all over the country submitted their entries for consideration on besttennistown.com between May 1 and July 1, and after carefully reviewing each submission, a panel of judges selected 10 communities as finalists for the 2009 “Best Tennis Town” title.
Independence, Midland, and Ojai were among the 10 finalist cities, from an initial group of 56 entrants, which tennis fans around the country could vote for at besttennistown.com from July 16 through July 26. They selected, in alphabetical order:
• Independence, Kan.: With a population of just 9,846, Independence still annually attracts nearly 200 kids to play in its summer recreation programs; the Independence girl’s team has won an unprecedented 17 consecutive league titles and three Kansas state team titles since 2001.
• Midland, Mich.: More than 10,000 local players take to the courts in Midland (population 41,685) every year; the Midland Community Tennis Center hosts more than 20 tennis tournaments a year.
• Ojai, Calif.: Home of one of the oldest (since 1896) amateur tennis tournaments in the country, “The Ojai”; 64 tennis courts are available for its 8,202 residents.
These three communities beat out, in the nationwide voting, Baton Rouge, La.; Cary, N.C.; Grand Junction, Colo.; Hickory, N.C.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Springfield, Mo.; and Tempe, Ariz., each of which will receive $2,000 worth of tennis equipment for community use as runners-up.
“The USTA is excited to see the dedication and commitment to tennis that these towns have demonstrated in their communities,” said Kurt Kamperman, Chief Executive, Community Tennis, USTA.
The top three finalists will travel to New York City, where the winner will be revealed during a ceremony at the 2009 U.S. Open on Sept. 6.
The winner will take home the 2009 “Best Tennis Town” title, an accompanying trophy and $100,000 to be used for community-wide tennis programming or facility enhancements.
For more information, visit besttennistown.com.
SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT PRESS RELEASE:
On July 25, 2009, deputies assigned to the Ojai Police Department arrested 27-year-old Matthew Schumacher (of Casitas Springs) in connection with a hate-motivated crime that occurred earlier that morning at the Shell Service Station located at 905 N. Ventura Avenue in Oak View. Schumacher is a documented member of the white supremacist gang “Skin Head Dogs.” Additionally, Schumacher is tattooed with several white supremacist related tattoos, including a tattoo that depicts a derogatory statement toward African Americans on the back of his head. At the time of Schumacher’s arrest, a probation search revealed he was in possession of white supremacist related paraphernalia and weapons.
Based on information obtained during the investigation, an unprovoked Schumacher aggressively approached an African American female and a white male near the Shell station’s gas pumps. Schumacher proceeded to make racial slurs to the interracial couple before battering the male. After knocking the male to the ground, Schumacher fled the area.
Overtime pay for part-timers at issue
By Daryl Kelley
The Casitas Municipal Water District has settled for about $50,000 a class-action lawsuit filed by former part-time employees at its recreational water park, and officials have rewritten Casitas’ employee handbook to make clear when part-time employees are entitled to overtime pay.
“A settlement has been reached, and we’re in the process of getting it approved by the court,” said Jonathan Light, attorney for the Water District. “Our case may well have been a winner, but it was just better to pay and go home. It would have cost the district $50,000 to $100,000 in legal fees (to go to trial).”
The pending settlement ends a lawsuit filed last year by two former part-time employees at the Casitas Lake water park, Jena Jehle and Amy Gronnebeck.
The two women claimed they should have received time-and-a-half overtime pay for each hour worked beyond the typical eight-hour workday, as do Casitas’ full-time employees.
But district officials argued that they have never paid part-time employees an overtime rate for work beyond 40 hours a week, and that part-time employees were informed of this when they were hired.
“They were told that was the arrangement,” Light said. And there are exceptions in state overtime law that gave Casitas a strong legal argument, the lawyer said.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Dan Palay, could not be reached for comment.
But in court documents, they cited the district’s employee handbook, which said workers must be paid an overtime rate after work ing eight hours in a day. The handbook made no distinction between part- and full-time employees.
“It did not address part-timers directly,” said Casitas general manager Steve Wickstrum. “That’s why there was some ambiguity in this case. The same procedure had been in place for many, many years, but the handbook was primarily for full-time employees.”
Now, the district has a separate handbook for part-time employees, he said. “Now, there’s a clear difference,” he said.
And part-timers receive overtime pay only after they’ve worked more than 40 hours each week, not eight hours per day, he said.
Attorney Light said that about 100 former employees who worked for the district in the four years before last summer are covered by the class-action suit and stand to receive some payment. The two primary plaintiffs will receive about $1,500 each, he said.
“We have quite a few part-timers during the summer, and when you look at it over four years, its dozens of people,” Wickstrum said. “We’ll send a letter out to see who is going to participate in the settlement.”
Light said many former employees would receive very little because they worked very little overtime.
“We’re talking about $20 here and $50 there,” the lawyer said.
Light said that about $30,000 of the $50,000 settlement would go to employees and the balance to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
FROM: Sgt. Joe Evans
Former Illinois educator hired as Ojai Unified School District superintendent
By Linda Harmon
In a brief meeting Tuesday night the Ojai Unified School District board voted to approve the contract for Henry Bangser, Ojai’s next superintendent.
“It’s official now. I know that the city is going to welcome him and show him that great Ojai spirit,” said Linda Taylor, board president, to the light crowd.
Bangser was not present, but was represented by his daughter, Julie Fioravanti. Fioravanti lives in Ventura and works for Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation.
“I’m sure the fact that he has family here was a big plus in his decision,” said Rikki Horne, board member.
According to interim superintendent Jim Berube, Bangser will be coming to Ojai Aug. 3 and 4 to meet with members of the district.
“He’ll be meeting here in the board room with management staff,” said Berube. “Then he plans to have half an hour meetings with principals, teachers, representatives of all classified employees, and union officials.”
Berube also said a copy of Bangser’s contract is available to the public in the OUSD office, 414 E. Ojai Ave.
In other actions, the board appointed Taylor and fellow board member Steve Fields to an ad hoc committee formed by the city on the skate park issue.
“It’s my understanding that the city wants to address these issues in an informal way,” said Taylor. “We don’t expect to meet until after sometime mid-August at the earliest.”
Concerning pending budget issues, Berube said even though an agreement seems to have been made in Sacramento he has been advised to hold off on any changes by School Services of California officials, a school information gathering organization based in Sacramento.
“All the details are not known,” said Berube, “and School Services is still gathering information. They advised us to stay put and they will advise us on a daily basis. Hopefully the legislature will meet on Thursday and pass a budget so that we can make any adjustments.”
Berube said his most pressing budget concern is the number of school days and if they will be decreased by more than the planned-for three days.
“We need to know by Monday to start figuring the salary schedule,” said Berube. “It’s day to day at this point.”
The only other board action was to approve personnel changes, at which point Taylor noted that the district was losing, “two fine teachers, Melanie Bryant and Kerri Griffee.”
Bryant, a secondary English teacher, is moving to Atascadero and Griffee, an elementary teacher, is leaving to teach at Monica Ros, a private school on the East End.
Claim against government for taking water for steelhead could mount to $80M
By Daryl Kelley
The federal government failed to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by a Friday deadline an appellate court decision which found that the government seized Casitas Municipal Water District property by forcing it to provide water for endangered steelhead trout.
That decision by government lawyers allows the case to return to a federal claims court in Washington for trial as a “physical taking” of property without just compensation, which is generally prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, instead of a simple “regulatory taking,” which would have made payment of compensation much more difficult.
Roger Marzulla, attorney for Casitas, said the government’s decision not to seek relief from the Supreme Court leaves in place a split decision by a three-justice panel last fall that Casitas was entitled to compensation for water it had provided, and must continue to provide, for a fish ladder to aid the steelhead trout’s migration up the Ventura River.
“The only real question now is how much water was taken and what was its value,” Marzulla said Monday. “We think any (trial court) judge will agree that it’s now only a question of damages.”
Citing a water appraiser, Marzulla has said that the value of water lost by Casitas — and to be lost in the future — -is tens of millions of dollars, and perhaps as much as $80 million.
The Federal Justice Department’s attorney, Katherine J. Barton, refused to comment on why the government decided not to appeal.
But another government lawyer said that an appeal to the high court “is always a crap shoot,” and that the court still has a 5-to-4 conservative majority, which could have favored Casitas’ property rights argument and issued a precedent-setting decision, undercutting the federal Endangered Species Act.
While Barton refused comment, her written argument filed during the appeal says that there are a number of major issues to be resolved at the trial court level before compensation to Casitas, if any, is awarded.
Chief among those issues, she argued, is the limit on Casitas’ water rights given California law that places overriding ownership in the hands of all state residents, not in a government-sanctioned purveyor of water such as Casitas.
Government lawyers have also maintained that Casitas, the Ojai Valley’s largest water supplier, has not lost the sale of even a drop of water because of diversions to the steelhead fish ladder. Water has been diverted, the government acknowledges, but the size of the Lake Casitas reservoir has allowed the water district to continue to make all sales even after the driest winters.
(The huge reservoir is still more than three-quarters full, although the Ojai Valley has experience dry winters during two of the last three years. Storms of 2005 filled the reservoir to overflowing. Even during a six-year drought two decades ago, the reservoir was always at least half full.)
State Deputy Attorney General Tara Mueller, who filed briefs in support of the federal government’s position, said in an interview that the Casitas case is far from decided.
“This case is not over,” she said. “There are a lot of issues to be decided.”
Marzulla said that most pre-trial discovery had already occurred before the seminal issue in the case — whether Casitas’ loss of water was a property seizure — was appealed from the Federal Claims Court in Washington to an appellate court.
As a result, Marzulla said he expected the case to move to trial within a couple of months. The actual trial may be moved to a federal courtroom in Southern California to make it easier for witnesses to appear, he said.
The Casitas case, filed in 2005, has been watched closely by property rights advocates, and defenders of the Endangered Species Act, because of the potential broad implications if Casitas were to win.
Property rights lawyers have said that the appeals panel’s ruling, which has now been allowed to stand, could carry nationwide significance.
J. David Breemer, a principal attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property rights group in Sacramento, said after the panel’s ruling that it was “very important because it says your water can’t be taken without you being paid for it.”
Before that 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.”
But attorneys for both sides said this week that the facts of the Casitas case are so unusual that its value as a legal precedent may be limited.
“There are very unusual factual circumstances here,” said the state’s Mueller. “And this is a federal circuit decision. It’s not binding on the state of California.”
Even Marzulla, a property rights expert who won a $17-million payout for a water district in a similar California case, said of a potential Casitas precedent: “The ruling here was based on what happened in this case and doesn’t necessarily define how matters would be handled in other cases.”
If the Federal Bureau of Reclamation, which built the Casitas dam-reservoir complex in the 1950s and forced Casitas to build a $9-million fish ladder in the last decade, is ordered to pay for water to operate the ladder, the bill could total $1 million to $2 million a year, Casitas 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.)
Marzulla has said that an appraiser has valued water the district could lose for the fish ladder over decades at “tens of millions of dollars, and it could go as high as $80 million.”
The case has cost Casitas more than $500,000 to pursue, prompting debate among its board of directors about whether it should be abandoned.
But earlier this year, the Casitas board, in a 3-2 vote, agreed to continue the suit by retaining Marzulla on a “contingency” contract under which he’d be paid only if he won the case.
The new contract, however, was controversial partly because the district agreed to pick up all other expenses related to pressing the case except for the fees of the Marzulla legal team.
Officials did not estimate how much more the case could eventually cost if Casitas loses.
Instead of fees, Marzulla will get 22.5 percent of any award the district receives.
But Marzulla said in an interview that he didn’t think Casitas would have to spend much more to see its case to a conclusion. Depending on lower court rulings, Casitas expenses could be as little as a few thousand dollars or as much as $40,000 to $50,000, he said earlier this year.
The Ojai Valley News Remembers
|See Peter Bellwood’s April 2006 video interview with Bud.|
By Linda Harmon
Otto Heino, the soft-spoken potter who was one of Ojai’s and the world’s most revered artists, died Thursday morning after a short illness. He was 94. According to Larry Carnes, a fellow potter and a friend of over 50 years, Heino had been actively working until Sunday.
“It’s quite a blow,” said Carnes. “He was just showing me these large yellow platters he was making; he planned to make more of them.”
Carnes said Heino had commented on not feeling well Monday when they spoke by phone and the two decided on Tuesday morning to cancel a planned joint studio tour for Wednesday.
“After having a sleepless night Tuesday he was taken to the hospital by ambulance on Wednesday,” said Carne still shaken. “He had been on some medication for gout and he went into kidney failure and was gone.”
Despite international acclaim, Heino remained “the potter on the east end” for many, always welcoming newcomers and regulars alike, who wandered into his studio, “The Pottery.” Stepping into the display area, visitors were greeted with museum quality work, while Heino busily worked in his studio across the breezeway.
Area artists were shocked to hear of his death. Susan Stimuelsen-Amend, Chair of the Ojai Arts Commission, spoke for many.
“Otto Heino represented a historic era,” said Stimuelsen-Amend, “a continuance of the tradition of the handmade. He was a craftsman of the highest order… Otto, like Beatrice Wood, Vivika Heino, and Nancy Rupp, was an icon of Ojai. So many have come to Ojai to visit his studio and get that first sense of Ojai as the Artist’s community… An inspiration to all, Otto will be sorely missed in our town.”
It was in 1973 that Heino moved to Ojai, taking up residence with his wife and fellow potter, Vivika. It was their friendship with Beatrice Wood that led them to purchase their now famous east end studio.
“Beato had been living there at the house and when she got a job teaching at Happy Valley they wanted her to move up there,” said Richard Franklin, President of the Ventura County Potter’s Guild and a longtime friend of the Heinos. “So she sold it to the Heinos.”
The Heinos had met Wood years before; becoming friends after Wood took a class from Otto in L.A.
Heino was a striking figure at the wheel, born to Finnish parents who immigrated to Connecticut and had a family of the six boys and six girls, Otto in the middle. Heino grew up helping his father work at a series of family owned farms there and in New Hampshire.
According to an earlier interview by the Smithsonian Archives, Heino’s first experience with the arts was apprenticing to a New Hampshire wood turner. Then the war came and Heino was drafted and became a gunner.
“Instead of coming back to the United States, I went to school in England,” said Heino. “I did a little jewelry, while I was doing woodwork at home. I liked to see how to raise silver, how to raise a bowl or a pitcher or a cream and sugar.”
After that initial introduction, Heino had a life changing experience visiting Leach’s Pottery while still in England.
“When I saw Leach’s pottery, where people were throwing,” said Heino, “they had to master that clay or else the clay would take over. So I decided when I got back to the United States I would take up pottery.”
After the war, Heino returned stateside, signing up for the pottery classes on the G.I. Bill. In classes at the League of New Hampshire Arts and Crafts, he met Vivika who was teaching there. The two were later married and moved to California in 1952 to teach at U.S.C. and later Chouinard Art Institute. They were active on both coasts, moving to a shared studio in New Hampshire for several years and later back to California. They continued at the forefront of the emerging American art and craft movement, forging a whole new concept of modern ceramics with their acclaimed glazes and clean lines.
Heino, who remained living and working in Ojai after Vivika’s death in 1995, has maintained close relationships with the local artists’ community despite his international stature.
“He came and gave a presentation to the Guild after he discovered his yellow glaze and explained how he came up with the new formula for the ancient Chinese glaze that was in such high demand,” said Franklin, who added with a chuckle that Vivika used to be the public relations person. “Before Vivika’s death he hardly spoke, but after you couldn’t shut him up.”
Heino continued to be active, artistically continuing seven decades of experiments with color and shape. He had only recently invented a prized lavender glaze that also is becoming the envy of his contemporaries.
In the Smithsonian interview Heino reflected on his philosophy.
“My pots were different from other people’s pots,” said Heino. “When I started teaching I tried to tell people to keep on working and not to sell until they had their own style. And that you know when you send the pot to a show, you’re not embarrassed because you know it’s your pot”
Richard Amend, a fellow member of the Ojai Studio Artists, often worked with Heino to set up displays for OSA charity functions.
“Otto was an extremely generous man and people should know that about him,” said Amend. “I would come into the studio and he would say take anything you want. He’d travel to schools across the country and build kilns for them, teach them how to throw while making pots, and then give them the pots to auction off. He just did a trip last spring to a Vermont school at age 94.”
Heino, a recipient of the City of Ojai’s Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award, was recently honored by OSA and spoke at the opening reception of the current OSA exhibition at the Ojai Valley Museum, “Made in Ojai VII.”
Heino is also represented in City’s art collection with the couple’s tile mural gracing the entrance to Ojai City Hall.
Heino’s art may hold the clearest view into the man and the one he would be most pleased with.
“I formed a philosophy that I wanted to do something for the country I live in,” said Heino in the Smithsonian interview. “I wanted to leave something so somebody would know, he was a good person. So he knew what he was doing, he knew his material, what he was working in, and he contributed something for the country he lived in.”
Heino’s open and embracing spirit will be missed by many.
Arrangements are pending for a local memorial service and an August memorial in New Hampshire. The family is requesting that any memorial donations on the West coast be made to the Ojai Studio Artists Vivika and Otto Heino Scholarship Fund, 323 E. Matilija Street. For an archived transcript of the Smithsonian interview with Heino, go to aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/transcripts/heino81.htm
FROM: Sheriff’s Detective Mark Burgess
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department’s Ojai Station Detectives are investigating the use of fraudulent credit cards. Between May 1, 2009 through June 30, 2009, unknown suspect(s) placed “skimmers” on credit card readers on the gas pumps at Valero Gas Stations in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties.
Criminals have been attaching “skimmers” to obtain account information and create fraudulent cards with the stolen account numbers. The “skimmer” reads all of the account information encoded on the card’s magnetic data storage stripe when swiped through the reader. In this case, the fraudulent credit cards are being used in Los Angeles County and other outlying areas of California and Nevada.
Valero Gas Stations are taking a proactive approach to combating the thefts by conducting visual checks of all the gas pumps throughout the day. When using your credit card at any card reader, look to make sure there is nothing else attached to the reader.
If you believe you might be a victim of identity theft by someone using your credit card, please contact your local law enforcement agency. Ojai residents should call 646-1414 to report such activity.
UPDATED FRIDAY, 7/17:
According to OUSD Board President Linda Taylor, the board has selected Dr. Henry Stephen Bangser as it’s new superintendent.
“Dr. Bangser was selected as our finalist from an outstanding field of candidates. His experience and credentials will enable Ojai Unified to reach a new level of excellence. Throughout his career in education he has focused on building learning environments that have fostered high student performance. He has accomplished this by building strong partnerships with staff and local communities. We are thrilled that he has chosen to lead our district,” said Taylor in a prepared statement.
Bangser is the former head of the New Trier Township High School District 203, which reportedly has ranked highest in the state of Illinois since 1993 in student achievement for high schools.
The board will vote on the selection and whether to ratify a contract for the new superintendent at the next meeting on Tuesday July 21, 5:30 p.m.
OUSD choosing from four finalists
After meeting with four applicants Saturday, the Ojai Unified School District board hopes to announce soon their choice for superintendent, a position vacated by Tim Baird at the end of June.
“We’re not able to give out the name yet but hope to do so on Friday, after our attorney looks over the contract,” said Board President Linda Taylor.
In response to why the board had not released the names of potential candidates, Taylor responded that Leadership Associates, the firm handling the search, maintains the confidentiality of applicants during the process.
Leadership Associates’ procedure to fill a position includes a meeting with the board to develop a profile of the next superintendent, meeting with community and staff to solicit their input, developing web site information based on the ideal candidate profile, advertising on a national level, recruiting candidates, checking references, meeting with the board for its selection of finalists, and assisting the board throughout the final steps of hiring a new superintendent.
According to Baird at the May 19 board meeting, the board negotiated a $10,000 price from the firm for the search, with most searches ranging from $25,000 to $30,000.
The board has been criticized for lack of access and input in the process by some in the community.
At the board meeting on May 19, Taylor urged residents to attend a special May 26 board meeting in order to have input on filling the position and “let the board know the qualities they want in a future superintendent.”
Also at that meeting was Peggy Lynch, representing Leadership Associates, who gave the audience and the Ojai Valley News an e-mail address where residents could “contact us to make comments if they can’t come to the meeting.”
“Leadership Associates did a fabulous job,” said Taylor. “They were very speedy and chose four outstanding applicants.”
Some public questions also arose about the location of Saturday’s meeting at the Ojai Valley Inn. According to Taylor, the Ojai Valley Inn donated use of its Executive Board Room for the interviews at no cost to the district.
Taylor said the board worked from 10:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., ordering sandwiches and working through their lunch. Taylor added, “We paid for the sandwiches ourselves.”
According to Taylor, the schedule that day included hour-long interviews with each of the four applicants, followed by an approximately hour and a half discussion by the board. Then two of the four were called back for a 4-minute interview. This was followed by another hour and a half discussion by the board, after which the decision was made and representatives from Leadership Associates met with the finalist to “hammer out” contract details.
FROM: Sgt. Joe Evans
Good evening watchers. Well the Fourth of July has come and gone. Since that day we have had a rash of crimes involving people getting into unlocked vehicles and stealing property.
The first set of crimes occurred on upper Signal Street in the early morning hours of July 5th through July 10th. There was no suspects seen or heard. In each of these crimes people left valuables in their cars while asleep at night. The cars were not locked and the crooks had an easy time removing the property without being detected.
The second set of crimes occurred on July 14 in the early morning hours in the Barbara Street tract. At about 3 A.M. a local neighbor saw two white males in their late teens or early twenties trying to open car doors in her driveway. The neighbor also saw them attempt to get into another neighbors car. Our good neighbor then yelled at the two males that the police were being called. Well this sent the two crooks running.
Deputies arrived quickly from different locations in the area but were unable to locate the suspects. There is a good chance these suspects may indeed live in that same area.
If you live in these areas, please keep your eyes open for people walking the streets late at night and early in the morning. If you do see people waking around please call the police. If it turns out they are just neighbors enjoying the night, we will explain to them why we are there and thank them for their time. If they are not known to the area, we will require bit more of their time.
Remember if you leave your vehicle unlocked with valuables inside, you are almost assured to lose those valuables you worked so hard to have. Lock your cars and make the crooks work and make more noise in their efforts to get in. Pay attention to your neighborhood at night. Listen for those crooks and call the police when you hear them. Leave nothing in your car so that if they do get in there will be nothing for them to steal.
Watch out for your neighbors. If we all work together we can and will stop these crooks.
Thanks for all you do. Your friend and neighbor, Joe
By Linda Harmon
Sergio Aragones, who brings smiles to millions, will have his first solo exhibit at the Ojai Valley Museum in our little town, quite a coup.
Aragones, an Ojai resident and prolific cartoonist, is a confident yet unpretentious artist whose illustration and cartoon work have graced more than five decades of American culture with their humor and quirkiness.
Born in Spain and raised in Mexico, Aragones has a broad background.
“Maybe moving to Mexico and not knowing the language, spending a lot of time indoors led me to be more creative,” said Aragones, who is the first and only visual artist in his family. “My mother was raised by nuns and took care of the house. My father came to Mexico as a young man without a job.”
According to Aragones, who speaks three languages, his father was an immigrant who brought his family to Mexico to escape the Spanish Civil War. His father worked his way up in the Mexican movie industry to become a producer and wanted to see his son better himself with a college degree. Aragones was headed for a career in architecture when he left for New York at age 25.
“It isn’t like I didn’t know I could sell my work,” said Aragones, who had sold his work professionally since high school. Young and confident, he departed for the wild life of ‘60s New York with only $20 in his pocket and no English skills.
“I went for a chance to improve and get into better magazines,” said Aragones. “If you wanted to succeed in the business in those days you had to live where the industry was centered.”
Arriving in New York he showed his work around, “but everyone told me my cartoons were crazy and I should show them to Mad.”
He did and the rest is cartoon history.
Aragones’ work has since won popular and critical acclaim winning the Shazam Awards for Best Inker (Humor Division) and the National Cartoonist Society’s Comic Book, Humor Comic Book, Magazine, Book Illustration, Special Features, Gag Cartoon, and Rueben Awards. He has also won the Adamson Award for Best International Comic Strip or Comic Book work in Sweden and the La Plumilla de Plata (The Silver Inkpen) in Mexico.
In terms of popular appeal, if you picked up an issue of Mad magazine in the last 50 years you’ve probably seen his work and smiled at it.
According to Aragones, after getting established he could mail in manuscripts and he moved out to Los Angeles for the climate and more laid-back lifestyle. He started working in television, acting and providing cartoon effects on shows like “Laugh-in” and specials for Cher and Shirley MacLaine.
A milestone in his career was reached in the 1980s when Aragones first introduced his own copyrighted cartoon characters joining Pacific Comics.
“Up until then I had just worked for other comic book companies,” said Aragones, who never wanted to give away his own characters. “When I traveled to Europe in the ‘60s I saw how the artists there owned their own works, not like in this country at the time. So it wasn’t until then that I could publish and keep my own character.”
Groo the Wanderer was born and has since become a phenomenon, with Aragones publishing a Groo comic book a month since the character’s inception. He describes his creation as “… basically amoral and a pretty dumb guy,” adding, “His dog is even brighter than he is.”
“Things never go right with him because he uses the sword instead of the brain,” said Aragones. “He always does the wrong thing.”
Aragones believes Groo is popular in part because it is a pantomime strip, using only pictures to convey the messages.
“People see a lot of text and they get bored,” said Aragones. “This way everyone can understand it no matter what country they are from, or what language they speak.”
That style grew out of studying pantomime, which he took to strengthen the cartooning skills he’d discovered as a third-grade student.
Hooked on pantomime the first time he saw Marcel Marceau in Mexico, Aragones went on to study under Alexander Jodorowsky, a protégé of Marceau.
“Jodorowsky opened a school and I attended because I wanted to learn to apply the freedom of movement to my cartooning,” said Aragones. “And it was fun too … Most of my work is pantomime. They are thinking cartoons. It is a little more complicated. It is an exercise of the mind to try to follow a pantomime cartoon.”
Aragones says another special thing he does in his cartooning is research, to make sure all the technical aspects of his strips are rendered correctly.
“For instance, in Groo if there are tools lying on the ground while he is building something,” said Aragones, “the tools need to be right. Otherwise the viewer is distracted. People can actually build a cartoon boat from one of my strips.”
His research has the added benefit of learning a lot of “hobbies,” which he has used to make projects for his beloved garden, a fountain and hand-carved Mexican-style wooden bench. That’s where he gets his ideas.
“I sit outside in the quiet, no noise, just the birds, and write the story,” said Aragones, describing his workday. “After I have the story, the idea, I go into the office, turn on the TV or whatever for background noise, and ink them.”
He often works late into the night, sometimes using breaks of “The Simpsons” to relax.
Aragones and his wife moved to Ojai from Los Angeles after they came to listen to Krishnamurti. They decided they wanted their daughter to attend Oak Grove School.
“Ojai was really the first time I had lived in a small place,” said Aragones. “I loved it from day one, it’s so peaceful and you know everyone.”
Aragones is busier than ever with his own strips and books, and continues to work for Mad, discovering new avenues for humor.
I heard he even took up knitting from Lorraine at Java and Joe.
I wonder if Groo knows how to knit?
Catch his exhibit, “Mad About Sergio,” Aug. 7 through Oct. 4 at the museum, 130 W. Ojai Ave. Or better yet, meet him at the opening Aug. 22 from 5 to 7 p.m. or at one of his scheduled talks Aug. 30 and Oct. 4.
He’ll make you smile, guaranteed.
For more info go to ojaivalleymuseum.org.
According to authorities, longtime Ojai resident Walter Henry Dohrn Jr., 70, disappeared from a friend’s residence in Cherry Valley Sunday. The community is about 150 miles east of Ojai in Riverside County.
A man matching Dohrn’s description was seen walking west on Cherry Valley Boulevard near Interstate 10 about 1 a.m. Tuesday, according to a Riverside County Sheriff’s Department news release.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department at 951-922-7100, or the Ojai Police Department at 646-1414.
New bus, trolley schedules begin Sunday
By Sondra Murphy
Valley patrons of public transportation need to roll with the changes. Modifications to both Gold Coast Transit Route 16 and Ojai Trolley Service routes begin Sunday.
GCT starts its revised route schedule between Ojai and Ventura on Sunday. The route will hit stops once an hour, connected Ojai to the Ventura Transportation Center on Thompson Boulevard via Highway 33 and Ventura Avenue.
Route 16 will no longer travel through downtown Ojai to the Fox Street Park & Ride lot. The northern terminus of Route 16 will be in front of Vons on Highway 33. Passengers wishing to ride to downtown Ojai can transfer to the Ojai Trolley at that stop.
Route 16 service into Meiners Oaks has also changed. The bus will leave Highway 33 at El Roblar Drive and travel on a one-way loop via La Luna Avenue and back to Highway 33.
The Ojai Trolley will also implement service changes effective Sunday to provide more frequent service to the highly traveled sections of Ojai Avenue, El Roblar Drive and parts of the Mira Monte area. Transfers can be made between Route 16 and the Ojai Trolley at the following locations:
• Highway 33 at Rite Aid (northbound)
• Highway 33 at Woodland Avenue (south Ojai-City Hall, Whispering Oaks on Ojai Avenue, Park Road at Sarzotti Park, the Park & Ride, El Roblar Drive at Lomita Avenue, Help of Ojai on Rice Road and Highway 33 at Rite Aid.
Lurie added that there will be transfer points to and from GCT on Maricopa Highway at Vons, at Rite Aid and on El Roblar Drive in Meiners Oaks. Schedules are now available on the trolleys and will soon be at key locations in the community, such as Ojai Library, City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce. Updated schedule information may also be viewed at ojaitrolley.com.
Gold Coast Transit is a joint powers agency governed by a board of directors made up of elected officials from the cities of Ojai, Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Ventura, and the County of Ventura. For more information, visit goldcoast transit.org or call the GCT service center at 487-4222.
City OKs design, as school district officials demand project be halted
By Sondra Murphy
Even as the city moved forward with long-delayed Ojai Skate Park plans, the school district was making moves to bring the project to a screeching halt.
On Monday, the Ojai Unified School District filed an appeal, stating that they had not approved the plans, and demanding that approval of the project be overturned
The basis for OUSD’s appeal as stated in the application is, “Per the city and district lease, section 7.01, the district must approve the skate park plans and specifications. The district never approved the plans and specifications prepared by the agency’s engineer.” In the appeal application, OUSD requests the approval of the skate park project be overturned.
Attached to the appeal application is a letter from former OUSD superintendent Tim Baird dated June 15, 2009. The letter references 10 issues and concerns that OUSD has about the project, among which CEQA compliance, construction standards, completion guarantees, restroom facilities, a drinking fountain and secure fencing are listed.
Rest rooms and the fountain are part of the second phase, at this point. The five other items have to do with operational components of the skate park and seem unlikely to be a concern of the Planning Commission in relation to a design review.
“Our appeal is based on the fact that we haven’t seen any plans and it’s in the agreement that we are to review them,” said interim OUSD superintendent Jim Berube. “We haven’t heard from the new task team committee yet. If they want to meet, that would be fine, when they can get everyone together.”
The formation of a new skate park task team was directed by the City
Council at its June 23 meeting. No representative from OUSD was at that meeting, or Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting.
The appeal application fee and deposit totaled $1,160, $1,000 of which is put in place for city staff time billed at hourly rates. If additional plans, blueprints or project application reproduction is needed, there could be additional costs to the school district.
City staff was unavailable for comment. Project timlines have been modified several times since more than $350,000 in project funds were raised last year through civic and private donations toward the total cost of construction. Councilwoman Betsy Clapp requested an updated skate park project time line at the last Ojai City Council meeting. Ojai Recreation Department director Dale Sumersille said a new schedule was being developed for her to submit and bring to the next council meeting July 28.
The Ojai Planning Commission quickly collected its bearings in looking at updated permanent skate park designs last week. The review received favorable comments and minor suggestions from commissioners.
“The city has two roles,” said city manager Jere Kersnar. “The city is the applicant, but on the other hand, the regulatory side of the city also has involvement, so the city is reviewing itself, but it is two separate roles.”
The commission approved the design permit for the demolition of the existing skate park, the construction of a 12,305-square-foot skate park and tree permit for the removal of one ash tree and working within the dripline of one pepper tree. During the discussion among the parties involved, the commission modified fencing materials and height that will free up funds for other features.
Sumersille introduced the revised site plan with new modifications to the California Environmental Quality Act and demolition plans, as well as some revisions to the original demolition plan, a pathway and fencing heights.
Park designer Canton Russell of Site Design Group, Inc. presented the preliminary designs to the Planning Commission and was available to answer questions about the long-anticipated project. Of the changes since the last time the commissioners viewed the plans, Russell said, “It shows some of the parking stalls removed for better handicap parking and access into the skate park.”
Drainage for the park’s bowl, designed to range from 9-feet deep to 6-and-a-half-feet deep, were of interest to commissioners. Russell said a sump pump is planned to divert any water drainage into the existing drainage system and into the nearby barranca.
With a tight budget, the first phase of construction will focus on installing the in-ground, cement skate park. Commissioner Steven Foster asked about the landscaping plan. “There’s no extensive landscaping plan shown here because the budget is so limited for the park,” said Russell, “but there is potential for adding landscaping later. It’s a future phase. Obviously, the more shading and seating, the better, but the budget right now doesn’t allow for it.”
Skate Ojai member Bob Daddi addressed landscaping during the public comments portion of the agenda item. “I hope we can minimize the landscaping. The city did minimum landscaping with the Park & Ride, and nothing’s left. With landscaping and kids, it’s going to have to be something that’s trample proof.”
“I’m a licensed landscape architect, as well as a licensed arborist and I would like to offer my services, pro bono, to the city in terms of looking at a landscape design plan,” said Tom Bostrom as he addressed the commission. “I did a design for the temporary thing, so I wouldn’t want to miss this opportunity.” He said he could assist with drainage, as well as trees.
Foster also brought up the 6-foot wrought iron fencing that was proposed for around the bowl area, as did Daddi. “It needs to be 2-inch squares, not wrought iron,” said Daddi. “When you have kids flying by and catching arms in wrought iron … imagine the damage.”
Vice Chair Troy Becker noted that many skate parks he has seen have wrought iron fencing similar to the kind included in the Ojai design. “At the majority of parks we’re doing now, there is no fencing at all. They’re very open, inviting and welcoming,” said Russell. “The parks you mentioned were done quite a few years ago.”
Sumersille said the Parks and Recreation Commission requested a fence for safety reasons and, as discussion continued, Site Design’s recommendation on fencing was deemed sufficient by Sage Intner of the PRC. “What about Skate Ojai?” Becker asked.
“We don’t need bars to keep kids out, we need a barrier to keep kids in,” said Daddi. “You know the city. There are no 6-foot fences around any recreational facility in Ojai except tennis courts.” He added that fencing could vary in height at different locations around the bowl and reminded the commission that there is already a 6-foot fence along the barranca.
Commissioner Paul Crabtree added to the plan conditions that, “only building code fencing is required as necessary” to give designers the discretion of adjusting fence heights and materials where appropriate.
The issue of park supervision came up in discussion. “Security is basically going to be fencing open or closed at this point,” said Sumersille. “There will be no supervision unless a special event is going on, but we have discussed in the Skate Committee to have volunteers at peak times.”
“As far as the supervision, the state law is very clear,” said Daddi. “If you supervise, you assume all liability. If you don’t, there is no liability.” City attorney Monte Widders had offered a similar opinion at the June 23 meeting of the Ojai City Council.
“I can say I’m delighted to see this here tonight,” said Commission Chair Susan Weaver. The design permit was unanimously approved as amended during discussion.
At approximately 4:30 p.m. today, July 4, a stabbing was reported at a residence in the 200 block of North La Luna Avenue in Meiners Oaks. A male victim was taken to the Ojai Valley Community Hospital’s emergency room with at least two visible stab wounds, according to sheriff’s radio traffic.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Pat Ruby said the victim is Hispanic and appeared to be in his 30s. “We can almost rest assured this is not gang-related,” Ruby told OVN reporter Sondra Murphy. Ruby said the victim was stabbed “kind of severely,” and the victim and suspect apparently were friends. Crime scene investigators and detectives were en route to the hospital as this is being written.
Little else is known at this time. Details will be posted here as they become available.
SHERIFF’S DEPARTENT UPDATE Monday, July 6, 6:52 p.m.
Ruben Montelongo-Hernandez, 47, was identified as the victim. He suffered a stab wound to the upper chest. The suspect fled the scene and detectives are presently working on confirming his identity and whereabouts.
FROM: Sgt. Joe Evans
After two months of deliberation, it as learned Thursday evening that the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office will charge Alex Medina, the 14-year-old suspect in the April 26 murder of Seth Scarminach as an adult. If convicted, the Mira Monte teen could face life in prison.
Scarminach, 16, was reportedly called out of a party at a friend’s house in Meiners Oaks, then attacked and stabbed repeatedly. He was also robbed and attacked on July 16, 2008 by members of the same Ojai-based gang with which his alleged killer was associated.
“We think it was OSL involved in that robbery,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Michael Frawley in an earlier report by Daryl Kelley.
This was the first murder in Ojai in 11 years, since the death of Kali Manley.
The murder provoked a whirlwind of rumors, threats of retaliation and speculation in the Ojai Valley. A benefit for Scarminach’s family brought in more than $30,000, and a town hall meeting convened on gang violence issues drew an overflow crowd estimated at 350 people to Matilija Auditorium on June 18.
City largely eludes effects, while county dips into reserves to continue CalWorks
By Daryl Kelley
State officials were set to begin issuing IOUs on Thursday instead of regular cash-backed checks, a desperate move amid a financial crisis, but one that would have little immediate effect on the city of Ojai or public school districts or special districts in the Ojai Valley.
“It will have virtually no effect on the city of Ojai or on special districts,” city manager Jere Kersnar said. “The effect is going to be on county social services, mental health and the courts.”
And, according to county officials, at least some recipients of affected services would still receive benefit checks as usual, since Ventura County would spend from its $65-million reserve fund rather than passing along the IOUs.
“We’ll be able to do it for several months,” said county Supervisor Steve Bennett, who represents the Ojai Valley, referring specifically to the CalWorks program, which provides for basic needs of low-income families.
County programs affected range from alcohol abuse and mental health treatment to services for low-income senior citizens. Programs for the developmentally disabled would also be funded through IOUs.
Because the state legislature did not pass a budget by its Wednesday deadline, state Controller John Chiang was set to begin issuing Thursday afternoon 28,742 “registered warrants,” or IOU promises to pay. That first batch of warrants totaled $53.3 million, and were to be sent mostly to people expecting state income tax refunds.
According to Chiang’s web site, about $3 billion would be paid in IOUs during July, if lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger fail to agree on a budget to close a $26-billion deficit for the new fiscal year that began Wednesday.
The bulk of state bills would still be paid with regular checks, but a portion would be funded with IOUs. Those IOUs would be sent to some of those funded directly out of the state general fund, such as select county government services, state vendors, taxpayers eligible for a refund, ownersof unclaimed property and college students receiving financial aid.
Thousands of state vendor contractors, usually small businesses, would be most affected, officials said. IOUs have been issued by California only one other time, in 1992, since the Great Depression. The amount of the state’s IOU bill payments, and its debt, will increase monthly as long as there is no new budget, Chiang said. IOU payments are expected to reach $3.7 billion in August and $6.5 in September without an approved state budget. The IOUs, with interest, can be redeemed Oct. 1, if the state has cash on hand to make the payments.
By Thursday morning, Bank of America and Wells Fargo had announced that they would accept the IOUs at least through July 10. Other banks had waited until Thursday afternoon to see what interest rate the state would on its IOUs. A finance panel set the rate at 3.75 percent.
Locally, Ojai Community Bank was preparing to accept the IOUs from its existing customers Thursday morning. “We’re 90 percent there,” said bank President David Brubaker. “We anticipate accepting them from our existing customers. We’re preparing procedures to be sent to our Ojai and two Santa Paula branches.” During the 1992 financial crisis, it took weeks before many banks began to accept IOUs. Ojai Community Bank — then know as Ojai Valley Bank — participated during that crisis, Brubaker said. Even with the IOU payments, the bulk of state checks would still be made with regular cash-backed warrants, not “registered warrants,” as the IOUs are called.
The state constitution mandates that education and debt service bills be paid first from whatever cash remains in the state treasury. It also requires that the state payroll, the CalPERS and CalSTRS pension funds, In-Home Supportive Services and Medi-Cal providers be paid with regular checks. Also, state unemployment benefits, which are funded by an account apart from the general fund, will be paid with regular checks. The federal government has notified California that it will pay the state’s share of SSI/SSP payments to aged, blind and disabled persons through August.
But that money must berepaid. On Tuesday, as last fiscal year was drawing to a close, the Senate rejected three bills designed to save $5 billion, including $3.3 billion in education funding cuts. Passing those bills would have given the legislature time to work out a broader solution to the deficit and delayed the need for IOUs. Instead, the budget shortfall is set to grow even wider because of California’s complicated school funding formula, meaning the state will not have enough money to pay all its bills.
The issuance of IOUs is almost certain to affect California’s credit rating, already the lowest in the nation.
That would result in billions of extra dollars in interest payments that taxpayers would have to underwrite. Schwarzenegger and legislative Republicans balked at any short-term compromise, saying that the whole $26-billion deficit should be resolved, not attacked piecemeal.
Interior, exterior remodel design for shopping center gets heat from planners
By Sondra Murphy
It’s back to the drawing board for the owner and representatives of the Ojai Valley Shopping Center. A design permit review for an interior remodel of Vons, exterior upgrade of the entire center and parking lot improvements was denied by the Ojai Planning Commission on Wednesday.
While city staff and commissioners are receptive to improvements to all of the areas included in the design permit application, they found the project failed to address instructions given in 2006, when the concept review was brought to the commission.
Most obvious to the city was the inadequate pedestrian and bicycle traffic passages in the parking area and along the Vons frontage. City staff was recommending that the project be broken into two phases. The first would allow for the interior improvements to the Vons space, which met city requirements. The second would allow the applicants to return to the Planning Commission with new drawings of the exterior remodel with parking and traffic improvements.
At the October 2006 concept review, commissioners expressed concerns about drainage and circulation of the existing parking lot for the center. “The overall project is not ready for Planning Commission approval at this time because the most recently submitted site plan for the parking lot improvement has not been reviewed by the city engineer and staff has not received an arborist’s report,” said associate city planner Kanika Kith. “Staff is requesting the Planning Commission consider Vons’ request to move forward with the interior remodel without having a complete design approval for the exterior improvements.” Because the interior remodel requires some modification to the existing parking lot, the commission would have needed to vary from its usual practice of approving the overall project before interior work begins.
City staff worked to create a Phase I remodeling plan in which the applicants would agree in writing to complete parking improvements as approved by the commission within one year, relocate existing vending machines, carts and outdoor displays from pedestrian access areas along Vons’ frontage, modify outdoor displays to comply with city display guidelines and submit a request for a proposed Starbucks kiosk within the store’s interior.
“Taking into consideration the undesirable condition of the shopping center and the community’s desire for improvements, staff is recommending the Planning Commission allow Vons to move forward with the interior remodel as Phase I, while staff continues to work with the property owner for the exterior improvements as Phase II of the project,” said Kith.
Mike Smith, representing Safeway, Vons’ parent company, and Dean Vadnais of Vadnais Investments, representing property owner Flo Partnership LLC-Fred Keeler had nothing to add to the city report.
Three community members addressed the issue during public comments. Dutch Atchley requested the commission look carefully at visual impediments where bicyclists and pedestrians are concerned, especially trees and shrubbery. Tom Bostrom, chair of Ojai Tree Committee, said that trees are more inviting to customers and help reduce runoff and pollution.
Bob Daddi focused on safety. “The corridor we’re speaking about tonight probably accounts for 65 percent of the accidents in Ojai,” he said about a zone from El Roblar Drive to Cluff Vista Park. Daddi said changes often bring unintended results and with trolley and bus route changes scheduled for the shopping center, he would like the city to wait and see how they impact the region. He also called for lower vegetation heights on the corners from Ojai Valley Shopping Center to Vallerio Avenue. “The fewer objects and things you have in a contained area, the fewer things people hit,” Daddi said.
Traffic and safety also troubled the commissioners as they discussed the application, but they went further in criticizing the plan. “I’ve got concerns about divorcing the remodel from the site,” said Commissioner Paul Crabtree. “One is it’s a key location that doesn’t really say ‘Ojai.’ The center was built over 50 years ago — before we learned we were doing things wrong.” He pointed out that people drove less frequently in the 1950s and so the center was not built to accommodate the increased traffic and population. Crabtree also questioned whether the shopping center could withstand a remodel.
Commissioner John Mirk and Vice Chair Troy Becker thought they could deal with the remodel in separate phases if they were assured Phase II would be completed in a timely fashion, but wanted the exterior design improved in the areas of safety and aesthetics. “It is the entrance to Ojai and we have to look at what all the options are,” said Becker.
“I don’t think there’s any question about the need for a remodel, so in terms of concept and principal, I think it’s something that needs to happen,” said Commissioner Steven Foster. “This project has to be approached holistically. You can’t separate it because it allows too many loopholes in time and these issues are just too important.”
The fact that Caltrans owns the frontage property next to the center’s parking lot near the “Y” intersection was also brought up as an unknown factor.
“I think we need to send it back to the applicant and have them look at it in a comprehensive way and address the things said tonight and in 2006,” said Koehler. His subsequent motion to return the plan to the applicants to bring back to the commission after they have addressed the project’s inadequacies was unanimously approved.
Pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic for the busy intersection is proving difficult to remedy decades after initial construction, when the city was smaller.
The commissioners had similar concerns in December when a design review for the Union 76 Station across from Vons came before them. The concept of creating a Maricopa Plan for development was briefly discussed then as necessary to remedy safety concerns for the area that is a Y-shaped main artery in and out of the city, as well as having Nordhoff High School and Ojai Valley Community Hospital located along the four-lane section of road.
Jackson rides way to Miss California High School Rodeo crown, readies for nationals
By Linda Harmon
K’Lynn Jackson, 17, is now a rodeo queen. The Ojai native just won the title of Miss California High School Rodeo Queen 2009-2010.
“My mom thinks I’m a little crazy spending hours and months of work all for a 16-second run,” said Jackson, readying herself for the national finals. “But it’s in my blood now.”
Her mother sees it in another part of her anatomy too. “It’s been in her heart since she was little,” said Linda Jackson, who remembers her daughter making strides toward this day even without a lot of monetary support from her divorced parents. “It was hard but she overcame all the obstacles. The passion is so there.”
She says the road to rodeo queen hasn’t been easy, and success has come only because of her daughter’s hard work and sacrifice, doing without some of the “normal” Californian teenage advantages.
The young Jackson does double-time keeping up with school, work and the competitions, managing to fit in the cost and upkeep of a new horse, J.J., a 15.1-hand paint.
According to her mom, the young horsewoman saved every dime she made selling her livestock at county fairs, using it all to buy J.J. after her 25-year-old horse, Hiccup, “had given all she could.” Hiccup was retired, and the money that had been destined for the teenager’s first car went instead to make her dream of rodeo come true.
Jackson has ridden horses since age 3 and has been competing since age 12. Her competitions include barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, and breakaway roping.
“This is actually my first rodeo queen contest,” said Jackson, who said every other girl she competed against was a veteran of previous contests. “When I was a little girl I thought the rodeo queen was all pretty and sparkling, but then later I thought, ah, they just sit there looking pretty. Then when I found out what they need to know to get there, I was impressed.”
She won her title from the California High School Rodeo Association over eight regional representatives, not only for horsemanship, but also for her performance during a battery of interviews and written tests in addition to her speech, appearance and personality.
“You have to know every rule in the association rule book because when you win you are an officer,” said Jackson, who explained it is no easy task. “You have to know any rule involving the whole association including the officers and jobs of the commissioners, down to how many inches the horns are in the breakaway cow event.”
Her appearance is judged by strict standards even for the typical teenager.
“At nationals they are terribly picky about how your clothes fit,” said Jackson. “I have to even get my jeans taken in to make them fit perfectly, and I was told to get a different dress because the one I have doesn’t bring out my skin tones.”
Jackson was the first Region 7 representative to win the state title in 30 years.
Jackson will now go on to Farmington, N.M., on July 16 to compete at the 61st annual National High School Finals Rodeo (NHSFR) for the title of Miss National High School Rodeo. NHSFR is the largest rodeo in the world with more than 1,500 contestants from 41 states, five Canadian provinces, and Australia. Her possible winnings include over $200,000 in prizes and $325,000 in college scholarships. If she wins, she will be the first California winner in 10 years.
“It’s going to be so hot,” said Jackson, who adds heat adds complications besides decreasing her comfort; it makes “the makeup melt off and the clothes go flat.”
According to Jackson, her winnings could help with her next dream, attending San Luis Obispo’s Cuesta College in 2010, and then Cal Poly. She wants to become an equine veterinarian.
True to Jackson’s do-it-all spirit she doesn’t plan on leaving the circuit behind to accomplish her goals.
She plans to compete in future Professional Rodeo Association events while continuing her education and working her job at a veterinarian hospital.
To find out more about Jackson and her exploits go to klynnjackson.webs.com