Sheriff calls conference on rise of pot cartels, violence
By Scott Wintermute
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department held a press conference Thursday at the county’s main jail covering the issues surrounding this year’s high number of marijuana seizures in the area, and in particular, the issues that have arisen as a result of the cartel growers and traffickers working in and around our communities and wilderness.
Sheriff Bob Brooks discussed the La Brea Fire near Santa Barbara, which investigators allege was started by a propane stove in a marijuana cultivation camp.
Brooks expressed concern for recent changes in the way that the cartels operate. According to law enforcement agencies around the state, workers are now commonly being forced to work under much harsher circumstances.
Violence has become more prominent among grow operations to the extent of fire fights involving Lassen County Sheriff’s Department officers and marijuana growers, and workers being kidnapped and forced to work at gunpoint. “It’s a very sophisticated criminal enterprise that preys on defenseless workers and endangers every Californian.” said Brooks.
Former Ojai Police Chief and now Chief Deputy Gary Pentis addressed the influence of violence in Mexico and tightened border security on growers, saying that it had pushed them to open more operations in the United States, and California in particular to avoid the socio-political climate of Mexico and running the product across the border to be sold stateside. Pentis presented a slide show of recent growing sites between the Ojai and Lockwood valleys, where multiple crops have been discovered and destroyed.
With record quantities of marijuana being seized and the aggressive tactics of cartels, law enforcement officials have changed their tactics to better combat the illegal cultivation of marijuana. Pentis fielded questions from the press, which can be seen in a multimedia presentation.
By Lenny Roberts
St. Joseph’s Health and Retirement Center and the Ojai community lost one of its treasures Thursday morning when cancer took the life of Brother Hugo Stippler.
Stippler, 86, died Thursday at 6:31 a.m., according to Brother Michael Bassemier, St. Joseph’s administrator. Diagnosed in 2007 with prostate cancer that had metastasized into a kidney, Stippler continued his duties at the center on East Ojai Avenue and celebrated his golden anniversary in March with the Los Angeles-based Order of Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God when he renewed his vows.
Stippler entered the order in Ojai in 1957 and made his final vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and hospitality on the Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, 1959. The Ojai center opened in 1960.
“His entire life,” said Bassemier, “was for other people. He never thought about himself.”
Bassemier explained the type of cancer Stippler had was rare, affecting only 5 percent of prostate cancer victims. He had kidney surgery in December 2007.
Stippler, who was raised in Evansville, Ind., and graduated from Purdue University with an engineering degree, is survived by four sisters and one brother.
A memorial service will be held Sept. 3 at 11 a.m. at the chapel at St. Joseph’s Health and Retirement Center, 2464 E. Ojai Ave.
Sanitary District seeks to recoup legal costs from Arbolada residents
By Daryl Kelley
Eighteen homeowners in the lower Arbolada have been threatened with a lawsuit if they don’t pay $93,000 to reimburse the Ojai Valley Sanitary District for legal fees incurred during a lawsuit filed by a construction worker who was injured as the homeowners connected to the local sewer.
The Sanitary District and the co-defendant homeowners won their case against the worker last week, but lawyers for the Sanitary District’s insurance group promptly notified the homeowners that they still had to pay the group’s legal fees by Sept. 1, or they’d be sued for the money.
The issue surprised sanitary board directors this week, as angry homeowners barraged them with complaints during a meeting Monday evening.
They told the district that they’d invested about $35,000 each — or $600,000 total —- to extend the sewer system to El Paseo, Sierra and Cuyama roads, eliminating septic tanks that reeked when overflowing during wet winters and fouled groundwater already heavy in nitrates because of the Ojai Valley’s reliance on septic systems.
Then after a three-month construction project in 2006 they signed over ownership of the sewer extension to the Sanitary District in 2007.
(Ojai Valley News editor and publisher Bret Bradigan is a co-owner of one of the 18 homes, but he did not participate in the discussion Monday.)
One homeowner, cinematographer Jim McEachen, told the board:
“Please remind yourself, that the people you are threatening to sue are the neighbor-investors that provided a significantly valuable asset to both the district and the community. If there was ever a case that proved the old adage that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’ this is it.”
Board members said they hadn’t heard of the insurer’s threatening letter until shortly before the meeting. But they were cautioned by their legal counsel to remain mum about the issue, letting attorneys for the district’s self-insurance group — a large group of sanitary districts throughout California — do the talking for the district.
Later in the week, however, district counsel Mark Zirbel said in an interview that the Sanitary District would ask that no suit be filed against the homeowners for at least a month, until the district, the Executive Committee of its insurance pool and a third-party administrator talked about the unusual nature of this dispute.
“There will be an intense review by all parties,” Zirbel said. “We’re all getting up to speed on this. I can see a lot of issues that need to be considered. We have to all get together and decide what the next step is going to be.”
One Ojai sanitary board member, Russ Baggerly, is a member of the executive committee of the statewide insurance pool, and Baggerly told Zirbel on Wednesday that he intended to bring up the issue there.
“Russ is going to ask for a meeting of the Executive Committee to see if this is something the insurance pool wants to press (with the homeowners),” Zirbel said.
Zirbel said the lower Arbolada situation is very unusual, perhaps unique, because the developers of the sewer extension were existing homeowners and not a residential or commercial developer.
If a commercial developer had incurred legal costs because of an injury on the construction site there would be no question that the developer would pay the legal fees, he said. But, in this case, the homeowners moved the project forward.
“We’re glad to have the project completed,” Zirbel said, “but our insuring agencies have different concerns. I think it’s good they’re now taking a close look at this.”
From a strictly legal standpoint, Sanitary District general manager John Correa said the homeowners are liable for the $93,000 in legal fees incurred by the insurance pool, and for any additional charges that could develop if the injured worker asks the court for a reconsideration of his case, or appeals his loss in Superior Court.
The contract the homeowners signed with the district clearly holds the homeowners responsible for expenses incurred by the district, if any, from the private construction project, he said.
“My board had no role in this except in approving the contract with the Lower Arbolada Sewer Association (the homeowners),” Correa said. “We tried to accommodate them. We entered into agreements with them, and one of the procedures was that they release us from any liability and that they indemnify us. That means that they would protect us.”
Correa said he understands the homeowners’ concerns about current and possible additional legal fees.
“But the other side is that if we had a developer come in building 18 houses and he wanted to extend the sewer to them, we’d do exactly the same thing,” he said. “Everybody would understand that the developer was responsible. What’s different here is that the developer is the homeowners association. But they aren’t developers, so they don’t like this. I don’t think something like this has every happened before (involving our insurance pool.)”
Some homeowners said they’re not sure they are obligated to pay the Sanitary District’s legal fees in the injury case. But their homeowners insurance companies will not foot that bill to press that point, they’ve been informed. So they’ve contacted private attorneys to see what step to take next.
“It’s crazy, because we thought it was just the right thing to do,” McEachen said in an interview. “We should be on sewer and off septic because the nitrate levels are so high in the groundwater.”
So, in 2006, when he and other homeowners were contacted by the Ojai Valley School, which owns seven of the 18 houses, they agreed to also support the project, McEachen said.
But when a contract was finally presented to the homeowners, they were told they needed to sign right away because the project was set to begin the next week, he said.
“We were asked to sign this contract upon presentation,” McEachen said in comments to the board, “so as not to slow down the process as it was due to break ground in a matter of days.”
Indeed, there was only a single draft of the contract and it was passed around from homeowner to homeowner as if it were a petition and not a legally binding document, he said.
He said he personally asked about the indemnification clause that protected the Sanitary District from liability.
“I was assured that the indemnification only applied to warranting the system for the proscribed period of time and any litigation that any one of the participating homeowners might originate against the district,” McEachen said in his statement.
McEachen said he was also not aware that the Sanitary District would monitor construction, which he said opened it up to be sued by the injured worker. The district said it had no official presence on the work site.
McEachen was one of several homeowner speakers at Monday’s hearing.
Homeowner Kenneth Lakes noted “the ironic nature” of the situation: that homeowners seeking to do right are now subject to pay the district’s legal fees.
“They’re asking us to pay their fees so they can sue us,” he said in an interview. “It’s become a real mess. And it was a good thing to do. We’d been here 35 years and twice the Sanitary District tried to get approval for this, but the homeowners said no because of the cost. Now we pay our $35,000 (each), and we end up with this.”
NNA honors OVN in non-daily categories for photos, writing and web site design
The Ojai Valley News won first place, third place and an honorable mention awards from the National Newspaper Association, The awards will be presented at the NNA’s 123rd annual convention Sept. 24 through 27.
Winning first place was photographer Dave LaBelle in the category Best Photo Essay, for his photographs of the Memorial Day celebration in Libbey Park, which were published May 30, 2008.
The judges commented, “The lead photo is so nice, so serene and touching. The main subject is nicely separated from the rest of the crowd, yet there’s unity in their tribute. Photos aren’t redundant, each adds a layer to the story.”
The OVN competes in the non-daily category of newspapers between 3,000 and 5,999 circulation, one of the largest and most competitive categories in terms of entries and member newspapers.
Bret Bradigan, OVN editor and publisher, won third place for his column, “Chemo Therapy,” published May 16, 2008. Bradigan wrote about former Ojai police officer Anselmo “Chemo” Quijada, and his unusual and effective approach to community policing.
“This writer’s community, like many, is facing an increase in crime and gang activity. But rather than drag out statistics or urge the use of more government programs to address the issue, the writer recalls how one man for years made a difference in the lives of young men in the community and saw many of them become successes rather than criminal failures. He urges members of the community to carry a little of that spirit in themselves,” wrote the judges.
The judges also liked the OVN web site, ojaivalleynews.com, awarding it an honorable mention, noting how it balances reflecting a very busy community with being clean and well-organized. The judges commented about the work of OVN web master and managing editor Lenny Roberts: “Outside the box. Pdfs on the web seem like a bad idea, but if it’s working and providing revenue — awesome. Clean and simple.”
This is the most wins for the OVN in the national contest since its three, including two first places, in 2005. The OVN was also named the nation’s top community newspaper by the Inland Press Foundation in 2003. and it has won multiple awards in the state contest every year since 2001.
“These honors reflect on our readers,” said Bradigan. “Ojai is an excellent community and has every right to expect its newspaper to be the same.”
Ojai resident Shaun Hofteig, 31, has reportedly been identified as the man found dead next to a pay phone at the corner of MacMillan Avenue and Main Street in Ventura Monday night.
The cause of death has not been determined.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Ventura Police Department at 339-4328.
Despite budget cuts, layoffs, OUSD maintains hopeful tone
By Cole Bettles
Buy some clothes; fill your car with gas; purchase all those books; temporarily stimulate our economy with avaricious spending, because ladies and gentlemen, it is back to school.
Parents, you may remember the butterflies that rapidly filled your stomach as you entered your first day of school. Will somebody say something about my new outfit? Will I get a bunch of homework on my first day? Did mom pack me a good lunch?
Despite a declining enrollment, a tight budget from the state and a recession, the first day of school was characterized by optimism and excitement. Ojai’s new superintendent, Henry S. Bangser, has set this convivial tone for principals, administrators and teachers.
Bangser said, “My highest priority is meeting people. By the end of the school year, I will know the name of every faculty member in the School District.”
Bangser shared a few funny moments with students yesterday morning, when he made his first visit to every school. To see Bangser in action and get an idea of what is going on in Ojai’s school, attend the fist board meeting of the school year on Sept. 1 at 5:30 p.m.
“The students were here on time and eager to get started. We anticipate a great school year,” said Sue Arce, vice principal at Nordhoff High School. Nordhoff seemed especially vibrant on this first morning, and many students were surprised to see how colorful the school was.
The producers of “Easy A,” a movie filmed at Nordhoff during the summer, decorated the buildings at Nordhoff with blue and gold. Dan Musick, principal of Nordhoff, thought the chromatic buildings animated the campus and agreed to keep Hollywood’s vision of high school. This year, Nordhoff will be celebrating its 100th year.
There is much to look forward to in the 2009-2010 school year, administrators said. Considering the fiscal hardships the School District is enduring, it is imperative that parents and community members stay involved and attend school fund-raising events. If schools can keep expanding on the already successful fund raising, programs will not be cut and teachers are less likely to lose their jobs.
Ojai and the Ojai Unified School District also welcome new teachers, Kevin Blaine and Peter Hickock.
The district passed its $23.87 million budget recently, which included a cut of five days from the school year.
Public encouraged to share views
By Nancy Gross
Kristofer Young invites all of the Ojai Valley to attend a town hall meeting on Health Care Reform because he can see no reason that Ojai should not participate in this nationwide exchange of ideas. “First and foremost, this is about democracy, in the sense of an informed public.” The meeting will be held Friday at 7 p.m. at Chaparral Auditorium, 414 E. Ojai Ave.
His forum’s view is that “we cannot go on paying double for second-rate health care in this country,” but he encourages people to come who have differing views, as well as those who have no well-defined position on whether health care in the United States ought to be changed or left as it is.
Young is the lead organizer for Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions, Ojai Peace Coalition, Organizing for America, and Health Care for America Now. “I am a doctor. I know enough about how critical health care reform is. We have to change this,” Young says. But he believes another part of this process is simply showing up, standing up, and being counted among the community sharing in the democratic process.
As facilitator, Young will deliver the introductory remarks. He intends to ask participants what kind of forum they would like to have, as well as where they are from. Town hall meetings in other parts of the country that have turned disruptive and violent, and where some protestors have arrived by bus from other areas seemingly to create these disruptions, is something he is on the lookout for.
Young would like to hear any peaceably presented views about why health care reform is not important to some people. He hopes to provide a review of what is in the works in Washington, D.C., and to try to tease apart the real issues from the gossip and scare statements that have been circulating.
Ojai’s mayor, Joe DeVito, has been asked to attend, as has Rep. Elton Gallegly. Young has encouraged these officials to send someone else on their behalf if they cannot attend. He hopes all the following groups will have members present: Ojai City Council, Board of Education, Food for Thought, the Green Coalition, and every organized faith in the valley.
Young expects to be able to set up a lottery format that will give some participants the opportunity to speak briefly. Presenters may include physicians who reside in the area. Young, a holistic chiropractor, sees health itself as very important to the democratic process, and not only the other way around: “Healthy citizens are more productive and cooperative.”
Because of the tense nature of some of these meetings, Young is inviting the Ojai Police Department to be in attendance.
Young’s hope is that this discussion will “shake it up peacefully,” and only peacefully.
Ojai resident and Oscar-winning screenwriter Roger Avary, who earlier pleaded not guilty to gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated resulting in a late-night car crash in Ojai on January 12, 2008, entered guilty pleas this week in Ventura County Superior Court.
According to court records, Avary, 44, pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge and driving under the influence causing injury to more than one victim.
Andreas Zini, 34, a resident of Italy who was staying at the Avary residence, was killed at the scene of the early-morning crash when Avary’s car smashed into a telephone pole in front of Ojai Lumber. Avary’s wife, Gretchen, was reportedly injured after being thrown from the vehicle following impact.
Avary’s sentencing has been set for Sept. 29. He remains free on bail.
$23.87 million budget passed, more cuts likely
By Daryl Kelley
Like waves from a bad storm, the effects of the state’s budget crisis keep washing over California communities; this time, prompting the Ojai Unified School District to chop five days off the coming school year, reduce teacher salaries and begin to plan a cut in bus transportation.
In June, the Ojai school board passed a $23.87-million budget for the fiscal year beginning last month, but associate superintendent Dannielle Pusatere told the trustees this week that new cuts in the state budget will cause even more pain.
In particular, the state cut $250 per student from the 3,000-student district, meaning a drop of $750,000 for the 2009-2010 school year. Money the district receives to bus students to school also dropped 20 percent.
The five-day reduction in the school year, and teachers’ five-day loss in pay, nagged at the school board during discussions Tuesday evening.
“These are stolen days,” said Trustee Pauline Mercado.
“This is not the time to be cutting educational days, and to be cutting salaries,” said Trustee Kathi Smith. “You do less with less.”
Trustee Steve Fields added that “… 180 days of school was not enough, and to go to 175 is less. … But there is no alternative. It’s tough and painful and unfortunate.”
Trustee Rikki Horne noted how the five-day reduction in the instructional year had been added to the school board agenda as a simple revision of the district’s calendar, without debate or anger.
The issue had been worked out previously with the local teachers’ union, which had approved a reduction of three to seven, depending on how the state Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger finally balanced the state budget in late July.
“This is really serious,” Horne said. “This is dramatic and drastic. … Our kids are being short-changed five days of school and our staff is losing salary.”
Just what percentage of salary teachers would lose remained unclear. A teachers’ union representative said it was 4.95 percent, but Fields noted that a loss of five days from the teachers’ 184-day work year amounted to a 2.7 percent reduction in work days. Pusatere said she’d clarify the issue at a future meeting. The distinction is probably the difference between a reduction in salary and the full cost of a teacher, including retirement and benefits.
Regardless of percentage, teachers at Ojai’s seven schools will lose five days of pay, beginning with their September paycheck.
And Pusatere added ominously: “State revenues are still declining and mid-year cuts could be coming.”
She said she was most concerned about the district’s ability to maintain its home-to-school busing program, which has been targeted by state officials for possible future reductions.
Trustees set their October meeting for a full discussion of busing options.
“We put together five different options, and they’re not nice,” Pusatere said.
She said it would not be until November or December that busing changes became effective, should trustees concur.
On the positive side, Pusatere said, new state laws allow districts the size of Ojai’s to reduce their budget emergency fund from 3 percent of budget to 1 percent. That means that Ojai public schools can maintain a reserve of about $230,000 instead of nearly $700,000, which gives trustees more discretion in whether to hold onto the $470,000 difference or spend it on teachers or busing.
Pusatere said that the county Office of Education had recommended that districts maintain their 3-percent reserve, because it is likely the state will re-implement its 3-percent standard once the budget crisis is over. The 1-percent waiver lasts only three years, she said.
Fields said he wanted to maintain the 3-percent reserve, but Smith said she wanted the board to consider how it could spend the half million dollar difference effectively for the next three years.
“I want to spend the money,” she said. “I don’t want to save it.”
“If I were a teacher and I saw the reserve cut from 3 to 1 (percent),” she said, “I’d have some questions.”
But Fields said he didn’t agree, because the district should expect to be hit with a state-mandated 3-percent set-aside fund in three years and should not budget itself into a hole in the meantime.
The district will maintain a $1-million federal stimulus grant as a reserve, and add to that federal money it has received for special education programs, Pusatere said.
Pusatere also said that an earlier projection of a loss of four elementary school teachers for the coming year, might result instead in a drop of two, or even just one, because of unexpectedly high enrollments in kindergarten. Kindergarten enrollments were up 35 students last year, and are still going up this year, she said.
Another change in state law that could benefit the district is that it can sell, and not just lease, school real estate, and use the proceeds to operate the district, and not just to build new facilities.
“That is new,” said Horne.
There was no board discussion about that point, but what it means is that the district, which has been shopping its 8-acre headquarters parcel in downtown Ojai for lease could sell the land outright to a developer —- and use the multi-million-dollar proceeds to enhance educational programs. What would happen then to the proposed permanent, $350,000 skate park?
That is a story to come.
Planners seek more details of design plan
By Daryl Kelley
After quizzing operators of Sea Fresh Seafood extensively, Ojai city planners moved toward approval this week of an expansion of the popular Ojai Avenue eatery that would nearly double its size and dramatically alter its appearance.
Officially, the city’s Planning Commission continued the matter until Sept. 2, but commissioners indicated that they would give Gustavo Garcia and Mayra Sutton the go-ahead for the expansion once details of its design are clear.
The commission appointed two of its members, architects Steven Foster and John Mirk, to work with the applicants so the panel would be comfortable with a clearer, more detailed design.
“Then we could move forward with confidence,” Chairwoman Susan Weaver said, “so we could all enjoy eating at Sea Fresh for years to come.”
Indeed, the commission which rejected expansion of the restaurant last September because of design concerns, seemed intent on moving the project forward this time.
Commissioners thanked the applicants for changes in their plans — using a public parking lot across the street and tweaking the architecture so its Mission and Craftsman styles blend better and fit better into city plans for the East Ojai Avenue area.
The new design also has less glass on the front facade of the restaurant, support columns in the lobby have been lowered and landscaping has been added in place of parking on the Bald Street side of the project.
Indeed, landscaping, which now covers about 7 percent of the site, would cover 20 percent in the new design, Garcia said.
“It’s not a whole new building; we’re just trying to remodel an old building,” Garcia told the commission. “This would be a great improvement. … We want to get started as soon as possible.”
Commissioners said they thought they could reach agreement once architectural drawings, currently flat and two-dimensional, are refined.
The applicants said they’d been trying to save about $1,200 by not redoing the drawings, so they could afford the expansion without borrowing money.
Commissioners seemed to understand.
“What we need to do is just kick this up a notch in terms of detail,” said architect Foster. “Why don’t you just come over to my office … so we could get a consensus on this and so we could feel comfortable in moving ahead.”
The city’s planning staff recommended denial of the expansion’s design permit because staffers found the two designs offered by applicants had changed little since the issue was first heard nearly a year ago.
“The first option, which is the applicant’s preferred option, has a pitched wooden trellis in front of the main door of the restaurant,” according to the staff report. “The second option has a flat wooden trellis in front of the main door. Staff finds that the design of both options have not changed significantly …”
The staff said the application could also be continued “to provide an opportunity for the applicant to redesign the exterior of the building that would integrate more authentic architectural design elements to create interest to the facade of the building.”
But planning commissioners said they generally liked the design. “I don’t see that as such a problem,” Foster said.
And, in the end, commissioners agreed that their concerns were based mostly on the lack of definition in the drawings of the proposed expansion.
“That’s what scares me,” Foster said. “We could approve something like this and it could come out looking like a block.”
Once design details are nailed down, however, they said they’d be ready to move ahead on the application.
“I’m in your restaurant at least once a month,” Foster said. “I think it’s a win-win situation. I’d just like to see this taken to another design level.”
Police, other panelists reach out to stop violence
By Linda Harmon
Members of the Ojai Valley community who came together last Thursday night for the final Heal the Community meeting were treated to a positive and constructive evening.
The two-hour event highlighted speakers offering positive perspectives and recommendations for continuing to bring the valley together.
“We have to start teaching tolerance,” said Sgt. Joe Evans, Ventura County deputy sheriff, to a loud ovation from the crowd numbering more than 100. “I’ve raised two kids here myself. These kids grew up playing sports together … The divisions are coming from the adults and whether you want to believe it or not you ought to at least think about it. Whatever the solution is going to be, it’s not going to be a police solution, we all have to be on the same page.”
That sentiment was echoed throughout the evening, along with suggestions for better supervision from the community as a whole, rededication to the nonprofit groups already serving youth, and the creation of new mentoring opportunities.
“I hope you leave informed and inspired to volunteer or become active in your neighborhood,” said Dusty Fernandez, a member of Heal the Community, who along with fellow members Cindy Sauceda, Bill Welch and Greg Webster organized the meetings. They plan a future fund-raising event in November for a mentoring program. “Together we can do this. Once you take the first step it gets easier,” said Fernandez.
The audience was addressed by a five-member panel composed of Ventura County Sheriff Capt. Chris Dunn, Evans, Jason Griffith of Segue Career Path Mentors, Barbara Kennedy of the Oak View Park and Resource Center, and Jim Lane, a retired Port Hueneme teacher and mentor. The discussion was moderated by Judy Bysshe, a former teacher and school administrator involved in many area nonprofit organizations.
“In every community this department serves there is gang activity,” said Dunn, in his opening remarks on community safety concerns. “But that doesn’t mean we have to accept it.”
Dunn stated flatly that the department has a “zero tolerance” for gang activity and is closely monitoring all known gang members.
“There was a lot of emotion at the last meeting,” said Dunn. “People yelling out from the audience about ‘running them out of town,’ saying, ‘Why can’t you do more?’ ‘They’re illegals’ — I’d like to remind people that we have to operate within the guidelines set forth in the U.S. and California constitutions. We cannot operate like the Gestapo and run people out of town, nor would we.”
Dunn also explained the definition of a gang.
“The penal code is very specific,” said Dunn. “It is considered to be a gang if three or more individuals acting in consort commit a crime for the betterment of a group.”
Dunn added that during their investigation of the recent Meiners Oaks murder and follow-up investigations of all known valley gang members “only one was an illegal and he was deported.”
Dunn reminded listeners that officers work day in and day out on security issues and their actions may not be noticeable due to their “covert nature.”
The statistics Dunn gave, in fact, point to fewer gang crimes and a higher percentage of arrests.
“In 2007 there were 77 confirmed gang crimes and only 16 arrests,” said Dunn. “In 2008 there were 91 cases and 18 arrests, and for the first five months of 2009 there were only 16 confirmed cases and seven arrests.”
Dunn also told the audience that he has only 40 personnel to cover an area bounded roughly “by the intersection of Shell Road and Highway 33 on the northeast, up 33 past Rose Valley, up 150 northwest to the Santa Barbara County line.”
According to Dunn, with the current budget crisis threatening funding the numbers could change “and not for the better.”
“Gangs are not isolated in one section of the community,” said Dunn. “We have several gangs, in every race and social status in this community.”
Evans, in charge of the City Watch program, agreed, urging citizens to become involved in their community.
“If you see something stand up and say something,” said Evans, who reminded parents that they need to play their part in our community.
Evans then explained his City Watch program, a volunteer-based community alert program overseen by police, and said the program has already proven to reduce several types of crime.
“City Watch is an e-mail-based program begun six to nine months ago with 10 to 15 people,” said Evans. “It has grown to over 8,000 online and has been very successful in the Monte Via housing tract area in reducing vehicle burglaries.”
Evans also said City Watch’s efficient system for citizens to make reports helped reduce speeding on Park Road, and can assist in rumor control in emergency situations.
“Just give us a call at 646-1414,” urged Evans.
Next up was Kennedy who listed all the organizations in the valley, including her own Oak View Park and Resource Center, which already offer services and could use volunteers to increase their level of service to youth. The Oak View Teen Center at 640-9555, the Oak View extension of The Boys and Girls Club of Ventura at 640-9000, Oak View Library at 649-1523, Smart Start Day Care at 649-4333, the Nan Tolbert Nurturing Center at 646-7559, the Art Studio at 649-1605, and the Friends of Oak View Park and Resource Center at 649-9720, all offer services and need volunteers.
“We are doing a lot of things to help youth, but we need you to help also,” said Kennedy. “We need to know what else we can do for you.”
The audience was visibly moved by speakers throughout the evening, especially by the last two.
Lane, who taught for 35 years and also coached youth sports, took the microphone to tell his story of a successful mentoring program he used.
“Teachers may choose to be mentors,” said Lane introducing his topic.
Lane spoke about his “one to one for one” technique, taking one minute a day to talk to one underachieving student on a one-on-one basis. The mentor process involves drawing out the students’ interests and relating to them as a person that matters and not just as a teacher.
In Lane’s words, “letting them know your door is always open.”
He told a story about his own mentor, a social science lecturer and single woman who had successfully raised 13 adopted children.
“She showed me techniques to use when I go to the back of the class, where the guys are just sitting and not working,” said Lane.
Lane said because of his mentor and the methods she gave him he started coming to work early, turning on the light, leaving his door open, playing some current hits, and greeting students with a handshake.
When Lane tested the one-to-one method, it only took him two weeks to reach one of his challenging students. He learned that the freshman student loved football, so he introduced him to the coach and paid for the student’s physical because his parents couldn’t afford it.
“I ran into that coach a few weeks later and asked how he was doing,” said Lane. “The coach said, ‘He loves it. He’s going to end up starting for me.’ And guess what, the next few days the homework assignments started coming in.”
Lane said besides benefitting his relationships with his students, it also helped the relationships between students; the more advanced students were inspired to get involved themselves and help their fellow classmates.
Lane said his goal that evening was to set a date to speak with Nordhoff teachers before school started.
“Mr. Lane, you have a date, Aug. 24,” said Jim Berube, interim superintendent of Ojai Unified, as he rose from the audience.
Berube was also impressed with the Segue Career Path Mentor Program introduced by Griffith, the last panelist who spoke. Griffith’s program is geared to “exposing students to successful adults in accessible careers.”
“Our career guidance program is about helping students craft a vision for themselves,” said Griffith, a Ventura High School coach. “So when they come to a fork in the road and are faced with some of life’s challenging decisions they know what direction they want to take.”
Griffith says that besides helping decrease the dropout rate and exposing at-risk youth to different career paths, the program also can help dispel some of the mystery for the already-college-bound students about what they want to do with their education.
“It is simple to implement,” said Griffith, “and takes very little time and energy of the administration and can give students an idea of all the possibilities out there.”
Griffith then handed out a short form for those interested in volunteering for the program, bringing their career experience into area classrooms.
“It takes only about two hours on campus to reach over a hundred students,” said Griffith. “Your 15-minute commitment in three classes can have profound positive consequences. Segue is an opportunity for you to find out where you can help strengthen your community.”
Berube was so impressed he committed to “working closely with the group.”
The evening was rounded out by short one-sentence descriptions of nine other nonprofit groups represented in the audience. One of those speakers was the mother of a friend of Seth Scarminach, urging all residents to take part in international Peace Day by attending a intergenerational, interfaith demonstration of peace at 1 p.m. Sept. 19 in Libbey Park.
Public questions need for county’s scenic protection plan
By Nancy Gross
The parking lot and the room were packed for Monday’s Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council meeting, with a few people even having to sit on chairs outside the open doors.
The recurring questions of the evening, stated in various ways by various voices, were where are the people who initiated this review and these changes to the Scenic Resources Protection Overlay Zone, and isn’t enough bureaucratic intervention enough as far as architects, builders, graders and agriculture in the valley having to comply with already very strict codes and standards? Stan Tenpenny commented after the meeting that “per capita we live in one of the slowest-growing areas in the state and my clients are shocked already when they hear” about zoning and building statutes.
The controversy relates to Item 9 on the agenda for the evening, “Review of County Study of Amendments to Ojai Area Plan Scenic Resources Protection Policies & Maps, Revision of SRP Zone, and Revision of County Zoning Ordinance.” As Chairman Russ Baggerly aptly stated when discussion about this item commenced, “I think that’s what everybody’s here for.”
Steve Offerman, administrative assistant to Supervisor Steve Bennett, and executive director for the MAC, defined what is at stake as “the burdens that additional regulations can bring to property owners,” and the “potential damage to scenic resources without regulation.” A manager with County Planning Division, Bruce Smith, called zoning a “balancing act.” And while planners took a lot of heat for what property owners and builders will have to deal with if the proposed changes are adopted, both Smith and senior planner Dennis Hawkins acknowledge, “It goes with the territory.” Hawkins also added, “It was good to hear both sides.”
Homeowners within the new yellow zone in the proposedSRP Overlay Zone, and those living adjacent to these areas, received notices of possible changes a week and a half ago.
As Upper Ojai resident June Behar, who is not in favor of the changes remarked, “Ninety percent of Upper Ojai is now becoming yellow.” Though the MAC decided not to recommend these changes until there has been further review, Elaine Krankl, owner of the very small, very high-end Sine Qua Non winery, stated in a phone call, “I believe this process has already gone farther than I think any of us realize.”
Having purchased a piece of property from the Haley family seven years ago, with “soft rolling hills that borders Lake Casitas” the Krankls have already spent close to $150,000 in fees under current zoning. Most of this has to do with the winery building they are trying to build, but Krankl states that “a traffic study” was also required in order “to hire two additional employees” who would go between their land and their public winery in Ventura.
New zoning would require discretionary permits to plant new vineyards on this location. In the winery business since 1994, the Krankls purchased this land to be a residence and fruit-growing property for Sine Qua Non. Krankl, who says that she is very much in favor of retaining the aesthetic beauty of the valley, and accepts the current zoning which limits building on the ridge tops of her 13.5-acre property, is outraged that “the MAC and Planning gave us approval to build the winery in the spring when they knew that these issues were on the table,” she said in a phone call Tuesday.
Krankl’s neighbor, Roger Haley of Haley Ranch, walked over to the map that was projected on the wall at the MAC meeting, and addressed those assembled and stated that his main concern is the safety of the valley. “My family probably has the most amount of land that would be affected by this.” He explained the tremendous amount of clearing required on his land for fire protection purposes and because “the federal government has no property management or burn plan.” He is referring to the land around Lake Casitas. It is not clear the degree to which new regulations about removing native plants would impact the Haleys. Planning stated that clearing roads that are already in use is not going to be regulated, but Haley, who is intimate with his land and who helped in the recent firefighting efforts in Rodriguez Canyon, is concerned.
“Ojai is a tinderbox,” Haley said in a phone call Tuesday. “You should not have to buy a permit to clear brush on property that is an urban interface, and you are trying to save your own property and your neighbor’s property. These environmental permits never die and nobody is talking about the fees for these permits.”
Haley echoed Krankl when he said in a phone call, “They don’t allow the public to say anything until it is already more or less written in stone. The MAC group is only looking at one side.” Both Haley and Krankl assert that 1,000 square feet, the amount of land clearing designated as requiring a permit in this new proposed zoning, is merely the area of your garage, or of a family garden.
There were a few people present who were in favor of the proposed changes, and spoke on behalf of those who had attended prior meetings. These speakers included George Berg and John Broesamle. Baggerly also tried to make it clear that the reason these changes are being proposed is because when the first scenic resources protection amendments were initiated in 1995, there was not adequate funding to arrive at the comprehensive plan hoped for by the original proponents. Supervisor Bennett secured funding early this year for a review and revision of the Ojai Valley Area Plan.
Berg stated that the reasoning for the proposed ordinance changes is “trying to avoid the McMansions that march up the hillsides in the San Fernando Valley and look like hotels.” Broesamle stated that at the March 4 meeting with Supervisor Bennett at the Ojai Valley Woman’s Club, “75 or so gathered and all but one voiced enthusiasm for the increase of the SRP in the interest of protecting the surroundings we all share.”
Architect Marc Whitman had this to say, “We’re all interested in protecting our valley. We all live here. We all love it. The house up there that they cite as a bad example is mine.” He went on to explain that the ridge top house was the dream house of a man whose youth was spent dealing with the death of his father, Bodee, who was killed in a fire at the site of Bodee’s Restaurant. This man grew up on that property with his mother, and, when he became successful, built the hilltop house he had always wanted.
Baggerly’s final comments had to do with whether a ministerial policy, rather than discretionary, could be conceived to take all these things into account without requiring permits. Smith stated that Planning “will look into” this, but that “aesthetics is a subject that does not lend itself readily to ministerial implementation.”
In a phone call Tuesday Smith also stated that if the MAC does not recommend expansion to the SRP, the expansion will most likely not be recommended by the Planning Division in the fall, nor adopted by the Board of Supervisors at the end of the year.
If the SRP expansion is adopted, for 600 properties in the valley, a discretionary permit would be required when removing over 1,000 square feet of native vegetation, grading an area larger than 1,000 square feet, or construction of a new structure or expansion of an existing structure over 10 percent of the size of the current structure.
Click HERE to study the proposed changes.
FROM: Sgt. Joe Evans
UPDATED 8/16 6:02 p.m.
Good morning Watchers
A truck carrying a load of sand overturned Saturday morning on Highway 33 at mile marker 23. The driver of the truck was uninjured, and one lane of the two-lane highway was blocked until the truck was uprighted about two hours later. The ownership of the truck, its destination, or cause of the accident were not known at the time of this report. The CHP is investigating the incident.
Photo by Maureen Clark
By Daryl Kelley
After a federal agency failed to launch a rescue effort last month, at least 54 juvenile steelhead trout died in dry pools in the upper Ventura River near the $9-million Robles fish ladder, which was ordered built by the U.S. government to help save the endangered fish from extinction.
“It’s frustrating to do all this work, and then just stand by,” said marine biologist Scott Lewis, who works as a consultant for Casitas Municipal Water District, which built and operates the Robles ladder.
Lewis, who monitors the steelhead for Casitas, had been warning the National Marine Fisheries Service of potential fish deaths for weeks before he messaged July 20 about the result of inaction:
“Over the weekend, the entrance pool at the Robles facility went completely dry and 54 juvenile steelhead mortalities were discovered,” he wrote in an e-mail message. “We have bagged and labeled the steelhead and they are in our freezer (for testing).”
Chris Yates, who oversees the southern steelhead program from a National Marine Fisheries office in Long Beach, said his agency and state Fish and Game are trying to craft a fish-rescue policy, but it hasn’t been completed.
“The question of rescuing fish is a complex one,” Yates said. “The question is when and how and where do you do it? What are your criteria? That’s the process we’re going through right now.”
With very few resources, public agencies can’t spend much time rescuing fish in streams that have naturally dried up for hundreds or thousands of years, he said. His agency must focus on the cause of the drying, and if that cause is man-made, trying to lessen man’s impact on the natural process.
“We do feel there are times and places and reasons when fish should be rescued,” he said. “However, we have to balance that. In Southern California, it’s very difficult to distinguish between what is natural or the result of human activities.”
As for the recent Robles steelhead deaths, Yates said his agency had been talking with Casitas about what to do, and the fish died before a decision was made.
“We were evaluating the information to try to figure out ways to preserve those fish in the location where they were,” he said. “And we have very little ability to focus on fish rescue operations.”
He has just three or four employees focusing on steelhead issues for a region stretching from San Luis Obispo County to the Mexican border, he said.
“The bottom line is I am not inclined to build a broad, widespread fish rescue team,” Yates said. “It is a Band-Aid that does not address the critical actions that are needed to move this fish toward recovery.”
What to do about steelhead trout as they become trapped in pools as rivers dry up in the late spring or summer has been an issue for years.
Last year, the federal fisheries service gave Casitas temporary approval to collect several steelhead trout trapped in drying water holes and move them toward the ocean, where the river has water year-round. It is illegal to move the endangered fish without a permit, and violators are subject to fine.
National Marine Fisheries then promised to develop a protocol for rescuing the trout. But as summer arrived this year, that protocol still had not received final approval, said Steve Wickstrum, general manager for Casitas.
The protocol may not have saved the fish anyway, he said.
“They have their own game plan,” Wickstrum said. “They’re not in the position of developing a rescue team.”
As for Casitas, which is under federal mandate to help the steelhead survive, the situation is perplexing, Wickstrum said.
“It’s kind of a head scratcher,” he said. “We do a lot of facility building, and now you get the fish in this situation. … We cannot save the trout. We do not have a permit to handle them.”
Paul Jenkin, coordinator of the Matilija Coalition, which is attempting to restore the watershed to its natural state, said failure to save the 54 steelhead is not acceptable. Rescues should take place because fish are being trapped by man-made conditions, including over-pumping of groundwater along the Ventura River.
“It’s extremely frustrating that the public agencies are not being more pro-active on this issue,” he said. “(Fish rescues) ought to be the most basic thing we can do for this species. The first step toward recovery should be mitigating this impact.”
Jenkin said that “when you have 50 to 100 juvenile steelhead die each year, that’s significant mortality in a river that has perhaps a couple of hundred total.”
Lewis, the Casitas consultant, said the count of juvenile steelhead was way up this year in the Ventura River, and that perhaps 1,000 may live there now.
Over one 100-yard stretch where Casitas counts juvenile steelhead, his team saw 130 during a one-day session this year, compared with 13 last year, Lewis said.
Lewis said he can tell young steelhead trout from their rainbow cousins, which are not endangered, because the young smolt turns silvery in color and becomes skinny as it heads toward the ocean.
Even as the 54 steelhead were allowed to die recently, Casitas and other local agencies were responding to increased fishing on the Ventura River by posting “No Fishing” signs, and warning of fines. At least one fisherman has been cited.
New group eyes local money, among other ideas, to boost Ojai’s economy
By Cole Bettles, intern
Ojai likes to think of itself as standing apart from the rest of the world. Soon, that list of distinctions could include our own money.
The Ojai Economy Group, recently formed to consider this idea, among others, to stimulate the local economy, admits that creating an additional monetary system is not simple.
But here is the basic idea: in theory, a local bank would sell 100 Ojai bucks for, let’s say, $105. Then the Ojai dollars could be spent at local, participating merchants and upon a purchase, customers will receive a discount set by the retailer.
Next, the retailer could exchange the Ojai bucks back to U.S. dollars. The surplus of the federal currency, at the local bank, would be pumped back into the community, specifically to charitable organizations.
The Ojai Economy Group is projecting that this buck will stimulate economic growth within the community. The stimulus package, like a pebble dropped in the middle of a lake, has little to no effect on small companies and communities that lie far from the epicenter.
Since Ojai is made up of small businesses, members of the community, such as the Ojai Economy Group, are philosophizing and concocting ways to battle the recession from the bottom up; call it the “Trickle Up Theory.” The notion of a new currency is getting mixed reviews.
“Sounds like communism to me,” said an Ojai merchant, who described the idea with abhorrence and consequently requested to remain anonymous.
“This is a terrific idea. Ojai needs to understand the importance of spending money in their own community,” said another anonymous store owner, who happened to be located directly next door to the anti-communist merchant.
After interviewing more than 30 Ojai stores, it was apparent that there is a dynamic array of views regarding adapting this innovative yet ancient system. Passing from store to store was like switching back and forth from MSNBC and Fox News. The store owners, like the members of the community, want more information before they commit to participating.
The Ojai Economy Group is hosting an event from Sept. 25 to 27, and they will discuss the Ojai buck. For more information, visit their web site, ojaieconomy.com.
Creating a new currency is an extremely intricate process. “I would normally say creating a new currency provides a temporary solution to a long-term problem, but that’s because I have mostly studied creating currencies in small countries,” said Pierre Weill, an economics professor at UCLA.
The idea raised a number of questions that the professor had to research and confer with colleagues before providing a solid analysis. After evaluating the idea, he said, “I think this is great. If I own a restaurant, I have two kinds of customers: locals and visitors. The locals are obviously educated about the area and the visitors are not. By providing a discount to your local costumers, you can provide a competitive service, while maintaining the higher price for your visitors.”
In Great Barrington, Mass., citizens created BerkShares, a supplementary currency. “There are currently 2.4 million BerkShares in circulation and at any given point, there are $150,000 that remain in circulation,” said Susan Witt, co-founder of BerkShares. More than 400 businesses formally accept the currency and about 200 merchants informally accept it.
“The currency has created great discussion, but it really isn’t a political issue. You will find Democrats and Republicans supporting the BerkShare,” said Witt. But in Ojai, there was a positive correlation between a person’s political identity and their attitude toward the Ojai buck. “In December, during the financial meltdown, we found a lot of small businesses willing to adapt the BerkShare. During times of economic difficulties, small business get creative,” said Witt. She juxtaposed the dollar to fast food and continued to say, “We call the BerkShares a slow money. Instead of doing everything on the computer, you go down to meet the people at the bank, meet the local citizens selling the item, you have personal conversations.”
There are no legal ramifications to adopting an additional currency. In the United States, during the early 1800s, each bank issued its own currency. To this day, it is a fundamental right to issue an additional currency. Weill said, “Local currencies proved to be an effective way to battle the Great Depression.” Even though we are only experiencing effects from a recession, history shows that creating an Ojai buck could allow Ojai’s economic activity to thrive.
By Daryl Kelley
Rebuffing its own landlord, the Ojai City Council denied this week an appeal by the Ojai Unified School District that sought to delay approval of the design of a new, permanent skate park until district concerns had been addressed.
“I’m disappointed,” said Linda Taylor, school board president, after the Tuesday evening hearing. “I don’t think it went well.”
The new city-run $350,000 skate park, funded mostly by community donations but with a $100,000 city contribution, would replace a tattered wooden structure near school district headquarters on Ojai Avenue.
The site is owned by the School District and leased to the city for skate park use until 2023. It is a small part of a larger parcel that holds the OUSD headquarters, Chaparral High School and Auditorium and a Park & Ride lot.
The School District had appealed the Planning Commission’s approval of the skate park’s design, stating that the district’s lease requires its prior approval of a new facility.
City officials said, however, that the district review could come later, when a final design is complete.
Although denying the district’s appeal, the City Council promised to cooperate with school trustees as the project moves forward, and to do everything it can to avoid a district lawsuit.
But council members said they thought it was time to press toward completion of the park, which a new city time line projects as August of 2010, at the latest.
Council members said they thought they could answer all of the School District’s concerns as the project moves from the current design stage toward final approval this fall. But the city acknowledged that the project must be sanctioned by the School District to move forward.
“It is clear you can’t commence any construction without approval” by the school district, city attorney Monte Widders told the council.
Mayor Joe DeVito said the city wants to work fully with the school board.
“The last thing I want us Ñ two public agencies Ñ is to get involved in a lawsuit,” DeVito said. “We’re all losers if we do, and that would be a sad day.”
On the district’s behalf, Taylor assured the council that the trustees favor skate park construction, but that the park must be built so it is safe and secure and legal under state environmental law. It should be supervised and have rest room and drinking fountain facilities, she said. And it should also blend into any new commercial project the district might approve for its prime eight-acre headquarters parcel.
“We’re really in favor of a skate park,” Taylor said. “We’re not trying to abort or delay the skate park project. We don’t want a lawsuit.”
A suit to halt the park would be “unconscionable,” she said, “especially between two public entities. É What we’ve been asking for is more communication and regular answers to our questions. É We do not seek delay, we seek communication.”
She also noted, however, that the district has lost 20 percent of its budget to declining enrollment and the state financial crisis, so it must consider all options to maintain services for students, including commercial development of its headquarters site.
The district issued a request for proposals to build a commercial project last year, and has received one response, she said in an interview. The school board has not yet reviewed that proposal, she said.
“We’re going to have to develop that property,” she told the council. “We wouldn’t want anything (at the skate park) that would be a distraction.”
The council acknowledged that the city and OUSD have not communicated well.
“I would hope to see a future where we’re collaborating on all these things,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith.
“The communication issue is an issue that needs to be resolved,” Councilwoman Sue Horgan added. And she asked that the preliminary skate park design and other documents be forwarded immediately to the School District.
The council also officially invited two district trustees and its superintendent to meet with council members and the city manager. Such a summit was planned for last week but was canceled when the city would not accept the presence of an assistant superintendent at the meeting and school officials would not meet without the additional official, who is head of facilities planning.
After Tuesday’s meeting, Taylor said she still wanted Dannielle Pusatere, the facilities expert, at the meeting. But she said that was a decision trustees would have to discuss, along with the superintendent. When asked if tape recording the meeting would suffice so Pusatere could review comments, Taylor said that was a possible solution to the stalemate.
Even with efforts to speed up a nearly two-year campaign to build a new skate park, several community members complained about either the school board’s position or the city’s lack of progress in moving forward on the skate park.
Attorney Bill Gilbreth chastised the School District for saying it had not been fully apprised of the design of the skate park, when trustees had been briefed April 14 at a public meeting that included a Power-Point presentation of the site design.
“I think the school board members Ñ and they are wonderful people Ñ are sticking their heads in the sand,” Gilbreth said.
He said the district is hesitant about the new park because it wants to become “the largest commercial landlord in town” with its headquarters development. “That’s what’s really going on here,” Gilbreth said.
And, if trustees were to block the skate park with a lawsuit, Gilbreth said, “É there would be a petition to recall the school board within a week.”
In response, Taylor said the city’s April presentation to the school board addressed only a conceptual design, not a detailed one.
Summarizing the school board’s appeal for the council, city manager Jere Kersnar said in a report that the district’s concerns were mostly operational and maintenance issues, and not related to the design of the project, which is what the Planning Commission approved. Thus, he said, the council should deny the appeal.
And Kersnar said that it appears that changes could be made later to address the district’s concerns.
For example, he said that a rest room and drinking fountain might be offered in the first phase of the project, not the second, in response to city concerns.
School officials, however, listed a variety of concerns, including the legal conclusion that the skate park must undergo review under state environmental laws before it can be built. The city has concluded that no such review is needed, because the park fits under exceptions to such laws.
“They didn’t address the CEQUA (environmental law) issue,” Taylor said later. “And that’s not good.”
The School District is responsible for construction on its property and it must follow the law, she said. OUSD’s lawyer has concluded that environmental laws must be followed, she said.
Concerning the 12 months still needed to finish the project, Kersnar and Dale Sumersille, Recreation Department director, said that they attempted to make the time line realistic, so it could be met this time. Sumersille said the 40 steps listed on the time line are sequential and couldn’t be pushed much farther, because each step depends on completion of the previous one.
But some council members said they wanted the project to move more quickly.
Ojai youth keeps up family flying tradition
By Nancy Gross
Last Thursday Evan Graham, who lives in Ojai and will be a junior at Ojai Valley School in the fall, soared above the rest. He turned 16, accomplished his first five solo flights, and set a world record.
“I really didn’t do it to set any world records,” Graham said. “I’d just been waiting my whole life to turn 16,” which is the age when a new pilot may fly without another trained pilot beside him or her. Graham, who has been in airplanes since he was in the womb, and began learning to fly them as soon as he could reach the controls — even when that meant bulking up the seat with blankets, etc. to raise him up — had logged 154.5 of piloting hours prior to these first solo flights.
Graham’s solo experience Thursday involved two hours spent among five different crafts, two helicopters and three airplanes. Three instructors were present as witnesses, along with family, including Graham’s older brother, Paul, who soloed in one of the same helicopters after turning 16 last summer, and Graham’s father, a helicopter pilot.
Graham enjoyed the feel of the grass airstrip at the central California ranch chosen for the big day. He flew amidst a backdrop of gold rolling hills dappled with stout live oak trees. Some cumulus clouds accented the calm blue sky. His descriptions of the sensation make it clear this young man is as at home off the ground as on it.
Even so, this was his first time unaccompanied. “I was a little bit nervous. Then I took off and I wasn’t. You feel like nobody can touch you up there.”
One of the helicopters flown is his father’s helicopter, a Robinson R-22. His father has done “everything you can do with a helicopter,” including news reporting, laying drills in Alaska, and search, rescue and cleanup work in Hawaii.
By Nancy Gross
Ojai Valley Youth Foundation’s executive director Joanna Iwata was presented with an Inspiration Award from the National Teen Leadership Program on Aug. 2.
“I was one of four honorees. I was very flattered,” Iwata said. The award was bestowed during the Teen Leadership Camp and Conference held at California State University-Sacramento. Approximately 200 teens were in attendance for the three-day event, about 35 of them from the Ojai Valley.
The nationally recognized conference hosted several guest speakers, and included the challenge of a ropes course supervised by the National Guard. The weekend’s focus was personal goal setting, diversity and leadership development.
“It was something that we came upon when we were applying for a grant,” Iwata explained. The opportunity was made available to Ojai teens who had participated in a three-month experience called Leadership Project 2. This program is offered once yearly to youth who have completed the foundation’s Leadership Project 1, a four-month program which runs twice yearly.
Iwata proudly states that a part of Leadership Project 2 involved the attainment of a communitywide goal that had “the kids out all day building 20 vegetable gardens” around the valley, in partnership with the Ojai Valley Green Coalition. Gardens at Nordhoff and at Help of Ojai were inaugurated, as well as others at private residences.
Officials such as U.S. Senator for California, Barbara Boxer, support the Teen Leadership Program. Sponsors for this year’s conference included The Gap, Google, California National Guard and Wells Fargo Bank. Laura Segura is the director of the program. Visit teenleader.org for more information and photographs from the camp conference.
Long-awaited summit canceled as city objects to OUSD attendee
By Daryl Kelley
So much for the skate park summit.
Leaders from the city of Ojai and the Ojai Unified School District were set to meet Thursday to work out differences about a new city-run skateboard park on school property in downtown Ojai.
Instead, city officials took umbrage to the proposed presence of an extra school official, and the School District refused to withdraw the extra official, so the meeting was canceled.
So, as next Tuesday’s skate park showdown before the City Council approaches, relations between the two most prominent local elected bodies may have worsened, heightening the chance of a legal battle rather than prompt construction of a new skate facility.
The City Council has 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 city has leased the skate park site from the district until 2023.
Thursday’s canceled meeting was the latest twist in a lengthy campaign for a permanent $350,000 skate park to replace a tattered wooden facility in the downtown area near Chaparral Auditorium.
“I am flabbergasted,” said interim school superintendent Jim Berube. “This is shocking to us … I was with the School District for 33 years and spent $30 million in bond money building facilities, and I have never seen anything like this.”
Berube’s counterpart, city manager Jere Kersnar, said he could only confirm that the Thursday afternoon meeting between him and Berube, two council members and two school board trustees had been canceled.
“That’s all I can say,” Kersnar said.
But Berube said the meeting was canceled because Councilwoman Carol Smith didn’t want Dannielle Pusatere, assistant superintendent, to attend.
Berube, who is retired and filling in until a new superintendent arrives next week, said he wanted Pusatere at the meeting to provide continuity to skate park discussions and to answer city questions. “She’s the resource for our board members on this issue,” he said.
But Smith said it was the School District that changed the script for the meeting, and that Pusatere’s presence was not part of the agreement.
“We saw the meeting as looking at the big picture by elected officials by both organizations,” Smith said. “But they wanted an employee to be present. I said this is about where we as a city and the School District want this property to go. I wanted to know where this property was going to go in the next five to 10 years.”
The skate park site is part of a much larger School District property that includes OUSD headquarters. Because of its prime location on Ojai Avenue, the property has development potential far beyond a skate park, but possibly including it.
Of the Thursday meeting, Smith said she thought it would be “off the record” and between only council and school board members and the agencies’ chief executives. That was complicated by the presence of another person, especially since the Skate Ojai group that had spearheaded the skate park campaign had been excluded, she said.
After back-and-forth communications between Berube and Kersnar over a couple of days, Smith said she called Berube herself on Wednesday evening to make her point. She also called school trustees Steve Fields and Linda Taylor, the two school board members who would have attended the meeting.
Fields said he’d been laying the groundwork for the summit for six months by asking Mayor Joe DeVito to set it up.
“We were all prepared and anxious to begin a constructive dialogue,” Fields said. “I’m disappointed they didn’t want to come and talk with us.”
But Smith said she thought the meeting was supposed to look at broader issues, not the details of skate park design and operation and that Pusatere’s presence was not needed.
“I thought I was more than clear,” Smith said, “and they refused.”
Berube said that Kersnar got back to him on Thursday morning to cancel the meeting, saying that neither Smith nor a second council representative, Betsy Clapp, wanted to have the meeting under the changed format.
The school board members were not willing to pull Pusatere out of the meeting, he said. “Our two board members said absolutely not. She is the director of facilities. She is liable,” he said. “Maybe I should have stepped out … but our members felt this was what we should do.”
Fields and Taylor asked Berube to call Kersnar back and try again, Berube said.
“Jere said the city had answered all of the questions the School District has on the skate park or was in the process of resolving them,” Berube said.
“I said, ‘Jere, that’s not accurate. That’s why the School District filed an appeal.’ My board members are having trouble understanding when our concerns have been addressed. We have about 15 questions we want to ask them.”
OUSD has balked at allowing construction of a new, permanent structure without its approval of design and construction plans, as officials insist is required by the district’s lease with the city. The School 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 wooden skate park, and the lack of a rest room and drinking fountain.
School officials said that the state must also sign off on the design of any permanent construction on School District land.
Smith said she didn’t see the canceled meeting as a setback.
“Not as I see it,” she said. “Whatever the school board does, we have our own time line … We’re hoping for it to be a collaborative effort, but we’re proceeding. It’s so weird: why would they want a piece-of-junk skateboard park when everybody else wants a beautiful new in-ground park. It’s nuts. I don’t see the logic.”
But Fields said Thursday’s missed meeting didn’t help.
“We’re concerned that they’ve behaved the way they have,” he said.
By Linda Harmon
When the Ojai Unified School District hired Henry Bangser as the new superintendent last month they gained a man with plenty of experience in the classroom, in administration, and in business.
They also got another ingredient for an educator, passion.
Bangser will not only face a tight budget, but also changing political mandates about how those funds are applied. Bangser says he’s ready.
“Where we were, our board meetings were on television,” said Bangser, who added being able to clearly explain a budget is as important as arriving at one. “I wouldn’t be home 10 minutes before people would be calling me … You have to have a certain mind set. You have to hit a bottom line.”
Board President Linda Taylor said one of the reasons for choosing Bangser was his record of “building strong partnerships with staff and local communities.”
Bangser has already begun that task here in Ojai with two days filled with a series of half-hour meetings this week.
He focused on getting to know staff, union officials and the cast of characters that make up our small town, all moves he feels will help him be a better superintendent. Bangser has set a goal for himself of knowing all his staff by face and name by the end of December, hopefully sooner.
“It’s a challenge,” said Bangser.
In response to a request for comment on the skate park, Bangser declined, except to say he is certain an agreement can be reached with the parties involved.
He did give an opinion on one of the national mandates currently up for revision, No Child Left Behind. The Bush era program affects testing and accountability standards nationwide for important federal funding.
Bangser has mixed feelings about its effects, but again is willing to work with what he is given.
“You make sure all your testing is in order and you do what you have to do,” said Bangser, who personally knows the Obama administration’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “I have let my feelings be well known for years. In my mind there are a lot of positives to No Child Left Behind, but there are a lot more negatives.”
One of his main objections is what he calls “the punitive fashion” in which it was written so that schools that don’t do well are classified as “failing schools.”
According to Bangser, it didn’t matter where your students were at the beginning of the school year, the base of learning you started with, only where you ended up.
“I think that is absurd,” said Bangser, who believes in accountability not penalties, and went on to explain. “It got to be its most absurd if you followed it into the future, to its completion in 2013-2014, when every student in the nation was supposed to meet the same standard. They set an absolute standard.”
Bangser worked for 16 years at the New Trier District in Illinois where he said students were so far beyond the No Child Left Behind standard, teachers wouldn’t have to teach anything to meet the number.
“That’s not fair,” said Bangser. “There are schools out there, with a group of students that are working really hard, who started with a number that is so far below the standard that, no matter what they do, they can’t catch up.”
Bangser also said in the past that standard was raised each year and those schools got farther and farther behind.
“What I hope happens,” said Bangser, “what would be a fabulous change with the re-authorization, is that the standard would not be an absolute number, it would reflect where the school and its students start out.”
Bangser didn’t always have a passion for education.
“It wasn’t until my freshman and sophomore years in college when I was working at a children’s summer camp that I found I just loved working with kids,” said Bangser, who grew up in Illinois. His father and grandfather were lawyers with 118 years of practicing law between them. “I just always thought I’d be a lawyer.”
Instead Bangser went on to receive his bachelor’s in economics from Williams College and his master’s in social sciences from Northwestern University, teaching while getting his doctorate in educational administration also from Northwestern.
He taught his favorite subjects, U.S. history, political science and constitutional law.
“Supreme Court justices are the best authors,” said Bangser, who still lists reading constitutional law as a hobby along with golf.
He said his move toward educational administration was a gradual progression.
“I always liked leadership and was always involved with leadership,” said Bangser. “I was always a team captain and liked helping to make teams or organizations become better … I went from being a teacher, to an assistant principal, and then a principal. Later I found out what a superintendent does and decided I liked making those decisions. And, quite frankly, I like making a final decision. I loved being a principal and missed being with the kids, because you lose some of that, but I like taking the responsibility of making that final decision.”
Bangser served as superintendent for 16 years at New Trier, retiring three years ago to became the chief executive officer of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the largest personnel search firm for school districts across the nation.
“I never planned on staying retired,” said Bangser, whose own father died at 78 and grandfather died at 87, both still practicing law. “I was a superintendent by the time I was 34. I did it for 23 years, in two states and in three different districts … I was just at that age where the state retirement said it was time to retire.”
The Ojai position opened up four-and-a-half years later, the timing was right, and Bangser was ready to relocate to the West Coast.
“My boss and I had been working on the transition, so it is all going smoothly,” said Bangser.
Bangser and Sarah, his wife of 36 years, are looking forward to the move which puts them closer to two of their married children.
“My daughter and her family live in Ventura and my youngest son and his wife just moved to Los Angeles from New York, so we hit the jackpot,” said Bangser.
Bangser’s wife will be continuing to work as a major gifts officer for Northwestern University, “encouraging alumni to make generous donations.” According to Bangser, she will transition to the West Coast division of the university. Bangser added,
According to Bangser, he and his wife are especially thrilled to be closer to their first granddaughter, who lives in Ventura.
“We will rent for a little while,” said Bangser, “probably in Ventura near my daughter’s family, at least to start out, and until we get to know the area. It’s just easier that way.”
For the curious out there, Bangser will be at the Aug. 18 board meeting and all are welcome, although he does add, “I won’t be doing much as Jim (Berube, acting superintendent) has done most of the work.”
City learns of $850,000 in federal stimulus money, while state hits Redevelopment Agency for $592,000
By Daryl Kelley
The feds give, and the state takes away.
That’s the reality of Ojai’s turbulent budget picture this year.
The city expects to receive at least $850,000 in federal stimulus money for road paving and two new trolleys in the next few months, and may pick up $110,000 a year for three years from Washington for a school resource officer at Nordhoff High School.
At the same time, however, the city’s new budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 took a $180,000 hit when California lawmakers approved a budget balanced partly on the backs of local government. The state promised to pay the money back in three years with interest.
But that loss left Ojai, a city with hefty budget surpluses the last several years, with a precarious surplus this fiscal year of just $3,000 out of a general fund budget of nearly $8 million.
“We built a budget to have a surplus of $183,000,” said city manager Jere Kersnar. “Now it’s $3,000. That’s essentially a balanced budget without a surplus.”
On top of that, the state’s budget counts on snatching $592,000 in cash from Ojai Redevelopment Agency reserves built up over decades. And that money won’t be repaid, said Kersnar on Monday.
“That’s half of what we have in the Redevelopment Agency account,” he said. “And that money comes from housing, which the state tells us to build more of … The state orders on one hand, and on the other, it taketh away.”
Kersnar said he expects California cities and their collective Redevelopment Agency Association to challenge the pilfering of redevelopment money in court, which they did successfully last fall, when the state siphoned some cash out of local accounts.
“The trial court in Sacramento County ruled that the (taking) was unconstitutional,” Kersnar said. “But what the state has now done is use the judge’s wording to draft a law it says is constitutional. I expect the cities to challenge that in court too.”
Although the state passed a nearly balanced budget two weeks ago, its impact is still being sorted out, Kersnar said. So the numbers he is reporting to the City Council could change a bit.
“We’ll have to come back to the council and ask them what they want to do once we get this all worked out,” he said.
The council’s goal has been to maintain a $500,000 surplus each year, so it can build its emergency reserves, now about $3 million, to $4 million. But there is no chance of tucking away much in these difficult times, Kersnar said.
On the positive side, the City Council approved a plan last week to spend $400,000 from the federal transportation stimulus package on the paving of major city streets.
The city approved a time line that calls for completion of rubberized asphalt paving on seven local streets by Thanksgiving, which would meet federal requirements that the money be spent within six months. Caltrans notified the city recently that the $400,000 was available.
“All of the money must be used on collector (roads) and arterials,” said Mike Culver, Public Works director.
Under the plan, the money would be used to augment paving projects already planned for several of Ojai’s busier streets. Specifically, it will be used to pave: Del Norte from near Ojai Avenue to the city limits, 1,000 feet for $32,553; Bristol from Ojai Avenue to Foothill, 1,200 feet for $46,887; Valle Rio from Descanso to Carillo, 1,600 feet for $77,087; Park from Ojai Avenue to Grand, 2,050 feet for $98,767; Grand from Gridley to the city limits, 1,050 feet for $34,181; Foothill from El Paseo to Matilija, 300 feet for $14,063; and Foothill from Aliso to El Toro, 1,100 feet for $42,971.
It is possible that two other portions of streets might also benefit, Foothill Road from Foothill Lane to Fairview Road and Daly Road from Grand Avenue to Montgomery Street, Culver said. But there’s probably not enough federal money to reach those second-tier priorities, he said.
Ojai is also in line to receive about $450,000 to replace its two aging trolley cars, Kersnar said. Those trolleys are between seven and 10 years old and rapidly approaching their recommended life span, he said.
Federal transportation money pinpointed for small cities that are a blend of rural and urban, such as Ojai, qualify for such money, Kersnar said.
“That’s roughly $450,000, but it’s still under review, and we thought we’d know by now,” Kersnar said.
A third pot of stimulus money is for law enforcement, and Ojai will hear by September whether its application for $110,000 a year for a school resource officer at Nordhoff has been approved. That grant would run for three years, and the city, School District and Sheriff’s Department would pick up any additional costs beyond the $110,000 annually, Kersnar said.
Another possibility is that the city would get a small grant to audit city and other public facilities for energy efficiency. The city is working with Southern California Edison and a nonprofit energy broker to get a piece of that action, Kersnar said.
By Linda Harmon
There is a little confusion over just when the bridge over San Antonio Creek will be finished. The completion date for the $8.4 million project, reconstructing the East End bridge on one of Ojai’s main traffic arteries in and out of the valley, varies depending on who you talk to, and the project isn’t listed as one of 10 current projects on Caltrans District Seven map.
Alfred Ira, Caltrans resident engineer on the project, was out of the office and unavailable for comment, but workers on the site Monday were happy with the progress they’ve made.
“The project is going very well,” said Bryan Featherstone, the C.A. Rasmussen construction foreman in charge of the project. Featherstone, who lives in Yucaipa near Redlands, says he hopes to be going home after winding up the construction sometime mid- to late October.
“It’s been pretty textbook,” said Dave Dubois, Rasmussen’s representative out of Valencia. “Everything has worked out OK. People are pretty nice up there.”
Dubois expects to be finished “optimistically by November.”
By contrast, a Caltrans press release obtained from their web site and dated July 27, notifying residents of temporary delays expected July 28 to July 31, stated a completion date of spring 2011 for the bridge.
Despite early controversy over its effects on area wildlife and conflicts with residents on how to reroute traffic, Featherstone said the project hasn’t generated any unexpected problems.
“As far as wildlife goes,” said Featherstone, “we see a lot of it out here and traffic control hasn’t been a problem.”
As for the controversial detour and the resulting massive temporary bridge construction, Dubois added, “Don’t even get me started” calling it a “political hot potato.”
The temporary bridge structure was built to carry highway traffic during construction avoiding river bed and wildlife impacts and the rerouting of highway traffic onto Gridley Road, opposed by local residents.
Depending which date is accurate and whether the expected “El Niño” occurs, it could be a long winter with limited access to the East End of Ojai for residents, tourists and businesses alike.
Residents contacted seemed pleased with the overall progress.
“I’m really appreciative,” said Deborah Brooks, a Gridley Road resident. “I’m so glad they didn’t route the traffic onto our street.”
Murphy and other residents had been concerned when Caltrans had proposed to reroute highway traffic to a residential tree-lined street with no shoulder and poor visibility for entering the roadway.
“I don’t care how long it takes,” added Murphy, “as long as nobody gets killed.”