Issued 2/24/10 by the Ojai Police Department
Good Afternoon Watchers,
One of our friends from Santa Barbara PD learned about this new credit card scam from a local banking official and passed along the following to us. The banker’s message emphasizes just how important the 3 digit security code is on the back of our credit/debit cards.
This one is pretty slick since they provide YOU with all the information, except the one piece they want.
Note, the callers do not ask for your card number; they already have it… This information is worth reading. By understanding how the VISA & Master Card Telephone Credit Card Scam works, you’ll be better prepared to protect yourself.
One of our employees was called on Wednesday from ‘VISA’, and I was called on Thursday from ‘Master Card’.. The scam works like this:
Caller: ‘This is (name), and I’m calling from the Security and Fraud Department at VISA. My Badge number is 12460. Your card has been flagged for an unusual purchase pattern, and I’m calling to verify. This would be on your VISA card which was issued by (name of bank). Did you purchase an Anti-Telemarketing Device for $497..99 from a Marketing company based in ?’
When you say ‘No’, the caller continues with, ‘Then we will be issuing a credit to your account. This is a company we have been watching and the charges range from $297 to $497, just under the $500 purchase pattern that flags most cards. Before your next statement, the credit will be sent to (gives you your address), i s that correct?’
You say ‘yes’. The caller continues – ‘I will be starting a Fraud investigation. If you have any questions, you should call the 1- 800 number listed on the back of your card (1-800 -VISA) and ask for Security.’
You will need to refer to this Control Number. The caller then gives you a 6 digit number. ‘Do you need me to read it again?’
Here’s the IMPORTANT part on how the scam works. The caller then says, ‘I need to verify you are in possession of your card’. He’ll ask you to ‘turn your card over and look for some numbers’. There are 7 numbers; the first 4 are part of your card number, the next 3 are the security Numbers that verify you are the possessor of the card. These are the numbers you sometimes use to make Internet purchases to prove you have the card. The caller will ask you to read the 3 numbers to him. After you tell the caller the 3 numbers, he’ll say, ‘That is correct, I just needed to verify that the card has not been lost or stolen, and that you still have your card. Do you have any other questions?’ After you say No, the caller then thanks you and states, ‘Don’t hesitate to call back if you do, and hangs up.
You actually say very little, and they never ask for or tell you the Card number.. But after we were called on Wednesday, we called back within 20 minutes to ask a question.. Are we glad we did! The REAL VISA Security Department told us it was a scam and in the last 15 minutes a new purchase of $497.99 was charged to our card.
Long story – short – we made a real fraud report and closed the VISA account. VISA is reissuing us a new number. What the scammers want is the 3-digit PIN number on the back of the card Don’t give it to them.
Instead, tell them you’ll call VISA or Master card directly for verification of their conversation.
The real VISA told us that they will never ask for anything on the card as they already know the information since they issued the card! If you give the scammers your 3 Digit PIN Number, you think you’re receiving a credit. However, by the time you get your statement you’ll see charges for purchases you didn’t make, and by then it’s almost too late and/or more difficult to actually file a fraud report.
If this has recently happened to you, immediately call your credit card company and ask to speak to their security office. They will be able to check for any fraudulent charges based on your statement and advise you further. If you do have a fraudulent charge, your credit card company will usually require a police report to verify the facts before removing the fraudulent charge(s).
PLEASE PASS THIS ALONG TO ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS AND RELATIVES. THE POWER OF CITYWATCH IS THAT EACH OF US NETWORKING CAN COLLECTIVELY REACH THOUSANDS OF OTHERS BY FORWARDING THIS EMAIL. (link) http://ovnblog.com/?p=2582
City manager expects trend to continue into upcoming fiscal year
By Sondra Murphy
Predicting government revenues is tricky in any climate, but the city of Ojai has tried to be conservative in the past few years. While city finances have looked better, the good news is that staff outlined ways in which to create a balanced budget in the upcoming fiscal year.
Not surprisingly, cutbacks figure prominently.
City manager Jere Kersnar presented the midyear budget report to the City Council Tuesday with two recommendations. The first sought authorization to budget adjustments for fiscal year 2009-2010; the second was for direction to staff in preparing the proposed fiscal year 2010-2011 budget based on projections contained in the midyear report.
He said he expected a shortfall in the current budget of 11 percent, or about $907,000. “Both the midyear budget report is sort of a preview of what the budget for 2010-2011 may look like, what’s on the horizon,” said Kersnar. “Early reports were looking grim and reports since are not looking better.”
Kersnar said the biggest factors to declining city revenues centered around sales and transient occupancy taxes. A drop in midweek business travel to Ojai combined with a decline in development activity has impacted city accounts. “As you know, we’ve already adjusted our staffing in response to that,” said Kersnar, referring to the limited planning division staffing. “One of the surprising things is our property tax has remained steady. I believe it to be because we have had relatively few turnovers.” He added that, while the market values of homes have fluctuated in recent years, the assessed values have remained steady, helping to maintain that source of city revenue.
Noting a more than 20-percent decline in revenues in the past two years, Kersnar estimated that the city budget is likely to be about $7 million in 2010-2011. “Just to remind you, we adopted a $7.9 million budget for 2009-2010, down from $8.8 million, which we thought was a conservative number,” Kersnar said. “We are beginning to see glimmers of increases. Property tax is showing a 6-percent increase, our receipts have gone up and that’s a good figure … Sales tax, however, is negative 20 percent and TOT is even worse, down 27 percent.” He said that amounted to about $900,000 less than June projections.
But Kersnar said more cuts were needed in order to stay within actual revenues and to counter unplanned unbudgeted expenditures totaling $112,000. These are comprised of Stop the Trucks Coalition assistance at $18,000; Ventura County Homeless & Housing Coalition grant at $1,500; Student Resource Officer contribution at $75,000; and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System cost overruns at $17,035.
Besides expenditure reductions currently in place, Kersnar’s proposed new cutbacks included a $4,000 cut to the Historic Preservation Commission; $4,000 savings through staff compensation time in lieu of overtime; $37,861 saved in the planner position; and $42,401 in contracted landscaped projects. “What we’re suggesting is we suspend all our contracts with maintenance and do those duties in house,” Kersnar said, adding that to continue outside maintenance contracts while eliminating staff would create problems with having enough staff to respond to issues such as pot holes or fallen tree limbs. “We don’t know what the impact will be on city services, but … that one will have the most notable impact.” The total savings for these cuts were estimated at $89,649.
“We had a surplus going into 2009. We now see a deficit of about $365,000,” said Kersnar. “That would come from reserves.” He said this would take the general fund balance reserve to about $3 million and should be a one-time, emergency use to allow them not to have to use reserves during the next fiscal year while maintaining a balanced budget.
Projections being an intangible element, much of the discussion about upcoming budget got as philosophical as accounting can. The council unanimously approved the proposed adjustments to the current budget, but were not so quick to direct staff to create the next budget based on the projections garnered from the exercise.
Kersnar projected more than an $824,000 reduction in 2010-2011 revenues, but presented possible expenditure reduction adjustments totaling $838,022. These adjustments included many of the reductions used to address this fiscal year’s shortfall, like planner position and landscape maintenance contract, as well as employee compensation strategies.
“I don’t feel there’s enough information for me to feel comfortable with the second recommendation,” said Councilwoman Betsy Clapp.
“It sounds like we’ve given a philosophy, but we’re going to wait and get more details on how we’re going to proceed.”
“All I was doing is putting it out to you: Are you satisfied with just a balanced budget?” Kersnar said. While he felt confident that staff could create a balanced budget without dipping into reserves again, he felt it unlikely that the city would be able to add to reserves, either.
Councilwoman Sue Horgan said she was comfortable for staff to proceed with that plan, expecting they would see all the details when it was presented to them. She brought up an issue discussed earlier in the agenda, that of changes in how cities must account for post-employment benefits.
With the implementation of the Government Accounting Standard Board Statement 45, post-retirement health benefits, the city faces a decision of whether to pay-as-you-go or pre-fund such benefits or explore other options. While pre-funding has many advantages, committing to the annual contributions would need to be addressed in the 2010-2011 budget. “Something we haven’t considered here is the previous discussion item, the GASB impacts, and that’s going to come into the discussion,” said Horgan.
The council and city staff voiced reluctance in cutting employee compensation in any way, but Kersnar said they would be looking into the possibility to include with the next budget report.
Mayor Pro-Tem Carol Smith moved to direct staff to prepare the proposed budget for fiscal year 2010-2011, “based on what our income will be and that it be balanced.” With this modification to the motion, it passed unanimously, as well.
Customers, employees, corporate to benefit from major makeover
By Sondra Murphy
Shoppers who have been into the Vons grocery store at the “Y” shopping center have witnessed a number of changes recently. With crews working during closed hours, midnight to 6 a.m., Vons’ employees and customers find new surprises every morning.
“We’re doing a full remodel,” said store director Todd Baker. “We have the aisles so there are no poles and are expanding on variety.”
Besides wider aisles, Vons will be expanding the produce section to increase the variety of organics, as well as building a new service deli and bakery. “We’re expanding bakery items so there will be doughnuts in the bakery and expansion in the deli to offer high-end cheese,” said Baker. The meat and seafood department and liquor offerings will also be expanded.
All new, deeper shelving and check stands will be installed, while new flooring will include tile, wood and entrance-area carpeting.
Back room changes include an expanded employee break room and a larger customer rest room. Baker said that the end result will resemble other Vons stores in the county, such as the one on Thompson Boulevard in Ventura, but on a smaller scale.
“The last remodel was about eight years ago, but it was nothing major like this,” said Baker. “Full completion will probably take about another six weeks.”
Fifteen girls enter competition to name Miss Oak View, Teen and Pre-teen
By Sondra Murphy
Accentuating etiquette, confidence and inner beauty, the 2010 Oak View Pageant of Excellence is a long-time valley tradition. Scheduled for March 6 at the Oak View Community Center, 18 Valley Road, 16 young ladies have been busily preparing for their night to shine.
“The pageant contestants have been very busy preparing for this year’s pageant by visiting care facilities in the valley and will be writing their speeches according do what they experienced,” said Kim Armstrong, pageant coordinator. “They also have been rehearsing for their event by learning sign language, a new dance routine, walking the walk and gaining confidence in high heels.”
While the pageant is a great learning experience for contestants, it’s the year of community services which follows the pageant that helps them learn the importance of making a true difference in the world. The “court ladies” assist the Oak View Civic Council in its many events, such as the Easter egg hunt, Christmas tree lighting ceremony, plus help decorate floats and ride in cool cars during Oak View Memorial Day and Ojai Fourth of July parades.
To prepare for the pageant, “The girls attended a tea held at The Gables of Ojai and an etiquette class taught by Sandy Delaney at the Ojai Methodist Church in Ojai. Not to mention all this, they actually found time to do community service by helping the Park and Recreation Committee and the Oak View Civic Council’s fund-raiser ‘Treasure for Chairs’ and then serve at a Valentine’s dinner at the Ojai Methodist Church,” Armstrong said. “As you see these are very committed young ladies and I invite the community to come experience a wonderful evening watching these young ladies excel in the Pageant of Excellence. Our Theme, ‘Look Within,’ says it all!”
This year’s contestants are as follows: Miss Oak View, Layla Ramirez, Cathia Flores, Caitlin McComes; Miss Teen Oak View, Beth Angelini, Jordan Alvarez, Kiley Brunner, Karrissa O’Hearn, Melanie Woolwine, Lexi Hicks; Miss Pre-Teen Oak View, Cheyanne Lake, Mariah Hanline, Megan McGraw, Shyanne Ordoñez, Victoria Neumann and Carly Heath.
Tickets may be purchased at Olivares Allstate Insurance in the Purple Wagon Mall until March 1. The prime rib dinner costs $30 per person and will be served promptly at 5 p.m. General admission for the pageant itself is $10, with admission beginning at 6:15 p.m. and the event expected to begin no later than 6:45 p.m. Dinner and general admission tickets will also be sold at the door on the day of the pageant.
The Ventura County Fire Department and the Ojai Police Department took many calls inquiring about the apparent sonic boom that jolted the Ojai Valley and beyond this morning, but there has been no official explanation from any emergency department or the Point Mugu Naval Air Station. What did you hear and what do you think it was?
By Logan Hall
Debbie Roper and Judy Cochran are going to dye their hair pink. That is if they can get someone to sponsor them for $1,000 each in the upcoming Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in September. The two women are trying to raise the event’s sponsorship minimum of $1,800 each, and hopefully much more.
Held annually in 10 cities across the country, such as San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Santa Barbara, the Avon Walk raises money for various areas of the breast cancer cause including awareness, access to treatment, and research. Avon’s web site states that from 2003 to 2008 the breast cancer walks raised $265 million.
This year, Roper and Cochran plan to make an impression of their own by spicing things up a little. “We will dye our hair pink,” said Roper, “for $1,000 each.” Last year between the two of them, they raised more than $10,000 for the cause. This year they hope to beat that number by doing whatever they can to generate sponsorships.
“I’ll shave my head … for $10,000,” said Cochran, who didn’t appear to be joking. “It’s not about me. It’s to get rid of this ugly disease.”
In the United States alone, a life is lost to breast cancer every 13 minutes, and this year, more than 180,000 men and women will be diagnosed with it. Thanks to people like Roper and Cochran, many lives could be saved in the future. Now they just need to get sponsors, and both have plenty of support from family and friends.
“It’s a great cause,” said Roper’s husband, Ventura County Fire Chief Bob Roper. “We believe in it and that’s why she keeps doing it.”
Although the walk isn’t until September, they need to start the fund raising early. Anyone who is interested in helping them reach their goal can contact Judy Cochran at 947-7004 or they can donate online at avonwalk.org/goto/debbie.roper.
Eleven-week course planned to explain police function, operational procedures
By Lenny Roberts
Some people say there’s never a cop around when you need one, while others counter there are too many police cars patrolling the valley. Whatever the perception is, a better understanding of the function and operational procedures of local law enforcement officers can lead to a safer, more stable community.
It’s been years since the Sheriff’s Department has offered valley residents training and an inside look at police work through the Ojai Police Citizen’s Academy. During the planned 11-week course, scheduled to begin March 24, students will be introduced to a variety of topics starting with the history of the Ojai Police Department and a station tour.
Academy classes will be taught by veteran law enforcement officers, and participants will have the opportunity to meet with Capt. Chris Dunn, Ojai’s police chief, and members of his staff. Academy members are encouraged to ask questions as well as express ideas and concerns. The curriculum and teaching methods are similar to the traditional Sheriff’s Academy. However, the weekly sessions are not designed to train participants as police officers.
The course is designed to give citizens an overview of procedures in Ventura County’s criminal justice system through the eyes of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, patrol and K-9 deputies, narcotics officers, station and major crimes detectives and S.W.A.T. and Bomb Squad teams. The classes will also include explanations of crime scene investigations and tours of the Ventura County Main Jail in Ventura and the Air Unit and Sheriff’s Academy at the Camarillo Airport. The training will conclude on June 2 with the Citizen’s Academy graduation, featuring invited guests, refreshments, the presentation of certificates and photos with Ojai’s police chief and mayor.
The Citizen’s Academy requires a commitment of one night per week, three hours per session plus the scheduled ride-along. Those selected to participate will be notified by mail at least two weeks prior to the beginning of classes.
Participants will be selected by the Ojai chief of police. Applications are available at the Ojai Police Station, and enrollment is limited per class.
Potential candidates for the Ojai Citizen’s Academy must meet the following criteria:
• Minimum age of 18 years
• Live or work in Ojai or the unincorporated area of the Ojai Valley
• No felony convictions
• No misdemeanor convictions within one year of application
Any requirements may be waived or modified upon review and approval by the chief of police.
For additional information about the Citizen’s Academy, call 646-1414 during normal business hours. Classes will be held on Wednesdays from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Ojai Police Station. A copy of the application in PDF form can be downloaded here.
By Sondra Murphy
It is hard to look at the Ojai Creek and imagine people used catch rainbow trout in Libbey Park, but a group of dedicated volunteers believe they can revitalize the native habitat around the east barranca to eventually support a diversity of fish and wildlife.
In preparation for the second phase of its watershed improvement project, the Ojai Valley Green Coalition is combining forces with other nonprofit groups to restore the vitality of the Ojai Creek riparian corridor in Libbey Park. Volunteers have been instrumental in enacting the plan along an 800- by-100-foot section along the eastern side of the park adjacent to the Libbey Park tennis courts.
More than 100 OVGC members and community volunteers began removing invasive plants during three weekends in November as part of the first stage in re-establishing the native habitat around the park. The efforts have been made possible by a $28,250 grant from the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project, a component of the Community Wetlands Restoration Program, which gets funding from Earth Island Institute.
Since the Ojai community tends to be pro-tree, the process of removing 11 palm trees from the creek area has alarmed some residents. But the efforts are for a greater good, said OVGC executive director Deborah Pendrey. “A lot of people are looking at it aesthetically. Palm trees are, especially, the most insidious of all trees,” said Pendrey. “Cutting them down is better, because when you actually remove them, you have a big hole. The Department of Fish and Game is very particular about the type of material we can use to fill them in.
By Nancy Gross
The primary agenda item for the February 8 Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council meeting was a preliminary review of the conditional use permit extension application for the monopole cell tower on Black Mountain.
MAC Executive Director Steve Offerman explained that the original CUP was approved in 1995, “just months before the enactment of the Ojai Area Plan.” The 20-year CUP expired in 2005.
Doug Carne, of American Tower Corporation, who manages the tower for Verizon, said, “We weren’t officially notified. As soon as we became aware of it we submitted the CUP renewal.”
This was 23 months ago, and since then ATC has been going back and forth with the county trying to come up with a way to paint or otherwise disguise the tower so that it would be more in keeping with the protection of ridge lines that the OAP put in place.
The county said a color change was an unacceptable solution.
Carne, who was accompanied by two Verizon engineers, wanted the MAC to consider the option of allowing his company to have landscaping done behind the tower. Three years growth, he said, would create an adequate backdrop so that the tower would no longer be visible at all.
It is a 49-foot pole with whip antennas extending from it, making it about 56 feet. It relies on microwaves. Carne said, “The microwaves provide the collection to the system in an east-west direction. One shoots to Red Mountain, and one to South Mountain.”
Carne and the MAC members discussed the possibility of putting two towers on either side of Black Mountain, below the ridge line.
Russ Baggerly, MAC chair until Mike Zielsdorf was chosen for the position this month, did not support the landscaping idea. “If you irrigate it, it will be green all year. Native plants brown out.” But of shorter antennas Baggerly said, “The paddle antennas up there, nobody sees.”
About delegating the antenna’s job to two antennas placed lower down, Carne said, “I’m sure the property owner will lease additional space to us, but he’s going to want to charge us for that.”
Jerry Kaplan said, “I think the people who have direct sight of this ought to have notice and opportunity to attend the meeting.” The Ojai Valley News mentioned the meeting and the agenda items in an article dated Jan. 20, 2010.
Resident George Berg, who attended the MAC meeting, said, “I would just like to emphasize the importance of not having things on ridgelines.” He added that the tower is much less visible than it was 15 years ago due to vegetation growth and weathering of the metal.
“If heights can be reduced that might well take care of all the problems,” Berg said.
Todd Wilson, elected as the new liaison with county planning, asked if there were any other cell towers on this site, and Carne said that this is the only one. Wilson also asked if the only reason for the reissue of the CUP is the expiration of the permit, and Carne said, “Yes.”
Baggerly said, “The MAC only makes recommendations,” and said in this case the recommendation is “try to find a way to remove the monopole and provide an array of antennas that are not on the ridge line.” All other MAC members present were in agreement. Carne also said that a land line, instead of microwaves, is being looked into as an option.
Photo and report by Scott Wintermute
Two vehicles collided Wednesday evening on East Ojai Avenue at Drown Avenue in the beginning of what would prove to be a rough night for all parties involved.
At around 7:40 p.m. a Ford Escort being driven by a teenager with a provisional license, with four of his friends as passengers, was in the left-turn lane from eastbound Ojai Avenue to Drown Avenue. According to the California Vehicle Code, a provisional license does not permit the holder to operate the vehicle with passengers under the age of 20, among other restrictions. The vehicle was then struck by a convertible Mustang driven by the male, pictured above, who was allegedly uncooperative and arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
According to authorities, at least one of the passengers in the Escort left the scene after the accident, but was located by her mother, who arrived quickly, and asked that her daughter be taken to the hospital, despite the fact that none of the involved parties complained of injuries.
State Medical Board alleges gross negligence after overdose death
By Daryl Kelley
The state Medical Board has accused an Ojai psychiatrist of gross negligence in treating patients, including one who died from a drug overdose, complaints that could lead to revocation or suspension of the veteran doctor’s medical license.
In a written “accusation” filed recently, the Medical Board of California has maintained that Dr. John Nasse Jr., 76, was negligent in treating five patients, including an Ojai Valley man who died in 2006 from an overdose of three drugs prescribed by Nasse.
Nasse is accused of repeated acts of gross negligence in four of the cases, and a failure to maintain proper records in a fifth case. Treatment occurred from 2005 until 2008, according to the state filing.
One case involved a “patient” who was an undercover investigator for the Medical Board, according to the state filing by the attorney general’s office, which represents the Medical Board.
In the Jan. 28 filing, the Medical Board notes that Nasse, a doctor in California since 1967, has not yet had a hearing or been found guilty of any charges.
Nasse said in a brief interview last week that he and his lawyer are negotiating a settlement of the case.
“These things are in the process of negotiation,” he said. “It’s way up in the air. I can’t discuss any more. I can say nothing at this point.”
Nasse did say that he is offering a defense to the charges.
This case is the second state Medical Board action against Nasse in the last decade. He was accused in 2001 of “gross negligence, repeated negligent acts, incompetence and dishonest and corrupt acts” in regards to treatment of one patient between 1987 and 1997.
To resolve that case, Nasse stipulated that the board could establish a factual basis for those charges, and he gave up his right to contest them.
His medical license was revoked. But in a settlement agreement, that severe penalty was replaced by five years of probation against his license, a 15-day license suspension, 60 hours of community service annually, passage of an ethics course and payment of $2,000 to cover investigative costs, according to state records.
Nasse also was fined and his medical license suspended in the state of Hawaii in 2004, according to records on file in Sacramento.
In the current case, Nasse is accused of repeated acts of negligence in the treatment of Ms. C, a patient with multiple sclerosis and back and hip problems, who needed pain medication.
Beginning in 2005, Nasse prescribed hydrocodone 48 times in 30 months, in 100-tablet increments, far exceeding appropriate dosage levels, the state maintains.
Nasse’s “prescribing of hydrocodone in excessive amounts, failure to consult with Ms. C’s pain management physician to ensure that she did not abuse hydrocodone, or refer her to her pain management physician constituted acts of gross negligence and an extreme departure from the standard of care” required by the state medical code, according to the accusation.
In a 2006 case, Mr. J., died of a drug overdose “due to” a combination of three anti-depressant drugs prescribed by Nasse, the state maintains.
Nasse’s “failure to obtain tricyclic blood levels to establish the effective levels of the medications, and perform a drug screen to determine what other drugs the patient was taking constituted repeated acts of negligence,” according to the accusation.
Then, in 2007, when a Medical Board investigator posed as a patient, Nasse “failed to conduct a comprehensive initial examination and evaluation.” Still, the doctor purportedly prescribed the drug. Diazepam, a tranquilizer and muscle relaxant, for the investigator, then failed to set up a follow-up examination within 30 days.
That scenario demonstrates gross negligence and repeated acts of negligence, the state maintains.
Again in 2007, in another case cited by the state, Nasse treated a Ms. T, who had been suffering from depression and alcohol abuse. About seven weeks into that treatment, the patient was admitted to Ojai Valley Community Hospital. She had a .217 blood-alcohol level and was having seizures. She also had an anti-epileptic drug in her system, investigators report.
The Medical Board maintains that Nasse prescribed Ms. T anti-anxiety medicines 19 times in one year, and it concludes:
“The prescription of benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety medications) to a patient who has a history of alcohol abuse and chloral hydrate (sedative) usage risks a potentially lethal outcome and constitutes gross negligence and an extreme departure from the applicable medical standard of care.”
Nor did Nasse refer Ms. T to a neurologist for her seizures or consult with her previous psychiatrist to determine her psychiatric history, the state maintains.
Nasse also failed to maintain adequate and accurate records for a fifth patient, the state finds.
The lawyer representing the Medical Board could not be reached for comment about how soon the case may be heard, or resolved; Nasse would not identify his own attorney.
This remembrance of Marty Fujita was written by family friend and former OVN intern Cole Bettles
This past Sunday, hundreds gathered at Meditation Mountain to celebrate the life of Marty Fujita. The service greatly reflected the positive impact she had on her community and the world at large. Amid the tears, upbeat music, laughter and a feeling of optimism filled the air on Meditation Mountain as friends and family reflected upon her life.
For 10 months, Fujita had been fighting lung cancer. Early on, she accepted the fate of this horrible disease, yet she spent her final months working ardently to see that her life’s mission of conserving our environment would be carried out by co-workers, friends and family. In fact, in the hospital during her final days, she was texting, e-mailing and calling others to plan various events.
Fujita had an ability to amalgamate individuals with a common vision and lead them to create change. Her elocution was loud and strong, but she always put the money where her mouth was. In Ojai, she co-founded Food for Thought Ojai, a community-based farm-to-school organization. She was a leading member of the Ventura Agriculture Futures Alliance, a program that advocates for the long-term viability of the region’s food system. In 2008, she contracted to serve as a director of the Social Justice Fund for Ventura County. That same year she contracted to oversee all retail operations and develop, implement and incorporate into all operations of the Ojai Music Festival, a “green plan” to work toward carbon-neutrality.
Recently she brought all of these local lessons and experiences to Hawaii where she served as advisor for the Kokua Hawaii Foundation’s ‘Aina In Schools program, a farm-to-school organization for Hawaii’s public schools. Fujita also helped to organize the Hawaii Ag Alliance, and was asked to become a board member of the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation.
In 1977, after receiving a bachelor’s in biology at the University of California at San Diego, she realized her love of the earth would become more than a passion — a career. She continued her studies at UCSD in sociobiology and population biology. Soon after, she took graduate courses in statistics and evolutionary biology at Iowa State University. Her studies drew her even farther east to Boston University. Here she earned a doctorate in ecology, evolution and behavior; her dissertation was on “Latitudinal comparison of growth and development in the little brown bat, Myotis lucifungus, with implications for geographic variation in adult morphology.” She finished up her education with postdoctoral research at Harvard University; she also taught behavioral ecology at Harvard.
Fujita’s impact went far beyond Ojai and Ventura. In the late ‘80s, she served as an assistant environmental advisor for the Latin America and Caribbean Bureau – U.S. Agency for International Development. Thereafter, she served as an international conservation officer of the conservation and research center of the National Zoological Park, part of the Smithsonian Institution. Here she was a liaison for conservation-oriented Smithsonian projects in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Washington, D.C. After spending some time in Indonesia for the Smithsonian Institution, she fell in love with the region and became director of the Pacific Region of The Nature Conservancy. Fujita brought success to this program and her extensive impact is evident today. It is during this time she met her husband, Chuck Cook, and gave birth to her twin daughters, Dana and Taylor.
But raising a familiy did not hold her up. In fact, Chuck, Dana and Taylor became closely integrated with her work and the family began their story in Indonesia. Fujita continued her work directing several more programs and projects to protect the environment in Palau and Indonesia. When her daughters turned 4, the family moved back to the states. In 2002, the family became residents of Ojai.
Chuck Cook and Fujita were a team, consistently working together to create, implement and manage their programs of interest.
Donations in honor of Fujita’s life and work can be made to Food for Thought Ojai: P.O. Box 1645, Ojai, CA 93024.
Casitas Municipal Water District’s rejection
of disposal plan threatens dam’s removal
By Daryl Kelley
The Casitas Municipal Water District refused Wednesday to endorse in concept disposal of 2.1 million cubic yards of silt behind obsolete Matilija Dam to a storage area above the dam, an alternative favored by county and federal agencies.
Casitas directors, on a 3-2 vote, refused to grant conceptual approval to an alternative proponent recommended to rescue the troubled $155-million dam demolition project by moving it along more quickly and for much less money.
Two other silt-removal alternatives had turned out to be either more expensive than expected or were blocked by uncooperative private property owners.
Casitas’ approval of the new alternative was considered essential because federal money, the bulk of the overall project’s funding,- cannot be pushed through Congress without Casitas on board, project backers said.
Conceptual approval by Casitas would have enabled federal officials to gain about $4 million needed to complete a final design of the project, backers said. About $4 million has already been spent on such studies.
But most Casitas directors said Wednesday that they did not have enough information to commit to the new alternative, even conceptually.
They said they needed to be convinced the project would not harm the quality of water in the huge Lake Casitas reservoir or interfere with the district’s federal mandate to assist migration of endangered steelhead trout.
They asked for more study, saying they felt they were being forced to make a decision prematurely or to take the blame for killing the overall project.
Indeed, after the vote, county and federal officials said Casitas’ position puts the entire project in jeopardy, because delay will allow scarce federal funds to go elsewhere.
“The project is at more risk now than it was before this vote,” said Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, spokesman for groups favoring the newest alternative. “I remain committed to finding a way to overcome this setback, but this decision makes it much more difficult.”
Directors Russ Baggerly, Pete Kaiser and Richard Handley said they wanted more study before they could commit to the new storage concept, while Directors Bill Hicks and Jim Word voted for conceptual approval because of warnings that the project could die from delay.
Baggerly, frequently an ally with Bennett on environmental issues, said he had to break with the county supervisor this time, partly because he did not want to see a permanent silt storage area built in Matilija Canyon. Perhaps the silt could be stabilized above the dam by mixing it with soil, he said.
Baggerly said the new alternative would accomplish none of the goals set out by groups that have worked for more than a decade to remove Matilija Dam, which has been nearly filled with silt and sediment since the 1960s.
The alternative would not restore the Ventura River to its natural state, he said, nor would it bring sand to Ventura beaches, enhance recreational opportunities or assist migration of the endangered steelhead trout.
“We don’t necessarily have to jump into this today,” Baggerly said, complaining that Casitas had only weeks to study the new alternative, which is poorly defined so far.
“If we get our heads together we might be able to work something out,” he said. “But this dog won’t hunt … There are other alternatives.”
He asked Bennett and representatives of the county Watershed Protection District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to bring in experts to answer Casitas’ questions about what might happen to the stored silts during heavy flooding and to study whether some of the silt stored in the canyon might be released over time, instead of placed in a de facto “landfill” permanently.
“I don’t want to endorse this preliminary idea until it is more thoroughly vetted,” Baggerly said.
A Corps of Engineers spokesman, Darrell Buxton, told the board that its approval would pave the way for a more complete analysis of the Matilija Canyon storage alternative.
“This is a conceptual design,” he said. “With your concurrence, we’ll go forward and answer a lot of these questions.”
Board member Hicks said he didn’t think Casitas had much choice.
“If we’re going to lose this funding, then where are we?” Hicks said. “If, in fact, the funding is going to go away, this is the lesser of three evils.”
But Baggerly, joined by Kaiser and, finally, Handley disagreed. They approved an amended statement of the Casitas position that called for more study instead of endorsing the behind-the-dam storage alternative.
“The proposed concept may have elements that could prove to be beneficial,” the Casitas statement said. “And, in the spirit of collaboration, there may be other ideas on the subject that may also prove to be useful.”
But, after the vote, Bennett said the county had no money for studies and that the Corps of Engineers had a very limited budget for such analysis.
So, Bennett said, Casitas’ position could derail removal of Matilija Dam, which had been on a fast track in Washington but could now be shunted aside in favor of other federal projects that are ready to go.
“After the millions that have been spent, Casitas asking for more expensive in-depth studies when they are not willing to even conceptually support the proposal likely dooms the project to the decades-long slow track,” Bennett said Thursday morning.
“The Army Corps has hundreds of underfunded projects,” he added. “Why would they spend their scarce dollars on expensive in-depth studies if the Casitas board is not willing to even conceptually support the proposal.”
Baggerly’s response was that it would have been “bad government” for Casitas to endorse so sketchy a proposal.
“Casitas told them publicly that if they could demonstrate that the fines (silt) could be stabilized upstream permanently, we could live with it,” he said Thursday. “To date they have not been able to answer one single question. The only answers we have received are ‘We don’t know,’ or ‘We will have to look at that.’”
Baggerly said project backers need to revisit an alternative embraced six years ago, to pump slurried silt from behind the dam to the Baldwin Road area, where it would have been spread along the Ventura River to wash downstream during storms.
The cost of that proposal skyrocketed from about $30 million to more than $50 million, so project backers looked for cheaper alternatives.
Baggerly said the Baldwin Road plan might be used in conjuction with other alternatives.
“Just as they have come up with a new concept,” he said, “I believe there may be some combination of concepts that may work.”
Chase removes longstanding time-temperature display
By Sondra Murphy
A throng of people gets off a bus and each seems to immediately place a cell phone to his ear. The dashboards of late-model automobiles look like the spaceship controls in a typical science fiction movie and many now talk to drivers.
In an era where most people have a plethora of information at their fingertips via satellite transmission to personal electronic gadgetry, few could anticipate the removal of a bank sign displaying dot matrix time and temperature would be considered a drastic loss to the community.
And yet the OVN has heard several complaints since last month, when the Chase Bank branch on Maricopa Highway replaced the old, glowing Washington Mutual sign with one that simply identifies the new company.
According to assistant city manager Steve McClary, the city’s sign ordinance prompted Chase to opt for a simpler design. “Because of some other requirements that the city was placing on the sign, it was my understanding they chose not to replace the sign,” said McClary.
“The bank asked if they could remove the sign and we said, ‘Yes,’” said Shari Herbruck, city planning and building technician. “Our code doesn’t allow interior-lit signs because it’s in violation of the city sign ordinance.” Herbruck said Chase received approval for the change Oct. 15 and the previous sign had required conditional use permit approval by the Ojai Planning Commission to allow for the luminous display.
“We were able to obtain a permit for only one sign and the sign up there was not operating properly,” said Gary Kishner, a Chase Bank spokesperson. “So we just replaced it with our standard signage.”
Perhaps the change will motivate us to dust off our owner’s manuals and figure out how to read our vehicle’s digital time display while the radio is playing. Local automotive shops might even earn some extra revenue by stocking temperature sensor devices for those vehicles currently without them.
Council struggling with nighttime lighting costs
By Sondra Murphy
Like most of us, the city of Ojai has been dealing with increases in utility costs and they want public input on its lighting and landscaping challenges.
Ojai Public Works director Mike Culver presented reports on landscaping and lighting districts No. 1 and No. 3 Jan. 26. In it, Culver said the districts, “continue to show a substantial deficit in revenues vs. expenditures.”
After eliminating all non-essential maintenance services, Culver reported that street lighting is the only remaining means to reduce costs. The idea is tricky, however, due to the way in which lighting revenues are raised.
District No. 1 was created in the ‘30s under the provisions of the California Street Lighting Act of 1919 and re-established in 1988. These assessments provided about $50,000 in annual revenue for the cost of landscaping needs, including electricity and maintenance. When the revenues came up short in 2003-2004, District No. 3 was created in order to continue the established level of service.
“Costs continued to escalate over the next few years, prompting an election requesting a 40-percent increase in assessments during fiscal year 2006-2007,” Culver’s report cited. Voters rejected the assessment, 2-1.
Culver said this fiscal year’s budget for such needs is $169,874, while the revenues are only $97,582. One-third of that budget goes to the cost of lighting, while the remainder is to cover maintenance functions and support, park lighting, indirect overhead, emergency capital improvements, preparation of the engineer’s report and minor expenses.
The districts are split into 12 zones with each having an independent street lighting rate based on the density of streetlights in that zone. If lighting service is reduced in any zone, the assessment also goes down, reducing revenues overall.
All but two of the city’s streetlights are owned by Southern California Edison and billed in two different cost categories. Service charges are flat costs per month per fixture and intended to cover maintenance costs and comprise approximately 75 percent of the total bill. Energy charges are based on electricity usage.
“A good portion of this funding comes from the density of streetlights. If we turn off all the lights, we have no funds,” said Culver. “If we recalculate the density areas, it changes property assessments, so it’s a complicated issue.”
The streetlights in question do not include any of the lights along Ojai Avenue or Maricopa Highway, which Caltrans maintains. Culver concluded that eliminating streetlights was, thus, unlikely to impact public safety in the city. “There would, however, be potential security concerns as a result of residential neighborhoods with limited or no street lighting,” Culver said.
“We either need to make the service match the revenue or raise the revenue,” said Culver. He said the reverse approach is to categorize essential services and find out how important they are to residents.
“I think we need to make a commitment to provide those services,” said Councilwoman Sue Horgan. “I think it would be ridiculous to go to the voters and ask for an increase in revenues now. I don’t think it would pass.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Carol Smith suggested they temporarily reduce street lighting and ask for public reaction. “One thing I think the public needs to realize is what it means not to have these services … I agree safety is an issue, but we’re under the gun here,” she said. “The average person knows their electric bill has gone up. Why do they think the city’s hasn’t?”
Councilwoman Betsy Clapp liked the idea, but city attorney Monte Widders fretted over public safety and Horgan was not convinced that the savings would be sufficient. “That’s like punishing the public,” said Horgan.
“We’re not trying to punish them, we’re trying to make them aware of where the money goes,” Smith said.
“There’s a difference in philosophy going on here and I don’t think we’ll get the voters’ support,” said Mayor Steve Olsen. “I think it should be a balanced thing.”
“The reason we brought all the policy issues to you is because, if you had consensus, it would help the engineer,” said city manager Jere Kersnar. “I don’t hear that consensus tonight.” Council members decided to wait for the engineer’s report before holding further discussion on the issue. The council approved resolutions directing the city engineer to prepare the annual report for both districts.
Training center project closer to becoming reality
By Sondra Murphy
When catastrophe strikes, it is reassuring to know there is qualified help on the way and training centers for search teams play a vital role in disaster preparedness.
Upon returning from successful rescues during the aftermath of the recent Haitian earthquake, the Ojai-based National Disaster Search Dog Foundation announced the receipt of a $1 million challenge grant from the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation for the creation of a national training center on a 125-acre ranch site in Santa Paula.
The grant paves the way to help build a state-of-the-art center dedicated solely to the training of canine disaster search teams. “We estimate the total cost for the facility is $9.6 million and we’ve raised $3.7 million, so nearly $6 million is still needed,” said Janet Reineck, NDSDF development director. “We hope people will match what Wood-Claeyssens gave us and meet their challenge.”
NDSDF pairs rescued dogs with firefighters and first responders from the state and nation, who receive advanced training. “It costs about $15,000 to get a team going, then we support them throughout the working life of the dog,” said Reineck. “We follow the team and keep them trained and this training center will be at the heart of it. They have to be at the top of their game, or ‘highest deployment readiness.’”
NDSDF was started in 1996 after founder Wilma Melville returned from the Oklahoma City bombing site with the opinion that there were not enough search dog teams available. The foundation gained national recognition after Sept. 11, 2001, when 13 NDSDF teams were deployed to search the ruins of the World Trade Center disaster site.
Foundation teams have since responded to 67 disasters. In addition to Haiti and Ground Zero, teams have assisted during the 2005 La Conchita mud slide, a Paso Robles earthquake and 2008 Chatsworth train derailment.
The training center is slated to open Sept. 11, 2011 to honor those who served the country on 9-11 and as a memorial to those who lost their lives. It will include canine housing, disaster simulation training sites and classrooms and create a maintenance and depreciation endowment to cover operating costs. The center will also be made available to FEMA and State Offices of Emergency Services for the Search Team Certification testing required for disaster deployment.
“SDF’s services are in demand as never before,” said Melville. “We are the ‘911’ of the fire service — providing highly skilled canine-firefighter teams to find people buried alive under the wreckage of disasters. We offer the team and the training program at no cost to the fire departments. The Wood-Claeyssens Foundation challenge grant is an important, lifesaving gift to our community, state and nation.”
Shortly after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck on Jan. 12, seven NDSDF search teams deployed to Haiti, helping to rescue eight people trapped in the rubble. More than 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater were reported during the two weeks that followed. It is estimated that 200,000 perished during the disaster, 300,000 have been treated for injuries and 250,000 residences and 30,000 commercial structures had collapsed or have been severely damaged.
“Our selection of the Search Dog Foundation to receive this challenge grant is based in our belief that there is nothing more basic for a community than to have the resources needed to respond to emergencies,” said Noelle Claeyssens Burkey, president of the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation. “Our community and state are prone to natural disasters and the Search Dog Foundation teams directly strengthen the emergency response network. If our funding is able to attract new donors to help the Search Dog Foundation open the center in the next 18 months, each and every citizen will benefit.”
The Wood-Claeyssens Foundation is a California nonprofit corporation that provides grants to qualified nonprofit organizations in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
According to Reineck, NDSDF does not receive government funding, but relies on sponsorships and donations from individuals and private foundations to remain in operation. The foundation trains highly skilled teams at no cost to the participating departments. To learn more about this nonprofit organization or to donate to its efforts, visit SearchDogFoundation.org.
SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT PRESS RELEASE
Officer preparing release: Sgt. Bill Schierman
Narrative: Ventura Avenue gang member Jimmy Villalpando was sentenced to eight years in state prison today for shooting a rival gang member in 2007.
On 2-23-2007, Ojai patrol deputies responded to a report of a gunshot victim in the 300 block of N. Drown Avenue, Ojai. When they arrived, they found victim Hugo Guerra suffering from two gunshot wounds to the chest. Guerra told deputies that he was parking his car in front of his house when a car pulled up alongside him. One of the occupants yelled out a gang slogan then shot him. Guerra was transported to the Ventura County Medical Center where he eventually recovered from his wounds.
The suspect in the shooting was quickly identified as Jimmy Villalpando. He was located several hours later in the area of Oak View and arrested.
On 2-27-2007, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office filed one count of shooting at an inhabited vehicle against Villalpando. On 2-28-2007, Villalpando was released on 90,000 dollar bail. On 3-1-2007, Villalpando failed to appear in court and a 250,000 dollar warrant was issued for his arrest.
Shortly after Villalpando failed to appear in court, the Sheriff’s Gang Unit attempted to locate him. Gang investigators tracked him to an area near El Paso, Texas and developed information that he crossed the border into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Gang investigators believe he remained in Mexico until September of 2009.
On 9-23-2009, the Sheriff’s Department received a tip that Villalpando had returned from Mexico and was staying at his parent’s house in the 200 block of Burnham Rd., Oak View. Sheriff’s gang investigators and Ojai patrol deputies went to the house and located Villalpando hiding in the attic. He was arrested and booked into the Ventura County Jail.
On 12-22-2009, Villalpando pled guilty to one count of assault with a firearm. On 2-4-2010, he was sentenced to 8 years in state prison.
NDSDF founder selected to lead 2010 Independence Day parade
By Nancy Gross
The 10 members of the Independence Day Committee unanimously chose Wilma Melville, of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, to be this year’s grand marshal for Ojai’s Fourth of July parade. Melville and her organization are sources of hometown pride, and national and international heroism.
Committee member Nancy Hill said the parade has taken place since 1921, the year her uncle was the grand marshal, both in Ojai and Oak View. “This particular committee formed 45 years ago. We are the people who do the work and actually put on the parade,” Hill said.
“Last year we had our veterans come in,” Hill said, adding that the 40 veterans marked a proud, historic moment for the parade. The committee tried to find an act to follow that one. They came up with the idea of honoring Melville and the unusual heroes her foundation trains. “We’re hoping to get some of those dogs in the parade. Those dogs are so special,” Hill said.
Melville said, “It’s certainly an honor. No doubt about it. I’m pleased to carry out the tradition.”
Melville plans to have at least one dog with her. “I’m going to bring Abby, a dog that went on numerous deployments. The largest was the World Trade Center. She was also at the Glendale train wreck and the La Conchita mud slide. She’s the hero, not me.”
And yet Melville’s vision, along with the contributions of those who have partnered with her, have made it so that there are more than 100 advanced certified disaster search dog and handler teams in the United States, when in 1995 there were only 15.
“I just wanted to learn how to train a dog,” Melville said when asked about her early experiences with her black Labrador, Murphy. It was something that interested the retired physical education teacher, having a highly trained dog. She found Pluis Davern at Sundowners Training Kennel in Gilroy.
Davern taught Melville and Murphy the skills that make a fine canine search team. “Murphy and I attained advanced disaster search dog certification with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Murphy has written about what caused her to found NDSDF: “In April of 1995, Murphy and I were deployed to the terrorist bombed Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Murphy and the other search dogs covered large areas of rubble, barking loudly to indicate where victims were buried, thereby saving precious time for firefighters. This disaster made it clear that there were too few certified search dog-handler teams. Out of this heartbreaking experience came a determination to find a better way to create highly skilled canine search teams.
“My experience with trainer Pluis Davern taught me the three ingredients that are paramount: the right dog, matched with the right handler and professional training for both. This three-pronged combination not only addresses those pitfalls, but also accounts for our 85 percent success rate. The foundation chooses the dog, raises the funds to have the dog professionally trained, and then works with the handler and dog as a team until they reach certification and beyond. Another part of the success is that we use firefighters, who are first to a disaster, as the handlers.”
The dogs that are trained are rescued dogs, which make NDSDF a humane and humanitarian organization. They choose dogs with drive, focus and athleticism, and provide ongoing training for the dog’s 10-year working life, and lifetime care when the dog must be retired from their search team.
NDSDF reported at least eight rescues in Haiti, following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit on Jan. 12. Melville said, “I am glad the initial phase is over. It’s such a hard phase. Our handlers have learned a great deal. They will share that with us.”
Because the news from Haiti surprised many people with rescues occurring many days after the disaster struck, Melville added, “Earthquakes are like that. People can live through them. That’s why, in California, we prepare for them.
“We are heavily into planning a national training center. We’ll have props that simulate this disaster. That is how each disaster is. You have to learn from it.”
Layoff notices due March 2
By Linda Harmon
In another long but productive meeting the Ojai Unified School District board heard the last of their school site reports for the year, positive results from a new math textbook trial, preliminary approval of proposed rules for the city’s new Skate Park, and received the newest estimates of the available funds for the 2010-2011 general fund budget.
“The board has received two iterations of the budget and everything that has happened over the last six weeks has been bad. Everything has been going in the wrong direction for us,” said superintendent Henry Bangser, introducing a presentation of the governor’s proposed state budget. “I’ve had several meetings with staff over the last few weeks for the purpose of getting ready for the dissemination of facts, answering questions, and looking at the basis of problem solving.”
Bangser then introduced assistant superintendent Dannielle Pusatere, who explained in detail staff’s two-page document with estimated figures for next year’s budget.
“These numbers are based on the governor’s January budget proposal,” said Pusatere. “They will change.”
Pusatere’s figures included $1.9 million in cuts with a 1 percent reserve, and include a total ongoing personnel reduction of 39.76 full-time positions for 2010-2011, even assuming the same cuts approved by the union last year.
“I’ll meet with anybody over the next month to make sure questions are answered. I realize there is a tremendous amount of anxiety, and rightfully so,” said Bangser of the outlook for job and program losses. “My plan is to have a clear, transparent and interactive process with staff and community.”
Bangser, who will be meeting with both Ojai Rotary clubs this week, acknowledged that the public has grown pessimistic about threats of layoffs and cuts due to increasing funding cuts.
“I’ve heard from numerous sources that over the last couple of years, right about this time, there were significant concerns raised about the ability to maintain the programs of that year the following year because of a financial challenge,” said Bangser. “I believe that. And I believe very intelligent minds came together. Dani worked her magic, Tim did his thing, the board did their thing, the union came together and, in some cases, gave up benefits and some cases, salaries. Whatever happened, the programs and the people were essentially retained in the following year.”
Bangser acknowledged that some things were cut, but in the grand scheme of things the public sees that many things were retained.
Not this year, as the 13 percent or $2,965,000 in reductions will be felt across the district.
“I absolutely assure you, next year’s staffing and programs will be markedly different than last year,” said Bangser. “It’s mathematics. A significant number of people that are here, will not be here next year. It breaks my heart that people who have been working here up to 10 years, may not be able to be retained.”
According to Bangser, he will have a list of names for pink slips by the end of this month for action on March 2, and a list of classified employees for next month. Bangser also said he will continue to work closely with staff and the union.
Union representative Martha Ditchfield said two-thirds of her union school site representatives may be getting pink slips but that she felt “good” about how Bangser was handling things on the whole.
At which point Board President Kathi Smith stated her understanding of budget figures saying, “but 85 percent of the district’s budget is people and 64 percent of that is teachers” — a fact Bangser acknowledged and to which Ditchfield added, “I just want to be sure that percentage stays the same. The concern of my budget committee is that we’ve already accepted cuts in benefits, increased workload, and a wage cut.”
Bangser said his main concern right now was “letting the public know” about the situation, even though no final figures are available.
“The budget will take effect mid- to late-August,” said Bangser, “You don’t start educating the public in late July or even on March 2.”
By Sondra Murphy
Last week’s presentation by a Golden State Water Company official to the Ojai City Council went over like a wet blanket. Ken Petersen, GSWC Coastal District regional manager, briefed the city on the 43 percent increase they are asking for from the California Public Utilities Commission. Petersen said a public meeting on the rate case was still under way at Nordhoff High School.
After a review of GSWC’s history, Petersen explained that the proposed increase, as reported in the OVN’s Jan. 22 issue, is to cover the cost of the deteriorating water system’s infrastructure and capital projects aimed at improving it. “We still have water mains that have been in the ground since 1929,” said Petersen, “and that, of course, affects water quality.”
If it sounds a bit like déjà vu to customers, it is because the same claims were cited by GSWC, an American States Water Company subsidiary, back in 2007. After going through an onerous CPUC hearing process, GSWC was allowed a 35 percent rate increase in 2008.
Petersen cited upgrades to aging pipes and supply wells, such as the San Antonio tank, as two of the reasons the increase is being sought. “Rates are established to allow recovery of operating costs and provide an opportunity to earn fair rate of return on investment,” Petersen said. “Since the last comprehensive general rate case in 2007, facility and operating costs have increased, resulting in the need to file the current proposal.”
Regarding increases in operating costs, Petersen specified water and electricity supply expenses, materials and supplies, group health insurance, property insurance, maintenance expenses, and postage. Petersen also said the company will be seeking a change from bi-monthly to monthly billing statements. “We have only five people working here in the coastal area and we would need an extra person reading that meter,” he said, if the rate case is approved.
“I’m sure we are all moved by your case for a rate increase, but what your customers are probably wondering is, ‘What are customers getting for these increases?,’” said Council-woman Sue Horgan. She added that it was her understanding that GSWC was directed at the last increase to submit reports to the city. “To my knowledge, we have received no such report.”
“The master plan that Mr. Petersen referenced is to be that report, but I have not yet seen it,” said city manager Jere Kersnar.
“I would suggest you start with those issues before giving us reasons for an increase,” Horgan advised Petersen.
“It sounds like you’re just assuring your rate of return to investors on the backs of the Ojai community,” said Councilwoman Betsy Clapp. “I’m fundamentally opposed to private water corporations owning public water. I think it’s pretty deplorable that, two years later, you’re asking for an increase of this amount.”
She then took it further. “I think it’s time for us to consider taking back the water,” said Clapp. “If we don’t, it’s just going to get worse and worse and worse and we’ll be hostage to a private company that has control over a public utility.” Clapp added that she would support looking into purchasing the city water supply through eminent domain and financing it through bonds.
GSWC has operated in Ojai under a long-standing, open-ended contract with the city and its service cannot be discontinued because it owns the pumps and water lines that serve the community, unless local water users buy the equipment.
Eminent domain is the inherent power of the government to seize private property, with due monetary compensation, but without the owner’s consent. The property is taken either for government use or by delegation to third parties who will devote it to public or civic use or, in some cases, economic development.
“It seems that not too long ago we did a study on the cost of taking over the system,” said Mayor Steve Olsen.
By Nancy Gross
Saturday’s Ojai Playwrights Conference winter gala and benefit, “Hearts on Fire,” featured stars Sally Field, John Glover, Dana Delany, Sandra Oh, Steven Weber, Noah Wyle, Amanda McBroom and Jane Kaczmarek on the Matilija Auditorium stage, performing selections from a number of plays by Terrence McNally.
The winter gala is intended to raise funds for the summer workshop program. The OPC believes that the value of theater as it is developed is linked to the value of theater as it takes its final form, and engages audiences, challenges ideas and changes the world.
The visuals for the show, which came before the food and festivities at St. Thomas Aquinas Center, relied on pared-down, grown-up elegance. The stars wore mostly black (accents included a grey sweater on Glover, Weber’s subtle lavender shirt and Oh’s lavender stockings, Delany’s pink and Field’s red shoes). The rich, red light-reflective curtains were like an open candy box, delivering differently concocted valentines, inspired treats, though glimpses of the human experience can’t be compared to sugary confections. Even so, the presentations were satisfying vignettes, not pessimistic.
Artistic director and producer Robert Egan said that he prepared for the event by trying to read through all of the plays of honoree playwright McNally. “I was struck,” Egan said, “not only by this man’s incredible output, but by his form, which is a mixture of naturalism and realism, and by the size of this man’s heart.”
At a row of black music stands, actors brought the scenes to life, with no costumes and very minimal stage direction. Introductions to the individual plays were brief; with each scene the audience was without much context, right in the middle of things.
It was a testimony to the ability of the actors and the honesty of the writing that convincing relationships appeared, and interactions created small affecting climaxes.
McNally would not want to credit the written play above the actors’ gifts for creating lives from thin air. Later in the evening he said, “I learn from my actors, my director, what the play is about. Theater is the most collaborative art.”
It is February, the month of Valentine’s Day, and the gala allowed for many examples of what it means to be relational.
“Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune,” is a well-known McNally play because it was turned into the film, “Frankie and Johnny” with Michelle Pfeiffer and Al Pacino.
The story captures sorrow-infused hope, or hope-infused sorrow, a valentine to those who have known grown-up, high-cost heartbreak. Weber and Kaczmarek read the parts.
Frankie to Johnny: “Not everyone thinks life is a picnic. Some of us have problems, sorrows … You don’t just decide to fall in love with people out of the blue.”
Johnny to Frankie: “Why not? When it comes to love, life’s cheap and it’s short, so don’t f—— with it.”
McNally’s work does not focus only on romantically involved couples. “Lips Together Teeth Apart” displayed a relationship between a brother and sister with ties both simple and complex, a brother-in-law and sister-in-law sharing a confidence, and the tendency for couples to compare their relationships. There was even mention of the relationship with one’s unborn children.
In a brief conversation out of “Love! Valour! Compassion!” strangers with ties to a common love interest talked around their jealousy and wound up flirting.
Best friends traveling in India together were portrayed in a scene from “The Perfect Ganesh,” bickering, alternating between which one is the more prejudiced and small-minded, like kids going up and down on a seesaw.
Throughout the evening, words worked to create believable lines of affiliation, even with few actions to accompany them. The actors were chosen well: their voices, faces and minimal gestures offered the audience characters whose hearts became visible just beneath, and even in tandem with, the workings of the ego. Perhaps that is why McNally’s characters are so beautiful, they aren’t big dissimulators.
Highlights of the after-party were cranberry and pomegranate martinis, a glimpse of timelessly sweet and strong Field, Oh with her beautiful manner and voluptuous hair, the smile and wit of Delany and Weber, the hilarity of Glover and the brilliance of McBroom. The food was prepared by celebrity chef Michael Hollingsworth. A surprise: typically dense carrots can become a light and frothy mousse as a cinnamon-topped souffle.
The stars appeared to be having fun, genuine fun, well cared for by the OPC staff and volunteers. McNally said, “There is nothing more joyful than being in rehearsal with great actors. American stage needs the kind of development that places like Ojai provide.”
The OPC takes good care of Ojai also, reaching out to residents with new and affordable options in downtown last summer, including the inaugural Family Day. The 2010 season runs Aug. 10 through 15. Visit ojaiplays.org.
Ojai-Ventura Film Festival president claims OVN report innacurate
By Linda Harmon
In response to a report in the Jan. 27 edition of the Ojai Valley News, David Shor, former director and chairman of the Ojai Film Festival, addressed the apparent confusion created by an e-mail sent earlier this month announcing the formation of the new Ojai-Ventura International Film Festival.
Shor claims that the article, which stated he resigned in December leaving a large deficit and bad feelings behind, contains inaccuracies.
“I didn’t leave anything behind of the sort,” said Shor, in a phone conversation Jan. 27. “I’m a volunteer and I had nothing to do with the money.”
According to Steve Grumette, vice president and creative director of the Ojai Film Festival, at the end of 2007, Shor assumed the role of treasurer with an $80,000 debt. Monday, Shor countered that the debt was actually closer to $100,000 and he only temporarily held the position of treasurer for less than three months.
“I want to make it perfectly clear, he is not completely responsible for all of that, Grumette said Monday, adding the board opened a line of credit to cover deficits, backed by seven of the board’s members. Most of those members have resigned. Shor said he was not one of the board members backing that credit line.
On the Ojai Valley News web site blog, Shor added this comment: “In fact, a substantial (a)mount of money owed by Grumette’s Ojai Film Festival is owed to me for out of pocket costs I paid.” On Monday Shor estimated that the amount owed to him to be about $2,000.
Shor acknowledges sending out e-mails announcing his planned event, referred to as a Save the Dates notification.
“The article states I sent out a press release last week which, again, is an example of an inaccurate statement,” wrote Shor. “I issued no press releases.”
Several people, confused about whether the e-mail was coming from the Ojai Film Festival, contacted both Herb Hemming, the current president of the Ojai Film Festival, and Grumette.
“I think people are still confused,” Hemming said. “For nine years it was the Ojai Film Festival. For one year there were some people on the board who wanted to expand the festival into Ventura. So last year they named it The Ojai-Ventura Film Festival.”
Shor said he has registered the name Ojai-Ventura International Film Festival with the State of California.
“I own that name and I have every right to use that name anyway I want,” said Shor, “and I’ve chosen the way I want to do it.”
“David, personally, did register the name Ojai-Ventura Film Festival for us to use,” said Grumette. “If he wants to use that name and put on events using it, we have no problem with that.
According to Hemming, the Ojai Film Festival’s board doesn’t want this to be a continuing fight and says they are working hard to put this behind them.
“When David resigned we lost several board members for various reasons,” said Hemming. “At the time Steve (Grumette), Vickie Baldwin and I made a commitment to keep the Ojai Film Festival going.”
The Ojai Film Festival Board now has eight members and two consultants focused on paying off the debt left after the 2009 Festival.
“Here’s the only info I know for sure. As of Dec. 11, 2009, the figures were: total assets: $7,628.33, total liabilities $59,523.91, Grumette reported. “I don’t know how those numbers fluctuated between the end of 2007, when we had a very large deficit, perhaps $80,000 – $90,000, and Dec. 11, 2009 when the figures were as shown above.”
Members include Hemming, Grumette, Baldwin, secretary-treasurer Stuart Crowner, Bob O’Connor, Ann Willard-Bevans, Sam Hamman, and Ruth Hemming are working on their 2010 Festival scheduled for Nov. 4 through 7.
“Basically there was a disagreement about the direction of the Film Festival,” said Hemming. “Some people had a much more grandiose vision of the Film Festival and some liked it as the Ojai Film Festival. That is in the past. We just want to move forward and put on a good festival for the people of Ojai.”