Projected revenues down $650K, city manager
calls economy worst since the Great Depression
By Misy Volaski
Once again, Tuesday night’s Ojai City Council meeting focused on trimming back spending and getting the budget in order.
City manager Jere Kersnar presented his 2010-2011 proposed budget, as well as the final revised 2009-2010 budget. Details were passed out to council members, but no decisions will be made at least until June 8 and 15, when the council will host meetings to discuss the budget and accept comments from residents. A final budget is scheduled to be adopted on June 22, but by law can come in as late as June 30.
Kersnar said before his presentation of the proposed budget, “This is the worst economy since the Great Depression; a 20 percent decline in two years in our general fund. We are going to show a deficit, but it can be characterized as a planned deficit.”
However, despite some gloomy expectations, Kersnar and his staff were able to bring the budget down to a $116, 780 deficit by making “cautious and conservative” estimates.
Sales tax is down 11.6 percent from this year, Kersnar explained, while the transient occupancy tax, or “bed tax,” dropped 23.6 percent. “That’s about $500,000 short on the hotel tax and $150,000 short in sales tax,” said Kersnar.
“The misconception is that it’s easy for cities to raise revenue,” he added. “But that’s not true. We can’t raise taxes unless we do a vote, so we’re stuck with the revenues we’ve got, and we’ve come up with a spending plan to match those revenues.”
Cuts included items large and small, with most falling into the latter category. “Most of it is not something the public will feel,” Kersnar noted. For example, “We changed the way we pay people, changed the health plan, made different rules on overtime. So that saves us some money.”
But one of the biggest cuts has already begun to take place. Earlier this year, the city canceled its rest room and landscaping maintenance contracts, planning to transfer those responsibilities to the city’s own crew. “That’s fine, except the other type of work that crew did before —- streets, trees, etc. — there’s less time available for them to do that. There will be less maintenance overall.” That’s something the city can do in the short run, Kersnar said; it will not be that noticeable. “But it will accumulate over time. In my mind that’s one of the first things we should bring back when revenues come back. When you don’t take care of something it ends up costing more in the long run.”
The Parks and Recreation Commission, meanwhile, will most likely suffer $100,000 in cuts. To do this, Kersnar said, “We increased the fees across the board. Just about everybody who’s taking a class or involved in a league is going to see it.”
But in terms of program cuts, relatively few got canceled. Certain “frills” — like team T-shirts and trophies — were cut as well. Kersnar and his staff looked at cutting additional programs, but “… Parks and Recreation thought we shouldn’t, especially youth sports. So we put those back in.”
City Council members have been adamant about keeping the trolley system going, despite the cuts in federal, state and county funding. That required a subsidy from the general fund to the transit fund, to make up the difference created by the evaporation of government funds. But, Kersnar hastened to note, he only recommended the subsidy for a year or two, then the city would either have funding restored or have to look at giving up the service. If not for the subsidy, the proposed budget would be a mere few hundred dollars away from being balanced.
Overall, Kersnar and crew were successful in cutting $650,000 in the 2010-2011 budget as compared with the 2009-2010 budget.
In all, said Councilwoman Sue Horgan, “I think we can breathe a huge sigh of relief. It’s not as bad as it could have been.”
Also discussed at Tuesday’s meeting was the problem with residents leaving their cars on the street during street-sweeping days. Mayor Steve Olsen brought up the possibility of having youths put reminder notes on cars the night before a street sweeping, an idea that was well-received by the council. “We’ll try this through the summer and see if it’s effective,” said Kersnar.
Program provides kids with police experience
By Logan Hall
The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department honored Ojai resident Tucker Ring as the Explorer of the Year for the Ojai Substation. The department has many programs available to the community like the Citizen’s Academy, which is a course open to the public that allows the average citizen a chance to get an in-depth look into the department. They also have special programs designed for the youth of Ventura County, like the Law Enforcement Explorers program.
The Explorers program provides youngsters with an opportunity to learn about law enforcement while being active members in their community. Sixteen-year-old Ring, who is a junior at El Camino High School, jumped on board with the Explorers when the Ojai Substation started a post last year. “I went to the Explorer Academy for three weeks at the beginning,” said Ring. “I’ve been doing it for about a year now. I‘ve really accomplished a lot.”
Participants in the program are encouraged by the deputies running the course to be involved in the community, helping with events in the Ojai Valley as well as elsewhere in the county. “I enjoy going out in the community to events like Ojai Day,” said Ring. “We also got to help out with the Strawberry Festival.”
The Explorers are also involved in different courses and exercises involving law enforcement. They compete against other Explorer posts in competitions, participate in ride-alongs with deputies on patrol, and occasionally help out around the station. “I went to compete in the S.W.A.T. Tactical Challenge in Arizona,” said Ring. “It’s the S.W.A.T. fitness challenge that they actually use to train the S.W.A.T. team. My partner, Joe Dexter, and I took fourth out of 44 Explorer teams.”
The program also emphasizes leadership and building confidence in its participants. “I think the Explorers program has been awesome for him,” said Ring’s mother. “He’s matured a lot, and he’s really learned how to be part of the community. I’m so proud of him.”
Ring says he is looking forward to being in law enforcement in the future, and hopes to serve alongside his uncle, who is a sheriff’s deputy working at the L.A. County Jail. He seems to really be setting a positive example for his peers, and for young people all throughout Ventura County, which is why he was chosen as the Explorer of the Year. “Tucker is well deserving of this reward,” said Deputy Sara Valenzuela, who is running Ojai’s Explorers program. “He’s worked hard to get to where he is, and he’s really stepped up as a leader in the post.”
Ring is helping organize a pancake breakfast fund-raising event for the Explorers which will include a silent auction. The benefit will be held Saturday from 7 to 11 a.m. at Chaparral Auditorium. For more information on the pancake breakfast or Explorers program contact the Ojai Sheriff Substation at 646-1414.
But sources disagree on value of discarded hair clippings
By Logan Hall
When Buddy Wilds, stylist at the Arcade Hair Company, saw the images of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, he hoped there could be a way to help out. Through a contact on Facebook, he found out about the Matter of Trust organization that is working on a process to help remove oil from contaminated areas. Wilds can now use the resources from his business to try to make a positive impact on the effort.
Since 1998, Matter of Trust has been in the forefront of nonprofit organizations helping society to adopt a green lifestyle. Most recently, their efforts are being geared toward the cleanup of the oil spill in the Gulf. Using discarded hair clippings from salons and pet groomers, the organization has helped develop a simple device called a hair boom, because of hairÔs natural ability to absorb oil. Once stuffed with hair, the boom takes on a long cylindrical shape and can then be applied to the oil spill.
Recently, however, the Unified Command in charge of containment of the spill, which includes BP, released statements saying they will not be using hair booms to aid in the cleanup. “Our priority when cleaning up an oil spill is to find the most efficient and expedient way to remove the oil from the affected area while causing no additional damage,” said Charlie Henry, scientific support coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Robert, La. “One problem with the hair boom is that it became water-logged and sank within a short period of time.”
Despite this setback, Wilds says that Matter of Trust will continue accepting hair contributions and that the Arcade Hair Company will keep collecting and sending what they can.
“We’re on board with this effort,” said Wilds. “The spill in the Gulf of Mexico is just getting bigger and bigger, and the whole disaster makes me sick. (Matter of Trust) is still trying to encourage BP to take the booms and use them. They’re telling us to keep sending them hair. When you are fighting big business, you just got to keep on them.”
The process seems simple enough. All of the hair clippings are collected throughout the day and are thrown into a plastic bag in the back of the business. Once the bag is full, they send it in to Matter of Trust to be made into booms and then stored for later use. “It’s not a big hassle at all,” said Arcade Hair Company owner Jackie Coke. “We just throw the hair in the big plastic bag in the back, and send it off when it’s full.”
Once the hair has been made into booms, they would then be deployed to an area effected by an oil spill, such as the Gulf of Mexico. After the booms have absorbed their capacity of oil, they need to be discarded. “One of my big questions, was what do they do with these big booms full of oil,” said Wilds. “There’s some great You Tube videos of the process. It turns out that there is a particular strain of mushroom that eats this kind of oil. That’s a real green way of doing things.”
Wilds has vowed to continue being involved in the effort as long as there is a possible need for it. Even in the face of adversity, they are pushing forward to make a difference. “I don’t understand why the companies dealing with this don’t want to use these methods,” added Wilds, “but that’s big oil. We’re not going to give up. There’s always hope.”
With teacher Orser on drums, Matilija Rock Band to perform Beatles’ favorites
By Logan Hall
Matilija Junior High School is gearing up to entertain the Ojai Valley with their version of the hit TV show, “America’s Got Talent.” The school’s adaptation, aptly called “Matilija’s Got Talent,” will raise funds for the school and showcase some of its students’ abilities to their peers and the community in the school’s auditorium on Friday.
With various acts scheduled including singers, dancers and even Matilija’s own rock band, the show is expected to provide a fun-filled evening for students, parents and community members.
“Every year we like to do some fun family activity,” said Matilija principal Emily Mostovoy. “It’s our first year doing a talent show like this. Hopefully it will become an annual event.”
One of the acts performing will be the Matilija Rock Band. Organized by the school’s music teacher, Don Orser, the band consists of some of Orser’s music students including eighth-graders Russell Hughart on guitar and Will Cowsill on bass, seventh-grader Sarah Van Son and eighth-grader Katie Root singing, as well as Orser himself playing drums. “We started the band at the beginning of the year,” said Orser. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but didn’t have the right people. This year, we have kids that love The Beatles.” The Matilija Rock Band will perform two well-known Beatles songs for the talent show, “Come Together” and “All My Lovin’.”
Kathy Couturie from Matilija’s PTA says it’s a push at the end of the year to get families out to support the school, but that anyone from the community is welcome to attend. “It’s should be a lot of fun,” said Couturie. “It’s OK if you don’t have a kid in the school. It’s open to the whole community.”
The show starts at 7 p.m. on Friday with the doors opening at 6 p.m. Tickets are available in advance at the Matilija school office, and at the door prior to the event. The ticket price is $5 and the proceeds from sales will go back into the school to help fund various student activities. For more information, call Matilija Junior High at 640-4355.
Former councilman cites leadership of attorney running for vacated seat
Former Ojai City Councilman Joe DeVito has announced that he is endorsing Paul Blatz for the Ojai City Council special election, taking place on June 8. In his announcement, the six-term Ojai City Council member and five-time mayor said, “I am endorsing Paul Blatz for the June 8 City Council election. I have known Paul for several years and I have seen his leadership firsthand. Paul was a valuable asset to Ojai when he worked directly with the city as chairman of the Planning Commission and on the Redevelopment Commission. His experience working with the city on various commissions gives him the experience necessary to immediately tackle the important issues facing our city.
“Paul’s ability to lead is evidenced by his hard work on the Pergola Committee, the Libbey Bowl Project, and the Performing Arts Theater Foundation. His commitment to working with volunteer groups to create the Rotary Community Park and the shelters along the bike path shows that he knows how to get things done without asking the city to do all the work.”
In a statement following DeVito’s announcement, Blatz said, “I am honored and extremely appreciative of Joe’s endorsement. Joe has always felt that public service is both a privilege and a responsibility and to have his trust and his vote means a great deal to me.”
Visit Ojaivalleynews.com for an In-Depth interview with Paul Blatz. Scheduled next week is Blatz’s opponent, Len Klaif.
Nine-year veteran deputy chosen by peers to receive Kiwanis award
By Logan Hall
“Ma’am, I pulled you over because you were talking on your cell phone,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Gunnar Dike.
“No I wasn’t,” said the motorist as she hung up her phone.
This is one of the many diverse situations that Dike is knee-deep in on any given day during a shift with the department.
On May 28, Dike will be recognized by the Kiwanis Clubs of Ventura County as Ojai’s Officer of the Year in their annual Law Day Awards. Each year, the Kiwanis Clubs put together an awards ceremony to honor various law enforcement officers from different agencies throughout the county including the California Highway Patrol, Ventura Police Department, and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, which is contracted to operate the Ojai Police Department. Officers and deputies are recognized for exemplary service within their agencies.
Dike, who has been with the Sheriff’s Department for more than nine years, and assigned to the Ojai substation for the last three years, works a 12-hour shift on the days that he’s on duty, encountering many different people doing many different things.
“I like to be out in the field,” said Dike. “A big part of being on the job is making contacts.”
Dike began his duty with the Sheriff’s Department working custody in the Ventura County Main Jail. He spent more than six years working in various detention facilities including the old Honor Farm on Baldwin Road. For the last three years, he has been working patrol in the Ojai Valley, where he lives with his wife and 4-year-old son.
“Everything I do is to better this community,” said Dike. “You can’t ask for a better environment. Ojai is a beautiful place to live, and a great place to raise a family.”
Dike is well respected by his supervisors in the department, and it’s no surprise that he has received recognition for his service.
“He has a positive, proactive approach to law enforcement,” said Ojai Police Chief Chris Dunn about Dike‘s work within the department. “He’s got a high level of self-initiative, and he has a good balance when dealing with the community.”
When asked about his service, Dike’s peers gave him similar praise. “Gunnar is very deserving of the award,” said Deputy Sara Valenzuela, who has been with the Sheriff‘s Department for 15 years, having served the last three of them with Dike. “He’s just an all-around good deputy. He works well with the public and with other deputies. You can always count on him.”
Dike’s attitude toward the community and his fellow deputies is one of many reasons he was selected as this year’s Officer of the Year and he seems to genuinely enjoy protecting and serving the public. “One of his most positive attributes is that he’s really approachable,” said Dunn. “We routinely get positive feedback about him from the community. He‘s just a nice guy.”
Pilot reports losing power
en route to Santa Paula
By Logan Hall
Balboa Middle School in Ventura had an exciting evening during some after-school activities last Thursday when 18-year-old Ojai resident Evan Byrne crash-landed his 1949 Piper Cub airplane on the school’s soccer field, according to officials.
Byrne was reportedly heading from Lompoc to Santa Paula when he attempted to switch fuel tanks and started to lose engine power. It was then that he was able to find a clear place to land in the field behind the school officials said. Initial reports indicated that 60 to 80 children were nearby involved in various activities.
“Any time an aircraft comes down in an area like that and no one gets hurt, it’s a really good thing.” said the City of Ventura Fire Department Fire Marshal Brian Clark.
The Piper Cub is a lightweight, single-engine aircraft which has a stout profile and yellow paint scheme that are renowned in the aviation community. Many pilots love the cub for its simplicity, affordability and its safety record. “The Piper Cub is probably one of most well-known planes in the nation,” said Experimental Aircraft Association spokesman Dick Knapinski. “It’s known as a very safe and easy-to-fly airplane.”
Although Byrne’s cub reportedly lost engine power, he was still able to safely glide onto the field where the small plane came to rest after spinning 180 degrees in what pilots call a ground loop. “Most people think that when an airplane loses power it will drop instantly from sky,” added Knapinski who is also an avid pilot. “That’s not the case. Airplanes like the cub are very effective gliders, and pilots are trained to land safely without power.”
According to witnesses, after his plane came to a stop, Byrne was able to extricate himself from the cockpit without injury.
“The pilot, who was the only person on board, was not injured,” said FAA communications manager Ian Gregor. “The FAA is investigating.”
Diverse group of journalists in town to promote tourism
By Logan Hall
The Ojai Visitors Bureau, in conjunction with the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, hosted a group of journalists for a “press tour” of the Ojai Valley. Nine writers and photographers representing many different publications, including the Los Angeles Times, Travelscope Online Magazine, and the Examiner.com, stayed in Ojai and toured the valley, participating in some of the activities that make the community distinctive. Helping solidify the valley’s relationship with the media is all part of the city’s promotional campaign to increase Ojai’s popularity as a visitors destination. “It’s all about building media relations,” said Scott Eicher, chamber CEO and Visitors Bureau secretary. “There will be a number of press trips going on through the year, as part of the ongoing project of the Visitors Bureau.”
In December, the city of Ojai allocated $160,000 to establish the Visitors Bureau to help promote tourism as a way to generate revenue for the city. Part of this effort includes bringing in journalists representing various publications, and giving them an idea about what makes the Ojai Valley a special destination. If the journalists like what they see and give Ojai good press, it will help bring in visitors who will spend money in the community, which will, in turn, help boost Ojai’s economy.
“I think there are many people in Ojai who don’t understand the impact that the bed tax and sales tax have on Ojai.” said Ojai Visitors Bureau President Cathy Cluff. “The funds generated would go to the city for services in Ojai including the OUSD, the Ojai Trolley and other things that would benefit the locals of Ojai.”
It seems as though it can be difficult for the city to get support from certain parts of the community when it comes to promoting Ojai to more visitors. Some of Ojai’s locals see words like tourism, and immediately start thinking about the negative connotations of bringing in more visitors. The Ojai Visitors Bureau wants to help ease the minds of everyone in valley.
“We’re not talking about buses coming and dropping people off for the day,” added Cluff. “We want people to stay for several nights in Ojai. Then they will spend money in the local shops and restaurants.”
A big part of promoting Ojai will come from the articles that are published about the valley. Among the journalists who participated in last week’s press tour was Glenda Winders, who will be writing about Ojai for the Creator’s Syndicate that will be syndicated all over the country, and the San Diego News Network. “One of the things that made the biggest impression on me was the community spirit,” said Winders of her experience in the Ojai Valley. “All of the artists, merchants and restaurateurs seem to help and support one other.”
Ojai seemed to give a similar impression to most of the journalists on the tour. “Everyone I met in Ojai was friendly, helpful and downright neighborly,” said San Francisco Upscale Travel columnist Lee Daley. “I was also very impressed with the quality and variety of artwork for sale in town, and … Ojai‘s physical beauty embraces everyone who visits.”
With positive impressions of the valley being published, the hope is that more people will come visit Ojai and spend money, which will, in turn, help with the city’s current economic crisis. The Visitors Bureau is helping lead the charge to bring in more revenue for the city.
“This is the first time we’ve had a full-scale PR and marketing effort that has been implemented in the city,” said Cluff. “The press is excited about Ojai. That’s good news for our community.”
Kersnar hoping for eventual restoration of federal and state funding
By Sondra Murphy
The Ojai City Council has decided to continue the current Ojai Trolley Service, despite the loss of revenues previously used to support it. After exploring a number of changes in the transit services, it was determined that the city would still be in the red, and so opted to continue the routes as they currently exist.
This decision was not taken lightly, since reductions in city revenues, primarily from deflated transient occupancy and sales taxes, is resulting in cutbacks throughout the city’s departments. Meanwhile, drops in gasoline sales tax and federal funding are impacting transit funding statewide.
“In order to maintain the current level of service, we’d have to subsidize the trolley by about $120,000 in the next fiscal year,” said city manager Jere Kersnar. “You asked what the services would look like with no subsidizing from the general fund. We could only afford 60 hours of services, as opposed to 162. It’s not really a viable system left. It’s very hard to see how that is a workable system for many riders.”
The trolley’s budget projections for fiscal year 2010-2011 are $822,472. Estimated revenues are $705,361. “If I were a council member, I might think about buying ourselves some time in this year and the next with the expectation, in the following fiscal year, we might see a restoration of funding,” said Kersnar. He added that the opposite could also take place: an elimination of transit funds that would force the shut down of the Trolley Service.
“If we could increase the farebox, it could repay the general fund,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith. “If the economy improves, and if the visitors use it, I’m hoping that people will respond to the call of ‘use it or lose it.’” She added that if people could just commit to using the trolley once a week, it would help the situation. “We need to see that our public loves the trolley and will use it.” Smith said that part of the tourist appeal of Ojai includes the trolley.
Ojai Valley Green Coalition Transportation Committee Chair Suza Francina addressed the council during the public hearing. “It’s a well-known fact that if you stop building parking lots, it adds to people’s motivation not to drive,” she said. “I thought I heard (Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO) Scott Eicher mention that they’d like to get rid of that Draconian law preventing charter service. Maybe if we could get the hotels on board, have them get tokens or something, it would help.” Francina was referring to a Federal Transit Administration regulation that prohibits the public sector from competing with the private sector in providing transit services to private parties as long as anyone is willing to provide the service.
“It’s so clear it would be inappropriate for us to cut services so much,” said Councilwoman Sue Horgan. “It would be flying in the face of so many things we’re trying to do. I like the idea of buying time.”
“I have to warn you, I told you some time ago that I thought we could achieve a balanced budget, but that was before the transit situation,” Kersnar said.
That noted, the council voted to have staff prepare the proposed fiscal year budget 2010-2011 to include transit subsidies from the general fund.
“So the Trolley Service is up and running,” said Mayor Steve Olsen.
Kersnar and staff will bring preliminary budget numbers to the council next month. The council will be focused on the challenge in the face of a struggling economy until adoption in June for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
By Sondra Murphy
Ojai City Hall was buzzing with anticipation Tuesday as skateboard park supporters packed the chambers to witness the City Council vote on whether to accept a bid from California Skate Parks to build the permanent, in-ground facility in the heart of downtown.
The crowd was not disappointed, as the council voted to adopt two resolutions. The first was to award the contract to CSP in an amount not to exceed $379,992, including all add- and deduct alternatives. The second resolution authorized a $107,237.50 allocation from Redevelopment Agency funds for additional costs, such as rest rooms, benches and perimeter fencing as required by the property owner, Ojai Unified School District.
Those carefully monitoring the process know it has been nearly two years since the community came through with more than $260,000 to supplement the city’s allocation for the project. The efforts to build an Ojai Skate Park first began in the ‘90s. The project has waxed and waned, depending on the financial situation of OUSD or the city any given year, as well as the whims of numerous governing board members during various terms.
Public Works director Mike Culver reported that the project includes $100,000 from the city and $260,214.08 in donations raised by Skate Ojai. So far, $30,780.47 has been spent on design and pre-bid activities and $16,237.95 is earmarked for construction management. This left $313,195.66 in the fund. CSP’s bid was $286,742, leaving $26,453.66 to serve as a contingency on the base construction project.
The conditions of approval set forth by OUSD require a vaulted rest room, benches and 8-foot-high perimeter fence, which puts the project beyond the amount of money contributed by the city and Skate Ojai and made the redevelopment funds necessary. The council was satisfied with the plan in order to begin the construction process.
“I am prepared tonight to award the construction contract and award the add-on components,” said Councilwoman Sue Horgan. “However, I’m wondering if there’s a way to break up the add-on components. Is there a way to carve out the cost of that fence?”
“I don’t want anything to delay this project,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith. “The property is owned by OUSD. They made it real clear they want a fence and a toilet.”
The council decided to authorize the resolutions, but directed staff to approach the School District to see if any adjustments might be possible, in light of the cost of the add-on alternates.
The audience sighed its relief in hearing the council was comfortable authorizing the project. “It’s been a long — a long — and tiresome process,” said Skate Ojai’s Deborah Moe. “Everyone’s worked so hard and I’m just thrilled that we’re finally here.”
Skate Ojai President Chet Hilgers agreed. “This is a great night for the kids. We have generations of kids that have worked hard on this.”
“Moe is one of the original people who has worked for the Skate Park from 1994,” said Wendy Hilgers, also of Skate Ojai. “Everybody in the room; we’re just so happy.”
Besides the cluster of youth who celebrated the vote, members of the award-winning Ojai Skate Team were on hand. Jamey Gabriel said he will still be on the team when the park is finished. J.T. Erickson said he looked forward to being able to practice in town and even gazed down the road at the possibility of helping to teach younger participants in the sport, “… once they build the new park.”
By Logan Hall
Ojai’s Hometown Heroes took on the Harlem Ambassadors professional, traveling basketball team in a wild exhibition game at Nordhoff High School last weekend. According to event coordinators, more than 800 tickets were sold, filling the Nordhoff gym with shouting fans cheering on their Heroes and the Ambassadors alike.
Before the match began, the Ambassadors warmed up with jaw-dropping moves evoking oohs and ahs from the crowd, and the Heroes appeared to be ready to try to tackle the challenge of competing against world-class athletes.
“We’re pretty excited,” said event coordinator and Heroes player Aaron Fabian. “It’s not every day you get to play with pro ball players.”
Much like their more well-known counterpart, the Harlem Globe Trotters, the Ambassadors don’t just play basketball, they put on a show. Out of two hours of show time, there was little more than 20 minutes of basketball. The rest of the time the Ambassadors spent interacting with the crowd or running through rehearsed skits with each other and the Heroes.
In the few minutes of actual competition, the Ambassadors seemed to really showcase their professional basketball skills with towering athletes making the kind of shots that could be seen in a championship game on ESPN. Reverse dunks, behind-the-back passes, and the ever-popular ally-oop were some of the crowd-pleasing moves the Ambassadors displayed against the Heroes.
The Heroes fought valiantly, made some great plays and scored some good shots, but they were no match for the Ambassadors, who perform more than 220 shows a year all around the globe. By the end of the night, the Heroes had scored 25 points to the Ambassadors 88, although the Heroes were spotted 40 points leaving a final score of 65 to 88. The Heroes appeared to have a great time in the process and did manage to bring some fire to the match. “It feels like I was back in high school again,” said Heroes team member Greg Pena after the game. “I can barely move now, but it was a lot of fun.”
The theme of the game seemed to be that even though the odds were stacked against them, the Heroes were still able to put up a fight against professional athletes who make a living playing basketball.
“They were good competitors,” said Ambassadors No. 31 LaRon Bradley. “They didn’t lay down. It was pretty fun.”
The Ambassadors are all about sending positive messages to kids and adults alike. All throughout the show, the team’s guard and what the Ambassadors refer to as their “show player,” Lade Majic, had a wireless microphone system and would regularly make comments to the crowd about the importance of staying in school and saying no to drugs. “It’s an honor and a blessing to get to send out our message,” said Majic in between signing autographs for kids after the show. “The kids look up to us. I take being a role model, seriously, and I believe in what I say.”
Before their show at Nordhoff, the Ambassadors stopped at Matilija Junior High to perform a brief display, and send their message to both the seventh and eighth grade students. “It was a lot of fun for everyone,” said Matilija assistant principal John Schweller. “They had a really good message to send to the kids, and they just have a great energy. We really enjoyed it.”
Funding to be used for community assistance
By Sondra Murphy
Help of Ojai has long been respected here in the valley, but the many programs it offers the community has not been lost on the county at large. Two recent applications for Community Development Block Grant funds were awarded to Help to total $96,000.
Each year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provides funding to local communities through the CDBG program for both public service projects and capital projects. Changes in Ventura County procedures for applying for new CDBG funds prompted the Ojai City Council to vote in January to serve as an evaluation committee to make recommendations to the county pertaining to any applications for public service organizations from Ojai.
In previous years, the city was granted money from the county and then the council would vote on award allocations. Under the new system, applications were given directly to Ventura County, with each city holding a public hearing and submitting recommendations for the county to consider during awards.
4.5 tons collected for Food Bank of Ojai
By Misty Volaski
Since the fall of 2008, the Food Bank of the Ojai Valley has seen a 200 percent increase in food requests —- that’s twice as many families needing assistance, just in the Ojai Valley alone.
Thankfully, that hasn’t translated into a shortage of food. It’s actually the opposite, said Help of Ojai’s executive director Terri Wolfe, “Donations have actually increased!”
Especially since last Saturday.
The Food Bank of Ojai Valley received donations by the truckload on May 8, when mail carriers serving Upper Ojai to Casitas Springs brought in a total of 4.5 tons — yes, tons — of food to Help of Ojai’s Little House campus.
It was all part of the National Association of Letter Carriers Stamp Out Hunger Day, in which residents place sacks of food by their mailboxes for mail carriers to bring to designated drop-off stations. This year, 15 volunteers from the community and 15 from Villanova Preparatory, Besant Hill and Oak Grove schools sorted the heaps of food by food type and expiration date, then packed it into volunteer trucks to be carted over to Help’s West Campus, the new site of the FBOV.
“It was great having the teenagers help,” said Wolfe. “All that boundless energy and enthusiasm really helps!”
Affordability, sustainability key to new development
By Sondra Murphy
Besides periodic calls for increased affordable housing in Ojai are the voiced concerns about how development impacts both the budget-conscious resident and the habitat we all admire. Mixed in are concerns about state mandates to increase the city’s affordable housing by 427 units and whether our water supply will accommodate it.
And then there is Mallory Way: 25 bungalows built as an auto court in the 1940s that have remained so rural in appearance, they served as the backdrop for the 1997 Oprah Winfrey TV movie, “Before Women Had Wings.”
In 2003, a development plan first appeared before the commission as a condominium project called “The Bungalows of Ojai.” Designed by local architect Marc Whitman, the Craftsman-style project initially received positive reactions from planning commissioners, though the trading of 25 affordable — by Ojai standards — studio or one-bedroom units for market-rate units was acknowledged at the time.
The controversial project packed Planning Commission, City Council and Historic Preservation Commission meetings with protestors for years and served as platforms for three vocal council candidates during the 2006 election. Opponents of the Mallory Way project had two primary concerns: the historical significance of the cottages and the local need for affordable housing.
The property was purchased in 1997 by Matilija Investment Property, LLC. Brian Cearnal of Cearnal Adrulaitus, LLP represented the owners Wednesday as the continued design permit review came back before the Ojai Planning Commission meeting. The chambers were full, but few spoke on the matter, and those were City Hall mainstays Scott Eicher, Suza Francina and Len Klaif.
Now bearing the moniker “Bungalows at Mallory Way,” city planning consultant Abe Leider presented the staff report for the project, which is to demolish 18 existing low-income rental cottages on the 3.58-acre site and replace them with 23-unit, two-story condominiums, for a total of 30 units. Unit sizes range from 1,974 to 2,065 square feet for seven duplexes and nine single-family structures.
Public speakers and commissioners raised sustainability issues. Since the project was begun seven years ago, concepts about green building and changes in streetscape or landscaping have developed in the city. Overall, the plans reflected past suggestions in these areas. Cearnal presented a slide show of the plans and explained how the owners mapped the existing trees, prioritized native plants and redrew the unit plots around them.
Of the 84 trees currently at the site, the proposed project would remove 47 and replace them with 116 new ones, including native oaks. The property would be accessible from both West and East Eucalyptus Street, as well as Mallory Way.
Landscape architect Tom Bostrom addressed the issue of trees and said he went through the slides to give visuals on the mature valley and live oak trees to be preserved, as well as the invasive trees, such as the Mexican fan palms, that would be removed. Two landscaping themes have been created, a native theme and a Mediterranean theme. Bostrom also pointed out where olive trees would be planted along the interior streets and how horticultural placement would be installed. “Plants with similar water needs would be grouped together,” said Bostrom.
Commissioner Kathy Nolan supported the need to remove the palms. “I agreed with Tom. The Mexican fan palm is rated on the top 10 invasive plant list,” ‘she said.
The meandering curved streets now include the very Ojai-esque tree in the middle of the road. “The tree island, which is the center of the street, would also greatly assist with calming traffic, slowing it down,” said Bostrom. He said the modified plans call for permeable paving, instead of asphalt or cement, whenever possible to reduce impact to the habitat.
On the whole, the commissioners reacted positively to the new design. “I really wanted to dislike this project,” said Commissioner John Mirk. “The concept plans we’ve seen over the last seven years did not resonate with me, but the more I look at this plan, I’m really impressed.” He said he liked the curved streets and that the project is being built around the trees. “This has come so far from the first plans we saw.”
Commissioner Paul Crabtree concurred, but shared observations about the neighborhood aesthetics. “I think what’s really loved about Ojai is the public realm. What Libbey created with that ensemble is really unmatched, pretty rare,” he said. “We have a duty to address what’s best for the community. Another character of Ojai is smallish homes with porch frontages on the streets. Garages were in the back yard … So when I envision myself walking through here, I enter, I see the bumpers of cars, the dumpster, garage doors, more garage doors, then I don’t feel so safe walking there.” He added that, after construction, utility companies would have to come in and place transformers and poles, cluttering the streetscape further. “I see the interior streets as really autocentric.”
Commissioner Susan Weaver agreed. “I understand the constraints of the applicants, but I think a greater mix of sizes might allow you to position garages where they should be.” She wanted to see porches as the primary focal point, with garages set back and suggested more variety in condo size be created in order to help the preserved, affordable cottages fit in with the new units.
City Council candidate Klaif voiced concern over the loss of affordable housing. “The most distressing aspect of this for me insofar as the reports today is there’s more concern about the birds whose habitat will be destroyed than the people whose habitat will be destroyed,” Klaif said.
“I lived in that neighborhood next to Mallory Way for 15 years,” said Francina. “I’ve seen the rural nature of that neighborhood destroyed. I don’t know any other word for taking down trees and putting up parking lots. It’s a very sensitive ecosystem.” She said that when looking at sustainability, smaller is better and pointed out that two-story houses block the view of the mountains.
Weaver clarified that 15 affordable units would be lost in the design, with seven of the existing being preserved. Eicher asked if those remaining cottages would be brought up to code with plumbing and electrical upgrades.
Cearnal said the owners have a relocation plan for the current residents. Weaver said she encouraged the right of first refusal be offered them, as well.
Cearnal added that, while restricted by their historical classification, the retained cottages would be updated as much as possible and that, in retaining them, several of the most mature trees would also be saved. He also said that the current plans include porches on 15 of the new units, but that they would see if they could increase the number. “The footprints of these buildings are very small,” said Cearnal. “That means we push the garage into the house, reducing the footprint.”
The commissioners wanted more details on the connecting trails within the development and how they might tie into the roadways beyond. Vice Chair Steven Foster asked staff to prepare a list of the commission’s concerns, as well as bring back a conceptual plan of the city-owned property abutting the project. “A cross section would give me a sense of the spacing,” said Weaver.
“It’s terrifying to embark on a project like this during the current economic times,” said Cearnal. “If there is a market for it, we’re attracting people farther out from Ojai who would like the idea of living closer in, would like a walk instead of a drive.” He said he would like to work with the suggestions and bring it back to the commission as soon as possible.
The commissioners voted to hold a special meeting on June 9 to look at modified plans on the Mallory Way project. That meeting will start at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St. The full staff report is available on the city web site, ci.ojai.ca.us under Planning Commis-sion Agenda.
Rearranging program policies short-term solution
By Misty Volaski
The Ojai Unified School District meeting Tuesday evening brought to the table a bit of good news as the anticipated $2.8 million budget gap has been closed. Cuts both large and small have been made to personnel and services at each of the schools, resulting in a very thin safety net for OUSD when the state government hands down its official budget in June.
The OUSD has a current reserve fund —- which is strongly recommended to be 3 percent of its total annual budget — of just 1 percent. That doesn’t leave much room for unanticipated expenses or emergencies.
Superintendent Hank Bangser put this in perspective. “If you think of it as a family’s annual income being, say, $50,000,” he said, “Think about waking up tomorrow morning and having 2 percent of that in the bank. That’s $1,000 for a whole year, to respond to things like a car wreck or a furnace blowing up, or the roof needing repairs. That’s very tight.”
Eventually the district aims to get the reserve back up to the recommended 3 percent, but that’s still a few years away if all goes well.
“We have a very small reserve available,” Bangser added. “But that’s the way we had to do it, we made so many cuts. We had to cut the equivalent of 27 people (for the 2010-2011 school year). That’s about 10 percent of the staff in the district. And it’s important to remember that we’ve been making cuts for several years now. We have budgeted to the absolute final degree of being able to cut anymore.”
However, rearranging program policies here and there is helping ease the burden a bit. Although the food services program did suffer cuts in personnel for the coming 2010-2011 school year, they are cracking down on portion control (so fewer purchases have to be made during the year, and so those purchases would last longer). This alone will save thousands of dollars a year. The schools are also eliminating a few items, like chocolate milk, and increasing the costs of some a la carte items. Some of the increases in food item costs will be as much as 33 percent. Pauline Mercado, board member and clerk, initially voiced her concern with passing along the financial burden to the students, “many of whom are in the same situation we are or worse.”
Explained Bangser: 33 percent may sound like a lot, but “if you’re paying 75 cents for a bag of chips (this year), you’ll pay $1 (next year).”
Also making the plan appealing was the fact that these increases would generate much-needed income for the OUSD. About $80,000 is spent each year from the general fund to supplement the food services program, but now, “We’re picking up $45,000 or so in savings by increasing the prices. Otherwise, we would have to cut even more staff” from the program said Bangser.
These cuts and price increases, Bangser hastened to add, will not affect students who are currently qualified for the free and reduced lunch program. That program will remain unchanged.
Other programs are also looking for ways to decrease costs and increase revenue. The OUSD Green Committee has hosted pilot programs at a few schools, looking for ways to both reduce the school’s environmental footprint as well as to save money. A representative spoke about reducing paper waste, buying refurbished ink cartridges, expanded recycling program, and even pooling purchases with other school districts to get reduced prices (and reduce the amount of trucks and pollution).
Although no plan has yet been formally adopted, Bangser felt confident that by the end of 2010 “… we will have a plan to implement the rest of the school year.”
A small amount of unexpected revenue came from the Lions Club of Ojai Valley, which donated $4,000 to Nordhoff High School’s computer repair class. “They felt strongly about it, and they’re helping maintain the experience for the student,” said a grateful Bangser.
Other agenda items for the May 4 meeting included approving the five-year charter of the Valley Oak Charter School. Board members unanimously approved the five-year extension — as well as an increase in students from 65 to 75 — and praised the school’s success.
The next OUSD board meeting will take place June 1, when Bangser will present the recommended budget to the rest of the board. The meeting is open to the public. Visit ojai.k12.ca.us for meeting agendas, policies, and further details.
Contribution assures $3M reconstruction
By Anna Cho
In one of the most ambitious community fund-raising efforts in Ojai history, the Save Libbey Bowl community campaign announced Thursday that it has reached its goal of $3 million toward reconstruction of the historic amphitheater thanks to help from the Cromer family.
Successful completion of the community campaign means that Phase I of the Bowl Project can now start on time at the end of June. Construction has been planned in phases, with this first phase including re-orienting and building the basic shell, re-grading the seating area and installing new seating, creating a new entrance with the Trimpin public art piece, and planting of more than 20 new trees and hundreds of native plants.
“This has been one of the most gratifying community projects I’ve been privileged to participate in,” said Alan Rains, chairman of the campaign. “More than 600 households, businesses, service clubs and nonprofit organizations have contributed gifts ranging from less than a dollar to six figures. Indeed, this bowl has been built by the community.”
The intense grass-roots campaign involved some 150 volunteers and included such activities as neighborhood parties, Bakers for the Bowl, Bucks for the Bowl, and a day-long aerobics marathon. A community-wide “demolition party” is slated to begin at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 19, to celebrate the success of the campaign and to thank donors and volunteers.
Jeff Haydon, who has coordinated planning among the three main funding sources — the city of Ojai, the Ojai Music Festival and the community campaign — said he expects fund-raising efforts to continue, buoyed by the momentum generated over the last eight months and the need to build the other two phases.
“All of us working on this effort are immensely grateful and moved by the generosity of the community,” Haydon said. “While we can and need to pause to celebrate this historic accomplishment, we must keep the fund-raising momentum going to ensure that we can build out more than just the basic project to include dressing rooms and bathrooms that are needed to make the bowl more functional and financially self-sustaining. There are still people in the community who have expressed interest in donating — their gift is still very much needed to help build the full project. Everyone in the community needs to be part of this historic project.
“Volunteers have a number of fund-raising events still on tap — including more neighborhood parties, garden tours, 10K runs, soup parties, chili cook-offs, and more — to raise funds for completion of the construction. Dozens of supporters will be continuing these efforts until the new Libbey Bowl opens in June 4, 2011.”
For more information on the Libbey Bowl Project go to libbeybowl.org.
By Logan Hall
Bryant says death of animal could have been prevented
By Logan Hall
The Ojai Valley has an ongoing duality of man vs. nature. On one hand, Ojai is a bustling town of locals and tourists busily moving around the streets and sidewalks. On the other hand, the valley and its surrounding mountains, have an abundance of wildlife that includes many diverse species of animals. The two coexist peacefully most of the time, but when humans collide with nature on a regular basis, one side will inevitably end up encroaching on the other. Such was the case of the infamous killing of the Ojai bear last year.
In an effort to try to prevent these clashes from happening in the future, the Ojai Wildlife League hosted a lecture and workshop at Theater 150 on Saturday led by Ann Bryant, director of the Bear League based in Lake Tahoe, to help educate Ojai on the proper way to handle a situation where bears come in contact with people in town. “People generally don’t know what to do if they encounter a bear,” said Bryant. “They just don’t understand. We can help train them to respond when bears come through.”
The first thing that Bryant and her organization want to stress, is that one of a bear’s primary motivations is food. Bears have a keen sense of smell which will lead them into urban areas when other food sources are scarce. Many times, the bear will see a residential neighborhood as a chance for an easy meal. When the bear does come into town, it is seen as potentially harmful by residents and authorities, and in an area like Ojai, where bear sightings are not common place, the bear will usually draw a crowd. This can cause the bear to flee deeper into neighborhoods and many times, as in the case of the Ojai bear, climb trees.
“That bear wanted out of there.” said Bryant. “He didn’t need to die. He was just to scared to come down from the tree.”
According to the California Department of Fish and Game, bear hunting season has a direct correlation to the decision of whether a bear is relocated or killed. If a bear is tranquilized during hunting season, the toxins in the tranquilizer can be harmful to hunters that process and eat the meat after killing a bear. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, the bear hunting season was in full swing at the time of last year’s bear incident. That particular season had a hunting quota of 1,700 bears, meaning that statewide, hunters who purchased bear hunting licenses through the DFG can “harvest” up to 1,700 bears with a limit of one per license. That quota had not been filled when the Ojai bear was tranquilized. Bryant said that if Ojai residents and authorities knew how to respond to a bear being in town, there would not have been the need to kill it. “They didn’t need to dart him, he would have come down,” she added. “They just needed to provide him a clear quiet path of relief. A bear won’t come down if there are people moving around and sirens are wailing.”
Bryant did comment that she has hope that Ojai can keep this problem from escalating, and that with some education and possibly a little training, the citizens will know what to do in the event of a bear wandering through town in the future. “I think the residents of Ojai are way ahead of most other communities,” said Bryant. “They have the right way of thinking. They just need to understand a little more about the animal. That bear taught the people of Ojai something that day. He didn’t die in vain.”
Police chief seeks $100K C.O.P.S. grant
By Sondra Murphy
Ojai Police Chief Chris Dunn has come up with a strategy to enable the city to fund an officer to help fill the gap expected this summer with the loss of the school resource officer. The latter is a special position to serve the needs of school incidents that Ojai Unified School District must cut from its budget. The issue was presented to the Ojai City Council last week and the members unanimously supported applying for a grant allocation.
The city of Ojai is eligible to receive Citizens Option for Public Safety grant money for law enforcement purposes. Dunn estimated the amount would total about $100,000 and recommended the city use the allocation to fund a sheriff’s service technician position and special enforcement unit.
C.O.P.S. is a permanent, ongoing program, but cities must apply for the funds each fiscal year. Dunn reported the state controller apportions funds to each county every September, which are, in turn, allocated to cities in October. Ojai has already established a Special Law Enforcement Services Fund for depositing money the county uses to supplement its front-line municipal police services.
Dunn said that the city has accessed C.O.P.S. grants since 1996 for various law enforcement supplements, a portion of which has been used for the city’s contribution to the SRO, as well as a civilian report writer, Police Activities League officer, bicycle officer and traffic safety program.
Dunn said two things could be funded from the $100,000 C.O.P.S. grant. A civilian special services technician position could be established. The SST would free up patrol deputies for core law enforcement services by providing assistance to personnel and the public. The estimated cost for this position is $38,690.
The remainder of the C.O.P.S. funding would be put toward an Ojai Police Special Enforcement Unit to provide overtime funding for crime prevention, gang intervention, directed patrols and juvenile crime suppression. These allow for support with school-related issues of the type that the SRO played so crucial a part.
“Deployment of these funds is up to the Sheriff’s Department’s discretion,” said Dunn. “If something is going on, we would assess and be very flexible.”
The SRO position has been in effect for nine years. It created a dedicated officer to deal in a timely manner with issues that arose on campuses or involving OUSD students. With OUSD unable to contribute its share of the cost of approximately $81,000, and with the city unable to absorb that share, the position is slated to end with this school year. Dunn’s idea has received support from OUSD, as well as the city.
“Capt. Dunn went about this in a creative way and saves us money out of the general fund,” said city manager Jere Kersnar. “In reality, we get more bang for our buck in terms of overtime and in terms of benefits.”
“I was very pleased and impressed that Chief Dunn was able to recommend to the City Council this concept,” said OUSD superintendent Henry Bangser. “When I spoke with Jere and (Mayor) Steve Olsen, I acknowledged how appreciative I was, (Nordhoff High School principal) Dan Musick was, and (NHS assistant principal) Susie Arce was for the extension of this program for next year, which will, as I understand, present to us an officer on a rotating basis for close to two-thirds of the school days … I very much appreciate the initiative of Chief Dunn and the support of the City Council, as well as Mr. Kersnar.”
Both Dunn and city attorney Monte Widders assured that the C.O.P.S. grant could only be used for special law enforcement services as listed. The item will be placed on the June 8 Ojai City Council meeting agenda so that a public hearing may be held, a requirement for allocation.
Pending on the outcome of that hearing, the City Council will see C.O.P.S. again on the fiscal year 2010-2011 budget details later this month as they work for final budget adoption in late June.
By Logan Hall
The Ojai Valley was buffeted by high winds earlier this week, and although no reports of injury or serious damage have been reported, Lake Casitas was closed to boating on Wednesday evening and heavy gusts at Soule Park Golf Course caused part of a large valley oak tree to break off, damaging the driving range fence at the county-owned public course.
“There are a lot of older trees here,” said Soule Park Golf Course superintendent Roger Specter. “When there are high winds we tend to get some breakage. This time it took out part of the driving range fence.”
Tri Valley Tree Service owner Mark Hatton was summoned to help cut some of the remaining limbs off of the tree involved in an effort to save it. He said the high winds always tend to bring down more trees. “Ojai is an urban forest,” said Hatton as he gassed up his chain saw to begin trimming the tree. “It’s a lot of work.”
Although there was no damage reported at Lake Casitas, Casitas Boat Rental employee John Lopez said the winds were enough to cause concern about boats on the water at the time.
“I had a couple of rental boats out that are only 14 and 16 feet long,” said Lopez. “They can get pushed around pretty easily.” While he wasn’t worried about the boats actually sinking, there was still enough of a concern for Lopez and the Casitas Park officers to get the boats off of the lake until the winds subsided. “The rental boats can blow onto the shore and get stuck, which makes everyone’s life harder,” continued Lopez.“ They won’t sink but if they take on enough water, they can roll over. I had to inform the park rangers about the danger and they closed the lake to the boats.”
All around the valley, roads were strewn with debris and motorists were forced to drive cautiously in certain areas to avoid small tree limbs that had blown into traffic. The Ventura County Fire Department however, did not report any major damage in the valley. “I haven’t heard about anything major happening in Ojai,” said Public Information Officer Ron Oatman. “Nothing unusual happened that drew any special attention.”