By Scott Wintermute
In a scene of chaos rare to sleepy Ojai Sunday afternoon and for reasons unknown, a Toyota pickup with Maine license plates plowed into several vehicles parked directly in front of Georgio’s Restaurant on East Ojai Avenue. According to Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Tony McHale, all involved escaped without life-threatening injuries, but the the wayward driver’s lapse took a heavy toll.
The first vehicle struck was a Harley Davidson motorcycle, which was about to pull out into the road when the pickup struck it in the left saddle bag, knocking the bike over and fracturing the leg of the single male rider. A Ford Mustang was next and it, too, was occupied, though still parked. Debbie Bennett was sitting in the vehicle as her husband Todd was getting in. She complained of neck pain, and was eventually taken to the hospital for examination, but her husband was ejected and suffered greater injuries, which were treated at Ojai Valley Community Hospital.
The Mustang was shoved into three parked street bikes, coming to rest on top of two of them as their owners finished their meals at the outside table of Georgio’s only a few feet away from the destruction. The owners said the bikes were worth about $20,000 each, but still considered themselves lucky, as the too were only moments away from riding off.
The accident remains under investigation by the Ojai Police Department.
On 06-25-10, deputies from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Ojai Valley Station responded to a report of an indecent exposure. The initial investigation revealed a male suspect had exposed himself to three children in the greenbelt area adjacent to Pegusas Street and Silver Spur Street, in Miramonte. The three female victims were ages 8, 12, and 12. The suspect also solicited one of the 12 year old victims during the indecent exposure. Independent witnesses saw the suspect get into a silver VW Jetta station wagon and leave the area.
The investigating deputy immediately radioed a suspect broadcast for the other deputies searching the area. Within minutes, deputies spotted the VW northbound on Ojai Avenue coming from the Miramonte area. Deputies confirmed the driver of the VW, Brandon Torres (age 26), was the same suspect from the Miramonte incident. Torres was arrested and later booked at the county jail for felony charges of Penal Code 314.1 / Indecent Exposure with a Prior Conviction and Penal Code 646.7 / Child Annoying with a Prior Conviction. Torres’ bail was set at $60,000.
Prepared by Srt. Randy Watkins
By Mary M. Long
Ojai City Council members convened on Tuesday to unanimously award the construction contract for the rebuilding of Libbey Bowl to McGillivray Construction Inc. After last week’s 2-2 vote, with Councilwomen Sue Horgan and Betsy Clapp declining to approve the contract until a study could be done of the financial impact on the city’s reserve fund account, the council met again on Tuesday, determined to find a solution to the financing problems delaying the project.
Architect David Bury presented an artist’s rendering of the proposed bowl renovation, explaining what would be covered by the $2.4 million contract for the Core Components of the bowl construction. Projects of this magnitude are often designed with a core component, with additional components which can be completed as funding is available. He assured the council that “this building is designed to last for the ages,” engineered with steel and concrete and equipped to accommodate a broad variety of performing acts “anything you could imagine,” he added. The core and central components and Alternatives 1 and 3 are currently funded. This includes the shell, stage right and left, the Green Room, manager’s office, rear deck, paving, lighting poles, access off the front, driveway, handicapped ramp, new sidewalk, site drainage, fencing, underground cables, seating, paving for seating, trash enclosure, new landscaping (with the addition of two dozen new mature trees) and restored wetlands near the historic Libbey sycamore tree. According to Bury, the design of the bowl is “simple but elegant” and he says, “I have never designed a project that has gotten more favorable views and comments. We have retained the character of the historic Libbey Bowl.”
The hard wooden benches will be removed and replaced with ergonomically designed seating offering comfort to bowl patrons. Dressing rooms and offices are climate controlled and the stage right and left have been made large enough to store pianos so that delicate instruments are protected from the elements. Alternative 2 is the addition of group dressing rooms and additional star dressing rooms for which, according to Ojai Music Festival President Esther Wachtell, sufficient funds are nearly raised. Anna Cho-Wagner, who is the director of fund raising for the bowl project, said they raised an addition $50,000 last week with the “Last Gasp Party” alone bringing in $30,000 as well as an outpouring of community spirit. With $200,000 raised towards Alternative 2, the additional dressing rooms and rotunda, they are well on the way to having funds in place for their construction. Bury feels optimistic that they will be able to complete the project in its entirety, but also cautions that it “depends on the fund raising efforts of the festival.”
City manager Jere Kersnar provided the council members with a financial study of the impact on the city general reserves that financing the bowl renovation would create. Kersnar brought graphs of city reserves and presented “cautiously optimistic” and “cautiously pessimistic” scenarios to the council. The possibility of attaining outside financing for the bowl was thrown out prior to Tuesday’s meeting, with the Music Festival and the City Council collaborating to put financing in place to start the rebuilding. According to Wachtell, the funds raised by the Music Festival come from their founders and they expect a 99 percent funding of the pledges already received which she felt should allay the “worse case” fears of council members. Many festival members “have already accelerated funding their pledges,” understanding that the clock is ticking, said Wachtell.
Since McGillivray Construction will need to be paid over the construction year, the city will have to finance the construction costs out of their reserve fund while pledges are collected and fund raising continues.
Horgan asked for a 10 percent contingency plan, which was established through the use of “value engineering” to create a contingency fund without raising the overall bid for construction. According to Bury, “value engineering” is an ongoing analysis which does not compromise the quality or integrity of the bowl but helps insure that costs are controlled so that the best possible value results from the money for construction. “There is no fear here that the city won’t be getting the most bang for their buck,” said Bury.
At the close of the session Peter Strauss took the lectern urging the council, Music Festival and the city population at large to see the vision of building an international-caliber outdoor theater. Challenging Ojai to live up to its image as an arts community, he imploring the city to build a “beautiful bowl” which would attract world-class music, theater and dance to the Ojai Valley. Strauss expressed the “build it and they will come” theme which was heard several times during the evening. He proposed that “we as a community have to accept the risk,” and promised that he as an individual will do “everything within my power” to raise money for the completion and success of the bowl project. Strauss also emphasized the business potential of the bowl to bring income to the city of Ojai, stating that it should be a profitable venture.
Kersnar expressed his opinion, saying, “I always thought that the argument of the bowl as a business proposition was weak,” but the consensus among the council members was that the bowl is an indelible part of Ojai which has reached a point where it must be rebuilt. To fully utilize the funds already spent on the design phase and to guarantee the pledge support the project must be completed before the 2011 Music Festival.
Mayor Steve Olsen voiced his approval stating that he felt comfortable with the projected 30 percent figure offered for the reserve fund. He said that he has always thought that “the reserve policy can be a flexible number” and that completion of a worthwhile community project outweighs the importance of adhering to the strict 50 percent policy which the council had set for its reserve funding.
“The opportunities outweigh the risks and I want to go forward,” said Horgan. Clapp also voiced her enthusiastic approval for the project, but again justified last week’s stall with the responsibility to her constituents for a full financial impact report.
With Councilwoman Carol Smith nodding enthusiastically, reminding the council that events at the bowl would bring tourism to Ojai and that the money that comes from T.O.T. (transient occupancy tax) is what the city needs for income, the council came to a unanimous vote to award the building contract. With the 4-0 vote to award the construction contract the house burst into applause and shouts.
The vote on the proposed Music Festival lease has been postponed for 30 days to give council members time to study the provisions of the lease, although the festival claims to be willing to sign it immediately. As it is currently proposed, it gives an unprecedented control of a city-owned property to a private entity. The proposed lease of Libbey Bowl to the Music Festival provides a 99-year lease at a rate of $1 per each year of the term. The festival would have 25 days per year lease of the bowl. The June Music Festival would account for a 14-day block with 11 more days reserved annually. The city would also agree to refrain from booking any classical music acts into Libbey Bowl during the 30 days prior and after the Musical Festival dates.
Although the review of the proposed lease was postponed, the City Council meeting erupted in cheers, hugs and handshakes at the unanimous vote to award the construction contract. Funds will be released immediately by the Ojai Service Foundation as a down payment on the bowl construction.
Cho-Wagner, of the Libbey Bowl project, wants everyone to know that there is still time to donate money to the project and receive an engraved brick or seat for the donation. Interested parties can find more information at the Libbeybowl.org web site.
Walter A. Einhart Jr. has left his position as publisher-editor of the Ojai Valley News effective Thursday. For now, owner Bill Buchanan will be acting as interim publisher.
“As we go forward, we do not anticipate this change affecting our readers or advertisers. Our role is to properly cover our community as to news, commentary and advertising information, and we will work hard to fulfill that important responsibility,” Buchanan said, adding he plans to become involved in the day-to-day operation of the newspaper.
Buchanan may be reached at 646-1476, Ext. 220, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ozena granted permit extension as Ojai Quarry appeals violation notices
By Sondra Murphy
As Ventura County planners sift through 100 complaints about gravel truck travel through the Ojai Valley, the Stop the Trucks Coalition keeps adding to the load.
Since county enforcement is often complaint based, the coalition continues to serve as a catalyst to the process of holding mine companies along Maricopa Highway to their conditional use permits. But with government and attorneys involved, language interpretations for mining operations are in dispute, halting the process in appeals.
Besides STTC’s perpetual concerns about gravel truck travel during prohibited school peak hours on highways that merge into main Ojai Valley thoroughfares, new grievances against Ojai Quarry include supplying materials outside permitted work days. “There were two days, Jan. 15 and Jan. 16, during which the Ojai Quarry supplied to the Ventura County Watershed Protection District and we received a couple of complaints regarding that project,” said Dan Klemann, manager, commercial and industrial permits section for the Ventura County Planning Division. “One involved the Ojai Quarry operating on a Saturday when the conditions state they may only operate Monday through Friday and they may operate outside that providing they get planning director’s approval. The problem was the Ojai Quarry did that without getting the planning director’s approval.”
A possible misinterpretation of a letter given to Mosler Rock Products, the quarry’s owner, appears to be at the heart of that complaint. VCWPD operations and maintenance manager Karl Novak supplied the letter to Mosler for project clarification purposes, not as authorization. “We had some slope instability problems with an impending storm and needed to get rock out to stabilize the slope as quickly as possible,” said Novak, who stated in the letter that the project would be completed by Jan. 16. “It wasn’t finished in two days,” he said.
The number of trips it took to bring the materials to the project site is also being investigated. “Another complaint was that the Ojai Quarry exceeded the number of truck trips they may go in any one day,” said Klemann. “We issued a violation notice and the quarry has appealed it … They say we’ve gone beyond our authority and they point to the California Vehicle Code. But those conditions don’t come from the California Vehicle Code, they are our local zoning and ordinance requirements.”
Klemann was referring to a letter dated March 10 from Mosler’s attorney, Derek P. Cole. In it, Cole states, “As no provision of the California Vehicle Code authorized the county to impose this restriction, it is void and unenforceable.”
When investigating such complaints, the county requests weigh tickets to help them determine the number of trips a mine makes during periods in questions. “They provided the tickets for product, not spoils, transported from the quarry,” Klemann said.
In dispute is the language defining the “product spoils” of quarry productions. Cole cites Surface Mining and Reclamation Act definitions in his letter. “When the term ‘product’ is used … it is only reasonable to conclude that a ‘product’ truck means one carrying the actual commodity produced — in this case, hard rock. As I noted in my previous letter, a contrary reading would render the use of the word ‘product’ superfluous.” Cole continues to argue that mining waste known as overburden is not traditionally considered mining product. “If trucks hauling these materials are now included in the 20-trip truck limit, quarry operations may be rendered economically infeasible. The result would be considerable inverse-condemnation liability to the county for the taking in that situation.”
Cole goes on to say that because this condition, “cannot properly be interpreted to apply to trucks hauling mining waste or overburden, trucks carrying that material are not weighed prior to leaving the quarry. As no weigh tags are required, we accordingly cannot provide any such tags for your review.”
The county disagrees with Cole’s assessment. “Basically what they’re arguing is that limitations only apply to trucks hauling hard rocks,” said Klemann. “Our interpretation is (that it includes) product truck trips and non-product truck trips.”
Analyzing the quarry data is complex. “We knew the grading project for which the Ojai Quarry was providing. We contacted our grading inspector. We know how much these trucks can transport and we calculate how many trips would be required,” said Klemann. “We also know how many trips went to the Watershed Protection District on Jan. 16 and determined that they exceeded it.”
Klemann said the county also confirmed that the quarry exceeded the number and types of equipment allowed at Ojai Quarry properties.
“It’s just the latest of a sad history of noncompliance and chronic, grotesque violations,” said STTC Chairman Michael Shapiro. “What has been happening at the Ojai Quarry under Mr. Mosler’s management is unfortunate and, tragically, quite typical of what rock quarries are getting away with.” Shapiro said such practices are an “oversight of the Ventura Planning Division.”
That quarries continue to openly operate regardless of their conditional use permits continues to frustrate STTC. “Mr. Mosler hasn’t even tried to hide the violations of the CUP or what equipment he’s using,” said Shapiro. “That means to me he has adopted a culture of ‘I can do what I want and planning is not going to do a damn thing about it.’ If he really holds that point of view, I charge the Ventura County Planning Division and their utter, gutless and toothless authority for both monitoring, enforcing and penalizing violators, thereby giving Mr. Mosler carte blanche to do whatever he wants.”
While STTC provides the raw complaints necessary for enforcement efforts, the county must be more precise in its procedures, especially when legalities are in question.
Steve Bennett, 1st District supervisor, pointed out that there is a vast difference between seeing a truck driving through the valley and proving a quarry operations violation. “Whenever the county can document evidence that can stand up in court, they move forward,” said Bennett. “That’s what you see happening.”
“County counsel has been involved with this and all of our actions are following their advice,” said Klemann. “In this case, there are a number of options, but what we have been advocating all this time is Mr. Mosler needs to get down here. It’s making it very, very difficult for him to mine in compliance with his CUPs. However, this doesn’t let him off the hook about operating however he wants.”
Klemann added that to modify the CUP would mean the quarry representatives would need to appear before the Planning Commission and any appeals would go to the Board of Supervisors, affording opponents of the mining operation the opportunity to speak out in a public forum. While this has been avoided thus far, Klemann said Cole recently contacted his office about meeting to discuss such a modification.
But for the time being, efforts by the county to enforce Ojai Quarry’s CUP are on hold pending the outcome of legal appeals for the notices of violation regarding equipment, transport and January’s VCWPD activity, as well as complaints that the quarry exceeded its CUP while supplying materials to Sine Qua Non Winery last summer.
To add to the complexity of the situation, Casitas Municipal Water District issued a letter last month to the Army Corps of Engineers addressing allegations that Mosler Rock Products placed fill material into the North Fork of Matilija Creek, causing degradation of designated critical habitat by impacting water quality and in violation of the Clean Water Act.
“Casitas Municipal Water District is very concerned that the utility of our fish passage facility at the Robles Diversion is being undermined as a result of the unregulated activities at the Mosler Rock Quarry,” wrote CMWD board president in the letter. “Our board strongly urges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to investigate the deliberate fill into the North Fork Matilija Creek as a potential violation of Section 404 of the Act, and further, to take the necessary regulatory or enforcement actions to implement mitigation measures to prevent or reduce impacts to migrating and spawning Southern California steelhead trout.”
Attached in the letter are photographs of the blockage and adult steelhead apparently attempting to navigate around it.
“I think Mr. Mosler should be shut down and his CUP revoked,” said Shapiro. “He’s lost all right to continue operating because of his numerous and egregious violations and for the negligence of causing a significant rock slide into the North Fork of the Matilija Creek which remains today.”
Klemann said there are time factors involved with the appeals process and he expects it to be several weeks before staff reports are complete, then a hearing date will be set and noticed for a Planning Division hearing.
The slow pace of enforcement only fuels speculation by STTC that governmental agencies weigh mining concerns over public concerns, but the county Planning Division continues its processing efforts as resources allow.
“Mines are supposed to keep everything contained,” Klemann said, adding that any possible violation from rocks or debris blocking the creek falls under county jurisdiction. “You must conduct mining operations pursuant to current conditions.”
Not forgotten by STTC is Ozena Valley Ranch Mine’s request for an extension on its CUP renewal, which the coalition called “irregular and inappropriate.” On June 9, the coalition sent a letter to Chris Stephens, director of the county‘s Resource Management Agency, saying STTC is “strongly opposing the county’s verbal extension of time granted to Alliance Ready Mix, Inc. to allow the Ozena Valley Ranch Mine until June 28, 2010 to complete its long-languishing application for renewal of a conditional use permit that expired four years ago. The coalition is also putting the county on notice that, if it grants any further extension past June 28, 2010, the coalition may seek injunctive and/or declaratory relief that the CUP is expired, and that the county is illegally permitting the continued operation of the mine.”
It is not just Ventura County that STTC is criticizing. “Caltrans seems to be 100 percent supportive of business and commerce even when such business and commerce are in violation of their CUPs and it seems to be the mind set to ignore citizen complaints about issues of safety and danger, turning Highway 33 into a massive, industrialized truck transit shipping zone,” said Shapiro. “There are many personnel in Caltrans that apparently look the other way. There’s a lack of due diligence, a lack of procedure when it comes to citizens filing complaints. I would like an investigation to find out why.”
By Mary Long
Ojai City Council members convened on June 22 to unanimously award the construction contract for the rebuilding of Libbey Bowl to McGillivray Construction Inc. Architect David Bury presented an artist’s rendering of the proposed bowl renovation explaining what would be covered by the by the 3,000,000 raised for the core components. He assured the council that “this building is designed to last for the ages,” engineered with steel and concrete and equipped to accommodate a variety of performing arts. The core and central components and Alternatives 1 and 3 are currently funded. This includes the shell, stage right and left, the Green Room, manager’s office, rear deck, paving, access off the front, walks, driveway, handicapped ramp, new sidewalk, site drainage, fencing, underground cables, paving for seating, trash enclosure, new landscaping (with the addition of 12 new trees) and restored wetlands near the historic Libbey sycamore tree. Alternative 2 is the addition of group dressing rooms and additional private dressing rooms for which, according to Ojai Music Festival President Esther Wachtell, almost enough funds have been raised.
City manager Jere Kersnar provided the council members with a financial study of the impact on the city general reserves that funding the Libbey Bowl renovation would create. Kersnar brought graphs of city reserves and presented “cautiously optimistic” and “cautiously pessimistic” scenarios to the council. The possibility of attaining outside financing for the bowl seemed to have been thrown out prior to last night’s meeting with the Music Festival and the City Council collaborating to put funding in place to start the rebuilding immediately. According to Wachtell, the funds raised by the Music Festival come from their founders and they expect a 99 percent funding of the pledges already received. Since McGillivray Construction will need to be paid over the construction year, the city will have to finance the construction costs out of their reserve fund while pledges are collected.
Councilwoman Sue Horgan asked for a 10 percent contingency plan which was established though the use of “value engineering” to create a contingency fund without raising the overall bid for construction.
At the close of the session Peter Strauss took the podium urging the council, Music Festival and the city population at large to see the vision of the benefits of building an international-caliber outdoor theater. Imploring the city to build a “beautiful bowl” which would attract world-class music, theater and dance to the Ojai Valley, Strauss expressed the “build it and they will come” theme, which was heard several times during the evening. Kersnar expressed his opinion that, “I always thought that the argument of the bowl as a business proposition was weak,” but the consensus among the council members was that the bowl is an indelible part of Ojai which has reached a point where it must be rebuilt and to guarantee the pledges it needs to reach completion before the 2011 Festival.” “The opportunities outweigh the risks and I want to go forward,” said Horgan.
With Councilwoman Carol Smith nodding enthusiastically, reminding the council that events at the bowl would bring tourism to Ojai and that the money that comes from T.O.T. (transient occupancy tax) is what the city needs for income, the council came to a unanimous vote to award the building contract.
The vote on the proposed Music Festival lease has been postponed to give council members time to study the provisions of the lease. As it is currently proposed it gives an unprecedented control of a city-owned property to a private entity. The proposed lease of Libbey Bowl to the Music Festival provides a 99-year lease at a rate of $1 per each year of the term. The festival would have 25 days per year lease of the bowl. The June Music Festival would account for a 14-day block with 11 more days reserved annually. The city would also have to refrain from booking any classical music acts into Libbey Bowl during the 30 days prior and after the Musical Festival dates.
Although the review of the proposed lease was postponed, the City Council meeting erupted in cheers, hugs and handshakes at the unanimous vote to award the construction contract.
The following statement was provided to the Ojai Valley News on Wednesday, June 23, 2010 in response to the deaths of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck:
Enterprise Rent-A-Car Reiterates Proceduresfor Automobile Manufacturers’ Recalls “If and when manufacturers recommend that vehicle owners park or ground their vehicles, we promptly do so. However, we also believe there are times when recalled vehicles need to be grounded regardless.”
With more than 30 million vehicle rental transactions every year, Enterprise Rent-A-Car is reiterating its policies and procedures for handling automobile manufacturers’ recalls.
“Our customers’ safety is our top priority,” said Greg Stubblefield, executive vice president and chief strategy officer for Enterprise. “Customers should know that when they come to our rental counter, they can count on our commitment to provide a vehicle that is safe and dependable. That’s been the foundation of our business for more than 50 years.”
Every year, auto manufacturers – together with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – issue hundreds of recalls and service bulletins affecting millions of vehicles in North America, including thousands of our rental cars and trucks, Stubblefield stated. In the vast majority of cases, manufacturers do not suggest grounding, but instead ask owners to contact their local dealers to schedule a service appointment.
“If and when manufacturers recommend that vehicle owners park or ground their vehicles, we promptly do so,” Stubblefield stressed. “However, we also believe there are times when recalled vehicles need to be grounded regardless.”
Over the last decade, Enterprise has taken a number of steps to address manufacturers’ recalls in an appropriate and timely manner. Among them:
- In addition to the evaluation that car manufacturers and NHTSA make in deciding whether to ground a vehicle, Enterprise also independently reviews all recalls. Importantly, recalls involving the risk of sudden loss of control, airbag failures or fire hazards will be grounded until repaired.
- The company also has made investments in information technology to help address auto manufacturer recalls. The ECARS computerized rental management system – which connects the reservations and reporting operations of more than 6,000 Enterprise rental offices – automatically identifies all affected vehicles in real time for employees to view throughout the day.
- Enterprise regional subsidiaries can monitor all notices and bulletins and track compliance –including individual rental transactions – in a timely fashion. In addition, many auto manufacturers have upgraded their systems so that more of their notices and bulletins are delivered electronically to the major rental car companies.
- In 2007, Enterprise added more than 100 service facilities across the country. At these facilities, certified technicians not only provide routine maintenance work, but also supplement local dealers’ efforts to respond quickly to recalls, particularly large-scale ones. The pace of repair work, however, can be subject to the availability of parts.
The issue of how rental car companies handle manufacturers’ recalls has been put in the spotlight following the resolution last week of a lawsuit in Alameda County, Calif. “This was a long, complicated and difficult case for all involved, one that had to work its way through the court system to reach resolution,” Stubblefield said. “But, more significantly, this is a terrible tragedy for the Houck family. Our hearts go out to them, and we are very sorry for their loss.”
In the Houck case, neither Chrysler nor the NHTSA recommended grounding the more than 400,000 PT Cruisers recalled in 2004. (Chrysler, the manufacturer of the PT Cruiser, was a defendant in the Houck lawsuit, but was dismissed due to bankruptcy in 2009.) Instead, owners were asked to contact their local dealers to schedule a service appointment.
“Given all we have learned, today we would ground the recalled PT Cruiser until repaired,” Stubblefield said. “That is why we continue to work with our employees and automobile manufacturers on ways to improve our policies and procedures for handling recalls.
“We share the Houcks’ goal of preventing anything like this happening again,” Stubblefield said. “Of course, nothing can change this heartbreaking situation for the Houck family and, again, we are truly sorry for their terrible loss.”
Ventura County Sheriff’s Department
Ian Sangster, 19
Johnny Jaramillo, 18
Jesse Lara, 19
On June 1, 2010, Sheriff’s Narcotic Investigators took up surveillance at Libbey Park in Ojai after receiving several reports of drug sales. Soon after arriving at the park, detectives observed Sangster involved in a drug transaction. Jaramillo and Lara were present along with 3 juvenile males. Additional transactions were observed and detectives contacted the group. Sangster was arrested for furnishing narcotics to a minor, possession of a controlled substance for sale, sale of a controlled substance, and furnishing narcotics in a public park. Lara was arrested for being under the influence of a controlled substance. Jaramillo was arrested for possession of hashish. The juveniles were arrested drug related charges. All subjects were additionally arrested for being present at a location where drugs are used. The adults were booked into the Main Jail for the listed charges. The juveniles were cited and released to their parents.
By Logan Hall
In January, Golden State Water Company applied for a rate increase totaling 44.7 percent over the next two years — this on top of rate hikes totaling 107 percent in the last decade for its Ojai customers.
Thursday afternoon, the first of two scheduled meetings was held at Chaparral Auditorium to allow GSWC officials to explain to the commuity the justification for the rate increase application, and give customers the opportunity to tell a representative from with the California Public Utilities Commission what they collectively thought of that idea.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten the quality of water we deserve,” stated Maryanne Newman. “We need help in this situation.”
Golden State said in a January press release that the new rates would cover the increasing costs to operate and maintain the local water system, and fund more than $8 million in local capital investments that are critical to providing reliable, high quality water to the area. About half of the new revenue would be used to operate the aging water system — some of which is about 80 years old — and half to update it.
More than one attendee of the hearing, brought up the need for GSWC and its parent company, American States Water Company, to provide returns to their shareholders.
“The expenses that they use to justify the rate increase could easily be absorbed by the company owners,” said Michael Seek. “It would be a great hardship for most people here in Ojai to cover these costs, but the shareholders could do it easily.”
The city of Ojai seems to be on the side of the public and Steve McClary, assistant to city manager Jere Kersnar, read Kersnar’s prepared statement urging the CPUC to approve a lower rate increase. “The city has been closely following the activity of GSWC since its substantial increase in 2007. The amount of the rate increase is out of proportion to the benefits to the Ojai customers,” read McClary to CPUC administrative law judge Douglas Long.
According to Long, the CPUC will make a decision on the final rate increase at the end of this year.
See Wednesday’s Ojai Valley News for comments from Ojai city officials addressing last night’s second meeting.
Horgan, Clapp concerned with city’s financial responsibility
By Walter Einhart
Time and time again the Libbey Bowl has proven to be an integral part of the culture, community and economy of Ojai, yet its future is in limbo.
Tuesday night’s surprise 2-2 vote by the Ojai City Council failed to award a $2.4 million contract to McGillivray Construction Inc. to begin rebuilding the bowl.
Councilwomen Betsy Clapp and Sue Horgan abstained from support of the motion made by Councilwoman Carol Smith to go ahead with the award, also supported by Mayor Steve Olsen. Clapp and Horgan main concern was that while the “Save Libbey Bowl” campaign has raised the needed $2.8 million to cover the estimated project costs, only $1.1 million of said funds are cash, and the remaining $1.6 million will be coming from pledge donations from the community to be paid over the course of one to four years.
“There are too many unanswered questions,” Clapp said.
Horgan added that she is well aware of the importance of Libbey Bowl, but she is also aware of the current financial resource of the city.
The major concern for the city is heavily based on the strain this project would put on the city’s $3.1 million reserve fund if pledges fall short or other difficulties arise.
“At this point we can’t even say we have the information we’d expect to have on a project this size,” said city manager Jere Kersnar.
In a presentation made to City Council earlier in the evening city manager Jere Kersnar said in order to proceed that evening there were basically two options, either city funding or outside funding for the project. He noted that neither were good options, they needed more information and time to analyze it in order to make a positive recommendation. Kersnar said that the only way to proceed at that time was to assume it would be a city-funded project and the city staff official recommendation was to delay consideration to allow time to prepare an analysis and risk assessment for further review by council members.
Many people in support of the bowl project disagreed with the council’s decision and felt it would potentially jeopardize the long-term relationship with the city and the Music Festival moving forward if a decision wasn’t made in time to allow for the 2011 festival to be held at Libbey Bowl.
Ojai Music Festival executive director Jeff Haydon said he was “shocked by the council’s claim for more information.” He said in the past month the “Save Libbey Bowl” leadership has spent countless hours working with city staff to provide analysis and information while also answering any questions posed, and he was unaware of any further unanswered questions or concerns.
“It defies explanation on a project that has so much good will and so many people pulling for it to be surprised by a change in recommendation by the city to not proceed with it and to have council members say they need more information,” Haydon said. “This has already been delayed three times, and we are on a tight time line. By not moving forward, at the latest, next Tuesday the city is sending the wrong message to its citizens and taking the chance the Ojai Music Festival could move outside of Ojai for future years.”
“The is a difficult decision,” Kersnar said, “but one that we have to make carefully with all of the proper information. Either way it affects the long-term future of Ojai’s citizens and we have to be careful and do it right.”
“The Last Gasp Party at the Bowl” was scheduled for Saturday from 4:30 to 7 p.m. as a final fund-raising event and a chance to say goodbye to the structure. Haydon said they will proceed with the event, but now it will be a rally to gain support from the City Council and gain further support for the cause.
Ojai film producer earns third Best Film Award
Special to the Ojai Valley News
Native-born Ojai resident Stephen Huyler has just received his third Best Film award for his new documentary film: ‘Sonabai: Another Way of Seeing’. In the following, Dr. Huyler is interviewed by Khaled Al-Awar, owner of Primavera Gallery.
*Khaled: You showed me your new film when you first made it last summer. I cannot get it out of my head. I think everyone should see it! You have made something that will resonate for everyone. The story is magnificent. It conveys one of the most important messages I have ever heard. It shows the remarkable capacity of the human spirit to rise above adversity and shine.
Are you surprised by the recent accolades your new film has received?
*Stephen: Completely. In my first film festival, the Santa Fe Film Festival last December, the other short films were so good that it never occurred to me that ‘Sonabai’ would be honored. I didn’t even attend the awards ceremony. When it was given the Milagro Award for Best Short Film, you could have knocked me over with a feather! Then, last January, it was given the Accolade Award for Best Short Documentary in La Jolla. Just last week I was awarded the Bronze MUSE for Video by the American Association of Museums, voted in by every museum in the U.S. It has been overwhelming!
*Khaled: Sonabai’s story is fantastic. I found the film spell-binding. Tell me about it.
*Stephen: It is an unusual story and yet it has elements in it that are universal and deeply compelling. When Sonabai was a young girl in a very remote village in central India, she was married to a much older man who sequestered her away from contact with any other human beings. Imprisoned in their windowless home, Sonabai saw no one other than her husband and their one male child for fifteen years! (Her situation was unique in that Indian state. Other women in her region have never been treated like this.) While other human beings faced with such desolation might have been depressed and disheartened, Sonabai used her isolation as a resource in which to invent an entirely new style of art, one that had no precedent in India’s five thousand years of recorded history. She covered her walls with colorful bas-relief sculptures and filled in the spaces between the columns supporting her inner courtyard verandah with sculpted lattices. Rather than reflecting her deprivation, Sonabai’s art is joyous, bright, humorous and whimsical. Years later she was discovered by the Indian art world and was given India’s highest recognition: the coveted President’s Award (India’s version of the Nobel Prize.) Sonabai’s art and message so inspired the people of her region that it has succeeded in directly improving the economy and the position of women.
*Khaled: I was struck by the positive message of the film. What were you trying to say?
*Stephen: In recent years our experts and media have told us that there is little hope for the world, that we are all doomed. The conditions we have created are deplorable: environmental crises, economic insecurity, violence everywhere. These facts are undeniable, but Sonabai’s story reminds us that humanity’s potential for creative solutions is inexhaustible. We can make a difference if we only allow ourselves to look deep inside for answers and act upon them. Sonabai’s remarkable vision is a paradigm for our own possibilities. My film directly discusses these issues.
*Khaled: How did you find Sonabai?
*Stephen: Well, that is a longer story. I have been documenting India intensely for almost 39 years. I am a cultural anthropologist conducting a cross-cultural survey of rural India. During these four decades I have interviewed tens of thousands of people. I have been privileged to meet interesting and unusual people throughout the subcontinent, but Sonabai is one of the most fascinating.
Khaled: How did you begin this work? Doesn’t Beatrice Wood fit directly into the picture?
*Stephen: Yes. Beatrice introduced me to India. When I was just 18 years old, she invited me to travel with her to India. I suppose I was one of the “young men” frequently referred to in Beatrice’s well-known comment that her longevity was due to “young men and chocolates.”
*Khaled: I seem to recall that there is a huge photograph of you sitting on her lap in the museum display at the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts in Upper Ojai.
*Stephen: We were just hamming it up. We had a lot of fun together. But because of Beato’s invitation to India, I began to take university courses on South Asian art, history, politics and anthropology for the year before we left. Traveling by myself overland by local transport from Paris, I arrived in India on my twentieth birthday in 1971 and was joined by Beatrice shortly thereafter. Her introductions in India were invaluable. Through her I was able to stay in Indian homes wherever I chose to travel. We were together there for two months and then I continued to travel for five more months, beginning my research on folk arts and crafts. I have continued that work every year since.
*Khaled: You have been a prolific writer. How many books have you published by now?
*Stephen: Six full books of my own and then parts of more than twenty others, all of them about India and its arts and cultures.
*Khaled: And you are renowned as a photographer. Your books are beautifully illustrated.
*Stephen: Thank you. As I have traveled more extensively in India than any other American, perhaps more than any other foreigner, I have had unusual access to peoples, communities, rituals and crafts. I photograph everything and by this time have more than 250,000 edited images in my archives. It is a rare resource.
*Khaled: But your photographs are so intimate. They make me feel like I am seeing right into people’s lives. Indians seem at ease with you, so open and willing to share their lives.
*Stephen: First and foremost, I am no paparazzi. I never take a picture without permission. I deeply respect the culture and individuals’ boundaries and I am trained in understanding Indian social nuances. I usually do not take my camera with me when I first meet people. I get to know them first and make sure that they are at ease with me and then ask if I can bring my camera. And I give them copies of photographs I take. I think that Indians can sense that I love their culture and they loosen up around me.
*Khaled: Do you use these photographs in the museum exhibitions you curate?
*Stephen: Sometimes. My life is about trying to build bridges of communication between India and the rest of the world. I have found that one of the ways I can best convey that is through exhibitions. Sometimes I draw my material from the existing reserve collections of the museum. At other times I create collections of material in India. And often I enhance or give context to these objects with photo-murals or framed images I have taken.
*Khaled: How many exhibitions have you curated?
*Stephen: More than thirty, some in some rather large institutions. I always work freelance. It allows me the freedom to return to India for my field research when I need to do so.
*Khaled: What have your favorite museum exhibitions been?
*Stephen: Well, that is hard to answer. My most popular was my exhibition on Hinduism at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery on the Mall in Washington, D.C. I was given carte blanche to choose art from the Smithsonian’s reserve collections and I created a show entitled: “Puja: Expressions of Hindu Devotion”. The purpose was to convey the pulse of the world’s third largest religion by showing these sacred objects in context, recreating Hindu temples and shrines within the museum and having the images reconsecrated by Hindu priests for the duration of the show. When it began, the exhibition was scheduled to be open for six months, but popular demand kept it open for four years. The Sackler staff recorded more than 750,000 visitors to the show!
*Khaled: But there were other exhibitions too.
*Stephen: Yes, based upon the success of that show, I created a traveling exhibition about Hinduism entitled “Meeting God” and wrote a book published by Yale University Press to accompany it. That show traveled around the world, even through India, but my favorite venue was New York’s American Museum of Natural History. It opened there just before 9.11 and became particularly popular as a place of sanctuary and healing in that disaster’s aftermath.
*Khaled: There is a rumor out that you are now working on a new show. Can you tell me about it?
*Stephen: Well, I am just beginning and it will be several years before it is ready, but I am preparing a new show and book about Beatrice Wood. During the years that I knew her so well and traveled with her, I continued to archive material about her. Then in the early nineties I spent several weeks interviewing her on tape with the view of being her biographer. I wanted to write a book that shows her thoughtful, intelligent, perceptive side, not one that just talks about her flamboyance and whimsy. Then my career took off and I have not been able to return to that project. Now I have that chance. The exhibition will be at Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park in San Diego, probably in 2015. It will be different from any others about her: I am borrowing parts of Beatrice’s own art collections from the Happy Valley Foundation and will display them alongside her finest sculptures and ceramic vessels in order to convey her inspirations. The exhibition will have the personal flavor of someone who knew her well.
*Khaled: You have received a lot of critical praise for your current exhibition about Sonabai at Mingei International Museum in San Diego. I was so impressed when I visited the show that I frequently suggest to customers who come into my gallery that they must go down to see it. I couldn’t believe your innovative uses of photography and design. Where did you come up with those ideas and what were you trying to achieve?
*Stephen: This exhibition (with the same title as the film and the new book: “Sonabai: Another Way of Seeing”) has been a joy to work on. It took five solid years of planning and designing. My talented assistant, Kathleen Brown, and I worked closely with an amazing photographic studio in New York City, Duggal Visual Solutions, to push the envelope about how images can be displayed. I wanted to challenge the viewer to look beyond his or her preconceptions about India and folk art in order to see the contemporary relevance of this remarkable art. Some of the techniques we used are unique to this show. For example, I wanted to convey the stark contrast between the vibrant life of the community outside Sonabai’s home and her artistic interpretation in her isolated world inside. To achieve this effect, we created an entire wall of ultra-thin LED screens separately hung with several inches of open space between each frame, each displaying one backlit color village photograph on one side and a completely different image depicting Sonabai’s vibrant art on the other. Throughout the show I was constantly working to balance the visual integrity of Sonabai’s sculptures with photographs that would invoke character and context. We spent weeks just choosing, mixing and painting the complex color palettes for the exhibition walls.
*Khaled: One of the aspects of the show that completely mesmerized me was your ‘Harvest Dance Room’. Can you describe that?
*Stephen: That room was my biggest challenge and most satisfying result. Many of Sonabai’s sculptures depict her impressions of her local rice harvest dance. I photographed the dance extensively and the results were some of the best images I have ever taken. I wanted to convey the visceral experience of being in the midst of that dance. So I commissioned Duggal to print huge images of the dancers on transparent chiffon (a technique that had never been tried before.) We hung those printed textiles in layers in a large room whose walls were covered with gigantic photomurals of details of the dance. One large wall is projected with a film of the dance taken by friend, David Wright. Nine speakers surround the room with the dance music and the entire effect is one of layer upon layer of images of moving dancers that change every step you take. Visitors love the room. Every day people ask the museum staff if it is okay if they dance in the room. That is my highest compliment.
*Khaled: So this brings us back to your new film. How did you make it?
*Stephen: I had visited Sonabai’s village in 2001 and realized that her story would make a good film. I returned early in 2004 with a team of eight friends that included David Wright, a well-known documentary filmmaker. We stayed two weeks as guests in Sonabai’s home, living with her and her family and recording their daily lives as well as their artistic production. By that time Sonabai was very old and had lost some of her capacity to speak coherently. My proposed interviews with her were unsuccessful. So when we returned to the US, we were challenged by the problem of how we could create a long enough film. I hired film editor David Berez of Post Office Productions to help me put the film together. His insights were invaluable. My assistant, Kathleen Brown, and I were working throughout this period on the exhibition and book and consequently film production was stalled for several years. We returned to it in the fall of 2008. At that time we sought the advice of Jeffrey Wolf of Breakaway Productions to help us reconceive the film project. It was his input that inspired us to spend the first half of the film talking only about Sonabai’s innovative creativity, defining its place in the traditional and contemporary art world before we gave the story of her abusive confinement. Jeffrey helped us realize that the message of her work (and of the film) is about the capacity of humanity to reach beyond its limitations and to reinvent itself in the face of oppression. With these insights, David Berez filmed pertinent new interviews and perceptively edited the film. It was a collaborative effort that has reached far beyond its initial intention as an adjunct to the exhibition. We were encouraged to submit it to film festivals and I guess its new awards are a testament to its success.
*Khaled: And now you are bringing the film to Ojai. How will you show it to your home crowd?
*Stephen: The film itself is just under half an hour. I will follow it with a short slide show of some of the personal shots of traveling to Sonabai’s village, living in her home and interacting with Sonabai, her family and the other villagers. And of course we will have time for questions and answers afterwards. I can’t guarantee that Beatrice’s ghost will be there to celebrate with us, but I wouldn’t be surprised…
*Khaled: Well, this is the chance for the people in your hometown to finally see what it is you really do. You are known internationally for your work, but have kept a pretty low profile here in Ojai. I am excited about it. It may sound silly, but Sonabai’s story reminds me of Nelson Mandela. You can imprison the body, restrict the movements of a person, but you can never really imprison the human spirit and self-expression. Your film has a quality that reaches out to the soul. It shows that each of us, no matter who we are and in whatever condition we live in, has a choice to make. We can except the status quo and live our lives according the mandates placed upon us, or we can reach deep within and redefine ourselves. This is the truest freedom. Thank you for making this film and sharing it with us.
Sonabai: Another Way of Seeing will be shown at the Ojai Theater at 5:15 on three consecutive evenings: Thursday, June 17th, Friday, June 18th, and Saturday, June 19th. Tickets: $3 each.
By Misty Volaski
A water main broke late Wednesday morning on East Ojai Avene in front of Hakane Sushi, in plain view of the Golden State Water Company’s Ojai office. Hakane Sushi employees noticed the break around 11:15 a.m. and called the fire department, which, along with members of the Ojai Police Department, brought out cones and caution tape to direct traffic around the break. Soon after arriving, Fire Station 21 moved its engine down the road, saying they were worried about the possibility of a sink hole.
A source said that they had noticed a small leak a week before, and that the owners of Hakane Sushi and its building were notified. However, the source was unsure if Golden State Water Company was notified, and Golden State Superintendent Lance Contreras said he had received no reports. “And we drive by there every day,” so there was a good chance that he would have seen it.”
Contreras said Golden State Water crews were able to shut off the water to this “routine break” quickly, within 15 minutes, although witnesses said water appeared to continue rushing out for about 20 minutes longer. Repairs were slated for completion before the end of the business day, and a few E. Ojai Ave. businesses from Bryant Street to Shady Lane had no water until the repairs were complete. Businesses on Bryant Circle reported brown water coming from the tap, but Contreras said this not dangerous to drink, and is merely an aesthetic issue. “This is not a health issue,” he said. “There is silt at the bottom of the mains, and when we have a break like this, the water velocity increases, and the particles get stirred up.”
Rental company agrees to pay $15M to Ojai girls’ parents
By Misty Volaski
After more than five years of “delays and futile mediations,” experts and depositions, lawyers and paperwork, it’s finally over —- Cally and Chuck Houck have won retribution for the deaths of their two daughters, Nordhoff grads Jackie and Raechel Houck.
Last week, an Alameda County, Calif. jury awarded the Houcks $15 million for the wrongful and unreasonable deaths of their two girls, who died in a fiery head-on traffic collision with an 18-wheeler on the 101-north near King City on Oct. 7, 2004.
The defendant, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, claimed the deaths were a result of Raechel’s bad or negligent driving, but mom Cally knew her daughter better than that. “I knew in my heart, always, that Raechel was a very good driver,” Houck said. “Having lived in Europe for two years, she spent a lot of time driving the roads of rural Italy. She was very cautious and would never have taken any chances.”
Turns out, Cally’s gut feeling was spot-on. The Capitola, Calif. Enterprise branch which rented the girls a 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser had been informed a month before that the vehicle had a safety recall, but did nothing about it. The repair that would have saved the lives of the Houck girls — the replacement of a power steering hose that could leak and ignite on the catalytic converter, causing a fire under the hood — was never made.
Houck lawyer Larry Grassini, of Grassini and Wrinkle law firm, said that the branch had actually rented that same vehicle out four times before they gave the keys to Raechel. According to a Grassini and Wrinkle press release, “Both of the managers-in-training who rented the PT Cruiser to the Houck sisters provided statements to the parents’ lawyers saying that Enterprise intentionally overbooked vehicles ‘to get customers in the front door’ and knowingly rented out vehicles in need of service and maintenance. The recalled PT Cruiser rented to Raechel Houck was the last car on the lot and was represented to her as a ‘free upgrade.’”
A few hours later, the girls were dead.
“Our experts and our attorneys,” Cally Houck said, “remained steadfast and showed the conclusive proof that the car’s defect — power steering fluid leaking onto the catalytic converter which caused an under-hood fire — started the fire, and impaired the steering, causing the car carrying my girls to crash head-on into an 18-wheeler and explode into a ball of flames.”
Enterprise fought the allegations for five and one-half years with several major law firms, only admitting liability May 25. They had previously offered a settlement of $3 million in exchange for the family keeping the matter confidential, but the family refused.
“This case should be about consequences,” said Cally. “When a billion dollar corporation puts profit before life, then engages in a war of attrition to wear the family down, hoping we die, or our attorneys run out of money, then those tactics become something that should be shown to the world. We allow corporations to take these risks, with little or no accountability. Why should they be able to make billions of dollars a year without taking steps to protect their customers from defective or dangerous cars?”
“The Houcks weren’t going to be muzzled,” said Grassini. “We felt we had put together a strong case. I’d hired a lot of experts to testify to the validity of our claims. Enterprise thought they could wear us down. We spent $800,000 in experts to get the proof. But just for tactical reasons, (Enterprise) decided it didn’t want the jury to hear all the facts” about the company’s corporate policy of renting recalled vehicles if they were requested by the customer or the only cars on the lot. So it admitted 100 percent liability for the Houck sisters’ deaths.
But even without that knowledge of Enterprise’s practices, the jury still awarded the Houcks $15 million.
“Under their standard system, after a recall, the car went out at least once before it was taken off the line,” said Grassini. Then, a little note would pop up on the computer screen, telling the branch that that vehicle had been recalled.”
This case, added Grassini, “shows just how effective that system was.”
What’s worse, Enterprise told the Houck lawyers in a deposition that they had no plans to change their policy. “This is something that has to be stopped,” said Grassini. “It’s a terrible practice, a prime example of corporate irresponsibility at the highest level.”
For the Houcks, their long fight may be over, but in some ways it will never end.
“I honestly don’t know what will be left after everyone is paid, but it doesn’t really matter because there can never be enough money to compensate us for the loss of our daughters,” Cally said. “What we want now is accountability and some assurance that this won’t continue to happen to innocent consumers. Then, Raechel and Jackie just become mere statistics, and I won’t allow that to happen.”
What’s left over will go toward the RageJax Foundation, which helps provide art and music lessons for disadvantaged children. “Raechel and Jackie live on through the educational opportunities we can provide all children, particularly those at risk or in displacement,” said Cally. “As Raechel said, ‘Tell me something is impossible, then look at the hope in my eyes.’ But, our fight for justice and accountability continues. Enterprise faced a jury in a court of law, now it’s time for it to face the court of public opinion. I will continue to advocate and campaign for corporate responsibility, calling attention to all business practices and policies that put the public at risk in the insatiable quest for profit. I didn’t lose my investment, my job, my car, or my pension. I lost my daughters.”
Utility seeking another double-digit rate hike
By Logan Hall
Imagine turning on a water faucet only to find that there is no water flowing out. In this day and age it is easy for most people to take the things we need to survive for granted. People need water to survive. Does that mean that those who are in control of vital resources such as water can charge whatever exorbitant amounts they want, knowing that the people will pay?
Golden State Water Company (GSWC) is putting that theory to a test with proposed rate increases for the Ojai Customer Service Area that will total almost 45 percent by 2012. In a statement in their public participation hearing notification, GSWC claims that the new rates will cover increasing costs to operate and maintain the local water system, and fund capital investments critical to providing reliable, high-quality water to the area.
Some local experts aren’t so sure about Golden State’s agenda. “The problem with GSWC, is they put in these old pipe lines about 75 years ago, and they’re wearing out,” said valley resident Jim Coultas, former longtime Casitas Municipal Water District board member and agricultural rancher. “They continue raising their rates year after year, but they spend the money on something else and never do the things they say they will.”
Over the years, according to Coultas, local ranchers have had to use heavy equipment to dig up and repair the failing infrastructure that GSWC claims to be putting funding into. “These guys that rely on GSWC are constantly having to get the backhoe out and repair these pipes,” said Coultas, who has been an Ojai Valley resident for more than 60 years.
GSWC district manager Ken Petersen countered in an e-mail response by saying funds from a rate increase will go directly into various aspects of the water management. “When we file a new rate plan, it supports the top objectives of a statewide water action plan created by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). These top objectives include maintaining high standards of water quality, strengthening our water conservation programs, and promoting infrastructure investment.
“The major capital improvements in this filing include, but are not limited to, replacement of 11,000 feet of leaking, undersized and aging pipelines, enhancing local water storage with the installation of a new 500,000-gallon tank, and drilling and equipping a well.”
Experts like Coultas and some GSWC customers have said that these claims have been made before, and that the failing system has yet to be addressed by Golden State.
“They haven’t done anything that they said they would do,” said GSWC customer and Ojai resident Dan Cole. “Where’s all this master plan stuff they said they were gonna’ do. If it doesn’t stop here, what’s gonna’ happen in another three years when they raise the rates again?”
The city of Ojai is also up in arms over the rate increase, and the powers that be vow to fight for their citizens’ need for clean, affordable water.
“From my point of view, the rate increase is obscene,” said Ojai Mayor Steve Olsen. “The city needs to do what it can to protect citizens from these increases. We will be very aggressive in dealing with CPUC in trying to fight this rate increase. GSWC has not provided an upgrade to our infrastructure. We expect better from them, and citizens can’t afford the rate increase. If necessary, we will go back up to San Francisco and appear in front of the CPUC during the public comment hearing and express our grievances. I think that’s where we were successful last time.”
In order to give the public a chance to be heard, the CPUC will hold a public participation hearing in Ojai tomorrow at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. in the Chaparral Auditorium on Ojai Avenue. All parties involved strongly suggest that people from the community attend the hearing to have a chance to voice their thoughts, and become better informed of the situation.
“The CPUC usually sends a neutral person that’s not on the GSWC’s or the citizens’ side,” said Olsen. “Public documents will be available. People should definitely come to the hearing.”
The following statements were part of a 44-page document issued to the Ojai Valley News and other local, regional and national media outlets by Larry Grassini, Woodland Hills attorney for the Houck family. Raechel and Jacqueline Houck died in a fiery car wreck in October 2004. Grassini said Enterprise Car Rental Company has admitted guilt after a $15 million lawsuit was filed.
We will publish a complete report on this as we gather more information.
In a civil lawsuit for wrongful death recently concluded in Alameda County Superior Court,
Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company and Enterprise Rent-A-Car Company of San Francisco each
admitted they caused the wrongful and unreasonable deaths of Raechel Houck, age 24, and her younger sister Jacqueline Houck, age 20, on October 7, 2004, by renting them a 2004 PT Cruiser which was the subject of a recall by Chrysler because of potentially dangerous and unsafe power steering hoses which, if they fail, “can result in an underhood fire.” After receiving the recall notice a month earlier on September 9, 2004, Enterprise went ahead and rented the unfixed vehicle to three customers prior to renting it to Raechel Houck. The young women died in a fiery crash while traveling northbound on Highway 101 in Monterey County outside of King
City. The girls’ parents, Carol Houck and Charles Houck, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in
Alameda County Superior Court. Enterprise fought the case for five years after hiring a team of
lawyers and expert witnesses, claiming that the accident was caused by the bad driving of
On the eve of the trial, which started June 1st, the two Enterprise entities finally admitted that
“they were negligent and that their negligence was the sole proximate cause of the fatal injuries
of Raechel V. Houck and Jacqueline M. Houck.”
Ojai’s continuation school commencement held Wednesday
By Amber Lennon
The 2010 graduating class of Chaparral High School gave a resounding cheer when principal Marilyn Smith announced their completion of high school at Wednesday’s graduation ceremony. Chaparral caters to students who thrive in a non-conventional school format and offers a second chance to students with compromised situations that might have otherwise prevented their graduation.
Matt Wagner, who received the Chaparral Roadrunner Award for Outstanding Senior, says he didn’t value his education until the staff at Chaparral started believing in his success. Once this belief was instilled, Wagner’s determination was unstoppable.
Says Wagner, “At a time when other people were kind of lounging, I pushed through and exceeded the level of work that was going on.” In addition to his school studies, Wagner also works at Vons market and was noted in the “Thumbs Up” section of the OVN for reportedly returning a lost wallet to a customer.
Carole Paddock, Wagner’s English teacher and Chaparral’s activities director, describes the senior as “a kind student who enjoyed helping his fellow students.” Paddock states that at the end of the school year, he rallied his classmates to thank the staff of Chaparral for their help and belief in the students.
Wagner grew up in Las Vegas, a city teeming with teenage temptations, and moved to Ojai three years ago where he began attending Chaparral. “Over the next few years I saw someone turn into a motivated young man who wanted to do something with his life and is!” says Paddock.
Wagner says his plans to pursue a career in journalism began with an interest and aptitude for English and writing, plus he “didn’t want to be stuck behind a desk all day.” He has already completed his first semester at Ventura College and intends to look into opportunities at the Ventura County Star and the Ojai Valley News.
When asked about his near future plans, Wagner simply replied, “Onward and upward! Whatever pushes me toward my goals, and I will achieve those goals.”
Filling Strobel’s position also discussed
By Misty Volaski
Tuesday night, City Hall was as packed with residents as the Ojai City Council agenda was with items. The meeting covered a broad range of topics: the 2010-2011 proposed budget, the retirement and replacement of City Clerk Carlon Strobel, the 8-foot fence slated to surround the new Ojai Skate Park, and the increase in fees for nonresidents wishing to participate in Ojai Recreation Department activities.
Residents had a lot to say about the 8-foot fence slated to surround the new Ojai Skate Park, continuing the debate from last week’s school board meeting. Council members made it clear that the ultimate decision on the height of the fence was the school board’s choice, since the park is on Ojai Unified School District land. The issue of surveillance cameras was again brought up, which Councilwoman Sue Horgan said the council would consider. “We recommended that OUSD look at other options,” said Mayor Steve Olsen. “We’re on the same page.”
Councilwoman Carol Smith added, “It is up to the School District. We’re on your side, but the School District owns the property.”
Olsen defused what would have been another heated debate, this time on the replacement of Strobel, who is retiring effective July 1. The agenda had originally recommended that Kersnar take over the position temporarily, but Olsen was able to get former City Clerk Cindy Burrell to fill in until the newly elected clerk is sworn in this December. “It seemed a natural progression,” he said after the meeting, “if we weren’t going to have (city manager Jere Kersnar) step in.”
After many comments from the public, which praised Olsen’s recommendation, the council moved to have Burrell be the temporary clerk, and to seek out and hire a new records manager, a job Strobel also did.
Kersnar then presented the second portion of next year’s budget to the council, which contained items not included in the general fund. The council accepted the new information, and agreed to just one change thus far — to give the Stop the Trucks committee the full $18,000 agreed upon for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, instead of rolling over the unused funds from last year (roughly $12,000). No other amendments were made Tuesday, but more are expected at the June 15 and 22 meetings.
“We still have time to make amendments to the budget in the next couple of weeks,” Olsen pointed out. “The budget is a working document that we can change, add, take away from during the year. The budget looks good so far, considering that revenues have declined 20 percent in the last few years.”
Finances were also on the minds of several residents concerned with the Ojai Recreation Department’s increase in nonresident fees. One speaker read a statement from the O’Reilly family, which has several children in the ORD’s tennis program. They estimated that they’d have to pay $600 more than last year in order to continue to participate. Collette Miller then presented a petition from several ORD tennis players. Councilwoman Smith responded, saying she wished it didn’t have to be this way, but that “the county gives us nothing anymore. The county has gone out of the recreation business.”
Other residents suggested that nonresidents be allowed to pay a flat rate, or even a multiple family member discount. Kersnar later noted that it was a possibility, and that the city could look into it. Olsen said another option would be to extend the recreation district to line up with the school district boundaries, but that would require a two-thirds vote to increase taxes. Said Kersnar: “We understand the wisdom of this, but it probably isn’t going to be happening any time soon.”
The Ojai City Council will meet next Tuesday, June 15; the public is welcome to attend, and can find the agenda online at ci.ojai.ca.us.
Ojai BMX rider gives kids bike after event canceled event
By Logan Hall
World events often seem to escape the radar of many residents of the Ojai Valley. When something happens overseas or even across the country, people might feel detached, or that it has nothing to do with them. Often, however, there is a connection between these global events and the Ojai Valley.
Recently, the crisis in Jamaica, involving Kingston authorities and U.S. Marshals trying to extradite Christopher “Dudus” Coke on alleged drug and arms trafficking charges, has hit close to home.
The US gave an extradition request to the Jamaican government in August 2009, and has since then been trying to get Kingston authorities to hand Coke over. When police in Kingston stormed the neighborhood where Coke was allegedly in hiding, the citizens who vowed to give their lives to defend him fought back. It has been reported that more than 80 people have been killed in the siege. Ojai resident Cory Coffey, was caught right in the middle of the chaos.
Coffey was in Jamaica to perform with a world-class team of riders called the Pro-Impact stunt team in the Mountain Dew and Snicker’s Stunt Festival scheduled to be held at the Police Officers’ Club in Kingston. Before she and her stunt team even had a chance to ride, the area erupted in turmoil.
“We were right in the middle of everything when things started getting crazy,” said Coffey. “At first we had no idea what was going on. We were watching the news stations to try to find out what was happening around us.”
Coffey has been riding BMX professionally for more than 10 years, is currently the Women’s World Champion in freestyle BMX, and is best known for being the first woman in the world to perform a back flip on a bicycle. Through the years, she has been considered a pioneer for women in BMX.
She has traveled the world showcasing her skills behind the handle bars and, most recently, she traveled to Jamaica, intent on sharing her talent with the local population. Unfortunately, her stunt team never got the chance.
“We were on our way out to check out this waterfall on our day off when our driver got this phone call,” said Jeff Ferris, professional skateboarder and owner and manager of the stunt team. “All I heard him say was, ‘State of emergency’ and that the show was canceled. One minute we’re having fun, and the next minute, we’re sequestered in our hotel, listening to gunfire in the city.”
During the state of emergency, Coffey says that her team had to abide by strict curfews placed by the local police, and that anyone caught out on the street after 6:30 p.m. would be arrested and detained, and although Jamaica is an English-speaking country, its citizens speak in a local dialect that can be difficult for Americans to comprehend.
“You can’t understand a word they’re saying,” said Coffey. “Half the time you don’t even know what’s going on.”
As Coffey and her team sat in their hotel room, they began to grasp the severity of their situation. “We heard gunshots most of the night,” said stunt team member and BMX professional David McDaniel. “We could see the helicopters flying around and, at one point, you could hear artillery and bombs going off.”
The next day, the team carefully made their way to the airport through some of the worst fighting in a section of the city called Tivoli Gardens, which was a veritable ground zero for the conflict. “The crazy stuff happened on our way to the airport,” said McDaniel. “We got right in the middle of it. On one side of us, there would be overturned cars making a roadblock. On the other side, we could see police aiming their guns at something.”
Although the team finally made it out of Jamaica unscathed, they were disappointed that they didn’t get to perform their show for the people. Coffey, however, did her part to make sure the local kids didn’t go empty-handed.
“I left a brand-new bike in Jamaica for the kids,” said Coffey, who likes to teach young riders when she has time. “They’re riding bikes that are straight out of the ‘80s. It’s a really poor country. I get my bikes through my sponsor, so I was more than happy to do it. They were so psyched. We can‘t just do it for ourselves. You‘ve got to give back.”
Coffey seems to really enjoy giving back to the sport that she loves so much.
“Cory is awesome,” said McDaniel. “She was way cool with the locals, and she really hooked them up. We didn’t really get a chance to ride, but it was really cool to have her with us. She kept everyone on their toes.”
The team may have experienced a setback, but that isn’t going to stop them from moving forward.
“We’re going back on July 18,” said Ferris. “I’m bringing one of the best stunt teams I’ve ever assembled. Most of these kids have never seen anything like this.”
Though their first attempt at putting on the show didn’t work out, Coffey says that she is unfazed by her adventure and that she’s ready to go back and finish what she started. “When I go places like that, the craziest things always happen to me,” she said. “I’ve just learned to roll with it.”
By Misty Volaski
The results are in — Paul Blatz is the newest addition to the Ojai City Council.
Blatz beat out opponent Lenny Klaif by almost 21 percent in the midterm special election held Tuesday. Blatz will fill the vacancy left by Joe DeVito, who retired early last December.
Klaif took 38.94 percent, while Blatz took 59.85 percent of the 1,320 total votes cast.
Both men congratulated each other on a “positive campaign.”
“Congrats to Paul first off,” Klaif said Wednesday. “There was no negativity. It was great.”
Blatz commended Klaif for conducting an “exceptional” campaign. “It was truly a pleasure to be part of a campaign where both sides openly and honestly discussed important issues facing Ojai without all the negativity we have come to expect in political campaigns.”
Mayor Steve Olsen praised both men, saying, “I think we had two well-qualified candidates. I congratulate Paul. The public chose him at this time, and I look forward to working with him. I worked with him in the past on the Planning Commission, and I’m sure he’ll do a fantastic job as a council member.”
Despite having lost this midterm election, Klaif is not ruling out running again in November’s general election, in which three seats (Carol Smith, Steve Olsen and Paul Blatz) will be up for re-election. When pressed, Klaif responded, “I don’t know. The day after an election is the exact wrong time to make a decision like that. It’s something I will have to contemplate.”
He did confirm, however, that he will continue attending City Council meetings as a citizen. “I can’t imagine staying away,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in this. And whether or not I won, I still think that I represent a substantial number of people who have the best interests of Ojai at heart. I’ll continue to engage in the debate of our future. I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but occasionally I ask an intelligent question that leads (somewhere).”
Klaif plans to spend time with family and catch up on “work-work” in the next few months, and he is helping produce “Cabaret,” which opens June 25 and runs to July 25 at the Ojai Art Center.
Blatz, meanwhile, is ready to get going as soon as he is formally appointed to the City Council on July 13. “My immediate focus,” he said, “will be on effective construction management of the Libbey Bowl project, construction completion of the Skate Park, installation of a bus shelter at the ‘Y,’ drafting a city ordinance mandating the cleaning up of the vacant buildings along Ojai Avenue, and investigating the Golden State Water Company rate hike request.”
Blatz wished to thank the citizens of Ojai for “your confidence in my ability to represent your interests on the City Council.” He also wished to thank “all those volunteers who worked tirelessly on my campaign, with a special thanks to my campaign manager and son, Ryan Blatz, who ran a very well-thought-out and impressive campaign. And to Cindy Latella, my campaign eagle, who you may have seen at the ‘Y,’ for suffering through the heat in that eagle costume while promoting my campaign. My election victory would not have been possible without their help.”
Sheriff’s aviation unit saves time, lives
By Logan Hall
With a rumble of the twin turbine engines, and the thump, thump, thump of the rotor blades, the Sheriff’s Department air unit rescue helicopter, Air Squad 9, prepares to lift off and head out on its mission last Saturday.
“Camarillo tower this is County 9 at hangar three with Zulu, request 3M departure,” said Jim Dalton, Sheriff’s Department deputy-pilot, through the radio.
“County 9 proceed as requested,” responded the Camarillo Airport air traffic controller.
For most people, this would be an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime adventure. For the air unit, it’s just another day on the job.
A day in the life on a shift with the air unit starts out like many other jobs. The crew gets into the office at 8 a.m., the coffee maker is fired up, computer screens get flicked on, and everyone begins their duties.
Ojai Valley resident and Senior Deputy Dan Ambarian is a part-time crew chief with the air unit. “We go to work in the morning just like everybody else,” said Ambarian, whose job is to run rescue or law enforcement operations in the helicopter while the pilot focuses on flying. “When we’re not up on a call, we’re in the hangar doing maintenance or getting a little downtime.”
Most people in the Ojai Valley have seen the yellow-and-blue Bell helicopters commonly referred to as “Hueys” flying overhead from time to time. Many of the rescue calls that they go on involve remote locations in the mountains above Ojai, and most of the personnel in the air unit fly over the valley on a regular basis.
The Sheriff’s Department works closely with other agencies in the county, especially the Ventura County Fire Department, to provide a well-rounded air unit dedicated to serving and protecting the county’s communities. The crews and their helicopters are used in a variety of missions, including search and rescue, fire suppression and prevention, law enforcement, and marijuana eradication. “Ventura County is unique in that we provide air support for so many different purposes,” said Ambarian. “The counties that have air support will usually have a unit for fire, one for law enforcement, etc. We do it all down here.”
Everything seems pretty routine in the hangar while the crews are waiting for a call that will send them up on a mission. There is plenty of work to be done on the ground that involves everyone on the team. Their work area is spotless and organized, and the helicopters are clean and ready to lift off at a moment’s notice. Suddenly, a call will come through and the crew gets into high gear. From that point on, everyone’s head is in the game. Everything happens quickly, and often someone’s life is on the line.
“There‘s no room for error,” said Don White, senior deputy and full-time crew chief. “One minute you’re washing the vehicles or working in the office. The next minute, you’re hanging from the hoist getting ready to lift somebody onto the helicopter.”
The crews are always on standby and can have the helicopters in the air within minutes of receiving a call to go up on a mission. Once the call comes through, the crews are all business, maintaining contact with dispatch and keeping in communication with each other on board the helicopter.
On Saturday’s mission, a call came through that a minor had reportedly taken mushrooms in the hills of Simi Valley and had been apprehended by Simi police officers after receiving minor injuries due to a fall. The officers had handcuffed the boy, and were unable to bring him down the jagged hillside to a waiting ambulance. It was up to Air Squad 9 to ensure that the officers and the suspect were safely extracted from their location on the hill.
Winds were high but the crew stayed calm and cool while Dalton maneuvered to the officers’ position. As Dalton edged up to the hill, White, who was tethered to the helicopter, slid the door open and prepared to drop off volunteer flight paramedic, Robert Sebree, who would tend to any injury that needed immediate attention while preparing the suspect to board the helicopter.
With a steady hand and careful positioning Dalton hovered inches from the brush and trees as Sebree hopped off with his medical gear in hand. After unloading Sebree, White shut the door and Dalton eased away from the hill, circling the scene until Sebree radioed back that the suspect and officers were ready to be picked up.
Swooping back in, Dalton edged close enough to the hill to rest the tip of the leading skid of the helicopter on the hillside for stability while White popped the door open and took the suspect on board with the arresting officer and Sebree.
After dropping the boy off down by the ambulance, Dalton flew back up to pick up the remaining two officers and carry them to safety. “Thanks for the lift,” shouted one of the officers to White as sweat poured off his forehead. “That was a heck of a hike getting up there.”
With the mission accomplished, Dalton flew the crew safely back to the heliport, and after a smooth landing, unloaded, and fueled up the helicopter to be ready to go for the next call.
The mission seemed to be routine for the pilot and crew, and after getting settled back in, everyone continued with the duties they were carrying out prior to the call, always staying alert, ready to go back up when needed.
Although these seasoned veterans have flown many missions, they still appear to genuinely enjoy the work they accomplish. “The biggest thing that I like about this job is the diversity,” said Dalton, who is a Vietnam veteran and has been flying helicopters for 40 years, logging close to 13,000 hours of flight time. “You might get a law enforcement call or a rescue call. You never what’s going to happen next.”
Everyone in the air unit really stresses the importance of teamwork. They all work together toward the common goal of serving the community, and ensuring that help is close by when needed. “As long as we work as a team,” added Dalton, “everything works out real nice.”
When their shift is over, the crew goes home to their families and the heliport goes dark, though there is always a crew on call in the off hours, ready to go should a call come in after everyone has gone home. The next morning, they come back in and get ready to do it all over again.
“There’s so much stuff in play to make it all happen,” said Ambarian, who grew up in Ojai and now lives with his family in Oak View. “One of the first things I did after graduating from the academy was put in a request to work here. I love what I do.”hangar
Social networking key component in keeping theater company alive
By Misty Volaski
After five days of intense social networking — and a little freestyle beat-boxing — Theater 150 was able to raise the $70,000 necessary to keep its doors open.
Last week’s announcement that the theater was in danger of closing permanently came as a shock to many, particularly after the success of May 15’s wedding-musical “Deb and Chris Get Married,” held in Libbey Bowl.
Artistic co-director Deb Norton explained that after the play, the theater looked at its books and saw that the group didn’t hit its fund-raising goal for the year. “So we started talking to everybody we could, taking people to lunch, making phone calls,” she said. “Chris (Nottoli) wrote a letter to the paper, and we sent a letter to our newsletter subscribers.”
Then, on the advice of a friend, the group decided to start a “thon.”
“We created a web-a-thon,” Norton continued. “Facebook, our web site, YouTube, newsletter, videos. We kept it present in people’s minds, encouraged them to get involved in the tension of raising the money.”
There were three components to their web-a-thon, said general manager Andy Gilman. “First, you e-mail two or three times a day. You use videos. And you post comments on your site from (donors).”
Armed with little more than a cell phone camera and a whole lot of enthusiasm, the theater employees hit the streets last weekend, getting people to comment on saving the theater. Goofy and light-hearted, the clips were posted on You Tube and Theater150.org, and featured folks from mechanic David Jury to actor Malcolm McDowell pledging their support of the theater.
Theater 150 also sent challenges to fans on Facebook and newsletter subscribers, asking donors “to take ownership of the project, to own this nonprofit,” and post their own videos. The challenge was met by several local luminaries, including Peter Bellwood’s wife Sarah and daughter Lucy, who said, “Yes” to Theater 150. “Yes! Yes! $200 worth of yes! That’s a lot of yes.”
T-150 chronicled the pledges throughout the weekend and posted videos of their own, including one that featured Nottoli, Gilman and associate artistic director Niki Blumberg dancing and beat-boxing.
The money flooded in — with donations ranging from $10 to $10,000 — and as the movement gained momentum, so did the pledges. The staff collected a total of 232 pledges from the weekend.
“One guy saw our (efforts) and actually said, ‘I don’t even know what Theater 150 is, but here’s $50,’” laughed Gilman. “Almost every pledge came with encouraging words.”
The theater also got $60 from a group of teenagers, who loved coming to the theater’s Tuesday night screenings of the TV show, “Lost.” “That’s a lot for teenagers!” said Gilman.
With her pledge, Christy (no last name) wrote, “Theater 150 keeps Ojai from becoming just another small town with predictable cultural offerings. I hope you continue to challenge our predictable thinking and make us laugh.”
Another woman, Vicki, said, “This is scraping the bottom of my barrel, but I can’t stand the thought that Theater 150 could disappear. No (bleep)ing way!”
Geoff Wells, owner of Su Nido Inn and Casa Ojai, donated $300 and issued a challenge to other local merchants to do the same.
“All the merchants, whether they want to believe it or not, benefit (from Theater 150) in one way or another,” he said. “There is an incredible amount of people who come from out of town to these shows. They have dinner in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, visit the shops. It’s definitely worth saving.”
Norton took it a step further. “That translates to tax dollars. That goes toward our schools, our roads, washing our fire trucks. This grass-roots effort has just been amazing.”
The group, said Nottoli, has “… so much thanks and gratitude. This has been scary for us — it’s our job, but it’s also our vocation, our love.”
Theater 150 is already hard at work on its two summer productions, Shakespeare’s “The Winter Tale,” which will be held outdoors in Chaparral High School’s quad, and an indoor musical mish-mash of the TV show “Lost” and Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” written by Blumberg.
“We are so excited!” said Gilman.
Nottoli continued, “We are going forward with a new business plan. We’re going to actually publish our business model, offer transparency. We don’t want to be knocking on doors again three months from now.”
Board awaits state budget numbers
By Misty Volaski
At Tuesday night’s Ojai Unified School District board meeting, superintendent Hank Bangser presented the 2010-2011 Preliminary Budget No. 2 to the board, with some unexpected but necessary increases in expenditures.
Dannielle Pusatere, OUSD assistant superintendent of business and administrative services, explained that the rates for the OUSD health plan increased 12 percent over last year. The district, said Bangser, has planned on 6 percent. OUSD was also not expecting six additional teachers to retire this year, meaning they needed to find additional funds to cover retirement-related costs. Those two expenditures alone totaled almost $200,000. Coupled with an almost 20 percent decrease in the amount of money the district gets per student per day, the district suddenly had a large chunk of money to make up.
To make up that difference, “We found almost $100,000 in projected savings,” said Bangser, “non-personnel savings.” But that still meant the loss of almost all the unappropriated funds. OUSD will take another look at the budget at the next meeting, and by law must have a budget ready by June 30. The state will almost certainly not have their budget ready by that time —- probably not till “July, August, or even September,” said Bangser. Once that budget comes in, OUSD may receive more bad news and have to create even more cuts.
One way OUSD is looking at reining things in would be to refuse acceptance of any new students. With class sizes nearing maximum capacity, he said, a few students transferring in to, say, third grade at San Antonio Elementary could force the district to hire additional teachers, something it cannot afford. “We will look at enrollment in August and see whether there are some openings.”
On a brighter note, the board announced that it is going forward with the re-roofing for Mira Monte Elementary School and Matilija Junior High. Funds for these projects have been categorized as deferred maintenance funds and will not hurt the proposed 2010-2011 budget.
The board also formally recognized this year’s OUSD retirees: Patricia Atkinson (11 years); Marty Babayco, (21 years); Linda Bell, (27 years); Karen Courington, (21 years); Cathy Maynard, (21 years); Joanne McFerron, (13 years); Nancy Roelle (four years); and Jule Wichman, (38 years).
After a short break for cake and mingling, the board jumped into a hot-button topic: the height of the fence that will surround the new Ojai Skate Park.
Said Bangser, “The 8-foot fence has been included in the plans since November, but only in the last few weeks has it become an issue.”
City manager Jere Kersnar, who attended the meeting, said the fence would be 8 feet high and made of tubular steel. Although it is expensive, around $45,000, Kersnar said it would be durable and not need much maintenance.
For now, he asked that the school board defer making a decision to either lower their height request or reaffirm their request for an 8-foot fence — at least until he and his staff could further research materials and similar parks.
However several community members offered alternatives and voiced frustrations with the proposed height. As a group, they praised the idea of the fence sliding open during park hours, but said an 8-foot fence is unnecessary.
People asked about lowering the height — “It would make them feel like caged animals” said Dusty Fernandez — and whether the savings from the lower fence could be put toward motion sensors and security cameras. “An 8-foot fence is a challenge, not a detractor,” said Stan Green. Deterrents — like security cameras — “are better than a barrier.”
The board agreed with Kersnar and decided to table the subject until the OUSD Skate Park Committee could learn more from Kersnar and staff.
By Logan Hall
Ojai composer honored at tribute to Kennedys
To say that Roger Kellaway is an accomplished musician is an understatement. The Ojai Valley resident is a Grammy Award-winning, Academy Award-nominated composer who has written songs for movies, television, and has a discography of more than 250 albums. He has collaborated with world-renowned industry giants like Barbra Streisand and Quincy Jones.
Most recently, Kellaway’s music has again gained national attention. Inspired by world-renowned photographer and Oak View resident Joe Sohm’s series of photographs titled “Visions of America,” Kellaway’s song, “We the People,” was featured by the Boston Pops at their “Presidents at the Pops” gala last month which paid tribute to Ted Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy.
Kellaway usually works with the best artists and performers in the business. For “We the People,” six-time Oscar-winning writers Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who have written 51 Streisand songs, were hired to write the lyrics to Kellaway’s music. Several celebrities attended the gala and the presentation of the “Presidents at the Pops” was narrated by Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris and Sherry Jones. Kellaway’s song itself, was sung by Grammy winner Patti Austin.
Kellaway and his wife of 44 years, Jorjana, flew to Boston to attend the event. “They had gourmet dinners and wine for everyone,” said Kellaway. “Sitting there in cabaret environment listening to the Boston Pops … it was fabulous.”
Also attending, was Sohm who is a collaborator and friend of Kellaway’s.
“As a friend and creative partner of Roger, it was a thrill to see the song that we were responsible for creating,” said Sohm. “It just made you proud to be an American.”
A few days later, Kellaway was recognized by his alma mater, The New England Conservatory of Music, with an honorary doctoral degree in music.
“One of the thrills of getting the doctoral,” he said, “was that Quincy Jones got his the same night. We got to hang out for about 12 hours which was fun. I used to play the piano for the soundtracks of several movies that he did.”
Spending time in his old stomping grounds was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for Kellaway. “We had a day off, so we went to the Museum of Fine Arts, one of the finest museums in the world,” he said. “I’m from the Boston area. It’s where I grew up. It’s all Boston to me.”
Kellaway and his wife seemed to make the most out of their adventure in Boston, and both shared a real sense of honor at being so involved in such a prestigious event. “It was an absolutely glorious day,” said Jorjana Kellaway. “Roger was just bathing in the joy of it all. Everyone was really warm and friendly. It was like a very loving family. We just had a blast.”
For Kellaway, who has been a professional musician for 55 years, it could have been just another addition to an accomplished career, but he appears to be genuinely thrilled with his involvement with the event. “It was a huge night for the Boston Pops,” he said. “To be included in that night was a big deal for me. It was an honor.”
To get more information on Kellaway’s work and his life in music, visit his web site at rogerkellaway.com.
By Misty Volaski
The Ojai Valley was alive with flag-waving spirit Monday as residents gathered in Oak View and Ojai for a powerful round of Memorial Day activities.
American Legion-sponsored pancake breakfasts kicked off the festivities in each town. Oak View followed with a parade on Old Ventura Avenue, complete with bagpipers, old-fashioned cars, beauty queens, farm animals, and a boat load of children.
“The whole block shut down” from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., said Greg Webster of Greg Rents. “It’s good to see a parade like this in a small town, to see such a wide variety of people coming together to honor our heroes in war and peace.”
This year the parade judging panel — former sheriff Larry Baugher, dentist Larry Simpson, and Jill Olivares of Oak View Allstate — handed out several awards. The Mayor Award went to Grand Marshal Sanford Drucker. The Judges’ Favorite went to Windmill Ranch. Best Portrayal of the Theme went to the Santa Rosa Korean War Military Vehicle Club. Ojai Valley Muffler won the Most Imaginative Award, while Mike Reynolds Pipe Major (bagpipes) won Best Musical Group. Morgan Carriage Works took home the Favorite Marching Horse, and Kelsey Otsby and her lambs and ducks won the Most Unique Award. The Ventura County Model A Club stretched almost the length of the block and won Largest Group. Richmond Howitzers Confederate Artillery earned the award for Most Parade Spirit. The Ford Bronco from New Hope Christian Center rounded out the awards with the Best Car prize.
New Hope gave back to the community with a free barbecue and music after the parade.
Both Ojai and Oak View had special fly-overs and moments of silence. Ojai began its Libbey Bowl festivities at noon. Veterans spoke about their experiences and pride in having served their country, and singers Marcus Tuttles, Nia Coleman, Ronelle Wood, Katie Means and Terry Arousse, along with the Ojai Big Band, led patriotic songs in the bowl. In a speech that moved the crowd to tears, the son of Charles Pierce told his father’s harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust. Ojai’s Wall of Remembrance, too, was the site of many tears.
“It was really nice,” said 2002 Nordhoff graduate and Iraq veteran Dustin Beilke, who attends the event each year with his parents and a family friend who fought in Vietnam. “There were some good stories.”
By Logan Hall
Ojai’s own Dr. Roger Phelps is no stranger to the public eye. The local optometrist, who has had his practice in Ojai for 40 years and is an expert in diabetes and eye care, has spoken at seminars around the country, moonlights as a mobile disc jockey and, most recently, is co-starring on a web-based show “VSP Eye Files,” hosted by celebrity scientist, Bill Nye “The Science Guy.”
The show is a four-part series that airs online on the blog site of the nation’s largest provider of eye care coverage, VSP. Geared around teaching about vision and promoting eye care, the show will touch on four different topics through the four episodes: 3-D movies and their link to motion sickness, carrots and their link to eyesight, diabetes and the eye, and general eye care. The first episode, on 3-D movies and motion sickness, has already aired and is fast-paced, informative, and full of stimulating visuals and dialogue between Phelps and Nye. “To keep up with Bill Nye,” said Phelps, “you’ve got to be animated. The directors were working with me to be more animated like him. It was a lot of fun.”
The show’s producers spared no expense in the filming and production of the series. The show seems to be very well put together, and was produced using top-notch, professional equipment, along with a team of experts who helped it fall into place. “We filmed for two days in CBS Studio 10, where they filmed ‘Gilligan’s Island,’” said Phelps. “The camera company was big time. I believe they had just finished filming the ‘X-Games’ before doing this.”
Focusing on being informative and entertaining, the show appears to revolve around Nye’s eccentric, captivating personality. He seems to really put his all into trying to connect with young viewers and sending a positive message about health care and science.
Nye gained popularity in the mid-’90s as the host of the Disney TV show, “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” Airing 100 episodes, the entertaining and informative show took him to celebrity status in the four years that it ran. Nye continues to give the impression of being entertaining, coupled with having informative content in the show with Phelps. “I was very pleased with Bill,” said Phelps. “He really cares about things. He wants to get true science out there. It was really nice working with him.”
Phelps was chosen by VSP to star in the series because of his extensive work in the field of diabetes and eye care, his long-standing relationship with VSP, and his ability to work in front of lights and cameras. “Dr. Phelps is a VSP member and a certified diabetes educator,” said VSP’s spokesman Liz Baidoo. “We were looking for a doctor with a robust personality that could match Bill Nye on an energy level. Dr. Phelps was the first one we thought of.”
Because of his background in performance and public speaking, Phelps seems to fit right in with Nye on screen. The two obviously enjoy what they do, and work well together doing it. “One of the reasons I was asked to do this was that I had spoken at the American Diabetes Association exposition in Atlanta, and the same thing in Phoenix,” said Phelps. “I was also on the ADA’s ‘Ask the Doctor’ forum where people submitted questions and I submitted answers.”
Phelps will speak about diabetes and the eye in September at Soule Park Banquet Room, sponsored by the Ojai Valley Community Hospital, and he will also be the master of ceremonies for the Oak View Memorial Day parade.
To view Phelps and Nye in their online show, go to vspblog.com and look for “VSP EyeFiles.”
By Logan Hall
Ninety-two-year-old Jim Weblemoe is no stranger to helping others. He raised a family, worked for the military as a civilian and an enlisted sailor in the Navy, and has done extensive volunteer work for Help of Ojai at their West Campus.
Born in Northwood, Iowa, on April 1, 1918, Weblemoe graduated from school and became a professor of physics in Fremont, Neb. Soon after that, he joined the Navy where he served for a short while in 1945 toward the end of World War II.
In 1953, his father suffered a heart attack, and Weblemoe had to take over the family business, R.M. Weblemoe Sand and Gravel. “I had to go back to run my dad’s sand and gravel business until he got back on his feet.” said Weblemoe. “We shipped a lot of gravel to the railroads from 1953 to 1957.”
Among the many things that he has been involved with in his life, Weblemoe has been the president of three different Optimist clubs in Fremont, Neb., in Corona after he moved to California in 1957, and finally in Ojai, where he is still an Optimist Club member today. “The Optimist Club is dedicated to helping youth,” he said. “We have a number of programs that are designed to help the schools.”
Since moving to Ojai in 1971 with his family, he has been involved with the community in many ways. He has worked as a volunteer for Help of Ojai for many years, where he helped them set up a carpentry and welding shop that has given Help of Ojai the opportunity to work on the extensive repairs that have been needed at the West Campus facility. “We’ve had to do a lot of converting and repair out there,” said Weblemoe. “The buildings need a lot of repair and adaptation for what they are used for.”
Weblemoe has been honored several times in his life for the various ways he contributes to society. “A couple of years ago, I received a national honor for my work with Help of Ojai,” he said about being awarded the annual Older Volunteers Enrich America Award. “I went to Washington, D.C., and the award was presented in the new Reagan building.”
Most recently, Weblemoe has been honored by his community as one of this year’s Living Treasures. This recognition is awarded every year by the Rotary Clubs of Ojai to individuals who serve their community above and beyond the call of duty. Weblemoe is humble about the award and says it’s not just him who is deserving. “I hope that the honor really goes to Help of Ojai and the things they are trying to do,” he said. “Perhaps it will help them get the job done.”