Thursday, September 27, 2012
By Monica Lara
The Oak View resident who allegedly assaulted an Ojai veterinarian in February pleaded not guilty to all charges at his arraignment Thursday.
A pre-trial conference for 55-year-old Scott Doornbos is scheduled for Nov. 8. At that time, the court will set a trial date or determine if a settlement can be reached.
The upcoming holidays could cause scheduling delays since it has to work for possible jury members, witnesses and the court, according to David Russell, Ventura County deputy district attorney. Russell stood in as the prosecution at the arraignment in place of deputy district attorney Brian Weilbacher.
Neither Weilbacher nor defense attorney Ron Bamieh, who represents Doornbos, could be reached for comment.
Doornbos will be facing three felony offenses: battery with serious bodily injury, assault with force likely to cause injury and terrorist threats — a threat made willingly by someone to commit a crime that results in great bodily injury or death to another person. Multiple additional allegations could add to his sentencing if convicted, including prison eligibility.
Doornbos denied all priors and special allegations related to his case at the arraignment, as well.
Doornbos allegedly assaulted Dr. Steve Sallen, owner of the Ojai Village Veterinary Hospital on West Ojai Avenue, Feb. 23. The incident occurred after Doornbos learned his 5-year-old dog died while in the hospital’s care.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
By Misty Volaski
The top four rental car companies — including Enterprise Rent-A-Car — in the U.S. have voluntarily agreed to stop renting or selling vehicles that have been recalled by their manufacturers.
The rental car companies have endorsed the “Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2012,” named after two Ojai sisters killed in a 2004 crash due to a safety issue with their rental car that went unfixed despite a recall by the manufacturer.
Ojai mom Cally Houck said, “This is an enormous milestone in this historic legislation.”
The legislation was backed by U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Others, such as the American Car Rental Association, AAA and State Farm Insurance, also support the legislation.
See next Wednesday’s edition of the Ojai Valley News for more information on the legislation.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
By Tiobe Barron
The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa’s latest proposal to fulfill its obligation to provide low-income housing for some Inn employees got a more favorable reception from the city than its predecssor.
At their August 25 meeting, Council members shot down the Inn’s prior proposition that involved building 24 units with the help of the Area Housing Authority (AHA). That project hinged on the ability to obtain a tax credit; however, teaming with the AHA would mean the Inn could not restrict renters to Inn employees only — leaving the agreement in a stalemate.
But recently, a 12-unit apartment building at 408 Country Club Dr. became available and the Inn seized the opportunity to make good on its promise by buying, rather than building, the units.
The obligation stems from a 2005 agreement between the Inn and the city. Recognizing that proposed Inn renovations would bring increased traffic due to an increased number of OVIS employees, the Council approved the plans with the condition that the Inn provide at least 10 affordable housing units for Inn employees.
The Inn has approximately 650 employees and nearly 250 commute from Ventura, Oxnard and surrounding areas. The city gave OVIS the option to either construct new units, or purchase existing units.
“We are here, really, to proceed with the existing affordable housing agreement dated July 26, 2005 by purchasing 10 units of housing for eligible lessees as defined in the original agreement with the city,” said OVIS general manager Pete Ells at the Tuesday Council meeting. “We have continued clear and honest communication with the city for years, and we have been proactive in our attempts to propose reasonable alternatives … Just like the city, we did not anticipate this crippling recession, nor the impact it would have on our ability to complete new construction.”
City manager Rob Clark clarified that OVIS found the first plan to build 10 units on a parcel of land it owned on Hermosa Rd. unfeasible due to economic, zoning, density and general plan conflicts. Clark said city staff endorses the new proposal, as it has none of these issues.
“They also do not intend to evict the current tenants, but rather will work with them on a reasonable basis to assure a smooth transition,” said Clark. “The Inn has also agreed to rehabilitate the apartments which apparently are not in good repair, and maintain the affordable rents for 30 years.”
“The tenants that live there now, do you have any idea what rent they pay, or what their long-term prospects are?” queried Councilwoman Carol Smith at the most recent meeting. “It may take years before the building turns over to employees of the Inn, because we can’t ask a 70-year-old lady who’s on Section 8 and has lived in this building for years to move!”
“To our knowledge, it is not Section 8 housing, so we would work with all the people that are currently there, and we talked to city staff about a time frame that would assist people in finding other accommodations,” countered Ells at the same meeting. “The Inn would actually assist with the first month’s deposit (for new housing of the current tenants), realizing it might be hard to come up with a new deposit or new location.”
As the new owner of the apartment building, the OVIS plans to renovate each unit at a total estimated cost of $120,000.
Mayor Pro Tem Paul Blatz countered the argument that the new occupants, while in the employ of the Inn, might already live in Ojai, thus negating the traffic mitigation factor.
“The impetus would be greater for a person who is commuting from Ventura to want one of the units than someone who already has a place in Ojai, though you can’t guarantee that. I think this would mitigate far more than the number of units we looked at last time,” said Blatz.
Mayor Betsy Clapp also expressed the sentiment that she did not think the Inn would have difficulty filling the units with Inn employees who commute to Ojai, once the units are emptied, and the renovations complete.
Two current residents of the Country Club Drive apartment building, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they had not been notified of the impending purchase nor the possibility of having to relocate. A third, Mike Haigh, has been living in the complex for 10 years and said he had received a 60-day notice, meaning he will have to find a new place to live before Thanksgiving. A heavy equipment operator who once helped put out a fire at the building, Haigh says he is still unsure where he will move.
“We’re not kicking anybody out,” insisted Ells in a phone interview Thursday. Ells stressed that the purchase of the apartment building is not yet finalized; OVIS has simply put in an offer, which Ells hopes will be accepted and completed in the next 60 days. Assuming the sale goes through as planned, OVIS will work with each tenant on a case-by-case basis; no one, Ells said, will be displaced without having somewhere to go. If a tenant has not secured a new home when the Inn needs to renovate their current apartment, Ells said OVIS will put that person up in their own resort or will find suitable accommodations in town.
One of the current tenants is already an Inn employee, filling one out of 10 units per the Council’s requirements.
Ells said he feels confident the Council will be flexible with a schedule that allows each tenant to move out at a pace comfortable to their own needs.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for information on upcoming Ojai City Council meetings.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
By Kit Stolz
After a 75-minute discussion Tuesday, a divided Ojai City Council voted to extend an existing agreement with the nonprofit group responsible for managing Libbey Bowl, even though in its first year it operated at a substantial loss.
According to city estimates, the foundation last year lost $60,000 on the bowl. Because an anonymous donor pays the $45,000 salary of the manager of Libbey Bowl, Beth Sutherland, the foundation’s loss was limited to $15,000, for expenses including insurance and website development.
Part of the operating agreement between the Foundation and the city includes establishing a maintenance fund to pay for long-term expenses associated with the Bowl’s upkeep. The city’s Public Works Department estimates this cost at $25,000 a year.
“The idea of the maintenance fund is to make the bowl as self-sustaining as possible,” said Steve McClary, assistant city manager. “For now the taxpayer funds the routine maintenance of the Bowl just as they do to maintain Sarzotti Park or Soule Park. When the Public Works crew is out there pressure washing, we’re not charging it to the Libbey Bowl Foundation.”
Because the Foundation itself is running in the red, it has yet to contribute towards the long-term maintenance of the Bowl.
This year, the Foundation has booked only one for-profit event in the Bowl, a Leo Kottke concert scheduled for Oct. 13. The other events that have taken place this year are “legacy” events that have separate deals with the city, such as the Ojai Music Festival, or they were nonprofit events which do not pay toward the maintenance fee.
“At the time last year, we thought there would be enough commercial events with a $2–per-seat user fee, to cover that ($25,000),” City Manager Robert Clark explained. “What we didn’t anticipate is that many events that you think of as commercial events are really put on by nonprofits.”
Sutherland, who has managed the Bowl for a year, said that before its extensive renovation, the Bowl was operated on a strictly nonprofit basis for community groups.
“The Libbey Bowl Foundation is operating at an incredible disadvantage for this year,” she said. “I’m already booking for 2013, but it’s going to take time to build a reputation and to build relationships with the big commercial producers and agents.”
Sutherland also hopes to book more in the way of multi-day festivals into Libbey Bowl to help build ticket sales.
A proposal to extend the operating agreement included a new $1-per-ticket maintenance fee to be charged on all tickets costing more than $15, including nonprofit shows.
Councilwoman Carlon Strobel expressed concern that the city’s estimate of $25,000 for long-term maintenance was low, because it didn’t take into account upkeep on seats and new drains installed as part of the Bowl’s renovation. She suggested a 20 percent across-the-board levy on all tickets sales and concessions, including sales of alcohol.
After an inconclusive discussion, Councilwoman Sue Horgan moved to extend the agreement to the end of 2013, as originally suggested by the city manager, with the new $1 fee added. The council also asked the Foundation to work with city staff to develop a business plan, to be reconsidered with the agreement in six months.
“What we have with the Libbey Bowl Foundation is an operator, who is being paid by someone else, to book the facility,” Horgan said at the meeting. “If we don’t renew this agreement, what we will end up with is nobody doing anything, unless the city puts out an investment to fund these activities, and I don’t think we’re in a position to do that.”
The council agreed to the motion by a 3-2 vote, with Clapp and Strobel voting in opposition.
Thursday, September 27, 2012
By Angelique LaCour
A groundwater recharge project, slated to begin this month on San Antonio Creek, has been put on hold, leaving officials to hope that sources for funding an additional $500,000 haven’t dried up.
The Ojai Groundwater Basin Management Agency (OGBMA) and Ventura County Watershed Protection District began developing the Recharge Project almost three years ago. It was to be funded with $1.2 million from a $25 million Proposition 50 grant Ventura County received to fund more than 15 water security-related projects.
Before construction bids could be accepted for the water diversion project, OGBMA was required to conduct environmental studies and obtain clearance permits from several state agencies, including the California Fish & Game, which has strict permitting compliance guidelines.
“When we got to the point of actually constructing the project we were about $500,000 short because of the costs and time involved in getting all of these entitlements,” Jerry Conrow, OGBMA president, said. “We are now applying to the state through another grant program to complete the construction.”
The project includes the installation of four “passive wells” that will divert water from the San Antonio Creek and funnel it into deep-water recharge wells in the lower aquifers when there are high water flows. Frequently, the lower basins don’t fill with water because it takes a long time for water to percolate down through the five layers to the lower aquifers.
“If you hold your hand in front of you and spread your fingers, and each finger represents an aquifer that holds water, the spaces in between the fingers are clay layers that inhibit the transmission of water between the aquifers,” Conrow explained.The recharge mechanism would refill the two lower aquifers first during times of high runoffs by means of a standpipe in the creek that would siphon water into the underground basins when the water reached a certain level.
The region is experiencing a second year of low rainfall and OBGMA is monitoring the basin’s levels. If the basin’s lower aquifers aren’t filled during heavy rains the runoff finds its way into the Ventura River and is lost to the Ojai Valley.
But the city of Ventura likes it that way.
“Ventura fussed about how much water we might bleed into the basin,” Conrow said. “They have already limited our ability to take runoff water which would go into the ocean during a storm with rapid flows.”
OGBMA hopes to capture from 400 to 500 acre feet per year.
“But Ventura prevailed to make it that we have to shut the recharge mechanism off if they decide we are taking too much,” Conrow said.
Thursday, September 27, 201
By Kit Stolz
Last winter, Steve Bennett, flew to Washington, D.C, huddled with consultants for the Democratic Party about campaign strategy, and then launched an ambitious effort to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to compete for a seat in Congress.
In February, he dropped out of the congressional race, deciding instead to run again for the Board of Supervisors. Bennett, who has represented the Ojai and Ventura area since 2000, returned approximately $300,000 to supporters of his Congressional campaign.
In June, he took 44 percent of the vote in the District 1 primary election — enough to best his Democratic rivals, but not to avoid a fall runoff election against Republican challenger Bob Roper.
“I think some people, over a period of time, have grown a little callous to the fact that all the programs the county funds — be they environmental programs or social service programs — require a viable local economy,” Roper said recently. “They may get involved in a presidential campaign or a congressional race, and don’t understand that any immediate change, or fairly immediate change, happens at a local level.”
In a telephone interview, Bennett said he had been heavily recruited by leading Democrats to run for the seat, but as he got into the race realized he didn’t want to go to Washington.
“I had an opportunity, and the path was pretty clear, but as I went forward, I realized that my passion was for serving here,” he said. “I think I can make a greater contribution as a county supervisor, and I think that’s a recommitment, and not a distraction.”
In his platform, Bennett stresses “fiscal discipline,” and cites a pension increase for county officials he says he blocked in 2000 as an example.
“Six weeks after I was elected, on the consent calendar, was an item giving elected county officials — such as the district attorney and the assessor — a completely-illogical pension spike,” he said. “To give an example, Sheriff Bob Brooks would have gotten a spike of $40,000. I objected, and (Supervisor) Kathy Long backed me. At that time there wasn’t this tremendous public outrage about pension payments, such as department heads retiring with $250,000 a year pensions.”
Roper retired this year after serving for 14 years as chief of the Ventura County Fire Department. He was awarded a pension of almost $250,000 a year, with guaranteed cost of living adjustments.
Bennett has pointed out that if Roper accepts credits towards a second pension, he would be required by state law to sacrifice his current retirement benefits.
If elected, Roper has promised to refuse credits he would earn towards a Board of Supervisors pension and continues to call for a broad-based reconsideration of total compensation for all county employees.
“Two years ago when (county employees’ unions) agreed to pay more for benefits for new employees, that was great, but the system needs a complete overhaul,” Roper said. “We need to look at both compensation and the benefits for existing employees as well as new employees.”
Roper also has offered to deduct from his supervisorial salary a new non-political “business facilitator,” position to help businesses succeed in the county.
“I’m offering to fund this position out of my salary,” he said. “If we could facilitate more businesses and business growth in this county, wouldn’t it create more revenue and a broader tax base to pay for more social service programs, health programs and public safety programs?”
Bennett argues that the Board has already made that a priority. “When we hired a new chief executive officer, Mike Powers, 18 months ago, we said we wanted to do a much better job of outreach to businesses,” he said. “We have created a point person for the permitting process for businesses, and the CEO is developing a collaborative model for business retention and assistance.”
Bennett thinks that long-term quality of life is the big issue. “In Ojai, that’s what people are most concerned about,” he said. “We don’t want the kind of urban sprawl we see in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. That’s important to residents and it’s part of the reason why tourism is an important business here.”
Roper said he supported the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (S.O.A.R.) initiative when it was originally proposed, but thinks that subsequent county restrictions on development have gone too far. “I think what the county needs now is to find that balance of business development and population growth here in Ventura County,” he said.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
By Misty Volaski
Last week, Ojai Unified School District board members formally gave their support to Proposition 30, California Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to maintain public school funding by temporarily increasing the sales tax (by a quarter of a cent) and income tax (for those making $250,000 or more per year).
Four board members voted yes, while board member Thayne Whipple abstained from the vote.
According to OUSD administrators, there’s a lot at stake this fall. The defeat of the proposition would trigger about $5.5 billion in spending cuts at the state level — most of which would come from education.
OUSD superintendent Hank Bangser said that, for Ojai, the trigger would translate into $1.2 million in mid-year cuts — which, he estimated, would mean 15 fewer days in the current school year. What’s more, the average Ojai teacher stands to lose about $905 per month (gross) on their paychecks from January to June 2013. That’s on top of the $290 they’re already losing from the eight furlough days they agreed to for this year, said assistant superintendent Dannielle Pusatere.
While the Ojai board members’ move to support Prop. 30 was largely symbolic, Bangser didn’t quite see it that way. “It sends a direct message to the school district constituents that the board does feel strongly that this proposition must pass.” The alternative, he added, “Is not fair to students. It’s not fair to staff … And that $1.2 million we wouldn’t get this year, it won’t be there next year, either. So you’d get a compounding effect. There’s absolutely no doubt that if the proposition fails, there will be more significant staff positions cut for the 2013-14 year.”
The OUSD Board could have also opted to support Proposition 38, a similar measure to Prop. 30, which would increase income tax for most Californians. However, “There was not a majority support for 38,” Bangser said.
After her vote, board member Kathi Smith said in an email, “While I wish Gov. Brown had written Prop. 30 to restore money taken from public education, he didn’t. So I’m in favor of Prop. 30 because closing school at Memorial Day is unthinkable. It deprives our students of vital school days, and it takes significant income from the paychecks our teachers and staff.”
Although he abstained from the vote at Tuesday’s meeting, Whipple said he wanted to make it clear that his abstention did not mean he was against Prop. 30. When actually broken down, he said via email, the tax increases “are not drastic and will probably not be noticed very much at all by most people. I do not, however, share the confidence my colleagues on the Board have that Governor Brown will either keep his word, or has any real interest in funding education. … Governors have regularly held education ransom and coerced school boards and educators to endorse and advocate for taxes and programs that, in the end, do nothing to increase the state’s investment in education. I am not willing to lend my credibility to what may likely be another scam in the name of education. I would prefer that our focus be on local issues that we can effectively control.”
Opponents to Prop 30, like the California Republican Party, argue that raising taxes on higher income earners is not a good strategy. A recent email blast, the CRP said Prop. 30 “will drastically increase the sales tax for everyone and the income tax on successful individuals — even though a recent study shows those taxes are driving away businesses and hurting our economy.”
Nicole Botti, parent of two Ojai students, said she was shocked that further cuts to education are even something being discussed. “I don’t know why they would even consider it. I’m concerned about how our kids in California are going to compete with kids on the East Coast. You see some kids already struggling. It’s almost a criminal act. We’re gonna have these kids suffer — why are we doing this to our kids? Why are we selling our kids short on education?”
By Misty Volaski
An idea that started as a chat between two classmates during a school camping trip became part of a worldwide charity event this weekend.
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
By Maria Saint
Is the word “charreria” part of your vocabulary? If not, Rafael Arzate of Oak View can tell you it’s Spanish for Mexican rodeo.
Arzate, 40, is the owner of Taqueria El Charro in Oak View. He is also the founder of Escuela Infantil de Charreria, which offers trick roping lessons for children at Dos Amigos Ranch in Oak View. There are 18 students, ranging from 5 to 16 years old. The school is meant for both boys and girls, but there is only one girl at the moment.
“I always practiced charreria and my sons like the sport a lot. We just moved to Oak View about two years ago and we found a ranch where we keep our horse. I saw a lot of kids there that liked the horses and I thought it would be a great idea to teach them about charreria,” he said. So he talked to Reynaldo Pena, the owner of the ranch, about a school.
“He said it was a great idea and he gave us a lot of support. So to start, we had just a few kids and now it’s been almost a year and we got about 18 kids,” Arzate said.
The students learn horsemanship — how to care for their horse, how to ride and how to handle a horse. They also learn trick roping — tricks with the lasso and how to jump through it and all kinds of different tricks, Arzate explained.
The school was launched last fall. It’s not even a year old yet, but has already earned awards. The students showed off their skills in the Sept. 16 Oxnard Mexico Independence Day Parade. For their participation, the Oxnard Mexican Cultural Committee gave them first place as a charro (horseman) group and first place as a school.
According to Victor Martinez, committee president, the parade is one of the biggest in Southern California. He also said that the students at the Oak View school have helped keep the Mexican culture alive by learning these skills.
“It’s very exciting and I’m very happy to see the kids get their first award and motivate them to keep going,” Arzate said. They are looking forward to participating in all of the parades that are coming up locally in Santa Barbara and Ojai.
Arzate and his students practice Tuesday nights at the ranch for about two and a half hours. The first Tuesday of the month, they have a seminar for the children where Arzate brings in different people. Recently, he invited someone to teach the kids how to take care of their horse and its hooves.
“Small details that people don’t think about — that’s really important,” he said.
Arzate also brings in a friend from Riverside, who is the main teacher on the roping class. The children are asked to pay a $40 to $60 donation or whatever they can offer a month to go toward the teacher’s gasoline and other expenses.
“We feed the kids every night after the class — it’s been kind of a tradition every Tuesday. We do a little barbecue and we just have a good time,” Arzate said. “It’s all family oriented and their parents see them participate. I think it’s a very nice thing.”
There were two reasons Arzate opened the school.
“First, I want my kids to learn my heritage — what I did for my father and what I’m doing now, and also, I love kids and I have a lot of patience for kids and I thought it was a great way to keep them busy doing something good,” said Arzate, who, along with wife, Nancy, has a 16-year-old daughter and two sons, 9 and 11. “I thought, what a better way to keep the kids busy instead of being on the Nintendo, the TV or just on the streets.”
The school can accept up to 25 children and Arzate said that it takes a lot of discipline to participate.
“It takes perseverance and hard work — and I think those are good principles to raise a child,” he said. “Fresh air, nice family ambiance, doing something that’s going to clear their mind and their body and they’re going to have fun, too.”
For more information about the school, contact Arzate at 754-1892.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
By Tiobe Barron
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series that examines several 2012 election races in and around the Ojai Valley. The first appeared in the Sept. 14 issue.
In November, Ojai’s Mayor, Betsy Clapp, will face two challengers — State Farm agent Bob Daddi and local business owner Severo Lara — in the race for two open positions on the Ojai City Council. Councilmember Sue Horgan, the only other Councilmember whose terms is up, opted not to run for reelection this year.
The Ojai City Council consists of five members whose job it is to create the ordinances and resolutions that govern those within the city of Ojai. They also adopt the city budget, apportion spending among the city’s departments, appoint the city manager and the city attorney and elect amongst themselves the Mayor and Mayor pro tem of Ojai.
Clapp has lived in Ojai for 22 years, before which she lived with her husband and daughter on a boat in the Ventura Harbor. Clapp says she loves Ojai because it reminds her of the small town in which she was raised.
“Ojai is a treasure and it needs to be protected,” said Clapp.
Clapp owns and operates two small businesses: Java Frost, a gourmet beverage distribution company; and Buenaventura Blending Company, a private labeling and manufacturing company. Clapp says her experience as a small-business owner equips her with the skills to get things done in government.
“I am action-oriented, and have follow-though,” explained Clapp. “If you don’t get things done in a small business, the business dies.”
Clapp said her main goals, if elected, would be to support the efforts of Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.), to help reorganize the Ojai Recreation Department and to improve code enforcement in the city.
“There is the sentiment among Ojai citizens that it (code enforcement) is not working,” Clapp noted. “Right now it is complaint-driven, which is pitting neighbor against neighbor, which is not a good thing!”
Clapp wants to work with Ventura County agencies to establish a county recreation district; something she believes will greatly improve the caliber of programs available to youth in the valley.
Along with these goals, emergency preparedness is also a priority; Clapp aims to complete Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training after the election. She said she also believes community outreach should be a top priority for local government officials.
“We need to be open and welcoming to the community,” said Clapp. “After all, it is the citizens’ city.”
Daddi has lived in Ojai since 1997, when he built his home here. While he said he takes no issue with any member of the current City Council, he believes, as a collective group, the current council has “failed to take care of some issues … I want to restore Ojai to the vibrant place it used to be 15 to 20 years ago,” Daddi said. “It used to be magic.”
Daddi’s main concerns are the issue of the water franchise in Ojai — he’s one of the founders of Ojai FLOW and is on its steering committee — as well as road repair, code enforcement and what he sees as a lack of transparency and consistency in the Community Development Department.
“People should vote for me because I am informed on the (pertinent) subjects,” explained Daddi. “I won’t tolerate sloppy work from the city, I won’t tolerate incorrect and inconsistent city work. I won’t tolerate the fact that we can’t refund an over-charge because of a time limit. I won’t tolerate different (discriminatory) treatment.”
Daddi said he was driven to run in this election due to “the fact that we weren’t getting to where we needed to be; we kept kicking the issue down the street … a different kind of candidate is needed to break this gridlock.”
If elected, Daddi said he will bring a more fair and equitable policy to the table, with an emphasis on health and safety.
“If I am elected, I will force the city to deal with the 500 non-permitted, occupied residential units. We can’t displace 500 families and have not established a policy a Health and Safety exemption permit,” Daddi insists.
Lara was born in Ventura County Memorial Hospital, and has lived in Ojai his whole life. He is a youth founder of the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation and is a building contractor. He has experience working in municipal government as a member of the Ojai Recreation Commission.
“I grew up in this valley, so I truly understand its values and principles,” said Lara. “The principles the valley holds, I hold.”
If elected, Lara’s top priority would be the quality of life for families in the valley, beginning with programs for youth, and making permits affordable so young families can live here.
“One of the areas we have been putting off for years is the Parks and Recreation Department,” Lara says. “It’s not the city’s fault, but the times have changed. I want to re-establish the integrity of the department. That would be great.”
Lara, who has two daughters, ages 3 and 6, said he wants to be involved so his kids can have the same opportunities he had growing up.
“I’ve always been involved. I really care about what happens here,” says Lara. “I bring a perspective that has been here (in Ojai), and it is important to have that on Council.”
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information on the upcoming election.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Casitas Municipal Water District is asking residents, farmers and businesses in the Ojai Valley to reduce outdoor watering and non-essential indoor water use Friday, Sept. 21, while a water pipeline is temporarily shut down, repaired and restored to full service.
The work is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. and to be completed by 8 p.m.
Casitas Springs will experience a water outage on that day. The areas of Foster Park, Oak View, Ojai and Upper Ojai will continue to have water available at the tap, relying on the limited water supply in local water storage tanks.
Cooperation is requested of all water customers in the areas of Oak View, Ojai Valley and Upper Ojai Valley to curtail their water usage for the day. Local residents, farmers and businesses are asked to plan and prepare to do their part to ensure local water storage tanks won’t be drained by the water demands. Agricultural customers are asked to curtail their irrigation for the day. Residential customers are requested to not irrigate landscape on that day and use conservation measures in their indoor use of water. Go to www.bewaterwise.com or www.casitaswater.org for more water-saving tips.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
By Misty Volaski
Friday at 11:30 a.m., Jake Larkin finally got what he and his family had been praying for: a life-saving bone marrow transplant.
The 6-year-old grandson of Oaks at Ojai owners Don and Sheila Cluff has been battling severe aplastic anemia since February, when his bone marrow stopped producing red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. He’s been in Milwaukee for months, getting daily blood transfusions to keep him alive while his family and the National Marrow Donor Program searched for a bone marrow match.
The transplant came just in the nick of time. According to Cluff, a match had to be found by Sept. 15, or there would have been “some not-so-good options” to keep Jake alive.
“We both cried!” said Sheila Cluff when they got the news. “We’ve been getting phone calls left and right. We’re so happy … it’s like finding a needle in a haystack, and we found it.”
More than 1,100 recently completed testing kits to find out if they were a match for Jake — or one of the 10,000 others worldwide currently awaiting a bone marrow transplant — at donor drives in San Francisco, Oxnard and Ojai.
While the family doesn’t know who the donor is — they can find out in a year if both parties are agreeable — they do know it was a woman, and that the woman’s marrow was a perfect 10 of 10 match for Jake.
But he isn’t out of the woods yet. According to family, the next 100 days will be crucial, as Jake’s body decides whether or not to accept the marrow. Prior to the transplant, Jake underwent four days of chemotherapy to prepare his body. Now, he’s isolated in his room for a month, with only hospital staff and family members allowed in. “The big fear is that, because of his depressed immune system, he is very subject to infection,” Cluff said. Even a common cold could be dangerous. By this weekend, she added, “there should be some indication whether the bone marrow, as Jake says, ‘Likes me.’”
Jake’s donor, Cluff continued, insisted on donating extra bone marrow, which has been frozen and can be given to Jake if this transplant doesn’t stick, giving him another chance at life.
The Larkins and Cluffs, of course, hope it doesn’t have to go that far.
Acknowledging the thousands of others still waiting for a bone marrow match, the family is organizing another donation drive Sept. 30 from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ojai Valley Community Church, 907 El Centro St. As before, all that’s required of donors is a simple cheek swab, which will be tested and filed with the National Marrow Donor Program.
“The more we can bring this disease to light, the better. It’s been such a sleeper,” said Cluff.
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
By Misty Volaski
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
By Tiobe Barron
After the Aug. 14 approval of an Ojai retailer’s one-year exemption to the city’s plastic bag ban, officials find themselves still clarifying the two-month old moratorium.
Ojai Community Development Director Rob Mullane granted Rains an exemption that gives him up to one year to distribute his bags. Starr Market owner Terry Starr said recently that he asked city staff to allow him an exemption and was told his store did not qualify.
Rains is a speciality department store that carries housewares and clothing in addition to some grocery items.
“The rationale for granting Rains the exemption was primarily that their bags are more likely to be re-used. They are thicker — the largest bags they distribute meet the 2.25 mils thickness criterion for being exempt from the ordinance, and their smaller bags are close to this threshold — and because of their more durable and attractive design, they are likely to be re-used,” clarified community development director Rob Mullane. “Rains’ request also indicated that they would only need approximately three months to go through their remaining inventory of plastic bags, and that beyond that, they would be using paper bags.”
The ordinance, passed by the Council April 10, went into effect July 1. It applies to single-use, plastic, carry out bags — also called “t-shirt bags.” Exemptions to the t-shirt bag ban, according to Mullane, include restaurants that use the t-shirt bags for takeout food and the Saint Thomas Aquinas Thrift Store, which gives it customers only bags that have been used previously.
Mullane said that in 2013, the Council will review the ordinance. At that time, he added, the staff will be recommending thrift stores be given a categorical exemption.
If switching to paper or reusable bags creates a hardship for local business owners, they are able to seek a one-year exemption to make necessary adjustments. The Ojai municipal code grants this discretionary power to city staff. There is a standing item on the Ojai Planning Commission meeting agendas to inform commissioners of decisions made and planning permits granted by city staff and the community development director. “The threshold for discretionary review of planning projects is set forth in several sections of the Zoning Code. In general, the more complex or potentially controversial a project is, the greater the chance that this needs to be reviewed by the Planning Commission or City Council,” clarified Mullane.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for further delineation of staff vs. Council roles, and for more information on the ordinance banning the distribution of plastic single-use carry out bags in Ojai.
After a dispute with the defense team this week, Ventura County Superior Court Judge James Cloninger said in court Friday that not only will he not disqualify himself from the case, he is prepared to force the Alex Medina first-degree murder trial to begin early next year if scheduling conflicts threaten to delay it too long.
Initially hoping to set a November or December trial date, Cloninger’s plan headlong into defense attorney Scott Wipert’s calendar. Because of his involvement in a securities fraud case that he anticipates could run four to six months, Wippert told Cloninger he would prefer to begin sometime in June.
Medina, who is now 17, is accused of stabbing and killing 16-year-old Seth Scarminach in April 2009. The stabbing took place during an unsupervised party at the 2400 block of the Maricopa Highway in Meiners Oaks. Scarminach was pronounced dead at the scene.
Wippert and co-counsel Robyn Bramson asked Cloninger Friday to disqualify himself from ruling further on Medina’s case under California Code of Civil Procedures 170.6 – a peremptory challenge.
The defense team said they were under the impression the case had been assigned to Cloninger for the sole purpose of deciding an earlier recusal motion to disqualify the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting the case.
Although every defendant has a right to present a premptory challenge to remove a judge without question or explanation, they typically occur at the beginning of court proceedings.
A competency hearing, concluded in August, determining Medina was able to assist his counsel during his criminal trial and it delayed the criminal proceedings for nearly three years. This delay caused Cloninger to rule that the challenge was no longer timely.
“It’s not that we don’t want to go to trial, in a perfect world he would be going to juvenile court because he was 14 the time of his arrest,” Wippert said. “Unfortunately, it took so long in the competency trial, and now we have conflict with our schedules. We want to give him his best shot at a fair trial. But we are eager because the truth will finally come out.”
Wippert and Bramson said they might seek to disqualify Cloninger in appellate court.
“Alex won’t get a fair trial under this judge,” Wippert said.
To keep the proceedings moving, Cloninger scheduled a meeting Jan. 4 for the court to check the lawyers’ schedules to determine if forcing the trial is necessary.
“If that case is delayed, the judge will force this case to go to trial,” said Senior Deputy District Attorney Bill Haney.
The case could go to trial as early as March if Cloninger finds cause to set it in motion, according to Wippert.
Medina faces a possible life sentence if convicted on first-degree murder charges. Multiple additional felony offenses, or enhancements, could add to the length of his sentence, if convicted. Use of a deadly weapon, committing of the crime for the benefit of a street gang and committing the crime while a participant in a street gang are included in the charges.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Monica Lara
Jury deliberation is expected to begin next week for Ojai defendant, John Atkinson, 34, who is on trial at the Ventura County Superior Court for allegedly attempting to murder a police officer in 2010.
Thursday, both the defense and prosecution rested their cases, and the court prepared to have closing arguments Monday, after which the jury would start deliberations.
Defense lawyer Rebekah Mathis of the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office expects the jury could reach a decision the following day. “I expect a verdict or a lack of verdict to be reached by Tuesday,” she said.
Atkinson is facing conviction of charges including attempted murder, second-degree robbery, and two counts of abuse of elders.
Several additional allegations, or enhancement felony offenses, could add to his sentence, if convicted. Use of a deadly weapon, assault on a peace officer and assault with a taser or stun gun are included in the allegations.
Atkinson allegedly attempted to murder Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Traci Salmon Dec. 10, 2010. The incident occurred when Salmon responded, alone, to a hang-up 911 call at a house on the 4900 block of Casitas Pass Road. The house belonged the parents of Atkinson, who was 31 at the time. He is suspected of having been abusing his parents at the time of the call.
Allegedly, he got violent when Salmon approached the front door of the property, and fought and gained control of her taser, gun and radio, and caused several injuries to Salmon while using her weapons on her. She was able to shoot him in the leg and get away to call for help.
Atkinson has been in custody at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office with a $1 million bail.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Richard Simon, the prosecutor, called his witnesses first during the trial including Salmon.
During the alleged struggle between Salmon and Atkinson, she was able to fire multiple rounds from her gun before hitting him in the leg. Then the gun jammed, according to Salmon. She proceeded to eject the round that did not fire from the gun.
Atkinson allegedly took Salmon’s gun, pointed it at her face and pulled the trigger, according to her testimony. The gun did not fire a bullet when Atkinson pulled the trigger, but she said she could hear the gun click.
A focus of the trial included the defense and the prosecution providing evidence on whether Atkinson tried to fire the gun.
Ventura County Detective Jose Lopez, who interviewed Atkinson immediately after the incident, was called to the stand on Tuesday. Audio and video recordings of the interviews were shown in court. His interrogation toward the end was focused on whether Atkinson pulled the trigger.
Several times Atkinson answered that he did not want to hurt Salmon.
“I took the gun away from her, she got up and ran out the door,” Atkinson said during the interview.
“I did not pull the trigger,” he said later. After continuously answering in the same way, he then agreed to a question where pulling the trigger was part of what happened in the incident.
The defense began calling its witnesses on Wednesday finalizing its list with Charles Wiggins, senior investigator for the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office. Wiggins testified as a gun expert, explaining the difference between a misfire and a jammed gun, and audio effects of hearing a gun go off at close proximity.
“You do hear a ringing in your ears and it’s hard to hear anything else but the ringing,” Wiggins said.
He explained a misfire is when an empty casing of a bullet remains in the chamber, but the gun continues to function properly. When the trigger is pulled the slide will still click against the firing pin. Clearing the casing, as Salmon did, would rack another live round into the chamber and should fire, according to Wiggins. With a jammed gun, he continued, there would be something causing the gun to malfunction so when a person pulled the trigger the slide would not click against the firing pin. Clearing the gun may not clear the jam.
“It would be a dead trigger,” Wiggins said. “There would be no movement.”
Both the defense and the prosecution rested following Wiggins’s testimony.
Simon will lead off on closing arguments at about 10 a.m. Monday.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Misty Volaski
This is the first in a series which will examine several 2012 election races in and around the Ojai Valley, including: U.S. Representative for the 26th District, State Assembly Member for the 37th District, Ventura County Supervisor, Ojai Valley Sanitary District, Casitas Municipal Water District, City Council, City Clerk and City Treasurer.
If there’s anything about which Hank Bangser feels confident this election season, it’s that the four candidates running for the Ojai Unified School District’s board of education have the right motivations.
“These people want to give to their community,” said the OUSD superintendent. “I know each person is completely committed to the children of the school district.”
According to the OUSD web site, duties for board members include developing and adopting policies for academic expectations and for hiring personnel; hiring the superintendent; establishing budget priorities and adopting a budget; negotiating with teachers’ unions; making decisions and providing resources that support district priorities and goals; upholding board policies; being acquainted with and involved in district activities; and advocating for students, the program and public education; among more.
Four locals have declared their candidacy this year — incumbents Thayne Whipple and Linda Taylor, and newcomers Kevin Ruff and Bill Ansell. Come Nov. 6, Ojai Valley residents will choose two of the four, each of whom will serve a four-year term.
A longtime substitute teacher, occasional junior varsity football announcer and recent class advisor at Nordhoff High School, Ansell retired in June after working in education for 50 years.
He believes those years, and the variety of students he’s taught, make him a good candidate. At Nordhoff, “I’ve taught history, math, English, ceramics, music, whatever they needed me to sub for,” Ansell said. He also worked in “really rough inner city neigborhoods for a number of years” befoer coming to the West Coast.
In Philadelphia, he worked in a school for the blind, helping develop and train the students to use computers. The experience, he said, “… really honed my teaching skills. I needed to find a way to explain visuals to those who couldn’t see.”
He said he is concerned with maintaining “individualized attention” for each student, which, he acknowledges, is “harder to do with more kids in the room.”
As an advisor, Ansell said he worked closely with students — “I was always available to them.” It’s something he feels will help him to make better student-centered decisions should he be elected.
A lawyer and actor by trade, Ruf moved to Ojai five years ago. With two children at Topa Topa Elementary and his youngest at Monica Ros School, Ruf says “I feel like I have a lot to offer.”
As a lawyer, he successfully tried a labor case, Smith v. L’Oreal, in the California Supreme Court in 2005. “I am very familiar with very complicated financial documentation,” he said. “It’s one of the things I specialize in … so (with) budgetary issues, in terms of technical issues, I already have that expertise.”
Ruf was also on the board of Food for Thought for four years. “It taught me that there’s a lot of opportunities to supplement offerings in the public school system.”
When former board member Steve Fields moved to Oregon and resigned from his position in 2011, Ruf applied to fill the position. He made it into the top six choices before Whipple was eventually selected.
As a parent, he said he’s seen firsthand how the cuts are affecting students, and says, “I’d like to go back to the people and ask for a parcel tax.”
He also said, “I will not use any benefits, accept no compensation whatsoever” if elected.
Currently the board’s vice president, Taylor is seeking a third term. She started in the OUSD as an art teacher at Nordhoff High School before retiring in 2004. She still teaches art classes out of her home and is an active member of the Ojai Studio Artists.
She says she feels her experience in the classroom is one of the best things she brings to the table. “Having been a teacher here, I have an understanding of the culture of the district,” she says.
Although she fought to keep electives, particularly art — “We’re looking to educate everybody,” she said — Taylor acknowledges that the financial situation the district faces is unprecedented. “Class sizes keep going up … We’ve lost a lot of quality teachers because we don’t have the money. Our amazing staff is keeping things together, but at some point in the not-too-distant future things are going to start falling apart.”
One way to make things better, she says, is to reexamine the idea of a parcel tax. “The last parcel tax failed by such a small margin. For such a small amount of money (per parcel), it would’ve made a big difference.”
Out of nine candidates, Whipple was appointed to the OUSD board in 2011 when Steve Fields moved out of state.
Prior to that, he was on the board of the nonprofit Ojai Education Foundation.
Whipple has four children, all of whom have been through the OUSD system; his youngest, Sage, is now at The Thacher School.
“I think the entire future of Ojai and our nation and our world depends on the education our children receive,” he said. “And I can’t think of anything more important that I could be involved with.”
He calls himself a question asker. “I’m really happy to find I’m really contributing something … I feel I’ve been able to provide a different perspective.”
Regarding the state of the budget, he said, “We’re facing a lot of very serous financial issues” in the OUSD. Whipple, who works with major companies to improve their online services, said, “I have to be financially creative in implementing projects.” He feels “my background in finance and business really give me breadth and depth in being able to analyze and speak to those issues.”
Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Misty Volaski
By this time next year, Ojai youngsters and their parents may have new choices in public education.
Tuesday night, board members from the Ojai Unified School District will host a public hearing to discuss the possible addition of one or two new charter schools to the Ojai public education system.
The district already has one charter school, Valley Oak, which has about 60 students. Founded 10 years ago, the independent study program combines home learning with some on-campus classes, as well as teacher support. It’s a public school, so it receives state and federal funding, and, like their traditional school counterparts, Valley Oak students are still required to take standardized tests and meet certain curriculum requirements. According to Valley Oak’s website, it is designed “To support families who home-school and to add to the diversity of options in public education.”
New charter school petitioner Caprice Pitcher claims her charter schools would offer a different approach to education than either the traditional classroom setting or Valley Oak provide.
Called SelfDesign and supported by the SelfDesign Learning Foundation in Canada, Pitcher said her charter schools “really serve children or youths that don’t fit so well into the conventional classroom.” Currently, Pitcher’s two children, ages 6 and 10, attend Valley Oak.
The first of Pitcher’s petitions is for the online-only SelfDesign Learning Community of Central California (LCCC). Along with their parents, the students — called learners — and their fully-certificated teachers — called learning consultants — would design an annual learning plan centered around each individual child. They’d then meet weekly via email, phone or video conference to track progress.
It’s about “designing a curriculum and learning environment around the child’s interests, gifts, learning style and multiple intelligence profile,” said Pitcher. “It’s acknowledging that every learner is unique, and how we design learning from the inside out so they can reach their full potential as a human being.”
The Krishnamurti vision — implemented at Ojai’s Oak Grove, a private school — is similar, Pitcher said.
Starting out as a kindergarten- through eighth-grade model, SelfDesign LCCC would expand by one grade each year to eventually include grades nine to 12.
Pitcher’s other charter petition, dubbed SelfDesign Young Entrepreneurs Soar (Y.E.S.), would include what she called a “flexible learning center,” although, like the LCCC, it would not be site-based. “Its mission is to help create young entrepreneurs who can solve problems they see in their community and world,” Pitcher said.
Through hands-on experiences, the students would ask themselves, “What situation or problems do we see in the Ojai community that we think we could really engage in and help with?” Pitcher said. “We’d be designing projects in collaboration with community service groups .… so, it’s not just picking up trash, it’s, ‘Why does trash exist?’ We’d examine the system. It’s a deeper approach.”
Although both of the SelfDesign schools would be charter schools within the Ojai Valley, one of the big issues OUSD board members will consider is whether they will directly compete with Valley Oak.
While that school’s director, Laura Fulmer, helped provide Pitcher with some tips to help her get started on the SelfDesign schools, Fulmer hesitated to throw her full support behind the project. However, Fulmer emphasized, “I support the idea that parents have a right to choose the education that works best for their children. Will it (SelfDesign) affect us? It may. There may be some overlap. But I don’t believe that that’s a reason to dismiss it.”
Valley Oak, currently a K-10 program, is also seeking to expand it offerings to eventually include K-12 education in the next couple of years.
The OUSD board members will not make a decision Tuesday night; rather, they’ll hear the petition details from Pitcher and listen to comments from the public. Also in attendance will be the county’s charter schools expert, Tiffany Morse, to provide input and support.
According to OUSD superintendent Hank Bangser, the board could make a decision on the charter school petitions at its Oct. 16 or Nov. 13 meeting. At that time, they could approve one, both or neither of the charter school petitions. “One thing we have to address,” said Bangser. “We have Valley Oak, so is it appropriate to have a school that might compete with one we already have?”
Assistant superintendent Dannielle Pusatere also pointed out that, should the OUSD board deny one or both of Pitcher’s petitions, she could go to the county or state to appeal. Ultimately, she said, “We’re going to have a thorough review … if we’re going to charter something new, we need to make sure it’s viable and of benefit to the students.”
The public is encouraged to attend Tuesday’s meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. at the OUSD office, 414 E. Ojai Ave., Room 1. See www.ojai.k12.ca.us for additional details.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Hannah Guzik
A bio-digester could convert thousands of tons of horse manure into energy in the Ojai Valley, helping to keep the Ventura River Watershed clean and reducing greenhouse gases, a study has found.
The community group Waste 2 Energy has completed the first part of its yearlong study on the feasibility of building a bio-digester in the Ojai area and will present the results Monday from 7 to 8 p.m. at the Matilija Junior High School Auditorium, 703 El Paseo Rd.
“We have a definite waste problem and we have to be responsible for the waste we create,” said Bill O’Brien, a civil engineer and W2E volunteer. “I think part of this is just about being a steward of our environment. We’re just trying to take that waste and make something useful out of it.”
The anaerobic bio-digester would convert horse manure, farm waste, landscaping clippings and food scraps from restaurants and schools into methane energy, fertilizer and compost. The methane gas could be burned for heat or used to turn turbines, creating electrical energy that could be sold.
The first portion of the feasibility study, begun in January, found that the Ojai Valley has enough waste to make a bio-digester practical, O’Brien said. A bio-digester would use 50 tons per day of waste, with 23 tons coming from horse waste, 6.3 tons from horse bedding, 1.5 tons from food waste and 19 tons from green waste.
“The study confirmed there’s enough manure to make this work,” O’Brien said. “That’s what’s hard for people to believe — how much horse manure there is and how much food waste. Right now, most of it’s just going to a dump.”
Much of the waste in the Ojai Valley ends up in the Toland Road Landfill in Santa Paula, although some is composted, he said. But before it can be disposed of, runoff from waste — especially horse manure — can contaminate the Ventura River Watershed, posing environmental problems, according to W2E.
Area environmentalists are hoping to dramatically curb the amount of animal waste that flows into the watershed, because it causes algae and bacteria to proliferate, resulting in lower oxygen levels in the water and harming wildlife, including the endangered steelhead trout.
New mandates from the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board may soon require area landowners with horses to reduce the amount of manure on their properties by 99 percent within the next 10 years.
O’Brien sees the bio-digester as a potential solution for horse ranchers, as well as environmentalists. According to the feasibility study, the city could create another waste barrel for residents, in addition to the trash and recycling cans already offered. Horse ranchers could put their manure in the barrel and a waste management company, such as E.J. Harrison & Sons, could pick up it up and transport it to the bio-digester, O’Brien said.
Other feasibility issues, such as how much a bio-digester might cost and where it might be located, are still being analyzed. According to preliminary estimates, the waste facility would be built on two to three acres, ideally located near another local waste or water treatment facility and roads.
“It needs to have proper industrial zoning, and there needs to be a place to use the energy nearby,” O’Brien said.
The bio-digester would cost between $6 million and $8 million to build, but would pay for itself in five to seven years, according to W2E’s preliminary estimates. The facility would generate income from the payments made by horse ranchers for barrel pickup and from selling the energy generated to another facility, such as a city wastewater treatment plant, enabling it to rely less heavily on the grid, O’Brien said.
“This is not new technology, there’s a bio-digester at Gills Onions in Oxnard, for example, but this application is pretty new,” he said. “Using horse manure is a pretty special, new thing.”
O’Brien hopes an oil or natural gas company seeking an alternative energy project in its portfolio may fund the construction. It will be at least two years before any building begins, he said.
Consultants from the infrastructure firm, AECOM, are conducting the feasibility study, funded through a $75,000 state grant and $25,000 from the county and fundraising. If, when completed in December, the study suggests that the project will be possible, W2E will try to secure grants for construction and further research.
“Even if this project doesn’t end up being feasible, at least we’ll have shed light on taking waste and making energy, and maybe something else will come out of it,” O’Brien said.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Tiobe Barron
Ojai Valley residents have an opportunity to weigh in with the California Department of Transportation concerning improvements to Highway 33 they would like to see.
There will be a meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m. between representatives from Caltrans, California Highway Patrol, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors and State Assemblyman Das Williams’ office. This meeting is open to the public.
“This is basically an opportunity for citizens to interact with Caltrans,” says Steve Offerman, assistant to Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett. “It is a good opportunity for the public to identify problems and suggest improvements” to local roads maintained by Caltrans.
Offerman emphasizes the purpose of the meeting is for those interested to obtain information from the various agencies and to offer their input.
The Highway 33 Improvement Committee meeting will be held at the Oak View Community Center, 18 Valley Road in Oak View. Visit www.countyofventura.org for more information.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
By Tiobe Barron
The preservation of the view of Black Mountain ridge may come at a cost —- albeit one which local agencies have determined to be “less than significant” — but enough Ventura County residents have voiced their objections to the Verizon cell phone tower perched on Black Mountain, near Dennison Park, to change things. Verizon aims to replace the existing “monopole” antenna, a tall steel pole with “whiplines” attached to the top, with eight low-lying antennae not visible above the surrounding trees and shrubbery.
According to Steve Offerman, assistant to County Supervisor Steve Bennett, the replacement of the antenna is a strictly aesthetic issue, and Verizon has informed the county that cell phone coverage should actually improve in most areas after the change. Offerman said he has received no information on the safety of the new antennae vs. the existing one, but as there are no homes adjacent to the tower site, this may be a null consideration. When asked about this, a representative from Verizon deferred to an article written by engineer and consultant in the wireless industry for 30 years, Andrew Seybold, which states, in part, “You are exposed to more radiation at home than you are near a cell site. You are exposed to more radiation in a Starbucks or other location with a Wi-Fi access point than you are within 20 feet of a cell site.”
Health concerns and cell signal quality aside, there are still two small things stand in Verizon’s way.
The County of Ventura Planning Division has issued a Notice of Availability and Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration on Verizon’s project, due to the possible impact on a local species of rat and lizard.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the San Diego desert wood rat, or Bryant’s wood rat, is listed as “endangered” on their Red List of Threatened Species, largely due to loss of habitat. The California Department of Fish and Game also lists the coast horned lizard as “a species of concern.” Both species were found to reside around the site in question when Rincon Consultants did a biological survey of the area last year.
“Environmental analyses are required for all projects,” clarifies Offerman. “Apparently there is a locally sensitive species of wood rat discovered up there. It’s rare within the county,” necessitating precautions and mitigation before any plant life can be removed and the installation of the new antennae can occur.
The site in question lies approximately a half-mile south of the Soule Park Golf Course, covers 2,500 square feet and falls under the “open space” designation. To mitigate the potential impact on the aforementioned local critters, the county is proposing there be a survey by appropriate biologists of any Bryant’s wood rat nests, and these nests be safely relocated before removal of plant life.
The Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council will hold a meeting Monday at 7 p.m. at the Oak View Community Center to review the Verizon antennae project. The Oak View Community Center is at 18 Valley Road in Oak View. Visit www.countyofventura.org/ovmac for more information on this and other MAC meetings.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
By Misty Volaski
Humane officers brought four emaciated horses to the Humane Society of Ventura County Tuesday, after removing them from an Oak View ranch. Two were full-sized geldings. The others were mini horses — a mare and a colt, possibly mother and son.
“It’s shocking that anyone could do this to an animal,” said Humane Society shelter director Jolene Hoffman.
Using the Henneke System of Body Conditioning, which is used to rate the condition of a horse from one to nine, Hoffman said these horses appear to be a one, the worst.
According to the scale, a horse with a body condition score of one is emaciated and in most cases is in danger of starving to death. Healthy horses have a body condition score from four to seven.
The horses came from an apparent boarding facility that contained about 50 other animals that did not appear to be in bad shape, according to humane officers, who responded to the property after receiving an anonymous call. The officers spoke to the alleged owner of the property, Hoffman said, but as of Tuesday afternoon, officials had been unable to track down the owner of the impounded horses.
“The ranch owner claimed they weren’t theirs,” Hoffman said.
While the horse owners could be charged, it is possible, Hoffman added, that the ranch owners could be charged as well. “We will press for felony charges. These people who did this need to spend time in jail.”
The four animals brought to the Ojai shelter Tuesday were found with bones protruding, eyes sunken into their sockets and feet badly infected, Hoffman explained. They were led into individual enclosures to await the arrival of a veterinarian.
To help care for the horses, a donation of 15 bags of John Lyons senior grains came in from Noreda Seymour, owner of Ventura Hay Company. However, the horses’ care will be costly. “This is going to be long term, up to nine months to get their weight up — if they survive,” said Hoffman. “We need all the help we can get.”
Anyone with information on this or any other animal abuse case can contact the Humane Society of Ventura County at 646-6505 or 656-5031. Visit www.humanesocietyvc.org for more information or to submit an abuse report form online.
Donations toward the care of the horses can also be made on the website or by calling the shelter.
Editor’s Note: The name of the Oak View ranch is not being released by the Humane Society of Ventura County, pending an ongoing investigation.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
By Hannah Guzik
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
By Misty Volaksi
Just because it’s a cliché to say “it takes money to make money” doesn’t make it a falsehood. Knowing this, Hollywood actor and Ojai resident Malcolm McDowell gathered a few celebrity friends Friday to help bolster the Libbey Bowl Foundation’s production fund with a charity golf tournament, followed by a concert by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dave Mason and others.
The amount raised was still being tabulated as of press time, but Libbey Bowl Foundation manager Beth Sutherland estimated that 1,100 attended the Mason concert. Almost 100 golfers played in the tournament at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa earlier in the day, she said.
Money raised from the events will go toward bringing in bigger acts to Libbey Bowl.
“What people don’t realize is how expensive it is to actually bring talent in. So if we wanted to bring in — pick a name, someone with excellent name recognition — the Libbey Bowl Foundation would, for all intents and purposes, have to put down a down payment of $30,000 to $60,000 up front, and that’s not including the other costs,” explained Sutherland. “So it’s like the chicken and the egg without a production fund … To be able to generate revenue, to manage Libbey Bowl the way it should be managed, it takes funding.”
She pointed out that most of the concerts that have taken place at Libbey Bowl so far have been for nonprofit groups, meaning their fees are drastically lower than for-profit events. “It costs $350 to rent Libbey for a nonprofit,” Sutherland added. “If you extrapolate, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that’s not gonna pay the bills.”
The only for-profit event planned so far this year will be Leo Kottke’s acoustic guitar concert Oct. 13.
That’s why Friday’s concerts were so important. Sutherland didn’t offer a wish list of performers — “We don’t have a specific list” — but said the Bowl will still be busy with many more nonprofit events in the coming weeks.
These include: The Thacher School presents “Playing for Change,” Sept. 22; The Gary Sinise Foundation presents “Rock This Country Music Festival,” Sept. 29; the World Music Festival, Oct. 6; Ojai Lions Club presents “Bound for Laurie,” a benefit concert for Laurie Cornell, Oct. 7; Leo Kottke Oct. 13; an Ojai Film Festival community screening Oct. 25; and the Bowlful of Blues Oct. 27.
Visit www.libbeybowl.org for tickets and additional information about upcoming events.
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
- Friday, September 7, 2012
- By Tiobe Barron
- While most are well aware of Ojai City Council, its members and doings, Ojai valley residents may not know Oak View has its own civic council. The non-profit group, formed in 1957, consists entirely of volunteers who organize fundraising events and provide resources that benefit the unincorporated areas around the valley.
The 2012 board of directors of the Oak View Civic Council (OVCC) held its first meeting Wednesday, and includes president Greg Webster, owner of local business Greg Rents; first vice president Larry Romero; second vice president Elba Sanchez, a local realtor; treasurer Lynn Smith; and secretary Sharon Cromartie. The group chose Dusty Fernandez as honorary mayor of Oak View in July.
OVCC president Webster became involved with the organization when his father opened a business in Oak View without the proper permits or a landscape plan. The OVCC’s Beautification Committee had put Webster’s father’s business on one of their agendas, because they found it “ugly,” according to Webster. He took an interest in the group at that point, becoming a member and beginning to attend meetings. OVCC members asked Webster to stay on after he proved to be an asset to the group.
“I showed up to an election meeting, and they didn’t have a candidate for second vice president, no one was raising their hands,” says Webster. “So I volunteered. I figured it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.”
The OVCC second vice president’s duties are primarily composed of organizing all of the events the group sponsors throughout the year. Webster’s new position requires even more than that. Among other things, he runs meetings and works on and attends events.
Each year, these events include: the Oak View July 4 festivities, the Oak View Memorial Day parade, a Christmas tree lighting ceremony at Rabobank in Oak View, an Easter egg hunt, and the Oak View Pageant of Excellence, among others. OVCC supports the Women’s Club of Oak View, along with other non-profit groups across the valley. Over the last three years, OVCC has planted more than 10 trees along North Ventura Avenue/Highway 33 in Oak View. Webster promises to plant 10 more before the end of 2013.
“The County of Ventura doesn’t have the money to keep the streets of Oak View clean,” states Webster. “So the OVCC Beautification Committee has taken all that on.”
In addition to everything they do in and for Oak View, the OVCC is working on establishing an afterschool program in Meiners Oaks, which currently lacks such an asset. Webster, and the organization he currently presides over, don’t seem to make the distinction between Ojai city limits and the rest of the communities in the Ojai Valley. He points out that many Oak View kids attend Ojai schools — especially Nordhoff High School — when their parents don’t want to send them to Ventura and would rather have their children attend school in a “closer-knit community.” Webster also points out that Oak View is home to the only Boys and Girls Club in the Ojai Valley, after the efforts of County Supervisor Steve Bennett and local Barbara Kennedy.
“Our mission statement is to provide youth activities for kids in our community,” says Webster. “I grew up in Oak View. I was a kid here, and there were a lot of good people who stepped up, volunteers who provided activities that enriched my life. It feels good to be in a position to give back, to pay a little of that forward.”
As a “side project,” the OVCC is also working on producing an Oak View edition of Monopoly, complete with local street names. Fernandez says the group hopes to have the game available for purchase by the Christmas season.
OVCC meetings take place at 6 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month, at the Oak View Community Center, 18 Valley Rd. The public is encouraged to attend at participate.
Visit www.oakviewca.org for more information on Oak View and the OVCC.
Thursday, September 6, 201
By Kit Stolz
Due to a calculation error, the city of Ojai has overcharged two downtown property owners for their share of upkeep and maintenance of the plaza and Arcade.
During and audit, Public Works Director Greg Grant discovered a $19,193 overcharge to Paul Robie, owner of the Ojai Chevron gas station.
“Mr. Robie was being significantly overcharged,” said Grant. “The station was remodeled in 2005, and the calculations for the size of the building were entered incorrectly, I don’t know how those numbers got into the spreadsheet — I wasn’t here at that time.”
The city refunded $10,352, for four years of overpayment, as it is obligated to do by law. Robie said the city offered to repay the balance through a new “set aside” fund totaling 1 percent of the plaza maintenance budget.
Robie said he has good relations with the city, but said he was “disappointed” by the slow pace of repayment.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “If I was underpaying my taxes and I owed the city $19,000, they would want that $19,000 back immediately, plus interest. They never did give me a time frame for the repayment.”
Steve McClary, assistant to the city manager, said he understood Robie’s complaint, but said the city was going beyond what was required by law under a statute of limitations.
“The city contacted Paul and notified him that he was being overcharged,” McClary said. “We immediately repaid him for the four years of overpayment that he was due under the law. We are going to do the right thing, and pay the remainder, but unfortunately the plaza maintenance district doesn’t have the money to repay him in full at this time.”
For over 30 years, businesses in downtown Ojai have assessed themselves a fee, based on the size of the business and its frontage in the Arcade, to maintain the plaza and the Arcade. The amount of money raised by this fee comes to about $145,000 a year, according to Grant. The average annual assessment charged to the participating downtown businesses is currently $2,900. The plaza maintenance fund has been running a deficit since 2006.
This June, the downtown businesses agreed to a 5 percent increase in this fee, with a set-aside fund for repayment to Robie, and property owner Ernie Solomon.
Alan Rains, owner of Rains Department Store and city treasurer, said that the downtown merchants and the city were working together to resolve the issue.
“The city is doing its very best to rectify any mistake that might have happened in the past, and to keep downtown viable and attractive,” he said.
Grant, of the public works department, said that 74 percent of the downtown merchants agreed to raise the plaza maintenance fee. As part of that agreement, 1 percent of the total maintenance budget was set aside to repay Robie and Solomon. The amount Solomon was overcharged was not immediately available.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
By Monica Lara
The Ventura County Sheriff’s deputy who was the victim of an attempted murder in 2010 took the stand Thursday in the first day of her alleged assailant’s trial.
Deputy Traci Salmon was the first witness in the trial of John Atkinson, 34, of Ojai.
Several people filled the left side of the courtroom Thursday to show support for Salmon.
Prior to Salmon’s testimony, Senior Deputy District Attorney Richard Simon began opening arguments.
“It was every law enforcement officer’s nightmare,” Simon said. “She did the absolute best she could, and luckily is alive to tell her story of December 10, 2010, a day she will never, ever forget.”
Simon reviewed the events that took place that day. He told the jury that although Atkinson has a history of mental illness, he was aware Salmon was a police officer. He asked them to find him guilty of the charges.
Atkinson is on trial for allegedly assaulting and attempting to murder Salmon when she responded to a 911 hang-up call at Atkinson’s parents’ home in the 4900 block of Casitas Pass Road.
Atkinson, 31 at the time, is suspected of abusing his parents prior to the time of the call. When Salmon approached the front door, Atkinson allegedly fought and gained control of her stun gun, gun and radio; and then turned them on her.
Atkinson has been charged with attempted murder, second-degree robbery, false imprisonment of elders and two counts of abuse of elders.
Several additional allegations could add to his sentence, if convicted. Use of a deadly weapon, assault on a peace officer and assault with a stun gun are included in the allegations.
Atkinson has been in custody in the Ventura County Jail on a $1 million bail.
The defense, represented by Rebekah Mathis of the Ventura County Public Defender’s Office, followed Simon’s statements explaining the background and extent of Atkinson’s mental illness. She asked the jury to image experiencing a bad dream while asleep and waking up affected to explain moments Atkinson experiences while awake. She argued to the jury that Atkinson was not aware of his actions and that they should find him not guilty.
“This case is not about Traci Salmon, this case is about what John Atkinson was thinking and understanding was reality,” Mathis said.
She went on claiming he did not want to hurt anyone.
“His mother was a victim, his father was a victim, Traci Salmon was a victim, but John Atkinson is a victim, too. A victim of mental illness,” Mathis said.
Dressed in her uniform, Salmon took the stand and explained the incident as she remembered it.
She said when she was assigned the call at 9:42 a.m. all other officers were busy, which is why she went alone.
She drove to the property and had to leave her car at the gated entrance and continue on foot. She identified Atkinson as the man who answered the door.
After some conversation with him, she asked to see if the other people in the house were OK. She said a man, identified as Atkinson’s father, mouthed “help us” to her, giving her cause to grab her stun gun.
“Simultaneously, as I was grabbing my taser, he jumped out and grabbed me,” Salmon said.
She said Atkinson tried to take the weapon and then reached for her gun, as well.
During the struggle, she tried to call for back up on her radio, but he stole it and hit her with it. She testified that he was able to gain control of the stun gun and used it on her several times. She fired her gun and hit him in the leg but he did not fall down or stop, according to Salmon.
In the ensuing struggle, her gun jammed and Atkinson allegedly gained control of the weapon and tried to fire it at her, but it was still jammed.
“I thought, I am going to die,” Salmon said. “I thought the only way out of this was I was going to die or he was going to.”
She was able to escape, she explained, and called for back up on her cell phone.
Pictures were shown in court of her bruises, burns and the open wounds she suffered during the attack.
“I didn’t even realize I was hurt until later,” Salmon said.
Additional witnesses expected to take the stand during the trial include doctors who have spent time with Atkinson and his parents.
Publisher’s note: Comments on this report will not be allowed.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
It is simple to understand that water flows downhill and that the Ojai Valley has two sources of water. One is an underground basin that runs roughly from Meditation Mount west to Libbey Park in the center of Ojai; the other is Lake Casitas.
Understanding who controls them and how is not so easy.
The East End is approximately 700 feet above sea level, and farmers there have access to the groundwater basin. They can extract water from it through wells on their property, but they also depend on the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) to supplement their water supply.
Like the East End farming community, Ojai residents also depend on the basin and Lake Casitas for water, but their water is delivered by Golden State Water Company (GSWC).
Upper Ojai is approximately 1,345 feet above sea level. Most of the growers there have limited access to ground water and depend on water from Lake Casitas for irrigation. This water is pumped uphill by the CMWD.
Twenty-two years ago Ojai farmers and Ojai city officials petitioned the state legislature to form the Ojai Groundwater Basin Management Agency to monitor and manage the underground resource.
The OBGMA’s five-member board is comprised of one representative from the city of Ojai, CMWD, Ojai Valley Water Conservation District OVWCD), Mutual Water Companies (Senior Canyon, Siete Robles and Hermitage) and Golden State Water.
Jerry Conrow, president of both OGBMA and the OVWCD is concerned about who would replace Golden State on the OGBMA board if a proposed takeover of Golden State is successful.
Although they are not GSWC customers, several East End farmers also are watching the battle between the private company and many of its customers because of the impact it could have on water leaving the basin.
Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW) is pushing to have CMWD take over Golden State’s Ojai operation. How GSWC’s seat on the board would be reallocated is yet to be determined.
The potential for one group to monopolize the Board and perhaps change regulations governing who gets water from the basin and how much they get is driving the famers’ concerns.
“If Casitas were to have two seats on the OGBMA board the East End farmers feel that the city of Ventura would have undue influence over the decisions made in our groundwater basin,” Conrow said.
The five-member Casitas board of directors includes two representatives from Ventura, one from Rincon, one from Oak View and one from Ojai.
Since the city of Ventura is downhill from the groundwater basin, as water comes into the basin it leaks out and runs, usually underground, into the San Antonio Creek and eventually ends up in the Ventura River at Casitas Springs. There the water is trapped by an underground dam and pumped out by Ventura.
“The city of Ventura is very aggressive about their water,” Conrow said. “They have what is called ‘mission rights’ which go back to when the city was formed and pre-dates California law.”
Ventura also has access to water from the Calif. Water System, aqueducts that come down the center of the state and is distributed to various cities in southern Calif.
“The Ojai Valley is not part of the Calif. System,” Conrow said. “So if the basin and Lake Casitas were ever to run dry there would be no water in the Ojai Valley. Lake Casitas was built to augment our agricultural water supply.”
Conrow claims that Ojai farmers were promised affordable water rates, but as time went on the laws changed and Casitas did not protect low-water rates for agriculture in the East End and Upper Ojai.
“The water rates that were promised are a far cry from what they are today — they didn’t go down once the dam was paid for,” Conrow said. “So when people make promises about what’s going to happen 25 years from now like FLOW is doing, I don’t believe it,” Conrow said. “I’m too much of a skeptic.”
The state legislature, as part of the OGBMA charter, gave it the power to impose quotas if the basin is threatened by over-drafting. This hasn’t happened since the formation of the agency, but that could soon change according to Conrow.
“We are two years into very limited rainfall right now,” Conrow said. “And we are starting to pay close attention to the depths of wells that are extracting water from the basin.”
Conrow explains that the agency put a mechanism into place about two years ago requiring meters installed on all of the larger wells that extract from the basin. The well owners voluntarily report their water consumption annually to the OBGMA board.
“If we have a serious enough drought period we will have to require users to reduce their extraction of water from the basin,” Conrow said. “The meter reports would serve as an historical reference on each well, and the board would vote on a required percentage reduction and surcharges for exceeding allowances for each well.”
Lake Casitas, the Casitas Dam and its infrastructure were built through a bond measure similar to the one now being proposed to finance the Golden State takeover.
Ojai FLOW member Ryan Blatz said his group is sensitive to the irrigation issues faced by Ojai’s farming community, and the consensus among the seven FLOW directors is to do everything they can to work with the farmers to insure that their irrigation needs are not threatened if Casitas takes over as the city of Ojai’s water purveyor.
“We want to make sure that the Casitas District we are proposing not only benefits the Ojai rate payers who now pay twice as much to Golden State as their neighbors, we especially want to see to it that the East End and Upper Ojai agricultural communities are protected as well,” Blatz explained.
Because the charter does not establish how a seat would be filled in this instance, Conrow said it will likely have to be determined by legislative action.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
By Angelique LaCour
Ojai small business owner and self-described problem solver, Jon Whaley, hopes to use pressure to get pressure — water pressure that is.
After years of what he says has been less-than-stellar service from Golden State Water Company (GSWC) Whaley filed a complaint with the California Public Utilities Consumer (CPUC) Affairs Division after attempts to resolve his water quality issues failed.
CPUC Public Information Officer, Andy Koch, said a prehearing conference, to determine the scope of the issues involved and to set a schedule for future activities, will take place Sept. 11 in front of an administrative law judge in San Francisco. He said possible outcomes will not be known until a couple of weeks after the hearing when the judge releases his scoping ruling.
“All I want is for them to formally apologize in writing to me and the CPUC for wasting so much of our time,” Whaley said.
From 1989 to 2002, Whaley lived in Mira Monte and was a Casitas Municipal Water District customer. He said during that time he had no complaints about his water quality or service.
“The first thing I noticed when we moved to Ojai in 2002 was that I was paying twice as much for water to Golden State than I’d paid to Casitas,” Whaley noted.
“We don’t waste water,” he said. “So the comparison is apples to apples.”
Not long after becoming a GSWC customer, Whaley began complaining to the company’s Ojai office about rusty water. To prevent damage to his home, he said he installed a whole-house water filtering system.
Whaley said he got “such a runaround” with no resolution from GSWC’s Ojai office that he eventually abandoned the effort.
Subsequently, on Sept. 30, 2011, Whaley called GSWC to complain about water pressure so low his sprinkler system wouldn’t work. The company told him a technician would be sent out that day. Whaley claims he stayed at home all day, but no technician came.
The following Wednesday, Whaley said he called again and was told there was no record of his call the previous Friday. He was assured that someone would be sent out that day, but claims a technician failed to come again.
A few days later, Whaley said he had so little water pressure he couldn’t take a shower. He called GSWC and was told there had been a water main break near his home. He asked to have the record checked about his two previous calls, and claims he was told there was no record of those calls.
Ten days after his first call, he said GSWC installed a pressure data recorder at his home.
“When the technician came to install the recorder he told my wife that the company would follow up with a report,” Whaley explained. “They picked up the recorder a week later, but no follow up ever happened. This time instead of calling and bugging them for the report again I filed an informal complaint,” Whaley said.
“For the Ojai Customer Service Area, fluctuations in pressure can occur during the day that fall between the acceptable limits as provided by the CPUC,” explained GSWC spokesperson Peter Demarco. “This is a normal operating function. Water pressure can also fluctuate if there is a transmission main break or large leak. In many instances, complaints regarding pressure are a result of an issue on the home side of the service. Water softeners, pressure reducing valves, home water treatment systems and plumbing fixture failures all can impact water pressure. Golden State conducts ongoing monitoring of the entire Ojai system at different locations to ensure water pressure levels fall within the acceptable limits.”
To get his day in front of a judge, Whaley had to send a letter detailing the complaint along with a current bill and check for payment of that bill to the CPUC’s Consumer Affairs Division.
The CAD then requires the utility company to respond in writing to the complaint issues.
When he received his November bi-monthly bill for $240.75 Whaley sent it to the CAD with a check and letter detailing all of his complaints going back to the rusty water in 2008.
For five months, letters went back and forth between Whaley and GSWC’s Petersen, who disputed Whaley’s complaints.
“When a customer has a service issue, a work order is issued and a service person investigates the problem,” Petersen said. “If the customer is not satisfied or there is a system malfunction causing the Golden State system low pressure, the superintendent becomes directly involved and uses company resources to correct the deficiency.”
Whaley disputes that the water pressure problem has been resolved for him and other residents in his Arbolada neighborhood.
In April, at the suggestion of Robert Navarro, the CAD representative handling his complaint, Whaley filed a formal complaint that was several inches thick and took him several months to compile.
Whaley obtained 60 signatures from other Ojai GSWC customers in support of the complaint filing along with letters from Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett and Ojai City Manager Robert Clark.
“I’ve consistently been concerned about Golden State’s delivery of cost effective water service to the residents of Ojai,” said Bennett. “And I’ve written letters expressing opposition to rate increases without proper oversight by the CPUC because I have concerns about that too.”
“We cannot comment about the specifics of Mr. Whaley’s service complaints,” said Ken Petersen, GSWC Coastal District Manager. “However, we can state that we have provided full documentation of the service history in this matter to the California Public Utilities Commission.”
Whaley says that the almost year-long process, now being handled by GSWC’s legal department, could have been avoided if the company had just admitted that they “screwed up.”
One of the Ojai Raptor Center’s ambassador birds, Dakota, has flown the coop.
The 17-year-old great horned owl escaped from her enclosure around noon Aug. 30, after a volunteer improperly secured the latch on the enclosure’s double doors. The clever raptor “busted out” of her cage at Help of Ojai’s West Campus on Baldwin Road, said ORC director Kim Stroud. “We saw it happen.”
Dakota — nicknamed “Boo” by Stroud, who has had her since she was 6 weeks old — can fly, but because she has imprinted on humans, she cannot hunt on her own and relies upon her handlers for food.
“She’s probably really hungry by now,” said Stroud on Tuesday. “Chances are, she’s going to land in someone’s yard looking for food.”
Dakota would be approachable, Stroud added, “… although she’s still dangerous with those talons. And she could probably be seen during daylight hours, which is also unusual for owls.”
Dakota is described as having the feather “horns” characteristic of her species; she has big yellow eyes, a white patch of feathers under her chin, and has black leather leads, or straps, around her legs.
“You’re not going to see another owl flying around with leads on,” Stroud pointed out.
Although Stroud says the owl might respond to “Dakota” or “Boo,” she would prefer those who think they’ve spotted her not to attempt to capture the bird, but to call Stroud immediately.
Stroud advises residents to also pay attention to the other birds in the area. “There could be crow or scrubjay activity that might be strange in the area — a lot of caw-caw-cawing in the trees. You might look up and see an owl in the tree.”
Left to her own devices in the wild, Dakota “wouldn’t take a mate … she doesn’t have the social skills. And she’ll probably go to people for food. We really hope somebody will find her!”
If you think you’ve seen Dakota, contact Stroud at 798-3600 or 649-6884 immediately.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
By Tiobe Barron
After nearly four years of work, the city of Ojai and the owners of Seafresh Seafood Restaurant may finally reach agreement over the restaurant’s exterior design.Wednesday at the Ojai Planning Commission meeting.
“The applicant originally wanted to create a complex like Vons, something large. The planning commissioners did not approve the first proposal; they wanted something more Ojai-like,” says Shari Herbruck, building and planning technician with the Ojai Planning Department.
Seafresh began renovations earlier this year, but when its new signs, lighting and landscaping did not match the approved plan, city staff alerted the business owner Gus Garcia that the matter would be reviewed during a Sept. 5 Ojai Planning Commission public hearing.
At its Aug. 14 meeting, however, Ojai City Council members told staff that they considered the changes to be minimal and directed them to waive fees if any additional permits are required.
“It seems like it’s a lot to do about nothing,” said Mayor Pro Tem Paul Blatz at that meeting.
Community members and planning commissioners alike will have their chance to voice their own opinions at tonight’s 6 p.m. public hearing.
Another item on that meeting’s agenda includes a director-approved exemption from the single-use carry out bag ordinance for Rains Department store in the Arcade.
“We had asked for three months just to deplete our current stock,” said owner Alan Rains in a recent phone interview. “They gave us a year, I think that’s just standard form. But we should be out of the plastic bags in 60 days, and we’ll switch to the paper bags then.”
Terry Starr, of Starr Market, says the same courtesy was not extended to him.
“I called and asked the city if I could have more time, and was told no, that it had already taken them so long to put the ordinance into effect they couldn’t grant me an extension,” said Starr. “I just called, I didn’t put anything in writing, but I was told I couldn’t have an extension. I’ve lost a lot of business from not having plastic bags. People are boycotting businesses in Ojai, going to Ventura instead.”
Commissioner Troy Becker said Tuesday he was unaware of the decision to grant Rains an exemption, for which an approval letter was mailed Aug. 13, according to documents found on the city’s website. Becker said the extension was granted adminstratively by Rob Mullane, the community development director for the city. “This did not go before the commissioners because it qualified under a director’s decision — we simply get a report on (these),” Becker said.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information on the upcoming Planning Commission meeting, which will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Council Chambers at City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
By Monica Lara
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
By Kit Stolz
Without opposition, the California Senate and Assembly approved a bill sponsored by Bob Huff (R-Claremont) that empowers the California Public Utilities Commission to look at requests for rate increases by local water companies with 2,000 or more customer hook-ups and their subsidiaries. The governor signed the bill in August.
The PUC already oversees public electrical, gas, and telephone rate structures, and has the power to assess penalties for violation of rules and regulations, but this legislation ensures that even small water companies servicing military bases or offering other services to cities will be under CPUC jurisdiction.
In Ojai, both the Golden State Water Company (GSWC) and Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water (FLOW) support the legislation.
“The Huff bill seeks to bring a little stability to the process,” said Bob Daddi, a director at Ojai FLOW. “A lot of these issues, such for example over pumping, and the value of liquid assets underground, are incredibly difficult to understand, and the PUC process should bring more transparency and disclosure.”
“We believe greater transparency throughout the water industry is a positive reform to help people understand what we invest to maintain our systems and the corresponding value to our customers, said Golden State vice president Denise Kruger. “The legislation gives customers more information so they can see exactly what they’re getting when they pay a water bill.”
At the Division of Ratepayer Advocates, (DRA) which represents consumers in disputes before the Public Utilities Commission, general manager Denilo Sanchez explained that the legislation extends the agency’s jurisdiction to oversee even subsidiaries and services offered by utilities to municipalities.
“A lot of these big utilities have subsidiaries that are part of the parent company and provide non-tariff services, such as a billing system, or a meter reading system, to a municipality. Basically this legislation gives the CPUC oversight authority over these services, as well as the parent company,” he said.
Daddi said that the complex CPUC process can not compare with local oversight. “What this will do is allow people to understand the difference between the poorly-regulated oversight by the CPUC and a local vote by residents when it comes to rate increases,” he said. “What we need to be rescued from is the arbitrary CPUC process and to give local water under our feet back to people without a massive profit motive.”
At Casitas Municipal Water District, general manager Steve Wickstrum said he was not familiar with the Huff bill, and couldn’t comment on CPUC procedures, though he stressed that Casitas is already is open to the public.
“We are a public agency, with elected board members, open meetings, and we operate transparently,” he said.
Although Golden State Water, Ojai FLOW, and officials concur on the need for greater transparency, they agree on little else.
The Casitas board recently voted unanimously to pursue a public takeover of the investor-owned Golden State Water system in Ojai by eminent domain. This would require a vote of approval from two-thirds of voters registered in the GSWC’s Ojai service area.
In July, GSWC reached a settlement with a non-profit group, The Utility Reform Network (TURN), calling for a reduction in the rate increase requested by Golden State next year from 21.4 percent to 15 percent. The agreement will be presented to an administrative law judge in San Francisco Friday, Sanchez said, and a decision is expected in October.