Oct. 30, 2012
Angelique LaCour and Misty Volaski
A Casitas Municipal Water District Board candidate is sparring with Ojai’s Golden State Water Company over his campaign materials.
It all started when Golden State representatives caught wind of a piece Troy Becker had written and submitted to the League of Women Voters’ Smart Voter website (www.smartvoter.org). It contained Becker’s response to a Sept. 23 Ventura County Star guest editorial, written by Golden State’s senior vice president, Denise Kruger, titled “Choices for Ojai water customers.”
Becker’s 1,400-plus word position piece discusses water rights, rate increases, the cost of the system and customer service, among other things. Kruger’s guest editorial, Becker wrote, “brought a vision of the executioner hovering the blade above the revolutionary’s neck and the executioner says, ‘Wait a minute, this is going to get better, just give me a sec.’”
The folks at Golden State, not surprisingly, disagree with Becker. Company spokesperson Mitch Zak sent Becker a letter dated Oct. 26, claiming that he had “made numerous statements that have no basis in fact” on the Smart Voter site.
When Becker received the letter from the private water purveyor last week, he was surprised. “My first thought was, ‘Wow, I got a letter from Golden State.’ I’m just a pool man who is a candidate for the water board,” said Becker. “I thought, this may be a good way to open a conversation, because the community has been waiting to hear what they have to say for a long time now.”
Zak’s letter was copied to the League of Women Voters, the CMWD general manager and Board of Directors, and to Becker’s fellow candidates Russ Baggerly and Jerry Conrow. It read in part, “Your assertion that Golden State has no water rights is wrong … they cannot be infringed by others or taken by governmental action without due process and just compensation.”
Golden State’s letter requests that Becker amend his statements. “As a candidate for public office, we are hopeful that you will correct the inaccuracies in your campaign information.”
Becker said Monday he has no intention of correcting any of his statements.
“Well, obviously that’s Mr. Becker’s decision as to whether or not he wants to communicate facts or his opinion,” Zak said Tuesday. “Our goal is simply to communicate the facts … at this point, obviously, I don’t think it does anybody any good to file a lawsuit. We’ll trust the court of public opinion.”
Becker believes that Golden State is using scare tactics — like Kruger’s letter — to “bully” the community into believing that it would be cost prohibitive for Casitas to purchase Golden State’s Ojai operation. He plans to post Zak’s letter on his campaign web site and e-blast it to more than 1,000 supporters.
“This is a momentous occasion,” Becker said. “Golden State Water has finally stated their position. F.L.O.W. (Friends of Locally Owned Water) has been out there for two years. And now I get a letter because they read my campaign statement? Amazing.”
“There’s certainly room for political rhetoric, and we appreciate that, but when it comes to basic inaccuracies, we want to correct that information,” Zak added.
Both Baggerly and Conrow acknowledged that they had received copies of the letter.
“People have to make sure that what they put out there for people to read and understand is correct, and that goes for both sides,” Baggerly said. “And there’s no guarantee you’re gonna get that, because everybody has an agenda.”
Conrow took a decisive position, saying, “The issue is water rights … What Becker’s saying is just not correct. The Golden State letter refers to a court case that established water rights to people who have been extracting water on their property for a number of years … I think Becker is wrong. I think his response was an emotional response to the letter (from Kruger). Factually, he is not correct.”
Oct. 30, 2012
Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
Streets deemed two of the worst in Ojai are scheduled for improvements beginning in November.
The work will include 350 yards on El Paseo Road, from Ojai Avenue to Sierra Road, and 350 yards on East Oak Street, from North Montgomery Street to Drown Avenue.
It has been about 10 years since the city has been able to dedicate funding for a capitol improvement program, according to Greg Grant, the city’s public works director.
“The city’s roadways are the city’s major asset, but to maintain them is very costly,” Grant said. “We have been severely lacking in street improvements because we haven’t had a lot of money to put toward capitol improvements in a long time. Our main focus is going to be street improvements.”
The improvements for the two roadways are expected to cost approximately $174,000, according to Grant.
The sections of El Paseo Road and East Oak Street were selected for the repaving improvements because they were rated the worst in Ojai based on their traffic flow and use. Five additional streets, that received the same grade, are expected to receive similar improvements by next summer.
Steve Weed, a resident on East Oak Street, looks forward to the repaving. He said the area has needed improvements for a while.
“If you ask anybody, anybody, they will say ‘Oh happy day,’” Weed said. “It’s just really self-evident if you just drive down the street. There are little potholes everywhere.”
The city contracted J & H Engineering, of Camarillo, to apply new asphalt overlay on the two roads. The overlay will be rubberized with recycled tires making it longer lasting and 10 times more flexible than standard asphalt. The added flexibility helps lengthen the time it takes for the surface to erode due to weather or traffic use. It will also help reduce road noise.
Residents, businesses and schools along the roadways will be notified a week before the paving starts. The department expects limited closures and will keep one lane open and redirect traffic during the repaving.
“Closures should be minor, couple days for each street,” Grant said. “We will make sure to maintain the flow of traffic in those areas.”
The city has applied for a federal grant to continue its repaving efforts along the five remaining roadways next year. Expected to be fully funded through the grant, those improvements are expected to cost approximately $440,000. The streets included are Pleasant Avenue, Bristol Road, Summer Street, Aliso Street and Fox Street.
Oct. 30, 2012
Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
An Ojai man died in a traffic collision while bicycling to Ventura Friday.
Phillip “Russ” Vivian, 61, was cycling when he collided with a Ford utility truck near Foster Park and Highway 33. The accident occurred at 8:50 a.m. at the intersection of Santa Ana Road and Casitas Vista Road. Vivian was cycling south on Santa Ana Road and the truck driver was headed west on Casitas Vista Road, when the two collided.
There is a stop sign on Santa Ana Road, but not one for traffic travelling on Casitas Vista Road.
“The officer at the scene reported he (Vivian) did not stop at the stop sign when the collision happened,” said Steve Reid, California Highway Patrol public information officer.
Vivian was reportedly wearing a helmet and other safety gear.
He could not be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene.
The accident is still under investigation, according to Reid.
Vivian was an Ojai resident for 16 years. A local businessman, Vivian owned Ojai Stitchworks, on Bryant Circle, for 15 years. The company specializes in clothing manufacturing, such as embroidery and screen-printing. In 2006, he acquired and ran Celtic Fashions, an Irish and Scottish clothing design company.
Bicycling was among the several hobbies he enjoyed with his wife, Sally O’Dell.
Services will be held for Vivian at the Ojai Presbyterian Church, 304 N. Foothill Road, Nov. 4. at 3 p.m.
Oct. 30, 2012
By Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Los Padres National Forest’s Ojai Ranger District officials have closed Gridley Trail after a local woman, who was walking her dogs Oct. 19, encountered a 250-pound mother brown bear on the trail. Terri Fernow received minor injuries, a laceration on her wrist and abrasions on her back, but did not seek medical attention after the encounter.
The trail will be closed to hikers until Nov. 2 while officials examine the trail conditions and determine the level of public safety in that area.
According to Andrew Hughan, of the California Department of Fish and Game, avocados are rich in fat and bears know where their local avocado orchards are. More than one avocado orchard adjoins the Gridley Trail.
This time of year the bears are stocking up on food before hibernating for the winter, and Hughan says that the very dry summer we had this year may account for less food in bears’ natural habitat, driving them into more residential areas as they search for food.
“It is the time of year when bears migrate downhill to find food sources during the fall and winter. Their food sources become limited by the end of the summer and they travel greater distances or to lower elevations to find food. In the area of the Gridley Trail, bears have been observed recently in the avocado orchards, but also in the upper sections of the trail,” states a recent press release from the Ojai Ranger District.
“It is imperative that hikers using the forest trails understand bear behaviors and take appropriate actions to provide for their safety,” said Charlie Robinson, recreation officer for the Ojai Ranger District. “Generally, bears are more active in the morning and evening hours, and hikers are encouraged to use another trail or hike at another time of day to avoid encountering bears.”
Janice Mackay, information officer with the CDFG, says the department has halted their search for the mother bear.
According to the CDFG website, there have been 15 confirmed bear attacks in California since 1980.
This was the second interaction between Ojai residents and bears in just as many weeks, after a ranch employee discovered an abandoned bear cub in an orchard off Fairview Road Oct. 12.
Oct. 25, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Attempts to garner information from Southern California Edison (SCE) regarding its installation of Smart Meters in Ojai has proved largely unsuccessful, the Ojai City Council learned Tuesday night.
In a letter dated Oct. 3, Ojai City Manager Rob Clark wrote to SCE and requested information related to the utilities’ placement of the disputed equipment within the city limits.
In his letter, He asked for maps of the placement and deployment status of every meter placed within the city limits, including individual meters, collector meters and banks of meters, wiring and power lines and all other equipment.
He also sought information about the manufacturer of each piece of equipment, model numbers of all equipment and proof of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) certification of each piece of equipment;
The request also asked for the frequency ranges that each piece of equipment emits and uses in its operation, including projected and actual, and how those align with worldwide standards in light of the full spectrum of the latest research on the health effects of EMFs.
Also requested were deployment schedules for each component with information about what has been installed to date and what is scheduled to be installed in the future.
Clark asked for full disclosure of federal and state laws and regulations governing and guiding installation of the Smart Grid and proof of how the company has met all federal and State technical specs, process guidelines, and requirements for giving the cities and unincorporated areas in its service district full disclosure of its plans;
Finally, he asked for a demonstration of the expertise of installers as assurance that each installer is qualified to install the meters according to codes and standards.
“The response that we got, it really wasn’t complete, in that it didn’t reveal the location of their various items, citing both security and confidentiality reasons,” Clark informed Council members.
These are the latest communications in a series of correspondence that began when the Ojai City Council passed a largely-symbolic ban on the installation of Smart Meters effective May 29. Mayor Betsy Clapp wrote to both SCE and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) requesting an option for a community-wide opt-out of the Smart Meter installation, after numerous Ojai residents came forward expressing concerns ranging from privacy to possible health effects from the wireless devices.
One such resident, Rae Amey, also spoke at the meeting.
“I’m very glad to hear the letter went out,” Amey said. She told council members that she and a group of concerned residents plan to meet with a group of Topanga residents who have allegedly experienced negative effects since the installation of Smart Meters in their community.
“Do we know whether or not there has been an impact at the state level because of citizen concern on this issue?” asked Councilwoman Carlon Strobel. Clark responded that the CPUC is currently conducting hearings on the matter, so it is an active issue at the state level. The CPUC also has written to the Council, informing them CPUC views the city’s recent Smart Meter ban as illegal and unenforceable.
Clark said he has heard from gas companies, who say they plan to deploy their own wireless meters between March 2016 and June 2017.
At the same meeting, the acting director of the Ojai Recreation Department, Sophocles Cotsis, requested a one-time exemption to the exchange of services policy for the department. The policy allows nonprofit groups to do work (usually repair-based) for the department free of charge, in exchange for waiving the park use fees. Local resident Bob Hill wants to rent Sarzotti Park Nov. 10 for corporate “Olympic games style events,” in exchange for repairing the horseshoe pit area, picnic area No. 1, assembling seven new picnic tables, and other work estimated at a value of $2,000 in lieu of the approximately $1,000 park use fee.
“We are asking just for this one-time exception, and then we are going to revisit the exchange of services policy to maybe make it a little broader than what it currently is,” Cotsis said. Council granted the request.
Council members also took the opportunity to laud the efforts of Ojai Day planners Lynda Killingsworth, Paul Casanta and Amber Young.
“Given the circumstances that surrounded Ojai Day this year, I want to thank staff and all the members of the Parks and Recreation Department that were actively involved in the organization of that,” said Mayor Pro Tem Paul Blatz. “It was the Council’s wish that Ojai Day continue as it had. There were some circumstances that developed that made it somewhat stressful. When we directed Mr. Clark to do it, it was done, and I appreciate that.”
Council will hold a meeting Nov. 27 to examine extending the moratorium banning Smart Meter installation. Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view the correspondence between Council, SCE and the CPUC.
Oct. 25, 2012
By Maria Saint, OVN correspondent
“Eat, drink and be merry” and help good causes at the same time at the Rotary Club of Ojai’s 12th annual Taste of Ojai. Held on the 10th green at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, this year’s event runs from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s a real social engagement,” said Peter Bowen, Rotary’s event chairman. “People have had their summers, the children are back at school and they’re sort of getting back in gear. This is a great time for people to get together who haven’t seen each other for a while. … It’s just a great way of reminding everyone how beautiful Ojai is and it’s a great way to catch up and celebrate where we live.”
There will be more than 25 local restaurants, as well as local wineries and breweries. Vendors include Agave Maria, Bad Wolf BBQ, Boccali’s, Casa Barranca Winery, Feast Bistro, Il Giardino, La Piu Bella Tavola, Lori’s Original Lemonade, Ojai Ice Cream, Old Creek Ranch Winery, Sakura Ojai, The Ranch House and Vino V.
Bowen said vendors will provide a 1-ounce portion of whatever item it is they will serve at the Taste of Ojai for each guest.
“The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa will be featuring items from its three restaurants. They’re in the VIP tent, but they’re going to be showcasing items you can find at their restaurants of Maravilla, The Oak Grill and Jimmy’s Pub,” he said.
“We certainly encourage attendance because the proceeds from our Taste of Ojai go to the Rotary Club of Ojai’s Educational Foundation, which does a world of good for this small community,” said Kelly Randall, Rotary Club of Ojai’s president. “It’s a really fun day — a food-filled, fun afternoon and well worth the price of admission, and I know if you come, you will enjoy it.”
The Taste of Ojai is the club’s annual fundraising event, according to Bowen.
“It’s in an effort to showcase the beauty of the Ojai Valley and its products and services to a degree, but a celebration of giving everyone a chance to taste the magic of what’s happening in this valley from a culinary standpoint, from a vintner’s standpoint, a brewery’s standpoint and all the while generating money for the Rotary Club of Ojai’s Educational Foundation and charities,” he said.
The event is strictly for adults; no children or pets.
“A ticket is $65 — all the food, the beverage, the entertainment and it’s a three-hour celebration of the beauty of the Ojai Valley,” Bowen said. “I strongly encourage everyone to get tickets prior to the event. We may have a few available at the door, but we are limited to 500 people. The VIP tent has 200 and that is already sold out. There’s 300 tickets for the general admission, which you’re getting a taste of all those vendors and there’s live music by Sgt. Pepper.”
Tickets are available at the Attitude Adjustment Shop (646-1109) and the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce (646-8126). Visit www.tasteofojai.com for more information.
Oct. 25, 2012
By Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
In January, the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) made its final payment to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on a $31 million loan dating back to 1960, primarily for the construction of Casitas Dam.
This November, three of the five members of the CMWD Board of Directors are up for re-election. The biggest issue facing the District is the possibility of financing a bond to take over a city franchise to provide water to approximately 2,400 households currently served by the for-profit Golden State Water company.
The cost of such an eminent domain proceeding is $33 million, according to an initial estimate from Ojai FLOW, the group spearheading the takeover, or possibly much more, according to Casitas.
District 5 includes downtown Ojai and the East End and is currently represented by Russ Baggerly. This race has attracted two challengers. One is Troy Becker, who serves on the Ojai Planning Commission. He is running for the Casitas board for the first time and has called for Casitas to take a more active role in the Golden State dispute.
“This issue has been developing for 10 years,” he said. “It took a group of fed-up citizens to take the lead. Our district representative has done nothing to get in front of this dispute, because the board members see the issue as a Golden State issue and not a District or an Ojai Valley issue.”
Becker, who owns the Ojai Pool Store, thinks the eminent domain deal outlined by the Ojai FLOW group, which would require a two-thirds vote of registered voters within the current Golden State service area, will be beneficial to Casitas and will help keep water rates low for people throughout the valley.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that this is a good deal for Casitas,” he said. “Right now Golden State ratepayers are paying five to seven times what others in the valley are paying, and that’s a huge concern for seniors.”
In July, the Casitas Board unanimously approved a proposal to spend $28,000 to study the takeover of the city franchise despite assertions from GSW officials that the franchise is not for sale.
Also running for Baggerly’s seat is Jerry Conrow, a CPA who currently is president of both the Ojai Valley Groundwater Management Agency (OBGMA) and the Ojai Valley Water Conservation District. Conrow, an East End citrus farmer, questions the idea that rates would drop after a Casitas takeover of GSW.
“I don’t see how Casitas can run Golden State without additional manpower,” he said. “It’s a stand-alone company. It’s going to have to have its own separate accounting system, its own separate legal representation.”
Conrow believes that if Casitas did take over the franchise, then it arguably could be entitled to two representatives on the five-person OBGMA Board, which he thinks would be in violation of its charter legislation, as well as infringing on the rights of well operators in the valley.
“I don’t think Golden State could sell its interest in the water basin without the state changing the legislation,” he said. “The city of Ojai cannot make such a decision without consulting the farming community.”
Baggerly, who has served on the Board for eight years, agrees that if Casitas does take over Golden State’s Ojai operation, well owners need to be represented. He proposes that every well owner within the boundaries of the Ojai basin be asked to join a “pumper’s club,” and that the group choose a representative to be on the groundwater agency, in lieu of a second representative from Casitas.
Baggerly said that keeping water rates low in Ojai is crucial for preservation of its way of life, both for farmers and for residents.
“If you look at water rates for agriculture, we have some of the lowest rates in Southern California,” he said, pointing to a spreadsheet showing that agricultural rates for gravity-fed water in Ojai were less than half that of a Piru district, about one-third the rates in a Moorpark district and one-fifth the rates in a San Diego district.
“We need to preserve these rates, but the previous administration set rates inordinately low and developed $9 million dollars in deferred maintenance,” Baggerly said. “That’s no way to run a business.”
For Pete Kaiser, who has served as the Division 3 CMWD representative for 10 years, the biggest issue facing the District is the possible take-over of Golden State Water.
“That’s the 1,000-pound gorilla in the room,” he said. “But we’ve got to make sure that should the [Golden State] electorate decide to proceed with the acquisition, that our existing ratepayers not be impacted by any kind of takeover.”
Kaiser, who has served on the area’s Municipal Advisory Council, and on the Ojai Valley Sanitary District Board, has been a resident of the valley for more than 25 years. He believes the CMWD has worked effectively to keep water rates low, to provide a sustainable supply of water and he takes pride in the improvements at the Lake Casitas Recreation Area. He is being challenged by Jeff Ketelsen, who did not respond to repeated calls for comment.
Jim Word, the retired manager of a department store in Ventura, has served as the Division 2 representative on CMWD since 1997. He believes that under general manager Steve Wickstrum the District has done a good job in catching up on deferred maintenance, before it would have resulted in much higher costs to ratepayers. He also sees the desire of Golden State ratepayers to be served by Casitas as a vote of confidence.
“The fact that a goodly number of Golden State ratepayers signed a petition saying they wanted to be part of our organization shows that I think that they feel we’re doing a good job,” he said.
Word is being challenged by Dave Norrdin, who did not answer repeated calls.
Oct. 25, 2012
By Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
If voters fail to approve one of two ballot propositions to raise taxes and replace the loss of about six billion dollars in cutbacks to public education in California, the Ojai school year will be cut by up to 15 days, Ojai schools superintendent Hank Bangser told a small crowd of parents and supporters at Matilija Auditorium Tuesday night.
“This one makes me angry,” he said. “I’m angry that at this time, in this state, that a proposition that could result in a 160-day school year this year and next year is barely hanging on at a 50 percent approval rating. I can’t fathom how the citizens of California would allow this to happen.”
Bangser said Ojai schools have already been hit hard by cutbacks, due to a one-third drop in enrollment since its high water mark in l997.
“A perfect storm came together, and we not only lost the amount of money per child that every other district lost [due to state cutbacks], but we’re also losing children,” he said. “And after four years of cuts, the kindergarten through third grade class size has gone from 20 to 31, and every other average class size is going up as well.”
As a result, Bangser said the District decided that if both propositions 30 and 38 fail, Ojai schools will not lay off more teachers but will close early.
“We know that we might have to find up to $1.2 million dollars,” he said. “If [the education funding propositions fail] we’re going to have to lose more than 10 school days but may be able to keep it to less than 15. If we’re at 12 days lost, that would take us to the Friday before Memorial Day.”
Bangser stressed that his presentation was intended to be informational.
“The point is not to get people out to vote for Prop. 30 or 38 because numerically we’re a small community,” he said. “What I want is for the community to know what will happen here in Ojai if voters across the state reject the propositions.”
In his presentation, Bangser explained the differences between the two propositions. Prop 30, which was backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, is designed to avoid further cuts in K-12 funding by raising the state sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent for four years, and by hiking the income tax on high earners, those earning $250,000 or more a year as individuals, or $500,000 or more as couples. This will generate an estimated $6.8 billion this fiscal year, enough to replace the revenues lost in cuts to the state budget to close the deficit gap. This will also allow school districts to avoid mid-year budget cuts, but it gives the schools no additional funding.
Prop. 38, which is backed by philanthropist named Molly Munger, increases the state income tax on a sliding scale for nearly all taxpayers. Those earning as little as $7,316 pay 0.4 percent more, while those earning up to $2.5 million annually will pay 2.2 percent more. This is expected to generate $15 billion in 2013-14, with new revenue for schools, but Prop. 38 has no funds available immediately to help districts avoid cutbacks slated for this school year. Bangser said he believes if it passes, a way will be found to borrow against future revenues to avoid mid-year school cuts.
If both propositions pass, the one receiving the higher number of votes will be implemented.
Oct. 23, 2012
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
At the same time the presidential hopefuls were debating Monday night, the four candidates running for two open seats on the Ojai Unified School District (OUSD) Board also met in a public candidates forum.
Incumbents Linda Taylor and Thayne Whipple and challengers Kevin Ruf and Bill Ansell each answered six questions during the event, which was hosted by the Ojai Valley News and moderated by OVN Publisher Tim Dewar. After the moderated portion of the hour and a half event, questions from the audience were taken.
Candidates began with opening statements, in which Ruf brought up what turned out to be one of the biggest points of contention that night: health insurance benefits for board members. As he has done before, Ruf took issue with board members accepting health insurance in exchange for their service, primarily because it was estimated to cost the OUSD $66,000 this year (board members can opt to receive $250 per board meeting instead). “I think that we live in an era when, just starting with that, it’s the kind of thing that makes people cynical,” Ruf said Monday night.
Both Taylor and Whipple defended the policy.
Whipple said while he appreciated Ruf’s sentiment, he felt that offering those benefits ensured that the Board would have quality members who would take the position seriously. Ruf retorted, “Clearly, when this benefit perk was started, it was not intended to be worth … $13,000 per year. It was presumably at some point worth about $250 per meeting.”
Later, Taylor pointed out that providing health insurance to board members was legal and common in the state, and that board members often contribute funds back to the District. She added that she had determined she makes about 21 cents an hour for the time she spends on school board activities. “I think I’m worth that,” she explained.
Ansell said he was unaware that the board members were offered health insurance, but suggested that perhaps the Board could stop providing itself benefits until its financial situation improved. “We are all gonna have to share … some of the suffering,” he said.
The candidates were asked if they were concerned about the District’s declining enrollment and what they would do to stop it.
Whipple said having events like Ojai Day, which attract people from other cities, helps by showing off the town and its offerings. He used his own family as an example, saying, “We came here 14 years ago … and we fell in love with it and didn’t want to leave.”
Both Whipple and Taylor cited Summit Elementary School as a positive example of increasing enrollment through attracting students from neighboring districts. Taylor also suggested discussing the issue with city officials, while Whipple said the District should leverage technology more, particularly to bring in more home schooling families.
Ruf joked that he had done his part by having his third child, later adding, “I don’t think there’s much we can do to stop it (declining enrollment). We have to plan accordingly, we have to rationalize our expenses to meet our needs.”
Ansell pointed out that “This is a gorgeous community to live in, but it’s also expensive,” meaning young families with children often cannot afford to move here. “I don’t have an answer this evening,” he added, “but there’s no question that our No. 1 priority is to make schools work effectively so that we produce a population that can go out and do good things.”
On the issue of Propositions 30 and 38, tax initiatives that seek to avoid drastic funding cuts for schools, Ansell said he didn’t know enough about the District’s budget to offer answers as to how he would help get the District through the year should the initiatives fail. “I’d want to give that some serious thought,” he said.
Taylor began her response by explaining the Board’s main goal is to balance the budget, and that if it failed, the state could take over the District. Because a failure of the propositions would mean a loss of about $1.2 million to the OUSD, Taylor said the Board would have to make “horrendous pay cuts for all staff” and it would result in at least two weeks less of school.
Whipple said he had already gone to local legislators to lobby for school funding, and said he would reach out to other people in the valley for possible contributions to the District. Later, Whipple explained that he had abstained from the OUSD Board’s vote to support Prop. 30 because he felt the state legislature was holding schools hostage. He explained that he would be voting yes, but that “I absolutely do not endorse the situation.”
Asked about his youngest child’s enrollment in a school outside of the OUSD, Whipple said that she was recruited by The Thacher School and she determined it was the best place for her. All of his other children went through Ojai’s public schools, he added.
Asked the same question about his youngest attending a non-OUSD school, Ruf said his 3-year-old was attending Monica Ros and was too young for public school. When he was told that the OUSD did have a public preschool, he admitted he was unaware of that.
In their individual questions, both challengers were asked how many board meetings they had attended, and how they were preparing for a seat on the Board if elected. Both said they hadn’t attended many board meetings. Ruf said he read all the agendas and minutes of the board meetings, as well as studied the budget and met with several administrators.
Ansell pointed to his experience in the classroom over his 50 years in education as a big reason he felt qualified and ready. “I have something to offer you,” he said to the crowd. “There has got to be a creative way to fund our schools.” He also expressed his passion for the arts, particularly music. “I’ve never seen a musician that wasn’t happy when he was playing.”
Later, Ruf said he was in favor of looking into another parcel tax initiative for the city, and that he would “descend into the weeds of the budget … to try to be the best salesman for a parcel tax.”
When asked whether she would support the two petitions for new charter schools within the OUSD, Taylor noted that she hadn’t decided because more information was still coming in from petitioner Caprice Pitcher. She did, however, still have questions about things such as the charter schools’ finances and whether they could serve all populations of students.
Asked the same thing, Whipple said while he liked the idea of the SelfDesign charter schools, he too had questions that were still in the process of being answered. OUSD Superintendent Hank Bangser noted that the board would make the final decision at its Nov. 13 meeting.
When asked what, in a perfect world, she would eliminate from the budget, and where she would reappropriate those funds, Taylor responded “I would turn off the lights all over the District and reinstate summer school.”
Visit www.ojai.k12.ca.us for more information on the OUSD, including board meeting schedules, agendas, policies and more.
By Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
An employee at a ranch off Fairview Road in Ojai had an unexpected encounter with wildlife when he stumbled across a baby bear Oct. 12.
“He left it alone at first,” says Kim Stroud of the Ojai Raptor Center (ORC), a local organization which specializes in wildlife rehabilitation. Stroud says the employee, who wishes to remain unnamed, merely observed for three days, but when he could discover no evidence of a mother bear — like fresh scat or paw prints — he took the cub to the Raptor Center. ORC crew members examined the cub, a female they estimated was three months old and a mere ten pounds. Aside from being underweight and dehydrated, the cub was healthy and alert, according to Stroud, so the ORC called in the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to transport the cub to the only rehabilitation center in the state geared toward handling bears, located in Tahoe.
“Bear caging is really, really expensive,” explains Stroud. She said the cub will be cared for while it hibernates, and then will be placed in a den where she will awake in the wild near Tahoe.
“Bears are hard to rehabilitate. When they are very young, they can get too tame, and become problem animals,” says Stroud. “Exclusion is the best policy for urban wildlife.”
Andrew Hughan with the DFG corroborates this sentiment.
“We never want to interfere with bears at all,” says Hughan. According to the DFG’s website, their preference is to “keep animals in the wild whenever possible. In special circumstances the Department has partners that provide support and services to help injured, orphaned or abandoned wildlife return to their natural habitat.”
Stroud says the ORC will always be one such partner. “We like to take all wildlife. We know what to do. We are licensed first responders, we have the contacts and tools to do immediate care,” Stroud says. “We are here for the community.”
“They did a tremendous job, it was really a great group effort,” says Hughan of the ORC, adding that the ranch employee did the right thing seeking them out. “We sure appreciate his efforts.”
Hughan maintains that there is no increase in bear activity in the area, merely an increase in the reporting of such activity, which is normal for the time of year.
“Right now, before they start hibernating next month or so, bears are stocking up on food, so there is a rush of activity,” says Hughan. “The weather is certainly a factor. It was a really dry summer, so there is less food in their natural habitat.”
Hughan adds that avocados are some of bears’ favorite foods, as it is rich in fats, and local bears are conditioned to know where avocado orchards are.
Perhaps this conditioning was a factor in a second, unrelated bear encounter when a local woman walking her three dogs at 7 a.m. Oct. 19 was attacked by an approximately 250 lb. mother black bear with a cub. The woman, also wishing to remain anonymous, was walking along a road north of city limits adjacent to the National Forest area when she encountered the sow and her cub. When the bear charged, the woman put her arms up to guard her face and received a one-inch laceration on her wrist. She also got abrasions on her back when the bear pushed her into an embankment, where she remained still with her head between her knees.
After the bear became disinterested and left the area, the woman called police, but did not seek medical attention.
A press release from the DFG said that the department would temporarily close some trails to hikers, although Hughan did not know exactly which ones. The release also said DFG would attempt to capture the offending bear. However, DFG called off the hunt Sunday when no trace of it could be found.
According to the DFG website, there have been 15 confirmed bear attacks since 1980, the most recent of which, prior to this case, happened in the fall of 2010 in Fallen Leaf Lake, near Tahoe.
If you encounter a bear, the site advises, do not approach it, especially a mother bear with cubs. If you happen upon one, it advises, do not run. Instead, make noise, and make yourself appear large by putting your arms in the air. If attacked, always fight back.
Visit www.ojairaptorcenter.org for more information on the ORC, which is having an open house Nov. 10.
Oct. 23, 2012
By Hannah Guzik, OVN correspondent
An Oxnard woman suffered major injuries after she was thrown from a pickup during a crash on Highway 33 near Wheeler Gorge early Monday, officials said.
Ojai resident Duane Crecelius, 52, was driving north at approximately 1:05 a.m. when he veered onto the right shoulder and hit a boulder about a half-mile south of Wheeler Gorge, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Several passing drivers called to report the single-vehicle crash at about 1:30 a.m., the CHP said.
Santana Brissette, 34, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was reportedly thrown from the vehicle, said Officer Steve Reid with the CHP Ventura-area division.
“This crash has two lessons,” he said. “The first is that seat belts save lives. In this case, the passenger wasn’t seat-belted and she received significant injuries when ejected from the vehicle.”
Brissette was transported by ambulance to Ventura County Medical Center where she was treated for leg and pelvis injuries, according to the CHP.
Crecelius, who complained of injuries, was also taken to the hospital. It was determined he was not significantly injured, Reid said.
He was determined to be under the influence of a controlled substance at the time of the crash, the CHP reported.
“The second lesson is don’t drive while impaired,” Reid said. “Don’t drive while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs. The fact that this individual was determined to be under the influence of a controlled substance led to his inability to drive safely.”
Crecelius was arrested and booked into Ventura County jail on suspicion of felony DUI and being under the influence of a controlled substance.
He was released Monday evening, according to jail records.
The crash is under investigation.
Oct. 18, 2012
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
Three years ago, community and environmental groups came together in Portland to support a new idea intended to make solar energy easier to understand and more affordable for homeowners. The program — in which advocates simplified the decision-making process, reduced the costs and vetted contractors for reliability — was successful beyond expectations. Solar installations around that city skyrocketed by nearly 300 percent in the program’s second year, and contractors had more work than they could handle. In 2011, a similar program was launched in Santa Barbara, and 49 homeowners signed up to have their homes converted to solar energy. Now the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, in co-operation with the city and the Community Environmental Council in Santa Barbara, has launched a “Solarize Ojai” project. The coalition hopes to sign 20 or 30 homeowners for solar energy installations in the next couple of months, before the deadline expires in December. “For anyone in Ojai who has ever thought of going solar, now is the time,” said Meghan Birney, of the Community Environmental Council, which ran the program in Santa Barbara. “With Solarize Ojai, we help guide homeowners through the entire process as an unbiased expert resource, making it as easy as possible for everyone to go solar.” Homeowners also benefit from the falling price of solar panels, which now cost about a third less than they did five years ago, according to one government estimate. And in Ojai, the program allows homeowners to choose to lease a solar system, instead of buying one, reducing upfront costs by tens of thousands of dollars. “With leasing, homeowners basically pay a third party that owns the panels on their roof a monthly fee for the electricity they generate,” said Jefferson Litten, coordinator of the Solarize Ojai project. “We like to say that anyone paying an average of over a hundred dollars a month should look into it.” Litten said that buying a system through Solarize Ojai is estimated — including various rebates — to cost between $11,000 and $30,000, and leasing a system to cost $1,000 up front. Working with the city and the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, Litten and the Solarize Ojai project asked contractors interested in being part of the project for proposals. “We partnered with two California solar energy companies, California Solar Electric, of Ojai, and REC Solar, of San Luis Obispo. We do the outreach and the marketing and they do the actual installation,” Litten said. “They were selected and vetted based on the quality of their work, the technology and their local presence.” California Solar Energy’s Chelsea Campbell said her company was part of the program in Santa Barbara. “We really like the program,” she said. “It’s a different approach for us, working with a third party group, but we like to see people being educated about solar in general. We had a lot of success with it in Santa Barbara, and were happy when they decided to come to Ojai.” In the Arbolada, Donna and Jeff Meyer solarized their home in 2009. The project, with 42 solar panels, cost over $50,000 at the time, but Meyer is happy with the results. “It’s been a good investment,” he said. “We were paying an average of about $400 a month for our electricity, mostly for air conditioning on hot days, and now we’re paying about $900 to $1,000 a year. So I don’t have to worry about my electric bill, and can spend more time worrying about my water bill.” Residents interested in the project can learn more at www.SolarizeOjai.org or attend a workshop Nov. 1, at Chaparral Auditorium, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. The program runs for only two months, with a deadline for signing up for an installation with a qualified contractor by Dec. 7.
Oct. 18, 2012
Hannah Guzik, OVN correspondent
Two California legislators are vying for the 26th Congressional District seat this November. Sen. Tony Strickland, a Republican, is squaring off against Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, a Democrat, in the U.S. House of Representatives race. Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly currently represents Ojai in the 24th Congressional District, but will not seek reelection. Redistricting will put Ojai in the 26th Congressional District, which encompasses Westlake Village and all of Ventura County except Simi Valley. Strickland, who lives in Moorpark, grew up in Simi Valley and spent many years in Thousand Oaks, he said. He was elected to the State Assembly in 1998 and served for six years. He is now in his first term in the California Senate. Strickland said he decided to run for Congress because he wanted to change the way policies made in Washington are affecting people in Ventura County. “I think the country’s on the wrong track economically and from the perspective of international policy,” he said. “I want to reach across the aisle in bipartisan way, and I have a proven track record of voting Independent.” If elected, Strickland said he would first try to stop large-scale defense cuts being proposed in Washington that would hit locally. “Naval Base Ventura County is the county’s largest employer and the cuts would have a tremendous effect on the county and a ripple effect in the larger economy,” he said. Secondly, Strickland would attempt to get federal backing for renewable energy technology in Ventura County, he said. “The challenge of our time is make sure we’re energy independent,” he said. “I want to be able to have more people start up renewable technologies to, hopefully, foster economic growth.” Strickland said he is also running on a platform of job creation and revitalizing the economy, and he would make progress on those fronts by voting independently. “When I talk to folks in Ojai, they say they like someone who is from the county and who also has a proven track record of working across the aisle,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s a Republican idea or Democrat idea, I just care if it’s a good idea.” Brownley, meanwhile, said she is running on a job creation platform, as well as protecting the environment and education. “One of the main reasons I am running for Congress, and one of the most important issues for Ventura County, is the economy,” she said. “We need to get folks back to work. We’re in economic recovery but we still have a ways to go.” Brownley lives in Oak Park and has served in the California Assembly since 2006. She grew up in Virginia and worked in politics in Washington, D.C. before moving to Oak Park in 1983. During her time in the Assembly, Brownley has been very involved in education issues, sitting on all the Assembly’s education committees, she said. “I think California is sorely underfunded for education and, going to Congress, I certainly would like to make education much more of a national priority and fulfill the commitments and promises from a federal level in terms of resources,” she said. Brownley said if elected, she would also try to protect Medicare and Social Security and would continue work to preserve the environment in Ventura County. “Protecting our environment and open space is very important to people in Ojai, as it is to me,” she said. “I have a long track record of protecting shore lines and open spaces. I feel quite confident that my values and the values of the folks in Ojai are very similar and are about the very same issues,” she said. “Ojai is a very special place in Ventura County.” Both candidates have held events in Ojai in recent weeks and plan to campaign in the city again before the election, they said. The election will be held Nov. 6. For more information on Brownley, see www.juliabrownley.com and visit www.tonystrickland.com for more on Strickland.
Oct. 18, 2012
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
For the sixth year in a row, students in Ojai’s public schools have, on average, scored better than their Ventura County and California counterparts on the California Standards Tests. Standing out in particular were the students at Matilija Junior High School, whose combined test scores for English and math jumped 14 points from 2011. “It’s their highest ever,” said Ojai Unified School District (OUSD) superintendent Hank Bangser. “Fourteen points in one year is remarkable. Great compliments go to (former principal) Emily Mostovoy and (assistant principal) Javier Ramirez.” Current principal Bill Rosen explained that the school’s scores have risen by over 110 points since 2002, and that students’ scores in other areas also increased this year. “In history, we went up 12 points,” Rosen said. “In science, we were 8.4 percent up. Those are amazing jumps … in three of the four core areas, our numbers rose significantly.” That fourth core area — math — saw a bit of a dip in scores this year, but Rosen said the Matilija staff is already making adjustments. A Core Algebra class has been added for “middle ground” students. “We called different schools in the county to see what they are doing with math … they asked us what we are doing with kids (in the middle) who are too smart for Pre-Algebra but are struggling with Algebra. That’s why we created Core Math Algebra,” Ramirez told OUSD board members at Tuesday night’s meeting. “This is all very data-driven,” added Rosen. “Where do you place the kids to get them the help they need?” If a student has a learning disability in English, he may have trouble reading word problems in math class, Rosen pointed out. “So that teacher is going to deliver the information differently” to that student. Also helping boost students’ math learning: an additional Algebra 1 class, which lowered the number of students in each classroom. “We’re grateful to 100 For Ojai Schools for their donation, which allowed us to add that additional Algebra 1 class. Not only did it help them (math students), it helped lower class sizes in every area. Probably all of our eighth graders will feel that.” Nordhoff High School At Nordhoff, students with disabilities saw the biggest drop in scores. But, said principal Greg Bayless, those numbers can be misleading. “Since this group is consistently small, year to year scores can be more volatile.” Scores for these students went up by 41 points in 2011, then went down by 49 points this year, Bayless explained. As a whole, Nordhoff students improved their scores by about five points this year. They had been about that far behind the county average. But the brightest spot for Nordhoff this year was its jump in English language arts scores, with a 6 percent improvement in the number of students considered proficient in 2012. A drop of 10 points between 2009 and 2011 prompted a reworking of several areas at the school, said Bayless. One noteworthy improvement, he said, was the emphasis on reading and writing in all subjects. “English teachers taught the rest of the staff ways to promote literacy in all classes, not just core academic classes,” Bayless said. English teachers also offered second semester “grade bumps” to students with improved scores. Another positive for Nordhoff were the scores from its Latino and socio-economically disadvantaged students, who posted dramatic improvements of 36 and 29 points, respectively. Bayless says much of the credit for those increases is due to the school’s Associate Teacher program, in which high-performing juniors and seniors tutor struggling students in more than a dozen subjects. He called the program extremely successful, with English language learners, Latinos and students with disabilities benefitting the most. Also helping boost the scores overall for Nordhoff: a boys-vs.-girls competition. Former Rangers will recall that, in the school’s alma mater, there is a line that goes, “and your mighty men;” traditionally, the girls will replace the line by singing, “mighty women.” Bayless and his fellow administrators and teachers agreed that, each year, they would formally change the line of the alma mater to “women” should the girls score higher overall and keep it as “men” should the boys do better. “To get kids competing in different ways like that tells me you know your school,” said OUSD board member Kathi Smith. Elementary schools On the whole, Ojai’s elementary schools results “were not unexpected,” said Marilyn Smith, director of elementary curriculum. “The API (Annual Performance Index) was similar to the mean over the past five years.” Summit saw a significant improvement of 36 points, but because of its small size, increases and decreases can be large from year to year. “Results are very sensitive,” Smith pointed out. “Only 39 pupils tested.” All other OUSD elementary schools improved upon their 2011 scores except Meiners Oaks, which dipped one point, and Mira Monte, which dipped 12 points. While Smith didn’t directly attribute this to the increasing number of students who fall into the socio-economically disadvantaged category, rapidly changing demographics can be difficult to keep up with. In the last five years, the number of students in that category jumped from 31 percent to 44 percent in Ojai elementary schools — and OUSD faculty are working to address their needs. “It is important that we educators learn to improve our effectiveness with people from all socio-economic backgrounds,” Smith said. Along with those students, fifth graders across the entire district seemed to struggle with math this year, with only 48 percent of them hitting their proficiency targets for 2012. “It was a very unusual dip,” acknowledged Bangser. “We had most of the same teachers (as in 2011). They didn’t just have a bad year all together.” Smith said the principals are looking into the problem. Like her counterparts across the district, Smith pointed to budgetary constraints as a big challenge to continual improvement. “Our biggest challenges are shrinking dollars and large class sizes,” she said. “Our current second grade students, for example, have had large class sizes since kindergarten. It may take a few years to see the impact of this.” OUSD faculty members are working on their Single Schools Plans for Student Achievement, which directly address the problems identified by the standardized testing. These will be presented to the OUSD board later this year, but many strategies are already being implemented, Bangser said.
Oct. 16, 2012
By Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rotary Club of Ojai gave Ventura County supervisorial candidates Bob Roper and Steve Bennett a chance to have their messages heard in a debate format Friday.
With Marty Babayco moderating, incumbent Bennett and challenger Roper answered questions submitted from Rotary members on topics including pension reform, fostering cooperation between government agencies, labeling genetically-modified foods and protecting open spaces.
Roper, a retired Ventura County fire chief, spoke of what he said is the importance of stimulating a strong local economy centered on business. He added that he would seek to remove obstacles for business owners and enable business growth.
Bennett, meanwhile, focused on the fiscal discipline he said he has brought to the county government and on the initiatives he’s promoted to preserve undeveloped land including the Save Open-space and Agriculture Resources (S.O.A.R.) initiative he cosponsored. He also touched on pension reforms he worked for in the past, saying, “I’ve been a good steward of the taxpayer dollars.”
Both Bennett and Roper spoke against “urban sprawl,” and said keeping open spaces open and using agricultural lands wisely is important to them.
“I strongly support S.O.A.R.,” Bennett said. “Nobody wants to make it more successful than me.”
Roper said he “didn’t want the county to look like the San Fernando Valley,” and advocated for regional land-use votes for places like the Ojai Valley, as opposed to county-wide votes. He also said he wants to see a “a collaborative approach” with several governing bodies working together through an acknowledgment that they share the same air, watersheds, etc.
Bennett highlighted his record of “developing relationships” as the key to reaching mutually-beneficial solutions and avoiding fights he said were all too common among bureaucracies.
In addition to showing support for wise land usage, both candidates said they supported pension reform.
Big differences came in discussions of the propositions on the November ballot. Bennett, a former teacher, came out in support of Prop. 30. He said although imperfect, the temporary tax increase to maintain education funding is “absolutely essential.” Its failure, he added, would mean “a greater burden on all of us.”
Roper, however, opposed Prop. 30. Instead, he called for a local initiative that would hold politicians “highly accountable,” something he said the current system in Sacramento lacks. “Schools just keep losing money,” he explained. “Anything local would mean accountability.”
Both agreed that the public deserves to know what’s in their food through the labeling of foods which are genetically modified, but Roper said he didn’t feel Prop. 37, was the right way to go. “The current initiative has so many exemptions,” he told the audience. Bennett said while he had not read “every sentence” of Prop. 37, he felt “generally inclined to support it.”
Roper responded by saying candidates “should be prepared to give responses” to all questions.
Both candidates, as well as many Rotary members, felt the debate went well. “I thought it was pretty even,” said Rotary Club president-elect Jane McCarthy. “It impressed me that Steve could just stand and talk like he did; it was obvious that he’d done it a lot. And I thought that for a first time out, Roper did a good job too. He had to read from notes sometimes, but seemed better prepared on some initiatives than Bennett.”
Peter Bowen, chairman for the Rotary’s Taste of Ojai event, said he was also very pleased with the debate, adding that he appreciated Babayco’s moderating skills. “He had this ability to bring all parties involved onto even keel,” Bowen said.
When it came to picking a debate winner, Bowen said it was Bennett “hands-down. … I come away from it with the mindset that Steve Bennett knows what’s at stake, knows what’s involved and is experienced. But at the same time I could easily argue that Bob Roper could have a different voice … at the end of the debate, I’m more likely to vote for Steve Bennett, but that doesn’t mean that I’m satisfied with everything that’s there.”
McCarthy said she thinks she’s chosen a candidate, but, like Bowen, is still not completely sure. “Roper has worked with a lot of different types of people. You have to be able to see and work with all the different sides. I think that’s really valuable. … But then, Steve’s had to do the same thing, too.”
McCarthy and Bowen both agreed that the candidates offered perspectives that changed their minds on more than one topic. McCarthy was pleased with Roper’s perspective on Prop 37. “That was interesting, what he said, that we shouldn’t get into it until it’s the proper bill. I happen to be a dietician, so that was very interesting. I’m very pro-labeling (foods), and what he said made me think.”
Bowen said he’s “a steadfast Republican,” but said he’s kept an open mind because “I’m really looking for details, for someone that has the ability to make a change locally.”
Visit www.ovnblog.com/?p=6882 for more information on the candidates.
Oct. 16, 2012
By Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Despite numerous setbacks, including the resignation of 20-year veteran coordinator Jody James, Ojai Day is returning to Libbey Park and downtown this weekend.
“So far we have over 150 vendors, live music all day and into the night, great food from 17 different vendors and activities for the kids and adults. It sounds like it will be a big success!” says Ojai City Manager Rob Clark.
After James resigned, the city hired Ojai residents Lynda Killingsworth and Paul Casanta to co-coordinate the event.
“We have a great team together, with both new and familiar faces,” said Killingsworth. She said that while there will be fewer vendors than last year, there is also less space available, with streets closed only to Ventura Street this year.
“I just love festivals. I am so excited! I love everything about Ojai Day,” Killingsworth exclaimed. She added that she has been attending the event since 1993, even flying from out of state on occasion.
One feature Killingsworth is particularly excited to witness is the construction of the 50-foot mandala in front of the post office on Ojai Avenue Friday night.
River Sauvageau, of Studio Sauvageau, has coordinated the mandala for the last 17 years. People will be able to sign up to help create the mandala even on Friday night, though a parent or guardian must accompany those under 18, according to Killingsworth. To participate, email email@example.com or call 646-5581, Ext. 304.
Friday night will also offer free car show, presented by the Ojai Valley Lions Club, from 5 to 8 p.m. on South Signal Street. Along with cars there will be food and drinks, including a beer and wine garden, music from the band Studebaker and a free screening of the family movie “Ice Age: Continental Drift” in Libbey Bowl around 8 p.m.
Saturday’s festivities kick off at 10 a.m. and offer a host of activities and a wide variety of vendors. Events include: Chumash storytelling with elder Julie Tumamait-Stenslie in the Chumash Village; belly dancers and psychic readings in the Gypsy Gazebo; a skateboard contest and plenty of teen activities at the Ojai Skate Park; a host of activities for young children such as a petting zoo, music, games and face painting; and plenty of food and drinks for all ages. The Lions Club will offer another beer and wine (and food and music) garden Saturday.
Live music will be featured on five stages and at Libbey Bowl, including such acts as the Madrigali singers, Kyle Hunt and the King Gypsy, Lisbeth Scott and Friends, the Nordhoff High School Marching Band, Noble Creatures and Still Above Ground featuring Milton Kelley.
The Ojai Valley Green Coalition will offer a free bike valet service at Ojai Avenue and Ventura Street to safely store bikes for those who choose to pedal to the event instead of drive. Ojai Trolley will also provide free rides to and from the event.
The Ojai Village Merchants, a group of downtown retailers, will offer coupons, flyers, menus and walking guides to visitors of their booth at Ojai Day. The first 600 people to stop by their booth will also receive free reusable shopping bags.
The Ojai Valley News and Visitors Guide booth will offer coupons from several local businesses and will offer chances to win free subscriptions.
Visit www.ojaiday.com for more information on Friday’s and Saturday’s events.
Oct. 16, 2012
Jim Logan, OVN correspondent
Ojai city officials and the owner of a blighted lot downtown could be close to an agreement that would allow the development of the property after nearly two decades of delays.
Jim Miller, the owner of the 1.18-acre lot at 510 E. Ojai Ave., next to the skate park, had approved plans for a commercial development of two buildings totaling nearly 11,000 square feet.
Miller said city Community Development Director Rob Mullane contacted him, “out of nowhere,” to see if he was interested in restarting the project, which was approved by the Planning Commission in December 1994.
Citing what he called the city’s “hospitable, encouraging and proactive environment,” Miller said he was ready to go.
“I have the energy and resources to work on it, but my energy and resources are finite,” he said. “If they approve it, I’ll go to work. If not, I’ll do something else.”
Mullane will bring the project to the Planning Commission at its 6 p.m. meeting tonight for informal review.
“I think he’s pretty serious,” Mullane said. “We’re just bringing this to the Planning Commission as an information item to inform them of what’s happening there.”
Because Miller already has Planning Commission approval, he would need only to resubmit his plans for city review to ensure they conform to current permit codes. Both Mullane and Miller said any changes to the plans would be inconsequential.
Currently, a dilapidated building front dating from the 1940s faces Ojai Avenue. Miller’s approved plans would incorporate that front into the project, which would have a farm-building motif of wood siding and metal roofs. The plans also call for a 600-square-foot restaurant, but Miller said he’s not sure if it will be included in the final development.
The existing building would be remodeled into a one-story structure of 6,460 square feet, with a 1,520-square-foot patio and deck. The second building, which would be oriented west, would be two stories and 4,370 square feet. The property would have 50 parking spaces. Plans show the existing water tower would remain.
Mullane said the farm-building appearance is in keeping with the city’s East Ojai Avenue design guidelines, which call for a look different than the Mission-style Arcade.
Although the project was approved in 1994, it languished until June 2003, when Miller started grading the land. A property line dispute with the Ojai Unified School District, however, put the work on hold. He resolved the dispute, and Miller obtained a series of extensions, and even deposited $600,000 in a local bank to show he was serious about completing the project.
“The money’s actually still there,” he said.
The Ojai Planning Commission meeting begins at 6 p.m. tonight and is held in Council Chambers of Ojai City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for an agenda and additional information.
Oct. 11, 2012
By Hannah Guzik
A Republican from Los Olivos is trying to unseat the Democratic incumbent in the 37th Assembly District race this November.
Das Williams, who is seeking his second term, is campaigning against challenger Rob Walter, a business and estate-planning attorney.
Williams represents the 35th Assembly District, but as part of redistricting, most of that district — which includes Santa Barbara County, Ventura and Oxnard — will become the 37th Assembly District next year. The 37th District will include Santa Barbara County, Ventura, Ojai, Santa Paula and Fillmore.
Williams lives in Santa Barbara but spent most of his childhood in Ojai, attending Topa Topa Elementary, San Antonio Elementary and Matilija Junior High schools.
He is a third-generation Ojai resident, and his aunt, Suza Francina, is a well-known yoga teacher and author who served as Ojai’s mayor and an Ojai City Council member in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Williams said his family, which is of Dutch-Indonesian descent, immigrated to Ojai from Amsterdam through the Marshall Plan, a U.S. plan to help rebuild Europe after World War II.
“We feel deeply blessed by God that our sponsor happened to live in Ojai,” he said. “That’s how we came to Ojai.”
Williams, who worked as a community organizer and served on the Santa Barbara City Council before being elected to the Assembly, holds a Master’s degree in environmental science and management from UC Santa Barbara.
He is campaigning on a platform of creating green energy, protecting the environment and ensuring a quality education for children.
Williams said he is also working on some issues specific to Ojai. He attempted to create legislation that would outlaw oversized trucks on Highway 33 and said he is still working on the issue.
“This is definitely not an issue I’m planning on giving up on,” he said.
Williams is also working on open-space preservation and water issues. He worked on a bill this year that would create a state funding mechanism for grants to help prevent infestations of harmful mussels in lakes, such as Lake Casitas.
The redistricting will make the new district slightly more Republican than before, but Williams said he isn’t too concerned.
“A lot of those Republicans are my relatives, so I think the balance will work out for me,” he said.
This will be Walter’s second attempt at winning political office, but his first in California. In 1972, he ran as a Democrat for the Legislature in Michigan, where he grew up.
At the age of 7, Walter went to work in his father’s lumber yard, and was running his father’s coal yard seven years later to help support the family of nine, he said.
“I’m no stranger to hard work,” Walter said. “It’s the core of who I am and the core of how I’ve been rewarded.”
He holds a law degree from Regent University School of Law and an advanced degree in tax law from the University of San Diego School of Law. He has lived in California for the past 21 years.
Walter said he has visited Ojai but hasn’t held campaign events there yet.
“I have not had anybody from Ojai contact me with a particular Ojai issue and I have not had the opportunity to have a town hall meeting there,” he said.
Walter said he does feel that his platform of promoting business, conservative social issues and lower income taxes will appeal to voters regardless of their city. He also is an advocate for a voucher program that would allow parents to enroll their children in the school of their choice.
If elected, Walter said he would focus on cutting spending at the state level and attracting businesses to California, primarily by reducing the corporate income tax. He said he would also try to end controversial social sciences curriculum in public schools, such as celebrating Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay man to be elected to public office in California.
“This is nonsense, it’s misplaced and it’s a big negative,” he said. “I have monitored the legislation coming out of Sacramento for the last seven to eight years and sometimes it seems like one of the least safe places culturally to have your children is in government schools.”
Oct. 11, 2012
A candidates forum, for those running for the Ojai Unified School District Board, will be held Oct. 22 at the Ojai Unified School District’s Board office at 414 E. Ojai Ave. The Ojai Valley News and the Ojai Valley Visitors Guide will host the event.
The four candidates, Thayne Whipple, Linda Taylor, Kevin Ruf and Bill Ansell, will each have two and a half minutes for opening remarks followed by a question-and-answer period.
The candidates will each be asked six questions. Three questions will be specific to each candidate and three will be the same for all candidates. The candidates will have two one-minute opportunities during this portion to rebut or expand on a challenger’s answer.
Following this, the candidates will have two and half minutes each for closing remarks.
The public is encouraged to attend the forum, which starts promptly at 6:30 p.m. and should last until approximately 8 p.m.
Ojai Valley News Publisher Tim Dewar is accepting questions from the public at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oct. 11, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVN Correspondent
Despite voicing objections, the Ojai City Council voted 3-2 to approve a revised Housing Element to its General Plan Oct. 9.
The plan is mandated by the state of California and requires the city to prove it can accommodate 177 additional affordable housing units within 14 acres.
According to consultant Thomas Figg, the city faced possible litigation or punitive measures — including higher Regional Housing Needs Assessment requirements for the next Housing Element — if the Council had not taken action.
“Nobody wants to be here, but it is about what the law says we have to do,” Figg said during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Like his fellow Council members, Mayor pro tem Paul Blatz was not happy with the situation. “This is an over-reaching intrusion of our government,” he said. “The state is forcing numbers down our throats with no concern about what we consider correct for our valley. It is really unfortunate that as we are given the responsibility to protect our valley, which is very sacred, that external forces force us to adopt things that are not good for the valley … I don’t think this is what is best for our community, but I don’t think it is best for our community to do nothing at this point.”
“I am not happy with what we are incorporating. My blood pressure is up to here,” agreed Councilwoman Carlon Strobel.
Mayor Betsy Clapp raised concerns that within the Housing Element, there is a stipulation that three-story building projects be permitted, which she sees as an impediment to Ojai’s mountain views, small town character and tourist-driven economy.
City attorney Joseph Fletcher responded that the design review process would allow some discretion with projects, but the city is unable to categorically rule out three-story buildings.
“The state staff has set certain policies and assumptions about densities that they want to see addressed, and there is the perception — and I don’t think it is a validly-based perception — that communities put a two-story limit to effectively thwart the adequate density needed for the market to absorb these projects,” Fletcher said. “They want to see that at least we would consider three stories, that three stories are not prohibited.”
Councilwoman Sue Horgan said the numbers required by the state are ludicrous, as they are intended to provide for an increase in California’s population, while Ojai has faced a decrease in population in recent years. Horgan also worried that while not approving the Housing Element could result in litigation, approving the same Element has the potential to result in litigation from potential developers if their projects are not approved by the city.
“No one in our community would think this is a reasonable plan,” Horgan said. “Our population has not grown, it has decreased. None of this makes any sense. I guess I would say that, just because the state says that we have to do this, and yes there might be risks if we don’t, I believe there are also risks if we do adopt this plan. I have said this year after year. If we set out this blueprint of how we could accommodate this kind of growth, a developer could come here and challenge us with this, and say, ‘You said you could do this.’ So I think there is a risk of litigation on either side of this.”
Ojai resident John Broesamle implored Council members to remember how precious Ojai’s small-town charm is, and to understand the complex issues and citizens’ conflicting desires behind this plan.
“This process is a very large part of Ojai’s future,” said Broesamle. “All of us know, I think, that a small town or a small agricultural and geographical setting with charm and ambience can be lost very quickly. It has happened again and again in California. Yet when we talk about RHNA, we talk about something that brings our most sensitive values together in one place, and sometimes makes them contend with one another.”
Clapp agreed with Horgan that as the Housing Element is a land-use document, there is potential for litigation regardless of how council proceeded. Clapp also maintained that the issue of water use had not been adequately addressed and that the Housing Element inherently threatens Ojai’s wellbeing.
“We have a community that is dependent upon its character for its economic survival. That is a constraint. I take offense that that is not being considered a constraint (by the state),” Clapp said. “I am sickened at the whole concept of this housing element … I cannot support it. I think we are all backed into a corner, and being asked to do something that is not good for our community.”
Despite numerous objections to the Housing Element and its repercussions, Councilwoman Carol Smith, Strobel and Mayor pro tem Blatz approved the measure, while Horgan and Clapp voted to oppose it.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information on the 2006-2014 Housing Element.
Oct. 9, 2012
Hannah Guzik, OVN contributor
The Ventura County District Attorney’s office plans to charge the former treasurer of the Ojai Eagles Youth Football League with embezzlement at an arraignment hearing next month, said Deputy District Attorney Kim Gibbons. Amber Workman, 37, is accused of stealing at least $35,000 from the nonprofit organization between 2007 and 2009, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. The Ojai resident was arrested June 27 after detectives say she allegedly stole between $35,000 and $49,000 from the league during her time as treasurer, officials said. The district attorney’s office took several months to review the investigation and request more information from deputies before deciding to pursue the case, Gibbons said. “I needed some more information when I first got the case, and after I got the information, I accepted it for prosecution,” he said. “It took a long time for the investigation and then we had to schedule a court date.” Gibbons accepted the case for prosecution on Sept. 11. He will assign the case to one of the attorneys in his office after Workman’s Nov. 13 arraignment, he said. Workman’s attorney, Richard Hanawalt, said she is innocent of all charges and that the case is one of having too many cooks in the kitchen. “The problem with this kind of operation, with a community volunteer organization, is that there is a replacement of people occurring rapidly,” he said. “The problem the DA is running up against is spotting a straight line of responsibility.” Hanawalt said the financial records Workman has provided to him show no wrongdoing. “We haven’t the faintest idea of where this idea of $35,000 or any amount came from,” he said. “My client has assured me that everything was on the up and up and that the board was kept apprised of everything. We are ready to prove her innocence.” Investigators say Workman allegedly obtained a debit card for the league’s bank account and began using it for personal transactions during her time as treasurer. League officials contacted the sheriff’s office after the state of California notified the organization that its nonprofit status was being suspended for failing to file tax returns from 2007 to 2009. Workman was booked in the Ventura County Jail on $30,000 bail and was released June 28, after posting bail, Gibbons said. She is scheduled to appear at the Nov. 13 arraignment. If convicted of grand theft, she could face up to three years in jail, Gibbons said.
Oct. 9, 2012
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
Planning to hitch a ride home from the bars on the downtown shuttle this weekend? Better make other plans. “If you’re calling for the shuttle, there is no shuttle,” says Adrianus “Dutch” VanHemert on his voicemail. “You have to call Daniel at 646-TAXI.” Monday at 6:59 p.m., VanHemert turned himself in to the Ventura County Jail to serve his 81-day sentence for “evading an officer with willful disregard.” The conviction stems from an April 2010 incident when VanHemert was arrested for evading former Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Michael Harris (now detective). Harris pulled VanHemert over after he honked at the deputy, who was making a traffic stop at the time. VanHemert told the OVN after his arrest that he’d had run-ins with Harris before, and that he fled the scene and drove to the Ojai Police Station because he feared for his safety. There, he was tazed by Deputy Jacob Valenzuela and was taken into custody. Although VanHemert was sentenced to 180 days in March — which has since been reduced to 81 days — he got a stay of six months, the last day of which was Monday. Should he serve the entire sentence, he’ll be released Dec. 27. “So I’ll spend the holidays, and my birthday there. I’ll miss all the good stuff,” VanHemert said two hours before heading to the jail. “The good thing is, I had six months to prepare, so I saved money, prepaid all my bills, so I have nothing to worry about.” Without VanHemert to drive it, Ojai will not have the Kool Buzz downtown shuttle. That has some in the valley, including VanHemert, worried that the lack of the gratuities-only service could result in more people driving under the influence of alcohol. “That’s when people start drinking and driving, when they have to pay $30 to get home,” VanHemert said. “I feel sad for the people of Ojai, who are not gonna get this service, the shuttle. It’s not gonna be around for a while.” On “The FREE down town shuttle” page on Facebook, supporters expressed their frustrations at VanHemert’s incarceration, using words like “ridiculous,” “outrageous,” and “shameful.” Others offered words of inspiration and wished him well. Jayden Morrison, owner of The Wrec Room, said his patrons use the shuttle a few times every month. “I think he provided a great service for our community regarding drinking and driving in Ojai. I know a lot of people do use him … He’s a good guy. People feel comfortable with him, he treats them well.” The Village Jester owner, Nigel Chisholm, said, “The bottom line is that he provides a service people use and that keeps them safe — it’s going to be more dangerous if more people are inclined to take risks (driving drunk). That’s the reality of the situation … When people use it, it keeps the community safer.” He added that he was concerned about Ojai Day, Oct. 20. “There’s a lot of drinking going on … It’s not gonna be safe on the roads.” Ojai attorney Paul Blatz, also a city council member, took on VanHemert’s case during his sentencing, and also expressed disappointment in the loss of the downtown shuttle. “I think its a shame that Dutch has to serve any time, as he was offering a legitimate, very important public service to the community … It’s definitely a loss to Ojai and all the people who have relied on Dutch for transportation home.” Meanwhile, Ojai Police Chief Capt. Dave Kenney had little to say about the situation, as he’s only served as Ojai’s captain for the last six months. He had no comment on the VanHemert case, nor the possibility of a rise in intoxicated drivers on the road while the Kool Buzz is out of commission. He did, however, say that many more people drive under the influence of alcohol during the holiday season. “We always gear up for the holidays — Fourth of July, Labor Day, New Year’s Eve,” Kenney said, adding that during that time, across the county, more DUI checkpoints are set up. For his part, VanHemert said his take on the entire situation is “not very good, you know. I’m not happy about it. The worst thing for me is that I’m doing this to my girlfriend, to my customers. I feel sad about it … But I’m not gonna stop doing this. The weekend I get out, I’ll be out there. I’m not gonna give it up, I think it’s a good thing, the people need it.”
Oct. 9, 2012
Tim Dewar, firstname.lastname@example.org
A chance ride home from school one day planted a seed in Shaun Boynton’s head. This weekend, that seed led to more planting, but it was ground cover this time. Boynton, an Eagle Scout candidate from BSA Troop 504, led a project to restore a memorial garden at Matilija Junior High School. “One day my uncle, Andrew Peterson, picked me up from school and we were walking past the garden area,” Boynton explained. “My uncle went to school with Katee Edwards from first grade until her passing of cancer in the eighth grade. They were good friends and he mentioned how sad it was to see to the memorial garden such a mess and suggested that maybe that could be a prospective Eagle Scout project for me.” Boynton, whose Uncle Andrew is an Eagle Scout, attended Matilija Junior High School from 2010 to 2012. “I gave it some thought, and began doing some research on what I could possibly put there and to bring back its beauty,” he explained. “That was the beginning of a project that turned out even nicer than I had expected.” Boynton said once his project was approved by his Scout committee and Scout council, he again took his uncle’s advise and contacted Katee’s parent’s Don and Cheree Edwards. “I was able to locate the Edwards family, they do still live in Ojai. I gave them a call, we spoke a couple of times on the phone and we then met in person along with the principle of Matilija Junior High School. Boynton said the meeting went well, and Cheree Edwards even offered some suggestions to go along with his plans. Friday, Boynton and his group of 32 helpers began the work. “We had to remove some very old ground cloth and tons and tons of weeds and roots,” he noted. Once they finished preparing the soil and removing old bricks, the group learned the ancient art and use of a “water level” from Max Schuman to make sure the garden has the proper grade. Once the ground was level and graded properly, the workers dug 6-inch footings around the perimeter of the garden. Saturday, the group was back at it, planting ground cover and a Krape Myrtle tree that will have white blooms. They also poured footings for a new brick outer ring. Sunday, the final work day, saw the addition of stepping stones and white fill rocks. Boynton estimates his project included 283 man-hours. “This project could not have been done without the help of my fellow scouts and adult leaders,” Boynton added. “I had many donations from the Ojai community, including from Jay McArthur of Ojai Lumber, Jody from Flora Gardens, Brunno Dubeau of Builders Mart and Greg Webster of Greg Rents, along with monetary donations from very generous people. Once again this could never have been completed without ALL their help!”
Oct. 4, 2012
by Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
An Oak View man was arrested for injuring two passengers while allegedly driving under the influence and leaving the scene of a car accident in Ventura early Wednesday. Ventura Police Department officials said the accident occurred around 2 a.m., when the driver, 18-year-old Spencer Ereshan, allegedly lost control of the vehicle, over-corrected and crashed into a power pole at Ferro Drive and Cedar Street near downtown Ventura. Officers arrested Ereshan and 18-year-old Kai Castillo, while the pair walked down Ventura Avenue after allegedly leaving the scene of the accident, according to the police report. Police believe Castillo, who suffered minor injuries, was a passenger at the time of the accident. The officers noticed one of the subjects had a visible head injury consistent with being involved in a traffic collision, the report added. “The officers have probable cause to believe he (Ereshan) was driving,” said Sgt. Ryan Weeks of the VPD traffic unit. “They were able to find (them) through statements from the passengers and people who could identify them fleeing from the scene.” Castillo suffered minor injuries. Police found Alyssa Hardwick, 19, of Oxnard, still in the back seat of the car when they arrived. She suffered severe trauma to her back and abdominal areas, including internal injuries police said. She was transported to Ventura County Medical Center for treatment. Her condition is critical, but stable as of Thursday, according to Weeks. Ereshan was arrested and booked into the Ventura County Jail for two felony offenses — hit-and-run and driving while under the influence resulting in injury. Although Erehan refused a field sobriety test, a blood alcohol test was taken at the time of his arrest. The results could take up to two weeks, according to Weeks. Charges against Ereshan will be determined by the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office after his test results have been confirmed. The VPD continues to collect witness statements for the ongoing investigation. To provide the Ventura County Police Department with any additional information about the incident, call 339-4343. To leave an anonymous tip, call Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-8477.
Oct. 4, 2012
by Jim Logan, OVN correspondent
It’s no stretch to say that the most under-the-radar public agency in the area is the Ojai Valley Sanitation District (OVSD). You flush and forget about it. But with 7,500 sewer connections sending a daily average of 1.7 million gallons of waste to its treatment plant, the District provides a critical service that safeguards the public health and protects the environment. The OVSD directors serve four-year terms. They set policy and look after the District’s fiscal health. The pay is $150 per regular meeting and $75 for subcommittee meetings. Unlike other special districts in Southern California, there are no benefits. For the OVSD, one issue looms larger than any other: the potential for regulations that could force the district to spend tens of millions of dollars to upgrade its treatment facility. With the OVSD still paying off the $28 million it spent to upgrade the plant in 1997, taking on another such project is seen as an economic nightmare— one that would be passed along to ratepayers. The situation comes courtesy of the Los Angeles River Water Quality Control Board, which is responsible for protecting water quality primarily in Los Angeles and Ventura counties. In July, the LARWQCB issued a report that pinned much of the excessive algae problem in the Ventura River on the Sanitation District’s wastewater treatment plant along North Ventura Avenue in Casitas Springs. The algae is fed by nutrients, such as nitrates, nitrogen and phosphorus. The sources of the nutrients are many, including horse and cattle operations, street runoff, farms and septic systems. The wastewater treatment plant was singled out because it’s the big dog on the block. It takes that daily 1.7 million gallons of wastewater, processes it and then pumps it as clean water into the river. OVSD’s permit allows it to discharge water containing up 8 mg of nutrients per liter— what’s known as Total Minimum Daily Load (TMDL) — although the plant averages 3 to 4 mg after the plant upgrade. The LARWQCB, however, is expected to propose a maximum TMDL of 3 mg per liter or lower. If it does, the District could be on the hook for as much as $15 million in plant upgrades, General Manager Jeff Palmer told the OVN in July. The LARWQCB initially was set to issue its proposed regulations in October, but objections and squabbling among the roughly 80 cities covered by the agency have delayed an announcement into at least November. The OVSD is split into seven divisions, with a director for each. The OVN spoke to the candidates for the Nov. 6 election, except where noted, about the issues and their positions. Division 1: Extends roughly from Oak View to the north end of Ventura Avenue. George Galgas Galgas is facing his first re-election fight, having been elected in 2008. He’s lived in the Oak View area since the 1960s, and he said he’s made keeping rates fair and stable a priority in his term. He’s particularly concerned about the rates paid by mobile home owners, many of whom are retired and living on fixed incomes. Galgas has five mobile home parks with a total of 267 spaces in his district. A number of park residents have appealed to OVSD for a break on their rates. Galgas is sympathetic, he said, but the way the rates are structured by the state Legislature, it’s an uphill battle. As it is, every customer gets the same bill, although Galgas argues that mobile home residents should be treated more like renters, since they don’t own the land their homes sit on. “We’re still working to see if we can possibly get them some relief,” Galgas said. “That’s something I’m striving for, and in my heart I know where they’re coming from.” A retired masonry contractor whose community service earned him the title of “Mr. Oak View” in 1988, Galgas has also pushed to make the treatment plant more energy-efficient to reduce its “astronomical” electric bill. The District worked with the Ventura County Regional Energy Alliance to reduce the plant’s energy use. Looking ahead, he would like to see the district explore the possibility of using solar power at the plant. William Stone Stone is a familiar face around the OVSD. He was the District 1 director for 14 years before deciding not to run for re-election in 2008. “My company was changing owners,” he said, “and I had a lot of things going on and I really didn’t feel like I could give the time I needed to devote to it. But now there’s some issues coming down that I really want to be involved with. I’ve had a little vacation so I’ve got some fresh ideas.” At the top of his list is “maintaining the aging collection system.” The District has miles of sewer pipe, and Stone said that if it’s not maintained properly, OVSD could be on the hook for problems it didn’t create, such as when storm water overwhelms the system and causes sewage spills. “It’s something we’ve got to be pretty aggressive about so we don’t get stuck with a bill for something that’s not totally our doing,” he said. A retired maintenance supervisor for a communications company, Stone and his family have lived in the Valley Vista neighborhood along North Ventura Avenue for 25 years. The view, he said, gives him a good perspective. “I can look out my window and see the treatment plant,” he noted. If elected, he said, he would be “the voice of the constituents.” District 3: Covers Mira Monte and pockets along Creek Road Pete Kaiser Kaiser has made a career out of public service. Before being elected to the OVSD Board of Directors in 2000, he worked in law enforcement and later managed Ventura County’s programs for recycling, composting and hazardous materials collection. He has a master’s degree in urban and regional planning with an emphasis in sustainability and renewable resources. Kaiser, who also serves as a director on the Casitas Municipal Water District, acknowledges that the LARWQCB’s potentially stricter regulations is the No. 1 concern at the Sanitation District. But he said the treatment plant is already doing a solid job — something the state agency should keep in mind. “We already have an extremely clean facility,” he said. “We’re fine-tuning our operations to where we’re putting out unbelievably clean water … almost to a distilled-water sense.” Beyond the prospect of new regulations, Kaiser said the District will need to take a hard look at requiring many households with septic systems to connect to its sewer lines. The LARQWCB identified septic systems as significant sources of nutrient discharge into the Ventura River. Given that it would likely be expensive for homeowners, it’s a controversial subject — one Kaiser said would need to be approached carefully and mindful of the impact on the District’s customers. “We have to be aware of doing our part to maintain low user rates,” he said. “There’s been a lot of damage in this economy. … We understand how hard it is on families and business.” Jeff Ketelsen Keltelsen, who has run unsuccessfully for a seat on the OVSD Board several times, did not respond to interview requests. Division 5: Covers most of Meiners Oaks Russ Baggerly Baggerly, who has been on the Board since 1996, is one of two directors running unopposed. He said the OVSD has prepared as well as it can for new nutrient-discharge limits. But the situation also presents opportunities on other fronts. “The return of the TMDL issue is going to raise a lot of interesting issues for people [with] septic systems, horse owners and ranchers,” said Baggerly, who is also a director for the Casitas Municipal Water District. “But I don’t think it’s going to be catastrophic. If we all work together we can reduce the nutrients going into the river.” Like Kaiser, he would like to examine how septic owners could get connected to sewer service. “We need to figure out how to get people to move from septic to sewer,” Baggerly said. “We think we have some pretty good ideas about that. The reason why typhoid, cholera and all the diseases associated with unsanitary conditions are not around anymore is that sanitation system.” District 7: Covers much of the east side of downtown Ojai. William Murphy Murphy is the newest director on the OVSD Board, having been appointed in March 2010 after the death of Bill Lotts. He was elected to the post in November 2010. Like his fellow directors, he’s keeping a wary eye on the LARWQCB’s coming regulations. “If they’re not given careful consideration, they could actually come out with a limit that is technically unattainable, or a level that would drive agencies to [spend] tens of millions of dollars” on upgrades, he said. A retired Navy pilot, this is the first public office he has held. He and his family moved to Ojai a little more than four years ago when his wife accepted a teaching job at Thacher School. “I’m happy to serve on the Board. I’m happy to give back to the community. We’re working hard to make sure things don’t get out of control. That’s the big thing in this day and age.”
Oct. 4, 2012
by Misty Volaski, email@example.com
Ojai schools got a $42,000 boost this year thanks to a local mom and a former school board member who refused to sit back and watch as declining budgets increased student-to-teacher ratios. “We have such high expectations of what a teacher can do, but some of those are unrealistic,” said Karen McBride, who teamed up with parent Elisa Oliver and other Ojai-area residents to create 100 For Ojai Schools, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds for teacher retention in the Ojai Unified School District. “A teacher is only one human being, and there’s only so much they can do as class sizes keep increasing.” The funds raised through donations on www.100forojaischools.com throughout the spring and summer were distributed evenly among the elementary schools, Matilija Junior High and Nordhoff High School. At Meiners Oaks Elementary, $3,000 was used to fund a teacher for the Positive Attitude Will Succeed (P.A.W.S.) program for academic achievement. “It’s an intervention program,” clarified Meiners Oaks principal Dawn Damianos. ” It’s how we reach students who need extra support.” Students rotate in and out of the program as needed, to help keep them on track with their peers. At the Ojai Unified School District’s largest elementary school, Topa Topa Elementary, $4,500 is being used to fund a teacher for a similar program, Prescribed Instruction. The focus there will be on reading and language arts. At Mira Monte Elementary, a teacher is being hired with their share of the donated funds ($3,800) to improve fourth- to sixth-grade students’ social studies and science skills. The District’s two smallest schools, Summit and San Antonio Elementary schools — which share a principal, Teresa Dutter — will also share $2,400 to support their large number of combination classes. “For example,” said Marilyn Smith, the OUSD’s director of elementary education special projects, “one teacher will teach second grade math while the other teacher takes the third-graders to another room for their math instruction.” The funds will also be used to bring an extra teacher into classrooms when the regular teacher is conducting one-one-one student assessments — “a valuable tool for identifying academic gaps,” Smith added. “By having a substitute, the regular teacher can be assessing, and the rest of the class continues seamlessly through the day.” At Matilija Junior High, principal Bill Rosen said the money his school received made a big difference in class sizes. Administrators were able to add an additional math class, Algebra 1, which dropped the average Algebra 1 class size from 40 students to 30. That reduced student-to-teacher ratios other subjects, as well, Rosen said. “For example,” he noted, “we reduced an English class from 41 to 34, a social studies class from 42 to 36, and a physical science class from 41 to 33. The bottom line is that the enhanced student-teacher ratios will allow for much more personal attention between students and their teachers.” A similar affect is being felt at Nordhoff, where an added geoscience class dropped the number of students from 39 to 31 in the required freshman course. This reduction enables significantly better weekly lab experiences for students,” said principal Greg Bayless, “since they are in much smaller groups and therefore have more time handling equipment and engaged in the actual mechanics of lab work.” The positive effects are felt throughout those students’ time at Nordhoff, Bayless added. “Smaller class sizes enable teachers to give much more individualized attention to ensure students’ initial success in science at NHS, increasing the likelihood that students will move on to three and four years of science, which we believe best prepares them for a variety of post-secondary choices.” When she found out how the funds were being used, McBride said. “It just felt fantastic! It made me feel so good. it was the frosting on the cake, to see where money’s going, how many students are impacted and how many teachers are impacted.” McBride sent a special thank-you to Oliver, who “really bore the major effort here,” as well as to OUSD board member Linda Taylor, “who donated $3,000. That’s the single highest donor to this effort. We were so pleased … it said a whole lot about her commitment to Ojai schools.” McBride said that although the 100 For Ojai Schools’ summer fund-raising drive has ended, the group is still hoping to get additional donations. “Those funds would be donated for the 2013 calendar year,” she said. “That could have an additional impact, there’s not doubt about it.” See www.100forojaischools.com to donate.
Oct. 2, 2012
By Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
After a month of wild goose chases, Kim Stroud finally got the call she’d been hoping for: Dakota had been found. Saturday morning, “We got out the binoculars and looked up in the tree, and my husband goes, ‘I think that’s Dakota,’” said Ojai resident Jill Swan, referring to the great horned owl that escaped from the Ojai Raptor Center Aug. 30. “She had the leathers on her legs.” The Swans, who had read about Dakota’s disappearance in the Ojai Valley News, immediately called Stroud. “We were so glad we had found her!” Swan enthused. “Kim came right over.” “I’ve gotten so many calls!” Stroud said. “I feel like I know where every owl in the valley lives now. The response (to Dakota’s escape) has been great.” Once Stroud arrived at the Swans’ Moreno Drive home, she knew this call wasn’t another false alarm. But the raptor was weak and unwilling to come down, despite Stroud’s offer of a dead mouse. So she left the Swans with leather gloves, a box and instructions on how to capture the owl if she came down. “Then the crows got after her again, they started dive-bombing her,” Swan said. “We almost had her, then she flew into the river bottom, and Pat went out there. She was just taking small hops, and he finally caught up with her. He was so excited.” So was Stroud. “I was surprised we hadn’t heard her. She was only about a half-mile away” from the Ojai Raptor Center on Baldwin Road. Stroud rushed Dakota back to the center, where she weighed the owl to assess her condition. The results were grim: Dakota had lost almost half her body weight. “Which means she had not eaten, and she’d been out there for weeks,” said Stroud. “She was so weak. I could pick her up with my bare hands … we started fluid therapy.” The ORC crew brought her mate, Newton, in to see her, in hopes that it would raise both the owls’ spirits. “We thought maybe he’d hoot at her,” said Stroud. “Since she’s been gone he’s been hooting more, not as easy for us to pick up … But he didn’t really react.” Saturday evening, Stroud brought Dakota home, “so I could give her fluid therapy all night.” But the next day, the raptor, who has been in Stroud’s care for 17 years, hadn’t made any progress. “She was really low. All we could do was push fluids.” Despite Stroud’s efforts, Dakota died in her arms Sunday morning. “It was renal failure,” sighed Stroud. I was kinda hoping—” she paused. “The only good thing is, it’s closure. At least we got her back, we know what happened now.” The Swans were disappointed to hear that Dakota hadn’t survived. “But we’re pleased to have found Dakota for her (Stroud). She doesn’t have to worry about what happened to her. At least she (Dakota) is at peace now.” Dakota was buried on the ORD property. Stroud said she hopes the loss will serve as a cautionary tale, discouraging anyone considering a keeping wild animal as a pet. “They imprint on humans,” she explained. “That’s what happens when people keep wild animals and try to raise them as a pet. If they escape, they don’t survive out in the world. They can’t hunt by themselves anymore.” Stroud added that the ORC will begin searching for a new great horned owl to add to the nonprofit organization’s ambassador program, which takes birds they cannot release back into the wild — like Newton and Dakota, as well as other owls, eagles and hawks — around the community to help educate the public. The raptors will be on display at the ORC’s Ojai Day booth Oct. 20. After that, Nov. 10 from noon to 4 p.m., the ORD hosts is biannual Open House at 370 Baldwin Road. See www.ojairaptorcenter.org for additional details.
Oct. 2, 2012
By Hannah Guzik, OVN contributor
When his home was included in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) new Ojai flood zone map, Malcolm Knight fought back. In early 2011, FEMA designated his Cruzero Street home as having a 1 percent chance of flooding each year — or once every 100 years — but Knight thought the feds had it wrong. “We border the creek, and the lower end of our lot was always just a tiny bit in the 100-year flood plane, but the thing that FEMA did was relocate that line way, way up to the other end of the property,” Knight said. “I thought, ‘That isn’t right.’” As federal, state and local officials have expanded fire and flood zones in Ojai in recent years, some residents have begun fighting back — doing their own analyses and saving thousands in insurance. Knight’s is one such success story. He knew that a tiny corner of his two-thirds-of-an-acre property had always been in the 100-year flood zone; but to have the entire parcel suddenly added to the zone didn’t seem accurate. Suddenly, he was required to pay $1,200 for flood insurance — two times the cost of his homeowner’s insurance policy — because his home now sat in the danger zone. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA began reanalyzing its flood maps, reissuing much of Ojai’s map in January 2010. The new maps utilize newer data and technology to more accurately predict where flooding is likely to occur — but they can still be wrong because analysts didn’t take into account small topographical changes on each parcel or the specific location of houses on the land. The map changes can mean higher insurance rates and lower property values for some Ojai parcels. Mortgages holders on properties located in 100-year flood zones are required to have flood insurance. Knight paid about $600 to have his land surveyed, which showed that his house wasn’t in the danger zone, although some of his property is. “I’m glad I did it, because it ended up saving us a lot of money and showed the maps were inaccurate,” he said. FEMA accepted the new survey and Knight is no longer required to have flood insurance, he said. “My moral to the story is when you get this strange zone, don’t let it go, follow up,” said Bob Daddi, an Ojai insurance broker. The county last week sent letters to insurance brokers reminding them of the flood plane information it offers and of the discount, Daddi said. FEMA is still looking at possibly reevaluating the flood maps in some areas of Ojai, including the East End near where McAndrew and Thacher roads intersect, according to Daddi. The current map estimates that a flood would run “rim to rim” from Thacher School to Grand Avenue, he said. “By the first estimate, it looks like we would be looking at the approximate removal of 48 percent of the residential units in the East End (from the flood zone), which is an enormous amount,” he said. “Those people that will be removed will be removed from that burden.” Since the 1970s, homeowners in the area have spent millions adhering to the flood zone requirements, which place extra requirements on construction projects, Daddi said. “Of course the question is, ‘Will there be a refund?’” he said. “And I’m not sure that’s much of a question when you’re talking about the government.” Meanwhile, as wildfires have raged near the city in recent years, some insurance companies have deemed Ojai too great a risk and simply stopped offering policies to homeowners, Daddi said. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reissued the Ojai fire map in 2010, including a large area of the eastern and northern portions of Ojai in the danger zone, Daddi said. “When you’re put in a very high fire-hazard designation, insurance companies take note and we’ve had a number of insurers that have declined to continue selling,” he said. Insurance underwriters also use Google maps to view street conditions and will sometimes make decisions based on how much brush or dried vegetation appears to be in the area, Daddi said. “If we have an area that has a loss or low chlorophyll, where it’s browning and we’re losing a lot of the urban forest, they will determine that it’s too high of a risk and that will restrict the ability of agents to write insurance,” he said. “Fire insurance is getting tougher and tougher to get. The homes are getting older and the trees are getting more overgrown, so less insurers want to come here.” Doug Campbell, a retired Ventura County fire behavior analyst and an Ojai resident, is working on creating a computer program that would more accurately predict fire behavior, but it’s still in the prototype stage, he said. He envisions homeowners using the program to determine whether their homes are at risk and, if so, under what conditions. “I’m at the top end of the block at Sunset (Place) right up against the mountain, and I’ve run model above my place and only under certain circumstances would it be threatened,” he said. “The state doesn’t take that into account, because they have no way of doing so.” Although the fire and flood restrictions can be frustrating and sometimes inaccurate, they illustrate the real dangers in the city at large, Daddi said. “Ojai’s a real dichotomy,” he said. “There’s too much water with flooding and too little water with drought and too much fire with wind.” To check whether your home is in a flood zone, visit www.floodsmart.gov or call (888) 379-9531. Visit http://frap.cdf.ca.gov/webdata/maps/ventura/fhszs_map.56.jpg to view the fire hazard severity zones map for Ventura County.
Oct. 2, 2012
By Jim Logan, OVN Correspondent
In a move intended to save the city of Ojai significant money a generation or two down the line, municipal employees hired after Monday will have to pay nearly all of their health insurance premiums when they retire.
Currently, the city pays 100 percent of its retirees’ health insurance costs and 80 percent of their dependents’ premiums. For city employees hired after Oct. 1, 2012, however, the city will contribute a little more than $100 toward health insurance when those workers retire. Dependents would receive nothing. Retirees and their dependents will have to make up the difference out of pocket.
The City Council approved the change, unanimously, at its Sept. 25 meeting.
“We have to do that. The city budget can’t bear that burden anymore,” Mayor Betsy Clapp said.
The change in policy is intended to reduce — and eventually eliminate — the city’s unfunded liability for its retirees’ health insurance.
“It’s a major correction,” City Manager Robert Clark said Monday.
Benefits for current employees and retirees are not affected by the change.
The new policy comes as cities across the nation struggle to meet their financial commitments for pensions and benefits. Ojai’s decision to stop paying full health care for future retirees follows a similar move by Thousand Oaks.
It also mirrors changes the City Council imposed on itself. Beginning Nov. 1, newly elected council members will be eligible for health insurance coverage for themselves only. Also, those future council members will be subject to the same retirement rules for health insurance as employees.
The moves will, in time, save the city a good chunk of change. The cost of health insurance for retirees is rising at a rapid clip. In her report to the City Council recommending the change, Finance Director Susie Mears noted that the city’s costs rose 45 percent from fiscal years 2009-10 to 2012-13, from $78,783 to $143,308. The city pays $530.75 monthly per employee for health insurance, she said. Family coverage is $849.20.
But the savings won’t show up for years — until those covered under the old policy have no need of health care.
“We will save a substantial amount of money when the current employees retire and die out,” Mears said.
The city gets its health care insurance through the state’s Public Employees’ Medical and Health Care Act, or PEMCHA, which is administered by the California Public Employee Retirement System. Under PEMCHA rules, the city will make a defined “minimum contribution” to a retiree’s health insurance coverage. The minimum contribution, set by PEMCHA, rises each year with a cost of living adjustment. The contribution is $112 for 2012 and goes up to $115 in 2013.
Clark, asked about the potential impact on recruiting employees, said he doubted it would be an issue. With cities and businesses scaling back their benefits packages, a job-seeker’s options are thinning.
“The question would be, how many other employers are there out there who would offer that benefit, and I think it’s a declining number.”
Editor’s note: A change in this story was made Oct. 3, 2012 to reflect that the city of Ojai pays $530.75 monthly per employee for health insurance.