Nov. 29, 2012
Angelique LaCour, OVN correspondent
Now that the presidential election is history, Ojai’s Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) hopes to rally the community to get out the vote and pass a bond to buy Golden State Water Company’s (GSWC) Ojai operation and turn over its operation to Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD).
Confident that the CMWD board of directors will pass a resolution to create a community facilities district and establish a dollar amount to fund the purchase, F.L.O.W. held a campaign kickoff event Wednesday at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.
F.L.O.W. director Ryan Blatz encouraged the approximately 100 attendees to sign up to “put boots on the ground” and educate their neighbors with the “simple facts why we must buy Golden State Water Company.”
Blatz also took issue with a full-page ad in Wednesday’s Ojai Valley News claiming, in part, that Food and Water Watch, a national organization, “trains and organizes local activists under the banner of Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.).”
The ad — paid for by the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights — does not, however, specifically claim that Ojai F.L.O.W. members were trained by Food and Water Watch.
“I can tell you unequivocally that there is no person in our group who has even heard of or been trained by this organization,” Blatz said. “These big corporations think they can come here and spread their lies — that’s why we need help to counter the misinformation Golden State is going to spend a lot of money to put out in the community.”
The Inn donated the use of a meeting room in support of F.L.O.W.’s campaign.
“We are fully behind this effort and thankful you are here since half of our 650 employees live in Ojai, and many are suffering from the high water rates,” said Pete Ells, the Inn’s managing director. “If our golf course was on Golden State water like the rest of our property, we probably wouldn’t have a golf course because we couldn’t afford the water.”
The big unknown is the cost of acquiring GSWC. That number is still being crunched by Casitas officials. But F.L.O.W. director Richard Hajas claims that no matter what that cost turns out to be, people need to understand that the issue is simply about water costs.
“Last year, Golden State took $5.3 million from the Ojai community for water service,” Hajas said. “If we had Casitas service we would have paid $2 million for the same water.”
Hajas emphasized that the difference in water cost alone between Casitas and Golden State leaves $3.3 million a year to buy out Golden State right now. Over the next 15 years F.L.O.W. expects that the difference in cost between the two providers will rise to approximately $10 million per year.
The impact of high water rates in Ojai is beginning to affect both property values and quality of life, said real estate agent Joan Roberts.
“When I show properties, I’m asked what water company serves the property,” Roberts said. “Real estate agents have so much on their shoulders already with disclosures, but now we have to let buyers know that their water bills are going to be high if they choose to live in Ojai.”
Golden State customer Elana Daley and her husband attended Wednesday night’s meeting. They own a commercial property on Bryant Street and a home on Grandview Avenue.
“We’re paying property taxes to support Casitas while paying Golden State’s high rates for water, and it just doesn’t make sense,” Daley said. “Another issue I have is that Golden State owes us $1.2 million in surcredits from a lawsuit more than a year ago, and we haven’t seen a penny of that yet.”
Many of the “Farewell to Golden State” partygoers signed up to host community education and outreach events in their homes, and go door to door in their neighborhoods to distribute F.L.O.W.’s “The Simple Facts” door hangers.
“When I was knocking on doors during my recent (city council) campaign, the No. 1 thing people wanted to know was if I was supporting F.L.O.W.,” said newly elected City Council member, Severo Lara. “I fully support the great grassroots work F.L.O.W. has been doing for several years now.”
Nov. 29, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Ojai City Council voted Tuesday night to extend for a year its moratorium banning the installation of Smart Meters in Ojai. Though the piece of legislation has been deemed “unenforceable” — and therefore is symbolic in nature — only one council member, Sue Horgan, felt the gesture was “futile.”
“This moratorium has been ineffective,” said Horgan. “I am hoping we can do more effective things.”
Other council members and city staff expressed the need to make the statement nonetheless while the California Public Utilities Commission, which has jurisdiction over the electrical companies installing the new wireless meters, considers aspects such as community-wide opt-outs.
“Historically, they (PUC) haven’t moved at the speed they have advertised,” said city manager Rob Clark. “We all understand this is somewhat of a paper tiger. In spite of the fact that we adopted the moratorium, 95 or 97 percent of the Smart Meters are installed. But I think it is a statement.”
“You should be able to opt-out and not have it cost you anything. I think the only responsible thing to do is to continue with the moratorium on the Smart Meters,” added Mayor Pro Tem Paul Blatz.
Ojai residents spoke in support of the extension, and asked City Council to broaden its scope of the ban, and research the future installation of other wireless meters by gas and water companies.
“I wanted to ask about an addendum to the moratorium that would cover our gas and water utilities. I don’t know if that’s possible to do at this time. But I have received several notices in my gas bill that talk about an ‘advanced meter,’” said Ojai resident Vicki Cohen.
“There is going to be a lot technology coming in the future and I think we need to be ahead of the game rather than behind it,” agreed resident Marleen Luckman. Luckman also encouraged members of the public to attend the PUC meeting Dec. 14 from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Santa Barbara County Administrative Building.
A more hotly-contested item on Tuesday’s agenda was the appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision regarding the construction of a 4-foot-tall rock wall on Quail Oaks Drive. After roughly three years, the Ojai Planning Commission decided June 20 to recommend that the council allow the property owner, Bob Daddi, to have the rock wall, albeit with a few conditions: that the wall be set back six feet from its present location, that it not exceed four feet in height, that all permit fees be paid in full.
The project has been at an impasse as Daddi and his neighbors battled over how far back from the road the wall ought to sit, and the city worked to sort through the steps Daddi would need to take to finish his wall legally. In the interim, the wall has sat on the property incomplete.
“This wall has been sitting there in an unfinished condition. It’s hideous. It looks like Mexico. In Mexico you don’t have to pay taxes on a building that is under construction,” stated Councilwoman Carol Smith.
“The reason for the wall is the speed bump that makes a racket with the constant stopping and starting (of vehicles) … It is obnoxious,” explained Daddi. His neighbors insist the wall as it stands is a threat to public safety, and have been requesting Daddi move the wall back 6 to 7 feet.
“My objection is that the wall is a hazard to drivers and pedestrians,” argued Daddi’s neighbor, Roger Wachtel. “Frankly I’m flabbergasted to hear about problems with speed bumps.”
“I can’t see out of my driveway. The wall blocks it. It really is a safety issue for us,” insisted fellow Quail Oaks resident Bob McPhee. Blatz inquired of McPhee whether there had been any car accidents in the three years since the wall has stood, to which McPhee answered to the negative, but mused that the wall is only partially completed. Resident Chet Hilgers expressed that he had seen the removal of substantial amounts of rock and foliage from the area where Daddi’s wall stands, and said the supposition the wall visually impairs drivers is “crazy.”
“I think it is important to look at the neighbor-on-neighbor aspect of this,” contributed Jeffrey Loebl, Daddi’s attorney. “I think the council needs to be aware that the anger and hurt feelings go beyond six feet.”
Councilwoman Carlon Strobel sought a simple resolution.
“If the speed bump created the problem, that created the wall, we should remove the problem,” Strobel suggested. Daddi said he would gladly remove his wall if the offending speed bump were removed. Horgan reminded Strobel the speed bump is on a private road, and is not under Council’s jurisdiction.
Blatz proposed that the council should approve the Planning Commission’s recommendation, but add an additional provision granting Daddi and his neighbors 60 days to work out the issue themselves — without city intervention — removing both wall and speed bump. If at the end of the 60-day period Daddi has not removed the wall, then City staff will continue to enforce Council’s decision, regardless of the status of the speed bump.
“I suppose 60 days is better than nothing. I apologize (to the homeowners) in advance for that,” said Horgan.
“I feel uncomfortable that Councilwoman Horgan apologized to the neighbors. That doesn’t feel objective to me,” said Strobel, after which Horgan repeated her apology.
Council voted unanimously to approve the Planning Commission’s decision, along with the 60-day condition.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view prior council meetings in full.
Nov. 29, 2012
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
Ojai’s food bank is getting help filling its shelves from another kind of bank.
Two years ago, Ojai Community Bank (OCB) began a food-collection drive it dubbed the “One-Ton Challenge.”
Because donations exceeded expectations in the first year — they brought in three tons of food — OCB decided to up the ante to four tons in 2011. “This year, they needed even more, so we upped it to five tons,” says OCB’s Judy Gabriel.
“This is the season when food comes in; this year it’s just not coming. And December is just one month, but the need is there year round,” states Karen Kaminsky, HELP’s program director of Valley Outreach and Community Assistance. “In past years we were able to guarantee folks who got boxes of food at Thanksgiving a box in December, but this year I’m telling people they need to contact us again in December and we will see what we can do.”
Kaminsky adds that, “It’s normal for us to be warehousing food, but now, as food comes in, it goes right out to those who need it. Nothing is staying on the shelves.” She sees the food pantry shelves every day, and knows how many families and individuals need to be served. “Last October, we had 58 households, or 98 people requesting boxes. This October, we had 83 households with 158 people, with 25 new families.”
The hope is that the Five Ton Challenge will sustain HELP’s efforts until its next food drive in May. “Donations have been falling since 2008,” Kaminsky explained. “We have fewer resources to work with at a time of increasing need. HELP is working to meet basic needs and stem the tide for the needy. This is something the community of Ojai can do.”
In addition to bringing donations of non-perishable food items — basic pantry staples like pasta, pasta sauce, cereal and canned goods — personal sundries like shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, laundry soap, and deodorant are needed. “Those are the first things people go without,” Kaminsky explains.
One thing donors often forget is that many needy individuals have special dietary needs. So, gluten-free, vegetarian, and diabetes-friendly items are also always needed.
According to HELP’s executive director Terri Wolfe, “Our mission is to give relief around all other expenses so the needy of the Ojai Valley can focus on paying their rent. Food is a basic need. Donated food really does help families stay in their homes.”
Wolfe said if food donations do not meet the community’s need, HELP will have to purchase it, “meaning less money is available for rental payment assistance, medical care and other expenses,” she points out.
Gabriel noted that several of the bank’s customers are pitching in to the cause, with Friend’s Ranch donating oranges, the Rotary Club of Ojai-West donating almost 100 turkeys and Nordhoff High School girls’ softball team members standing with food barrels at the stores as well as going door-to-door. “Last year the girls brought in a ton (of food) by themselves!” Gabriel notes.
“At first,” Rabobank’s Cari Guererro says, “it was a friendly competition between the banks, to see who would bring in the most food; now we have raised the bar. Unfortunately, it has been unusually slow this year. In an effort to increase donations, our office will match any donations brought in next week (Monday through Friday).”
Collection bins are in Rabobank, Wells Fargo, Chase, Pacific Western, Bank of America and Ojai Community Bank.
In addition to participating in the Five Ton Challenge, several banks are adopting a family through HELP’s December Adopt-a-Family program. Individuals, groups or businesses can contact Rachel Friedman at HELP’s office, 646-5122, to adopt a family that has registered to receive a special Christmas box. The adopting party will receive information about how many family members there are, including children and their ages, their clothing size and a suggested gift. They then provide a box of non-perishable items for a holiday dinner for the whole family along with one gift for each child. Friedman says, “158 families have been adopted so far, and we currently have a waiting list.”
HELP verifies the need of the families and confirms the information they provide. It is all done anonymously to protect the privacy of the recipients. Those who want to adopt a family should call Kaminsky as soon as possible at 640-3320 and would need to have their shopping done and taken to 108 Fox Street no later than Dec. 12.
One of Kaminsky’s goals is to have an Adopt-a-Family program in place throughout the year. She says, “We need the giving spirit to be in effect all year long, so it’s Christmas all year.”
In addition to the banks’ efforts, donation bins can be found at Vons and Starr Market. Donations can also be made directly at 108 Fox Street, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., or at HELP’s West Campus, at 370 Baldwin Road seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information on HELP of Ojai’s programs and to find out how you can help, visit www.helpofojai.org or call 646-5122.
Nov. 27, 2012
Thanksgiving night, a woman was robbed at gunpoint at the Maricopa Highway branch of Rabobank.
According to Ventura County Sheriff’s Detective Mike Harris, the woman went to the ATM at 11:37 p.m. Thursday and withdrew an unspecified amount of money. “The person went to withdraw money, and as she walked away, the subject pointed a handgun at her and demanded money,” said Harris.
The woman gave the suspect the money, and he fled in a larger, light-colored SUV. Harris described the suspect as a Hispanic male in his 20s or 30s, between 5 feet 5 inches and 5 feet 9 inches.
Harris added that detectives are still looking at surveillance video for additional clues, and said that there were witnesses to the incident in the victim’s vehicle.
Calls to Rabobank requesting comment were not returned as of press time.
Ojai Police are seeking help from the community to identify the suspect. Call the Ojai Police Department at 646-1414.
Nov. 27, 2012
Tracy Wilson, contributor
On its hillside campus on the valley’s agricultural East End, Ojai Valley School is planting a crop intended to yield a harvest of a different kind — energy.
For the past six weeks, crews have dug into a south-facing slope to install what is believed to be the largest solar project in the Ojai Valley, a gleaming checkerboard of dark blue panels designed to cut energy costs, curb the school’s carbon footprint and serve as a learning laboratory for the 110 high school students who attend the OVS Upper Campus.
The project, launched in partnership with HelioPower and Southern California Edison, includes 1,001 solar panels and will cover 19,016 square feet of hillside and rooftops.
The system is projected to supply 85 percent of the electrical demand for the Upper Campus, saving more than $64,000 a year in energy costs and reducing OVS’ annual carbon footprint by an estimated 299,000 pounds. With planned additional energy efficiency measures and greater conservation awareness, the school hopes to move closer to 100 percent renewable energy in coming years.
“The solar project continues the school’s commitment to sustainability and preservation of our natural resources,” OVS President Michael J. Hall-Mounsey said. “The school has taken a bold step to reduce its environmental impact and demonstrate that sustainable practices will be a cornerstone of the school experience as we enter our second century.”
Ojai Valley School made a decision in 2010, on the eve of its centennial, to create and chart a sustainability course for the next 100 years and beyond. Those efforts have received wide recognition, including the prestigious 2011 California Waste Reduction Award Program (WRAP) and the 2009 Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce “Environmental Conscious Business of the Year” award.
Now, OVS is a finalist in the 2012 California Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, which is widely considered the highest environmental award in the state.
On both of its campuses, the school has adopted comprehensive recycling programs, retrofitted lights with energy-efficient bulbs and fixtures, installed water-efficient irrigation systems and plumbing and added drought-tolerant and native plants. It constructed a wastewater treatment facility at the Upper Campus. And the school partners with local farmers, including Friends Ranch, to provide local produce in its dining halls.
Most importantly, Ojai Valley School incorporates environmental education into its curriculum — from earth science in pre-kindergarten to advanced placement environmental science in 12th grade — so students understand their role in preserving and protecting the planet.
“There is a constant message, going right on through from Pre-K to high school graduation, about how we take care of the planet,” said Carl S. Cooper, head of the school at the Upper Campus.
Located on 195 acres at the end of Reeves Road, the Upper Campus provides an ideal location for solar. In addition to its hilltop buildings, the campus has a wide south-facing slope to capture the sun’s rays.
The project is comparable to about 200 individual residential photovoltaic systems. It cost $1.5 million, but the school spent much less after taking advantage of grants and rebates.
“We have the space, we have the land, we have the southern exposure so we could take advantage of that clean source of energy,” Cooper said. “At the same time, we are increasing our consciousness about where our energy comes from when we turn on a switch and turn off a switch.”
Raising students’ understanding of alternative energy sources is one aspect of the AP environmental science class at OVS. The class examines the economic, social, cultural and political aspects of environmental science. This year, students will examine the new solar system, which is equipped with real-time monitoring tools, in their study of power use and the role alternative energy plays in a sustainable energy plan for an organization or a country.
Crystal Davis, the outdoor education director at the Upper Campus, has incorporated the project into her program as well. This academic quarter, she is teaching a seminar on marine science and ocean ecosystems. She challenged her high school students to identify how the new solar project will benefit the marine environment.
Recently, as crews continued the hillside installation, her students walked the narrow road though the Upper Campus and looked south over the gleaming panels in the late afternoon sun. They brainstormed how this project might fit into a bigger environmental puzzle.
“Accustomed to thinking of beach service as picking up trash and not polluting waterways, it took a few puzzled minutes for students to realize the far-reaching benefits of this large project,” she said. “They concluded that other sources of electricity, such as hydroelectric and nuclear, affect the ocean by reducing sediments to beaches and shorelines or by producing toxic wastes and potential catastrophes.
“Students came to realize that there is no crisp boundary between marine and terrestrial environments and that what we do on the coast and across the continents has a measurable impact on the seas,” Davis continued. “Most importantly, they agreed that the health of the ocean is inextricably tied to the survival of all life on the planet.”
Nov. 27, 2012
Kimberly Rivers, contributor
For those in the Ojai Valley without a place to live, the cold nights that come with winter add another layer of worry to their hard situations. For 21 years, during the winter months, the Ojai Valley Family Shelter has welcomed the homeless as guests, providing hot food, safe shelter and help with dignity and compassion.
Every night, from Dec. 1 to the end of March, OVFS — in coordination with local churches — provides a safe and warm place to pass the night for families, men and women who have connections to the Ojai Valley through family, work or school.
Martha Ditchfield, the current OVFS president, was there at the beginning, under the leadership of Rev. H. Wilbur Skeels, with the intention of serving community members who did not have a place to live.
“Those people are not ‘those people,’ they are part of our community,” says Ditchfield. “They are the people walking beside you down the street.”
Ditchfield explained that the majority who find themselves homeless in the Ojai Valley are either working, looking for work and/or looking for affordable housing and they need a breather — A way to save some money in order to afford first, last and security deposit. She said she has also noticed an increase in women at the shelters in recent years.
Since its beginnings, the OVFS program has evolved and is now a model for other communities. According to its website, during the 2011-12 season OVFS had an average of 20 guests each night with a total 2,338 “guest stays” for that season — an increase from 1,839 stays for the 2010-11 season.
Rick Raine, the OVFS coordinator and only paid employee, works closely with six local churches who donate their space and coordinate intake, meals and services for guests on the night they host the shelter. Raine is at every site, every night working with the volunteers and guests to make sure it all runs smoothly.
In addition to hot, nourishing meals, a safe and warm place to sleep, guests could in the past also get a warm shower. OVFS has a shower utility vehicle, dubbed the SUV, Ditchfield explained, that can be connected at each site. However, she added, the SUV was vandalized, the gas line was cut. “Until we get that fixed we won’t have that service,” she noted. “We are working on a grant for a shower unit designed for providing mobile showers.”
The unit costs $80,000 and would provide multiple showers and be easier to maintain.
When asked what OVFS needs, Ditchfield responded, “Always money and more volunteers willing to do overnight.”
OVFS coordinates with the Community Assistance Program and HELP of Ojai to refer folks who need additional services and help when OVFS is in its off-season.
To donate, volunteer or for more information, see www.ovfs.org, or call 804-7094.
• Mondays, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
• Tuesdays, St. Thomas Aquinas Church
• Wednesdays, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
• Thursdays, Ojai Presbyterian Church
• Fridays, Ojai Valley Grange Hall
• Saturdays, First Baptist Church.
• Sundays, Ojai Wesleyan Church
Nov. 26, 2012
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
Larry Hagman, who became famous around the world in the l980s for his almost gleefully villainous portrayal of J.R. Ewing in the hit show “Dallas,” and who later chose to live with his wife, Maj, in an estate atop Ojai’s Sulphur Mountain for most of the last 15 years, died Friday from complications due to cancer. He was 81.
In a statement given to the Dallas Morning News, his family said they and close friends had joined Hagman for Thanksgiving in Dallas, where he was shooting an episode of the remake of the series of the same name.
“When he passed, he was surrounded by loved ones. It was a peaceful passing, just as he had wished for,” said the statement.
Hagman began shooting the remake of the hit series in October 2011, once again playing the infamous oilman J.R. Ewing. He revealed at the time that he had a treatable form of cancer.
“As J.R., I could get away with anything — bribery, blackmail and adultery,” Hagman told The New York Times. “But I got caught by cancer.”
Hagman appeared as the infamous J.R. in all 357 episodes of the original show, which ran from 1978 to 1991, one of the longest running of all television shows. The series peaked in popularity with the “Who shot J.R.?” episode, which ended the 1980 season with a mystery cliffhanger. That fall, more than 300 million people worldwide watched the “Who Done It?” episode to learn the shooter was J.R.’s sister-in-law and mistress, Kristin Shepherd (played by Mary Crosby).
In Ojai, Hagman was known for his activism of behalf of performing arts, and for his interest in progressive causes.
“He loved Ojai, and he was a great supporter of the arts,” said Joan Kemper, who worked with him on behalf of the Ojai Music Festival and for a performing arts center. “For many years, he used to bring a vintage fire truck up from Long Beach just to ride in the Fourth of July parade, and to have fun throwing his fake Larry Hagman $100 bills to the crowd.”
Kemper noted that although Hagman became famous playing a ruthless oil baron, he was a big believer in alternative energy, especially solar energy.
“I think it was a kind of reverse psychology,” she said. “He was really a private person, but he believed in using his celebrity status for good causes. He had the largest residential solar energy system in the world up on Sulphur Mountain, and he would give talks on solar energy all over the world.”
Teri Prather, who has worked for Hagman and his wife at his estate on Sulphur Mountain for many years, agreed.
“Alternative energy was a passion of his,” she said. “He was as enthusiastic as a kid about any kind of energy that was an alternative to oil.”
Hagman also made appearances and advertisements for health causes. He quit smoking after a cancer scare, recorded public service advertisements for the American Cancer Society, and was chairman of the annual “Great American Smokeout” drive. After having a liver transplant in 1992, he made appearances, spoke at benefits and helped raise money and awareness for organ transplantation.
“He loved life, he loved his family and he loved being outrageous,” said Kemper. “I first came to know him through my work, but he became a personal friend. I remember at one Christmas party with our families, to entertain the kids he came to dinner in a life-sized chicken suit.”
Local historian David Mason also recalls Hagman’s big personality. “Larry was lots of fun — always teasing, always joking, always laughing,” Mason said. “Probably one of his greatest features was that he treated everyone equally. There was never a sense that he favored those that have over those that have not … At dinner parties he would see me and (‘Dallas’ costar) Linda Gray laughing and giggling and telling stories and he was always threatening to separate us.”
Mason said he thinks one of the reasons Hagman loved Ojai so much is that he could walk down Ojai Avenue and “not be bothered by anyone, but receive lots of smiles and greetings from people he met on the street. He hung out in the store (The Village Florist) with me quite often, both Maj and him, and he would always greet me with a hug.”
Another downtown merchant, Primavera Gallery owner Khaled Al-Awar, said he saw those same traits in Hagman during the star’s visits to Primavera. “When somebody recognized him, he never paid any attention to their background, but gave them all of his attention and made them feel so good talking to him, made them feel really comfortable, as if he were just another person, and not a movie star or a TV star. He had an amazing sense of humor, and he could be very frank, very blunt and outrageous, but you always had the sense he liked being in your company.”
Al-Awar said he will remember his friend as “one of the most genuine people I’ve every met, and extremely generous with his time and with his house. You tell me how many people he would lend that house to, for endless events to raise money for any good cause in the community, or the state, or even internationally. He had an amazingly generous spirit, and I feel very privileged and honored to have known him.”
Hagman is survived by his wife, Maj, his son, Preston, his daughter, Kristina Hagman and five granddaughters.
Nov. 21, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Tuesday night, the Ojai City Council will consider extending its moratorium on the installation of Southern California Edison Smart Meters. Council passed the moratorium May 29 after hearing an outpouring of concerns from Ojai residents regarding privacy and questioning the safety of the new devices.
Tuesday night they will consider extending it for another year.
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), however, has deemed Ojai’s ban illegal. In a letter dated June 5, Frank Lindh of the CPUC advised the Ojai City Council, “Under well-settled principles of California law, the city of Ojai has no authority to issue a ‘moratorium’ on this commission-approved public utility infrastructure program. It is our opinion, therefore, that the city’s ordinance is unlawful and unenforceable.”
Despite this edict from the body that governs all California public utility companies — and despite the fact that Ojai has allocated no funds to enforce the ordinance if it’s adopted — Ojai city staff still finds value in the symbolic gesture.
“We want to stay on-record for the reasons we adopted the moratorium last year,” said city attorney Joseph Fletcher. “There are issues we want resolved which have not been resolved by the PUC yet. We want to reduce or abolish the opt-out fee. We want to know: What has been installed, and where? We want the community to be as informed as possible, and that has been the continual hang-up people have with Edison.”
U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Recovery Act into law in February 2009, allocating $4.5 billion to the Department of Energy “to modernize the electric grid, enhance security of U.S. energy infrastructure and ensure reliable electricity delivery to meet growing demand,” according the CPUC website.
In Southern California, this resulted in the CPUC — headed by former Edison president Michael Peevey — using approximately $1.6 billion taxpayer money to design a “smart grid” with the major electric utility companies. The plan was to replace analog electric meters — along with the meter readers — with wireless Smart Meters, which would track energy consumption during peak hours. In addition to the regular Smart Meters, “repeater meters” that collect and send data for entire neighborhoods are also being installed.
“We can’t apparently get information on data collection meters,” said Fletcher. He added that it is believed these specific meters operate at a higher frequency and send data more often than regular meters, and it is unclear at this time whether or not a resident could opt-out of having one of these installed, even if a resident consented to a regular Smart Meter.
Proponents of Smart Meters argue that the devices could result in a 365,000-ton-per-year reduction in greenhouse emissions for the state. During a presentation to Ojai City Council in October 2011, representatives from SCE promised all their meter readers would be re-positioned within the company, and proposed that Smart Meters would create “more of a two-way relationship” between utility companies and customers.
“It is really about empowering the customer,” said SCE senior manager Michael Schulte at that meeting.
Upon learning there would be no option for commercial accounts to keep their analog meter — and that there would be a $70 initial and $10 monthly fee for residential accounts who wished to opt-out — SCE customers in Ojai spoke out in opposition of Schulte’s sentiment.
“Corporations are trying to cram this down people’s throats without any community input,” said Ojai resident Sue Williamson recently.
“To maintain two separate systems costs money,” countered SCE spokesman David Song. “It was not punitive. We are all about customer choice.”
While the CPUC examines the possibility of entire communities to opt-out of Smart Meter installation, Ojai city manager Rob Clark has written to SCE requesting information such as the location of Smart Meter banks (clusters) within the city of Ojai, the frequency emitted by wireless SCE equipment and proof of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission certification for all equipment used.
“For reasons of customer privacy and security, SCE is unable to provide you with detailed maps indicating the location of every Smart Meter,” responded SCE director of public affairs Michael Montoya. “Installations of the Smart Meters in the Ojai area are 97 percent complete and the remaining installations are expected to be completed by the end of 2012. SCE appreciates the concerns of the City Council and residents who do not wish to have Smart Meters installed. SCE believes its opt-out program addresses these concerns.”
“We got a non-answer, I would say,” said Clark at the Nov. 13 City Council meeting.
“We have to really assess whether they have good, sound reasoning for that,” added assistant city attorney Scott Howard.
The City Council welcomes public comment on its possible Smart Meter moratorium extension. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St.
Visit www.sce.com and www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information on Smart Meters in Ojai.
In the last few months in Ojai it has become a seller’s real estate market, according to a several local real estate experts.
“The limited inventory at the lower end of the price range is creating a huge buzz,” explained Emily Wilson-Sandefur, certified mortgage advisor and vice president of Heritage Financial in Ojai. “With interest rates as low as they are and values still low, it’s a perfect opportunity for people to buy. Properties are now going for the asking price. We haven’t seen a market this healthy in years.”
Kathy Stoltman, a Realtor and former appraiser who now writes a Ventura County real estate blog, said it is now taking an average of 44 days for a home to sell in the Ojai Valley. According to an industry rule of thumb, if the average listing in a community sells in six months or less, it’s considered a seller’s market. The average home in Ojai is selling in about half the time it takes in Oxnard, but more than in Camarillo, where most homes sell in about a month.
The local trend eclipses the broader real estate market, which in October was up 11 percent nationwide compared to last year, according to a study by the National Association of Realtors®. The number of homes sold in Ventura County rose nearly 35 percent in October compared to the year before, according to a survey released by DataQuick, which linked the rise to increasing activity in the upper price ranges.
Of the 97 single family homes for sale in Ojai currently, 47 are priced at $1.2 million or more. Higher-priced homes and estates take longer to sell, said Stoltman, including multi-million dollar estates being sold by Reece Witherspoon and Larry Hagman.
Hagman’s $6.5 million home atop Sulphur Mountain has been on the market for more than two years.
“We are seeing more homes in the upper price ranges begin to move,” Stoltman said. “There must be some sentiment motivating those folks to start buying, but it’s still a very different market than it is for homes at the lower end.”
Tonya Peralta, an Ojai real estate agent, said the number of homes available in the lower price ranges has distorted the figures for the time it takes to sell a home in Ojai, because higher-priced properties move much more slowly.
“Seventy-five percent of what we’re seeing sell is priced at $600,000 or less,” she said. “But that’s only about 25 percent of the active inventory of homes.”
Peralta said that the market for affordable homes has become intensely competitive, in part because investors looking for properties to restore and sell — to “flip” — have returned in force to the market.
“Home flippers are very much out there,” she said. “They want me to have multiple properties in escrow, and they can pay cash. They’re looking for
standard three bedroom two bath kind of homes. The buyers’ pool for these kind of properties is huge.”
Wilson-Sandefur agrees. “In the last year or so a program for first-time home-buyers in rural areas, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has made it possible for a lot of people to buy a home with no down payment, minimal monthly mortgage insurance and at incredible interest rates,” she explained. “It’s available in the Ojai and Oak View areas, and I’d say we’re closing about a quarter of our buyers in the $400,000 or less range with this program.”
“I can’t tell you how many of my pre-qualified buyers in the $600,000-or-less range have been beaten out by cash lately. Cash offers are stronger now than ever. It’s ruthless! When the right kind of properties pop up on the radar screen, realtors are showing the homes within the hour, and cash offers are coming in immediately. Once a property hits the market they just get swarmed.”
Dave Neztley, a mortgage loan broker in the Ventura County area, sees a market in recovery from the “mortgage meltdown” of three and four years ago.
“In 2009, about 80 to 85 percent of the properties for sale in Ojai were distressed in some way,” he said. “Now it’s about 50 to 55 percent, and we’re starting to see regular buy-sells with nobody else involved.”
Netzley foresees a gradual return to a pre-recession normality, as the economy recovers, and home values slowly rise and loan balances slowly decrease.
“There’s still a fair amount of people who are under water,” he said. “I think it’s going to take three or four years, probably until 2016, before we start to see a normal market.”
According to the real estate site Foreclosure Radar, which tracks homes which are at some stage of the foreclosure process initiated by loan default, 64 homes in the Ojai area could be headed for foreclosure, auction, or are already owned by a bank.
Netzley sees a market on the mend, despite some rough spots.
“It’s definitely getting better,” he said. “Prices are firming, and we’re seeing a little bit of an increase in the median sales figure. We’re seeing multiple offers from buyers on many properties.”
Peralta thinks the market has begun to recover, although the process isn’t complete.
“I would say it’s still happening, and we haven’t completely turned the corner yet,” she said. “I would say it began in the last six months, when we started filtering the short sales and REO (bank owned) properties out of the market.”
Wilson-Sandefur is also optimistic about the state of Ojai real estate. “I think we will continue to see some improvement over the next year. I don’t believe that rates are going to take any dramatic turn for the worst. I think financing will still be attractive, and I think we will still have a shortage of homes available.”
Nov. 20, 2012
Kit Stolz, OVN Correspondent
Anonymous knitters, working late at night, have wrapped dozens of poles in Ojai with brightly-colored yarn in the past few weeks, as well as cloaking local landmarks — including the metal horse in Rotary Park at the edge of town, the condor at the museum and the statue of the boy reading at the library — in impromptu woolen outfits.
The guerilla knitters do not want to be identified, but businesswoman Mary Kennedy — a supporter, although not a member of the group — agreed to speak for them. She said she helps by purchasing old afghans at thrift shops, and giving them to the knitters for their “pole bombs.” She said that in Berkeley in recent years the town has come to accept the woolen installations as a form of public art. She thinks it could happen in Ojai.
“There was a yarn bomb outside of Bart’s Books, and one day I went by and it was kind of sagging on the pole, so I began to straighten it, and as I was doing this a couple of ladies pulled up in a car and they were just giddy with excitement to see it,” she said. “I was just so jazzed by their happiness that it made my day,” she said.
The phenomenon began in 2005 in Houston with a boutique owner named Magda Sayeg, who knitted a cozy for the door handle to her shop. Passers-by liked it so much she knitted a leg warmer for a stop sign down the street. Since then she has gone on to “tag” dozens of stop signs and lamp poles, and was joined by a group of fellow “grandma graffiti” artists.
At the Ben Franklin arts and craft shop, Ojai resident Lee Anderson said he had seen a number of the “yarn bombs.”
“I personally think it’s really awesome,” he said. “I don’t know much about it, but I’ve heard that there are these anonymous groups around town that are doing it.”
He added that the creations don’t last long. A big display at Ojai Avenue and Bryant Street was cut down the morning after it appeared one night, about two weeks ago.
Annie Luftenberg, who manages the Ben Franklin, said that she had seen several “yarn bombs,” but didn’t know who was responsible.
“They don’t want you to know who it is,” she said. “I guess they think they might get in trouble for it.”
But it doesn’t seem as if the city or local police are too worried about it. “If it’s not hurting anybody, we’ll leave it,” said Public Works director Greg Grant. “Our policy is, if it’s not affecting people’s safety, not offending anybody, it’s OK … People look at a stop sign and they’re used to seeing it in a specific shape. So if it (the knitting) changes the sign shape, it could be unsafe, and we’d take it down.”
Ojai chief of police, Capt Dave Kenney, agreed. “From what I can tell, it’s a form of artistic expression that the public seems to enjoy, and as long as the knitting doesn’t compromise public safety, such as covering a stop sign, which I haven’t seen, I’m not overly concerned. I don’t view this as vandalism, but more akin to littering, as long as no damage is done and public safety is not threatened.”
The guerilla knitting phenomenon has spread around the world. In Los Angeles, artist Arzu Kozar has used the yarn installations as a way to reach out to young artists in her neighborhood, including a “hugging tree,” in which a tree and two branches have been knit to resemble a person in a sweater extending its arms for an embrace.
“I noticed this thing called yarn graffiti and was attracted to how it mixed knitting with street art,” she said. “At the time a middle-aged woman wearing reading glasses and clogs doing street art was seen as something amusing to my much more youthful and masculine street artists.”
Danski Blue, who owns a clothing shop in downtown Ojai, likes the creativity of the guerilla knitters, but not the description “yarn bombers.”
“I don’t like it that a military name was put on this kind of colorful expression,” she said. “A ‘yarn bomb’ just feels like a very aggressive, invasive male word for that kind of creativity.”
In Ojai, Kennedy said that the “guerilla grannies” have been seen working on their creations by the police, but not only have not been stopped, but have attracted potential support from the city.
“The group was approached by a member of the arts commission who wanted to get a grant for them to do a public piece,” she said. “But they didn’t want to. They would rather do it in the stealth of night.”
A leading member of one of the guerilla knitters group, who did not want to be identified, said that three separate groups of knitters are responsible, but don’t know each other well.
“That’s kind of the fun part, the anonymity,” she said. “It’s not that organized. We all have our own ideas. It was my idea to put a yarn bomb on the pole outside the voting booth at Chaparral for voting day. It was red white and blue, with all these criss-crossing flags. I think it made quite a statement. It’s still there, although the flags are gone.”
Several weeks ago, her group hit several landmarks around town, including artist Ted Gall’s iron horse in Rotary Park, which was given leg warmers, and the statue in Cluff Park. Early the next morning, the knitter was with a friend and saw a CalTrans truck stop at the site. She was afraid he had come to take the knitting down, but instead he took a camera out of his truck and took a picture of the “yarn bomb.”
When she asked him about it, he said he was taking the picture for his daughter, who had heard about the trend and liked it. “Some towns have drive-by shootings,” he told her. “In Ojai, we have drive-by knittings.”
Nov. 20, 2012
Hannah Guzik, OVN correspondent
The California Coastal Horse Rescue organization is being sued by a neighbor who claims the nonprofit has neglected its Meiners Oaks property, causing manure smells and dust clouds “laden with E. coli” to drift next door.
Camille Sears, an atmospheric scientist and tangerine grower, is seeking emotional damages as well as compensation for the economic harm she says the dust has caused, according to the lawsuit filed Aug. 30 in the Ventura County Superior Court.
“Our tangerine trees are just coated with dust from CCHR,” Sears said Monday. “It’s easy to see where it’s coming from — we have videos and lots of photos where you can see it just billow onto our property.”
The horse rescue has called the lawsuit unfair, and an attempt to force it to close.
“Our property is legally zoned for the number of horses that we have, and we’ve always been in compliance with all zoning ordinances and agency mandates,” said Ingrid Kingaard, a founder of the rescue and CCHR board member. “We are mindful of our neighbors, and the fact that she is the only neighbor complaining is noteworthy.”
If the nonprofit group can’t raise enough money to fight the lawsuit, it might have to shut down, which would mean the end for some of the horses, she said.
“In the event we fail and we are forced to close, those horses have nowhere else to go,” Kingaard said. “At least eight of them are not adoptable because of age or special needs and will have to be euthanized.”
Cindy Murphree, director of the rescue who is also cited in the complaint, declined to comment for this story, citing legal reasons.
Sears’ attorney, Darin Marx, said he couldn’t disclose the amount of money his client would request as damages, but said, “It won’t be insubstantial.”
Sears said she tried to avoid a lawsuit and that it comes only after years of trying to get the rescue to eliminate the dust, which may impact her ability to sell her $100,000 tangerine crop this year.
“Our tangerines are very delicate and it’s not something you can wash off afterwards,” she said. “You have to make sure the fruit is clean when you pick it.”
Sears said she grows high-end tangerines, such as seedless-gold-nugget and pixie varieties, on her 8-acre property in the 500 block of West Lomita Avenue. She sells the fruit to Sunkist, Ojai’s Tangerine Man and the Ojai Pixie Growers Association, she said.
Her property, which she purchased in 1996, runs adjacent to the 9-acre rescue parcel.
Kingaard said the rescue is home to 19 standard horses and two miniatures. The rescue was founded in 2000 to care for abused, abandoned and neglected horses and moved to its current location in 2008.
According to Kingaard, the rescue has placed more than 300 horses in homes, saved hundreds of others from slaughter and helped locals continue to feed their horses during tough economic times.
“The lives of these horses are at stake,” she said in a Nov. 1 letter to supporters. “We must not abandon them. We must fight for their right to live in peace.”
Kingaard said the rescue does try to mitigate dust by watering down highly trafficked areas on the property.
Sears said the alleged problem with the dust and odors started soon after the rescue moved in. She decided to test the dust for E. coli after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease last year, when she learned that the disease may be linked to the bacteria, she said.
“I just want to emphasize how frustrating this has been for me,” she said. “I do not want to sue the horse rescue — it was the last thing that I wanted to do, but I felt trapped.”
She is also seeking recovery of attorney’s fees, punitive damages and permanent injunctions that would prohibit the rescue from “depositing any E. coli or other harmful materials” on her property and force the nonprofit to stop any “noxious odors” or dust from drifting onto her parcel.
“I’ve always felt that they placed the horses’ well-being above mine,” Sears said. “Instead of taking care of the problem, they kept expanding and getting more horses and taking out more orchards, causing more dust.”
Marx said he expects the case to go to trial sometime next year.
In the meantime, the rescue is scrambling to raise funds to prepare a legal defense.
“We are trying to do the right thing, not for our own benefit, but for the horses, to whom we have an obligation,” Kingaard said. “For some of them, who have been abused, this is the only place they’ve ever felt safe.”
Nov. 15, 2012
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
At least for now, it does not appear as though new charter schools will be coming to Ojai.
Tuesday night, the Ojai Unified School District Board voted unanimously to deny petitions to add two new charter schools to its public school offerings.
The board and district administrators ultimately found that the two schools — dubbed SelfDesign Youth Entrepreneurs Soar Learning Community (Y.E.S.) and SelfDesign Learning Community at Central California (LCCC) — presented an unsound educational program for District students.
“We are saddened that children in Ojai and the surrounding communities might be denied the opportunity to succeed in the innovative SelfDesign model of learning,” explained Ojai parent and SelfDesign charter school petitioner Caprice Pitcher.
“’Unsound’ — it’s shocking to say that about this program,” said Susanne Coie, development service manager with the Charts Schools Development Center. Coie has advised Pitcher through the petition process. “SelfDesign obtains its impressive academic results through a process rather than a set curriculum,” Coie continued, “and that proved to be too wide a gap for those whose knowledge centers on traditional classroom methods.”
The Ojai model of SelfDesign is based on an established program in British Columbia, Canada, which, according to Pitcher and Coie, has a solid track record of success. “Yes, SelfDesign is outside of the box of traditional schooling,” Pitcher noted, “yet our stellar results in other locations and 30-year track record demonstrate the validity of the SelfDesign model of learning. ”
That model aims to motivate children to become life-long learners through student-motivated and project-based learning, rather than a set curriculum — “leading with interests,” as SelfDesign documents phrase it.
But a lack of distinct curriculum was worrisome to the OUSD Board and administrators. Despite inches-thick binders of documents, dozens of emails and phone conversations and multiple public meetings, the Board still felt uncertain that the SelfDesign programs were sound.
“There are some elements of the programs that are very exciting,” acknowledged OUSD Superintendent Hank Bangser. However, because charter schools are funded by tax dollars, they must be able to prove that they have systems through which all children have the opportunity to succeed — including such subgroups as special education students and English language learners.
“If someone said to me, ‘Well OUSD doesn’t work for every student,’ I would say ‘You’re absolutely correct!’ And even if your school has API (standardized test) scores of 940, that is still not working for every student,” Bangser said. “But the fact remains that (in the OUSD) there are systems in place to provide opportunity for every student to succeed — it doesn’t mean they will, it just means the system’s in place … they (the SelfDesign petitioners) believe they have those systems. We just do not.”
There were many other board concerns, as well.
“I think a project-based program could be great,” said Board member Linda Taylor, “but I don’t think this is it. I don’t think they (the SelfDesign petitioners) realize just how much work this really is … (To have) one teacher with 25 kids doing project-based learning, I don’t think that’s realistic.” Later, Taylor added, “I felt strongly that the amount of work each teacher would be asked to do was not possible, considering the nature of project-based learning.”
Board member Kathi Smith said Tuesday she felt frustrated with the programs. “I feel that my questions are answerable,” she stated. “I asked, ‘How do they learn to read?’ I’ve never gotten an answer to that … I’ve heard ‘Trust me,’ and ‘We have a proven track record,’ but I’m looking for pedagogy (the science of education) … at this time it sounds like chaos to me, and chaos is unsound.”
Board member Rikki Horne reminded those in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting for whom the Board is working. “We’re accountable to the community, to students, to parents.”
Board member Thayne Whipple echoed Horne’s concerns. “As trustees of public education in the Ojai Valley we have a responsibility to do what we feel is in the best interest of our schools, our community, and is consistent with the legal requirements of the State of California.”
Pauline Mercado, current board president, added, “I was really optimistic when I first read the petition … but there’s certain standards that we have to follow … I welcome innovation but I didn’t see the level of soundness that needs to be present in this.”
While the Board was unanimous in its doubt, several locals spoke Tuesday in support of the SelfDesign method.
“We’re not advocating for a change, we’re advocating for choice,” said Matt Pitcher, a parent and Caprice’s husband.
Shane Rilling, a father and tutor, said, “A lot of the reason why I have a job is that students aren’t interested, or (the system) doesn’t work for them. But we’re always able to make progress really quickly when you start looking at the whole student.”
Pitcher and Coie said they would be moving forward and plan to file an appeal of the OUSD’s decision with the Ventura County Board of Education (VCBE). Should VCBE overturn the decision, it would become the governing body of the SelfDesign programs, not OUSD. However, if VCBE denies the appeal, Pitcher could take the petition to the California State Board of Education; if the state approves it, then OUSD would be the oversight agency, Coie said.
Nov. 15, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
City staff receive some clarity from the Ojai City Council regarding what some residents say is its selective enforcement of suspected zoning violations.
Currently code violations within the city are addressed on a complaint-driven basis.
“This is a really challenging item for all city staffs, but especially ours,” said community development director Rob Mullane. “We only have three staff members, and there have been 68 complaints this year alone.”
Ojai resident Kathy Zotnowski, whose family has been dealing with a complaint filed against them, threatened to flood Mullane’s department with “50 complaints,” then 50 more after that unless the City changed its policy on code violation complaints.
“68 complaints is taxing on your staff? I have 50 complaints right here,” said Zotnowski. “This is not the road we want to take. We don’t want to now be the reporter of neighbors who have violations. We feel we would rather enjoy the same rights as our neighbors to have structures, for the inequities to be dealt with through the zoning code being reviewed.”
Ojai resident Phil Neme suggested the city utilize mediation to resolve complaint issues; he offered his services as a trained mediator to navigate disputes between neighbors, and said he could train a group of volunteers to do the same — something he claims the city of Los Angeles uses in its code enforcement.
“Most of the time it is not about the complaint, but some other issue” when a neighbor reports a violation, said Neme.
“I don’t know how you mediate a violation,” countered Mayor Pro Tem Paul Blatz. “Either it is a violation, or it’s not.”
Councilwoman Carlon Strobel had plenty of advice and direction for Mullane and his department, suggesting the department issue something in writing for each violation the department addresses.
“I so oppose ‘Well, I talked to him,’” said Strobel. “I want a process in place, and I want it used. I don’t want discretion in there. Let’s enforce our codes because they exist. Let’s have the city be responsible instead of our citizens. The only way we can start changing that culture (of non-compliance) is to be consistent.”
Mayor Betsy Clapp had other concerns, worrying that the city could potentially face litigation for selective enforcement.
As long as it is “based on limited resources, you are not going to have a problem with selective enforcement claims,” clarified assistant city attorney Scott Howard. Howard also maintained that code violation complaints are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, as disclosing names and addresses of the people filing complaints enables the potential for retaliation.
No action was taken on the issue at this meeting, though city manager Rob Clark assured council members that city staff had received “plenty of direction” on how the department should proceed.
Council did, however, take action to enter into a contract with consultant Thomas Figg — to the tune of nearly $20,000 — in order to proceed with the implementation programs required by the state for the 2006-2014 housing element. He will help the city proceed with the implementation the housing element, assisting them in proving that the city could, if required, allowing the construction of the number of housing units the state has mandated.
The city received three bids for the contract and Figg’s won.
“I have been really happy with Figg’s services. He is very independent and easy to manage,” said Mullane. “He has a track record of performance with his work.”
“You don’t change horses at this very last stage,” agreed Councilwoman Carol Smith. “We are better off sticking with Mr. Figg for this last bit.”
The city will also be expending more funds — nearly $35,000 — to complete the Fulton Street extension project, linking it to Bryant Street.
Edison revised the utility alignment, which added more than $6,000 to the cost of the project, explained Clark. “When the excavation began, a whole bunch of buried concrete had to be removed, and we have to acquire dirt to replace it.” Clark said earlier this year that the project would be completed before Christmas.
Also on Tuesday night’s agenda was an audit of the Plaza Maintenance Assessment District (PMAD).
During a recently audit of the District, spanning 14 years, city staff discovered that some businesses had been overcharged, while others had been undercharged. The staff recommendation was to reimburse those who had overpaid and waive the fees for those who underpaid.
“It was the city who miscalculated the square footage, not the business owners,” explained Blatz, of the fee charged to downtown businesses to keep the tourist hub well maintained. “They paid what we told them to pay.”
During the audit, certain businesses in the Arcade Plaza said they should be reimbursed for the negative impacts they claim is caused by the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market on Sundays.
Council members unanimously approved the staff recommendations regarding correcting the PMAD miscues. They also directed staff to bring back a recommendation for charging the Farmers’ Market an impact fee at an upcoming Council meeting.
Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market manager Cynthia Korman said recently she had no idea the fee was being discussed again.
“I have told them (Council members) in the past that this is not done in other areas, and it is not good for farmers,” Korman said. “It is jeopardizing the market. It is a lot of burden to place on the famers, who already don’t take as much increase (in prices) as they should.”
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view previous Council meetings and for information on upcoming meetings.
Nov. 15, 2012
Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
The Mosler Ojai Rock Quarry hurdled its final obstacle Tuesday when the Ventura County Board of Supervisors denied an appeal that could have cost the business $100,000 or more to meet state environmental standards.
“I am very surprised,” said Larry Mosler, owner of the Mosler Ojai Rock Quarry. “It is proper finally.”
Filed by the Stop the Trucks! Coalition, an Ojai activist group, the appeal sought to revoke the expansion of a reclamation plan approved by the Ventura County Planning Department in April, for the area around the quarry. The reclamation plan had been amended to include four acres outside of its original boundary, mostly above the north fork of the Matilija Creek. The Supervisor’s decision means Mosler must also be restore the additional area to its natural condition after mining operations are complete or if the mine is abandoned.
The boundary was extended because portions of the additional land had been altered to meet federal safety standards, including removing rocks that might have fallen from steep slopes near the mining operation.
According to Mosler, the unsafe conditions had been created by mining operations that had taken place before he bought the mine in 2005.
“We have to do the work then reclaim it,” Mosler said. “It is going to be 100 percent better than what it is today. It’s going to be stable with less risks to safety.”
The Stop The Trucks! Coalition appealed adding the addition land into the reclamation plan because it fears the cleanup will have a negative impact on Matilija Creek and it steelhead habitat.
“It falls short,” said Michael Shapiro, chairman of the Coalition. “The reclamation plan is flawed with the money set aside woefully underfunded and someone is going to get stuck holding the bag.”
The quarry had to pay $250,000 to the county as financial assurance for the reclamation, up from $20,000 earlier this year, according to Brian Baca, Ventura County planning manager.
Supervisors Steve Bennett (Dist. 1) and Linda Parks (Dist. 2) agreed with the Coalition that the potential impact created new risks and warranted a new, or supplemental, environmental impact report to include the effects on the steelhead.
“We have to be certain what the impacts are,” Parks said.
To produce the new EIR, required for state mining regulations, Mosler would have to pay about $100,000 to the county for a report that could take six months to a year to complete. It is a process Mosler will have to undergo in 2015 if he wishes to renew the quarry’s conditional-use permit.
Had the decision gone against Mosler, he could have appealed to the state’s Mining and Geology Board, which would have likely brought state oversight; a consideration that concerned Supervisor Kathy Long (Dist. 3).
“Are we picking the right battle here?” Long asked during the hearing.
Supervisor Peter Foy (Dist.4) agreed.
“I’d hate to have the state dictate what we have to do,” said Foy. “This (a review of the EIR) will come up again pretty quickly.”
Long, Foy and John Zaragoza (Dist. 5) voted to accept the reclamation plan amendment expecting to address the environmental concerns again in 2015. Bennett and Parks voted against it.
Although Shapiro said the Stop the Trucks! Coalition has no plans to take court action, the battle is expected to continue in 2015 when the conditional use permit is being reviewed.
“We hope at that time we will have the personnel and backing to challenge the EIR A to Z,” Shapiro said.
For now, Mosler is relieved the he has won this round.
“I am good,” Mosler said. “I plan for the quarry being here another 15 years.”
Nov. 12, 2012
By Misty Volaski
Bullies beware — Ojai is going to get tough on you.
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which has been started at Topa Topa, Meiners Oaks and San Antonio elementary schools, gives school employees and students a glimpse of many of the forms bullying can take and tools to prevent it.
Although all campuses within the Ojai Unified School District have anti-bullying education programs, superintendent Hank Bangser said the Olweus program goes more in depth. It breaks down bullying into four levels — school, classroom, individual and community — and extends education to students, teachers and other faculty members, as well as to parents and guardians.
Bullying, according to the Olweus website, occurs when a person “is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”
This can be in person, online or through text messages, and can be physical or mental.
These days, bullying is increasingly a “psychological confrontation,” said Jeanine Murphy, clinical supervisor with the Ojai Unified School District’s counseling program. The stereotypical bullying situation — like fights on the playground — are much more rare. “There’s been an increase in the use of technology,” Murphy said. “As time goes on, the students are becoming more and more tech savvy. And it’s our job to learn quickly how that technology really enhances or creates negative interactions between students.”
Teachers regularly set aside classroom time to discuss bullying, create skits and demonstrations to further students’ anti-bullying education and identify the warning signs that a student is being bullied, and what they can do about it.
“It can be pulling away from a regular group of friends,” Murphy said, “or not wanting go out as much, not answering questions as much in class — in general withdrawing symptoms. It can also present itself as anger.” The best way for parents to identify possible problems, she added, is to simply pay attention to their child and keep asking questions. Maintain an open dialogue, she suggested, and look for any withdrawal or anger problems.
Once a bullying victim has been identified, adults address the situation through one-on-one support, such as through the OUSD’s counseling program.
Bangser said the OUSD has a strict zero-tolerance policy concerning bullying. Warnings, then suspensions and even expulsions will result once a bully has been identified. “We deal with it immediately, in a fair but direct way,” he said.
Another big thing Olweus addresses is an aspect of bullying that, up until recently, has largely been ignored: the effect of the bystander.
“Students are learning how their role as a bystander can change the situation,” said Emily Mostovoy, OUSD director of special education and student services. “Maybe they (the bystander) aren’t saying something, but they’re still a participant.” Just by saying to a bully, “Hey, that’s not cool,” or “Hey, leave them alone,” Mostovoy said, it can break the bullying cycle. Students are learning “how the shift of power can look when another student supports the victim.”
“I truly believe that one student can make a positive change,” Murphy said. “It can take that one voice to change the whole dynamic.”
The Olweus program uses evidence-based research — 35 years’ worth — to create specific strategies for reducing bullying. According to the Olweus website, the program’s benefits extend beyond the realm of bullying. Evaluations of 40,000 students found that, after participating in the Olweus program, there had been a 20- to 70-percent reduction in student reports of bullying, as well as “significant reductions” of vandalism, fighting, theft, truancy and significant improvements toward schoolwork and school in general.
The OUSD is gathering student input on the program through questionnaires, which will be processed by the Olweus administrators and submitted back to the schools. It will help identify where students feel the “hotspots” are for bullying — such as in social media, at the Ojai Skate Park, in the locker room, etc., and in certain social and school situations — and help change the culture of the school to diminish harmful interactions. “I’m optimistic that that’s what is going to happen,” Bangser said.
Visit www.olweus.org for more information on the program and for additional resources.
Nov. 13, 2012
Tiobbe Barron, OVN correspondent
Deforestation is a growing problem in many parts of the world, and one Ojai resident is doing something about it.
Garrison Harward, a graduate of California State University at Chico, is a volunteer with Peace Corps, a philanthropic program created by President John Kennedy in 1961. It sends American volunteers overseas to serve in developing countries.
Harward has been living and working in Senegal since 2010 helping to rehabilitate a mangrove forest that is part of a vital and sensitive ecosystem.
But it hasn’t been easy.
“Peace Corps is hard but hard in different ways than American life is hard,” Harward wrote in a blog he writes to chronicle his experience. “We talk about how much we grow during Peace Corps, but there’s also so much of us that stays the same. I still have so many of the same insecurities and hopes and I’m still very vague and unsure about weather [sic] or not I succeeded in my one main goal, ‘to help my village.’ I like to think that I helped them in some way, but who knows in the long run. We plant trees under which we will never sit, or that will never mature at all because they were eaten by goats. It’s really a crapshoot. Like all of life.”
Senegal is a country slightly smaller than South Dakota. It borders the Atlantic Ocean on the west and Mauritania and Mali on the east. It has a population of more than 12 million who are predominantly Muslim.
The terrain suffers from soil erosion, desertification and deforestation — and that’s where Harward comes in. He collaborated with more than 70 other Peace Corps and community members to rehabilitate a mangrove forest in the Sine Saloum Delta in Senegal.
Senegal’s mangroves help clean the water and air, prevent erosion, provide habitat and contribute nutrients to the incredibly fertile waters off its coast. The Sine Saloum Delta is home to countless species, including some that are endangered. The red mangrove tree is slow-growing and is especially susceptible to deforestation.
To date, Harward, along with Senegalese and Peace Corps volunteers in the area, have planted 40,000 mangrove seedlings. Local community members picked the reforestation site, and with the volunteers, will continue to monitor the health of the new trees.
“It is really amazing how the program has grown over the years,” says Harward in a recent press release. “It is a testament to the effectiveness of Peace Corps’ grassroots approach.”
To those wishing to make a difference too, Harward offers advice based on his own experiences.
“There is no cookie cutter way to be a good volunteer or make a difference,” he writes. “It’s about really getting to know your village and being willing to put aside your personal desire to feel helpful in order to really have an impact. It sounds counterintuitive and it is, which is why so many charity organizations stifle developing countries rather than really helping them … In other words, before you dig a well or build latrines or buy seed for a women’s group, find out why they couldn’t do it on their own and how they’ll do it when you’re gone.”
Currently 254 Peace Corps volunteers serve in Senegal. Typically, Peace Corps volunteers hold a bachelor’s degree in their chosen field, and commit to serving 27 months.
Visit www.peacecorps.gov to learn more.
Nov. 13, 2012
Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
The Ojai woman who is accused of embezzling more than $35,000 from the Ojai Eagles Youth Football League pleaded not guilty at her arraignment Tuesday in Ventura County Superior Court.
Amber Workman, 37, faces from 16 months to three years in jail if convicted of felony grand theft , according to defense attorney Richard Hanawalt.
An early disposition conference (EDC) was scheduled for Jan. 9.
“The next logical step would be the preliminary hearing, but the EDC is a lily pad stop before we get to that point,” said Hanawalt.
At the EDC, Hanawalt and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office could negotiate numerous details of the case, including a possible settlement agreement.
If the counsels agree to move toward a trial by jury, the preliminary examination would be held to determine if there is enough evidence for Workman to go to trial. At that time, the prosecution would have to prove there is sufficient evidence that there was a crime committed and that Workman could have committed it.
The Ojai Eagles Youth Football League is a nonprofit organization supported by membership dues, donations and fundraising efforts. Workman was the organization’s volunteer treasurer from January 2007 to December 2009.
The Eagles organizers took the case to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office after the state of California notified the organization in 2010 that its tax-exempt status was revoked due to failure to file taxes during Workman’s time as treasurer.
Workman was arrested in June, after an investigation by the sheriff’s office determined that she had taken money from the Eagles for personal use.
Workman denied all allegations relating to the charges at Thursday’s arraignment, along with entering her not-guilty plea.
She was also served with a restraining order, filed by an Ojai family. Such orders are not uncommon in embezzlement cases, according to Hanawalt.
“In this case it’s different because Ojai is so small and the youth activities are well known,” said Hanawalt.
An attorney from the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment because the case has not yet been assigned. The case is expected to be assigned to an attorney Wednesday.
Nov. 8, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVn correspondent
Next year, visitors to the playground at Libbey Park will find relief from the scorching summer sun if Ojai’s two Rotary clubs secure funds for the park’s approved shade structure.
“Basically everyone is happy with the layout and colors,” says city manager Rob Clark after the recent Ojai Parks and Recreation and Planning and Historic Preservation commissions’ review and approval of the structure. “Now it’s just a matter of raising the funds.”
The project is the brainchild of Rotarian John Kenyon, a former Ojai resident who took his grandchild to play at Libbey Park one summer day, and found the equipment too hot for the tot to use.
Fellow Rotarian Bob Denne volunteered to help after hearing Kenyon’s idea.
“There will be three areas. The first has five sails with seven posts, the second will have three sails and the third area will have two,” Denne explained.
The “sails” are triangle-shaped swaths of porous green fabric attached to pale beige poles. The colors and design were largely chosen by the Historic Preservation Commission to match the surrounding landscaping and buildings. According to Denne, they will stay up year-round, and are meant to withstand winds up to 85 miles per hour.
“The benefit is two-fold: this area (the playground) used to have trees … the sails will keep the area 30 degrees cooler,” Denne says. “The structure also knocks out about 98 percent of the UV rays.”
Local resident and mother Lauren Snyder, whose 3-year-old son, Memphis, regularly frequents the playground, believes the idea is a no-brainer.
“I’ve taken Memphis on many days when the weather was beautiful, but the sun was extremely hot. There were usually very few, if no, children playing and often we wouldn’t even end up staying because the slides and play equipment became too hot. I think a shade structure would be a wonderful way to better utilize the park on those many warm, sunny, Ojai days. My only concern would obviously be the additional cost to build and maintain an additional structure in the park. But, beyond that, I think it’s an absolutely wonderful idea. I know we would use the park more,” Snyder said. “I’ve seen them in real life out in Arizona and Nevada and it just seems like common sense in any place that regularly gets lots of hot sunny days.”
Denne estimates that the two Rotary Clubs in Ojai, the Rotary Club of Ojai and Rotary Club of Ojai-West, have approximately half of the necessary $60,000 to complete the project. Although neither club has fundraising events planned specifically for the project, Denne hopes efforts to reach out to the community will pay off and the groups will finish raising the funds by next spring. Denne says fund-raising — and construction — should be completed in time for next summer’s heat and wave of pint-sized playground enthusiasts (along with their parents and guardians).
Visit www.rotaryojaiwest.org for more information.
Nov. 8, 2012
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
Sparked by plans to renovate the building at 510/511 Ojai Ave., the Ojai Planning Commission Wednesday discussed the idea of allowing residential units in commercial buildings in the downtown core.
Such a mix is allowed in certain areas of the city, but not currently in the area of the proposed project.
The Commission approved of the general concept, and hopes to see the building renovated, but asked staff to develop a proposal and then take it to the City Council for consideration and approval.
“Last night we had a policy discussion about do we want to keep our commercial properties one hundred percent commercial, or do we want to allow for some level of residential in our commercial development area, which is mostly along Ojai Avenue,” said Rob Mullane, Community Development Director. “Oftentimes allowing for some level of residential is attractive to developers, and a little flexibility could help encourage them to come forward with proposals for vacant or abandoned properties.”
The building has a Western-style front with dusty windows looking out on Ojai Avenue. It stands on a mostly-empty, 1.18 acre lot. Several years ago, owner Jim Miller applied for permits to build two structures totaling 11,000 square feet. The permits were approved in December l994, but building was never started.
Mullane recently contacted Miller and encouraged him to reconsider the development. Miller, who has a construction business in San Luis Obispo, welcomed the city’s interest and support, but has not yet decided what to do with the property.
“I’ve been one hundred percent absent from Ojai for over a decade,” he said. “I need to come down to Ojai, to reconnect and to see what feels right. I think the Planning Commission knows of my work, and knows that if I build something that it’ll be really cool and substantial and well done, but I want to make sure that whatever I do will be successful.”
During their discussion, members of the Planning Commission noted that a few businesses in town already include housing. Commissioner Laurence Nicklin mentioned a shop near the Ojai Theater on South Signal, with a shop downstairs and a residential unit upstairs, among other examples.
“People are living in the space next to the Miller property,” added Commissioner Marleen Luckman. “So it’s not unprecedented downtown. I do like the idea of people living upstairs [in commercial properties], because it’s away from traffic, with more privacy. I think it might be a good idea to try that.”
Commission Chair Kathleen Nolan floated the idea of using the Miller property as a test of the concept of mixing residential with commercial use. This raised questions of standards, and revisions to the city’s general plan for development. Mullane asked if the Commission would like to set limits for residential use in commercial developments, or a minimum threshold. The Commission did not provide specific answers, but by consensus approved the concept.
“What I heard is that it is appropriate to consider the Jim Miller property for a rezone, and not put him through the purgatory and the uncertainty of this [Planning Commission] process,” Mullane said. “He needs to make that decision, because that would require a revision to his project, and a request to do the rezone, and the money that’s involved in putting together those applications.”
Nov. 8, 2012
Angelique LaCour, OVN correspondent
If a proposed takeover of the Golden State Water Company’s Ojai service area moves forward, the effort will likely be funneled through a Community Facilities District (CFD).
In July, the Casitas Municipal Water District’s (CMWD) five-person board of directors voted unanimously to retain the services of a consultant to explore the structuring of a CFD to facilitate the purchase or eminent domain condemnation of the company’s Ojai branch and its assets.
“What we have done so far is hire a consultant to look at the formation of a CFD,” CMWD Attorney John Mathews said. “If, in fact, that goes forward we will then value Golden State’s assets.”
Because the issue of water rights could swing the cost of the purchase several million dollars either way, the Casitas Board has retained special counsel Jeff Oderman, who specializes in water rights, to help with the process.
According to Mathews, an individual has what is called correlative rights to withdraw groundwater from their property, but whether or not those rights are compensable can be argued.
“I may own a piece of property, but I don’t own the water until I capture it by installing a well and pumping it,” Mathews said. “Unlike oil, the law doesn’t like to see water rights severed from the property.”
In the closing weeks of the Tuesday’s election Casitas Board candidate Troy Becker received a letter from Golden State Water Company spokesperson Mitch Zak requesting he correct “inaccurate facts” in his campaign materials regarding the company’s water rights.
In his letter to Becker, Zak wrote “Your assertion that Golden State has no water rights is wrong. Case law is clear and unambiguous: a water right is a property right protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
Casitas Municipal Water District board member Russ Baggerly, who defeated Becker and Jerry Conrow to return for a third term on the five-member panel, has his own opinion about the issue of water rights.
Baggerly claims that a true water right is granted by the state, which holds all water in trust for the people, to divert, store, treat and distribute. The law requires that groundwater be shared among agricultural, domestic, industrial and recreational users.
“Property rights advocates misquote California law when they state that a landowner has an absolute right to the beneficial use of all groundwater. The right is to use the water only,” Baggerly said. “Saying you can put a monetary value on those rights is an opinion, but not necessarily a legal one.”
At a community meeting Golden State held last year in Ojai, GSW attorney Joe Conner, took issue with the 57-page financial feasibility report authored by Friends of Local Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) director, Richard Hajas.
“The F.L.O.W. report says that Casitas will have to acquire our water rights,” Conner said. “And they will have to pay for that.”
Ojai F.L.O.W. was formed two years ago for the purpose of ousting Golden State, and the citizens group is hopeful that the Casitas board will act soon on the decision to form the CFD and set up the Water Rescue Bond structure. To riase the money necessary for Casitas to buy out the privately-owned company, two-thirds of the voters who live in the proposed CFD boundaries must approve the bond measure.
The city of Claremont recently offered Golden State $54 million as the fair market value of its water system.
According to Golden State’s website the Claremont Customer Service Area serves approximately 11,100 customers in Claremont and portions of Montclair, Pomona and Upland. The company serves approximately 2,900 customers in Ojai.
“Each water system is unique and different,” said F.L.O.W. director, Ryan Blatz. “We do not know the specifics of how this number was ascertained.”
“Andy Belknap (former Ojai city manager) used to call the election season the silly season,” Baggerly said. “The eminent domain process is going to be equally crazy. You will see a lot of moving papers by Golden State in court to try to slow down, change or obfuscate the issues.”
If Casitas decides to move forward with a takeover, and is unable to negotiate a sale with Golden State, condemnation proceedings will be initiated. This means that a jury will ultimately decide Golden State’s value.
“I wouldn’t recommend Golden State put their value in the hands of a jury,” Becker said. “There’s not a jury in California that’s going to side with these guys.”
The other members of the CMWD Board are Mary Bergen, Pete Kaiser, Bill Hicks and Jim Word.
Nov. 6, 2012
Kim Hoj, OVN correspondent
Visit the Nordhoff High School campus on a Wednesday night and you will find a thriving buzz of activity in the science wing. Three Nordhoff High School teachers conduct weekly open-door support sessions for students in their science classes that attract as many as 100 or more students per night.
Chemistry teacher Jeff Sloneker, geoscience teacher Greg Lepine and physics teacher Ken Umholtz are in their classrooms each Wednesday from 7 to 10 p.m. to offer a supervised setting for students to complete homework, receive tutoring on challenging concepts, and to make up missed labs, tests and quizzes.
Lepine shares that “the value for me as a teacher is simple. I get to help kids learn. The environment is relaxed and kids are working on science homework as well as work from other classes. I can answer individual questions and spend time re-teaching material to small groups as needed.”
For Sloneker, he reports that the Science Help Night sessions lead to more immediate and stronger relationships with students with an embedded place for longer assignments to be tackled together, especially for students who miss a lab. “Students stop looking at me as the all-knowing brain holding back info from them and more as a coach going through it with them,” says Sloneker.
The origins of this Nordhoff tradition date back at least 15 years and expanded once Sloneker began his career in Ojai, recognizing a need to offer support for the typically high-achieving, highly-committed students in his chemistry classes. “(These students) seemed pretty frustrated … there was a definite no-fun zone in my classes …” before the addition of the weekly Wednesday night sessions that are planned late enough for students to be able to attend after other commitments. Students are encouraged to bring food to share in keeping with a welcoming atmosphere of support.
Student feedback is altogether positive. “I come here because it gives me something to focus on. I can have Mr. Sloneker help me and then I can help my two friends and they can help me,” says sophomore Kyle Hoyt, who has a goal of pursuing a career in either biology or marine science. “At my old school, they did not have anything like this.”
Junior Marin Jorgensen commented, “I come to Wednesday night help because if I do not come to Wednesday night help, I do not know how to do my homework … for chemistry. This is a resource that I can use. Whatever I cannot figure out on my own, I can work on with my classmates and my teacher. I missed (the lead iodide) lab so it is also a great thing (that) I can make up labs, tests or quizzes here. I missed class to attend a crosscountry meet.”
Junior Dustin Boynton offers his perspective. “I come to Wednesday night help every week for all the hours (offered) to get help on chemistry.” When asked why he attends, Boynton says that it is “the social interaction and the extra credit” that motivate him to attend. Each session he attends earns him two points toward his end of the semester grade. According to Boynton, 90 percent of the students in his chemistry class attend the weekly sessions.
In the 2011-2012 school year, the Science Help nights logged over 2,500 student hours, which Sloneker believes is reflected in the strong scores for Nordhoff students in last spring’s STAR test results for the science department courses. Principal Greg Bayless said, “This program characterizes the excellent community that exists at Nordhoff. It’s a community where teachers care about students, students are invested in their own learning and where students help other students. And, it’s a place where learning is fun, especially learning science on Wednesday nights.”
Sloneker also described the positive support from Nordhoff administration, parents, Young Life and the Ojai community. “Last year a (local) chemist … tutored a few students weekly just because he was excited about what we are doing. Leaders from Young Life often come in to serve kids and help clean up. The administration trusts us to be here.”
To connect with the NHS science department, contact Sloneker at email@example.com. Donations of food for Science Help Night are most welcome.
Nov. 6, 2012
By Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
There’s a killer in our midst.
Although the Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) hasn’t yet been spotted in the valley, the aphid-like insect has been found nearly everywhere else in Ventura County. ACPs are responsible for devastating the citrus industry in Florida and many other areas.
And because part of Ventura County has been quarantined by the California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) since December 2010, Ojai Valley citrus growers sense is it no longer a matter of if, but when, the insect will be found locally.
“There really isn’t anything we can do but monitor for it,” said Jim Churchill, co-owner of Churchill-Brenneis Orchard. “The disease can be present for a couple of years before it shows up.”
Commercial growers, including Churchill-Brenneis, have had to take state-regulated precautions because of the quarantine. The CDFA has placed yellow sticky traps in every citrus grove and in select residential areas to detect the insect. There have been 38 sites in the county where ACPs have been detected since December 2010. Two in Fillmore were breeding sites and four were found in commercial groves, according to John Krist, CEO of the Farm Bureau of Ventura County (FBVC).
“This just means they have been here for a while,” Krist said.
ACPs feed off the leaves and stems of citrus trees and closely-related plants, such as orange jasmine and Indian curry. The insect is a serious threat because it spreads a bacteria that makes the infected fruit inedible.
Huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease, makes the fruit bitter and misshapen and eventually kills the plant. There is no cure for infected plants.
ACPs are infected for the rest of their lives once they eat from a tree infected with HLB. It then transmits the disease to healthy plants.
The FBVC estimates that Ventura County would cease to be a significant citrus producer within a decade if the pest and the disease cannot be contained. So far in Southern California, one tree infected with HLB has been found and destroyed in Hacienda Heights.
The county’s citrus industry generates about $510 million and supports more than 7,000 jobs, according to FBVC. Lemons, tangerines, oranges and grapefruits account for more than 24,000 acres, a quarter of the agricultural land in the county. It is estimated the Ojai Valley accounts for about 10 percent of the acreage.
“It’s not going to be cute for the people of Ojai,” said Tony Thacher, owner of Friend’s Ranches in Ojai. The Thacher family grows, packs and ships various citrus year round including oranges, tangerines and grapefruit.
Pesticide treatment is the only solution and is required by the state once ACPs are detected. If ACPs are found in a commercial grove, the plants within 800 meters have to be treated. The plants are treated in two ways: a soil drench and a topical treatment. If ACP is detected in a backyard plant, the state will pay for the plant, and neighboring plants, to be treated once the resident reports it the CDFA.
Beneficial bugs cannot be used to attack ACPs.
“Its just going to keep the insects to a low level and we need to kill them all,” Thacher said. “If we kill all of its food, it will die.”
For organic growers such as Churchill, the treatment risks killing beneficial bugs essential to maintaining pest control.
County residents are asked to report any ACP or HLB to the CDFA. ACP can be detected in the plant’s new growth where if prefers to feed in the spring and fall. HLB symptoms include fruit discoloration or misshapenness, and yellow shoots. Spreading the HLB can be prevented by using caution bringing citrus fruit into the area with leaves and stems, or when graphing plants.
For more information visit the California Department of Food & Agriculture Web site at www.cdfa.ca.gov.
Nov. 5, 2012
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
The Ojai Parks and Recreation Commission spent four hours, of its monthly meeting Thursday, considering next year’s budget.
Complicating the discussion about the future of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department was the resignation of former director Dale Sumersille two months ago.
The commissioners expressed mixed feelings about the current state of the Department, believing it has been slow to respond to the community’s desire for greater activity and involvement, but also that it has been hurt by recent cutbacks.
Two new members of the Commission, Robert Roddick and Sunday Rylander, both appointed in May, expressed surprise at the former director’s salary, which was about $94,000, not including benefits.
The Ojai City Council has not decided whether to launch a search for a new director and while the commissioners did not vote to make a recommendation, they repeatedly stressed their desire to be included in the decision-making process.
“I’m not necessarily opposed to promoting someone from within the department, such as [acting director] Sophocles Cotsis, and then rewriting the position so that he reports directly to the city manager and makes a little more money but not as much as the former director,” said Commission Chair Randy Haney. “But our attitude is that if you’re not going to fill that position, then who is going to pick up the slack? Are we going to bring in some part-time people? We want to see how the city is going to take that revenue and redistribute it.”
Since Sumersille’s resignation, Cotsis has run the department with help from Steve McClary, the assistant to the city manager. Together, they are interviewing candidates for a counter person in the department offices at Sarzotti Park. They said they expect to hire one of six final candidates this month.
Further complicating the discussion was the use of a different accounting method, implemented this year, that allocates administrative time to particular tasks and responsibilities. It took Susie Mears, director of the city’s Finance Department, two hours to explain the changes to the Commission.
Last year, it cost about $750,000 to run the Parks and Recreation Department. It recovered about 60 percent of its costs, according to McClary, meaning that the city is spending over $300,000 on parks and recreation.
“We’re already subsidizing the department with $331,000 from the general fund,” Mears said to the Commission. “It’s going to continue. That’s the way it’s been budgeted for 12 or 13 years, and I don’t imagine that’s going to change.”
At the Commission’s request, McClary and Cotsis compiled statistics from about 20 other cities similar to Ojai, to see how it compares in terms of expenditures, cost recovery, money spent on staff as a percentage of the recreation budget and amount spent per person on the participants in the city’s recreation programs.
With approximately 7,500 residents living within the Ojai city limits, and total city expenditures of $7,529,000, the city’s recreation budget of $758,000 was in the middle of the pack. With its staff costs equaling 72 percent of the Department’s total budget, Ojai was ranked 17th out of 22 cities. It’s costs of $101 per participant also placed it at the higher end of the comparison. Wealthy communities such as Mill Valley, in Northern California, spend as much as $249 per participant, whereas poorer communities, such as Fillmore, spend just $23.
The Commissioners thanked McClary and Cotsis for the research, which they said would help guide their decision-making process.
“Right now, Steve is doing an incredible job interfacing with us and with management. I don’t know what his position is on this responsibility, and I don’t know his salary, but he would be a position I feel we should look at, if we want to hire a person without a degree in recreation management, but someone who understands the financial aspects,” Haney said.
The Commission also heard of progress on a new “exchange of services” agreement, to allow community members to trade labor and material for reductions in fees.
“In the past, there was a lot of horse trading, and in a small community we feel that is pretty acceptable,” Haney said. “When Dale came on board, coming from a larger department, she started changing polices and procedures regarding that, which I can understand, but the community would like to provide these kind of services to reduce their costs, which has been done in the past.”
Haney explained that one group cut its rental costs by $1,500 this year by repainting and retiling bathrooms. The Department also had its horseshoe pits and seven picnic tables replaced by another group who rented the sports field this year.
Nov. 1, 2012
Hannah Guzik, OVN correspondent
The 60 dogs rescued from a Simi Valley home early last month have rebounded and are being adopted from the Humane Society of Ventura County’s shelter in Ojai.
Eight of the mostly small-breed dogs have already gone to new homes, said John Brockus, director of investigations for HSVC.
“They turned out to be excellent animals once we got them out of that environment,” he said. “What a difference we’ve seen in their personalities now that they’re breathing clean air and have had their dental problems taken care of.”
Officials seized the dogs after receiving a tip that a Simi Valley resdient was harboring a large number of animals.
“It turned out to be a whole lot worse than what we had anticipated,” Brockus said.
He counted 140 dogs on the property, and 60 of them were living inside the house, some in crates stacked three high.
“Conditions in the house were so extremely bad,” Brockus said. “The house was full of ammonia from the urine and feces, so it was hard to even breath the air.”
The Humane Society seized all of the dogs living inside the home and brought them to the Ojai shelter. They were bathed and given dental and veterinary care.
After meeting with the Humane Society, the owner decided not to try to get the 60 dogs back, Brockus said. Simi Valley code enforcement officials are working with the owner to make sure she is in compliance with local laws and that the remaining dogs are well cared for, he added.
Brockus also provided an update on eight horses that the Humane Society seized in two separate cases in September.
Four severely malnourished horses — two miniature and two standard-sized — taken from an Oak View ranch Sept. 11 are gaining weight and have overcome their most pressing health problems, he said.
The Humane Society seized the horses after receiving a tip that their owner was paying for boarding space at a local ranch, but was not regularly feeding the animals. The horses were near death and could hardly walk, Brockus said.
“They were completely neglected to the point of nearly starving to death,” he said.
Officials transported the horses to the Ojai shelter and worked with a veterinarian to develop a diet plan. The two standard-sized horses developed colic — where their intestines start to twist — but were treated for the condition and are now recovering, Brockus explained.
The miniature horses, meanwhile, are doing very well and have put on a healthy amount of weight, he said.
The horses will remain at the shelter until they completely recover and until the investigation into their treatment is complete, Brockus noted.
Officials hope to prosecute the horses’ owner because their conditions were so severe, he said.
“This is a severe case of cruelty, no question,” Brockus said.
Four miniature horses seized from a Simi Valley property in late September in a separate case have been returned to their owner, after he complied with Humane Society requirements, according to Brockus.
Officials seized the horses after he refused an order to have their hooves trimmed. The horses were also living in a crowded pen with numerous sheep and cows, Brockus said.
“We told him to correct it and I guess he didn’t take it seriously,” he said. “We were really concerned that if their hooves weren’t taken care of, the horses were going to become lame.”
When the owner met with Humane Society officials a few days after the horses were seized, he agreed to pay for their treatment, boarding and impound fees, as well as comply with all future requirements and improve living conditions on his property by expanding the pen for his animals. He was charged over $1,000 for the horses’ treatment and boarding, Brockus said.
“We agreed to let him get them back, but he will forfeit ownership — we will take all of his animals — if he doesn’t continue to comply,” he said. “So far he has gone beyond what we required of him, so that’s good.”
The Humane Society of Ventura County is open Monday through Saturday. For more information on adopting an animal or to report suspected abuse, visit www.humanesocietyvc.org or call 646-6505.
Nov. 1, 2012
By Hannah Guzik, OVN correspondent
Ojai’s city clerk and treasurer are both seeking reappointment and running unopposed this November.
Rhonda Basore, Ojai’s city clerk since January, and Alan Rains, the city’s treasurer for the past 16 years, both need only one vote to be reappointed, Basore said.
“If we were all running unopposed, we wouldn’t hold an election, but since there are people running for City Council, we are going to,” she said. “Our names will appear on the ballot.”
In addition to managing local elections, the city clerk posts government meeting notices, answers public records requests and records City Council meetings.
“The city clerk basically makes sure that the city is transparent,” Basore said.
Basore has worked for the city since October 2010, when she was hired as the records manager. When City Clerk Cynthia Burrell retired in January, the City Council appointed Basore city clerk until an election could be held.
Basore has worked for various California cities since 1984, including Chula Vista, Pleasanton, Pittsburgh, Clayton, Moraga, Oakley and Murrieta. She started as an administrative assistant and working her way up to deputy city clerk, records manager and then city clerk.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from the University of Phoenix and a master municipal clerk certificate from the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.
The city clerk is paid a $350 per month stipend. Basore also serves as the city’s record manager, a 36-hour-per-week position.
The elected city clerk assumes office in early December and serves a four-year term.
“I want to continue in my profession,” Basore said. “Since I’ve been appointed city clerk, I want to continue being there for the community and making sure the city’s transparent and I can get information for them. I enjoy my job and I enjoy serving the public.”
Rains said he is seeking reelection because he also enjoys using his skills to help the city.
Rains, who owns Rains Department Store, has served as the city treasurer since 1996.
“As an elected city official, the city treasurer has the opportunity to sustain an ongoing overview of the city’s financial condition,” he said. “As a non-staff member of the city team, my observation and analysis are truly objective.
“It is my hope that my experience and history will help me in carrying out this responsibility.”
Rains, 81, was born in Ventura, but moved to Ojai when he was 10 and has lived in the city for most of the time since.
He holds a business degree from the College of the Pacific. He began working for the department store in 1954 and has owned it since 1969.
Rains also served as this year’s grand marshal in the Ojai Independence Day Parade, chaired the campaign to raise money to rebuild Libbey Bowl and helped raise the money to build the Nordhoff football stadium.
He has served on various city commissions for the past 40 years, including as chairman of the Architectural Board and the Redevelopment Board.
He has also been a member of a number of community boards, including those for HELP of Ojai, the Ojai Music Festival and the Ojai Valley Community Hospital.
Rains worked in banking for about 30 years, mostly working part-time while also running his department store. He served as the chairman of the Ojai Valley Bank Board of Directors and, for a brief period, as the bank’s president.