Archive for the ‘ojai valley news’ tag
Oct. 8, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
The federal government has been in partial shutdown for more than a week, and effects are being felt. From the closure of national parks to the suspension of government contracts, impacts from the closure are hitting close to home.
“We have felt the impact of the shutdown,” says Isaac Hatch, chief business development officer of HWI Gear, Inc., an Ojai-based company that designs and sells gloves and gear to law enforcement and the military. “The government quality assurance representatives (QAR) that inspect contract end items and component materials have been furloughed. For these large government contracts, we carry hundreds of thousands of dollars in material inventory and cut-in-sew costs. Without the QAR inspections we cannot ship and cannot receive payment so it makes it difficult for operations.” Hatch says they do not expect to have to lay off any employees from their office. “But people will be sent home from our subcontracting facility until we can receive government-inspected materials from our suppliers to continue production.”
Others in the area are also feeling the effects, including those who make their living in national parks. Ventura County is home to many national parks, including Los Padres National Forest and the Channel Islands. The Channel Islands National Park includes five islands off the Ventura County coast, as well as the ocean waters within one nautical mile around the islands. Several local companies transport clients to the Channel Islands National Park and surrounding waters to view the natural beauty and wildlife, as well as to fish and scuba dive.
Technically, the Channel Islands National Park is now closed to all forms of recreation; but, for those who hold a state fishing license or are licensed by the state to take other sea life, the waters are still open, under the governance of the State Department of Fish and Game.
“You can’t be in the National Park for recreation, but you can to kill,” said Ojai’s Candee Volaski who, along with husband Tony, own and operate Explorer Diving Adventures. She explained that during the park closure in order to dive near the islands, you have to have a fishing license, and that about half of the folks who call her looking to scuba dive choose not get one. This has resulted in a significant decline in business. “People who call us don’t believe it, that they have to kill something in the National Park waters. They ask what kind of ticket they will be given for not killing in the National Park? We are not really sure of the ramifications.”
Island Packers is the primary concessionaire for the Channel Islands, transporting visitors to the islands for day trips and overnight camping. With the shutdown, the company has had to limit trips to whale watching. They are offering to reschedule or refund deposits on trips that have been canceled due to the park closure.
“The impact has been pretty significant,” said Alex Brodie, fleet manager with Island Packers. “We have turned away hundreds of visitors. Normally October is a pretty good month, we have some of the nicest weather, we are definitely impacted.” Brodie said they are working to keep their crews busy, but “if this goes on much longer that might change.” He says that many folks wanting to visit the park are disappointed about the closure, but they are trying to redirect them to day trips to the western end of Santa Cruz Island, which is not affected by the closure because it is privately owned by The Nature Conservancy. “That has been a saving grace. We are also running island wildlife cruises. We have lost this month; it will be hard to recover.”
“This is the scariest thing to happen to me,” said Michael Patterson of Ojai, who was recently laid off from his position as maintenance officer with Island Packers. Patterson is seeking work locally, and as far away as San Diego “to continue to keep a roof over my family’s head.” Patterson expressed frustration with the events that have led to the shutdown and says he is willing to do any number of jobs. “It will be traumatic if I have to go into the unemployment office. This is scary stuff, but I know that I’ll survive.”
“I do want boaters to understand that they can transit through the waters,” said Russell Galipeau, superintendent of the Channel Islands National Park. “We do have a marine patrol, and the islands are closed, but boaters may transit through the ocean waters within the park boundary; they just cannot recreate. Our rangers will also be understanding if a boat needs to anchor in the area for safety reasons.” Galipeau stressed that if boaters need to rest or take shelter in the safe waters around the islands due to weather or for any other reason related to safety, such use would be allowed. Galipeau did point out the public is not allowed on the land at this time. He said a small crew on each island is maintaining the utility infrastructure on the islands, their water systems and solar batteries, during the shutdown.
While the national parks are all closed, the public still has access to much of the National Forest land in the Ojai Valley area. Sue Exline, deputy ranger for the Ojai District of Los Padres National Forest, explains that they generally don’t have gates on national forest areas, so it’s pretty hard to close.
“There is still access to the National Forest land. You can still go hiking. We still have all our patrols, law enforcement and firefighters working every day,” Exline said. “We would ask the public to pack out their trash.” She explains that visitors to the forest are likely to notice garbage cans overflowing and that while there are not locks on the doors to rest rooms, they are considered closed as well. There will be no maintenance of the rest room facilities during the government shutdown. Exline stressed that all of their firefighters are working every day, “especially during the recent significant wind events.” She said another team of firefighters came down from northern California last week during the high winds.
All campgrounds are closed and all permits for Nordhoff Road camping are canceled, including those already granted. No permits will be issued during the closure, and many of the websites will be down — including www.recreation.gov, the website used to make all reservations for the national parks. The website for Los Padres National Forest, under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will remain available for public service announcements. On that site, Wheeler Gorge campground is listed as open, but that is an error, Exline confirmed.
Oct. 8, 2013
Chris T. Wilson, OVN correspondent
It’s been more than seven months since the recycling center behind Meiners Oaks Ace Hardware closed leaving Dahl’s Market in Oak View as the only state-certified bottle and can redemption center in the Ojai Valley.
But word came at the Ojai Planning Commission meeting last month that a permit application had been received for a new recycling center on Bryant Street. About 13 minutes into the meeting (viewable online at www.ci.ojai.ca.us), interim community development director Ann McLaughlin mentioned that an application for a recycling center had been received and was under review by city planning staff.
ED Recycling of Santa Paula is seeking permission from the city to open a beverage container redemption center in a portion of the Adamson’s Automotive & Towing property at 214 Bryant St. ED Recycling owner, Luz Duran, confirmed that she has initiated the permit process with the city and expects the process to take at least 30 days to move forward.
ED Recycling operated the center behind Ace Hardware that closed in early April.
State law, administered by CalRecycle, requires that supermarkets with $2 million or more in annual sales must have a redemption center within a half-mile of their establishment. According to Mark Oldfield, CalRecycle’s assistant director for public affairs, this is because grocery stores create a “convenience zone,” and customers must have a place near the store where they can return bottles and cans for redemption. But because no new redemption centers have been opened in the valley before the deadline set by CalRecycle, local stores are faced with two options: accept bottles and cans for redemption at the checkout counter or start paying an opt-out fee to CalRecycle.
An exemption had been given to stores in Ojai because of Ace Hardware’s proximity, but that exemption is no longer in place since that location closed.
“What happens is that they end up with the option to pay a $100-per-day fee in lieu of in-store redemption,” Oldfield said. “None of the markets in your area are doing that so they should be redeeming in-store by now.”
In July, CalRecycle sent notice that the exemption had ended, and each store received signs from CalRecycle to alert store patrons that they could return their bottles and cans in-store.
The notices were sent to Joe’s Quick Stop Mini Mart, Rainbow Bridge Natural Foods, Ojai Chevron, Westridge Market, Valero, Pat’s Liquor, Ojai Beverage Company, Starr Market, Ojai Liquors, Vons Market, Attitude Adjustment Shoppe, and Ojai Rexall Drug.
Joe’s Quick Stop, Rainbow Bridge, Ojai Chevron, Valero, Starr Market and Vons Market have returned their affidavits indicating they are now redeeming bottles and cans in-store. The others have not yet returned the affidavits, Oldfield said.
Terry Starr, of Starr Market, said he received signs from CalRecycle, but had not put them up. He has been directing people who inquire about CRV redemption to the Dahl’s Market recycling location in Oak View. According to Starr, the city’s zoning code prevents him from collecting cans and bottles at his market. And, according to city manager Rob Clark, the city would consider this a “recycling center,” which is not allowed by the city’s current zoning.
“We can’t do it here, so our hands are tied,” Starr said about offering in-store redemption. “The city told me that the only place that they would allow a recycling center is on Bryant Street.” City of Ojai planning and building technician Shari Herbruck confirmed Starr’s assertion. “According to city code, the only place we can allow a recycling center with a C.U.P. (conditional use permit) is in an M1 zone,” Herbruck said. City manager Rob Clark reiterated, saying, “In theory, a market could apply to have a small recycling unit on their property … and from the perspective of the markets, there’s a lot of interest in having just one facility that meets every requirement.”
So, whose rules are local stores supposed to follow — CalRecycle’s or the city’s?
“We’re in a bit of a gray area here,” admitted Oldfield. Of the stores that have returned affidavits agreeing to redeem in-store, Oldfield said, “According to our definition, they’re not recycling centers. But that said, if local zoning ordinance prohibits recycling activity, there’s not a lot we can do about that under the current statute. It seems to us that by prohibiting dealers (from redeeming bottles and cans) … it is by extension preventing the residents of Ojai from having a convenient location to redeem CRV.” Oldfield added that CalRecycle staff will be looking into the matter further to see if a resolution can be found.
Meanwhile, the proposed Bryant Street recycling center is in a holding pattern. The initial application received for the center was determined to be “incomplete,” said Clark, who added that the city has notified the applicant of the situation. “This basically means the ball’s in their court,” Clark said. Should the application be revised and completed to the satisfaction of city planning staff, it would then be placed on a future Planning Commission meeting agenda.
Assistant city manager Steve McClary said that Adamson’s M1 zoning would allow for a recycling center there, but would require a C.U.P. to be issued by the commission after a review process, a required public hearing, a traffic study and various impact reports.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information.
Additional reporting by Misty Volaski
Oct. 8, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
Defense attorneys representing Alex Medina — who is on trial for allegedly killing Meiners Oaks teen Seth Scarminach in 2009 — focused on evidence connected to the color red.
Defense attorney Scott Wippert put former Ventura County Sheriff’s Department investigator and forensic computer expert, Joseph Cippolini, on the stand to talk about gang-related material found on Scarminach’s computer after his death.
Cippolini testified that he found hundreds of pictures of Scarminach in gang colors, throwing gang signs and evidencing interest in local motorcycle gangs on his computer. Showing a picture of Scarminach on his way to a formal event, wearing a white suit with fingers splayed in a gang sign, Wippert asked Cippolini why this picture was relevant to the case.
“Because of the color red,” Cippolini said. “Sethrow (the defendant’s nickname) is wearing a red tie, carrying a red handkerchief, and wearing white shoes with red shoelaces. That shows gang activity consistent with someone showing gang signs and wearing gang colors as well.”
Previously the defense team has attempted to link Scarminach to a group known as the Meiners Oaks Boys, which a prosecution witness testified “behaved like a gang.”
Shortly before the lunch break Tuesday, Judge James Cloninger sent the jury out of the courtroom and chastised defense attorney Robyn Bramson for leaving the courtroom for an hour without explanation. Defendant Alex Medina has asked to have both his attorneys on hand at all times in the trial. The judge demanded to know of Medina if he would consent to allow the trial to proceed without both of his attorneys present.
“What would you like me to tell you?” Medina replied.
“Answer my question,” said Cloninger.
“As long as one of my attorneys is there, for cross-examination of a witness or whatever, then I’m down with that,” Medina said.
On Monday, Bramson asked questions raising the possibility that the victim’s body may have been moved after he was stabbed and fell to the ground — and not by the paramedics who arrived early on the morning of April 26, 2009 — and that someone may have attempted unsuccessfully to save his life.
Bramson questioned the two deputies who were the first police officials to arrive at the crime scene. Going over photographs taken by deputy Joshua Clarke, Bramson asked him about specific pools of blood he saw that night.
Referring to a photograph that showed Scarminach’s draped body in the distance at the end of a walk, with pools of blood and numerous blood smears on the pavement leading toward the body, she asked Clarke to estimate how far he thought it was between the two largest pools of blood.
“Between 2 and 8 yards?” he answered uncertainly. Bramson asked if the paramedics could have moved the body such a distance. He said he doubted it.
Details in the photograph were difficult to make out, and under cross-examination from prosecutor Thomas Dunlevy, Clarke admitted to at first mistaking a pile of leaves for another pool of blood.
Deputy Jaime Gomez, who was on duty the night of Scarminach’s death, testified that he did not remember the location of the pools of blood and did not recall anyone moving Scarminach.
Meiners Oaks resident Zack Brown, who knew Scarminach through friends, watched the trial Monday with a handful of other attendees. “It’s a little harsh, seeing that,” he said, speaking of the crime scene photographs. “But I want to see what’s going to happen with this trial.”
Oct. 3, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The first officers to talk with murder suspect Alex Medina the morning after the party in the 2400 block of Maricopa Highway at which Ojai teen Seth Scarminach was stabbed to death, testified this week.
Prosecutor Thomas Dunlevy spent Tuesday afternoon questioning Ventura County Sheriff detective Billy Hester about his actions on the morning of April 26 when he and several others searched Medina’s home during what they termed a “routine probation check.”
Dunlevy played a recording of the interview Hester conducted with Medina that morning. On the tape, Medina denied having been at the party and that he told officers he cut his hand while hopping a fence the day before the party.
Officers who searched the home while Hester interviewed Medina could be heard on the tape asking Medina about a shirt they found with what they believed to be blood on it. Medina denied the shirt was his, saying the stain could have been oil or something.
When the officers tell Medina he is “lying about the finger,” Medina responded “you think just ‘cause I have a cut finger, I went to that party? That’s kinda weird, man.”
During Hester’s cross-examination, defense attorney Scott Wippert asked whether Medina had told him he was taking physcotropic medication. Hester indicated Medina had although admitted at the time he thought Welbutrin was for asthma.
Wippert also asked Hester if he knew Medina was 14 years old and was home alone at the time of the interview. The detective confirmed he was aware of both of those things.
Starting Wednesday, the prosecution used the testimony of Shanin Barrios, a forensic microbiologist with the Ventura County sheriff’s Department, to expand on several points relating to DNA testimony heard the previous day from Barrios’ coworker Cynthia Lazenby.
Dunlevy also called Steve Jenkins, a Ventura County Sheriff detective who examined writings taken from Medina’s cell. He spent a good part of the day testifying about the meaning of lryics included in the papers such as “I see a red figure, then I pull the trigger,” and “Filé in my hand, cut you up like confetti.”
Superior Court Judge James Cloninger sustained several objections by Wippert intended to insure the jury understood that Jenkins was only interpreting the lyrics and was not implying that Medina was the author or that they reflected his state of mind at the time.
The trial ended early Thursday after the prosecution wrapped up its case.
Although the defense started its case Thursday Friday will begin with a hearing — minus the jury — to determine the admissability of upcoming testimony by Scarminach’s then uncle by marriage Richard Beck.
Oct. 3, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
It’s been 20 years since the Ojai Education Foundation (OEF) began donating funds to help improve the educational experience of local public school children. In recent years, donations have moved away from things like textbooks to high-tech tools like Google Chromebooksa, iPads and digital whiteboards.
In the last year, OEF has donated $93,500 to Nordhoff High School. A portion of those funds allowed the ninth-grade English classes go paperless through the use of Chromebooks and Google Docs.
At Thursday’s OEF Fundraising Breakfast, NHS principal Greg Bayless gave the 200-plus attendees an example of the power of these new tools. He pulled out his cell phone, and within seconds was able to log on to Google Drive and view a Nordhoff student’s essay. Not only that, he was able to view comments from teachers and other students, as well. “This is very different from how schools used to look,” Bayless said, “and that difference is largely a result of OEF.” From 40 iPads in the history classrooms, to wifi in math, history and English classrooms, to digital projectors and document cameras in all classrooms — to name a few — “The educational footprint (of Ojai public schools) has radically changed,” said Ojai Unified School District (OUSD) superintendent Hank Bangser. Accessing technology is no longer a luxury, Bangser added, it’s a necessity. But because of steep budget cuts in the last several years, it’s been difficult for the OUSD to find “discretionary” funding to dedicate to technology updates, Bangser said.
“We were falling behind,” Bayless said. He added that the technology will go a long way toward successfully implementing the upcoming state-mandated teaching standards (dubbed Common Core State Standards), which will require more cross-curricular instruction, along with more writing and more critical thinking for students.
“High school is a springboard,” Bayless said. “Because of the Ojai Education Foundation, that springboard has become more springy.”
Matilija Junior High School is the next stop for the OEF funding train. And those funds are sorely needed at a campus where, according to principal Bill Rosen, has computer labs where some of the computers that are almost as old as the students using them. “As a principal, it’s hard to know that you have these dedicated teachers, but they don’t have the resources to do what they want to do (with students),” Rosen said.
OEF has begun the process with some computer upgrades and Promethian smartboards in select classrooms, but has plans to do much more than that. Their most recent donation has been 76 Chromebooks (and two secured carts) to the junior high.
The result has been powerful, said Rosen and teacher, Carol Paquette. In less than two weeks, Paquette said, students are already comfortable with the Chromebook interface. She and Rosen proudly displayed a video of the students using the new technology.
“Are we going to have enough to share?” one girl asked. When her teacher responded, “Everybody gets their own,” the girls’ mouth dropped open, prompting chuckles and applause from the audience.
This new technology is “sparking their imaginations,” said teacher Magda Perkins on the video. And therein lies one of the Chromebooks’ biggest strengths, Paquette told the audience. “They are truly motivated and engaged,” she enthused. “Have you ever (dealt with) a 12-year-old at 7:30 a.m.?” she asked the crowd. “Multiply that by 36. It’s kinda hard to get them motivated … Now, they come in (to class), and they say, ‘Are we going to get to use the Chromebooks today?’”
And it’s not just the novelty of the technology that’s intriguing, Rosen pointed out. “This isn’t, ‘Oh, we have a new toy.’ These kids are learning, they’re growing, in just days.”
Using Chromebooks, Paquette said, students can type papers assigned by their science teachers and upload them to the Internet, where it can be graded (complete with notes) not only by their science teacher, but also their English teacher. “That is truly cross-curricular!” she enthused.
Following Rosen and Paquette’s presentation. Dr. Jim Halverson took the stage to talk about the need for additional donations, saying that the Chromebooks for Matilija haven’t entirely been paid for yet. About $30,000 still needs to be raised he said. “I can’t think of a better thing to invest in than our students,” he said.
To donate, visit www.ojaief.org or send a check to OEF, P.O. Box 1769, Ojai, CA 93024.
Oct. 1, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The murder trial of Ojai teen Alex Medina led off its third week Monday with testimony regarding DNA and featured a few admonitions to attorneys to stay focused on the trial. Medina is accused of murdering fellow Ojai teen Seth Scarminach in 2009.
Prosecution witness Cynthia Lazenby, a forensic microbiologist with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed that blood samples collected from La Luna Avenue leading from the crime scene, contained DNA from Medina and Scarminach. Of the several samples, one was identical to Medina’s DNA; the another was identical to Scarminach’s DNA, A third, Lazenby said, “appeared to be a mixture, it looked like at least two people … It appeared to include Scarminach’s DNA. Mixtures are difficult in interpretation, but I did feel I could say Scarminach’s was included. I could not include nor exclude Medina.”
The defense team worked part of Monday one person short after attorney Scott Wippert was excused by Superior Court Judge James Cloninger because he complained of having a migraine. Robyn Bramson took over.
She was, however, admonished by Cloninger during her cross-examination of Lazenby. Twice, Bramson attempted to bring up the defense’s ability to pay for time in the forensics lab; the first time, the prosecution objected and Cloninger sustained. The second time, he instructed the jury to leave the courtroom while he discussed the issue with the attorneys.
“The prosecution was inferring that defense could have tested, we just elected not to,” Bramson told the judge. “I was simply trying to establish that is not the case.”
“Can this witness attest to that?” Cloninger asked. “To the degree this suspect is indigent? That his defense is funded by the public? … Do you have a good faith basis for asking this witness this?”
Bramson responded, “Yes, they charge a good amount of money for monitoring the process—” and was cut off by Cloninger, who exclaimed, “This is improper! You are misusing your cross-examination: Stop it! Don’t do it again or I will terminate your cross-examination. Let’s bring the jury back in and get back to work.”
Lazenby wrapped up testimony for the day.
Tuesday, the defense recalled for cross-examination detective Dave Brantley — who testified for a short time Monday.
Wippert questioned Brantley about his interviews with witness Gabriel Arellano, attempting to establish that Arellano was not a dependable witness because he’d changed his story a number of times in the days following the murder — and has admitted in court that he lied to police.
When he was first questioned by police, Arellano claimed he wasn’t at the party where Scarminach was murdered. Eventually, he changed his story after being arrested, saying he had been there and saw Medina and Scarminach exchanging blows before Scarminach dropped and Medina ran.
There was contention between Wippert and Brantley over exactly how far away Arellano claimed to have been from the fight — about 20 feet — and whether the darkness of the evening prevented him from getting a clear view of the altercation.
Once again, Cloninger asked the jury to leave the courtroom, and asked Wippert to either prove his contention that Arellano had been 20 feet away from the crime scene or halt that line of questioning.
After several prosecution objections — most of which were sustained — Wippert asked Brantley, “Was he (Arellano) released because he agreed to wear a wire” to attempt to get another witness, Rutilio Huerta, to discuss the case. Brantley said no.
“If it wasn’t already agreed that he (Arellano) would wear a wire, then why was he released?” Wippert asked. Brantley said he didn’t know, that it was not he who released Arellano. The back-and-forth continued until Cloninger told Wippert to forego all questioning regarding body wires, at which point Brantley was allowed to leave the witness stand.
At the end of the day Monday, Prosecutor Thomas Dunlevy told Cloninger he estimated the prosecution will most likely rest its case Thursday.
Oct. 1, 2013
The Ojai Valley stands to lose one to five percent of its trees if the valley’s water issues aren’t addressed very soon, according to one local arborist.
One of the critical issues, however, is not within anyone’s ability to control — we need rain.
“I’m telling everyone to pray for rain,” noted landscape architect and arborist Tom Bostrom. “Our oak trees are dying. They are severely stressed. We need rain desperately.”
Two other factors that are within human control are how valley residents irrigate their landscape and how many wells can tap the Ojai basin’s ground water and how much water those well owners should be allowed to extract.
“These two drought periods we have gone through recently and having more straws sucking the water out of the ground have changed the hydrology of the valley,” Bostrom explained.
Lake Casitas is currently at 63.5 percent of its capacity and has become the primary source of water for the entire valley as local water companies have all seen their wells run dry and are now buying much of their water from the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD).
Bostrom said the rapidly falling water table and lack of rain means trees in the valley, including its signature oaks, will likely need some help.
“People often hear ‘don’t water oak trees,’ well yeah, don’t water oak trees around their base, but right now many of them need water desperately,” said Bostrom. “When they are severally stressed like this, water is only thing that is going to help.”
But Bostrom’s advice comes with a caveat. “People look at the leaves on a tree and figure if they’re turning brown then it must need water,” he noted. This is not always the case.
“The first thing people need to do is to get to know the ground,” he explained. “Poke around under the drip line and see if the ground is wet. Maybe it’s getting too much water.”
He said this can happen when trees are too close to landscaped areas, such as lawns that are watered regularly.
Bostrom uses the valley oak at Montgomery Street and Grand Avenue as one example. Surrounded by asphalt and sidewalk to its base, the tree’s roots would appear to have a limited capacity to absorb water. He said the tree’s structural roots are located within the top 2 or 3 feet of soil closest to the base, but the roots that collect a mature tree’s water are typically closer to the edge of the canopy. Which is why, he said, this tree is doing moderately well during the current drought — it is receiving moisture from nearby lawns.
If the ground truly is dry, he recommends placing a soaker hose nearer to the drip line of the tree (the farthest edge of the canopy) and slowly, so there is no runoff, soaking the ground until it is wet to a depth of about six to 12 inches. Then, he said, don’t water the tree again until the ground in that area has dried again completely. Keeping the soil wet under a tree’s dripline constantly encourages organisms to attack the structural roots and invites decay.
Some trees, including the valley’s sycamores, are turning brown as part of their natural winter cycle. While cold usually triggers this seasonal change, he said the lack of moisture is likely hurrying the process this year. He recommends using the same dry soil watering guidelines when determining whether this type of tree needs supplemental watering.
Bostrom said education is key to conserving water until enough rain returns to the area to recharge the basin. Alongside that, he noted, governmental regulations will likely increase.
One example, he said, is the state-mandated landscape ordinance the city is currently working to implement. Under the ordinance, which has still not been adopted by Ventura County officials, commercial and residential property owners proposing landscape projects of 2,500 square feet or larger, will be required to submit landscape architect-approved plans showing details of the proposal, including how much water it is expected to consume, the type of irrigation system and the types and numbers of plants.
Additionally, he said, a discussion will likely have to be posed regarding the number of wells residents are allowed to sink into the Ojai Basin and how much water they are allowed to extract.
Currently, the Ojai Basin Groundwater Management Agency, a group comprised of a representative from the city of Ojai, CMWD, Golden State Water Company, the Ojai Water Conservation District and Mutual Water Companies, is tasked with protecting the groundwater in the Ojai Basin. Although it requires that all wells within the basin be registered and that owners report their extraction amounts, enforcement of these guidelines have been difficult due to limited staff and resources.
Editor’s note: This story was modified on Oct. 3 at 2:38 p.m.
Sept. 26, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
Alex Medina, the 18-year-old defendant on trial for killing fellow Ojai teenager Seth Scarminach four years ago at a party in Meiners Oaks, watched silently this week as emotion-charged testimony came out in Ventura County Superior Court.
Thursday afternoon Alex Luna, a friend of the late Scarminach, was overcome with emotion recounting hearing screams at a late night party before discovering the body of Scarminach outside in the driveway.
“I just remember walking outside and seeing him on the ground,” Luna said. “I didn’t realize what was happening until I saw all the blood.”
Wednesday afternoon, two young men reported to be friends of the victim’s family, made a comment to jury members in a hallway on their way to the courtroom.
“One of these young guys said that Medina should be put to death,” said veteran courthouse observer, Mickey Schlein, of Ventura.
“One of them said ‘Give him the chair!’” reported another witness, Bob Suslin, also from the Ventura area.
When the remarks were reported to Judge James Cloninger, he ordered deputies to detain the pair — Neil Nelson and Brooke Pergson. Cloninger had jury members brought in individually to see if any identified the pair as having made the remarks. Nine jurors said they heard the pair. Most reported being more annoyed than alarmed.
After sending the jury from the courtroom, and discussing the situation with attorneys from both sides, Cloninger warned the two he could jail them for up to five days for contempt of court or he could refer their names to the district attorney and they could face a potential six-month stay in county jail for jury tampering.
Ultimately, he ordered them from the courtroom and the second floor of the courthouse — where jury trials are held.
When the trial resumed, prosecuting attorney Thomas Dunlevy called three witnesses who reportedly saw the slaying, including Tatianna Foster, Rutilio Huerta and Gabriel Arellano. Their testimony put Medina at the scene of the crime, as well as in a confrontation with Scarminach at a party earlier in the night, in which the pair nearly came to blows but were separated by on-lookers.
Defense attorneys argued that Arellano and Huerta, both who have served jail time and have been linked to the Ojai Surenos Locos (OSL) gang, were given leniency by the district attorney’s office in return for their testimony.
On the stand, Arellano admitted he lied to police, telling them he had not been at the party in April 2009 when Scarminach was killed. He testified that he was arrested and taken to county jail after police discovered he had been there. He testified that detectives threatened to charge him with murder and put him in prison for life, but released him after he agreed to wear a body wire and secretly record a conversation with Huerta, a registered member of the OSL according to police authorities.
In that conversation, Huerta, who said he was unaware that the conversastion had been taped until he appeared in court, told Arellano to “post up” – stay out of sight – because members of the Demons, a Ventura motorcycle gang, and possibly the Hells Angels, were looking to retaliate against the Ojai Surenos Locos.
“They’re looking for us, dude,” he told Arellano in the taped conversation. He also recounted seeing members of the Demons flashing a gun in Meiners Oaks.
“After this incident you were afraid of the Demons and the Hells Angels coming after you?” asked defense attorney Scott Wippert. “Because you were considered an Ojai Street Loco gang member?”
“Yes,” said Huerta, who was convicted of assault and battery in 2010.
Krista Petler, who at the time of the murder was 15 years old and in an on-again off-again relationship with Scarminach, testified Wednesday and Thursday. She testified that she told detectives Scarminach believed he might have been targeted by Medina because he was wearing white shoes with red shoelaces, said to be a sign of “white power.” She said she took a red bandanna from Scarminach on the night of his death and tried to calm him and added that the “white power” remark was her interpretation of Scarminach’s concern, not what he actually said to her.
Sept. 26, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
There is a conversation taking place in the Ojai Valley about property lines in Matilija Canyon that could impact every property owner as well as a popular gathering spot.
In 1893, the Government Land Office (GLO), now the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), completed the first — and only — survey of the canyon. According to the Ventura County Surveyors office, the map from that 1893 survey is the only legally binding map for the canyon.
“This map is filed in the BLM office in Sacramento,” explained Wayne Battleson, Ventura County Surveyor.
Neither the assessor’s map nor the GIS map on the county’s website is legally binding according to Battleson, so to determine the location of property lines, a surveyor licensed by the state would need to be brought in.
“Any other depiction of property lines on a map or aerial photograph is simply someone’s inexpert opinion,” he noted.
“The parcel lines throughout Matilija Canyon are likely to be inaccurate,” added Sue Exline, district ranger at the National Forest Service’s Ojai office. Because it has been so long since the properties were fully surveyed, Exline said many of the survey markers — or monuments — cannot be found.
“I do not even want to speculate on the cost to do a survey today in the canyon,” said Exline. If compelling evidence could be shown that a property, or portion of a property in question was public land, then the BLM would consider conducting a survey said Exline.
Monuments are supposed to mark each corner of a parcel, thereby defining property lines. Those corners are related mathematically to other monuments on surrounding parcels and in other locations, going all the way to the very first monuments placed atop three mountains when California was first surveyed in the 1800’s.
In 1852, the initial marker for all of Ventura County was placed at an elevation of 10,300 feet by the GLO on a peak just west of Mount San Bernardino. It was 1878 by the time GLO surveyors made their way to Matilija Canyon.
“Properties must be surveyed to confirm the true boundaries,” said Battleson. He explained that the county’s online mapping site show lines representing someone’s best guess as to where property lines might be, based on the best information available.
“I am not aware of any widespread boundary issues in Matilija Canyon, nor of any recent surveys there,” said Battleson. He said it would be a “huge undertaking” to complete a survey today and determine where true property lines lie.
“If there are problems or disputes regarding property lines, that would be a private matter between the adjoining property owners, or between the private owners and the Forest Service. If a survey by a licensed land surveyor were to discover material discrepancies with the information shown on any recorded map or Bureau of Land Management map, then that surveyor would be required to file a Record of Survey map with the county, Battleson explained. “The role of the County Surveyor’s Office would be to examine the map to make sure that it is technically and mathematically correct, and possibly to add comments to it, prior to the map being filed by the County Recorder. Neither the County Surveyor nor the Planning Department would play a role in determining where the property lines are, or correct them if there are errors. Those are issues for private land surveyors, the owners, their title companies and attorneys to resolve and the Forest Service.”
Sept. 24, 2013
Misty Volaksi, firstname.lastname@example.org
Meiners Oaks Water District (MOWD) customers are being asked to cut their water usage by 45 percent this fall, to avoid more stringent — and mandatory — restrictions. The reduction is voluntary at this point, but come Dec. 1, if the Ojai Valley hasn’t received a significant amount of rain and usage hasn’t dropped to the required levels, MOWD will move into a Stage 2 Water Emergency.
“We know it’s hard,” acknowledged district manager Mike Hollebrands. “That’s why we gave specific targets for each individual account” in a recent letter sent to each customer.
Stage 1, which is in effect, asks MOWD customers to use common sense before turning on the tap. For example, not hosing down driveways; only washing vehicles at a carwash, with a bucket or with a hose that has a shut-off valve; using recirculating water systems in fountains, ponds or other water features; repairing water leaks promptly; and not allowing water to run off from landscaped areas. In addition, the district is currently not approving new connections to its water system and is asking restaurants to refrain from offering water to customers unless it is requested.
The letter, sent to all MOWD customers, explained the district has suffered a 70 percent reduction in its pumping ability because of the drought over the past few years. It has the ability to pump only 689 gallons per minute (GPM) so any water customers require over that amount must be purchased from Lake Casitas and the Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD).
Hollebrands said purchasing water from CMWD has become an almost nightly occurrence. Casitas water is coming into Meiners Oaks households at the rate of about one to two acre-feet per night — between 350,000 and 650,000 gallons.
“Historically, we’ve never reached a Stage 2,” Hollebrands said.
For residential customers, Stage 2 would add a host of other requirements. Residential customers would be limited to 15 units — 11,000 gallons — of water a month. Each additional unit (748 gallons) would be billed at 150 percent of the normal rate. Those who continue to violate that limit would receive a warning after the first violation, followed by the installation of a flow restrictor and $150 fine; a third violation would carry an additional $300 fine and other fees.
In Stage 2, MOWD’s 29 agricultural customers would be allotted 365 units per month and would receive the same penalties as residential customers who exceed the limit. Their service could be terminated after the third violation. Commercial customers would have to reduce their usage by 25 percent or face fines similar to those of residential customers.
If the drought continues, the MOWD board has one more option — Stage 3. Residential customers would have to reduce their water usage from 15 units in Stage 2 to eight units in Stage 3. Agricultural customers would be forbidden from irrigating between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and all day on Sundays. Fines would increase across the district, with penalties going from 150 percent increase per excess unit up to 300 percent.
MOWD’s board is hoping to sidestep all of this, however, by pushing conservation efforts and hoping for plenty of rain this fall and winter.
“We’d like customers to know that Stage 2 is not an easy decision for the district,” said Hollebrands. “We understand the hardship for some customers. Although it’s not our intent, we still have to get the message across, and we have to consider water usage overall in the valley and where we get our water from. (Lake) Casitas is our only backup.”
The lake level at Casitas sits at 63.9 percent as of press time. According to CMWD spokesman Ron Merckling, resale water agencies such as MOWD purchased 316 acre-feet of water in July and August this year, compared with only 33 acre-feet in July and August last year. “The last couple of years have been dry so the local groundwater supplies have not replenished, which is typical for the area,” Merckling said. “Lake Casitas was built for this reason … we really encourage residents in the area, no matter which water agency serves them, to start curbing their water usage when possible.”
Sept. 24, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the first law in California that places requirements on oil companies when they use well stimulation practices aimed at increasing oil and gas production.
Dubbed the Pavley Bill for the bill’s author, Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), SB-4 authorizes state regulators to grant permits for well stimulation practices if specific conditions are met. Those conditions require operators to disclose the well stimulation fluids they will use and to provide a copy of their approved permit to tenants and property owners of the well site at least 30 days before beginning a well stimulation treatment.
The bill applies to hydraulic fracturing (commonly called “fracking”), acidization and other processes aimed at stimulating production.
Until now, there have been no disclosure or permitting requirements specific to fracking or any other well stimulation practices.
“Starting Jan. 1, 2014, oil companies will not be allowed to frack or acidize in California unless they test the groundwater, notify neighbors and list each and every chemical on the internet,” Pavley said. “This is a first step toward greater transparency, accountability and protection of the public and the environment. Now we need immediate, robust enforcement and widespread public involvement to ensure the law is upheld to its fullest.”
SB-4 will also require California’s Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency to oversee an independent study, that must be completed by January 2015, to look into acid well stimulation and hydraulic fracturing treatments. In addition, the State Water Resources Control Board is now required to develop a groundwater monitoring model to be implemented either on a well-by-well basis or on a regional scale.
“I strongly support SB-4. The public has been demanding disclosure of fracking and its impacts,” said Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett, who represents the Ojai Valley on the Board. “The public also demands real regulation of fracking. Full disclosure and regulation of other oil well techniques that could jeopardize health and drinking water is essential for public confidence.”
Bennett pointed out that the county has been in support of SB-4 since it was introduced, but said the bill will have little effect on local oil and gas permitting.
“The bill doesn’t really change how local agencies permit oil and gas operations,” he said. “Having consistent disclosure requirements and regulations statewide is far more efficient and effective than trying to accomplish it with the limited authority of local governments.”
Bennett said that the new disclosure requirements “Dovetail nicely with what I’ve been trying to accomplish locally. State regulation of fracking is long overdue, so hopefully this bill will get the lead out of state agencies.”
Sept. 19, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
Coyote Creek is dry. The spring fed troughs of Gridley Springs Camp are dry. The pond at the Meadows Preserve is dry. Creeks that usually provide swimming holes till late summer were dry in early spring this year.
“When black sage dies of drought, that is saying something,” said Brian Stark, conservation operations director for the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (OVLC). Black sage is a highly drought-resistant native plant. Stark says that while he personally hasn’t seen anything “radical” in terms of wildlife having trouble dealing with the drought, he is seeing the plants change. The coastal live oaks and sycamore trees, he said, are dropping a lot of leaves. “Normally this is behavior we see in November, but it is happening in September. It is showing they are highly drought stressed. They will survive; it’s their response to be conservative.”
Residents of the Ojai Valley are encouraged to mimic the plants behavior.
“We need to be proactive, instead of reactive,” said Ron Merckling, manager of water conservation and public affairs for Casitas Municipal Water District. “Conserve now to avoid difficult decisions in the future. It appears we could be close to 2004 levels as early as December.”
Merckling explained that right now the lake is 64 percent full, and unless there is significant rainfall between now and December — which is not expected — levels may reach 62 percent, which is similar to levels in 2004. The lake was even lower in 1991. “Significant rain fall means a good rain storm over several days; six inches or more of rain,” Merckling said.
As water users with private wells and municipal suppliers of water — who depend first on groundwater — deplete those sources, they turn to Lake Casitas to supply their water. “Those ground water sources are being depleted right now. The city of Ventura, city of Ojai, Golden State (Water Company), Meiners Oaks (Water District) and smaller mutuals are using a lot of lake water now.”
Many farmers normally irrigate from private wells supplied by groundwater, but when those are depleted they turn to Casitas. Merckling says 45 percent of water sold by Casitas is used in agriculture. He expects demand for water from the lake to increase and he reminded residents that the Ojai Valley is not connected to state water or the Colorado River, as are other parts of Southern California. For the Ojai Valley, Merckling said, “Water is local. There is a limited supply. Once it’s gone, that’s it. Before we had the lake, water trucks were brought in. I don’t think we want that. It’s important to act now.”
The Casitas website, www.casitaswater.org, has a lake level graphic that is continually updated.
Although the drought paints a sobering image, Merckling says water quality at the lake remains stable. As water levels drop, however, it is hard to pinpoint when an algae bloom could occur and affect both the wildlife in the lake and the quality of the water. He points out that it is hard to predict when water quality could become an issue, but that it’s not likely to be a concern as long as the lake’s level stays above 50 percent. “Twenty percent — that would significantly affect water quality,” he said.
Residents and others who keep an eye on local wildlife are seeing subtle shifts in the behavior of local mammals. Wachters Hay and Grain, in downtown Ojai, reports a recent spike in requests for the skunk odor remover they sell.
“Skunks in your backyard, coyotes moving into town. We are seeing some issues,” said Kim Stroud, director of the Ojai Raptor Center. “We definitely are seeing issues, especially with the mammals more than the birds. Birds adapt better and have fewer babies when there is less prey. Rodents have fewer babies when there is less rain. Unfortunately, squirrels don’t seem to be affected, and still have lots of babies.” Stroud says the center puts out water troughs to keep wild animals from digging into the holding areas of the animals they are rehabilitating. She explained that birds can fly to water sources but, “The mammals, such as bears, deer, bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes have to gravitate towards food and water sources, which puts them in our yards. We need to be tolerant and educated about how to deal with wildlife in our yards.” She explained that they are seeing a lot of deer being hit by cars as they move across roads toward the remaining water sources.
Some reports of animals not being able to reach Lake Casitas have concerned area residents.
“We are seeing more injured wildlife,” said Jim Hines, longtime Ojai Valley resident and active Sierra Club member. “The fences were put up to keep people out (of the lake) … and it causes an unnatural sharing of migration routes, leading to conflicts.” He explains that fences are frequently put up without any consideration to the impacts on the territories of local wildlife. And in times of drought, when water sources decline, the impact of fences is amplified. “Deer and other large mammals cannot get through the fencing. Normally they would walk across a roadway and keep going; now the fence stops them. They get confused. They are literally up against a wall.”
Hines explained that the herds will adapt and find other routes over time, but in times of drought, all the animals have to compete for a smaller number of water sources. “We really need a cumulative impact report on the fencing,” Hines said, “and the effects on habitat conservation and loss of population.”
“We have witnessed deer going through the passages or jumping over,” said Merckling, regarding whether or not the fences have stopped wildlife from getting to the lake. “Wildlife corridors were built into it and there have not been any increased incidents of deer being hit (by cars) near the fence,” said Merckling.
Reports of mangy-looking coyotes have come in from residents around the valley. Hines agrees coyotes can be hit hard by droughts.
“Coyotes are a good indicator species,” he said. “They are common, easy to identify and anyone without any expertise can see whether they are healthy or sick.” The drought means fewer rodents for the coyotes, so they move closer to water sources where there may still be prey.
The problem is that other coyotes, bobcats, foxes, bears and mountain lions are doing the same. Animals may also exhibit unusual behavior, such as entering residential neighborhoods more frequently. Hines suggests providing water sources on properties that are in the buffer zone between the wild lands and town. Areas along Rice Road, Foothill Road and others that animals will be crossing to get further into town could be a natural stopping spot for animals needing a drink. Hines points out that we are living in their habitat.
“Drought is an important part of the chaparral ecosystem; it is part of the natural cycle,” said Hines. However, “Man has interrupted that,” he added, by living where we do.
Visit www.casitaswater.org for water conservation tips, rebates and more.
Sept. 19, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
The mother of the Ojai teen accused of stabbing and killing another youth testified in her son’s trial Wednesday afternoon in Ventura County Superior Court.
Prosecutor Thomas Dunlevy called Janine Arellanes, Alex Medina’s mother, to the witness stand. Arellanes testified that her then-14-year-old son called her early Sunday morning April 25, 2009 to ask for a ride. She said she picked him up not far from the 2400 block of Maricopa Highway at about 2 a.m. She drove him to their home, which was about five minutes away.
Medina is charged with first-degree murder with a “special circumstance,” of acting for the benefit of a criminal street gang for allegedly stabbing and killing Seth Scarminach.
“Did you ask him why he was out so late?” Dunlevy asked.
“I don’t remember if I did,” said Arellanes. “I just remember kind of getting on him. Asking him, ‘Why are you out like this?’”
“Did he say anything about what had just occurred?” Dunlevy continued.
“No,” answered Arellanes.
“Did you ask him if anything had just happened?”
“No,” Arellanes responded.
Medina reportedly went to sleep in his room. That morning, at 7:30 a.m., after Arellanes, her husband and four other children left the house to go for a hike five police officers burst in to the home at gunpoint, looking for evidence of the killing. Medina denied involvement and the knife was never found.
Detective Steven Jenkins, a gang investigator for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, was on duty in Ojai when Alex Medina was arrested. He testified Thursday that Medina was a member of the Ojai Surenos Locos (OSL). OSL is classified as a “criminal street gang” under state law, meaning that members have been convicted of serious gang-related felonies and the gang has a pattern of criminal activity.
If convicted of the “special circumstance” enhancement, 18-year-old Medina could be eligible for life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In response to questions from Dunlevy, Jenkins said that in 2009, OSL was embroiled in a conflict with other Ojai gangs, including the Meiners Oaks Boys (M.O.B.), the Oak View Gangsters (OVG) and two other groups allied with a Hell’s Angels group in Ventura. Jenkins testified that Scarminach was associated with the M.O.B. group, which he said acted like a gang, but was not a “criminal street gang” under the definition of state law because it had not shown a pattern of criminal activity.
Jenkins testified that he considered the M.O.B. group a gang, with signs and a color (red). He said their territory extended from Nordhoff High School north on Highway 33, west to Rice Road, and south to Baldwin Road, on the west side of the Ojai Valley. Their rivals, the OSL gang, were associated with a much larger Southern California gang, the Surenos, which is allied with the Mexican Mafia. He said the OSL’s gang is blue, and their signs and iconography referenced the ‘East Side” or “Evil Side.”
“In the Ojai Valley, OSL territory is the city of Ojai and anything east,” he testified. “If you look at a map, you’ll see they claim the east side of the valley. If you talk to someone in Ojai about ‘East Side,’ they’ll know you’re talking about OSL.”
In pre-trial motions last week, Medina’s attorneys, Robyn Bramson and Scott Wippert, asked Judge James Cloninger to limit or exclude much of Jenkins’ testimony, arguing that it was “prejudicial but not probative,” because it did not go to prove the charges filed against Medina. Cloninger over-ruled most of the defense motions.
In testimony Wednesday, from police officers and crime scene technicians, the prosecution began to forge a chain of evidence from the discovery of a shoebox full of rap lyrics and gang writings — seized in Medina’s bedroom at his mother’s home on Tico Road the day after the murder — to a series of aggressive raps the prosecution quoted in its opening statement. In these songs, Medina, an amateur rapper, had boasted, “put me down for murder in the first degree,” and promised to, “leave blood dripping” from the scene of his crimes.
The prosecution went on to show the jury photographs of blood drops found leading from the scene of the stabbing, down the road toward Medina’s home, and of a bathroom where bandages bloodied from cuts on Medina’s hand were found. DNA from these blood drops was said to be identical with that of the victim and was mixed with blood containing DNA from Medina.
According to an emergency room doctor referenced by Dunlvey, this blood came from cuts on Medina’s hand that were “consistent with wielding a knife (in a stabbing), and having it slip, especially if there is no hilt guard.”
Sept. 17, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
In what amounted to little more than an exercise in scheduling, Superior Court Judge Mark Borrell set Oct. 15 for a hearing date on the Golden State Water Company (GSWC) lawsuit, filed in March, that sought to vacate resolutions adopted by Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) relating to the Aug. 27 Measure V election.
GSWC contends that the voter-approved measure, which seeks to use a Mello-Roos property tax to fund a takeover of the private company, is not a legal use of that funding mechanism. Borrell ruled in early June that he would wait until the election was decided before taking up the question. Measure V was approved by almost 88 percent of the voters in the proposed Community Facilities District.
Attorneys for both sides compared calendars and eventually settled on the Oct. 15 date.
Casitas attorneys also requested, and received approval from Borrell, to submit an additional response to GSWC’s legal arguments. Over protestations by GSWC attorney George Soneff, Borrell agreed to accept no more than four pages of additional documentation by Sept. 26. He also allowed GSWC to submit a four-page response by Oct. 3 if it wished.
After the hearing, which lasted approximately 10 minutes, Soneff declined comment other than to say, “Nothing substantive happened today.”
Casitas attorney Jeffrey Oderman said only that his client is glad this issue will be resolved soon.
Sept. 17, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
In a two-week period, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department (VCSD) Narcotics Bureau has eradicated more than 9,000 marijuana plants and 500 pounds of drying marijuana from the Los Padres National Forest. No arrests have been made in either find.
According to a VCSD press release, the 9,000 plants were found in five plots near the popular Ortega Trail in late August, and were located by an aerial reconnaissance mission by the VCSD Air Unit. The marijuana plants were up to 8 feet tall and heavily budded. Due to the size and quantity of the marijuana plants, a full size stake bed was required to transport the seized drugs for destruction. Investigators were assisted by the Sheriff’s Air Unit, a Ventura County Fire Department hand crew, and the California Department of Justice, Campaign Against Marijuana Planting in the eradication effort.
Last week, about 1,500 cut and drying marijuana plants — totaling about 500 pounds — were found on the southern slope of Pine Mountain by deer hunters, who notified authorities. Near the growers’ camp, the corpse of a young black bear was also found. VCSD information officer Capt. Don Aguilar said it was unclear how the bear had been killed, but said that narcotics detectives believe it had been killed illegally by the marijuana growers.
Narcotics detectives pulled a total of three tons of marijuana off of the two cultivation sites, and Aguilar said there are likely more sites that have not yet been found. However, he added, the drought is affecting where growers are choosing to plant, as there are fewer streams from which to draw water to irrigate their crop. “The upper elevations are more where the water is … that’s really the only water source up there right now,” Aguilar said. “But even way up there in the Pine Mountain area, there’s not a whole lot of water.”
Growers often begin their operations in April, Aguilar noted, and VCSD eradication efforts often continue into October and sometimes later. As such, the VCSD urges hikers, cyclists and anyone planning on going into the backcountry to be cautious and aware. “Irrigation pipes, bags of fertilizer and people who appear to be unequipped for hiking in remote areas,” the VCSD press release said, “are possible indications that you may be near a marijuana cultivation. If you come across these or similar circumstances, leave the area immediately and contact law enforcement.”
Sept. 17, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
A dark sky initiative of a different kind hit Ojai Saturday at 9 p.m. when problems in an underground transformer left approximately 2,300 Southern California Edison (SCE) customers without electricity.
Although crews restored power to all but 23 customers within approximately 20 minutes, ultimately 75 customers, including many downtown businesses, remained powerless while more permanent repairs were made Sunday.
According to Nancy Williams, SCE region manager, initial indications are that wiring in the transformer failed, causing the outage. She added that crews had to pump water from the transformer vault before they could proceed with repairs. She was unsure at the time where the water might have come from.
Guests at a private outdoor party at the Lavender Inn sang acapella after the lights went out and the band couldn’t play.
Two blocks away, however, there was no singing at Ojai Ice Cream in the Arcade, one of the businesses that remained without power throughout the day Sunday.
Rydbeck said he had to throw away 66 tubs, almost 200 gallons of ice cream, sorbet and gelato. One of his dipping cabinets lost its Freon® charge during the outage. He spend Monday making fresh batches of his homemade goodies, but remained at half capacity until the cabinet could be recharged. He expected to be fully operational again sometime Wednesday.
“Between replacement costs, repairs and the money I would have made, that cost me about $5,000,” Rydbeck added.
Williams said any SCE customer who suffered a loss because of the outage may be entitled to reimbursement. She said claim forms can be requested by calling 1-800-655-4555.
Sept. 17, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
The trial for a murder that happened more than four years ago got underway with the playing of a rap song Tuesday in Ventura County Superior Court.
Ventura County deputy district attorney Thomas Dunlevy opened his case by playing a snippet of a song that Ojai resident Alex Medina allegedly wrote and then recorded on his cellphone, in which he boasted of his gang lifestyle and declared “187 on our rivals is the way we bang.”
Dunlevy revealed that “187” is the penal code number for homicide.
Medina faces charges of first-degree homicide with “special circumstances” for allegedly killing Seth Scarminach for the benefit of a “criminal street gang,” the Ojai Sureños Locos (OSL), and for using a knife in the commission of the crime.
He is facing first-degree homicide charges in the death of Scarminach, in April 2009. Scarminach was 16 at the time and Medina was 14.
Dunlevy told the jury that, “Medina was devoted to the gang lifestyle so much that any perceived challenge to his gang was sufficient motivation for murder.”
In his opening statement, Dunlevy went on to cite a number of gang-related writings seized from Medina’s bedroom and jail cell that evidenced an identification with the OSL gang, which he said was embroiled in a conflict with another group, the Meiners Oaks Boys.
In her opening statement for the defense, attorney Robyn Bramson said that Medina’s part in the killing was not in dispute, nor Medina’s involvement with the OSL gang, but said that the prosecution had left out important facts in the case. She said that from the age of 4, Medina had been physically and emotionally abused by his much bigger and stronger stepfather, that he had developed post-traumatic stress disorder, among other mental issues, and that he had reason to fear the bigger and stronger Scarminach, who had allegedly threatened, “If I see a Mexican, I’m going to shoot him.”
The case has taken over four years to reach trial, although Medina was identified by witnesses the night of the killing, and arrested within a day. Scarminach, a Chaparral High School student, was repeatedly stabbed during an altercation at a late-night party in Meiners Oaks in April 2009. Scarmiach died at the scene. Medina pleaded not guilty when arraigned.
Subsequently his defense team, Bramson and Scott Wippert, have fought his case in the courts on a number of grounds. They first argued that Medina was not competent to stand trial. When a psychological exam found him able to understand the proceedings and assist in his defense, and the district attorney’s office refused to support a second psychological exam, the defense team appealed the decision to an appellate court and then to the California Supreme Court. In August 2010, they won the right for a second mental health exam for Medina.
Last August, a week-long trial of Medina’s competency was held in front of Superior Court Judge James Cloninger. After two hours of deliberation, the jury found Medina able to stand trial.
Wippert contends that Medina has long displayed symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, among other severe mental health problems.
“Since Alex Medina was 12 years old, he has been on probation,” Wippert said. “He has mental health issues, which is something the district attorney accepts, because he was being treated for those issues in the system.”
Medina’s attorneys filed a motion in February 2012 to dismiss charges against their client on the grounds that prosecutors concealed evidence pointing to another assailant. They filed a motion to prevent the district attorney’s office from prosecuting the case due to a conflict of interest. A hearing on the claim revealed that an inmate named Lee Peyton had sent a letter to district attorney investigator Tom Mendez in 2010, alleging knowledge of another assailant, but when Mendez and a detective from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department (VCSD) went to interview Peyton, he refused to talk to anyone from the VCSD.
Wippert argued in court that Peyton provided names, addresses and details about the killing, and said that the prosecutors revealed this development only after the defense team found out about it separately, due to a letter from Peyton. The district attorney at the time, Bill Haney, said his department turned over evidence to the defense as soon as he learned of it. The district attorney added that Peyton, a heroin user with three strikes on his record, could not be trusted.
Cloninger denied the motion to recuse the district attorney’s office from prosecuting the case in August 2012, without a hearing on the Peyton claim.
Prosecutors allege that Medina was a junior member of a well-established street gang in Ojai. The gang has a 20-plus year history in the Ojai area, police authorities say, with about 10 to 20 members, many of whom have been convicted of felonies.
In July 2008, Scarminach told police that he had been robbed of an iPod by three members of the OSL gang, whom he identified. Warrants were issued for the arrest of three members of the OSL gang at that time, two of whom were quickly found and jailed. When Scarminach was killed a year later, witnesses pointed the finger at Medina, and authorities declared the killing “gang-related” and went on to charge Medina as an adult in the crime.
Cloninger estimated Medina’s trial will take about six weeks.
Sept. 12, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai residents expressed confusion and outrage at a new water-efficient landscaping ordinance passed down from the state and discussed during a special joint meeting of the Ojai Planning Commission and Ojai City Council Tuesday night.
“In 2010, City Council came to the Planning Commission and asked the Commission to form a subcommittee to go over this new state law that went into effect actually a couple months prior to us being notified, which was in Jan., 2010,” said Commissioner Kathy Nolan. “Basically what we did is we sorted it out. Basically it was a jumble and kind of a mess of legal elements, legal language and submittal requirements all thrown together and pretty much hard to decipher. So we sorted it out and put it in a user-friendly format.”
The ordinance applies to new or rehabilitation non-residential private development projects, and new or rehabilitation residential projects for landscape areas over 2,500 square feet. It also requires these projects include an irrigation audit and utilize a landscape architect.
“I’m pretty much a private property rights kind of guy,” said Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Scott Eicher, speaking as a private resident. “I’m wondering, do I have to hire a landscape architect, who then has to get a permit for me, and then be inspected, simply to rehabilitate my garden? I understand — believe me, I’m a Golden State Water (Company) customer — so I understand water conservation. I’ve been in this valley most of my life, so I also understand we are a high-fire-danger area … (but) I don’t see where anyone has the right to come on to my property and tell me how to develop my property, when I’m the one who’s paid my property taxes for 30 years, I’m the one who’s paid the mortgage premium … Also, if we are a complaint-driven city, how are we going to enforce this ordinance? … A lot of this, to me, is, ‘Where is King George V?’”
“This is state language, and there is nothing you can do about it,” said Councilwoman Betsy Clapp, addressing the Commission.
Nolan nodded her assent, while subcommittee co-member Tom Bostrom clarified, “We only attempted to make it read easier. Most of the language comes straight out of the state ordinance.”
“Currently, by default, we are already in the state program,” added Commissioner Steven Foster. “But we’re trying to modify it (to make it suit Ojai).”
“This is going to be onerous for property owners,” offered Councilman Severo Lara, who runs a landscape contracting business. “It becomes very pricey. It could help big, commercial projects save money, but for single-family residents …”
Lara trailed off, and the group decided to have Nolan and Bostrom re-work the language of the ordinance once more.
“It’s all about water,” summed up Bostrom,” Which is going to become more and more of an issue.”
Also at the meeting, Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) was honored by Council. “I thought it was important to do it as a formal session here, when people who are home watching television, or didn’t have an opportunity who are in the audience tonight, to really get the flavor and the amount of really extreme appreciation we have to a group of seven individuals that made up F.L.O.W.,” said Mayor Blatz, “Who spent tireless hours getting the information out. And then, the community we live, how proud we all should be that we were willing to go to the polls on Measure V and actually turn out 87 percent in favor of putting a tax on ourselves just so that we can reduce our water rates and bring water back to Ojai, put the management of our water back with local people. I think we all should be extremely proud of our community for speaking with such a loud voice.”
Sept. 12, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
After passing the California Assembly and Senate on Wednesday, State Bill 4 (SB-4) — the only remaining bill aimed at regulating hydraulic fracturing and other well stimulation practices — is heading to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk and is expected to be signed.
According to a statement issued late Wednesday night from the office of State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), the author of the bill, “SB-4 would require permits for fracking, acidizing and other oil well stimulation practices. It would require notification of neighbors, public disclosure of all chemicals used, groundwater and air quality monitoring and an independent scientific study. The study would evaluate potential risks such as groundwater and surface water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, local air pollution, seismic impacts, and effects on wildlife, native plants and habitat.”
In the past year the public and lawmakers were surprised to learn that hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has not been regulated or tracked by the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), the division of the California Department of Conservation responsible for the oversight of oil production in the state. Several fracking bills were written, but only SB-4 survived through committee.
Fracking is a well completion process that is used to stimulate more production from a well. After a well is drilled, a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is injected into the well to break apart the rock and allow oil and natural gas to flow out. Acidization is a process using hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids to dissolve rocks allowing oil and gas to be released. There have been no regulations covering fracking or acidization in the state of California until now.
“We really don’t want to continue down the road where we have to tell the public, ‘We don’t know,’” Pavley told her fellow Senators, before their vote on Wednesday. “We don’t know where we are fracking wells. We don’t know what chemicals are being used. We don’t know how these fluids are being stored. We just don’t know.” Her office and supporters of the bill say that now, the public will know.
The Ojai-based organization Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG) sees SB-4 as a chance to add additional oversight, but says local agencies must take on their share of responsibility in protecting public health and safety.
“SB-4 is not perfect, but if it becomes law we stand a far better chance of protecting our fabulous environment in this county than to let oil companies continue to shoot chemicals and acid underground at high pressure without any oversight,” said John Brooks, Oak View resident and president of CFROG. “The state controls what happens underground. Everything else, like truck traffic on roads, land use, noise, air quality, water quality and supply, access roads and graded pads is the responsibility of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors and our city councils. CFROG will be working in the coming months to make sure that local protections are also beefed up. Step by step, that’s how progress is made.” The bill is expected to be implemented over the coming year.
Several environmental groups applauded Pavley and most of the bill, but revoked their support of the bill because it did not include the technical changes to language that they wanted. After the bill passed the Assembly Wednesday, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), California League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action and Environmental Working Group issued a joint press release announcing that they had withdrawn their support of SB-4. In a letter addressed to Pavley that was attached to the press release, the groups pointed to late-in-the-game amendments that they claim are too vague, and might be interpreted to allow DOGGR more discretion in determining when environmental reports are required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). They feel that DOGGR should not be given more authority about when to apply CEQA. The letter also asks for clear language that protects the Governor’s “executive authority to issue a moratorium on fracking.”
“Californians deserve to have their health and drinking water sources protected from oil and gas development. Last-minute amendments, added due to oil industry pressure, threaten to weaken the environmental review required by CEQA,” said Miriam Gordon, California Director of Clean Water Action. These groups asked for “technical changes that correct language” in the bill, which they say would allow them to support it in full.
“The Governor’s office asked for interim rules so the public and environment are protected right away,” said Pavley in an email to the Ojai Valley News. “But SB-4’s provisions make clear the bill will not trump DOGGR or a court in deciding exactly how CEQA will apply to fracking.” As for the worries that SB-4 will affect the Governor’s ability to enacting a moratorium on fracking she said, “I stand behind this bill as an insurance policy that does not prevent the Governor or local communities from further restricting these activities.”
The bill is also getting a cool response from the oil industry.
“Unfortunately, SB-4 could create conditions that will make it difficult to continue to provide a reliable supply of domestic petroleum energy for California,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of Western States Petroleum Association. “We are concerned the bill could make it difficult for Californians to reap the enormous benefits offered by development of the Monterey Shale formation.”
The votes ran down party lines for the most part. In the Assembly the bill passed with a 54-20 vote; all “no” votes came from Republicans. Six “yes” votes came from Republicans, including Assembly Member Jeff Gorrell (R-Camarillo). The Senate vote was 29-8, where, again, all “no” votes being cast by Republicans.
According to a statement made by Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the Governor, on Wednesday, Brown plans to sign the bill.
Sept. 12, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you passed by Villanova Preparatory School on Wednesday, you might have noticed a few American flags dotting the softball field — 2,977 flags, to be exact. Row after row were carefully placed by a group of local students and adults, each flag representing one of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.
VPS junior Madeline Brock came up with the idea as a way to honor the memory of the victims. But this wasn’t a homework assignment, or extra credit. “I just wanted to do this,” Brock said simply. “We, as a community and as a country, must never forget those 2,977 innocent lives lost in the terrorist attack.”
“She took this on herself,” said headmaster Carol Hoffer, “completely on her own. She just did an amazing job or getting other students to participate, getting the whole campus (behind the idea).”
Brock said the concept stemmed from a conference she attended in Santa Barbara, which discussed Sept. 11. “I was really moved by a lot of the stories I heard,” she said. “I felt like this (project) would be a great way … to never forget all the lives that were lost.”
Brock raised money to purchase the flags, put together a presentation for school officials, and brought students and local community members together to help her idea come to fruition. She recruited 14 fellow students and nine friends and family members to set up the flags Wednesday morning, and by the middle of the day, word was already spreading on social media.
“Most teenagers feel they cant make a difference until they are adults,” said Brock, who hopes to be a large animal veterinarian one day. “I decided at age 16, I can make a change for the better. Everyone can make a difference by doing smalls actions, and this (flag memorial) is what I decided to do.”
Brock added that she hopes this will be an annual event for her school.
“This kind of thing is something we encourage Villanova students to do,” Hoffer said. “If you feel strongly about something, take action. Ideas are fine, but the important thing is acting upon your ideas. And Madeline is a perfect example of that.”
Sept. 12, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai is one step closer to finalizing its fifth cycle of the state-mandated Housing Element update, after Ojai’s City Council voted Tuesday night to submit a draft to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). Upon receiving Ojai’s draft, HCD then has 60 days to review the document and provide feedback and questions.
“We are about halfway through this process,” said consultant John Douglas, AICP, during the meeting. “The heavy lifting has been done.”
Douglas explained that this draft will differ from the fourth cycle Ojai completed earlier this year.
In the past, Ojai residents and council members questioned whether the data submitted by SCAG accurately reflects the decline of Ojai’s population, especially of young families with school-aged children.
The section providing demographic information about Ojai has been updated with data from the 2010 Census.
The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) number allotted to Ojai, Douglas noted, is approximately 14 percent lower than the number last cycle.
Ojai must show it can accommodate 371 new housing units for this Housing Element cycle — a drop from the 433 Ojai was assigned in the last cycle. Of these 371 hypothetical new housing units, 146 must be for very low and low-income families, while 225 must be designated for moderate and above-moderate-income families.
During the last Housing Element cycle, many expressed concern that the state’s three-story allowance (for sites designated for the special overlay program) would negatively impact views and would hurt the area’s tourist-based economy.
A two-story restriction within the special overlay program was added for this cycle.
“The main thing that I understand the city wants to accomplish in this new Housing Element cycle is to get concurrence from the state that the SPL overlay and affordable housing can be accommodated within a two-story building envelope,” said Douglas. “I think that that is a very reasonable request on the city’s part. So we have put language into the Housing Element that expresses the city’s intent to move forward on a two-story limit on the SPL.”
The new Housing Element draft also proposes a new mixed-use overlay that could be applied to underutilized or blighted commercial properties in order to stimulate economic revitalization and create additional opportunities for workforce housing. “One thing I am concerned about is I have heard that (under state law) residences take precedence over agriculture,” said Councilwoman Betsy Clapp. “In the East End of the valley, they are in the county, but they are dependent on the very same limited water supply that we have. And if our policy, implementing RHNA numbers, causes us to have to take water from agriculture, are we allowed to negatively impact a neighboring community’s ability to earn a living?”
“This is a planning document,” responded city attorney Joseph Fletcher. “We are bound by the data of the water purveyors, which currently says they can serve.”
“They (the water purveyors) can’t provide water for us today; they are buying from the lake (Casitas),” countered Ojai resident Bob Daddi. “After that they will truck it in, and the price will be astronomical.”
“As long as Golden State Water Company says they can serve, the city of Ojai cannot use water as a constraint,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel. “And I agree with you! I think that with this drought, we are going to be in serious trouble.”
“We always talk about how we don’t have to build it (the units described in the Housing Element), but we have to zone for it to be built, and if somebody wants to build it, they can. So it is a land-use document. It isn’t all just fantasy,” said Clapp.
“It’s a land-use document that may or may not ever come into fruition,” clarified Mayor Paul Blatz. “I think we’re spinning our wheels, arguing in circles, knowing that it’s in the best interests of this community to build as many affordable houses as we can. It’s in our best interest to do that. It’s not in our best interest to use up all our water. So we can’t build those units if we don’t have the water. But if we do have the water, then we want to build those units. So I think we are just spinning our wheels here. We have to get a Housing Element to Sacramento.”
Earlier in the meeting, the Council pulled an item off its consent calendar after receiving a speaker card from Ojai Valley News publisher Tim Dewar.
“Thank you for pulling this item, however I am at a decided disadvantage, because I don’t know what action you’re going to take. The agenda merely states ‘approve the second amendment to the City Manager employment agreement.’ You’re obviously slated to approve something, but I don’t know what that is,” said Dewar. “I still think Mr. Clark is a nice person. I don’t believe he’s necessarily the right person for Ojai.”
The consent calendar item he referred to involves a city manager salary increase. According to the staff report, “The City Manager’s annual performance evaluation was completed in closed session Aug. 27. Any changes to compensation or other terms of employment must be adopted in open session. The attached amendment contains the changes which were discussed, which are a 4.9 percent increase in pay and full transition to the five-day work schedule. Salary changes in 2014 and 2015 are limited to the cost of living.”
“I’d like to acknowledge Mr. Clark for reducing our overhead costs here in the city at a little over a half million dollars, and I’d also like to commend him for preparing a comprehensive budget that further accomplishes the goals and objectives that have been set forth by this council,” said Strobel. “I’d like to note that city hall is now open five days a week. Mr. Clark is on a 40-hour work week, so he’s here basically five days a week. I’d like to note that our recreation department has been totally reorganized. I’ve had many comments about how that’s been an improvement … Overall, I think the city of Ojai has benefitted from Mr. Clark’s experience and his management.”
For other Council members, the issue was not Clark’s performance, but the economy.
“I think right now is not the appropriate time for a raise,” said Councilman Severo Lara. “It’s nothing personal, it’s just the way I feel as a council member; right now I can’t support this. I’m hesitant to do it. It’s not his evaluation, I just feel as a city we have so much more we could work on.”
“For me, in the budget process, my discomfort has been with raises all the way across the board,” said Clapp. “I felt that at this time in the economy, with our citizens struggling with their mortgages, struggling to pay for their gas, struggling for medical insurance, who don’t have a lot of the benefits of a public employee, when I see our community — that is not a wealthy community — struggling, I have a hard time giving pay raises overall with any public sector, not that people don’t deserve to be paid better.”
“I’m very uncomfortable evaluating our city manager at an open meeting,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith. “Evaluations of our city manager and city attorney are done at closed sessions. That much detail I really do not think is appropriate for an open session.”
“Not having known how Councilman Lara would vote on this, I think it’s important, if he is inclined to vote ‘no’ on this particular item, I think it’s important for the public to know why he’s voting ‘no,’” countered Blatz. “I also think that in the spirit of transparency, Mr. Clark is a highly visible public employee who has a great deal of responsibility in our city.”
The council, except Lara and Clapp, voted to approve the amendment.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view previous Council meetings in full.
Sept. 12, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
The next step in determining who will supply water to 2,900 homes in Ojai is scheduled to be taken Monday.
Superior Court Judge Mark Borrell will hold a status conference to discuss the outcome of the Aug. 27 Measure V election. Borrell could set a hearing date on a Golden State Water Company (GSWC) lawsuit, filed in March that sought to vacate resolutions adopted by Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) that set in motion a potential takeover of the private company through the formation of a community facilities district (CFD) funded by Measure V’s property tax.
Borrell ruled in early June that he would wait until after the election before taking up the question of whether the Mello-Roos funding mechanism could legally be used to fund the CFD. He said the suit would be rendered moot if Measure V did not pass.
The fact that nearly 88 percent of those voting approved of the measure, means that both sides will appear in the Ventura County Superior Court’s courtroom 43 at 8:30 a.m. Monday. The conference is open to the public
When asked if CMWD officials were concerned at all that Borrell might side with GSWC, Casitas attorney Jeffrey Oderman said Thursday, “The district does not feel it would be respectful of the court to say in advance of a court hearing/trial that the district is not “concerned at all.” That said, the district believes its position is legally sound and it is optimistic the court will rule in favor of its authority to use Mello Roos funding.”
Oderman added that if the litigation is resolved in Casitas’ favor, the district is prepared to complete an appraisal of GSWC’s Ojai service area, sell the bonds necessary to finance the acquisition and move forward with the acquisition process.
When asked what CMWD would do if Borrell ruled against it, Oderman added, “No comment. Needless to say, the district does not anticipate this result.”
GSWC officials declined to comment.
Sept. 10, 2013
Michelaina Johnson, OVN correspondent
Thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers based in Ojai, 180 nomadic mothers in Niger have safely given birth since 2009. Four years ago, local humanitarian and artist Leslie Clark — along with local doctor Bob Skankey — founded the Tamesna Medical Clinic. Their goal was to positively change the following United Nations statistic: one in seven women in the African nation die due to pregnancy-related causes over a lifetime.
In addition to the 180 mothers, the clinic has also aided more than 7,000 patients since its opening, according to Clark, and serves about 200 patients per month.
“We feel the program has been phenomenally successful, and so do the people,” said Clark, who founded the Nomad Foundation. “They have come to the point where I don’t need to go into the clinic to work.” Clark has designed the program to become self-sustainable, although, “We will always have someone go and help them,” added Skankey. The clinic, which is just one of many programs in the foundation’s Tamesna Center for Nomadic Life, is also meant to serve as a model for future medical centers in the region.
In February and November each year, Clark brings Skankey, his wife, Louine, and a handful of other volunteers to Niger to train nomadic women in proper prenatal care and hygiene. After the two-week program, the women become certified “matrones,” the name used in Niger for those educated in basic midwife training, prenatal care and hygiene. Currently, the clinic and the matrones serve nine nomadic encampments.
The Nomad Foundation group is planning to fly to Niger soon, to follow up on the 10 matrones they have trained. “My plans for the upcoming trip are to get out to each of the encampments to evaluate how effective each matrone has been,” said Skankey. There are many challenges, of course — not the least of which will be translating information from the native language to French and then to English, and back again. But, Skankey said, “I’m ready for anything.” He added that he and the medical volunteers will retrain the 10 matrones and evaluate the assistants the matrones have trained during a three- or four-day class in which the volunteer medical professionals will teach them updated methods.
“We are very anxious to get back there and find out how the matrones are sustaining their program,” said Clark. “There is some resistance from the communities to pay someone who is not a trained medical professional, so we were not sure if they were going to able to accept paying for the services of the matrones.”
To address this problem, Clark gave the matrones solar panels — made by the participants of the Nomad Foundation’s solar programs — which can charge locals’ cell phones for a small fee. Funds generated from that project are used to purchase needed supplies.
The Nomad Foundation’s only expense for the clinic is the $300-per-month stipend for the clinic’s staff member, nurse Ali. Foundation volunteers also bring donated supplies from groups and businesses such as the Ojai Medicine Shoppe and Direct Relief International in Santa Barbara.
“I think that probably the most important thing we have done is (distribute) vitamins. It may not have cured something, but a person who comes in paralyzed and is walking two days later because we gave him vitamins speaks of a pretty severe nutritional deficiency,” said Clark.
Skankey recalls a story of six young men who brought their ailing father to the clinic; the man was paralyzed and hadn’t eaten in a week. After he was given vitamins and ibuprofen, he started walking again. Happy endings like this, Skankey said, “happen time and time again.”
In 2010, the Nomad Foundation helped to introduce the Moringa plant to the nomads in northern Niger, because it grows well in the region, is highly nutritious and is also drought resistant. The Moringa leaves may be dried and made into a powder for easy transportation and can be added to millet, which the nomads eat daily.
“We asked the nomads a couple months later, and they said they noticed a difference immediately. And they loved it,” said Clark.
Moringa is now growing in popularity, and is a sustainable replacement for American supplements, saidSkankey.
The Nomad Gallery, 307 E. Ojai Ave., will host the annual Nomad African Market Sale on Sept. 21 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Foundation representative Sidi Mamane, from the Tuareg nomadic tribe, will be on-hand to discuss the foundation’s new boarding school and other projects. All of the proceeds from the sale will benefit the Nomad Foundation. Visit www.nomadfoundation.org or call 646-1706 for more information.
A semitruck traveling south on Maricopa Highway (Highway 33) near Wheeler’s Gorge hit a retaining wall Monday afternoon, causing the highway to be shut down for several hours.
The truck, driven by 64-year-old Bakersfield resident Jesus Gonzalez, was carrying a load of gypsum from a mine in Cuyama to Oxnard. According to California Highway Patrol spokesman Steve Reid, Gonzalez was driving around a curve when he swerved right to avoid an oncoming vehicle. His right rear wheel grazed the retaining wall and the tire went over the edge. “The axle essentially came out from under the trailer,” said Reid,” and the truck came to a stop within the southbound lane.” Both lanes were closed from about 3 to 9:30 p.m. to clean up the scene.
Gonzalez was not injured and was not charged with a crime in the accident.
In the coming weeks, the Ojai Valley News will be working to debut its redesigned website at www.ojaivalleynews.com.
Publisher Tim Dewar explained that the site will feature a new design based on the Joomla template platform that should make visiting the website easier and more enjoyable.
“We value our readers and want to provide the best possible reading experience,” he explained. “Over the past year, our staff has made a significant effort to make the website a daily news page, with constant updates. The new platform will make that even easier.”
Dewar added that the new site will retain many of the current popular features, including the Ojai street cam, but will allow readers to print and share individual stories and photos, which they can’t do in the current pdf-based format.
Non-subscribers will be able to view portions of the featured stories, but only subscribers will have access to complete stories and photos in an article-based, fully searchable format. The new site will also retain the traditional pdf-version of the newspaper for those subscribers who prefer to view the paper as it appears in its print form.
“It costs money for us to collect and disseminate the news and it is no longer practical for us to give away so much of our product free,” Dewar noted. “Those who support our efforts by subscribing to our website deserve a much greater value than those who pay nothing. Businesses can’t afford to let customers walk out the door without paying for their product and the Ojai Valley News is no different. At $25 a year ($20 for renewal subscriptions) our electronic subscription is a tremendous value.”
Dewar said the new site also will offer advertising opportunities on a pay-per-view basis. “Our latest Sitemeter.com tracking is showing that over the past 12 months our site has averaged more than 40,000 page views per month and our server just told us that last month we set a record for the amount of traffic our site is handling. This is a great way for local advertisers to reach additional customers and many businesses have expressed to us that they want to capitalize on the smart phone/tablet market — our site will be optimized for viewing on those platforms as well.”
As is true with most new technologies, Dewar said there will be challenges integrating the old into the new but hopes to minimize the disruption of service and inconvenience to readers. “We will do significant testing before we launch, but somehow issues always seem to come up,” he explained. “We ask that everyone be patient. We know it will be worth the wait.”
As the redesign moves into its final stages, current electronic subscribers may get an email generated by the new system telling them they have started a new subscription. Dewar said this is an expected part of the transition and they should not be concerned. “We can’t merge the old subscriber database with the new system without generating these warnings. If anyone has questions about the email or the transition to the new system, they can call 646-1476. In the meantime, we want our subscribers to know how much we appreciate their support and can’t wait to bring them an exciting new way to read the Ojai Valley News, the Ojai Valley Visitors Guide and all of the special publications we produce for our community.”
Sept. 5, 2013
Amber Lennon, OVN correspondent
If being a part of innovation and change in the community sounds appealing, then this year’s TEDxOjai City2.0 event promises to deliver. On Sept. 21 at the Ojai Youth Entertainers Studio, participants will have the chance to view streamed videos from New York City’s main TEDCity2.0 event, as well as to hear local speakers presenting their innovative ideas for the city of Ojai and surrounding communities.
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and aims to share groundbreaking ideas from the world’s most interesting speakers. The first TED series in 1984 included demos of the Sony compact disc and a presentation by mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot on how to map coastlines with his newly discovered fractals. The TED series then expanded to include TED Global, TED Prize, TED Talks, and most recently TEDx, which allows communities to adopt the TED format and mission for independently organized community events.
Last year’s TEDxOjai event captivated attendees with a lineup of speakers like acclaimed “Zeitgeist” movie series director Peter Joseph. This year’s speakers — such as Jason Brock and his presentation on the bartering model known as “Time Banking” — focus specifically on how to evolve communities with sustainable, innovative concepts in technology, agriculture, commerce and even art.
Michael Jordet, of the technology firm ET3, will present the latest revolutionary developments in transportation. “Since TED is about ‘ideas worth spreading,’ space travel on earth most likely qualifies in that category,” Jordet says. “We believe that transportation is the master key to survival. This technology will eventually (make it possible) to visit the most popular destinations on the planet in less than six hours.”
The event’s curator and producer, Danette Wallace, says Ojai is an ideal community to host TEDx. “Ojai is a small enough community that we could probably make change fairly quickly,” she says. “It’s the difference between turning a ship and turning a dingy.”
In an effort to emphasize the intention of producing tangible results in the community, TEDxOjai is an invitation-only event. To request an invitation, potential attendees can fill out a form on the event website and are asked to talk about their contributions in the community and explain why they are inspired to attend. In addition to people who are active in the community, this year’s TEDxOjai event also targets City Council members and other leaders who are eager to participate in revolutionizing their community. “We’re looking for quality, not quantity. It’s not about how many people we can pack into the venue,” Wallace explains. “If we get motivated people who are active in the community, then we go straight to the top.”
Wallace stressed the importance of break times, when attendees can connect and participate in interactive activities, like the Vision Board, where people write their vision or project, and then others who can contribute in some way post their contact information. This type of action-oriented collaboration echoes the event’s motto, “Dream me. Build me. Make me real.”
The event also features a surprise anonymous speaker. A member of Ojai’s “Yarn Bombers,” whose colorful yarn embellishments have been mysteriously beautifying the town of Ojai for months, will talk about the role of art and beauty in the expansion of community.
Wallace is a former producer of a Chicago-based conference company and once presented Bluetooth technology to executives years before it was publicly released. “I love sharing information. I love advancing and evolving people’s minds. That to me is everything,” she says. “So if I can use this opportunity to introduce some ideas that our community probably hasn’t heard of and might want to adopt, then we all win.”
A ticket to this year’s TEDxOjai costs $30 and includes streamed videos from the main TED City2.0 event; six local guest speakers; coffee, tea and pastries courtesy of Ojai Coffee Connection; drinks and hors devours; inspired connection opportunities; and a couple other surprises.
Visit www.tedxojai.org to request an invitation and view a complete list of speakers, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Sept. 6, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
What company with Ojai roots was listed in “The 25 Most Innovative Consumer and Retail Brands,” put out by Forbes.com in July?
According to Forbes writer Ryan Caldbeck, the objective of the list was to “honor 25 companies that are starting to change the way we live our lives.” The article said, “At the end of 2012, KeVita was on track to grow its revenue 100 percent on a year over year basis.”
“It is like drinking a flower,” says Chakra Earthsong Levy, formulator, co-founder and creative director of KeVita. Levy worked for decades as a holistic consultant, working with raw and vegan food and with fermenting. “We use the fermentation process to grow our own proprietary culture, which is the heart of KeVita. That culture is in all our flavors. It is a unique probiotic.” Levy points out that KeVita is not a kombucha beverage, however. “KeVita is naturally higher in probiotics than kombucha and KeVita is milder in flavor and easier to drink.”
KeVita, which means “to life,” was birthed out of the connection of Levy and Bill Moses, the owner and operator of Casa Barranca Winery and Retreat Center in Ojai.
“I am the KeVita queen, the mother of this drink,” says Levy. “And Bill is the king of the business.” The pair met through Eliza, Bill’s wife, and it was synergy from the start. The first business offices were on Bryant Circle, and as they quickly grew, they needed to move the headquarters to Ventura.
“KeVita really sprouted from the Ojai Valley. The seed was in Chakra’s kitchen, with the original formula, paired with my experience with (commercial) fermentation from the winery,” says Moses. “And with Jeff Pfeifer, (whose knowledge) was really steeped in the probiotic science. We are able to take the product from kitchen to commercially viable.” Pfeiffer is a naturopath who hails from — you guessed it, Ojai.
And KeVita business is conducted in the true style of Ojai.
“One of our favorite places to hold business meetings is on the upper portion of the Pratt Trail,” says Levy. “There are so many dimensions to creating and growing this business. I’ll wander over to Bill’s house, and we’ll walk up to the trail. I talk to other people who run businesses and they wish they could have their business meetings up on the hills around Ojai.”
Levy also mentions that the company is mindful of reducing its footprint. “The beverage business involves a lot of glass, and transportation. We are always looking to lessen our footprint. Our products are made in Ventura and about three-quarters of all of our ingredients come from vendors within driving distance of where we make KeVita.”
“My test kitchen is in Ojai, and the first prototypes were made from Meyer Lemons grown in Ojai,” explains Levy. “We can’t reproduce our products with the same ingredients as our prototypes, though. I mean, we can’t get enough certified organic apricots, and cost is always an issue too, but it is those Ojai-grown ingredients that go into the prototypes that inspire the products.”
She tells how it was strawberries from the Ojai Certified Farmers’ Market, pomegranates from Ojai farmers and other local produce that continue to inform her formulations. “I can’t tell you what I’m working on now. But what the local farmers are growing inspires me.”
“The new daily cleanse KeVita, flavored with lemon and cayenne, was created again with Meyer Lemons from Ojai, and cayenne from The Farmer and The Cook, where they grow the pepper and make their own cayenne pepper,” says Levy. “Ojai is the garden of Eden. There is so much abundance. Fruit is literally dripping off the trees. Figs are dripping now. Persimmons are coming next.”
KeVita appears to have hit the mark for healthy, tasty and unique. And it makes sense that Ojai is the birthplace of a beverage that is “organic, non-dairy, non-GMO, gluten free and vegan” — which KeVita drinks are.
“Few people have close friends as a business partner and get to bring a product like this to market,” says Levy.
Sept. 5, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
More legal battles are hurling downstream for Larry Mosler and the Ojai Rock Quarry. In May, the Ventura County Planning Commission voted to let Mosler continue operating the quarry under his current conditional use permit and denied a Stop the Trucks! Coalition request for an appeal of that decision.
Now, Mosler’s company, Gralar LLC, faces a lawsuit from two environmental groups that claim the quarry has violated the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Santa Barbara Channelkeeper (SBC) and the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) filed a suit Wednesday in federal court alleging “the facility has yet to develop measures to effectively reduce harmful sediment discharges and prevent periodic landslides from washing down quarry slopes into North Fork Matilija Creek,” according to a press release from SBC.
Kira Redmond, SBC executive director, added, “Sediment is a major pollutant. It impairs the water quality, impairs the habitat for fish.”
SBC and EDC also say the Ventura River Watershed — which includes Matilija Creek — is habitat for the endangered steelhead trout. They claim the quarry has deficient storm water management that results in chronic pollution discharges that harm the rare fish.
Mosler called the lawsuit a “shakedown,” and said he can’t afford to implement the measures the EDC and SBC are asking for, nor is he willing to give them his financial records. Further, he said the lawsuit will force him to file for bankruptcy.
“There’s no question about it,” Mosler said. “For a federal lawsuit, I’d have to come up with at least $50,000 for a retainer (for an attorney). I just don’t have that.”
The two groups have proposed that Mosler take several steps to reduce the sediment that gets into the Ventura River, including hiring a hydrologist to determine how much runoff is coming from his property; constructing a water treatment plant to remove pollutants before they make it to the Lower North Fork of Matilija Creek; constructing a truck washing facility so quarry trucks don’t track dirt onto Maricopa Highway and minimizing runoff by covering areas not currently being mined.
The SBC and EDC claim they have been taking water samples around the quarry since 2001. As a result of their findings, they have been trying to come to an agreement with Mosler, who has owned the quarry since 2005. They wanted to create what Redmond called a “phased approach” to correcting the quarry’s alleged violations and avoid potential litigation. “We did outreach to the facility owner as well as various regulatory boards,” Redmond said. “As we typically do, we tried to work cooperatively with a problematic facility to try to get a fix that doesn’t require litigation.”
Although the Clean Water Act falls under the umbrella of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it has delegated the task of enforcement to the state of California. In the Ventura River Watershed, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board is in charge of establishing best practices and enforcement. However, regulatory agencies are strapped financially, Redmond said, which is why groups like hers exist.
“We don’t file lawsuits very often,” she said. “This is not something we enjoy doing, or really have the resources to be doing.”
She added that SBC and EDC do not want Mosler to go bankrupt, because then, “The federal government would be stuck with the clean-up bill … that’s really not what we want. We hope that there’s a middle ground here.”
Mosler said he doubts it. “This is a shakedown … Per our water tests, the only ‘pollutant’ that goes into that creek when we have an excessive rain that overflows my retention basins is silt,” Mosler asserted. “No hydrocarbons, no carcinogens or anything. It’s the same stuff that comes off all the surrounding hills naturally. When it rains, am I the only place where any silt comes down (into the river)? I don’t think so.”
No date has been set for a hearing on the matter.
Sept. 3, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
As Ecotopia moves forward with its land management plan for the Matilija Canyon Hot Springs, a recent swell of public concern — which peaked with talk of a potential protest and resulted in a police visit to the would-be protest planner — has helped Ecotopia’s founders see the need to move faster in re-opening the land.
An Ojai Police officer visited the home of Sean Keenan in Meiners Oaks last week, acting on information received from a representative of Ecotopia that local residents were possibly planning a march on the Hot Springs over the Labor Day weekend. The officer’s goal was to remind Keenan that if he were to go onto private property, he would be cited for trespassing.
Earlier this year, Ecotopia put up barbed wire fencing and signs letting the public know that the hot springs were temporarily closed to allow the land to “rest.” During the land closure Ecotopia volunteers have built trails and removed truckloads of garbage from the land around the hot springs. Ecotopia group members met on Monday, and in response to the swell of concern from a growing number of area residents, they revisited their strategy and are moving to open the land sooner than previously planned.
“Ecotopia has decided in further review of community concerns that it will begin to open access to the land the next 60 to 90 days — or sooner pending getting logistics in place — on a purely donation basis,” said Gunnar Lovelace, Ecotopia co-founder and one of the property owners. “We have decided it is important to open access again in a way that is respectful of the land. For us, this project has never been about making money.”
Lovelace explained that the group has basic expenses that need to be met, and said they plan to put all donations directly toward those expenses. “The expenses and donations will be published publicly so it’s fully transparent … This will be a great opportunity to measure and test the communities (sic) willingness to really support this project.” The group’s baseline expenses every month, he added, are around $4,000. This amount includes mortgages, utilities, property taxes and insurance, as well as costs of signs, fencing, tools and salary-stipends for the few employees of Ecotopia. “This access will be for just the hot springs at this time until we have reasonable plans for how to interface with our neighbors to the west, whose property line runs through the swimming hole,” Lovelace said.
Police Visit in Advance of Protest
On Aug. 21, Keenan posted a question in an Ojai discussion group on the social networking site Facebook, asking whether locals would support a march “to liberate the hot springs in Matilija.”
Six days later, a police officer arrived at his home and spoke to Keenan’s wife, as he was not there.
Keenan said he felt the police came to his home “to dissuade me from (organizing a march) … The officer told my wife, ‘If they march they will be ticketed.’ The police changed our plans from peaceful protest to civil disobedience.” Keenan explained that his idea was to have supporters walk along the waterway from a point where the public is currently granted access. He says it would not be trespassing to walk in the waterway because in California, a navigable waterway cannot be privately owned. Due to the police visit, he said, he postponed any action and is weighing his options.
“It is not uncommon for us to reach out (to those planning a protest) to find out what is going on,” said Capt. David Kenney with the Ojai Police Department. “We let them know as long as they are exercising their constitutional rights, and break no laws and commit no crimes, then it’s no big deal.” Responding to whether or not the police intended to dissuade Keenan from organizing a protest Kenney said, “It’s like I said, we will find out who is organizing the protest, and contact them to establish communication.” He said this is the first planned protest he is aware of in Ojai in the one-and-a-half years he has been in Ojai. Kenney confirmed that the police learned of the protest plans from a representative of Ecotopia.
“We talk to the police in front of holidays and have been since we began this process,” said Lovelace. The Ecotopia representative, he went on, let police know “a protest (was) possible. The police took it upon themselves to go visit (Keenan). We did not, and would not ask for such a thing.”
Question of Public Access Continues
The issue of who owns a waterway relies on whether the creek or river is designated as “navigable.” Navigable can mean a waterway that is a large river flowing year-round, or a small creek that is ankle deep in dry years, but sometimes (and in some portions) can be kayaked — including “portages,” or spots where a kayak must be carried over land.
“While I understand and deeply appreciate public rights, and we are doing this as a community-based effort, we are committed to protecting this land,” said Lovelace. He and other founders of Ecotopia have pointed to the misuse of the land as the motivation for the temporary closing, and as the reason for their original proposal of donating time or money in exchange for use of the land.
“The land there has gone through multiple variations of what we are dealing with now,” said Brian Holly, a third-generation Ojai Valley resident and local conservation biologist with BioResource Consultants in Ojai. Holly serves on the board of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, but spoke with the Ojai Valley News on the condition that it be made clear that his statements are representative of his personal opinion and not OVLC’s.
Holly agrees with Lovelace that the land has been misused and abused, but said, “Privatization of the hot springs is not the answer. It is a public resource.” Holly explained that there are two legal pathways the public can use to exercise its right to access the waterway: by recognizing it meets the definition of navigable, or that there is a public prescriptive easement. He said that while no one wants this to go as far as landing in court, he said proving either navigability or easement rights would be “difficult, but possible.” He is hopeful that Ecotopia and those like himself, who want to avoid privatization and protect public access, can figure out a solution.
Holly shared the story of Heather Wylie, a former U.S. Army Corps of Engineer employee who resigned from her job in an effort to protect the Los Angeles River and connect the community to their local waterway. Wylie actually kayaked the length of that river and was able to prove that it met the legal definition of navigable and therefore the public had access to the length of it.
According to the handout, “What are the public’s rights on rivers?” printed by the National Organization for Rivers (N.O.R.), “Private property on rivers is … always subject to the public’s rights to use the stream. State authority on rivers is subject to the public’s ‘paramount right of navigation.’” The handout also cautions property owners and the public about the “confusion” and unwanted events that can result if an official designation is not obtained. “Needless confrontations between officers and river users waste valuable law enforcement resources,” is states.
Earlier this month, Sheri Pemberton, Chief of External Affairs and legislative liaison at the California State Land Commission, wrote, “I do not think that the State Lands Commission would have any jurisdiction over this hot springs.” She pointed to several issues and court cases relating to determining navigability. “In particular, the court found that the following tests are relevant: it is immaterial that the underlying bed is privately owned and taxed; the land may have once been dry in its original state; and water need not cover the area all year. A seminal case to review is People v. Mack, supra, at 19 Cal. App. 3d at 1050.” That case found that “Members of the public have a right to navigate and to exercise the incidence to navigation in a lawful manner at any point below the high water mark on waters of this state which are capable of being navigated by oar or motor-propelled small craft.” And “the test of navigability is met if the stream is capable of boating for pleasure.” People v. Mack further found, “it is extremely important that the public not be denied use of recreational water.”
Supporters of Ecotopia and its plans point to the way the land has been abused, and the lack of safety on the land in recent years, due to the increase in the number of people visiting the hot springs. They are thankful that Ecotopia has stepped in.
Similar disputes happen all the time up and down the coast of California, where property owners try to restrict public access to the beach. The California Coastal Commission works to balance the environmental protection of the coastline with maintaining public access and finds itself frequently in conflict with property owners who want to restrict public access by claiming the need to protect the land and environment is more important.
“We must not compromise our collective right to use public rights-of-way or public waters simply because we do not like the folks that are showing up at the swimming or the hot springs,” wrote Holly on Facebook, and reprinted with his permission. “We cannot let the bad apples take away our freedom to use waters of the state or U.S. It’s a compromise that impacts all of us. And this is true because if a legal precedent is set that a private landowner can maintain and claim ownership to a reach of public stream, then we have opened the doors to future development and privatization of our local watershed. Therefore, I cannot endorse the concept of ownership of a public waterway, no matter how dire the circumstances may be to necessitate such an action.”
Ecotopia is accepting applications for a “full-time land steward” to live on the land. Contact project manager Venica Ftacek, firstname.lastname@example.org, for an application.
Sept. 3, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Fifty years ago, a Baptist minister from Georgia gave a speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In his iconic speech, part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. detailed his wish to uphold the American dream for all its citizens, regardless of race.
“It kind of took the top of your head off,” says Ojai resident Geraldine Kennon of King’s speech, which she witnessed firsthand while participating in the March on Washington. “It was absolutely thrilling.”
Kennon, who was born and raised in northern California, says she had two main sources of inspiration for getting involved with the civil rights movement: her father, and her childhood best friend, Helene.
“When I was a little girl, my best friend was an African-American girl named Helene. As we grew up, we grew apart. I became aware that life was different for me than for Helene,” says Kennon. “I remember thinking it was unfair that the world treated her differently. It was a loss of childhood innocence in a way.”
As for her father, Kennon says he led by example, no matter what those around him chose to do or say.
“He inspired me to be a good person. He believed in the things this country was founded on, and understood those things weren’t necessarily realized for everyone,” says Kennon of her father. “He went against the mores of the time. He would hire people of color when others would not.”
Kennon remembers an instance when her father, who owned a contracting business, went against the local union and hired a longtime friend who was a skilled crane operator — and also African-American.
“I remember coming home from school, and a kid at school had said, ‘Your father is a n****r-lover!’ I asked my dad, ‘What does that mean? Why did he say that?’” Kennon recalls. “My father said, ‘Some people think we should treat certain people differently. Geraldine, I don’t love black people more than white people, but I don’t love them less.’”
Kennon became actively involved with the civil rights movement as a teenager; when she went to college, she fought to make her sorority integrated. It was during this time she became involved with a Planning Committee for the March on Washington.
“The Planning Committee was enormous, and it was really exciting, because you got to meet a lot of older people in the movement, like A. Philip Randolph, who was just an incredible human being, the President of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters,” recounts Kennon.
The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was the first predominantly African-American labor union, organized and led by Randolph, who also was instrumental in organizing the March on Washington movement as way to address the economic problems then facing the African-American community.
In addition to meeting leaders of the time, Kennon says it was the emphasis on the peaceful and respectful nature of the gathering that impressed her.
“People were in suits and trousers, dresses and skirts. Everyone was trying so hard to put their best foot forward so all the focus was on the issues,” says Kennon. “We saw our goals achieved; the march was peaceful when there was a potential for others with their own agendas to disrupt it. It was wonderful. We look back now and see it as this iconic event. Dr. King — and the other leaders, but specifically Dr. King — accomplished something with that speech that no one else could, except maybe a President.”
Kennon is not alone in remembering that moment in history and the impact it had; Ojai City Council member Carol Smith and California Representative Julia Brownley also had their own thoughts on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
“In August ’63, I was 18 years old. I woke up at four a.m., went to the bus station, and took the bus to D.C.,” said Councilwoman Smith at the Aug. 27 Council meeting. “The event was the March on Washington. It was overwhelming. It was breath taking. We all heard speeches. We all sang at on point. For me, and I think for the country in the ‘60s, it was one of the most outstanding events.”
“As we commemorate the courage and bravery of those who fought before us, it is important to recognize that our work is not yet finished,” said Representative Brownley in a recent press release. “We are still fighting for equal access to quality education, the right to vote without unnecessary barriers, the right to marry who you love regardless of gender and equal pay for equal work.”
Kennon also believes that while the country has progressed on racial disparity since that era, there is work yet to be done.
“When President Obama was elected, there was a minority of voices saying hateful things, and you realize racism is not dead. There will always be those who have hate instead of love or brotherhood,” says Kennon. “Things, while they are not perfect, are different. They have certainly improved. It’s not that all those negatives have been wiped out, but we certainly are more tolerant, and more people have a greater opportunity to live their lives fairly.”
Kennon, who was born and raised in the Episcopalian church, says that while her career has focused on acting, producing and directing in the theater, her background and her conscience have guided her action in causes she believed in. Specifically, Kennon helped establish an AIDS ministry through her church, worked as an administrator of St. George’s College in Jerusalem, and, while she worked there, she volunteered at a refugee camp in her days off.
“In my personal life, I have always had a commitment to issues of human freedom and tolerance, to just be a little drop in the bucket to help people suffer less,” says Kennon. “For me as I live through my life in these times, the most pressing issue was an end to racial prejudice, an end to all prejudice, whether it’s prejudice against women, prejudice against gender, against sexual preference. It comes down to not feeling that we have a right to categorize and make some people free and others partly free … I think we always need to be alert to people who are disadvantaged in any way.”
Sept. 3, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
Local water officials are viewing the recent landslide victory for Measure V as a mile marker rather than the finish line in the effort to oust Golden State Water Company from the Ojai Valley.
Although the measure passed by 1,844 votes, there is still much work to be done before GSWC’s Ojai water users could begin receiving service from Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD).
A status hearing will be held in Ventura County Superior Court Sept. 16 at 8:30 a.m. in front of Judge Mark Borrell, who ruled in June that GSWC jumped the gun in filing a lawsuit challenging the Measure V election.
On March 26, GSWC filed a lawsuit against CMWD seeking to vacate the resolutions the municipal water company adopted that asked voters if they wished to form a Community Facilities District to raise money to purchase GSWC’s Ojai service area.
GSWC officials filed the lawsuit to prevent the voters within the service area from voting on whether to place a 30-year property tax on nearly 2,900 parcels.
“Generally, courts are reticent to pass on measures which are to be put to the voters until after the election is held,” Borrell wrote in his decision. “Here, the arguments advanced by Golden State can be litigated after the election if the measure passes.”
And pass it did. Of the 2,464 votes cast, 2,154 supported Measure V. According to election officials, 30 votes were deemed not valid and were not included in the final tally.
The lawsuit asked Borrell to decide if Mello-Roos funding is appropriate in this instance. While his ruling could draw appeals from either side, that would not be the last step in the process.
If Borrell decides in Casitas’ favor and any potential appeals are denied, the two water companies would have to work out a sale agreement. Because GSWC officials have repeatedly said they do not wish to sell the Ojai service area, to complete a takeover, GSWC would likely have to resort to the eminent domain clause allowed in the city’s franchise agreement with GSWC.
If the California Public Utilities Commission approved a takeover, a court would have to decide the fair market value CMWD would have to pay.
“People are already asking ‘When are we going to get new rates? When will that happen for us?’” explained CMWD Manager Steve Wickstrum. “It is going to take time given the path we have to follow.”
At least that’s one area where the two companies agree. “Passage of Measure V does not affect Golden State Water Company’s commitment to serving Ojai or mean that our system will be acquired by Casitas Municipal Water District,” noted Patrick R. Scanlon, vice president, operations for GSWC. “There are still significant legal and financial questions that must be addressed.”
Aug. 29, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Ojai Valley Community Hospital (OVCH) is one step closer to a makeover, thanks to a recent approval of the external remodel plans by the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.
“We have begun the process of pulling the necessary permits to start the construction,” states a Community Memorial Health Services press release. “We anticipate the project to be completed in the first quarter of 2014.”
The remodel is mostly aesthetic, covering aspects of the hospital such as the façade and landscaping. Although the project went through the Ojai Planning Commission design review process, receiving approval Feb. 6, ultimately it was the state agency that gave the final go-ahead.
“This project did not require city council approval. It was reviewed by the planning commission early this year,” explained Ojai City Manager Rob Clark. “Unlike most private development, the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development has primary jurisdiction over hospital plan approval and inspection.”
The remodel is not expected to significantly affect traffic in the area, but will increase the size of the hospital’s waiting room.
To create an updated image, and a new entry, OVCH hired architects Rasmussen and Associates. The solution was to develop a formal entry courtyard with trellised perimeter seating areas organized around a central fountain. This courtyard allowed the existing waiting room to flow out into the courtyard, effectively doubling its capacity.
“We are doing a façade remodel, we are not changing the circulation on site,” said Rasmussen’s Scott Boydstun during the Feb. 6 planning commission meeting.
Consistent with many other Ojai structures, the façade remodel will be done in Mission Revival style and features a cupola, fountain, latticework and an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant entryway.
“I think the commission is familiar with the building. It is a somewhat dated façade right now, and this would be a substantial improvement to what’s there now,” said former community development director Rob Mullane during the public hearing for the project Jan. 2.
“In 2004, the hospital merged with Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura. We became a Community Memorial Health System. We’re a mini-system, a not-for-profit system here in Western Ventura County,” explained OVCH Chief Administrator Haady Lashkari. “Since the merger, we’ve really been trying to reinvest and invest into our community, and our community hospital. I think most notable was the Emergency Project, where we converted our — literally — our emergency room, where we had three beds, into a state-of-the-art emergency department that serves the valley here.”
The hospital just underwent phase one of the project, which was required for earthquake compliance. “Predominantly it had to do with some anchoring work that had to be done, both with rooftop equipment as well as equipment within the hospital. It was just under $1.5 million worth of work that was done,” continued Lashkari. “We are excited about starting this phase of the hospital, because I think it’s going to be most notable for people who drive by and see the hospital. This is going to be the area most folks are going to see, so we’re excited about that.”
Aug. 29, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.orgIf predictions are correct, students in the Ojai Unified School District will most likely get one more day added to their school year. This would be the third the district was able to “buy back” for the 2013-2014 school year, due to extra funding from the state and other sources.
The current school year, which started Tuesday, includes 176 instructional days, as well as one professional development day for teachers (no students). If the third day is instituted, it would be placed on the calendar for May 23 and would be an instructional day for students. Furlough days for OUSD staff would then drop to five for teachers, six for non-teaching staff, seven for administrators, and nine for the superintendent.
“‘Cautiously optimistic’ is a good term,” OUSD superintendent Hank Bangser said about the addition of the third day. “We’re optimistic we can do it, but we’re not certain.” He added that the decision would most likely come in October or November.
Last year’s budget added $74,676 to this year’s coffers, due to “various line items and budgets that were not expended within the fiscal year,” according to OUSD documents. State grants and additional funding are projected to add $226,468, giving the OUSD board of directors $301,144 to spend. They used about $125,000 of that on additional staffing, leaving about $175,000.
Aug. 13, after reviewing enrollment numbers, OUSD administrators added one teacher to Meiners Oaks Elementary School (24 new students) and reduced one from San Antonio Elementary School (25 fewer students). At Topa Topa Elementary School, another teacher was added to drop the average class size from 32 to 30.
At Matilija Junior High School, OUSD added an additional algebra class to reduce the average class size from about 36 to the high 20s. And at Nordhoff High School, two more math classes and an introduction to biology class were added, reducing average class sizes from the low 40s to the low 30s for math, and from the high 30s to about 30 for biology.
If the third day is added back to the calendar, that would leave $100,000. The OUSD administrators gave the board several options for spending that extra funding at their Aug. 20 meeting. They opted to add some teaching assistants to the elementary schools — primarily in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms — and added extra time to the elementary school music program for Mira Monte and Meiners Oaks.
Other possibilities for the extra funds include adding classes back to Nordhoff and Matilija, adding more time to elementary school libraries or technology positions or expanding the summer school programs. Re-instituting summer school across the district would be ideal, Bangser said, but would cost several hundred thousand dollars more than the OUSD currently has to spend. “We do really want to look at it, I think it has great merit.”
Looking down the line, OUSD administrators are asking the board keep in mind several options/requirements for the long-term. These include decreasing class sizes to 24-to-one student-teacher ratio by the 2020-2021 school year (state-mandated); bringing the school year back to 180 days by 2015-16 (state-mandated); returning all non-instructional school days back to staff, to bring them back to the pay they saw in the 2008-2009 school year; and increasing the minimum fund reserve (rainy day fund) to 3 percent of the total budget, up from the current reserve of 1.75 percent.
Other good news for the OUSD: the Rotary clubs in Ojai donated $3,000, and Ojai Education Foundation added $1,000, to purchase a new kiln, shelving and supplies for Nordhoff’s ceramics class. Also, a wing of classrooms at Matilija got a much-needed new roof this summer.
The next OUSD board meeting is set for Sept. 10 at 5:30 p.m., at the OUSD board room, 414 E. Ojai Ave. in room one.
Aug. 29, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Ojai City Council adopted a controversial new Exterior Lighting Ordinance, appointed a Building Appeals Board, sent a revision to the Public Art Code back to the drawing board and further discussed potential revisions to the city’s building height limits during its meeting Tuesday night.
After working with the Ojai Valley Green Coalition and hearing a presentation by a representative of the International Dark Sky Association last year, council began drafting new lighting standards, with the goal of reducing unnecessary light in the valley.
The ordinance requires that new development projects shield exterior lighting so it directed downward only. In addition, all non-essential exterior light are required to be turned off after 10 p.m.
“I apologize for not having been involved in the formulation,” Ojai resident Craig Beam told the council Tuesday, “but I’ve also written ordinances like this, and have dealt with cities that have Dark Sky ordinances. You have some serious issues here, not the least of which is the fact that, in normal parlance, the Emperor has no clothes here. You have something like a list of many, many types of facilities that are subject to this, and four of the eight categories — parking lots, etc. — are exempt, because they are governmental property … I find this ordinance, and the provisions in here, seriously flawed.”
For city officials, one obstacle to applying the new standards to public places is the fact that many of the street lights are owned by Southern California Edison, which is not subject to city ordinances, but rather under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission.
“One thing we didn’t really discuss is street lights,” noted city manager Rob Clark. “We did have some conversations with Edison. We’re trying to get at this one step at a time.”
“I think we should be an example to our constituents before we start enforcing our resolution (ordinance),” said Councilman Severo Lara.
“I think we have a relatively mild-mannered lighting ordinance,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel. “It’s not retroactive. We have a one-year plan for community outreach, for education, etc. So I support the ordinance as it stands, and I understand we’re going to be looking at it in a year.”
In other action, the council appointed Bob Daddi, Tom Farmer, Dale Hanson, Wendy Hilgers and William Weirick to its new building appeals board.
Mayor Paul Blatz and Strobel interviewed and selected the board members. The board is responsible for hearing appeals of the decisions of the new Building Code Officer, who will be selected and hired by city staff and confirmed by the Council. The appeals board members’ term will expire Aug. 13, 2017.
“I thank each of those individuals for volunteering, coming forward,” said Blatz. “We want as much public involvement as possible.”
Issues with the language of proposed changes and existing text stymied an attempt by the Ojai Arts Commission to update the city’s Art Code.
Among the proposed changes are modifications to the body used to review art for private and public developments, as well as the process by which the Arts Commission works with developers on fulfilling their art requirement.
“The changes to the Code recommended by the Arts Commission focus on two areas that have caused concern, primarily to the Arts Commission, but also to the applicants as well,” reads the administrative report by deputy city manager Steve McClary. “One concern is the current disparity between the Code and the actual process used to approve public art for private developments. The current practice for approving public art for private developments is to take the matter to the Public Art Review Committee, known by the acronym PARC. In addition to its confusing acronym (sounding similar to the Parks and Recreations Commission), the PARC is not codified, and the process does not conform to the adopted Code. The Arts Commission recommends eliminating PARC, and establishing a new committee — the Committee to Approve Public Art (CAPA) — to review such projects in the future … The other concern driving the recommended changes has been the tendency for some developers to delay installation of the project’s artwork, or even commitment to an artist or project, until late in the development process. The late commitment does not benefit the city or the applicant, and can often lead to, in the opinion of the Arts Commission, less-than-satisfactory art, or art that is not well integrated with the structure or otherwise well conceived out (aka ‘Plop Art’).”
“Is it the intent of this to exempt the city, or to make the city do public art?” queried Blatz.
“I believe the intent was to provide the option to opt out,” responded McClary.
“That language has always been in the Municipal Code, so that’s not a change,” clarified City Attorney Joseph Fletcher. “It’s important to keep in mind, whether it was the conversation the gentleman spoke earlier about the Lighting Ordinance, or issues like the Public Art Code: these are regulations the city’s police power imposes upon other entities. As a matter of law here, the city can’t impose a law on itself … By its nature, it doesn’t apply to the city.”
Fletcher further stated that if the city wished to lead by example, it could create policy through resolutions, not ordinances.
Because of further confusion with the wording of the existing and modified Code, Council directed Fletcher, Strobel and Blatz to go through the draft to clarify the language, and bring the matter back to the Council for the Sept. 10 meeting.
Council then directed the Ojai Planning Commission to review building height limits in Ojai, and to discuss changing the current 30-foot height limit to 25 feet in single-family zones. This was prompted by the state requiring the city to allow three-stories in special overlay zones (as part of the Housing Element update), which created concerns regarding density, viewshed protection and privacy issues. The Planning Commission discussed the matter July 17, and found that reducing the height limit was too restrictive. Therefore, they proposed revising the Zoning Code to send any project proposal exceeding 20 feet through the existing design review process.
“They felt we could control mass and bulk that fits our community through the design review process,” said Clark. “This is on our agenda for your direction.”
“One of the things I think was overlooked in that discussion was the width of the lots,” commented Councilwoman Betsy Clapp. “If you have the ability to go 30 feet in a 50-foot-wide lot, with a five-foot setback, you could potentially be limiting a home’s ability to benefit from solar installations, you eliminate their ability to have sun in wintertime, to have a winter garden … They talked about height limits restricting creativity for architectural reasons, but the reality is, there are a myriad of beautiful examples of architecture that can be created with a 25-foot height limit.”
Clapp, Blatz and Lara agreed that while they respect they input of the Planning Commission and take their recommendations seriously, they would like to see further consideration of this issue, and directed staff to send the matter back to the Commission with examples of codified height limits Clark found in Encinitas and other cities.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information on this and other public Council meetings.
Aug. 27, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
Ojai residents came out in force Tuesday to vote on Measure V. The message they sent is they want to part company with Golden State Water Company.
Preliminary results released by the Ventura County Elections Department as of 9:39 p.m. Tuesday, indicate there were 1,913 yes votes and 275 no votes.
These preliminary totals do not include provisional ballots or mail-in ballots surrendered at polling locations on election day.
Election officials plan to hand count and verify the remaining 287 ballots today.
There were 4,795 eligible to vote in the election and 2,475 votes were cast.
Casitas Municipal Water District and its supporters needed more than two-thirds of those voting to check yes for the measure to pass.
Late Tuesday night, Ryan Blatz, spokesperson for Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water, the group who petitioned CMWD to pursue the election, said “We are extremely excited to announce that we not only won but sent a clear message to Golden State that communities will stand and fight for their right to better water service and reasonable water rates and we won’t be scared by their tactics, even to the point of taxing ourselves to get rid of what we know is horrible situation.”
Golden State officials indicated they would make a statement “when appropriate.”
Aug. 27, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
Starting next summer, East End residents could see their home insurance rates jump — or drop — by $1,800 or more per year.
Federal flood insurance requirements have changed for about 300 Ojai properties thanks to new flood plain designations from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The federal agency updated flood plain maps for the East Ojai Alluvial Fan, which includes the San Antonio Creek and tributaries to the east of Ojai.
Once adopted, 241 homes will have been removed from the FEMA flood plain, while 71 others will be included in the floodplain and the more restrictive “floodway” for the first time. Those inside the flood plain whose homes are mortgaged will be required to buy flood insurance, while the 241 that have been removed will not.
The new designations will also limit development and grading inside the “floodway.”
The new maps are based on an engineering study by the Ventura County Watershed Protection District (WPD). “This information (serves) to bring awareness to property owners of potential floods,” said Sergio Vargas, deputy director of the WPD’s planning and regulatory division. “When FEMA identified potential flood hazards, they want property owners to know that the (flood) risk exists … FEMA’s mission is to minimize losses of property and lives — life and safety.”
An appeal period has been established for residents to challenge the FEMA findings. Through Nov. 11, those in the new flood zone can question their inclusion in the maps. The process, however, is complicated, not to mention expensive. “Any appeal needs to be technically- and science-based,” Vargas said.
The Water Protection District and the city of Ojai have scheduled a public outreach meeting tomorrow from 6 to 9 p.m. at Chaparral Auditorium, 414 E. Ojai Ave. The public is urged to attend the meeting to discuss the draft flood maps, the effects these maps will have on development, the need to purchase flood insurance, the FEMA map adoption process and schedule, the FEMA appeal process, federal flood insurance requirements and more.
Visit https://s3-us-gov-west-1.amazonaws.com/dam-production/uploads/20130726-1813-25045-4679/eap_criteria.pdf to view appeals criteria for flood insurance requirements. Visit www.vcfloodinfo.com to view flood plain maps, and find additional information.
Copies of the draft maps can be viewed at the County of Ventura Public Works Agency, Third Floor Permit Counter at 800 South Victoria Ave. in Ventura between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
Aug. 27, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
Ojai’s Scott Titus was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison Monday for failing to report to the Internal Revenue Service almost $1.6 million in wages paid to employees of Scott Titus Painting. United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson also ordered Titus to pay the IRS $666,748.40 in restitution.
The maximum sentence he could have received was three years in prison, repayment of the restitution and an additional fine of $250,000.
“I just wanted to make things right, and this is part of it,” Titus said Tuesday. “I am at peace with it, I really am … my family, my friends, and of course, my strong faith in God, I feel like there’s a purpose in everything, and this carries me through.”
The Titus investigation was conducted by the IRS Criminal Investigation office in Los Angeles, in conjunction with the Tax Division of the United States Attorneys’ Office. Titus pleaded guilty this spring to giving a false quarterly tax return for the second quarter of 2008. From 2008 to 2010, according to his plea agreement, Titus paid his employees in cash and did not properly report it on his quarterly and annual tax returns. In the second quarter of 2008, Titus paid employee wages of $215,774, although he reported paying $22,195.
According to IRS special agent Felicia McCain, Titus will begin his sentence Jan. 2., 2014. “I’m really thankful for that,” said Titus, adding that that extra time will allow him to get his affairs in order, spend time with family, and be on the sidelines of the Nordhoff High School football games again this fall.
While McCain was unable to confirm where Titus would serve his sentence, she did say Titus requested that he be housed in the Lompoc Federal Correction Complex. McClain also could not say whether Titus will serve his entire 18-month sentence or will be eligible for early release, and refused to comment on whether the IRS is investigating other individuals associated with Titus or his former painting company.
The IRS Los Angeles Criminal Investigation office said in a press release, “Titus painted residential and commercial properties and was paid by his clients in both cash and checks. Titus used the cash payments received from clients, along with cash derived from cashing checks and cash withdrawals from his business bank account, to pay his employees their wages in 2008, 2009 and 2010.”
Ultimately, Titus said, “If there’s anything I want the community to know, it’s that I feel blessed. I know I’ll be away for a while, but I have a great family great friends, and I know they’re going to be taken care of. … I don’t want them to worry — everything’s OK.”
Aug. 22, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Ojai Planning Commission met Wednesday to discuss how to meet the 2014 to 2021 state-mandated Housing Element update.
At least one resident told the Commission he hoped the city could use the current drought and limited availability of water as a way to shrink those numbers.
“I met with the Casitas Water District management, and I want to make sure you folks have a clear idea of what’s happening in this valley,” said Ojai resident Bob Daddi. “The Ventura River County Water District is purchasing water from Casitas to provide adequate water for its users. Golden State Water Company is purchasing water from Casitas to provide adequate water for its users. Golden State Water Company continues to give ‘will serve’ notices for water it knows it cannot provide … We are over-drafting our system … Please put some safeguards in there for us, because five to 10 years from now, things are going to be incredibly different.”
John Douglas, ACIP, the consultant hired by the city to help push through the update, had bad news for them.
“Those constraints don’t absolve you from your other responsibilities (according to HCD),” said John Douglas, AICP. “The city is expected to do what it can to address those issues.”
He told the commission that the California Department of Housing and Community, which will review the city’s Housing Element documents, will not view issues like limited water supply as a sound reason to delay or shrink from proving it can accommodate new affordable housing units.
“As with the last Housing Element cycle, there is no requirement in state law that these units be built,” said Douglas. “It only requires the conditions that would allow development to occur, that we establish those regulations and provide administrative assistance for developers.”
Douglas, who did not do the city’s previous update, explained that his would differ in style because each planner and consultant has their unique methodology, but that in substance the two documents will be similar.
Douglas stressed the importance of not getting slowed down by too much detail that can be hammered out during the implementation process of the Housing Element update.
With each Housing Element update, cities must prove they can accommodate their “fair share” of the state’s projected population growth. For Ojai, the Southern California Association of Governments and the state determine this number. Within this cycle, Ojai must not only demonstrate the ability to accommodate the 371 new housing units, 146 will have to qualify as low-income housing.
For Ojai Planning Commissioner Troy Becker and Ojai Democratic Club member Judy Murphy, the state-mandated Housing Element process does not do enough to address the need for affordable housing in Ojai.
“We think the city’s efforts should be totally focused on low-income housing. SCAG assigned Ojai’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment number of 371 with 2010 census data in hand. However, as their documents show, since 2000, our population has decreased by 4.2 percent. Jobs have decreased … School population has decreased by over 50 percent, and the elementary schools by over 75 percent,” said Murphy on behalf of the Democratic Club. “The California legislature, supported by developers, decided that cities must plan for growth, and specified a portion of it to be affordable. We think it is questionable, at best, to plan for growth when our population is decreasing.”
Becker reminded those present that the commission modified the Special Housing Overlay Program in the last Housing Element cycle to require proposed projects to include a higher percentage of low-income units than the state suggests for these projects to be eligible for the zoning overlay. The city’s Special Overlay Program requires a minimum of 15 percent of a project’s units be designated very low-income, 15 percent for low-income units and 20 percent for moderate-income units.
“I think it’s a unique perspective that we took on that,” said Becker. “We encourage the building of affordable housing, we want to see more of that than other communities might. The state might count that as (cost) prohibitive.”
In a recent e-mail to the Ojai Community Development Department, Ojai resident Bill Miley urged the planning commission to make the language of the document clear and accessible for the public, as well as echoing Daddi’s concerns about the local water supply.
“The update of the Housing plan appears in many sections duplicative of the 2006 to 2014 plan it updates. Although appearing extensive and probably comprehensive, there is a need to concentrate the goals and implementation programs into one executive summary at the beginning for better public understanding,” stated Miley. “We are potentially at risk for water shortages due to extended drought conditions. We should be actively involved in acquiring current and predictive water data and information to connect directly to the planned dwelling unit expansion based on the RHNA numbers. Our city carries a fiduciary responsibility to not only those folks within our city limits, and sphere of influence, but for the entire Ojai Valley.”
In other action, the planning commission was unable to vote on a design review permit application for a two-story remodel at 601 Crestview Drive due to the absences of commissioners Paul Crabtree and Kathleen Nolan. Additionally, Becker had to recues himself because of financial involvement with the applicant. The matter was continued to the next meeting Sept. 4.
“I want to apologize. Had I known there would be a quorum issue, I would not have had the applicant come,” said Community Development Director Rob Mullane.
This meeting was the last for Mullane, who resigned Aug. 2 to begin a position with the city of Carmel.
“I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Rob for all the work he accomplished in his short tenure here,” said City Manager Rob Clark.
“I will certainly miss staff, council and the community here. It’s been a very rewarding 18 months,” said Mullane. “I wish it were longer, but we accomplished a lot.”
Mullane estimated that the city should have a new full-time permanent community development director within five to six months, and in the meantime will be served by interim director Ann McLaughlin. When asked to provide advice for his replacement, Mullane said, “They’ll figure it out. Every community is different. It takes a while to get the lay of the land. I’m confident the city will have a good search, and the new director will keep things going as opposed to starting from scratch, which is always a good environment to come into.”
The Planning Commission and Ojai City Council will hold a joint workshop 6 p.m. Sept. 10 to further discuss the Housing Element. Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information.
Aug. 22, 2013
Tim Dewar, firstname.lastname@example.org
If the mail-in ballots are any indication, Ojai voters care about Tuesday’s Measure V election.
As of Thursday afternoon, according to Ventura County Elections Department official Tracy Saucedo, 1,141 of the 2,529 mail-in ballots issued for this election have been returned.
Saucedo noted that there are 4,795 eligible to cast a vote that will decide whether an additional annual tax is placed on 2,900 properties in the Golden State Water Company’s Ojai service area. If passed by a two-thirds majority of those voting, Measure V would provide up to $60 million over 30 years to purchase the system from Golden State and to provide much-needed repairs.
Casitas Municipal Water District would assume control of the community facilities district if GSWC either voluntarily sells as required in its franchise agreement with the city, or is ordered to sell as part of an eminent domain proceeding.
Saucedo said that in addition to the mail-in ballots, 14 voters have casted their vote at the Election Department’s early voting station at the Ventura County Government Center in Ventura.
She warned that because the election is Tuesday, it is too late for voters to mail ballots at this point. “They can be dropped off at the Ojai City Clerk’s office Friday and Monday,” Saucedo explained. The only other option for mail-in ballots at this point is to turn them in at one of the three polling places Tuesday.
Those who still have questions about the election, where they should vote or how to surrender mail-in ballots can call her office at 654-2664 Saucedo explained.
For the Measure V election, the county will operate only three polling places. Those are the Ojai United Methodist Church at 120 Church Road, The Gables of Ojai at 701 Montgomery St. and the First Baptist Church at 930 Grand Ave. The polls will be open for voting from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Polling places that were consolidated into another location are the Ojai Presbyterian Church and Chaparral Auditorium. Those who normally vote at the Ojai Presbyterian Church will vote at the Gables of Ojai and those who normally vote at Chaparral Auditorium will be voting at the First Baptist Church.
Aug. 22, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
A 20-year-old Los Angeles man has pleaded guilty to beating an Upper Ojai resident during a home invasion robbery in March. The suspect, Shavon Oboh, now faces up to nine years in prison on three felony counts.
Oboh pleaded guilty last week to first-degree residential robbery, false imprisonment by violence and causing great bodily harm during a robbery. Authorities said Oboh committed the crime with a co-conspirator, 20-year-old Hallye Wright, who has previously pleaded guilty to taking part in the crime. She could serve up to four years in state prison.
Both will be sentenced next month.
Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Investigator Jeremy Paris said Wright, the first suspect in the case, knew the victim, a Sulphur Mountain Road resident. Sheriffs Department officials have not released his name.
“The victim was acquainted with one of the suspects, who had visited him a couple of times before,” said Paris. “This time the suspect came with another suspect, who hid in the car. He then came in and attacked the resident, tied him up in the bathroom, and beat him quite severely.”
Paris said the victim lost consciousness during the beating after suffering a broken nose, facial factures and a severe cut over one eye. After the suspects left, taking with them a shotgun and several pieces of artwork, the victim regained consciousness, freed himself and called 911. He was transported to the hospital by ambulance, where he spent several days in intensive care.
Paris said that the victim was able to give them only a first name and a “fairly generic” description of White, but they were able to link the suspects to the crime because they were caught on video selling the art at a pawnshop in Los Angeles.
Police officials allege Oboh is a member of a criminal street gang and was found in possession of a stolen .357 caliber handgun.
“The motive was robbery,” said Paris. “This was not a hate crime. The suspect did not admit to us that he did it, but we recovered the stolen art work and we had video from the pawn shop.”
Oboh and Wright were booked into Ventura County Jail in March. Wright’s bail was set at $250,000, and Oboh’s at $750,000.
“These were serious crimes,” said Deputy District Attorney David Russell. “First degree robbery, with a special allegation of causing great bodily harm during the commission of the crime, and false imprisonment by violence. Because of the violent nature of these crimes, Oboh will end up serving at least 85 percent of his sentence of nine years and eight months.”
Aug. 20, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
If all goes according to plan, Ojai’s parks are about to get a facelift. In a joint meeting with the Ojai City Council last week, Ojai’s Parks and Recreation commissioners discussed a five-year capital improvement plan that would add new facilities and revamp several others.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to put some money into the facilities,” said Deputy City Manager Steve McClary.
Among the top priorities in the city’s five-year capital improvement plan are a remodel of the restrooms at upper Libbey Park; a new playground at Libbey Park; a remodeled picnic area at Sarzotti Park; a renovated art room at the Boyd Recreation Center and replacement of picnic tables and benches around the city.
Topping the docket for the upcoming fiscal year is the construction of a new outdoor basketball court at Sarzotti Park.
“We’re really focusing on trying to get our existing facilities repaired where they need to be,” said McClary. “However, we’re also trying to look down the road a little bit, because we’re seeing some potential opportunities — maybe this fiscal year, maybe future fiscal years — where we could put in some additional facilities, for example.”
“One of the things we’ve never really had is a five-year program,” observed Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Randy Haney. “We’ve never really had anything identified as to how we’re going to identify the facilities. That’s just come recently. Just starting with that, and the fact that we have some revenues set aside, the fact that we recognize that the facilities need to be upgraded and maintained differently is a bonus … It’s a great starting point. I’m glad we have it.”
For Commissioner Sage Intner, long-term planning is just the first step in manifesting a richer Ojai Recreation Department, the hub of which, she believes, is Sarzotti Park.
“I think long term we’ve all wanted to work toward longer-term planning, and having a capital improvement plan over a five-year span has given us the time and opportunity to go in and literally, physically go into Sarzotti and take another look at it,” said Intner. “I know staff time is precious, and that may be something that we butt up against over time. Maybe we need a little more staff time or additional help bringing that to fruition so that we’re not just drawing pictures on paper for ourselves, but putting together maybe a little more of a plan from these ideas. But I think the beauty of what we’re doing is: We’re talking about putting in a picnic area that’s covered, which is fabulous. But let’s go a step farther and look at that park. What do we want it to look like, what do we want that whole park to look like five years from now when we’ve done three projects?”
“The picnic area/pad at Sarzotti refers to creating an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible picnic area in the park along with a canopy for shade,” explained McClary. “We feel this will make the picnic/barbecue areas much more attractive for use by the public, similar to what folks are able to enjoy now at Soule Park.”
In a similar vein, the items regarding facilities at Libbey Park are meant to dovetail with one another, with the goal of improving the overall feel of the park. For example, while the playground at Libbey Park remains in visibly good repair, the construction of a brand-new shade structure, funded by the Rotary Club of Ojai, could theoretically mismatch or even constrain future renovations of the existing playground structure.
“We’re very pleased that the City Council and the Parks Commission are supportive of reinvesting funds back into our recreational facilities,” said McClary. “This year will allow us to catch up on a lot of deferred maintenance which the facilities desperately need.”
The Ojai Parks and Recreation Commission meets at 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month at Ojai City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St. in Ojai.
Aug. 20, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
Regular pruning over the last 20 years and being surrounded by irrigated grass likely did in a conspicuous valley oak tree in downtown Ojai.
Friday afternoon, tree trimmers from Call Oscar Tree Service began cutting down the tree, which overhung part of the Ojai Unified School District’s (OUSD) offices as well as the sidewalk and several parking spaces on North Montgomery Street.
OUSD officials asked Ojai arborist Thomas Bostrom, from Bostrom & Associates, to perform a risk assessment on the tree in June. He issued his report to the school district July 12.
In his report, Bostrom estimated the tree to be approximately 65 feet tall with a trunk circumference of approximately 16 feet. He noted the presence of a shelf fungus on the west trunk approximately 18 feet from the ground, which he indicated was cause for serious concern.
The fungus, he explained, likely started in the tree’s roots and grew upward, destroying the structural integrity of the tree. He said water used to maintain the grass around the base of the tree likely supplied the fungus the moisture it needed to spread. Once infected, Bostrom added, there is no known cure.
Because of the high potential for the tree, or a number of its limbs, to fall either on the building or on the nearby street, Bostrom recommended its removal. He estimated that if it were not taken out, it would fall on its own within three years.
Later, Bostrom estimated the tree to be approximately 100 years old.
Oscar Delgado, owner of Call Oscar Tree Service, said the tree contains approximately 25 tons of wood.
Aug. 20, 2013
By Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Several members of the public voiced concerns about the Ojai Skate Park during last week’s joint meeting of the Ojai City Council and the Ojai Parks and Recreation Commission.
“We discussed this at the last Parks and Recreation Commission meeting at great length, probably an hour, hour and a half,” said Commission Chair Randy Haney. “After a long debate regarding the skate park, the majority of the commission was in strong belief that the way the policies are written, the way the procedures are and the way the skate park has been set up, we’re all in agreement it should stay that way. With the concerns of the citizens regarding scooters, one of the resolutions that came out of that was to maybe think about doing a mini scooter park at the recreation center, and get the 7, 8, 9 and 10-year-olds at that facility actually doing that. As far as bikes, they’re not a part of the policy right now, other than they’re not allowed. Again, what we came to the conclusion of, was maybe we need to put together a group of people, and maybe we need to think about how we initiated this skate park, and maybe we want to do a BMX park. We’re open to having that discussion with the public.”
This approach to the use of the skate park was not satisfactory for some, however.
“I know a lot of people with Skate Ojai spent a lot of time putting this together. At the time, my son was a skateboarder, and now he’s a BMX rider. So I have a different perspective now,” said Ojai resident Tobi Greene. “I really would like to work together with Skate Ojai … If you were to go by the skate park right now, there’s nobody in it, and there is a bunch of BMXers that really want some time in there. The BMX bikes without pegs really aren’t harming anything, and I would love to see some hours for the BMXers.”
“Just to let you guys know a little bit about me: I’m fifth-generation Ojai (resident), been here my whole life, grew up in the third house built in Meiners Oaks. I think making these younger kids on the scooters that have wheels that are softer than skateboarders’ not allowed in there, and getting tickets that are hundreds of dollars is absolutely ridiculous,” commented Bryan Booher. “My kids looked forward to going to the skate park, and now they don’t. I hung around there today, just to see what was going on. I saw a guy in a Volvo. Three different times I saw people going up there and buying stuff from him. I can’t tell you what it is, but I’ve got a pretty good idea. Nobody does anything about it, but you’re worried about some little kids on scooters? I think it’s time for us to look at the youth.”
The Ojai Skate Park rules state, “This facility is for skateboarding, in-line skating and roller skating only.” After numerous speakers questioned the difference between skateboards, scooters and BMX bikes in terms of logistics and each devices’ use in the park, Councilman Severo Lara asked if there was information available to the public regarding why bikes and scooters are prohibited.
“The number one reason is collision. When we designed the park, we had that specific use in mind,” answered Skate Ojai President Chet Hilgers. “The skate park was designed and built specifically for skateboarding. That’s the way the flow was designed, that’s the way it was manufactured and built. To change the use after the fact would be cost prohibitive, and you would have to supervise it, and that’s not going to happen. What I would say to the people that want to BMX: I think it’s great. Let’s build a BMX park somewhere, get everybody together and do that. There were nearly 1,600 people that gave in some way to the skate park. That’s a lot of people to consider when you want to change the use for people who ride bikes.”
Mayor Paul Blatz asked how many people from the BMX community were present during the public hearing process of forming and constructing the skate park, to which Hilgers replied he could not name one.
“People can work just as hard to build a BMX park,” offered Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel.
“When the skateboard park was designed, with all of the input from the public, there was very little — if any — input from the scooter people or from any bike people, and it was not designed, nor opened, for any purpose to do with bicycles. It was opened solely for the purpose of skateboards,” said Blatz. “It took years and years and years of effort for the skateboarders to put that park together. They did it. There was very little — if any — input from bicyclists, that’s for sure. That’s why it wasn’t designed for them. And now, after the fact, when you want to come forward, it’s going to create a problem. So, if you guys want to get out on the street and start collecting signatures on petitions, try to get enough so you can do your own park, or even get enough signatures on a petition that it’s going to bring to our attention that there are a whole lot of bicyclists that want to use that park, and then we can determine whether they will do any damage to it, that’s what I suggest you do.”
“I just want to make it clear to anyone out there that the Recreation and Parks Commission is set up for the community, for the citizens, and we want you to come to our meetings, and we want you to come and talk about this issue,” concluded Haney.
Greene is hosting an informational and organizational meeting for those interested in opening a BMX park in town. The meeting is set for Wednesday at 5 p.m. at The MOB Shop, 110W. Ojai Ave. Email Greene at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for information on upcoming Parks and Recreation Commission meetings.
Aug. 20, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
The mystery has been solved. This object, seen floating in the sky above the Ojai Valley Tuesday at approximately 12:15 p.m. was part of an experiment.
Don’t blame it on aliens, smart meters or secret military aircraft though, it was basically a glorified garbage bag released as part of the Ojai Recreation Department’s summer Science Camp.
The recreation department’s Matt Landon verified that the thin, plastic bag, which was approximately 50 feet long, was used to demonstrate the dynamics of air density to the Science Camp students.
“They filled it with cool air from underneath the trees,” Landon explained, “and then took it out in the sun and let it warm up.”
He said although the camp — which continues through the week — is very hands on, it shouldn’t offer up any more surprises for valley residents. He said he was surprised at the reaction the balloon launch received. He added that he was unsure whether the balloon was allowed to float away or whether the students reeled it back in.
Officials from area airports, military bases, the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration were unaware of what the object might be when contacted shortly after the sighting.
Aug. 15, 2013
by Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
With the goal of reducing unnecessary light within the city limits, the Ojai City Council moved its outdoor lighting ordinance forward Tuesday. If passed on its second reading, the ordinance would restrict the amount of non-essential outdoor lighting that could be kept on after 10 p.m.
Lighting in all commercial or residential projects proposed after the ordinance passes will have to be shielded and directed downwards. Lighting that spills onto neighboring properties would be limited.
The Council also adopted a companion resolution that will seek voluntary compliance from residents for the first year before fines and other more aggressive means of compliance are undertaken.
“The development of a new Exterior Lighting Ordinance was identified as a priority of the City a few years ago. Early drafts of the ordinance involved Community Development staff with assistance of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition,” reads a staff report prepared by outgoing Community Development Director Rob Mullane. “Several workshops and hearings have been held to discuss and refine the proposed ordinance and its companion implementation guidance resolution. A consistent theme for the proposed ordinance throughout these meetings was that the ordinance should not be retroactive.”
“Lights installed prior to 2004 are not effected by any of these measures,” explained City Manager Rob Clark during Tuesday’s meeting. “But non-essential lights must be turned off after 10 p.m.”
“We are both in favor of the ordinance as presented tonight,” said Ojai resident George Berg , who, along with his wife, Gail Topping, have been longtime proponents of more restrictive lighting standards. “We know now that more people understand how lowering and upgrading lighting can save money, energy and create a more sustainable environment … What we hope is that the value of the ordinance will become clear to people who are not actually required to do it, but they’ll simply say, ‘This is a good idea; I think I’ll do this next time I change my lighting.’ Thank you for the opportunity to be part of the democratic process. Democracy is slow, and yet it’s still the best process we have.”
Councilman Severo Lara stated that he was not convinced that Tivoli lights — string lights or “Christmas” lights, often used by restaurants — contribute to light pollution so should not be part of the ordinance. He said they should instead be subject to design review by the Ojai Planning Commission on a case-by-case basis.
The section of the ordinance pertaining to these lights was stricken, and the ordinance was adopted unanimously. The ordinance will not go into effect until the Council adopts it at the next council meeting Aug. 27.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, City Council unanimously adopted a resolution waiving building fees for installation of solar energy systems for a period of one year. The fees typically total about $500. By waiving these charges, the city hopes to encourage solar installations in Ojai.
“I think that there is going to be a fairly significant push in the Ojai Valley for installation of these systems, which is a good thing that has a lot of social benefits,” said Clark. “We’re supporting the request that the fees be waived.”
“We’ve been giving a lot of exemptions to fees lately,” remarked Councilwoman Betsy Clapp.
“We did create a no-cost appeal to the city manager and development director’s decisions. We’ve reduced some fees. For signs, for example, we reduced the fees because the fees were costing more than the signs,” responded Clark. “We also made a distinction between a simple design review and a complex one, and charge a lower fee for the simple one, and that’s to encourage people to follow the process. I think for the most part, where we have reduced fees, we’ve done it to increase compliance, so there might be a trade-off with how many people actually come in and get a permit vs. (a few) lost fees.”
“I think we have to be careful. I am a major environmental nutcase, and I’m all for this stuff,” countered Clapp. “But we are a business in a sense, and we have to remain economically healthy.”
After Clapp’s remarks, the proposed resolution was modified to waive the fees for a year only, as opposed to indefinitely.
Council also introduced an ordinance that would simplify the issuing of administrative citations for municipal code violations.
“The Ojai Municipal Code provides that any violation of city ordinance is either an infraction or a misdemeanor,” reads Clark’s staff report. “California Government Code Section 53069.4 also authorizes local governments to adopt ordinances empowering city officials to issue administrative citations and penalties as alternative means of enforcement of the Municipal Code.”
Currently, administrative citations only apply to noisy animals, the leash law, failure to pay license fees and similar infractions, and the process is set up such that a hearing board must impose those fees. The proposed modifications apply the administrative citations to all Municipal Code violations, and replace the hearing board with a hearing officer.
Lara expressed the wish that the ordinance be amended to stipulate that the city manager bring any contract hiring a hearing officer to the City Council for review to ensure this person’s eligibility and objectivity. After this change, the Council unanimously passed the ordinance to a second reading.
The Council also appointed Ojai resident Leonard Klaif to the Ojai Fiscal Policy Budget Committee during the same meeting.
“This is the first time I’ve won an election in the city of Ojai,” joked Klaif. “Serving the community is something I’ve done in a variety of capacities since I’ve been here, and I will endeavor to do so in this position. We have a wonderful community.”
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view archived videos of previous Ojai City Council meetings.
Aug. 15, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
Federal agencies responsible for overseeing oil and gas operators in California’s coastal waters are not aware of hydraulic fracturing activities that may have taken place there, according to documents obtained through a recent Freedom of Information Act request.
In addition, at least four agencies could have authority over these operations, but jurisdictional boundaries are cloudy even at the highest levels within the agencies.
Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is the controversial well-completion technique that blasts chemicals, water and sand into underground rock formations to release the oil or gas trapped in them.
Federal waters are under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). Those two agencies oversee oil and gas production in waters starting three nautical miles off the coast. The State Lands Commission (SLC), in partnership with the California Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), oversees the waters within the three-mile mark.
The California Coastal Commission, which regulates use of land and water in the coastal zone, added offshore fracking to its Thursday meeting agenda, in response to an Aug. 4 Associated Press article that reported that fracking has occurred off the California coast at least 12 times since the 1990s and that a new project was approved in March for a privately held oil and gas company to frack about 10 miles off the Ventura County coast. Although Coastal Commission jurisdiction extends only three miles off the coast, it can assert its authority if it decides work beyond the three-mile mark affects marine mammals or water quality.
“At the time of the oil spill on Platform Gail in 2010, there were no fracking operations being conducted and the claim that fracking had been performed in 2009 is inaccurate,” wrote James Watson, then-director of the BSEE, in a Jan. 11 letter. The letter was written in response to a public comment received by the agency in late 2012 regarding offshore fracking.
In the same letter, Watson stated “There have only been two occasions when hydraulic fracturing was utilized … in the federal waters off the California coast.” Those occurred in 1992, when Venoco fracked wells at Platform Gail (which is 10 miles off the coast of Oxnard) and in 1997, when Chevron attempted to frack a well at Platform Hidalgo, which is about six miles off the coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Regarding the failed attempt on Platform Hidalgo, Watson wrote, “They were only able to inject 62,622 gallons of frac fluid with 29,736 lbs. of proppant.” He wrote that production actually decreased after the frack job, so, “In June 1997 an enzyme breaker was injected into the reservoir (well),” which led to restoration of “steady production.”
Although Watson stated in his letter that there was no fracking off California waters in 2009, Venoco spokeswoman Lisa M. Rivas stated in an Aug. 7 email to the Ojai Valley News that “Venoco did hydraulic fracturing in late 2009 and early 2010, but we did not get the results we hoped for so there are no plans to do any more. The well (that was hydraulically fractured) was on Platform Gail.”
Responding to questions regarding the discrepancy between BSEE and Venoco about offshore fracking operations in 2009-10, Nicholas Pardi, BSEE spokesman, told the Ojai Valley News Thursday, “The letter you are referring to was a draft letter that was not written or reviewed by Director Watson.”
Upon receipt of the public complaint sent in late 2012 about offshore fracking in 2009, BSEE staff members corresponded via email among themselves regarding what agency had jurisdiction and the BSEE’s policies on hydraulic fracturing. “Has there been an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) to assess the environmental consequences of fracking on the OCS (Outer Continental Shelf)? How can we begin to review permit requests without that?” wrote Thomas Lillie, BSEE chief of staff, on Dec. 17, 2012, to Walter Cruickshank, BSEE deputy director.
The following day, Lillie wrote, “Has fracking ever been considered in a five-year plan and been assessed in any NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] document for the area in question (is it even allowed? a BOEM issue); if so, has Venoco or any other operator ever submitted an application for a permit to conduct fracking?” Lillie stated those issues need to be addressed in order to respond to the public complaint they received.
“Our leases were entered into during the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s when fracking was not really happening,” said Sheri Pemberton, chief of external affairs and legislative liaison for the State Lands Commission. “We are not seeing any new leases, there is not really any new drilling. But yes, if there were new requests, or changes to drilling — for anything different that was not contained in the original lease, then the SLC will review it.” She explained that an operator is supposed to apply to the SLC if they are going to do anything new with a well — and she confirmed that that includes the “spectrum” of processes that can be called hydraulic fracturing, if it was not covered in the original lease.
“Our legal team is not aware of any applications to the State Lands Commission in advance of fracking,” said Patrick Sullivan, media specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We do believe that’s a necessary step and would help protect the state’s air and water from the risks of fracking.”
Last week, state legislators, including Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) and state senators Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) and Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) called on the Coastal Commission “to exercise its jurisdiction and review all previously approved and future federal fracking permits for their impact on human health and safety, marine life and water quality.”
Concerns about offshore fracking were highlighted this week in a joint letter by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and the Surfrider Foundation, calling for public notification and environmental review of offshore fracking operations. “The state and the public need to know about fracking before it occurs, and have an opportunity to voice their concerns,” said Brian Segee, staff attorney for the EDC, the environmental law group that uncovered offshore fracking during investigations in 2011.
“Offshore fracking poses a deadly threat to California’s fragile marine environment,” said Miyoko Sakashita, the Oceans Program director with the CBD, in a press release sent Wednesday. “This dangerous practice is being used in our oceans with very little government knowledge or oversight.”
Aug. 13, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The city of Ojai hired Heather Waldstein July 12 as the new part-time assistant planner. Waldstein will be responsible for assisting with both long-range planning initiatives — like the state-mandated Housing Element — as well as processing planning applications. Waldstein will typically be in the Community Development office three days a week.
“The addition of the part-time city planner will allow the city to devote more resources to a multitude of planning and policy-related projects that are high priorities for the City Council and community, including the city’s neighborhood planning initiative, the 2014-2021 Housing Element Update, Historic Preservation projects and implementation of the city’s Complete Streets policy,” states a press release.
Waldstein, a resident of Woodland Hills, attended California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo and graduated from California Polytechnic University at Pomona with a bachelor’s degree in urban planning.
“When I was going to school in San Luis Obispo, it was very private sector-oriented. The curriculum was based on design and very developer-oriented. I knew that was something I was not interested in,” says Waldstein. “I enjoy working with residents, working with legislation, but also design. In the private sector, you’re more invested in the initial design; you don’t see the finished product.”
Waldstein has worked for the cities of Beverly Hills, Brea, Coachella, Oxnard, Santa Clarita, West Hollywood and the County of Ventura. She says it is Ojai’s small size and character that drew her to work here.
“I enjoy working for destination cities with character. I like small-town planning, where there is more planning, not sprawl,” Waldstein states. “I want to be part of the planning process, good planning, and I think Ojai is one of those cities.”
Waldstein says every city is different in terms of planning issues, from code enforcement to affordable housing, but she’d wager historic preservation is a priority for Ojai and its residents.
“This is a great community. There’s a lot of history here, and residents want to see that preserved, which basically takes good planning,” affirms Waldstein.
Her favorite project that she has been a part of thus far was completing the general plan update for the city of Brea, which she says was “comprehensive and exciting.” When approaching a project, Waldstein keeps the “end user” foremost in her mind.
“Usually the first thing I look at is the site plan and the circulation,” Waldstein says of analyzing a project proposal. “I look at, ‘Is it planned right? Is circulation easy?’”
In terms of Ojai’s hot-button issues of protecting its small-town feel vs. not creating too many constraints for a vital, dynamic city in the future, Waldstein believes appeasing both sides of the fence is definitely possible.
“Part of planning is taking everything into consideration,” she posits.
“We are very pleased to have Heather coming on board with the city,” said Rob Mullane, the city’s community development director until Aug. 22, when he will begin working in Carmel. City officials said they do not feel Mullane’s resignation will affect Waldstein’s ability to do her job, as an interim community development director will soon be put in place until a replacement can be found. Mullane voiced his support of Waldstein, saying she “Has an extensive background in both development review and long-range planning, and will be able to hit the ground running.”
Aug. 13, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The clock is ticking on a program the city of Ojai hopes will reduce the number of housing units the state could require, but key portions of the effort are yet to be implemented.
The Second Unit Compliance Program aims to fulfill a portion of Ojai’s state-mandated housing requirements by legitimizing second housing units that were built without the proper city permits.
Ojai city manager Rob Clark estimates that around 300 of these unpermitted housing units exist within city limits and the city’s goal is to bring them into compliance — while also showing the state of California that additional housing units do exist in Ojai.
“There has been some interest, but we are still putting the program together,” said Clark, who added that at least three property owners have come forward. “We need to establish an ombudsman so that property owners have a way to find out what it would take for them to comply before turning themselves in to the city.”
To persuade property owners to take up the offer, the city is promising those who participate that their property information will not be shared with other agencies, such as utility companies. Once it is established, the ombudsman program — which would use a neutral third party to relay property information to the city —
is how they hope to accomplish that.
“All information obtained in connection with applications for an Amnesty Permit will remain confidential and will not be placed in the building file for subsequent code enforcement action, or in any way ‘cloud’ title to the qualifying property,” according to the text of the program guidelines.
Applications for the program will be processed only until June 30, 2014.
According to the program guidelines, adopted by the Ojai City Council April 9, “The Second Unit Amnesty Program is a means by which to legalize dwellings that have been constructed without record of permits and are not recognized in the city’s inventory of housing.”
The secondary units — often called guest homes or granny flats — must meet several city standards to be eligible. Among the requirements are a minimum interior wall height of 7 feet, a minimum of 120 square feet in at least one room, glazed windows, a bathroom and kitchen, a smoke detector, an approved heating appliance and utility services shared with the primary dwelling.
Some of the requirements for these units, such as setbacks and parking, are not as stringent as those in the municipal code.
The city hopes to encourage property owners to participate by offering a few relaxed requirements and by waiving penalties for code violations. Applicants, however, must still pay the full permitting fee. According to Clark, permits for a typical second unit are in the $20,000 range.
Additionally, Clark says he intends to work with water companies and the Ojai Valley Sanitary District to gauge their response, “so that property owners are not surprised.”
The idea of granting amnesty to granny flats isn’t a new one in the city. The concept originated several years ago, Clark said, with the committee that developed a draft of the 2006-2014 Housing Element.
“In that document, the program is discussed but there was very little detail. After the Housing Element was adopted we had to amend our zoning code to allow the program. That language was put together by our housing consultant,” Clark explained. “Next, we need to develop specific guidelines that have the details about what can be legalized and what must be fixed before it can be legalized. This is critical because there are cost implications for the owners.”
Some members of the public have spoken out during council and planning commission meetings, claiming the terminology “illegal” and “amnesty” are contentious and objectionable. So now, the city staff refers to the program as “The Second Unit Compliance Program.”
The details and title clearly remain a work in progress, even as work commences on a new Housing Element.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view the 2006-2014 Housing Element, and call 646-5581 to learn more about how to apply for the Second Unit Compliance Program.
Aug. 8, 2013
By Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
The Matilija hot springs and swimming hole, a few miles above the Matilija Canyon Dam, have been closed to the public since May 1 when the landowners, along with Ecotopia — the group managing the property — said it was time for the “land to rest.” They have organized clean-up days, put up fencing and are asking trespassers to leave.
“What we need now is patience and perspective,” said Gunnar Lovelace, one of the property owners and founder of Ecotopia. “This land has been loved and utilized for thousands of years. It is going to take some time to work through how to open it in a way that is at once inclusive and protects the land. We’ve gotten a lot of support and heard a lot of concerns.”
In the months the property has been closed, Lovelace says truckloads of garbage have been removed and traffic up the canyon reduced significantly and, he explains, Ecotopia is in the process of forming a board of directors and applying for 501-C3 status.
A corporation — the Center For Consciousness Land, Inc., (CFC) — formed by Lovelace and other family members, assumed the debt of the hot springs’ previous owners and now own the land. Lovelace says the idea is for Ecotopia to obtain a 100-year lease from CFC to manage the land.
“We are trying to find a fiscal sponsor,” said Lovelace. This would allow tax-deductible donations to be made through the sponsor and benefit Ecotopia’s work on the land.
Lovelace said the group is aiming at a partial re-opening in October or November.
“Everyone will have the ability to use the hot springs under Ecotopia’s stewardship,” said Matthew Auric, a local attorney assisting the group. “Ecotopia will ask that those using the land contribute to it in a way that helps to preserve it in its natural state. This will help educate people in its proper use and contribute to the enjoyment of all.”
Lovelace explained that the focus is on allowing locals access first. A structure — as yet undefined — will allow visitors to donate time, money, materials or in some other way trade for access to the Matilija hot springs. “And if you are old or infirm and cannot meet (those requests), we’ll figure something out,” he added.
This is not the first time the springs have been given a rest.
The hot springs have gone through many owners over the past 100 years, with periods when it was closed, and others where the public had free access. At a recent Ecotopia community meeting, Deva Temple, who is working with Ecotopia, told the story of the elderly woman who owned the land in the 1970s. The woman was so distraught over the crowds and their raucous behavior that she brought in bulldozers to push boulders into the springs, and had the area cemented over. A few large storms eventually broke some of the cement away. “When I was in high school, we would go and sit in the hot springs under large overhangs of cement,” remembered Temple.
The hot springs “move, change location, shift over property boundaries,” said Sean Goddard, Lovelace’s stepbrother and co-founder of Ecotopia. He tells how the springs dried up at the spot where the cement was, and moved upriver a bit to the current location, which was the historic location of the springs when the Chumash would come to the springs for rituals and births. Indeed, many feel a deep connection with the hot springs — which is why those at Ecotopia feel their actions are so vital.
Even in the three months since the springs have been closed to the public, the land is renewing itself, said Temple. “It is amazing to see the land clean. The moss growing on the rocks and the dragon flies laying eggs in the water.”
“I remember when I was little at the springs, the sulphur balloons, the crystals that would form on the rocks above the springs. They crumble when they are touched. They are forming again,” Goddard noted.
“The way the hot springs had been used before Ecotopia was stewarding the land was leading to many dangerous situations,” said Auric. “There had been reports of an increasing and alarming rate of theft. There had been reports of violence. There was broken glass in the hot springs. There was defecation and urination in the watershed. Ecotopia intends to allow use of the land in such a way that many of these problems will be eliminated.”
Captain David Kinney, of the Ojai Police Department, said trailhead create an increased crime area. “As far as I know, they (reported crime levels) were the same as at any trailhead.”
But as things return to their former state, questions have been raised by a small group of Ojai Valley residents about whether the public has an existing legal right to access that land, and if the efforts of Ecotopia will lead to the public forfeiting those rights if they exist.
“The running water of a natural stream is the property of the public,” states section 1.0 of the Summary of California Water Rights, printed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But it’s not as simple as that, asserted Auric. “The law surrounding public use of private land is not straightforward,” he said. “The proper terminology when considering public use of private property is ‘dedication,’ not a public prescriptive easement.”
According to a fact sheet from the Resources Agency of the State of California, “Prescriptive rights refer to public rights that are acquired over private lands through use … The public may have the right to use the property by permission of the owner, or the public may acquire the right through use of the property without permission.”
In California, for the public to assert prescriptive rights — which may lead to an implied “dedication” — public use without the landowners’ consent must continue for five years. During those five years, the public’s use must have been “substantial … and continual, though it need not be continuous.” Other criteria for public prescriptive rights include “the actual or presumed knowledge of the owner” of the public’s use and that the owner did not make “significant objection or bona fide attempts” to stop or prevent such use.
It is worthy of note, too, that in these cases, the final destination of the public is generally located on and in public land — not private land, as is the case of the Matilija hot springs. Because the public wants to access a waterway located on private property, that may affect the validity of any claim of public easement rights.
“It’s my position that the public does not have a prescriptive easement” to access the hot springs or swimming hole, said Lovelace. “If they did, it would not support what we are trying to do. Of course people can dispute that. I have supported similar efforts in the valley before.”
Lovelace said he has approached the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (OVLC) to explore how it might work with Ecotopia in its efforts to preserve the hot springs. Those talks are ongoing.
“The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy steers clear of adversarial situations when it comes to access,” said Greg Gamble, director of OVLC. “We work with property owners on a voluntary basis, and we don’t participate in any action against their will, even if there is a legal basis, it’s just not our style.”
To sign up to receive Ecotopia’s newsletter, which includes invitations to meetings and work/play days on the land visit www.ojaihotsprings.com.
Aug. 6, 2013
By Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
Bees as an ideal pet? For most people, bees would not be in the top five, or even top 10, as a favorite pet. But ask Katie Metzger, and she’ll give you many reasons why they should be.
“They are mesmerizing, I think, to everyone,” she says. “I have a distinct image from when I was 8 years old, visiting my uncle’s property in Santa Barbara, where he grew avocados and kiwis. And he had bees. I can see him in my mind today, smoking the hives. It was fascinating to me. It planted a seed.”
Many years later, Metzger discovered a swarm in the watermain box at her house. “I called the water company,” she says, “and again I have the image clearly in my mind of them coming and spraying Round-Up, killing the bees. It was so sad to me. I was horrified. That planted a seed too.”
The third seed came after she attended a Food For Thought screening of “Queen of the Sun.”
“After the movie, a bunch of us were standing outside, feeling that we had to do something,” she says. “We were lucky that Glenn Perry (of GlenHeaven Propolis) was here, and we formed the Ojai Valley Bee Club. We have been learning and growing for about three years. The more you learn, the more you marvel at these amazing bees.”
Three years later, Metzger keeps five hives, two at a ranch on Highway 33 not far from the Deer Lodge and three on a farm on Baldwin Road. One of her hives is a group that was removed from Meiners Oaks Elementary School in the past year.
“Ideally I would have them at my house, so I could hang out with them every day,” says Metzger, who has been an Ojai Valley resident for 11 years and a Meiners Oaks resident for the past six. “They are awesome pets. They essentially take care of themselves. If you only come every few weeks, they’ll be just fine.”
Metzger, however, likes to visit her hives more often. During her visits, she runs through a checklist to make sure her “pets” are healthy. She checks the water barriers to keep the ants away — “The bees will just leave if ants overrun a hive,” she explains — and also surrounds the hive boxes with cinnamon, which ants don’t like.
Then Metzger inspects the hives to make sure they are healthy. She looks for a good “brood pattern” — where the eggs are laid — keeps an eye out for the destructive Varroa mite.
Then, it’s time for the smoke. She scoops pine needles and dry grass off the ground, puts them in the metal smoking can, then lights it carefully with a match. The shape of the can be easily directed around the seams in the top and sides of the bee’s hives.
The hypnotic sound of the hand-operated bellows — sucking in air and pumping the smoke out — adds to the mesmerizing effect as the smoke spreads over and into the hives.
When the smoke starts filtering in, “The bees will gorge on the honey. It’s a natural response to smoke,” explains Metzger. “If they were in a natural hive, and a wildfire was coming, they would gorge on the honey so they would have the reserves to fly away and start a new hive away from the fire.”
While the bees feast on the honey, Metzger climbs into her bee suit — white protective pants, jacket, screen hood and gloves. She uses a hive tool (a special type of knife) and pries up the cover of the hives. If there is a lot of propolis — the glue-like substance the bees use when they are building their hive — she knows the bees are doing well.
The first hive she opens has a fair amount of propolis. And the first frame she pulls out is a brood frame. The pattern is all right in her assessment, although not super.
“The drought is really affecting the bees this year,” Metzger says. “The drought is a big problem for the bees. There just aren’t a lot of flowers, and the blooming season is so short. Some neighborhoods like the Arbolada, where people water their flowers, are great for the bees. Bee keepers in the Arbolada tend to have a lot more honey.”
This year, she’s had to feed her bees a sugar-water mixture to supplement their natural food supply; it’s not ideal, but does help.
As she inserts the hive tool into the next hive, she notices a difference. “Oh, there is a lot more propolis. See, I have to really pry it off,” she says excitedly. She has to work the tool a bit to release the top of the hive.
“Oh, this one has honey, it’s heavy,” she says with a smile. “Oh, hurray, look at all that honey. This is Christmas honey!” She points out the honey; the brood frame was a darker color than the honey frame. She checks a few more frames, then carefully replaces them.
So how does one get started into all of this? “You just have to get your feet wet. No matter how many books you read or movies you see, you just have to start and learn by doing,” Metzger says.
A good place to start: pop in to a meeting of the Ojai Valley Bee Club, which is open to keepers as well as those simply interested in bees. Tomorrow, at 6 p.m. the club will show the film “More than Honey,” at Glenn Perry’s home at 143 N. Encinal Ave. Normally, the club meets the second Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. at The Farmer & The Cook, 339 W. El Roblar Drive.
The OVBC is collaborating with Ojai Valley Green Club and Transition to Organics to have the film shown at a larger venue in September.
For more information on the club, search Facebook for “Ojai Valley Bee Club.”
Aug. 6, 2013
By Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai Community Development Director Rob Mullane, AICP, tendered his resignation to the city of Ojai Friday. Mullane was appointed to his post March 12, 2012, and was the first full-time Community Development Director the City had in two years. He leaves Ojai Aug. 22 to begin his new role as Community Planning and Building Director for the city of Carmel.
“Rob did an excellent job on many assignments here, particularly with the (cycle four) Housing Element that had been bogged down for several years, and on the Historical Building issue, which was also a challenge,” noted Ojai City Manager Rob Clark. “The Historic Preservation Commission is very happy with the result.”
Ojai’s Community Development Department recently hired part-time Assistant Planner Heather Waldstein to help with the department’s workload, and consultant John Douglas, AICP, to assist the city with the state-mandated cycle five Housing Element Update, which must be submitted to the State before Oct. 15. Despite the impending deadline, Clark said he does not anticipate Mullane’s resignation negatively impacting the city staff’s workload or ability to meet deadlines.
“There should be no impact on the Cycle Five Housing Element, because our new consultant is moving forward with that,” Clark said. “Ojai Planning Commission will be reviewing it and making recommendations next Friday. Also, I will be appointing an interim community development director to keep the most important projects going until we are able to recruit a permanent replacement for Rob. I would expect it to take four to six months to complete the recruitment process for the permanent director.”
In the meantime, Clark said discussions are underway as to who will bridge the gap temporarily.
“The process for (selecting) the interim director is very informal,” Clark elaborated. “There are a number of retired planners who are willing to work on a temporary basis and who bring a lot of expertise to the table. I have had some discussions already. Hopefully I will be able to make an announcement about this soon. It would be ideal to have an interim director in place soon after the 22nd so that we do not lose too much momentum. I think that is possible.”
Ventura County Clerk Recorder/Registrar of Voters Mark A. Lunn announced that Aug. 12 is the deadline to register to vote in the Aug. 27 Casitas Municipal Water District, Community Facilities District Special Tax Indebtedness and Appropriations Limit Election — also known as Measure V.
“The deadline to register to vote in this election is Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 — less than one week away,” said Lunn. “I encourage all voters who have moved or legally changed their name to re-register to vote as soon as possible to ensure that their voice is heard and their vote gets counted.”
Voters can visit www.RegisterToVote.ca.gov to re-register to vote online. Residents may also register in person at the Ventura County Elections Division, Government Center Hall of Administration, 800 S. Victoria Ave. in Ventura. Office hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays.
Registration forms are also available throughout the county at city halls, post offices, libraries, chambers of commerce and fire stations. Completed voter registration forms must be postmarked by Aug. 12 for the voter to cast a ballot in the Measure V election.
For more information, visit the Elections Division website at http://venturavote.org or call the Elections Division at 654-2664.
Some Ojai precincts have been assigned new polling places for this election. Only three of the five normal polling places will be open and some walk-in voters will receive mail-in ballots instead.
The three polling places that will be open for voting Aug. 27 are the Ojai United Methodist Church at 120 Church Road, The Gables of Ojai at 701 Montgomery St. and the First Baptist church at 930 Grand Ave. Early, walk-in voting is available now through election day at the County Election Division office in Ventura.
Aug. 1, 2013
Tim Dewar, firstname.lastname@example.org
With sample ballots already in the hands of Ojai voters and mail-in ballots on their way, Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) officials are working to lessen possible confusion about the Aug. 27 Measure V election.
Because six precincts have too few voters to qualify for polling place voting (state law puts the minimum number of 250 voters per precinct) approximately 520 voters in those precincts will receive mail-in ballots, according to Tracy Saucedo, assistant registrar of voters. Some of those, she explained, may not be expecting to vote by mail so no one should disregard anything they receive from the Elections Department.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were 4,774 voters registered within the Community Facilities District. Of those, Saucedo explained, 2,399 should receive mail-in ballots this week. She could not determine how many of those had not requested mail-in ballots.
“In the case of statewide election, there would normally be five polling places within the CFD jurisdictional boundaries,” explained CMWD attorney Robert Krimmer. “Because fewer voters will be voting in this election, the elections department established three polling places in order to reduce costs and manpower requirements.”
Polling places that were consolidated into another location are the Ojai Presbyterian Church and Chaparral Auditorium. Those who normally vote at the Ojai Presbyterian Church will vote at the Gables of Ojai at 701 N. Montgomery St. and those who normally vote at Chaparral Auditorium will be voting at the First Baptist Church at 930 Grand Ave.
Although it had contained outdated information as late as Wednesday, the county’s election webpage now contains information relating to the Measure V election. Visit goo.gl/4eIa0e to register to vote (before Aug. 12), view a sample ballot or determine whether you will vote by mail or where your polling place will be.
Editor’s note: This story was revision Aug. 6, 2013 at 3:03 p.m. to reflect a change in the voter registration deadline.
Aug. 1, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
By the end of this year, the U.S. Senate may take a vote on a bill bearing the names of two Ojai girls. Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation voted unanimously to send the bill — the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2013 — to a floor vote.
“It sailed through committee with no amendments,” said Cally Houck from Washington, D.C. Tuesday. “It’s looking real good!”
The Ojai mom has been pushing for rental car safety reform since the 2004 death of her two daughters, Nordhoff High School graduates Raechel and Jacqueline Houck.
The sisters, ages 20 and 24, died while driving a PT Cruiser rented from Enterprise Rent-A-Car. It had been recalled for a power steering hose defect that hadn’t been repaired, and as a result, the car lost control, caught fire, and slammed head-on with a semi-truck.
Cally Houck praised the Senate Committee members for their work on this and other bills Tuesday. “Today, everyone who’s even been frustrated because it’s so complicated to get things done — today, they would be amazed,” she said. “It’s so the opposite of that here.”
“We still have more work to do,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (C.A.R.S.). “But this is a really strong indication that there’s a lot of support for this bill.”
The Houck bill is sponsored by U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and would “close a loophole in safety standards by requiring rental car companies to ground recalled vehicles as soon as they receive a safety recall notice and prohibit them from being rented or sold until they are fixed,” according to an email from Sen. Boxer’s office.
Car dealerships must fix recalled cars before selling them, proponents argue, so the bill would simply require rental companies to be held to the same standards.
“This bill will protect our families by keeping vehicles under safety recall off our roads, and I will be working hard to ensure its passage by the full Senate,” said Boxer.
Under the bill’s current wording, when rental companies receive a recall notice, they would be required to ground those vehicles within 24 hours (or 48 hours, if the recall involves more than 5,000 vehicles in their fleet), and fix the cars before renting them out again. The companies, like other car owners, would get funds to correct the recalled parts from the automobile manufacturers. The bill would also give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration authority over rental car companies’ safety practices.
Rental car companies originally opposed the legislation, but have since come out in support of it. “Hertz supports efforts to prohibit car rental companies from renting or selling recalled cars if they haven’t been repaired,” said Hertz Car Rental, in a prepared statement. “The major companies do an excellent job handling recalls, and consumers should have confidence that the cars they drive are safe; this legislation will help improve the public’s perception of our industry’s commitment to safety.”
Now that the rental car bill is out of the Senate Committee, Houck and her supporters will begin the push to get more support from U.S. senators. “One step at a time,” she acknowledged, “but this is a big deal!”
“This is a huge step forward in taking unsafe rental cars off the road for good,” said Schumer. “We need to bring this common sense legislation up for a vote in the Senate and get a bill to the president’s desk as quickly as possible.”
July 30, 2013
By Monica Lara
The trial for accused murderer Alex Medina, 18, that was supposed to start Monday, was postponed again. After both the defense and prosecution requested more time it was moved to Sept. 3, but after four years is now facing a time crunch.
Both sides now hope to conclude what could be a six-week trial before presiding Superior Court Judge James Cloninger leaves for vacation in October.
“It needs to get done before (Cloninger leaves),” said Robyn Bramson, one of Medina’s defense team members. “We can’t have a hiatus in the middle.”
The main reason Cloninger granted Monday’s delay was to allow more time to prepare evidence and obtain possible witnesses for the trial.
During the discovery period, Medina’s defense team shared with the prosecution a report containing an analysis of Medina’s mental condition. So Monday, the prosecution requested time to have its own psychologist evaluate Medina.
For that to happen, both sides agreed to return to court Thursday to hash out the details of the examination and possibly schedule an evidentiary hearing on the matter.
Thomas Dunlevy, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case, is confident the whole process and examination can happen before Sept. 3. “It’s a fairly firm date, but it depends on the trials behind ours,” Dunlevy said.
The defense team, meanwhile, requested the postponement because they had witnesses with scheduling conflicts.
Legal requirements dictate that the trial begin no later than Sept. 30.
Earlier in the year, the defense team had another of its cases go to trial causing one delay. On the other side of the aisle, two deputy district attorneys have cycled through as Medina’s prosecutors, each of whom required more time to become acquainted with the case.
Medina has been waiting for his case to go to trial for more than four years. He was arrested in April 2009 for allegedly stabbing and killing 16-year-old Seth Scaminach at a house party in the 2400 block of Maricopa Highway.
Medina was 14 years old at the time of his arrest. He was housed in the county’s juvenile center until he turned 18 in December 2012. He was transferred to the county’s main jail this year.
He is being tried as an adult for first-degree murder and multiple gang-related charges.
Medina has pleaded not guilty.
July 30, 2013
Commentary by Tim Dewar, Ojai Valley News publisher
Most Ojaians will have an important decision to make in August.
Measure V will ask voters whether they think Golden State Water Company should continue to provide service to nearly 2,900 homes or whether those customers are willing to foot the bill for an attempted buyout by the Casitas Municipal Water District.
I have made it my policy to limit the number of times I interject my thoughts onto the editorial page, preferring instead to let our readers use the space for issues that are of importance to them. This, however, is one of those defining moments that our community seems so adept at attracting. Because mail-in ballots are now in the hands of voters, the time to do it is now.
Should we vote yes or will we be better off with the status quo? This is a difficult question to answer and will depend on the individual voter’s situation and which of the many facets of this situation are most important to them.
This is not an issue like the Weldon Canyon landfill, where the impact of having a landfill at the entrance to our valley would have been felt equally by almost everyone. Therefore, to simply say vote yes or vote no would be a disservice to some no matter which recommendation we made.
What we do know is that people are tired of paying higher prices for the same water as others in the valley. To those, I would say vote yes on Measure V. Casitas has consistently had lower rates and much smaller increases than Golden State and that will, in all likelihood, continue into the the future. GSWC is free to propose as many “improvements” to our system as the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will allow. We will reimburse GSWC for every penny it spends on those improvements (as we should), but we will also pay a guaranteed rate of return in the neighborhood of 8 percent. Let’s not forget that the CPUC will continue to get its 1.5 percent share from every Ojai water bill on top of that. The more projects the CPUC approves, the more money GSWC and the CPUC make off our backs.
We know how much CMWD would put in to repairing our antiquated system, because they have already factored that into the bond amount and because the CPUC is not involved, those projects would cost a minimum of 9.5 percent less. I also have serious doubts that a for-profit company that makes more money for its shareholders when it spends more money, is going to be as careful when it comes to bidding jobs as a locally-controlled water district whose directors have to answer directly to their customers. The multi-million dollar settlement Golden State was ordered to pay customers for giving highly inflated, no-bid contracts to one of its vendors proves not only that this is a possibility, but that it is GSWC’s history.
Many have complained about poor service, a crumbling infrastructure that has admittedly been ignored and a lack of real input in the rate-setting process. We would also encourage them to vote yes on Measure V.
Looking back at Golden State’s record of capital improvements, it is easy to see that fixing the system didn’t really become a big priority until around the time the folks from Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water entered the picture.
Let’s put aside the cost of the bond to individual customers for a moment. This is probably the factor that most will use to tip the scales one way or the other, but it shouldn’t be the only factor.
There are those concerned about having a Mello-Roos bond attached to their property. To them I can say that in my discussions with bankers, Mello-Roos legal experts and others throughout the state, the impacts — if any — would be minor. You will NOT have to pay the bond in full if you sell your home. It will NOT make banks less likely to lend to someone who wants to purchase your home should you decide to sell. It will NOT impact your credit rating negatively unless you default on all of your property taxes. The only impact I have been able to find is that some borrowers who might be on the border of qualifying to purchase a particular home might not because the additional property taxes would make their monthly payments too high. A borrower can try to argue that the difference will be more than offset by the savings in their water bill, but because a lender has no way to limit the amount of water a borrower can use, it is not a quantifiable argument.
So, who should vote no on Measure V?
Those receiving ratepayer assistance will lose that benefit. All ratepayers throughout Golden States’ service areas are charged an additional fee to subsidize low-income users. Casitas does not offer this program. If those customers are being subsidized for more than two-thirds of their GSWC bill (the current difference between both company’s rates) and paying the difference would place their family in financial jeopardy, they will want to consider voting no.
Ratepayers with larger meters, who have reduced their water usage to such a degree that the savings in water costs will not immediately make up for the increase in property taxes, will have a more complicated decision to make — a decision that should be made only AFTER they have put their actual usage amounts into the rate comparison calculator at goo.gl/01usv and after consulting a tax professional to see what part of the bond may be deductible on their taxes — another potential savings that should be factored in.
If an individual ratepayer knows, after that, they will not save money and will likely be in danger of losing their home because of an inability to pay the additional property tax, and if none of the other reasons for supporting a change is important to them, then of course they should vote no. From all indications, however, this number will be very small and if most customers do not save money the first year, they will after five years, or at least during some point in the 30-year bond period.
What about landlords who own multiple rental properties? If they pay the water bill for their tenants, they would see the savings just as if they lived on the property. If their tenants pay their own utilities, the landlords will pay the bond without benefit of the immediate savings on water. In this case, a rent increase (ranging from $29 a month for apartments to $174 a month for properties on more than an acre) to cover the additional bond amount would likely be needed. In most cases, this amount would be offset by the two-thirds decrease in the tenant’s water bill.
While there will likely be a few individuals who should vote no, institutionally, a yes vote, in the words of Ojai F.L.O.W., is a no-brainer. The city of Ojai and the Ojai Unified School District stand to save hundreds of thousands of dollars very early on if Measure V is approved. This is money that will stay in the community and could reduce the need to seek further tax increases to help them. Non-profit organizations that own property within the service area would be exempt from the bond as well, so they would benefit substantially from a yes vote.
Is Measure V right for everyone? No. Is it right for most? Absolutely.
Should Golden State Water Company do the right thing and sell its Ojai service area for a fair price without adding millions of dollars in unnecessary legal costs to the purchase so each and every customer could save money? That is what I am calling on them to do now. Do I think they will? Unfortunately, I do not.
June 25, 2013
Amber Lennon, OVN correspondent
After years in acrobatics performing with Cirque de Soleil and tours with high profile artists including Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue, Terry Kvasnik, aka the “Flipping Monk, landed in Ojai with a vision of sharing his talents to help children recognize their potential through movement.
He grew up in Manchester, England tumbling and training in competitive gymnastics from the age of 3. As a teenager, he began learning break dancing and earned a black belt in the Ma’at system of martial arts. To attain that level, Kvasnik was required to teach and mentor younger martial arts students, and this experience became the foundation of his desire to work with children.
He then joined a performance team aimed at inspiring and engaging underprivileged youth in the streets of Manchester.
“The (acrobatic) skills are secondary to the teachings of community, personal strength, self-confidence and the importance of quieting the mind,” explained Kvasnik. “These principles still remain as my primary inspiration and motivation for all that I do.”
Around that time, his career in performance arts blossomed. He was invited on a European tour with Minogue. Kvasnik said the world of stage lights and huge audiences was exhilarating and allowed him to demonstrate his acrobatic skills, as well as the centering and deep breathing techniques he had learned in training. “Plus it made my parents proud,” he mused.
The next few years were punctuated by busy performance schedules and periodic visits to Manchester, where he continued working with younger students in the marital arts community. It wasn’t until he left for a two-year run with Cirque de Soleil’s show ‘KA’ in Las Vegas that he realized the importance of the bonds he had created with his students back in Manchester. “Of course I missed my family and friends, but what I really was missing was the connection with the kids I had been working with and seeing their progressions,“ he noted.
This seed of inspiration remained underground while he juggled work opportunities in stunt, TV and film, as well as a world tour with Britney Spears and yet another Cirque de Soleil show. Kvasnik said he was grateful for these lucrative and professionally expansive opportunities, but something within him longed for a deeper sense of purpose beyond his own personal gain.
After spending time in Yucatan with a Mayan elder, who added to his knowledge of energetic movement, Kvasnik had a breakthrough moment that synthesized all his training and experience into a meaningful new path. “I went to the Yucatan thinking I was going to figure out what I was going to do next in my life, and as the plane landed back in Los Angeles, an awareness landed within me,” he recalled. “I asked myself, what do I love to do? Of course, working with children! It connected all the dots, where I’ve come from, where my heart is, and it’s something that feels worthwhile to do.”
Kvasnik had already fallen in love with Ojai on several previous trips to the area, and after a few days back in Los Angeles, he decided to relocate. Now in addition to teaching at Ventura’s Airealistic Circus and Flying School, he is offering free introductory workshops for kids in Ojai that combine his accumulated knowledge of gymnastics, acrobatics, martial arts, dance and mindful movement techniques. He hopes to capture children’s imaginations and inspire their potential with his “monkey tricks,” while also imparting some “monk” methods to strengthen and balance their minds.
The next free workshop will be held Aug. 10 from 10 a.m. to noon in Libbey Park.
Find out more about Kvasnik’s workshops by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting his Facebook page “Flipping Monk forum.”
To get a look at the “Monk” in acrobatic action, visit www.flippingmonk.com.
July 23, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
The Ojai-based National Disaster Search Dog Foundation got a big boost in its fundraising efforts this month with a $1.5-million donation from the Wendy P. McCaw Foundation.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” said NDSDF founder Wilma Melville.”They have funded us before, but we didn’t specifically go to them this time (to ask for funding). So that’s why this was such a nice surprise.”
The donation bumped NDSDF’s current fundraising total to more than $15.6 million — a big step closer to its goal of $18.5 million. The funds are being used to construct a massive, one-of-a-kind training facility — a place, according to a recent NDSDF press release, “where rescued dogs are trained to become rescuers, and where America’s search teams will get the advanced training they need for the most challenging disaster deployments.”
With the latest funds, the foundation will be able to complete construction on several buildings and areas within its 127-acre property in Santa Paula’s Wheeler Canyon: the Disaster Training Zone, Disaster Dome, Handlers Lodge, Welcome Center, infrastructure and roads.
Melville is specially excited about the Disaster Dome. “It’s one of our most important buildings,” she said. It will be an environmentally-controlled building and look a lot like a Hollywood movie set, complete with moveable props that can be set up in countless configurations so dogs in training will always have a new challenge.
But the best part of the dome, Melville said, is that it can be completely blacked out, and the weather controlled, so that teams can simulate climates and times of day. “We can have the ‘moon’ go into any phase we want,” she said, “and we can set the temperature, have a breeze, change the humidity. We can make it rain and we can make snow flurries. And we can set the props however we want too.”
Being able to simulate so many different search environments will allow the dogs — and just as importantly, the handlers — will be ready for any type of deployment. Even in the middle of the summertime in Southern California, teams will be able to experience searching for survivors in, for example, the cold darkness of Japan at night after an earthquake. They can also simulate the high humidity and heat of Haiti, or the very wet situations following a hurricane or mudslide.
Past and current search teams have trained wherever they could — construction sites, rubble piles, dumps, firefighter training facilities and even Universal Studios. “But there are few places we can hide survivors (for the dogs to search out),” Melville said. “And we can only bury them a few inches down. That’s just not good enough; that’s not reality. At this place, we can have them at 15 feet deep … that is reality.”
NDSDF will breaking ground this summer on the Canine Pavilion, which will have kennels for up to 40 dogs, as well as classrooms for handler training and ongoing education, staff offices, lodging for dog caregivers, and a veterinary area. The on-site kennels will allow for lots more training time, said Melville. “Right now, the dogs are boarded in a private kennel in Santa Paula,” she said. But even though it’s only about 10 minutes away from the training center, it still shaves of about an hour of every day. The training center kennels will also mean “less stress on them without the daily trips, and there will be fewer dogs around them in the kennels.”
Two other training areas have recently been completed on the property, and are already being used by handlers and search dogs in training. The Wendy P. McCaw Foundation Training Grounds, an 11,200 square-foot area that is shaded so that teams can train all day long in comfort, and the Newman’s Own Foundation Search Team Showgrounds feature 15,300 square feet of room for team demonstrations.
The training center, which Melville says is laid out like a campus and “Is like a little city,” is slated for completion in fall 2014, although that depends on funds raised.
“These disasters, they don’t go away,” Melville said. “Natural disasters and accidents are always going to happen.”
NDSDF teams have trained 144 canine-firefighter search teams and responded to 96 disasters, including the Oklahoma City Bombing, World Trade Center attack, Hurricane Katrina, La Conchita mudslides, L.A. train derailments, the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and most recently the tornadoes in Texas and Oklahoma.
Melville said, “In light of our June deployment to the deadly Moore, Okla. tornado, we are humbled and honored by the support of so many donors who believe in our mission of service to our local community, and communities throughout the nation. (We) can now forge ahead to complete the construction phase of the National Training Center and bring new disaster preparedness resources to the country.”
Visit www.searchdogfoundation.org for more information on the NDSDF.
Due to extremely dry vegetation and increasing fire danger, Los Padres National Forest officials have announced that Level IV fire restrictions went into effect Tuesday. The following restrictions will be rigorously enforced until the end of the declared fire season:
• Wood and charcoal fires are prohibited in all areas of Los Padres National Forest including designated campfire use sites; however, persons with a valid California campfire permit are allowed to use portable stoves and lanterns using gas, jellied petroleum or pressurized liquid fuel within the designated campfire use sites only.
California campfire permits are available for free download from the Los Padres National Forest website (www.fs.usda.gov/lpnf). You must clear all flammable material for a distance of 5 feet in all directions from your camp stove, have a shovel available and ensure that a responsible person attends the stove at all times when it is in use.
• Recreational target shooting is prohibited in all areas of the National Forest unless specifically authorized by a special use permit with the forest; however, hunting with a valid state of California hunting license during open hunting season is exempt from this restriction.
• Smoking is prohibited in all areas of the national forest except within an enclosed vehicle, building or designated campfire use site.
• Fireworks are prohibited at all times and in all locations within Los Padres National Forest.
• Operating or using any internal or external combustion engine without a spark-arresting device properly installed, maintained and in effective working order on roads and trails specifically designated for such use. (This restriction is in effect year-round.)
For more information regarding current conditions and safety tips, visit www.fs.usda.gov/lpnf or a Forest Service office.
July 18, 2013
Tiobbe Barron, OVN correspondent
Proposed buildings more than 25 feet tall, in Ojai’s residential areas, would be flagged for review rather than have a strict 25-foot height limit if the City Council accepts a recommendation reached by the Ojai Planning Commission Wednesday.
During the last state-mandated Housing Element cycle, the City Council and members of the public expressed consternation over the requirement that cities allow potential affordable housing projects under a zoning overlay that gives developers the ability to build to three stories. With the stated aim of protecting Ojai’s hallmark vistas and small-town feel, Council members directed city staff to investigate building height restrictions and subsequent Zoning Code modifications. Currently, the Ojai Zoning Code allows a maximum building height of 30 to 35 feet, depending upon a building’s zoning and use.
“I’m pretty good with what we have on the books right now,” said Commissioner Kathleen Nolan. “I think detail could be almost limiting, if we did have to go in and proscribe what features and heights would be allowable.”
“I can agree with that,” contributed Commissioner Steven Foster. “To limit ourselves to a certain height is a little onerous.”
Commission Vice Chair John Mirk pointed out that on numerous Victorian homes, ceilings and rooflines can be quite high, with a very aesthetically-pleasing building as the end result. Mirk also offered the example of the city of Carmel, which uses the average roofline in city planning, as opposed to a flat building height limit.
“If we reduce the height limit below 30 feet, then it’s going to become more complicated,” agreed the newest Commissioner, Orval Osborne. “The process we have now is the design review process. My problem with that is it’s so flexible that is doesn’t provide any certainty. This may be where City Council is coming from.”
Nolan added that any specific determinations, such as height limits, should be ideally decided on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.
Community Development Director Rob Mullane informed the Commission that Council has allocated $30,000 for neighborhood planning and those discussions will likely begin before summer is over.
Mullane also told the Commission that currently, as an administerial interpretation of the Zoning Code, his office flags all project proposals for buildings taller than 20 feet — regardless of the number of proposed stories — to send to the Planning Commission for review. He offered the option of codifying this informal, Council-sanctioned arrangement as a more permanent protective measure.
Mullane also noted that a few recently approved project proposals have features that violate the set height limits, such as the cupola tower on the Ojai Valley Community Hospital remodel, yet the Planning Commission did not find these projects objectionable.
Osborne, Nolan, Nicklin and Foster stated their preference of codifying a 25-foot height “trigger” to send proposals through the design review process, rather than modifying existing height limits.
The Commission also heard presentations by Gerard Kapuscik, with the Ventura Watershed Protection District and Bill O’Brien, with the Waste to Energy group, regarding locating a bio-digester in the Ojai Valley.
Kapuscik, Project Manager with the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, gave the Commission a presentation on the Ventura River Watershed Bio-digester Feasibility Study, conducted by his organization in conjunction with Waste to Energy.
“The intent is to look at the potential feasibility of the use of organic waste in the Ventura River watershed,” said Kapuscik. “Waste is nothing more than another resource that hasn’t found a useful home.”
Essentially, horse and livestock manure in the area has contributed to excessive nutrient content in the Ventura River watershed. One possible solution could be to build a facility that processes this manure, using methane to create energy that creates a byproduct that can be readily sold as soil amendment.
“We have found 50 total tons per day (of applicable manure) could support a facility like this,” said Kapuscik.
With this, Kapuscik estimates such a facility could potentially create energy to power approximately 200 homes for a year. What remains to be seen is whether such an undertaking could prove profitable if ranchers would be charged a $35-per-ton fee for disposal of the manure.
VWPD will be accepting public comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org until July 31. Visit www.vcwatershed.org/new to view the report.
The Ojai Planning Commission will begin discussing the current Housing Element Aug. 9, at 6 p.m. at Ojai City Hall, 401 S. Ventura St.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information.
July 16, 2013
Angelique LaCour, OVN correspondent
Sipping tea at a local coffee shop, Darian O’Brien spoke softly about her struggle with grief since losing her son, Patrick, 15, to a heroin overdose on May 22, 2010. He would have graduated from Nordhoff High School this year.
“It’s been hard, really hard. Just talking about it is outside my comfort zone because these last three years I’ve been mainly coping to just to survive and help my family deal with the overwhelming grief,” O’Brien said. “My faith has sustained me.”
O’Brien is sharing her experience in the hope that other kids’ lives may be spared. She has joined with several other mothers who have lost children to the disease of addiction by overdose and suicide to create a Memory Wall that will be exhibited at Saturday’s Battle of the Bands for Drug Awareness at Libbey Park.
“We want families to come and bring a picture or memorabilia to honor their loved ones who have died. There is such a stigma attached to drug overdose deaths, and even more to suicide,” O’Brien said. “But it can happen to anybody across all social and economic groups, at the best private schools in Ojai as well as the public schools, and the community needs to take its head out of the sand and talk about it.”
When the O’Briens learned that Patrick was using marijuana, they sought help through family counseling at Genesis, an outpatient treatment program in Ventura. Patrick was randomly drug tested and even though no “hard drugs” ever showed up, the family saw their son declining, withdrawing from his friends, and showing signs of paranoia.
“This family did the right thing taking marijuana use seriously; most don’t,” said Terry Germack, an addiction counselor with the Ventura County Drug and Alcohol program. “I hear it over and over again — it’s just pot, a harmless herb — but studies have proven that marijuana can be addictive, and once kids are using marijuana they are more than likely to move on to other drugs.”
Germack strongly encourages families that suspect their child is using drugs to forego home drug tests. “Heroin users are skilled at manipulating those urine tests with products they can buy at head shops,” Germack explained. “Take your child to a hospital for a blood test.”
According to Germack, when it comes to heroin, a user can become addicted after using it the first or second time; Germack added that it’s been proven that outpatient treatment doesn’t work for heroin addiction 99 percent of the time.
“The real problem is that access to residential long term ‘inpatient’ treatment is not available in Ventura County for either adolescents or adults,” Germack said.
Kim Armstrong, whose 24-year old son, Beau Farrar, found his way to recovery through treatment at Recovery Ranch Santa Ynez after a long struggle with addiction, spearheaded the Battle of the Bands for Drug Awareness.
“We have lost so many lives here in the Ojai Valley through overdoses of drugs or alcohol, and so many families are still suffering from the death of a loved one from this disease,” Armstrong said.
At the Battle of the Bands event, Armstrong will be signing up members to start an Ojai Valley chapter of Not One More, an organization founded by two Simi Valley mothers who lost children to heroin addiction. Not One More educates families about the hazards of heroin and other drugs and provides resources for those who may be struggling with addiction to find help and recovery.
“Addiction is a family disease,” Germack said. “Families members need to seek help for themselves, too, through organizations like Not One More and Al Anon.” Al Anon is the companion 12-step program to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Several sponsoring organizations will be on hand Saturday to provide information about addiction treatment and recovery, such as Ventura County Interface Counseling Services, Ventura County Behavioral Health for Alcohol and Drugs Program, Teen Challenge, Broadway Treatment Center, Recovery Ranch of San Ynez, Phoenix House, Reins of H.O.P.E., Action Family Counseling, and the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation.
The Battle of the Bands will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will be followed by headliner performances by Shawn Jones Roots Trio, Son To The Boy, Tommy Marsh & Bad Dog, and Alexandra & The Starlight Band from 5 to 9 p.m.
The bands competition includes three bands in the ages 12 and under division, four in the 13 to 18 division, and 10 in the adult division.
Guest speakers who have battled the disease of addiction and found recovery will be featured during the Battle of the Bands competition.
Tickets — available at www.brownpapertickets.com and Cardinali Brothers Music, 139 W. El Roblar Dr. — are $12 for kids age 17 and younger, and $22 for adults. The Ojai Valley Lions Club will be selling hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, non-alcoholic drinks, chips, snacks and candy.
Proceeds from the Battle of the Bands Festival will be used to provide scholarships for addiction recovery treatment programs through Not One More.
Visit www.ojaialano.wordpress.com for information about alcohol and drug 12-step programs in the Ojai area. Visit www.notonemore.net for details on the Simi Valley’s Not One more organization.
July 16, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
Sample ballots for the Aug. 27 Measure V water bond election in Ojai will be mailed Thursday. Why that matters to everyone who plans to vote is because only three of the normal precincts will be open for walk-in voting, which means nearly 1,750 voters who do not normally receive a mail-in ballot will get one this time.
According to a Ventura County Elections Department official, the sample ballots will be the first indication of how and where most voters will be allowed to vote.
Daniel Chavez, program supervisor with the Ventura County Elections Department, said as of Monday there were 4,779 eligible to vote in the election and 2,305 will receive mail-in ballots. Chavez added that mail-in ballots will be sent to voters July 29 and should begin arriving in the first week of August.
To pass, at least two-thirds of those voting must support the measure.
Chavez explained that because this is a local election, some precincts were too small to justify having a polling place, so the voters in those precincts will get a mail-in ballot instead. Voters in those precincts can either mail their ballot, vote in person at the Ventura County Government Center during business hours beginning July 29 or turn in their mail-in ballot election day at one of the three polling locations.
He added that sample ballots should begin arriving around July 20 and that if someone is sure they are registered but does not receive one, they should call 654-2664. “They could be a later-registered voter or the sample ballot could have gotten lost in the mail, so if they know they are registered and do not receive a sample ballot, it is a good idea to call us so we can figure out why,” Chavez explained.
The last day to register to vote in the election is prior to close of business Aug. 12. Anyone interested can visit the California Secretary of State’s website at http://registertovote.ca.gov to register online. Voter registration forms, which are available at the Government Center, must be postmarked Aug. 12 as well.
The sample ballot will also contain an impartial review of the bond election from the Ventura County Counsel’s office as well as pro and con arguments from Golden State Water Company and representatives from Ojai Friends Of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.). Visit http://www.ojaivalleynews.com/images/measurevsampleballot.pdf to view a copy of the sample ballot.
UPDATE 2 Monday 1:15 p.m.
Officials with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department have identified Ventura County resident Daniel Houfek, 42, as the man who was shot and killed in Oak View Friday evening. After a brief pursuit, Houfek allegedly pulled a gun on deputies, who fatally shot the man in the 10,000 block of Old Creek Road.
UPDATE 1 Saturday 7:30 p.m.
Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
A call about a suspicious person was what alerted police to the presence of a 42-year-old man who was killed in an officer-involved shooting Friday night on Old Creek Road near the Arnaz Girls’ Scout Camp in Oak View.
Ojai deputies from the Ventura County Sheriffs Department (VCSD) responded to a call of a suspicious person in an SUV in the area, according to Captain Don Aguilar, VCSD media relations officer.
“It was a citizen’s call reporting a suspicious character who was sitting in a vehicle,” Aguilar said. “It was out of place and they called it in to us.”
When officers located the suspect, according to a VCSD press release, he led them on a pursuit to the 10,000 block of Old Creek Road, exited his vehicle and pointed a handgun at the officers. The deputies then fired at the suspect.
The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene, however, no deputies were injured in the shooting.
It remains unclear what the suspect was doing in the area. Police continue to withhold information about his identity and place of residence until his next of kin has been notified.
“We are having trouble identifying him,” Aguilar said. “The medical examiner is trying to notify his next of kin and we won’t release his identification until that is done. It is taking longer than expected.”
ORIGINAL POST Friday 10:05 p.m.
Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
A man was killed Friday after a confrontation with Ojai deputies from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department on Old Creek Road near Oak View.
Deputies reportedly responded to a suspicious character call at 5:40 p.m. Within minutes of officers arriving at the scene, the confrontation escalated to a shooting, according to Captain Don Aguilar, Ventura County Sheriff’s Office media relations officer.
The suspect was declared dead at the scene, according to Aguilar.
As of press time, it was unknown if the deceased was a local resident or if he was carrying a weapon.
A portion of Old Creek Road remained closed Friday night as the investigation continued.
The identity of the man had not been released pending next of kin.
July 11, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Ojai City Council and the Ojai Planning Commission met Monday to discuss the upcoming 2014-2021 Housing Element. The State-mandated document details how Ojai will accommodate its “fair share” of California’s population growth, and must be submitted by Feb. 12, 2014.
For the recently-completed Housing Element — the 2008-2014 version — Ojai had to prove it has the capacity for 433 new housing units. For this latest cycle, Ojai’s allotment from the state is 371 new units.
As it was with the 2008-2014 cycle, no units need actually be built; however, the city must prove, via different housing programs, that it has the ability to build if the need arises. In order to meet the state’s deadline, the Council hired housing consultant John Douglas, AICP.
“We have John Douglas here; John has a tremendous amount of experience with housing element consultant work for other communities, including communities in Southern California and Ventura County,” said Community Development Director Rob Mullane. “I think he will serve the community very well in this capacity.”
“It’s really a special pleasure for planners to work with communities who really care about their community,” said Douglas. “I’m very much looking forward to this, and I’m very optimistic about the outcome.”
Douglas then requested that the Council and Commission members elucidate their fundamental values in moving forward on this Housing Element.
“As far as interests that I see that we need to have in our Housing Element, we need to preserve our small-town character. And that includes height limits,” offered Mayor Paul Blatz. “We are also extremely concerned with preserving our natural resources, principally our water.”
As part of the recently-completed Housing Element, Council had to designate properties for a special zoning overlay allowing the property owner to build affordable housing units. The state requires that projects under this designation not be restricted to two stories — something to which both Council and community members have voiced objections in the past.
“I’m a little frustrated that we’re doing this again, when we just finished one,” said Planning Commissioner Paul Crabtree. “Even during that, there was frustration that we were doing that, instead of the real planning that we wanted to do. I know we need to do this. I’m looking at all these meetings (scheduled to complete and review the Housing Element) and wondering if we could capture something we really want to do while we’re doing these other meetings.”
“Ojai is the second-poorest city in Ventura County,” contributed Councilwoman Betsy Clapp.
Clapp noted concern over the state’s definition of “very low income” households eligible for affordable housing, calling their numbers “laughable.” Additionally, she queried whether the state is adequately informed of the physical and economic constraints unique to this town.
“Regarding the three-story issue, (it) has the impact of not only damaging the feel of the community, but it also damages the local economy,” said Clapp. “They (tourists) come here for relief from the urbanization of the rest of the state.”
As the city of Ojai is not legally able to restrict the number of stories on applicable projects, Council members considered the idea of a height restriction of 25 feet for all new construction. While most gathered expressed a desire to protect the valley views, some felt the restriction appeared stifling.
“When I think about the city as a whole, I’d really like Ojai to remain a real dynamic, vibrant place that is able to evolve over time. A lot of the discussion I’m hearing tonight really disturbs me, because I see us sort of putting a lot of constraints on what can happen in the future,” said Commissioner John Mirk. “I’d like to keep our options fairly flexible at this point. So I’m pretty much opposed to changing our height limits.”
For yet others, affordability and accurate demographic information remain the vital issues.
“Why even have the demographic data, when my understanding is that really we’re not applying it to this cycle, but to the next cycle?” asked Councilman Severo Lara. “It seems like ‘affordability’ isn’t really capturing the real definition of what it’s supposed to. It seems like ‘affordability’ is more ‘market value,’ the way the state is putting it.”
“As a realtor, I have people coming into my office every day looking for low-income housing,” said Ojai resident Dale Hanson. “What they call ‘low-income housing’ on some of the Housing Element figures I’ve seen is really not low-income housing. And these are decent people, they’re not rag tag people.”
Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel expressed concern that the statistics — compiled by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and utilized by the California Department of Housing and Community Development to determine Ojai’s requisite numbers — is out-of-date and inaccurate altogether, and perhaps should be corrected prior to adjusting Ojai’s zoning codes.
“When SCAG compiles their report specific for Ojai, is that just taking a percentage of 10 cities plus the county area and applying that to Ojai, or is it actually specific to Ojai?” asked Strobel. “SCAG is going to use that information to determine Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers for Ojai. So what I’d like to know is, if, for Ojai, our four-and-a-half square miles, are we dealing with accurate information? And if not, what can we do about it?’
Douglas and Mullane both emphasized the importance of city staff working with the group to ensure accurate information, while city manager Rob Clark cautioned that change through the group would come about incrementally.
The next step in the Housing Element process is a public discussion via the Planning Commission. Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for specific meeting dates and to view pertinent Housing Element documents.
July 11, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Back in May, the Ojai City Council realized that many banners around town — such as those used by the Ojai Art Center and the Ojai Valley Museum — often violate the city’s 30-day cap in the municipal code. So Tuesday night, they decided to change the code, voting unanimously to allow exemptions for groups “whose principal activity is the presenting or sponsoring of multiple or changing events, shows, programs and activities.”
City staff reported to the Council that nonprofit organizations and local festivals are the groups that most commonly use these types of signs in Ojai. After receiving feedback from community members, Council reduced the signage fee to $25 during its June budget and fee schedule review.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting. Council was briefed by independent auditor Ronald Levy, CPA, on the city’s 2012 audited financial statements.
“Every year, the city has its financial records reviewed by an independent auditor to confirm that they are accurate, and to confirm that we have the proper controls in place,” explained City Manager Rob Clark.
“You have a very good staff, very helpful. We asked a lot of questions, and they were very helpful getting us answers,” said Levy. “The only concern on this was the Redevelopment Agency went away in January, so it was a little hard to compare some of the numbers.”
Levy explained that while he did not examine every city transaction, he looked at sample transactions and confirmed amounts with the applicable banks to verify that “things are being done correctly.” By and large he was pleased with the city’s financial management, finding fault only with the lack of accurate recordkeeping of water bottle sales on Ojai Day, a task performed by volunteers perhaps undertrained in keeping receipts.
“Your staff has a really good feel for what’s going on,” said Levy. “We found accurate information from staff throughout the year.”
In the audit, Levy concluded by granting Ojai a “clean opinion,” the highest ranking available through a similar audit.
During time allotted for public comment at the meeting, Ojai resident Deborah Moe addressed Council regarding the skate park.
“I have gotten a lot of calls lately. I have been made aware that there are a lot of bikes and a lot of scooters in the skate park. And it doesn’t seem like this is being addressed. It’s chipping (the park). We didn’t raise the money for bikes and scooters, and there are rules posted outside the skate park saying ‘no bikes and scooters’,” said Moe. “The kids know me, and they call. The bikes and scooters are more aggressive, and some of the little guys that are skating are being pushed out … I don’t know what the answer is. I do know the rules were made, the rules were posted, but they aren’t being enforced.”
Later at the meeting, Mike Milkovich, Ventura County Fire Department chief, delivered a sobering presentation on fire prevention and the current fire season. Milkovich cited “fuels,” or local greenery, weather and topography as the main factors contributing to dangerous fire conditions locally.
“We have done a very good job protecting the city and fighting fires. With that, there is a trade-off: we have larger fuels, older fuels. And now, with the drought conditions we have, fuels that are more receptive to fire,” said Milkovich. “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ we are going to have another fire, but more ‘when’ and ‘where.’”
Milkovich emphasized the importance of public education in reducing the severity of structure damage in the event of a fire. Residents should take preventative measures, such as creating a clearance of plants around the property line, to keep structures as safe as possible. Residents can also obtain flyers on fire preparedness at any local fire station, said Milkovich.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for information on upcoming Ojai City Council meetings and topics.
July 11, 2013
Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
Superior Court Judge James Cloninger ruled this week that information appearing on Alex Medina’s MySpace account would be allowed as evidence in the now-18-year-old’s July 29 murder trial.
Medina is accused of stabbing 16-year-old Seth Scarminach to death in April 2009 at a party in Meiners Oaks.
Following Medina’s arrest, investigators accessed his page twice in 2009 — once through Medina’s account and another time by viewing his profile through one of his “friend’s” accounts.
The prosecution will be allowed to introduce into evidence a 3-minute video capture of Medina’s home page, photos and their comments. One of those photos was used to determine if a witness — who was allegedly at the party where the stabbing took place — recognized Medina.
The defense team of Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson challenged the legality of the information gathering, claiming investigators did not have clear consent to gain access — allegedly violating Medina’s Fourth Amendment rights. They sought to have the 2009 MySpace evidence suppressed. “There is no reason under the law to excuse a warrantless search,” Wippert said during closing arguments of Monday evidentiary hearing.
In 2011, investigators undertook a search and seizure by freezing Medina’s account and using a warrant. The information obtained differed between the two time periods his profile was accessed.
Cloninger ultimately denied the defense’s effort to suppress the 2009 MySpace evidence, ruling that the process was lawful because Medina was on probation at the time of the crime. Therefore, the observations were within the scope of the juvenile search terms and the information gathering was not an actual search and seizure.
“I think it was an appropriate ruling,” said deputy district attorney Thomas Dunlevy, who is prosecuting the case.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” Bramson said. “We believe it was a search.”
Medina has been in custody since his arrest in 2009. He was charged with first-degree murder and three enhancement felonies relating to gang activity, which could add to his sentence if convicted. Even though he was arrested at the age of 14, he will be tried as an adult.
Medina has pleaded not guilty.
July 9,. 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
Officials are still investigating the cause of Ojai’s Fourth of July fireworks accident which left a 32-year-old fireworks crew member seriously injured.
The Oxnard man was taken to Ventura County Medical Center following the accident Thursday night, and was transported to the Grossman Burn Center in West Hills over the weekend. He is listed in critical but stable condition, said Grossman spokeswoman Cathy Butter. Peter Melton, spokesman for California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA), said the crew member was struck by a firework that exploded, injuring the man’s left leg, left arm and face.
Held on Nordhoff High School’s baseball field, the fireworks show began at 9:15 p.m. July 4. But it was cut short just before 9:30 p.m., when at least one firework appeared to launch sideways and an explosion occurred on the ground. That explosion, and the injury of the crew member, stopped the show. A few minutes later it was announced that the show would not continue, and spectators began to leave the Nordhoff football stadium.
The area was roped off through the next morning, with officials securing the perimeter overnight and beginning their investigations. Bill Breuklander, battalion chief with the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD), said at the scene Friday morning that “live ordinances” — unexploded fireworks — were still on location, but that no detonation devices were attached to them, meaning the area was safe to the public. The ordinances have since been removed.
Right around the same time that Ojai’s show was going wrong, the Simi Valley fireworks show was also experiencing a bigger accident that resulted in 37 injuries ranging from mild to serious. The Office of the State Fire Marshal is investigating that incident, which some say was the result of malfunctioning shell. The VCFD is conducting the investigation of the Ojai incident, with the Office of the State Fire Marshal providing technical expertise. Mike Lindbery, information officer with VCFD, said details are still being collected, but that some parallels do exist between the Simi and Ojai incidents. “The source of the product that exploded has not been determined,” he said. “The parallels are that they were both 5 inch shells and exploded at ground level.”
In Ojai, “Safety is the biggest concern out there,” said Fourth of July Committee chairwoman Nancy Hill, adding that this is the first fireworks accident Ojai has had in decades. Several permits must be acquired and inspections passed before any show can be conducted. As they have always done, Hill said, the Fourth of July Committee got permits from the city of Ojai, the Ventura County Fire Department, and the state fire marshal, and had an inspection done.
Office of the State Fire Marshal website offers a long list of requirements applicants must fulfill to get the OK from that office for a fireworks show — such as inspection of all equipment, site plans, crowd control measures, proof of insurance, location of fireworks before and during the shows, detailed information about the type of fireworks and the wholesalers, and more.
“We pull our people (spectators) back, way back, further than we’re asked to,” Hill asserted. “We always have way more clearance than required.”
Lindbery said VCFD had several employees on scene in Ojai Thursday night, which is part of the permit requirements. “One engine, a battalion chief, a VCFD wildland hand crew (18), and the (fire) prevention officer,” Lindbery said. “The engine company and Lifeline treated the patient and the hand crew assisted with securing the scene.”
The Ojai fireworks operator, certified pyrotechnician Jeff Patton, was unavailable for comment as of press time. According to the Office of the State Fire Marshal website, Patton is a valid operator in the state of California to perform fireworks shows. Patton said last year in an Ojai Valley News interview that he has performed numerous fireworks shows, including the Ventura County Fair shows.
Even as VCFD and the Office of the State Fire Marshal are investigating the Ojai accident, Cal-OSHA is conducting an investigation of its own and also sent an investigator out to the scene following the accident. Melton said his agency looks after the safety of employees within the state of California, and can issue citations and stop-work orders on equipment which is determined to be unsafe in a workplace. However, fireworks shows are a bit different, and the incident is still very much under investigation, Melton noted. “We have up to six months to complete the investigation.”
As for when the VCFD might conclude its investigation, Lindbery said officials are “examining evidence collected from the scene, documentation, witness statements and any other pertinent information available. The time frame for this process is uncertain … The focus of the investigation at this point is to determine cause.”
“It’s too preliminary in the investigation process to pinpoint on any one thing,” said Dennis Mathisen, spokesman with the Office of the State Fire Marshal. The investigation “could take a week, it could take a month,” Mathisen said. “We have been actively involved since the beginning of the incident and are working as quickly as possible and as thoroughly as possible.”
July 9, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
Ojai residents who live north of Grand Avenue, including those in the areas of Del Oro Drive, Fairview Road and Foothill Road are being advised not to use tap water for cooking and drinking until tests can confirm it is safe.
Monday evening, a “construction issue” on Golden State Water Company’s (GSWC) Grand Avenue water main replacement project resulted in a loss of water pressure that lasted into the afternoon Tuesday. As of the Ojai Valley News’ print deadline, GSWC officials had not elaborated on the cause of the incident.
According to GSWC spokesperson Mitch Zak, approximately 25 percent of its Ojai service area was impacted and employees were contacting ratepayers by going door-to-door and by telephone. He said the company will continue to contact ratepayers by phone with updates until the notice is lifted.
The company posted the boil water notice on its website Tuesday. In it, GSWC stated that as a precaution, those impacted should boil water for at least one full minute before drinking or cooking with it.
“This is a precautionary measure to be taken until tests can be run to ensure the water is usable,” the notice said. “The loss of pressure issue is being resolved, and time is needed to process and receive all the test results required to ensure your water is safe to drink.”
The notice went on to say that GSWC would inform customers when the boil water notice is lifted. “We anticipate resolving the problem within 36 hours,” the notice added.
Those with questions can call GSWC at (800) 999-4033 or the California Department of Public Health at 566-1326.
June 28, 2013
Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
At her sentencing hearing in the Ventura County Superior Court Friday, Ojai resident Amber Workman was sentenced to spend 180 days in the county jail.
The 38-year-old was found guilty of embezzling money from the Ojai Eagles Youth Football organization.
“It was in the ballpark,” Julia Snyder, the deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case said of Workman’s sentence.
Her jail time is expected to start Aug. 27 with the option to qualify for work furlough, which would allow her to work during daytime and return to custody at night.
“I want her to keep her job,” Snyder said. “I want her to keep working so she can pay restitution.”
Workman’s attorney, Richard Hanawalt, had argued for a lesser sentence of 90 days in jail because she does not have a criminal history.
“I think it’s excessive considering the details of the case and the background of Workman,” Hanawalt said. “She has no history of committing a crime before or since.”
Workman was convicted of grand theft, a felony, for stealing more than $950. At the time of her arrest last June, she had been accused of stealing up to $49,000 of the non-profit organization’s money during her time as its treasurer. She held the position from January 2007 to December 2009.
Workman pleaded no contest April 30, which left it to the Superior Court Judge James Cloninger and the Ventura County Probation Department to determine the extent of her crime and her punishment.
Before announcing his decision Friday, Cloninger listened to attorneys from both sides present what they felt would be appropriate sentencing.
Hanawalt argued that the organization’s “ancient” bylines left expenditures up to interpretation, and Workman had no accounting experience.
Snyder argued that Hanawalt’s claims were not an accurate reflection of the organization.
“Most people can agree using funds for cable bills, your own expenditures, Verizon bills are not a misinterpretation,” Snyder said. “She did engage in a pattern of continuous spending and for extended period of time.”
Cloninger decided on the minimum jail time recommended by the probation department. He also ruled that in the future, she must disclose her conviction if she applies to work in a financial capacity.
“There doesn’t need to be bylaws in an organization to tell us not to steal from it,” Cloninger said in court. “180 days is appropriate.”
A restitution hearing will be scheduled to determine how much Workman will have to repay. The hearing is expected to be held within two weeks, according to Hanawalt.
June 27, 2013
Tiobbe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai’s City Council adopted its 2013-2014 budget Tuesday night, as well as its final budget for the previous year and a modified fee schedule.
“This document is a starting point for a discussion with the community and the City Council about our collective aspirations for the coming year and the years beyond. It is one of the most important policy documents that the City Council must address because it makes the choices about how the City will use its limited resources,” stated city manager Rob Clark in his budget message.
In the same statement, Clark identified assuring public safety, upgrading dilapidated infrastructure and replenishing reserves as among the top city needs to be balanced within the budget. The largest expenditures in the budget are those for police, at just over $3 million, capital improvements, at about $1.5 million, and finance, at $764,393.
Mayor Paul Blatz proposed reducing the fee for repetitive banners, such as those employed by the Ojai Art Center and Ojai Valley Museum, from $90 to $25.
“The affected organizations all agree that a fee of $25 per banner is doable and we believe reasonable,” said Ojai resident Leonard Klaif in a letter to the City Council.
The adopted fee schedule was modified to include this change.
Council also approved a five-year rolling contract with the Libbey Bowl Foundation during the same meeting.
“The city, as the manager of Libbey Bowl prior to its being rebuilt, was not collecting enough money to cover the cost of operating the bowl, and was not collecting any money at all to maintain the bowl. That’s part of the reason it deteriorated. So there was a very big concern early on about creating the conditions that would potentially alleviate that problem,” explained Clark. “So a number of decisions were made. One was to allow commercial events, which had not been allowed prior. Another was to allow sale of alcoholic beverages, which had not been allowed prior. And the third was to have a nonprofit community organization be the manager of the Bowl. In response to that, two separate, one-year interim agreements have been entered into between the City Council and the Libbey Bowl Foundation for management … When the second one-year was approved, the council also included its intent — and the foundation included their intent — to work together on a long-range agreement.”
“They have done some good things, but I don’t know that they’ve done some great things,” said Randy Haney of the Libbey Bowl Foundation.
Mayor Blatz pointed out that the contract will be evaluated annually, and the foundation’s performance is a component of that evaluation. Clark observed that in 2008, 18 events were put on at the Bowl, 2009 there were only nine events, but in the last year, the Foundation’s first year operating the facilities, 22 events were held at Libbey Bowl. Council voted to approve the contract, except Councilwoman Betsy Clapp, who voted against it.
Public Works Director Greg Grant announced Tuesday night that the Lighting and Landscaping districts created to provide necessary funding for electricity and maintenance of Ojai’s street lights are operating at a deficit.
“The Street Lighting Fund has accumulated a projected negative balance of $255,004 over the years, which we project will increase to $264,444. We are exploring options to address this situation,” said Grant in his staff report.
Three options he proposed to Council were to increase assessments, which would require voter approval, to remove certain light poles or to turn off streetlights from midnight until dawn.
“Over the life of the assessment district, the amount of money spent has exceeded the amount of money collected almost every year,” said Clark.
“Is there another mechanism to increase (the assessment), or do we need the approval of the residents?” queried Councilman Severo Lara. After Grant confirmed an increase requires property owners’ approval, he continued, “So, right now (Southern California) Edison is increasing their rates, but they don’t have to go through a process like the City does? And this is all because of Proposition 218?”
Grant answered both questions in the affirmative.
“I think we really do need to look seriously at these options,” said Councilwoman Clapp. “And I think if we were to look at these options, and make these adjustments by eliminating some light poles or turning them off from midnight till dawn, I think the biggest problem we would have in implementing something like that would be public push-back, this perception that light makes you safe.”
Lara added that working in conjunction with public law enforcement could help assuage some of said perceptions.
The Council also awarded Kim Maxwell with the Arts Commission Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in the community.
“For over 20 years, Kim has been heavily involved with the youth and the arts in Ojai as a teacher and a director. One of the very strong things about any vibrant community is our attention that we pay to culture, and also to the youth,” said Mayor Blatz. “She is one of the co-founders of Theater 150, and served as Artistic Director for 11 years. She is also one of the co-founders of the Ojai Playwrights Conference, and continues as a director of their youth programs. The sheer number of her contributions is staggering. She’s the director of 32 main stage productions, 26 benefits, 73 readings and over 2,500 pieces of original material produced in over 120 workshop productions. In addition, Kim has found time for hundreds of hours of volunteer work in the community. Her achievement more than merits the honor that we are going to confer upon her today.”
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view previous Council meetings in full, or for more information on upcoming discussion topics.
June 27, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
The podium at the Ojai Unified School District’s board meeting got plenty of use Tuesday night, as resident after resident marched up to speak about a teacher’s reassignment at Meiners Oaks Elementary School.
Esther Gullatt, a kindergarten teacher at Meiners Oaks for the past three years, had been assigned to a fourth-fifth grade combination class for the 2013-2014 school year — something she vehemently opposed. As word of the reassignment got around, friends, parents and former students got organized. They put together a petition and met with Meiners Oaks principal Dawn Damianos as well as OUSD representatives, and eventually made their way to the school board meeting as a last resort to appeal the decision.
Gullatt, who has been a teacher for more than three decades, and her supporters felt she was making significant progress in her kindergarten class, which has a high percentage of English language learners. She explained to board members and meeting attendees Tuesday that she was once in their place, going to an American kindergarten speaking no English. “I’m a bilingual, bicultural teacher,” Gullatt said. So, she added, “I understand their long and difficult journey.” Gullatt said she created a program within her classroom to help those Spanish-speaking children succeed and learn English, but feels that she needs at least two more years “to really see a change in the student body at Meiners Oaks,” Gullatt’s husband, Mark, explained during his comments.
“It’s very inspiring to hear your background, going through public school, coming out as a teacher and then giving back to that same community,” said Board Vice President Kathi Smith, emphasizing to those present that the OUSD was by no means shutting down any English Language Development programs. “I’ve been on the board for four terms and I can tell you that … there have been a lot of heartbreakingly tough shuffles (of positions), and we will unfortunately have to continue to do so.”
OUSD Board President Linda Taylor, herself a retired teacher, commented that during her time teaching in six different school districts, shuffling of teachers was common. “I was moved to different classes,” she said. “I didn’t always want to (move), but I moved because that was my job. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t heard what you (Gullatt and supporters) have said, or haven’t taken it to heart. Dawn (Damianos) is here and she heard it all too.”
“One of the things I was pleased about was the support and enthusiasm for Meiners Oaks that was clear (at the meeting),” said OUSD superintendent Hank Bangser.
Principal Damianos explained the situation more fully after the meeting. “The reason for the change was that we have declining enrollment,” she said. Because the incoming kindergarten class is expected to be smaller than the outgoing sixth grade class, “We don’t have enough students to sustain 10 teachers anymore; we can only sustain nine teachers.” The other teacher, Damianos emphasized, did not lose her job, but was reassigned to Topa Topa Elementary School. And because of that vacancy, Damianos had to do some juggling with the staff to get everything to fit. “I had to use the teachers that I had, and use them in the best possible spot at Meiners Oaks.” Her decision, she said, was to move Gullatt to the fourth-fifth grade combination class, and put Martha Lepine into the kindergarten position. “I moved her (Lepine) to kindergarten because she has 15 years experience there and she is bilingual … and Mrs. Gullatt is more experienced in the upper grades.” Damianos explained that she gives teachers a survey each year to see whether they like their current grade or would like to move to another grade or another school. “We always try to accommodate people’s wishes, but it’s not always possible,” Damianos said. “It’s just like parents who want a certain teacher (for their child); I don’t have enough teachers to give everyone what they want.” In the end, she said, “I just felt this was what was best for the school. I want to give my teachers what they want, but I also have to do what’s best for the entire school, and this was the best fit.”
Damianos said she had been unable to get in touch with Gullatt to see whether she would ultimately agree to teach the fourth-fifth grade combination class next year, but emphasized, “She has a teaching position at Meiners Oaks School … I don’t know if she is going to take it, but she definitely has a job.”
After the 1.5 hours of public comment at the OUSD meeting Tuesday, Bangser introduced another controversial topic — whether or not the board would be supporting Measure V. The measure, to be voted upon Aug. 27 by current Golden State Water Company (GSWC) customers, will decide whether customers will buy out the privately held GSWC and hand over control to the publicly owned Casitas Municipal Water Company. Supporters — the most vocal of whom have been a group known as Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) — say the swap would save most GSWC customers money in the short term, and a significant amount in the long run. F.L.O.W. representatives Pat McPherson, Richard Hajas and Ryan Blatz, along with GSWC coastal district manager Ken Peterson, spoke at the school board meeting. Hajas explained that the OUSD would see an immediate savings on its water bill of over $60,000 in the next year, and about $1 million over the next decade. Peterson urged the board to be cautious. “With locally controlled water, you’re basically at the mercy of the environment around you.”
During the board’s discussion period, Vice President Smith pointed out: “$60,000 almost buys back another furlough day every year; furlough days cost $75,000.”
“Like I said earlier, Golden State has been a good supporter of the Ojai Education Foundation,” said Thayne Whipple, board member. “On the other hand, (with) the savings we’re looking at, I just don’t see a downside for OUSD.”
The board unanimously voted to lend their support to Measure V.
The board also voted unanimously to allow Valley Oak Charter School to amend its charter to offer kindergarten through 12th grade education, paving the way for the alternative public school to get its full accreditation for 11th and 12th grades in the fall. The board also adopted its 2013-2014 budget. It included fewer reductions in staffing positions than it has in recent years, and also added two more days to the school year, as planned. One of those days is an instructional day, and the other is a staff development day. Should any additional funds come from the state, Bangser said, the OUSD is prepared to add another instructional day to the 2013-2014 school calendar.
June 27, 2013
Tiobbe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Supreme Court of the United States voted 5-4 Wednesday to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as to uphold the repeal of Proposition 8 in California. DOMA, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, restricts federal marriage benefits to heterosexual couples, even if same-sex couples were legally married within their state. Prop. 8 was a California voter ballot initiative that restricted marriage to only those between a man and a woman after a May 2008 California Supreme Court decision rendered same-sex marriage legal in this state. With this ruling, same-sex marriage is, in effect, legal again in California, and those couples married here are entitled to the federal marriage benefits, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“Well, we know we are not second-class citizens; it’s nice to have that affirmed,” says Ojai resident and Feast Bistro co-owner and manager Beryl Schwartz. “There are a handful of people who don’t get why this is such a big deal. Overturning DOMA is huge. One of the biggest issues we faced under that was with health care. One of the things that hetero people don’t get is how it is to be locked out of the hospital room where your loved one is getting care, or to be on the other side of that door, scared and only wanting your loved one beside you. There aren’t words.”
Schwartz, who has been with partner Susan Coulter for 26 years, explains that the difficulties for same-sex couples don’t end there.
“Civil unions are not the same as marriages, they do not provide equal protection under the law,” Schwartz explains. “It costs us money on our federal taxes every year because of DOMA; we couldn’t register as a domestic couple. The IRS sent a notification saying we were delinquent on our taxes, even though we were only doing what the federal government told us to do, and there are no forms for it … Ruling DOMA unconstitutional takes care of that for those who live in states where gay marriage is legal.”
“I wish that the Prop. 8 ruling was more broad, and I question some of the Supreme Court justices: If they think for one minute their job is not to protect the minority from the tyranny of the masses, then I think they need to revisit that,” offers Ventura resident and business owner Doug Halter. “It’s not about voters’ rule. It’s about protecting equal rights for all Americans, not picking and choosing who you like and don’t like, and who your
Despite this, Halter says the ruling is welcome news indeed. “I’m extremely elated by the news. This is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.”
“It’s about time!” says Marche Gourmet manager Gay Martin. “This is a step in the right direction. It reflects the awakening consciousness of the country.”
Jessica Altman-Pollack, who married wife Loretta during the 2008 window in which same-sex marriages were legal in California, also finds the ruling validating.
“I finally feel like, five years later, I can celebrate my marriage, because it is properly recognized, and everyone around me has the same rights,” Altman-Pollack states.
Some locals stress that while they welcome the ruling, this is just the beginning of winning equality for all.
“I was gladdened to hear of the Supreme Court Ruling defeating Prop. 8 and DOMA, but also realize though this is a necessary step forward, there is still a very long way to go before the lesbian and gay community are afforded equal protection under the law on a national basis,” says Ojai resident Michael Cabaniss. “There are still 29 states that have anti-gay marriage statutes on their books, and until the entire nation can ratify this enlightened approach to what marriage is, no one can claim victory in this area. There is much work ahead, and I am encouraged to see the tide turning ever-so-slowly to make this country truly the home of the free.”
For some, the ruling represents not enlightenment, but rather the government dismantling of their core traditional values.
“The Court’s same-sex marriage decisions exalt immorality over morality in response to a cultural current of dissoluteness. The Court’s role should be to resist such trends, but the fallacy that one’s sexual identity demands the destruction of the institution of marriage to accommodate the libertine sensibilities of a minority of shrill activists has stunningly found acceptance with enough members of the Court to make these radical societal changes possible,” counters Los Angeles attorney William Becker, of the Becker Law Firm. “These decisions are a declaration of war against the moral and Christian foundations of the nation. They will only divide Americans, leading, ultimately, to a day of reckoning. Christians and Conservatives will only be emboldened by these decisions. The Becker Law Firm is weighing legal action to prevent the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California.”
Not all Christians agree with this view, however. “I don’t think we’d have any problem with that at all,” says Symphony of Life Church Rev. Karen Wiley,of marrying same-sex couples. “We embrace everyone at Symphony of Life.”
Rabbi Michael Lotker of K’hilat Ha’Aloneem, Ojai’s Jewish temple, says he also performs same-gender wedding ceremonies. Representatives from St. Thomas Aquinas Church and Our Lady And All Angels Liberal Catholic Church were unavailable for comment as of press time.
“Like straight people, many gay people in California wish to form life-long relationships, which the state will solemnize and dignify to promote stability and family life,” says Santa Monica attorney Laura Brill in her brief. “Many gay couples in California are raising children. Many gay teenagers in California need a vision of the future in which they are full participants in the life of their families and communities. In enacting Proposition 8, however, the 2008 voters eliminated more than the equal right to marry. Under principles of California law and current interpretations by the California Supreme Court, Proposition 8 eliminated the ability of those seeking equal marriage rights to avail themselves of any ability to pursue such rights through the political actions of their accountable elected representatives.”
Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts seems to view the law in a similar light.
“In this case, the petitioners, who oppose same-sex marriage, ask us to decide whether the Equal Protection Clause ‘prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.’ Respondents, same-sex couples who wish to marry, view the issue in somewhat different terms: For them, it is whether California — having previously recognized the right of same-sex couples to marry — may reverse that decision through referendum,” said Chief Justice Roberts while issuing the ruling. “Federal courts have the authority under the Constitution to answer such questions only if necessary to do so in the course of deciding an actual ‘case’ or ‘controversy.’ As used in the Constitution, those words do not include every sort of dispute, but only those ‘historically viewed as capable of resolution through the judicial process.’ This is an essential limit on our power: It ensures we act as judges, and do not engage in policymaking properly left to elected representatives.”
“Seeing how things have changed over 30 years has been absolutely remarkable. It is a much wider, more accepting world out there,” sums up Ojai’s Schwartz. “I think the big picture here is that this is about the future. It makes life easier for those who come after us. So many places are accepting of same-sex couples, but in so many places there is still a stigma. Hopefully this begins to alleviate that.”
The Ventura County Courthouse has already begun booking appointments for gay and lesbian couples to wed — Coulter and Schwartz booked theirs Wednesday morning, for Aug. 1 — but it is unknown exactly how long it will take the courts to start issuing the licenses themselves. In a letter sent to all California
California Department of Public Health to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted.”
In a letter sent to all California county clerks and recorders, the California Department of Public Health said, “We do not know when the Ninth Circuit will issue this order, but it could take a month or more.”
June 25, 2013
Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
The murder trial of Alex Medina, the 18-year-old Ojai Valley resident arrested in 2009 for the alleged murder of Seth Scarminach, has been postponed yet again.
The change came Monday during a hearing in Ventura County Superior Court.
Medina, who was 14 at the time of the murder, is expected to be back in court July 29.
The date was pushed back due to scheduling conflicts among witnesses expected to take the stand during the trial, according Thomas Dunlevy, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case.
“There is a good chance the July date will stick,” said Dunlevy, who is the latest prosecuting attorney on the case, having taken it on three months ago.
The defense team could not be reached for comment.
Two delays earlier this year came from both sides of the aisle: in the first, a prosecuting attorney who was added to the case, needed time to get up to speed. In the second, the defense team of Scott Wippert and Robyn Bramson had conflicting trial commitments.
Monday’s postponement was jointly requested by both counsels.
Medina has been charged with first-degree murder, and will be tried as an adult because of two enhancements sought by the district attorney’s office.
According to the enhancements, if the accused was at least 14 when the crime was committed, and if the crime would be punishable by death or life in prison if committed by an adult, then the accused can be tried as an adult.
Additional enhancements, including use of a deadly weapon, committing a crime to benefit a street gang and committing a crime as a participant in a street gang, could add to his sentence if Medina is convicted.
Medina was arrested April 26, 2009. At 2:30 a.m., the same morning 16-year-old Scarminach, succumbed to several stab wounds in his neck and chest. The incident took place at a house party in the 2400 block of Maricopa Highway.
After Medina’s 18th birthday in December 2012, he was transferred from the county’s juvenile center to the main jail. He has remained there while awaiting trial.
June 24, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
A freshly married bride — and thousands of area residents — got an unexpected surprise Saturday night when a series of fireworks lit up the sky over the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.
While the more than 5-minute show presumably delighted the bride, the response from community members was mixed. Social media lit up with queries, theories and complaints, as did the phone lines at the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department and the Inn. Many said the display was great, but the overriding objection seemed to be a lack of notice prior to the event.
“It was a beautiful show … (But) given what occurred, we certainly could have done a better job, definitely in telling our neighbors about it,” acknowledged Ojai Valley Inn marketing director Chris Kandziora. “We didn’t know the full depth and volume of the show.”
Kandziora added that the Inn has changed its policies and will no longer be conducting fireworks shows on its property.
Although the Inn went through the proper channels to legally light the fireworks — including getting permits from both the city of Ojai and the Ventura County Fire Department (VCFD) — they were not required to notify locals of their intentions. The local sheriff’s department was, however, notified; dispatchers explained the situation to several worried callers, but did not send an officer to the scene.
The temporary fireworks permit was approved by Ojai’s Community Development Director Rob Mullane June 11. Like Kandziora, Mullane said the city underestimated how loud the fireworks would be. “I’ve heard that the booms were heard throughout the entire city and beyond,” Mullane said. “I don’t think we anticipated that much of a noise impact.”
He added that the temporary use permit did not require the public be notified, but that “I can tell you, based on this experience, that if someone wanted to do this again … we would probably require them to pay for the notice we would put in the newspaper and we’d also provide advance notice on the city’s website. We have some flexibility on the conditions (we can apply).” Mullane said that he and city staff will look at similar permit requests with more scrutiny in the future. “Based on the feedback, we may not issue (such a permit) in the future,” he added. “We also could elevate this to a Planning Commission decision.”
VCFD public information officer Mike Lindbery confirmed that after the applicant got the go-ahead from the city of Ojai, the fire department also granted a permit, with conditions. The Inn was required to have a VCFD fire prevention officer, as well as several fire extinguishers, on scene. But because the display was conducted on the Inn’s golf course, which is often watered, the VCFD determined that it would not require the Inn to have a fire engine on scene (as it does with the Independence Day fireworks show, due to its proximity to Besant Meadows and residences).
“Our part is to make sure first of all that it is safe, and that all fire code standards regarding fireworks are being followed,” said Lindbery. The fire prevention officer “makes sure the fallout area is safe, unobstructed by combustible materials.”
He added that the cost for a permit from VCFD runs at a base cost of $410, but there are additional costs. In this case, the Inn also paid for the fire prevention officer for six hours, at a cost of $70 per hour.
VCFD did receive phone calls and complaints, as did 911, the city of Ojai, the Ojai Valley Inn and the Ojai Valley News.
Many of those complaints centered around concerns for anxious animals. Employees at the Humane Society of Ventura County’s Ojai shelter found a note attached to the door Monday, saying a resident had found a lost dog Saturday; however, they discovered that the dog was quickly returned to its owner. No kennel animals were adversely affected, according to the caregiver on site Saturday.
“We want to be respectful members of our community,” Kandziora said, “For every one person that didn’t appreciate it, there were 10 that did … we’d like to extend our apologies to the community for the few who didn’t appreciate them.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated June 25 at 3:36 p.m. to include quotes from city officials.
June 20, 2013
Tim Dewar, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cautious optimism ruled the morning during the annual “State of the City/ Education” address at Soule Park Wednesday.
Ojai city manager Rob Clark and Ojai Unified School District superintendent Hank Bangser gave updates on their organizations to approximately 30 who attended the breakfast event, organized by the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce.
After explaining some of the financial challenges the city has faced since 2000, Clark focused on an improving city budget and what the City Council has decided to do with the increase it is beginning to see return to the general fund.
He said the city currently has a 10-year backlog on infrastructure improvement projects, particularly when it comes to the 41 miles of roads in the city.
He listed 12 road projects that the city is planning in the near future and added that spending on road improvements will continue to increase in future years, budget permitting, with the goal of reaching $700,000 annually.
During his presentation, he also touched on other issues facing the city, including adopting the state-mandated Housing Element and bringing non-conforming housing units into compliance to help decrease the number of units the state requires the city to accommodate.
Bangser also shared the good news of a slight increase in his budget this year.
Although the School District won’t be able to do anything as visible as repair streets, he was pleased to announce that it will be able to reduce the number of furlough days district employees are required to take. This, he said, will result in an increase in the number of school days for the first time in several years.
The dark cloud over Bangser’s news is that the funds are not the result of an increase in the district’s enrollment. This year, the district is projected to lose an additional 90 students, the latest decline in a 10-year trend that has seen a total of 863 fewer students, or a total of 14 percent, than attended in the 2004-2005 school year.
Narcotics detectives with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department (VCSD) recently completed a three-month investigation into marijuana cultivations with the arrest of Los Angeles resident Ricardo Valencia, 36.
In February 2013, narcotics detectives observed suspicious activity at several locations along Highway 33 north of Ojai. This area has held several large scale marijuana cultivations for many years. Through their investigation, detectives identified Valencia as being involved in these suspicious activities. Detectives knew Valencia from his arrest, and subsequent conviction, for cultivation of marijuana in 2012 near Rose Valley. After serving his sentence for that crime, Valencia was deported to his native country.
With the assistance of the Sheriff’s Air Unit, three large cultivation sites near Highway 33 were identified: near Chorro Grande Trail, near Belly Ache Falls and in an unnamed canyon north of Matilija Canyon Road. On June 4 and June 6, VCSD personnel eradicated the three grow sites and seized 6,229 marijuana plants. June 7, Valencia was arrested near his home in Los Angeles for the cultivation of marijuana. During the search warrant at his residence, detectives discovered two firearms, over $5,000 in cash, approximately one pound of processed marijuana, and items typically related to marijuana cultivation: flexible irrigation tubing, camouflaged propane cylinders, seedling cups, and animal repellants.
Valencia was transported to the Sheriff’s Main Jail in Ventura and booked for the cultivation of marijuana, a violation of probation warrant stemming from the 2012 arrest and possession of fictitious identification paperwork. His bail was set at $500,000.
June 20, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
Stan Tenpenny still has the first woodshop project he ever made. Under the hinged lid and sliding tray of that chest lie his most precious possessions — old photos, love letters from his wife, hand-made birthday cards from his kids, sports medals and trophies.
“It’s not just a box,” insists the founder of Tenpenny Construction. “It becomes part of your history. All those memories … It’s just wood, yeah. But it’s way more than that. It’s who I was, and who I had to become to get it that way.”
Experiences like Tenpenny’s are now a thing of the past for students in Ojai’s public schools. With the retirement of longtime woodshop teacher Lee Burns this year, Matilija Junior High School will no longer offer woodshop as an elective class.
As the news of Burns’ retirement spread, former students remembered his impact on their lives — as a woodshop and math teacher, football coach and mentor.
“He was a great teacher and even better football coach,” said Ryan Hayes. “He taught his woodshop classes the same way he coached on the football field,” said Skyler Logsdon. “Legendary character. Yellow shorts, rain or shine.”
Many students, like Tenpenny, still have their woodshop projects. Cory and Nichole Sandefur both still have the magazine tables they made. Same goes for Kate Spiva. “I still use the coffee table I made in that class,” she said. “Still have the cutting board too. Probably the most rewarding and empowering class I took there (Matilija).”
Local mom Sandy Wooff, who raised five children in Ojai, has a house full of their woodshop projects. She walked through her house and listed them off. “Oh there’s endless things that the kids made!” she said. “There’s the trophy case, baby cradles, bookshelves, cedar chests, a TV stand, picture frames, a bread box, a toy chest, side tables, a jewelry case, a recipe box, pencil holders … the boys pretty much furnished heir bedroom.”
Another former student, Andrew Merritt, pointed out, “Many people have probably gotten into woodworking or become interested in developing a trade because of Mr Burns.” Rebecca Engel Zajac is one of those. “Wood shop is the reason I have my job now, building displays,” she said. Her work has made its way to television on more than one occasion.
As Tenpenny put it, “Woodshop is way more about life skills and self esteem that it ever is about the projects … It’s about life, sticking to it and setting your standard. It’s that whole connection to the pride of, ‘Hey, I built that.’”
So with all of these good memories and life lessons, why doesn’t Matilija just get a new woodshop teacher? Turns out, that’s easier said than done, according to Ojai Unified School District administrators.
“Filling the woodshop position is a pretty hard thing to fill,” says Matilija principal Bill Rosen. “They must be fully credentialed in the state of California. It’s not just finding a really good master woodcrafter — that would be great — but it’s got to be someone who has all the proper credentialing. And there’s not many people who have credentials like that anymore.”
Adding to the difficulty of finding a replacement for Burns is the fact that the school has only one class period of woodshop. “So to find someone who would be willing to come up and do that (one period), that would be tough.”
Even tougher would be to find someone with the ability to teach multiple subjects, as Burns did. He began his 34-year career in the OUSD at Nordhoff High School, where he taught woodshop, math and coached junior varsity football. It wasn’t until about 1990, he said, when he moved over to Matilija, where he took over a that had already been well-established. “I inherited a great program,” he said. He built upon it with more modern tools.
Burns said he’ll miss his motivated students the most, some of whom went so far as to make grandfather clocks. “Not from kits, either!”
And sure, he acknowledged, there have been some disasters; thankfully, not many. There were plenty of splinters, cuts, and scrapes, he says, and once, a girl got a chunk of hair pulled out while using a drill, but didn’t tell anyone about it. Burns only figured out what’d happened when he smelled burnt hair as he was using the drill later.
But Burns’ favorite story — one he’s regaled students with at the beginning of each year — involved a boy cutting off three of his fingers. “It was on my birthday, in my first year teaching. It was at 8:25 a.m. … I always told the kids about that one, you know, scare ‘em into paying attention,” he said jokingly.
But he hastened to add that he taught students respect for, not fear of, the equipment. “I wanted them to know, hey, it’s not this big scary machine,” he said. “The machine is gonna do what you tell it to do … Learning to use the machines was really about confidence, belief in (themselves). ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ It’s about not giving up, problem solving, figuring things out, taking risks.”
For now, at least, those valuable lessons will have to be taught elsewhere. “At the moment I don’t see a path back (to reopening the shop), and I don’t know if it’ll ever come back,” Rosen said. “I’m not saying forever and final and that’s it, but it seems unlikely for it to return.”
But touches of Burns will remain at Matilija. There are wooden signs around campus that he made for the teachers. There’s the giant book cases that line the administration office hallway, which he made and installed after the lockers were removed. He also built computer desks, the secretaries’ desks, bookshelves, and much more. And Burns did more than his fare share of behind-the-scenes work, custodian Pan Hassenflug said. “If I had problems with my equipment, he’d fix it. He saved the school money all the time.”
“It’s a tough thing to lose the woodshop,” Rosen said. “I asked him many times to reconsider … I tried to get him so many times — ‘Just come back and teach shop, one period.’ But he has loved his job, he was good at his job, and, ya know, now’s a good time to retire for him. But we will miss him.”
June 18, 2013
Tiobbe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai City Council held a special workshop last week for the upcoming 2013-2014 fiscal year budget. Council is expected to adopt the budget, as well as a modified city fee schedule, during the June 25 meeting.
“What we’re doing with these budget workshops is really gathering information and hearing from the City Council about their various budget priorities,” said city manager Rob Clark. “This isn’t the time and place where we’ll actually make final decisions on the budget. That will be when we adopt the budget on the 25th. But today, at the budget hearing, and as part of the regular Council meeting, it will be really important to hear what things are out there that we need to address when we do adopt the budget.”
Historic Preservation Commission Chair Jolene Lloyd was the first speaker to address Council regarding the budget.
“Our funding request is actually pretty simple,” said Lloyd. “The first item would be $1,960 for training, for conferences and workshops, and field trips for the HPC.”
Councilwoman Betsy Clapp inquired as to why Historic Landmark properties do not have to pay a fee for the plaque that goes along with the designation. Lloyd explained the Commission felt that was onerous to the property owners and could potentially be a deterrent to obtaining landmark status. Mayor Paul Blatz advised city staff to reinstate the fee for those properties that get a state tax break under the Mills Act.
Council then examined a spreadsheet created by city finance director Susie Mears that analyzes the cost recovery of the Ojai Recreation Department (ORD). According to the document, adult softball and youth soccer programs both operate at a loss. The ORD as a whole made a profit of about $20,000 for the last fiscal year — before factoring in administrative costs. Along with the recession, a non-resident program fee was scrutinized for possibly decreasing valley-wide participation in the ORD’s programs.
“When you’re subsidizing the Recreation Department, you’re taking money out of the general fund, and when you take money out of the general fund, there’s less money for other things like paving the roads,” observed Clapp. “The citizens of Ojai are the taxpayers who are subsidizing this. I think the idea of an outside-of-the-city fee is that that is participants’ contribution to the Recreation Department to help subsidize that program that they would already be doing if they were residents of the city, so I think it’s appropriate to have that fee.”
Councilwoman Carol Smith pointed out that perhaps the Ventura County government should assist the city of Ojai with funding programs that are available to residents of unincorporated areas in the valley.
“I think we need the participation from non-residents to make the individual programs viable,” offered Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel.
The newest member of the City Council, Severo Lara, is a former Parks and Recreation Commissioner and offered his firsthand insight into the ORD.
“I know this is an ongoing dialogue about how do we generate more participation, how do we generate more income,” said Lara. “It was difficult to analyze because of the recession. And second of all, that recession really impacted our department morale, and it created some friction among competitors for recreation. I think the current Commission is finding creative ways to generate more participation.”
“As far as the recreation programs go, we’ve had a lot of changes. We’ve had changes in staff and changes in the way we do business,” summarized Strobel. “I think I’d like to see it given a little more time to see how it’s going to level out.”
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-2014.
June 18, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
For many, Nordhoff High School’s class of 2013 will be remembered for one thing: football. Last fall, 19 seniors led the varsity team to a CIF-SS championship win — a historic first for the Rangers.
“It was emotional,” recalled Adam Dunn, the team’s manager for the last three seasons. “We worked so hard to get there.”
But Dunn, who was honored as Ranger of the Year at last Thursday’s graduation ceremony, hopes people will think of more than just the football team when they think of his fellow 2013 graduates.
“My classmates are just outstanding,” he said. “We succeeded in a lot of sports like volleyball (and) soccer, too.”
Principal Greg Bayless agreed. “The senior class is incredibly athletic. We generally have a quite athletic student body, but this year’s senior class is exceptional in that regard.” He added the softball team to Dunn’s list of athletic standouts, saying, “We have three girls from the same league championship team going on to play collegiate softball.”
Dean of academics Kim Hoj also characterized the class of 2013 as “exceptional leaders across many areas.” Bayless called them a “once-in-a generation” group — particularly the associated student body (ASB) leadership class, which was headed by Dunn, “who pours his heart out for this school.”
Hoj listed several other leaders across several disciplines: Trevor Giove from the graphic design program, Brad Sloan and Austin Devine from the video production program and Georgia Cotsis and Madi Miller from the dance program. “(They) each have set the bar high for others and go above and beyond classroom expectations.”
The class of 2013, Hoj said, “will go down in my career as one of my favorites. They are kind, thoughtful of each other, supportive, and their spirit is evidence that they genuinely love NHS.”
The band program also benefitted from the presence of this year’s graduating class. Of particular note are vocalist Derek Kaiser and trumpet player Alex Tally, both of whom garnered awards at the state competitions. “Our marching band went to the championships for only the second time in school history,” said a proud Bayless.
“This has been a great group of students, and we will miss them,” said Dave Monson, assistant principal. “They leave big shoes to fill for next year’s senior class.”
This year’s senior projects, faculty members said, were creative and community-minded. “My class — like many classes — is hardworking, generous and kind,” said valedictorian Michelaina Johnson. “But more than most classes, we genuinely care about the greater good.” Ujjwal Thukral created a hovercraft; Pressley Harrison raised funds for homeless puppies that needed veterinary service; Maddie Whitman started a campaign to create safer pedestrian walkways and sidewalks around the valley; and Jessica Zamudio is collecting much-needed classroom supplies for area kindergartners.
“They have been extremely positive role models for the other classes, even in simple things like picking up trash at lunch and keeping the school clean,” Bayless said.
But kids will still be kids, Bayless acknowledged, calling this group pranksters. “We’ve had a few all-in-good-fun pranks this year, one with a big gnome that appeared at various locations (rooftops) during the school year.”
Ultimately, Bayless said, “I think what sums up this year’s class is that they are exceptionally talented, spirited, fun, athletic and kind … The character of a senior class always has a large impact on the school, and Nordhoff is better because of the class of 2013.”
June 13, 2013
Angelique LaCour, OVN correspondent
When Alejandro Sandoval and Maria Isabel Perez came to Matilija Junior High School, they did not speak a word of English. Adjusting to junior high is hard enough without the added handicap of being unable to communicate.
“I consider these the two most difficult years developmentally for a young person,” said first-year Matilija principal Bill Rosen. “Seventh and eighth grade is like the on ramp to the freeway. You have to get on and speed up, then it curves a little bit, and when you hit high school you better be moving, or you are going to get run over.”
“It’s already hard to remember not knowing any English,” Sandoval said. The eighth-grader came to Matilija just this year. And as part of the English Language Learner (ELL) program, was provided a translator during class.
But by Christmas, Sandoval no longer required help. “I like learning and learned fast just by listening to the teachers speak,” he said.
“Alejandro is smart and a quick learner; also very respectful to his mother and teachers,” said school secretary and ELL site coordinator Patty Cruz.
In the beginning, Sandoval taught himself to relax to deal with frustration. “I would just quiet my mind by thinking of good things,” he said.
Perez can relate. When she came to Matilija from Topa Topa Elementary School last year, she could understand English, but did not speak it at all.
“I was very shy and only started speaking English this year,” Perez said. “My friends and family helped me a lot.”
Perez has an older brother who graduated from Nordhoff High School yesterday, and a younger brother who just completed seventh grade at Matilija. The Perez family works on learning English together at home. “My dad knows a little English so he started buying fiction books, and we pass the book around and each read a paragraph,” she said.
That self-starter attitude seems a ruling characteristic of this year’s eighth-graders at Matilija — as does their manners. It’s one of the things that surprised Rosen about this year’s class, which was promoted to ninth grade Wednesday. “As they leave the classroom it’s quite common that they say ‘thank you’ to their teachers,” Rosen said. “I hear that from the teachers all the time.”
Matilija’s teachers aren’t the only ones who notice the courteous and polite behaviors of their students. Last month at the Music in the Parks Festival competition at Magic Mountain, Matilija received the Esprit de Corps Award for best-behaved and most courteous group. “All of the judges, staff members — everyone working the festival — is asked which school deserved that award,” said Don Orser, music director, “and it was noticeable that Matilija kids always said ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and were easy to work with.” Matilija also took home a clean sweep of first-place awards for band, orchestra and choir in the junior high divisions; each group (choir, two string groups and band) also received ratings of excellent.
In addition to being courteous, fast learners, this year’s eighth-graders are also high achievers academically. Sixty-nine students received the President’s Award for Academic Excellence for maintaining a 3.5 grade point average (GPA) for the last five trimesters, and 12 of them maintained a 4.0 GPA.
During Wednesday’s promotion ceremony, student speaker Audrey Hernandez pointed out the growing she and her peers have done over the last two years. “We arrived at Matilija as small nervous children, and have now become free-thinking individuals,” she said.
Sarah Scott and Jordan Perry spoke for their classmates at the conclusion of the promotion ceremony. “The lessons we learned here are seared into our brains,” they said. “Who could ever forget the Pythagorean theorem? According to Mr. Burns, it’s ‘easy peesy pumpkin cheesy.’ Junior high school is a time to grow, and we definitely grew intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Most of us became more mature. But Matilija leaves us with more than just memories — it leaves us with the life skills to be independent and responsible and, most important of all, with the ability to achieve our dreams.”
Representing Nordhoff High School, Kim Hoj, dean of academic services, formally received the class of 2017. “My three nuggets for you today are: find what you love to do and make it part of your life; maximize the opportunity of your education to learn all you can; the best way to honor your parents and those who have paved the way for you is to give back. No matter what high school you go to, take the idea of paying it forward to leave wherever you go a little bit better with a legacy of excellence.”
For more photos from the Matilija Junior High School graduation ceremony, see the June 14, 2013 print edition of the Ojai Valley News.
The following is the list of graduates from Matilija Junior High School:
Claire Woolson, Toni Nicholson, Esmeralda Zamudio, Jake Perry, Annalisa Zaucha, Jordan Perry, Caitlyn Radica, Sachini Rajapaksa, Nathalia Ramirez, Sarah Rogers, McKayla Skaggs, Jasmine Adams, Nicholas Teixeira, Adrianna Bese, Waite Tucker, Skye Bledsoe, Mariana Vacio, Woodrow Brown, Charles Van Lent, Miriam Calderon, Elizabeth Clawson, Cade Crawford, Dante Dikeman, Adriana Duarte, Kristin Fitz, David Flores, Drew Ford, Estefani Garcia, Lolita Gorbacheva, Rafael Guerrero, Lizeth Herrera, Kaitlynn Hillburn, Ronaldo Lule, Devon Malmquist, Dylan Mc Atee, Liam Metlen, Rodrigo Meza, Haley Moore, Kristian Munnikhuis, Victoria Murillo, Lee Chambers, Pia Zonic, Robert Chambers, Elaine Zumaya, Adriana Jazmin Diaz, Aliyah Zweig, Tyler Dierickx, Danielle A. Dunn, Brandon Fairweather, Rebecca Foote, Marc Hayashi, Reyes Hernandez, Nathan Abruzzese, Evan Jackson, Tucker Allen, Ryan Jackson, Brianna Ames, Reuben Levinson Holly, Paola Avila, Noel Lupercio, Haley Barnes, Serena Matzat, Scott Barron, Alyssa Maulhardt, Tessa Bartholio, Berenice Maya, Riley Conn, Kaydin Mc Kay, Nathan Davis, Jose Ortiz, Xander Dubeau, Madison Palmer, Janet Duran, Diana Luz Ponce, Kathryn Dzukola, Gizel Reyes, Angel Esperanza, Alejandro Sandoval, Alex Freeman, Sarah Scott, Alexis Gomez, Mackenzie Sharon, Kevin Gonelli, Paul Sherlock, Rebekah Gorman, Ethan Smith, Lyle Hallblom, Nolan Vyhnal, Jackson Hill, Pierre Weil, Lorelei Jones, Summer Williams, Jack Kelley, Garrett Woll, Elisabeth McColloch, Joshua Zaucha, Herman Zheng, Jose Quino, Ernesto Quintero, Marcus Italo, Taylor Riggs, Kloe Keeter, Reese Royle, Alina Kirby, Jennifer Ruiz, Brendon Looker, Kiefer Rylander, Hailey Mac Adams, Rebecca Saucedo, William Mc Grew, Jared Skaggs, Mikyla McGhee, Francisco Soto, Diana Murillo, Raissa Onglengco, Adrian Torres, Jennifer Patino, Aren Tumamait-Stenslie, Madisen Perdue, Gabriela Velazquez, Melissa Rodarte, Kaitlyn Rogers, Serena Rudolph, Taylor Santino, Garland Scarlett, Jenna Schembri, Abeeree Alexander, Jonathan Villalpando, Katie Alonso, Joshua Weinstein, Max Badger, Efrain Zara, Jackeline Borjas, Mark Zielsdorf, Kaylee Brown, Lennon Chahivec Schneider, Josef Clinton, Grace Davis, Jasmine Davis, Alden DelVecchio, Joaquin Alcantar, Denver Dillon, Austin Cansler, Alexander Ferreira, Jennifer Carbajal, Julia Franklin, Maxwell Chandler, Wyatt Fronterhouse, Olivia Dorenkamp, Irene Galindo, Juana Garcia, Alexis Garcia, Noemi Gonzales, Luke Hamann, Dianna Gonzalez, Vanessa Castagna, Ethan Holder, Iain Coyne, Sara Ignacio, Stella Delgado, Gaven Johnson, Jeremy Donovan, Yadira Juarez, Isaiah Duran, Luis D. Lopez, Sydney Franz, Samuel Marks, Nona Golden, Parker Marquez, Tanner Gross, Mikayla Miles, Audrey Hernandez, Mark Miller, Natalie Hoeppel, Brian Orser, Kirsten Hoj, Maria Isabel Perez, Ernesto Jimenez, Tate Phillips, Sikeli Jorgensen, Yulissa Quevedo Vega, April Jungo-Garcia, Caysee Ransom, Madison Landsverk, Leonel Rebollo, Cassandra Larson, Guadalupe Reynaga, Fabio Lauretta, Jacques Robles, Ciara Lenehan, Karina Rodriguez, Isolde Marx, Andy Sanchez, Kalista O’Neil, Carly Skiba, Alexa Perez, Wyatt Stroud, Jasmine Perez, Raymond Valenzuela Guadalupe, David White, Maryann Shilo, Elenna Wiggins, Sara Smith, Jake Stevens, Timothy Thatcher, Kangchen Tsering, Bella Van Aken, Vincent Villa, Emma-Rose Allen, Julia Vondriska, Vanessa Andrade, Jesse Westbrook, Brighton Balfrey and Addison Wood.
Chaparral High School graduated its class of 2013 Tuesday afternoon.
The following is the list of the graduates:
Robert Anaya, Cynthia Arriaga, Luke Avendaño, Jonathyn Bowman, Vester Branham, Kiana Cason, Andrew Castillo, Danial Chavez, Del Cohen, Kaylin Connelly, Cassidy Cowgill, Tucker Da Alba, Gloria De Luna, Austun Dennis, Spencer Ereshan, Alexander Fuchs, Anjela Garces, Daniel Garcia, Cameron Graham, Jessica Griggs, Rachel Hedman, Daniel Hernandez, Cheyenne Horne-Mullen, Kaden Irvine, Branson Lee, Joseph Lemos, Gunnar Martin, Allison Martinez, Nicholas Moore, Atziritzi Quintana, Giovanni Robinson, John Rogers, Jessica Segar, Rudy Silva, Katelyn Smith, Morgan Sterling, Noah Tacoma, Rosario Vazquez, Ruby Vazquez and Sunny White.
For more graduation photos, see the June 14, 2013 print edition of the Ojai Valley News.
June 13, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
The Ojai Valley Sanitary District Board will consider implementing its first rate increase in five years Monday night.
According to a letter recently sent to property owners in the District, a public hearing has been set for Monday at 6 p.m. to discuss the potential increase, which would be implemented in two phases. The first would begin with the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which starts July 1; the second would be rolled out July 1, 2014.
Most residential customers will see rates increased about $2 per month, for a total of about $27 in this fiscal year, and about $28 next fiscal year (rates vary slightly depending upon the community served).
Commercial customers’ rates will vary depending on their output into the system.
Sewer rates are charged monthly, but are billed annually along with other property taxes.
The letter explained the reasons OVSD staff is recommending that the Board approve the rate increase. These included “The fiscal requirements for constructing, repairing, operating and maintaining the district’s sewer system in compliance with increasingly stringent environmental regulatory requirements for treating water discharged into the Ventura River.”
The meeting to discuss the proposed increases is open to the public, and will be held at the OVSD office’s board meeting room, 1072 Tico Road. Documents the OVSD used to determine the rate increase can also be viewed at the OVSD office.
Those wishing to protest the proposed rate hike must do so in writing (not email). Letters must contain the address and/or parcel number of the property and must be submitted to the clerk of the board by 1 p.m. Monday to the following address: Ojai Valley Sanitary District, Attn: Clerk of the Board, 1072 Tico Road, Ojai, CA 93023.
For more information, call 646-5548.
June 13, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to include $25,000 for repairs and $50,000 toward operational support for the Ojai Valley Museum over the next year. The museum leases the city-owned historic landmark for $1 per year. As part of that lease agreement, the museum has been responsible for all utilities and maintenance of the interior of the property, including heating and cooling systems, plumbing, gas and electric. The former St. Thomas Aquinas Church was built in 1918 and is suffering from termite and stucco damage. The Ojai Valley Museum has been operating under a deficit since 2010.
“Basically, we believe the museum has a $50,000 structural deficit, which means that on an ongoing basis, their predictable ongoing revenues are $50,000 less than their expenditures. Last year their losses were actually about $60,000,” summarized city manager Rob Clark. “So unless they’re able to discover new revenue sources — and they have ideas about new revenue sources that may have some potential —- but unless they’re able to do that, they have this structural deficit. So we have recommended it be funded.”
Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel said she would like to see the Visitors Center and Ojai Valley Museum more closely integrated, and more dialogue between the museum and the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce. Museum director Michele Pracy pointed out the museum is hosting a chamber mixer this coming October.
“I feel that we have a renaissance going on right now of a relationship, finally, in recent years, between the museum and the people who run the city of Ojai, and the people who run the Public Works (Department), and we finally have a dialogue,” contributed Pracy at the City Council meeting. “To be able to tell people that the city of Ojai does support us with funding, does help us with our facility, is only going to make our future brighter.”
“We as elected officials have a broad responsibility to the citizens of Ojai, principally for their health and safety. But the history and the arts of a community are absolutely essential. And I think our museum brings both those aspects of the cultural viability of Ojai together,” offered Mayor Paul Blatz. “There are some that would say that in this day and age, when funding is being taken away from the public art and everywhere from public radio to any funding for arts in general, particularly on a federal level, that we should only look to the private sector for funding of these types of things. And I disagree with that. I think that it’s very important that we fund the museum. We can’t risk the loss of the museum. It’s integral to the health of our community.”
Council members added another unanimous vote to Tuesday’s meeting when they authorized city manager Clark to hire J.H. Douglas & Associates as a consultant for the 2014-2021 Housing Element. Community Development director Rob Mullane explained to council members the need to spend almost $30,000 on a consulting firm.
“We’ve had about a two-hour pause in between Housing Element cycles,” said Mullane. “And once again we find ourselves with a really challenging time frame, but a time frame that is very important to meet. I would recommend we have something adopted in January at the absolute latest. In order to handle this task of updating the Housing Element again … staff feels very strongly that we do need a Housing Element consultant to assist us, in large part because of the community outreach and the number of meetings we’re proposing to have, and the amount of input we anticipate getting.”
City staff sent out a request for proposals for consultant firms, and received three proposals. A committee comprising of Blatz, Mullane, and Planning Commission Chairperson Laurence Nicklin was formed to review the proposals; Douglas & Associates was found to be the least expensive, and most in keeping with the culture of Ojai.
“Everything about his proposal I felt was superior,” observed Councilwoman Carol Smith.
In its proposal, Douglas & Associates specifically mentioned revisiting the three-story allowance issue for special overlay sites, utilizing mixed-use zoning and updating demographic data for the city.
“He really touched on key issues we had with the previous Housing Element,” concurred Councilman Severo Lara.
At the same council meeting, during the time allotted for public comment, Ojai Valley Lavender Festival President Cindy Mullins said that after years of approving the Multipurpose Room at Libbey Park for the event, the Ventura County Health Department is now requiring a “hot sink” for vendors of the event. Renting the appropriate sinks would cost approximately $450 each. Mullins urged City Council to revamp the existing facilities instead of paying costly rental fees. The Lavender Festival is scheduled to take place June 29.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view previous meetings and for details on upcoming agenda items.
June 11, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
Three structure fires in three days kept members of the Ventura County Fire Department busy in the Ojai Valley over the weekend.
The first, a barn fire, was reported around 11:30 a.m. Friday. County fire officials say
smoke was pouring from a two-story barn in the 10300 block of Creek Road. In less than 30 minutes, the fire was knocked down, and no injuries were reported. The road was briefly closed between North Ventura Avenue and Encino Drive as emergency crews finished their work. Officers with the Ojai Police Department were called out to the scene, although the exact reasons why remained unavailable as the investigation is ongoing.
Sunday at 4:23 a.m., another fire, this one in the 300 block of Bald Street, was reported. It was quickly upgraded to a two-alarm fire as first responders went into rescue mode to assist one of the home’s two residents. A female was transported to Ojai Valley Community Hospital with burns; her condition was unknown as of press time. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, although fire officials said they have found no suspicious circumstances.
Firefighters responded from stations in Ojai, Meiners Oaks, Upper Ojai and Oak View, as well as from Ventura and Santa Paula; knock-down was reported at 5:09 a.m. The home “was a total loss,” said VCFS public information officer Mike Lindberry. “The Red Cross did respond.” Neighbors are collecting items for the residents displaced by the fire; call the Ojai Red Cross at 646-6044 for ways to help.
Sunday at 9:40 p.m., a third fire was reported, in the 500 block of El Sol Avenue in Meiners Oaks. Lindberry said a burning smell was coming from a vent in what turned out to be a small closet fire. The fire was out within 15 minutes, Lindberry added. “It was contained to the room of origin.” No injuries were reported, and the residents were able to stay in the home.
With so many fires in a short period, Lindberry advised residents to exercise caution, particularly due to the drought conditions. “This is something we really need to be looking out for, paying attention to — whether its barbecues, or disposal of barbecue ashes in a trash can, or candles … we’re in a hurry, it’s summertime, it’s hot, so just as a reminder, just make sure you’re paying attention.”
A bank account at Ojai’s Wells Fargo Bank, 202 E. Matilija St., has been set up to help the victims of the Bald Street fire, in which the house was a total loss. Ask for the Rosclely and Miguel Fire Recovery Fund.
June 9, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
In advance of Monday’s scheduled hearing in the Golden State Water Company (GSWC) lawsuit against Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD), Superior Court Judge Mark Borrell issued a tentative ruling telling the investor-owned water company it jumped the gun. Despite efforts by GSWC’s attorneys to convince him otherwise at Monday’s hearing, he didn’t change his mind.
“Generally, courts are reticent to pass on measures which are to be put to the voters until after the election is held,” Borrell wrote. “Here, the arguments advanced by Golden State can be litigated after the election if the measure passes. On the other hand, if the measure is not approved, the parties’ dispute will be largely, if not entirely, rendered moot.”
On March 26, GSWC filed a lawsuit against CMWD seeking to vacate the resolutions the municipal water company adopted that would ask voters if they want to form a community facilities district to raise money to purchase GSWC’s Ojai service area.
GSWC officials have stated they do not wish to sell their operation and filed the lawsuit to prevent the voters within the service area from having the opportunity to vote on whether they wish to place a 30-year property tax on nearly 2,900 parcels.
“The governmental acts challenged by Golden State were taken under authority of the Mello-Roos Act, and those challenges are predicated upon an assertion that the requirements of that Act have not been, or cannot be, met. The Mello-Roos Act provides direction as to when such a court challenge may be commenced,” Borrell explained. “Golden State contends that these sections set forth “no proscription against challenging [community facilities district] formation or agency Resolutions before voter approval. But this argument is contradicted by the express language of the statutes, which provides that such an action be brought “within” a period of time “after” the election.”
At Monday’s hearing, Borrell scheduled a status conference for Sept. 16 at 8:30 a.m. to determine whether additional action can or needs to be taken. Because the election is scheduled for Aug. 27, Borrell set that date for the conference because it is within the 30-day post-election time frame allowed by statue for challenges to be undertaken.
In a written statement following the decision, GSWC’s Senior Vice President, Regulated Utilities Denise Kruger said, “We are pleased that the court will consider our concerns that the Casitas Municipal Water District’s Mello-Roos parcel tax plan may be illegal. We respect the court’s choice to wait until after the August election as voters could reject the plan.”
Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water (F.L.O.W.) member Ryan Blatz released this statement following the hearing. “Ojai F.L.O.W. has stated from the beginning that we intend to use the democratic process to redress our grievances with Golden State Water and the CPUC, and today is a huge step in that direction.”
June 6, 2013
Kari Rodems, OVN correspondent
The Rotary Club of Ojai has a long-standing tradition of honoring men and women in our valley. Each year, local residents are nominated as Living Treasures for their commitment and spirit of giving to their community. This year, Gary and Brenda Farr are among the honorees.
For the better part of two decades, the Farrs have called the Ojai Valley home. Enamored with everything that makes Ojai destination-worthy, the couple moved inland from the coast and quickly became involved in the heartbeat Ojai.
The Ojai Valley Community Hospital Foundation and Guild is one the list of organizations that have benefited from the Farrs volunteerism.
According to Rotarian and Living Treasure chair, Fred Fauvre, “The Farrs have been instrumental in the founding and effectiveness of the Ojai Valley Community Hospital Foundation.”
Hospital Foundation Executive Director Chris Rock explained that Gary “proposed the need for a group to be formed to increase awareness in the community of the vital role the hospital plays, and suggested that group would also hold an annual black-tie event to raise much-needed funds to sustain OVCH’s mission.” The Foundation was established in 2000, when the hospital became a not-for-profit organization.
The hospital’s Guild was formed soon after.
The Farrs organized and chaired the first Nightingale Ball, which raised $75,000. Since that time, the Ball, held each December, along with the Guild’s annual spring event, “Have raised more than $1.5 million for the hospital” noted Brenda.
“The Farrs are invaluable and cherished not only for what they have done on behalf of the hospital but for the enthusiasm and passion they infuse into every project and event they have either spearheaded or attended,” added Rock.
Brenda is a past president of the Guild and has served on a number of its committees. She and Gary celebrated the hospital’s 50th anniversary a few years back by chairing the Guild’s Spring Event and raised $45,000 for the hospital.
But that’s not all they’ve done for the hospital. The next time you visit, take a moment to check out the cactus garden. The Farrs decided to take a formerly overlooked outdoor space and transform it into a tranquil cactus garden for all to enjoy.
When asked what inspires her to get involved, Brenda simply replied, “It’s fun!” She admitted to being “almost embarrassed” to be awarded with a Living Treasure honor, saying, “It’s not like it has been a chore to do what we have been awarded for doing. I enjoy entertaining. I love throwing parties and feel blessed to have such great friends to enjoy spending time with. So the fact that we can raise money for worthy causes while doing what we love to do makes it that much more fun! It is something I truly am happy to get to be a part of in this community.”
To that, Gary added, “We have been blessed with so much in this life, we should share. It is our honor to give back.”
In addition to their work in support of the hospital, Brenda has served with the Ojai Music Festival Women’s Committee in a variety of capacities for the last 16 years. She also serves as a docent at Lotus Land in Santa Barbara, and is currently part of the Ojai Garden Tour Planning Committee. Both Brenda and Gary continue to be active members of the Ojai Valley Community Hospital Guild.
Gary is currently a vice-chairman on the Foundation Board at the Ojai Hospital. He was also the founding president of the Channel Islands Maritime Museum, where he continues to serve on the board, and is a former board member of Casa Pacifica (where he now serves as an advisory board member). He is also a past chairman of the Ventura County UCLA Chancellors.
Aside from all they have happily done for the benefit of others, family is priority for the Farrs, who are proud parents of five grown children and enjoy spending time with their seven grandchildren.
June 6, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
For the first time in several years, the Ojai Unified School District (OUSD) received good news on the financial front.
According to OUSD Superintendent Hank Bangser and Assistant Superintendent Danni Pusatere, the word in Sacramento is that the distict may be getting a substantial funding increase for the 2013-2014 school year — upwards of $230,000 or more than last year.
That’s thanks in part to the passage of Proposition 30, passed by California voters last fall to fund schools; but it’s also thanks to state revenues being higher than Gov. Jerry Brown and his staff had anticipated.
“We’re past zero,” Bangser said. “We actually have a fund balance! … It appears we will get some more money than what the governor was projecting.”
Pusatere explained that the district arrived at that $230,000 number based on extensive number crunching and new information from consultants. However, she cautioned, “Everything we’re hearing is, ‘Well, we’re not sure (of the amount) yet.’”
Nothing will be finalized, Bangser noted, until Brown signs the state budget at the end of the month. But OUSD administrators remain hopeful.
“I don’t think it’ll be $230,000, and it won’t be $500,000, but it could be $350,000,” Bangser said.
The big question now becomes where should the OUSD put the windfall?
In the last five years, the OUSD has had to lay off teachers, support staff and other employees; reduce the number of days in the school year from 180 to 175; reduce pay for all OUSD employees through furlough days; increase the number of students in each classroom; shrink its “rainy day” fund by more than half; and eliminate many class offerings entirely, among other things.
But the first thing Bangser and Pusatere recommended the OUSD board do is to “buy back” furlough days — at least two, maybe three, depending on the amount they receive.
To run the OUSD, it costs roughly $75,000 per day, according to Bangser.
“We’re not asking you to do anything tonight,” Bangser told the board at it’s meeting Tuesday. “We’re getting your reaction … (to) the idea of spending $150,000 — some fund balance — to buy back two furlough days.”
One furlough day would have classes in session, the other would be a staff development day.
Currently, teachers receive eight furlough days, while support staff, including secretaries, janitors, cafeteria workers, etc.) receive nine, administrators 10 and Bangser 12.
Board member Pauline Mercado asked Bangser why Ventura Unified School District (VUSD) has been able to buy back all of its 10 furlough days from teachers, “and we’re only able to do two?” Bangser explained three primary reasons why the much-larger VUSD may end up doing so: the district sold $30 million worth of property, the city passed a parcel tax to supplement VUSD coffers, and they haven’t suffered declining enrollment as Ojai has.
Board member Thayne Whipple asked whether flexibility could be worked into negotiations with the certificated (teacher) and classified (support staff), as a contingency plan in case the funding from Sacramento doesn’t come in as projected. “My sense is, I wanna do that (buy back furlough days) … But it seems like we need some flexibility,” Whipple said. Pusatere and Bangser reassured him that would be the case.
The OUSD will soon meet with the unions, and administrators will ask the board to make a decision on what to do with the surplus funds — however much it ends up being — at the June 25 OUSD board meeting.
June 4, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
In a town that prides itself on its uniqueness, the case of Petunia the missing cow is perhaps far from the strangest thing to happen in Ojai, but nevertheless is causing a community some distress.
“That cow was basically my neighbor,” says Ojai resident Genevieve Dillon.
According to owner Kitty Bartholomew, her fiberglass yard attraction went missing between May 20 and May 22. Bartholomew bought the cow from an antiques dealer in Santa Monica who obtained it from a dairy.
“It made me laugh,” says Bartholomew. “I believe whatever puts a smile on your face, stay with that.”
Bartholomew strapped the bulky statue to the roof of her PT Cruiser and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to her rented cottage on Aliso St., where she parked the cow in her garden. She named the over-sized figurine “Petunia” before closely examining its finer details. When she purchased a house on South Montgomery St., Petunia joined a seven-foot topiary rabbit and another folk art cow in Bartholomew’s front yard. Because a large oak tree occupies a chunk of Bartholomew’s front yard, she was originally going to place Petunia closer to her house, but her tree trimmers insisted the perfect place in front of the oak, where Petunia would be visible from the road.
“It became this wonderful landmark,” says Bartholomew.
Petunia began creating a stir almost immediately. Children would wave to the statue as they passed, neighbors’ dogs barked at the inanimate cow on their daily walks and neighbors began using Petunia as a reference point for directions to their own homes. Someone even left a big, red lipstick kiss between Petunia’s ears.
“It wasn’t cheap, but that isn’t the point,” says Bartholomew, a design expert who used to have a show on the Homes and Gardens Television network.
Bartholomew describes herself as “mischievous,” and says she can completely understand how someone would be drawn to relocate the cow to the top of the police station or one’s school as a prank, she just hopes after the shenanigans, Petunia returns safely home. According to Detective Michael Harris, in addition to the theft Bartholomew reported to the Ojai Police Department, there have been other yard statues stolen, one from Buckboard Lane, and another reappearing unexplained in an orchard off Carne Road.
“I do not know of any specific pattern, but suspect the thefts may be related to (high school) senior pranks,” says Harris.
Whatever the reason for the disappearance, Bartholomew just wants her signature kitschy cow returned, along with her faith in her town.
“I love Ojai more than you can imagine,” says Bartholomew. “I have fallen in love with this town. I call it ‘Oz.’ I found my bliss here. I have never found a place I love more. My soul is here. It’s kind of sad that this would happen.”
As soon as Bartholomew’s friends, family and neighbors learned of the theft, they began posting pictures and information on their Facebook pages. Bartholomew’s son created “missing” posters offering a reward for Petunia, which will be distributed around town. Tuesday afternoon Bartholomew stopped at the Ojai Post Office, and the employees inquired about her cow. One asked for a copy of the poster to place in the post office window.
“It’s big, and black and white. It’s not like it’s easy to hide,” says Bartholomew.
Anyone with information on the cow’s whereabouts can email email@example.com, or call the Ojai Police Department at 646-1414.
June 4, 2013
Tim Dewar, firstname.lastname@example.org
The battle between Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) and Golden State Water Company (GSWC) over who will serve 2,900 households in the future, will soon be in the hands of Ventura County Superior Court judge Mark S. Borrell.
The filing of GSWC’s reply brief Monday and the May 29 filing of CMWD’s memorandum of points and authorities in opposition, provides a clear idea of the questions Borrell will decide when the lawsuit is heard beginning Monday at 8:20 a.m. in Courtroom 43.
Filed March 29, the suit asks the court to rule that the three resolutions required to form CMWD Community Facilities District No 2013-1 and hold the election be declared invalid; that the community facilities district (CFD) be dissolved; that the court issue a permanent injunction to CMWD prohibiting it from holding the proposed bond election or from incurring bond indebtedness of any kind to fund a CFD and that CMWD pay GSWC’s costs for the lawsuit.
In trying to convince Borrell why the court should allow the Aug. 27 special election, CMWD contends that the four arguments GSWC makes for halting the election are without merit.
The four arguments include that the CFD contemplates acquiring GSWC’s Ojai service area by eminent domain but the Mello-Roos Act, which authorizes agencies such as CMWD to levy taxes for funding certain types of public service projects, does not authorize CFD funds to be used for condemnation.
It also states that both the resolution of intention to form the CFD and the CFD report failed to adequately describe GSWC’s facilities to be acquired and their estimated cost and that the CFD resolutions authorize CMWD to finance incidental costs of the condemnation of GSWC’s property and to pay for “intangible” property rights with CFD proceeds and the Mello-Roos Act does not allow CFD proceeds to be used in that way either.
In its latest filing, GSWC attorneys distilled its position further. “What provision of the Mello-Roos Act confers on a Community Facilities District (“CFD”) the power to finance a taking of property by eminent domain?” GSWC attorneys wrote in the reply brief “Given that Casitas MWD’s formal ‘List of Authorized Facilities’ says the CFD will finance acquisition of ‘intangible property and property rights’ and all potential damage awards in the eminent domain case, how can the scheme be deemed to comply with §53313.5 of the Mello-Roos Act, which restricts a CFD to financing the purchase of “real or other tangible property?”
IN CMWD’s brief in opposition, attorney Steve Oderman wrote, “With respect to GSW’s claims that CFD financing cannot be used to pay for eminent domain costs, including normal incidental costs such as appraisal and attorney fees, there is not a shred of evidence the California Legislature intended the Mello-Roos Act to be so interpreted. In short,” he added, “GSW’s assertion that the Legislature balked at including eminent domain powers in the Mello-Roos Act is pure poppycock and the legal authorities cited at pp. 15-16 of GSW’s Opening Brief have no applicability here. CMWD has researched every page of the legislative history of the original Mello-Roos Act adopted in 1982 and no fewer than 12 amendments to the Mello-Roos Act adopted in 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991 (two separate bills), 1992, 1993, and 2007 that address the eligible purposes and costs that can be financed by a CFD — some 9,766 pages of legislative history — and defies GSW to point to a single statement, a single word, a single concern raised by any legislator, any member of any of the legislative staffs, any organization or individual commenting on any of the bills, anyone at all, over a period of more than 30 years that the Legislature is now or ever was concerned with CFDs being used to fund condemnation actions.”
As for GSWC’s assertion that Casitas intends to use the Mello-Roos money to pay for “intangibles” including water rights Golden State claims to hold, Oderman again disagreed.
“GSW has failed to establish that it has any water rights or that it will suffer a loss of business goodwill; it has failed to establish that any such rights are compensable over and above the value of its other property rights; under a long line of California case law, water rights are considered to be part of the real estate and not a separate “intangible;” and even if water rights and/or loss of business goodwill are “intangible” property rights CMWD has the authority to treat them as an eligible “costs” or “incidental expenses” of the acquisition,” according to the answer.
GSWC attorney George Soneff, in the reply brief, wrote, “For the financing scheme to be validated, it must be shown that the ‘facilities’ which Casitas has formally resolved to finance through the issuance bonds and imposition of special taxes are, in fact, facilities that are financeable under the Mello-Roos Act. That showing has not been made.”
Monday’s hearing, scheduled for Courtroom 43 of the Ventura County Government Center, will be open to the public.
June 4, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correpsondent
In March, four months after the death of the legendary Hollywood star Larry Hagman, his marble and glass, 23,000-square-foot home atop Sulphur Mountain sold to a Hollywood non-profit group associated with the Church of Scientology for $5 million.
“I’m worried about traffic on that road,” said Amie Lindsay, at the Stagecoach Station store in Upper Ojai. “I grew up on Sulphur Mountain Road, it’s never been very safe, and it’s full of traffic already.”
The property, which had been for sale for more than two years, was originally listed for $6.45 million. The sale went through shortly after a title dispute between the Hagman estate and a neighbor south of the property — the religious non-profit Meher Mount group — was resolved.
Terrance Rodsky, attorney for the Hagman estate, explained that a survey revealed that a fence long used as a boundary had been installed in the wrong location, giving a half-acre of land mistakenly to the Hagman estate.
“The fence had been constructed prior to the Hagman’s purchase of the property,” Rodsky said. “Everyone assumed it was on the boundary line. When this turned out not to be the case, it raised some interesting legal questions, and ultimately we felt we had to have the court rule on the question to clear the title.”
Although the Hagman estate and the Meher Mount group settled their suits out of court, both sides continued the legal battle over a tax issue, which was settled in a ruling in May by the Second Appellate Court of Appeal. Judge Brian Hoffstadt, writing for a three-judge panel, said that the Hagman estate did not owe taxes to the county over the disputed half-acre of land.
“The court said that the estate did not owe taxes on this (half-acre) property, because the Meher Mount is a religious non-profit, and was never billed for property taxes by the county,” Rodsky said. “How do you pay non-existent taxes?”
The 173-acre property, near the Hagman estate, is owned by the Meher Mount Corporation. The group was founded in the 1950s by wealthy followers of a spiritual leader from India, and was intended “to provide for the betterment of mankind by implementing the teachings of Meher Baba.”
The Hagman property was purchased by another religiously minded non-profit group, the Social Betterment Properties International, which is affiliated with the Church of Scientology, and is headquartered at the same address on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. A spokesperson for the group said plans for the property had not been finalized, but would not comment further at that time.
Some residents expressed wariness about the arrival of the group in Ojai, but also were not surprised by the appeal of the town for the group.
“I think Ojai draws a lot of spiritually inclined people,” said Ojai resident Tony Khalife. “I think if they leave us alone, they will be all right, but if they start stopping people on the street, and engaging in cultural aggression, then there will be a conflict.”
“Scientology is full of mystique, isn’t it?” said Patrick Russell, while walking his dogs in Libbey Park. “I’ve seen many documentaries about it, involving many well-known Hollywood personalities, such as Tom Cruise, but I really don’t know what to think about it.”
Realtor Kathy Stone, who specializes in Upper Ojai, expressed some regret.
“It breaks my heart,” she said. “It’s a beautiful property, and it sold for less than it cost to build.”
May 30, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Tuesday night, Ojai’s City Council rejected a conditional use permit request from Starr Market representatives, that would have allowed the supermarket to be sold to a chain store. They also approved phase one — and are moving forward with phase two — of the 2006-2014 Housing Element, and got some good news from the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (OVLC).
OVLC had requested that the city contribute approximately $20,000 toward the acquisition of the Valley View Preserve, a 195-acre parcel of land that abuts Shelf Road. But fundraising for the project was so successful that OVLC no longer needs city funds. “The Land Conservancy has just issued a press release that we have successfully completed our Valley View project and are closing our campaign. We overshot our $650,000 goal, and we’re extremely excited about that,” said OVLC executive director Greg Gamble. “I wanted to come to the podium to thank the city staff, City Council members and the Parks and Recreation Commission, who all expressed their support for this project.”
Similarly, discussion of the Exterior Lighting Ordinance became irrelevant after Councilwoman Betsy Clapp discovered that the state will issue new codes in the upcoming months.
“Council member Clapp had received a communication talking about changes to the State Building Code that would be mandatory changes that relate to lighting standards that will be published in the next month and a half and could have some impact on this ordinance,” elaborated city manager Rob Clark. “Council member Clapp had suggested that the Council may want to continue consideration of this until those are published and we have a chance to analyze them and determine what impact, if any, they have on the ordinance.”
“In nine months, this (Ojai) ordinance would become obsolete,” said Clapp.
But representatives of Starr Market may not have felt their issue was likewise obsolete. They had petitioned Council to grant a conditional use permit allowing a chain company to purchase the market when the current owners are ready to sell. Council, however, unanimously voted to make no exceptions to the existing city ordinance.
“I’m one of the Council members that asked it be placed on here (the agenda). My reasoning for that was a representative for Starr Market had asked staff and mentioned at City Council meetings, more than a year ago now, the question of whether we would consider amending the Formula Business Ordinance,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel. “My intent on having it placed on this agenda was so this Council could decide whether or not they wished to make a change to our existing Formula Business Ordinance.”
“I want to first of all state that this is not a problem, as Mr. Clark has presented it. This is an issue. But this is an ordinance that was drafted intentionally, over the period of a year. I think I spent the entire year in this room,” said Ojai resident Kenley Neufeld. “The way that the language is written was done with our eyes wide open, and with an awareness that it would impact certain businesses in this town … The message was very clear, and this Council approved it.”
Ojai resident Leslie Ferraro commented that she is neither for nor against chain markets, but would prefer to not be limited to shopping in Ventura for affordable groceries. Marika Thompson suggested once the market is available for purchase, it could be a wonderful opportunity for a co-op or non-profit grocery market.
“During this time (drafting the ordinance), I don’t ever recall Mr. Starr voicing any concern about the Formula Business Ordinance. I have nothing against Terry Starr. He’s my neighbor. I like him, I talk to him, and I purposely buy from his store,” said Ojai resident Pat McPherson. “I don’t think he’s explored all the options, and I don’t think it’s up to us to do that for him.”
“We are in charge of protecting a unique community,” said Mayor Paul Blatz. “When you look at what happens to a community when these chain stores come in, they actually weaken the local economy … Ultimately, it erodes the character of this town.”
Council also considered changing the existing policy regarding non-residents — those residing in unincorporated areas in the valley — serving on the various city commissions.
“One of the reasons I began thinking about this was because we are looking at that new Building Appeals Board,” said Blatz, “and it never said that the people on that board were going to be mandated to be citizens of Ojai, which I believe they need to be. If you’re looking at commissions that have an impact on the city itself, then what input would people who live outside the city — specifically when it comes to the Planning Department — what input do they have that’s essential to that commission that a citizen of Ojai would not necessarily have?”
“We have a list of things to consider here, and I just wanted to say that the last bullet point, ‘Make the resident members voting members, and the non-resident members advisory-only’ — I absolutely object to that,” countered Strobel. “I have no interest in having someone serve and do the work on one of our commissions, and yet not have a vote.”
Clapp suggested a boundary from which to draw applicants, even using the Ojai Unified School District as one such geographical qualifier. Councilman Severo Lara pointed out diverse opinions are helpful, and “it’s nicer to have a bigger pool” from which to draw advice.
After determining that the existing application and interview process allows for adequate discretionary control, no changes were made. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” offered Councilwoman Carol Smith.
The regular City Council meetings scheduled for July 23 and Sept. 24 were cancelled. Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information on upcoming meetings.
May 20, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
Using phrases including “a complete red herring,” “pure poppycock,” “nothing could be further from the truth,” “without merit” and “demonstrably false,” attorneys for Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) filed a response Wednesday to the Golden State Water Company (GSWC) lawsuit seeking to halt an Aug. 27 special election.
The election, if allowed by the court, would decide whether current ratepayers in the GSWC Ojai service area will authorize CMWD to form a Community Facilities District (CFD) that would place a tax lien on most properties in the service area to raise money to finance the buyout of Golden State, much-needed repairs to the system and the incorporation of its customers into the CMWD.
GSWC filed the lawsuit in Ventura County Superior Court March 26.
In its memorandum of points and authorities (the answer to GSWC’s filing), Casitas attorney Steve Oderman, from Rutan & Tucker LLP, wasted no time getting to the point.
“CMWD respectfully submits that all of GSW’s (sic) arguments are without merit,” Oderman wrote.
Those arguments, according to CMWD’s answer, are that the CFD contemplates acquiring GSWC’s Ojai service area by eminent domain but the Mello-Roos Act, which authorizes agencies such as CMWD to levy taxes for funding certain types of public service projects, does not authorize CFD funds to be used for condemnation.
It also states that both the resolution of intention to form the CFD and the CFD report failed to adequately describe GSWC’s facilities to be acquired and their estimated cost and that the CFD resolutions authorize CMWD to finance incidental costs of the condemnation of GSWC’s property and to pay for “intangible” property rights with CFD proceeds and the Mello-Roos Act does not allow CFD proceeds to be used in that way either.
“All four premises of GSW’s argument are incorrect,” Oderman added. “With respect to GSW’s claims that CFD financing cannot be used to pay for eminent domain costs, including normal incidental costs such as appraisal and attorney fees, there is not a shred of evidence the California Legislature intended the Mello-Roos Act to be so interpreted.”
Oderman argued that the intent of the legislature in establishing the Mello-Roos financing mechanism was not to give a single property owner veto authority over the decision of a governmental agency and two-thirds of the electors in a CFD.
“In its suit, GSW’s Senior Vice President (Denise L. Kruger) alleges that “it appears” there has been only one other instance in the over 30-year history of the Mello-Roos Act that a CFD ‘has ever been used to fund a taking by eminent domain,’ that one instance being a takeover of a private water system in Felton,” Oderman explained in the answer. “Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, in addition to the Felton case, which was also handled by undersigned counsel, CMWD’s attorneys alone have been involved in several eminent domain lawsuits (for both condemnors and property owners) in which the lawsuit was financed by a CFD. Based upon my firm’s and my experience, I can categorically say that the Mello- Roos Act has been used numerous times to finance the condemnation of real property and I am convinced that the use of CFD financing for condemnation of property for various types of public projects is widespread in California and has been so for many years.
“In short,” he added, “GSW’s assertion that the Legislature balked at including eminent domain powers in the Mello-Roos Act is pure poppycock and the legal authorities cited at pp. 15-16 of GSW’s Opening Brief have no applicability here. CMWD has researched every page of the legislative history of the original Mello-Roos Act adopted in 1982 and no fewer than 12 amendments to the Mello-Roos Act adopted in 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991 (two separate bills), 1992, 1993, and 2007 that address the eligible purposes and costs that can be financed by a CFD — some 9,766 pages of legislative history — and defies GSW to point to a single statement, a single word, a single concern raised by any legislator, any member of any of the legislative staffs, any organization or individual commenting on any of the bills, anyone at all, over a period of more than 30 years that the Legislature is now or ever was concerned with CFDs being used to fund condemnation actions.”
As to the claim that CMWD’s resolution of intent to form the CFD did not adequately describe the property to be taken, Oderman again took exception. “No purpose would be served by requiring CMWD to itemize every pump station, every water transmission line, etc., etc., owned by GSW,” he wrote in the answer. “GSW and the public know full well what the subject of the proposed acquisition is — every property interest GSW has in its Ojai service area.”
As to GSWC’s contention that Casitas intends to use the Mello-Roos money to pay for “intangibles” including water rights Golden State claims to hold, Oderman again disagreed.
“GSW has failed to establish that it has any water rights or that it will suffer a loss of business goodwill; it has failed to establish that any such rights are compensable over and above the value of its other property rights; under a long line of California case law, water rights are considered to be part of the real estate and not a separate “intangible;” and even if water rights and/or loss of business goodwill are “intangible” property rights CMWD has the authority to treat them as an eligible “costs” or “incidental expenses” of the acquisition,” according to the answer.
To make his point, Oderman used the analogy of selling a car. “GSW cannot reasonably expect to sell its Ojai water utility — whether voluntarily or involuntarily — without the water and then, figuratively speaking, pick up the water and sell it elsewhere or take it with GSW wherever it might wish to go. The notion that GSW’s supposed “water rights” have any independent additional value strikes me as akin to the argument that the owner of an automobile can sell the automobile without the engine, charge full price for the car (assuming the engine is still inside) and then separately sell the engine for full price.”
According to Oderman, there is no indication in the Mello-Roos Act that the Legislature intended to require a public agency using CFD financing to guarantee that every cost and incidental expense incurred will produce positive results. He added that a court ruling to the contrary, which is essentially what GSW is asking for, would severely chill the use of the Mello-Roos Act.
In its answer, Casitas supplied the judge with seven reasons it feels the election should go forward.
GSW’s Ojai customers have no right to participate in management of the water utility serving their community, as they will with CMWD; CMWD’s Board members live in the community and are easily accessible to local residents, whereas GSW management do not and are not; CMWD’s Board members perform a public service with virtually no personal financial return, whereas GSW’s Board represents an out-of-area corporate organization that seeks to maximize profit for the company’s owners; CMWD conducts its business in public meetings within its service area and is subject to the Brown Act, GSW does not; CMWD is subject to the California Public Records Act, GSW is not; under Proposition 218, CMWD’s voters have numerous protections prior to having their water rates increased, including the right to “protest out” any proposed fee increases by majority vote, GSW’s customers do not; and CMWD’s customers have numerous opportunities to express their will at the local level, whereas GSW’s only “recourse” is to attempt to pierce the technical and legalistic CPUC process with officials and staff located hundreds of miles away.
If the judge rules that the election can proceed, all eligible voters within the CFD can cast a ballot. It must be approved by more than two-thirds of those voting in order to pass.
The case is currently scheduled to be heard June 10 at 8:20 a.m. in Department 43 of the Ventura County Superior Court at the Government Center in Ventura.
May 23, 2103
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
In a four-to-one vote, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved a measure that will create a change in the application for new conditional use permits (C.U.P.) related to oil and gas drilling in Ventura County.
Supervisor Peter Foy cast the only no vote against the measure, brought by Supervisors Steve Bennett and Linda Parks.
New questions will be added to the application, asking whether the operator intends to hydraulically fracture (or “frack”) the wells. If so, the application asks when fracking will occur, what chemicals will be used and how waste fluids will be disposed of.
Bennett indicated that this change will provide planners with necessary information to determine whether the project should be approved.
Hydraulic fracturing is a well completion process that uses water, sand and chemicals injected at high pressures to break apart hard, dense rock formations deep underground to release oil that has been previously unrecoverable.
“I don’t know how anybody can say we shouldn’t ask that question,” said Bennett while introducing the measure.
“It is important to protect our water supply,” said Supervisor John Zaragoza.
Foy, however, countered by saying “We have to be careful that we don’t put so much burden on the industry. I haven’t seen (fracking) done irresponsibly in our state. Other counties haven’t (passed similar measures).” Foy emphasized the economic importance and number of jobs the oil and gas industry brings to the county as part of his basis for not supporting the measure.
The measure also asks the Ventura County counsel to provide information to the Board of Supervisors regarding how the county can have more oversight over “antiquated” C.U.P.s, some of which allow oil companies to drill more wells after getting county approval for minor modifications. It also requests information on what requirements the board can place on water usage.
This approval comes just days before the county’s Planning Commission will hear an appeal filed by Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG). The group has asked for a review of the approval, made by the Planning Director, for Mirada Petroleum to drill nine new wells and rework two existing wells in an oil field behind Thomas Aquinas College between Upper Ojai and Santa Paula. The applicant, Mirada Petroleum’s Scott Price, asked for a minor modification to his permit, which was last modified in 1992. Mirada operates 30 wells in the area.
CFROG members have retained the help of the Environmental Defense Center (EDC), a non-profit environmental law firm, whose work is focused on the central coast. CFROG hopes the county will be required to perform a supplemental environmental review for this project, as it has been decades since any environmental report was done.
Brian Segee, lead attorney with the EDC, was present when the measure passed earlier this week. The action is “well within your police powers (and) your duty as a local agency to protect the health and safety of residents. No one else is doing that,” Segee told the board during the public comment portion of the hearing. “This is not your grandfather’s fracking. (The industry) has married existing technology with horizontal drilling. (This is) different technology, different chemicals and nobody has looked at the environmental impacts,” he said, adding that it is incumbent upon local agencies to do so.
“Nobody is opposed to jobs or oil. (We support) responsible oil development,” said John Brooks, a resident of Oak View and a CFROG founding member. “The next oil boom has to be done in a way where we can save the planet rather than hurt it further. This will help lift the veil of secrecy. It is a baby step and a responsible step.”
“This (measure) is well within your scope of powers. Of course the oil industry is going to dispute that,” said Helen Conly, also a resident of Oak View and founding CFROG member. It is the duty of the supervisors to “take care of the well-being of residents, small business and all industries — not just the oil industry.”
The EDC will represent CFROG at the Planning Commission hearing set for next Thursday at 8:30 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors meeting room, at the Ventura County Government Center. The hearing is open to the public.
Visit www.CFROG.org for more information on CFROG.
May 23, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
A new U.S. Senate bill — which has gained bipartisan support — is giving rental car safety proponents a reason to feel optimistic.
Tuesday, Ojai mom Cally Houck testified in Washington, D.C., in the first hearing for the Raechel and Jacqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act of 2013.
“The hearing went incredibly well for us,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety (C.A.R.S.)
The bill, S. 921 was named for Houck’s two daughters who were killed when the rented car they were driving slammed head-on into an 18-wheeler, killing both women, ages 20 and 24, instantly.
A jury eventually found Enterprise Rent-A-Car at fault for renting a PT Cruiser to the women that was the subject of an unresolved safety recall.
The bill was introduced by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and is co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
If passed, the bill would protect consumers by banning rental car companies from renting or selling vehicles that are under safety recall. According to a press release from C.A.R.S., “While current law prohibits car dealerships from selling recalled vehicles to consumers, no law bans rental car companies from doing the same or renting them to unsuspecting consumers.”
It has eventually received support from Hertz, Enterprise, Avis Budget, Dollar Thrifty and National, as well as the American Car Rental Association .
It’s a marked change from where Houck’s fight stood just one year ago, when only Hertz backed her efforts.
“What a difference a year makes,” Houck said Wednesday. “Although I’m not ready to be a cheerleader for Enterprise, and I suspect their graciousness has a self-serving edge, I get the impression they are committed to this campaign, and they like doing this.”
In testimony Tuesday, Houck told legislators, “Recalled cars endanger the lives of everyone who shares the roads. Not only the people who are riding in them, but other drivers as well.” Raechel and Jacqueline hit an 18-wheeler, she went on, but “it could just as easily have been a minivan full of children, with more lives lost.”
“Our goals for this legislation are twofold — to protect families, and to prevent undue burdens for employers — and this agreement succeeds on both fronts,” said McCaskill, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. “Neither side got everything they wanted, but by everybody giving a little, we’re getting a lot — and that’s what compromise is all about.”
As it was presented Tuesday, the Houck bill would prohibit the rental or sale of vehicles subject to a safety recall, and force companies to ground the vehicles within 24 hours of receiving the safety recall notice, and keep them grounded until repairs have been made.
However, the companies do have a bit of wiggle room. If the recall involves more than 5,000 vehicles in their fleet, they would get an extra 24 hours to ground them. If parts are not immediately available — and if manufacturers identify temporary steps that can be taken to eliminate a safety risk — companies can take those steps until parts become available. The bill would also give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) authority to police the companies’ recall safety practices.
Opposition voices were few, but included the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM). Wade Newton, AAM spokesman, acknowledged Thursday that “We identify with the goal of the bill’s sponsors; we want to promote the speedy repair of recalled vehicles.” However, Newton added, the AAM doesn’t feel that grounding all vehicles with a safety recall is necessary.
“Nine out of 10 recalls don’t include instructions to stop driving the vehicle … often, it’s something that, over time, needs to be addressed … (the bill) is treating all recalls as if they are the same.”
Not surprisingly, Houck, the Senators and their supporters disagree with the AAM’s position. “Our answer to that is, first of all, why are you making millions of cars with the same defect? You should’ve figured that out before you had that many cars that are (defective),” said Shahan. “The dealers and manufacturers are saying, ‘We shouldn’t have to ground the (vehicles) unless it’s a certain kind of defect.’ Well, who gets to choose? If it’s under a safety recall, there’s only one reason why — because they are unsafe.”
“You can’t pass the risk on to the consumer. That is so unfair. That’s never acceptable, we’ve always said that,” Houck said.
“Rental car companies are rolling the dice with passengers’ lives each and every time they rent a car that’s under a recall,” said Schumer.
“This unspeakable tragedy could have and should have been prevented. Certainly, it should never be allowed to happen again,” said Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA23) in a statement submitted for the hearing. “I am pleased that the rental car companies have come together with safety and consumer groups to support this common sense legislation.”
Last year, Capps introduced a similar bill in the House. Proponents tried, unsuccessfully, to attach that bill to the NHTSA reauthorization bill. “But I’m kind of glad it didn’t get attached to the transportation bill,” Houck said, “with all the election brouhaha.”
The current bill will continue through the Senate, although a time table for a vote has not yet been set. Soon, however, Capps intends to introduce the House companion to the latest bill.
Houck acknowledged, “We still have some work to do (in the House bill),” but remained confident that the cause is gaining momentum. “The airbag bill took 10 years. Ten years! We’re been working on this since late 2010, and it’s 2013. We’re good. We’re moving ahead.”
May 21, 2013
Chris T. Wilson, OVN correspondent
When the full moon rises over Ojai Saturday evening, Libbey Bowl will fill up with musicians and fans joining forces to benefit a Haitian orphanage and school started by a local couple after the devastating earthquake there in 2010. Rising rock star Lissie will headline the bill, having just arrived back in Ojai after a tour of the Midwest and Britain to promote the release of her new single, “Shameless,” and upcoming album.
The Changing Tides orphanage was founded by Ojai’s Vance and Cheryl Simms in 2010 after the devastating 7.0 earthquake there killed 220,000 people and left millions of others without homes and basic necessities.
This is the second benefit concert Lissie has headlined in Ojai for Changing Tides. Last August, along with Todd Hannigan and others, she helped raise $17,000 for Changing Tides. On Saturday, Hannigan will perform again, and local singer-songwriter Emy Reynolds will also perform.
“Vance is doing this incredible work not only for the kids in the orphanage, but also for the people in the community,” Lissie said. “Within the community, he has a really positive impact. I like his style; he’s very practical and really cool. He’s just like, ‘I’m in a position where I can help, even if I can only help this handful of kids, I know that is something that is worth doing.’”
Funds collected from the benefit concert in August have helped to offset the day-to-day expenses of housing 15 children in the orphanage and educating 30 young students in the school. The orphanage and school currently sit on leased facilities, but Simms said he’s recently purchased a piece of land with the help of another donor, and is looking to build a full 12-grade school there.
“We do a lot of community outreach programs, in addition to the orphanage and school,” Simms said. “The money raised from the concert was a very big part of our budget. It costs about $3,800 per month to run the orphanage and school. We do a lot with that money, including running a clean water program and feeding some elderly in the neighborhood.”
Simms took Lissie and her band’s guitar player, Eric Sullivan, to Cité Soleil, a densely populated slum in Port Au Prince where they was witnessed first-hand one of the poorest places on the planet. They put on a concert for the neighborhood near the orphanage, and spent a week there. Fender donated a few guitars that Lissie and Sullivan took with them.
“These kids are the future of their country, which, even before the earthquake, was the poorest place in the Western Hemisphere,” Lissie said. “We filmed everything and we’ve made a promo video that Vance can use, and we’re making a little series from the video we shot.”
Lissie hopes the video they shot will help her fans be more involved in understanding her interests. “I want people to know what I’m passionate about,” she said.
Simms travels one week per month from Ojai to Haiti, often taking people with him.
“I took a bunch of Thacher kids and their parents and they want to make a return trip,” Simms said. “We’re trying to take people who want to help. It opens your eyes to see how a part of the world lives. You can see it on TV, but it’s so different when you’re there and see it for yourself.”
Simms said he’s got a long and growing list of committed volunteers who are on board to help build the school and new orphanage as those plans evolve.
Ticket sales for Saturday’s show have been going well, he said. He anticipates a last-minute rush of sales the day of the concert.
“Last year we sold 450 tickets the day of the show,” he said.
Saturday’s concert in Libbey Bowl is set for 6 to 9:30 p.m. Visit www.changingtidesorphanage.org to learn more about Changing Tides, and www.lissie.com for tickets (click on “gigs”). Tickets are also available at Julia Rose and Company, 335 E. Ojai Ave., and Contempo Hair Design, 205 S. Signal St. Simms encourages people to follow the Changing Tides page on Facebook.
May 22, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
Although the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (NDSDF)is based in Ojai, only two dogs from the Ojai area have ever been selected for training.
One of them, Moxie, has been deployed to Oklahoma City after the devastating EF-4 tornado that ripped through the area Monday, leaving dozens dead and hundreds injured. Cell phone service is spotty at best, said Search Dog program manager Kate Horwick — so getting updates from Moxie’s handler, Oklahoma firefighter Brent Koeninger, and the other Search Dog teams has been difficult.
Moxie and Koeninger joined 11 other NDSDF-certified teams searching the rubble in Moore, Okla., Shawnee, Okla., and Granbury, Texas. More may be heading out soon. “They mobilized almost immediately,” said Horwick, adding that they’ve searched through schools, homes and a bowling alley, among other places. “The only reason we know about the bowling alley is that we saw one of our dogs on CNN,” Horwick said. “From what we’ve heard, right now, they feel like they’ve done about 20 percent of the search and rescue areas.”
Weather is a big factor, and things like lightning and severe storms will force teams to “take cover, to sit and wait. We kind of need everything to cooperate,” Horwick added. “We have no idea how long they might be out there. As long as it takes.”
Three-year-old Moxie, originally named Roxy, had lived with a family in Camp Pendleton until she was about a year and a half old. But, according Humane Society shelter director Jolene Hoffman, when her owner was deployed overseas, he had to surrender her to the Humane Society of Ventura County (HSVC) Ojai shelter. She was there for only a day before several locals recognized the Lab’s potential as a search dog.
“We got quite a few calls from people in the community that had seen her, telling us about this great dog,” said Horwick. “Most of our dogs come from California, but Moxie is only the second in 15 years to be recruited from the local shelter. She’s very different from most dogs we get — the majority are strays, found on the streets and are never claimed.”
Search Dog workers headed over to the Humane Society and tested Moxie, who quickly showed herself to be a perfect search dog training candidate. The Ojai shelter typically only adopts animals to approved family homes, but, said Hoffman, Moxie was different.
“She was so high energy, we knew we could not place her in the average home,” Hoffman said. The HSVC board of directors understood, and made an exception to their usual rule. “And it definitely ended up being the right one, because look where she is now!” Hoffman said. “It was a very lucky day for us,” said Horwick of the NDSDF. The Humane Society board allowed Moxie to go to NDSDF handlers in Gilroy, Calif., and go through the rigorous training required for her to earn the title of search dog.
As Moxie neared graduation, trainer Sharon Hanzelka told the NDSDF, “She’s always very excited to work, has a great attitude and wants to please you.”
Shortly after being paired with Moxie in October 2012, Koeninger said, “She has been going with me non-stop … Moxie is a sweetheart. Like the Energizer Bunny, she keeps going and going and going. I hope I can keep up!” The pair are always together, ready 24/7 to be deployed at any time through Oklahoma Task Force 1.
Visit wwww.searchdogfoundation.org for more information, and “like” the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation on Facebook for deployment updates for all NDSDF teams across the country.
May 16, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN corrrespondent
A request for a variance to allow a rock wall on North Signal Street help prompt a workshop between the Ojai City Council and the Ojai Planning Commission during which the two groups reconsidered a number of city policies and priorities.
The variance was denied by the Planning Commission, but approved last month when the applicants appealed to the City Council.
“I think Commissioner (Paul) Crabtree brought up the question at the last meeting, where we had a Planning Commission decision that I think was four to one against a variance, and then it came to Council, who voted five to one in favor of the variance,” summarized Commissioner John Mirk during the Tuesday night workshop. “He was kind of concerned that we were getting out of step between the Planning Commission and the Council.”
“There was a (state-wide) presentation we were in that addressed variances, and it basically said, bottom line, that it is rare to give out variances,” offered Commissioner Kathleen Nolan.
Nolan continued that there is typically a stringent list of criteria qualifying a property for a variance — for example, when a stream runs through the property and creates a changing topography. This, she theorized, prevented just about anyone who wanted one from obtaining it.
“What you guys (Planning Commission) did is exactly correct,” stated Mayor Paul Blatz. “We have a little bit of a different calling in that the buck kind of stops with us and we are accountable to the electorate … So we have a little bit more flexibility in the way that we interpret the findings we have to make.”
For Commissioner Troy Becker, the discrepancies between the Council and Planning Commission decisions allowed the property owner to get away with serious transgressions.
“As planning commissioners and council members, we often have to swallow our pride a lot. And I think that’s just something we have to do. We’ve all done it. And I can swallow my pride on the wall. It’s a beautiful wall; I think it looks great. It matches the neighborhood. I really don’t have issues with the wall,” said Becker. “But one of the things that I had articulated to the applicant that I had a problem with is I had a discussion via email with Rob (Clark) when I was in Germany which was: Did the wall require a permit? And the answer was ‘yes.’ Was it constructed by a licensed contractor? And the answer was ‘no.’ So, my suggestion was that we need to put that on the variance application. If you violated the law, we shouldn’t even be looking at a variance. And by the way, it is the law. I went to Sacramento and looked at the big book and it is the law. It looks pretty dumb of us to be approving work that is completed by a non-licensed contractor.”
Councilwoman Carol Smith echoed Becker’s sentiments.
“Why in the world would you not hire a licensed contractor for a job that’s going to cost $25,000? How does a homeowner even think about doing that? Do we need to include some education to our public about the dangers that a homeowner faces when they hire somebody without a license?” asked Smith. “Ignorance is no excuse. Or trying to bifurcate the process is no excuse … How dumb can you be?”
Councilwoman Betsy Clapp was disturbed by another aspect of the variance appeal case for the wall.
“I think we need to consider that they had a stop-work order and continued,” said Clapp. “There is something really uncomfortable to me when people proceed with impunity. It is distasteful that they came to us and they got away with it. I can see where Planning Commission is saying, ‘Come on, you guys!’”
Clapp also inquired as to what the Development Department’s procedure is, when someone comes into the office requesting a variance.
“I think I’m pretty up-front with applicants that it is a difficult process and that there are special findings that need to be made, and that it is expensive and the outcome is uncertain,” answered Community Development Director Rob Mullane. “And that is as best as I can do without going beyond my authority.”
In regards to reconsidering the Planning Department fee schedule and its policy toward right-of-way designations, as well as priorities for the Community Development Department, Commissioners determined it would be most efficient to decide specifics on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.
“Council is getting into the budget cycle to review priorities for the department, as well as other departments in the city,” said Mullane. “(At) the last Planning Commission meeting we talked in some detail about what the priorities for the department might be, and I set forth a laundry list of a few of the items that have been before staff for the last couple years. The Commission came up with an overarching objective or initiative that they thought would really address a lot of the issues all at once.”
“We keep seeing things that come through Planning that quite frankly kind of waste our time and aren’t Planning issues. They cost staff time, they cost city time and aren’t really generating revenue for the city,” elaborated Becker. “In my opinion, it all gets back to — we have to get back into correcting our codes and making them readable and understandable … There’s a little bit of distrust that happens at the Planning desk. It’s a kind of like being in a courtroom, I suppose. You can always find an argument to support your case. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win. So the idea was to work off of something we’ve been talking about, a real planning thing, and that is to look at our community as segmented by certain neighborhoods. That’s already been accomplished, through our Master Tree Plan, Community Forest Management Plan.”
Clapp suggested it might be prudent to hire outside help to consolidate existing data and criteria in delineating distinct neighborhoods of Ojai, and directed staff to consider this alongside the upcoming budget discussions.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view the meeting in full.
May 16, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai City Council used its regular meeting Tuesday to reaffirm its goals and priorities, consider a new procedure for appealing staff planning decisions and to gear up for the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget.
In response to some contentious decisions on specific planning and building applications, Mayor Paul Blatz suggested establishing a process by which applicants could have the staff decision reviewed administratively by the mayor and mayor pro tem.
“The city of Ojai receives a large number of applications for planning approvals and building approvals — about 600 per year,” explained city manager Rob Clark. “In receiving those applications, we have to make administrative-level determinations … Out of 600 applications, we maybe get about a dozen per year where there is a disagreement, where the applicant feels that, administratively, we have been too black and white. I think that we would admit that in some cases we have been.”
Clark went on to say that in recent weeks, staff has “made a concerted effort to not only take into consideration the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law.”
Clark pointed out that currently, if there is a dispute between an applicant and staff, the protocol is for the appeal to be taken before the Ojai Planning Commission, which can be costly and time consuming.
Creating an appeal process involving two members of the City Council, as Blatz suggested, would create a “standing committee” under the Brown Act, creating further procedures to follow and requiring more staff time. In lieu of this, Clark recommended either a free appeal process to the city manager or reducing the cost of a Planning Commission appeal by about half. Additionally, he suggested, should the review find in favor of the applicant the fees could be refunded to the applicant.
“I’m comfortable with all three of these procedures being implemented,” stated Blatz.
The matter was a discussion item, so no formal action was taken, but after hearing approval from council members, Clark said he would proceed structuring the new review process.
As far as determining the next fiscal year’s budget, Clark said the process is inextricably tied with assessing the council’s goals and priorities.
“These goals and priorities drive the budget process,” said Clark. “One of the most important goals of the City Council consistently, over the whole time we’ve been doing this, is to address our infrastructure.”
Clark pointed out that a recent increase in the so-called “hotel tax” has allowed the city to actively pursue its capital improvement plans. Blatz credited the new Tourism Bureau Improvement District and the Ojai Visitors Bureau with the recent increase in tourism in the Ojai Valley.
Councilman Severo Lara asked whether the Planning Commission would examine its fee schedule as part of the 2013-2014 budget.
“I just want their input,” said Lara. “I don’t want us to lose too much money, but I want us to be fair.”
In keeping with that ideal, Councilwoman Betsy Clapp proposed they enlist a member of the public to join the Budget Committee.
“I made the suggestion because I felt that it was really important to have, for transparency and public education, somebody from the public participate in the Budget Committee meetings. It would be really valuable to have somebody there,” explained Clapp.
“Right now, the committee consists of two Council members, the treasurer, the city manager and the finance director,” Clark said. “This would just provide another set of eyes to look at our numbers and ensure transparency.”
Councilwoman Carol Smith countered she would be concerned if that individual were to have a personal agenda, and influence budget decision to their own end. Blatz and Lara emphasized the need for transparency, and directed staff to follow up on the matter.
Council is expected to finalize a budget for the next fiscal year by the end of June. Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information.
May 14, 2013
Chris T. Wilson, OVN correspondent
When Ojai body-work therapist and placemat baron Joe Cocke wanted to return a collection of bottles and cans recently, he found that the recycling center in Meiners Oaks had closed.
“If I want to cash these in, I’ll have to drive all the way to Oak View to the place behind Dahl’s Market,” Cocke said.
The extra 10-mile round trip from downtown Ojai made the effort hardly seem worth it for the few dollars he would make from the California Return Value (CRV).
Meiners Oaks Ace Hardware management confirmed that the recycling center behind the El Roblar Drive store closed and left the site at the beginning of April, but they had little other information about the shuttered recycling center, it’s owners or if another similar business would be opening in the area anytime soon.
The closure of the recycling center behind Ace leaves an opportunity gap in the Ojai valley for a new center to set up shop.
Another recycling center behind the Von’s supermarket at the “Y” intersection of Maricopa Highway and West Ojai Avenue self-decertified in November 2009, citing lack of adequate volume, said CalRecycle’s assistant director for public affairs, Mark Oldfield.
State law, administered by CalRecycle, requires that supermarkets with $2 million or more in annual sales must have a recycling center within a half mile of the establishment.
“A supermarket creates what is called a convenience zone,” Oldfield said. “The idea behind it is that’s where people are paying for CRV and they should have a convenient location to recycle their cans and bottles.”
The CRV is not a deposit, but rather a regulatory fee designed to incentivize recycling, Oldfield added. That’s why recycling centers are usually in supermarket parking lots.
Oldfield added that because of the proximity of the Ace Hardware recycling center’s location to Ojai, an exemption had been in place for other markets in Ojai that would otherwise be viable “convenience zones.”
That exemption has been lifted, Oldfield said.
“The notice to the retailers that charge CRV in the unserved zones has been sent out,” Oldfield said.
That notice establishes a 60-day grace period in which the convenience zone retailers are not required to redeem CRV cash value in store.
“A 30-day notice will also be sent assuming no recycling centers are established in this time period,” Oldfield said. “They will have to begin redeeming in store until a center is established to serve those zones.”
Meanwhile in Oak View behind Dahl’s Market, there’s been a spike in business at the California Recycling Services Corp. location, Manager Ron Zarin said.
“We have been busier lately,” Zarin said of the Oak View recycling center. California Recycling Services operates six locations in Ventura County, but hasn’t made plans to expand into Ojai or Meiners Oaks, he said.
“We’ve talked about it but we haven’t made any decisions yet,” Zarin said.
For Cocke, who lives on the East End and works in downtown Ojai, driving to Oak View was not an option he exercised.
“I ended up tossing them in the recycling dumpster at work,” he said.
To learn more about California’s CRV program and find all the necessary information about recycling center opportunities, visit www.calrecycle.ca.gov or call 1-800-Recycle (732-9253).
May 14, 2013
Tim Dewar, firstname.lastname@example.org
It took 21 pages to do it, but Casitas Municipal Water District (CMWD) attorneys refuted or agreed to all 133 allegations in the Golden State Water Company’s (GSWC) lawsuit seeking to stop the August bond election that could finance a buyout of the latter’s Ojai service area by the former.
In its answer, filed with the court March 26, CMWD attorneys agreed completely with only three of the allegations GSWC presented in its Ventura County Superior Court lawsuit. CMWD agreed partially with 36 of the allegations and completely denied 94.
“Casitas denies the allegations set forth in Paragraph 2 of the Petition, including without limitation the allegation that Casitas already has made a decision to exercise its power of eminent domain and Casitas further denies any inference that Casitas is engaged in some sort of “power grab” or “empire building” or that it is doing anything other than responding to widespread community support for Casitas’ acquisition of Golden State’s Ojai service area due to Golden State’s extremely high water rates and Golden State’s unresponsiveness to the needs of its customers and ratepayers,” wrote Casitas special counsel Jeffrey Oderman from Rutan & Tucker.
“Paragraph 4 of the Petition contains nothing other than improper and incorrect legal argument,” the response continued. “Casitas denies that this lawsuit is necessary to prevent Casitas from implementing a plan that violates the law and Casitas alleges that, in fact, this lawsuit is an improper attempt by Golden State to prevent the voters in Golden State’s Ojai service area from expressing their constitutional right to vote on the question of whether Casitas should be authorized to impose a CFD special tax on taxable developed properties within Golden State’s Ojai service area and sell CFD bonds in order to enable Casitas to acquire Golden State’s Ojai service area and help Golden State’s existing customers and rate payers escape the oppressive water rates currently charged by Golden State.”
In answering another GSWC allegation, Oderman wrote, “Casitas alleges that the true financial harm at issue in this case is the harm that currently is being suffered by the customers and rate payers in Golden State’s Ojai service area every day due to its excessively high water rates.”
Among the many issues to be determined in the lawsuit is whether GSWC has standing to interfere with the election, whether Mello-Roos funding can be used if a project involves an eminent domain action, whether GSWC would be entitled to compensation for loss of business goodwill and water rights — which GSWC claims are intangible rights and therefore not eligible for Mello-Roos funding — whether the Casitas board has already decided to institute eminent domain proceedings and whether the cost of GSWC’s assets could exceed the bond amount, making the risk too large.
“While Casitas has not yet prepared a formal appraisal of the fair market value of Golden State’s Ojai water system and alleged water rights, Casitas alleges that the California Public Utility Commission has set Golden State’s water rates for its Ojai service area (in 2012) based upon a valuation of Golden State’s entire Ojai water utility of only $14,643,249 and that in Golden State’s most recent general rate-setting application (Application 11-07-017) to the California Public Utilities. The Commission’s assigned Administrative Law Judge recently (on March 19, 2013) recommended that Golden State’s water rates for its Ojai service area for 2013 be set based upon a valuation for Golden State’s entire Ojai water system of only $17,144,400, which makes Golden State’s allegation that its Ojai water utility “potentially has a cumulative market value exceeding $100 million” grossly inflated and absolutely preposterous.
According to court records, the trial — which is open to the public — has been set for June 10 in the court’s Department 43 at the Ventura County Government Center.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on May 15, 2013 at 12:06 p.m. to remove references to future filing dates.
The Amgen Tour of California bicycle race will be coming through the Ojai Valley Wednesday afternoon. Riders will follow Highway 150 from Santa Paula to Carpinteria, as part of Stage 4 of the seven-day race.
For riders’ safety, portions of Highway 150 — which includes Ojai Avenue — will see “rolling closures,” as riders pass through the Ojai Valley on their way from Santa Paula to Santa Barbara.
Expect closures and delays between approximately 2 and 4 p.m. along Highway 150. As cyclists pass through town, all streets crossing Ojai Avenue will be blocked to cross traffic.
Although closure times may vary due to riders’ speeds, CHP and local police estimate that participants will hit Gorham Road in the East End between 2:15 and 2:58 p.m., and they’re expected to pass Villanova Road between 2:22 and 3:07 p.m.
Ojai Avenue will be closed to eastbound traffic at Goldenwest Avenue starting at 1:45 p.m. At about 2:10 p.m, eastbound traffic on Ojai Avenue will be closed at Maricopa Highway.
For those wishing to watch the race as it passes through the Ojai area, the best viewpoints include Dennison Grade and Casitas Pass (“King of the Mountain” areas) and through the heart of downtown Ojai, through which riders will sprint.
Visit www.amgentourofcalifornia.com for more information.
May 9, 2013
Angelique LaCour, OVN correspondent
The Ventura River County Water District (VRCWD) discussed drought preparations for 2013 at its board of directors meeting Wednesday. VRCWD is trying to keep customer costs down by buying as little water as possible from Lake Casitas; but, because of below average rainfall, it will have to do so to supplement the low water level in the area’s groundwater aquifers.
“We will be spending about $440,000 buying Lake Casitas water this year, and we have to pass that cost through to our customers,” said Bert Rapp, VRCWD general manager. “For the typical customer, this will add $15 to $25 to their monthly bills this summer.”
“We really want to minimize what we take from Lake Casitas, not just because of cost, but because this is the first year of drought conditions and we don’t know when that’s going to improve,” Rapp said. “We don’t need to panic, but we have to conserve as best we can since Lake Casitas is our only backup water supply in the Ojai Valley.”
There are many things customers can do to conserve daily water use: salvaged gray water from washing machines can easily be diverted to gardens; it’s also legal to recycle gray water from showers and bathroom sinks (but not kitchens). Rapp also suggested installing water-saving toilet fill valves to prevent the toilet tank from filling if there is a leak.
“I recently put these in my home, and I’m amazed at how often the tank is empty,” Rapp said. “My toilets would have leaked for months before I would have noticed the water running. This is really a big water saver for a common problem.”
With summer almost upon us, the biggest challenge facing inhabitants of this coastal desert region is how to conserve water while caring for lawns, plants, trees, flower and vegetable gardens.
“Irrigation is the elephant in the room,” Rapp stressed. “One big change people can make is to replace Blue Grass with Bermuda grass, or exchange your lawn for native drought resistant plants.” According to Rapp, Bermuda grass can go without water an entire summer and still come back the next year.
Gardeners can visit the VRCWD office demonstration garden that is planted with native flowering plants that require as little as 0.4 gallons of water per week.
Mike Daley has been in the landscape design business for more than 30 years, and admits that even landscapes designed to be water conserving still require irrigation.
“Irrigation technology has come a long way, and we need to utilize it for water conservation,” Daley said. “Smart irrigation controllers and on-site weather stations that can be programmed are now available to control cutting-edge computer designed precision nozzles on sprinklers.”
The new multi-stream mini rotors apply the water more slowly, and this slow absorption prevents runoff — so less water is wasted. Another advantage of these systems is that the sprinkling patterns provide much better watering coverage. Daley also recommends drip irrigation systems for water conservation.
“An irrigation system needs to be set up to water the most efficient area,” Daley said. “Often, if your system is applying water to an area that needs it most, you are probably overwatering an area that needs less. So you are wasting that water.”
Daley agrees with Rapp that lawns can be the biggest challenge when it comes to water conservation.
“Lawns on average can consume an inch and a half of water per week in the summer,” Daley said. “Turf is best for high traffic areas because sod holds up better than any other ground cover, but if it’s just for show, it’s best to have a small lawn as part of a landscaping design.”
If you are thinking of replacing your lawn with a swimming pool, Daley says it’s a wash when it comes to water usage.
“A sod grower recently told me that a lawn in summer will consume the same amount of water per square foot as what evaporates in a comparable sized swimming pool,” Daley said.
Casitas Municipal Water District will host a graywater workshop July 27 from 9 a.m. to noon. Attendees will learn how install their own systems according to permit standards for Ventura County. Register by calling 649-2251, Ext. 118.
May 9, 2013
Recorders, library books, a kiln and a new computer for student-produced videos are among the 21 annual education grants, totaling $16,000, awarded by the Ojai Education Foundation to local public school teachers.
Ojai Community Bank hosted teachers and community members last week at a reception, where the education grants (formerly called minigrants) were announced. The bank also donated $1,000 to OEF, which matched the donation to purchase a computer for Nordhoff High School’s Leadership class.
“Literally, I was jumping up and down,” said teacher Cull-Michels. “I was so excited.”
Currently, Cull-Michels’ students work closely with the video production class to produce videos. Now, with their own computer, “the possibilities are endless,” Cull-Michels wrote in her grant application. “I envision creating such projects as student campaign commercials for our student body elections; a student newscast…; Ranger of the Month recognition videos, highlighting students who embody our monthly character traits; and much more,” she wrote.
An aspiring filmmaker, senior Adam Dunn Sr., wants the computer in the classroom as soon as possible so he can train his fellow students how to use it, before he graduates, she added.
“The bank is very proud to be a part of this grant,” said David Brubaker, president and chief executive officer of Ojai Community Bank, which donated $1,000 to OEF last year and has pledged $1,000 a year to OEF for the next three years. “We want to see the continued growth of our young people who are going to be our next leaders.”
Pam Dzukola, Mira Monte Elementary School fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, can’t wait for her students to have “clickers,” which allow the entire class to answer questions at once, so a teacher can see that the students have mastered a lesson, before moving on. The so-called “Learner Response Systems” are used with the interactive whiteboards that are in nearly every elementary-school classroom as a result of previous OEF donations. The clickers are so popular, Dzukola anticipates sharing the new tool with other classrooms, she said.
Wendy Varian, who teaches second grade at Mira Monte, said she is excited to have the clickers, which are an excellent tool for “kids to stay engaged.”
Kim Hoj, dance teacher at Nordhoff, received a grant to purchase a video series of ballet guru Finis. Hoj has been experimenting with “flipping” her classroom, which is a term for using technology, such as video instruction, to leverage classroom instruction. For example, with video instruction, her students can learn dance moves at home and then perfect the dance in the dance studio.
Chris Hess and Sharon Michels, Mira Monte School teachers, wrote in their grant application for recorders: “This will put an instrument in the hands of each third-grade student at Mira Monte. Many of these students will not have an opportunity to play or learn music until grade six.”
Esther Gullatt, a kindergarten teacher at Meiners Oaks Elementary School, explained in her application for a document camera that it is “like an overhead projector that doesn’t use transparencies. You can place a piece of paper, any student work, or a three-dimensional object under the camera and it will be displayed on the screen for all to see. It is a dynamic tool for shared reading.”
Tracy Oakland, a first-grade teacher at Topa Topa Elementary School, said she is excited about using Kindle Fire tablets in her class. “Research has shown that the Kindle Fire increases motivation and keeps students engaged longer on any given task,” she wrote in her application. “Handwriting apps will give students immediate positive reinforcement for correct letter formation. Apps in phonemic awareness will also give the immediate reinforcement needed. This frees the teacher to be working with another small group.”
OEF was able to fund 21 of 35 grant applications this year. Even though the amount of the OEF Education Grants has steadily increased over the past 15 years they have been given, the OEF would like to provide even more, said Carol Holly, OEF board member and retired principal, who oversees the OEF grant program. One grant that did not get funded was for a laptop computer for San Antonio School. The teacher wrote in her application: “The current start-up time on my classroom computer is 20 minutes.” Among the other unfunded projects was a Nordhoff High School Arboretum of native California tree species and Google Chromebooks for Matilija Junior High School.
“I want to thank all of you teachers,” said OEF President Deborah Johnson, a retired school principal, at the start of the reception.
Hank Bangser, Ojai Unified School District superintendent and OEF board member, said donations from the community through OEF have a “remarkable impact” on the schools. OEF’s nearly $100,000 donation for educational technology at Nordhoff High School in 2012-13 “has changed the face of the classroom throughout Nordhoff,” he said. Before that, OEF funded technology in the district’s five elementary schools to complement the new math curriculum. Now, he said, OEF is now working on providing more learning tools for Matilija Junior High School.
Ojai Education Foundation is a nonprofit, community-based organization that supports, enriches and supplements the instructional program in the OUSD.
Its next big fund-raising event, with the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation, is the annual Ojai Golf Classic June 3 at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.
For more information about the golf classic, visit www.ojaigolfclassic.com or call 640-9555.
Log on to www.ojaief.org for more information about OEF.
May 7, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
Local residents are forming a nonprofit organization aimed at working with stakeholders to ensure oil and gas operations in Ventura County have “effective oversight.”
Citizens For Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG) was formed by a group of 20 west county residents, in response to what they deem has been a lack of environmental review by Ventura County, which recently approved nine new oil wells and two wells to be reopened in the area above Thomas Aquinas College in Upper Ojai.
The area is part of the Ojai Oil Fields that include oil plays on Sulphur Mountain Road, along Sisar Creek and in the hills lining Highway 150 from Upper Ojai to Santa Paula.
According to the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) online database, there are 609 wells in the Ojai Oil fields. That number includes active and abandoned wells.
Monday, two of CFROG’s founding members, Marianne Ratcliff, of Upper Ojai, and John Brooks, of Oak View, presented appeal papers to the County of Ventura Planning Department. In addition to CFROG, a second private party also filed an appeal with the county regarding this project.
In the 1970s, John Whitman, a resident of Upper Ojai now in his 80s, successfully sued the Ventura County over its failure to consider cumulative effects when it approved one new well in the Ojai Oil fields. That case still stands as precedent.
“On April 24 the County Planning Department approved (these wells), discounting all the issues raised by several nearby residents related to air, water and traffic,” said Ratcliff. “CFROG has filed an appeal to ensure adequate environmental review.”
“At this point there is no way to know the impact of these wells,” Brooks added. “So until there is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that looks at both the individual and cumulative effect, the drilling should not go forward.”
He said that things have changed since 1985, when the county last reviewed the impact of new wells on this conditional use permit (C.U.P.). “My own view is that a new EIR and a county policy on hydraulic fracturing would be the best result of our appeal.”
The project in question is considered by the county to be a minor modification to an existing C.U.P. held by Mirada Petroleum of Santa Paula. At a public hearing in March, Mirada owner Scott Price indicated that he had no plans to hydraulically fracture these wells, but CFROG members point out that since the controversial practice, also called fracking, is not currently regulated or tracked in any way, nothing would prevent him from changing his mind.
“There is no environmental review for fracking,” said Ratcliff. “Oil and gas companies do not have to report what chemicals they use, how much they use or when or where they use them. Several bills to regulate fracking are being debated in the state legislature, but none is yet law. In the meantime, the chemicals injected into the earth — many of which are toxic and known carcinogens — are exempted from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act as a result of the 2005 energy bill.”
The appeal will now put the project before the County Planning Commission for a vote, and if that decision is appealed, it will then go to the County Board of Supervisors. The Planning Commission is comprised of five members, each representing a district in the county. Paul Magie represents District One, which includes the Ojai Valley.
“A Planning Commission hearing will likely be scheduled in approximately two months,” said Brian Baca, head of the Commercial and Industrial permitting wing of the Planning Department. “The Planning Commission will hear testimony from the appellants, the public and county staff and determine by vote whether to grant or deny the requested modified C.U.P., and concurrently, whether or not to grant or deny the appeal.”
For this appeal, CFROG paid a filing fee of $2,000, which was raised from donations made by its founding members and supporters.
According to a press release, CFROG supports a moratorium on fracking in the county and the state “Until disclosure, ground water monitoring, waste water disposal and other critical issues are addressed.”
Fracking is a decades-old practice, that — with new technology — now allows operators to tap into deep rock formations and extract oil and gas trapped underground for thousands of years. The process fractures the rock using a mixture of water, sand and chemicals injected at high-pressure deep underground.
“CFROG is not opposed to the drilling of oil and gas,” said Ratcliff. “Its aim is to ensure that oil and gas drilling is done safely and responsibly with adequate oversight. The current system that has no fracking regulations and relies on self-monitoring, self-testing and self-reporting by the oil and gas industry is insufficient.”
Scott Price of Mirada Petroleum did not respond by press deadline to requests for comment on the appeal.
Visit www.CFROG.org for more information or to join CFROG; visit www.conservation.ca.gov/dog to view wells, well records and the fracking discussion draft regulations.
May 7, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
Clean lines, lots of light and transformational indoor/outdoor living spaces: Those are the hallmarks of renowned architect Kazumi Adachi’s homes. The only one in the Ojai area sits in the East End, and is so remarkable in its style — referred to as mid-century modern — that HGTV’s FrontDoor television show has chosen it as a finalist in the annual Doory Awards.
HGTV editors combed through countless homes currently on the market, eventually settling on six that represent the best mid-century modern style homes that America has to offer. The contest’s winners will be chosen through an online voting process — open to the public — that will be announced in June.
The Ojai home’s listing agent, Tonya Peralta of Keller Williams Realty, thinks her listing is tops. “This nomination is a testament to how spectacular this home is,” Peralta said.
The McNell Road property is just under an acre and features a salt-water pool, mountain views, floor-to-ceiling windows, terrazzo floors, an outdoor fireplace and kitchen (yes, there’s one inside, too), and a pool room — which contains a walnut murphy bed and full bath, effectively making it a small guest house.
“The entertaining areas are really pretty neat,” enthused Peralta.
The gardens are full of drought-tolerant native Australian plants, but there’s also a Zen garden and small orchard with avocados and oranges. One of Peralta’s favorite things about the house: Each of the three bedrooms opens to its own patio, along with garden spaces that connect to the others
The home was originally owned by a Japanese-American artist and landscape architect, who passed it on to a Canadian film and television producer before finally falling into the hands of the current owners, one of whom is an art dealer. “It’s always attracted a creative type of person,” pointed out Peralta.
The current owners “Remodeled the property when they moved into it,” Peralta said. “They have a really keen eye for details and quality, and keeping it authentic. It’s very authentic to the style. It has all the modern conveniences but is still very simple and sleek, just like it was originally.”
Homes were also selected for 19 other categories, such as Waterfront Escapes, Tiny Homes, DIY Dream Homes, even Homes for The 1 Percent.
Another Ojai home, the Wallace Neff-designed Libbey Estate — currently owned by actress Reese Witherspoon — has also been nominated in the Celebrity Homes category. The historic 7-acre ranch, on Del Norte Road, is pitted against homes owned by Jon Bon Jovi (in New York), Kelsey Grammer (Malibu), Pamela Anderson (Malibu), Cheryl Tieg (Los Angeles) and Wayne Gretzky (Thousand Oaks).
The competition runs through June 5, and voters can vote for one home in each category once a day. Log on to www.frontdoor.com/doory/midcentury-modern to vote for the East End home; select “Celebrity Homes” under the “Luxury Homes & Places” tab to vote for the Libbey Estate.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported two earthquakes near Meiners Oaks early Tuesday morning. A magnitude 1.9 occurred at 2:05 a.m., with a 3.6 following just seconds later. The smaller quake was centered about 2 miles northwest of Meiners Oaks, at a depth of 7.1 miles; the second was also centered about 2 miles northwest of Meiners Oaks, at a depth of 8.3 miles.
The epicenter of the second quake was, according to the USGS, was less than 800 yards from Matilija Dam.
Other recent quakes in the Ojai Valley areas include a magnitude 1.8 in Oak View last Wednesday at 3:22 p.m., and a 2.0 in Upper Ojai last Saturday at 12:40 p.m.
Visit www.earthquake.usgs.gov for more information and to sign up for customizable email alerts.
May 2, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
Matilija Canyon’s Hot Springs, revered for thousands of years by local Native American tribes as a sacred healing place, has been closed down by the property’s owners to allow for an extensive cleanup and a “resting” period for the land.
In four to six months, the hot springs are expected to reopen under the management of Ecotopia, a nonprofit organization dedicated to responsible, sustainable stewardship of the property.
“We knew how upset some people were going to be that they wouldn’t have access (to the hot springs) for a period of time,” said Gunnar Lovelace, who owns the land along with his family and is a co-founder of Ecotopia. “We know there’s a lot of people that go (to the hot springs) who love and respect the land, but there’s a distinct and growing segment who go to party and they trash the land.”
Ojai Police said there has also been criminal activity in the area, primarily vehicle break-ins. “On average, we see about two to three vehicle break-ins per month up in Matilija Canyon,” said Ojai detective Mike Harris. “It’s the same issues we’ve had at other trailheads throughout the county.”
Lovelace said residents in the canyon are on the lookout for cars parked on the side of the road, and that they plan to alert police if anyone is seen trespassing on the property. Ojai police are supporting the efforts by responding to calls for service, and will also conduct periodic patrols. “We need to allow the land time to rest and reset the energy,” Lovelace said. “We need to slow the whole thing down, really make sure that it is reasonably safe for our staff and volunteers to come in and manage the land.”
Lovelace said surrounding neighbors and the U.S. Forest Service all agreed with a property assessment that proved the hot springs were on his family’s property. That cleared the way for them to move forward with their plans for the land.
Those plans include public access, but, Lovelace emphasized, “The era of using the land without giving something back is coming to an end. One of the concerns that’s arisen is whether or not we’re going to be charging money and try to commercialize it. That’s never been our aim with this property. What we’re interested in doing is creating an exchange network … if you want to come use the land, you’ve got to give something to the land, be it your time, a service, an in-kind gift, help pick up trash or it can be a financial contribution.”
Local Chumash elder Julie Tumamait-Stenslie supports the spirit and efforts of the Ecotopia group, and recently held a ceremony on the ancient site to help initiate healing the land. “We prayed, asked for guidance for what needs to happen there, how it can guide us and direct its use for the future,” she said.
Regarding the resting period, she said, “I think it’s really necessary. The litter, health issues, no restrooms, that kind of stuff. It’s just practical stuff right now, and then we’ll go from there. It’s going to be a change, but a change for the better.”
Tumamait-Stenslie also addressed the issue of giving back to the land in exchange for use of the hot springs. “Some people argue with this purchase — ‘Oh, they’re going to be charging money to go there now?’ And I’ve said to a couple of people, ‘Well, what if I bought it, what if my tribal group bought it? We would need money to do the things we’d need to do for the land.’ We’re not a federally-recognized tribe, we don’t have federal aid or grants … so we would need to ask for everybody’s donations to help support us. And I think that’s what Gunnar is looking to do — be stewards of the land.”
Lovelace said his family has studied the site for about two years now and has met extensively with neighbors, the U.S. Forest Service and other community representatives to determine the current state of the land and receive input on what to do once the resting period ends. As Tumamait-Stenslie pointed out, “There are lots of questions that are unanswered — and we have to ask them.”
To that end, Lovelace and the Ecotopia group will host a community meeting Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Yoga Nest, 2240 Maricopa Highway (parking is available on the highway). Ecotopia representatives will give an overview of their vision for the land, then will host a question-and-answer session and receive feedback from attendees.
“We need input from the community,” Lovelace said. “This is basically an opportunity for the community to meet the parties who are interested (in helping restore the land). This is about the community seeing itself and becoming involved in a real way.”
Editor’s note: This article was revised June 21, 2103 to remove an inaccurate contact web address.
May 2, 2013
Kit Stolz, OVN correspondent
Ojai cares more about its national forest than many other communities in Southern California, according to Jeff Kuyper, who directs the environmental watchdog group Los Padres ForestWatch. He thinks Ojai’s relationship with the backcountry is special.
Although his organization is headquartered in Santa Barbara, and oversees the entire Los Padres forest — which extends across hundreds of thousands of acres in the state — Kuyper relies heavily on the little town of Ojai for volunteers and fundraising.
“The national forest is the Ojai Valley’s backyard,” he said. “I think that’s why the community is so concerned about these public lands and the fate of the national forest. From anywhere in Ojai you can look out at the mountains and the national forest, and that’s a relationship that not a lot of other communities have. This is a place where people go hiking and camping and fishing and bike riding in the national forest, or even joy-riding up Highway 33. It’s pretty unique.”
ForestWatch is pressing the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to designate As wilderness two areas on the edges of the existing Matilija Wilderness for protection from development. One is the Dry Lakes Ridge area, which can be reached by an old trail from Highway 33 north of Wheeler Hot Springs, to the east of the existing Matilija wilderness; the other is a smaller chunk of ridge land, called White Ledge, which is further to the south.
“The Forest Service overall did a good job of adding additional protections, under the category of backcountry non-motorized use,” he said. “It’s a step in the right direction, but it still leaves the forest vulnerable to certain kinds of development. For example it still allows for oil drilling, for mining, for logging and for the construction of communications facilities like radio towers.”
Kuyper and his allies would like to see about 4,000 of the 17,000 acres in the Dry Lakes region designated as wilderness, for their extraordinary natural features and unusual plant communities, as well as for their beauty.
“What is unique about the Dry Lakes area and how it got its name is a series of shallow depressions along one of the ridgelines, which collect water during the winter and is dry in the summer,” he said. “This area also includes some of the southernmost stands of ponderosa pines in California, at an altitude of about 4,700 feet.”
Ojai’s David Magney, an environmental consultant who literally wrote a book about this area’s plants in the 1980s as part of his doctoral thesis, supports the idea of expanding the wilderness in the Dry Lakes region.
“I am sympathetic to the idea of a wilderness designation for the Dry Lakes region,” he said. “There’s a stand of Ponderosa pines there that dates back to the Pleistocene era, as well as some other unique plants. These are really big pines. There used to be a campground there, but it was abandoned due to budget cutbacks I think in the Reagan era.”
Also visible from Highway 33 is the area known as White Ledge, whose rocky outcrops can be seen on a tall peak to the west, near Rancho Matilija. Kuyper and his allies would like to see this smaller area recommended for a wilderness designation as well.
Only Congress can make such a designation final, but if the Forest Service recommends a land for wilderness, it is protected until Congress acts on the application.
In the draft of a new land management plan for the four Southern California National Forests, which is open for public comment until May 16, the Forest Service designated one percent of existing lands in the Los Padres National Forest for wilderness in their preferred plan. Much more land was recommended for wilderness from the other forests — from a low of 37 percent in the San Bernardino Forest to a high of 59 percent in the Angeles National Forest. But, this reflects the fact that much lower percentages of land in the more urbanized forests are designated as wilderness at present — 48 percent of Los Padres is designated as wilderness under existing land use management, where only 12 percent of the Angeles National Forest is designated.
In its discussion of the Dry Lakes area, in an appendix to the draft plan, the Forest Service stated that one-third of the area was of the highest scenic value, with “landscapes (that) have strong positive attributes of variety, unity, vividness, mystery, intactness, order, harmony, uniqueness, pattern and balance.” The report noted the Ortega Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trail at a lower elevation, but added that a smaller portion of the Dry Lakes area could be set aside as wilderness without interfering with the existing OHV trail.
“The trail would need to be closed or the wilderness boundary drawn to exclude the trail leaving a remainder that is reduced in sized and suitability for wilderness,” the report notes.
Bob Hawkins, the project manager for the report on the four forests, said that the final report will be written over the summer and will reflect public opinion. Sue Exline, Ojai’s USFS district ranger, pointed out that the Forest Service is pressured both by conservation groups and off-road use groups.
“Certainly this is what the whole process is about,” Hawkins said. “When we get all the comments in, we will weigh them in the production of the final draft decision, but we will have one last pre-decisional process this year, with 60 days to receive comments.”
Hawkins expects a final report next spring. In the meantime, Kuyper, Magney and Exline all would like to see more visitation to the potential wilderness areas in question. According to the draft report, visitation in the Los Padres National Forest has declined slightly from the year 2000, although Kuyper said that his group hears many less formal recent reports of renewed interest in the backcountry.
“We’re thrilled when people go out and enjoy and visit and explore the Los Padres National Forest,” Kuyper said. “That’s how people develop an appreciation for these lands, and want to protect them.”
For Magney, it’s simpler. He recommends people “Check it out,” speaking of the Dry Lakes region. “The trail is being restored by volunteers. It’s steep, but you’ll go through several different plant communities to get there. It’s definitely walkable. I’ve been there over a hundred times, even though I still haven’t camped there.”
May 2, 2013
Kimberly Rivers and John Brooks, OVN correspondents
Officials who manage the water supply in the Ventura River Watershed (VRWC) say residents of Ventura and the Ojai Valley have been on a water supply roller coaster many times, and once again the reservoir and ground water levels are dropping because of inadequate rainfall.
During an April 25 VRWC meeting at the Oak View Community Center, Lorraine Walter, coordinator at VRWC, told approximately 75 attendees that since 1903 the average yearly rainfall in Ojai has been approximately 21 inches. This year only 10 inches have fallen.
At the meeting, Dr. Toby Moore, hydro-geologist and water resource manager at Golden State Water Company, detailed a rationing project that occurred in Simi Valley in 2009 to illustrate what might occur should rationing in Ojai be required in the future.
Following the meeting, Moore said, “Voluntary conservation has been in place for many years in Ojai. In 2008, we asked all customers to voluntarily reduce water use by 20 percent. This is aligned with the state mandate to reduce per capita water consumption statewide 20 percent by the year 2020.”
Moore added that voluntary conservation is “complemented by implementation of tiered rates” and encouraged customers to visit their website (www.gswater.com) for details.
Steve Wickstrum, general manager of Casitas Municipal Water District, said the water level at Lake Casitas has fallen 31 feet since it reached capacity in 2005. He says the lake is 70 percent full and rationing for their customers is not likely until next year, assuming the next rainy season is also below average. He suggests that all customers — both residential and commercial — conserve now so that shortages can be averted.
Shana Epstein, general manager of the Ventura Water District, said the long-term solution for the city of Ventura is a reverse osmosis plant that would turn sewer water back into drinking water. She says Ventura gets half its water from Casitas and the rest from wells along the river. Without direct potable reuse, she said, there is no other source to increase supply to Ventura’s 113,000 water customers.
“The Ojai Basin has a limited yield. Additional demand utilizing groundwater, above current demands, puts additional stress on the basin,” said Moore in responding to a question about how more straws in the pond, or more wells tapping into the groundwater basins, would effect water supply.
There has been recent concern in Ojai over water use by large industrial users, such as oil companies. Aera Energy operates in the Ventura Oil Fields along the Ventura River.
“Aera does not operate any fresh water wells in its Ventura oilfield,” said Susuan Hersberger, an Aera spokesperson. “While our overall activity in the (Ventura) field has increased over the last five years, we have decreased fresh water usage by almost 40 percent.” She explained that Aera is “self-sufficient” in the water used for most of their oil recovery operations because they primarily use produced water — brackish water that comes up with the oil — that has been filtered. “Aera uses water from the Casitas (Municipal) Water District for domestic (office) use, dust suppression, stored fire suppression, equipment and engine cooling and drilling. The amount of water used in drilling activities is approximately three acre feet per year.”
“Water management depends on consumption and the weather,” said Moore. “In California, we live in a natural state of varied precipitation from year to year, so we proactively plan and manage water supplies — whether it’s a wet or dry year. And, we always encourage our customers to take voluntary measures to reduce water use.”
Visit http://venturawatershed.org/blog/1942 to view “Sustainable Water Use in the Ventura River Watershed,” by the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UCSB.
May 2, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Ventura County Planning Division will host a public outreach meeting Tuesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Oak View Community Center to discuss standards for wireless communication facilities in Ventura County. The meeting is the second of three being held to collect public input before the county drafts an ordinance delineating criteria for cell towers, antennae and other structures used in wireless communication. The Tuesday night meeting will focus primarily on the unincorporated areas of the Ojai Valley.
“The Ventura County Planning Division receives numerous applications for wireless facilities each year,” according to a statement from the Planning Division website. “As the wireless communications industry continues to implement a wireless network to provide the next generation of service (fourth generation service, or 4G), the number of applications for new wireless communication facilities is expected to increase. Because Ventura County does not currently have a comprehensive set of regulations for wireless communications facilities, processing these applications can be challenging and time-consuming.”
The Ventura County Planning Division’s long-range planning manager, Rosemary Rowan, said requests for wireless communication permits are increasing. “The current system for processing wireless communication facility (WCF) permits works reasonably well when the number of permits processed each year is not large. For example, between 2006 and 2009, the Planning Division, on average, processed about 13 permits per year (that includes new facilities and modifications to previously approved permits),” explained Rowan. “However, the number of permits processed by the Planning Division increased recently. In 2011, for example, we issued 33 permits. We expect that trend to continue as providers expand network coverage and upgrade networks for the fourth generation, or 4G, service. As a result, we believe this is a good time for Ventura County to develop an ordinance that provides a consistent set of siting and design standards.”
Currently, an applicant for a WCF permit in Ventura County must obtain a Conditional Use Permit (C.U.P.) through the Planning Division. Because a C.U.P. is discretionary, these projects are subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards. Additionally, WCF project applications are subject to the county’s Non-coastal Zoning Ordinance, Federal Communications Commission limits on Radio Frequency emissions, specific area plan policies and a set of guidelines adopted in 1999 by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.
As part of the Ventura County General Plan, the Board of Supervisors did adopt an area plan for the Ojai Valley. The policies pertaining to WCF projects prohibit “grading which will significantly degrade or destroy a scenic view or vista,” restrict structures that are on or near ridgelines to single-story construction, use setbacks of 50 feet or more from the edge of a ridgeline and use landscaping “to soften the visual impact of homes and graded areas.” In addition, antennae facilities are to be colored to “blend in with the background view,” and, except for monopoles, are limited to a 40-foot height limit, among other design criteria.
In order to craft a new ordinance for WCF projects, the Board of Supervisors voted Nov. 13, 2012 to allot $48,000 for the fiscal year — $15,000 for consultant services and $33,000 for about 660 hours of staff time. Nearly the same was proposed for the fiscal year 2013 to 2014, for a total of $97,000 to craft the ordinance.
Current pending county WCF permit applications include: a renewal of a C.U.P. for a 350-foot television communication facility on South Mountain Road in Santa Paula; a 10-year extension of a C.U.P. for a 120-foot AT&T monopole and four panel antennae on Crooked Palm Road near Highway 33; a continued C.U.P. for “an unlimited term” for an existing 80-foot WCF atop Hall Mountain above Ventura Avenue; a C.U.P. to replace an existing 50-foot monopole with two 15-foot frames with four panel antennae each on Creek Road; and a C.U.P. for the construction of a new monopole disguised as a 55-foot pine tree in Mira Monte by New Cingular Wireless, among others.
To contribute you input to these discussions, attend the meeting May 7 at the Oak View Community Center, 18 Valley Road, Oak View. Visit www.ventura.org/rma/planning for more information.
May 2, 2013
Tim Dewar, email@example.com
Ojai city officials are confident that a road construction project that has been “cursed” for 25 years will be completed within the next few weeks and within budget.
The extension of Fulton Street, between Pearl Street and Bryant Circle, hit its first snag almost 20 years ago when the city began planning for the project.
“On one hand this project has been cursed for 25 years,” noted Ojai Public Works Director Greg Grant. “There have been obstacles every step through the history of the project, from obtaining right of way, grants, environmental clearances, etc. Taking 20 years to get a project built is extraordinary. And now what should have been a three-month construction project is approaching 10 months.”
For many years, the project was backshelved as funds for road construction projects took a back seat to more pressing needs as the city budget shrunk.
Fast forward to 2011hwen the project gets new life after the city was able to snag a $412,000 transportation grant. Unfortunately for the city the curse didn’t stop there.
The project hit another roadblock when Southern California Edison (SCE) threw an 11th hour curveball calling for changes in the plans to place utility lines underground in the project area. Grant explained Hurricane Sandy even had a hand in delaying the project when SCE crews were pulled from this area to help with the disaster cleanup, delaying the underground work.
The remnants of a railroad depot, last used in 1969, were the next part of the curse to slow construction as crews were forced to remove and dispose of the debris left behind.
Grant said the next obstacle crews had to overcome occurred when early winter rains saturated a portion of the as-yet-unpaved portion, creating a water-soak road base under a portion of the project.
“The project design was reviewed and approved by Caltrans, what appeared to be a straightforward road design,” Grant noted. “ The same design worked well on adjacent Bryant Circle. The concentrated clayey subgrade at the failed pavement area was unfortunate, but they happen occasionally.”
Change orders were approved to dry, replace and recompact the base material around the clay pocket, and to provide additional drainage in the impacted area and the paving work was scheduled.
Jump ahead a few more months, to the asphalt concrete (AC) stage and the curse reappeared.
“The area was proof rolled and accepted by the Geotech consultant after subgrade placement, after base placement, but moved slightly during the heavy construction loads of AC placement which resulted in the thicker AC section,” Grant explained. After consulting with several experts, he added, the city determined that the damaged area was not the contractor’s fault. He said the city will likely approve an additional $10,000 to $20,000 to repair it.
Several other problems will also need to be repaired and Grant said the contractor, J&H Engineering — which has a reputation for quality work — has agreed to do so. These include replacing sections of curb and gutter and concrete planter areas that were not built to design standards, adding additional fill material around some of the sidewalk areas, straightening portions of a chain link fence near the project, replacing portions of a wooden fence damaged during the construction and grinding portions of the AC around handicapped access sidewalk ramps to meet design standards.
A retaining wall that was built off plumb will be accepted by the city because it is structurally sound and the adjacent property owner is opposed to having more work done on that portion.
“So far,” Grant explained, “I believe we have negotiated a fair resolution with the contractor, all problems will be corrected, and the project will be completed well within budget, using no City general funds.”
The total cost of the project so far, according to Grant is expected to be in the area of $358,000.
“It’s important to note that J&H Engineering, was over $50,000 below the second bidder,” Grant stated. “If they hadn’t shown up, we would have started with a base bid of $232,632 and change orders would have accumulated from there, likely cutting our remaining $100,000 contingency in half. Projects always have challenges. Usually there’s minimal interest in the challenges, people just want the project done. This will be done soon! And within the original budget/grant, at no cost to the City.”
City crews worked Monday to install several trees, additional drains and a post and rail fence. Grant expects the rest of the fix to be complete and the road opened sometime within the next two weeks, unless, of course, the curse returns.
April 30, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
Longtime Ojai resident, football coach and business owner Scott Titus will face a federal judge July 15 to be sentenced for failing to report to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) almost $1.6 million he paid to workers in his painting company.
He pleaded guilty Monday to making a false quarterly federal tax return for the second quarter of 2008 for his business, Scott Titus Painting.
According to a plea agreement Titus signed with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California (USAO) earlier this year, Titus reported that he paid employees $22,195, when he actually paid them $215,774 — for a total of $193,579 in wages he paid employees but did not report. The agreement further states that Titus owes the IRS $666,748.40 for employment taxes he failed to pay between 2008 and 2010. The unreported wages during those years total $1,594,971.
“I paid my guys cash,” Titus said Tuesday. “The $1.5 million was paid out in full to my employees in cash. I did not pocket any of that money. It all went to them. I did not withhold anything from my employees for their taxes … I’ve run my business completely professionally, and with integrity — everything except how I paid my employees.”
Titus faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and the repayment of the $666,748 he owes the IRS. However, those are just guidelines for the judge, said Linda Lowery, special agent and public information officer with the IRS criminal investigation office in Los Angeles. “The judge is not bound by those sentencing guidelines … (Titus’ sentence) is at the judge’s discretion.”
Several things are taken into consideration, such as the 35 letters written in Titus’ favor, which were submitted to the courts by Titus’ attorneys. Other considerations could include Titus’ previous criminal record, which he said is clear. “My lawyers feel confident that … I have a good shot, I’ve never had a criminal record, I’ve been forthright with them, haven’t denied or dodged anything,” Titus said. “I’m just at the mercy of the court. If I’m gonna’ go down, then I’m gonna’ go down doing it right. I’m not gonna’ fight. I was wrong.”
Titus said he received audit paperwork from the IRS in 2011. “When I got that letter, I gave them everything, I fully cooperated with them,” he said. “I’ve done everything they asked of me. I want to make it right. Ever since I got that letter, I’m trying to run my business right‚ I hired a bookkeeper, CPA, attorneys. I’ve surrounded myself with people to help me run my business right.”
Because he is now a convicted felon, Titus will lose his contractor’s license. He said he is closing down Scott Titus Painting, and has sold his business assets — “paint brushes, sprayers, all that stuff” — to son Randy and a niece, who will open Ojai Custom Paint, Inc. Scott Titus Painting employees, he said, will apply with Ojai Custom Paint, Inc.
Lowery said it was unknown whether the employees would face any charges. “Public record was silent as to the employees,” she said.
“I started my business right out of high school. I’ve never been an ‘office’ guy, never … I’m not dumb, it was just the paperwork that got me … I was going off coaching, working, doing my thing,” Titus said. “I was like one of many young contractors — never got a business degree. I’m just a working man. I never wronged a client. But I apologize to all my clients for letting them down in any way.”
Until he faces United States District Judge Stephen V. Wilson July 15, Titus said it’s a waiting game. “I am taking full responsibility. I’m not blaming anybody but myself, my lack of business sense,” he said. “My faith — this is a fate thing for me. It’s all for good, it’s all for me to be better.”
April 25, 2013
Misty Volaski, email@example.com
Just before closing time Sunday, a man entered Starr Market in downtown Ojai and pointed a handgun at an employee and demanded money, according to Ojai Police department officials.
Police said the employee “led the suspect to the business safe where the suspect took money and fled the area.”
Officers received a call alerting them to the robbery around 9:30 p.m., but by the time they arrived, the suspect had fled. Despite a search of the area — which included a K-9 unit — the suspect was not located.
The employee, who was uninjured, described the suspect as a 6-foot one-inch male weighing between 180 to 200 pounds wearing a black sweatshirt and dark pants. It is unknown how much money was allegedly taken or whether there were other employees in the store at the time of the robbery.
Terry Starr, owner of the grocery store, refused to comment other than to say, “We did get robbed. They took some money and that’s it.”
This was the first Ojai-area armed robbery since November 2012, when a man with a handgun approached a woman at an ATM on Thanksgiving night and demanded she give him the money she had just withdrawn.
That suspect, described as a Hispanic male in his 20s or 30s, between 5 feet 5 inches and 5 feet 9 inches, is also still at-large.
Ojai detectives and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Major Crimes Unit are investigating the Starr Market robbery.
Anyone with any information on either incident is urged to call the Ojai Police Department at 646-1414.
April 25, 2013
Angelique LaCour, OVN correspondent
The Ojai Valley Youth Foundation organized in 1997 to provide kids with experiences that foster their individual growth while integrating them into the fabric of the community.
In true “it takes a village” fashion, the OVYF flourished for many years. “But, like so many organizations, we have suffered through the classic story of the economic downturn that began in 2008,” said executive director, Suzanne Feldman. “One by one, programs and great people were forced to leave, and once that starts it’s a difficult train to turn around.”
Feldman was named executive director last August; also around that time, OVYF was given office space at Nordhoff High School. One of OVYF’s flagship programs, Building Lives, Inc. (BLINC), was floundering and Feldman was looking for a way to re-invigorate it.
She invited poet, teacher and now stay-at-home dad, Aaron Gardner, to speak at the weekly BLINC meeting. Gardner, who grew up in Ojai, moved back last year with his wife, Tegan, and their two children.
“There were four kids there. I read some poems and talked about my life,” Gardner said. “It went over pretty well, and Suzanne asked if I’d like to run the group. It was good timing because I was looking for the right thing to do in addition to taking care of my kids while my wife is at work.”
“Aaron is pretty awesome, and he’s definitely an inspiration to me because he’s proof that even though he had hardships when he was young, you can get through them,” said Serene Fairbanks, 16, whose family moved to Ojai in October. “I love coming to BLINC every Monday — it helps open up the week and get things off your chest. I like that Suzanne has an office on campus because I can drop in an talk if I need to.”
Isaac Arquilevich, 17, has been attending BLINC on and off since eighth grade. “I was a very troubled kid when I started coming, then I stopped going for a few years, but I never miss it now. It’s a safe place to express yourself — and I like the food too.”
“When kids find their voice and are able to use it, their confidence soars,” Gardner said. “Once that happens they feel a lot more connected to society and their community, and are better able to advocate for themselves. Eventually they start believing that they are being heard.”
Holly Wiggins looked online for a non-religious youth group to help her daughter, Paige, 19, who was suffering from depression. She found BLINC, and Paige attended her first meeting in October.
“There’s no judgment here; it’s confidential and writing helps get your thoughts on paper,” Paige said. “I like it much better than posting on Facebook. BLINC is much more personal.” She was so inspired by the benefits of interpersonal communication that she began a love note-writing campaign. She began by designing decorative handwritten note cards, writing encouraging, hopeful messages, and randomly handing them out to strangers at the Arcade. It so boosted her own spirits that she enlisted help from fellow BLINC participants Allie White, Amanda Dickenson, John Rogers, Marc Hoppel and Arquilevich. They have distributed more than 100 so far, and the campaign is growing.
In 2006, Ojai resident Tobi Jo Greene founded The Girls Empowerment Workshop, for which the OVYF has served as the umbrella organization. “Since Suzanne has come on board with OVYF, I feel empowered and supported,” Greene said, who has also helped to add a Young Men’s Integrity Workshop to the OVYF’s offerings. “She and board member Jeanine Murphy attend the workshops and have helped find financial support to expand the programs.”
The 8- to 10-week after-school boys and girls workshop programs are presented at four Ojai schools and at the Oak View Park & Resource Center. At a recent session, Murphy — also a counselor with Ojai’s public schools — gave a presentation on suicide and cutting to about 75 seventh and eighth-grade girls. “I love the workshop because we get to freely talk about things that afflict teens,” said Aliyah Zweig, 14, who is participating for the second year. First-year participant Caitlyn Radica, 13, signed up because she believed she “needed some girl empowerment.” Sara Smith, 14, was surprised to find out how many of her peers have thought about suicide, and Alex Yanez, 13, is interested in learning about “boyfriend-girlfriend stuff.” She admitted she’s not really into that yet herself, but a lot of her friends are. Another first year participant, Jasmine Adams, 13, liked what she heard, “when Tobi came to talk about the workshop, especially about eating disorders because I know somebody who has a problem with that.”
There are 200-plus nonprofit organizations in Ojai that compete for volunteers and financial support from the community. Feldman acknowledges that she has her work cut out for her. “But Ojai is a very giving, supportive community, and I’m encouraged by the response we’ve gotten this year from the Optimist Club of Ojai, the City, Rotary and Rotary West Clubs of Ojai, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Association, Jersey Mike’s, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.”
For more information on OVYF or any of its programs, visit www.ovyf.org or call Feldman at 640-9555.
April 25, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN corrrespondent
The city of Ojai will work with the Casitas Municipal Water District to bring Ojai Trolley service to Lake Casitas this summer.
The Ojai City Council, minus absent Mayor Paul Blatz and Councilwoman Betsy Clapp, voted unanimously Tuesday to direct City Manager Rob Clark to collaborate with CMWD Park Services Manager Carol Belser on establishing a Saturday Trolley route to and from Lake Casitas.
The proposed route would run from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. each Saturday between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“Having the Trolley go to Lake Casitas has been talked about for years,” said Belser at the Council meeting. “Casitas will pay the cost of this pilot program. It is a good time for the city to work with CMWD. This would not be a special or private charter, and it has already been approved by the Ventura County Transportation Commission. It will stop at the (Ojai) Skate Park. Our youth lifeguards can use it as transportation to work. We get five to six thousand visitors each summer, and we want the Ojai Trolley seen throughout the Recreation Area. Trolley riders and city residents can get on the Trolley, pay $1, not have to pay the vehicle entry fee, and spend the day at the lake.”
“I think this is an excellent pilot program,” commented Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel. “Maybe it will increase general use of the Trolley.”
“I am here to support two Chamber members: the Lake and the Trolley,” contributed Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO Scott Eicher. “Hopefully this will increase the number of locals who visit the water park, because they won’t have to pay the (vehicle) entry fee.”
“I would just like to encourage the schedule to come out sooner,” offered Councilman Severo Lara. “I would like to see the city promote this in any way possible.”
At the same meeting, Council heard two reports on statistics from the area. Ojai Police Capt. Dave Kenney updated the Council on crime statistics from 2012, and Tom Tarantino with the Ventura County Civic Alliance gave the “2013 State of the Region Report.”
Kenney compiled data from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department’s Ojai Substation records and the Sheriff’s Crime Analysis records. According to this data, crimes against persons — including rape, homicide, robbery and aggravated assault — decreased by 48 percent from 2011 to 2012 in Ojai. While theft in general decreased in 2012, shoplifting and theft from vehicles both increased.
Traffic collisions rose from 92 incidents in 2011, to 96 in 2012. There have been 21 accidents in the first three months of the current year, Kenney noted. While instances of driving under the influence have decreased, vehicle vs. bicycle accidents increased.
“Our Police Department does a fabulous job,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith. “I am glad we have you (Kenney) for another three years.”
Tarantino, with the Civic Alliance, corroborated Kenney’s data, noting that even though Ventura County “has not had an economic recovery since 2008,” overall crime statistically is decreasing, flying in the face of conventional wisdom that links crime and poverty.
“As you can see, there’s been a huge drop in crime since the early 1990s. This is true in Ventura County, it’s true pretty much everywhere in the country. The common thought that the poverty level and the crime level coincide is not necessarily true,” said Tarantino.
Tarantino pointed out that there is still a substantial divide between east and west Ventura County in terms of resources and community, and that transportation continues to be a “quality of life issue” for the majority of residents.
Visit www.civicalliance.org to read the complete report, or www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more on the Ojai City Council.
April 23, 2013
Maria Saint, OVN correspondent
HELP of Ojai’s Transportation Program provides about 700 rides a month for seniors and disabled folks, according to Terri Wolfe, HELP of Ojai’s executive director. The program transports clients to places such as doctor’s appointments and grocery shopping.
“We provide door-to-door service within the Ojai Valley and we drive about 3,000 miles a month,” Wolfe said.
One of the program’s clients, Victor “Vic” Crowder, died in 2012 and did not have any immediate family. Crowder bequested $99,000 to the program.
Wolfe said that it takes about $90,000 annually to run the Transportation Program.
“We’re constantly looking for funding for this program,” Wolfe said, adding that it is expensive to run because of such factors as the price of gas. “We get annual support from the Area Agency on Aging, which is through the county of Ventura. We also receive annual support from the city of Ojai because we are their contracted paratransit providers.”
Wolfe said that the program has a suggested donation based on the client’s ability to pay. The suggested donation is $2.50 a ride.
“We actually average about $1.50 a ride — it actually costs us $9.36 a ride,” she said.
Despite the cost of the program, Wolfe said it is vibrant.
“HELP of Ojai’s general operating funds make up the difference between the cost of the program and any grant support that we have and we’re able to do that on an annual basis with really the community support and the donations that we received from the general community,” she said. “So when Mr. Crowder gave us this wonderful bequest, it was something that now will help us over and above our general operating expenses, which means we can reserve it to actually purchase a new vehicle and to take care of extraordinary and planned expenses to our other vans … We have a healthy, well-run, well-funded program and this is just a way to help it be even better and provide even better services.”
Wolfe said that they were certainly appreciative of the bequest and that Crowder was a regular rider who really supported the program and he loved using it.
There are about 28 volunteer drivers and David Des Laurier is among them. He remembered Crowder as a nice, quiet-spoken man who used the program to go to and from Westridge Market. For Des Laurier, Crowder was unique in that he didn’t ask for help to have his groceries taken into his house.
“When you drive him home, you drove him to his driveway and he had a wheelbarrow there. He’d put the groceries in his wheelbarrow and he’d wheel it out to the house,” he said. “I thought it was really cute.”
Des Laurier, a volunteer driver for almost 16 years, added that he knew Crowder planned to give money to the program.
“He always said he was going to do it,” Des Laurier shared.
Glenda King, program director, said that she would help give rides to clients when they were short-handed on drivers, so she drove Crowder a couple of times.
“My picking him up and taking him home was not too long of a distance, so we didn’t have a lot of time to chat, but I found him to be very appreciative of our service and just a really sweet, gentle man,” she said.
Those interested in the program, can call King at HELP of Ojai.
Once someone becomes a registered rider, they can call and make a ride reservation a day in advance of their need.
“Then I put together a schedule and let them know what time we’ll pick them up. When they complete their shopping or their appointment, they call us back and I dispatch a van as quickly as I can to take them back home,” King said.
For more information about HELP of Ojai’s Transportation Program, call 646-5122.
April 23, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
A ballot initiative California voters passed in 2008 has placed California and the issue of same-sex marriage in the national limelight as the Supreme Court conducts hearings to determine whether to uphold or overturn Prop. 8, an amendment to the State Constitution which restricts the state definition of marriage to heterosexual couples.
Domestic partnerships, which have been legal for same-sex couples to obtain in California since 1999, afford many of the same tax and insurance benefits as a marriage, but are not recognized out of state. For many, the distinction itself —between domestic partnerships and marriages — inherently creates a “separate but equal” issue similar to those faced during the Civil Rights Movement. For others, the main issue is one of states’ rights, and the idea that a panel of justices could overturn something that voters decided is repugnant.
“I don’t believe the judicial system should be overriding what the state has voted on,” explained Ojai resident Mike Lenehan, a former coach, Recreation Commissioner and veteran of the first Iraq War.
Same-sex marriage was legal in California after the California Supreme Court ruled in an equal protection case June 2008, until the voter initiative Prop. 8 passed in November of the same year. Prop 8 amended the California Constitution to read: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Multiple lawsuits were filed with the California Supreme Court almost immediately. In one case, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, United States District Court Judge Vaughn Walker ruled against Prop. 8 in 2010, rendering it unconstitutional. The case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose panel also ruled the amendment unconstitutional. Proponents then petitioned the case to the United States Supreme Court, which recently agreed to hear the case. The court heard opening arguments March 26 and are expected to announce their decision sometime in June.
“If California votes again, and rescinds Prop. 8, I can respect that,” stated Lenehan. “I think marriage is between a man and a woman, but I have no problem with civil unions. That’s putting my personal views aside. I’m a Roman Catholic. But I’m not going to impose my views on them (same-sex couples). Basically the will of the people should be the law of the land.”
Others would go further still, in regards to both substance and procedure behind this controversial landmark case.
“If this is overturned (by the U.S. Supreme Court), that would be like saying ‘don’t even bother trying to legislate, just let the judges decide everything,’” said Katie Shorts, a resident of Ojai for more than a decade. For Shorts, legalizing same-sex marriage is a slippery slope.
“I think the people made the right decision with Prop. 8,” Shorts maintained. “For those who say, ‘How does gay marriage ruin your marriage?’ well, how does the dissolution of marriage hurt everyone? When it is expanded and changed to fit the mores of the moment, the institution of marriage is finished. If marriage can be redefined to mean simply any loving relationship between two people, then it is not marriage anymore, and there are no bounds to how we will define it … If we accept that, what do we say to people who want to marry two people? Why should gender be any more sacrosanct than the number of people? If you look around, you will see many people already advocating for that. It makes marriage a joke at a certain point. Marriage is between a man and a woman, for procreation; ultimately that is why we have the institution. And there is a much higher percentage of open marriages — what we would call adultery — in the homosexual community. It (marriage) really means something different to them.”
April 23, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
After the fracking panel on Monday night, Helen Conly, president of the Ojai Valley Democrats (OVD), said the group will be discussing a plan of action to support the resolution recently approved by county Democrats that calls for a moratorium on fracking. About 45 locals gathered at the Ojai Art Center to hear the discussion on hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — hosted by the OVD. One focus of discussion was that fracking has been used in the county — including Upper Ojai, and other Ojai Valley oil fields — since the 1950s. Panelists said new chemicals are used and technology has changed, allowing slant and horizontal drilling with much higher pressures at deeper levels to fracture the rock and extract oil previously unrecoverable.
The four-member panel included two residents of Upper Ojai — John Davis and Marianne Ratcliff — and R.L. Miller, environmental blogger and chairperson of the State Democrat Environmental Caucus. and Tom Williams, Ph.D., a geologist with Sierra Club of California who has decades of experience consulting for oil companies around the world.
Applications pending with the county for 19 new oil wells in Upper Ojai prompted the panel. With new technology, and reports of many new leases being bought up for lands with no previous oil activity — including 200 acres at the Ferndale Ranch area near Thomas Aquinas College — at this point it’s unknown whether other parts of the Ojai Valley could become active oil fields.
“If the price of oil goes to $105 a barrel they will frack everything,” said Williams. “Everybody can break even and they can frack to their hearts delight.”
“There will be fracking,” said Davis. “The best way to deal with that reality is regulation. California and the US will have very little impact on global warming. We have failed in our responsibility as a nation [by bowing out of the Kyoto agreement]. There is no going back. Whatever we do, it’s not going to change that.”
“The thing that is critical to know,” said Ratcliff. “Is there are no fracking regulations [right now], at all. I didn’t believe it, but it’s true. All [fracking] chemicals are completely exempt from the [federal] Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA). Unknown chemicals are injected into the ground [during fracking], and it’s perfectly legal.” Ratcliff told about how Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson confirmed with Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal (DOGGR) regulators that all of their oversight is based on – self-testing, self-monitoring and self-reporting, by the operators. “When they said yes, there was stunned silence [at the hearing in Sacramento],” said Ratcliff.
A portion of the 2005 amendment to the SWDA, known as the Halliburton Loophole, exempts the industry and specifically fracking from the requirements of the law.
Fracking is not mentioned in any of the permit applications required by County planning, or in any paperwork that DOGGR requires operators to submit when they drill, rework or abandon a well. DOGGR officials admit they only have approximate numbers on how many wells have been fracked because they have not and currently do not track the process. State Oil and Gas Supervisor at DOGGR, Tim Kustic states that all wells are subject to “robust regulation” regarding well construction and that DOGGR officials do witness pressure testing of the casing. DOGGR currently has discussion draft regulations out and is conducting workshops to receive public input as they prepare to begin the formal rulemaking process. Some operators voluntarily disclose some fracked wells at fracfocus.org.
“This is a question of how much more poison can we put into the atmosphere,” said Miller. “We need to say, no [to fracking].” She pointed to issues related to carbon, water and earthquakes. “The climate crisis is the biggest challenge facing the next few generations of humanity.”
There are several bills making their way through the State legislature. Some deal with wastewater, monitoring or notification, and some call for moratoriums unless certain conditions are met.
The panel in Ojai came on the heels of DOGGR’s public workshop on April 19 in Santa Barbara where Mark Nechodom, director of the California Department of Conservation – which oversees DOGGR — was asked about partial moratoriums on fracking.
“It is worth considering, given public concern,” said Nechodom. He said that while fracking regulations are being created it is possible for DOGGR to draw a boundary around existing oilfield areas and require that fracking only take place within those boundaries. When pressed about a moratorium on all fracking Nechodom said, “Jerry Brown wouldn’t allow one of his departments to place a moratorium on fracking.”
At the same time as DOGGR’s hearing, Sen. Jackson was blocks away in Santa Barbara introducing panelists for a California Communities Rising Against Fracking discussion held by Global Exchange – an international human rights organization that empowers citizens to pursue local action on various issues.
“Do not wait for your politicians,” said Doug Shields, one of nine Pittsburgh, Pa. council-members, who in 2010 unanimously approved an ordinance banning natural gas drilling in their city, effectively banning fracking. “If you expect us to save you all, it’s not going to happen. What the people did in Pittsburgh allowed the elected officials to do what they did.”
Editor’s note: This story was changed April 25, 2013 to correct the name of one of the panelists.