Wednesday, February 28, 2007

ACLU Backs Furchtenicht

By Nao Braverman
With the American Civil Liberties Union on his side, Ojai resident Jeff Furchtenicht will ask the Ventura County Superior Court to revisit the anti-SLAPP motion he filed against the city in October 2006.
"We think it's a SLAPP suit and we're very strong supporters of the anti-SLAPP law," said Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuit against public participation.
The dispute between Furchtenicht and the city began when city attorney Monte Widders refused to write a ballot title and summery for two proposed initiatives Furchtenicht filed with the city in August 2006.
The initiatives addressed issues that had received ample attention from local residents concerned about the future of the city. One measure directed the Ojai City Council to address the affordability of housing in the city. The second directed the council to take measures to discourage chain stores from opening downtown.
Upon receiving the request to write a ballot title and summary, Widders asked Furchtenicht to withdraw his initiatives because they were not written in the proper format, because they were too vague, he said. If he refused to withdraw them, Widders told Furchtenicht, the city would seek the opinion of a judge.
Read more

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Police Chief Comments on Shooting

Statement issued to the OVN by Bruce Norris:
This shooting was a senseless act of violence and disregard for life. It affects not only the victim, but it has a devastating and lasting effect on the family, and it creates fear in the community. The suspect in this case was arrested for the crime within hours of the shooting, and if convicted, he will likely spend many years in prison.

Based on the investigation to this point, the shooting appears to be an
isolated incident caused by an earlier exchange of words. This incident
was uncharacteristic for Ojai, and there is nothing to indicate that
similar incidents are imminent. The Police Department, Probation
Agency and Gang Unit have zero tolerance for gang activity in the Ojai
Valley. Anyone seeing or suspecting gang activity of any kind is asked
to call 911 immediately.

Shooting Suspect Faces Gang Charge

By Lenny Roberts
In what authorities are calling a gang-related act of violence, an Oak View man suspected of shooting 25-year-old Hugo Guerra Friday afternoon on Drown Street was formally charged Tuesday of assault with a deadly weapon and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle.
Read more

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Arrest Made in Drown Street Shooting

UPDATED: Jimmy Villapando, identified as the suspect in Friday's Drown Street shooting, has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon and shooting at an occupied vehicle. He has been released after posting bail.

A man identified as 25-year-old Ojai resident Hugo Guerra was shot twice while in his vehicle in the 300 block of Drown Street late Friday afternoon, and taken to the Ojai Valley Community Hospital emergency room, according to Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris. Guerra's injuries have been reported as non-life threatening. More information will be posted here as it is released.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Community Divided On Chain Store Issue

by Nao Braverman
Ojai's downtown core currently already has several visible chain stores. But are proliferating chains posing an immediate threat to the community?
At Wednesday night's Planning Commission meeting, commissioners agreed that they are, and promptly requested planning staff to come up with an ordinance that regulates the size of commercial projects in the downtown arcade and surrounding streets.
Community members who attended the meeting were divided on the issue. Kenley Neufeld and Leslie Davis both felt the city should take measures to prevent chain stores from opening downtown before it's too late.
Read More

City Surplus Continues Its Upward Path

By Daryl Kelley
The surplus in Ojai’s city budget continues to grow, despite a costly cleanup after a recent windstorm and the closure of a top taxpayer, the Ojai Ford dealership, new figures show.
In addition, an audit released Thursday for the fiscal year ending last June 30 reveals that the city’s surplus for basic services last year was much larger than previously estimated, $760,000 instead of $650,000.
Read More

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Commission Rejects Pini's Request

By Nao Braverman
The Ojai Planning Commission unanimously rejected Dario Pini's request to be allowed to keep some of the ornamental details he has added to the refurbished hotel on 406 W. Ojai Avenue.
Pini's architect told commissioners that he and Pini agreed with much of of the city planner's recommendations including some changes to the parking structure and trash enclosure. He asked commissioners if he could keep the ornamental tiles on the dome and on the structure.
"You seem to have a profound disrespect of our findings and approvals," said Commissioner Steven Foster. "I think we have to be careful that we don't set a precedent. We have to show that we can't be manipulated in a way that this is being brought to the commission tonight.
Commissioners rejected Pini's request and approved the planning staff's recommendation that Pini undo some of the additions to the new hotel that were not previously approved by the commission.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Missy Morton Remembered

Missy Morton
Feb. 23 1991-Jan. 21, 2007
Missy was a faithful watchdog and greeter at Andy’s Liquor in Meiners Oaks for 13 of her almost 16 years. She was a regular at the Ojai Valley Bank on deposit days and enjoyed all the employees plus the great treats. She enjoyed the excitement of the Fourth of July and was often in the parade. The family thanks everyone for their kindnesses to Missy over the years, and sends a big thank-you to Jeff and Jolene Hoffman at the Ojai Humane Society for training Missy to be the best-behaved dog ever. Thanks also go to Dr. Lewis, the mobile vet, who took good care of Missy and Cats. Donations in Missy’s name may be made to the Humane Society of Ventura County-Ojai Shelter.

Anti-Gang Task Force Takes Hold in Ojai

By Daryl Kelley
Call him Rudy.
The Ojai youngster was a beating victim not long after he turned 13.
A few months later, he was busted with a baggie of marijuana at school.
By the time he was 15, he was a member of Ojai Valley’s largest and most active youth gang — and was arrested for four more crimes before his next birthday: vandalizing a car, breaking into another, fighting in public and assault with a deadly weapon, when he struck someone with a bottle.
He was convicted or a suspect in a dozen more crimes during the next three years — including three assaults — and celebrated his 19th birthday by joining another gang member in east Ojai to “batter two (victims) with rocks, bricks and a golf club” and stab one victim with a pair of scissors.
That was 14 months ago. And Rudy has spent most of the last year in jail. Six colleagues were also convicted of contributing to the assault, part of a long-standing neighborhood feud
Read more

El Camino Runs Afoul of Ojai Planners

By Nao Braverman
The city of Ojai is eager for the opening of a refurbished El Camino Motel, soon to be called the Chantico Inn. But despite the Planning Commission’s ardent expectations, owner Dario Pini can’t seem to get things right in the eyes of Ojai’s planners.
The most recent design for the property at 406 W. Ojai Ave., submitted to the city almost six months ago was welcomed by planning commissioners who have long awaited the renovation of a 14-year-old eyesore at the downtown entryway.
But while planners are pleased to see the dilapidated structure being cleaned up, they were expecting a simple, understated Mission Revival design, not the ornate construction recently bedecked with bright ornamental sunflower tiles.
City manager Jere Kersnar explained that the most pressing issues that planners had with the project were more technical. The pool deck area was constructed larger than planned, cramping the parking area and endangering pedestrians on the sidewalk near the lot.
Read more

Friday, February 16, 2007

Ojai Water Rate Hike Protested

OVN 2/16
By Nao Braverman

No one disputes that the price of water is rising. But the Ojai City Council members and staff aren’t sure it is soaring at quite the rate the Golden State Water Company claims.
At the Tuesday night City Council meeting, Frank Heldman from Golden State Water gave a presentation on the reasons for the company’s proposed rate increase, which was not well received by the council.
Read more

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

OUSD Stages Antibullying Classes

By Sondra Murphy
In an effort to improve school climate, nearly 40 students and six staff members from Matilija Junior High gathered on Monday and Tuesday to train in the Safe Schools Ambassadors program. As the school bus stopped in front of the St. Thomas Aquinas facility, students enthusiastically exited and seemed ready to get down to business.
Facilitated by Teddy Wright of Community Matters, SSA is a program that is designed to give students the skills to intervene during negative interactions among peers. “You are here because teachers and students have identified you as leaders,” Wright told the participants. “This might be something you are interested in doing. There will be challenges, choices and opportunities.”
Representatives from Matilija’s various student groups were invited to learn how to be a positive force on campus. “Staff and students identify the socially influential youth on campus, the opinion leaders of every clique and group,” the SSA website elaborates. “Working together with adults, they develop a deeper understanding of the problem of mistreatment on their campus, and learn powerful communication and intervention skills.”
SSA cites that students are often reluctant to intervene in bullying incidents because they do not know what to say or do to stop conflicts. Other times, students ignore cruelty out of fear that the aggressors might turn on them.
“I found out a lot of people have stuff in common with me,” said participant Hailey Johnson. “I didn’t know how many people have been teased.” She believes this knowledge will help her speak up when she witnesses others being bullied.
Matilija’s assistant principal, John Schweller, is one of the staff participating in the SSA training program. “This is teaching students how to communicate better,” he said. “Hopefully, the increase in communication skills will help de-escalate problems.” By involving students from different groups around campus, the chances for success are improved.
The program equips participants with nonviolent communication and intervention skills which are designed to prevent and stop cruelty and violence. As ambassadors use their new skills with their friends, their confidence increases so that they become more likely to intervene in situations beyond their personal cliques.
Wright informed the group that students are both the primary targets and aggressors at school. He shared stories about student cruelty with the group and asked participants to read stories written by students who had been targeted by bullies.
Role-playing and cooperation exercises fostered participant interaction and bonding.
Wright led students in activities to strengthen vocabulary and techniques which break the cycle of pain, rage and revenge. Communication, especially listening, was emphasized early in the training session.
The ambassadors-in-training are eager to use their new skills at their school. “We learned how to stop fights between people before anything goes wrong,” Taylor Young said.
“They’ll listen more to us because we’re their peers,” said Krista Petler.
“We can help stop things before violence happens,” added Micaela Lowry.
The Safe Schools Ambassadors Programs works in collaboration with other mediation and counseling programs already in use, offering more immediate intervention as issues arise. The ambassadors will participate in regular meetings run by trained staff members to help them sharpen their skills and deepen their commitment throughout the school year.
Nordhoff and Chaparral High students are scheduled to begin training in the SSA program Wednesday and Thursday.
Photo by Rob Clement

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Golden State Wants 44 Percent Rate Hike

Updated 2/15: The Ojai City Council meeting Tuesday night was filled with people protesting Golden State Water Company's proposed 43.9 water rate hike. Opponents argue customers of the former Southern California Water Company already pay much higher rates than their neighbors for substandard service. The council has filed a formal protest with the water provider, and wants a hearing with the California Public Utilities Commission to be held in Ojai, not San Francisco.

From the OVN print edition 2/7/07
By Sondra Murphy
Golden State Water Company has applied to the Public Utilities Commission for a revenue increase in its Ojai service area. GSWC wants to raise additional $1,432,900 in 2008, which, according to PUC project manager Victor Chan, would mean an increase in customer rates of nearly 45 percent.
“An average customer will see about a $35.88 increase” each month, said Chan. Customers who currently pay around $100 each month to Golden State for water can expect the bill to jump to $145 in 2008, Chan estimated.
“Increased rates are sought by GSWD to improve water service to Ojai customers,” said Golden State district manager Warren Morgan. “Over the past five years $6,757,000 has been invested in replacement of aging infrastructure and other improvements to the Ojai system. We are proposing investing another $2,000,000 over the next three years. As with all water utilities if improvements aren’t made, the reliability of supply and dependable service could suffer.”

Beneficiaries of War

With hundreds of billions being spent and tens of thousands of lives lost, who do you think is really benefitting from the war in Iraq and why?

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Chain Reactions

By Daryl Kelley
As city officials consider banning chain stores in Ojai's historic downtown, chain restaurant owner Dan Burrell wonders whether he should have ever opened a Jersey Mike's sub shop near the city's centerpiece Arcade last June.
Burrell, a youth sports coach and Ojai resident for seven years, said the last thing he wanted to do was to upset his neighbors. But he never expected to become a lightning rod in a heated discussion over how to preserve Ojai as a place that locals love and tourists want to visit.
“I'm not sure that if I knew how upset some people were going to be that I'd do this again,” said Burrell this week. “We got phone calls at home and people said things to my son. I thought, wow....I don't feel great about upsetting people. And I totally understand where people are coming from.”
In fact, Burrell, who owns three other Jersey Mike's in Ventura County, said he never considered opening one in this town of art, oaks and the Pink Moment until he discovered the Subway sandwich chain was negotiating a lease with the owners of Fitzgerald Plaza. So he beat them to it.
“I love Ojai,” he said. “I wanted a real deli here. I don't want my son eating fast food, processed food, either.”
Ironically, Burrell's concern about having a large fast-food chain restaurant in Ojai's signature downtown melds with the mood of the City Council, which two weeks ago directed city planners to develop a law that would keep chains out of the town's Mission-style core while withstanding legal claims over constitutional property rights.
Read the complete report in Wednesday's OVN.
Read previous posts on the chain store issue

Positive changes abound at Skate Park

By Eli Cohen
Trash, graffiti, noise, hoodlums and drugs — that’s how many non-skaters in town view the Ojai Skate Park. Most folks simply drive by the park on their way through town, only seeing the negatives, making the park an excellent candidate for ridicule and lack of public interest.
But don’t be so quick to judge; the roots of skateboarding run deep in America. Skateboarding holds a certain appeal for male youths from lower middle class broken homes. Kids coming from those situations find a place and some meaning to their lives through the positive aspects skateboarding has to offer. Skateboarding is way more than just an outlet of expression. It provides an important life lesson, teaches kids that regardless of your race, color or financial background, everyone can participate.
It bonds people who would have otherwise never met and, best of all, it provides a place of common ground for the people who need it most: the youths.
Instead of taking those thoughts into consideration, authority has continuously punished skateboarders for pursuing their passion for skateboarding. That negative vibe that authority brings to skateboarding increases the mistrust between skateboarders and authority figures.
(Eli's solutions for a better relations between skaters and non-skaters may be read in Wednesday's OVN)

Click for video of January 2006 repairs to the Ojai Skatepark.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Steelhead Migration Blocked at Matilija Quarry

Peak migration season for steelhead trout is drawing near, but a cluster of boulders and debris is blocking access to endangered trout's spawning grounds. Each year from December to June, the endangered species have been migrating from the Ventura River upstream to spawning grounds in the North Fork of the Matilija Creek. But in March 2006 operations at the Mosler Rock Ojai Quarry off of Highway 33 caused a landslide of rocks and dirt to tumble down into the North Fork, cutting off a critical point in the steelhead's migration path.
Now with the trout's peak migration season creeping up, the creek is still blocked, and no visible action has been taken by the owner of the quarry or by any of the regulatory agencies.

Spanking May Be Banned

A bill will soon be introduced that seeks to make California the first state in the nation to ban spanking children who are 3 years old and younger. The legislation would make the violation a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000. Why do you agree or disagree with this proposed law?

Oil Spill in Los Padres Reported

An oil spill in Tar Creek of the Los Padres National Forest was reported on Wednesday. According to a report by Congresswoman Lois Capps, five to seven barrels, the equivalent of 210 to 294 gallons of oil, and 80 barrels or 3,360 gallons of industrial waste water were spilled from a broken pipe.
The site of the spillage belongs to a private oil company in the Sespe Oil Fields, said Emily Kryder, press secretary for Capps.
The spill has been estimated to have traveled two miles and has already contaminated Tar Creek which is about 25 miles east of Ojai. Tar Creek flows through a condor sanctuary and is also a tributary to the Sespe Creek, a wild and scenic river.

Based on additional surveys, the oil is estimated to have moved 3 miles down Tar Creek from the spill point of origin. That is about 3 miles upstream of the confluence of Tar Creek and Sespe Creek where condors are known to drink. A boom has been placed on Tar Creek, one mile upstream from Sespe Creek, to capture any oil that gets past the last weir dam. The spill has not impacted threatened or endangered species. State Department of Fish and Game staff have walked the length of Tar Creek. Aside from insects, no oiled wildlife has been observed or reported.
Water from the Tar Creek Tank Battery, located on private land, is pumped through the waste water line to the Hansen-White Star Produced Water Plant on federal property. When the leak developed in the waste water line, water and then oil floating on the water drained from the water tank, resulting in the spill.
The oil is a light grade, similar in consistency to motor oil. The groundwater contains naturally dissolved minerals, but the oil is the environmental concern. While Tar Creek does have naturally occurring “tar seeps” in its waterway, and the spill was caught early and is relatively small, the incident is significant given the importance of the Sespe Condor Sanctuary in recovery of the endangered California condor.