Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kunkle Recalls 68 Years In Oak View

Zelda Kunkle, at home, arrived in Oak View during the Great Depression. She remembers when the community boasted two businesses, Thomas’ Grocery and the Hill Top Roadhouse.

By Laignee Barron

On July 19, Zelda Kunkle celebrated her 92nd birthday and 68 years in Oak View.
When she and her husband arrived in Oak View in 1939, it was a quiet town with only a few hundred residents. Little did they expect at the time that they would remain in the town for nearly seven decades and establish much of what residents today take for granted.
Kunkle was born and raised with her older sister Hildred in San Luis Obispo, where their parents owned and ran the local store, Del Monte Grocery.
“I never was into sports but I loved the outdoors,” Kunkle recalled. She discovered a passion for art while at school, particularly still life oil paintings, a love that has continued to this day. At the time she cherished ambitions of attending art college, but out of high school she ended up marrying her childhood sweetheart, Chris Kunkle, and they moved together to the valley.
The tiny town of Oak View had few merchants or stores when they arrived. In fact, Kunkle recalled just two; Thomas’ Grocery on Olive Street and the Hill Top Roadhouse, which remains today.
“We could’ve gone anywhere I guess,” she said. “But we liked the quietness here.”
Shortly after they moved here, Kunkle’s husband got a job working for the new water company. They counted themselves lucky for the opportunity because it was around that time the Great Depression started to affect the valley.
“During the Depression there weren’t a lot of the really nice homes like you can see now, but there were a lot of little shacks,” she said. “It dragged on for a while. It wasn’t something that you could just snap your fingers at and have fixed.”
When the Depression ended the Kunkles bought the Oak View water company. She recalled they were able to check the water tanks from their house by looking through a pair of binoculars. They also had an unorthodox method of billing customers, going door to door and asking how many dogs or chickens or other animals people had, and then adding the approximated cost of each to a flat rate.
One of the original 30 or so members of the Oak View Civic Council, originally United Neighbors, Kunkle has always loved the community spirit of Oak View and has looked for ways to help out. In 1947, the Kunkles saw the need for a post office when mail was often confused, coming to residents through both Ojai and Ventura. The Kunkles didn’t hesitate, but created the first Oak View post office.
“It was a challenge but always really interesting,” Kunkle said. “We started it and eventually hired two or three others to help when the town was growing.”
One of the big town changes occurred when Lake Casitas was built. “There weren’t too many homes destroyed down there, but there were a few,” she said. “The old Santa Ana School is in the middle of the lake now. We used to have to drive by it all the time and I still have a painting of it.”
In honor of their dedication to the community, in the 1960s the Kunkles had a street named after them.
Now, after nearly 70 years of service to the town, several members of the community have expressed that appreciation for the hard work Kunkle has put into the community

Ojaians Hoping To 'Fair' Well

Amy Duncan of the Mira Monte 4-H club prepares her hog for a fair showing with a feeding of goat milk. The Mira Monte 4-H group is entering 32 hogs in the Ventura County Fair, which opens today at the Ventura Fairgrounds.

By Sondra Murphy

For many people, the Ventura County Fair is more than just carnival rides and funnel cakes. The livestock buildings attract both sightseers and buyers wanting to look at the animals.
Two families in the Mira Monte 4-H Club have pooled their efforts to raise four fair pigs. The Duncan family lives on half an acre and shares space with Erika and Kayla Mandell. Besides care, feeding and cleaning, club members have to keep careful documents on their porcine projects.
“We got the pigs in Somis on April 21, 2007,” said mother and record-keeper Lisa Duncan. “They’re real sweet little animals and like to be around people.” The pigs weighed about 50 pounds at pickup and now range in weights between 230 and 250 pounds. “Each family gets a week of duty,” she said. The pig area of the property takes a lot of water to help the pigs stay cool in the summertime heat. “The pigs have made a big, giant mud hole,” Duncan said.
Caring for swine involves frequent monitoring. “They have three feeders, which means I don’t have to go out and feed them every day. They can feed whenever they want to, which is all the time,” said Sean Duncan, a freshman at Villanova, This is the second year he has been involved with a 4-H project. The young farmers put on their rubber boots to clean the pig pens and usually use a pooper-scooper to eliminate the waste materials and add clean wood shavings for warmth at night.
After checking the feeders and making sure to give the pigs fresh water, “I play with them and walk them around the cage to keep them in shape.” The pigs’ diet consists of pellets, fruit from the Duncans’ plum and apricot trees, scraps and goat’s milk. “Every month we de-worm them so they don’t get sick,” he added.
“My pig is a Hampshire,” Sean Duncan said. “He likes goat’s milk and it helps make him grow. I’ve also heard it makes the meat taste better. I’m told he has the nicest butt, or hams,” he said.
Fifth-grader Amy Duncan is raising a Yorkshire for her first 4-H project. “They like to blow bubbles in their mud holes,” she said. “When we first got the pigs, the biggest female knocked me down, so you learn how to walk with them,” she said. “We use PVC pipe and tap them to get them to go where you want.”
Getting the pigs to cooperate in the judging ring is crucial for maximum investment return. “They like to lay down when you’re walking them. They like you to rub their bellies.” Amy Duncan said that the pigs seem to like leftover bread the best, “But they’re not too big on zucchini.”
The families plan to take the pigs to the fair on Monday. In the meantime, they have more work to do. “We are practicing luring them into a trailer because they’re not used to it,” said Sean Duncan. “When they stress out, they lose pounds.”
Since livestock is sold by the pound, top weight is an important element to maintain.
After the trailer ride to the fair, they will place two pigs per pen and be watchful of potential buyers. “Every day you have to scoop out all the junk and waste products, then get a new bag of shavings and stay to talk to people walking by,” Sean Duncan said. “Last year, I just met someone who ended up buying my pig.”
The Ventura County Fair, “An Old-Fashioned Fair” starts today and runs through Aug. 12. Admission tickets and presale carnival ride tickets and wrist bands may be purchased online at venturacountyfair.org.
The many events and choices in entertainment may also be viewed at that web site.
For more information, call 648-3376.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

New Owners Plan To Keep Playhouse Open

By Nao Braverman
With the proliferation of Century Theaters and Cineplexes, local movie goers know that Ojai’s old fashioned single screen movie theater is a treasure and anomaly.
Many locals who patronize the Ojai Playhouse have grown fond of the swank black-and-white portraits of great actors Omar Sharif, Robert Redford, and Elizabeth Taylor, among them, staring down from the theater walls. In contrast to the prodigious, modern and impersonal architecture of newer corporate establishments, the Ojai Playhouse is a cozy size with comfortable cushioned seats, and the same vintage velvet curtain that has been draped over the movie screen for years.
Despite the competition of bigger theaters in Ventura County and developments in the home theater industry, the local Al-Awar family has kept Ojai’s only theater running since 1983.
“But it’s time to pass the baton,” said Khaled Al-Awar.
Also owner of the Primavera Gallery and other buildings in the Arcade, Al-Awar not only kept the theater running, but also made the most of the central building on Ojai Avenue, hosting various community events and benefits.
“That won’t change with the new ownership,” he assured.
Al-Awar said that as the owner of a building in such a prominent downtown location he has felt like a custodian to the community. When he made the decision to sell it, he was careful to chose a proprietor that he was sure would take care of it properly and tend to the needs of the community just as his family has done.
And the Hartley family, owners of the Lavender Inn, are certain to do just that, he said.
Kathy and Mark Hartley, who opened the successful and tastefully decorated Lavender Inn four years ago, are purchasing the theater, and will put their son, Jamie, a recent business graduate of California State University at Northridge, in charge.
Al-Awar said that before he purchased the Playhouse 25 years ago, owning a theater was the last thing on his mind.
When he arrived in Ojai, the previous owners had shut down Ojai’s only movie theater, so he decided to get it going again, premiering with the memorable Dustin Hoffman flick, “Tootsie.”
Thanks to extensive community support, the establishment reeled in a reasonable profit for some time, he said. But with an increasingly competitive market, the theater is not doing as well as it once was. Currently in need of some fresh changes, a little refurbishing and remodeling, a change of ownership could do the trick, he said.
Mark Hartley, who has been in the entertainment business for years, managing prominent recording artists Olivia Newton-John and Dwight Yoakum also has an interest in keeping the integrity of old buildings, and has worked on several such establishments in Ventura’s historic downtown.
Kathy Hartley said that her family was excited about enlarging the movie screen, improving the theater and adding some more concerts and cultural events. The improvements will take some time, but they will happen, she said.
“I am positive that the Hartley family will continue to support the community, and they will need the community’s support, Al-Awar said.
The first movie screened under the Hartley’s ownership will be “The Simpsons,” which opens tonight.

Trout Kill Blamed On Dam Testing

Pictured are seven of the 11 trout killed below Matilija Dam during a seismic test of the dam that dried up a pool in the Ventura River.

By Daryl Kelley
Eleven endangered Southern steelhead trout, or their more common rainbow trout relatives, were killed in the Ventura River last month, when an earthquake safety test of Matilija Dam and dry weather conditions stranded the fish without water in the upper Ventura River, officials said this week.
“It was a combination of those factors,” said Steve Wickstrum, general manager of the Casitas Municipal Water District, which shut off the flow of water from the dam’s reservoir for a few hours on June 14, so a county agency could test it for structural safety.
It was the largest of kill of steelhead or rainbow trout in recent memory, Wickstrum said.
Seven dead fish were found the day after the dam water was shut off, and four more died after they were relocated to river pools.
Casitas has asked federal and state agencies to investigate the incident, and to determine whether the dead fish are actually the ocean-to-river southern steelhead, a unique form of rainbow trout, or the freshwater rainbow.
The fish look the same when the steelhead are young. And none of the dead fish — between 5 and 10 inches long — was large enough to be immediately identified as the larger steelhead. Lab tests of the dead fish’s earbones will show their type.
“They were just too stressed out to survive,” said Scott Lewis, fisheries program manager for Casitas, of the four fish workers had tried to save. Two did survive.
Lewis reported the deaths this week in a report to the Casitas board of directors, some of whom were concerned that they were not told of the incident before.
“This is significant,” said Director Richard Handley in an interview. “Here we are spending $9 million on a fish ladder and this happens. We need to be more vigilant about what we do in the river. These fish should have been trapped and moved ahead of time.”
In his report to the board, Lewis said: “The cause of the mortalities was most likely due to the lack of water as a result of the water flowing through Matilija Dam being shut off on June 14.”
The water was shut off at the direction of the county Watershed Protection District, Lewis wrote, so the agency could test the dam’s safety. Vibrations from flowing water near test points would have disrupted the procedure, he said.
Since the fish deaths, Casitas has asked county officials if they could move the test points away from the dam’s release pipe, so the water flow would be maintained at all times, Wickstrum said.
The water agency has also asked federal officials who oversee the southern steelhead recovery program for guidelines on whether to save stranded fish and how to handle the recovery, he said.
“We’ve asked for direction, but there has been no protocol to date for rescuing the fish when the river runs dry, or where to rescue them to,” he said.
The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service oversees the steelhead program. And Casitas biologist Lewis said the federal agency is apparently attempting to address the rescue question on a regional basis.
“There’s a question of whether we can rescue (them),” Lewis said. Because of record dry conditions on the river, “we asked many weeks before this incident if we could do that, and they didn’t have a plan. It sounded like they wanted to work on a more regional approach.”
The southern steelhead was declared an endangered species in 1997, after its numbers dwindled from thousands to a few hundred from Santa Barbara south. Only about 100 adult steelhead remain in the Ventura River watershed, federal officials estimate.
A key question is whether the dead fish were, in fact, steelhead, officials said.
That is important, partly because the federal government has required Oak View-based Casitas to spend $9 million to build a fish ladder so the steelhead can migrate up the Ventura River and then return to the ocean. Casitas must also provide between $1 million and $2 million worth of water a year so the fish can migrate. A costly federal lawsuit to reimburse the water agency for the expenditures is before a federal court.
Considering efforts and money to save the steelhead, Wickstrum said federal government’s lack of a plan to rescue the fish when stranded “is ironic.”
As for county dam testing procedures, watershed protection director Jeff Pratt said he’d heard nothing about the fish kill, but would look into whether his staff can change procedures so water is not shut off during twice-a-year seismic testing.
“We’d do anything we can not to kill the fish,” he said. “We’re going to do anything in our power not to kill the fish.”

Arrest Request Enlivens City Council Meeting

Cooperative independence’ seen as best
approach to join in fight against truck traffic

By Nao Braverman

Ventura County resident Carol Dean Williams strutted to the City Hall podium at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting and told the City Clerk Carlon Strobel that he was going to arrest her, to the dismay of council members.
“Any person who reports to a police officer that a crime has been committed can make a citizen’s arrest and she has committed a crime,” he said. “I have a recording of it right here.”
But by the time Williams had exhausted his three minutes of public comment, he had not made clear the crime of which he was accusing her.
Ojai Police Capt. Bruce Norris came to the podium and clarified that no such arrest would be made.
Up until recently, the penal code mandated that law enforcement take any citizen’s arrest. Though the validity of the arrest would be determined in court, the initial arrest was required. But a supplement added in 2002 gives officers the discretion not to accept the citizen’s arrest, said Norris. In this case he did not find an appropriate cause for arrest.
Strobel explained later that Williams had visited the City Hall earlier regarding his concern about the flood control berm west of the San Antonio Creek that is currently being raised to safe guard Casitas Springs from flooding. He was concerned that raising the berm would endanger a nearby bridge, she said.
When he asked Strobel if the city would intervene, she told him to speak with the city manager to see if he would consider placing the item on the agenda, according to Strobel. Then he got very upset and pulled out his tape recorder, she said
“I think that’s when he got sidetracked.” she explained.
After an extended, slightly confrontational conversation at City Hall that day, Williams had been escorted out of the administrative office by Norris, said Strobel. That incident, she speculated, was the cause of his attempted citizen’s arrest at the meeting Tuesday night.
In other City Council news, council members directed city staff to continue to work on the issue of Ojai’s gravel truck traffic independently but in cooperation with the citizen’s group, the Committee to Stop the Trucks.
Council members had agreed that the city should get involved in the battled against increasing truck traffic in mid-June. On Tuesday they decided that “cooperative independence” was the best approach, to start.
Other ways to address the gravel truck issue would be to offer a cash contribution to the citizen’s group. Such a donation would not be considered a gift of public funds as long as the city could show that the gift would have a definite effect on the community. City manager Jere Kersnar explained that such an effect could be demonstrated.
Kersnar also offered the option of creating a consortium but warned that it might be difficult to administer and might require a long-term commitment from the city.
Also during the meeting S.A.F.E. Coalition representative Ruth Cooper announced that the percentage of local 11th-graders being very drunk went down 16 percent since 2002 and the percentage of 11th-graders being under the influence of drugs or alcohol at school went down by 10 percent, according to a California Healthy Kids Survey. Ninth-graders under the influence of drugs or alcohol at school went down by 6 percent. A 2007 survey of seventh-11th graders showed an overall increase in substance abuse among seventh graders however.
The S.A.F.E Coalition plans to focus on implementing and enforcing the new Social Host Ordinance which penalizes anyone hosting a party with underage drinkers and educate parents in substance abuse prevention particularly among young teens, said Cooper.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Cinnamon Found, Suspect Arrested

Jolene Hoffman, director of the Ventura County Humane Society Shelter in Ojai, checks out the collar of Cinnamon, a 4-year-old red Pomeranian, who was returned to the shelter yesterday. Cinnamon was stolen from the shelter July 2.

Report, photo by Rob Clement

Cinnamon, a 4-year-old Pomeranian, was reported stolen from the Humane Society of Ventura on July 2 by Humane Society employees. She was found at a residence on Santa Ana Boulevard in Oak View Monday morning, following five separate phone reports from anonymous sources in the area. Shelter director Jolene Hoffman brought a microchip scanner to the residence to confirm the dog's identity. "As soon as I saw her, I knew it was her. The scanner confirmed it. She seems very relieved not to be around the larger dogs, it was very frightening for her. She's still in my arms."
Thomas Petropulos, 28, was arrested on suspicion of stealing Cinnamon, and booked into the Ventura County main jail. He was released on his own recognizance July 24, but due in court to answer the theft charge Aug. 10.
As for Cinnamon's adoption status now, "She's been through two homes before she got here, then spayed here, and then stolen from here. Cinnamon's been through so much. She's a special needs dog now, she needs someone who is soft-spoken, gentle, and who has a lap to offer her. It will take a lot to prove worthiness for this little pup." Hoffman said.
Hoffman also stated that a gentlemen offered a consideerable amount of money as donation towards surveillance equipment. " We are so very thankful to him for that, but we still need help towards that goal."
To donate, call the Humane Society at 646-6505.

Ojai City Aid Sought For Truck Fight

Staff recommends regular briefings on Diamond
Rock Mine and its potential impacts on Ojai

By Nao Braverman

With the Diamond Rock Gravel Mine recently recommended for approval, the city of Ojai has finally decided to formally step in and get involved with the issue of gravel trucks traveling through the Ojai Valley.
At Tuesday night’s Ojai City Council meeting, city staff recommended that staff continue to monitor the Diamond Rock Mine project proposal and report back to the council on further action to be taken by the city, including possible legal procedures.
The proposed Diamond Rock Gravel mine in Cuyama Valley could significantly increase the already burdensome truck traffic along Highway 33 through the Ojai Valley, degrading Ojai’s environment, safety, and subsequently its tourist economy and quality of life, according to critics of the project.
Though City Council members agreed to get involved in the battle against increasing truck traffic in mid-June, they expressed uncertainty how the city should focus their efforts.
City staff offered two other paths of action to be considered: One approach would be to write a check from the city to the local citizen-formed Committee to Stop the Trucks. Another would be to call for an ad hoc committee of council members and local representatives to consider the issue. The latter would be complicated because everyone’s interests are different and it’s hard to get a unified voice, said city manager Jere Kersnar. People in Cuyama are against the mine proposal itself while Ojai residents are primarily concerned about the routes that trucks take, he said.
After discussing the issue with city attorney Monte Widders, Kersnar decided to recommend that staff continue to work on the issue as a separate entity, cooperating and communicating with the citizen’s Committee to Stop the Trucks.
The proposed plan of action was modeled after the successful dispute against the Weldon Canyon dump site proposal in the early 1990s.
In that case both the city of Ojai and a citizen’s group sued the trash company and won,
though both entities worked very closely with one another, said Widders, who represented the city in the Weldon Canyon lawsuit.
With the battle against the Diamond Rock Gravel Mine proposal, the city and committee must exhaust all administrative remedies before filing any lawsuits, said Widders.
That means waiting for the proposal to be reviewed by the state government before returning to the Santa Barbara Planning Commission for approval, said Jan Chatten of Chatten-Brown & Carsten’s, currently representing the Committee to Stop the Trucks.
If Santa Barbara Planning Commission approves the project, with no adequate mitigation measures to protect Ojai from a huge influx of truck traffic, then the city of Ojai can appeal the decision to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors under the California Environmental Quality Act. If their appeal is rejected, then the city and the citizen’s committee can sue.
“We are at a similar stage in the Diamond Rock mine proposal to the stage when the city got involved in the Weldon Canyon dump site proposal,” said Widders.
“It was a successful model in that case,” he said.

Sewer Water Use Defended

By Daryl KelleyUnder sharp questioning, Ventura city representatives defended this week a plan to use treated sewer water to flush oil wells and irrigate orchards along the lower Ventura River, instead of using all of the effluent to bolster the river’s flow and maintain its plants and animals.
In a presentation to directors of the Ojai Valley Sanitary District, a scientist who studied the potential diversion said half of the 2 million gallons a day that flow from the Ojai sewer plant near Foster Park could be diverted elsewhere without harming the river.
That level of reuse “appears feasible from the environmental and cost-benefit analysis,” said biologist Howard Bailey, a consultant for the city of Ventura. A full environmental review would have to be completed before any diversion could take place, he noted.
Ventura is considering such a plan because reuse of sewer effluent would save 1 million gallons a day of clean drinking and reservoir water that the city now provides to Aera Energy to pump into oil wells and to citrus farmers for irrigation, officials said. State policy favors conserving clean water by replacing it with recycled wastewater whenever possible.
Ventura has first claim on Ojai’s treated effluent because it owns the sewer plant site and leases it to the Sanitary District. But the city can divert the effluent only if that does not harm the habitat of river plants and more than a dozen birds, fish and other animals protected by a variety of state and federal programs — including the Southern steelhead trout, the tidewater goby, the Least Bell’s vireo and the California least term.
That possibility of harm prompted pointed questions by OVSD directors, who were concerned that diverting any flow in drought years could cause the river to nearly dry up.
Director Stan Greene, a former president of Citizens to Preserve the Ojai, said he was not satisfied with the environmental analysis in the city’s draft report, scheduled for submission to state water officials by mid-September.
“What are the real needs of all the (river) ecosystems in terms of water?” Greene asked. “You started with that, but I get the feeling somewhere along the way you started playing with numbers.”
Directors Russ Baggerly and Pete Kaiser also questioned Bailey and Ventura officials about the study.
Kaiser asked how pollution that’s often washed into the river would be diluted if the effluent flow – which provides almost all of the river’s water in very dry summers – was cut in half. And he wanted to know whether the endangered steelhead trout would be stranded in shallow pools if the water was diverted.
Bailey said the pollution issue would have to be addressed in a subsequent detailed study. But he said that the steelhead could find safe haven in five or six deep pools along the lower river, and that they would be cloistered in river pools in dry years even if all the sewer wastewater was still flowing into the river.
Kaiser asked how the aesthetics of five miles of river from the sewer plant to the ocean — fed by sewer effluent since 1964 — would be changed by the reduction in flow.
“Is this (plan) feasible even though there are all of these uncertainties?” he said.
Bailey said the project could not go forward without addressing all of the uncertainties.
But the primary unknown, he said, is not the effects of diversions on animals and habitat, but what it might mean to the supply of groundwater in the river basin. He said water rights claims by downstream users might also foil the reuse plan.
Bailey insisted that changes in the river’s width and depth would be “relatively small” because of the diversion. “And as far as change in the aesthetics,” he said, “it’s not likely to be large.”
But Baggerly, a former chair of the county Environmental Coalition, wasn’t buying it.
He noted that a 1940s state Department of Fish and Game study reported that the lower Ventura River and its estuary were suitable habitat for 1,000 steelhead trout, and that the same estimate had been repeated in reports in recent years.
“So it has a lot more need for water than I think you’re giving it,” Baggerly told Bailey. “If you reduce (the effluent) flow by half, you don’t know what it’s going to do to the size or depth of the estuary.”
Bailey insisted that the estuary was more suitable for dozens of steelhead, not 1,000. “The idea of 1,000 spawning there is not feasible.”
But Bailey acknowledged that the report’s analysis of the diversion’s effect on the spawning, rearing and migration of steelhead was prepared without the comments of the trout expert the city hired for that purpose. That report from biologist Matt Stoecker of Ventura was late, Bailey said, so the draft report was written without it.
The report’s conclusions that the diversion would have no effect on steelhead migration and little impact on spawning were based on interviews with other experts, he said.
He insisted that Stoecker agreed with the report’s main conclusions. But he acknowledged that Stoecker, like Baggerly, thinks the estuary is a good place for raising young steelhead, while other experts focus on the upstream for rearing the fish because of contaminates in the lower river.
Another surprise from Monday’s meetings in Ojai and at Ventura City Hall was that Aera Energy, which would use 90 percent of the diverted effluent, was considering drilling deep wells to get water to inject into its oil wells.
Ventura officials said it was the first they’d heard of Aera’s plans, and that they were counting on the energy company to be the primary buyer of the diverted effluent.
But Ted Witt, manager of operations at Aera, said in an interview that the company had not yet decided whether it would sign an agreement with the city to purchase the treated wastewater.
“We’re considering whether we want to sign a memorandum of understanding on that,” he said. “And drilling a deep water well could offset what we need to purchase from the city.”
In a separate communication, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, which has led a water-quality monitoring program of the Ventura River for six years, recommended against any diversion of effluent unless that water is fully replaced.
“Channelkeeper finds that there is currently not enough information regarding Ventura River water resources to make any determination that moves this project forward,” a spokesman said in a letter to the city.
Along with the water users, Ventura officials are also asking the Sanitary District to sign an agreement about the effluent diversion. That needs to occur as the city submits its report in September to the state Water Resources Control Board. Then, if all agree, the proposal would receive a full review under California’s strict environmental protection laws.
“This is definitely not the end of the analysis,” Bailey told the Sanitary District directors, most of whom had not yet read the report.
He asked that the board formally respond to the report by mid-August.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Soule Park May Go To Dogs

By Nao Braverman
Ojai’s friendly dogs have few places to meet each other. The vacant, often empty grassy fields of Soule Park would be a good spot for Ojai’s canine residents to socialize, according the Ventura County Parks Advisory Commission.
Though they were initially planning to occupy a portion county-owned land near the old Honor Farm property, the local Dog Park Committee recently obtained permission to construct their facility at the west side of Soule Park, near the tennis courts, approximately a quarter-mile from the closest resident. County officials asked Dog Park Committee members for $20,000 to cover construction and offered that any additional expenses would be absorbed by the park’s fund, said Ventura County Park’s manager Ron Van Dyck.
The Dog Park Committee members have drawn plans for an 800-foot double-gated fence area with benches, extra dog-waste bags and a water fountain.
Two designated arenas will be divided to separate the large energetic dogs from those who are shyer and less active.
Nothing is expected from the Dog Park Committee members other than the $20,000 community contribution for initial fence construction costs, according to Van Dyck. The Ventura County Parks employees will take care of maintenance, he said.
With a $2 entrance fee during the week and $4 on the weekends, the Dog Park is expected to increase Soule Park’s revenue and pay for any increased maintenance costs, which aren’t expected to add up to much, said Van Dyck.
Soule Park’s maintenance crew already irrigates other areas of the park and will be able to water the park whether it is to irrigate the lawn or for dust control if some other material is used for ground cover. Park’s staff is still not sure what material to lay on the 800-foot area but they plan to use what ever is most cost effective, said Van Dyck.
Jim Ruch, a Boardman Road resident and neighbor, is skeptical of the benefits of a having a dog park at the Soule Park location.
“I would feel much more comfortable if a little more thought was put into it,” he said. Ruch wonders why the committee and county officials did not consider a location closer to town that people could walk their dogs to without getting into a car.
Soule Park is not close enough to any pedestrian sidewalks and is not walking distance from most of Ojai’s residential areas.
Still the Dog Park Committee members insist that many people who travel all the way to Ventura to take their dogs to a park would have a significantly shorter drive.
Ruch suggests the open space on the west side of San Antonio Creek in Libbey Park. People could walk their dogs down the bike trail to get there, he said.
But putting it in Soule Park is much more convenient for dog park committee members who only have to raise money before handing all other responsibilities over to Ventura County Parks.
Van Dyck said that a dog park at Soule Park had been in consideration since 2001 and was approved as a deferred maintenance item in 2006. Such a park had already been considered for the future though they were waiting to secure more funding. Since the Dog Park Committee offered to provide those funds, county parks was willing to speed up the process.
Ruch also said he noticed that Soule Park’s staff has not been able to keep up with current maintenance needs let alone take on a whole new project.
But Van Dyck said that the park has a routine maintenance crew, and that the new dog park is not expected to offset their routines.
The increased revenue from dog park visitor fees should help the county parks fund recover costs over time, he said.
Ruch also suggested the committee or park staff send a crew to take make sure that garbage is being cleaned up and that dog owners are keeping their furry companions on a leash in other areas of the park.
Dog Park Committee member Nancy Brough said that she had obtained more than 500 signatures in support of the park and expected it would have frequent visitors from the community. So far, the committee has raised almost $1,800 for the Ojai Valley Dog Park Fund at the Ojai Community Bank. Supporters can make donations at the bank or leave them in collections cans at veterinary offices and local feed stores.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

City-wide Chain Store Ban Sought

Planners look at excluding formula
stores from new historic district

By Nao Braverman
With almost half of Ojai’s planning commissioners on their side, a handful of Ojai residents asked the city staff to broaden their recommended chain store ordinance to apply to all businesses within the entire city limits at Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting.
“I think of the ‘Y’ as the true gateway to Ojai and if the buildings from there leading into town were populated with chain stores, it would ruin that experience of coming into Ojai,” said local resident Leslie Davis.
In order to protect themselves from litigation, the city staff suggested prohibiting chain stores from the recently established Historic Commercial District, a central portion of the entire city, which runs roughly from CaƱada Street to Drown Street along Ojai Avenue and from Aliso Street to Topa Topa Street. The area excludes the “Y” intersection and most of Ojai’s East End.
The problem with prohibiting chains from the entire city is that it’s hard for staff to see how one can argue that formula business would have a different impact than privately owned business on a citywide basis, said Kersnar.
“We believe that you can say it has an impact within a certain district that has a character that is not formula business based. It’s harder to make that argument when you apply it citywide because there are areas within the city where the dominance of formula businesses are evident,” he said. “That is not the case with the Historic Commercial District.”
Still some residents raised the concern that prohibiting chains from a certain area within the city might give a green light to chain store owners looking to set up shop within the city just outside of the prohibited area.
Planning Commissioners Cortus Koehler, Tucker Adams and Troy Becker agreed that the prohibition boundary should be wider.
City planner Katrina Schmidt offered that a combination of measures could be used to keep chains away from the city. While a prohibition on chains in the new Historic Commercial District could keep chains outside of that central area, tighter regulatory measures in the Planning Department could at least discourage formula businesses that would have to make a number of changes in order to open in other areas of the city.
Koehler agreed.
“I think we should make it a complex matrix for formula retail owners that makes it so difficult to enter into the application process that they never come out, “ his comment was followed by applause from attendants.
Other commissioners, less familiar with the ongoing discussion on the issue of chain stores disagreed.
“I think we have a lot of regulations in place that regulate the design of things and I have confidence in that process,” said Planning Commissioner John Mirk. “ I really question whether wether we need to do anything about this issue at all.”
Planning Commissioner Susan Weaver, though supportive of the staff recommendation was concerned that eliminating chain stores would not necessarily benefit local residents though it might attract tourists.
“I’m concerned that local residents are going to need to leave town in order to by things they need,” she said.
Kenley Neufeld, author of a ballot initiative that prohibits chain stores from the entire city and has gained the support of at least 600 registered voters, said he would wait to see if he could come to a compromise with the city before submitting his initiative, due in October.
“It seems like the Planning Commission needs more time to consider the issue, though the City Council has already had a lot of time to look at it,” he said,
City staff will return to the Planning Commission with a recommended ordinance to regulate formula retail on August 1. If it is approved by planning commissioners it will go to council for a first reading on Aug. 14, and considered for approval on Aug. 28. If approved, the ordinance could become effective by Sept. 28.
If Neufeld’s initiative goes to ballot and gets the popular vote it will overwrite any city ordinance.
Scott Eicher, executive director of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce raised the concern that while a city ordinance could be amended, a citizen’s initiative would have to go to ballot each time it was changed.
“That could be complicated and expensive,” he said.
In other Planning Commission news, the commission reviewed a plan for the remodel of a former gas station on 110 West Ojai Avenue. The property owner, Arnold Meyerstein, is planning to remodel the property and lease it as an office space. Planning commissioner suggested some aesthetic changes to the proposed windows on the property, but were pleased to see it being improved.
Also, the Humane Society of Ventura is requesting to install a prefabricated building to be used as a caretaker’s unit and a relocation of their current spay and neuter clinic.
Staff raised some concerns about previous noise complaints from Humane Society neighbors but Mirk suggested a wait and see approach as the Humane Society is a humanitarian organization and and certainly an asset to the community.

Former Intern Finds Misery, Hope In Africa

Mae Waugh with two young
Kenyan girls from Polycarp Parish

By C. Mae Waugh

I have seen families starving. I have seen children orphaned by parents who died of AIDS and left them behind to fend for themselves. I have seen kids sing and dance and play with their stomachs growling. I have seen rhinos romp and antelopes run and ostriches bury their heads in the ground.
All of this I saw in Kenya.
This past winter I went on a pilgrimage to Kenya, Africa with the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts College Ministry. I’d been to Mexico many times before, on mission trips with Ojai Presbyterian Church and humanitarian efforts with the Rotary clubs. Last spring I went to Puerto Rico with the Lutheran Campus Ministry at Northeastern University. But none of my previous experiences had prepared this Ojai girl for what I met in Kenya.
My experience in Kenya was overwhelming, heart-stirring, and stunning. I went for 10 days and in that time I was not able to see all that is Kenya, but I got a glimpse of it. The poverty I saw stunned me. The beautiful children stirred my heart. And the volume and severity of the problems of AIDS, ignorance, starvation, mortality, squalor and violence overwhelmed me.
I hail from our town of Ojai. It’s an idyllic Southern California suburb where, for the most part, the elderly retire, Hollywood stars seek anonymity, and middle class families come to raise their children in a safe environment. This pilgrimage opened my eyes to see the reality of the world in which we live: there is suffering, violence and terror far worse than our own.
Despite the negative image I somewhat expected to receive, yet shocked me just the same, I encountered something I was not expecting: joy. There are problems, there is pain, but rising above both, the Kenyan people I encountered were able to find happiness and joy and that is what makes this a bittersweet story full of hope.
Everyone shakes hands in Kenya. When two people meet in the street they greet with a handshake and ask “habari?” which, roughly translated, means, “what is the news?” The only appropriate response is “misouri,” meaning, “the news is good,” because that is what everyone wants to hear. I found it ironic that “misouri” sounds so much like the English “misery.”
When I looked around Africa my western eyes saw misery: children half-clothed, standing barefoot and hungry outside their thatched-roof homes; women walking for miles carrying buckets of water on their heads; and men standing on the street corner, idle and looking for mischief because there are no jobs. But in these people’s hearts, all they would accept was good news. It is either obtusely optimistic or hopelessly delusional on their parts, but as a journalist I cannot help but admire the way they cling to good news amidst the squalor in which they live.
One aspect of our pilgrimage was participating in dialogues with community leaders. We met with Anglican theological professors, an AIDS clinic coordinator and a local women’s organization. From these different perspectives, I learned shocking beliefs and pieces of Kenyan culture.
Violence against women was a prominent problem we discussed. I learned 60 percent of girls in the villages are raped by the age of 15, usually by male family members. That number increases to 80 percent in the cities. These numbers are alarmingly high not because the Kenyan male is particularly cruel; it is because he is deceived. There is a myth that if someone HIV positive has sex with a virgin, it will cure him of his disease.
There is also a practice of wife inheritance. Innumerable husbands die of AIDS, leaving their wives widows and often infected. When a woman becomes a widow she must remarry or her belongings will go to her late husband’s family. But in order for her to remarry she must be “cleansed.” In villages there is a single man who has sex with each widow to “cleanse” her. Seldom is sex protected in Kenya and so this practice does not really “cleanse” a woman but further spreads the disease of AIDS.
But there is hope in the grass-roots movement of change, which is still small and building, led by the women’s organizations we met with and the Maseno Theological College we visited.
Simplified, the problem in Kenya is lack of education.
The government does provide primary school for free, but students must shave their heads and wear uniforms and the majority of children are too poor to buy uniforms. And children will not go to school if they are hungry.
Children are hungry because there are few jobs for their families to support them. There are few jobs because there are no roads. There are no roads because there is no infrastructure. There is no infrastructure because the government is corrupt. It is a devastating cycle.
Meeting the women’s organizations of Ebisuratse and Emukasa, Kenya, inspired me. These women did not allow their situations to overwhelm them, but instead joined together to make their homes and villages safer, healthier and happier. They advocate for orphans, women’s rights and jobs. They support each other.
I had the opportunity to experience this Kenyan life: meet the Kenyan people, live in their homes and feed their children. I went and I lived and I saw. And despite the stunning poverty, numbers of heart-stirring orphans and overwhelming problems, I loved the people, I loved the beautiful country, and I believe with the help of missionaries, grass-roots efforts and humanitarians there can be education, food and stability somewhere in the future for Kenya.
I remember as a child sitting at the dinner table with a plate half-full of food and my mother telling me there were starving children in Africa, so I should eat up.
But the idea of children across the globe starving was a concept as a child I could not quite grasp. And then I grew up, learned to eat my fill, went to college and began my own life of adulthood, with the starving children far from my mind.
When I went to Africa, however, what I saw reminded me of what my mother had warned me about — children are starving for real.
Due to AIDS, there is a vast number of orphans in Kenya. Their parents die and they are left all alone in the world, hungry and helpless. Some family members are able to take them in, but not all are so lucky.
AIDS is a pandemic and poverty is extreme. Orphans are struggling but persevering, due to the help of people from all over the world. Grass-roots mobilization in Kenya, including widows and women’s organizations, in partnership with missionaries and humanitarians from the US and the Anglican diocese and parishes in Africa have joined together to help feed the orphans.
These concerned people began an orphan feeding program where 14 Anglican parishes in Kenya provide 500 orphans with one protein meal a week. When I first heard this, I thought the orphans received one protein meal a day, and I thought that was pretty good. But I had misheard. This means every Saturday starving children walk for miles with a cup and a spoon to get a bowl of rice and beans, for many their only nutritious meal all week.
The local African women lead and coordinate this program, with the U.S. participants as sponsors. It costs $4,000 to feed 500 orphans for a year. All it takes is $8 to help a child survive.
As a part of my pilgrimage to Meseno, Africa in December, I had the opportunity to help the orphan feeding program at the Emukasa parish. We arrived by car, but the 500 children, ages 3 to 15, walked up to three miles to come to church that day to learn, play and eat. The orphan feeding program gives the children more than a meal; there are all-day classes and activities that take place at the church.
The children are skinny. Some are skin and bones and others have stomachs that are bulging, a sign of malnutrition. Some have shaved heads, a sign that they attend school, while others have braided hair and some have hair sticking out at every angle. They wear dirty, ripped and torn clothes, which they probably slept in last night after wearing all day yesterday. They do not act surly, as one would expect of a hungry child, but they are smiling and skipping for today is a day of happiness – tonight they will leave with a full belly.
The children arrive and participate in worship time. Then they are broken into groups by age to take classes in English and math. Then they play before they get their meal of a cup of weak chai tea and a bowl of rice and beans.
While the children learn and play, the Women’s Organization ladies cook. They shuck beans and boil rice and cook the entire meal over and open flame on the ground behind the church.
During breaks from classes, the children played games, sang and danced. I was surprised that they could be so happy and play so carefree with their stomachs empty. We Americans met and mingled with the children, learning their games and songs, while we tried to teach them some of our own. They had difficulty learning our songs, but they caught on quickly to hi-fives.
At midday we served the chai tea. The children lined up across the grounds, sitting in rows and rows, waiting with their cups in their hands while the women and Americans walked around with buckets of tea made of tea leaves, spices, half boiling water and half milk. After tea there was free time for the children until the meal preparations were finished.
The parish saw my group as missionaries, and so they welcomed and revered our presence. In doing this they served us a special lunch before serving the orphan children. This made us very uncomfortable, for we had eaten breakfast that morning and it could have been a week since many of the children had eaten such a decent meal. But we were torn between our sympathies for the children and not wanting to look ungrateful or insulting. And so we ate.
For our lunch they had prepared not only a bowl of rice and beans like the children would be eating, but also servings of plantains, potatoes, some sort of chicken dish and ugali. Ugali is the food staple of Kenya and it is made of boiled cornmeal. It has the consistency of dried out, uncooked dough and tastes worst — but it fills your stomach.
Once we had eaten enough to not appear rude, it was time to feed the children. Once again they lined up and sat by rows in the grass and dirt across the church grounds. The pastor of the church said a prayer and we began to serve.
And that is why I went to Kenya – for that moment and for that chance to pour a cup of beans and rice into the orphans’ cups. To see a child bright eyed, waiting for their meal and then the delight and joy that comes across his face as he eats a meal of substance was an experience I will always cherish, to have been able to give that child that gift.
As we served and the children began to eat, a hush fell over the yard. All that could be heard was the scraping of spoons against cups and the quiet chomping of little jaws. Where there was once a sound of excitement now came the sound of satiety.
After the meal the children slowly drifted away to wherever they called their home, toting their empty cups, but leaving with full stomachs.
I had mixed feelings as I watched them go. I felt good about the day and the chance to have been able to give them a meal, but disheartened at the knowledge that this was only one day in their lives. What would they eat tomorrow? How would they eat tomorrow? I wanted to stay; I wanted to be able to feed them a filling meal everyday, but at that moment it was not possible.
So we Americans left the church too, returning to the places we were calling our homes for the night. As we went we turned left in the car while the orphans turned and walked right and as we drove away I watched the children leave for as long as they were in sight.
I’m sure those children have forgotten me, but I have not forgotten them.
I have been to Kenya. I have lived in its homes and seen its problems, but what can I do? My advocacy is to feed the children. They won’t go to school if they are hungry. And they must go to school to succeed. The Kenya children are the future leaders of their country. They must be taught to lead. They must be taught how to be upstanding citizens that can then make contributions to their society. But to be taught they must go to school, and to go to school, they must have full bellies. So we must feed the children. It is only with the children that the country can be saved.

C. Mae Waugh began her journalistic career in 2003 as an intern at the Ojai Valley News after being recommended by the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation. She is attending Northeastern University in Boston, and serves an anchor of “Boston in the News” for Boston City TV, a cable television program produced for the Mayor’s office.

Click to download Mae's African Power Point presentation

Lost Legend Lingers In Misty's Memories

See video of Peter Bellwood
interviewing The Steamer

By Misty Volaski

Back in May, I found myself sitting with a fellow Nordhoff alumni, Dina Fragale, in the sports book at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas. Having arrived early for the bachelorette party of another NHS grad, Dina decided to show me the ropes of horse racing while we waited. I agreed, though somewhat reluctantly. The sports book?! Um, OK.
As she explained the lingo and recalled childhood trips to Monmouth with her dad, my mind drifted over memories of my old pal, Bud Furillo.
“You know,” I cut across her story, “Bud was nuts about horse racing. He always said he was going to take me to Santa Anita.”
“Awesome track,” she replied. “We’ll have to go one day so you can see what he was talking about. Oh, look, the race is about to start, go get your bet in!”
Hastily scanning the list of race horses, I came across “ItsaCakeWalk,” a 12-to-1 chance. Grinning at that stupid name and the thought of my own cakewalk days — I usually won the cake at the St. Thomas Aquinas Halloween parties — I decided to go with him.
“Go with your gut, kid,” Bud always told me; and besides, it was only two bucks.
As the horses took off, my 12-to-1 bet was looking like just that. Dina’s horse, predictably, was in first; mine wasn’t even on the leader boards yet. But suddenly, that goofy name appeared. And kept climbing and climbing, right into first.
And then it hit me — finally, I understood why Bud was so nuts about horse racing. It begins with jingly excitement that brews somewhere near your belly button, a kind of itchy anxiety. And before you know it, you’re on your feet, beer in the air, letting out a primordial whoop of ultimate victory.
I won a whopping $21.65, which was spent on shots and slots soon after. But still. I think Bud would have preferred it that way. I can still hear his infectious chuckle and classic-movie tone: “You did good, kid. Now go get us a couple a beers.”
After all, this was the guy that spent thousands of dollars in Vegas back in the ‘60s with the Rat Pack. The excitable guy in the front row at Hollywood Park, in the spiffy suit and cocked fedora.
The guy whose friendship keeps on giving me reason to smile, even a year after his passing. He pops up when I am least expecting it — but in the most typical places, I am discovering:
• In the Colisuem, as we joined the Ericksons at the SC-Notre Dame game. He was in the 20-foot-tall inflatable SC helmet. And in the stuffed leprechauns with nooses around their necks, and in the cardinal-and-gold hats we all sported. And it was most certainly Bud who led from on high the deafening Trojan roar that went up with every Irish down.
• In a bar, when a rowdy college football argument led me to find one of his ex-coworkers for one of the best post-Bud conversations I’ve had. “He knew everybody and everybody loved Bud,” my new friend recalled. “Even the hot dog hawkers and the paper boys.”
“I know,” I grinned. And then … the inevitable. Tears did fall hard and fast before I could get a grip on myself. Again, I felt the frustration at all the things we missed doing together — horse races and karaoke and SC titles and matching Mini Coopers.
But again, I felt the warmth of the lessons Bud taught and is teaching me: it doesn’t matter who you were or what you did here. It’s the people, the memories you’ve left for those who loved you that makes you immortal.
In that respect, Bud’s turning 82 here next month.
Who’s ready to party?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mine, Ban on New Truck Traffic Approved

Ventura County 1st District Supervisor Steve Bennett, right, confers with Ojai Mayor Carol Smith and Stop the Trucks committee chair Michael Shapiro outside the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission hearing in Santa Maria on Wednesday.

By Linda Harmon

It was another marathon five-hour meeting before the Santa Barbara Planning Commission Wednesday in an attempt to clarify issues and make a final decision on the Troesh Diamond Rock Mine Conditional Use Permit.
An Ojai crowd of about 80 again filled the meeting room alongside residents of the Cuyama region to hear the Commission vote 4-to-1 in favor of approving the mine’s C.U.P. after attaching two new restrictive measures.
However, the project still holds the potential of sending 80,000-pound gravel trucks down scenic Highway 33 through one of the Ojai’s busiest intersections.
Measure 34 prohibits project-related truck trips through Ojai on State Route 33, and requires a public hearing and notification to both Ventura County and the City of Ojai if the ban is lifted in the future.
The second measure, 34c, places a limit on the number of truck trips that may ultimately occur on the highway if the ban is lifted. That limit remains at an average of 18 trips per day but can allow up to 138 trips per day during peak periods depending on how the current Ojai emission standards are applied. It would also restrict truck travel time before school, after school and at noon recess hours.
During the meeting a Troesh representative presented a letter dated July 3 to the commission stating that they intended to respect Ojai’s 5-pound emission limit and honor the restricted hours if the ban was lifted. Supervisor Steve Bennett then told the commission that he did not have sufficient time to review the letter and reserved comment until after he had completely evaluated it.
Michael Shapiro, one of the leaders of the Ojai-based Stop the Trucks organization, had a guarded reaction. “Even though the Planning Commission said there is a ban in effect, there is no teeth in it,” Shapiro said.
According to Shapiro there is too much flexibility and the ban can be ignored in case of an emergency. “Emergency was not defined,” continued Shapiro. “I’m not feeling comfortable that there really is a ban.”
Many remained skeptical of the project. Even though members of the audience were cautioned to speak only if they had new information to impart many did speak to raise what they felt were unanswered concerns. Shapiro took issue with the Caltrans traffic study, alleging, “The Caltrans report wasn‘t a study; it was a six-page conclusion with no real study involved. We want an independent study.”
Stan Greene said he was happy about the company’s agreement to ban its trucks from Ojai. He did, however, raise several issues that he said weakened the C.U.P. including its vagueness, lack of monitoring commitments, and failure to take into account the cumulative effects of other pending mining projects. Greene finished by saying, “CEQUA (California Environmental Quality Act) requires that environmentally superior alternatives be at least discussed.”
Cuyama speakers included pistachio rancher Gene Zannon, who echoed concerns of other area residents saying the mine would have major negative impacts on his largely rural farming and ranching community as well as sending traffic to Ojai.
“This is the biggest vote facing us since oil was discovered in terms of development and how it will transform our valley,” said Zannon. “They’re planning on drilling to 90 feet and the aquifer is at 40. Our wells are not that deep and I don’t have that much to play with.”
Representing the city, Ojai Mayor Carol Smith acknowledged the commission’s tough role but urged them to not approve the C.U.P.
Jeff Kuyper of Los Padres Forest Watch, and Gordon Hensley of CoastKeepers, both representatives of nonprofit environmental groups, attacked the EIR and Caltrans study.
The audience entreaties did not garner any support from the commission. Commissioners felt that all impacts had been adequately addressed, impacts mitigated by adding the two measures, and following staff’s recommendations they gave their approval to the conceptual review of the C.U.P.
"The reclamation portion of the document now goes to The California Department of Conservation's Office of Reclamation," said Steve Rodriguez, contract planner for the project. "They will study the plan and make comments. Then they return the document to us to work with the developer to address those comments. It will then be discussed again before the Santa Maria Planning Commission. It will appear on our agenda at that time."
After the meeting ended Bennett said he felt the truck controversy was an important and complicated issue. “That still needed to be worked out.”
“It’s time for the valley to roll up our sleeves, contribute, and get serious,” said Shapiro. “The city needs to get involved and contribute too if we want to keep the trucks out of Ojai. It’s going to be an uphill struggle and I think it’s going to end in litigation.”

Caltrans' Bridge Plans Anger Residents

Slated for demolition and a springtime reconstruction, the 90-year-old San Antonio Bridge is, according to Caltrans, unsafe. The project will create a detour along Highway 150 from Gridley Road to Gorham Road for about six months, quadrupling expected traffic on East End roads.

By Nao Braverman

A team of Caltrans officials, patrol officers and Ojai city staff members met with an incredulous slew of Gridley Road, San Gabriel Street and Grand Avenue residents Wednesday evening at the Chaparral Auditorium.
The meeting was called to discuss a proposed detour during the pending reconstruction of the San Antonio Creek Bridge, which would divert East Ojai Avenue (Highway 150) traffic onto Gridley Road, then to Grand Avenue from Gridley to Gorham and then back to Highway 150.
Many infuriated Gridley Road residents did not think it safe to divert the approximately 9,700 vehicles that would be expected to use the detour, on a road that normally takes about 1,250 trips daily.
“The roads are not safe as it is now,” said Grand Avenue resident Jeanine Sofra.
Neighborhood residents came to the meeting to discuss alternatives to the detour with Caltrans officials. Gridley, a residential road with no sidewalks and a small shoulder where children, elderly and pets often walk would not easily accommodate the volume of traffic that normally traverses Highway 150, they said.
But the minds of Caltrans’ representative engineers appeared to be set. The bridge reconstruction that is way overdue cannot be put off any longer according to Caltrans engineer Steve Novotny. The assigned engineers had apparently explored other detour options prior to the meeting and found no other feasible alternative to the Gridley Road detour.
The 120-foot-long bridge, originally built in 1917, is precariously narrow, according to Caltrans public information officer Maria Raptis, with two 11-1/2-foot lanes and a 2-1/2-foot shoulder on each side. The new bridge will be replaced by 12-foot lanes, an 8-foot shoulder with a 4-foot bike lane, lengthened to 180 feet, and strengthened to weather future storms.
Caltrans routinely evaluates all structures and bridges and this one is scheduled for replacement, said Raptis.
Though no formal agreement has been made between the city and Caltrans officials, funding for the project is in place and construction is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2008 and estimated for completion in the summer of 2009. The detour is only expected to function for six months, however. After that point the bridge, though not completed, could still be used said a Caltrans public information officer Jeanne Bonfilio.
Many Gridley Road residents first heard about the reconstruction and detour months ago, and brought their concerns to a City Council meeting on March 27.
Council members had then agreed that diverting traffic through a residential neighborhood would be unsafe and inappropriate, and asked Public Works staff to explore other detours.
But by the time city staff was able to schedule a meeting with Caltrans engineers they seemed to be set on diverting traffic to Gridley Road.
When a Gridley Road resident asked if it was possible to create a temporary detour through the river bottom, Novotny responded that engineers had already considered that possibility but were informed that it would be nearly impossible to get permits from the Department of Fish and Game and the Army Corps of Engineers to plow a temporary road into an environmentally sensitive area.
Residents then asked if one side of the bridge could be constructed at a time, leaving the other side so that traffic could get through.
Novotny replied that the bridge would then take six months to build each side, and with construction taking place during the dry season, the project would be extended from just over six months to two years, which would have an adverse economic impact on the entire city.
Residents asked that engineers postpone the project, at least until alternatives to the detour had been thoroughly considered, and a proper environmental impact report for the detour had been prepared. But engineers were clearly more than eager to get started on construction.
They had waited years to acquire funding for the bridge replacement, and if they don’t use it now it will be reallocated to another project, and they would have to start over, explained Novotny.
Cortus Koehler, San Gabriel Street resident and planning commissioner wondered why that was a problem.
“Let them reallocate the funds,” he said.
But some Gridley residents disagree. Though she doesn’t want increased traffic on her street anymore than her neighbors, Boardman Road resident Pat Hartmann said the bridge was in dire need for replacement.
As the meeting commenced with no sense of closure, Mike Culver, Ojai’s transportation manager listed the plethora of residents concerns including pollution, pedestrian safety, and damage to property value, that would be caused by the traffic diversion onto Gridley.
Engineers agreed to consider the possibility of alternating between several different detours throughout the construction period, so that the burden could be equally shared by residents of other streets, and less taxing to Gridley dwellers.
They were hesitant to the request of several residents to add speed bumps, because it might slow the response time of ambulances in case of emergencies, according to Novotny. City engineer Glen Hawks was against installing stop signs for safety reasons because studies showed that if too many are installed people start to ignore them, he said.
Engineers left the meeting still at odds with the majority of residents.
“I’m not arguing that that bridge needs replacement,” said Gridley Road resident Peter Cantle at the end of the meeting. “But you have done no CEQA analysis, you have done no outreach to the people in the community, Caltrans has arrogantly presented this project as you are planning to do it with no alternative.”
Culver said that residents would be informed if another meeting is scheduled.
He listed residents’ concerns and said he would bring a summary to the City Council in the future.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

National Geographic Targets Ojai

Stylin, Tanner and Ellie, three of the five horses adopted into the Goodwill Ambasador program at Alexis Ells’ Equine Sanctuary on Boardman Road, anxiously await breakfast before a National Geographic filming of a new program called Dream Quest begins.

By Linda Harmon

Early Sunday morning, six Ojai thoroughbreds were put through their paces for the cameras of National Geographic magazine.
The crew arrived at the Boardman Road facility to shoot a documentary on The Equine Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization for the rescue and rehabilitation of the American thoroughbred horse.
According to Alexis Ells, who founded the organization in 2002, National Geographic selected the sanctuary as part of their “Dream Quest” series, scheduled to be published in October, November and December.
“The series will feature three organizations who they feel are inspiring people to make a difference in their world,” said Ells. “We’re really excited that the magazine chose our program as one of three to be spotlighted.”
Ells called the selection a great surprise.
“I received an initial call and then just kept answering their questions during the follow-up calls,” said Ells. “Then they finally called and said we were one of the three finalists to be featured.”
National Geographic plans to run a four-page spread on the equestrian center in the November issue as part of their “Dream Quest” series. Also planned is a filmed version on the National Geographic web site, nationalgeographic.com.
Ells welcomed the chance to get the word out about the Ojai center with the help of an internationally recognized institution like National Geographic. “We rescue American thoroughbreds and give them specialized training with the hope of getting them socialized and ready for a new home. We are dependent on donations and grants to fund the sanctuary,” she said, adding that many more animals need similar sanctuaries.
“Trainers used to use the American thoroughbred breed for jumpers when they weren’t fast enough to race, but not any more. The show world has decided they are not fancying the American thoroughbred, and that’s left them without a home. There are only so many breeders, so many stables and so many slots, and many horses just go to slaughter.
“We need to let people know what’s happening to the beautiful horses they see winning these races. The public thinks they end up on a pretty farm somewhere and many don’t. They end up at a slaughterhouse and then on someone’s dinner table in Europe.” Ells said demand is rising as horsemeat is not only used in pet food but is now considered the newest delicacy in Europe after the mad-cow disease scare.
The sanctuary also takes in many injured horses that need extensive veterinary care and provides full spectrum, individualized alternative care. Once rehabilitated the horses are then re-trained and taught basic dressage, a valuable set of skills that provide a ballet-like ease for the rider, with most placed in new homes.
“We are sanctioned as an American thoroughbred rescue center and have received some of our funding from the Thoroughbred Charities of America in Santa Barbara,” said Ells, adding the center depends on volunteers to stretch the donated dollars.
For further information, visit The Equine Sanctuary at theequinesanctuary.org, or call Ells at 453-4567.

Land Conservancy Removing Trees

By Nao Braverman
Some Ojai residents who enjoy the shade provided by the eucalyptus grove on the outskirts of the Ojai Meadows Preserve were shocked to find 90 of the area’s tallest trees marked for removal.
But Rich Handley, preserve manager for the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, assures concerned residents that most of the eucalyptuses will be left alone and at least 100 native tree seedlings and cuttings will be planted for every one that is removed.
The eucalyptuses are being sacrificed for a good cause, or at least an environmentally sound one, Handley explains. They are being removed so that the Land Conservancy can restore eight acres of wetlands that existed before 1929 adjacent to the Nordhoff High School playing field.
Once a thriving freshwater marsh, the 57-acre plot alongside Maricopa Highway gradually degraded to a dry grassy field after settlers cleared the oak woodlands for cattle grazing in the early 1900s and neighboring residential developments caused it to fill with sediment.
By restoring the wetlands to the meadow preserve, the Land Conservancy hopes to re-establish native habitat conditions, and bring back plant and wildlife that were once part of a self-sustaining ecosystem, rejuvenating natural water sources and preventing floods.
Wetlands function as sponges that trap and absorb rain, filter and slowly release water, while improving water quality and recharge, said Handley. Their return is intended to enable the meadow and stream courses to restore themselves over time and prevent flooding.
Such wetlands are particularly suited to urban areas because they absorb and purify water, counteracting the increased surface-water runoff and pollutants from pavement and buildings, according to an Ojai Valley Land Conservancy report.
Already a forest of cattails has sprung up from Nordhoff High School’s surface drainage runoff which has been redirected to irrigate the meadow plants. Passersby now hear the fluttering wings of meadow larks, sparrows and red-winged blackbirds.
But as part of the project, the drainage channel needs to be graded and re-contoured to correct the hydrology that is causing the flooding, said Handley.
That involves removing eucalyptuses within the drainage channel swath.
The eucalyptus trees, originally planted by a Meiners Oaks Elementary School teacher in the 1960s as an experiment, consume 10 times more water than native trees and make it difficult for other tree species to survive, according to the Land Conservancy report.
However not all the 90 trees initially marked for removal will be cut down, said Handley. All trees were examined for nesting and those known to provide habitat for birds will be protected, he assured.
In addition to the restoration, the Land Conservancy will build 780 feet of raised boardwalk, as well as an overlook area for visitors.
The public review period for the Mitigated Negative Declaration for the wetlands project is open until July 17 at 5 p.m.
A public hearing is to be held on Aug. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the City Hall Council Chambers.

Casitas Dealt Another Blow

By Daryl Kelley
After another legal setback, directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District are set to consider today whether to pursue an appeal of a crippling federal ruling against the district’s claim for compensation for water it must provide so steelhead trout can migrate up the Ventura River.
Last week, a federal judge blocked one route to appeal by refusing to certify his decision against Casitas, a move that forces the water agency to take another tact to reach an appellate panel that could reverse a key lower-court ruling against the district.
Casitas directors split 3-2 in April in deciding to continue a two-year lawsuit that had already cost the water district about $500,000. And the board still seems split, with swing vote Pete Kaiser saying this week that nothing has changed except tactics.
“I think that essentially what it does is change the procedural approach to the appeal,” he said. “The federal government has placed a heck of a hardship on this district. It has to be responsible for these unfunded mandates.”
As required by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Casitas has spent millions of dollars to build a fish ladder and provide water for the endangered fish to migrate. ‘’I want the federal government to understand the impact it’s placing on small water districts,” Kaiser said.
However, water board President Russ Baggerly said he’d argue again this afternoon to end a lawsuit he sees as a waste of district money and one that would undermine the federal Endangered Species Act if won.
“I see this as just another opportunity to end this nonsense,” Baggerly said. “It’s ludicrous. We’re gambling with ratepayers’ money. But my guess is that it will still be a 3-2 vote.”
After voting three months ago to appeal a decision by Judge John Wiese, of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, Kaiser said he was swayed partly by the low cost of an appeal, $45,000.
Officials said the district’s lawyer for this case, Roger Marzulla of Washington, had also estimated his fee for a trial if the district wins the appeal at $100,000.
But Kaiser said this week that he has no idea how much a trial would cost.
“We don’t know what a trial is going to cost,” Kaiser said. “I don’t have any numbers, frankly. But a lot of things can happen in the meantime. Lawyers can discuss some sort of amicable solution. We’re looking at the federal government coming to us, and working with us.”
Baggerly said the $100,000 estimate for a trial is very low. “Triple that,” he said.
Marzulla said in an interview that even with a change of tactics, his fee for the appeal will remain the same. He would not confirm the $45,000 figure or estimate how much a trial would cost, saying those projections are confidential.
But he said Wiese’s refusal to certify his April decision against the district is not a problem. The district requested a certification only because the judge indicated he would sign it, then changed his mind, Marzulla said.
The district would now simply stipulate that it would lose its case at trial under the rules of law set by Wiese, and the judge would sign his decision, Marzulla said.
Then the district would appeal directly to the three-judge Court of Appeals in Washington.
“We’d get the court of appeal to say, ‘Judge Wiese, you got it wrong,’” Marzulla said. Then the case would go back to Wiese for trial under another set of legal precedents.
In March, Wiese weakened the Casitas lawsuit by ruling that a constitutional property right was not involved when the federal government required Casitas to provide water without compensation for the steelhead trout migration.
Wiese ruled that the Casitas claim must be considered under federal law that deals with the government’s simple regulatory constraint of water use, and not as a “physical taking” of private property.
The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that the government pay just compensation for property seized through its eminent domain powers, as when land is confiscated for construction of a freeway or a school. But government lawyers argued that the taking of water to protect an endangered species was not the seizure of property, but simply a restriction on water use for the common good.
A claim for compensation for a regulatory taking has rarely, if ever, been successful, officials have said.
After another legal setback, directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District are set to consider today whether to pursue an appeal of a crippling federal ruling against the district’s claim for compensation for water it must provide so steelhead trout can migrate up the Ventura River.

Ojai Teacher Bound For Peace Corps

By Nao Braverman
Throughout her life Janelle Matzdorf has taught handicapped children from different cultures around the country and overseas.
This February she heads for Eastern Europe where she is looking forward to surrounding herself in a new cultural environment, learning what it means to educate handicapped children in the former Soviet bloc.
It’s more complicated than you might expect, said Matzdorf.
She remembers teaching in Kunming, a Chinese city about 200 miles from Vietnam, where she was forced to accommodate an entirely new definition of being handicapped. Among the 4 million Kunming residents being “handicapped” included having any noticeable visible scar, she said. Among her pupils, were people who had strong mental and physical capabilities but couldn’t get jobs because of their physical appearance, she explained. Such students had an entirely different speed and capacity for learning than American handicapped students that Matzdorf was accustomed to, who had severe disabilities such as Down’s syndrome and autism.
Full of adventure, with her 60th birthday just around the corner, Matzdorf decided to fulfill an old dream and join the Peace Corps. Though she first became interested in the program which sends American volunteers to other countries when she was in college, she got married and had children and was forced to put her traveling bug on the back burner.
Now that her children are grown and her husband, Rotarian Tony Matzdorf, passed away in December, she has no ties keeping her in the country, she said.
She learned that the Peace Corps, which has traditionally accepted mostly college-age students, is also recruiting retirees.
With more than 10 years teaching severely handicapped children, Matzdorf had skills that could be helpful to educators in many other countries, and her application to the Peace Corps was promptly accepted.
She is now putting her four bedroom Meiners Oaks home up for sale and is preparing to set out to some place in Eastern Europe in February. Though she hasn’t been told which country they will send her to yet, she is looking forward to the new experience. Whereever it is she is headed, she has been assigned to train teachers in educating handicapped students for two years.
After an orientation in San Francisco or Washington, D.C., she will spend three months in the country where she will teach, learn some of the language and acclimate to the culture. Since childhood Matzdorf was raised an adept traveler. She spent some time at a German school and her father who taught English to foreign students was always inviting them into their home. But Matzdorf expects the most interesting part of her Peace Corps experience will be the exposure of to a different perspective on education and disability.
Peace Corps volunteers work in a wide variety of areas including HIV/AIDs awareness, technological advancement, agriculture and education. Volunteers are sent to areas in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, South America and the Pacific Islands.
For more information see the Peace Corps web site at www.peacecorps.gov.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Sanitary District Raises Rates 20 Percent

Board passes increase to cover sewer costs
By Sondra Murphy
It costs more to irrigate, fill our gas tanks and, now, dispose of gray water. An Ojai Valley Sanitary District rate increase goes into effect today, a change that was passed by the board last week. The basic monthly rate of $40.50 will increase to $48.43 for customers in Meiners Oaks, Oak View and the Ventura Avenue areas. City of Ojai rates will increase to $50.31. Individual customer fees will vary depending on several factors, such as the size of connective pipes and type of structure being serviced.
According to notices of the public hearing at which the new rates were decided, the increase is due to “fiscal requirements for operating and maintaining the systems in compliance with the increasingly rigorous environmental regulatory requirements for treating the water discharged into the Ventura River.” Inflation and new mandated standards in maintenance of collection and treatment facilities have also contributed to the increase.
In the OVSD notice, customers received information to calculate their new rates using ERU ratios from two tables. ERU stands for Equivalent Residential Unit, a standard for measuring system usage based on fixture unit counts for the average residential, commercial or institutional customer. On average, a house is equivalent to 25 fixture units, or one ERU.
The area serviced by OVSD has “a myriad of water companies,” said OVSD general manager John Correa. “We can’t use water meter readings to base our sewer charges on, so we use ERU.”
The new fees were determined by the budget. “After the budget is all worked out, we divide it by the number of ERUs and figure out what to charge,” Correa said.
The reason customers in the city of Ojai pay a slightly higher rate is due to debt from infrastructure. “There used to be four different sanitary districts,” said Correa. “When we consolidated in 1985, each area had different debt issues associated with it.” Correa added that the debts will eventually be paid off, reducing the cost to customers.

Food For Thought Raises Awareness

Students at Mira Monte Elementary School go through the Thursday salad bar, which is sponsored by the Food for Thought program. Several hundred students at three local schools eat at the salad bars.

By Daryl Kelley

The fund-raising fields were fallow for Ojai’s Food for Thought through the winter and spring, but now this nonprofit program to feed and educate local students is planting the seeds to raise a cash crop for next school year.
Last weekend, Farmer John Peterson, a national icon of community farming, showed up in his floppy farm hat and pink boa to promote Ojai’s efforts to serve students fresh, local fruits and vegetables, while teaching them good nutrition and how agriculture is an integral part of this community.
Founded in 2002 in partnership with the Ojai Unified School District, the program now reaches from kindergarten through junior high school, serving a salad bar to hundreds of students on Thursdays and sponsoring field trips to farms and wormy gardens on campus.
“Any community that weaves farming into itself is close to my heart,” said Peterson, whose documentary, “The Real Dirt on Farmer John,” filled the Ojai Playhouse on Sunday. “The fact that agriculture plays such a role in this community is a beautiful thing. And one of my most joyous experiences was coming to Ojai.”
Farmer John’s visit from northern Illinois to six local farms and his presentations to movie-goers on Saturday and Sunday were the beginning of a two-month effort to replenish Food for Thought, itself a locally grown effort of volunteers — parents, educators and growers.
The campaign will culminate Aug. 25 with the Locally Grown 2 concert at Libbey Bowl, which will feature local, but nationally known, singer-songwriters Perla Batalla and Brett Dennen. Also appearing will be the three winners of Battle of the Bands concerts at the Matilija Junior High School Auditorium on Aug. 4 and 5.
The first Locally Grown concert in 2005 was headlined by surfer musician megastar Jack Johnson, who donated his time and stays in close touch with the Ojai group. The event grossed $90,000 and netted $70,000, officials said.
And it has provided the no-strings-attached funds that have underwritten the program’s administration, said organization President and grower Jim Churchill, who founded the group with ecologist Marty Fujita and grower and school board member Steve Fields.
“The Locally Grown concert is our primary source of fundraising,” Churchill said. “These unrestricted funds are very important. They pay for our small staff, our overhead.”
Foundations regularly donate to Food for Thought, but they want their contributions to go straight into a specific program, said Fujita, the group’s vice president and main organizer of its fund-raising events.
“We get grants, but most foundations don’t like to pay for staff or overhead,” she said.
The group has a budget of about $60,000 a year and a part-time staff of three: program coordinator Lori Hamor and garden coordinator David White, along with garden assistants and about 40 volunteers.
Specialists may also be hired as consultants on specific projects, such as the $40,000 donation received last week from an international foundation to study how the school district can recycle its solid and green waste.
While Food for Thought’s salad bar gets the most public attention, the program also includes four other educational components:
• Kindergarteners and first-graders do a garden-based learning project, and fifth-graders supplement the U.S. history class by planting a colonial-era garden to learn how pioneer families depended on home gardens for food and medicine.
• Second-graders learn how to reduce trash through recycling lunchtime waste, and using green waste from the salad bar to maintain worm bins to produce topsoil for their gardens.
• Third-graders are taught three nutrition lessons throughout the school year that focus on different food groups, while sixth-graders receive lessons on making healthy choices within those groups.
• Fourth-graders take field trips to local farms to learn directly about how food is produced, sampling fruit and vegetables while learning about the history of local agriculture.
Officials say several hundred youngsters eat at salad bars on Thursdays at the three local public elementary schools with kitchens — Topa Topa, Mira Monte and Meiners Oaks.
Junior high students were a harder sell: only a handful were interested in the salad bar at Matilija at first. Then, this year, the program took off with extra effort from both the school district and Food for Thought volunteers.
For one, Churchill volunteered at Matilija each Thursday, and school district nutrition services director Suzane Lugotoff was there too.
“Suzanne was there getting students into line,” said Tim Baird. “I think sometimes the impression is that nutrition services is just concerned with the (financial) bottom line. But Suzane is very concerned about quality too.”
Baird was addressing the push-and-pull that’s part of the salad bar program: Food for Thought continually lobbies for the highest quality local fruits and vegetables, while the school district also must function under severe cost constraints and sometimes uses cheaper commodity products. The food service budget ran a deficit of more than $100,000 last year and that is projected to increase this year.
“We don’t think that the food offered to the children is great stuff,” Churchill said. “We think that all American diets, including the school lunch programs, are not optimal. Our goal is to make it better and to work with Suzanne and her staff to do that,” he said.
And school nutrition is certainly better than it was a few years ago, he said.
Overall, said Baird, the Food for Thought program is a success.
“The curriculum and garden stuff have all been very positive,” he said. “Kids are learning more about where food comes from and the kind of food that is healthy for them to eat. The program has succeeded in a number of areas.”
For more information about the Locally Grown 2 concert call 640-5044 or check the web site foodforthoughtojai.org.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Help's West Campus Taking Shape

By Linda Harmon
First of a three-part report:
It’s been almost four years since Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett proposed the conversion of the county-owned vacated Baldwin Road Honor Farm into a property with three different but compatible uses: the home for an expansion of Help of Ojai, use of its riverfront property for a sediment deposit area in the Matilija Dam removal project, and a proposed recreation area under control of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.
Bennett favors the plan because Help of Ojai has proved “a tremendous commitment to provide services to the needy and elderly in the Ojai Valley and the preservation of the riverfront property creates a valuable, valleywide asset.”
“These three uses of the Honor Farm make a great combination for the citizens of the Ojai Valley,” Bennett said.
The 117-acre property was the subject of protracted negotiations when the Honor Farm jail facility closed in April 2003. Several proposed uses were rejected in favor of the current plan, including a county treatment center for the mentally ill, which drew heated opposition from many local neighbors.
Under director Lisa Meeker and administrative assistant Laurie King, Help of Ojai’s West Campus is the first occupant to make its impact felt at the old Honor Farm location while awaiting the issuance of a conditional use permit.
“Today plans are well under way,” said Lori Baker of the Ventura Planning Department in charge of the project. “Basically we are working on getting a conditional use permit in place for Help of Ojai to operate on site,” said Baker. “They didn’t need any physical expansion, just some minor demolition. They’ll be running their Meals on Wheels Program so we have to make sure they are in compliance. Our biggest holdup has been the transportation issues.”
Baker feels the project is close to approval now that the transportation document is complete. An environmental impact report is not required and it may be exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act. “The next step is to go before the Ventura County Planning Commission and that meeting is scheduled July 15,” added Baker.
Meeker’s nonprofit organization strives to combine community and individual resources to provide services to seniors, youngsters and other at-risk populations in Ojai. In return for making million-dollar improvements to the 42-acre parcel in the next five years, Help of Ojai officials signed a long-term lease last July for a token $100.
“It’s become a social issue for me,” said Meeker touring the site. “We’re transforming a place that has been used for locking people up into a place of service.”
Meeker said Bennett and past executive director of Help of Ojai, Marlene Spencer, met at a senior luncheon they attended and came up with the idea. Help has been so successful it needs to expand but has no room at its current site next to Ojai City Hall.
“Help has taken over the county’s Senior Nutrition Program,” said Meeker, “and with the growing senior population projected to double by the year 2020 the opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time.”
After clearing debris and brush from a large portion of the property, painting and installing electrical and communication systems, Meeker said they are well on their way to reaching their goal of opening the West Campus site that includes more than 11 acres of agricultural land and 80,000 square feet of building space. All of the work thus far has been done with a limited paid staff and thousands of hours of volunteer labor.
The newly renovated support building, with donated furnishings keeping expenditures for equipment to under $1,000, already holds a staff of rotating volunteers with big smiles ready to be part of the West Campus. Still, she is eager for any and all help.
“We’ve been able to do so much because of the help of our volunteers,” added Meeker. The walls of one of the renovated buildings hold a photo exhibit of the smiling members of the Senior and Retired Volunteer Program: “Faces of Help of Ojai” by Fred Rothenberg.
The facility has already begun functioning as a space for general outreach, meetings for Ojai Valley Community Connections, and for a valleywide emergency support center used during the last year’s Day Fire.
Along with the physical rehabilitation of the site Meeker explained volunteers have been busy building a business model as well. According to Meeker they are defining their organizational needs in both short and long terms to best serve the community. Plans now include leasing a large agricultural parcel to Steve Sprinkel for organic farming, housing the Ojai Raptor Center for raptor recovery programs and education, and Concerned Resource and Environmental Workers (C.R.E.W.), a nonprofit youth employment and environmental program.
Meeker said any programs considered for the site will need to benefit the Ojai community.
“We are developing a multi-tenant nonprofit center,” said Meeker, walking through one of the main buildings being used today for local helicopter training by Ventura County firefighters. “The place already has a different feeling about it.”
Meeker used the San Francisco Presidio as an example of reusing an existing complex for shared uses. Standing in the center of the building she pointed to surrounding walls, saying, “These slanted walls are coming out and I’m envisioning this as a day-lit rotunda where visitors will be met and greeted.”
When Meeker first looked at the site she thought many of the buildings would have to be demolished because they were in such bad repair, but she feels differently now.
“Now the longer we look the more we realize we can reuse. I’m so excited. There is so much open space,” she said looking out across the rolling hills and mountains beyond. “We’re working toward a green site.”
Meeker ended her tour telling a final story about the project. “On one of our work days out here I had a young girl in charge of a work crew removing brush,” said Meeker with a gentle smile.
“I found out later that she was the daughter of a former deputy who worked here as a guard. It also turned out that two of the volunteers working with her that day were former inmates. I love what we are doing out here.”
Meeker will arrange tours of the site by appointment. Those interested should call 649-9218 or send an e-mail request to westcampus@helpofojai.org.