Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ojai Farmers Stuck With Huge Hike

Growers begin paying 53 percent more tomorrow

By Daryl Kelley
Confronted by dozens of farmers asking for relief, directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District instead imposed a 53 percent hike in the cost to irrigate crops, but also pledged to work closely with growers to get rate hikes under control.
Predicting a change in the nature of the Ojai Valley, farmers told the Casitas board Wednesday that its decisions on water rates might herald the beginning of the end of orchards that have encircled the valley’s towns for a century.
“Everybody will find ways to change, or they’ll go out of business and there will be just dead trees standing there,” said grower Jim Finch. “And it will change the nature of this valley.”
Casitas directors sympathized, vowing to work with farmers on a new way to charge for water.
“Yeah, the 50 percent increase is a whopper, we agree,” said board President Russ Baggerly. “And we accept the challenge for a dialogue ... to find solutions.”
Still, the new water rates will be imposed beginning tomorrow.
And, even with months of reconsideration, it won’t be easy for Casitas directors to craft a new set of rates that are equitable for farmers, businesses and residents, because a shift of costs from one group would affect the other.
For example, under the new rates, water costs to residential users supplied directly by Casitas in the Oak View area remained the same, because officials say homeowners already pay for the full cost of delivering their water. Farmers will still have a much lower rate than residents even with the 53 percent increase.
“The rates did not go up for residential users,” Baggerly said. “They’re paying their fair share.”
But farmers said the board’s rate hikes for agriculture ignored the history of the Casitas district, which was formed a half century ago partly to supply water for local farms. And they said the water district had taken the easy way out by putting the bulk of a budget increase required to patch an aging waterworks on the backs of about 200 farmers. That avoided a backlash from 2,600 residential customers in and around Oak View, they said.
East valley rancher Roger Essick called the rate increases “grossly unfair,” arguing that water costs should be allocated by the number of water meters held by those who benefit from the Casitas system, including residents of Ojai, Mira Monte and Ventura. Costs are now levied primarily on how much water a customer uses, as is the case with nearly all of the water districts in California.
“They’re not paying their fair share for the cost of upkeep,” Essick said of residential customers.
Indeed, he and neighboring farmers Jim Churchill and Jim Coultas proposed a dramatically different method for establishing rates.
Under their plan, detailed by Coultas, administrative and maintenance costs would be parceled out to every customer, direct or indirect, who benefits from Casitas water, even if those customers are in other water districts, such as Golden State’s in Ojai, the city water department in Ventura, or the water agencies of Meiners Oaks, Mira Monte and Casitas Springs.
That would mean that thousands of residential customers could have their rates increased to lower the bill to farmers. Casitas provides water for about 65,000 people at 29,000 households and for nearly 5,700 acres of farmland in the Ojai Valley and Ventura area.
But farmers use 44 percent of the district’s water, while customers in Ventura use about one third. And those two groups took the big hit this week, farmers with a more than 50 percent increase and the city of Ventura with a 30 percent hike. Indeed, Ventura officials expressed frustration that they had not been warned of the big increase and now can’t afford to buy as much water from Casitas.
Casitas officials said Ventura and the district might consider renegotiating how much water Ventura receives each year.
But the Coultas, Essick and Churchill plan received the most attention for future discussions.
“This is real important stuff, more so than trucks or chain stores,” Coultas told the board. “It has the potential to change the very character of our community.”
A former Casitas director himself, Coultas asked the board to go through its budget line by line to determine “if this cost is a factor of the water used or is it a factor of the service received.”
In other words, should farmers paying by volume be charged to maintain pipes, pumps and tanks that provide water to nine retail companies that provide water to nondistrict customers? And should farmers be charged to maintain the waterworks that also provide backup water in times of emergency for thousands more homes?
“Let’s see if we can’t come up with a new way,” Coultas said.
And while the board seemed receptive, directors also defended their current method of calculating rates.
“You’re absolutely right, people in Ventura and Ojai don’t want to see this valley go barren,” Director Bill Hicks said. “We don’t want to run you out of business.”
But it’s also true that residents had paid nearly three times as much for their water, based on volume, than farmers before the new increase, Hicks said.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” he said.
And after the hearing, Director Richard Handley said he’d taken Coultas’ formula for redistributing costs and applied it to his own situation as a resident of Ojai, who is not a direct customer of Casitas.
“My rate would go up six-fold,” Handley said, from about $298 a year to $1,894. Handley lives in a three-bedroom house and does not irrigate his lot. “This plan doesn’t work,” he said.
Casitas directors are also faced with the challenge of how to implement a 2006 State Supreme Court decision in which justices ruled that Proposition 218, passed by voters in 1996, requires equitable distribution of water costs.
Even with the farmers’ rate proposed to increase from $208 an acre-foot to $312, they would still pay far less than the $667 charged to residential customers. (An acre-foot of water meets the needs of two typical households for a year.)
Casitas officials have said they might be able to legally justify the lower rate because agricultural users do not need the high quality water delivered to their orchards since a sophisticated treatment plant was built a decade ago to meet state drinking-water standards.
If all costs, including treatment, were included, farmers would pay $521 an acre foot, 150 percent more than they pay today, analysts said.
The new $312 farmers’ rate covers the bulk of their water’s $365 basic cost, but none of the $165 per acre-foot treatment cost, officials said.
Rancher and restaurateur DeWayne Boccali said that even if there is a subsidy to farmers, such subsidies are common in the United States, and valley residents need to take care of agriculture or it will go away.
“In some cases you just have to take care of your own,” he said, “and subsidize your farmers. ... Agriculture is an important thing if you like to eat.”
But many farmers see Proposition 218 in a different light.
Coultas, Churchill and Essick wrote: “We believe that in attempting to apply Prop. 218 ... you have done exactly what Prop. 218 was meant to prevent, which is unfairly load a disproportionate share of the costs onto one class of user. ... We believe that your current model and proposed rates cause agriculture to subsidize other classes of user.”
Churchill said he thought the farmers would now have a chance to make their case with Casitas over the next year.
“I think we will have an opportunity to go through their budget line by line,” he said. “I gather they’re eager to work with us within their constraints.”

Ojai's Recycling Options Dwindle

Vons only recycling center left in Ojai

By Nao Braverman
When the small recycling center on El Roblar across from to Ace Hardware in Meiners Oaks closed down at the end of June, local residents were concerned that there weren’t any reliable places to get money back for their bottles and cans.
Ojai resident Harry Lehr said that he was accustomed to bringing his recyclables to Meiners Oaks until they closed. When he went to Vons supermarket, he found the center was rarely attended and did not receive proper service at Dahl’s Market in Oak View. Though he later added that the service at Dahl’s Market had improved, some local residents didn’t want to drive that far to save a few pennies.
According to Mark Oldfield, spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation, the Meiners Oaks outfit, owned by Guadalupe Cervantes closed down when a conservation department investigator found that the operator had falsified records of material accepted and redeemed, and sometimes paid customers less than the required amount for their used containers.
All certified recycling centers, though privately owned, are strictly regulated by the California Department of Conservation’s Division of Recycling, said Oldfield.
The state requires every supermarket with $2 million or more in annual sales to have a recycling center within half a mile of the establishment. In many cases they will have a “convenience zone” where they allow a recycling center to operate on their property free of charge so that they can fulfill the state requirement.
This makes it convenient for customers to get back the California Redemption Value for every bottle they purchase.
The CRV, an extra few cents tacked onto each customer’s grocery list for every bottled item, was only one penny per bottle or can when it was established in 1987 and has now increased to 5 cents per container.
Though the Ace Hardware building on El Roblar near the closed recycling center did house several supermarkets before it became the hardware chain, the area, with no large supermarket, is no longer mandated to have a recycling facility.
Currently the Vons supermarket in the Ojai Valley Shopping Center is the only Ojai market required to have a recycling center.
Their operation is located behind the supermarket building and is in operation Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to a facility operator Saul Vaca. The center refunds customers the standard 5 cents per can or glass or plastic bottle, $1.65 per pound for cans, 89 cents per pound for plastic bottles and 10 cents a pound for glass bottles .
Many larger companies will pay a “scrap value”, which is usually slightly more than the standard 5 cents per bottle, said David Goldstein, analyst for the Ventura County public works agency.
City residents who do not go to the recycling centers can sort them in separate bags and leave them for the local trash pickup company, E.J Harrison & Sons.
Though the companies accumulate a much greater volume of recyclables than the average household, they still do not make a profit off of their recycled goods, said Nan Drake, spokesperson for E.J. Harrison & Sons.
The company has to make an extra trip to each household for recycling, so there is the cost of gas, and then the labor to sort recyclables is also costly, she said. Many households recycle mostly newspapers and other items which have to be sorted but not to generate funds, she said. Some items such as glass have to be hauled all the way to Los Angeles, which is expensive, she said. It does fluctuate however and if a lot of money is made from bottles and cans one month, there are some months where the recycling service loses money for the company, according to Drake.
In a column he wrote for the Ventura County Star, Goldstein said that recycling generates 14 times more jobs person than land filling because there are so many different places for each type of recycling item.
Most curbside recyclables are initially trucked to transfer stations in Ventura and Oxnard. They are then sorted and most paper and plastic is then shipped to China, said Goldstein.
dGlass bottles have to go to a plant in Vernon, Calif. where they separated from their labels, crushed, and then cleaned before being trucked to the Bay Area where they are melted into new glass bottles or jars, he said.
Though there are smelters in Los Angeles, many aluminum cans from Ventura County go all the way to Texas before being recycled and many get exported to Asia, according to Goldstein.
Though Ventura County companies use recycled plastic. most plastic bottles have to go at least as far as Long Beach to be processed before they can be used by local manufacturers, he said.

Council Rejects Staff's Anti-chain Ordinance

By Nao Braverman
Council members unanimously rejected the city-authored draft ordinance to prevent the proliferating chain stores in Ojai at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The proposed ordinance, which would ban chains from a Historic Commercial District, regulate them in other areas, and more or less welcome them to open along Maricopa Highway, west of the “Y” shopping center, was previously rejected by the Planning Commission and many vocal members of the public.
But at Tuesday night’s meeting, council members listened to the testimony of some public speakers with a very different perspective.
Ernie Salomon, owner of the Matilija Street building which was previously leased to Subway before the council passed an anti-chain moratorium, said that such an ordinance was going to negatively affect property values in town.
B. Dawson, owner of a local pet care shop, agreed, saying she thought a Starbucks was not as bad as empty storefronts, the latter which have recently grown in number, in Ojai’s downtown core.
Ron Polito said that though he turned down offers from Quizno’s and Starbucks to open in his newly redeveloped commercial center on Ojai Avenue, he would not recommend a stricter ordinance against chains. Insurance and loan companies he worked with were hesitant to finance his project when they read about the ordinance in the newspaper, he said.
But local resident Marika Thompson disagreed.
“I think part of the problem is the high rents in Ojai,” she said. “It’s not just the fact that we don’t want to allow chains.”
Though speakers offered conflicting opinions, most agreed that the city-proposed ordinance should be revised without including a Historic Commercial District council members Rae Hanstad and Sue Horgan both encouraged Ojia citizen Kenley Neufeld to proceed with the initiative process and hand in his proposed initiative.
“I am concerned that crafting the ordinance in a thoughtful timely way is going to upset the 600 people that are in support of Mr. Neufeld’s ordinance,” said Hanstad.
“What we want is good policy. I would encourage him to proceed if it seems appropriate because I do not know what our final decision will be.”
The staff’s revised ordinance will be presented to the Planning Commission on Sept 5 and reviewed with the Planning Commission’s recommendation by the City Council on Sept. 11.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Farmers Gaining Support In Water Rate Hike

Casitas staff hears protest about 53 percent hike for agricultural customers

By Daryl Kelley
Papered with dozens of protest letters from farmers and their supporters, directors of the Ojai Valley's largest water agency will consider today arguments that a 53 percent hike in the cost to water crops could begin to change this bucolic region forever.
Already staggered by record winds and freezes during winter, some farmers say the rate increases could force them out of business, or to drill deep wells that would deplete the aquifers that provide the valley's groundwater.
They argue that the entire valley benefits from their existence, through tourist tax dollars, clearer air, education and nutrition programs and an overall ambiance that makes Ojai a good place to live.
And now farmers are proposing that Casitas Municipal Water District fundamentally change the way it charges for water, spreading costs to all customers with a meter, including those who use Casitas only as a backup system, instead of charging primarily on how much water a customer uses.
Farmers, who use nearly half of the district's water, have historically paid a reduced rate because the Casitas Dam and waterworks were originally built partly to foster agriculture in the Ojai Valley.
And now they're getting support for their campaign to keep their rates low.
“Without agriculture this valley would change tremendously,” said Scott Eicher, chief executive officer of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, summarizing his letter to the board of the Casitas Municipal Water Agency.
“Agriculture is part of economy, along with our tourism and our education,” he said. “But it's also part of our culture. And if those fields become empty, they won't be empty for long. They'll fill them up with houses.”
The Casitas board tentatively approved two months ago water rate hikes of more than 50 percent for agricultural customers and about 30 percent for nine retail agencies that resell water to customers throughout the valley and in western Ventura.
But the rates on about 2,600 homes in the Oak View and Mira Monte areas that hook directly into the Casitas system remained the same.
Casitas provides water for about 65,000 people and nearly 5,700 acres of farmland in the Ojai Valley and Ventura area.
Notified of the increases in July, customers have until the end of today to file letters of protest. If a majority do not, the rates will take effect this Saturday following approval of a resolution today by the Casitas board.
Through Monday, Casitas had received 47 protests, said Ron Merckling, district spokesman.
“The large majority of those were from agricultural customers. And I've received 13 phone calls. One person called three times.”
In one protest letter, Ventura attorney Robert Baskin, who owns a five-acre orchard near Ojai, said that he is one of the small farmers who would be driven out of business by the rate increase. His orchard already loses money, and the increase “will cause many small orchard owners to begin the process of abandoning their orchards.”
“This (orchard) greenbelt surrounds our homes and cities, provides beauty, improves our water shed and air quality and helps to provide a buffer of protection for fire control,” Baskin wrote. “As these orchards are abandoned ... Casitas will generate less revenue, not more. ... The end result is that you will be contributing to the squeezing out of small family orchards, the drilling of wells on larger ranches, and a loss of quality of life for the Ojai Valley.”
In another letter, longtime east valley ranchers Jim Coultas, Jim Churchill and Roger Essick proposed a basic shift in how Casitas charges for water. The current system unfairly loads the bulk of costs on the backs of farmers, they said.
“With this letter we mean to open a constructive dialogue with the board ... “ they wrote. “Ojai's agricultural community recognizes the importance of maintaining the district's infrastructure and is not in principle opposed to adjusting water rates to accomplish that.”
Now, Casitas charges administrative, overhead and delivery costs based primarily on how much water a customer receives. That means that 257 farmers who use 44 percent of the district's water, pay the most. And nine retail water agencies that receive 37 percent of its water, including the city of Ventura water department, pay nearly a third of the cost. Residential customers, who use only 9 percent of water, pay far less.
The farmers asked the board to consider charging all customers with a meter, including those who would receive water only in emergencies, to maintain the pipes, pumps and tanks that would bring the water to them. That would mean that water users in Ojai, Meiners Oaks and Casitas Springs would be charged a maintenance fee even though they receive their water from other agencies.
“Agriculture these days is a perilous occupation,” wrote Coultas, Churchill and Essick. “Citrus in the Ojai Valley is economically marginal at best. If costs go high enough, people aren't going to continue to do it. This will lead to idle land, which one way or another will dramatically change the culture of the Ojai Valley.”
A key consideration in final Casitas board action is a 2006 State Supreme Court decision in which justices ruled that Proposition 218, passed by voters in 1996, requires equitable distribution of water costs.
Even with the farmers' rate proposed to increase from $208 an acre- foot to $312, they would still pay far less than the $667 charged to residential customers. (An acre-foot of water meets the needs of two typical households for a year.)
Casitas officials have said they might be able to legally justify the lower rate because agricultural users do not need the high quality water delivered to their orchards since a sophisticated treatment plant was built a decade ago to meet state drinking water standards.
If all costs, including treatment, were included, farmers would pay $521 an acre-foot, 150 percent more than they pay today, analysts said. The proposed $312 farmers' rate covers the bulk of their water's $365 basic cost, but none of the $165 per acre-foot treatment cost, they said.
But farmers see Proposition 218 in a different light.
Coultas, Churchill and Essick wrote: “We believe that in attempting to apply Prop. 218 ... you have done exactly what Prop. 218 was meant to prevent, which is unfairly load a disproportionate share of the costs onto one class of user. ... We believe that your current model and proposed rates cause agriculture to subsidize other classes of user.”
The farmers propose a more sophisticated cost analysis.
“To carry out the mandate of Prop. 218 the very least you must do is examine the budget categories individually and determine for each category whether its costs should be allocated based on volume of water used or on number of meters for that class of customer. ... Administrative costs should be recovered through meter charges; pumping costs should be recovered through water charges.”
The water rate hearing is set for today at 4:30 p.m. at the Casitas headquarters on state Highway 33 in Oak View.

Council Given Three Chain Laws For Review

Historical Commercial District idea rejected

By Nao Braverman

Though Ojai is making some headway in creating an ordinance to protect the city from proliferating chain stores, the debate has become increasingly complex as discussions progress.
Instead of being presented with one ordinance to vote on, as originally planned, the City Council received three ordinance drafts to deliberate on at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
The first proposed ordinance, though heavily criticized by the planning commissioners and members of the public was still brought forth for a vote, if the council so pleased. A second hastily drafted revision by city attorneys, prompted by suggestions from the City Council was presented for a first reading, an unofficial third draft, authored by local resident and former council candidate Dennis Leary was also handed to council members for review.
In a consensus between commissioners and members of the public, the initial proposal to ban chain stores from a Historic Commercial District was rejected.
Commissioners said they thought the proposed district overlay, a central portion of the downtown area was too small, the area too arbitrary, and might have unintended consequences. They were also concerned about the existing chain stores within that district that would be prevented from expanding or remodeling. Several members of the public said they thought banning chains from such a small area would further invite them to open elsewhere in the city.
The neighboring city of Santa Paula does have a designated historic area within its downtown core. Though there is no ordinance banning or regulating chain stores from the designated historic area, it does have certain guidelines regulating the aesthetic appearance of businesses opening in that area, similar to Ojai’s regulations indicated in the city’s general plan.
Elisabeth Amador, assistant to Santa Paula’s city manager Wally Bobkiewicz, said that though the city does not have any specific regulations to prevent chain stores from opening in Santa Paula’s historic district, no chains have even shown interest in opening there. She attributes this to the size of the historic district’s storefronts which are far too small to accommodate most chains. Though some fast food restaurants might fit, none had shown any interest in opening there in Santa Paula’s recent history.
The same might be said for Ojai, if it hadn’t been for the Mira Monte Subway owner’s recent plans to open on Matilija Street.
In the city attorney’s second ordinance draft, the whole notion of a Historic Commercial District was scratched and replaced with a citywide regulatory ordinance. The new proposal would require all new formula retail establishments to apply for a conditional use permit. Thus it exempts and protects Ojai’s already existing formula retail establishments. The ordinance draft indicates that a simple change in ownership would not require a conditional use permit, protecting existing gas stations if they are to be sold.
The new ordinance proposal prohibits all new chains within the city from having more than 25 linear feet of frontage, having retail space occupy more than one story or two storefronts, and having more than 2,000 square feet of total floor area. But as commissioners suggested the proposed ordinance exempts banks and grocery stores which are a necessity, and might have trouble complying with the regulations. Only one formula retail establishment would be allowed in a lot less than 40,000 square feet.
For lots greater than 40,000 square feet, only one formula retail establishment would be allowed per 20,000 square feet of lot area.
The purpose of the newly drafted ordinance was defined as preserving Ojai’s “small town character” rather than its history.
Leary’s proposed ordinance also requires all formula retail establishments to apply for a conditional use permit and requires that they are designed and operated in an “unobtrusive manner to preserve Ojai’s distinctive character and ambiance.”
Though similar in essence to the city’s second proposal, Leary’s draft defines formula retail as any retail establishment that shares standardized features with at least five other establishments while the city’s definition is any retail establishment that shares standardized features with 10 other establishments.
“I think it is important to protect Ojai’s self-reliance,” he said. “The more outfits owned by a company, the less important each one becomes. If the economy crashes, the community needs its own establishments that can stand on their own.”
Leary said that his draft was written to help the city and that he did not intend for it to go to ballot.
Council member Sue Horgan and Joe DeVito said they agreed with the Planning Commission and would not support the city’s first ordinance proposal.
Though the city is working toward drafting its own ordinance, Horgan said she did not want to discourage Kenley Neufeld from turning in his ballot initiative to the city.
“Although we are working toward drafting an ordinance I cannot say for sure that we will create something that he is satisfied with,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to impede the public process.”

Thursday, August 23, 2007

City May Merge Two Key Positions

At $80 an hour, McCombs serving as interim head of both Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments as staff investigates making change permanent

By Nao Braverman
When Ojai’s Public Works director Doug Breeze and Recreation Department director Carol Belser simultaneously handed their resignations in to the city in May, city staff scrambled to find a temporary replacement.
Temporary, because, as city manager Jere Kersnar announced at a June 12 City Council meeting, city staff was considering combining the two positions and possibly reallocating their various responsibilities.
Ed McCombs, former city manager of Ventura and a prior interim director for Ojai’s Public Works department before Breeze was hired, agreed to serve as an interim director of both the Recreation Department and Public Works Department. In addition to the two temporary directorships, he also agreed to take note of both departments’ full operations to help city staff determine how they could restructure the departments to be more efficient and cost effective.
City staff had been investigating the possibility of hiring one department head to oversee both Recreation and Public Works and adding a managing supervisor to each department, said Mayor Carol Smith.
McCombs said that the decision to restructure was partly to address the city’s financial troubles over the past couple of years. Though Ojai is clearly moving in a financially positive direction, staff is still looking for ways to be more efficient, and save funds, he said.
The total city cost for a Public Works director was $161,355 including salary and benefits last year and $134,808 for Recreation Department director, said Kersnar. McCombs is currently getting paid $80 per hour for an approximately 36 hour work week to fill in those positions and help jump start a recruitment plan for the city. That would equal $149,760 over the course of a year.
Another consideration for restructuring the two departments is to align the city with current administrative changes in other cities and ways that administrators are being trained, said Mayor Carol Smith.
“Nowadays younger administrators are trained to multitask and take on different responsibilities,” she said.
Jayden Morrison, the recreation supervisor, said he is not sure which way the Recreation Department is headed but is waiting to hear from city staff.
Though the Recreation and Public Works departments serve entirely different functions they also overlap in many areas, said Councilman Joe DeVito. One example would be the parks and Recreation Department facilities which are all maintained by Public Works, he explained.
Kernsar said that staff was still evaluating the positions, and that there is no specific deadline or timetable for hiring a new director or directors.
How the departments would be restructured, exactly, had also not yet been determined, he said.
McCombs said he expects to come up with a recruitment program for the city in about a week.
Smith and DeVito said they expect to see something on the agenda related to the hirings in an upcoming council meeting.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Remembering Keith

A makeshift memorial marks the spot where longtime Ojai transient Victor Keith Stolz was found dead Aug. 16 outside the Ojai Library. Tuesday, the Ventura County Medical Examiner issued a statement saying that Stolz’s death was accidental.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ojai Man Survives Cliff-hanging Ordeal

Larry Yuva in stable condition, expected home soon

By Nao Braverman
Larry Yuva, Ojai resident, founder of the Matilija Fly Fishing Club and husband of Mayor Carol Smith, went missing sometime around July 2 from his vacation home in Montana.
Three days later he was found, hanging upside down in an overturned pickup, about 70 feet down a steep embankment in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, about 35 miles from his Montana home, according to Yellowstone spokesperson Al Nash.
Six weeks later, a head nurse at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls confirmed that Yuva is in stable condition. Yuva told the Ojai Valley News he expects to return in two to three weeks.
“Larry is a miracle,” said Smith.
Smith, who was at home in Ojai at the time, said that Yuva did not return phone calls on July 2.
On July 4 a passing tour bus passenger told a park employee at the West Thumb entrance station that he saw a car off the road somewhere on the 17-mile stretch between Old Faithful and West Thumb, according to Nash. Six Yellowstone rangers and a fire engine were immediately sent to search for the vehicle in the woods below Shoshone Pass but were unsuccessful, he said.
Yuva’s red 1997 Chevy pickup wasn’t discovered until it was spotted by another tour bus passenger the next day. The bus waited at the spot until a park ranger came to the scene.
The Yellowstone National Park service ambulance had him flown to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, the closest trauma center, where he remained unconscious for about two weeks according to his brother, Chuck Yuva. About two and a half weeks after he was found, Yuva began to open his eyes slightly, and he was taken off the ventilator. Soon after he came to.
“I don’t remember much of anything until I woke up in the hospital, saw my brother, and asked for a diet Pepsi,” said Yuva. “I’m sure I am blessed that I don’t.”
The last thing he does remember is being trapped by his seat belt upside down and trying to cut himself out with a pocket knife.
According to Nash he may have been hanging suspended and unconscious from his seat belt for more than two days. An ATM receipt in the truck showed that he had made a withdrawal in the early hours of July 2.
In an investigation by the Wyoming Highway Patrol, Yuva was reported to be traveling at about 63 miles per hour going northbound when he crossed two traffic lanes and a small turnout before plunging off the steep embankment into thick timber, according to Nash.
Smith said that, fortunately, most of the impact was absorbed by a lumber rack on top of the truck.
Yuva said that he will be getting physical therapy soon and expects to be back in Ojai in two to three weeks.

Smoke Likely To Linger Over Ojai

The Zaca Fire, as photographed Aug. 20 from 8,500 feet above Lake Casitas by David Byrne, of

By Nao Braverman
The Zaca fire which has been scorching the Los Padres National Forest since the morning of the Fourth of July has recently prompted firefighters to ignite a backfire in Cuyama Valley to remove fuels between the fire line and the main fire. Ashes from the backfire have Ojai residents breathing smoke filled air though the fire is still far from the city.
As of Tuesday morning, the fire has burned 220,863 acres, more than 5,000 in the past 12 hours.
Highway 33 between Wheeler Gorge and Ventucopa will remain closed until Friday due to firefighting equipment and smoke, according to a Forest Service update.
Currently the fire is burning strong in Los Padres’ Forest Leap Canyon on the north rim of Sisquoc Canyon and has spread to the east boundary of Dick Smith Wilderness near Highway 33.
Firefighters ignited backfire operations along the Sierra Madre to contain the northern progress of the fire. Backfires from Cuyama Peak Road in Dry Canyon down Brubaker Canyon are preventing flames from spreading to Highway 33, and on Tuesday afternoon, backfires from the forest boundary at the Cuyama River drainage from Ozena to Brubaker Road have been containing the fire’s eastern progress.
On Tuesday closures were issued on Highway 33 between Wheeler Gorge and Ventucopa, and on Paradise Road to all traffic except for residents, on Happy Canyon Road and Figueroa Mountain Road at the national forest boundary, and on East Camino Cielo from Painted Cave Road to Gibraltar Road. A precautionary evacuation was issued to Highway 33 residents from the Ventura-Santa Barbara county line to Pine Summit.
As of Tuesday 72 fire crews, 3,144 personel, 139 fire engines, 20 helicopters were used to fight the flames, along with a DC-10 air tanker, according to Alberto Ortega, public information officer for the Zaca Fire. The tanker costs the Forest Service $5,500 per hour .
The fire has caused at least 39 injuries destroyed one building, and threatened 581 structures.
The cost totals more than $87.5 million and is expected to be contained by Sept. 7.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ojai Planners Reject Staff's Chain Law

Commissioners seem to favor citywide ordinance, not Historic Commercial District

By Nao Braverman
At the end of a grueling six hour Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night, the last half which was devoted a three-hour discussion on protecting Ojai from proliferating chain stores, commissioners unanimously rejected the city-drafted chain store ordinance, and offered some suggestions for a revision.
“I think what we have before us is a bad ordinance,” said Commissioner John Mirk.
Commissioner Susan Weaver agreed.
“If it comes down to voting for a bad ordinance or rejecting this one, I will have to vote against it. “ she said. “It doesn’t mean that I don’t want an ordinance. But If we have to make a decision tonight, I could not support this ordinance.”
In agreement with the majority of community members who spoke at the meeting, commissioners said they preferred a citywide ordinance and asked to throw out the proposal for a Historic Commercial District in the city’s general plan.
Mirk called the Historic Commission District “bogus” and Commissioner Troy Becker said he felt the district, which would run roughly from Cañada Street to Drown Street along Ojai Avenue and from Aliso Street to Topa Topa Street, was too arbitrary.
In the third Planning Commission discussion on chain stores in Ojai city staff essentially brought back the same measure that they presented at two prior planning commission meetings, hoping that further explanation from the city’s attorneys might help win over commissioners.
The staff’s proposed statute prohibits any new chains within the proposed Historic Commercial District. The second zone outside that district would limit formula retail and restaurant establishments to one per lot less 40,000 square feet, and one per 20,000 square feet for lots of more than 40,000 square feet. New formula retail and restaurant establishments would be limited to no more than 2,000 square feet and 25 linear feet of frontage. One chain would be allowed per building. And in the third zone,which covers parcels that front Maricopa Highway north of the “Y” intersection would be regulated by only one clause in the ordinance that states: “Formula retail establishments shall be designed to reflect the city’s small town character and integrate existing community architectural and design features which will preserve such small town character.”
Attorneys defended their proposal, arguing that it was so drafted in order to protect Ojai from possible legal challenges.
Assistant city attorney Ted Schneider explained that under California law, an ordinance has to have a valid purpose, and the regulations have to be drafted solely to accomplish that purpose.
Community members have repeatedly testified that their interest in keeping out chain stores was to preserve Ojai’s small town character and tourist economy while protecting small, locally owned businesses.
But Schneider explained that while the former goal of preserving Ojai’s character was a valid purpose for an ordinance, the latter was not.
An ordinance drafted to protect locally owned businesses would be considered discriminatory, showing preference to locally owned businesses over other businesses, and thus deemed unconstitutional.
A ban against chain stores and restaurants within the proposed Historic Commercial District could be justified in court because that area has a distinctly historic feel, said Schneider.
“We cannot justify a ban throughout the city because our whole city is not historical,” he said. He added that moreover, “courts really like historic preservation.”
But Ojai resident and practicing attorney Jeff Furchenicht, who authored of the first of the two recent ballot initiatives relating to chain stores, argued that what community members were trying to protect was not Ojai’s history as much as its small-town character. That, he argued could be applied to the entire city.
Though city attorneys were restricted by their fear of litigation, Furchtenicht reminded them that though only 10 cities had chain store-related ordinances, only Coronado’s ordinance had been legally challenged. And though it was unpublished, and could not be used as an official reference, the Coronado ordinance had ultimately been upheld in court.
All speakers were concerned about the proposed ordinance’s third zone which left chains almost completely unregulated.
The city’s proposed ordinance does not subject chains to any concrete regulation at the “Y” intersection except to say that they must be in harmony with Ojai’s small town character, a vague and subjective standard.
This, Schneider argued was due to the fact that the “Y” intersection is already chain-store-ridden, and might be perceived to look like “anywhere U.S.A” with not much character to preserve.
Attorneys also said they wanted to protect the Vons grocery store at the “Y” intersection, an essential chain retailer that could become a legal non-conforming business under a formula-retail ordinance, and would be prevented from remodeling or greatly expanding.
Becker retorted that the ordinance could include an exception for Vons, as it arguably provides a service that no private business can. He also retorted that the “Y’ intersection had more character than he cared to describe.
Other commissioners backed him up agreeing that the Vons was smaller than in most cities and that though there are some chains in that shopping center, they are interspersed by other small privately owned businesses.
Overall, commissioners unanimously echoed members of the public, asking staff to draft a citywide ordinance, and urging attorneys to find a way to protect the city’s existing formula businesses. In congruence with Kenley Neufeld’s proposed citizen’s initiative, they were interested in an ordinance that was more regulatory than restrictive.
Schneider and city attorney Monte Widders agreed to work on drafting another revised ordinance for a future meeting.
In order to allow for further discussion of the issue, and prevent hasty, careless decision-making, Neufeld agreed to withdraw his proposed initiative as long as the City Council and commissioners continued their consideration with the goal of having an ordinance drafted by October.
The City Council will vote on the city-drafted ordinance, recommended for rejection by the Planning Commission at the August 28 council meeting.
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, Councilman Steve Olsen who expects to be absent at the next meeting, said that he would be in favor of a citywide ban. He expressed concern over the proposed third zone which appears to overwhelmingly allow chains and would be a “disaster,” he said.
He echoed the comments of three community members who warned against the Historic Commercial District proposal and urged the council to vote for a citywide ordinance.

Ojai Buffered From Housing Shock

Foreclosures shut doors on some locals, but fewer than other areas in county

By Daryl Kelley
The sagging housing market came home to grocery store stocker Peter Rueger this week, when he received notice that his family has 30 days to get out of their house in Oak View.
“This was truly our dream home, and a month ago I thought we could still sell it,” said Rueger, 46, who lives with wife Barb, their 14-year-old daughter, mother-in-law, one dog and four cats in a smallish home under towering oaks on a creek.
“But you see what’s happening in the realty market,” he added. “It’s a year too late for me now.”
The Ruegers’ three-bedroom home is one of at least 12 Ojai Valley properties seized by lenders or facing foreclosure sales, as a wave of defaults has swept the California housing market in recent months.
So far, the Ojai Valley has fared fairly well because upper-end homes in attractive communities continue to sell better than marginal properties in low-income areas, where more buyers with fewer assets were allowed to purchase houses they couldn’t really afford, experts say.
Indeed, Ojai home sales dropped just 8 percent in the first half of 2007, from 119 to 109, compared with the first six months of 2006, while prices fell 6.5 percent, according to DataQuick Information Systems.
But for July, the numbers were more ominous, with sales down sharply and prices falling 14 percent from a year ago. And in the Oak View area, sales were off from 46 to 29 for the first half of the year, though up a bit in July.
“Ojai, Ventura and Camarillo haven’t been hit that hard yet,” said real estate agent Jaime Diaz, an Ojai resident who specializes in selling homes facing foreclosure. “But there are hundreds of foreclosures in Oxnard. A lot of people bought more than they should have and can’t refinance or sell. Their houses are worth less than their loans.”
The Ojai Valley, with about 35,000 residents, has a dozen properties in or facing foreclosure. That compares with Santa Paula’s 22 and Fillmore’s 14, Diaz said.
The problem, experts say, is that many buyers were allowed to borrow too much in the so-called sub-prime lending market as home values more than doubled from 2001 through mid-2005.
But when housing prices started to decline during the last two years, marginal borrowers didn’t have the equity to refinance as their variable monthly payments rose.
One of Diaz’s clients — the Estrada family of Meiners Oaks — lost their home in a foreclosure sale at the Ventura County courthouse on Thursday. The family owed $504,000 on an aging 800-square-foot stucco house on El Roblar Drive.
Diaz had been trying to sell the home for $434,000 on the so-called “short sell” market in which homes sell to speculators for less than their loan amounts. But he got just one offer — for $324,000. So now the lenders are trying to recoup what they can through auction. The amount of Thursday’s bids were not yet public.
“These are good, hardworking people,” Diaz said of the Estradas. “But their payment was $3,500 a month plus taxes, and they just couldn’t keep up.”
A lot of “predatory loans” were made in the last few years by lenders assuming that home values would continue to increase, and that they would get their money back even if unqualified buyers could not make payments, he said. Payments on these loans often increased after two or three years.
“Foreclosures are the pink elephant right now,” he said. “And the scary part is we don’t know how many high-end homeowners did the same thing.”
For example, he said a number of homes sold for more than a million dollars in luxury Spanish Hills and Sterling Hills neighborhoods near Camarillo in the last several years ago. And some of those homes are beginning to pop up on foreclosure lists, he said.
At least for now, however, the Ojai Valley market is doing pretty well, said Dawn Shook, executive officer of the Ojai Valley Board of Realtors.
“We get a little bit of the foreclosure market up here, but not too much,” she said. “The higher end houses are still selling if they’re a little bit larger or in a good area. That’s the criteria that’s kept things going. But some of the lesser priced, less desirable properties are just not selling right now.
“People from out of the area say that Ojai is better off because it’s so desirable and does have higher priced homes,” she said.
But that won’t help the the Ruegers, who saved their money through 23 years of marriage, including 18 as renters in the Upper Ojai Valley.
“And when we saw this home we knew it was our dream house,” Peter Rueger said. “It has 12 large oaks here, and you see these (terraced) gardens? We did all that.”
The Ruegers bought their home with a $245,000 loan five years ago, but refinanced twice and now owe $428,000, and can’t make their $3,200 monthly payment, despite his income from Vons and his wife’s as a manager of a convenience store.
A lawsuit over a property line by a neighbor kept them in court for three years, and prevented them from selling when they still had some equity, he said. The Ruegers won the suit three months ago, and an offer covering their full $428,000 debt was secured a month ago, he said. But the bank foreclosed this week anyway.
“The Realtor said you’ve got 90 days to close this sale, but the bank sent me a letter yesterday and said you’ve got 30 days to get out,” he said. “So everything we saved for years just got pulled out from under us.”

Ojai Unified Going Green

School district looks to save money, planet

By Sondra Murphy
With funding challenges facing Ojai Unified School District, most staff members are finding themselves with increased duties. Superintendent Tim Baird took it one step further and helped start the Ojai Valley Green Coalition.
Baird’s interest in forming the coalition was from the perspective that Ojai Valley businesses could make fundamental changes that have a collective and positive impact on the environment. With new environmental policies being developed, OUSD hopes to be saving more than the planet.
Over the summer, changes have been made districtwide to more effectively manage its resources while saving money. The school district has had recycling policies in place for many years, but has been implementing new, environmentally friendly practices that address growing concerns about our global climate.
Expanding its recycling program is one goal of the district. “We are putting together a plan to improve on our current recycling at the district office and out at different schools,” said Baird. “We recycle but it’s not as clean as it could be.
“As we speak, we have lighting upgrades going into the Matilija Gym, and the Nordhoff Gym and cafeteria,” Baird said. The district will be meeting with vendors about different options in day lighting, sky lighting and other more efficient systems. Topa Topa Elementary already has new day lighting systems in some classrooms. Besides being more green, “Studies show students do better with these kinds of lighting systems,” Baird said.
Transportation is another area of concern to the school district. “We currently have two natural gas buses and are looking at adding to our fleet. There’s a hybrid bus out there, but it is cost-prohibitive to our district,” Baird said. “We are working on a plan to increase bus ridership and also car pooling, biking and walking for students and staff.”
Starting this school year, the nutrition services department will no longer purchase Styrofoam trays for its meals. “They will use sugar cane-based trays that break down in landfills,” said Baird.
Purchasing greener supplies is just one way the district can improve. “We’re working on a grant with Food for Thought that will allow us to do a study on composting,” said Baird. With an increase in OUSD gardens being grown and harvested, composting would be one way of reducing waste that could prove fruitful.
Many of the green changes, like biodegradable lunch trays, cost more to purchase. With the district losing enrollment and funding each year, administration finds itself having to pay a little more to do the right thing, but it is hoped that some of the savings in other areas will help offset the higher cost of green products.
Ojai Unified began taking advantage of an energy-saving agreement with Southern California Edison this summer. Called SmartConnect, customers install special meters that allow the energy company to turn off district air conditioners for limited periods during brown-out conditions in exchange for reduced rates. “That saved the district $50,000 over eight weeks,” Baird said.
“There is a lot of promise here and I believe the school district is the largest energy user in the valley,” said Baird.
The district is exploring solar energy options, but since a significant, up-front investment is necessary, OUSD must first determine whether or not they can afford it.
With so many different ways to go green, the district has appointed Jim Berube its new “energy czar.” Among other duties assigned by the district, Berube has come out of retirement to focus on two tasks: to help save on energy costs and be more environmentally conscious.
Timers now manage the irrigation stations at Nordhoff High. The system has been redesigned to operate with fewer stations at lower volumes for longer periods of time. “It may appear that we’re using more water, but we’re really using less water more efficiently,” said Baird.
“By cutting down on needless waste, it’s better for the planet and better for the checkbook,” said Baird. Sometimes this is accomplished by installing high-tech devices, such as heating or irrigation timers. Simply making sure all computers are turned off at night is another way to cut waste. Additionally, “We’ll go low-tech on some things,” said Baird. Building more shade structures at district sites is an example of a low-tech strategy the district plans to implement.
In the short run, the changes are simple. “My goal is that I don’t want to walk into a classroom anywhere in the district where the lights, air or heat is on when no one is in the classroom,” said Baird.
After five to 10 years of implementation, Baird envisions a district that is thoroughly green. “It’s completely solar, providing all of our energy costs through solar panels,” he foresees. “In all rooms and offices we are on timers. We have centralized plans for composting at all schools. We have more kids taking the bus, and have more natural gas buses to transport them. We are just operating more efficiently and creating less waste.”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cat Killed By Pellet Gun

Feline suffers slow death after being shot in nose at close range, reward offered

By Lenny Roberts
An adult male cat died after being shot in the nose at close range with a pellet gun Thursday afternoon, according to Ventura County Humane Society director Jolene Hoffman.
The neutered male animal, covered in grease, was brought to the Bryant Street shelter by a man who said he found it, dead, under his car in the 200 block of West Aliso Street.
“The poor thing must have slowly died,” Hoffman said. “I really can’t say how I feel. What a terrible thing. It looks like it was shot point-blank through the nose. The pellet hit his nasal passage and he appears to have suffocated.”
Hoffman said there were no other wounds on the buff- or light-orange-colored cat she described as being in good health at the time it was shot. The pellet was visible and confirmed by Hoffman as the cause of death.
Although it had no collar, tag or identifying chip, Hoffman leaned toward the cat being a pet rather than feral, but was not surprised that no one had called to see if it was at the shelter.
“I think a lot of people assume the worst and that’s never a good idea,” she said. “People should go looking for their pets. If they’re strays and brought here, they’re only kept for one to three days before being transported to Animal Control (in Camarillo).” She defined stray as any animal brought in by someone who says it does not belong to them.
Hoffman said the Humans Society is planning to offer a $500 reward for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who murdered the cat.
“I’m very sad,” Hoffman said. “This is a heartless person who would do that to an innocent animal. It’s just sick. “
Sheriff’s Sgt. Maureen Hookstra said there are no suspects. She urged anyone with information to call her at 646-1414. Tips may be left anonymously.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

McConnell Resigns Help of Ojai Post

Executive director moves on as Help expands into West Campus. McConnell is pictured handing out an award to Debbie Thorne at Help of Ojai’s recent Walk2Help event,

By Nao Braverman
After a year and a half of hard work and getting the West Campus on its feet, Debbie McConnell, executive director of Help of Ojai, is resigning to focus on maternal responsibilities.
“With the eldest of my two children starting kindergarden this year, I really want to be there for my kids,” she said. “I’m sure any mother would understand.”
Though a perfect fit for the longtime Ojai nonprofit which serves the local needy and elderly, McConnell recently realized that she wanted more time to be with her family.
With 12 years as the executive director of the California Central Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association behind her, McConnell was unanimously voted in to be director of Help of Ojai in March 2006, to take the place of former executive director Marlene Spencer, who had been with the long-standing nonprofit for 31 years.
Having worked in nonprofit management with the senior population for most of her working life, the position at Help of Ojai allowed McConnell to build on her previous experience while working within her home community. Instead of commuting to Santa Barbara every day, as she had during her tenure with the Alzheimer’s Association, her position at Help of Ojai allowed her to stay close to home and really invest in her work, she said.
And that’s exactly what she did. With the organization’s expansion onto the vacated Honor Farm property off of Baldwin Road, McConnell dove into preparation for the new West Campus, working late nights and weekends until she realized it was going to be too much to juggle with family obligations.
“It was really exciting, there are going to be a lot of incredible opportunities,” she said. “But it would also be a lot of time and energy on my part. More than I can spare.”
Though West Campus preparation for the organization’s expansion was an invigorating experience, McConnell knew that her responsibilities would only increase, leaving her less time to tend to her 5-year-old and 3-year-old kids.
What’s next for McConnell? A longtime Oak View resident, she plans to stay in the Ojai Valley.
“I’m just looking forward to spending more time with my kids,” she said.”I don’t want to miss this critical point in their lives.”
As for Help of Ojai, board members are in the process of deciding on how to fill McConnell’s position. Either a replacement will be elected or a search initiated, said Gene Daffern, president of the board of directors.
McConnell’s final day at Help of Ojai will be Sept. 30.
“She has done an outstanding job,” said Daffern. “She has really done a lot for Help of Ojai.”

Endeavor Astronaut Has Ojai Family

Nancy Radding watches her sister-in-law’s liftoff into space on Wednesday.

By Sondra Murphy
One Ojai family has been watching the space program very closely. Teacher Barbara Morgan, who is part of the Space Shuttle Endeavor crew that launched on Wednesday, is the sister of Howard Radding, a valley dentist for 20 years.
Morgan originally trained with NASA in the 80s when the agency was recruiting teachers, and she was backup for Christa McAuliffe in the 1986 Challenger mission. After the Challenger exploded, the Radding family was relieved that Morgan was not chosen for that flight, but disappointed when the civilian program was scrapped. Morgan’s getting a second chance to go into space has recharged the family with enthusiasm for the program.
Nancy Radding, wife of Howard and sister-in-law of Morgan, watched the Endeavor’s launch on television from her Ojai home on Wednesday. Her husband was accompanied to Florida by his daughters, Ava and Lauren, to witness Morgan and the shuttle crew launch into space. Other members of Morgan’s family met in Florida for the big event.
“The kids got to go to space camp and were given the whole VIP treatment,” Nancy Radding told OVN as she waited for the launch Wednesday. Radding noted how the news coverage is focused on Morgan. “She’s the big dog of this gig,” Radding said. At age 55, Morgan is the oldest person to go into space on a first mission. She retired from teaching to train with NASA and became a full-fledged astronaut in 1998.
Radding’s husband called several times with updates as NASA prepared for liftoff. “Howard said they basically put them in diapers before the launch,” said Radding. “He also said that, with pre-flight jitters, somebody already tossed their cookies.”
The Radding family hails from Fresno, but is now scattered about the western United States, so the Endeavor launch served as a type of family reunion for them. “When you don’t live in the same town, you sometimes get more involved with your friends than with your family,” Radding observed. “With their family all going to this, they’ve gotten caught up in the potency of the experience.” She said the family got a little choked up as they bid farewell to Morgan.
As the countdown progressed and the shuttle lifted, Radding also got caught up in the experience. “Gosh, my heart’s racing. Who’d have thought I’d be so excited?” At each successful step in the shuttle’s separation from its launch equipment, Radding celebrated.
“I told my husband that the biggest link I ever had with space travel was David Bowie,” Radding laughed. When Howard Radding called from Cape Canaveral a few minutes later, she put her ear to the phone. “You can hear everybody just screaming there,” she shared and then spoke into the mouthpiece, “Ground control to Major Tom.”
The Endeavor is expected to dock at the international space station Friday and will stay 11 to 14 days, depending on how long it takes the crew to complete its tasks of delivering a new truss segment and attaching a replacement gyroscope. Morgan has a specific job on the station. “She’s the robotic arm operator,” said Radding. Morgan will also teach two live lessons to students in Idaho and take a space walk or two during the mission.

Pedophile's Ex May Lose House

Property may go toward $5.25 million jury award for failure to protect victims

By Daryl Kelley
The former wife of an admitted Ojai pedophile is faced with losing her $1.2-million home near Ojai after a Ventura County jury found that not only her husband was responsible for the sexual assault of two young sisters, but that she was also negligent.
A Superior Court jury found late last month that Maxine Wiley, the third wife of former truck salesman Carl Wiley, had failed to protect the girls from being molested by her husband, who is now an inmate in state prison.
During the civil trial, attorneys presented evidence that Maxine Wiley had known of the assaults, which she denied, and that Carl Wiley had been a child molester for more than a half century.
The jury awarded $5.25 million in damages against the Wileys, although attorneys think their assets are far less than that.
“The jury found that Maxine was negligent in supervising the kids,” said attorney John Howard, who represents the two victims, now aged 21 and 10.
Carl Wiley, now 79, has admitted sexually assaulting both sisters when they were very young and visited the Wileys’ home in the hills near Ojai.
“The message here is that if you are a pedophile, or if you know something like this is going on, then you better stop it,” Howard said. “The effect on these kids is devastating.”
Both sisters are being treated for psychological trauma, he said.
Howard said he will now target Maxine Wiley’s assets, including the modular home on five acres near Ojai and a duck hunting preserve in Kern County, to satisfy the civil award. She had gained ownership of those assets in a divorce after her husband’s arrest.
“We contend that the distribution of assets was done to protect the Wileys from having to pay a civil judgment to these kids,” Howard said.
Moves to collect the award will not occur until the Wileys’ attorney, Howard Cho, decides what legal steps to pursue.
“There’s always an appeal,” Cho said this week. “And we’re looking at other options — a new trial, because I think there was an error in law here.”
Cho declined to discuss that purported error. But he added that his client was not negligent.
“Mr. Wiley was dead wrong, and he pled guilty,” Cho said. “But I did not think Mrs. Wiley was negligent. All of that was denied ... Carl always had good excuses, and he was good at covering up stuff. He had everyone snookered, including Maxine.”
Carl Wiley was arrested in July 2004 on suspicion of nine counts of molestation against the two sisters in the early 1990s and between 2001 and 2003. The arrest followed a year-long investigation by the Sheriff’s Department, which uncovered a string of allegations of molestation by Wiley dating back five decades, as he moved from Hayward and Livermore in the Bay Area to Santa Paula, Oak View and finally Ojai.
He is now in Soledad state prison after pleading guilty in 2005 to three felony counts, including “continuous sexual abuse” of children. During the recent civil trial, Howard presented evidence that Wiley had molested at least eight girls, including his own two daughters in his first marriage, since 1948.
One of Wiley’s daughters, who testified against him at the civil trial, said she’d told Maxine Wiley that her father had molested her and her sister when they were children. Defense attorney Cho said the daughter’s testimony was fabricated.
But Howard said that it was a key part of establishing that Maxine Wiley was negligent. Additionally, Howard said, the testimony of a Santa Paula father that his daughter had been molested by Wiley in 1988 was also persuasive.
But Cho said the Santa Paula father’s claims were inconsistent, and that the mother of a second girl who was there during the alleged molestation did not believe the claim and continued to allow her daughter to visit the Wiley home.
Another piece of strong evidence against the Wileys was that sheriff’s deputies found a book on sexual disorders in the couple’s dresser drawer when they arrested him in 2004.
In addition, the oldest of the two girls suing the Wileys testified that she had told Maxine Wiley of the molestation in 2001 or 2002, during the same time period when her younger sister was being assaulted by Carl Wiley.
The girls finally told their parents of the sexual assaults in 2003 after psychological therapy, Howard said. But it took a year to put the case together against Carl Wiley.
In the civil trial, the jury also found the two sisters’ parents had been negligent. But they were not defendants in the lawsuit, so were held responsible for damages.
How Wiley got away with molestation for six decades is a good question, Howard said.
“What happens is that when children do report the crime, it becomes their word against a responsible adult’s. So it doesn’t get filed,” he said. “And most children are even afraid to report it.”

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

County Gives Green Light To Traffic Signal

Caltrans plans to install a traffic signal on Highway 33 at Villanova Road. Signal would be fourth in Mira Monte

By Daryl Kelley
A fourth traffic signal will be installed on state Highway 33 in Mira Monte under an agreement approved Tuesday by the county Board of Supervisors. But construction probably won’t begin until next year, officials said.
“It’s a Caltrans project, and when you’re dealing with Caltrans, you never really know,” said county transportation director Butch Britt.
Indeed, Tuesday’s approval marked the second time county supervisors have signed off on the same traffic light at the junction of Highway 33 and Villanova Road, next to the Rite Aid store.
The first time around, Caltrans intended to erect the light by 2006. But the project was allowed to languish due to an “administrative error,” Britt wrote in a memo to the board.
And now the cost has skyrocketed from about $175,000 to about $750,000, with the state paying two-thirds and the county the rest.
While the costs are high, Britt said the county didn’t have much choice but to approve the project again, because traffic counts and rush-hour congestion show it is needed, and the county and state have the funding for it. So government might be held liable if officials failed to move forward.
“If somebody had an accident there, they’d probably end up going to court,” he said. “And we’d end up answering questions about how much a person’s life is worth.”
The fourth Mira Monte traffic signal — augmenting those at Woodland Avenue, Baldwin Road and and Loma Drive — costs more than four times as much today as when the project was when originally approved in 2004, Britt said, because material costs have exploded and federal construction standards have become more stringent. Labor costs are also up sharply, he said.
“Traffic signal costs are way up all over Southern California,” Britt said. And the principal cause is that the steel arms that hold up signals must now be designed to withstand 100 mph winds, instead of 80 mph.
“It doesn’t seem like much, but it means they have to use more steel and more concrete and more heavy welds, and that makes a big difference in cost.”
In addition, the price of copper for wiring the light has soared, as has that of asphalt because it is an oil-based product.
“We haven’t changed the project’s scope much,” he said. “It’s just that everything costs more.”
The project has been broadened to include a cable connecting the new light with the one at Baldwin Road, so the signals will be coordinated. It has also been upgraded to include a signal-controlled walkway across 33 to the Ojai Valley Trail.
Despite a relative lack of population growth, Britt said Caltrans keeps adding traffic signals in the Ojai Valley because traffic keeps increasing.
“There hasn’t been much new development out there,” he said. “But there has been more and more event traffic, because people like to see Ojai. It’s Shangri La, right?”

Social Host Law Earns National Award

Ordinance gets credit for drop in underage drinking

By Nao Braverman
At a recent award ceremony in Orlando, Fla., the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Underage Drinking Training and Enforcement Center acknowledged that, with Ojai as a role model, Ventura County has really toughened up on youths and adults who allow underage drinking in their homes.
Ojai’s Chief of Police Bruce Norris and Council Member Rae Hanstad accompanied 30 other Ventura County community leaders to the Orlando reception ceremony, Saturday, to accept an award for the county’s recent efforts to curb underage drinking.
Presented by the JJDUDTEC, the award was based on countywide enactment of the Social Host Ordinance, first adopted by Ojai in 2005 and enacted early in 2006.
Spearheaded by the local Substance Abuse Free Environment Coalition, the local ordinance gives law enforcement officers the authority to cite both juveniles and adult hosts of parties where minors are drinking. The the offense is civil not, criminal, but violators are charged an irrefutable $1,000 fine, regardless of their age.
Though some of the violators and their parents disagreed with the imposition of such a high fine, the new ordinance has already been enforced eight times in Ojai. While it is too early to reference official statistics, Norris told council members that local police officers had noted a recent decrease in local parties where underage drinking occurs.
That was the S.A.F.E Coalition’s goal, when they discovered that surveys showed binge drinking among high school students and youngsters who reported riding with a driver under the influence in Ventura County were higher than the state average.
But, most importantly, they also learned that an overwhelming number of youth were using alcohol compared to other drugs and gained access to it at homes or private parties, according to Ruth Cooper, program coordinator for the S.A.F.E Coalition. The latter gave community leaders the incentive to push forward an ordinance that targeted home parties with underage drinkers throughout the city.
Ojai’s ordinance was thus introduced on Jan. 24. Following Ojai’s lead, other Ventura County cities, one by one have enacted their own version of the Social Host Ordinance, charging violators between $500 and $2,500 depending on the local jurisdiction. So far Fillmore has issued one citation, Camarillo 12, Thousand Oaks nine, and Moorpark three.
“I’m very proud that Ojai’s was the leader in enforcing a countywide ordinance that helps deter underage drinking countywide,” said Hanstad who is also a S.A.F.E Coalition member.
Cooper said that after receiving media attention for the success of Ojai and Ventura County ordinances, the local coalition had been contacted by numerous representatives from other cities throughout the country looking to formulate a similar ordinance of their own.
“We are very pleased that our city can work as a role model to assist other communities in passing similar ordinances,” she said.
Part of the effectiveness of the ordinance, has come from all the media coverage which has prompted parents to warn their teens.
“It can’t work as a deterrent if parents and their children don’t know about it,” said Cooper.”

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Ojai Pursuit Ends In Arrest Of Oregon Man

Clarence Darold Haws arrested by Ventura Police for local burglaries, failing to register as sex offender

In the early morning hours of July 28, Ojai deputies were involved in a pursuit of a vehicle that had committed a traffic violation.
During the pursuit, the pursued vehicle left the roadway and rolled several times on Creek Road north of Country Club Drive. After the accident, the driver fled the scene and the passenger was detained. Inside the vehicle, deputies discovered a large quantity of stolen property from recent burglaries in the Ojai Valley and identification information for a Clarence Darold Haws, 24, from Lincoln City, Ore. The Ojai deputies conducted a search for Haws, but were unable to locate him.
On Aug. 1, officers from the Ventura Police Department contacted Haws at a motel in Ventura regarding an incident unrelated to the vehicle pursuit on the 28th. The Ventura Police Department arrested Haws for failing to register as a sex offender, resisting arrest, and a misdemeanor warrant from San Bernardino County.
Ojai detectives were notified Haws was in custody at the Ventura County Main Jail and interviewed him regarding the vehicle pursuit, stolen property, and the recent reported burglaries. After the interview, Haws was arrested for five counts of residential burglary, felony evading with a vehicle, possession of stolen property, and resisting arrest. Haws was booked on the above charges at the Main Jail.

Ojai City Crime Report Shows Mixed News

Felony assaults drop in the first half of year, but Ojai crime rate highest in county

By Daryl Kelley
Serious crime in Ojai continued at last year’s high level during the first half of 2007 as thefts and residential burglaries increased again, but criminal violence fell as felony assaults were down more than half, according to a new police report.
“The news is mixed,” city manager Jere Kersnar said Wednesday. “But I think there has been progress, because I worry most about (violent) crimes, and those are down.”
There were 148 major crimes in Ojai from January through June, up nine offenses compared with the same six months last year, the Sheriff’s Department reported this week.
That follows a sharp hike last year, when crime in Ojai reached its highest level since 1995. Still, violent crime was down from 11 to eight for the first half of this year.
“Except for an increase of 12 thefts from last year, this report shows no alarming pattern,” wrote Sheriff’s Capt. Bruce Norris, who serves as Ojai’s police chief, in a report to Kersnar. “Detectives and patrol deputies continue to work to reduce thefts. Recent significant arrests of local thieves and drug users have curbed the thefts somewhat from the first three months of this year.”
The biggest spike was in grand theft, which is defined as a loss of property worth $400 or more. That more serious theft increased from 18 to 26, while petty theft was up from 84 to 89, and home burglaries climbed from two to seven.
In his report, Norris noted the same trends that prompted a dramatic increase in crime last year, the theft of valuables from cars and citizens’ relaxed attitude about securing their property.
“Theft from vehicles, theft of bicycles and theft of landscape equipment account for many of our theft cases,” Norris reported.
Kersnar said thieves had been particularly active in parking lots.
“There have been break-ins at trailheads,” he said. “People leave valuables on their seats when they go hiking, and that’s not a good practice.”
Conversely, the actual theft of autos and trucks were down from five to three and burglaries of businesses were down from 19 to 15.
The best news in the report was that aggravated assaults — a telltale sign of gang activity — dropped from nine for the first six months of 2006 to four this year. A spate of gang-related violence prompted the conviction of a dozen youths last year.
But a new sheriff’s anti-gang unit began operations this spring in western Ventura County, including the Ojai Valley, and authorities credit that with a sharp reduction in assaults. The most serious gang-related violence locally this year was a drive-by shooting in February, when a shooter from out of town wounded an east Ojai resident.
“In my opinion, a decrease in gang-related incidents has helped to keep that (assault) number down,” Norris wrote.
Overall, violent offenses fell by three, with no murders, one rape, four felony assaults and three robberies. The robbery number was up from one for all of 2006 to three for the first six months of this year.
“There seems to be an overlap from the increase in thefts to the robberies,” Kersnar said. “I know there are drug issues here, and I presume there is some relationship.”
When all eight serious property and violent crimes for Ojai are taken together, the number of crimes per resident — or crime rate — increased 7 percent for the first half of the year, from 17.06 to 18.20.
That’s more than twice as high as the overall crime rate for all five cities and the unincorporated area that the Sheriff’s Department patrols. By comparison, Moorpark had a crime rate of 6.86 crimes per resident, Thousand Oaks 8.59, Camarillo 9.27 and Fillmore 11.0 .

Planners Delay Decision On Chain-free Downtown

Staff presents plans to establish Historic Commercial District

By Nao Braverman
Eager to move forward on the issue, city staff members presented their first stab at writing a statute to keep chain stores from ruining Ojai’s small-town character, at Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting.
But after much deliberation, the planning commissioners, who had not participated in the six previous City Council discussions of the subject, decided that the issue was too complicated and delicate to rush into, and voted to consider the ordinance at yet another meeting.
City staff’s statute proposal included a prohibition of any new chains within the recently established Historic Commercial District, which runs roughly from Cañada Street to Drown Street along Ojai Avenue and from Aliso Street to Topa Topa Street. A second zone outside that district would be regulated by new policies that would limit formula retail establishments to one per lot less than 40,000 square feet, and one per 20,000 square feet for lots that were more than 40,000 square feet. Moreover, new developments in the second zone would be limited to a total floor area of 2,000 square feet and no more than 25 linear feet of frontage. Formula retail would be limited to one per building to prevent the standard “anywhere USA” strip mall look. This, according to staff, would limit formula retail outside the HCD and make it very difficult for them to open without prohibiting them entirely. However, parcels that front Maricopa Highway, north of the “Y” intersection, would not be regulated at all.
The latter was of greatest concern to the handful of community members who voiced their concerns at the meeting.
“I think it might be more fruitful to try a regulatory moratorium that covers the entire city limits,” said Steve Sprinkel, an Ojai Valley resident and small business owner. “It keeps me out of the car and spreads my money around town.” At least seven other residents echoed his desire for a citywide moratorium and Scott Eicher, CEO of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that a the majority of people who responded to a local chamber of commerce survey said they didn’t want chains in the city at all.
Though most commissioners said they were initially pleased with the proposed ordinance at first glance, many were swayed by the slew of public speakers who urged them to consider a citywide ordinance.
City manager Jere Kersnar said that though other cities had passed citywide ordinances addressing chain stores, none of those cities had prohibited them completely.
Planning Commissioner Cortus Koehler who had carefully researched the legal implications cautioned staff that he had discovered a national chain store association that had been contributing thousands of dollars to a legal defense fund for years, and would have a bottomless pit of money with which they could litigate.
Commissioner Troy Becker countered that it was somewhat misgiving to rely completely on the city attorney.
“I don’t think we should not do it just because it has never been done,” he said.
Commissioner Susan Weaver raised the concern of providing for local residents as well as tourists. With the high prices and small variety of small businesses, locals would have trouble finding what they need in town.
“I think we should keep Ojai a living city,” she said, referring to the streets of Solvang where locals are scarce. She and other commissioners were also concerned about already existing chain businesses such as Radio Shack and Exotic Thai, that would not be able to develop or expand, with the proposed ordinance .
“If you can’t expand or improve your business you’re on your way out,” said Commissioner Paul Crabtree.
Weaver suggested writing an ordinance similar to the one used in Sausalito which regulates chain stores to fit with local aesthetics, but does not prohibit them.
Local resident Leslie Davis said that as a local she was able to get her shopping needs met in Ojai.
“If locals are willing to make certain concessions they can get most of what they need here, though they would occasionally spend more money,” she said. “But I grew up here and I am willing to go to Ventura for some things. We are a small town and sometimes you have to go out of town to shop.”
Most commissioners expressed interest in an approach similar to that of Sausalito’s which would regulate chain stores citywide without prohibiting them.
Becker said, however that since Sausalito’s ordinance does not outright ban chains, the public might be displeased.
Kersnar agreed to continue the discussion and invite the city attorney to answer legal questions since legality seemed to be an overarching concern in the debate.
Though he said he was pleased to see the commissioners’ careful consideration, Kenley Neufeld, author of a similar chain store ordinance that has already received 600 signatures from registered voters, urged the Planning Commission not to take too long in approving an ordinance.
“On Oct. 13 I will be turning in my ballot initiative if the city hasn’t drafted their own,” he said. “Personally I would love to see the city pass an ordinance beforehand and I would love not to turn mine in,” he said.
If his ordinance is not handed over to the city on the Oct. 13 deadline, Neufeld will have to start the process all over again, according to procedural regulations.
As Kersnar explained at a previous meeting, if the city authors the ordinance it is more malleable. However, a citizen’s initiative must be voted on each time a variation is made, at great cost to the city.
Though he would prefer the city to pass their own ordinance, if one is not in place by the October deadline, Neufeld said he will turn in his initiative as a responsibility to his supporters.
The topic of chain stores will be brought back to the next Planning Commission meeting, hopefully with the participation of the city attorney, said Kersnar.