Friday, September 28, 2007

Casitas Seeks New Counsel

Board votes unanimously to replace
Sawyer, notes concerns with decisions


By Daryl Kelley
Directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District voted unanimously Wednesday to recruit a new legal counsel, with board members saying later that they were concerned with their current lawyer’s recent advice on key issues.
“The board has decided to seek a new attorney in an effort to find new opinions, new perspectives and new insights,” said board President Russ Baggerly after a closed session, during which the future employment of Ventura lawyer Robert Sawyer was discussed.
“We’re finding new counsel, new energy,” Baggerly said.
The decision to invite other lawyers to apply for the job Sawyer has held for four years resulted from concern by board members about advice the district’s counsel had given them on the state’s open-meeting law and on the impact of a statewide proposition on setting water rates for farmers.
Officials said Sawyer will continue as district counsel during a transition period and perhaps be hired as a lawyer on select legal issues.
Sawyer he did not see the district’s decision to seek a new law firm as counsel 13 months into his firm’s contract as a slap in the face. Nor did district officials cite any specific reason for changing lawyers other than a desire to get the best possible representation on a variety of legal issues, he said.
“I don’t see it as a rebuke,” he said. “I have a very good working relationship with the general manager and each of the directors.”
But directors said Sawyer’s comments at an Aug. 29 hearing on hiking agricultural water rates 53 percent prompted them to consider hiring a new principal attorney for the Oak View-based water district. Sawyer said that farmers might be treated differently than other water users under Proposition 218, which generally requires all water customers to pay the full cost of water they receive.
“That was one of the watershed events for me,” said Director Pete Kaiser. “It seemed to be coming from his personal feelings rather than legal precedent. That raised some eyebrows.”
Sawyer said Thursday that his comments reflected the vagueness of Proposition 218 and a state Supreme Court interpretation of it last year.
“Any personal feelings I have about water users didn’t figure into any analysis I made,” he said. “Sometimes it’s a little difficult to figure out just what the law is. A (legislative) bill headed to the governor right now is trying to clear all of this up.”
Sawyer had also prompted concern in late April when he acknowledged that he’d given the board bad advice on whether it had to publicly declare how each director voted in a closed session when deciding to continue a lawsuit against the federal government.
By not declaring their votes, the directors violated the state open-meeting law, the Brown Act, Sawyer said at the time. And he said Thursday that the Brown Act is not one of his greatest areas of expertise.
“I take full responsibility for this as district counsel,” he said in April. “It was essentially a failure on my part to research the issue and get all of the information out.”
Keeping the information secret was challenged by the Ojai Valley News and Director Richard Handley. Sawyer then issued a public apology to the board. But Handley said he was concerned that the board had violated state law with previous undeclared votes and that he was not comfortable sitting on a board that violates the law.
“I’ve had concerns that there has been a lack of clarity on some of the issues we are facing,” Handley said Thursday. “Any lawyer who represents a special district has to be absolutely versed or expert on the Brown Act. And in our lawsuit with the federal government, it was especially critical that we had good advice. And I don’t think we had that.”
Handley said he also was concerned about Sawyer’s recent comments on water rates for farmers.
“I had a concern that he said farmers might fit into a special category (for water rates) under Prop. 218,” Handley said. “But this wasn’t a one-time concern. It was just a general sense that it would be good to have a new perspective from our legal counsel.”

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ojai Youth Foundation Chief Leaving Post

Bosson, hired at OVYF inception in 1997, returning to work with TreePeople in L.A.

By Sondra Murphy
After 10 years of working with the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation, Caryn Bosson is stepping down as executive director of the agency. Bosson offered her letter of resignation Monday, stating that she would be working for TreePeople of Los Angeles. Her last day as director is planned for Nov. 20.
“I have faith that the right person is out there to step into this really good job and take it to even the next level with all of you,” Bosson wrote in her letter. She asked the foundation board to designate a transition team and move forward with advertising the position as quickly as possible.
Bosson is the founding executive director for the youth foundation. “I was hired to head the newly formed Ojai Valley Youth Foundation in 1997 by Council Member Steve Olsen, who was mayor, and Andy Belknap, who was city manager at the time,” said Bosson. “They, along with then Police Chief Jim Barrett were the guiding lights essentially went from a very part-time staff of two to a staff of a dozen people, youth and adult. It was overnight and it was a crazy and exciting time.”
When the grant money ran out three years later, the foundation had to build up the organization all over again and focus entirely on the local community. “Brick by brick we’ve built the OVYF into an organization that impacts the life of every teenager growing up in our community, even if he or she is not directly involved,” said Bosson. She said that the foundation, today located on Church Road, is now seeing generations of teens who started with the program return as mentors. Some are even out starting nonprofit agencies of their own. “So the impact of the Youth Foundation goes far beyond Ojai.”
“The Youth Foundation would not be all it is today without Caryn Bosson,” said Olsen. “Caryn is responsible for the success of the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation. She was the first and only executive director and started it from a grass roots organization to the foundation it is today that is helping all the youth in the Ojai Community.
Nordhoff High School’s dean of curriculum, Denise Thomas, said, “Caryn has had a tremendous impact with regards to influencing the youth in our community and especially Nordhoff students as they develop into responsible, mature adults. Her influence will be felt for many years to come as the students who have been mentored by her continue to show their leadership skills in the Ojai Valley and other parts of the world.”
Nordhoff’s student success team coordinator and AVID teacher, Laurie Arnold, also focused on Bosson’s positive influence on young people. “Caryn has always been an advocate for and believer in the youth of our community. Her core belief in the importance of connecting youth and adults in our community, that belief that her voice so enthusiastically conveys, is now embedded in the community. She has changed the way we think about kids.”
“She is probably one of the most giving, non-self serving individuals I’ve had the occasion to work with,” said Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Commander and former Ojai Police Chief Gary Pentis. “It’s going to be difficult to replace her due to her competence in collaborative efforts in the Ojai Valley.”
Said Bosson, “I am particularly proud of the fact that we formed this community organization basically from scratch.” She will continue to work with OVYF as a volunteer.
After Thanksgiving, Bosson will go back to work for TreePeople, a nonprofit organization dedicated to integrated resource management that she worked for in the ‘80s. “I have remained friends with TreePeople’s founder and President Andy Lipkis all these years. He founded TreePeople when he was 18, so he’s a prime example of the capacity of young people to change the world.” The job will enable her to work primarily from home, which is important to her as her son begins junior high this year. Bosson’s weekly trips to Los Angeles will allow her to lend more support to her mother, who lives in that area.
“I have worked with so many wonderful people over the years at the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation. It’s been an honor and a pleasure,” Bosson said. “I encourage everyone who cares about kids to get involved in this organization. And if you can’t give your time, then make a generous donation, because our kids need you. I will be so brazen as to say that you can easily do so on our web site, ovyf.org.

Toby Hemingway, Actor On Role

Ojai-trained actor takes on leading role in ‘Feast of Love"

By Nao Braverman
Toby Hemingway was first sent to drama class by a frustrated grade school teacher in England, who suggested that he needed an outlet for his energy.
Years later the young, Britain-born actor is at the brink of a budding Hollywood career.
Hemingway, who spent his high school years in Ojai at Oak Grove School, Nordhoff High School and Laurel Springs, plays alongside the acclaimed academy-award winning actor Morgan Freeman in “Feast of Love,” which premiered Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Beginning with a few high school plays, including Oak Grove’s “Time of Our Life,” Hemingway went on to work with Theater 150’s crew, and got into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York with the assistance of local acting coach Kim Maxwell-Brown.
“She really helped me get over my nervousness and gave me the confidence to follow through,” he said.
Upon graduating with a fine arts Associates degree in New York, he moved to Hollywood and landed a few small roles and in 2006 before getting a lead part in the Covenant, a science fiction thriller, playing Reid Garwin, a descendant of a superhuman family bearing gravity-defying powers.
In Feast of Love,” his most important role to date, Hemingway plays Oscar, a recovered heroin addict who falls in love with a co-worker at the coffee shop where he works. Based on a novel by Charles Baxter with the same name, the film presents an array of interconnected stories all surrounding the theme of love or love lost. Dramatizing the budding romance between a troubled Oscar and his co-barista, Alexa, has been challenging and rewarding, said Hemingway.
At age 24, Hemingway says he can relate to the character as he portrays the struggle that many young people go through in their search for meaning. He gets geared up for the tragic scenes by listening to Ryan Adams or Coldplay, anything sad, on his iPod, he said.
Despite having launched a career that has alluded the grasp of many aspiring actors, Hemingway takes his success in stride, getting accustomed to interviews and trying not to go blind from camera flashes, he said.
Already cast in a new part in “Street,” an independent flick by York Shackleton, about street kids in Portland, Ore., Hermingway is keeping busy. He is looking forward to playing his first character based on a real person and is preparing by watching various documentaries about kids that grow up on the streets.
He still visits his mother in Ojai, only an hour-and-half drive from his Hollywood apartment where he lives with his older brother, Jay.
He plans to make as much time as he can to play soccer on Ojai’s local team for the upcoming season in October, he said.

The Feast of Love trailer can be viewed HERE.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Man Arrested On Assault Charge

VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF
MEDIA RELEASE
BOB BROOKS, Sheriff

On Tuesday, Sept. 18, at about 11 P.M., several caucasian males reportedly went to a home on Santa Ana Blvd. in Oak View and began vandalizing a vehicle parked in the driveway. When the victim, a resident of the home, confronted the group, Robert Stevens attempted to hit him with a club-type weapon. During the attack, witnesses heard several members of the group yelling “Oak View,” leading police to believe that this incident was gang related. After causing several hundred dollars worth of damage to the vehicle, the group fled the area. The victim of the assault was not injured.

The Sheriff’s Gang Unit and deputies from the Ojai Police Station focused their attention on the community of Oak View for several days following the assault to deter further disturbances. Following an investigation by the Gang Unit and Ojai Detectives, the suspect in the assault, Robert Stevens, was arrested for possession of an illegal weapon, assault with a deadly weapon, drug influence, and possession of narcotics paraphernalia. He was booked into the Ventura County Main Jail with bail set at $55,000.

As of this report, no suspects in the vandalism have been identified. Anyone with information related to this crime is encouraged to call the Ojai Police Department at 646-1414.

Ojai Joins Pursuit Of Peace

Joshua Home Edwards and Michelle Sabatiré share a moment of togetherness during the “Living Peace in Ojai” event Sunday afternoon at Libbey Bowl

By Nao Braverman
Despite tempestuous weather about 100 people attended Living Peace in Ojai’s opening night on the International Day of Peace, according Evan Austin, founder of the Ojai Peace Coalition and coordinator of the weekend’s opening ceremony.
He was pleased with the turnout, though the ceremony was hastily relocated to the Chaparral Auditorium to keep guests from getting drenched in the rain.
Attendants observed a moment of candle-lit silence before Ojai’s first Noble Peace Prize was awarded to Clive and Marion Leeman, for their dedicated efforts to promote peace and their continuous involvement in local activism.
Following the awards ceremony, The Peace Alliance presented the “Gift of Peace,” a series of monologues aimed at drawing support for the establishment of a United States Department of Peace.
Proposed by Ohio congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, the Department of Peace would propose a number of mandates including prison rehabilitation programs, human rights monitoring, and the establishment a U.S. peace academy.
A closing interspiritual gathering, service and celebration on Sunday was a huge success, said Katherine Hope, spiritual leader of the Symphony of Life Spiritual Center, who facilitated the service.
Opening with a Native American ceremony, led by Chumash elder, Julie Tumamait, the gathering was attended by a Jewish rabbi, Daniel Mehlman, Sufi practitioner, Darakshan Farber, along with Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu practitioners. “It was a beautiful interweaving of practices, faith and spirituality,” said Hope.
Religious ceremonies were interspersed with meditation, yoga, “peace sharing,” and even “science sharing” by neuroscientist Peggy La Cerra from the Center of Evolutionary Neuroscience.
Coordinators are already getting ideas for next year’s event, Austin agreed.
“It was intended that this would be an annual event and its success is just another incentive,” he said.

Kucinich’s Presidential Quest Runs Through Ojai

Elizabeth and Dennis Kucinich at the Ojai Retreat on Sunday

By Nao Braverman

Ojai received its first visit in recent memory from a legitimate presidential candidate Sunday afternoon.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who practices yoga every morning, follows a vegan diet, and has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq since its inception, has ideals that are perfectly in line with many in Ojai’s liberal community. And though his radical proposals go against the tide of decisions made by his fellow politicians, more than 100 local residents filed into a room at The Ojai Retreat on Sunday to listen to him speak, with only a week’s notice.
Instead of attacking other politicians, a perenially popular political tactic, Kucinich focuses, instead, on infusing spiritual philosophy into his rhetoric. An uncompromising anti-war candidate, Kucinich believes that peace begins within.
“When we get in tune with our interconnectedness, we become aware of our responsibilities to one another,” he told the audience. Those responsibilities include striving toward peaceful solutions to international conflicts, making amends for war crimes committed to the Iraqi people by offering reparations, and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
Though he does not rely on attacking his competitors, he rarely seems to shy away from standing up to them or to his fellow congressmen. Leader of the opposition to the war in Iraq, he was the first presidential candidate to outspokenly criticize President Bush’s war policies when he first ran as a Democratic candidate in the 2004 elections.
“I don’t feel that I have to have the comfort of the majority when I speak,” said the congressman who stood his ground and voted against the Patriot Act despite its support from his colleagues.
Kucinich, who was elected as Cleveland’s youngest mayor nearly 30 years ago, lost support after deciding not to sell the city’s municipally owned electric system to its private competitor. Banks, financially tied to private electric companies, then refused to extend the city’s credit, plunging Cleveland into default.
Years later he was elected to the Ohio Senate on the strength of Cleveland’s expanded electric system, which now provides low-cost power to almost half of the city’s residents.
“You have to have a street sense in government because they will try to tell you that night is day,” he told the audience. “One thing I will bring to the White House is street sense. I didn’t get tricked into voting for the war in Iraq, I will not be conned.”
While his most of his speech had a spiritual undertone, Kucinich did offer concrete solutions to current issues.
In response to questions from the public about health care Kucinich said that if elected, he would propose universal Medicare that covers everyone, young and old alike. He cited a Harvard University study that showed that if overhead costs were lowered, in conjunction with a slight income tax increase, the program could afford such an expansion.
His wife, Elizabeth, also well-versed in Kucinich’s campaign proposals, joined in and added that universal health care works well in England, her home country, as well in many other parts of the world.
In support of the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty, Kucinich, were he elected, would make an effort to change America’s energy supply from oil-based energy to solar energy, and restructure the Department of Agriculture to promote sustainable agricultural practices.
To improve America’s schools, he said he would cut the bloated Pentagon budget by 15 percent to fund a universal pre-kindergarten to give all young children an early start on reading and art skills. Arts programs need to be expanded in schools, he told members of the audience.
“The arts reconnect us with what it means to be human,” he said. “And I want to make sure we have a way of doing that.”
To improve the economy Kucinich proposes to cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement and generate new jobs through the expanded, better managed health care system. He also proposes the creation of a fourth branch of government, a money branch, so that the country does not have to borrow money to put into circulation and sustain a debt-based system.
But above all his speech, “The Path to Peace for the U.S. and the World,” was focused on promoting cooperation between nations and obliterating nuclear weapons.
In 2001, Kucinich proposed a U.S. Department of Peace, a cabinet-level department of the executive branch which would promote peace domestically and internationally through nonviolent communication education and mediation programs.
David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara, chimed in applauding Kucinich for spreading a hopeful message to America’s disillusioned youth, empowering a new generation of peacekeepers.
Kucinich came to Ojai Sunday in response to an invitation from a friend of Ulrich Brugger, executive director of the Ojai Retreat, after the cancellation of a Fox news debate. Sponsored by the Ventura and Santa Barbara Committees to Elect Dennis Kucinich President 2008 and the Ojai Democratic Club, the event was well attended and overbooked.
Kucinich and his wife enjoyed a vegan squash soup and burdock root dish prepared by local cook Maria Elena Nava before the speech and later returned to enjoy refreshments with supporters at the local retreat, Glen Muse.
In the slightly more intimate setting, in the cozy fireside hearth of the retreat, Elizabeth said she was reminded of her second meeting with Kucinich where they sat by the fire, talked for hours and decided to get married.
“Just know that this campaign is really fueled by love,” she said. “And just imagine what it would be like to really have love at the White House.”
Though CNN and Wall Street Journal polls still show Kucinich’s support at a low 3 percent, Kucinich said he has seen many Americans yearning for a true change that only his campaign offers.

Woman Guilty In Theft From Elder

Denise Cabrera booking photo from Ventura County Sheriff's Department

Lenny Roberts
An Oxnard woman is facing a possible six years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to fleecing a 74-year-old woman out of $2,211 in fraudulent credit card transactions. With respect to criminal acts, the California Penal Code considers anyone 65 or older an elder, and elder abuse can be physical, emotional or financial.
According to Theresa Pollara, Ventura County senior deputy district attorney, 29-year-old Denise Cabrera pleaded guilty Sept. 20 to one felony count of theft from an elder and four felony counts of fraudulent use of an access card.
The victim had reported that someone made 51 fraudulent transactions on her credit card after she had used it at the place of business where Cabrera was employed in July.
Senior Deputy Jim Desoto, a detective assigned to the Ojai Police Station, obtained surveillance footage showing Cabrera making fraudulent transactions at several retail establishments in Ojai, Ventura and Onxard, according to Pollara.
A subsequent search warrant executed at Cabrera’s home turned up items matching those made in the fraudulent transactions, Pollara said.
According to court records, Cabrera was arrested by the Ventura Police Department last year on a similar offense, convicted and sentenced to 180 days in jail.
Cabrera is scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 18 at 1:30 p.m. in Courtroom 12.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Council, Planners Meet On Chain Store Issue

Despite 24 public speakers, rare joint meeting ends with little consensus

By Nao Braverman
In a grueling four-and-a-half-hour roundtable discussion on how to protect Ojai from the proliferation of chain stores Wednesday night, Planning Commissioners and members of the City Council were sure about one thing, they did not want to restrict any service providers in Ojai, chain or not.
Though mixed in their opinions on whether to adopt a restrictive ordinance or just enhance the city’s planning codes, the governing bodies were both concerned about discouraging businesses that serve Ojai residents, namely banks, insurance companies and loan providers.
Despite the city attorney’s trepidation over the legal defensibility of restricting some chains while allowing others, most planning commissioners and council members said it was worth the risk, as services are a necessity for community residents.
The 11 constituents who participated in the joint meeting, however, were divided on whether they would like to ban chain restaurants or fast-food joints. Six said they were in favor of banning restaurant chains while five were not, and seven said they were in favor of banning fast-food outlets while four were not.
Mayor Carol Smith said she would support a ban of restaurant and clothing chains but Planning Commissioners Susan Weaver and John Mirk and Councilwoman Sue Horgan expressed interest in re-evaluating and strengthening current planning codes without imposing any restrictions at all.
Most of the constituents were interested in the idea of subjecting all incoming chains, except for services, to individual design review and public input. That way each chain could be evaluated on a case-by-case basis so as not to restrict chains that could benefit the community.
However, some public speakers and constituents agreed that solely a design review for incoming businesses would be insufficient.
“It’s not about appearance, it’s about quality,” said Ojai resident Dennis Leary.
Councilwoman Rae Hanstad agreed.
“What I am getting is that if it were a really good-looking McDonald’s, it would be OK. I don’t support that notion,” she said.
Hanstad and Planning Chair Tucker Adams were in favor of finding some way to protect the Arcade from chains.
The majority of public speakers, 16 of the 24 total, were in favor of imposing some kind of restriction, several were on the fence saying they didn’t want Ojai taken over by chains but were afraid of harming local commerce, and a few were completely opposed to imposing any restrictions at all.
In contrast to prior meetings, several proponents for a restriction against chains at Wednesday night’s meeting were prominent local business owners.
“I fear you are ignoring the convictions of many while listening to the wishes of a few,” said Hallie Katz, owner of the Human Arts Gallery, and Human Arts Home in the Arcade. “If mom-and-pop stores go the way of the dinosaur, and our Ojai Avenue becomes more and more like Ventura Boulevard in San Fernando Valley, tourists won’t want to come here … I implore you to keep the Arcade intact. I would love to see chains banned from the entire city but I understand that may be impractical.”
A consensus among five council members, six planning commissioners, two attorneys and 24 opinionated public speakers is a nearly impossible feat, especially when it comes to the topic of chain stores in Ojai.
But city staff walked away with some input to draft their next ordinance. City manager Jere Kersnar said the upcoming draft would be presented to the Planning Commission upon completion, though currently no date is set for when it will be completed.

Arundo Donax Removal Begins Near Dam

Contractors hired for the Matilija Ecosystem Restoration Project use a crane to see above the prolific stands of arundo donax

By Nao Braverman

The tall canes that surround the Matilija Dam are ruthless survivors. Though the arundo donax, known as giant reed, grows tall and majestic, enduring the canyon’s driest seasons, it spreads quickly, crowding out native plants and strangling vegetation that once fed and sheltered numerous species of wildlife.
Currently contractors have begun removing the highly invasive weed from Matilija Canyon as part of the Matilija Ecosystem Restoration Project. Efforts to bring native habitat back to the canyon area have been slowly progressing for the past 10 years, and are finally making headway under the lead of the Ventura County Watershed Protection District partnered with the Army Corps of Engineers.
The long-awaited eco-system restoration involves removal of the 59-year-old dam, the largest dam elimination in American history. Though the dam removal is still slated for 2009, contractors are already getting rid of the arundo along Matilija Canyon in an effort to make way for endangered steelhead trout and other species expected to thrive in the area once the dam is removed.
The highly invasive weed was introduced to California in the 1820s for roofing material and erosion control. It is being removed from the dam area to make room for grading, allow for sediment excavation so the creek will flow after the dam is removed, and for overall improvement of the surrounding ecosystem, according to Pam Lindsey, watershed ecologist for the Ventura County Watershed Protection District.
With a $5 million grant from the State Water Resource Control board, the government agencies are getting started, and spraying the arundo with glyphosate.
The herbicide has been found in water supplies and may cause health problems if found in amounts greater than the health standards set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, according to the agency web site.
Contractors will not be spraying over water in Matilija, and the chemical dissolves in a relatively short time if it does get in the soil because soil has microbes that digest it, said Lindsey.
The maximum contamination level goal for glyphosate has been set at 0.7 parts per million, and if the chemical did reach the water, it would be in much smaller amounts than the EPA’s maximum allowable levels, she said.
A recent study by researchers at the UC-Santa Barbara Marine Science Institute are currently looking into a natural arundo removal method involving non-native wasps. The tiny wasp species, tetramesa romana, can lay eggs in the stem of arundo plants, weakening the weeds and making them susceptible to fungus infestation and disease, according to Tom Dudley, a biologist at the institute researching for the study.
Though the tiny wasps, also found in the Mediterranean region, have recently been let loose at a study site where arundo grows along the Santa Clara River, they work much too slowly to be utilized for the Matilija Canyon project, said Dudley.
The wasps will be an important tool which can be used to prevent the spread of arundo in the future, said Lindsey.
Jeff Welch, a Matilija resident, suggested in a letter to the editor, using man power, rather than harmful chemicals to remove the cane, but Lindsey said that neither man power nor heavy equipment would be nearly as cost-effective as the herbicide.
About $1.5 million was used to complete wildlife surveys and map out more than 1,200 acres of arundo. The other $3.5 million is being used in the removal process.

Agency Presents Septic Tank Alternative

Ojai Valley Sanitary District setting up plan to help some homeowners hook up to sewer lines

By Daryl Kelly
The Ojai Valley Sanitary District is moving toward a new system to help some homeowners with failing septic tanks connect with the municipal sewer by spreading the $20,000 connection cost over 30 years and making repayment a property debt that could be passed on to the next owner.
“Those are the two benefits of this new system,” said John Correa, general manager of the sewer district, which serves about 8,400 customers from Ojai to the North Avenue area of Ventura.
The downside of the new plan would be that new sewer customers would have to pay several hundred dollars in initial administrative fees plus $1,612 a year for 30 years to pay off the $20,000 debt, if they kept their homes that long. That equates to $134 a month on top of the standard $46 monthly sewer charge.
But that’s less than the $183 a month, plus $46, now paid under the district’s current septic conversion program for a $20,000 personal loan, Correa said.
District directors approved this week a $35,000 contract with an engineering firm to study creation of numerous community facilities districts that could include thousands of Ojai Valley homes that now use septic tanks to collect and filter sewage, but could connect to the municipal sewer if homeowners wanted. These new districts could be as small as one house, while exempting houses on the same block that didn’t want the service, Correa said.
“The district board has made it clear they don’t want to force people to connect,” he said. “If the majority want it, we’ll help them do that. But we won’t force their neighbors to hook up.”
Areas that have dozens of septic tanks but could hook up, he said, include the Arbolada-Foothill area of Ojai, the Los Encinos area near Burnham Road, the Siete Robles area in east Ojai, the Five Oaks and Rancho Hills areas and parts of Meiners Oaks and Casitas Springs.
Proposals to extend the municipal sewer have historically gone nowhere in some of those areas. Three times since the 1970s, some residents of Los Encinos have asked the sewer district to extend service, but most homeowners have objected, Correa said.
More recently, some Arbolada residents asked about sewer extensions, but most residents adamantly opposed the plan. And after the 2005 floods in the Siete Robles tract along Thacher Creek, none of the residents favored a plan to include that subdivision in the sewer system because of the $17,000 to $20,000 cost per house, Correa said.
If operating properly, septic systems are a good alternative to sewers, he said. But septics can be problematic in high-density neighborhoods and if soils are not suitable or are wet.
“Septic systems can work just fine,” Correa said. “But they become less effective as density increases” or if the soil has too much clay or gravel.
Clay keeps the flow of wastewater from percolating and cleaning itself. Gravel allows the wastewater to flow so fast it doesn’t get clean and the waste winds up in creeks and rivers, he said. A “silty-sandy soil is probably the best,” he said.
Whether the septic is on a hillside or slope, or in a valley, is also a factor, he said. “For example, people on the upper Arbolada have no problems with septics, while on the lower Arbolada they have problems. And people on the hillsides of Los Encinos have no problems, while people in the valleys do.”
Correa said he expects the engineering firm — Harris and Associates — to report back to the sanitary district board within two months, and board action within three months. The board voted 5-1 on Monday evening to analyze the community facilities district option.
Director Bill Stone said he voted against the $35,000 study because he thought not enough thought had been given to that direction. And Stone, whose district includes Casitas Springs and Ventura’s North Avenue, said a district plan should consider lower-income homeowners who don’t have the assets to hook into the sewer even if their septic is failing.
“We’ve struggled with this issue for years,” he said. “And I think we’re getting closer to a solution. But we may not have something that works for low-income people.”
Director Russ Baggerly said he voted to pursue the new approach, but with reservations.
“I want to see the possibilities and the cost,” Baggerly said. “But I’m afraid this would be prohibitive for low-income families with failing septic systems.”
Correa said he had not yet heard any complaints about the new system not serving low-income residents.
But he said the new system would be far better than the old one, in which he discovered flaws after one of 19 residents with sewer connection loans filed for bankruptcy last December.
He found that the Sanitary District was only a “junior creditor” and would likely lose its loan money. The bankruptcy was canceled so the district’s money wasn’t lost.
But during the exercise, Correa said he found that state law did not directly authorize such loans from a government agency.
“This is the citizens’ money,” he said. “It isn’t an investment fund.”
So he focused on an alternative that has rarely been used by government agencies, setting up so-called Mello-Roos community services districts to provide improvements with the loans guaranteed by property owners. These districts were often used by developers in the 1980s to pay for infrastructure improvements in new subdivisions. They became notorious when only the early stages of those subdivisions sold as the 1990s housing depression set in, leaving those who bought early with huge debts.
But Correa said those problems don’t relate to what he’s doing here.
“Most (government) agencies don’t have such districts,” he said. “But it looks like a very viable program. It costs some money to develop this program (about $80,000), but we can use it like a cookie-cutter after we’ve done the first one.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Raptor Center Makes West Campus Move


Kim Stroud of the Ojai Raptor Center with Handsome, the turkey vulture

By Linda Harmon
The Ojai Raptor Center, a local nonprofit organization that rescues and rehabilitates wildlife for re-release, is expanding and moving to the West Campus of Help of Ojai.
“It’s been a long process,” said Kim Stroud, director and founder of the center, who hopes to be on the Baldwin Road site by the end of the year. The West Campus was granted a county conditional use permit on Sept. 6 clearing the way for the center to sign a lease and relocate from its previous smaller location on Burnham Road.
“We are very pleased to be partnering with the Raptor Center,” said West Campus director Lisa Meeker, who calls the center an incredible resource.
Stroud founded the center in 2000 and spent the previous eight years as a board member and co-founder of Wildlife Care of Ventura County. It was a call from Supervisor Steve Bennett that led to talks with Meeker.
“He has been a supporter for a long time,” said Stroud, adding Bennett and Meeker were instrumental in helping her attain the larger site, which will allow her organization to provide more services to more birds. “Their program is great,” said Becky Beckett, a Nordhoff science teacher who has used the center outreach program in her curriculum the last three years. “It’s one thing to tell kids something and another to show them real animals and what kind of things they can do individually to protect them.”
Beckett said Stroud brought in a recovering raptor to explain second-hand poisoning, and her class was later able to recognize that condition in a barn owl found in the adjacent Besant Meadow. “The gophers were eating rat poison set out on the property and the barn owl ate one of the poisoned gophers,” said Beckett. “Another live barn owl was circling above their heads to protect its dead mate.” Beckett said they contacted the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy and the poison was removed.
Stroud travels to more than 100 community events each year, setting up a raptor booth with materials and non-releasable raptors. She visits schools like Beckett’s, and nature centers with outreach programs, educating the public about environmental interconnectedness and the raptors’ place in the ongoing circle of life. They use the “ambassadors,” as she describes them, to explain behaviors, characteristics and essential roles each raptor plays in its habitat.
The center will soon be housed in the old swine gestation building, and use approximately four acres of surrounding area.
“We have a memorandum of understanding to operate through the California State Department of Fish and Game and through the U.S. Federal Fish and Wildlife Department,” said Stroud who must report annually to both agencies. “We have seven permits including those that allow us to show birds for educational programs and to band and track the birds.”
Stroud said it’s a lot of paperwork and data entry with 18 fields on one data sheet, but the increasing paperwork does allow the center to get assistance with bird testing and treatment.
“Tests for avian flu and metal toxicity are expensive,” said Stroud. “Now the National Center for Disease Control in Atlanta is even getting interested in our birds, and the state is helping fund the tests.”
The center staff includes a seven-member board and 70 volunteers, rescuing birds from Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Stroud’s husband, David, was recently added as the agency’s first paid staff member.
“He’s the one on call to transport the birds, along with feeding, watering, medicating and whatever else is necessary for their care,” said Stroud, who has kept her full-time job with Patagonia in Ventura. Stroud said Patagonia encourages their employees to get involved with environmental causes and has been very flexible allowing her time to do outreach programs.
Stroud says the center depends on its volunteers to keep it running, and donations and grants allow it to expand. Stroud recently received a $25,000 grant from an anonymous donor which is half of the estimated $50,000 center renovation price tag. Stroud said they have also just applied for a $40,000 grant from Southern California Edison after receiving smaller grants in the past.
The center is holding a benefit concert in Libbey Bowl “For The Birds III” on Oct. 7 featuring Jackson Browne and the local group “The Household Gods.”
Stroud invites anyone interested in volunteering to join them at the new Raptor Center location Sept. 29 8 a.m. to noon and bring water, hats and sunscreen. She especially needs welders, construction-oriented individuals and strong people to sink aviary pipes.
For more information call 649-6884 or go online at OjaiRaptorCenter.org.

Reel Life: Ojai Film Fest Coming

Stars align for 8th annual Ojai Film Festival, opening Oct. 4 with free ‘Moon’ screening

On Oct. 4 get up close and personal with the only human beings to have stood on another world. Ron Howard’s “In the Shadow of the Moon” brings together surviving crew members from every single Apollo mission that flew to the moon, and allows them to tell their story in their own words. This amazing documentary will be a free screening at Libbey Bowl Ojai on Oct. 4 at 7:30 p.m., to open the eighth annual Ojai Film Festival, running Oct. 4 through 7.
A rousing celebration of human endeavor, “In the Shadow of the Moon” is the ultimate adventure film. A definitive depiction of America’s exploration of space, it chronicles the history of the Apollo program, presenting a richly detailed and vivid re-creation of man’s first-ever lunar landing.
Gathering for the first — and possibly last — time the surviving crew members of every manned moon mission, the film allows these heroes to tell their story in their own words, and thrillingly illustrates their firsthand testimony with a treasure trove of footage, much of which has never before been seen in a feature film. The result is an intimate epic that distills all the danger, daring, promise and pride of an extraordinary era when the whole world literally looked up to America. Leonard Maltin of “Entertainment Tonight” exclaims, “Indescribably moving. One of the best films of the year! Don’t miss it.” David Ansen of Newsweek writes, “Astonishing! Stirring!” And John Schwartz of The New York Times calls it “Exceptional!”
Free tickets to “In the Shadow of the Moon” are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information about this screening or the Ojai Film Festival visit ojaifilmfestival.com or call 640-1947. Tickets for all events are on sale online now.
The Ojai Film Festival, with its mission of “Enriching the Human Spirit Through Film,” will also feature: Julie Christie appearing with a special screening of “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”; honoring of world-renowned cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “The Deer Hunter,” “The Black Dahlia”); tribute to the late cinematographer Lazslo Kovacs (“Easy Rider,” “Shampoo”) with his wife, daughter and biographer in attendance; honoring of film educator James Hosney, whom the Los Angeles Times called “the most influential Hollywood player you’ve probably never heard of”; filmmaking seminars with top industry icons; the Panavision Limelight awards for top student filmmakers with Bill Paxton as master of ceremonies; and the West Coast premiere of “Numb” with the film’s director Harris Goldberg and stars Matthew Perry and Mary Steenburgen in attendance.
The Ojai Film Festival is supported by producing sponsor KRUZ@ 97.5 and MAGIC 106.3 KMGQ (Santa Barbara) and directing sponsors Stella Artois, US Trust, TV5 Monde, and the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.
Highlights from this year’s Ojai Film Festival lineup include:
• “In the Shadow of the Moon” (opening night film), documentary feature. The surviving crew members from NASA’s Apollo missions tell their story in their own words.
• “Numb” (closing night film), dark comedy feature, starring Matthew Perry and Mary Steenburgen. A chronically depressed screenwriter (Perry) tries to cure his condition when he meets the girl of his dreams.
• “Kabluey,” comedy feature, starring Lisa Kudrow, Christine Taylor, Teri Garr, and Scott Prendergast (writer, director, lead). An inept man (Prendergast) comes to help his sister-in-law (Kudrow) take care of his holy terror nephews while his brother is off fighting in Iraq. The man takes a job as a giant blue corporate mascot to help make ends meet and hold the family together.
• “The Walker,” dramatic feature, starring Woody Harrelson, Lauren Bacall, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ned Beatty, Lily Tomlin and Willem Dafoe. Directed by Paul Shrader. An escort (Harrelson) who caters to Washington D.C.’s society ladies becomes involved in a murder case. A tale of moral redemption that takes the form of a mystery-thriller.
• “Taxi to the Dark Side,” documentary feature. Written, produced and directed by Alex Gibney (Oscar nominated for “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”). Examines the death of an Afghan taxi driver at Bagram Air Base from injuries inflicted by U.S. soldiers.
“War/Dance,” documentary feature, winner of Documentary Directing Prize at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Set in Northern Uganda, a country ravaged by more than two decades of civil war, three children living in a displacement camp compete in their country’s national music and dance festival.
The Ojai Film Festival is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and supporting the art of the motion picture.

Motor Home Citations Arouse Residents’ Ire

By Nao Braverman
Some Ojai residents treasure the leisurely vacations that their motor homes or trailers allow. To them the bulky vehicles spell out memorable road trips and time spent with family. Others in the community see them as a visual eyesore and a threat to property value.
The schism among neighbors was apparent as six indignant Ojai residents came to the podium at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to protest citations they received for parking motor homes on their own property. Several others came to tout the city’s code enforcement and encourage the citation of the “unsightly” objects in their neighbor’s yards. One resident offered to volunteer and aid the code enforcement officer in citing violators.
“I don’t agree with an ordinance that tells people what they can and can’t do with their property,” said Mary Hawn. “I think if they purchase their own home, they should be able to do what they want with it. There is little enough for young people with young people and their families to do here,” she said.
Longtime Ojai resident Beth Kaser said she would have to sell her house and move if she could not keep her motor home on her property. She could either park it on her street and move it every 72 hours which was not a safe option with such a large vehicle, she said. Other nearby storage facilities were full with long waiting lists. The closest available facility was in Oxnard and charged $200 a month. Other nearby residents echoed her concerns.
Many said they had purchased their property specifically because it had a special pad for trailers. Why then were they just now being asked to give them up, they asked.
Many complained that they had been unfairly cited while other Ojai homeowners remained out of compliance and undisturbed.
The Ojai planning and zoning code, however, does find such vehicles unsightly.
According the code, the front or street side setbacks (the distance a structure must be from the edge of a lot) “shall not be used for the storage of boats, garbage habitable trailers, junk, scrap, trash, utility trailers and similar equipment, items or vehicles.”
City manager Jere Kersnar explained that, as is customary in Ojai and many other cities, the building inspector only responds to specific complaints. Recently the inspector was called to a specific site in regards to one setback storage violation. In the interest of fairness, he cited several other homes in violation that he saw from that site, no more, no less.
As directed by the City Council, Kersnar agreed to itemize the issue of motor home storage for further discussion at a future meeting.
Bill Kendall, owner of the Condor Storage facility, had a solution. In less than two months he would have 95 to 110 available recreational vehicle storage lots with wash and dump stations at his facility on 324 Bryant Street, he told eager residents and council members.

Ojai Offering Day Of Peace

Weekend events include vigil, tent of reconcilation

By Nao Braverman
While stories in the news are rife with war casualties, violence and conflict between nations, religious, ethnic and political groups, Ojai organizations are offering a weekend of “living peace.”
Beginning on the International Day of Peace, established as Sept. 21 by a United Nations resolution in 1981, and lasting through Sunday, Sept. 23, local organizations will offer a weekend of peace-related activities and practices.
Starting with a peace vigil Friday evening and closing with a Bedouin-style reconciliation tent, where attendants can reconcile with family members, spouses or anyone they wish to ask forgiveness, the weekend event will host a movie screening, play, concerts and classes, all surrounding themes of peace.
“The emphasis is on how each of us as individuals can be an instrument of peace,” said Laura Whitney, president of The Ojai Foundation.
The impetus for the event was a conversation she had with Judy Gabriel, the director of Meditation Mount. Their idea was to create a Peace Day celebration, coordinated by Ojai’s many retreats, which encourages people to find the peace within themselves, to create a ripple effect, and begin healing on a universal level, said Whitney.
Initiated by The Retreats of Ojai, other organizations including the Ojai Interfaith Alliance, The Ojai Peace Coalition and The Gift of Peace Troupe joined in. On Saturday, Ojai retreats will have an open house tour offering various programs according to the specialties of each retreat. The Ojai Foundation will offer a “listening circle” under a 500-year-old oak tree and a tour of their environmentally sustainable campus. Meditation Mount will take participants on a walking meditation tour through its International Garden of Peace, serve tea, and open its meditation room for practice throughout the day. The Krishnamurti Retreat will open its library and screen a video of Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti speaking on “The Nature of Love.”
Other activities include a midnight wine tasting benefit offered by Casa Barranca, sunrise meditation, and chanting.
The event is by design non-political, non-partisan, and non-commercial, said Whitney. There is no charge for any of the weekend activities. A local performance of a “Gift of Peace” will be shown on Saturday at Libbey Bowl. The highly acclaimed monologue series was inspired by the campaign for a U.S Department of Peace, introduced by presidential candidate and Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich.
Coincidentally Kucinich will be speaking at the Ojai Retreat the afternoon of Sunday. The opening vigil for the event begins at 6 p.m. on Friday. More information is posted on the event web site at livingpeaceinojai.com.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Theater 150 Gets Prime Location

Performances moving to site of former funeral home

By Nao Braverman
The spacious downtown building, with high ceilings and stained-glass windows, could soon be staging various theatrical productions by Ojai’s Theater 150.
Chris Nottoli and Deb Norton, artistic directors of the local nonprofit theater company are eager to have a space where they can build a three and a quarter round stage and seat an audience more than twice as large as their current black box theater on 918 E. Ojai Ave. allows.
Pending on the Planning Commission’s approval of a conditional use permit for the property’s change of use, the company hopes to put on Christmas shows in the new location by early December. The lease is still contingent on the permission from the Planning Commission, however, said Jim Exon, owner of the property.
Originally built as a funeral home by the Clausen family, who held memorial services for Ojai residents for 71 years, the space is ideal for theater 150’s needs, said Norton.
The largest room could serve as a professional theater with space to seat 100 to 150 spectators. Another smaller room would fit a black box theater with about 40 audience members, close to the size of Theater 150’s current modest capacity, and giving the intimate feel of the theater’s current productions. Other rooms are the perfect size to host the theater company’s various classes, they said. Nottoli and Norton have even considered putting in a modular dance floor for dance lessons.
After 10 years in their cozy Ojai Avenue start-up venue, just far enough east of downtown Ojai’s center to be off the beaten path, Nottoli and Norton are thrilled to be expanding and moving to a prime location on the corner of Montgomery and Matilija streets.
Several months ago, after struggling to sell the funeral business, Jerry Clausen decided to sell the property to Exon, recognizing that in such a small town a private funeral home was not profitable enough to sustain. Knowing that Exon was a local resident who understood the community’s interests, he said felt comfortable leaving the property in his hands.
“I think the theater is a perfect example of what Ojai needs and wants,” said Exon. He hopes to see the area turn into a center for the arts and envisions the theater bringing more foot traffic to the downtown area, helping boost surrounding local businesses. People can have lunch downtown and then walk to the theater, he said. It could also offer entertainment for guests staying at the Lavender Inn just down the street.
Though the theater will need to make some interior developments to its new location, Nottoli and Norton expect the company to do most of the legwork themselves with the help of volunteers to save costs.
They are considering holding a contest for the new theater’s architectural design.
“We have been told that refurbishing buildings is the new trend in urban architecture, rather than tearing down and rebuilding, “ said Norton. Though the entire remodel is expected to take some time, Norton and Nottoli hope to make the new spot habitable in about three months.
If granted permission from the Planning Commission, Theater 150 will continue to lease the new property with the promise of eventual ownership. Such an arrangement would be a substantial improvement to their current month-by-month lease, said Nottoli.
The new space will be open to the public for viewing on Ojai Day in October. “Eleemosynary” which opens this evening at 8 p.m. may likely be the last chance to see a Theater 150 production in the company’s current intimate quarters before it moves to its new address.
An opening night gala after the first showing of “Eleemosynary” will start immediately after the performance at 10 p.m. at ARTicles gallery at 205 N. Signal St.

CMWD Rejcets Roney Mileage Claim

Casitas board rejects manager’s $61,000 in costs for commuting

By Daryl Kelley
Casitas Municipal Water District directors quickly rejected Wednesday a long-shot request by the district’s recreation manager for about $61,000 for driving his car to work from Los Angeles County since 2002.
Board members said Brian Roney’s claim for payment for nearly 158,000 miles he has driven from his Santa Clarita home to Oak View since he was hired just didn’t make sense.
“To my knowledge, there is absolutely no policy here to allow an employee to get paid for driving his own vehicle to and from work,” said board President Russ Baggerly before directors voted unanimously to reject the claim.
Roney, who is paid $118,000 a year to run the Lake Casitas Recreation Area, allowed that he hadn’t really expected the board to cut a $61,000 mileage check.
“This is a very unusual item,” he told the board. “I’m not going to be naive and say (I thought) the district was going to cut a check for the full amount.”
But he didn’t specify what he thought would be a fair amount to settle the dispute.
And later, in a brief interview, he said he was not surprised by the board’s decision. But he refused to discuss what he had expected the board to do. “No comment,” he said, before walking away.
Roney told the board that he was treated unfairly when he was neither assigned a district vehicle nor paid for his daily commute, while three other managers of similar rank and responsibilities were provided with district cars seven days a week.
“It may appear to be about money,” he said. “But it’s really about fairness and equity.”
But the board wasn’t buying it.
Director Bill Hicks said that since Roney was told when he was hired in April 2002 that he would have no company car, nor be paid for his 126-mile daily commute, he had no reasonable claim today for past expenses.
“To go back to the past, when you knew the car wasn’t included, I have a hard time with that,” Hicks said.
General manager Steve Wickstrum, who took over for longtime top executive John Johnson in June, told the board that he had just spoken with Johnson about his conversation with Roney when hiring him.
“All this was much to his amazement,” Wickstrum said.
According to Wickstrum, Johnson told Roney during the hiring process that even the general manager was not paid for his commute to work. “Johnson shared his story of driving from Simi Valley to Oak View every day. He did not receive a car nor did he receive vehicle mileage for travel from work to home,” Wickstrum said.
And Wickstrum told the board that it must be careful not to set a precedent by approving Roney’s claim that other workers could follow.
“God forbid we agree with that concept,” Baggerly agreed, “because there are people who have been working here for more than 30 years.”
Casitas lawyer Robert Sawyer said that, in genera,l U.S. Internal Revenue Service policy does not recognize travel from home to work to be a business expense workers can claim as a deduction.
By Casitas policy, employees are required to submit claims for mileage within 30 days. But Roney said he was not aware that he was eligible for mileage for his commute until he reviewed district policies in June, shortly after Wickstrum was appointed.
Roney now claims he should be paid for 157,852 miles he’s driven since April 2002, and for which he’s received no reimbursement. He said he was paid $1,358 for 2,799 miles he did claim while on district business.
But Wickstrum told the board that Roney had misread district policy and the claim should be denied since there was no specific reference to compensation for commuter miles in Roney’s contract.
The policy Roney is relying upon in making his claim relates only to district vehicles, not personal ones, and Roney has never been assigned a district vehicle, Wickstrum said.
But Roney cited two documents in making his case.
He maintained that when Casitas offered him a management job five years ago, the offer letter indicated that miles driven with his personal vehicle were reimburseable. Indeed that March 27, 2002 letter to Roney said: “You will be reimbursed mileage for the miles driven in your personal car ...”
But it makes no reference to commuting miles.
Roney also cites district policy as it relates to “Use of District Vehicles.”
That policy says that district vehicles will only be driven as assigned by the general manager. And it specifically recognizes that four top management positions, including Roney’s “are not limited to a 40-hour week.”
“With respect to these employees, travel to and from work shall be deemed to be official district business and vehicles assigned to each of these employees” can be used during off-duty hours and to commute to work, the policy says.
While Wickstrum argued that this policy pertains only to district vehicles, Roney maintained that it should apply to his circumstance because previous general manager Johnson denied his request for use of a district vehicle every year “due to disagreements with the previous park services manager.”
“At the last meeting I had with (Johnson), he directed me to ‘take it up with the new gm.’,” Roney wrote in a memo to Wickstrum.
Under board questioning, Roney acknowledged that he hasn’t been called in on emergencies very often. He also said that when he was called in, a district vehicle was available to him at the front gate of the recreation area.
Baggerly noted that if Roney were called in, he would qualify for mileage reimbursement. And, in fact, Roney said he had made such claims in the past.
Baggerly maintained that Roney was cobbling together various parts of district policy to try to make his case.
“In order to get any possibility of that,” Baggerly said, “you are going to have to squeeze together disparate sentences to try to make it work.”
And it didn’t, the board decided.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Affordable Housing Issues Return

Affordable housing, or lack thereof, back before council

By Nao Braverman
While Ojai has gained a reputation as a comfortable second home to Hollywood stars and retirees, many longtime residents have complained that affordable housing is growing increasingly scarce.
About five years ago, the Area Housing Authority set out to fill the needs of Ojai’s lower income residents by offering to build 50 affordable rental units on two acres of property on a Bryant Street lot neighboring Whispering Oaks, adjacent to the Soule Park Golf Course. But the organization was forced to drop the project last year because they could not secure enough funding to cover the building costs, even with substantial aid from the city, according to Douglas Tapking, executive director of the Area Housing Authority in the County of Ventura.
The project was swept under the rug for sometime, while the owner of the Bryant Street lot looked for another affordable housing agency to take on the project. In the meantime the two acres next to a storage facility behind Whispering Oaks remained vacant.
Recently Bill Kendall, the property owner of the Bryant Street lot, approached city planners with a new project proposal. He is now considering building a for-sale project, on the same vacant lot, with half of the homes to be affordable for moderate-income senior buyers of 55-years old and up. The other half are to be market-rate homes according to city manager Jere Kersnar. He had no further details on the project proposal and Kendall could not be reached for comment.
On Tuesday night the city council was scheduled to review the basic concept of Kendall’s proposal and whether the Redevelopment Agency would participate in financing the project.
When the nonprofit Area Housing Authority attempted to build the 50 affordable rental units in 2002, they were offered the property for about $600,000 said Tapking. At the time the city had set aside $500,000 to aid in the purchase but even then the construction costs were too expensive and there was a funding gap that the agency could not fill.
At the Tuesday night’s meeting, the City Council was also scheduled to discuss re-budgeting the $500,000 that had been set aside for the failed affordable housing project.
In a 2006 study, the grand jury noted that Ojai had not created any new affordable housing units for low-income housing that year although the city’s goal for 2006 was to build 25 affordable units for low to very low-income residents.
At that time the only affordable housing project being considered in Ojai was Kendall’s.
The grand jury’s study noted that Camarillo and Ojai were the only cities that had not added any affordable housing units for low income families.
In addition the Regional Housing Needs Assessment required Ventura County to allow for 28,481 total new housing units, 450 of those to be built in Ojai by 2114, as determined by the Southern California Association of Governments. The RHNA requirement is determined according to need based on current population statistics. It does not specify how many of those new units are priced, however, said Kathy McCann, Ojai’s redevelopment director.
The breakdown will be determined by Ojai’s housing element which the city is still working on, said McCann.
What has been determined so far is that 70 percent of Ojai’s residents are in the affordable range, which means anything from very low to moderate income.
An affordable two bedroom home for very low-income residents in Simi Valley sells for about $108,200 and slightly more in Camarillo, according to Rob Bruce, deputy director of housing and social projects for the city of Simi Valley. An affordable home for low-income residents is $166,000 for a two-bedroom home in Simi Valley and in the $200,000 range in Camarillo, according to Randy Richardson, housing program analyst for the city of Camarillo. An affordable home for moderate income residents costs $293,300 for a one bedroom and $334,700 for a two bedroom in Camarillo, according to Richardson.
The appropriate cost for what is considered affordable homes for moderate, low-income and very-low-income residents has not been officially determined yet, said McCann, though city staff is working on a document that addresses those prices. The exact breakdown of moderate, low-income, and very -ow-income residents in Ojai is also still being prepared, said McCann.
The median income for Ojai households is $44,593 according to Wikipedia.
Though the proposal addresses some housing for moderate-income seniors it does not offer housing to younger buyers or low-income and very-low-income families as was addressed in the grand jury’s report last year.
The $500,000 might be allocated to a future affordable housing project, if the council so wishes, but all nothing will determined until it is discussed by the council, said Kersnar.

Casitas Manager Seeks $61,000 For Mileage

Claim includes 157,852 miles for past five years of commuting to work

By Daryl Kelley
Directors of the Ojai Valley’s largest water district are set to consider today a rare claim by a top manager – that he should be paid more than $61,000 in mileage reimbursements for driving his personal vehicle to work from Los Angeles County since hired in 2002.
The Casitas Municipal Water District board will discuss the request of Brian Roney, manager of the Lake Casitas Recreation Area, who claims he was treated unfairly when he was neither assigned a district vehicle nor paid for his daily commute from his home in Santa Clarita.
Casitas employees are required by district rules to submit claims for mileage within 30 days. But Roney said he was not aware that he was eligible for mileage for his commute until he reviewed district policies in June, shortly after new district general manager Steve Wickstrum was appointed.
Roney now claims he should be paid for 157,852 miles he’s driven since April 2002, and for which he’s received no reimbursement.
“There was no intent to make this claim for personal gain, only that which was allowed by district policy,” Roney wrote to Wickstrum in a July 31 memo. “My claim is really about fairness and the equitable administration of a district policy.”
But Wickstrum, in a memo to the board, said Roney had misread district policy: “The claim is not valid and should be denied.”
“The reimbursement for expenses to travel between work and home are not provided for unless specifically referenced — there is no specific reference to that compensation in this case.”
The policy Roney is relying upon relates only to district vehicles, not personal ones, and Roney has never been assigned a district vehicle, Wickstrum reported.
“The board should also consider that their approval of the claim, or any compromised settlement, can lead to unintended consequences such as a precedent setting that will lead to the same type of mileage reimbursement claims, raise the question for others that use their personal vehicle to travel on a daily basis, and will undermine the authority given to the general manager,” Wickstrum wrote.
“None of these consequences should be acceptable to the district.”
But Roney, who makes $118,000 a year as recreation manager, cited two documents in memos to Wickstrum, in making his case for reimbursement.
He maintained that when Casitas offered him a management job five years ago, the offer letter indicated that miles driven with his personal vehicle were reimburseable. Indeed that March 27, 2002 letter to Roney said: “You will be reimbursed mileage for the miles driven in your personal car ...”
But it makes no reference to commuting miles.
Roney also cites the district’s policy and procedure manual as it relates to “Use of District Vehicles.”
That policy says that district vehicles will only be driven as assigned by the general manager. And it specifically recognizes that four top management positions, including Roney’s “are not limited to a 40-hour week.”
“With respect to these employees, travel to and from work shall be deemed to be official district business and vehicles assigned to each of these employees” can be used during off-duty hours and to commute to work, the policy says.
While Wickstrum argued that this policy pertains only to district vehicles, Roney maintained that it should apply to his circumstance because previous general manager John Johnson denied his request for use of a district vehicle every year “due to disagreements with the previous park services manager.”
“At the last meeting I had with (Johnson), he directed me to ‘take it up with the new GM’,” Roney wrote in his last memo to Wickstrum. “It was during the preparation of material to submit to you that I discovered that the wording indicates that I am eligible for mileage reimbursement.”
Roney also maintains that since district policy cites his job as one of four for which managers may use district vehicles to commute and for emergencies, he should have been assigned a vehicle, and now should receive past-due mileage.
“I am merely requesting that this policy be enforced fairly and evenly across the district, as my classification has been denied application of the policy by the general manager,” he wrote. “It could be construed that (Johnson) violated this policy by not allowing the park services manager ... to use a district vehicle as authorized by board policy.”
Roney requested that his claim be considered by the full board of directors.

Green Coalition Volunteers Show Up In Force

Meeting draws crowd of 125 to make Ojai model community for sustainability

By Sondra Murphy
Organizers of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition’s action meeting last Thursday were rewarded for their labors when about 125 people showed up at Chaparral Auditorium to sign up for committees. “I am so pleased to see everyone here,” Tim Baird, coalition president, told the crowd. “Our goal tonight is to begin to take action to help make our valley a model green community.”
The coalition currently boasts 300 members who want to take part in creating more earth-friendly practices from a local perspective. The coalition board showed a brief presentation, which recommended the organizational methods to be used for the evening and included its mission statement of the coalition in bringing together community organizations, government, schools, businesses and citizen of all ages to make the valley a model green community. “We are local, working on things in this valley, city and county,” said Baird.
The goals of the coalition are to improve the Ojai Valley by reducing carbon pollution, lowering landfill waste output, reducing gas, oil and electrical consumption and expanding the use of alternative energy options.
The action committees created as important in achieving those goals were food and agriculture; alternative energy; building and construction; environmental health; waste management; transportation; and water and land use. Attendees were encouraged to join the committee of greatest interest or expertise, then work within that group to form guiding questions, establish what kind of research was needed, and determine goals which included education, policy changes and direct action.
After each committee formed, volunteers became acquainted and were responsible for scheduling meetings at which members would eventually identify action steps needed to meet goals and implement a team plan.
In addition to those committees, the coalition has the need for community members to serve on four organizational committees: communication; coordination and evaluation; event planning; and fund raising. “These aren’t the committees that are changing the world, but without help in these committees, all the work you do out there won’t go anywhere,” said Baird. Participants are also welcome to submit other committee ideas.
To become a member of any Ojai Valley Green Coalition committee, sign up on its web site: ojaigreencoalition.org or call Vivian Browne at 798-7196. Committees are scheduled to meet as follows.
Building and Construction Committee will meet tonight at 7 p.m. in the Ojai Unified School District boardroom at 414 E. Ojai Ave.
Water and Land Use Committee will meet tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the OUSD board room.
Waste Management Committee will meet tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Oak Grove School, located at 220 W. Lomita Ave. There will be someone giving directions at the bottom of the entrance to the school.
Transportation committee meets tomorrow at 7 p.m. in Room 17 of Matilija Junior High. Directions will be available upon arrival.
Food and Agriculture Committee will meet Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at the old Honor Farm, a.k.a. new Help of Ojai West Campus on Baldwin Road.
Energy Conservation Committee will meet Sept. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at a location to be announced.

Forest Service Plan Alerts Local Activists

Los Padres proposal includes leasing Rose Valley to concessionaire

By Nao Braverman
Several local outdoor enthusiasts fear the proposed changes to nearby national recreation sites could mean more than just fewer Forest Service maintained campgrounds in the Los Padres National Forest.
In a recently completed recreational facility analysis, the Los Padres National Forest proposes to close two campgrounds in the Mount Piños Ranger District, expand and improve the campground at Rose Valley lakes and consider leasing the Rose Valley Campground to a concessionaire.
“Our goal is to do a better job of meeting forest visitor needs and make our facilities more financially and environmentally sustainable,” said forest supervisor Ken Heffner.
Out of the 108 developed recreational sites in the Los Padres National Forest, changes are proposed to 62 sites.
Locally that means leasing the popular Rose Valley, Lion campgrounds, Piedra Blanca and Johnston Ridge trailheads to concessionaires. The forest also proposes to remove the degraded facilities at Hard Luck Campground and Ozena Campground in the Mount Piños Ranger District, and return those sites to their natural condition.
The Mt. Pinos Ranger District campgrounds are being proposed for closure because they are rarely used and the facilities have not properly been maintained, according to Ken Kunert, the forest landscape architect for Los Padres.
Some recreational areas including Pine Mountain are recommended for longer closures during the winter season when they are rarely used, because the roads are unsafe, said Kunert. The exact span of closure has not been determined yet.
Kunert said that the forest was looking to lease campgrounds in Rose Valley to concessionaires because there needs to be more patrollers in those areas as they are frequently used. Leasing them to a concessionaire would make it possible to better maintain those facilities in an economically sustainable matter, he said.
Though the sites would be operated by an independent agency, they would still be owned by the forest, he confirmed. He did not expect that leasing to concessionaires would affect the price of recreational use.
Alasdair Coyne, conservation director for Keep the Sespe Wild, said he was concerned about the trend of closing down the more rustic campsites while improving those with the greater capacity for profit making.
“We are looking at one more step in the direction of the commercialization of our public lands,” he said.
Recreational facility analysis for national forests around the country is proposing the closure of between 3,000 and 5,000 recreational sites according to Coyne.
Though the ultimate goal, according to Kunert, is to improve the existing forest facilities in a sustainable manner, Coyne says that Congress should ensure more funding for national forests.
“Public facilities belonging to all Americans are at the risk of disappearing,” he said. “Preventing those losses will require Congress to ensure that recreation funding reaches sites on the ground, rather than being used up in administrative overhead.”
Public input on the Los Padres Recreation Facility Analysis is invited at the Ojai Ranger District Office at 1190 E. Ojai Avenue on Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Comments may also be sent to comments-pacificsouthwest-los-padres@fs.fed.us by Sept. 28.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Search Dog Founder Earns Purpose Prize

Wilma Melville, with Jem, left, and original search dog Murphy, at home in Ojai.

Wilma Video

By Nao Braverman
Wilma Melville, founder of the Ojai-based National Disaster Search Dog Foundation never underestimates the lifesaving potential of a mutt.
Now it’s her turn to be recognized for her rescuing work as she proudly accepts a $100,000 Purpose Prize award from the nonprofit group Civic Ventures, an organization serving older adults with a passion for service.
The $9 million program awards 10 $10,000 prizes to social innovators over the age of 60 and $100,000 each to five exceptional nominees, including Melville.
“I never won a raffle and here comes $100,000,” she said.
Unlike a lucky raffle ticket, however the Purpose Prize was an award hard-earned through Melville’s dedicated efforts to help dogs and people around the world.
A retired physical education teacher, mother and grandmother of four, Melville jump started the SDF in her mid-60s at an age when most people are slowing down.
It was a heart-wrenching but motivating trip in 1995 that planted the seed in Melville’s mind. She took her own trained dog to help rescue people from the wreckage after the Oklahoma bombings. It was then that she first saw how efficient the dogs were at finding buried victims and decided to start an organization of her own to train them.
Melville learned that some dogs were more suited to the task than others, mainly the energetic overzealous ones, always looking for something to do. Many such dogs, she discovered, could be found at shelters. She became expert at pairing the right dog with the right person and began fostering the development of a number of incredible search teams across the country through her organization.
Since its inception 11 years ago, the foundation’s search teams have helped rescue victims of numerous national disasters including the tragedy of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina.
But through it all, the organization’s staff has been commuting between a dog training facility in Gilroy, a handler’s dog training class in Camarillo and the Signal Street foundation headquarters.
With more than 160 advance search teams around the country now, the SDF has been planning the development of their own local training center.
Melville’s $100,000 prize will go toward kicking off the initial plans for the new center.
“It’s a very small start for a $15 million training center,” she said humbly. “But it will allow us to move forward on that.”
Foundation members recently found a perfect plot off Highway 126 between Santa Paula and Ventura in Wheeler Canyon. Less than a mile from a 40-acre parcel generously donated by the McGrath family, the plot is being purchased with money from the sale of the originally donated parcel, said Melville.
“The training center will allow us to have handlers come to our center from around the country get advanced training,” she said.
Named one of the 15 Purpose Prize finalists in late June, Melville discovered that she will be one of five other innovators to receive $100,000 out of more than 1,000 nominees.
Other final recipient seniors from around the country have started programs that save the lives of newborns, help keep foster home siblings together, integrate arts in academic curriculums, and improve the healthcare industry.
Finalists were selected by a team of accomplished leaders in journalism, politics, business and nonprofit, actor Sidney Poitier, Harvard professor and former presidential adviser David Gergen, and author Gloria Steinem among them.
SDF trainer Rick Lee heard abut the Purpose Prize and immediately thought to nominate Melville.
She will join other winners at the Stanford Center for Innovation for an innovation summit in November.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting the other finalists,” she said.
Wilma Video

Planners Hear Other Side Of Chain Reaction

Local business owners fear anti-chain ordinance would worsen Ojai economy

By Nao Braverman
The tables are beginning to turn in Ojai’s discussion on chain stores, as a new lineup of public speakers, namely local property and business owners express their concerns at the City Hall podium.
Their collective fears about struggling local commerce, and the blighting effect of vacated businesses downtown, put some planning commissioners on the fence over whether the city should adopt a chain store related ordinance at all.
“I don’t like people reaching in and taking the potential profit we could make,” said Don Cluff, owner of the Oaks at Ojai spa at Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting. Cluff was concerned that if his family ever needed to sell the business, it would be extremely difficult to get a proprietor that was not a chain to purchase such a large building as the Oaks. Most hotels nowadays are chains, he told the commission. If there was an ordinance in place that restricted chain businesses, he worried that it would make it very difficult for him to sell The Oaks if he needed to.
Elio Zarmati, owner of two small businesses, the Ojai Table of Contents bookstore and Feast Bistro, said he would welcome the competition of chains if they would fill the vacated buildings downtown.
“We are going to end up being a ghost town of boarded up stores,” he warned. “We don’t have the foot traffic we need in Ojai.” Zarmati said that he saw small businesses in Ojai dying and felt that something needed to be done to revitalize them.
Restricting chain stores however, was not the answer, according to Zarmati, as it might result in more empty storefronts, a sure sign of economic doom.
Ron Polito who said he turned down several chain businesses that showed interest in renting spaces in his newly redeveloped commercial center on Ojai Avenue, was not in favor of an ordinance that would restrict service chains.
“What if Kaiser Permanente wanted to open a clinic in the city?” he asked. “Would we want to turn them down? Polito also said that if the ordinance were to be made any stronger than currently proposed it would put his relationship with lenders in jeopardy.
Scott Eicher, chief executive officer of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce agreed.
“If construction lenders perceive Ojai as too restrictive toward business, they will not underwrite loans to build or remodel a business or building,” he cautioned. “Without these loans commercial property owners can’t make facility upgrades needed to keep pace with other destinations, or supply certain staples to our residents.”
Jim Exon, owner of nine properties in Ojai, wanted to know what the city would do if a corporate bowling alley wanted to come back to Ojai and fill one of the larger vacant lots.
Other business owners touted the foot traffic and healthy competition that chains could bring if set alongside privately owned shops in Ojai.
Meg Goodwin, owner of the Ojai House disagreed, however, telling commissioners that tourists would not come all the way to Ojai if it looked like another Burbank with chain stores on every corner. The vacated businesses were partly due to the rise in property values and increasing rents, she added.
The string of pleas were mostly opposing the crowd of public speakers who had attended the many previous city meetings in an effort to persuade decision makers to protect the community from proliferating chain stores.
Kenley Neufeld, author of the citizen’s initiative to regulate chain stores, said he was happy to hear from property owners but pointed out that they were probably the minority, because not everyone in town owns property.
Both sides agreed on one point. They did not want to restrict service chains, despite the city attorney’s warnings that such a distinction might not be legally defensible.
The planning commissioners in response to residents concerns, asked city staff to consider implementing a form-based code that would strengthen the cities already stringent building standards so that chain businesses might be allowed in, but would be required to conform with Ojai’s aesthetic style.
“Small-town character,” might be too vague, explained Commissioner Susan Weaver. More specific criteria such as specific height, architectural design and building material standards could help Ojai maintain its character without hindering its economy.
After hearing the property owner’s concerns Commissioner John Mirk said that he was ready to go return to his initial opinion, that the city might not need a chain store ordinance after all.
Commissioners readily agreed to invite the city council to their next planning meeting on Sept. 19 to have a combined commissioner-council member discussion on a chain store related ordinance. Commissioners strongly encouraged public speakers to attend.
In other planning news, the plans for an outdoor patio addition to Regals Wine & Spirits was approved with the condition that the owners return to the commission with an improved landscaping plan.
Joby Yobe and Jorge Alem, owners of the newly remodeled wine and liquor shop on 655 E. Ojai Ave. said that they plan to serve food in the back of the retail space that sells imported cheese, chocolate, and proscuttio ham as well as wine and spirits. Yobe said he hopes to sell salads, panini sandwiches and other appetizers in their indoor dining space before the end of the month. When the outdoor space is finished, the dining area will be extended to include a patio, he said.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Woman Alleges Assault, Robbery

By Lenny Roberts
A 22-year-old woman reported being assaulted and robbed Monday morning in the parking lot of a retail business in Mira Monte. According to investigators, the woman, a Ventura resident, said she stopped at the business on her way to her Ojai job at around 8 a.m.
Sheriff’s Senior Deputy Jim Popp said Tuesday the victim was approached from behind by two men who demanded money and took her purse. The woman also stated that she was hit in the head during the alleged robbery, but was unable to describe the suspects.
Popp said the woman then drove to her place of employment where a co-worker called the police. She was then transported to the Ojai Valley Community Hospital where she was examined and released.
“There is evidence and injury to support her statement,” Popp said.
Anyone with information is urged to call Detective Mark Burgess at the Ojai Police Station, 646-1414.

Fire Marks Story Of Loss, Recovery

Before firefighters declared containment on Sunday, the Zaca Fire burnt 240,000 acres, making it the second largest wildfire in recorded state history. Now the long process of recovery begins.

By Earl Bates
Effects of the enormous Zaca Fire will be felt for a long time, but the recovery is likely to begin soon.
Kevin Cooper, Los Padres National Forest wildlife biologist, says, “Of course, it affects all wildlife differently, but there are a couple of general statements you could make about the affects on wildlife.”
Many members of the wildlife community escaped being seared by the fire, but many didn’t. “And it depends on what we call wildlife, if you include all of the invertebrates, which is a huge portion of the living biota out there, it’s a lot more that’s being burned up.”
The wildlife that has survived the fire must now find suitable habitat in an austere landscape, and the flora is beginning a vivid natural cycle of regeneration and succession.
The Zaca Fire started on July 4 and was “contained” on Sunday, with full control anticipated by October. With a perimeter that encompasses an area of 240,000 acres, it’s the second largest wildfire in the recorded history of California.
“It’s going well, actually, the fire’s looking like it’s going to be in good shape.” said forest botanist Lloyd Simpson from his station at the Richardson Fire Camp. “We are still very cautious because of the history of how this fire has acted. We have some really nasty weather coming up with these 100-plus temperatures and very low humidities, so they are keeping quite a vigilant watch on it.”
The work of more than 3,000 firefighters has protected countless lives, dwellings and structures from the extensive Zaca Fire. About 40 injuries have been reported and one outbuilding is listed as destroyed.
The story of the loss, survival and recovery of the wildlife and plants that reside in the habitats of this Mediterranean forest is a window into the functioning of a fire-cycle ecosystem.
Ojai residents have been concerned about the welfare of the wildlife affected by the fire. What are the animals doing and where are they going?
“First of all, they are just fleeing the fire, so they are not headed anywhere except away from flames.” said Cooper. “Once it settles down, then they will be going into any kind of habitat that’s appropriate for them.”
Most of the larger wildlife had time to flee and avoid the flames, although some were unable to escape as the fire burned very quickly.
“Occasionally we see a deer or a bear get caught up in some heavy brush and may not make it, but it’s not that common.” Many of the small burrowing mammals and some of the reptiles and amphibians went underground and were probably protected, and birds flew, said Cooper.
The animals then just followed their senses. “A bear, for instance, can wander for miles and find unburned habitat that has the prey species, the plants and animals they need. They can sniff it out from miles away, they are pretty good about figuring that out.”
Some species like foxes and bobcats, and their prey, the wood rats, rely on having a lot of older, heavier brush nearby. So they may be more distressed than other animals from loss of habitat.
“Once they have made it out of the fire they are still not out of the frying pan,” said Cooper. As the various species try to locate suitable habitat, they probably encounter others of their own species already resident there, and other refugees. “There may not be room, in the ecological sense, for everybody to fit into the perimeter around the fire.”
Although individual animals have been lost directly to the flames and others have a diminished access to habitat, Cooper has not seen loss of any species. “If you are talking in terms of populations and not just individuals, then they are doing fine and they will reinhabit those burned regions when they regrow.”
But no complete census has been made. A number of rare species, including the California spotted owl, are know to have lived in the area of the Zaca Fire. “They didn’t lose their basic canopy cover of old growth timber in there, that’s still standing, at least on Big Pine Mountain,” said Cooper. “But whether the spotted owl still have their prey species and will go back immediately is unknown.”
Cooper and Simpson agree that one significant fact about this fire is its extra-large size. “But interestingly, there are still lots of unburned patches of forest, so it’s a mosaic,” said Simpson.
“I flew over it yesterday and I noticed a lot of the lower drainages where there are trees, vegetation is still there, it’s still green and it looks like it is going to survive,” he said. “The mosaic is really what we want, it adds a lot of ecological variety to the landscape, so we get a much bigger diversity of species. Where we had only a handful of plants we could have thousands after the fire. It’s amazing, it’s interesting to see that.”

Ojai Finally Cools From 110-degree Heat

Staying cool this Labor Day weekend, with daily temperatures reaching nearly 110 degrees, was made a little easier by the Casitas Water Adventure where vacationers and locals made use of the facility.

By Lenny Roberts and Nao Braverman
The scorching temperatures that for more than a week have turned Ojai into Blythe’s unofficial sister city have somewhat subsided, but only slightly.
As Hollywood descended upon Ojai’s new chapel of the stars for the Kate Walsh-Alex Young wedding, and softball players from all over Southern California flirted with heat exhaustion by playing in the annual Labor Day Classic softball tournament at Sarzotti Park, locals wishing for even a sprinkle of the cooling rain that earlier skirted Ventura County, instead, baked in oppressive temperatures.
The highest point was reached Saturday afternoon at 109.6 degrees, according to one of Ojai’s two official weather underground reporting stations. Sunday, the same station reported a balmy 107.4.
Though the overwhelming heat prompted a number of Ojai residents to run to local hardware stores to purchase fans and air conditioners, a series of utility failures kept them from using the new appliances for relief. Barry Bluhm, an employee at True Value said that about 95 percent of the store’s air conditioner and fan merchandise was sold over the weekend.
On Saturday evening, however, a eucalyptus tree branch came crashing down on a power line at the corner of Cuyama Road and Del Norte Road causing the power line to ignite. The outage lasted for about five hours for some Ojai residents.
Temperatures rose high enough over the weekend to melt two power lines in Meiners Oaks on Sunday. The first scorched line dropped around 7 p.m. on South Poli Avenue near El Roblar and the other subsequently broke an hour later on Mesa Drive between South Poli and Alvarado Avenue, said Bob Myers, fire captain for Station 22. Both were cleared and taken care of promptly, Myers said. Despite the ominous heat, for about an hour Sunday evening, some upper Foothill Road residents couldn’t even take a cold shower to cool off. The short water outage was due to a break in the main pipe which caused a pipe failure, said Frank Heldman, Ojai office general manager for the Golden State Water Company. The water was shut down so that a clamp could be put on it, he said.
Mira Monte residents and visitors sought relief in ice cream cones. Sales at the Mira Monte to Liz White, a Baskin Robbins employee. Ojai Ice Cream sold about 30 percent less than usual, on the other hand. Ojai Ice Cream owners Doug and Donna Rydbeck said that that fewer people were strolling through the Arcade than usual over Labor Day slowing down sales for most of the Arcade’s business owners.
Fewer spectators than ever left their homes to watch the annual softball tournament in Sarazotti Park.
Though 22 dedicated softball teams played the Labor Day Classic under the sweltering afternoon sun, about a third of the teams that came to last year’s tournament didn’t show, most left immediately after their games were over instead of staying to watch, said Rudy Torres, a tournament coordinator. Only half the number of fans as usual withstood the heat to watch their favorite players finish off, he added .
Many were smart to stay in and keep cool as several individuals were admitted to the Ojai Valley Community Hospital for heat related health problems, said Mike Ellingson, vice president of marketing for the Community Memorial Health system. Exact numbers were not available because of a computer glitch resulting from a power failure over the weekend, he said.
Though not expected anytime soon, thunderstorms can light up the evening skies this time of year, but measurable rain usually arrives in October. The Ventura County Watershed Protection District’s yearly rainfall totals begin Oct. 1 and end Sept. 30.
With just 6.58 inches of rain recorded at Fire Station 21 since Oct. 1, Ojai is nearing the end of the driest year since record-taking began in 1873. But when considering only .47 of an inch of rain fell between April 15 and Sept. 30, 2006 — that being on May 22 — the lack of rain becomes more staggering.
In the nearly 17-month span, the 8.05 inches that fell are far less than the 21.32 expected during the entire rainy season. And the drought-like numbers are even more alarming when compared with the second-rainiest year on record just two years ago, when Ojai reported 34.84 inches.
With area ranchers being hit with a 53 percent rate hike just last week, and Golden State Water Company’s recently approved across-the-board double-digit rate hike, more interest than usual is being placed on the upcoming rainy season.
Based on climatological forecasts prepared Aug. 16, the National Weather Service is predicting between normal and below-normal precipitation for southern and central California between October and April, leaning toward below average for the typically wettest months of January, February and March.
With the Zaca Fire safely turned away from the Ojai Valley, and plant moisture levels at critical lows, fire officials are now focused on preparation as the Santa Ana-aided brushfire season approaches.
The live fuel moisture content is lower than 50 percent in some areas of the Los Padres National Forest, much lower than the 95 percent norm, according to Mary Blair, a wildfirefire prevention officer for the Los Padres National Forest. Fuel conditions in Southern California are at record dryness levels and leave Ojai residents at high risk for fires. The fuel conditions are not likely to improve until the area receives significant rainfall, she said.