Thursday, December 27, 2007

Family, Friends Remember Kurt Brown

By Misty Volaski
Upon graduating from Nordhoff High School, joy faded and reality set in: I’m leaving friends who, for four years, had trudged on by my side through the tempest of drama and inside jokes and hormones that is high school.
My parents tried to quell my fears; it was perfectly normal, they said, to drift apart from high school friends. I refused to believe it.
Well, we did go off to college, where we did meet new friends. My “crew” moved to Morro Bay, Simi, Chico, Germany, Hawaii, Reno.
But get us together again, and everything falls into place: this one the comedian, that one the peacemaker.
Kurt Brown was our “Jolly Green Giant,” our “cheer-meister,” our patience and our pride.
Kurt passed away Dec. 22 in a motorcycle accident. He was in town from Cal State-Chico to visit family and friends.
He was a smiler, a genuine sweetheart. Raised by three women — mom Bonnie, and sisters Teresa and Sara — Kurt was sensitive and loving. “Equal parts Prince Charming and Evel Knievel,” said Teresa.
No matter how long it had been, Kurt would greet you by your high-school nickname — so few people call me “Mishie” these days — and wrap you in a triumphant bear hug. “I’ll miss that the most,” said longtime friend Naomi Eshoo.
Kurt was an inspiration — at 24, he was blossoming into an accomplished architect, just like he always said he would.
Journalist Chuck Palahniuk once said, “We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”
What Kurt created was simple love and kindness, as evidenced by these memories from friends and family:
• Mom Bonnie: As a little guy one of Kurt’s favorite bedtime books was, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always.” It’s a story about a boy who grows up to be a strong, loving and kind man. I would not trade any second I’ve shared with this incredible man. He changed everyone he met for the better.
• Sister Sara: Kurt is an example of an extraordinary person who “figured it out” early on. He lived so honestly and loved so completely.
• Friend Naomi Eshoo: Kurt taught me that the sun will always come out. His joy in life could only be eclipsed by his radiant, ever-present smile.
• Friend Amanda Franey: Whenever I was feeling down, sad or frustrated, he would always try to make me smile. He always saw the positive in life.
• Friend Tom Baughman: Kurt was a true genuine person that did everything from the goodness of his heart. I’ve never been one to follow any single religion, but I think that we all have a big guardian angel looking over us now named Kurt Brown.
• Friend Evan Folk: I remember Kurt showing me his office in Morro Bay, and his boss couldn’t say enough about how stoked he was to work with Kurt. He was a great friend.
• Friend Chad Mortensen: He was an amazing friend, wonderful roommate (in Chico). I was so proud of him, he pulled a 4.0 this semester. He was an incredible, kind, generous person, always ready to make a Taco Bell run.
• Friend Tiobe Barron: He was so kind and calming. I had more respect for him than damn near anybody.

The OVN Looks At The Year In Review

• A fire a neighbor said was caused by an overturned candle totally destroyed a residence in the 400 block of Buena Vista Street Friday afternoon, took the life of a family dog, and left two women relying on the American Red Cross for temporary housing.
• San Francisco Giants pitcher Noah Lowry and his mother, Laurie Lowry, are leading the charge and they are asking for the Ojai Valley’s help in Peggy Rose’s battle with cancer.
• The Ojai City Council and its frequent critics finally found something they could agree on: no more gravel trucks coming through Ojai.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting city planners presented a letter of comment to the Santa Barbara County Planning Department regarding the proposed Diamond Rock sand and gravel mine in Cuyama Valley
• The city of Ojai, proud of its “small-town” atmosphere, with many residents highly against growth, is now required to allow for the construction of 450 new housing units by 2014. Some of those are to be specified as affordable housing. The exact breakdown depends on the results of an income analysis by the Southern California Association of Governments which will determine the number of affordable housing units required, based on Southern California’s population growth and housing needs.
• Staggered by near-record low temperatures last weekend, Steve Barnard said he lost half of his 115-acre avocado crop and all 25 acres of his navel oranges along Highway 33 near Meiners Oaks — a $200,000 hit, at least. “The avocados are brown like fire went through them,” he said.
• The vacant Ojai Ford Dealership, blighting the city’s entryway for nearly two months now, was recently purchased by the Crown family, owners of the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, according to city manager Jere Kersnar.
Escrow closed yesterday and the dealership property now belongs to the Crowns, along with the nearby plot of land that once housed a spa store, and a vacant lot across from 33-150 Highway at Hermosa Road.
• Neil Patrick Harris and Steven Weber were among those who read from 10 plays for the Ojai Playwrights Conference Winter Gala, which celebrated its 10th anniversary performance at Matilija Auditorium.
• Retired Oxnard Police Commander and Ojai Valley resident Jamie Skeeters, who recently died while on business in Memphis, Tenn., was honored at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Meiners Oaks on Tuesday. Hundreds were in attendance for his funeral. Skeeters was an expert witness at several high profile trials, and was president of the California Association of Polygraph Examiners.

• New truck trips through the Ojai Valley from a proposed gravel mine in Santa Barbara County has raised the ire of many of the valley’s residents.
About 130 people, mostly from Ojai and some from the Cuyama Valley area near the location of the proposed mine, gathered at the Chaparral Auditorium to discuss ways to prevent the possible increasing truck traffic on Highway 33.
• Humane Society of Ventura County officials, local sheriff’s deputies, County Building and Safety and Adult Protective Services were on scene as more than 200 rats were removed from a Meiners Oaks home. Officials reported also at the home were 29 rabbits, and several cats, roosters and chickens.
• Golden State Water Company has applied to the Public Utilities Commission for a revenue increase in its Ojai service area. GSWC wants to raise an additional $1,432,900 in 2008, which, according to PUC project manager Victor Chan, would mean an increase in customer rates of 45 percent.
• As city officials consider banning chain stores in Ojai’s historic downtown, chain restaurant owner Dan Burrell wonders whether he should have ever opened a Jersey Mike’s sub shop near the city’s centerpiece Arcade last June.
• Serious crime in Ojai rose to the highest level in more than a decade last year, as auto burglaries and business break-ins surged, but criminal violence remained low despite an uptick in youth gang activity, according to a new police report.
• If Ojai’s skate park were ever in danger, there is no question that local skateboarders and several proud parents will stand ready to defend it, as shown by the unusually youthful presence which filled the council chambers for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
• In what authorities are calling a gang-related act of violence, an Oak View man suspected of shooting 25-year-old Hugo Guerra Friday afternoon on Drown Street was formally charged Tuesday of assault with a deadly weapon and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle.
According to a statement released by major crimes investigator Sgt. Gary Hess and information gathered by the Ojai Valley News, Guerra was stopped in his vehicle in the area of Drown and Oak streets late Friday afternoon when a black Nissan pulled up next to him. Following a verbal exchange, Jimmy Villalpando, 24, allegedly fired two shots through the windows of Guerra’s Chevy SUV, striking Guerra twice below his left armpit. Villalpando, according to the report, fired from the passenger seat of the vehicle.

• John Johnson, general manager for Casitas Municipal Water District, has officially retired. On Wednesday, the CMWD board of directors recognized Johnson’s 18 years of service by presenting him with a resolution.
• Two years after a devastating flood nearly closed its popular Ojai golf course, the county of Ventura has requested bids for operation of the Soule Park links in east Ojai.
County officials say the request for new management proposals is not the result of the steep drop in play at the tougher, reconfigured Soule Park course, or the county’s inability to make much money at the facility since floodwaters in January 2005 prompted $4.1 million in repairs and reconstruction.
• After a year of careful budgeting and frugality, the city of Ojai received an audit report which showed it was well on its way to rebuilding its previously squandered reserves.
• Golden State Water Company faced over 100 hostile customers and a barrage of questions on Monday evening at the Chaparral School Auditorium.
The purpose of the meeting was to give the community a chance to discuss Golden State’s most recent Public Utilities Commission application for rate increases. If approved by the PUC, rates will go up in 2008 by about 44 percent, a raise that is expected to yield GSWC a revenue increase of $1,432,900 in 2008.
• Because Mark Ditchfield was involved in so many aspects of this community he loved, it is no surprise that many people are grieving his death this week.
“We lost a great friend,” said Kevin Hendrick, who has known Ditchfield since junior high school and has a lot of fond memories of his time spent with Mark and their buddies. “You know what we liked about the ‘Big Ditch?’ Everything.”
• The county Board of Supervisors’ decision this week to allow construction of a $2.5-million bridge across San Antonio Creek was a dream come true for residents along rural Old Creek Road near Oak View, who for decades were forced to forge the flood-swollen creek to reach Highway 33.
• A troubled Ojai neighborhood’s search for solutions for gang violence moved to a public forum Wednesday night, as the Police Department fielded questions from members of a frightened, frustrated and quietly angry community.
“It’s important that the community take a stand,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Bruce Norris, discussing a second gang-related shooting in six months. “If we sit back and look out the blinds, they’re going to take over. Police can’t be effective by themselves.
•Nine-year-old David Smith, just tall enough to peek over the podium at the Ojai City Hall Council Chambers, was among 11 Gridley Road, San Gabriel Street and Grand Avenue residents of all ages, who spoke at the council meeting Tuesday night.
The slew of Ojai’s East End dwellers was there to dispute a proposed detour that would divert Highway 150 traffic onto Gridley Road and Grand Avenue while the San Antonio Creek Bridge is being reconstructed next year.

• Local attorney Cathy Elliot Jones filed a $10 million claim with the City of Ojai for “egregious, wrongful and illegal actions” on the part of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department during a city Council candidates’ forum sponsored by the Ojai Valley News and Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce last October.
The claim was processed by the city on Monday.
Jones claims she was wrongfully seized by Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris, a Sheriff’s Department employee.
• One of the Ojai Valley’s driest winters in recorded history has prompted its principal water agency to begin planning for a prolonged drought and to start a $150 rebate program for replacement of old, water-wasting clothes washers and toilets.
“This could be the driest year since 1877 and the second driest in our records, which began in 1867,” said Ron Merckling, spokesman for Casitas Municipal Water District.
• With more than 20 years of service to the city of Ojai, Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Joe DeVito was given notice Tuesday that a recall petition, initiated by Ojai resident Sean Keenan, was in the works.
The petition is based on DeVito’s alleged blatant refusal to act on the concerns of constituents; his “failure to manage, analyze and address the complex issues that face the city of Ojai,” and his “failure to protect the character of the city of Ojai,” according to the notice.
• Operators of the Ozena Valley Sand and Gravel Mine requested that the Ventura County Planners complete an entire Environmental Impact Report for their mine expansion on Wednesday.
Ozena’s owners and operators, Tony and Michael Virgilio, whose mine expansion would invariably increase truck traffic along Highway 33, have been receiving heat from Ojai residents and decision makers since the mine expansion was proposed.

• The line of cars waiting to turn off Bryant Street onto Ojai Avenue at rush hour is getting longer as new developments spring up in the Bryant Street industrial area.
Commuters are frustrated and Bryant Street business owners worry that the increasing traffic has degraded the already-questionable safety of the intersection.
• A temporary moratorium against formula retail stores was finally adopted by the City Council at Tuesday night’s special meeting but not without some mudslinging from both sides of the podium.
• Dave DiTomaso, owner of the Subway sandwich store in Mira Monte confirmed that he decided not to lease the Matilija Avenue space formerly occupied by Howie’s yesterday afternoon.
• With the goal of bringing the community together for a dialogue about making Ojai a more environmentally friendly community, the Ojai Valley Green Coalition held a summit on Saturday at Matilija Junior High School. Ken Wright and Tim Baird founded the coalition. After individually viewing “An Inconvenient Truth,” each man felt compelled into action.
• The group of Ojai residents who call themselves the Citizens Petition Committee announced Monday that they have stopped gathering signatures to recall six-term councilman, Joe DeVito.
“We feel that with the council’s vote on the formula business moratorium, Mr. DeVito has finally begun to represent his constituents on this important issue, “ said Sean Keenan, a representative of the group.
• With fond memories and farewell wishes the city of Ojai will be losing two valuable staff members this summer. Doug Breeze, director of Public Works for more than four years, and Carol Belser who has been directing the Recreation Department for almost 15 years, both gave their notices earlier this month and will be leaving before the end of summer.
• How times have changed. Being born in Ojai’s hospital is now only on an emergency basis, and few, if any of us will be buried in Nordhoff Cemetery. Although you can still die here, funeral arrangements will have to be made elsewhere because, despite the aging of Ojai, Clausen Funeral Home is closing its doors Thursday after 71 years of operation.

• After allegedly displaying a black semiautomatic handgun, a man suspected of robbing the Mid-State Bank Ojai branch Tuesday morning fled on a blue mountain bike on Maricopa Highway, according to Sgt. Billy Hester.
According to the report, the suspect approached a teller and demanded cash. The teller complied and gave the suspect an undisclosed amount of cash.
• The Ojai Valley’s principal water agency searched the state for a new top administrator before settling this week on a homegrown engineer, Steven E. Wickstrum, as its permanent general manager.
• Even before the Ojai City Council voted to extend their temporary moratorium on chain stores Tuesday night, Subway owner Dave DiTomaso decided not to open a Subway in Ojai after all.
• Since the end of May a team of about 12 young people ages 14 to 21 have been hard at work clearing away brush to protect Ojai during what has been predicted as one of the worst fire seasons the valley has ever seen.
With a grant from the U.S. Forest Service through the California Fire Safe Council, and $50,000 in matching funds from the city of Ojai, the Ojai Fire Safe Council is constructing the Ojai Valley Last Defense Fuel Break.
The fuel break, a safety zone with highly flammable growth patches cleared away serves as a buffer to slow down advancing flames, giving fire fighters more leverage, said Wally McCall, a co-founder of the Ojai Fire Safe Council.
• This year’s winner of the Ojai Valley Pageant, Olivia Gandy, is a stellar athlete. Though she looks stunning in a sparkling blue evening gown, Gandy was playing sports right up until the contest, said the pageant coordinator, Nancy Hill-Hinz.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Friends Gather At San Marchi Memorial

Rosa and Anna San Marchi remember their father at Saturday's memorial.
Photo by Rob Clement.

By Sondra Murphy

At a Saturday gathering at a private home in Ojai’s Arbolada, stories of courage, wit, loyalty and rebelliousness were shared about a man who meant a lot to many in our community. About 100 diverse friends and family members came together for a memorial service in honor of Jeffrey W. San Marchi. editor of the Ojai and Ventura Voice bimonthly newspaper, San Marchi died of a heart attack Dec. 23 after collapsing while delivering papers in Ventura.
Several speakers referenced San Marchi’s commitment to his publication and the tenacity he possessed. “Jeff would be blown away by this,” said friend Ray Alpern, who added that news of San Marchi’s death had made it into many western publications. “I think he would be amazed by the reach he had.”
Friend and contributor Helen Yunker read “A voice has been silenced,” which she wrote about San Marchi. “Jeffrey’s death was a shock to many in the community, she said. “He was delivering his last issue when he died, making the last deadline.” Yunker called San Marchi a true and loyal friend. “Your voice may be silenced, but the effects of your journey on this earth will always be felt.”
Ron Ellis Smith said, “All of us who knew Jeff probably knew him differently. To me, he was Mad Dog San Marchi.” Smith spoke about his friend’s passion for photo ops and how he loved creating funny pictures for the Voice. “He disliked the actions of people in the community, but I don’t believe Jeff had a mean bone in his body.”
“In Jeff I feel I met a kindred spirit,” said Cathy Elliott Jones, adding that she and San Marchi argued a lot. “We once had a heated exchange about punctuation,” said Jones. She also complimented his ethics. “Jeff could not be bought. His integrity was not for sale.”
“He never kissed anyone’s ass,” said friend Dr. Peter Milhado. “Not from the right or the left and not for profit. He was a relentless warrior for freedom of speech and freedom of the press.”
Brother Steve San Marchi thanked those in attendance for recognizing San Marchi’s “dedication to the community via the Voice.” Steve San Marchi said that his brother’s two daughters, Ana and Rosa, were the joys of his life. “I am very proud of my brother. I only wish he had heeded advice to take better care of his health.”
Ron Rowe is another longtime contributor who called San Marchi his friend. “For some odd reason, we resonated together and we never knew why. He called me a stiff upper-lipped Englishman and I called him my wild colonial boy.” Rowe, too talked of having frequent disagreements with San Marchi, but always parting on a good note. “He left us quickly and quietly: the way I know he would choose. Jeff, old son, I miss you and will continue to miss you as all the days, months and years go by.”
Michael Kaufer addressed San Marchi’s sharp wit and impeccable moral standards, calling him “A lamb in wolf’s clothing.” Kaufer told how the Voice was started by a few supporters after the Ojai Valley News was sold in the late 1980s, and San Marchi suggested that, “Maybe Ojai needs another paper.”
Kaufer said that there was a lot of support for an alternative newspaper and, after a successful benefit, San Marchi agreed to become editor. “He was the right person to do it,” said Kaufer. “He was the driving force.”
Daughters Rosa and Ana San Marchi addressed the crowd near the end of the memorial and said they were impressed by the turnout. “We didn’t know what to expect because we didn’t know how many people in town still liked him after all these years,” said Rosa San Marchi. She added that few people are able to live their lives doing what they love like their father did. “In the last few days we’ve realized what a voice he had in Ojai. Dad, wherever you are, we hope you’re causing trouble.”
“What a great guy,” said Jonathan McEuen about San Marchi. “What a great support to people all over. I just want to sing one for him and say thanks.” With that, McEuen played guitar and sang “Amazing Grace.” He invited everyone to join in, which they did.

Neighbors In Need Get Helping Hand

Marcela Crawford, back right, and family sit with Santa on Sunday during an early delivery to the Meiners Oaks family

By Sondra Murphy
Instead of the usual secret Santa exchange, staff at the Ojai Valley News decided to find a local family that could use a little extra holiday cheer this season. We knew we had found the perfect candidate to sponsor this Christmas when we learned about Marcela Crawford.
Crawford’s kidneys began failing with the birth of her last child, now 8 years old. In February 2005, Crawford started dialysis treatments at Santa Paula Dialysis. She currently goes for dialysis three times a week for at least four hours per treatment. “I know the machine is keeping me alive, but there’s no freedom in my life,” said Crawford. “It’s an oxymoron: it gives me freedom, but it’s like a ball and chain.”
Crawford experiences pain and lethargy after her dialysis, but tries to perk up by the time her children get home from school. Mother of six, Crawford has three still at home: daughter Heidi, an 18-year-old Ventura College student; and two sons, 13-year-old Dakota and 8-year-old Cade. Her daughter, Ginger, has three children of her own to raise. Eldest son, Andrew, is a Forest Service Hot Shot who has been on recent fire crews. Braun is 19 and works in construction as the market allows.
Her medical condition has been hard for once-active Crawford to adapt to. “For the first year-and-a-half, I couldn’t get out of bed,” she said. “So I went from ‘Miss Activity,’ having a great time to, I’m totally in bed and waiting for a transplant.”
She drove for Ojai Trolley for 10 years and enjoyed the social interaction that was part of the job. “I loved the kids and the people,” said Crawford. “As a driver, I got to know them and I really miss them.”
Crawford lost her insurance benefits after her kidneys failed and was placed on state assistance. Social Security and child support for her youngest children helps a bit. “I get $100 a month for food. I’m not allowed to get food stamps because I get SSI,” said Crawford. “All the money we make is not enough to pay rent.”
The loss of her paycheck has been challenging to overcome. She lost the house she had just bought during the storms of 2005. FEMA helped get her into another place but, once there, the emergency agency offered no other help. “I’ve been evicted three times since this has happened and that’s embarrassing,” said Crawford. “You find out who your family is and friends are.”
One good friend is Carol Yates, who helps Crawford with transportation. “She’s been taking me to dialysis because my vehicle is history,” said Crawford. “I feel bad but she’s like ‘shut up, I’m taking you.’” Crawford feels fortunate to have a friend like Yates. “Carol rocks, bottom line.”
On a fixed income herself and with a part-time job, Yates does what she can to help. To cover the cost of the trips to Santa Paula, Yates collects cans to recycle into gas money. “Whatever I don’t use for gas, I give Marcela for food,” said Yates, adding that she is happy to assist her friend. “It’s my blessing to do it.”
Another source of support has been Crawford’s parish at Church of the Living Christ. She says that Pastor Ron Triggs and the church’s faithful have been extremely helpful to her children and herself. Among other things, the church got Crawford a stationary bike to help her keep active. “We’re her family,” said Triggs. “It’s our joy to help her and her children out. She’s very outgoing and creative. She’s been a blessing to our congregation.”
Crawford does as much as she can to try to generate income. She has made jewelry for years. “I started fooling around with earrings when Andrew was born,” she said. “Now I make crosses, floral arrangements and do interior decorating, but have to keep it minimal. My mind’s one thing, but my body’s another,” she laughed.
Laughter is one thing Crawford has plenty of. “I have a great sense of humor, that’s what gets me through. You find little things to laugh at. My daughter’s like ‘that’s embarrassing Mom’ and I’m like ‘you know what — it’s getting me another mile here.” Crawford stopped to clarify. “Really, my daughter complains about nothing. She’s staying local to help me, but wants to go to an academy of art in Los Angeles or San Francisco.”
Her personal struggles have made Crawford more aware of the plight of single moms and she harbors a desire to help create some kind of organization to help others who find themselves in similar situations. “I love the community so much, I would like to start something for single women to help them overcome the hardships,” said Crawford.
As her family assembled around her this Christmas, the love and devotion rang loud and clear during the celebration. Santa Claus even showed up to deliver gifts gathered from the community. “I’m so elated,” said Crawford as Santa mingled with the children. “This is helping so much.”
Community businesses and individuals who generously contributed to Crawford’s Christmas are as follows. Rick Downard scheduled Santa’s appearance. Earthplay Eco Store, The Oaks at Ojai, Ojai Creates!, Ojai Surplus and Westridge Market donated gift certificates. Chef Marcus Hollingsworth and the Pierpont Inn prepared Christmas Eve dinner and donated other tasty treats.
The Ojai Valley News and its employees donated cash and collected contributions. Jack van Furche and John Stergen at Performance Bikes of Ventura donated bicycles. Zeb Dunn, Jody Keller, Capt. Chris Lathrop, Commander and former Ojai Police Chief Gary Pentis and Rick Wright of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department collected donations for those bicycles. “That’s what’s good about getting older,” said Lathrop. “You realize it’s more fun to give than to receive.”
There were several donors who wished to remain anonymous.
Other than a new kidney, Crawford needs reliable transportation and a rental she can better afford, especially considering the house she is renting is for sale. The OVN thanks all who gave from their hearts and wallets to demonstrate true Christmas spirit to Marcela Crawford and family.

Below, Marcela Crawford and Santa, and the extended family outside their home after Santa delivered new bikes to Cate and Dakota, provided by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department and Performance Bikes of Ventura.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Inspectors Give Clean Bill To Former Rat Site

By Sondra Murphy
A county inspection of a Meiners Oaks property neighbors have long pointed the finger at as the cause of a rat infestation has recently been determined to have no active violations.
Stephen Alary of the Ventura County Zoning Enforcement Division inspected the premises on El Conejo Drive on Dec. 13 and found the family to be in compliance with requirements concerning their rabbit rehabilitation facility.
Tracy Vail, of the Ojai Humane Society, was also present during the inspection. Both Alary and Vail found the scene improved and told OVN that the Essel family appears to have worked diligently to meet the standards imposed by the county during ongoing investigations.
Catherine Essel was preparing for a pickup from Wee Companions over the weekend and had the allowed number of domesticated rats awaiting the rescue. Vail confirmed that volunteers from Wee Companions retrieved more than 50 rats over the weekend. “They said they will go back in January,” said Vail, “and they are taking the rats to rescue groups in Las Vegas and Arizona.”
Because Essel participates in rabbit rehabilitation, she said extending those efforts was natural and she was surprised to find rat rescue facilities existed. Essel set the record straight that she is not operating a rat rescue, as reported incorrectly earlier.
“The perception is that, because we have some empathy for them, we are the cause.”
Neighbors and OVN bloggers have questioned the claim that abandoned rats are wanted by anyone, but those who have had pet rats can attest to their sociable qualities. A brief internet search will produce web sites for organizations that rescue rats in order to place them with people wanting them as pets.
By all official estimations, the rats in question either escaped from or were abandoned by someone in the vicinity. According to the Rat Fancy Society, domesticated rats have about a three-week gestation period, so even one pregnant rat can become many in a short period of time. Those babies, called kittens, reach sexual maturity at about 5 weeks of age.
After inspecting the Essel property, Vail took a look at adjacent lots. “I talked to the neighbors to make sure there’s no rotten fruit, bird feed or extra junk,” said Vail. “They’ve been clearing all the ivy. There is no place for rats to come feed.”
Having just a handful of residents working to eliminate the rats while the rest continue creating incentives for rodents to stay put is an inadequate remedy. “Part of the problem is neighbors throwing bird seed out in the street,” said Alary.
Dr. Robert Levin of the Ventura County Health Department dismissed concerns about health risks posed by rats. “Historically, we don’t have very many instances in the county of rats causing outbreaks of disease,” said Levin. This helps explain the county’s lack of rat abatement resources.
While caution should be exercised when cleaning up rodent droppings, the potentially deadly hantavirus is most often linked to deer mice, not rats. “Rats are never carriers of rabies,” said Kathy Jenks, director of the county’s Animal Regulation Department, rejecting several residents’ vocalized concerns about that virus. “The No. 1 carrier or rabies in this county is always going to be bats. Second are skunks.” Jenks said that other host species of rabies vary from year to year and may include foxes and raccoons.
“Ivy and ice plants are rat hotels,” said Jenks. “Rat spas are palm trees.” Jenks also emphasized removal of junked cars and items around yards.
All county sources contacted about this rat overpopulation agreed that, to solve the problem, a joint effort is required by the community. The Meiners Oaks Community Forum next meets Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Church of the Living Christ, 190 E. El Roblar Drive. To request the rat infestation issue be placed on the agenda, visit

Ojai Nearing Cap On Taxes

$23.2 million cap on Redevelopment Agency might strand several projects

By Daryl Kelley
Faced with a daunting array of planned projects, Ojai’s Redevelopment Agency must instead focus next year on how it can continue to refurbish the city’s core as the agency approaches a cap on how much it can collect in property taxes.
Since its founding in 1972, the Redevelopment Agency has captured about $18 million in property tax that would otherwise have gone to other government entities. But, with soaring property values during the last decade, the agency is now approaching a $23.2-million cap on how much it can collect.
That means that by 2012, the agency could be effectively out of the redevelopment business, and city would be hard-pressed to find another source for the $1 million a year the agency collects.
In a recent report to the City Council, Redevelopment manager Kathy McCann raised concerns about the cap:
“Because this is an important issue for the Redevelopment Agency and its future,” McCann wrote, “staff would like to come back soon after the beginning of the year to outline the ‘challenge’ in more detail and provide options to the Agency Board (City Council).
“At that time, staff may recommend curtailing future capital projects that have been outlined in the Five-Year Implementation Plan in order to ensure that agency debt repayment occurs.”
City manager Jere Kersnar met recently with a top redevelopment lawyer to begin a search for a way to get around the cap, if the City Council decides that is what it wants to do.
Kersnar said his meeting with attorney Murray Kane of Los Angeles resulted in a possible way to extend Redevelopment Agency collections for a few more years.
Kane, whose firm represents dozens of cities around the state, said he thinks Ojai’s collections cap may apply only to its original redevelopment zone — its aging core, which stretches several blocks in all directions from the city’s centerpiece Arcade.
Two newer, smaller redevelopment zones for east and west Ojai Avenue and Bryant Street may not have been included under the cap, Kane told Kersnar.
That would mean that enhanced property taxes resulting from new projects in those two areas could still be funneled to the Redevelopment Agency instead of going to local, state and educational organizations that would otherwise get that bump in taxes when properties are improved and values increased.
These two smaller redevelopment zones cover a half-mile stretch of Ojai Avenue east of Fox Street, including frontage of the Golden West Tract and the Bryant Street business and industrial area. They also include a strip along west Ojai Avenue from Country Club Drive almost to the “Y” intersection.
These two newer zones comprise about 76 acres, compared with the original downtown zone of 159 acres.
The Redevelopment Agency has already planned to place power lines along those strips underground. But there is no money for such projects now. Another key project for Ojai Avenue would be renovation of the old bowling alley site at Golden West Avenue.
Kersnar said he has seen placing utility lines underground lead to explosive development in other cities, and that could be the key to new projects along east and west Ojai Avenue. Indeed, one of the early redevelopment projects in downtown Ojai was to bury utility lines.
“I’ve seen it work,” Kersnar said. “Spending money on under-grounding utilities can serve to attract private investment and change the way owners view their own property.”
To clarify that the two newer redevelopment zones are not under the $23.2-million cap would require a change in wording in the city’s redevelopment plan. But that could be done for a relatively small cost and without inviting a legal challenge by Ventura County, the state or other local school, water and sewer districts that get a piece of each property tax dollar, Kersnar said.
On the other hand, if Ojai were to change the overall $23-million cap, those agencies would likely sue to get their share, he said.
“Ventura County has pledged to challenge every plan amendment,” Kersnar said.
Just why the Ojai City Council, which functions as the Redevelopment Agency board, decided not to raise its $23-million cap when it last amended its redevelopment plan in 1997 is not clear, Kersnar said.
But the city manager said he suspects that no one foresaw the tripling of property values as occurred between 1997 and 2005. So the council probably thought the cap would never be reached.
“Many cities set absurdly high numbers so they wouldn’t run into cap problems,” he said. “My guess is that the council thought $23.2 million was an absurdly high number. But now we’re approaching it.”
Councilmember Steve Olsen, who was also on the council in 1997, said he didn’t recall why the board set the cap at its current level.
“I don’t recall at all,” he said. “Maybe it was a staff recommendation.”
Joe DeVito, also a councilman then and now, said he had no idea why the council set the current cap.
"Who would have imagined that we would ever get to the place where property values would triple?” he said. “But now I'm concerned that we're going to reach a place where we won't be able to do any more redevelopment.”
That money has been especially important, he said, to the city's ability to partially underwrite housing projects for low-income residents, he said. “We've been able to give a half million dollars to some of them,” he said.

Robben Ford Earns Grammy Nomination

Ojai guitarist considered for coveted award

By Nao Braverman
Local guitarist Robben Ford has accompanied some of the nation’s most innovative musicians. But his own musical freshness and talent are being acknowledged this year with a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues recording for his 2007, “Truth.” Though this is his fifth nomination, Ford is pleased to be recognized for this particular album and his interpretation of contemporary blues.
While he has played in a variety of musical genres, having accompanied a broad range of artists with styles as disparate as Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis, he chose to make “Truth” a blues album. Perhaps because today’s truths are full of blues.
“Miles Davis once told me that black people don’t play the blues anymore but the white people got them, and he’s right,” he said.
“Truth” addresses present-day issues, social, economic and political, such as the war in Iraq, not in a preachy way, but rather in an honest manner, he said.
Though he describes creating music as an organic process, not something to be considered in any literal sense, he acknowledges having a certain deliberateness when producing music for this album.
“I wanted to make a blues album that draws on tradition while creating something that was timely, and relevant,” he said.
Ford sees contemporary rhythm and blues as primarily dominated by producers, who use the same chord progressions, the same format. Most songs are aggressive and one-sided, many are about women. But if you go back to its roots, there was much more variety.
“It was a lot more of an open field, creatively,” he said.
So without “throwing the baby out with the bath water” as he describes it, he incorporates pieces of his traditional and modern influences into songs that address contemporary issues. In the case of this album, his collection of songs all somehow relate to the theme of truth. Fittingly the album’s one cover song Ford sings with Susan Tedeschi is Paul Simon’s “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor.”
Of course, he includes songs about women and strife, topics that rarely escape a true blues album, no matter how contemporary.
Ford’s music draws from all his influences, and fortunately he has an impressive list to draw from, having played with Jimmy Witherspoon, Bonnie Raitt, George Harrison, Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis, among many others.
“He was a very challenging individual,” Ford said of Davis. “He had such a powerful presence that people would tend cower from him. He would push people’s buttons and challenge them to rise to the occasion, and he loved it when they did. But I was lucky enough to engage with him in an ordinary way. Then he was great.”
But of all influences, it was Mitchell who had the broadest talent, lyrically and artistically. She taught him more about making music than anyone else, he said.
Ford moved to Ojai 14 years ago to be closer to a local Buddhist community and purchased his home from singer Ricki Lee Jones.
He recently produced an album with his wife, actress and cabaret singer Anne Kerry Ford, and a 28-piece band. The album titled “Weill” was dedicated to the late composer Kurt Weill and some of the tracks were recorded live in Germany at a 100-year celebration at which his wife was invited to sing.
The couple recently returned from Moscow where he toured for the first time.
Locally he holds guitar clinics, always a hit. Other than that he continues to write and play, continuing on the musical journey that he formally began when he was 8 years old with a piano, then saxophone, and eventually the electric guitar.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Topa Topa Kids Study School Waste

Class discovers 6,305 pounds not recycled

By Sondra Murphy
Topa Topa Elementary School students presented the results of their recent waste stream management at a school assembly Friday. Students gathered to learn about ways to reduce the amount of waste the school sends to landfills.
Students of Susan Dvortcsak’s sixth grade class gave an interactive presentation about how recycling was important and ways Topa Topa is participating in recycling. Pollution, landfills, global warming and protecting natural resources were addressed, and the sixth-graders went over the four R’s of recycling: reduce, reuse, recycle and rot.
In one day’s data collection during the November audit, students found 5 pounds of recyclable materials in the first and second grade lunch trash alone. Students then calculated this to be 35 pounds a week, or 6,305 pounds per school year that could be diverted to recycling centers if disposed of properly.
A verbal trash can quiz was given to the audience, with students holding up common school trash items and asking the crowd to tell them in which type of container the items belonged. Students learned that soiled papers or trays belonged in the garbage, while clean versions, cans and plastic bottles could be placed in recycling containers.
Sixth-graders also suggested students bring reusable lunch bags and food containers or tableware in order to reduce the amount of garbage going to landfills. “Cans and bottles are really important because you can get money for them and we are trying to raise money for our school,” said student Danika Davis during the assembly.
Food For Thought is making the waste stream program possible through a $40,000 grant received to study the disposal procedures in the school district. FFT’s aim is to help improve waste procedures throughout the district.
Three OUSD schools are piloting the waste stream program: Meiners Oaks, Topa Topa and Nordhoff, the latter of which has two students involved through their senior projects.
“We’ve maintained the recycling program at Topa for eight years,” said Dvortcsak. “Now we’re just tightening it up.” Part of the presentation included a map display of all the different types of waste bins on campus.
“Now that we have the data, it’s easier to figure out what to do for the kids and adults,” said Heidi Whitman, a program supporter. The waste stream project is ongoing and expected to generate methods for making the district’s waste management as environmentally friendly as possible and establishing better composting methods at all sites.

Hailey Johnson True Ojai Treasure

Young cancer survivor comes to aid of kids in similar situation

By Nao Braverman
Hailey Johnson, 13-years-old, soft-spoken and confident, already knows she wants to be a doctor.
Even though she’s just plowing through junior high school, there’s something in her voice that affirms she means it. Perhaps that’s because she’s battled cancer herself, and knows what it means to be hospitalized.
“I want to do something for other cancer patients,” she said. “I also remember how great the nurses and doctors were and I want to give something back.”
She was recognized as a Living Treasure by the Rotary Club of Ojai and Rotary Club of Ojai-West this year.
At age 6, Johnson was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a solid tumor that spread throughout her body, a disease she probably had for years prior to the diagnosis.
Though she spent a year in the hospital while other children her age were learning to swim and ride bikes, she got a true glimpse of what doctors do. She learned about chemotherapy and radiation therapy and observed doctors treating patients. But, most of all, Johnson learned what it means to be hospitalized, and gained a strong compassion for people who are ill.
Having spent Christmas and New Year’s in the hospital herself, Johnson knows what it’s like to be away from home for the holidays. Though she has been out of the hospital for years, she recently came up with a way to help other patients at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she stayed for a year. That’s Hailey’s Treasure Chest, a fund she put together to raise money to buy things for children at the hospital.
“Those kids deserve to feel as good as they can while they are in there,” she said. The idea came out of a bake sale she held with her sisters one idle summer before seventh grade. They sold brownies, ice tea and crafts. Johnson then came up with the idea to use the money to help children at the hospital. At first she donated a small sum to help the patients at Children’s Hospital get toys and also for patients’ families to buy bus tokens if they needed it.
“Some families don’t have cars and so it gets expensive for them to visit family members at the hospital,” she said.
Now she is raising funds so that patients at the Children’s Hospital can celebrate the holiday. They might want a Christmas tree, or holiday gifts, she said. Though her family brought her treats and gifts while she was in the hospital she knows that not all children there have that privilege. Johnson has spoken at several schools and most recently the Ojai Presbyterian Church about her experience to raise awareness and to collect funds for the treasure chest. So far they have raised more than $1,800.
“It’s truly amazing,” she said, wise beyond her years, imagining what the $1,800 or so can buy for children at the hospital.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Golden State's Water Rate Hike Approved

Judge gives nod to 35 percent hike

By Daryl Kelley
Water rates for Ojai residents would increase 35 percent next year if the California Public Utilities Commission upholds new rates adopted this week by a state administrative law judge. Critics said the hike shows the system serves private business, not the public.
The new rates would not be implemented until February, at earliest, after the PUC ratifies or rejects them.
Tuesday's ruling by Judge Regina DeAngelis adopted rates that would increase Ojai residents' water bills on a sliding scale, depending on use and size of meter.
For example, the monthly bill for a resident with a 5/8-inch line using 1,500 cubic feet of water a month, a modest amount, would increase from about $50 to about $68. A customer using 3,000 cubic feet, typical for Ojai, would see an increase from about $84 to $110.
The base service charge would also increase about $11, to more than $30 a month.
The ruling is an apparent victory for Golden State Water Company, a private firm with nearly 2,900 customers in the city of Ojai and vicinity, since the state office charged with protecting the public's interest in utility cases had initially recommended a 24 percent increase over the next three years.
Golden State had asked the Utilities Commission for an increase of about 43 percent by 2010, although its rates are already much higher than other local water agencies.
In her ruling, DeAngelis did not set rates for 2009 or 2010, saying they should be determined in the future based on “advice letters” from the water company about factors such as inflation.
That means Golden State's three-year increase could exceed the 35 percent granted for 2008i alone. With next year's hike, Golden State's rate increases in Ojai over the last two decades total 107 percent.
Kathy Couturie, who led an effort by residents to buy Golden State’s Ojai operation, said the whole process was a disservice to the residents of Ojai, but that she hopes water service will finally improve.
“I hope that this outrageous rate increase will bring some long needed positive change to the Ojai Valley,” she said. “I have learned that the PUC does not represent the interests of the public.”
Golden State, the subsidiary of a large corporation traded on the New York Stock Exchange, operates in Ojai under a long-standing, open-ended contract with the city. Its service cannot be discontinued since it owns the pumps and water lines that serve the community, unless local water users buy the waterworks — valued by owners at about $12 million.
Company officials have said Golden State's rates are higher than those at nonprofit publicly run water companies because it has no taxpayer subsidies, has to pay taxes and must return a reasonable profit to investors.
The return on base water rates under DeAngelis' ruling would be 8.87 percent a year, lower than the 9.41 percent requested by Golden State, but higher than the 8.80 percent requested by the PUC's independent Office of Ratepayer Advocates. Under the ruling, the return on company equity would be 10.2 percent, compared with a Golden State request for 11.25 percent and the ratepayer advocates' recommendation of 10.09 percent.
U.S. Supreme Court rulings have upheld a private company's right to a “reasonable” return on investment when operating a utility for the public, the judge noted.
At hearings this year, dozens of Ojai residents and city officials had asked DeAngelis to grant no rate increase until Golden State improved its service and water quality.
Victor Chan, an analyst for the ratepayer advocates office, said he was disappointed by the judge's decision, but that there is not much opportunity to block it now, because Ojai is so far into a yearlong rate-change process.
“As much as we don't like the decision, all we can do now is comment on where we think the judge might have made an error,” Chan said. “Obviously, we're not entirely pleased on the way she ruled on some issues, but our comment now has to be based strictly upon what's in the public record.”
Specifically, Chan said the judge allowed Golden State to spend more money more quickly to hire more employees and to repair and replace its aging waterworks than the water company proved was needed.
“She ruled against us saying that what is needed in Ojai is better reliability and water quality,” he said.
Indeed, city manager Jere Kersnar said the silver lining from DeAngelis' ruling is that she tied the steep rate increase to improved service, as he had requested at a PUC hearing in San Francisco.
“The judge did order Golden State to meet with the city to come up with a plan to fix these problems,” Kersnar said. “It's at least a recognition of our concerns and a means to communicate our ongoing concerns. It remains to be seen if this will be effective.”
In her ruling, DeAngelis wrote: “We direct Golden State to meet with the City of Ojai, at the City’s invitation, to discuss matters related to water quality and service reliability. Furthermore, we direct the City of Ojai to contact the (PUC) with any unresolved concerns regarding water quality and service reliability ... Then, the Director of the Water Division shall recommend a procedure to the Commission for investigating this matter further.”
Golden State must resolve “any outstanding disagreement on water quality and reliability” with city officials, she said.
A Golden State spokesman said the judge's approval of a 35 percent rate increase “is very good for the community of Ojai,” because it will allow the company to do much-needed repair to the city's water pipes, pumps, valves and other infrastructure. And it pays for additional workers to better serve the public.
“We're continually trying to improve service for the city of Ojai, and this decision will take us part of the way to do that,” said Patrick Scanlon, vice president of operations for Golden State.
In August, as required by the PUC, Golden State and the Office of Ratepayer Advocates conferred to see if they could resolve disagreements on how much of a rate increase the company deserved.
Compromise settlements were reached on several issues, but not all. DeAngelis used this settlement as one basis for her ruling.
But Chan, of the ratepayer advocates office, said that in some cases she opted for Golden State's position so the company would have enough money to improve service and water quality.
Indeed, in her ruling, DeAngelis wrote: “Where (ratepayer advocates) and Golden State failed to agree, we adopt Golden State’s requests for rate recovery for a number of capital projects and additional new positions. Overall, these capital projects and new positions will result in customers experiencing rate increases. However, the approved capital projects and new positions are needed ... to improve water quality, service reliability, and upgrade aging infrastructure.”
Specific improvements in Ojai over the next two years include Golden State's $320,000 contribution to establishing a “spreading grounds” along San Antonio Creek, where water may filter down into subterranean aquifers. About $170,000 for 1,000 feet of a new water main line is also included, as are numerous new valves and hydrants.
A big disagreement between Golden State and the ratepayer advocates was how much money should be passed along from Ojai operations to support the company's general office expenses in San Dimas. For the seven Golden State water districts included in the judge's ruling, including Ojai, the difference between the two sides was about $692,000.
In its report to the Public Utilities Commission earlier this year, the Office of Ratepayer Advocates concluded that Golden State had provided reasonably good service and water quality in Ojai.
The ratepayers advocate office said it reviewed various Golden State and state Department of Health Services documents and found that the Ojai water system had been in compliance with drinking water standards from 2004 through 2006.
And the lack of any formal complaints to the PUC’s public advisor’s office during a recent three-year period, and only six informal complaints, indicated Golden State “has generally been providing satisfactory service to the Ojai customers,” the report said.
Indeed, Chan said he was surprised by how many angry customers showed up at a public hearing in Ojai in May to voice their complaints about rates, water quality and service. At least 100 attended and more than 20 spoke. A petition signed by more than 500 upset customers was presented.
Couturie, who led the challenge to the rate increase, said the effort was for naught.
“Thousands of hours have been spent in vain,” she said, “and Ojai's citizens have once again been ignored.”
She recommended a visit to to learn more about strengthening local democratic control of water resources.

Quinn Remembered As Outstanding Educator

Longtime teacher killed in Arnaz Grade crash

By Nao Braverman
Deborah Quinn, 58, a longtime Ventura teacher and Ojai resident died in a traffic collision Tuesday on Highway 33, just south of Oak View. A beloved specialist at Sheridan Way Elementary School in Ventura, where she had been working for the past 20 years, Quinn was an outstanding educator and a deeply caring teacher to all her students, said Susan Eberhart, principal of Sheridan Way.
The West Ventura Elementary School has 600 students, all of whom qualify for free breakfast or lunch, Eberhart said. Quinn, fluently bilingual in Spanish and English, worked with the school's recent arrival students, helping introduce them to American culture while embracing their traditions, said Eberhart. "She had a way of welcoming students into our school and our community. She even invited many to her house," said Eberhart. "This is a community of students who need strong advocates and she was one of our most passionate advocates.” Co-workers remember Quinn as a radiant personality lover of nature, a champion of crossing cultural lines, and a celebrator of life. She wore bright colorful clothing and extended her generous spirit to everyone she connected with at the school, said Janis Emhardt, a friend, co-worker and fellow Ojai resident. Quinn was married to Neil Quinn, who was a Ventura County chief deputy public defender turned private attorney. She had three daughters, one of which is currently a senior at Nordhoff High School. A staunch environmentalist, Quinn had converted her second home to solar energy and drove an energy efficient car. She loved to travel and explore nature, but always felt most at home in Ojai, said Emhardt. "The staff had a day of disbelief," said Eberhart. "There is a lot of sadness but we are really trying to celebrate everything that Deborah was about."

DeVito Gives Mayor Title To Horgan

Councilmember says she won't run in 2008

By Nao Braverman
At the tail end of Tuesday night's City Council meeting, the scheduled reorganization of council members took an unexpected turn when Councilwoman Sue Horgan asked if she could swap places with Councilman Joe DeVito and serve as mayor this year instead.
Many changes had taken place for Horgan at home and in her personal life, with her children growing older, and she wanted to take time to focus on other things in the years to come, she told the council.
"Since I plan to conclude my term in 2008 I would like to conclude my term on a positive note," she said.
Horgan promptly asked council if she could have the opportunity of serving as mayor without running for re-election next term, and otherwise upsetting the rotation system. She proposed that DeVito wait another year for the mayor's seat and she would serve in his place. The regular rotation of government would otherwise be affected, she said.
Though other council members did not expect the request, Horgan said that she had been in contact with DeVito and he had agreed to the swap.
DeVito later he said that he had known about Horgan's proposal when he answered interview questions about his upcoming term as mayor, but chose not to divulge anything because he did not want to violate the Brown Act.
He also added that he didn't want to draw attention to himself or the situation.
At the meeting DeVito was reluctant to make the final decision and deferred to other council members, who turned the gavel back to him.
"I think it is a bold suggestion," said Councilwoman Rae Hanstad. "But If Mayor Pro Tem DeVito were to choose to grant this favor, then I would support him returning to the position of mayor afterward."
DeVito said that though he had been put in an awkward position, having already received congratulations cards in the mail, and an article on his supposed upcoming term as mayor, he would agree to the swap as long as it be guaranteed that he could then serve as mayor the following term.
City manager Jere Kersnar said that they wouldn't normally be able to commit to a future council. But since three of the council members were sure to be serving in the upcoming year, there would be quorum enough to make such decision.
Other council members said they would support DeVito's return to the mayor's seat the following year.
DeVito agreed to the proposal. Councilman Steve Olsen formally nominated Horgan as mayor, and DeVito as mayor pro tem once more, and rotation was finalized.
Earlier Horgan thanked Carol Smith for serving as mayor this year.
"You did an excellent job. I appreciate your sense of humor, you always try to go for a solution. And I also think you have been very fair," she said.
Hanstad chimed in. "I wasn't sure about your fireside chat-style of governing at first, "she said. "But I think you have made people very comfortable which is why so many people have come to attend our meetings."
Smith concluded her first term as mayor Tuesday night, Horgan's term as mayor begins.
"It's very clear that Joe was gracious enough to support my request," said Horgan. "It showed the great amount of mutual respect that we have for each other on the council, and of itself, and I think it shows that we have a great year ahead of us."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Rat Poison Alternatives

By Sondra Murphy

In extreme rat infestations, even those disinclined to using poisons consider it. But care must be taken in order to avoid secondary poisoning of pets or accidental poisoning of pets and children. Private pest control companies are sensitive about using rat baits that will not contribute to unwanted poisonings.
"Inside a structure, we start with a trap," said Robert Wolpe of Ojai Termite and Pest Control. "Many homes can be sealed up where the rats are getting into the home." Monthly baiting services are also offered to keep the rodent population from spreading. For exterior rat abatement, Wolpe uses baits that attach to the ground and cannot be tampered with by children or pets.
"There's fear about baiting because most people don't know there are ways to do baiting in a safe manner," Wolpe said. "Rats are just looking for a place to nest and also water and food." Eliminating such temptations helps reduce rodent infestations from individual properties.
While humane societies do not advocate the use of poisons for rodent control, Jolene Hoffman, director of Ojai's Humane Society of Ventura County, said that she understands the frustration of those dealing with this rat infestation. "With the numbers of animals they're dealing with right now, I don't see what other choice they have," said Hoffman. "These are wild rats, so if they trap them, they're only going to get one at a time."
Most retail rodent poisons contain an anticoagulant called warfarin, which risks secondary poisoning. Mice or rats consume low dosages of the poison over several days, eventually dying from internal hemorrhaging. Anticoagulants are particularly effective because they are tasteless and odorless, so rodents do not become bait shy after initial consumption. In addition to its secondary poisoning risks, warfarin comes in the form of blue pellets that may look attractive to children or pets.
The risk of secondary poisoning depends on several factors. Poison manufacturers create low-dosage baits so if a larger animal later eats a poisoned rodent, it does not necessarily harm it. However, if there is enough undigested poison in the rat's throat or stomach, secondary poisoning is possible, depending on the weight of the predator.
When rodents are very hungry, they may consume more poison than expected with usual foraging behavior and continue to eat more poison while initial pellets are being digested. If a predatory animal consumes several poisoned rodents, accumulative poisoning is also possible.
"Anything that carries anticoagulants can be detrimental to raptors," Kim Stroud of the Ojai Raptor Center said last spring. Both domesticated and poisoned rats would have reduced natural defensive behaviors, such as coming out in the open during the day, said Stroud. The predator's weight influences the chance for secondary poisoning, and whether it sustains internal injuries or dies.
Secondary poisoning most commonly causes liver hemorrhaging. Visual symptoms in pets include excessive salivation, agitated or hyperactive behavior, severe thirst, and loss of muscle control.
The Ojai Raptor Center has suggestions for safer rodent control by using poisons that do not contain anticoagulants. One is called Rampage. Another is Generation.
Ventura County rat abatement techniques may be found in English and Spanish at Once there, choose general information to find rat control. Ojai Termite and Pest Control may be reached at 646-6504. For more information about pet-safe pesticides, visit the Raptor Center's web site at For more information about rat rescue efforts, visit

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rats Infest Meiners Oaks Neighborhood

Residents of the rat-infested area of Meiners Oaks are cautioned to remove food sources, such as this makeshift bird feeder.

RELATED: Alternative Poisons

By Sondra Murphy
Forget about driving around looking at Christmas lights this winter. One Meiners Oaks neighborhood is becoming an infamous nocturnal attraction.
Residents report hundreds of feral rats multiplying out of control, roaming the streets in search of food and shelter, jumping out at people from the bushes and dropping from trees. Inhabitants hear rats screaming at night and see their dead carcasses in the middle of the road the next morning.
Usually, a variety of possibilities could be the cause of a rat influx. Nearby construction, severe weather or weed abatement can flush rodents into the open. In this case, however, neighbors are pointing at one residential property operating as a rabbit and rat rescue facility as the source of hundreds of rats spilling into the neighborhood around El Conejo Drive.
As reported in the OVN last February and March, more than 200 rats were removed from an El Conejo Drive home after months of neighbor complaints about the population and stench.
Unfortunately, an unknown number of rats — then estimated by Animal Control workers to be in the hundreds — evaded capture and sought refuge nearby. Ventura County agencies advised residents about rodent abatement techniques, but by then, a rat population explosion had taken place.
Catherine Essel lives with her parents, both in their 80s, at the house neighbors say is the cause of the infestation. “These are not our rats. They have never been our rats,” said Essel. She does not know where the rats originally came from. “I’ve spent thousands of dollars trying to resolve this.”
Her efforts include working with the Humane Society in trying to find homes for the rats. Meanwhile, she said that she has caught neighbors throwing poison under her fence, killing 20 rabbits and poisoning her dog.
Essel said that, since last February, she has worked with the Humane Society to try to solve the rat problem without killing any of the animals. “We’re setting out flats of pennyroyal, which works as a rodent contraceptive,” said Essel about the aromatic herb. “We have cleared food from outdoors and feed our cats inside. We pick the fruit from our trees as soon as it is ripe, but the neighbors leave theirs hanging there.”
Her father added, “We feel harassed. Everyone is pointing the finger at us, as if it was our problem only,” said David Essel. “We’ve been doing our part and we feel they have not been doing their part.”
Catherine Essel said that she feeds rats only when catching them for rescue groups to pick up and, when people witnessed this, they misunderstood. There are two main groups she works with. One is called Wee Companions, and the other is Second Hand Rats. “They took several hundred rats already,” Catherine Essel said. “What the Humane Society called wild rats, these groups called blues. They said Ojai rats are known for being friendly and the colors are in demand.” Catherine Essel estimates the rat problem in her yard is nearly solved, has another pickup scheduled next week and expects them to be clear by the end of the year.
Ken van Doren of Wee Companions confirmed that the agency has been working with the Essels and plans to pick up more rats next week. “I can understand what the neighbors must be feeling, with there being so many at first,” said van Doren.
Catherine Essel said that in collecting and caring for the rats, the family develops a kind of affection for the rescues, and objected to what they saw as rough treatment by Animal Control officers when they picked up the rats last year. She said that having rats on their property has not been to their advantage, since rats will attack their rabbits and have destroyed their foliage and garden. The Essels simply believe that poisoning is a cruel death and even rats deserve to be treated humanely
“We spent thousands of dollars and hours to have a rock wall built because the rats ate through the old wooden one,” said one neighbor who wished to remain anonymous. “Still, the smell is horrible. We can’t sit out front and have lunch, or anything, because the odor makes the food taste awful.” This neighbor is very frustrated by the lack of assistance offered by county agencies and said she has had nightmares about the infestation.
David Essel said that he paid for half that rock wall. He also worked to clear his outside storage, which many neighbors have not. “We also pick up the dead animals and take them off the road,” he said.
Nearby neighbor Ben Barraza has seen rats out in the street. “Sometimes you go out at night and people are standing there with flashlights, watching them,” said Barraza. “Sometimes on warm nights, you get kids out there wearing head lamps, shining them on the rats, then hitting and killing them.”
Rats were sometimes covertly removed from the neighborhood and dumped in other parts of the valley, transplanting the problem and creating secondary poisoning incidents around Creek Road. The Humane Society caught 370 rats, most dying from poisoning, from that location in February.
Solving the problem is not simple. “The vector program established in this county in 1985 focused on mosquito control,” said William Stratton, manager of the county’s Environmental Health Division. “Ventura County has no rodent abatement program in place. We don’t have the staff and we don’t have the baits.”
Because rodents are ever-present in human communities, environmental health officers offer pamphlets and consult with residents having rat issues, but lack the resources to solve the problem. “What we look at when we investigate these sites is, are there conditions that we can enforce?” said Stratton. Enforceable violations are things like improper solid waste disposal, stockpiled junk or overgrown brush.
Pete Kaiser is the manager of Ventura County planning enforcement relative to zoning ordinances. He said that zoning in this case pertains to pets and that residents may have up to 20 pet rabbits, hamsters, gerbils or rats contained outdoors. “The problem is also that you have people nearby feeding and watering other types of animals,” Kaiser said. “The drought is compounding the situation.” He added that the rats in question might have genetic imprinting that brings them back to where they came from when their resources elsewhere are exhausted.
Stratton said that the county continues to investigate this case to see what codes relate to the case that they may enforce. First District Supervisor Steve Bennett confirmed that his office is working with the county for such progress. “We’re looking at trying to find out everything we can to legally deal with this. Right now, our hands are tied, but more conversations are scheduled to explore ways to solve the problem,” Bennett said.
Ventura County offers rat control advice on its web site for people with rodent infestations. Besides tips on eradication, rodent factoids are listed, such as how a female rat can give birth to more than 25 offspring per year. It is not difficult to calculate the expansive potential of hundreds of fertile rodents.
“I saw barn owls swooping down and feeding on the rats,” said Brian Holly, a biologist who works as an environmental consultant. “I saw about 30 rats in, maybe, a 10-minute window of time. The coloration suggested multiple generations of them. That means their actual breeding pool has gotten larger.”
The lack of assistance by the county perplexes many. Health concerns include rabies, as well as virus-containing particles spread through the dust of disturbed rodent droppings, similar to the deadly hanta virus. “With the number of rats there, you would think the county would be really concerned,” said Holly.
Another neighbor concurs. “We feel we are being placated by those we’ve been trying to get to help us rid our neighborhood of rats and that no one actually believes us when we say the scene on our street could be that from a horror film,” said Cindy Gordon.
Even after residents have removed pet food or grains from the reach of rats, fruit trees can continue to lure them. Rodents may travel along the tree canopy without ever touching the ground. This makes trimming branches imperative for successful eradication.
According to Jolene Hoffman, director of Ojai’s Humane Society of Ventura County, the most important component for rodent control is: “It needs to be a group effort. The main thing people need to do is clear their ivy and brush. Get rid of junk; that’s where rats breed and hide out.” Hoffman said that if poison is used, “Make sure you take any precaution to protect your children, animals and neighborhood. This is a terrible situation and it is expensive. But the problem won’t be solved until everyone is involved.”
Stratton agrees. “Unless you incorporate an integrated approach, the population will return,” he said.

Tree Farm Felled By Water Costs

DeWayne Boccali at the family Christmas tree farm. Due to water prices and drought, this is likely the final year for the tree farm in Upper Ojai. The family is shifting to growing wine grapes, which require less water.

By Sondra Murphy
Drought and rising water rates have ended an Ojai tradition. Boccali Farms will be eliminating its cut-your-own Christmas tree business after this season.
“The interest is just not there anymore,” said Marilyn Boccali. “Our busiest year was 1989.” She said that people seem to be buying trees from pre-cut lots or else are purchasing artificial trees these days.
According to Boccali, pine trees, like pumpkins and oranges, take a lot of water. With customers waning, the decision not to replant was made. “We’re going to kind of miss it,” said Boccali. “The kids really liked it.” Not only was this customized tree hunt a Christmas tradition for many local families, but Boccali said that they used to get a lot of business from the Los Angeles area.
The Boccalis have begun to grow grapes for their wine making endeavors in the area once reserved for Christmas trees. “With Casitas water rates going up, grapes take less water to grow,” said Marilyn Boccali. Boccali Vineyard’s Topa Topa Syrah is sold at their restaurants in Ojai and Oak View.
“They raised the water rates so high, it was one of the deciding factors,” said DeWayne Boccali. “I feel really bad about it. I don’t like giving up on something.” He said that the trees take a lot of water to look attractive to customers. “When Casitas raised the water rates 51 percent, that’s one more thing I have to spend money on.”
DeWayne Boccali remembers that the Casitas reservoir was created for farmers. “Before that, we were dry farming up here.” After water was piped to Upper Ojai, that valley’s agriculture took off and Christmas tree farms were plentiful. “A lot of people came to Ojai to get their trees. It was amazing, we had all this competition, but we all did really well.”
DeWayne Boccali said that he expected his business to increase as the other tree farms shut down, but the opposite was true. “It’s kind of a real curious thing about Christmas trees. How times change,” he said.
“We may have a few trees left to sell next year, but I can’t promise anything,” said Marilyn Boccali. For more information about Christmas trees or the many other items they offer, visit

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Dear Santa: Here's what I want!

Post your wishlist here and see if your spouse, parents, kids or someone else grants it! For example: DT, I would like an iPhone for Christmas. Signed, RR.

Maybe Santa is watching!

Rangers Battle Oaks Christian

Division championship on the line


By Mike Miller
The Nordhoff Rangers are returning to the CIF finals for the first time since 1999. This year’s march to the finals, which has included two overtime games, has been an exhilarating one for the Rangers and their fans. After defeating St. Bernard last week, 35-21, the Rangers will face Tri-Valley League rival Oaks Christian tonight for the CIF-SS Northwest Division Championship.
These two teams matched up on Nov. 2 in a game that was won by the Lions, 42-6. Oaks Christian was the last team to beat the Rangers, as NHS seemed to find their stride after the lopsided loss to the Lions. The Lions are currently on a six-game winning streak of their own and have outscored their opponents 279 to 48 over that stretch.
Oaks Christian is led by quarterback Chris Potter, who burned the Rangers for three touchdowns in their first matchup. Potter is dangerous due to his ability to run and pass the football. The other dangerous weapon for the Lions is sophomore sensation Malcolm Jones. Jones has accumulated an impressive 1,879 yards and 24 touchdowns on the season.
For the Rangers, Damian Kaiser and Chris Gibson will need to be able to run the football against the Lions defense if the Rangers are to be crowned CIF champions. Kaiser has put together a super season with 1,197 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Gibson has added another dimension to the running game of Cliff Farrar with a breakout year as he has scored 10 touchdowns on the ground and rushed for 921 yards. The offensive line will be called on to open holes for the Rangers’ running game and they have been the driving force for this play-off run so expect them to continue their inspired play.
The Rangers have been rotating their quarterbacks during the play-offs. Senior Garrett Graham gave way to junior Drew Rodriguez after an injury and since then, Rodriguez has been getting the majority of the snaps for Nordhoff.
Regardless of who is calling the signals, the Rangers will need to be efficient with their passing game so that they can keep the Lions’ defense from crowding the line of scrimmage to stop Kaiser and Gibson.
Defensively, the Rangers will look to limit the big play capability of Potter and Jones. NHS cannot afford to allow Oaks Christian to put up big numbers on offense. The advantage on special teams is on the side of the Rangers. David Brown and his ability to kick off into the end zone is a huge advantage for the Rangers.
Despite the fact Oaks Christian has had the Rangers’ number recently; I do not think that there is another team on the face of the earth that Nordhoff would rather defeat for the CIF title than Oaks Christian. The 42-6 game back in November is not an indication of how these two teams stack up and fans should expect a much closer contest.
The Lions are on fire and have been scoring over 46 points per game in their last six games, but I think that the Rangers will be able to limit their scoring opportunities. Oaks Christian proved that they were vulnerable this season when Oak Park beat them 25-20.
If the Rangers are going to beat Oaks Christian, as well, they will need to beat the Lions to the punch early in this game. The best way of taking down a bully is to look him straight in the eye and take your best shot. Look for the Rangers to be physical early and if they can get on top or keep the score close in their first half, they will beat Oaks Christian.
I do not think that there is a more resilient team than the Rangers and I am predicting a huge upset in this game. Farrar will control the tempo of the game and Kacy Reed, Garrett Gross, Chad Holling, Phil Long, Taylor Kelly, Cody Burr, Shane Wolcott, Alex Luna, Alex Miotti and Mitch Werber will beat the Lions’ line from goal line to goal line and carry the Rangers to victory.
The Rangers win the CIF Championship 24-21.

DeVito Takes Fifth Turn As Ojai Mayor

21-year council vet says this term is last

By Nao Braverman
Senior councilman Joe DeVito will take his seat as mayor of Ojai for the fifth time in his career on Tuesday.
It has been a long road and he has stuck it out for 21 years, but this will be his last term, he said. At this time in his life he wants to do some traveling and spend time with family. That doesn’t mean his efforts will wane, however.
“I’ll work as hard this term as I ever have,” he said.
Though the job pays a small stipend of $65 per meeting, $30 for serving on the Redevelopment Commission and $35 for City Council, with benefits, DeVito said it has mostly been an enjoyable experience to work with an exceptional staff and other council members who have the city’s best interests at heart.
He supports the council’s primary goal which is to keep up to par with finances, according to DeVito.
“We have been on track the past few years and we need to keep our reserves replenished,” he said. He will also prioritize adoption of an approvable housing element, and looks forward to seeing how the new chain store ordinance plays out in the years to come.
A longtime councilman who prides himself on being an available and accessible representative who always considers public concerns, DeVito took a blow in late April when a recall petition was circulated against him. Primarily due to his “no”dissenting vote, which stalled the initiation of a moratorium against chain stores; petition circulators changed their minds after DeVito subsequently voted in favor of the moratorium. Though the petition was retracted soon after, it was still an arduous experience.
“It was extremely difficult to deal with and I felt like I was personally attacked, like my reputation and character were being dragged through the mud,” he said.
The good that came out of the ordeal, however, was the multitude of supporters who came up to him and showed their appreciation for his work, he said.
“People who I had never met came out of the woodwork to thank me for my representation on the council,” he said.
DeVito has also been re-energized by chairing the Ventura Transportation Commission for the first time and the board of Gold Coast Transit, formerly known as SCAT, which he has chaired three times.
His involvement on those boards has enabled him to coordinate between the local trolley service and the Gold Coast bus, bring further funding to Ojai for transportation efforts, and keep local public transportation options attractive enough for people to use them, he said.
City manager Jere Kersnar said he is confident that DeVito will be able to effectively take on the role of mayor once again.
“He has been mayor before and he’s been the chair of VCTC, which I imagine is an even harder task. I’m sure that being mayor will be a lesser challenge for him.”

Trees Cause Delay In Condo Project Permit

Four-unit high-end project planned for lots next to Los Arboles

By Nao Braverman
The Ojai Planning Commission made sure to take care of the city’s cherished trees at Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting.
Another large and costly condominium complex proposal, adjacent to the Los Arboles Townhomes and south of the Art Center, was continued until January for the sake of endangered trees near the property.
Lance and Scott Smigel proposed to to demolish two single-family homes to make room for the construction of two expansive two-unit Craftsman-style condominiums at 119 and 201 S. Montgomery St.
Being in the Village Mixed Use zone, one of the two units in one building is designed as a live-work structure with one first floor 957 square foot area for commercial use and a 1,156-square-foot residential area above. The other unit in the building is 2,408 square-feet of entirely residential space. The second building has two residential units, one of 2,435 square feet and another with 2,959 square feet.
The project was initially being considered as an eight-unit affordable housing complex. However, architect Marc Whitman told the commission that the neighboring Los Arboles owners said they didn’t want low-income residents right next to them but would prefer a more high-end development.
In addition, the city didn’t have money to help finance low-income housing. Though commissioners said they would prefer smaller units, the General Plan’s maximum density regulations only allow for four units in that zone. This was the only way for the developers to make a reasonable profit on the property, said Whitman.
“If the only thing we can do to make money off our property is make million-dollar condominiums, then we are going to continue building more and more million-dollar condos and property value is going to increase so much that it will truly be impossible to build anything else,” said Ojai resident Leonard Klaif. “We have to stop it soon or we are going to turn into a Westlake Village.”
Commissioner John Mirk agreed.
“I’m pleased to see that you are going with Craftsman style, but I have to vote against it,” he said. “There are way too many of these massive expensive condominium projects and it might be great for the developers but I don’t see it doing much for our town.”
But Commissioner Troy Becker objected, saying that it wasn’t fair to reject projects on such a premise, unless the General Plan is amended to allow for more density.
“The Smigels would love to put more smaller, possible affordable units there, but there is nothing in the General Plan that allows them to do it.”
Planning Chair Tucker Adams agreed that the General Plan would first have to be amended to accommodate developments that were more dense, and thus more affordable.
Los Arboles resident Paulette Whiting had a more applicable objection, however, saying that it could endanger a 100-year-old redwood tree that had surface roots about 5 feet from the development, as well as a nearby coastal live oak. Though local arborist Paul Rogers said that the project would not be as likely to harm the two trees on Los Arboles property, an independent arborist, hired by Whiting, said that the project would likely harm the trees whether its location was shifted or not.
The nearby oak tree was appraised at $11,303 and the redwood tree appraised at $8,502.
Los Arboles resident Debbie Otto, though she supported the project and praised its architecture, raised the concern that if any of the oak’s branches were to fall on the new development, then Los Arboles homeowners might be held liable.
Commissioners asked the Smigels to address the the issue of protecting Ojai’s cherished trees more aggressively and continued the discussion until Jan 16.
The establishment of Theater 150’s performance venue and classroom facility at 316 E. Matilija St., in the building which was formerly Clausens Funeral Home, was approved with little discussion. Artistic director Chris Nottoli told commissioners that the small white Victorian house on the property would continue to be used as a residence. The only changes to the building would be to put in a handicapped bathroom, he said.
“The last place we had could only accommodate one thing at a time,” he said. “We could make dinner, hold a class or have a show. This place can accommodate a number of things and we can do them all at once ... I can’t think of any better use of the space for the community, other than a funeral home but no one seems to be biting on that one.”
Commissioners agreed.
“I know you’re hoping for this one since you have a grand opening coming up.” said Adams. Theater 150’s first show at the new location opens today.
In other planning news commissioners approved the installation of a new pool at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa near the hotel’s Herb Garden Suites.
Council liaison Sue Horgan told commissioners that contrary to what Jennifer Moss wrote in the newspaper, there is no effort under way, that she is aware of, to create an ordinance against pasties.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ex-Bank Employee Sentenced

Remorseful Deason pays back victims,
but must serve 150 days in county jail

By Lenny Roberts
After entering a guilty plea in Ventura County Superior Court, former bank employee Randi Deason, 33, was sentenced to 150 days in county jail Monday on one felony count each of forgery and grand theft. In addition, she will be on probation for 48 months.
According to court records, the crimes were committed between February 2005 and June 2006.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Howard Wise said the Ventura Police Department began investigating when the victim discovered a $4,000 shortage after making a deposit in Ventura. A bank investigator reported then that there were recent withdrawals made at the Ojai Washington Mutual branch, and no one else had permission to withdraw funds from that account.
The account was maintained by a former Ojai resident, a reported friend of Deason’s. In the end, Deason admitted taking $46,545, all of which has been paid back by Deason.
Deason, the married mother of two children, was an employee at the bank for 12 years.
“It is what it is,” Deason said Tuesday in a phone call placed to the OVN. “I apologize and am shameful. I have to walk around with my head held high. We’re all human. This was a mistake I made and am paying the consequences.”
She said she has no idea why she committed the crimes, and she was treated fairly by the court. She did, however, insist that she turned herself in and not “caught,” as was reported in other media Tuesday. “Because of that, I have become a better person,” Deason said.
Victor Thasiah, pastor at Holy Cross Church where Deason attends, spoke to the court at Deason’s sentencing. He described her as being remorseful and humiliated by what she has done.
“She turned herself in and has owned up to what she did,” Thasiah said.
“Her character is incredible. I admire and respect her as a person, but I see her being torn apart.”
Since the crimes were committed, Deason has been baptized at Holy Cross Church, “Because,” she said, “of Pastor Victor. We live in a small town. I did something bad and I have to pay for it. I’ll just hold my head high.”
Deason is scheduled to begin serving her sentence Jan. 14.

Make-A-Wish, Sheriff Fulfill Boy's Dream

Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks swears in 7-year-old Saul Landeros as junior deputy

By Daryl Kelley
Call him Deputy Landeros.
Little Saul Landeros, a first-grader at Sunset School, was sworn in Tuesday as an honorary Ventura County deputy by Sheriff Bob Brooks as friends, family and county supervisors applauded.
“Cool,” said the 7-year-old, already dressed in a deputy’s uniform and beaming after Brooks attached a badge to his swelling chest.
“It’s a great honor to swear him in,” Brooks told the Board of Supervisors.
Then, turning to Saul, Brooks said: “Based on the fact that you have already demonstrated courage and that you like to help other people, I officially make you a junior deputy sheriff of Ventura County.”
As Saul twisted and squirmed, Board President Linda Parks added: “You are a very special young man. It’s great to have you on the force.”
The swearing-in ceremony was part of a day-long effort by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Tri-Counties and the Sheriff’s Department to grant the boy, who has fought brain cancer for two years, his greatest wish – to become a sheriff’s deputy.
Since he was a toddler, said Saul’s mother, Rosa, the boy has wanted only to be a police officer. So when Make-A-Wish officials quizzed him on what he most wanted to do, who he most wanted to meet, what he most wanted to see, he said without hesitation that he’d like be a deputy.
After the ceremony, Brooks said in an interview that his department was honored to deputize Saul because he such a brave little boy.
“He’s demonstrated a lot of courage,” the sheriff said. “And he has hope for the future.”
Before Saul’s special day was done, he’d pulled on his dark sheriff’s sunglasses to ride shotgun in a patrol black-and-white from his Ventura home to a morning assembly at Sunset Elementary School in Oak View.
He’d been whisked in the same police cruiser to the County Government Center, as his family followed in a long, white limousine. There, he’d been quizzed by print, radio and television reporters from around the Southland: In short, he told reporters that he liked police because they catch bad guys.
After Brooks swore him in, Saul’s family was taken to the Ojai Police Station, where a reception awaited and where he would receive training by canine and mounted deputies. His big surprise was a flight in a sheriff’s helicopter to Ojai.
Saul’s special day started early, when he rose from his bed beneath a Spider-Man poster to pull his thin body into a deputy sheriff’s uniform made specially for him. It came complete with a badge, name ID, jailer’s keys, handcuffs, black sunglasses, black tie, gold tie clasp and new black boots.
“His dad said he was really excited last night and couldn’t wait,” said sheriff’s Capt. Jerry Hernandez, who was Saul’s partner for the day.
At Sunset Elementary, more than 300 students and dozens of parents and teachers crowded into the auditorium to honor a boy Principal Jose Montano described as “this brave little man.”
As teachers past and present spoke of Saul’s good soul, kindly spirit and strength, the 4-foot-tall, 50-pound youngster sat next to his family on stage, looking at the floor, glimpsing his classmates in the first row and smiling shyly at his parents, Rosa and Efrain Landeros.
The tears began to flow when Saul’s brother, Tony spoke to the assembly.
“I’d like to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart for this day for my little brother,” said Tony, 22, a college student. “You don’t know what this means to us. It’s one of the greatest moments of my life.”
Saul’s mother, a homemaker, added: “I am here with my son, happy, because his dream is coming true. ... You don’t know how much my son has suffered. But it has taught us to love, to love life.”
And his father, a grounds-keeping supervisor at a country club, said: “I like to tell parents here to pay attention to your children. We don’t know what’s happening in their bodies. Give them love and attention.”
As Saul and Hernandez left the auditorium, students shouted loudly the mantra of Make-A-Wish: “Hope! Strength! Joy!”
Outside, Saul smiled broadly and said he liked the whole thing.
“It felt good,” he said.
Since its inception here in 1985, the local Make-A-Wish chapter has granted more than 800 wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses.
Domino’s Pizza, Saul’s favorite food, underwrote the cost of the wish, about $5,000, by asking customers to make donations. Marcie’s European Tailoring in Ventura stitched Saul’s deputy uniform from material donated by On Duty, a local uniform supply store. Deputies at the Ojai station collected mementos to place in a duty bag for Saul. And they captured the day in photographs to be presented as a scrapbook to him later.
Saul also received gifts from donations by officers at the Ojai station.
“This staff here really has rallied to make this special,” said Bruce Norris, Ojai Police Chief. “Most of us have young kids, and this was just a great opportunity to share with Saul and give him the experience of what it is to be a police officer.”

Saul's Day in Photos