Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gravel Truck Owners Suing County

Lawsuit alleges restrictions on truck traffic exceed authority

By Nao Braverman

Local critics of truck traffic have questioned the legality of nearby mining operations. But now it’s turnabout time.
Nearby mine owners are questioning the legality of the demands of their regulators.
Owners of the Ozena Valley Sand and Gravel Mine and the Virgilio Family Trust filed a lawsuit against Ventura County last week, for allegedly changing the scope of their permitted operations without prior notice, hearing or environmental review, according to the lawsuit.
They are also filing charges against the county for restricting the use of State Highway 33, which is allegedly in excess of the authority granted to the county, according to the legal petition.
But the county’s position is that they have not done anything wrong, said District 1 Supervisor Steve Bennett.
Since 2001, the Ozena Valley Mine’s conditional use permit allows project-related trucks to travel on Highway 33 through the Ojai Valley, Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
According to the lawsuit, the owners believed that vehicles traveling to and from the mine were restricted from traveling during peak traffic hours, between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. and 3 p.m and and 6 p.m during weekdays, but that they were able to travel at other times.
But a new letter in 2007 clarified that their mine operation could only send truck traffic between 6 a.m and 7 a.m and 9 a.m. and 3 p.m on weekdays only, and not at other times.
The plaintiffs believe this to be a reinterpretation of their permit requirements, by which they have been operating their business for seven years according to the lawsuit.
But Bennett said that the conditions have not been changed since they were approved by the Ventura County Planning Commission.
“No complaint came in during the five years of trucking operations so the issue never arose,” he said. “But when the complaints began come in about a year ago, the applicants began to dispute that the complaints accurately stated what their conditional use permit says.”
The county maintains that the conditions stated on the mining company’s permit, are clear and unambiguous, and that there is room for dispute as to what the condition is, according to Bennett.
Members of the Committee to Stop the Trucks believe that many mine operators do not know their own schedule, said member Howard Smith.
Bennett explained that the misunderstanding, from the county’s position, stems from the fact that the regulations were not enforced, because there were no complaints from citizens, not because the regulations were ambiguous.
Mine operators at Ozena Valley Sand and Gravel Mine could not be reached for comment.

Council Hears New Vision For Ojai

Talk of annexation, moving skate park draw concerns

By Nao Braverman
The 30 Ojai Valley residents who make up Citizens for a New Vision for Ojai have ideas about the future of the community that they shared with their elected officials at Tuesday night’s Ojai City Council meeting.
They want to make sure that Ojai continues to prosper, they want to see more housing for the local work force and to stop the declining enrollment in local schools, they want Ojai to remain a viable, living community, and much more, as actor Peter Strauss explained.
But while many local residents share the same “vision”and hopes as the citizens group, not all of them agree on their proposal of how to keep Ojai’s economy thriving.
Strauss, as a spokesperson for the group, though he was attacked and bitten by a pit bull dog Sunday, stated several ways that the city could begin to realize this new vision. Among them was to build the proposed Ojai Valley Performing Arts Theater complex, with the help of the city, at the site of the Ojai Unified School District offices, along with housing for artists, and retail space. But the sight is currently leased to the Ojai Skate Park, and slated to be the location of the soon-to be-built permanent park.
“Skate Ojai wishes to make it clear that we do not agree with the part of tonight’s proposal which requires a change in location for the new, concrete, in-ground skate park,” said Skate Ojai member Wendy Hilgers. “Tonight’s proposal is contrary to agreements made between the city, the school board and the citizens of Ojai. It seeks to halt progress on the current skate park plan which is so close to realization ... It is Skate Ojai’s sincere hope that the City Council and the school board will honor agreements reached and commitments made.”
At a May 2007 council meeting, Mayor Sue Horgan told proposers of the Performing Arts Theater, then considered for the Nordhoff High School campus, that it would be dangerous for the city to get involved in a construction project that, located on school district property, would be exempt from a number of city regulations and requirements. The Ojai Unified School District offices are, however still on school district property.
Other complaints from council attendants referred to the Citizens with a New Vision’s call for lightening up on Ojai’s traffic policy, to allow for some commercial activity and local entertainment.
Local citizen and Housing Element Task Force member Rod Greene cited a Los Angeles Times article that said the reason Ojai thrived as a tourist hot spot was that it is the anti-Los Angeles and has successfully stayed that way.
“We are a small village,” said local resident and former council candidate, Leonard Klaif. “That’s why most of us came here and that’s how we want it to remain.”
As to pleas from the citizens group to incorporate members of the unincorporated areas of the Ojai Valley, Council Member Carol Smith said that it had been considered before but wasn’t economically feasible.
Though other commissions include valley-wide representatives, according to Horgan, the city, could not afford to incorporate the unincorporated areas.
“What in Meiners Oaks would give us the same income as the Ojai Valley Inn?” asked Smith.
In other council news, Public Works director Mike Culver said that the landscaping and lighting districts for maintenance districts No. 1 and No. 3 are functioning at a deficit but assessments will remain the same until Public Works staff meets with property owners and tenants of the district.
Also, the city accepted an offer of a $7,500 settlement from Scott Baugher regarding the removal of a city-owned liquidambar tree provided that a formal agreement of settlement is approved by the city attorney and signed by Baugher, his wife, Melissa, and Mayor Horgan.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Crime In Ojai Shows Slight Rise

By Daryl Kelley
Despite a slight increase in reported serious crime because of a surge in thefts from autos last year, Ojai experienced far less violence, less gang activity, fewer calls for police assistance fewer felony arrests and less drug abuse among teenagers and young adults, according to a new police report.
Although major crime was up 2 percent in 2007 because of vehicle burglaries, calls for help to the police were well below average, and disturbance calls dropped from a peak of 1,026 in 2005 to 735 last year, writes Sheriff's Capt. Bruce Norris in a report the City Council was expected to consider Tuesday evening.
The new report — a detailed supplement to earlier 2007 crime statistics for Ojai — also finds that police responded more quickly to calls for help last year than the year before: They took an average of 5.65 minutes to get to the scene of an emergency, down half a minute from the year before. Improvement was greater for “immediate,” but not emergency calls, dropping four minutes to about six minutes.
“Overall, I think we are really doing very well,” Norris said in an interview. “Other than the thefts from vehicles, there have really been no spikes in crime in the city in the last year.”
But there have been some sharp declines: the most dramatic being the reduction in felony assaults from 17 in 2006 to just five last year, resulting in a 47 percent drop in violent crime overall last year. There were no murders, two rapes and three robberies reported.
In Ojai, calls for service related to violence also continued to plummet — from 241 three years ago to 202 in 2006 and to 178 last year.
“I believe that was directly related to a significant reduction in gang activity,” Norris said. And that reduction is due in part to a special sheriff's anti-gang unit operating in the Ojai Valley and west Ventura County during the last year, he said.
The reduction in felony arrests in Ojai — from 73 to 56 — was also related to a drop in gang confrontations, he said, although the unincorporated portion of the Ojai Valley saw felony arrests soar from 147 three years ago to 177 in 2006 and 217 last year, he said.
“Most of 2007’s serious gang activity occurred outside the city limits,” Norris said in his report to the City Council. “While the city experienced fewer gang incidents, Oak View and Meiners Oaks saw an increase in serious gang-related assaults.”
But after several arrests, “gang activity returned to a manageable level and (has) remained stable for several months.”
In Ojai, part of the drop in disturbance calls was also attributed to fewer gang confrontations, he said.
But fewer disturbances are also due to a two-year crackdown on teenage alcohol parties, he said.
Norris said the City Council's enactment in spring 2006 of the so-called "social host" ordinance — and a similar county law — seem to have had a significant effect. The laws hold parents responsible for teen parties where alcohol is served, whether the parents are at home or not.
In two years, 30 adults have been fined $1,000 each for allowing underage drinking parties at their homes, 10 in the city and 20 in county areas. One parent has been fined twice.
"Deputies are telling me that there were fewer party calls the last two years than at any time in recent memory," the police chief said. “Disturbance calls were down by 250 or more. I really believe that is the result of the effectiveness of the social host ordinance.”
Even parents who are fined seem to understand why the law is a good idea, he said.
“We haven't had irate parents calling,” he said, “or complaining at the scene either.”
Perhaps related has been the recent trend toward fewer drug arrests of juveniles.
In both the city and county areas of the Ojai Valley, only 35 youths under the age of 18 were arrested for any type of drug offense in 2007, according to the report. That reflects a steady decline since 2004, when 56 juveniles were arrested. Only four arrests were made for possession of marijuana on school campuses last year, down from 19 the year before.
Drug arrests were also down steadily for adults aged 18 to 25 from 200 in 2004 to 141 last year.
Nonetheless, Norris said in his report that illegal drug use remains a problem in the Ojai Valley.
“Methamphetamine is, by far, the most commonly abused illicit drug (excluding marijuana) in the Ojai Valley,” he wrote. “Juveniles are occasionally found under the influence of, or in possession of this drug, but the most common violators are adults, typically between 18 to 45 years ... Among juveniles, marijuana is the most commonly used drug.
“Fortunately,” Norris wrote, “police are seeing less abuse of prescription drugs, like Oxycontin and Vicodin, than in prior years. Though occasional overdoses are reported, these drugs are seldom found during routine probation searches, and searches incident to arrest. ... By comparison) pharmaceuticals have lost their appeal, at least for now.”
Despite fewer arrests of youths and young adults for drug use, “illicit drug use in the Ojai Valley is a serious issue. Those who use and abuse drugs, especially meth, cocaine and heroin, frequently victimize family, friends, and strangers, to quench their desire for drugs. Most of the crimes of larceny, burglary, identity theft and fraud can be attributed to those desperate to buy drugs.”
Fewer calls for service have allowed the 11 sheriff's deputies who patrol Ojai to concentrate more on preventing crime, Norris has said.
The result has been an increase in the last two years of field contacts with citizens in which officers filed contact cards on discussions with residents, witnesses and suspects. In each they compiled names, ages, addresses and phone numbers for use in future investigations, Norris said.
What wasn't down last year were thefts, especially "smash-and-grab" break-ins of vehicles.
In Ojai, those jumped from 35 three years ago to 54 in 2006 to 84 last year.
“I think the big news here is the increase in theft,” Norris said. “While the numbers are not large, it is really a significant concern. Our message is don't leave valuables in your car.”
Thieves are particularly active in areas where people leave cars for an extended period — health clubs, hiking trails, ball games and general parking lots. Police recommend locking valuables in the trunk of a car.
“In 2007, police saw a spike in thefts from locked and unlocked vehicles,” Norris writes in his report to the City Council. “Property targeted in many of these cases was money, checkbooks, credit cards, laptops, stereo systems, iPods, etc.”
Top police officials from around Ventura County have been meeting to develop strategies to curb auto burglaries, he said. But in recent years, criminals have been breaking in not just for car stereos and purses, but for credit cards and Social Security numbers.
Ojai Police have been successful in many of the theft cases, Norris said.
“Investigations by patrol deputies and area detectives revealed that local youth were responsible for many of these thefts,” Norris said in his report. “Early in the year, multiple arrests of those responsible were made, and the incidents of theft began to decrease. “
Vehicle thefts fell from 57 for the first six months of 2007, to 27 for the last six months, he said.

Democrats Stump In Ojai

War, housing and health care top candidates’ agendas

By Linda Harmon
Three Democratic hopefuls were on hand at Saturday’s Democratic Forum held at The Ojai Center for the Arts. Sue Broidy introduced two of the candidates running for the 24th Congressional District, Jill Martinez of Oxnard and Mary Pallant of Oak Park. A third candidate for the seat, Marta Jorgensen of Solvang, did not appear. Their Republican opponent is incumbent Elton Gallegly who has served in this district since 1987. Also present was Ferial Masry, from Newbury Park, who is running for the 37th State Assembly District.
“How can anybody not run in this atmosphere when our representatives vote against everything important in this country?” said Martinez, setting the tone for the event.
Martinez and Pallant each spoke to the crowd and responded to questions ranging from why they were running, to the economy, healthcare, and Iraq.
Martinez has spent 13 years with the Ventura Housing Authority and built a reputation working for affordable housing, one of her main concerns. She said she can’t complete her work on this, or other issues like health care and education, until she gets to Congress.
”I see kids come to school and get maybe their only good meal of the day. Then I turn on C-Span and see them arguing about whether to pay for that $2 school lunch while spending millions on Iraq,” said Martinez. The Presbyterian minister, who taught professional ethics at California State University-Stanislaus, also chided developers and government for considering allowing housing to be built on the site of the 1951 Rocketdyne catastrophe. The Santa Susana Field Laboratory above Simi Valley is where Boeing’s Rocketdyne Division operated and tested nuclear reactors, manufactured nuclear fuel, and made engines for rockets and missiles. She compared the contamination of that site to Three-Mile Island saying, “It is totally irresponsible to put housing there.”
Martinez also stressed her platform of reallocating funds for domestic needs as did Pallant, with both speakers supporting single-payer health care.
Pallant got involved in politics because she is “outraged about the privatizing of government” and “loves the nature of politics.” Pallant says Gallegly wants to give Ojai citizens and others “a Brown Moment,” instead of the customary pink.
“You have to change the people in charge,” said Pallant. “I am running face-to-face, block-to-block to do that.”
On the environment, both cited a need for national leadership and said the lack of it is hampering state improvements. Pallant called for the re-classification of the SUV as a car for fuel standard purposes as a first step in tightening pollution standards.
On social issues both candidates support equal rights for gay constituents and the right of same sex marriage. They also both support a woman’s right to choose, affirmed in Roe vs. Wade.
On campaign finance reform and political lobbyist issues Martinez called on politicians themselves “to be strong enough to stick to our principles” and tell the monied interests ”they can not buy government any longer.” Pallant said she supports public campaign financing laws to do this.
The two were asked what they thought about pushing for the impeachment of President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. Both agreed it should be on the table.
When asked how each would defeat Gallegy, Pallant said she plans on touting her Democratic status. She believes the national mood and desire for change in the presidential election will provide her party with that coveted coattail effect. Martinez answered that her plan was to be as accessible as possible and “go toe to toe” with him on the issues.
Pallant said what is needed is an active and engaged citizenry. As Democrats, running in what has been a Republican stronghold, she quoted Samuel Adams with a call for “an irate and tireless minority” to take charge.
According to Broidy, Ojai has now turned “blue” with more registered Democrats than Republicans and Ventura County’s Republican lead has narrowed from 10,000 to 5,200. Broidy is hopeful that with the declined to state vote “trending Democratic” Gallegy’s reign may soon be over.
Masry, who is planning her third run for the Republican held Assembly seat, said she surprised everyone including her Democratic supporters with her fierce belief in the democratic process and has garnered support because of it.
Masry, who was born in Saudi Arabia, said with a son who served in Iraq she became involved because she was appalled at the state of democracy in our own country.
“Democracy is our effort as a whole,” said Masry in a short but heartfelt speech. ”I have a deep respect for this process.”
Responding to the morning’s event, Ojai resident Robert Salinas agreed saying, “It was exciting to hear their views and contrast them. It’s an exciting time in politics in general.”

Peter Strauss Injured In Pit Bull Attack

By Bret Bradigan
Ojai actor and citrus rancher Peter Strauss spent nearly half an hour in a dance of life and death with a raging pit bull.
Strauss survived. But the outcome was very much in doubt.
Interviewed Tuesday, his voice hoarse from shouting for help, Strauss was making a routine inspection of his orchards on Sunday at noon, when he saw the brown pit bull mix scrabbling against the boards that blocked him into the neighbor’s yard on Avenida Del Recreo.
“I could see him pull his head through, and thought, ‘My God, this dog is going come for me,’” Strauss said. The dog charged the 32-foot distance in seconds, but left the orchard owner — armed only with clipboard — plenty of time to imagine his peril. “He leapt at me, and I hit him with the clipboard, as I moved back toward a tree.”
The dog grabbed Strauss’ leg, furiously shaking his head and tearing and puncturing the calf. “I knew if I went down to the ground, I was dead. I thought, ‘I’m going to die on my own farm like this.’”
Strauss was able to grab a piece of wood to swing at the dog and fend him off. “I hit the dog as hard as I could, and it just wasn’t enough. I would hit him, and he would just shake his head.”
He broke off one chunk of wood on the dog’s head, but was able to pick up another piece, as the tense and brutal dance continued for 20 minutes. “He would either try to jump up, or go for my leg.”
Strauss alternated between shouting for help, and yelling at the dog to go home. Neither strategy brought results, though he later learned that his pleas were heard, and that people attempted to come to his rescue.
After the standoff, the dog eventually backed off, and Strauss was able to get to Soule Park and make the call for help. The Animal Control officer, Mark Wisma, arrived 25 minutes later and the pair went searching the Siete Robles neighborhood for the errant dog. “The dog flew out of a different corner of my property,” Strauss said. As the dog continued its vicious lunging and snarling, both Strauss and Wisma, he said, felt vulnerable. “I was terrified. The dog couldn’t be caught.”
The dog eventually ended back at its owner’s house on Avenida Del Recreo. Wisma ordered the owner to collar and leash the dog, which he did. Strauss described the dog’s owner as remorseful and cooperative.
Kathy Jenks, director of Ventura County Department of Animal Regulation, said the owner signed a release and the dog would be euthanized this morning. Its brain will be removed and sent to a lab to check for diseases, though it reportedly has had its rabies shots.
The dog, a neutered male adopted from a Los Angeles County Shelter, had no previous record of attacks, though Jenks reported that it bit someone else that day.
“Dogs like this don’t belong in this community,” Strauss said.
He found a card in his mailbox the next day from neighbors, who have their names as Dennis and David. They had heard his shouts for help, but were unable to pinpoint his location.
Strauss said he was ably treated and released from Ojai Valley Community Hospital’s emergency room with lots of stitches and a course of antibiotics. He said he was determined to keep an appointment to make a presentation to the Ojai City Council Tuesday night.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ojai School Board Facing Major Budget Cuts

Closing elementary schools among options considered in wake of $2 million drop in state funds

By Sondra Murphy
Public school supporters are calling on the populace to participate in a letter-writing campaign. To school districts that have been cutting back for years, like Ojai Unified, the state budget crisis is an ominous threat.
The district office boardroom was spilling over with school advocates during a special public input session on Tuesday. Teachers, school staff, parents and students spoke to the board of their concerns as the district prepares to eliminate programs in order to remain financially solvent.
“We have three different problems we’re dealing with,” said board President Steve Fields. “The first is declining enrollment — the second is the state budget, from which we are projected to get less money per student. In addition to that, there are a variety of programs on the state and federal level that are also getting cut.
“So while all of our costs are going up, we’re facing cuts,” said Fields. He called attention to a handout of the OUSD projected deficit work sheet that listed revenue decreases from the general fund, as well as potential areas of reduction being considered by the district.
Under revenue decreases were listed loss of students, special education funds, health benefits, step and column increases, utility increases and the deficit caused by the state’s budget shortfall. These items total $1,942,055.
Cuts to be considered by the board are staff reductions, class size increases for grades four through 12, management and support services such as program specialists, elementary secretarial support hours, maintenance-grounds-custodial, warehouse personnel, transportation, nutrition services, library and computer lab hours, elementary P.E., athletics, health benefit reductions, workday reductions, athletics, high school career counselor, support periods and a 10 percent budget cut at all sites and departments. Also up for consideration is the closing of elementary schools, specifically Summit and either Meiners Oaks or Mira Monte. All items on that list represent $2,704,400.
“On the back of the page are listed the people who are really going to be deciding our fate who, in my opinion, have not been supportive of public education.” Their phone numbers and addresses were included.
“The board has not determined any of these cuts yet,” said superintendent Tim Baird. “What I have done is put them into categories. Further down the list are items more harmful to our educational delivery. None of these are easy cuts.”
Parents Tim Koester and Lauren Coyne addressed the board about the possible closure of Summit Elementary School. “This school is serving students from rural Upper Ojai, as well as Santa Paula,” said Coyne. “Founded nearly 100 years ago, Summit attracts students from outside the district because of its small size. Many of these families would not send their kids to other schools.”
“We have a tendency to close ranks when it comes to closing schools and we parents have come up with a list of ways to help save all the schools,” said Koester. Included in the list was raising money through PTAs or PTOs. “If we can raise $250,000 for a skate park, which I’m totally in support of, we could raise money for our schools.”
Clerk Kathi Smith said she admired the enthusiasm, but reminded the crowd, “This is this year’s funds. We still need to do a letter-writing campaign to get the funds restored for other years.”
Lori Hamor spoke as a parent of two Meiners Oaks students. “One of the district’s greatest assets is the presence of the neighborhood schools. These elementary schools are more than just brick and mortar,” said Hamor. “They are anchors of the community.”
“It doesn’t make sense to me to take a school that is functioning at a high level and closing it to save money,” said Mira Monte parent Christel Kelsey. “All the research I’m reading suggests middle school is not such a great way to educate kids. It makes more sense to close Matilija and make our elementary schools K through eight.”
Sean Kelsey echoed the sentiment. “I want to emphasize that if there were no budget crisis and I had the opportunity to keep my kids at Mira Monte and not send them to Matilija, I would.”
“We have had a committee looking at school configurations over the last year and they are close to getting a report to us,” said Fields, adding that the committee was not created because of budget concerns. “They’re looking at all the issues surrounding reconfiguration, which are numerous. It is not necessarily one of the things that would help us save money and that’s why it’s not on the list of possible closures.”
Nordhoff students Matt Smith, Cole Bettles and Alex Miotti spoke with concern for those facing job loss. “Some of us are really nervous,” said Smith. He asked the board to consider the consequences to student course options in the absence of enthusiastic teachers who keep students engaged and interested in the classes.
“I’m aware that we have resources in the valley that are ready to mobilize to help solve the problem,” said Meiners Oaks parent Glenn Fout. “The most important thing is preserving our neighborhood schools and getting that off the list as soon as possible. That would alleviate a lot of concern for parents,” he said.
“As a community, we need to start talking about a parcel tax,” said Fout. “The state leadership has failed us completely.”
Nutrition services manager Susan Thomas told the board she was worried about possibly losing the school meal program and offering sack lunches instead. “I don’t want to go down that road. Please sit down with Suzanne (Lugotoff, child nutrition services director) to discuss other options.”
“I’m speaking as a teacher who has been a member of the community for 47 years,” said San Antonio’s Sandra Hansen. “It’s kind of like ‘Yertle the Turtle.’ Teachers are holding everyone else up on their backs.” Hansen reminded the board of many cuts that will come directly out of teachers’ salaries and personal accounts. “Please don’t pick our pockets to balance the budget.”
Matilija secretary Barbi Rice spoke representing the classified employees of the district. “Our pockets are even smaller than the teachers,” she said. “I’m here to request we formally involve all the stakeholders who are impacted by this. This is going to change people’s lives.”
Rice said the district should make cuts where it would do the most good and create the least drastic change for the students and employees. “When cuts are made, work does not go away,” said Rice. “I would never target individuals in any way, but what I think we’re looking at is cutting where it will do the most good.”
Rice also pointed out that many OUSD employees live outside of Ojai and would have different legislators from those in Ojai. She offered another list of government contacts.
Matilija math teacher Magda Perkins said, “This is a problem that is way beyond us and it will take mobilization of the community. Is it OK that the richest state in the nation is 48th in student-spending ratio? There should be a law against that.”
“I feel very blessed to have spent my career at this district,” said Summit teacher Heather Ramsey. “Community schools are innately valuable to the communities they serve. They provide a service to this planet and I hope we can save them,” she said. “When I leave here tonight, I’m going to get on my computer and contact my representatives.”
“I like the creative ideas brought here,” said Pauline Mercado. “I’m beginning to think that we cannot count on Sacramento and we have to save our own schools and be willing as a community to sponsor that and fund that and encourage that.”
“It’s my experience that the board is very pro-teacher and staff,” said Vice President Linda Taylor. “This is a nightmare for the community. If you have thoughts and can’t come to a meeting, send questions or suggestions to us at the district office.”
“When Glenn brought up the parcel tax idea, it is noteworthy that raising taxes got applause,” said board member Rikki Horne.
“I’ve weighed in before on the lack of willingness in Sacramento to participate in social living and pay taxes,” said Kathi Smith. “When I hear anti-tax proponents talking about cutting the fat from education, I just say phooey. There’s no fat left in this school district. It’s nothing but human flesh.”
“It was very valuable for me to hear from such a wide range of people here for a variety of reasons,” said Fields as he closed the session. “I encourage you to follow Heather’s advice. As so many people said, we need to come together as a community.”
“You are going to have numerous opportunities to speak to the board and me,” said Baird. He invited the public to meet with him next Wednesday at 7 p.m. when more dialogue will take place and people can get answers to some of their questions. It will be at the OUSD boardroom.
There is also another special public input session scheduled at 6 p.m. before the April 1 meeting of the school board at which individuals may make comments under the provisions of the Brown Act. At those sessions, the OUSD board is unable to respond to questions or participate in dialogue with speakers but, as Mercado said, “It’s helpful when people come in and give us new ideas because it does go into the decision-making process.”
During Baird’s superintendent’s report at the regular portion of the board meeting, he announced that summer school for students up to eighth grade might not be possible this year due to budget shortfalls. “I know some people are waiting for the other shoe to drop. The shoe is dropping,” said Baird. Intervention programs fund summer schools and he said that the high school must have priority for those resources, impacting lower grade summer sessions.
“As we deal with this budget issue, we will find more and more things that hurt kids and this is one of those things.” The district office may be contacted at 414 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, CA 93023 or by visiting its web site at

Ojai Couple Wins Share Of Lottery

Missing Mega number reduces $59M possible win into $175K payday

By Daryl Kelley
It wasn’t Mega Millions, but it was a nice surprise for an Ojai couple approaching retirement, anyway.
Judie Jensen, a bookkeeper, and her machinist husband, Collin, are padding their retirement accounts this week after Judie “quick picked” five of five numbers in the $59,000,000 Mega Millions Lottery last Friday, missing only the Mega number.
No one chose all six winning numbers, but the Jensens were one of two who picked five of five, and so they received $175, 085 — or, they will actually get $131,314 after 25 percent is taken for taxes.
Either way, it’s a nice bit of luck for an occasional lottery player who snagged a ticket at the Valero gas station on Ojai Avenue.
“I just play it now and again,” Judie said this week. “A quick pick.”
It’s not like she expected to win.
She didn’t get around to checking her numbers until nearly two days after the Friday night selections.
“It was Sunday, later in the day,” she recalled. “I checked the numbers in the paper, and I was just kind of in shock. I walked out (to the garage) and showed my husband the ticket.”
She said she doesn’t recall a real celebration, although she said the couple, both in their 60s, could use the money to shore up their retirement accounts.
“We’ll probably just max out our retirement accounts,” said Judie, who has lived in Ojai with her family since 1972. “We’re going to save a lot of it. We’re not going to blow it all. That’s not what we do.”
Judie laughed when she picked up the phone this week to answer a reporter’s questions.
She’d been told by lottery officials that her name, hometown and winning amount were public information.
Still, she’s shy about it all, she said. And she can’t shake a tantalizing thought that keeps popping back into her mind.
“It’s great,” she laughed, “But I would have liked one more number.”

City Council To Hear New Vision Group

Integrating valley with city, promotion of Ojai arts center among plans to be presented

By Bret Bradigan
A new group with a mix of old and new ideas will have its coming out party at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
First conceived during informal meetings at actor Peter Strauss’ home, the organizing principle of the assortment of 30 Ojai Valley activists and organization representatives is to “revigorate the community’s potential while protecting and respecting its unique character and history,” according to the Citizens for a New Vision for Ojai’s mission statement.
Strauss said another consideration was to create alliances rather than adversarial confrontations between the public, council, planners and other government agencies. “The council is clearly fearful of the tyranny of the minority — who often threaten recalls and lawsuits. And it has been made clear by council members that the ‘good guys’ are rarely there to stand up against that vocal disparaging minority. We intend to change that and be accountable,” Strauss wrote in a statement.
One key concern of the effort is to make sure that people who live outside Ojai’s city limits are heard about decisions made inside the city that are bound to have an impact — whether it be development, water use, traffic and affordable housing. “The unincorporated areas are just not represented, period. This is a huge undertaking and needs much advisement. We’re not sure where to begin ... but it needs to be looked at!” he said.
This vision is also expanding to include a performing arts complex, centered around a 400-seat auditorium, at the site of the Ojai Unified School District offices on Ojai Avenue, either leased or purchased, with the skate park, affordable housing for artists and retail space.
While acknowledging that this project is bold, expensive and likely to be controversial, Strauss said that such a regional attraction would crystallize Ojai’s image, and prosperity, as an arts and culture center. “Socially, economically and educationally, it would be incomparable,” he said.
Already anticipating objections, another of the organizers, Joan Kemper, said that traffic impacts can easily be mitigated. “We can have attractive, dynamic ingress and egress,” she said.
For every person you ask about their vision of Ojai, Strauss said, you will receive that many answers. But the current stagnant, reactive stance is unsustainable. “It would seem to be the consensus that we do need to involve ourselves, that to embrace Ojai’s traditional ‘laissez-faire, kickback, mellowness’ only promotes indifference ... it is a dangerous assumption to believe things will work themselves out.”
Citizens for a New Vision for Ojai can be reached at

Shuttle Earns Law Enforcement Praise

By Nao Braverman
Frank Harwood goes out much more on weekends now that he doesn’t have to drive. Dutch VanHemert will pick him up near his house or even at his door if he leaves a tip.
“What do you do in Ojai without a bus or a taxi?” asks Harwood. “If you have one or two drinks you’re a sitting duck for DUI.”
On its eighth weekend today, Ojai’s designated driver service has been a success so far, according to its originators.
Jump-started by Nigel Chisholm, owner of The Village Jester, and Dutch Detail’s VanHemert, local restaurants have pooled funds to hire VanHemert as a weekend shuttle service.
In an effort to help community members enjoy a safe and legal night on the town, the service runs hourly on Fridays and Saturdays from 7 p.m. to 2:30 a.m, transporting passengers to various stops throughout the valley for free.
In an early meeting among participating restaurant owners, the new transportation service was dubbed the Downtown Shuttle. VanHemert, who also uses the vehicle to run an airport shuttle during the week, is getting magnetic signs that spell the designated driver service’s new name to be displayed on the vehicle on weekend nights.
So far there are nine participating establishments; The Emerald Iguana Inn, The Blue Iguana Inn, Suzanne’s Cuisine, Feast Bistro, Auberge at Ojai, Q-Time BBQ and Sports Grill, Azu, Antonio’s and The Village Jester are all pooling funds to pay for costs so that the service is free for passengers, according to VanHemert. The Hub and Sakura are still undecided, and the Deer Lodge and Il Giardino’s have dropped out, he said.
The Downtown Shuttle stops at locations throughout the Valley including most of the downtown bars and restaurants, but VanHemert said he will pick people up and drop them off at home for free with a suggested gratuity.
With about 275 passengers since its inception, and 70 to 80 the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, according to VanHemert, the shuttle has been getting plenty of use, likely taking a number of intoxicated locals off the roads.
The California Highway Patrol made 1,635 DUI arrests in the west side of Ventura County in 2007, according to California Highway Patrol Officer Shawna Davison. And the Ojai Valley saw 32 DUI-related car accidents in that time period. Since the new year there have already been six DUI related accidents in the valley, she said.
“You look at a corner on Ojai Avenue on any given weekend and there is a police car waiting,” said Harwood. He is much more comfortable going out riding the new Downtown Shuttle than taking the chance.
“Dutch has been doing a good job, he has a good, safe vehicle and drives safely,” he said.
You don’t have to be intoxicated to use the new transportation service, however. It is ideal for out-of-towners, in Ojai for the weekend who want to grab a bite to eat. Local resident Bill Loehr, who said that he doesn’t go out very often, took the shuttle one weekend when he had an eye infection and couldn’t drive.
Chisholm said that so far he feels the service has been extremely successful. And although he has handed the management of the designated driver service over to VanHemert, he continues to participate, and hopes it will continue on past the trial period.
“I think it’s tremendous for the community,” said Ojai Police Sgt. Maureen Hookstra. “It’s certainly something we’ve needed for a long time and I hope it continues.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fallen Tree Leaves Ojai Man Homeless

With the fallen oak tree resting on his van, Mel Williams and grandson Jesse wait for city crews to remove it.

Photo by Scott Wintermute

By Lenny Roberts

Mel Williams has lived in a rented duplex on Franklin Street for 18 years. Now, an act of God, he says, according to the city after a tree fell into his house, has left him temporarily at a local motel paid for by the Ventura County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
To make matters worse, Williams has no renter’s insurance and the owner of the four duplexes on the property — two of which the city reportedly would like to condemn — has moved away, making it difficult for Williams to pay his monthly share of the Section 8 housing costs. The checks he has sent to the property owner have all been returned for the last several months. But an official at the Area Housing Authority for Ventura County said Tuesday all the checks they have sent to him at an out-of-state address have been cashed.
Sunday night, Williams and his 13-year-old grandson, Jesse, were watching television in the living room of the modest two-bedroom home when the tree came crashing down during heavy winds.
“It sounded like a tornado,” Williams recalled. “I dived onto the floor and the ceiling came. And all the bees,” he added, referring to a hive that was in the 4-foot-diameter oak tree.
Williams contends the tree that blew into his living room Sunday night was rotten, on city-owned property, and should have been removed long ago. Both Public Works director Mike Culver and building inspector-code enforcement officer Brian Meadows were out of their offices and unavailable for comment.
Linda Fisher-Helton, representing the Area Housing Authority, said Williams receives a voucher which guarantees approximately 70 percent of his living costs, including rent and payment for utilities, and he can use that voucher in any of the six cities or the unincorporated areas of the county served by the agency. Fisher-Helton said a list of acceptable rentals is available on the AHAVC web site, “He doesn’t lose his subsidy,” she explained, adding there is no requirement for the owner of AHA-subsidized property to provide insurance.
But Williams said he checked on one place — a one-bedroom rental for $1,000 a month — and the lady told him she didn’t accept Section 8 rentals.
“It’s very unfortunate, but there’s nothing we can do. We’re here just to subsidize the monthly rent,” Fisher-Helton said.
With his home uninhabitable and his van crushed by the tree, Williams must now look for a place to live after his Red Cross assistance stops later this week.
At least for now, the Ojai motel where he is staying while his future is decided allows him to keep his 2-year-old boxer-pit bull mix , Jake.
“He wouldn’t hurt anybody and loves kids,” Williams said.

Coalition Marks Fifth Year Of Iraq War

Ojai Peace Coalition volunteer Nick Frangakis places the first of nearly 4,000 names of fallen U.S. soldiers on the pavement surrounding Libbey Park fountain. Photo by Rob Clement

By Sondra Murphy

Nick Frangakis kneels and begins meticulously writing names in block letters with blue chalk. Frangakis is a member of the Ojai Peace Coalition and a volunteer for the weekend event, “Not One More,” at Libbey Park in which 3,891 names of U.S. citizens killed in the Iraq war would be written in the fountain courtyard.
“The first lady killed,” says Frangakis reflectively as he comes to name No. 18 of the chronological list and begins lettering “Lori Ann Pieste.”
Evan Austin and Coleen Ashly of OPC organized “Not One More” as an effort to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq by honoring every soldier from the United States who has died in the conflict. OPC organized the lists of the dead and coordinated volunteers to write their names in chalk: blue for most and orange for those from Ventura County.
Dolores Bray, with Citizens for a Peaceful Resolution, started Friday’s efforts by numbering 80 courtyard squares to which the volunteers would be directed. Each square would list 60 names to accommodate all the soldiers and some civilians this nation has lost in the war effort. When she finished, Bray got blue chalk to begin the task of writing names.
Austin feels it is important to recognize the human loss and what it means to families. “They deserve the honor and respect of all communities all over this country,” he said.
“The Ojai Peace Coalition is founded and run by Evan and volunteers like me,” said Ashly from a spot under the tent and surrounded by lists of names, leaflets and blue ribbons to give each volunteer. Besides Austin and Ashly, Jessie Austin was getting volunteers started Friday while toting baby daughter, Noa. “She’s been a peace activist all her life,” Jessie Austin says of a smiling Noa.
The Peace Coalition worked more than two months on the event, which included renting the park area around the fountain and covering the required insurance. Banners and 2,000 pieces of dustless chalk were purchased and templates created to assure that all the names would fit within the squares. Many sponsors contributed to help pay for the memorial event.
In its “Not One More” leaflet, the Ojai Peace Coalition acknowledged the estimated 1 million Iraqis killed during the war, but recognized the logistical time and space constraints that would come with including each of those names.
Frank Peterson of Veterans for Peace brought six panels of pictures, names, ages and ranks of Americans who have lost their lives since the war began. “They range in age from 18 to 60,” said Peterson as he was setting up the panels. After pointing out 18-year-old Pfc. Ryan M. Jerabek, Peterson scanned the panels to find the 60-year-old: civilian Barbara Heald. “She was a nurse riding in a Humvee that was hit by a roadside bomb.” Of the remaining, most were in their 20s and 30s.
Austin appreciated Peterson’s contribution, since a low number of veterans were involved with the event. Members of the Boy Scout Crew 6505, James Taylor and Cody Stephens, took charge of the flag ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday.
“Our flag is considered a living symbol,” said Austin on Friday, “and in patriotic passages spanning many decades it has been imbued with the noblest characteristics we have language for. Red for valor and hardiness, often poeticized as the blood with which we have paid for our freedoms; white for innocence and purity; blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
“As we proceed this weekend, I will be wondering where the courage is in lying to start a war, how we claim purity while we practice torture and what kind of justice entails the murder of over 1 million Iraqis.” Austin hopes to soon convince the Ojai City Council to lower the city’s flags to half-staff in honor of those who have lost their lives in Iraq, as the state capitol has done.
The writing stopped mid-afternoon Friday and Saturday and notices were posted around the area in hopes that the chalk names would not be disturbed. “Every day when we left, we said a little prayer that there would be no vandalism,” said Ashly. By Sunday, the courtyard had taken on an ocean blue hue of names with vibrant orange highlights throughout.
Ashly said hundreds of volunteers participated over the course of the weekend. After chalking the names from their lists, people migrated over to Peterson’s wall to get details on the soldiers they had listed. The last name was written Sunday at 5:55 p.m. The event ended with a vigil around the fountain next to the flag at half-mast. As shadows began falling on the courtyard, a small group gathered with candles in a circle to comment upon the event and war.
Nordhoff student Brooke Eccles-Baker told the group that she and some friends had walked through Libbey Park Saturday evening and saw nearly 3,300 names. “They didn’t know what it was and when I explained they were soldiers who have died in Iraq, the shock on their faces was amazing,” said Eccles-Baker. “It feels good to think we did something for (the fallen soldiers) and honored them in some way.”
Ashly said the names did not include most civilians, soldiers stationed in Afghanistan or people who died from their wounds after returning to the U.S. Questions were raised about the accuracy of the list of the dead.
Grant Marcus commented about the many names of soldiers that included Jr., Sr., II and III after their names. “In those families, that history might not be continued,” he said, adding that it made him think about Iraqi families going through the same grief.
“I feel we’re closer to the Iraqi people than we are to the CEOs who are making money off this war,” said Peterson.
“I think it’s great that everyone here stands up for what they believe in,” said Taylor while waiting to attend to the flag.
“Doing this has been touching for me because I’ve enlisted in the Marines and seeing these names shows me what I might be looking forward to,” said Stephens. Tom Erickson, a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran later moved to speak to the scout about his own experiences.
Austin ended the vigil by noting that seeing so many people on their knees over the course of the weekend, “In a humble posture, really registered to me the magnitude of those who have fallen in this war.” He reminded the group that every American name written during the event represented at least 250 Iraqis who have died.
Afterwards, the group began packing up and washing down the cement. Overhead, wisps of clouds projected an orange sunset into darkening blue as if the sky still held vigil with the sea of names.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

State Appeals Golden State's Water Hike

Lawyers say Public Utilities Commission violated state water law in granting such a large increase

By Daryl Kelley
In a rare move, the state office that protects the public interest in utility cases has appealed a 35 percent water rate hike on Ojai customers enacted in February by the California Public Utilities Commission.
Lawyers for the commission's Division of Ratepayer Advocates appealed the steep rate hike last week and requested a re-hearing on key issues, saying the commission violated state water law in granting such a large increase.
Specifically, Ratepayer Advocates' lawyer Cleveland Lee maintained that the commission's findings in support of the increase “are not supported by substantial evidence” and that the commission “imposed unjust and unreasonable rate burdens in violation of (state law).”
“The commission should grant rehearing to correct the legal errors,” Lee concluded. “The decision lacks specific supportive findings; proceeds in a manner contrary to (law); and is not supported by substantial evidence in light of the whole record.”
Lee notes that the commission granted the request of Ojai water retailer, Golden State Water Company, for increases to pay for 24 of 26 construction projects in Ojai and six other water districts included in the same ruling.
“While the Division of Ratepayer Advocates can accept that the commission may want to encourage infrastructure investment,” the appeal says, “the commission must balance that desire with the legal requirements of state statutes.”
Victor Chan, an analyst for the Ratepayer Advocates Office, said that such an appeal is rare: that of the 20 cases he's been involved with over six years, only two or three have resulted in appeals by his office.
“It's not often we appeal the commission's decision,” he said. “But we weren't happy about this decision.”
The Ratepayer Advocates office recommended a 24 percent increase for Ojai residents over three years, but the commission in February ratified an administrative law judge's decision that a 35 percent increase was justified for 2008 alone and that additional increases should be granted to cover hikes in the cost of living in 2009 and 2010.
That could mean that Golden State could get all of the 43 percent three-year increase initially requested, Chan said.
Only part of the appeal deals with problems in the ruling that pertain to Ojai, Chan said.
So even if the PUC were to grant a re-hearing and fully endorse the appeal's conclusions, relief to Ojai water users would probably only roll back the 35 percent increase to about 30 percent, Chan said.
The parts of the appeal that deal with Ojai involve administrative overhead and capital improvement costs the appeal maintains are not supported by evidence.
The PUC will decide whether to re-hear the case within a few weeks, Chan said.
In December, state Administrative law Judge Regina DeAngelis adopted the 35 percent rate increase for Ojai residents. And the PUC adopted her ruling almost exactly, Chan said.
Under the ruling, Ojai residents' water bills have increased on a sliding scale, depending on use and size of meter.
For example, the monthly bill for a resident with a 5/8th -inch line using 1,500 cubic feet of water a month, a modest amount, increased from about $50 to about $68. A customer using 3,000 cubic feet, typical for Ojai, increased from about $84 to $110.
The base service charge also increased about $11, to more than $30 a month.
The ruling was victory for Golden State Water Company, a private firm with nearly 2,900 customers in the city of Ojai and vicinity, since with inflation increases it could almost double the increase recommended by the Ratepayer Advocates Office.
Golden State had sought the 43 percent increase 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.
With this year's hike alone, Golden State's rate increases in Ojai over the last two decades total 107 percent.
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 is 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 Ratepayer Advocates Office. Under the ruling, the return on company equity is 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 last year, dozens of Ojai residents and city officials asked DeAngelis to grant no rate increase until Golden State improved its service and water quality.
Chan said the PUC found compelling DeAngelis' argument that the steep increase was needed to upgrade the Ojai water delivery system and water quality.
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.
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 then that 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 for operations for Golden State.
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 Ratepayer Advocates Office concluded that Golden State had provided reasonably good service and water quality in Ojai.
It 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 satisfactorily (sic) 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.

Casitas May Let Some Boats Return

By Daryl Kelley
A week after directors of Lake Casitas closed one of the nation's premier fisheries to outside boats for up to a year, that same board struggled Wednesday with ways to begin letting some boats back into the lake without allowing a potential infestation of a destructive mussel.
The directors seemed to be seriously considering an idea floated by anglers at last week's hearing on closure: Allowing boaters who only fish at Lake Casitas to continue to use the lake, by placing a security lock on their craft so inspectors could see if it had been used anywhere else.
A second proposal to create greater access to the lake during the ban on outside boats was also discussed by the board, which seemed to favor a staff proposal to greatly expand the lake's boat storage area, so local fishermen could leave their boats there for a fee and continue to fish after a 10-day quarantine proves them dry and clean.
“These are some good ideas, quite frankly, from people who use only Lake Casitas,” said Steve Wickstrum, general manager of the Oak View-based Casitas Municipal Water District, which manages the lake. “We'll try to keep our risk at zero and allow recreation to continue for folks who use only Lake Casitas.”
“I'm glad we're moving forward,” said Board President Jim Word.
Before the ban on outside boats, the directors had feared that the pernicious and damaging quagga mussel, discovered in Southern California lakes last year, could hitchhike aboard fishing boats from infected lakes to Lake Casitas, the main water supply for the Ojai Valley and western Ventura. Infestation would cost many millions of dollars to combat, officials estimated, and they said there is no proven way to eradicate the alien mussel. A single female quagga mussel can produce a million offspring a year, resulting in a mass of mussels so dense they clog waterworks and undercut the natural ecosystem, killing fish and other aquatic life.
Casitas directors set a hearing for March 26 to further discuss the mussel issue, and to “tweak” the resolution they approved last week, banning outside boats while still allowing anglers to rent boats at Lake Casitas or to store their craft there for $80 a month if there is space.
On Wednesday, two avid bass fishermen raised the issue of safety locks again, presenting to the board a wide array of materials on tamper-proof locks that could guarantee that boats whose owners swear they use them only at the huge local reservoir don't sneak in a visit elsewhere.
“With this procedure you are guaranteed 100 percent that you will not get the mussels,” said fisherman Larry Elshere of Ojai. “It's impossible. We're all against the mussels.”
Which prompted praise from the board: “This is the kind of cooperation we're looking for,” said Director Pete Kaiser.
Another fisherman, Doug Hanson of Camarillo, proposed that the board also investigate the feasibility of creating a “Lake Casitas Coalition of Clean Lakes,” which would include lakes around the state that have not been infested by mussels.
Those lakes, including nearby Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County, could work together by banning boats from their lakes that did not have safety locks or which had been in infested lakes, he said.
The coalition of clean lakes could cooperate fully to ensure that no boat that was not secured could enter any of the clean reservoirs. That would leave lakes open to responsible boaters, Hanson said.
“If you bring this to sister lakes, it's a concept that could go across the state,” he said.
The board seemed intrigued by the idea, or at least a variant of it, possiblity including Lake Cachuma in its safety lock program, if Santa Barbara County supervisors ban outside boats at a hearing set for late this month.
“I'm glad you guys are getting together on this,” said director Russ Baggerly, who spotlighted the quagga threat to Lake Casitas last year.
Baggerly asked Hanson if it wasn't odd that the clean lakes, especially Casitas, have had to lead the campaign against the spread of mussels, while the state Department of Fish and Game has allowed infested lakes to stay open to fishing. “Isn't this backward?” Baggerly asked.
“It is odd,” Hanson agreed.
State officials have said they think mussel spread is not such a threat that it requires the closure of lakes, and that thorough inspection before entry is sufficient..
Baggerly added in an interview: “Lots of potential solutions are coming to the surface now due to the pressure we've put on the state and the boating community (by banning outside boats). People are actually starting to think about this seriously. The pressure finally got their attention.”
In a report to the board, Brian Roney, recreation director at Casitas, said that he and other lake operators spoke with fish and game Fisheries Director Terry Foreman last week about what the state could do to staunch the spread of quaggas, and a sister zebra mussel, discovered recently in Northern California.
Roney said the lake operators agreed that the state should immediately ban all bass tournaments at infected lakes, require infected lakes to decontaminate all departing boats, develop uniform boat inspection protocols and reconsider a boat tracking system so operators would know which boats have visited infested lakes.
The board asked Wickstrum to incorporate Roney's suggestions with others from Baggerly and other directors and send them to the Department of Fish and Game and other agencies that could work together to stop the spread of mussels.
Closer to home, the board dealt with appeals from lake users who thought they'd been caught in a bureaucratic Catch-22 when the lake closed.
Fisherman Tom Hutchinson said he rented a boat slip at Lake Casitas last Wednesday, the day after the ban on outside boats only to find that he was not allowed to bring his boat into the lake to use the slip. Hutchinson noted that the boat ban resolution allowed for such storage after a 10-day quarantine. But Wickstrum said there was some ambiguity in the resolution, and the district's lawyer, John Mathews, said the language needed to be clarified at the March 26 meeting.
Finally, after board members empathized with Hutchinson, Wickstrum relented, allowing the angler to bring his boat to Casitas Thursday morning to begin the quarantine.
The board also heard a request from Walter Stowe of Ventura, who asked to set up a storage facility at the lake for inflatable tubes.
Roney said about 125 tubers use the lake.
“It's one more element we will consider,” said Word.
Director Kaiser said the board had just begun a process to find a solution to the mussel threat, while still providing recreational opportunities.
“This type of innovation is how we're going to succeed,” he said. “The board is going to work the best we can to keep our lake clean and to work with you folks.”
Director Hicks, who voted against the one-year ban to outside boats, favoring a 60-day closure, pressed his colleagues for a set of criteria that, once achieved, would prompt reopening the lake.
“We need to decide what it's going to take,” Hicks said.
Since the quagga mussel threat surfaced last year in San Diego and Riverside counties, the district has been checking boats for water or vegetation that could carry the mussel's microscopic larvae and asking boat operators if their craft have been in infested lakes and excluding those that had.
Casitas directors imposed the boat inspections in mid-November, and officials said 158 of about 2,800 screened boats have been excluded, usually because they still carried water from other lakes.
In a series of recent meetings, dozens of boaters have cited the economic harm of a ban since Casitas is a premier bass fishing lake. District staffers have estimated such a ban would cost the water agency more than $600,000 a year in recreation revenue while also hurting nearby businesses.
At last week's hearing, Elshere said he'd conducted an informal survey of businesses, and found that they would lose about $1.8 million a year.
Repeatedly, fishermen have said there is no evidence that the mussels have been transported by boats in California. State officials say the mussels have infested eight Southern California lakes through a series of aqueducts, not by boats, although the initial infestation in Lake Mead was apparently from a houseboat moved from the Great Lakes area.
Some community members who asked for an immediate ban, cited the billions of dollars agencies have spent in the Great Lakes region since 1988 to combat the invasive zebra mussel, which apparently migrated to the United States aboard freighters from the Ukraine.
Three weeks ago, the Casitas board asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a statewide emergency because of the mussel infestation, so California could qualify for federal emergency money to fight it.
One large utility in the East Bay of San Francisco responded by banning any boat from Southern California or outside the state from its reservoirs. That move came in late January after a zebra mussel was discovered near Gilroy in San Benito County, just south of the Bay Area.
It was also the first zebra mussel found in the western United States, officials said.
The quagga mussel's migration northward, after it was discovered at Lake Mead and Lake Havasu 14 months ago, has occurred in the sprawling canal system of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Cliff Farrar leaving NHS football for Buena

Nordhoff High School head football coach Cliff Farrar announced Thursday that he is leaving the Rangers to take over the head coaching position at Buena High School in Ventura. Farrar racked up 150 wins against 89 losses during his 21 seasons, ranking him fourth on the all-time list of Ventura County's head football coaches. The Rangers won nine league titles and went to the CIF-SS Division finals four times during Farrar's tenure.
The coach is shown after the Rangers' thrilling 23-20 overtime victory on Nov. 16, 2007 against Nipomo during the first round CIF play-off game.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

OUSD Lawsuit Costs Top $315,000

Defense against parents’ claim likely to rise to $350,000

By Daryl Kelley
The consortium that insures the Ojai Unified School District against legal claims has paid about $315,000 to defend the district against a lawsuit by parents who claimed their children were harassed after they complained about profanity and sexual content in a book.
The tab is still mounting, officials said, and could reach $350,000 by the time all legal bills are paid.
The parents dropped their claim last month, three days into trial and nearly three years after they filed it amid a bitter controversy that divided the San Antonio School community.
Plaintiff Jeff Luttrull said he and his wife, Rosalyn, spent at least $100,000 pressing their case before abandoning it because judges had thrown out eight of its nine counts and its scope was so small it could have no real effect.
This week, the tiny Ojai school district confirmed just how much time and money had been spent by the defense.
The district released documents to the Ojai Valley News showing that the Ventura County Schools Self Funding Authority, a consortium of 21 local districts that pools money as insurance against lawsuits, had already paid $314,890 in legal fees and other expenses.
That total does not count legal bills for February, which include trial preparation and three days of trial.
“It won’t be until April that all the bills from lawyers and expert witnesses come in, but they say definitely at least $30,000 is still un-billed,” said Dannielle Pusatere, the district’s superintendent for business and administrative services.
Of the services billed so far about $274,000 have been paid to Oxnard-based Nordman Cormany Hair & Compton, the county’s largest law firm, while about $28,500 has gone to Goleta-based Gregory B. Bragg & Associates, a claims and risk management company.
Pusatere said officials do not know yet whether the suit will cost the district more in annual insurance premiums, because the district’s payment is based on losses by all 21 school districts each year. The overall fund may have done well despite spending $350,000 over three years on this case, she said.
“The premium depends on how all 21 districts do,” Pusatere said. “They say they have a pretty good fund balance in the pool right now, so they can’t really say what the change is going to be, if any.”
Typically, the Ojai district pays $140,000 to $150,000 a year in premiums for property and liability insurance, she said.
School Board President Steve Fields said he wished the district hadn’t spent a penny on the case, but that fighting the suit was the right thing to do.
“There are times when we need to stand up and say we think the accusations are wrong and we need to defend ourselves,” he said. “One reason we have insurance is to be able to do that.”
The district’s lawyers thought the case would be dismissed early and cost little, Fields said. But a pair of negligence counts stuck through federal and state courts until last month, when a Superior Court judge threw out one of the two just before trial.
“I think if we would have settled to save money,” Fields said, “we would have been criticized for just settling to have it go away.”
Superintendent Tim Baird, a defendant in the case, said the district could not settle, because the plaintiffs insisted that veteran teacher Linda McMichael be removed for allegedly retaliating against their children for complaining about a book she assigned to counter playground bullying.
Nonetheless, Baird has called the suit a huge waste of time and money. Not included in the documented costs was time lost from their jobs by McMichael, Baird and school principal John LeSuer in battling the case. When McMichael was absent, her class was guided by a substitute teacher.
“They wanted Linda’s removal or firing and that just wasn’t justified,” Baird said Tuesday. “The settlement they offered was basically throwing Linda to the wolves, and I wasn’t going to do that.”
Luttrull, an eye surgeon, said Tuesday that he considered the case a waste of money since the district could have settled early at little expense. But he said it was worth the $100,000 he spent if the district learned to be more responsive to parent concerns.
Luttrull said he tried to end the suit in its early stages, offering to settle for $5,000 in his legal fees, a letter of apology to parents whose children were in McMichael’s class, a directive to district teachers that the state education code says classroom materials should be “age appropriate” and training teachers on what is appropriate.
Luttrull acknowledged that he also asked that McMichael be removed from her classroom, although he never asked that she be fired.
“With the teachers’ union, you can’t do that,” he said. “And her removal was not essential. That wasn’t a deal-breaker. We just wanted to see them accept some responsibility for what had happened, but instead we were just told to get lost.”
He also said another of his children was in fourth grade at San Antonio and he wanted to make sure she did not get McMichael as a teacher the following year.
Jonathan Light, lawyer for the district, said that his clients never received a formal settlement offer from the parents, nor did the district formally offer to settle.
The district maintained throughout that it responded promptly to the parents’ concerns: McMichael withdrew the offending book immediately and apologized to the children and parents, and Baird assured the parents in a lengthy meeting a week later that district policy would be changed to require screening of supplemental materials in classes.
Indeed, the educators thought the issue was resolved until three weeks later at the meeting with Baird.
Then, Luttrull distributed fliers with passages from the book to parents as they came and left San Antonio, and then pressed his case before the school board.
The spring 2005 dispute tore the tight-knit San Antonio School community apart, with one side calling for McMichael’s removal and the other saying she was being bullied by overly protective parents.
Parents of three girls removed them from the school after a series of events they said harassed their children.
The parents filed a lawsuit in September 2005, claiming negligence and retaliation by school officials and a violation of the students’ and parents’ civil rights. Of the nine original counts, judges reduced the case to the single negligence claim. Parents of the third child had already dropped out of the lawsuit.
The remaining plaintiffs, Betty Craven and the Luttrulls, sought monetary damages for the girls’ emotional distress and to pay the mountings cost to educate the Luttrulls’ children in a private school. Craven’s daughter remains in a public school.
Luttrull said he abandoned the case partly because the negligence count pertaining to use of an inappropriate book had been dismissed by the trial judge.
“If I had unlimited funds, I would have appealed,” he said.

Meeker Out In Help Of Ojai Shakeup

Steve Bennett, Ventura County’s 1st District Supervisor, and Lisa Meeker, at the opening of the West Campus on Oct. 5, 2007

By Nao Braverman
Lisa Meeker, director of Help of Ojai’s West Campus, and a longtime employee of the Ojai nonprofit group, was asked to step down, Monday.
Her position was a cost-cutting measure to alleviate some of the financial hardships the organization has been experiencing for the past year and a half, said Help of Ojai’s executive director J.R. Jones.
With a little more than $400,000 in the bank just a year and half ago, Help of Ojai’s finances are currently in dire straits, with staff members struggling to cover day to day operations, according to Jones.
He attributed the loss of funds to lack of significant donations.
“In the past we had large amounts from bequests, and we haven’t had any in the past couple of years.” he explained.
Such significant donations, supported by smaller grants, allowed the organization to run programs with costs that overran profits, according to Meeker.
“Historically our services were provided at deficit,” she said.
But somewhere between the end of Marlene Spencer’s tenure, and J.R. Jones’ entry, with a short term directorship of Debbie McConnell in the midst of the two, the nonprofit’s reserve budget dwindled.
During that time the organization was expanded to include the former Honor Farm property, now, Help of Ojai’s West Campus.
Meeker, who had been working as Help’s development and resources director, expanded her position as director of the new West Campus, overseeing the transformation of the old Honor Farm into a community resource center and renting out the additional space to mostly non-profit tenants.
In late January a new development director was hired and Meeker focused entirely developing the West Campus.
But as the organization’s existing programs began to suffer from the fiscal hardships, the staff and board of directors made the decision to sacrifice Meeker’s position in order to maintain existing programs, according to Jones.
In early January, a budget crisis had the organization’s administration threatening to shut down the Oak Tree House, a cardinal adult day care program, which was saved from its death bed by an anonymous donor.
“To get our operations budget healthy again we had to make cuts where we would impact the fewest number of clients,” he said. “Since the West Campus is new we decided to focus on our existing programs, and put any further development of that project on hold until more funding is at hand.”
Cutting out the director’s position along with her administrative assistant saves the organization approximately $80,000 a year, he said.
Meanwhile, the West Campus will be run entirely on volunteer assistance, of which there is no shortage, said Jones.
All the existing tenants, including the he Ojai Raptor Center, the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, both the Ojai Valley Tennis Tournament and Ojai Music Festival which are renting storage space, and two private tenants are all secure.
“We have a 35-year lease so we are not in a sprint,” said Jones. “We will continue to renovate the property but put any further developments on hold until additional funds are available. “
Ed Martel, a seven-year volunteer with Help, attributes, the fiscal shortfalls to Help of Ojai’s recent expansion to West Campus.
“It’s the worst thing they ever did,” he said.
Martel points to a board member’s promise that at least eight individuals would donate $25,000 to the West Campus. Of the prospective eight, only the board member who spoke actually came up with $25,000, according to Martel.
But despite such criticisms, the West Campus was able to raise $150,000 in a combination of grants, general contributions and profits, said Meeker.
Some significant donations came once the details of the plans were confirmed, she said.
After paying about $136,000, many of which were one time expenses, the new West Campus made a net profit of about $14,000, said Meeker and Jones.
Though Help has promised the county a $1 million renovation project, to be carried out over a five-year period, Meeker expects a bulk of that to come from volunteers, of which the West Campus has not yet experienced a shortage.
The organization is bringing in about $6,000 a month from tenants, she said.
Jones confirmed that Meeker’s position was not being eliminated because of a failure of the West Campus program, but rather an overall fiscal problem at Help.
“We have completed phase one of the program, and Lisa has done a wonderful job,” he said.
As for the future of West Campus, further developments will be put on hold, but the current tenants are there to stay, to be managed by volunteers, said Jones.
Meeker maintains that the expansion was an important move for Help.
“I still strongly believe it was the key to keep the organization alive,” she said. “Change, if planned out well, is a good thing.”
She hopes to move on to an organization that is more entrepreneurial and more embracing of change than fearful.
As for the future of West Campus, she hopes that the fruits of her work will survive without the management staff.
“Countywide the community has recognized it as a really innovative program,” she said. “It has been an exhilarating time.”

Thursday, March 6, 2008

OUSD Joins Statewide Budget Protest

School board members adopt resolution opposing governor’s proposed budget cuts

By Sondra Murphy
With a low estimate of $1.5 million in necessary reductions by Ojai Unified School District for the 2008-2009 school year, administration and board members are joining in protests against Sacramento’s financial attack upon public education. At Tuesday’s meeting, the board adopted a resolution strongly opposing the governor’s proposed 2008-2009 budget.
The consideration of the resolution followed a gloomy second interim financial report and an estimate of staffing eliminations for the upcoming school year, a remorseful tradition initially prompted by declining enrollment and worsened by repeated annual financial cuts to education. Because the state budget is merely a proposal, school districts find themselves having to base their own budgets on numbers that may be improved later on. OUSD must also adopt its budget before the legislators ratify the state’s financial plan sometime midsummer.
Superintendent Tim Baird reported that a total of 30 teachers will be receiving layoff notices, a number which does not include temporary staff. By law, teachers must receive notices by March 15 of each year, months in advance of solid funding agreements between public schools and state or federal sources, so more layoff notices are given than are necessary to perform.
In the past, OUSD has been able to rehire many noticed teachers after budget and enrollment figures have settled. Unfortunately, some teachers seek employment elsewhere and often good staff is lost in the process. Others endure the uncertainty of employment status for months. The board agreed to hold special public input sessions at 6 p.m. before their next two meetings to allow the School District community to voice opinions on the matter. Those next meetings are scheduled for March 18 and April 1.
During discussion, Baird and the board expressed frustration and anger over the budget crisis. “We appear to be pawns in this game every year,” said Baird. “It’s criminal to me. This long-term problem needs to be resolved in educational funding.”
“If people aren’t aware, we are funded per student and it has successively gone down to about $5,600 per student,” said member Pauline Mercado. “In New Jersey, it’s like $11,000 per student. It has a lot to do with legislation and how they deem to spend it.”
“The people responsible for the situation we are in are the people in the legislature,” President Steve Fields agreed. “The people who can’t find solutions to fund our schools are hurting generations to come.”
“I noticed our assemblywoman, Audra Strickland, had an article railing against tax increases of any kind,” said clerk Kathi Smith. “If she’s the barometer of the lack of civic responsibility that people feel, I’m shocked.”
“We need a stable source of funding,” said member Rikki Horne. “The idea of pitting health care against education against social welfare is unfair. We need to figure out what we want and if it involves raising taxes, we do it.”
“That’s why I think it’s a sham when all the politicians are speaking to education, but not funding it,” said Mercado. “If you hear someone ‘speechify’ about how education is important to them, say to them, ‘Show me the money.’”
“When you look at what teachers in California get paid, they can’t afford to buy homes,” said Vice President Linda Taylor. “It’s really distressing, asking them to do this most important thing and we can’t pay them enough to live.”
“We do have an election in November and people are up for election,” said Fields. “People need to be aware of how our representatives are voting.” Baird added that community members should voice their complaints to their elected representatives about California’s inadequate educational funding.
The board unanimously voted to approve Resolution No. 07-08-24 on the governor’s proposed 2008-2009 budget. In the resolution, the board states that Gov. Schwarzenegger’s 2008-2009 budget proposal calls for “massive and devastating cuts to K-12 students and schools by reducing Proposition 98 in the current year” and with the proposal, OUSD would lose $1 million in 2008-2009.
The resolution goes on to cite that the district has suffered more than $3 million in loss of revenue in the last three years and that California spends $1,900 less per student than the national average.
“The $16 billion budget problem was not created by our students and fixing the problem should not come at the expense of their educational progress and success,” the resolution continues, asserting that the proposed budget goes against the will of state voters regarding Proposition 98. “Be it resolved that the Ojai Unified School District strongly opposes the governor’s 2008-2009 budget proposal and urges the governor and legislature to discuss all possibilities to solve the budget crisis including new revenue sources.”

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

CMWD Board Closes Lake To Outside Boats

Mollusk threat to drinking water supply leads to 3-2 vote

By Daryl Kelley
Thousands of anglers will have to find another place to fish after directors of Lake Casitas, one of the nation's premier bass fisheries, but also the Ojai Valley's main source of water, voted Tuesday night to shut it down to outside boats for up to a year to avert a potential infestation of a destructive mussel.
Directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District voted 3 to 2 to ban outside boats from the huge reservoir, despite assurances from state officials that they were already doing enough to keep the lake mussel-free and pleas from dozens of boaters to work with them without the ban.
Effective immediately, the ban of outside boats still allows anglers to rent boats at Lake Casitas or to store their craft there for $80 a month if there is space.
An overflow crowd of nearly 300 showed up at Nordhoff High School Tuesday night, mostly to object to the proposed ban.
The crowd clapped loudly and responded with applause and shouts of approval when speakers supported keeping the lake open, and an occasional soft hiss when speakers wanted it closed.
After the deciding vote ended a three and a half hour hearing, some in the audience chanted softly "Recall, recall," a comment apparently aimed at the three directors who voted for a ban that will keep out most of the 26,000 boats that visit the lake each year.
Directors Russ Baggerly, Rich Handley and Pete Kaiser voted for the one-year restriction, while Jim Word and Bill Hicks favored a far shorter ban. Hicks said he wanted a 60-day ban to work out an air-tight inspection program and to set up a boat-washing device the state offered to provide. Word did not specify how long of a ban he favored, but he said state officials were apparently now motivated to address the problem more effectively.
"It's certainly good to hear the state agencies seem to be gearing up," Word said.
But Baggerly said he could not rely on state assurances that Casitas was already doing enough, especially since state officials had been dragging their feet in implementing a statewide anti-mussel program approved nine months ago. Repeatedly, Casitas officials have not even been able to get state Department of Fish and Game representatives on the phone to talk about the issue, he said.
"I can't go with that; I have to protect this water resource," he said. "We've got (the state's) attention. Now they're going to get off their big fat behinds and start doing something."
Terry Foreman, fisheries manager for the state Department of Fish and Game, acknowledged in an interview that the state had moved slower than he'd have liked.
"For the state to move, we have to have money," he said. "We've had a hard time coming up with sufficient money."
But he said officials from a number of state departments are going to meet within the next month with the aim of more effectively dealing with the mussel problem. At least $1 million more will be available, he said.
Of about 30 speakers Tuesday, only about a half dozen favored excluding outside boats. But one speaker said he was certain most local residents favored the board's cautious approach to protecting the water supply of about 60,000 residents in the Ojai Valley and Ventura and 6,000 acres of agriculture.
Since the quagga mussel threat surfaced last year in San Diego and Riverside counties, the district has been checking boats for water or vegetation that could carry the mussel's microscopic larvae and asking boat operators if their craft have been in infested lakes and excluding those that had.
Casitas directors imposed the boat inspections in mid-November, and officials said 158 of about 2,800 screened boats have been excluded, usually because they still carried water from other lakes.
In a series of recent meetings, dozens of boaters have cited the economic harm of a ban since Casitas is a premier bass fishing lake. District staffers have estimated such a ban would cost the water agency more than $600,000 a year in recreation revenue while also hurting nearby businesses.
At the Tuesday hearing, Larry Elshere of Ojai said he'd conducted an informal survey of businesses, and found that they would lose about $1.8 million a year.
"It could be devastating," he said.
Ron Cervenka, who hosts bass tournaments at the lake, said fishermen have been the lake's greatest supporters and the board's best allies.
"Bass fishermen are not spreading quagga mussels," he said. "They're spreading the word about quagga mussels … Our anglers are ambassadors for you."
And another fisherman warned that closing the lake to outside boats might boomerang.
"If you close the lake, what's going to keep a disgruntled fisherman from infesting (it), so it doesn't have to be closed," said bass fisherman Tom Hutchinson.
Repeatedly, fishermen said there was no evidence that the mussels have been transported by boats in California. State officials say the mussels have infested eight Southern California lakes through a series of aqueducts, not by boat, although the initial infestation in Lake Mead was apparently from a houseboat moved from the Great Lakes area.
But some community members said an infestation would be much more expensive than a ban on outside boats, clogging the lake's waterworks and ravaging its ecosystem.
They asked for an immediate ban on outside boats, citing the billions of dollars agencies have spent in the Great Lakes region since 1988 to combat the invasive zebra mussel, a close cousin of the quagga, which apparently migrated to the United States aboard freighters from the Ukraine.
"We're either going to have a lake that is infected, or a lake that is protected," said local resident Ralph Steele. "After the lake is protected and a workable decontamination solution is installed, the visiting boaters can be invited back."
Reacting to the same perceived threat, managers of Lake Cachuma have proposed closing that scenic Santa Barbara County reservoir to outside fishing boats. The issue is set for hearing March 11 before Santa Barbara County supervisors.
Two weeks ago, the Casitas board asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a statewide emergency because of the mussel infestation, so California could qualify for federal emergency money to fight it.
"We are urgently seeking your leadership to help prevent an impending catastrophe stemming from an invasive non-native species that could destroy the water quality and cause an unprecedented escalation in maintenance costs for virtually every California resident and business," said a letter to Schwarzenegger.
"The mussel threat is of extraordinary magnitude because these mussels have been found to consume most of the food chain upon which many other species depend for survival," the letter added. "The quagga and zebra mussels also may clog pipes of almost any diameter."
The most likely way a mussel may be transported is by trailered boats, the letter said.
One large utility in the East Bay of San Francisco has already responded by banning any boat from Southern California or outside the state from its reservoirs. That move came in late January after a zebra mussel was discovered near Gilroy in San Benito County, just south of the Bay Area.
Foreman, the state's fisheries manager, said Tuesday, in an interview, that it's not clear where the zebra mussel came from. But that it's possible that it was by boat, in a bait canister or by bird, although he said the possibility of its arrival by bird was extremely rare.
The zebra discovery was the first for a quagga or zebra mussel in the State Water Project, an elaborate set of dams, canals and reservoirs that provide most of the water in the state.
It was also the first zebra mussel found in the western United States, officials said.
The quagga mussel's migration northward, after it was discovered at Lake Mead and Lake Havasu 14 months ago, has occurred in the sprawling canal system of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, they said.
And that's why Foreman said Tuesday that he thought Casitas was doing more than enough to staunch to mussel threat. "So far it's been water movement, not boat movement," he said.
The infestation of the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes area, discovered two decades ago, now costs utilities about $140 million a year to try to control and to clean encrusted facilities, Casitas spokesman Ron Merkling has told the board.
And in a report considered by the Casitas board Tuesday, the water district's staff said costs of an infestation here could be astronomical — to $1 million to $100 million, depending on whether a particularly devastating type of algae bloom associated with it develops.
"We can't afford this," said director Handley. "If the state can't handle it, then it's up to us five guys sitting here … We want to take a little breather … This lake is going to open up again. We're not advocating permanent closure."