Thursday, June 26, 2008

Parcel Tax Sought To Cover School Shortage

Ojai Unified School District board wants initiative on November ballot

By Sondra Murphy
The Ojai Unified School District board has approved a balanced budget, as required.The question is, will the state follow suit?
After months of painful staff and program eliminations by the district in order to produce a balanced budget from pillaged funding sources, Laura Meisch, director of fiscal services, presented the updated 2008-2009 budget for adoption at Tuesday’s OUSD board meeting. With an estimated beginning general fund balance of $1,256,892, expected revenues of $24,874,061, expenditures of $25,293,478, operating balance of $837,475, and a required reserve of $802,614, the estimated end fund balance was listed at $34,861 — —a lackluster amount met with relief when contrasted to possible school closures so recently avoided.
“That’s cutting it close,” said board member Rikki Horne after the audience responded with brief applause and celebratory vocalizations.
Other funding categories are adult education, cafeteria, deferred maintenance, building, capital facilities, special reserve for capital outlay, bond interest and redemption with a total estimated beginning balance of $2,635,863 and estimated ending fund balance at $1,105,890. Categorical funds are so named because of the specificity in which they may be spent and so cannot be used to supplement the general fund.
Deferred maintenance projects over the summer and through next year are the last of bond funds available. “This is it,” said Danielle Pusatere, assistant superintendent of business and administrative services. “I will finish it off in the rest of the year.” Summer projects include various roofing and paving necessities at all campuses and a room remodel at Topa Topa Elementary.
It took little time for the board to voice concerns over next year’s financial hurdles. “Again, I keep wondering how we are going to keep functioning when we’re down to the bare bones,” said Vice President Linda Taylor as the board approved a revised list of classified job eliminations that helped the district stay in the black. “It’s distressing. We need to find a source of funding.”
In his superintendent’s report, Tim Baird said that enrollment statistics for 2008-2009 are coming in a bit stronger than projected and look to be similar to last year’s numbers. While this is good news in some respect, the need to hire back more teachers to accommodate students could strain OUSD’s tight budget.
The projections are based on students signed up at the five elementary and three secondary schools in the district so, until August, Baird said they will hire “ghost” positions and wait and see how many students show up to adjust for actual numbers. “We
have seen swings of 90 or so kids in the past,” he added. “Right now the numbers are solid, particularly for elementary and Matilija. If the high school gets over 1,000 and we grow in the other schools, we are good.”
District staff voluntarily took a cut in medical benefits in order to fund elementary physical education staff next year. Elementary P.E. is currently a pullout subject during which physical education specialists direct students while teachers have time for logistics associated with lesson plans. For secondary teachers, preparation periods are built into their schedules. “Many years ago, district employees traded pay raises for benefits and now they are giving up some of that in order to have elementary P.E.” said Horne.
With the objective of avoiding another scramble for financial solvency next year, the board agreed to spend resources to place a parcel tax initiative on this November’s ballot. Several supporters of the Save Ojai Schools campaign, which raised $62,445 this year for the struggling district, voiced further support for a ballot measure asking to allow OUSD to levy a tax of $89 per parcel annually for seven years with senior citizen exemptions, independent citizens’ oversight and yearly audits,
Unlike the failed parcel tax attempt of 2005, property owners over the age of 65 would be allowed an exemption from the tax and board members expressed hope that the $89 price tag would be acceptable to voters come election time.
“No one can tell us right now how many seniors meet the exemption,” said Baird, who estimated that half of the approximate 9,400 parcels within OUSD boundaries were owned by senior citizens. “Assuming all apply for exemption, we are looking at $450,000, or somewhere in there, being raised if this passes. That’s a significant amount,” Baird said, “that’s a school closure and a P.E. program.”
“I’m a little bit disappointed to hear we’re not talking about more than $89 a parcel,” said parent Mike Caldwell. “No matter what it is, I am going to be doing my utmost to organize the people involved with the Save Ojai Schools campaign to help make your job easier.”
“I’m a little concerned that, with gas going up and the economy going the way it is, it might not pass,” said parent Nicole Botti. “But I will support it because none of us wants to go through an SOS campaign again next year. We will if we have to, but we want to avoid it.”
“Our backs are against the wall,” said Baird. “We wouldn’t be in this position now if we had passed the parcel tax last time.”
“I’m encouraged to hear from so many supporters for this,” said board member Pauline Mercado. “I won’t make any excuses for asking for $89. I think it’s a bargain.”
Clerk Kathi Smith called the parcel tax a “bridge loan from the people in our community” as the district considers ways to develop the district office site into an income-generating property.
Meisch said that the budget would be fine-tuned as actual funding is received come autumn. Baird added that current friction among legislators in Sacramento inspires little hope for a timely state budget.

Farmers Face Yet Another Water Hike

Casitas $15M budget means 18.8 percent agricultural rate hike beginning Tuesday

By Daryl Kelley
With a telling absence of public dissent, directors of the Ojai Valley’s largest water agency approved this week a new $15-million budget supported by another sharp jump in water rates to valley farmers.
Although farmers would absorb an 18.8 percent increase in rates during the fiscal year beginning July 1, farm leaders in the audience at Wednesday’s hearing praised Casitas Municipal Water District directors for trying to keep rates down.
Indeed, despite the proposed increase of agricultural rates from $312 an acre-foot to $371, farmers said they were grateful that directors had used property taxes to offset part of the cost of delivering water to farmers.
Without the offset, farmers could have faced rates of more than $500 per acre-foot for the coming year.
“I think they’re doing a good job of trying to do what they have to do; they’re very much between a rock and a hard place,” said Tony Thacher, an East End farmer, in an interview.
Still, the more expensive farm water, coming on top of a 53 percent hike in the cost to irrigate crops last year, is putting Ojai Valley agriculture in jeopardy, because marginal farmers simply cannot pay the new price, Thacher said.
Even farmers with profitable crops such as lemons, avocados and specialty tangerines, will have to sink new wells into the valley’s subterranean water basin to be able to make farming pencil out, he said. The cost of well water, not counting maintenance expenses, is about $70 an acre-foot, farmers say.
But the new wells, costing up to $100,000 each, could be a huge problem, Thacher said, since they could pull too much water out of the underground basin, depleting the water supply of hundreds of farmers and thousands of residents.
“My biggest concern is the groundwater basin,” Thacher said. “There are lots of wells being drilled or contemplated right now.”
Added East End farmer Jim Churchill: “If everybody’s doing it, that affects the groundwater basin.” And a depleted Ojai aquifer could affect everything from drinking and irrigating water to the valley’s eco-system, Churchill said. “Wouldn’t that affect the oak trees?”
The interdependence of the Ojai Valley’s water supply systems has become an increasing issue during the last year, as water agencies have sharply hiked rates to maintain and rebuild aging pipes, pumps, tanks and reservoirs.
And every move by Casitas can affect every other agency in the valley, since it controls the huge reservoir behind Casitas Dam, a federal public works project managed by a locally elected board.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement in how we manage our water supplies,” said Casitas general manager Steve Wickstrum. “We need to protect our long-term and our short-term supplies.”
In fact, the valley’s groundwater management agency has begun an extensive study of precisely how the Ojai Valley Basin works and what effect new wells would have on it during dry years when there is not enough rain to replenish it. But that study is just beginning, and will take two years to complete, officials said.
In the short term, farmers must deal with the 18.8 percent rate increases, if the Casitas board enacts them as expected after a hearing Aug. 27. Property owners will be formally notified of the proposed hikes in coming weeks, and they will have 45 days to challenge them in writing.
If a majority of customers do, the rates would not be imposed and the district would have to go back to the drawing board on how to pay for its operations and an ambitious program to rebuild its sagging infrastructure.
Chances of a majority challenge are minuscule, however, since most Casitas customers are not farmers, but residents, and they fare well under the proposed new rate structure. Most Ojai Valley customers, mostly Oak View residents, will get a sharp reduction in rates resulting from the 2008-2009 budget.
Casitas provides water for about 65,000 people and nearly 5,700 acres of farmland in the Ojai Valley and Ventura areas. About 200 farmers use about 44 percent of the district’s water.
The net effect of water rate increases in the new budget is about a 10 percent increase overall, with farmers taking the biggest hit. The net operating increase to farmers is less than the 18.8 percent hike for water, because the district would reduce the monthly service charge to big users.
Farmers said they are waiting to see the details of the new water rate study on which the new budget is based. A summary of the study was distributed during the last week, but farmers said they wanted to see precisely how the rate model works, so they can come to their own conclusions about its effect on them.
At a previous meeting, farmers said they were concerned that basic 22 percent service charges for administration and overhead may be too high. They said they have not yet seen a breakdown to support that fixed charge. District officials said that the water industry standard for such overhead charges is 25 percent, so Casitas’ proposed rate is low.
Higher rates are required not only to fund millions of dollars in maintenance projects and fully fund an emergency reserve account, but because the district is under pressure to follow state guidelines that require water charges based on the actual cost of service, something the district has not done in the past when it came to agriculture.
In a 2006 State Supreme Court decision, justices ruled that Proposition 218, passed by voters in 1996, requires equitable distribution of water costs.
Homeowners already pay for the full cost of delivering their water. Historically, farmers have enjoyed a subsidized rate partly because the federally constructed Casitas Dam project was built, in part, to promote Ojai Valley agriculture.
Even with the farmers’ rate increased from $208 an acre-foot to $312 this fiscal year, and perhaps to $371 by September, they would still pay less than the $438 per acre-foot most residential customers pay. An acre-foot of water meets the needs of two typical households for a year.
Casitas officials have said they might be able to legally justify the lower rate because agricultural users do not need the high quality water delivered to their orchards since a sophisticated treatment plant was built a decade ago to meet state drinking-water standards.
If all costs, including treatment, were included, farmers would pay $521 an acre-foot, analysts have said.
But farmers fear that spiraling costs could eventually put them out of business.
Mary Bergen, who farms 100 acres of avocados along Creek Road, said she’s still trying absorb the increased costs from last September’s water hike.
“My bill has gone from $7,000 to $8,000 a month (during the summer and dry periods) to $12,000 a month,” said Bergen, who attended the Wednesday hearing.
Higher water rates will force farmers to pump more from their own wells in years with good rainfall, like this one, then go back to Casitas supplies when underground water basins dry up during low-rain years.
That would create a yo-yo effect in Casitas revenue, farmers have said, because the water district cannot count on selling water to farmers consistently.
Water rate summaries released by Casitas this week show that the proposed new rates would be good news for about 2,600 residential customers in the Oak View area, with their water rates dropping sharply and their overall water bills dropping somewhat after an increase in the basic service charge is included.
The new water rates differ from customer to customer, depending on the size of a customer’s water meter and how much water is used.
For example, a resident with a typically sized water meter (5/8 to 3/4 inch), using 34 units of water (748 gallons per unit) every two months, would pay $81.40 under the new rates, including a service charge of about $38. That’s about $9, or 10 percent, less than the resident now pays bi-monthly.
For farmers, water rates would go up 18.8 percent regardless of the size of farm, but proposed reductions in fixed service charges would mean a smaller percentage increase in the overall water bill.
For example, a farmer with 40 irrigated acres would pay $30,802 a year for water service, $4,341 or 16.4 percent, more than now. That assumes the farmer has a 2-inch meter and uses 2 acre-feet of water per acre per year.
A farmer with 200 irrigated acres would pay $152,628 for water service, $21,030 or 16 percent, more than now. That assumes the farmer has a 4-inch meter and uses 2 acre-feet per acre.
And if the same 200-acre farm had a 6-inch meter, the annual tab would increase to $157,649, $13,035 or 9 percent, more than today.

City Council Rethinks Arts Funding

Mayor casts deciding vote to OK $14,575 to Arts Commission

By Nao Braverman
If Ojai is to be defined as an arts community as many locals claim, then the city must do its part to maintain that reputation, council members agreed at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
After some deliberation, council members unanimously approved an amendment to the city budget, granting the Ojai Arts Commission the entire funding that it requested for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
“The value of art is intangible, but it has an effect on property value, on who lives here, who comes here, who spends money here and who stays here,” said local resident Roberta Raye.
Although the council had recently agreed not to provide funding for outside agencies until the reserve budget was back intact, the Arts Commission should not be considered an outside agency, council members decided. The city commission is a city’s responsibility, and without proper funding, the commission cannot fulfill its purpose, said Mayor Sue Horgan.
The discussion closed on an indecisive note at a prior council meeting, with Councilwomen Rae Hanstad and Carol Smith staunchly in favor of granting the Arts Commission the funds it requested, and Councilmen Joe DeVito and Steve Olsen wary of loosening their former pact of fiscal caution, without approving a new policy agreement, that would allow them to give some funds to other organizations as well as the Arts Commission.
But Horgan, the tiebreaker, sided with Hanstad and Smith this week.
“You all know I am a fiscally conservative person and I don’t like to let go of my purse strings,” said Horgan. “But I believe the Arts Commission is a city agency and we need to take care of city responsibilities first.”
Since it is part of the Arts Commission’s assigned duty to allocate grants to deserving art projects in the community, the commission should receive the necessary funding to fulfill its given function, she explained.
Olsen, who described himself as generally more on the fiscally liberal side, said he was looking to have a policy in place so that the city could be more generous with deserving outside agencies. But perhaps the Arts Commission, allocated to funnel money to outside arts agencies through grants, could be the perfect model for such a policy, he said. The Parks and Recreation Commission could, in the same fashion, give funds to organizations such as Youth Employment Services, a needy outside organization, through a similar grant program.
“It looks like we do have a policy already,” he said, agreeing to vote in favor of giving the Arts Commission the funding it was asking for.
DeVito was the last to agree.
“It puts me between a rock and a hard place, making this decision,” he said. “The thing that bothers me extremely is if (Youth Employment Services) or any other outside organizations had any idea that we were going to fund anything until our budget was in place, then they would have been here too.”
But Horgan retorted that the Arts Commission is not an outside organization but a city organization, and although the grant money might be funneled through the commission to outside organizations, that was just one of the commission’s given functions.
A number of citizens and Arts Commission members attested to the fact that those grants fund popular local entertainment venues and festivities like the Ojai Music Festival, the Ojai Film Festival and Theater 150, all which bring in much-needed tourist dollars.
Demitri Corbin, Arts Commission member and founder of the Peach Tree Theater Company, added that some of the funding would go toward sustaining educational arts programs within the school district, an important goal in these trying times.
A motion was made to amend the budget to allocate $14,575 to the Arts Commission instead of the $6,000 initially budgeted. That includes the commission’s request of $11,575, $7,000 of which will be reallocated to other organizations in the form of arts grants. An additional $3,000 was added to the total, for repainting the walls and refurbishing the lighting in the City Hall’s art gallery space.
DeVito agreed to the motion, after a long suspenseful pause, and the amendment was approved unanimously.
Earlier at the meeting, Judy Gabriel, a member of Skate Ojai, another outside organization in need of funds, asked for more clarity from the city on the prospective site for the future skate park. With $293,348 already in the bag, Skate Ojai plans to build a permanent in-ground concrete park, said Gabriel. Rumors that the intended school district site was not as secure as initially hoped for seemed to be affecting the fund-raising process, she added.
Horgan said that the council would not be prepared to make any statements until they had all the details. Although those details were initially to be analyzed at the regular council meeting on July 8, city manager Jere Kersnar said that city staff would not yet be prepared for such a meeting at that time and he would have to schedule a special meeting at a later date.
In other council news, a 5 percent increase of the city manager’s annual salary was unanimously approved, bringing his total earnings to $159,954.03.
“The city manager, of course, received a stellar review,” said Hanstad, who served on the deciding committee with Horgan.
Later at the meeting a new parcel map dividing the property at 310, 312, 316 E. Matilija St. and 207 N. Montgomery St., formerly Clausen Funeral Home and currently the location of Theater 150, into four parcels was approved unanimously. The four new lots house the new theater location as well as some residences in the back. Council members applauded property owner Jim Exon on his new parcel map, which would help keep the downtown lots small and affordable while protecting the property from large-scale commercial development.
Also at the meeting the council heard the first reading of a draft ordinance which would give qualified historic properties tax incentives to foster the preservation of privately owned, historic residential and commercial properties.
Under the 1972 Mills Act, cities and counties can enter into contracts with private property owners who actively restore and maintain their historic properties in exchange for tax relief. The tax savings is supposed to make it easier for property owners to restore and renovate historic buildings. The owners must agree to work on the improvement of their property for at least 10 years in order to get the incentive. Participants save between 40 to 60 percent on taxes each year. The ordinance, drafted by the city attorney, will be reviewed by the Planning Commission at its July 16 meeting along with a public hearing on the subject.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pair Arrested In Oak View Shooting


Nature of Incident: Arrest / Service of search warrant RB#: 08-13408
Location: 100 Blk La Luna Oak View
Date & Time:6-19-2008 / 0930
Unit Responsible: Gang Unit

Ramos, Jose Oak View 19
Ramos, Sergio Oak View 27


On 6-19-2008, gang investigators arrested Jose Ramos and Sergio Ramos at their residence for participating in a gang related shooting. The shooting occurred on 5-18-08 in the community Oak View.
On 5-18-08,at about 0320 hours, Ojai patrol deputies responded to a shots fired call in the area of Short Street and Ventura Ave. The deputies were unable to find any evidence of a crime at that time. At about 0800 hours, Deputies were called back to an address on Short Street where they discovered a car that had two bullet holes in it. A search of the area found shell casings more than 350 feet away. Deputies also located a victim who stated he was shot at during the early morning hours. He did not report the incident at the time of the shooting.
Gang investigators developed information that Jose and Sergio Ramos were involved in the shooting and obtained a search warrant for their residence. Both subjects are active OSL gang members.
On 6-19-2008, the Sheriff’s Gang Unit, along with deputies from the Ojai station, served a search warrant at the Ramos’ residence. Both Sergio and Jose were present and were arrested. A search of the residence found ammunition similar to the shell casings found at the scene.
Jose Ramos and Sergio Ramos were booked into the Ventura County Jail for Assault with a firearm, and Street Terrorism. Sergio, who was out on bail for possession of heroin at the time of the shooting, was additionally charged with the commission of a felony while out on bail. They are both being held on $100,000 bail.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Meiners Oaks Water Rates Hiked

John Brock on his six-acre Meiners Oaks citrus ranch, which has been in his family for 70 years

By Daryl Kelley
Directors of the Meiners Oaks County Water District approved a new budget this week, imposing the first round of fee hikes that would increase the water rate paid by a typical residential customer nearly two and a half times in four years, a boost officials said would still leave the tiny district’s fees the lowest in the Ojai Valley.
New rates would also make the typical agricultural fee about four times greater over four years, a hike some farmers said could limit production or put them out of business.
The new water rates take effect July 1, as the 2008-2009 fiscal year begins.
The immediate impact of the new fees will be modest for most customers — hiking the base rate for residential users from the current $21.20 a month to $28.52 for the coming year. But the fee escalates to $50.41 a month in four years.
For farmers, the hit comes quicker, with the average monthly cost for a customer with a 2-inch meter irrigating five acres spiraling upward from $193 now to $457 beginning next month to $759 in four years.
Customers had a chance to challenge the increases at a hearing on Tuesday evening, but only a handful showed up at the public hearing.
John and Marsha Brock, whose six-acre farm on La Luna has been in the family for more than 70 years, protested the elimination of a long-standing low rate for agriculture.
“My dad set up this board 40 years ago,” said John Brock, who has more than 1,800 producing trees. “There has always been an agricultural rate.”
And Marsha Brock told the board that her family repeatedly gets offers from Los Angeles residents wanting to buy their ranch. With the higher water fees, they may be forced to sell, she said.
“We are going to domestic water, so we can get rid of all the trees, or sell,” she said. “This isn’t what we want … This (ranch) is what Ojai has been all about.”
A water district consultant told the Brocks that under a new interpretation of state law, the district has no choice but to treat all customers equally and charge the full cost of providing service, even if the customer is a farmer.
In all, the district received 91 written protests of the rate increases from customers, far fewer than the majority needed to block it. All property owners in the district were notified of the change in April.
The Meiners Oaks district provides water for more than 1,100 residences, 33 agricultural users and several dozen businesses and institutions such as schools, churches and nonprofit organizations. It draws its water from four wells along the Ventura River, and buys backup supplies from the Casitas reservoir during dry periods.
On Tuesday, directors approved a new $1.04-million budget for the struggling district, relying on reserves because district income fell about $185,000 short of what was needed to pay for basic services and to begin to fix an aging infrastructure. It will be the fourth year in a row that the district has been in the red because of soaring maintenance costs.
Without a sharp fee increase, the district would have been bankrupt in four years, a consultant had warned.
“There has been one rate increase in 24 years,” said board President Bill Reynolds. “The state of the system is in such disarray … we’re not able to balance the budget. We’re trying to catch up.”
Even with the increase, Reynolds said the district’s financial future is dicey, because it is spreading needed increases over four years to make them more palatable, instead of imposing them all right away.
“It hurts us to do this, but we have to plan for the future,” said Director Carrie Mattingly. “We don’t have any option except to go out of business.”
The board delayed a rate increase last November because of the threat of a lawsuit by farmers and taxpayer advocates, who said the district’s budget was being illegally balanced on the back of the district’s few agricultural users.
Officials said the new, simpler proposal is fair and removes any basis for a successful suit.
Since 2004, the district has drawn down reserves from $2 million to $1.36 million to repair crumbling pipes, valves, meters and tanks. It now faces replacement of a failed half-million-dollar water tank and a faulty $40,000 pump.
Even some of those hurt most by the increases — the farmers — said it is evident that a sharp rate increase was needed to save the district, and avert even higher fees from another provider.
But fruit grower Camille Sears said the board is going too far in its four-year hike of agricultural rates.
“I think the first year is fair,” Sears said in an interview. “That’s two and a half times what we pay now. That’s going to hurt. But beyond that it’s ridiculous.”
By Sears’ calculation, she now pays $135 per acre-foot of water, and that would increase to $640 in four years. That compares with $365 an acre-foot proposed by the large Casitas Municipal Water District for farm users and about $445 an acre-foot residential users would be charged under a new Casitas plan.
“So we’ll be paying more than most residences in the Ojai Valley,” Sears said. “It doesn’t make sense. There’s no way any grower I know can afford to pay that.”
So if the rate hike plan of the Meiners Oaks district remains in place for the next four years, Sears said she would pull out her 1,300 fruit and citrus trees and sell them — and perhaps replace them with hardy melons that need little water.
Sears threatened a lawsuit when the original rate increase was proposed last fall, because fees weren’t based on actual service, as state law requires.
District officials maintained that its new, simpler rates would be fair because everyone would pay the same for water, with the difference in fees being based only on the size of a customer’s water meter and how much water is used.
That would jibe with a state Supreme Court decision two years ago interpreting a 1996 statewide proposition that requires that all water customers be treated equally and that they pay for the cost to deliver their water, district officials said.
And they said that if things improve during the next four years, adjustments can be made to reduce the hit on those bearing the burden.

Ojai Planners Eye Landmark Incentives

City manager recommends new ordinance to create tax break

By Linda Harmon
While the tone of the Ojai Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night was low key — with the approval of plans for a new restaurant on East Ojai Avenue’s and the concept of creating a tax break for privately owned historic landmarks — the issues presented could resonate for years.
The owners of Hakane Sushi, 967 E. Ojai Ave., were given the go-ahead for a remodel that includes a monument sign, a trellis-covered 500-square feet dining area and the addition of a parking lot.
According to project architect Joshua Griffen, the project remodel was designed to increase pedestrian flow by improving the streetscape and including native plants and other water conservation technologies. He also said the additional parking lot would address the previously voiced problem of inadequate parking. The applicant sought to successfully address this by providing parking on a leased, adjoining property.
“It is a major improvement of the site,” said Kanika Kith, associate city planner, as she recommended approval of the project.
The restaurant will move the existing parking to the rear where it will not be visible from Ojai Avenue, and provide new landscaping, including two London plane street trees, and a patio area. The project will also incorporate permeable paving using Gravel Pave, a stabilized gravel product, and a “rain garden” to allow rainwater absorption and improve runoff at the site.
“A rain garden is basically just a depression in the landscaping to catch additional stormwater,” said Griffen, who added that the landscaping will also reflect an Asian feel.
“I’m glad to see these materials used,” said Commissioner Tucker Adams, before the project was unanimously approved. Griffen said the product is more expensive than concrete or asphalt but he feels the price will fall as more people use it.
In other actions, Cabrillo Development’s N. Montgomery Street grading project was continued until the July 2 meeting.
Then city manager Jere Kersnar gave a brief overview of the Mills Act, a state statute, and asked the commission for its approval of the concept of creating an ordinance for Ojai. A local Mills Act ordinance would give the owners of historic landmark properties a property tax reduction proportionate to the applied maintenance of their property.
Landmarks are officially designated buildings of local, county or statewide significance with historical, social or cultural value.
The Mills Act and the proposed ordinance seek to provide an economic incentive to preserve residential neighborhoods and the revitalization of downtown commercial districts and an incentive for property owners to appropriately repair and rehabilitate historical resources rather than turn to demolition and new construction.
In California, Mills Act contracts are between the property owner and the local government granting the tax abatement and the city can individually determine the criteria and requirements for participation.
Kersnar said that although on its face it is a tax loss for the city, the property owner is required to spend that money in maintaining the building. He also said that obligation will be enforced by the city with as yet undetermined procedures.
“I have to admit that my first thought was we were giving up tax money,” said Kersnar, “but with only five privately owned landmarks in the city and the great benefits to the community, I’m in favor of it going to the council.”
The private landmarks include the Ladd House, the Libbey House, the C.W. Robertson House, the Woolsey House and the Ojai Valley Country Club clubhouse. Public landmarks include the Ojai post office tower and the Arcade.
The commission affirmed Kersnar’s opinion with Commissioner Susan Weaver saying, “The value of maintaining our heritage is incalculable.”
Citizens interested in acquiring landmark status or more information on the Mills Act can go to

St. Joseph's Gets Nod For Expansion

MAC supports project to add 147 new beds to retirement center

By Sondra Murphy
St. Joseph’s Health & Retirement Center is nearer to upgrading and expanding its facilities. Representatives of the center appeared before the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council Monday seeking to create structures to accommodate 147 new beds and demolish its existing 60-bed skilled nursing facility.
The council supported the project, which next moves on to the county’s Planning Division.
St. Joseph’s is located on East Ojai Avenue between Gorham and Carne roads on two parcels totaling less than 15 acres and is zoned as “rural residential” by the country’s general plan and land use designation. The Planning Division issued a negative declaration last month, meaning the proposed project would have no significant effect on the environment.
During the meeting, architect Bruce MacPherson presented plans to MAC council members detailing the construction of one 12-bed assisted living facility, a two-story, 59-bed assisted living facility, a two-story, 58-bed skilled nursing facility and a 30-bed independent living facility.
While the upgrade will require the removal of some of the citrus orchard, “the orange trees between our facility and the main highway will not be taken out,” said MacPherson. “Part of the appeal of the site is the rural setting.”
“Will that make it less commercially sound?” asked council member Terry Wright.
“We have not heard from the people who lease the trees that this would be a problem,” said MacPherson.
St. Joseph’s Brother Ignatius Sudol said the current facility was built in 1960 to house the brothers who came to serve at the site. Besides more space for residents, the new design includes low-level lighting of pathways, allows for more natural light indoors and uses recycled water for some of its landscaping needs. The swimming pool will be removed.
“I’m a little concerned about ingress and egress,” said council member Russ Baggerly. “The amount of traffic can be high sometimes.” MAC advisor Steve Offerman of Supervisor Bennett’s office responded that a left-hand turn lane for eastbound drivers entering the property is also included in the plans, but Baggerly said he would liked to have seen the addition of a merge lane for westbound traffic entering or exiting the facility.
Included with St. Joseph’s plans was a 2008 Ventura County Public Works traffic study concluding less than one additional afternoon peak hour trip would be generated by the project. A 2004 study by Associated Transportation Engineers estimated the addition of one morning peak hour trip and the loss of one afternoon peak hour trip.
Council member Mike Zielsdorf also noted changes to St. Joseph’s access road. “It’s not intended to be a grand entry,” said MacPherson. “It’s been widened up to make it more user-friendly, but not so much to make it out of character with what is out there.”
Some tree removal will be needed to widen the road, as well as to construct the new buildings. “Part of the rural feeling is that you don’t even know that buildings are out there,” Zeilsdorf said. “If you start to see buildings peeking up through the trees, it might take away from the rural feeling.” The highest point of the remodeled facilities is 34 feet.
“Our goal is not necessarily to change the character of what is out there, but to make it a more viable facility,” said MacPherson. He said it is proposed for the new structures to have extended metal roofs of olive green, “pretty consistent with all the buildings we’ll be putting out there.”
Council member Jeff Ketelsen voiced concerns about how the reduction of staff by eight positions might impact working conditions. MacPherson referenced plans to modernize the kitchen facilities during the upgrade, which is expected to increase staff efficiency. “Hopefully, with the assisted living, we’ll have more economy of scale,” said Sudol.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

NHS' Silva On Road To Success

Diego Silva, one of 243 to graduate in Nordhoff’s class of 2008 last week, will be attending the University of California at Davis in the fall

By Linda Harmon
Diego Silva is an inspiration, a fresh-faced, good-natured Nordhoff graduate on his way to bigger and better things. He brings to mind the Dale Carnegie book,”How to Win Friends and Influence People.” His story of success includes “pulling himself up by his bootstraps” and “reaching for the American dream.”
Silva, a 19-year-old legal immigrant, has been accepted to three colleges this year and will soon leave Ojai to study mechanical engineering at the University of California at Davis. He remembers a day back in Mexico when his father, a welder, asked for his help to figure the area of a corral he needed to construct.
“I didn’t know how to do it. My father had to go find someone else to help him,” said Silva, who is as amazed as anyone else how far he has come. “Now, I love math. I have discovered math is part of me. I have learned things that I didn’t even know existed.”
Silva, who has made Ojai his home since 2004, leaves Ojai to attend college in September with the respect and support of teachers and students alike. Silva was awarded a full scholarship and also received the honorary George Valle Memorial Award.
“The Valle Award is one of Nordhoff’s highest,” said Nordhoff vice principal Susana Arce, who was among those who recommended Silva for the award. “George Valle was an outstanding 1964 alumni who was a self-made man who did a lot in our community. The award is given to the student who rises above in three areas: sportsmanship, enthusiasm and community service. Diego earned it for his achievements.”
Denise Thomas, Nordhoff curriculum support administrator and AVID coordinator, agrees. She had Silva in her AVID class last year. AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a college preparatory program for students that enables disadvantaged secondary students to succeed in rigorous curricula, enter mainstream activities in school, and increase their opportunities to enroll in four-year colleges.
“Diego came to Ojai without speaking a word of English, but it wasn’t long before he moved out of special classes,” said Thomas. “He was one of those students who actually wanted to talk to me. It’s part of the AVID program to guide students who don’t have support at home to successful college entrance. He wanted to tell me about his day and I got to know him really well right away.”
Silva came to Ojai from a small town in Michoacan, Mexico, Santa Ana Maya, on his own.
“Santa Ana Maya is similar to Ojai but not as green,” said Silva smiling. “My parents bought my plane ticket for my birthday to visit my cousin and aunt here in Ojai.”
Silva says his aunt, Lucemaria Garcia, treated him like her son and his cousin, Alejandro Garcia, treated him like a brother. It was only after the then 15-year-old Silva’s visit was due to end that he was asked if he wanted to stay and go to school in Ojai.
“My family wasn’t a united family so I thought this would be a good opportunity for me,” said Silva. “In Mexico I hated school. My mom would yell at me for my grades. Here, I was inspired by Nordhoff and all the opportunities to go farther in life. I was kind of determined to learn English and get what I wanted.”
Thomas said Silva was singled out for another honor three weeks ago when he was asked to speak at the AVID awards banquet held on the California Lutheran College campus. He was chosen out of all the seniors in the county to be the main speaker and share his story.
As for now, Silva visited the U.C. Davis campus last April.
“I got really amazed,” said Silva. “First I come to Nordhoff from Mexico and I am amazed. Then I see the college. I loved the buildings, the gym, and the stadium. I love the campus and the town.”
Silva will be living in a dorm on campus. He says he doesn’t plan on working as “it will be tougher and I want to focus on my studies.”
Silva has been used to working and studying. He got his first job in Ojai at the Deer Lodge washing dishes and then waiting tables. “It was a little stressful.” Silva sometimes worked 43 to 48 hours a week while attending school.
“Then I started working for McDonald’s where I work now,” said Silva. “I am a cashier and I love the job because my schedule can adjust. They even let me do homework if there are no customers. One of my best friends there is driving me to college in September.”
Thomas can also attest to Silva’s perseverance out of school. She often saw him jogging to work after school on the bike path when his first and only car broke down this year.
He has since replaced it with a bike.
“I figure I didn’t need a car,” said Silva, who won’t be able to have a car as a freshman on the U.C. campus. “And I’m saving money for September.”
Silva hopes to finish school, become an American citizen and get a job in his field that will enable him to buy a home and help his family back in Mexico.
Silva, one of the featured speakers at this year’s graduation, read his poem about Nordhoff, a tribute to his alma mater.

Rabih Abasi, Erica Aguilar, Jamie Allen, Lance Allen, Alexandria Anderson, Robert Anderson, Claudia Angeles, Zane Ashby, Hannah Atkinson, Alyse Bader, Chloé Baer, Brandon Baker, Dustin Baker, Kelsey Baker, Hansel Balayan, Eric Banks, Casey Barker, Pamela Barron, Alyse Benavente, Amber Blanks, Jonathan Bower, Garrett Boyd, Yesenia Brambila, Joseph Brooks, David Brown, Victoria Brown, Chloe Bunker, Clinton Burger, Aran Burke, Evan Bush, Salina Butterfield, Rebekah Caballero-Perez, Adriana Calderon, Angelina Campitelli, Dillon Carlson, Chad Carr, Rebekah Casas, Barry Case, Angie Castañeda, Cody Christie, Patrick Christl, Leonidas Christofides, Amanda Clark, Matthew Clark, Shawn Clark, Allison Clifford, Annaliessa Coffman, Nicholas Colbern, Michelle Cole, Byanca Contreras, Enoc Cortez, Sophia Cotsis, Ruby Covarrubias, Tyler Cowles, Tenaya Cowsill, Katherine Cresto, Katie Damas, Chelsea Davy, Ashley De La O, Zachary Deneen, ChoCho DeSantis, Adam Devine, Ulysses Diaz, Christian Dominguez, Brooke Downard, Alina Downer, Scott Doyle, Ryan Drury, Elizabeth DuBrin, Yesenia Echeverria, Kelley Egus, Shane Elder, Jason Endo, Adam Erickson, John Espinoza, Danielle Fariseo, Sara Faulstich, Mishone Feigin, Joseph Finley, Michael Finley, Maria Flores, Rogelio Flores, Miranda Frost, Kosuke Fujikura, William Fulton III, Stephen Futujma, Jose Galindo, Shantay Garcia, Jordan Garst, Gracie Gartrell, Matthew Gay, Roxanne Geering, John Gianelli, Chad Gibson, Christopher Gibson, Brandon Glennon, Yvonne Gomez, Edgar Gonzalez, Dayanne Gordillo, Aaron Gottesman, Garrett Graham, Madison Gram, Amy Gronnebeck, Garrett Gross, Ryan Hallsten, David Halpern, Aaron Hamilton, Matthew Hartmann, Morgan Harwell, Thomas Hedley, Dale Henderson, Adam Hennigan, Shelby Herbruck, Sekoya Hibbard, Katie Hinks, Justin Homze, Alex Hunsaker, Kelsy Jehle, Dylan Jones, Kristina Jones, Jesus Jungo, Max Kaffel, Damian Kaiser, Miranda Kapin, Cody Keller, April Kenney, Gregory Kiddie, Michelle Kilpatrick, Kyleigh Kirkland, Kyle Kline, Henry Kruchko, Ryan Lagos, Andrew Laird, Daniel Landis, Elide Lara, Samantha Law, Trevor Lawry, Sang Eun Lee, Annelore Leupold, Emily Levett, James Lewis, Bradley Loe, Amanda Lopez, Nataly Lopez, Angie Luna, Noel Luna, Josuel Lupercio, Stephanie Lynn, Martin Mares, Anthony Martinez, Daniel Mathis, Miguel Maya, Justin McCallum, Claire McCarthy, Meredith McCormick, Ana McDaniel, Paris McGraw, Sarah Meade, Riley Meisch, Albert Mireles, Angelica Montelongo, Daniel Moon, Alexsandre Moore, Annelise Moore, Kelsey Moore, Cristina Moreno, Bryan Morris, Tyler Morris, David Mulligan, Taylor Myers, Molly Nation, Harley Neiderhiser, Molly Oakland, Garrett Ochoa, Brock Odle, Belen Ortiz, Kelsey Owen, Samantha Perez, Sarah Phipps, Omar Plaza, Jesus Ponce-Calderon, Emily Praetorius, Zoe Quinn, Emma Radding, Maria Ramirez, Scott Reames, Riley Reasor, Kacy Reed, Alissa Rennacker, Robin Ring, Casey Robbins-Peterson, Pietro Rocco, Jaymie Rodems, Charles Rodriguez, Juan Rodriguez, Shane Rogers, Mieko Romming, Rigoberto Ruiz, Alexandro Samano, Ramon Sanchez, Julia Scott, Dalton Seek, Steven Sharp, Joseph Shelby-Dunn, Diego Silva, Sofie Skriung, Adam Slifkin, Joshua Slifkin, Tahnee Smith, Erik Solecki, Gerardo Soria, Daisy Soriano, Jacob Spencer, Jeremy Spencer, Kellye Spencer, Allen Stage, Hollie Stanley, Cody Stephens, Jessica Stern, Bryce Swetek, Shruti Thukral, Lindsay Tilmont, Ronni Townley, Taylor Triggs, Alan Tucker, Barbara Tucker, Veronica Vaughan, Pilar Vega, Evelyn Villares, Brianna Viveros, Tyler Wadsworth, Katya Welborn, Joseph Wells, Graham Whipple, Tuesdé White, Forrest Whitman, Bryan Whitten, Brandon Widder, Chelsea Wilson, Lindsay Wilson, Grant Winfrey, Devin Witt, and Joslyn Wood.

Oak View Reaches Out To Community

Civic Council looks for fresh faces, ideas to invigorate efforts, projects

By Sondra Murphy
Hoping to capitalize on the good will of the community after its 2008 pageant and Memorial Day parade, the Oak View Civic Council is looking for new council and board members as it prepares for another year of community service.
Discussed at its June 4 formal meeting were ways to get more people involved in the many events that provide opportunities for neighbors to connect while benefiting local organizations that help nurture the lives of residents.
Council board positions open for nominations are secretary, first vice president, treasurer and two members at large. One of the latter will be vacated July 1, when Al Buczkowski takes over as honorary mayor of Oak View.
Nominated at the meeting were Catherine Lee for parliamentarian, Danna Prock for member at large and Nancy Graham and Patrick Gorey as treasurer. The council elections will take place at the July 2 meeting.
After March’s Miss Oak View pageant, court members and parents are working to form a pageant committee. With the OVCC members having announced last month that they were considering withdrawing their sponsorship of the pageant, contestants and winners, both recent and from years past, attended to request that the council continue supporting the pageant.
The Miss Oak View Pageant stresses poise, community service, academics, public speaking and inner beauty in a way that reflects well on the community. The pageant is an intensive process that requires many hours of preparation. Kim Armstrong expressed interest in remaining as pageant chair, a job she has put her heart into for the last three years.
“We have two limitations,” said Gorey. “One is financial and the other is manpower.” During discussion, several council members expressed hope that the people to whom the pageant means so much will step up and become actively involved with its production.
The council voted to fund the pageant committee as they do a number of other groups in Oak View. “We will be a major sponsor, but not ‘the’ sponsor,” said Prock.
Community groups submit a written request to the council that includes a dollar figure and OVCC gives each what it can afford. This donation process has been used by such organizations as the Ojai Valley Little League and Art to Grow On.
With OVCC remaining as a pageant sponsor, the Oak View pageant will have the benefit of insurance coverage, the use of the Community Center and historical knowledge of the event’s needs.
Pageant participants will continue to help raise funds for the event.
Membership to the OVCC is open to residents of Oak View and the surrounding unincorporated areas. Cost to join is free or, with a $10 donation, local merchant coupons are received by the new member. Council meetings are generally the first Wednesday of each month at the Oak View Community Center, 18 Valley Road. For more information, contact President John Herndon at 649-2919.
Past pageant participants are particularly encouraged to join the pageant committee. For information, contact Armstrong at 640-0727. Check out the web site at for examples of all the council does and watch for the Oak View float and pageant court cruising down Ojai Avenue in the 2008 Fourth of July parade.

Ojai Hospital Given Clean Checkup

Plans for new ER, upgrades outlined at address, public support given credit for financial success

By Sondra Murphy
Three years into the merger between Ojai Valley Community Hospital and the Community Memorial Health System, administrators, support groups, physicians and staff gathered Thursday to report on the valley hospital’s fiscal and structural well-being.
About 75 Ojai Valley residents turned out for the 2008 State of the Hospital Address.
Despite the state budget deficit, impending Medicare crisis and the fact that 20 percent of Californians are without medical insurance, OVCH’s 2007 operating revenues totaled $23,383,613, with net assets of more than $10 million and a net operating income of nearly $400,000. Salaries and benefits accounted for 58 percent of the hospital’s operating expenses.
“Approximately 50 percent of California hospitals are in the red,” said CMHS president and chief executive officer, Gary Wilde. He said that, with medical insurance providers offering higher deductible plans, hospitals are seeing reduced admissions as the insured postpone their care.
The hospital tallied 1,347 total admissions in 2007, averaging 65 patients per day, and had 8,002 emergency room visits, 658 surgical procedures, 18,173 radiological procedures and 18,013 physical therapy treatments. It also saw almost 22,000 outpatient visits, performed 72,397 laboratory tests and filled nearly 119,000 prescriptions.
Patients using Medicare services totaled 53 percent of those treated at OVCH, while 14 percent used Medi-Cal and 29 percent were insurance clients. The remainder were cash patients.
“I am very pleased to report we’re in the black,” said OVCH chief executive officer Mary Jo Garrett. OVCH has been able to add new equipment to its resources, such as a central monitor in ICU and more detailed CT scan. The hospital also now has 41 additional parking spaces and night lighting for the lot.
“The only reasons we exist is for our patients and for each other,” said Wilde. CMHS is made up of three entities: Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, Ojai Valley Community Hospital and nine family health centers throughout the county, including one in Oak View.
Of the 7,549 patients that the Center for Family Health in Oak View saw last year, most sought family services and three-quarters were MediCal patients. “Medi-Cal patients often have trouble finding Medi-Cal services,” said Wilde, adding the figures show valley residents are using its heath care facilities. The center also provided services to veterans and industrial workers.
Due to donations received last year, efforts to create new emergency room facilities at OVCH are under way. Plans still in the approval phase include triage and treatment rooms, enlarged waiting area and six separate patient bays. If approved, the new emergency facility will be built on the opposite side of the hospital from the current location, improving drive-up access.
“It’s still in the red tape of approval,” said Garrett. “But we expect it to be able to go out to bid in July and begin construction in September.”
Changes in state laws have mandated seismic upgrades to California hospitals and OVCH is slated to receive structural reinforcements to be completed by 2013. “While the hospital is estimated by engineers to be stronger by 50 percent than any other building in Ventura County, the new standard is a hospital must remain in full operation and meet the needs of the community in the event of an earthquake,” said Wilde.
This standard includes functions like intact water and gas systems in case of a communitywide disaster. “The current building is up to codes, but the planned upgrades reflect these new standards.” Wilde said that we are fortunate to have many physicians who live in or near the Ojai Valley, so in the event of a large-scale emergency, doctors will be abundant.
While the seismic work is being done, the hospital exterior will receive a Spanish Revival make-over more fitting with Ojai. “We feel the hospital ought to reflect the community it serves,” Wilde said. On the drawing board are red roof tiles, white or beige walls and a clock tower.
The hospital is also in the process of launching a fully electronic medical record system to replace hand-written notes. The primary advantage is to avoid transcription errors, but is also anticipated to save time during registration and while making appointments.
Wilde estimated the cost of the hospital construction projects total $10 million, which they hope to fund through a combination of loans, a modest net margin, CMHS reserves and community donations.
“We regret having to do this because this is money we could use for better things like medical treatment,” said Wilde. “But this is the law and we must comply.”
Martin Pops, board of trustees’ president, said that community donations have helped to keep the hospital financially viable. The Hospital Foundation Guild holds several benefits over the course of the year, including “Wild West Night,” the “Nightingale Ball” and the October Classic 5K and 10K races.
Guild efforts yielded more than $42,000 in donations last year, which went toward a new ultrasound machine and other equipment, a patient room remodeling and various items to assist with medical care. Fred Keeler III provided $180,000 of additional funds for the migraine center and auxiliary donations brought in another $20,000. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” said Pops.
“We are standing on the shoulders of giants that have given us this legacy, this asset,” said Wilde. “We will continue to appeal to the community to support our projects to have an ongoing legacy.”

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ojai Farmers Face Another Water Hike

Casitas’ $14 million budget includes plans to raise rates 17 percent

By Daryl Kelley
Directors of the Ojai Valley’s largest water agency are set to consider a new budget supported by another sharp jump in the water rates to valley farmers.
The Casitas Municipal Water District imposed a 53 percent hike in the cost to irrigate crops last year, and is now considering another 17 percent increase in agricultural rates. At the same time, most Ojai Valley residents in the district will get a sharp reduction in rates resulting from the 2008-2009 budget to be considered at a public hearing later this month.
The hearing is to consider the water district’s $14-million spending plan for the year beginning July 1, which will be based partly on water rates that would be adopted after notification of customers in July and an appeals hearing in late August, officials said.
Casitas provides water for about 65,000 people and nearly 5,700 acres of farmland in the Ojai Valley and Ventura areas. About 200 farmers use approximately 44 percent of the district’s water.
“The net effect is we have come up with about a 10 percent increase, total,” said board President Jim Word at a water district meeting Wednesday. Indeed, the net operating increase to farmers is less than the 17 percent hike for water, because the district would reduce the monthly service charge to big users.
Unlike a year ago, when district chambers filled with concerned farmers, only two attended the meeting Wednesday during the first round of the budget discussion, as directors set a public hearing for June 20 at 4:30 p.m.
Also unlike last year, the two farmers who attended Wednesday’s meeting, although concerned about the new hikes, said they were pleased with how Casitas has gone about this round of increases, by hiring an independent consultant and inviting farmers to join the process.
“So far, it’s been open,” said Roger Essick, who farms more than 400 acres of oranges, avocados and tangerines in the picturesque east Ojai Valley. “But we still don’t have enough information. We still need to look at the rate model.”
“They’ve been very transparent,” said Jim Finch, who farms 200 acres of oranges, avocados and lemons near Foster Park and Ojai.
But, like the directors themselves, the farmers said they are waiting to see the details of the proposed rates when they are released by the district’s consultant in the next few days. The farmers said they’re concerned that basic 22 percent service charges for administration and overhead may be too high. They said they have not yet seen a breakdown to support that fixed charge.
The district is under pressure to follow state guidelines that require it to charge for water based on the actual costs of service, something it has not done in the past when it came to agriculture.
Homeowners already pay for the full cost of delivering their water. Historically, farmers have enjoyed a subsidized rate because the federally constructed Casitas Dam project was built partly to promote Ojai Valley agriculture. And even with the proposed increases, agricultural rates would still be much lower than residential rates.
A key consideration in raising farm rates has been a 2006 State Supreme Court decision in which justices ruled that Proposition 218, passed by voters in 1996, requires equitable distribution of water costs.
Even with the farmers’ rate increased from $208 an acre-foot to $312 this fiscal year, and perhaps to $365 by September, they would still pay far less than the $445 per acre-foot that residential customers pay.
Casitas officials have said they might be able to legally justify the lower rate because agricultural users do not need the high quality water delivered to their orchards since a sophisticated treatment plant was built a decade ago to meet state drinking-water standards.
If all costs, including treatment, were included, farmers would pay $521 an acre-foot, analysts have said.
But farmers fear that spiraling costs will eventually put them out of business.
“It’s the straw that will eventually break the camel’s back — the water costs and the fuel costs,” Finch said.
“The one thing,” Essick said, “that enables agriculture to continue in the Ojai Valley is reasonable water costs. And if that goes away, you’ll see a drastic change, especially in the East End … with its orange orchards.”
The panorama of orange orchards defines the bucolic East End. But oranges barely make economic sense even at today’s lower water prices, he said.
Higher water rates will force farmers to pump more from their own wells in years with good rainfall, like this one, then go back to Casitas supplies when underground water basins dry up during low-rain years.
That would create a yo-yo effect in Casitas revenue, Finch said, because the water district cannot count on selling water to farmers at the higher rates.
“I’ve often encouraged (the district) to look at what this will do to their sales,” Finch said. “In the end, the increases may not be beneficial to the whole (budget).”
Although calculations are tentative, water rate summaries released by Casitas this week show that the proposed new rates would be good news for about 2,600 residential customers in the Oak View area, with their water rates dropping sharply and their overall water bills dropping somewhat after an increase in the basic service charge is included.
The new water rates differ from customer to customer, depending on the size of a customer’s water meter and how much water is used.
For example, a resident with a typically sized water meter (five-eighths to three-fourths inch), using 34 units of water (748 gallons per unit) every two months, would pay $72.46 bi-monthly under the new rates, including a service charge of about $38. That’s $4.85, or 6.3 percent, less than the resident now pays.
For farmers, water rates would go up 17 percent regardless of the size of farm, but proposed reductions in fixed overhead costs would mean a smaller percentage increase in the overall water bill.
For example, a farmer with 40 irrigated acres would pay $30,347 a year for water service, $4,020 or 15.3 percent, more than now. That assumes the farmer has a 2-inch meter and uses two acre-feet of water per acre per year.
A farmer with 200 irrigated acres would pay $150,351 for water service, $19,359 or 14.77 percent, more than now. That assumes the farmer has a 4-inch meter and uses two acre-feet per acre.
And if the same 200-acre farm had a 6-inch meter, the annual tab would increase to $155,353, $12,529 or 8.77 percent, more than today.

Cause of Ojai Oil Fire Unknown

By Sondra Murphy

Some Ojai residents discovered that not all’s well that ends an oil well.
Leland Hammerschmitt was relaxing Tuesday night when the earth shook. “It’s the largest explosion I’ve ever felt,” said Hammerschmitt. “I was watching TV and savoring the Lakers’ win over the despised Celtics. Suddenly, there was an orange flash, followed by half a beat and then, ‘ka-bam.’ I felt the shock wave and the house shook.”
Hammerschmitt went outside to have a look. “The flames were huge and you could tell that it wasn’t just a structure burning, but something that was being fed.” When he called 911, the operator immediately asked if he was calling about the explosion, “So obviously Ojai reacted very swiftly,” said Hammerschmitt. “I said to the 911 person, ‘Whatever you’re sending, send more. You’re going to need it.’”
The late night oil tank explosion and fire at Bentley Family Limited Partnership property located off Creek Road took about 75 firefighters from seven different agencies to contain. According to Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Bill Nash, personnel and engines responded to the scene from state, county, Ventura City, Santa Paula City, Oxnard City and the federal agency at Point Mugu.
“The call came in at 11:04 p.m. as an explosion with fire. On arrival, we found about a quarter of an acre of oil tanks with fire spreading into the brush,” said Nash. “There were six tanks there and two were completely destroyed. The lid to one of the oil tanks was found 200 feet away. We figured that’s where the ‘boom’ came from.”
Nash said the fire was located on private property in what appeared to be an agricultural and industrial area away from residential neighborhoods. “The oil tank fire was stopped by Ventura County Fire Crash 50, which is a foam fire engine primarily used to fight crash fires. We spread a layer of fire retardant foam, which smothers the fire. By doing that, we greatly reduced the amount of hazardous runoff from the fire. We were very concerned that spilled oil products not enter the waterways in any way.”
Oil fires are perilous to combat. “It was a very dangerous scene but there were no injuries,” said Nash. “Environmental Health responded due to environmental concerns.”
Lack of wind and the cool temperatures worked to aid their efforts. “We were able to get containment of the fire within a couple of hours,” said Nash. “The June gloom helped us a little bit. The big concern was knocking down the oil fire. Once that was contained, we were able to get to the brushfire and after about 2:30 a.m., we were able to release some of the units.”
Nash said that because of the hazards associated with oil, they kept firefighters at the scene overnight to monitor the situation and continue to check on the investigation and cleanup. “Oil is a flammable liquid, which means that it emits vapors,” said Nash. “If those vapors reach a little ember, it is relatively dangerous. Anything that causes a spark could ignite it again.”
Back at Persimmon Hill, Hammerschmitt was still reeling from the experience. “I don’t know what a 500-pound or 2,000-pound bomb’s shock wave would feel like from less than a mile, but this could be very close and that is impressive.”
According to BFLP spokes-man Chuck Rodham, the property is just less than 1,000 acres and has producing wells from which oil is tanked out. He said the three tanks that burned were not full and it appears the foam did its job. “No oil was released,” said Rodham. “Everything stayed in the tank area.” He said the losses are still being determined.
Greg Smith, manager of the hazardous materials section of Ventura County Department of Environmental Health, said that they had someone on the scene around 3 a.m. and saw no signs of environmental damage as daylight helped the investigation. “The oil had been contained onto the property. There was some crude oil released, probably a few hundred gallons or so, but it did not reach any sensitive habitats and there was no runoff into the creeks.”
The cause of the explosion is still under investigation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Final Chapter For Arcade Bookstore

Local Hero Books’ closure pinned on on-line sales, slumping retail economy

By Nao Braverman
As gas prices soar and the stock market plunges, local residents can add Local Hero Books to the list of failed businesses in downtown Ojai.
The long-standing Arcade bookstore will be closing its doors on July 5 to make room for a wine- and tea-tasting venue.
According to David Mason, owner of The Village Florist, the Arcade space has housed a small bookstore since the mid-1970s. Since then, the shelves of best-selling paperbacks, literary classics and locally published books have been a refreshing contrast to many high-end boutiques and tourist shops found in the Arcade.
While the growing number of big box bookstores and internet venues may offer wider selections of cheaper merchandise, Ojai is losing much more than just the retail books that Local Hero offered. As owner Elio Zarmati has stated in his editorial, a bookstore has been “a cultural center, a temple of learning.” For years, Ojai’s local bookstores have been locations for writing and discussion groups, the most appropriate places for book signing events, and venues for local authors to promote their work.
When Mitnee Duque owned the store from mid-1980s to late 1990s, she had a slew of regulars who would come in every so often, to order books and chat, she said. Local writer and teacher Gabriel Arquilevich was one of those regulars at the shop which was then called Ojai Table of Contents. Duque, a relative newcomer to Ojai at the time, found that owning a bookstore was a splendid introduction to the local community. Her store was a place where readers could connect with authors and people of like minds would meet. It was during Duque’s reign at Table of Contents, 15 years ago, that Arquilevich struck up a conversation with Jamie, the then sales clerk, on one book shopping spree, and the two eventually got married.
Zarmati, who has owned the establishment for nearly six years, purchased Ojai’s two bookstores to see them consecutively go out of business.
“Owning a bookstore was a lifelong dream of mine,” he said.
But the first Local Hero, in the slightly larger location just a few stores down, was the first to go. It was replaced by Feast Bistro, and Zarmati’s book sales were consolidated to the slightly smaller location, renamed Local Hero Books.
Both stores’ sales began to dwindle when the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa closed for renovation, said Zarmati. And neither of them entirely recovered even after the inn re-opened.
He attributes the losses primarily to the proliferating book giants, like Borders and Barnes & Noble as well as Amazon. But that competition would not have hit so hard if tourists were doing a little more shopping, he said.
With the closing of the Visitors Bureau, once run by the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce and funded at its peak by $125,000 in 2001 by the city, Ojai is losing a lot of its tourist revenue, he said.
“There is no question that the people have less money to spend, but the question is how do we respond to that. The business community is expected to take over the marketing that the Visitors Bureau was doing, but the business community is running out of breath.”
An obvious challenge to the independent book market is that people are reading less, said Zarmati. His solution was to keep a lot of non-book items in the store. One such attempt was opening Casa Barranca’s wine-tasting corner in the back of the store, in a partnership with the local wine maker Bill Moses, last October. Zarmati and Moses shared in the sales of the wine, which made the fall more gradual, Zarmati said.
David Ray, general manager of Bart’s Books, said the closure of Local Hero is a sad reflection of America.
“There are well over 100 bookstores that have gone out of business in Southern California in the last couple of years,” he said. “People don’t read.”
Bart’s has its own clientele, people who travel all the way from Los Angeles to buy out-of-print books, essentially collectors’ items. He expects the closure of Local Hero, would help business for Bart’s, although he laments the loss.
Zarmati decided to hand the storefront over to Moses and Zhena Muzyka, owner of Zhena’s Gypsy tea as a shared tasting and retail space, after he realized he couldn’t find anyone to buy the store.
Some people had initially shown interest in purchasing the business, but he received no serious offers.
While the two local merchants are eager to share their first retail storefront, they are sorry to lose Local Hero.
“His going out of business is bittersweet for me,” said Moses. “The partnership with Elio has been ideal and I am really sad to see him go.”
But he is also excited to have a larger space for tasting and retail. Sharing the space with Muzyka made perfect sense as they both produce artful handcrafted beverages, with rich histories, and samples which require tasting.
“Our vision is to make it an experience where you walk into the store and are transported to a time where a handcrafted life can be cultivated,” he said.
Muzyka had a dream to have an Arcade storefront for her tea company even before Zarmati owned the larger of his two bookstores.
Muzyka approached then owner Bobby Houston with her plan and he ended up hiring her to manage the cafe behind the bookstore, a concept which she helped conceive.
“We are so sad about Local Hero closing,” she said. “That’s where I would buy books with my son, I don’t know what we are going to do without it.”
But she is excited about expanding her outfit with Moses, nonetheless, and expects to bring in a number of tourists to boost the economy while providing for local tea and wine drinkers.
She also envisions selling as many coffee table books as business will allow. “Imagine a place where you can buy a quarter blend of Ceylon tea and sit down with a book,” she said.
Zarmati is not moving too far away from books as he begins his new publishing gig with a Los Angeles-based health magazine.
Local Hero Books, the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, the Ojai Library and Friends of the Ojai Library, will put on a joint project called “Ojai Reads” today at the Ojai Library at 7 p.m. The reading and education event includes the presentation of several books which address how to begin facing pertinent environmental challenges by getting informed.

Matthew Perry Commits To T-150 Benefit

John and Matthew Perry will participate in the June 28 program

By Bret Bradigan
One of Ojai’s first families of the performing arts will put their talents to the test on stage at Matilija Auditorium on June 28 at 7 p.m., with a variety show informally titled “Perry Home Companion.”
The event stars iconic actor Matthew Perry, of “Friends” and “Studio 60” fame, along with his stage-actor sister Maria Perry, singer-actor-comic father John and John’s jazz musician brother Tony Perry.
The Perrys are lending their support to Theater 150, which moved into its much-expanded location at 316 E. Matilija Street last year.
Fresh off a month of sold-out success for “Fractured Fables,” John’s wife, Debbie Perry, will help produce the event. The Perrys’ have a long association with Theater 150 — Debbie helped produce Theater 150 co-director Deb Norton in “The Whole Banana,” in Ojai and in Los Angeles. John Perry, aside from a distinguished acting career, is well known for his Ojai lonesome stylings with the country crooners, Ojai Valley Boys. He has also honed his comic talents through Theater 150 workshops and showcases.
The centerpiece of the evening will be a one-act play, “Intelligent Life,” written by David Babcock. Other performances include Tony Perry’s jazz trio and Matthew Perry’s monologue about a bored baseball announcer — which he performed at a recent ESPY awards ceremony. Maria Perry and friend Jessica Chanos will also be performing a song — the title of which is being withheld to protect the punchline.
Debbie Perry said, “It’s mostly comedy! Make sure people get that!”
“‘Intelligent Life,’” said John Perry, “should be lots of fun. Nobody knows what in the heck is going on — so it’s a great idea for the Perrys.”
Matthew Perry, one of the country’s best known, and, for 11 seasons as Chandler Bing on “Friends,” beloved actors, said he was happy to help out Theater 150. ‘I have always liked this community feeling in Ojai. I don’t get up here as much as I would like. And, of course, my father is really into horses, which is not something I happen to be into.”
John, looking over at his son with a rueful glance, interjected, ‘Yet. There’s still plenty of time.”
Tickets for the June 28 event are $50. Tickets for the after-party are $50 for Theater 150 members and $75 for non-members. Reservations can be made through or by calling 646-4300. Theater 150 is located at 316 E. Matilija St. in Ojai.

Making The Sounds In Ojai

Ojai Music Festival strikes chord with ‘Intersection of Words and Music’

By Sondra Murphy
An annual migration of music lovers was seen heading in and out of Libbey Park last weekend as Ojai Music Festival enthusiasts toted chairs, blankets and cushions into Libbey Bowl to enjoy the 62nd season.
The sidewalk scenes were reminiscent of the opening frames of “Modern Times,” screened Friday night, but the factory setting featured in the film strongly contrasted with the blissful demeanor of those around the bowl who seemed to personify the festival’s theme of “The Intersection of Words and Music.”
According to OMF director of marketing and communications Gina Gutierrez, 8,573 music lovers packed the park over the course of the festival to experience the music, bonus events and symposium offerings. Besides the passionate applause and calls of “Bravo,” a chorus of laughter was heard Friday from the audience watching Charlie Chaplin’s antics as the Little Tramp while the Ojai Festival Orchestra provided the musical score to “Modern Times” under the musical direction of conductor David Robertson.
The 62nd Ojai Music Festival featured a range of compositions by George Antheil, Francois Narboni, Steve Reich, Philippe Manoury, Michael Jarrell, Elliott Carter, Olivier Messiaen, and Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. Dawn Upshaw, Barbara Sukowa, Signal, So Percussion and Reich were some of the featured performers this season.
“I think what’s pretty amazing about this year’s festival is the energy level and endurance of the audience,” said OMF executive director Jeffrey Haydon. “It was challenging music this year and the fact that everyone was interested in learning more is a great testament to the audience.” Haydon said more people than ever came from out of town, “… and completely fell in love with both Ojai and the bowl.”
Haydon noted as a highlight this year the presence of composer Reich. “When he first played here 30 years ago, he was an emerging composer,” said Haydon. “Now he’s beloved and revered and probably one of the most celebrated living composers today.”
Four members of Reich’s original ensemble played in the festival this year. “They played alongside a new generation of musicians,” Haydon said. “You really had a passing of the baton. That was a historical moment.”
Debuting at the festival this year was a green plan that encouraged patrons to bring their own containers for free water refills and offered organic souvenirs, reusable bags and zero waste stations. Organic and locally grown refreshments were also sold.
“The festival has always been recognized for its visionary musical programming,” said Christine Drucker, OMF board president. “Now we are also applying our creativity toward producing an environmentally friendly festival.”

Stroud Earns Living Treasure Status

Kim Stroud with Handsome, the turkey vulture, at their Ojai Day booth

By Nao Braverman
First of seven in an occasional series on the Rotary Clubs of Ojai Living Treasure for 2008-2009.
Young birds of prey learn to fly in the summer, making it one of the busiest seasons for Ojai’s only raptor and songbird rehabilitation center. For many years that center has been the home of Kimberly Stroud.
“Crows and red-shouldered hawks are coming in like crazy,” she said. They’re just learning to fly, so many of them get injured.” Her home is a bustling shelter for feathery creatures. Until reaching their official status as a 501(c) nonprofit, Stroud and her husband, Dave, cared for the birds as an informal service to the community. Today, the rescued raptors are being nursed in private homes throughout the valley, by educated volunteers who will host them until they are ready to fly again. It has been a demanding and costly labor of love for Stroud.
She works full time at Patagonia while tending to the demands of her avian guests, and organizing and training volunteers. But the many success stories are well worth it.
“It’s a really gratifying process,” she said.
There are some birds in her care that can never be released into captivity. A partially blind bald eagle from Alaska, a Swainson’s hawk with an injured wing, and a pair of great horned owls that spent too much time in captivity, are among a set of extraordinary household pets.
Stroud fell in love with raptors about 15 years ago while working at Patagonia, where she manages the sample room. The environmentally conscious outdoor clothing company has always sent their employees to volunteer at pertinent non-

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Plans Bring Anti-Chain Store Concerns

Ordinance invoked as debate breaks out plans presented to build mini-mart, self-serve car wash

By Nao Braverman
The owner of the Union 76 gas station on Maricopa Highway across from the Ojai Valley Shopping Center may be the second property owner to feel the consequence of Ojai’s chain store ordinance, which passed about six months ago.
Neil Abasi proposed to remodel his service station and construct a mini-mart and self-serve car wash on the premises at Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting. Commissioners, who were mostly lukewarm about the concept and generally disapproved of the design, might not be able to pass the project anyway, if it falls under the category of a fast-food chain establishment.
Subway, the first chain business to turn away from Ojai because of the chain store ordinance, never even braved a planning meeting. But Abasi is not yet sure his outfit will fall under the category of fast-food, a type of chain business that the ordinance prohibits outright,
“It all depends on what is sold at the mini-mart,” said city manager Jere Kersnar. “If he has soda machines and hot dogs, then he is selling fast food at the gas station, which is already a chain. If he has chips and soda cans it’s OK because that’s just retail.”
In order to make the additions to his gas station, Abasi needs a zone change from the current designation of “business professional,” to “general commercial,” to allow for the mini-mart.
“What you are asking for is a very significant change to the property,” said Planning Chair Paul Crabtree. “So if we are going to allow you to make all those changes, let’s make it good.”
Abasi left the meeting with encouragement for a remodel, but not the one he had brought forth. If the chain store ordinance was a hindrance to his plans, it was little in comparison with the Planning Commission’s design requirements, which his plans certainly did not meet.
“You are dealing with a highly visible corner,” said Commissioner Steven Foster. “You are going to have to jump into the creative well and come up with something that gets us on board, because right now I don’t think it’s happening.”
In other planning news commissioners disapproved the design for a fairly massive two-story single family residence with a second rental unit at 309 S. Montgomery St., because its style was too much like that of the nearby Los Arboles complex, and because it had a wall separating it from the street.
Commissioners did approve a subdivision of the former site of Clausen Funeral Home at 310, 312, and 316 E. Matilija St., now housing Theater 150. Property owner Jim Exon proposes to divide the property into four lots, separating the main building, now Theater 150, and three lots in back, which were once residences.
Four smaller lots would “increase the possibility of individual owner-occupied small business opportunities in downtown Ojai, and deter the future possibility for large development at this location,” Exon wrote in a letter to commissioners.
With the increasing vacancies downtown, particularly on Matilija Street, such a subdivision may make the property more affordable to prospective business owners.
Scott Eicher, chief executive officer of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, said he supported the subdivision as it would lend itself to smaller businesses, which fits with Ojai’s frame of mind.
Realtor Larry Wilde also agreed, adding that Exon was interested in doing what’s best for the community and was not “out to make a quick buck.”

Ojai Schools Safe But Jobs In Jeopardy

Board faces ‘lousy choices’ on budget

By Sondra Murphy
Schools have been saved until next year in the Ojai Unified School District, but at a cost to staff and programs. While the school board got to enjoy some good news at Tuesday’s meeting, they still were required to make what member Rikki Horne called “lousy choices.”
After honoring Teachers of the Year by school site and recognizing four retiring classified employees and the student representative, the board voted to officially eliminate five classified jobs and reduce the hours of another five due to lack of funds or lack of work. Food services took the bulk of the hits with three job eliminations and four positions in which hours were reduced. A nutrition services presentation will be given at the next board meeting to unveil a new plan for the district’s fiscally strapped student meal program. Included in that plan is a 25-cent price increase per meal as approved by the board Tuesday.
Of the remaining three jobs, a Matilija Junior High technology resource coordinator position has been reduced from 6.5 to 3 hours, one full-time plant manager position was eliminated at Nordhoff High, and one five-hour school support secretary was eliminated, also from the high school.
It was such decisions that allowed the board to keep one large and one small elementary school open for the 2008-2009 school year and work to keep class sizes low. The May budget revision combined with collective efforts of the Ojai Education Foundation and Save Ojai Schools campaign has also helped in keeping all OUSD school sites open — at least through next year.
“Are we reducing our work force down to where it’s going to be difficult to accomplish our services?” asked Linda Taylor, vice president.
“We have to recognize that when we cut like this, it is not all from declining enrollment and there will be gaps,” said clerk Kathi Smith.
“But making the cuts also allowed us to keep reduced class sizes,” said Horne.
“I believe we can provide all our services around these cuts but it will be difficult,” said superintendent Tim Baird. The usual end-of-the-year transfers within district funds and taking out of temporary loans were approved to get the district through until the state budget is agreed upon and voted in by legislators. Traditionally, this is a long summer process.
The board gratefully accepted a giant check for $62,445 from OEF’s Kimi Romming and thanked the community for its dedication to local public schools. “That does not include money sent directly to school sites, which is probably in the area of another $50,000, or the $30,000 from Summit’s PTO,” said Baird. He added that just a day or so before, $13,000 was donated to Nordhoff’s Career Center to expand its services to six hours a day and that the Nordhoff Parents Association gave $10,000 to continue the high school’s computer repair class. “I credit all this to the SOS campaign for getting the word out.”
Laura Meisch submitted a second draft of the 2008-2009 preliminary budget, which showed a projected ending balance of more than $40,000. “We are showing a positive ending balance, however, it is based on a number of things going right, first of all, the state budget,” said Baird. “Another is our staffing. We are continuing to get enrollment, but we are not out of the woods yet … We will not know the official ending balance until the start of the school year.” He said districtwide kindergarten registrations are strong for next year, as are those for Matilija.
The finalized budget will be presented for approval at the next OUSD board meeting June 24.
Classified retirees include Harry Delatre, 28 years; Janet Cull, 25 years; Bob Cannaday, 15 years; and Lowell Orcutt, 10 years.
Student representative to the OUSD board, Jordan Garst, was also recognized.
Teachers of the Year are: Margie Logan, Chaparral Adult Education; Nancy Welter, Matilija Junior High; Karen Courington, Meiners Oaks Elementary; Lori Ponce, Mira Monte Elementary; René Nakao-Mauch, Nordhoff High School; Sandra Hansen, San Antonio Elementary; Isabelle Turpin, Summit Elementary; and Tracey Anderson, Topa Topa Elementary.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Jorgensen Stuns Demos, Gallegly Next Foe

Rep. Elton Gallegly, with aide Tom Pfeifer, at the OVN office last week

By Daryl Kelley
Longtime Ojai Valley resident Jeff Bennett swept to victory in a rare contested Superior Court judge's race this week, as County Supervisor Steve Bennett, who represents Ojai, cruised to a third term and a surprise Democratic candidate emerged to face veteran Rep. Elton Gallegly in November.
Just 24 percent of registered county voters participated in Tuesday's state primary election, with about half of the nearly 93,000 voters casting a ballot by mail.
Jeff Bennett, a chief deputy district attorney, received nearly two-thirds of the vote in a race that pitted him against civil lawyer Roberto Orellana of Santa Paula, an apparently strong candidate with solid qualifications and funding and endorsements nearly matching Bennett's.
But Bennett, whose wife, Dee, is a teacher at Ojai's Matilija Junior High School, received 50,734 votes to Orellana's 26,781.
"It's very humbling, I have to tell you," Bennett said Wednesday. "I think part of it is that it's a law enforcement county and voters were looking to support someone who supports public safety."
Bennett said he was also helped by a sophisticated mailing campaign that targeted absentee and frequent voters, and by endorsements by a host of top law enforcement officials, including District Attorney Greg Totten and former District Attorney Mike Bradbury.
Bennett said he might have gained a few votes, too, by what he did during rush hour election morning: Standing in the bed of his truck along Highway 33 in Casitas Springs, holding a big "Jeff Bennett for Judge" sign. "I don't do things like that," the usually serious Bennett said. "It made me feel great. I was saying 'thank you' to the people of Ojai."
In a less competitive race, Supervisor Steve Bennett, a former Nordhoff High School teacher, retained his seat on the powerful five-member county Board of Supervisors, receiving nearly 97 percent of the vote to overcome a nominal challenge by write-in candidate Jeff Ketelsen.
The incumbent received 16,352 votes compared with 547 write-in ballots.
"I've got three" top goals for the next four years, Bennett said. "First, is the budget crisis. With the state budget situation, we are now going to be in permanent fiscal crisis. And we're trying to hold together our safety net of (social) services. Second, we're trying to push environmentally sustainable issues. And we're really trying to focus on constituent services such as volunteer organizations Ñ -they'll need more help in this tough economic period."
In a fourth race with local implications, government teacher Ferial Masry won the Democratic primary in the 37th Assembly District by routing Camarillo businessman David Hare by a 2-to-1 margin. Masry of Newbury Park now faces Republican incumbent Audra Strickland of Moorpark in the general election. Masry lost to Strickland in 2004 and 2006. If elected the Saudi Arabia native would be one of the first Muslim women elected to state office in the United States.
The race for the 19th state Senate seat, though uncontested in partisan primaries, promises to be one of the best and most expensive in California this fall: Sen. Tom McClintock has been termed out and former Assembly members Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara and Tony Strickland of Moorpark are headed toward a general election match-up. Jackson received 47,825 in the Democratic primary and Tony Strickland 50,756 in the Republican primary, so their race could be close.
But the biggest surprise Tuesday evening was the domination of teacher Marta Jorgensen of Solvang in the 24th Congressional District race to see who would challenge Gallegly.
Jorgensen had dropped out of the Democratic primary race at one point, re-entering only two weeks ago after backers in Santa Barbara County complained that two Ventura County candidates, Jill Martinez and Mary Pallant, were ignoring the northern portion of the district.
Jorgensen, a former nurse, was stunned by her own success. She said she'd expected to get just a smaller share of the vote, but received nearly half: 46 percent to Martinez's nearly 32 percent and Pallant's 22 percent. Jorgensen, who had not campaigned much in Ventura County, even swept here, taking about 43 percent of the vote.
None of the Democratic candidates spent much money, so it's possible that Jorgensen's ballot designation as "educator" helped her, compared with Pallant's title of "insurance agent" and Martinez's as "businesswoman-housing developer."
Jorgensen, a member of the Sierra Club, has written screenplays on environmental issues and ran a private computer school for five years until 2006, when she began to direct a computer lab and student newspaper at a private school.
"We won!" Jorgensen said on her web site Wednesday morning. "We are humbled by this outpouring of support É Now the real work begins." She declined to comment Wednesday about how to fund her longshot chances against Gallegly, who has has always won by more than 13 percentage points.
Jorgensen is an environmentalist with a "green" platform and a fervent opposition to the Iraq War.
As for Gallegly, a conservative Republican from Simi Valley who is seeking his 12th term in Congress, this primary evening was a breeze.
He'd faced an aggressive challenge from Harvard-trained lawyer Michael Tenenbaum, who claimed the incumbent had abandoned his conservative roots.
But Gallegly, a former Simi Valley mayor, won nearly 77 percent of the vote, about the same margin as his 80 percent victory over Tenenbaum in 2006, and despite an anti-Bush backlash that has already cost three GOP congressmen their jobs in special elections this year.
"They spent a lot more money this time and basicly got the same outcome," said Gallegly in an interview Wednesday.
As for Jorgensen, Gallegly said: "I don't know about the woman on the other side. She said in the press that she hadn't been to Ventura County because it was too far to travel, so I was surprised she did so well here."
Gallegly said he doesn't yet know much about Jorgensen, but expects to spend all $900,000 in his campaign treasury making sure voters are fully aware of his positions and how they differ from hers.
"This was an overwhelming victory for her," Gallegly said. "That tells me that Democrats see her as a very strong, serious candidate. But I'll stay the course. It's worked well for 22 years."
Despite a narrowing of the Republicans' registration advantage to seven points, Tuesday's vote indicated just how high of a mountain Jorgensen must climb to defeat the incumbent: Gallegly received 36,618 votes (to Tenenbaum's 10,949), while all three Democratic candidates received a total of 32,059.
So Gallegly enters the general election campaign with an advantage of nearly 6,500 votes without picking up any of Tenenbaum's Republican ballots.
Perhaps the most compelling race for Ojai Valley voters was that for judge, in which Jeff Bennett became the third Superior Court Judge from the Ojai Valley, following Fred Bysshe and John Dobroth. Former Judge Arturo Gutierrez, who retired in March, also lives in this area.
Bennett, 52, also became the first local judge in a decade to be elected, since seats on the 29-jurist bench are usually filled by gubernatorial appointment. He was opposed by Orellana of Santa Paula, a graduate of nearby Thomas Aquinas College and a civil lawyer in the Ventura County Counsel's Office.
"My opponent was a gentleman throughout this process," Bennett said. "I have a lot of respect for him."
Both candidates were rated as "well qualified" by the county Bar Association. And both have been endorsed by a wide array of prominent local political and civic figures. Orellana spent about $55,000 and Bennett about $70,000 to get their message to voters.
Bennett ran on his extensive law enforcement experience, Orellana on his decades of work in civil and government law.
Orellana, who would become only the second Latino judge in a county that is more than one-third Latino, said he wasn't running on his ethnicity, but that the court should represent the larger community. Bennett said that while ethnic balance on the bench is a worthy goal, what was important in a judge was an ability to apply the law fairly.
Bennett cited 29 years of experience as a police officer, district attorney's chief investigator and the last 13 as a chief deputy district attorney.
"He is a person of fairness É and that is a hallmark of any good judge," said Bradbury, who hosted a fund-raising event for Bennett at his Ojai ranch.
Bennett is also known locally for his participation as a coach and referee in youth sports, as an amateur astronomer, and as the husband of Dee, a local physical education teacher, and father of Alison, a star college basketball player, and Andrea, a Nordhoff junior who is a standout in volleyball.