Thursday, July 31, 2008

Three-judge Panel To Decide SLAPP Appeal

Lawyers say city attorney should not have refused to write 2006 ballot title

By Nao Braverman

The city and Ojai resident-attorney Jeff Furchtenicht will have to wait at least another month for a ruling that will decide the leagality of an anti SLAPP lawsuit. Oral arguments in the case were heard July 9 at the Second Appellate District Court of Appeal in Ventura, and lasted about 30 minutes.
According to city attorney Monte Widders, a court determination is due on Oct. 7, but should be issued sometime in September.
“We presented our argument and we hope the court will come back with the right decision,” said Michael Chait, of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, who is working alongside the American Civil Liberties Union in Furchtenicht’s defense.
Widders said he could not tell if the judges were leaning in either direction by the way they questioned both parties.
“It’s really hard to read them,” he said.
Furchtenicht appealed the November 2006 court denial of his anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion against the city.
At the oral argument earlier this month, his attorneys argued that Widders should not have refused to write a ballot title and summary for Furchtenicht’s proposed initiatives in August 2006.
Widders and the attorneys representing him argued that there are certain circumstances in which initiatives can be struck down before they are circulated. They believe that Furchtenicht’s proposals was one such circumstance.
But Furchtenicht and his representative disagree.
A Supreme Court case 30 years ago has already determined that a city attorney cannot refuse to write a ballot title and summary for an initiative, and then argue that it is not constitutional, according to Chait.
“There are times when it is proper to challenge an initiative before it goes on the ballot,” he said, “but it is clearly improper to refuse to write a ballot title and summary, to choose not to perform a duty that is required of you, based on your personal belief.”
City manager Jere Kersnar said that the ACLU and Furchtenicht want to change an existing law.
“The law says that there are certain circumstances in which an initiative can be challenged.” said Kersnar. “The ACLU’s view is that there should never be any pre-election challenges whatsoever.”
Furchtenicht and Chait deny that the ACLU has any intention of changing the law.
“It’s the exact opposite,” said Furchtenicht. “The ACLU is actually trying to defend the existing law. What Monte did was violate the existing statute.”
The initial dispute began nearly two years ago when Widders refused to prepare a ballot title and summary for two citizens initiatives regarding chain stores and affordable housing.
Widders claimed that the initiatives were not submitted in the proper format and refused to proceed with the process unless they were rewritten.
When Furchtenicht did not withdraw the initiatives, he was taken to court by Widders.
At the Nov. 29, 2006 hearing, a Ventura Superior Court judge dismissed the case. He said that even if Widders’ alleged complaints were true, there was no need for a lawsuit. He also denied Furchtenicht’s SLAPP complaint.
Furchtenicht appealed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion with the ACLU on board. In response, the city filed a cross appeal, in order to have the entire case re-examined, according to Kersnar.
The three attorneys working for the city, Widders, his partner, attorney Roger Myers, and associate Nancy Hartzler, were each paid the standard $150 per hour for their work on the case. So far the lawsuit has cost the city more than $83,000, according to Kersnar. The city has not yet been billed for the hours spent on the oral argument in July, he said.
The ACLU has taken the case pro bono. Neither Furchtenicht nor Chait could say how much their work has cost the organization so far.

Pesticide-free Movement Gains Strength

Group alleges Roundup, other presumed-safe products destroying more than weeds

By Earl Bates
Concerns about community health and the integrity of the region’s ecosystem have motivated a number of local residents to work toward making the Ojai Valley a pesticide-free zone.
An informational gathering, “Pesticide Free Ojai Meeting,” was attended by 40 people at Sacred Space Studio on Monday evening. Many expressed views critical of the usage of chemicals in the environment, some told stories of serious illnesses that they attributed to exposure to substances that were supposedly safe, and some offered information about scientific and medical studies.
“Pesticides are very violent, they are violent to the Earth, they are violent to the wildlife, they are violent to us,” said Ingrid Boulting, yoga teacher and owner of Sacred Space Studio. “We have to realize that everything we put into the Earth has an effect on the ecosystem and we are dependent on a healthy ecosystem for our health, so we have got to stop poisoning ourselves and our planet, period.
“For a long time now it’s come to people’s awareness, not just mine, that there are a lot of people getting sick in this town. Why is the illness rate so high here? We have a very high rate of cancer, little children are getting leukemia, a lot of people have joint pain and problems. I meet a lot of these people because they come to yoga to look for some kind of relief.”
Sacred Space Studio is commonly know as a place for yoga, and according to Boulting, “It’s a place to share ideas, it’s a place to raise consciousness, it’s a place people can come and feel safe to air their views about things and build a community to start to make a difference.”
Matilija Canyon resident Patty Pagala said she was made sick by the chemical herbicide that is currently being used in the attempt to eradicate the invasive arundo, giant reed plants, from the canyon river bottom. “Many people in Ojai are deeply concerned about the negative environmental and health impacts of the spraying of pesticides, not just in the canyon, as they are being sprayed extensively in the orchards in the East End of Ojai. We are coming together to create a pesticide-free Ojai, to bring about public awareness and to work with the city and county to go pesticide free.”
Concerns about the extensive program of application of the herbicide in Matilija Canyon seem to have instigated this movement for a pesticide-free Ojai.
Information from the Ventura County Watershed Protection District states: “Three methods are being used to remove and control giant reed. Each has been chosen for safety and efficacy.” The three methods are: shredding the plants, spraying an approved herbicide onto the foliage of the target plants, and painting the herbicide on cut plants.
The safety and efficacy of the herbicide has been questioned or denied by some observers.
“Glyphosate is what’s being used, which is generic Roundup, that’s what’s going in the water,” said Robin Bernhoft, an Ojai medical doctor with a specialty in the effects of toxic chemicals on human health.
“It’s dangerous stuff. The linkage to Parkinson’s disease and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia has come up over and over again, in this country and in Europe and in Japan. I don’t think people should use it at all because it does get into the water.”
According to many widely accepted studies, glyphosate is a safe herbicide.
According to Monsanto, producers of glyphosate herbicides including Roundup, the chemical presents a “low risk to human health.”
“That’s what Monsanto says. Monsanto has had a number of problems with the truth in the past,” said Bernhoft. “The evidence from the groundwater in North Dakota and Denmark is that it does not in fact break down and it does in fact get into the ground water.”
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety Health, glyphosate is water soluble and the supervisors just ignored this, said Bernhoft. It’s not quite as soluble as table salt, but it’s pretty soluble. Monsanto told the supervisors it was not soluble, that’s a lie.
Could a common product widely reported as safe actually be hazardous?
“Politics,” said Bernhoft. “If you go to the National Library of Medicine and start looking for research on this — scientific literature is not a disinterested business.”
Marsha Angel, who was editor of the New England Journal of Medicine for about 15 years, ultimately quit because she got sick of being fed bogus papers by various drug and pesticide companies, Bernhoft said. For example, Vioxx and rotavirus vaccine were both taken off of the market because they started killing people. Both, in initial publication, were reported in the journal as clean as could be. Later, by means of legal subpoena, it was discovered that the papers ignored the known side effects of the products, making them appear safe.
“The level of integrity is not quite as high as one might wish,” said Bernhoft.
“When you read about a result, you would have to see who funded the study, and that usually correlates with the result,” he said. It might not be readily perceived that complex products may have been presented in a deceptive way. “You have to be fairly sophisticated medically or scientifically to see this.”
An article, “New Evidence of Dangers of Roundup Weedkiller” was distinguished as one of the top 25 censored news stories of 2007. The list of censored stories is created by Project Censored, a media research program at Sonoma State University (
“Three recent studies show that Roundup, which is used by farmers and home gardeners, is not the safe product we have been led to trust,” stated the article by Chee Yoke Heong. The article cites scientific studies in which Roundup was implicated in mortality in amphibians and cancer and liver damage in animals.
Dr. Bernhoft believes creating a pesticide-free Ojai Valley is something that should be worked toward. There is enough medical evidence that these chemicals are a public health hazard for everybody, at different rates, some people notice it quicker that others. Minimizing the use of them or practically eliminating them would be helpful. “I think it’s a good idea from a public health standpoint, it would be a very good thing for the people of Ojai not to have to deal with these hazardous substances,” he said.
“II think informed consent is as important in politics as it is in medicine, you don’t want to slam-dunk people. I think people need to be able to make an intelligent decision and to do that they need to see the available evidence.”
For anyone interested in reading on the topic, Bernhoft suggested “Our Toxic World” by Dr. Doris Rapp. “Doris goes into a lot of the realities of how pervasive pesticides, herbicides and other pollutants are, and what their medical impacts are.”
The next meeting of Pesticide Free Ojai will be Monday at 7:45 p.m. at Sacred Space Studio, 410-A Bryant Circle. For information, call 646-6761.
According to many widely accepted studies, glyphosate is a safe herbicide.
According to Monsanto, producers of glyphosate herbicides including Roundup, the chemical presents a “low risk to human health.”
“That’s what Monsanto says. Monsanto has had a number of problems with the truth in the past,” said Bernhoft. “The evidence from the groundwater in North Dakota and Denmark is that it does not in fact break down and it does in fact get into the ground water.”
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety Health, glyphosate is water soluble and the supervisors just ignored this, said Bernhoft. It’s not quite as soluble as table salt, but it’s pretty soluble. Monsanto told the supervisors it was not soluble, that’s a lie.
Could a common product widely reported as safe actually be hazardous?
“Politics,” said Bernhoft. “If you go to the National Library of Medicine and start looking for research on this — scientific literature is not a disinterested business.”
Marsha Angel, who was editor of the New England Journal of Medicine for about 15 years, ultimately quit because she got sick of being fed bogus papers by various drug and pesticide companies, Bernhoft said. For example, Vioxx and rotavirus vaccine were both taken off of the market because they started killing people. Both, in initial publication, were reported in the journal as clean as could be. Later, by means of legal subpoena, it was discovered that the papers ignored the known side effects of the products, making them appear safe.
“The level of integrity is not quite as high as one might wish,” said Bernhoft.
“When you read about a result, you would have to see who funded the study, and that usually correlates with the result,” he said. It might not be readily perceived that complex products may have been presented in a deceptive way. “You have to be fairly sophisticated medically or scientifically to see this.”
An article, “New Evidence of Dangers of Roundup Weedkiller” was distinguished as one of the top 25 censored news stories of 2007. The list of censored stories is created by Project Censored, a media research program at Sonoma State University (
“Three recent studies show that Roundup, which is used by farmers and home gardeners, is not the safe product we have been led to trust,” stated the article by Chee Yoke Heong. The article cites scientific studies in which Roundup was implicated in mortality in amphibians and cancer and liver damage in animals.
Bernhoft believes creating a pesticide-free Ojai Valley is something that should be worked toward. There is enough medical evidence that these chemicals are a public health hazard for everybody, at different rates, some people notice it quicker that others. Minimizing the use of them or practically eliminating them would be helpful. “I think it’s a good idea from a public health standpoint, it would be a very good thing for the people of Ojai not to have to deal with these hazardous substances,” he said.
“I think informed consent is as important in politics as it is in medicine, you don’t want to slam-dunk people. I think people need to be able to make an intelligent decision and to do that they need to see the available evidence.”
For anyone interested in reading on the topic, Bernhoft suggested “Our Toxic World” by Dr. Doris Rapp. “Doris goes into a lot of the realities of how pervasive pesticides, herbicides and other pollutants are, and what their medical impacts are.”
The next meeting of Pesticide Free Ojai will be Monday at 7:45 p.m. at Sacred Space Studio, 410-A Bryant Circle. For information, call 646-6761.

Fierro Drive Suspects Arrested For Terrorism

Gang Unit serves warrants at four locations, more arrests to follow in July 7 incident that ended in suspect being hit by car

The Ventura County District Attorney’s office Tuesday filed street terrorism charges against two Ojai gang members in connection with a July 7 incident wherein one person was struck by a car, according to information provided by Sgt. Bill Schierman.
On July 7, Ojai deputies responded to a disturbance in the 1100 block of Fierro Drive, and found that a car had struck 20-year-old Mario Oseguera during a gang-related disturbance. Oseguera was airlifted to the Ventura County Medical Center where he received treatment.
After investigating the incident, members of the county’s gang unit believed the car accidentally struck Oseguera while he and several other gang members were vandalizing a residence in the 1100 block of Fierro Drive. One of the other suspects in the vandalism was identified as 19-year-old Juan Arriaga.
Last week deputies from the Ojai substation, assisted by the Sheriff’s Gang Unit, served four search warrants on Bonmark Drive, Shady Lane, Quail Street and El Roblar Drive in connection with the vandalism. During the service of the search warrants\, Oseguera and Arriaga were arrested and booked for vandalism and street terrorism. Two high-powered handguns were also seized during the search warrants. Oseguera is being held in custody on $50,000 dollars bail and Arriaga is being held on $200,000 dollars bail.

The original report is linked here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Avary's Attorney Denies Charges

County plans to charge screenwriter with vehicular manslaughter

By Daryl Kelley
Ventura County prosecutors have tentatively decided to charge Oscar-winning screen-writer Roger Avary with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated resulting from a late-night car crash near Ojai in January in which a man was killed and Avary’s wife was injured.
But defense attorney Mark Werksman said Tuesday that the 42-year-old Avary, who won an Academy Award for ‘Pulp Fiction’ in 1994, denies being intoxicated and thinks the crash was caused by a tire blowout.
“He denies being under the influence,” Werksman said. “He did lose control (of the car). We know that a tire blew, then he lost control. It was a dark night on an unlit curve.” Nor was Avary speeding, the lawyer said.
Werksman’s comments were the first indication of the Avary defense.
Key evidence, the lawyer said, will be the results of blood samples taken to determine the screenwriter’s alcohol level after the crash, and the type of damage to Avary’s 2000 Mercedes coupe.
“There are things we can’t learn without court orders once the case is filed,’’ he said.
On Jan. 13, Avary was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and felony drunken driving after the car he was driving skidded and crashed into a telephone pole on Ojai Avenue in front of Ojai Lumber about 12:30 a.m.
The district attorney’s office submitted the manslaughter charge to the Superior Court this month, and prosecutors expect the court to officially file it shortly before Avary’s scheduled arraignment Sept. 19.
If convicted on the charge, Avary could receive up to 11 years in prison, authorities said.
“It’s the most serious charge we are considering. It really is the most likely charge that’s being considered,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Jim Ellison this week.
But, he added, that there’s still “a lot of investigation going on into this.” An elaborate accident re-construction has been part of the investigation, he said.
“All sorts of factors” could have contributed to the accident in addition to Avary’s alleged intoxication, Ellison said.
Although the charge has not been officially entered by the court, case documents show that Deputy District Attorney Kathy LaSalle reviewed and accepted the gross vehicular manslaughter complaint July 15, then submitted it to the court clerk for filing.
Often, charges are not officially filed by the court clerk until a few days before arraignment, officials said.
“The court may not take any action until close to the (September) appearance date,” Ellison said. Avary’s arraignment has already been delayed three times, most recently on July 17, at the request of prosecutors.
In addition to the vehicular manslaughter charge, prosecutors have considered charging Avary with driving under the influence of alcohol and causing injury or death, a less serious charge that carries a maximum of seven years in prison considering the injuries in this case, Ellison said.
Werksman said he could not discuss the case in detail because a charge has not yet been filed. But he said he knows prosecutors intend to file the charge of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
“I’m aware of what they’re planning, and we’re waiting for them to actually file the case,” Werksman said. “Once that happens we can begin to work toward resolution of this case ... We can’t determine the true cause of this accident until a judge is appointed and we have an opportunity to inspect the vehicle and examine the district attorney’s evidence.”
Andreas Zini, 34, who was visiting Avary from Italy, died in the single-car crash, apparently from internal injuries, authorities said.
Avary’s wife, Gretchen, also suffered serious injuries after being thrown from the car when it crashed on East Ojai Avenue near Boardman Road. According to Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris, Avary failed to negotiate a turn in the highway and crashed into a power pole.
Avary was uninjured, but his 40-year-old wife was found lying in the road next to the couple’s sedan. She was transported to Ojai Valley Community Hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries. She was released about a week later as she recovered from a ruptured bladder.
In a statement the day after the accident, Avary’s publicist Julie Polkes, said: “Roger wishes to publicly convey his heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased. Words cannot express how sorry he is, and this tragic accident will always haunt him.”
Avary, a screenwriter, director and producer, remains free on a $50,000 bail bond.
At the time, Werksman said Avary was “grief stricken.” And on Tuesday the lawyer added:
“This was a horrible accident, a tragedy, and he (Avary) feels awful about what occurred.”
The attorney said no civil lawsuit had been filed in the case.
Former Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury, who owns an East End ranch, was a witness to the crash’s immediate aftermath, arriving as the dust settled and calling for emergency vehicles.
Bradbury said Tuesday in an interview that Avary was distraught and slurring his speech after the crash.
When Bradbury arrived, Gretchen Avary was on the roadway and her husband was holding her head in both hands, Bradbury said. Roger Avary said: “Gretchen, Gretchen, don’t die, don’t die. Gretchen talk to me,” according to Bradbury.
Bradbury said he asked Avary to move away from the woman, so she wouldn’t be harmed by the movement. But Avary said the woman was his wife and told Bradbury his name. “Due to a slight slur I didn’t hear his last name accurately,” Bradbury said. The former prosecutor said he asked if the man’s name was Avis, and he said, no, it was Avary.
Prosecutor Ellison would not comment this week on Bradbury’s account except to say that the case would be filed regardless. “It doesn’t have any bearing on it,” he said.
Werksman said he’d talked with Bradbury about what he saw at the scene.
“I spoke with Mr. Bradbury, and it is accurate that Roger was very distraught,” the lawyer said. “I don’t think he would describe Roger as slurring his words.”
But Bradbury said Tuesday that he stands by his account that Avary was slurring words.

The original OVN report and reader comments

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kaddis Killed, Brother Charged

Tragic death leaves questions about man who was paying $500,000 fine to Land Conservancy

By Daryl Kelley
A Los Angeles real estate broker found guilty of illegally cutting down more than 300 oak trees on his Baldwin Road ranch near Lake Casitas has been shot to death before he could pay all $500,000 ordered in fines to the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.
Los Angeles police say William Kaddis, 63, was fatally shot last Wednesday by his brother, Edward, after an argument at the brother’s residence in the mid-Wilshire area.
A S.W.A.T. team arrested the brother after a six-hour standoff, but William Kaddis died of a gunshot wound to the head that night.
Whether the death of Kaddis will stop payment of about $200,000 in fines still due the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy is an open question, said OVLC executive director Fred Fox.
“I wish I knew the answer,” Fox said Tuesday. “I have not yet caught up with the court administrator. We believe the remainder due will be dispersed from the estate, but I cannot confirm that at this point.”
Even with an interruption in the $5,000-a-month payments, the conservancy will suffer no crimp in its financing, Fox said, because the Kaddis money was always placed in a special fund for oak tree restoration.
"It does not support our general fund at all," Fox said. So the agency's $353,000 annual operations budget will not be affected, he said.
Kaddis became notorious locally in 2001, when he bulldozed 301 coastal live oaks on his 44-acre ranch and was charged with illegally clearing his property.
During a 2002 trial, the real estate broker argued that he’d been framed by neighbors and county officials, who didn’t like him because he was a native of Egypt. But he was convicted on 11 criminal counts involving the destruction of the trees.
In a failed appeal, Kaddis also argued his land was not subject to state regulation, since he could trace its ownership to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
A judge found that Kaddis fabricated a hate letter supposedly left on his property, refused to cooperate with environmental inspectors, and acted like “the neighbor from hell.”
Kaddis was placed on probation for 60 months, ordered to pay $500,000 for an oak tree restoration program and sentenced to 210 days in jail. In 2004, a judge added 45 more days because Kaddis failed to pay the fine.
The $500,000 penalty was the court’s answer to making restitution to the people of the Ojai Valley, Linda Ash, the assistant Ventura County counsel on the six-year-long case, said then.
Ash said the county felt the Land Conservancy would make the best use of the funds and had a demonstrated history of protecting oak trees.
The county felt that if Kaddis were simply ordered to replant the trees, there was no guarantee he would care for them, she said. This way the funds would be used by the conservancy to purchase oak habitat or reforestation in the valley.
Fox said Kaddis had been making double payments with interest in recent years to make up for missed payments. Fox said he had never met Kaddis, nor spoken with him about how the restitution would be used.
The conservancy did not apply to the court for the restitution, but was simply notified by the judge that the conservancy had been chosen as a worthy recipient, Fox said.
Police said William Kaddis was killed last week after he came to his brother’s residence at the request of a family member, who said the brother was ill. William Kaddis owned the house in which his brother was living, police said.
Speaking through the metal screen door, the brothers got into an argument, resulting in several gunshots through the door by the brother, police said.
When police arrived, they were able to help paramedics take William Kaddis out of the line of his brother’s fire, police said, but he died later at a nearby hospital.

Hanstad, Horgan Qualify For Re-election

Citing lack of other candidates, incumbents reverse earlier decisions

By Daryl Kelley
Rae Hanstad and Sue Horgan officially reversed field this week, filing for re-election to the Ojai City Council in the November election.
The two veteran council members filed for re-election on Monday. Three other potential candidates have also taken out nomination papers, but have not yet filed as candidates — Betsy Clapp, Michael Lenehan and Garrett Clifford. Also mentioned as potential candidates have been attorney Len Klaif and community activist Dennis Leary.
City Clerk Carlon Strobel and City Treasurer Alan Rains have also pulled nomination papers for re-election, but only Strobel has filed them as of press time.
Also on the fall ballot are two seats on the Ojai Unified School District board, seats on the Casitas and Meiners Oaks water boards and on the Ojai Valley Sanitary District and the valley’s Municipal Advisory Council.
The filing deadline is Aug. 8 for each board.
“Several members of the community asked me to reconsider, and I did,” said Hanstad, 57, who announced in April that she wanted to return to private life and that she had done what she’d hoped on the council.
“I think everything is in good shape,” she said Monday, after filing. “But continuity is always good.”
She also acknowledged that her decision was influenced by candidates stepping forward so far to replace her.
“I don’t know them,” she said of the three who’ve pulled nomination papers. “I think if strong established citizens had stepped forward, it may have affected my thinking. Citizens I spoke with felt that not only did I have a strong track record, but there were no logical replacements.”
Hanstad herself had mentioned recently retired county chief executive Johnny Johnston and Bob Roper, county fire chief, as potential candidates, but Johnston has said he’s not interested and Roper has yet to publicly declare if he’ll run.
“So I feel like I’ve been drafted again,” said Hanstad, coordinator of Ventura County’s new anti-methamphetamine task force.
Horgan, now serving as mayor, told the Ojai Valley News recently that she had reconsidered her retirement from public life.
“It has come to my attention that we are not quite as far along with some projects as I had hoped we would be,” she said. “I don’t want to make it sound like I think I can do them myself, I can’t, but I think I have an impact. And I want to make sure the city is moving in the direction we have set.”
She was referring to a state mandate to provide more affordable housing and a long-standing effort to build a new skate park on school district property, which has not yet been secured.
Horgan added Tuesday that her decision to run again was also influenced by the apparent lack of candidates for the council.
“I announced seven months ago that I would not seek re-election,” she said. “I spent a lot of time … trying to get people to step up. And in that time, no candidates emerged so I needed to make a decision.”
Hanstad said she also wants to focus hard on the skate park, the housing plan and a new master plan for development within the city.
“I’m not saying no one else can do this,” she said. “But my contract with the county is flexible, and I’m delighted to serve again. I’m really looking forward to the next four years.”
Hanstad and Horgan have both served two four-year terms.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Planners Again Reject Condo Project

Los Arboles builders face opposition on Montgomery Street

By Nao Braverman
The Ojai Planning Commission made it clear at Wednesday night’s meeting, that they were not interested in seeing anymore massive million-dollar condominiums in Ojai .
Several years, and seven or eight designs and redesigns into their development project, Scott and Lance Smigel were essentially turned down, once again, by the commission.
The Smigel brothers, developers of the controversial Los Arboles Townhomes, which have been unfavorably received by a number of vocal community members, have been trying to move forward with another relatively high-end village mixed use condominium at 119 and 201 S. Montgomery St. But some community members were not pleased.
“A while back, no one wanted million-dollar condominiums because they didn’t fit with the neighborhood,” said Ojai resident Len Klaif. “Now we have passed so many of them that they do fit. This is not mixed in any sense, it’s not village, and it’s not what people come to Ojai to see. There are plenty of condos elsewhere just like this. They aren’t going to come to Ojai to see what our condos look like.”
At a planning meeting in December 2007, the project was turned down for several reasons, but namely because the construction would endanger some protected trees, including a redwood about 100 years old.
This time, the applicants returned with a design that included some amendments to protect the trees, while catering to Ojai decision makers’ environmental concerns, by adding as many green elements as possible.
The four new condominium units are to be made with many recycled materials. Each is built on permeable paving, and all are equipped with electrical outlets in each parking structure, to encourage electric cars and plug-in hybrids. Architect Marc Whitman said that he also hopes to get solar panels on the roofs of the structure as well.
But the mass of the project, in an area that planning commissioners see as a quaint pedestrian village, was still an issue that the redesign had not resolved.
While several commissioners complimented the architectural and landscape design, the consensus was that the structures were too bulky, especially at street level.
“This feels like a little fortress,” said commissioner Tucker Adams. “And I don’t think that’s the way something on the street should feel,” she said.
Another concern, among commissioners, was the project’s proximity to the street. Commissioner Cortus Koehler said the sparse sidewalk space that would be left after the construction was finished, did not invite pedestrian activity.
All commissioners agreed that parking spaces out front were even less inviting.
Although the concept of a village mixed use zone was appealing to commissioners, it hadn’t yet been successful in generating a village feel so far. All commissioners said they wanted something smaller for the Montgomery Street location. Later they conceded to having the street-facing units smaller, in order to minimize the overwhelming size of the structures in comparison to the neighboring houses.
Lance and Scott Smigel were both frustrated as they had intended to give the commissioners what they thought the city wanted, a village mixed use project in the preferred Craftsman style. However, they agreed to consider drafting a new plan and continue the item to a later date.
They also agreed to add a disclosure that the project’s proximity to the Art Center might expose residents to disturbances from late night parties, and the smell of coffee roasting in the morning.
In other planning news a redesigned landscaping plan for a new patio and outdoor dining area for the Ojai Beverage Company, formerly known as Regal’s Wine & Sprits, passed unanimously. The former beverage store’s new bar is soon to have an outdoor seating area extending from the back of the store away from the street.

Commercial Vacancies Concern City Officials

Grad students take on Ojai marketing plan as class project

By Nao Braverman
The growing number of commercial vacancies in Ojai have been worrying city officials, local decision makers and concerned citizens; especially when the nationwide economy has taken a downturn and the city budget is highly dependent on revenues from tourism.
While elected officials and community members discuss ways to boost the local economy, several Claremont graduate students are working on a marketing plan for the city.
“Graduate programs like to use real-life examples, real businesses, as a way to study,” said Jenny Darroch, a professor of a marketing strategy course at Claremont University’s Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management.
Her students are divided into smaller groups, each focusing on various real-life organizations including a host of for profit and nonprofit business models. Two of her students, Lugene Whitley and Tyler Barrell, chose to work on a marketing plan for Ojai.
“Tyler has a real interest in sustainability and socially conscious business, and Lugene is has been working in art management,” said Darroch. “They were a perfect fit because they truly understand what Ojai is about.”
Darroch, who came to Claremont from the University of Otago in New Zealand, offered the city of Ojai as a study focus for her students, after speaking with Claremont graduate student and Ojai resident, Martha Groszewski.
Groszewski, former chief financial officer of Patagonia and friend of Jeff Haydon, the president of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce board, has been facilitating a sub-committee of the Ojai Chamber of Commerce Marketing Group.
The recently formed sub-committee includes Mayor Sue Horgan and Councilwoman Rae Hanstad from the city, various chamber members including CEO Scott Eicher, and other highly engaged members of the local business community. The group’s goal is to come up with some concrete plans to help boost Ojai’s economy. Members hope that the Claremont graduate student study will result in some applicable solutions and plans to help Ojai’s struggling merchants and policy makers. If not, it should at least provide some interesting information, said Groszewski.
The marketing plan is a class project, not a city project or a Chamber of Commerce project, she clarified. The city has no obligation to adhere to any of the suggestions that the students offer. However, the study will likely be beneficial in some way, at no real cost to the city. Especially since the city doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on consulting, Groszewski added.
While some universities charge organizations as much as $50,000 for similar studies, Claremont’s Graduate University’s study is funded entirely by the school.
“We want to build partnerships with the community, we want to give back,” said Darroch. “Even if Ojai is not technically our neighbor, it is a nearby suburb and part of Southern California.”
Whitley and Barrell are just in the information-gathering stages of their research. They have made a few trips up to Ojai during the Ojai Music Festival and the Lavender Festival and interviewed City Council members Hanstad and Horgan, Eicher from the chamber, city manager Jere Kersnar, Peter Bowen, Ojai Valley Inn’s director of marketing, and Cathy and Don Cluff, of The Oaks at Ojai, among others. They still have plans to interview a few more merchants and key community members, Whitley said.
Because the scope of their work is limited, they have decided to focus on a tourist marketing plan, something Ojai doesn’t have yet.
“The fact is that Ojai is pretty tourist dependent,” said Groszewski. “I don’t know if that can change, or if that is a good thing.”
Already the two students have had a taste of some of the commonly debated topics, such has how to balance mom-and-pop shops that cater to locals, with establishments that cater to tourists. While some of these overlap, others seem to conflict. Some local merchants, while grateful for the traffic that the Ojai Valley Inn attracts, are frustrated that more and more visitors seem to be content to remain on the inn’s premises, and are less likely to venture to town to shop.
One thing both students understand is that city officials and Chamber of Commerce members are very concerned about maintaining Ojai’s character and charm, Whitley assured.
“Ojai is different from other communities and has a lot to offer. That is a real strength, we want to keep that,” she said.
They are also aware of the fears that many residents have of Ojai becoming purely a tourist trap.
While Whitley has a background in arts management, she also grew up in a small agricultural town in Illinois, and appreciates Ojai’s origins. Barrell grew up in a 4,000-person town in Maine and hopes to move to Ojai one day with his wife, who was born and raised in Ventura.
“Cities who rely to a certain degree on tourism are often uncomfortable having a certain amount of people in town,” said Whitley. “We understand that is a concern and we are sensitive to that.”
Whitley and Barrell are still compiling information and are far from making any solid recommendations. But a full marketing plan should be complete and ready to present to the Chamber of Commerce sub-committee by mid-August, said Barrell.
Both Barrell and Whitley have agreed to check the Ojai Valley News Blog for suggestions and comments from community members.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Obama Supporters Open Ojai Office

Ksenia McEuen’s painting of Obama, which will hang at the presidential contender’s local campaign headquarters behind the Ojai Arcade.

By Linda Harmon
Barack Obama will get a birthday present from Ojai on Aug. 4 when Ojai for Obama, a grass-roots group of supporters, opens its campaign headquarters at 323 E. Matilija St., Suite 116, at the corner of Montgomery Street, down from the Sunday Farmers’ Market.
“We are planning on opening a space where people can focus their energies,” said David Bush, an Obama supporter and one of four steering committee members that are setting up the Ojai headquarters. Other committee members are Sue Broidy, Stephen Rose and Peter Strauss. “We are a special community and we have a special candidate this year. We plan on making it a place where people can all come together, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, to elect Mr. Obama.”
According to McCain supporter and Republican caucus chair for Ventura County Mary Osborn, “We will not have an official storefront in Ojai, but we plan on launching a campaign in the valley.” Chris Collier, a McCain spokesperson, says the nearest headquarters is scheduled to open in Ventura at an undisclosed location.
The Obama office will operate under the direct supervision of one of the four alternating senior staff members, supplemented by volunteers, with Broidy as office manager.
“We already have a long list of volunteers,” said Bush, who held a successful Fourth of July fund-raising event for Obama in Meiners Oaks, part of the national Unite for a Change Day. “We raised $1,100 over the course of the day and an additional $530 was pledged online.”
According to Bush, the event drew more than 100 people over the course of the five-hour event, which featured live music and a barbecue, raising money by donations.
“As far as I know there has never been a campaign office here,” said Broidy. “For the last seven years that I have been involved with the Ojai Democrats it has usually been in my living room! I am thrilled that it is happening … It means we can all be campaign strategists now instead of relying on directions from a distant party consultant.”
David Mason, local historian, said that a trailer in the parking lot of what is now Starr Market served as a campaign office for John Kennedy’s successful bid for the presidency in 1960.
According to Broidy, Rose was the person to get the ball rolling.
“I was one of the original fund raisers for Obama over a year ago in L.A. right after he declared,” said Rose, who was then in the entertainment business and has since moved to Ojai. “The whole campaign has been about urging people to create their own experience. How could we not have an office in Ojai?”
The organization will have three main goals: phone banking, fund raising and voter registration. Rose says it will be a group effort and there will be “a main thrust to get teenagers involved in handing out fliers and registering voters.”
According to Bush, the organization already has plans for Friday night “socials” where volunteers can get together, brainstorm and plan.
“No more going over the hill for Obama supporters,” said Bush, who has joined others in Camarillo for earlier events. “As far as I know we are actually the Ventura County headquarters. I hope everyone will come join us for our grand opening (Aug. 4. 6 to 9 p.m.).”
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To Shop Or Not To Shop

Analysis: Shopping local makes cents, especially as gas prices rise

Tell Ojai merchants why you shop here, why you don't

By Earl Bates
To shop local or not to shop local, that is a question for Ojai Valley residents. Is it noble to shop out of town for products and services that should be available in Ojai?
“There are many reasons why people should shop locally,” said Scott Eicher, Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce CEO. “If residents take their service patterns out of town, we will not have a vibrant, healthy local economy. If we have no businesses we will not have a community.”
“A vibrant economy is certainly in the best interest of everyone, including the city,” said Mayor Sue Horgan. “I think it’s important that we have a balance, that our merchants serve both residents and visitors and that we maintain that balance. I’m real passionate about this. I think if the merchants are supported they will be here for us, if we don’t patronize these people, how can we expect them to be here when we need them?”
Shopping locally can help the Ojai community in many ways; it helps support the local economy, it helps support local employment, it helps ensure that local businesses can continue to provide the community with needed products and services, and through sales tax it helps fund city services.
Local shopping can help residents save time, money and natural resources; and it contributes to the well-being of the community.
“On the self-serving level, people should be shopping locally to keep their gas bill down, and to reduce their carbon footprint,” said Eicher. “At $5 a gallon, driving to Ventura means you have to save an awful lot to make the trip worth the cost.”
The cost of an out-of-town shopping trip is becoming a bigger factor. One cruise around the county can roll 30 to 60 or more miles onto the odometer. The cost of gasoline is only part of the equation, there’s mileage on the vehicle and a person’s time to factor in, valuable time that could have been spent at work, at home or at recreation.
For a single trip from Ojai into the Ventura area, the value of a person’s time and the vehicle’s mileage costs can easily add up to $100, more or less, depending on specifics. One way to estimate the value of a person’s time is to multiply the hours spent on the trip by the amount the person would have been paid for working an hour. This puts a typical value of $25 to $100 for a person’s time for a three-hour trip. Mileage expenses are much more than the cost of gasoline, they should include the amortization of the purchase price of the vehicle, maintenance, insurance and registration. A typical personal vehicle has mileage expenses of about $1 per mile, gasoline’s part of that is about 25 cents.
For the trip to result in a net savings, all of these costs would have to be more than made up by the difference in prices between Ojai businesses and the out-of-town shopping destinations. Many Ojai residents seem to think they are saving by shopping elsewhere, but after all expenses are considered, how much saving actually happens?
What about Ojai’s movement to go green? How’s that carbon footprint? A shopping trip around Ojai, even by car, can make a common out-of-town shopping trip look extravagant in many ways. A trip around town by trolley, by bicycle or on foot can be remarkably inexpensive and enjoyable. “I would rather bicycle over to Rains for clothes or kitchen gadgets than drive to any mall in the world!” said former Ojai Mayor Suza Francina. “There is no question that shopping locally benefits not only the business owners but the whole community.”
In addition to basic economic and environmental concerns, staying local can help create social and cultural networking benefits that can enrich individual residents and the Ojai community collectively.
Can’t find it in Ojai?
“The town formerly devoted a larger portion of its mercantile activity to servicing local needs,” said longtime Ojai resident Jim Churchill, co-owner of Churchill Brenneis Orchard, an organic grower of Ojai Pixie tangerines and avocados.
“Within living memory Rains was a hardware store; it seems to me that they’ve been extremely agile in adapting their product mix to what people with money will buy, but there isn’t very much there for me anymore.” Ojai used to have four welding shops, four nurseries, and a farm supply store. But those services went away because of changes in the town, the nation and the economy. I don’t know how you repopulate the merchant community with a different mix of providers. There are not many merchants that stay around as long as Rains has and adapt successfully to changing circumstances. So we get into this chicken and egg situation, merchants won’t stock products unless they think there’s a customer base and customers won’t shop here if it’s worth it to them, for whatever reason, to shop elsewhere.
“I think the price of oil is going to be a game-changer,” continued Churchill. “All kinds of things are going to shift around and people will need to drive less. But they aren’t going to shop locally if the things they want or need aren’t available locally.”
“I think we always have to remember that we are not just a visitor town,” said Horgan. “We are a real town, we have real people and they have needs and wants. Hopefully, it’s going to be in everyone’s best interest if our local merchants can provide for those needs.
“Obviously there are some things we cannot get here,” said Horgan, “but to the extent that local merchants don’t have some of the things that we need, I think it is incumbent upon the residents here to make that known to the merchants. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what the community goes out of town for?”
Many local merchants are happy to help find things the customer is looking for by searching what’s available from their suppliers. Special items can be ordered individually and merchants could consider stocking products that have consistent requests.
“There is a collaborative effort going on right now between the chamber and the city and some specific merchants and hoteliers,” Horgan continued. “We are trying to get our arms around this whole issue of how can we maintain a vibrant local economy. It’s all about knowing who the customers are, what do our residents want and need, and what do the visitors want and need? It’s a big issue and such an important one.”

Mallory Way Project Goes To Public

Motor court to make way for 23 condo units

By Nao Braverman
Four years after its first appearance at City Hall, the controversial Mallory Way condominium project is to be reviewed by the public once again, starting today.
All but seven of 25 quaint rental bungalows near downtown are to be demolished to make way for a group of 23 new two-story condominiums, if plans are approved.
The fact that the development would destroy so much of what was believed to be affordable housing, which was both attractive and of historic significance, garnered the project many local enemies.
The shortage of affordable housing was even more apparent two years ago when the Mallory Way project re-emerged just in time for local City Council elections, and became a favorite topic for council candidates.
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood just walking distance from downtown Ojai, the cluster of Mallory Way rental units was once an old motor court during the post-World War II era. With each cottage named after a famous racehorse, the lodge was built for auto tourists with a swimming pool and all the luxury of a motel, in the secluded, somewhat rustic town that Ojai was in the late 1940s.
Today, the original swimming pool is filled with cement and the original motor court bungalows have been renovated to make cozy, inexpensive rental units.
While the architectural design of those Mallory Way cottages is still reminiscent of the old motor court, and has been unofficially recognized as historically significant, it has no landmark status, according to city manager Jere Kersnar.
Moreover, while the existing units are often referred to as affordable housing, they are not all considered affordable, he said. Mallory Way studio rentals on the Becker Group web site are listed at $875 a month. That may seem cheap for Ojai. But for studios, they are priced higher than the affordable bracket, according to Kersnar.
He said he is not sure what the exact price range is for official designated affordable housing, but most Mallory Way cottages just don’t cut it. Prices for affordable housing are determined to cost the residents about 30 percent of their income. So an affordable two bedroom rental for very low income resident in Ojai would cost $900 a month according to figures from Ojai’s Community Development Department as determined in November 2007.
“Most Mallory Way rentals, I believe, would be cheap if they were one bedrooms, but many of them are studios,” said Kersnar. “Because they are studios they have a lower price threshold.”
But even if they were affordable units, there wouldn’t be much that the city could do to stop the property owner from destroying them to develop the property.
Despite the lack of much-needed affordable housing, the city doesn’t even have a stringent replacement program, which would require a property owner to replace affordable units that were destroyed, said Kersnar.
The most recent design for the condominium project proposes to keep only seven existing units on the property that are officially affordable and sign a contract to keep them that way.
In the latest proposal, the owner of the property, the Matilija Investment Cooperative, plans to demolish 18 existing units on Mallory Way. In exchange for the original cottages ranging from 400 to 1,000 square feet with yard space, the investment cooperative offers 23 new two-story Craftsman-style condominiums of about 2,000 square feet with carports.
Though a little more cramped than Ojai’s ordinance allows, the Matilija Investment Cooperative is requesting a density bonus as a concession which it is entitled to because it is providing seven contractually affordable units.
Property owners are asking to essentially streamline any environmental review of the project with a Mitigated Negative Declaration which states that the project will have essentially no environmental impact according to the California Environmental Quality Act standards.
Jeff Becker, the Matilija Investment Cooperative representative, did not return e-mailed questions in time for print.
Residents who want to comment on the Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Mallory Way project can do so at the City Hall today until Aug. 18 at 5 p.m.
The Mitigated Negative Declaration will be discussed at the Historic Preservation meeting on Sept. 8 and a public hearing is tentatively set for the Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 17.
In the quickest scenario, the project would come before the City Council at the end of October, said city planner Katrina Rice Schmidt.

Pumping Biodiesel In Ojai

Saturday opening for fueling station, group seeks to prove need

By Linda Harmon
The energy crisis has given rise to a new type of fueling station in Ojai, biodiesel. The Ventura County Biodiesel Cooperative is having its grand opening July 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Help of Ojai’s West Campus, 370 Baldwin Road.
The solar-powered traveling fuel pump can hold over 1,000 gallons of fuel, which the group purchases and then retails. Interested customers normally will go online to become a purchasing member, but for the opening day only, the cooperative plans on offering a one-day membership to try their fuel.
“We are particularly proud of this batch because it comes from recycled vegetable oil,” said Tom Francis, who, along with other area residents Paul Jenkin, Kent Bullard, Christopher Blunt and Scott Wilson, is responsible for bringing the cooperative’s trailer to Ojai. “We have two missions in bringing it here. The first of which is to let people know that biodiesel is a carbon neutral fuel.”
According to Francis, the exhaust coming out of your tailpipe with this fuel will be absorbed by the plants that are now being grown to make future bio-fuel.
“In this situation you’re burning carbon,” said Francis, “but we’re also growing plants which will clean the air by pulling the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.”
The cooperative members hope to quantify the need and demonstrate the demand in the Ojai area for the plant-based fuels.
“We’re a nonprofit and we want to prove there’s a market,” said Francis. “Later we hope someone else will come to Ojai and put in a pump. Our goal is to be successful and be put out of business.”
The idea is for the cooperative to move the trailer to different locations to determine the market, moving on and expanding the neighborhoods served by others as it goes.
“How long it stays is up to Ojai,” said Francis. “It depends on how many people step up to the plate and use it. The trailer will go where the demand is.”
The co-op members also want to make clear that customers don’t have to convert their diesel car to burn biodiesel.
“Basically if you take a fuel cap off your diesel car to fill it, you can pump bio-fuel into it and then put the cap back on,” said Francis with a laugh. “The biodiesel is run through a process to take the glycerin out of it and the process produces a nice, clean, thin fuel that can burn in any diesel (engine).”
In response to objections raised by opponents of bio-fuels who say land should not be used to grow fuel but feed the hungry, Francis said, “That is a valid concern because people don’t want to think of people starving, but I think people should really look into changing their diet first.”
Francis feels re-directing some of the land used for animal production into human food production is a better answer and allows for use of bio-fuels as an alternative to polluting and declining reserves of fossil fuels.
“The state of California animal waste surpasses human waste several thousand-fold each year,” said Francis. “Animal production is the No. 1 depleter of both topsoil and our fresh water aquifers.”
Francis feels that not only do the advantages of bio-fuels to the environment far outweigh the disadvantages, but its costs are now typically within 10 cents of what a gallon of regular diesel costs. A gallon of the cooperative’s biodiesel is now $5.26 according to Francis.
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lake Casitas User Fees To Increase

$800,000 deficit prompts rise in recreational fees

By Daryl Kelley
Faced with a burgeoning budget deficit, directors of the Lake Casitas Recreation Area voted this week to hike an array of fees charged to customers at their popular lakeside camping grounds and water park.
Beginning Sept. 2, the fee for a vehicle to enter the park off Baldwin Road will increase from $8 to $10 and charges for a camp site will jump from $19 every day to $25 for weekdays and $30 for weekends and holidays.
The charge to launch a boat will also escalate from $7 a day to $10, while the basic charge to hook up a recreational vehicle to drinking water and electricity will jump from $30 to $35 and $40, depending on time of week.
For kids, the popular Water Adventure summer water park remains affordable. A season pass will increase from $70 to $75, and daily entry will stay the same at $12. Daily fees for kayaks will remain a bargain at $3, with annual passes still costing just $30.
“I hope we’re not shooting ourselves in the foot,” said director Bill Hicks. “There is an elasticity in the demand (if the rates go too high). The thing that bothers me the most are the tents: Those usually are people who can’t afford it.”
But Steve Wickstrum, general manager of Casitas Municipal Water District, which operates the park, said the district had no choice. Facing an $800,000 deficit in an annual Recreation Area budget of about $3.5 million, the district can cover about $400,000 of that red ink by slashing overhead expenses and hiking fees, he said.
The remaining $400,000 deficit will have to be made up with a transfer from district reserve accounts or the district’s general fund, which is supported by water customer fees and property taxes.
The Recreation Area, which has always made money, is facing a large deficit for the 2008-2009 fiscal year, which began this month, because for the first time accountants deducted about $600,000 in depreciation costs from its net profit. That depreciation must be set aside to cover costs of maintaining the park’s attractions in future years.
Without the depreciation write-down, the park made a profit of about $200,000.
District directors said at a hearing Tuesday that their goal remains for the Recreation Area to be self-supporting. And they were bothered by the deficit.
“That $400,000 deficit is not theory, it’s reality … How am I supposed to get my arms around this $400,000 deficit,” Director Russ Baggerly asked Wickstrum.
But Wickstrum said Recreation Area labor and overhead expenses have been cut to the bone in the new budget, and that Casitas might price itself out of the market if fees were raised higher than the board has now approved.
“I think we’ve gone about as far as we can on these fees,” Wickstrum said.
For example, Casitas’ daily vehicle fees of $15 on weekends will be higher than the $10 charged at Lake Piru, $11 at Castaic Lake and $8 at Lake Cachuma, and weekend tent campsites will also cost more than at those competing lakes. Daily boat fees will be about the same as competitors’.
Wickstrum said, however, that there are other unknowns about balancing the budget, even with the fee increases.
He said the soaring cost of fuel could keep visitors home and that restrictions on the use of boats at Lake Casitas, because of the threat of contamination by migrating quagga mussels, could reduce revenue, although it hasn’t so far.
The biggest source of the Recreation Area’s $3.5 million in revenue each year is boat fees, providing about $1.5 million, while ticket sales at the water park account for $650,000. Daily vehicle visits provide about $500,000, and camping $150,000. A sharp drop in any of those areas would cripple the budget.
“I think this is something we’re going to have to closely monitor,” said Director Pete Kaiser.
A positive, Wickstrum said, is that future recreation area budgets will not be so affected by depreciation write-offs. This year’s budget took a hit because depreciation had not been adequately covered in the past, he said.
The Recreation Area is open from sunup until sundown seven days a week all year long.
In other action Tuesday, Casitas directors moved to allow kayaks and canoes greater access to the lake despite a ban on outside watercraft unless they meet strict standards to prevent mussel infestation.
The board approved five methods by which kayak owners may access the lake, while assuring their craft have not been used in other lakes.
Owners may store kayaks at the lake for a small fee, $1 per foot of craft length per month. They may use district-approved tags and cables to attach the craft to a trailer, a wheeled carrier or another kayak, so any unapproved use could be detected because the lock tag would be destroyed when the craft is detached.
Or, under a method devised by Oak View resident Steve Grumette, the kayaker or canoeist could attach the craft to the roof of his car via a PVC pipe-and-cable rack. Grumette, a 35-year kayaker, said he would produce the roof rack-and-lock mechanism for $50 to $70 each.
“Once it’s publicized there’s an unknown number of kayakers out there who’ll be interested,” said Grumette, a professional filmmaker who is also artistic director of the Ojai Film Festival.
“There are many who don’t want their kayaks stored at the lake, where they are short of room, or don’t want to have it lock to their cars,” he said. “So this would work for them.”

Ojai Bank Adding New Branches

Ojai Community Bank buys Santa Barbara Bank & Trust’s Santa Paula branch offices

By Sondra Murphy
Ojai Community Bank has integrated the concept of investing locally into its business plan. Now, after three years of success, OCB is expanding its horizons — but not too far.
“We have signed a definitive agreement for the purchase and the acquisition of two branch offices of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust that are located on Main Street and Harvard Boulevard in Santa Paula,” said Shari Skinner, OCB president and CEO. “The agreement is subject to shareholder and regulatory approval, but we anticipate closing the transaction in the fourth quarter of 2008.”
That time period runs Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. OCB currently has about 311 shareholders.
Skinner said that since starting OCB in 2005, it has grown to be worth about $50 million. With the acquisition of the Santa Paula sites, the board expects to more than double its assets to around $110 million. OCB and SBBT began dialogues when the latter decided to focus more on trust and wealth management. Skinner said this was perfect timing for OCB to expand its consumer and small business banking.
OCB’s Don Scanlin recently took over as chairman of the board, a position previously held by John W. Russell. “Seven of us were all involved with the founding of the bank and we opened our doors March of 2005,” said Scanlin. “The main thing that prompted it was that Ojai didn’t have a true community bank after Ojai Valley Bank was purchased. We believed deeply in the community banking concept and what it can do for a community.”
Scanlin is proud of the fact that a high proportion of shareholders are locals. “Over 80 percent of our shares were sold to people who have Ojai residences, so we are truly locally owned,” he said. OCB shares are publicly traded on the over-the-counter bulletin board. Its stock symbol is ojcb.
Taking that small-town approach over the summit is a good fit for the company that has grown to employ 19 at Ojai Community Bank. “Our idea really is to have very small banks that don’t just expand into a giant bank so we can stay personal and serve local needs,” said Skinner. “We will be looking to the community through our Charitable Giving Program to help us develop programs to help support Santa Paula.”
The Charitable Giving Program produces funds that OCB reinvests in local endeavors. With each OCB account opened, $25 is given to a community organization with the customers directing the funds. “So far, we’ve given $25,000 a year to that program and we expect that to go up,” said Skinner. “Since we’ve opened, we have given more than 10 percent of our earnings to local nonprofits.”
OCB hopes to expand its community mindedness. “Our intent in going over to Santa Paula is to continue to run the bank with the staffs there and, if good fortune smiles on us, we will employ more,” said Skinner. “I actually think that, by moving it from a branch environment to a bank environment, it will be a positive move for them as well.”
The Harvard Boulevard branch is a leased location, but the Main Street acquisition includes the real estate as well. OCB plans to rename the SBBT branches Santa Paula Community Bank and provide the same kind of personal and community-based banking services in Santa Paula as it has in Ojai. “What we’re doing here is bringing local community banking into Santa Paula,” said Skinner. “We really believe in small community banks. Our long-term plan is to have very small, community banks that work on supporting the local communities.”
The idea of keeping banking small and local seems to go against the current trend in business, but it has paid off for OCB. “Ultimately, we have plans for doing this in other communities, as well,” said Scanlin. “We think there’s a bright future in that and it will do a lot of good to the com-munities and that will help our business plan succeed so we hope this is the first of many moves like this. I’m thrilled with the opportunity given to us.”
Scanlin was born and raised in Fillmore and worked in the oil industry before operating a real estate business in Santa Paula for 18 years, so he is enthusiastic about OCB’s expansion. “It’s kind of a coming home for me personally,” he said.
George Leis, president and chief executive officer of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, and himself an Ojai resident, said that the while the bank was committed to its seven other Ventura County branches, the “Santa Paula region would be better served by a bank that can really pay attention to this unique community.
“Santa Paula has been a good market for us, but it’s one we believe that (Ojai Community Bank) will do a better job of operating.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Police Investigate Fierro Drive Incident

Information sought on Monday's altercation

By Lenny Roberts

Ventura County Sheriff’s Department investigators are trying to determine what happened just before a 22-year-old Hispanic man was struck by a vehicle in the 1100 block of Fierro Drive Monday afternoon.
According to Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris, some sort of altercation outside the single-family home between residents and a group of young males, who may have left the scene in a black Ford Explorer, preceded the incident.
The back window of the Explorer may have been smashed by a rock or hammer.
The victim was Mario Oseguera, 20, of Ojai. He was transported by ambulance to an awaiting helicopter at the landing zone at the former Sheriff’s Honor Farm on nearby Baldwin Road, and then to Ventura County Medical Center. He was reported to have a broken leg and head trauma.
A 1993 blue Chysler New Yorker at the scene showed evidence of significant front-end damage. The windshield was thoroughly caved in. Both sides of Fierro Drive were cordoned off, with a pool of blood visible in the street.
Daniel Charles Rockett, 19, of Ojai, was arrested at the scene on an unknown charge.
“This was a confrontation between two rival groups of males,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Bill Boyd on Wednesday. The Sheriff’s Department was unable to confirm by press time whether gang members were involved in the fight.
The incident, although turned over to the California Highway Patrol as a traffic incident, is under investigation by the Sheriff’s Department Major Crimes Unit.
The driver of the car was reported as Matthew de la Cruz, 18, also of Ojai, according to CHP officer Shawna Davidson.
Two ambulances responded to the scene of the fight. According to an eyewitness at the scene, the victim was unconscious and unresponsive.
Anyone with information on this event is urged to call the Sheriff’s Department at 646-1414.

Hanstad, Horgan May Run For Re-election

Mayor, councilwoman reconsider decisions not to run

By Nao Braverman
With less than a week until the nomination period opens for Ojai City Council member seats, two councilwomen are reconsidering their previous decisions not to run for re-election.
In December 2007 at the council members’ reorgani-zation, Mayor Sue Horgan announced that she wanted to take time to focus on her children and her personal life. Shortly after, in mid-April, long-term Councilwoman Rae Hanstad also announced her plans to depart the council at the end of her second term.
Hanstad, coordinator of the county’s methamphetamine task force, said she wanted to focus on her career and family and step out of public life. With the city in fair shape, it seemed a good time to exit, she had said in April.
But some local citizens disagreed and told her so.
“Several members of the community have asked me to reconsider,” said Hanstad. “I have been meeting with them and I am re-evaluating my position.”
Horgan, seeing the city has not progressed as far as expected on some key projects, is also reconsidering her decision not to run again.
“It has come to my attention that we are not quite as far along with some projects as I had hoped we would be,” she said. “I don’t want to make it sound like I think I can do them myself, I can’t, but I think I have an impact. And I want to make sure the city is moving in the direction that we have set.”
Some of the projects she is referring to are the state-mandated housing plan, which requires the city to make a plan that accommodates hundreds of new affordable housing units. That plan has been met with controversy, and despite many long discussions on the subject, council members are still far from a concrete housing element that can be sent to the state department of housing and community development for approval.
Another important item left unfinished, according to Horgan, is the long-awaited Ojai Skate Park. Although more than the goal of $350,000 has been collected, a long-term lease on the proposed location on school district property has yet to be secured.
While the city is financially in good shape, and close to replenishing its reserves, council members have not yet set spending priorities for when the city does have money to spare, she said.
Horgan also mentioned her recent meetings with Hanstad and members of the Chamber of Commerce. The select group has been working on a plan to rejuvenate the local economy, but has just begun gathering information.
With so much still unfinished, Horgan is unsure whether she should leave the council as soon as she had planned.
But neither Horgan nor Hanstad have made a final decision just yet.
Whether they decide to run or not, both seats are up for election, along with the position of city clerk and city treasurer.
Despite the welcome offered by Hanstad and other locals, retired Ventura County Chief Executive Johnny Johnston said he had no plans to run for council. And County Fire Chief Bob Roper said he had made no decision at this time.
Candidates can pick up their nomination papers starting Monday, and have until Aug. 8 to turn them in, unless an incumbent decides not to file for re-election, in which case the filing deadline is extended to Aug. 15.
By that deadline each candidate hopeful has to obtain at least 20 signatures of sponsoring voters who are registered in the city in order to qualify for candidacy.
Elected council members receive a monthly stipend of $475 per month and $30 per meeting for serving on the Redevelopment Commission as well as health, vision and dental insurance.
City Clerk Carlon Strobel has been elected to her position for two terms in a row, and will be up for re-election on Nov. 4. as will City Treasurer Alan Rains. Interested citizens can pick up papers at City Hall on 401 S. Ventura St., starting Monday.

Perry, Family Appear At T-150 Benefit

By Linda Harmon

Garrison Keillor look out! "A Perry Home Companion" left the Saturday night capacity crowd with more than its share of chuckles. It was an uptown version of a down-home good time, affectionately modeled on its namesake, Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion." The one-night benefit performance for Theater 150, held at Matilija Auditorium, was co-produced by Debbie Perry and Theater 150's Deb Norton, directed by Jenny Sullivan and starred the John Perry family, including wife Debbie, son Matthew, daughter Maria and brother Tony.
The night was a rousing success with its blend of humor, wit and nostalgia, raising funds to help furnish the theater's expanded new space at 316 E. Matilija St.
"The family has often talked about performing together. We generally all do our own separate things. Playing together is a whole other thing, it's a new way to get together other than just for Christmas or Thanksgiving," said John Perry. "Since we have a soft spot in our heart for the theater, the benefit for 150 just seemed like a good way to do it."
It may have been the first time the family has performed on stage together but it probably won't be their last. They looked like they were having too much fun. The comfortable on-stage patter and sketches were interspersed with musical numbers by big brother Tony Perry accompanied by Jack Joshua on bass, Mark Parsons on fiddle and flute, and Steve Tremmel on guitar. Perry's career, like his brother's, includes music, television and theater, and he showed his ease on stage. The trio moved effortlessly through jazz selections from "The Ghost in the Attic," Perry's recently released CD, including "Someday," a Zen-like lament.
The audience was also treated to alternative vocal groupings. John teamed up with Tony, which was expected and appreciated, but sweet surprises followed. Maria took the stage with Tremmel and scored big with the hit ballad, "Falling Slowly," from the movie "Once." Another vocal surprise materialized as John later teamed up with Matt on the tender 1974 hit, "Please Come to Boston." Who knew Chandler could sing? Next Maria teamed up with Jessica Chanos to belt out a Thelma and Louise-like ballad, "Earl Must Die" after an old-fashioned red-neck cowboy duet by her dad and uncles.
The evening's comic scenes included the classic Abbot and Costello "Who's on first?" played by siblings Matt and Maria; the play "Intelligent Life" by David Babcock, acted by an ensemble including the John, Matt, Maria, Debbie; and the one that topped all the rest for star appeal, Grandma Molly Perry and Matt teamed up for a comic exchange as two bored baseball announcers. Great fun even if you're not a baseball fan.
If the enthusiastic reception of Saturday night's show is any indication Ojai definitely has a soft spot in its heart for the Perrys.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Oak View Discusses Gangs, Elects Council

City Watch program looks to partner police, community members through internet alerts

By Sondra Murphy
The Kunkle Room was more crowded than usual Wednesday as Oak View Civic Council members gathered to elect a new board. Nominations were plentiful with several positions having more than one candidate.
Honorary Mayor Al Buczkowski, who was elected in April during the Oak View Awards Banquet, tallied the ballots and the winners are as follows: President John Herndon; Vice President Jill Olivares; Second Vice President Pat Stone; Treasurer Guinevere Johnson; Secretary Lynn Smith; Parliamentarian Catherine Lee; Member at Large Randy Burg; Member at Large Elizabeth Tousignant
Pat Gorey, previous treasurer, has meticulously served two years and bylaws require a replacement for board positions after that time whenever new candidates are available. Dee Harper and Danna Prock were also nominated in the member at large categories and Johnson was nominated for secretary, as well.
After the election, the new board continued with the agenda. Buczkowski had arranged to have Sgt. Joe Evans with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department come speak to the council about the City Watch program being organized in the Ojai Valley.
Still in the early phases, the program uses internet resources to communicate crime incidents to neighborhood watch groups and other partnerships concerned with increasing safety and security in their areas.
Evans took questions first and the community was primarily concerned with gang activity in its many forms, but especially shootings, graffiti and why gang members are so antagonistic to each other.
“It’s a mutual thing and they’re all at fault,” said Evans. “They don’t play in the sandbox very well together.” He went on to say that the goal for the Ojai Valley City Watch is to get 15,000 people in the valley who are willing to call the police when they witness criminal activity.
By signing up to be a part of the City Watch program, the Sheriff’s Department will be able to send out incident emails to participants in an effort to identify perpetrators. “All our crimes blend into each other,” said Evans. “When we have crime trends in the valley, information will go out to everybody on the e-mail lists to request reports. It opens up the communication between the people in the community.”
Evans organized a successful City Watch when he worked out of Thousand Oaks and is using this experience to help improve communication between the police and residents. By knowing what is going on, it increases security within communities. “When you can’t get information to resolve your fear, that’s when it’s a problem,” said Evans. “Make no mistake. This is about arresting people.”
As the Ojai Valley City Watch program develops, additional information will be made available on how to get involved. For more information, contact Evans at

Herbicide Fears Prompt Meeting

Officials say no problems so far with spraying herbicides on arundo

By Daryl Kelley
Responding to community concerns that spraying a toxic herbicide to kill giant Ventura River reeds has sickened workers and residents, Ventura County officials told about 50 Ojai area residents this week that they’re closely monitoring the spraying, and that they’ve confirmed no problems so far.
“We don’t have evidence of workers getting sick,” county watershed official Jeff Pratt told an audience at Chaparral Auditorium on Tuesday evening. Nor have any of 60 tests detected the poisonous herbicide in water, officials said.
But Pratt pledged to investigate every citizen complaint and post the results on a county web site,
“We’ve heard from the community that they haven’t been involved enough,” Pratt said.
So as the eradication of towering non-native arundo reeds continues from Matilija Canyon to Baldwin Road, Pratt said the county wants feedback from the community. Officials have begun hosting public meetings, with the next one set for Aug. 7. And officials asked residents to immediately report problems.
But three Matilija Canyon residents told county officials that they’ve been sickened by the spraying of a powerful chemical, similar to that in the weed killer, Roundup, on reeds in Matilija Canyon.
“I was driving through the canyon when they were doing heavy spraying,” resident Patty Pagaling elaborated in an interview. “I went through a drift of it, and I became nauseous and headachy. I don’t get headaches very often. It was disturbing.”
Her son and his girlfriend have moved from Matilija Canyon until the spraying is complete, Pagaling said. And a neighbor described a June 24 incident in which a drift of spray entered her car. “She said she felt like her throat was on fire,” Pagaling said.
Another speaker, an Ojai environmental physician, insisted the county is not taking the threat that residents could develop cancer or Parkinson’s disease from the spraying seriously enough.
A Meiners Oaks resident said that the community’s water district is not testing for the chemical in its drinking water supplies. Another resident said bullfrogs have turned up dead after spraying.
And another resident pointed out that the European country of Denmark has restricted the use of the spray after tests found the toxic chemical, glyphosate, in groundwater.
County officials said they were studying the restrictions by the Danes and would report soon about the issue on the county web site.
County biologist Pam Lindsey said glyphosate is approved for spraying in water, but that the county does not spray it within 15 feet of water or 50 feet of an orchard. Nor do workers have to wear masks when applying it, because it can be safely used with only protective gloves and boots, officials said.
But several residents were not convinced.
“These guys just shine it on,” said Dr. Robin Bernhoft, who specializes in the effects of toxic chemicals on human health.
The Ojai physician said in an interview that he switched from performing surgeries after he became ill from supposedly safe chemicals used in operating rooms. He now studies and treats patients for the medical effects of herbicides, pesticides, molds and heavy metals.
“This is a bad idea for human health,” he told officials at the meeting. And he maintained that the county’s lab tests are not sufficiently detailed to detect biological toxicity from the spray in water. (The county said it tests to state and federal standards.)
Bernhoft also said that glyphosate is so toxic that the national worker safety program recommends that it not be used in the environment.
“Most telling … is the comment on the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Chemical Safety Cards which says, “Do NOT let this chemical enter the environment” (their emphasis). That’s NIOSH speaking, not the Sierra Club,” Bernhoft wrote in a letter to county Supervisor Steve Bennett last fall.
On Tuesday, several residents also urged the county to begin to use non-toxic means to root out the arundo, which was introduced in California in the 1820s to curb creek erosion and has spread rapidly in riverbeds during the last 50 years.
Under a $5-million state grant, the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, in cooperation with the federal Corps of Engineers, has completed its first round of spraying of the giant arundo donax. The eradication was needed to kill the 30-foot-tall reed, which sucks water from native plants, creates a fire hazard and causes erosion, officials said.
The arundo removal is part of a $140-million effort sponsored mostly by the federal government to tear down the Matilija Dam and open up the natural flow of the Ventura River again. That would allow the endangered steelhead trout to migrate upstream and silt and sand to replenish Ventura beaches 16 miles away. But demolition, still not fully funded, could not begin until 2013, officials said.
Built in 1948, the dam never functioned to control flooding or for water storage as intended, filling quickly with silt. Now, only 5 percent of its storage contains water. Millions of cubic feet of sediment fill the rest of the reservoir.
Studies of the arundo eradication have been going on for years. But the actual spraying began last fall. The first round, in which more than 200 acres of reeds have been sprayed in an 1,100-acre project site, is complete. And a second round of spraying, breaking, cutting and shredding of reeds that have grown back has begun. Regrowth areas will be treated over the next five years as needed, officials said. In addition, 25 acres of reeds just north of Baldwin Road will be attacked next year.
So far, 750 tons of the reed have been removed.
But while county officials see the project as a success, they’re also aware that community members have concerns. And they vowed to address them as they arise.
“This is a project where it’s very important to get out accurate information,” said county Supervisor Bennett, who represents the Ojai Valley.
“Given the difficulty and challenges of this project, this is as good of a public meeting as I’ve been in,” Bennett added. “Feel free to ask questions, and when you see things that would be violations, let us know.”
Watershed agency head Pratt’s telephone number is 654-2040; biologist Lindsey’s is 654-2036; and project manager Tom Lagier’s is 672-2106.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Man Sues Ojai Over Fallen Tree

By Nao Braverman

Three months after a tree came crashing into Mel Williams’ duplex in downtown Ojai, a Ventura attorney helped him file a small claims action against the city.
For the 18 years that the Georgia-born Ojai resident lived in his Franklin Street home, the community had been good to him, and he, in turn, had given back to the community in his own way. Every Christmas, Williams, dressed in a red suit, black boots and white beard, poses as Santa Claus for the neighborhood kids, and anyone in Ojai who would request it.
But when a rotten tree on nearby city-owned land, fell on his home, destroying his Chevrolet custom van and some of his property, no one at City Hall could offer him help.
Strapped for cash, with many of his belongings lost or destroyed, Williams filed a claim with the city asking for payment of his damages. But the city denied his claim outright, with no explanation, said Ventura attorney, Tina Cowdrey who is taking the case pro bono.
The damages for which Williams holds the city responsible include the destruction of his van which was hit by the falling tree, and a television, VCR and stereo, which were taken by looters while the property was surrounded with red tape and declared off-limits.
Williams had asked if he could go in to retrieve some important paperwork, but city officials wouldn’t let him into the destroyed home, he said. That’s when the looters came and took his belongings, he added.
He is asking for $7,500 for his loss, which he believes actually came out to about $9,000, including the $5,000 van and approximately $4,000 for the lost furniture, including a couch, chairs and bed, and other miscellaneous goods, a television, VCR, stereo, clothing, and pictures on the wall. Williams holds the city responsible because it failed to maintain the tree and diagnose it as rotten, according to the claim.
City manager Jere Kersnar said he did not know the details of the incident, but said that the city automatically hands such cases over to the California Joint Powers Insurance Agency, a pool for sharing liabilities among 119 California cities, of which Ojai is a member. The advice of the insurance agency’s third party administrator, Carl Warren & Company, was to deny the claim, so that’s what the city did, he said.
George Mankiewicz, a claims supervisor at Carl Warren & Company said that a neighbor of Williams had called to complain about the rotting tree in December 2006, about a year and three months before the incident.
Ojai’s arborist inspected the tree, and had it trimmed at that time, said Mankiewicz.
“It is our contention that the trimming of a tree between a year and two years is reasonable. The regularly scheduled inspection was in January 2007, a month later, so the city was ahead of the game. There was no outward indication that the tree was rotting away from the inside.”
According to Mankiewicz, the city has an obligation to inspect its property, which it did, to the best of its ability. The city would also be liable if it were aware of the dangerous condition on the property. But if the city failed to discover the dangerous condition on its own, it was not liable.
“Nobody’s perfect,” said Mankiewicz. He added that several trees went down in Ojai during the heavy winds in March.
But it has not been as easy for Williams to hop back on his feet. Williams receives Section 8 vouchers which help pay his rent. He had no renter’s insurance, and there is no requirement that owners of Area Housing Authority-subsidized property provide insurance.
The Ventura County Chapter of the American Red Cross had placed Williams in the Capri Motel for one week and, after having a hard time finding a place which accepts Section 8 rentals, he finally found a one-bedroom apartment in Meiners Oaks.
But the cost of living has risen considerably since. Gas and water are more expensive at his new place and Williams has scrambled to come up with funds to refurnish his new apartment that he shares with his grandson and a boxer-pit bull mix.
“It’s been hard on us,” he said. “I went into debt just trying to survive here,” he said.
“When we first got here we didn’t even have a bed to sleep on, but people have been nice and offered donations,” he added.
Williams has a heart condition and is mostly confined to his bed, he said. He remembers the day when he was sitting on his sofa with his grandson and heard the strangest noise he had ever heard coming from outside the window.
“Then in came the windows, and then the door and the roof,” he said. “I grabbed my grandson and dove to the floor.”
A light came in through the windows illuminating the dark remains of the living room on that fateful day, and Williams realized that it was emergency personnel shining a flashlight through the window, he said. Community members were helpful but city officials were not, said Williams.
He is awaiting a judge’s opinion and a small claims court trial date is set for the morning of July 25.
The Franklin Street duplex that was partially crushed by the tree is still boarded up. A week before the incident, the structure had been damaged by a vehicle that crashed into the duplex, according to a letter from Ojai’s Community Development Department addressed to the Wisconsin-based property owner. With damages from the vehicle crash and the tree falling combined, the units are deemed dangerous to the public.
The property owner was ordered to abate the public nuisance in the beginning of April but no changes have been made to the property.