Thursday, August 28, 2008

Council Moves Quickly On Skate Park

City seeking costs of demolition before building begins, as lease expires in 2023

By Nao Braverman
Plowing forward with plans for a permanent skate park in Ojai, the City Council authorized the mayor to sign an agreement with Site Design Group, Inc. at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting.
After sending out requests to 20 design firms, the city received nine proposals at the end of July. City staff and members of Skate Ojai selected four finalists and interviewed them on Aug. 18. Site Design Group, Inc., a Solana Beach-based design firm special-izing in skate parks, stood out as the best fit.
The agreement calls for the design of a 10,000-square-foot park for a lump sum of $14,410.
While the leading skate park design firm is known for designing the world’s largest skate park, “Black Pearl” in the Grand Cayman Islands, the director, Brian Moore, assured council members that they were well prepared to design a modest 10,000-square-foot park.
“Most of the parks we design average around 10,000 to 15,000 square feet,” he said. “I think 10,000 square feet is perfect for your area.”
The desired shape, a triangle to fit the alloted property, would pose the biggest constriction challenge, said Moore. But a challenge is always exciting.
The company has designed a variety of different parks of all sizes. Some aesthetic elements they have added to their designs include different color concrete, integrated landscaping, custom tiles and public art.
The company prides itself in integrating the community into their design process. At a local event, Site Design Group members will host a workshop with skaters and community members.
Inviting celebrity professional skateboarder Kanten Russell, who is also a designer for the firm, the company hopes to attract a number of prospective skaters to the event. Attendants will then divide into groups and each create their own design together. At the end, attendants are to vote on each of the designs.
For those who can’t make the workshop, the firm will be providing an interactive web site with a community access password so that locals can view and comment on the design at any time, said Moore.
Mayor Sue Horgan asked Moore if he knew the cost of demolishing the skate park used for the Maloof Money Cup at the Orange County Fair. The park went up for the duration of the fair and was demolished afterwards.
As has been discussed at many council meetings, the Ojai park may have to be taken out when the city’s lease with the school board for the skate park property expires in 2023. The cost and ease of demolishing the skate park have not been determined.
But Moore said he did not know the cost and added that the demolition was a huge blow for Orange County skateboarders.
In other council news city manager Jere Kersnar presented the council with a possible strategy for securing the city’s future finances. Essentially a savings plan, to be implemented when the city has fully replenished its reserves, he is suggesting that the council budget its excess spending a year in advance.
That means first identifying the basic services that the city needs to function. Since the savings crusade, which began after the budget crisis in 2004 and 2005, the city has cut spending and has been functioning at a minimal level of services, said Kersnar.
Any spending in excess of basic services, such as money granted to outside agencies and funds for special projects, would be established a year before the money would actually be appropriated, he explained.
That way the money could be spent after the city receives its revenues, so the city would have those revenues to dip into and actual money to spend.
Everything in excess of the base line services would be paid for as one-time costs, he said. So in case something happens to decrease revenues, such as a natural disaster, a decrease in state funds, it would be easier for the city to eliminate expenses and go back to offering basic services.
Councilwoman Carol Smith was concerned that such a policy would make it difficult to hire new employees without paying them as contract workers. But Kersnar said that there were ways to work around that problem, including hiring firms to do certain jobs, rather than individual employees.
Horgan said that she was generally pleased with the plan but wanted to take closer look at what has been established as basic services for the city.
“The first thing I would like to discuss is whether the baseline services being provided are adequate,” she said.
Other council members agreed that the somewhat innovative policy was favorable, and should be studied more carefully for future implementation.
Earlier at the meeting five community members urged the council to implement an ordinance that would regulate the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides, particularly on school district property and near waterways.
The meeting was adjourned in the memory of former Councilman Hal Mitrany and former Ojai Trolley employee Jerry Green.

Rate Hike Brings Farmers Down

Actor, activist and citrus rancher Peter Strauss spoke out Tuesday against Casitas Municipal Water District’s 19 percent rate hike

By Daryl Kelley
Confronted by angry farmers who predicted a loss of the bucolic nature of the Ojai Valley, directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District imposed Tuesday a nearly 19 percent hike in the cost to irrigate crops on top of a 53 percent increase last year.
Farmers said the move could be the beginning of the end of Ojai Valley agriculture, a potentially fatal blow to the orchards that have encircled the valley’s towns for a century.
They predicted that small farmers will simply let their trees die and that larger farmers will drill their own wells, depleting the underground water basin on which thousands of valley residents depend, sparking fierce water wars among neighbors and water companies.
“I’m the third or fourth largest (Casitas) water user ,” said farmer Jim Finch. “And I am definitely looking for methods to get off. I’ve drilled one well, and I’m looking at three more.”
As farmers let their trees die, or switch to ground water, farmers predicted that Casitas’ income will plummet, since crops use nearly half of all the water the district sells from the huge Lake Casitas reservoir. So, the water district’s efforts to boost its budget so it can repair an aging infrastructure, will backfire, they said.
Board members emphathized, but adopted the new rates anyway.
They said they had no choice but to raise farmers’ rates again because of a state law that forces water districts to treat residents and farmers equally by charging them the cost of delivering their water.
“I don’t want to see the trees go; nobody does,” said Director Bill Hicks. “We’ve got to do this right … or we’re gong to screw up this whole thing. We got backed into this (by the law).”
Board President Jim Word promised to continue to work with farmers to try to relieve their burden.
Citing a water rate study commissioned after last year’s contentious hearings, the directors said they had done everything they could to keep the agricultural rate low, using $1.8 million in property taxes to offset part of the cost of delivering water to farmers.
Without that offset, farmers could have faced rates of more than $500 per acre-foot of water, instead of $371 they’ll now have to pay. That’s up from $208 last year and $312 before the new increase this week.
So, even though farm water rates have nearly doubled, things could have been worse, directors said.
“It’s going to be a lot less than it could have been,” said Director Richard Handley, before the unanimous board vote imposed the new rate.
But the farmers weren’t buying it.
They said the formula the district’s consultant used to determine equitable water rates was so complex it was impossible to analyze precisely to see if the new rates were justified.
And the farmers said the directors were going overboard in trying to meet the letter of Proposition 218, a 1996 voter initiative that state courts now say require equitable treatment of all water users. They said other water districts still give farmers a steep discount on rates, including four nearby in Santa Barbara County.
“Prop. 218 is a lot grayer than it was first presented,” Finch said.
There was even talk of a lawsuit if Casitas persists with its agricultural rate increases.
Tony Thacher, whose family has farmed this valley for generations, said Casitas’ new rates are destructive on many levels, and self-defeating.
“I’m of the opinion that you’re pricing yourselves out of the ag. water business,” Thacher wrote in a detailed letter to the board. “It will be a slow and painful process of declining use affecting those who can least afford to farm and have no other water recourse.”
And, in the end, as wells replace water from Lake Casitas, the water district’s budget will not only be unbalanced and orchards destroyed, the ground beneath residents’ feet will actually begin to sink for lack of subterranean water to hold it up, he said.
“This is the most chilling consequence ... of less CMWD water being used by irrigated agriculture,” he wrote. “This is the real danger to the Ojai Valley and our livelihood — a contentious and perhaps litigious situation that pits neighbor against neighbor as the water table sinks beneath our feet.”
Grower and restaurant owner DeWayne Boccali recounted the story of Casitas officials coming to him 36 years ago, pleading that he use water from the struggling dam enterprise.
“They told me to plant trees and buy water, and I did,” he said. “Now, after all these years, my property is (virtually) condemned by these water rates.”
Boccali said he already pays $11,000 a month to water his Upper Ojai crops.
And grower Mary Bergen said her bill has soared from $7,000 to $8,000 a month to to $12,000 to water 100 acres of avocados — a figure so daunting she doesn’t know if she can continue to farm.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. “I’m fortunately having a good year. ... (but) last year was awful and next year is going to be awful.”
Jim Churchill, a leader in the movement of valley farmers away from oranges to Pixie tangerines, said his bill to water 17 acres has soared 187 percent in two years to $18,600 a year, and is still going up.
“Every thousand dollars I give you guys ... is a thousand dollars I don’t have in my pocket,” he said. “I’m here to say somewhat hopelessly ... continue talking and reverse this. We think you’re doing yourselves a disservice, as well as us.”
Peter Strauss, an actor who farms 30 acres of oranges, commented on the precarious nature of farming even without a rate increase. In the last three years, he said, he’s had expenses of $108,000 and income of $104,000 from his crops.
“In farming today, that’s a success,” he said.
Strauss emphasized the benefits to everyone of living in a farming valley, and its fragile nature.
“Let’s go up to Dennison Grade and stop at the top at the Ojai Valley Outlook,” he said, his voice rising. “We all know this view. We can see all the homes, and all the farms. This is a truly unique, extraordinary, beautiful com-munity. Shangri La, as they say. We need to ensure it survives.”
But if those trees die, and the land is left vacant, the day will come when the politics of development will overcome this valley, despite local laws to preserve farmland and open space, he said.
What we would have then, he said “is not Shangri-La, but Sherman Oaks.”
The interdependence of the Ojai Valley’s water supply systems has become an increasing issue during the last year, as the valley’s several water agencies have sharply hiked rates to maintain and rebuild aging pipes, pumps, tanks and reservoirs.
And every move by Casitas, the valley’s largest water agency, affects every other one, since it provides water to its neighbors.
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.
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.
And because most Casitas customers are residents, not farmers, and they fared well under the new rates, the board received just 75 letters of protest, far short of the 1,554 majority needed to block the new rates.
Most Ojai Valley customers, predominantly Oak View residents, got a sharp reduction in rates.
Higher rates are required for farms, and for customers in Ventura, 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 for equitable distribution of water costs.
Homeowners already pay 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.
Even with the farmers’ rate increased to $371 per acre foot, they still pay less than the $455 rate 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.
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, according to district rate models, a resident with a typically sized water meter (5/8 to 1 inch), using 34 units of water (748 gallons per unit) every two months, would now pay $81.40, including a service charge of about $38. That’s about $9, or 10 percent, less than the resident had paid bi-monthly.
For farmers, water rates go up 18.9 percent regardless of the size of the farm, but proposed reductions in fixed service charges mean a smaller percentage increase in the overall water bill.
For example, a farmer with 40 irrigated acres pays $30,802 a year for water service, $4,341 or 16.4 percent more than before, according to the water district models. That assumes the farmer has a two-inch meter and uses two acre feet of water per acre per year.
A farmer with 200 irrigated acres would now pay about $152,628 for water service, $21,030 or 16 percent more. 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 increases to $157,649, $13,035 or 9 percent more than before, according to the district.
Farmers have said the water district underestimated actual water use in its rate models.

Ojai Loses Key, Ardent Benefactor

Chilant Sprague, friend and philanthropist, dies after long, full life

By Bret Bradigan
Ojai lost one of its beloved characters and philanthropists with the passing of Chilant Sprague Thursday morning.
Sprague, 94, died quietly at home, in the arms of her niece, Marlene Young.
Known for her kindness and fiery wit, Sprague was also a patron of all things Ojai, generating money and attention, especially the Ojai Valley Community Hospital Foundation. She was an Ojai Living Treasure and an honorary member of the Rotary Club of Ojai.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Manny, in March of 2006.
No memorial services have been set. Her stepson, Dan Sprague, said an announcement will be made later, “She just adored Ojai ... There will be some kind of event where people can get together and share their memories and have a party.”

Click HERE to read about Sprague's 2006 hospital contribution.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nighttime Skateboarder Hit by SUV

Photo and report by Rob Clement

At approximately 7:55 p.m. on Tuesday, 16-year-old James "Max" Dickenson of Meiners Oaks was on a skateboard on Verano Drive as it crossed Cuyama Road and was struck by an eastbound GMC Yukon driven by a 32-year-old Ojai woman. Dickenson sustained multiple major injuries and was taken by Ojai Life Line paramedics to the Ojai Valley Community Hospital, where, according to Sr. Deputy Jim Popp, he was stabilized before being transported to the Ventura County Medical Center's intensive care unit. The investigation into the cause of the accident is continuing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ojai Home Prices Continue Slide

Number of sales begins to rebound as July closing highest since ‘07

By Daryl Kelley
It’s been nearly five years since homes in Ojai sold for so little.
The 15 houses and condominiums that closed escrow in July sold for an average of $460,000, the lowest average sales price since Ojai homes sold for a mean of $433,000 in December of 2003, according to an authoritative real estate information service.
Last month’s sales price compares with an average of $988,000 for 21 sales in July of 2007, and is the lowest selling price for purchases completed during that prime sales month since 2001, reported Melissa Data, an Orange County business firm.
And for the first two weeks of August, the average sales price remained below $500,000, the data firm reported.
All numbers are for the 93023 postal zip code, which includes Ojai, Meiners Oaks, Mira Monte and the Upper Ojai Valley.
Meanwhile, the average sales price in the rest of the Ojai Valley including Oak View — in the 93022 zip code — was $437,000 for five sales in July and $404,000 for seven sales for the first two weeks of August.
But even as prices have tumbled locally, the number of sales has begun to rebound. The 15 closed sales in the Ojai area in July ties the highest number in a month since last fall.
That sales increase is the result of bargain prices and is a sign that investors are buying up foreclosed homes that have pushed the market downward for 18 months, experts said.
“Certainly, we’ve rolled back to at least 2004 prices,” said Tom Weber, president of the Ojai Valley Board of Realtors. “The toughest part right now are homes from $600,000 to $1.1 million. Things are selling: they just have to be priced very aggressively.”
Weber said he’s telling sellers: “If you don’t have to sell right now, then don’t. But if you do, price it right.”
Even at reduced prices, the average time it takes to sell a house has spiraled upward to nearly five months, according to the valley Realtors board. There are 222 houses on the market this week, compared with 168 in January and just over 200 last fall.
“We have a wealth of great listings right now,” said agent Sharon MaHarry. “But a lot of potential buyers have been sitting on the fence waiting for the bottom ... They’re very savvy buyers. A lot of investors.”
In just the last week, however, several high-end and ultra-expensive homes have closed escrow, said MaHarry, who specializes in that market. “Other agents say they’ve seen the same thing.”
Since closed sales reflect escrows typically begun 45 days earlier, MaHarry said she expects sales and price data reported for September and October to be much higher than the July and August figures.
Veteran agent Riki Strandfeldt also said that the low July prices are for so few houses that they may simply be a statistical blip to be replaced with higher numbers when sales of a few expensive sales push that average upward.
Still, a glance at the average sales prices for July for the last few years tells a compelling story: Beginning in July 2002, when 45 homes sold for an average of $472,000, prices pushed upward to a high of $988,000 in July of 2007. Now, this July’s average price was about half that amount.
Until this year, Ojai’s real estate market had shown a remarkable resiliency to a deepening recession in home sales, as prices held relatively firm and sales were off far less than in other parts of Ventura County and Southern California.
But the effects of three years of declining sales and prices have finally taken their toll locally.
Weber said he recently sold a foreclosed home in Oak View for $375,000: “That same house at the height of the market in 2005 sold for $550,000,” he said.
Strandfeldt, past president of the Realtors board, said she’s working to sell two homes in which owners are behind on their payments and which will probably sell for far less than owed on mortgages.
One Oak View home needs to sell in the high $500,000s to pay off its mortgage, “but if we’re lucky it will sell in the mid-$400,000s,” she said.
Weber said Ojai home prices are down about 30 percent from the height of the market in 2005, but he said they will rise again.
“We’re three years into this downturn, and already sales are starting to pick up,” he said. In his 30 years in Ojai real estate sales, Weber said he’s been through three such up-then-down cycles.
“The difference is that this time the up side was higher, so we’re taking a bigger hit on the down side,” he said. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
And one blessing remains for Ojai homeowners, he said. The recession hit later here, and the recovery typically hits sooner, he said.
“Ojai is a gem,” he said. “We’re a small area and we’re very desirable.”

Skate Park Goes Back To School

OUSD superintendent, board concerned about permanent park at present location

By Sondra Murphy
While Skate Ojai won over the city, the Ojai Unified School District looks like a tougher sell.
With the Ojai City Council voting last week in favor of pursuing the construction of a permanent, in-ground skate park at its current location at the downtown Park & Ride, questions grind on about the intentions of OUSD regarding the project.
The School District and the city renewed the lease five years ago that extends through 2023, but recent efforts initiated by OUSD to develop the district property site may impact the future of the skate park location, since it is on district property.
As reported in last Friday’s OVN, Skate Ojai has raised $361,000 for the construction of the skate park, exceeding the estimated cost of construction by $11,000. “City Council made a motion affirming their preference for a 10,000-square-foot concrete in-ground skate park to be built at the Park & Ride location,” OVN reported on the outcome of the crowded special city meeting scheduled on the same night as a regular OUSD board meeting.
“The recent action taken by the Ojai City Council to place a permanent skate park in the same location at the temporary skate park severely hampers our ability to move forward on developing our district office property,” said OUSD superintendent Tim Baird yesterday.
“Our consultants and potential developers have told us that placing a permanent skate park, especially in its prominent frontage location, lessens the property worth considerably. “
 Baird is not alone in his thinking. Both incumbent board members running unopposed for re-election this November have expressed disfavor for the current skate park site. “I have never believed that the skate park should be in that location,” said OUSD Board Vice President Linda Taylor in an Aug. 13 OVN report. “I do not think that an attractive distraction such as the skate park should be on any school grounds.”
“I think it would be great for the community to have a permanent skate park that is safe and supervised,” said OUSD Board President Steve Fields in the same report. “I have significant questions about the rationale for locating this facility on leased land that is not connected with other recreational facilities.”
If these comments are any indication, a permanent skate park location may get detoured during negotiations. Baird and others have brought up the possibility of building it at Sarzotti Park near other recreational facilities.
“OUSD has received no proposals or notifications from city staff of any actions related to the skate park development at this time,” said Baird.“When the city does discuss with us what their plans might be, the district will evaluate at that time what our future actions might be.This is a complicated issue and we will need to take some time to evaluate future options before moving forward.”
“(Ojai city manager) Jere Kersnar and I are going to be meeting later on this week with the superintendent just to give him an update of the project,” said city director of recreation Dale Sumersille on Monday. “I’m also hoping to meet soon with Site Design Group, Inc., the design firm chosen for the project.” Sumersille said that the city will continue to work with Skate Ojai and proceed with the skate park construction.
“We do need to go to the school board for them to approve the plans of the expanded facility,” said Sumersille. “That will happen, maybe, by mid-October.”
The budget concerns of the OUSD board are well founded as funds continue to dwindle each year. This crisis is forcing the district to consider development of a valuable real estate asset. No one should have to sublet the farm to remain a farmer, but few in this community seem concerned that the district is facing a similar choice when it comes to providing quality public education.
“We paid $17,892 last year for 71 parking spaces. This includes the skate park area and that amount will be going up next year,” said city finance director Susie Mears, adding, “This is a very complicated issue for the community.” In light of the district slashing its budget by about $1 million this year, the city lease payments contribute very little to OUSD solvency efforts if the education budget nightmare continues. Add to that the fact that California is still without a state budget, and the pressure intensifies for the School District to generate sustainable income.
Former OUSD board member, Ojai Police Chief and Sheriff’s Department Commander Vince France was surprised to hear about the state of the skate park and possible district office site development. “I was on the school board when the skate park concept was approved and, to tell you the truth, I was opposed to it,” said France. “But, after a few years, I was proved wrong because of the supervision. With supervision, it worked out very well.” He added that there were few problems or cases of criminal activity around the skate park because of that supervision.
“The issue of putting a skate park in Ojai has been ongoing for many years,” Baird said in a July 23 OVN guest editorial. “I was not a resident of Ojai when the subject first came up over a decade ago. I do know that no one wanted the skate park near their house or business, so the skate park concept was in danger for lack of a home. At that time, the district stepped in and offered to allow a temporary skate park to be placed on district property to give the issue time to be resolved. The skate park was supervised and the school board was happy to keep the issue on the table because our children need recreational venues. Since that time, the supervision at the skate park has been withdrawn due to budget constraints and discussions about other possible sites seem to have stalled.”
Sumersille remains open to any location for the skate park as negotiations continue between the city and OUSD. “The police do come past the recreation department, so I see that working over here, as well.” As part of the process of getting the skate park built, Sumersille and the city will be holding community workshops so that stakeholders may give input on the design and logistics of monitoring its use. “It’s been great, the positive feedback we’ve received. The community’s been wonderful to work with. I really appreciate the efforts of Skate Ojai,” said Sumersille.

Ojai Rotarian Recalls Watergate Investigation

Gilbreth talks about time with special prosecutor

By Bret Bradigan
Ojai resident Bill Gilbreth hasn’t spoken about his role in the Watergate investigation since 2001 when William Bittman, attorney to President Nixon’s “dirty tricks” specialist E. Howard Hunt, died of throat cancer.
“My involvement in the Watergate cover-up prosecution was an intensely personal experience — one that I hadn’t discussed publicly until last Friday. The experience has left me with a number of conflicts.”
Gilbreth gave his talk on Watergate on Friday to his fellow Rotary Club of Ojai members, tracing the unusual path he took before receiving the call to join the Watergate prosecution team from Henry Ruth, who was the deputy special prosecutor under both Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski.
Before going into law, Gilbreth had a number of “lost years,” including one spent traveling the country, then earning a degree in physics, before graduating from law school in 1966 and entering private practice. The semi-retired attorney spoke about leaving private practice in 1968 to join the office of famed federal prosecutor Robert Morgenthau, working on tax evasion and organized crime prosecution against the Gambino family.
Those cases did not necessarily prepare him for the labyrinth he was about to enter. His investigation of Bittman, one of many colorful characters to emerge from Watergate, left him both exasperated and with a grudging admiration.
“He was a big gruff ex-Marine who always had a chewed-up cigar in his mouth,” said Gilbreth. Bittman helped make famous that Watergate catchphrase, “unindicted co-conspirator.”
Despite Gilbreth’s exhaustive investigation, and despite the wishes of many on the grand jury who wanted to punish Bittman for his uncooperative and hostile manner, he remained an unindicted co-conspirator. “After running a grand jury investigation for many months, as one of about three dozen of the special prosecutor’s staff attorneys, I concluded that, although we had sufficient probable cause to indict, the totality of the evidence would probably leave a trial jury with reasonable doubt. So I recommended against indictment.”
Gilbreth noted that America deals with many of the same conflicts 33 years later — the power and prestige of the presidency balanced against the power and politicization of special prosecutors. “We’re still trying to settle the scope of executive privilege,” he said.
Gilbreth was back in private practice in 1974 when he received a call from Henry Ruth, appointed special prosecutor for the Watergate investigation, asking him to join the team. Gilbreth was assigned to check out Bittman, who was key Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt’s defense attorney. He was reputedly the “bag man” for Nixon’s dirty tricks committee, run by Hunt, who dispensed hush money and bribes to stop up “leaks,” which led to Hunt and fellow conspirator G. Gordon Liddy being called the “Watergate plumbers.”
Hunt was a shadowy puppetmaster at many great moments in American skullduggery, from the CIA-led overthrow of Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz to the Bay of Pigs fiasco. “Hunt lived under a secret identity for so long he went nuts,” said Gilbreth.
Hunt and Liddy authorized the break-in to the Democratic National Committee head-quarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. They also burglarized the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, in an effort to discredit the author of the Pentagon Papers.
Gilbreth said their undoing, and that of Nixon, began prosaically enough in June 1972. The Cuban burglars, Hunt’s acquaintances from the Bay of Pigs days, were hamstrung by budget restrictions. John Mitchell, who Gilbreth said “should never have been attorney general,” and who was also head of Committee to Re-Elect the President, also known as CREEP, red-lined budget requests for higher-quality listening devices and for a lookout. Hence, the burglars were arrested when the “bugs” malfunctioned after a mere two weeks and they returned to replace them.
Gilbreth praised the tenacity and zeal of Bob Woodward, in particular, and the Washington Post, for following up on their suspicions about the high-powered crew of attorneys who showed up to the defend the Watergate burglars for a routine procedure for a petty crime.
Despite the intensity of the investigation, which led to a constitutional crisis and the resignation of Nixon in 1974 after winning in a landslide a mere two years earlier, Gilbreth felt ambivalent about much of his role. “The lesson was supposed to be that no one was above the law, but Ford promptly pardoned Nixon ... but, peacefully, we got a corrupt and unstable president out of office,” Gilbreth said ... only to replace him with a man who may have played too much football without a helmet.”

Thursday, August 21, 2008

City Rolls On Skate Park

Ojai city manager outlines plan at special meeting; new lease with OUSD unclear

By Nao Braverman
After more than 10 years of pleading from local skateboarders, and hurried fund-raising efforts by the nonprofit group, Skate Ojai, the city could have an in-ground concrete skate park ready for use by mid-April 2009.
That’s if all goes exactly as planned, which is not likely, admitted Ojai city manager Jere Kersnar.
He outlined the details of what he calls a very aggressive timeline at a special meeting at City Hall council chambers Tuesday night, regarding plans for the long-awaited Ojai Skate Park. Bringing together the City Council, Planning Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission, and members of Skate Ojai, the meeting solidified plans to build a preferably 10,000-square-foot in-ground concrete park, on city-leased Ojai Unified School District property.
City staff already sent out requests to design firms earlier this month and are deciding which firm, out of a small group of finalists, to hire for the project.
While such plans have been hanging in the air for some time now, community members became skeptical after hearing that some key aspects of those plans had not been confirmed.
Without Skate Ojai’s total dollars collected, the City Council had indicated at a previous meeting that they were not sure there would be enough money in the end to build an in-ground concrete facility. They had suggested the possibility of building a modular park should the funds come in less than expected.
The other variable was the tenuousness of the park’s location. Most plans for the park since the idea was first discussed have been to place it at the current skate park location at the Park & Ride lot at 414 E. Ojai Ave. The property, which belongs to OUSD, has a lease agreement for the next 14 years with the city of Ojai. While the School District board agreed at a 2003 meeting to allow the city to build a permanent park at that location as part of the lease extension, members of the board have recently expressed a change of heart.
But at Tuesday night’s meeting, the City Council affirmed that they would not let those variables hold them back from getting the skate park construction started.
With $361,000 raised for the project, $11,000 more than the estimate for a concrete facility, City Council members were convinced that they had enough funds to build an in-ground concrete park.
“We did extensive research on this. We had four designers assure you yesterday that our funds were enough. I think we have reassured you in 10 different ways that we do have enough money for a concrete park,” Judy Gabriel, a member of Skate Ojai, told the council.
As to the location of the park, Mayor Sue Horgan said that after some research into previous meetings, she was certain that the school board had previously agreed to have the property used for an in-ground concrete park.
“In December 2003 the city requested an extension, and the school board extended the lease on school board property until 2023; and extended property for an in-ground, concrete skate park,” said Horgan. “There was no discussion about an alternative location.”
An analysis of the lease agreement between the school board and the city by city attorney Monte Widders confirmed that the lease did include plans for the construction of an “enlarged” and “improved” skating facility. These terms, according to Widders, presumably referred to a permanent skate park.
The lease agreement also calls for an additional 3,500 square feet of adjacent property to be used for the expanded park as well.
Councilwoman Rae Hanstad reminded the public, however, that the council wants to work with and not against the School District. “I just want to remind everybody that the original skate park was a collaboration with the School District as a willing partner,” she said. “I think it is important that we rebuild a relationship with the school board and I believe that the Skate Ojai committee can help make that happen.”
A number of residents chimed in their support of a permanent concrete park at the Park & Ride lot.
Among them was Ojai skateboarder Jacob Sessing, followed by four members of his skate team, and Bill Gilbreth representing the Rotary Club of Ojai. Gilbreth explained that the Rotary Club, one of many donors for the project, had requested the park be built at the Park & Ride location and emphasized the commercial benefits of having a skate park downtown. As to the concerns of school board members who are considering commercializing the property, commercial stores and a skate park are not incompatible, they would likely even complement each other, he said.
Holly Delaney, a Solvang resident who had jump-started efforts to build Solvang’s now 4-year-old concrete park, agreed. Delaney, who owns a skate shop and women’s boutique in Solvang said that the park absolutely complements her businesses. The men and boys need something to do while the women go shopping, she said.
Longtime Ojai resident Rudy Petersdorf was perturbed by the possibility of building a permanent structure on a 14-year lease, and Sasha Wolfe mourned the loss of much of the Senior Community Garden. Wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat adorned with real and wilting carrots, beets and sunflowers, she spoke about losing a precious garden in an era when food is growing scarce. The Senior Garden, which is right next to the current skate park, was always meant to be surrendered to the park should it expand, said Gabriel. But council members asked staff to report further on the fate of the garden.
City Council made a motion affirming their preference for a 10,000-square-foot concrete in-ground skate park to be built at the Park & Ride location. The motion passed unanimously, and was followed by several bursts of applause.
A designer for the skate park is expected to be hired Tuesday. A community meeting regarding the park is planned for September. If all goes perfectly, designs for the project will be presented to the Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission, and the School District board for a formal approval in early October, according to Kersnar. If construction bids go out by the end of November, actual construction could begin in mid-January, he said. But as Kersnar warns, there are a number of variables that will likely delay the process.
Gabriel said she hopes the designs will be finished before the elections in November.

Schools Open With Enrollment, Finances Down

First board meeting of school year busy with burst pipes, hopes

By Sondra Murphy
Burst water pipes and construction obstructions were concrete symbolism for the stressed public education budget as the new school year got under way in the Ojai Valley this week.
Hectic, first-day enrollment calculations and uncertain finances dominated discussion at the Ojai Unified School District board meeting Tuesday.
“Obviously, the question of the hour is enrollment,” said OUSD superintendent Tim Baird during his report. He explained that first day counts are hard to get and the next couple of days would bring more solid data on student numbers.
While the kindergarten enrollment numbers are stronger than last year, at about 221, and junior high students look to be more numerous than projected, the high school population is expected to be close to the projected 980, down from 1,149 in 2007-2008. “The bottom line is we’re going to be down about 100 to 150 students from last year.”
Mira Monte Elementary looks to be taking a big hit, down about 20 students, or an entire class, and a “ghost position” set up in hopes of the need for an additional teacher seems unlikely to materialize. All elementary school enrollments slipped, except Summit, which has 51, up two students from last autumn.
“The elementary division is staffed very tightly,” Baird said. “We’re as tight as we could possibly be.” The mandatory 3 percent reserve was met by the School District when the board approved its budget in June, but with an end balance of just under $35,000, it leaves scant opportunity to fund any surprises. “I think I’ve burned through your extra reserve,” Baird told assistant superin-tendent of business and administrative services Dannielle Pusatere during the discussion. “There is no little bit extra that we can dig into.”
Since schools are funded based on student population, the realities of declining enrollment are only worsened by the current California budget standoff. “There is no good news,” said Baird about the state budget. “There’s no resolution in sight and there’s a lot of gamesmanship going on. This could be the latest budget we’ve ever had.”
“We went to October once,” Pusatere recalled as the board members expressed anxiety over the situation.
“It could happen again,” said Baird. “There’s a crisis in this country right now over education funding.” The situation makes the outcome of the November parcel tax initiative important to maintaining the solvency of OUSD.
The ballot measure will ask voters to approve a tax levy of $89 per parcel annually for seven years. Unlike the failed parcel tax attempt of 2005, property owners over the age of 65 would be allowed an exemption from the tax.
Delays in summer deferred maintenance projects often haunt the first weeks of school and this year was no different. Low use over summer tends to send maintenance workers scrambling around as hundreds of bodies return to campuses each August to test the infrastructure. Deferred main-tenance projects are using the last of bond funds available to the district for certain kinds of structural needs.
Matilija Junior High and Nordhoff High schools had the added nuisance of leaking water mains on the first day of school. Repairs of old pipes are in progress at Matilija, while the leaks in the high school’s newer equipment are fixed.
Many district summer maintenance projects, such as roof repairs at four sites and walkway improvements throughout the district, are complete, while others have yet to be completed. The latter includes irrigation timer installations, electrical improvements and asphalt or playground upgrades, while Mira Monte awaits completion of a county-built sidewalk that currently exists as view-obstructing dirt hazards in front of that site.
Caution is encouraged around such campus obstructions bound to test people’s patience during school rush hours.
The theft of connection hardware has also delayed the construction of new visitors bleachers at Nordhoff’s stadium, but Pusatere said replacement parts were ordered and the seating should be ready for the crowds by the end of the week.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Marijuana Discovered In Los Padres Uprooted

With the aid of a helicopter and an unknown number of teams of deputies on the ground, Ventura County Sheriff’s narcotics investigators Wednesday raided at least five marijuana growing areas in the Los Padres National Forest somewhere near the end of Matilija Canton Road. Although there was no information provided as of press time addressing the number of plants or their street value, it is believed to be one of the larger finds in recent history, based on the number of helicopter drops made at an improvised landing zone off Rice Road near the fish ladder on Wednesday and Thursday. The marijuana was loaded onto trucks destined for the Camarillo Airport where it is to be burned. Unofficial estimates placed the height of the taller plants at 7 feet.


Nature of Incident: Marijuana Cultivation
Location: Matilija Canyon
Date & Time: August 20, 2008
Unit Responsible: Sheriff’s Narcotics / Air Unit / U.S. Forest Service/D.E.A.
Officer Preparing Release: Sergeant M. Horne

On Wednesday, August 20, 2008, Sheriff’s Narcotics Investigators, in conjunction with the Sheriff’s Air Unit and the United States Forest Service, eradicated 5 large-scale marijuana cultivations in the Los Padres National Forest in Matilija Canyon, north of the city of Ojai. Approximately 11,000 marijuana plants were eradicated with a potential street value of over 22 million dollars. The plants from this grow were later destroyed.

The multiple gardens were discovered earlier this month during aerial reconnaissance and were located in multiple drainages and canyons along Matilija Canyon Road, from Highway 33 to the locked gate at the end of the road. Makeshift campsites used by the growers were found in each of the grow sites. Each campsite was littered with trash and debris, irrigation pipe, camping equipment, and chemicals used in fertilizing the plants. This type of activity found at these grow sites is known to cause significant damage to the environment, e.g., stream deviation, tree and brush cutting and removal, landscape terracing, etc.

It is believed those responsible for this grow are tied to a drug trafficking organization; however, no arrests have been made and the investigation is continuing.

The Sheriff’s Department would also like to remind the public of the potential danger to anyone who might accidentally come across one of these illegal marijuana grow sites. If anyone has information concerning a marijuana grow, please contact your local law enforcement agency or WE-TIP if you would like to remain anonymous.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

CMWD Elects To Take On Federal Plan

Board believes management of recreation area may be BOR power grab

By Daryl Kelley
In a move that highlights growing tensions with federal officials, directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District decided Monday to spend up to $25,000 to have legal and environmental experts review a new federal plan for management of the Lake Casitas Recreation Area and a large open space preserve next to it.
In a special meeting, Casitas board members said they think the new plan may be a power grab by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that could undermine the water district’s mandate to provide clean water to residents of the Ojai Valley and Ventura.
The federal bureau, which built the Casitas Dam and waterworks more than 50 years ago, has called an Aug. 28 meeting in Oak View to publicly review the new plan.
But the Casitas agency, which was created to oversee water distribution from the dam’s reservoir and now manages its recreational facilities, was surprised by the lack of early notification of the meeting and by the contents of the new 300-page-plus document.
Indeed, the bureau’s public announcement of the meeting said Casitas was a co-host and that the new plan had been developed by the federal and local entities. Casitas board members said they are not hosts of the meeting, and will only attend as a member of the public.
And they sharply disagreed with many of the proposals in the new plan that are listed as possible management schemes.
“We’re not happy with this,” said board President Jim Word.
“They’re either totally obtuse or they have a hidden agenda,” said Director Bill Hicks.
Since federal and local officials have been discussing the issues in the report for nearly a decade in preparation for the document’s release, board members said federal officials know the directors’ positions on key issues, but chose to ignore them.
Among the apparent directions in which federal officials seem to be moving, members said, is turning over management of the 3,500-acre Teague Watershed area north of Lake Casitas to the U.S. Forest Service, rather than leaving it under control of the Casitas board.
The watershed, purchased by an act of Congress in the 1970s, was intended to be left as open space once a handful of residents who lived there had died. Only two such residents remain. But under the new plan, the U.S. Forest Service would have a station there and camping and horseback riding might be allowed. Casitas officials said they think such activities could pollute the lake with toxic runoff.
“The Teague Watershed is not being used for anything now, and we’re still getting a blue-green algae on the lake,” said Director Russ Baggerly. “If they turn that over (for activities) we’re done for ... This is going to cost us a ton of money if we don’t get control of that land.”
Secondly, the Bureau of Reclamation seems to favor allowing swimming and water skiing at the lake, which now allows no body contact with reservoir water because of water quality concerns.
And thirdly, the Bureau wants to rewrite its contract with Casitas to expand the federal government’s role in all aspects of management of the park, Casitas officials said.
Indeed, the bureau issued a cease-and-desist order in 2003, prohibiting Casitas from making any more changes at the recreation area after Casitas built its popular, money-making water park without federal approval. Construction of the park sparked a legal challenge by environmental groups. Now, Casitas may not change the recreation area at all without federal approval until the new resource management plan is adopted.
The question, board members said, is what Casitas should do about what they see as a federal move to undermine powers given the water district by Congress and legal contracts.
The board decided to write a letter to the bureau, notifying officials that they are not co-hosts of the public meeting Aug. 28 at the Oak View Community Center and asking for more time after the meeting so experts in federal environment and water law may critique the new bureau plan. For now, Casitas has only a month after next week’s meeting to submit responses.
Director Richard Handley asked his colleagues whether they should pass a resolution to let the bureau know Casitas would take whatever action is necessary to protect the water quality of Lake Casitas.
“To me there really seems to be a very basic conflict about who has the authority (in the Teague Watershed),” Handley said. “I’m an elected official in the management of this lake, and I’m being left out of the loop.”
But his colleagues said such a pointed resolution should follow next week’s hearing and expert evaluation of the federal plan.
Board member Baggerly said Casitas ought to move with measured steps, because the bureau’s regional director, Michael Jackson, is a reasonable person who listens.
“We at some point might really need the regional director to be on our side,” said Baggerly. “So we need to do this in a firm but gentlemanly way.”
The board decided to invite Jackson to next Thursday’s meeting to make sure he is fully informed of Casitas’ concerns about the proposed management plan.
Steve Wickstrum, general manager at Casitas, advised the board to ask federal officials to clarify their positions. And he said the district might want to to take a low-key approach until the water district is sure of its legal position and the nuances of the National Environmental Policy Act, the law that the new plan must follow.
“We may want to do a lot more listening than we do talking at this time,” Wickstrum said.
At the same time, Wickstrum said it is clear that the bureau is already allowing the Forest Service to use the Teague Watershed for training, although management of the area is supposed to be under Casitas’ control.
Debate over the new resource management plan is just the latest dispute between federal officials and Casitas.
Casitas has spent more than $500,000 on a lawsuit that seeks reimbursement of about $9 million the district was required to spend to help restore the Ventura River run of the endangered steelhead trout.
Of the costs to implement the new federal plan, Director Pete Kaiser said: “It seems to be just another federal scheme to have our ratepayers pay for this.”

Candidate's Three Races In The 'Bag'

No challengers means Baggerly will continue on three Ojai Valley boards

By Daryl Kelley
Election day is three months away, but the race is already over for Russ Baggerly.
Make that, three races are over for Baggerly, an unconventional citizen activist who has led a life mostly sans the demands of a 9-to-5 workday.
The 62-year-old Meiners Oaks resident — a flamenco guitarist, baby shoemaker and self-taught environmental expert — essentially won re-election last week as a director with the Casitas Municipal Water District, the Ojai Valley Sanitary District and the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council.
No challenger filed in any of the races.
So Baggerly may continue a public life that he said involves about 100 meetings a year and equates to a full-time job.
“Maybe people think I’m doing a good job,” laughed Baggerly this week, still a little giddy at his own good fortune. “I’m really blessed not to have to run a grueling campaign.”
Indeed, Baggerly said he was surprised no challenger emerged for his seat on the Casitas board, which directs the valley’s largest water agency and oversees the Lake Casitas Dam and waterworks.
Given the cost, contentiousness and razor-thin victory margin of his first Casitas run in 2004, Baggerly said he expected a well-funded opponent. He’d spent $10,000 to get elected and had raised $3,500 by June 30 of this year to send a message that he was ready for another fight.
But no one filed, despite controversies over soaring agricultural water rates and boat restrictions because of a potential quagga mussel invasion at Lake Casitas. Hundreds of fishermen turned out at one meeting this year, and one was so upset by the restrictions he told Baggerly his leadership on the issue would cost him his job.
Others publicly complained that Baggerly seemed more concerned with the health of the environment than with the financial health of his human constituents.
But no electoral challenge materialized by the Aug. 8 filing deadline.
So Baggerly will represent for another four years the part of the sprawling Casitas district that includes Ojai, the East End and Meiners Oaks. He will also assume a fourth term on the Sanitary District board and the valley’s MAC.
Baggerly’s rare triple victory marks a landmark, of sorts, for an iconoclastic public citizen who has lived a frugal life with wife Pat in a small Meiners Oaks house they bought for about $18,000 in 1976.
“I’m summa cum laud from the University of Hard Knocks,” he said. “I’m self-taught with lots of help from my friends.”
Despite the lack of a college degree, Baggerly has held responsible positions over the last three decades as a policy and political analyst and environmental consultant.
Representing the Ventura County Environmental Coalition, he’s helped block numerous development projects, including the Cal Mat gravel project on the Santa Clara River and the placement of a California State University campus on Taylor Ranch near Ventura.
He was president of the Environmental Coalition from 1998 to 2005.
He also worked full-time as county Supervisor Maria VanderKolk’s top aide from 1991 to 1994.
Baggerly has attended numerous college and professional seminars to become proficient in environmental law, such as wetlands and coastal protection and the arcane rules and regulations of water and air quality and government zoning.
Once he becomes engaged in a topic, Baggerly said, he researches it exhaustively.
“I do have an ad hoc B.S. in environmental science,” he said.
Not that he has some special skill, Baggerly said. He just has fashioned a life that gives him time to pursue his interests.
“We have the time,” he said of himself and his wife, who attends many of his public hearings. “We overdo our public involvement, and most people can’t. They have two jobs and kids and no extra time. But we do, so we adopted the Ojai Valley and Ventura County and they ended up being our baby.”
Often, too, citizens are put off by the legalese and jargon of public documents, he said. But they shouldn’t be.
“The message I want people to hear is that the law is not written in Chinese,” he said. “It’s just not that hard to understand.”
Baggerly came by his inclination toward self-education honestly. His dad was a self-trained mechanical engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company during Baggerly’s childhood in Orange County.
A graduate of Santa Ana High School, he also attended community college before bolting to Spain for a year in 1963 to learn flamenco guitar, which he still plays professionally.
His wanderlust paid off in another way, too, since he met his future wife in Spain.
After a stint in the Army and a tour in Vietnam, he returned to Spain for five years and attended the University of Seville most of that time.
By 1974, he had settled in the Avenue area of Ventura and opened a leathersmith shop in which he made and repaired shoes.
By 1976, he’d moved to Meiners Oaks for good, and had opened his cobbler’s shop and started a baby shoe business.
In the early 1980s, he experienced his political eye-opening, helping to rally the community near El Roblar Drive to fight placement of a low-income housing project on a busy street.
He then joined Citizens to Preserve the Ojai, where he was administrative director in 1988 to 1989, and participated in the countywide Environmental Coalition.
The Baggerlys made ends meet partly through small family inheritances.
“I spent a lot of that money on teaching myself how to deal with local government,” he said. And he gained a reputation at being adept at blocking projects by challenging their environmental studies as inadequate under California law.
By 1988, he’d been hired by the Ventura-based outdoor clothing company, Patagonia, to fight location of a state university at Taylor Ranch. After a years-long assessment, that site was abandoned, and Baggerly helped the state find a more central location near Camarillo at an old mental health hospital, where Cal State-Channel Islands now operates.
Today, Baggerly pays bills with per-meeting stipends of about $20,000 a year from Casitas, and about $6,500 a year from the Sanitary District. The MAC service is unpaid.
“It’s a full-time job,” he said. “I am not a lackadaisical board member who reads the packet and votes. When I see a need to promote policies, I jump in and help with them.”
That has created hard feelings from time to time.
He has had run-ins with other members of the Casitas board over issues such as whether the water agency should continue a lawsuit against the federal government for reimbursement of about $9 million spent to fulfill U.S. mandates to protect the endangered steelhead trout.
By a 3-to-2 vote, the board last year continued the lawsuit, which has cost Casitas more than $500,000 so far. Baggerly said he considers that vote the greatest disappointment of his first term.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Good old thunder and lightning

Click here to watch a slideshow of the rare August electrical storm

The storm images on our web site were taken by Rob Clement and Scott Wintermute from Mira Monte and Casitas Springs Aug. 15, 2008 between 2:30 and 3:30 a.m.
Please leave a comment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hanstad, Horgan Ready For Challenge

Former Mayor Suza Francina, four others in the race for two council seats

By Daryl Kelley
The race is on for two seats on the Ojai City Council, and voters will have a varied choice this fall.
Joining veteran Council-women Rae Hanstad and Sue Horgan on the November municipal ballot are former Mayor Suza Francina, small business owner Betsy Clapp, and federal government investigator Michael Lenehan.
Community activist Dennis Leary opted out of the council race, citing the “welcome choice” voters now have among the five candidates.
While the candidates said they were all running separate and independent races, incumbents Hanstad and Horgan each signed the other’s nomination papers, and challengers Francina and Clapp did the same for one another.
For his part, Lenehan, a coach and recreation commission member, said he thinks the current City Council is doing a good job and that he probably would not have run if the incumbents had not first bowed out of the race, then re-entered over the last month.
Both incumbents said initially that they would not run for a third full term, but eventually changed their minds, citing unfinished city business, such as construction of a new skate park and a decision on how to meet a state mandate that Ojai provide more affordable housing.
Most direct in her challenge to the incumbents is Clapp.
“We need a change,” Clapp said this week.
“We need to start implementing some programs to make us a model sustainable community,” she said. “And we need to mend the rift between the citizens and the city. Citizens feel very shut out by the current council, because they feel the council does not respond to them.”
Clapp, 56, and Francina, a 59-year-old author and yoga teacher, said they were running on platforms that include policies embraced by the fast-growing Ojai Valley Green Coalition.
“The Ojai Valley Green Coalition is advocating things I’ve supported since 1974,” said Francina, who served on the council from 1996 to 2000, and was derisively dubbed “Mayor Moonbeam” during her mayoral term in 2000.
“I smile when I remember that I used to be called ‘that bicycle lady’ and ‘Mayor Moonbeam’ by those who did not understand the issues I was raising,” Francina said in her official candidate statement.
“Now conservation is the watchword of every government and business around the world,” she added. “It’s time for the City Council to follow through in creating a truly sustainable Ojai.”
In fact, the City Council did endorse those principles in May, when it pledged to embrace an array of new strategies to make the Ojai Valley a “green” community that laces economic, social and ecological needs into the fabric of everyday life.
The sustainability concept is that a society should plan its activities so they meet its needs while preserving the natural way of life, and to maintain this balance indefinitely.
Hanstad and Horgan specifically said then that it was time to make such concepts part of government and community life. And they thanked the Green Coalition for its efforts.
“Ojai’s natural setting and magnificent environment must be protected,” Horgan, 53, said in her candidate statement. “Ojai’s small-town character and sense of community must be preserved.”
Hanstad, 56, stated similar views in her statement, saying her goals were to preserve Ojai’s “hometown character” while balancing its three primary assets: “a natural environment; a diverse character; and a healthy economy.”
Hanstad said she strongly backs “programs to support The Road Map to a Sustainable Ojai.”
Francina said she is running not so much as a challenge to the present council, with which she said she could work effectively, but because of the momentum that seems to be building to enact policies to foster a sustainable community.
“I’ve been watching the council, and it began to feel like this was a really wonderful time to be on the council,” she said.
Indeed, Francina cited as her main accomplishment from her first council term leadership in enacting the city’s bicycle-pedestrian master plan, which could be a key component of a larger plan for a sustainable community. But she said not much has been done to implement it.
As for her relationship with Clapp during the race, Francina said they support each other.
“Betsy understands the issues, the policies,” Francina said.
But both Francina and Clapp said they were not running as a team.
“We’re not running in tandem,” Clapp said. “These are independent campaigns. Some of our ideas are very similar, yes.”
One past issue on which Francina and Clapp agreed was the Los Arboles condominium project adjacent to Libbey Park on Montgomery Street. Both opposed it as too large in scale for Ojai.
“I don’t feel like I was heard about the Los Arboles project,” Clapp said. “It was overly huge.”
Hanstad and Horgan voted for the upscale project, calling it a welcome addition to the downtown area.
Meanwhile, Lenehan, 47, said the focus of his campaign will be improving youth recreational programs.
“If I had known that Rae and Sue had intended to run up-front, I might not have chosen to pursue it,” he said.
Lenehan, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, said he will be stationed in South Korea for the rest of August, but will campaign during the fall.
Locally, Lenehan has coached youth soccer, T-ball and hockey teams on which his five children have participated. He has also been an assistant varsity football coach at Villanova Preparatory School.
“I thought being involved in so many sports and having so many kids, I might as well contribute where I can.”
Leary, a frequent critic of the council, had taken out papers to run. But in an e-mail to the city he withdrew: “The recent change in candidates gives Ojai a welcome choice. I no longer feel the need to seek office.”
Also on the fall ballot will be seats for the board of directors for the Ojai Unified School District, the Casitas Municipal Water District, the Ojai Valley Sanitary District, the Meiners Oaks County Water District and the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Committee.
Ojai City Clerk Carlon Strobel will be unchallenged on the ballot, as will City Treasurer Alan Rains.
There are competitive races for two Casitas water board seats. In the first district, representing Ventura, incumbent Jim Word is challenged by retail salesperson David Norrdin and, in the third district, incumbent Pete Kaiser is challenged by fire crew worker Jeff Ketelsen.
For the Ojai Valley Sanitary District, two seats are contested: incumbent William Stone is challenged by state license contractor George Galgas in Division 1; incumbent Kaiser is challenged by Ketelsen and Frank McNerney in Division 3.
On the Ojai Valley MAC, incumbent Alan Saltzman is challenged by Gerald Kaplan in Division 7.
For the Meiners Oaks Water Board, incumbents James Barrett and Karol Ballentine are challenged by retired business owner Norm Davis.

Coalition Effort Stops The Trucks

Settlement with Diamond Rock Mine tentatively keeps some trucks away

By Nao Braverman
A settlement between Stop The Trucks Coalition and owners of the proposed Diamond Rock Mine, leaves coalition members a bit uneasy.
While the agreement does tentatively keep the Santa Barbara County mine’s trucks from traveling through Ojai until the year 2012, a simple donation from an unknowing community member could nullify everything.
“There are some benefits to the settlement, but it is very fragile,” said coalition spokesperson Michael Shapiro.
The Troesh family, owners of the mine and Troesh Materials Inc., are not to send any of their transport trucks through Ojai under the condition that no coalition member or Ojai resident participates in a lawsuit against them, their mine or their company. If any member of Ojai’s public directly or indirectly contributes funds to any legal challenge against Troesh Materials Inc., the Diamond Rock Mine or its owners, the contract is retracted.
“The coalition can’t pretend that we control the mind-set of a vast number of individuals,” said Shapiro. “All we can ask is that the citizens of Ojai understand the coalition’s objective.”
In mid-May, the Santa Barbara Planning Commission granted the Troesh family a conditional use permit to mine sand and gravel in Cuyama Valley, but added the condition that they could not send trucks through Ojai. Coalition members were pleased with the condition, but feared that it could easily be lifted in the future. This recent settlement, they hope, will help ease those concerns.
If the Troesh family did decide to appeal the Santa Barbara Planning Commission’s condition regarding Ojai, officials would turn to the project’s environ-mental impact report in the appeal process. But as the coalition members see it, the existing EIR does not adequately address impacts to the Ojai Valley.
With the new settlement in place, if the Troesh family wants to send trucks through Ojai after Jan. 1, 2012, they will have to prepare a new, more complete EIR, focused specifically on the effect that trucks will have in the Ojai Valley. This new EIR would completely analyze the impacts of project-generated traffic, noise, safety issues, and air pollution. In addition, they would also have to order and include the results of a special geologic study of the roads prepared by Caltrans.
Santa Barbara County officials did not put it in writing that a focused EIR would be prepared, but assured members of Stop the Trucks that such a preparation would be almost certain, according to Shapiro.
Following the settlement, coalition members also dropped their appeal to the Santa Barbara Planning Commission regarding the Diamond Rock Mine’s EIR.
“While we may have great empathy for the people in Cuyama Valley who claim to be suffering from the mine in their midst, we had to be pragmatic,” he said.
Shapiro added that coalition members would have liked to zero in on the mine itself as the root cause of the truck problem in Ojai. But that would be a painfully long process, with no assured victory, he said.
If community members are able to abide by the conditions of the agreement, it would eliminate one source of untold numbers of heavy double cargo trailers filled with gravel, he said.
The Diamond Rock Mine’s original application proposed 69 daily round-trip deliveries passing through Ojai during peak operation days and 46 round trips on an average day on top of existing truck traffic from other mines in the area.
Coalition members hope that if local residents refrain from contributing to any litigation against Troesh Materials Inc., the agreement could set a precedent for future mine projects.
Ali Virgilio, a member of the family owning the Ozena Valley Mine, would not comment on the coalition’s new settlement with Diamond Rock’s owners.
The Ozena mine is currently allowed to generate an average 66 one-way truck trips to and from the mine and 100 trips on days of peak productivity. The Ojai Quarry is allowed to generate 40 one-way trips, and the GPS mine has no restrictions at all.
Shapiro notes that it would be easy for owners of the Diamond Rock to trump the agreement. They could just get someone in Ojai, perhaps a truck driver to contribute to litigation against them, he said.
But Kerry Shapiro, the San Francisco-based attorney representing the Troesh family said that he didn’t think the owners of the Diamond Rock Mine would consider breaking the agreement in such an unscrupulous manner. “First of all, all the components of the company have acted in good faith,” he said. “But there is also marginal benefit of getting out of the settlement agreement in such a risky manner. If they did so, and the word got out, it would be a public relations disaster for the company.”If Troesh representatives were to settle on a condition regarding members of the Stop the Trucks Coalition only, they would still be subject to lawsuits from other Ojai residents. While the settlement does pose some challenges to the coalition, it was a necessary requirement for Troesh, said Kerry Shapiro.
At most, the agreement will give the coalition three years of respite during which they can turn their attention toward upcoming applications from the Ozena Valley Ranch and other mining companies.
“We just hope that people do take heed that if we don’t want the Diamond Rock Mine’s trucks coming through Ojai, we have to refrain from sending any money to litigation against Troesh, for Cuyama Valley and anyone else,” said Michael Shapiro.
“This agreement, together with the county’s unconditional ban, ensures that the wild landscapes and quiet solitude of the Los Padres National Forest are safe for now. This agreement will now let us focus on other mining proposals to ensure that they do not send trucks through our forests and communities. We hope that our achievements to date send a clear signal to other mining companies that our national forest should not be used as an industrial trucking route,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres Forest Watch.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Businesses Cited In Underage Alcohol Sting

An undercover alcohol sales sting conducted in the Ojai Valley Wednesday by Ventura County Sheriff's deputies and investigators from Alcohol Beverage Control resulted in citations issued to seven businesses.

Citations were issued to Giorgio's, Valero, Circle K, Mira Monte Liquor, Oak View Shell, Thrifty Gas and Casitas Market.

The operation used an underage decoy to purchase alcohol from 14 targeted valley businesses.

Those business which refused to sell alcohol in the undercover operation were The Hub, Rite-Aid, Scotty's Liquor, Ven Oak Market, Dahl's Market, Corner Market and A-1 Market.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Planners Want Montgomery Condo Redesign

Commissioners don’t want another Los Arboles

By Nao Braverman
Planning commissioners were almost evenly divided over plans for a condominium development in the heart of Ojai.
Montgomery Street developers Lance and Scott Smigel, now somewhat familiar faces at City Hall, approached the Planning Commission with another design proposal for Ojai Creek Village at 119 and 201 S. Montgomery St., near Libbey Park and the Ojai Art Center.
This time the plans for Craftsman-style, mixed-use units were downsized a notch and pulled back from the street to make more room for pedestrians. Architect Marc Whitman also added a plaza and entry for pedestrian access. Local resident Len Klaif was not appeased.
“This is a bit nicer dressed than the last proposal,” he said, “but does it fit better with Ojai? I don’t think so.”
At least seven designs prior, the Smigel brothers had looked into building a series of smaller, affordable units, but found the city ordinance did not allow for such density, they said. Later they returned with Santa Fe-style, million-dollar luxury condominiums. But planning commissioners rejected the designs, saying they looked too similar to the Smigel’s other Montgomery Street project, the highly criticized Los Arboles town houses.
Their most recent Craftsman-style condominium designs were rejected by the Planning Commission two weeks prior because they were too massive. But Commissioner Cortus Koehler was still not pleased with the redesign.
“I still think we are dealing with mass that is not compatible to the site,“ he said. “I like the treatment that has been done to the structures, but we still have a mass problem. I think it is still too big in too small of a space.”
Commissioner John Mirk agreed.
“I think it is still too big and too out of scale,” he said. “I think Marc has been working overtime and doing a really good job. I like the Craftsman style and the plaza is looking really good. But I think it is the wrong project for that area.”
Commissioners Susan Weaver and Steven Foster, however, said they were satisfied with the new preliminary designs. With some minor tweaking, they would be prepared to approve them, they said.
Commission Chair Paul Crabtree agreed. “I think the applicants really did listen,” he said. “I like what they did with the courtyard and the streetscape, that really satisfied my concerns.”
The commission voted 3 to 2 to allow the applicants to continue to work on their redesign and return for yet another meeting. Commissioners Mirk and Koehler cast the dissenting votes because they thought the project still looked too big.
In other planning news, commissioners approved the replacement of a barn, stable and corral at Ojai Valley School. They also agreed to the transformation of a residential dwelling into a dentist office at 207 Fox St.

Reported City Violent Crime Drops

Police chief says gangs moving criminal activity to valley’s unincorporated areas

By Daryl Kelley
Property crime in Ojai dropped dramatically during the first half of 2008 as petty thefts and auto burglaries plummeted, while violent crime remained at the same low level as the year before, according to a new police report.
Overall, Ojai experienced 92 serious crimes from January through June, compared with 148 for the same period last year and 139 for the first half of 2006, reported the county Sheriff’s Department, which polices Ojai and the rest of the Ojai Valley.
That’s a 38 percent overall drop in crime in Ojai from the first half 2007 compared with the same period this year.
Meanwhile, major property and violent crime in the rest of the valley was down slightly through the first six months of 2008 compared with 2007, despite a spike in gang activity in Meiners Oaks and Oak View.
In the city of Ojai, there were reports of only seven serious violent offenses — rapes, robberies and assaults (no murders) — during the first half of this year. But petty thefts were cut by more than half, from 87 to 38, accounting for most of the overall drop.
“Crimes of violence in the city remain low, at about the same level as last year” wrote Capt. Bruce Norris, who serves as Ojai police chief, in a report to the City Council. “As for property crimes, we saw a big decrease in thefts from vehicles.”
Early in 2007, the city was hit hard by thieves prowling for property in parked vehicles, and smashing windshields if the doors were locked, Norris reported. Several thieves were arrested in mid-2007 and convicted, he said.
Since then, “many fewer thefts from vehicles have been reported,” he wrote. “Within the last few weeks, however, we’ve had a repeat of these crimes. In several of those cases, the victims’ vehicles were unlocked, and they left valuables inside.
The biggest spike in Ojai crime came in felony vandalism, which rose from nine incidents in 2007 to 22 for the first half of this year. Misdemeanor vandalism also rose in the city, from 65 incidents to 69.
“Senseless damage” to property, such as vehicles and homes, accounted for much of the increase in felony vandalism, Norris reported. Some of the damage was done by graffiti, he said.
But the most significant development of the year may have been the near absence of gang violence inside Ojai city limits, Norris reported.
“The most telling thing I’ve noticed about city crime over the last year is that violent and assaultive gang activity is almost nonexistent,” he wrote. “For whatever reason, most of our Hispanic gang activity has moved out to the unincorporated areas. We are having the ‘normal’ levels of gang graffiti in town, but much of that seems to occur in Libbey Park. We’re enjoying the quiet for now, knowing that it might not last.”
But the story was different in valley areas outside the city, where assaults and vandalism were up sharply.
There, misdemeanor assaults rose from 33 to 43, and felony and misdemeanor vandalism increased from 86 incidents in the first six months last year to 120 for the same period this year.
“This appears to be the result of tensions between our local Hispanic gang and non-Hispanics from Oak View and Meiners Oaks,” Norris reported.
“There are only a few troublemakers on each side,” he wrote. “But those few require significant law enforcement attention. We have made repeated arrests of members of those groups, but their rivalry is strong and a long-term solution is difficult.”
Calls for police assistance were down slightly throughout the Ojai Valley.
In the city, there were 42 fewer disturbance calls and 34 fewer suspicious circumstance calls during the second quarter of 2008 alone. There were also 51 fewer property crime calls in the first six months of 2008.
In the county areas, there were 50 fewer theft calls during the first half of the year.
“My hunch is that the decreases are driven by less gang activity in the city, and possibly the effectiveness of Social Host Ordinance enforcement,” Norris wrote.
That 2-year-old ordinance carries a fine of $1,000 for anyone who allows underage drinking at a residence. So far, 11 city residents and 24 residents of the rest of the valley have been fined, the police chief said.
“We seem to be responding to fewer underage drinking party disturbance calls,” he said.