2013: Year in review
By VCR Staff 12/26/2013
What a year it has been — if you blinked, you might have missed it. For the 2013 year in review, we packed in as much as we could but found we didn’t have enough room to go more in-depth on so many of the stories. To begin, a quick trip down memory lane.
In January, former Oxnard middle school teacher Stacie Halas, aka former porn star Tiffany Six,was denied her appeal to get her job back. Up the Avenue in Ventura, the Environmental Protection Agency mandated cleanup at the USA Petrochem site. In March, the Wagon Wheel project in Oxnard broke ground and so we said goodbye to the legendary 1950s motel that had seen better days. In May, a brush fire blazed through Camarillo and near CSU, Channel Islands, coming to a halt near the coast in Malibu. Eight thousand acres burned but close to no structural damage and no deaths. In September, transients were permanently displaced during a cleanup of the Santa Clara River bottom in Ventura. And throughout the year, at least two federal lawsuits were filed against Oxnard police, including wrongful death and a claim on behalf of an unborn child, regarding Robert Ramirez, who had consumed three and a half grams of methamphetamine and died during officers’ attempt to calm him so he could receive medical attention. During the fall, the district attorney released findings based on eyewitness accounts, which included those who knew Ramirez, and found that officers were free of wrongdoing.
Now more in-depth coverage from around the county.
Water supply, or the lack thereof
Abundant groundwater is one of Ventura County’s coveted assets. Yet there is a desperate battle being waged underground, with the sea. “The Oxnard plain is one of the classic spots in the world where groundwater and saltwater combine, we’re in all the textbooks,” said United Water Conversation District Engineer John Dickenson.
Up until now, Dickenson said, the fresh water was winning, but last year we lost. “When people take it out for homes and farming, we put fresh water back before the sea creeps in. It’s a beat-the-clock game.” According to Dickerson, the next decade will bring changes. “I think, in the end, it will all be OK, but we will have to change these various water-intensive projects. I mean, how many golf courses do we need?”
To many people, the answer is being smarter. Ventura city’s water conservation coordinator, Jill Sarick, has joined forces with the Surfrider Foundation to form outreach groups that see 7,000 students a year.
“We teach people to take water that would normally run off down the street. In a lot of new developments you see gutters that run into pipes directly under the landscape and into the street and into the storm drain. We are teaching people how to cut the downspout and redirect the water into rain or sponge gardens and yards that can store it in the soil. These are native landscapes that use the water differently than a lawn.”
Lisa Burton calls herself the lawn killer. She owns Nature by Design, a Ventura company that takes out traditional landscapes and installs very unique ones in their places.
“One of my missions in life is to get rid of lawns, in favor of gardens,” Burton said. “There are a lot of reasons; one is having plants with drought tolerance. A lawn takes a lot of water, a lot of maintenance, fertilizer. It takes, takes, takes and gives nothing back.”
Burton holds to the concept that natural gardens bring everything back in line with nature instead of fighting it. Maybe that’s a New Year’s resolution for 2014.
New city manager on board
In June, the City Council hired David Rowlands, then city manager of Clayton, Ohio. Rowlands took the place of Yvonne Quiring, who had resigned after three years.
The Fillmore & Western Railway.
The Fillmore & Western Railway
The Fillmore & Western Railway has been chugging along for decades, but in 2013, it may have derailed.
In April, the Ventura County Transportation Commission, claiming the Fillmore & Western Railway was not economically viable, made it known that it would shut the line down and redirect funds given to the company for maintenance of the Santa Paula line to services going in and out of Fillmore and Santa Paula.
In November, the VCTC ended the contract between Fillmore & Western and the county by claiming that maintenance hadn’t been performed on the line, thus negating the contract. Co-owner Dave Wilkinson disagrees, claiming that the VCTC is simply trying to reclaim money due to a budget shortfall.
With a deadline to vacate the premises by Dec. 1, the Fillmore & Western’s annual Christmas excursions were on the brink of being cancelled until the VCTC’s heart grew three sizes and it allowed the company to operate through the holidays.
Wilkinson believes that the VCTC has no grounds to terminate the 20-year contract signed by both parties in 2001.
“They claim that they have been trying to negotiate with us, and we say that they have not,” said Wilkinson. “We’ve had one meeting when this first started, in April, and we were dictated to, what we could do, and that certainly wasn’t in the realm of being able to run a railroad.”
On Jan. 7, the two parties return to court to settle their dispute, after which, operations will come to an end until an agreement is reached.
Ojai hot springs closure
Visitors to Ojai’s Matilija Canyon hot springs were left steaming when word came down that the trail would be closed to traffic.
In May, the owners of the property on which the hot springs reside felt the need to block access to the popular destination to allow time for the vegetation and wildlife to recover, after 20 years of litter, graffiti and the occasional call to police regarding alcohol and drug abusers in the vicinity, which took its toll on the native wildlife.
Gunnar Lovelace and his family purchased the site in 2012 along with the 20 acres on which the site sits. Community leaders and Chumash elders supported closing the area for rehabilitation.
“The hot springs have become unsafe, unclean and unsanitary and away from the sanctity of what the land is used for,” said Ojai resident and local Chumash elder Julie Tumamait-Stenslie to the VC Reporter in May. “If people are going there to receive healing from those waters, it has become so disruptive. In order to have peace and healing, you need tranquility.”
As of today, the Hot Springs has not been reopened.
The contract of City Manager Ed Sotello expired in February — the City Council having voted against renewing it. Sotello then filed a $1 million lawsuit against the city in July, claiming workplace harassment and retaliation during the 2010-2012 district attorney investigation and that he suffered “permanent injury to career prospects.” The judge threw out the case in October noting, though, that Sotello could amend it, which he did. The case is still pending and so is the hiring of a new city manager. Assistant City Manager Karen Burnham was appointed interim city manager when Sotello was placed on paid leave in January 2012. After the election of Councilman Tim Flynn to Oxnard city mayor in November 2012, a seat remained vacant until June, when one of the city’s harshest critics, Bert Perello, was voted in during a special election. Finding a new city manager had been a top priority. Recruiting firm Bob Murray and Associates recently posted the position with a Jan. 24, 2014, deadline for applicants. And so the search is under way. Better late than never.
Halaco up for bid
One of the leading environmental embarrassments for Ventura County has always been the Halaco Superfund site, once a metal processing facility that, while raking in profits, also managed to build up a sizable slag pile that proved to be a toxic nightmare.
After being labeled a Superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2007, the site fell under control of the EPA and the state of California for cleanup and removal of the toxic sludge, but the owners of the site owed back taxes on the property and were in default. This paved the way for the county tax collector to claim the site and place it up for sale via a sealed-bid, whereby private entities could bid on the property.
As it turned out, the city of Oxnard was one such interested party, but the county had erroneously listed the property as part of an auction, which is illegal. The City of Oxnard objected to the sale and made an offer for the property outright, with no competition challenging the move.
“Over the years, there have been a lot of citizens who have wanted to see a major restoration project and this could be an opportunity to intervene on behalf of nature and the people of Oxnard,” said Al Sanders of the Ormond Beach Observers regarding the proposed purchase.
Port Hueneme vs. Port of Hueneme
The city of Port Hueneme hoped that the Port of Hueneme’s wallet was as deep as their waters this year when a claim was made that the Port of Hueneme had been underpaying the city for several years to the tune of $8 million.
In August, the city filed paperwork regarding the 1995 agreement between the two parties, alleging that if the time were to come for arbitration, it should include previously made agreements as well, specifically the 1983 and 1987 agreements that gave the city a portion of the income collected by the harbor in exchange for use of the city’s roadways.
The issue came from calculating the amount the payments should be based on the gross annual income of the Port of Hueneme and whether or not the amount had been calculated correctly.
Mary Anne Rooney, vice president of the Port of Hueneme, Oxnard Harbor District, claimed that the allegations lacked merit and provided detailed information regarding how such payments were calculated going back to the original agreements.
The claim came at a time when the city of Port Hueneme was facing a year of fluctuating incomes. At the start of the year, the city claimed a budget shortfall of $300,000 but bumped that number up to $1.65 million due to the loss of contract with the Navy.
Police Chief Kathleen Sheehan.
New manager, police chief
City Manager Dave Norman resigned in October 2012 after the City Council decided it wanted to go in a new direction and then hired former Port Hueneme City Manager Dick Velthoen as the interim. Ten months later, the Council, in closed session, hired Cynthia Haas, who had been deputy mayor of Carlsbad. There was some hullabaloo over the hiring process, with allegations that the Council violated the Brown Act when it held the session to hire her behind closed doors. The district attorney did investigate and cleared the City Council of any Brown Act violations. But Port Hueneme also needed to find a new police chief after the city’s first female chief, Kathleen Sheehan, resigned in December 2012 after being placed on administrative leave regarding alleged violations of city policies. She accepted a severance payout of $76,000 and Lt. Robert Gager was named as acting police chief. In February, Gager was unanimously promoted to become Port Hueneme’s new police chief.
New police chief and legal issues
The city hired a new police chief, Steve McLean, a former captain with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. McLean had some awkward shoes to fill as the city’s former police chief, Steve MacKinnon, left on a bitter note, fired by the City Manager Jaime Fontes but loved by many of the residents. MacKinnon had been placed on administrative leave for allegedly inappropriately using of a city-owned vehicle to drive to Arizona. MacKinnon filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination and emotional distress, among other allegations. In July, a judge threw out much of the lawsuit but allowed claims of emotional distress and breach of contract. Ron Bamieh, MacKinnon’s attorney, did not return calls by deadline. To date, however, it seems, so far, so good with McLean.
radioactive site cleanup
The state courts have stepped into the ongoing battle over activity at the Boeing-owned Santa Susana Field Lab (SSFL) in Chatsworth. The court sided with consumer protection groups and against the state department in charge of cleaning up the long polluted site by granting the consumer groups a preliminary injunction. The court order prevents Department of Toxic Substances Control from continuing to approve Boeing’s dismantling and removal of structures from Area IV and then sending the radioactive debris to landfills and recyclers that are not licensed to accept such hazardous waste.
“We are grateful that the judge has halted the irresponsible disposal of radioactive waste from Santa Susana,” said Consumer Watchdog advocate Liza Tucker in a press release.
The injunction remains in place until the lawsuit brought by Consumer Watchdog against DTSC is resolved.
SSFL was the site of a partial meltdown of its sodium reactor experiment for two weeks in 1959. The resulting contaminants have remained in place for more than 50 years.
Before a preliminary injunction can be issued, the petitioners must demonstrate that without the injunction they would suffer irreparable harm. They must also show that they are likely to win the lawsuit.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Allen Sumner said in the press release, “The court concludes the Petitioners established a reasonable probability they will prevail on their [environmental] claim against DTSC, and the balance of harms on the record to date tips in their favor.”
The other groups involved in suing the state agency are Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles, Committee to Bridge the Gap, and the Southern California Federation of Scientists. The original suit was filed against DTSC in August 2013 with allegations that Boeing failed to perform “any of the required environmental review for the demolition of structures at Area IV, the nuclear portion of SSFL, prior to authorizing their demolition and disposal,” according to the press release.
Medical marijuana dispensaries
Hundreds rallied throughout the year in protest against a proposed ordinance that would see mobile medical marijuana dispensaries, banned from the city. (Brick-and-mortar dispensaries have already been banned.) As the year drew to a close, the Ventura City Council dropped the hammer on mobile dispensaries, all but sealing marijuana’s fate within city limits.
In August, a rally in front of City Hall (led by locals involved with the marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access) protested the city’s discriminatory practices against the use of medical marijuana, with many claiming that neighboring cities have mobile dispensaries with little concern, and that people with a medical need for marijuana would be left without the drug that could assist with appetite issues and pain related issues.
Over the course of several city council meetings, residents offered commentary on whether or not the drug should be regulated per state codes that allows an individual access with a doctor’s prescription; but then Mayor Mike Tracy, in November, disagreed.
“This is something that we cannot regulate at the local municipal level,” Tracy said at the Nov. 18 meeting. “If we legalize it in Ventura, it will have a huge impact on our community.”
The ban went into effect Dec. 2, leaving Ventura without easy access to medical marijuana.
Erik Nasarenko, voted into Ventura City Council
New city manager
In February, the City Council hired Mark Watkins as the new city manager, who had been serving as Thousand Oaks’ assistant city manager since 2011. City Manager Rick Cole had resigned in August 2012 after eight years, but was hired in July by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as his deputy mayor for budget and innovation. Also, longtime City Councilman Brian Brennan announced he wouldn’t run again after four four-year terms. Newcomer Deputy District Attorney Erik Nasarenko won that seat in the November election. Councilman Neal Andrews, who was re-elected for a fourth term this election, was passed over for nomination as deputy mayor for a third time, the Council repeatedly opting for first-time councilmembers instead, including Nasarenko. On another note, after years of tossing around the idea to discussing changes to the city’s charter, including regular-year election cycles, district representation and electing a mayor, the City Council did a rather surprising thing — discussed it and unanimously decided to direct staff to prepare a report on, basically, how to go about charter reform. Recommendations could come back to the Council by March.
On Jan.16, a group of armed Islamist militants attacked a remote BP gas site in Algeria and took more than 800 hostages. The crisis lasted until Jan.19, resulting in 29 militants and at least 39 foreign hostages confirmed dead after the Algerian Special Forces intervened.
Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, La., during Hurricane Katrina, was indicted on 21 counts of federal corruption, including bribery, tax evasion, fraud, embezzlement and money laundering. He is the city’s first mayor to be criminally charged for corruption; he pleaded not guilty to all charges.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term as President of the United States. The following day, he gave his second inaugural speech in Washington, D.C.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton submitted her resignation on Feb.1 and was succeeded by John Kerry.
Former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner, 33, reportedly targeted police officers and their families in early February, resulting in the deaths of four people, including three police officers, and wounding three others. Dorner led police on one of LAPD’s largest manhunts in history, eventually barricading himself in a cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains where he apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after the cabin caught fire during the standoff.
Former South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, 27, was arrested and charged on Feb.14 when police found his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, dead in his apartment. The cause of death was identified as multiple gunshot wounds; Pistorius was charged and eventually granted bail. The trial is set for March 2014. Known as “Blade Runner,” Pistorius made history at the 2012 London Olympics by participating in the able-bodied sprints as a double amputee.
After eight years, Pope Benedict XVI, 85, resigned on Feb. 28 due to advanced age; he is the first pope to resign since 1415.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, 58, died in Caracas on March 5 after a two-year battle with cancer. Chavez was in his 14th year as president, having been re-elected in October 2012 for a six-year term. He was succeeded by his vice president, Nicolas Maduro.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, of Argentina was elected to succeed recently retired Benedict XVI as pope. Bergoglio became the first pope from Latin America and the Catholic Church’s 266th pope; he chose the name Francis.
Amanda Knox, 26, who was accused and exonerated of the 2007 murder of her 21-year-old British roommate Meredith Kercher in Italy, was ordered to stand trial a second time by the country’s highest court, which overturned her acquittal. The retrial began without Knox in attendance; she continues to reside in her hometown of Seattle, Wash.
“Iron Lady” Baroness Margaret Thatcher, 87, died after a stroke in London, England, on April 8. Thatcher was the U.K.’s longest-serving prime minister of the 20th century (1979-1990) and the first and only woman to hold the position. She also served as the leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990.
Three people were killed and 264 were injured when two bombs exploded during the Boston Marathon. The suspects, Russian brothers Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, were involved in a shootout with police, which led to Tamerlan’s death. Dzhokhar escaped and was eventually captured with serious injuries.
At least 1,000 people died and 2,500 were injured when an eight-story clothing factory building in Bangladesh collapsed and a fire started within the rubble, which further complicated the rescue effort. The owner of the building, Sohel Rana, was arrested due to the poor condition of the Rana Plaza, which led to what is now regarded as the worst accident in the garment industry.
In Cleveland, Ohio, Ariel Castro, 52, was arrested after three women (Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus and Michelle Knight) who had been missing for more than a decade were rescued from his house by a neighbor. Berry also escaped with her 6-year-old daughter whom Castro had fathered. The indictment contained a total of 977 counts, including kidnapping, rape, aggravated murder, child endangerment, felonious assault, gross sexual imposition and possession of criminal tools. Castro was found dead, hanging in his prison cell, one month into his life sentence.
A category 5 tornado, the most powerful rating, with winds of more than 200 miles per hour, struck Oklahoma City on May 20 for 40 devastating minutes. The 1.3-mile-wide tornado left 25 dead, 377 injured and an estimated $2 billion in damages.
The Boy Scouts of America abolished its long-held membership ban on homosexual youth members. It was decided that, beginning Jan.1, sexual orientation would be no restriction on youth membership although scout leaders who are openly gay are still prohibited.
Former CIA employee Edward Snowden, 30, made world headlines when he admitted to being the source of recent National Security Agency (NSA) leaks to the media. The classified documents revealed that the NSA used various programs for mass surveillance of U.S citizens, among others. Snowden was charged with espionage and theft of government property; he defected to Hong Kong and was eventually granted temporary asylum in Russia.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional and that it interfered with the states’ rights to define marriage. It also ruled that California’s Proposition 8 supporters did not have any standing in federal court to appeal the lower court’s decision. Thereafter, California became the 13th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
On July 6, an Asiana Airlines passenger jet with 307 on board crashed as it attempted to land at San Francisco International Airport. The plane caught fire and 181 people were injured and three died. The cause of the crash is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies.
Scottish tennis player Andy Murray, 26, became the first British player in 77 years to win the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Championship. Murray defeated No.1 player Serbian Novak Djokovic in five sets.
Inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison in Northern California organized a hunger strike to protest the conditions of solitary confinement especially for prisoners with gang affiliations. More than 25,000 inmates in 11 prisons participated in what was the largest hunger strike in the state’s history, with their concerns supported by Amnesty International.
George Zimmerman, 30, the Florida man charged with the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, was found not guilty of second degree murder. The shooting death of Martin and the arrest of Zimmerman for murder caused national unrest, sparking outrage over both incidents.
On July 22, Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, welcomed their first child, George Alexander Louis, in London, England.
Boston’s infamous mobster James Bulger, aka Whitey Bulger, 81, was found guilty of 31 counts, which included murder, money laundering, extortion and racketeering. In 2011, Bulger was arrested in Santa Monica after spending 16 years as a fugitive; he was sentenced to two life terms in prison plus five years.
Twenty-five-year-old Pvt. Bradley Manning of the U.S. Army was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified U.S. government materials. After the ruling, Manning released a statement announcing that he was female and would undergo the necessary physical transformations; also, he asked to be addressed as Chelsea.
Bob Filner, mayor of San Diego, resigned on Aug. 30 after numerous sexual harassment allegations surfaced. Filner was charged with one felony count of false imprisonment by violence and two misdemeanor counts of battery for unwanted sexual advances he made toward three different women, but he was accused by more than 10 women. Following his admission of guilt, Filner accepted a plea bargain and received three years’ probation, three months of house arrest and a partial loss of his mayoral pension. He can never seek public office again.
On Sept. 21, a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, was overrun by a group of armed al-Shabaab militants, continuing until Sept.24 and resulting in the deaths of 62 hostages and more than 200 injuries. Reportedly, the militants’ motivation was retribution for Kenya’s military involvement in Somalia. The militants were reported to have been shot and killed during the gunfire exchange with police.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law, establishing a gradual increase in the state’s minimum wage. California’s minimum wage is currently $8; it will increase to $9 in July 2014 and to $10 in Jan 2016. Brown indicated that the rise in pay reflects the increase in the cost of living.
Congress’s disagreement regarding the Affordable Care Act delayed a vote on the budget and resulted in a partial government shutdown. Nonessential departments within the government were temporarily closed and nearly 800,000 federal employees were furloughed. The shutdown ended after 16 days.
Author Tom Clancy, 66, died of an undisclosed illness at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md. Clancy, with more than 100 million copies of his books in print and 17 best-sellers, is best-known for his Jack Ryan series.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed bill AB 60 to allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The license is expected to be available by 2015 and will be specifically labeled to indicate that it is not an official federal identification.
Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford issued an apology after a video of him engaging in drug use became public. Police confirmed that Ford is in the video, which shows him smoking from a crack pipe. Ford was asked to take a leave of absence but he refused; he intends to continue as mayor and run for re-election in 2014.
Paul Ciancia, 23, went on a shooting spree at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) where he killed one TSA agent and injured several others. Ciancia had reportedly targeted TSA agents and afterward, a note was found in which he expressed that desire. He was shot four times during a gunfight with the police.
Typhoon Haiyan engulfed the Philippines with winds of more than 190 miles per hour, making it one of the strongest storms ever recorded. Haiyan caused at least $5.8 billion in damages, killed 6,000 people and affected the lives of 11 million.
A train derailed in the Bronx, New York, and eight of its cars went off the tracks, causing the deaths of four people and injuries to more than 60. The National Transportation Safety Board launched an investigation, and preliminary findings indicated that the train was traveling at 82 miles per hour in a zone designated for 30 miles per hour.
Former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela, 95, died in Johannesburg on Dec.5 from a respiratory infection. Mandela was internationally known as a Nobel lauerate, philanthropist and a revolutionary, having spent 27 years in prison for his anti-apartheid movement, after which he became the first elected president of South Africa in a fully democratic state.