In brief

The rough road to LNG

If you want an environmental impact report done right, you’ve got to outline your grievances in a 143-page report yourself. Or so it seems.

Dissatisfied with the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Cabrillo Port Liquid Natural Gas Deepwater Port, the Environmental Defense Center sent a lengthy letter to Dwight Sanders of the California State Lands Commission. The tome, written on behalf of the California Coastal Protection Network, begins by acknowledging the Revised DEIR’s strengths: This time around, the report does recognize some of the air quality impacts of the proposed Cabrillo Port, as well as the fact that safety risks and “visual impacts” from the LNG rig would be more severe than the original report had indicated.

But the letter has little else to say in favor of the Revised DEIR. According to the EDC, the second draft of the report failed to effectively prove that this gas reserve was even necessary and underestimated or completely ignored an “adequate range” of energy alternatives, such as more environmentally-sound options like energy efficiency, conservation and renewable energy as a solution to a potential energy shortage in the state. Further, according to the EDC, the revised report overlooked safer technologies related to liquid natural gas than those outlined in the project.

A popular criticism of the proposed Cabrillo Port, a floating LNG terminal that would be located 14 miles off Oxnard’s coast, is that it would not be sound in the event of a natural disaster. To that end, the EDC charges that the Revised DEIR fails to fully consider all “potential accident scenarios,” and that the report used faulty methodology in predicting the port’s performance in the event of earthquake or tsunami. The letter also expresses concern about the port’s “incompatibility” with marine traffic, including Naval operations and shipping commerce.

In the letter from the EDC, the ecological concerns of operating such a port read like a laundry list of environmental damage: negative impact on air and water quality, geological hazards (detailed as earthquakes and tsunamis) and negative impact on terrestrial biology. The EDC warned that the port would intensify California’s reliance on foreign fuels, increase use of limited fossil fuel, and indirectly contribute to global climate change.

According to the EDC, the second report wrongly asserts that whale migration paths do not cross through the project area, which the EDC refers to as “a tremendous omission in the Revised DEIR”; in fact, according to the EDC, the port would negatively impact resident pods and sea life in general with noise pollution and heated water directly released into the ocean from the port.

For all the alleged inadequacies of the Revised DEIR, the letter expressed frustration that neither the U.S. Coast Guard nor the Maritime Administration — referred to as the “federal lead agencies” in this issue — had re-circulated the revised impact report which, for all its shortcomings, did identify enhanced impacts and recognized the weaknesses of the initial DEIR.

Copies of the letter were sent to the U.S. Coast Guard, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Governor Schwarzenegger, California Coastal Commission, and the cities of Oxnard and Malibu.

— Saundra Sorenson

Put that out!

No law-abiding Ventura citizen would dream of lighting up inside a restaurant or shop anymore, but as beaches and parks remain fair game for the smoking among us, community activist Suz Montgomery, through the Parks and Recreation Commission, aims to turn the county toward the Calabasas model of smoke-free public areas.

At the upcoming May 22 City Council meeting, the “No Smoking Resolution for all of our Ventura City Parks and Beaches” will be officially introduced and voted on by the City Council.

If the resolution is approved, “We hope that people will respect the rules,” says City Manager Rick Cole, noting that a lot of behaviors aren’t “criminal in nature,” but fall under the common courtesy category. Because of this, Montgomery’s effort, if passed, will be a resolution and not an ordinance.

Montgomery explains the difference bluntly: “If it’s a resolution that means it’s unenforceable by the cops. The rationale for that is because we don’t have resources to actually pay for enforcement.”

But she hopes that after the first year of this pilot program, a solid assessment will either improve the plan or upgrade the resolution to an ordinance.

In addition, the Ventura County Tobacco Education and Prevention Program will provide educational materials on how to quit smoking. It is Montgomery’s hope that these materials will be distributed to smokers in Ventura’s parks and beaches.

— Saundra Sorenson

In Brief

Repairing the world

What would you do if you were a non-profit organization and some generous constituent gave you a six-figure donation?

If you’re Camp Ramah, you’d install a solar electrical system at your summer facility in Ojai. That’s precisely what the Los Angeles-based Jewish family camp decided to do when faced with that exact situation. The installation is estimated to reduce their electric bill by $4,000 per month, according to a press release issued by the company contracted for the project. It also helps the group stay in line with part of its mission statement, which, along with teaching and practicing “the ideals of the conservative Jewish movement,” includes “repairing the world.”

The organization hired Solar Electrical Systems, a company in Westlake Village, for the three-stage project. The first section is complete and, barring approval from the multiple governmental agencies within the city and county that must give it a green-light, will be ready for the upcoming summer camp session, which begins in late June.

“Every single department needs to approve it before the switch can be flipped,” says Dav Camras, business director.

The initial phase includes roughly 264 solar modules attached to the cafeteria and 32 on the nearby bakery. The second part of the project which will be initiated in the fall, will hook up solar power to the residential units, Camras says.

Camp Ramah welcomes 1,200 campers and 300 staff from across the United States, Canada and Mexico to the Zimmer Conference Center in Ojai every year. Activities include hiking, swimming, sports and dining on kosher cuisine.

However, this summer it will not include — in lesser part, at least — burning away non-renewable sources of energy.

“Solar power does reduce the camp’s need for fossil fuels, which reduces pollution and resource extraction,” Camras says. “Energy cost goes up every year. It’s a way of trying to stabilize those costs.”

— Matthew Singer

Top Hat decisions

Six of the seven Ventura City Councilmembers voted on May 8 to approve an outline detailing the financial responsibilities of each party involved in the proposed relocation of the Top Hat hamburger stand from the corner of Palm and Main streets — where it has stood for nearly 50 years — to city-owned property on South Oak Street just behind Nicholby’s Nightclub.

The Memorandum of Understanding is the result of a compromise deal between Downtown Ventura Properties LLC, which wants to build a mixed-use condominium complex on the parking lot directly behind Top Hat’s current location; Jack and Charlotte Bell, the owners of the popular roadside restaurant; and the city. It establishes the developer’s commitment to pay for the cost of the move — estimated to be between $150,000 and $200,000 — as well as for any code upgrades that may be required. The Bells agreed to cover all additional expenses for items not required by the health code and to maintain an adjacent public bathroom, which the city would be responsible for building. The city would lease the building to the Bells at the market rate.

As usual with City Council meetings involving the Top Hat situation, emotions ran high during the public comments portion. And, as usual, the majority of the anger was directed at James Mesa, spokesman for Downtown Ventura Properties.

“The Top Hat should stay, Mesa and his cheesy plan should go,” said Bill Locey, adding that it would be difficult for the Bells to remain in operation if they were moved to another spot downtown.

Several Oak Street merchants protested the plan, arguing that placing the building in what is currently the entrance to a large parking lot would make it even more difficult to park in the area than it already is (officials insisted only one parking space would be lost as a result of the project). One storeowner suggested relocating Top Hat to the small park on Main Street between Palm and Oak, but Councilmember Christy Weir pointed out the city does not own that parcel of land and that its owners previously rejected the idea of putting the building there.

Steve Schafer, a historical preservation advocate, said a business with a loyal following like Top Hat is “the prescription for an active, thriving Oak Street.” He implored the council to accept the MOU.

“The choice is Oak Street relocation or Top Hat demolition,” he said.

Executing the memorandum hinges on final approval of Downtown Ventura Properties’ proposed condominium project. The agreement may be terminated if the developer abandons the project, if the city decides not to build a public restroom on the site or if the city does not give final approval to the developer’s plan within a year of the developer completing the development application process. The latter caveat was insisted upon by Mesa as a means of “hurrying city action,” said Dave Armstrong, Ventura redevelopment project manager.

Because of those measures, Schafer said the Bells could possibly continue serving chili dogs from the corner of Palm and Main for another 16 months.

— Matthew Singer

In Brief

Cautionary tale for California homeowners

After the tragic death of 23-year-old tree trimmer Luis Flores and two subsequent rounds in court, the Nelson family of Ventura learned the hard way that, under California law, a hired worker must hold a pertinent license in order to be considered an independent contractor. Otherwise, homeowners like the Nelsons are liable as employers.

In Thomas and Vivian Nelson’s cul-de-sac neighborhood, Southern California Edison is responsible for maintaining an electrical right-of-way on properties like the Nelson’s and had a contract with Asplundh tree service to ensure that trees wouldn’t pose a hazard near the power lines. Although Asplundh had reportedly tended to trees on surrounding properties, they had neglected to return to the Nelson’s, and documents show that, on Feb. 14, 2002, the Nelsons hired Julian Rodriguez’s tree service. Unfortunately for the Nelsons, the Business and Professions Code states that any person trimming a tree 15 feet or taller must be properly licensed; Rodriguez and his employees were not.

Flores was using an aluminum tool to trim a eucalyptus tree on the property when he made contact with a 14,000 volt power line and was electrocuted, dying on the spot. His parents, Maria Dolores Ramirez and Martin Flores, sued Southern California Edison and Asplundh (both parties settled out of court), as well as the Nelson family, who decided to take the issue to trial.

Attorney Kevin Lancaster of the San Francisco-based Zeen Firm represents Flores’s parents. According to Lancaster, had Flores done more than 52 hours of work for the family, the Nelsons’ homeowner’s policy would have supplied worker’s compensation; had Julian Rodrigeuz been licensed and insured, the Nelsons would have had no liability whatsoever. In proving the Nelsons’ culpability, Lancaster referred to Penal Code Section 385, which states that it is a misdemeanor to operate any tool within six feet of a high voltage overhead conductor.

The Second District Court of Appeal’s ruling has paved the way for a wrongful death civil suit against the Nelsons. Lancaster sees this as a precedent and victory for worker’s rights; the jury in the lower court, he remembers, had a “there but for the grace of God go me” mentality as many of them had used undocumented or unlicensed labor. He considers, “It’s about fair application and equal application of the law, everybody getting their day in court. That\’s what Justice Gilbert has affirmed.”

“For me it\’s a warning sign to homeowners,” Lancaster concludes. “If you\’re wondering why it is that you\’re getting labor so inexpensively, there\’s risk connected with it.”

— Saundra Sorenson

Hunter becomes the hunting

Committee on Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter this week renewed his twice-defeated push to extend hunting on Santa Rosa Island, and to provide access for military personnel only. This time, he snuck his agenda into a 2007 defense authorization bill.

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-23) responded quickly with a letter dated May 1, in which she noted that the chairman’s efforts completely undermined a settlement reached by the former owners of the island, the Justice Department and the National Parks Conservation Association. “Clearly,” she wrote, “Congress involving itself in these issues … with little to no discussion and public input — is simply wrong.” She added that it was her understanding that the Defense Department had not requested such a proviso about the Channel Island.

Hunting on the island is due to end in 2011. While previous agreements stipulated that the island deer and elk may not be exterminated completely, Hunter’s revision states that the current population must be maintained, contradicting an earlier agreement seeking to phase out the populations to conserve rarer and more endangered island species.

— Saundra Sorenson








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  1. NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary – Open Recruitment for Advisory Council Seats

    December 13, 2019 @ 8:00 am - January 31, 2020 @ 11:59 pm
  2. Spiritual Bodies: Photography by Carlton Wilkinson

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    February 1
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    February 4 @ 5:30 pm - 8:30 pm

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