In Brief

The drive to ’08

The California primary isn’t until next February, but Ventura County Democrats are starting the local push behind rising Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Obama Ventura, a grassroots organization supporting the political star, held its first meeting at E.P. Foster Library March 27, joining already established groups in Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks. The meeting was arranged to help connect Obama supporters in the area and to introduce those still unfamiliar with the first-term senator to his politics.

“To me, the most important issue personally is the war and the management of the country’s foreign affairs,” said Craig Christensen, organizer for Obama Ventura. “[Obama] is really the only announced Democratic candidate who has taken a consistent position against the war since it started.”

With an earlier state primary than usual, Christensen said it’s important for the group to get out and campaign for Obama now. At future meetings, the group will discuss strategies for introducing more residents to the candidate.

Christensen isn’t sure how many people will end up joining the campaign by the time 2008 rolls around. Prior to the 2004 presidential election, when he organized in favor of Howard Dean, only a dozen people showed up to the initial meetings. When the primaries began, however, attendance was in the hundreds.

Save the children

Local law enforcement and public health agencies have come together to found a new program dedicated to ensuring the safety of children discovered at the scene of meth lab arrests.

Although it has been in operation since late 2006, the Drug-Endangered Child Program (DEC) will host a press conference March 30 at the Ventura County Government Center at 10 a.m. to inform the public about the new effort. Representatives from the sheriff’s department, the Ventura County Human Services Agency and the Ventura County Health Care Agency are scheduled to speak about the program, which addresses the needs of children exposed to chemicals used to make methamphetamines.

“If parents are manufacturing meth, these children are exposed to chemical dangers that are inherent with these kinds of drug busts,” said Debbie Barber, communications manager for the human services agency. “It becomes a medical issue at that point.”

Now, when police go to the scene of a possible meth lab, they are accompanied by a social worker and a public health nurse. If a child is found at the scene, he or she is checked on-site for exposure to chemicals. Once the status of the child’s health is determined, they are then put into the county’s foster care system.

The program is part of the nationwide National Alliance for Drug-Endangered Children.

“It’s a really positive thing for kids,” Barber said.

75 years illustrated

To commemorate its 75th anniversary, the Humane Society of Ventura County is commissioning residents to design a poster celebrating the organization’s decades of service to the county’s animal population.

“We’re looking for a poster that represents our level of caring,” said Don Buffon, a humane society volunteer and member of its Board of Directors.

To enter the contest, all entries must be camera-ready, 11 inches by 14 inches, portray animals in a “humane manner” and include the organization’s name and the phrase “75 years.” It is open to anyone who is a resident of Ventura County.

They are looking for something similar to the yearly county fair posters, Buffon said.

The group, whose shelter is located in Ojai, specializes in giving temporary refuge for a variety of abandoned animals. Although its “primary clients” are cats and dogs, Buffon said after the Day fire in 2006, the shelter took in everything from goats to llamas.

On tour

Ventura tourists are some of the luckiest tourists in California, according to the California Travel and Tourism Commission (CTTC).

At the CTTC’s recent 2007 Marketing Excellence Awards, Ventura was determined to have the second-best visitor’s guide of any city in the state, finishing behind only Palm Springs.

“Just to be in company of Palm Springs is pretty good,” said Jim Luttjohann, executive director of the Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau. “It’s a very known destination, and while I know our town is pretty special, it doesn’t benefit from the name recognition they do.”

The colorful guide, designed by the Visitors & Convention Bureau and available online or at the Visitors Center, provides a comprehensive list of activities for out-of-towners, conveniently divided by region. Not only is Ventura included, but neighboring areas such as Ojai, Camarillo, Oxnard and the Channel Islands National Park are featured as well.

The pamphlet also comes with a removable restaurant guide, a list of business contact information and tips to getting the most out of a visit to the region.

In Brief

Building green

Amid talk of global warming, the Natural Building Network redirects attention to the individual — the home-building individual, that is. The current “building crisis,” according to the organization, is a mixture of wasteful construction practices, harmful environmental impact and the creation of non-sustainable homes.

The NBN is a non-profit group founded to aid the burgeoning movement of natural building, which is defined as any approach to construction that focuses on the sustainability of the structure.

Now, responding to what NBN calls a current “building crisis,” Jack Stephens, director of the Natural Building Network, will give a presentation to address simple building solutions to the green-minded home owner. Stephens has spent the past 20 years working with both the corporate and small business worlds as a leadership consultant, and has spent the last nine years focusing on sustainability.

March 26, 6:30-8 p.m; $10 donation; proceeds go to the Natural Building Network, The Farmer and the Cook, 339 W. El Roblar Dr, Meiners Oaks.

St. Paddy’s crack down

On March 17, while most of the county honored Ireland’s patron saint by populating local bars and night spots, the Ventura Police Department made sure it maintained a strong presence, as well.

Teaming up with the Oxnard Police Department, local officers patrolled the city of Ventura on motorcycle between the hours of 8 p.m. and 3 a.m.

The Ventura Police Department notes that, in 2003, roughly a third of traffic fatalities during St. Patrick’s Day weekend were caused by drivers under the influence. This year, a 10-man patrol yielded 11 arrests for driving under the influence, 55 moving violations and 15 impounded vehicles.

Sgt. Jack Richards explains that not all vehicles were impounded due to substance abuse-related infractions.

“That’s a mixture of other traffic violations,” Richards said. “People you stop may have suspended licenses, there may be unlicensed drivers … .”

There may also be outstanding warrants against the driver. These are all grounds to impound the vehicle.

Surprise, surprise

It was zero for 10 on March 14, when the Ventura Police Department, in conjunction with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, or ABC, hit the streets in search of merchants willing to break the law by selling alcohol to minors.

To investigate and potentially nab alcohol retailers who sell to minors, Ventura police and ABC agents sent “minor decoys” into 10 Ventura retail stores to attempt to purchase alcohol from merchants. In what Ventura police Lt. Tom Taylor classified as a surprise outcome, none of the merchants took the bait.

“It was very successful and that’s not normal,” said Taylor, who said that, normally, “there are at least one or two” retailers who will sell alcohol to minors.

During a similar minor decoy operation, conducted in February, three out of 10 retailers tested sold alcohol to minors. “That is great,” Taylor said of the most recent operation. “We’re just trying to get their compliance 100 percent.”

Taylor said the undercover stings are funded via a state grant.

In Brief

Judge for yourself

The headache of undergoing a small claims case just got easier.

On March 5, the Superior Court of California, County of Ventura, implemented a system of case management that makes it easier — and more automated — to settle small civil disputes.

“We are switching over to a statewide system,” said Assistant Executive Officer Robert Sherman of the superior court of Ventura County. “Eventually, the plan is for all 58 counties [in California] to be up on this system. The target date [for that] is around 2010.”

The goal is to make the small claims process “accessible and uniform” by providing relevant forms and materials at courthouses statewide.

“The long term goal is for a person that has a case in any county to be able to walk in any courthouse and be able to file that paperwork or to view [the case status],” Sherman said.

He explains that this overhaul began in 1998, when municipal courts were phased out and converted into superior courts. Funding from the counties was eliminated, and courts are now a state-funded entity.

Currently, kiosks are in place to provide information and documents for both plaintiffs and defendants. Sherman estimates that, within the next year, imaging technology will be installed in these kiosks so that both parties can access paperwork that has already been filed.

Boys and Girls Club battles obesity

As childhood obesity approaches epidemic levels, the Boys and Girls Club of Simi Valley seeks to battle the bulge with their Kids Fit Program. Thanks to a $7,000 grant from the Teleflex Foundation, they will be able to expand their resources.

As the club’s chief executive officer, Linda White, said, “The program focuses on helping our youngsters have good eating habits, to cook appropriate food — what it looks like, how it tastes, what is high in calories, what isn’t. We’re really working with the childhood obesity issue.”

“We’ve been working with a team, but now with this particular grant we’ll be able to be much more in-depth and get all the kids who come to the club go through the program.”

Although the program has only been instituted within the teen population at the Boys and Girls Club, Teleflex’s grant will enable the program to include the club’s 400-a-day population.

Meanwhile, White thinks that the program give kids away to keep interested in their health with hands-on participation.

“Sometimes kids don’t like to hear about nutrition,” she said, “but if they get to cook and eat, they’ll do it.”

Our 101 and only

As chair of the State Assembly’s Transportation Commission, Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, has a vested interest in local thoroughfares like State Route 101. It was with great pleasure that he announced the impending improvements to the highway, including the widening of the stretch starting in Ventura County at Mussel Shoals and extending to Santa Barbara at Casitas Pass Road.

“I’m very pleased that Ventura was so competitive,” he said. “The Ventura County Transportation Commission did a very good job in putting the application together so that it would be competitive.”

He added that, along with this proposed highway project, 148 other state proposals — $11 billion total in funds requested — were competing for $4.5 billion available in transportation money.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Nava said of his colleagues’ efforts. “They received 100 percent funding.”

In a statement released last week, Nava voiced his optimism that such measures would alleviate traffic congestion and make both personal and commercial transportation run more smoothly.

The 12 miles of highway — six miles of improvements on either side — “straddle the county line,” Nava said. “I have been told that part of the project will be to create beach access from the La Conchita side of the 101. Right now, the only way to do that is through a drainage canal, an irrigation canal.”

Cold snap assistance

After the recent cold snap, the United States Small Business Administration (SBA) set up outreach centers throughout the county to provide assistance to small, non-farm businesses adversely affected by the freeze.

Disaster loan outreach centers were established in Lancaster, Santa Maria, Carpinteria and Oxnard to help such business owners apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Assistance Program. While the Lancaster and Santa Maria locations closed March 1 due to a drop in demand, the Carpinteria and Oxnard locations will continue until further notice.

“The United States [Department of Agriculture] handles the assistance program for the farm and agricultural businesses,” said SBA Communications Specialist Charmagne Husmann. “We are supporting the Main Street-type businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, even gas stations not getting business they had.”

The deadline to apply for assistance is Oct. 24.

“Even when we don’t have physical presence there for one-on-one contact, people are still able to call our 1-800 number,” Husmann said, “and they can go to our Web site for the application.”

In Brief

Model (continuation) school

A Ventura County continuation school has been named one of the best institutions of its kind in Southern California.

Century High School in Newbury Park is one of 13 schools to be deemed a 2007 Model Continuation School by California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell as part of the Model Continuation High School Recognition Program.

The program is designed to identify top quality schools operating under the California Department of Education’s 88-year-old continuation education program, which helps students who are lacking the credits required for graduation.

“It’s a small school. We only have 30 students and four teachers,” said Principal Jim Martin, “so there’s a lot of personalized attention.”

Fourteen schools across the state applied for the recognition.

While the award will not open the door toward increased funding, Martin said the designation is a source of pride for the staff and the students.

“It’s just recognition for them,” he said. “It lets the kids know they’re in a good school.”

Pick your poison

Three birds of prey turned up dead in the Ojai Meadows Preserve in February, the victims of rat poison, officials said.

According to Fred Fox, executive director of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, three species of birds, usually categorized under the term “raptors,” died after ingesting rodents weakened by poison used to kill rats.

“It’s well known that certain types of rat poison can kill birds of prey,” Fox said. “Birds of prey do not eat dead carcasses. But when a rat eats poison, it doesn’t die immediately. It’s weakened, so it’s easier [for the bird] to catch. The poison is taken into the bird of prey’s system.”

Birds such as owls are important to the Ojai ecosystem, as they help to naturally keep the rodent population down.

Fox said residents who live on the edges of the preserve have been poisoning the rats to curtail the lingering effects of a rat infestation that occurred in Meiners Oaks.

Fox said it is better for people to use either alternative poisons that cannot harm birds of prey or mechanical traps.

“That is true whether you’re living in downtown Ventura or Oxnard, or living out in the country along the edges of a nature preserve somewhere,” he said.

Keep waiting

Historic preservationists will have to wait another month before deciding whether or not to recommend that the Oxnard City Council designate the Wagon Wheel area as a landmark.

The Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board (VCCHB) met Feb. 26 with the intention of finally voting on a decision to approach the City Council with the recommendation for preserving parts of Wagon Wheel, which faces possible demolition to make way for a mixed retail and residential neighborhood. But after deliberating with property owner Vince Daly, the vote was delayed until the end of March because of concerns over due process, said Kim Hocking, staff to the VCCHB.

“[Daly] argued that he hadn’t gotten an accurate description of the exact buildings the board was talking about landmarking,” Hocking said. The board produced an aerial photo and marked the buildings, but it was ultimately decided to give Daly a month to look them over, so “he can’t argue that he didn’t get due process.”

The VCCHB is hoping to convince the council to grant the most significant Wagon Wheel structures — the hotel and the restaurant — landmark status, which would force Daly to adapt them into his development plans for the area.

The meeting is now scheduled to take place March 26 at the Ventura County Government Center.

“They will take action at that meeting, unless some other strange procedural [issue] crops up,” Hocking said.

A few good volunteers

The city of Ventura is looking for volunteers to serve on eight Council Advisory Groups (CAGs).

The groups constitute a sort of “think thank” made up of local citizens who advise various agencies on decisions that affect the community, said Saul Aguilar, city management analyst.

Committees currently searching for recruits include: the Cultural Affairs Commission; the Parks & Recreation Commission; the Public Art Commission; the Library Advisory Commission; Design Review and Historic Preservation committees; Mobile Home Rent Review and Construction Appeals boards; and the Ventura Port District and Housing Authority.

“It’s an opportunity for people to volunteer their time to make a positive difference and make their voice heard,” Aguilar said. “It’s just another medium for them to contribute to the city. A lot of times people say they don’t have the opportunity to participate. This is another opportunity for participation.”

While some of the groups, such as the Planning Commission and the Historic Preservation Committee, require some level of expertise, the only prerequisite for the majority of the CAGs is that each applicant be a resident of Ventura. Size and terms for each position vary.








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