by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

For two and a half months, life in Ventura County was the same old same old. We had science, politics and the environment on our minds. Kids designed an experiment bound for space, a NASA engineer talked about the missions to Mars, everyone was looking to the Super Tuesday March 3 primary and the city of Ventura embroiled thousands of residents in the Ojai Valley in a water rights adjudication that has yet to be concluded.

By March 19, we were living in a vastly different world — and our coverage reflects the mounting concern and massive changes to everyday living brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. 

While we managed to find other things to talk about from time to time, COVID-19 was the driving force behind nearly everything that happened for most of the year. Here we take a look at the stories that stood out in 2020.


Mars rover Curiosity, which landed on the Martian surface on Aug. 6, 2012. Photo courtesy of NASA

Children are indeed the future, and our Jan. 1 edition featured the students of Ventura Missionary School, who partnered with NASA and Quest Institute to design an experiment testing heat transfer in outer space. The experiment was later rebuilt for eventual travel to the International Space Station.

Stories we also covered in January included a look at the Petrochem site in the Ventura River Watershed, the water rights adjudication initiated by the city of Ventura with regards to some 10,000 property owners in the Ojai Valley and the work of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office’s Human Trafficking Task Force. Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer Kobie Boykins discussed his work on NASA’s Mars missions.


FIRST PLACE | Michelle Stevens
“Puppy Dog Eyes — newly adopted Emma says, ‘Enough photos, time for pets!’ ”

February saw the beginning of our election coverage, as we informed readers about the various races and candidates on the ballot for the March 2020 primary, including the U.S. House of Representatives, State Senate and Assembly, Ventura County Supervisors and Superior Court. Our Feb. 12 issue covered Valentine’s Day, and we celebrated by showing our love of photography, awarding prizes to the top three winners and displaying several more in a series of wonderful “honorable mentions.” We hit the ground running at the end of the month, with a feature on Ventura County’s Legacy Runners — those who have completed every single L.A. Marathon since the first one, which took place in 1986.


SARS-CoV-2 viruses binding to ACE-2 receptors on a human cell, the initial stage of COVID-19 infection, conceptual 3D illustration

In honor of Women’s History Month, we planned on featuring as many stories about women as possible. We started off strong, sharing the life and times of centenarian Tomie Katsuda of Oxnard and lifelong activist Lupe Anguiano. By the time the March 19 issue hit newsstands, however, life in Ventura County had changed dramatically. The coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease caused by it — already declared a pandemic, and spreading rapidly across Asia and Europe — led to school and business closures, a rush on toilet paper and a nearly collective silence as all enterprise except the most essential came to a standstill, thanks to a statewide stay-at-home order issued by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on a March 19. Our editorial team went into overdrive to keep up with the constant influx of pandemic-related updates and news coming in. We also reported on Dr. Sabine Hazan and her team at Progenabiome, who were working on a series of clinical trials aimed at developing a treatment protocol for COVID-19.


Alexa Coughlin shows a mask she has sewn for local healthcare workers. Photo submitted

Unsurprisingly, our coverage in April was dominated by COVID-19 — and efforts made across the county to try to inform, protect, engage, feed and inspire people. We wrote about the citizens who took to their sewing machines, workshops and even 3D printers to make up for the shortage in masks and other personal protective equipment. Museums and galleries threw pretty pictures, video tours, interviews and more online, and local bars tried to stay afloat with to-go cocktails. We did manage to share the drama unfolding at a bald eagle nest at Lake Casitas — a rare and welcome departure from everything pandemic.


Robin Gardner (left) and Peter Miller are the founders and owners of Dogleg electric bicycles in Ventura. Photo by Kimberly Rivers

After taking a look at the bar scene in April, in May we checked in with local restaurants to see what strategies — mainly takeout specials and teaming up with World Central Kitchen — they used to keep going. We extolled on the virtues and pleasures of electronic bicycles, discussed one university dance teacher’s approach to online learning and presented our annual summer movie preview . . . with all the new releases coming to the small screen.


Jason Cotter during the June 7, 2020, VC BLACKOUT in Ventura. Photo by Jonathan Dixon

In a salute to Ventura County’s graduating class, 2020 high school seniors shared their thoughts on what completing their education amidst a shutdown was like. Later we covered the Black Lives Matter protests and examined the legacy of Junipero Serra in light of demands for the removal of his statue from in front of Ventura City Hall. We ended the month on a story about the power of community created by a meditation group.


The Diversity Collective Ventura County team, from left: Kelly-Marie Jones, Genevieve Flores-Haro, Tess Allen, Dahkotahv Beckham, Ken Barrow, Patricia Logan, Roland Catabona and Luis Andrede. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

Burro Flats in the Santa Susana Mountains is associated with numerous local Indigenous tribes. It also overlies the former site of the heavily contaminated Santa Susana Field Lab. We did a deep dive into the site, its nomination to the National Registry of Historic Places and the role of environmental cleanup in the process. Members of the Diversity Collective Ventura County discussed the unique challenges facing LGBTQ+ individuals during the pandemic, while local volunteers talked about their work with unhoused residents of the Santa Clara River bottom. The circus came to town at the end of July, and we told the story of the Zoppé Family Circus ahead of its drive-in performances at the Ventura County Fairgrounds.


Zuli Jimenez, Manager, Ventura Bike HUB; Coordinator, Community Roots Garden Photo by Luis Chavez

We revisited our Women’s Issue coverage that got curtailed in March with inspiring interviews and profiles of several women in Ventura County — individuals who crossed the spectra in terms of age, politics, education, career and interests. As the new school year started, we looked at how the various districts in the county were handling distance learning. Our other stories in August included the tale of one family that lived through a household-wide coronavirus infection, and the challenges of serving the homeless during the pandemic.


Ventura River at Foster Park. Photo by Kimberly Rivers

Culture and art took center stage this month, as we did a walking tour of Foster Park with Matthew Vestuto, a member of the Barbareño/Ventureño Band of Mission Indians, and strolled around the Ventura Botanical Gardens to see the stunning works of outdoor sculpture exhibit <em>Arte Forastero.</em> Dr. Sabine Hazan spoke with us again about her continuing research into the coronavirus, and Monica White of Food Share discussed her organization’s efforts to address the growing food insecurity in Ventura County. We also kicked off our election coverage, with a look at the mayoral and city council candidates in Simi Valley, and the Ventura County Supervisor race in District 5.


Most of our October coverage was devoted to the 2020 election. We interviewed Ventura City Council candidates in Districts 2, 3 and 7; considered the differences between Tim Flynn and Carmen Ramirez, vying for the District 5 seat on the Ventura County Board of Supervisors; and examined the impacts of Measure O and the commercial cultivation of cannabis on the county.


Layla at home after being missing for two days. Photo submitted

The role of agriculture in combating climate change was a hot topic in November, and the story of missing pet Layla demonstrated the important work of local nonprofit Dog Days Search and Rescue. Students participating in the PhotoVoice visual literacy program had the opportunity to inspire change in their community through photography. We also presented our 35th Annual Best of Ventura County issue.


When it was announced in October that an Amazon fulfillment center was coming to Oxnard, citizens and officials alike began contemplating what that would — and would not — mean for the community. We spoke with several interested parties and attended an online panel discussion to inform readers of the many perspectives centering on the e-commerce giant. We also encouraged everyone to shop local with a handy gift guide to products made by or readily available from Ventura County businesses. Following a rare orca sighting in the Santa Barbara Channel, we shared some information about these fascinating “wolves of the sea” and their behavior in the waters near the Channel Islands.

That’s a wrap for 2020. A year none of us will probably ever forget (try as we might). There’s been more tragedy than comedy, to be sure. But there have been some positive things to come out of this, and many will come away with a new perspective, more compassion and a better understanding of what’s important. 

It is my hope as well that the VCReporter has successfully informed and inspired our readers, and provided the tools necessary to go forth, boldly and intelligently, into the future.