Don't be fooled by the plastic bag ready to whale on Mr. Paper. He's blue but he's still Republican.

Walking into the Capitol Grocery Store in downtown Sacramento, there’s some canned Republican hot air for sale. It’s filled with empty calories, a lot of stale preservatives, and it’s been sitting on the shelf for a really long time. Not even a bona fide “red tag” sale can get this deadstock moving.

On the other side of the store, in the fresh produce section, there’s some Democratic food for thought palatable for your health, your well being, and the well beings of others around you. Lots of people swear by the Democrat Diet plan. Not a whole lot of blue stuff, mostly green, but green is close enough to blue. That’s because the Green Party would support the plan.

Which would you choose? Better yet, how will you package your merchandise on the way home?

Paper? Or plastic?

Sometime during the middle or end of this summer, that may not be an option anymore for California, since the Assembly’s already passed a bill banning plastic bags in grocery stores:

They’d like us to make the sensible choice favored by many a Trader Joe’s patron: purchase a reusable, durable cloth bag that need not be discarded. This, they say, will cut down on the amount of non-biodegradable waste inherent in plastic bags. Plus, it’ll cut down further on paper bags, which wastes trees.

Paper vs. plastic has become, like most other decision-making in politics, a partisan issue. Democrats largely favor the plan in place. But Republicans balk at the 5 cents that consumers may have to now pay for plastic bags a piece should they be sans a cloth bag or bags.

Their reason is that it’ll make lower-income families on food stamps or what have you even further strapped for cash.

The state grocers association supports the move, and apparently, it’s been so influential that the state chamber of commerce and taxpayers association have revoked their disapproval of the “cloth bag or pay extra” plan.

I admit, I take my groceries home in plastic bags. But then, I just haven’t invested in a cloth bag … and plastic is the only option at the Ralphs self checkout.

Excuses? Maybe. But the bigger question is why should our political leaders be debating about this? Shouldn’t it be up to each individual grocer? The last I’d seen, Trader Joe’s only offers paper, or cloth, bags. Mainstream grocers offer both.

It’s another example of politics invading every aspect of our day-to-day lives. And like all politics, it’s got to be partisan: left, right, paper, plastic.

Is there another way to neutralize this issue before a bunch of plastic and paper bags are strewn across the Senate floor? What would the Independents or Libertarians think? What would be another grocery analogy to all this?

Maybe that there’s a bunch of Alka Seltzer on sale down aisle 7, and that our stomachs, upset from all this partisan bickering, don’t care if it comes home in a plastic bag.

Perspectives on crime

May 27, 2010

Comparing Ventura's crime with L.A.'s crime is like comparing these two pieces of fruit together.

There’s no denying that crime is bad in Ventura County, especially in places like Oxnard. It seems like at least 75 percent of deaths logged by the grassroots Parents of Murdered Children took place in the city. Brutal gang violence on a daily basis, drug problems, and the like.

Some crimes, though draw more attention than necessary. Take the Oxnard P.D. shooting of an armed robbery suspect this week.

The guy, who had just been freed from jail three weeks prior,  was apprehended by authorities and shot during a standoff. Some are claiming it was another case of “Suicide by cop.”

Others are coming down on the cop for using excessive force. Others still, waving the racist, anti-Latino card once again, have even said the deceased had it coming(!).

Our local competitor’s Web site logs over 360 reader comments on the story alone. The back and forth, and back and forth … and back and forth … continues for a story that, frankly, is small potatoes in the big bad world of Los Angeles crime.

Take this blog entry, for example:

There were 16 … count ’em, 16 … killings in L.A. County last week. Four of them were domestic violence-related. That’s in one week. Ventura County hasn’t seen the likes of that for years.

Taking the officer shooting story, along with another local story today on a very inebriated, aggressive man getting ejected from a Simi Valley bar — both standard policies for both cases — makes one wonder why we get so up in arms in the VC over incidents that don’t hold a candle to what happens south of our county line.

If it means that we live in an *overall* safer area, there should be no reason to complain … that is, unless we want to duplicate L.A.’s spate of criminal activity in Ventura.

Could that happen? Maybe. Police officials like to link medical marijuana dispensaries with a rise in crime. Many marijuana dispensaries in L.A. are closing up shop. Could they migrate north and bring crime with them here?

Scroll down three blog postings on this page to find out.

Stabbings on sale

May 20, 2010

They should never have closed the Ventura Police Department annex at the Pacific View Mall.

It’s still vacant after having shut down for over a year now … no replacement vendors, nothing. That was well before the failure of Measure A, the ambitious sales tax increase, 40 percent of which would have boosted our public safety services.

Would having the police annex do anything to curb crime at the mall? I certainly think so. Take the stabbing which occurred yesterday at the mall.

From what we’ve heard, two young men were accosted by three other young men at the mall, a fight ensued, and mall security were summoned to break up the fracas, already unnerving to shoppers and visitors.

But that wasn’t enough. After getting kicked out of the mall, another fight broke out, and one of the two original victims was stabbed. It was only then that the police were called. Arrests were made, yes, and suspects are in custody with some damn serious charges against them (attempted murder, street terrorism, etc.).

But had the cops been there to begin with, it’s likely the stabbing wouldn’t have happened, in my opinion, because arrests may already have been made. The suspects were gang members and could have had existing warrants. Or just the sheer intimidation of the law would have cut off any scuffle right there.

Instead, the mall, which I always thought was pretty safe, earns a shady reputation.

The argument isn’t really over the hypothetical “what-ifs” of the situation had the police been there first or not. It’s *why* the police weren’t there to begin with. I say it’s because of trust.

Yes, we’re still feeling the fallout of rejecting Measure A because we didn’t trust our elected officials to pump money into public safety funding through a sales tax increase. It’s a very familiar feeling that doesn’t go away: this week, we got news on the closure of a fire station, also from a lack of public safety funding.

It makes me wonder where else fights will break out … the frozen foods aisle of the grocery store?

It’s only primary election season, so we don’t have any important tax increase ballots this time around, with a public safety option, in Ventura. Still, it’s worth remembering this stuff for June 8, and in future elections:

Know the *real* details of ballot measures and proposed legislature in your city … and give elected representatives a second chance to fund critical services. How many stabbings or shootings do we need to realize that?

The mall might be a great place to go to fund stuff on sale, but aggravated assault isn’t one of them, no matter how deep the discount — or the knife wound. I’d pay an extra sales tax for that.

An ass-inine choice

May 14, 2010

A new recruit for the prolonged Rocketdyne cleanup.

I don’t know if animals will ever get the kindness and respect they’re due on Planet Earth. Even in 2010, during a time when we’re supposed to be so evolved as people, we continually treat them as some kind of inferior species.

Take a look at the news and everywhere you look, there’s some injustice being done to animals. CNN reported today …

… that people are getting up in arms again about the shi-shi class who eat foie gras, and the pain and suffering inflicted to geese and ducks by enlarging their livers for the delicacy.

We reported this week that the always-conservative congressman Elton Gallegly made a noble, yet surprise, step forward for the benefit of gerbils, mice, bunnies and kittens, victims in so-called “crush videos.”

The videos, depicting said animals being stomped and killed (usually by a dominatrix’s heel), is a cruel subset of the porn film industry, and Gallegly is crafting new laws to ban the videos after a previous ruling was recently overturned federally.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, this week the EPA is looking to use mules to carry out toxicity monitoring at one of Ventura County’s two favorite nuclear dumps: the Santa Susana Field Lab, AKA Rocketdyne.

The mules, according to a video on the VC Star’s Web site, will wear special saddles on their backs with a sort of geiger counter-esque reader to determine levels of radiation and toxicity.

Rocketdyne needed cleaning up 100 yesterdays ago, but don’t you think there’s a more humane way to do this? As in, by not exploiting animals? Or their health?

You’d think with nearby Simi Valley’s affinity for horses and equine culture, there’d be a bit more sensitivity to mules, or any other four-legged animal they might send out into the trenches of contaminated rocket testing pits.

Whoever rubber stamped the decision to dispatch animals to clean up a human’s mess should ask themselves:

Who’s the real ass?

OK, so I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know why glaucoma patients should have all the fun. I’m only severely near-sighted. But if you’ve got a medical marijuana card, you’ve got carte blanche to light up and smoke away your ails.

Except in Ventura County, that is, where there are longstanding moratoriums in each of our cities against permitting marijuana dispensaries. Typical notion of typically, yet disappointingly, conservative mores we have here in (mostly) liberal Southern California.

That could change, however, since it’s been reported that over 439(!) medical MJ dispensaries in Los Angeles might be shutting their doors:

According to the Times, they have exactly a m0nth to close up or else face misdemeanor charges that carry jail time and thousand of dollars in fines … all for growing and selling some plants.

But I’m not here to argue the illegality of marijuana in itself, but of dispensaries. Seems like many of our L.A. medical MJ providers are doing so without the proper permitting because the LAPD doesn’t properly enforce moratoriums in place here and there in L.A. County.

What? Does that mean Ventura County is actually doing something right? We have no dispensaries here (at least none that are publicly open for business).

It still doesn’t mean that after L.A.’s “weed cutoff date,” as I like to call it, of June 7, that dispensaries won’t start heading north and setting up shop here in Ventura County. It’s not unlikely at all, either; there’s a great demand for it, there are already dozens of medical MJ home delivery services, and plenty of people have tried — through the proper channels, too — to establish their own dispensaries as legitimate business ventures.

I think it’s only “high time” (pun intended) that we’ll start seeing medical marijuana dispensaries in Ventura County soon enough after the L.A. exodus.

And you don’t need to be suffering from glaucoma to not see it.

I’ve always had to stand up for my native New Jersey because it’s relentlessly maligned as the most polluted state in the U.S.

It may be true, but I’ll bet you that the entire north and central regions of NJ’s industrial zones, where yours truly grew up, ain’t got nothing on the smog and dirty air in the whole of Los Angeles.

L.A., unsurprisingly, made the top (or is it bottom?) 3 U.S. cities list this week for the American Lung Association’s pollution report card.

Aside from the Bakersfield and Fresno areas, as well, which also landed on the list, you might as well lump Ventura County in there, too, not because we’re near Los Angeles, but because of our unflattering “Bakersfield by the Sea” handle. Yes, the sea is just a veiled disguise hiding the pollution underneath.

A big fat “F” for pollution, particularly in smoggy, airborne ozone particles. The VC has the distinction of earning its failing grade for the past 11 years.

Yet, according to news reports, the county’s air pollution control district is quoted with the rationale that an “F” really isn’t an “F” after all. Huh?

“A lot of the problem is that the federal government made standards more stringent. What the ‘F’ doesn’t tell you is that air quality has continued to improve over time.” — APCD director Mike Villegas

Is it semantics, an interchangeable alphabet, or just the fact that letter grades don’t mean squat anymore? If the APCD is saying that an “F” really reflects an average healthy air quality grade of “C” or even a passable “D,” then why does the ALA keep flunking us?

The APCD chalks it up to the fact that transportation, weather and topography play a role. Where coastal areas get an ocean breeze to clear the air, inland areas like the Ojais and Simi Valleys of the county collect and trap smog. When you average it all together, you end up with a failing grade when, overall, the air really isn’t that bad to begin with.

Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reduce our vehicle emissions in our car-addicted county, par for the course in SB 375, the greenhouse gas bill. Maybe then, in a few years, our letter grade really will be a true, more respectable “C.”

You may cough all you like, but I will admit, we do get a bad rap for the air here … even though the Garden State, for all its flaws, sure sounds a lot more appealing than Bakersfield by the Sea.

Welcome to Banarillo

April 15, 2010

“Welcome to Banarillo, where you can’t say, smoke, drink, or do anything.”

There’s been lots of talk about Oxnard re-imagining and re-branding itself into a fresh, new image, and it seems like a tough task. They’ve got vicious gang wars and ghetto areas that rival Third World countries.

Yet you look at Camarillo and there’s a whole lot of … well, there’s not a whole lot of anything, actually. So why is it that they may have an even harder time turning their image around?

The truth is because it’s already changing to a place some critics say allows no freedom to do anything.

In the last year, city officials banned a safe sleep program, unlike places like Ventura, which permit homeless people to camp in their cars.

Three weeks ago, I blogged about Camarillo’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. Now, city officials are clamping down on smoking of the legal kind: cigarettes.

Under the new rules, smoking is permitted only in the most scant of public places, including dining and recreation areas. Motels and hotels must also designate a whopping 80 percent of their rooms as non-smoking.

Lots of people are up in arms about this. Even non-smokers, who believe that a ban such as this isn’t about health; it’s an invasion of privacy.

But much like my previous blog posting today about outdated plans, in the 1960s, there was less awareness to the dangers of smoking. Today, there is awareness, and all of it points to the fact that smoking is bad for you and those around you.

Another study released today even revealed that smokers are more likely to be depressed people.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported that among male smokers aged 40-54, 55 percent suffer from depression. Among women aged 20-39, 50 percent are depressed.

The way I see it, you can moan and groan all you like about how city officials don’t know what’s best for you … but when you look at some of these numbers (cancer stats notwithstanding), they actually do know what’s best for you and me.

Camarillo’s decision follows suit from cities like Calabasas, the strictest Southern California city in terms of smoking regulations.

So if Camarillo is slowing becoming known as “BANarillo,” it’s an image change that we should welcome with open arms … and lungs.

What Oxnard once envisioned its grid would look like, waaaaaay into the Year 2000.

Here in 2010, Ventura County seems pretty sparse and spread out, and some people seem to like it that way. Personally, your faithful blogger is one of those people who would like to see a bit more urbanization, build out, and diversity in the good ol’ VC, since I don’t like watching the grass grow as my only option for fun.

Nonetheless, according to some planning documents from the city of Oxnard circa 1960-something, we are 10 years behind the ball on those wishes.

Although we couldn’t reprint it in our Earth Day issue this week due to space, I reprint here a scan of the document I got my hands on. It doesn’t look like much, but if you zoom in, you’ll see the recognizable handle shape of Oxnard criss-crossed with lines and lines of freeways, streets, arteries, and interchanges galore.

We’ve still got the 101, and the 126 today, but back in the 1960s, when Arthur C. Clarke/Gene Roddenberry visions of the future were the believable norm, we must have thought that every square inch of Ventura County would have highways, tunnels and thoroughfares overlapping each other as far as the eye can see.

The map is more than just some retro curio; it takes into question how much we tend to get ahead of ourselves in a planning perspective. Are we ambitious, or just unrealistic?

I wouldn’t exactly say that the plans were off base with basically predicting an overgrown sprawl — since I’d like to see Ventura County look a bit more metropolitan. But if you’d have included plans for flying cars, robots, and the Jetsons, then we’d be talking!

In my humble opinion, I say dash the 2030 plans the city is working on currently. Take a cue that “smart growth” can be had from the city’s archaic “2000 General Plan.”

Growth is good.

Sometimes, all we have to do in planning for the future is to look to the past.

There’s debate among most people acquainted with the personality of Ventura County that the West County — the Venturas and Oxnards — are governed with a more liberal hand, while the East County — the Simi Valleys and Thousand Oakses — take on a decidedly conservative, almost strict, tone in rule.

Then you have Camarillo, the center dividing line of them all, smack dab in the middle of the county. One might expect that Camarillo gets a mixture of the two camps. But is it a city even stricter than its counterparts to the east, a city where *nothing* goes?

In the past year it seems as if nothing has been allowed, and everything’s been banned. Last year, officials voted down a pilot program allowing homeless people to sleep in their cars, a decision the Ventura City Council welcomed with open arms in their city.

Last week, Camarillo also enacted, a complete, total ban on marijuana dispensaries — no chance at them ever popping up anywhere. They’re not allowed in the remainder of the county, but in places like Ventura, there’s still a moratorium in place, which means there’s still a small chance of dispensaries setting up shop.

There were indications at a special VCOG meeting this week that Camarillo also wasn’t receptive to building up, instead of out, to prevent sprawl. Not an outright ban, but contrary to Venturans’ decision late last year to ban a ban on building heights.

What’s the reason for Camarillo’s unwavering stance on these things? They’ve taken great strides in welcoming higher education (CSUCI), enhancing its downtown (PBID), and encouraging public transportation (i.e. a high tech transit center). They’ve also done their best to amend its local education system, to no avail, by proposing a new high school.

Other issues, like stopping the introduction of a prison hospital, aren’t outright bans, but we can’t argue that opposing the building was a good thing for the city.

But are the city’s other bans really good for the city? Might disallowing medical marijuana or a safe sleep program stick Camarillo with an unfriendly label? Or would allowing those things encourage crime, vagrancy and safety problems?

Weigh in with your comments: Just what is it that makes Camarillo tick?

If you had to choose, would you take the piercing sensation of lead discharged into one of your extremities from a loaded .45, or the circulation-killing clamp of a pair of handcuffs? Which one hurts more?

Two men in Oxnard may know the answer to that last question. In two separate incidents, they were shot through no intent of their own, yet still arrested for the trouble.

In the first, a man with a stolen handgun accidentally shot himself this week. In the second, it was the cops whose gun accidentally went off, sending a bullet into someone’s arm.

Both men were subsequently arrested. And both events are raising questions over police responsibility, and ultimately, police carelessness.

Granted, if you look deeper into these men’s stories, there’s more to it. Mr. Whoops-I-Shot-Myself did so with a stolen gun. And it was the shooting that alerted police to the fact that the gun was stolen, *and* that the victim was also a suspect in a number of outstanding arrest warrants.

In the other shooting, the cop’s gun went off *only* because he was trying to apprehend the Oxnard man over an alleged rape/assault complaint.

Essentially, when you look at it, the cops were following the letter of the law. It’s unfortunate these men were wounded by firearms, but they were wanted for other crimes. Getting shot doesn’t exempt them.

Yet some people are intimating that all charges on everything should be dropped for the trouble these men went through. There are people who wait for the police to slip up at any moment. “Police brutality? Their gun discharged accidentally? Let that suspect go even though he’s a serial killer!”

True, in the second case of cop’s gun-on-suspect, there’ll be a civil suit, and he might make some cash off the incident. There may even be charges of misconduct down the line in the P.D. But that doesn’t erase the fact that he was a criminal, being apprehended for another crime he should be off the streets for anyway, bullets in the arm, leg, head, anywhere notwithstanding.

I think it would go something like this: “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime … even if you do bite the bullet.”