One of the most hotly contested subjects in the county is the debate over whether or not to bring a Wal-Mart to Ventura. The company has had plans to bring its megastore to a former K-Mart, and it’s drawn rejection mostly from a group called Livable Ventura, who opposes the big-box retailer from coming anywhere near the Victoria Avenue plaza.

The group is surely unhappy to learn news yesterday that Wal-Mart has unveiled its official methodology for opening a 130,000-square foot store space: clustering the vacant K-Mart and a series of adjacent, equally vacant buildings together.

So, since the opposition would rather see anything but a Wal-Mart here, I thought I’d offer up some alternatives that have worked elsewhere across the country. In this case, I found examples of Wal-Marts and other big box franchises which have closed down for some better, more “accepted” fare.

This is what our empty K-Mart looks like now:
walmart

But for an alternative option that would suit the thrift-store loving, independent retail pride of Ventura, how about emulating the Peddlers Mall? Denizens of Nicholasville, Kentucky are sure happier with these flea market digs than they were with a Wal-Mart:

walmart3

Ventura’s oft-used nickname “Ventucky” doesn’t hide for one second our city’s affinity with the grand ol’ deep south. Kentucky? Ventucky? Peddlers? Coincidence? I think not.

Nicknames with conservative implications aside, we’re also pretty religiously bent in this right-leaning town, too. How about a church instead of a Wal-Mart?

In Pinellas, Florida, a Calvary Chapel had been previously congregating in a Winn Dixie, but finding its devout congregation growing too large for its holy britches, relocated to a newly-shuttered Wal-Mart. It’s been eight years since the move and, by the Grace of God, nobody could be happier:

walmart1

If I were to implore our local city council (as a private citizen, of course), this last alternative would be my choice because it’s the most appropriate fit for our Kentucky-loving town. In Southern California, “ethnic” cuisine is generally a choice between Mexican and Japanese. But let’s not forget Hawaiian food, and its primary usage of that canned good stuff we know as SPAM!

walmart21

That’s right, folks, in Austin, Minnesota, people are in SPAM heaven since the town’s K-Mart was made over into the national SPAM Museum, pictured above.

Just don’t blame me if the town’s new moniker ever becomes “SPAMtucky.”

15 pounds of feline terror

February 26, 2009

Thinking it a heinous threat against their 9 mms, Santa Paula police shot and killed a baby lion not unlike this one.

Thinking it a heinous threat against their 9 mms, Santa Paula police shot and killed a baby lion not unlike this one.

It always irks me, for the sake of reportage, when gross miscalculations occur and find their way into official print. Gaffes happen all the time, and human error is inevitable: an estimate off, a wrongly-spelled name here, an incorrect age there by a year or two. Hell, having worked as an obituary writer at one point, we had disputes over things like survivors and cemeteries.

But never, of course, over whether the deceased was, in fact, dead or not.

That’s why I wonder how officials from the Santa Paula Police Department could report originally that a mountain lion they shot dead in a residential area, an “imminent threat” at a fully-grown, husky 35 pounds, was less than half the weight.

I’m sure when a big cat is staring you down, five pounds can seem like 500 to the uninitiated eye. But this cat, just 15 pounds at only six weeks old — a kitten by most standards — was blown away without hesitation. But the difference in the cat’s weight, now confirmed at a wee 15 pounds, is like night and day.

Having just printed this week in our paper an expose on local attitudes towards firearms, it makes me wonder if the SPPD are putting the typical spin on justifying another law-sanctioned shooting.

I found some opinions on the putdown, featured yesterday on our local daily paper’s Web site.

Bad judgment.. Ok, so now what? Fire the officers? Ok, so now we have two potentially good cops off the street AND we have the expense of retraining new officers. Sensitivity training for them? Maybe, but what are the chances this will happen again to the same two officers? And what would the cost be of training police how to recognize a real wildlife threat? Does it suck that a precious little “kitty” got shot and killed? Yeah, I guess, but it happens every day in the roadways, at the pound, and so on. All I’m saying is that it’s a lesson in how society thinks when there are so many people that are so disturbed by a story like this one, and it makes me wonder how much better the world would be if people put this much passion and thought into solving REAL problems like homelessness, hunger, poverty, and so on…

And another:

You guys are unreal. Have you ever been face to face with a mountain lion? Regardless of size, they aren’t like your house cat. They don’t judge you on size, you are still prey for the most part.

In case you are wondering, yes, I have been face to face with one, in my back yard. It was terrifying, and he wasn’t much bigger then this one (the finding was 21 lbs at the necropsy(sp?)) but not any older. I can vividly remember that damn cat, even though it’s been over 20 years. That “cat” didn’t seem worried when fish and wildlife showed up, and in fact hissed and growled relentlessly when they tried to approach him. They tried to “shoo” him away, they tried offering it food, but nothing worked. They did fire the tranquilizer gun first, but it had such little affect they ended up shooting it. This was just “a little kitty” too, but it was the scariest time I ever had in my yard. They are aggressive, territorial and will attack without warning, and sometimes without provocation.

Once you folks can say you have been in the shoes of someone staring down at a vicious, dangerous animal (regardless of size) you have no right to critize these officers or anyone else.

Shoot, you people go ape-shyt over a dog biting someone, and because it may be of a particular breed, they should all immediately be put down. Ok, sure, but lets have mountain lions roaming our streets? How skewed is that thinking?

Skewed or not, what other options can we take when wild animals wander into the neighborhood? Could the police have reacted differently? Or are their guns just extensions of their … er, badges?

Literary larceny

February 26, 2009

jose-g-hernandez-11771821 risa-monique-hernandez-1177176

It’s already pretty obvious that print journalism, as I’ve referred in another blog post, is going the way of the long-extinct dodo bird. And with all the talk in the techno world lately about those new digital readers many predict will replace those bound pieces of paper with writing on them we know as “books,” it looks like one local couple this week tried in vain to save the printed page by stealing it.

The theft of at least 23,000 publications from Newbury Park-based Sage Publications by Jose and Risa Hernandez of Simi Valley plays out like a twisted version of a “Fahrenheit 451.” Instead of the burning of books, their obsoleteness by mere attrition prompted a salvage effort by the Hernandez’s.

They were caught after a probe into Sage’s operations revealed the books — estimated at $1.1 million — were swiped by the couple when the materials, left in bins for recycling, went missing.

Of course, I’m not painting the couple as a pair of heroes. Their motive behind taking the books was for resale on the Internet. According to the police, the online sale of the books yielded a great profit margin, thereby undercutting the official retail price of Sage books from its parent company.

For the crime, the Hernandez’s are facing charges of grand theft and possession of stolen property.

One thing’s for sure: there’s an awful lot of time in prison to read a book.

“One City” fund = $10K

February 19, 2009

The last 20 minutes of an anti-homelessness event in Ventura on Monday served as the tipping point of the $10,000 mark raised to keep struggling people in their homes.

Sherry Cash, an activist with the local homeless prevention task force, said the money will go to protecting over 60 Ventura County families at risk of losing their homes due to financial crises or escalating bills that put one’s residence in danger.

The first annual fundraiser was held at the My Florist restaurant downtown capping off a weekend pledge drive called “One City, One Weekend, One Fund.” By 2:40 p.m., about $8,100 was earned through a combination of private and business donations; by 3 p.m., $10,000 was reached.

She said the money will be distributed through three groups on a rotating, monthly basis: Project Understanding, the Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities.

Interested parties can contact any one of those groups to see if they qualify for the special funding; families can receive up to $1,000, Cash notes, in aid.

As of just 30 minutes ago, a pledge drive raising funds for preventing homelessness in Ventura County has exceeded expectations, surpassing the $8,100 mark.

The “One City, One Weekend, One Fund” event at My Florist cafe in Downtown Ventura this afternoon recognized a weekend-long effort to bolster money that the Ventura Social Services Task Force will use to help struggling families on the verge of losing their homes.

Some of the high donors include the Ventura Kiwanis Club, $1,000; the Unitarian Universalist Church of Ventura, $2,800; $500 from private donor Claudia Hoffman; and $200 from Sherry Cash, a homeless prevention activist.

According to Cash and Ventura City Councilman Neal Andrews, who was at the event, the members of the city council also forwarded $100 each to the cause.

The Web site onecityventura.org has more info on preventing homelessness in the county. Also check out the Feb. 12, 2009 VCReporter article, “Homelessness not an Option,” at vcreporter.com.

Lethal egos of legal eagles

February 11, 2009

A colleague of mine commented in their blog yesterday that the lack of respect for, and derision towards, the local gay and lesbian community in the year following Oxnard teen Larry King’s murder is on par with the childish antics of a fifth grader.

I’d like to say today that the attorneys handling the trial of King’s alleged killer are just as childish, if not more. I’m not a lawyer, so maybe someone can chime in here, but to my eyes, I’ve seen too many high-profile courtroom cases that end up becoming more of a spectacle for preening attorneys and judges, than they are about serving justice.

The murder trial against Brandon McInerney, the 15-year-old being tried as an adult for the classroom shooting death of the openly-gay King, is the perfect example. Firstly, it begs the question: should a teen be tried as an adult?

Secondly: does a teen even understand the very adult charges and the very adult atmosphere that a court of law demands from people?

The lawyers in this case are articulate and top notch, yet manipulative. In today’s daily paper, the prosecutor is quoted as saying McInerney’s second round fired into King’s head was the “coup de grace” shot, in line with the boy’s “Racist, skinhead philosophies.”

If I was 15, I don’t think I would have understood half of what was being said here, much less the gravity of the charges. An attorney’s job, yes, is to persuade a jury to go down one of two paths: guilty or innocent. But would any conscionable juror, though, ever consider that the grandstanding and deliberation and legal posturing are really more about the lawyers’ images than the person on trial?

I would, and that’s why I would probably never make it past the first round of jury selection.

I’m reminded of the late judge Laurence Rittenband, who presided over Roman Polanski’s sex crime trial in the late 1970s. It became more of a sideshow about the judge’s self-important, Hollywood image than it did about bringing justice to the fore.

Where’s the real childishness on display here? Is it from the ego-stroking legal side? Or is it from the underage minor who committed a very adult act?

A truckload of complaints

February 5, 2009

welcome2

If revolutions start with a single dissenting voice, in Ojai there’s got to be a full-scale war going on pitting man vs. truck.

We’ve previously reported about the ongoing outcry that certain Ojai residents have expressed over the seemingly immense amount of traffic hauling rocks and gravel from the Ozena Mines, and through the quiet streets of Ojai, which the same residents maintain is illegal.

I say seemingly because the members of the Stop the Trucks Coalition have devoted what seems to be a literal, no exaggeration, 24-hour, 7-day-a-week hawk’s-eye watch on just how many trucks stir up the disquiet on the main Ojai thoroughfares.

Proof is in the number of emails we’re forwarded from the coalition addressed to county officials, detailing, on a daily basis, the time, date, street, even the description of each individual truck coalition members claim is in violation of local traffic laws. Apparently, many of these trucks are too heavy to travel along many local routes, and do so past their allotted curfews.

What impresses me is not only the level of devotion taken to monitoring the tedious crawl of trucks — it wouldn’t be a stretch to surmise these people don’t eat, sleep, or work! — but the level of detail. Example:

On February 3, 2009 between 8:05 am and 8:17 am, four double hopper gravel truck heading north on Route 33 were tracked going through the restricted zone.  The first one had a black cab and two yellow hoppers, the next two were from Swader, and the fourth had a blue cab with white hoppers.  If any of these vehicles had been going to Ozena, their trips would constitute yet additional potential violations.

That was the 46th complaint this year, too.

Of course, the tangibles are only one part of the problem. What I’ve gleaned from interviews with coalition members is that the biggest debacle of all is the typical lack of transparent government; most notably, the reluctance of officials to release key documents and tickets that would reveal just how much these trucks weigh, or if they’ve been traveling at improper times.

If these documents would be readily available, of course, one side could prove the other wrong, or both, or neither.

But, alas, that is the stuff of a perfect world, and it’s because of the imperfections that cause controversy that the news industry exists to report on. Because if the news was like a gravel truck that ran smoothly, on time, and didn’t weigh too much … we’d all be out of a job.

Phil to the rescue

February 2, 2009

groundhog

Happy Groundhog’s Day! Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, which means we’re in for another six weeks of winter weather.

We spoiled Californians can’t vouch too much for anything resembling a chilly, frigid climate, save for the winter of discontent that has been this bad economy and scale-tipping unemployment rate on the West Coast.

Just today it was reported that another major retailer — in this case, Macy’s — was swinging the axe down on over 7,000 jobs. And in Ventura? Downtown businesses have seen it worse. Businesses are closing, opening, and jumping from storefront to storefront to cut costs, making Main Street a veritable commercial checkerboard. Corporate bigwigs are looking for entree into the downtown sector, but it’s still too early to see how that will pan out with consumers.

None of this is taking into account, either, the already unemployed, who have been facing problems collecting their out-of-work benefits due to enormous caseloads wrapped up in red tape at unemployment offices.

If only Phil could predict there were just six more weeks of bad economics, we could rest a bit easier and not feel like we’re all Bill Murray, repeating the same day, over and over and over … and over … again.