It sounds like something out of “Alice in Wonderland”: disappearing cats, magic elixirs, gargantuan elephants.

For Ventura, the last part is all too real; it’s no fairy tale.

If anyone saw our editorial cartoon last week, the “elephant in the room” gag was used to great effect by the VCR’s Steve Greenberg to describe our growing homeless problem in Ventura.

According to stats released yesterday, it sure has grown — homelessness is up 12 percent from last year.

The numbers were compiled from the city’s homeless census count, conducted annually by a group of homeless prevention advocates from the Ventura County Homeless & Housing Coalition.

The 12-percent jump amounts to almost 2,200 people without a home in Ventura County, compared to just under 2,000 in 2007-2008.

What’s upsetting is that the census head count reflects only a quarter of total homeless people here, according to the homeless prevention rep from the county’s government center in Ventura, because that’s how many people they estimate are out on the street at the same time.

In reality, it means there are up to 8,000 homeless people countywide seeking shelter, crashing at someone’s house, sleeping in a public bathroom or stairwell. And never mind the balmy California weather. It can get cold here in the winter … and it’s that much colder when you have nowhere to hang your hat.

Find results of the homeless census here:


Well, the numbers are in, and it looks like hardly anybody showed up to the polls yesterday for our state special election.

Assuming that most people voted on all six propositions, there were hardly 110,000 people who voted.

There are over 750,000 people living in Ventura County. Barring mail-in ballots, that adds up to only 15 percent of residents who left their houses Tuesday to cast their votes.

For the record, Propositions 1A-1E, aimed at reforming the budget through rainy day funds, lottery modernization, and redirecting of funds from mental health and children’s services, all failed.

Only Prop. 1F was the no-brainer. The ballot measure which asked to deny public office holders raises in pay when the budget is in fiscal flux, won with voters.

It’s been talked about ad finitum that the people who did get out to vote weren’t that well informed about the issues because apathy got in the way. But it could be that some people decided to sit this one out because the propositions have been criticized as useless ways of achieving no balance in our $42 billion budget deficit. Why vote on something that won’t make that much of a difference?

I don’t know. I always thought what mattered wasn’t the outcome of the vote, or how you voted … but why.

Please write in … why did/didn’t you vote yesterday?

Last November, Election Day crackled with the electric excitement of getting a new president into the White House.

Lines at polling places trailed out the door, at all times of the day that Tuesday, and in my town, it was no different.

Needless to say, the hustle, bustle and flow was well worth it if it meant getting Obama elected.

Today, I ambled down to my nearest polling center, again, to participate in California’s statewide special election. I expected a similar volume of able-bodied, eager voters ready to exercise their Constitutional rights.

As I walked in, I at first thought they had closed … the place was empty. Not a single person stood in line. There wasn’t even anybody on their way out, having just cast their ballot. There were only two volunteers on duty.

According to one of the volunteers, in my district I was voter #57 in 5 hours.  That was from 7 a.m. up till noon — more than half the day.

She said plenty of people had turned in their ballots by mail … but, alas, if voter attendance in person continues through today the way the numbers tell it, we’ll be lucky to have 100 people show up to vote.

It’s pretty evident that this special election has garnered little interest here in Ventura. It’s proof that our town truly is filled with apathy … or that the six propositions posed to us truly are confusing as all hell to decipher and comprehend enough to vote on with any confidence.

At just past 1:20 p.m., there’s still over 7 hours to go out, cast your ballot, let your voice be heard, and make a difference!

“NOO!” is the answer I gleaned from the county taxpayers association’s endorsement of Proposition 1F.

The association opposed all six ballot measures appearing on next week’s statewide special election, but this one seemed really opposed.

It’s the sort of way “No!” is exclaimed when a computer crashes and someone forgot to click “save”; basically, “no” with a dozen o’s trailing off into nothingness.

Or, at least that’s how it appeared. The group’s published endorsements of props. 1A-1E read “Recommend vote no.” 1F, “Recommend vote noo.” A simple typo, but one that could imply extra gravitas to the intended meaning, or another meaning altogether.

I’ve been on a bit of a bender lately for seeking out typos in print. It’s important, at least for a weekly paper, because we have a longer shelf life than a daily, where amending an error after 24 hours is not financially feasible without re-printing thousands of copies. And we know that’s impossible and impractical, so misspells, erroneous reportage and grammatical gaffes loom overhead for seven long days until the next edition hits the streets.

Which brings me back to the special election. Having just completed our own endorsements and editorial coverage of the election these past two weeks, we noticed that a lot of special interest groups have tended to oppose or support the six measures across the board. That, or some people are uninformed altogether. There were very few people I found who discriminated proposition to proposition based on their individual value systems and beliefs.

Is the special election a hurried affair? Is the California public as informed as they should be on matters which hinges our fiscal future?

Whatever the case may be, even if your vote is a resounding “NOO!!!!”, typos or not, make sure you stay informed and make your vote count.

(And let me know if you find typos in this blog.)

I’d like to make it be known that I am a devout animal lover. Sometimes interacting with a pet is easier than reasoning with other humans.

But sometimes animals can push the limits of a person’s sanity, and it’s through the fault of their homo sapien owners.

It was almost heartening to discover on the daily paper’s Web site today, dozens of reader comments sympathizing with residents of Simi Valley fed up with the incessant barking of neighborhood canines. In this case, Simi residents complained to the city council about 11 unruly dogs who live along a small cul-de-sac.

I don’t live in Simi Valley, but I fully relate to the problem.

In my neighborhood, dogs can be heard barking any time of the day or night. Next door, across the street, down the block. Sometimes, a dog howls in the middle of the night, and like a chorus, other dogs join in for some canine cacophony.

The problem is that often these dogs are encouraged in their undisciplined behavior. If I listen closely enough, I can sometimes hear my next-door neighbor try to get his dog to howl. First he howls, then the dog. Repeat two dozen times.

He knows it’s annoying to the neighborhood, but does it anyway out of some juvenile compulsion.

But largely, as readers understood, sometimes people neglect their pets, leaving them lonely and crying for attention:

“The reason the dogs bark is because they are not getting the attention a healthy dog should get.”

“I know they are lonely. No one, not the kids or adults, ever pays attention to them.”

Unfortunately, when this persists, it becomes a code enforcement, animal control, or police issue … or, in the case of Simi, it goes straight to the city council.

There are noise ordinances on the books in every municipality, but it’s up to pet owners to remain responsible before it becomes a legal or criminal issue.

One man quoted called the enforcement/complaint system “insane and unworkable,” citing an incident when a brick was thrown through his window after he asked a neighbor, politely, to quiet his barking dog.

This is far below the quality of life we’re owed as homeowners and tenants in Ventura County.

This is a county filled with many dog owners and dog lovers. But, of course, there will always be some bad apples in the bunch.

So how can we solve the problem?

An empty forest? No wait, it's Thousand Oaks.

An empty forest? No wait, it's Thousand Oaks.

This month, the City of Thousand Oaks will hold its annual Public Works Awareness Week, honoring the men and women who hit the streets every day to repair severed water mains, fix cracks in the pavement, and who make keep mended the precious infrastructure we all take for granted.

This week, city officials also laid off 10 of its public works employees.

I’m reminded of the phrase, “If a tree falls in the forest and there’s nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

So, if Thousand Oaks is a forest (hence its name), I can think of a crude, yet effective, analogy:

If the city holds a public works party and there are no public works employees left, does anybody show up?

We appreciate city officials’ daring honesty; after all, there isn’t anybody in this country, governmental, private or otherwise, who hasn’t tightened their proverbial belts in some way to save money in this Recession-come-Depression we’re living through in 2009. Making cuts to valued, longtime staff is hard.

It could happen to you or me. “At-will” employment has taken on a whole new meaning.

But could the T.O. City Council have had worse timing in all this? The fashion, and the manner, suggests that by the time Public Works Awareness Week arrives on May 17, 10 more employees could be handed their pink slips.

Granted, these were employees who were awarded retirement buyouts up to $20K each. Essentially, they were about to leave anyway. Still, this morale killer in the midst of a morale-boosting campaign is a bit … well, devoid of morale.

“Revitalize, Reinvest, Renew” is the theme of this year’s National Public Works Week. In Thousand Oaks? “Layoff, Buyout, Goodbye,” is more like it.

For once, local authorities rescued a stray bear instead of gunning it down.

For once, local authorities rescued a stray bear instead of gunning it down.

As members of this great county we call Ventura, aren’t we all supposed to work together, cooperate, learn from each others’ mistakes and good deeds at once?

Of course! Which is why the Santa Paula P.D. could stand to learn a thing or two from Camarillo animal control officials.

The other day (file in “odd news”), a stray, 250-pound baby cub bear wandered into a Camarillo aprtment complex. Don’t ask me how it happened, or why (maybe he was looking for some new digs, on-site laundry, etc.), but the important part is that when animal control arrived, they tranquilized it and later released it back into the wild near Fillmore.

The picture-perfect, professional response by authorities is in stark, complete contrast to an incident a few months back, when officers from the Santa Paula Police Department shot and killed a baby lion.

It was yet another example of police shooting their way out of a situation, this time killing a harmless cat who weighed no more than 15 pounds.

Compare that to a 250-pound bear outside your apartment door, and it’s no wonder a separate inquest ruled the Santa Paula shooting unjustifiable.

“Excessive force” goes beyond the badges and the guns of police, or simple human interaction between civilians. We can all learn a thing or two from Camarillo’s response about humane treatment of man and animal alike.

Whenever a news story breaks about some problem that could have turned out better had decision making not been so arbitrary, flawed or biased, you can always count on readers to chime in online with their comments.

Today, when word came out that Ventura College would be closing its longtime community swimming pool, school officials’ reasoning was that the aging aquatic center was poorly constructed to begin with, and that it is literally sinking.

It’s no wonder one reader of the (dubious) news source compared the aquatic center to the sinking house in Venice, Italy.

This week has been abundant with local stories of odd education happenings that leaves one questioning the tastes of school administrators.

Officials are looking to spend $1.5 million on an IMAX theater at Camarillo High School. Fiscal recession no big deal? When I was in high school, we were lucky to get a worn-out reel-to-reel projected on a peeling, stuccoed wall.

There’s been some dispute and debate over the amount of time local teachers put in before earning tenure.  Never mind these veteran professorial stalwarts who became tenured only after 10, 15 years of service. These days we’re hearing two scant years, 24 months of rookie duty. It’s simply not enough time to gain the experience needed for such coveted security.

And then there’s the recent swine flu scare. Without making light of the situation, was it really necessary to shut down Newbury Park High for a full week?

One of the best people who rises above in the world of education is Jeff Stern, who founded a local skateboard group for high school students. It’s become one of the best athletics-academics links this county has ever seen before, encouraging self-esteem, good grades, and athletic prowess.

For VC, better to follow soaring skaters in Venice, Calif., than sinking structures in Venice, Italy.