yellowLight

I think yellow lights at traffic signals are underrated. We damn the red light and turn the same color when we’re stuck at one too long, and we cheer if we’ve whizzed through a succession of green signals without nary a stop. But the yellow light gets stuck in this state of ambiguity reflecting its pale color.

The yellow light is important because it’s the go-between — the middle man, if you will — of the red and green lights. Without it, driving amounts to a series of abrupt surprises. We’d never anticipate when green turns to red, forcing motorists to stop on a dime. And that means a whole lot of worn-out brake pads, fender benders (or worse) and overtime for our car insurance agents.

Or, it could mean one just blows through the red light, gets caught on the police camera and opens their mailbox to find a nice big fat ticket with incriminating photo attached.

Before taking all this into consideration, my first thoughts to the county grand jury’s examination of one yellow light in particular left me thinking that they’ve run out of things to investigate. But one intersection in Downtown Ventura — namely, Thompson and California streets — has a yellow light that stays illuminated just a second too short, grand jurors say.

It’s enough time, they say, for the red light-running scenario to happen all too often: people don’t have enough time to stop, the camera does its job, and as a result, 38 percent of the Ventura P.D.’s tally for red light violations in 2008 were at that intersection.

So why not just tack on a second to the yellow light? Apparently, it causes another problem. City transportation officials say adding that second takes away a second in duration from the green light. That means less time to go, more time stopped, and more traffic congestion. And we all know how backed up traffic can get around here.

What’s crazy is that instead of tinkering with the damn light and/or contriving some traffic mitigation measures, officials have actually considered building another off-ramp from the freeway as an alternative to divert traffic.

Of course, the source of the story, our daily paper, mentions nothing of how much that could cost. But you can be sure it’ll cost a coupla million more than dispatching a public works engineer to tweak the timing of the light.

None of this, mind you, takes into account people’s lousy driving skills in Southern California, where green means go, yellow means go faster, and red means it’s Indy 500 time.

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Stamp out those butts

June 20, 2009

Prepare to do this to your cigarettes if you plan on visiting Moorpark anytime soon.

Prepare to do this to your cigarettes if you plan on visiting Moorpark anytime soon.

Calabasas started it. Thousand Oaks has enacted similar guidelines. Camarillo is thinking about it.

Now Moorpark becomes the next city in the greater Southland area to ban smoking in public places. And judging by the online reaction in the past day, the news has set many people alight (so to speak).

Most of the ire and criticism on the decision is based around beliefs that smoking is a personal liberty, and that government shouldn’t interfere with personal liberties … especially if it harms nobody directly.

Does it?

Before Moorpark came into the picture, we reported on the issue a few months back and talked to some of those same critics in Ventura County. The reactions were the same: people should have the right to smoke where and when they want to. And secondhand smoke? That’s a whole lot of malarkey, they said.

The other side of the ashtray contends, in not so many words, that smoking, as an activity, should be cut away like the cancer it causes.

But health issues aside, the thing I’m wondering is: how long before similar legislative actions start taking hold up the Ventura County coast? If places like Thousand Oaks and Moorpark in East County have anti-smoking rules firmly in place, when will cities like Oxnard and Ventura — the county’s main hubs — establish similar, identical laws? Or, for that matter, Ojai, the county’s adopted health Mecca?

Pro-smoking lobbyists, and to a lesser extent, conspiracy theorists, may opine that these are the steps along the path to making smoking illegal in the sometime near future.

Remember, if that happens, tobacco = cannabis in the rule books.

But anything is possible. After the Moorpark news was announced yesterday, a colleague of mine surmised what our society would be like if someone could be thrown in jail for dealing tobacco.

It doesn’t sound too far off, I said, from sci-fi movies (i.e. Demolition Man) where sex is outlawed, and every restaurant is a Taco Bell.

You can be sure that if the last part ever happens, you’d better put out your menthol 100 before ordering that burrito.

It reminds me of something out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel: characters working in the corporate world who try to outdo each other by wearing nicer suits, flashing better business cards and boasting of their restaurant reservations.

In the end, they all end up anonymous to one another, reaching the point where mistaken identity abounds. Characters are confused for other characters and implicated in situations they never participated in to begin with.

We wastefully spend so much money trying to stand out and be unique that we all end up unintentionally conforming and looking the same. It’s a luxury, I suppose, that can be pursued if one is employed and has a cash flow.

But strip away all the artifice, and it can become saddening when mistaken identity finds its way into places like the homeless community, where holding onto personal identity is sometimes all one has to call their own … especially when crime takes place.

This week, we heard of an altercation in downtown Ventura between two homeless men, resulting in the arrest of one for attacking and seriously injuring the other.

The suspect’s motive was that he thought the other man was somebody else when he kicked him in the face with a pointed cowboy boot.

As of yesterday, the victim was still in stable, yet serious, condition.

This is not a problem we should leave up to the homeless to clean up. In many respects, it’s our fault altercations like this have happened in our town.

Venturans, by and large, have done next to nothing to improve our homelessness problem. A quick scan of our daily paper’s message board, or a stroll downtown, reveals an inordinate level of conservative, holier-than-thou scorn and disdain to those who live without a home. It’s no wonder there’s a high level of mistaken identity — we treat the homeless like they’re inhuman.

We allow brawls like this to happen, too, because of apathetic attitudes towards establishing a bona fide homeless shelter here. But NIMBYism prevails and nobody wants one within 10 miles of their backyard. We keep the homeless out on the street.

It’s only through efforts of some local clerics and activists that moving forth the shelter plan has materialized beyond just an idea on paper. One Unitarian church received this month a grant nearing $20,000 for their awareness plan.

Spearheading this campaign, they sponsored last year a program remembering the homeless in Ventura County who died last year. They put faces and names to the people we would have most likely forgotten, if acknowledged at all.

It’s time we started doing the same for the ones who are still living.

Or Newark. Or Detroit. Or Washington, D.C. Or Philadelphia. Or any one of the most crime-ridden cities in the world.

Yes, right here in Ventura County, Oxnard qualifies more and more as a war zone that spawns act upon violent act.

News of a 13-year-old teen — a boy, in all respects — gunned down on a downtown street last night makes me wonder when we’ll ever see a turnaround in violence here.

Every time a shooting, stabbing or other assault or murder happens in Oxnard, the extreme details become worse and worse. How young must the victims get? At 13, was Joseph Jacquez any kind of a threat to someone armed with a gun?

At 13, would he even have had gang affiliations yet? (If he was even going down that commonly-treaded road in Oxnard.)

Word is that the shooting could have been random … a typical form of gang initiation. Last year, it was speculated a female motorist shot in the face while at a downtown Oxnard stoplight was the victim of such a initiative shooting.

It’s a case of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Especially in parts of Oxnard, where there’s a better chance of being gunned down than the odds are of dying in a car crash.

It still doesn’t change the fact that the likely teenage gunman won’t grow up to change his ways … and that the teenage victim won’t grow up at all.

cand_zaragoza

People love to scrutinize politicians. I think their every move is followed even more closely than those of our Hollywood stars, because the decisions they make can directly affect our livelihoods and finances.

The big thing this month was poring over every minutia of Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office, right down to the very last detail. In Ventura County, we have John Zaragoza, our Fifth District supervisor who unseated longtime incumbent John Flynn last November after years on the Oxnard City Council. Zaragoza’s campaign was hailed by his supporters much like those for the president … a candidate for change.

He’s also been equally microscoped, especially by the pro-Flynn camp, for his first 100 days, where people wait for any kind of procedural slip up, political gaffe, or groundbreaking victory.

Zaragoza had an update this morning, at a chamber of commerce breakfast, on his 3 month-plus run, giving an interesting, if a bit predictable, repartee on the machinations of his office, constituency goals and what he’s accomplished so far.

It’s debatable if he’s done much headline-grabbing stuff worthy of note, which begs the questions: is he ineffective, or is 100 days not enough time?

Consider this: it’s only 100 days out of a 1,460-day, 4-year term. An appraisal of our president might work for something like this, but let’s face it: he’s the President, in charge of the whole country.

Zaragoza is in charge of just one section of one county in all of the State of California.

And I know it’s tradition and all to do the 100-day thing, but some traditions are just dumb.

Zaragoza can take credit, so far, for planting seeds and taking small steps in his new position. What’s he done in 100 days? According to the supervisor this morning, he began partnering with 8 boards and commissions; appointing people to the same; done some field work on Capitol Hill in Sacramento; furthered the sewer project in our unincorporated regions; and the biggie, re-instating the El Rio Municipal Advisory Council.

The supervisor also showed his chops at understanding financial matters, evidenced by his breakdown of Ventura County’s budget. Using a pie as metaphor, he went on to demonstrate how a healthy, $1.64 billion general fund can dwindle down to $78 million in discretionary dollars through payments, cuts and the like.

Basically, the pie is almost gone when the county’s finance department is through with it.

If real change is enacted in the Fifth District, it will come from some big time curtailing of gang violence; getting El Rio and Nyeland Acres hooked up and running on their own sewer systems; dredging the harbor; and making sure Oxnard city officials don’t get away with more wasteful spending.

It might take a hell of a lot longer than another 100 days, though.

The O.J. of the VC

June 3, 2009

From the way the Faria Beach case is unfolding, the suspected killer of a Ventura couple has got nothing on O.J. Simpson, pictured here in his 1994 mugshot.

From the way the Faria Beach murder case is unfolding, O.J. Simpson, pictured here in his 1994 mugshot, has got nothing on the suspected killer of a Ventura couple.

Two weeks from today will mark the 15th anniversary Orenthal James Simpson was arrested for the brutal stabbing murder of his ex-wife and her companion.

In the most famous of  criminal trials in the history of the U.S., O.J. was acquitted, but the stigma of the crime, and the public’s certainty that he was the real killer, have persisted to this day.

The more I hear about new details emerging in last month’s shocking Faria Beach murders here in Ventura, the more I’m reminded of O.J.

Here we had a wealthy, attractive couple, attacked stealthily in the night, stabbed multiple times, with the mystery killer slipping away, leaving the most horrific of crime scenes.

At first the killings of the Husteds, much like Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, were considered random. But those claims have quickly turned into theories that the killings were planned and the couple targeted.

Today, it was reported that police have warrants to search four vehicles (including a boat) registered to Brock Husted. The search warrants are sealed.

(Sealed search warrants = The police know something more they don’t want to tell us.)

Going on the warrants alone tells anyone that there’s something deeper to this case, i.e. that the Faria killings were not random at all, planned out to the last detail.

Online posters and conspiracy theorists have conjured up scenarios of a secret affair gone bad; business deals soured; or personal animosity sent further awry.

Just the most cursory of details points the crime in that direction. There was nothing taken from the house (eliminating robbery); a knife, not a gun, was used (the killer kept the incident quiet); and he/she concealed their identity with a motorcycle helmet (could they have otherwise been recognized by the Husteds?).

The killer, once caught, could become the O.J. Simpson of Ventura County. There’s no doubt this trial will be highly publicized beyond belief: the switching off of legal teams, wrongful death suits abounding, the final penalties dire.

Whatever the outcome, if you take away all the rest, both crimes are similar in at least one way: people had to lose their lives through senseless violence.

Spot the gravemarkers ... the only indicators that Ventura's Cemetery Park is actually a real cemetery.

Spot the gravemarkers ... the only indicators that Ventura's Cemetery Park is actually a real cemetery.

The debate over what to do with Cemetery Park is dragging on for so long it’s like one long funeral.

A funeral, I say, because it seems everyone involved on both sides of a heated redesign proposal for the Midtown Ventura parcel is already mourning the loss of something that hasn’t happened yet.

Those who want to keep the park as it is — a recreational space for dogs and residents — are mourning the possibility of their play space being taken away. Those who want it restored back to a cemetery have been mourning the interred there for over 40 years. And neither wants to see the $4 million memorial project go through. The former group even has 960 signatures stating so.

This debacle is also like a funeral because, like so many are, it ends up becoming more about the people grieving than it does about the deceased being buried.

With the exception of one man in Ventura who’s dedicated all his passion to restoring St. Mary’s back to its religious graveyard roots, everyone seems to forget there are over 3,000 people in the ground at the park. They’re under your feet as you run and play Frisbee with your dog, or volleyball with your mates.

It’s just an observation, and not meant to malign. I walk by Cemetery Park almost daily and enjoy the green space for what it is. But if you do pass on by, spotting the sparse amount of markers is like a morbid game of “Where’s Waldo.”

Excepting this contentious issue, I have to give credit to our city council for thinking of other people’s needs first. They decided to defer their decision on the park redesign on Monday because there wasn’t enough time left in their meeting. Better to drag on the problem than make a hasty decision that will only end up being divisive to Venturans.

I do hope that the council, whatever they decide, can consider that Cemetery Park, by name, is contradictory and needs a new moniker. It’s a cemetery, yes … but is is a park? Well, sort of.

My suggestion? If you keep the park as is, rename it something new and snappy, like “Poli Park,” or “Midtown Center Park.” Obviously, by maintaining the status quo, you’re further ignoring the dead under the ground … the “Cemetery” in Cemetery Park would sound so insignificant at that point.

If you revert it back to a graveyard, bring back “St. Mary’s Cemetery.” Because it’s never been anything but.

And by approving the new memorial project, “Cemetery Park” becomes more appropriate, because it strikes a good balance between the cemetery and the park.

It’s the least we could do for making this problem less about us … and more about them.

There’ve been an alarming number of fistfights, and worse, in Ventura County this past week.

Downtown last week the “Hush” fight, outside the popular Ventura nightclub, made headlines when the brawl made its way outside to a parking lot late one evening.

And yesterday, we’ve heard of a soccer game in Oxnard that resulted in an all-out round of fisticuffs.

Disturbing, for one, is that both incidents were cases of antagonists refusing to pick on someone their own size (or age).

In the Hush fight, it was Robert Garcia, 34, who was arrested for assaulting a man 12 years his junior.

At the Oxnard fight, it was a 23-year-old soccer player who pounced upon a 15-year-old opponent — a mere child.

If you think that’s bad, consider that Garcia, a former professional boxer, knew that he’d have an unfair advantage even if his victim had agreed to the challenge.

Violence is deplorable, yet there was a time when dueling, however archaic, was a mutual thing between men who stood up to a challenge.

Here, we have two poor sports who can’t cope with losing. The one big distinction? This is no game.

We have lots of gang violence here in Ventura County, but even then, there’s an understanding that the (playing) fields are somewhat level; the rivalry is welcomed.

But with these incidents, it’s just a case of bullies pulling their weight against someone they’re sure they can win over. It’s a cowardly thing to think that a pair of grown men still resort to these kinds of behaviors.

A drunken fight outside a nightclub late at night is almost somewhat predictable … and I suppose a brawl from a sport such as soccer, which can get rough, seems common. But it makes you wonder just how safe we really are. It’s as if a fight could break out anywhere, at any time.

At best, it makes one more aware of their surroundings. At worst? It can make you fear for your safety.

Have you ever been stuck in a place where an unexpected fight broke out? Share your thoughts.