Race relations are not very good in Ventura County.

Since I’ve lived here, I’ve seen our Hispanic community derided by conservative whites for doing nothing but just being here, whether legally or not. There are a lot of Mexican families trying to make a living just like the rest of us, but acceptance is not easy to come by, especially when you read comments posted on a certain online newspaper message board.

It’s pretty obvious that a lot of the negative opinions surface from gang violence rampant among the Latino community of Oxnard, and it’s driven a proverbial wedge so far between that city and bordering Ventura that Thousand Oaks seems like a closer neighbor. Hateful comments abound whenever stories are published about said gang crimes, and even for the good news … I’m thinking of a report on Hispanic kids obtaining internships at local doctors’ offices.

Online posters concocted some hair-brained explanations that somehow it’s the teens’ way of allowing for illegal immigrants to milk the American health care system for free.

This week, a melee ensued during an outdoor soccer match at a Ventura park, whereupon authorities were called to break up the fight, and, since it was not the first of such complaints, the league in question was sadly banned, permanently, by the city’s parks division from all Ventura playing fields.

The reasoning, I imagine, is firstly because one adult player assaulted a teen aged teammate, resulting in his arrest. Secondly, the team can duly find enough room to play in Oxnard, their home city, without bringing crime to Ventura.

Did I mention the team was Hispanic?

Of course not: because it shouldn’t make a difference what race or nationality these soccer players are. Disturbances were made and a crime committed. Rightfully so, the team should ante up the money Ventura Police say they are owed for their troubles, no matter if the men are white, black, Hispanic, or Asian.

These guys are poor sports and sore losers.

Yet, on first mention that the Agricultural Soccer League is Latino, the Internet ire flared up in typical fashion today, generating every kind of racist allusion possible.

In fact, responses I read today weren’t nearly as bad as the “Most Ignorant Comment of the Year” attached last week to an article on county gay pride groups, “It’s my right to be intolerant if I want to!” Spelled in caps, which denotes shouting.

It’s unfortunate we can’t be objective and judge a crime and its consequences for what it is already without placing racial prejudices on top of it. Posters did worse than suggest banning the soccer players from Ventura parks; banning them from the U.S. was more like it.

I’m curious to know what suggestions would be offered if the team was white. A slap on the wrist? Was the penalty not harsh enough for some people because these players were Hispanic?

There are a lot of hard working Latinos in Ventura County who I’ve found to be friendlier than most Caucasian people I encounter here.

It’s time we start developing some understanding — and an ability to relate better to others — for our Hispanic neighbors before we drive this county back into the 19th century with our NIMBY values.

panhandling_head

Take a walk down Main Street in Ventura and you’ll see signs like these pasted in window fronts, discouraging people from giving handouts to homeless people, and to panhandlers who congregate downtown.

The signs are encouraging, as well, because it sends a message to the homeless that real help doesn’t come from earning spare change, rather seeking it in social service programs, rehab centers and seasonal shelters.

Panhandling, according to experts in our city social services department, is just another way to get homeless people to stall and delay getting permanent help. More than likely, the few extra bucks many earn from panhandling go to feed drug and alcohol addictions. When the money runs out, the begging resumes, and the cycle never ends.

It’s all a matter of choice for us, though; window signs or no window signs, we can still choose to give handouts to the homeless if we wish. There’s something selfless to be said about the person who gives a quarter or two to a sidewalk beggar when that money could have gone to paying for (overpriced) parking meters.

But what if panhandling was a criminal offense?

The city council in Santa Barbara, a half hour north of here, supported a majority vote this week to further criminalize panhandling on their streets, where busking and begging are predominant.

The new ordinance makes panhandling at bus stops and near vehicles on public streets, a misdemeanor. A previous law on the books in Santa Barbara prohibited aggressive panhandling.

Should a similar law be in order for the City of Ventura? Would it prompt the homeless to get the help they need? How would they pay the fine? (In Santa Barbara, they charge $1,000. No homeless person can afford that price through panhandling alone.)

The city is already caught between a rock and a hard place on this one. Ventura is viewed by many as one of the only coastal towns truly sympathetic to the growing homeless problem; yet, it’s also criticized for taking too long to do anything about it. A law barring handouts could be the push the city needs to rid its streets of the problem. Or, it could only complicate things.

It’s both sides of the same coin, really.

This week, I spoke to a few domestic violence prevention advocates who stood by the notion that poor economic times equates to a rise in violence, not just domestically, but anywhere you go.

It helped to hear that coming from a band of professionals because we’ve been seeing and hearing examples of it everywhere these days, it seems.

Last night, I attended a healthcare “town hall” meeting in Thousand Oaks — the first in Ventura County — and of course, someone was forcibly ejected by police after a belligerent attempt to rankle some doctors.

By most accounts, it was a tame event compared to the town hall melees across the rest of the country. The image of the guy who got into Arlen Specter’s face a few days ago could turn into one of those lasting American history snapshots. Yet by all accounts, when a poor economy translates into healthcare problems, people seem to get angry.

And just a few days ago, we heard of a fatal freeway accident in Thousand Oaks, where a motorcyclist, in an alleged fit of road rage, cut off (and flipped off) another motorist, paying off the gesture with his life.

The accident dampened all the positive talk of frugality during tough times we’ve been hearing lately … a recent story featured some people who were riding their motorcycles more because of the economy. Yet the increase of bikes on the road leads to the eventual news of accidents. Only this time, violent behavior was involved.

So people are riding their bikes more because of bad fiscal times, yet getting angry at the same time and causing accidents.

A quick Google search reveals articles from publications across the U.S. discussing spikes in domestic violence numbers, as well as maxed-out emergency call centers. And the correlation is to the U.S. economy. The stress from being laid off, out of work, and/or on the brink of homelessness has put a strain on relationships to the point of violent behavior.

Here’s one that makes a link between domestic violence as a cause of financial hardship:

http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/4017

It’s debatable whether officials, who voted this week to approve one of the largest housing developments in Ventura history, are really upping the ante on housing availability and affordability in the city, considering the current market.

The split, 4-3 vote from the city council OK’d the “Parklands” development, a proposed east end home/apartment complex of a whopping 500 units.

One of the big discussions at the council’s meeting was the need for more affordable housing in the city, and just how affordable they’d be. Talk hovered around a one-fifth fraction as the target number of affordable units.

It all seems like a revelatory thing for Ventura, considering criticisms that the city is quick on planning and visioning, yet slow on action. Very little housing is constructed here compared to the likes of an Oxnard, where an abundance of lower-income residents has prompted officials there to fast seek affordable housing (in some cases, charging into preserved farmland for it, too, but that’s another story).

According to reports, if Ventura doesn’t come up and fulfill some kind of affordable housing quota, they could be vulnerable for lawsuits from housing advocates.

Several online comments from readers of those online reports, however, looked down at the prospect, unfairly equating all affordable housing to mean an increase in crime, and a decrease in neighborhood safety.

“Where you find ‘affordable housing’, you’ll find riff-raff,” said one poster.

What they don’t understand in their generalizations is that affordable housing, in the grand scheme of things, is not that affordable at all for the lower income resident. It’s something that not even some of the financially better-off people can even afford. In a desirable place like Southern California, that’s the way it is.

I guess one of the big questions is: affordable or not, will the homes sell? According to a business report in our local daily paper, in Ventura County, 281,000 new homes were up for sale at the end of June — a 4-percent decrease from the month prior. At current rates, there’s almost a 9-month housing supply, and builders are reluctant to construct any new homes until units start being bought and the supply decreases to 6 months’ worth.

By the time the Parklands 500 is added to the mix, will the housing market will be in better shape? And we need to let the public to better understand a. that affordable housing won’t worsen a neighborhood, and b. that Ventura will fall behind if they don’t provide more housing.

If that happens, I predict in a few years a city like Oxnard could become the new county seat.