Intentional or not, that seemed to be the signal I was getting today at a conference in Camarillo devoted to talking about a thing called SOAR.

SOAR, the Save Open Spaces and Agricultural Resources program, is a series of environmental and transportational proposals designed at making Ventura County a more sustainable place to live. Residents voted it in about a decade ago and most towns have implemented its strategies to a certain extent.

In a nutshell, it basically says two things: 1. Sprawl is getting out of hand and smothering whatever open space we have left; and 2. that auto traffic congestion has become so bad that our atmosphere is being killed.

The plan, for those on board,  is to implement smarter ways of developing how we build our houses and buildings, and to find ways to get cars off the road (i.e. public transportation) so Ventura County doesn’t go to … well, hell in an ecologically unfriendly hand basket.

Of course, SOAR needs to be a concentrated effort because it’s a region by region kind of thing. No two cities, no two counties, have the same infrastructure needs or demands.

All of this can be done within reason, according to panelists at the event, if everyone is on board for it to be concentrated. That is to say, hardly anyone outside of the committed few are on board.

“The one thing all Venturans agree on is they don’t want Ventura County to become the San Fernando Valley,” said Rick Cole, Ventura City Manager who spoke at the event.

According to Cole, consensus is there, yes, but county residents haven’t yet rallied together like people did in Sacramento, Denver, or Salt Lake City, where SOAR strategies have been firmly in place for some time.

Darren Kettle, executive director of the county’s transportation commission, listed in detail the copious alternative transportation options people can choose from in Ventura County: bus, rail, etc.

However, less than one percent — 1 PERCENT — of daily commuters in and out of Ventura County take public transit.

It’s a sad fact of life that’s been ignored here far too long, in an area far too apathetic about many a thing, from gay rights, to immigrants’ rights, to saving our environment.

According to a rep from the Ventura County Civic Alliance, three SOAR workshops have already been held, and more are planned. Attend the meetings and get involved, because like riding a bike or learning to fly, we need to take baby steps first.

Not to mention that biking or flying are a hell of a lot more eco-friendly than choking the air with our exhaust fumes.

Unprepared for the worst

September 17, 2009

Just yesterday, the biggest news that came out of Thousand Oaks was that the Bad Ass Coffee Company (who brews some damn good java) would be changing its name to Royal Aloha Coffee.

Connotations to that holiest of Kona beans aside, the owner of the fine establishment said the name change was “to make the community happy.”

If anyone is aware of the demographics in this county, they’ll know that Thousand Oaks is very buttoned up, leaning to the right. It’s the Orange County of Ventura County. They’ll also know that what offends in T.O. wouldn’t make one bit of a stir elsewhere in Ventura County, where bigger problems prevail.

It’s sad to consider this when hearing about the very grim news this morning of a murder-suicide in Thousand Oaks, a community known not just for its mainstream, idyllic image, but one that is ultra-low in crime.

An FBI report released this week revealed that T.O.’s crime rate of 15.4 percent was less than HALF than that of the City of Ventura, in 2008.

Generally speaking, T.O. has had nothing on Oxnard’s gang wars and Ventura’s frequent domestic violence outbreaks, thefts and sometime murders that have grown at an alarming rate.

That’s why when fatalities occur over the Conejo Grade, it rocks T.O. hard, a community that seems wholly unprepared for that type of trauma.

According to reports, the last homicide in Thousand Oaks was more than a year ago. In Ventura, or Oxnard, and even quieter towns like Camarillo, you can lose count of the carnage every month.

It’s a sign that we must always have community awareness that crime will happen, and can happen, anywhere. We have to be vigilant of anything that seems suspicious in our neighborhood.

It sure comes as a wake up call to what really is hard news, and what is not.

As word came in yesterday hat a $15,000 donation has enabled a second battered women’s shelter to reopen in Ventura County, I have to send kudos to Rex Belisle, the Desert Storm veteran we interviewed this summer, for getting his veterans mental health/rehab center up and running.

Belisle, who got in touch with us following Ventura’s annual “Stand Down” homeless veterans event this summer, is a licensed counselor who had desires to start his own military-centric help center for veterans suffering from alcoholism, drug abuse, and outbursts of violence, which Belisle and other professionals have linked primarily to the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Belisle stated that he experienced the same troubles after his discharge from the Armed Forces.

He’d taken it upon himself to get the word out noting that Ventura County had a lack of such resources, especially given the fact that there is also no full-time homeless shelter here.

The Veteran’s Help Center is in Oxnard on West 4th Street. To get in touch with Belisle, call him at 988-1112 x 249, or through email at rex.belisle@veteranshelpcenter.com.

Thought I’d take the opportunity to rebut a letter we received this week from Mr. Jenkin of the Surfrider Foundation, who says that our Aug. 27 article on a beach path restoration in Ventura was incorrect in stating that parking will be impacted.

“Your article,” he says, “incorrectly portrays the beach restoration project at Surfers Point as impacting coastal access.”

In the article, it was reported that the project includes temporarily removing a portion of car parking access while a pedestrian/bike path is moved back. If all goes to plan, and this first phase of the restoration is finished by summer 2010, the parking lot is opened up, back to normal, and all is fine at the beach.

That is, if the project is finished on time. This restoration has been fraught with so many delays that the chances of a project snafu happening are very, very likely. This is a project whose discussions and draft designs date back as far as 1995. 1995!

City purveyors say that in the event of this happening, parking is available across the street on the property of the county’s fairgrounds. But even then, that parking availability could be threatened. If the restoration is placed indefinitely on hold, by next summer parking at the fairgrounds may be needed for fairground events.

Not to mention that the fairgrounds board was resistant to begin with on lending the city parking, and it all makes for an air of reluctancy.

“Could happen,” “Maybe,” “Might be threatened.” The article spoke to the possibility of parking access being taken away. It didn’t state that it would definitely happen. And we wouldn’t run with a story unless such a possibility was truly distinct.

And that’s where the letter writer, or anyone who echoes the same feeling, is misinformed because they didn’t read the story carefully enough. The only error made here is that someone tried to correct us with their incorrect understanding.

It’s worth clarifying.

Healthcare reform smackdowns

September 3, 2009

Strap on your mitts, it's time to go to the healthcare forum!

Strap on your mitts, it's time to go to the healthcare forum!

Why would someone inflict injury onto another person just to show that we need better ways to ensure health for each other if we get injured?

It sounds like some kind of riddled Chinese proverb, or maybe even a lot like the anti-death penalty button sitting on my desk: “Why do we kill people who kill people to show that killing people is wrong?”

All over the country, we’re hearing about makeshift town hall-styled meetings to discuss national healthcare policy reform degenerating into brawls, fistfights and verbal spats. Violence for the sake of relaying a peaceful message.

What’s ironic is that in Thousand Oaks — by and large Ventura County’s safest town — these town brawls are getting out of hand, courtesy of the people you’d least expect it from.

Last month I attended a forum at the library when a man, shirt torn from a heated scuffle, was carted away by police after an attempt at attacking a doctor who didn’t agree with the man’s views on health insurance.

And last night, things got worse at the Thousand Oaks mall, where, at a healthcare forum, one older man was in real need of healthcare after getting his finger bitten during an argument over right vs. left views on government policies.

It’s hypocrisy of a very bad sort.

People always get worked up over things important to them, and perhaps it’s human nature that there will never be rational behavior when trying to dissect really complex issues like the American healthcare problem.

But like our current economy, if we don’t have some kind of organization or rationale behind these town hall meetings, we’re never going to solve anything. In Ventura County, more heathcare meetings are planned through this month, and it’s likely more heated disputes, or worse, could break out.

Let’s hope none of them turn into anything serious, or else someone’s strong stance on healthcare reform could come at the expense of a police record.