2010: A look ahead

December 31, 2009

What's in store for Ventura County in 2010? A mystery, to be sure.

We closed out 2009 in Ventura County on a reasonably finite note for some important local issues. Five ballot measures all failed at the polls in November. We retained three incumbents on the Ventura School Board, and three more on the Ventura City Council, with a brand new member appointed deputy mayor under a cloud of controversy over his qualifications.

H.P. Wright Library shut its doors, as did several businesses in Downtown Ventura. And, of course, it’s not directly Ventura County related, but how can we forget the death of Michael Jackson and other noteworthy people in the world?

Yet just as several issues are a done deal here, we have so many more open-ended problems and scenarios facing an uncertain future in 2010. What do I predict will happen this year?

-A member of the Flynn family in Oxnard will announce their candidacy for either mayor or the county board of supervisors;

-Opening of the perpetually “coming soon” Collection development off Highway 101 will be delayed, yet again, until 2011, with no signs of significant progress to show;

-And on that note, the Collection’s residential/faux suburban neighbor, the Riverpark complex, will start foreclosing on itself faster than it can expand;

-However, it’s likely that the Wagon Wheel across the street will indeed be torn down in 2010, and the development planned for that site, which has always appeared to stand on more stable financial legs, will make big leaps this year.

-We’ll see a Trader Joe’s open at the south end of the Pacific View Mall; Will it be the knight in a shining … er, grocery cart to save Ventura’s Midtown?

-We’ll see the Victoria Trader Joe’s close, not because the new Trader Joe’s has opened,  but …

-Because the new (and dreaded by some) Wal-Mart will finally set up shop at the Victoria Avenue location it’s held a lease on for some time. And it’ll be the superstore that’s been promised, and it’ll bring the city mucho tax dollars, sans the crime and filth and disarray that’s been wrongly feared as the end of Ventura.

-Will Oxnard get rechristened under a new name? I doubt it, but considering the heat its local officials gets from some residents, they may think of changing the motto from “The City that Cares” to … “The City that Doesn’t”?

-Will Ventura get some changes to its rusty old charter? Unlikely. The requests — elect a mayor, divide the city into “Districts” — is a great idea, but would fly better in a city 10 times the size of Ventura (and one more progressive in its thinking).

-Speaking of which, with the arrival of a new police chief in V-Town, will we see the  departure of a prominent city official or two? Rumor has it that it may be so …

And to ruminate on stuff I can’t even begin to predict …

-How successful will the WAV project turn out? People are moving in like gangbusters; is it the first step in classing up Ventura’s east/downtown end, or is it bound to fail with evictions?

-Is Halaco really, honestly coming down? The EPA says so … but the EPA says a lot of things, and the environmentalists won’t be happy until every radioactive rock in that slag pile is gone …

-In line with the renaming of Oxnard: will Thousand Oaks snub its nose at Ventura County and secede into Los Angeles? I call a civil war!

And lastly:

-It’s realistic to acknowledge that homelessness isn’t going away anytime soon in Ventura County. Neither is this recession, which has been a cause of many a person losing a roof over their head. It’s doubtful that a year-round homeless shelter will arrive in 2010, though it’s very likely the faith-based Kingdom Center will see the light of day. And that, I think, could be the biggest, and most welcome change, that this city and county needs.

Comments and predictions are welcome if I’ve neglected to list anything here.

An explosive holiday season

December 24, 2009

Oxnard police shot and killed a man to avoid this happening. Was it worth the sacrifice?

One of the things that I think irks people on the left in the anti-war movement is the military/government’s concept of “acceptable losses.” You know, letting a few casualties slip by for the sake of the rest of mankind. If the loss of a few hundred innocent people means saving thousands or millions, than it’s A-OK, right?

I’m not saying that the truck driver Oxnard police blew away yesterday was an innocent man. Right out of a scene from a bad remake of “Speed,” this guy hit the gas full speed down the Ventura Road corridor, eluding police in a high speed chase, plowing into parked cars, and injuring a motorcycle cop who swerved from certain death.

It’s worth mentioning that the 70 propane tanks this guy was hauling could have blown sky high, incinerating Oxnard as we know it into sheer oblivion.

What I am saying is that perhaps police could have approached the situation differently, and instead of shooting into the truck’s front cab just to slow down or incapacitate the driver, a 46-year-old Oxnard man would still be alive today.

A few weeks ago I blogged about the debate over excessive force. Last week, we published a cover story on suicides by cop: those sad cases where a gunman or hostage taker is just asking for a bullet between the eyes.

But since Oxnard police shot and killed the truck driver, we’ll never know how or why this incident happened. (He’s dead, and dead men don’t talk.) Maybe he was ill, suffering a heart attack or seizure that caused the truck to careen out of control. Hell, the man could have needed medical attention, not a chest full of lead.

Maybe his brakes went out, or there was some other kind of system failure making the vehicle uncontrollable.

Of course, maybe none of this is true, and the guy really had snapped, laughing maniacally as he led police on, knowing this would be the final joyride of his life.

And, like one of the big rules of crime scene dissection, a million eyewitnesses could see the same event, and each one will have a different account of what happened. So we’ll never really know exactly what went down yesterday in Oxnard, aside from an official police report and another addition to the county morgue.

That’s why the phrase “acceptable loss” is one of the biggest oxymorons this side of the English language. A loss? Certainly. Acceptable? Not a chance.

It’s ironic that during the Christmas season, you’d think automobile safety would be one of the first things on people’s minds. Take a look at Santa, one of the best examples of transit safety, safely buckled into his sleigh as he flies around the world with lots of cargo in tow.

OK, well maybe Santa isn’t buckled in, but his reindeer are harnessed, and Rudolph has got some major wattage in that headlight nose of his.

Aside from accounts of the Jolly Red One getting stuck in chimneys on his way to deliver presents, you never hear about Santa and Co. getting into any fender benders, or worse.

Yet, for everyone else, the holidays always become a major risk time for auto mishaps, drunk driving, and fatalities.

We’re still a week away from the heart of the Christmas/New Year’s season, and in Ventura County, we’re already seeing a number of incidents that could have been avoided.

Tuesday evening, a bicyclist was struck and killed by another motorist in Camarillo. Police have ruled out alcohol or drugs for both people involved in the accident, but there is speculation that had the cyclist been wearing proper reflective gear, he’d have been visible to motorists and wouldn’t have been run down at full speed.

Another cyclist was also struck in Thousand Oaks yesterday, and survived, but it doesn’t make the incident any more excusable considering the driver fled the scene … and the victim was just a 9-year-old boy. Police are still searching for the suspect.

A woman driving through Oxnard last night was lucky to survive a collision from another motorist who was eluding police in a high-speed chase through town. The man had stolen the car.

Two men were also carjacked yesterday in O-Town by a woman who brandished a gun at them. Not exactly a matter of “Auto safety,” but when it comes down to you and your car as the deciding factor for being blown away, I think it qualifies.

Let’s not forget all the driving after a night’s worth of drinking too much egg nog. Oxnard police are setting up DUI checkpoints as early as this week to bolster their holiday drunk driving enforcement; other PDs around Ventura County will be following suit. Sometimes no level of buckling up or auto safety is enough when you’re on the receiving end of a drunk driver.

Bets are open to see how many DUI arrests local police will have made by the New Year …

File this one next to “War & Peace” on the shelf.

The latest we’ve reported this week is that a group of people who want to keep the historic Ventura library open are now going to the Grand Jury to investigate wrongdoing leading to the library’s closure last week.

They say that city officials mismanaged funds and lied about the funds they had which could have kept the building’s doors open.

The City Council and library reps say that the money ran out years ago, and that Venturans had plenty of opportunity to save Wright by voting for the failed Measure A … if they had bothered to read the ballot language closer.

That’s the problem. I mean, is it just me, or does the Wright Library fracas seem to be about everything but reading and literacy?

This comes at a time when the Friends of the Library diligently appeared each week in front of the city council, for meetings on end, pleading for people to show their support for local libraries by taking out a library card.

On top of that, the FOL and its prez, Will Thompson, showed their own support for Measure A by not only campaigning on behalf of the 10% benefits from the proposed sales tax, but raising enough money to pay for 5 months’ rent, to boot.

Now, the Grand Jury petitioners blame those backing the library system, claiming they haven’t done enough. Yet, if we had just a little bit of literacy from Ventura residents, Measure A could have passed and the Wright Library might still be open for business. Instead, for the first time in city history, it’s now an indefinite book repository.

How much of the problem is really about the books, anyway? All the time in the world we see and hear the noisy clamoring of groups loudly campaigning for some special cause, whether its PETA for animal rights, student radicals for peace, or now, in Ventura, a group calling itself “Library Justice.”

Yet more often than not with these groups it’s always less about the issue at hand than it is about themselves. The FOL wouldn’t have upped their library card campaign if readership wasn’t down.

Let’s face it: most paper publications are at an all-time low. Everyone uses the Internet, and e-readers like Kindle were designed to re-introduce people to those foreign objects called “books” with that stuff called “writing” on the inside.

If Venturans really cared about reading books and our library system, they’d have voted for Measure A. They’d take their pens, stop filling out their Grand Jury claims, and instead fill out a library card. And like any good book, they’d move the plot along by supporting the other libraries in Ventura, and stop fixating on a building that’s closed, dead and buried. Because the story must have an end.

And they’d stop making so much noise about the Wright Library, because somewhere, there’ll be a librarian ready to shush them up.

New York for Ventura? Bring on the buildings, I say.

As someone who measures over 6 feet tall, I’m not just talking about height in people.

No, I’m talking about buildings. There’s great debate in this part of Ventura County over what’s too high in size for new buildings. The argument is that in this coastal community, buildings that are too tall block Pacific Ocean views.

The latest snafu at the city planning commission is that officials can’t approve a proposed hotel near the coast because some people have complained it’s too tall and obstruct their view of the sand and sea.

Reports reveal that at a proposed 4 stories high, the hotel would measure up to 50 feet at certain points.

Fifty feet is a veritable skyscraper in Ventura, considering that the failed Measure B, which sought to restrict building heights to just 26 feet within the city limits, still gained enough support that I wondered if I was the only one in this town to not experience symptoms of vertigo around tall buildings:

To put it another way: anybody who thinks 26 or 50 feet –or anything under 100 feet — is too tall, they need to get out of Ventura and see more of the world.

I come from the East Coast, where cities like New York epitomize the true sense of growth, commerce and progression in the size and volume of their buildings. It’s not building for building’s sake: it’s the addition of more commerce, industry, and room to accommodate people, and to foster activity and vibrancy.

Sure, this isn’t New York — it’s not even L.A. — and people are entitled to keep their town as sleepy as they like, even if people like me don’t necessarily agree with the style. But unlike New York, which builds up, Los Angeles is infamous for building out, resulting in the dreaded sprawl counties and cities like Ventura have worked to avoid.

Initiatives like SOAR have done a good job at preventing sprawl here. Ventura County isn’t built out. But where we save on width, shouldn’t we compensate for in height? If we limit our building heights as well, we limit the growth needed to survive in this economy.

If Ventura is seen as the anti-growth place, businesses and employers of any reasonable size or reputation won’t be attracted to set up shop here, and that means no added revenues … which means a faltering city budget, and more financial cuts to come.

It’s all tied together, and the dispute over the hotel is just one example. It’s simple: build a large hotel, give more room for more tourists, and the city adds to its coffers because Ventura becomes a place that people take seriously and want to visit and spend time at.

We have to abandon the mindset that a couple of tall buildings means Ventura turns into an urban wasteland. Fifty feet or 26 feet or anything under 50 stories is not too tall, Ventura.

We need to start adopting a more metropolis mindset into the way we grow here, and realize that building up also means growing up as a community.