Parking meters are those things in life you can’t help but take kind of personally if you use them. I think parking meters, in fact, were created just to make motorists feel guilty.

We never seem to have enough loose change in our pockets to fill up a meter to the max. And if we do, we’re a bunch of bad slowpokes who can’t make it back on time to refill the meter once our time runs out. And when we get there, we’re greeted with one of two things: a big, obnoxious “TIME EXPIRED” or a big, obnoxious parking ticket on our windshields.

If driving a car was like Catholicism, then parking a car is our original sin, and parking meters the penance. We haven’t even done anything wrong to pay for parking to begin with, but we’re penalized nonetheless.

Here’s another one: if parking meters comprise the altar of parking enforcement, then Ventura is the church.

The church, rather, the city of Ventura will soon be handing down their own brand of corporal punishment on drivers after approving this week nearly $1 million in meters and pay stations to be installed throughout the downtown.

It’s a bad idea for more than a few reasons.

The most obvious theory is that downtown business is already suffering in this economy. People are reluctant to pay on everything, from dinner at a restaurant to goods from a shop. Making them pay for parking is another, added, unnecessary expense people are already unwilling to pay in the first place. Parking fees, literally, will drive them, in their cars, in the other direction, and the downtown will become even emptier as they find other, free places to park.

Another is that Ventura doesn’t need paid parking. Paid parking, in a sense, is *meant* to deter certain people from parking, those in-and-out motorists who aren’t planning on parking and spending an afternoon downtown. It’s meant to curb an overflow of traffic. Yet even on the busiest weekend, our small little beach hamlet doesn’t attract nearly a fraction of what you’ll see in, oh Santa Monica, where millions of cars will pass through on any given Saturday.

Sure, every cent from meters will benefit municipal coffers, but it’s not a megopolis like Los Angeles, where the city will end up getting their own coin flow like a jackpot on a Las Vegas slot machine.

In fact, parking meters in Ventura are less like traffic church than they are an unlucky slot machine: keep plonking coins inside the damn thing, with little to no returns. Just lemons all in a row.

In the real world, you’d be making a better monetary investment paying to drive a lemon — and park it for free on Main Street — than you would paying for parking.

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Barring the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and other mortal, natural disasters, nothing tops the destruction of the two earthquakes last week that have all but leveled Port-au-Prince in Haiti, leaving thousands dead, and thousands more in need of relief.

According to data from the American Red Cross, relief distributions are being meted out for 60,000 families — that’s over a quarter million people, to their estimates — in the form of 77 tons of relief. Food, medical supplies, clothing, shelter.

Why in the hell, then, would anybody with a modicum of common sense be daft enough to send a mink coat, high heeled shoes, or an evening gown to the relief effort?

This article says it’s happening:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34958965/ns/world_news-haiti_earthquake/

Apparently, some people think that luxury goods are the best remedy for dealing with a fatal disaster. And the Red Cross, already strapped in time and manpower, must use more energy to sort out the inappropriate donations from the good.

Some of the good donations aren’t even that good. Those old tins of salmon sitting in the back of one’s cupboard won’t do good for the malnourished victim trapped under rubble for five days on end.

Some Americans, says the article, have even showed up unannounced in Haiti, without transportation or resources, and official rescue workers have had to accommodate these do-gooders, taking away from the relief effort at hand.

No, they’re not ungrateful for the kind intentions. But it’s like receiving that loud sweater for Christmas you’ll never wear when you could do so much better with a gift certificate. The best relief effort is by reaching into one’s wallet and sending money; the Red Cross can best figure out where the funds should be allotted.

The local branch of the Red Cross in Ventura County is in Camarillo and currently accepting donations in all denominations.

Checks can be sent to the American Red Cross, Haiti Relief, P.O. Box 608, Camarillo, CA, 93011, or online at http://www.arcventura. org; click on “International Fund.”

Smoking our way to failure

January 14, 2010

All of us not native to the West Coast must wonder some time after moving here if all those stereotypes of California as the country’s health mecca are just that: stereotypes.

People sure do like to light up their mentholated 100s here in Ventura County, which is why the American Lung Association this past week assigned a big, smoking grade of “F” to Ventura County for its tobacco policies.

Overall, not one city in the county got higher than a “D” grade on the report card. Even Moorpark and Thousand Oaks, which received a respective “A” and “B” for enforcing smoke-free environments, still fared poorly.

According to reports, the state spends over $18 billion a year in healthcare costs related to tobacco use: lung cancer, emphysema, and the like.

That means a lot of people are smoking, and a lot of people are getting sick. And smokers won out last year after a proposed increase to tobacco taxes failed. The revenues would have helped fund those healthcare costs.

Yet like all things one sees in school, is a simple letter grade a true and fair assessment of a performance? In other words, just because tobacco control might be less than adequate in Ventura County, does that make all smokers bad people?

Of course not. Some smokers don’t even like to smoke; it’s just that they’re addicted. Many should get an “A” grade for their valiant attempts at quitting.

Not to mention that smoking is a personal right, and to place further restrictions and violations on tobacco would mirror the days of prohibition, when alcohol was outlawed, outright.

The ALA’s standards are high. No state in the entire country received an “A” on its report. To some supporters of the ALA, true health isn’t achieved unless there are no smokers left, cigarettes no longer manufactured.

And we all know that will never happen, because health, like life, isn’t a final destination, but an ongoing journey with peaks and lows. The only advice would be not to start smoking.

It’s not all black and white … just a smoky grey.

Pedro Nava’s work in this past year to enact legislation cracking down on illegal puppy mills tied in with national headlines of Michael Vick’s charges and conviction of dog fighting.

In Ventura County, we’ve started off the year on a similar note, only here it’s cockfighting that seems to be all the rage.

Cockfighting, by definition, is like the animal underground version of a boxing fight club. People bet their money on which rooster will emerge undefeated in a peck-match to the death.

The roosters used in these matches are often “modified” with steroids, not unlike many bodybuilders who use the stuff to gain an unfair advantage. Cockfighting is against animal cruelty laws, and of course, betting is illegal, too, outside of a licensed casino.

That doesn’t stop some people from participating in these events, where in places like Mexico and South America, animal fighting is an accepted, cultural norm.

Towards the end of last month, eight Oxnard men were arrested in a cockfighting raid, and yesterday, another raid by authorities amounted to 43 — count them, 43 — birds confiscated from a cockfighting ring in Simi Valley.

According to reports,  “Investigators said the birds showed all the markings of being trained to fight.” Sounds kinda vague to me, but I’m guessing part of it has to do with the genetic modification/hormone injection.

Will these arrests lead to a rise in animal cruelties and a trend in animal fighting becoming popular? Hopefully, I’ll find that out as we prepare to release a feature story on cockfighting soon in the VC Reporter.