Everything but the kitchen sink

March 4, 2010

And you thought it was just about coffee and donuts, didn't you?

Just when you thought that the caffeinated, caloric snafu at a Camarillo hardware store that topped crime, auto fatalities and the like as the biggest news in Ventura County last week couldn’t get any more complicated, think again. The plot thickens more than a big, juicy Kobe beef patty with some skewered kabobs on the side.

Did I hear you say barbecue? Because if my ears are right, it came from your mouth and not from anyone at the health department. Or was it the owners of the hardware store? See, I’m having a hard time right now trying to figure out who is at fault for failing to reveal an important piece of information in this breaking of news stories.

Initially, it was reported that B&B in Camarillo was ordered by the health department to refrain from serving their complimentary coffee and donuts because the shop failed to equip themselves with the proper sanitation equipment, i.e. a hand washing basin and food prep station.

Ventura County residents were up in arms. A food prep station just to serve donuts? As if those sprinkles need a good scrubbing first?

Yet it goes beyond that. In a culture where a complimentary cup o’ Joe is like a friendly handshake, it was like the health department’s way of banning us from connecting as a community. I cried in my cup of coffee myself after reading the news.

But just like a cinematic cliffhanger ending, where the hero appears to have died in the end, only for us to discover in the sequel that they’ve survived through some contrived device, another piece of, well, meat, was thrown into the mix in Camarillo, altering the original story beyond recognition.

Turns out that the real reason the health department cracked its whip on B&B was because the store was operating a full-service barbecue for its patrons … without the proper prep facilities. Considering the safety dangers (“We don’t have any mustard for your hot dog, how ’bout some drain cleaner?”), I can understand why the health department acted as it did: by the books.

Of course, now it all makes sense. But the problem equates to the unsolved hit-and-run where a witness comes forward years later, claiming they conveniently “forgot” about the big, black sedan, license number too, racing from the scene of the crime.

Somebody — either the hardware store or the health folk — didn’t reveal to the media the BBQ element of the story, making the initial uproar about harmless coffee and donuts seem ridiculous now.

Here, at the VC Reporter, we were all set to go to print with this week’s editorial, too, before we discovered this added portion to the story at the eleventh hour. It changes the story significantly and basically makes it “non-news” now.

So why was that information withheld? And by who? A general rule for Journalism 101 is that we of the newspapering kind need all the facts in order to present a balanced, thorough story to the public. Otherwise, without some critical facts, whether it’s an illegal brothel or an illegal barbecue, the story can cause a public outcry. In the case of B&B, it all seems pointless now.

Now, not only is the health department still under fire, but so are some members of its lead agency, the county’s Board of Supervisors.

And we all know that where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s fire, there’s an opportunity to publish a rare story about illegal barbecues that’s … well done?

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