I’ve always had to stand up for my native New Jersey because it’s relentlessly maligned as the most polluted state in the U.S.

It may be true, but I’ll bet you that the entire north and central regions of NJ’s industrial zones, where yours truly grew up, ain’t got nothing on the smog and dirty air in the whole of Los Angeles.

L.A., unsurprisingly, made the top (or is it bottom?) 3 U.S. cities list this week for the American Lung Association’s pollution report card.

Aside from the Bakersfield and Fresno areas, as well, which also landed on the list, you might as well lump Ventura County in there, too, not because we’re near Los Angeles, but because of our unflattering “Bakersfield by the Sea” handle. Yes, the sea is just a veiled disguise hiding the pollution underneath.

A big fat “F” for pollution, particularly in smoggy, airborne ozone particles. The VC has the distinction of earning its failing grade for the past 11 years.

Yet, according to news reports, the county’s air pollution control district is quoted with the rationale that an “F” really isn’t an “F” after all. Huh?

“A lot of the problem is that the federal government made standards more stringent. What the ‘F’ doesn’t tell you is that air quality has continued to improve over time.” — APCD director Mike Villegas

Is it semantics, an interchangeable alphabet, or just the fact that letter grades don’t mean squat anymore? If the APCD is saying that an “F” really reflects an average healthy air quality grade of “C” or even a passable “D,” then why does the ALA keep flunking us?

The APCD chalks it up to the fact that transportation, weather and topography play a role. Where coastal areas get an ocean breeze to clear the air, inland areas like the Ojais and Simi Valleys of the county collect and trap smog. When you average it all together, you end up with a failing grade when, overall, the air really isn’t that bad to begin with.

Still, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to reduce our vehicle emissions in our car-addicted county, par for the course in SB 375, the greenhouse gas bill. Maybe then, in a few years, our letter grade really will be a true, more respectable “C.”

You may cough all you like, but I will admit, we do get a bad rap for the air here … even though the Garden State, for all its flaws, sure sounds a lot more appealing than Bakersfield by the Sea.

Welcome to Banarillo

April 15, 2010

“Welcome to Banarillo, where you can’t say, smoke, drink, or do anything.”

There’s been lots of talk about Oxnard re-imagining and re-branding itself into a fresh, new image, and it seems like a tough task. They’ve got vicious gang wars and ghetto areas that rival Third World countries.

Yet you look at Camarillo and there’s a whole lot of … well, there’s not a whole lot of anything, actually. So why is it that they may have an even harder time turning their image around?

The truth is because it’s already changing to a place some critics say allows no freedom to do anything.

In the last year, city officials banned a safe sleep program, unlike places like Ventura, which permit homeless people to camp in their cars.

Three weeks ago, I blogged about Camarillo’s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. Now, city officials are clamping down on smoking of the legal kind: cigarettes.

Under the new rules, smoking is permitted only in the most scant of public places, including dining and recreation areas. Motels and hotels must also designate a whopping 80 percent of their rooms as non-smoking.

Lots of people are up in arms about this. Even non-smokers, who believe that a ban such as this isn’t about health; it’s an invasion of privacy.

But much like my previous blog posting today about outdated plans, in the 1960s, there was less awareness to the dangers of smoking. Today, there is awareness, and all of it points to the fact that smoking is bad for you and those around you.

Another study released today even revealed that smokers are more likely to be depressed people.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported that among male smokers aged 40-54, 55 percent suffer from depression. Among women aged 20-39, 50 percent are depressed.

The way I see it, you can moan and groan all you like about how city officials don’t know what’s best for you … but when you look at some of these numbers (cancer stats notwithstanding), they actually do know what’s best for you and me.

Camarillo’s decision follows suit from cities like Calabasas, the strictest Southern California city in terms of smoking regulations.

So if Camarillo is slowing becoming known as “BANarillo,” it’s an image change that we should welcome with open arms … and lungs.

What Oxnard once envisioned its grid would look like, waaaaaay into the Year 2000.

Here in 2010, Ventura County seems pretty sparse and spread out, and some people seem to like it that way. Personally, your faithful blogger is one of those people who would like to see a bit more urbanization, build out, and diversity in the good ol’ VC, since I don’t like watching the grass grow as my only option for fun.

Nonetheless, according to some planning documents from the city of Oxnard circa 1960-something, we are 10 years behind the ball on those wishes.

Although we couldn’t reprint it in our Earth Day issue this week due to space, I reprint here a scan of the document I got my hands on. It doesn’t look like much, but if you zoom in, you’ll see the recognizable handle shape of Oxnard criss-crossed with lines and lines of freeways, streets, arteries, and interchanges galore.

We’ve still got the 101, and the 126 today, but back in the 1960s, when Arthur C. Clarke/Gene Roddenberry visions of the future were the believable norm, we must have thought that every square inch of Ventura County would have highways, tunnels and thoroughfares overlapping each other as far as the eye can see.

The map is more than just some retro curio; it takes into question how much we tend to get ahead of ourselves in a planning perspective. Are we ambitious, or just unrealistic?

I wouldn’t exactly say that the plans were off base with basically predicting an overgrown sprawl — since I’d like to see Ventura County look a bit more metropolitan. But if you’d have included plans for flying cars, robots, and the Jetsons, then we’d be talking!

In my humble opinion, I say dash the 2030 plans the city is working on currently. Take a cue that “smart growth” can be had from the city’s archaic “2000 General Plan.”

Growth is good.

Sometimes, all we have to do in planning for the future is to look to the past.