The family of Guadalupe Garcia is looking for donations to cover funeral costs after the 2-year-old was struck and killed by a car.

I always figured that 9/11 was the turning point by which nobody in their right mind would display insensitivity in the face of human tragedy or death. For me, it seems like anytime a person offers up snide remarks following a major incident, no matter how cynical, spiteful or in jest they are, it’s nothing short of despicable.

But take the case of young Guadalupe Garcia and Ventura County residents don’t let up one bit for a toddler who’ll never get the chance to grow up.

Guadalupe was struck and killed last week by a car in Oxnard, which police have determined was an unfortunate accident involving something parents find so familiar and scary. Look away for a second and your curious, energetic child may have run out of your sight, maybe into the road.

Guadalupe was born into a poor family in Oxnard, and his family is seeking donations to cover expenses incurred from the boy’s funeral and burial:

http://www.vcstar.com/news/2010/mar/07/donations-sought-for-ventura-boys-funeral/?partner=popular

Yet does this story so tragic and affecting tug at the hearts of many readers of the daily paper? Unfortunately, and predictably, not one bit.

So let me get this straight … if the inane comments posted by readers to the Star’s Web site were anything to base substantive evidence on, the Garcia family should not receive aid because 1. Guadalupe’s mother was not paying attention when her son ran into the road, and this is her penalty; 2. The Garcia family has four other kids to go around; 3. Since the Garcias are Mexican and have a large family, they are certainly living off taxpayer-fronted money; and 4. Mexicans living off taxpayer-fronted money are most certainly illegal immigrants and should be shipped off immediately.

These four examples, and more, are just the tip of the iceberg to how insensitive – and judgmental – we are of just about anyone reported in the news in Ventura County. The fact that someone died, and was of Mexican descent, only brings out the sharp teeth of those hiding behind their computer screens. It’s been hypothesized that the anonymity of the Internet brings out the worst in people. In Ventura County, that dark side manifests itself in a racist tone that needs to be done away with.

All I can say are two things. First, donate as much as you can to the Guadalupe Garcia Fund, at any branch of Rabo Bank. Second, to the offending posters: You should be ashamed of yourselves.

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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?

Out of all the beverages that Ventura County Health Control must take away, why the elixir of the gods? Why?

Coffee, that magic beverage uniting our caffeinated community. The drink that binds the universe together! Imagining a world without coffee is like imagining a world experiencing an eternity of darkness from which it will never recover.

Do Ventura County health code officials care? Of course not! In just one of many examples of unnecessary enforcement, another business has been forced to suffer from the health police cracking their whips, again.

This time, it’s reported that the complimentary coffee and donuts served daily at the counter of a Camarillo hardware/gardening/pest control/DIY shop can’t be served any longer to customers.

Were they spiking the French Roast with some pesticide? WD-40 perhaps? Or some other toxic blend unpalatable to the senses?

No. In typical health department fashion, the default reason is that the store can’t serve the complimentaries because it doesn’t have the necessary facilities to do so.

In this case, “facilities” aren’t extra stirrers, or a better variety of confectionary sprinkles, but a fully installed, stainless steel sink and kitchen prep station.

Stainless steel at a hardware store? No problem! They can install one in a jiffy, right?

Right, but why should they have to? I mean, unless the shop was intent on serving up some panini, perhaps, or maybe even a buffet spread for its lunchtime patrons, a full-service kitchen station is not necessary. Unless you’re a restaurant. That’s why restaurants have full-service prep facilities, and hardware stores have … well, the hardware needed to build a kitchen!

And just because a store has the materials to build a kitchen doesn’t mean that one should be built there.

This is not the first time we’ve heard of this happening before. We Olive, the Downtown Ventura condiment and olive oil vendor, has had its battles with the health department before over similar disputes. Because the proprietor is handling foodstuff without the proper handwashing and prep necessities, the de rigueur is compromised.

According to the We Olive personnel, the Ventura County location is the only place this has happened to the company, with storefronts across the state.

That means that Ventura County health officials, who will maintain that they follow the letter of state law, are following their own unique set of rules just because they can. Sounds a lot like the way everything happens in Ventura County government, doesn’t it?

In today’s report, one customer of the Camarillo business called the coffee and donuts the store’s “little pink box of love.” In essence, does that mean the health department is espousing hate in order to achieve health?

Whatever it is, I’d like to see how the health inspector deals with those caffeine withdrawals.

http://www.vcstar.com/news/2010/feb/24/county-pulls-plug-on-free-coffee-doughnuts-at/

Oxnard, the happiest place on earth.

Ah, those crisp, lush waves crashing against a sandy shoreline. Those rolling, verdant hills, the chiseled mountaintops sometimes capped with a fresh dusting of snow. It’s no wonder everyone is happy in Santa Barbara, otherwise known as the “American Riviera.”

So how is it that residents of Oxnard, infamous for its gang battles, Superfund-stamped pollution, and city centers devitalized by debt, trash and antiquated infrastructure, feel just as happy?

They must be insane, no? Not according to findings of a poll just released this week indicating that people in Oxnard are just as happy, if not happier, than their privileged Santa Barbaran neighbors.

The Gallup Well-Being Index numbers place the Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura area — the “Greater L.A. area,” as it’s often called — last in the top 10 cities in the nation.

OK, so Oxnard is no Detroit, Flint, Mich., or Newark, NJ, places where unemployment, crime and pollution are the most redeeming characteristics. But it still has some of the most worrisome things about it, heck, even when compared to Ventura, which doesn’t do so shabby itself in boasting crime, vagrancy, gang violence and meth labbing.

But the numbers don’t lie, and according to the findings, people in the Tri-Ventura region fared better than Santa Barbara on all counts except job satisfaction and basic access. That’s understandable, since the VC’s unemployment rate is still in the double digits: nearly 11 percent as of last count. And public transportation in Ventura? Well, that’s sometimes better left unsaid (although that’s mainly the fault of people with an addiction to their cars).

But in every other category, be it life evaluation, emotional and physical health, and overall healthy beahvior, Ventura scored with colors brighter than anything the bucolic Santa Barbara could fare with.

So what does this all mean? Happiness, I suppose, really is a state of mind. Because true Zen, it would appear, is thinking you’ve found Utopia sitting atop a 40-foot radioactive slag pile.

Oxnard needs a flux capacitor at its disposal. Open up that public works budget!

I can’t decide if the Oxnard City Council needs to hop into a DeLorean with a mighty boost of 1.21 gigawatts and a Huey Lewis soundtrack, or if something more Victorian and H.G. Wells-ian is in order. But I propose that the solution to the identity problems of late for The ‘Nard could be solved with some obvious ventures into the realms of time travel.

Let’s face it, the city’s image has been mired, perhaps unfairly, as a place teeming with sinister gang violence, a place where the Mexican immigrant has no resources at their disposal, and a place where development is being planned and construction carried out quicker than our poor economy can handle. (The Collection? Of what?)

On top of that, the sorry situation of flood plain mapping means that all of this will wash away into the ocean, which Oxnard isn’t prepared for, either.

Past or future? Look back a half century ago, and Oxnard was this beautiful, rolling place rich with agriculture, devoid of things like gang injunctions or low-income housing quotas, because, basically, everyone was on a stable, working class income. Pretty much a polar opposite of what we have now … or could have.

Look ahead a half century, and city planners hope that Oxnard will be the city of the future, predicting a population increase of 50,000 within 20 years, and a booming economy aided by a large tourist influx. But are they getting too far ahead of themselves?

After the council delayed its decision on approving its 2030 plan this week, it sure looks like it. The plan, a document of goals the city would like to see in the next 10 years, has so many vague concepts in its pages that officials would be doing nothing less than a rush job by approving it in time for the June election.

Too many questions regarding the preservation of Ormond Beach; the future of the hit-by-the-apocalypse Halaco plant; the build-or-not-to-build Jones Ranch parcel; and others. Planners say they may need four months to examine all this stuff. That will put us at June, when voters were expected to make all this official to begin with.

The 2030 general plan needs further re-examination – maybe another full year – before Oxnard can confidently secure and solidify its own future in Ventura County before it implodes on itself. And no amount of time travel into the future will be able to replace what needs to be done in the present.

Otherwise, Oxnard might go from “The City That Cares” to “The City That Was.” And that would be an identity crisis and a half.

Ventura's charter is *almost* this old.

In Ventura, “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers” sounds less like the intro to the Emancipation Proclamation than it does an update on the city’s charter.

For those who missed this week’s VC Reporter (please read it, and please leave comments, yes, there is another newspaper here), we reported on a new group who’d like to see the city’s charter changed.

It hasn’t quite been four score and seven years, but it’s been nearly 25 … that’s a quarter century of following rules and regs that may be long outdated. What’s worse is that a whole bunch of important stuff has happened since 1986, which we can’t ignore by leaving them out of the charter.

For instance, the charter change group pointed out that compensatory numbers for elected officials haven’t change with inflation; the charter, which stipulates a monthly allowance of $600, reflects 1980s dollars.

They also pointed out the benefits of electing a mayor. The city is growing in population; isn’t it time we had a full-time leader to be there for our needs?

Aren’t we what the charter really is all about? And our needs? Nineteen Eighty-Six was years before the Internet, so, of course, there’s no mention in the latest charter about any city info on the Web … no public document info, no meeting info, nothing in the charter which states the city must provide a good Web window for us to access.

And while the charter itself doesn’t contain a list or description of penal codes and laws, things like Megan’s Law, which is contained in the city’s lexicon as part of state law, doesn’t correspond with the charter, which it should.

In fact, when reading the charter, it’s quite vague in its wording. It makes one wonder: do we even need a charter? Every other city (except Hueneme) operates on general law, and they do just fine.

I guess the better question would be: Why have a charter when it doesn’t get updated regularly? You don’t just keep the same oil in your car for 100,000 miles. Well, you could, but your car won’t run properly.

That’s the point. Updating the city charter — and keeping up that maintenance — keeps the wheels of municipal government turning more efficiently.

Maybe a rule requiring an update to our charter every, say, 5 years or so, should be in the charter.

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.

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.