Don't be fooled by the plastic bag ready to whale on Mr. Paper. He's blue but he's still Republican.

Walking into the Capitol Grocery Store in downtown Sacramento, there’s some canned Republican hot air for sale. It’s filled with empty calories, a lot of stale preservatives, and it’s been sitting on the shelf for a really long time. Not even a bona fide “red tag” sale can get this deadstock moving.

On the other side of the store, in the fresh produce section, there’s some Democratic food for thought palatable for your health, your well being, and the well beings of others around you. Lots of people swear by the Democrat Diet plan. Not a whole lot of blue stuff, mostly green, but green is close enough to blue. That’s because the Green Party would support the plan.

Which would you choose? Better yet, how will you package your merchandise on the way home?

Paper? Or plastic?

Sometime during the middle or end of this summer, that may not be an option anymore for California, since the Assembly’s already passed a bill banning plastic bags in grocery stores:

They’d like us to make the sensible choice favored by many a Trader Joe’s patron: purchase a reusable, durable cloth bag that need not be discarded. This, they say, will cut down on the amount of non-biodegradable waste inherent in plastic bags. Plus, it’ll cut down further on paper bags, which wastes trees.

Paper vs. plastic has become, like most other decision-making in politics, a partisan issue. Democrats largely favor the plan in place. But Republicans balk at the 5 cents that consumers may have to now pay for plastic bags a piece should they be sans a cloth bag or bags.

Their reason is that it’ll make lower-income families on food stamps or what have you even further strapped for cash.

The state grocers association supports the move, and apparently, it’s been so influential that the state chamber of commerce and taxpayers association have revoked their disapproval of the “cloth bag or pay extra” plan.

I admit, I take my groceries home in plastic bags. But then, I just haven’t invested in a cloth bag … and plastic is the only option at the Ralphs self checkout.

Excuses? Maybe. But the bigger question is why should our political leaders be debating about this? Shouldn’t it be up to each individual grocer? The last I’d seen, Trader Joe’s only offers paper, or cloth, bags. Mainstream grocers offer both.

It’s another example of politics invading every aspect of our day-to-day lives. And like all politics, it’s got to be partisan: left, right, paper, plastic.

Is there another way to neutralize this issue before a bunch of plastic and paper bags are strewn across the Senate floor? What would the Independents or Libertarians think? What would be another grocery analogy to all this?

Maybe that there’s a bunch of Alka Seltzer on sale down aisle 7, and that our stomachs, upset from all this partisan bickering, don’t care if it comes home in a plastic bag.


OK, so I don’t know the answer to that question. I don’t know why glaucoma patients should have all the fun. I’m only severely near-sighted. But if you’ve got a medical marijuana card, you’ve got carte blanche to light up and smoke away your ails.

Except in Ventura County, that is, where there are longstanding moratoriums in each of our cities against permitting marijuana dispensaries. Typical notion of typically, yet disappointingly, conservative mores we have here in (mostly) liberal Southern California.

That could change, however, since it’s been reported that over 439(!) medical MJ dispensaries in Los Angeles might be shutting their doors:

According to the Times, they have exactly a m0nth to close up or else face misdemeanor charges that carry jail time and thousand of dollars in fines … all for growing and selling some plants.

But I’m not here to argue the illegality of marijuana in itself, but of dispensaries. Seems like many of our L.A. medical MJ providers are doing so without the proper permitting because the LAPD doesn’t properly enforce moratoriums in place here and there in L.A. County.

What? Does that mean Ventura County is actually doing something right? We have no dispensaries here (at least none that are publicly open for business).

It still doesn’t mean that after L.A.’s “weed cutoff date,” as I like to call it, of June 7, that dispensaries won’t start heading north and setting up shop here in Ventura County. It’s not unlikely at all, either; there’s a great demand for it, there are already dozens of medical MJ home delivery services, and plenty of people have tried — through the proper channels, too — to establish their own dispensaries as legitimate business ventures.

I think it’s only “high time” (pun intended) that we’ll start seeing medical marijuana dispensaries in Ventura County soon enough after the L.A. exodus.

And you don’t need to be suffering from glaucoma to not see it.

There’s debate among most people acquainted with the personality of Ventura County that the West County — the Venturas and Oxnards — are governed with a more liberal hand, while the East County — the Simi Valleys and Thousand Oakses — take on a decidedly conservative, almost strict, tone in rule.

Then you have Camarillo, the center dividing line of them all, smack dab in the middle of the county. One might expect that Camarillo gets a mixture of the two camps. But is it a city even stricter than its counterparts to the east, a city where *nothing* goes?

In the past year it seems as if nothing has been allowed, and everything’s been banned. Last year, officials voted down a pilot program allowing homeless people to sleep in their cars, a decision the Ventura City Council welcomed with open arms in their city.

Last week, Camarillo also enacted, a complete, total ban on marijuana dispensaries — no chance at them ever popping up anywhere. They’re not allowed in the remainder of the county, but in places like Ventura, there’s still a moratorium in place, which means there’s still a small chance of dispensaries setting up shop.

There were indications at a special VCOG meeting this week that Camarillo also wasn’t receptive to building up, instead of out, to prevent sprawl. Not an outright ban, but contrary to Venturans’ decision late last year to ban a ban on building heights.

What’s the reason for Camarillo’s unwavering stance on these things? They’ve taken great strides in welcoming higher education (CSUCI), enhancing its downtown (PBID), and encouraging public transportation (i.e. a high tech transit center). They’ve also done their best to amend its local education system, to no avail, by proposing a new high school.

Other issues, like stopping the introduction of a prison hospital, aren’t outright bans, but we can’t argue that opposing the building was a good thing for the city.

But are the city’s other bans really good for the city? Might disallowing medical marijuana or a safe sleep program stick Camarillo with an unfriendly label? Or would allowing those things encourage crime, vagrancy and safety problems?

Weigh in with your comments: Just what is it that makes Camarillo tick?

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

Taking the easy way out

November 19, 2009

“Deadly Force” sounds like the title of the next Dirty Harry movie, with an 80-year-old Clint Eastwood wielding his familiar .44 Magnum against a gang of hoods littering the city streets.

Last week that scenario wasn’t too far from the real-life truth when a SWAT team shot and killed an armed gunman who refused to surrender after a standoff in a Ventura industrial complex.

There’s been an outrage online as people are battling each other on both sides of the issue. Did police use too much force? Or did the gunman, who had a history of violent outbursts, give the cops just cause?

Daniel Chilson, 34, was said to be a threatening person, served with restraining orders from his family, and combined with his troubled past, antagonized police with a pellet gun that looked damn real when compared side by side with a 9mm, as displayed in a police photo released yesterday.

Police had no way of knowing from several yards out that Chilson’s weapon wasn’t a real handgun, and that’s why some people believe that pumping 10 bullets into him, courtesy of three SWAT officers, was a bit too much firepower.

After all, three on one doesn’t exactly sound like a fair fight, even if Chilson was armed with a high-powered assault rifle.

Some may say that the cops, given their reputation in U.S. history for police brutality, took the easy way out. Shoot lots of rounds first, and ask questions later … that is, if your assailant is still breathing.

But if you ask me (and if you looks at the particulars of the story), Chilson was the one who took the easy way out. He had it coming, and he was asking for it.

Call it “suicide by cop.” Chilson not only egged police on, evading them for hours and taunting them by cell phone, but he threatened to kill himself and basically let police do it for him. There was no way he was going to surrender that day.

Given the fact that his BB gun wasn’t even capable of inflicting major harm, Chilson knew that if suicide was his goal, the only way to do it was to get himself shot.

And that’s exactly what he did when he spun around and began raising his weapon in the direction of police at the scene; officers who presumably have families, lives and personal safeties that they have to defend, too, responded in the only proper, procedural way they were trained.

Chilson killed himself … he just had somebody else do it for him.

I’m still reeling from the intensity of last week’s local DUI summit, and I wasn’t able to stay for the whole event, which was undoubtedly impactful and eye-opening to the dangers of drinking and driving.

The summit was held at the eve of a time of year when people are partying, drinking, and driving home from said parties, drunk.

Of course, as we all learned, not everyone who drives drunk dies.

So why is it that DUIs seem to have a more public stigma attached to them?

Case in point: our local daily paper published two auto accident stories within the last 24 hours.

In the first, a Thousand Oaks woman was arrested for driving under the influence after she crashed her car, seriously injuring herself.

In the second, 3 young Oxnard men were all killed in a brutal car accident. The driver of the car was also seriously injured. Alcohol is not being ruled as a factor in the crash at this point.

Considering the severity — and the number of fatalities — in the second crash, why is it that the paper has barred readers from submitting online their comments to the Thousand Oaks accident?

Rumors have circulated that the woman has indeed passed away since the story hit the WWW yesterday afternoon; yet nonetheless, locking the comments section on a free Web site indicates to me that this confirmed DUI story is being more … guarded by the powers that be.

It’s especially noteworthy because the story of the second crash relayed such a terrible vulnerability on part of the deceased: all in their late teens, and one a father who leaves behind a young family.

Shouldn’t both reports be open for public comment, for condolences and for discussion? Trolls will always abound on the ‘Net and insensitive comments will always be attempted, but that’s what Web moderators are for: to moderate the suitability of what should be published.

But by closing off that avenue of conversation for a drunk driving story, we do the opposite of raising awareness to the problem. It’s more akin to pushing the problem away than acknowledging it and discussing it.

We should have that freedom of speech just like we have the freedom to drink. But just as it’s against the law to drink and drive, it shouldn’t be prohibitive to talk about it before another fatality happens again.