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But much like my previous blog posting today about outdated plans, in the 1960s, there was less awareness to the dangers of smoking.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.

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?

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/

For once, local authorities rescued a stray bear instead of gunning it down.

For once, local authorities rescued a stray bear instead of gunning it down.

As members of this great county we call Ventura, aren’t we all supposed to work together, cooperate, learn from each others’ mistakes and good deeds at once?

Of course! Which is why the Santa Paula P.D. could stand to learn a thing or two from Camarillo animal control officials.

The other day (file in “odd news”), a stray, 250-pound baby cub bear wandered into a Camarillo aprtment complex. Don’t ask me how it happened, or why (maybe he was looking for some new digs, on-site laundry, etc.), but the important part is that when animal control arrived, they tranquilized it and later released it back into the wild near Fillmore.

The picture-perfect, professional response by authorities is in stark, complete contrast to an incident a few months back, when officers from the Santa Paula Police Department shot and killed a baby lion.

It was yet another example of police shooting their way out of a situation, this time killing a harmless cat who weighed no more than 15 pounds.

Compare that to a 250-pound bear outside your apartment door, and it’s no wonder a separate inquest ruled the Santa Paula shooting unjustifiable.

“Excessive force” goes beyond the badges and the guns of police, or simple human interaction between civilians. We can all learn a thing or two from Camarillo’s response about humane treatment of man and animal alike.

Walking along Main Street in Ventura towards the midtown this weekend, I noticed for the first time a lawn sign announcing the Web site of a group called the Prison Hospital Action Committee, or PHAC, for short.

What was once an unofficial collection of Camarillo residents appears to be building up, stronger and stronger, in their opposition against a proposed prisoners’ medical facility a federal agent is looking to dispatch into a town still trying to shake off its bad reputation for housing a mental hospital that’s been the subject of infamy and myth in many a pop song.

According to the Web site, it looks like PHAC has about 300 members and eight volunteer groups, and they’re looking for donations to cover the costs of the anti-hospital ad campaign.

Does PHAC have its “PHACts” straight about the prison hospital? Read and be the judge: http://www.PHAC.org

Every vote counts for U

November 14, 2008

The fact that ballots are still being tallied more than a week after Election Day reveals how many people turned out to exercise their right of contributing to free government. And in Ventura County, it means voters wait with bated breath to see who officially wins some very contentious, and close, political races.

None so more evident is Measure U, the proposal to usher in an official, unified school district to Camarillo.

Talk about a razor sharp, neck-and-neck race. As of Wednesday afternoon, the measure was losing by just over a 1,000-vote margin. Officially, the “no” side is leading with 38,551 votes; the “yes” side, 37,513.

No matter what happens with Measure U, it goes to show that, indeed, every vote counts.