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.

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.

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.

An explosive holiday season

December 24, 2009

Oxnard police shot and killed a man to avoid this happening. Was it worth the sacrifice?

One of the things that I think irks people on the left in the anti-war movement is the military/government’s concept of “acceptable losses.” You know, letting a few casualties slip by for the sake of the rest of mankind. If the loss of a few hundred innocent people means saving thousands or millions, than it’s A-OK, right?

I’m not saying that the truck driver Oxnard police blew away yesterday was an innocent man. Right out of a scene from a bad remake of “Speed,” this guy hit the gas full speed down the Ventura Road corridor, eluding police in a high speed chase, plowing into parked cars, and injuring a motorcycle cop who swerved from certain death.

It’s worth mentioning that the 70 propane tanks this guy was hauling could have blown sky high, incinerating Oxnard as we know it into sheer oblivion.

What I am saying is that perhaps police could have approached the situation differently, and instead of shooting into the truck’s front cab just to slow down or incapacitate the driver, a 46-year-old Oxnard man would still be alive today.

A few weeks ago I blogged about the debate over excessive force. Last week, we published a cover story on suicides by cop: those sad cases where a gunman or hostage taker is just asking for a bullet between the eyes.

But since Oxnard police shot and killed the truck driver, we’ll never know how or why this incident happened. (He’s dead, and dead men don’t talk.) Maybe he was ill, suffering a heart attack or seizure that caused the truck to careen out of control. Hell, the man could have needed medical attention, not a chest full of lead.

Maybe his brakes went out, or there was some other kind of system failure making the vehicle uncontrollable.

Of course, maybe none of this is true, and the guy really had snapped, laughing maniacally as he led police on, knowing this would be the final joyride of his life.

And, like one of the big rules of crime scene dissection, a million eyewitnesses could see the same event, and each one will have a different account of what happened. So we’ll never really know exactly what went down yesterday in Oxnard, aside from an official police report and another addition to the county morgue.

That’s why the phrase “acceptable loss” is one of the biggest oxymorons this side of the English language. A loss? Certainly. Acceptable? Not a chance.

locator-338-empty_room

What does this empty room remind you of? You guessed it, a Ventura polling center.

During the primaries last June, I walked into Ventura’s downtown polling place on Santa Clara Street expecting the line of dedicated, vocal Americans to be stretched out the door and around the block.

What I got was something resembling more an Old West ghost town. What was that? The faint sounds of Ennio Morricone? Was that a tumbleweed that just went by?

I could hear my voice echo as I asked the polling volunteer, “Are you open?” It was late morning, the prime of the day, and I thought they had already closed.

Not so. Either everyone showed up early to vote, or nobody cared.

I like to think it was for the former reason, but every indication I get seems to point to the latter.

I’ve attended a lot of forums this season: city council candidate forums, school board candidate forums, ballot measure bickering session forums, Q&A forums. It’s part and parcel of this job to understand what’s up for vote this election, and to know, like the back of one’s hand, the ins and outs of each important issue and the people behind them.

Yet I’ve lamented at the lack of interest — and the abundance of apathy — especially from the younger (read: under 50) crowd, at any one of these important election events.

There was a statistic I recall enumerating that about 60-70% of people in any given American town don’t know the name of their own mayor.

I believe it, especially after all the news coverage we’ve afforded to everything this election season, that people still don’t understand that Measures A, B, C are more than just the first three letters of the alphabet.

Measure C, for example, won’t stop only a Wal-Mart from setting foot in the City of Ventura. (It won’t stop a Wal-Mart at all, actually.) But after some scrupulous news hounding on behalf of us at the Reporter, and vigorous campaigns from both ends of the ballot issue, you’ll still find a hearty amount of misinformed residents who don’t know Measure C from Measure Z from a hole in the ground.

And it’s not enough to close your eyes and vote for the first candidate or two your finger lands on. Each of the 15 people running for our city council stands on different issues with wildly different opinions, policies and personalities. Get to know them all … they’re all unique in more ways than you may think.

The Reporter endorses Measures A and E, and opposes Measures B and C. We also support electing Neal Andrews, Brian Brennan and Mike Tracy for City Council, and Mary Haffner and Velma Lomax for school board. Plus, we like the idea of enacting a temporary parcel fee to help out Oxnard schools.

Check out all of our election coverage at http://www.vcreporter.com … and get out there and vote on Tuesday!

Ventura010

It’s confirmed. The Wagon Wheel motel/restaurant/bowling alley that was a Ventura County institution for 50 years, will be torn down, according to a superior court judge’s ruling today.

Those who have lived in and around the Oxnard area may remember the Wagon Wheel as a little slice of pure Americana, a novelty throwback to the pioneer Old West, and “the last stop along Route 66,” during a period when simpler times prevailed.

Still others have viewed it as a major eyesore — run down, falling apart, somehow stuck in a time warp while the rest of the freeway’s structures around it grow, expand, and build up anew.

Simply put, the Wagon Wheel has become another good example of one man’s treasure being another man’s junk.

At what point do we decide to put in the effort to preserving something, or make way for something newer?

We can answer that question with another question: Might the Wagon Wheel’s newer, shinier replacement someday become historic itself?

Developers want to spend about $100 million to erect an Italian-styled commercial/residential complex, combining office space with luxury apartments and condos. Conservationists wanted to spend about 10 percent of that cost to rehab the Wagon Wheel to its Fifties heyday, with intentions to make use of the roadside property to hold events like farmers markets and car shows.

A better question might be: Is this all a matter of profit vs. preservation?

Regardless of the cost, there comes a time when we must move on in life. There’s a difference between appreciating the past for what it was, and simply being stuck in the past.

No amount of spit and polish will immortalize the Wagon Wheel before it starts showing signs of decay again. It’s like spending countless dollars to restore and fix an old car, only for it to break down again, when buying a new car is simply more economical in the long run.

On the other hand, like the Working Artists Ventura project under construction in the city’s downtown, providing a new, work/live space for people actually adds to the local economy.

The real preservation of antique places like the Wagon Wheel, demolished or not, depends on our collective appreciation, not the actual structure. Because, like they say, nothing ever really dies if someone is there to remember it.

Race relations are not very good in Ventura County.

Since I’ve lived here, I’ve seen our Hispanic community derided by conservative whites for doing nothing but just being here, whether legally or not. There are a lot of Mexican families trying to make a living just like the rest of us, but acceptance is not easy to come by, especially when you read comments posted on a certain online newspaper message board.

It’s pretty obvious that a lot of the negative opinions surface from gang violence rampant among the Latino community of Oxnard, and it’s driven a proverbial wedge so far between that city and bordering Ventura that Thousand Oaks seems like a closer neighbor. Hateful comments abound whenever stories are published about said gang crimes, and even for the good news … I’m thinking of a report on Hispanic kids obtaining internships at local doctors’ offices.

Online posters concocted some hair-brained explanations that somehow it’s the teens’ way of allowing for illegal immigrants to milk the American health care system for free.

This week, a melee ensued during an outdoor soccer match at a Ventura park, whereupon authorities were called to break up the fight, and, since it was not the first of such complaints, the league in question was sadly banned, permanently, by the city’s parks division from all Ventura playing fields.

The reasoning, I imagine, is firstly because one adult player assaulted a teen aged teammate, resulting in his arrest. Secondly, the team can duly find enough room to play in Oxnard, their home city, without bringing crime to Ventura.

Did I mention the team was Hispanic?

Of course not: because it shouldn’t make a difference what race or nationality these soccer players are. Disturbances were made and a crime committed. Rightfully so, the team should ante up the money Ventura Police say they are owed for their troubles, no matter if the men are white, black, Hispanic, or Asian.

These guys are poor sports and sore losers.

Yet, on first mention that the Agricultural Soccer League is Latino, the Internet ire flared up in typical fashion today, generating every kind of racist allusion possible.

In fact, responses I read today weren’t nearly as bad as the “Most Ignorant Comment of the Year” attached last week to an article on county gay pride groups, “It’s my right to be intolerant if I want to!” Spelled in caps, which denotes shouting.

It’s unfortunate we can’t be objective and judge a crime and its consequences for what it is already without placing racial prejudices on top of it. Posters did worse than suggest banning the soccer players from Ventura parks; banning them from the U.S. was more like it.

I’m curious to know what suggestions would be offered if the team was white. A slap on the wrist? Was the penalty not harsh enough for some people because these players were Hispanic?

There are a lot of hard working Latinos in Ventura County who I’ve found to be friendlier than most Caucasian people I encounter here.

It’s time we start developing some understanding — and an ability to relate better to others — for our Hispanic neighbors before we drive this county back into the 19th century with our NIMBY values.

If Oxnard's debt was edible, it'd look something like this.

If Oxnard's debt was edible, it'd look something like this.

The timing must surely have been coincidental.

Not more than a week after Gov. Schwarzenegger informed the public that the state will need to issue IOUs to its creditors and contractors if California can’t come up with enough dough soon, our very own Oxnard votes to issue bond notes to make up for $21 million that isn’t there.

It was the next best thing the city could do short of issuing an IOU, scrawled on a City of Oxnard napkin, to a developer who pulled out of a land deal at the last minute.

Now, officials are faced with millions more in debt, on top of the millions in debt they already have, and it could be decades until it’s all paid off.

By that time, this could turn into a nasty habit and Oxnard will be further in debt, issuing IOUs and emergency bond notes to pay back money that isn’t there.

If Oxnard’s debt was a sandwich, the city better go on a diet quick, because the calories are climbing fast.

Oxnard leaders are claiming that they couldn’t have seen it coming, what with housing developer Casden pulling out and asking for a refund. But the company’s contract stated they could renege at any time.

It just so happens they waited until the eleventh hour of their deadline to do so … which is practical, really. Why not wait until your allotted time is up to feel how the housing market is going? Casden acted in their best interests.

So did Oxnard, too. They did what they thought was practical. But rather than wait as Casden did, Oxnard went right to work and used the money from the deal to make capital improvements to golf courses and recreational land.

Whether or not those improvements are practical depends on how necessary they are. Is spending millions on 18-hole landscaping worth going into debt for?

It’s not when considering the Oxnard City Council ignored the developer’s “pull-out” clause, arrogantly sure the land deal was a done deal. It wasn’t, and essentially, they spent money that wasn’t there.

Sound familiar? It should, considering that we’re talking about a city who could epitomize our local example of why the economy is in such a mess. It’s not the first time Oxnard has racked up dollar signs in the red instead of the black.

We can lambast cities like Ventura or Camarillo all we want for being slowpoke and slow-growth, but at least those towns take their time to develop until the money is there. (Most of the time, anyway.)

In a way, Oxnard is its own worst enemy. Ambition, vision and drive are all good things, but they can be detrimental when trying to achieve something one can’t afford.

It happens all the time in places of employment: there could be a vision to improve and surpass the competition, but without the manpower, the resources or financial backing, a company can fall short, or even fall behind the pack.

Oxnard should take their bond issuing predicament as a lesson learned — that bigger isn’t always better, and that patience is a virtue (especially when it comes to saving money.)

Somebody get Oxnard an antacid … there’s a debt sandwich that needs to be eaten fast.

Meeting a legend

July 20, 2009

With CNN's Larry King in Oxnard, Saturday, July 18.

With CNN's Larry King in Oxnard, Saturday, July 18.

One of the best moments in my life came this weekend when I had the chance to shake hands with Larry King, host of CNN’s “Larry King Live.”

King appeared Saturday evening at the Topa Tower Club in Oxnard to promote his autobiography, “My Remarkable Journey.” It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for everyone who met the journalistic legend.

I’ve seen and encountered the likes of Hollywood celebrities before, but they pale in comparison to meeting someone like King, an American institution, a dignitary, whose impact on modern media is unrivaled. This is a man who’s interviewed tens of thousands of people in his lifetime, with one of the longest running talk programs in the history of television.

Our recent interview with Mr. King can be found at this link:

http://vcreporter.com/cms/story/detail/a_king_among_journalists/7089/