Perspectives on crime

May 27, 2010

Comparing Ventura's crime with L.A.'s crime is like comparing these two pieces of fruit together.

There’s no denying that crime is bad in Ventura County, especially in places like Oxnard. It seems like at least 75 percent of deaths logged by the grassroots Parents of Murdered Children took place in the city. Brutal gang violence on a daily basis, drug problems, and the like.

Some crimes, though draw more attention than necessary. Take the Oxnard P.D. shooting of an armed robbery suspect this week.

The guy, who had just been freed from jail three weeks prior,  was apprehended by authorities and shot during a standoff. Some are claiming it was another case of “Suicide by cop.”

Others are coming down on the cop for using excessive force. Others still, waving the racist, anti-Latino card once again, have even said the deceased had it coming(!).

Our local competitor’s Web site logs over 360 reader comments on the story alone. The back and forth, and back and forth … and back and forth … continues for a story that, frankly, is small potatoes in the big bad world of Los Angeles crime.

Take this blog entry, for example:

There were 16 … count ’em, 16 … killings in L.A. County last week. Four of them were domestic violence-related. That’s in one week. Ventura County hasn’t seen the likes of that for years.

Taking the officer shooting story, along with another local story today on a very inebriated, aggressive man getting ejected from a Simi Valley bar — both standard policies for both cases — makes one wonder why we get so up in arms in the VC over incidents that don’t hold a candle to what happens south of our county line.

If it means that we live in an *overall* safer area, there should be no reason to complain … that is, unless we want to duplicate L.A.’s spate of criminal activity in Ventura.

Could that happen? Maybe. Police officials like to link medical marijuana dispensaries with a rise in crime. Many marijuana dispensaries in L.A. are closing up shop. Could they migrate north and bring crime with them here?

Scroll down three blog postings on this page to find out.


An ass-inine choice

May 14, 2010

A new recruit for the prolonged Rocketdyne cleanup.

I don’t know if animals will ever get the kindness and respect they’re due on Planet Earth. Even in 2010, during a time when we’re supposed to be so evolved as people, we continually treat them as some kind of inferior species.

Take a look at the news and everywhere you look, there’s some injustice being done to animals. CNN reported today …

… that people are getting up in arms again about the shi-shi class who eat foie gras, and the pain and suffering inflicted to geese and ducks by enlarging their livers for the delicacy.

We reported this week that the always-conservative congressman Elton Gallegly made a noble, yet surprise, step forward for the benefit of gerbils, mice, bunnies and kittens, victims in so-called “crush videos.”

The videos, depicting said animals being stomped and killed (usually by a dominatrix’s heel), is a cruel subset of the porn film industry, and Gallegly is crafting new laws to ban the videos after a previous ruling was recently overturned federally.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, this week the EPA is looking to use mules to carry out toxicity monitoring at one of Ventura County’s two favorite nuclear dumps: the Santa Susana Field Lab, AKA Rocketdyne.

The mules, according to a video on the VC Star’s Web site, will wear special saddles on their backs with a sort of geiger counter-esque reader to determine levels of radiation and toxicity.

Rocketdyne needed cleaning up 100 yesterdays ago, but don’t you think there’s a more humane way to do this? As in, by not exploiting animals? Or their health?

You’d think with nearby Simi Valley’s affinity for horses and equine culture, there’d be a bit more sensitivity to mules, or any other four-legged animal they might send out into the trenches of contaminated rocket testing pits.

Whoever rubber stamped the decision to dispatch animals to clean up a human’s mess should ask themselves:

Who’s the real ass?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.