Stabbings on sale

May 20, 2010

They should never have closed the Ventura Police Department annex at the Pacific View Mall.

It’s still vacant after having shut down for over a year now … no replacement vendors, nothing. That was well before the failure of Measure A, the ambitious sales tax increase, 40 percent of which would have boosted our public safety services.

Would having the police annex do anything to curb crime at the mall? I certainly think so. Take the stabbing which occurred yesterday at the mall.

From what we’ve heard, two young men were accosted by three other young men at the mall, a fight ensued, and mall security were summoned to break up the fracas, already unnerving to shoppers and visitors.

But that wasn’t enough. After getting kicked out of the mall, another fight broke out, and one of the two original victims was stabbed. It was only then that the police were called. Arrests were made, yes, and suspects are in custody with some damn serious charges against them (attempted murder, street terrorism, etc.).

But had the cops been there to begin with, it’s likely the stabbing wouldn’t have happened, in my opinion, because arrests may already have been made. The suspects were gang members and could have had existing warrants. Or just the sheer intimidation of the law would have cut off any scuffle right there.

Instead, the mall, which I always thought was pretty safe, earns a shady reputation.

The argument isn’t really over the hypothetical “what-ifs” of the situation had the police been there first or not. It’s *why* the police weren’t there to begin with. I say it’s because of trust.

Yes, we’re still feeling the fallout of rejecting Measure A because we didn’t trust our elected officials to pump money into public safety funding through a sales tax increase. It’s a very familiar feeling that doesn’t go away: this week, we got news on the closure of a fire station, also from a lack of public safety funding.

It makes me wonder where else fights will break out … the frozen foods aisle of the grocery store?

It’s only primary election season, so we don’t have any important tax increase ballots this time around, with a public safety option, in Ventura. Still, it’s worth remembering this stuff for June 8, and in future elections:

Know the *real* details of ballot measures and proposed legislature in your city … and give elected representatives a second chance to fund critical services. How many stabbings or shootings do we need to realize that?

The mall might be a great place to go to fund stuff on sale, but aggravated assault isn’t one of them, no matter how deep the discount — or the knife wound. I’d pay an extra sales tax for that.

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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.

New York for Ventura? Bring on the buildings, I say.

As someone who measures over 6 feet tall, I’m not just talking about height in people.

No, I’m talking about buildings. There’s great debate in this part of Ventura County over what’s too high in size for new buildings. The argument is that in this coastal community, buildings that are too tall block Pacific Ocean views.

The latest snafu at the city planning commission is that officials can’t approve a proposed hotel near the coast because some people have complained it’s too tall and obstruct their view of the sand and sea.

Reports reveal that at a proposed 4 stories high, the hotel would measure up to 50 feet at certain points.

Fifty feet is a veritable skyscraper in Ventura, considering that the failed Measure B, which sought to restrict building heights to just 26 feet within the city limits, still gained enough support that I wondered if I was the only one in this town to not experience symptoms of vertigo around tall buildings:

To put it another way: anybody who thinks 26 or 50 feet –or anything under 100 feet — is too tall, they need to get out of Ventura and see more of the world.

I come from the East Coast, where cities like New York epitomize the true sense of growth, commerce and progression in the size and volume of their buildings. It’s not building for building’s sake: it’s the addition of more commerce, industry, and room to accommodate people, and to foster activity and vibrancy.

Sure, this isn’t New York — it’s not even L.A. — and people are entitled to keep their town as sleepy as they like, even if people like me don’t necessarily agree with the style. But unlike New York, which builds up, Los Angeles is infamous for building out, resulting in the dreaded sprawl counties and cities like Ventura have worked to avoid.

Initiatives like SOAR have done a good job at preventing sprawl here. Ventura County isn’t built out. But where we save on width, shouldn’t we compensate for in height? If we limit our building heights as well, we limit the growth needed to survive in this economy.

If Ventura is seen as the anti-growth place, businesses and employers of any reasonable size or reputation won’t be attracted to set up shop here, and that means no added revenues … which means a faltering city budget, and more financial cuts to come.

It’s all tied together, and the dispute over the hotel is just one example. It’s simple: build a large hotel, give more room for more tourists, and the city adds to its coffers because Ventura becomes a place that people take seriously and want to visit and spend time at.

We have to abandon the mindset that a couple of tall buildings means Ventura turns into an urban wasteland. Fifty feet or 26 feet or anything under 50 stories is not too tall, Ventura.

We need to start adopting a more metropolis mindset into the way we grow here, and realize that building up also means growing up as a community.

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.

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!

Last year’s presidential election set a precedent for change in these harsh economic times. People demanded some major changes from the status quo when voting in Obama, the polar opposite of GW.

In the year since, it seems like nothing that arrives on ballots is a small or insignificant item; in 2009, the standard is to enact big-time change.

It’s none so more evident than in Ventura, where we’ll be faced with voting on three ballot measures that could forever alter the city forever.

City officials have asked voters to approve a half-percent sales tax called Measure A to supplement and add to their budget weakened by the economy and state cuts.

Measure B, a citizen-driven initiative, looks to impose a 26-foot height limit on buildings across the entire city.

And Measure C, the “big box ballot,” looks to prohibit superstores by limiting the amount of square footage a retailer can expand to.

Here are what some proponents and opponents have said so far, summed up:

-Measure A is good because the city needs funding for services like public safety. Without the revenue, they could be cut further or deleted altogether.

-Measure A is bad because it gives people less incentive to spend. People are spending less in this economy anyway.

-Measure B is good because it preserves ocean views and halts rampant development that makes every building in town a skyscraper.

-Measure B is bad because it prevents growth.

-Measure C is good because it stops larger corporate retailers from coming in and squashing smaller stores. Plus, it curbs traffic and crime.

-Measure C is bad because it prevents growth (and a free retail market).

Without taking an official stance yet, my take is that the measures are intertwined … and any combination of pass/fail could yield different, permanent results.

If people are less compelled to spend with higher sales taxes, businesses could, in effect, be discouraged from coming here. They could be discouraged further if they’re prohibited from building to certain heights or expanding to certain lengths. Profitable retailers may forever rule out the Ventura coast as a viable location.

However, in regards to measures C & A, a series of big box retailers could crop up around town and put out of business other smaller stores, producing a boycott reaction from people who are once again less compelled to spend because their favorite stores have fallen by the wayside.

It’s double-edged, in a way and there’s little in between. Ventura could easily become the new Los Angeles, or the town resistant to anything remotely metropolitan and urban.

Whether or not these results are good or bad are in the eyes of the voting public.

We need to find that balance, though any combo of votes on measures A, B or C will have effects that, once in place, can change the face of this town forever … fiscally and culturally.

The thing is to just get out and vote … and vote wisely.

Or did they ever exist to begin with?

Aside from myself, some student camera people, and one or two stragglers, there didn’t seem to be a single person under the age of 50 at last night’s candidates forum at Ventura College.

The forum, hosted by the local branch of the League of Women Voters, was a question-and-answer panel between all 15 candidates for the Ventura City Council: 4 incumbents and 11 challengers.

It was well attended in the campus’ sizable Guthrie Hall, by the most dedicated, passionate members of our middle aged and senior citizen communities. Women sitting on either side of me were keeping what looked like scorecards on each candidate, scribbling down answers and notations, while exchanging some important, election-themed, whispered banter between themselves, listening intently to each word, each campaign promise, spoken by the 15-member panel.

Maybe evening classes were in session. Or maybe there was some party or downtown bar to be at. Whatever was the priority at hand, there were no young people at this forum to voice their opinion on how they want their city to be led.

It’s another bad sign that this is a terribly apathetic town. It’s a shame; for all of the issues facing Ventura this year, caring community involvement is what we need now.

We’ve faced millions of dollars in cuts leaving our city’s budget in the hole. The crime rate is not going down. Our homeless problem: it’s unacceptable to have so many people living on the streets.

Not to mention the fact that we have choice in so many matters because we’re allowed to vote, not just for four of 15 candidates, but for three ballot measures that will determine how much we pay in sales tax, how high our buildings can be built, and how large some corporate retailers can expand to.

There are voter registration tables set up at many of these forums for the younger residents who may not have done so. And there’s plenty of opportunity; the LWV is holding two more forums next week (Oct. 13 & 15) at the same location on campus.

Heck, at least stand in the back of the room and pretend like you care.

Thought I’d take the opportunity to rebut a letter we received this week from Mr. Jenkin of the Surfrider Foundation, who says that our Aug. 27 article on a beach path restoration in Ventura was incorrect in stating that parking will be impacted.

“Your article,” he says, “incorrectly portrays the beach restoration project at Surfers Point as impacting coastal access.”

In the article, it was reported that the project includes temporarily removing a portion of car parking access while a pedestrian/bike path is moved back. If all goes to plan, and this first phase of the restoration is finished by summer 2010, the parking lot is opened up, back to normal, and all is fine at the beach.

That is, if the project is finished on time. This restoration has been fraught with so many delays that the chances of a project snafu happening are very, very likely. This is a project whose discussions and draft designs date back as far as 1995. 1995!

City purveyors say that in the event of this happening, parking is available across the street on the property of the county’s fairgrounds. But even then, that parking availability could be threatened. If the restoration is placed indefinitely on hold, by next summer parking at the fairgrounds may be needed for fairground events.

Not to mention that the fairgrounds board was resistant to begin with on lending the city parking, and it all makes for an air of reluctancy.

“Could happen,” “Maybe,” “Might be threatened.” The article spoke to the possibility of parking access being taken away. It didn’t state that it would definitely happen. And we wouldn’t run with a story unless such a possibility was truly distinct.

And that’s where the letter writer, or anyone who echoes the same feeling, is misinformed because they didn’t read the story carefully enough. The only error made here is that someone tried to correct us with their incorrect understanding.

It’s worth clarifying.

It’s debatable whether officials, who voted this week to approve one of the largest housing developments in Ventura history, are really upping the ante on housing availability and affordability in the city, considering the current market.

The split, 4-3 vote from the city council OK’d the “Parklands” development, a proposed east end home/apartment complex of a whopping 500 units.

One of the big discussions at the council’s meeting was the need for more affordable housing in the city, and just how affordable they’d be. Talk hovered around a one-fifth fraction as the target number of affordable units.

It all seems like a revelatory thing for Ventura, considering criticisms that the city is quick on planning and visioning, yet slow on action. Very little housing is constructed here compared to the likes of an Oxnard, where an abundance of lower-income residents has prompted officials there to fast seek affordable housing (in some cases, charging into preserved farmland for it, too, but that’s another story).

According to reports, if Ventura doesn’t come up and fulfill some kind of affordable housing quota, they could be vulnerable for lawsuits from housing advocates.

Several online comments from readers of those online reports, however, looked down at the prospect, unfairly equating all affordable housing to mean an increase in crime, and a decrease in neighborhood safety.

“Where you find ‘affordable housing’, you’ll find riff-raff,” said one poster.

What they don’t understand in their generalizations is that affordable housing, in the grand scheme of things, is not that affordable at all for the lower income resident. It’s something that not even some of the financially better-off people can even afford. In a desirable place like Southern California, that’s the way it is.

I guess one of the big questions is: affordable or not, will the homes sell? According to a business report in our local daily paper, in Ventura County, 281,000 new homes were up for sale at the end of June — a 4-percent decrease from the month prior. At current rates, there’s almost a 9-month housing supply, and builders are reluctant to construct any new homes until units start being bought and the supply decreases to 6 months’ worth.

By the time the Parklands 500 is added to the mix, will the housing market will be in better shape? And we need to let the public to better understand a. that affordable housing won’t worsen a neighborhood, and b. that Ventura will fall behind if they don’t provide more housing.

If that happens, I predict in a few years a city like Oxnard could become the new county seat.