• A fire a neighbor said was caused by an overturned candle totally destroyed a residence in the 400 block of Buena Vista Street Friday afternoon, took the life of a family dog, and left two women relying on the American Red Cross for temporary housing.
• San Francisco Giants pitcher Noah Lowry and his mother, Laurie Lowry, are leading the charge and they are asking for the Ojai Valley’s help in Peggy Rose’s battle with cancer.
• The Ojai City Council and its frequent critics finally found something they could agree on: no more gravel trucks coming through Ojai.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting city planners presented a letter of comment to the Santa Barbara County Planning Department regarding the proposed Diamond Rock sand and gravel mine in Cuyama Valley
• The city of Ojai, proud of its “small-town” atmosphere, with many residents highly against growth, is now required to allow for the construction of 450 new housing units by 2014. Some of those are to be specified as affordable housing. The exact breakdown depends on the results of an income analysis by the Southern California Association of Governments which will determine the number of affordable housing units required, based on Southern California’s population growth and housing needs.
• Staggered by near-record low temperatures last weekend, Steve Barnard said he lost half of his 115-acre avocado crop and all 25 acres of his navel oranges along Highway 33 near Meiners Oaks — a $200,000 hit, at least. “The avocados are brown like fire went through them,” he said.
• The vacant Ojai Ford Dealership, blighting the city’s entryway for nearly two months now, was recently purchased by the Crown family, owners of the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, according to city manager Jere Kersnar.
Escrow closed yesterday and the dealership property now belongs to the Crowns, along with the nearby plot of land that once housed a spa store, and a vacant lot across from 33-150 Highway at Hermosa Road.
• Neil Patrick Harris and Steven Weber were among those who read from 10 plays for the Ojai Playwrights Conference Winter Gala, which celebrated its 10th anniversary performance at Matilija Auditorium.
• Retired Oxnard Police Commander and Ojai Valley resident Jamie Skeeters, who recently died while on business in Memphis, Tenn., was honored at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Meiners Oaks on Tuesday. Hundreds were in attendance for his funeral. Skeeters was an expert witness at several high profile trials, and was president of the California Association of Polygraph Examiners.
• New truck trips through the Ojai Valley from a proposed gravel mine in Santa Barbara County has raised the ire of many of the valley’s residents.
About 130 people, mostly from Ojai and some from the Cuyama Valley area near the location of the proposed mine, gathered at the Chaparral Auditorium to discuss ways to prevent the possible increasing truck traffic on Highway 33.
• Humane Society of Ventura County officials, local sheriff’s deputies, County Building and Safety and Adult Protective Services were on scene as more than 200 rats were removed from a Meiners Oaks home. Officials reported also at the home were 29 rabbits, and several cats, roosters and chickens.
• Golden State Water Company has applied to the Public Utilities Commission for a revenue increase in its Ojai service area. GSWC wants to raise an additional $1,432,900 in 2008, which, according to PUC project manager Victor Chan, would mean an increase in customer rates of 45 percent.
• As city officials consider banning chain stores in Ojai’s historic downtown, chain restaurant owner Dan Burrell wonders whether he should have ever opened a Jersey Mike’s sub shop near the city’s centerpiece Arcade last June.
• Serious crime in Ojai rose to the highest level in more than a decade last year, as auto burglaries and business break-ins surged, but criminal violence remained low despite an uptick in youth gang activity, according to a new police report.
• If Ojai’s skate park were ever in danger, there is no question that local skateboarders and several proud parents will stand ready to defend it, as shown by the unusually youthful presence which filled the council chambers for Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
• In what authorities are calling a gang-related act of violence, an Oak View man suspected of shooting 25-year-old Hugo Guerra Friday afternoon on Drown Street was formally charged Tuesday of assault with a deadly weapon and shooting at an occupied motor vehicle.
According to a statement released by major crimes investigator Sgt. Gary Hess and information gathered by the Ojai Valley News, Guerra was stopped in his vehicle in the area of Drown and Oak streets late Friday afternoon when a black Nissan pulled up next to him. Following a verbal exchange, Jimmy Villalpando, 24, allegedly fired two shots through the windows of Guerra’s Chevy SUV, striking Guerra twice below his left armpit. Villalpando, according to the report, fired from the passenger seat of the vehicle.
• John Johnson, general manager for Casitas Municipal Water District, has officially retired. On Wednesday, the CMWD board of directors recognized Johnson’s 18 years of service by presenting him with a resolution.
• Two years after a devastating flood nearly closed its popular Ojai golf course, the county of Ventura has requested bids for operation of the Soule Park links in east Ojai.
County officials say the request for new management proposals is not the result of the steep drop in play at the tougher, reconfigured Soule Park course, or the county’s inability to make much money at the facility since floodwaters in January 2005 prompted $4.1 million in repairs and reconstruction.
• After a year of careful budgeting and frugality, the city of Ojai received an audit report which showed it was well on its way to rebuilding its previously squandered reserves.
• Golden State Water Company faced over 100 hostile customers and a barrage of questions on Monday evening at the Chaparral School Auditorium.
The purpose of the meeting was to give the community a chance to discuss Golden State’s most recent Public Utilities Commission application for rate increases. If approved by the PUC, rates will go up in 2008 by about 44 percent, a raise that is expected to yield GSWC a revenue increase of $1,432,900 in 2008.
• Because Mark Ditchfield was involved in so many aspects of this community he loved, it is no surprise that many people are grieving his death this week.
“We lost a great friend,” said Kevin Hendrick, who has known Ditchfield since junior high school and has a lot of fond memories of his time spent with Mark and their buddies. “You know what we liked about the ‘Big Ditch?’ Everything.”
• The county Board of Supervisors’ decision this week to allow construction of a $2.5-million bridge across San Antonio Creek was a dream come true for residents along rural Old Creek Road near Oak View, who for decades were forced to forge the flood-swollen creek to reach Highway 33.
• A troubled Ojai neighborhood’s search for solutions for gang violence moved to a public forum Wednesday night, as the Police Department fielded questions from members of a frightened, frustrated and quietly angry community.
“It’s important that the community take a stand,” said Sheriff’s Capt. Bruce Norris, discussing a second gang-related shooting in six months. “If we sit back and look out the blinds, they’re going to take over. Police can’t be effective by themselves.
•Nine-year-old David Smith, just tall enough to peek over the podium at the Ojai City Hall Council Chambers, was among 11 Gridley Road, San Gabriel Street and Grand Avenue residents of all ages, who spoke at the council meeting Tuesday night.
The slew of Ojai’s East End dwellers was there to dispute a proposed detour that would divert Highway 150 traffic onto Gridley Road and Grand Avenue while the San Antonio Creek Bridge is being reconstructed next year.
• Local attorney Cathy Elliot Jones filed a $10 million claim with the City of Ojai for “egregious, wrongful and illegal actions” on the part of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department during a city Council candidates’ forum sponsored by the Ojai Valley News and Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce last October.
The claim was processed by the city on Monday.
Jones claims she was wrongfully seized by Ojai Police Chief Bruce Norris, a Sheriff’s Department employee.
• One of the Ojai Valley’s driest winters in recorded history has prompted its principal water agency to begin planning for a prolonged drought and to start a $150 rebate program for replacement of old, water-wasting clothes washers and toilets.
“This could be the driest year since 1877 and the second driest in our records, which began in 1867,” said Ron Merckling, spokesman for Casitas Municipal Water District.
• With more than 20 years of service to the city of Ojai, Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Joe DeVito was given notice Tuesday that a recall petition, initiated by Ojai resident Sean Keenan, was in the works.
The petition is based on DeVito’s alleged blatant refusal to act on the concerns of constituents; his “failure to manage, analyze and address the complex issues that face the city of Ojai,” and his “failure to protect the character of the city of Ojai,” according to the notice.
• Operators of the Ozena Valley Sand and Gravel Mine requested that the Ventura County Planners complete an entire Environmental Impact Report for their mine expansion on Wednesday.
Ozena’s owners and operators, Tony and Michael Virgilio, whose mine expansion would invariably increase truck traffic along Highway 33, have been receiving heat from Ojai residents and decision makers since the mine expansion was proposed.
• The line of cars waiting to turn off Bryant Street onto Ojai Avenue at rush hour is getting longer as new developments spring up in the Bryant Street industrial area.
Commuters are frustrated and Bryant Street business owners worry that the increasing traffic has degraded the already-questionable safety of the intersection.
• A temporary moratorium against formula retail stores was finally adopted by the City Council at Tuesday night’s special meeting but not without some mudslinging from both sides of the podium.
• Dave DiTomaso, owner of the Subway sandwich store in Mira Monte confirmed that he decided not to lease the Matilija Avenue space formerly occupied by Howie’s yesterday afternoon.
• With the goal of bringing the community together for a dialogue about making Ojai a more environmentally friendly community, the Ojai Valley Green Coalition held a summit on Saturday at Matilija Junior High School. Ken Wright and Tim Baird founded the coalition. After individually viewing “An Inconvenient Truth,” each man felt compelled into action.
• The group of Ojai residents who call themselves the Citizens Petition Committee announced Monday that they have stopped gathering signatures to recall six-term councilman, Joe DeVito.
“We feel that with the council’s vote on the formula business moratorium, Mr. DeVito has finally begun to represent his constituents on this important issue, “ said Sean Keenan, a representative of the group.
• With fond memories and farewell wishes the city of Ojai will be losing two valuable staff members this summer. Doug Breeze, director of Public Works for more than four years, and Carol Belser who has been directing the Recreation Department for almost 15 years, both gave their notices earlier this month and will be leaving before the end of summer.
• How times have changed. Being born in Ojai’s hospital is now only on an emergency basis, and few, if any of us will be buried in Nordhoff Cemetery. Although you can still die here, funeral arrangements will have to be made elsewhere because, despite the aging of Ojai, Clausen Funeral Home is closing its doors Thursday after 71 years of operation.
• After allegedly displaying a black semiautomatic handgun, a man suspected of robbing the Mid-State Bank Ojai branch Tuesday morning fled on a blue mountain bike on Maricopa Highway, according to Sgt. Billy Hester.
According to the report, the suspect approached a teller and demanded cash. The teller complied and gave the suspect an undisclosed amount of cash.
• The Ojai Valley’s principal water agency searched the state for a new top administrator before settling this week on a homegrown engineer, Steven E. Wickstrum, as its permanent general manager.
• Even before the Ojai City Council voted to extend their temporary moratorium on chain stores Tuesday night, Subway owner Dave DiTomaso decided not to open a Subway in Ojai after all.
• Since the end of May a team of about 12 young people ages 14 to 21 have been hard at work clearing away brush to protect Ojai during what has been predicted as one of the worst fire seasons the valley has ever seen.
With a grant from the U.S. Forest Service through the California Fire Safe Council, and $50,000 in matching funds from the city of Ojai, the Ojai Fire Safe Council is constructing the Ojai Valley Last Defense Fuel Break.
The fuel break, a safety zone with highly flammable growth patches cleared away serves as a buffer to slow down advancing flames, giving fire fighters more leverage, said Wally McCall, a co-founder of the Ojai Fire Safe Council.
• This year’s winner of the Ojai Valley Pageant, Olivia Gandy, is a stellar athlete. Though she looks stunning in a sparkling blue evening gown, Gandy was playing sports right up until the contest, said the pageant coordinator, Nancy Hill-Hinz.