2014 was an intense year, filled with tragedy and apparent injustices. For Ventura County, the drama wasn’t at such a high level of intensity as the country or even the world, but still, what we did experience brought on its own set of issues and concerns, some positive and others negative. Please enjoy a look back at 2014.
Oxnard’s new city manager cleans house
For over two years, Oxnard’s top management position remained in limbo since then-City Manager Ed Sotelo went on paid leave in January 2012, leaving Assistant City Manager Karen Burnham. In April, the City Council approved the contract to bring on then-Modesto City Manager Greg Nyhoff at an annual base salary of $265,00 and a total compensation package of over $362,000. Total annual compensation for Sotelo, who had worked for the city for over 10 years, was valued at over $411,000.
It didn’t take long for Nyhoff to kick things into gear. From his start date in June, he first began to repair relations with the community. Around the same time, a federal investigation was under way regarding the handling of federal funds for homeless services, and the City Council also approved funds for an independent audit of the city’s finances, which revealed failures in previous management. First, federal officials found gross mishandling of funds stemming from inconsistent record keeping as well as other issues. Then, auditors found that top managers had accrued over $2 million in paid leave that was not agreed upon in contract negotiations. Almost simultaneously, several top managers at the city either retired, resigned or quit, including Bill Wilkins, Oxnard’s housing director; Will Reed, who oversaw the homelessness services, Assistant City Manager Burnham; Human Resources Director Rachel Shaw; and Finance Director Maricela Medina. With several top management positions now vacated, Nyhoff is in a prime position to handpick leadership for City Hall.
McGrath State Beach relocation study
McGrath State Beach and campground flooded after last winter.
Good news came to outdoors lovers when the Wishtoyo Foundation announced a tentative plan to restore, rejuvenate and relocate the much-loved, often flooded campground at McGrath State Beach, after a massive study is concluded on how to best handle the delicate environment.
The announcement came on December 4 when the Wishtoyo Foundation laid out a timeline of events leading up to the eventual moving of the campsite from its current position to an area to the south considered better suited for its function, with less of a chance to flood.
The main goal of the project, however, is to restore up to 35 acres of pristine estuary wetlands that had originally been in the location before Ventura County was settled. The area also held important significance to area Chumash natives, who used the wetlands for resources to build tools and boats.
The feasibility study will see specialists from many fields come together to work out the logistics of the project and to design the lagoons and creeks that will feed the estuary. Of importance to the planners is restoration of habitat for the endangered California steelhead and tidewater goby, two fish that have been driven to near extinction by the dwindling estuary habitat available in California.
“The project’s primary goal is to improve the ecological functioning of the estuary,” said Chris Hammersmark, part of the lead team of consultants working on the study and an engineer with CBEC Eco Engineering in early December. “There’s a lot of evidence that fish use these estuary environments to get much bigger before they head out to the ocean.”
On Jan. 12, 2015, the Wishtoyo Foundation will host experts from both California and U.S. fish and wildlife departments, the Coastal Conservancy, Coastal Commission, the LA Regional Water Control Board and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has jurisdiction over steelhead, to discuss the study.
The news came at a time when the future of the campground and even the state beach location itself were uncertain. Several floods have closed the campground prematurely over the past few years and an old pipe in need of replacement cost the county and its supporters $500,000 to replace.
The Wishtoyo Foundation hopes to complete the study by late 2015. — Chris O’Neal
The quagga quagmire persists in Lake Piru
February started out in panic mode at Lake Piru when the invasive quagga mussel that had made its way into the lake in December was found in neighboring Piru Creek, an event that officials had hoped would not happen.
The mussels live in fresh water and breed quickly, clogging vents and damaging boating and other equipment. The biggest ecological problem with the mussel is its ability to filter water. Mussels feed on a diet of plankton captured by processing the lake’s water through their valves and in turn leave the water clear, making it possible for more efficient sunlight penetration and creating the perfect environment for algae to bloom. The algae can disrupt the ecosystem and push out other species.
It is a mystery how the mussel arrived in the creek, however, though theories abound, the most likely being that the mussel traveled through a bypass valve and into the creek while the Santa Felicia Dam was under repair.
In October, the United Water Conservation District said that it would cost $41 million to attempt to rid the lake of the mussel, but that the effort might not work. The process would see Lake Piru drained and an experimental biopesticide applied to the lakebed. Maintenance at Lake Piru since the mussel’s arrival has been estimated at over $100,000 a year. The same month, divers had removed over 3,500 pounds of the mussel, and specially trained dogs that can sniff out the larvae were hired in an effort to kill the species before it took root.
Farmers growing crops in Pleasant Valley, who receive close to 40 percent of their water from United Water, have also raised concerns that the mussel will find its way into irrigation pipes.
The quagga mussel is native to Europe and found its way to North America in 1989. In 2008, Lake Casitas banned the use of outside boats as a preventive measure to keep the mussel from its waters. The quagga mussel infestation at Lake Piru is believed to have been caused by an out-of-state leisure boat. — Chris O’Neal
Migrant children arrive at the border, end up at base
In June, hundreds of thousands of children began arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, unaccompanied and without passports. The children, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, became the subject of a national emergency, splitting parties down the middle on immigration and the country’s responsibilities.
Busloads of children began arriving in June at Port Hueneme, and through July, where the Naval Base at Port Hueneme reopened shuttered shelters and stocked them with temporary beds and blankets for the children.
From the beginning of 2014 to May, the 47,000 children intercepted trying to cross the border was nearly double those found for the same time period in 2013. The Obama administration, reacting to the news, proposed $3.7 billion toward dealing with the influx by speeding up the process whereby children would be seen before a judge who would decide whether to send them home or relinquish them to family members in the U.S.
The temporary shelter, which was initially opened and slated to be open for only 120 days, is now scheduled to close by January of 2015. At its peak, the shelter housed nearly 600 children; and after its first month in operation, over 1,300 immigrant children had been processed through the facility.
The number of children attempting to cross the border, however, diminished significantly by August from its peak in the summer. In June 10,600 children were intercepted, while in July the number had dropped to 5,500.
The arrival of the children in Port Hueneme sparked protests, with a strong showing of support for the children by area activist groups and a small number of people opposed to housing the children at the base. — Chris O’Neal
SPARC 17 now healthy, adoptable
The case of the 17 mixed-breed dogs suffering from various states of neglect and pulled from the backyard of a Santa Paula home drew national attention in March and resulted in the dogs’ owner, Silvano Moses Duran, pleading guilty to five counts of failure to care for animals.
Duran had been charged with multiple city code violations, including an excessive number of animals, a failure to license the animals and running an unlicensed kennel. Duran had also been charged with tethering an animal and failure to provide proper care, according to Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center (SPARC) administrative liaison John Brockus in October; no evidence was found that Duran had used or trained the dogs to fight.
Ventura Superior Court Judge Donald Coleman sentenced Duran to 30 days of work furlough and three years’ probation, during which he cannot own or possesses animals, and restitution of up to $30,000. Duran is also subject to random searches of his home and vehicle for the duration of his probation.
In March, neighbors called authorities in regard to dogs fighting in Duran’s backyard. When officers arrived, 17 dogs, including puppies, were found in various states of duress, covered in mud and feces, some with bite marks and two in particular, one Boston terrier-pit bull mix and a Staffordshire terrier mix named Lola, in need of emergency care.
The 17 dogs were taken to the Santa Paula Animal Rescue Center where they were treated, and some of them were also taken to the Ohana Pet Hospital. Lola spent three and a half weeks in emergency care, but today she is doing well and is up for adoption.
“Through the diligent work of the professionals at [Ventura Medical Surgical Group] and Ohana Pet Hospital, she was able to keep her leg,” said Regina Wilcox, veterinary liaison for SPARC.
Of the 17 dogs that were taken to SPARC and came under SPARC ownership, five have been adopted. SPARC performs home checks before any of the dogs can be adopted, something that Wilcox says is important for bully breeds due to their unfortunate association with illegal activities.
As for the outlook for the SPARC 17, Wilcox says she is optimistic. The shelter has received dozens of applications for adoption of the dogs, and their health has improved greatly.
“It’s a really nice, happy outcome considering the situation,” said Wilcox. — Chris O’Neal
Mental health facility creates waves in west Ventura
In November, residents of downtown Ventura were shaken up by the news that a forensic Conditional Release Program facility, also known as CONREP, would move into a tucked-away, residential corner of West Ventura.
The CONREP facility had once been operated by Ventura County Behavioral Health until contract negotiations fell through and Virginia-based MHM Services of California Inc., took over. Operations were moved out of the VCBH facility on Telegraph Road in Ventura on Nov. 1.
The new location, at 40 W. Santa Clara St., sat adjacent to Real Cheap Sports, in front of Working Artists Ventura residential apartments and near a senior living housing project and a daycare facility.
CONREP is an outpatient facility that serves clients who typically have severe mental disorders, 85 percent of whom have committed violent felonies. Most patients have been released from a state mental hospital under the stipulation that they continue treatment at a CONREP facility.
Controversy arose over the outrage regarding the facility’s location, when members of the community accused the media of generating fear over treatment for the mentally disabled. CONREP, however, is not an open-door facility and only treats the criminally insane, much as a criminal can be given probation and required to check in with a probation officer.
The Department of State Hospitals says that “27 percent of persons released from state hospitals without going to CONREP re-offend within two years,” while those who complete the program have a “very low level of re-offense,” around 6 percent.
After several days of unrest, Ventura Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert said that the facility should not have been moved to the area without notifying the city of its use, and that the treatment of psychiatric patients within the Downtown Ventura specific plan is forbidden.
It was later revealed, however, that MHM had applied for and received a business license to operate at the location, which the city then terminated after the fact. A notice of eviction was placed on the office’s door, and the property owner terminated the contract for the facility.
During a taped interview by Santa Barbara-based television station KEYT, an altercation occurred when a person leaving the facility approached an individual being interviewed. A scuffle ensued and local resident Brian Hassenflug pushed the man to the ground. No charges were filed for the scuffle, but the issue raised concerns over safety at the facility, where no security guards were present during operations.
As of early December, patients were no longer being treated at the Santa Clara location and MHM is appealing the city’s decision to repeal the business license.
— Chris O’Neal
Drought causes major concern; rains wreaks havoc
It was a rather stressful year as stories, statistics and images permeated news outlets coveringCalifornia’s dwindling water supplies in the worst drought in over 100 years. In Ventura County, boat docks stood on dry land by receding lakes, and grazing pastures went fallow. While the governor asked for a 20 percent reduction in water usage — which has yet to happen — local municipalities, including Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura, passed water restrictions, mainly for watering lawns. Over several months, plush lawns turned brown while some homeowners instead turned them into drought-tolerant gardens. Water conservationists went head-to-head with developers over identifying water resources, causing somewhat of a stalemate in peak economic times. The Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved a ban on new groundwater wells, putting some farmers in a bind.
As the year wound down and water supplies seemed dismal, the rain came. Hard. In November and December, Ventura County had several inches of rain, with mudslides making national news, specifically Camarillo Springs and on Highway 1 near Malibu right inside the county line. As drought conditions eased around the state with the rainfall, Ventura County remained in an exceptional drought condition — the most severe status — as of Dec. 18, according to the National Drought Mitigation Center, and water restrictions remained in place.
Election season: Expensive campaigns, tight races, low voter turnout
After two-term Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, threw his hat in the ring for District 26 in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2013 to run against one-term Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, it was no surprise that it got ugly. Both sides went on the attack, but with Brownley’s war chest of more than $3.5 million, compared to Gorell’s $1.3 million, voters became inundated with ads, mainly for Brownley or against Gorell. Brownley also had major support, including former President Bill Clinton, who made an appearance in Oxnard. When it came down to Election Day, the two were separated by a couple of thousand votesm then the gap widened to close to 5,000 once the count was over, Brownley keeping her seat.
In Oxnard, City Councilman Bryan MacDonald ran against Mayor Tim Flynn, with Flynn keeping his seat by a nearly 2-1 margin (Flynn with 15,764 votes, MacDonald with 8,285). The closest of all races for the November election season was between Oxnard City Councilman Bert Perello and candidate Steve Huber. Once all ballots were counted, Perello kept his seat by 10 votes. Huber didn’t ask for a recount. And the typically conservative East County voters elected Democrat Jacqui Irwin, who is the former mayor of Thousand Oaks, into the 44th State Assembly district. She defeated her opponent Rob McCoy by more than 5,000 votes.
Despite the highly contested races, voter turnout was the lowest in decades at 47 percent.
On Jan. 1, 13 states (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) increase minimum wage.
Jan. 7, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signs a bill into law that bans same-sex marriage and imposes other punishments on the LGBT community.
The 2014 Ebola virus epidemic begins in West Africa. It is suspected that, ultimately, more than 19,000 people have been infected and around 7,467 deaths have been reported.
Feb. 7 to 23, the XXII Olympic Winter Games take place in Sochi, Russia.
Belgium becomes the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia for terminally ill patients of any age.
General Motors recalls 780,000 vehicles on Feb. 14 due to faulty ignition switches.
On Feb. 22, the Ukranian Parliament elects to remove President ViKtor Yanukovych from office and replaces him with Oleksandr Turchynov. This event is followed by civil unrest and the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
On March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappears over the Gulf of Thailand with 239 people on board. The Boeing 777 was en route to Beijing, China, from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is presumed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean.
Open enrollment for the first year of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act health insurance ends. The number of enrollees surpasses the Obama Administration’s goal of 7 million.
Ten are killed on April 10 in Orland, California, when a FedEx semi collides with a chartered tour bus carrying high school students, a few from schools in Ventura County, on their way to visit Humboldt State University.
An estimated 276 girls are abducted by Boko Haram militants on April 14 from a school in northeastern Nigeria and held hostage.
On April 27, the Roman Catholic Church declares Popes John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints.
Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is banned for life by the NBA from attending games and is fined $2.5 million after a recording of racist comments he made surfaces online.
On May 23, Elliot Rodger, 22, kills six students and injures 13 in Isla Vista near the University of California, Santa Barbara. Prior to the attacks, Rodger uploaded a video to YouTube titled “Elliot Rodger’s Retribution,” outlining details of his intentions. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Renowned American author Maya Angelou, 86, dies on May 28 after a long illness. Angelou was also a poet, dancer, activist, singer and actress. Among many achievements, she won three Grammys for her spoken word and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest civilian award of the United States.
On May 31, U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, 28, a prisoner of war in Afghanistan since June 2009, is freed by Taliban in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees who are released to Qatar.
On June 2, the city of Seattle passes a local ordinance to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, the highest in the nation.
Sunni militant group ISIS, or ISIL, began an attack through northern Iraq on June 5 with the intention of capturing Baghdad and overthrowing the Shiite government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
June 12-July 13, the 2014 FIFA World Cup is held in Brazil, and Germany wins.
On June 15, the American-led intervention in Iraq begins in response to terrorist acts by ISIS.
In the aftermath of a lawsuit by chain-store Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court rules on June 30, in a 5-4 decision, that the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act cannot be imposed on closely held corporations.
July 8-Aug. 26, Israel launches Operation Protective Edge on the Palestinian Gaza Strip, which results in seven weeks of fighting and the deaths of 2,100 Palestinians and 71 Israelis. The confrontation was provoked by the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June followed by the revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in July.
Super Typhoon Rammasun strikes the Philippines, China and Vietnam from July 10 to July 20, killing more than 100 people.
On July 17, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashes in Ukraine after being shot down by a missile; all 298 people onboard the 777 airliner die.
Eric Garner, 43, dies in Staten Island, New York, after a police officer uses a chokehold to subdue him during an arrest on suspicion of selling loose cigarettes. In December, NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo is not indicted by the grand jury, leading to nationwide protests.
On July 24, Air Algérie Flight 5017 crashes in Mali killing all 116 people on board.
On Aug. 9, Officer Darren Wilson fatally shoots unarmed Mike Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Missouri. November, Wilson is not indicted by the grand jury in the death of Brown, which serves as the catalyst for local protests and looting; he resigns from the Ferguson Police Department.
Beloved actor Robin Williams, 63, is found dead on Aug. 11 in his Paradise Cay, California, home. It is determined that the Oscar-winning comedian died as a result of suicide by hanging.
An online video appears on Aug. 19 showing the beheading of American photojournalist James Foley by ISIS militants in response to the U.S. airstrike campaign in Syria. Foley was being held hostage in Syria.
A magnitude-6.0 earthquake strikes Napa, California, on Aug. 24, injuring 120 people; it is the largest earthquake to strike the San Francisco Bay area since 1989.
A group of hackers release hundreds of private, mostly nude photos of celebrities, leading to mass criticism of Apple’s iCloud storage service and an investigation by the FBI.
CVS Pharmacy rebrands itself as CVS Health and ends sales of tobacco products to further establish its commitment to health.
Iconic comedian and TV host Joan Rivers, 81, dies on Sept. 4 from brain damage caused by complications during a minor surgical procedure.
On Sept. 18, Scotland votes against independence from the U.K.
On Sept. 30, the CDC reports the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. in Dallas, Texas. The man, Thomas Eric Duncan, is also the first person to die of the disease in the U.S when he succumbs to it on Oct. 8.
Oct. 6-12, the Supreme Court decides not to hear cases on same-sex marriage appeals, immediately legalizing same-sex marriages in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. The action is followed by the legalization of same-sex marriages in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina and West Virginia.
Gas prices drop below $3 a gallon, a four year low. In December, some parts of the nation saw them drop below $2 a gallon. Overall, gas prices drop roughly 62 cents in one year; each cent gas prices drop is equivalent to $1 billion in savings for drivers, for a total $62 billion, which played out better for the economy, according to Stephen Stanley, Chief Economist of Amherst Pierpont in a CNN Money report.
Malala Yousafzai, 17, becomes the youngest Nobel Prize laureate on Oct. 10. Yousafzai is the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for her struggle against the suppression of the young and for the right to education for all children.
On Oct. 29, the San Francisco Giants defeat the Kansas City Royals, winning the 2014 World Series. The team had also won in 2010 and 2012.
On Nov. 3, the new One World Trade Center building in New York City opens.
In midterm elections on Nov. 4, the Republican Party wins the majority of seats in the House and the Senate to take control of Congress.
On Nov. 7, President Obama authorizes sending over 1,500 troops back into Iraq in the fight against ISIL.
Convicted serial killer Charles Manson, 80, obtains a marriage license on Nov. 17 to marry 25-year-old Afton “Star” Burton. Manson is serving a life sentence at Corcoran State Prison in California.
President Obama announces plans to use executive action to restructure the U.S. policy on immigration, deporting criminals and granting citizenship to nearly 4.4 million illegal immigrants.
Sony Pictures Entertainment suffers a debilitating cyber attack beginning Nov. 24, leaking emails, salary information, unreleased films and more. An anonymous group called Guardians of Peace claims the assault and threatens terror attacks if Seth Rogen’s and James Franco’s film, The Interview, is released. The comedy portrays the assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. An FBI investigation later links the cyber attack directly to North Korea. After cinemas drop out, Sony cancels the theatrical release of the film.
At least 141 people die on Dec. 16, including 132 children, when Taliban gunmen burst into a school in Peshawar, Pakistan.
On Dec. 17, President Obama announces the renewal of normal relations between the U.S. and Cuba as well as an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba for the first time since Jan. 1961.
On Dec. 20, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, shoots his ex-girlfriend in Baltimore, Maryland, then commutes to Brooklyn, New York, and fatally shoots two NYPD police officers sitting in their police cruiser. Brinsley shoots himself to death shortly after the crime; he reportedly committed the murders in retaliation for the controversial deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, which occurred at the hands of police officers.