National/international news by Daphne Khalida Kilea; local news by Chris O’Neal

The year 2017 brought with it uncertainty, as do most post-election years. If you thought 2016 was wild, nothing could have prepared you for the year of “fake news,” #metoo and Thomas the Destroyer.  

Ventura County

By the stroke of midnight, Jan. 1, 2017, the plans had already been set: massive demonstrations to show disapproval over the election of President Donald J. Trump scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 19, inauguration day. Not surprising, considering California’s 2016 rejection of Trump. Los Angeles hosted one of the largest anti-Trump marches outside of Washington, D.C., drawing many from Ventura County. Here, however, marches were held as well.

In Oxnard, The Inauguration Day March Against Hate took place on Friday, Jan. 20. Students from area high schools took to the streets with demonstrators hoisting signs in opposition to the new president’s election and promised agenda.

In Ventura, Justice for All’s March for Justice began at 10 a.m. downtown at Plaza Park, making its way downtown. Hundreds joined in the walk, many women wearing pink in solidarity.

The planned protests were just a few; many unplanned protests broke out downtown Ventura and elsewhere in the county for the entirety of the month of January.

A series of storms beginning on Jan. 19 brought record rainfall to much of drought-parched Ventura County. The area remained in the severe drought category even after the rains, which all but disappeared for the rest of the year.

Following the passage of Prop 64 in 2016, medical marijuana received a mixed welcome countywide. Port Hueneme, dubbed “Pot Hueneme” by some, has welcomed medical marijuana businesses with open arms, and Oxnard approved the delivery of medical marijuana. Thousand Oaks and Santa Paula have expressed an interest in allowing some form of activity. The city of Ventura has taken no action as yet.

An algae bloom affected a large number of birds, seals and other sea life by via domoic acid poisoning off Ventura coast in March. In other environmental news, a total eclipse of the moon was visible from much of the nation in August — but only a partial eclipse can be seen from Ventura County.

In October, a mass shooting took the lives of six Ventura County residents. Fifty-nine people, including the gunman, were killed, and over 500 injured on Sunday, Oct. 1, at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.

On Monday, Dec. 4, at approximately 6:28 p.m., the Thomas Fire began as a brushfire north west of Santa Paula. By Tuesday, Dec. 19, the fire had grown to 271,500 acres in size, making it the third largest fire in California history. Cal Fire Engineer Cory Iverson, 32, of Escondido, died while fighting the fire near Fillmore on Thursday, Dec. 14. A procession was held on Sunday, Dec. 17, as Iverson was taken from Ventura County back to his home. As of Wednesday, Dec. 27, the Thomas Fire has burned 281,620 acres, destroying 1,063 structures, and is 88 percent contained. The Thomas Fire became the largest in state history on Dec. 22.   

Camarillo

In September, the city’s school for children with autism was forced to seek a new home. Triton Academy was asked to vacate the premises by the end of the 2017-2018 school year by the Ventura County Office of Education, which owns the location. Students from the third through 12th grades attend Triton, which has a current enrollment of 81 students from 13 different districts in Ventura County.

In October, residents of Camarillo and anyone traveling along Highway 101 spotted the big white tent off of Santa Rosa Road. Cavalia Odysseo, from a producer of the world-famous Cirque du Soleil, features dozens of horses and acrobats. The show hosts performances in the city through January 2018.

Fillmore

The City Council voted against a repeal of a ban on marijuana businesses within the city, a move that gives the boot to Coast to Coast Collective, a Canoga Park medical marijuana dispensary with hopes of building an indoor farm.

Ojai

Ojai Indivisible, a local chapter of a new national organization that sprang up after the election of Donald Trump, hosts an Ojai and Ventura Countywide March for Science protest to coincide with the national event held in Washington D.C. on April 22, Earth Day.

Jeffrey Kroll, 66, arrested in April 2016, facing multiple felony charges, including conspiracy to sell marijuana and manufacturing concentrated cannabis, in addition to four counts of failing to file a tax return and three counts of filing false returns, had all charges dropped against him in July. Kroll, owner of Shangri-La Care Cooperative, had been the subject of several no-knock warrant searches, with many personal belongings, including cash and computers, confiscated over the course of the investigation.

The Thomas Fire that ravaged much of the city of Ventura made its way to Ojai, surrounding the entirety of the city just days after it began on Monday, Dec. 4. Firefighters from across the state and around the country fought to protect the valley hamlet. As Santa Ana winds propelled the flames, many homes in the Upper Ojai valley were lost; Rose Valley remained under threat for much of the second week of the fire.

Oxnard

The Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project, known simply as MICOP, launched its indigenous language radio station, Radio Indigena, at 94.1 FM, in February from Oxnard.

The city of Oxnard is presented with troubling information regarding its red-light camera system: several of its cameras issued tickets erroneously based on wrong timing information, and further, the system, which continued to accrue debt, had been sitting idle since Jan. 31 over contract negotiations with RedFlex, the camera operator.

Aaron Star, former-Oxnard City Council candidate, called for a recall of four current councilmembers over a wastewater rate increase approved by the council on Tuesday, May. 16. Mayor Tim Flynn and council members Carmen Ramirez, Bert Perello and Oscar Madrigal were all subjects of the recall as Starr announced his intention to gather signatures, which, if successful, would force a special election to replace the councilmembers.

Also in May, a string of homicides left the city on edge with three shootings resulting in the seventh, eighth and ninth murders in the city.

To further paranoia in the city, a second string of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids took place in May targeting both LA and Ventura counties. Of the 188 arrested around the southland, 17 in total were arrested from Ventura County, with 10 in Oxnard.

In September, President Trump’s announcement that he would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, whose recipients are often referred to as Dreamers, spurred protests in the city.

October saw good news for those opposed to the proposed Puente Power Plant at Oxnard Shores, as the Energy Commission Committee of the California Energy Commission assigned to the project released a statement relaying that the Commission would deny the proposed 262 megawatt plant due to clean energy alternatives’ ability to supply power to the area. NRG Energy suspended its plans to build the power plant in November for six months in turn.

Following in the footsteps of Ventura, Oxnard City Council decided to scrape its at-large voting and move to district-based elections as well. The move is one sweeping cities since the passage of the California Voting Rights Act in 2001.

The city of Oxnard may have been out of the path of the Thomas Fire, but it, too, was affected, as local schools closed their doors in response for a week at the onset. The abatement of the Halaco Superfund Site, which had become a mini-camp for the area homeless population, was postponed due to the county’s winter warming shelter being used as an emergency staging location for the National Guard.

On Dec. 12, City Manager Greg Nyhoff announced his intent to resign, with his final day being Jan. 5, 2018. Police Chief Scott Whitney will be sitting in as interim City Manager.

Port Hueneme

The city embraces the idea of being dubbed “Pot Hueneme” by welcoming medical marijuana-centric businesses to set up operation, bucking the trend of cities in Ventura County rejecting such permitting. The city approved two dispensaries in 2017, set to open in the new year. City Councilman Jim Hensley sues for violating his free speech rights while former Housing Authority director Joseph Gately won a $1.5 million settlement after being fired when he revealed HUD monies were not being properly allocated.

Santa Paula

On May 13, a homeless man was lit aflame while sleeping on a bench in Veteran’s Park. Jorge Chavez, 36, was arrested later the next day and charged with assault with a deadly weapon, and later, charged with first-degree murder after the victim passed away May 23.

The Wishtoyo Foundation filed a motion on June 9 to intervene in proceedings regarding a proposed natural-gas power plant in the Santa Clara River Valley. The plant, dubbed the Mission Rock Energy Center (MREC), would sit to the east of Santa Paula. The project, which was proposed in December 2015, has been opposed by Santa Paula residents and the Santa Paula City Council, which questioned the need for the power plant and issued a formal objection to the plant in October 2016, raising environmental and social concerns.

Limoneira officials and county representatives break ground on Wednesday, Nov. 8, on the master planned community Harvest at Limoneira. Built on Limoneira Company’s East Area 1 property, the development will span 500 acres and will host 1,500 new homes; new schools; community facilities for health care; new commercial spaces; a sports park; an amphitheater and hiking trails.

In October, Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college, won an exemption from the Health and Human Services Contraceptive Mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

Simi Valley

In November, it was revealed that several lawsuits are pending, while others are in the process of being filed, against the El Rancho Simi Pioneer Cemetery District alleging it and its former manager Barbara Scroggins mishandled human remains, fraud and breach of contract, after discovering that the body of the deceased Helen Gallick had not been buried where the family had been told she was in 2015. To date, an attorney representing one of plaintiffs said that there are perhaps over 20 affected by the fraudulent burials.

Thousand Oaks

California’s first water-market launched in June at California Lutheran University, a market that allows farmers to sell unused groundwater allocations to other farmers. 

In November, Conejo Valley Unified School District teachers and students protested a new policy that could dramatically change what students read as a part of their curriculum. The proposal, passed during the late hours of Tuesday, Nov. 14, will require instructors to receive permission from parents before proceeding with book assignments, creating syllabi and providing written and oral warnings if said book contains adult material. Board Member Sandee Everett introduced the policy on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Ventura

In January, an arrest was made in connection to suspected arson that displaced 43 residents of the Leewood Hotel on the 700 block of East Santa Clara Street in Ventura, forcing it to be deemed uninhabitable. The suspect, Juan Turner, 34, was arrested, but the former residents, many of whom were living on a fixed-income. Many were displaced and thrown into the county’s already at-capacity homeless shelters.

In February, the Ventura Harbor became the focal point of a proposal that could turn Ventura into Mussel City USA. The Ventura Shellfish Enterprise, a multiparty project that would allow for 20 100-acre plots for growing mussels in state waters within the Santa Barbara Channel near Ventura Harbor, was announced by the Ventura Port District, Coastal Marine Biolabs, The Cultured Abalone Farm in Goleta and Ventura-based Ashworth Leininger Group. The group has a long permitting process to go through before the dream can be realized, however.

The long-awaited Kellogg Park on the city’s west side broke ground in March with an expected completion date in 2018. A bidding war over proposed projects for Ventura Harbor came to a head, with two proposals up for grabs, featuring hotels, dining and more. The beloved parade pig Sham Hock deflated during the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade and was pronounced dead at the scene.

For the first time in nearly three decades, the Aloha Beach Festival was not held in April due to rising costs associated with event permitting. The City Council created a committee to research rising costs of events on April 10, asking stakeholders to offer opinions on best practices.

On Sunday, May 28, 20-year-old Baylee Gatlin of Ventura died while attending the 14th annual Lightning in a Bottle festival held in Monterey County.

In June, the 75-year old Avenue staple Ventura Hardware closed for good.

August saw a decision made for a massive undertaking at the Ventura Harbor: H. Parker Hospitality proposed a boutique hotel, Harbor Cove Inn, for the end of Spinnaker Drive, while an “adventure lodge” hybrid hostel is proposed for the adjacent property.

Also in August, Ventura-based Patagonia, Inc., joined with many other environmentally-minded businesses in penning a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in opposition to shrinking the Carizo Plains National Monument, part of which sits in Ventura County.

In August, the trial for Hermin Martin Henderson, 52, of Ventura, began. Henderson was charged with felony hit and run for a collision that led to the death of Jonathan Hernandez, 14, on Feb. 18, 2016, in Ventura. The Hernandez family filed a civil suit against Henderson and his company, Double R Towing.

 

Tragedy struck in October when one of the remaining iconic Two Trees fell over in high winds.

Ventura scrapped at-large voting in November, choosing instead to go district-based, after a September threat of legal action claiming that the city’s current methods underrepresented minority groups.

Of course, in December, came the Thomas Fire. On Monday, Dec. 4, Ventura got a brand new look when the hillsides burned from the east to the west. In Ventura alone, over 500 homes were destroyed by the fire, including the Hawaiian Village Apartments and part of the Harbor View Apartment complex on Kalorama. The Ondulando and Clearpoint neighborhoods were devastated. On Tuesday, Dec. 19, mandatory evacuation orders for the two neighborhoods were finally lifted. 

On the same night as the fire began, an off-duty California Highway Patrolman was arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon after shooting the victim twice in the back after a dispute. 

Air quality due to the Thomas Fire forces school closures in Ventura through well into January of 2018.