LOCALLY FOCUSED

Ventura County’s 2018 can be summed up by its bookends: the Thomas Fire and the Woolsey Fire, with everything else in between trying not to get lost in the onslaught of news, which seemingly arrived one after the other without a chance for us to catch our breath. There were highlights, however, amid the many lowlights, with a distinct feeling of perseverance through tragedy the defining characteristic of county residents looking to rebuild and move forward.

VENTURA COUNTY

The Thomas Fire was officially contained on Jan. 12, 2018, over a month since beginning on Dec. 4, 2017, near Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula. It was confirmed that the fire had begun in two separate places and combined into one fire, fueled by strong Santa Ana winds as it pushed westward toward Ventura. In the end, over 1,000 structures were destroyed and over 281,000 acres were burned.

As winter progressed, so too came the rains, tragically. On Jan. 9, early morning, a mudflow triggered by heavy rain devastated the town of Montecito, bringing with it boulders, mud and debris 15-feet deep. By Jan. 21, 21 deaths had been confirmed as a result of the mudflow, with two still unaccounted for. Over 100 homes were destroyed and U.S. Route 101 was closed for over one week, inundated in mud and debris.

On Jan. 18, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean announced that he would not be seeking re-election in the upcoming primaries.

In February, the 805 Undocufund was launched by immigrant activist groups to assist those affected by the fire and mudslides who were ineligible for Federal or State assistance.

Restaurants feeling the pressure from environmental groups pledge allegiance to the Straw Challenge, which swept the county over the summer. Dozens of restaurants and businesses pledged to go strawless (or by request only) after evidence pointed toward straws having a big impact on the environment.

In August, the county’s first West Nile Virus patient was confirmed; the season for the mosquito borne virus came and went without a big impact, however.

On Thursday, Nov. 8, both the Hill and the Woolsey fires ignited. The first was the Hill, which forced the evacuations of communities in Camarillo and the closure of California State University, Channel Islands. The Hill Fire was slowed due to its passing through the burn scar of the 2013 Spring Fire. Later that same day, what would become the Woolsey Fire ignited near the Rocketdyne plant and would grow to an enormous size, threatening homes in Westlake Village and Oak Park. Communities in Thousand Oaks, where the night before the Borderline shooting occurred, were forced to evacuate as eyes from across the country watched the aftermath. The Woolsey Fire would burn through to Malibu before being contained on Nov. 16 destroying over 1,600 structures and burning 97,000 acres and killing three.

President Donald Trump visited families affected by the Woolsey Fires in November, landing at Naval Base Point Mugu before traveling to Malibu. He would meet with families of the victims of the Borderline shooting as well.

David Creswell

Ventura Unified School District Superintendent David Creswell resigned in December following controversy surrounding comments he made regarding LGBTQ students as a church elder prior to being hired.

VENTURA

Beloved green pig and float Ham Hock returned to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade from beyond the grave, revitalized and full of spunk (and air) after being ripped asunder by its own girth two years prior.

Kellogg Park

After over a decade of planning and demand, Kellogg Park opens on Ventura Avenue.

For the first time in its storied history, the Amgen Tour of California launches a stage from Ventura in May. Cyclists started from the Ventura Pier during Stage 2 of the week-long race. Blink and you’d miss ’em as they passed through downtown Ventura and Camarillo before stopping for the night in Santa Barbara.

Temple Beth Torah and Friends of Turning Point at River Haven

River Haven, the housing community for formerly homeless individuals, received an upgrade in domiciles in July when the experimental dome houses were replaced by tiny homes, constructed by several local businesses and nonprofits. Also in July, the Ventura City Council OK’d a permanent homeless shelter in the city, though no further plans have been revealed.

Kirra Drury and Raegan Heitzig both Ventura residents who worked at The Tavern and Social Tap respectively were killed when the boat they were on crashed into another vessel on the Colorado River near to the Arizona border in September.

Two Ventura women were killed when the boat they were on crashed into another vessel on the Colorado River near to the Arizona border in September. Kirra Drury and Raegan Heitzig were both Ventura residents, working at The Tavern and Social Tap respectively. 

The Ventura Botanical Gardens reopened in November with upgrades, a new visitor’s center, and a new daily fee, having been closed since being burned in the Thomas Fire.

Longtime local favorite Vagabond Cafe and Coffee Shop announced that it would be closing in the New Year for a remodel.

OXNARD

Rendering of the now defunct proposal of the Puente Power Project

NRG Energy Inc. officially cancelled plans to build the controversial Puente Power Project in December after placing the project on hold in late 2017. The plant would have replaced the Ormond Beach Generating Station, which went offline in October.

A dangerous intersection in Oxnard no more? On May 22, Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin announced that $68.6 million in funding had been acquired for a bridge lifting South Rice Road over railroad tracks near East Fifth Street, a longtime requested project for the site of several high-profile-train-versus vehicle incidents.

Protester at Oxnard School District regarding laying off aides and concerns over how Superintendent Cesar Morales handled new state mandates to school workers.

Oxnard School District trustees narrowly voted on Dec. 15 not to lay off all 141 of the district’s campus aides in December, instead making them regular staff with benefits.

SANTA PAULA

Rescue dogs and their handlers from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation based in Santa Paula assisted in search and rescue efforts during the Montecito mudflow in January.

CAMARILLO

Parolees in fire camp

A proposal in April to create a parolee fire training center draws the ire of the Camarillo City Council and residents who object to the camp’s proximity to the city. The proposal would convert the existing Ventura Conservation Camp into the Ventura Training Center operated by CalFire and the California Department of Corrections.

THOUSAND OAKS

Applications for marijuana businesses began to flourish in Thousand Oaks, two years after California voters passed Proposition 64.

Sgt. Ron Helus

Late night, Wednesday, Nov. 7, a gunman walked into the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks and opened fire, killing 13, including Ventura County Sheriff Sg.t Ron Helus. It would be revealed in December that Helus was killed by friendly fire.

OJAI

Joining its fellow council in Thousand Oaks, the city of Ojai voted to allow recreational marijuana in the city in July.

LOCAL POLITICS

All quiet’s on the western front, right? In the famed words of Borat, “Nawt!!” 2018 was as dynamic politically as it had been since the election of President Donald Trump. Love him or hate him, there is no denying that the fireworks coming out of Washington – and even locally – have been at least somewhat entertaining.

Setting aside what happens in and around the White House, politically, Ventura County went through its own turbulence via the June primaries and the November midterms. Here’s a look back.

Justice for All rally at Plaza Park in Downtown Ventura

With January came the anniversary of President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, and the protests continued. On Jan. 24, hundreds attended the Justice for All Rally at several locations across the county, with a call for action on climate change a new priority in light of the Thomas Fire.

March for Our Lives sanctioned protest at Ventura High

On Feb. 14, a gunman opened fire in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 students and staff members. In response, on March 15, students across the county joined their peers across the country in the March for Our Lives event, walking out of class to demonstrate against perceived inaction on gun violence.

The June Primaries came with much anticipation, the first election since 2016’s raucous tomfoolery. The primaries offered no surprises locally, sending incumbents to the November midterms in what would prove to become a pivotal vote for Democratic Party nominees nationwide.

Locally, an Oxnard special election proved somewhat interesting with threat of a recall for a majority of the Oxnard City Councilmembers including Mayor Tim Flynn and City Councilmembers Carmen Ramirez, Oscar Madrigal and Bert Perello. The special election was approved in early 2018. On May 1, (some) voters turned out and decided that they were happy with all four, removing none. Recall initiator Aaron Starr would run for Oxnard City Council both in the recall and in the midterms and come short.

In July, Congresswoman Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, visited a border detention facility in Texas housing migrant children. “Today, I watched tearfully as children were finally reunited with their parents after they had been cruelly ripped apart from their parents by President [Donald] Trump’s senseless family separation policy,” said Brownley. Several facilities remain open in Texas and California. Around the same time, Families Belong Together rallies were held countywide drawing hundreds protesting the migrant detention centers.

Both Oxnard and Ventura adopt districts for upcoming elections, forcing several long-time councilmembers in Ventura to resign or choose not to run for re-election. In Ventura, with six districts gave the west side of downtown and the Ventura Avenue area its first representative in Sofia Rubalcava and the east side elected Lorrie Brown during the November primaries, and in Oxnard, incumbents win in their new districts and are joined by two new faces, boosting the Council seat count to seven from five.

Following a year in which several Conejo Valley Unified School District board members were criticized for decisions made regarding inclusion of LGBTQ history into the curriculum and passing opt-in reading requirements some considered a form of censorship, board member Mike Dunn was voted out during the November midterms, replaced by his loudest critics, Cindy Goldberg, Jenny Fitzgerald and Bill Gorback, who took the spots of John Anderson and Pat Phelps, both of whom decided not to seek re-election

Greg Nyhoff

Oxnard City Manager Greg Nyhoff resigned in January, and in July, the city hired Alex Nguyen as its new City Manager. In December, Nguyen appointed Ashley M. Golden as Assistant City Manager, thus filling a void almost a year in the making.

Mark Watkins

Following in Oxnard’s footsteps, the city of Ventura chose a new City Manager and hired Alex McIntyre to replace Mark Watkins, who announced his retirement in 2017.  

LOCAL CRIME

As Ventura County paused to catch its breath following multiple natural disasters and tragedies, one thing managed to continue on unabated: crime. Here’s a brief look back at all the headlines originating from the crime blotter in 2018.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged interference by the Russian government in the 2016 Presidential Election took a decidedly local turn on Feb. 16, when it was announced that a Santa Paula man had pleaded guilty to charges of identity fraud. Richard Pinedo, 28, allegedly created fraudulent bank accounts used by Russians.

On March 17, a gunman entered the Thousand Oaks Mall and shot and killed Parisa Siddiqi, 29, who was working as a manager at Papersource. Kevin Crane, 33, shot himself and survived. It was later revealed that Crane should not have had the weapon he used during the crime.

Rally after murder of Aloha patron by homeless man who had been causing concern to passersby before the murder.

A known Ventura homeless man entered the Aloha Steakhouse on April 18 and allegedly stabbed a Ventura resident in the neck, resulting in his death. Jamal Jackson, 49, was seen on surveillance camera yelling and causing a scene at the Ventura Promenade prior to the event but was not contacted by officials. Demonstrations were held in the city, demanding action be taken on perceived increase in crime, attributed to an increase in the homeless population.

Golden State Killer suspect
Joseph James DeAngelo

On April 25, Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten charged a Northern California man under suspicion of being the long-sought Golden State Killer, thought to be responsible for the 1980 murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith of Ventura.

Hermin Martin Henderson, 52, of Ventura, owner of Double R Towing, was found guilty in June of fleeing the scene of an accident in Santa Paula where a 14-year-old bicyclist was killed in 2016 and found guilty of concealing evidence of the crime.

Heather Locklear

Thousand Oaks resident and celebrity Heather Locklear was arrested on June 24 after allegedly battering a police officer and emergency personnel. This was her second arrest in less than a month.

In November, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy was charged with forcible rape against a minor in Ventura County. Neil Kimball, 45, of Agoura Hills, appeared in court in November and pleaded not guilty.

Also in November, Jonah Bregman, 25, of Northridge was arrested on suspicion of burglary and a misdemeanor of engaging in lewd conduct following multiple alleged burglaries of homes evacuated during the Woolsey Fire. Bregman allegedly took women’s clothing from residences and wore some of the clothes, causing a public incident.

On Dec. 11, an Oxnard mother was convicted for the murder of her 3-year old daughter. Mayra Alejandra Chavez, 27, was found guilty of felony torture and assault leading to the death of Kimberly Lopez, and Kimberly’s father, Omar Lopez, disposed of the girl’s remains. Lopez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and testified against the mother.