Vol. 11, No. 6 – Dec 20, 2017 – Jan 2, 2018 – A View from House Seats

by Shirley Lorraine

Healing through entertainment

In times of disaster, there is a desperate need to be entertained. During the last few weeks Ventura County has been pounded with strife, destruction and loss. The usual Christmas season preparations may take detours this year due to natural consequences beyond our control. However, county theaters are doing their best to provide healing laughter and sanctuary for our minds.

For those who may say “this is not the time to be going to the theater” – I say Bah, Humbug! This is exactly the time to take a breather (masks encouraged) to refocus and recover. And, as the old saying goes, “The show must go on”. Our county’s theaters have risen to the challenge.

Santa Paula Theatre Center has recently been lauded for continuing to stage “It’s A Wonderful Life: On The Air”. Not only the audiences, but the actors as well require a way to escape and focus on positive aspects of the season. The show continues through December 23 – go see it and have your spirits lifted.
Despite a difficult situation, the Ojai Theatre Center only cancelled one performance of its holiday offering, “Animal Crackers”. The community needs the theater as a reminder of the wonderful place they live and a welcome, if temporary, diversion from the struggles facing the valley.

Camarillo’s Skyway Playhouse presented several weekends of the lively and hilarious “Nuncrackers”, a musical that is just pure fun. Although rehearsals were somewhat compromised, according to director Dean Johnson, by the smoky atmosphere (not conducive to singing), the opening went ahead as scheduled.

Rubicon’s popular version of the classic “A Christmas Carol” continues through December 23, as does the musical “A Christmas Story” at the Simi Valley Arts Center.

Even the Ventura Improv Company is up to the challenge, planning a performance at the Ventura Harbor Comedy Club for December 23.

The Every Now And Then Theater has been delighting county radio audiences for 27 years. Two of their award-winning Christmas themed radio dramas will be broadcast commercial-free on Newstalk 1590 KVTA at various times on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The all-volunteer productions, in conjunction with KVTA, annually raise funds for the Children’s Services Auxiliary of Ventura County serving foster children. This year the fire destroyed the homes of 61 foster children. Support is needed more than ever.

Most theaters will be on a short holiday hiatus as they prepare for their January offerings. Season schedules for 2018 are being announced and publicized. Patrons will want to take note of the wonderful, challenging, moving and amusing options each theater is planning.

Here’s how to find out just what’s on stage around the county:
Camarillo Skyway Playhouse www.skywayplayhouse.org, 388-5716
Conejo Players Theater www.conejoplayers.org, 495-3715
Elite Theater www.elitetheatre.org, 483-5118
Every Now And Then Theatre www.everynowandthentheatre.com
High Street Arts Center www.highstreetartscenter.org, 529-8700
Ojai Arts Center Theater www.ojaiact.org, 640-8797
Rubicon www.rubicontheatre.org, 667-2900
Santa Paula Theatre Center www.santapaulatheatercenter.org, 525-4645
Simi Arts Center www.simi-arts.org, 583-7900
Ventura Improv www.venturaimprov.com , 643-5701

Thomas Fire takes Vista Del Mar

The fire destroyed most of the hospital. Photo by Barry Harrington Photojournalist

by Jennifer Tipton

On the top of the hill at 801 Seneca Street in Ventura stood Aurora Vista Del Mar, a psychiatric hospital focusing on behavioral health and addiction issues. The 16 acres on which it stood overlooks the ocean (hence, the name “view of the sea”). This scenic location dates back to the founding of Mission San Buenaventura in 1783 when it was known as San Buenaventura Mission Rancho. In 1914, the land was purchased by the state and became the Ventura School for Girls, the first state run reformatory until it relocated to Camarillo in 1962. The area then became the jurisdiction of the City of Ventura until the state issued a certificate of need for 16 acres of land to Community Psychiatric Centers in 1979. The existing buildings were torn down and rebuilt, changing hands several times until 2001 when it became Aurora Vista Del Mar Hospital, one of the most sought-out psychiatric hospitals in the state.

Seneca Street is at the far west end of Ventura and with the Thomas Fire originating in Santa Paula Monday night, it is staggering to think the flames raced that quickly across the hillside, an estimated 15 miles in only a few hours driven by powerful Santa Ana winds.

One source shows a gas main located in a 150-year-old grove of trees just below the hospital exploding and thereby igniting the hillside. The occupants, patients and staff, had very little time to evacuate but were able to do so safely after a quick role call to ensure they all were accounted for. Vista Del Mar staff are trained with the intent that patient safety is always the priority, however, this was a challenge none expected, there was barely time for staff to grab patient’s charts and medications.

I spoke with Mary Burau, Clinic Administrator with Ventura County Behavioral Health and was told the estimated 65 patients were brought to the Thomas Fire Evacuation Shelter at the Ventura Fairgrounds Monday night and later safely transferred to other facilities, some in and some out of the county.

While other buildings in the area remained intact, the fire destroyed most of the hospital. Vista Del Mar was operated by Signature Healthcare Services, a private company.

At this time, it is unknown if they will rebuild.

Ventura County Community Foundation gives $477,000 to support those affected by fires

The Ventura County Community Foundation awarded a total of $477,000 to two vital service providers providing immediate relief efforts to those impacted by the Thomas Fire–the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. The grants awarded to these organizations will help fund their overall relief efforts including staffing of disaster shelters and the provision of food, supplies and other resources.

In addition, VCCF launched three new funds to support on-going recovery and support for those affected by Ventura County fires. Two of the funds are seeded by VCCF and are currently accepting community contributions. The third fund was created by the local district of Rotary International and has generated thousands of dollars in donations from Rotarians within the first few hours of launching.

VCCF’s Sudden and Urgent Needs (SUN) fund was established to provide a quick funding response in order to avoid the loss of critical safety net services. The fund has gone to work immediately, funding a power generator for Interface Children and Family Services, to operate the 211 community services hotline during power outages.

VCCF’s Community Disaster Relief Fund has been seeded with $200,000 by VCCF to provide funds for long-term relief and rebuilding efforts. Both funds are currently accepting community contributions through the VCCF website, www.vccf.org.

“Based on the experience of other communities that have experienced a disaster, donations come in fast initially with approximately 73 percent of those funds being used to provide immediate support during a disaster. Unfortunately, full recovery efforts may take from 5 to 10 years.”, said Vanessa Bechtel, president and CEO of the VCCF.

The donor-advised fund set up by the regional district of Rotary International. though VCCF provides Rotarians a means of contributing to support relief efforts. Rotary leadership will provide guidance on how the funds will be utilized and which relief efforts are funded.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the immediate relief needs are clear—shelter, food, cash, and other basic needs. Recovery and rebuilding are more complex and depend on each community’s needs. In other communities, recovery efforts have included basic needs as well as longer term economic, health and social service support, he said.

Contributions can be made by mailing a check, contributing online, or making a gift of stock or wire transfer. For details, visit www.vccf.org.

The foundation was established in 1987 and endeavors to build philanthropy in the region and to give generously for the well-being of all in Ventura County. VCCF invests in the future through scholarships, grant making and collaborative partnerships. For more information or to donate, visit www.vccf.org.

City responds to fire crisis

by Burris DeBenning

As the City enters the recovery phase of fire operations, resident concerns, questions and needs are being answered and assessed and priorities ranked. At the December 11 City Council meeting, leadership personnel from various agencies provided status reports, and the City Manager introduced the team, headed by the Assistant City Manager, Dan Paranick, that would be responsible for the totality of the clean-up and recovery stages of the fire.

Police Chief Ken Corney said that everything is being done to get people who were in mandatory evacuation zones back into their neighborhoods, but that critical safety issues, like the danger of open gas lines and downed transmission wires, remain a hindrance.

Police personnel are also contending with an uptick in crime as there have been multiple reports of looting and burglaries that seem to be in response to the evacuations. Augmenting City police in their efforts to keep the peace has been the California National Guard.

Councilmember Chery Heitmann asked Chief Corney for a timetable on when people can get back to their homes to collect valuable and mementos, and the chief estimated about two weeks, due to the extensive utility work being performed by the Southern California Gas Company and Southern California Edison.

Councilmember Jim Monahan asked Mr. Paranick why the gas company had to dig large holes in certain streets to shut off gas lines rather than turn them off at the home.

Water has been a major concern and Kevin Brown, Ventura Water General Manager, answered council questions regarding drinking and use safety and the condition of the city’s water system. While mandatory water boiling is no longer required, Brown stressed that the fire overwhelmed the City’s complex web of pipes, valves and tanks, as equipment was either destroyed or taxed by rapidly falling pressure when the fire moved through town. Brown said that the fire caused the system to drain ten times its normal draw rate. Once conditions were safer, Water Department crews were able to add chlorine for purification and visit damaged infrastructure to make repairs.

Councilmember Christy Weir asked Mr. Paranick’s team what responsibilities will homeowners have during the clean-up and rebuilding in conjunction with what the State can offer. According to County and OES(The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services) officials, the objective is to get people back onto their properties and connect residents with state assistance as quickly as possible, but that hazardous waste and unstable debris must be removed first.

The plan to expedite this timetable is to work with residents as a whole rather than individually, and thus be able to tackle many sites at once. Deputy Director William Stratton of the County’s Environmental Health Division emphasized that the largest concern right now is the toxicity of the ash and burned debris that may be caused by heavy metals and asbestos.

Residents brought up concerns over how the smoky and ash-laden air might affect children when school is back in session, and what has happened to the drilling, transportation and storage infrastructures of the many oil sites throughout and near the City. As the rainy season approaches, residents and council voiced concerns about the efforts needed to keep storm drains open and reduce the potential for vast mud flows from the denuded hills.

State OES will have a watershed task force, comprised of hydrologists and other experts, in place to resolve possible mudslide issues. As a welcome relief to homeowners, County Tax Assessor Steve Hintz said that people who lost their homes and first responders who call his office and ask can have their property tax penalties and fees waived.

One councilmember asked if there was a central website that will handle all fire communications, and what efforts were being taken to use social media to the fullest extent possible. Mr. Paranick responded that the most valuable central website is VenturaRecovery.org, and that his public information team will work diligently with local news organizations and social media sites to assure consistent and well-informed communications.

Finally, the question was asked, “how can I help?” Councilmembers Cheryl Heitmann and Christy Weir concurred that supplies of clothing and other “hard” goods have been met, but the best thing folks can do is patronize local businesses, like buying holiday gift certificates and air purifiers, and remember that members of the Ventura business community and the Downtown Ventura Partners (DVP) lost homes too.

Ventura firestorm

by James Francis Gray

Driving home from Camarillo after my writer’s group meeting Monday evening, I heard about the Thomas Fire on the 9:00 p.m. radio news. A fast-moving fire that started in Santa Paula’s Steckel Park area at 6:30 p.m. was headed west toward the city of Ventura, racing to the hills above the city with breakneck speed.

I arrived home some fifteen minutes later to flashes of light in my neighborhood. Small electrical transformer explosions knocked out the power and the electricity went on and off. Helicopters clattered overhead. The winds kicked up and just after ten, I was trying to catch up with the local TV news about the impending disaster. And then our area was plunged in total darkness.

Getting to sleep with the howling winds and helicopter noise was impossible. I peeked out the bedroom window to the north and saw the moonlit night and the red fire glow. Across the 126 freeway, the hillside was ablaze in bright orange flames. Soon, the stench of burning brush and buildings forced me to close all the windows. Still, I could not sleep.

After dawn, I received a call from a friend, Sheila Lowe, asking if everything was okay in my neighborhood. She and another friend, Marta Alvarez, were hunkering down at Sheila’s eastside home after spending the night in Marta’s office on Morse Avenue in Ventura.

Having received a call before midnight from Marta’s landlord warning of the fire danger, Marta and Sheila had gone to the residence with two flashlights and retrieved the necessities needed for an overnight stay. They rushed around picking up a few items including a carry-on suitcase still packed from a recent business trip. It contained one pair of yoga pants, one pair of jeans, two T-shirts, pajamas, three sets of underwear, one pair of boots, two scarves and a toiletry bag. The hillside flames were moving down the hill toward the house–a terrifying scenario. Joining a line of neighborhood vehicles, they couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

The following morning, Marta ventured back to the Avenue in time to see the garage catch fire. She watched her home go up in flames and her recreational toys: a standup board, a kayak and two quad motorcycles along with a trailer.

What is the truck commonly seen around town with the Cal-Fire logo?

Cal Fire is the acronym for the “California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection”

They provide fire protection and stewardship for over 31 million acres of California’s privately-owned wildlands. They also provide various emergency services in 36 of the State’s 58 counties via contracts with local governments. Because of the Department’s size and major incident management experience, it is often asked to assist or take the lead in disasters. The department has an extensive fleet of vehicles consisting of over 2,800 vehicles which includes 383 front line fire engines, 237 crew buses to transport Conservation Camp crews to projects and fires and 58 bulldozers. Additionally they have large mobile command centers and mobile kitchen units.

The prevention of large, damaging fires remains a priority for Cal Fire. The department’s Fire Prevention Program consists of multiple activities including wildland pre-fire engineering, vegetation management, fire planning, and education and law enforcement. Common projects for Cal Fire include fire break construction and other fire fuel reduction activities that lessen the risk of wildfire to communities. This may include brush clearance around communities, and along roadways and evacuation routes.

Other important activities they are involved with include defensible space inspections, emergency evacuation planning, fire prevention education, fire hazard severity mapping, implementation of the State Fire Plan, fire-related law enforcement activities such as investigations to determine fire cause and origin as well as arson cases, and support for local government fire safe planning.

Additionally, they answer the call for many other emergencies. A Cal Fire engine and crew can be dispatched to the scene of various disasters including; an auto accident, a drowning accident, hazardous material spills, swift water rescues, search and rescue missions, civil disturbances, train wrecks, floods, earthquakes residential structure fires, heart attacks, lost hikers, floods and earthquakes. The department’s firefighters, fire engines and aircraft respond to an annual average of more than 5,600 wildland fires, and 350,000 emergencies.

Cal Fire also has a Resource Management Program. Its goal is to maintain the sustainability of all of our natural resources. The Department achieves this goal by administering state and federal forestry assistance programs for landowners, demonstrating sound management practices on demonstration state forests, enforcing the California Forest Practice Act on all non-federal timberlands, providing research and educational outreach to the public on forest pests, and coordinating efforts for fuel reduction to reduce the risk of fire and improve the quality of California ecosystems. Cal Fire has been in existence for 112 years.

When fires are in the hills Cal Fire is in charge of all of the operations.

Tragically a Cal Fire firefighter from San Diego was killed while battling the Thomas Fire. The firefighter was identified as Cal Fire San Diego Unit Fire Apparatus Engineer Cory Iverson. He is the only firefighter to die to date fighting the Thomas Fire.

Pimlott said Iverson was 32 years old and is survived by his wife, Ashley, and 2-year-old daughter Evie. Iverson’s wife is currently expecting their second daughter, Pimlott said.

Iverson had been with Cal Fire since 2009.

VCAAA’s Homeshare Program seeks to assist res >

The Ventura County Area Agency on Aging’s Homeshare Program is actively seeking local homeowners who are interested in assisting families and individuals displaced by the Thomas Fire. Homeowners in the Ventura area who have vacant bedrooms or homes to rent under short-term agreements are encouraged to apply. The VCAAA and Homeshare are an entity of the County of Ventura.

On Monday, Dec. 4th, the Thomas Fire began to ravish through west Ventura County, forcing thousands from their homes, and burning more than 500 structures in its path. Many of the families affected by the fire are seeking short-term housing options as they work through the process of rebuilding or finding permanent housing.

Homeshare, which traditionally works to match homeowners wishing to rent rooms with home-seekers looking for affordable housing, has temporarily shifted its focus to assist those displaced by the Thomas Fire, and is asking for special consideration for full families who may also have pets.

Homeowners and those seeking residence will be asked to comply with program requirements, which include an application process and background check, however the process will be fast-tracked in an effort to secure short-term housing options for those most affected by the fires.

Homeowners interested in participating in the program must have one or more vacant bedrooms available to rent, or a full home available to rent. For more information, or to apply to become a Homeshare Provider, please call 477-7324 or visit www.vcaaa.org. Please also follow the VCAAA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for regular updates related to Homeshare and other VCAAA programs.

The Ventura County Area Agency on Aging, an agency of the County of Ventura, is the principal agency in Ventura County charged with the responsibility to promote the development and implementation of a comprehensive coordinated system of care that enables older individuals and their caregivers to live in a community-based setting and to advocate for the needs of those 60 years of age and older in the county, providing leadership and promoting citizen involvement in the planning process as well as in the delivery of services.

Coping with Loss

by Jennifer Tipton

During this difficult time, there is a need to know how to cope with loss.

The 5 stages of grieving that occur with any loss:

Feelings of “this isn’t real” to “how could this happen” to “if only…” It is not uncommon to bounce back and forth between these feelings, what you are feeling is a normal process of coping with loss.

Many of the fortunate who did not to lose their home are feeling guilty, “why was my home spared when, so many others were not?” You too, are not alone.

Patrick Zarate the Acting Director for Ventura County Behavioral Health stated, “a wide range of emotions and reactions are normal and natural for such an event. For most people, the responses to a stressful event are temporary and generally do not become a chronic problem. Ventura County Behavioral Health has made more than 70 deployments since the fire began. We have probably committed more than 2,000 hours and see that the need will probably persist. The Department along with our allied first responders is continuing to be on site at shelters, but has also communicated out at a variety of venues including radio and the web.”

For information about community resources dial 211 or call 1-800-339-9597 or visit www.211ventura.org.

If you would like to speak with a professional, Ventura County Behavioral Health encourages res >www.wellness everyday.org.

Text “ThomasFire” to 898-211 for up-to-date fire information.

Southern California Edison (SCE) crews working around the clock

Southern California Edison (SCE) crews are working around the clock to restore service for Ventura residents. The City of Ventura has provided an area at the Community Park for SCE to use as their staging area for equipment. Progress of their work will be determined by weather conditions, terrain and the movement of the fire. 367 damaged poles need to be replaced. Restoring the transmission system or rerouting power from unaffected areas to impacted customers is a top priority.

Meter parking regulations

The Ventura Police Department will not enforce meter parking regulations in Downtown Ventura until January 2, 2018. Drivers are not required to pay the meter fee at time of parking.

Oversized vehicle parking restrictions are also lifted and will not be enforced until January 2, 2018. During normal conditions a permit is required to park an oversized vehicle for up to five consecutive days. An oversized vehicle means any vehicle which exceeds 25 feet in length; or exceeds 80 inches in width; or exceeds 82 inches in height.