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Mud, rocks cover campsites, roads in state park

December 15, 2014 - 6:18pm

Rain and rocks swept down ravines last week, cutting a path through Point Mugu State Park’s steep canyons, and blanketing roads and campsites.

A fast-moving winter storm dumped close to 2 inches of rain in a matter of hours overnight Thursday. Rocks and mud inundated a Camarillo Springs neighborhood, flooded county roads and Pacific Coast Highway, and took a steep toll on the park.

Near the La Jolla Canyon trailhead, rocks and mud pushed downhill and across PCH with enough force to move trees, a picnic table, even concrete barriers dozens of feet.

“It just goes on and on and on,” said park ranger Martin Gilbertson, looking out Monday at what was a group campsite now buried under rocks and thick mud.

“This is just one massive debris field,” he said.

The storm is not the first disaster to strike the park in the past year or so. In May 2013, the Springs Fire scorched most of the park, which stretches from Newbury Park to the Pacific Ocean. Drought conditions in the months since have slowed recovery, leaving steep hillsides mostly bare and vulnerable to slides.

High surf generated by hurricanes over the summer battered the beachside campgrounds, and the first couple of storms of the year brought some mud and debris downhill.

But officials said the storm that hit overnight Thursday might have left some of the worst damage they have seen in decades.

“It’s kind of worst-case scenario times three,” park maintenance supervisor Angel Alba said Monday.

Before the storm, crews cleared drains and culverts, put down sandbags and got supplies ready — “basically doing everything we could to prepare,” Alba said. But they weren’t prepared for so many debris flows.

“We anticipated some slides, nothing of this magnitude,” Alba said.

Sandwiched between mud sliding down the canyons and high surf from the ocean, the western side of Thornhill Broome campground was covered in mud and rocks. Several trucks parked in a maintenance yard near PCH were left half buried under rocks and dirt, after a concrete culvert failed in the storm.

Long stretches of the main fire road through Sycamore Canyon are buried in mud and rocks. Fallen trees also have blocked the road in some spots. Drop-offs several feet deep into creek crossings made vehicle access impossible in other sections.

A ruptured water line that runs down the middle of the canyon has cut off all water in the park. And, the hillside that used to mark the first 100 feet or so of the popular Chumash Trail spilled into what was a small parking area.

There’s no cost estimate yet, said Craig Sap, state parks superintendent of the Angeles district. Repairs likely will take weeks, if not longer, he said.

One of the biggest safety issues right now is on PCH, where some cyclists head after coming down through the park. The highway is closed to all traffic, including bicyclists. Truck after truck carting mud and rocks off the road make it unsafe for bicyclists, Sap said.

Crews continued to assess the park Monday. Some areas might be easier to clean. Others will take longer just because of the sheer amount of rocks and mud, Sap said.

Park officials urged people to use caution and remember that a simple, easy trail last week now may be much more challenging. Landmarks are gone, the tread has lots of rocks and sticky mud, and more debris still could come down in this week’s rain.

Report of burglary being investigated

December 15, 2014 - 6:17pm

Authorities were investigating a report of a burglary along the 6300 block of Gitana Avenue in Camarillo at a home that was damaged by last week's rain storm.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department said a person at the home reported $11,000 in jewelry was missing when they returned on Saturday after evacuating early Friday morning.

The home was damaged by the storm.

A Sheriff's patrol car was stationed in the Camarillo Springs neighborhood Friday night but nothing out of the ordinary was reported.

Loved ones remembered at ceremony

December 15, 2014 - 6:08pm

A somber mood filled the inside of Ascension Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks during a candle-lighting ceremony Sunday night hosted by the Ventura County Chapter of the Compassionate Friends.

For the 550 guests, the ceremony — observed worldwide — was an opportunity to hear the name read of a child or a family member who had died and to light a candle in their memory, as well as enjoy a nondenominational service.

Janice Anderson, leader/facilitator of the Ventura County Chapter, lost her son Kevin Paul Waite in May 2005 at age 34. She said being with people who have experienced the same pain is comforting.

She explained that the first year you are in shock.

“Slowly, the fog starts lifting and you start to see blue sky again,” Anderson said. “The second year is the worst pain ever. Creating a new normal is very difficult. That’s why we have our support group meetings the first and third Thursday of every month at Los Robles Hospital. It’s important to share the pain and the memory of your child. It’s important to shed the tears because that’s a part of the healing.”

Many guests wiped their eyes at the outset of the service when the first four candles were lit symbolizing the journey through the loss — grief, courage, memory and never-dying love.

Rabbi Richard Spiegel and Pastor Brian LaSpada exchanged a meaningful dialogue about losing their brothers. Spiegel said one of the reasons he became a rabbi was because of the loss of his brother and wanting to help others. LaSpada talked about the feeling of guilt and how he felt he should have been able to save his brother, but had to come to terms that it wasn’t up to him.

“This was a lovely service,” said Marilyn Williams who lost her grandson, Andrew Goldman, when he was 26.

His mother, Sheri Leiken, said she has been going to the support group and has found it to be comforting. Leiken said she enjoyed the service.

“The candle lighting, the songs, and everybody’s pictures,” Leiken said. “I’ve met a lot of wonderful people here.”

Mary Cordeiro, who lost her grandson Travis Weidner, said the service was lovely, but far too emotional for her.

“Travis was a wonderful young man,” she said. “He played football at Westlake High. This is just too hard. I see it in all the faces here. They’ve all lost people.”

Katie Stuart was holding a picture of her nephew, Dylan Spink, who died when he was 3, just three months ago.

“It’s Christmastime now, and I can’t help but think about so many kids who want endless toys and games and all he ever wanted was a Christmas tree,” she said.

For Maryann Roach, who lost her son Bobby La Spada when he was 40, the night was very important.

“As parents who have lost a child, we get to remember them, so we look forward to this night,” Roach said. “We get to hear their name, and they’re acknowledged, so that brings us joy, if you can imagine in this tragic life that we have to live without them.”

6 dead, suspect on loose in Philadelphia

December 15, 2014 - 5:20pm

PENNSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A man suspected of going to three houses in the Philadelphia suburbs and fatally shooting six people, including his ex-wife and her 14-year-old niece, was at large Monday night, and a prosecutor said investigators didn't know where he was or how he was getting around.

Police recovered the cellphone and car of Bradley William Stone, who had recently been in court fighting with his ex-wife over custody of their two children. SWAT teams surrounded his Pennsburg home and pleaded through a bullhorn for him to surrender, but Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said it was unclear if he was there.

"As I stand here right now, we do not know where he is," Ferman told reporters at an evening news briefing.

The shooting rampage started before dawn at the home of Stone's former sister-in-law in Souderton and ended about 90 minutes later at ex-wife Nicole Stone's apartment in nearby Harleysville, Ferman said, correcting a timeline that had been based on when the crime scenes were discovered.

Nicole Stone's sister, Patricia Flick, her sister's husband, Aaron Flick, and the couple's 14-year-old daughter, Nina Flick, were killed in the first wave of violence, which wasn't discovered until just before 8 a.m., Ferman said.

Their 17-year-old son, Anthony Flick, was pulled from the home with a head wound around 12:30 p.m. and was taken in an armored vehicle and then by helicopter to a Philadelphia hospital for treatment.

Nicole Stone's mother, Joanne Hill, and grandmother Patricia Hill were killed next at their home in nearby Lansdale. Investigators were alerted by a hang-up call to emergency dispatchers, Ferman said.

Nicole Stone's neighbors at the Pheasant Run Apartments in Harleysville said they were awoken around 5 a.m. by the sounds of breaking glass and gunshots coming from her apartment. They said they saw Stone fleeing with their two children and alerted authorities.

"She would tell anybody who would listen that he was going to kill her and that she was really afraid for her life," neighbor Evan Weron said.

The two children Stone took from his ex-wife's house were safe, Ferman said. She did not say anything about what weapon or weapons were used.

Stone, who's white, about 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, was likely wearing military fatigues and was known to use a cane or walker, but it's possible he did not need them, Ferman said.

Harleysville, Lansdale and Souderton are within a few miles of each other. Police with armored vehicles and rifles moved to Pennsburg after spending several hours outside the home in Souderton where several victims were found.

Several school districts ordered students and teachers to shelter in place.

"Everything started being blocked off, the SWAT was then later called in, then we had the tanks pull up," said Don Smith, describing the scene near his Souderton home.

Brad and Nicole Stone married in 2004 and filed for divorce in March 2009, according to court records.

Brad Stone, 35, remarried last year, according to records. Nicole Stone, 33, became engaged over the summer, neighbors said.

The former had couple sparred over custody of their two children, with Brad Stone filing an emergency petition Dec. 5 and Nicole Stone responding with a counterclaim Dec. 9. The outcome of their dispute was unclear.

Weron, the neighbor, said Bradley Stone is a military veteran. Stone bartended at the American Legion hall in Lansdale, and court records show he recently faced several driving under the influence charges, one of which was handled in veterans' court.

Weron said Nicole Stone would talk frequently about the custody dispute.

"(Nicole) came into the house a few times, a few separate occasions, crying about how it was very upsetting to her," Weron said.

Covered California deadline extended

December 15, 2014 - 4:59pm

Covered California officials extended a health insurance enrollment and renewal deadline Monday, citing a last-minute surge in applications.

The reprieve means people who started their online applications by midnight Monday have until midnight Sunday to pick a plan. Their coverage will still kick in on Jan. 1.

The deadline — originally set for midnight Monday — is aimed at people enrolling in new plans and for people with existing Covered California coverage who are switching plans or making changes.

People have until Feb. 15 to enroll or make changes in coverage. But if they don’t make the Dec. 21 deadline, they won’t have coverage that begins Jan. 1.

People who want to renew their existing Covered California plans without changes don’t need to do anything. Covered California is the insurance marketplace created through the Affordable Care Act.

“We know we have a lot of people who have shown interest,” said Covered California spokesman Roy Kennedy of the extension. “We just want to get them across the finish line.”

If people go for more than three months without coverage, they run the risk of tax penalties. Fines for the 2014 tax year are 1 percent of household income or $95 for each adult and $47.50 for each child up to a maximum of $285. Penalties increase in 2015.

Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee announced in a board meeting Monday that the number of people who have chosen plans during open enrollment jumped from 48,952 on Dec. 3 to 91,693 on Dec. 11.

Kennedy urged consumers to confer with insurance agents, enrollment counselors and other trained experts. People can find local assistance by clicking on “Get Help” at www.coveredca.com.

In Ventura County, agents and counselors warned people to expect to wait if they call Covered California’s phone centers.

Joseph Gabra, an insurance agent and accountant in Camarillo, said the online enrollment system was working Monday but had slowed down. He praised the decision to extend the deadline as a way to motivate people who waited until the last minute.

“Procrastination is the way of the human being,” he said.

MORE HELP

For more information go to www.coveredca.com or try the following:

Premium rates: http://bit.ly/1s7XkyE

Eligibility: http://bit.ly/1wuhPV5

Finding help: http://www.coveredca.com/get-help/local/

Renewing: http://www.coveredca.com/youre-in/questions-about-renewal/

Phone: 1-800-300-1506

Tax penalties: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p5187.pdf

Mental health clinics open in Oxnard

December 15, 2014 - 4:30pm

Two new public mental health clinics have opened in south Oxnard.

Operated by the Ventura County Health Care Agency, the clinics are at 2500 C St. on the back side of the Centerpoint Mall.

Officials said the clinics and other programs are boosting the rate at which the county Latino population receives treatment.

The clinics opened early this month and a grand opening was held last week. One clinic serves children and their families, and the other adults.

Hours are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays; and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays.

The schedule was extended into the early evening to improve access for working families, said Meloney Roy, chief deputy director for the Health Care Agency.

For an appointment, call 866-998-2243. The clinics are close to bus lines but officials will arrange for rides if needed.

Bellringer donor's dad went all out at holidays

December 15, 2014 - 4:22pm

Brenda Rubright's father was a child of the Depression, a man who "kind of pinched pennies," she said. But at Christmas, he went all out.

Rubright, an only child, remembers that Santa put up the tree in their home and decorated it after she had fallen asleep. He also left a stocking filled with an orange, nuts in their shells, and maybe some ribbon candy.

One year, she got a typewriter for Christmas.

"I think I had asked for it, but I didn't expect to get it," Rubright said. "It seemed like too big a present."

For dinner, her family had a traditional turkey, she said. But she remembers the sweet treats — clear, brightly colored lollipops shaped like reindeer and a tiny box filled with candy that her grandfather, a volunteer firefighter, brought back from the fire station each year.

Rubright and her husband, Dave Rubright, who live in Camarillo, donated to Bellringer this year in memory of their parents.

The Star's annual Julius Gius Bellringer drive will run through Christmas, with a list of new contributions published daily, except Mondays.

Although The Star acknowledges all contributions, donors can remain anonymous if requested. The Salvation Army will receive all the money raised, to serve local people in need.

Checks should include the donor's name, phone number and, if desired, the name of the person, organization, pet or other cause in whose memory it is given.

New donations:

In honor of the Salvation Army for all they do. William L. Allinson: $100.

Richard and Eleanor Renshaw: $100.

Vinson and Karen Gilliam: $200.

In memory of "Andy Archer," who spent his last days in Ojai. Anonymous: $50.

In memory of our relatives and friends who left us much too soon. They are always in our hearts. Ron and Louetta Busick: $100.

Anonymous: $20.

Please accept this small check for your outstanding charity. Sorry it's not more, but I am unemployed. Anonymous: $3.

In memory of Shirley Temple and Shirley Temple doll club members. Shirley Temple Collectors by the Sea: $100.

In loving memory of our parents, Al and Beulah Fisk. We miss you. Greg and Barbara Savard and Bob and Linda Martin: $100.

The staff of Inside Leisure Village, the monthly newspaper of Camarillo's Leisure Village, thanks the Salvation Army for its good work and wishes all a happy and healthy holiday season. Inside Leisure Village: $1,500.

Anonymous: $100.

In loving memory of our parents, Juanita and Taylor Zerkel and Esther and Bill Bailey, and thankfulness for our children and grandchildren. Let us not forget the reason for the season. Howard and Marcia Zerkel: $100.

In loving memory of Marie Kane Stuart and Art Beem. Marie volunteered with the Salvation Army as a young woman in Santa Barbara. Reese Stuart and Nelda Beem Stuart: $100.

In memory of Helena Maria Clay (Dec. 4, 1945 to Dec. 31, 2001). John C. Clay: $500.

In loving memory of Melvina Rodgers and Duane "Chip" Rodgers. Duane Rodgers and Connie Lantrip: $100.

In memory of my parents, Ruth and Charles Hibner. Gary Hibner: $50.

In memory of my dive buddy and husband, Stanley W. Schmidt, who passed away in May 2014. And to remember my aunt Lucille Gisler, who taught me so much about moving on after a spouse's death. Nancy Wheat Schmidt: $200.

In memory of so many friends who have passed on. Anonymous: $100.

In loving memory of my wife of 56 years, Myra, who passed away this year, and for all of our loved ones who have gone on before. Robert Joe: $300.

In loving memory of Dr. Keith V. King, Ruth King, Judy Thrift, Matt Thrift, Bill Bochard and Wyatt. Merry Christmas! Janet and Robert King: $100.

In honor of my family who have devoted their lives serving the Lord in the Salvation Army. Connie Wiens: $100.

In loving memory of our parents, Bill and Marjorie Lowe and C.R. Needham. Rich and Julie Needham: $50.

Over my career in the fire service, the Salvation Army would show up time after time at any large emergency and fill the gap until full field support services were available. God bless the Salvation Army and especially the lady in the old Plymouth station wagon. Merry Christmas. Anonymous: $100.

In memory of our parents. Dave and Brenda Rubright: $200.

With gratitude to the Salvation Army for all they do. Linda Price: $25.

In memory of our daughter, Lisa. John and Virginia: $25.

In loving memory of our wonderful parents, Edward C. and Verla I. Cummings of Greenville, MI, and Wilton H. and Joanne L. Eich of Marysville, CA, to whom we owe so much. Ritch K. Eich and Joan Taylor Cummings Eich: $100.

My 14 grandchildren and I donate in remembrance of my kindergarten sweetheart, Russ, and sister, Shirley. Merry Christmas! Marlene L. Kincaid: $140.

Today's total: $4,663.

Previous total: $20,328.

Total to date: $24,991.

Please make checks out to Bellringer and send them to:

Bellringer

Ventura County Star

P.O. Box 6006

Camarillo, CA 93011

The Star's Athletes of the Week

December 15, 2014 - 4:21pm

Matt Hauser

School: Thousand Oaks

Class: Senior

Sport: Basketball

Comment: The county’s top scorer came up big in the Ventura County Classic. The 6-foot-1 guard tallied a game-high 28 points in Thousand Oaks’ 68-67 victory over arch rival Westlake in the semifinals. He then followed with 14 points in the Lancers’ 70-68 victory over Viewpoint in the championship game.

Quotable: “You always have to do your best for your team.” — Hauser

Taylor Halby

School: Thousand Oaks

Class: Senior

Sport: Basketball

Comment: The 5-foot-10 guard/small forward was named the Most Valuable Player of the Nordhoff Tournament after helping the Lancers capture the title. Halby scored 22 points in the championship game against Royal. She had 14 points and eight rebounds against Villanova, 13 points against Dos Pueblos and 15 points against Channel Islands. It was the second straight tournament title for the Lancers. Halby earned all-tournament honors at the Crescenta Valley Tournament while teammate Alexa Coubal was named MVP.

Quotable: “I think the tournament went really well for me, especially the championship game. I was just really on and the whole team was working together well.” — Halby

One injury, no arrests after fight Sunday

December 15, 2014 - 3:50pm

No arrests were made following a fight at a motorcycle event Sunday in Ventura.

Ventura police officers responded at 11:35 a.m. to reports of a fight involving 10 people at Chopperfest, held at the Ventura County fairgrounds. The California Highway Patrol and Ventura County Sheriff's Office also sent units to the incident.

One person reportedly was taken to a hospital with moderate injuries. No arrests were made, Ventura police Cmdr. Sam Arroyo said Monday.

The event was shut down for a short time while authorities got things under control, Arroyo said.

$1 million winning ticket sold at Oxnard store

December 15, 2014 - 3:49pm

An Oxnard 7-Eleven has sold a $1 million California Lottery scratcher ticket, officials said Monday.

The "Emerald 10's Scratchers" ticket was sold at the convenience store at 2201 E. Channel Islands Blvd. in Oxnard. The store gets a $5,000 bonus for selling the winning ticket.

Wilfredo Raguine had the winning $1 million ticket, lottery officials said. Other information about the winner was not released.

The ticket cost $10, and $1 million is the game's top prize.

Rain prompts easing of campfire, burn rules

December 15, 2014 - 3:40pm

A shift in weather patterns has prompted authorities to lift a ban on issuing burn permits in some areas of the county.

The Ventura County Fire Department and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have made the seasonal change, prompted by rainfall totals and moisture levels in vegetation.

The change affects agricultural burning, controlled burn projects and the level of response to wildland fires. Agricultural burn permits can be obtained at local county fire stations.

The Ventura County Air Pollution Control District must be contacted the evening before a planned burn to find out the current burn status. The district can be contacted at 654-2807.

County fire officials likely will continue the Buena Ventura Burn Project shortly. The controlled burn north of the city of Ventura started in 2013. Officials said they will notify the public before any burning in the area.

Los Padres National Forest officials say rainfall totals have dampened vegetation enough to transition out of "high fire season" on the federal land and reduce fire restrictions.

Under those reduced restrictions, campfires and charcoal barbecues will be allowed, although a California campfire permit is required to build a fire outside a designated campfire-use site. Permits are available to download at http://www.fs.usda.gov/lpnf.

Restrictions on smoking and target shooting in the forest also are being lifted.

Other restrictions remain in place, including those requiring spark arresters on off-highway vehicles, chain saws and other engines; and those requiring a permit for welding, grinding, cutting or use of explosives. Tracer ammunition and fireworks also are prohibited in the forest at all times.

More information on conditions and restrictions is available from local ranger stations. The Ojai ranger station can be reached at 646-4348.

While wildfire danger has decreased, fires can still happen during the winter. Authorities urge residents to clear brush around their properties and roads. For more information, go to http://fire.countyofventura.org.

PCH could be closed for a month

December 15, 2014 - 3:29pm

With more rain headed to the county, officials said Monday that a stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway closed since Friday's storm probably won't reopen for three to four weeks.

The closure runs from Las Posas Road in Camarillo to Yerba Buena Road near Malibu.

Mud, rocks and debris slid across the highway in more than a dozen spots, pushing concrete barriers 70 feet across the road. The highway is covered with 4 to 6 feet of mud in some spots, Caltrans officials said.

More slides are expected from the new storms, officials said. A contractor has been hired to remove mud and debris, put the barriers back in place, and repair road shoulders and rip rap that were damaged or washed out, officials said.

Meanwhile, a fast-moving storm was expected to reach the county Monday evening, the National Weather Service reported.

The rain was expected to last only three to six hours before turning into lighter showers, bringing only a half-inch or less to Ventura County.

Radar images of the storm Monday morning north of San Luis Obispo show a gentle rain, said John Dumas, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. Rainfall rates were not expected to exceed a quarter-inch per hour, he said.

That's much less than the peak of Friday's storm, which brought close to an inch per hour at times.

The storm brought tons of mud and rocks down steep slopes and into a Camarillo Springs neighborhood.

No injuries were reported, but 16 homes were significantly damaged, including 10 deemed uninhabitable and three others with serious problems.

The neighborhood sits at the bottom of the Conejo Grade, below steep hills burned in the Springs Fire of May 2013.

There's a slight chance of showers Tuesday morning, then another storm was expected to arrive Tuesday night and continue into Wednesday, the Weather Service reported. That storm should have a little more rain — a half-inch in coastal and valley areas and 1 to 1.5 inches in the mountains, forecasters said. Snow levels were expected to drop to 5,000 feet.

"We're not expecting any real severe weather with it," Dumas said.

Showers were expected to follow that storm, too. There also is a chance of thunderstorms.

Two people shot in Oxnard overnight

December 15, 2014 - 3:22pm

Oxnard police Monday were investigating shootings overnight that injured two people, including one man critically.

Authorities said they found a 35-year-old Oxnard man with multiple gunshot wounds when they responded to the 700 block of South Oxnard Boulevard about 1:30 a.m. He was taken to Ventura County Medical Center in Ventura with life-threatening injuries, police said.

Several minutes later, a woman called 911 to report she had been shot. She was at a local restaurant on North Oxnard Boulevard, police said.

She was taken to St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard with what police described as a serious but non-life-threatening gunshot wound to her leg.

Witnesses said a man had walked up to a group of a people in a parking lot in the 700 block of South Oxnard Boulevard and shot the Oxnard man as he talked to friends.

The woman, a 35-year-old from out of state, was shot as she attempted to run away, police said.

Investigators believe the man was the intended victim and the woman was not, police said.

Authorities had not identified a motive and were continuing to investigate.

Anyone with information should call Detective Scott Coe at 385-7796, or the violent crimes hotline at 982-7070. People also can call Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.

Quagga concerns alter irrigation plans

December 15, 2014 - 3:06pm

It’s been almost a year since invasive quagga mussels were discovered in Lake Piru, and some farmers are getting worried.

“Pleasant Valley and its growers have invested millions of dollars in pipelines, transmission facilities and irrigation appurtenances and therefore we cannot allow those facilities to be impaired by the quagga,” wrote John Mathews, attorney for the Pleasant Valley County Water District south of Camarillo, in a letter last month to the agency that owns Lake Piru. His letter said Pleasant Valley would be “unwilling to purchase any water that is not quagga free.”

The freshwater, coin-sized mollusks reproduce rapidly and cluster on pumps, pipes, motors and other infrastructure, creating costly maintenance problems. They have proved almost impossible to eradicate.

Click here to read other stories about the quagga mussels.

Lake Piru was created in the 1950s with construction of the Santa Felicia Dam to manage groundwater supplies for downstream users. The United Water Conservation District owns the dam, reservoir and major facilities on the Santa Clara River that replenish groundwater for Oxnard Plain farmers and provide some drinking water to Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Naval Base Ventura County.

Some of the water is piped directly from the Santa Clara River to the Pleasant Valley district — which gets roughly 40 percent of its supply, on average, from United, according to Mathews — and to a nearby irrigation pipeline. That so-called surface water is the source of Pleasant Valley’s concerns. The quaggas’ microscopic young, known as veligers, could travel in the river water and colonize on pipes and other hard surfaces.

The veligers cannot survive in the ground for long periods, however, so experts believe water pumped from groundwater wells would be safe.

Michael Solomon, United’s general manager, said his district has been working with Pleasant Valley on a solution. United plans to put the surface water in the ground and pump it up later. The pumped water might not be available right away because groundwater levels are currently low, but the supply would be quagga free.

“We’re not going to deliver any surface water to farmers,” Solomon said.

The potential threat to agriculture and drinking water systems is also of “great concern” to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, according to a United staff report. Solomon said his district is creating a technical panel to explore options that will have state Fish and Wildlife staff as well as representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service and other federal, state and local agencies.

The infestation at Lake Piru, discovered Dec. 18 last year, is the first in Ventura County. So far, quagga mussels have also been found below the dam in Lower Piru Creek but not in the Santa Clara River, where little water has flowed this year because of the drought. United is working on plans to deal with further colonization expected downstream.

While quaggas may not have infested — yet — agricultural systems in Southern California, that’s no indication of safety, said Ted Grosholz, a UC Davis professor and Cooperative Extension specialist whose expertise includes invasive mussels. Quaggas and their close relatives, zebra mussels, have affected such systems in many other regions, he said.

“The fact they have not infested these areas does not mean they can’t,” Grosholz said. “There is so much evidence from other areas of zebras and quaggas just spreading all over the place.”

Simply Delicious: Chunky Apple Delight

December 15, 2014 - 2:34pm

“Chunky Apple Delight,” made with fresh, organic apples, nuts, spices, and a touch of Frangelico (or Amaretto), makes a fantastic all-natural dessert.  This recipe also tastes delicious mixed with plain Greek yogurt, and is also simply yummy on top of my “All-Natural Homemade Pancake” recipe.

Serves 4

Ingredients

• 5 medium sweet apples, peeled and diced
• 2 T. lemon juice
• ½ c. walnuts, diced (optional)
• 1 T. brown sugar
• 2 T. ground cinnamon
• 3 T. Frangelico or Amaretto
• Whipped Cream Topping

Instructions

1. Peel and dice apples and place in a large bowl.
2. Mix in 2 T. fresh squeezed lemon juice.
3. Fill a medium size boiling pot half way with water and place on the stovetop.
4. Bring water to a boil.
5. Add in apples.
6. Boil apples until they are tender (al dente – firm, not too soft).
7. Pour apples and water into a strainer, drain out water.
8. Place cooked apples in a large bowl. With a potato masher, mash apples so they are a bit mushy, but still chunky.
9. Add in walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and Frangelico (or Amaretto). Stir.
10. Serve applesauce in a pretty dish, cup or glass – hot or cold — topped with Whipped Cream.

©Maryann Ridini Spencer, http://SimplyDeliciousLiving.com

Maryann Ridini Spencer hosts the award-winning series, “Simply Delicious Living with Maryann®” seen on PBS Television and in First Run TV Syndication. Maryann produces video stories about environmentally friendly and healthy living in Ventura County. Visit Maryann’s popular blog and her Ventura County Star lifestyle columns and VC Style

Christmas Tree Lane celebrates season

December 15, 2014 - 1:51pm

Residents of Oxnard’s Henry T. Oxnard Historic District put their hearts and souls into the holidays.

They spend many hours decorating their homes with elaborate holiday-themed displays for the annual Christmas Tree Lane celebration.

On Sunday, the first day of the annual observance, which runs through Dec. 25, Jeff Simpson, executive director and owner of the Freedom House Residential Sober Living for Men on the corner of F and C streets, said he and the residents of the facility string lights high up on the tree trunks and inscribe “Merry Christmas” in yet more lights on the roof for the children.

“I do it for them all — it’s the kids. That’s what it’s about,” Simpson said, gesturing to the families that crowded on the corner by his home to enjoy the live performance of holiday songs, while fresh popcorn was served and Minnie and Mickey Mouse came out to greet the crowds.

“These people all volunteer. They come to me and offer their services,” Simpson said. “I’m really blessed.”

Farther down F Street, Jose Rodriguez had his grandchildren dress up and depict a nativity scene that featured live sheep the family gets from a farmer in Camarillo during the holiday season.

“It’s very, very important to do this because this time is special to everyone. It’s not just for Christians. It’s for everyone to understand the spirit of the holiday, especially the children,” Rodriguez said.

As she walked down F Street. Melissa Nunes Toland shouted, “This is mommy’s favorite, Wyatt” as she led her 9-month-old son Wyatt Toland to a home where a tableau of hand-painted wooden cutout Peanuts figures moved to music from the annual “A Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack.

“I love Charlie Brown,” Nunes Toland said, adding that visiting the annual event is special for her family, which has enjoyed Christmas Tree Lane for years.

Across the street from the Rodriguez family’s live Nativity display was the G-scale model train set that is put up annually by Todd Thierry and his neighbor Curtis Heath.

“It started out as a train around the Christmas tree and we moved it outside and made it a little bigger,” Thierry said with a twinkle in his eye as crowds of people gathered in front of his home to enjoy the incredibly elaborate display.

“We’ve been putting this up for weeks. I take the whole week after Thanksgiving off to put this together. It takes at least 90 hours,” he said.

Over on G Street, which was added to the Christmas Tree Lane display in 2000 by the late Harris Berger, Alice Haskins was hosting a holiday party for friends and neighbors. Haskins said her home, which is decorated with white material covering the lawn and multiple white-light reindeers, is decorated thanks to the work of her sons.

“I do this for the little ones. They always say, ‘how beautiful,’ and ‘look, there’s Rudolph.’” Haskins said.

Christmas Tree Lane hours are 6 to 10 p.m. through Dec. 25 on F and G streets between Fifth and Palm streets.

Ventura County home sales down, prices up

December 15, 2014 - 1:42pm

Home sales took a dramatic tumble across Southern California in November but Ventura County saw the smallest sales decline in the six-county region, according to a CoreLogic DataQuick report released Monday.

The biggest drop in sales was an 11.4 percent decline in San Diego County. At the other end of the downturn was Ventura County, where home sales decreased just 1.3 percent in November with a total of 676 homes sold, down from 685 homes sold in November 2013.

Total home sales across the six-county Southern California region, which also includes Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties, fell 9.5 percent from 17,283 a year ago to 15,643 in November.

Ebbing sales aren’t putting an end to the upward trajectory in pricing.

The highest median sales price in the SoCal region was $585,000 in Orange County. The biggest increase in median sales price was a 16.7 percent jump to $255,000 in San Bernardino County. The median price in Southern California rose 7 percent over the year from $385,000 to $412,000. The median price in Ventura County increased 3.4 percent, to $460,000 from $445,000 in November 2013, but dipped from $474,500 in October.

CoreLogic DataQuick Data Analyst Andrew LePage said Southern California home sales are closing 2014 on a low note.

“Inventory still lags demand in many markets and traditional buyers haven’t filled the void left by the investors who’ve pulled out,” he said. “Among would-be buyers, affordability and mortgage availability remain as hurdles, as do concerns about job security and the direction of the housing market. But there are reasons to expect more housing demand ahead.”

Recent federal data indicates job and income growth has improved and that could lead to more renters buying again, LePage said.

Local real estate agents are still unsure what to make of the federal government’s newly announced program to help first-time home buyers by offering mortgages for a down payment as low as 3 percent.

The program, announced last week, appears to be good although a lot is still unknown, said Realtor Fernando Campos of Oxnard-based Coldwell Banker.

“But anytime the down payment is less it does free up additional monies for the closing costs,” he said.

Campos wants to know what the qualifying standards will be, such as the buyer’s credit history and debt-to-income ratio.

Renee Rector, a Realtor with Troop Real Estate in Simi Valley, calls the program “an excellent move by Fannie/Freddie.” But Rector believes that with little equity going into the home, these will be higher-risk loans for both the bank and the borrower.

“So I’m assuming these aren’t going to be the easiest loans to qualify for,” she said.

Andrew Bon Salle, executive vice president for single-family underwriting, pricing and capital markets at Fannie Mae, said in a news release that the goal is to help additional qualified borrowers gain access to mortgages.

“This option alone will not solve all the challenges around access to credit,” he said.

The new program is one way to remove barriers for creditworthy borrowers, he said. “We are confident that these loans can be good business for lenders, safe and sound for Fannie Mae and an affordable, responsible option for qualified borrowers.”

Dave Lowman, executive vice president, single-family business at Freddie Mac, said the program is Freddie Mac’s latest effort to foster a strong, stable mortgage market.

The program offers qualified low- and moderate-income borrowers a conforming conventional mortgage with a maximum loan-to-value ratio of 97 percent.

The mortgages can be used to buy a single-unit property or for a “no cash out” refinance of an existing mortgage.

First time homebuyers must participate in an acceptable borrower education program, like Freddie Mac’s CreditSmart.

The mortgages are available at 15-, 20- and 30-year fixed rates.

Kiwanis bring Santa to Moorpark children

December 15, 2014 - 12:13pm

Eight-year-old Drew Bojarski picked out a dart toy and proudly showed it off at a special event on Saturday for 300 children and their parents, who were treated to breakfast with Santa and new toys courtesy of the Moorpark Kiwanis Club.

The toy meant a lot to Bojarski and especially his mother Wendy Meyer, who said that this year has been tough since she is a single mom was recently laid off from her job.

“We’re very thankful for this,” said Meyer about the event, which the Moorpark Kiwanis have hosted for 18 years.

Participants were treated to a pancake breakfast from McDonalds in Moorpark. Tables donated by Moorpark Presbyterian Church were decorated with holiday balloons inside the Moorpark Community Room at City Hall.

Moorpark Dental also donated dental kits to all participants.

The toys were collected from throughout the community and distributed to the children, who are registered through the community’s First 5 program.

Rosario Govea took a photo of her 5-year-old son Ivan Govea, who asked Santa for a bike for Christmas.

Destiny Garcia, 4, also had a chance to meet Santa and received a Chutes and Ladders game in return.

Her aunt, Estela De La Cruz said the event was a perfect opportunity for families who didn’t have a chance to meet Santa at the mall.

“It’s a really nice community event,” De La Cruz said.

About 50 people, including members of the Rotary Club of Moorpark, volunteered at the event.

The Moorpark High School Jazz A Band performed holiday music. Students from Moorpark Community High School, the Moorpark High School Kiwanis Key Club and the Kiwanis Builders Club from Campus Canyon School also volunteered before and at the event.

Kiwanis member John Thompson and his English bulldog Lucy, who volunteer with the nonprofit Love on a Leash, visited with the children.

Moorpark High School student Nitin Daswani, 14, performed magic tricks, while Community High School student Jason Pena, 17, did face painting

“We’re a community service organization and this is a perfect way to give back to the community and collaborate with the schools and businesses here to make the holidays brighter for the children in Moorpark,” said Moorpark Kiwanis President Ute Van Dam.

Ute Van Dam also presented First 5 with a $250 donation from the Moorpark Kiwanis.

“It’s just such a joy to help out the families in Moorpark,” said Bryan Lee, a Moorpark Kiwanis member and coordinator of the event.

Local businessman Ken Simons, also a Kiwanis member, said he volunteers every year at the event with his wife, Kim Simons, mainly “just to see the smiles on the kid’s faces.”

Benjamin Conde, 6, had a big smile on his face as he showed his family the Ninja Turtle toy he received at the event.

Benjamin’s mother, Marthe Conde, said the event made her children very happy and she enjoyed seeing that.

“It’s awesome because the kids are having fun. They are really enjoying themselves,” Martha Conde said.

Police say Sydney cafe hostage situation over

December 15, 2014 - 8:02am
SYDNEY (AP) — Police say a hostage situation in Sydney is over after a swarm of heavily armed police stormed a downtown cafe where a gunman had been holding an unknown number of people.   A police spokesman confirmed "the operation is over" early Tuesday but would not release any further details.   Police swooped into the Lindt Chocolat Cafe shortly after five or six hostages were seen running out of the building.   After the police moved in, one weeping woman was helped out by the officers and at least two other people were wheeled out on stretchers.

US marine charged with murder

December 15, 2014 - 5:40am

MANILA - A US marine was charged Monday with the murder of a Philippine transgender woman in October.

Scott Pemberton, 19, is suspected of killing Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude, 26, found dead in a hotel room in Olongapo City on Oct. 11.

She was last seen with Pemberton whom she reportedly met at a bar.

Pemberton is in US custody within the Philippines' central military base in Manila.

Olongapo City Prosecutor Emilie delos Santos said it was too soon to tell whether Pemberton would be moved to Philippine custody now he has been formally charged.

The case has led to renewed calls for the lifting of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the pact that regulates US forces stationed in the Philippines, whereby US authorities retain a degree of legal jurisdiction over their troops.

"In accordance with the VFA, we look forward to the full cooperation of the US government in ensuring that justice is secured for Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude," the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

The city prosecutor said there were "aggravating qualifying circumstances" to convinced the panel that there was probable cause to charge Pemberton.

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