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Crash on Conejo Grade causing morning slowdown

November 19, 2014 - 7:52am

A crash on Highway 101 in Camarillo Wednesday morning is slowing morning traffic, officials said.

The crash was reported about 7:05 a.m. at the Conejo Grade on the southbound side of the highway.

Preliminary reports from the California Highway Patrol indicate that a cement truck parked behind a motorcycle was blocking the slow lane of the roadway.

A tow truck was requested about 7:30 a.m.

The incident was causing traffic in both directions.

Calif. crabbers claw to get Dungeness to market

November 19, 2014 - 6:11am

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - California's commercial Dungeness crab season is off to a roaring start in San Francisco, where boats are backed up at the docks as fishermen are clawing to get their catch to market.

KGO-TV reported Tuesday (http://abc7ne.ws/1yo1gwo) that Pier 45 has seen a bottleneck of boats trying to make deliveries, with some vessels forced to park in the bay and wait to unload.

Dock workers have labored well past midnight every day since crab season kicked off on Saturday. Since then an estimated 400 boats have delivered to Pier 45.

C.J. Green from Alioto's restaurant tells KGO this year's crabs are averaging about 2.5 pounds - nearly a pound bigger than last year's.

The crabbers are getting about $3 a pound. By the time it's shipped, boiled, cracked and served at a restaurant, the price is about $10.95 a pound.

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Information from: KGO-TV.

High surfs expected Wednesday

November 19, 2014 - 6:00am

A high surf advisory will remain in effect Wednesday afternoon to Thursday morning in Ventura County, according to the National Weather Service.

The advisory will be in effect from 1 p.m. to 7 a.m. Thursday, officials said.

The high surfs were expected to be as high as 8 feet with sneaker waves or large waves that can inundate jetties, rocks and beaches, the agency said.

Surfers and beach goers were asked to use caution and if caught in a rip current to swim parallel to the shore, the agency said.

Five people dead after snowstorms pummel Buffalo

November 19, 2014 - 5:48am

New York officials say five people have been killed amid the intense snowstorms pummeling the city of Buffalo. 

According to CNN, local officials say three people died from heart attacks while shoveling snow, one person was killed in an automobile accident and county officials in Buffalo announced a fifth death early Wednesday morning.

BUFFALO MAYOR BYRON BROWN VIA WGRZ"Putting people on stretchers and hiking back out to get them the medical attention that they need. ... This is a very serious storm."

Buffalo's mayor added the storm is "probably heavier than anything that [Buffalo has] seen in over 40 years."

And while cold fronts have stretched across the U.S. and dumped snow on northern states recently, Buffalo has been one of the hardest cities hit. (Video via WIVB)

Forecasters say lake-effect snow — seen in this time lapse video — helped dump more than six feet of snow on some parts of the city with more wintry weather on the way. As of Tuesday night:

NBC"Falling four to five inches per hour. ... There's more snow on the lakefront than there is just five miles inland. National Guard is being called in to help."

WHEC also says a portion of the New York State Thruway was shut down in western parts of the state, leaving hundreds of vehicles stranded. Authorities plan on using snowmobiles to check on people who are trapped.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also declared a state of emergency Tuesday for several counties in the state. He urged residents to "exercise extreme caution ... and stay off the roads until conditions are clearer and safer." 

Altogether, CNN says by Friday, areas south of Buffalo could be covered with up to 70 inches of snowfall since the storms hit.

Black Friday restaurant deals

November 19, 2014 - 5:45am

Black Friday savings aren't only limited to your favorite stores this year. Some of the nation's most popular sit-down restaurant chains are also getting in on the action.

We reached out to several chains to see what they were offering patrons on Black Friday. If you need a break from tearing up the mall on Nov. 28, check out this list before you order.

Applebee's

No locations are doing Black Friday specials this year.

Chili's Grill & Bar

Email club members will receive four coupon options for Black Friday. Offers include a free kids meal, dessert or appetizer with an entree purchase, or a free upgrade from pick two to pick three fajitas. To sign up for Chili's email club, click here.

The Cheesecake Factory

No specific Black Friday deals but several for Cyber Monday (Dec. 1), including two free "Slice of Joy" cards when you purchase a $25 gift card. Each card is redeemable for one slice of cheesecake. The $25 gift card must be purchased on Dec. 1 via The Cheesecake Factory's website.

Hooters

On Black Friday, participating Hooters locations will be offering deals on some of the restaurant's merchandise items, including a buy two, get one free deal on "classic original logo items." Online shoppers will get 30 percent off, and free ground shipping on orders over $50.

LongHorn Steakhouse

No deals specific to Black Friday but if a guest buys a $50 gift card before Dec. 24, they will receive a coupon for $10 off with the purchase of two adult dinner entrees.

P.F. Chang's

No deals specific to Black Friday but patrons who purchase $100 in gift cards before Jan. 1 will receive a $20 gift card. The chain is also running a "Holiday Menu for Two" promotion, which offers guests a four-course meal for $60.

Red Lobster

The popular seafood chain is offering a deal through Dec. 31 where patrons who buy $50 of gift cards in-restaurant will receive a $10 bonus coupon — as well as offering online gift card buyers a $5 bonus coupon for every $25 spent on gift cards. On Cyber Monday, Red Lobster is offering online shoppers a $10 bonus coupon for every $50 spent on gift cards.

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.

Messi's father downplays hints of Barcelona exit

November 19, 2014 - 5:24am

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) - Lionel Messi's father, who acts as the player's agent, has downplayed the stir his son caused by hinting at an exit from Barcelona.

Jorge Messi tells Barcelona-based La Vanguardia newspaper "the plan is to stay here, but since people read between the lines they exaggerate."

He says "Leo is happy, but if one day the club says, 'We have an offer for you, we want to sell you,' well, we would have to study it."

Lionel Messi said Tuesday that he would like to stay at Barcelona but "sometimes not everything happens the way you want."

The 27-year-old Messi, Barcelona's all-time leading scorer, is under contract until 2018.

Last May, Barcelona said it had improved the terms of his contract.

Oxnard's excess leave brings heat

November 19, 2014 - 5:17am
A report on $1.9 million worth of employee leave accumulated in excess of established caps brought heated public comments at Tuesday's Oxnard City Council meeting as well as calls for a calmly considered resolution.   Auditors from Bay Area law firm Renne Sloan Holtzman Sakaii LLP presented results of their review, which showed Oxnard's longstanding caps on accrued leave have not been enforced since at least 2005, and likely longer. The report was informational only, with formal actions to be taken by the council at a future meeting.

Although leave time was allowed to pile up well beyond amounts allowed by city policies, auditors told the council the issue nevertheless will require negotiations with unions because it had become a long-standing practice.   "You can't just unilaterally change it overnight," attorney Dania Torres Wong told the panel.   At least four meetings with labor groups have so far been held. Excess balances have been frozen and placed into a separate account. Employees have been given until March 14 to draw down overages.   This story will be updated.

Which holidays are favorites for car thieves?

November 19, 2014 - 5:06am

Apparently even the hearts of car thieves are warmed on Christmas.

Dec. 25, 2013 marked the day with the fewest stolen vehicles last year, according to a new report released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau on Wednesday.

The report breaks down which holidays were the worst for car thefts last year with 1,224 happening on Christmas. Thieves were a little busier on Christmas Eve, with about 500 more thefts reported.

Topping the list was New Year’s Day, with 2,184 vehicle thefts reported in 2013. Another 1,715 thefts happened on New Year’s Eve, according to the NICB’s numbers.

Thieves were apparently too stuffed on Thanksgiving, as that holiday ranked second-lowest in terms of car thefts.

The NICB recommends taking extra caution during the busy holiday shopping season, when they say vehicle burglaries increase.

Top holidays for vehicle theft - 2013 | Create Infographics

 

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.

Police surround Oxnard home, make robbery arrest

November 19, 2014 - 12:25am

Oxnard police said they apprehended a robbery suspect Tuesday after surrounding a house two blocks from the crime scene.

Police said they responded about 8 p.m. Tuesday to a report of a robbery in the 300 block of North McKinley Avenue. The victim, a 23-year-old man, told officers his money was stolen by a man who said he had a gun. The victim described the robber and provided his last known location, police said.

Police said a suspect was arrested after officers surrounded a house in the 500 block of North McKinley and made verbal announcements to the residents, who exited along with the suspect.

Police said the suspect was identified as Eric Suarez, 18, of Oxnard, who was currently on probation for robbery.

Police said no gun was found.

Anyone with information on the case is urged to call Detective Sergeant Alex Arnett at 486-6211. Those who want to remain anonymous can call the Violent Crimes Hotline at 982-7070 or Ventura County Crime Stoppers at 222-8477.

La Reina to play for CIF volleyball title

November 18, 2014 - 10:31pm

Before even playing a single match, Steve Yoshimoto believed the La Reina High girls volleyball team had the potential to reach the CIF-Southern Section final this season.

The first-year coach was spot-on with his prediction.

Powered by 19 kills from Carolena Huseby and eight aces from Izzy Simqu, second-seeded La Reina defeated third-seeded St. Paul 25-22, 28-26, 25-27, 25-21 in the Division 4AA semifinals Tuesday night in front of a standing room-only crowd at La Reina High.

La Reina (29-8) advances to the final to face top-seeded Alta Loma on Friday or Saturday at either Cerritos College or Fullerton College. The day, time and place is likely to be decided early Wednesday.

The Regents will be making their third CIF-SS championship appearance in program history, having won a title in 2000 and losing in the final in 2008.

"I really wanted it so badly for these girls because they are such a special group," Yoshimoto said. "I knew it was a good mix that was going to go far because they are like a family and have played together for so long. They are really self-motivated and wanted to make it to this point."

La Reina and St. Paul (30-7) waged an intense battle with wild momentum swings in each set.

Sparked by Simqu's serving, La Reina embarked on a 9-0 run in the first set to take an 11-4 lead. But St. Paul rallied to move in front 18-15.

Alexandra Polk and Evelina Godecki combined for a block to give La Reina a lead it would never surrender at 22-21, and the Regents eventually clinched the set on a kill by Polk.

La Reina jumped out to an 8-2 lead in the second set and led by six points midway through. St. Paul mounted a comeback and took its first lead of the set at 22-21 on a La Reina hitting error.

La Reina saved three set points before Huseby's ace gave the Regents a chance for a two-set lead, which they grabbed when St. Paul was called for a double-hit violation.

St. Paul had the advantage for much of the third set before a late La Reina rally. The Regents had a chance for the sweep, but St. Paul staved off two match points to extend the match on a kill by Riley Kelly.

La Reina led nearly the entire way in the fourth set. St. Paul cut La Reina's eight-point lead to just one at 16-15, but the Regents pulled away in the end.

After St. Paul saved two match points, La Reina began its celebration when Simqu pounded a kill to clinch a spot in the final.

"The girls displayed so much resilience. It was back and forth, but they never gave up in any of the sets," Yoshimoto said. "That has been our way. Even when we are down, we somehow find a way to come back. Izzy's serving was amazing. It helped us in really key times to get back."

Huseby was nearly unstoppable on the attack in what could have been the final match of the senior's career.

"It's such an adrenaline rush and a feeling I have never experienced because we have never gone this far in CIF since I've been at La Reina," said Huseby, who added seven digs and three blocks with her 19 kills. "I honestly give full credit to my teammates. They were cheering me on and gave me all this energy that just makes me execute."

Senior outside hitter Whitney Hunter had 11 kills for La Reina and senior libero Katie Wiere finished with 16 digs. Senior setter Kate Melvin dished out 30 assists.

Once Simqu's final kill hit the floor, the Regents swarmed in a massive group hug and began chanting "Finals here we come!" over and over as they bounced on the court in unison.

"It feels like we are still growing and haven't reached our peak yet," Melvin said. "It's a really cool time for it to happen. I think the farther we go the more we realize we have what we didn't realize we had before. We really want to see what our limit is."

Police chase motorcyclist from Somis to Moorpark

November 18, 2014 - 9:47pm

Officers with the Ventura County Sheriff's Office were involved in a high-speed pursuit Tuesday with a motorcyclist, officials said.

The chase began after 9 p.m. on Santa Clara Avenue near Friedrich Road in Somis.

The motorcyclist turned onto eastbound Los Angeles Avenue and was headed into the city of Moorpark at 9:25 p.m.

The pursuit ended with the motorcycle crashing at 9:29 p.m. in the 300 block of Moorpark Avenue.

The motorcycle was travelling at speeds between 55 mph and 100 mph throughout the chase.

It was not clear what started the pursuit.

Black Friday deals that are really duds

November 18, 2014 - 8:17pm

To shop or not to shop on Black Friday.

Most big box stores will be opening Thanksgiving evening, because they know they can make a lot of money that night.

But a new analysis of Black Friday deals claims some of the big sales are really no deal at all.

Site Compares New Sales With Current Sales

The savings site NerdWallet.com analyzed 27 Black Friday ads, and came out with some surprising findings.

The site reports many Black Friday deals are the same price you could have bought them last year or last week, without the crowds.

For instance: Office Depot is selling a laser printer for $349. But that's the same price Office Depot offered for the exact same printer last year on Black Friday, according to an ad scan NerdWallet found.

Kmart's Black Friday will feature a floor jack for your car for $49. But you could have bought the exact same floor jack on sale for $49 during the past two weeks, NerdWallet claims.

Ace Hardware has been selling a Dewalt portable drill/driver for $89 all this month, as part of its November Savings sale. It's on sale again on Black Friday. That's great, but the problem is it's for the same price you can get right now: $89.

Even Target, which has some great Black Friday gift card promotions on iPads this year, also has some Apple duds, NerdWallet says. Teh site claims the $89 deal on Apple TV ($10 off) is not just a small markdown, but the same price Target has offered before.

And JC Penney has a big Black Friday event on a Cuisinart, marked down from $180 to just $99. Only problem: It was $99 a week ago, without the crowds.

NerdWallet says Black Friday is so hyped, though, that people will fight the crowds for these items, not knowing that in some cases they could get the same price every day.

The Bottom Line

Look at those ads carefully, and make sure you are really getting a savings over the current price. That way, you don't waste your time and don't waste your money.   

__________________________

Don't Waste Your Money is a registered trademark of the EW Scripps Co.

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2 taken to hospital after Simi Valley crash

November 18, 2014 - 8:11pm

From staff reports

At least two ambulance responded Tuesday evening to a traffic collision in Simi Valley, officials said.

The crash was reported at 6:14 p.m. near Erringer Road and East Cochran Street.

At 6:25 p.m., crews requested a second ambulance respond.

Two people were taken to a local hospital with minor injuries, officials said.

Camarillo patio cafe offers Italian pastries

November 18, 2014 - 7:22pm

A slice of New York by way of La Jolla opened late last month at what used to be a Hawaiian-themed steakhouse in Camarillo.

Now the owners of Manhattan of Camarillo also have started serving breakfast burritos and all-American burgers along with authentic Italian pastries on the restaurant’s sheltered patio, known separately as The Manhattan Cafe.

The setting for both eateries is the former Aloha Steakhouse, which closed in the spring of 2013 in the Santa Rosa Plaza shopping center near Leisure Village. Co-owners of the new restaurant are Rich Cooper, of Camarillo, and P.J. Macaluso, who also operates Manhattan of La Jolla. The men met nearly 30 years ago, when Cooper helped build the La Jolla restaurant.

In Camarillo, Aloha’s patio fire pit has been replaced by a bakery display case filled with the work of on-site pastry chef Severino D’Amico. Selections include chocolate-dipped cookies, raisin-flecked breads and bow-tie shaped pastries so flaky they shatter when you bite into them.

Open from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. daily, the patio café serves Peet’s Coffee & Tea. New to the menu as of Monday are ham, potato and cheese breakfast burritos and burgers made with patties of ground brisket and short rib meat. It will grow to include pizzas and more in the coming weeks, Macaluso said.

The patio’s banquettes are equipped with dozens of electrical outlets for diners who wish to camp out with their digital devices.

Inside the restaurant proper, the bar has been moved from the middle of the room to a brick-lined wall — the better to add a small dance floor and a grand piano.

The dining room remains in soft-opening mode, with a limited number of dinner reservations accepted each night from 5-10:30 p.m. daily.

Its menu of steaks, seafood, gnocchi Genovese, veal piccata and made-tableside Caesar salads is overseen by chef George Coronel, whose father, Zenon, is the chef at the La Jolla location.

The dining room decorated with wood paneling and images of New York by San Diego photographer Jay Flynn will begin serving lunch later this month or in early December, said Macaluso.

Whenever you go, bring a flash light or the cellphone-app version of same: It’s dark in there (5800 Santa Rosa Road, Suite 140, 388-5550).

Lisa McKinnon’s column also appears in the Sunday Life section and online at http://www.vcstar.com/lifestyles/lisa-mckinnon. For between-column updates, follow 805foodie on Twitter and Instagram and “like” the Facebook page VCS Eats. Send email to lmckinnon@vcstar.com.

Conviction in 1980 Ventura County murder tossed

November 18, 2014 - 6:42pm

A man who has spent 36 years in prison was wrongly convicted of a Ventura County murder and could be released Monday after a court hearing, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday.

Michael Hanline, 69, could eventually be retried, but new evidence resulted in a judge vacating his conviction last week.

Hanline’s case was taken up by the California Innocence Project in 1999. In 2013, it was one of a dozen highlighted by the San Diego group when lawyers and supporters made a 600-mile trek to Sacramento seeking clemency for what they called the “California 12.”

Hanline, who in 1980 was found guilty of first-degree murder for the 1978 death of Ventura resident J.T. McGarry, is the first of those 12 to have a conviction vacated.

“He is just beside himself,” said attorney Alex Simpson of the California Innocence Project, which is part of the Case Western School of Law.

This is also the first time in Ventura County the DA’s office has recommended setting aside a conviction, said Special Assistant District Attorney Michael Schwartz.

“At this point, he’s no longer a convicted murderer,” said Schwartz, who heads the department’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which was established in October 2012.

At the same time, Schwartz said, “we have not concluded that he’s factually innocent.”

New DNA testing of crime scene evidence found material that came from a man who was not Hanline or his alleged accomplice, contradicting the prosecution’s theory presented during the trial.

In addition, evidence that should have been disclosed to Hanline during the trial was withheld from him, Schwartz said.

“The significance of the information that was not disclosed is more evident now,” said Schwartz, who said he could not discuss the new findings in detail because his office is still looking into the case.

Simpson, who is associate director of the California Innocence Project, has worked on Hanline’s case for 10 years.

“The case investigation and review has been exhaustive,” he said. “We do have an innocent person behind bars.”

He praised the DA’s office for having “taken this so seriously” and said the DNA evidence provided a new tool that was not available at the time of the trial.

Hanline was arrested Nov. 26, 1978, and could be released Monday — after almost 36 years to the day, Simpson said.

“His 69th birthday was last Friday,” Simpson said. “It’s like Christmas and Thanksgiving and his birthday all wrapped up in one for him.” Hanline is currently housed at Solano State Prison in Vacaville.

Hanline is the longest-served client of the innocence group, which was launched in 1999, Simpson said. Previously, investigators uncovered once-sealed police reports that the group says impeach a key prosecution witness. In 2010, a U.S. District Court magistrate recommended Hanline’s conviction be overturned, but the following year a judge rejected the recommendation.

On Monday, Hanline will appear in a Ventura County courtroom.

Schwartz said he expects the judge to set bail, and prosecutors will ask that Hanline be monitored electronically with an ankle bracelet. In essence, Hanline will revert to pretrial status, Schwartz said, as someone awaiting trial if prosecutors ultimately decide to file murder charges against him.

Simpson said he understands that prosecutors want to conduct a thorough investigation.

“It’s just as if we turn back the clock to 1978,” he said.

The video below was produced by the California Innocence March which advocates for Michael Hanline.

Click on the image to view the document.

Police seek information about Oxnard murder

November 18, 2014 - 6:37pm

Police were asking for the public's help Tuesday in providing any information related to the murder of a 55-year-old Oxnard man last week.

Labh Nigah's body was found stabbed to death the morning of Nov. 13 in Sierra Linda Park after he had dropped off his child at nearby Sierra Linda Elementary School, authorities said.

In calling for the public's help officials said a person was seen running from the scene of the crime westbound onto Holly Street. Investigators said the suspect may have injured themselves during the attack and possibly sought treatment for an unknown type of injury.

Police said they believe people in the park may have seen the suspect earlier that morning or in the days leading up to the attack.

Oxnard offers a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a suspect in homicide cases. To provide information about the crime contact one of the following:

•Oxnard Police Department Website: www.oxnardpd.org/contact.asp

•Oxnard Police Department Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/oxnardpd

•Ventura County Crime Stoppers: www.venturacountycrimestoppers.org/contactus.aspx or (800) 222-8477

•Detective Miguel Serrato: Miguel.serrato@oxnardpd.org or 385-7688

Violent Crimes Hotline: 982-7070

Big help comes from little pine cones

November 18, 2014 - 6:28pm

Embellished with decorations ranging from faux pearls to seashells, hundreds of one-of-a-kind miniature trees made from pine cones will be sold at the eighth annual Bethany Trees holiday boutique to benefit the needy.

"We're not here to make money; we're here to raise money for children," said Laurie Steinfeld, of Simi Valley, event founder.

The boutique, which will also showcase more than two dozen vendors, will take place Friday through Sunday at Jack's Shoes in Simi Valley.

Proceeds from the trees will benefit Bethany Village, an orphanage in Africa; Forever Found, a nonprofit that rescues child trafficking victims; the Pregnancy Counseling Center, which provides free services to young women in crisis; and Skip1.org, a charity that distributes food and water to children and families in need.

"Each year, we raise at least $5,000 just on the trees," said Steinfeld, noting that each boutique vendor also will donate 20 percent.

The trees are made from pine cones found in Steinfeld's neighborhood in Bridle Path, as well as donated pine cones from Camarillo and other areas.

"I come home and there will be a box of pine cones on my porch and bags of decorations," said Steinfeld, noting that the effort thrives on word of mouth.

People gather in Steinfeld's home weeks before the fundraiser to embellish each pine cone by hand, using their imagination and decorations including miniature thimbles, beer bottle caps, Hello Kitty emblems, feathers, faux candy and miniature American flags.

"One time, we had Swarovski crystals put on a small one and we got $80 for it," said Steinfeld, adding that the trees feature themes including Day of the Dead, sushi and the Incredible Hulk. "You can give them for Christmas or any time of year."

Vicki Steinwender selected items Sunday for her creation.

"I want to do a baby tree for a little girl," said Steinwender, who chose items including a silver heart-shaped hollow brooch filled with a miniature teddy bear, baby carriage and stroller.

"This has probably been two weeks in the making in my mind," said Steinwender, of Simi Valley. "It's putting your heart into creating things that people find value in and love."

Pricing is based on how much each person wants to donate, Steinfeld said.

"The trees are all divided into sections," she said. "The nicer the tree, the more money it brings in. So it's not them buying a tree; they're making a donation."

Once the boutique is over, the remaining trees will be sold in Simi Valley at Second Story on Tapo Street, Pretty as You Please in Wood Ranch, and Body Mechanix Physical Therapy and Flowers by Maria, both on Cochran Street.

Laurie Murphy, who has been involved with the effort since its inception, said the endeavor fills her with joy.

"When I think of their time and effort and the beauty that these women have created ... it makes me so happy," said Murphy, of Simi Valley. "Each tree is one of a kind, and they're made with love."

If you go

The boutique will be from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at Jack's Shoes in the Cornerstone building at Tapo and Valley Fair streets in Simi Valley. Call 207-6688 for more information.

Volunteers take hungry people to lunch

November 18, 2014 - 6:08pm

Chang Liampetchakul, who owns Tipps Thai restaurant in downtown Ventura, used to have after-hours drinks at a local bar with some of the men he knew to be homeless.

“In case I be homeless I have friends right away,” said Liampetchakul with a laugh, by way of explanation.

It struck him though, in seriousness, that he could be homeless as easily as any of them. Liampetchakul years ago stopped giving money to homeless people, but he will sometimes give them food if they ask. He accepted with a shrug seeing recent surveillance tape of one person he’s known for decades defecating behind his building.

And he was more than happy to take part in Tuesday’s “Take A Hungry Person to Lunch Day,” an event coordinated by faith agencies working to end homelessness.

“You can’t help everyone,” he said. “But one person at a time, I think it’s good.”

Lift Up Your Voice, a group from Ventura’s Unitarian Universalist Church, sponsored the event with the Ventura Interfaith Ministerial Association. They invited members of the public to take a homeless person to lunch at a restaurant. The idea was to go beyond handing out sandwiches and pizza at parks.

Over Thai, Mexican, Chinese or classic American food at dining establishments downtown, homeless people shared their stories and had offers of help from social service agencies.

At least one accepted, said Kathy Powell, one of the event coordinators.

Powell is part of a group that heads to Ventura’s parks at lunchtime on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the days chosen because Family to Family’s hot lunches aren’t offered then.

Powell said it was a “powerful event” on Tuesday, and as she walked Main Street, she saw people engaged in conversation.

It “showed that people cared about them and they got to share their story,” she said.

In recent years, the city and several key social service providers have transitioned from offering food and other services without strings attached. They now require those who receive help to be working toward bettering their situations.

That the event went beyond food handouts was a step in the right direction, said Kevin Clerici, executive director of downtown’s business improvement district.

“I do see it as a more effective way of getting people into programs that they need because they’re connecting on a human level,” he said. “Handing out a burrito at Plaza Park is not going to change their lifestyle.”

Clerici said he hopes people formed connections that might motivate them to get into structured programs.

Not everyone, of course, wants help. Gilbert, who declined to give his last name, admitted he was just there for the free lunch.

“There’s nothing these people can do for me. They can’t get me a house,” he said.

Trina, who asked that her last name not be used, was not phased by her dining partner. “I’m no lifesaver. I think maybe I’m making a friend,” she said.

Trina criticized the city for deterring her and others from passing out food at the park.

“They don’t want to decrease homelessness. They want to get rid of homeless people,” she said.

City Community Services Manager Peter Brown said the criticism was unfair.

“Our city does more than almost any other city (on homelessness) and is really proactive with people who want to help themselves,” he said.

The day started with a screening of “Time to Listen,” a documentary about those who found themselves unexpectedly homeless.

Ventura resident Chris Chalquest was one of those people, she told the roughly 30 participants and organizers gathered at Unitarian Universalist Church.

Chalquest owned a house, coached her son’s sports teams and made solid investments that let her be a stay-at-home mom for years.

Then came the day the money ran out, and the day she got the DUI that landed her in jail and led to her son being taken away. Then came homelessness.

It was the kindness of people like Powell that helped her get back on her feet.

“The soul can get bent only so far before it gets broken,” Chalquest said.

Next week, the group will reconvene to discuss the day and share their experiences.

Man arrested after police find guns

November 18, 2014 - 5:18pm

A 27-year-old man was arrested Tuesday after police found guns and ammunition in his home, officials said.

Santa Paula police responded about 9 a.m. to a disturbance call in the 300 block of Craig Drive. Officers heard a man and woman arguing in the home. The man, Mark Gonzalez, was determined to be on probation for weapons violations, police said.

Officers searched the home and found a handgun and multiple rounds of ammunition hidden in a couch, police said. Gonzalez was arrested on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, police said. Gonzalez is also a documented gang member, officials said.

Simi Unified moves closer to superintendent pick

November 18, 2014 - 5:16pm

Three individuals are seeking to become Simi Valley Unified School District’s next superintendent.

The candidates were interviewed Monday evening by the district board in closed session. A fourth candidate was invited to interview but dropped out.

No details about the applicants have been made publicly available by the district. Those interviewed Monday were selected from an applicant pool of 12 and were described by board President Rob Collins as “very strong, qualified candidates.”

The next top administrator will take the reins at a critical time, with further school closures and teacher layoffs in the cards for the district, which is losing about 600 students a year. The district also must reduce expenditures and raise revenues to pare an ongoing budget deficit while adding programs and improving the district’s public image.

The initial round of interviews Monday follows a two-week application process that closed Oct. 3, with interview candidates being chosen Oct. 7.

Waiting game

Interim Superintendent Jason Peplinski said Tuesday that no decision was made on any candidate, and December would be the earliest time a move forward could be made.

“The board directed staff to add an item to the Dec. 9 agenda for the closed portion of the meeting,” Peplinski said. “That closed session item will include a discussion of the next steps in the selection process.”

Peplinski said the board has a variety of options, including offering the superintendent position to a candidate or widening the search.

Ahead of the closed session Dec. 9, the two trustees-elect, Scott Blough and Bill Daniels, will be sworn in and take their seats, replacing outgoing trustees Arleigh Kidd and Jeanne Davis.

Blough and Daniels were invited by the five-member board to sit in on the interviews although they were not allowed to actively participate.

“The new board will now be making any decisions about the superintendent search,” the interim superintendent said.

Daniels said before the interviews: “I appreciate the board allowing myself and Scott Blough to be able to see some of the interaction with these candidates. I think it’s a positive thing. ... Bottom line, I want the best possible person for the job, and I think we’re all on the same page about that.”

Blough, too, said he appreciates the board’s willingness to include the trustees-elect while being mindful there can only be one set of five elected trustees making decisions at a time.

Fast forward

The process of choosing a new superintendent began when Kathryn Scroggin said in June she was stepping down from the job. She was offered a contract to continue on an interim basis until a successor was found.

The Simi board planned to contract with the Ventura County Office of Education to conduct a superintendent search, but after the summer recess rescinded its decision when the county proposed starting the process in January.

Instead, led by trustees Dan White, Arleigh Kidd and Jeanne Davis, the board decided to fast-track the process.

The three voted at the board’s Sept. 16 meeting to replace Scroggin in the interim role with Peplinski, who then was Simi Unified’s assistant superintendent for educational services, effective Oct. 10.

The board also decided to invite applications from internal and external candidates with a view toward seating a new permanent superintendent as quickly as possible.

Kidd did not seek re-election to the board in this month’s election and Davis was unseated in the Nov. 4 vote.

The board was set to meet Tuesday night for its regularly scheduled meeting.