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Michelle Singletary: Finance coach all you need?

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 5:01pm

WASHINGTON — When Danita Wadley talks about her clients, she often uses “we.”

Wadley is a licensed financial coach in Houston whose job is to help people navigate various personal finance issues. When I talked to her about 49-year-old Traci McMurtry, I could hear the pride in her voice.

“We cleaned up her credit,” said Wadley.

She said “we” but was quick to point out that McMurtry did the work to boost her credit rating. When they first checked her FICO score through TransUnion, it was in the high 400s — on a scale of 350 to 850. Two years later, McMurtry said her score had jumped to just over 700.

“We paid off some collection accounts,” says Wadley, regional director of education and self-sufficiency for Volunteers of America Texas.

McMurtry increased her score so dramatically because she was able to settle some debts and got creditors to update her credit reports and remove negative information. She paid her bills on time and participated in a loan program at the center specially designed to help clients build up their credit.

“I did it, but she walked me though a whole lot of stuff,” says McMurtry, an ex-offender and recovering drug addict. She says she’s been clean for five and a half years.

The women formed a bond as they worked together to clean up McMurtry’s credit and help her buy a dump truck so that she could be self-employed.

“She helped me build my confidence in being able to pull it all off,” McMurtry said in an interview. “I’ve been though some things and a lot of obstacles in rebuilding my life. Addiction is a horrible confidence destroyer.”

Wadley works at what’s called a “financial opportunity center,” where trained personnel help low-income clients, most enrolled in job training and placement programs, manage their finances.

The Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) developed the centers. The community development nonprofit, which puts almost $1 billion every year into low-income neighborhoods, has partnered with other nonprofits to open 75 financial opportunity centers in 33 cities, according to an LISC spokeswoman.

LISC’s program is innovative. I believe financial coaching has been the missing link in job training and placement programs. It’s not enough to help people get a job. Many also need help changing certain financial behaviors that get in the way of using their income to build real net worth.

“Millions of families face financial insecurity due to circumstances such as loss of housing wealth, long-term unemployment, high levels of debt or poor credit,” wrote Alicia Atkinson, a policy analyst at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, in a report about the merits of financial coaching. “Financial coaching can help families and individuals regain their financial footing by helping them learn how to navigate our financial system more successfully and build habits that lead to financial security. This is a vital component to getting families back on track.”

What’s different at the centers is the one-on-one personal touch.

“Folks who receive financial coaching really begin to think about their goals,” said Seung Kim, who supervises the national network of financial opportunity centers.

Coaches help people set up budgets. They get them to open their bills. Many clients don’t open their mail because they have so many delinquent bills that it overwhelms them, Kim said. “We help them unpack the stress a little bit.”

Wadley said an initial session with a client often takes several hours as they walk through the client’s financial life and goals.

Traditionally, job placement centers offer financial workshops or classes with a strong emphasis on saving, opening a checking account and homeownership, Kim said. But telling people what they should do is not enough. Programs like what LISC offers realize that people need somebody they can regularly call for guidance or when they hit a financial snag. They benefit from someone who will hold them accountable.

Kim said that with the addition of financial counseling, the centers are finding people who get coaching have a higher rate of job placement. Clients are more likely to improve their net income, net worth and credit profile.

That’s what happened with McMurtry. She was able to purchase a used dump truck with cash. She hauls dirt and sand. Improving her credit helped lower the insurance premiums for her truck. Her next goal is to buy a home. And the center is helping her with that, too, through a matching savings program.

“I understand how important it is for people to be empowered to see how their money works for them,” Wadley said. “It’s important to peel that onion and see what they need individually.”

I believe that the financial opportunity centers have struck on the right formula to help low-income families pull out of poverty. It’s a holistic approach to their needs. Help them train and get jobs paying a living wage. Help them access public programs that will supplement their income until they can stand on their own financial feet. And provide them with financial coaching to better manage their money.

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

Cafe Society: Restaurant-week, food for thought

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 3:09pm

Are restaurant weeks things of the past?

One might think so in Ventura County, where two of the four cities that participated in the statewide California Restaurant Month promotion in 2014 are skipping the prix-fixe party this year.

Jeff Lambert, community development director for Ventura, pointed to a reduction in staff as the reason there would be no city-sponsored Ventura Restaurant Week for the second time since the event debuted in the fall of 2010. (It later moved to January to join the California Travel and Tourism Commission effort.)

After participating for the first time in 2013, Simi Valley likewise is taking a breather, but could return in 2016, said a spokesperson with the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, the sixth annual Oxnard International Restaurant Week will feature discounts and special menus at more than a dozen locations through Jan. 25. It is presented by the Oxnard Convention & Visitors Bureau, which showcases each restaurant with a color photo and menu description on a website created just for that purpose. To see it, click here. .

And in Moorpark, the third annual Moorpark Restaurant Week is scheduled to run Sunday through Jan. 31, thanks in part to a last-minute push by David Moe, economic development and housing manager.

“We are short-staffed, but this is an important event,” said Moe. “We want to make more residents and visitors aware of the range of restaurants available to them right here in our city.”

Moe said he hoped to post a list of participating locations to the city’s website, available here

Beyond Ventura County, restaurant-month programs include dineLA, which runs through Feb. 1 and has a hashtag (#dineLA) and spiffy website to call its own.

Santa Barbara Film Feast will unspool Tuesday through Feb. 7, corresponding with the 30th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival. So while film festival ticket holders discuss Jennifer Aniston’s scenery-chewing turn in “Cake,” film feast diners can order cocktails and multicourse meals inspired by movies like “Chef,” “The Godfather” and -- dare I say it? -- “Nacho Libre.” For the full slate of culinary offerings, click here..

OPEN, SHUT AND IN BETWEEN: Enegren Brewing Co. of Moorpark unveiled its five-times-larger brewery and tasting room Saturday during an open-to-the-public party at its new Zachary Street address, located just around the corner from its old space on Flinn Avenue.

On the agenda: live music, brewery tours and pizzas by Fresh & Bangin’ Food of Lancaster to go with at least 10 brews on the available 12 taps.

But the event, which helped raise money for the White Heart Foundation, was just the first of similar shindigs to come, said brewery co-founder Chris Enegren. Permits issued by the city for the new location include permission to bring in licensed food trucks on a regular basis. Already on the schedule are The Grilled Cheese Truck, from 6-9 p.m. Feb. 6, and ConFusion Sushi Roll Tacos, from 6-9 p.m. Feb. 13. Trivia nights and food-pairing events with Moorpark restaurants like Disgustingly Delicious are also possibilities.

With the expanded space come expanded hours. The brewery is now open from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays (444 Zachary St., Suites 119-120, 552-0602, enegrenbrewing.com).

Duke’s Griddle ‘n’ Grill reopened Thursday, nearly 15 months after it closed for what originally was described as a monthlong repair job in Ventura’s Pierpont neighborhood.

It returns with several changes wrought by modern-day building codes and health-department requirements. The kitchen is now enclosed and the bathrooms are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Other changes include the serving of Duke’s trademarked “bitchin burgers” on plates instead of in the red plastic baskets of old. A new, copper-topped bar in the main dining room signals the addition of a full alcohol license where once there was only beer and wine. Familiar touches include the presence of such longtime Duke’s staff members as Miguel Gonzalez and Rafael Gonzales, the latter immediately identifiable by his impressive mustache.

The menu includes sourdough bread bowls of New England clam chowder ($8.95), fish, chicken, shrimp and carne tacos with crema and cabbage ($3.50 each), the Kickin Chicken sandwich with fire-roasted chile and cheese ($9.95) and the Whole Ball of Wax cheeseburger with bacon and avocado, now available as a single ($9.95) as well as the traditional double ($11.95). In the bar area, the six beers on tap include Mondo’s Blonde Ale from Surf Brewery of Ventura. The house margarita is made with Sauza tequila ($$7.50); martinis are served with their shakers on the side ($8.50 and up). Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends, and till 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (1124 S. Seaward Ave., 667-8411).

Open since 2011, The LAB Brewing Co. in Agoura Hills is closed for remodeling of both the space and the concept. It is scheduled to reopen late this month or early next as Twisted Oak Tavern, a pub that will serve a menu of flatbreads and houseground burgers by chef Jon Peloso. Beers will be made on-site by what still is referred to as The LAB Brewing Co. (30105 Agoura Road, 818-735-0091, twistedoaktavern.pub).

In Moorpark, Sushi & Thai is coming to the Village Retail Auto Center space vacated last summer by Tokiwa Sushi when the latter moved and changed its name to Tokiwa Japanese Cuisine (252 W. Los Angeles Ave., Suite A). No opening date has been announced for Sushi & Thai (476 W. Los Angeles Ave., Suite B10).

UPDATE: What opened last year as California Kabob Kitchen is now Moorpark Kabob Kitchen. The change was made about two weeks ago to avoid confusion with a Los Angeles restaurant of the same name, and already is reflected in the newly printed menu pamphlets (537 New Los Angeles Ave., Suite B, 530-3828).

CHEF SHUFFLES: Jesse Hansen may be the new executive chef at Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village, but he’s no stranger to the region. He attended the culinary program at Santa Barbara City College and landed his first Four Seasons job at the property in Montecito — aka the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara — in 1997. Stints at Four Seasons sites in Toronto, San Francisco and Scottsdale followed, in positions ranging from banquet chef to executive sous chef.

At Westlake Village, Hansen moves into the executive chef role vacated by Alexander La Motte, who was named executive chef at Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco last fall. Hansen is rolling out new menus gradually, starting with offerings in The Bar (2 Dole Drive, 818-575-3000, fourseasonswestlake.com).

Two former executive chefs from the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa can now be found elsewhere in California. Chad Minton, who held the post from 2011 to 2013, is executive chef at Hyatt Carmel Highlands and its on-site restaurants, Pacific’s Edge and California Market. Georg Paulussen left in September for the executive chef position at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square. In Ojai, the search continues for a new executive chef for the inn.

SAVE THE DATE(S): Ladyface Ale Companie of Agoura Hills will mark its fifth anniversary with new releases, brewery tours, specials on beers on tap and at least one brewmaster’s dinner. For a full schedule of events from Sunday through Jan. 31, click on ladyfaceale.com.

Members of the public are invited to attend from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday when the Ventura County chapter of the American Culinary Federation presents tastings and cooking demonstrations at the future site of the Ventura Adult and Continuing Education culinary program. Reservations, $25 (or $20 for members) may be made by calling 483-7843 or sending email to chef_lodi@yahoo.com.

Lisa McKinnon is a staff writer for The Star. Her Cafe Society column also appears Fridays in the Time Out section. For between-column updates, follow 805foodie on Twitter and Instagram and “like” the Facebook page VCS Eats. Please send email to lmckinnon@vcstar.com.

Company seeks rights to names of Grand lodges

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 2:27pm

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — To those who know and love the Grand Canyon, the names of its historic lodges are synonymous with the national park itself.

Phantom Ranch, Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar — all bring to mind a place coveted worldwide for its sweeping views, river rapids and history told though layers of geology.

But the fate of those names is up for debate after a longtime Grand Canyon concessionaire applied to trademark them.

Approval of its bid would mean Xanterra Parks & Resorts could charge future concessionaires to use roughly 20 names of the park's most popular properties. It also could walk away with those names, leaving the iconic lodges and other facilities to adopt a new identity.

The National Park Service is weighing how to respond with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on the matter, which a spokesman described as relatively uncharted ground.

Park Service spokesman Jeff Olson said he's aware of only two other national parks where companies have registered for trademarks for names, Yosemite in California and Hot Springs in Arkansas.

"This is a new issue for us," Olson wrote in an email.

Xanterra applied for the trademarks just before its contract to manage South Rim hotels, restaurants and mule rides expired at the end of December. The company later won a temporary contract and can bid on a new one expected sometime this year.

The Greenwood Village, Colorado-based company and its predecessors have operated at the Grand Canyon for more than a century. Places like the famed El Tovar Hotel, which overlooks the canyon, were housing visitors before the Grand Canyon was named a national monument and, later, a national park.

Experts say the intent of the trademark applications is clear: to stifle competition for the upcoming concessions contract or earn money for the value Xanterra has created in the names.

"They're just playing a card," said Kristelia Garcia, an associate professor at the University of Colorado Law School.

Xanterra declined to comment.

The National Park Service wouldn't say whether it would oppose Xanterra's trademark applications. But going forward, the agency says it will include language in contracts that tells concessionaires how names and logos associated with the park can be used.

A recent change to a contract proposal at California's Yosemite National Park reflected that with hundreds of names of park identifiers.

Yosemite concessionaire Delaware North Parks & Resorts placed the value of its intellectual property — including trademarks it bought in 1993 for names like The Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village — at $51 million.

The Park Service says the value of the well-known lodge and cabin names is closer to $3.5 million. But future concessionaires aren't required to pay it. A successor instead could choose to rename those places, the agency said in the contract proposal. Bidding on it ended this week.

Derrick Crandall, counsel at the National Park Hospitality Association, said park concessionaires have invested time and money to create brands and market them to the public, building up goodwill in the names. It's not unlike what happens with hotels and businesses outside national parks, he said.

"If the next concessionaire decides, 'I don't want to pay that intellectual property,' and they want a new name, that's fine," Crandall said. "It's legitimate to say there's some kind of payment due."

Doug Sylvester, dean of Arizona State University's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, said Xanterra has a good case for winning approval for the federal trademarks but suggested the Park Service oppose the move so it could include the right by any concessionaire to use those names as part of a contract.

"To lose those names is to devalue those particular operations," he said. "I do think for those who are familiar with the Grand Canyon, those names themselves have some value."

For the public, the effect could be its attachment to names that have been staples of the Grand Canyon for decades. El Tovar — named after a Spanish conquistador who never made it to the Grand Canyon — harkens back to a railroad company that set up lodging for passengers amid a remarkable landscape. Bright Angel Lodge pays ode to the popular hiking trail and winding creek of the same name.

Wayne Ranney's first Arizona residence was at Phantom Ranch where he worked as a backcountry ranger. He says he couldn't imagine the grouping of rustic cabin, cantina and cottonwood trees being called anything else.

Phantom Ranch is deep within the park and can be reached only by foot, mule or raft. Famed architect Mary Jane Coulter designed it in the 1920s with materials from the surrounding landscape. She rejected efforts to name it Roosevelt's Chalets.

"We'll all get used to a new name if it comes to that, but how far down on the mat will these companies go to squeeze every nickel out of it?" Ranney said. "This is a heritage that belongs to all of us. To strip it of its name is to take a piece of it away with you."


Fake California schools draw scrutiny

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 2:22pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — From her hometown in India in 2010, Bhanu Challa said she had no reason to doubt that Tri-Valley University was a legitimate American school where she could pursue a master's degree. Its website featured smiling students in caps and gowns and promised a leafy campus in a San Francisco Bay Area suburb.

Months later, her hands were in cuffs as federal investigators questioned her motives for being in the U.S. Authorities told her that Tri-Valley was a sham school. It was selling documents that allowed foreigners to obtain U.S. student visas, and in some cases work in the country, while providing almost no instruction, according to federal investigators.

"I was blank, totally blank ...," she said, recalling her shock. "I didn't know what to do, who I could approach."

Tri-Valley is among at least half a dozen schools shut down or raided by federal authorities in recent years over allegations of immigration fraud. Like Tri-Valley, they had obtained permission from U.S. immigration officials to admit foreign students.

But most offered little or no instruction or didn't require all students to attend classes, instead exploiting the student visa system for profit, investigators said.

"If there's a way to make a buck, some people will do it," said Brian Smeltzer, chief of the Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.

Last year alone, Smeltzer said, his office flagged about 150 of the roughly 9,000 schools certified to accept foreign students for investigation as potential visa mills.

Meltzer said many of the schools the agency investigates are in California, which has the highest number of foreign students and schools certified to accept them. New York has the second most.

Government watchdogs say the recent visa fraud cases have exposed gaps in ICE's oversight of schools that admit foreign students — a problem the agency says is being corrected. And experts say the scams hurt the reputation of the U.S. higher education system, which currently enrolls about 900,000 foreign students.

"If anybody has any illusions there was one just bad apple, that's not the case," said Barmak Nassirian, director of federal policy analysis with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. "There are plenty of them out there."

At California Union University in Fullerton, owner Samuel Chai Cho Oh staged phony graduation ceremonies as part of a visa scheme, according to immigration officials. He pleaded guilty to visa fraud and money laundering and was sentenced to a year in prison in 2011.

At College Prep Academy in Duluth, Georgia, president Dong Seok Yi conspired to enroll some women with the understanding they would not attend classes, but work at bars, prosecutors alleged. He was convicted of immigration document fraud and sentenced last year to 21 months in prison.

Investigators say Tri-Valley, with more than 1,000 students, many Indian nationals, was among the largest school fraud scams they have encountered. The school's founder and president, Susan Xiao-Ping Su, used more than $5.6 million she made in the scam to buy commercial real estate, a Mercedes Benz and multiple homes, federal prosecutors said.

She was sentenced in October to 16 years in prison after a conviction on visa fraud and other charges. The school is now closed.

The Tri-Valley case also sparked protests in India, where officials objected to U.S. authorities placing ankle monitors on former students. Investigators say they believe some students were cheated out of an education, but others were happy to be in the U.S. whether they learned much or not.

Jerry Wang, CEO of another San Francisco Bay Area school, Herguan University in Sunnyvale, is also facing visa fraud charges. Prosecutors say he provided federal officials with false employment information about students, transcripts and a letter purporting to show another school accepted Herguan's credits. He has pleaded not guilty, and the school remains open.

His attorney, James Brosnahan, said the allegations against his client are completely untrue. "It is a very real university," he said, noting that it recently was accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.

The organization confirmed that the school was accredited.

To be certified by immigration officials to accept foreign students, schools must be accredited by a Department of Education-approved organization or have their courses accepted by at least three accredited schools.

A 2012 Government Accountability Office report said ICE was not always verifying letters purporting to show the school's courses were accepted elsewhere. It also said ICE was failing to analyze schools for patterns pointing to fraud. The agency now verifies every school credit letter and has developed a tool to assess the seriousness of any school violations.

"We've put in a greater system of checks and balances," said Carissa Cutrell, a spokeswoman for Homeland Security Investigations' Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

At Tri-Valley, Challa said she paid nearly $3,000 for her first semester, but never received an assignment or an exam. She was unhappy that she wasn't learning and was taking steps to transfer when the school was raided in 2011. She later completed her MBA and is now working in the U.S.

"I had to pursue my studies here, I had to get a job," she said. "I was the first person in my family to come to the U.S."



High winds cause problems across county

Ventura County Star - Local News - January 24, 2015 - 2:17pm

Airborne carports, fallen trees and power outages were reported Saturday across the county as gusty Santa Ana winds tore through the region. 

North to northeast winds ranging from 20 mph to 30 mph with gusts up to 40 mph and 50 mph were reported along the coast and in interior and coastal valleys. A wind advisory for those areas remained in effect until 3 p.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in Oxnard. 

Winds from 25 mph to 40 mph with gusts up to 65 mph were forecast for the mountain areas. The Santa Anas were expected to last through Sunday afternoon but become slightly weaker Saturday night, the weather agency said. 

The winds caused damage throughout the county and kept local fire departments busy. 

“We’ve had lots of calls referencing fallen trees and downed power lines that we’ve transferred to the fire department,” said Cpl. Patrick Lindsay, of the Ventura Police Department.

One of those calls came in about 12:52 p.m. in the 600 block of Ventura Avenue at an automotive repair business. The city of Ventura Fire Department responded to the incident after the metal roof of a carport-type structure became dislodged and flipped over before landing on the roof of an adjacent building. Fire personnel secured it with utility ropes and advised the owner not to remove it until the winds subsided, officials said. 

Also in Ventura, a large tree fell halfway onto the “state beaches” off-ramp on the northbound side of Highway 101. A Caltrans worker was called to the scene and used a chain saw to remove some of the branches. 

A large pepper tree in front of a home on Brossard Drive in Thousand Oaks fell down and blocked two driveways. Ben Reese said his family members were beginning to wake up around 7:50 a.m. when they heard a “tremendous crash.” 

“My wife immediately got out of bed and I quickly followed, trying to figure out what was going on,” Reese said. 

They were worried about their 1-year-old son asleep in his room toward the front of the house. 

The pepper tree in a neighbor’s yard had three main trunks and was 40 to 50 feet tall. One of the trunks closest to Reese’s house had fallen over his neighbor’s driveway and onto his, crashing onto Reese’s wife’s car and leaving a dent. Some of the top branches broke off and hit Reese’s car, leaving scratches. 

“It was a bit of a wake-up call,” Reese said. 

By 3 p.m., the tree had been chopped into a big pile of wood, Reese said. 

The winds also toppled a tree Saturday morning in the backyard of Kim Schmeichel’s Augusta Avenue home in Camarillo.

Fortunately, nothing was damaged when the tree fell over. It stood about 6 feet taller than her single-story house and had been living in her backyard for five years. 

The Oxnard Fire Department responded about 6:30 p.m. to the 700 block of South Oxnard Boulevard after the winds caused a tree to fall over. The tree hit a nearby building, damaging the roof and front entrance while four employees and two customers were inside. About $25,000 in damage was sustained by Magic Auto Sales, 760 S. Oxnard Blvd. It was initially reported that a car may have been hit by the tree, but Gary Sugich, Oxnard fire battalion chief, later said no cars were involved.

The intersection of Seventh Street and Oxnard Boulevard was closed while crews chopped up the tree and removed debris. It was expected to reopen by 1:45 a.m.

Southern California Edison reported power outages in Oxnard, Ventura, Thousand Oaks and Somis as a result of the Santa Ana winds. 

The Oxnard outage was reported at 8:07 a.m. near West Gonzales and North Ventura roads. It was affecting 105 customers and Edison said equipment problems were the cause of the outage.

Downed power lines and utility poles caused an outage about 1:52 p.m. near Bucknell Avenue and Elmhurst Street in Ventura. About 542 customers were left without power. Edison said power would be restored to Ventura residents by 4 a.m. Sunday. Downed power lines also caused an outage around 8 a.m. near Teller and Mitchell roads in Thousand Oaks.

An outage near Balcom Canyon and Bradley roads in Somis was reported at 4:42 p.m. Power to that area was expected to be restored by 10 p.m. A second Somis outage was reported around 5 p.m. near Fox Canyon Road due to equipment failure caused by the winds. Edison estimated restoration by 6 a.m. Sunday and 23 customers were affected.

Power was restored to the Oxnard, Thousand Oaks and Somis outage near Bradley Road by 6:45 p.m.

The Santa Ana winds and relative low humidity created elevated wildfire danger through the weekend.

The Ventura County Fire Department responded to a 20-foot by 20-foot vegetation fire at 8:51 a.m. Saturday in the 2000 block of Roadrunner Avenue in Thousand Oaks. Crews on the scene said heavy winds were a factor in the blaze, but firefighters were able to stop the flames from spreading.

According to the weather agency, strong winds can make driving difficult, especially for drivers of tall vehicles. Sudden crosswinds on highways and debris in lanes can cause traffic hazards. On Highway 101 in Camarillo, drivers were dodging tumbleweeds rolling onto the freeway.

A high-surf advisory ended at 6 p.m. Saturday as a storm brewing thousands of miles west of the county generated 5-foot to 7-foot waves. Elevated surf conditions were expected to continue through the weekend but were not strong enough to extend the advisory. The heaviest surf occurred near Ventura Harbor.

Strong rip currents were associated with the long-period swells and could make swimming difficult, the weather agency said.

Sunday’s temperatures were forecast for the upper 70s to mid-80s but were expected to drop to the upper 60s to low 70s Monday. There was a slight chance of showers in the forecast Monday and Tuesday. Rainfall totals were estimated to reach one-tenth of an inch to a half an inch, said Joe Sirard, a meteorologist with the weather agency.

High winds cause problems across county

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 2:17pm

Airborne carports, fallen trees and power outages were reported across the county Saturday as gusty Santa Ana winds blew through the region. 

North to northeast winds ranging from 20 mph to 30 mph with gusts up to 40 mph and 50 mph were reported in cities along the coast and the interior and coastal valleys. A wind advisory for those cities remained in effect until 3 p.m. Sunday, according to the National Weather Service in Oxnard. 

A high-wind warning for the mountains was expected to expire at 10 p.m. Saturday. Winds from 25 mph to 40 mph with gusts up to 65 mph were forecast for the mountain areas. The Santa Anas were expected to last through Sunday afternoon but become slightly weaker Saturday night, the weather agency said. 

The winds caused damage throughout the county and kept local fire departments busy. 

“We’ve had lots of calls referencing fallen trees and downed power lines that we’ve transferred to the fire department,” said Cpl. Patrick Lindsay, of the Ventura Police Department.

One of those calls came in about 12:52 p.m. in the 600 block of Ventura Avenue at an automotive repair business. The city of Ventura Fire Department responded to the incident after the metal roof of a carport-type structure had been dislodged and flipped over before landing on the roof of an adjacent building. Crews determined the roof was unstable and would present additional safety hazards, should it become airborne again. Fire personnel secured the roof in several locations with utility ropes and advised the owner not to remove it until the winds subsided, officials said. 

Also in Ventura, a large tree fell halfway onto the “state beaches” off-ramp on the northbound side of Highway 101. A Caltrans worker was called to the scene and used a chain saw to remove some of the branches. 

A large pepper tree in front of a home on Brossard Drive in Thousand Oaks fell down and blocked two driveways. Ben Reese said his family was beginning to wake up around 7:50 a.m. when they heard a “tremendous crash.” 

“My wife immediately got out of bed and I quickly followed trying to figure out what was going on,” Reese said. 

The pair were worried about their 1-year-old son asleep in his room toward the front of the house. 

The pepper tree with three main trunks and about 40 feet to 50 feet tall was in Reese’s neighbor’s yard. One of the trunks closes to Reese’s house had fallen over his neighbor’s driveway and onto his, crashing onto Reese’s wife’s car leaving a dent. Some of the top branches broke off and hit Reese’s car leaving scratches. 

“It was a bit of a wake-up call,” Reese said. 

By 3 p.m. the tree had been chopped up into a big pile of wood, Reese said. 

The winds also toppled a tree Saturday morning in the backyard of Kim Schmeichel’s Augusta Avenue home in Camarillo.

Fortunately, nothing was damaged when the tree fell over. It stood about 6 feet taller than her single-story house and had been living in her backyard for five years. She plans to eventually replant it.

Avian flu confirmed in state's turkey flock

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 2:15pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal agriculture officials say they have found avian influenza in a commercial turkey flock in central California.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Saturday that the facility in Stanislaus County has been quarantined and birds from the affected flock will not enter the food system.

Testing occurred after the flock experienced a spike in deaths.

Officials say there is no immediate public health concern and the detected strain — H5N8 — is not known to harm humans.

The bird flu strain H5N1 ravaged poultry across Asia in 2003 and is more easily spread among humans.

Belichick Tries to Take Air Out of 'Deflategate'

Wall Street Journal U.S. News - January 24, 2015 - 2:01pm
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on Saturday said that after an internal review, he is convinced his team “followed every rule to the letter.”

Kia recalling nearly 87,000 Fortes

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 1:55pm

Kia Motors America is recalling nearly 87,000 of its 2014 Forte sedans because of faulty equipment that could cause the cars to catch fire.

The recall notice issued Saturday affects Kia Fortes made from Dec. 5, 2012, through April 17, 2014. The cooling fan resistor might overheat and melt in those vehicles, increasing the risk of a fire.

The recall is expected to begin Feb. 24.

Owners of 2014 Fortes seeking additional information may contact Kia at 1-800-333-4542, or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236.

SpaceX drops lawsuit against Air Force

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 1:52pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — A spacecraft company run by billionaire Elon Musk has dropped a lawsuit alleging the U.S. Air Force improperly awarded a contract to launch military satellites to a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

Musk's SpaceX filed the lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in April after Boing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. landed the lucrative deal through United Launch Services. Musk contended the Air Force set up a bidding process that gave United Launch an unfair advantage.

In a joint statement late Friday, Space X and the Air Force said they reached an agreement that "improves the competitive landscape and achieves mission assurance for national security space launches."

Court records show former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft mediated the settlement talks.

2 Marines die when military helicopter crashes

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 1:36pm

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. (AP) — The military says two Marines were killed when their helicopter crashed during a training exercise in Southern California.

The Third Marine Aircraft Wing chopper was carrying just the two when it went down late Friday afternoon at the base in Twentynine Palms.

Both Marines on board died as a result of crash injuries.

The Marine Corps says it's withholding their names for 24 hours to notify relatives.

Wing commander Maj. Gen. Michael Rocco says in a statement released by Marine Corps Air Station Miramar: "Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the two Marines we lost in this tragic accident."

There was no immediate word on a cause of the crash, which is under investigation.

No other details were available early Saturday.

Carroll, Belichick excelled after failing

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 1:08pm

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The two men vying to put their fingerprints on the Lombardi Trophy are testament to the axiom that men who flop in their first NFL head coaching job can subsequently flourish.

Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick were busts in their first go-around.

Carroll was jettisoned by the Jets after one season and then fired by the Patriots after three years in New England, where his replacement was none other than Belichick, who had been banished by the Browns after a mediocre half-decade in Cleveland.

One of them will be fitted for another diamond-encrusted ring this offseason.

When the confetti falls on either the Seahawks or Patriots next Sunday, 12 of the last 18 Super Bowl champions will have been coached by men who had felt the sting of the pink slip as an NFL head coach.

Before this streak, all 23 Super Bowl champions between 1974 and 1996 were led by men who were on the first NFL head coaching job.

Now, retreads are all the rage.

That should bode well for fans of the Broncos, Bears, Raiders and Bills. Of the six openings that have been filled so far, four have gone to men who bring head coaching experience to their new jobs: Gary Kubiak in Denver, John Fox in Chicago, Jack Del Rio in Oakland and Rex Ryan in Buffalo.

Their respective resumes were cited by their new employers as a crucial factor.

Fired after going 50-52, counting playoffs, with the Jets from 2009-14, Ryan landed in Buffalo, where Doug Marrone had stepped down abruptly.

"We were basically the only team looking for a head coach who did not fire their head coach the year before. So we decided ... that maybe we should go the veteran route," said Bills owner Terry Pegula.

Others did, too.

"Experience was paramount," Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie said after hiring Del Rio, whose 69-73 record in Jacksonville from 2003-11 looks all the better given the Jaguars' 11-42 record since.

Del Rio, who spent the last three seasons as Denver's defensive coordinator, said he's much more comfortable and confident calling the shots and the plays now.

"You have an idea when you're a young coach of what you think it would be" making all the decisions, "and then the reality of being a head coach sets in," Del Rio said. "I think there's been tremendous growth. It also was very beneficial after being a head coach, getting the past three years to go back and be a coordinator in a successful group, because I was able to see things from a different perspective."

Kubiak had that same viewpoint in Baltimore last year when he helped rejuvenate the Ravens as their offensive coordinator after going 63-66 in Houston from 2006-13.

That year in Baltimore was invaluable "for me as a coach, being around John Harbaugh, being around that organization, being around Ozzie Newsome, watching them go about their business, how they go about being successful week in and week out," Kubiak said. "I take all that with me as I move forward and I know I'm a lot better coach now than I was when I left" Denver in 2006 after a decade as the Broncos offensive coordinator.

Said Ryan: "I'm a different man right now than I was six years ago because I lacked experience as a head coach. ... I will be a better coach now. Through experience, I don't think there's any doubt that you become more of an expert."

Fox is the most experienced of all the recycled coaches. He's 127-96 overall, including 49-22 in Denver, where his 3-4 postseason record led to a split with GM John Elway.

"When John became available, the game changed," Bears chairman George McCaskey said.

Never mind that Fox is pushing 60, either. After all, Carroll is 63 and Belichick 62.

"You saw his energy. He's got the fire in the belly," McCaskey said. Ryan Pace, the 37-year-old Bears new GM, added: "I look at John as being my age."

"He's a youthful personality and I think it's great because he has the experience, still with the energy," Pace said. "So it's a perfect combination. ... You look around the league, you look at Belichick and Pete Carroll, there's a track record of these guys who come in and learn from these experiences, and get better every step of the way."

Ryan said head coaches with second chances have an extra edge to them that first-timers lack: they're driven to prove they're not only a good coach but a better one for having failed.

"Yes, it is personal, there's no question about it," he said. "It's embarrassing. I see myself as a good football coach and I can't wait."

To join the club of recycled coaches who know that sweet taste of redemption.


AP Sports Writers Josh Dubow, John Wawrow and Andrew Seligman contributed.

Ryan Palmer misses chance for 59

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 12:49pm

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) — Ryan Palmer shot the lowest round in his PGA Tour career. He matched the tour record for the longest eagle-birdie streak. He moved into contention in the Humana Challenge.

The 38-year-old Texan did his best to look at the many positives. It wasn't easy after letting a chance to shoot 59 or lower slip away Friday at PGA West.

"The most important thing now was getting back within striking distance," Palmer said.

After playing an eight-hole stretch in 10 under, Palmer needed to go 3 under on the final eight — with two reachable par 5s left — to shoot 59.

Instead, he bogeyed the next two holes. He made three more birdies, but couldn't get a couple of late putts to fall and settled for an 11-under 61.

"Walking off 10, after I got to 10 under, I was staying calm, trying not to think about anything, just trying to keep my momentum going, my pace with my walk," Palmer said. "It's hard not to think about it."

After opening with two pars, Palmer had two eagles and six birdies on the next eight holes to match the longest eagle-birdie streak in tour history. The streak ended with a bogey on the par-4 second and he dropped another stroke on the par-3 third.

"Couple loose swings there," Palmer said. "I guess the bogeys did kind of calm me down a little bit more and I didn't worry about, obviously, the number."

Palmer birdied the fourth and sixth holes and made another on the par-5 eighth after missing an 8-foot eagle try. A 59 no longer possible, he missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the ninth in a closing par.

Palmer holed out from 97 yards for eagle on the par-4 12th to start the streak on the Jack Nicklaus Private Course. He birdied the next three holes, made a 20-foot eagle putt from the fringe on the par-5 16th and added three more birdies.

"I didn't make anything long, except for the eagle on 16," Palmer said.

He tied the birdie-eagle streak record set by Billy Mayfair in the 2001 Buick Open and matched by Briny Baird in the 2003 FUNAI Classic. Mayfair and Baird were 9 under during their runs, making seven birdies and an eagle.

At 9-under 27, Palmer matched the tour record for relation to par for nine holes and was a stroke off the record of 26 set by Corey Pavin on a par-34 nine in Milwaukee in 2006.

Six players have shot 59 on the PGA Tour. Al Geiberger did it in the 1977 Memphis Classic, Chip Beck in the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational, David Duval on PGA West's Arnold Palmer Private Course in the final round of his 1999 Bob Hope victory, Paul Goydos in the 2010 John Deere Classic, Stuart Appleby in the 2010 Greenbrier Classic and Jim Furyk in the 2013 BMW Championship. Ryo Ishikawa shot the lowest round on a major tour, a 58 to win the 2010 Crowns on the Japan Tour.

Palmer had a 12-under 132 total after opening with a 71 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club. He was three strokes behind leader Matt Kuchar.

Kuchar, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 11, had a 64 on the Nicklaus course. He tied for third last week in Hawaii in the Sony Open.

"Game feels solid," Kuchar said. "I feel like I know where it's going, feel like I'm hitting it in the center of the clubface."

Bill Haas and first-round leader Michael Putnam were a stroke back. Haas had a 63 at La Quinta. He had nine birdies in a 10-hole stretch, making seven in a row on Nos. 2-8.

"The putter was what's got me in the hunt," Haas said. "We don't play better greens on tour than these greens here."

Putnam shot a 67 on the Palmer course.

Justin Thomas, Nick Watney and Scott Pinckney were 13 under. Thomas had a 63, Watney shot 64, and Pinckney 67 — all on the Nicklaus course.

Phil Mickelson was 7 under in his first start since the Ryder Cup in September. He birdied his final five holes for a 66 on the Nicklaus course.

"It took me 31 holes to get my game to click," Mickelson said.

The 44-year-old Mickelson won the event in 2002 and 2004. He's winless in 27 PGA Tour starts since the 2013 British Open.

DIVOTS: Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton had a 66 at La Quinta to get to 12 under. ... Defending champion Patrick Reed, paired with Kuchar, was 9 under after a 70. He's coming off a playoff victory two weeks ago in Hawaii in the Tournament of Champions. ... Blake Adams followed his opening 64 on the Nicklaus course with a 79 at La Quinta. He had hip replacement surgery in July and is making his first tour start since March.


UCSB student stabbed outside fraternity

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 12:11pm

A 21-year-old University of California, Santa Barbara student was stabbed in the chest and head early Saturday morning during a fight in front of a fraternity in Isla Vista.

The student, who has not been identified, was taken to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and is in stable condition, according to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office.

Law enforcement arrested Kevin Ruiz, 18, of Reseda, Calif., for assault with a deadly weapon in connection with the incident. Ruiz had minor wounds on his hands that were treated prior to his being booked into the Santa Barbara County Jail with bail set at $30,000.

The stabbing happened at approximately 2:45 a.m. Saturday when a University of California Police Department lieutenant who was on patrol in the area of Sueno Road and Camino Del Sur spotted what appeared to be a fight in front of a fraternity in the 6700 block of Sueno Road.

As he approached, the UCPD lieutenant saw four people who were covered in blood fleeing the scene. The four people were detained, and one, Ruiz, was identified as the suspect in the stabbing.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office is not providing further information at this time. The fraternity has not been identified.

The sheriff’s office is requesting that anyone with information about the assault call(805) 683-2724, or go to the Isla Vista Foot Patrol office at 6504 Trigo Road. Anonymous tips are being taken at (805) 681-4171.

5 foodie things to do this weekend (Jan. 23-25)

Ventura County Star Top Stories - January 24, 2015 - 7:28am

From checking out Oxnard International Restaurant Week to going to the opening of Enegren Brewing Co. in Moorpark, there's plenty to do, see and taste in and around Ventura County from Friday, Jan. 23 through Sunday, Jan. 25.

1). Help Vince Pillard eat his words. As co-owner of Twenty88 Restaurant & Martini Lounge in Camarillo, Pillard joked last weekend at the Ventura County Wine Trail Local Food & Wine Challenge that, if his team won, he'd put executive chef Alex Castillo's dish on the menu for a limited time. They did, so he did: On Friday and Saturday, patrons will have the option of ordering the wine-trail special for dinner. For $30, it includes a choice of soup or salad, a glass of 2012 Lodi tempranillo by fellow team members Magnavino Cellars, and Castillo's beef Wellington made with filet mignon tenderloin, wild mushrooms, cambozola cheese and arugula in puff pastry. The dish is served with roasted fennel mashed potatoes, shallot-peppercorn sauce and a reduction of the Magnavino tempranillo. (2088 Ventura Blvd., 805-388-2088, twenty88.com

2). Last call, part one: Now in its sixth year, Oxnard International Restaurant Week features discounts and special menus at 17 locations throughout the city. It also happens to be almost over: Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the final days to nab (and nom on) such offers as the $20-per-person dinner available from 4-9 p.m. at La Dolce Vita in Heritage Square, the spend-$20-get-a-giant-cinnamon-bun deal at Tomas Cafe, and the four-course prix fixe dinner ($50 per person) at Tierra Sur restaurant at Herzog Wine Cellars. For a full list of sites and menus, click here. (BONUS ROUND: For updates about Moorpark Restaurant Week taking place from Jan. 25-31, click here.)

3). Last call, part two: The owners of Zzyzx Cafe in Old Town Camarillo have announced that Monday, Jan. 26 will be the restaurant's final day of business. That means just one weekend left for patrons who like to combine orders of Cap'n Crunch-encrusted French toast and/or Spicy Jalapeno Poppin' Burgers with visits to the nearby farmers market (8 a.m. to noon Saturdays at 2220 Ventura Blvd.) and other excuses to stop by. Hours are 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily -- until they turn the "here" sign on the front door to "gone" for the last time. (33 N. Lewis Road., 805-484-2900, zzyzxcafe.com)

4).  Enegren Brewing Co. of Moorpark will unveil its new, 7,000-square-foot brewery and tasting room during an event that from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. will include tours, live music, food and at least 10 beers on tap. Among those brews: White Heart White IPA, with 100 percent of sales going to the White Heart Foundation and its efforts to help Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger wounded in Afghanistan in 2009. Entry is free. Beer (including a barley wine aged in port barrels from Magnavino Cellars of Oxnard) and food (a range of pizzas, calzones and sandwiches by Fresh & Bangin' Food) will be available for purchase. Don't worry if you forget and go to the smaller, original brewery site on Flinn Avenue; it's within easy walking distance of the new place. (444 Zachary St., Suite 119-120, 805-552-0602, enegrenbrewing.com)

 5). There's a reason Alice Waters of Chez Panisse fame orders a box of kishu mandarins from Churchill Orchard in the Ojai Valley for delivery to Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor every year: The tiny, seedless citrus are that good. There's also only three ways to get them: by going to the Churchill booth at farmers markets in Berkeley (too far), by placing a mail order (shipments won't start until early February) and/or by heading to the Ojai certified farmers market that takes place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays at 300 E. Matilija St. The last option appeals to local/seasonal sensibilities ... and includes the man known as Free Hug Guy.  

This list was compiled by Ventura County Star staff writer Lisa McKinnon. For additional food, wine, beer and restaurant news, read the Cafe Society column in Sunday Life and the Friday Time Out section. 

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