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Police seek help identifying suspected thief

January 27, 2015 - 3:30pm

Thousand Oaks police sought the public's help in identifying a man suspected of stealing women's wallets, officials said Tuesday.

Authorities said there were several reports last month and this month of wallets being stolen from women's purses in cities across Ventura and Los Angeles counties. They suspect the man in the photo is working as a team with another man to distract the women. In most cases, the woman's purse was inside the shopping cart and provided the suspected thieves with easier access. The suspects then use the women's credit cards to make purchases totaling over $10,000, police said.

The photo was taken from surveillance video in one of the recent theft reports. Police said both men were believed to be 25-30 years old, authorities said.

Former Thousand Oaks mayor dies

January 27, 2015 - 2:27pm

Elois Zeanah, a former mayor of Thousand Oaks, has died.

Zeanah, 73, died Friday at her home in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, after battling lymphoma for more than a year, according to an article in the Tuscaloosa News.

Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks announced Zeanah’s death at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday in Ventura. Zeanah was instrumental in the battles to preserve Ahmanson and Jordan ranches, Parks said.

She served on the City Council from 1990-98 and as mayor in 1993-94, according to the city of Thousand Oaks website.

A memorial service and burial were scheduled Tuesday in Alabama. According to the Tuscaloosa News, she is survived by her husband, James; son, Derek Zeanah, of Statesboro, Georgia; and daughter, Kristen Zaleski, of Hermosa Beach. For more information on her service, visit http://tinyurl.com/n3nes56.

Police seek help in finding laundry burglar

January 27, 2015 - 2:23pm

Sheriff’s officials Tuesday released surveillance photos of a man suspected of stealing coins from washing machines at three local laundry businesses.

Officials believe the man pried open numerous washing-machine coin boxes and took the money early Dec. 1 at two self-serve laundry businesses in the Ojai Valley, and Nov. 5 at a Camarillo laundry.

The Sheriff’s Office is seeking the public’s help in identifying the man. Anyone with information should call detectives at 646-1414 or Ventura County Crime Stoppers anonymously at 800-222-TIPS. Information leading to an arrest could bring a $1,000 reward.

10 beers to serve during your Super Bowl party

January 27, 2015 - 2:21pm

Hosting a Super Bowl party is an American rite of passage. No pressure, but you don’t want to screw it up.

It’s often the beer that separates a pleasant get-together from a classic party. Anyone can pick up a couple cases of the popular domestics, but many drinkers are becoming more savvy about their suds.

It might be time to raise the bar at your bash.

Beer expert Pat Fahey, a master cicerone, said his ideal beer lineup for a lengthy gathering such as a Super Bowl party should consist of lower alcohol content selections. “You don’t necessarily want to serve something that will have them hammered by the end of the first quarter,” Fahey said.

Most of these brews shouldn’t be hard to find and will add some excitement to your guests’ drink selections this Sunday:

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

This one is a given and can be found in grocery stores across the country. India Pale Ale (IPA) has become the top-selling craft beer style in the country in recent years and Fahey said it won’t alienate people who don’t consider themselves beer aficionados. “Even for people who don’t have a lot of beer experience, this is a popular choice,” Fahey said. He added that the popular Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is a “world-class example” of that style.

Guinness Blonde American Lager

For more than 250 years, Ireland-based Guinness has been keeping beer lovers happy — and buzzed. This new style promises a lighter taste than what many of your guests might expect from Guinness. Fahey liked this one for a Super Bowl party because “it’s approachable,” adding that he served it at his family’s holiday gathering last year. The company’s website promises its Blonde American Lager is “crisp, light, but flavorful” with citrus characteristics.

Goose Island Sofie

Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. is one of the most widely-available craft beer brands in the business and this elegant flavor will appeal to your most sophisticated Super Bowl party guests. Fahey once again praised this Belgian-style Farmhouse Ale for its approachability. The folks at Goose Island recommend pairing Sofie with shellfish.

Goose Island Matilda

Like Sofie, this Goose Island offering is a Belgian-style beer but in this case it’s an IPA with a slightly higher alcohol content. Fahey said experienced beer tasters may be familiar with Matilda but, “It’s new and different and interesting for people that haven’t had something like it.”

Lagunitas IPA

This selection from California-based Lagunitas Brewing Company might not be easily found in the eastern United States but if you can track it down, Fahey fervently recommended it. On its website, the company claims you’ll be able to “knock back more than one without wearing yourself out.” In fall 2013, sales statistics showed Lagunitas alongside Dos Equis and Angry Orchard as fast-growing brands.

Harder-to-find beers to serve on Super Bowl Sunday:

Firestone Walker Pivo Hoppy Pils

When pressed to select his ultimate Super Bowl beer wishlist, Fahey listed this German-style Pilsner at the top. It’s refreshing, light and straw-colored, making this an approachable craft beer for casual drinkers. Firestone Walker Brewing Company is based in California and Fahey said it will likely be a difficult find for people who don’t live in the west.

Victory Prima Pils

For people who live in the eastern United States, Fahey recommended this craft pilsner from Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing Company. At 5.3 percent alcohol by volume, Prima Pils likely won’t put your guests on the floor. The drink can be paired with seafood, pizza or burgers, according to the company’s website, making it ideal Super Bowl fare.

Founders All Day IPA

This is another approachable IPA that Fahey recommended because of its low alcohol content. “It’s easy to drink and fantastically delicious,” he said. All Day IPA contains 4.7 percent alcohol by volume and is one of the flagship year-round offerings from Michigan-based Founders Brewing Co.

Deschutes Black Butte Porter

If you want to serve something dark, Fahey gave the thumbs-up to this flagship offering from Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery. Despite its imposing chocolate tint, Black Butte won’t knock your guests out thanks to its 5.2 percent alcohol by volume measure.

Anderson Valley The Kimmie, The Yink, & The Holy Gose

It’s moniker is a mouthful but Fahey said this German-style gose (pronounced “Go-zuh”) beer is refreshing and slightly tart. Gose beer dates back to the year 700 and according to Fahey, “has recently become extremely popular.” If you can’t find Anderson Valley Brewing Company’s offering, several sizable craft breweries have made their own in recent years including Samuel Adams and Magic Hat.

Now let’s just hope the game is as good as the beverages.

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

Amgen tops Street 4Q forecasts

January 27, 2015 - 1:49pm

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) _ Amgen Inc. (AMGN) on Tuesday reported fourth-quarter earnings of $1.29 billion.

The Thousand Oaks, California-based company said it had profit of $1.68 per share. Earnings, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, were $2.16 per share.

The results topped Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for earnings of $2.05 per share.

The world's largest biotech drugmaker posted revenue of $5.33 billion in the period, also surpassing Street forecasts. Analysts expected $5.19 billion, according to Zacks.

Amgen expects full-year earnings in the range of $9.05 to $9.40 per share, with revenue in the range of $20.8 billion to $21.3 billion.

Amgen shares have fallen slightly since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index has dropped slightly more than 1 percent. In the final minutes of trading on Tuesday, shares hit $158.89, an increase of 34 percent in the last 12 months.

Santa Paula panels talk about traffic

January 27, 2015 - 12:36pm

Calling it a “momentous” occasion, Santa Paula’s City Council and local school board convened a rare joint meeting Monday, with traffic problems around the city’s only high school topping the agenda.

Santa Paula Unified School District’s governing board and city council members heralded the meeting, held at the Santa Paula Community Center, as the start of a much-needed partnership between the two bodies. Although no definite date was set for the next meeting, the two sides agreed to continue working together to solve issues impacting the city and its schools.

“We’re inseparable,” Mayor John Procter said. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s our duty to work with you guys.”

Central to Monday’s discussion were concerns about traffic congestion, pedestrian safety and lack of parking around Santa Paula High School. Residents in the area complain the high school has become an “event center,” with school and city-run sports teams and other groups using the campus for practices and games almost every day. The result, residents say, is a crush of traffic along Santa Paula Street and constant parking struggles in the surrounding neighborhoods because there are not enough spaces at the school for visitors to park.

In a presentation to the board and council, resident Kyle Campbell begged for better planning around parking and events, “traffic calming” and pedestrian safety measures such as speed tables and crosswalks, and more enforcement of traffic violations. He also called for expanded parking restrictions around the school.

Earlier this month, the City Council approved a residents-only parking district for one street near the school, Palm Court. However, Interim Public Works Director Brain Yanez said the council will discuss expanding the district at its regular meeting next week.

The city is also working with consulting firm, Stantec, to commission a traffic study of the area, which City Manager Jaime Fontes said will be paid for with the help of the school district. Stantec senior planner Dennis Lammers told council and board members that the study would examine remote parking possibilities, and could include projections on likely traffic patterns following the development of new homes in East Area One.

Yanez said a scope of work for the study should be complete in the next few weeks, but declined to specify a date for completion of the project.

In the meantime, fears that the parking problems could spur cutbacks in sports clubs using the high school prompted push back from several parents, teachers and coaches, who said access to athletics teaches children good values and keeps them out of trouble.

Santa Paula High School Principal Elizabeth Garcia urged everybody to work together to resolve the parking issues without impacting the school’s sports programs. She said the school has built up its sports offerings to 17 programs with over 600 students participating.

“We’re trying to give kids more to do,” she said.

Board and council members said there are no plans to cut sports programs.

East Area One could be part of the solution. Project manager Mike Penrod, who also presented at Monday’s meeting, said the mostly residential development will include a 37-acre park with sports fields, which could be used by local teams. There is also potential for a gym to be built at the park site, he said.

Simi police: 2014 safest in city's history

January 27, 2015 - 12:27pm
Simi Valley last year had the lowest crime rate per 1000 residents in the history of the city, according to preliminary crime statistics released Monday by the Simi Valley Police Department.   "We're safer now than when we were the safest city," city councilmen Glen Becerra and Steve Sojka both said at the council's meeting Monday night, thanking Police Chief Mitch McCann, who was in attendance, and his department.  

Throughout the 1990s, Simi Valley was frequently able to tout that it was the safest city in the country with a population of at least 100,000.   Part I crimes - homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny theft, auto theft, and arson -  decreased in Simi Valley by 4.68% in 2014 compared to 2013, according to the police department's preliminary statistics for 2014. Total property crimes decreased by 5.51% in the same period, the department said.   "The Simi Valley Police Department has compiled the preliminary overall crime numbers for 2014 and is pleased to announce that 2014 is on track to be the lowest crime rate per 1000 residents ever recorded in the City of Simi Valley," the department said in a release. Simi Valley incorporated in 1969.

McCann, who became chief in 2012, attributed the decreased crime rates to several factors.   "First and foremost is the synergy in our community," he said in an interview. "We live in a really pro law enforcement community. So we have residents here who are willing to call us at the first sight of something suspicious."   McCann also cited the support of the city council, which "has really given us the resources in order to properly police our city," and the department's dedicated officers.   "So I think it's a compilation of all those things kind of coming together right now," he said. "It's pretty amazing."   He cautioned, however, that California Proposition 47, which reduced some non-violent felonies to misdemeanors, could cause crimes rates in Simi Valley and throughout the state to increase in 2015.  Voters approved the ballot initiative in November.

Camarillo set to tighten e-cigarette rules

January 27, 2015 - 12:19pm

Selling an e-cigarette in Camarillo could get tougher if the Camarillo City Council gives its final approval to an ordinance this week.

Already, the city was the first in Ventura County to forbid the smoking of electronic cigarettes in the same public places where tobacco cigarettes are banned, including indoor public places, dining and recreation areas, workplaces, multiunit residences, commercial areas and some sidewalks.

Also, smokers of both tobacco and e-cigarette products must be at least 25 feet away from building entrances, exits and windows.

Now, if the council approves the latest ordinance on Wednesday, the city would treat the sale of the electronic cigarette as it does other smoking products.

Under the new ordinance, no person shall sell smoking products and paraphernalia to a buyer who appears to be younger than 27 without verifying through photo identification that the person is 18 and older.

It will be a misdemeanor if a seller is found in violation of the new ordinance.

Additionally, buyers of e-cigarettes and products must do so with the help of a clerk or store employee and no self-service displays or dispensing machines will be allowed. Vendors will also have to post signs in their stores showing that no sales are allowed to minors.

No sampling of e-cigarettes or products, such as vaping juices will be allowed, unless the seller has a legally permitted smoking lounge.

Under the city’s existing law, new smoking lounges may be located only in buildings without other uses, and the walls of the building must be at least 10 feet from any other building.

The state only prohibits the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes to those under age 18 years old. Camarillo’s ordinances make the city among the strictest in the county for e-cigarette sales and use.

Two e-cigarette businesses currently operate in Camarillo, but have been “grandfathered” in, where they are allowed to continue operating smoking lounges at their existing locations only.

If the council approves at the new ordinance at its Wednesday meeting, the law will become effective on Feb. 27.

A citywide moratorium denying permitting or operation of new e-cigarette businesses will be lifted on March 11.

David Norman, assistant city manager, said there will be an enforcement period, where affected businesses of the new ordinance will be notified that they have to move vaping products into a case or cabinet.

“It will take some time people to adjust to that,” said Norman, who added that the city will work with their own code enforcement team or the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office.

The council also on Wednesday will receive a final estimate on cleanup and improvements at Camarillo Springs, where several homes were damaged from a debris flow caused by heavy rains.

The council will also consider a new off-street parking ordinance, receive an update on the Area Housing Authority and receive a presentation of the Chamber of Commerce Top 10 Community Award winners.

The council meets at 5 p.m. at Camarillo City Hall, 601 Carmen Drive.

Famous Dave's BBQ closes in Thousand Oaks

January 27, 2015 - 11:53am

One of three Famous Dave's BBQ restaurant locations in Ventura County has closed.

The restaurant at 3980 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. closed sometime last week. Notes taped to the front doors direct patrons to the chain's restaurant at The Collection at RiverPark in Oxnard. A Famous Dave's BBQ also remains open in Simi Valley.

"We appreciated your patronage & it was a privilege serving the community of Thousand Oaks," the note reads.

The Thousand Oaks site opened in the summer of 2009 at a former Applebee's. By Sunday, all but one of the exterior signs had been removed from the building. Some furnishings and most of the interior decorations also were gone.

Calls to the Minnetonka, MN., corporate headquarters of Famous Dave's of America, Inc. were not returned. The chain's restaurants also have been are referred to as Famous Dave's Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que.

Haider Alawami, economic development manager for the city of Thousand Oaks, said the restaurant closed without fanfare. "They didn't call us. We don't know yet who might be taking over the space."

In November, two inspections of the Thousand Oaks restaurant by the Ventura County Environmental Health Division found ongoing problems with wiping cloths, light shields and the storage of food in an "outdoor/unapproved" area. (For details, click here.)

The Oxnard location opened in late 2013 at 2770 Seaglass Way. An environmental health division inspection on Nov. 13 found "repeated violations" at the site. (For details, click here.)

On Nov. 25, an Employment Development Department hold was placed on the alcohol license for the Oxnard location. The restaurant still is able to serve alcohol.

"All that means is that, if the owners of the license were to sell it, that hold would have to be lifted before the sale could go through," said Leslie Pond, district administrator for the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. 

The Simi Valley location opened in 2006 at 1229 Simi Town Center Way. This month, an environmental health division inspection of the restaurant found inoperable plumbing, inadequate water temperature for hand-washing facilities and "repeated violations." (For details, click here.)

In a media release dated Dec. 29, Famous Dave's of America, Inc., announced the closure of three restaurants in the Richmond, Va. area and described itself as in "transition." At the time, the chain was operating 50 company-owned restaurants and claimed 139 franchisee-run units in 34 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and one Canadian province.

PCH to remain closed another month

January 27, 2015 - 11:08am

Shut down since mid-December, a nine-mile stretch of Pacific Coast Highway will stay closed through February, Caltrans officials announced Tuesday.

The beachside highway has been closed from Las Posas Road in Camarillo to Yerba Buena Road near Malibu since a Dec. 12 storm brought mud and rocks down steep hillsides and across the road. Those hills were burned in a wildfire in May 2013.

Caltrans estimated there were more than a dozen slides, some causing severe damage along the edge of the highway.

Since, crews have worked to clear the road and make repairs, which included removing loose rocks on the hills and rebuilding 400 feet of the shoulder and slope down to the ocean near La Jolla Canyon.

But Caltrans officials said high surf this month has worsened conditions in some spots. Until the highway is safe, it must remain closed, they said.

“Due to high surf caused by storms in January, the slopes below the highway washed away requiring extensive repairs that will require the highway to be closed another month,” according to a statement released Tuesday morning.

A section of the slope about 40 feet wide and 80 feet deep washed away, requiring crews to install large boulders to protect the road from the surf, Caltrans said.

Utility companies have removed lines so crews can begin repairs. A crane will sit in both lanes of the highway to complete the work, which will include replacing the guardrail.

In addition, another slide near Big Sycamore Canyon has undermined the highway and will need to be stabilized and rebuilt, Caltrans reported. The agency says it needs permits from regulatory agencies before work can start.

Union Engineering of Santa Paula has been awarded a $7 million emergency contract for work on the highway. The state is expected to be reimbursed for the costs from the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief Fund.

Raz, Grasso team up for Ojai exhibit

January 27, 2015 - 11:00am

The common denominator is passion for two Ojai artists whose works are on display in “Dos del Sur” (“Two from the South”), a new exhibit opening Saturday and running through June 14 at the Santa Paula Art Museum.

‘Dos del Sur’

The exhibit, featuring work by Sylvia Raz and Carlos Grasso, opens Saturday and runs through June 14 at the Santa Paula Art Museum, 117 N. 10th St., Santa Paula. An opening reception will take place 4-6 p.m. Saturday. Reception admission is $15 general, $10 for museum members.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, noon-4 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $4 general, $3 seniors and free for museum members and students. For information, call 525-5554 or visit santapaulaartmuseum.org.

Artist talks

Raz and Grasso will discuss their art at 3 p.m. March 12 and 3 p.m. April 9.

Sylvia Raz, from Uruguay, and Carlos Grasso, from Argentina, share a unique perspective and world view that may come as a surprise to visitors.

“I think Santa Paula is an environment that is ethnically more Mexican,” Raz said. “For me, it is with great pride to come and show that we are not Mexican. Uruguay is a completely different country. It is completely different in how people think. And I know Carlos, being Argentinian — we do work associated with our countries.”

Santa Paula Art Museum Executive Director Jennifer Heighton said the two artists approached her with the idea of putting on a show of their art.

“I’m fans of both of their work, and they came up to me and asked, ‘What would you think if we were to do a show at the museum?’ ” Heighton said. “I think their work complements each other so well. With them both being from South America, their work looks so fantastic. They’re also good friends, so it’s fun for them, too.”

Grasso said his work is an expression of abstract thought meant to make deep connections between the outside world of figurative expression and the internal world of thought and feeling.

He studied graphic arts, painting and music in Buenos Aires, Paris and Los Angeles. He initially started with still-life and portraiture, but today his work focuses on abstraction as a way to convey his message.

“Two works from this series are about inner structures. This is more like psychology and a reference to the inner world, the inner space, the mind space,” Grasso said of his abstract works that use flowers to refer to the voids and colorful spaces that surround the images.

His white series uses the idea of all colors together — expressed as white along with various textures to create a contrast.

“The white elements create a background against philosophical reflection on the absolute nature of the universe and consciousness,” he said.

Raz, who studied art at Bezalel Institute in Jerusalem and UCLA, said she has moved from making sculptures that are pleasing to view to those that provoke questions. She said she wanted to make people think through her sculptures.

“I just decided at this point in my life what I wanted to do was express myself instead of doing beautiful things. I do things I find beautiful, but I think for some people, my art suffered,” Raz said.

She described her work as political and feminist — a reflection, she said, of how and where she and Grasso grew up.

“I still feel both of us grew up intellectually and philosophically in the culture of Latin America, with all its political upheavals in our countries,” she said. “Everything is more raw and passionate, and I’m sure that influenced me to do art that is different — that is in a way rebellious — art that is provocative and engaging.”

Both artists said having a venue like the Santa Paula Art Museum benefits not only them, but the entire community as well.

“The community that doesn’t have something like the Santa Paula Art Museum wouldn’t be a community of human beings. It’s so important the role places like the Santa Paula Art Museum bring to Ventura County,” Grasso said. “Without artists, we would be jumping monkeys.”

Raz said the reception she and Grasso have received has been heartening.

“It is a beautiful museum,” she said. “The people who work there are very professional and very nice in the sense of coming to work with artists. They are very generous and respect the artists.”

Ventura man gets 12 years in energy fraud case

January 27, 2015 - 10:09am

A 70-year-old Ventura man has been sentenced to 12 years in federal prison for his role in an $8 million alternative energy investment business founded while he was living in New York.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Albany says William Stehl was also ordered to pay $8.1 million restitution to more than 300 people he defrauded in the alternative energy technology operation.

Stehl suffered severe injuries in a 2011 explosion at a Sylmar alternative energy business. He also was present at a Simi Valley explosion in June 2010 that killed Tyson Larson, of Simi Valley.

Stehl and Richard Rossignol, 64, of Los Angeles, were arrested in Oxnard in 2011 in connection with a federal indictment filed in upstate New York. Rossignol was convicted in February and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Stehl pleaded guilty in September to five counts, including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, lying to federal agents and three tax-related counts, prosecutors said.

The conspiracy count alleged that from 2001 to March 2010, Stehl, Rossignol and others got people to invest in companies allegedly developing or using an alternative energy source Stehl claimed to have developed.

Prosecutors said Stehl and Rossignol obtained money from investors across the nation by falsely claiming contracts and licensing agreements had been or were about to be signed. Investors didn’t receive the promised returns, prosecutors said, and most of the money was used for personal expenditures.

Live: Homeless count taking place today

January 27, 2015 - 9:11am

Today, people involved in the 2015 Ventura County Homeless Count will seek to determine how many homeless people live in our region. They will fan out over 10 cities and unincorporated parts of the county and get information from people who identify as being homeless, including if they are veterans, have a mental illness or a physical disability.

The figure’s important, because social services providers get funding from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development based in part on the number of homeless people in their community.

The survey, done on a single day in January, reported its lowest figure in 2014. It found 1,449 homeless men, women and children, down from 1,774 in 2013.

Cause for celebration, right? Well, yes and no. Those involved with the count found a discrepancy in the way Oxnard recorded its total — the 379 homeless people counted there understated the population, officials said.

But even with the undercount, there still appeared to be a drop.

That furthered a trend that started in 2013, when there was an 8.4 percent drop from 1,936 homeless people counted in 2012.

The full 2014 results are available here. 

2 people injured in Camarillo crash

January 27, 2015 - 7:24am

Two people were injured Tuesday morning in a crash in Camarillo, officials said.

The crash was reported about 6:05 a.m. near the intersection of Flynn Road and Calle Tecate.

The Ventura County Fire Department reported that one person was trapped and eventually rescued from the vehicle.

Two people were taken to the hospital with unknown injuries.

Facebook blames internal glitch for outage

January 27, 2015 - 6:20am

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - Facebook said the outage that made its social media sites inaccessible worldwide for about an hour Tuesday was self-inflicted.

Users of PCs and Facebook's mobile app reported they lost access in Asia, the United States, Australia and the U.K. Facebook-owned Instagram was also inaccessible.

Facebook said the disruption was caused by a technical change and wasn't a cyberattack. "This was not the result of a third party attack but instead occurred after we introduced a change that affected our configuration systems," its statement said.

The temporary loss of service may be Facebook's biggest outage since Sept. 24, 2010, when it was down for about 2.5 hours.

On its website for developers, Facebook said the "major outage" lasted one hour.

The outage occurred at midday in Asia, and after Facebook was restored, some users reported that the site was loading slowly or not functioning fully.

Lizard Squad, a group notorious for attention-seeking antics online, claimed responsibility on Twitter for the outages.

Guillermo Lafuente, security consultant at MWR InfoSecurity, said a technical fault was more plausible. A denial-of-service attack would have made the sites unreachable rather than accessible with an error message displayed, he said. Facebook's use of multiple data centers also meant an attack on one would have affected one region, while this outage was worldwide.

Also, restoring service would be a matter of reversing the technical changes, which matched with the brevity of the outage, LaFuente said.

Facebook has about 1.35 billion active users and Instagram has some 300 million. The outage came a day ahead of Facebook reporting its quarterly earnings.

Lizard Squad on Monday claimed it had defaced the Malaysia Airlines website and would release data from the airline. Its previous hacking claims have been mostly aimed at gaming or media companies.

Ventura residents look closer at survey results

January 27, 2015 - 5:14am
The Ventura City Council on Monday directed staff to take a closer look at the results of a residents survey to determine how better to serve the community.   Mayor Cheryl Heitmann said the results showed the city was doing a good job, but there was room for improvement.  “What is the need,” she said. “What would it really take to do what we need to do.”   The city hired a public opinion polling firm to do the survey, designed to get a sense of how residents felt about living in Ventura, their feelings toward government and their top priorities and concerns.   Between Nov. 6-10, the firm polled 400 registered voters, randomly selected.   Residents were overall happy with life in Ventura, and 74 percent approved of the direction the city was taking, the poll showed.   Respondents also expressed strong satisfaction with city staff, with 72 percent feeling employees were willing to help, and 77 percent feeling employees were both courteous and knowledgeable.   Consistently, respondents pointed to homelessness as one of the biggest challenges facing the city.

It’s a “major issue in your community,” said Richard Bernard, partner and vice president of Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates. “Not everyone speaks of homelessness in the same way.”   That’s one of the reasons Heitmann wants staff to take a closer look at the results.   Some respondents likely felt the city needed more services for homeless people, while others probably wanted more done to get them out of the community, Heitmann said.   Bernard said not everyone understands how homelessness works, and how jurisdiction over the issue extends beyond city limits. It was up to the city to communicate that, he said.   The drought, drugs and drug abuse, the condition of streets and pollution that flows into the city’s waterways were also top concerns among residents.   Also Monday, the council voted to take over Montalvo’s sewage services.   Montalvo, east of Victoria Avenue and west of Johnson Drive, was annexed into the city in 2012. The Montalvo Community Services District runs the small sewer district, which serves roughly 600 properties.   Under the agreement approved 7-0, the district’s plant will be shut down and the city will start treating the sewage at its plant.   As that takes place over the course of the next few years, Montalvo customers will see their rates rise from the current $294 a year to $608 in 2018, the same rate Ventura residents will be paying.     Letting the city absorb the district was the cheapest of several alternatives examined, said the district’s General Manager Richard Hajas.   Staying independent would have brought the bills to $756, because the district has to replace its 50-year-old treatment plant and other aging infrastructure.    To make the deal happen, the district gave its land to the developers of a planned Olivas Park commercial development. In turn, the Olivas Park developers will give the city more than $4 million to be used to hook up to Ventura’s sewer system.    Adding the Montalvo customers will not impact fees for existing Ventura residents, and the fees collected, along with some one-time funds, will pay for the sewer lines, the staff report notes.

 

Employee split by pension panel eyed

January 26, 2015 - 9:05pm

The Ventura County pension board moved Monday toward potentially taking over authority for its top employees from county government.

Trustees of the $4 billion pension fund voted to seek a written proposal from a lobbyist who could shepherd legislation required for the split.

“It’s an issue of control,” Trustee Art Goulet told the Board of Retirement. “We have to control the compensation and benefits of our key employees.”

Under draft legislation that Goulet recently presented to the board, the trustees could assume control for the retirement administrator, legal counsel, chief investment officer and other managers. They would become employees of the retirement system instead of county government.

County Executive Officer Mike Powers said he respects the board’s right to seek the change, but that his office and the Board of Supervisors have a strong record of cooperation with the panel.

“In the last couple of years we have worked hard to support just about every request they have made,” Powers said.

Supervisors have raised the salary range for the retirement administrator and added a position for a chief investment officer. Resolution of a debate over salary for the board’s legal counsel is pending.

Four years ago, a previous retirement board voted 6-3 against a proposal to do the same thing that the current board is now investigating.

Tim Thonis, then the administrator, resigned immediately after the board’s vote. It followed what appeared to be a long standoff between the board and top county officials over his salary.

That issue was largely resolved with the county’s approval of a new pay range for the administrator. It has risen again because of questions over the compensation and independence of the board’s legal counsel, trustees said.

Lori Nemiroff, an attorney in the office of County Counsel Leroy Smith, advises the board on most legal questions at a rate of roughly $185 an hour.

But with county supervisors and trustees at odds over how generously to define pensionable income under a law aimed at curtailing abuses, the trustees retained a private attorney. She charges almost $490 an hour.

Given their fiduciary responsibility for the pension plan, trustees must have independent advice, Chairman Tracy Towner said.

“We want independent, non-conflicted counsel as we believe any billion-dollar entity would have,” he said.

Smith, though, said it is “very rare” for the county to take a different legal position than the retirement board.

“It is the first time that I know of,” he said.

Trustees also say that Nemiroff is underpaid. Goulet originally raised the issue because Nemiroff had applied for a $239,000-a-year job at a comparable retirement system in Los Angeles. She was not hired for the position, but trustees are continuing to seek a significant raise.

In October, Goulet asked for an increase that would push maximum base pay for her position up by almost $50,000 to $196,596. Along with other senior county attorneys, she received a package of raises that will bring the salary for her position up to $168,000 by August, county officials said.

Managers are seeking additional information and continuing to work with the retirement board on the issue, Powers said.

Goulet, who represents retirees on the board, said he expected to return Feb. 23 with a written proposal for monitoring and promoting the legislation from Sacramento lobbyist Jim Lites.

The board composed of representatives of employees, elected officials, the public and retirees voted 7-1 to solicit the proposal from Lites.

Voting in favor were Goulet, Treasurer-Tax Collector Steven Hintz; employee representatives Craig Winter, Deanna McCormick and Chris Johnston; and public representatives Joe Henderson and Bill Wilson.

Supervisor Peter Foy voted no and retired Simi Valley City Manager Mike Sedell abstained. Both represent the public on the board.

Dogs learn how to play well with others

January 26, 2015 - 6:05pm

First impressions are important in the dog world.

At this week’s Dogs Playing for Life demonstrations at the Ventura County Animal Services Camarillo Adoption Center, volunteers and staff are learning how to create play groups for dogs to help them socialize and ultimately find new homes.

During the three-day seminar that ends Tuesday, Aimee Sadler of Longmont, Colorado, director of behavior and training at Southampton Animal Shelter Foundation in Hampton Bays, New York, explained that dogs tend to fall into four general categories: gentle and dainty; rough and ready; push and pull; and see and destroy.

Teaching dogs how to interact with one another in a friendly, positive, playful way in a kennel situation, where the dogs are naturally under stress, will allow the animals to develop those characteristics that are sought-after by potential owners and guardians, she said.

The facility has already introduced some stress-relieving features. Randy Friedman, Ventura County Animal Services media liaison, said 67 speakers have been installed in the shelter to play classical music, which has been shown to slow the heart rates of frightened dogs. And under the leadership of new shelter director Tara Diller, volunteers recently built 165 hammock beds for the dogs.

But Sadler said one of the biggest problems at shelters — especially a shelter that has recently been declared a “no-kill” shelter, with a sustained rate of least 90 percent of animals being released alive — is dogs that have been labeled aggressive.

Sadler explained that the majority of these dogs are reacting to perceived threats. To help them, “we try to build their confidence,” she said. “But we will interrupt them by squirting them with water from squirt bottles, and we do have an air horn if they are stuck in an argument.”

As she demonstrated the formation of a canine play group, Sadler and Animal Control Officer Kimberly Flavin directed the dogs coming into the penned-in play area through a closed-off series of gates designed to prevent runaways. Then they observed the behavior of the animals as they came inside.

The first dogs identified are the “helper dogs,” or those dogs that have nice, non-aggressive dispositions. Subsequent dogs are introduced to the play area one at a time, and if a dog starts showing aggressive behavior, it is removed or placed in a holding area until it calms down.

Chloe Williamson, a shelter employee, tried to introduce a dark pit bull, Athena, into the training area, but Athena immediately started to mount another dog and show other dominating behavior. So Athena was given a time out.

Casey, another pit bull, tried to run away from his handler, and he too, ended up in another cage.

Eventually, through this process of elimination, the dogs in the pen were playing well with one another. And once this mellow, playful atmosphere was established, the more aggressive dogs were introduced and their behavior carefully monitored until they could also play well with others.

“Offensive, aggressive” dogs, Sadler said, are the hardest to train and will need advanced work. But with play groups, many of the dogs that are reacting to the stress of being lost or abandoned and housed at a kennel can be rehabilitated.

For information about Ventura County Animal Services, which runs the Camarillo Adoption Center at 600 Aviation Drive, go online to http://www.vcas.us/ or call 388-4341.

Fundraiser started for Ventura homeless man

January 26, 2015 - 5:26pm

An online fundraiser with a goal of raising $10,000 has been set up to help a homeless man set on fire at a Ventura beach earlier this month.

Dawn Alexander, 39, an insurance agent in Michigan, set up the effort through YouCaring.com to pay for an apartment once the man recovers from his burns. Alexander, who was raised in Ventura, said she wants him to have a safe place to go once he recovers.

“This story weighed really heavy in my heart,” Alexander said. “I couldn’t imagine somebody so far down in their luck, who has lost so much hope ... and to have people do something so horrific and brutal, it’s just not fair.”

Ventura police are still searching for three suspects who poured lighter fluid on the homeless man and set him on fire in the Pierpont neighborhood. A set of photos from a surveillance video was released last week showing three people in the area.

“We did get some response to the photos from people with some idea of who they might be,” said Sgt. Ryan Weeks. “Now we have some people to speak to.”

Weeks said the three people in the video are not suspects but rather people who were walking in the area around the time the crime occurred.

The homeless man, who suffered second- and third-degree burns to his torso and face, is recovering at the burn unit of the USC Medical Center. He is expected to survive but it is not known when he’ll be released.

Weeks said the hospital has not given a time frame as to when police can talk to him.

Alexander said she calls the hospital on a regular basis to leave uplifting messages for nurses to give to the man. She said as soon as she talks to him, she intends to partner with a social services organization to help him.

“It’s awesome she’s raising money to help this individual,” said Jim Duran, executive director of the nonprofit The City Center. “It’s sad it has to come to a tragedy like this to rally people.”

Duran said one thing to keep in mind when helping homeless people is that housing is typically just one of many concerns that need to be addressed. A case manager to help the person deal with day-to-day issues is crucial, too, Duran said.

“For $10,000, you might be able to house him for a year but with no job, he might be homeless again,” Duran said. “What good is that if we don’t set him up to succeed?”

As of Monday, more than $900 had been raised in the online fundraiser, which can be found on YouCaring.com, under search terms “Ventura homeless man.”

Spotlight on Oxnard's audit Tuesday

January 26, 2015 - 5:24pm

Oxnard’s new — and temporary — finance chief will make his first presentation to the City Council on Tuesday night.

The discussion will cover the city’s audit for the fiscal year that ended last June. With recent news that Oxnard’s upcoming budget deliberations could include facing down a $2.9 million deficit, the review of the so-called Comprehensive Annual Financial Report might generate more interest than usual.

Interim Chief Financial Officer Dave Millican, a consultant with Management Partners Inc. who started the job this month, will steer the city’s financial reins until a permanent director is recruited. The former finance chief, Jim Cameron, retired Jan. 9, one of several top managers to leave since new City Manager Greg Nyhoff arrived June 1. Nyhoff has said he plans to reshape Oxnard’s culture, one dogged for years by a reputation for opaque, insular operations.

Nyhoff on Monday called Millican “very sharp” and said he looks forward to his in-depth analysis once Millican has time to settle in.

The annual financial report summarizes the status of the city’s various funds. The document for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which ended June 30, contains no bombshells. But it does show general fund reserves remain below the council’s desired target and the city’s overall financial position has remained static in recent years even as the national economy improved.

The council is also scheduled to take up matters postponed from its last meeting, including restructuring the Commission on Homelessness and distributing $150,000 in public art funds. Committee assignments for council members and citizen advisory groups such as the Planning Commission are on the agenda as well.

The council meets at 6 p.m. at 305 W. Third St. following a 4:30 p.m. closed session on legal matters.