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Conejo Elks bear gift baskets to those in need

December 20, 2014 - 4:42pm

Christmas will be a little brighter for some low-income Conejo Valley folks, thanks to the efforts of the Thousand Oaks Elks Lodge.

Elks members delivered boxes of food and gifts to 41 seniors and 34 families Saturday as part of their annual Christmas basket program.

“It’s a blessing,” said Noemi Gongora, who lives in a small apartment with her husband and four children ages 10, 5, 3 and 2.

She’s expecting her fifth child, due at the end of December.

“We’re grateful, you know,” she said. “These are hard times.”

As Lynn and Leo Rodriguez and Nicolette Shankel brought in boxes including wrapped and unwrapped presents for the children, groceries and a fresh turkey, Gongora’s youngest kids danced around with excitement.

“They’re happy, and that’s the most important thing for us as parents,” she said.

At the next stop, Francisco Garcia, 18, welcomed the volunteers to the one-bedroom apartment he shares with mother, 15-year-old sister and 10-year-old brother.

“We didn’t have almost anything last Christmas,” said Garcia, who left high school to get a job and help provide for the family.

“It means a lot, mostly for my little brother,” he said. “He’s going to be very excited.”

The Elks also donated a Christmas tree to the family from the lot they set up each year at Carlson’s Building Materials on Thousand Oaks Boulevard, selling trees to raise money for their charitable programs.

Members of Lodge 2477 brought donated toys to the annual Elks Christmas party, and the Elks Ladies wrapped the toys and boxed up the nonperishable food items at their building at 158 N. Conejo School Road.

All the boxes were delivered Saturday throughout the Thousand Oaks area.

“We got so much this year, like puzzles and books as well as toys,” said Lynn Rodriguez, who serves as president of the Elks Ladies. “Each recipient gets a week’s worth of food and a holiday dinner and age-appropriate gifts for the children.”

Leo Rodriguez, a past exalted ruler, said the Elks are committed to giving back to the community and especially to helping seniors, veterans and those in need.

That ranking might not mean anything

December 20, 2014 - 4:31pm

Q: You have been recommending Carbonite or Moxy for online backups. I've seen, on the Web, a service that's called Just Cloud and is ranked No. 1 for online backup and it's free. Any comment?

Frank DeCarlo

A: I suspect you know this but I'll start by mentioning that it is easy to find websites recommending as No. 1 almost any service you can name. If you use Google you'll find sites that claim service A is best, other sites that scream that service B is best and so on. Declaring any product No. 1 is subjective and everyone has different opinions. Add to that the fact that some websites are created for the sole purpose of promoting a product. These sites present themselves as independent rating services but are really just advertisements created by the makers of the product.

It's also true that — unlike with a newspaper story — some blogs accept money from manufacturers to endorse a product. I know it's true because offers like that have been made to me. Please keep in mind that I don't know if any of this is true for Just Cloud.

The real problem with Just Cloud when it comes to the "free" part is that it isn't really free if you intend to use it to make a full backup of the information on your hard disk. The free space you get isn't enough to do a backup of a hard disk. It's only enough for a few files. When I write about online backups, I mean using a service that can backup your hard disk. You can't do that with the free version.

I could go on by pasting in websites that think Just Cloud is horrible and some that think it's wonderful. But you can search and do that for yourself. That's the trouble with paying too much attention when some sites say something is No. 1. Is Just Cloud a good choice? I don't know enough about that service to say. But would I recommend it over Carbonite? No.

Bill Husted writes about technology. Contact him at

Colleen Cason: Friends reunite 25 years

December 20, 2014 - 4:00pm

Pat Patterson had every reason to feel triumph as he departed Shanghai 25 years ago. The then-50-year-old Ventura businessman achieved his goal of bicycling across China at a time when few Westerners would consider travel to the communist nation.

Instead, he felt uncertainty. Ravaged by diarrhea, he had dropped 40 pounds and worried whether he would regain his health. His marriage was on the rocks.

In that dark moment of the soul, he had no way of imagining what his journey of 1,000 miles set in motion. Or that his odyssey would inspire a little girl growing up in a strange new country.

The adventurous, Idaho-born Patterson had biked 10,000 miles through Europe and Asia before embarking on the trans-China ride. Through a Beijing travel agency, he hired Xunchang Wang, a 26-year-old graduate student who grew up in Inner Mongolia.

Wang secured a primitive bicycle, a shiny, powder-blue sweatsuit and a red-title document declaring the travel government-sanctioned.

From the outset, Patterson called him Mr. Wang. He dubbed Patterson Mr. Pat.

Patterson, although weakened by dehydration, was by then road-hardened. The younger, less experienced Wang struggled mightily to stay up with him.

The first day, Wang recalled, gave him a taste of how hard it would be. A cold rain fell, and the terrain was rugged.

On the second, the weather was worse and the time on the road longer. Wang wanted to give up.

At the end of that long day’s ride, after a little rest, he somehow found the strength to keep going.

Patterson began to call Wang “my father, my brother, my son.”

He was the father because he handled all the money and negotiated everything. They were brothers as they traveled the open road, singing “side by side, so fast we ride, all the way across China.” And Wang was young enough to be Patterson’s son.

In every village they visited, the townsfolk gathered around the tall Western man. During one stop, the crowd parted as the village elder arrived to examine the visitors and then made a pronouncement.

Patterson asked for a translation; Wang refused at first. With some coaxing, he relented.

“He said, ‘All your people are ugly. But you are the ugliest of them all.’ ”

They laughed about the ugly American as they went on their way.

The day they arrived in Shanghai, the TV screens in Patterson’s hotel showed the Berlin Wall coming down.

“Socialism is having a bad day,” Wang observed. He added that he hoped someday he could own a home so Patterson could come and stay in it.

“In the beginning, I am Chinese and he’s an American. In the end, he and I, we, are brothers,” Wang said.

But these brothers lost touch over the years. Patterson went through a divorce and led a busy business and civic life. He married Cat, who shares his love of cycling in exotic lands.

A couple of years ago, Patterson remounted the search for his cycling companion. This time, he looked in the United States. His friend’s name came up in suburban Chicago.

Patterson learned Wang and his wife, Huiling Tian, and their daughter, Julia, had come to the United States. Wang earned a master’s degree in information technology and was hired by Motorola.

Julia was 9 when the family arrived in America. When she struggled with English or fell ill, her father sat at her bedside. He shared the story of the American tourist who wanted to bike across China.

“He told me how absolutely exhausted he was every day and how close he was to giving up but he didn’t, and the experience transformed his life,” she said.

The lesson she remembered, as she drifted off to sleep, is “never give up, and perseverance will change everything for the better.”

That little girl who once spoke no English graduated from Harvard and has done postgraduate work at the University of Cambridge in England.

On Friday morning, Julia was at Pat and Cat Pattersons’ Pierpont bungalow with her parents, watching the video “Mr. Pat” shot of the trip and laughing at how much hair her father had in those days.

It was good timing for a reunion 25 years in the making. In the past year, Patterson has been beset by health problems.

It was good timing for Julia, who is waiting to hear where she will be accepted to law school.

And there is never a bad time to be reminded of how in the great circle of life, we can change the lives of others in ways we could never imagine.

Visit to view the video Pat Patterson shot of his bike ride across China with Xunchang Wang in 1989.

Email Colleen Cason at

Area business report latest news

December 20, 2014 - 4:00pm


Conejo clubs add new board member

Tim English has joined the board of governors of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Conejo Valley.

Retired in 2013, English was the former owner of CEO Alpha Property Management and Realty Partners Development, a company committed to improving the living conditions for its residents.

English started his career as a CPA working in public accounting for 10 years before transitioning to Alpha, where he spent 25 years developing over 3,000 units. During his tenure, the company earned several industry awards for development and social services.

A graduate of CSU Los Angeles, English served as a member and assumed leadership positions with a number of organizations affiliated with his work including the Affordable Housing Management Association, National Leased Housing and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

English lives in Agoura Hills with his wife, Joni.


Consulting firm will add new partner

John Meyers of Meyers Vocational Consulting Services in Ventura has announced that Christopher Meyers has completed his master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from the University of Kentucky and passed the national rehabilitation counseling certification examination.

Over the last two years, Meyers has been working as a research associate/graduate assistant with Meyers Vocational Consulting. He will begin a role as a consultant and partner in January.

The firm has been providing vocational consulting services since 1997, including career counseling, earning capacity evaluations and labor market analytics.

To contact the company, email or


Jensen design firm celebrates 25 years

Jensen Design & Survey, a full-service civil engineering firm in Ventura County, is celebrating 25 years of providing project development on many of Ventura County's key projects.

The company has a staff of 40 employees with expertise in various disciplines including civil engineering, surveying, land planning and construction management.

The actual Jensen family has been in the civil engineering business in Ventura County for much longer than 25 years, beginning with William L. Jensen who started Jensen Associates Engineers in 1961. In 1989, Don Jensen — William's son — founded Jensen Design & Survey Inc. The company's projects have included services for municipalities, schools, recreational facilities, agricultural lands, and various development projects ranging from commercial projects to residential.

Among those are the Ventura County Public Works Agency's Service Yard, California Lutheran University's North Athletic Field Expansion, Houweling's Nursery, Community Memorial Hospital, Ventura County Medical Center, Olivas Park Golf Course, Thacher School, Sterling Hills, Mission Produce and Ventura Auto Center/Crown Dodge.

For more information about the company, visit

State farm bureau names graduates

Having completed more than 250 hours of training and instruction, 11 Farm Bureau members from around California have graduated from the Leadership Farm Bureau program.

The 2014 class celebrated its graduation during the California Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting in Garden Grove.

During 2014, members of the Leadership Farm Bureau class participated in training focused on political advocacy, public speaking, media relations, personal development and the Farm Bureau organization. The group traveled to Washington, D.C., to advocate on behalf of Farm Bureau policies, and to Arkansas to compare their experiences with those of farmers and ranchers in that part of the nation.

Among the members of the 2014 Leadership Farm Bureau class from Ventura County were: Tod Bartholomay, Southern California Edison agricultural representative, and Aimee Meidinger-Smith, operations manager at Brokaw Nursery LLC and secretary of Ventura County Young Farmers and Ranchers.

The Class of 2014 represented the 15th group of leaders to complete the Leadership Farm Bureau program since it began in 2000. For more information, visit

Big T's changes business name

Big T's Freightliner of Ventura County has officially changed its name to Velocity Truck Center Ventura County.

The name change reflects the additional services it provides to the trucking community.

As part of Velocity Vehicle Group, the company also announced the addition of the Autocar Truck brand to its location, providing dealer support for parts and service to Autocar vehicles.

Velocity Vehicle Group operates commercial vehicle dealerships across California, Nevada and Hawaii. It purchased the Big T's dealership in September to provide greater support for customers across California and Nevada.

VCEDA elects new board chairman

Sandy Smith has been sworn in as the Ventura County Economic Development Association's chairman for 2015-16.

Smith, a land use consultant for Sespe Consulting Inc., was sworn in during the group's annual meeting held at Limoneira Ranch earlier this month.

VCEDA is one of the Ventura County's leading economic development organizations.

Smith, who has been involved with VCEDA for years, most recently served as the chairman of the VCEDA's Policy Committee.

Ellen Brown, regional manager of Volt Workforce Solutions, is outgoing chairwoman.

Brown; Nan Drake, E.J. Harrison & Sons; Henry Dubroff, Pacific Coast Business Times; Rudy Gonzales, Southern California Edison; Melissa Sayer, A to Z Law; Vlad Vaiman, California Lutheran University; and Rob Westberg, Amgen have will serve additional three-year terms on the board.

VCEDA holds an annual Business Outlook Conference each October. For more information about VCEDA, visit


Resident is named to 40 Under 40 list

Arpit Malaviya, of Westlake Village, has been recognized by the Airport Business magazine as among the top 40 young and innovative leaders in the aviation industry of 2014.

Malaviya, the 39-year-old CEO and co-founder of ProDIGIQ Inc., has been in the aviation industry for the past eight years. Airport Business magazine aims to recognize the younger talents in the industry.

Malaviya is a board member of both Airports Council International and the Southwest Chapter of the American Associates of Airport Executives and is actively involved and serving on a number of other aviation committees.

ProDIGIQ is a technology company focused on creating innovative software for aviation industry across the United States.

To share news about your company or business-related organization, email If there is an event involved, please email the information at least three weeks in advance of the event.

DUI checkpoint nets 2 arrests in Oxnard

December 20, 2014 - 3:56pm

Two people were arrested on suspicion of DUI during a checkpoint overnight in Oxnard, police said.

Authorities conducted two checkpoints from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. in the westbound lanes of Gonzales Road west of Snow Avenue and in the southbound lanes of Victoria Avenue south of Gonzales Road, officials said.

There were five DUI investigations conducted. Four of those were done at the Victoria Avenue checkpoint. Two people were also arrested on suspicion of DUI at that checkpoint. One of the drivers arrested in connection with DUI was also arrested in connection with possession of narcotics, police said.

Fifteen were cited for driving without a license, two citations were issued for driving with a suspended or revoked license and five vehicles were towed, authorities said.

Two criminal arrests were made including one driver who was arrested in connection with an outstanding misdemeanor warrant, police said.

Farmers market:Frittata not just a spring dish

December 20, 2014 - 3:51pm

Frittatas make great Christmastime dish

In the rest of the world mid-December is the beginning of a long, cold winter. But here in Ventura County it’s almost spring.

And at the Channel Islands Farmers market, where fresh eggs are on sale at the booth of Rodriguez Farms from Fresno, fresh baby spinach from Tamai Family Farms in Oxnard is being sold and green onions are available from Yao Chang Farms in the Santa Rosa Valley, it’s time for frittatas — those springtime wonders that would make a great Christmas morning breakfast or easy, breezy dinner to balance the rich foods of the season.

Frittatas are a wonderfully versatile dish tailor-made for farmers market bounty. Add whatever vegetables seem particularly enticing. This frittata makes a delightful light meal served with a salad.

Spinach-green onion frittata


12 ounces of fresh baby spinach

8-10 fresh green onions trimmed of tops and roots

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

8 fresh eggs

¼ cup whole milk (or 2 percent milk with a spritz of heavy cream, which is what I had on hand)

— Salt and pepper to taste

5 ounces Colby jack cheese


1 Heat oven to 450 degrees.

2 Chop fresh spinach and green onions into small pieces.

3 In a regular stainless steel skillet heat olive oil over high heat. Sauté veggies until wilted and liquid is starting to cook off — about 3 minutes.

4 Drain on paper towels (you don’t want your frittata to be too runny).

5 In the iron skillet, heat butter. Add drained spinach and onions and spread evenly along the bottom of the skillet.

6 Top with cheese.

7 Add eggs that have been beaten with milk, salt and pepper.

8 Cook on medium heat on the stovetop, loosening the edges and poking in the middle to make sure the eggs are being cooked evenly.

9 When the eggs are starting to set, but still loose, put skillet in hot oven.

10 Cook about 12 minutes or until the frittata top is brown and set.

11 Slice and serve warm.

Find the markets

Sundays: 8:30 a.m. to noon, College of the Canyons (parking lot 5 via Rockwell Canyon Road off Valencia Boulevard), Santa Clarita (529-6266). 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 300 E. Matilija St., Ojai (698-5555). 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Agoura Hills City Mall, Kanan Road (818-591-8286). 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Harbor and Channel Islands boulevards (includes a fish market), Oxnard (818-591-8286). 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Village Glen Plaza, between Agoura and Townsgate roads, Westlake Village (818-591-8286).

Wednesdays: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Pacific View mall parking lot facing Main Street, Ventura (529-6266). 3-7 p.m. Community Center Park, 1605 E. Burnley St., Camarillo (529-6266 or 482-1996).

Thursdays: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Plaza Park at Fifth and C streets, Oxnard (385-2705). (CLOSED until January) 1:30-6 p.m., The Oaks shopping center, Thousand Oaks (529-6266). 3-7 p.m., Ventura Community Park, Kimball and Telephone roads, Ventura (263-2907).

Fridays: 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Regal Cinemas/Civic Center Plaza, 2750 Tapo Canyon Road, Simi Valley, (643-6458). 3-7 p.m., The Village at Moorpark Shopping Center, southwest corner of East Los Angeles Avenue and Miller Parkway, Moorpark (479-9699).

Saturdays: 8 a.m. to noon, 2220 Ventura Blvd., Camarillo (987-3347). 8-11 a.m., fish market behind Andria’s Seafood Restaurant, 1449 Spinnaker Drive, Ventura (644-0169). 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thousand Oaks Library Newbury Park branch, 2331 Borchard Road, Newbury Park (323-272-9171). 8:30 a.m. to noon, Palm and Santa Clara streets, Ventura (529-6266).

2 toddlers, 1 woman injured in Ventura crash

December 20, 2014 - 3:31pm

Two toddlers and one woman suffered minor injuries in a car crash Saturday near Ventura College, officials said.

The crash was reported at 1:48 p.m. at the intersection of Loma Vista Road and Ashwood Street near the college campus.

Two cars, one of which was on its side, was found in the intersection. Two small children and a woman were in the car that rolled over but were able to exit the vehicle on their own, authorities said.

The woman and the children suffered minor injuries. The woman was taken to a local hospital but the care of children was given to a family member on scene, officials said.

The Ventura College Police Department, Ventura Police Department and the Ventura City Fire Department responded to the crash. The collision remains under investigation, authorities said.

Sony saga blends foreign intrigue, stars

December 20, 2014 - 3:27pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The hackers who hit Sony Pictures Entertainment days before Thanksgiving crippled the network, stole gigabytes of data and spilled into public view unreleased films and reams of private and sometimes embarrassing executive emails.

One month later, the Obama administration confirmed what many had suspected: The North Korean government was behind the punishing breach. U.S. officials are promising a response, unspecified so far.

It was an extraordinarily public reaction from the highest levels of American government, considering that far more vital domestic interests have taken hits from foreign hackers in recent years — including the military, major banks and makers of nuclear and solar power whose trade secrets were siphoned off in a matter of mouse clicks.

Yet even in a digital era with an endless cycle of cyberattacks, none has drawn the public's attention like the Sony breach and its convergence of sensational plotlines:

—an isolated dictator half a world away.

—damaging Hollywood gossip from the executive suite.

—threats of terrorism against Christmas Day moviegoers.

—the American president chastising a corporate decision to shelve a satirical film.

—normally reticent law enforcement agencies laying bare their case against the suspected culprits.

"I can't remember the U.S. talking about a proportional response to Chinese espionage or infiltration of critical infrastructure for that matter, as a policy issue in the same way that we're talking about this today," said Jacob Olcott, a cyberpolicy and legal issues expert at Good Harbor Security Risk Management and a former adviser to Congress.

President Barack Obama said Friday the U.S. would respond to the cyberattack, though he did not say how, after the FBI publicly blamed North Korea. He also criticized Sony's decision to cancel the release of "The Interview," a comedy about a plot to assassinate North Korea's leader.

"This is uncharted territory," said Chris Finan, a former White House cybersecurity adviser. "The things we do in response to this event will indelibly serve to influence future nation state behavior."

North Korea has denied hacking the studio, and on Saturday proposed a joint investigation with the U.S., warning of "serious" consequences if Washington said no. The White House sidestepped the idea, said it was confident that North Korea was responsible and urged North Korean government officials to "admit their culpability and compensate Sony for the damages this attack caused."

At the same time, the U.S. was reaching out to China, North Korea's key ally, to ask for its cooperation as the U.S. weighs its response, said a senior Obama administration official, who wasn't authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity. Although China holds considerable leverage over the North and its technological infrastructure, involving Beijing could pose complications because Obama has pointedly accused China of engaging in its own acts of cybertheft.

Friday's announcement was a critical moment in an investigation that united the government and cybersecurity professionals who conducted painstaking technical analysis.

The breach was discovered days before Thanksgiving when Sony employees logged onto their computers to find a screen message saying they had been hacked by a group calling itself Guardians of Peace. Experts scoured months of system logs, determining through spikes in network traffic and other anomalies that the attackers had conducted surveillance on the network since spring.

The first goal was to determine the extent of the damage to the network, so crippled that investigators or any other visitors needed handwritten credentials to gain entry.

As they examined the malware, they detected that it was similar to DarkSeoul, used in attacks on South Korea banking and media institutions and connected to North Koreans.

Investigators determined the Internet protocol addresses used, and found that one in Bolivia was the same as one in the DarkSeoul hack. They also found time zone and language settings in Korean, and that the malware itself had source code believed to be held by North Korea.

The FBI statement said clues included similarities to other tools developed by North Korea in specific lines of computer code, encryption algorithms and data deletion methods. More significantly, the FBI discovered that computer Internet addresses known to be operated by North Korea were communicating directly with other computers used to deploy and control the hacking tools and collect the stolen Sony files.

That analysis, along with a North Korean official's declaration that "The Interview" was an "act of war," served to bolster the case for a North Korean motive.

In general, it's exceedingly difficult to pin down responsibility for a cyberattack because hackers typically try to throw investigators off their trail. North Korea's Internet infrastructure is air-gapped, or not directly connected to the outside world, except by proxies through other countries, so it's even more difficult to attribute the hack.

Even when investigators do zero in on suspected culprits, there's often a political calculation about when and whether to publicly name them. The Justice Department took the unusual step in May of announcing indictments against five Chinese military officials accused of cyberespionage, but in many other instances, the public never learns the nationalities of the hackers, much less their identities.

In Sony's case, the FBI had been cautious about assigning blame to North Korea despite the evidence. Just a week before the public announcement, FBI Director James Comey had told reporters, "Before we attribute a particular action to a particular actor, we like to sort the evidence in a very careful way to arrive at a level of confidence that we think justifies saying 'Joe did it' or 'Sally did it,' and we're not at that point yet."

Beyond the FBI's announcement Friday, there were no details on remedies for Sony, no statement holding North Korea responsible for the already-known criminal acts of leaking copyright material, and no demand that North Korea return the stolen data.

"It seems highly unusual for the U.S. government to make an announcement like the FBI made today without a corresponding plan of action, which is exactly what was missing from the statements," Olcott said. "It was a press release to encourage more companies to work with the FBI in the future, but we actually don't really know why."


Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Hawaii contributed to this report.

Camarillo takes steps toward eminent domain

December 20, 2014 - 3:26pm

A project expected to start next year to widen a portion of Santa Rosa Road in Camarillo could be headed to court first if city officials can't reach an agreement with one property owner.

The Camarillo City Council last week unanimously agreed to authorize the beginning of eminent domain proceedings to acquire construction easements at 6529 Santa Rosa Road to move the project forward after talks with the property owner failed.

"We've been in design for a couple of years. We're at the point where we can't go any further. The project is literally at a standstill right now," said Tom Fox, the city's public work director.

The project would widen the road between Via Latina Drive and Santa Rafael Way.

It is the only portion of Santa Rosa Road in the Camarillo city limits where the roadway narrows from two lanes to one in each direction.

The $2.9 million project would widen the road to four lanes with the addition of bike lanes, sidewalks, right-turn pockets and a landscaped retaining wall.

Funding would come from city traffic mitigation fees and federal transportation grants, and the city must demonstrate that all needed property rights were obtained to receive federal funding.

About 4,000 square feet of land was needed to be purchased, and access allowed on two other properties for the project to proceed.

Temporary and permanent easements are needed at the property at 6529 Santa Rosa Road in part so subsurface rods can be built beneath the hillside to support the wall.

The city has offered to pay the property owner $39,000 for the easements.

Clare Bronowski, an attorney from Los Angeles-based Glaser Weil law firm, represents the owner of the property, which has a direct driveway onto Santa Rosa Road.

Bronowski said the family has concerns about access to the property because a medium being constructed would only allow the family living there to make a right turn in and out of their property and make it difficult traveling from the freeway or to Moorpark when left turns are needed. She said legal U-turns are about a half-mile away.

The attorney said she wanted the city to consider extending a left-turn pocket being constructed for a neighboring property, or move their driveway to the other side of the property.

Camarillo City Attorney Brian Pierik said the city will have further discussions with the property owner regarding issues being raised.

Fox said once the city can demonstrate it has necessary access to perform the project, it will be three months working with Caltrans to prepare the project for construction bidding.

Then planners expect to take another two months to accept bids and approve a contractor.

Construction would take a year to complete.

Fox said the city could have opted to have the slope cut back and the project extended on the residential property, but chose the more expensive retaining wall project.

"So we've done everything we can to minimize the impact to the property. We really have no more options at this point. Unfortunately, we have to go to court to have them decide the outcome," Fox said.

Mayor Bill Little said the widening, when completed, will be beneficial.

"Almost any day you are out there, you can see accidents just waiting to occur," he said. "It's a major arterial that goes from two lanes down to one around a curve right now."

Bellringer donor recalls joy of Christmas

December 20, 2014 - 3:26pm

Christmases were not about material things at Ventura resident Dorothy Best's childhood home.

"We all got one present," she said.

She recalls no decorations on the outside of her family's house, not because the family lacked Yuletide cheer, but because they simply didn't have money for it. But her mother decorated the inside for Christmas, and she baked cookies in the weeks leading up to the holiday.

"It was just the joy of it" that Best said she remembers today.

She lost her mother, Ethel Rasmussen, last year. Her father, George Rasmussen, had passed away a few years earlier. They had lived in California but retired to Missouri. Still, they were there for Best.

"Anytime you needed anything, they were a phone call away," she said.

Dorothy's husband, David, contributed to the Bellringer drive in the name of George and Ethel Rasmussen; and his parents, Russell and Katharine Best.

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

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

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

New donations:

In loving memory of our precious son, Christopher, and Grampa Trevor. We miss you so. Also for all our dear friends and family who have gone home before us (too many to name). Thank you to the Salvation Army for all you do. The Morgan family: $250.

Merry Christmas. George and Al Collister: $50.

In loving memory of family and friends who are waiting for me in Heaven. Anonymous: $50.

In memory of Jan and Mo. Anonymous: $20.

In loving memory of my mom, Lois; dad, Hershel; grandmother, Pearl; sister, Glenda; Dan and all my aunts and uncles. Jeanne Hunt: $50.

In memory of my husband, Dick Miller. Love, Judy: $50.

In loving memory of my special angel, Wayne Pulley. Always missing you, forever in my heart. Judy: $100.

In memory of my grandmother, Mamie Conley. John Marshall: $50.

In memory of my uncle, Ed Samples. John Marshall: $50.

In memory of my uncle, Bill Law. John Marshall: $50.

In memory of my mother, Dicie Marshall. John Marshall: $50.

In memory of Dennis Franklin and Allen Sullivan. Richard and Joy Adams: $30.

In memory of our parents, Russell and Katharine Best, and George and Ethel Rasmussen. David and Dorothy Best: $25.

In memory of Marion Stanley. Maurice O. Elm: $200.

God bless. W.D. and Jackie Wortman: $100.

Merry Christmas! James R. Parsons II: $50.

Merry Christmas. James and Lori Parsons: $50.

Today's total: $1,225.

Previous total: $34,688.33.

Total to date: $35,913.33.

Please make checks out to Bellringer and send them to:


Ventura County Star

P.O. Box 6006

Camarillo, CA 93011

Simi Valley considers school closures again

December 20, 2014 - 3:23pm

Simi Valley school officials are again considering closing schools, but this time three board members — a majority — have vocally supported the move.

That's a change from a year ago, when the district board voted to shut down one campus and keep three open, against administrators' recommendations.

"The composition of the board has changed; the mentality has changed," said Jason Peplinski, superintendent of the Simi Valley Unified School District.

"It's almost like we went through the grieving process last year. The need for it is more apparent."

The simple reason closures are back is that the district still has too many elementary schools and is still losing students, said Peplinski, who was named superintendent this month after a decade with the district.

"When we had lots of reserves, we could support small schools," he said. "We don't have that luxury anymore."

The district is considering closing Justin and Lincoln elementary schools, two campuses that were on the initial proposed closure list.

Trustee Dan White voted to close schools last year and now has the support of newly elected board members Scott Blough and Bill Daniels.

While the board voted to keep open Justin and Lincoln last year, it did close Simi Elementary School, which needed extensive repairs. Students from that school went at midyear to Mountain View School, the fourth campus on the proposed closure list.

Parents filled district board meetings protesting the proposed closures last time. This time, though, they seem resigned, said Richard Bradbury, the father of a Lincoln student.

"I haven't heard a thing about parents rallying," he said. "Everybody's kind of given up."

School closures aren't new for Ventura County.

And when school districts close schools, they don't always get the results or savings they anticipated.

After shuttering campuses, the Pleasant Valley School District in Camarillo and the Conejo Valley Unified School District in Thousand Oaks both ended up with charter schools created by upset parents and teachers.

"It's been a phenomenon in the county for the last decade," said Robert Fraisse, interim dean of California Lutheran University's Graduate School of Education. "It's never easy."

Boards typically close schools as a last resort, but it's something school officials must consider when demographics change, enrollment drops or budgets sink, Fraisse said.

"At the end of the day, (district leaders) have to balance the books," he said.

Too little, too late

Simi Valley district officials say their reasons for proposing school closures are manyfold.

At its height in 2003-04, the Simi Valley district's enrollment was 21,727. This year, it's 17,801, a 3,926-student decline.

Some students have moved out of the area. Others have transferred to neighboring districts, such as Oak Park Unified.

The result: Simi Valley Unified is left with too many schools for its current enrollment, district officials say. The district could close seven schools and still have enough space for every student, Assistant Superintendent Ron Todo said.

Critics of the district believe Simi Valley district officials made things worse when they did not impose as many staff furlough days as other districts did during the state budget crisis a few years ago.

The district instead spent down its reserves, at one point prompting a warning from the county.

That was before Todo became the district's chief financial officer, but he noted that spending reserves can work if it's a short-term funding issue. In California, though, the funding crisis did not turn around quickly.

The district has taken several steps to address shortfalls, and its finances are more balanced now. Without enrollment declines, Simi Valley Unified would not be involved in deficit spending, Todo said.

Closing schools alone won't make a big dent in the district's finances, officials said. But keeping both open costs $500,000 yearly.

Closing the two schools is expected to save about $225,000 to $250,000 each — savings that mostly come from cutting administrative costs, including salaries of office staff, principals and custodians.

There was some overlap of staffing after Simi Elementary closed in February, but the district expects to save about $150,000 to $200,000 this year, Todo said.

While some favor smaller campuses, schools as small as Justin and Lincoln can face more than financial challenges. They may have fewer options for children, from electives to clubs, Todo said.

They also have fewer teachers and other staff members on campus, which means less collaboration and not as many parents and employees for the curriculum council, PTA and other necessary committees.

"You start spreading your teachers pretty thin," Todo said.

Turning the corner

Blough, elected to the board in November, said he thinks the district didn't respond quickly enough to growing competition among schools.

"There was some complacency," Blough said. "I don't think the district understood, as soon as I would have liked, that it was a much more competitive world for students."

Along the same lines, the district did not adequately respond to parents who expressed their frustration by sending their kids to schools in the Oak Park, Conejo Valley and Moorpark districts, said Daniels, who also was elected to the board in November.

"That was the perfect opportunity to have a discussion, almost like an exit interview," Daniels said. "I bet those parents would have bent your ear with information. We could have taken that information and made adjustments."

Peplinski believes the district is turning things around.

"If we haven't rounded the corner, we're standing at the corner," he said.

That will involve getting staffing to the right levels, improving communication and being more transparent, Peplinski said.

But if the district is going to attract students to its schools, it also needs to be more innovative, said Arleigh Kidd, who left the district board this year. That could mean offering dual-immersion programs in which students learn equally in two languages. Or creating more magnet schools, focusing on science and technology, for example, or environmental studies, like some nearby districts have.

Ultimately, the district and city will have to work together, Kidd said.

"It's a community problem," he said. "It's not just the school district's issue. The whole community is going to have to come together on this and say, ‘What do we want for our schools?' "


The Simi Valley Unified School District proposed closing several elementary schools last year, but closed only one. Now, the issue has come up again. Here's how the process has worked and what to expect.


August to September 2013: Usually, it takes about a year to close a school. The first step Simi Valley school officials took was forming a committee to oversee the closure process, recommend which schools to close and suggest other uses for those campuses. The committee included administrators, parents, teachers and community members.

November to December 2013: Over four meetings, the committee studied enrollment, demographics, location, the age and condition of campuses, and maintenance costs. They also estimated how much they would save by closing each school and suggested other uses for the campuses.

November to December 2013: Based on that data, the committee recommended closing Justin, Lincoln and Mountain View schools. Members considered Simi Elementary School but held off recommending closure until they knew more about needed repairs.

December 2013 to January 2014: The final decision to close schools lies with the district board. Over several public hearings and meetings, and after hearing from hundreds of upset parents, the board decided not to close Mountain View, Lincoln and Justin. Later, trustees voted to close Simi Elementary because of safety issues, moving students in February to Mountain View.


January 2015: The district will hold public hearings on closing Justin and Lincoln schools. Justin's hearing will begin at 6 p.m. Jan. 7 on campus, 2245 N. Justin Ave., Simi Valley. Lincoln's will begin at 6 p.m. Jan. 8 on campus, 1220 Fourth St., Simi Valley.

January 2015: The board will vote on closing Justin and Lincoln on Jan. 13. The meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will be at City Council Chambers, 2929 Tapo Canyon Road, Simi Valley. If the board chooses to close the schools, they will remain open through the end of this school year. Next year, most Justin students would go to Parkview. Most Lincoln students would go to Arroyo. Visit for more information.

February 2015: If Justin and Lincoln parents want to send their child to another Simi Valley school, they can apply for school choice in February. Applications will be available on the school's website,; at the district office, 875 E. Cochran St., Simi Valley; and at schools.

Extreme rainfall triggered mud, rock flows

December 20, 2014 - 3:22pm

A squiggly line of dark red moved into Camarillo Springs at 1:58 a.m. on the radar images.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service's Oxnard office had tracked the Dec. 11-12 storm as it swept down the coast, dumping unusually heavy rain as the cold front moved through the Central Coast region and Santa Barbara County.

"The question was, ‘Were those rain rates going to hold together and make it all the way down?' " said meteorologist-in-charge Mark Jackson.

Such intense rainfall, even just minutes long, could bring flash floods to areas in Ventura County burned by the Springs Fire in May 2013. Those flash floods could trigger rock and mud flows down the bare, hardened hillsides.

"A very short duration — one of these 10 minutes, 15 minutes — if it's intense enough, can bring it down. It doesn't have to be a lot of rain," said John Dumas, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service.

Under 2 inches of rain fell in Camarillo Springs during the Dec. 11-12 storm — not that unusual. But the volume of rain in just 10 minutes that night left the meteorologists reeling.

Camarillo Springs residents said it sounded like a freight train, a rushing river, enough rain to stop you from seeing even across the street.

"From 2 a.m. to 2:10 a.m., we had 0.60 inches in 10 minutes," said Jayme Laber, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service.

The statistical chance of that happening is once every 500 years, or 0.2 percent in any one year. That doesn't mean that same rate of rainfall couldn't happen next year or next month, but the chances are extremely low.

"I have never seen this amount of rain in this short a period of time in a storm like this," Jackson said. "On a scale of 1 to 10 for intensity, this is a 10."

Likely between 2:10 and 2:20 a.m. Dec. 12, tons of rocks and mud rushed downhill in Camarillo Springs, damaging 16 homes and leaving 10 uninhabitable.

Jackson watched San Como Lane, the hardest-hit street there, from his home that night. Authorities had set up a remote camera pointing toward the hill after mud and debris came down on two homes during a storm on Halloween night.

Rainfall rates that night were about 0.45 inch per hour, more than other storms since but far less intense than Dec. 11-12.

"I could not believe what I was seeing," Jackson said of the images of rocks piling up. "I called the office and said, ‘This is a major debris flow. This is major, what happened.'

"It all happened so quickly," Jackson said.

Just before 1 a.m., the National Weather Service had issued a flash-flood warning for mud and debris flows in areas burned in the Springs Fire.

Outside the Oxnard office, a rain gauge measured 0.93 inch from 1:30 to 1:45 a.m. Dec. 12. Statistically, that's considered a 1,000-year event, or 0.1 percent chance of happening in any given year.

"That's unprecedented," Jackson said. "As meteorologists, as we watch these things and see 0.93 in 15 minutes, we're like, ‘This is the sky is falling.' "

Steve Polley on Gitana Avenue in Camarillo Springs woke up to a rumbling noise about 2 a.m. Dec. 12.

"It sounded like just a huge roar," Polley said. "It was just like the sound of a rushing river."

A rain gauge at the Circle X Ranch, high above the Pacific Coast Highway in the Santa Monica Mountains, measured 0.75 inch from 2:26 to 2:36 a.m. Dec. 12. There's about a 1 percent chance of that happening in any given year, Laber said.

All of the totals far exceeded thresholds the National Weather Service uses to issue warnings about flash floods and debris flows in burn areas.

In Ventura County, the thresholds are 0.2 inch per 15 minutes, a third of an inch per 30 minutes, or a half-inch per hour, figures based on a U.S. Geological Survey study.

Local authorities chose to go with an even lower threshold for Camarillo Springs, based on an engineering report that found just a quarter-inch per hour could bring rocks and mud down the hills.

After the Springs Fire, U.S. Geological Survey scientists examined which areas would be most at risk during heavy rain, based on the steepness of the slope, type of dirt and how hot the fire burned.

Burn areas above the PCH, Sycamore Canyon and Camarillo Springs all were in a high-risk category. All three had major mud and rock flows Dec. 11-12.

Scott Holder, a hydrologist with the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, saw the heavy band of rain on radar images the night of Dec. 11 from the county's Office of Emergency Services center.

The only storm in recent times that he thought showed that type of rain intensity was in February 1998, "but I don't think that even came close" to what happened Dec. 11-12, he said.

"Thank goodness it was a short period of intensity and not longer," Holder said.

New season's rainfall

The rain season runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, and all but one area in the county has topped 100 percent of normal rainfall for this point of the year, according to preliminary figures from the Ventura County Watershed Protection District.

From just over 4 inches in most cities to 10.3 inches in Matilija Canyon, only Fillmore sits below normal, at about 84 percent. Other areas range from 100 percent in Santa Paula to 162 percent in Oxnard.

It's too early to say how the rest of the winter will go. Hydrologist Scott Holder from the Watershed Protection District said he's optimistic it will at least top last year's totals — a very dry year. Most areas are almost there already. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a report Thursday predicting a 75 percent chance of average or above-average precipitation between January and the end of March for California.

Tour, class and other events planned

December 20, 2014 - 3:22pm


Guests can try sweets, breads

The Friends of the Camarillo Library will sponsor a sweet and savory bakery tour Jan. 30.

Guests will leave at 8:15 a.m. and return at 5:30 p.m. Participants will taste sweets, treats and buttery breads from Asian, European, Mexican, Armenian and Cuban bakeries.

Cost is $90 for members and $100 for nonmembers. RSVP by Jan. 5. Call Helen Andrews at 482-5269 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday to register.

Class to share more on Alzheimer's

The Camarillo Health Care District will present a class, "Understanding Early Stages of Alzheimer's," from 1-3 p.m. Jan. 8 at 3639 E. Las Posas Road, Suite E-117.

Darin Siegel from the Alzheimer's Association will discuss the early stages, warning signs and family coping strategies.

Call 388-1952, ext. 100, to register.


Public can support neglected animals

The Humane Society of Ventura County seeks the public's help to care for and feed 10 neglected animals rescued from a ranch in Moorpark.

On Dec. 9, Humane Society officers brought into protective custody two Brahma bulls, two heifer cows and six horses. Most of the animals are considered emaciated and are being housed at the society's shelter in Ojai.

Donations may be brought to the Humane Society shelter at 402 Bryant St. in Ojai or sent to P.O. Box 297, Ojai, CA 93024. Donations can also be made online at

Call 656-5031 for more information.


Guests can enjoy lunch, movie

The public can enjoy a Chinese lunch followed by a screening of the movie "Lunch" on Thursday at Temple Beth Torah, 7620 Foothill Road.

Doors will open at noon, lunch will start at 12:30 p.m. and the movie will begin at 1:30 p.m.

Cost is $25 for lunch and the movie. It's $12 for the movie only.

Visit or call 800-838-3006 for more information.

Ventura County

Fellowship program open to instructors

CSU Channel Islands invites faculty members from Moorpark College, Oxnard College, Ventura College, Santa Barbara City College and CSU Channel Islands to submit applications for an innovative faculty fellowship program that brings together faculty members to focus on transfer-student success from a regional approach.

The 2014-15 Cross-Institutional Learning Community Faculty Fellows Program provides opportunities for faculty members from each campus to participate in learning communities offered through the Regional Teaching and Learning Academy.

The application period closes at midnight Jan. 23.

Email, or contact Amanda Quintero at or 437-3285 to apply or learn more.

Local blood bank seeks donations

United Blood Services is seeking blood donations for the three days before Christmas.

Donations of all blood types are encouraged to ensure an adequate supply of red cells, plasma and platelets.

People who donate Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday in mobile blood drives will receive a "California Donor" T-shirt, according to organizers.

Visit to schedule an appointment.

Staff reports

Crews respond to structure fire in Thousand Oaks

December 20, 2014 - 3:19pm

Crews responded to a report of a structure fire Saturday in Thousand Oaks, officials said.

The blaze was reported at 2:46 p.m. in the 2000 block of Anchor Court.

When crews initially arrived on scene they found a single-story concrete building with no smoke or flames showing, authorities said.

A few minutes later the crews reported a malfunctioning forklift was the source of the call, officials said.

Cafe Society: Italian chefs on the move

December 20, 2014 - 3:00pm

Downtown Ventura looked like an episode of the old cable-TV show “Trading Spaces” this week, as the operator of an Italian restaurant started moving his framed photos and other artworks to a new location four blocks away.

It was the first step in clearing the way for the return of the restaurant’s founders, who plan to start serving their own menu there around the first of the New Year.

The restaurant in question is the movie-theater-adjacent Sicily by Gino, opened in the spring of 2009 by Gino and Connie Milano but operated for the past four years by Ubaldo Foschi.

The Milanos, who also own Gino’s Sicilian Express in Santa Barbara but closed Cucina Isabella in Camarillo in 2012, went into semi retirement about a year ago. In February, they sent out an email inviting friends and former patrons to join them at Villa Isabella, their bed-and-breakfast and cooking school in Pergusa, Sicily.

And now they are back. Or plan to be, as Foschi announced to patrons via a Facebook post and an old-fashioned sign taped to the front door, stating that he is relocating at the end of December.

Connie Milano said in an email Thursday that she and Gino would unveil a “family-friendly” menu of “under $10” pasta dishes, plus soups and sandwiches on Gino’s homemade bread at the Main Street site on or around Jan. 1. “We also plan on being a spot to drive by and pick up our food to go,” she said.

Until then, Foschi, a native of Rome, will juggle food prep and service duties at Sicily (563 E. Main St., 641-2220) with moving to his next gig. That will be as chef and manager at the Santa Clara Street location that owner Francisco Ibanez opened in March as Pancho’s Mexican Food but is turning into Padrino’s Sicilian Specialties.

The latter will feature the same Medusa-with-three-legs logo that Foschi introduced at Sicily, along with recipes from his Sicilian-born mother.

“I like that people remember when this was Pastabilities. They’re already thinking of Italian food when they see it,” Foschi said of the space, which in recent years has also been Zoey’s Cafe, Hush Restaurant & Lounge and Table 13.

Foschi hopes to complete its return to Italian fare in time for a New Year’s Eve blowout, or cenone di Capodanno. Call for updates (185 E. Santa Clara St., 667-9062).

OPEN, SHUT AND IN BETWEEN: The second Ventura County location of Larsen’s Grill opened Dec. 8 at The Collection at RiverPark in Oxnard. It joins Larsen’s Grill at the Simi Valley Town Center and Larsen’s Steakhouse sites in Encino and Valencia.

The Oxnard version of Flemming Larsen’s steak and seafood grill showcases local winery Magnavino Cellars on the wine list (along with Opus One of Napa) and in the décor, which includes Magnavino-logo barrels in the lights-down-low dining room. A private dining room features sueded black walls and a glass screen with a blazing “fire” on perpetual display. Liquor bottles are arranged by color in the open-seating bar.

At dinner, the menu offers sushi rolls ($12 to $19), “THE burger”with cheese and apple wood smoked bacon ($15), beer-battered halibut fish and chips ($27), a full rack of baby back ribs with diner’s choice of one side ($29), Chilean sea bass with asparagus and beurre blanc ($39) and a 10-ounce organic grass fed fillet with diner’s choice of a side ($55).

Lunch service starts Monday; it will run from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. (590 Town Center Drive, 983-6600,

In midtown Ventura, McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams & Yogurt reopened Friday, two weeks after it was shuttered by an act of vandalism so severe that owners Jimmy and Tracy Young had to hire a restoration company to do the clean up. Jimmy Young estimates that vandals armed with rocks and fire extinguishers caused $20,000 in damage to merchandise and the building.

The shop, which opened in 2009 at the former Mission Bell Cafe, returns with cases full of classic and seasonal ice cream flavors like egg nog and winter cranberry chip (3241 E. Main St., 650-6410).

Chicago’s Finest restaurant opened Dec. 14 at Ventura’s Montalvo Square shopping center. The order-at-the-counter spot offers “loaded” potato skins with bacon, cheese and sour cream ($8.95), bratwurst with spicy mustard on a poppy seed bun ($7.95), thin-crust pizzas that include a gluten-free option ($12 and up) and Chicago-style deep-dish pizzas ($15 and up) that require 30 minutes or longer to prepare. A beer and wine license is in the works.

Decor includes a faux brick wall and framed sports memorabilia, the latter with an emphasis on the Chicago Cubs. Dubbed Greater Chicago Nation, Ventura Chapter, the restaurant’s loyalty program includes a card that grants access to discounts and promotions. According to a notation on the printed menu, 10 percent of the restaurant’s profits will be donated to area charities and to a safe drinking water program administered by Compassion International, a faith-based child advocacy group based in Colorado. Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays (1780 S. Victoria Ave., Suite C, 650-1000,

But Laffa Mediterranean Grill in the adjoining Montalvo Square space is closed three months after it changed its name from Garbanzo Healthy Kitchen to avoid confusion with a national chain. The restaurant had recurring issues maintaining its Ventura County Environmental Health Division permit, which was suspended from Oct. 29 through Nov. 3 for “cockroach infestation and unsanitary conditions.” A follow-up inspection on Nov. 18 found problems with food storage and equipment maintenance. The restaurant’s owners appear to have thrown in the dish towel in late November or early December.

In Port Hueneme, the space that last served as home to Mariann’s Italian Villa in 2012 has been claimed by Pho Sriracha Vietnamese Cuisine, slated to open in January or February. The restaurant’s logo incorporates a stylized version of the telltale green-tipped red bottle of hot sauce (301 W. Channel Islands Blvd.).

Five Threads Brewing Co. will add to the region’s increasingly vibrant craft-beer scene when it makes its “late first quarter 2015” debut in a Via Colinas business park near the Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village. Its name is inspired by a term referring to the blending or two or more beers. For updates, check the brewery’s Facebook page and website (

In Camarillo, pranksters set the rumor mill rolling last weekend when they tied an unauthorized “Hooters coming soon” banner to the fence surrounding a construction site at Las Posas and Arneil roads.

Sorry, guys, but the restaurant chain and its shorts-and-tank-tops-wearing female wait staff are not coming soon, if ever. The Camarillo Planning Commission in May 2013 gave the OK to build a burger restaurant, a drive-thru Starbucks and other tenants at what used to be a gas station. The Camarillo Village Square Starbucks (2508 E. Las Posas Road, Suite A) will relocate to the drive-thru location when it is completed in early 2015.

UPDATES: The first Ventura County location in the Dog Haus chain has a new anticipated debut date in Thousand Oaks: mid January. When the sausage-centric eatery opens, its menu will include proprietary combinations by the chain’s wurstmacher Adam Gertler, a season-four finalist on “The Next Food Network Star” and host of the cable series “FX Movie Download” (50 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.).

Despite the “temporarily closed” sign that appeared on its door in November, the Ventura location of Gandolfo’s New York Delicatessen isn’t coming back. Tables, chairs and portions of the service counter — including the gelato display case — were recently removed from the Victoria Avenue site.

GET OUT OF THE HOUSE: Dec. 21 marks your last official chance to see entries in the sixth annual gingerbread house competition at Heritage Square in downtown Oxnard. Houses by bakers of all ages — and representing multiple architectural styles — will be on view from 1 to 4 p.m. in Heritage Square Hall (715 South A St., 483-7960).

Behind-the-scenes tastings at Casa Barranca Winery and Old Creek Ranch Winery are on the itinerary for the Backyard Artists & Wine Tour offered Dec. 28 by Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours. Tickets, $159 for adults, include olive oil samplings, a picnic lunch and guided access to the studios of Ojai Valley potters, painters, printmakers and sculptors (

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

1 NYC cop dead in shooting, 2nd critical

December 20, 2014 - 2:30pm

NEW YORK (AP) — An armed man walked up to two New York Police Department officers sitting inside a patrol car and opened fire Saturday afternoon, killing one and critically injuring a second before running into a nearby subway station and committing suicide, police said.

The shooting took place in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. Both officers were rushed to Woodhull hospital, where one was pronounced dead. Police had said at least one of the officers was shot in the head.

Authorities say the suspect fatally shot himself inside the station. His motive wasn't immediately clear.

A block from the shooting site, a line of about eight police officers stood with a German shepherd blocking the taped-off street. Streets were blocked even to pedestrians for blocks around.

Derrick Thompson, who lives nearby, said the shooting happened across from the Tompkins Houses public housing development.

"I was watching TV, and then I heard the helicopters," Thompson said. "I walked out, and all of a sudden — this."

The shooting comes at a time when police in New York and nationwide are being heavily criticized for their tactics following the chokehold death of Eric Garner, a black man who was stopped by police for selling loose, untaxed cigarettes and could be heard on an amateur video gasping, "I can't breathe" as he was being arrested.

Demonstrators around the country have staged die-ins and other protests since a grand jury decided Dec. 3 not to indict the officer involved in Garner's death, a decision that closely followed a Missouri grand jury's decision not to indict a white officer in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.

Several New York officers were assaulted during demonstrations that have largely been peaceful, including one that drew thousands to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The president of the police officers union, Patrick Lynch, and Mayor Bill de Blasio have been locked in a public battle over treatment of officers following the decision not to indict the officer in Garner's death. Just days ago, Lynch suggested police officers sign a petition that demanded the mayor not attend their funerals should they die on the job.

The last shooting death of an NYPD officer came in December 2011, when 22-year veteran Peter Figoski responded to a report of a break-in at a Brooklyn apartment. He was shot in the face and killed by one of the suspects hiding in a side room when officers arrived. The triggerman, Lamont Pride, was convicted of murder and sentenced in 2013 to 45 years to life in prison.

Protesters: 'It's not the time'

December 20, 2014 - 2:21pm

MIAMI (AP) — Waving U.S. and Cuban flags and chanting "Obama, traitor," anti-Castro protesters gathered Saturday in a Little Havana park in a show of opposition to the president's plan to normalize relations with the communist nation.

Cuban-American exiles and island opposition leaders vowed to continue fighting the thawing relationship between the countries and prevent any lifting of the embargo. Some speakers emphasized unity of the Cuban-American community and said there is not a generational divide, even though most in the crowd of more than 200 were older.

Many protesters said they felt betrayed by President Barack Obama and his plans. "The worst infamy is the pretext he used: He says it's to help the Cuban people," former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart said to chuckles.

Several chants rang out among protesters: "No more flights to Cuba!" ''Viva Cuba libre!" and "Freedom for all the political prisoners."

Some protesters expressed disappointment with demonstration turnouts since the announcement this week of renewed U.S.-Cuba ties.

"The mentality is, 'Hey, we're going to be able to buy Cuban cigars and rum.' Well, it's not a happy thing for us," said Armando Merino, 68, who came to the U.S. at age 14. "I'm here because for the Cuban people, my family in Cuba, they are not able to protest."

Irene Oria, 71, came to protest with her husband, Giordano, 77. Of Obama's announcement on thawing relations, she said, "It's not the time to do it this way."

"With the Castros? No, I'm sorry," Oria said, adding that the conditions that fueled her decision to leave Cuba at age 24 still exist.

Freddy Suastegui, 31, of Miami, listened to speeches with his family. He said the latest decisions disregard the work being done to promote change in Cuba.

"What diplomacy is going to happen if the Castros aren't promising anything and we're going to go ahead and infuse them with more cash?" he said. "That just makes the regime stronger and the people weaker."

Activist Sylvia Iriondo of the group Mothers Against Repression agreed with some of Suastegui's thoughts on Obama's plans: "It sends the wrong message to terrorists and criminals that no matter what, they can get away with it."

One of the few young people was Milena Reyes, 10, of Miami, there with her 72-year-old grandpa Rafael Reyes.

"Everything about what happened, she needs to know," Rafael Reyes said.

"I wanted to come support my grandfather and see what he wanted me to see," Milena said.

Rey Anthony Lastre, 18, said some young people "don't have the same way of expressing their feelings" and that if the protest had been held at a university, more would have attended.

Miami is no stranger to protests from the Cuban community. Of the estimated 2 million Cubans living in the United States, the majority resides in South Florida and many remain closely attuned to developments on the island.

Thousands took to the streets after federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez in a prolonged international custody dispute and returned him to Cuba in 2000. The protesters set bonfires in the road and stopped traffic. Police responded in riot gear with tear gas and made more than 350 arrests.

Hundreds paraded through the streets of Little Havana when Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul in 2006.

And in 2010, Cuban-born singer Gloria Estefan led tens of thousands in support of the Ladies in White, a group of Cuban mothers and wives of 75 dissidents arrested in the 2003 government crackdown there.

But protests and parades have become smaller and more sporadic.

"I think there are a lot of people sitting on the sidelines, tired," said Andy Gomez, a Cuba expert and retired University of Miami professor.


Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed to this report.


The Year in Books

December 20, 2014 - 2:17pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Like a serial for the digital age, the book world's most dramatic story of 2014 unfolded in installments, often in real time.

A dispute about e-book revenues between and Hachette Book Group led to Amazon's removing buy buttons, cutting discounts and reducing orders for works ranging from J.K. Rowling's latest detective thriller to J.D. Salinger's "Nine Stories." The battle lasted for months. Hachette author Stephen Colbert flipped the bird to Amazon, right on camera. Amazon suggested that frustrated customers might try buying books elsewhere.

You could call the resolution happy, and open-ended. The two sides agreed to a multiyear deal in mid-November and Hachette books were back in full for the holiday season. Amazon and Hachette each declared itself satisfied.

But it's hard to say what has changed. Douglas Preston, a Hachette author who became a leading Amazon critic, expressed a common view among writers when he told The Associated Press recently that the standoff demonstrated that the online retailer is "ruthless and willing to sanction books and hurt authors." Amazon's image may have suffered but it still controls some 40 percent of the market, by the estimate of major New York publishers, and still has a hold on those who say they fear it.

James Patterson, a Hachette author who has donated more than $1 million to independent sellers and worried that Amazon might put them out of business, said in a recent interview that he likes to shop at the Classic Bookshop near his home in Palm Beach, Florida.

"And I do a little bit (of shopping) online," he added.


"I do a little bit online," he repeated, then said of Amazon.

"I do understand where they're coming from."

Here are other highlights from 2014:

YESTERDAY'S NEWS: Many of the big fiction books of 2014 were not published in 2014: An Oprah Winfrey pick, Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings"; Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning "The Goldfinch," a Hachette release so in demand that even Amazon left it alone; and a handful of novels helped by movie adaptations — Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl," John Green's "The Fault In Our Stars" and Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken." Phil Klay's book of contemporary war stories, "Redeployment," won the National Book Award, but a people's prize for top literary hardcover of 2014 would likely go to a novel about World War II, Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See," which has sold more than 180,000 copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks around 80 percent of sales.

ROCK STARS: Readers have been treating young adult writers like rock stars, which is better than how they've been treating rock stars — at least those of a certain age. At 48,000 copies, "One Direction: Who We Are: Our Official Autobiography" was more popular than the combined Nielsen sales for books by Carlos Santana, Joe Perry and Jerry Lee Lewis.

DIVERSITY: BookCon, a self-styled "pop culture" version of BookExpo America, launched in 2014 and immediately failed by only inviting white authors to speak. In response, a social media campaign was born, and a grassroots movement, We Need Diverse Books, soon followed.

One of We Need Diverse Books' advisers is Jacqueline Woodson, who won the National Book Award for her young adult book "Brown Girl Dreaming." She also, quite unintentionally, helped raised a substantial amount of money for the organization. After she won her prize, awards emcee Daniel Handler of "Lemony Snicket" fame made an awkward joke about watermelon that even Handler later acknowledged was racist. He apologized and eventually donated $110,000 to WNDB.

Woodson, a published author for nearly 25 years, sees the industry alternating between cycles of recognition and neglect. Now, she believes, recognition is underway, citing Jason Reynolds and Aisha Saeed as among the promising young adult writers. Meanwhile, Woodson wants to get around to an adult book she's been meaning to write. "My plan for January is to get quiet again, and write."

GETTING PERSONAL (AND POLITICAL): Lena Dunham only begins the story. It was a good year for personal essays, including those that are more than personal, with acclaimed collections from Roxane Gay, Charles D'Ambrosio and Meghan Daum among others. Leslie Jamison, author of the best-selling "The Empathy Exams: Essays," wrote in a recent email that "readers are becoming increasingly drawn to forms of personal writing that also look outward at the world: that blend the revelations of memoir with the inquiries of journalism and criticism."

THE FACTS: With nonfiction still essentially a print market, and with bookstore space far smaller than a decade ago, it's hard these days to be a historian — unless you're Bill O'Reilly. The Fox News host's latest recounting of a famous death, "Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II's Most Audacious General," has sold more than 700,000 copies, according to Nielsen. That's far more than the combined Nielsen sales for the most recent books (both published before 2014) by two of the world's most famous historians: Robert Caro's "The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson." and Doris Kearns Goodwin's "The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism." O'Reilly's book, co-written by Martin Dugard, also easily surpassed the combined sales of two of the biggest political books of 2014: Hillary Rodham Clinton's "Hard Choices" and George W. Bush's biography of his father, and fellow ex-president, "41."

THE CLOUD: Trip Adler is the CEO of Scribd, a leading e-book subscription service, an emerging part of the digital market. He believes e-books are the future, but is admittedly surprised that print is holding up so well.

Asked why he thinks print has endured, he pauses. "I don't know," he says. "I can brainstorm a bunch of reasons. Book technology has kind of lagged behind video and music. Even subscription services came to books last. Why weren't the book services first? I can't say why."

For himself, Adler likes e-books and relies on Scribd for suggestions. "I open the Scribd app and whatever books are recommended to me I read," he said. "I have not read a print book in a long time. I'm kind of the Silicon Valley type."


Seminar will address keeping gay students safe

December 20, 2014 - 2:00pm

A seminar will be held next month on making schools safe and supportive for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students.

The seminar will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Jan. 6 at the Ventura County Office of Education, 5100 Adolfo Road, Camarillo. The seminar is open to educators, community agencies and families.

Judy Chiasson, an administrator for the Los Angeles Unified School District, will lead the seminar. Chiasson is responsible for creating programs to reduce bullying, homophobia and racism in schools.

Cost is $50 per person, and the deadline to register is Jan. 4. For more information, visit

10 gas-station gifts that don't totally suck

December 20, 2014 - 9:15am

Malls and big stores this time of year are the worst, and by this stage in the game it’s a little too late to trust internet gifts arriving by Christmas Day, but you CAN piece together a respectable Christmas on the road trip home for the holidays.

Here are 10 ideas for adults, college kids, and the little ones you can pick up at gas stations that’ll make you look like a hero this Christmas.

For the adults:

Craft beer growlers (or bottles/cans) from Sunoco
Yeah, Sunoco is in the good beer business big time. Over 40 Sunoco “APlus” stores in New York state and areas of Charleston, SC have a rotating collection of craft beers on tap for growler fills and a steady mix of craft beer cans and bottles. For info on which stores, check out Sunoco's "beer exchange."

Heated travel mug
Ok, honestly, pretty much any cool travel mug, even if it’s not heated, will do the trick, and every gas station on the planet seems to at least have a couple mugs floating around. Pick the coolest one. If you go to a legit truck stop like Flying J or TA/Petro you can score the fancier heated mugs.

For only $50 (after a $50 Visa gift card rebate) you can hook your ma or pa up with a SiriusXM Satellite Radio Receiver Kit from Travel Centers of America/Petro. Just don’t be a jerk and make them pay for the first year or two of service. Not cool.

All sorts of Bluetooth gadgets
Almost all gas stations have a little kiosk of gadgetry these days, and any sort of charging/power station/mobile thingy is appreciated by most, but if you want to take it to the next level choose from some Bluetooth gas station options like Plantronics wireless ear buds (from Pilot Flying J) or a Bluetooth Jukebox with fancy lights from Travel Centers of America/Petro.

A 46-inch television
Yeah, you read that correctly. Travel Centers of America/Petro’s December ad has a 46” HD LED TV for $399.97. Is it going to be the best TV on the market? Hell no. Will it still impress your old man when you walk in with a big ass TV? Yes.

For the college kids:

Gas cards
Want your kid to come home and visit more? Make sure his or her tank is full! Plus, no college kid wants to spent their party money on something as boring as gasoline.

Snack food
Ok, this sounds lame, but when I was in college I enjoyed stocking up on dorm room snacks whenever I went home. I assume kids these days are the same way. (If you really want to be the cool aunt or uncle, pretty sure a college kid wouldn’t mind some of that beer we talked about above — if they’re 21 or older, of course)

For the kids:

Remote-controlled helicopter
Oddly enough, both major truck-stop-style gas stations, Flying J and TA/Pretro, carry multiple versions of different remote control helicopters at prices ranging from $35 to $90. That’s a gift the adults might commandeer from the kids if you’re not careful.

Toy trucks
Sure, you can probably find a toy car or two at the gas station, but you’ll definitely find toy semis at the big truck stops. Assuming the kids are already getting some toy cars, be different and come home with 18-wheelers for the kiddos. 

Dolls/stuffed animals
Got a little princess to buy for? Don’t worry, the gas stations have a pretty decent selection of stuffed bears and dolls. TA/Petro even has Disney Frozen Anna Sparkle dolls and other items from your favorite Disney movies.

So there you go, fellow procrastinators. Hit the highway for the holiday trip home and use Roadtrippers to find the perfect gas station for all your holiday gift needs.