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Fatal California bus crash

November 24, 2014 - 6:35am
REDDING, Calif. (AP) — A tour bus drifted off a Northern California interstate and crashed onto its roof, killing a 33-year-old man and injuring 30 others in the vehicle's second collision in a day, authorities said.   The same bus struck a Denny's restaurant earlier Sunday in Red Bluff, about 50 miles south, but no one was hurt, California Highway Patrol Officer Jeff Borgen said.   The bus was en route from Los Angeles to Pasco, Washington, when it went off Interstate 5 around 7:30 a.m. about 100 miles south of the Oregon border, Borgen said. It rolled over and came to rest upside-down on a frontage road.   Police said the man who died was from the Fresno-area city of Parlier, but his name was being withheld until relatives could be notified.   Three patients were in critical condition, including one who was flown by helicopter to Mercy Medical Center in Mount Shasta with severe head injuries, hospital spokeswoman Joyce Zwanziger told the Sacramento Bee.   Three people were in serious condition at the same hospital's Redding location, where most of the patients were taken, spokeswoman Heather Nichols said.   "We drill for this kind of thing," Nichols told the Redding Record-Searchlight.   The two dozen others who were treated at hospitals had mostly minor injuries and were released.   Jose Victor Garcilazo, 67, of Los Angeles, drove the bus, a 1996 Vanhool. Investigators said evidence at both crash sites show that driver fatigue may have been a factor. They did not say whether drugs or alcohol may have been involved or whether any citations or charges were planned.   It wasn't clear how much damage was done in the initial crash or why the bus continued on its trip. Red Bluff police, who investigated the first crash, had no additional information Sunday night.   The bus operator, Yellow Arrow LLC, is based in Othello, Washington. It has a current license and had no reported accidents in the past two years before Sunday, according to federal records.   No one answered several calls from The Associated Press to a telephone number for the company that was listed in the records.   The hospital was working with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross to assist patients who had been released, many of whom were staying at a hospitality house run by the medical center.   "We're just keeping them safe and comfortable," Nichols said.   The crash was on the same freeway and about 90 miles away from a wreck in April involving another charter bus from Southern California, which collided with a FedEx tractor-trailer and killed 10 people. That bus was carrying high school students on a visit to Humboldt State University.

Kaiser-Target Partnership

November 24, 2014 - 5:43am

Marking a significant step in what might be called the "retailization" of health care delivery, Kaiser Permanente is partnering with Target to open medical clinics in the retail stores in Southern California.

Three Kaiser clinics opened last week in Target stores in Fontana, San Diego and Vista. Another is scheduled to open next week in West Fullerton.

Chain retailers -- CVS, Walmart, Target and others -- have operated clinics in their stores for years, but the Kaiser-Target partnership is a notable new chapter: Kaiser's size and previously insular reputation suggest a new, perhaps far-reaching change in health care delivery, relying heavily on telehealth technology. The partnership is new and small but Kaiser officials hope the model will grow in the eight states and District of Columbia where Kaiser does business.

The clinics represent a couple of significant firsts for Kaiser, California's largest HMO with about 7.3 million members. The move marks Kaiser's first foray into retail settings and the first time its providers will routinely treat patients covered by other insurers.

Health care changes in California -- especially involving the state's largest HMO -- are often carefully watched by the rest of the country.

"This is definitely new for us, however it fits in the larger context of a strategy we have called Care Anywhere," said Chris Stenzel, senior vice president of business development and innovation at Kaiser.

Rather than "retailization," Stenzel suggested "you might think about it as the consumerization of health care. We're doing many things to make our care convenient and accessible."

Stenzel pointed to mobile health options, an "increasing array of teleheath visits in the home" and a number of work site clinics. In some ways, Kaiser clinics at employers' sites is coming full circle for the insurer with roots in the Kaiser shipyards in the 1930s and '40s.

Kaiser's Target clinics will treat all comers -- Kaiser and non-Kaiser members, as well as Medi-Cal and Medicare beneficiaries. Stenzel said Kaiser is negotiating reimbursement agreements with three other large insurers and more may follow. He declined to name the insurers.

The clinics will be staffed with nurse practitioners and rely heavily on telehealth technology to connect to physicians and Kaiser's large clinical and technical infrastructure.

"The telehealth capacity at Kaiser is pretty impressive, so that will certainly add something to these Target clinics," said Dylan Roby, director of UCLA's Health Economics and Evaluation Research Program.

Interpreter services, specialty consults and other needs could be coordinated fairly easily because of the infrastructure investment Kaiser has made in electronic health records, videoconferencing and secure e-mail systems, Roby said.

Nurse practitioners' role as primary care giver at Kaiser and other retail clinics may increase as more people gain coverage through the Affordable Care Act.

"Nurse practitioners have been very involved in primary care and urgent care for many years, and that may increase due to the pressure put on the health care workforce due to the aging of the population, increase in chronic illnesses, expansion of coverage and improved insurance benefits," Roby said.

"I haven't heard reports yet of specific providers being overburdened by the ACA, but the general trend is toward a workforce shortage due to population growth, aging, etc. Because NPs have a scope of practice that allows them to do substantial primary care duties and prescribe drugs, they are a popular option at many urgent care centers and community clinics," Roby said.

Medical clinics in Target stores are not new. The first opened a decade ago, offering vaccinations and flu shots. But Kaiser's participation takes them to a new level. The Kaiser clinics will offer pediatric primary care visits, ob-gyn services, management of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and hypertension, and consultations with specialists.

Although Kaiser officials said the new partnership is not primarily a marketing tool -- "This is really not about selling the health plan," Stenzel said -- the exposure won't hurt.

"Both Kaiser Permanente and Target are well-known brands that could mutually benefit from the arrangement in terms of drawing in customers," Roby said. Shoppers will be exposed to Kaiser and Kaiser members will be drawn into Target stores.

"I think this is a bit different than other smaller retail clinic chains partnering with drug store chains, where the focus has been on convenience and developing a new brand," Roby said. "Target and Kaiser have pre-existing brands that have some customer overlap, but there is a lot to gain for both in my opinion."

As health insurers compete in the new ACA landscape, exposure to new customers is critical.

"Strategically, Kaiser has been trying to lower premiums relative to other carriers through Covered California and get more patients and this could also help them do that," Roby said.

"If they feel patients from Blue Shield and Medicare will come in, use their services as an in-network provider and like what they see of the Kaiser model -- integration, EHR, follow-up -- they may be likely to sign up for Kaiser at the next open enrollment via Covered California, their employer, or in Medicare Advantage," Roby said.

This article is reprinted from California Healthline, a free, daily online news service funded by nonpartisan California HealthCare Foundation and distributed by Associated Press.

Obama defends moves on immigration

November 24, 2014 - 4:59am
HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — President Barack Obama is shrugging off Republican criticism of his actions to lift the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States.   In an interview broadcast Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Obama said it was important that he act unilaterally to prioritize the deportation of criminals and recent arrivals and spare those who have lived here illegally for at least five years and have roots, including children who are American citizens.   "Why we would prefer a system in which they're in the shadows, potentially taking advantage of living here but not contributing?" Obama said in the interview, which was taped Friday in Las Vegas after Obama delivered an immigration speech there.   The president pointed to executive orders issued by Democratic and Republican predecessors and said presidents exercise "prosecutorial discretion all the time."   Obama's executive actions, which he announced Thursday, have drawn a withering response from Republicans, but also has laid bare divisions within the GOP over how to deal with immigration.   Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, rejected Obama's claim of prosecutorial discretion. "Essentially he's gotten in the job of counterfeiting immigration papers, because there's no legal authority to do what he's doing," Cruz said on "Fox News Sunday."   A second Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said his party shares the blame for failing to get an immigration bill through the House of Representatives.   "Shame on us as Republicans for having a body that cannot generate a solution to an issue that is national security, it's cultural and it's economic. The Senate has done this three times," Graham said on CNN's "State of the Union."   Indeed, Obama cast his decision as the result of the Republican-led House's failure to act on a comprehensive immigration bill the Senate passed with bipartisan support in June 2013, or advance legislation of its own.   He said Republicans still could pass an immigration bill.   Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he had pressed the Republican leadership to start passing legislation two weeks ago on the immigration issue.   "We are going to pass legislation, but it is not going to be the legislation the president is asking for," Labrador said. "We as Republicans don't believe you should give amnesty first and talk about security later, which is what the Senate bill did." Labrador spoke on "Face the Nation" on CBS.   Obama spent the weekend in Nevada, mostly playing golf, after the speech and returned to the White House on Sunday evening.  

Katy Perry lands Super Bowl Halftime Show gig

November 24, 2014 - 4:37am

The roar of the crowd at this season's NFL Super Bowl will be matched by the roar of Katy Perry's pipes.

The NFL confirmed Sunday the 30-year-old pop superstar will be the main attraction at the Pepsi Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show in Glendale, Arizona this February. (Video via Capitol Records / Katy Perry)

The announcement was made during NBC's "Sunday Night Football" matchup between the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

And Perry says she's already got a few ideas on how to kick the show up a notch, as she revealed in her new Pepsi commercial. (Video via BBC)

"What if we covered the stadium in glitter? ... I said Pegasus not unicorn! ... Kittens! Oh, this is great! But we're going to need like a thousand of them," Katy Perry said in a Pepsi commercial.

Now, while some of those killer ideas might not make the final cut, one thing's for sure: there'll be plenty of eyeballs watching her take the stage with whatever she comes up with.

Last year, the Super Bowl Halftime Show featuring Bruno Mars pulled in more than 115 million viewers — the largest audience ever to watch the mid-game spectacle.

And with her Katy Cats chomping at the bit for this performance, Perry has a shot at eclipsing that number for sure.

The multi-platinum artist has been all over the Billboard Top 100 since her second album, "One of the Boys" hit the charts in 2008. (Video via Scared Goose Productions)

In fact, Perry's third album, "Teenage Dream," became the first by a female artist to have five singles break into those coveted Top 100 slots. (Video via Capitol Records / Katy Perry)

Making her the first artist overall to do so since this one guy by the name of Michael Jackson did it with his "Bad" album in 1987.

Speaking of the battle of the sexes, Perry's performance will also fall right in line with a recent trend for halftime shows: that is, female dominance.

Perry becomes the third female pop star in four years to nab the halftime spotlight after Beyonce and Madonna headlined in 2012 and 2011, respectively. 

Whereas, the later half of the last decade saw a string of male artists headline the event such as Bruce Springsteen, Prince and The Rolling Stones. 

Perry's performance at the Pepsi Super Bowl XLIX Halftime Show will get underway at the University of Phoenix Stadium Feb. 1 and will be televised on NBC. 

This video includes images from Getty images.

The top three firsts of the 2014 AMAs

November 24, 2014 - 4:36am

There were a lot of big firsts for some big names in the music industry during the 2014 American Music Awards. Here are our top three favorites of the night.

First on our list of AMA firsts —  rapper Iggy Azalea took home her very first music award ever.

"This award is the first award I've ever won in my entire life," Iggy Azalea said during her acceptance speech at the 2014 American Music Awards.

Azalea picked up the award for Best Rap/Hip-Hop Album, beating out Drake and Eminem in the process.

And she mentioned how humbling it was to win against Eminem in her touching acceptance speech, even though he seemingly threatened to sexually assault her in his new song, "Vegas." (Video via Aftermath Records / Interscope Records / Eminem)

And to top it all off, Azalea also won the award for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Artist later in the night. Not too bad for a music award newbie.

Next, Diana Ross presented the first-ever Dick Clark Award for Excellence. And the winner is... 

"Ladies and gentlemen, Taylor Swift!" said Diana Ross at the 2014 American Music Awards.

Yes, pop sensation Taylor Swift incredibly nabbed a lifetime achievement award at the ripe old age of 24. (Video via Big Machine Records / Taylor Swift)

But all anyone could talk about after the presentation was Swift's attempt to defend albums as art during her acceptance speech.

"Music is valuable and music should be consumed in albums and albums should be consumed as art and appreciated," said Taylor Swift at the 2014 American Music Awards.

And finally, amazing first performances of new hit singles from some big artists.

Taylor Swift opened the show with a, um, crazy performance of her song "Blank Space" for the first time on television.

"Got a long list of ex-lovers, they'll tell you I'm insane, but you know I love the players, and you love the game," Taylor Swift sang at the 2014 American Music Awards.

Selena Gomez's debut performance of "The Heart Wants What It Wants," a ballad supposedly about her on-again-off-again love Justin Bieber, was dubbed emotional and dramatic by viewers.

"The heart wants what it wants," Selena Gomez sang at the 2014 American Music Awards.

And for the first time on American television, Lorde performed her single "Yellow Flicker Beat," which is featured on the soundtrack of the newest "Hunger Games" movie.

"And my necklace is a rope, I tie it and untie it," Lorde sang at the 2014 American Music Awards.

There were plenty of other amazing moments at this year's AMAs, including a rare performance from Garth Brooks, an epic celebrity dance party led by Jessie J and even Ariana Grande sans her trademark ponytail. GASP.

Head to ABC's website to check it all out.

This video includes images from Getty Images.

Man in Oxnard hit and run arrested

November 23, 2014 - 11:00pm
OXNARD, Calif. - A man was arrested in connection with a hit and run after a pedestrian was seriously injured in Oxnard late Sunday afternoon.   The hit and run was reported at 5:50 p.m.  around West Wooley Road and South G Street, officials said.   At the scene, officers found an unconscious man lying in the roadway, police said. The man was taken to Ventura County Medical Center and was listed in critical condition.    He sustained significant head trauma, two broken legs and extensive internal injuries as a result of the crash, officials said.   Police said the man was crossing Wooley Road outside of a marked crosswalk, when he was struck by an Acura, the driver then fled the scene.   Witnesses told police two additional vehicles crashed with the man before emergency responders arrived. They both fled the crash as well.   About 7 p.m., the driver of an Acura Legend, arrived at the police station and surrendered himself, officials said. Johnny Cruz Romero, 20, of Oxnard, identified himself as one of the drivers of the crash and his vehicle was found with damage consistent with the crash, police said.   Romero was arrested on suspicion of a felony hit and run causing great bodily injury.  He was booked into Ventura County jail.         It is unknown if alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash, officials said. The investigation was ongoing.    

Small brush fire reported

November 23, 2014 - 9:03pm

A small brush fire was reported near Highway 101 along the Conejo Grade between Camarillo and Newbury Park Sunday night.

The fire was reported at 8:38 p.m.

No structures were reported threatened and no injuries were reported.

The incident was under investigation Sunday night.

MC, VC get volleyball SoCal playoff berths

November 23, 2014 - 7:21pm

For the first time since 2007, both local community college women’s volleyball teams have qualified for the postseason.

Moorpark College will play its first CCCAA Southern California regional playoff match in three years Tuesday when the No. 12-seeded Raiders (12-10) visit No. 5 Golden West (18-5) in Huntington Beach.

Ventura College has ended its seven-year postseason drought. The Pirates (12-10) were seeded No. 15 and will visit No. 2 seed Grossmont (25-0) Tuesday night.

“It’s nice for our conference to get back to some sort of prominence when it comes to the overall quality of the league,” Moorpark coach Steve Burkhart said. “The (Orange Empire Conference) got five teams in and we were next (with four). I totally respect the job that a lot of our coaches do.”

Tuesday’s quarterfinal winners advance to Saturday’s regional semifinals.

Moorpark’s record may not seem impressive, but the Raiders were prepared for the postseason by playing the toughest schedule in the region, including a pair of losses to 17-time state champion Golden West.

“When you look at the two times we played them, we were right there both times,” Burkhart said. “It’s going to be tough, but I’m sure our girls are looking forward to it.”

Ventura clinched its first winning season in seven years Wednesday by sweeping Los Angeles Mission. Afterward, Ventura coach Brad Lyans told the team there was a slight chance of a postseason bid.

“I was thinking it was a 10 percent chance,” Lyans said.

VC was in the final group of seven teams vying for the last four seeds. Its four-set win over Santa Monica, which did not get in, proved to be decisive, according to Lyans.

After hearing the news, the Pirates immediately gathered for an impromptu practice. Lyans said there was a festive atmosphere.

“I like playing the underdog,” Lyans said. “The girls know there’s not a whole lot of pressure. We’re flying high.”

Toy drives, classes and other events planned

November 23, 2014 - 6:18pm

Oxnard

Auto center to hold holiday toy drive

The Oxnard Auto Center will have a toy drive from Monday through Dec. 11 at each of its 11 dealerships.

All collected gifts will be donated to the 11th annual Santa to the Sea toy giveaway Dec. 20 at Santa Park, 2801 Ventura Blvd.

For more information, visit http://www.santatothesea.com or call Mike Barber at 485-7233.

Thousand Oaks

Assistance League shop to offer décor

The Assistance League of Conejo Valley’s Thrift Shop will begin “A Happy Holiday Happening” shopping event on Dec. 2 at 783 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd.

The shop will feature holiday décor, including centerpieces, wreaths, ornaments, trim and linens.

For more information, visit http://www.alcv.net.

Ventura

Service will help honor loved ones

Cypress Place Senior Living will have a candlelight memorial service Dec. 3 at 1200 Cypress Point Lane.

There will be speakers and music. Attendees can light a candle in honor of loved ones.

Call 650-8000 to reserve a seat.

Tai Chi class will be open to the public

There will be a new intermediate Tai Chi class from 9 to 10 a.m. Fridays starting Dec. 5 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 3290 Loma Vista Road.

Cost is $3 per class. Call Katherine at 642-9058 for more information.

Library will offer various programs

E.P. Foster Library will have a variety of upcoming programs at 651 E. Main St.

There will be a program titled “Laser-Cut Holiday Decorations” from 5 to 6 p.m. Dec. 2, where guests can witness a demonstration of a laser cutter and engraver.

“Beginning Meditation: Silence, Stillness and Comfort” will run from 6 to 7 p.m. Dec. 3.

Cunningham Legal will give a free hourlong seminar titled “Medi-Cal for Long-Term Health Care” from 10 to 11 a.m. Dec. 5. The seminar will share information about common mistakes made during the qualification process for Medi-Cal.

Call 648-2716 for more information.

Event at The Collection welcomes holiday season

November 23, 2014 - 6:17pm

With an explosion of colorful choreographed fireworks and fake snow blowing in the breeze Saturday night, the crowd packed into the main park at The Collection at Riverpark in Oxnard and welcomed the holiday season during the annual tree-lighting celebration.

According to Collection Marketing Director Erica Dixon the 7,000 parking spaces were all taken, and almost all of those cars carried families coming to enjoy the celebration.

“It’s going very well,” Dixon said between taping segments for radio coverage and giving directions to Fundi Legohn, director of the Oxnard High School marching band, which played after Santa Claus made his big entrance.

“Last year’s tree lighting was bigger, but it was held over two days. This is a close second,” she said.

Vicki Zellman, of Oxnard, said she and husband Larry met their friends Nancy and Dave Szany, of Camarillo, early for dinner at the Lazy Dog Restaurant and Bar, which is at the other end of Parkview Court from the park.

The two couples then strolled down the street. “I love coming here. I like the atmosphere,” Nancy Szany said, adding that braving the crowds for the tree lighting is “absolutely worth it.”

“I just like walking around and going to dinner,” Dave Szany added.

Dixon explained that business at The Collection is booming, with new restaurants and shops being added all the time. Among the new businesses opening before the end of the year are a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop, Larsen’s Grill restaurant, M. Frederick boutique and a 24-Hour Fitness club.

Dan Taphorn, of Ventura, said he enjoys coming to The Collection with his wife, Misty, and son, Jackson, 2. “I hope it continues to grow. It seems as though it’s at the tipping point, it could go one way or the other.”

Jackson said he was excited about seeing the big Christmas tree lit up, and said he wants a bulldozer for Christmas. His mom explained that Christmas this year will be low-key because she is scheduled to deliver Jackson’s little brother on Dec. 16.

After a fun-packed evening with performances on the main stage by All-American Ballet and a stilt-walker circus, Deedee Savala of Ventura said she enjoyed braving the crowds to start off the holiday season. “It was great. We were here for the last one. Last year was amazing, but this was fun too,” she said.

Her friend Tracy Fischer, of Ventura, agreed. “The fireworks were awesome.”

For the Peterson family of Ventura the “snow was magical,” said Fawn Peterson.

Brighton Peterson, 9, wasn’t sure what she liked the best until mom Fawn said, “You loved the snow. I almost lost you then.”

Dixon said The Collection has a full schedule of upcoming holiday events, including the “CAN-tree” event Dec. 5-7 where teams will build trees made of cans of food that will be donated to FOOD Share. On Dec. 20, there will be a menorah-lighting ceremony. Throughout the season carolers will be singing on the streets and Santa will be available to hear the wishes of little ones.

For information about The Collection, call 988-7527 or go online to http://www.thecollectionrp.com/

Tournament more than a robotics challenge

November 23, 2014 - 5:51pm

Twenty-eight teams from across the region built robots using Legos on Sunday as part of the FIRST Lego League robotics challenge held in Thousand Oaks.

A qualifying tournament for the 2014 FLL World Class Challenge was held at La Reina High School with 128 students aged 9 to 14 competing for five spots at the regional finals next month at La Canada High School.

The teams of students are challenged to work together to build and perfect a robot that is able to successfully carry out assigned tasks; invent a project that will improve education by showing adults how kids need and want to learn; and live the FLL Core Values that include cooperative collaboration and gracious professionalism.

“It’s very innovative,” said tournament director Bob Rumer, a CLU physics and bioengineering instructor. “It’s way more than just a robotics tournament.”

“At those critical years between fourth and eighth grade when America loses their students interest in science and math, this is a way for them to maintain engagement in it. It’s fun and exciting and it doesn’t feel like they’re learning math and science,” he said. “It looks like play and if you can have learning while you’re playing, there’s no better way.”

Christian Millar, 12, has been a member of the FIRST Lego team from St. Jude the Apostle School in Westlake Village for the past three years.

“I enjoy the programming aspect and learning new things,” said Christian. “The challenge this year is world class learning, about different ways to learn in the classroom. This year we’re focusing on electrical engineering so I’ve learned a lot about circuitry.”

“A lot of teams are pretty good so we strive to do better than them and it’s also fun to watch what everyone else does,” he said.

St. Jude science teacher Cathy Eckley said her students had decided to focus on energy and specifically electricity as part of teaching fourth-grade next generation science standards and had based their project on Minecraft.

“These kids developed parallel series circuits using the redstones of Minecraft to reinforce what they’re learning in the classroom,” she said. “I learn as much as they do.”

Ned Schoenwetter, the principal at Mountain View School in Santa Barbara, said the combination of Legos and robots is a great way to get kids engaged in STEM.

“They’re learning the scientific method because most of the time the first time they build something or they program their robot it doesn’t work and they have to keep coming back and figure out how they can tweak things or modify their programs to make them work,” he said.

Marlborough School students Vanessa De Jesus and Olivia Meyer said preparing for and taking part in the competition was a lot of fun and also made them think.

“I worked on the building attachments and I really enjoyed that,” said Olivia, 12. “The robot has to open the door and go through it and come back. He has to put something through here to make this building go up and he has to push that blue one so it spins.”

“I’ve learned how to program and I really liked it so I’m thinking maybe when I’m older I’d like to do programming,” said Vanessa.

FIRST Lego League is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to STEM education. FIRST stands for “For Recognition and Inspiration in Science and Technology.”

In 2014-15, the organization expects more than a quarter of a million children around the globe to take part in the FLL World Class challenge.

Humane Society holds Santa Paws fundraiser

November 23, 2014 - 5:12pm

After arranging Rebecca Larkin, her father Joel Larkin and his girlfriend Linda Wolfe in front of a fireplace, a Christmas tree and Santa Claus on Sunday at the Ventura County Humane Society’s facility in Ojai, the two Rottweilers, Xena and Thor, who were front and center of the tableau, seemed to lose their focus as photographer Greg Cooper tried to capture the shot.

So Ventura County Humane Society Director Jolene Hoffman jumped out from behind Cooper, holding a tennis ball and yelling, “Where’s the kitty!” The startled dogs looked in Hoffman’s direction. Cooper got his shot.

After the family retreated into the waiting room where they could receive a CD with their photographs, Hoffman smiled. “There’s so much laughter here. This is great with Santa. I get to be crazy twice a year,” she said.

The Ventura County Humane Society holds two Santa Paws photo events during the holiday season as a fundraiser to help support its low-cost spay and neuter program, as well as provide a place for homeless cats, dogs and horses, according to Franki Williams, Humane Society volunteer coordinator.

The first of the two events included a holiday marketplace and bake sale Sunday, where people could not only purchase pet-related items, but also jewelry and other hand-crafted items.

The second Santa Paws event, where people can have holiday photos of their pets taken with family members and Santa, will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 7 at Marriott Beach Ventura, 2055 E. Harbor Blvd., Ventura.

Wolfe said this is the second year the family has come to the Santa Paws event. “We come here because we love Chuck (Bowman, who plays Santa Claus),” she said. “We’ll frame the picture and send it on our Christmas cards.”

Cooper, who teaches visual journalism at Brooks Institute and has been a photojournalist for years, said he has been donating his time and talents to the fundraiser for more than 20 years.

“I started volunteering with the Humane Society after I covered them while working at the Ojai Valley News. I was so smitten with the organization that I took any opportunity to volunteer when I could,” he said.

Bowman said he enjoys working with the animals and has only had one dog wet his lap during the seven years he’s been Santa. And there was also the time he was bitten by a tiger cub, which he didn’t elaborate on. But otherwise the animals, which this year included a love bird, are well behaved.

“The animals are a pleasure to work with,” Bowman said.

Marjorie Emerson, of Oak View, has been bringing her border collie, Gwyn, for the past nine years, since the dog was a 4-month-old puppy.

“We’re a team,” Emerson said after Cooper was able to get the perfect shot where Gwyn wasn’t blocking Santa’s face. “I’ll share these by email. I also support the Humane Society and all the work they do with horses.”

Hoffman said the Santa Paws fundraiser raises as much as the Cats in the Canyon and Hounds in the Hollow event in September at Boccali’s restaurant in Ojai, which also benefits the Humane Society.

During the Santa Paws events, people can get a photo with Santa and their pets for $25. But with an additional donation to the Humane Society, they will get the CD and unlimited photos.

Hoffman said they have received anywhere from $50 to $10,000 in additional donations.

For information about the Ventura County Humane Society, call 646-6505 or go online to http://www.HSVC.org.

Ventura vs. Simi Valley is a big one

November 23, 2014 - 4:45pm

The football game of the year?

We’ll have to see. Ventura vs. Simi Valley certainly looms as the high school football matchup of the year in Ventura County, considering the stakes, magnitude and intrigue.

The two county programs and league champions will hook up Friday night at Larrabee Stadium in a semifinal contest in the CIF-Southern Section Western Division playoffs. One of these teams is headed to its first title game in years and years.

Ventura last won a CIF-SS crown in 2000, when the incomparable Tyler Ebell was running the football.

Simi Valley hasn’t been to a championship game in … well, forever.

The Pioneers have never been a semifinal either, which makes their accomplishment the feel-good story of the season.

There’s a lot to like about both teams’ chances.

Ventura (11-1) is finely balanced between offense, defense and special teams, with no superstars but lots of good players.

The Cougars have been manhandling opponents for awhile, with the last six games featuring a running clock in the fourth quarter. The latest triumph was a 49-8 dismantling of Redondo Union in the quarterfinal round.

Quarterback Tyler Smith and running back Tyler Peralta have led the coolly efficient offense. The defense has been shutdown-dominant, with linebacker Alex Hurlbut and cornerback Josh Januska among the top performers.

Simi Valley (8-4) is spearheaded by standout quarterback Davis Pinkston — with his dual-threat skills — and a stalwart defense that quietly has evolved into one of the region’s best.

The Pioneers quashed high-powered El Segundo in the quarterfinals, limiting the Eagles to two scores and 251 yards of offense.

Truth is, everyone is playing well.

Drew Moore rumbled for 141 yards and two touchdowns against El Segundo with three receivers topping 100 yards. James Cuillard notched 11 receptions for 103 yards, Blake Kissane had six catches for 121 yards, and Logan Alexander had six receptions for 100 yards.

Kyle Murphy applied constant pressure, helped control the line of scrimmage and picked up two sacks.

We won’t get an all-county championship game this year, so this is the next best thing.

In Week 1, when Ventura hosted Agoura and Simi Valley visited Buena, we wondered aloud if these were previews of coming attractions in postseason.

The sentiment was nearly spot on.

We get a crucial Channel League-vs.-Canyon League matchup in the round of four.

ENCOURAGING NEWS

Simi Valley senior defensive back/wide receiver Colby Banks sealed the Pioneers victory in the final minute Friday night by grabbing an interception when the El Segundo offense was in desperation mode.

He took a hard shot from an Eagles receiver, fell to the ground, but held onto the football.

Banks sprawled on the ground for nearly 10 minutes before he was transported to a nearby hospital by paramedics.

It appears to be a happy ending.

He was released from the hospital Friday night and should “be fine,” said Simi Valley coach Ryan Taggart.

Banks will be checked out by team doctors Monday.

A PAIR OF FAVORITES?

Victories by Newbury Park and Grace Brethren in their respective quarterfinal games leave both No. 2 seeds looking more and more like division favorites.

Newbury Park rolled up a 42-26 victory over Santa Maria-St. Joseph in the quarterfinals, with the lead at 42-0 in the third quarter.

The offense has long looked like the most potent in the Northern Division — in a lot of divisions, frankly — and now the defense is catching up.

Lompoc is the No. 1 seed, but might be hard-pressed to match the Panthers’ firepower.

Grace Brethren rolled to a 49-28 victory over Brethren Christian in its East Valley quarterfinal and dominated with its ground game.

St. Margaret’s is the top seed, but recently settled for a 10-point verdict over Brethren Christian.

Newbury Park will host Atascadero, and Grace Brethren is home against Long Beach-St. Anthony in Friday’s semifinals.

The potential exists for three county champions in a memorable season.

Dog shelter to open Tuesday

November 23, 2014 - 3:23pm

About 55 dogs were being relocated back to the shelter near the site of Tuesday’s explosion near Santa Paula after evacuations were lifted Saturday afternoon.

Volunteers at Canine Adoption and Rescue League shelter had to evacuate Tuesday, leaving 71 dogs behind until Wednesday when they were able to gain access to the property, but by Sunday they were able to relocate the dogs, and have all of them situated by Monday, said executive director Sharon Clark. The shelter was expected to open up by Tuesday.

Since Wednesday, about 16 dogs found homes or foster care, Clark said. The shelter was expected to resume business and start finding homes for the rest.

During the evacuation, the dogs were taken to Balcom Canyon Pet Lodge, Clark said. At the lodge they were able to continue finding homes for the pets and contacted all their customers with updates, she said.

The investigation and cleanup at the site where about 1,000 gallons of a chemical mixture spilled and burned after the rear of a vacuum truck exploded at Santa Clara Waste Water Co., was still going on but all business were told they could reopen by Saturday afternoon.

Clark said the roadway was completely open both ways and she expected for the neighboring business to resume operations Monday or Tuesday, like the shelter was doing.

Flag football to benefit mental illness alliance

November 23, 2014 - 3:21pm

Four simultaneous flag football games on Thanksgiving morning at Oak Park High School will raise money for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in honor of Shawn Rishko, an Oak Park graduate who committed suicide at age 22.

“We started this game over 10 years ago as a way to get our friends together when we came home from college,” said Monte McNair, of Texas, who co-founded the event with Matt Koller, of Huntington Beach. “It has evolved into this communitywide event that we all look forward to each year.”

The annual “turkey bowl” began with McNair, Koller, Rishko and other friends in Oak Park. As they went away to college in fall 2002, the group decided to launch a flag football game on Thanksgiving morning.

“Shawn was on the winning team of each of the first three turkey bowls,” McNair recalled. “Then a few years in, we lost Shawn.”

After Rishko’s death in 2006, McNair and Koller decided to dedicate the tournament in his honor.

“We created the ‘TRUE-phy,’ a trophy given out to the winning team named in honor of Rishko’s signature phrase, ‘true,’ ” McNair said. “What started out as a way to keep our friends close turned into an event to remember Shawn and has actually brought the community closer as a whole.”

Rishko was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 19, said his mom, Norine.

“Sadly he lost his life to suicide,” she said. “At this point, Shawn’s friends wanted to turn the turkey bowl into a fundraiser for mental illness. As a parent, I wanted to turn this tragedy into something that would help others.”

This year’s turkey bowl will kick off at 8 a.m. and last until about 1 p.m.

Attendees will be able to buy tickets for raffle prizes, said Norine, noting more than 60 local businesses have donated items including restaurant gift certificates, facials, movie tickets and baskets filled with goodies for dogs.

The grand prize is from the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, she said, adding the accommodations include spa treatments and breakfast for two.

All money raised from the turkey bowl will directly benefit the National Alliance for Mental Illness Ventura County chapter.

“NAMI has many free programs for those suffering from mental illness and for their caretakers. NAMI provides advocacy, education and support,” Norine said.

The turkey bowl has grown as more people recognize mental illness must be addressed and not swept under the carpet, she said.

“My personal goal is to have NAMI clubs at all the local high schools promote mental health and wellness ... to help reduce stigma so students feel more comfortable seeking help or being supportive to others,” Norine said.

McNair hopes to raise awareness that depression is an illness, not a weakness.

“We hope, in Shawn’s lasting memory, we can help others in his position get the help they need, so that the next group of friends doesn’t lose their Shawn.”

The event will be on Oak Park High’s football field at 899 N. Kanan Road. For more information, visit http://namiventura.org/turkey-bowl-2.

Black Thursday and Friday aren't enjoyed by all

November 23, 2014 - 2:52pm

You won’t find Rick Smith in the crowds that throng retail stores looking for sales on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday.

“I don’t need anything that badly in my life that I have to get up at 2 a.m. and wrestle people to get it,” he said.

Smith fears a cultural shift is permanently twisting Thanksgiving Day away from being a harvest celebration into a kickoff to the Christmas shopping season.

“Thanksgiving is now about gearing up for the deals and it’s gotten so bad that people have gotten hurt,” he said.

It doesn’t appeal to Smith. He will spend Thanksgiving and Black Friday at home in Oak View, enjoying time with his kids.

“People don’t have to participate,” he said.

And many are choosing not to. Now that Black Friday deals have begun on Thursday, a number of Americans are expressing disgust with what they see as consumerism run amok.

Signs of their revulsion pervade the Internet. More than 96,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org asking Target to close on Thanksgiving Day. The retail giant is scheduled to open at 6 p.m.

More than 1 million people have shared a badge on Facebook pledging not to shop on Thanksgiving. It’s being circulated by a “Say No to Shopping on Thanksgiving” Facebook page, which is celebrating stores like Costco that are still closed on Thanksgiving.

“Cheers to Costco,” reads one post on the site. “But they represent only half of the retail equation. The other half is the greedy consumer leaving a home celebration for a ‘bargain.’ How do we change the equation? Don’t shop.”

National Retail Federation report

Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the season, according to the National Retail Federation, a retail trade association. There were 92 million Black Friday shoppers in stores and online last year. But Black Thursday shopping is increasing in popularity. An estimated 35 million people shopped on Thanksgiving Day in 2012 and 45 million did so last year, according to the retail federation.

Still, a University of Connecticut/Hartford Courant poll of 1,189 people found that many Americans disapprove of stores opening on the holiday. According to the poll, 49 percent disapprove, 16 percent approve and 34 percent are neutral about stores opening on Thanksgiving Day.

Best Buy, Walmart, Kmart, Sears, Macy’s, Target, J.C. Penney and other major retailers will open Thanksgiving Day, although the opening times vary.

Major retailers that won’t be open on Thanksgiving Day include Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom, Marshalls, Barnes & Noble and T.J. Maxx.

Stores open Thanksgiving Day may rack up an extra day of sales, but they could be hurt in terms of goodwill, say branding experts.

The closed stores are taking advantage of the backlash among a segment of consumers. In a turnaround from last year, they are actively advertising that they won’t be open, said Kevin Paul Scott, co-founder of the Atlanta-based ADDO Institute, a branding consultant firm.

“And they’re communicating to consumers the reason behind that decision,” he said. “The reason that’s significant is because organizations and businesses are making an effort to appeal to the values of their consumers in order to build long-term affinity.”

Holiday sales are expected to represent about 19.2 percent of the retail industry’s $3.2 trillion in annual sales this year, according to the federation. It federation forecasts sales in November and December (excluding automobile, gas and restaurant sales) will increase 4.1 percent to nearly $617 billion. That compares with a 3.1 percent increase in November and December of 2013 and would mark the first time since 2011 that holiday sales increased more than 4 percent.

Online sales in November and December are expected to grow between 8 and 11 percent over last holiday season, to as much as $105 billion, according to Shop.org’s 2014 online holiday sales forecast.

Do's & Don'ts: What food donations make the cut

November 23, 2014 - 2:51pm

In the sorting room of an Oxnard food bank, currency is measured in expiration dates, dents and ripples.

When it comes to food donations, all is not gold.

“I have one can from 1958 that came in,” FOOD Share’s Rob Jankowski said, pointing out a shelf of memorable but rejected items.

The chicken noodle soup can came in about a year ago, its label a retro, checkered design wrapped around aluminum, not the regular steel or tin.

Two other soup cans from the mid-1980s — cream of celery and green pea — came in several months ago.

And last week, a torn bag of rice showed up in a donation bin. Someone had placed it inside a second bag, preventing a spill but not necessarily contamination.

As holiday food drives gear up this time of year, all kinds of donations end up in the sorting room at the Oxnard headquarters of FOOD Share, the regional food bank.

“The first thing we do is check the integrity of the food to make sure it’s safe for human consumption,” said Jankowski, who leads the agency’s sorting efforts.

Each donated bag or box is emptied on a conveyor belt, manned by volunteers plucking out cans, juice boxes, water bottles and more. Some items come from donation bins, others from local grocery store outlets.

They fill up boxes stacked near dozens of stations. Those boxes are weighed, labeled and stacked on wooden pallets to be moved to the warehouse.

The vast majority of donations — 90-plus percent — make the cut and end up on pantry shelves. But not everything can be rescued.

Some donations are sent elsewhere. Candy goes to the military base, pet food to animal shelters.

Items past their expiration dates (different from the best-before date), rippled or bulging cans, and open packages — even those with just a small tear — end up in a throwaway bin.

Here are general donation tips:

Cans and packaged goods, from fruit cups to macaroni cheese, can be accepted up to one year past their best-before dates.

View the interactive Do's & Don'ts of Donating food

Dry beans, rice or peas, dry pasta in a bag and unopened mayonnaise can be up to three years past the date on the package.

Baby food and medicine cannot be older than the best-before date.

Food also needs identification, whether it’s a front or rear label.

Even if it falls within those guidelines, if a can is pierced, pinched or rippled, chances are good that there’s a pinhole leak that can let in bacteria. Volunteering in the sorting room makes you think a little more about the items you donate yourself, said Linda Molina, who has volunteered as a sorter for eight years. Check the best-before dates, she suggested.

Maria Medeiros, also a longtime volunteer, recommended donating a good mix that includes food for kids.

How to help

The Ventura County Star is collecting donations for the third annual FOOD Share Can-Tree collection:

  • To donate money that will be used to buy canned goods, text VCSTAR to 71777.
  • To donate your food items, go to VCStar.com/cantree to find the nearest drop-off ­location.
     

Digging into the donations sometimes yields fun and surprising results: trendier items like coconut water and the latest yogurt squeeze. Bloody Mary mix raised one volunteer’s eyebrows.

But most often, it’s the more expected cans of soup or beans and other protein-rich items that are easy to turn into hot meals that show up in bins. Those are the types of things food pantries want and need, Jankowski said.

The best of the best: “Peanut butter is platinum. We don’t get enough of it.”

Port Hueneme water agency seeks filtration fix

November 23, 2014 - 2:50pm

The Port Hueneme Water Agency is at the end of the line when it comes to the drinking water it receives from the United Water Conservation District’s Oxnard-Hueneme pipeline.

Because of the ongoing drought and out-of-service wells, the water received from United has degraded in quality. Port Hueneme’s Brackish Water Reclamation Demonstration Facility can no longer filter it without causing long-term damage to its system.

The levels of manganese and iron in water pumped from standby wells are so high they are choking and destroying expensive filters, officials say. It would cost millions of dollars to replace the filters at the reclamation facility.

At a special meeting last week, the Port Hueneme Water Agency, which serves the city of Port Hueneme, Naval Base Ventura County and the Channel Islands Beach Community Services District, heard a proposal from Kevin Alexander, a water expert from environmental engineering firm Hazen and Sawyer.

Alexander said his company offers a filtering system that could be used as an adjunct to the facility, although the costs would be high — anywhere from $6 million for a 300-gallon-per-minute system to much higher, depending on how much and what kind of water is pumped.

The Reclamation Demonstration Facility was shut down temporarily Oct. 11. To continue supplying its customers with water, the water agency has turned to its second, more expensive supplier, the Calleguas Municipal Water District. But that’s also expensive, and the water agency has to pay United for a certain amount of water, regardless of whether it uses that water.

Tony Emmert, deputy general manager for United, said the water it supplies to customers from nine wells in the Oxnard Forebay Groundwater Basin is vulnerable to nitrate contamination from past overuse of fertilizers and from septic system discharges in the area. The Port Hueneme Water Agency and the city of Oxnard are among the customers to receive that water.

Because nitrate contamination is a health hazard, United has turned to three backup wells, which dilute the water. But the backup well water is rich with manganese and iron.

Without the Port Hueneme Water Agency on the system, United has enough water to maintain a quality level for customers that would work in the treatment system. But when it adds the agency, United has to use the standby wells to provide water to all customers.

Port Hueneme Councilman Doug Breeze, who sits on the water agency panel, said the problem is frustrating because the majority of water users are agricultural clients. They use about 80 percent of the water but aren’t subject to the stringent conservation measures required of residential users.

The solution, everyone agrees, is to look into an additional filtration program, such as the one Alexander proposed. But the costs are high, and there are various regulations regarding the pumping of seawater, which could be used to help in filtration efforts.

The Port Hueneme Water Agency has formed an ad hoc committee to explore options.

Emmert, who recently started working for United Water after years with the city of Oxnard, said part of the problem is that when the water supply is sufficient, no one wants to discuss a multimillion-dollar filtration system that would be used only during drought periods.

“Ten years ago when we were building a brackish desalination plant, there was a discussion about adding more redundancy but no one wanted to spend an extra $10 million,” Emmert said. “This is exactly the situation that investment would have helped alleviate. We need to have a healthy discussion and keep these things in mind.”

Holiday spirit, weather boost sales this season

November 23, 2014 - 2:00pm

Holiday shoppers are expected to spend more and be more altruistic this shopping season, according to the National Retail Federation.

Customers in recent years have been focused on getting discounts and deals to save money on needs for themselves. But an improving employment rate and less national fear regarding the economy have more people opening their wallets for others, said Kathy Grannis, a spokesperson for the National Retail Federation.

“It does appear as if consumers are taking that extra pocket power and putting it toward gifts for their friends and family,” Grannis said.

People celebrating Christmas, Kwanzaa and/or Hanukkah are expected to spend $804.42 on average compared to spending $767.27 last year, according to the National Retail Foundation’s survey.

The survey showed incremental increased spending on gifts for everyone from babysitters to family members.

The survey comes as the unemployment rate continues to tick down. The Labor Department reported unemployment is down to 5.8 percent.

People buying for themselves also might be in a better position to buy frills for themselves as opposed to needed items, Grannis said. 

“We were in kind of this either/or economy where Americans didn’t have the ability to buy their discretionary purchases like clothing and jewelry and personal care and also invest in the larger tickets like appliances or autos or the larger electronics,” she said.

Beyond the economy, retailers are expected to benefit from a milder winter compared to last year, which made it difficult for some would-be buyers to escape the house.

“Weather has a tremendous impact on shopping in general,” Grannis said.
 

4 arrested on DUI suspicion at Oxnard checkpoint

November 23, 2014 - 1:24am

Four people were arrested at a checkpoint in Oxnard on suspicion of driving under the influence, police said.

The checkpoint was conducted by six officers from 6 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday, Oxnard police said.

Four people were arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, police said. Two of those drivers were found to have a blood alcohol level twice that of the legal limit, authorities said.

Six people were arrested on suspicion of driving under a suspended license and seven were found to be driving without a license, police said.

A total of 56 citations were issued, including two to motorcyclists on suspicion of driving over 90 mph on a city roadway, officers said.

One driver was found to be under the heavy influence of marijuana while driving with an open 25-ounce can of beer in the center console of the vehicle, police said. The license of the driver also had been suspended, police said.

Funding for the checkpoint was provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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