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Classes, gardening and other events planned

December 19, 2014 - 3:45pm


Residents can serve on advisory groups

The city of Oxnard invites residents to serve on citizen advisory groups.

Groups include the Community Relations Commission, Housing Authority, Commission on Homelessness, Downtown Design Review Committee, Measure O Citizen Oversight Committee, Mobile Home Park Rent Review Board, Parks and Recreation Commission, Planning Commission, Senior Services Commission, Library Board and Cultural Arts Commission.

Volunteers can complete an application at or call 385-7803. The application deadline is Dec. 31. Terms for appointees will start in January.

Simi Valley

Parents can sign up for 10-week class

The Simi Valley Police Department will accept reservations for its upcoming Parent Project class.

The class will meet from 6:30-9:30 p.m. every Tuesday for 10 weeks, starting Jan. 6, at 3901 Alamo St.

Call 583-6219 to register.

Thousand Oaks

Auditions to be held for new musical

Panic! Productions will hold auditions for its production of the musical “13.”

Male and female actors who can sing and dance and play characters age 13 are invited to audition. All roles are open.

Performers are asked to submit an audition video by Jan. 5. Contact to receive a copy of requirements.

Rehearsals begin Feb. 10 and performances will be April 10-19 at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts, 403 W. Hillcrest Drive.

Church to present Christmas Cantata

Ascension Lutheran Church will hold its 11th annual Christmas Cantata at 8 and 9:30 a.m. Sunday at 1600 E. Hillcrest Drive.

The Ascension Lutheran Church Chancel Choir, under the direction of Howard Sonstegard, will perform with an orchestra and narration.

Contact Stacy Smith at or 495-0406 for information.


Public can help plant new gardens

The Ventura Botanical Gardens invites the public to its fourth annual Sow in the New Year from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 3.

The public can help create gardens by sowing native wildflower seeds along the trail.

Parking is available at the barbecue area off Brakey Drive, or participants can park in the upper parking lot above City Hall, 501 Poli St., and hike the trail to the barbecue area.

Visit or email for more information.

Memorial service to honor homeless

A memorial service to honor homeless people will begin at 3 p.m. Sunday at Plaza Park in Ventura.

After the service, a silent march will proceed through downtown Ventura to call for an end to homelessness and mark the deaths of men and women who have died homeless in the county.

The service and march are open to the public.

Email Sue Brinkmeyer at for more information.

Ventura County

Grants available for nonprofits

Ventura County nonprofit organizations with 501(c)3 status can apply for the 2014-15 cycle of the city of Ventura Community Partnerships Grant Program through Jan. 8.

The application is available at, or groups can contact the Parks, Recreation and Community Partnerships Department at Ventura City Hall, 501 Poli St., Room 226, or at 658-4732.

Tuskegee Airman Lowell Steward dies at 95

December 19, 2014 - 3:45pm

Former Tuskegee Airman Lowell C. Steward, of Oxnard, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal in 1944 for his actions during World War II, died Wednesday at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura.

He was 95.

Lowell Steward Jr., of Sylmar, said his father passed away peacefully with several members of his immediate family at his bedside. He had come down with a cold on Sunday evening at his Oxnard home that quickly turned into pneumonia, Lowell Jr. said.

He is survived by his son, daughters Pamela Mills, of Oxnard, and Shelley Lambert, of Los Angeles, 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

“He died an American hero,” Lowell Jr. said Friday. “He was a pioneer in many areas when it came to breaking down barriers and partly responsible for getting the Armed Forces integrated.”

“Because of the mindset the Tuskegee Airmen had set in motion, that we have to stand up and have to make things better, it paved the way for people like Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King,” he said.

Born on Feb. 25, 1919, in Los Angeles, Steward graduated from Jefferson High School in 1937 and enrolled at Santa Barbara State College, now UC Santa Barbara, where he became the first black captain of the basketball team.

Steward led the Gauchos to the championship game in St. Louis in 1941 but was told he couldn’t play because he was black.

In Santa Barbara, he also met his wife Helen, known as “Tootsie.” She died in 2004 after almost 60 years of marriage.

Steward graduated from college in 1941. In July 1942, after the Army Air Corps. began allowing blacks to serve as pilots, he enlisted and was sent for training at a remote base in Tuskegee, Alabama.

He was shipped to Italy in 1944 with the 100th Fighter Squadron of the famed all-black unit, known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

America’s first black military pilots faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny under racial segregation. As a result they held themselves to a higher standard, Steward often said.

Over two years, Steward flew 143 bomber escort and strafing missions in North Africa and Europe, his son said, as part of the 100th Fighter Squadron, flying P-39, P-40 and P-51 aircraft.

Lowell Jr. recalls his father as a quiet and reserved man, except when he was in an airplane.

“He was an excellent, well-trained pilot but he rarely talked about his exploits,” he said. “He wasn’t proud of the combat side, that it was a war and that people died at his hand.

“That set a reality for him which he said took him a long time to get over.”

After his discharge in 1946, Steward returned to Los Angeles where he and his wife tried to buy a home. His son says no bank would agree to finance a mortgage because of their color.

“So he went and got his own real estate license and learned the trade and brokered deals that integrated parts of Los Angeles in the early ’50s,” said Lowell Jr.

Among those who bought houses from his father, he says, were Little Richard’s mother and the father of former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks.

In later years, he had a growing sense of satisfaction as he saw progress being made in race relations and integration.

“That’s what he was proud of,” his son said.

Steward served as the first president of the Los Angeles Chapter of Tuskegee Airman founded in 1974. He was also one of the founders of the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation that has awarded more than $2 million in scholarships to students across the country.

In 2007, Steward was present at the U.S. Capitol when President George W. Bush presented members of the Tuskegee Airmen with the Congressional Gold Medal.

The family says funeral services for Steward will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at Angelus Funeral Home, 3875 Crenshaw Blvd., in Los Angeles. It will be followed by a reception at the Wilfandel Club at 3425 W. Adams Blvd. The service is open to the public.

— The Associated Press contributed to this story.

West county pet of the week: Jojo

December 19, 2014 - 3:33pm

Jojo is a 2 year old neutered male Chihuahua. He walks nicely on leash & is playful. Jojo likes other dogs. His former owner became too ill to care for him. Shelter staff describe Jojo as just an all around good little dog.

You can meet Jojo at the Humane Society of Ventura county in Ojai His adoption fee of $120 includes neutering, vaccinations, free veterinarian check, ID tag & many years of love.

For more information on Jojo or other available animals, or to volunteer, call (805) 646-6505
or visit

The Humane Society is located at 402 Bryant St in Ojai. Hours are Monday - Saturday 10 - 5. We will be closed
Dec 24 & 25. Many animals are lost during the holidays with visitors going in & out so it is a good time to be sure your pet has a current ID tag on.

East county pet of the week: Tobe

December 19, 2014 - 3:33pm

With a great temperament, hand­some face and perfect size, 6-year-old ­Tobe is an ideal companion for adults, dogs and cats. He seems un­interested in children. He is a ­puggle who was kept outdoors much of the time, so it is un­clear whether he is house­broken. He appears to be very smart, and the volunteers at the shelter will lend a crate and give advice on how to train him. All ­Tobe needs is the chance to become part of your family. Request ­A4283700 to adopt ­Tobe. The ­­Agoura shelter is at 29525 ­Agoura Road, ­Agoura Hills. Pets occasionally already have been adopted. Call 818-991-0071, or visit http://­animalcare.­ to check ­availability.

Retail sales up as Christmas nears

December 19, 2014 - 2:48pm

Requests for photos with Santa Claus are up this year at the Simi Valley Town Center, signaling that the center is doing well as it enters the final holiday shopping weekend.

The center’s general manager, Jeff DiJulius, said Santa photo sales are up 30 percent from where they were a year ago.

“It’s an odd barometer but that tells you the lines are tremendous here,” he said.

The signs of an uptick don’t end there. He said shoppers are also taking advantage of gift wrapping services in greater numbers this year.

“It’s way, way up over last year,” DiJulius said.

Recent observations made in Simi Valley follow the Commerce Department’s strong retail report last week, which showed U.S. retail and food services sales for November rose 0.7 percent from the previous month and were 5.1 percent above November 2013.

The results were at odds with an earlier National Retail Federation survey that found Black Friday sales to be weak, but the NRF subsequently said the gains were consistent with its holiday sales forecast, which anticipates an increase of 4.1 percent over last year.

“As we’ve said all along, retailers are optimistic that they will see healthy holiday sales gains this year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay. “November sales results confirm that optimism, and we are steadfast in our belief that we are on track to reach the 4.1 percent growth in holiday sales that NRF forecasted in October.”

NRF Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz said increasing wages combined with lower gas prices are helping retailers.

“Every economic indicator is pointing toward a strong holiday season,” he said. “Healthy November sales should provide momentum for an even stronger December as customers continue to seek out deals all the way to Christmas.”

Home improvement products, appliances, kitchen items, apparel and consumer electronics are doing well this year, said Jack Plunkett, a retail analyst with Plunkett Research Ltd. in Houston.

Online shopping continues to gain more market share every year. Plunkett said shoppers are still going to malls and companies have figured out that the way to get people to return is to entertain and engage them.

The Collection at RiverPark in Oxnard clearly understands that trend. The 650,000-square-foot open-air retail center offers a consistent stream of activities for patrons, such as arts, crafts, games and concerts. Last week The Collection hosted a concert featuring dancers and middle-school children playing guitars and ukuleles. This week there are Menorah lighting ceremonies in celebration of Hanukkah.

The Pacific View mall in Ventura also strives to entertain its guests. It recently did so with a flash mob chorus, the second year that Thomas Aquinas College students broke into Christmas carols near Santa’s photo station.

“The voices are amazing,” said Alice Love, the mall’s senior marketing manager.

The mall’s business is on par with where it was last year, Love said, and the lines are getting longer as Christmas nears.

“This last week is going to be super crazy busy,” she said. “It’s kind of exciting. Everybody’s been in a good mood.”


Bellringer donation honors late son-in-law

December 19, 2014 - 2:30pm

Although Jack and Alice Sherman couldn't make it to the annual fishing trip at Silver Lake in the Sierra this October, Alice knew it was a memorable one.

It was the last trip her son-in-law, David Rogers, took with all of his children and grandchildren before he passed away three weeks later.

"It's so beautiful up there," Alice Sherman, of Camarillo, said of the spot in the Eastern Sierra. "(David) would sit in his chair at the edge of the lake and fish and he just loved it."

Rogers had melanoma, and his family knew he didn't have much longer to live.

"They were afraid he wasn't going to make it, but he did, and he had a good time," Alice said. Rogers' eight children and 12 grandchildren also all made it to the lake this year.

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 it is given.

New donations:

God bless the poor. Anonymous: $100.

In loving memory of Marie Ford Turner, Ora Lee Boyd Cox, Louise Gholson Downard, Merilyn Bybee Harney and Arlou Wells Mashburn. From Marie Turner's Nordhoff Girls Luncheon Group: $25.

In memory of my husband, John Ibison. Judy Ibison: $100.

In memory of David Rogers. His children and grandchildren took him to Silver Lake in the Sierra for his last fishing trip. They had a great time and he died three weeks later. Jack and Alice Sherman: $25.

In loving memory of our daughter, Shelly Ann Hendricks. Don and Carol Miller: $100.

In loving memory of my parents, Mary and Bruce Johnston, and my brothers, Jeff and Fred. Carol Miller: $100.

In memory of my friends Emily Alstot, Matt Beck and Chris Torrey. From Casey: $30.

In memory of Dr. John Luttrall and David Fetter, two of the best Kiwanis-Salvation Army Bellringers ever. We miss them. Dave and Jan Schmutte: $100.

In memory of my parents, Ed and Marcia McShane. Molly Colton: $100.

In loving memory of our family members who left too soon but will always be in our hearts. Huera, Tuna, Pelepe, Josie, Dolores and Vero. D.P.: $30.

In memory of friends Pat Listen, wife of Abex friend Mel; Lynne Smith, Dust Rider Camping Club; Phyllis Salka, Dust Rider Camping Club; and Frank Parrone, Abex co-worker. We miss these friends who have left us this year. Ruth and Phil Smith: $50.

In loving memory of my husband, Martin Jerome Gooch, and my son, Byron Elliott Wade. Always to be remembered especially at this time of year. Patricia Wade Gooch: $500.

In loving memory of Doris Rowe and Carolyn Weir, retired Probation Agency officers. We think and/or speak of you when we gather each month. You are in our hearts and are missed. With fondness, Ruth, Judy, Anne, Kenna, Brenda and Beth: $150.

Merry Christmas. William S. Parsons: $50.

Elizabeth Wolfe: $50.

Today's total: $1,510.

Previous total: $33,178.33.

Total to date: $34,688.33.

Please make checks out to Bellringer and send them to:


Ventura County Star

P.O. Box 6006

Camarillo, CA 93011

Missing money cited in cemetry audit

December 19, 2014 - 2:15pm

A firm that audited the finances of a Simi Valley cemetery district has declined to give an opinion for three of the five years inspected, citing missing records and revenues.

"We just felt there were too many areas where there were problems," said Craig Collins, a certified public accountant and partner in the Collins Accountancy Co. "When it gets to that point, we were precluded from expressing any opinion."

The draft report covering the 2005-2006 to 2009-10 fiscal years says at least $28,833 collected by the El Rancho Simi Cemetery District was "unaccounted." The figure reflects revenues and fees that appear to have been paid to the special district, but for which corresponding bank deposits could not be found, Collins said.

It is not the first time that concerns over untraced funds have been raised. During the preliminary audit, Collins discovered and reported to the board that about $12,000 was missing, a document shows.

That figure is included in the $28,833, Collins said.

In 2011, former cemetery board Chairman Tyler Ritch asked District Attorney Greg Totten to investigate the $12,000 loss to see if any illegal action had occurred. Totten said he needed additional information. Totten suggested the board hire a forensic accountant, but that was never done for reasons related to the board's finances, timing and the incomplete audit.

Former manager Barbara Scroggins has said the $12,000 went missing at a time when another person was responsible for making bank deposits. Afterward, the district stopped accepting payments in cash and instituted other checks and balances, officials said.

No criminal charges were filed.

The draft audit report was issued early this month and is expected to be finalized in January. It was supposed to be finished in 2011.

Collins declined to explain the delay. Trustees, though, have indicated it stemmed from a failure to obtain enough records and answers to conclude the audit until recently.

As part of his investigation, Collins compared a groundskeeper's bills showing the number of graves dug over a two-year period with the revenues recorded for burial fees. The discrepancy amounted to about $20,000, the auditor said in a separate report to the board.

Other findings from the draft audit report:

n Fees that must go into an endowment fund were kept in the district's bank account instead of being promptly invested in the fund. Earnings from the state-required fund pay for the future needs of the cemetery. Collins did not calculate the amount of any lost earnings but the district paid about $22,000 in May 2011 to settle the liability. Deposits are now made monthly, officials said.

n Formal budgets were not prepared for four of the five fiscal years examined by the audit.

n A loan from the city of Simi Valley to the district is in default. The district owes about $180,000 on the loan taken out to improve the cemetery, Trustee Debbie Burdorf said.

The city has not called in the debt and the district had been using its share of redevelopment funds to chip away at the balance. But it is no longer getting that cash because the state has dismantled the redevelopment program set up to revitalize blighted areas, trustees said.

In a response to Collins, the board said it would look for additional resources to make payments on the debt. The board is exploring the possibility of allowing Verizon to install a cellphone tower on the property to generate revenue.

Other problems cited in the audit have been corrected or are in process, trustees said.

The trustees, none of whom were on the board during the period covered by the audit, have tackled a variety of management and financial matters.

They hired a new manager and plan to improve record-keeping and other business functions.

The final audit must be submitted to the county auditor-controller and the state controller for review.

Preliminary work on the next audit is expected to start in the spring. Burdorf said the results will be much improved because of reforms that have been made.

The firm plans to give a qualified opinion for the last two years of the audit, which indicates some reservations. The highest rating is an unqualified opinion and the lowest an adverse one.

Sony made mistake pulling film, Obama says

December 19, 2014 - 12:19pm

Sony Pictures made a mistake in keeping "The Interview" out of theaters following terror threats, President Barack Obama said in a year-end news conference at the White House Friday.

Obama said "the hackers are going to get better too" as America gets better at putting measures into place to prevent acts of terror, and that he disagrees with the censorship the incident caused.

"Imagine what they start doing when they start seeing a documentary they don't like, or news reports they don't like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don't want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.

"That's not who we are," he said.

"I wish they had spoken to me first. I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you are intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks."

Earlier Friday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed it believes North Korea's government is responsible for a Nov. 24 breach of Sony's computer systems, which led to leaked salaries and unreleased films. The FBI said it "has enough evidence to confirm" it.

"The Interview," a Sony comedic film about the assassination of Kim Jong Un, the country's totalitarian leader, will not be shown in theaters after terror threats were made.

North Korea has denied it was involved in the cyber attack. 

Some are calling for the U.S. to take steps to declare North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, according to the Associated Press.

It was on the list of state sponsors of terrorism for 20 years but removed in 2008 by the Bush administration. Countries currently with the designation include Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba, according to the AP.

Also in his speech Friday, Obama touted job growth and the American auto industry, saying it is looking at having its strongest year since 2005.

"Pick any metric that you want — America's resurgence is real, we are better off," he said.

Tuskegee Airman Lowell Steward dies in Calif.

December 19, 2014 - 11:59am

VENTURA, Calif. (AP) — Lowell Steward, a former member of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew nearly 200 missions over Europe during World War II, has died in California. He was 95.

His son Lowell Jr. says Steward died Wednesday at a hospital in Ventura of natural causes.

After graduating college in 1941, Steward joined the Army Air Corps and trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.

He was shipped to Italy in 1944 with the 100th Fighter Squadron of the famed all-black unit. Steward completed escort and strafing missions and was ultimately awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After being discharged in 1946 he went on to a long career in real estate.

Steward's wife of 60 years, Helen, died in 2004. He is survived by three children, 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Caught on camera: Must-watch videos of 2014

December 19, 2014 - 11:56am

In many ways, 2014 was a year like any other. Some people were nice and some were naughty — but not everyone got caught on camera.

The videos and stories below are from communities across the country and involve a variety of situations, from cats protecting humans to cops behaving badly.

They all have one thing in common: They’ll make you do a double-take.


VIDEO: Cat saves Bakersfield boy

A cat came to her best friend's rescue when Jeremy, 4, was attacked by a dog in his driveway in Bakersfield, California and it was all caught on video.

Jeremy, who has mild autism, was playing on his bike after school.

The neighbor's dog, an 8-month-old labrador/chow mix, sneaks up behind him and bites his leg.

The family's cat, Tara, rushed the attacking dog and chased it away.



Angry driver attacks Ferguson protester blockading I-5 highway

As dozens of students blocked a highway in San Diego as part of a Ferguson protest, thousands of irate commuters were left stranded and unable to get to work.

At least one of those drivers was angry enough to push a protester and steal his bullhorn.


Caught on camera: Pregnant beggar with boy drives off in a Mercedes-Benz

An outraged viewer contacted San Diego TV station ABC 10 after she watched a pregnant woman and a boy beg for money in a shopping center and then drive away in a Mercedes Benz


RAW VIDEO: Police Chase Carjackers at Lookout Mountain

Two suspects in an armed carjacking on Lookout Mountain near Denver, Colorado were captured after a short-lived, but brazen crime spree.

Denver TV station ABC 7 caught video of the chase and eventual capture from their helicopter.


Pug picks fight with police dog outside Phoenix barricade

As police worked to negotiate with an armed robbery suspect barricaded in his Phoenix home, a little dog wandering the street tried to pick a fight.

Police were in front of the home for more than four hours. 


Denver deputy suspended for 90 days after taekwondo

A Denver sheriff’s deputy who is also a taekwondo instructor was telling other deputies how he practices martial arts to "stay in shape," and demonstrated a kick to his colleague.

An inmate then interjected with "that isn't a kick" and "you ain't s---."

What the deputy did next resulted in a 90-day suspension. 


Cut on Camera: Cop cuts off woman's weave

At many jails, prisoners are required to remove hair extensions that clip in because they could be used as a weapon or to commit suicide.

But Charda Gregory didn't have clip in extensions. She had a weave that was sewn right into her real hair. A Detroit-area cop was fired after she decided to take matters into her own hands, and attempt to cut the weave off the woman’s head


Helmet Cam: Baltimore bike rider attacked

A Baltimore-area man was riding his bike and not going very fast, when suddenly several young people knocked him off his bike and started beating him.

The attack was captured by a small camera mounted on his bike helmet. He'd been recording his rides for about a year — ever since a friend's bike was cut off by a truck.

CLICK HERE to see the full playlist of 2014's must-watch videos. 

5 foodie things to do this weekend (Dec. 19-21)

December 19, 2014 - 11:43am

From looking at gingerbread houses in Oxnard to slurping ramen noodles in Ventura and tasting Full of Life Flatbread pizzas in Ojai, there's plenty to do, see and eat in Ventura County this weekend.

1). You can look but you can't eat while admiring entries in the sixth annual gingerbread house contest presented by Heritage Square in downtown Oxnard. Find out who took the prizes in such categories as "favorite landmark," "most festive" and docents' and people's choice awards during the display's final viewing hours for the season: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. (Heritage Square Hall, 715 South A St., 483-7960,

2).  Nearly 20 food trucks and dessert vendors are expected to roll into Ventura for a holiday version of Midtown Food Truck Friday. The event from 5 to 9 p.m. in the Trader Joe's parking lot near the Pacific View mall will include activities for kids, live music by the Hueneme High School marching band, and your pick of dishes from such trucks as Belly Bombz, Cousins Maine Lobster, Grilled Cheese Truck, Scratch and Desserts to Die For (Mills Road at Telegraph Road, Venturasfoodtruckfridays).

3). What's a ramen rally? "We serve ramen all day," explains Yukari Watanabe, owner of Gotetsu Japanese Restaurant located across the street from Ventura High School. The small but mighty eatery already known for its yakitori (skewers) and bento boxes will serve tonkotsu soup and other ramens from 5:30 p.m. to closing Friday and again from 11:30 a.m. Saturday (2098 E. Main St., 643-3199,

4). Want to taste farm-to-table combos from the wood-fired ovens of Full of Life Flatbreads in Los Alamos -- without crossing the Ventura-Santa Barbara County line? Then get thee to the Deck the Halls event from noon to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Ojai Rancho Inn. Each of the rooms at the refurbished motor lodge will be transformed into showcases for handmade gift items (including Ojai's own A Salty Infusion line of herbal sea salts.) Full of Life will be there to fortify shoppers with winter-themed fare; beverages will be available at Chief's Peak, the inn's on-site wine and beer bar (615 W. Ojai Ave., 646-1434,

5). Sizzling hot latkes (potato pancakes) will be on the menu during the free 12th annual Chanukah Festival & Concert from 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Ventura Harbor Village. Co-presented by Chabad of Oxnard, Chabad of Camarillo and Chabad of Ventura, the event will include a grand menorah lighting, a DJ spinning Israeli and hip-hop tunes, and live music by the band Automatic Toys (1583 Spinnaker Drive, 382-4470,

CALL AHEAD to avoid disappoint over last-minute changes and cancelations of events.

This list was compiled by Lisa McKinnon of the Ventura County Star. To submit information for consideration, send email to


Rotary clubs, police give to Simi Valley kids

December 19, 2014 - 10:26am

The Simi Valley Police Department and local Rotary clubs worked together to get gifts for needy children this holiday season, police said.

The department and various Rotary clubs on Dec. 10 assembled bicycles for needy children. The event was held at The Junkyard Cafe, which donated its services. The bicycles were given to churches and charitable organizations in the city for families in need, authorities said.

When the Rotary Club of Simi Sunrise heard about the Police Department’s toy drive in support of local families and the local Salvation Army, the club donated 12 bicycles to the cause. The Rotary Club of Simi Valley and the Rotary Club of Simi Sunset were also involved in the bicycle donation, officials said.

Police officers and other staff members volunteered Friday and Saturday to pass out all the donated toys at the fourth annual Salvation Army/Simi Valley Police Department Holiday Toy Give Away. The event supported nearly 300 families in the city, police said.

Applications up at CSU Channel Islands

December 19, 2014 - 10:17am

Like other public universities in California, CSU Channel Islands received more applications this year than last.

The Camarillo university had 13,434 applicants, up by 9.6 percent over last year.

Overall, the CSU system had a 2.3 percent increase in applicants this year, reaching 290,473, a record high.

Similarly, the University of California system had a 5.8 percent increase in applicants, reaching 193,873, also a record high.

Deadline for applications to both systems was Nov. 30.

Hung Dang, associate vice president for enrollment management at Channel Islands, believes students are becoming more aware of his campus as it starts to grow and add programs.

But he also acknowledged another potential reason for the growth: Students are applying to more campuses, hedging their bets because there’s still intense competition to get into top schools. As long as students meet the qualifications, they will be accepted at Channel Islands, making it a safe bet for applicants applying to a range of universities. The only exception is Channel Islands’ nursing program.

At the same time students are applying to more universities, demographic shifts mean fewer high school graduates overall, creating more competition among universities for applicants.

Know the rules for IRA distributions

December 19, 2014 - 10:12am

Do you know anyone whose birthday falls between Jan. 1, 1944, and June 30, 1944? If so, wish that person a happy “70½” birthday. That is the magic birth date that starts the clock on Internal Revenue Service requirements to take money out of IRAs (individual retirement accounts) and other tax-deferred accounts.

These legally mandated withdrawals are taxable as income. After letting you grow your IRA tax-free your entire working career, the Treasury wants some tax revenue — not much, just the tax triggered by these minimum withdrawals. Roth IRAs have no such requirements (unless they are inherited — more on that in a future column).

Called “required minimum distributions,” or RMDs, these mandated withdrawals will be a part of life each and every year forevermore.

You don’t want to be in the position of forgetting to take your RMDs every year. People who do forget subject themselves to huge tax penalties of 50 percent. If your RMD is $50,000 and you don’t withdraw your RMD on time, you owe the IRS $25,000.

To calculate your RMD, try the free online calculator provided by Fidelity, the mutual-fund people, at

Let’s do an example together using the Fidelity calculator.

Say your birthday is Jan. 1, 1944, and if you add up all of your IRAs (leaving out Roth IRAs), you have $100,000 as of the end of last year (Dec. 31, 2013). Enter your birth month and year and $100,000 into the calculator at the appropriate places. Skip question 3 unless your spouse is 10 years younger than you are. For question 4, let’s use 5 percent as your anticipated rate of return for the future.

Then press “Submit.” You’ll find your 2014 RMD (Fidelity calls it your MRD) at the top of the page: $3,649.64. That’s the amount that you must withdraw from your IRA to satisfy your 2014 RMD.

Note that the Fidelity calculator emphasizes April 15, 2015, as the deadline by which you must take the withdrawal. That deadline is for first-timers. For all of your future RMDs, including 2015, the deadline is Dec. 31 of the RMD year.

Here is another important point: If you do decide to take your 2014 RMD after the close of 2014, the withdrawal will be taxed as 2015 income. Doing this will not excuse you from taking your 2015 RMD before the end of 2015. Thus, you’ll be taking two RMDs in 2015 — your 2014 RMD before April 15, 2015 (based on your Dec. 31, 2013, IRA balance), and your 2015 RMD before Dec. 31, 2015 (based on your Dec. 31, 2014, IRA balance).

It’s best not to put yourself in the position of taking two RMDs in one tax year unless your accountant has a good reason for suggesting it.

Going back to the calculator, your 2015 withdrawal is shown as $3,824.54. Your actual 2015 RMD will depend on your Dec. 31, 2014, balance. If you do some what-if calculations, you can see that if your return is a steady 5 percent per year (which it never is), your RMDs increase over time to age 93 before they start to decline. At 6 percent, RMDs increase until age 96 before they start to decline. At 4 percent, they start to decline at age 93; at 3 percent, age 89; and at zero percent, age 85.

Play around with the calculator to see how a July or later 1944 birth date affects RMDs. For example, a July 1944 birthday tells you that you have no RMDs due for 2014. Because the 1944 birthday falls after June 30, the RMDs begin in 2015, based on Dec. 31, 2014, balances. A July 1943 birthday shows a Dec. 31, 2015, deadline.

A more robust RMD program (for which there is a fee) is published by Brentmark ( Called Retirement Distributions Planner, it does all of these calculations and more, including how RMDs work for inherited IRAs.

And a final word of caution: Always review your RMDs with your tax adviser before taking action. There are nuances that you may not pick up on your own that can trigger penalties. Here is an easy one: You are using your Dec. 31 statements to do your calculations, but you forget to add back money that is in transit from an old IRA (with a zero Dec. 31 balance) to a new one (with a zero Dec. 31 balance). Doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals need to pay special attention, since their tax-deferred accounts tend to be their largest holdings. The larger your IRA, the larger your potential tax penalty if you don’t get your RMD right.

Julie Jason, a personal money manager (Jackson, Grant of Stamford, Conn.) and author, welcomes your questions/ comments (

FBI: North Korea's government behind Sony hack

December 19, 2014 - 10:01am

The Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed Friday it believes North Korea's government is behind the Sony Pictures cyber attack.

On Nov. 24, a group calling itself "Guardians of Peace" breached Sony's computer systems and leaked salaries and unreleased films. The FBI said it "has enough evidence to confirm" the North Korean government did it, according to reports.

Recent threats caused Sony to halt distribution of "The Interview," a comedic film about the assassination of Kim Jong Un, the country's totalitarian leader. Some are calling for the U.S. to take steps to declare North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, according to the Associated Press. 

North Korea has declined it is involved in the cyber attack. It was on the list of state sponsors of terrorism for 20 years but removed in 2008 by the Bush administration. Countries currently with the designation include Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba, according to the AP.

5 of the most underreported stories of 2014

December 19, 2014 - 9:22am

While important stories about the Ebola crisis, Islamic state group and nationwide protests dominated headlines this year, the news media neglected other important stories.

Prominent journalists met at the Woodrow Wilson Center last week to discuss the most underreported stories of 2014.

No one at the event would admit to missing an event outright – one journalist said that would be tantamount to admitting to malpractice – but they shared news they said should have gotten more widespread attention.

1. Loose nukes in Pakistan

Pakistan has at least six nuclear sites and could have as many as 200 nuclear devices by 2020. The Wilson Center’s Director Jane Harman said local reports described warheads being transported in vans, which could be a serious problem in a country with an active Taliban presence. (The discussion was held before Tuesday’s attack on a school in Islamabad where more than 100 students were murdered by Taliban forces.)

“There’s one I think at least we should devote a few brain cells to,” Harman said.

2. Civil war in Syria

While the Islamic state group has gotten the most attention in this country in recent months, Robin Wright, a former Washington Post reporter and a Wilson Center scholar, said the conflict between rebels and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces has been largely neglected.

“There are two wars playing out in Syria,” she said. “We’re doing almost no examination or exploration of the war that has to do with the government in Damascus.”

Wright said Assad’s forces have dropped 2,500 barrel bombs in the last 50 days alone. She said they are crude bombs filled with shrapnel, chlorine and fertilizer-based explosives.

3. Losing Libya

The attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi has become a partisan talking point and still makes headlines. But Wright said that there are other important developments that should get some attention, too.

After the death of Moammar Gadhafi, many in the international community hoped the new democracy would remain stable. But militants Islamists now control Benghazi and Tripoli.

“We are losing Libya,” Wright said. “The elected government has very few resources to regain power.”

4. U.S. economy

Greg Ip, a U.S. economics editor for The Economist, said that the most underreported story about the economy is how well it is doing.

“The pace of job growth is not just strong, its accelerating,” he said. “Within a year, we could have an economy that is fully back to normal, and yet opinion polls find that most people think we are still In a recession.”

But wages remain low, and households are still worse off than they were in 2007.

The problem the United States has is the inability to produce more goods and services, Ip said, because the country doesn't have enough labor and capital to do it. And the aging U.S. workforce will exacerbate labor problems in the coming years.

5. EPA regulations

The New York Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller said the Keystone XL pipeline was the biggest environmental story of the year, but it wasn’t the most consequential.

“The much bigger story is the EPA regulations that aren’t nearly as sexy,” she said.

Those regulations, which were announced over the summer, would force states to come up with a formula for their existing coal-fired power plants to reduce carbon emissions by a set target.

“Over the long term that will have a far greater impact on the environment than if the Keystone pipeline is built,” she said.

Reach reporter Wesley Juhl at or 202-408-1491. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Crews work to secure gas line in Santa Paula

December 19, 2014 - 9:21am

Crews Friday morning are working to secure a gas line break at Santa Paula High School, officials said.

The incident was reported about 8:15 a.m. in the 400 block of North 6th Street, according to the Ventura County Fire Department.

A construction vehicle severed a gas line at a construction site at the school.

The Gas Company responded to the scene and people at the school were asked to stay indoors during the incident.

County jobless rate edges up

December 19, 2014 - 9:00am

Ventura County’s unemployment rate edged up to 6.5 percent last month from 6.3 percent in October, according to data released Friday by the state Employment Development Department.

The county’s unemployment rate in November 2013 was 7.2 percent.

California’s unemployment rate decreased to 7.2 percent last month, with 90,100 nonfarm payroll jobs added, for a total gain of 1,529,500 jobs since the recovery began in February 2010. The U.S. unemployment rate was unchanged in November at 5.8 percent.

The state’s unemployment rate was 7.3 percent in October and 8.4 percent in November 2013. The unemployment rate is derived from a federal survey of 5,500 California households.

Most Wanted for December 19

December 19, 2014 - 8:52am

Ventura County's Most Wanted is a collection from the Ventura County Sheriff's Office in conjunction with Crime Stoppers. 

Click here for more crime-related stories and VCSD Most Wanted.

Ventura County Crime Stoppers will pay up to $1,000 reward for information, which leads to the arrest and criminal complaint against the suspect. The caller may remain anonymous. The call is not recorded.

Call Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit All information provided by Crime Stoppers as collected from law enforcement agencies or supplied by the Ventura County Sheriff's office.

Christmas celebrations planned

December 19, 2014 - 7:34am


Christmas Eve will celebrated in park

Calvary Nexus will host a citywide Christmas Eve candlelight service Wednesday at 3:45 p.m. at Constitution Park at Carmen Drive and Paseo Camarillo. The community is invited to an outdoor service that will include music and a message about the true meaning of Christmas.

In case of rain, check the website at for service times and location. For questions or directions, contact Calvary Nexus at 384-1182 or email to


Episcopal Church plans two services

St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church will offer two Christmas Eve services Wednesday at 28211 Pacific Coast Highway (across from Paradise Cove).

At 5 p.m., come to the family-friendly service for carols and the youth pageant. At 10:30 p.m. join in the grand celebration of the Feast of the Holy Nativity, with lessons and carols, choral music and candlelight.

The community is welcome. For more information, visit


Unitarians to hold service for families

A family Christmas Eve service will be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Conejo Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 3327 Old Conejo Road.

It will include stories and songs of the season with music from the choir, additional musicians and congregational singing. For more information, call 492-8751.


Congregation hosts dinner and a movie

Congregation B’nai Emet of Simi Valley will have a movie and Chinese food buffet dinner Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at 9 W. Bonita Drive.

The movie will be “The Divan,” a humorous documentary in which filmmaker Pearl Gluck, who had forsaken her Orthodox upbringing, attempts to make amends with her father by acquiring a couch said to have been slept on by esteemed rabbis.

The cost is $18 per person and $10 for students 18 and younger. RSVP at 581-3723 or


Christmas program will feature choir

The 40-voice Chancel Choir of the United Methodist Church of Westlake Village will present “The Christmas Promise,” a Christmas program in three suites by Lloyd Larson, during the 9 and 10:30 a.m. worship services Sunday.

The three suites — “Let Every Heart Prepare,” ”Glory to the Newborn King” and “Let Earth Receive Her King” — tell the timeless story of the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ. Familiar melodies and texts adorn this work.

Organist Ron McBain will accompany the narrated presentation on piano, with additional accompaniment by a brass quintet, flute, clarinet and percussion. Directed by Gloria Hilliard, director of music, the program will include a living Nativity tableau.

All are welcome to attend. The church is at 1049 S. Westlake Blvd. For more information, call the church office at 497-7884 or visit http//