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REMEMBERING ~ Thomas Fire took their home but not their spirit

It was important that Elmer, Gracie Mae and Bandito accompany them. 

REMEMBERING ~ Thomas Fire took their home but not their spirit

by James F. Gray 

Thomas Fire victims, Christopher Means (52) and his wife, Gail (54) lost their Ondulando home, but are planning to rebuild. Their first priority after the fire was to find a rental that would allow their three large rescues, all Dobermans from the Dobie and Little Paws Rescue in Filmore (also greatly affected by the fire). It took two months of commuting from their mother’s in Palm Springs to finally land at their current location in Oxnard with Elmer, Gracie Mae and Bandito accompanying them. 

However, there are many bright spots, such as the support of family, neighbors and friends, old and new, and the potential to build their dream house.

The Means hired architect and structural engineer, Mark Baker, who lives two streets away, for their reconstruction. They had met his wife and dog previously on walks around the neighborhood. The delay in getting back to the area meant a significant delay in getting started as Mr. Baker was well booked up by that time, but they couldn’t be happier with the choice.

The lot was unique, with an odd shape and many feet of fill over most of it. The city of Ventura, so far, has been fantastic, with every visit, request and even onsite consultations.

Their insurance has been wonderful, too—no issues there—they would highly recommend State Farm Insurance to anyone.

Although they have not broken ground yet, they are excited yet apprehensive about rebuilding costs, which may add an extra several hundred thousand dollars due to caissons, extra construction fees and building code changes. A new mortgage means delayed retirement, and the value of what it costs to build, plus the value of the lot could far exceed the value when complete. Being close to retirement, they are considering all options.

Still, the thought of the new home, spectacular location with amazing views, great neighbors and neighborhood, fills them with hope and excitement about the future. 

Whatever happens, they plan to retire in the Ventura area, on a nice private area with their dogs and the ocean close.       

Recently, Gail was caught in the evacuation from the Woolsey fire, having to drive through with fire on the hills. Coming up on the year anniversary of the loss has been difficult emotionally for them, as they remember the past and feel empathy for those recently whose lives have been touched with the same disaster just over the hill.


Ventura Land Trust replaces hawk nest felled during Thomas Fire

VLT rented a crane and lifted Dan into a tree. Photo by Adrienne Stephens

REMEMBERING ~ Ventura Land Trust replaces hawk nest felled during Thomas Fire

Ventura Land Trust (VLT) recently replaced a Red-tailed Hawk nest that was knocked out of a eucalyptus tree after the Thomas Fire. Knowing that Red-tailed Hawks have nested in the same tree for decades, VLT Stewardship staff rented a crane and lifted it into a tree close to the one that had been damaged. The goal was to offer the local hawks a new place to nest before breeding season kicks into full swing.

“Red-tailed Hawks generally mate for life and return year after year to the same nest or area to lay their eggs and raise their young,” said Kate Furlong, VLT Stewardship Director. “VLT is committed to wildlife habitat preservation and the goal of this project is to protect a wild place where the hawks can breed, hunt, and thrive year-round.”

The Ventura Land Trust, a nonprofit land trust operating in the Ventura region since 2003, currently manages 90 acres of permanently protected open space in the Ventura River watershed, and is in the process of purchasing another 2,100 acres of prime hillside property in Ventura. The mission of VLT is to permanently protect the land, water, wildlife, and scenic beauty of the Ventura region for current and future generations.

REMEMBERING ~ FOOD Share’s Annual CAN-tree Drive

For three days, Figueroa Plaza in Downtown Ventura was filled with hundreds of CAN-tree’s at FOOD Share’s 7th annual CAN-tree Drive. The 7th Annual CAN-tree Drive, held November 30th – December 2nd, is the most critical and largest food drive of the year. The highly unique and visual event drew crowds from all over Southern California to witness the building of an estimated 300 holiday trees – all constructed from between 600 and 800 canned goods sponsored and built by various community organizations, businesses, families, and service groups.
The day after the 2017 CAN-tree event ended, the Thomas Fire broke out. Many of the agencies and organizations that went right to work on the fire had just been at Figueroa Plaza the day before building their tree and supporting their community. This year, FOOD Share presented ‘Hero Row’ where organizations like the Ventura City and Ventura County Fire Departments, Sheriff & Police Departments, and many County agencies and more came out to build and decorate their own tree that FOOD Share is donating on their behalf

Annual Holiday Tree Lighting

On a beautiful Ventura evening the Annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony returned on Friday, Novemberthe 30th with the largest light display in Ventura history. Over 20,000 bulbs lit up Mission Park and the Mission’s historical twin Norfolk Pines.
Millions (fake news) filled Mission Park, Figueroa Plaza and Main as far as the eye could see. The celebration included live entertainment from local choirs and dance groups, bounce houses for the kids , FOOD Share can trees and vendors offering food and drinks. And Santa arriving by fire truck as the snow fell.

Annual Holiday Tree Lighting



Every year Jewish people around the world celebrate the holiday of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. Chanukah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, but the starting date on the western calendar varies from year to year. This year it started on sundown on Dec.2 and ends on Dec.10.

In the land of Judea there was a mean (boo) Syrian king, Antiochus. The king ordered the Jewish people to reject their God, their religion, their customs and their beliefs and to worship the Greek gods. There were some who did as they were told, but many refused. One who refused was Judah Maccabee(hooray).

Judah and his four brothers formed an army and after 3 years of fighting, the Maccabees were finally successful in driving the Syrians out of Israel and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem.

When Judah and his followers finished cleaning the temple, they wished to light the eternal light, known as the N’er Tamid, which is present in every Jewish house of worship. Only a tiny jug of oil was found with only enough for a single day. The oil lamp was filled and lit. Then a miracle occurred as the tiny amount of oil stayed lit not for one day, but for 8 days.

Jews celebrate Chanukah to mark the victory over the Syrians and the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. The Festival of the Lights, Chanukah, lasts for eight days to commemorate this miracle of the oil. The menorah candles are lit to celebrate the 8 days that the oil stayed lit.

The spellings of Chanukah has caused some confusion. Part of the reason for this confusion may be due to the fact there is no exact English translation of the Hebrew word for Chanukah. So to help clear up some of the confusion here are just a few of the different spellings one might encounter. They all celebrate the holiday.

Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanuka, Hanukah , Hannukah ,Hanukkah. In the United States it is most common to use the spelling Chanukah.

Plaza Park gets sculpture from John Mahoney self-taught chainsaw sculptor

A dead tree turns into a beautiful bird. Photos by Michael Gordon

by Richard Lieberman

In August 2018, a very large pine tree in Plaza Park, 651 E. Thompson Blvd. (across from post office)had to be almost completely removed due to disease. John Mahoney from West Coast Arborist transformed the 20-foot high remaining tree into a beautiful sculptured art piece with a chainsaw. John also carved the two eagle sculptures at Arroyo Verde Park and the owl and bear at Camino Real Park. John is a true Michelangelo with a chainsaw.

The sculpting is part of the service from West Coast Arborist for removal and milling of the trees and will not require any extra cost from the City. The City of Ventura contracts with West Coast Arborist for tree maintenance. The company is environmentally conscious and reuses wood and trees that are cut down. John Mahoney came all the way from Laguna Beach to perform his art.

Years of drought have taken a toll on trees in and around Ventura. The city contracted with long time contractor West Coast Arborists to take out dead trees in Plaza Park. During an evaluation one of the company’s owners had an idea. Why not let John Mahoney, a self-taught chainsaw artist turn one of the trees into a lasting tribute to the fallen due to our long term draught conditions, which have killed hundreds of trees throughout the city.

Mohoney sent to the city samples of his work and offered an unbeatable price -free to the city.

This sculptor began the unusual career 45 years ago, when his then 18-year-old dad started West Coast Arbiters in Orange County. He followed his dad into the family business and many years later, drew inspiration while watching a TV show about chainsaw artists.

He got to thinking “There is only so many pieces of firewood you can make. “he said. “At the intersection of power tolls and creativity. I found my path in life.”

The next time that you are in the park , or at the post office be sure to admire this wonderful sculpture (and the others that he has done for Ventura).

Chainsaw Sculpture

Revisiting the Thomas Fire- The Rebuild Process


by Dylan Chappell, Chappell Architecture

It’s hard to believe that a year ago this month the Thomas Fire blazed through our city, leaving many feeling distraught and homeless. It is a year I will never forget as our family, my wife Danica and our two young children, lost our first family home. Every day since, there are subtle reminders of the things we’ve lost, but above all we are grateful to be rebuilding our home and continuing to hold onto the hope of creating another home for our children to grow up in. The losses we suffered will never compare to the love and support we received in abundance from friends, family, strangers, and the community.

As a local architect and as someone going through the rebuild process myself, I would like to give my praises to the employees at the City of Ventura who have taken a personal interest in helping us rebuild. I’m constantly dealing with the Planning and Building departments, and as many people know, this can be a long and arduous process even under normal building circumstances. My expectation was that it would be a similar experience working with the fire rebuilds. I can honestly say that even though I wished the overall process would have taken less time, I don’t believe this to be the fault of the staff. My opinion is that they have done an exceptional job of responding to this crisis. For example, Veronica Ledesma, who is usually found at the front counter of the planning department, is always enthusiastic to help, provide knowledge, or answer questions. She is supported by Scott Kolwitz and Dan Nielsen who work tirelessly to permit rebuilds as quickly as possible.

The most time consuming and difficult part of the rebuild process is getting a building permit. We have been more than impressed with the management and guidance of the Chief Building Official, Yolanda Bundy over the last year. She has done everything in her power to expedite the permit process. She is extremely efficient and has gone above and beyond to get our permits issued. In our last meeting, we showed up with four projects ready for approvals and Yolanda made it her mission to approve all four projects that very same day. I remember walking to the parking lot feeling thankful because we have people that really care and want us back in our homes as quickly as possible.

Other city officials have been especially helpful as well, such as Deputy Mayor Matt LaVere. He always offered support and frequently checked in on our progress. Finally, Jeff Lambert, The Community Development Director. Thank you, Jeff, for handling the most difficult decisions… your efficiency and concern for our community was noticed and appreciated.

As we look back, we are thankful that this year has passed and that we can focus on the future of this community. We look to the families that lost and the families that gave, with gratitude knowing that our little beach town can withstand anything. We are proud of this community, it’s employees and most of all, it’s perseverance.

Thomas Fire documentary premieres at Museum of Ventura County

by CAPS Media

Over the past year, CAPS Media in collaboration with the Museum of Ventura County went into the community and spoke to many who were affected by the Thomas Fire. We interviewed over 70 people and let them share their stories. Neighbors, friends and First Responders were invited to various locations throughout the county and into the CAPS Media studio to record their stories. From these powerful stories we created a 90-minute documentary.

The Perfect Firestorm is our documentary film that chronicles these personal stories of survival and healing during and following the devastating Thomas Fire. Screenings of the film are free and open to the public with an RSVP required on Sunday, December 16 at 12pm and 3pm at the museum’s pavilion at 100 East Main Street in Ventura. Due to limited seating, reservations are required. Email and indicate the time of the screening you wish to attend.

The Perfect Firestorm was produced in cooperation with Ventura City Fire and Police, Ventura County Fire, Sheriff’s, Office of Emergency Services and other agencies. The year-long project is based on dozens of first-person interviews with fire fighters, first responders, residents and others impacted by the tragedy. In addition to sharing their heartfelt, inspiring and at times tragic stories, the citizens of Ventura County provided CAPS Media with hundreds of photos and videos recorded during and after the fire to help tell the story.

The Perfect Firestorm is a companion production to CAPS Media’s Thomas Fire Stories Project, the series of half-hour, first-person stories that airs every Friday night on CAPS Media. All the interviews conducted for the series and documentary air as stand-along stories on CAPS Media and on KPPQ-LP at 104.1fm.

“CAPS Media is privileged to produce the series and film,” said Patrick Davidson, Executive Director of CAPS. “and extremely fortunate to have the tremendous cooperation and unprecedented access to remarkable stories and supporting material for the project. We have county and city media including video, photos and dispatch calls. The Ventura community responded rapidly by sending us hundreds of personal photos and video of their first-hand experiences. And, as this is a collaborative with the Museum of Ventura County, we have an equally special agreement with television affiliate stations to utilize news coverage of the fire.”

Storytellers recounting personal stories include Ventura County Fire officers Chad Cook, Dustin Gardner, Vaughn Miller, John Spykerman, as well as County CEO Mike Powers, OES Director Kevin McGowan, City Fire Chief David Endaya, City Police officers Mike Brown and true citizen-heroes including Debbie Brokaw, Kat Merrick and her Local Love project, Jake and Jenny Dilbeck, Trevor Quirk and Upper Ojai Relief, Jason Collis and Dr. Susanne Lammot’s World Kitchen/Chef Relief Project, Lance Korthals, Clark Tulberg of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dr. Sean Anderson and many more inspiring storytellers.

All of us at CAPS Media offer our heartfelt thoughts and best wishes to everyone throughout Ventura County who suffered personal tragedy caused by the devastating fires of the last two years. We celebrate the extraordinary courage and sacrifice of fire fighters, law enforcement personnel and other first responders who tirelessly battled the devastating fires.

The Perfect Firestorm is a tribute to our entire community of heroes who, in the face of an overwhelming crisis, responded with astonishing calm and then opened their hearts, hands and homes to rescue neighbors and strangers and together rebuild their lives. We also thanks those in the media and support services who helped provide vital information to all of us in the community. Our community came together. Please contact CAPS Media at or at 805.658.0500 for information about the screenings and about how to join and become a member. Our mission is to create an engaged and informed community through participation in electronic media.

Residents Anxious to Return to Ventura


by Sheli Ellsworth

Michael O’Brien and his adult son were asleep at midnight on December 4, 2017. Thirty minutes later, Mr. O’Brien’s son woke him after hearing the blare of police sirens. The two fled the home on Hillcrest Drive they had lived in since 1982. They left with the family dog and nothing else. “It was very windy. I could smell smoke, but I didn’t see any flames.” Mr. O’Brien says he had an ominous feeling about the fire but it wasn’t until the next morning that he knew the extent of its devastation. “We spent the night at my brother’s in Faria Beach. We went back the next morning about 8:00. All we could see were ashes, chimneys and fireplaces. There was nothing to salvage.” The O’Brien’s lost everything. “The whole street looked like a war zone.”

Mr. O’Brien immediately contacted the insurance company who had a finder service to help with temporary housing. Mr. O’Brien eventually found his own place that the insurance company pays the rent on. “Our insurance company was quick to react. They set up a tent at the mall and assigned an adjuster who come out a couple of weeks later.”

Mr. O’Brien says that not only did he lose all his worldly possessions, but the home itself held so many family memories. “We are living in Camarillo right now. The dog has adjusted, but my son and I are looking forward to moving back to Ventura.” The O’Briens are in the process of rebuilding. “We hope to have a home by 2020. Hopefully, the contractor will start building soon. The building permit is ready to be picked up at city hall.” O’Brien says that if he had to do it over, he would have bought more insurance.  “There just wasn’t enough to rebuild a house that size.”

Vol. 12, No. 5 – Dec 5 – Dec 18, 2018 – Ventura Music Scene

by Pam Baumgardner

After hosting a successful fundraiser for the crew at Squashed Grapes a couple of weeks ago, the good folks at The Hong Kong Inn have temporarily offered their venue for additional events in December. Look for “The Grape Presents” shows including Tuesday night Jazz Jams, The SBCC New World Jazz on December 5, The Doug Webb Group with Danny Carey (TOOL) on December 14, Adam Clark Ensemble on December 19, The Bearded Clams featuring actor Patrick Warbuton (Pearl Jam cover tunes), and Tom Scott on December 21.

After having to cancel (then rescheduling) last year’s event due to losing the venue at the Ventura Fairgrounds due to the Thomas Fire, ChopperFest returns on December 9. Along with all the hot rides, you can check out live music from Bob Carrillo’s Awesome Blues Band, The Midnight Rider Band and The So-Cal Metal Co.

There are several concerts in December at the Ventura Theater that you might not want to miss including Iration playing two nights, December 8 and 9, Dwight Yoakam on December 13, and the 6th Annual Holiday Sing-along on December 16 which is free to the public but they are asking for an unwrapped toy for local residents.

Quick Notes: The newly renovated Star Lounge debuted during the Winter Wine Walk with an updated fresh look and a packed house; along with a live Mariachi Band during dinner on Fridays, The Blue Agave now has DJs on Friday and Saturday nights; The Rubicon Theater is offering Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific December 5 – December 23; the Harpdog Brown & the Uptown Blues Band show has moved from the Hong Kong Inn to Oak and Main on Friday, December 7; there will be a Chopper Fest pre-party at The Tavern on Saturday, December 8, with Jackass and Jan Michael & The Vincents; The Vonettes play an early show at Bombay’s on Saturday, December 8, at 7 pm; you can get into the holiday spirit with Doc the Halls featuring Doc Ventura on Friday, December 15, and the Santa Barbara Flute Ensemble Holiday Show on Saturday, December 16 at Namba; and finally, The Swilly’s play Water’s Edge (formerly Rhumbline) during the Harbor’s Parade of Lights on Saturday, December 15.

And finally, be sure to tune into The Pam Baumgardner Music Hour on KPPQ-LP at 104.1 FM for local artists and artists who have come to the 805 to play who have recorded Christmas music (included a spoken word story from Andria Kidd). Included on my playlist will be original and holiday cover tunes from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Doc Ventura, Kelly’s Lot, The Robot Uprising and even a recently recorded holiday tune from Robert Gray where I get a special mention. I am so honored!!! My show airs Tuesdays and Fridays at 5:00 pm, and Sundays at Noon.

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