Category Archives: News and Notes

Informational meetings regarding fire debris removal Jan. 4 and Jan. 6

Informational meetings have been set for residents affected by the Thomas Fire who are seeking debris removal services from CalRecycle for severely damaged/ or destroyed property.  Two meetings will be held in Ventura. Meetings will also be held in Ojai and Santa Paula. Fire victims are invited to attend whichever meeting is the most convenient as the information presented will be identical at each meeting.

The first meeting in Ventura will be held on Thursday, January 4 at 6pm, and the second Ventura meeting will be held on Saturday, January 6, at 11am. The meetings will take place at Ventura Baptist Church, 5415 Ralston Street, Ventura. Times, dates and locations for the other meetings will be released as soon as possible.

During the meetings, residents will hear information from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) and the California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) about the second phase of the debris removal. After the presentation, representatives from CalRecycle and CalOES will be available for breakout sessions with residents to answer individual questions.

Participation in the Phase II clean-up process has been approved by both the Ventura City Council and the County Board of Supervisors. During Phase II, teams from CalRecycle will remove the remaining debris (including building foundations) from properties with destroyed residential structures.

 There is no cost to the property owner for this phase of the work, however residents will need to provide right-of-entry (ROE) forms, insurance information and other important paperwork to allow the clean up their property.

 It is strongly suggested that residents sign up for this service as soon as possible and submit the property paperwork to facilitate the safe removal of the debris and ash by CalRecycle. The final deadline to submit the paperwork is January 22, 2018. Copies of the ROE and other forms are available at www.venturacountyrecovers.org and the informational meetings. CalRecycle anticipates opening an Operations Center at 290 Maple Court, Suite 120 in Ventura on Tuesday, January 9. Forms and information will be available there as well as the Hall of Administration at the County Government Center and Ventura City Hall.

West Ventura Winter Warming Shelter now open

Wonderful volunteers from Ventura County Environmental Health Division are Hannah Edmondson, PHN , Eva Reeder, PHN Manager for Public Health TB and CD departments, Judith Ahara, LVN, Luisandra Salazar, MOA III, Sandra Gipson, Clerical Supervisor I and Beatriz Castillo CHW. Photos by Michael Gordon

The 2017-2018 West Ventura Winter Warming Shelter opened on Thursday December 21 at the Ventura National Guard Armory located at 1270 Arundell Ave. The Winter Warming Shelter provides a safe place to sleep, a hot meal, and shower facilities for homeless persons seeking refuge during the winter months. Homeless persons can enter the Armory at 6:00p.m. every evening and may remain in the Armory up until 6:00a.m.

Ventura County Environmental Health Division was at the shelter providing TB clearance, flu shots and Hep A vaccinations to the clients. They are required to have a TB clearance within 3 days of shelter opening in order to stay. They provided to them the first few days for their convenience. Many have a difficult time getting in to a medical clinic to be seen.

The Oxnard Housing Department and the City of Ventura Community Development Department, together with the office of the Ventura County CEO, are once again partnering with the non-profit Downtown Ventura Organization (DVO), which acts as the shelter’s fiscal agent. The DVO has retained Advanced Tactical Training Institute to operate, manage, and provide security at the shelter.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted to contribute $120,000 to the shelter this year and the cities of Ventura and Oxnard $100,000 each.

Monetary donations to assist the shelter can be made on the DVO website (downtownventura.org) or by calling 641-1090.

The shelter was originally scheduled to open December 15, 2017. Due to the Thomas Fire, the opening was delayed when the armory facility became a staging center for military personnel days after the fire began.

Agencies granted funds to help VC residents and animals affected by the fire

While the devastating impacts of the Thomas Fire are beginning to be realized, the Ventura County Community Foundation awarded more than $1 million to Ventura County nonprofits in response to emergency needs as a result of the fire. As the foundation is responding to emergency needs, it will continue to focus on fundraising for mid- to long-term support.

Within the first 24 hours of the Thomas Fire, VCCF committed $477,000 to support relief efforts, making grants to the American Red Cross Central Coast Region for $264,440, the Salvation Army for $160,388 and the Ventura County Community Disaster Relief Fund in the amount of $52,172. Later that same week, the VCCF Board of Directors committed another $200,000 toward overall relief efforts with an emphasis on mid- to long-term support. VCCF funders, the Martin V. and Martha K. Smith Foundation, approved a $100,000 grant to the American Red Cross Central Coast Region.

As fundraising efforts continue, the VCCF board has approved another $305,473 to help address some of the immediate needs of local nonprofit organizations. Grants made include support for the efforts of Help of Ojai for basic needs and family assistance, MICOP for radio antenna replacement and health outreach for farmworkers, Habitat for Humanity for housing assistance for those affected by the fires, FOODShare for transportation and food sorting for shelters, Thomasfirehelp.com which has helped 51,000 individuals connect together and facilitate needs caused by the disaster.

Funds were also awarded to Ventura College Foundation for support of low-income single parents who are students who lost income due to the fire, Rubicon Theatre for mandatory cleaning in response to the Thomas Fire, Boys & Girls Club of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme to cover increased costs of childcare due to school closures, Center for Nonprofit Leadership to cover the costs of convening nonprofit organizations to enhance collaboration during the recovery period, Humane Society of Ventura County to cover vet bills and staff supplies as a result of the Thomas Fire, and the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation to cover dog boarding expenses and clean-up efforts from the Thomas Fire.

“Our local nonprofits are on the front lines of relief and recover efforts. Their resources are strained and staff stressed as they provide an increased level of critical services across the county,” said Vanessa Bechtel, CEO of the VCCF.

All donations to the VCCF Sudden and Urgent Needs Fund are directly applied 100 percent to supporting nonprofits who are providing direct services to those impacted by the fires. Donations to the fund can be made at www.vccf.org. In addition, the VCCF is accepting applications for the SUN Fund (Sudden and Urgent Needs), with roughly $50,000 left to award. Applications can be downloaded directly from their website, www.vccf.org.

The foundation was established in 1987 and endeavors to build philanthropy in the region and to give generously for the well-being of all in Ventura County. VCCF invests in the future through scholarships, grant making and collaborative partnerships. For more information or to donate, visit www.vccf.org.

Assistance Center closed its doors but help is still available

After serving for two weeks as a one-stop center for fire recovery information and assistance, the Local Assistance Center that was jointly run by the County and the City of Ventura closed its doors on Saturday, Dec. 23. Residents still seeking services may obtain services at existing local County and City offices.

The County of Ventura and the City of Ventura opened the Center on Dec. 13 at the Poinsettia Pavilion i to assist residents from all areas affected by the Thomas Fire. It has been staffed by a wide array of County, City, State and Federal agencies, as well as a number of non-profit organizations.

Residents have used the Assistance Center to start their recovery from the fire. Information was available on debris removal, permits, housing, rental assistance, vital records, property assessments, public assistance, crisis intervention and stress management, and even services such as replacing driver’s licenses. Health care resources were also available on site to provide assistance, education, and connections to other health services in the community.

“The assistance center provided a very useful service as the County and the City and our partners responded to the substantial needs of our community and those most directly affected. Those that still need help can contact us at City Hall or come to City Hall where we have a fire related service counter established”, said Dan Paranick, Assistant Ventura City Manager.

To further aid fire victims, Ventura County Recovers (venturacountyrecovers.org) continues to offer a registration feature that allows residents to register their contact information to receive information on specific topics. They can also register the address of their damaged or destroyed property so that officials can proactively provide them with information and official notices related to the rebuilding process.

Prevent erosion from stressed landscapes

by David Goldstein, VCPWA, IWMD

The ongoing drought and other recent events have stressed local landscapes, and recent warm and dry weather may make rains seem distant, but as House Stark says in Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.”

When rains hit weakened landscapes, the result is often erosion. If topsoil washes off your property and into storm drains, not only do you lose nutrients needed for gardening, but you also risk polluting natural habitat. Sediment-laden water flowing from storm drains into waterways can bind to fish gills, impairing fish’s ability to breathe. Murky water also blocks sunlight and inhibits the growth of plants necessary to sustain natural habitat. Runoff can also carry harmful metals, pesticides and fertilizers.

If you have recently lost established plants holding the soil of your landscape, or if you have only weakened or damaged plants, you may consider several options to prevent your topsoil from washing down storm drains and polluting waterways.

Straw wattles are one of the simplest and least expensive immediate measures to prevent erosion. Wattles are long tubes full of straw, mulch chips or coir, which is coconut mixed with straw. Wattles are placed across a slope, so they slow runoff, allowing water to flow through while holding back sediment.

Jason Stetler, a landscape architect with Scarlett’s Landscape, recommends aligning wattles at 15 foot intervals, like contour lines, depending on the angle and distance of a slope. Between rows, he often adds plants suitable for a Mediterranean climate.

Secure wattles into trenches a few inches deep, and use stakes on both sides to prevent them from washing away and clogging nearby storm drains. Jute and fiber blankets can provide similar protection on flatter areas, and sandbags can direct water away from erosion prone areas.

For longer term plans, consider native vegetation such as woody shrubs and natural grasses to stabilize soil and filter pollutants. Permeable hardscape is also useful to slow, spread, and sink water, rather than channeling rain into soil robbing torrents.

If you are considering working with a professional landscape company to plan or plant your garden, the sooner you start, the more likely you are to be prepared for the first major rain of the season. Lupe Pardue , Operations Manager of Halter Encinas Enterprises, reports she has received calls from 50 of the company’s 250 regular residential garden maintenance customers in the past two weeks, and these customers, as well as others, are eager to plan new landscapes.

Efforts ongoing to protect Ventura County communities from flood hazards

Acres of land and vegetation now compromised by the Thomas Fires will have a recovery team consisting of Federal, State, Ventura County and City departments. The team is on high alert as these regions are extremely susceptible to debris flows and flooding.

From early modeling already done by the Ventura County Public Works Agency (VCPWA) Watershed Protection District hydrologists, there are grave issues to highlight – mud, water and debris are projected to double in all flood channels, creeks and major waterways during this year’s winter rainfall. In addition, the County of Ventura Geologist is also working directly with state and federal assessment teams during their site reconnaissance to discuss geologic conditions and provide Ventura County geologic overview and landslide hazard assessment.

“Now that the foundation of the affected land has been compromised, nearby communities will have an elevated risk of flash flooding and debris flows when the rains come,” explains Jeff Pratt, VCPWA Director. “We strongly advise homeowners near these burn areas to seek information on flood insurance options as soon as possible. Typical coverage takes 30 days to engage. Public Works will continue to monitor the burned areas at all times.”

Once the Thomas Fire has passed and the burned areas are deemed safe, County of Ventura Departments including the Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services (OES), Health Care Agency (HCA), Public Works Agency (VCPWA) Watershed Protection District (WPD) hydrologists, and the County Geologist from PWA Engineering Services Department (ESD), will perform site reconnaissance to gain information about the potential next disaster with upcoming rain events, such as flooding, high erosion, landslides and debris flows. Together, they will collaborate to develop models that will assess the status of the burned hillsides, map the area’s most prone to flooding and determine areas prone to mudflows and sliding.

For more information about County of Ventura recovery efforts and what you can do to protect yourself, click the “Rain Ready” button at http://venturacountyrecovers.org/.

Workshop on renters’ rights at Ventura County Government Center Dec. 27 at 4pm

On Wednesday, December 27, the County of Ventura, in partnership with the City of Ventura, is hosting an informational workshop to help renters understand their rights.  The workshop will provide information covering a wide variety of topics including: tenant rights and responsibilities; landlord rights and responsibilities; unexpected rent increases and price gouging; and affects to lease agreements if a housing unit was destroyed or is uninhabitable due to the Thomas Fire.

Several reports of price gouging, sudden eviction of existing tenants, landlord refusal to clean smoke and ash in units not directly damaged by the fire, and imposing illegal restrictions on new rentals have been received. This workshop will address these and other issues and provide an opportunity to ask questions from experts to help protect our residents from unscrupulous activity.

 The workshop will be held Wednesday, December 27, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Ventura County Government Center, Hall of Administration, Lower Plaza Assembly Room (LPAR), located at 800 South Victoria Avenue, Ventura, CA 93009.  The workshop is presented in partnership with the California Rural Legal Assistance, Jewish Family Services, CAUSE, the Housing Rights Center, and Many Mansions.

 For questions, please contact Tracy McAulay, County of Ventura, at 805-662-6792. Additional information about fire recovery efforts can be found at www.VenturaCountyRecovers.org.

Local Assistance Center in Ventura closing Saturday, Dec. 23

After serving for two weeks as a one-stop center for fire recovery information and assistance, the Local Assistance Center that was jointly run by the County and the City of Ventura will close its doors on Saturday, Dec. 23, at 5 p.m. Residents still seeking services are encouraged to visit the Center by Saturday, or may obtain services after Saturday at existing local County and City offices.

The County of Ventura and the City of Ventura opened the Center on Dec. 13 at the Poinsettia Pavilion in Ventura to assist residents from all areas affected by the Thomas Fire. It has been staffed by a wide array of County, City, State and Federal agencies, as well as a number of non-profit organizations.

“The Local Assistance Center, which has helped 1,968 households to date, has served as a great example of how County and City government can work together to aid our residents across jurisdictions,” said County Executive Officer Mike Powers.

Residents have used the Local Assistance Center to start their recovery from the fire. Information is available on debris removal, permits, housing, rental assistance, vital records, property assessments, public assistance, crisis intervention and stress management, and even services such as replacing driver’s licenses. Health care resources are available on site to provide assistance, education, and connections to other health services in the community.

 “The assistance center provided a very useful service as the County and the City and our partners responded to the substantial needs of our community and those most directly affected.   While the use of the center has decreased significantly over the last few days, the City will continue to offer a full array of direct services and assistance to folks at City Hall.  Those that still need help can contact us at City Hall or come to City Hall where we have a fire related service counter established”, said Dan Paranick, Assistant Ventura City Manager.

The Local Assistance Center will remain open on Thursday, December 21st and Friday, December 22nd 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Saturday, December 23rd, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  The County has also opened Recovery Information Center trailers in Ojai and Santa Paula which will operate from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. until Friday, Dec. 22.  These two locations offer debris removal and permitting information, public assistance and housing/rental assistance, and connections to Health education, resources and counseling.

“We can continue to serve people effectively and efficiently through our regular channels,” said Barry Zimmerman, Director of the County Human Services Agency, which oversees the Center.   Contact information for agencies that have been present at the Local Assistance Center is attached.

To further aid fire victims, Ventura County Recovers (venturacountyrecovers.org) continues to offer a registration feature that allows residents to register their contact information to receive information on specific topics. They can also register the address of their damaged or destroyed property so that officials can proactively provide them with information and official notices related to the rebuilding process.

United Way Thomas Fire Fund

In response to an outpouring of support, United Way of Santa Barbara County is joining forces with United Way of Ventura County with a joint fund to directly support those individuals and families affected by the fire in both Counties—The United Way Thomas Fire Fund.

Local community partners have determined that the United Way organizations, in both counties, are uniquely positioned and qualified to manage the disaster fund, accept contributions, make distributions, promote the fund and provide a report to the community on how the funds were used. After the wildfire is contained, a committee of representatives from community- and faith-based organizations will be convened to assess needs and allocate money from the fund in Ventura. In Santa Barbara County, United Way of Santa Barbara County will coordinate with local partners such as the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Santa Barbara County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (SBC VOAD) to determine the most appropriate SBC VOAD member organizations and individuals to receive funding, based on the direct need of those affected. United Way of Santa Barbara County may also work to address additional support for individual victims if the wildfire emergency expands into more populated areas.

“The financial and emotional costs of the loss of homes and businesses in Ventura County, including Ojai, is immense and difficult to comprehend,” said Eric Harrison, CEO, United Way of Ventura County. “We will do all we can to ensure a solid path to recovery for our residents.”

To date, $2.25 million has been raised.

Both organizations will utilize the Ventura County systems of donating to the Fund that have already been established. One-hundred percent of the donations will support those in communities affected by the wildfires. Donations can be made by texting UWVC to 41444, online at www.unitedwaythomasfirefund.org, www.unitedwaysb.org or www.vcunitedway.org or by calling 485-6288. Checks may be sent to the United Way office at 702 County Square Drive, Suite 100, Ventura, CA 93003. Please write “Thomas Fire Fund” in the memo.

Thomas Fire takes Vista Del Mar

The fire destroyed most of the hospital. Photo by Barry Harrington Photojournalist

by Jennifer Tipton

On the top of the hill at 801 Seneca Street in Ventura stood Aurora Vista Del Mar, a psychiatric hospital focusing on behavioral health and addiction issues. The 16 acres on which it stood overlooks the ocean (hence, the name “view of the sea”). This scenic location dates back to the founding of Mission San Buenaventura in 1783 when it was known as San Buenaventura Mission Rancho. In 1914, the land was purchased by the state and became the Ventura School for Girls, the first state run reformatory until it relocated to Camarillo in 1962. The area then became the jurisdiction of the City of Ventura until the state issued a certificate of need for 16 acres of land to Community Psychiatric Centers in 1979. The existing buildings were torn down and rebuilt, changing hands several times until 2001 when it became Aurora Vista Del Mar Hospital, one of the most sought-out psychiatric hospitals in the state.

Seneca Street is at the far west end of Ventura and with the Thomas Fire originating in Santa Paula Monday night, it is staggering to think the flames raced that quickly across the hillside, an estimated 15 miles in only a few hours driven by powerful Santa Ana winds.

One source shows a gas main located in a 150-year-old grove of trees just below the hospital exploding and thereby igniting the hillside. The occupants, patients and staff, had very little time to evacuate but were able to do so safely after a quick role call to ensure they all were accounted for. Vista Del Mar staff are trained with the intent that patient safety is always the priority, however, this was a challenge none expected, there was barely time for staff to grab patient’s charts and medications.

I spoke with Mary Burau, Clinic Administrator with Ventura County Behavioral Health and was told the estimated 65 patients were brought to the Thomas Fire Evacuation Shelter at the Ventura Fairgrounds Monday night and later safely transferred to other facilities, some in and some out of the county.

While other buildings in the area remained intact, the fire destroyed most of the hospital. Vista Del Mar was operated by Signature Healthcare Services, a private company.

At this time, it is unknown if they will rebuild.