Top stories of 2017

by Rebecca Wicks

Looking back through 2017, the year was marked by news events common to others. There were new developments, openings, closings, fresh faces making their entrance onto our City’s scene, and recognized faces bowing out. All were eclipsed by the biggest headline of the year – the Thomas Fire. Follows are some of the top stories from the pages of the Ventura Breeze in 2017:

1. The Thomas Fire. While occurring at the tail end of the year, the fire that raged through Ventura the night of Dec. 4th, has had undoubtedly the largest impact on Venturans in 2017. In addition to the more than 500 families that lost their homes, hundreds more remain displaced and unable to move back into their homes as they sit uninhabitable. Many of the homes that still stand are riddled with fire and smoke damage, and in need of repainting, extensive cleaning and removal and replacement of insulation.

The lasting effects of the fire will inevitably stretch into 2018 and beyond as the City works to rebuild. Even those who have experienced no physical loss will be affected as there will continue to be public time and money spent on how the City recovers physically and economically. Questions loom around everything from rebuilding ordinances to protecting against mudslides this winter.

2. Faces Exit and Enter. In March, the Ventura Unified School District voted to fire Superintendent Michael Babb who held the job for only 20 months. Babb was previously superintendent of the Mesa Union School District and was principal of E.P. Foster Elementary School for five years. In July, the Board announced the hiring of David C. Creswell, as the new school superintendent with a salary of $222,000 per year. Creswell previously served as associate superintendent of the Fontana Unified School District and assistant superintendent of the Cucamonga School District.

Also in July, City Manager Mark Watkins announced his retirement effective December 28, 2017. Dan Paranick was named interim city manager. The year’s City Council election featured 10 candidates for three seats, which included incumbents Christy Weir and Cheryl Heitmann. Council member Carl Morehouse did not seek re-election. Both incumbents held their seats and a new face to the council, Matt LeVere was added to the group.

3. The Museum of Ventura County. In January, the Museum re-opened its doors after having been closed for four months for renovations. The celebration was not long-lived as the Museum continued to struggle financially. In July, the City Council voted to give the museum $125,000 dependent on the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approving additional funding and set other conditions. The Council specified funding could last up to five years, assuming the museum meets specific benchmarks and the City has the money. The Museum was charged with showing how it will one day support itself, start assessing a collection of 181,000 documents and artifacts, begin the process of developing an $8 million endowment and look at ways to turn its programs and offerings to be more appealing to all age groups who will visit often.

4. Pot Regulations and the City of Ventura. On January 1, 2018 marijuana became legal to consume and cultivate for Californians over age 21. Like other cities, Ventura is working to determine how it will regulate everything from marijuana store fronts and delivery services to cultivation, taxes, zoning and other related issues. The City held a series of community meetings to offer Venturans input on how it should approach the pending legalization. Since then, the City approved some medical marijuana deliveries from other cities. Currently, a moratorium still stands prohibiting all commercial activity related to marijuana in order to have more time to decide how, or if to regulate it.

5. New Tree Planted at Two Trees. In April, and in honor of Earth Day, a new sapling was planted to replace the eastern-most tree of the duo known locally as “Two Trees.” The previous eastern-most tree had died. The remaining tree is thought to be one of 13 original trees, which resided on the hillside. A number of stories abound as to how the iconic Two Trees came to be just the pair. The tree is a Blue Gum tree, which in their native Australia can live 400-500 years, but here in California are expected to live only 100-200 years. The new tree was donated by Baron Bros. Nursery, and planted by the Rancho San Buenaventura Conservation Trust, which protects the hillsides along with Richard Atmore who has worked the land owned by Lloyd Properties since 1979.

6. Ventura Prioritizes Auto Center Area for Development. In July the City Council approved a General Plan Amendment, Specific Plan amendment, and Sign Agreement within the Auto Center Specific Plan that made the surrounding area significantly more conducive to economic investment. The amendments pave the way to increased economic vitality by improving accessibility, visibility, and circulation in the Ventura Auto Center. Called Focus Area One, the auto center currently employs more than 1,000 workers and is the City’s top revenue generator.

7. Kaiser Opens Its Doors. With a quiet launch Kaiser opened its 57,000-square-foot outpatient complex alongside Highway 101. Marked by unique design, the burgundy building’s façade incorporates a number diagonal stripes of white light. The organization’s website states the building features both an innovative design and patient-centric approach. The site offers optometry, orthopedics, obstetrics-gynecology, cancer infusion, gastroenterology, podiatry, laboratory services and other care.

And, then there is …

8. The Good. The Ventura Harbor Continues to Improve. The Harbor Village beautification project entered its third phase in 2017 with new seating, new planter areas with palm trees, and artwork, including a map of the Channel Islands inlaid as decorative paving. Additional improvements are planned. In addition, two new hotels were approved for development in the area including The Harbor Cove Inn and the Adventure Lodge.

March for Justice a Success. Thousands gathered in downtown Ventura in January for the March for Justice, a protest organized to coincide with the Women’s March on Washington and hundreds of similar marches around the world.

Kellogg Park Construction. Starting as a community driven project to increase park area on the Westside of Ventura, the City and its partners were able to secure $3.5 of the $4.5 of the funds needed to construct the park through grants and donations. The first phase of the 2.41 acre park features community gathering spaces, an amphitheater, playground area, and outdoor exercise equipment.

9. The Bad. Retired Judge Kills Girlfriend and Himself. Former Ventura County Superior Court Judge Herbert Curtis III, 69 shot and killed his girlfriend Patricia Payne, 54 in a domestic dispute. He subsequently killed himself after officials arrived at his home.

Scamp Passes. Publisher Sheldon Brown’s beloved pet Scamp passed this April(just shy of 15). Dubbed Professor Scamp, Ph.D. (pretty happy dog), he was the inspiration for the Breeze’s Pet Pages and Scamp Club, which are focused on celebrating pets in our City as well as finding homes for animals in need.

10. The Bizarre. Celebrating the Life of an Irish Pig. In March, the locally-famous inflatable pig met his end fittingly, on the street in the 2017 County of Ventura St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Known as Pig o’ My Heart and Shamhock, the giant green pig appeared in the parade for 26 years, and was remembered in November in a mass community wake complete with public mourners, pall bearers, bagpipes and of course, libations. A new pig is on its way.

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