1. ​Seeing Discolored Lawns, California Businesses Apply Dab of Green NY Times

    Drew McClellan spray-painted the lawn of a home in Long Beach, Calif. He says that he has taken requests faster than he can keep up since starting his business in July. Credit David Walter Banks for The New York Times
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    LONG BEACH, Calif. — The spray-paint nozzle was aimed carefully at the edge as the painter stood back a few inches from the flat metal shovel meant to protect other surfaces. After laying down a couple of thin coats, he stepped back to admire his work.

    The patch of grass had gone from a flat, yellowing green to a Wizard of Oz shade of emerald.

    There are few people who see an upside to the record-setting drought in California, but Drew McClellan sees a path to business. Earlier this summer, when a friend began complaining about his browning front lawn, Mr. McClellan thought back to his childhood in Florida, where he often spotted golf courses using sprays to dye their greens. When a brief Internet search failed to show any local business offering a similar service, Mr. McClellan decided it was a prime opportunity.

    And since he opened up shop in July, Mr. McClellan has been taking requests faster than he can keep up.

    “No matter how weird people might think it is, everyone is getting to the point of considering something drastic,” Mr. McClellan said, taking a break from his other job working as a hair stylist at a retro-style barbershop. As he and his wife sprayed down the lawn of Tony Felipe, who has lived in Long Beach for nearly 20 years, Mr. Felipe looked on with nods of approval. For less than $400 — not much more than a regular water bill these days — he could see his lawn instantly turn green.


    Mr. McClellan said he got the idea for his business from seeing golf courses using dyes in Florida, where he grew up.  Credit David Walter Banks for The New York Times

    Mr. Felipe hardly considers himself an environmentalist. Apart from slightly shorter showers, he said, his behavior has hardly changed amid the drought. But as he watched his water bill climb well into the triple digits, he started looking for any way to cut back on water without losing his lawn.

    “We started with the front lawn, and everyone who drove or walked by gave us strange looks,” Mr. Felipe said. “But two weeks later, it looks so good, of course we want to do the backyard.”

    He did not mind at all when his small, white dog trampled through the still-wet lawn, giving his paws a tinge of green. Mr. McClellan promised the dye would come off the dog within days.

    Throughout California, hundreds of thousands of homeowners have transformed once-grassy lawns into intricate landscapes of rocks and planters. Several cities have taken to running public service announcements declaring that “brown is the new green” and showing dormant grass alongside a lush lawn. Most water districts have by now put in place rationing, limiting the number of days and times that residents are permitted to water their lawns or wash their cars, with a $500 fine for violators.

    But even as browning grass or drought-resistant plants are popping up in front of ever more houses, few things are as alluring as a California green lawn, long a symbol of wealth and vitality.

    Continue reading the main story Video

    Play Video|3:22

    California’s Extreme Drought, Explained

    California’s Extreme Drought, Explained

    The state is experiencing the worst drought in its history. Find out just how bad the situation is getting and what it means for you.

    Video Credit By Carrie Halperin and Sean Patrick Farrell on Publish Date July 5, 2014. Image CreditStuart Palley/European Pressphoto Agency

    In California, much of the use of lawn paint began during the housing crash, said Shawn Sahbari, a Bay Area technology entrepreneur who began manufacturing and applying his paint formula when he was helping a property management company with foreclosed homes several years ago.

    “Letting it go dead and brown might be an option for some people, but let’s face it, nobody really thinks brown is the new green,” Mr. Sahbari said. “This lets you cut down on watering and still have a lawn that looks great.”

    According to most manufacturers of lawn paint, the pigment also contains fertilizers, which can help cut down on weekly watering while keeping the grass from dying completely. Mr. Sahbari said he now has many repeat customers who paint their lawn four times a year. “It’s an integral part of their landscape management system now,” he said.

    But there is little doubt that there is a kind of psychological hurdle involved.

    “I see it as a cultural paradigm shift that we are just starting to make,” said Jim Power, a manager for LawnLift, a San Diego lawn paint manufacturer whose business has tripled in the last year. “It’s very hard to find a yard that doesn’t have a problem — this is a quick fix, instant gratification that does not make you feel guilty.”

    Continue reading the main story

    Interactive Feature: Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

    Few in the industry see it as a limited market; they point to the proliferation of lawn mowers and even artificial turf as a potential model.

    Already, there are dozens of lawn paint options available, from longer-lasting formulas typically used on high-traffic turf such as ballparks and golf courses, to naturally derived products that rely on a highly concentrated pigment. Some formulas tend to have a blue-tinged hue, a telltale sign of the unnatural that most homeowners avoid.

    “Beauty, though, really is in the eye of the beholder,” said James Baird, a botany and plant sciences professor at the University of California, Riverside, who has done extensive research on lawn paints, including trying several of them on his own backyard. “What I call the fake Christmas tree look, that is by far the most popular hue in our research. When you put it on turf that is already brown, it can come out a lot more blue than green, but some people love it.”

    Still, Mr. Baird said, aside from skeptical looks from neighbors, there is little to lose from trying. Spray-painting the lawn of an average-size home in Southern California costs less than $300 — and if the owner hates it, the paint will fade and be gradually mowed off within three months.

    For many lawn owners, the love affair with paint started off with a heavy dose of skepticism and the simple desire to not be embarrassed by brown spots. Some homeowner associations have been known to fine up to $500 if a resident’s front yard is deemed insufficiently tended.

    After Cy Bodden and his wife had a baby last year, they opted to paint their lawn to make it look nicer to relatives coming to visit.

    “When you’ve spent all this money on something over the years and you look and it’s yellow, it’s really kind of depressing,” said Mr. Bodden, who lives in San Diego.

    And at first, none of Mr. Bodden’s relatives raised an eyebrow at the forest-green grass. Then one of his nephews stepped on it and was dismayed to find that the green grass felt rough and crunchy beneath his feet. But Mr. Bodden was hardly chagrined. “The only people who really think it’s weird are people who aren’t from California,” he said

  2. As Bombs Go Silent, Testimonies Mount That Israeli Soldiers Used Gazans as Human Shields · Global Voices →

    What liers these Zionists are  Hard to read!!

  3. NY Times More Workers Are Claiming ‘Wage Theft’

    Guadalupe Salazar, a McDonald’s cashier who says her paychecks were missing overtime wages.CreditPeter DaSilva for The New York Times
    Continue reading the main story


    • Editorial: Wages and Salaries Still Lag as Corporate Profits SurgeAUG. 31, 2014

    • Editorial: Wage Theft Across the BoardAPRIL 21, 2014

    Continue reading the main story


    • An employee of the Gap neatening a jeans display at a store in San Francisco. The retailer announced last month that it would raise its minimum hourly wage.

      DealBook: Pay Higher Wages, Earn More ProfitMARCH 21, 2014

    • Today’s Economist: The Minimum Wage From a Family PerspectiveMARCH 12, 2014

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     11 minutes ago

    My guess is those complaining of wage “theft” spend more time during their working hours complaining than actually working.


     11 minutes ago

    McDonald’s, of the soulless food, also has no heart when it comes to vulnerable employees.I’m not surprised.http://www.thecriticalmom.com


     11 minutes ago

    How did “salaried” and “exempt” positions come into being? When was it thought to be “ok” to hire an employee for a set number of hours, for…

    Continue reading the main storyShare This Page

    MIRA LOMA, Calif. — Week after week, Guadalupe Rangel worked seven days straight, sometimes 11 hours a day, unloading dining room sets, trampolines, television stands and other imports from Asia that would soon be shipped to Walmart stores.

    Even though he often clocked 70 hours a week at the Schneider warehouse here, he was never paid time-and-a-half overtime, he said. And now, having joined a lawsuit involving hundreds of warehouse workers, Mr. Rangel stands to receive more than $20,000 in back pay as part of a recent $21 million legal settlement with Schneider, a national trucking company.

    “Sometimes I’d work 60, even 90 days in a row,” said Mr. Rangel, a soft-spoken immigrant from Mexico. “They never paid overtime.”

    The lawsuit is part of a flood of recent cases — brought in California and across the nation — that accuse employers of violating minimum wage and overtime laws, erasing work hours and wrongfully taking employees’ tips. Worker advocates call these practices “wage theft,” insisting it has become far too prevalent.

    Some federal and state officials agree. They assert that more companies are violating wage laws than ever before, pointing to the record number of enforcement actions they have pursued. They complain that more employers — perhaps motivated by fierce competition or a desire for higher profits — are flouting wage laws.

    Many business groups counter that government officials have drummed up a flurry of wage enforcement actions, largely to score points with union allies. If anything, employers have become more scrupulous in complying with wage laws, the groups say, in response to the much publicized lawsuits about so-called off-the-clock work that were filed against Walmart and other large companies a decade ago.

    Here in California, a federal appeals court ruled last week that FedEx had in effect committed wage theft by insisting that its drivers were independent contractors rather than employees. FedEx orders many drivers to work 10 hours a day, but does not pay them overtime, which is required only for employees. FedEx said it planned to appeal.

    Julie Su, the state labor commissioner, recently ordered a janitorial company in Fremont to pay $332,675 in back pay and penalties to 41 workers who cleaned 17 supermarkets. She found that the company forced employees to sign blank time sheets, which it then used to record inaccurate, minimal hours of work.

    David Weil, the director of the federal Labor Department’s wage and hour division, says wage theft is surging because of underlying changes in the nation’s business structure. The increased use of franchise operators, subcontractors and temp agencies leads to more employers being squeezed on costs and more cutting corners, he said. A result, he added, is that the companies on top can deny any knowledge of wage violations.

    “We have a change in the structure of work that is then compounded by a falling level of what is viewed as acceptable in the workplace in terms of how you treat people and how you regard the law,” Mr. Weil said.

    His agency has uncovered nearly $1 billion in illegally unpaid wages since 2010. He noted that the victimized workers were disproportionately immigrants.

    Guadalupe Salazar, a cashier at a McDonald’s in Oakland, complained that her paychecks repeatedly missed a few hours of work time and overtime pay. Frustrated about this, she has joined one of seven lawsuits against McDonald’s and several of its franchise operators, asserting that workers were cheated out of overtime, had hours erased from timecards and had to work off the clock.

    “Basically every time that I worked overtime, it didn’t show up in my paycheck,” Ms. Salazar said. “This is time that I would rather be with my family, and they just take it away.”

    Business advocates see a hidden agenda in these lawsuits. For example, the lawsuit against Schneider — which owns a gigantic warehouse here that serves Walmart exclusively — coincides with unions pressuring Walmart to raise wages. The lawyers and labor groups behind the lawsuit have sought to hold Walmart jointly liable in the case.

    Walmart says that it seeks to ensure that its contractors comply with all laws, and that it was not responsible for Schneider’s employment practices. Schneider said it “manages its operations with integrity,” noting that it had hired various subcontractors to oversee the loading and unloading crews.

    Business groups note that the lawsuits against McDonald’s have been coordinated with the fast-food workers’ movement demanding a $15 wage. “This is a classic special-interest campaign by labor unions,” said Stephen J. Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association. In legal papers, McDonald’s denied any liability in Ms. Salazar’s case, and the Oakland franchisee insisted that Ms. Salazar had failed to establish illegal actions by the restaurant.

    Lee Schreter, co-chairwoman of the wage and hour practice group at Littler Mendelson, a law firm that represents employers, said wage theft was not increasing, adding that many companies had become more vigilant about compliance. But that has not stopped lawyers from bringing wage theft complaints because of the potential payoff, Ms. Schreter said. “These are opportunistic lawsuits,” she said.

    Michael Rubin, one of the lawyers who sued Schneider, disagreed, saying there are many sound wage claims. “The reason there is so much wage theft is many employers think there is little chance of getting caught,” he said.

    Commissioner Su of California said wage theft harmed not just low-wage workers. “My agency has found more wages being stolen from workers in California than any time in history,” she said. “This has spread to multiple industries across many sectors. It’s affected not just minimum-wage workers, but also middle-class workers.”

    Many other states are seeing wage-theft cases. New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has recovered $17 million in wage claims over the past three years. “I’m amazed at how petty and abusive some of these practices are,” he said. “Cutting corners is increasingly seen as a sign of libertarianism rather than the theft that it really is.”

    In Nashville last February, nine housekeepers protested outside a DoubleTree hotel because the subcontractor that employed them had failed to pay a month’s wages. “The contractor said they didn’t have the money, that the hotel hadn’t paid them,” said Natalia Polvadera, a housekeeper. “We went to the hotel manager — he showed receipts that they had paid the contractor.”

    Nonetheless, the protests persuaded DoubleTree to pay the $12,000 in wages owed.

    Mr. Weil said some executives had urged him to increase enforcement because they dislike being underbid by unscrupulous employers.

    His agency has begun cracking down on retaliation against workers who complain, suing a Texas company that fired a janitor when he refused to sign a statement that falsely said he had already received back wages due him from a Labor Department investigation.

    “This is just not acceptable,” Mr. Weil said. “You can’t threaten people to lose their jobs because they are asserting rights that go back 75 years.”

  4. ​Rudy ​Carpenter’s coaching debut will reunite QBs

    Carpenter’s coaching debut will reunite QBs

    Ventura County Star (CA) - Wednesday, August 27, 2014
    Readability: 9-12 grade level (Lexile: 1150L)
    Author: Rhiannon Potkey is a reporter at The Star. She can be reached by email at rpotkey@vcstar.com.
    Rudy Carpenter prepares to face a former teammate, Richard Mullaney prepares for a bigger role, and Toi Cook prepares for the Hall of Fame. 

    Local players and coaches are making news beyond the county lines. Here’s what’s being said and done … 

    The handshake between coaching staffs could get awkward when Saguaro High meets Chaparral on Friday night in Arizona. 

    Westlake High graduate Rudy Carpenter is the offensive coordinator at Chaparral this season, and Sam Keller is the offensive coordinator at Saguaro. 

    The two quarterbacks were involved in a soap opera-like drama while playing for Arizona State in 2006. 

    Former ASU head coach Dirk Koetter named Keller the starter, only to change his mind two days later and hand the job to Carpenter. 

    See POTKEY, 2C 

    The spectacle included Carpenter debating whether to leave ASU, the team’s leadership council shouting at each other during a meeting and Keller transferring to Nebraska once Koetter reversed fields. 

    Carpenter and Keller told The Arizona Republic they haven’t kept tabs on each other since the episode. They won’t be able to avoid each other Friday when their rival teams meet in the season opener. 

    “One thing I learned during my time in high school and during my time in college and definitely in the NFL was just to stay in my own lane,” Carpenter told the Republic. “My philosophy honestly is I want to make it about the kids. That’s my biggest point.” 

    Carpenter did some private coaching when he lived in Westlake after his four-year NFL career ended in 2012. 

    He moved to Scottsdale to be with his girlfriend, a former ASU volleyball player who is an attorney, and decided to join Chaparral’s staff. 

    “I want them to learn the right way,” Carpenter said. “I want to foster an environment to teach these kids not just about football, but about life.” … 

    Redshirt junior Richard Mullaney is the only returning starter at wide receiver for Oregon State this season. 

    Mullaney, a Thousand Oaks High graduate, caught 52 passes for 788 yards and three touchdowns last season. 

    “Richard is kind of Mr. Reliable for us,” Oregon State senior quarterback Sean Mannion told the Statesman Journal. “Great hands, good routes. He’s a very steady player for us.” 

    Oregon State head coach Mike Riley told the Statesman the next step in Mullaney’s development is to get stronger to help deal with press coverage at the line of scrimmage. 

    “Absolutely,” Mullaney said in agreement. “It was my first year starting (last year) and going against Pac-12 defenses. It was a surprise at first. I feel like I had a really good offseason, put on some weight.” 

    Mullaney has been dealing with an ankle injury in training camp, but he expects to be ready for the season-opening game against Portland State on Saturday. 

    “I feel like I left a ton on the field last season, so I am definitely planning on improving this year,” he said. … 

    Jimmy Clausen beat out Jordan Palmer for the backup quarterback job with the Chicago Bears. 

    Bears head coach Marc Trestman cited Clausen’s youth and experience as two of the determining factors in the decision. 

    Clausen, an Oaks Christian School graduate who turns 27 in September, threw 299 regular-season passes during his rookie year with the Carolina Panthers in 2010. He passed for 1,558 yards with nine interceptions and only three touchdowns. 

    Trestman told reporters Clausen “came highly recommended to me from some people that I trust in Carolina. His ability to handle the adversity he had in his first year, his leadership qualities, he stood up tall through a lot of tough times in Carolina and gained the respect of teammates and the team there with the way he handled himself in a very, very difficult year.” … 

    After such a successful run, the season couldn’t have ended much worse for Shane Austin and the Cleveland Gladiators. 

    The Arizona Rattlers routed the Gladiators 72-32 in the ArenaBowl last Saturday to win their third consecutive Arena Football League championship. 

    The 40-point defeat was the largest margin in ArenaBowl history. 

    Austin, a Rio Mesa High graduate, threw four interceptions before taking a seat in the fourth quarter. He finished 18 of 41 for 201 yards and three touchdowns. 

    Rather than dwelling on the final game, Austin chose to take a broader perspective of Cleveland’s 17-2 season. 

    “I can’t think too much about this game and the negativity of it, because we’re so close,” Austin told cleveland.com. “It doesn’t take away from our season. I mean, we had a great season. This was a team that nobody believed would come close and even sniff this. We proved a lot of people wrong, and that’s what I have to keep focusing on — the good from the season, rather than just one game.”… 

    Westlake Village resident Toi Cook is being inducted into the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame in October. 

    Cook was a two-sport standout at Stanford, playing baseball and football. 

    As an outfielder on the baseball team, Cook started 192 games and was a career .317 hitter. He helped the Cardinal win the 1987 College World Series, going 3 for 5 with three runs scored in the title game against Oklahoma State. 

    As a cornerback on the football team, Cook finished with 17 career interceptions and led the Cardinal to the Gator Bowl as a senior. 

    He was drafted in the eighth round of the 1987 NFL draft and the 38th round of the 1987 MLB draft. Cook played 11 seasons in the NFL, winning a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 1995. 

    Cook currently is the president of Empire Sports, a sports, entertainment and consulting company. … 

    NFL teams made their first cuts this week to trim the roster to 75 players. The Baltimore Ravens waived running back Cierre Wood (Santa Clara), the Atlanta Falcons waived rookie quarterback Jeff Mathews (Camarillo) and the Green Bay Packers waived fullback Ina Liaina (Rio Mesa). … 

    If anyone saw ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” report last week on sexual assaults by athletes on college campuses, Buena High graduate Nicole Noren was the producer. 

    POTKEY from 1C
    Caption: STAR FILE PHOTO Westlake High graduate Rudy Carpenter ended his NFL career after failing to make the Dallas Cowboys as a backup quarterback in 2012. Carpenter will make his high school coaching debut in Arizona on Friday. AP FILE Thousand Oaks High graduate Richard Mullaney, a redshirt junior, is the only returning starter at wide receiver for Oregon State this season. 

  5. Board rejects bonus cvusd MIKE DUNN Ventura County Star

    Board rejects bonus

    Ventura County Star (CA) - Thursday, August 28, 2014

    Author: Rachel McGrath Special to The Star
    A proposal to allocate surplus-property funds for a one-time 3 percent bonus for all employees of the Conejo Valley Unified School District failed to receive support from a majority of the district board. 

    Board member Mike Dunn proposed the motion, which was submitted in consultation with community members Tony Dolz and John Andersen, who are running for the board in November’s election. 

    The motion failed to get a second. 

    “I think making this 3 percent contribution to the employees, this gesture, is just a very small way of saying ‘thank you’ to them for the sacrifices they made,” Andersen said. 

    The district is placing a $197 million bond measure on the Nov. 4 ballot.
    Caption: STAR FILE PHOTO Conejo Valley Unified School District. 

  6. ‘They are still people,’ jail chief says Ventura County Star Cmdr. Linda Oksner

    ‘They are still people,’ jail chief says

    Ventura County Star (CA) - Thursday, August 28, 2014
    Readability: 11-12 grade level (Lexile: 1240L)
    Author: Cindy Von Quednow cvonquednow@vcstar.com 805-437-0208
    As Cmdr. Linda Oksner walked through the long, gray hallways of the Todd Road Jail near Santa Paula, she chatted with inmates and staff members. 

    “Did you have a good day?” she asked an inmate, who answered positively. “Excellent,” she chimed back. 

    More than once, she called a member of her staff “awesome” during an introduction to visitors. 

    As the commander in charge of the facility, Oksner has made it a point to treat everyone fairly. 

    See Oksner, 2B 

    After more than 32 years with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, she will leave the agency Friday with plenty of memories and relationships. 

    “Regardless of what brought somebody into the jail, they are still people. It’s our responsibility to make sure we do everything we can to have them go through this time in a productive manner,” said Oksner, 55. 

    “Whether that’s by preventing any kind of self-harm or bad outcome or giving them an opportunity to find out what their goals are and get them to understand they can change, it’s going to take a risk on their part to do something differently.” 

    Originally from Illinois, Oksner and her family moved to Ventura County when her father became a Seabee at Naval Base Ventura County. 

    She had aspirations to become a physical therapist when her brother, studying at Ventura College, suggested she would thrive in criminal justice. She took his word for it and worked as a reserve officer in Santa Paula before completing the sheriff’s academy. 

    While Oksner has worked in an array of posts during her time with the agency, including stints as Thousand Oaks police chief and head of forensics and the property room, she has spent most of her career working in the county’s jails. 

    Oksner was a deputy at the main jail in Ventura and worked her way up to commander there before running the Todd Road Jail starting in 2011. 

    That was right before enactment of the state Public Safety Realignment Act, which called for nonviolent offenders released from state prison to return to the last county where they lived and serve time locally if they reoffend. 

    While realignment has been challenging for law enforcement and criminal-justice agencies, Oksner said she welcomed the changes as an opportunity to improve rehabilitation and work on opportunities for inmates and those returning to the community. Local inmates have access to mental health treatment, drug and alcohol programs and jobs, Oksner said. 

    “Realignment was a huge game changer for all of us,” she said. “Our job is to create opportunities for inmates to access the resources, treatment and training to allow them to have a much more productive future.” 

    Oksner has been a champion of mental health treatment for inmates and ensuring a “warm handoff” to social service agencies when those with behavioral or substance-abuse problems leave jail. She said the improvements are the result of partnerships between inmate services and other agencies in the county. 

    During her last year as commander of the main jail, Oksner talked an inmate out of jumping from the top level of a cell block. A crisis negotiation team responded but could not get the inmate to step down safely. 

    “Basically, I just talked to him, and we were able to have a very successful outcome,” Oksner said. “He wasn’t hurt; none of us were hurt. It had a very positive ending.” 

    Sgt. Denise Sliva, who has worked with Oksner, said the commander’s “soft side” helped her early in her career when a female inmate collapsed while in custody at the former Honor Farm in Ojai. Sliva and her partner tried to resuscitate the inmate, but the woman died. 

    “I was a new deputy, and that was traumatic. I signed up to save lives, so that was hard for me,” Sliva said. 

    “The commander came in and sat with the other deputy and I and recognized we needed this dump of emotion. She just had the right words to help me process that this was going to happen and I did what I could.” 

    Similarly, Deputy Juliane Nesgis, who has worked at the Todd Road Jail for three years, said Oksner has been an inspiration for her to rise through the ranks of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. “She’s been very motivational, and working with her has been a positive experience,” Nesgis said. 

    Oksner said she has most enjoyed working with other people in her agency, other colleagues in the criminal justice system and representatives of other organizations. 

    She attributes her success to learning from others. 

    “I’ve had a tremendous career, and I’ve been blessed beyond measure,” Oksner said. “I’ve met some really great people who have helped me in this journey, and I hope I have been able to pay it forward to the future of the organization.” 

    Oksner from 1B
    Caption: photos by ROB VARELA/THE STAR Cmdr. Linda Oksner of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, who is in charge of the Todd Road Jail near Santa Paula, is retiring Friday. Oksner, 55, has spent 32 years with the Sheriff’s Office. In her career she also has been Thousand Oaks police chief and head of the forensics and property room. 

  7. Isla Vista gun bill passes Ventura County Star ELLIOT RODGER

    Isla Vista gun bill passes

    Ventura County Star (CA) - Thursday, August 28, 2014
    Readability: 11-12 grade level (Lexile: 1220L)
    Author: Timm Herdt therdt@vcstar.com 916-444-3958
    SACRAMENTO — On his right wrist, Richard Martinez wears six bands, each a different color, honoring the memories of the victims of the May 23 shooting rampage in Isla Vista. 

    On his left wrist, he wears the watch that his son, Christopher, 20, was wearing when he was fatally gunned down. 

    In his heart, he carries an endless grief. 

    “He was my son, and he was everything to me,” said Martinez, of Los Osos. “Christopher was my best friend, and I think of him every single day. Having a child killed by senseless gun violence is the worst thing that can happen to you.” 

    Martinez and Bob 

    See Isla Vista, 3A 

    Weiss, of Thousand Oaks, who lost his 19-year-old daughter, Veronika, that night, came to the California Capitol on Wednesday to urge lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown to enact proposed legislation they say could prevent future tragedies by getting firearms out of the hands of disturbed individuals whose danger signs have been recognized by loved ones. 

    After an early morning news conference on the Capitol grounds, they watched from the gallery as the Senate approved Assembly Bill 1014 on a vote of 23-8. The bill now goes to Assembly, where passage is expected later this week. As is his practice with most bills, Brown has not indicated his position. 

    “She was killed in an act of senseless gun violence, and now I’ll never get to watch her graduate, dance with her at her wedding,” Weiss said at the news conference. “I’ll never celebrate another Father’s Day with her, but what I can do is speak out so that other families do not suffer what my family has been through.” 

    The bill would allow family members or law enforcement authorities to seek what would be known as a gun violence restraining order against a person they believe to be so distraught as to pose a threat to themselves or others. If a judge were to grant such an order, the person would be required to temporarily surrender any firearms in his or her possession. 

    The procedure, modeled after the state’s existing legal protocols for obtaining a domestic-violence restraining order, would result in a three-week prohibition on possessing firearms. Upon considering further evidence, a judge could extend that ban for up to a year. The individual could contest the order in court. 

    The bill is supported by the California Police Chiefs Association and California Sheriffs’ Association. 

    Emeryville Police Chief Ken James said the bill would help authorities stop gun violence before it occurs. 

    Current law prohibits those who have been committed by a judge as result of mental illness from owning a gun and also allows police to place into temporary custody — called a “5150 hold” — those who meet stringent standards for mental instability that might render them dangerous. 

    “Not everyone meets 5150 criteria,” James said. “There may be a temporary crisis that they’re going through.” 

    James noted that the parents of Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger, 22, had asked police to conduct a welfare check on their son, whose behavior had concerned them. 

    “Deputies went to the house and evaluated him. They found a shy, articulate young man, but it just didn’t seem that everything was right,” James said. 

    “This is a law enforcement tool that is much needed to prevent gun violence.” 

    Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Carpinteria, whose district includes Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara, is a co-author of the bill. 

    “I witnessed the devastation of friends, neighborhoods and entire institutions,” he said. “It was clear that the system was not equipped to take his parents’ input. They did not have legal standing, and I viewed that as a fundamental gap.” 

    The bill is opposed by gun-owner groups, including the California Sportsman’s Lobby and Gun Owners of California. 

    Amanda Wilcox, whose daughter was gunned down in 2001 while working at a mental health clinic and is now policy director for the California chapters of the Brady Campaign, said the bill strikes an appropriate balance between the right of gun ownership and protection of public safety. 

    “The very worst that can happen is that someone would lose their gun for 21 days,” she said. “You can always give a gun back. You cannot give a life back.” 

    Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, the bill’s principal author, noted that it includes provisions that would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to falsely assert that a relative is a danger or to seek a restraining order as a means of harassment. 

    In the Senate, the bill was supported by majority Democrats and opposed by most Republicans. Of the five senators present who abstained, one was a Democrat and four were Republicans. 

    A separate measure inspired by the Isla Vista tragedy, Senate Bill 505 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, was sent to Brown earlier this week. 

    It would require law enforcement agencies to check the Department of Justice’s gun-ownership database whenever they are requested to conduct a welfare check to determine whether the individual may be in possession of a firearm. 

    The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

    Isla Vista from 1A
    Caption: Veronika Weiss AP PHOTO Richard Martinez (right), whose son Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez was killed in the Isla Vista shooting rampage, hugs Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, in Sacramento after Wednesday’s Senate approval of a bill to allow courts to temporarily remove guns from people who show signs they could harm themselves or others. At left, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, is hugged by Bob Weiss, of Thousand Oaks, whose daughter Veronika also was killed in the rampage. AP PHOTO State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, urged Senate passage of a bill to let courts temporarily remove guns from people who show signs they could harm themselves or others. AP PHOTO State Sen. Mike Morrell, R-Rancho Cucamonga, on Wednesday calls for lawmakers to reject a measure to let courts temporarily remove guns from people who show signs they could harm themselves or others. 

  8. County pension fund earns 18.5% Ventura County Star

    County pension fund earns 18.5%

    Ventura County Star (CA) - Thursday, August 28, 2014
    Readability: 11-12 grade level (Lexile: 1230L)
    Author: Kathleen Wilson kwilson@vcstar.com 805-437-0271
    The Ventura County pension fund earned a return of 18.5 percent for the last fiscal year, preliminary results show. 

    Although not a record, the figure represents one of the highest returns over the past 20 years for the $3.6 billion fund covering employees of the county government, Ventura County Superior Court and two special districts. 

    The earnings slightly beat the market’s performance, said Tracy Towner, chairman of the board of retirement. 

    “I think it’s pretty good,” he said. 

    Towner said the county returns are preliminary because results from real estate investments and private equities won’t be available until late this year. 

    The county system also matched the rate of return for two state pension systems with hundreds of billions in assets. 

    “That’s tremendous,” said Robert Palmer, executive director of the State Association of County Retirement Systems. The association represents 20 counties with their own public retirement systems, including Ventura County and most of the state’s large counties. 

    The California Public Employees’ Retirement System, which covers employees of the 10 cities in the county, reported 

    See pension, 3A 

    earnings of 18.4 percent. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which covers public school teachers, topped that with 18.66 percent. 

    Still, trustees of the county system may need to shake up their investments. 

    A consultant told trustees last month the mix of investments they have established is not expected to produce the needed rate of return over 30 years. 

    Trustees are seeking 7.75 percent in average annual returns. Over 10 years ending in 2012-13, the system averaged 7 percent. 

    Consultant NEPC, which is headquartered in Boston, recommended trustees put a quarter of their portfolio in alternative investments instead of traditional stocks and bonds. That would be double the percentage targeted now. 

    The percentage devoted to domestic and international stocks would decline by six points to 48 percent. The percentage invested in fixed-income instruments would drop by four to six points, down to about 20 percent. 

    Towner said the board will have an in-depth discussion on the proposal during a board retreat in the fall. 

    The board has not yet made any decisions and is awaiting a study showing how the shift would change the risk for the total fund, Towner said. 

    In what could be the most significant change, the consultant has recommended entering the private debt market. The share of the fund in private debt investments would rise from zero to 8 or 10 percent. 

    Under that scenario, the retirement board would loan money to small and mid-sized companies that can’t get credit from banks but at higher rates than banks would charge, Towner said. 

    Trustees Art Goulet and Mike Sedell said they were open to exploring the idea. Goulet said careful research would be done on the companies. 

    “You investigate thoroughly and make sure there’s collateral to support the debt,” Goulet said. 

    Private debt can be less risky than stocks, Palmer said. 

    He said county pension boards have been moving cautiously toward alternative investments since at least the 2007-08 fiscal year, when the stock market plunged. They’ve had to diversify because bond returns are low and stocks are risky, he said. 

    Alternatives include an array of investments, including timber, real estate and currency, he said. 

    San Diego and San Bernardino counties’ pension systems are probably the leaders in the state in going in that direction, he said, adding, “Even there, they are going very, very cautiously.” 

    pension from 1A

  9. Contractor kills valley oak tree in T.O. Ventura County Star wESTLAKE pLAZA

    Contractor kills valley oak tree in T.O.

    Ventura County Star (CA) - Thursday, August 28, 2014

    Author: Rachel McGrath Special to The Star
    A protected valley oak tree at Westlake Plaza has had to be removed after an equipment operator severely damaged its roots during renovations to the shopping center in Thousand Oaks. 

    Regency Centers, which owns Westlake Plaza, is carrying out a $25 million remodeling of the 40-year-old shopping center that will update buildings and add new pads and parking. 

    A construction worker excavating around the tree outside normal hours of activity damaged the oak on the evening of Aug. 15 or early Aug. 16. 

    The damage to the 35-foot tall tree, identified as Oak Tree 33 on construction site plans, violated the city’s oak tree ordinance and the conditions of the permit for the project, which requires that an arborist oversee activity and that construction workers perform exploratory trenching before excavating near a tree. 

    Regency Centers has admitted the violation. 

    “What it really boils down to is human error,” said Patrick Conway, the Regency Centers vice president overseeing the project. “It happens.” 

    “The contractor has been working on the site for months and has done tremendous work under a tremendous amount of scrutiny, really without incident,” he said. “He feels terrible.” 

    Angry residents in April protested the felling of dozens of trees at Westlake Plaza in a move that had been approved by city planners to make way for the improvements. 

    While legal, the removal of three native oaks as well as owner-planted valley oaks and landmark sycamore trees prompted a public apology from City Manager Scott Mitnick over the handling of the matter by city staff members and the lack of outreach. 

    The loss of the latest oak tree was revealed in a memo to Mitnick from the city’s community development director, John Prescott. The memo, dated Aug. 20, was circulated to City Council members last Thursday. 

    The memo says the violation is a misdemeanor under the municipal code and is punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or up to six months in prison. 

    Mark Towne, Prescott’s deputy, said Wednesday the city plans to levy the $1,000 fine and require Regency Centers to replace the lost tree with two valley oaks of similar height and similar trunk diameter. 

    One tree must be planted in the same location as the lost tree. The other will be planted elsewhere on the property at a site to be determined by the city. 

    Yvonne Brockwell, one of several community members who have been monitoring construction at Westlake Plaza, said she the news did not surprise her. 

    “I’ve been documenting all the trenching they’ve been doing around those trees,” Rockwell said. “On July 11, four of us submitted 26 pages of code-compliance complaints to the city, and one of our biggest concerns was that trenching was leaving roots exposed and that the roots would be damaged and the trees would die.”
    Caption: star file photo Trees were cut down at Westlake Plaza in Thousand Oaks in April. 

  10. 25C POUND OFF THE VINE Pick-your-own offered at farm Ventura County Star

    Pick-your-own offered at farm

    Ventura County Star (CA) - Saturday, August 30, 2014

    Author: From staff reports
    In keeping with a long-standing Labor Day weekend tradition, the Pick-Your-Own Romas event will take place Saturday and Sunday at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark. 

    Visitors may pick as many Roma tomatoes as they wish for 25 cents a pound. Pre-picked tomatoes will be available by prior arrangement for 50 cents a pound. 

    Picking hours will be from 6 a.m. to noon both days. To facilitate weighing, visitors are asked to bring containers of equal size that will hold no more than 50 pounds each. 

    Several families have been attending the event for more than a decade. Some pick as many as 200 pounds of tomatoes before heading home for a day of cooking and canning. 

    There is no admission charge to visit the field. 

    The farm is at 3370 Sunset Valley Road. Call 529-3690 or visit http://bit.ly/1zSDI2b for more information. Visit http://bit.ly/1tKGmXQ for information about other pick-your-own crops and events at the farm.
    Caption: STAR FILE PHOTO Families harvest tomatoes together during the Pick-Your-Own-Romas event that takes place every Labor Day weekend at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark.