Skip to main content
A01 A01
Chain Reactions

By Daryl Kelley

As city officials consider banning chain stores in Ojai's historic downtown, chain restaurant owner Dan Burrell wonders whether he should have ever opened a Jersey Mike's sub shop near the city's centerpiece Arcade last June. Burrell, a youth sports coach and Ojai resident for seven years, said the last thing he wanted to do was to upset his neighbors. But he never expected to become a lightning rod in a heated discussion over how to preserve Ojai as a place that locals love and tourists want to visit.

“I'm not sure that if I knew how upset some people were going to be that I'd do this again,” said Burrell this week. “We got phone calls at home and people said things to my son. I thought, wow....I don't feel great about upsetting people. And I totally understand where people are coming from.”

In fact, Burrell, who owns three other Jersey Mike's in Ventura County, said he never considered opening one in this town of art, oaks and the Pink Moment until he discovered the Subway sandwich chain was negotiating a lease with the owners of Fitzgerald Plaza. So he beat them to it.

“I love Ojai,” he said. “I wanted a real deli here. I don't want my son eating fast food, processed food, either.”

Ironically, Burrell's concern about having a large fast-food chain restaurant in Ojai's signature downtown melds with the mood of the City Council, which two weeks ago directed city planners to develop a law that would keep chains out of the town's Mission-style core while withstanding legal claims over constitutional property rights.

Read the complete report in Wednesday's OVN.

New fires test Ojai community again

web Humane Society Ventura County Rooster

Photo courtesy Humane Society of Ventura County At the Humane Society of Ventura County Nov. 12, Dr. Karen Moore (left) and shelter director Jolene Hoffman clean and bandage burns on the feet of a rooster rescued in Malibu. Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News reporter As wildfires consumed more than 102,000 acres in eastern Ventura County and Los Angeles County, Capt. Tony McHale from Ventura County Fire Department Station 21 in Ojai worked to help fire victims in the community of Oak Park, where multiple homes burned in the Woolsey Fire. McHale said the devastation and loss he saw were reminiscent of the Thomas Fire nearly one year ago. “At first it’s just soul-crushing shock and pain — stuff that we saw plenty of in Upper Ojai and the East End,” he said. VCFD sent firefighters from all four Ojai Valley fire stations, plus a back-up engine and brush rig, to the Woolsey Fire, which broke out Nov. 8 in Simi Valley, jumped the 101 Freeway in the Calabasas area and raced to the ocean, pushed by fierce Santa Ana winds. The wind, combined with extremely dry fuel and difficult terrain, was a disaster in the making. “Everything comes into alignment. When that happens, it can knock us against the ropes for a little bit until we can go offensive,” McHale said. Throughout the disaster, fire stations in the valley maintained critical staffing levels in case a blaze ignited locally. “It’s a balance we maintain as part of our mission,” Ojai Fire Chief John McNeil said. As of Nov. 15, the Woolsey Fire had scorched more than 98,000 acres, destroyed an estimated 500 structures in Ventura and Los Angeles counties and killed three people. Three firefighters were injured, including one struck by a vehicle as he slept by the side of the road in the Deer Creek area Nov. 14. Full containment of the fire was expected by Nov. 19. The Hill Fire, which also broke out Nov. 8 in the Santa Rosa Valley, burned approximately 4,500 acres and destroyed two structures. Vegetation fires broke out Nov. 12 in Thousand Oaks, Moorpark and Simi Valley, with an additional brush fire igniting near Santa Paula Nov. 15. Like they did during the Thomas Fire, Trevor Quirk and a group of volunteers from Upper Ojai Relief are spearheading a relief effort for fire victims from the Malibu area. “We’ve kind of adopted the Seminole Springs community because 101 of the 215 residences in there were reduced to ash,” Quirk said. Upper Ojai Relief has set up a relief station in Newbury Park at American Mattress Man, 2812 Camino Dos Rios. “It’s the same thing we were doing in Ojai with emergency supplies, and then we’re going to be arranging volunteer crews to go into Seminole Springs and the neighboring areas to do sifting for family heirlooms,” Quirk explained. While the Woolsey and Hill fires raged miles away, the Humane Society of Ventura County in Ojai reprised its familiar role as a sanctuary for rescued animals. “We’ve been open 24/7 since the fires started,” said Franki D. Williams, HSVC media and marketing manager. “We have horses, goats, cows, pigs and donkeys, rescued mostly in the Malibu Canyon area.” A large tortoise was rescued Nov. 11 in Malibu by HSVC’s animal rescue team, in partnership with The Little Farm in Ojai. The shelter recently increased its capacity to care for evacuated animals by expanding or improving the corral, pasture and barn areas in preparation for what would be, inevitably, the next disaster. Williams said the community has gone above and beyond making sure the shelter has everything it needs to care for the evacuated animals. “All of our immediate needs, as far as supplies, have been met,” she said Nov. 12. “The support has been fantastic. We’ve just been blown away.” In addition, HSVC staff said they were “deeply humbled” by a large donation from an Oscar winner and her family. “On Sunday, actress Sandra Bullock donated $100,000 to the shelter,” Williams said. Since the fires ignited, the shelter has taken in more than 130 animals, she said, and there’s room for more. The majority of the animals go home soon after they’re rescued. “If the people lost their property, they will remain in our care until the families can be reunited, at no cost,” said Williams. Due to the nature of many of the rescued animals, the shelter has sought help from specifically-trained volunteers only. “It’s very, very different with farm animals and horses,” she explained. Williams said the best way to help is to donate to HSVC’s general fund. Several local feed stores have set up accounts to take donations on the shelter’s behalf. “When disaster strikes, people feel so helpless and they want to be able to do something, to spread some love,” she said, “and we definitely felt that, for sure.”

Ojai bird count effort takes flight

051117lake casitas bald eagles 1 photo courtesy linda frazier

Photo by Linda Frazier The Lake Casitas bald eagles perch near their nest during a full moon. Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News correspondence A group of local birders conducted a bird count in the Ojai Valley Apr. 28. The goal was to see how many species of birds they could find in one day, during spring migration. The birders also wanted to see how the local bird population was doing, given ever-shrinking habitat and a severe five-year drought. The Ojai Valley Big Day of Birding was inspired by a program known worldwide as International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). «I started thinking about something we could do to celebrate IMBD, and bring awareness to bird conservation in the Ojai Valley and Ventura County,” said Ojai ornithologist Jesse Grantham. Before dawn, Grantham, and fellow birders Bill Shanbrom and Rick Ridgeway, grabbed their binoculars and drove to areas including Matilija Canyon, Wheeler Gorge Campground, the Ojai Meadows Preserve, Krotona Institute and Lake Casitas. During the 15-hour count, they tallied 121 different bird species. Some of the day’s highlights included a rare sight in Ventura County, an American bittern, at Lake Casitas. The birders also observed the pair of bald eagles at Lake Casitas with a chick in the nest. «That’s always exciting,” Grantham said. And the men spotted four species of owl — pygmy owl, barn owl, screech owl and great-horned owl. But the real show was provided by the migratory birds, including «huge numbers of swallows heading north,” said Grantham. «They’re whizzing by you, and you can just see the intensity in their bodies and brains. They have one goal, and that’s to go north and get to their breeding grounds.” Grantham explained that hitting bird migration at its peak — the last week of April and the first week of May — is critical to the bird count. «That’s when you can have the greatest diversity of bird species — all these birds that are coming out of Central and South America and Mexico — and they’re all moving north, some going as far as Alaska.” They come in waves, at night, and at first light come down into the trees and start looking for food, and start singing. Grantham called it the morning chorus — scores of birds in song at sunrise. «And they get really cranked up for about an hour, so if you can be in a highly diverse habitat like Matilija Canyon, at dawn, you’re going to pick up a lot of species that you probably won’t get anywhere else.” Late in the day, the birders were treated to an appearance by a Swainson’s hawk, which spends the winter in Argentina and migrates to breeding areas as far north as Canada. «Rick Ridgeway had been to Argentina, where he’d seen Swainson’s hawks during the winter, so for him it was a real treat,” Grantham said. IMBD was first observed in 1993. Grantham used to do a bird count every year when he worked at the Audubon Society. «All of the major bird conservation organizations — Audubon, American Bird Conservancy and Cornell University — are always looking for ways to get people involved in going out into the field and highlighting bird conservation and migration.” In the 1960s and ‘70s, recalled Grantham, «a lot of people went out just to see how many birds they could see in a day, as just their own personal challenge.” Over the years, he said, bird conservation became a bigger issue. The big challenge for the Ojai birders came from the weather. «The winds hammered us all day,” Grantham said. «A lot of what we do to tally birds is based on sound. Probably we see 50-percent of the birds we count, but we hear the other 50-percent.” On blustery days, the wind tends to keep the birds down and masks the calls of the birds. How has the drought affected local bird populations? «The drought has compounded an already compromising situation. You have all the man-made mortality factors and then you throw in a severe five-year drought that affects water resources and vegetation, which provides food birds need to feed their young, and cover for places where they would nest.” said Grantham. Overall, the birders were pleased with the variety of birds seen, «but we felt that there were fewer numbers of individuals than we would have expected,” Grantham added. This spring, two Ventura County chapters of the Audubon Society did a 72-hour bird count. Results of the Ojai Valley count will be piggybacked with those numbers and the global findings on IMBD. Worldwide, bird populations have been declining at a fairly rapid rate, mainly due to human population pressures. «Time will tell,” said Grantham, about the shrinking numbers. «But what we want to do is get more and more young people involved so they can carry this on, get out in the field, and make more people aware of birds and conservation.” To learn more about migratory birds, and where and when they can be seen in the Ojai area, contact a local Audubon chapter or sign up for birding walks hosted several times each year by Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (OVLC). Grantham, who often leads the OVLC bird walks, said that bird migration never ceases to amaze him. «It’s still exciting, and you still get that sense of wonder at this migration phenomenon that’s been going on for tens of thousands of years. And you get to experience it.”