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Simi Valley Acorn News

Snakes alive, this was a big one

HANGING AROUND--Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority worker Alberto Silva was working on a tree planting project when he saw this 7-foot kingsnake sliding by. Below, the reptile up close.           Photos courtesy MRCA

In an area known for its bold rattlers, one snake recently stood out like a sore thumb.

In December, staff member Alberto Silva of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority was tending to a native oak tree restoration project near Liberty Canyon when he noticed a rather large California kingsnake making its way towards a busy road. The slithering behemoth was 7 feet long, and thicker than a large baseball bat.

“Not a dangerous snake at all, but quite spectacular,” said Dash Stolarz, spokesperson for the Santa Monica Mountains land management agency.

Fearing the large black and cream native kingsnake might not be able to avoid vehicles, Silva returned the reptile deep into a canyon and released it.

“That is the biggest kingsnake I have ever seen,” said longtime area conservationist and watershed manager Melina Sempill Watts on social media, where Silva was quickly praised for his work saving the reptile.

Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills is the home of the future Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, a proposed 210-foot vegetated bridge over 10 lanes of the 101 Freeway and Agoura Road that will allow animals to safely traverse between the Simi Hills to the north and the Santa Monica Mountains to the south.

Just like cougars, coyotes and other large animals, biologists say, snakes will be welcome to use the bridge for safe freeway crossing too.

“We’re going to need a bigger wildlife crossing!” @mrcaparks said on its Twitter feed.

Southern California’s woodland chaparral is a favorite habitat for the kingsnake, but because it is also one of the most popular snakes in captivity it’s possible the specimen could have of escaped from a private owner. The theory is supported by the fact that most snakes in nature are hibernating this time of the year.

The average length of the kingsnake is 3 to 4 feet. This specimen was twice that length.

Stolarz thinks the snake is probably legit.

“The location of the snake was nowhere near housing of any kind,” she said.

“Our crews often see kingsnakes in the wild. In fact, the same crew encountered an average size kingsnake on the same property on the same day they encountered this large one.”

                                                                                                        —John Loesing

The post Snakes alive, this was a big one first appeared on Simi Valley Acorn.

Keep the 3 Rs at school

We really have to get serious by monitoring what our children are being taught, protesting at school board meetings and contacting elected officials in order to keep our children children.

Please make yourselves aware of the textbooks that are being used from very early elementary to high school. They are very graphic and depict all manner of sexual situations as perfectly normal behavior. The books are very beautiful, including the graphic artwork.

Local school board members, when having been shown these textbooks, have been embarrassed and look away. Not sure what Simi board members’ reactions were, but I’ll bet they weren’t aware until parents brought it to their attention.

Your child’s school day hours are being used to brainwash them with CRT, sex education; there is little time left for reading, writing and arithmetic.

Jessica Freeman
Simi Valley

The post Keep the 3 Rs at school first appeared on Simi Valley Acorn.

Food rules will take some adjusting, but are worth it

If you’re like us, chances are you’re still trying to wrap your head around California’s new rules governing the disposal of food waste.

Gone are the days—so the state says—of simply tossing leftovers into the kitchen trash to be taken out to the dumpster along with the rest of one’s nonrecyclables.

A statewide law went into effect earlier this month that requires all haulers to provide a third bin to residents and businesses for so-called organic waste, a combination of your traditional yard waste and food waste. If you haven’t received your bin yet, it’s coming.

Instead of the landfill, contents of that bin are bound for a composting facility that will transform your scraps into nutrient-rich soil. The resulting compost is sold to commercial farmers, garden shops, landscapers, and residents.

Why go to all this trouble? The goal is to reduce the amount of methane that’s released into the air when old pieces of meat, bones, and vegetables decay in a landfill.

While we know many will find it a pain to separate food waste from the regular trash, count us among those who think it’s a good thing, not just because it helps save our planet, but because it might help us change the way we think about food.

The few additional steps we have to take when disposing of food will be a regular reminder of the amount of food we waste.

It’s not about eggshells, coffee grounds or carrot tops. It’s the forgotten food in Tupperware containers and produce drawers when we clean out the fridge. The same is true of our cupboards stuffed with half-eaten bags of stale crackers, chips, and who knows what else.

Perhaps you’re someone who is much more thoughtful about how much food you buy to ensure it gets eaten and not trashed. Some of us, though, are catching up.

What did we expect? Supermarkets, warehouse retailers, and even restaurants are in the business to make us buy more food, not less. Two-for-one deals, displays of overabundance—“pile it high, watch it fly,” as they say—and arbitrary freshness dates are all aimed at getting us to leave the store with more than we could ever eat.

Even our fridges and plate sizes have gotten larger to accommodate our growing appetites.

According to the nonprofit, nearly one-third of all food produced (1.3 billion tons) is wasted or lost.

The water used to make that food could provide more than 52 gallons of water daily per person for over 9 billion people.

So the new law could make us smarter about the food we’re buying and throwing away.

Supermarkets, restaurants, and bakeries are getting better about sharing leftovers with food banks so extra food doesn’t go to waste. No one should go hungry when we have so much.

Here’s to a new year and a new rule that, hopefully, will ease the burden on our planet, make us more aware of our food, feed the hungry, and save us money in the long run.

If the new food waste law can do all that, it’s not rubbish to us.

The post Food rules will take some adjusting, but are worth it first appeared on Simi Valley Acorn.

Crime trends down, chief credits residents

Though auto thefts and arson were on the rise, Simi Valley saw a 10% drop overall in both violent and property crimes last year.

According to statistics from the Simi Valley Police Department, the city’s Part 1 crime rate declined about 10.3% in 2021. Part 1 crimes are divided into two categories: violent (homicide, rape, robbery and assault) and property (burglary, grand theft, petty theft and theft of a motor vehicle).

Overall, violent crimes were down 9.58% and property crimes decreased 10.45%.

The only Part 1 categories that went up during 2021 were auto theft and arson.

The number of local vehicle thefts went up from 115 in 2020 to 128 in 2021.

Auto thefts went up not only in Simi Valley, but nationwide, SVPD Chief David Livingstone said.

Livingstone said the rise in auto thefts may be attributed to the growing demand on the black market for catalytic converters.

In 2021, there were seven reports of arson compared to three in 2020.

Livingstone said he is pleased about the overall drop in Part 1 crimes and credits the support and vigilance of the community. He told the Acorn that without cooperation from watchful residents, crime in Simi Valley would be much higher.

“We have a community that cares,” Livingstone said.

Geography also plays a party in curbing crime, the chief said, since it takes effort to cross geographic boundaries in the city.

For instance, he said, an out-of-town retail theft team was nabbed when members got on the freeway to leave the city.

“(Officers) see the car leaving the city and they catch them,” he said.

The post Crime trends down, chief credits residents first appeared on Simi Valley Acorn.

Candidate a big proponent of autonomy

Ed Abele

Ed Abele

A proud first-generation American, Ed Abele hopes to empower the members of his community to achieve success.

Earlier this month, the Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District board director announced he will run for the District 4 seat on the Ventura County Board of Supervisors in 2022.

“It seemed like I was the fighter that this community needs,” Abele told the Acorn. “But at the end of the day, it’s about the people. We’re all in this together fighting for the American dream.”

Since the pandemic, Abele said he has seen the government impose unfair and unnecessary restrictions on the public, which hurts the economically disadvantaged most of all. He wants to restore autonomy to the county’s residents.

“My guiding principle is that government belongs to the people,” he said. “We need to have a chance to live again—that’s what motivates me to run.”

He believes residents are responsible enough to look out for one another without being told what to do. The 60-year-old husband and stepfather said he witnessed that firsthand when the community rallied to help his wife, Jill, find a kidney donor in 2020.

“This is a community where the people can take care of themselves,” said Abele, who has lived in Simi for nearly 50 years. “We’re here to keep each other safe.”

Abele said his priority as supervisor would be public safety, which he believes is the key to a thriving community.

“I am the public safety candidate,” he said. “Everyone can use the term ‘public safety,’ but I’ve worked it. I’ve lived it.”

Abele spent over three decades as a criminal prosecutor for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. While fighting for victims and for justice, he was able to work closely with police, which he said helped him understand the challenges they face.

He also served as a director of the Simi Valley Police Foundation and helped establish Simi Valley’s Safe Harbor, which provides services for child abuse and sexual assault survivors.

Abele also hopes to improve the job market.

“When we talk about the American Dream, it all starts with the local businesses,” he said. “That’s the opportunity for people to move up in the world.”

Government restrictions, he said, have been debilitating to small business owners during the pandemic.

Finally, Abele said he aspires to advocate for freedom and opportunity—values that his late parents helped him appreciate.

“ They worked hard and thrived and made things great for me and for my two brothers, and I’ve always admired that,” Abele said.

Unfortunately, the challenges his parents faced when they immigrated from Latvia are much greater now. That’s why he’s not afraid to take a stand, he said.

“The career politician approach, which (the other candidates) bring to the table, is not the approach that we need right now,” he said. “I’m here to fight for the people.”

To date, three other individuals have also expressed interest in representing District 4 on the county board of supervisors: longtime Moorpark Mayor Janice Parvin, Ventura County Community College District Trustee Bernardo Perez and Simi Valley resident Dean Kunicki.

Parvin, 67, previously served on Moorpark’s planning commission, the city’s parks and recreation commission, the Ventura Council of Governments, and the League of California Cities.

Perez, 72, served 12 years on the Moorpark City Council, including one term as mayor.

Kunicki, 77, owns a business and development consulting firm. He is vice-chair of the Ventura County Taxpayers Association, past chair and board member for the Ventura County Board of Education, and was a member of the Simi Valley Planning Commission from 1992 to 2000.

The post Candidate a big proponent of autonomy first appeared on Simi Valley Acorn.

Father, son frustrated with COVID mandate

OBJECTING—Timothy Hernandez, standing at the podium with the American flag, was one of many people who spoke against COVID-19 mandates at a school board meeting on Aug. 16, 2021. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

OBJECTING—Timothy Hernandez, standing at the podium with the American flag, was one of many people who spoke against COVID-19 mandates at a school board meeting on Aug. 16, 2021. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

A video on social media showing a 9-year-old Garden Grove Elementary School student banned from class for not wearing a mask prompted an outcry at the Simi Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday.

Shortly after trustees appointed Hani Youssef as new superintendent effective July 1, many of the 20 speakers during the Zoom meeting voiced their frustration with the school district’s handling of the situation.

The student’s father, Timothy Hernandez, wrote on his Instagram account—which was open for public view—about his son being kicked out of school Jan. 7 for noncompliance with the state’s mask mandate, which the district says it is required to follow.

Hernandez said that when his son tried to return to the campus to get his schoolwork on Jan. 10, he was first forced out and then locked out of the classroom for “peacefully not complying to wear a mask.”

The video taken by Hernandez shows his son sitting near a fence on the field after allegedly being denied entrance to his class.

“My son is out here by himself because of the whole mask thing,” Hernandez says. “Today, (my son) refused to leave the campus because he wants to get his studies, he wants to get some kind of education, and they’re not allowing it.”

The video also shows Gene Colato, a school resource officer with the Simi Valley Police Department, approaching Hernandez to inform him that the school is requesting his son be taken home.

Colato explains the school district is citing an education code that states if a student refuses to wear a mask inside a classroom “it is a public health problem that excludes the student from being there.”

“Listen, I can’t say I wouldn’t be doing the same thing right now, but at the end of the day doing it during a school day when kids are on campus is not the time to do that fight,” Colato tells Hernandez.

“There is no fight. We’re not fighting. He’s trying to get an education,” Hernandez responds.

“You don’t care about his ADHD, his mental distress (and) everything else since all of this happened,” Hernandez says to Youssef, who is standing nearby in the video.

“I’m confused how they have that arbitrary power to kick (my son) out after he stated why he won’t wear a mask,” said Hernandez, adding that he couldn’t get a mask exemption from a doctor and that putting his son in independent studies doesn’t work.

Toward the end of the 19-minute video, Colato offered to be the middle man to help address the situation.

“There’s got to be something we can do on both ends so you’re satisfied and they’re satisfied,” Colato tells Hernandez, noting that he would speak with school officials to see what could be done. Going back and forth doesn’t get results, he says.

During Tuesday’s Zoom meeting, Hernandez, a combat veteran who served in Afghanistan, expressed his frustration to the board, calling them accomplices if they promote Youssef to superintendent. His son spoke briefly, too.

Several speakers expressed dismay over the district’s handling of the situation and the mask mandate, which they say doesn’t work to protect against COVID-19. They said masks should be a choice, not a mandate.

“(The student) was not sick or suffering. He was not a danger to anyone. I cannot believe that the district denies his right to his education,” said Simi Valley resident Elena Johnson.

Some speakers also asked why the district requires vaccines.

“To be clear, we do not have a vaccine mandate in place for students. It’s an optional mandate from the governor’s office,” said Superintendent Jason Peplinski.

Katie Weeks, a teacher at SVUSD, said she was happy with the safety regulations that have been put into place, especially because of the number of children who are not well at schools.

“I’m sad to hear that parents are upset, but it’s just to keep students and staff the safest we can be right now,” Weeks said in support of upholding the mask mandate.

Several trustees told the speakers that they were listening to their concerns.

In a phone interview with the Acorn Wednesday, Youssef said that he couldn’t speak about the incident with the minor student because of confidentiality reasons, but that he takes the concerns about the situation seriously.

He said the district is following mask guidelines to keep both students and adults safe on campuses.

“Why would we not comply with state and local mandates? These are not school district-generated mandates. The entire state of California is dealing with the same health and safety order. It’s not optional,” Youssef said.

He said the elected school board members are accountable for the health and safety of 16,000 students and 2,200 employees.

“They are legally, and they could be personally, liable for not following state and local guidelines,” Youssef said. “When you don’t have that level of accountability and responsibility, your opinion could be different.”

Youssef said he doesn’t want to see schools closed if they don’t follow the mandates. He also cited an incident involving Northern California’s Soulsbyville Elementary School District, which has been excluded from insurance coverage by the Tuolumne Joint Powers Authority for ignoring indoor masking and vaccine requirements.

“Where people are frustrated across the country (about vaccinations and masks), these things need to be taken and fought in court,” he said. “Your local school district doesn’t have that authority, although some believe that we do. We don’t.”

Governors in some states, like Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, want to give parents the option to opt-out of mask mandates at school but are facing pushback from other lawmakers, school districts, and some parent groups, too.

As of Jan. 20, school officials and Hernandez were still at odds.

Hernandez was back outside of Garden Grove Elementary on Thursday morning, advocating for his son.

He told the Acorn his son was “segregated to a bench outside of class, where he is given the work but with no instruction.”

SVUSD is continuing to assess the matter.

“We are still exploring our legal options and requirements with this situation,” Youssef told the Acorn on Thursday.

The post Father, son frustrated with COVID mandate first appeared on Simi Valley Acorn.

SVUSD board picks Youssef as new leader, calling him a ‘capable’ and ‘caring’ choice

Hani Youssef

Hani Youssef

Hani Youssef has been named the new superintendent of schools for the Simi Valley Unified School District. The appointment is set to take effect July 1, pending contract negotiations.

During closed session at its Jan. 18 meeting, the district’s board of trustees unanimously voted to name Youssef as the replacement for Jason Peplinski, who is retiring as superintendent in June after seven years.

“I want to assure the community that Dr. Youssef is a very capable and competent person, and I have no doubt that he is going to lead our district into the next phase of our growth and expansion,” Peplinski said after the announcement.

Youssef, 49, came to SVUSD in February 2015 and currently serves as assistant superintendent of educational services.

Youssef has a master’s degree in education administration from Mount St. Mary’s College and a doctorate in educational leadership from Cal State Northridge.

He began his teaching career in the 1990s at the former Daniel Murphy High School in Los Angeles, and worked as an administrator for the Los Angeles, Conejo Valley, and Burbank school districts before coming to SVUSD.

“Day one I felt at home, I was embraced and I was welcomed here,” said Youssef, who is married to a teacher. Together they have two sons.

Youssef said he will continue to make students his No. 1 priority. He’ll also support students and colleagues as they work to grow into the best versions of themselves.

“I want to continue to make everyone proud, and continue to add to the rich success of what we’ve already been doing over the last number of years,” he said.

“I look forward to the opportunity,” he continued. “We have amazing staff members throughout our district that make sure students succeed.”

Youssef thanked Peplinski for his contributions to the district.

“You touched the lives of so many and your legacy has definitely been cemented in Simi Valley and Ventura County,” he said.

Youssef said he’ll work with Peplinski to assure a smooth transition and address the hard- ships that COVID-19 has placed on the district.

“I have seen Dr. Youssef work in an approachable and family-focused way for the last seven years,” said SVUSD Board President Scott Blough. “I believe he is in the best position to meet our educational achievement expectations while continuing to ensure the health and safety needs required for our students and staff during these challenging times.”

Trustee Bob LaBelle said he’s worked with a great number of capable administrators during his 40-plus years as an educator.

“ Dr. Youssef would have to be considered one of the most outstanding, well-rounded educators that I was able to work with over the years,” La-Belle said. “He’s a bright, articulate, intelligent, caring, and positive individual who truly understands how to work with all his constituents, and his ability to listen to all of the shareholders and evaluate all aspects of the issue before he reacts is outstanding.”

“The school district will flourish under his leadership,” LaBelle continued. “An absolute fantastic job done by Dr. Peplinksi, and I know that it will be continued.”

Trustee Dawn Smollen said she is sad to see Peplinski go but is confident that Youssef will be a capable replacement.

Smollen said she expects the transition from Peplinski to Youssef will be relatively seamless thanks to Youssef’s knowledge of SVUSD and other districts as well as his connections throughout the state.

“Thank you for the last seven years, Hani, and I’m looking forward to the beginning,” Smollen said about his new role. “And Jason, I know you’ll always be around if we need you.”

The post SVUSD board picks Youssef as new leader, calling him a ‘capable’ and ‘caring’ choice first appeared on Simi Valley Acorn.

From prison to redemption

BUDDIES—SVPD Chief David Livingstone and actor Danny Trejo are all smiles during a recent Simi Valley Police Foundation luncheon event. MICHELE WILLER-ALLRED/Acorn Newspapers

BUDDIES—SVPD Chief David Livingstone and actor Danny Trejo are all smiles during a recent Simi Valley Police Foundation luncheon event. MICHELE WILLER-ALLRED/Acorn Newspapers

Danny Trejo, who has played menacing characters in movies like “Desperado” and “Machete,” recalled a time many years ago when he wasn’t welcome in Simi Valley due to his long criminal history.

“In 1962, me and some undesirables actually got escorted out of Simi Valley. We thought, ‘Hey look, we’re getting a police escort,’” recalled Trejo with a laugh.

Back then, Trejo was well known by police, having been in and out of the California prison system for drug dealing, robbery and other offenses. Today, he’s still on the radar of local cops—only now he’s earned their respect for turning his life around and becoming an in-demand actor on the big and small screens.

The Hollywood tough guy, 77, only had words of praise for law enforcement Jan. 12 when he was a special guest at the sold-out Simi Valley Police Foundation’s Luncheon with the Chief event.

“I’m so honored just to be in you guys’ presence. This is awesome and you guys are awesome,” Trejo said.

Simi Valley Police Foundation Board President Fred Thomas introduced Trejo, who was invited to speak because of his inspirational story of redemption and his tumultuous journey from convict to actor, author and restaurateur.

Trejo’s run-ins with the law started early. Growing up in an abusive and unpredictable family environment in Pacoima, he started taking and dealing drugs as a child. He was arrested for the first time at age 10.

In 1966, when Trejo was in his early 20s, he found himself in solitary confinement and facing capital charges for violent felonies at San Quentin State Prison. He eventually found faith and overcame his drug addictions before his release in 1968.

“I’ve been trying to pay my debt to society ever since,” Trejo said. “And I honestly believe that is the only way—trusting in God, and doing whatever I can for my fellow man.”

“Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone else,” he said.

Trejo went back to school, got his high school diploma and became a substance abuse counselor.

He started acting, too, landing jobs as a film extra. Over the years, his parts just kept getting bigger and bigger.

In addition to his busy acting career, Trejo operates two restaurant chains in Los Angeles: Trejo’s Tacos and Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts.

In 2021, he published his memoir. “Trejo: My Life of Crime, Redemption and Hollywood” debuted at No. 4 on The New York Times nonfiction best sellers list.

At last week’s luncheon, Trejo paid tribute to law enforcement.

“I think you guys have the hardest job in the world. The people that need you, love you. Those that don’t, hate you. You have to walk a thin line, even for the guys that don’t like you,” Trejo said.

“And, I’m telling you right now, if you ever need me for any reason, call me. I live in the San Fernando Valley. I’d be so honored,” Trejo told the audience comprising about 70 foundation supporters, as well as SVPD Chief David Livingstone, Dep. Chief Steve Shorts and Cmdr. Thomas Meyer. The event was held at Sutter’s Mill Restaurant.

Livingstone said Trejo’s words were nice to hear.

“When people take the time to come and thank you and recognize the work that you’re doing, that means a lot to our officers,” Livingstone. “Over the last couple of years, we’ve gone through some tough times.”

Livingstone said the community in general has shown appreciation for the police, often surprising officers with baked goods or lunch.

“It’s small gestures that really go a long way,” said Livingstone, thanking the community.

Livingstone said he’s proud to be part of SVPD and proud of the officers who work in the department.

“They’re at risk at all times. They go out there day in and day out. They show up. They run into the trouble instead of away from the trouble,” the chief said.

Livingstone also gave some good news about Simi Valley: the crime rate is down 10 percent from last year.

“That being said, I always say that I don’t want to ever sit back and say, ‘Well, everything’s great,’ ” Livingstone said. “It’s good to have those numbers, but we have to keep finding ways of engaging with our community and doing a better job and try to figure out what it is that’s coming up.”

“Criminals always find ways around things. They find ways to do even better. We’ve got to stay on top of it,” he said.

The post From prison to redemption first appeared on Simi Valley Acorn.

Honoring MLK

AT YOUR SERVICE—Above, community volunteers rake leaves at Strathearn Historical Park during the second annual National Day of Service on Jan. 17. The day honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and his commitment to citizenship through service. Hosted by Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, service projects included painting, graffiti removal and trail work. At right, Simi Valley residents and volunteers Vanessa Settle, left, and Sophia Lopez, 14, empty a can of raked leaves into a dumpster

AT YOUR SERVICE—Above, community volunteers rake leaves at Strathearn Historical Park during the second annual National Day of Service on Jan. 17. The day honors Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and his commitment to citizenship through service. Hosted by Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District, service projects included painting, graffiti removal and trail work. Below, Simi Valley residents and volunteers Vanessa Settle, left, and Sophia Lopez, 14, empty a can of raked leaves into a dumpster


LABOR LEVITY – Simi Valley resident Laura Ballantoni laughs with fellow volunteers while she carries away rotted wood at Strathearn Historical Park during the 2nd annual National Day of Service on Jan. 17, honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and his commitment to citizenship through service.

The post Honoring MLK first appeared on Simi Valley Acorn.

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