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Simi Valley Acorn News

Cougar found dead behind home

DOA—A Newbury Park resident found the body of a mountain lion next to a fence in his yard. The carcass is being examined for cause of death. Courtesy of Robert Wachbrit

DOA—A Newbury Park resident found the body of a mountain lion next to a fence in his yard. The carcass is being examined for cause of death. Courtesy of Robert Wachbrit

Mountain lions dead from a variety of causes have been found in the woods, hills and freeways throughout the Santa Monica and Santa Susana mountains. Rarely is a deceased cougar found in a resident’s backyard.

Robert Wachbrit, a resident of Dos Vientos in Newbury Park, saw a mountain lion on the ground just beyond a fence in his yard on the morning of June 7. He watched to see if it was still breathing, and soon realized the big cat was dead.

Little is known about the animal, including its age and genealogy. The cougar was not wearing a tracking collar and was not part of the National Park Service study that follows mountain lions in the local hills.

Wachbrit told the Acorn it was his first mountain lion sighting ever, and said he was sad that it had to be deceased. Social media lit up when the picture of the cougar lying on the ground by the fence was posted a few days later.

Wachbrit put out immediate calls and said National Park Service biologists were quick to respond.

“The woman who did the work was very informative,” he said. “The technician answered all my questions, let me hang out, showed me the ticks on the mountain lion’s body. We went looking for tracks, she let me help with everything except putting it in a body bag.”

Ana Beatriz Cholo, a spokesperson for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said the park service is examining the body to determine the official cause of death—including whether there is the presence of anticoagulant rodenticide in the animal’s blood.

Wachbrit said NPS officials told him a preliminary investigation suggested kidney failure, which would be consistent with poisoning.

There’s a push in the region to ban the use of rodent poisons due to their unintended effect on local wildlife. Biologists say the poisons travel up the food chain—rats that ingest it are eaten by predators that absorb the poison and over time become poisoned themselves.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports anticoagulants “pose greater risks to non-target species that might . . . feed on animals that have eaten the bait.”

Two animals, a female bobcat and a male cougar, were found dead of rodenticide poisoning last year.

It was the first time in the 24- year history of the park service’s animal tracking program that a bobcat had been found dead of rodenticide poisoning.

The cougar P-76 was the sixth collared mountain lion in the study to die of rodenticide poisoning and the third in the last two years.

Park service researchers have detected the presence of anticoagulant compounds in 26 of 27 mountain lions they tested, including a 3-month-old kitten.

Environmentalists and animal activists lauded the signing of the California Ecosystems Protection Act last year. The law bans most California businesses from using second-generation rodenticides (which have already been banned from stores). The ban does not, however, apply to Amgen and its sprawling Newbury Park campus, which borders 3,200 acres of open space that serve as a wildlife corridor for large mammals.

The exemption, which Amgen argued is necessary to satisfy Food and Drug Administration safety and sanitation requirements for its drug testing and manufacturing operations, landed the county’s largest private employer in the crosshairs of cougar advocates. News of the young puma found dead at Wachbrit’s fence line won’t help.

Amgen maintains it is continuing to pilot emerging pest-control technologies in the hope of identifying an alternative.

“We know this is something we ultimately have to figure out a solution on,” Government Affairs Director Matthew Welsh said in a December interview over Zoom.

Welsh said employees at Amgen’s headquarters have provided “internal pressure” to end the use of rodenticides.

Thousand Oaks Acorn editor Kyle Jorrey contributed to this article.


Settlement reached in Vanessa Bryant suit

STUNNED SADNESS—Mourners pay their respects at the memorial for Kobe Bryant outside Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park on Jan. 27, 2020. Acorn file photo

STUNNED SADNESS—Mourners pay their respects at the memorial for Kobe Bryant outside Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park on Jan. 27, 2020. Acorn file photo

Vanessa Bryant settled a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday with the company that operated the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, the couple’s daughter and seven others when it crashed last year in the hills of western Calabasas. All nine passengers died.

“Plaintiffs and defendants jointly report that they have agreed to settle their claims in the above-entitled action,” said the court filing submitted by Gary Robb and attorneys from Munger, Tolles & Olson, a nationwide helicopter disaster litigator.

Bryant filed suit against Fillmore-based Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holding Corp. shortly after the Jan. 26, 2020 tragedy.

Bryant alleged that pilot Ara Zobayan, an employee of the helicopter company, operated the aircraft negligently.

The National Transportation Safety Board ruled in February 2021 that Zobayan caused the crash when he chose to fly under visual flight rules during heavy cloud cover, which he was legally prohibited from doing.

The board said Zobayan may have felt self-induced pressure to deliver Bryant to his destination. Investigators also said the company’s review of safety management procedures was lacking.

The Sikorsky S-76B helicopter was on its way to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park when it crashed into a hillside near Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street in Calabasas.

Bryant is also embroiled in a lawsuit with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department over photos taken by deputies at the scene that showed the crash site and the corpses of her husband and daughter.

She sued the county for negligence and invasion of privacy when deputies from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station shared the photos with coworkers and members of the public.

Bryant amended her suit in March to include the names of four Lost Hills deputies involved in the photo scandal.

Attorneys for the county stated in May that Bryant had gone “too far” in publicizing the names and that she had subjected the deputies to harassment and threats.


Ventura community members discuss importance of Juneteenth 

The Juneteenth Celebration of Ventura County has been hosting annual events since 1989. Past celebrations have included entertainment and education.  Photos Courtesy of Juneteenth Celebration of Ventura County

 

For Julia Dixon, co-chair of the Juneteenth Celebration of Ventura County, June 19 is more than just a Saturday. She has dedicated the past decade to helping others understand the significance of the holiday.  

“Juneteenth is a celebration of the end of slavery, and I appreciate everything my ancestors did so that we could move to this point,” Dixon said. “I want to continue that so that people moving forward—my grandkids, my family, my community—understand what the meaning of Juneteenth is.” 

On June 19, 1865—more than 2½ years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation—Union Gen. Gordon Granger informed enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, that they were free. This announcement led to the first Juneteenth celebration. 

Over the past 156 years, Black communities have celebrated the holiday with prayer and pilgrimages, family and food, parades and picnics. Until recently, however, the holiday was not well known beyond the Black community.  

Yesterday, June 17, President Joe Biden signed legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. 

The Juneteenth Celebration of Ventura County organization hosts one of the county’s primary Juneteenth events each year.  

This summer’s virtual celebration, which will stream live on Facebook and Zoom from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sat., June 19, will be entertaining and educational. It will feature the Buffalo Soldier Mounted Cavalry Unit and the Forgotten Images traveling museum with the goal of conveying the importance of the holiday. 

For many—including Banea Sumpter, co-advisor for the Black Student Union at Moorpark College—Juneteenth is a time of joyful celebration and solemn remembrance.  

“It is a time to celebrate African American culture and accomplishments in unity with like-minded people,” Sumpter said in an email. “It is also a time to remember and reflect on the long-awaited freedom of enslaved Africans and the extreme disadvantages experienced by Africans even in freedom.” 

Juneteenth also reinforces racial memory and pride by serving as a reminder of African Americans’ contributions and strengths, wrote Mary Poitier, executive board member for the college’s Black Student Union. 

“The world is changing, and it is important for everyone to know the truth about African American history,” Poitier said in an email.  

The Juneteenth Celebration of Ventura County organization was created in 1989, and board member Donald Montgomery said the events were initially attended almost exclusively by African Americans.  

Over the past three decades, he has seen more diversity in attendees as well as more financial support, especially since the Oxnard event moved from Community Center East Park to Plaza Park several years ago.  

Community members credit two recent events to the increased attention surrounding the celebration.  

 The surge in advocacy following the murder of George Floyd last summer also raised awareness about the holiday on a national level.  

 Regina Hatcher-Crawford, president of the Ventura County chapter of the NAACP, said it is important that individuals understand that Juneteenth is not new in the United States.  

“It’s sad that it took for a man to die for people to now have an interest in what we do,” said Hatcher-Crawford, who views Juneteenth as a symbol of her ancestors’ resilience and the progress of her community. “Just as anyone else, we have our own culture and we have our own history. Ours might be a little more tainted because of all the things we’ve had to go through, but we’ve always been here.” 

Montgomery, who is also the president of the Community Advocacy Coalition of Ventura County, said former President Donald Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last year inadvertently raised awareness about Juneteenth, as it was originally scheduled to occur on the holiday.  

 Those interviewed encouraged everyone to celebrate Juneteenth.   

“We welcome everybody,” said Hatcher-Crawford, who believes the event is an opportunity for people to love one another. “We come from all different walks and shades of people, so we would never push away anybody from coming to any event that we have. We hope that if you do come, it’s more about learning about Black people and being inclusive of our culture.” 

 Gerald Richardson III, the outgoing president of the college’s Black Student Union, views June 19 as an opportunity for others to commit themselves to anti-racism. 

“Juneteenth is a reminder that ‘nobody’s free until everybody’s free,’” Richardson III said in an email. 

Juneteenth, Montgomery said, is not only a critical part of Black history, but also a critical aspect of American history—even when it is not taught in classrooms. He strives to keep this history alive while making all residents, especially those in marginalized communities, feel more united.  

“That day was a major step forward in human rights, not just in Black liberation,” Montgomery said. “I think it’s important for all of us to support each other—to celebrate with each other—all of the progress that we have made.”

The enslavement and emancipation of African people has affected all aspects of the country, and Dixon said she recommends that people educate themselves about Juneteenth and discuss the topics with their families, including young children. 

 “It is a very important part of history, and you cannot take that away from any of us—it did exist, and we need to celebrate it as a holiday,” Dixon said. “You won’t find it in your history books.”   

Montgomery said that, more than a recognition of past progress, Juneteenth is a call to action for the present and the future.

“Racism is still alive and doing well, and it’s going to take the people to change that,” he said. “It’s very easy to become complacent. People have to be reminded that, yes, we’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a ways to go.” 


FOR THE RECORD

In the student standout featuring Royal High School graduate Allison Ha, it was incorrectly stated she was captain of the volleyball team. Allison was captain of the basketball team.



A wish for all fathers: Make every moment count

Father’s Day is about celebrating the role dads play in shaping the lives of their sons and daughters.

But what does it mean to be a good dad?

There’s no such thing as perfection when it comes to being a father and the path to parenthood isn’t set in stone.

Every family is unique. But the foundation of parenting is the same. All children want to feel secure and loved and will test their parents’ and stepparents’ patience—that’s a given.

Just like moms who had to adapt to a new normal when COVID-19 forced schools to close, fathers had to step up their game over the past 15 months. Some helped with childcare and schoolwork while doing their jobs from home. Others who are essential workers sacrificed quality time with their families to provide for their loved ones while also ensuring that others had the supplies and services they needed.

Today’s fathers are significantly more involved in child-rearing than ever before, and that’s not merely a byproduct of the pandemic.

According to the U.S. Census, there are about 75 million fathers in the United States and two million of them are raising children under 18 on their own. An estimated 20% of single parents in 2020 were men.

Same-sex male couples are also embracing fatherhood. You’ll meet one such couple, Christopher and Jacob Ogden-Harkins, on Page 1.

According to the American Community Survey, in 2017 there were an estimated 40,000 two-dad households raising children in the U.S.

Christopher and Jacob say they’ve been open about their journey to start a family because they want people to feel comfortable asking questions. They hope their story inspires others.

There’s no doubt becoming a dad is a life-changing event. For Acorn Marketing Assistant David Lopez, the recent birth of his son was an absolute blessing.

“For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I was searching for something more. Everything I needed was right there in the 9 pounds and 21 inches my wife had just delivered. As a father, I’m not searching for purpose anymore. My life’s work is to now raise our son.”

And as kids grow, devoted fathers, like Acorn Photo Editor Richard Gillard, learn to appreciate the gifts and nuances of the job.

“The unconditional love you receive for your efforts is so rewarding. It is amazing to see your teenage children blossom from sweet children into young adults. It’s hard to see them struggle sometimes but important to gently guide them and allow them to figure it out and make mistakes to learn.”

To all the dads, stepdads, and dads-to-be out there who are committed to being present and involved in their kids’ lives, we salute you. It’s those bonding moments that set the stage for the adults they become.

Happy Father’s Day!


Simi history lives on at Strathearn museum

The Simi Valley Historical Society and Museum will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. Sat., June 26 at 137 Strathearn Place, Simi Valley.

Docents will be on hand to share Simi history at the following buildings: Haigh/ Talley Colony House; the new Printz/Powell Colony House; Strathearn House; the original St. Rose of Lima Church; and the library.

Visitors can view the Printz/Powell Colony House before the interior renovations begin.

A $5 per person donation will be requested.

The on-site Simi Store will be also be open from for souvenirs and other treasures.

For more information, go to simihistory.com or call (805) 526-6453.


Frustration over freeway work festers

NO END IN SIGHT—Above, heavy equipment is parked along the 23 Freeway, which is undergoing a lengthy rehabilitation effort expected to stretch into late 2023. JOSEPH A. GARCIA/Acorn Newspapers

NO END IN SIGHT—Above, heavy equipment is parked along the 23 Freeway, which is undergoing a lengthy rehabilitation effort expected to stretch into late 2023. JOSEPH A. GARCIA/Acorn Newspapers

A year into Caltrans’ State Route 23 pavement rehabilitation project, commuters along the Thousand Oaks/Moorpark stretch are wondering when the work will ever end.

The answer is the fall of 2023, more than 27 months from now.

The length of the project was news to Thousand Oaks resident Jim Bass, who contacted the Acorn regarding an update on the project. Bass has freeway construction experience and has observed the progress on the 23 Freeway over the past year.

“Here’s what I don’t understand,” Bass said. “The part closest to the 101 Freeway is done for all intents and purposes. I don’t see what they’re waiting for in opening it.”

He’s also had some frustration with the lack of signage.

“I was on the main drag in Moorpark and heading east to get onto the freeway, and when I got there, I found out you couldn’t get on the freeway that day,” he said. “There was no plan B.”

Bass didn’t see any signs letting drivers know the on-ramp would be closed nor any detour signs routing people to an open on-ramp, though he said signs might have been hidden by the large trucks routinely found on East Los Angeles Avenue/ Highway 118. Caltrans has been sending out closure alerts via social media and email.

Unfazed by the criticism, Caltrans spokesperson Jim Medina succinctly answered questions regarding whether the three-year, $91-million project is on track both in terms of schedule and budget.

“Yes, to both questions,” he said in an email.

The answer hasn’t assuaged the frustration of motorists who say they see a lot of heavy equipment and concrete barriers but not a lot of workers or work being done.

This is likely because most of the work is being completed during off-peak hours to minimize impacts to traffic, Medina said.

“Work is generally done at night Monday through Friday,” he said. “But work is permitted during the day and weekends as needed, and all work is subject to change due to weather and construction-related issues.”

Another reason freeway users might not notice work being performed is that not all of it is taking place on the freeway itself. Part of the project is to repave on- and off-ramps and upgrade adjacent curbs to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

Other remaining work includes shoulder rehabilitation, guardrail replacement, drainage upgrades, electrical work, lane striping, highway sign replacements and highway lane grinding to smooth pavement, Medina said.

Julie Fahndrick, a UCLA nurse, uses the 23 Freeway between Janss Road and the 101 Freeway to get from home to work and vice versa.

Most concerning, Fahndrick said, is safety, especially at onand off-ramps.

“The on-ramp is short and the cars are going faster than 55 and don’t want to let you in, so I’ve had to use the new space on the side where we’re not allowed to drive,” she said.

Fifty-five miles per hour is the posted speed limit during construction.

Reached for comment, California Highway Patrol spokesperson Officer Ryan Ayers said the department hasn’t seen a rise in construction-related crashes. The agency consulted with Caltrans early on to redesign freeway entries and exits to make the transitions longer.

“That alleviated crashes immediately,” Ayers said. “It was almost overnight.”

He attributes any increase in wrecks now to an increase in traffic as the community comes out of the pandemic and more cars are on the road.

“We do still have the same goal of slowing people down,” he said, noting the reduced speed limit throughout the length of the project. “Fines are still going to be doubled in the entire area.”

Actual repaving isn’t as simple as pouring new concrete over old, Medina said. Because the severity of the wear and tear depends on the section of the freeway, “there are multiple steps,” he said.

“In inner No. 1 lanes, individual slabs are replaced where needed. In other locations, asphalt shoulders and ramps will be cold planed, where the top 2 inches of asphalt concrete is stripped and overlaid with new asphalt concrete,” he said.

In the right two lanes in both directions, Caltrans contractors will replace distressed slabs, which involves demolition and removal, grading and sloping, preparing and compacting a sub base, pouring concrete and, finally, grinding for smoothness.

Doing the work for Caltrans along the 8.2-mile stretch of freeway is Westlake Village-based Security Paving Company Inc.

To learn more about the project, go to dot.ca.gov/caltransnear me/district-7.

Simi Valley resident Joshua Michaels, who drives the entire stretch of the project every weekday to his job at a Los Angeles auto body repair shop, said he is grateful the state is making improvements and wouldn’t mind the three-year length if it weren’t for drivers not heeding the reduced speed limit.

He says he’s seen a number of near-miss accidents.

“Cars fly up on the tails of drivers obeying the limits and nearly cause accidents with those of us already on freeway, let alone the poor people trying to merge onto the freeway,” Michaels said. “I wish people would slow down. I see the end result every day of what happens when they don’t.”


Council is 4-1 on budget

Though heated disagreements did flare up—particularly during discussions about funding the police—the City Council last week passed a $78.6-million general fund budget for fiscal year 2021-22.

About 84%, or $65.8 million, of the budget presented at the June 7 council meeting will go to personnel salaries and benefits, as well as pensions for former and current municipal and police employees, said Carolyn Johnson, Simi’s budget officer.

The police department’s budget comprises about 48%, or $37.3 million, of the city’s entire general fund budget.

By comparison, public documents show, Thousand Oaks is dedicating about $32 million, or 35%, of its general fund to pay for its contract with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office while Moorpark is estimating that about $8.1 million, or 40%, will go to pay for police services.

Councilmember Ruth Luevanos voiced concerns about Simi Valley’s $37-million police expenditure and asked Chief David Livingstone if reallocating some of those funds would make the city less safe, as some people claimed during public comments.

Livingstone said the bulk of the department’s budget is for salary or personnel costs and SVPD is already operating with fewer than one officer per 1,000 residents, which is below the two-officer national average.

“We’re at that point where it’s not about some equipment here or some operating supplies there,” Livingstone said. “Cutting the budget is a slippery slope because it means cutting the numbers, so I’m cautious with that.”

After a lengthy discussion, Luevanos said she was going to vote against the budget, particularly law enforcement funding.

The way to reduce and prevent crime is by having access to more affordable housing, healthcare, childcare and employment opportunities, and investing in education and infrastructure, she said.

“Many (residents) have been asking for that funding to be shifted . . . from law enforcement and into our community,” Luevanos said. “I believe we need to invest in our community, in those specific things.”

Mayor Keith Mashburn disagreed with Luevanos about the need to reallocate funds, an opinion that was shared by some of the public speakers.

“It’s the nature of the (police) department that you’re going to have a large budget, but we have a safe city so we have something very tangible to show for the expense,” he said.

Mashburn said that there are many people in the community who “overwhelmingly support” the police, he said.

Also discussed during the meeting was the possibility of reinstating the community services department, which previously oversaw youth services, senior services and neighborhood councils, among other divisions.

City Manager Brian Gabler said those divisions have been successfully folded into other departments and resources are now more adequately allocated, so to re-create the department would be an unnecessary expenditure.

On the matter of pensions, Councilmember Elaine Litster requested clarification that anticipated payments are essentially pay-as-you-go and will gradually increase annually.

Gabler told her that was accurate and that the estimated payments are built into the budget.

In the coming fiscal year, officials anticipate paying $17.9 million in pension costs to the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS, the state’s retirement fund. That’s up from $17.1 million paid in 2020-21.

Looking at the overall budget, Litster said it’s encouraging that the city has been prudent.

“The fact that we’ve had a structurally balanced budget for two years and it’s looking positive is commendable,” Litster said.

Ultimately, the council voted 4-1 in favor of passing the budget, with Luevanos the sole dissenter.

The approval included operating budgets of $51.2 million for waterworks, $43.6 million for sanitation and $11.4 million for transit.

Additionally, city staff identified a number of one-time funding sources that will require expenditure plans to be approved by the council at a later date, including $6 million in COVID recovery funds, $15.3 million from the American Rescue Plan and around $2 million from the CARES ACT, said Joe Toney, Simi’s director of administrative services.

Looking ahead, Toney said that the city is in a good financial position right now, but there are long-term issues that need to be addressed, like infrastructure, pension liability and adjusting salaries to be more competitive.

“The city has become leaner and more efficient. However, there’s always room for improvement and we need to continuously improve,” Toney said.

About resource officers, crossing guards, and cost-sharing

As the council pored over the proposed budget on June 7, Councilmember Ruth Luevanos asked why the city is paying more than $300,000 for two dedicated school resource officers when, in her estimation, any cop could handle the calls.

Cmdr. Steve Shorts said Wednesday the budget is around $351,000 for their salaries and benefits but doesn’t cover overtime or the cost of equipment or the vehicles and any associated maintenance.

Chief David Livingstone noted that during the pandemic, one of the resource officers was able to save a 12-year-old who was attempting to jump from a bridge. He said the teen recognized the officer and responded to him.

Even when resource officers aren’t needed because school isn’t in session, they still perform security or other duties at the campuses, or help fill in when there’s patrol shortages, the chief said.

Councilmember Dee Dee Cavanaugh was in favor of continuing to fund the resource officers. She said her daughter is a counselor in the Simi Valley Unified School District who firmly believes the resource officers are worthwhile.

Another matter of concern for Luevanos was crossing guards and the fact that they were laid off during the pandemic and not offered other work.

The city currently employees 13 crossing guards and spent around $ 91,780 on their salaries in 2020-21, Deputy City Manager Samantha Argabrite said. The budget approved June 7 anticipates a cost of about $93,350 for 2021-22.

City Manager Brian Gabler said the crossing guards were offered other opportunities, but because most of the workers were at high risk of contracting COVID- 19, they declined. Remote work wasn’t an option either because the guards are not trained to use the city’s computer programs or system.

Luevanos said the school district should be contributing to the cost of the crossing guards and the school resource officers, just as other districts do, and asked that a letter be sent making that request.

Mayor Keith Mashburn agreed, and Gabler said that could certainly be done.


Parenting journey begins

GIFT OF LIFE—Top, Christopher Ogden- Harkins, left, and his husband, Jacob, are pictured June 2 with Danielle Savre, a longtime friend of Christopher’s who donated her eggs so the couple could start a family. Above, a pair of jean jackets surrounds a pink onesie and ultrasound photos of Aspen Grey, whose due date is Nov. 26, 2021. Christopher will be Dad and Jacob will be Daddy.

GIFT OF LIFE—Top, Christopher Ogden- Harkins, left, and his husband, Jacob, are pictured June 2 with Danielle Savre, a longtime friend of Christopher’s who donated her eggs so the couple could start a family. Above, a pair of jean jackets surrounds a pink onesie and ultrasound photos of Aspen Grey, whose due date is Nov. 26, 2021. Christopher will be Dad and Jacob will be Daddy.

As kids, Christopher Harkins and Danielle Savre used to joke that if they weren’t married or didn’t have their own children by a certain age, they would have them together.

When Harkins came out years ago, Savre was the first person he told. The two Simi Valley natives met in first grade at White Oak Elementary School and have been best friends since.

Harkins said Savre fully accepted him and, without skipping a beat, she flipped the script and told him that she would donate her eggs to him whenever he was ready to start a family.

Eleven years ago, when Harkins was 22, he met 18-year-old Jacob Ogden and the two hit it off immediately, partly because of their shared desire to someday start a family. They were married July 28, 2018 and combined their last names with a hyphen: Ogden-Harkins. They now live in Bakersfield.

“We both love children so much and when it came time to start the process of creating our family, it was emotional and overwhelming,” Jacob, now 30, said.

Photos courtesy of Christopher and Jacob Ogden-Harkins

Photos courtesy of Christopher and Jacob Ogden-Harkins

“It was definitely surreal because we’ve talked about it for so long and now it’s happening. Our dream’s coming true,” Christopher, now 33, added.

In 2019, the couple decided to start the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process and told Savre, who plays Maya Bishop on ABC’s “Station 19,” that they were ready. She scheduled the appointments and told the pair when they could meet with fertility doctors.

Now, with the help of a surrogate, they’re expecting a girl on Nov. 26. They’ve already picked out a name: Aspen Grey.

“I’m excited for Chris and Jake to start their family (because) they have been dreaming of this day for a very long time,” Savre, 32, said. “I can’t wait to meet her and watch them be the best dads that little girl could ask for.”

Like any journey, this process hasn’t been without heartbreak.

The first attempt ended with a miscarriage—a devastating turn of events for the couple. But the immense support from loved ones helped ease the pain.

DADS-TO-BE—Christopher Ogden-Harkins, left, and his husband, Jacob, show off a pink onesie on Mother’s Day as they announce the impending birth of their little girl, Aspen Grey. Courtesy of Christopher and Jacob Ogden-Harkins

DADS-TO-BE—Christopher Ogden-Harkins, left, and his husband, Jacob, show off a pink onesie on Mother’s Day as they announce the impending birth of their little girl, Aspen Grey. Courtesy of Christopher and Jacob Ogden-Harkins

The dads-to-be have been open about their journey to start a family because they want people to feel comfortable asking questions and hope their story inspires others.

They created an Instagram account, @Aspen__ Grey, so others could follow their progress.

“We want people to know that anyone can go on this journey to have a family or start one,” Jacob said. “It can be difficult at times and there are struggles that come with it, but that’s how it is with anything in life.”

For Savre, donating her eggs wasn’t about sending a message; she just wanted to show her love for Christopher and Jacob. Still, she hopes that their story brings some normalcy to IVF and surrogacy.

“The journey of starting a family can be vastly different from person to person. I hope those that may not be taking the traditional route don’t feel alone,” she said.

Christopher said this is truly a friendship story that goes beyond starting a family.

“Not many people have a friend like Danielle who’s so selfless that, even being in the public eye, she’s willing to do something like this and fulfill a childhood pact,” he said.

With about five months until Aspen Grey’s arrival, Christopher and Jacob are busy finishing the nursery and planning a baby shower. Their family and friends are eager to meet the baby girl.

“We’re constantly supported and seeing the amount of people who are going to love this child is just incredible,” Jacob said.

In talking about fatherhood, Christopher reflected on his childhood with his father, Michael Harkins, an Inglewood police officer who was stern and expected the rules to be obeyed. Yet, there were times he showed a softer side by bending those same rules for his kids.

Christopher said his father is one of the smartest people he knows and he still goes to him for guidance before making any decisions.

“As a parent, I hope to emulate his confidence and his ability to protect . . . both physically and emotionally. He provided a great sense of stability (and) was also a great coach,” Christopher said.

“He cherishes being a grandpa and he’s damn good at it.”

Jacob said his dad, Steve Ogden, is also an amazing father and grandfather, who supports him in everything he does.

“He is willing to give anything and everything he has to anyone he cares for that needs it,” Jacob said.

On Father’s Day weekend, Christopher and Jacob will be returning from Disney World with Savre and plan to visit their dads, who will be spending time with the husbands’ siblings, nieces, and nephews.


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