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Simi Valley Acorn News

Adventist doctors’ group must pay $40K in penalties

Adventist Health Physicians Network of Simi Valley must pay $40,000 in civil penalties to the district attorney’s office as part of a settlement following an investigation into a report that the hospital failed to protect patient privacy, reasonably safeguard and maintain medical information and properly dispose of confidential information, according to the Ventura County district attorney’s office.

In October 2018, the DA’s office received a tip that patient files belonging to the hospital were found in a storage unit, which the physicians network had lost access to after not making timely payments, according to an April 9 statement from the DA’s office.

The contents, including the files, were sold off at auction, officials said, though the files were recovered and returned to the physicians network, which then properly stored them. It was determined during the investigation that no personal identifying information contained in the medical files was released to the public.

Adventist has enacted new policies and procedures to ensure a similar incident doesn’t happen again, officials said.

—Melissa Simon

Shot down on second vaccine

In the evening of March 29, I was fortunate enough to get a walk-in spot for a Pfizer vaccine left over at Walgreens. Unfortunately, because I had not gone through the regular process of getting a first vaccine appointment, I was not in Walgreens’ computer system and they could not reserve a date and time for a second dose.

They told me I would have to go online and try to get the appointment myself. When I attempted to follow their advice, every place I went online refused to allow me to make a second appointment. The very earliest the online system would even let me try to make an appointment was the 21st day after my first shot.

This made no sense to me because the second dose must be received 21 to 42 days after the first, and I was (and am) concerned, given the weeks people have had to wait to get appointments for their shots, I will have to make an appointment beyond the 42nd day for my second dose.

While on the Ventura County website, I saw an email address for Ashley Bautista, and was directed to send questions/comments to her. I assumed it was a dumping-ground black hole for complaints and I would never hear back from anyone, but I, nonetheless, wrote my concerns to her at 8:30 a.m. March 30.

Within one hour, to my complete surprise, I had a response from Ms. Bautista, explaining why the system was the way it was and why I couldn’t make a second dose appointment. We had a brief email exchange, where she honestly and respectfully answered all of my questions. Mind you, they were not the answers I wanted, because there was no way for me to get a second shot appointment and, as I write this, I am still without a scheduled second dose and remain concerned.

But Ashley Bautista was professional and responsive to the questions I asked, and she is very deserving of praise for a job well done.

Marcie Kraft
Simi Valley

Elect someone ‘thoughtful’

Before the 2020 election, armed with wild and misleading statements, Mike Garcia started his attack ads against Christy Smith, claiming that she is an extreme leftist. He falsely claimed that she supported defunding the police. Not true.

In fact, Christy is a centrist who succeeded in pushing through bi-partisan legislation in the state Assembly even in the shortened session caused by the pandemic. Her voting record in the California Assembly is available. When these ads start again, check the facts.

Trump loyalist Mike Garcia is the partisan puppet in this race. He has followed the right-wing playbook to the letter, from trying to restrict legal abortions to bowing to the NRA, to showing no concern Whatsoever about climate change even as we watch California and the western states burn and other parts of the country flood. Now he is standing with those who tried to overturn a free and fair election, undermining our very democracy. This is unacceptable. We need to elect a thoughtful person who will support bi-partisan legislation when it works, (like Smith has done to protect those most vulnerable to Covid-19), someone who will address climate change, advocate for education, fight for reasonable gun laws and not just rubber stamp a party agenda. We need Christy Smith.

Stephanie McIntyre
Simi Valley

A standardized way to test our patience

Even with the “flexibility” district leaders are being given by the state’s Department of Education to choose the type of test they’ll administer, requiring students to take standardized tests this year makes about as much sense as an inflatable dartboard. (See story on Page 21.) There’s not much they can do, though, as the mandate comes from the Biden administration and is required in order for schools to receive federal funding.

Barring a last-minute reversal of the mandate, students in Simi Valley will be tasked with sitting down later this spring to take some form of a standardized test to tell us what most everyone knows: Our kids, who’ve been learning from home for the better part of the year, are behind. And this is especially true for marginalized groups of students, such as those from low-income homes or kids with disabilities.

Standardized tests have been around since the days of the horse and buggy, but it was the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 and the subsequent Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 that preceded an ongoing evolution of tests meant to compare districts and students across California. The data has been used as a metric for a variety of purposes, from identifying learning disparities between student populations to influencing housing prices.

There is a healthy list of pros and cons for standardized testing. That debate is for another day.

Our point is that we can’t square the necessity of administering such tests following two of the most disjointed school years in the past century. What’s more, we’re faced with a student and teaching population that’s never been more disaffected in the waning months of the school year. We’re having issues getting kids and teachers into classrooms, and we think students are going to do well on a test?

Does the federal government honestly believe that a child who opted for distance learning is going to be able to sit through an entire battery of tests without having a parent stand over their shoulder?

Not to mention the standardized test dates have been pushed into the same time frame when many high schoolers will be taking the far-more-important AP tests. Some teens will even be taking the SAT and ACT, even though most colleges and universities will be test-blind this year, a trend that will likely continue into the foreseeable future.

Moreover, every district throughout the county will likely all have some slight variation in the standardized tests they give, meaning there will be no honest apples-to-apples comparison between districts. There are guidelines, but those rules are more gray than black-and-white.

We know that standardized tests can help identify strengths and weaknesses of teachers, students and curriculum, and that information gives us a barometer of what’s working and what isn’t. But are we truly to believe that a standardized test at the end of a pandemic is going to a) tell us what we don’t already know and b) be an honest assessment of a largely indifferent student body? We think not.

Instead of test-taking, let’s spend the remaining time we have this year focused on what really counts: learning.

End in sight: Gov says California on track to ‘fully open’ June 15



It’s code red for the state’s color-coded map of COVID restrictions.

On the same day Ventura County moved into the orange tier for the first time since the system was created, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would retire his Blueprint for a Safer Economy by June 15 provided hospitalization rates remain stable and the supply of vaccines from the federal government isn’t interrupted.

As of April 4, California (pop. 40 million) had 3,373 COVID-positive patients, the lowest number reported by the state in the past year; it reached a single-day high of 22,853 on Jan. 6.

“We’re seeing death rates, mortality rates, go down. We’re seeing case rates stabilize. We have the lowest case rates in the United States of America,” Newsom said Tuesday.

“We can confidently say by June 15 that we can start to open up at business as usual.”

Going “beyond the blueprint,” the governor said, means an end to capacity restrictions on schools, businesses, live events, sports and gatherings. It does not, however, mean an end to the state’s mask mandate.

“We will need to remain vigilant and continue the practices that got us here,” Newsom said.

As of this week, 29 states, including California, still have a rule in place requiring masks to be worn in public places. States that have lifted the requirement have not seen a resurgence of cases, according to reports.

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new COVID-19 prevention guidance calling for a greater emphasis on air circulation and less on disinfecting surfaces, given that studies indicate a 1-in-10,000 chance of a person contracting COVID-19 from a contaminated surface, the CDC said.

The CDC continues to advise the use of masks by people 2 and older in public settings.

All-time lows

Ventura County recorded 10 new positive COVID-19 cases Monday, with hospitals reporting 23 individuals with COVID in their care (down from nearly 450 in January).

No deaths were reported in the previous three days.

At a news conference Tuesday, Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin said less than 1% of people testing for COVID in Ventura County are testing positive.

And while he is thrilled businesses are moving toward a return to normal and family gatherings may soon resume, he said commonsense precautions are still necessary.

“I’m fearful we’ll mistake liberalization to a total return to normal, and we’re not there yet,” Levin said. “If we go beyond the limitations we still have, we’ll endanger these same businesses and these same freedoms we are now able to enjoy.”

Levin reminded the public that herd immunity—the point at which a sufficient number of people have antibodies to stave off further spread—isn’t reached until between 75% and 80% of the population is vaccinated.

As of Tuesday, 43.8% of those eligible to receive the vaccination had received at least one shot; around 27% of persons 16 and over were fully vaccinated. Starting April 15, every Californian over the age of 16 will be allowed to sign up and receive a dose.

“When a COVID virus passes from one person to another, it has the opportunity to mutate, to change to a more worrisome form,” Levin said. “We must not allow that to happen.”

Thousand Oaks Acorn editor Kyle Jorrey contributed to this article.

Public access group sues sheriff’s office

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office is being sued on allegations that it violated the California Public Records Act, a law that requires the disclosure of certain government documents upon request.

The First Amendment Coalition, a San Rafael-based nonprofit dedicated to free speech and transparent government, filed the lawsuit March 30 after the department declined to release records related to police misconduct and serious use of force.

Under the Public Records Act, public agencies like the sheriff’s office must justify their reasons for not releasing information to the public and detail why it is exempt from the state law. According to the lawsuit filed in Ventura County Superior Court, the sheriff’s office denied or delayed access to records “without substantial justification.”

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to the allegations, stating that it doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits.

The coalition began requesting police records two years ago after the California Legislature passed several laws that made records related to police use-offorce incidents, sexual assaults and acts of dishonesty accessible to the public.

“We have requested similar records from California Department of Justice, and several cities and counties in the East Bay area of San Francisco,” said Glen Smith, the coalition’s litigation director. “California is a big state and has responses that are all over the map, and there have been some agencies that have been more responsive.”

Smith said the coalition is interested in not only evaluating agencies’ compliance with the law, but also in sharing details about deputies’ violent or dishonest interactions with the public.

“We don’t create databases, but we do try to make records that we obtain available to the public by providing them to journalists or posting on our website,” he said.

The litigation against the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office follows the coalition’s larger mission to inform communities about policing in their neighborhoods.

“Unfortunately, the public has largely been left in the dark about the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, and that needs to change,” coalition Executive Director David Snyder said in a statement.

VCSO lawsuit

The coalition made two requests for records from the department, in 2020 and 2021.

The first request, submitted Jan. 31, 2020, asked for records related to the use of force or police misconduct that occurred in 2019. The sheriff’s office identified two incidents, a sexual battery and an officer-involved shooting, and provided media releases related to the incidents, the coalition said in its lawsuit. The department also stated that the sexual battery was under investigation and it could not release additional documents.

A year later, in February 2021, the coalition again requested records related to the sexual battery. The sheriff’s office stated it had “relevant records” that could be released for a $1,200 fee, which the coalition says is unlawful under the Public Records Act, according to court documents.

In January 2021, the group made a separate request for police records from Jan. 1, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2018, and from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020. According to the lawsuit, the department responded by sharing links to two media releases about a 2020 officer-involved shooting in Camarillo.

Sheriff’s personnel argued that the new state laws did not apply to records dated before 2019, citing an injunction issued by a Superior Court judge. A California Appellate Court, though, overturned the injunction last month, ruling that the laws applied to all records related to the use of force and police misconduct.

“We thought that they were pretty nonresponsive, which is why we filed the lawsuit,” Smith said.

In its suit, the coalition asks the court to compel the sheriff’s office to release all documents, records and materials requested under the California Public Records Act. The group also asks the sheriff’s office to state why records cannot be released if they are withheld.

Luevanos among Democratic challengers looking to take on Garcia

Ruth Luevanos Photo courtesy of Ty Chen

Ruth Luevanos Photo courtesy of Ty Chen

First-term Simi Valley City Councilmember Ruth Luevanos says she’s seeking higher office.

The 47-year-old Democrat entered the fray this week to challenge Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Santa Clarita) for his seat in California’s 25th Congressional District.

Though she’d still be eligible to seek a second term on the City Council should she finish out of the top two in a June 2022 primary, Luevanos said she has no plans to run again for city office.

“I want to pass the baton to someone else. I’m very happy to support other leaders who want to run for council,” she said.

Luevanos, a high school teacher, made history in November 2018 when she became the first Latina elected to the Simi council.

She’s used her time on the dais to advocate for the rights of immigrants and to denounce racism and police violence, positions that have won her legions of fans but also staunch critics (she was briefly the target of a recall effort after she put out a video advising illegal immigrants of their rights should ICE agents appear at their door).



Luevanos said she won’t temper her passion for immigration reform if she’s elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

“People are relying on me to be their voice. (They know) I’m not willing to back down when it comes to policy issues. . . . I think my record (and actions) speak for themselves,” she said.

If she did seek another term on the council, Luevanos would be facing a different outlook than the one she did in 2018. Because council seats are now broken down by districts, Luevanos would have to face off against Councilmember Mike Judge, as they both reside in District 2.

Judge, the top vote-getter in the 2018 race and one of Luevanos’ most outspoken critics, told the Acorn Thursday that he plans to run for a fourth term on the dais.

Crowded field

Luevanos is one of four Democrats who have filed paperwork so far to run for CA-25, which encompasses Simi, most of the Santa Clarita Valley and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

Garcia, 44, a former Navy fighter pilot and defense industry executive, was elected to represent the district in May 2020 to finish out Katie Hill’s term after Hill resigned.

He was reelected in November for a full two-year term by a narrow margin of 333 votes against Democratic challenger Christy Smith, 51, who is already in full campaign mode in her third attempt to defeat the Republican representative.

Democrats Rhoda Nazanin of Los Angeles and Christopher Bellingham of the Antelope Valley are also running.

Controversies and advocacy

Asked about her time on the council, Luevanos said she has been working to engage youth, create more workforce and transitional housing, provide cleaner water sources and push for cleanup at the Santa Susana Field Lab.

If elected to Congress, the teacher at John R. Wooden High School in Reseda said she would work to improve public education and ensure that every person, regardless of race, gender, age or background, has a good-paying job with a safe work environment. Luevanos also supports “Medicare for All.”

In regard to immigration policies, she wants to expand pathways to citizenship and ensure that undocumented people are protected.

In July 2019, just six months after joining the City Council, Luevanos caused an uproar with a video she filmed at City Hall in which she informed immigrants that they had the right to resist arrest by federal agents. She also doubled down on allegations that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents had conducted a raid in Simi that summer.

In fall of 2019, she filed a complaint against Mayor Keith Mashburn and Councilmembers Judge and Dee Dee Cavanaugh, alleging that their conduct “subjected (her) to a hostile work environment, based on race and/ or gender,” but an investigation later deemed the accusations were unfounded.

“I hope voters don’t reward her bad behavior on the Simi Valley City Council by promoting her to Congress,” said Simi resident Joe Piechowski, who was one of the people leading the failed recall effort.

Luevanos made waves again in February when she claimed during a public meeting that Piechowski, who is one of 17 people recently appointed to serve on the city’s four neighborhood councils, had used “coded language” to promote white supremacy on social media.

“She’s been a disaster for the city,” Simi Mayor Keith Mashburn said. “It’s an absolute embarrassment to this entire country that she would be on any ballot,” he said.

Other residents appreciate the council member’s candor.

“I support Ruth because she is constantly fighting for marginalized communities in her work and on the council,” Cassandra Douglas told the Acorn.

“We see her fighting and questioning the council, making sure that they’re on point and everything that they’re doing is legal and transparent. She’s a fighter and she will be someone who will stand up for marginalized communities and for transparency in Washington.”

Luevanos said her supporters live in all parts of district, not just Simi Valley, and their voices have yet to be represented in Congress.

“I have a lot of people in the community who were asking me (to run) . . . to a point where you have to answer the call—very much like when I ran for council,” she said.

Given the near 50/50 split between registered Democrats and Republicans in the 25th District, it’s likely one of the Democratic candidates will face off against Garcia in November 2022.

Hill, who resigned in the fall of 2019 following allegations of inappropriate behavior with staff members, had flipped the 25th District blue in 2018 when she prevailed against Republican Steve Knight.

Smith said her focus is to make the 25th blue again.

“Ultimately the real goal is changing leadership and beating Mike Garcia,” she told the Acorn on Monday.

“On Jan. 6, we saw the real Mike Garcia. He sided with insurrectionists and against the people of our community,” Smith said in a campaign video recently posted online. “I can’t sit by and watch any longer. Defending democracy shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”

Because Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley are pivotal pieces of the 25th District, Smith said it could be challenging for anyone who doesn’t live in those areas to break through.

“I’m pretty confident that based on the relationship we’ve developed in Simi Valley, we’ve got plenty of ground to stand on,” she said, noting that she was glad to have Luevanos’ endorsement in the 2020 Congressional race.

In a March 31 statement, Lance Trover, spokesperson for Garcia’s 2022 campaign, said Smith is clearly hoping the third time’s a charm, but no matter how many times she runs and how many times she tries to reinvent herself with voters, the facts are clear.

“Mike believes his record of fighting for lower taxes for CA- 25 families is exactly why they elected him to office and why he will be re-elected,” Trover told the Acorn Thursday.

“He supports service to country and encourages all Americans who want to serve to be involved. It’s clear CA-25 Democrats understand Christy Smith’s support of AB5 and higher taxes is a disaster for working families.”

A first-generation American whose father immigrated to the U.S. in 1959, Garcia believes in a strong national defense and is pro-business.

According to Garcia’s office, the median income in CA-25 is $76,866 and about 46% of its residents are white, 35% are Hispanic, 8% are Black and 8% are Asian.

Nazanin, who launched her campaign April 8, said she’s not a politician nor did she imagine running for Congress. But after the attack at the U.S. Capitol, and Garcia’s response to it, Nazanin decided to enter the race.

“As Democrats, we can’t afford to lose this seat again and our democracy depends on beating Mike Garcia,” the 35-year-old told the Acorn on Tuesday. “I believe voters deserve real representation that reflects their diverse life experiences.”

As an immigrant, former pastor and queer woman of color, Nazanin believes she can best represent the people in CA-25 who haven’t been given a voice.

Details about Bellingham were not available at press time.

Other variables

Following the 2010 census, most of Simi was moved into the 25th Congressional District, while Camarillo, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks and a small sliver of Simi became part of the 26th Congressional District.

Redistricting is done every 10 years for elective offices following the U.S. census. Current districts were drawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission in August 2011.

With the 2020 census now complete, the 25th District boundaries will likely change again, but it’s too soon to know what the new map will look like and how that may affect the 2022 election.

“It’s taking them too long to gerrymander it,” said Republican Elton Gallegly, a former Simi mayor, who represented the city in Congress when it was part of California’s 24th District, which at the time covered much of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, as well as the earlier 21st and the 23rd districts that Simi fell into before that.

“It’s possible that Simi Valley won’t be in the 25th District because it’s an appendage now,” said Gallegly, who represented Simi Valley for over 20 years.

While the law allows candidates to run for a district they don’t live in, the voters probably aren’t going to support that, he said.

The top two CA-25 vote-getters during the June 7, 2022, primary election will advance to the midterm election later that year on Nov. 8.

Melissa Simon contributed to this report.

Fire season now a year-round threat

BURNING EARLY—A Ventura County firefighter watches over the Madera fire as it burns toward the 118 Freeway April 1 in Simi Valley. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

BURNING EARLY—A Ventura County firefighter watches over the Madera fire as it burns toward the 118 Freeway April 1 in Simi Valley. MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

Two fires burned nearly 40 acres of open space in Simi Valley over the past week, putting officials on alert early this year.

Around 1 p.m. Thurs., April 1, a small blaze broke out along the 118 Freeway, just north of the Madera Road exit near the Simi Valley Landfill entrance, said Ventura County Fire Capt. Robert Welsbie.

Dubbed the Madera fire, the blaze moved through the hillside and spread rapidly due to the winds that day, Welsbie said. It scorched 16.5 acres but was kept from jumping the freeway.

No injuries or structures were damaged during the firefight, which caused freeway closures for several hours.

Three days later, just before 4 p.m. on Sun., April 4, Ventura County firefighters were dispatched to Westwood Street and Cottonwood Drive, where a blaze had broken out about 300 yards from the street.

Welsbie said the fire was burning in remote, open space and firefighters had to hike to the location while carrying gear and hoses. Luckily, they were able to tap into the fire hydrants of a nearby neighborhood.

ON IT—A Cal Fire air tanker drops fire retardant on the Madera fire April 1 in Simi Valley. The fire burned more than 16 acres and closed the westbound lanes of the 118 from Madera Road to Collins Drive for a few hours. No injuries or damage to structures were reported. MICHAEL COONS Acorn Newspapers

ON IT—A Cal Fire air tanker drops fire retardant on the Madera fire April 1 in Simi Valley. The fire burned more than 16 acres and closed the westbound lanes of the 118 from Madera Road to Collins Drive for a few hours. No injuries or damage to structures were reported. MICHAEL COONS Acorn Newspapers

After about three hours, Welsbie said crews had the small conflagration 90% contained. By Monday, a handful of VCFD personnel remained on-site to ensure that there were no hot spots that might flare up.

Named the Westwood fire, it charred about 23 acres, the captain said. As with the Madera fire, there were no injuries and no structures were threatened or damaged.

Investigations into the cause of both fires are ongoing, Welsbie said.

‘Perpetual fire season’

Nearly 10,000 fires burned more than 4.2 million acres of land across the state in 2020, according to Cal Fire. There were 33 fatalities and almost 10,500 structures damaged or destroyed.

From Jan. 1 to March 28 of this year, Cal Fire said it responded to 717 fires that scorched more than 1,500 acres. During that same time period in 2020, there were 608 incidents, burning 873 acres.

Fire season in Southern California tends to run from June to December, said Welsbie, with the winter rains providing a break.

But during droughts, like the state has been experiencing on and off the last several years, fire season seems to last year-round.

This year has been characterized by rapidly spreading fires that quickly reached more than 15, 20 and even 25 acres, the fire captain said.

“We’re not really getting that winter rain like we used to so we kind of have a perpetual fire season. It just goes on,” said Welsbie, who’s been a firefighter for 19 years. “And this year, we had pretty lousy rainfall and fuels are very receptive to igniting.”

Simi Valley Mayor Keith Mashburn, a retired VCFD battalion chief with 30 years’ experience, said this notion that fire season is never-ending has some truth to it.

Low fuel moisture, low humidity and high winds have always been contributing factors that can spark a fire, Mashburn said. But as the population increases and spills out into less-urban areas, the potential for fires to affect people’s homes increases, he said.

“We didn’t use to have so many people or houses going right up to the wildland areas, but now we’re seeing more people using those open spaces,” he said.

Fires can spark from a cigarette thrown into brush, a campfire that hasn’t been properly put out or arson, the mayor said. But they can also be caused by outdoor activities like welding, roofing and weed abatement.

“There could be some level of carelessness when doing that and not paying attention to where the embers are flying,” Mashburn said.

If embers are picked up by the wind, they can travel at least a mile away, Welsbie said.

That’s why VCFD asks anyone living near the hillsides to make their residence fire-safe by doing 100-foot brush clearance around all structures and installing mesh screens on attic vents to prevent embers from getting inside.

Doing general yard maintenance, paying attention to the weather changes and having an evacuation plan are also key, Welsbie said.

“If your lips are chapped, your hands are dry and you can feel the wind, then it’s probably time to pay a little more attention,” he said.

Mashburn said it’s imperative for residents to be informed about wildfires and how to prevent them.

“It’s no longer ‘Get ready for fire season’ as much as it is ‘Get ready for fires,’” he said.

Ridin’ and Ropin’

TRUE COWBOY—Bob Jauregui prepares his horse, Grumpy, for riding at Poe Ranch on April 3.

Wild sage swayed in a gentle, easterly breeze as a train whistle blew in the distance in the oak-dotted Santa Susana foothills north of Simi Valley. Just after 10 in the morning, the guttural croak of a raven overhead was drowned out by the thunder of hooves and disgruntled moos as around four dozen head of cattle appeared on the northern ridgeline kicking up a cloud of dust as they descended a south-facing slope.

Riders on horseback yelled “hey cow” as they directed the cattle down the ridgeline to the west, where metal corrals were waiting for them in Las Llajas Canyon. Rancher Jeff Sparrow rode past the herd on horseback, a lasso at his side and his horse Cisco’s mane blowing in the wind as he galloped toward the corral.

It’s a scene that has been repeated by members of Sparrow’s family in the Santa Susana Mountains since 1872, when his forebear, Andrew Joughin, bought a sprawling ranch in the foothills above Chatsworth. Sparrow’s family sold the 1,722-acre spread to open space agencies in 2003, and it is now part of Michael D. Antonovich Regional Park between Chatsworth and Simi.

LASSOS FLY—Dalon Williams, left, and Darwin Mitchell rope a young calf so they can tag its ear for identification at Poe Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 3. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

Sparrow now leases land with other cattlemen on the nearby Poe Ranch above Simi Valley so he can continue his family’s ranching tradition. On April 3, the families who share the lease met in the pre-dawn hours to seek out and gather the cattle so they could mark the ears of this year’s calves and separate out the cows destined for market.

Sparrow said he’s not in it for the money. During drought years, he and his fellow ranchers lose cash as they supplement the grazing with hay.

“It has everything to do with maintaining our heritage,” he said.

Sparrow has a pair of chaps that are over 100 years old as well as a vintage hat he plans to hand down to his grandson. The Mitchell family he shares the lease with has been ranching this area for the past 50 years.

The youngest brother, Darwin “Slick” Mitchell, a Teamster by trade who also has a list of movie credits under his belt for wrangling cattle on big-budget productions, wore silver spurs emblazoned with his father’s cattle brand, a “T” and a triangle.

Ranchers have grazed cattle in the Santa Susana Mountains since the era of Spanish land grants. The April 3 cattle gathering looked like a scene out of the 19th century, save for the radio equipment in the background on top of Oat Mountain and the occasional airplane overhead. Plus a few of the ranchers rode ATVs for convenience.

One of the cowboys on a “quad” was Darwin’s older brother, Justin, who has ranched the land with his family since he was 12. He wore a shirt that said, “This is my drinking shirt. And I wear it every day.”

“It’s just what we do. Some people go to the river. We come here. Peace and quiet and no one bothering us,” he said as the engine of his four-wheeler rumbled beneath him.

Almost no one bothers them.

OLD WEST WAYS—Top left, Jeff Sparrow rides his horse, Cisco, as he helps direct a herd of cattle to Poe Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 3. Above, cowboys round up the herd of cattle and direct them to the ranch. At left, Jeff Sparrow, left, Tegan Thomason and Bryce Wilcox lead the herd into a corral. Photos by MICHAEL COONS/Acorn Newspapers

Shortly before the cattle crested the hill, a dirt-bike rider passed through the area. Recreational trail users are prohibited from using motorized vehicles on the open space trails that run through the area, but they do it anyway. Darwin Mitchell said dirt-bike riders cut holes in fences to gain access to the area and those holes allow cattle to escape.

Mountain lions are also a bother. Ranch hand Trent Baker recorded video of a young puma in a nearby clearing shortly before the gathering began.

Once the cattle were penned into corrals in the cool canyon bottom, the ranchers took a break under the shade of an ancient oak tree and ate lunch as they joked about who was the best horseman and who had the most ex-wives. Some showed scars of where they had been gored decades ago. They also spoke tenderly of caring for ailing family members.

It’s not exclusively a man’s world.

When it came time to castrate the calves, 20-year-old Tegan Thomason performed the procedure with a knife and bare hands. She had spent the morning gathering cattle, riding a wild mustang adopted from the Bureau of Land Management,

Riders set out at along the Las Llajas trail to round up cattle on April 3.

Thomason was raised around livestock and doesn’t take offense when the other ranchers refer to her and her friends, many of whom participated in Future Farmers of America, as the “FFA mafia,” though she said her preferred nomenclature is “cowgirl.”

“I grew up around this. It’s my life,” she said.

It’s been Newhall resident Bob Jauregui’s life for a much longer time. The 76-year-old remembers when cowboy country stretched from Simi to Newhall.

His family, which includes members of the Cowboy Hall of Fame as well as Western movie stars, owned a ranch on the other side of Oat Mountain opposite from Las Llajas Canyon on land they leased from Standard Oil from the 1920s “until civilization took over.” They even participated in the recovery efforts after the St. Francis Dam collapse in 1928 killed over 400 people.

The Jauregui property was sold to the Walt Disney Co. and became part of the Golden Oak Ranch in the 1990s, but the family name still graces historical landmarks in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Darwin Mitchell said Jauregui was “a horseman’s horseman,” and during their most recent roundup, Jauregui rode a 5-year-old horse named Grumpy. Jauregui is a contemporary of other ranching scions like Wyatt McCrea, whose family donated hundreds of acres of ranchland between Thousand Oaks and Moorpark to be protected in perpetuity.

Not everyone at the gathering was as expert as Jauregui. Some were hobbyist horse riders with little experience working cattle, often referred to as “weekenders.”

The septuagenarian was asked what the hardest part of gathering cattle was.

“Getting these people to come back a second time,” Jauregui said, standing next to Grumpy.

“Everybody wants to be a cowboy until it’s time to do cowboy things,” Darwin Mitchell said.

Photos by Michael Coons/Acorn Newspapers

  • Bob Jauregui prepares his horse, Grumpy, for riding at Poe Ranch on April 3.

  • Riders set out at along the Las Llajas trail to round up cattle to bring back to Poe Ranch on April 3.

  • Jeff Sparrow rides his horse, Cisco, up a hill as he helps direct a herd of cattle to Poe Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 3.

  • Cowboys round-up a herd a cattle and direct them to Poe Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 3.

  • Jeff Sparrow rides his horse, Cisco, as he helps direct a herd of cattle to Poe Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 3.

  • Jeff Sparrow, left, Tegan Thomason and Bryce Wilcox lead a herd of cattle to Poe Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 3.

  • Dalon Williams takes a lunch break at Poe Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 3.

  • Bob Jauregui, left, Justin Mitchell and his brother, Darwin, take a lunch break at Poe Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 3.

  • Darwin Mitchell’s boot contains the Mitchell family branding logo that his family has been using for decades.

  • Dalon Williams, left, and Darwin Mitchell rope a young calf to tag the ear for identification at Poe Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 3.

  • Dalon Williams, left, and Darwin Mitchell rope a young calf to tag the ear for identification at Poe Ranch in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 3.

  • Gary Aufill prepares ropes on his horse, Peanut, for the morning cattle round-up.

  • Bryce Wilcox practices his roping before heading out for the cattle round-up at Poe Ranch on April 3.

  • Rob Fischer pets his horse, Buckshot, before heading out on April 3.

  • Riders set out at sunrise to round up cattle to bring back to Poe Ranch on April 3.

  • Cattle from multiple owners are gathered in pens at Poe Ranch.

  • Dalon Williams watches as cattle are organized by owner at Poe Ranch on April 3.

  • Burned out vehicles from brush fires dot the landscape around Poe Ranch.

  • Cattle is separated into different pens for the different owners at Poe Ranch on April 3.

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