Monday, June 6, 2011

Weekend Update: Why Ventura Is Special

In writing about what it’s like to be mayor, it seems like I often come back to one particular theme: Ventura’s remarkable ability to pull together and accomplish things in ways that other cities just can’t.

So often I see this in action on the weekends. During the week, a mayor’s day is filled with meetings, conversations, gatherings that are very focused on specific issues. People come to you to complain about things or ask for things. But on weekends it’s different. That’s when I get to see Ventura at its best.

Last weekend (the weekend of June 4-5) was no exception.

My Saturday began by heading down to the Westside – specifically, the large vacant lot on the corner of Ventura Avenue and Kellogg Street, where our city folks were working with the Westside Community Council, E.J. Harrison, and dozens of volunteers in doing a Westside cleanup day. It was a remarkable effort that brought our Westside community together in so many different ways.

Often when we do a “cleanup day” – as we have recently done at the baech, Downtown and in Midtown – it consists mostly of picking up trash, scraping gum off the sidewalk, and things like that. These efforts not only beautify the community but also help limit the flow of trash into the rivers and the ocean.

The Westside effort was a little different – but with the same intent. With Harrison’s help, Westside volunteers and our folks set up dumpsters and recycling locations on the Kellogg site. Anybody who wanted to bring large items to dump could do so. The response was amazing. When the event started at 9 a.m., there was a line of cars around the block.

Now, at first glance, the sight of a bunch of cars idling in a neighborhood on Saturday morning to dump off mattresses, refrigerators, and other such items might not seem like truly a community event. But it was truly amazing. First, there were dozens of people volunteering to help haul and sort the trash and recycling material. And second, the people who were bringing their stuff were really helping the neighborhood and the community. Not only were they cleaning out their garages (and, in some cases, their yards), but they were also properly disposing of items that might otherwise wind up on the street or in the riverbottom.

In a world with so much “stuff,” it can be a constant battle to keep our city clean and beautiful. Just as important, however, is keeping trash out of the rivers and the ocean. Dumping trash in the riverbottom harms water quality – and also subjects the City and its taxpayers to possible fines from the Regional Water Quality Board of thousands of dollars a day. The Westside Cleanup Day built community pride and teamwork, made our city more attractive, and saved the taxpayers a lot of money.

Then on Sunday morning, I went down to Figueroa Plaza – across from the Mission – to watch and participate in the filming of saxophonist Dave Koz’s new music video for his cover of the Burt Bacharach chesnut, “This Guy’s In Love With You.” It’s a beautiful version of this wonderful old song. The video is designed to support marriage equality, and a lot of people came from all over the state to support that cause. In the process, however, lots of folks participated in a fun community event – as we all walked and swirled around Dave while he walked up Figueroa Plaza and lip-synched the song. Lots of folks said they had never been to Ventura before and would definitely come back; while many locals had a great time. Thanks so much to Dave and videomaker Graham Streeter for picking Ventura! And, oh yeah – thanks to legendary trumpeter Herb Alpert and his wife Lonnie Hall for stopping by to do a cameo!

Then, on Sunday afternoon, it was my privilege to attend the memorial service for Nick Haverland at Arroyo Verde Park. As everyone now knows, Nick was the promising 20-year-old kid – about to go off to Hawaii to study ethnobotany – who was killed by drunk driver on Telegraph Road a few weeks ago. I’ve written before about how Nick’s tragic death has brought so many of us in our community together But Sunday’s memorial service – attended by hundreds of people despite the rain – told this story better than I ever could.

Nick always said that nature was his religion, and so everybody said the rain was fine because Nick would have preferred it. There were several beautiful musical pieces, including a clarinet quartet from Cabrillo Middle School directed by Mario Boccali, who was Nick’s music instructor (and my daughter’s as well); in addition, Kyle McCormick, son of Jackson Brown bassist and producer Kevin McCormick, sang a moving song accompanied by his father. Then there were the eulogies and remembrances, from family friend Steve Svete, his aunts, and especially his friends Dylan Blossom and Henry Geerlings. Henry’s low-key, self-effacing talk was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he was the friend riding bikes with Nick when Nick was killed. (There’s a beautiful photo of Henry in front of a stunning image of Nick at Two Trees on the Star web site.

I cannot hope, in these few words, to recreate the emotion and love that Nick’s memory brought to Arroyo Verde Park yesterday. All I can say is that it was the third event I attended over the weekend that reminded me why Ventura is such a special place. I truly believe most communities cannot accomplish the things we do here. As I was driving back from Nick’s memorial, I glanced eastward and saw Two Trees shrouded in a misty fog – a gorgeous sight – and remembered why everything we do is worth it.