Letters to the Editor
August 11, 2011

To the Editor:
Seriously, Mayor?
Regarding the Fillmore City Council-Planning Commission interplay, I was struck by how the Ventura County Star article of July 30th entitled ‘Fillmore Seeking Planning Commissioners After Three Resign’ supports my opinion, and the opinion of others. It’s time for the Council to stop putting their collective feet in their mouths, and concentrate on pulling the city out of the hole they dug and pushed it into.
Mayor Washburn is correct; certain comments at the June 22nd Planning Commission’s meeting were disrespectful. Obviously, several former members of the Planning Commission no longer have respect for some individuals on the Council and their nonsensical actions. I respectfully addressed the city council for ten minutes to explain that to the Mayor during the July 12th Council meeting. Mayor, did you hear and understand what was being said? I doubt it, since following my comments you said “I don’t understand where all this animosity is coming from?” You seriously don’t believe it’s wrong to state that you want to appeal a decision which hasn’t been made? On June 22 the Planning Commission followed the law and the Zoning Ordinances of Fillmore. You however failed to understand the law, you put the city on the path for more litigation and you didn’t care one bit. You insulted business leaders, citizens and volunteers who serve on the Planning Commission from the very beginning of this latest fiasco.
And I am truly flabbergasted at Mayor Washburn’s comments that the “departed commissioners were appointed by the previous, old guard council”! Seriously, Mayor? I was appointed to my current term by your current Mayor Pro-Tem and fellow council member Jamie Brooks! That was just two short years ago. And therein lies the crux of the problem, you along with Jamie Brooks and new kid on the block Brian Sipes, AKA “the majority of the Council”, simply cannot remember what you have done, what you have said, and you have no idea what you are going to say or do because you just don’t know what you’re doing.
Mayor Washburn alludes to previous councils which she claims did not “work together in a professional manner with decorum and respect”. That statement is flatly false and self-serving, but we’re used to that. I’m certain that you can’t even see or recognize the chaos in Fillmore’s government which you and your buddies have instigated. The City Manager seems all too willing to take your lead and do your bidding but then again you control her pay and fellow council member Sipes owns the house she lives in. Mayor Washburn, was it proper decorum to show a bias on the cell tower project? Was it proper decorum to almost get three votes to appeal a decision which wasn’t on the agenda? Was it proper decorum to verbally state that you wanted to appeal a decision from a meeting which hadn’t even taken place? Is it proper decorum to call into the meeting and disrupt it from the comfort of your home? Is it proper decorum to ignore emails sent by Business Leaders who seek your input and questions?
This is the last thing I must comment on, because it’s really amusing, is your reference to our resignations at the Council meeting as “theatrics”. Seriously? I calmly read two letters to you, that was it. When Brooks addressed the council in June of 2008, crying that he brought his sword with him to divide and create chaos, now THAT was theatrics! When you and Brooks opined on the resignation of three Planning Commissioners, that was theatrics.
Clearly, the comments made by Washburn and Brooks simply support the opinions expressed by Mark Austin, Douglas Tucker, and myself, which are, that they, Mayor Washburn and Mayor Pro-Tem Brooks, don’t understand the relationship between the Council, staff, commissions. I’m sorry Mayor Pro-Tem Brooks, you’re not the boss of everybody, and no, we don’t report back to you or the council. It is high time the Fillmore City Council majority understands that it is merely one spoke in the wheel, and not the wheel itself. Based on the way you’ve conducted business as Mayor the game of politics clearly belong with the City Council.
Vance Johnson


To the Editor:
I have hesitated for many years writing about this subject and don’t expect to make too many friends by doing so. Just keep an open mind and give this letter some thought.
In the early 1700’s hot air balloons were discovered. By the late 1700’s the first flight across the English Channel was made. Hot air ballooning became more common as the years went by. In 1793 George Washington witnessed the first flight by a balloon in North America. Helium filled balloons were also being experimented with. Over the years and to the present many records have been made and broken crossing our oceans and continents by both types of balloons. Ballooning is a primitive invention now using the latest materials and equipment that has made it into a great sport that is fascinating to watch and to some to participate by taking rides. The young and old watch in awe as they take from the ground and float gently away.
I remember watching, in person, my first balloons lifting off the ground and moving ever so slowly with the air currents. I witnessed several events that took place from the Fillmore High school property. I can’t recall which one it was when my wife and I followed them in our car. Some balloons stayed quite low and the wind carried them easterly along the mountains by Pole Creek and then the path gently curved and took them more or less toward Highway 126. As we watched from our car we could see that one balloon was heading straight toward a high voltage line that runs through there. They were on the same level or maybe a little lower. Soon the pilot of the craft saw the danger and it sounded like he opened the propane valve wide open to gain some altitude; the roar was loud even though we were not so very close. In the car we were yelling and screaming our encouragement and thought it was too little too late; when every so slightly the balloon raised just enough to clear the lines, my guess by four feet. We followed them no further as they cleared the hill and went on to who knows where to land. I think there were four people in the basket. That picture and the thought of what could have happened is still in my mind. I swore then and told my family it would be over my dead body if any of them ever got in one of “those.”
I have other stories to tell: We have some friends, husband and wife, that took a ride; the pilot-light went out and they got bumped and dragged along San Cayetano Mountain. After a time they came to a stop and managed to get the fire lit. They said it was a chilling experience.
Another episode happened just outside the bedroom where my daughter was sleeping at a friend’s house. She heard excited voices and looked out the window. Here again they had lost their flame somehow and the basket was balanced precariously in the top of a tree. They got it going after a time and lifted off into the blue once again.
I’m sure these stories are an exception as it isn’t often one hears of someone getting hurt or killed. I figure that people can risk their lives for a little excitement if they like. The next story is why I am writing this letter. You can agree, disagree or say you don’t give a darn…..I just want people to have some more facts and something for you to think about the next time you see those beautiful balloons take to the sky.
The most spectacular balloon ascension took place one of those times from the High School and consisted of maybe twenty balloons taking of near the same time. I got out my trusty Canon camera and followed them, this time in a westerly direction. Near the Sespe River I took a picture with about fourteen balloons in one shot. I followed for a while longer, across the river and watched as about three of them opted to come down in a young citrus orchard. I watched as some dragged over trees; bending and breaking them as they went along. I was so mad I had to leave. I was afraid I would get in a big hassle with them and I would lose control. I have no idea if they made restitution to the farmer or not. Now I get to the reason I wrote this letter. This is a fact……… Before these “balloonists” ever get in the air they know they have very limited control over where they are going to land. They know they will have to land on private property somewhere and probably will not have time to ask for permission to land there. I don’t know of any property that is not owned by someone be it private or public. How dare they think they have the right to trespass?!
Recently I asked one of the “balloonists,” at the Santa Paula event, where they landed if they had mostly just up and down for control. With a grin on her face she replied, “We trespass a lot. We land in school yards or wherever.”
So, what do you think? Do they have the right to land anywhere? Remember that wherever they land their ground crew has to drive a truck or trailer or both to retrieve the balloon and all its hardware. If you would like to learn more about ballooning try asking Google on-line and you will read the good and the bad: crops torn up, animals frightened and more. There are videos of some really bad accidents on YouTube if you are not squeamish. Like I said, this is the exception not the rule, but it does happen.
John Heilman (76 year Fillmore native)