The Ventura County Bar Association, which was established in 1928, originated in Ventura because its role as county seat and the center of population and business at the time made the city home to its membership base. The outskirts of the County were mostly farmland and ranches. However, as the county’s population began to grow and move eastward as new cities sprouted up, VCBA also needed to begin its progression east as well. At first there was hesitation. Members were averse to crossing the Santa Clara River in order to attend a bar meeting/function in Oxnard or Camarillo, but eventually people got over it and made the effort. That divide has now apparently shifted to the Conejo Grade. The Grade has become more than just a physical barrier and has morphed into a psychological barrier of sorts. I recently attended a section meeting where I heard the Grade referred to as the “Great Wall of Ventura County.” Contrary to urban myth, you can drive over the Grade, and there is life on the other side!
As someone who has lived and worked on both sides of the Grade, I feel it is my obligation as VCBA President to help bridge the divide between the East and West County and to bring our bar membership together. As I have heard from attorneys in the East County (Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Moorpark and Simi Valley) over the years, they feel disconnected or ignored because all the meetings/events seem always to be held in the West. On the other side, I hear from bar leaders that they can only have our meetings/events in the West because otherwise no one would attend. At the 22nd Annual VCBA Strategic Planning Session of Bar Leaders held on Feb. 11, I challenged the nearly 50 bar leaders (representing our 35 sections, committees and affiliates) in attendance to commit to holding at least one meeting/event per year in the East County. I am hopeful that we will begin to see a change in the willingness of members on both sides to go over the Grade. Of the more than 1,200 current VCBA members, at least 20 percent work in the East County. This percentage doesn’t account for nonmembers, in-house counsel (e.g., 100+ Amgen attorneys) and those who work in the West but live in the East, which could amount to more than 30 percent of our members. Given the increased migration of attorneys from the saturated areas of L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, this untapped group will only continue to grow.
To help fill the void left by VCBA, the East County Bar Association (ECBA) was started back in the early 90s by a core group of officers – Marge Baxter, Al Keep, Gordon Lindeen, Patti Mann, and Roberta Burnette. According to Patti, who was ECBA president from 2002 through 2004, the precursor to ECBA was the Simi Valley Bar Association (led by Frank White), which was instrumental in pushing for a new courthouse to be located in Simi Valley. With the opening of the East County Courthouse in 1991, many attorneys started setting up shop in Simi Valley and surrounding areas in the East County. ECBA then took on the role of a liaison to the courthouse and a way to connect with the judges assigned to this branch. Since becoming ECBA President in 2008, Bret Anderson’s mission has been to reinvigorate ECBA. He has certainly accomplished this, starting with the first hugely-successful kickoff event, the “East Meets West Mixer” in 2009. Bret hopes to bring this mixer back again this year. Other annual ECBA signature events that have been well attended in the past include the Brown Bag presentation by all the East County judges, and the holiday party in December, in which all the judges, clerks and staff of the East County Courthouse were invited to socialize with ECBA members. However, given the new reality with the impending closure of the East County Courthouse, Bret hopes that judges from the main Ventura courthouse are willing to come out to the East County to attend ECBA events.
One of the strong partnerships that Bret has developed is the joint MCLE luncheons with the East County Chapter of the CPA/Law Society (President Maryellen Sebold) at the Westlake Village Inn. With the assistance of ECBA Vice President Roxanne Torabian- Bashardoust and Secretary Kevin Shaw working closely with Maryellen, they plan on continuing these luncheons with highquality speakers and interesting topics. Treasurer Natalie Panossian is spearheading something new for ECBA: broadening its activities by doing more community service and outreach in order to attract more members to get involved. One idea is to work with the courts on National Adoption Day in November by providing volunteer assistance to the public in completing paperwork. Similarly, ECBA would like to team up with the Conejo Free Legal Clinic to provide pro bono service in such areas as family law and landlord-tenant. Another suggestion is to replicate a “Food from the Bar” event locally to benefit Food Share.
The ongoing challenges for ECBA will be maintaining the momentum through good events, and working toward bringing back a full-service courthouse to the East County. ECBA would also like to have other joint events in the future with the Barristers, VCTLA as well as other VCBA sections and affiliates. Important to these efforts is preserving ECBA’s strong affiliate relationship with VCBA, which is a win-win situation for both in terms of increasing participation.