FOSTER CARE: Ventura County leaders have designated...

FOSTER CARE: Ventura County leaders have designated May as Foster Parent Awareness Month to honor those who open their homes to abused or neglected children. . . . Social service workers hope that the designation inspires others to fill gaps in the program. The greatest need: parents to take in two or more siblings, teen-agers or kids who speak only Spanish. "It's bad enough to be separated from your family and siblings," coordinator Diana Caskey said. "But to be put in a home that doesn't speak your language can be traumatic."

SMOG DOG: It's a high-tech gadget that uses an infrared beam to measure the exhaust from a passing car and then snaps a picture of the license plate. . . . Folks in Sacramento will soon unleash these puppies along roadsides throughout the state capital. Depending on how well they sniff out car pollution, Smog Dogs could then be tethered to freeway on-ramps across Ventura County. Their mission: to nab cars in need of a smog check. On Thursday, Smog Dog's marketing manager will trot out the device for locals to see.

TRAILBLAZER: California voters tend to shy away from adding to their tax burden. But if voters approve a massive bond measure in June, Ventura County could end up with miles of extra hiking and biking trails and hundreds of acres of protected wilderness (B1). . . . Officially, it's Proposition 180, the Parks and Wildlife Initiative. But among environmentalists, it's called CALPAW, promising $50 million for ecological projects in the county.

MS. FEMINIST: Gloria Steinem's words have helped shape gender politics for decades. Tonight, they'll fill the old Oddfellows lodge in downtown Ventura as she discusses her new book, "Moving Beyond Words." Ventura Bookstore owners, who are sponsoring her talk and selling her book, expect to pack the lodge above the store. National Organization for Women members will be there, former local president Jamie Cox said. "Everyone is looking forward to getting the latest in feminist news," she said.

Foster Homes

Ventura County has recorded a small decline in foster homes for children removed from abusive or neglectful parents. 1989: 306 1990: 316 1991: 320 1992: 324 1993: 291 1994: 288 Source: Public Social Services Agency

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