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Homes on the Range

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On a typical Sunday morning, Ventura resident Mike Barton likes to sit down at his kitchen table with a cup of coffee and the newspaper.

There’s only one problem.

Pop.

No matter how hard he tries to relax, he can’t.

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Pop.

Barton’s Carr Drive home sits directly below the Ventura Shooting Range.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

“It’s incredible in a residential neighborhood you can have this barrage of gunfire,” Barton said. “It gets pretty bad.”

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Tired of listening to the constant crack of gunfire, Barton recently circulated a petition with 70 signatures asking city officials to discontinue its contract with range proprietor Richard Clark.

The City Council will decide next month whether to extend its contract with Clark for another three years.

City parks and recreation officials are expected to recommend approval. They say the range, which opened in 1957, provides a vital service for the county.

Ventura, Oxnard and Santa Paula police departments and some federal law enforcement agencies use the range for practice. Most departments require that officers fire their weapons at a range about every other month.

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If the range closed, officers might have to travel out of the county to meet their shooting requirement, which would be time consuming and could cost the city as much as $72,000 annually in overtime fees, said Ventura Police Lt. Don Arth.

Although there are other ranges in the county, none is suitable, Arth said.

The Sheriff Department’s range at Camarillo Airport is already overbooked, hosting 18 law enforcement agencies. A shooting range in Piru has limited operating hours and is open only on Saturday and Sunday. And ranges in Simi Valley and Oxnard are enclosed, not suitable for SWAT teams practicing complicated response tactics.

Indoor ranges also limit shooting distances to about 15 to 25 feet, whereas Ventura’s outdoor facility stretches 50 feet. The extra distance is a must, officers say, when practicing with high-powered rifles, such as those used by police snipers.

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“And up there, we can bring up a black and white, get the lights going and recreate situations officers find themselves in in the field,” Arth said. “You can’t do that at an indoor range. They’re not good for anything but punching holes in paper.”

But none of that matters to many area residents who live on Carr Drive and Lewis, Vince, El Medio and other surrounding streets. They say their quality of life is being compromised.

“I can’t even go out and enjoy the breeze and the trees without feeling like I’m in the middle of a war zone,” said John Wagner, a Lewis Street resident. “It’s always boom, boom, boom. This is a residential area, and it’s not an appropriate place for that.”

Wagner, Barton and a dozen other residents have attended the last two Park and Recreation Commission meetings to voice their concerns. Resident Dan Esau even submitted a 90-minute tape recording of the steady drum of gunfire heard from his Carr Drive home on a Sunday afternoon.

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Their demands vary from enclosing the range to moving it somewhere else to shutting it down altogether--options that city officials say are unreasonable and too expensive.

Residents note that the range only brings in about $3,000 annually for the city.

“That’s not an awful lot of money for all that noise,” Wagner said.

Last month, city officials, along with representatives from the National Rifle Assn., decided to put residents’ complaints to the test. Ten officers were stationed at the range last month and ordered to fire 175 rounds of ammunition. From Carr Drive, authorities measured noise levels.

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In decibels, the zipping gunfire ranked no louder than the sound of a passing car or a radio playing from inside a neighbor’s home, officials said.

But it is not just the level of noise, it’s the constancy of it, residents say.

“It’s like a dripping water faucet in the kitchen,” Barton said. “It’s always there. But it’s not water--it’s the crack of gunfire. You don’t get used to that.”

Range operator Clark said he is willing to make changes to appease his neighbors.

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Clark plans to align the open area used by law enforcement officers with 10-foot-tall trailers, which can be used as classrooms. Behind the trailers he will stack large storage containers. The combination, he says, should muffle the gunfire by as much as 30%.

The range will also reduce its hours slightly. Currently officers can shoot from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.--that will change to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. For other shooters the range will continue to be open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

But residents doubt the suggested changes will make much of a difference.

“I just get the feeling that you can’t build a wall high enough to stop” the noise, Barton said.

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Clark said he wants to work with his neighbors.

“I’m trying to be reasonable,” Clark said. “I can’t make noise go away, but there are things I can do to make it better for the people down the hill and maintain the quality of the shooting range for residents and law enforcement.”


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