When Marv and Pam Richardson spent New Year's Eve at the beach five years ago, chilly weather forced them to retreat to their RV before they could toast midnight's arrival.
But with Thursday's temperatures in the 70s and the first weekend of 1999 promising more of the sunny same, the Simi Valley couple and their friends were chilling champagne and expecting to make a night of it at Emma Wood State Beach.
"We don't have to fight any crowds and ride the freeways or anything," said Marv Richardson, extolling the virtues of recreational vehicles. He was planning to fire up his satellite dish for today's Rose Bowl game.
Richardson's camper was among more than a dozen RVs lining the beach Thursday afternoon. Most of the RV folks said they planned to stay along the coast through the weekend, staying off potentially dangerous roads and taking in the views from Ventura County's coast.
"You could go to a party, but you can't beat this," said Moe Vaughn of Camarillo, as the sun descended over the ocean. Vaughn was welcoming 1999 with a "to-do" for her family and friends--steaks grilled over a campfire outside her 33-foot Winnebago.
The forecast for the remainder of the holiday weekend is sunny and warm throughout the county, meteorologist Clint Simpson of the National Weather Service said.
"It's going to be gorgeous," he said.
Winds between 30 and 40 mph were expected to whip through the mountains and valleys late Thursday and early today.
High temperatures on the coast through Sunday are expected to be in the 70s with slightly warmer weather inland. Nighttime lows across the county are expected to be in the 40s.
"We typically have some fair weather in the winter but last year it was very stormy," Simpson said.
The atmosphere was anything but calm at local bars and private parties Thursday night, where holiday revelers geared up to clink glasses of bubbly in honor of the Year of the Rabbit.
But while people partied, six Ventura County women were battling labor pains in what was shaping up as a close race for the first baby of 1999.
Nursing supervisors at three hospitals in Ventura, Oxnard and Thousand Oaks said late Thursday that each facility had two expectant mothers in their labor wards.
A woman at Pleasant Valley gave birth early Thursday, delivering a girl about 3 p.m. Two others at Simi Valley Hospital were expected to deliver by 10 p.m. Thursday.
At Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura, resource nurse Cindy Arnold was expecting the women in labor there to deliver before the calendar turned.
"Most people are trying to get their tax deduction [in 1998] so they're trying not to be the first of the year," Arnold said.
On the county's roads, deputies and police officers were out in full force, preparing for drunk drivers, crashes and people thinking of firing off a few rounds into the 1999 sky.
"Some people have an attitude that you need to make as much noise as possible. Why they use guns, I have no idea," Sheriff's Capt. Keith Parks said.
Not a year goes by that someone doesn't fire a gun at the stroke of midnight, Parks said, but those who do can be arrested on a felony charge and receive prison time if convicted.
Extra deputies were expected to be on duty in several areas, including Moorpark and Thousand Oaks.
The California Highway Patrol started its maximum enforcement period at 6 p.m. Thursday and will run through midnight Sunday, Officer Steven Reid said.
"If you're going to go out and have fun, you need to make preparations on how you are going to get home before you go," Reid advised weekend partyers.
In 1997, a four-day New Year's weekend netted 23 arrests for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There were 15 such arrests in 1996. There were no holiday traffic fatalities in 1996 and 1997.