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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | VENTURA COUNTY LIFE

Ventura II Is Having Second Thoughts

May 17, 2000|STEVE CHAWKINS

Pity the poor people of the town formerly known as St. Augusta.

One day they were calmly going about their business as St. Augustans.

The next day they were, God forbid, Venturans.

Shortly, they could again be St. Augustans.

The tiny town in Minnesota that made national headlines, at least here, by changing its name to Ventura now is attempting to shake its new moniker like a pro wrestler flinging off his pink boa.

"I can sympathize," said Sandy Smith, mayor of the only Ventura west of the Santa Clara River. "Sometimes I feel I'd like to change my name too."

In California, though, Ventura is plenty good enough for a city, a county, even a freeway.

But back in Minnesota, where the women are strong and the men are good-looking and the governor has above-average biceps, Ventura just doesn't cut it.

In fact, the place that has officially been Ventura for all of a week seems to be waking up with a bad headache, painfully opening its bloodshot eyes to discover that, no, it wasn't a dream: It's really there, this miserable word tattooed on its miserable forehead for all the miserable world to see, this V-E-N-T-U-R-A.

The town's stationery now says VENTURA. The recording on the town hall phone--it's only open mornings--says VENTURA. Only the highway signs still say St. Augusta, apparently because city officials saw which way the wind was blowing before laying out the pile of cash it would take to change them.

At the time, Ventura seemed like such a good idea.

Trying to fend off annexation by nearby St. Cloud, little St. Augusta was seeking state permission to incorporate as a city. Town burghers figured their chances would be better if they called their new creation Ventura--for the governor, who years ago took Ventura as a nom de body slam after studying a map of the California coast.

Jesse himself visited the Ventura-to-be. A spokesman pronounced him "a little humbled." Permission to incorporate was granted. On May 10, a city of 2,807 new Venturans was born.

The only problem was that most of them wanted to be Venturans about as much as California's Venturans would want to be Duluthians.

"When people first heard about the name change, they thought it was a publicity stunt and that would be the end of it," said Cheryl Honer, a leader of the movement to de-Venturize the city. "But when it came out that they really were doing it, then it was, 'Ohmigod, we're going to be called Ventura!' Everyone was up in arms."

Honer, an accountant for a construction company, flew into action.

"I called some other people who were griping real hard, and they contacted other people, and it just ballooned," she said. Within weeks, more than 60% of the area's registered voters signed petitions demanding an election in November to drop Ventura and restore St. Augusta.

"We knocked on over 900 doors and found just two people who wanted to remain Ventura," Honer said.

The anti-Ventura campaign inspired Honer, who had never held any office, to run for the City Council of the city whose name is now in doubt. She was the top vote-getter.

"It's not the name Ventura itself," she said, explaining with Midwestern politeness that the good people of central Minnesota bear no ill will to the people of--you'll pardon the expression--Ventura, or to the outspoken governor of the same name.

"It's our heritage," she said. "Our roots run real deep. Someone the other night said this community has been St. Augusta since God created the Earth."

Considering such a distinguished history, I couldn't bring myself to ask the current Ventura's most prominent anti-Venturan the obvious question:

Have you considered Oxnard?

*

Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at steven.chawkins@latimes.com.

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