Tuesday, July 17, 2007

City-wide Chain Store Ban Sought

Planners look at excluding formula
stores from new historic district

By Nao Braverman
With almost half of Ojai’s planning commissioners on their side, a handful of Ojai residents asked the city staff to broaden their recommended chain store ordinance to apply to all businesses within the entire city limits at Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting.
“I think of the ‘Y’ as the true gateway to Ojai and if the buildings from there leading into town were populated with chain stores, it would ruin that experience of coming into Ojai,” said local resident Leslie Davis.
In order to protect themselves from litigation, the city staff suggested prohibiting chain stores from the recently established Historic Commercial District, a central portion of the entire city, which runs roughly from Cañada Street to Drown Street along Ojai Avenue and from Aliso Street to Topa Topa Street. The area excludes the “Y” intersection and most of Ojai’s East End.
The problem with prohibiting chains from the entire city is that it’s hard for staff to see how one can argue that formula business would have a different impact than privately owned business on a citywide basis, said Kersnar.
“We believe that you can say it has an impact within a certain district that has a character that is not formula business based. It’s harder to make that argument when you apply it citywide because there are areas within the city where the dominance of formula businesses are evident,” he said. “That is not the case with the Historic Commercial District.”
Still some residents raised the concern that prohibiting chains from a certain area within the city might give a green light to chain store owners looking to set up shop within the city just outside of the prohibited area.
Planning Commissioners Cortus Koehler, Tucker Adams and Troy Becker agreed that the prohibition boundary should be wider.
City planner Katrina Schmidt offered that a combination of measures could be used to keep chains away from the city. While a prohibition on chains in the new Historic Commercial District could keep chains outside of that central area, tighter regulatory measures in the Planning Department could at least discourage formula businesses that would have to make a number of changes in order to open in other areas of the city.
Koehler agreed.
“I think we should make it a complex matrix for formula retail owners that makes it so difficult to enter into the application process that they never come out, “ his comment was followed by applause from attendants.
Other commissioners, less familiar with the ongoing discussion on the issue of chain stores disagreed.
“I think we have a lot of regulations in place that regulate the design of things and I have confidence in that process,” said Planning Commissioner John Mirk. “ I really question whether wether we need to do anything about this issue at all.”
Planning Commissioner Susan Weaver, though supportive of the staff recommendation was concerned that eliminating chain stores would not necessarily benefit local residents though it might attract tourists.
“I’m concerned that local residents are going to need to leave town in order to by things they need,” she said.
Kenley Neufeld, author of a ballot initiative that prohibits chain stores from the entire city and has gained the support of at least 600 registered voters, said he would wait to see if he could come to a compromise with the city before submitting his initiative, due in October.
“It seems like the Planning Commission needs more time to consider the issue, though the City Council has already had a lot of time to look at it,” he said,
City staff will return to the Planning Commission with a recommended ordinance to regulate formula retail on August 1. If it is approved by planning commissioners it will go to council for a first reading on Aug. 14, and considered for approval on Aug. 28. If approved, the ordinance could become effective by Sept. 28.
If Neufeld’s initiative goes to ballot and gets the popular vote it will overwrite any city ordinance.
Scott Eicher, executive director of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce raised the concern that while a city ordinance could be amended, a citizen’s initiative would have to go to ballot each time it was changed.
“That could be complicated and expensive,” he said.
In other Planning Commission news, the commission reviewed a plan for the remodel of a former gas station on 110 West Ojai Avenue. The property owner, Arnold Meyerstein, is planning to remodel the property and lease it as an office space. Planning commissioner suggested some aesthetic changes to the proposed windows on the property, but were pleased to see it being improved.
Also, the Humane Society of Ventura is requesting to install a prefabricated building to be used as a caretaker’s unit and a relocation of their current spay and neuter clinic.
Staff raised some concerns about previous noise complaints from Humane Society neighbors but Mirk suggested a wait and see approach as the Humane Society is a humanitarian organization and and certainly an asset to the community.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Eicher raises a good point concerning the difficulty in changing a Citizens Initiative as opposed to a City voted on document. While the initiative approved by voters, to be changed would require Citizens, or the City to place on the ballot, the changes, for Ojai's Citizens to vote on. Where as the City Council need only vote to change a City Council approved measure.

That suits me just fine.

The City Council sat on this issue for so long, to only now come up with this ruse, this poorly guided measure, that protects nothing, to wrest the decision from Ojai's voters, is, not, honest government.

When the City Council voted to sue the sponsor of the last initiative attempt, why couldn't they have brought forth their own measure to compete then. Why did they not put up a measure that could have been voted on during the last election cycle, avoiding special election costs. This Council is not engaging in honest dialoque much less honest debate.

The sponsor of the current initiative, Kenley Neufeld, has worked hard putting this together. Now wouldn't you think the City Council would engage Mr. Neufeld, particularly now that he has well more than enough signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. Of course! Any, reasonable, honest, person in office, who had the best interests of the people in mind, would be calling this sponsor. But that is not what has taken place. Mr. Neufeld has made several attempts to bring in, to engage the council, to help draft a measure together. For every attempt, save one, He was rebuffed.

So what makes the City Council's scheme inherently better for Ojai than that of the initiative brought forth by one of her Citizens. Is it the years it took them to craft this measure. Is it because it was drafted initially without public input, indeed, they hired two extra people to help in this laborious task.

One man, on his own, seeking help from some fellow citizens, rebuffed by all but one at City Hall, accomplished this task in a matter of months.

Read the City's Measure first, then read the Citizens Initiative's requirements. Compare the two. You will see that Mr. Neufeld's initiative is superior in it's protections for the entire valley, whereas the City's Measure covers an area that can fit the distance one can spit, against the wind.

Be aware of the erroneous debate promulgated by the City on the HCD-Historical Commercial District. This is an arbitrary construct that is absolutely meaningless. All of Ojai along the Hwy. 33 and Hwy. 150 corridor is full of historical buildings and businesses. Who is to say what is to protected, and what is to be left wanting protection.

The Initiative is the only honest way we can maintain the protection of Ojai, that our City Council refuses to do. City leaders of times past in Ojai didn't need the Stick that is the Initiative, to labor, lobby and guide the City, keeping Her from being devoured by economic forces that would have stripped the uniqueness of Ojai. Ask yourself one thing, Why do you choose to live here and not somewhere else. The Initiative is for you to keep your choice valid.
Dana Wilson

Anonymous said...

Good points Dana.

One answer would be for the city to honestly engage initiative proponents now, enlist their help in crafting a meaningful and even stronger city-wide ordinance than what is in the initiative, and enact it before Mr. Neufeld's submission deadline.

If the city is honest in the desire to do something about the chains issue, they will engage Mr. Neufeld immediately. To prove their honesty, perhaps they can include in the final measure a provision requiring a vote of the people to amend or repeal the ordinance.

In the alternative, the city can continue with its transparent attempt to sideline the initiative with a Trojan-horse city proposal, that creates a huge new open invitation to chains in most of the city, while "banning" chains in an artificial, legally suspect tiny so-called historical district. What a farce.

Anonymous said...

violent crime, traffic congestion, dwindling student enrollment, deteriorating infrastructure…

do really believe no (more) chain stores is a pressing “quality of life” for most citizens?

anonymous and dana MUST
be “progressives”…

Anonymous said...

Progressive, adj.
1. Moving forward; advancing.
2. Proceeding in steps; continuing steadily by increments: progressive change.
3. Promoting or favouring progress toward better conditions or new policies.
1. A person who actively favours or strives for progress toward better conditions, as in society or government.

What do you say anonymous? Todd has pegged us.

I'm assuming you live in Ojai or have a fondness for Ojai Todd. I was raised here, would have been born here except the hospital wasn't built yet. One of the reasons I love Ojai is that Ojai is not like the rest of Southern California. You can go to other mountain communities in So. Cal and find what you find everywhere else in the way of franchises, that strip character right out from under their civic pride. Ojai has not surrendered yet. Politicians in Ojai's past protected Ojai from the very things that the current and previous council have let happen. They want franchises to come in.

You mentioned violent crime, traffic congestion, dwindling student enrollment, deteriorating infrastructure as "quality of life" issues, as if I or others ignore them, or don't give proper priority to them in relation to the chain store issue. Let me ask you: ?What has the City Council done in regards to those very problems? Very little.

This has been a do little to do nothing council for along time. Their record is clear.

On my end, I do what I can do, nothing more. Once you let these sycophant businesses come in, you will lose more families. For the businesses lost are the ones that support local families, from Rain's(I went to school the same time as Jeff and Jamie) to the donut hole in M.O. who are very nice people and have family here. Franchises don't support local families, they support corporations that take the profits out of our local economy.

Todd, do a little research on the subject for yourself, you might find yourself becoming Progressively pissed off at how our City Officials constantly ignore quality of life issues, but go out of their way to protect those who wantonly destroy the history and character of this Ojai we love so much.
Dana Wilson

Anonymous said...

Put it to music, dana....