Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Council Given Three Chain Laws For Review

Historical Commercial District idea rejected

By Nao Braverman

Though Ojai is making some headway in creating an ordinance to protect the city from proliferating chain stores, the debate has become increasingly complex as discussions progress.
Instead of being presented with one ordinance to vote on, as originally planned, the City Council received three ordinance drafts to deliberate on at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
The first proposed ordinance, though heavily criticized by the planning commissioners and members of the public was still brought forth for a vote, if the council so pleased. A second hastily drafted revision by city attorneys, prompted by suggestions from the City Council was presented for a first reading, an unofficial third draft, authored by local resident and former council candidate Dennis Leary was also handed to council members for review.
In a consensus between commissioners and members of the public, the initial proposal to ban chain stores from a Historic Commercial District was rejected.
Commissioners said they thought the proposed district overlay, a central portion of the downtown area was too small, the area too arbitrary, and might have unintended consequences. They were also concerned about the existing chain stores within that district that would be prevented from expanding or remodeling. Several members of the public said they thought banning chains from such a small area would further invite them to open elsewhere in the city.
The neighboring city of Santa Paula does have a designated historic area within its downtown core. Though there is no ordinance banning or regulating chain stores from the designated historic area, it does have certain guidelines regulating the aesthetic appearance of businesses opening in that area, similar to Ojai’s regulations indicated in the city’s general plan.
Elisabeth Amador, assistant to Santa Paula’s city manager Wally Bobkiewicz, said that though the city does not have any specific regulations to prevent chain stores from opening in Santa Paula’s historic district, no chains have even shown interest in opening there. She attributes this to the size of the historic district’s storefronts which are far too small to accommodate most chains. Though some fast food restaurants might fit, none had shown any interest in opening there in Santa Paula’s recent history.
The same might be said for Ojai, if it hadn’t been for the Mira Monte Subway owner’s recent plans to open on Matilija Street.
In the city attorney’s second ordinance draft, the whole notion of a Historic Commercial District was scratched and replaced with a citywide regulatory ordinance. The new proposal would require all new formula retail establishments to apply for a conditional use permit. Thus it exempts and protects Ojai’s already existing formula retail establishments. The ordinance draft indicates that a simple change in ownership would not require a conditional use permit, protecting existing gas stations if they are to be sold.
The new ordinance proposal prohibits all new chains within the city from having more than 25 linear feet of frontage, having retail space occupy more than one story or two storefronts, and having more than 2,000 square feet of total floor area. But as commissioners suggested the proposed ordinance exempts banks and grocery stores which are a necessity, and might have trouble complying with the regulations. Only one formula retail establishment would be allowed in a lot less than 40,000 square feet.
For lots greater than 40,000 square feet, only one formula retail establishment would be allowed per 20,000 square feet of lot area.
The purpose of the newly drafted ordinance was defined as preserving Ojai’s “small town character” rather than its history.
Leary’s proposed ordinance also requires all formula retail establishments to apply for a conditional use permit and requires that they are designed and operated in an “unobtrusive manner to preserve Ojai’s distinctive character and ambiance.”
Though similar in essence to the city’s second proposal, Leary’s draft defines formula retail as any retail establishment that shares standardized features with at least five other establishments while the city’s definition is any retail establishment that shares standardized features with 10 other establishments.
“I think it is important to protect Ojai’s self-reliance,” he said. “The more outfits owned by a company, the less important each one becomes. If the economy crashes, the community needs its own establishments that can stand on their own.”
Leary said that his draft was written to help the city and that he did not intend for it to go to ballot.
Council member Sue Horgan and Joe DeVito said they agreed with the Planning Commission and would not support the city’s first ordinance proposal.
Though the city is working toward drafting its own ordinance, Horgan said she did not want to discourage Kenley Neufeld from turning in his ballot initiative to the city.
“Although we are working toward drafting an ordinance I cannot say for sure that we will create something that he is satisfied with,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to impede the public process.”


leslie said...

wow. The OVN has scooped tonight's city council meeting. The above article was posted at 3:48 pm and the discussion at the council meeting didn't take place until 8:00pm this evening. Why does Noa report on a meeting using the past tense if the meeting hasn't yet occured? hmmm... sounds unethical to me.

I just got home from tonight's city council meeting where City Manager Jere Kersnar said that the newly written, second draft of the city ordinance was not on the agenda tonight and had not been made available to the public, so therefore could not be discussed tonight. I wonder how/why the OVN had a copy of this ordinance this afternoon when it had not yet been made public.

Looking forward to seeing the official draft of this new ordinance.

Cricket said...

I am not sure why an ordinance revised after an 8/15 Planning Commission meeting and given to Council for review on 8/27, twelve days later, is judged by the OVN to be "hastily drafted." And, for the record, the City Council was not given three ordinances to consider.

An advance topical story on Council meeting issues can be informative. Prewritten stories, as if the reporter were there, can be misleading and fall flat.

evan austin said...

good catches, Leslie! i was at the Council meeting last night as well, and my report is posted on the Ojai Post as well as Ojai News.

Furry Herbalist said...

I don't suppose any of you considered the possibility that the time stamp was simply wrong. I know nothing of the technical aspects of blogs but I do know that emails often have incorrect dates and times.

Think logically. How would a pre-written report be able to quote Dennis Leary? I seriously doubt that he gave an advanced copy of his speech to the OVN.

B Dawson

Anonymous said...

I read the blog post around 9:10pm and Leslie made her post at 9:35pm. This is probably about the time the council meeting ended. It is true, Noa could be an exceptionally quick writer, with the ability to post her article without editorial oversight, and perhaps wireless is available at City Hall, and perhaps the time stamp is incorrect.

I will note that Leary did post his draft online before the council meeting, so it could have been reviewed by OVN (see #3 and #4 on http://laojaivalleyepost.blogstream.com/).

It is very kind of of Ms. Dawson to give the OVN the benefit of the doubt, but it seems obvious this article was written in advance of the meeting and is pretty disappointing journalism.

Perhaps the OVN staff would like to comment and clarify?

Furry Herbalist said...

Since this town is suffering from a handful of very vocal see-a-conspiracy everywhere, pick-on-anyone who is the "establishment" types, I believe raising a commonsense question the least I can do to balance the conversation.

It's obvious that you know me, Anonymous, since B Dawson doesn't reveal my gender. Why not take credit for your comments? Not giving a name is like having a face-to-face chat with someone and not introducing yourself. I was raised to believe that to be rather rude.

B Dawson

Anonymous said...

I 've been worried since I started watching council. They have a way of voting from monied interest side regardless of public position they hold.What about getting legal direction from Water or Truck coalitions since all are up against growth influencing decision
process?What if city council put as much dedication into preventing chain franchises and protecting small town feel from over-development and big buildout, developer interests, as they did on water&gravel truck increase?Same quality of life issues, environmental protection that can galvonize community quickly. If
the city and attorney were serious about addressing these issues, that would be effective. It took a citizen lawsuit and a court
battle to put them on the table for discussion, only after the elections,at that. PL

Furry Herbalist said...

Ah, Pete, its you. I won't even try to engage your same tired arguments. There's no point and it's off topic. We were discussing a specific article in the OVN.

B Dawson

Kenley said...

My apologies Ms. Dawson, I usually do put my name on my posts and it was an omission on my part. Please accept my apology. I knew your gender because I was at the same City Council meeting you were at on Tuesday and heard you speak from the heart, as I have on other occasions, and I respect your opinion.

As for conspiracy, I would be the last person to call for a conspiracy; I do tire of those that jump to a conspiracy conclusion for everything. Though some of my neighbors would disagree with me, I don't see a conspiracy in Ojai.

I will, however, stand by my opinion of the disappointing journalism this week. The Ojai Valley News did post this article before the meeting and has since written another article on the topic today.

As for the technical issue of time stamps, I have some experience as an IT person for the past 15 years. The time stamp is set by the computer in which the document is hosted. While it is indeed possible for the machine to have the incorrect time, I find it highly improbable for blogger.com, the host of OVN blog and one of the largest blog servers in the world, to have the incorrect time on their server. Not to mention that I read the article before the meeting was over.

Furry Herbalist said...

Thank you for owning up to your post, Kenley.

Since you admit others in town agree with my conspiracy comment, there must be some validity there.

I clearly stated in my original post that I have no knowledge of the technical aspects of blogs. I was merely raising the possiblility of a technology glitch. I have heard my share of tales about technical oddities over dinner, since my husband has been a computer networking professional for roughly 30 years.

I find it interesting that the OjaiPost regulars pick on the OVN journalism when the Post's "News.com" report from the meeting clearly did not represent an unbiased accounting of what happened.

I see people with a double standard!
B Dawson

Anonymous said...

Thanks B- if my points seem the same it is because the more things change with city politics the more they stay the same. You write of double standards- does it seem in the least bit odd to you the council would draft three seperate ordinances to cloud and confuse the issue that they really don't give a damn for the future of a small town? Please don't patronize me here- have been watching these games run for far too long now sister...

Furry Herbalist said...

For the record, Anonymous, I'm not your sister.

As usual, you change the discussion. I wasn't refering to double standards anywhere other than at the Post. They may very well exist, but you didn't engage that argument, you deflected it to another group or individuals to put forward the same tired arguements shared by the Carp, Condemn & Complain Club.

The versions of the chain ordinance occured because Planning and Council directed Staff, on an overlapping time line, to revise what was orginally submitted. Confusing, yes, but not subversive.

Yes I've watched the politics in town for 10 year. I don't believe as - here is the dreaded comment again - conspiracy lovers do, that elected officials have the time to create false roads and smoke screens. Many of them just aren't that good at chess. They do the best they can with the information available to them. It's a tough job that puts you in the damned if you do/damned if you don't arena with every decision they make.

Enough of this thread, it's run it's course now and I'm moving on.

B Dawson