Friday, October 31, 2008

D.A. Seeks More Info In VPS Vandalism

Oct. 3 incident not being investigated as hate crime

By Sondra Murphy
As of Oct. 31, the vandalism incident that occurred on the Villanova Preparatory School campus Oct. 3 is still under investigation.
“The DA’s office has asked for more follow-up investigation and we’re hoping to have it wrapped up in a couple of weeks,” said Ojai Police Department Administrative Sgt. Maureen Hookstra. “We had a meeting with Villanova and the representative from the DA’s office reviewing the case. The school is being apprised of our status and so is Nordhoff.”
Villanova’s football field, pool and marble statue of St. Thomas of Villanova were reportedly vandalized with blue and gold paint, manure, salt and bleach. Slogans were also reported to have been painted on various surfaces, but details will not be released until the investigation is complete.
Villanova staff was able to clean up most of the mess quickly, with the exception of the statue. The marble proved very absorbent and Villanova is contacting specialty companies for help in removing the residual blue tint.
Seven Nordhoff students were subsequently suspended in connection with the incident, but names have not been released pending police investigation out of concern that it could compromise the case. Not all suspected vandals are Nordhoff students.
As reported in the Oct. 8 issue of the Ojai Valley News, Sheriff’s Detective Mark Burgess said that, contrary to rumors circulating throughout the community, the vandalism is not considered to be a hate crime. No further specifics have been given by investigators regarding the issue, but according to California Penal Code 422.7, hate crimes are defined as criminal acts against an individual or group because of actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, gender or disability.
Under felonies, P.C. 422.7 lists a hate crime to be the “commission of a crime for the purpose of interfering with another’s exercise of civil rights.” P.C. 594.3 specifies, “Vandalism of place of worship based on racial or religious bias.” P.C. 11412 reads, “Threats obstructing exercise of religion.”
Based on the information OVN has received to this point about the vandalism, religion was not the motivating factor in the incident, but misplaced school rivalry.
The OVN will run updates as information about the case is released.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Areas Of Valley Under Quarantine

Gypsy moth infestation in Mira Monte, Meiners Oaks brings state’s sole quarantine

By Daryl Kelley
Discovery of a “breeding population” of tree-killing gypsy moths has prompted a quarantine of most of Mira Monte and Meiners Oaks and a western slice of Ojai, the only restriction of its kind in California.
Two clusters of up to 100 orange-colored moth eggs were found recently in Mira Monte, following discovery last summer of seven adults moths in traps nearby, officials said.
Gypsy moths were discovered in the same area last year and two were eradicated without harm in Meiners Oaks in 2000.
Gypsy moths, which can devastate oaks and other hardwood trees, are rarely found West of the Mississippi River. But some apparently hitchhiked on recreational vehicles from the Midwest or northeastern United States, where the pests have severely damaged forests, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture.
The new Ojai Valley quarantine requires 35 businesses and thousands of residents to get a government inspection of anything stored outdoors during last summer before they can move the property elsewhere.
That means that owners of boats, RVs, trailers, patio furniture, firewood or other wood products within the five-square-mile quarantine area would need a county permit before the property could be sold or moved.
The quarantine area is bounded generally by Baldwin and Villanova roads on the south, state Highway 33 on the east, Fairview and Meyer roads on the north, and a sparsely populated area near the Ventura River on the west.
“The quarantine is necessary because we found egg masses in a couple of locations in Ojai (area),” said Steve Lyle, spokesman for the state Department of Food and Agriculture. “That tells us there is a breeding population there.”
The quarantine could last for two years, he said. It could affect, for example, a boat owner wanting to take the craft to Lake Casitas for the day or a recreational vehicle owner who wants to take a fall trip out of the area.
It is “intended to stop the spread of objects contaminated with gypsy moth eggs,” he said. “People are being asked not to move outdoor objects without prior inspection.”
Although the county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, which will do the inspections, is requesting voluntary cooperation, a violation of the quarantine would be a misdemeanor crime and subject to a fine under the state Food and Agricultural Code, officials said. But inspectors won’t be writing tickets right away.
“Our first priority is to achieve compliance,” Lyle said. “Experience tells us that people want to cooperate and do what they can to reduce the risk of spreading invasive species.”
Notification letters to residents were scheduled to be hand-delivered Thursday after a quarantine declaration was issued in Sacramento.
Most affected businesses — a plant nursery, a landscaping company, a green-waste facility, a lumber yard, storage facilities and mobile home parks, for example — had already been contacted by midweek, said county Deputy Agricultural Commissioner Alan Laird, who is overseeing the program.
While retail complexes such as the Vons shopping center at Ojai’s “Y” intersection are within the eastern edge of the quarantine area, businesses there don’t have outdoor storage, so they won’t be affected by the restrictions, Laird said.
“This only affects anything stored outdoors,”he said.
He said two county inspectors, and more state officers, will be working the quarantine area, and that residents should expect a response within 45 minutes if they decide they want to move a boat or an RV that’s been in outdoor storage.
“We’ll be there in a very timely fashion,” he said.
As for businesses, as soon as they are inspected, they’ll be cleared to carry on business as usual, Laird said. For example, a plant nursery in the quarantine zone will be inspected for infestation, receive a certificate showing no problem was found, and then be free to sell plants.
Officials said the moth’s egg-laying season is ending, so any problem should be evident to inspectors now.
The quarantine was triggered after state inspectors, following up the discovery of seven gypsy moths in state traps in June and July, found two masses of eggs.
“They found two properties (in the Mira Monte) area infested with eggs masses,” Laird said. Each of those was within a quarter-mile of the other, he said. So the problem may be focused.
But the summer catch was serious enough to prompt this fall’s survey to find if gypsy moths are laying eggs locally, then to kill them before the resulting baby caterpillars eat many times their weight in leaves.
Since the summer discoveries, the number of traps in a four-square-mile survey area around the catches had been increased from 14 to 144, Lyle said. The state usually maintains two traps per square mile in the Ojai Valley, he said.
In addition, there were 10 state inspectors assigned to the survey, he said.
A single gypsy moth caterpillar can eat 1 square foot of leaves every day, experts say. And they have wrought devastation on vast swaths of woodland of the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes regions since migrating from Europe in the 1800s.
Once a tree is repeatedly defoliated, it is susceptible to disease, and often dies.
“It is important to detect and eradicate gypsy moth infestations while the population is still small,” says a Food and Agriculture flier that announced the survey.
“If a larger infestation were to develop in Ojai,” the flier said, “the gypsy moth caterpillars would threaten oaks in this region as well as other hardwoods, evergreens, manzanita, cottonwood, willow and others. It is also a threat to forests and agricultural crops such as fruit trees.”
Generally, however, gypsy moths are not a big problem for farmers in California, said Susan Johnson, Ventura County’s chief deputy agricultural commission. So far, every outbreak of gypsy moth infestation in this state has been eradicated, state officials said.
“It’s not an agricultural pest, it’s a pest of open spaces and viewsheds,” Johnson said. “It infests oaks and hardwood trees.”
Masses of eggs, appearing as buff-colored felt, are found on trees and on transportable items such as RVs, outdoor play equipment, barbecues and campers, according to state officials.
New infestations are primarily caused when these items are moved from infested areas such as the eastern United States, where millions of gypsy moths strip broad stands of trees and bushes each year.
The moth threat has prompted concern among local landowners, such as the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, which oversees more than 1,930 acres of open space, much of it within the quarantine area.
The eggs are laid in masses that are light yellow-orange in color, often on the bark of trees. Any sighting should be reported to a state pest hot line at (800) 491-1899, officials said.
If a population of moths is found, it can be attacked with an organic insecticide, the standard practice after such a discovery.
Also, a quarantine could include inspection of motor homes at the California border if they are arriving from infected areas. And local inspectors would follow up in Ventura County to make sure none of the pests remain on the vehicles or equipment that were in infected regions. Those stretch from Maine to Wisconsin to Virginia.

Ojai Public Access Issues Aired Out

Council also considers paying $3,000 a month to reimburse Stop the Trucks for settlement

By Nao Braverman
There may be hope yet for Ojai’s home-grown television shows.
AB 2987, which proposed to equalize competition among cable providers by allowing them to franchise with the state instead of individual cities, has already wiped out a number of public access stations in California.
When Time Warner, Ojai’s cable provider, announced its decision to franchise with the state after its agreement with Ojai expires in November, city staff expected to take on the task of broadcasting government meetings on Channel 10, but nothing else.
“It is my concern that if we are running a television studio that would add up to a lot of staff time,” said city manager Jere Kersnar.
But Ojai’s public access regulars, John Wilcock, who airs a low-budget travelogue through the local station, Lee Fitzgerald whose 14-year-old news show began in Ojai, and William Roberts who airs a vedic theology show, were not ready to give up their Ojai air time. All attended the regular City Council meeting Tuesday night to protest the city staff’s recommendation.
But council members did show interest in having a community-run public access station, and considered appointing a subcommittee to look into the task.
“If we do have a subcommittee, I will volunteer to be on the committee,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith, “because I think public access is something really precious and I would hate for Time Warner to get away with taking it away from us.”
While the endeavor would require some funds and certainly a number of community volunteers, the city could easily find the latter, as many meeting attendants eagerly volunteered themselves.
“I think PEG (Public Education and Government) access is a very important tool in bridging the digital divide,” said Ojai resident Marcus Sandy. A self-described tech-savvy geek, Sandy said he would be happy to offer his services should the council consider contracting the operation of a station to local volunteers.
Tyler Suchman, founder of the Ojai Post, also offered to provide data feed to the public access channel, in between City Council and Planning Commission meetings. “We have a wealth of content and technology,” he said.
Fitzgerald said that he and his show’s producer had been looking into independent community public access stations such as the one in Ventura (Community Access Partners of San Buenaventura) and another in Santa Barbara. He asked to be placed on a future City Council agenda with a proposal for Ojai.
Mayor Sue Horgan directed him to meet first with city staff. Council members all said they were open to the variety of ideas from public speakers and showed interest in directing a subcommittee of local volunteers to look into to the issue.
In an interview earlier Tuesday, Todd Thayer, executive director of CAPS in Ventura, said that their program was funded partially by the county, which gives it 40 percent of its franchise fees from Time Warner, and partially by small membership fees. They also receive an additional percentage for public access from the county through the new legislation, which requires Time Warner to give the city of Ventura a small percentage of its profits, earmarked for public access.
Ojai Council members also asked staff to apply to get 1 percent of Time Warner’s Ojai profits through the new legislation. But that will likely be less than $20,000 a year, according to the trend, and not enough to run a station, said Kersnar.
In other City Council news, council members considered paying the Stop the Trucks Coalition in monthly increments of about $3,000 until the end of the fiscal year.
Although nothing was solidified at the meeting, council members directed staff to work with members of Stop the Trucks to draft a memorandum of understanding which would provide the coalition with funds to operate.
Coalition Chair Michael Shapiro suggested an indefinite amount, with a total cap of $43,000, the sum that it cost the organization to settle with owners of the Diamond Rock Mine, over a period of about 14 months. That comes out to approximately $3,000 a month, though every month is different, said Shapiro. There have been many months that the organization didn’t use any money, while the costs during settlement meetings were much higher than $3,000 he said.
Shapiro said he hoped to work out an arrangement where the monthly amount was flexible. Council members asked staff to draft a memorandum of understanding which would give funds to the coalition for a trial run until the rest of this fiscal year which terminates in June. The memorandum would have to come back to council for approval.
Kersnar reported that a meeting between Skate Ojai, city staff and Site Design Group, Inc., on Monday went smoothly. The firm had continued to refine their design and seemed to be getting closer to a concept that meets everyone’s needs, he said.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Councilman Joe DeVito, who also attended the meeting.
The council also approved prioritizing parts of Valle Rio, Sierra Road, Shady Lane, Creek Road, Fulton Street, and North Signal for repaving with rubberized asphalt, a newer material which has a longer life span, according to Mike Culver, Public Works director.
Earlier on, the council agreed to allow tax incentives for owners of the Lavender Inn, for preserving and maintaining the inn under the Mills Act. The Mills Act authorizes the city to contract with owners of historic landmark properties, giving the owners tax incentives for upkeep of historic landmarks. The Lavender Inn, once a brick schoolhouse, is one of Ojai’s historic landmark structures.
Also at the opening of the meeting, San Antonio School fifth-grader Christopher Van Son gave a PowerPoint presentation on the environmental harm caused by grocery store plastic bags when they are discarded. Van Son urged the council to follow the lead of Bangladesh, Rwanda, China and San Francisco and adopt an ordinance banning plastic bags.
Council candidates Suza Francina and Betsy Clapp voiced their support for such an ordinance.
The meeting was adjourned in the memory of Ray Ellis.

Voters Face Wide Array Of Choices

Local races, from city council to water board, make for full ballot on Tuesday

By Daryl Kelley
Rarely have Ojai Valley voters had clearer choices than those they face on Tuesday as the long campaign for local, state and federal offices comes to a close.
Beyond the historic race for U.S. president, local voters will be picking a congressman, state legislators and an array of local officials, including two for the Ojai City Council and two more for the Ojai Valley’s most important water board.
After choosing between Barack Obama and John McCain, local voters will cast their ballots for a host of potential lawmakers that are even more starkly different than the presidential aspirants.
Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, 64, a conservative who has consistently backed President Bush, seems a safe bet to return to Congress for a 12th term, despite an anti-Bush backlash that threatens Republicans in some of the strongest GOP districts in the nation.
That’s because his challenger in the 24th Congressional District, a former nurse and computer teacher, Marta Jorgensen of Solvang, has run almost no campaign. She’s failed to raise much money to offset the incumbent’s nearly $1-million bankroll, or to effectively press her environmental platform and fervent opposition to the Iraq War.
Jorgensen, 54, who has been sued by her former campaign manager for back pay, has said she’s relying on the coattails of Obama to gain election in a district with a strong Republican advantage in registered voters.
In one of the most interesting and costly races for the California Legislature, Ojai voters will also consider the differences between the philosophical bookends running for the 19th State Senate seat, Hannah-Beth Jackson and Tony Strickland.
Together, they and their supporters have spent more than $8 million on an avalanche of TV ads and mailers that seek to define their opponent in the starkest terms.
Jackson, 58, a Democrat from Santa Barbara, was a family lawyer before she became one of the Assembly’s most liberal members from 1998 until 2004. She’s been backed consistently by environmentalists, labor unions and social service advocates and opposed by pro-business, anti-tax and law enforcement groups.
Strickland, 38, a Republican from Moorpark, had never really held a job outside of politics when he became the Assembly’s youngest and one of its most conservative members while serving the same six-tear tenure as Jackson. He has been supported as a reliable pro-business, anti-tax and small government vote. After leaving office, he established a group to punish Republicans he saw as too willing to compromise with Democrats.
Now, both candidates are seeking support from moderate voters, who may decide the race, since voter registration in the once-safe Republican district is split almost evenly after a surge of Democratic registration this year.
Strickland is running as an “independent” thinker who has founded a company to promote renewable energy, despite his past opposition to alternative energy bills. He’s gained Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s endorsement. But critics say his new stance is a ruse to give Strickland a position from which to campaign at a time when voters seem turned off by polarized politics. Strickland’s fledgling company has no employees and is awaiting permits to test wave energy.
Jackson is running as a protector of the middle class and the environment, highlighting her support of Obama and Strickland’s past support of Bush policies. She’s maintained that she voted to rein in subprime mortgage lenders in 2001, while Strickland rejected the same law as undue government control.
But she’s had to fight a Strickland campaign that tars her as “Taxin’ Jackson,” a politician who never saw a new tax she didn’t like. She’s supported by the Sierra Club, but opposed by a prominent anti-tax group. Strickland, meanwhile touts the support of Ventura County’s sheriff and district attorney.
Strickland is anti-abortion, while Jackson supports a woman’s right to choose.
Those stark differences are also clear in the 37th Assembly District, in which Audra Strickland, a former legislative aide and private school teacher, is seeking a third and final term. She replaced husband Tony in the seat in 2004, when he reached the maximum three terms Assembly members can serve.
Audra Strickland, 36, is opposed for the third time by Ferial Masry, 59, a high school government teacher from Newbury Park. The native of Saudia Arabia would be one of the first Muslim women elected to state office in the United States if she prevails. Masry has lost twice to Strickland by double-digit margins.
Although Democrats have made registration gains in the 37th District, Republicans retain a 7 percentage point advantage. In addition, Audra Strickland has run on her opposition to new taxes of any kind, her responsiveness to constituents and, in recent months, her leadership in opposing construction of a state prison hospital near Camarillo.
Masry, in turn, has run as an “independent Democrat,” and a “breath of fresh air,” who has business experience through ownership of a small company with her husband. She has said that construction of new court-ordered prison hospitals, such as the one near Camarillo, is a sign of the failure of California lawmakers like Strickland to fix a substandard health care system for inmates.
Other races on Tuesday’s ballot include a seat on the Ventura County Board of Education, in which pediatric dentist Mark Lisagor, 61, is challenging incumbent Chris Valenzano, 29, an emergency medical technician who was once an Assembly aide to Tony Strickland.
A majority of the Ojai Unified School District board has endorsed Lisagor.
The race for two seats on the Ojai City Council has been aggressive, but civil, with five candidates vying.
Joining veteran council members Rae Hanstad and Sue Horgan on the ballot are former Mayor Suza Francina, small business owner Betsy Clapp and federal government investigator Michael Lenehan.
While the candidates say they are running separate and independent races, incumbents Hanstad and Horgan each signed the other’s nomination papers, and challengers Francina and Clapp did the same for one another.
Lenehan, 47, a coach and Recreation Department member, said he thinks the current City Council is doing a good job and that he probably would not have run if the incumbents had not first bowed out of the race, then re-entered it in July.
The incumbents said they decided to seek a third full term because of unfinished city business, such as construction of a new skate park and a decision on how to meet a state mandate that Ojai provide more affordable housing.
Challengers Clapp and Francina, meanwhile, say they are running because the city needs a change in leadership. The incumbents have not been responsive to residents, they maintain, and have not moved forward quickly enough with actions to support their adopted goal of making Ojai an environmentally sensitive community.
Clapp, 57, and Francina, a 59-year-old author and yoga teacher, said they are running on platforms that include policies embraced by the fast-growing Ojai Valley Green Coalition.
“It’s time for the City Council to follow through in creating a truly sustainable Ojai,” Francina said.
In fact, the City Council did endorse those principles in May, when it pledged to embrace an array of new strategies to make the Ojai Valley a “green” community that laces economic, social and ecological needs into the fabric of everyday life.
Hanstad and Horgan specifically said then that it was time to make such concepts part of government and community life.
“Ojai’s natural setting and magnificent environment must be protected,” Horgan, 53, said.
Hanstad, 57, stated similar views, saying her goals were to preserve Ojai’s “hometown character” while balancing its three primary assets, “a natural environment, a diverse character, and a healthy economy.”
Also on the Tuesday ballot are seats to direct the Casitas Municipal Water District, the Ojai Valley Sanitary District, the Meiners Oaks Water District and the valley Municipal Advisory Committee.
There are competitive races for two Casitas Water board seats, In a district centered in Ventura, incumbent Jim Word is challenged by retail salesperson David Norrdin. In a district that includes Meiners Oaks and Mira Monte, incumbent Pete Kaiser is challenged by substitute teacher Jeff Ketelsen. Both Norrdin and Ketelsen are perennial candidates who have never won a competitive race.
For the Ojai Valley Sanitary District, two seats are contested: incumbent William Stone is challenged by state license contractor George Galgas in Division 1; incumbent Kaiser is challenged by Frank McNerney and Ketelsen in Division 3.
On the Ojai Valley MAC, incumbent Alan Saltzman is challenged by Gerald Kaplan in Division 7.
For the Meiners Oaks Water board, incumbents James Barrett and Karol Ballantine are challenged by retired business owner Norm Davis.
Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Election officials expect a heavy turnout.

Five Vie For Two Council Seats

By Daryl Kelley
Ojai voters have five choices this fall for two seats on the City Council.
Joining veteran council members Rae Hanstad and Sue Horgan on the Nov. 4 ballot are former Mayor Suza Francina, small business owner Betsy Clapp and federal government investigator Michael Lenehan.
Unlike many other campaigns this electoral season, the Ojai council race has been pointed but civil, with four candidate forums, including one Monday at Chaparral Auditorium co-sponsored by the Ojai Valley Green Coalition and the Ojai Post.
The race has been defined in the context of incumbents vs. challengers, with Hanstad and Horgan citing the importance of their experience as public officials and Francina and Clapp insisting that Ojai city government should be more open to an array of citizen opinion and more active in pursuit of solutions.
By contrast, Lenehan, a city parks commissioner and federal military investigator, said he thinks both incumbents have done a good job but that he stayed in the race to give voters the option of a blue-collar candidate with a strong parks and recreation background.
“I predict this will be a close election,” Hanstad said. “All of the candidates are capable and all have as a goal to enrich the quality of life in Ojai. The difference is experience specific to this job.”
And, Horgan said: “The city has done a great job.”
But Francina and Clapp insist that current council members agree so often they nearly always see things the same way to the exclusion of diverse ideas.
“Consensus-building among people who think the same is easy,” said Francina, a council member from 1996 until 2000, when she chose not to run again after a controversial first term. “I respect Sue and Rae, but I think there should be a lot more transparency in our local government. Betsy and I are serious, well-qualified challengers.”
Clapp said she’d characterize the race as “status quo vs. the willingness to change and look at new ideas … For a long time, the city council has not been receptive or inviting to the public.”
This election represents the first challenge to Horgan and Hanstad since 2000. They ran unopposed for re-election in 2004.
Horgan, 53, a former business banker and city planning commissioner, was appointed to the council in 1999, then placed first in a three-person race the next year.
Hanstad, 57, a substance abuse consultant who was recruited by a group of city leaders in 2000, placed second, ahead of the late community activist, Bruce Roland.
Horgan had 1,903 votes, Hanstad 1,591 and Roland 1,378.
“The incumbents have never really had to run for their seats until now,” said Francina, 59, a yoga instructor and author of four books on health and yoga for older people.
As two-term incumbents, Hanstad and Horgan have become friends and admirers. Each signed the other’s nomination papers for council. Both participated in the fiscal turnaround of Ojai city government.
And each has received the support of Councilmembers Steve Olsen and Joe DeVito, who were both critical of Francina’s performance when she was on the council a decade ago.
Hanstad and Horgan said they are running for a third full term because they want to finish the work they’ve begun, especially construction of a skate park for Ojai youth, completion of a new comprehensive plan to guide city policies and adoption of a new housing plan that addresses state mandates for more affordable dwellings.
They also want to make sure the City Council adopts follow-up policies to assure that the city never gets in the same financial mess that led it to completely drain a $4-million budget reserve four years ago.
And, as the emerging Ojai Valley Green Coalition finds full voice, both Hanstad and Horgan are pressing with the rest of the City Council to begin to implement the “Road Map to a Sustainable Ojai” it approved in May.
Specifically, Hanstad said at Monday’s forum on environmental issues that the city needs to work with the rest of the Ojai Valley communities to better address serious problems of water quality and availability, traffic and the region’s overall quality of life.
“Ojai really is a very special place,” Horgan added. “We all want to protect what we have here. We know we have a gem here.”
But Francina and Clapp criticized the City Council for talking a good game but acting too slowly.
“I hear Sue Horgan talk about being in balance: Our world is way out of balance,” Francina said.
And Clapp said the council had shelved the bicycle and pedestrian master plan Francina helped draft in 1999, and still has 50 bike racks in storage behind City Hall.
“We need to have deadlines,” Francina said. “Otherwise it’s just a bunch of hot air.”
On a sampling of questions at Monday’s forum: Hanstad and Horgan said they wouldn’t ban use of plastic bags in the city, while Clapp and Francina said they would, and none of the candidates said they would ban from city use the herbicide spray, Roundup, which Ventura County is using to rid the Ventura River of the invasive arundo reed. Francina did say, to applause: “As a general rule we should have a pesticide-free valley.”
In more general terms, the incumbents have stressed in interviews that they’re running separate and independent campaigns. “Ojai voters are studious,” Hanstad said. “They judge candidates as individuals.”
Hanstad said she’ll spend about $3,500 in a “paperless” campaign that has no mass mailings, focusing instead on her web site. Horgan said she has raised about $5,000 and spent about $4,000 on a mailed flier, a “focused letter” to potential supporters, ads and Ojai Day. Francina said she has spent about $3,500, mostly on a web site (, newspaper ads, mailers and an Ojai Day booth. Clapp estimates her spending at $4,400 for ads, mailers, lawn signs, a booth and web site ( Lenehan said he has spent about $200 and has refused to accept campaign contributions.
Both incumbents said they’ve been pleased with the civil way in which this campaign has been waged by all five candidates, although Clapp and Francina have taken the fight to them at some of the forums.
“Obviously, there will be attacks on the city and the incumbents, but that’s just part of the format,” Hanstad said. “But between the candidates, I think it’s been very civil and respectful.”
Lenehan, however, said he didn’t like the way Clapp has pressed issues sometimes.
“I don’t agree with her sound-bite attacks,” he said. “I like her and I respect her, I just don’t agree with her tactics. Whether I agree with Suza or not, or think she’s on this planet, I like her.”
He said he likes and respects both Horgan and Hanstad because he worked well with both when they served as liaisons to the city Recreation Department.
Clapp said she’s received praise for her aggressive performance at forums, and was endorsed by the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce board of directors after one last week. When chamber executive director Scott Eicher called, “… he said I was incredibly prepared” at the forums, she said.
Eicher said that at least five of the seven board members who voted endorsed Clapp. The board has 10 members, but two were absent and one abstained because she works on the Francina campaign, he said.
Meanwhile, like the incumbents, Clapp and Francina have echoed each other on issues.
They signed each other’s nominating petitions and have stressed many of the same environmentally oriented issues.
Clapp, 57, who runs a small business that makes powdered food products, and Francina said they are running on platforms that include goals embraced by the Green Coalition.
“The Ojai Valley Green Coalition is advocating things I’ve supported since 1974,” said Francina, who was derisively dubbed “Mayor Moonbeam” during her mayoral term in 2000.
“I smile when I remember that I used to be called ‘that bicycle lady’ and ‘Mayor Moonbeam,’” Francina said in her official candidate statement. “Now conservation is the watchword of every government and business around the world.”
Both Clapp and Francina said it is past time for the city to implement the bicycle-pedestrian master plan. “Where’s our bike plan developed 10 years ago?” Clapp said. “It’s gathering dust somewhere in City Hall.”
Both Clapp and Francina also have rapped the council for approving a 2006 lawsuit in support of the city attorney’s decision not to place on the city ballot two citizen’s initiatives he found too vague to be constitutional. The ensuing legal battle, in which the city prevailed on appeal this week, has now cost taxpayers about $100,000.
The proposed initiatives were in favor of affordable housing and against chain stores, both issues addressed this year by the council.
But both Horgan and Hanstad said they would not vote to spend any more money on the case if the American Civil Liberties Union appeals it to the state Supreme Court.
“Enough,” said Hanstad in an interview. “We have other legal priorities at this time.”
In a general sense, the five candidates bring to voters distinct personalities and clear choices.
When Hanstad, a 28-year Ojai resident, was first elected eight years ago, she was a partner in a local surgical equipment firm, raising three teenage children and was active not only in local schools but also in groups such as Ojai Valley Library Friends and Foundation, the Ojai Music Festival and the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.
“That combination of volunteerism and business experience appealed to my drafting committee (in 2000),” Hanstad said, speaking of former Mayors Nina Shelley and David Bury, Councilman Olsen and current school board member Ricki Horne, among others.
Today, Hanstad, who holds a community college degree and attended classes at the University of Chicago, said she’s hardly a seasoned political veteran.
“I don’t know if anyone ever feels like a veteran here,” she said. “Ojai has such an active public. And you know what they say, there are no small issues in small towns.”
Hanstad sees herself as “a centrist, and that’s a strength.” But she knows that could be a dicey position in a close election in which other candidates have niches of support. “The person in the middle of the road gets run over,” she said.
Horgan’s path to the council followed graduation from the University of Colorado and years as a commercial banker in Los Angeles. She, her lawyer husband and 2-year-old daughter moved to Ojai 16 years ago. She served as administrative director at Four Winds School until 2003, and has been a stay-at-home mother since then. Like Hanstad, she’s served on a variety of local, city and countywide boards as a representative of Ojai.
Lately, she’s also served as a board member to the Ojai Valley Community Hospital Foundation.
“Really what sets me apart is my belief in responsive government, openness to new ideas and prudent fiscal management,” she said. “It’s a really balanced approach to solving the issues we face. I have a broad focus and not a single agenda.”
Her top priority right now, she said, is getting the skate park built promptly.
Clapp, an 18-year Ojai resident, has a widely varied professional history. She worked as a finish carpenter for 20 years, cooked on an offshore oil platform for four years, cruised in a sailboat with her husband for a year and a half and operated a Ventura coffee shop. Now, she runs two small businesses. And she did much of that while raising a daughter.
During her campaign, Clapp has proposed a number of new initiatives, including creation of a valleywide recreation district, since people throughout the area participate in programs sponsored by the city.
Indeed, a survey Clapp did during Ojai Day showed her what residents want the city to do with its money. Placing first, was construction of a community swimming pool, while more recreational activities was second in her survey. Street repairs ranked high, as did library remodeling, refurbishing Libbey Bowl and more bike lanes and racks, she said.
“This is all about the quality of life in this valley,” she said.
Francina, who emigrated from Holland to Ojai 51 years ago, trained as an early childhood teacher before graduating from the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco. She’s written best-selling yoga books and is a local teacher of that discipline.
She has raised two children and now lives with “lots of animals” on “one of the most beautiful streets in Ojai.”
“I feel very loved and supported by the community,” she said, and good about running for council again.
“I feel I’m headed in the right direction, and I’m at peace either way.”
She’s already personally involved in one issue before the City Council — a proposal to tear down 18 of 25 low-income rental units on Mallory Way near her home, and build 23 new units in their place.
“I’ve submitted my concerns,” she said. “These are about the last low-income houses left.”
Lenehan, a lieutenant colonel in the Army reserves who is an Iraq War veteran, said he moved to Ojai in 2001 because it was such a good place to raise his five children.
“We all live in a three-bedroom, one-bath, 950-square-foot house,” he laughed. “But we feel very fortunate just to be here.”
He said he’s running his campaign on behalf of blue-collar Ojai. “I’m pretty much a working-class individual, like a lot of Ojai residents,” said Lenehan, a graduate of Santa Barbara City College and the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Lenehan said a focus of his campaign is improving youth recreational programs, although he said he’s learned a lot about other issues during the campaign.
“Most folks here in Ojai know me as coach Mike,” he said.
Lenehan has coached youth soccer, T-ball and hockey teams on which his children have participated. He is also an assistant varsity football coach at Villanova Preparatory School.
“I thought being involved in so many sports and having so many kids, I might as well contribute where I can.”

Thursday, October 23, 2008

OUSD Takes Steps Toward Leasing Offices

Board OKs district to move ahead with plans to lease out nearly eight acres in downtown Ojai

By Sondra Murphy
On Tuesday, Ojai Unified School District took an official step in its efforts to be less reliant on government sources for its funding.
With continued budget uncertainties looming on the horizon, the OUSD board approved the distribution of the Request for Qualifications-Proposals for joint occupancy lease and development of the district office and Chaparral High School property on East Ojai Avenue and North Montgomery Street. OUSD board members and administrators see lease options as one way to establish both short-term and long-term control revenues.
The stated intent of the RFQ-P is, “To enable the district to identify highly qualified and capable entities with experience in commercial and mixed-use development that can evaluate and carry out development strategies pursuant to a joint occupancy ground lease with the district.”
“The market and economy has sort of been on again, off again,” said OUSD superintendent Tim Baird, “but we feel like we just need to see what the market is like right now for this very unique piece of property.”
“This is very exciting,” said board member Rikki Horne.
“How do we get the word out?” asked President Steve Fields.
“Anyone may request a copy of the RFQ-P,” said Baird, adding that the district would advertise in the Ventura and Santa Barbara areas to alert developers to the opportunity.
“How much interest do we have?” asked member Pauline Mercado.
“I’ve had about five people who have expressed interest,” said Dannielle Pusatere, assistant superintendent of business and administrative services. She pointed out the estimated timeline in the RFQ-P packet named Jan. 5 as the response deadline in order to bring any submissions to the board by the pending Jan. 13 meeting.
Clerk Kathi Smith cautioned administration not to hurry through the application process. “I’m very concerned about having staff rush through looking at RFQs in a week,” she said. “I would much rather have administrators and attorneys comb through them. We don’t want to get stuck with something buried in the wording.” Vice President Linda Taylor agreed.
“It’s not like it’s going to be money in the hand,” said Mercado.
“We were trying to get it to the board before you start to make budget decisions,” explained Baird. “We could change the dates to whatever we want.”
According to the RFQ-P approved Tuesday, the downtown property in question is about 7.88 acres in total and OUSD would require about 1,000 square feet of building space, if developed. In addition to the administrative offices and Chaparral, the property currently houses infant and preschool centers, nutrition services, a community auditorium, garden and maintenance and transportation yards and offices. OUSD is waiting until any submission is accepted and proceeds before determining potential relocation of any department or center.
The site is currently zoned for Public-Quasi-Public Use (P-L) and surrounded by Village Mixed Use (VMU) zones to the west and north, and medium and high-density multi-family (R-2 and R-3) zones to the east and south.
The district also owns the attached site of the Park & Ride and Skate Park areas, which the city has leased through 2023. Community members, especially those involved in building a permanent skate park at the location, have voiced concerns about the future of those leases in light of the district’s development efforts.
If the plan plays out, a ground lease for a maximum of 66 years would be negotiated and any selected development team would be subject to obtaining necessary entitlements subject to approval by the city of Ojai and OUSD and state boards of education.
Lessees would be responsible for all facets of development, including any governmental issues that impact development, such as zoning, land use policies, environmental review and political or social implications of developing the sites, arranging financing for any development and all costs and risks associated with the design and construction processes.
Submission requirements are detailed as to communicating development team qualifications, approach to development, project schedule, financial and legal declarations, and district compensation. In the compensation section, OUSD specifies, “The compensation proposal must include: (1) an up-front/on contract payment at the commencement of the development process; and (2) annual ground lease rent and how rent will be calculated … The exact terms of the ground lease would be negotiated between the district and the selected responder if the necessary entitlements are obtained.”
The district also reserves the right to reject any and all submissions at its sole and absolute discretion with our without cause, change the submittal requirements, or terminate the process at any time.

Ojai Commits To Skate Park

Staff, council find common ground with Skate Ojai on costs, construction issues

By Nao Braverman
City staff and council members came together Tuesday night to mend the rift that has drawn them apart from members of Skate Ojai and local skateboarders over the past few weeks.
“We are here to build a park,” said Mayor Sue Horgan. “It will not be easy, there will be bumps in the road, but we are going to do it.”
The special City Council meeting was scheduled to clarify some misunderstandings and give council members an opportunity to respond to issues regarding the skate park that they weren’t able to address at the previous council meeting a week prior.
Difficulties arose earlier this month when city staff received an estimate for the skate park from Site Design Group that was nearly $200,000 over budget. While city staff and members of Skate Ojai have committed to working through the budget discrepancies as quickly as possible, city manager Jere Kersnar said that the skate park’s completion date would be delayed several months at the very least, until August 2009.
Kersnar admitted to members of the public Tuesday that he had seen the estimate before the design was presented to the public at the Oct. 1 Planning Commission meeting. But it was only two minutes before the meeting, so he had decided to go forward with the presentation, he said.
The Site Design Group representative who presented the design to the Planning Commission was only a junior designer at the firm, and could not answer budget questions regarding the increased costs the night of the meeting, said Kersnar.
The estimate which came in an e-mail before the meeting was $533,430 instead of the budgeted $360,000, Kersnar said. It was unclear and apparently incomplete, he added, which means that the numbers could get even higher once public art and other costs that hadn’t been included in the estimate were factored in.
“In any event we are committed to getting this back on track as soon as possible,” he said.
When city staff finally spoke with the lead designer, Kanten Russell, on Oct. 6, Russell had agreed to give the city a design which was built to budget. Kersnar said he received the rough downsized version at 5 a.m the next morning. The designer had subtracted a bank with ledges on the east side of the property, eliminated one of the main elements, shortened a half pipe and cut off two corners to make the park smaller.
“Part of the problem appears to be that too many people were giving directions to the design group,” said Kersnar. “It was a process that wasn’t being well controlled.”
Although he conceded that the firm should not have been taking directions from just anyone, he decided to direct all communication to Site Design through the city’s recreation director, Dale Summersille.
‘“I was frustrated and I do not doubt that I was curt,” said Kersnar regarding his communication with members of Skate Ojai. But he affirmed that the city’s goal was congruent with that of Skate Ojai’s, and that the park would get built, though not as quickly as staff had hoped.
City attorney Monte Widders confirmed that volunteer labor could be used for the construction of the skate park.
Public Works director Mike Culver said that he had misunderstood and mis-represented the prevailing wage requirements of the labor code, which mandate employees working on public projects be paid prevailing wage.
Widders said that an exception to the law, which allows volunteers to work for free on public projects for a government agency or (501)c3 nonprofit organizations, had been extended, and would allow volunteers to work on the skate park construction.
“It seems this opens the door in a wide way to allow volunteer labor,” said Horgan.
Sasha Wolfe, a consistent advocate for the Ojai community garden, lamented the loss of 60 percent of the existing garden to make room for the skate park.
Skate Ojai member Bob Daddi assured council members and the public that members of Skate Ojai would gladly extend a hand to Wolfe in revitalizing the garden. “There is plenty of land back there and we will be happy to volunteer and help,” he said.
At the next meeting, set for Oct. 27, city staff, members of Skate Ojai, and a City Council representative will meet with Site Design Group to review the estimate in detail and try to bring down costs.
Kersnar said that members of Skate Ojai have indicated that the estimate by Site Design Group may have been too high. Council members also agreed that the use of volunteer labor might bring down expenses.
Ojai resident Pat McPherson asked that ongoing meetings regarding the skate park be recorded, and the minutes made public on the city web site, to prevent further mis-understandings.
Kersnar was not in favor of the idea, but agreed to consider posting updates and bullet points on the city web site regarding the skate park’s progress.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

City Council Candidates Debate

From left, challengers Suza Francina, Mike Lenehan, incumbent Sue Horgan, challenger Betsy Clapp and incumbent Rae Hanstad spent more than two hours debating a wide range of Ojai-related issues.

By Daryl Kelley

In spirited exchanges that revealed sharp differences, five candidates for Ojai City Council sparred Monday evening before a nearly full house at Chaparral Auditorium just 15 days before the November election.
While incumbents Sue Horgan and Rae Hanstad calmly defended the city’s performance during the last four years, challengers Betsy Clapp and Suza Francina aggressively pressed the need for change at City Hall.
A third challenger, Mike Lenehan, rarely engaged in the sharp exchanges, choosing not to “second-guess” the incumbents while stressing his own background as a coach in youth activities.
The incumbents laid out their platform of experience and collaborative problem-solving during tough financial times and noted the knowledge they had gained on numerous city and countywide boards.
They cited a list of accomplishments — new parks and community improvements and plans for more, finances allowing — even as they had struggled to replenish city budget reserves depleted by taxes lost during lengthy renovation of the Ojai Valley Inn, the city’s largest taxpayer.
Horgan said the city was in better financial shape now than the vast majority of other California municipalities.
Hanstad said she ran initially “to restore a spirit of consensus to our council,” and felt she’d been “drafted” by Ojai residents again to complete an ambitious agenda as the council attempts to balance local business and community concerns while maintaining the small-town character of Ojai.
Indeed, all of the candidates said keeping Ojai an oasis of livability and citizen involvement was a main goal.
But Clapp, in particular, took the fight to the incumbents in a wide-ranging, respectful and even-keeled forum hosted by the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, the Ojai Valley Board of Realtors and the Ojai Valley News.
Clapp, a small business owner, criticized the City Council for supposedly not listening to citizens, failing to implement environmentally sensitive programs and wasting money to fight a citizen initiative through a costly lawsuit.
“I believe Ojai needs change, and I believe I can help bring that change,” Clapp said in her opening statement. “Our current city government is not doing enough …”
Horgan, who responded most often to Clapp’s criticisms, said the City Council had done a good job pulling the municipal government out of a financial mess in recent years. She and Hanstad both said their response to financial crisis, which saw city budget reserves fall from $4 million to nothing, was their proudest accomplishment in the two full terms they’ve served on the council.
“You can be sure my position was arrived at after careful consideration,” Horgan, a former business banker, said in her opening statement, describing her decision-making process in general. “We need the steady hand and balanced approach that I bring.”
Typical of the exchanges were answers to a moderator’s question to incumbents about what decisions they regret most and of which they are most proud. Conversely, the challengers were asked what City Council decision they disagreed with most and to cite one they agreed with.
Francina, a former mayor, yoga instructor and author, rapped the council for approving a 2006 lawsuit in support of the city attorney’s decision not to place on the city ballot two citizen’s initiatives he found too vague to be constitutional. The ensuing legal battle, in which the city prevailed on appeal this week, has now cost taxpayers almost $100,000 (see accompanying story).
“It’s a huge waste of money and sends the wrong message to Ojai’s citizen activists,” Francina said.
In turn, Clapp blasted the city for not accepting activist Jeff Furchtenicht’s offer to withdraw his own suit challenging the rejection if the council would put the two measures on the council agenda for discussion.
The proposed initiatives were in favor of affordable housing and against chain stores, both issues addressed this year by the council. The council restricted chain stores in the downtown core and is now considering what to do about a state mandate that the city provide more affordable housing.
“It’s horrible to sue a private citizen,” Clapp said. “(Furchtenicht) was reaching out the olive branch.”
In response, Horgan explained that city attorney Monte Widders could not legally prepare the initiatives for the ballot because they were unconstitutional, and since Furchtenicht refused to withdraw them, Widders had to sue to protect the city’s legal position. Now, the state appellate court has found the form of the initiative petitions “unconstitutional on its face,” Horgan said.
But when a questioner from the overflow audience asked whether the candidates would vote to fight the lawsuit further if the American Civil Liberties Union appeals to the state Supreme Court on behalf of Furchtenicht, both Horgan and Hanstad said they would not.
Clapp and Francina also criticized the incumbents for not doing more to implement a plan Francina helped draft while on the council nearly a decade ago to encourage bicycle riding in Ojai instead of driving.
“Where’s our bike plan developed 10 years ago?” said Clapp. “It’s gathering dust somewhere in City Hall.” That’s true, she said, even after a $22,000 rewrite of the plan two years ago by a consultant. Fifty bike racks purchased by the city remain in storage, she said.
But Hanstad and Horgan said they had served the city well, tackling complex issues in a productive four years since they ran unopposed.
Just this year they approved a “Roadmap to a Sustainable Ojai,” embracing the broad guidelines of an emerging worldwide movement and a new Ojai Valley Green Coalition, while also pledging funds for a new skate park for local youth and a successful grass-roots effort to limit the number of gravel trucks that use state Highway 33 through Ojai.
The council has also begun planning a $3-million, public-private effort to rebuild Libbey Bowl, a centerpiece of the city, they said.
“The list (of council accomplishments) is huge for a city this small,” Horgan said.
Clapp said a current dispute over skate park construction, and whether it should be a $350,000 project or cost $550,000 with add-ons, shows “how broken down the communication is” between the city and the community, which led fundraising for the skate park.
But Hanstad said the fact that Horgan, as mayor, had called last night’s special council meeting to discuss the issue showed how responsive the city is to community concerns.
In answers to other questions, the candidates expressed diverse opinions.
When asked whether a fully staffed visitors’ center should be in place to support tourism, the city’s largest revenue producer, the candidates said they supported such a center. The center is staffed by volunteers now, and not open every day. But Horgan and Hanstad opposed dedicating a portion of the city’s hotel-motel bed tax to that effort. And both said they’d worked with business leaders in recent months to piece together a coherent plan to bring tourists to town.
But Francina and Clapp noted that the city had withdrawn money it had once given to the Chamber of Commerce to support the center.
“Why is it that our visitors’ center closed down?” Francina asked. But she also said, “It’s a mistake to put all of our eggs in the tourism basket.”
Clapp said the city needs a fully staffed visitors’ center since 28 percent of its revenue comes from tourism.
Horgan said the city did not close the visitor’s center by withdrawing financial support for it during tough times. They stop funding the chamber for providing visitor services.
“When we had a financial crisis we cut funding to many entities,” Hanstad explained.
But the council, with the city now flush with a surplus each year, hopes to restore some of that support, including funds for a visitors’ center, she said.
The city’s annual budget surplus is more than $500,000 out of a budget of about $8 million, but an emergency reserve of $4 million has not been fully restored yet. It was that reserve, Horgan noted, that carried the city through tough times during the Ojai Valley Inn’s lengthy expansion and restoration.
Lenehan said the other candidates had all made “great points.” He noted that business operators east of Montgomery Street tell him they feel ignored by the city. “They have doubts they value much” to city officials, he said. Officials have said that East End improvements, including placing power lines underground, are part the redevelopment plan for the city.
All candidates said they thought the city was served well by the Sheriff’s Department, which functions as the local police agency, and that a local police department would cost more for less service. About one-third of the current budget goes to the sheriff’s contract, candidates said.
Lenehan, a federal investigator and Army reserve officer, said the city gets lots of costly sophisticated services from the sheriff’s contract that a small city police force could not afford — such as major crime investigation, gang suppression and emergency response. Yet, Clapp called for a police oversight committee to better involve the community in law enforcement issues.
A question about a potential conflict of interest by Jere Kersnar because he is both city manager and planning director, sparked a pointed exchange.
The incumbents said Kersnar functions in both capacities because belt-tightening eliminated the top planner’s position, but that the post might be re-established if there’s enough money in the future.
“The real issue is the city manager effectively runs the city of Ojai, because the City Council does not provide leadership …,” said Francina.
But Horgan and Hanstad said the council makes the final decisions. And the real concern about Kersnar, Horgan said, is that he may work too hard.
Clapp said city services suffer for lack of a planning director.
When asked by a member of the audience whether the city should annex surrounding neighborhoods that are now in county jurisdiction, the candidates agreed that didn’t make sense financially.
Hanstad also said there has been only “uneven” support among residents of the areas to be annexed. But she said she understood the frustration of many seeking annexation because so many issues, such as water availability and rates, overlap city boundaries.
Ojai is “a well-run city,” Horgan said. “It doesn’t make financial sense for our city to annex other property.”
But Clapp responded, “That doesn’t mean you can’t re-address things.”
Horgan agreed that issues should be reconsidered from time to time, “should something have changed. But nothing has changed” on the annexation financing issue, she said.
A Clapp recommendation that a valleywide district be formed to fund recreation programs now paid for by the city, drew support, including that of Horgan.
The candidates were asked by a member of the audience what “attitudes” made for a successful council member.
Francina said putting herself in “other’s shoes,” was a key as was in-depth research of issues. For example, she noted earlier that she’d been an expert on “sustainable communities” for more than a decade. The sustainability concept is that a society should plan its activities so they meet its needs while preserving the natural way of life, and to maintain this balance indefinitely.
Lenehan said an ability to take in a great deal of information was an important characteristic for a council member, as was understanding the need to “staff the ideas” for soundness.
Clapp said she personally offers “tremendous business skills,” and could work with others respectfully.
Horgan said always being available to constituents was important, as was an ability to listen well and respond in an analytical way to achieve consensus.
Hanstad agreed. “Most important is the ability to achieve consensus,” she said. Without that, even good ideas fall to the wayside, she said.
Monday evening’s forum was the second for City Council candidates, with another to follow at a Rotary Club of Ojai lunch on Friday before a final public discussion next Monday at 7 p.m. at Chaparral Auditorium sponsored by the Ojai Valley Green Coalition.

Judge Rules for City in Citizen Lawsuit

Furchtenicht says decision will chill initiatives

By Nao Braverman
A three judge panel in the State Court of Appeal reversed the demurrer granted to local citizen Jeff Furchtenicht in 2006, and affirmed denial of his anti-SLAPP motion against the city of Ojai on Monday.
“The appellant judges seem to say I did exactly what I was supposed to do,” said city attorney Monte Widders.
But Furchtenicht maintains that the sweeping court decision was a terrible one, that will rob the public of its right to freely propose an initiative from here on.
The dispute which began during the 2006 City Council elections, comes to surface once again in time for this year’s election debates.
The two-year-long battle began when Furchtenicht proposed two citizen’s initiatives to the city regarding chain stores and affordable housing in August 2006.
Widders declined to prepare a ballot title and summary for the initiatives, claiming that they were not submitted in the proper format, and asked him to withdraw them, rewrite them and resubmit them.
Widders had argued that the initiatives were too vague, directing the council to “consider” and take measures to address the affordability of housing, and discourage chain stores from opening downtown, instead of proposing actual legislation.
When Furchtenicht refused to withdraw the initiatives and rewrite them, Widders took him to court, stating that he needed the opinion of a judge.
In response, Furchtenicht filed a demurrer and anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) motion, declaring that the lawsuit was intended to obstruct his right to propose initiatives.
At the end of November 2006, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ken Riley granted Furchtenicht the demurrer on the grounds that even if the alleged complaints were true, there was no legal basis for a lawsuit. However, Riley found Widders “well within his official duties to deny Mr. Furchtenicht’s request to title and summarize the two initiatives,” according to the minutes of the hearing.
Riley also denied Furchtenicht’s SLAPP complaint. Both Furchtenicht and Widders left the courtroom believing that the decision had been made in their favor.
Furchtenicht was not pleased with the judge’s dismissal of his anti-SLAPP motion, however, and appealed that portion of the decision in early 2007, this time with the American Civil Liberties Union defending him pro bono.
ACLU attorney Peter Eliasberg said that the city attorney should not be able to impede in the initiative process which essentially gives citizens a voice.
In response the city asked to appeal the entire decision, not just the anti-SLAPP portion, so that the case could be reviewed in its entirety, according to city manager Jere Kersnar.
An oral argument was held on July 9, and the three judge panel issued a unanimous decision, Monday, in favor of Widders.
The written decision states that the three judge panel agreed the demurrer granted to Furchtenicht was erroneous. Since Widders did not claim the authority to make the decision himself, regarding the initiatives, but asked the opinion of a judge, he was not claiming any authority beyond his ministerial duties, according to the judges. It also adds that there is no constitutional right to place an invalid initiative on the ballot. Although characterized as ministerial, the duty to prepare a ballot title and summary requires professional skills and judgment, according to Judge Steven Perren’s written decision.
The judges accepted Widders’ claim that he could not conceive of a ballot title and summary of the initiatives that would not be misleading to voters, according to Perren’s written report.
Moreover, Perren adds that Widders was not acting on his opinion of the content of the initiatives, but the format in which they were written. Had he acted on his opinion of the content of the initiatives, that would have been unconstitutional, according to the report.
Perren also comments on Furchtenicht’s argument that if his measures were presented to the City Council prior to the 2006 election, the voters would have the opportunity to consider their council members’ positions on the issues included in his initiatives at the upcoming election.
Perren states that “if the proposed measure does not enact legislation or if it seeks to compel legislative action which the electorate has no power to compel, it should not be on the ballot.”
Ironically, the proposed initiatives and the lawsuit have been hotly debated by the council members who are running for re-election this year, and their opponents.
Councilwoman Rae Hanstad said the court decision validates the city’s position legally and logically.
Opponent candidates Suza Francina and Betsy Clapp criticized the incumbents for allowing the city to proceed with a lawsuit that has now cost taxpayers more than $93,000.
Widders maintains that he gave Furchtenicht the opportunity to avoid the lawsuit.
“I tried to negotiate with him,” said Widders. “I told him to withdraw the initiatives and resubmit them in the proper format.”
However, Furchtenicht explains that he, in turn, responded to Widders, saying that he would withdraw the initiatives if the city would have the topics he addresses in his initiatives placed on the agenda of a future council meeting. Furchtenicht says that there was no attempt to respond to his suggestion from either city staff or council members.
“I didn’t take that as a genuine offer to negotiate,” said Furchtenicht.
The topic of affordable housing has since been discussed extensively at council meetings and an ordinance regarding chain stores was passed.
“I think that indicates that we are not opposed to bringing those issues to council,” said Hanstad.
Furchtenicht said he worries that the court’s decision sets a problematic precedent. It gives the city attorney power to quell a citizen’s initiative before the public and City Council get an opportunity to see it, he explained.
“I don’t know that Widders had bad motivations or not,” he said. “But now this legislation is ripe for abuse by people who do have bad intentions.”
Furchtenicht said he was not yet sure whether the ACLU would be interested in appealing the court’s decision. Eliasberg did not return calls in time for press.
However, both incumbents said they would not vote to continue fighting the case if it were appealed.
Kersnar confirmed that the lawsuit has cost $93,000 to date and is not sure if there are additional costs for which the city has not yet been billed.
The written report states that costs on the appeal are awarded to Widders although neither Widders nor Furchtenicht are yet sure exactly how much that will be.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Nordhoff Suspends Seven Suspected Vandals

Police eye arrests for Oct. 3 incident at Villanova

By Sondra Murphy
Seven Nordhoff High School students were suspended this week for their involvement in Oct. 3 vandalism to Villanova Preparatory School campus. The two schools’ football teams were to play that evening for the first time in more than three decades.
Perpetrators painted Villanova’s statue of St. Thomas of Villanova, as well as offensive graffiti slogans around the school. The football field and pool were also vandalized with manure and salt.
Nordhoff administration reported that because the incidents occurred outside of school, the law is very specific about how they were able to deal with their students. Suspensions were initiated for this situation since expulsion is an option for drug, alcohol or weapon-related incidents during school hours or activities.
Not all the vandals were Nordhoff students. Both schools waited for police to investigate the incident before deciding what action to take.
The oil-based paint used has been difficult to remove from the marble statue. Villanova president, the Rev. Gregory Heidenblut, said that experts are being sought to aid in cleaning it off. So far, no product has been able to remove residual blue tint from the structure.
“I walk by that statue about 40 times a day,” said Heidenblut. “That being one of our Augustinian brothers from 500 years ago, it’s very disheartening.” Heidenblut had another company coming to Villanova Thursday to see if they could restore the statue.
The pool has returned to safe condition and was the site of an Oct. 10 water polo match between the two schools. “We have had some sporting events with Nordhoff since then, so things are looking up,” said Heidenblut. “We are letting the police do what they need to do and have not heard anything new from them.” Heidenblut said he and OUSD superintendent Tim Baird also met this week and agreed to let the police investigation continue, as needed.
Ojai Detective Steve Michalec said they will be taking the case to the district attorney’s office next week. “We’re looking at several people, mostly juveniles, to determine what arrests, if any, will be made,” he said.

Council To Help Fund Stop The Trucks Effort

While Diamond Rock gravel trucks slowed down for time being, new threats looming

By Nao Braverman
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting the council agreed to give financial support to the Stop the Trucks Coalition, after the a semi-victory for the citizens’ group in August.
“After this agreement has been worked out, keeping the Diamond Rock Mine’s trucks out of Ojai, it has been pretty clear to me that whatever this group did, they did it successfully,” said Mayor Sue Horgan.
The recent legal settlement granted to the coalition, preventing the Diamond Rock Mine from sending gravel trucks through Ojai until 2012, has given the Stop the Truck’s Coalition some respite.
But the Ozena Valley Ranch Mine’s expansion looms ahead, with many potential consequences endangering Ojai’s safety, tourist economy and quality of life, said Scott Eicher, a member of the Stop the Trucks Coalition and CEO of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce.
The coalition members pleaded for some financial backing from the city to help them battle increased truck traffic from the Ozena Valley Ranch which is looking to expand.
So far the coalition has spent about $60,000, with $41,000 toward the settlement agreement with the owners of the Diamond Rock Mine, coalition representative Howard Smith told the council.
Council members were eager to support the committee.
“I think the Stop the Trucks Coalition has done all this work and the city has benefitted from it,” said Councilman Steve Olsen. “I think a financial thank-you would be appropriate.”
But since the city is not legally in the position to give a gift of public funds, council members have to come up with findings that demonstrate that the money will go to a legitimate public purpose. They would also have to do some work to come up with a specific amount to give the coalition, they decided.
“The coalition has spent $60,000, $41,000 on the agreement with the Diamond Rock Mine which was hugely successful,” she said. “I think giving anything up to $41,000 can be justified.”
But council members agreed that it would be wise to wait and meet again with members of Stop the Trucks to come up with a methodology for finding the exact amount the city should give the coalition, and a way to keep track of how the money is spent.
A motion was made for city staff to return to the council with a resolution to give financial support to the coalition, leaving the amount blank.
The motion passed unanimously.
In other council news, Public Works director Mike Culver announced that the department has $500,000 available to repave Ojai’s roads, $400,000 of which come from state funds and $100,000 allocated from the city’s general fund.
Vallerio Avenue was prioritized as the highest on the list of 12 out of Ojai’s 48 streets which are identified in a computerized pavement management system as the most in need of repairs.
The estimated cost to repair all the damage to Ojai’s 39 miles of paved roads would cost $8 million, according to the computer system, said Culver. The $500,000 should give them a start.

Skaters, Council At Odds Over Park Cost

Skate park design exceeds budget by $200,000, prompting uncertainty

By Nao Braverman
Skateboarders and local citizens were disappointed and outraged to learn that the attractive skate park design presented to them at a Planning Commission meeting was probably too good to be true.
Council members and city staff confirmed at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting that the state-of-the-art park that Site Design Group presented to local skateboarders on Oct. 1, was not within budget.
While Site Design Group representatives maintain that they had created a design to meet the city and Skate Ojai’s $360,000 cap, the design that was presented at the Oct. 1 Planning Commission meeting had included some bonus features which would add up to around $200,000 more than the city and Skate Ojai had to spend.
Site Design Group’s lead designer, professional skate-boarder Kanten Russell, said in an interview that he had gotten the impression somewhere that the community was really excited about the project. He understood that Skate Ojai might be able to add some in-kind donations and raise more money in the future. Running on that notion, the firm had included some more costly elements, in case some additional funds and volunteer labor were added to the mix.
But if there were two designs presented to the Planning Commission earlier this month, as Site Design Group claims, vocal members of the public only saw one, and the more expensive one at that.
Members of Skate Ojai were miffed that they hadn’t heard about the fiscal discrepancies earlier, and had already presented the design to donors.
“Two weeks ago we were presented the design for Ojai’s skate park, and there was no talk of a problem at that meeting,” said Chet Hilgers, president of Skate Ojai. “I have an obligation to over 1,500 people who dug into their wallets for this park.”
Hilgers said he was called to a meeting early Tuesday morning where city manager Jere Kersnar instructed him not to speak to the city attorney, city council members or city staff regarding the subject until it had been scheduled for discussion.
Council members were also taken by surprise.
“You said that $350,000 would be more than enough,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith to Skate Ojai. “So I am angry, and I have no idea who OK’d this $550,000 number.”
Mayor Sue Horgan said that the City Council needed an update on the issue. However she wondered why, when members of Skate Ojai were invited to participate in a scheduled skate park discussion to be added to Tuesday’s agenda, they had refused.
Skate Ojai member Judy Gabriel explained that she was told that the meeting would be about taking elements that donors and local skaters are counting on, out of the park design.
“We don’t want to do that given the situation,” she said. “The kids and our donors have already seen this design. Now that we are in this position we are trying to see if we can get in-kind donations to build the park that was presented.”
But while Skate Ojai seems to be counting on in-kind donations in the form of volunteer labor, Horgan said she is still unsure if the city can legally accept such gifts.
The 1931 Davis-Bacon Act requires that anyone working on Public Works projects be paid no less than the prevailing wage.
But city attorney Monte Widders said that there is an exception to the law that allows volunteer laborers to work for free, for city projects, and (501) 3c nonprofit organizations, such as Skate Ojai. The only problems that might come up are if a concrete company offers to donate concrete, he said. Then the company employee who delivers the concrete would likely not be paid prevailing wage. But there are a number of ways to get around such an issue, he added. For example, the owner of the business could pour the concrete himself, and not get paid.
Horgan said she had asked Widders to prepare a written analysis of the issue so that the City Council could understand it.
Members of Skate Ojai who felt they were being accused of instigating the more expensive skate park design, argued that they had not even been invited to participate in the city’s negotiations with Site Design Group, let alone dictate the park’s price.
“The city contracted the designer, yes, Skate Ojai has been invited to some of the conversations, but we were not allowed to be involved in the contract,” said Gabriel. She added that there was nothing in the contract, drafted by city staff, that requires Site Design Group to build to the $350,000 budget.
“That is not good management,” she said.
Horgan reminded Skate Ojai that the City Council and members of the community had the same goal.
“I am sorry we are in this position and we need to find a way out because we owe it to our kids,” she said.
A special council meeting is scheduled for this Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall Council Chambers to discuss financial issues the skate park is facing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Two Casitas Incumbents Challenged

Two directors on Ojai Valley’s largest water supplier each face challengers

By Daryl Kelley
Two veteran directors of the Ojai Valley’s largest water district face familiar challenges this fall as they take on the same two opponents they defeated handily in 2004.
And the winners will be faced with a host of important decisions over the next four years, as the Casitas Municipal Water District decides what to do about a costly federal lawsuit, expansion of the Lake Casitas Recreation Area, boating restrictions prompted by an alien mussel and the cost of water farmers use to irrigate Ojai Valley crops.
As they seek another term on the board of directors, Jim Word and Pete Kaiser are opposed again by David Norrdin and Jeff Ketelsen, a pair of perennial candidates for elective office in Ventura County.
There are sharp contrasts between the incumbents and the challengers.
Word, a 71-year-old Ventura resident, is a retired department store manager who has served as president of several Ventura public service agencies. He is now president of the Casitas board.
Kaiser, 52, of Mira Monte, was a police officer and county employee for 34 years and now runs his own consulting firm. He, too, has been active in community service, including as a coach in Ojai youth sports. He is also a three-term director of the Ojai Valley Sanitary District.
Conversely, Norrdin, 49, stocks shelves at the same Ventura department store – JC Penney’s — that Word managed for many years. Norrdin lives in a Ventura motel. He is a self-described “political junkie,” who has run for public office nine times in the last decade, never winning more than 10 percent of the vote.
Ketelsen is a 47-year-old Mira Monte resident who occasionally works as a substitute teacher. He has also worked as an usher at Magic Mountain and was employed last summer as a “wildfire crew member” for the city of Oxnard.
With his run for the Casitas board and the Ojai Valley Sanitary District board this fall, Ketelsen has sought public office 11 times in nine years, winning only an uncontested race for the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Committee.
The Oak View-based Casitas district provides water for about 65,000 people and nearly 5,700 acres of farmland in the Ojai Valley and Ventura.
The district draws most of its water from Lake Casitas reservoir storage, but also has deep wells to pull water from Ojai Valley aquifers.
Word and Norrdin are vying for a directorship in a district that encompasses part of central and west Ventura. Kaiser and Ketelsen are seeking a seat that represents a swath running from Mira Monte to the Avenue area of Ventura.
A third director, Russ Baggerly of Meiners Oaks, will be returned to the board in the Nov. 4 election, because he is unopposed.
Long operated without much dissent and by the same veteran general manager, the Casitas board has become a lightning rod for debate in recent years, as newcomers have defeated long-serving board members and hired a new general manager.
Word, with 11 years experience, has straddled the old and the new.
Kaiser, with six years on the board, generally represents the new majority. He has served as the swing vote on two large issues during the last two years.
Kaiser voted with Word and longtime director Bill Hicks to continue a federal lawsuit to gain reimbursement for money spent to save the endangered steelhead trout. Last month, a federal appeals panel reversed a lower court decision and found that Casitas was entitled to payment for water it uses to run the fish ladder the federal government forced it to build and operate.
But Kaiser voted against Word and Hicks on an initial vote to ban outside boats from Lake Casitas to make sure the damaging quagga mussel would not infect the lake. The full board later voted to impose less stringent controls of boating while setting up an inspection system to keep the invasive mussel out.
Now, as the once-divided Casitas board has begun to agree more consistently on big issues, both Word and Kaiser say they’re running for another term because future decisions are so important and complicated they require seasoned directors to make them.
Chief among those decisions is how the half-century-old district can pay millions of dollars to overhaul its aging pipes, pumps, tanks, wells and reservoirs.
“I certainly have the experience to help the district try to rebuild its infrastructure, solve the issue of invasive species and hold down water rates,” Word said. “I certainly know what it takes to make the water district run efficiently.”
Word, in fact, boasts on his election ballot statement that many water district customers are paying lower rates than before. He doesn’t note the sharp increases in rates imposed by the board to irrigate cropland in the Ojai Valley.
“We’ve come together on tough issues,” Word said of the board. One big issue was imposing huge water rate increases on farmers, a move directors said they were forced to make because of state law they said requires districts to charge all customers the full cost of water delivery.
On the other hand, Norrdin said that while he thinks Word has done a good job as director, the Casitas board needs to plan better for drought by storing water in underground aquifers. He said the fact that there is no single large aquifer in the Ojai Valley in which to store water does not deter him. A foundation in India stores water in man-made aquifers, and the Ojai Valley should do the same, he said.
“The main reason I’m running is water banking,” he said. “It would cost a lot of money, of course. But it’s better than running out of water. Where do we put it? I don’t know. Where do we get the money? I don’t know. But we need to think ahead.”
When running against Word in a three-person race in 2004, Norrdin got 181 votes, while Word received 1,770. Norrdin has also run unsuccessfully for state Assembly, Ventura city council and Ventura school board and the county board of education.
In the 2004 Kaiser-Ketelsen race, Kaiser received about two-thirds of the vote in a two-person race.
Kaiser said he ought to be returned for another term because he has shown an ability to think issues through, and even to change his mind after listening to his constituents.
That occurred, he said, last year, when he first favored dropping a federal lawsuit that had already cost Casitas about $400,000 to press, but changed his mind when constituents supported continuing the suit.
Now, with an appeals panel backing his position, Kaiser said he feels vindicated.
“Our primary objective is to our local ratepayer,” he said. He said he did not believe that a Casitas victory in the case would undermine the federal Endangered Species Act, a claim of opponents to the suit, including Baggerly.. “Everyone should pay for this (fish ladder project). Not just our ratepayers. It’s a more balanced approach. This is a burden we’ll be saddled with from now on.”
Kaiser said he felt he has been a force for change. He and other board members applied pressure to change water agency general managers, he said, encouraging veteran John Johnson to retire.
Johnson had a problem cooperating with other water agencies and there were morale problems on his staff, Kaiser said.
New general manager Steve Wickstrum has solved those problems, Kaiser said.
Now, Casitas is a leader on issues such as the quagga mussel and water conservation programs, he said.
But Ketelsen, who is also running against Kaiser for a seat on the Sanitary District board, said it’s time for a change.
He said he disagreed with board decisions on the quagga mussel and on hikes to recreation fees at the lake.
“I’m running because user fees keep going up, and a lot of people didn’t like that ban on boating,” Ketelsen said.”A lot of people are still upset about the costs in that. They have businesses and they lost money on some other things out there too.
“There’s this guy, a friend of mine, and he’s not the only one, and he told me he lost money because they canceled his yearly pass (because of the quagga restrictions),” he added.
Casitas has lost recreational customers to other local lakes – Cachuma, Piru and Castaic – because of quagga restrictions that force owners to lock their boats to a trailer when not at the lake, or face a 10-day quarantine before re-entering.
“Those other lakes have been welcoming people who used to come to Lake Casitas,” Ketelsen said. “They say like, ‘look, you idiots who run Lake Casitas.’ And they put out their welcome mats.”
Word said that setting up a screening system to keep out the quagga mussel, which could do millions of dollars in damage, was a wise decision by the board, and one that is now being modeled around the state.
“We have a very dedicated board that has been able to work out most of our differences,” Word said. “We have dealt with some very tough issues very effectively.”

Stars Tee It Up For Breast Cancer Research

Celebrity Golf Classic added to event lineup for 9th annual Ojai Film Festival, Nov. 6-9

By Sondra Murphy
This year’s Ojai Film Festival has a philanthropic spin to it. Festival organizers, together with the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, will host a Celebrity Golf Classic Nov. 6. Honorary Chairman Malcolm McDowell, as well as stars from the film and music world, will participate in this kickoff event for the 2008 Film Festival set for Nov. 6 through 9.
Confirmed participating celebrities for the golf event include Bruce McGill (“W” as Bill Tenet, “Animal House”), Mickey Dolenz (of the Monkees), Ray Manzarek and Robby Kreiger (former Doors), Joanna Pakula (“Space Cowboys”), Dennis Franz (“NYPD Blue”), Bobby Herbeck and Robert Hayes (“Airplane!”).
Proceeds will benefit the Breast Cancer Resource Center at Community Memorial Hospital and the Ojai Film Festival (a 501 3C tax deduction).
The $275 entry fees include a day of golf, coffee, lunch, prizes, awards, cocktail reception and “Movie Under the Stars.” The shamble format begins at 9:45 a.m. with a call to cars and shotgun starts at 10 a.m.
Steve Thomas BMW has donated a car for any talented golfer who shoots a hole in one during the benefit.
The ninth annual Ojai Film Festival spools out its programs Nov. 6 through 9 at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. This year’s Lifetime Achievement Honorees are American sci-fi author Ray Bradbury, who gets feted on Nov. 8, while the highly acclaimed directing-producing team of Lauren Shuler Donner and Richard Donner will be honored on Nov. 7.
The Donners have asked to screen “Ladyhawke” and Bradbury asked to screen “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit,” the latter of which was never released theatrically.
Ojai’s 2008 program consisting of invited films, as well as films submitted to the festival, will give moviegoers a choice of nearly 50 films to see in addition to the special events, seminars and Golf Classic. Ojai Film Fest’s tagline is “Enriching the Human Spirit through Film,” and it’s getting noticed by the Hollywood elite — in fact, producer Peter Guber, who ran Columbia Pictures in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, announced on the stage last year at the Toronto Film Festival, “The Ojai Film Festival is becoming the next Telluride.” Telluride is considered by many to be one of the best fests in the United States.
VIP Packages are on sale now at
Golf Classic sponsorships are available. For more information, call 640-1947 or visit

Thursday, October 9, 2008

City Wants Full Mallory Way EIR

Owners want to destroy 18 of 25 former motor lodge turned rental units, remove 35 healthy trees

By Nao Braverman
After substantial opposition from local residents, the city of Ojai has decided to require a full environmental impact report for the Mallory Way bungalows project, according to city planner Katrina Schmidt.
“This gives us a broader forum for the public to comment on the process and we thought that would be a good thing,” said Abe Leider, a planning consultant with Rincon Consultants, who is the project manager for the EIR. As a result the Mallory Way project won’t appear before the Planning Commission until early 2009, he said.
Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by oak, California pepper and eucalyptus trees, the Mallory Way cottages have been among Ojai’s few moderately priced rental units for years.
Just walking distance from downtown, the modest homes, clustered together in a friendly semi-circle, were among Ojai’s best-kept secrets until about four years ago.
In 2004, a project to tear down the majority of Mallory Way rental units to make room for brand-new two-story condominiums was met with controversy at a Planning Commission meeting. The item subsequently dragged on for four years, and drew public attention to Mallory Way, especially during the 2006 City Council elections.
While some Eucalyptus Street residents applauded the suggestion of the so-called upgrade to their next door neighborhood at a 2006 Historic Preservation meeting, the majority of attendants rebuked it.
Opponents of the project cited the historical significance of the community, which was originally built as an auto court in the 1940s, with each cottage named after a racehorse. In 1997 the cottages also appeared in Oprah Winfrey’s movie, “Before Women Had Wings.”
Members of the public also raised a number of complaints about losing much-needed affordable rental units in Ojai.
The city’s initial study of the Mallory Way project states that buildings on the site could be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historic Resources and the City of Ojai Landmarks as a remnant of the post-war automobile tourism era in Ojai. Those impacts will be studied further in the EIR, according to the initial study.
Pat Doerner, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, said that commissioners had decided in 2006 that the Mallory Way cottages had veered far from the motor court that was built in the 1940s. They had been turned into family homes and the swimming pool that was once part of the motor court had since been filled with cement. If it had been declared a historic landmark long ago, it would have been protected. But since it hadn’t, some pictures of the cottages for the Ojai Valley Museum would suffice.
Jeffrey Becker of the Matilija Investment Group said that an exhibit will be created for the Ojai Valley Museum, not only telling the story of the Mallory Way Motor Court, but also of post-World War II tourism in the Ojai Valley. In addition, the group is preserving and restoring six of the cottages, and adding an onsite commemoration plaque and garden area telling the history of the site.
As to the loss of affordable housing, city manager Jere Kersnar stated in an interview in July that while the existing units are often referred to as affordable housing, many of them are studios that are listed at higher than the affordable bracket.
Matilija Investment Property LLC, the ownership group, has proposed to destroy 18 of the 25 existing rental units and construct 23 new units in their place, with the result of the 30 total homes in the proposed Mallory Way community.
While the unofficial affordable rentals will be destroyed, the owners plan to provide seven affordable units, two for moderate-income tenants, and five designated as affordable housing for very-low-income occupants. Those seven are not only considered a sufficient replacement, but also grant the applicants a density bonus for making 24 percent of the housing units affordable, according to the initial study. With that density bonus, they are allowed to build two more housing units than the city’s general plan normally allows in the 3.58-acre Mallory Way property.
The recent study has also raised some concern about the project because it calls to remove 49 of the 88 trees at the site. While 14 of them were found to be unhealthy or unsafe by the consulting arborist, Paul Rogers, 35 of them are healthy trees to be removed to make room for the development. Of those 35, 11 are Ojai’s cherished oak trees. According to the trunk diameters of those oaks which range from about 5 to 19 inches, the trees probably range from around 4 to 40 years old according to Mark Crane of Mark Crane’s Tree and Arborist services in Ojai.
The applicants propose to plant 116 new trees as a mitigation measure, 34 of which are native oaks, according to Becker. But Crane said that volunteer trees are much more likely to survive than those that are grown in a nursery. Trees that have sprouted from acorns have survived natural selection and tend to survive well without human interference, he said.
The initial study of the proposed project also notes that while the site has not been officially identified as a migration corridor, a concentration of birds have been seen around Mallory Way. The EIR will further analyze the impact that removing the trees would have on other wildlife species, according to the study.
Rincon Consultants is currently accepting comments from the public for the EIR for the Mallory Way Bungalow project until 5 p.m. on Nov. 3. Comments can be mailed to Schmidt at the Community Development Department, 401 S. Ventura St., e-mailed to or faxed to the city at 640-1136. For more information call the City Planning and Community Development Department at 640-2555.Members of the public also raised a number of complaints about losing much-needed affordable rental units in Ojai.
The city’s initial study of the Mallory Way project states that buildings on the site could be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historic Resources and the City of Ojai Landmarks as a remnant of the post-war automobile tourism era in Ojai. Those impacts will be studied further in the EIR, according to the initial study.
Pat Doerner, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission, said that commissioners had decided in 2006 that the Mallory Way cottages had veered far from the motor court that was built in the 1940s. They had been turned into family homes and the swimming pool that was once part of the motor court had since been filled with cement. If it had been declared a historic landmark long ago, it would have been protected. But since it hadn’t, some pictures of the cottages for the Ojai Valley Museum would suffice.
Jeffrey Becker of the Matilija Investment Group said that an exhibit will be created for the Ojai Valley Museum, not only telling the story of the Mallory Way Motor Court, but also of post-World War II tourism in the Ojai Valley. In addition, the group is preserving and restoring six of the cottages, and adding an onsite commemoration plaque and garden area telling the history of the site.
As to the loss of affordable housing, city manager Jere Kersnar stated in an interview in July that while the existing units are often referred to as affordable housing, many of them are studios that are listed at higher than the affordable bracket.
Matilija Investment Property LLC, the ownership group, has proposed to destroy 18 of the 25 existing rental units and construct 23 new units in their place, with the result of 30 total homes in the proposed Mallory Way community.
While the unofficial affordable rentals will be destroyed, the owners plan to provide seven affordable units, two for moderate-income tenants, and five designated as affordable housing for very-low-income occupants. Those seven are not only considered a sufficient replacement, but also grant the applicants a density bonus for making 24 percent of the housing units affordable, according to the initial study. With that density bonus, they are allowed to build two more housing units than the city’s general plan normally allows in the 3.58-acre Mallory Way property.
The recent study has also raised some concern about the project because it calls to remove 49 of the 88 trees at the site. While 14 of them were found to be unhealthy or unsafe by the consulting arborist, Paul Rogers, 35 of them are healthy trees to be removed to make room for the development. Of those 35, 11 are Ojai’s cherished oak trees. According to the trunk diameters of those oaks which range from about 5 to 19 inches, the trees probably range from around 4 to 40 years old according to Mark Crane of Mark Crane’s Tree and Arborist services in Ojai.
The applicants propose to plant 116 new trees as a mitigation measure, 34 of which are native oaks, according to Becker. But Crane said that volunteer trees are much more likely to survive than those that are grown in a nursery. Trees that have sprouted from acorns have survived natural selection and tend to survive well without human interference, he said.
The initial study of the proposed project also notes that while the site has not been officially identified as a migration corridor, a concentration of birds have been seen around Mallory Way. The EIR will further analyze the impact that removing the trees would have on other wildlife species, according to the study.
Rincon Consultants is currently accepting comments from the public for the EIR for the Mallory Way bungalow project until 5 p.m. on Nov. 3. Comments can be mailed to Schmidt at the Community Development Department, 401 S. Ventura St., e-mailed to or faxed to the city at 640-1136. For more information call the City Planning and Community Development Department at 640-2555.