Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ojai gavels in new council

Council votes to take over public access TV, while DeVito sworn in for turn as mayor

By Nao Braverman

After returning Councilwoman Sue Horgan, newly elected Councilwoman Betsy Clapp and City Clerk Carlon Strobel were officially welcomed to their positions, and Joe DeVito took the mayor’s seat, the City Council took a somber turn.
Welcoming remarks and congratulations were followed by a series of declamations from concerned citizens about the health hazards of pesticides.
“What really woke me up was that I got a diagnosis of breast cancer,” said Ojai resident Suzanne Freddie. “I have been waking up to these issues and I know that there is some connection between cancer and pesticides.”
Her remarks were followed by another Ojai woman who broke into tears describing a 2-year-old boy in her neighborhood who had also been diagnosed with cancer. She was concerned that pesticides could have been part of the cause.
They were followed by three other speakers from a citizens group advocating for a pesticide-free Ojai. Patty Pagaling said that Fairfax, Calif., had become officially pesticide free and that Ojai had several models to follow if the city were to create an ordinance banning pesticides.
Councilwoman Sue Horgan asked city manager Jere Kersnar to prepare a report on what pesticides are being used in the city.
Later at the meeting council members hesitantly adopted the first reading of an ordinance that would allow the city to collect a 1 percent franchise fee earmarked for public, educational and governmental television programming support.
Time Warner Cable’s decision to franchise with the state will leave public access programming in the hands of the city, starting in January. The 1 percent franchise fee, all the city is entitled to after the expiration of its franchise agreement with Time Warner, comes out to a measly $17,600 annually, not nearly enough to pay for running a public access station. Since the city doesn’t have available funding to continue to provide public access programming, interested residents have rallied together to drum up a way to keep public access television in Ojai. Ojai Valley News reporters Sondra Murphy and Linda Harmon said that the newspaper could provide news content for the station.
“We believe that two things, a well-informed populous and a platform for informing the populous are paramount to open up avenues of growth and potential, strengthening Ojai as a community,” said Harmon. “We see communication as key, and cable as a vastly underutilized tool to achieve that goal.” Nordhoff High School principal Dan Musick suggested that the high school take on this project as part of its educational program.
“We see this as a golden opportunity for our students to have real world opportunities and job skills,” he said. “We would like to get the extra 1 percent from Time Warner and run the program as a business.”
But Public Works director Mike Culver said that the 1 percent funding from Time Warner was restricted for the purchase of equipment only, and could not be used to pay school staff to run the program.
The ordinance adopted Tuesday night was just the first reading, and could be implemented only after the second reading at a future meeting.
Horgan said she was uncomfortable adopting the ordinance without a concrete plan, but voted to do so with the condition that a road map for an Ojai public access program be established before a second reading is brought to the council.
Harmon and Murphy said that they needed the commitment from the city in order to qualify for funds that would enable interested residents to set up a public access program. The first reading of the ordinance was adopted with unanimous support.
To the relief of Franklin Street residents, the council agreed to approve a lien on the longtime eyesore on the corner of Franklin and Montgomery streets in downtown Ojai. The out-of-town property owner, Edward Cheverie, had not responded to requests to clean up the substandard residential duplex after a vehicle crashed into one of the properties, and a tree fell onto one of the rooftops later on. Cheverie owes the city $92,989 in cumulative fines.
Ojai Avenue passersby may stop and rest as they stroll from store to store this holiday season. The City Council approved an amendment to the Arcade design allowing for benches. The resolution supports a new program that will allow business owners to purchase benches and install them in the Arcade Plaza with a bronze plaque that displays the name of the owner. Councilwoman Horgan asked for the program to be open to citizens as well as merchants, so that anyone can install a bench in the arearcade. Interested citizens should contact city staff.
In other council news, the council voted to allocate $10,000 to Youth Employment Services, a referral agency that places Ojai Valley teens in local jobs. Several Ojai teens accompanied the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation’s executive director to petition for the funding.
“This program has helped me pay for things that my parents would otherwise be unable to afford,” said Ojai Valley teen Eryn Johnson. She said that her mother, who was already busy and stressed, was thinking about getting a second job until Johnson was able to help.The program stopped receiving funds from the city during the financial crisis in 2005. Horgan stressed that this was a one-time allocation and suggested that Youth Employment Services find a way to be self-sufficient.
The council also approved recommendations for allocation of $7,000 in Arts Commission art grants, including $1,500 for Got Strings?, a program that provides free violins to Meiners Oaks students to carry with them throughout their schooling.
Council members wavered on their decision to approve a program that starts outside of the city limits, but conceded because of commission members’ testimony that the students would later attend other schools, and that the program would eventually have an effect on the entire community. This is the first time that the city has provided funding for the arts grants since funds were depleted during the city’s financial crisis several years ago.
“This is a pretty gutsy move, especially when you got the arts grants back,” said Horgan, “but I am reluctantly willing to go along with your recommendation tonight.”
Steve Velkey announced results from his Make Ojai Better survey of 998 people at Tuesday night’s meeting. The top issue that concerned survey participants was increasing youth activities. Becoming a green city, preserving public and increasing affordable housing in Ojai trailed closely behind.


grey gables granny said...

Don Moody is correct! if there had been a runoff election Suza Framzine would have won by a landslide!! She's "boom-boom" on a bike!

chucky said...

Who's Don Moody? CEO of Emergencity?

Anonymous said...

It's great to have Legend in His Own Mind, Joe Devito, back as Mayor! Yes, he has put in the time and deserves credit for it, but with the nation looking forward, I'm afraid Ojai will find itself looking backward during his time in leadeship. I also think Suza would have been a great addition to the counsel. She has a "users" grasp of critical issues facing this town.

Bunni said...

"users" grasp? sounds pornographic