When Jere Kersnar rolled into Ojai for the first time 15 months ago, the veteran city manager was struck by the valley’s natural beauty as it opened to the towering Topa Topa Mountains beyond.
In the weeks that followed, Ojai’s new top administrator would also be surprised by two central facts of this village’s municipal life: No one could tell him whether its budget was balanced or what the city’s plans were for the future.
“One of my first questions to the finance director was: ‘Where are we financially?’ And she said, ‘I don’t know for sure.’ “
Kersnar had been assured the city was on its way back after a frightening financial free fall that had cut reserves from $4 million to $9,000 in just a few years. But it took another month to be certain that slashing six city jobs, and higher sales at a larger, remodeled Ojai Valley Inn & Spa had put the battered budget in better shape.
Retired Oxnard Police Commander and Ojai Valley resident Jamie Skeeters, who recently died while on business in Memphis, Tenn., was honored at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Meiners Oaks on Tuesday. Sgt. Ben Chavez, heading the Oxnard Police Honor Guard, stated, “He was a great guy, and a superb officer.” Veteran Motorcycle Officer Ernie Orozco reflected on Skeeters’ personality on and off the job. “He was a great guy to work with, never treating us as subordinates. Rather he was a friend who was a boss. During Christmas he would dress up as Santa Claus and visit church groups and hospitals. He even had a reindeer.” Hundreds were in attendance for his funeral. Skeeters was an expert witness at several high profile trials, and was president of the California Association of Polygraph Examiners.
Ojai’s scenic Highway 33 may not be so scenic anymore if the proposed Diamond Rock Sand and Gravel Mine in Cuyama Valley is approved.
Ojai’s landowners, school officials, business leaders and environmentalists are joining hands to fight the possibility of increasing truck traffic on Highway 33.
The proposed mine could add as many as 138 one-way truck trips on the scenic highway each day.
Los Padres ForestWatch, a local watchdog organization that seeks to protect the Los Padres National Forest has organized a community meeting to bring together concerned citizens on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Chaparral Auditorium.
Veteran Los Angeles Times reporter Daryl Kelley has joined the Ojai Valley News as a contributing writer.
Kelley, 57, retired from the Times last year after 21 years and four decades of writing for a living. He will contribute stories on a variety of topics, and he welcomes your suggestions.
Kelley has won more than two dozen individual awards for journalism excellence, and has been nominated individually for the Pulitzer Prize three times. He participated in the Times’ coverage of the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the Northridge earthquake in 1994 and the Southland wildfires of 2003 — all of which received Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news.
“Daryl’s peerless skills and great insight into this community in which he has lived for many years will benefit all the people of the Ojai Valley, but especially the subscribers of the Ojai Valley News,” said Bret Bradigan, OVN editor and publisher. “It’s a rare confluence of talent and opportunity for us, and a great reflection on Ojai that so many talented people choose to live and work here.”
A graduate of California State University-Fresno, Kelley holds degrees in journalism and history. He also has a lifetime teaching credential for social science, English and journalism.
At the Ojai City Council meeting on Tuesday night Council members and attendants discussed the issue of chain stores opening in Ojai. City Manager Jere Kersnar launched the discussion with a presentation that outlined some of the complexities involved in keeping chain stores out of the city.
City staff, Council members and a handful of local residents agreed that a proliferation of chain stores downtown would have a detrimental effect on Ojai’s tourist economy as well as ruin the “small town” atmosphere.
The problem at hand was creating an appropriate ordinance that would effectively keep out unwanted chains without hindering the success of local business owners.
Kersnar said that though he did not believe it was possible to ban chain stores from the city outright, it would be in the city’s power to put restrictions on where certain businesses could open, put limitations on their appearance, or on the type of business that is allowed. Chain stores could be banned from the Arcade, he suggested, because it is in the historic downtown area.
Some suggestions from the public included researching the policies of other cities such as Calistoga and Coronado that have applied ordinances to prevent the development of chains in their downtown areas.
While the majority of speakers urged the council to act as quickly as possible to put an ordinance in place to protect Ojai from turning into a cookie-cutter town, one local business owner who had thought about turning her small pet shop into what might be considered a chain, pleaded the council be careful of making an ordinance that would be too exclusive.
Councilman Joe DeVito suggested organizing a joint meeting of the Planning Commission, City Council and members of the public to discuss the implementation of an effective ordinance that would discourage chain stores.
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On Wednesday night property owner Ron Polito updated the Ojai Planning Commission on some ornamental details that he’s added to the design for his Cañada Street remodel. Much of the opposition for the controversial project, which lead to the closure of the O-Hi Frostie seemed to have died down as no opponents from the public attended the meeting to comment.
On Nov. 15, the commission approved the design, allowing Polito to proceed with his plans to remodel the corner of Cañada Street and Ojai Avenue, provided that he return with more visual details at a later date.
On Wednesday night Polito brought some sample stone and decorative tiles he planned to use for the project, but surprised the commission with sunflower yellow store-front awnings. The commissioners seemed moderately concerned about the brilliance of the hue against Ojai’s subtle color scheme. They expressed some concern about keeping them clean but approved the concept in the end along with the decorative tiles, similar to those used for the Los Arboles project.
Polito said that he plans to begin construction in March or April. He said that he is expecting four or five already existing businesses in Ojai to move in but is not yet ready to disclose their names.
The owner of the now-closed Ojai Ford told the OVN Friday he will not pursue another auto dealership at that location, has rejected an offer from Vons to purchase the property, and has sold the property to the Ojai Valley Inn, possibly to be developed into employee housing. This action effectively means the end of a much-needed sales tax base for the city.