Signal-controlled traffic proposal would increase construction time
by Nao Braverman
After initially turning a deaf ear to Gridley Road and Grand Avenue residents, Caltrans officials finally offered an alternative to a proposed detour that would divert approximately 9,700 Highway 150 commuters onto a residential street for six months.
The prospective detour, intended to direct traffic off Highway 150 while Caltrans repairs the San Antonio Creek Bridge, has raised the ire of a number of Gridley Street dwellers and their neighbors.
With a great deal of haggling from local residents and transportation officials, Caltrans engineer Steve Novotny, finally offered the city an alternative, albeit one that was not necessarily more attractive than the original offer.
The unwelcome detour had proposed to divert East Ojai Avenue traffic onto a residential portion of Gridley Road, then to Grand Avenue from Gridley to Gorham Road, and then back to Highway 150 while the bridge was being reconstructed. In response, a slew of neighborhood residents who feared the onslaught of highway traffic would endanger pedestrians on their residential streets, fought for alternatives.
The Caltrans proposed alternative, would be a two-phased bridge construction, whereby the bridge replacement would be done one lane at a time with a signal-controlled single lane of traffic over the bridge. This alternative, however, would increase the project duration from the originally proposed six months to two years, because Caltrans regulations only allow construction to occur during the dry season, according to Novotny.
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, a handful of Gridley Street residents encouraged CIty Council to ask Caltrans to opt for the two-phased construction alternative, but some East End residents were in favor of the original plan, to get the replacement done as quickly as possible.
Boardman Road residents Pat and Larry Hartmann said that they had been begging Caltrans to get the bridge replaced for 10 years, with no response until now. The precarious state of the structure had put their property in danger of being washed away. Pieces of it had fallen off during previous storms and continued to pose a threat to their property. They begged that the council encourage Caltrans to get the replacement done as quickly as possible.
“When people see 10 cars in line for the bridge, they are going to go up Grand Avenue, increasing traffic in those neighborhoods anyhow,” said Larry Hartmann. “If you chose the alternative, the wildlife under the bridge is going to be disrupted for two years instead of six months. It sounds like the cure is worse than the problem,” he said.
But Gridley Road resident Peter Cantle disagreed. He questioned the need for the bridge replacement, and along with a number of other speakers including Stan Greene, Michael Shapiro, and Maria Studer, wondered whether Caltrans was eager to replace the bridge so that it could accommodate an influx of gravel trucks from the surrounding gravel mines. But if it had to be done at all, Cantle preferred the alternative to a detour that would redirect traffic rushing by his Gridley home.
Currently, the 28-foot-wide, 120-foot-long bridge, considered by Caltrans to be in “scour critical condition,” is scheduled to be strengthened and expanded to 40 feet across and 180 feet long which includes a 4-foot-wide bike lane in the spring of 2008.
City manager Jere Kersnar conceded that after careful examination of the bridge by city transportation manager Mike Culver, city staff was not convinced that replacement of the bridge was as urgent as Caltrans claimed. Culver said that additional support to the structure would suffice to keep it safe for at least some time.
Richard McArthur, owner of Ojai Lumber Co., said that although he recognized the need for a bridge replacement, a detour would make it almost impossible for citrus trucks and any other large vehicles to get to and from the East End. There is no way for a 40-foot semi to safely go around the tight turn on Gorham Road, he said. “A traffic signal is probably the better solution, at least the lesser of two evils.” The claim that the bridge was being strengthened to accommodate gravel trucks did not make sense to McArthur, because the trucks are allowed on the bridge as it is, with or without the replacement, he said.
Councilman Joe DeVito agreed and doubted that Caltrans had any ulterior motives. As a member of the Ventura County Transportation Commission, he had seen the 90-year-old bridge on the schedule for replacement for years, he said.
Councilmembers Sue Horgan and DeVito both felt that the bridge needed to be widened, at least, to be safe enough for bicyclists and pedestrians to cross. However, since the majority of citizens opposed the detour, and it did indeed seem inappropriate to direct such traffic through a residential neighborhood, council unanimously decided to notify Caltrans that they did not grant permission for the city streets to be used for a detour during the bridge reconstruction.
Though council members were not pleased with the second option that Caltrans offered, especially since it increased the project’s time span, they were reluctant to tell Caltrans how to do their project. Instead they asked staff to notify the agency that they were not granting them the permission to use city streets as a detour. However the project proceeds, it should not include the use of city streets, said Kersnar. How they should proceed with the project under those conditions would appropriately be left up to Caltrans, he said.
The City Council unanimously agreed.
“One thing nice about Caltrans is that it treats both those who are for the bridge replacement and those who are against it, equally,” said Councilman Steve Olsen. “It ignores both of them.”
With city budget on track, new facility gets priority
By Nao Braverman
On Tuesday night the Ojai City Council chambers were spilling over with a rare visit from Ojai’s youngsters.
The crowd of teenagers and elementary school students accompanied some proud parents, members of the Skate Board Task Force and the Oak Grove School principal, to ask, once again, for some public funds to help them get started on building a permanent park for Ojai’s skateboarders.
For the first time in years, the City Council was able to answer their pleas by unanimously approving a $100,000 sum to be transferred from the city’s General Fund money to to the Capital Projects Fund, set aside and designated for building the long-awaited permanent skateboard park.
“Some of you were not even born when we first began talking about the skate park,” said Councilman Joe DeVito. “If anyone deserves first priority it’s you.”
Books for the 2006-2007 fiscal year are about to close with close to half a million more than previously projected in the General Fund, almost $2 million total, said city manager Jere Kersnar. With this good news, as well as the the 2007-2008 projected budget on target so far, city staff agreed it was safe to set aside $100,000 to be used to aid in the construction of a new cement in-ground skate park.
With the cost of a basic park estimated to be $350,000, the newly established nonprofit, Skate Ojai, was also asked to raise the remaining $250,000 before June 30 so that construction could begin as soon as possible.
Though city staff estimated the cost of a permanent state-of-the-art inground skate park with rest rooms to cost $500,000, Skate Ojai contended that $350,000 would cover costs for at least a basic in-ground cement park without bathrooms and additional frills. Thus the $350,000 target would be set for June 30. If Skate Ojai was able, it would then shoot to raise additional funds for bathrooms and any other amenities and added equipment, said Skate Ojai representative Tom Haws.
“This is not a sport that is going away,” said skate park supporter and task force member Judy Gabriel. She announced that six Ojai skateboarders had been invited to participate in California’s new Skate Week.
A number of local residents and even a few skateboarders spoke in support of a new park to be.
DeVito told attendants that many of the first skate park lobbyers had been to college and back, and were now eager for their children to have a place to skate. The plans for the permanent skate park, on the back burner for at least 10 years were initially delayed because of the city’s fiscal crisis in 2005. But with additional revenues from the 2006-2007 fiscal year, the city is finally ready to get plans running again.
Councilwoman Sue Horgan and Mayor Carol Smith encouraged Skate Ojai to begin getting plans drafted as soon as possible.
“We want to start building something by the end of June,” said Smith. “We don’t want this fund raising to go on forever.”
Hanstad made a motion to allocate $100,000 toward the new permanent skate park construction and have Skate Ojai begin raising funds for the park, with a goal of collections by June 30. The motion passed unanimously.
Plan calls for 433 new units by 2014
By Nao Braverman
Though incredulous members of the public compare the state’s housing requirements to that of Communist Russia, Ojai’s Planning Commissioners agreed that Ojai needs to follow them.
At a special Planning Commission meeting Wednesday night, the commission recommended that the City Council approve the Preliminary Housing Plan.
Constructed by consultant Tom Figg, in cooperation with a task force comprised of planning commissioners and representatives from local non-profit housing agencies, the preliminary plan outlines how the city will allow for the construction of 433 units between 2006 and 2014.
With six new units built since 2006 already the 433 unit requirement has decreased to 427. Fifty of them could be allocated to seniors to address the city’s increasing number of senior citizens, 15 can be obtained through affordable housing covenants, which make existing units contractually affordable, seven could be obtained through second units on already existing homes, 13 can be constructed in the Village Mixed Use zone and the remaining 196 could be constructed in a special housing overlay.
The overlay would allow proprietors of land zoned for industrial use to construct housing instead. Since housing construction would be optional and not required, the overlay will be large enough to accommodate twice as many as the required 196 units, because there is no guarantee that property owners will build housing, according to the plan. In correspondence to Ojai’s population demographics, 254 of the total new units need to be affordable to low, very low- and moderate income residents, according to Figg.
Several residents including task force member Rod Greene argued that the city should refuse to adhere to the State Department of Housing and Community Development. Ojai resident Stan Greene said that 427 new units was an atrocious request that did not make sense for Ojai, and that the city’s water infrastructure could not accommodate such an increase. A state agency that had no knowledge of the community should not have the right to make such demands, he said.
“This topdown authoritative planning is like the Soviet Union,” he added.
According to the Regional Housing Needs Assessment Ventura County must allow for 28,481 units to be built by 2014 and the Southern California Association of Governments allotted 433 of those to be constructed in Ojai. The city is required to update it’s Housing Element to accommodate the constructing of those additional units.
City attorney Monte Widders explained that the only way to legally challenge the state’s mandate was to show findings that Ojai does not have enough land to build on or enough money to assist in the construction of affordable housing.
Rod Greene was insistent on refusing the mandate nonetheless.
“Its preliminary plan was the most environmentally destructive proposal Ojai has ever had,” he said.
Ojai resident Bill Miley wondered whether the city had enough water to accommodate the mandated growth.
“Without water there is no life. Without adequate water there is no viable community and economy …” he said. Therefore, before we go barging ahead with a Housing Element Plan, there needs to be a water resource supply assessment for the next five to seven years.”
Planning Commissioner Cortus Koehler agreed.
“I am uncomfortable about the environmental ramifications. If you are making it possible to build 400 and some units, they could possibly be built, and I think that would be catastrophic,” he said.
The remaining commissioners, though a little daunted by the numbers of new units required, thought the Housing Element Plan was a good opportunity for the city to address housing needs for the local work force and the inevitable growing population. The plan was recommended by all commissioners, except Koehler.
At the council meeting the night before, City Council approved a design review permit for Richard Colla’s Aliso Street Condominium Development, “Cottages Among the Flowers.”
The project would remodel eight existing affordable rental units in addition to the construction of two new units. Though the project plans were tasteful according to council members, several current tenants said the remodel would force out existing renters who would likely not be able to afford condominiums and might have to leave Ojai. Though council members all expressed sympathy for the loss of much needed rental units, they concurred with Colla that a remodel was needed.
Mayor Carol Smith said she could not vote for the project unless some compensation for the loss of rental units was offered, particularly as the recent housing element study outlined the need for affordable rentals in Ojai. But Colla said he could not make such a promise without increasing the prices, and such an increase would probably make the condominiums too expensive. “Cottages Among the Flowers” was thus approved with the support of every council member except Smith.
By Sondra Murphy
Debbie Lambertson has had a long wait, four years and counting, to resume a normal life. She, and husband Glenn, have been in limbo awaiting a kidney transplant that the two hope will restore some normality to their lives.
“We both have cell phones so we can get the call, anywhere at anytime,” said Lambertson, who must remain in the area if a donor kidney becomes available. The two are not alone in their ordeal. The average wait for a kidney transplant is five to seven years with 77,000 Americans waiting for kidneys each year and only 17,000 likely to receive one. Meanwhile Lambertson is on daily home dialysis, a process that takes about 11 to 12 hours to complete, using a reverse osmosis system to remove impurities from her blood.
Lambertson was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease 30 years ago. It causes large cysts to form in her kidneys and damages the surrounding tissue.
In 2002, her kidneys began to fail and a year later she was put on dialysis.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, kidney disease is often caused by either diabetes or high blood pressure and affects 20 million Americans, or one in nine U.S. adults.
The Foundation says early detection can often help prevent the progression of kidney disease and the increased possibility of heart disease that accompanies it. Twenty million Americans are at increased risk for developing kidney disease including those with diabetes, hypertension or a family history of the disease. Seniors, Native Americans, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders, and African Americans are also at increased risk. They recommend three simple tests to detect chronic kidney disease: blood pressure, urine albumin and serum creatinin.
Chronic kidney disease damages your kidneys and decreases their ability to cleanse the blood. As kidney disease gets worse, waste builds up in your blood.
This leads to complications including high blood pressure, anemia, nerve damage and possible heart and blood vessel disease. When kidney disease progresses, it can lead to kidney failure, which requires dialysis or a kidney transplant to maintain life. This is where the Lambertsons are now.
Wendy Giroux, who spent a year on dialysis before receiving a kidney transplant six months ago, said she thinks it helps when more people are aware of the process and wants to let them know the procedure to donate is much easier now, being performed by laparoscopy.
“I’m doing great and everything is back to normal,” said Giroux who received her kidney from a co-worker. “I’m back to work full-time,” said Giroux. “It’s like a miracle.”
Lambertson said her wait has put her through some ups and downs.
“My sister was going to give me a kidney, a perfect match,” said Lambertson, “but she had a melanoma on her leg years ago so they wouldn’t do the transplant.” She said the doctors feared cancer cells might be present in the donated kidney so they refused her sister as a donor.
That wasn’t their only recent disappointment. Her husband had successfully completed the tests to donate one of his kidneys last year when he suffered a heart attack because of a clogged artery. He then had to undergo treatment of his own and is no longer a viable candidate for kidney donation.
“They told us if they take my kidney, and I have more heart trouble, I’ll be in worse shape then Debbie,” said her husband who is active, along with his wife, in a Simi Valley foundation for organ donation awareness. “It’s different in other countries. There you carry a card in your wallet if you don’t want your organs donated,” he added. “Americans still want to be buried or cremated with all their organs intact.”
They’ve actually been called from the donor list once.
“They called and we went through all the tests to see if I was a match,“ said Lambertson, “and I did but I was the second in line on the list.”
The first person called, one ahead of her in line, got the kidney.
Lambertson said that they call in three patients at a time to test so the organ will definitely be used and won’t go to waste.
They remain optimistic. Just to show they haven’t lost their sense of humor, they actually brought up a Finnish game show where the prize was a kidney. They then seriously added that her brother, who also suffered from the disease, just had a successful transplant surgery last week.
They are encouraged by the progress they see being made with living donor programs, donation of organs from the living rather than those pronounced dead in emergency situations, and the new anti-rejection drugs that add to success rates of transplant surgeries. They are also thankful they have good insurance and receive Medicare to help pay their medical expenses.
“If we get one we’re going to Hawaii,” said her husband, “and take some time off!”
For more information on kidney disease and what you can do go to:kidney.org/kidney disease.
Threat to farmers with 500 percent rate hike seen as reason for restarting rate request
By Daryl Kelley
Faced with a legal challenge, directors of the Meiners Oaks County Water District have decided to rethink a proposal that would have raised agriculture rates up to 500 percent, which farmers said would put them out of business.
“There were various people that made various threats of the possibility of lawsuits,” said board President Bill Reynolds in an interview. “Based on that fact alone” there was reason to begin anew a complicated rate approval process, he said.
Before two dozen appreciative residents Tuesday evening, directors unanimously decided to table the proposed new rate structure aimed at balancing the struggling district’s budget, which has been in the red the last three years because of soaring maintenance costs on an aging infrastructure.
“We’re throwing it back in the laps of the Rate Committee, and we’re going to go through the whole process again,” Reynolds told the audience. “I hope we can come up with something that will get passed this time and get us back on track with the budget.”
The district’s budget deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30 was more than $500,000, he said, compared with an overall annual budget of less than $1 million.
Since 2004, the district has drawn down reserves from $2 million to $1.3 million to repair crumbling pipes, valves, meters and tanks.
Even if the small community-based water agency, which has consistently offered the lowest water rates in the Ojai Valley, had approved the new rates it would have been only the second hike in 15 years.
The new rates would have hiked the base rase for residential customers 79 percent, but the average Meiners Oaks resident would still have paid only $29.50 a month for water, officials said.
Just 10 percent of the district’s 1,283 customers — the vast majority residential — filed protests of the proposed rate increase as a result.
But for 33 agricultural customers, the proposed increases could have forced them to let their trees die, several said in a previous hearing. The farmers’ rate would have increased from 31 cents for each 100 cubic feet of water (748 gallons) to a maximum of $2 per unit on a tiered pricing scale that penalizes those who use the most water.
Farmers said that was not fair, since they have no choice but to water their crops, or to let them die.
But this week, the farmers thanked the water board for its reconsideration of their plight.
Steve Sprinkel, who grows organic vegetables on his 11-acre farm, thanked the board.
“It’s a fantastic gesture,” said Sprinkel, who manage The Farmer and the Cook restaurant in Meiners Oaks. “I’m really impressed.”
Farmer Alissa Varney added: “I’m just thrilled you’re reconsidering your decision.”
And several non-farmers, agreed with resident Bernard Rogers, who said: “My only concern is … (the rate increase) would permanently alter this community. Ten years from now, it would no longer look the way it does now. The orchards (would be) gone.”
Stephanie Wood, of the Meiners Oaks Community Forum, also supported “keeping the rates fair, especially for agriculture.”
The board gave no hint of how the new proposal would be shaped, but agreed to pay a consultant up to $5,000 to design a suitable substitute — presumably one that would make the rate increases acceptable to farmers as well.
In a hearing last month, the district maintained that its new rates would be fair because everyone would pay the same for water, with the only difference being the size of a customer’s water meter and how much water is used.
That would jibe with a state Supreme Court decision last year interpreting a 1996 statewide proposition that requires that all water customers be treated equally and that they pay for the cost to deliver their water, district officials said.
But farmer Camille Sears, who said she’d already pulled out 270 of her 1,300 tangerine trees and is thinking of taking out another 300 because of water costs, threatened the board with a lawsuit.
In comments to the board and a nine-page written analysis of flaws in the new rate structure, Sears detailed what she sees as legal problems with the proposal.
Sears said the district’s notice of its rate increase was so flawed that a judge would immediately strike it down. For example, she said, the district failed even in basic arithmetic, stating that its proposed increase in the base rate for homes, from $14 to $25 a month, was a $9 increase, when in fact it is an $11 increase.
And, she said, the district’s method of implementing its increase would be anything but equitable because it would punish the 33 farmers who use nearly one-quarter of the district’s water, and does not reflect the true cost of delivering water to them.
Sears said a powerful statewide taxpayers’ group, the Howard Jarvis Foundation, was ready to jump into the Meiners Oaks fight if the water agency approved its new rates.
She offered an alternative proposal: imposition of a base fee of $30 a month for all customers, plus 75 cents per water unit after that. That would raise the extra $230,000 the district needs for repairs each year, while keeping the typical resident’s rate relatively low, below $40, she said. “And I don’t think it would put farmers out of business.”
This week, several residents expressed support for Sears’ flat-fee proposal.
“It appears the flat fee would be the most defensible,” said Dulanie LaBarre. “As a residential customer, I support the flat fee and support (allowing) agriculture to maintain itself in this community.”
It will take at least months for the next rate proposal to be noticed to customers, undergo screening at a community workshop and a public hearing.
Sears said she’d take a wait-and-see approach.
“I won’t relax until I see their next proposal,” she said.
By Linda Harmon
Julie Tumamait-Stenslie, a local Chumash elder and tribal chair of the Barbareno Ventureno Mission Indians, has been appointed to the California Native American Heritage Commission by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Tumamait, an active member of the Ojai Valley Museum board of trustees and the Oakbrook Regional Chumash Interpretive Center Board, is now one of nine commissioners appointed for life. She will join the commission in protecting Native American burial sites, bringing legal action if necessary, and helping to maintain an inventory of sacred spaces.
“Everything I’ve been doing seems to have led up to this moment,” said Tumamait, who is also active in Chumash educational programs throughout the county.
Schwarzenegger made the announcement during his declaration of November 2007 as Native American Heritage Month, honoring the contributions and centuries-old traditions of Native American heritage and culture.
“We weren’t raised to be political,” said Tumamait of her upbringing. “It wasn’t until my daddy saw the Farmont golf course project defeated that he realized we could speak up for something.” Tumamait said she fought to defeat the private golf course development near Rancho Matilija because she believed it would have drastically changed the balance of the valley she loves. “It‘s a big responsibility,” said Tumamait, a consultant for Chumash Cultural Services since 1985. She hopes to bring more detailed knowledge of her area to the commission. “If I’m ineffective I’ll leave,” said Tumamait who intends to be rigorous in her duties to make sure CEQA and NAGPRA, Native American Graves Protection Act and Repatriation Act of 1990, are used to protect sites that are being threatened by development.
“You can’t trust the construction crews to know or care when a site is important,” said Tumamait. “If they report a site it could cost them their job.”
Tumamait says there are cases where the laws have been circumvented, but also points to success stories like the Oakbrook Regional Chumash Interpretive Center where the laws were applied and benefited everyone. The center is located on land given to the county during the 1970 development of what locals knew as “the movie ranch,” in Thousand Oaks. The developer gave up over 125 acres that included three archeological sites during negotiations with the county. A museum and park are now located at the center operated by the Conejo Parks and Recreation Department.
“It is open space where families can come and learn about our Chumash culture,” said Tumamait.
Tumamait looks forward to taking part in her first of the commission’s quarterly meetings next month in LA.
To read more about the commission go to nahc.ca.gov.
By Sondra Murphy
When a beloved director steps down after a decade of leadership, it is important to find someone who can connect with the community and continue established traditions. The Ojai Valley Youth Foundation board of directors believes they have placed the right person in the job by voting Monday to approve Joanna Iwata as its next executive director.
Iwata has 23 year’s experience working with young adults on both coasts and Hawaii, with a background in student support services administration in the nonprofit arena. Iwata will leave a nonprofit job in Santa Barbara to begin training with the Youth Foundation next week.
“She is well-versed in areas related to strategic planning, budget and event management, public relations, marketing and fund raising,” said outgoing OVYF executive director Caryn Bosson. “She has supervised both paid and volunteer staffs on different types of community-based projects ranging from leadership training programs, social justice series, performing arts programs to live, interactive talk-show programs.”
The OVYF search committee had a large group of applicants to choose from. “We had 25 candidates and reviewed their résumés as a group,” said student board and search committee member Joslyn Wood. “We then decided on six to seven candidates, interviewed them and narrowed it down to two.” After the finalists were interviewed again, the committee voted to recommend Iwata for the position.
“Our committee had youth and adults on it, as well as board members and community members,” said search committee chair Kate Russell. “Our board did unanimously choose Joanna Iwata as our new E.D. to take Caryn Bosson’s place. Those are amazing shoes to fill and we believe that, if anyone can do it, Joanna can.” Russell added that Bosson will help with Iwata’s training.
Iwata attended Bosson’s farewell gathering Monday night at Chaparral Auditorium. “It was really telling of who we are as a valley and Joanna was there to feel the energy,” said Russell. “We had so many comments from the community requesting we find someone who knows our valley.”
Iwata supplies that demand. She grew up in Ojai during the late 1960s, attending Topa Topa Elementary, Matilija Junior High, Nordhoff High and Villanova Preparatory schools and recently returned to the area. Her mother, Sally Iwata, and sister, Kimi Romming, have been involved as advocates for youth-centered programs in many community projects.
“The fact that she was familiar with Ojai was a great advantage,” said Wood. “I feel really positive about Joanna. I feel she’s going to help our organization to grow and thrive.”
OVYF Board president Joan Tremblay concurs. “We are very excited to have found Joanna, especially being an Ojai native. She has a great sense of community that we want to enhance and perpetuate. We did a very thorough search and she was clearly the most qualified.”
Tremblay expects Iwata’s experience at the college level to help the foundation serve high school students seeking college admission. “The kids will come out even better prepared for college because of her background. We hope we can partner with the area’s high schools to an even greater degree so they can tap into her knowledge and expertise in that area.”
Those student-centered qualities helped garner Iwata’s support by the board. “She’s a really good listener, as Caryn is too,” said Tremblay. “We are confident of her abilities to take the foundation even further, spanning and deepening the vision of the organization.”
“I am very excited about this opportunity to make a difference for the youth of Ojai by working closely with our partners in the community, friends and families, as well as the board and staff members,” said Iwata, adding that one of the key points of OVYF is to work directly with teens.
While quite a number of local teens are involved with the foundation, look for OVYF to make efforts to attract even more. “There will be more outreach to increase our teen involvement,” said Iwata.
“Caryn has a successful legacy for us to continue,” said Iwata. “I’m just excited about being back in Ojai after growing up in this valley. It allows me to come back in this creative community role the foundation has given me.”
Traffic threat from Santa Barbara County mines remains to be seen
By Nao Braverman
Two new gravel mine expansion applications have Ojai Valley advocates concerned about an increase in truck traffic.
Those community members are fighting to protect the quality of local air, noise and safety, particularly because the valley’s tourist-based economy depends on it.
It has been an uphill battle. Stop the Trucks! Coalition has been battling two new gravel mine expansions, one by the Diamond Rock Mine in Santa Barbara County and another from the Ozena Valley Mine in Ventura County.
Now two additional Santa Barbara County mines have submitted applications.
The GPS mine, just north of the Diamond Rock Mine in Ventura County, is looking to move its operations a few miles west of their current northern Santa Barbara County location.
Though the operation is not expanding, and thus does not expect to increase truck trips through the Ojai Valley, according to Santa Barbara County’s supervising planner Gary Kaiser, the application will force the company to account for its traffic impacts.
Currently GPS has been sending trucks through Ojai with no restrictions at all, according to Kaiser. But likely after seeing the trouble that Ojai has caused for other sand and gravel mining companies, they are proposing not to send any trucks through Ojai, said Kaiser. It currently appears that they have enough business north of their location without delivering loads of material south through the valley on Highway 33, he said.
The other new Santa Barbara County sand and gravel mine, Richard’s Holding Company, has also proposed to begin excavating gravel in the northern Santa Barbara County area. But Santa Barbara County planners returned the company’s initial application because it was incomplete, said Kaiser. Since the company hasn’t yet begun their environmental impact report, Kaiser is not sure when planners will see their complete application.
As for the Diamond Rock Mine proposal which was approved in July by the Santa Barbara Planning Commission, it is currently awaiting comments from the State Department of Conservation, which should be due back very soon, according to Kaiser.
After that the project will return to Santa Barbara County commissioners to be re-evaluated with comments from the state department, and approved or rejected. That final decision will be appealable to the board of supervisors, he said.
The city can register its objections with the Board of Supervisors if the Planning Commission approves the project, said Ojai city manager Jere Kersnar. He is not sure what the Ojai City Council will decide to do if the Diamond Rock mine is approved by the Santa Barbara Planning Commission on its second hearing in January or February. But legally the city can do nothing until it has exhausted all its administrative remedies, he said.
Attorneys hired by the Stop the Trucks! Coalition have been negotiating with the attorneys representing the Diamond Rock Mine to work out some kind of understanding to keep the mine’s trucks from coming down Highway 33, said coalition member Michael Shapiro.
“As long as there is another alternative route, that is just 45 minutes longer, there is no reason they should approve the industrialization of our community’s main artery,” he said.
The Ozena Valley Mine recently withdrew its application and went back to the drawing board, asking for a compete environmental impact report from an independent consulting firm, according to Ventura County Planning officials. When that is completed it is expected to be resubmitted to the commission.
As soon any of the draft EIRs are circulated we plan on developing city comments, which we will bring back to the council, said Kersnar.
Kaiser confirmed that none of the Santa Barbara County mining companies had labeled their truck with placards to identify which mine they were coming from. That should be addressed in the EIRs for their proposed projects, he said.
Without identifying where the trucks are coming from there is no way of knowing which companies are creating the problems, said Kaiser. When the EIRs are complete and the problematic trucks and the companies they deliver for are identified, then enforcement can be discussed.
But since trucks are also able to take the longer route from Highway 126 to Highway 166, there is no reason why any gravel trucks should be allowed to travel through Ojai at all according to Shapiro.
Decisions about the city’s involvement will be made on a case by case basis as notifications of EIRs are circulated, according to Kersnar.
By 4-1 vote, council passes first reading of new law restricting stores larger than 10,000 square feet
By Nao Braverman
The Ojai City Council finally accepted the first reading of a long-awaited ordinance to protect Ojai from the proliferation of chain stores. If this ordinance draft is adopted upon its second reading at the next council meeting on Nov. 27, it will put Ojai on the map as a small town that will not let in anymore chain fast-food restaurants, or big box chains of more than 10,000 square feet.
Though it would keep out the smallest Wal-Mart or Costco, it could also prevent Vons from selling to an Albertsons or Ralphs if it goes out of business, unless one of those chain grocery stores agrees to operate under a different name.
Councilwoman Sue Horgan was concerned about the existing buildings larger than 10,000 square feet that might remain vacant after a business folded.
In a brief run-down city manager Jere Kersnar named several existing buildings that exceed the 10,000-square foot cap including Vons grocery store, currently 22,257 square feet, Starr Market which is 21,040 square feet and the abandoned bowling alley which is 16,240 square feet.
Horgan was concerned that were any of those buildings to vacate, it might be difficult to fill a space of such size with anything other than a chain. And if a desirable chain were to apply, Ojai might regret having passed the ordinance.
But Kersnar reminded her that the larger spaces could be subdivided to occupy smaller chains. Mayor Carol Smith said she had faith in Ojai to come up with a privately owned business to fill those spaces. Ojai resident and author of the recently withdrawn citizen’s initiative regarding chain stores, Kenley Neufeld, reminded council members that a big box could effectively replace Vons, simply by keeping the Vons name while operating under a different ownership. Not a completely unheard of technique, the Lazy Acres whole foods store in Santa Barbara is owned by Albertsons, he said.
Other residents agreed that the 10,000 foot cap was adequate.
“You can’t have an ordinance that covers everything perfectly,” said Ojai resident Leonard Klaif. “We are going to have to keep out some chains we like. I’m sure everyone has their one favorite chain they’d like to see in Ojai but we can’t accommodate them all.”
City attorney Monte Widders clarified that if the council wanted to withdraw or change the 10,000 foot cap at a later date, they could do so with a text amendment.
Though the ordinance does not ban new formula businesses other than fast food and big box in the city, it requires the approval of other chain retailers to be contingent on a conditional use permit. The CUP process requires public notification and a public hearing, providing an opportunity for people to comment on each and every chain opening within the city.
To accommodate chain service businesses, which local residents rely on, this ordinance has a looser definition of “formula business” than used in previous ordinance drafts. By defining them as a business that maintains 10 or more locations and employs three or more of the following characteristics: standardized merchandise or menu, standardized facade, standardized decor or color scheme, uniform apparel, standardized sign, trademark or service mark, it craftily allows most chain services to be dropped from the formula category altogether.
The ordinance also provides additional protection to the central downtown area by restricting formula businesses of more than 2,000 square feet and more than 25 feet of frontage from the city’s Downtown Commercial Land Use Designation which includes the north side of Ojai Avenue from Ventura Street to Montgomery Street, including the former Texaco Station and the Arcade Plaza as well as the Ojai Playhouse, and Fitzgerald Plaza on the south side of Ojai Avenue.
Horgan was also concerned about Vons becoming a legal non-conforming business, as a chain of more than 10,000 square footage, which would prevent it from expanding or remodeling without a CUP. Widders clarified that Vons could expand, according to the municipal code, but only by 50 percent.
Councilwoman Rae Hanstad also expressed some concern about the 10,000-foot cap for chains, because, she said, Ojai’s residents need their grocery stores. She deferred to the Planning Commission which had discussed the issue in depth and voted in favor of adopting the ordinance on first reading. All other council members were also in favor of the proposed ordinance except Horgan, who wanted to eliminate the 10,000-square-foot limit for chains.
In other City Council news, Kersnar announced that in addition to the Ozena Valley Mine in Ventura County and the Diamond Rock Mine in Santa Barbara County, two other mines in Santa Barbara were applying for expansions, which would mean even more truck trips through the Ojai Valley.
New owners scramble to find replacement
Thieves sliced through the screen at Ojai Playhouse either late Wednesday or in the early morning hours of Thursday, causing an unknown amount of damage and perhaps delaying the local premiere of “Bee Movie.”
The burglars stole a safe, a small amount of cash and about $300 worth of candy, said owner Kathy Hartley. They also wrote an obscenity on the floor with salt.
The amount of damages had not yet been determined, but Hartley said it would be substantial. Staff was urgently seeking a new screen or figuring out a way to repair the damage, so the shows could go on.
According to Capt. Bruce Norris, Ojai police chief, the thieves likely entered through the rear of the building, knifing open the screen to gain access to the interior of the downtown landmark.
“We’re going to focus more on patrolling the business areas of town,” Norris said. “Something to do is to leave lights on at night to deter these kinds of crimes.”
— From staff reports
Jon Cotham of Jon Cotham Environmental, a local green builder, works to make repairs on the Ojai Skate Park at Chaparral. “I’m basically coughing up a huge amount of labor,” says Cotham, citing the $10,000 put forth by the city just barely covers material costs.
By Nao Breverman
The Ojai Skate Park is getting its temporary facelift this week. Ordered materials were received much sooner than expected, so work has resumed to get the popular skateboard facility back in use as soon as possible.
“It is in need of an overhaul,” said Ojai Recreation Department supervisor Jayden Morrison. “We’re trying to mend it with $10,000, which doesn’t go far.” The Ojai City Council voted in October to remove the skate park’s hazardous features and repair the more popular attractions until a more permanent facility can be built.
The course’s pyramid has been removed in order to revamp the half pipe and make the edges, spines and borders at the park safer. Morrison said that the design is to be opened up for better visibility in effort to reduce after-hours trespassing and such.
Twenty-four 4-by-8-foot sheets of Skatelite Pro, a durable composite material, has been received to replace the old wooden surfaces of the course, reducing splinters and increasing safety for the park users. “They cost about $150 each, so you can see how far the money goes,” said Morrison.
Morrison estimated the park would be ready for use this weekend, after painting and surface installation. As far as a more permanent facility, “There’s a meeting of the City Council Nov. 27 to see where we’re going with that.” A report is then expected by city staff on the status of a lease agreement with Ojai Unified School District, the property owner.
Morrison said he hopes the local, nonprofit fund-raising group, Sk8 Ojai, will be contributing funds to the park site’s permanent course, as well as the city of Ojai. The amount the city will be able to allocate will be assessed during the meeting.
Sk8 Ojai’s Wendy Hilgers is waiting patiently for the city to announce its intentions toward a permanent skate facility. She said that the group has some donors set up to contribute to the project, but, “Until we know what the target amount is, we can’t really collect donations. We’d like to be able to tell people a figure.”
Besides serving as the fund-raising arm and contacting different builders, Sk8 Ojai has been conducting research on skate parks in general. Hilgers expressed disappointment in losing the pyramid feature during the temporary repair. “The pyramid is the one element that gave you speed,” she said.
The anticipated cost of a permanent skate facility — estimates hover around $500,000 — is also expected from the city during the first quarterly budget review on Nov. 27. “The council has told us at many meetings they want this to be a city facility,” said Hilgers. With expansion of the skate park perimeters, the permanent facility will be a 10,000-square-foot park. “We’ve been told in our research that is a pretty standard size for a city skate park,” Hilgers said.
Hilgers initially got involved with the skate park efforts when her grandson, now 20, was 11. She hopes skate park supporters will show up at the meeting on Nov. 27. “We’re all just interested and concerned because of the kids,” she said. “It’s a place that we need for those next generations.”
Randy Kurz launchs his boat into Lake Casitas on Monday. Kurtz was planning on fishing for largemouth bass. Boaters are under emergency rules at the lake since an invader species, quagga mussels, has contaminated California waterways.
By Daryl Kelley
Boat owners would have to swear under penalty of perjury that their craft had not been in a quagga mussel-contaminated lake before they enter Lake Casitas under emergency rules directors of the Casitas Municipal Water District are expected to adopt today.
And, if state and federal officials fail to act effectively to what Casitas officials see as a mussel threat to the Ojai Valley reservoir, the new regulations authorize directors to close the lake to all of the 26,000 boats that visit it each year.
“We do not want to take any chance of infecting our waters, then have to deal with the mussels later,” district general manager Steve Wickstrum said. ”We have the authority to turn boats away at the gate, and we will.”
Under new rules, boat operators would have to swear that they had not been in infected waters recently, or had done a complete scouring and drying of their vessel after being in those waters. Lake employees would attempt to verify information on the boat owners’ declarations through inspections.
A Casitas staff member was recently trained in San Diego on how to make sure a boat is “completely dry,” including its bait storage bin and engine area, so the tiny mussel will not be able to migrate into Lake Casitas, Wickstrum said.
“This matter is not going to go away, so these new rules will become permanent,” Wickstrum said. The district is in the process of contacting all of the fishing groups that frequent the lake and hold tournaments there. Several are set for January, February and March.
“We’re really trying to raise awareness to this threat,” Wickstrum said. “And (fishing) clubs are starting to adopt policies to help us. They’re cleaning their boats and drying them off before they go to other lakes.”
The quagga mussel, a pernicious and prolific mollusk that overwhelms freshwater lakes like Lake Casitas, poses such a threat to fisheries and waterworks that the state enacted an emergency law in October to allow lakes to be closed to boaters altogether and contaminated boats to be seized.
In recent weeks, Casitas officials have met with state and federal officials to try to heighten awareness of the problem and force an effective response, said board President Russ Baggerly. They have met with staffers from the offices of Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) and Assembly members Audra Strickland and Pedro Nava, whose districts include or are adjacent to the lake.
Casitas officials have also met with Michael Jackson, area manager for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, on the problem and are attempting to meet with state Department of Fish and Game officials.
They’re asking state and federal officials to implement a system that identifies boats that have been in infested waters in a computer database and with non-removable stickers, so officials at other lakes can keep those boats out or make sure they have been cleared of mussels.
“If the state and federal agencies don’t get their act together, we’ll now have the authority to close down the lake to private boating,” Baggerly said.
The organism eats plankton that fish need to live, and it attaches to every hard surface such as the dam and pumps and filters and spillways, he said. “It could cause such damage we couldn’t afford to fix it.”
Baggerly said the need to act is urgent, because the mussel, a native of Russia that was transported to the Great Lakes by ships two decades ago, was found in Lake Mead and Lake Havasu in January. It has since been discovered by dive teams in six lakes in Riverside and San Diego counties that are also part of the Colorado River distribution system. Lake Wolford near Escondido has been closed to public boaters.
A single boat entering Lake Casitas after fishing in an infested lake could bring the mussel here, Baggerly said. Quagga mussels have been found in concentrations of 30,000 to 50,000 per square foot, officials said, clogging water treatment and distribution systems to such an extent that they can hardly function.
Baggerly said that since 87 percent of boaters who use Lake Casitas come from outside this area, “… we are overexposed to this infestation. It’s only a few hours away.”
The state is already keenly aware of the problem.
Indeed, authorities reacted immediately after the quagga mussel was found in Lake Mead in Nevada on Jan. 6, forming a task force to identify the scope of the problem and attempt to halt the mollusk’s migration.
Since then, state officials have hosted education programs for water officials, biologists and game wardens intended to raise red flags about the seriousness of the infestation.
Quagga mussel larvae can be killed with water heated to 140 degrees or with an acid mixture sprayed onto boats. Casitas has asked for such decontamination kits.
The quagga mussel, a native of eastern Europe and Russia, found its way to the Great Lakes in the United States in 1988 and then was discovered early this year in a series of lakes and streams in the Colorado River watershed that feeds into Southern California.
According to the Department of Fish and Game, the mussels have been found in San Vicente Reservoir, Lake Murray Reservoir, Lower Otay Reservoir, and Lake Dixon in San Diego County, and Lake Skinner and Lake Mathews in Riverside County. Although they range from microscopic to the size of a fingernail, the mussels are prolific breeders and attach themselves to hard and soft surfaces, such as boats and aquatic plants. The mussels damage boats by blocking engine cooling, jamming steering equipment and increasing drag and destroying paint, the state release said.
They also wreak havoc with the environment, disrupting the natural food chain and releasing toxins that affect other species. Spread of the quagga could result in millions of dollars in damage to water transport facilities, state officials say.
Thus far, the mussels have not been found in California’s State Water Project, which draws its water from Northern California watersheds.
A multi-agency task force that includes the Department of Fish and Game, the Department of Boating and Waterways, the Department of Water Resources and California State Parks has responded with surface and underwater inspectors to determine the extent of the quagga threat. For more information on the quagga mussel response, visit the DFG Web site at www.dfg.ca.gov/invasives/quaggamussel.
A public toll-free number, 1-(866) 440-9530, has been established for boaters and anyone involved with activities on lakes and rivers seeking information on the mussels.
Gridley Road residents dispute Caltrans proposed detour
By Nao Braverman
Gridley Road residents have been disputing a Caltrans proposed detour that would divert approximately 9,700 Highway 150 commuters onto the residential street each day for six months.
The detour is intended to direct traffic off Highway 150 while Caltrans repairs the San Antonio Creek Bridge, which connects the highway at San Antonio Creek in the East End of Ojai.
Currently designed as “scour critical” condition, which means that its supports have been so badly eroded that it could be washed away in a flood, the bridge needs to be strengthened, widened, and lengthened, according to Caltrans officials.
But Ojai residents have been asking Caltrans engineers to come up with an alternative to the Gridley Road detour, or at least postpone the bridge replacement until all the alternatives have been thoroughly discussed.
Currently, the 28-foot-wide, 120-foot-long bridge is scheduled to be strengthened and expanded to 40 feet across and 180 feet long— which includes a 4-foot-wide bike lane — beginning in the spring of 2008.
The proposed detour would divert East Ojai Avenue traffic onto a residential portion of Gridley Road, then to Grand Avenue from Gridley to Gorham, and then back to Highway 150.
When Ojai residents asked Caltrans engineers to create a temporary diversion through the dry creek bottom, instead, Caltrans officials said that with so many animals living in the creek bottom such a detour would not be approved by California Fish and Game and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Later in October Caltrans officials discovered that they might be able to obtain permits to cross the creek bottom from government agencies. But subsequently Caltrans found that they could not direct a detour through the creek bottom because of an archeological site south of the bridge near the creek, according to Caltrans spokesperson Judy Gish.
Now there is some question as to exactly how far the archeological site is from the bridge, and how urgent the bridge replacement is, said Mike Culver, Ojai transportation manager.
According to Caltrans officials, the record of archeological sites are stored in some database that can only be accessed by Caltrans’ archeologists. Some Ojai residents are looking into getting their own archeologist to try to find exactly where the site is said Culver.
Though Caltrans officials have labeled the bridge “scour critical,” Culver said that with some concrete supports, the bridge would be safe to use for a while longer, though it would eventually need to be replaced.
Caltrans is asking for a categorical exemption for the project, meaning that they believe it has no environmental impact because they look at it from a regional perspective, said Culver. The nearly 10,000 cars are being redirected, but they are the same number of cars taking a different route, so from their perspective it has no environmental impact. The neighbors disagree, because that huge number of vehicles will be redirected onto their street, says Culver.
“We are trying to get Caltrans to look at it from the residents’ point of view, but so far none of our questions are being answered,” he said.
The detour is still under consideration but Caltrans has made no decision, said Gish.
Culver and Gridley residents will ask the City Council if they can offer help at the regular council meeting on Nov. 27.
Ventura County Sheriff’s deputies uncovered an undisclosed number of marijuana plants Friday afternoon in Matilija Canyon. The plants were taken by helicopter to the former Honor Farm on Baldwin Road, then trucked to another location for destruction.
Click the link for photos.
VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF
BOB BROOKS, Sheriff
Nature of Incident: Arrest- Grand Theft Auto
Location: 700 block of West Villanova Road, Ojai
Date & Time: November 5, 2007 @ 1:45 PM
Unit Responsible: Ojai Police Department
On November 5, 2007, Sheriff’s deputies from the Ojai Valley Station responded to a report of a stolen vehicle from the 700 block of Villanova Road. A citizen reported seeing a suspicious vehicle, a black Nissan Altima, driving around in the area. The citizen saw two Hispanic males get out of the vehicle and get into a burgundy Chevy Camaro. The citizen knew the owner of the Camaro and knew the Hispanic males did not have permission to take the vehicle. The citizen immediately called the Sheriff’s Department.
A stolen vehicle broadcast was made and a Sheriff’s deputy spotted the vehicle near Casitas Vista Road and Highway 33. Deputies followed the vehicle and stopped it on the 200 block of Bard Street in the unincorporated area of Ventura. Sheriff’s deputies also stopped the black Nissan Altima associated with the theft.
Ojai Police Investigators determined that one of the occupants of the black Nissan actually test- drove the vehicle approximately one week ago. The victim had advertised the vehicle for sale. The suspects carefully planned to steal the Camaro, and even had a copy of the vehicle’s ignition key. It is believed that one of the suspects was able to obtain a copy of the vehicle’s keys when he test-drove the car last week.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested Ruben Leal, Albino Ramirez-Bernal, and Isaac Valenzuela for grand theft auto and drug related charges. All three suspects were booked into the Ventura County Main Jail. The vehicle was returned to the victim undamaged.
Isaac Valenzuela, 26 years old, Ojai
Albino Ramirez-Bernal, 25 years old, Ventura
Ruben Leal, 21 years old, Ventura
VENTURA COUNTY SHERIFF MEDIA RELEASE
BOB BROOKS, Sheriff
Nature of Incident: Enforcement Sweep
Location: Ojai Valley.
Date & Time: 11-9-2007/ 1800 to 0100 hours
Unit Responsible: Sheriff Gang Unit, Ojai Substation.
The Sheriff’s Gang Unit, along with the Ojai Substation, California Highway Patrol, and the California Department of Corrections, conducted a large enforcement sweep of the Ojai Valley. The 26 officers conducted parole and probation searches at 63 locations and made 18 arrests. Three people were arrested for outstanding warrants, 2 were arrested for violation of parole, and 14 were arrested for narcotic related offenses. The searches targeted gang members, narcotic offenders, and parolees. The enforcement sweep was part of the Sheriff’s Departments efforts to reduce violent crime.
Aliso Street project gets Planning Commission OK
By Nao Braverman
Ojai’s planning commissioners are granted the delicate task of advising developers on how to tailor their projects to fit the city’s character and cater to its needs.
Balancing Ojai’s sense of community and small-town feel, commissioners adopted Richard Colla’s design review for his proposed Aliso Street condominium development at Wednesday night’s meeting, but asked him to ditch plans to build a gate that would separate the complex from the rest of the neighborhood.
In many ways, Colla’s proposed at “Cottages Among the Flowers” on 312 W. Aliso St. is exactly what Ojai’s commissioners look for in a development.
Instead of building 10 new units which would increase the density and, consequently, traffic, Colla is refurbishing and expanding eight units in his seven existing cottages and building only two more to make 10 quaint, but reasonably modern, condominiums.
Built in 1929 by noteworthy Ventura County architect Harold Burkett, the existing cottages are a historical landmark and one well worth preserving, said the project architect Marc Whitman. Colla, who purchased them about 18 years ago, said he recognized their aesthetic value but wanted to redevelop them to accommodate modern lifestyles. That meant expanding them to a reasonable size and upgrading amenities, while keeping their vintage look. But in order to make the project cost effective he would have to build two more units, he said.
The project proposal also called for a gate on the west side of the complex which was rejected by most commissioners.
Though Colla said that the gate was intended to provide a safe atmosphere for residents, commissioners retorted that Ojai generally rejected gates as a precedent because they have an unwelcoming and exclusive feel.
Moreover, despite the general perception, statistics have shown that gates don’t actually deter crime and sometimes encourage it, said Commissioner Susan Weaver.
The projected review was adopted by the commission with a request for a better landscaping plan, with particular consideration for the property’s many oak trees and no electric gate.
Two commissioners, John Mirk and Paul Crabtree voted against adoption of the project’s design review, because they felt it needed more work.
Also at the meeting, planning commissioners approved a .25 square foot increase Ron Polito’s project on the corner of Cañada Street and Ojai Avenue, as well as a multi-tenant sign for four of the tenants. Jim and Rob’s Fresh Grill, Noah’s Apothecary Natural Pet supplies, moving from its East Matilija location, and a new coffee and tea shop, among others, will occupy the new business complex.
The design review permit for the installation of a pre-fabricated metal storage and maintenance building for the Ojai Valley Community Hospital was also approved after a relatively agreeable meeting with neighbors. The hospital staff agreed to build a precast concrete fence to function as a noise and visual barrier to shield the facility from neighbors.
The fence is expected to provide a sound barrier equivalent to that of a concrete block wall, according to planner Kanika Kith. Gary Wild, CEO of Community Memorial Hospital that partners with the Ojai Valley Community Hospital, said that staff was committed to making sure that garbage and recycle pickups did not occur early in the morning, which has been a continual cause for complaint from neighboring residents.
Matilija Dam during a rare spill in January 2005. With an override of a President Bush veto, Congress freed up $90 million to destroy the dam to allow steelhead to swim upstream and sand to replenish local beaches.
By Daryl Kelley
Demolition of Matilija Dam and restoration of the Ventura River ecosystem received a huge boost this week when Congress overrode President Bush’s veto of a massive water projects bill.
The bill provides about $23 billion for projects across the nation, including $1.3 billion in California and nearly $90 million for razing Matilija Dam, a move Ventura County officials have sought for nearly a decade and which environmentalists have wanted for decades.
Tearing down the dam would promote the spawning of endangered southern steelhead trout and replenish Ventura beaches with sand that now gets trapped in the dam’s reservoir.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming of since 1994; this is a tremendous victory for Ventura County,” said Paul Jenkin, coordinator of the Matilija Coalition, an organization of seven core environmental groups and dozens of other supporters who have lobbied for razing the dam.
“For the Ventura River to begin recovery, it requires removal of the dam,” he said. “It’s one of the most significant acts that’s going to take place for the steelhead trout. A healthy steelhead population here could spread to other (nearby) rivers and streams. And it will restore the sediment supplies for the beach: There will be 30 percent more sediment for the beaches over the next 50 years once the dam is removed.”County Supervisor Steve Bennett, a principal proponent for dam removal in recent years, said the congressional override, the first of Bush’s administration, is a landmark in providing most of the $145 million required to complete the dam and sediment removal to restore the river to its natural state.
“I can’t overstate how satisfying this is,” Bennett said. “It culminates a decade of effort by the county. But it’s wrong to think of this as dam removal. This is a project to restore the Ventura River ecosystem, which means trying to return the river to its natural state.”
The federal bill passed by far more than the two-thirds super-majority needed to override Bush’s veto authorizes Congress to spend $89.7 million on the Matilija Dam project. The actual expenditures must still be approved each year as part of the budget process, but Bennett said he’s sure that will occur.
The earliest actual demolition could happen during 2010 to 2012, according to a feasibility study completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers three years ago.
In addition to the federal government’s contribution, about $55 million would be required from state and local sources. Almost all of that would come from bonds issued by the state, which has endorsed the project and has assigned the Coastal Conservancy as the point agency for it.
So far, the state has spent several million dollars to design the dam removal project.
Matilija Dam, built in 1948 for flood control and water storage, has been obsolete for decades, because it quickly filled with sediment from Matilija Canyon runoff. Now, only 5 percent of its storage contains water. Millions of cubic feet of sediment fill the rest of the reservoir.
Because of fears that it might collapse, an engineering firm condemned it in 1964 and recommended its removal. Instead, the county has cut two deep notches into its face to lower storage capacity, so pressure from water and sediment could be relieved.
Indeed, the Corps of Engineers found in 1941 that the dam would be a mistake that would never pay for itself. But local voters approved the project, with an estimated cost of less than $1 million. It eventually cost $4 million to complete.
Casitas Municipal Water District, which has overseen the dam’s operation for 50 years, has recently favored its removal.
“Everything went wrong with this dam,” said Casitas board President Russ Baggerly, “and it has led to the first congressional override of a Bush veto and eventually will lead to the bringing down of the first tall dam in American history.”
Baggerly said he remembers the mid-1990s bumper sticker produced by Paul Jenkin on behalf of the Surfrider Foundation, advocating the removal of the dam.
“From the moment of that original bumper sticker to now, none of us have lost faith that the dam would come down,” Baggerly said.
Jenkin said the roots of the dam-removal effort go back to the 1970s, when then San Francisco ‘49ers football player, Ed Henke, who’d grown up along the Ventura River, began to lobby for the dam’s demolition.
“This started from a grass-roots effort from concerned citizens,” Jenkin said.
Then, in the 1990s, the Jenkin’s Surfrider Foundation pushed until the county Board of Supervisors took up the cause, with Supervisors John Flynn and Kathy Long pushing the issue. The supervisors’ board officially resolved to remove the dam in 1998.
All along, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) provided support. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) did the same later on.
When Bennett and county staffers lobbied in Washington in 2004 to get the Matilija project into the federal water bill, he said Gallegly was very supportive.
“Gallegly’s office helped us tremendously,” Bennett said.
Now, Bennett said, the Ojai Valley will be enriched because of the effort.
“The Ojai Valley will have one of the few naturally flowing rivers in California running right through it,” he said. “It will help the steelhead and the sediment flows, but it will also help the local tourist industry.”
An overlooked aspect of the project, Bennett said, is that the road used to truck away sediment from behind the dam will become a public trail into the wild Matilija Canyon.
“It will become a hiking trail all the way up the river,” he said. “This is so much more than just taking down a dam.”
A hundred years ago, Jenkin noted, tourists came to the Ojai Valley just to visit Hanging Rock, which is now buried 150 feet deep in sediment behind the dam.
“There were tourist postcards for Hanging Rock,” a large outcropping of stone that overshadowed a large pool frequented by swimmers and steelhead trout, he said.
“Now,” Jenkin said, “all that can return.”
Needs pitted against slow growth management
By Nao Braverman
Ojai’s housing element calls to balance two pressing issues which have raised the ire of local residents of over the years: slow growth and the need for affordable housing. Though at odds with one another, the city needs to address both. According to the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, Ventura County must allow for 28,481 units to be built by 2014, with 433 of those being built in Ojai.
That number does not exactly coincide with Ojai’s Slow Growth Management Plan which allows for 16 new housing units a year. But the city is required to answer to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, and the growing population must be considered. City staff has already met twice with a task force comprised of planning commissioners and representatives from local non-profit housing agencies to come up with a program to accommodate the state’s housing requirements and meet Ojai’s housing needs.
The 433 units don’t actually need to be built by the city, explains city manager Jere Kersnar. That is the job of the developers. The city does, however, have to make room for such development.
With six new units built already, the 433 unit requirement has decreased to 427. With the help of planning consultant Tom Figg, city staff determined that corresponding to Ojai’s population, 254 of the 427 total need to be affordable for very low, low, and moderate income residents.
Prices for affordable housing are determined to cost the resident about 30 percent of their income. That means an affordable two-bedroom rental is $900 a month for very-low income residents, $1,080 for low income residents and $1,970 for moderate income residents. Affordable two-bedroom homes for sale are $87,300 for very-low income, $133,800 for low income residents and $260,300 for moderate income residents.
With Ojai’s growing elderly population, 50 of those units will be for seniors, and could be built in a location zoned for other use with a zone change, approved by the City Council. Under Figg’s consultation, city staff concluded that 13 new units could be constructed in the current area zoned for Village Mixed Use, seven new units could be added to existing homes, and 15 new unit credits could be obtained through affordable housing covenants, making existing units contractually affordable.
The latter, though not exactly new constructions, are still credited as new units by the Housing and Community Development Department, because of their contractual affordability.
Figg calculated that 138 units are expected to be built by the market. That leaves 204 units that the city needs to make room for.
How city staff will do that is still being discussed among staff and task force members.
Task force members were generally in agreement with Figg’s report, except for local resident Rod Greene who said he thought that the city should reject the state mandate because so many homes are not suitable to Ojai’s character and environment.
City staff members are currently considering a special housing overlay which would either change areas zoned for other uses to strictly housing, or give the property owner the option of developing housing on their property. Though the latter is a friendlier approach it is, of course, uncertain to result in new housing, said Kersnar.
At the next housing element meeting on Tuesday from 3 to 5 p.m., city staff will finalize a housing program to recommend to the Planning Commission at their Nov. 28 meeting. If approved by the commission it will go to the City Council for adoption on Dec. 11.
Sunday afternoon marked the final day standing for the ancient valley oak on the corner of Grand Avenue and Park Road. Tom Bostrom, chairperson of the Ojai Tree Committee, spoke to those gathered about valleywide tree health and the likely causes of this particular tree’s demise. He cited the close proximity of both the street and the power pole as being key players in the relatively rapid decline of the tree’s health. Chumash elder Julie Tumamait led a ceremony celebrating the life of the oak, burning white sage and inviting those present to leave offerings of tobacco, acorns and prayers, saying, “We are sorry for driving this pole into the heart of your roots, and we thank you for all that you have given — we thank you.”
Sales rally pushes closings to highest tally since 2003
By Daryl Kelley
Amid a deepening housing recession in Southern California, the Ojai area has experienced a sales rally thanks to a flurry of purchases of expensive homes in late summer and early fall, new data shows.
Completed sales of single family homes and condos were the highest since 2003 in September and October for the 93023 zip code, which includes Ojai, Meiners Oaks, Mira Monte and the Upper Ojai, according to an Orange County data firm.
Twenty-four escrows closed in September, the highest number for that month since 54 closed during the furious real estate run-up in 2003. September’s total was also the most sales in the Ojai area zip code in the last 14 months.
October could turn out to be even more impressive, since 21 sales were recorded during the first three weeks of the month, up from 12 for the same month in 2006, 15 in 2005 and 18 in 2004. There were 30 for October in 2003.
Those figures are based on escrows of houses and condos recorded with Ventura County and reflect actual sales begun during the previous 30 to 60 days, according to Melissa Data Corporation of Rancho Santa Margarita.
By comparison Southern California home sales reached their lowest level in more than 20 years in September, and were only about half of what they were for the same month in 2006.
“Ojai is a surprise,” said Zack Lyon, of Melissa Data. “Most of the region is going the other way.”
But some Ojai real estate agents were not surprised. They said that after a few skittish months during the spring and summer, buyers are coming back, especially for upper-end homes. And sellers are becoming more realistic about their prices.
“I’m seeing a big surge,” said agent Sharon MaHarry, with Coldwell Banker. ‘’Prices are more affordable. Sellers have decided that if they’re going to sell, they better sell right now, because a lot of people think prices are going to come down even more.”
With prices more affordable, buyers who’d been on the fence for months, have jumped for deals with prices down tens of thousands of dollars from just a few months ago.
Prices for homes and condos in the city of Ojai alone were down $93,000 from 12 months earlier to a median of $542,000, according to DataQuick Information Systems.
“The buyers have gotten the message that they can get good deals right now,” MaHarry said. “And if you have good credit, you can get a loan. It’s kind of energized the market. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”
Average home sales prices — as opposed to the median price DataQuick reports — surged to $889,000 in September and $760,000 in October, according to Melissa Data. Those were the highest average prices for those two months ever, showing that expensive homes are selling even better than usual in this affluent community, agents said.
The median price is the point where half of the homes sell for more and half for less. The average price is the total value of sold homes divided by the number of homes.
“These numbers don’t surprise me,” said Gold Coast ReMax broker Don Edwards. “We’re ahead of last year in sales. You can only keep people who want to make a move down for so long before they make that move. People put it off, but they finally have to go.”
Edwards noted that the average mortgage rate for jumbo loans exceeding $417,000 is at 6.37 percent, the lowest in two years, and coming down even more.
“The upper end of the market is a little busier,” he said. And most of his sales are from Los Angeles buyers, who think the Ojai prices are pretty good.
It hasn’t hurt the Ojai market, which was bulging with an early summer inventory of 250 houses, and has now fallen to 189, Edwards said. That has occurred because of the recent increase in sales, and because some sellers have pulled their properties off the market until it becomes stronger.
“Our inventory is not that good right now, and we’ll see what that scarcity does to prices,” MaHarry said. “But right now it’s a good buyers’ market, and it isn’t horrific for sellers. So deals are being made.”
Dawn Shook, executive officer of the Ojai Valley Board of Realtors, said member agents sold just 12 homes in September and 15 in October, but that does not consider sales by owners without assistance from an agent or the rising number of sales by banks or lenders after foreclosure.
“Over a million dollars, seems to be a good market right now,” she said. “That is where our sales are coming from.”
Foreclosure sales have swept the California housing market in recent months. But so far the Ojai Valley has fared fairly well because expensive properties in attractive communities continue to sell better than marginal properties in low-income areas, said Jaime Diaz, an Ojai resident who specializes in selling foreclosed homes.
There have now been 25 foreclosure sales or notices of default in the last three months, he said. Another eight properties in default are listed on the valley multiple listings. So that’s 33 properties that have sold or will make their way to the market he said.
“Sales have picked up,” he said. “The problem is getting buyers to qualify right now. But if you have the traditional 10 percent down payment, you can qualify.
“It’s definitely a better time to buy than a year ago,” he added. “Great deals are out there, but there may be even better deals later on.”
Government loans advocated to spur energy efficiency
By Nao Braverman
With rising concerns about climate change, and the increasing cost of electricity, some of Ojai’s environmentally conscious residents are turning to solar power. But while the new energy-efficient technologies often save money and resources in the long run, not everyone can afford the pricey start-up cost.
To achieve California’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by the year 2020, decision makers may need to help make solar technology more accessible.
One solution, already being considered by several other California cities, is a government loan program which would finance the initial costs of solar panels for property owners who agree to pay it back over time in installments, with an assessment on their property. Such a program could be considered for Ojai, though not until the city is in a better financial position, according to city manager Jere Kersnar.
Christopher Blunt, owner of Ojai Solar Electric, a local solar panel installer, charges between $9,000 and $10,000 per kilowatt of solar energy. That means $20,000 to $40,000 for an average household using between two and four kilowatts, which can be reduced to between $13,000 and $26,000 with the $2.50 per watt state rebate, according to Blunt.
He recently installed a solar electric system in the approximately 16,000 square foot Ojai home of actor Larry Hagman.
Blunt’s company does not offer financing, nor do any other solar panel installers he knows of. But not everyone has good credit or can afford to pay a substantial down payment.
Next week Berkeley’s City Council will vote on a proposal which includes financing the cost of solar panels for property owners who can pay the city back in installments over a 20-year period, with no down payment. If the program works for Berkeley, Ojai could consider following in its footsteps one day.
For now, Ojai should be prudent and replenish its depleted reserve fund, before investing in any programs other than the most essential, according to Kersnar.
“Any time I am talking about public money I tend to be very conservative,” he said. “I prefer all the beta testing be done in other cities. I know that means we are not going to be innovative but you have less exposure to risks..”
Councilwoman Rae Hanstad agreed. “I would certainly support such incentives,” she said. “But probably on a smaller scale. I don’t think that the city has the funds to finance every home that wants to install solar panels.”
Cisco DeVries, assistant to Berkeley’s Mayor Tom Bates, explained that the actual program being considered for Berkeley wouldn’t actually cost the city, but rather serve as a go-between to help property owners afford the solar technology.
According to the plan the city would finance the installation of panels for about 25 homes to begin with and issue a bond of about $500,000 to pay the installers up front. The property owners would, in turn, pay the city back in installments, with a low interest rate. Once established, the program would be expected to sustain itself, said Alice La Pierre, Berkeley’s building science specialist.
Ojai still couldn’t jump on the bandwagon just yet even with its budget completely intact, because it is not a charter city, according to DeVries. While charter cities are able to do essentially anything the state has not told them they can’t, general law cities need authorization from the state for such a program to be put in place.
A year ago several of Ojai’s community leaders formed the Green Coalition with hopes of propelling Ojai into an environmental leadership position, setting environmental standards for other communities throughout the country and eventually the world.
But if the city can’t help people afford it now, some banks have already begun to do so.
Ojai Community Bank recently approved a program that offers favorable rates on loans for customers looking to install solar panels. Rates vary according to the situation and the recipient. But for some customers, the bank would consider issuing a loan with no down payment at all, said Shari Skinner, CEO and president of the bank.
“It’s something we really support,” she said.
Forum identifies ways to make Ojai Valley a model green community
By Sondra Murphy
When the Ojai Valleywide Discussion first met last November, participants were able to bring all issues to the table.
Organized and hosted by the office of County Supervisor Steve Bennett, valley residents were invited to be part of a cooperative effort in identifying community needs and then playing a part in facilitating changes.
Nearly a year later, the people have spoken, voting one of the top priorities, making the valley a model green community. “What we have committed ourselves to do is set the scene so we can really run with the ball,” said Bennett about the compiled OVWD data.
The ongoing community meetings have impacted awareness of participants as well as discussion facilitators from Bennett’s office. By Sunday’s final meeting, water bottles and plasticware had been replaced by jugs of water, paper cups and potato starch forks for the apple pie. Even Nordhoff gym, where the meeting took place, illuminated the group with retrofitted, low-energy use lights.
“The first thing we have to do when we’re trying to reduce is hop on the scale and weigh ourselves,” said Steve Offerman of Bennett’s office. After encouraging people to measure their carbon footprints, he offered various statistics about the Ojai Valley, including the fact that 87,798 tons of carbon dioxide is emitted from our area each year, mainly due to automobiles. Offerman then presented information about links to green building and resources to be found at ventura.org.
OVWD participants had an instant opportunity to help make the valley more environmentally friendly by becoming involved in the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, formed since the first discussion took place last year. Coalition co-founder Tim Baird explained the coalition’s mission to create Ojai into a model green community, showed a short video and introduced action committee members, who briefed the crowd on the priorities of each and invited people to join the committee of choice.
Those action committees are building-construction; energy conservation, food and agriculture, transportation, waste management, and water and land use. Help is also needed with organizational committees to help the coalition function effectively: communications-publicity, coordination and evaluation, event planning and fund raising. During the final OVWD meeting, Baird estimated that about 75 OVWD participants signed up to serve on committees, a number awaiting confirmation by the various committee coordinators.
“The food and ag committee is thrilled to report 30 people gave us cards to contact them for participation in our committee work,” Dulanie Ellis later told OVN.
There are other issues from the OVWD meetings that made it to the top eight that can be addressed through green coalition involvement, such as preserving existing open space in the valley, decreasing car use and expanding public transportation and other alternatives. For more information, go to ojaigreencoalition.com.