Budget picture brightens by the tune of $400,000 in revised number
By Sondra Murphy
Tuesday’s meeting of the Ojai Unified School District board of directors had a few more cheerful highlights than other recent assemblies.
The board officially withdrew any possibility of school closures based on the revised state budget proposal received from Gov. Schwarzenegger on May 14, which increased OUSD’s expected funds by $400,000 compared to January’s proposal. OUSD has about a $25 million yearly budget that the board must cut $1.4 million from by the time they officially approve next school year’s budget at the end of June. It was estimated that a large school closure would save the district $300,000.
Superintendent Tim Baird presented an overview of a School Services of California budget workshop that district staff attended to reassess the impact state economic woes will have on schools. In an effort to increase California’s cash flow, Schwarzenegger is proposing a plan to borrow against lottery revenues to keep the state budget viable. Eliminated from state budget projections are plans to suspend Proposition 98, which guarantees school funding.
“This is not a good budget,” Baird said. “If we would have seen this budget in January, we would have been screaming.” He did acknowledge, however, that the updated state proposal is an improvement over January’s numbers.
“Instead of taking money from education, they’re giving $5 billion to education from the lottery,” said Baird. This plan will require approval from two-thirds of the legislature for November ballot placement and has a built-in safety net for temporarily raising income taxes by one cent if revenue increases from the lottery do not meet expectations.
“This lottery proposal is not being greeted enthusiastically by state legislators, so this budget does not have the validity that the May revise normally has,” said Baird. He said the Ventura County Office of Education and School Services of California are recommending that districts conservatively plan for the May revision funding numbers but develop options and backup plans.
Baird said that revised educational allotment is still not great news for schools. The proposed budget still contains large reductions in school categorical funds that will result in loss of OUSD student programs and school staff. The losses so far are expected to impact transportation, nutrition services and elementary physical education, as well as carve away hours from library, computer lab and secretarial personnel and eliminate some certificated and classified positions completely, including five bus drivers. As of last meeting, 17 teachers were still on layoff notice due to the added problem of declining enrollment.
During his presentation, Baird said the budget does not provide adequate funding consistent with expectations for student performance and it will likely cause California to slip farther down in educational funding. Currently at 46th, there is a real possibility that our state could descend to last place on the list if our economy continues its downward spiral and public education remains a low priority.
“Special education is the one area we’re not seeing the reductions we were expecting,” said Baird. But because cost of living adjustments are not included, he added, “It’s really a net loss, but not as big a hit as we were told in January.”
Baird also expected the usual political delay in state budget approval would continue squeezing the district’s resources. “We could see this budget going into September or October before it is approved and, of course, we have to have a budget by June 30 and start school in August.” Like most other school districts, OUSD must take out a loan each summer to cover expenses while waiting for state legislators to finish haggling. “It’s going to be a long, hot summer,” Baird said.
After months of tough choices, the board enthusiastically greeted the removal of school closure from the list of recommended budget reduction items. “I think everybody’s voice was heard loud and clear about the importance of education because there was such an outcry –– from our community and communities across the state –– that has gotten us to where we are,” said Steve Fields, board president.
“But we were able to take school closures off the table because we left a lot of things on the table that will affect our kids,” stated member Rikki Horne.
Ojai Education Foundation president Mike Caldwell updated the board about the Save Ojai Schools campaign. “To date, we have netted $57,307.07,” said Caldwell. He added that several more benefit events are planned to pump up the numbers. Primarily intended to help avoid school closures, SOS campaign funds are also earmarked to help maintain low class sizes throughout the district.
“We are still actively working on this budget problem because the problem still exists,” Baird said. “This does not mean we can go out and have a spending spree. We have to be cautious. We know next year’s budget is just as bad as this year’s.”
District administrators will submit a second preliminary budget at next week’s board meeting. “At that time, we will have all reductions and revenue enhancements to bring to you,” said Baird. “This was really a new state budget, which is very different from what we’ve seen since I’ve been doing this.”
He said that OUSD is still determining how to best use district site development plans to avoid yearly crises in the education budget and that a parcel tax option is still being considered. “I don’t believe (state legislators) will come after us for more, but they have an impossible problem to solve,” said Baird. “I don’t like leaps of faith when dealing with money.”
With school closure off the hit list, board meeting attendance was down considerably and speakers addressed the decisions by the board thus far. “I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for your really hard work and good, sound decisions during a difficult time,” San Antonio principal Theresa Dutter told the board. “You and our community members, who have worked tirelessly, are very reflective of our incredible community.”
Dutter also requested that people continue to contact elected officials about how yearly budget problems perpetually “put our children at risk.”
“I know there are cuts that must be made,” said Ojai Federation of Teachers President Martha Ditchfield. “I know there must be give and more give and ‘fair’ and ‘equitable’ means something different to everyone … I just ask the board to look carefully at all the options and remain vigilant as you look at all the details of the budget.”
The next board meeting will be held Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the district office boardroom, 414 E. Ojai Ave.
Decline in sales tax collection, rising policing costs contribute to delay in city’s efforts to reach $4.1 million surplus target
By Nao Braverman
Looking ahead at the 2008-2009 fiscal year, it is clear that nationwide economic woes have finally reached Ojai. But it’s not too late to prepare for the blow, according to City Manager Jere Kersnar. If the city starts making prudent decisions now, it can maintain current services, despite rising costs.
At a City Council budget meeting Tuesday night, Kersnar told the council that the city’s revenues came in at about $8.4 million for the 2007-2008 fiscal year while expenses were about $7.4 million, leaving a balance of about $980,000.
Revenues came in $240,000 less than expected because of a steep drop in sales tax collections of about 8 percent from 2006-07’s $1.25 million.
Part of the revenue decrease was also attributed to more public works costs that were taken directly out of the general fund, instead of other funds, due to administrative changes.
Expenses were $458,000 less than expected for the 2007-2008 fiscal year, which compensated for the lost revenue. The under-expense was not attributed to any particular operation but rather overall prudence across the board, said Kersnar.
As a result the approximate net of $970,000 is about $217,000 more than originally budgeted.
But the 2008-2009 fiscal year is looking grim. While costs of all services are soaring, from the price of road materials to utility bills, revenues are coming in flat. Revenues are expected to come in at 8.55 million, in the coming fiscal year, about $150,000 more than 2007-2008. However the increase is primarily due to the allocation of some city costs to funds other than the General Funds. So in essence revenues are not really increasing, explained Kersnar.
Expenses, meanwhile, with cost of living adjustments to salaries, increase in health insurance premiums, as well as other rising costs in every other area, have shot up to 8.23 million, 4.3 percent higher than last year.
As a result the 2008-2009 fiscal year budget leaves a measly net balance of about $326,000, much less than the year before.
To make amends for increasing costs, city staff recommended adding the $217,000 of excess funds, from the 2007-2008 fiscal year, to the 2008-2009 budget to get a net balance of about $543,000 to add to the general fund at the end of the 2008-2009 fiscal year. This would enable the City to meet its goal of adding $500,000, or 50 percent of its expenses into the general fund.
With this shrewd move, both budgets will meet their policy target and the general fund balance will be at $3.2 million by the end of the next fiscal year, just short of the grand target of $4.1 million, according to Kersnar. He said that all this can be achieved by maintaining the status quo. So services will not improve, however, existing services can be maintained, despite hard times, said Kersnar.
This puts Ojai in a better state than other cities that will have to reduce services due to nationwide economic woes. But if things continue at this rate, the city staff will have to do some more artful maneuvering to keep the budget intact in years to come.
The city’s largest department expense, the cost of the policing contract with the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, is expected to go up 5 percent from $2.43 million in the 2007-2008 fiscal year to $2.67 million, in the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
In the 2007-2008 fiscal year the contract costs went up 4.5 percent from the $2.215 million the year before.
By Daryl Kelley
It’s been 22 years since Ventura County voters first sent Simi Valley real estate broker Elton Gallegly to the House of Representatives. Since then, he has swept to victory 10 more times, although Ojai has voted against him regularly.
And the 64-year-old Republican incumbent says he expects the same result this year, despite an anti-Bush backlash that has cut Gallegly’s voter registration advantage and has already wrested three House seats from other conservative Republicans in supposedly safe GOP districts.
Those recent special-election losses in Louisiana and Mississippi have prompted some Republican leaders to recommend that candidates distance themselves from the least popular U.S. President since Richard Nixon.
But Gallegly says he remains a Bush stalwart on many issues and a friend (the president phoned Gallegly’s wife, Janice, in January to wish her a happy birthday).
“I think he’s a good man,” Gallegly said of Bush in a recent interview. “But I think he’s made some mistakes, and I haven’t agreed with him on everything.”
For example, Gallegly said he still believes the Iraq War was the right move and must be fought until the United States is assured terrorism cannot flourish there. But the congressman criticizes the administration’s immigration reform plan, favoring instead a crackdown on employers who hire undocumented workers and a strengthening of border security.
“I take every campaign seriously,” Gallegly said. “But this time, there are a lot of issues we’ve not had to deal with before. There are a lot of issues Republicans have to pay attention to. And if we can’t market them correctly, we’ll end up having them eat our lunch.”
Count among them the Iraq War, the struggling economy, the soaring budget deficit, surging energy prices, illegal immigration, inaction on global warming, Washington bribery scandals and the administration’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina.
Gallegly’s opponents say he can’t market his position on those issues very well.
The incumbent is even challenged by another Republican on the June 3 primary ballot. Harvard-educated business lawyer Michael Tenenbaum, 39, insists Gallegly has abandoned the bedrock Republican principles of fiscal responsibility and small government.
“He has gone the way of so many incumbents in Washington,” said Tenenbaum of Thousand Oaks. “The Republican Party is supposed to be the party of fiscal conservatism, but it has added $1 trillion in (annual) spending just under George W. Bush … No one can define victory in Iraq … And I have a huge difference with the congressman on immigration.”
Gallegly has about $910,000 in his campaign account, while Tenenbaum claims about $100,000. Gallegly has already spent more than $400,000, far more than he anticipated.
Tenenbaum was routed in his primary challenge to Gallegly two years ago, gaining only 20 percent of the vote. And this time, Gallegly is still supported by a bulwark of local business and law enforcement leaders.
If he prevails June 3, Gallegly will probably take on either Jill Martinez of Oxnard or Mary Pallant of Oak Park, a pair of very different Democrats who both see the incumbent as essentially a Bush clone.
A third Democratic candidate, Martha Jorgensen of Solvang dropped out of the race last month and endorsed Martinez. But last week, Jorgensen re-entered the race, saying her Santa Barbara County backers wanted her as an option.
“I really do believe I have a chance to beat (Gallegly),” said Martinez, 57, a consultant on affordable housing who lost to him in 2006, receiving only about 38 percent of the vote. “People are embarrassed about being Republican right now. And it’s embarrassing having our person in the House being someone who votes lockstep with the administration.”
Pallant, 47, a part-time insurance agent who chairs the Ventura County Commission for Women, said Gallegly is vulnerable.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Just look at the national trend, and we’re seeing it reflected in this district as well. The Republican Party has failed on all counts.”
This year, records show that Republicans have lost ground in Gallegly’s 24th District, which snakes from the south of Ventura County to the north of Santa Barbara County, excluding most coastal areas.
Democrats made up only 34.4 percent of registered voters on Jan. 1, but accounted for 36.22 by April, an increase of about 6,300 voters. Republicans, meanwhile, gained only about 3,100 new voters. So, the percentage of registered voters who were Republican actually dropped from 43.3 percent to 43.02 in the first quarter. Voters who declined to state a party affiliation also shifted from 17.82 percent to 17.29.
In Ojai, Democrats hold a plurality of registered voters, 45.4 percent to Republicans’ 31.05 percent, while 17.36 percent of voters are undecided.
Yet, Gallegly insisted that he had seen no deterioration in support. And he said the three recent Republican losses in the South were the result of bad candidates or bad strategy. He said neither is an issue in his district.
“I’m not queasy at all,” he said. “The thing that keeps me confident is the support we get from people who want our signs on their lawns and the number of unsolicited (small) contributions.
“I’ll be in Ojai (this week),” he said. “And I’ll bet I get more votes than my Republican registration there. And I’ve always gotten about 80 percent of the independent voters.”
After a stunning upset rout of comic Bob Hope’s well-funded son in the Republican primary in 1986, Gallegly, then the mayor of Simi Valley, has rolled to victory every two years.
Though challenged by solid candidates with strong Democratic Party backing in 1992 and 2000, he still won by about 13 percentage points each time. And with a reconfigured district since 2000, he has dominated even more.
But even Gallegly acknowledges that some things have changed this time, and he has spent about $479,000 this year. Still, he said he’ll have close to $1 million for the race to November.
“I take nothing for granted,” he said.
Gallegly bristles at the charge that he is an unwavering Bush ally on all things.
“I don’t believe I’m lockstep with anyone on anything,” he said.
He is unapologetic about his continued support for the Iraq War: “I am not going to leave the young (men and) women who are dedicating their lives to this country in the lurch and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in the lurch either.”
Tenenbaum agrees that troops should not be withdrawn until Iraq is stabilized, although he criticizes the administration for failing to define what victory would be in that embattled nation or to effectively plan how to get there.
Pallant and Martinez said they’d begin to withdraw troops immediately.
In fact, Pallant has made ending the war a hallmark of her campaign.
“The Iraq War has got to end without delay,” she said. “There’s been a slaughter since we’ve been there, and we have to tell Iraq’s neighbors we’re withdrawing and it’s important that they be involved. It’s not a military solution, it’s a diplomatic and political solution. There’s no way to fix it while we are there.”
Pallant’s Ojai supporters are sponsoring a special screening of Phil Donahue’s newly released documentary, “Body of War,” which profiles the life of a young wounded Iraq War veteran, at the Ojai Playhouse this Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Martinez said the U.S. needs to withdraw, “but I think it would take a couple of years.”
Tenenbaum’s criticisms of Gallegly begin with what he said is Gallegly’s broken promise not to run again this year.
Indeed, the incumbent said he was retiring two years ago, citing health probems, but then re-entered the primary race after he said further examinations showed his health was fine. He is running again this year, he said, at the urging of GOP colleagues who fear losses in November.
Tenenbaum’s primary campaign hinges on what he sees as the incumbent’s abandonment of Republican principles of a balanced budget and a small federal government. Gallegly has repeatedly voted for “pork” projects as well as increases in education and Medicare funding that break the budget while making incumbents look good, Tennebaum said.
But Gallegly said that he will not apologize for his success in bringing needed projects to Ventura County, including freeway and port improvements and law enforcement grants.
And he said nearly all of the additional spending since 2001 has been the result of heightened security and military needs prompted by the attack of September 11.
“The world has changed. We’ve got terrorism all over the world,” Gallegly said. “And we’ve had to respond to it.”
Tenenbaum also said he also disagrees with Gallegly’s strategy to enforce fines against employers who hire illegal immigrants. “It’s not workable,” he said. And he said Gallegly is still backed by farmers who count on those workers every day.
“If (Gallegly) was doing his job he’d sit down with business leaders and ask what are your labor needs? And then you’d bring those people in legally,” Tenenbaum said.
But Gallegly, who has led fights to halt illegal immigration for two decades, said there would be no illegal immigrant problem today if Republicans and Democrats had enforced sanctions on employers that were part of the 1986 amnesty program that made millions of workers legal residents.
“I’ve got scar tissues all over my body from employers who hire these workers,” he said. “A lot of them don’t let me put my signs on their property any more.”
On the Democratic side, Martinez agreed with Tenebaum that the nation must secure its borders as a security measure, while Pallant said the problem is primarily the failure of the government to enforce employer sanctions.
“We don’t have an illegal immigration problem,” she said. “We have an illegal employer problem. Corporations hire undocumented workers, they abuse them and that drives down wages.”
All candidates said U.S. energy policies are a huge issue this election.
Gallegly and Tenenbaum said they’re not convinced that carbon emissions are causing global warming and back Bush’s withdrawal from the Clinton-backed Kyoto accords that would cut emissions from many major polluting nations. Pallant and Martinez said global warming is based on carbon emissions and the nation’s focus should be on alternative fuels.
Gallegly said the U.S. should drill for oil wherever it is, including the Alaskan wilderness. And he chided environmentalists for getting in the way of such production.
“This isn’t going to resonate too well with the people of Ojai,” he said. “But you can grow more grass on the asphalt of the (landing strip) at ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) than you can on the tundra. I didn’t see one animal while I was there.”
Tankers that bring oil from around the world to the U.S. pose a greater environmental hazard than would oil exploration in Alaska, he said.
But Gallegly said he is not necessarily opposed to taxing oil companies on record profits they’re reaping on the run-up in the price of crude, and perhaps directing that money to develop alternative sources of energy.
“All these things are on the table,” he said.
While Tenenbaum and Gallegly elbow for advantage on conservative issues, Martinez and Pallant have sparred over who could best carry the Demcratic mantle against the incumbent in November.
“Jill ran against Elton in 2006 and she lost 37 percent to 62 percent,” Pallant said. “She had her shot.”
“It’s time for a new direction,” Pallant added, “to get back to our basic principles of supporting opportunity for all and not just the well connected. I’m running as a strong Democrat, not Republican light. That doesn’t work.”
Pallant, who said she’s running in the tradition of American progressive reformers, is backed by labor organizations, including the California Nurses Association, and is a member of numerous Democratic party organizations and environmental and civil rights groups, including the Sierra Club and the American Civil Liberties Union.
She holds a liberal arts degree and a master’s in psychology from Antioch University. She ran her own insurance business in Los Angeles from 1987 to 1997, and still works part time in the field, while participating in politics and civic organizations. She is the founder of a speaker series that has recently brought prominent figures to Ventura County.
Martinez also holds endorsements by labor groups, including the California Teachers Association and she has been active in party and community improvement groups for decades, she said. She said her varied professional experience sets her apart from Pallant.
“Every time we’ve gone to a debate, I’ve really shown the difference with my résumé, 35 years of experience that resonates with people,” she said. “I haven’t seen any demonstrated experience by my opponent. And when she answers questions, I don’t see her as equipped to do this job.”
Before Martinez moved to Ventura County 14 years ago to work on affordable housing projects, she was director of support services at a satellite California State University campus in Stockton. And before that she worked as a Presbyterian minister at an interfaith ministry that helped poor people along the Mexican border.
“Now my ministry is affordable housing,” she said.
Both Martinez and Pallant said they had raised about $20,000 for the campaign so far, while Martinez still owes more than $90,000 from the 2006 race against Gallegly.
By Nao Braverman
Concerns about global warming and soaring gas prices have drawn ample attention to the variety of alternative fuel vehicles now on the market.
Consumers can chose between a hybrid, a bio-diesel engine, or a car that runs on ethanol. But if you live and drive in Ojai, you probably shouldn’t choose the latter, unless you know how to make moonshine in your basement.
Ojai resident Melissa Baugher could tell you why. She purchased an E-85 compatible Chevrolet Tahoe, about a year ago, but has yet to fill it with anything but gas.
That’s because there isn’t any ethanol around, unless you want to drive all the way to Los Angeles. And then you’ve already spent $30 just to get there and back, she said.
Baugher had read about ethanol-compatible vehicles on the internet and was concerned about rising fuel costs. So when she bought her Tahoe for about $35,000, she readily paid an extra $4,000 for an active fuel management system, and E-85 compatibility.
At the time, ethanol was still slightly more expensive than gas. But it is supposed to get better mileage, and is better for the engine, she said. Baugher was happy to get the car that she wanted, which had lower fuel costs than other SUVs.
What the car dealer at Paradise Chevrolet in Ventura didn’t tell her was that the closest ethanol pump was in Brentwood.
“If I drove to L.A more often it might be useful, but I live and work in Ojai,” said Baugher.
While ethanol pumps have spread rapidly in the Midwest, there are still only 10 fueling stations in California that have ethanol. Most of them, unfortunately for Baugher, are currently split between the San Diego area and the northern part of the state.
A Paradise Chevrolet salesman told the Ojai Valley News that ethanol service stations would soon be heading toward Ventura County. But recent controversy over ethanol’s environmental impact might decrease the likelihood of that happening anytime soon.
Media coverage of the negative consequences of producing the alcohol-based fuel has tempered the ethanol boom. Critics of ethanol say that increased ethanol production in the United States has contributed to food shortages and rising food costs by using so much corn. Some experts say that ethanol refineries are actually raising smog levels in the areas where they are most prominent, according to an Associated Press article.
Brazil’s sugar cane-based ethanol industry, one of the largest in the world, is contributing to deforestation as more trees are being cut down to make room for sugar cane fields.
Investors who bought into the industry are getting less returns than they had hoped for, according to an Associated Press article.
Still, for those who live or work close enough to an ethanol pump, E-85, which was once a little more expensive than gas, is now a little cheaper, thanks to rising costs of petroleum.
At the Conserv Fuel station in Brentwood, ethanol is $3.59 at the pump while gas has gone up to $3.97. But it would take a while to make up the extra $4,000 that Baugher paid on her car for flex-fuel compatibility, or even with the current extra charge, which has gone down to $2,000 at Paradise Chevrolet.
Local residents should be duly warned; car dealers might be getting a bit ahead of themselves. A salesman at the Ventura-based Chevrolet dealer still touts the benefits of flex-fuel Tahoes without mentioning outright that there are still no E-85 pumps available to the public in the entire county.
Parade, aircraft flyover in Oak View, among Monday events
By Sondra Murphy
Food, music, critters and military personnel will converge Monday in honor of Memorial Day. The Oak View Civic Council and Ojai Valley Veterans of Foreign Wars will host the Ojai Valley Memorial Day parade in Oak View. With a theme of “We Never Forget,” the local groups will parade down Old Ventura Avenue from 9:45 to 10:30 a.m., ending in front of The Longhorn, where awards will be given in several categories.
Musician Al Westcott will perform during the ceremony, as well. Watch for a morning flyover by two Korean-era fighter-trainer radio engineer aircraft at about 9:40 a.m., weather permitting.
American Legion Post No. 686 will be flipping the flapjacks and pouring coffee at 475 Old Ventura Ave. from 8 to 10 a.m. to help energize participants and spectators alike. Cost is $7 for adults and $5 for children.
Ojai events begin at noon in Libbey Park. Veteran speakers, music and a “Wall of Remembrance” are highlights of “Honoring Our Veterans” activities hosted by VFW Post No. 11461. The Ojai American Legion Post No. 482 will offer free breakfast to veterans from 7 to 10 a.m. Cost for everyone else is $4.
Richard Lyons, Ellen Johnson and the U.S. Air Force Concert Band will perform patriotic songs. Army memorabilia and vehicles will be on display until the event ends at about 2:30 p.m.
Sponsors include Ojai American Legion and Women’s Auxiliary, Ojai Lions Club, Rotary Club of Ojai-West, Rabobank and the U.S. Army.
For more information about the Oak View events, contact Kim Armstrong at 640-0727. For Ojai events, call Nancy Hill at 646-0076.
Diamond Rock Mine plan OK’d by Santa Barbara planners, with caveat that trucks must avoid Ojai portion of 33
By Nao Braverman
In a partial victory for critics of truck traffic last week, the new Diamond Rock Mine has been prohibited from sending gravel trucks through Ojai.
The original proposal for Diamond Rock Mine, a sand and gravel mining facility in Cuyama Valley, was the catalyst that motivated local citizens and community leaders to form the Stop the Trucks Coalition. Already fed up with existing truck traffic, members of the coalition were afraid that additional trucks from the new Diamond Rock mine in Santa Barbara County would ruin Ojai’s air quality, tourist-based economy, road safety and quality of life.
The Diamond Rock Mine proposal was unanimously approved by the Santa Barbara Planning Commission last week, however, with the condition that truck traffic to and from the mine could not traverse the portion of Highway 33 that goes through Ojai and the Los Padres National Forest. The condition also specifies that the trucks cannot be re-routed onto other roads, which decreases their overall mining operations by 20 percent, according to coalition officials.
Although it received approval from commissioners, the mine still needs to be granted permits from several state and federal agencies.
“We’re pleased that the county and the applicant finally recognized what we’ve been saying all along — that scenic Highway 33 is not suitable as an industrial trucking route,” said Jeff Kuyper, executive director of Los Padres ForestWatch, a watchdog organization for the forest, and an active member of the Stop the Trucks Coalition.
The Diamond Rock Mine’s original application proposed 69 daily round-trip deliveries passing through Ojai during peak operation days, and 46 trips on an average day, on top of existing truck traffic from other mine operations in the area.
But a year ago Santa Barbara County planners recommended a ban on truck traffic down Highway 33 through the Ojai Valley from the mine, having encountered opposition from a number of Ojai residents. In an interview last year, Santa Barbara County Planning Director John Baker said that he had reached an agreement with the Troesh family, which owns the mine, not to send trucks through Ojai. Cherisse Troesh, project manager for the Diamond Rock Mine said that the mine’s management decided not to send truck trips through Ojai because of opposition from community members.
“We came to that decision to address the community’s concerns,” she said.
Though members of Stop the Trucks are pleased with the condition, they are concerned that it is not necessarily permanent, said coalition member Howard Smith. As a condition of the mine’s Conditional Use Permit, the ban can always be lifted in the future. If it is appealed, officials will turn to the project’s Environmental Impact Report, which does not adequately address Ojai and Highway 33, said Smith. The original EIR says that the proposed truck trips would have essentially no impact on Ojai, which is not true, said Smith.
“We believe that the Environmental Impact Report fails to adequately analyze Highway 33 to determine its long-term safety and efficacy for widespread industrial utilization,” said Michael Shapiro, chair of the Stop the Trucks Coalition. “Unless the current EIR establishes a permanent ban on such utilization — with adequate redress if such a ban is ever lifted — the coalition will remain proactive in opposing any such utilization, at any time in the future.”
Troesh stated that the company had no plans to lift the ban in the future.
The temporary ban is one step in the right direction, according to coalition members. Other mines on the Cuyama River, the Ozena Valley Ranch’s sand and gravel mine and the GPS River Rock Products mine continue to send trucks through Ojai, and are looking to get approvals for expansions this summer.
“At least for the time being, this ban gives us partial relief from our legitimate, ongoing concerns that turning scenic Highway 33 and the town of Ojai into a industrialized heavy trucking transportation zone, would have significant and lasting impacts on both the air quality of the Ojai Valley, while also unnecessarily risking the lives, health, safety and welfare of thousands of folks who use this route,” said Shapiro.
By Sondra Murphy
After 50 years of continuous use, a beloved Ojai landmark is scheduled for a much-needed make-over.
Libbey Bowl amphitheater has been serving the community since it was built in the 1950s and is currently used by as many as 30 nonprofit groups for more than 50 events each year. Half a dozen representatives of these groups gathered last week to begin a dialogue about design needs as identified in a recent survey sent out to the performing arts community. Prioritized necessity and functionality will be incorporated into the plans for the site that has had many additions and repairs over the decades.
“People first started performing out on the lawn and built awnings for shade,” said Ojai Music Festival executive director Jeff Haydon. “The Music Festival ended up taking the lead in raising the funds for the bowl.” Designed by Austin Pierpont and Roy Wilson, it cost $12,000 to build the Ojai Festival Bowl stage and shell section in 1957.
To now replace the structure, renamed Libbey Bowl in the 1970s, will cost an estimated $3 million. It will take about a year to complete the planning, said architect David Bury, and the project is expected to be finished by June 2010 for the start of the Ojai Music Festival.
In March, the city hired Bury for the concept designs of the bowl. Bury has designed a number of other Ojai projects, such as the Pergola, that merge historical designs with modern considerations. New laws and structural requirements, such as building codes and handicap accessibility, will be incorporated into the redesign.
“We are going to rebuild Libbey Bowl, but we realize that it is a kind of icon,” said Bury. “It’s not going to be a restoration. We will retain the character, but we would like to be able to improve and optimize the bowl.”
Sustainability being a city policy, Bury is aware of green materials and will use appropriate technology throughout the design. “The fact is wood is a renewable resource, but it is an impermanent material. When exposed to the elements, it decays,” Bury said. Dry rot and termite damage are two reasons why such extreme measures are now needed to preserve Libbey Bowl.
As a primary user of the bowl, the Music Festival has been involved in many past renovations and will continue to be an active participant in its rebuild. The Ojai Planning Commission allocated $100,000 in February to address the needs of the aging stage; $30,000 of that is to be used this spring to extend the life of the bowl safely to 2010, by which time the city hopes to have rebuilt the stage and shell. The remaining $70,000 is earmarked for the planning process.
Seating upgrades are included in the $3 million budget to help improve audience views and comfort. Efforts will also be made to address the distinctive drainage needs of the bowl area. Additionally, Bury is considering a modest shift in the placement of the stage and shell to better direct acoustics up toward the green instead of the tennis courts.
Storage, cable conduit and equipment posts will be added to improve modern sound and lighting needs. “We’re going to be building this to accommodate technical equipment, but each group’s needs vary,” said Bury. He added, “There’s a lot of compromise that has to occur here because not everything is going to work for everybody, but we want it to work as best it can.”
Libbey Bowl performers range from musicians and actors to dancers, who all use the stage differently. “Each one of those require a different flooring need,” Haydon said. “From an acoustical standpoint, cement is best, but from an acting or dancing standpoint, it’s the worst.”
Bury plans to moderately increase the shell height and depth while lowering the stage floor a bit. Currently, the shell slopes low at the back of the stage, restricting its use. Ramps and doorways that accommodate a variety of set and human concerns will be incorporated into the plans.
“The Music Festival is ready to help raise the funding for this,” said Haydon. “I have talked to potential donors wanting to see what the city does with this.”
Getting input from the groups that traditionally use Libbey Bowl is just the first step in the project. From there, Bury will create a preliminary design to bring back to the bowl’s users to see how the ideas were addressed. A refined and more detailed plan will then be created to present to the city’s various oversight committees. “Our intention is to make the design process as inclusive and transparent as possible,” Bury said.
Both Haydon and Bury expressed confidence in the 2010 time line for the project. “We are hoping the design process will take about a year,” Bury said. The construction company Jones and Jones will be doing the dismantle and rebuild, which is expected to take from eight to 12 months after the bureaucratic process is complete.
“Culturally and historically, this is a really important project and some people want to be involved just because of that,” said Bury, “so I think we will get a lot of advice from the experts.” He hopes to bring the preliminary design back to the bowl users in June.
By Nao Braverman
As food production worldwide seems to be hit by devastating shortages from one end, and potentially toxic production methods on the other, a couple of Ojai farms attempt to keep some local produce as pure and plentiful as possible.
Times are hard for local farmers, especially with climbing water rates. But Community Supported Agriculture is one way that Ojai farmers have been able to stay afloat, and involve the community in keeping the local soil fertile. It’s also a convenient way for residents to get a variety of seasonal vegetables each week, and save time at the market.
Members of Ojai CSA pay a monthly fee and receive a weekly box of fresh-picked produce from a local farm. The money, paid up-front, serves to help farmers cover production costs. In return CSA customers get their money’s worth of vegetables that are harvested that week.
This week members of The Farmer & The Cook’s CSA got a box of salad mix cilantro, chard, collard greens, radishes, beets, carrots, radishes, fennel and garlic flowers.
The weekly box always has some staples that grow year round, like greens and salad mix. But it also includes a variety of seasonal vegetables that aren’t always available at the nearest grocery store.
“I never knew what to do with rutabaga before I started CSA,” said Grace Bueti, who works on The Farmer & The Cook’s farm and heads their educational program.
Steve Sprinkel, co-owner of The Farmer & The Cook with his wife, Olivia Chase, often includes a recipe with one of the less known vegetables that appear in the box in his monthly news letter. When radicchio was in season, he wrote up a recipe for a radicchio, fig and citrus salad.
The way produce is grown today, many people who can get tomatoes year-round at the super market have lost a sense of what is seasonal. But most produce tastes best and grows best at a certain time of year.
“CSA gives a harshly accurate view of what’s seasonal, but when basil comes around, man do we appreciate it,’ said Bueti.
While it helps most customers eat healthier by introducing them to a variety of vegetables, it is also the most cost-effective and best revenue source for farmers because it allows them to sell exactly what the garden yields, without wasting vegetables that are less marketable and selling out what is most popular at the store.
“When you pay for CSA, you are paying for aphids and holes in your greens, which we can’t sell to restaurants,” said Bueti.”But this is fresher than the farmers’ market. This is four or five hours out of the ground.”
While shopping at the farmers market generally guarantees a fresher product than the grocery store, it creates a distorted view of local and seasonal produce, said Bueti.
“Some vendors are coming from four or five hours away, and some are selling tomatoes in the middle of spring.
The Farmer & The Cook vendors stocks produce at their store but it’s the CSA program that keeps it alive.
Local farms are a priceless asset to the community. Especially with only three access points in the valley, all vulnerable to landslides, it’s nice to have local food sources, Bueti said.
While large-scale production of produce shipped in from overseas, it is becoming harder to know what pesticides are used, whether the soil itself has been contaminated or not. Farmer & The Cook’s garden is organic and pesticide free. They are sure not to use manure, so that the soil is protected as well as possible from contaminants.
One way for consumers to be sure is to visit the farm where their food is grown. That’s only possible when the food that residents eat is indeed in their community.
Volunteers and CSA members are always welcome to help at The Farmer & The Cook’s seven-acre Rio Gozo Farm on Help of Ojai’s West Campus. The land surrounded by a 5-foot tall, 3.5-foot- wide wall, where women inmates once farmed years ago, is ideal for growing. The grounds, where pigs were kept during the Honor Farm days, is naturally rich with nitrogen, said Bueti. And thanks to Help of Ojai’s well water, irrigation costs are manageable, she said.
In addition to helping the local community, eating CSA also helps the global environment by conserving resources, namely fossil fuel.
Aside from the obvious environmental benefits of eating food that hasn’t been shipped from miles away, using fuel and contributing to pollution, CSA encourages a more vegetarian diet.
At an Ojai Valley Green Coalition meeting in April, coalition members gave a presentation, put together by William Roberts of the American Vedic Association, on the environmental impact of the meat industry.
According to the presentation, by Roberts, the U.S. Bureau of Mines in the Department of Commerce made a statement that the value of raw materials consumed to produce food from livestock is greater than the value of all oil, gas and coal consumed in the U.S.
While only 23 gallons of water is needed to produce a pound of tomatoes or lettuce, 5,214 gallons of water are needed to produce the same weight of beef. Thus not eating meat can save more water than not showering for a very long time.
Similarly, one acre of land can be used to produce 36,000 pounds of potatoes and 28,800 pounds of oranges and only 250 pounds of beef. Moreover, animal-based agriculture contributes 18 percent more greenhouse atmosphere than all other forms of transportation put together, according to the presentation.
While going vegetarian is the most environmentally friendly dietary decision, according to the Green Coalition presentation, it goes without saying that local, small scale, animal based agriculture can be done in a much more environmentally responsible manner than larger corporate meat producers in the industry.
Food produced at a smaller scale is generally more expensive. But as trips to the grocery store are getting more costly as gas prices soar, local foods producers, who sell to local markets are not as affected.
“We’re expensive now, but pretty soon it could even out,” said Bueti.
Another CSA farm that existed years before Sprinkel’s is Peter Wilsrud’s Avogadro’s Garden in a residential neighborhood off Fairview Road. The somewhat smaller establishment began in the late ‘90s and provides boxes of produce to local families during the harvest season.
The CSA as an organized concept was established in Germany, Switzerland and Japan decades ago as a response to food safety and the urbanization of agriculture, according to Wikipedia. Sometimes the most archaic practices are found to be the most environmentally sound. And with Ojai’s ideal climate conditions, and rich agricultural history, CSA seems to be one way to go.
Ojai goes green on city plans
By Daryl Kelley
The greening of Ojai is about to become official city policy, as this bucolic village begins to embrace the principals of a growing worldwide movement aimed at creating a planet that is healthy and sustainable.
In discussing the “Roadmap to a Sustainable Ojai” this week, the City Council pledged to support an array of new strategies to make the Ojai Valley a model “green community” that laces economic, social and ecological needs into the fabric of everyday life.
The broad new plan goes far beyond “green” building guidelines that typically call for energy-efficient structures made of recycled materials, officials said. It’s about considering the mantra of “use, reuse and recycle” in everything we do.
“It’s really about changing the way we live our lives,” city manager Jere Kersnar told the council.”There’s a lot of attention paid to green building. But in order to achieve the goals of sustainability, we’re going to have to change our lifestyles.”
The sustainability concept is that a society should plan its activities so they meet its needs while preserving the natural way of life, and to maintain this balance indefinitely.
In Ojai, it’s already happening a bit, Kersnar said, with some residents switching from traditional light bulbs to more efficient flourescent tubes and using recycled grocery bags.
But the big question, he said, is “how can we get that kind of thinking in all of our citizens’ minds? That’s the issue we all should address collectively.”
Planner Katrina Rice Schmidt, the city point person in the sustainability effort, added: “This is the start of a very long discussion we’re going to have in the future.”
Schmidt emphasized that there are things the city can do right now as it plans a broader effort to incorporate green concepts in city policies to save water, energy and the natural environment while promoting public trans-portation, waste recycling and a community design that takes conservation into account.
Right away, she said, the city can adopt a checklist of “green methods of construction” builders should use and reward them with “I Am a Green Builder” window placard for responsive businesses.
“It’s a carrot instead of the stick right now,” she said.
As a start, green principals should be adopted throughout city government, Mayor Sue Horgan said.
“I almost think we should all have this posted on our walls,” she said.
Councilwoman Carol Smith said one way Ojai could implement a green policy is not to automatically accept the lowest bid from contractors seeking work from the city.
“Right now,” she said, “we’re doing the lowest possible bid and we’re not taking into account how far away that product is coming and is it (green).”
The council also discussed eliminating the 50-cent charge for people to ride the Ojai Trolley, and establishing a trolley route that cycles continuously from the “Y” intersection of the 33 and 150 highways to the downtown area.
Green policies should reach the most basic levels of government, such as the purchase of recycled paper for office use, officials said.
The council’s focus of such issues is partly the result of efforts of an emerging Ojai Valley Green Coalition, which in the last year has enlisted 125 volunteers to work on committees to recommend policy changes at governmental, educational, utility and nonprofit organizations that would lead to a more sustainable community.
Deborah Pendrey, executive coordinator of the Green Coalition, applauded the council’s efforts to begin getting local organizations to embrace such goals. How the community responds to the challenge will affect how our children live for generations to come, she said.
“We can no longer draw a line in the sand between city and county,” she said. “There can no longer be business as usual because nothing is usual anymore. … And, quite frankly, we have some catching up to do. … So we ask you what’s next, and how can we help you.”
Joan Roberts, a coalition committee chairwoman, praised the city’s initial efforts. And she urged officials to keep up the momentum by grading themselves on progress.
The city of Santa Monica, for example, has had an annual checkup for seven years, she said. That bay-front city near Los Angeles hands out “green business certificates” that verifies a shop is “a nontoxic work place” and is meeting strict standards for recycling, she said.
Santa Monica “is so green the ocean is practically green,” Roberts said. “And we look forward to working with the city (of Ojai) in the greening of the Ojai Valley.”
Planner Schmidt said that while Santa Monica and Santa Cruz in northern California are pace-setters, the sustainability movement is advancing across the state. When she surveyed California cities a year ago, she said, 25 had some sort of green policy.
Reggie Wood of Meiners Oaks, a member of the United States Green Building Council, said that Ojai could play a significant role in advancing the green movement locally.
“I’m noticing something like a leapfrog (effect),” he said. “The state of California is far ahead of the other states … and our cities have jumped on board. Santa Barbara is a little ahead and the city of Ventura has a very nice program. … And if the city of Ojai would step up, the county would be encouraged to go on …”
Others attending the Tuesday evening council meeting also praised the effort and offered to help. Kenley Neufeld, chair of the Green Coalition’s Transportation Committee, offered to assist the city with a plan for enhanced public transit, bike lanes and pedestrian walkways. He backed the idea of making the city trolley free and noted that a new bio-diesel fuel cooperative has just been formed at Help of Ojai.
But he also warned that the Ojai Valley has a long way to go. For instance, carpooling and bus use is low in the valley.
“About 150 people go to Santa Barbara Community College (from here),” he said. “And we have four riders (on commuter buses to the campus).”
That prompted Mayor Horgan to note the importance of getting the word out about the importance being a green community.
“It’s all about education,” she said, “and we’re making a start here.”
Indeed, each council member voiced support for the city’s continued partnership with the Green Coalition in pursuing conservation goals, starting with the “low-hanging fruit,” as Councilman Steve Olsen said.
“People come to Ojai because it’s a little bit different,” he said. “And this contributes to that.”
Smith recommended that merchants be encouraged to offer incentives to those who carpool to do their shopping. And Councilwoman Rae Hanstad endorsed the idea of a short-run trolley between the “Y” and the downtown Skate Park.
“We’re going in a great direction,” she said. “Many (such) efforts have lacked direction, but suddenly we have it. I’m glad we’re finally taking ideas and putting them into an action plan.”
Horgan thanked the Green Coalition, in particular.
“This really feels like it’s solid and real,” she said.
By Nao Braverman
The weekend traffic in downtown Ojai is proof enough that the small city is still a popular getaway. But where are all these tourists shopping? Not in Ojai, or at least not enough.
The abandoned storefronts speak for themselves.
“What you are seeing is a reflection of the economy,” said Ernie Salomon, owner of the Matilija Plaza Group, which includes two commercial vacancies in the Arcade. “From what I have heard a lot of businesses are having a hard time in Ojai. Gas is heading to $4 a gallon. People are not out to buy jewelry when they can’t buy bread.”
As visitors get off the freeway they are greeted by two abandoned gas stations on their way to Ojai’s center. After hitting a decrepit cement block structure next to the Skate Park, which has remained unoccupied for years, tourists pass the vacant space where Jim and Rob’s Fresh Grill used to be. A little farther down is the old bowling alley, empty for years, warding off passersby with a chain link fence.
While the Arcade storefronts facing Ojai Avenue are fully occupied, the strip that faces Matilija Street has taken on a glassy-eyed vacant stare.
Of the 140,204 square feet in the Arcade Plaza district, the block of commercial buildings sandwiched by Ojai Avenue, Matilija Street, Signal Street and Montgomery Street, about 8,779 square feet are currently up for lease.
That includes the former Iron Pan Bistro, which has housed several eateries that have failed successively, the large space right next door, which used to house Ojai Sports, an office space upstairs from Radio Shack next to Cornerstone Architects, the former homebase of Linda.com, and the space next to Java & Joe’s that narrowly escaped becoming a Subway sandwich shop.
Some of the longtime commercial vacancies have been leased or purchased. The abandoned Ford dealership, also at the city’s entryway, was sold to the Crown Family, owners of the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, to protect the space for unsightly development. The newer of the two vacant buildings is being rented out to various companies to host business conventions.
Salomon said that he had a tenant lined up for the property that was to house Subway, and that he was deciding between two tenants interested in the former Linda.com space. He was not ready to reveal any information about the prospects, however.
As soon as The Hub, the bar vacant for some time right in the center of downtown, was finally remodeled and opened again by new owners, vacancies popped up elsewhere in town. The space that recently housed Campsite, in the new shopping center at the corner of Ojai Avenue and Cañada Street is already gone, soon to be replaced by another business, according to property owner Ron Polito. But the quick turnover rates for commercial properties are clear evidence of how local merchants are struggling.
The year-end budget review revealed that sales tax revenues were indeed coming in less than expected. The May issue of the Ojai Business Journal, published by the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, showed that between Nov. 12, 2007 and Feb. 14 of this year, the city collected $191,999 in sales tax revenue — an 11 percent decline from the same period a year ago, which represents about $2 million less in total taxable sales for local merchants over that three-month period.
City manager Jere Kersnar said that some citizens have expressed the concern that Ojai is overbuilt, but he wasn’t sure that was the crux of the problem.
Salomon attributed the vacancies to nationwide economic woes. But Polito said he thought it was an issue more specific to Ojai. He said that local merchants weren’t sure if they were catering to residents or tourists, and this posed a challenge to business owners who weren’t sure who to market to.
“Ojai has not defined itself,” he said. “Are we a tourist community or are we a homegrown bedroom community that supports itself? Right now we are not either of the two.”
According to Polito. Ojai is not developed enough to cater to really wealthy tourists, or at least to survive off of tourism. Yet it also does not provide an environment that is affordable enough for locals to work and shop in.
People can’t find jobs in Ojai, so they are leaving the area. And those who are able to live in Ojai, shop elsewhere, he said.
Scott Eicher, chief executive officer of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, said he thought Ojai was capable of catering to both tourists and residents, and needs to do so to survive.
“It is a question of balance,” he said. “Tourism is the primary source of revenue for the city’s general fund. Local businesses cannot survive on tourism alone. If the majority of our local businesses close, there will be nothing to attract the tourists. Therefore the key is to develop a balanced economy that serves residents and tourists alike.”
While the Ojai Valley Inn, the city’s biggest revenue source is doing better than expected, raising the bed tax revenues for the city, its customers are likely shopping less often outside of the inn’s grounds, as evidenced by the drop in sales tax.
Meanwhile The Ojai Valley Shopping Center at the “Y” intersection, which, with a Vons grocery store, a pharmacy and two banks, caters more to locals than tourists, has almost no vacancies at all. The only exception is an office space above Washington Mutual Bank which has no visible storefront.
One anonymous real estate agent attributed the vacancies to expensive rent. Polito said that part of the problem was the run-down state of some of spaces for lease.
Some of the longtime vacancies are site specific. The former Roland Exxon Station on Ojai Avenue remained vacant for about 10 years, since contamination from a leaking gas tank was discovered beneath the property. The old bowling alley, also a 10-year eyesore, was set aside by its Louisiana-based owner after a ground water issue deemed the structure a health and safety hazard. The abandoned shell near the Skate Park, once Video Adventures, also appears as if it has been left to rot. The Texaco station, however, now mostly cleaned up, was purchased by Meyerstein Trust in November 2007 and is getting a remodel soon, hopefully attracting a tenant.
Nonetheless the failing businesses seem to be a combination of factors, according to Eicher. Nationwide economic trends are part of the problem. In addition, merchants are having difficulty catering to Ojai’s complex consumer demographic, according to Polito.
Eicher said that the chamber and the city were working together to address the issue but said he wasn’t ready to ready to give any details of this effort at this time.
By Mike Miller
With spring football at UCLA in the books, it appears as though 2004 Nordhoff graduate Micah Reed has earned a starting spot at center for the new-look Bruins. “Nothing is set in stone, but I practiced the ones all spring and I did well, so it looks good and I am really excited for the season to start,” said Reed.
Reed enters his senior campaign having started the final eight games on the offensive line for the Bruins and with the arrival of new head coach Rick Neuheisel, the feeling around the UCLA campus is much different. “Coach Neuheisel is such a motivational and high energy guy. He is so much different than coach (Karl) Dorrell was. He was a good guy, but coach Neuheisel has really changed people’s way of thinking,” said Reed.
After a 6-7 season, the Bruins have their sights on a much different outcome for this coming season according to Reed. “Many people were saying that this would be a rebuilding year, but the first thing that Coach Neuheisel said to us was that saying that was a slap in the face of our senior class and we have taken it personally. We are not rebuilding at UCLA. We are looking to win the Pac-10 and we want to become national champions. All of the seniors are approaching the season with that in mind,” added Reed.
As for Reed, he has some lofty goals of his own. “I want to help lead our rushing game to be one of the best in the nation and I want to protect the quarterback, no matter who it ends up being, to the best of my ability. We are short in numbers at quarterback, so protecting whoever is back there is going to be very important to our success. I would like to be an All-American, but really I just want to win games and go out a winner at UCLA.”
Reed is hoping that his final game does not happen at UCLA and he is eyeing a future in the National Football League. “The NFL has been a goal of mine since I started playing football. It is my goal and my dream.”
Reed adds that the NFL has been around to weigh and measure him for next year’s draft but a lot of his future depends on how he does this year. “I have not heard anything about the NFL from anyone yet. The plan is to do my best this year and then I will get an agent and see what happens from there,” he said.
The Bruins will kick off their season against the Tennessee Volunteers on Sept. 1. Reed said, “This will be my first game against a SEC team, so I am excited. The Pac-10 will be tough as always, but we’ll be prepared to play each week.”
Just because Reed is in the trenches at UCLA does not mean that he has forgotten about his NHS roots. He said, “I am very excited to hear that Tony Henney has taken over the program. Tony coached me in Pop Warner and he is not only my friend, but he is one of the most inspirational and best coaches that I have ever had.” If the NFL does not work out for the senior history major, a coaching and teaching opportunity in Ojai would be quite appealing. “I would love to coach for the Rangers some day and I may get my teaching credential, so who knows.”
Reed will complete his finals on June 14 and then after a short week off, he’ll jump back into summer school and summer conditioning. Football officially starts on Aug. 4 for Reed and the Bruins.
By Nao Braverman
While local merchants are concerned about the increasing commercial vacancies in downtown Ojai, one prominent eyesore is on its way to a long-awaited makeover.
At Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting, commissioners granted a design review permit to Arnold Meyerstein for his plans to remodel the abandoned Texaco station on the corner of Ojai Avenue and Ventura Street.
Meyerstein Trust purchased the property in November 2006, and brought the redesign concept to a July 2007 planning meeting. Commissioners, who offered many suggestions during the July meeting, accepted plans presented Wednesday evening as a significant improvement.
The dilapidated building, though situated in an ideal location for commerce, was vacant for about 10 years prior, mostly due to a leaking underground storage tank that contaminated the site.
Now that the top soil has been remediated and deemed safe for construction by county officials, Meyerstein and his ownership group decided to fix up the building to make it more attractive to lease or sell.
The present design for the 110 W. Ojai Ave. property, once known as Roland’s Exxon, has recessed windows with plaster trim and a brand new entryway.
Architect Marc Whitman said that the intent was to clean up the building, but keep it intact as much as possible, with a rustic Old-World look that is still aesthetically appealing. Property owners imagine that it could house a restaurant or retail space but have nothing specific in mind.
According to associate city planner Kanika Kith, although the top soil has been remediated, there is still some groundwater contamination on a portion of the property that is expected to be remediated over time. The building would be protected from contamination with an impermeable ground cover.
Another longtime vacancy at 205 N. Signal St. is on its way to becoming the World Flavor Cafe.
“This restaurant has been in the planning stages in my head for 20 years,” said applicant Susan Kapadia.
Commissioners approved the design review to turn the vacant building into a restaurant that serves beer and wine and has outdoor patio seating along Signal Street. The property neighboring Joe’s Quick Stop Mini Mart was most recently used as office space and housed Essential Aromatics before that, but has remained vacant for about two years. It also served as the original home of Doug Crawford Insurance. The building is expected to remain the same with some landscaping improvements, the addition of red terracotta, sun umbrellas and a new awning.
Planners approved the project but asked for the parking design to come back to a future meeting for approval.
“I think they have a great thing for what’s going on with the economy right now,” said property owner Bill Monnot. “It’s properly priced, it’s good for downtown workers who want to eat in or take out, but it’s not Subway.”
By Daryl Kelley
Jeff Ketelsen, 47, a part-time entertainment park usher and occasional substitute teacher, has run for local public office nine times in the last nine years, winning once in an uncontested race for the Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Committee.
Now Ketelsen is running again, this time as a write-in candidate for the Ventura County supervisorial seat representing the Ojai Valley on the June 3 ballot.
Incumbent Supervisor Steve Bennett is unopposed on the primary election ballot. But voters may notice a posting of Ketelsen’s write-in candidacy at polling places.
Ketelsen, who got about one-fourth of the vote against Bennett in 2004 and nearly won an Ojai school board seat in 2006, said he failed to make the ballot this time because he didn’t have the money to cover a $1,190 filing fee.
To be a write-in candidate he needed only to turn in a petition with the signatures of 20 registered voters by May 20, and he did.
Ketelsen is running a low-cost, low-key campaign, stating his platform by slipping small blue pieces of paper under residents’ doormats in a shoe-leather effort to bring his candidacy to public attention.
What makes Ketelsen, who describes himself as a former “surf bum,” run?
“Lots of my friends say, ‘Why do you do this? Why do you get involved?’” Ketelsen said in an interview. “I have a 17-year-old kid. I do have insight. I want people to know what life is like for regular, ordinary people.”
Clad in jeans, a T-shirt, heavy jacket and Vans, the stocky Ketelsen said: “I’m just an ordinary guy. I’m running because I grew up here. I can see how some people who voted for me last time would be bummed out because I didn’t save 1,000 bucks (to file). But I got 8,000 votes last time (2004) and hardly spent a dime on it.”
Ketelsen said he is running this time on a platform of “Channel Islands Harbor, La Conchita and crime.” He was apparently referring to the controversy about how to revive the financially ailing county-run harbor in Oxnard, the county’s legal disputes with residents of the beach-front La Conchita hamlet devastated by a 2005 landslide and what he sees as crime by illegal immigrants.
“I don’t try to force my beliefs on anyone,” he said. “But I personally believe machine politics are out of touch with the citizenry. Some guy rolls in with $170,000 and that buys him the office. It’s very easy for a Republicrat to think everything’s fine. Well, if you believe that, vote for him.”
Bennett, a former Nordhoff High School government teacher, has declined to discuss Ketelsen’s nominal challenge, saying only that he is confident voters will return him to the Board of Supervisors for a third term.
In March, Bennett, 56, became the first county supervisor in at least two decades to run for re-election unchallenged on the primary ballot, after county Republicans failed in a year-long attempt to recruit a serious opponent to the veteran Democratic lawmaker.
Bennett announced last June that he’d seek re-election, citing an array of powerful endorsements and a full bank account.
And Mike Gibson, the one Republican who pulled papers to challenge him, canceled his race the next day, declaring that Bennett had too much money, too many endorsements and too many community contacts in the Ojai area and Ventura to be beaten.
“It’s good to get 100 percent of my focus back on my job,” Bennett said then, “and not have to campaign.”
Ketelsen is hoping Bennett’s lack of a campaign will allow him to sneak in under the radar and present a serious challenge.
“It’s incredible no one else wants to do this when you consider how big the 1st District is,” he said.
Ketelsen’s small blue flier summarizes his campaign issues in staccato fashion: “Vote for freedom. Oak View. Keep Lake Casitas open. Preserve Midtown and the Ventura Bowling Center. Respect history. Workers rights. Save the Mallory Way cottages downtown Ojai, CA. U.S.A.”
As a writer of politically charged letters to the Ojai Valley News, Ketelsen is not an unknown. He supported the grass-roots effort to save the O-Hi Frostie last year. But, despite his frequent candidacy for offices as disparate as supervisor, school board member, community college trustee and the Casitas water board, his background has not been reported.
In an interview, he said what you see is what you get, and that he is not that complicated.
He’s lived in the same mobile home in an aging Mira Monte park for nearly 13 years, he said. He’s been married to his wife, a care-giver at an Ojai convalescent home, for two decades. They have two daughters, ages 5 and 17.
Over the last decade, Ketelsen said he returned to school, receiving an associate’s degree from Ventura College in 1999 and a bachelor’s degree in history from California State University-Northridge in 2002. He holds an emergency state teaching credential, he said, which allows him to substitute teach in public schools for up to 30 consecutive days, although he said he hasn’t had many teaching assignments lately.
Ketelsen’s principal income, about $5,300 last year, came as the lead usher at the Batman Action Theater Show at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, he said.
He said he has filed “three or four” claims for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for reimbusement for flood damage to his mobile home during severe storms in 1998 and 2005. “They don’t respond,” he said.
Born in Santa Maria, the son of a Teamsters Union foreman at Vandenburg Air Force Base, Ketelsen moved to Ventura County when he was 7, he said.
A 1979 graduate of Ventura High School, he loved surfing.
“I was a surf bum. A lot of people do refer to me as a beach bum. There are those people that remember me on the beach smoking and drinking. They say what are you doing running for public office, but I did work as a bus boy for restaurants along the coast every night,” he said. “And I say that was me until 1988, when I got married.”
From 1992 until 2004, Ketelsen said he worked part-time as a flagman and laborer for the city of Oxnard’s traffic and engineering department. He also served as a canvasser for the 2000 census in Oxnard, he said.
“This is where I got my real training canvassing,” he said. “I have a lot of hands-on experience.”
One issue on which Ketelsen has spoken out recently is illegal immigration, saying illegal workers are taking jobs away from blue-collar citizens and citing the increasing number of Spanish-speaking students in local schools.
“I may have been real upset about crime problems in Ventura County,” he said explaining an e-mail in which he referred to Latino students. “Illegal immigration is a crime. For Ventura County, it’s been a disaster.”
Ketelsen said he’s back on the campaign trail because he thinks citizens should be more involved in their government.
“There is a lack of people getting involved and trying,” he said. “I’m running as just an ordinary working guy.”
Schools face process of elimination trying to cut expenses by $1.7 million
By Sondra Murphy
While our state representatives are still arguing over California’s priorities, Ojai Unified School District board members and administrators are knee deep in hard choices. The crowds of concerned parents and staff have thinned to about 75 per meeting, but that number is very vocal.
It was a full agenda at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the OUSD board, but the budget hovered over every item. Board members whittled another $122,000 from the revised projected deficit of $1.7 million by reluctantly eliminating elementary school physical education instructors next year. The total OUSD budget is about $25 million annually.
Elementary teachers use the P.E. period as preparation time. The loss of P.E. specialists not only impacts that preparation time, but adds another subject that the teachers must organize for in order to meet state standards.
The board also officially eliminated district-supported classified jobs or cut hours from existing positions as agreed upon at the last meeting. Eliminated from the district office are one eight-hour staff secretary, one eight-hour grounds maintenance worker and four five-hour bus driver positions. Historically, OUSD has been able to transport students who live outside of the official busing boundaries, but this funding squeeze is forcing the district to adhere to those confines.
Elementary school cuts affecting personnel that were agreed to at the last meeting were officially adopted. Meiners Oaks, Mira Monte and Topa Topa will each see a school support secretary’s hours fall from five to three-and-a-half each day. All five elementary schools, including San Antonio and Summit, will lose one hour per day from their library media technician hours. Additionally, Mira Monte will lose two instructional assistants and one instructional aide who each work less than three hours per day.
Districtwide, 17 teachers are still on layoff notice. Originally, 30 were noticed in March, but resignations and leaves of absence have bumped the number down. “If we were just dealing with declining enrollment, that number would be five or six,” said superintendent Tim Baird.
“It’s the odd coincidence that occurs every year that sets aside next week as teacher awareness week and the following as classified employee week at the same time as we announce our layoffs,” said board President Steve Fields as he introduced two resolutions recognizing those populations and the contributions they make to the district. “It’s important that we recognize our teachers.”
“Our classified employees work very hard out there and deserve recognition as well,” added Baird. He reminded the board that program and job cuts made now may be rescinded later if actual funding is higher than projected funding.
Teachers, classified employees and parents addressed the board with compelling requests and suggestions on how to save money with the least impact. Of interest to the board was re-evaluating transportation expenditures and looking into ways to compensate for special education revenue cuts.
Ojai Education Foundation President Mike Caldwell told the board that the Save Ojai Schools campaign has generated few donations since the April 20 kick-off rally, but he was hopeful that money would be coming in from their continued efforts. Baird said that some SOS donations have been given to school sites and the board should see some of those figures presented by the next meeting.
Parents from Summit School have already procured the $30,000 needed to keep that school operating next year. Tabled until the receipt of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s revised budget due May 14 and updates on fund-raising efforts is the closure of a large or medium elementary school, which need $300,000 or $133,000, respectively, to remain open.
Board member Pauline Mercado commented that she was uncomfortable with the recommended cuts being “carried on the backs of students.”
“We’re not going to show you good stuff, necessarily,” said Baird. “They’re all sort of harmful.” Mercado later said she hoped the revised state budget would bring some good news.
OUSD has acquired much practice in creative funding during the past eight declining enrollment years and continues to look for ways to save money or generate revenues. A modified elementary schedule that would create half-day Wednesdays while lengthening the other four days is getting some attention, but Meiners Oaks teacher Laura Hanrieder drew attention to the many hours some children may be unsupervised after school should such a change take place.
Another project under development is to create stricter off-campus lunch privileges at the high school. Though motivated as a citizenship and academic incentive, the possible fiscal advantage of more students on campus during lunch possibly resulting in increased cafeteria sales has been a subject of some board deliberation. While the board investigated a closed-campus policy earlier in the year, Nordhoff staff is not in favor of such a change.
Assistant superintendent of business and administrative services Dannielle Pusatere has been critically looking into ways to increase revenues. She applied for a California Department of Education Attendance Waiver in April, gaining $12,000 in lost ADA from high absenteeism in February due to a flu epidemic. Pusatere has also increased facilities use fees, such as those received from summer use of Nordhoff’s pool.
Board member Kathi Smith half-joked that they should charge for off-campus permits to qualifying students, as well as for any excess parking spots at the high school. The board is seriously considering charging for bus transportation, however, and trying to decide if they should put time and effort toward a parcel tax ballot item to help stabilize revenues. OUSD is also visiting the concept of leasing the district office site for income, but such a project will not help this year.
A special OUSD board meeting will take place May 27 at 6 p.m. at a location still to be determined. Of primary focus will be Gov. Schwarzenegger’s revised budget proposal for the next fiscal year.
City, Furchtenicht both appeal parts of judge’s earlier decision
By Nao Braverman
Both the city of Ojai and local citizen Jeff Furchtenicht are appealing the decision made by a Ventura County Superior Court judge almost a year-and-a-half ago.
The ongoing case, which has already cost the city $78,771.83, according to city manager Jere Kersnar, was initially thrown out in late November 2006. Somehow the language of the judge’s ruling left each party feeling that the determination was made mostly in their favor. Furchtenicht’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) was clearly denied, however, prompting him to appeal that portion of the judge’s decision.
A cross appeal was subsequently filed by the city, and an oral argument is scheduled for this July.
The drawn-out dispute, began nearly two years ago, when city attorney Monte Widders refused to prepare a ballot title and summary for two citizen’s initiatives, proposed by Furchtenicht on Aug. 21, 2006.
Widders claimed that the initiatives, regarding affordable housing and chain stores in Ojai, were not submitted in the proper format, and were thus unconstitutional on their face.
The text of the first initiative directed the council to “urgently consider and take measures to address the affordability of housing in the city,” and the second asked the council to discourage chain stores from opening downtown.
“These are all nice goals,” said Widders, “but an initiative has to enact a legislation.”
He then asked Furchtenicht to withdraw the initiatives and when Furchtenicht did not do so, Widders took him to court.
At the Nov. 29, 2006 hearing, Ventura County Superior Court Judge Ken Riley dismissed the case on the grounds that even if the alleged complaints were true, there was no need for a lawsuit. Although Furchtenicht’s demurrer was granted, and this was the determination that Furchtenicht had hoped for, the judge also stated that Widders had been “well within his official duty to deny Furchtenicht’s request to title and summarize the two initiatives,” according to minutes of the hearing. Judge Riley also denied the SLAPP complaint, claiming that it was Furchtenicht’s failure to withdraw the initiatives, not the right to petition, that caused the lawsuit.
Furchtenicht then appealed the denial and the American Civil Liberties Union came on board to defend him.
Furchtenicht and his ACLU representative Peter Eliasberg’s position is that the city attorney should not impede in a citizen’s right to circulate an initiative.
“When the judge denied the SLAPP complaint, that was an error,” said Furchtenicht. “The city is trying to give the city attorney the power to pocket veto an initiative at its inception, which would be a serious diminishment to our right to petition. The last thing we want to have is Monte Widders walking away, thinking it was OK to do what he did.”
But Kersnar said that the city’s position was that the attorney should have some power to refuse to write a ballot title and summary for a measure that is not constitutional on its face.
“Let’s take an extreme example,” said Kersnar. “Let’s say a citizen wanted to propose a measure saying something as ridiculous as allowing discrimination. Then we don’t think the attorney should have to go through the process of writing a ballot title and summary of something that is obviously unconstitutional.”
Nonetheless, Kersnar said the city would have not have filed a cross appeal, had Furchtenicht not appealed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion first.
“If the court is going to appeal only parts of the decision, we wanted the case to be reviewed in its entirety,” said Kersnar.
The reason that the ACLU took interest in the case, was that Widder’s decision to take Furchtenicht to court could have the effect of stifling public participation. If citizens are afraid of being sued if they propose an initiative, they would certainly be less likely to do so, explained Michael Chait, of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, who is working with Eliasberg on the case.
The dispute also boils down to a debate over the appropriate timing of a challenge.
“There is a process, and people do challenge initiatives. But the appropriate time is after one has received enough signatures for an initiative to be placed on the ballot, not before, said Chait.
But the city’s position, according to Widders, is that a pre-election challenge from the city attorney is appropriate.
In an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” brief, in support of Furchtenicht, prepared by the Initiative and Referendum Institute, attorneys argue that the initiative process, where citizens are allowed to sell their ideas to fellow citizens, is as important, if not more so, than the placement of those initiatives on the ballot. The amicus brief cites research which supports the fact that the initiative process itself encourages civic engagement, and public participation in politics, and increases voter turnout. Therefore, such a process should not be prematurely impeded upon, according to the institute.
“Entertaining court challenges by public officials at early stages of the initiative process will prevent many of these effects — including increased civic engagement and satisfaction with government — from taking hold,” according to the amicus brief. “Moreover fewer citizens will propose any kind of legislation reform if they believe that by doing so they are exposing themselves to the risk of costly litigation.”
Furchtenicht said that the ACLU had taken on the case pro-bono but he wasn’t sure how much the case has cost them to date, or the amount that it cost him before the organization got involved.
The case is now in the State Court of Appeal, Second Appellant District, and the oral argument is set for July 11.
By Linda Harmon
Denise Coffey has been a cashier at Starr Market for 14 years. This year she’s spending her vacation riding in a 545-mile bike race, the 2008 AIDS-LifeCycle, June 1 through 7.
“I’m doing this for my brother,” said Coffey, standing in front of the market, gathering sponsors for her trip. “My brother fell out of a tree up in Rose Valley on a family camping trip. He needed a transfusion before they had protected the blood supply and he died later, from AIDS.”
He was 33 when he died in 1996.
According to the race web site, more than 151,000 Californians are living with HIV/AIDS, the highest number since the beginning of the epidemic. It lists 83,000 deaths from AIDS and estimates 9,000 Californians will become infected this year alone. The ride is expected to raise $11 million while raising awareness of the disease.
This year’s race has 2,500 registered riders and more than 700 volunteers who act as “roadies” for the cyclists, serving food and water and setting up the tent city every night.
Each participant pays their own expenses and raises a minimum of $2,500 in sponsors for the race. Coffey has already raised $1,000.
Coffey will start her travels in San Francisco and end up in Los Angeles seven days later. Her second day out she’ll cover the longest distance, 105.4 miles between Santa Cruz and King City.
“I got into this because of my good friends, Tom and Nanette Benbrook,” said Coffey, about the two avid cyclists and “roadies” for the race. “They were already part of the race and encouraged me to train for it.”
Coffey will be accompanied to San Francisco by a friend from work, Randy Miller, who has been riding since 2001. Coffey says she has only been biking for about three years, two of them seriously.
“I bring my bike to work and ride after I get out at 4 p.m.,” said Coffey, “and ride to Thacher or Dennison Grade.”
Coffey uses a “trainer” to elevate her rear bike wheel and trains indoors after dark, sometimes eating her dinner while pedaling. The longest trip she has ever taken was a 100-mile ride, taking seven hours of actual bike time.
“I’m not very fast, but I’m really looking forward to it,” said Coffey, smiling while acknowledging the trip will really be about endurance.
She says the race has a training team in Ventura but she often trains alone because of her work schedule. Coffey feels she’s in good hands with the organization.
“They provide us with everything. Look at this list of supplies,” said Coffey, holding up a sheet of information from the web site listing last year’s supplies. “The volunteers served up 2.2 tons of chicken, 2.2 tons of oatmeal, 16,800 gallons of water and 18,000 packets of Butt Balm.”
To find out more or make a donation go to aidslifecycle.org/donate.
By Nao Braverman
Political songs are not only for lyricists of the folk generation, especially in times like these, as Elijah Behar sees it.
Behar, and his local band, Hindu Kush, recently completed “Blood for Oil,” a song that offers a clever and emotional critique of the Bush administration, the war in Iraq, and American privilege.
With Oak Grove School senior Pablo Esquer on violin, Nathaniel Harnett, 20 on bass, Logan Huguency, 21 on drums and Behar playing guitar while belting out politically charged lyrics, “Blood for Oil” is definitely a contemporary rock song, while addressing a topic rarely touched by musicians of Hindu Kush’s age group.
Local producer Greg Penny, who has also put out some of Elton John, k.d. lang, and Cher’s work, in addition to a myriad of other musicians, heard “Blood for Oil” at an informal show at Behar’s home and immediately offered to produce it.
It was a welcome next step for Hindu Kush, having recently won the Universal City Battle of the Bands, and landed a song on the movie score for the upcoming sequel to “The Lost Boys.”
“I’ve produced a lot of work, but there’s no one I have worked with who sounds like them,” said Penny, speaking of Hindu Kush, which blends the influence of seminal classic rock artists of 1960s and ‘70s like the Velvet Underground and The Doors, with a more current, alternative sound.
Behar, who writes the lyrics to the band’s songs, came up with “Blood for Oil” after a trip abroad, which gave him taste of how America was regarded around the world.
“I was 13 when the war began,” he said. “A lot of kids our age in this town don’t care about this stuff. We live such padded lives. But we are in more debt than ever before, so many people have been killed, and we are going to be paying for the war for the rest of our lives.”
The challenge for Behar was to create a heartfelt song about the war, that would reach a broad audience, including members of his own generation, without getting too cynical.
“We have to try to change our ways, but it is hard when we are spoiled,” he sings. And ends the song with conviction, “Hope still lies inside our minds, it’s time to make a change.”
Behar knew one sure way to get the message out to members of his generation was to post the song, along with a video that features a montage of images which have represented the war in today’s multimedia-saturated society, on YouTube.
Photographs of mangled bodies, torture victims at Abu Ghraib, Lynndie England, flag-draped coffins, and explosions are set to Hindu Kush’s building musical crescendo, bringing more life to the already horrific images. The piece was edited by well-known multimedia designer David Hartwell.
Beginning by pointing out the irony of a war started by “too much fear,” as the song goes, led “by those who bear the name of the leaders of the land of the brave,” Behar ends the song and video by urging citizens to make a change, and vote.
“This is our only song that deals with politics,” said Behar. “Probably the only one we’ll ever do,” he said. But he wanted to be sure it left a strong impression.
And it did, at least for his friend’s mother who called Behar crying after she saw the video.
Hindu Kush is just about a year old and is constantly putting out new material. They play next at the “Rock in Peace” Festival at Libbey Bowl this Saturday.
View the “Blood for Oil” video