Public questions need for county’s scenic protection plan
By Nancy Gross
The parking lot and the room were packed for Monday’s Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council meeting, with a few people even having to sit on chairs outside the open doors.
The recurring questions of the evening, stated in various ways by various voices, were where are the people who initiated this review and these changes to the Scenic Resources Protection Overlay Zone, and isn’t enough bureaucratic intervention enough as far as architects, builders, graders and agriculture in the valley having to comply with already very strict codes and standards? Stan Tenpenny commented after the meeting that “per capita we live in one of the slowest-growing areas in the state and my clients are shocked already when they hear” about zoning and building statutes.
The controversy relates to Item 9 on the agenda for the evening, “Review of County Study of Amendments to Ojai Area Plan Scenic Resources Protection Policies & Maps, Revision of SRP Zone, and Revision of County Zoning Ordinance.” As Chairman Russ Baggerly aptly stated when discussion about this item commenced, “I think that’s what everybody’s here for.”
Steve Offerman, administrative assistant to Supervisor Steve Bennett, and executive director for the MAC, defined what is at stake as “the burdens that additional regulations can bring to property owners,” and the “potential damage to scenic resources without regulation.” A manager with County Planning Division, Bruce Smith, called zoning a “balancing act.” And while planners took a lot of heat for what property owners and builders will have to deal with if the proposed changes are adopted, both Smith and senior planner Dennis Hawkins acknowledge, “It goes with the territory.” Hawkins also added, “It was good to hear both sides.”
Homeowners within the new yellow zone in the proposedSRP Overlay Zone, and those living adjacent to these areas, received notices of possible changes a week and a half ago.
As Upper Ojai resident June Behar, who is not in favor of the changes remarked, “Ninety percent of Upper Ojai is now becoming yellow.” Though the MAC decided not to recommend these changes until there has been further review, Elaine Krankl, owner of the very small, very high-end Sine Qua Non winery, stated in a phone call, “I believe this process has already gone farther than I think any of us realize.”
Having purchased a piece of property from the Haley family seven years ago, with “soft rolling hills that borders Lake Casitas” the Krankls have already spent close to $150,000 in fees under current zoning. Most of this has to do with the winery building they are trying to build, but Krankl states that “a traffic study” was also required in order “to hire two additional employees” who would go between their land and their public winery in Ventura.
New zoning would require discretionary permits to plant new vineyards on this location. In the winery business since 1994, the Krankls purchased this land to be a residence and fruit-growing property for Sine Qua Non. Krankl, who says that she is very much in favor of retaining the aesthetic beauty of the valley, and accepts the current zoning which limits building on the ridge tops of her 13.5-acre property, is outraged that “the MAC and Planning gave us approval to build the winery in the spring when they knew that these issues were on the table,” she said in a phone call Tuesday.
Krankl’s neighbor, Roger Haley of Haley Ranch, walked over to the map that was projected on the wall at the MAC meeting, and addressed those assembled and stated that his main concern is the safety of the valley. “My family probably has the most amount of land that would be affected by this.” He explained the tremendous amount of clearing required on his land for fire protection purposes and because “the federal government has no property management or burn plan.” He is referring to the land around Lake Casitas. It is not clear the degree to which new regulations about removing native plants would impact the Haleys. Planning stated that clearing roads that are already in use is not going to be regulated, but Haley, who is intimate with his land and who helped in the recent firefighting efforts in Rodriguez Canyon, is concerned.
“Ojai is a tinderbox,” Haley said in a phone call Tuesday. “You should not have to buy a permit to clear brush on property that is an urban interface, and you are trying to save your own property and your neighbor’s property. These environmental permits never die and nobody is talking about the fees for these permits.”
Haley echoed Krankl when he said in a phone call, “They don’t allow the public to say anything until it is already more or less written in stone. The MAC group is only looking at one side.” Both Haley and Krankl assert that 1,000 square feet, the amount of land clearing designated as requiring a permit in this new proposed zoning, is merely the area of your garage, or of a family garden.
There were a few people present who were in favor of the proposed changes, and spoke on behalf of those who had attended prior meetings. These speakers included George Berg and John Broesamle. Baggerly also tried to make it clear that the reason these changes are being proposed is because when the first scenic resources protection amendments were initiated in 1995, there was not adequate funding to arrive at the comprehensive plan hoped for by the original proponents. Supervisor Bennett secured funding early this year for a review and revision of the Ojai Valley Area Plan.
Berg stated that the reasoning for the proposed ordinance changes is “trying to avoid the McMansions that march up the hillsides in the San Fernando Valley and look like hotels.” Broesamle stated that at the March 4 meeting with Supervisor Bennett at the Ojai Valley Woman’s Club, “75 or so gathered and all but one voiced enthusiasm for the increase of the SRP in the interest of protecting the surroundings we all share.”
Architect Marc Whitman had this to say, “We’re all interested in protecting our valley. We all live here. We all love it. The house up there that they cite as a bad example is mine.” He went on to explain that the ridge top house was the dream house of a man whose youth was spent dealing with the death of his father, Bodee, who was killed in a fire at the site of Bodee’s Restaurant. This man grew up on that property with his mother, and, when he became successful, built the hilltop house he had always wanted.
Baggerly’s final comments had to do with whether a ministerial policy, rather than discretionary, could be conceived to take all these things into account without requiring permits. Smith stated that Planning “will look into” this, but that “aesthetics is a subject that does not lend itself readily to ministerial implementation.”
In a phone call Tuesday Smith also stated that if the MAC does not recommend expansion to the SRP, the expansion will most likely not be recommended by the Planning Division in the fall, nor adopted by the Board of Supervisors at the end of the year.
If the SRP expansion is adopted, for 600 properties in the valley, a discretionary permit would be required when removing over 1,000 square feet of native vegetation, grading an area larger than 1,000 square feet, or construction of a new structure or expansion of an existing structure over 10 percent of the size of the current structure.
Click HERE to study the proposed changes.