Blatz, Klaif qualify for June special election as Corbin
falls one qualifying signature short on filing deadline
By Daryl Kelley
Two Ojai lawyers involved with community groups for years have applied to fill a seat on the City Council vacated in December when veteran Councilman Joe DeVito retired. Both are critical of current city leadership.
But a professional actor and teacher who also submitted nomination papers on Friday fell one signature short of the required 20 eligible voters, and did not qualify for the June 8 election.
A split City Council voted in January to fill the last few months of DeVito’s term through a special election, instead of appointing a temporary replacement to serve until the fall general election.
Now, two candidates have qualified for the June ballot: Leonard Klaif, 61, who specializes in criminal appeals, and Paul Blatz, 58, who is primarily a business lawyer.
But actor Demitri Corbin, 49, a city arts commissioner, was notified by City Clerk Carlon Strobel on Tuesday that only 19 of his signatures qualified.
“So I won’t be a candidate,” Corbin said. “I’m surprised and still a little bit shocked.”
Corbin said he submitted 26 or 27 signatures, but apparently some of those who signed in support of Corbin did not live inside city boundaries.
“But there’s still an election in November,” Corbin said, “and I’m going to run.”
In addition to DeVito’s seat, two other council positions will be on the November ballot.
Klaif and Blatz have run for City Council before, and Klaif narrowly missed being elected in 2006. It would have been Corbin’s first run for council.
Blatz, a 26-year resident of Ojai, has served on both the city’s Redevelopment Commission and the Planning Commission, of which he was chairman.
Klaif, who has lived in Ojai for 17 years, is a trustee of the Ojai Art Center, and was president of that board for five years.
Klaif and Blatz said they are running to preserve the small-town qualities that attracted them to Ojai in the first place. And in interviews, they both criticized current city leadership.
“I’ve been watching and attending City Council meetings for all of the 17 years I’ve been in Ojai,” said Klaif, who has been endorsed by former Mayor Suza Francina. “Ojai is incredible, unique. And I think I can help preserve that small-town charm. The quality of the arts is top-notch.”
And he added: “The biggest issue, because it really encompasses everything, is leadership.”
Blatz, a former professional sports agent, said his goal is also preserving the charms of this bucolic community.
“I grew up in a 1,500-person community in Connecticut,” Blatz said. “Ojai has all of the small-town qualities I was used to. But it seems like the city is lacking leadership. It seems tired. It’s an attitude. It seems like the people at City Hall, that we’re there for them rather than they’re there for us.”
The candidates have nearly three months to sway city voters. Neither anticipated spending a lot of money to make his case.
Klaif, who frequently speaks at City Council meetings, missed winning a council seat by 76 votes in 2006. And this time, he has campaigned aggressively, lobbying for an appointment to replace DeVito by placing an advertisement in the OVN while gaining the signatures of about 200 supporters.
Now, in kicking off his spring campaign, Klaif said Monday that he will bring to the council a zeal to get things done.
“How is it possible that we still do not have a permanent Skate Park?” he said. “Why is the public access cable channel without programming? Why do we not have a visible Visitor’s Center? Why is City Hall’s roof covered with a tarp? Why did the bicycle racks purchased by the city sit in storage for years? Why don’t we have a bike plan in place? A major part of the answer is lack of leadership, passion and commitment from the City Council.”
Klaif said that as president of the Ojai Art Center board, he led a renovation campaign and enlisted the city’s support in finally linking the center to Libbey Park with a foot bridge, an improvement planned since 1937.
Klaif stressed his history of taking staunch positions against projects that could erode Ojai’s small-town allure, “our villageness.”
He said he has attended an anti-chain store conference in Massachusetts, spoke against a permit for gravel trucks in Santa Maria, and argued against a cell phone company’s proposal to build 60-foot towers that would have marred views of Ojai Valley residents.
“I regularly attend City Council meetings, speaking clearly, emphatically, passionately, and occasionally caustically, in support of ‘small town’ in what is essentially a battle with ‘big money,’” Klaif said.
If elected, Klaif said he would also be a champion of the burgeoning “green” movement in the Ojai Valley. “The city should better utilize the expertise available from individuals and groups such as the Ojai Valley Green Coalition,” he said.
Klaif is also is a supporter of Theater 150 and the Ojai Film Society.
Blatz, who lost in council runs in 1996 and 2002, stressed his experience within government as an appointed city redevelopment commissioner for two years and planning commissioner for nine.
As a commissioner, “I learned what it takes to address and resolve important issues,” he said.
“I am acutely aware that what we cherish most about living in our beautiful valley could be easily lost without leadership on our City Council focused on protecting our village character and quality of life,” he wrote in his candidate statement.
“We must maintain the proper balance between our environmental and economic interests and appreciate and preserve our history in order to safeguard our future and achieve sustainability.”
Blatz said he is particularly bothered by the “eyesores” that dot Ojai’s main street —- two vacant gas stations and the old bowling alley.
“They’re right in the heart of our city,” he said. “Maybe the city code should be reworked” so officials can force improvements faster, he said.
Blatz said he would also like the council to focus on the escalating rates charged by Golden State Water Company to Ojai residents. “This is going to be a terrible burden on our citizens.”
Blatz cited his efforts with several local organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, Land Conservancy, Rotary Club, Pergola Committee and Performing Arts Theater Foundation.
“As a member of the Ojai community for 26 years,” Blatz said, “I’ve worked with these Ojai organizations to make Ojai the best possible community it can be.”