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.