Mary M. Long
The long-awaited showdown over the use of Libbey Bowl by commercial enterprises came to a point of contention Tuesday night, and was resolved by a unanimous vote. With approval by Blatz, Olsen, Smith, Clapp and Horgan, the Bowl is on its way to becoming an economic engine for the city.
It was at city manager John Baker’s urging that the issue be discussed and dealt with immediately, reasoning that, “Since we’re putting $4 million ($3.2 million of which is coming from donors) into this project, we need to decide how we’re going to maintain it. We are building a first-class facility; we need to maintain it in a first-class way.”
His recommendations were to allow for-profit events and the sale of alcoholic beverages at events, and to secure the services of a venue manager.
Baker pressed council members to make a decision to give Libbey Bowl management time to book acts for the 2011-2012 season, since many acts book a year or two in advance. “We need to start now,” he said.
Public comment on Bowl use-for-profit was unanimously positive. Award-winning Ojai artist-composer-musician John Zeretzke, accompanied by local businesswoman Barbara Bowman, leant his support. A veteran of outdoor music festivals at Aspen and Idyllwild, he encouraged the use of the bowl for both local and touring acts.
“I’m always looking for great venues,” Zeretzke said, “so I support the idea of opening the bowl for both nonprofit, and for-profit organizations. Plus, it would be a great venue for local talent that we are so proud of such as Dave Mason, Robben Ford, (Ann) Kerry Ford, George Ball, Amanda McBroom and Perla Batala. This would really help to promote our city, business in Ojai and put us on the map as a great arts city.” Defeated Council candidate Dennis Leary didn’t have much to say, except to urge that all music genres get fair access. He professed a preference for rock ‘n roll “rather than sitting there like a bump on a log listening to classical.”
Bob Daddi noted that there was little distinction between nonprofit and profit, suggesting that events should just be referred to as enterprises. “Everyone needs to make a reasonable rate of return,” Daddi said. He also agreed to the sale of alcohol, but cautioned that such sales need to be controlled. Daddi estimated that the city would need to bring in at least $70,000 a year to maintain the bowl, and advised that the city get a “responsible distributor” in there to manage it. Suggesting that the Council “get started yesterday,” Daddi urged the Santa Barbara Bowl be used as a model. Demitri Corbin and Scott Eicher also threw their support to the proposal agreeing with Baker that such action is imperative.
Councilwoman Horgan summed up the situation in a practical manner. “Last year, we opened the bowl to only nonprofit events and took in only $3,000 in revenue. We are building a world-class venue and we need to let it blossom. We are on the cusp of something great.” she said, adding with a gesture, “let’s go for it!” And the Council did go for it with a unanimous approval of all three recommendations.
The other milestone that was passed Tuesday was the inception of a Blighted Building Ordinance for Ojai, one of Blatz’s campaign promises. Blatz was pleased to have brought to completion in only 90 days. However, unlike the Bowl vote, this went down with the staunch disapproval of Councilwoman Sue Horgan who logged the only “No” vote. Her contention was that we already have an ordinance in place that is sufficient, calling the proposed ordinance excessive. She worried that it could be construed as punitive towards people who are already in “dire straights,” and whose properties have fallen into disrepair through financial hardship. “This looks like government gone crazy,” she cautioned. Two weeks ago, she had motioned to continue study of the ordinance to allow for suggested revisions to be implemented. One of the things she had asked for is that staff prepare scenarios for what would happen to a few of the already designated blighted buildings under the new ordinance. One of those buildings was the vintage wood-frame house at 307 S. Blanch St. near City Hall. According to the hypothetical scenario, the ordinance would require the owners to make a dozen repairs, totaling many thousands of dollars. City attorney Monty Widders interjected, “There are numerous outlets for appeals, if, as you say, this is government gone amok.” Definition of the term “vacant” was discussed for multiple occupancy buildings. The Planning Commissioners had already modified the proposal from the original Palm Springs model, which they felt was too harsh. After some debate as to what was the least confusing wording, council settled on defining multiple-tenant commercial buildings as vacant if less then 65 percent of the building is occupied. The measure was passed 4-1 against Horgan’s objections. The ordinance will be implemented 31 days after being approved. Staff has already prepared a list of buildings which have been determined to be vacant. Ninety days after the ordinance has been adopted those designated properties will be required to come into compliance with the requirements outlined. The most immediately noticeable effect on vacant commercial buildings will be the required removal of chain link fencing, which, citing unintended consequences,” some fear will invite an invasion of homeless.
On Dec. 14, the newly elected City Council members will take their seats and the reigns of city government. As of this writing, Carlon Strobel and Paul Blatz have won two of those seats, but only ten votes separate challenger Len Klaif and incumbent Carol Smith for the final Council seat.