Council also considers paying $3,000 a month to reimburse Stop the Trucks for settlement
By Nao Braverman
There may be hope yet for Ojai’s home-grown television shows.
AB 2987, which proposed to equalize competition among cable providers by allowing them to franchise with the state instead of individual cities, has already wiped out a number of public access stations in California.
When Time Warner, Ojai’s cable provider, announced its decision to franchise with the state after its agreement with Ojai expires in November, city staff expected to take on the task of broadcasting government meetings on Channel 10, but nothing else.
“It is my concern that if we are running a television studio that would add up to a lot of staff time,” said city manager Jere Kersnar.
But Ojai’s public access regulars, John Wilcock, who airs a low-budget travelogue through the local station, Lee Fitzgerald whose 14-year-old news show began in Ojai, and William Roberts who airs a vedic theology show, were not ready to give up their Ojai air time. All attended the regular City Council meeting Tuesday night to protest the city staff’s recommendation.
But council members did show interest in having a community-run public access station, and considered appointing a subcommittee to look into the task.
“If we do have a subcommittee, I will volunteer to be on the committee,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith, “because I think public access is something really precious and I would hate for Time Warner to get away with taking it away from us.”
While the endeavor would require some funds and certainly a number of community volunteers, the city could easily find the latter, as many meeting attendants eagerly volunteered themselves.
“I think PEG (Public Education and Government) access is a very important tool in bridging the digital divide,” said Ojai resident Marcus Sandy. A self-described tech-savvy geek, Sandy said he would be happy to offer his services should the council consider contracting the operation of a station to local volunteers.
Tyler Suchman, founder of the Ojai Post, also offered to provide data feed to the public access channel, in between City Council and Planning Commission meetings. “We have a wealth of content and technology,” he said.
Fitzgerald said that he and his show’s producer had been looking into independent community public access stations such as the one in Ventura (Community Access Partners of San Buenaventura) and another in Santa Barbara. He asked to be placed on a future City Council agenda with a proposal for Ojai.
Mayor Sue Horgan directed him to meet first with city staff. Council members all said they were open to the variety of ideas from public speakers and showed interest in directing a subcommittee of local volunteers to look into to the issue.
In an interview earlier Tuesday, Todd Thayer, executive director of CAPS in Ventura, said that their program was funded partially by the county, which gives it 40 percent of its franchise fees from Time Warner, and partially by small membership fees. They also receive an additional percentage for public access from the county through the new legislation, which requires Time Warner to give the city of Ventura a small percentage of its profits, earmarked for public access.
Ojai Council members also asked staff to apply to get 1 percent of Time Warner’s Ojai profits through the new legislation. But that will likely be less than $20,000 a year, according to the trend, and not enough to run a station, said Kersnar.
In other City Council news, council members considered paying the Stop the Trucks Coalition in monthly increments of about $3,000 until the end of the fiscal year.
Although nothing was solidified at the meeting, council members directed staff to work with members of Stop the Trucks to draft a memorandum of understanding which would provide the coalition with funds to operate.
Coalition Chair Michael Shapiro suggested an indefinite amount, with a total cap of $43,000, the sum that it cost the organization to settle with owners of the Diamond Rock Mine, over a period of about 14 months. That comes out to approximately $3,000 a month, though every month is different, said Shapiro. There have been many months that the organization didn’t use any money, while the costs during settlement meetings were much higher than $3,000 he said.
Shapiro said he hoped to work out an arrangement where the monthly amount was flexible. Council members asked staff to draft a memorandum of understanding which would give funds to the coalition for a trial run until the rest of this fiscal year which terminates in June. The memorandum would have to come back to council for approval.
Kersnar reported that a meeting between Skate Ojai, city staff and Site Design Group, Inc., on Monday went smoothly. The firm had continued to refine their design and seemed to be getting closer to a concept that meets everyone’s needs, he said.
“There is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Councilman Joe DeVito, who also attended the meeting.
The council also approved prioritizing parts of Valle Rio, Sierra Road, Shady Lane, Creek Road, Fulton Street, and North Signal for repaving with rubberized asphalt, a newer material which has a longer life span, according to Mike Culver, Public Works director.
Earlier on, the council agreed to allow tax incentives for owners of the Lavender Inn, for preserving and maintaining the inn under the Mills Act. The Mills Act authorizes the city to contract with owners of historic landmark properties, giving the owners tax incentives for upkeep of historic landmarks. The Lavender Inn, once a brick schoolhouse, is one of Ojai’s historic landmark structures.
Also at the opening of the meeting, San Antonio School fifth-grader Christopher Van Son gave a PowerPoint presentation on the environmental harm caused by grocery store plastic bags when they are discarded. Van Son urged the council to follow the lead of Bangladesh, Rwanda, China and San Francisco and adopt an ordinance banning plastic bags.
Council candidates Suza Francina and Betsy Clapp voiced their support for such an ordinance.
The meeting was adjourned in the memory of Ray Ellis.