By Logan Hall
The Ojai Planning Commission voted to take a closer look at the city’s historical preservation proposal before making a recommendation to the City Council on the issue.
Ojai citizens filled the council chambers at City Hall Wednesday night to voice concerns about the results of a survey identifying hundreds of properties that might have historical significance. If the plan to designate buildings as “historical resources” is implemented as is, a property owner’s process for obtaining a building permit could become longer and more expensive.
As city staff and the Planning Commission have pointed out, preserving historically significant properties can be an important part of preserving history itself, and maintaining the appeal of a tourist-driven town like Ojai. Local experts and property owners, however, have some serious issues with the city’s plan and the way it has been implemented so far. One of the problems on the forefront of the public’s mind is the fact that the city has not notified any of the owners of the properties found on the historic survey list.
“My first concern is that I knew nothing about this,” local property owner Debra Scolari said to the commission. “Something needs to be implemented so we aren’t caught off-guard.”
Several others in attendance also voiced Scolari’s concerns.
“I’m just really kind of shocked that there have been no letters (sent out),” added local homeowner Dulanie LaBarre.
Others in the crowd like Steve Streich, president of the Ojai Valley Board of Realtors, expressed concerns about potential impacts a historical designation could have on property owners. “We don’t want the city to create any more guidelines and regulations for people to have to go through to fix up their houses,” said Streich. “What will end up happening is that people will just decide not to fix up their houses. Nobody is going to want to check with the city for any reason.”
If the city identifies a property as a historical resource, property owners applying for building permits would have to hire a historian to send a report to city planning staff outlining any historical significance regarding the property. The city would then, at its discretion, decide if the property needs further review.
A historical designation would also place a property under the guidelines of the California Environmental Quality Act and the property could be subject to an environmental impact review. An EIR could turn a several-months process into one that takes more than a year.
An EIR is an expensive process and, when combined with other administrative costs associated with issuing and applying for building permits, many are left wondering who will foot the bill. With the city’s budget in a precarious position, however, much of the cost could become the responsibility of the homeowner.
“The city is running on a limited budget and this is just going to create more expense,” said Streich. “It’s going to end up falling on the people.”
Ultimately, after reviewing the historical survey and hearing the community’s concerns and statements from environmental law experts like local attorney Craig Beam, the commission decided to request that the proposal be reviewed by the city’s legal counsel before making a recommendation to the Ojai City Council, which will ultimately make a decision on the matter.
The commission appeared genuine in its willingness to work with the public and take people’s concerns into consideration. “We really appreciate the public’s input,” said Planning Commissioner John Mirk. “I think there is a whole lot more study that needs to go into this.”
Local State Farm insurance agent Bob Daddi seemed to get everyone’s attention when he asked, “How is this going to benefit the people of Ojai?”