By Tiobe Barron
Ojai City Council members briefly discussed Tuesday night the decision made at a closed-session Nov. 7 when the council met to review the language of the contract with Jeffery Oderman, of Rutan and Tucker. Across the board, council members seemed pleased with the language clarifications in the contract for the legal services, which were revised in that closed-session meeting. Council members have drafted the document to retain Oderman’s consultation in regards to Casitas Municipal Water District’s possible acquisition of Golden State Water Company, which Ojai Friends of Locally Owned Water is working toward. Clark took the opportunity to further clarify a few points:
That the city as a rights holder would have the standing to protest the acquisition by Golden State Water Company; that because the city has a financial stake in the franchise, it could make a claim for the loss of revenue; and no attorney can represent both the city and Casitas Water; and this would waive the city’s right to compensation. Councilman Paul Blatz, an attorney himself, pointed out that the contract is between the city and the attorney, Oderman, not between the city and Casitas; and if Oderman declines to represent Casitas, these last points become moot.
Strobel asked acting city attorney Steve Lee if he had read the proposed contract. He affirmed that he had, and found the language much clearer than before. Mayor Smith agreed, stating, “I am much more comfortable tonight than two weeks ago as to the implications (of the document).”
Jon Lambert of the Ojai Valley Library Friends and Foundation came before council members to test the waters for funds to cover the operating expenses of a proposed community reading room. The reading room would be an approximately 600-square-foot structure separate from the library itself, which would serve as a meeting space for some 28 groups that currently meet in the Ojai Library, as well as the public. Because the library is linked with the used bookstore, Twice Sold Tales, there is a growing surplus of funds that should cover the construction expenses of the free-standing structure, but for the custodial upkeep, the energy and lighting it would cost about $1,950 per year to operate. City manager Robert Clark was quick to point out that though the council could decide to use funds to support the endeavor, the funding would have to be approved with each budget. Mayor Carol Smith observed that another option was to let the space be used by groups and the general public during the day, then at night it could be rented out to offset the operating costs.
Resident Pat McPherson had some reservations about the discussions. “This is the first I’ve heard of the details,” he said during the time allotted for public comments on the matter. “I’d like us to reflect back to the time when there was panic when the city couldn’t afford to keep our libraries open, and that resulted in the parcel tax. My suggestion in these times is to not spend any money. I could care less about square footage in these times.”
Mayor Smith said, “I don’t know how often you are in our library, but I’m in there quite often, and crowding is a huge problem. It would do tremendous good for the library patrons. I’d like to ask Mr. McPherson, How often are you in our library?” to which he replied he didn’t think it mattered.
Councilwoman Carlon Strobel allowed that the effort to create more space for patrons is a noble one, but “I would prefer to see the building generate its own revenue to cover operating costs. Just because we have a current surplus (in library funds), we don’t know that we will have a surplus next year or the year after.”
Chain issue revisited
Also at the meeting, council moved to send back to the city Planning Commission an ordinance regarding chain businesses within the city, in order that the commission might include a mechanism for public input in determining whether a business is in fact a “formula business establishment,” or a mass retail chain. Council members also briefly discussed the notice to the Ojai Quarry regarding numerous safety violations, and the impending Ventura County Planning Commission hearing to revoke the operation permit. Although Mayor Smith will not be able to attend the revocation hearing for Ojai Quarry, which has been moved from Nov. 17 to Dec. 15, council members seemed in agreement they are moving in the right direction on this issue.
During the public communications portion of the meeting, Dick Thompson, Ventura County resident and president of Ventura County Taxpayers Association, took council members to task for their decision on Oct. 1 to not change the policy of extending health care benefits to former council members. Said Thompson, “Every dollar spent (on former members’ health care) is a dollar not available for public service. When you are done, you should be done. Lifetime health care is not appropriate, it is an abuse of taxpayer goodwill.” Mayor Smith moved to address the issue at a future council meeting.