Friday, August 31, 2012
By Tiobe Barron
Ojai Mayor Betsy Clapp wasn’t shy about letting her feelings toward the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa’s proposed “employee” housing plan.
“When I first read this, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it got this far,” said Clapp at the Ojai City Council Tuesday night meeting. “I’m shocked and disappointed that this proposal is even before us. This is a betrayal to our citizens … This is a disgrace and an embarrassment.”
When the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa sought the city’s approval to expand and renovate in 2003, the city conditioned the project on the Inn’s ability to offset the resulting increase in traffic to the valley by building a minimum of 10 units of housing for Inn employees.
According to city staff reports, approximately 250 Inn employees commute to Ojai from Oxnard and Ventura.
The original contract, signed July 26, 2005 by Ojai Valley Inn & Spa President A. Steven Crown requires that the units be built at the sole expense of the Inn. Further, the agreement says the project “shall not be subject to Federal, State, or local affordable housing laws,” must be occupied by Inn employees only and must be completed by July 2010.
The Inn came before Ojai City Council last Tuesday to request modifications to its original agreement. Teaming with the Area Housing Authority of the County of Ventura, the Inn proposed a 24-unit project that would be funded in part by a tax credit. The Inn also sought to move the project to the corner of Hermosa Road and Highway 33, across the street from the original location.
Housing associated with a federal or state tax credit cannot legally stipulate that residents be Inn employees.
“It’s very interesting that the AHA even got involved,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith.
The new plan includes units with two and three bedrooms, prompting Smith to say that several factors perhaps counterbalance the shortcomings of the proposal, such as the demand for affordable housing and the need for more children to combat declining enrollment in the Ojai Unified School District.
“It seems like we’re mixing apples and oranges here,” Blatz countered. “Well, we need kids in our schools, so we’re not going to hold anybody to the environmental impact mitigating factor when the Inn was developed? I don’t buy that rationale.”
“We believe that building 10 units is not feasible — it’s what we’d call unsuitable — because of economic reasons,” Peter Ells, managing director of the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa said Thursday. “In lieu of that, we’d be able to lease or purchase 10 units somewhere in the city of Ojai, so Ojai won’t get any new units.
“Many of the Inn employees at the hourly level are our clients. We see Inn employees both episodically homeless and low-income and in danger of becoming homeless on a monthly basis,” said HELP of Ojai’s Terri Wolfe. “While the Area Housing Authority does a fabulous job in providing low-income housing and managing that in the county, the fact (is) that they cannot guarantee that the Inn employees, or Ojai Valley (residents) in general, are the people who move into these housing units — I think that’s the fundamental issue.”
“The initial proposal was not for affordable housing,” added Ojai resident Leonard Klaif. “It was not titled ‘affordable housing.’ It was employee housing. And the intent was to take people who are working at the Inn and live in Ventura, Oxnard, move them to Ojai to reduce traffic.”
“We had a chance to build what I thought would be 24 really high-quality low-income housing units that would benefit the city and certainly benefit us and the community as a whole,” Ells added. “Before we could get out of the gate, we were shut down.”
The council took no action Tuesday and no date was set to revist the issue.
The next Ojai City Council meeting is set for Sept. 25 at 7 p.m. at 402 Ventura Ave.