Thursday, September 27, 2012
By Tiobe Barron
The Ojai Valley Inn & Spa’s latest proposal to fulfill its obligation to provide low-income housing for some Inn employees got a more favorable reception from the city than its predecssor.
At their August 25 meeting, Council members shot down the Inn’s prior proposition that involved building 24 units with the help of the Area Housing Authority (AHA). That project hinged on the ability to obtain a tax credit; however, teaming with the AHA would mean the Inn could not restrict renters to Inn employees only — leaving the agreement in a stalemate.
But recently, a 12-unit apartment building at 408 Country Club Dr. became available and the Inn seized the opportunity to make good on its promise by buying, rather than building, the units.
The obligation stems from a 2005 agreement between the Inn and the city. Recognizing that proposed Inn renovations would bring increased traffic due to an increased number of OVIS employees, the Council approved the plans with the condition that the Inn provide at least 10 affordable housing units for Inn employees.
The Inn has approximately 650 employees and nearly 250 commute from Ventura, Oxnard and surrounding areas. The city gave OVIS the option to either construct new units, or purchase existing units.
“We are here, really, to proceed with the existing affordable housing agreement dated July 26, 2005 by purchasing 10 units of housing for eligible lessees as defined in the original agreement with the city,” said OVIS general manager Pete Ells at the Tuesday Council meeting. “We have continued clear and honest communication with the city for years, and we have been proactive in our attempts to propose reasonable alternatives … Just like the city, we did not anticipate this crippling recession, nor the impact it would have on our ability to complete new construction.”
City manager Rob Clark clarified that OVIS found the first plan to build 10 units on a parcel of land it owned on Hermosa Rd. unfeasible due to economic, zoning, density and general plan conflicts. Clark said city staff endorses the new proposal, as it has none of these issues.
“They also do not intend to evict the current tenants, but rather will work with them on a reasonable basis to assure a smooth transition,” said Clark. “The Inn has also agreed to rehabilitate the apartments which apparently are not in good repair, and maintain the affordable rents for 30 years.”
“The tenants that live there now, do you have any idea what rent they pay, or what their long-term prospects are?” queried Councilwoman Carol Smith at the most recent meeting. “It may take years before the building turns over to employees of the Inn, because we can’t ask a 70-year-old lady who’s on Section 8 and has lived in this building for years to move!”
“To our knowledge, it is not Section 8 housing, so we would work with all the people that are currently there, and we talked to city staff about a time frame that would assist people in finding other accommodations,” countered Ells at the same meeting. “The Inn would actually assist with the first month’s deposit (for new housing of the current tenants), realizing it might be hard to come up with a new deposit or new location.”
As the new owner of the apartment building, the OVIS plans to renovate each unit at a total estimated cost of $120,000.
Mayor Pro Tem Paul Blatz countered the argument that the new occupants, while in the employ of the Inn, might already live in Ojai, thus negating the traffic mitigation factor.
“The impetus would be greater for a person who is commuting from Ventura to want one of the units than someone who already has a place in Ojai, though you can’t guarantee that. I think this would mitigate far more than the number of units we looked at last time,” said Blatz.
Mayor Betsy Clapp also expressed the sentiment that she did not think the Inn would have difficulty filling the units with Inn employees who commute to Ojai, once the units are emptied, and the renovations complete.
Two current residents of the Country Club Drive apartment building, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they had not been notified of the impending purchase nor the possibility of having to relocate. A third, Mike Haigh, has been living in the complex for 10 years and said he had received a 60-day notice, meaning he will have to find a new place to live before Thanksgiving. A heavy equipment operator who once helped put out a fire at the building, Haigh says he is still unsure where he will move.
“We’re not kicking anybody out,” insisted Ells in a phone interview Thursday. Ells stressed that the purchase of the apartment building is not yet finalized; OVIS has simply put in an offer, which Ells hopes will be accepted and completed in the next 60 days. Assuming the sale goes through as planned, OVIS will work with each tenant on a case-by-case basis; no one, Ells said, will be displaced without having somewhere to go. If a tenant has not secured a new home when the Inn needs to renovate their current apartment, Ells said OVIS will put that person up in their own resort or will find suitable accommodations in town.
One of the current tenants is already an Inn employee, filling one out of 10 units per the Council’s requirements.
Ells said he feels confident the Council will be flexible with a schedule that allows each tenant to move out at a pace comfortable to their own needs.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for information on upcoming Ojai City Council meetings.