Oct. 11, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVN Correspondent
Despite voicing objections, the Ojai City Council voted 3-2 to approve a revised Housing Element to its General Plan Oct. 9.
The plan is mandated by the state of California and requires the city to prove it can accommodate 177 additional affordable housing units within 14 acres.
According to consultant Thomas Figg, the city faced possible litigation or punitive measures — including higher Regional Housing Needs Assessment requirements for the next Housing Element — if the Council had not taken action.
“Nobody wants to be here, but it is about what the law says we have to do,” Figg said during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
Like his fellow Council members, Mayor pro tem Paul Blatz was not happy with the situation. “This is an over-reaching intrusion of our government,” he said. “The state is forcing numbers down our throats with no concern about what we consider correct for our valley. It is really unfortunate that as we are given the responsibility to protect our valley, which is very sacred, that external forces force us to adopt things that are not good for the valley … I don’t think this is what is best for our community, but I don’t think it is best for our community to do nothing at this point.”
“I am not happy with what we are incorporating. My blood pressure is up to here,” agreed Councilwoman Carlon Strobel.
Mayor Betsy Clapp raised concerns that within the Housing Element, there is a stipulation that three-story building projects be permitted, which she sees as an impediment to Ojai’s mountain views, small town character and tourist-driven economy.
City attorney Joseph Fletcher responded that the design review process would allow some discretion with projects, but the city is unable to categorically rule out three-story buildings.
“The state staff has set certain policies and assumptions about densities that they want to see addressed, and there is the perception — and I don’t think it is a validly-based perception — that communities put a two-story limit to effectively thwart the adequate density needed for the market to absorb these projects,” Fletcher said. “They want to see that at least we would consider three stories, that three stories are not prohibited.”
Councilwoman Sue Horgan said the numbers required by the state are ludicrous, as they are intended to provide for an increase in California’s population, while Ojai has faced a decrease in population in recent years. Horgan also worried that while not approving the Housing Element could result in litigation, approving the same Element has the potential to result in litigation from potential developers if their projects are not approved by the city.
“No one in our community would think this is a reasonable plan,” Horgan said. “Our population has not grown, it has decreased. None of this makes any sense. I guess I would say that, just because the state says that we have to do this, and yes there might be risks if we don’t, I believe there are also risks if we do adopt this plan. I have said this year after year. If we set out this blueprint of how we could accommodate this kind of growth, a developer could come here and challenge us with this, and say, ‘You said you could do this.’ So I think there is a risk of litigation on either side of this.”
Ojai resident John Broesamle implored Council members to remember how precious Ojai’s small-town charm is, and to understand the complex issues and citizens’ conflicting desires behind this plan.
“This process is a very large part of Ojai’s future,” said Broesamle. “All of us know, I think, that a small town or a small agricultural and geographical setting with charm and ambience can be lost very quickly. It has happened again and again in California. Yet when we talk about RHNA, we talk about something that brings our most sensitive values together in one place, and sometimes makes them contend with one another.”
Clapp agreed with Horgan that as the Housing Element is a land-use document, there is potential for litigation regardless of how council proceeded. Clapp also maintained that the issue of water use had not been adequately addressed and that the Housing Element inherently threatens Ojai’s wellbeing.
“We have a community that is dependent upon its character for its economic survival. That is a constraint. I take offense that that is not being considered a constraint (by the state),” Clapp said. “I am sickened at the whole concept of this housing element … I cannot support it. I think we are all backed into a corner, and being asked to do something that is not good for our community.”
Despite numerous objections to the Housing Element and its repercussions, Councilwoman Carol Smith, Strobel and Mayor pro tem Blatz approved the measure, while Horgan and Clapp voted to oppose it.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information on the 2006-2014 Housing Element.