Nov. 29, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Ojai City Council voted Tuesday night to extend for a year its moratorium banning the installation of Smart Meters in Ojai. Though the piece of legislation has been deemed “unenforceable” — and therefore is symbolic in nature — only one council member, Sue Horgan, felt the gesture was “futile.”
“This moratorium has been ineffective,” said Horgan. “I am hoping we can do more effective things.”
Other council members and city staff expressed the need to make the statement nonetheless while the California Public Utilities Commission, which has jurisdiction over the electrical companies installing the new wireless meters, considers aspects such as community-wide opt-outs.
“Historically, they (PUC) haven’t moved at the speed they have advertised,” said city manager Rob Clark. “We all understand this is somewhat of a paper tiger. In spite of the fact that we adopted the moratorium, 95 or 97 percent of the Smart Meters are installed. But I think it is a statement.”
“You should be able to opt-out and not have it cost you anything. I think the only responsible thing to do is to continue with the moratorium on the Smart Meters,” added Mayor Pro Tem Paul Blatz.
Ojai residents spoke in support of the extension, and asked City Council to broaden its scope of the ban, and research the future installation of other wireless meters by gas and water companies.
“I wanted to ask about an addendum to the moratorium that would cover our gas and water utilities. I don’t know if that’s possible to do at this time. But I have received several notices in my gas bill that talk about an ‘advanced meter,’” said Ojai resident Vicki Cohen.
“There is going to be a lot technology coming in the future and I think we need to be ahead of the game rather than behind it,” agreed resident Marleen Luckman. Luckman also encouraged members of the public to attend the PUC meeting Dec. 14 from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Santa Barbara County Administrative Building.
A more hotly-contested item on Tuesday’s agenda was the appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision regarding the construction of a 4-foot-tall rock wall on Quail Oaks Drive. After roughly three years, the Ojai Planning Commission decided June 20 to recommend that the council allow the property owner, Bob Daddi, to have the rock wall, albeit with a few conditions: that the wall be set back six feet from its present location, that it not exceed four feet in height, that all permit fees be paid in full.
The project has been at an impasse as Daddi and his neighbors battled over how far back from the road the wall ought to sit, and the city worked to sort through the steps Daddi would need to take to finish his wall legally. In the interim, the wall has sat on the property incomplete.
“This wall has been sitting there in an unfinished condition. It’s hideous. It looks like Mexico. In Mexico you don’t have to pay taxes on a building that is under construction,” stated Councilwoman Carol Smith.
“The reason for the wall is the speed bump that makes a racket with the constant stopping and starting (of vehicles) … It is obnoxious,” explained Daddi. His neighbors insist the wall as it stands is a threat to public safety, and have been requesting Daddi move the wall back 6 to 7 feet.
“My objection is that the wall is a hazard to drivers and pedestrians,” argued Daddi’s neighbor, Roger Wachtel. “Frankly I’m flabbergasted to hear about problems with speed bumps.”
“I can’t see out of my driveway. The wall blocks it. It really is a safety issue for us,” insisted fellow Quail Oaks resident Bob McPhee. Blatz inquired of McPhee whether there had been any car accidents in the three years since the wall has stood, to which McPhee answered to the negative, but mused that the wall is only partially completed. Resident Chet Hilgers expressed that he had seen the removal of substantial amounts of rock and foliage from the area where Daddi’s wall stands, and said the supposition the wall visually impairs drivers is “crazy.”
“I think it is important to look at the neighbor-on-neighbor aspect of this,” contributed Jeffrey Loebl, Daddi’s attorney. “I think the council needs to be aware that the anger and hurt feelings go beyond six feet.”
Councilwoman Carlon Strobel sought a simple resolution.
“If the speed bump created the problem, that created the wall, we should remove the problem,” Strobel suggested. Daddi said he would gladly remove his wall if the offending speed bump were removed. Horgan reminded Strobel the speed bump is on a private road, and is not under Council’s jurisdiction.
Blatz proposed that the council should approve the Planning Commission’s recommendation, but add an additional provision granting Daddi and his neighbors 60 days to work out the issue themselves — without city intervention — removing both wall and speed bump. If at the end of the 60-day period Daddi has not removed the wall, then City staff will continue to enforce Council’s decision, regardless of the status of the speed bump.
“I suppose 60 days is better than nothing. I apologize (to the homeowners) in advance for that,” said Horgan.
“I feel uncomfortable that Councilwoman Horgan apologized to the neighbors. That doesn’t feel objective to me,” said Strobel, after which Horgan repeated her apology.
Council voted unanimously to approve the Planning Commission’s decision, along with the 60-day condition.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view prior council meetings in full.