- Dec. 13, 2012
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai’s City Council underwent a change Tuesday as members bid farewell to Sue Horgan, a 12-year councilwoman and two-time Mayor. Replacing Horgan is former Ojai Parks and Recreation Commissioner Severo Lara, who was sworn in Tuesday along with Councilwoman Betsy Clapp, city clerk Rhonda Basore and city treasurer Alan Rains who were recently reelected.
Several of Horgan’s friends and colleagues spoke of her service to the community at the meeting. “There is no one who can say they doubted your intentions or like they felt that self-interest influenced your decision-making process,” said Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett. “It was so clear that you were always trying to do what was best for the city of Ojai. That’s a remarkable legacy.”
Ojai Chamber of Commerce CEO Scott Eicher praised Horgan’s conviction and class, and former Ojai Mayor Steve Olsen commended her respect and sense of humor. Another former mayor, Rae Hanstad, thanked Horgan for always keeping “an eye on the checkbook of the public.”
“I want to say thank you to all who spoke tonight. And thank you to the citizens. It has been an honor to serve Ojai,” said Horgan. “It has been a pleasure to serve with my colleagues. Everyone’s heart is in it. It has been a wonderful journey.”
Following Horgan’s remarks, the new Council unanimously elected Paul Blatz mayor, and Carlon Strobel mayor pro tem.
The Council then began discussions of two agenda items: the possibility of renting Libbey Park to commercial entities and the option of rezoning portions of downtown Ojai to allow residential units in commercial properties.
“Staff is looking for guidance on a policy issue: the possible change to the Libbey Park rental fees,” explained Community Development Director Rob Mullane. Currently, it does not provide for commercial use.”
City Manager Rob Clark noted that while use has been restricted to events orchestrated by nonprofit organizations, the events themselves seem to differ little from commercial affairs.
“I am cautious about labeling the Lavender Festival ‘commercial.’ I want to get the distinction right, rather than assume,” said Lara. “I am wary of commercial use (of Libbey Park). I like the open space. I bring my girls there often.”
Councilwoman Betsy Clapp agreed, stating that Edward Libbey deeded the land to be used as an oak woodland, and that the city is in the process of rehabilitating the trees and space.
“Parks are places to rest and relax. There is precious little open space in the city of Ojai. There are not many places to get solitude,” said Clapp. “It (allowing commercial endeavors) would change the tone of the park, and I don’t think that is appropriate.”
“That park is there for our people,” agreed Councilwoman Carol Smith.
The Council directed Mulane to report back to them on how many events the park might handle safely before its many oak trees and fragile ecosystem begins to suffer.
City staff also asked the Council for direction regarding rezoning portions of downtown to allow for “Village Mixed Use.” The discussion followed a proposal heard by the Ojai Planning Commission for a property on East Ojai Avenue to allow residential units in an area zoned for commercial use.
Mullane explained that while that proposal was a conceptual review, it had the potential to create significant changes to the zoning code. Mullane reported that the Planning Commission and others were interested in possibly allowing residences in certain commercial areas of Ojai, particularly East Ojai Avenue.
Clapp expressed concern about the possibility of opening the floodgates for three-story buildings and large multi-unit residences, largely due to the state-mandated housing element.
“Nothing we are talking about is going to allow three stories,” clarified Mullane. “That is only with the housing element, tied to the affordable housing overlay. Those are the only ones allowed to have three stories.”
City attorney Joseph Fletcher noted that the Council need not necessarily resort to amending its zoning code, or even granting Conditional Use Permits, but could create zoning overlays to current zoning areas — for example, adding residential zoning on top of certain commercially-zoned neighborhoods. Some members of the Council still had reservations regarding changing the zoning in Ojai.
“I think we have to look at it on a case-by-case basis,” insisted Blatz.
No action was taken on either item at the meeting.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information or to view recordings of previous Council meetings.