April 11, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai City Council Tuesday night passed to a second reading the ordinances necessary to implement the 2006-2014 Housing Element. The finer points of these ordinances were hammered out at the Feb. 20 public hearing. City staff made slight changes to the special overlay site list after the Carty family reportedly contacted the California Department of Housing and Community Development; in response, staff recommendations changed the density of overlay sites from 20 units per acre to the more “realistic” 12.6 units per acre. This, in turn, meant the existing list of sites fell short of the required acreage to provide 177 potential units of affordable housing, which was remedied by bumping up the number of applicable acres on the school district site from 3.4 to 4 as well as including a portion of the former bowling alley property.
“I can tell you firsthand the amount of work that the Planning Commission put into this was absolutely astounding,” commented Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel.
“The Housing Element is such an intrusion into our community, but it does make us focus on affordable housing, which we do need in Ojai,” contributed Mayor Paul Blatz.
Ojai resident Doug Lebarr encouraged Council to concentrate on developing Ojai’s “eastern entrance,” the area around the former bowling alley. Local Chumash elder Julie Tumamait-Stenslie cautioned members to safeguard artifacts lying undiscovered in potential development sites.
“I am glad to hear there will be mitigation of cultural resources,” said Tumamait-Stenslie. “I would like to hear more on the methods used.”
Community development director Rob Mullane reminded wary residents and Council members that any development project that comes forward for the overlay sites will still have to undergo the design review process through the Planning Commission, ensuring some amount of discretionary control over these projects. Council will begin discussion of the next housing cycle this summer.
Council also heard a presentation given by Greg Gamble, executive director of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy (OVLC). The OVLC recently entered into an agreement to purchase a parcel of land above Shelf Road, and had originally requested the city contribute $45,000 toward the approximately $500,000 needed by May 31 to secure the site. After additional contributions were received, the OVLC decreased the requested contribution of the city to $20,000. City staff recommended contributing this amount using Park and Recreation tax funds, as the preserve will have public hiking trails. The parcel, called the “Valley View Preserve,” measures about one mile east to west, comprises about seven percent of the land within city limits, and is nestled between Shelf Road and the firebreak road.
“To me, it would feel right if the city would contribute this $20,000,” Gamble stated. “This (protecting the land as a preserve) is one of the few things we can do that is permanent.”
“I think it’s a great project, but I would like to see things brought to the Parks and Recreation Commission, just as a courtesy and to utilize them,” offered Councilman Severo Lara.
“I would agree; I would like to endorse it tonight, but it would be appropriate to send it to the Commission,” agreed Councilwoman Betsy Clapp.
“It is very important that we have the protection of this property,” contributed Tumamait-Stenslie. “There are also well-documented cultural resource site, sacred sites, near and about that area, so having this land in a conservancy protects the sacred sites, the religious sites. As we endorse and support the Ojai (Valley) Land Conservancy, it’s a great opportunity to also support and protect the cultural resources that are there, and to protect the mountaintops that were at one time walked up to. Well, people are still doing that, in their way; praying and having solace up there.”
The next regular Parks and Recreation Commission meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. May 9, and presumably will discuss the use of the tax funds toward the Valley View Preserve.
Council unanimously approved a resolution supporting approval of a special tax for the Casitas Municipal Water District to acquire and rehabilitate the Golden State Water Company’s Ojai service area. While this tax will not be levied on Ojai itself, Council felt it worthwhile to formally encourage the acquisition.
“In their staff reports they listed a number of reasons why their rates in Casitas would be lower than under Golden State,” said city manager Rob Clark. “First of all, Golden State has to pay income tax and property tax. Casitas is tax-exempt, so they do not. Golden State has to pay franchise rights to the City; Casitas is again exempt and does not. Golden State Water does not get property tax money, but Casitas does get tax money, and can use that for this service. Golden State Water has to pay very high executive salaries, or at least they do pay them, and Casitas does not.”
The next regular Council meeting will be held April 23 at 7 p.m., at 401 S. Ventura Street in Ojai. Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for upcoming agenda items.