April 16, 2013
Kimberly Rivers, OVN correspondent
Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) approved a motion to support a new Meiners Oaks sidewalk project at its Monday night meeting. About two dozen citizens came to hear the Ventura County Public Works presentation on the proposed project, which will feature five-foot sidewalks on the south side of El Roblar Drive, from Lomita Avenue to La Luna Avenue.
MAC board members support came with one condition — that public works office will continue to work with affected property owners to address their concerns.
The project will break ground in October, take six weeks to complete and will cost $260,000, according to the presentation. Half of the funding comes from California State Transportation Development Act funds, the other from the Ventura County Road Fund, which is supported by gas taxes.
According to the public works department nine or 10 parking spaces will be lost due to the project.
“The public works agency and all of us at the county are very aware of how precious parking is along El Roblar,” said Steve Offerman, representing Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett’s office. “We received communications from the PTO at the school (Meiners Oaks Elementary).” He added that Bennett’s office has also heard from “Many residents of Meiners Oaks (who were) concerned about pedestrian safety and making Meiners Oaks a more walkable community.”
Chris Hooke, deputy director of the Ventura County Public Works Agency, pointed out that public comment time is still open. “Within the next couple of weeks, if you have comments we want to meet with you and hear what you have to say,” he added.
According to Alison Sweet, engineering manager for the public works agency, the county is in the process of purchasing easements (where needed) for the project. The design is in the preliminary phase, so changes can still be made based on input from the community.
During public comment, residents, business owners and homeowners expressed support, concerns and asked questions.
Long-time Meiners Oaks resident, Pat Baggerly, presented a letter to MAC suggesting that the safest option would be to place the sidewalk on the north side of El Roblar Drive, because that is where most of the children currently walk. Public works officials replied that more parking spaces would be lost in such an option, because three blocks of perpendicular parking lie on that side of the street, and it is unsafe to have pedestrians walk behind parked cars.
Hooke indicated that the county can explore options for making safer crossings and request that Meiners Oaks Elementary School implement a community education program for families to encourage students to cross where it is safe and to utilize the new sidewalks. Offerman said he will pass along requests for more enforcement of speed limits on El Roblar Drive.
“I’m here to find out why you would want to replicate an already existing sidewalk,” said Ralph Aguirre, a property owner and resident of Meiners Oaks for more than 40 years. A sidewalk is currently adjacent to his property along El Roblar Drive.
“This is an area where right now the sidewalk is on private property,” said Sweet. “ Our goal is to have public access for the school children. So yes, there is already existing concrete but it’s not a public way to walk. So that is why we would like to purchase that property in order to make it a public easement.”
“For me it’s kind of an insult when you’ve already made your decision,” said Aguirre. “Now, finally, the community is here for the first time. I think the (sidewalk) is necessary, and will benefit everybody. I don’t like how you waited so long to inform the community about your plans. I just got a little emotional when you were pointing at my property, I’m very protective of my home.”
“This is a preliminary design, and that’s why we are here to hear concerns and see if we can make adjustments,” answered Sweet.
“The question is eminent domain,” said Aguirre. “When you make me an offer, are you forcing me to sell my property to you? I honestly don’t feel like selling my property to anybody. I’m in a very defensive mode right now. It’s my home. I’ve been paying my property taxes for 18 years. All of a sudden, you say I think we’re going to use eminent domain and try to take away peoples’ properties.”
“Has anyone threatened you with eminent domain?” asked Hooke. “We are not going to use (eminent domain). We would like to purchase the properties if you will sell them to us. If you won’t sell, there may be a gap where there is no sidewalk, or the children will use your sidewalk.”
“I want to make sure you don’t just construct a bunch of concrete down the street and then you neglect it,” said Aguirre. “I’m in there for the long run, to actually help the community. I don’t think big government is going to help the community. I think individuals help the community.” He asked about whether there can be trees, bricks or other elements incorporated into the design.
“We actually have had meetings and discussions about this project,” said Patricia Cardinali, owner of Cardinali Brothers Music in Meiners Oaks and president of the Meiners Oaks Business and Arts Association. “And we had notifications in the paper of our gatherings. We try to be very public and invite the community (for input). I see that you are not being forceful about acquiring property and you want to do as much as you can to work with property owners.”
“I’m a property owner in what I affectionately call MO-Town,” said Mike Krumpschmidt, a resident of Meiners Oaks for 36 years. “I walk a lot through Meiners Oaks, I ride my bike a lot. I’m a former teacher, so I feel I’m in tune with the ebb and flow of students to and from school. I’ve walked on your sidewalk (indicating Aguirre) and really enjoyed (it), and I’ve walked at other places where I found myself in danger a couple of times. I am really happy that the county is proposing to do this project.”
“I’ve been watching Ojai City Council meetings, and I’m proud of (Meiners Oaks) not being part of Ojai,” said Aguirre. “We don’t have it dictated to us what color to paint our house, or that we can’t have Christmas lights up. I like being in the unincorporated part of Ventura County. We have a little more freedom. I don’t want us to lose it.”
Community members who wish to express their concerns or meet to discuss specifics of how the project will affect their property can call Sweet at the Ventura County Public Works Agency at 477-1911.