June 27, 2013
Tiobbe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai’s City Council adopted its 2013-2014 budget Tuesday night, as well as its final budget for the previous year and a modified fee schedule.
“This document is a starting point for a discussion with the community and the City Council about our collective aspirations for the coming year and the years beyond. It is one of the most important policy documents that the City Council must address because it makes the choices about how the City will use its limited resources,” stated city manager Rob Clark in his budget message.
In the same statement, Clark identified assuring public safety, upgrading dilapidated infrastructure and replenishing reserves as among the top city needs to be balanced within the budget. The largest expenditures in the budget are those for police, at just over $3 million, capital improvements, at about $1.5 million, and finance, at $764,393.
Mayor Paul Blatz proposed reducing the fee for repetitive banners, such as those employed by the Ojai Art Center and Ojai Valley Museum, from $90 to $25.
“The affected organizations all agree that a fee of $25 per banner is doable and we believe reasonable,” said Ojai resident Leonard Klaif in a letter to the City Council.
The adopted fee schedule was modified to include this change.
Council also approved a five-year rolling contract with the Libbey Bowl Foundation during the same meeting.
“The city, as the manager of Libbey Bowl prior to its being rebuilt, was not collecting enough money to cover the cost of operating the bowl, and was not collecting any money at all to maintain the bowl. That’s part of the reason it deteriorated. So there was a very big concern early on about creating the conditions that would potentially alleviate that problem,” explained Clark. “So a number of decisions were made. One was to allow commercial events, which had not been allowed prior. Another was to allow sale of alcoholic beverages, which had not been allowed prior. And the third was to have a nonprofit community organization be the manager of the Bowl. In response to that, two separate, one-year interim agreements have been entered into between the City Council and the Libbey Bowl Foundation for management … When the second one-year was approved, the council also included its intent — and the foundation included their intent — to work together on a long-range agreement.”
“They have done some good things, but I don’t know that they’ve done some great things,” said Randy Haney of the Libbey Bowl Foundation.
Mayor Blatz pointed out that the contract will be evaluated annually, and the foundation’s performance is a component of that evaluation. Clark observed that in 2008, 18 events were put on at the Bowl, 2009 there were only nine events, but in the last year, the Foundation’s first year operating the facilities, 22 events were held at Libbey Bowl. Council voted to approve the contract, except Councilwoman Betsy Clapp, who voted against it.
Public Works Director Greg Grant announced Tuesday night that the Lighting and Landscaping districts created to provide necessary funding for electricity and maintenance of Ojai’s street lights are operating at a deficit.
“The Street Lighting Fund has accumulated a projected negative balance of $255,004 over the years, which we project will increase to $264,444. We are exploring options to address this situation,” said Grant in his staff report.
Three options he proposed to Council were to increase assessments, which would require voter approval, to remove certain light poles or to turn off streetlights from midnight until dawn.
“Over the life of the assessment district, the amount of money spent has exceeded the amount of money collected almost every year,” said Clark.
“Is there another mechanism to increase (the assessment), or do we need the approval of the residents?” queried Councilman Severo Lara. After Grant confirmed an increase requires property owners’ approval, he continued, “So, right now (Southern California) Edison is increasing their rates, but they don’t have to go through a process like the City does? And this is all because of Proposition 218?”
Grant answered both questions in the affirmative.
“I think we really do need to look seriously at these options,” said Councilwoman Clapp. “And I think if we were to look at these options, and make these adjustments by eliminating some light poles or turning them off from midnight till dawn, I think the biggest problem we would have in implementing something like that would be public push-back, this perception that light makes you safe.”
Lara added that working in conjunction with public law enforcement could help assuage some of said perceptions.
The Council also awarded Kim Maxwell with the Arts Commission Lifetime Achievement Award for her work in the community.
“For over 20 years, Kim has been heavily involved with the youth and the arts in Ojai as a teacher and a director. One of the very strong things about any vibrant community is our attention that we pay to culture, and also to the youth,” said Mayor Blatz. “She is one of the co-founders of Theater 150, and served as Artistic Director for 11 years. She is also one of the co-founders of the Ojai Playwrights Conference, and continues as a director of their youth programs. The sheer number of her contributions is staggering. She’s the director of 32 main stage productions, 26 benefits, 73 readings and over 2,500 pieces of original material produced in over 120 workshop productions. In addition, Kim has found time for hundreds of hours of volunteer work in the community. Her achievement more than merits the honor that we are going to confer upon her today.”
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view previous Council meetings in full, or for more information on upcoming discussion topics.