Aug. 29, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
The Ojai City Council adopted a controversial new Exterior Lighting Ordinance, appointed a Building Appeals Board, sent a revision to the Public Art Code back to the drawing board and further discussed potential revisions to the city’s building height limits during its meeting Tuesday night.
After working with the Ojai Valley Green Coalition and hearing a presentation by a representative of the International Dark Sky Association last year, council began drafting new lighting standards, with the goal of reducing unnecessary light in the valley.
The ordinance requires that new development projects shield exterior lighting so it directed downward only. In addition, all non-essential exterior light are required to be turned off after 10 p.m.
“I apologize for not having been involved in the formulation,” Ojai resident Craig Beam told the council Tuesday, “but I’ve also written ordinances like this, and have dealt with cities that have Dark Sky ordinances. You have some serious issues here, not the least of which is the fact that, in normal parlance, the Emperor has no clothes here. You have something like a list of many, many types of facilities that are subject to this, and four of the eight categories — parking lots, etc. — are exempt, because they are governmental property … I find this ordinance, and the provisions in here, seriously flawed.”
For city officials, one obstacle to applying the new standards to public places is the fact that many of the street lights are owned by Southern California Edison, which is not subject to city ordinances, but rather under the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission.
“One thing we didn’t really discuss is street lights,” noted city manager Rob Clark. “We did have some conversations with Edison. We’re trying to get at this one step at a time.”
“I think we should be an example to our constituents before we start enforcing our resolution (ordinance),” said Councilman Severo Lara.
“I think we have a relatively mild-mannered lighting ordinance,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel. “It’s not retroactive. We have a one-year plan for community outreach, for education, etc. So I support the ordinance as it stands, and I understand we’re going to be looking at it in a year.”
In other action, the council appointed Bob Daddi, Tom Farmer, Dale Hanson, Wendy Hilgers and William Weirick to its new building appeals board.
Mayor Paul Blatz and Strobel interviewed and selected the board members. The board is responsible for hearing appeals of the decisions of the new Building Code Officer, who will be selected and hired by city staff and confirmed by the Council. The appeals board members’ term will expire Aug. 13, 2017.
“I thank each of those individuals for volunteering, coming forward,” said Blatz. “We want as much public involvement as possible.”
Issues with the language of proposed changes and existing text stymied an attempt by the Ojai Arts Commission to update the city’s Art Code.
Among the proposed changes are modifications to the body used to review art for private and public developments, as well as the process by which the Arts Commission works with developers on fulfilling their art requirement.
“The changes to the Code recommended by the Arts Commission focus on two areas that have caused concern, primarily to the Arts Commission, but also to the applicants as well,” reads the administrative report by deputy city manager Steve McClary. “One concern is the current disparity between the Code and the actual process used to approve public art for private developments. The current practice for approving public art for private developments is to take the matter to the Public Art Review Committee, known by the acronym PARC. In addition to its confusing acronym (sounding similar to the Parks and Recreations Commission), the PARC is not codified, and the process does not conform to the adopted Code. The Arts Commission recommends eliminating PARC, and establishing a new committee — the Committee to Approve Public Art (CAPA) — to review such projects in the future … The other concern driving the recommended changes has been the tendency for some developers to delay installation of the project’s artwork, or even commitment to an artist or project, until late in the development process. The late commitment does not benefit the city or the applicant, and can often lead to, in the opinion of the Arts Commission, less-than-satisfactory art, or art that is not well integrated with the structure or otherwise well conceived out (aka ‘Plop Art’).”
“Is it the intent of this to exempt the city, or to make the city do public art?” queried Blatz.
“I believe the intent was to provide the option to opt out,” responded McClary.
“That language has always been in the Municipal Code, so that’s not a change,” clarified City Attorney Joseph Fletcher. “It’s important to keep in mind, whether it was the conversation the gentleman spoke earlier about the Lighting Ordinance, or issues like the Public Art Code: these are regulations the city’s police power imposes upon other entities. As a matter of law here, the city can’t impose a law on itself … By its nature, it doesn’t apply to the city.”
Fletcher further stated that if the city wished to lead by example, it could create policy through resolutions, not ordinances.
Because of further confusion with the wording of the existing and modified Code, Council directed Fletcher, Strobel and Blatz to go through the draft to clarify the language, and bring the matter back to the Council for the Sept. 10 meeting.
Council then directed the Ojai Planning Commission to review building height limits in Ojai, and to discuss changing the current 30-foot height limit to 25 feet in single-family zones. This was prompted by the state requiring the city to allow three-stories in special overlay zones (as part of the Housing Element update), which created concerns regarding density, viewshed protection and privacy issues. The Planning Commission discussed the matter July 17, and found that reducing the height limit was too restrictive. Therefore, they proposed revising the Zoning Code to send any project proposal exceeding 20 feet through the existing design review process.
“They felt we could control mass and bulk that fits our community through the design review process,” said Clark. “This is on our agenda for your direction.”
“One of the things I think was overlooked in that discussion was the width of the lots,” commented Councilwoman Betsy Clapp. “If you have the ability to go 30 feet in a 50-foot-wide lot, with a five-foot setback, you could potentially be limiting a home’s ability to benefit from solar installations, you eliminate their ability to have sun in wintertime, to have a winter garden … They talked about height limits restricting creativity for architectural reasons, but the reality is, there are a myriad of beautiful examples of architecture that can be created with a 25-foot height limit.”
Clapp, Blatz and Lara agreed that while they respect they input of the Planning Commission and take their recommendations seriously, they would like to see further consideration of this issue, and directed staff to send the matter back to the Commission with examples of codified height limits Clark found in Encinitas and other cities.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us for more information on this and other public Council meetings.