Sept. 12, 2013
Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent
Ojai is one step closer to finalizing its fifth cycle of the state-mandated Housing Element update, after Ojai’s City Council voted Tuesday night to submit a draft to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD). Upon receiving Ojai’s draft, HCD then has 60 days to review the document and provide feedback and questions.
“We are about halfway through this process,” said consultant John Douglas, AICP, during the meeting. “The heavy lifting has been done.”
Douglas explained that this draft will differ from the fourth cycle Ojai completed earlier this year.
In the past, Ojai residents and council members questioned whether the data submitted by SCAG accurately reflects the decline of Ojai’s population, especially of young families with school-aged children.
The section providing demographic information about Ojai has been updated with data from the 2010 Census.
The Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) number allotted to Ojai, Douglas noted, is approximately 14 percent lower than the number last cycle.
Ojai must show it can accommodate 371 new housing units for this Housing Element cycle — a drop from the 433 Ojai was assigned in the last cycle. Of these 371 hypothetical new housing units, 146 must be for very low and low-income families, while 225 must be designated for moderate and above-moderate-income families.
During the last Housing Element cycle, many expressed concern that the state’s three-story allowance (for sites designated for the special overlay program) would negatively impact views and would hurt the area’s tourist-based economy.
A two-story restriction within the special overlay program was added for this cycle.
“The main thing that I understand the city wants to accomplish in this new Housing Element cycle is to get concurrence from the state that the SPL overlay and affordable housing can be accommodated within a two-story building envelope,” said Douglas. “I think that that is a very reasonable request on the city’s part. So we have put language into the Housing Element that expresses the city’s intent to move forward on a two-story limit on the SPL.”
The new Housing Element draft also proposes a new mixed-use overlay that could be applied to underutilized or blighted commercial properties in order to stimulate economic revitalization and create additional opportunities for workforce housing. “One thing I am concerned about is I have heard that (under state law) residences take precedence over agriculture,” said Councilwoman Betsy Clapp. “In the East End of the valley, they are in the county, but they are dependent on the very same limited water supply that we have. And if our policy, implementing RHNA numbers, causes us to have to take water from agriculture, are we allowed to negatively impact a neighboring community’s ability to earn a living?”
“This is a planning document,” responded city attorney Joseph Fletcher. “We are bound by the data of the water purveyors, which currently says they can serve.”
“They (the water purveyors) can’t provide water for us today; they are buying from the lake (Casitas),” countered Ojai resident Bob Daddi. “After that they will truck it in, and the price will be astronomical.”
“As long as Golden State Water Company says they can serve, the city of Ojai cannot use water as a constraint,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carlon Strobel. “And I agree with you! I think that with this drought, we are going to be in serious trouble.”
“We always talk about how we don’t have to build it (the units described in the Housing Element), but we have to zone for it to be built, and if somebody wants to build it, they can. So it is a land-use document. It isn’t all just fantasy,” said Clapp.
“It’s a land-use document that may or may not ever come into fruition,” clarified Mayor Paul Blatz. “I think we’re spinning our wheels, arguing in circles, knowing that it’s in the best interests of this community to build as many affordable houses as we can. It’s in our best interest to do that. It’s not in our best interest to use up all our water. So we can’t build those units if we don’t have the water. But if we do have the water, then we want to build those units. So I think we are just spinning our wheels here. We have to get a Housing Element to Sacramento.”
Earlier in the meeting, the Council pulled an item off its consent calendar after receiving a speaker card from Ojai Valley News publisher Tim Dewar.
“Thank you for pulling this item, however I am at a decided disadvantage, because I don’t know what action you’re going to take. The agenda merely states ‘approve the second amendment to the City Manager employment agreement.’ You’re obviously slated to approve something, but I don’t know what that is,” said Dewar. “I still think Mr. Clark is a nice person. I don’t believe he’s necessarily the right person for Ojai.”
The consent calendar item he referred to involves a city manager salary increase. According to the staff report, “The City Manager’s annual performance evaluation was completed in closed session Aug. 27. Any changes to compensation or other terms of employment must be adopted in open session. The attached amendment contains the changes which were discussed, which are a 4.9 percent increase in pay and full transition to the five-day work schedule. Salary changes in 2014 and 2015 are limited to the cost of living.”
“I’d like to acknowledge Mr. Clark for reducing our overhead costs here in the city at a little over a half million dollars, and I’d also like to commend him for preparing a comprehensive budget that further accomplishes the goals and objectives that have been set forth by this council,” said Strobel. “I’d like to note that city hall is now open five days a week. Mr. Clark is on a 40-hour work week, so he’s here basically five days a week. I’d like to note that our recreation department has been totally reorganized. I’ve had many comments about how that’s been an improvement … Overall, I think the city of Ojai has benefitted from Mr. Clark’s experience and his management.”
For other Council members, the issue was not Clark’s performance, but the economy.
“I think right now is not the appropriate time for a raise,” said Councilman Severo Lara. “It’s nothing personal, it’s just the way I feel as a council member; right now I can’t support this. I’m hesitant to do it. It’s not his evaluation, I just feel as a city we have so much more we could work on.”
“For me, in the budget process, my discomfort has been with raises all the way across the board,” said Clapp. “I felt that at this time in the economy, with our citizens struggling with their mortgages, struggling to pay for their gas, struggling for medical insurance, who don’t have a lot of the benefits of a public employee, when I see our community — that is not a wealthy community — struggling, I have a hard time giving pay raises overall with any public sector, not that people don’t deserve to be paid better.”
“I’m very uncomfortable evaluating our city manager at an open meeting,” said Councilwoman Carol Smith. “Evaluations of our city manager and city attorney are done at closed sessions. That much detail I really do not think is appropriate for an open session.”
“Not having known how Councilman Lara would vote on this, I think it’s important, if he is inclined to vote ‘no’ on this particular item, I think it’s important for the public to know why he’s voting ‘no,’” countered Blatz. “I also think that in the spirit of transparency, Mr. Clark is a highly visible public employee who has a great deal of responsibility in our city.”
The council, except Lara and Clapp, voted to approve the amendment.
Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view previous Council meetings in full.