Letter to the Editor from Jeffrey Weinstein
Good morning all, not more than 100 feet from the 5-STOP in Ojai (just outside City limits) where the Ojai City Council voted 3-2 to eliminate vehicle lanes in both directions on Maricopa Hwy stands this sign (please see attachment ‘DANGER’) from VC Fire Protection District saying “DANGER: Extreme Fire Hazard”. It is foolish and dangerous to eliminate vehicle lanes in regions prone to wildfire as demonstrated repeatedly throughout California. If necessary, that fact will be proven in a Ventura County courtroom.
Now please see the 2nd photograph attached (“Bike Only”). This upside down sign (for 6+ months) is symbolic of the entire decision- making process as it relates to Lane Reduction on Maricopa Hwy. During 7-1/2 years of planning and changes, the City Council has demonstrated its misdirection and mismanagement of this project, and ignored residents opposition to Lane Reduction (95% opposed in City’s own survey on its website).
Highlighting the City Council’s incompetence on this matter, the VC Star reports in the attachment “Ojai seeks right-of-way acquisition”, that the City is just now seeking approval for right-of-way (ROW) acquisition from 29 individual property owners for its plan to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. These 29 approvals and certifications, whether voluntary, a negotiated sale (requiring a signed offer letter, appraisal summary, purchase and sale agreement with escrow instructions and deeds, etc.), and/or via eminent domain (which can take well over a year), “must be submitted to Caltrans no later than the first week of September”.
“Funding for the $4.6 million project could be jeopardized if property owners don’t enter into the voluntary or possession and use agreement”, reports the VC Star. Furthermore, the $2.1 million grant provided by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) is at risk (“could expire”) if the project is not ready for construction by October 2022.
Needless to say, obtaining ROW approvals and certifications from 29 property owners in 3 months, many of whom have already expressed their opposition to the City’s plans, and being ready to start construction in 4 months (with incomplete plans, no permits, no public competitive bid process, the need for purchase and sale agreements and/or eminent domain) will be impossible to accomplish.
To date, our City Council has wasted $1+ million of taxpayer funds (not to mention 7-1/2 years) on a plan that has proven to be less safe, will damage the rural and natural character of our environment and entrance into Los Padres National Forest, and impede traffic flow causing drivers to take alternate routes thru adjacent neighborhoods (already happening with the Demonstration Project).
The 2017 Thomas Fire in Santa Paula/Ojai/Ventura/Carpinteria/Montecito/Santa Barbara, 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise (85 fatalities, many trapped in their vehicles on a single-lane escape route), and recent court decisions in San Diego County have all proven that eliminating vehicle lanes in fire-prone regions is a recipe for disaster.
The City never reached out to residents who regularly use Maricopa Hwy, including 5,000+ people living in Meiners Oaks (please see attached ‘Save Maricopa Hwy’ sign), before they conceived this foolish, dangerous and unworkable plan, and 4 of the 5 current City Councilmembers may not even be on the City Council come election day in November 2022.
So please, restore Maricopa Hwy to its original condition, and lets take a more seasoned and objective view of how to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety on Maricopa Hwy with 2 vehicle lanes in each direction. We can do this working together.
Thank you, Jeff
Jeffrey Weinstein, AIA
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Citizens Journal