The Price of Preservation and Pulling the Plug on SCE? Ojai City Council Meeting 11/28

By Jay Murphy

This Tuesday evening the Ojai City Council held its semi-monthly meeting at Town Hall. It was easily the largest crowd this reporter has seen at any meeting with the audience spilling into the anteroom and lining the walls of the chambers. All council members were in attendance as well as the city’s manager and the city attorney. The Pledge of Allegiance was  given and the Council approved the agenda after some slight modifications. The floor was then opened up to David Maron from the Ventura Civic Alliance.

History vs Revenue

Mr Maron gave a comprehensive presentation, primarily statistical in nature, about both Ojai and Ventura County in general. Although the Alliance’s politics has a definite slant, the information presented appeared well researched and would be very useful for city and county trend analysis.  The bad news for Ojai is its graying community where the average age has gone from 31.2  to 37.1 over the last decade and a half.  You can find more information and the data presented on the Alliance website, www.civicalliance.org .

The meeting was then opened for public comment and Ojai will be glad to know that the Ojai Playhouse will be returning after a significant legal victory for Khaled Al-Awar and family. The theater has been closed since 2014 because of a broken water main and litigation has been ongoing until this summer. Council for Mr Al-Awar, John Howard of  Lowthrop, Richards, McMillian, Miller and Templeman,  has prevailed and Mr. Al-Awar stated Tues that he intends to re-open the theater in a timely fashion.  The Playhouse is said to be one of the original “Mission Style” buildings in Ojai and had its first showing in 1914 ($.20 a ticket).  It is one of the oldest single screen theaters in the land and its return will bring much to downtown Ojai.

Khaled Al-Awar of Ojai Playhouse

Other comments included Dr Bob Dodge who urged the Council to declare Ojai a nuclear free zone, although detail was sketchy and Dennis Leary, a long time local with general comments about the state of Ojai.

Clearly, the big crowd was on hand to discuss the next public comment topic, the historic status of 414 E Ojai Ave as Historic Landmark #24. This address, also known as the Chaparral School or the Old Nordhoff Grammar School, has seen a lot of discussion and Tues night the citizens had a chance to state their feelings. At least 17 speakers, both for and against the designation, had their say with some interesting results.

Historic Landmark #24

At other meetings, this issue seemed on track for approval, but Tuesday evening brought some surprises. There were long stares from the podium, tension,  and audience interruptions as the discussion broke into two groups; the Historic Preservation Commission and the School Board. The Preservation Commission clearly thinks preserving historic downtown Ojai is necessary to maintain the character of the city while the School Board thinks decreasing revenues, their never ending concern, could be eased by “re purposing” the structures in question, not necessarily for educational purposes. The discussion also divided by age with younger people and families with children favoring revenue enhancement while an older demographic seemed, for the most part, concerned with preserving the downtown area. Members of the School Board made the point that although residents of Ojai would make the sole decision, the School Board was tasked with taking care of cost and welfare of those who would not have a voice in the property’s disposition i.e. those in the school district who live outside of Ojai city limits. All were concerned with the tension and agreed to work more closely in the future.

The issue was finally brought to a motion and after some detailed adjustments to the proposal it was passed unanimously by the council. The vote gave historic status to specific buildings on the 7 acre piece of property and the green area along Ojai Ave including the original bell, now mounted in front of the building. Ultimately, the Council decided that their responsibilities were not the same as the School Board’s and decided for preservation and historical landmarking.

Cleaner Energy?

The other issue with a great turnout was LACCE, Los Angeles Community Choice Energy,  represented by Michelle Ellison and a member from the Los Angeles headquarters who explained the program in detail for the Council. The program substitutes the CCE for more traditional energy from SCE with a number of programs that the city can enter. The goal is to use more clean energy and save on energy costs at the same time. One chart represented that the CCE could do just that although the Council needs more time to look into the concept. The concept has taken root in northern California and there seems to be a good deal of interest, both with the Council and the community. The item will be pursued on future agendas although the Council may move more quickly depending on potential price savings for enlisting early. More information is available at http://www.localcleanenergy.org .

The meeting adjourned shortly before 11. You can view it in its entirety at www.ojaicity.org. A copy of the agenda is also available there.

 

Jay Murphy is retired and living in Ojai


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