Revisiting some Thorny Issues Ojai City Council 3-27

By Jay Murphy

This Tuesday evening the Ojai City Council’s calendar was filled with a number of very familiar issues……water, marijuana and tiny homes, all thorny problems yet to be resolved by the Council. The meeting proceeded after the roll call and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Water Woes

Richard Hajas speaks about water.
courtesy of the Monterey Bay Partisan

Ojai resident Richard Hajas, who was instrumental in helping Ojai’s buyout of privately owned Golden State Water, gave an upbeat presentation about his group’s plan to stabilize Ojai’s water problem. His group, the Ojai Valley Water Advisory Group (WAG) formed in April  

of last year, believes that a partnership between the Casitas District, Ventura and Calleguas Muni Water District should bring a degree of stability to all three areas ongoing water woes. Called the Three Sisters Plan, it is a carefully crafted solution to combine the most useful aspects of the “three sisters” Casitas, Ventura, and Calleguas. All three have strengths and weaknesses and according to Mr Hajas each can draw from the other in time of need.  Lake Casitas would be returned to its primary function of a reservoir and would be shared with the other two sisters only under emergency conditions. All three seem to be in favor of the plan so implementation should be next.

Casitas Lake is making progress after the rain but still has a long way to go. Currently at 42% full.

Casitas Lake is making progress after the rain but still has a long way to go. Currently at 42% full.

You can view the WAG Three Sisters Plan here:  ĊOVWAG Proposal Feb 2, 2018.pdf

(Cautious optimism seemed to be the mood in the chamber after Mr. Hajas completed his presentation. WAG, as the group calls itself, has presented a fresh, independent, innovative look at the water issue. They think they just might have our water solution.

Complications with Tiny Homes

Tiny, simple homes seem to be a little more complicated than first thought and both the Council and the audience struggled to find a consensus for moving forward. The issues appeared to be twofold; how will tiny homes affect Ojai as we know it and what specific regulations does Ojai want to impose beyond those mandated by the state?

The audience was clearly divided on the issue, with about half the speakers for and half against. Those for were concerned with the affordability of housing and rental units in Ojai, asking how the city can be for diversity but not for less expensive housing alternatives. They maintained that the homes were attractive and with Council guidance, could be appropriately modified to fit the Ojai ambiance. The Council has already filed for a Fannie Mae grant to help ease the housing issue and the idea of a “tiny home community” was another thought which saw some discussion. Many saw the tiny house idea as perfect for seniors on a fixed income without the means or need for a large home.

Those against the idea of tiny homes spoke about the transient nature of the homes and wheels became a hot topic very quickly, with one school saying “no wheels” and the other indicating that the units were semi permanent, wheels or not. The discussion delved into other areas like what was deemed necessary for electrical, plumbing and waste hookups and what mandates from the state could be upgraded for Ojai’s purposes.

Some council members were interested in whether a tiny home was suitable for the community stating that it was difficult to see how a family of four could live comfortably in such a small space and council member Blatz was curious how an 85 year old could negotiate the ladder necessary to get up to the bedroom loft. Anti tiny home people were also concerned with traffic, one wondering where all the new cars would be parked. That was countered by the suggestion that a lot of people forced to commute to Ojai could now live here and walk or ride a bike to work, actually decreasing traffic. And so it went for the better part of the meeting. As in the past, the Council sent the issue back to the planning commission for more consultation and review. The Council for the most part asking, “what’s the rush?” It will be back to the Council, probably in May.

Vina Lustado’s tiny house in Ojai. Vina spoke on the tiny house issue Tuesday evening:

Medical Marijuana Problems

Medical Marijuana has been on the Council’s agenda for a number of meetings and Tues was no exception. After hearing from a series of speakers over that last few sessions claiming the benefits and necessity of medical marijuana, the Council heard for the first time that medical marijuana business in Ojai might not be viable. Jeff  Kroll, owner of Shangri la, one of  three business in town, claims that because of  Prop 64 his business model has collapsed and much of his clientèle is angry. They think Ojai’s “medical-only” facilities need to be upgraded to bring Ojai in line with Prop 64, meaning adult as well as medical usage. Kroll agrees. He and the Council acknowledged that there is a big tax implication to adult use marijuana (medical usage is not taxed) but it is mitigated by the cost of getting a doctor’s approval. Kroll pointed out that a “dual usage” business would allow him more flexibility and patronage would increase.

Jeff Kroll Shangri la Dispensery

A couple of council members questioned the premise that the problem was medical vs adult use, asking if  it might be that there are too many dispensaries in town and wondering about supply and demand issues.

All seemed to agree that with or without adult usage permitted in Ojai the black market wasn’t going away anytime soon. Council member Francina was emphatic that government hyprocracy was in play and that the people should have what they thought they had voted for. Clearly, Ojai’s legal marijuana plan is a work in progress but the feeling was that adult usage is around the corner.

The Council in session at the end of a busy evening.

Meeting Conclusion

Buried in all the hot topics of the evening, the Council did discuss re-balancing the voting so that 2 of the 4 council seats will be up each election cycle. Discussion also included whether the position of mayor should be changed to 4 years from 2 or whether the Council should revert back to a rotation system of council members.

The meeting adjourned at 10:30 although a number of items will be discussed today (Wed) at a closed meeting about future agendas.


Photo Credits: Jay Murphy         

Jay Murphy is retired and living in Ojai

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