Housing Element passes
by Cheryl Gilman
The Council Chambers bulged with residents at Tuesday night's
City Council meeting.
Most of the audience came to speak on the reconsideration of
the Housing Element. Stuart Rupp, his sisters, and allies opposed
the moving of the Arcade Plaza fountain once again. Rupp said
that he was concerned that the redevelopment of "the plaza
would make Ojai look like a mall."
Nancy Fisher urged the council to save the fountain. She said,
"Why not have two fountains - the new one and the old one,
the Nancy Rupp Memorial Fountain?"
Shawna Kraut Rupp spoke angrily that the council had ignored
their requests for keeping the fountain although it was what
the merchants and citizens wanted, she maintained.
Christina Rupp Juarez's emotional and tearful plea to the council
moved many of the audience. She said, "My father came here
in 1945. There has been a lot of pain in this family over Nancy's
death and now the loss of this fountain that has meant so much
to her and to us."
The city of Ojai 2000-2005 Housing Element has been the focus
of many impassioned meetings in Council Chambers. At its Dec.
11 meeting, the council asked that the element be thoroughly
analyzed and brought back for reconsideration at Tuesday night's
One of the main issues is whether or not Ojai should grow and
be in compliance with the state's growth mandate. While most
everyone agrees that the city should not grow as fast as the
state requires - a number of people, particularly representatives
of the Citizens to Preserve the Ojai and the Ojai Environmental
Coalition, are adamant in opposition to the state's Regional
Housing Needs Assessment number, and have threatened legal action.
The state of California determined that Ojai must show the capability
of building 209 additional dwelling units over a five-year period
if there is need for that growth. This number does not mandate
growth, it just allows for it. This is a very confusing and complex,
not to mention emotional, said attendees.
Former Community Development Director Bill Prince and the city
staff spent more than two years creating the current element
to reflect Ojai's housing needs and ability to grow if needed.
Acting Director Doug Hooper and City Attorney Monte Widders presented
an in-depth analysis of the plan and the consequences for Ojai
if they did not adhere to this figure at Tuesday night's meeting.
The housing element is one of seven mandated elements (parts)
of the city's General Plan. Legally the plan must contain a housing
element that is in compliance with the state of California. If
it doesn't, the city is at risk of being penalized and losing
In his report to the City Council, City Manger Dan Singer said,
"Housing 'needs' becomes the operative word here, in that
the housing element must identify our community's housing need,
not necessarily our desire to establish housing. This does not
mean that the city plans to permit 209 units to be built during
the five-year term, it indicates only our ability to accommodate
Council Member David Bury said, "Tonight's element is the
same as the one in November."
Consultant Karen Warner said, "This is an art, not a science.
It is critical that the message that we have is one for affordable
housing in the community. We are adopting a number that is mandated
by the state and 'setting the table' for that number of units
to occur, but you aren't obligated to build them. Other communities,
such as Agoura Hills, Del Mar, La Cañada/Flintridge, are
similar to slow growth policies as in Ojai. Their approach with
their housing element is also similar to Ojai."
Council Member Rae Hanstad said, "I like your analogy of
'setting the table.' What if we restrict the invitation list?"
Widders said, "Our growth management plan says that no single
individual can have more than one housing permit in one year
which allows us to restrict the housing element. Senior housing
and affordable are exempt from the growth management plan. The
RHNA number that must be in the Housing Element reflects needs.
The Growth Management Plan addresses our ability to satisfy those
needs. While we are a slow-growth community, we don't impede
affordable type housing, which gets us over the hurdle of the
Resident Carol Smith said. "I don't mind the additional
(209) housing units, but I am concerned about the traffic mitigation."
Marilyn Stedman, representing the League of Women Voters, read
a letter from the league signed by President Lillian Goldstein:
"We support measure to increase the supply of low and moderate
income housing without undue jeopardy to the environmental balance,
health and safety to the community. Without affordable housing
we will cease to be a balanced community: socially, fiscally
Resident Rudy Peter said, "I personally am for affordable
housing. What's at issue here is that the number 209 was picked
by a group of bureaucrats in southern California who don't understand
the needs of a community such as Ojai. I prefer we arrive at
a figure reflecting our community's needs."
Cesar Hernandez, a lobbyist for affordable housing for agricultural
workers, said, "I have discussed this issue with other cities
in Ventura County. Agricultural workers are those that work the
land and include gardeners, cleaners, landscape help, etc. The
'fair share' numbers are lower than the real need. The number
of farm workers within the city of Ojai are grossly underrated
and brings into question whether there's been sufficient land
identified to meet these needs. I also applaud you for the efforts
you have made in affordable housing."
Residents Stan Greene, Betsy Clapp, Russ Baggerly, Deborah Benci-Woodward,
and Ivor Benci-Woodward of the CPO opposed the housing element.
Baggerly, the President of the Environmental Coalition, said,
"The general plan is the constitution of each community,
not the growth element. If you plan for it, they will come. If
any citizen feels he is being stepped on, he has a right to a
public hearing. You squashed due process by not providing a public
Bill Myly acknowledged the housing element for its focus on affordable
units. He said, "I participated in housing element workshops
and the public hearing and wrote a letter expressing my view
that it is quite thorough."
City Manager Dan Singer said, "The housing element isn't
about growth, it is about need. The way you control growth is
by environmental impact, zoning, architectural review."
Widders said, "In order to adopt a growth management plan,
you have to have a housing element. Ojai is two years past its
Council member Joe DeVito said, "If we were not to accept
the RHNA number we would have to show lack of funds. Sacramento
says there needs to be consequences for not providing appropriate
housing. We could have funded the trolley for three years in
what we have spent dealing with these issues."
Warner added that she has worked with 10 cities in lawsuits over
their housing elements.
Council member Sue Horgan said, "I think the biggest risk
to our vulnerability is the CPO and their potential threats to
take this to court."
Council member David Bury said, "I want to support the housing
element, but can't. I don't feel it reflects the values of the
community. The housing element has been a symbol and represents
our interests in defining ourselves and our community and sustainability
and living within our resources. The 209 doesn't reflect that
and the goals of our community."
Mayor Steve Olsen said, "In 1993 the population of Ojai
was 7,613. In 2000 the population was 7,862. That is a .3% growth.
In the next four years we'll only allow 46 units to be built.
We have to allow for low and moderate housing ... History can
commit and repeat itself.
Ojai has one of the lowest growth rates in the county and in
The motion to accept the housing element passed 3-2 with Horgan
and Bury as the dissenting votes.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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