City, CPO suit up for traffic
by Chris Wilson
It isn't quite enough that the Citizens to Preserve the Ojai
saw a problem, wrote a petition, got the necessary signatures
and fixed a spot for their Traffic Initiative on the November
A lawsuit from the city of Ojai and its City Council, filed
on March 13 and served Monday on the city clerk's office and
the CPO calls into question the appropriateness of the initiative.
Now a judge may decide if Ojai's residents will get a chance
to vote on the proposed ballot measure at all.
The lawsuit stipulates, among other things, that the Traffic
Initiative measure will cause, "great uncertainty in the
city's planning and development processes and be disruptive to
the peace and harmony of the community." That sentiment
has been echoed firmly by City Councilwoman Sue Horgan at recent
As explained by CPO President Ivor Benci-Woodward, the Traffic
Initiative would require that a developer who wants to build
anything more than a single-family dwelling - a discretionary
project - will have to come up with a creative, innovative solution
to the traffic it generates. Then the project would be presented
for approval or disapproval by a vote of the town's people.
Benci Woodward argues that the City Council can't continue to
just override what the Ojai General Plan calls an "acceptable
level of service" for the city's streets and highways.
"We've got to change the policy so they can't keep doing
that," Benci Woodward said. "If they're allowed to
do that, and traffic gets to the point where we have gridlock,
we'll have a traffic management requirement from the county that
we start expanding our roads.
"The very thing the city council says the CPO is creating
by the traffic initiative and the LUV initiative is the very
thing that will happen without action."
That action is the very thing Ojai City Attorney Monte Widders
said is easy to do from the sidelines, but not so easy for an
elected official who must follow state and county laws. Widders
said he's perplexed by the intent of the initiative.
"I'm not sure why the CPO determined that the city of Ojai
is a some sort of growth-oriented entity that they need to reign
in," Widders said by phone from his Ventura office, citing
that Ojai is the slowest-growing town in Ventura County and possibly
in the state. "Are we supposed to go to the CPO and ask,
'Is this ok, can we be permitted to do this? Because if we don't
ask you first, you're gonna sue us?'"
Woodward said the CPO isn't against development, just development
that isn't appropriate for a city this size.
CPO administrative director Stan Greene, who is named as one
of the defendants in the lawsuit, said he believes an organization
or individual has the right to propose an amendment to the General
"The question of the desirability of the initiative is really
one that should be decided by the election process, that's the
way it works," Greene said.
Though the initiative does make it more difficult to put projects
through, it does not prevent them and any that the community
feels are beneficial can be put through, "I don't think
the City is recognizing that."
Both city attorney Widders and Benci Woodward agree Ojai is a
desirable place to live and a great place to visit. But who should
solve the traffic problems and how they should be solved, is
a different matter.
Widders said, "It would be nice if we could wave a magic
wand and have the weekend traffic disappear, but it's not possible.
It's not tied to housing and projects anyway. If it was we haven't
approved any. It's clearly something else. People want to come
here because of good planning."
Benci Woodward said, "Lots of towns have continued to have
a vibrant economy and still control the traffic. That's why Ojai
is such a nice place. It still has that rural feeling to it,
that friendly atmosphere, and you can still cross the streets
in some places and not get run down. But we're very close to
losing that unless we stop right now. But that doesn't mean we
have to stop building, it just means we have to think of different
ways to do it."
The city's General Plan is available for review at the Ojai Library
and at City Hall.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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