Day laborer issue comes to
by Chris Wilson
Something has to be done. This was the message that came through
loud and clear from a number of different citizens and officials
at the Ojai City Council meeting Tuesday evening.
Business property owner Barbara Fitzgerald was among those who
spoke. She, along with her husband, owns the Fitzgerald Plaza
which is a popular waiting area for day laborers. She wants the
city to do something about it and has written letters and had
more than one meeting with local police officials and City Manager
Fitzgerald read the letter she'd written to the City Council
concerning the problem she faces with the men who gather in her
parking lot in front of the Ojai Brew Pub.
Weekdays between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m., between 30 and 40 men gather
in the parking lot and flower beds, sitting on the curb and waiting
for someone to come along and give them work, she said. On the
weekends there are more. She said many come up from Oxnard and
"who knows where else," because they know they will
make more money here, she said.
Since she purchased the plaza in 1995, the property has been
inundated with the day workers, she said.
"They destroy the flowers in the flower beds, they steal
our signs and leave litter around," she said. "They
leave black marks from their shoes on the walls of the buildings
that we are constantly having to repaint." Fitzgerald also
noted that the men write graffiti on the bathroom walls, and
break the sprinkler heads by standing on them, plus they park
their cars in the lot all day - leaving fewer spaces for plaza
businesses. "The police can't do anything about it because
there is no loitering ordinance," she said.
George Huitrado, a large man with pepper gray hair pulled back
in a short ponytail, also stood and spoke to the council about
the problem. He said he was from Oak View.
"When I have to walk through there, I'm intimidated,"
Huitrado said. "Anyone would be intimidated when there is
a group of one type of people there. What about the ladies who
have to walk through there?"
Huitrado said the City and police need to find a solution and
a place where the day laborers can go that isn't right in the
middle of downtown. The workers should have a place with shade
and a restroom.
Though not at the meeting, Ojai Brew Pub owner Alex Kopf said
he too had included a letter to the City supporting Fitzgerald's
He raised his hands in questioning disbelief and asked, "Why
do they need to be here?" referring to the parking lot in
front of his restaurant.
In response to the requests of the property owners, Singer said
he, Police Captain Gary Pentis and City Attorney Monte Widders
would look into the day laborer problem to seek a solution.
Another, something-has-to-be-done problem addressed that has
also been raised at the two previous council meetings is the
Pirie Road crosswalk in front of Nordhoff High School, where
pedestrians who cross Highway 33, face traffic that doesn't stop
or see them. This has resulted in a number of pedestrian related
accidents recently and at least one death.
Public Works Director Stan Hakes said Caltrans has agreed to
complete a traffic study to determine what corrective measures
are needed for the crosswalk intersection. The study will be
completed within 60 days, Hakes said. Solutions range from adding
new bright green crosswalk signs, pedestrian activated flashing
lights in the crosswalk, stop signs, or traffic signals. These
could take from three months for simpler solutions such as signs
or restriping, to up to three years for a traffic signal to be
Councilwoman Sue Horgan said the only solution she could see
was putting in a four-way traffic signal there.
"I know this probably isn't popular because we want our
town to stay quaint," Horgan said. "But I don't think
the pedestrian activated lights are enough." She also added
that she'd like to see the Ojai Avenue crosswalks in the Arcade
and in front of the Coffee Roasting Company to be considered
in Caltrans' study.
The Council adjourned and then reconvened as the Redevelopment
Agency. Despite a protest from second-lowest bidder, Valley Crest
Landscaping, the Arcade Plaza redevelopment project was awarded
to McGillivray Construction of Ventura. The firm remodeled the
Ojai Police station last year. The $1.6 million dollar contract
was more than $300,000 higher than consultants had estimated,
but Redevelopment Analyst Kathy McCann said there were other
funding sources available. Construction is expected to begin
on April 29 and completed by Nov. 22, 2002.
Finally, Ojai resident Baer Tobin asked the council to reconsider
their decision to leave the one planter on North Montgomery Street
directly across from Meg Goodwin's Ojai House. Though Tobin said
he thought it was admirable that the city wanted to allow residents
to adopt and maintain the one planter, as parking on the street
was too precious to give up. He cited the excellent job Goodwin
has done with her shop and noted that other live/work businesses
along the street and the recently renovated Offices at the Pew
need all the parking they can get to encourage tenants and shoppers
to patronize the businesses along North Montgomery.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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