Oak View OKs tax for community
by Kelly Feser Eells
The people of Oak View have much to be proud of these days.
Not only did they come together to save their school - on July
23, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a citizen-initiated
property tax assessment to facilitate the purchase of the old
Oak View School - their very efforts are being heralded as a
model of community spirit.
While Oak View's own district representative, Supervisor Steve
Bennett, has consistently praised his constituents' efforts to
buy the property and remake it into a comprehensive community
resource center, his four Ventura County counterparts have lately
been equally impressed with the town's "can-do" attitude.
And they indicated as much at a public hearing held July 16,
the last day some 3,500 property owners could cast a ballot on
the proposed $49 dollar per year assessment, as well as on July
23, when election results were announced: 691 yeas, 433 nays,
1,124 votes total.
Longtime community activist and Ojai Valley Municipal Advisory
Council member Barbara Kennedy laughingly describes how, as supporters
cheered the announcement, "Supervisor (Judy) Mikels stood
up and said, 'I oppose this.'" Community Works!, the organization
behind the initiative, also had cheers for Bennett, who, in turn,
reiterated his appreciation for Oak View, whose sense of civic
pride first impressed him a year-and-a-half ago during a town
hall meeting, when the community expressed "a (rare) willingness
to tax itself" so that it might better itself.
Supervisor John Flynn lauded the community at the public hearing,
in remarks made to three local residents who'd admitted that
their appearance that day marked the first time they'd voiced
their opposition to the project publicly. Kennedy recalls how
"diplomatically" Flynn responded to the agitated speakers.
"They were saying that the reason they'd never come forward
before, or had been able to attend any of the Community Works!/Save
our School meetings (held throughout the last two years) was
because of work," other commitments, etc. "And Supervisor
Flynn's response was along the lines of, 'Well, I understand
that, but the people who've been showing support for this also
Smiling, Kennedy adds, "All of the supervisors have been
tremendously supportive from day one. Ever since we asked for
the $20,000 deposit" subsequently presented to Ventura Unified
School District, the property owners, in, according to Bennett,
"a gesture of good faith, much like when you're buying a
house. It was to let the school district know 'We're serious.'"
Kennedy credits Bennett and his fellow supervisors with recognizing
from the outset that Community Works! was, indeed, serious. "We
asked them to help us help ourselves," and each side has
been doing exactly that. "Steve, (aides) Cindy Cantle, Steve
Offerman; their help's been invaluable," said Kennedy. In
addition to providing everything from inter-agency introductions
to instructions on completing various paperwork, the supervisor's
office increases the project's visibility.
Though the County's official position is one of hands-off, non-vested
support, with ultimate approval contingent upon securing project
oversight by a non-profit, "umbrella" agency - a conceptual
agreement with Interface is currently in the works - it allocated
$460,000 dollars in one-time grant money for the project.
"The County had this Parks Department bond," Bennett
explained. "And, while it didn't want (to commit to) any
project with ongoing operations costs and have to add it to the
annual budget, especially with 24 parks already straining the
system's operations and maintenance budget as it is," consensus
was that the project was an ideal grant recipient.
The grant, said Bennett, will go a long way towards paying back
fees accrued during the process of acquiring the property; help
pay for necessary building upgrades, including weather proofing
and property stabilization; and offset the projected total, accounting
for interest on the $1.2 million purchase price, of $2 million
The county also demonstrated its support by hiring an independent
consulting firm to coordinate and oversee the recent mail-in
election. Had voters not approved the assessment, Bennett noted,
"the county would've been out that money."
Bennett, however, indicates that he knew such a scenario was
The so-called "bedroom community" has proved itself
anything but sleepy in recent years, rallying to support bus
shelters, highway beautification projects, and public safety
programs. Even its existing community center on Valley Road,
built in the 1970s, was the direct result of its ability to marshal
its resources - which, as Community Works! chair Leigh Melander
enthused, are first and foremost its people.
While the Valley Road facility is the venue of choice for a variety
of events, Kennedy points out that the community, in terms of
both population and need, has "basically outgrown it."
Besides being headquarters for the Police Activity League - an
admittedly "welcome presence" - the center is meeting
grounds for MAC, Civic Council, and the Recreation Advisory Commission,
which oversees community Little League; practice site of nearly
every area youth sports team; and serves as Help of Ojai's satellite/Oak
Help of Ojai/Oak View and the Ojai Birth Resource & Family
Center are two of the community service organizations slated
for the proposed Family Resource Center. Help Director Karen
Kaminsky said, "I think it's (the Board of Supervisors'
approval) exciting. But there's a lot to do still, and I hope
it continues to go forward." Kaminsky agreed that the site
"has a lot of potential." Moving there, she added,
"would give me a separate space to work with seniors, plus
regular, eight-hour office days."
Ojai Birth Resource & Family Center, currently "cramped
for space" in its downtown Ojai location, has gone on record
as being "very excited about moving, expanding," and
increasing both its visibility and accessibility.
With few, if any, structural changes planned, it is expected
that these and other potential tenants will operate out of retrofitted
classrooms, and that the project's "anchor," Oak View
Library, "will probably be moved to the school's cafeteria."
In the meantime, Community Works! isn't sitting idle. "We're
planning a big community barbecue at the school, our way of saying
'Thank you' to everyone," said Kennedy. "It's going
to be held in conjunction with Pony Express Days, on Sept. 7.
Please join us!"
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
Back to the news