Judges hear city, CPO lawsuits
by Chris Wilson
Ojai's local government and environmental group Citizens to
Preserve the Ojai faced off over three different issues in Ventura
County Superior Court Friday.
While a handful of valley residents waited in Judge Melinda Johnson's
courtroom for the bundled Los Arboles and Housing Element proceedings
to begin, in another courtroom, Judge Steven Hintz was hearing
Traffic Initiative arguments that had been filed just days before.
As the November election draws near, bringing with it a chance
for voters to decide whether they or the City Council will approve
new discretionary development - that is other than new single-family
dwellings that would add more traffic to Ojai's streets - the
city's legal counsel has worked diligently, but failed, to keep
the initiative, Measure C, from the ballot. Now that it has made
the ballot and been argued from both sides, rebuttals written
and set to appear in the voter's pamphlet raised red flags from
the city's Meyers Widders law firm.
The questionable content written by the CPO, read, among other
things, "The Ojai Traffic Initiative allows Ojai voters
to approve worthwhile projects that generate traffic that cannot
be mitigated." But the city's counsel successfully argued
that this language was inappropriate and misleading to the voters
of Ojai. In response, the city council has argued that the initiative
contains no provision for voter approval of projects important
to the cultural, social and economic health of the Ojai community
- such as: expansion of the hospital, library, old bowling alley
and new restaurants, shops, churches, public facilities, etc.
In Johnson's courtroom, Mayor Pro Tem Joe DeVito said, "Voters
cannot approve projects. They can approve legislation, but not
Widders followed, stating that Judge Hintz had signed the writ
of mandate and stricken the language from the ballot argument
As proceedings began on the Los Arboles hearing, Judge Johnson
sat stone-faced and almost meditative as CPO attorneys Debra
Benci and Richard Francis faced off with city attorneys Katherine
Stone, Monte Widders and Roger Meyers.
Benci and Francis argued from the standpoint of good government.
The massive size of the proposed and approved Los Arboles condominium
project neither fits in Ojai nor does it match with the goals
of the General Plan of Ojai.
Stone argued that she was an expert in land use law, had taught
the subject for a number of years and that the city council should
not be superceded by a court of law. She said the council are
the elected officials that should make these decisions and if
they make decisions the voters don't like, they can be thrown
out of office.
Francis and Benci argued that the city has "fiddled"
with air quality standards assessments, altered the level of
service guidelines for Ojai Avenue, and had to adopt overriding
consideration to push the Los Arboles through for approval.
Stone said she felt the Los Arboles project was beautiful and
appropriate for voters and said the CPO's brief were among the
most confusing and misleading that she had ever seen. Stone also
said that according to the city's traffic experts, car trips
on Ojai Avenue, created from the Los Arboles project would be
entirely negligible, since those who live in downtown could walk
to the market, theater, park or library.
Hearing arguments until well into the afternoon, Johnson told
the attorneys that she would give these cases her highest priority
and return a decision as soon as possible.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
Back to the news