OVLC seeks largest open space
by Bret Bradigan
Rolling away from Ojai's west and north flanks in rippling
valleys of green and gold, Ojai's largest remaining privately
owned open space will remain open space "in perpetuity,"
it was announced Monday.
The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, after seven months of negotiations
and 16 years of planning, has entered into a purchase agreement
with Intell Management and Investment Company for 1,416 acres
with an additional 150 acres protected with conservation easements.
The land is the site of the contentious Farmont development,
which included plans for an 18-hole golf course, as well as housing.
Intell Management purchased the entire 2,000-plus acres in June
1998; the remaining 500 acres - zoned for 80-acre residences
- is being sold to a private party.
"We have a fundamental desire to do what we thought was
in the best interest of Ojai," said Sue Ault, Intell's executive
vice president. While she could not identify the purchaser of
the other 500 acres, or plans for the property, she said a golf
course development was not likely. "That pursuit has probably
The OVLC's purchase price was pegged at $3 million, with the
OVLC seeking to raise another $1 million for an endowment fund
to protect and care for the historic ranch property, which would
include trail building and signs.
Much of the money is expected to come from outside sources,
such as Proposition 40 bond funds, which were passed in March,
and will be sought with the aid of the California State Coastal
Conservancy. But much local fund raising remains to be done,
as Jim Engel, OVLC's executive director, made clear at a gathering
of 48 people on a knoll set below Wills Canyon and above the
Ventura River. According to terms of escrow, the Land Conservancy
has until June, 2003 to raise the money.
The property contains three miles of Ventura River, four miles
of intermittent tributary streams, five perennial springs, and
12 miles of potential hiking, horse and biking trails. Engel,
who has hiked much of the property, described it as full of wonders
and discoveries, including disturbingly fresh black bear tracks
and rare, 5-foot high ferns surrounding a natural spring. "There
is so much to see up here," he said, gesturing to the oak
woodlands and meadows behind him.
Engel said the partnership with the Coastal Conservancy requires
a commitment on the part of the OVLC to raise necessary money
locally to preserve and protect the property. The Coastal Conservancy
has already invested $1.5 million in the watershed, with projects
at Matilija Dam and Robles Fish Diversion Ladder.
Jim Jackson, OVLC president, praised the vision and persistence
of previous board members and directors Phil Moncharsh, Manny
Sprague, Ellen Hall, John Broesamle and Rich Handley, who laid
the groundwork for the purchase. "Sometimes when you plant
a seed, it takes a long time to grow," he said.
On Friday, Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett plans to fly
the length of the Ventura River from the Pacific Ocean to Matilija
Dam with officials from the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the Interior
Department. He said this purchase gives much more credibility
to the effort to bring down the dam and restore the river. "This
gives them a lot more confidence to see the watershed on both
sides of the river being protected," he said.
Bennett told the crowd it was to Ojai's credit, unlike many areas
around the county, that this much land remained undeveloped in
the first place.
"We were faced with the prospect that all of this would
be lost," he said. "There's so much energy in the Ojai
Valley that we could tap into to make sure that didn't happen."
Former OVLC president Manny Sprague said the Land Conservancy
was very close to closing a deal with the previous owner when
the man passed away.
"This will be a treasure for the citizens of Ojai and Southern
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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Conservancy members and guests hike to the knoll where the announcement
of the purchase was made.