Big Brother big topic at council meet
By Jesse Phelps
The idea of surveillance cameras in the
downtown area has stirred up fears among some Ojai residents.
"There are civil liberties involved as far as, you know,
Big Brother watching you," said local attorney and activist
Lenny Klaif Tuesday night at the Ojai City Council meeting.
The debate centers on the agenda item regarding the adoption
of a pair of time-lapse capable, infrared-equipped cameras available
to the city free of charge through a special grant. The cameras
would be discreetly mounted in back of the Arcade, with the idea
of protecting the two newly mounted sculptures behind Bonnie
Police Chief Gary Pentis presented the council with facts and
figures regarding crime in the downtown area and the Arcade specifically.
He said 290 calls went out to officers during the past six months,
a low figure which includes traffic stops and other minor incidents
in addition to fistfights and other violent crimes.
Pentis said the cameras would provide a deterrent to rogue art
vandals and, more importantly, provide help with holding offenders
accountable "without as much manpower" and he pointed
out the utility of having videotape evidence to corroborate crimes.
Pentis said the volunteer patrols working in the Arcade have
received respect and have "had no negative incidents."
The cameras, he pointed out, stay on all the time and can do
a better job of surveillance than roving volunteer patrols, especially
since the area in question is off the well-illuminated avenue.
Klaif spoke next and asked the council to reject the cameras,
then other members of the community stepped forth on either side.
Maudette Finck, chairperson of the Arts Commission, spoke in
favor of protecting the two public art works with the available
technology read a prepared statement fellow commissioner Neva
Williams, who said, "I welcome the introduction of two security
cameras. We are talking about taking a positive step toward preserving
our public property."
The council began a lengthy discussion. Councilman David Bury
commented that the cameras didn't seem Ojai to him. "I just
don't think of cameras and art together. I can't support surveillance
cameras in downtown Ojai," he said.
Councilwoman Carol Smith took it a step further. She said not
only would she reject the motion now, she would reject it at
any time in the future.
Mayor Joe DeVito voiced his support for the cameras and all available
means of aid for the police department. The issue was finally
shuttered out, for now, when Mayor Pro Tempore Sue Horgan found
something of a middle ground. Because the grant rolls over and
can be spent at a later time on this or another similar expenditure,
she suggested the council reject the proposal in its current
state but reconsider a similar motion at a later time, should
it seem more pressing.
The other major source of debate on the evening was the continuing
presence of day workers on "the line" in Fitzgerald
Plaza, home of the Ojai Brew Pub. Pub manager Alexander Kopf
begged the council to create an ordinance prohibiting loitering
on private property, the only legal way to solve what he sees
as a serious problem in running his business.
Kopf asked the council to be more proactive in its pursuit of
a solution and asserted that nothing had been done to discouraging
the men on the line from vandalizing and littering, in addition
to loitering. He presented graphic evidence of damage done to
his restaurant's bathroom and said that his cleaning service
would no longer work for him because of the recurring mess created
by the workers.
Property owner Barbara Fitzgerald read from the Ojai Valley News
regarding her original plea for a solution in March of last year
and asked why the city can't have an ordinance when other municipalities
do. "There is a city ordinance in Santa Barbara," she
said. "There is a city ordinance in Oxnard. Why can't Ojai
City Clerk Dan Singer emphasized that, in fact, a solution had
been sought and that measures had been taken, though he added,
"We may need to look at other measures."
Other agenda items from the meeting included: an announcement
of free, subsidized hazardous waste pickup and disposal, beginning
in March, for small businesses in Ojai; an annual trolley funding
initiative; authorization of urn construction at Nordhoff Cemetery;
and the conveyance of Cluff Vista Park, the new park on Ojai
Ave., to the city.
The council also bid a fond farewell to outgoing interim public
works director Ed McCombs. "It was my good luck to work
here in Ojai," said McCombs.
Horgan thanked McCombs for his direction and the council as a
whole expressed their appreciation for his performance, to the
extent they felt he might be hard to replace.
"I personally wish you were staying," said Bury, as
McCombs prepared to leave the podium.
The Ojai Valley News
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