CPO turns down offer to settle condo suits
By Jesse Phelps
The Citizens to Preserve the Ojai and the
Environmental Defense Coalition have decided not to take an offered
$120,000 settlement from Los Arboles luxury condominium developers
Lance Smigel and Lois Rice.
In a letter dated March 3, Ivor Benci-Woodward and Stanley Greene
of the Citizens to Preserve the Ojai and Russ Baggerly of the
Environmental Defense Coalition wrote to Smigel and Rice, saying,
"Our organizations are still voicing our objections to the
intensity and density of Los Arboles and your offer of cash used
offsite will not remedy these problems. We had hoped you would
address in some measure our stated concerns and respond with
a settlement regarding those issues."
The offer made last week included $40,000 to cover legal fees
incurred by the petitioners and another $80,000 earmarked for
"community projects on a non-profit basis."
"We tried to create a community benefits fund, organized
by the petitioners, to support projects like the hospital, the
Help of Ojai - a tremendous organization - and street safety,"
said Smigel. "A hot issue is the road construction near
Matilija Junior High. The money could have been used to bridge
the gap there and make that happen.
But Benci-Woodward stressed again that the issue is the future
of Ojai, not funds for his organization. "We've asked from
the very beginning is that all they do is comply with the Ojai
General Plan," said Benci-Woodward. "Some people believe
that we don't want to build anything, anywhere. We've always
supported a reduced intensity project on that property."
Smigel said, "We're very disappointed. We feel very badly
that they felt we were trying to buy the opposition off. That
wasn't what we were trying to do. We waited until we got the
partial ruling, which allowed us to continue construction. We
felt that was a big indicator that we'd prevail in court."
"At that point, we felt that they had nothing to gain but
delay," he continued. "We made the offer in an attempt
to give them something for the community and avoid the delay.
We waited so they wouldn't have to give up their principles to
take the offer. It seems like a personal issue with them to cost
us as much as possible.
Benci-Woodward says his organization continues to see the Los
Arboles as " the project that's going to change Ojai forever.
It put the automobile first again. The village mixed-use zone
was meant to promote live-work buildings. The idea to have it
that way was to cut out the automobile because you lived where
you work. Part and parcel of that was that the people living
there would be able to pedal or walk to town relatively easily."
Benci-Woodward claims that the city changed zoning requirements
for two-story buildings. "Instead of 45 feet apart, now
they can be 25 feet apart in the central 60 acres of the city,"
he said. "The intent of the general plan is to provide the
central core of the city with zoning that will allow bicycle
and pedestrian pathways between buildings. The Los Arboles project's
design required that there be no space between buildings. We're
trying to foster alternatives to the use of automobiles around
town. We want to promote pedestrian and bicycle modes of transportation
to relieve the traffic congestion."
Ojai city councilwoman Rae Hanstad said she believes the petitioning
organizations are making a mistake to turn down money that could
be used for other, more worthy projects.
"I thought it was a very generous offer," said Hanstad.
"It was a great opportunity for the CPO to take $80,000
and put it toward some positive projects. The CPO had a chance
to put money where their mouths were and they declined."
Smigel agreed. "It seems as though the petitioners would
rather spend our money having us defeat them in court. We're
continuing with construction out of pocket. The bottom line is,
the project complies with CEQA and it complies with the General
Plan. It's going to be built."
But Benci-Woodward intimated that his organization was ready
to keep fighting. "The CPO will take a vote tonight whether
to appeal the judge's decision when it is made public,"
said Benci-Woodward. "There's a general feeling that we
may want to take it all the way (to the State Supreme Court).
It's a good case, it really is. It's an important turning point
The Ojai Valley News
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