Ojai loses 'larger-than-life' character
By Lenny Roberts
He was described by longtime
friend and environmental activist Pat Weinberger as larger than
life and the glue that held the community together for nearly
30 years. A retired sheriff's commander, former and current mayor
and city manager independently called him their mentor.
Four-time Ojai mayor, Jim Loebl, who was dedicated to protecting
the Ojai Valley from uranium mining and a valley-long freeway,
died at home Sunday morning. Current Ojai Mayor Joe Devito said
his death was a great loss to the valley because he was the "true
role model as a husband, father, friend and councilman."
Loebl partnered with Ojai resident William Peck from 1965 until
1980, when Peck became a Ventura County Superior Court judge.
"With Jim Loebl, they broke the mold," Peck said. "He
was a remarkably good lawyer and a very close, personal friend.
I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have known him. The
city of Ojai and the people of the Ojai Valley owe Loebl an enormous
debt that could never be repaid. He made certain that we were
not going to become a suburb of Los Angeles. He got the freeway
off of Caltrans' master plan. That sounds like a small thing,
but it isn't. What that meant is that they could not revive in
three years. He really devoted a lot of his life in preserving
Ojai as we know it. I mourn him and my heart goes out to his
Weinberger recalled making several trip to Caltrans' offices
in Los Angeles, and although Loebl made numerous significant
contributions to the community, winning the battle against Caltrans
was his most defining time.
"It started out with highway boys," she said. "First,
it was the freeway which would have bisected the Ojai Valley.
Then, the four-lane widening of Highway 33 that would have destroyed
Ojai and made the valley a conduit for development. Jim was absolutely
fierce at those meetings. The freeway bisecting Ojai would have
been horrendous. The guy was a champion and it was a great privilege
to know him for 35 years."
After not seeking re-election to the Ojai City Council in 1998
(CHECK THIS), Loebl continued to practice law, and served as
counsel for the Casitas Municipal Water District - a position
he held since 1964. In July, in deteriorating health, Loebl left
the CMWD post and his private law practice.
Andy Belknap, who served as Ojai city manager from 1989 to 2001,
remembers Loebl as both friend and mentor.
"Contrary to popular opinion, being a politician is an honorable
calling. Political skills - leadership, defining issues, building
consensus, and the ability to make people think of the common
good instead of just their own gain - are critical to our society,
and in short supply. Jim was a master of all these skills, and
Ojai is lucky to have enjoyed his political leadership for an
incredible 30 years. His accomplishments are too numerous to
mention, but he literally shaped the town as we know it.
"What I remember most about Jim is his integrity and resolve.
He never took the easy way out. He was, as he used to say, 'someone
who could fly through the heavy weather.' And, while he could
be demanding he was also an especially kind and sensitive person.
I never worked harder for anyone, or enjoyed it more. My heart
goes out to his family."
Almost naturally, Loebl was born of the Fourth of July, in Chicago
in 1927. His son, Jeff, said his father graduated from Princeton
University in 1948, the University of Chicago Graduate School
in 1949, and Stanford University's School of Law in 1952, and
joked that Ojai's annual Independence Day was staged in his honor.
Jeff Loebl grew up in the Arbolada, and currently is president
of the South Dakota-based Sioux Falls Canaries minor league baseball.
While attending Northwestern University near his father's birthplace,
he worked for the Chicago White Sox, who were owned at the time
by Bill Veeck, a friend of Jim Loebl since 1941.
At the request of Veeck's family,
Loebl was asked to accept Veeck's induction into the Shrine of
the Eternals in Pasadena on their behalf. In the early-1970s,
he owned a small portion of the team, and reportedly was the
only baseball owner to testify on behalf of Curt Flood's effort
to overturn the infamous reserve clause.
"Dad enjoyed Ojai a great deal." Jeff Loebl said. "He
was very fond of this valley since he first came here with my
grandparents in 1948. His enjoyment of his time on the City Council
was in trying to preserve the valley. In terms of Ojai readers,
he stood for the quality-of-life fights that people don't think
of as a big deal. He really was oriented into trying to preserve
the valley," including the historic Libbey Bowl.
Before jumping into local politics Loebl served as Edmund G.
"Pat" Brown's traveling secretary during his first
term as governor of California, and on Brown's campaign committee.
He also served as deputy attorney general of the State of California
from 1953 to 1958, and director of the California Department
of Professional and Vocational Standards (now known as the Department
of Consumer Affairs) from 1961 to 1963.
Former Ojai Police Chief and retired Sheriff's Commander Vince
France called Loebl a class act.
"He was dedicated to his wife, Dottie, his children, grandchildren
and the city of Ojai in that order," France began. "You
may not have always agreed with Jim's position in politics, but
you always knew exactly where he stood. From a personal standpoint,
Jim was a friend, a mentor and one of my strongest supporters
on the Ojai City Council. He stood up for me when I was appointed
chief of police on a 3-2 vote in 1975, and continued to support
me during my 31-year career in law enforcement. Jim's dry wit,
total commitment to the Ojai Valley and common sense approach
to politics will be sorely missed. He is the only politician
I know who can be described as a liberal, moderate, conservative.
He shaped the city's destiny like few others before him."
Like Loebl, Chaparral High School principal Steve Olsen was a
longtime council member and former mayor. "The city of Ojai,"
he said, "was extraordinarily blessed to have Jim Loebl.
His vision for Libbey Park, his dedicated persistence in protecting
and shaping the Ojai Valley and his fearless presence in battling
for the things he believed in will never be forgotten. Jim is
a true Ojai legend.
"Jim was a mentor to me. When I first ran for office 18
years ago, Jim invited me to his home and explained the do's
and don't's of running a campaign. It always worked. Jim also
helped others in their quest for political positions. The only
one that I remember that was not successful was when Jim invited
Vince France and I to play golf with the intent of talking Vince
into running for City Council. Vince had no desire to run and
did not play golf very well that day."
Private funeral services are planned, and a public remembrance
will be held in about a month.
The Ojai Valley News
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Ojai Mayor Jim Loebl