Montgomery Street housing: Commissioners wonder whether vehicle-free requirement is legal

Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
The Ojai Planning Commission discussed the affordable housing project at 408 Montgomery St., and listened to input from the public on the subject at its May 1 meeting.
The Ojai City Council previously discussed the topic at its April 8 meeting.
“We are not making any decision tonight, either on the project as such or even in terms of making a recommendation to the City Council on this,” Commission Chair Steve Quilici said. “We’re here to get community input, find out how people feel and then wait and see what develops in terms of a real proposed development.”
Five residents of Franklin Street, where the entry to the property is proposed, spoke, as well as Councilwoman Suza Francina.
The residents said that safety and parking are their two biggest concerns. Resident John Trent said: “Our biggest concern is … it’s really a safety issue for us as residents. If you get too many cars down that street, it’s already dense. It’s just going to bottleneck us. If we have a fire, emergency, it’s going to get real difficult for us to get out of there.”
Resident Amanda Tallarico and her husband, James, also spoke, citing they had moved to Franklin over the summer since it seemed like a safe, quiet street for their children to play. “There are several young children on our street and I fear for their safety,” Amanda Tallarico said. “We all agree that there’s a need for affordable housing, but we do not think this is the lot for it. The residents of Franklin, as well as the nearby streets would much more benefit from a community park on this property.”
James Tallarico asked the commission if this project is really even making a dent in the affordable housing, since it is so small. 
Bonnie LaForge said most of her concerns had been addressed, but she could not envision the requirement of not allowing cars.
Tom Erickson concurred with all the traffic and safety hazards mentioned, but added: “I’m definitely not against affordable housing. In fact, I need affordable housing right now to stay in Ojai.”
Francina encouraged the Franklin residents to view this topic in a different light. “I would like a paradigm shift from all of you, to see a car-free development, the first of its kind in Ojai, as a positive,” Francina said. “There are plenty of people in Ojai, including myself, who would like a car-free lifestyle.”
Multiple commissioners expressed support for the project. Commissioner Katherine Nolan was one of them, and said she sees the potential for a win-win project: “A win for the neighbors that are there, not excess paring. A win that the intersection could actually function safely for everyone, and a win for the people who are looking for affordable housing.”
Commissioner Kathryn Lottes said she also favors the project, and offered a potential solution for the traffic problem. “If the orientation of the access (moves to) Montgomery rather than Franklin, that puts a further barrier, so to speak, between this project and the street and the use of the street,” Lottes said. “With the project being on the end of the street like that, except with cars going by mistake, it seems like that would really help with, you know, cars associated with this project going down Franklin.”
Quilici said he wanted to look at the legality of making it a car-free property. Also, he asked staff to find out whether or not first priority could be given to those who work in the city. He finally brought up his biggest concern with any new development.
Quilici said: “I would like to hear from the staff. One, what are the standards (for water supply for fire suppression)? Two, who’s responsible for meeting them? I’m pretty sure it’s Casitas. And, three, does the water supply at this parcel meet those standards? I would hate to say to the city, ‘Sorry, we can’t recommend building on this parcel because it’s not safe.’”
Nolan said she is confident the project will be done eventually, and it is a very exciting process. She also reiterated the idea of making it a win-win proposal.
“We’re a long way away from knowing for sure what we’re going to do,” Quilici said.