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League of Women Voters forum: Ojai City Council District 4

Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
Tuesday’s League of Women Voters’ virtual candidate forum kicked off with the two candidates running for Ojai City Council District 4: incumbent Suza Francina and challenger Jeri Becker.
The two candidates were asked questions regarding affordable housing and short-term rentals.
In regard to affordable housing, Becker said: “What’s happening and what I see is that our City Council and our Planning Commission is very dissuasive to people that bring their projects forward. I think we need to change our environment for people that are trying to build affordable housing within our community and even just increase our housing stock. It’s pretty brutal for developers.”
Francina said: “The city is working to create some affordable developments. I’ve been an advocate for green affordable housing, energy-efficient housing, water-efficient, fire and earthquake housing for the past 25 years. One of the reasons I ran for City Council four years ago was to preserve our housing stock by banning short-term rentals (STRs). The ban on STR aims to prevent investors from turning our very limited housing stock into hotels.”
The two candidates continued the debate when they discussed short-term rentals, and had differing opinions about building three-story apartments in Ojai.
Becker said: “We are behind on our RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) numbers and we are not inviting this type of building going on in our city. I do think that one of the ways … to do affordable housing for people and raise our housing stock is to actually go three stories. I’m not saying that we need to put three stories in our downtown corridor, but there are places in our city that we could actually do that. So I do think that short-term rental is intertwined with our lack of housing.”
Francina said: “You criticize the Planning Commission and the City Council for taking a strong stand against the type of development that could destroy our small town. That’s very easy for you to say due to where you live in the city. You will never be affected by three-story buildings in Persimmon Hill.”
The candidates also got into a debate regarding the Active Transportation Program Project, which is, in part, a plan to reduce the number of lanes on Maricopa Highway from four to two. The city will implement an ATP demonstration project later this month.
Becker said: “I am very concerned to see what the demonstration is going to produce and if the demonstration project and the demonstration and test runs are actually going to be accurate based on what we have going on right now with COVID. So the people who live next door, like the Vallerio Street area, they have valid concerns and they need to be heard. I mean it’s ridiculous because it sounds like to these people that it’s a foregone conclusion that the project, as it is shown and presented right now, is going to be implemented in its full entirety.”
Francina responded: “I think many of the people that are against this project don’t understand the difference between recreational bicycling or using the bicycle for daily life transportation. It’s a fact that people are already rat running through the Arbolada up Cuyama and through these neighborhoods. The demonstration project will show whether or not that increases. 
One of the other major topics discussed by the candidates was that of climate change, and what they think are the three most important climate-mitigation measures.
Francina said: “The three top issues would be how we handle our energy in buildings. Buildings and transportation are the top producers of pollution, greenhouse gases. So we are going to be examining the “reach codes,” and there’s so much misinformation flying around about reach codes. We are not going to take away anyone’s gas stove, but one way that we can start to introduce these codes is to apply them to new development. So reach codes, transportation, and that alternative transportation is getting rid of our car-centric lifestyle.”
Becker replied: “I am fairly in agreement with Suza in regard to what we need to do. I believe that the emergency climate committee document that they produced, and their suggestions to the city saying that we need to be 100 percent electric by 2030 … I’m very concerned that we make sure that our reach codes don’t go too far and cause people not to be able to afford these changes and these retrofits.”
She added that the reach codes for retrofitting existing buildings to be 100 percent electric is “very concerning” to her.

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