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Letters to the Editor Feb. 4, 2022

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Letters about proposed Historic District

Don’t add more bureaucracy with ‘historic’ designation

Ojai has proved to be an interesting community. Having watched the changes take place since I went to high school here, I have seen only improvements.

We used to sit at the Ojai Music Festival on wooden benches or fold-up plastic chairs. The concerts were always great, but the seating left a lot to be desired. Today, we have the Libbey Bowl because a group of Ojai residents, spearheaded by Esther Wachtell, raised the money, one person at a time over a two-year period, and got it built. 

Don and Sheila Cluff took it upon themselves and raised the funds to beautify an area where an old gas station used to stand, now called Cluff Park. The park is one of the first things you see just before you reach our core business district. 

The Cluffs ran their ’50s-style Oaks Hotel for years before they hired David Bury to recreate the design of the original hotel (The El Roblar). Both of these projects were done because of the Cluffs’ deep attachment to Ojai and desire to leave us with properties that were both updated and reflected the Arcade.

The Arcade, as we know it today, has a great assortment of merchants — original, creative and unique. The last 100 years of Ojai have only seen a change in occupants, not architecture. 

Rains, sitting in the center, acts as an anchor, with stores running through the Arcade on their left and right. There is a move to make the corridor of Ojai’s downtown shopping area into a Historic District. Many of the parcels that would fall into this “historic” label are not historic and never would be considered such for any tax rebates. Rebates are only paid as a percentage of the cost to replace or repair a truly historic building.

As one of those merchants whose property is not historic, I would be forced into a designation that would penalize me in my dealings with the city. I would have to seek the approval of one more committee; that is after dealing with Planning, then Building and Safety.

I feel this current push to designate the entire business district as historic comes out of fear and overreaction to the Chaparral proposed plans.

Obviously, the plans were not accepted by the residents and would have had to go through the City Council and Planning prior to even being considered. The Arcade, the Pergola, the library, the jail are the greater part of our local history. The Oaks, had it not been converted back to the style of the original El Roblar, would have been considered mid-century. So the designation of “historical” gets thrown around very loosely, is overused and is certainly not accurate in most cases. The rebuilding of the Pergola across from the Arcade would not even exist if Joan Kemper and David Mason had not done a fundraiser to cover the cost of building it. 

As I view this, if it is actually beneficial for a property owner to have their property designated as historical, they can go through the process and submit their building for a historical designation by the State Historical Resources Commission. Just by Ojai saying that a district is deemed historical will not in any way guarantee you of a historical tax rebate if your building does not meet the criteria.

Ojai residents seems to have done a very good job over the past century as stewards of the town. The Planning Department and City Council review each and every project downtown, opening up proposed concepts to public input. To add another
bureaucratic layer to this time-consuming, expensive process seems redundant and an overkill.

Barbara Bowman — Ojai

 

Avoid divisive mode of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys

Re: the Jan. 28 Ojai Valley News editorial, “Preservation or power grab?”:

In September 2016, the Taormina community was designated the first Historic District in the city of Ojai. To achieve this distinction, the petitioners (Taormina community residents) needed to work closely with the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) throughout the preparation and review of the petition process. The initial application went through a number of iterations, most of them
driven by thoughtful comments and questions generated by the HPC members and the city’s consultant who provided guidance throughout the process.

I also interacted with the HPC as a
representative of The Ojai Library Friends when we rebuilt the used bookstore Twice-Sold Tales. Throughout the process of designating the front façade as “historic,” I found the HPC, again, helpful while acting as representatives of the city.

I have read with interest the editorial published in the Jan. 28 edition of the Ojai Valley News, which seems to excoriate the members of the Historic Preservation Commission for accentuating the
possibility of the Arcade becoming a Historic
District in Ojai. 

While I, as a resident of the city, have measurable questions regarding that plan for our downtown area, I must state, based on my interactions, that I am reluctant to accept that any member of the
Historic Preservation Commission is acting in any way but out of concern for the city and its community. Disagreements are inevitable in our democratic system of government, but let us not fall into the divisive mode of “good” guys and “bad” guys.

Jon Lambert — Ojai

 

Historic District proposal background

Brian Aikens, Chair, Historic Preservation Commission. 2014, David Mason recommends my appointed to HPC. Vice-Chair/Chair six years. Eight years attending every City meeting where preservation discussed. Vice-Chair Cindy Convery, 2016, enjoying her 2nd Ojai home she restored and landmarked. Long background in preservation with folks at the State and National level offering help.  Gina McHatton, 2018, slide show compiler and presenter, photos last 100 years, not “pretty pictures”. Jennie Prebor, 2021, historic property owner with an ancient cabin and century old olive trees, Arcade business owner. Valerie James, 2016, Taormina Historic District resident. We are appointed by the Ojai City Council, Municipal Code Section 4-8.03. Anticipate McHatton and Prebor reappointed this year.  “minimally qualified commissioners”, “install themselves-personally”, baseless insults to us and Council. Truth, facts matter. No timeline set, estimates shared.  Downtown “maintains its character” over the 100 years without designation. Ojai Historian Craig Walker seriously disputes. The “1950s and 60s”, 1968 vandals, 1971 teardown of the damaged Pergola, rebuilt 1999, led by David Mason, 1990 unsafe Arcade, 2001 potential demolition of the Ojai Jail. You get it. “The timing for this move is strategic”, false, trying to meet with the Council since last Summer.  “Five white knights”? I spoke at Planning Commission hearing emphasizing landmark status of the School. Standing ovation. Extension of School landmark west side, many possible benefits landmarking brings school, businesses, low-income housing tax incentives. Let’s work together. Voting? Prominent citizen emailed “This is not within the HPC purview, this is an exclusive council matter.” Bureaucratic overlay? Already many existing layers of governance upon the Downtown. With ATP, Caltrans commissioned Historic Resources Report, April 2018, matched the results of the two years of extensive research by the Downtown Ad Hoc with Gina, Craig and me. Found Caltrans report Summer 2021. Two independent sources indicate the Downtown District qualifies, Municipal Code Section 4-8.08. Landmarking the Downtown District will enable property owners to qualify for Mills Act tax reductions without cost of full Historic Resources Report.  $100,000 amount? HPC recommends, Council decides Mills Act. HPC is directed by the Municipal Code, Section 4-8.05 Historic Preservation Commission-Functions and powers.

Brian Aikens — Oak View 

(The writer is chair of the city of Ojai Historic Preservation Commission.)

 

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