The $300 Circus

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By Laura Rearwin Ward, Ojai Valley News Publisher

Apparently, for $300, you can buy your own circus at Ojai City Council. If you missed the show May 10, I highly recommend you take the time to watch the city’s YouTube channel to see what happens when more than 40 of Ojai’s most engaged citizens push themselves away from their dinner tables to defend beleaguered Hotel El Roblar project applicants caught in the drama of a political stunt in the center ring:

Finally, enough was enough. The 39 written comments and the numerous carefully rehearsed speeches in support of the Hotel El Roblar project came from citizens not speaking from blind ideology, nor from the political right or left; rather, they spoke up as a community after an appeal was brought forward to stop the project.

The citizens who arrived at City Hall have skin in the game and decades of community participation and service hours between them. Visit the plaques, bridges and service organizations around town — you will see them:

• Living Treasure Joan Kemper

• Decades-long active citizens Bill Miley and Wendy Hilgers

• Current and former Ojai Planning Commission chairs

• Two Historic Preservation commissioners

• Former The Oaks at Ojai owner Cathy Cluff shared how and why her family had hand-picked the next stewards of our historic hotel

• Owners of decades-old businesses spoke, offering a petition with 26 signatures of business owners in support of the hotel

• Two Ojai Chamber of Commerce board members

• A former Ojai City Council candidate

• Two community theater directors

• Democratic Club president

• The Thacher School chief financial officer

  32-year former employee of The Oaks at Ojai

The appellants — Simply Ojai (aka Mindful Citizen) representatives Tom Francis (2020 campaign manager for Mayor Betsy Stix), Leslie Hess (Mayor Stix campaign treasurer and Mindful Citizen officer), Megan Bergkvist (signatory on the appeal and representative of Mindful Citizen) — had nothing: no evidence, no real argument, nothing to pass the reasonability test.

The powerful tactics of social misinformation and fear-mongering have made progress in recent times giving cover for selfish agendas under false flags. Mindful Citizen representatives, dba Simply Ojai, have recently been seen hopping neighborhood fences and dogging Farmers’ Market shoppers to sign a petition for a ballot initiative against a manufactured problem — an attack on one business.

So why did they do it? Why would this shadowy coalition heap thousands of dollars in additional expenses on the city and the applicants and then force residents to miss dinner to participate in the circus of their making?

The appeal was filed without merit, evidence or injury. The appellants, who had not attended or participated in the two-year process along the way, made an attempt to rob our community of millions of dollars and a stellar owners’ group. Were they ever concerned about the project at all?

This is not the first time that divisive tactics have been used to divide the town, as some of the speakers dared to point out at the meeting. Valet parking, Design Option 1 vs. Design Option 2, water use, events space …  were called out as red herrings and part of a toxic political strategy aimed to coalesce a voting bloc to win council seats in the next election.

Simply Ojai members calculated that if you shout the magic words — “water,” “tourist,” “climate,” “fire” and “parking” — enough times, even without a connection to anything tangible, you can win friends, bring a posse, crush a business and launch another successful political campaign. 

Misinformation and misdirection have worked recently in Ojai, as they have in the national arena. But this time, the citizens who have been showing up for years, putting in the time and hard work, said “no more” at the May 10 City Council meeting. With them were four councilmembers who denied the appeal. All but the mayor.

In explaining her position at the May 10 meeting, Mayor Stix used generalized ideology, rather than facts, in an attempt to drive the narrative to her view. 

Simply Ojai made the mistake of targeting the interests of the people who make Ojai what it is today and counting on them to roll over.

Thank you, readers, for staying informed — attending the meetings and reading the Ojai Valley News. These are the tools to protect ourselves from the hype and the $300 circus. Thank you for your affection for our
community. Thank you for showing up.


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