A proposal to our incoming Ojai City Council (whomever they may be):
The Ojai Cultural Contribution (OCC) Tax
All of us in Ojai, whether lifelong inhabitants or new additions to the valley, are facing difficult and complicated decisions on our collective future. These challenges include water management, affordable housing, declining public school enrollment, environmental sustainability, attracting living-wage jobs, preparing for the next wildland fire, and achieving a balanced approach to tourism.
And all agree that Ojai is a spectacular place, which is why so many want to visit here, work here, and live here.
At the same time, there are many needs and requests from our residents that a city of our size cannot wholly fulfill, understandably. These areas include helping families in financial need, partnering to provide nutritious meals to students, mentoring students who wish to go to college, providing unbiased public forums for discussion, supporting artists, stewarding the environment, helping new and continuing businesses thrive, building ample educational opportunities for adults, assisting with transportation, providing guidance for fire preparation, and on and on…. The list could fill this entire page!
Luckily, we are blessed to have many local nonprofit organizations that strive to meet these challenges in a thorough and thoughtful way. But as with most nonprofits, even with devoted staff and armies of volunteers, there is a continual struggle for financial support.
A Proposal: The Ojai Cultural Contribution Tax
As you probably know, more than one-third of the city’s revenue comes from the Transient Occupancy Tax, which is a tax of up to 15% on all hotel-room night stays in our city. When we endured the Thomas Fire and COVID, in addition to the personal hardships so many of us faced, the revenue losses Ojai weathered were enormous, and we are still adjusting.
Prior to the Thomas Fire, we had an additional tax: The Ojai Tourism Improvement District (OTID). The goal of this modest additional hotel-room night tax was to promote tourism in the valley. The effort was effective, with some arguing that is was too effective (but that’s another article). The OTID ended (again, another article, but you can visit www.bit.ly/ojai-tourism to view the 2017 Ojai Chautauqua panel on “Tourism in Ojai”), but the result of the effort continues to influence many aspects of life here.
Imagine a new OTID, but one that is meant directly for Ojai’s nonprofit organizations — The OCC. Each year, the city encourages nonprofits to apply for financial support, and using a set of criteria adopted this year, the City Council votes on organizations to award grants to. The city gives 1% to 1.5% of its budget to this specific effort (about $155,000 this year, given to organizations such as the Community Farmers’ Market, Fire Safe Council, and the Green Coalition), though the annual cultural contribution from the city is larger as there are specific grant commissions.
The proposed OCC would be a 1% additional tax on all hotel-room night stays. The potential in revenue could be more than $300,000 annually, and I believe the visitors to our valley, given current trends, would scarcely notice. That revenue would be dedicated to Ojai’s nonprofit organizations, added to the city’s current nonprofit grant budget, and would be awarded to organizations using the same application process the city uses now. Imagine what more our nonprofits could do to improve life in Ojai, specifically geared to our residents!
For those who have expressed concern that tourism has become imbalanced in our valley, the OCC offers a very direct, public way for hotels and their patrons to contribute directly to those nonprofit endeavors that affect us very locally. We would happily encourage these hotels to promote their support for this community to their guests. I encourage our Ojai City Council candidates to consider this proposal, and when we have a new council in 2023, to investigate the merits and begin the process of putting this proposal into motion.
Thank you for your consideration.
— Andy Gilman of Ojai is director of the Agora Foundation.