“No action” critics challenged

The following article first appeared in the Sunday, February 19, 1978 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on Page 16. It is reprinted here with their permission.


“No action” critics challenged
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Our
environment
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by
John E. Nelson, M.D.

This columnist is pleased to note that the Our Environment column has again stimulated a community dialogue on the crucial issue of overdevelopment in our valley.

This time the dialogue has taken the form of letters-to-the-editor from two city councilpersons who chose to speak in rebuttal of last week’s column. That column chided the council for it’s lack of activism which led to the federal government’s seizing the initiative in demanding a halt to increasing air pollution which inevitably follows overdevelopment.

Surprisingly, the author of the letter which most vigorously defended the present council’s inadequate posturings has been its most active force in the struggle to keep The Ojai’s environment both rural and healthy. He has often waged solitary battles against urbanization of Ojai’s streets and the council’s penchant for granting untimely exemptions to the building moratorium. On numerous environmental votes he has found himself to be in a minority of one.

For this reason it is difficult to understand his defense of a council which has been anything but “activist” in pursuit of environmental quality. Other towns with far less to preserve than ours have elected councils who themselves have taken the initiative in improving their environment rather than simply slowing its destruction. They have brought their imaginations to the fore in initiating such measures as litter cleanups, firm population ceiling reinforced by downsizing, tree-planting projects, container laws, bicycle path construction and limitations on driving during smoggy days.

A SECOND LETTER quoted rather dubious statistics which seem to show that the City of Ojai has grown in population by only 400 persons since 1970. Yet during the past seven years there have been 381 single-family dwellings, 113 condominium units and 135 multiple family units built here for a total of 629 new dwellings. Although a few of these are still in construction, it does seem unreasonable to assume that there have been more dwellings constructed than new arrivals to occupy them.

Based on a conservative estimate of 2.5 persons per dwelling, a more realistic figure for this town’s population increase would be 1, 572 persons in the past seven years. Too many by any standards.

From the time Socrates debated his adversaries in the streets of Athens, an unfortunate technique of argument has contaminated political discourse. Later labeled “ad hominum” by the Romans, it is a method of attacking the person who makes a point rather than answering the point itself. Experts in debate consider it a desperation maneuver with little heuristic merit.

Sadly, ad hominum agruments seem to be infiltrating the exchange of legitimate views in our town. The crucial challenge of preserving a healthy and livable environment deserves better.

FOR INSTANCE, this columnist was criticized for not regularly attending city council meetings and thereby missing the opportunities to “get the true facts.” This criticism presupposes that such facts have been available during generally obfuscatory council meetings, a questionable assertion at best. Each of us must arrange our priorities according to our talents and available time, and the four to five hours per week spent on research and preparation of this column leaves little remaining time for attendance of lengthy meetings.

This column has been virtually the only medium to offer any criticism of the city council during the past year on any issue. Yet the community response which has been generated clearly indicates that these views represent those of the majority of environmentally concerned and oft-frustrated valley residents. To remain viable, the democratic process requires vigorous and regular criticism of the humanly imperfect persons who govern us.

The entire issue once more underscores the importance of the upcoming March 7 election in which Ojai voters will have an opportunity to seat a majority of environmental activists who will aggressively pursue the public health interests of this community. This column again calls upon all concerned to keep the ongoing debate high-toned and issue oriented.

DR, JOHN NELSON

Our only protection is thru long range planning

The following article first appeared in the Wednesday, December 6, 1967 edition of “The Ojai Valley News and Oaks Gazette” on Page D-6. That newspaper is now the “Ojai Valley News”. The article is reprinted here with their permission.

EDITORIAL by Fred Volz

Our only protection is thru long range planning

Twenty years ago after World War II only the most far-sighted cities in California envisioned what would happen to them.

First, they took to heart the population predictions of the experts, predictions which estimated 30,000 people a day would migrate to California in the ’60’s.

Second, these imaginative communities began to make long range plans for doubled, tripled populations. Many enacted the first master plans so new developers would be forced to adhere to more than nebulous “guidelines”, or to the wishes of a current planning commission. Now, these areas have become the model communities of California, where property values are high because they are the preferred places to live. It was all done through long range planning.

Other communities couldn’t see the need for long range planning and dealt only with problems when they were pressed by developers. San Diego, for example, is still squabbling over whether it should enact a master plan. We hardly see whether it would make any difference; San Diego has been raped by uninhibited development and only massive, expensive urban renewal can salvage what’s left.

It was so easy for communities just to coast along 20 years ago (just like Ojai is now). There seemed to be enough room for everybody. Land was cheap, autos one to the family, and the vistas of the Great West beckoned to all. If a man wanted to put a gas station across from the post office, why not — the lot was obviously “commercial” and just sitting there.

Twenty years later we can see the end — there is just so much land. The frontier is gone. This is easy to see in the Ojai Valley, bounded by high mountains on three sides and the ocean on the other. Unless long range plans are made now to protect the semi-rural environment of the valley, the citrus groves and ranches will be overwhelmed and the valley will become another San Fernando.

Even in Ojai, at a time in our history when the most unperceptive resident should know better, there’s a persistent notion that a man who owns property has the “right” to develop his land any way he chooses. Not only that, but he has the “right” to do so without the government interfering, or any planning commission telling him the rules of the game.

This hangover from the Frontier came into the open recently in, of all places, the county planning commission when it was considering a golf course development which curiously had a trailer park at its entrance. The county planning staff wanted extra time to draw up long range plans for the Lake Casitas watershed, surely one of the most beautiful, unspoiled areas left in Southern California. The majority of the commission became impatient with the staff. “Why these people want to put in trailers immediately,” was the commission consensus. (We’ll bet that the developers don’t turn a shovelful of dirt in five years. They just wanted the zoning.)

Think of the valley. Think of the millions of dollars in beautiful homes, ranches, citrus groves. Think of the thousands of modest homes that represent the largest single investment of their owners.

We believe these people have rights — and joined together they represent the rights of the community. They have the right to expect from their government some guarantee of protection.

Protection of what? Why, protection of the semi-rural beauty of the Ojai Valley — the very reason people wanted to live here and invest here. Make another vast tract out of the valley and you’ve destroyed the prime value of our community.

That’s why long range planning — right now — is essential. Without it, the population explosion will destroy our environment, just as it did in countless cities who didn’t plan ahead.

We the people who live here have “rights” and it is perfectly in order for us to ask local government bodies for protection of our environment.

There is no other guarantee of protection than long range planning.

Fred Volz — Publisher and editor of the Ojai Valley News from 1962 to 1987. (Courtesy of Ojai Valley News)