The Sixties in Ojai — Part 1

The following article first appeared in the Sunday, December 21, 1969 edition of “The OJAI VALLEY NEWS” on the front page. The article is reprinted here with their permission.

The Sixties in Ojai — Part 1
How has Ojai changed? Valley’s been urbanized

by Gary Hachadourian


Ten short days from now the decade of the Sixties will have ended.

How have the Sixties affected Ojai Valley?

What changes have taken place here in ten years?

The end of a decade is a convenient time to ask long-range questions because people think in units of ten; January 1, 1970, will seem like a new beginning.

It’s a time that’s convenient for pausing and reflecting.

But it’s also a very appropriate time to ask questions of the long-range variety since it’s always being said that things don’t happen overnight, and a decade certainly isn’t overnight.

See trends

Ten years is a long enough time to take a look at and get a good idea of trends.

In the case of a community, a sufficient number of things should have happened in ten years so that some statement can be made concerning where that town has been, what its concerns were, what its problems were, and, most importantly, where it’s going.

What a city does in one decade determines to a great extent what will happen in the next decade.

Well, has anything happened in Ojai during the Sixties?

Views differ

Your reporter has met a number of people who don’t live in the valley but who visit here regularly and say, “The thing I love about this place is that it hasn’t changed.”

He has met people who have been absent from the valley for a number of years and then have returned to find it, in their opinion, “Just like it was the last time I was here.”

On the other hand, the reporter is friendly with a lot of people who have lived in the valley throughout the Sixties; and he must smile fondly when he says he knows a few people have lived in the Chumash Indian’s Valley of the Nesting Moon for a lot longer than ten years.

These people don’t see the valley as being the same. In fact, they see great changes.

The things they say most frequently are, “I’m afraid for this city, Gary,” or, “I just don’t like what I see going on.”

What’s happened

So what has happened? Physically, tangibly, what changes have taken place since January 1, 1960?

Who’s right — the visitors or the old-timers?

They’re both right.

It’s true that when you compare the amount of actual development that has taken place in Ojai with the amounts that have taken place in other cities — the cities many of the visitors came from — not too much has happened in the valley.

A significant amount of development was carried out in the western end of Ojai’s downtown. Also, a shopping center was constructed at the “Y”, and a hospital and various other office buildings and professional centers.

Otherwise, little

As for the rest, it was residential development; and when you compare the residential development level in the valley with what occurred in other areas of Ventura County — Thousand Oaks and Camarillo, for instance — it really wasn’t too much.

During the Sixties, the population of the valley from Casitas Springs to Upper Ojai rose from about 15,000 to a little under 22,000. This is a healthy jump, but not a staggering one when you consider that professional planners have said the population would more than double to better than 45,000 by 1985.

During this same period, the population of Ojai has risen from 4,700 to 5,800, close to 25 percent. But still, that’s only 1,100 people, and a total population of 5,800 is a far cry from the 15,000 that anticipated by planners by 1985 (in an area between Maricopa Road and Gorham Road — slightly larger than the present city limits).

So it’s true that when you compare Ojai with other areas, growth here has been a little bit here and a little bit there — hard for a visitor to see.

Something crucial

But it’s also true that something crucial has happened in the valley during the past ten years. In the end, the old-timers are more right than the visitors in their assessment of the decade.

They can smell something in the air beside a whiff of smog, occasionally. Since they’ve been here for many years, they can sense any change in the trend of things.

What happened was much more subtle than physical development. But it was no less real.

Became urbanized

What happened was that the valley became urbanized.

Much will be made of this term — urbanization — as your reporter sets down what he thinks were the thematic occurrences in Ojai since 1960. So he’d better describe what he means by the term.

Urbanization is the process that changed Ojai from a rural town to a suburban center. It was as much a change in the thinking of the valley residents as it was a change in the physical development of the area.

When people start complaining about dogs running loose, horses in the streets, that ‘s urbanization as much as building apartment houses is.

Natural process

Urbanization really was an entirely natural process in the valley. The 7,000 or so people who have moved in since 1960 were, after all, essentially city dwellers. Many of them moved here simply because they needed housing that was within commuting distance to the office in Oxnard or Ventura.

As those cities began to fill up, other areas began to develop to accommodate the overflow. The valley was one of those areas.

Of course, many of the people who moved in came by choice as well as necessity, wanting to live in a pretty place that was quieter, more restful, and more personal than an urban center. Even so, they brought with them a different type of thinking.

The point is that as the population explosion began to make its effect on the valley, the thinking of the majority of the residents began to change. The majority’s tastes changed. Its thoughts on what an appropriate future was began to change.

Small wonder that the old-timers feared what they sensed was happening. They, the people who would fight tooth and nail to keep the valley a rural paradise, were becoming more in the minority.

Lack of control

But it wasn’t only that the valley was developing that worried these old-timers. What they really feared — and what the reporter fears, he should add — was that the direction of growth wasn’t being sufficiently controlled.

Ojai, as many people who are only occasional visitors know, is a beautiful place. More significantly, it has the type of beauty that can bring in money by being left as it is.

Those mountains that rise up less than a mile from the center of the city are the impressive boundaries of a national forest. There’s a lake nearby and many parks and many miles of riding and hiking trails, not to mention golf courses.

Ojai obviously should be a town that is a recreational oasis for the real city dwellers to the south of here, in the Los Angeles area. It should be an oasis for its own residents, most of whom have chosen to live here in order to escape the oppressive mode of living in other Southern California cities.

Stress planning

This article, which will be published as a series over the next few weeks, will seek to identify what the city’s problems have been during the Sixties as far as planning its future and implementing its plan goes.

In that vein, the reporter will discuss what the combination of forces was that brought about urbanization. In his mind, there were three basic forces at work:

* Forces exerted on the valley from the outside — essentially the population explosion.

* Forces that worked from within the valley — i.e., the need to urbanize and develop in a chosen direction in order to prevent the valley’s being developed haphazardly, at the whim of developers. Emphasis in this section will be on what type of planning the city actually did and what steps it took to make itself an oasis for tourists and its own residents.

The ‘system’

* Forces that prevented the city from controlling the future as much as it would have liked to. Ojai had a personality that was sometimes self-defeating. Also, it lived — and continues to live — under an economic “system” that made it difficult and even impossible to act in accordance with its desires all the time.

The reporter will also discuss what he thinks was a sterile and self-defeating philosophy of government during these years. As will soon become clear, the reporter is eager to shout congratulations for the steps the city’s government has taken to identify and preserve the character of Ojai, to channel its growth.

But he will point out also that a philosophy of government that stresses the right of a property owner to develop his property as he sees fit, rather than a balance between those rights and community responsibilities, is a philosophy that’s incapacitating and essentially murderous to a community.

Lack of imagination

In some instances, he feels the city planners and elected officials have shown an abysmal lack of imagination and guts. While government has taken some life-giving steps, it has also served as the city’s undertaker.

Obviously, the reporter will not try to hide his feelings. He will try for objectivity, but not detachment.

Why? Because Ojai is important to him. It’s important because it’s his chosen home, but also because it is a unique town and has the potential to become something different, something more habitable for human beings than most other cities.

He should explain that he has lived here for less than two years, and so hasn’t experienced all that he will talk about. His factual information was gained by going through the 1,000 or so issues of the Ojai Valley News that have been published twice weekly since 1960. Also, there have been talks with many people.

The reporter’s particular interpretation of the facts stems from the belief that even though he didn’t live through everything he’ll write about, the type of thinking that people in the valley do hasn’t changed.

To a great extent, the reporter has undertaken this project to gain knowledge about what happened before he arrived in Ojai. He wanted to do it in order to gain a fuller understanding of what Ojai is, where it’s been, and, most importantly, where it’s going.

Examining a decade allows you to do these things — and that’s what we’ll undertake beginning in the next issue.






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