First Fire, Now Water — Ojai City Council Meeting January 9, 2018

By Jay Murphy

Before this year’s first City Council meeting a joint session was held with the Planning Commission and as usual, it proved to be lively.

This reporter has noted in the past of some tension between the two bodies and this session was no different. The back and forth seemed to be about committees tasked with sustainability vs. the possibility of “working groups” tasked with “concrete goals”. As the Mayor put it, “We don’t lack committees, we lack water.” The Council, it seems, wants the Commission to deliver up some recommendations so the Council Members can make the decisions. All agreed to bring the issue back with a plan for “working groups” to be tasked with specific goals.  Council person Weirick stated that the Commission was not designed as a legislative body. The issue will be revisited when the Commission has a plan to present.

Ojai City Council, Photo Jay Murphy

Martin Luther King Day

The actual Council meeting started a few minutes after 7pm with the roll call and the Pledge of Allegiance. All members were present. The weather was on everyone’s mind and most speakers prefaced their comments with thoughts about the tragedy in Montecito. Regular business and comments were brief but Liz a senior at Villanova Prep, representing the

Ojai Valley Youth Foundation, announced plans for the Martin Luther King Day events planned at Libby Park. The Mayor will be there as well as other speakers and entertainment. The event is planned for Jan 15 from 10 to 3. You can find details and information by contacting The Youth Foundation will also have information about the event on the Ojai City Facebook page and at

Casitas Water District Speaks

Steve Wickstrum, Casitas Water Dist.

Steve Wickstrum, new manager for the Casitas Water Dist, then presented some very useful info about the Casitas Water District’s replacement of Golden State Water Co. Golden State has been a problem issue with both the council and the citizens of Ojai who, in the middle of last year, voted by over 90% to approve of the conversion, even though there was a rise in water pricing. Golden State recently lost their case against the Ojai Theater for the flooding that shut down the Theater for some time. The council’s displeasure Golden State was obvious and there seemed to be some bipartisan agreement that it was essential for the City of Ojai and the Casitas Water Dist to work as a unit. Mr Wickstrum made it very clear that the District wants to be part of the Ojai environment. He also pointed out a rare “positive” from the fire. Lake Casitas will rise much more quickly. Now that the fire has eliminated debris, flow into the lake is much more unrestricted.

Mr Wickstrum also indicated that his staff will be flow-testing and  reviewing the work that was done under Golden State to be sure the infrastructure is sound. Much of the city is still operating on plumbing based on the grid developed in 1929.  He was happy to report that water usage has been dramatically reduced over the last few years because of conservation efforts and that the Water District has no problem complying with the “Water Wise” document.

Citizen Input

During Public Discussion speakers offered up their take on how the city performed during our recent crisis. Craig Walker, representing The Other Ojai Facebook page indicates that over 4000 members, some from out of the country, posted info and details as they received them which assisted the information flow. He wants to place a plaque in the park honoring Corey Iverson who died protecting us. Craig mentioned that when the “big” fire that hit in 1917 it was the residents themselves who were pressed into service to save the city.

Jane Walter from Help of Ojai alerted the audience that they may be able to offer financial support as well as shelter. She says they have “lots of funds” available for those in need, with about 115 applicants already in the system. You can get more details by visiting Help of Ojai on Fox street or by viewing their Help of Ojai Facebook page.

Debra from the Green Coalition discussed their program for E Waste Collection. They will be collecting most types of discarded electronic equipment. You can contact her at 805.669.8445 for dates or more info.

Treasury and Committee Reports

Seemingly lost between weather and water was the Treasury Report given by City Manager Steve McClary. The city remains solvent but there is caution because of the weather’s impact on both business and infrastructure, crucial for the city’s bottom line. There was some disagreement on what constitutes “reserve funds” and all were in agreement that a concise definition needed to be advanced as soon as possible to avoid further confusion.

The Cultural Resources committee is looking to install a policy that reviews the city for areas of known resources as well as properties that may have some resources yet discovered. The suggestion was made that the defined amendments as to distance from sites or potential sites be expanded from 300 ft to 500 ft. The Council’s opinion seemed to be that the issue needed to be revisited in the future.

Public Works Comments

Public Works Director Greg Grant talks about leaf blowers last fall.

The next speaker was Public Works Director, Greg Grant who offered some interesting data about rainfall on Monday. Greg pointed out that although Ojai got approx. 2.5 inches of rain there was never the danger that was present in Montecito at the same time. He reasoned that this was because of the topography of Ojai, the actual weather pattern and, equally important, the soil and the effect that fire temperature has on its stability.  It seems that Montecito’s topography and soil gave optimum conditions for the slides. Post fire, the  soil was not as stable and the steep canyon and berranca faces made the tragedy inevitable. The fact that the slide occurred  around 2 in the morning when most people were sleeping added to the fatalities.

Comparisons were made to the La Conchita slide by Mayor Johnston who gave some detail about that tragedy. It seems that area had long ago be cleared by the railroad to prevent the known slide conditions  from covering their tracks. The area  was cleared but over time “progress” and population expansion threw caution to the wind.

Mr Grant also gave a lengthy report on the work his department was doing to clear debris with emphasis on Ojai’s drainage system. Using some very scientific debris flow models from the Dept of Agriculture’s NCRS site, he illustrated the Ojai Valley’s potential areas of danger. It was a very interesting presentation. All culverts and drains will be inspected as well as the roughly 250 fire hydrants in the city. Congratulations to the Ojai Dept of Public Works for their great work during both emergencies.  More information can be found at:

The Council adjourned a little earlier than normal and the next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday the 23rd of Jan. You can view last night’s meeting or a copy of the agenda at

Jay Murphy is retired and living in Ojai

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