5 Things to know about the Nov. 3 election
Ojai mayor and city council candidates answered questions about short-term rentals, housing, traffic and climate change at two online forums hosted by the Ventura County League of Women Voters on Tuesday.
Several questions submitted by residents focused on the city’s short-term rental ban, which supporters say helps keep more housing available for residents.
“From a basic economics point of view, demand and supply, if you divert residential housing into short-term housing you are reducing the housing supply, which exacerbates our affordable housing problem,” said current city councilmember and mayoral candidate William Weirick.
Weirick and Betsy Stix, a teacher, are running for mayor of Ojai. The city is also holding its first district-based election in District 4. Current city councilmember Suza Francina and real estate broker Jeri Becker are running for that seat.
Ojai election 2020:
All four said they support the short-term rental ban because it preserves the number of longer-term rentals in the city, although Becker mentioned the possibility of revisiting the policy.
Becker said she has seen other cities use “three strikes” policies for short-term rentals, which take away a short-term rental owner’s license after they’ve violated ordinances three times.
“The upside of having short-term rentals is we could actually gain some revenue from this if we actually properly regulated it. It is something that should possibly be brought back to life here in town. We are basically a tourist economy and tourist town. We love promoting the beauty of our valley and sharing it with people who want to visit,” she said.
Candidates differ on how to increase housing
The Ventura County League of Women Voters held a virtual forum on Tuesday for Ojai mayoral candidates William Weirick, top right, and Betsy Stix. The league’s David Maron moderated the event. (Photo: ERIN RODE/THE STAR)
Candidates also expressed concern over the lack of affordable housing in the city. They differed on how the problem should be addressed, from more accessory dwelling units to loosening building and development codes.
“If you work in a restaurant, a hair salon or are a single parent, you should be able to live here, otherwise we become yet another cute town of second homes for affluent people who live elsewhere,” said Stix.
She supports long-term homesharing programs and accessory dwelling units to expand the amount of available units in the city, and said she remodeled her own home to rent out part of it to a roommate for below market-rate.
Weirick wants the city to partner with agencies like the Area Housing Authority of the County of Ventura to develop affordable housing projects on city-owned land and would like to see affordable housing included in the redevelopment of the Chaparral High School property.
Becker supports making the development process shorter and more affordable by loosening city codes, and says the City Council and Planning Commission has “dissuaded” housing projects in the past. She said allowing three-story buildings in some parts of the city could encourage affordable housing, which her opponent disagreed with.
“You criticize the Planning Commission and City Council for taking a strong stance against the type of development that could destroy our small town, and that’s very easy for you to say due to where you live in the city,” said Francina. “You will never be affected by three-story buildings where you live in Persimmon Hill. It is very easy to not be a NIMBY when it’s not next to where you live.”
NIMBY is an acronym for “Not in My Back Yard,” and refers to residents who oppose developments near their homes.
The two City Council candidates also differed on the city’s Maricopa Highway active transportation project, which reduces the lanes on Highway 33 to provide more space for bike and pedestrian use. The proposal is currently in a six-month demonstration period.
Becker is concerned over whether the demonstration will accurately show the impacts of the lane reduction, since it is happening during COVID-19. She also recognizes the concern of nearby residents who think the project could increase traffic on neighboring streets.
“I’m very open-minded to see what the demonstration produces. I don’t want to see traffic pushed into these neighborhoods, nobody wants to see their quiet neighborhoods turned into a highway because people bypassed the highway because we reduced the lanes.”
According to Francina, instead of discussing the consequences of the lane reduction, the city should focus on the consequences of using cars instead of other forms of transit.
“People are very concerned about the unintended consequences of removing a car lane and making a protected bike lane. The fact is that there are unintended consequences for having created a lifestyle where everybody is chauffeuring their children everywhere, everybody drives everywhere,” she said.
Possible open council seat
Weirick’s term as city councilmember ends in 2022, which means if he is elected mayor there will be another open seat on the city council. Both Weirick and Stix were asked how that opening should be filled if he is elected mayor, and if the seat should go to a woman. Suza Francina is currently the only woman on the five-member City Council.
According to Weirick, a special election to fill his seat would cost the city approximately $30,000.
“I would definitely support a qualified woman to serve the unexpired term if I am elected mayor,” he said. “I think it makes more sense in my point of view for a qualified woman to serve the unexpired term and to do that by appointment because of the finances of a special election.”
Stix emphasized that if she’s elected mayor, there wouldn’t be a need for a special election.
“Bill’s term goes until 2022, so if I’m elected I will take the mayor’s seat and then we’ll all be able to work together, so there won’t have to be any kind of election or decision,” she said.
The $30,000 cost “is quite a lot of money for a special election,” she said.
Candidates also discussed tourism, city finances and the impacts of COVID-19. To see the entire forum, go to https://my.lwv.org/california/ventura-county/candidate-forums.
Erin Rode covers housing, real estate and development for The Star. Reach her at [email protected] or 805-437-0312.
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