Last Updated on Thursday, 30 March 2017 16:52
Published on Thursday, 30 March 2017 15:11
This is part three of a four-part series looking at tourism and its impacts on the community. In this series we look at the perceptions and realities surrounding those impacts and the community’s ability to change.
Andra Belknap, Ojai Valley News reporter
As discussions about tourism in Ojai have stretched on, some have expressed anxiety that Ojai is changing.
“We are at a crossroads, folks,” said Ojai Mayor Johnny Johnston during the March 28 City Council discussion of the Ojai Tourism Improvement District (OTID) reauthorization. “There are two visions of what this community is going to be like.”
Ojai's demographics are indeed changing.
The Ventura County 2040 General Plan Update Background Report, covering demographics and economics in Ventura County, shows that the Ojai Valley's population of young people has decreased over the past six years, while the population of those 65 and older has increased.
From 2010 to 2016, the Ojai Valley lost 390 residents younger than 18 and added 715 residents older than 65.
Ojai Unified School District (OUSD) enrollment is a stark illustration of this trend.
A 2015 enrollment study, commissioned by OUSD, shows that public school enrollment has decreased by 1,453 students since the 2000-2001 school year.
During the 2000-2001 school year, 1,325 students were enrolled at Nordhoff High School. The OUSD study projects that by the 2024-2025 school year, Nordhoff's enrollment will drop to 601 students.
While the Valley's population is changing, so is its economy.
According to Ventura County data, the Ojai Valley shed 204 management, business, science and arts positions from 2010 to 2014, while it gained 304 jobs in service occupations.
Ojai's housing stock also shows changes — with a larger portion of the population renting a place to live.
In 2015, the United States Census estimated that 64.1 percent of homes in the 93023 ZIP code are occupied by their owners. In 2000, that number was 68.1 percent.
In 2015, Census data indicates that 35.9 percent of 93023 homes were occupied by renters. In 2000, 31.9 percent of those homes were occupied by renters.
Census data indicates that in 2015, 312, or 3.6 percent, of Ojai homes were vacation homes or second residences. That number was 275, or 3 percent in 2010, and 217, or 2.5 percent, in 2000.
These numbers may be low, though, as census data only identifies “seasonal, recreational or occasional use” homes as a portion of vacant housing stock.
“Investors can afford to buy up commercial buildings, raise the rent so that it becomes out of reach of locals, and move in their own shops. I’m not saying this is happening in Ojai yet but I’m constantly told by both residents and business owners that their rent is going up,” said Councilwoman Suza Francina,
Meanwhile, county data indicates that in 2014, the city of Ojai's poverty rate was 14.1 percent, compared to 11.1 percent countywide.
Ojai is certainly changing, but it's impossible to attribute those changes to tourism because of a lack of data quantifying the impacts of tourism locally.
To attempt to rectify that somewhat, the City Council voted March 28 to dedicate a portion of OTID's marketing budget to tourism impact studies.
“To my knowledge we've never done anything in terms of an analytic study in terms of what motivates tourists to come here, the trip origins, what the actual (hotel) occupancy profiles are,” said Councilman William Weirick. “I have asked for data like that and I have been told that it does not exist.”
“It's a very appropriate thing to provide something that has this kind of research out of the OTID budget,” he added.