BMX rider Finn Greene completes a trick recently.
Chris T. Wilson, Ojai Valley News correspondent
After nearly one year of meetings, discussions and setbacks for local bicycle motocross (BMX) enthusiasts, the search continues for a location to build a dedicated bike park.
Since last fall, the Ojai Valley Bicycle Coalition (OVBC) has been eyeing properties that could be developed into a functional BMX pump track and dirt riding area for riders of all ages. A patch of land adjacent to the Ojai Skate Park, on Ojai Unified School District (OUSD) land appeared to be a strong possibility until recently, when budget woes forced the district to look at other options for that land.
“When it comes to enhancing opportunities for young people, I generally start from a position of ‘yes’ and then determine if there are factors that must move me from that position,” said Hank Bangser, OUSD superintendent, in a July 7 email to city officials and Bicycle Coalition advocates. “Regrettably, that is the case with the bike park on school district land.”
Bangser later elaborated on the situation. “Despite promises in early 2013 through mid-June 2014 from the governor (Jerry Brown), our students will not benefit from the passage of Proposition 30 in any dimension even close to what was projected from Sacramento.”
Locally raised dollars, Bangser said, will have to be relied upon to make up for that, as well as for the years of budget cuts the district has suffered. Two big options are currently on the table: the passage of a general obligation bond — Measure J — this November, and "the sale or lease of part and/or all" of the OUSD offices and Chaparral High School property in downtown Ojai.
Now back at the drawing board, OVBC's Tobi Jo Greene, a local mom and BMX track supporter, has turned her attention to meeting with city officials to find a new location for the track that has safe, easy access for bike riders. Several possible locations have been determined, she said.
"I’ve been talking with (Supervisor) Steve Bennett at the county about the city leasing county land as a possible option,” Greene said, “and I think we may have nailed down the perfect spot.”
Greene declined to discuss the possible locations, but said she and other BMX park advocates would be attending the next Ojai City Council meeting Sept. 23 discuss the issue and get the word out.
“The city manager and the Parks (and Recreation) Commission are working diligently to secure a spot for the park that we can present to City Council,” Greene said. “They have been really nice to work with.”
Deputy City Manager Steve McClary echoed Greene’s sentiments. “They’re a real pleasure to work with,” McClary said of the OVBC. “Since the location with the school district fell through, we’ve been in the process of going through and vetting different properties that might be acceptable for a bike park.”
The search includes city, county and privately owned locations that may be subitable for a park and could be leased at a low price, if possible.
“We’re basically brain-storming about what’s out there right now,” McClary said. “We don’t want it to be too far afield, because we want it to be safe to get to. Access to a rest room is preferred by most folks, and compatibility is an issue as well. We don’t want to plop it down in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”
Meanwhile, BMX riders are being encouraged to follow and respect Ojai Skate Park rules that explicitly restrict the park to skateboard riding only. Local police enforce Skate Park rules by citing BMX riders they see using the park.
Conflicts between BMX riders, scooter riders and skateboarders at the Skate Park in recent years ultimately led to the formation of the OVBC.
McClary said he thinks it’s worth it to work with the BMX park supporters, and then leave it to the City Council to figure out. “Part of it is about finding what they are asking for, what kind of resources they need from the city and what they are proposing,” McClary said. “If they can find the funding from donations and construct the park with the help of volunteers, that will help. Here’s a group of folks who want to help the community, which helps the city to offer more recreational opportunities. With the help of volunteers to maintain the park, I sure think it sounds like a win-win for everyone.”
© Ojai Valley News, 2014