Opinion: OUSD needs to involve community in development plans downtown

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By Jeffrey Starkweather

I strongly oppose the proposed permanent conversion of downtown community school property into an elite tourist development in exchange for an insignificant school annual-revenue stream.

I also oppose the outside developer’s specific proposed design for the “Ojai Town Square.”

As to the proposed conversion of this property for private commercial development in exchange for an undetermined amount of school revenue, I believe this is essentially a copout by the school board and superintendent for their failure to openly and creatively address the reasons for our falling student attendance, low performance measures, and resulting budgetary crisis. 

When I ran for the school board last year, I proposed an alternative strategy that would require much greater parent and community input in developing a long-range plan for improving our schools that could be funded by the already approved capital bonds, a progressive parcel tax, and resulting revenue from increased enrollment from families both inside and outside the valley. My suggestions were ignored.

As to the proposed design of Ojai Town Square, I am totally opposed to leasing school community property for an elite tourist hotel, spa, swimming pool, restaurant and specialized retail shops. I do not see a demand study that would justify the further downtown tourist traffic and increased housing and retail prices that this project would likely bring. 

I would not be opposed to allowing bids for creating a mixed-income housing project on the proposed locations in a developer’s design, but it should contain contain at least 30% affordable units, with teachers and staff being given subsidies and first choice on both the market-rate and affordable units. That is something that would actually address the declining enrollment and teaching/staff affordable housing shortage. Nor would I be opposed to some type of parking structure. I would like to see a feasibility study for something like this.

I believe we need to scrap what has been proposed by these outside developers and go back to the residents of the Ojai Valley to share ideas for a bottom-up, creative, community-based use of this property and alternative ways to fund and improve our schools.

— Jeffrey Starkweather lives in Meiners Oaks. 


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