City Council brings new ordinance to light

Aug. 15, 2013
by Tiobe Barron, OVN correspondent

With the goal of reducing unnecessary light within the city limits, the Ojai City Council moved its outdoor lighting ordinance forward Tuesday. If passed on its second reading, the ordinance would restrict the amount of non-essential outdoor lighting that could be kept on after 10 p.m.

Lighting in all commercial or residential projects proposed after the ordinance passes will have to be shielded and directed downwards. Lighting that spills onto neighboring properties would be limited.

The Council also adopted a companion resolution that will seek voluntary compliance from residents for the first year before fines and other more aggressive means of compliance are undertaken.

“The development of a new Exterior Lighting Ordinance was identified as a priority of the City a few years ago. Early drafts of the ordinance involved Community Development staff with assistance of the Ojai Valley Green Coalition,” reads a staff report prepared by outgoing Community Development Director Rob Mullane. “Several workshops and hearings have been held to discuss and refine the proposed ordinance and its companion implementation guidance resolution. A consistent theme for the proposed ordinance throughout these meetings was that the ordinance should not be retroactive.”

“Lights installed prior to 2004 are not effected by any of these measures,” explained City Manager Rob Clark during Tuesday’s meeting. “But non-essential lights must be turned off after 10 p.m.”

“We are both in favor of the ordinance as presented tonight,” said Ojai resident George Berg , who, along with his wife, Gail Topping, have been longtime proponents of more restrictive lighting standards. “We know now that more people understand how lowering and upgrading lighting can save money, energy and create a more sustainable environment … What we hope is that the value of the ordinance will become clear to people who are not actually required to do it, but they’ll simply say, ‘This is a good idea; I think I’ll do this next time I change my lighting.’ Thank you for the opportunity to be part of the democratic process. Democracy is slow, and yet it’s still the best process we have.”

Councilman Severo Lara stated that he was not convinced that Tivoli lights — string lights or “Christmas” lights, often used by restaurants — contribute to light pollution so should not be part of the ordinance. He said they should instead be subject to design review by the Ojai Planning Commission on a case-by-case basis.

The section of the ordinance pertaining to these lights was stricken, and the ordinance was adopted unanimously. The ordinance will not go into effect until the Council adopts it at the next council meeting Aug. 27.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, City Council unanimously adopted a resolution waiving building fees for installation of solar energy systems for a period of one year. The fees typically total about $500. By waiving these charges, the city hopes to encourage solar installations in Ojai.

“I think that there is going to be a fairly significant push in the Ojai Valley for installation of these systems, which is a good thing that has a lot of social benefits,” said Clark. “We’re supporting the request that the fees be waived.”

“We’ve been giving a lot of exemptions to fees lately,” remarked Councilwoman Betsy Clapp.

“We did create a no-cost appeal to the city manager and development director’s decisions. We’ve reduced some fees. For signs, for example, we reduced the fees because the fees were costing more than the signs,” responded Clark. “We also made a distinction between a simple design review and a complex one, and charge a lower fee for the simple one, and that’s to encourage people to follow the process. I think for the most part, where we have reduced fees, we’ve done it to increase compliance, so there might be a trade-off with how many people actually come in and get a permit vs. (a few) lost fees.”

“I think we have to be careful. I am a major environmental nutcase, and I’m all for this stuff,” countered Clapp. “But we are a business in a sense, and we have to remain economically healthy.”

After Clapp’s remarks, the proposed resolution was modified to waive the fees for a year only, as opposed to indefinitely.

Council also introduced an ordinance that would simplify the issuing of administrative citations for municipal code violations.

“The Ojai Municipal Code provides that any violation of city ordinance is either an infraction or a misdemeanor,” reads Clark’s staff report. “California Government Code Section 53069.4 also authorizes local governments to adopt ordinances empowering city officials to issue administrative citations and penalties as alternative means of enforcement of the Municipal Code.”

Currently, administrative citations only apply to noisy animals, the leash law, failure to pay license fees and similar infractions, and the process is set up such that a hearing board must impose those fees. The proposed modifications apply the administrative citations to all Municipal Code violations, and replace the hearing board with a hearing officer.

Lara expressed the wish that the ordinance be amended to stipulate that the city manager bring any contract hiring a hearing officer to the City Council for review to ensure this person’s eligibility and objectivity. After this change, the Council unanimously passed the ordinance to a second reading.

The Council also appointed Ojai resident Leonard Klaif to the Ojai Fiscal Policy Budget Committee during the same meeting.

“This is the first time I’ve won an election in the city of Ojai,” joked Klaif. “Serving the community is something I’ve done in a variety of capacities since I’ve been here, and I will endeavor to do so in this position. We have a wonderful community.”

Visit www.ci.ojai.ca.us to view archived videos of previous Ojai City Council meetings.

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