Suza Francina On the Issues
Issue statements by candidates are quoted from public media statements either direct or edited for brevity.
Interconnected key issues: water, housing, traffic congestion, tourism
We do not have the water or infrastructure to handle more tourists. We need to protect our housing stock for local residents and enforce our residential zoning laws. We have a narrow two-lane highway with traffic spilling onto our residential streets. In order to maintain the small-town character we’ve worked so hard to maintain, and get the thousands of visitors that drive into our valley, it is essential that we implement the bicycle pedestrian master plan that was first adopted when I was on the council in 1998.
The city needs to bring the full range of water experts to the table — people in the valley as well as outside consultants, groundwater agencies, local and state agencies involved with our water supply, permaculture and primary water experts. I support the adoption of Water-Wise Development Standards intended to promote water conservation. We need to require that all new construction be designed to conserve water using efficiency practices such as low-flow toilets, gray-water systems and ways of capturing rainfall. We need to learn how to slow and sink rainwater on our land to rehydrate our aquifers. Landscaping should be limited to drought-tolerant plants. Like some other cities, we might consider a moratorium on issuing water service connections.
One way that the city can help is to protect our housing stock and make sure that houses that were built and permitted to be long-term houses for local families don’t end up as short-term rentals. Every house removed from the inventory impacts our families. Protecting Ojai’s small-town character means that we must do everything we can do to make it possible for families to stay in Ojai. I am committed to protecting our housing stock for our residents and enforcing residential zoning laws. We need to solarize all public facilities and provide incentives for home owners to follow suit. In the years to come with our growing senior population we will be looking at options like co-housing and other solutions.
Local economy and tourism
I make every effort to shop locally and encourage others to do the same. Growing up in Ojai, I remember when the stores in our downtown core catered more to the daily life needs of residents and not mainly to tourists. It is critical that local businesses fully understand the downside of overly depending on tourism. At first it seems logical that more tourists means more customers. But if you study what happens to towns where tourism has taken over, you will see that in the long run, along with this ever-increasing flow of tourist customers you inevitably get new competition. As tourism increases past the balance between the needs of local residents and visitors, the town gets noticed by wealthy mega investors. This new competition is much more competitive with a high-end marketing department and ample cash and time to build their business. They start buying up buildings, setting up shops that mainly cater to tourists, and increased rents drive locally owned business out. Locals lose the ability to control the town and it becomes more and more a corporate-controlled city.
Three public safety issues immediately come to mind: Drought, traffic and drugs. There are many others but I’ll focus on these.
The longer it doesn’t rain, lack of water increases fire risk. While we may be able to access sufficient outside sources of water for our personal needs, consider how the dryness of the landscape, the dying trees, increases fire risk.
Increased traffic without a bicycle pedestrian infrastructure is a public safety hazard, especially for the more vulnerable members of the Ojai community, our children and those who are new to traveling by bicycle. I have served on the city’s Complete Streets Committee and cycled the valley with representatives from CalTrans and other agencies/planners many times. I attended numerous county and state workshops on making cities more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, and promoted bicycle safety education and create Safe Routes to School. As an elected official, I set an example by leaving my car at home and walking or bicycling as much as possible.
The continuing opiate epidemic causes accidental deaths from prescription drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin to exceed accidental deaths from car accidents. I am strongly in support of medical marijuana licensing. Medical marijuana pain management properties are now well-established as a safer alternative to opiates — the time has come for doctors and other health professionals, law enforcement and policy makers to work together on this public health and safety issue.
My definition of “natural resources” is broad and encompasses the whole of nature, plants, animals, soil, water and the sky above.
My philosophy has always been that in a more enlightened era a place as beautiful as Ojai would have the same level of protection as a national park. Fortunately, we have organizations like the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, the Ojai Valley Defense Fund, the Ojai Valley Green Coalition, Ojai Trees, the Ojai Water Trust, Ojai Valley Bee Keepers, the Raptor Center and other wildlife protection groups, groups like Pesticide-Free Ojai, as well as numerous individuals working with the City Council, Planning Commission and other agencies to protect our natural resources.
The Land Use Element of our General Plan sets forth the city’s fundamental philosophy that future growth will consist primarily of in-fill development, thus preserving open space and mountain views. I am pledged to the enforcement of our tree ordinance and various other ordinances that help protect the city’s natural resources. We even have a Dark Sky and Neighbor-Friendly Lighting ordinance that not only allows us to view the stars at night but helps to prevent wildlife disorientation and confusion.