Chris Gardnerchris_gardner_crop-002

15-year Ojai resident, retired engineer/businessman, Formerly CEO at Vitesse Semiconductor in Camarillo

What are the major city issues of concern to you in the future?

Access to water is the No. 1 concern to our residents.  We are in a stage 3 drought and it may get worse before it gets better. We need to look hard at the uses of our water.  Most people don’t know that a large percentage of Lake Casitas water goes out of the Ojai Valley to Ventura. At the same time, Ventura has the right to access water from the State Water Project. We need to make sure that they attach to that water. And we need to do it before Lake Casitas is gone. It’s unfortunate that our Council has virtually ignored this issue for decades.  Another critical issue is how we can best attract new families to Ojai.  To sustain a healthy community, we need to attract family-friendly businesses and restaurants like the bowling alley, the movie theater and Carrow . . . all of which we have lost. We need to diversify our local economy by attracting new, clean businesses to Ojai to provide more local jobs. And we must do this while protecting our environment.

What issues in the past do you feel are not being addressed?

There are many. And often, even when difficult issues are addressed, it is done in a way that doesn’t put the problem behind us.  Our government needs to be more transparent, more inclusive with the entire community. We can’t just listen to the noisy few. When we do, problems don’t get solved, they fester.  Everyone in Ojai will know about leaf blowers, the bowling alley, the movie theater, walls and hedges, affordable housing, cultural resources ordinances and our water challenge.  It’s a long list for a small town.

What are your thoughts on the state of local businesses in the city?

Tourism is our major business and supports the majority of our local economy. Right now, it’s healthy. Some may argue too healthy. Ojai is in vogue, and we see it in our tax revenues. But we know our tourist economy can be fragile, so we must continue to find the right balance to support our businesses and merchants that bring in the tax revenue to fund our city. We must also work to attract new, clean businesses outside of tourism.  Companies like Lynda.com started in Ojai, but left because we couldn’t support their infrastructure needs.  With them left dozens, if not hundreds, of clean, high-paying jobs.

What are your thoughts on current public safety issues?

Ojai is a very safe city.  We have great support from all of our public safety resources. Our biggest challenge is substance abuse. This is both a safety and a health issue, and needs to be treated as such. We need more activities for our youth. Small towns can be boring for kids. We need to make sure that they have positive, healthy ways to spend their time. Our skate park, driven largely by private efforts, is a great example of what’s needed.

What are your housing concerns for the city?  How will you address them in the future?

The cost of housing, both owned and rented, has increased substantially in the last five years as the economy has recovered.  This is true everywhere in So. Cal. and even more so in No. Cal. In Ojai, we have had slow/no-growth policies in place for 30 years.  This has kept our small town the place we love.  But it’s also dramatically limited supply, increasing prices. I support the second-unit compliance program.  We need to make it easier and cheaper for owners to legalize second dwellings so that we actually use the dwellings that we have.  I also see the need for affordable housing, and we need to be creative on how to make it happen. We will need to find a way to re-purpose buildings for affordable or senior living.  Some communities on the East Coast have done this with underutilized schools.

How important are the city’s natural resources to you and what are you doing about it?

I think it’s fair to say that it’s important to everyone in Ojai.  For many, it’s why we live in Ojai. We have a beautiful valley, and many have done the work over 30 years to protect it. We have a strong General Plan that gives us guidance.  We need to invest more of our budget in our parks so that they are usable for all. We need to protect our open spaces.  And we need to support and leverage the efforts of the many private groups like the Green Coalition, the Land Conservancy and others that exist to protect our natural resources.

Discuss other concerns you have with your city and what you will do to address them. This may include water issues, the state of your city’s school districts, the city’s financial stability, unemployment, etc. 

Like all cities, Ojai will always face challenges.  Today it’s water; school utilization and potential closure; lack of investment in streets, sidewalks and lighting; our movie theater; and others.  In the future, it will be something else. Our biggest challenge is creating a government that knows how to solve problems rather than creating them.  We need to create a City Council that is transparent, works actively to include everyone in the conversation, and provides stable, consistent leadership.  We need to create city management whose primary mission is to serve the people, making it easier to deal with City Hall. We need to create a city where the citizens are encouraged to dialogue rather than debate. If we can do this, Ojai will be better-prepared to deal with the challenges and seize the opportunities in our future.