It seems like a hundred years since I bicycled over to City Hall to take out candidate papers for this year’s Ojai City Council election, but it was only August 6th.
In order to qualify, I needed at least 25 signatures of registered voters living within the City of Ojai. That part only took a few hours. Then I discovered that the cost of a ballot statement has gone up from $350 in 1996 to $600. As a writer and yoga teacher of modest means, with many four-legged friends to feed, that almost stopped me in my tracks.
As the word got out, the universe delivered a sprinkle of checks and $20 bills. By the end of the week I was an official Ojai City Council Candidate. Since then there have been about ten interviews, four Candidate forums, and dozens of other campaign related activities. Today, for the first-time, there is no forum to prepare for, no questionnaire or other time-sensitive document to fill out. In case anyone is curious what all is involved in running for office, here are some of the highlights, and a list of the interview/forum questions, in chronological order.
Counting the oral and print interviews, and four candidate forums, I’ve answered altogether over 101 questions relating to my qualifications, environmental philosophy, and my goals if I am elected.
The first interview was Wednesday, September 17, with the Ventura County Star Editorial Board. An audio tape of all the Candidate interviews is posted on Election Central, http://cfapps.venturacountystar.com/elections/subitem.cfm?subitem=155
When I walked into the vast VC Star headquarters, now located in Camarillo, I had no idea what to expect. I did not know ahead of time that this interview would be recorded and it slipped my mind that every election the VC Star endorses candidates. The editor who greeted me was so friendly, that I immediately felt at ease. When they asked me to start with a few words about my background, I heard myself say, “I’m the mother of two children… I’ve lived in Ojai since 1957…” I had schlepped along a copy of the Ojai Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan that the City adopted in 1999, and a stack of favorite books on Sustainable Cities. The Board asked intelligent, well-informed questions about issues facing Ojai, and the sight of my familiar book covers helped trigger an enjoyable half-hour interview.
I felt quite honored when this interview resulted in an endorsement: http://www.venturacountystar.com/news/2008/oct/20/ojai-horgan-and-francina/
A few weeks after the oral interview, I received an email request from the VC Star to answer the following questions in 450 words or less:
What do you think is the most important issue facing the city in the next two years?
The most immediate issue facing Ojai is water and a sustainable economy. The cost of water is eroding our way of life. Our orchards, our green spaces are on the verge of disappearing for lack of affordable water. Ojai’s identity as a tourist destination and a great place to live is directly tied to saving our agriculture. We need to explore every possible avenue to conserve and lower the cost of water. We also have to diversify our tax base and stop putting all our eggs in the tourism basket. In recent years we have lost several key businesses. Anything that destroys the uniqueness of Ojai such as the gravel trucks, should be challenged. A sustainable economy is a diversified economy. Sustainability includes recycling local dollars. We have got to realize that solutions lie in understanding the interconnectedness of problems, not confronting them in isolation.
How do you differ from the other candidates in this race?
What makes me different from the other candidates are my sense of priorities and my vision for Ojai. I have been researching sustainable city planning for over thirty years. My vision for the future of Ojai is based on sound research. When I served on the City Council previously, I was a pioneer in advocating green and sustainable policies, long before it became fashionable. I spearheaded the development of Ojai’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, adopted by the City in 1999. I am willing to listen to all views and to stand up to protect the uniqueness of Ojai. I speak my mind and vote my conscience. The citizens of Ojai deserve to know as much as possible about each candidate. I invite Ojai residents to learn more about my candidacy by visiting www.suzaforojai.com.
If elected, what would be your primary goal for the next year?
Ojai is at the crossroads. Ojai decision makers need to stop perpetuating outdated systems and work closely with the citizens who have educated themselves about all aspects of what makes a successful sustainable city. I would do everything possible to support the effort to re-invigorate the business environment in Ojai. Economic development and marketing efforts should be in alignment with principles of sustainability. My first year back in office I would ask “What do we need to do to make the Roadmap to a Sustainable City which includes a sustainable, healthy economy, a reality? Establish sustainability guidelines for every aspect of our city, including green building standards, local food production and waste recycling. Examine city policies, regulations, building codes and zoning laws and make sure they support the Roadmap to Sustainability.
National Women’s Political Caucus of Ventura County
After the VC Star interview, the evening of September 17, I was interviewed by the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) of Ventura County. http://sites.google.com/site/vcnwpc/
This interview took place in the home of one of the members, Connie Baer, (NWPC PAC Chair), high in the hills of Ventura, with a panoramic view of the ocean. A group of about six women asked me questions about my political philosophy, how I distinguished myself from the other candidates, and what was my weakest quality. We also discussed women’s rights and the importance of women running for office.
A week after this preliminary interview, I gave a short speech to the NWPC-VC members at a dinner in Camarillo. Hannah Beth Jackson spoke briefly at the beginning of the dinner meeting. City Council and School Board Candidates from every city in Ventura County also presented themselves for endorsement. I feel honored to have the endorsement of this organization and I also appreciate the contribution they made to my campaign.
September 30, Ojai and Ventura View Interview
On September 30, I received a list of questions from the Ojai and Ventura View. I counted a total of 33 questions, several of which ask for “ideas, qualifications” and other multiple responses. The great challenge was not answering the questions –it was editing everything to fit neatly into 66 lines. Interviews with the candidates appear in the October 2008 issue, and www.OjaiandVenturaView.com
Forum One: October 9, Chamber Breakfast Forum
The First Forum was the Chamber Breakfast Forum at 7:15 Am at Soul Park Club House, a nice cool ten-minute early morning bike ride from my house. The time-keeper for the two-minute answers was Therese Hartmann, who also happens to be my treasurer. The most stressful part of these forums for me is running out of time. Therese kept time the Woman’s Way–that is, she took account of the wider scheme of things and the span of eternity, and figured, let’s let the candidates finish their train of thought.
According to one of my friends in the audience, she never enforced the two-minute limit until at least three minutes had expired. I’m sure if I had been in her shoes, I would have done the same thing. The next forum was timed by a man and the time limit for answers was one-minute rather than two. My friend in the audience told me the time keeper had his hand hovering over his little bell as the sixty-second mark approached and did not give us one extra second. He took his job much more seriously than Therese.
The Chamber Forum questions
1) Failing Ojai Business Climate: What should the City do to support an effort to re-invigorate a failing business environment in Ojai? Specifically address vacant retail and office space, blight on Ojai Avenue , and how to provide needed products/services to tourists and the community.
2) Ojai’s economy is based on tourism. Therefore, would you support the development and funding of a “Market Ojai” effort, including a Visitor Center .
3) Gravel Trucks: What specific efforts should the City take to ensure that the “Stop the Trucks” movement is successful? Financial, Political, Etc.
4) City Planning & Building Department Issues: Many Ojai developers and business owners continue to express concern about the cost and process associated with trying to build or remodel any commercial facilities within the City. Without destroying the flavor of Ojai, how can the City identify and remedy existing roadblocks and cost concerns to ensure that property upgrades can be economically planned and completed?
5) Maintaining Ojai as an “ Arts Center ”: Ojai has long prided itself on being a center for the arts. Ventura , Oxnard and other surrounding area local governments are funding the development of new arts facilities and events and Ojai is losing its edge. How would you propose to encourage growth in this area?
6) Chaparral Property: The OUSD is planning on selling or leasing this facility. What do you believe to be the ideal use for this property? Should it be used for some sort of community purpose? Should the City help fund the development of some community based facility?
7) City Budget: There is conflicting information regarding the status of the Budget. Is there a surplus? Are dollars properly being allocated to, and spent on, public works projects such as streets, facilities, and infrastructure maintenance/repair?
Forum/Debate Two, October 20, 6:30 PM .
Sponsored by Ojai Valley News, Chamber of Commerce, and Board of Realtors.
My first memory of this event was that at 6 pm, as I was getting ready to fly out the door, my unbreakable glasses broke. I was brushing my teeth and splashing cold water on my face. As I placed my glasses on the counter I stared in utter disbelieve as the ear piece came off. I had no choice but to put on my contact lenses, which give me great distance vision but are impossible to read with. I could see the audience perfectly but could not read one single word of the notes I had slaved over all week-end –not even with an old pair of reading glasses. At first I tried sitting far-away from the table with my notes pushed as far away from my line of vision as possible, but I was told I was sitting too far away from the microphone.
Thankfully, I saw many friendly, familiar faces in the audience, which calmed my nerves and boosted my confidence. I told myself, “The answers lie within,” and I made it through the evening without my notes.
Here are the questions from Forum Two:
1. Many people who work in Ojai cannot afford to live here. The question then is, what is your position on low-income and affordable housing?
2. Is Ojai prepared for a major disaster? Answering as specifically as possible, how could we be better prepared?
3. Given that tourism is Ojai’s largest industry, what would you do to support it? A “boots on the ground” visitors center? A dedicated portion of the transient occupany tax for advertising in outside markets? Anything else?
4. Do you see any conflict of interest, actual or perceived, or too much concentration of power, with the city manager position also acting as the head of the planning department?
5. A two parter: For incumbents, what city council decision do you regret most, or would you change with information you have now? What decision are you most proud of? For challengers, what city council decision in recent years do you most disagree with, and why? What decision do you agree with?
6. Given that Ojai’s policing costs have risen by nearly double-digit figures in each of the past several years, and now represent nearly 50 percent of the city’s budget, at what point do you protest to the Sheriff’s Department? Asking him, in other words, to sharpen his pencil? At what point do you feel Ojai would be better served with its own police force?
Forum Three: Rotary Club of Ojai Lunch
Four days later on Friday, October 24, it was time for the Rotary Club of Ojai lunch Forum. I knew almost every single person there, manyl were long-time family friends that I’ve known since childhood. One of the highlights was when I was responding to a question about water and as I was stating the obvious, that “We have to conserve, starting with things like not watering in the middle of a hot day…” And Leland H. stood up and loudly proclaimed, “Look out the window behind you… they are watering the golf course right now…” which caused quite a stir…
Questions for the Rotary City Council Candidates Forum
1. The City seems to be doing an admirable job of recovering from its past financial crisis, and now apparently has a substantial reserve. But the economic future looks bleak, at least to a lot of us. If elected, what will be your principal priority, and how do you propose that the city pay for it? [Please consider such issues as: the needs of
business -- particularly small businesses -- and its importance to the community; the promotion of tourism; and where the city can (and should) cut expenses.]
Quality of Life.
2. Ojai is a wonderful place to live. If you are elected, what will you do to improve the quality of life in Ojai? [Please be specific. For example, what will you do to better protect our enviornment, what will you do to help the young and the elderly, and what will you do to promote adequate housing for people of modest means?]
3. Please briefly address (including a “yes” or “no” answer to) the following questions:
Volunteers. Many of us volunteer to perform work for non-profit [501)(c)(3)] organizations, including community projects that could be classified as public works. We understand that the City Manager at first took the position that this was illegal as to public works, and now takes the position that we may not do so unless we are actually employed by the nonprofit. Will you commit to ask the City’s attorney for a written opinion on this issue — to see if we may continue to volunteer to work on such projects, even though we receive no compensation from the nonprofit?
Tourism. Will you commit to re-opening the Visitor Center, at the city’s expense?
Skate Park. As a member of the Board of the City’s Redevelopment Agency, will you insist that the School District honor its lease obligations for an “Expanded Skating Facility”?
Forum Four: 10/27/08 OJAI VALEY GREEN COALITION CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATE FORUM
Note: The candidates were not given these questions in advance
1. Please take one minute and introduce yourself. In your introduction, please tell us what type of support for environmental issues we can expect from you as an Ojai city council member.
2. What do you see as Ojai’s most pressing environmental concern? How would you work on this as a city council member?
3. One of the more difficult environmental issues facing our valley is the spreading of arundo grass throughout our watershed. The county has proposed eradicating the weed with the herbicide Roundup to keep this grass from destroying our native plants. Environmental health concerns have been raised from people concerned about putting herbicides into our water and air. Where do you stand on this issue?
4. The county of Ventura put into place a gray water ordinance 8 months ago. To date, no one has yet applied for the permit. Some of the reasons for this are that it is to cumbersome to meet the county requirements and it is too expensive to implement. My question is twofold. Do you support allowing graywater systems in the City of Ojai? If so, how will you make this happen in such a way that people will actually use the process?
5. According to Californians Against Waste, 19 billion plastic grocery and store bags are used each year in California. To put this into perspective, it takes 4000 barrels of oil a day to produce a year’s worth of our bags. These bags also contribute to litter, landfills, and debris in our oceans and waterways. Despite increased efforts, less than 1% of these bags are recycled and it uses more energy to recycle the bag than it does to make a new bag. Would you be in favor of a ban or use fee on plastic bags in the city or would you take some other approach to this problem?
6. How would you work to support green building and remodeling or natural building in the City of Ojai?
7. The City of Berkeley recently passed a plan that has the City paying up front installation costs for solar panels on private homes and then recouping those costs from homeowners over 20 years through additional assessments on property tax.
What are your opinions on the City of Ojai implementing such a plan? Do you see the City stepping in to support city residents in other ways such as creating a city owned power company or water company?
8. How would you encourage more biking and walking within the City?
9. Please identify any goal from the City of Ojai Roadmap to Sustainability and give us an overview on how you will work to make significant environmental changes in this area in the next six months.
10. Please take one minute and give us your concluding remarks.
Time to go to work –but will edit this later today!