Major Historic Threats to the Environment of The Ojai Valley
Potentially Endangering the Public's Welfare
Issue: Caltrans proposes to build a freeway in an east-west direction through the heart of the valley, to be intersected by an extension of the north-south Highway 33 freeway. The proposal would have trisected the valley.
Outcome: Organized opposition of local citizens, the Ojai City Council, and the press defeats the freeway plan.
Issue: A site within the 228-square mile Lake Casitas watershed is proposed for the development of 10,000 single-family homes, to house a total of 25-35,000 residents. This directly threatens the safety of the drinking water for which the reservoir exists, and thus the public health. It also threatens overdevelopment around a prime recreational resource.
Outcome: A local group forms in opposition and petitions Congress, which votes to approve the Teague Memorial Watershed, banning development around the lake.
Issue: U.S. Gypsum proposes open-pit phosphate mining in the Los Padres National Forest backcountry, with 100 one-way truck-and-trailer trips through the Ojai Valley each day. This threatens the public health and safety along with air quality.
Outcome: Concerned citizens rise up, with 1,800 attending a single public hearing, and petition Congress. The mining proposal is abandoned.
Issue: Open-pit uranium mining in the Lake Casitas watershed is proposed by the Homestake Mining Co. Permits are issued for exploratory excavation near White Ledge and Superior Ridge.
Outcome: A group called Stop Uranium Now is formed. Ultimately congressional legislation brings the proposal to a halt.
Issue: Outside development interests seek to construct a "big box" shopping center as well as dense housing and condominium complexes adjoining Nordhoff High School in the heart of the valley. The development is utterly out of scale for the Ojai Valley, threatening major traffic and air quality impacts. The issue is debated for a decade and a half.
Outcome: As the successful result of a fundraising campaign in excess of $1 million, the 58-acre property is purchased from the owners by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. Thanks to state grants, the Ojai Meadows Preserve is now a landmark for wetland restoration and recreational opportunity in Southern California.
Issue: Seeking a major oil find in Upper Ojai, Bay Area interests begin wildcatting on private land along Koenigstein Road.
Outcome: A group called Citizens to Preserve the Upper Ojai forms in the mid-seventies, generating publicity and raising tens of thousands of dollars behind a legal effort to stop the drilling. Based upon claims that the driller's environmental impact report is inadequate specifically regarding air quality, the Los Angeles Superior Court upholds CPUO on appeal. (The state attorney general has meantime filed a brief supporting CPUO.) Oil operations cease.
Issue: The Petrochem oil refinery, positioned at the mouth of the Ojai Valley, proposes expansion of its refining operations. The refinery emits pollutants into the valley, where they degrade already-poor air quality.
Outcome: Local opponents defeat the expansion plans using the precedent set in the landmark opinion in the Upper Ojai case summarized above; ultimately the refinery closes. Various additional proposals, all in Upper Ojai, are also thwarted: the building of an airport; the subdivision of portions of one of the largest ranches into 1- or 2-acre lots; and the construction of a motorcycle test track.
Issue: The Fannont and later the hrtel developments are proposed near Lake Casitas, entailing 12-13 large homes to be constructed along the intake wat_erway to the lake, each on an 80-acre parcel. This poses an imminent threat to the quality of Lake Casitas water, along wi the permanent loss of public access to 1,600 acres of open space bordering the Los Padres National Forest.
Outcome: After long legal struggles between the developers and groups formed to limit or halt their proposals, the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy purchases the 1,600-acre property using state grants and citizen contributions totaling nearly $4 million. Today this Ventura River Preserve welcomes public hikers and other recreationalists year-round, and is becoming a showplace for habitat restoration.
Issue: A super-regional landfill site is proposed just south of the Ojai Valley, in Weldon Canyon, by Waste Management, Inc. The issue involves an imminent threat to the Ojai Valley airshed due to hundreds of proposed trash truck deliveries per day.
Outcome: Stop Weldon Canyon, a local group made up of hundreds of concerned citizens, takes Waste Management to court. Ultimately the Weldon Canyon landfill is defeated by the County Board of Supervisors, and subsequently defeated in a countywide general election.
Issue: Massive gravel hauling, potentially involving hundreds of truck-and-trailer trips per day up and down Highways 33 and 150, threatens Ojai. The source: mining operations in the Cuyama Valley of northern Ventura and southern Santa Barbara counties. The truck routes pass Nordhoff High School, Ojai Valley Community Hospital, and other vulnerable locations, posing safety hazards. Local traffic conditions and air quality are imperiled.
Outcome: In 2010 the presence of the Ojai Valley Defense Fund plays a key role in persuading mine operators to desist from turning local highways into industrial trucking corridors. Two mines agree to use other routes; a third mine ceases operations. Very importantly, it is the Defense Fund's mere existence that has this effect. Actual frontline initiatives are taken by the ad hoc organization Stop the Trucks, with the Defense Fund quietly waiting in the wings.
Issue: The County of Ventura undertook a public process to update its General Plan, essentially the blueprint for growth in the unincorporated area of the county, including the Ojai Valley, through 2040. Previous Plans had provided enhanced air quality protections to the Ojai Valley due to the valley’s geography, which tends to concentrate pollutants blown in from the LA Basin and elsewhere. Special interests asserted that these stronger protections should be removed in the General Plan update, and that the valley should have the same limits as other parts of Ventura County, even though history shows that removal would negatively affect the valley’s air quality and the health of its residents.
Outcome: The Ojai Valley Defense Fund, as well as the City of Ojai, grant-funded Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG, now called Climate First: Replacing Oil and Gas) and its legal team to closely monitor the General Plan update process and ensure that existing air quality protections were retained. The County’s Board of Supervisors approved the revised General Plan in September 2020, retaining the more stringent protections for the Ojai Valley. CFROG continues to monitor the Plan as it undergoes legal challenges by special interests.