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 Highway 33 freeway north-south. This would have trisected the valley.
Outcome: Organized opposition of local citizens, the Ojai City Council, and the press defeats the freeway plan.
Issue: The Lake Casitas watershed (5 square miles) is proposed as the site for 10,000 single-family homes, totaling 25-35,000 residents. This directly threatens the safety of 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 through the Teague Memorial Watershed, with development banned 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 is proposed by the Homestake Mining Co. in the watershed of Lake Casitas. Permits are issued for exploratory excavation near White Ledge and Superior Ridge.
Outcome: A group is formed called Stop Uranium Now. 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 property (58 acres) is purchased from the owners by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. Thanks to state grants, it is now a landmark for watershed restoration in Southern California.
Issue: Seeking a major oil find in the 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 refining operations. The refinery already emits pollutants up the valley, where they degrade precarious air quality.
Outcome: Local opponents defeat expansion plans using the precedent set in the landmark opinion in the Upper Ojai case summarized above; ultimately the refinery closes.
Additional, miscellaneous proposals that were thwarted, all in the Upper Ojai: Building an airport; subdividing portions of one of the largest ranches into 1- or 2-acre lots; and constructing a motorcycle test track.
Issue: The Farmont and later the Intell developments are proposed near Lake Casitas; 12-13 large homes would have been erected along the intake waterway to the lake, each on an 80-acre parcel. This poses an imminent threat to the quality of Lake Casitas water, along with 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 horseback riders 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 trash truck deliveries proposed 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. 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 front-line initiatives are taken by the ad hoc organization Stop the Trucks, with the Defense Fund quietly in the wings.
Issue currently pending, 2016-2020: As Ventura County undertakes a four-year revision of its general plan (2016-2020), cause for concern arises that the County will try to lower the high air quality standards specific to the Ojai Valley that protect all residents and visitors. Other important environmental regulations may also come under threat, including ones affecting growth.
Outcome: The Ojai Valley Defense Fund awards a grant of $50,000 to Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas (CFROG, now renamed Climate First: Replacing Oil & Gas) for tracking the County process through an environmental law firm carefully chosen by CFROG. The City of Ojai allocates $25,000. The law firm provides ongoing feedback and legal advice. Ojai retains its existing air quality and other standards.