FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Updated 11/23/2021

Proposed Development of the Ojai Unified District Office Site

After receiving requests for information, the District is presenting background and answering frequently asked questions. This does not encompass the entire discussion nor detail the views of all School Board members on all topics. It is suggested that interested persons watch the meeting links to understand and follow the full Board discussions.

PART ONE: BACKGROUND

Ojai Unified School District has been attempting to relocate and upgrade the educational programs and administrative facilities from 414 E Ojai Avenue (the “District Office Site”) since 1979. Education Code Section 17388  mandates that the governing board appoint an Advisory Committee (often referred to as a 7-11 Committee due to the required number of committee members) to advise the governing board in the development of District-wide policies governing the identification and possible disposition of surplus School District property.

Recent efforts to relocate started with a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) in 2008, but due to the economic downturn, the issue was tabled. In 2012, a 7-11 committee was convened. After reviewing all of the reports and data, the committee made a recommendation to move operations and surplus the District Office Site. 

At the August 18, 2015 Board Meeting, School Board Members unanimously authorized the creation of another 7-11 District-wide committee to review surplus properties with the initial goal of possibly closing one of the elementary schools.  After five months and significant stakeholder feedback, the  7-11 committee determined that surplusing the District office property would be the least disruptive to the community and if developed, could bring a long-term, stable revenue source to the District. The committee recommended that the District first look at leasing or selling the District Office site before closing a school. The final report of the 2016 7-11 Committee was received by the Board of Education at the April 14, 2016 Board Meeting which can be viewed here. At the April 19, 2016 Special Board Meeting, the School Board discussed the committee findings, which can be viewed here, with discussion continuing at the May 3, 2016 Board Meeting, which can be viewed here

In 2018, based on the recommendations of both the 2012 and 2016 7-11 committees, the School Board approved a Request for Proposals (RFP), with final responses due to the District in February of 2019. Three applicants responded, including Playground Design in partnership with Seal Rock (now incorporated to form SVS, LLC). After consideration of the proposals, all of which included variations of housing/hotel/retail space, the School Board, advised by prior Superintendent Andy Cantwell, voted to reject two proposals and continue negotiations with Playground Design and Seal Rock. The criteria for selection included an initial proposal of anticipated revenue and up-front funds for the relocation of District educational programs and administrative operations/facilities and community input. The Board was assured that there remained multiple opportunities throughout this process for declining to move forward and even unsurplusing the property. The minutes of the Board meeting at which the proposal was accepted can be found here

The District thereafter began conversations with the City of Ojai regarding the proposed development. For example, Councilmember Weirick wrote in an email to the City Manager, James Vega on July 5, 2019, 

“I support the idea of having a joint School Board, City Council special meeting for a concept review presentation regarding the Chaparral property development.

This would be an excellent demonstration of Council/Board collaboration in getting community feedback to a specific development proposal.  No prior commitments of any kind, just working together to facilitate getting this feedback. Full spectrum of possible outcomes after this meeting.”

A joint meeting with the City Council and the Ojai Unified School Board was held on September 23, 2019. The developers, Playground Design LLC/Seal Rock, presented their initial concept, which can be seen here. The plan included housing, a hotel, and retail space. There were approximately 50 attendees, and 14 public comments from the community. The minutes of the meeting can be found here and the video can be viewed here

In November of 2019, the District retained the services of Sage Realty Group. Given the complicated multi-year process, the District did not have the capacity nor the expertise to shepherd the project through the next phases. The District was presented with a Phase 1 proposal to work with Sage Realty Group, a company from Ventura County. Sage Realty Group has more than 45 years of experience in education real estate, including five significant and successful projects with Ventura County and Santa Barbara School Districts, and six successful District office relocation projects. 

Under the guidance of Sage Realty Group and with assistance from its legal counsel, the District negotiated and ultimately entered into an exclusive right to negotiate (ERN) with SVS, LLC, with initial approval in open session on March 11, 2020, video here.  The ERN was modified and approved again on May 6, 2020. Among other things, the ERN stated that the District could not work with other developers during a timeline stipulated for achieving certain milestones in furtherance of the development. It also stipulated that SVS, LLC would contribute $20,000 toward costs incurred by the District, including representation by Sage Realty Group. The first version of the ERN can be viewed here, and the amended version can be found here, video can be viewed hereThe ERN does not eliminate the ability of the School Board to decline to move forward if the developer does not present a final concept that the Board feels is best for both the District and the Community.

For over a year, SVS, LLC focused its efforts on accomplishing the milestones identified in the ERN. One of these was to submit a development plan for concept review for the purpose of obtaining public feedback on the plan.

A concept review is an optional process in which the developers pay a fee to the City for the Planning Commission to provide non-binding feedback. As part of the ERN, the District requested this process as a way of garnering public input and feedback before consideration of entering into a lease agreement. 

A request was made by SVS, LLC  to extend the ERN by one year due to COVID-related delays. A presentation of progress to date was made to the School Board in January, 2021 and an extension of one year was granted.  Board Meeting minutes can be found here.  During this public meeting, SVS, LLC again shared the same concept plan which included the hotel concept and most of the elements present in the most recent version shown at the Planning Commission meeting on November 17, 2021. A complete package for the concept review was submitted to the City of Ojai the week of October 20, 2021. 

During this time, the District retained Kevin P. McAtee, MAI, to conduct an appraisal of the property and to determine possible revenue rates. The appraisal was completed on November 8, 2021 and is available upon request.

The Concept Review was held on November 17, 2021. 

  1. If the process moves forward, the developers will revise their plan based on feedback from the concept review. 

  2. The revised plan would be presented in open session to the School Board. 

  3. The School Board would consider entering into a lease agreement. 

  4. After the execution of the lease, the City, the developers, and the District,  could work on a development agreement. It is in this phase of the process that details would be negotiated such as the total number of housing units, water and traffic mitigation, environmental impact, etc.  

 

PART TWO: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS, RELATED TO PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT

1.Why lease the property? Why not sell it? 

A vacant or under-utilized building or property is a District and community liability, and still requires upkeep, maintenance, security, and insurance coverage. 

Leasing a property, as opposed to selling it, allows a School District to retain it as an asset, without shouldering the fiscal liability to maintain that property. More importantly, leasing can provide a source of ongoing revenue for the District. Additionally, while OUSD remains the landlord it has a say in if and how the development goes forward. There has been no consideration in recent history to sell the District office site. 

2. Why doesn’t the District just stay where they are now? 

That is a possible option. The District offices, the preschool, and Chaparral High School are aging and are in need of significant modernization. Estimates for full modernization are between $2 and $6 million due to the age and condition of the buildings and infrastructure. This could be done using bond funds. It is also possible that the District could acquire a more modern building for less than the cost of repairs and modernization.

3. How much money would the District get from a lease?

The process determines the results, so it is conditioned upon the entitlements and ultimate scope of the project. The initial estimate from the developers in their RFP response was approximately $250K annually, while the appraisal conducted three years later suggests annual revenue significantly higher, depending upon the type of land use and zoning approved by the City. The appraisal based on the plan submitted for the concept review had estimated annual revenue upwards of $700k.

4. Where would the District move?

It is too early in the process to make that determination. 

5. Why a 200 room hotel?

The initial concept was a mixed-use property that included a hotel. The 200 number represents a  maximum, with the intention to develop details on a specific number of rooms after conducting traffic and environmental studies.  However, based upon community feedback, it is clear that the hotel concept will have to be revisited or possibly eliminated. 

6. Why haven't traffic and environmental studies been conducted for the development yet? 

There will be, but at this point, there is no defined development to study. The project is still in the conceptual phase. Once a development plan is agreed to, then these studies would be a necessary part of the approval process.

7. Why is the District proposing a hotel, retail and residential concept plan? 

This is a developer-proposal at this time, not a District proposal. The ERN stipulated the process the developers would go through, including a concept review, before returning to the District for a potential lease agreement. The School Board has not approved any proposal, only a process for the developers to develop a proposal and obtain community feedback prior to submitting to the  Board at a future time before a lease agreement is presented. 

8. Why doesn’t the District build a CTE center at the District Office Site? 

Aside from the fact that there is no funding source for such an endeavor nor would that use provide any additional revenue to the District, given the population of the valley, a Career Technical Education (CTE) school is unlikely to be successful. A CTE center for high school students and adults was operating in Moorpark, drawing from Simi Valley, Moorpark, and Conejo,  but closed in 2019 due to low enrollment. Additionally, Ventura Community College and Ventura Adult School, both of which operate vocational programs within 12 miles of Ojai, have experienced significant declining enrollment since 2019. However, the District remains committed to these post-secondary opportunities for Ojai Unified students and currently provides 17 CTE Pathway and Exploratory Courses for students at Matilija, Chaparral and Nordhoff. Learn more here.

9. Why doesn’t the District build a community pool at the District Office Site? 

With Measure K funding, the District is already in the process of designing and building a pool with public access at Nordhoff.  Additionally, a community pool would not provide the District with the revenue it needs.

10. Why hasn’t the District been more transparent about the development of the District Office Site? 

Every step of the process has been approved in Board Meetings in open session. This presentation of progress to date was made to the School Board in January 2021 and an extension of one year was granted, Board Meeting minutes can be found here. In addition, the Ojai Valley News has reported on the projects multiple times, including here,  here, and here.

A joint planning session was held on September 23, 2019, which can be found here, in which the initial proposal was presented to the community. As part of the ERN, the District required the developers to participate in an optional concept review to garner public feedback before proceeding before the School Board considers a lease agreement. The developers did this on November 17, 2021, and it was very well attended by many in the community.

11. What happens next? 

  1. If the developers wish to continue with a revised version of the project, after further consultation with the community, they would present their revised proposal to the School Board at a future date, which has not been set. 

  2. The School Board would then consider if it seeks to proceed with a lease agreement. The School Board could decide to not proceed with an agreement at this point. 

  3. If a lease agreement is reached, the required studies, including traffic, water, and soil studies would be conducted at that point. 

  4. Thereafter, the developers and the District could work with the City on a Development Agreement, to include negotiations on entitlements, zoning, etc. 

  5. The Development Agreement would then go to the City Council for consideration. 

At this time there is no future action scheduled. 

12. Why isn’t this a scheduled agenda item for the November or December meetings? 

The first draft of a lease agreement was scheduled to come to the School Board after the concept review. Anticipated future agenda items are listed with the best information we have regarding when they will be on the agenda, but often items are moved or delayed. See question 11 above for information about next steps. 

13. What about the skate park? 

At the March 10, 2021 School Board meeting, Board members approved a 20-year lease with the City for the skate park, meeting link here, which will expire on Dec. 31, 2044.  As such, the skate park is excluded from the development proposal.  

14. What about the historic designation of the property? 

Only some portions of the buildings and grounds are deemed historic by the City. Any development would have to work within the scope of the historical designation, approved by City Council November 28, 2017.  The City of Ojai administrative report can be found here

 

PART THREE: OTHER FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1. Why does the District need money? 

California School Districts are funded through Local Control Funding Formula, or “per student” funding. Most School Districts are funded based upon enrollment. Because the District has experienced declining enrollment since the 1990s, as have most Districts in Ventura County, when enrollment declines, funding also declines. The decline in enrollment is in large part due to declining birth rates in Ventura County, which has the second-fastest declining enrollment in the state, as recently reported by the Ventura County Civic Alliance’s State of the Region Report,  here. Couple that with Ojai having the lowest percentage of population under 18, and the results are significant decreases in the student-aged population. See full State of the Region Report, here.

Given that a project of this scope could take up to a decade (it has already been almost three years), it is prudent to plan now to ensure the financial security of the District in the future. 

Revenue could provide significant benefits to the District that cannot be afforded with the current budget. For example, lowering class sizes or increasing employee salaries. The income from a lease would go directly into the District’s general operating budget.

2. What is the District’s budget deficit? 

The District does not currently have a budget deficit. The District is operating within its allocated state funds. However, the District’s budget does not allow it to increase any of the services that were cut, bus routes for example, nor does it allow for the provision of competitive or significant salary enhancements for teachers or staff. Ojai Unified employees are the lowest paid in the county in nearly every classification (teachers, instructional aides, bus drivers, directors, principals, etc). 

In addition to this, the District’s enrollment based on birth rates in the Ojai Valley is expected to continue to decline and expenses are expected to continue to increase, see more here. For example, the cost of District insurance benefits increases annually and the cost of goods and services have consistently been subject to annual increases, as have costs for unemployment and worker’s compensation benefits. The District’s required contributions to employee pensions have also increased from 8.25% in 2000 to 22.91% in 2020 for classified staff and 8.25% in 2000 to 20.25% in 2020 for certificated staff. 

3. Why doesn’t the District just cut spending? 

Declining enrollment is especially problematic for School Districts because it is difficult to maintain the quality of services for students. When enrollment declines the District can reduce the overall number of teachers, but there are significant infrastructure expenses beyond that including facilities, maintenance, custodial, nutrition services, instructional aides, special education, transportation, technology, and administration. When enrollment declines, the District must cut teachers and the services that support students. 

The District has already embarked on significant cost-cutting to the budget since 2000.  The cuts came from every area, but care was taken to minimize cuts that directly affected students. Subsequently, the biggest cuts were made to facilities, maintenance, transportation, and administration. 

4. Why did the District add administrators last year if it doesn’t have sufficient funds?  

The District’s current salaries for certificated administrators is 12% of the total of all employee salaries, which is slightly below the state average of 13%. The need to hire additional administrators last year (a Chief Business Officer and an English Learner Coordinator) was supported by a number of factors, including: 1) a significantly increased workload in state and federal reporting over the last 3 years, specifically related to COVID funding, 2) the need to provide better systems and services to support District functions, 3) staffing shortages and the need to restructure all business office services. A video of the School Board meeting discussion of the proposed addition of these positions is available here.

5. Why is the District paying School Board members if it doesn’t have sufficient funds? 

School Board Members are elected officials and do not receive a salary. However, in an effort to encourage future School Board candidates who bring a more diverse representation to the board, the current School Board voted to approve the District offering School Board members health benefits. Beginning in November of 2022, School Board members may opt to receive a yearly stipend of $400, allowing them to access healthcare benefits from the District. The potential total cost of this could be up to $90k (.003 of the budget), although currently no board members accept the District benefits.

Local governing bodies typically provide stipends and other benefits to their elected officials, including the City of Ojai which provides its members a monthly stipend of $700.

6. Why doesn’t Ventura Unified take over Ojai Unified?

This is a complicated, and almost always, very contentious, process. It most likely wouldn’t be fiscally viable for Ventura Unified, and at this time it is not a feasible option. Additionally, small Districts are common in California; out of its more than 1,000 Districts, 55% are considered small, with less than 2,500 students. 

7. Why doesn’t the District close schools? 

That discussion may still be in the future for the District, however, we are honoring the requests of the 7-11 committee, the community at large, and resulting direction from our School Board to explore the development of the District Office Site before addressing school closure again. 

8. What about all of the bonds that have been passed? 

 The per-pupil funding which the District receives from the state is intended to be used for the day- to-day business of educating children – primarily for staffing of classrooms and schools - and not for major upgrades, renovations, or modernization projects. All funds for facility repairs and modernization must be raised through local bonds. School District bonds can only be used for the very specific purpose of facilities improvement, not for general fund expenses such as teacher salaries. The school bonds were passed by voters in 2014 (Measure J) and 2020 (Measure K). These school bonds are used to pay for facility repairs to our schools that have an average age of 70 years old.

Measure J bond funds were used to address decades-long deferred maintenance and fund some larger projects such as the Matilija Dining Hall and Nordhoff Library. The Measure K bonds will be used for major projects and upgrades such as a community pool and alternative energy sources. The Measure K Bonds were financed at historically low-interest rates in 2020, and prior bonds were refinanced, saving taxpayers more than $1.8 million. For more information on Bond projects, please visit the District’s website here.