Could Tourism be a Boon for Sustainability in Ojai?

In 2012, the Green Coalition helped sponsor a weekend-long community conversation at Meditation Mount on “ecotourism,” featuring Supervisor Steve Bennett and Assemblyman Das Williams. Among the dozens of Ojai leaders who spoke was Caryn Bosson, former Coalition board member, Scott Eicher, of the Chamber of Commerce, Mike Weaver, past president of Rotary, and Greg Gamble, of the Land Conservancy.

The idea was to look for “possibilities for sustaining our environment, economy, and community” through tourism focused on the environment and our community.

Cut to 2017. The Ojai city council is riven by debate over the Ojai Tourism Improvement District (OTID). On Tuesday June 13th the city council had a discussion about whether to rescind its decision to authorize the tourism district and 1.5% hotel room tax for another three years or call an election.

Into this bitterly polarized debate Bosson (formerly of the Coalition) and Weaver (of Rotary) in an opinion column [not available on-line] dare to argue to readers of the Ojai Valley News on June 2 that “we think Ojai could spread tourism’s benefits across our economy, enrich our community culturally, and improve our environmental sustainability. It really could be win-win-win.”

Caryn and Mike -- both long-time Ojaians and community activists -- propose “that this vision focus on sustainability.” They want the OTID to look for tourism opportunities outside of weekend visits, to “direct visitors to events, offerings and organizations that are actively making the Ojai community and environment better -- so that tourists become a force for good.”

Caryn explains: “My specific ask for OVGC members is to think about the ideas around sustainable tourism and whether this could be a way that -- since tourism is here to stay -- we give it direction so it benefits not only our economy, but our environment and our community. I’d ask that we look at this issue as a chance to come together to reknit our community and define a positive vision of our future. Maybe this is even a way that Ojai can take action towards the Paris Climate Accord on a “sub-national level!”

To offer a possible example: Rick Bisaccia of the Land Conservancy is concerned about trail maintenance in an era of declining Forest Service budgets. In a letter he mentions that the Land Conservancy “is hosting a two day trails training in June, funded by Patagonia which will train leaders from local organizations who work on trails to get people on par with USFS trail standards to bring up the quality of such work in light of little or no trail support by USFS. There will be 62 invitees attending with four International Mountain Biking Association instructors at a cost of $17,000 and free to participants.”

Another possible priority for sustainable tourism: fast chargers for electric vehicles, capable of recharging many electric vehicles to an 80% level in as little as forty minutes. Already Tesla chargers are available at the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa: for sustainable transportation, for visitors and residents alike, fast chargers in Ojai itself are called for.

The Coalition board has not taken a position on tourism in Ojai, but as always urges members to think about the possibilities for sustainability in our community.