Anne Woolsey's Grandview Avenue home has always been an ideal spot to watch the setting sun bathe the Topatopa Mountains in a rosy glow, providing her a panorama of Ojai's celebrated "pink moment."
But that changed last month when a construction crew at nearby Topa Topa Elementary School in Ojai began assembling a new classroom building in the lot next to Woolsey's backyard. This came as a surprise to Woolsey, who said she never received notification the project was even being considered.
"It kind of dwarfs my house," she said of the row of white, one-story, modular units on the other side of the fence lining her property.
Now, instead of seeing the beautiful vista for which her street was named, Woolsey has a view of the building rising over her hedges.
"I've lost all my privacy--it looks in my living room, dining room and kitchen," she said of the building.
In addition to losing her view, Woolsey worries that air-conditioner units attached to the rear of the school building will create unnecessary noise. Those concerns prompted her to file a complaint with the school superintendent's office last month and write letters to each member of the Ojai school board.
In the letters, Woolsey cited her fear that loss of the mountain view could affect the value of her property. She found an advocate in school board member Bob Unruhe, who recently visited her property to see how construction had affected her view.
Unruhe said he was surprised the Ojai Unified School District decided to build the structure at this location.
"The building could have been put in a different location, so this wouldn't have happened," he said. "It wasn't very good planning. I feel we're not being good neighbors."
But school district officials defended their decision.
"I'm not doubting we've obstructed her view," Assistant Supt. Tim Baird said. "But we really need to do what's best for students."
Safety was the primary reason the kindergarten classroom building was relocated, Baird said. Kindergarten classes had been held in an annex away from the main school building.
The new structure was built on a site that allows the school to create an enclosed play area nearby, within sight of the main office, Baird said. Placing the classrooms in front of the school offers parents an easy drop-off point, he said.
Baird acknowledged that residents were not notified of the pending construction. "That was a mistake," he said. "We're not obligated by law to do that, but we usually do. We dropped the ball."
But he said the school district tried to consider the needs of neighbors. The classrooms were positioned 40 feet from neighbors' property lines and are separated by a drainage ditch.
Also, he said, the district purchased high-end, quiet air-conditioners to minimize noise. Baird said he has yet to hear complaints from any other residents.
Pam Arellanes, who owns the corner lot across from Woolsey's house, can see the new classrooms from her home.
While glad the district is building a permanent structure for students, Arellanes sympathized with her neighbor's plight. "The fact that a woman has lost her view is a bogus deal," she said.
But Arellanes said she also understands the school's need for more classroom space. She finds the new building more aesthetically pleasing than the portable classrooms it replaced.
"It's a definite improvement," she said. "It's kind of a shame that it's blocked a view like that, but you can't satisfy all the people all the time."
Woolsey plans to attend the school board's Aug. 20 meeting to plead her case. But she doesn't hold out much hope she will be able to persuade officials to relocate the classrooms.
Kathi Smith, president of the school board, agreed that such a move was unlikely
"I can't predict what the board would do," she said. "I'm open to listening to her complaint. But I feel that she would have to convince me that it's pretty serious."
Woolsey is pondering other options. She has considered mediation or legal action and has spoken with an attorney. But she shies away from discussing whether she will actually file a lawsuit.
"I'd rather they be nice about it, but I don't know that they're willing to negotiate in any way," she said.
"They've just flat out said they're not going to move it."