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'The Dark Side of Ojai'

Community: Forum on over-policing turns into a rap session on what's wrong with the artists' enclave. Turns out, it's mostly too much traffic.


The meeting was supposed to be about Ojai residents' concerns about "over-policing" of this small town known as much for its activists as for its artists.

Instead, the public forum held under the oaks at the Ojai House on Wednesday night turned into more of a community soul cleansing, touching on everything from traffic congestion to insensitive treatment by police.

"This is the dark side of Ojai," said moderator Sarra Jubinville, 65, an artist and longtime resident.

About 50 people turned out for the meeting, prompted by Jubinville's concerns that local police have become overly aggressive in handing out traffic tickets and pedestrian citations.

Jubinville said her 32-year-old son was stopped on three occasions and treated like "a hard-core criminal" for riding his bike at night. She has collected about 350 signatures on petitions, demanding that the City Council establish a citizens' police oversight committee.

But Sheriff's Capt. Gary Pentis, who functions as Ojai's police chief, questioned the need for such a committee. He told the audience that residents can take their complaints directly to the City Council and the Sheriff's Department.

Ojai City Councilwoman Rae Hanstad told the group she would be happy to investigate any complaints. She pointed out, however, that she has received only one complaint in her two years on the council.

Many concerns voiced at the meeting centered on stepped-up traffic enforcement and increasing congestion in the town of 7,800. During the first half of the year, deputies more than doubled the number of motor vehicle and pedestrian citations they handed out, jumping from 325 to 677.

Pentis said this was part of a deliberate effort by his officers to slow traffic, making local roadways safer, rather than an attempt to simply generate more revenue through fines, as some have charged.

Pentis presented a report to the City Council last week, citing Ojai's dismal record of traffic-related injuries. Among 88 similar-sized cities across California, Ojai ranks fifth in traffic-related injuries, sixth in pedestrian accidents involving seniors and eighth for speed-related injuries, he said.

During Wednesday's forum, some participants described themselves as being among Ojai's "fringe" crowd and said deputies often single them out for being different.

Pentis acknowledged that deputies could work harder on improving relations with all residents and showing a little more sensitivity, especially in a small community like Ojai.

"You're working in a fishbowl," the officer said. "Perception is reality."

Not everyone came to complain. Some praised deputies for their quick response times. Schoolteacher Scott Jaffe, 31, said half a dozen squad cars were dispatched to his house in May when a youth tried to hold him up with an air pistol that resembled a real gun.

Resident Bob Daddi, an insurance agent, said his chief concern is the increasing traffic. He said the city's intersections are a mess and he would like to see flashing lights installed at the busy corner of Ojai Avenue and Montgomery Street, where 26 accidents occurred in the first six months of this year.

Retirees Tom and Kathy Jamison, who live in the unincorporated Mira Monte area, said they came to the forum out of curiosity, and were undecided on whether Ojai is over-policed.

"I think there's a little bit of truth on both sides," Tom Jamison said.

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