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OJAI : Park and Ride Lot, Parking Study OKd

Relying heavily on its year-old trolley service to entice motorists out of their cars, the city of Ojai is moving ahead on other strategies to improve its traffic congestion and downtown parking problems.

The City Council approved final plans this week for building a new park-and-ride lot, conducting a study of parking needs and applying for a state grant to create a park-like entry to the city with a visitors’ center, parking area, trolley and bus stop along the Ojai Valley Trail.

After two years of negotiations with the Ojai Unified School District and the California Department of Transportation, the council, acting as the Ojai Redevelopment Agency, agreed that work can begin to create a 67-space park-and-ride lot on school district property at 414 E. Ojai Ave.

The lot, targeted for completion before the end of the year, will feature a shelter for trolley and South Coast Area Transit bus riders, bicycle racks, shade trees and new landscaping. An $80,000 grant from Caltrans is helping underwrite its estimated $125,000 cost.

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“The project is all about getting people out of their cars,” said City Manager Andrew Belknap. “Caltrans is not interested in helping us with our downtown parking problems, but they are interested in alleviating traffic on highways 33 and 150.”

The school district, with its administrative offices and classrooms next to the parking area, will get a new sidewalk, crosswalk and curb-and-gutter improvements on Ojai Avenue, along with a seven-year lease from the city for sharing its property.

The council also voted to seek cooperation from Caltrans and Ventura County in applying for a $2-million state grant to create a park to parallel the county’s bike and bridle trail on the west side of town. The funds, collected from the new gasoline tax, would allow the city to buy a 2.68-acre parcel north of the Ojai Valley Inn’s golf course from Southern Pacific railroad.

The site of a former lumberyard at the intersection of California 33 and 150, the vacant land is zoned for commercial use. But city officials said its location near the town’s busiest intersection precludes much hope for commercial development.

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