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Ojai Trades Project OKs for Plumbing

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the most far-reaching agreement of its kind in Ventura County, two developers in Ojai have promised to install low-flow toilets for free in City Hall and a dozen other public buildings in exchange for the right to build new warehouses.

After a year’s review, the Ojai Planning Commission cleared the way for developers Dana D. Copp and Joseph L. Priske to obtain building permits once they refit public toilets, showers and faucets scattered throughout the city to offset their water use.

City Planner Marilyn Grauel said the conditions were the first for Ojai. The city requires water-saving plumbing in all new construction but has not imposed rules to refit older buildings.

Copp and Priske each plan to build a 16,000-square-foot office and warehouse complex in Ojai’s Business Park.

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Consultants calculated that Priske’s project for 11 tenants would use 1.15 acre-feet of water per year. One acre-foot of water equals 325,851 gallons.

To offset that demand, Priske agreed to install low-flow fixtures in City Hall, the Police Station, the Chamber of Commerce building, the Boyd Recreation Center and gymnasium, Libbey and Sarzotti parks, the Ojai Unified School District offices and Chaparral High School.

Copp agreed to install 17 low-flow toilets at Matilija Junior High School to offset a similar amount of water that 12 tenants in his new warehouse would use each year.

Copp said he figures it will cost him $12,000 to retrofit the junior high school toilets this summer. “The water issue was complex and confusing,” he said. “It seemed expedient to accept this condition instead of extending the process further.”

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Among other conditions the city imposed, the builders must replace proposed drought-tolerant landscaping with wood chips and rocks. And each is required to pay about $3,500 for a new traffic signal on Ojai Avenue.

Nancy Settle of the Ventura Countywide Conservation Program said a 36-member committee of water experts, builders and plumbers met March 22 to discuss how more low-flow plumbing installations could be encouraged in the county.

“That’s great the city of Ojai has started to pursue something like that,” Settle said.

The county was more than a year ahead of state law in requiring low-flow fixtures in new construction, Settle noted. But there are many ways that jurisdictions can begin to require retrofitting, she said.

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In Ventura County, Port Hueneme may be the closest to establishing an ongoing program to require similar measures, Settle said.

Steve Canale, public services officer for Port Hueneme, said city staff members are exploring ways to require older buildings to be retrofitted when sold to a new owner, or for developers to pay fees the city would use to retrofit other buildings. He added that no specific plan has been presented to city officials.

Oxnard also is considering a requirement that would force developers of new projects to refit plumbing in the local schools.

Rudy Adrada, commercial plumbing inspector for the city of Ventura, said the city has not required developers to retrofit any but their own properties. Ojai Planning Director Bill Prince said the city has no formal retrofitting program planned at this time.

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