OJAI : Public Hearings End on Libbey Park Plan

The Ojai Parks and Recreation Commission has ended public testimony on the $4-million Libbey Park Master Plan and will make its recommendations next month to the City Council.

About 20 people attended the last of three public hearings Thursday night, City Manager Andrew Belknap said. The plan calls for major improvements to the 30-acre park, including removal of a 1920s-era jail and the addition of a $1.6-million swimming complex.

Many speakers urged the commission to keep the jail, which has been vacant since the early 1970s, in the park. "I would like to see the jail maintained as a jail," said Elizabeth McAllister of the Ojai Historical Preservation Board.

McAllister said she wants to keep the jail in the park because few local landmarks are preserved. "Everything is getting to be a Hollywood set," she said. "Nothing is real any more."

But the commission wants to remove the jail, chairwoman Barbara DeNoon said, because it impedes the view of barrancas near the Ojai Valley Trail and because it was not the original jail.

"It's a lovely green area," DeNoon said of the site where picnic tables and a children's play area would be built.

Historic preservationists claim that the concrete and steel building is Ventura County's oldest standing jail. But critics contend that the building should be removed from the park because the original jail, built in the 1880s, was moved to Santa Barbara County near San Marcos Pass Road.

The commission will make its final recommendations at its June 4 meeting. The group will also recommend better access for the handicapped and improvements to the tennis courts, sculpture and rose gardens and playgrounds.

The Ojai City Council, which has final approval, will also hear public testimony on Libbey Park.

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