EDITOR’S NOTE | By Bret Bradigan
“The structure is the strategy”— Napoleon Bonaparte
After five years of drought, a rainy winter and green spring are an immense relief. But larger, structural challenges for the “Little Orange” continue. Ojai is hot right now and tourism is becoming a bigger share of our economy. But without the other two pillars of our local economy, we could be in danger of becoming either a quick-buck kitsch capital, or subject to the boom-bust cycles of the travel industry.
Our first pillar is agriculture. It would seem that trends favor small, family farms, but those trends run counter to the global trade, in which our citrus orchards — especially the Valencias and Navel oranges — are pitted against growers in the San Joaquin Valley, where massive water projects give them an enormous supply of heavily subsidized water, or China, where labor costs and government policy tilt the playing field.
More than that, though, farming is where Ojai’s character is developed — insightful, meditative, close to the rhythms of the land. As we’ve noted before, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s maxim, “There are no second acts in American life,” is often misunderstood. He was referring to the second act of a three-act play structure, in which we see the characters’ journey to becoming the people they are. For Fitzgerald, it was a common motif for American characters to spring into the world as though fully formed. Farming, in that metaphor, is Ojai’s second act.
The second pillar is education. Our private (and public, for that matter) schools are world-renowned. There are about 1,000 boarding students in the Ojai Valley. These students come from all over, and as they go out in the world, they will carry inspiration and knowledge they learned here. It’s a sturdy infrastructure built around shared values.
Tourism does go up and down with the economy; in tough times, travel is a luxury, and local businesses suffer from the absence of crowds. In prosperous times, the locals feel, well, crowded. There is rarely a perfect mean. But Ojai is buffered from the boom-bust cycle that afflict places like Cambria, Paso Robles and Santa Ynez because of those two other pillars. They also enhance tourism, that third leg of the stool; it is that open space and the closely woven community ties that schools and farms create that draw people here in the first place.
This issue of the Ojai Quarterly is meant to draw into the light all the hidden inspirations that make Ojai possible. Throughout this book are looks back and a looks forward — for example, the story about Ojai legend Sheriff Bob Clark, written by Erle Stanley Gardner, is not only a great piece of Ojai’s history, but particularly timely because Perry Mason, his courtroom alter ego, is being remade into a HBO miniseries. And this wet winter is going to create its own boom, this time of wildflower blooms, in Ojai’s great backyard, as Chuck Graham’s photo essay on the Carrizo Plain shows. Mark Lewis’ story on Wheeler Hot Springs shows its long and rich legacy, and the passing into a new age with a new owner. And rebirth is key to Misty and Logan Hall’s story on Richard Murad’s dreams for Rancho Grande; he looks upon this historic property with a poetic form of dyslexia. Where others see square fields, he sees diamonds.
This loop of future histories is evident through the voices of our talented columnists Kit Stolz, Sami Zahringer, Bennett Barthelemy, Ilona Saari and, of course, Peter Bellwood. But, as always, don’t take our word for it. Read on and find out for yourself.