LOCAL NEWS | By Claudia Boyd-Barrett
Incumbent Johnny Johnston wins Ojai mayor race
Johnny Johnston will serve as Ojai’s mayor for a second, two-year term.
Final election results released late Monday afternoon showed Johnston had retained his narrow lead over competing candidate, Severo Lara. The pair had waited a month for the final count to come in without calling victory or conceding defeat, concerned that remaining uncounted ballots could swing the race either way.
With the final tally complete, Johnston held 52 percent of the vote – a total of 1,911 votes cast – compared to Lara’s 47 percent, or 1,746 votes.
“I’m pleased that the voters thought well enough of me to elect me to a second term. I’m glad my lead held,” Johnston said. “I guess if I was younger and looking for a political career (the wait) would have been intolerable. But since I’m not, I kind of went about my business figuring it was going to be what it was going to be.”
Now that his position as mayor is solidified, Johnston said he’s looking forward to continuing to work on the issues he’s most passionate about, particularly fire prevention and readiness, securing a long-term water supply for the Ojai Valley amid the continued drought, and improving the area’s air quality.
Fire is a big concern for Ojai, Johnston said. He said he’s working with other community leaders, including retired Ventura County Fire Chief Bob Roper, to put together an education campaign for residents on how to help protect their homes from fire.
“The most important thing is to keep pushing the message of fire prevention, fire preparedness. It’s going to be with us as a regular responsibility in the city,” Johnston said. “We have to harden the city and encourage citizens to harden their homes … which means be sure that you don’t have combustibles accumulating in the yard, and we’ve got to have defensible space.”
Johnston, a retired Ventura County executive officer, was elected as Ojai mayor in 2016. He is the first mayor to be elected directly by the city’s voters, rather than by council. Ojai voters transitioned to the new system after overwhelmingly approving the change in 2014. They voted again in November to retain the directly elected mayor position, with 65 percent in support.
Lara said he wasn’t surprised by the final election results given that Johnston’s lead had continued to hold as more votes got counted.
“It was a close race. In all honesty I just want to congratulate Johnny as a competitor,” he said. “I’m really appreciative of this opportunity and I’ve just been reenergized and I feel really motivated, more focused…I’m just happy with myself and the whole campaign and I’m really grateful for the whole experience.”
Lara said he will continue to work on supporting and advocating for the community as a board member for several local nonprofit organizations, including the Ojai Valley Community Hospital Foundation, the Ojai Valley Museum, Help of Ojai, and the Ojai Valley Green Coalition.
“I’m just looking forward to being involved and participating,” he said.