Is little Ojai big enough for Governator?
The bucolic Ventura County burg is aflutter with rumors that the Schwarzeneggers are house hunting there. Welcome to Shangri-LaLa Land!
By Catherine Saillant, Times Staff Writer, June 23, 2007
The Arnold in Ojai?
California’s governor is staying mum about it for now, but this artsy little town 90 miles north of Los Angeles in Ventura County is abuzz with talk that Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, are house hunting here.
“I think we should welcome him with open arms, just like we do everybody,” said Councilman Joe DeVito. Added Mayor Carol Smith: “If he likes horses and small towns, it’s a swell place to live.”
Not everyone, however, was thrilled. “Ugh. Just what we need in Ojai … another wealthy idiot driving a Hummer,” wrote an anonymous blogger on a local paper’s website.
The intrigue began over Memorial Day weekend, when Schwarzenegger and his family were spotted downtown.
DeVito said he saw the governor and Maria riding bicycles with two of their children on Ojai Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare, trailed by a couple of beefy security men.
Within days, DeVito said, he began hearing rumors that Schwarzenegger had made an offer on a $6-million spread in the rustic Upper Ojai neighborhood.
At least one local real estate broker, Dennis Guernsey of Coldwell Banker Property Shoppe, confirmed that he recently showed the power couple a property. He declined to provide details.
“Yes, he is looking for property up here. Has he bought anything? No,” Guernsey said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”
Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the governor, declined to comment on any house hunting by the first family. Besides their primary residence in Brentwood, the couple own a vacation home in Sun Valley, Idaho.
“I can tell you he’s been to Ojai several times. He and Maria love it there. It’s not uncommon for them to look at houses when they travel,” McLear said, although refusing to confirm that they looked at homes on their latest Ojai trip.
“We want to allow him and Maria to have some semblance of a private life.”
If California’s first family does buy a piece of what the locals call “Shangri-La,” Arnold and Maria will find a laid-back, liberal-leaning populace accustomed to bumping shoulders with celebrities.
It’s a place where actor Larry Hagman can be spotted hanging out with his pal, actor Peter Fonda, at the Sunday farmers market. Bill Paxton, star of HBO’s “Big Love,” lives here and can be seen deciding between a Bordeaux or a Pinot Grigio at the local market.
Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen used to have a place on the east end and are still occasional visitors. And when he’s not inhabiting Academy Award-winning roles, Sir Anthony Hopkins has been known to prowl the open-air book stalls at Bart’s Books. Hopkins recently held an exhibit of his own artwork, oil canvases filled with rich hues, at a local art store.
The town’s eclectic populace embraces a live-and-let-live ethos, said Lisa Kenton, owner of the Deer Lodge, a rustic cantina off Highway 33 that plays host to an armada of Harley-riding, beer-swilling visitors each weekend.
“It’s educated people, world travelers, the artsy and spiritual seekers,” she said of the locals. “People love Ojai because everyone just lets you be.
“In our minds, we’re all famous.”
Even the city’s defiantly liberal politics appear to make room for Schwarzenegger’s leadership style. In the November election, Schwarzenegger powered past Democrat Phil Angelides, 49% to 43%, among Ojai voters.
“The governator has done a good job at realizing that his constituency isn’t as conservative as his party would like him to be,” said Tyler Suchman, a web marketer and editor of a popular local blog, Ojaipost.com.
In a city where hybrid vehicles are ubiquitous, though, Schwarzenegger may want to follow one piece of advice, Suchman said.
“If he keeps the Hummers, he should fill them with vegetable oil.”