Despite the chemical fire that forced an overnight evacuation of Saticoy earlier this month, some residents say they prefer a new county plan calling for more industry in the unincorporated area to one that could virtually double its population.
At issue is the possible rezoning this summer of about 160 acres--vacant land that county planners are considering either for low- to moderate-cost housing or for industrial installations.
"No more people," said Jose Flores, a longtime resident known in the tight-knit, predominantly Hispanic community as "Mr. Saticoy." "Make it an industrial park, but with no chemicals."
Some critics fear the addition of more homes will lead to the annexation of Saticoy by neighboring Ventura, because only Ventura can provide the sewer system needed to accommodate further residential development in Saticoy.
Frank Ybarra, the owner of a tire store and president of the 80-member Saticoy Town Council, a business group, said the county's general plan update is a way of "preparing a recipe for takeover by Ventura. . . . The county has technically created a blighted area. We have potholes, dogs running around in packs, signs gone, and all the county does is speak barbarian to us."
Others claim the community would be engulfed by new apartments, losing its agricultural character and small-town feeling.
"I'm not against low-cost housing," said Raul Morales, a 54-year resident who can recall when "half of Saticoy was related to me by blood and another third by marriage."
"But if you put in 1,000 units," he said, "you wouldn't satisfy the need. The next day, they would be occupied and then they would have to build more."
Last week, county officials began hearings on the environmental impact report for the Saticoy Area Plan. That plan was prepared in response to the state's $18-million realignment and widening of California 118, also known as Los Angeles Avenue, which now sends 21,000 cars a day zig-zagging through Saticoy's downtown area.
1,254 New Residents
One possibility raised by planners is to use the area primarily for heavy industry. Another is to approve housing for as many as 1,254 new residents. Saticoy has about 1,500 people, but the population swells as farm workers come to town for lemon and strawberry harvests.
Saticoy was the site of the last action of the Mexican War in California, an inconclusive skirmish on Jan. 6, 1847, between soldiers led by Gen. John C. Fremont and Don Jose Carrillo.
It came into its own in 1887, when the Southern Pacific railroad built a depot in town. Growers from all over western Ventura County hauled lima beans, walnuts, grains, apricots and citrus to the bustling settlement, which boasted a saloon, its own post office and three churches.
But Ventura, with its own railroad depot and a commercial wharf, overshadowed it. Saticoy faded, achieving recognition only at times like Jan. 15, 1945, when a Japanese bomb carried aloft in a large paper balloon drifted inland and exploded nearby on the bed of the Santa Clara River.
Today, middle-class residents live in spacious homes near the green, rolling hills of Saticoy Regional Golf Course, and poorer, predominantly Latino residents live in lower Saticoy.
Industrial buildings surround their small, crowded homes--a mix that includes immaculately kept frame cottages as well as oddities like a stuccoed Quonset hut. On one residential street, an endless line of fruit-laden trucks waits to unload at a citrus packing house.
The community amenities are few--a small park, a cramped library and community center and an elementary school.
But there is increasing demand for the area's limited services.
"There are more people here at harvest time," said Morales, who oversees Saticoy's park and community center. "In years past, you would see a family of five or six in a house, but now people come here with their uncles, aunts, brothers, cousins. I don't see how they live in those homes."
Congestion awaits them outside. Massive rush-hour bottlenecks are the norm on the main drag, California 118, which is lined with fruit stands, restaurants, auto accessory shops and Saticoy Hardware, an outlet for anomalies like a $99 galvanized steel washing tub with wringer, flour-sack tea towels and enormous cast-iron kettles.
The road is to be widened to four lanes by 1993, and is to skirt downtown.
Some merchants are concerned about the realignment of the highway, which will put them out of the flow of traffic. But they say they are more concerned about the prospect of annexation by Ventura.
Ybarra said he feared Ventura's building and safety enforcement policies would displace many people from their homes and shut some businesses.
"We're not against progress," he said, "but we don't want to see outside people come in and take over."
Ybarra spun a gloomy scenario in which residents unable to afford the repairs demanded by Ventura would have to sell their homes to developers, who would raze them and erect expensive subdivisions.
Buster Davis, whose business, Buster's Original Bar-B-Q and Bakery, will be bought out by the state because it lies in the path of the highway widening project, said annexation would be a blessing.
"I've lived in Saticoy all my life. I'm not against the changes . . . it's an inevitable thing. It has to happen for us to get some improvements here."
County officials acknowledge that Ventura might more frequently scrutinize illegal additions on houses and industrial buildings.
"We're more stringent than Ventura," said Bill Windroth, a county building official, "but we don't have as many building inspectors."
Steve Offerman, the county planner in charge of the Saticoy plan update, agreed.
"The county doesn't have the resources to go and search out code violations," he said. "Ventura is much better equipped to do that."
However, Ventura officials say there are no plans to annex Saticoy.
The Local Agency Formation Commission, the state agency that oversees the annexation process, has received no application, said Director Bob Braitman.
Besides, he said, annexation requires the consent of the Saticoy property owners.
Ventura County Supervisor Susan Lacey said no action would be taken to force Saticoy into Ventura.
"My greatest desire is that the folks in Saticoy are allowed the greatest self-determination," she said. "We don't want to take any of the housing out. It's one of the few places people can sort of afford to live."