Planning Commission Reflects Public's Disagreement : Ventura Growth Issue Divisive at Top Level

Times Staff Writer

The continuing debate over the city of Ventura's future reached the Planning Commission this week, splitting members over the same issues of growth and development that have divided the community at large.

The proposed Comprehensive Plan, a document nearly three years in the making, was discussed for four hours Tuesday night without producing any consensus over just how big Ventura should be 20 years from now.

The seven-member commission is faced with four possible scenarios that envision the city adding from between 2,000 to 56,000 residents by the year 2010. Debate has focused on two less extreme alternatives, which predict the city's growing from about 92,000 to either 102,000 or 122,000 residents.

Even so, the six commissioners in attendance found themselves split over those numbers, with some wanting to increase the population to stimulate economic activity and others warning that such increases could have disastrous consequences for the quality of life.

Commissioner Gary Nasalroad, hoping to strike a balance, suggested that the board plan for a population of 122,000 because the community would probably grow that large whether anyone liked it or not.

"We may be looking at a larger population than maybe you even want," he told the other commissioners. "But it's a good thing to plan toward. . . . There's a certain inevitability to growth."

Commissioner Clark Owens agreed. "If we're too restrictive, we're going to weaken our economic base," he said. "We would wind up doing ourselves and our community a disservice."

But Commissioner Todd Collart argued that such an increase in population could spell trouble for the city's water supply, air quality and traffic.

"My view of it is that 122,000 is not a healthy number," he said. "I think we're better off going to a lower number that we know we can live with."

An informal vote ended in a 3-3 tie, with Chairman Gary Pihlaja absent. After more discussion, Commissioner Marilynn Viles, who had opposed the 122,000 figure, reversed her vote.

"I'm going to vote for it on the reasoning that I can change my mind at the end," she said, "so we can get on with this."

The Planning Commission is meeting again tonight at 7 to continue reviewing the document. The City Council is expected to study it later this summer.

The meetings are among the final chapters of a lengthy process begun in July, 1986, when a committee of 14 citizens was appointed by the council to revise the existing Comprehensive Plan, a blueprint for growth that was last adopted in 1976.

After meeting 40 to 50 times over 16 months, the committee recommended in October, 1987, that the city be allowed to grow to 122,000 by 2010--a rate just a bit below the current pace of development.

An environmental impact report completed earlier this year by Ventura-based McClelland Engineers, however, favored a 102,000-resident alternative as providing for more "logical and planned growth . . . and to conserve the city's remaining natural resources."

Public hearings April 18 and April 26 reflected the sharp division in the community over the growth scenarios.

More conservative guidelines seemed to be favored by environmentalists, longtime residents and anyone else who came to Ventura to escape the congestion of the San Fernando Valley or Orange County.

Skyrocketing Prices

Fewer restrictions on growth were advocated by developers, business interests and anyone else hoping that increased construction might help curb the city's skyrocketing housing prices.

If, as city officials predict, the plan ultimately calls for between 102,000 and 122,000 residents by 2010, it will still keep growth in Ventura at a rate about half that of the county.

Over the last five years, Ventura has grown an average of 1.6% annually, or about 1,400 people a year. In the same time, Ventura County has grown an average of 2.5% annually, or about 15,380 people a year.

Under a scenario of 122,000 people, the city could increase by only 1,000 people a year. If the number is lowered to 102,000, the increase would be cut to 500 people a year.

Last year, 1,431 births and 711 deaths were recorded in Ventura, for a net increase of 720 people.

City planners say they do not consider birth and death rates when making population estimates because they cannot predict how many of those new residents will remain in Ventura.

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