Oxnard Union High School District officials have won an eight-year battle for money to relocate a high school bordering Oxnard Airport, but they have not won the war, local officials say.
Even as the State Allocations Board was agreeing last week to pay about $16 million to close Oxnard High School and build its replacement elsewhere, several Oxnard City Council members were criticizing a key condition of the allocation--that the new school's land be donated.
Under the plan, Somis developer Ag Land Services would donate 80 acres at Victoria Avenue and Gonzales Road near northwest Oxnard for the new high school, an elementary school, a park and possibly a junior high school. In exchange, the city would allow the developer to build 1,000 homes on 250 nearby acres and annex the sites.
The Oxnard Planning Commission is considering the proposal as part of an updated General Plan.
Councilwoman Dorothy Maron said last week that the proposal was tantamount to legal bribery because it would force the city to extend its western boundaries about three-quarters of a mile into rich agricultural lands.
Councilman Manuel Lopez predicted that the trade-off would increase pressure to develop other agricultural properties along Victoria while pouring more traffic onto the already clogged thoroughfare.
"The traffic will be horrendous," he said.
The Local Agency Formation Commission, which would have to approve the annexation, has reacted warily to the proposal.
In a May 17 letter to Ag Land President Dave O. White, LAFCO Executive Officer Robert L. Braitman said LAFCO probably would allow schools on the property but not "trade-offs which undermine established policies for the preservation and conservation of prime agricultural resources."
But Bob Carter, district superintendent, said the proposal is a creative solution to mounting enrollment problems at a time of uncertain funding for new schools.
"We think the school needs to be relocated, and others have felt that we need to relocate it," he said. "We hope to convince everyone that this is appropriate for our students."
White is hopeful too.
"There are so many units that are going to be built in Oxnard in the next 20 or 30 years on comparable land as far as agricultural productivity goes," he said. "It just seems that our development has a lot more to offer."
The city supported a similar exchange when White offered to donate land for the proposed California State University campus. That deal fell through when Cal State trustees selected the Taylor Ranch site in Ventura.
The City Council could decide the trade-off issue as soon as the fall, when it reviews the updated General Plan.
In the meantime, even those who most strongly oppose the trade-off support replacing Oxnard High School.
The school, which is 1,800 feet from the foot of the airport's main runway on K and 5th streets, lies under the flight path of planes arriving or departing from the east.
School officials say that frequent airplane traffic disrupts classes and threatens their students. Three plane accidents have occurred near the school in recent years, they said.
The State Division of Aeronautics says it will not allow the district to build a new school on the site of Oxnard High, which was built before the airport. For safety reasons, the agency has rejected proposed school sites that are farther away from the airport than the Oxnard High site.
Oxnard's updated General Plan, which will be the city's blueprint through 2020, recognizes the site's risk. It reserves half of the high school site as a buffer usable only for purposes that attract few people, such as agriculture or parking lots.
School officials cite the dilapidated condition of the school, parts of which date to 1922, as another reason for replacing it.
In the girl's locker room, grime covers walls, ceilings and floors. In typing classes, electrical cords snake across the floors because antiquated wiring does not provide safer alternatives. And in the shop class, a water fountain has been turned off to boost water pressure in aging pipes.
"That northwest site is very important for our youngsters," Carter said.