Ormond Beach on Oxnard's southern tip is so remote that only two roads reach it, yet the future of the largely undeveloped area has emerged as a focal point in discussions about the city's updated General Plan.
Environmentalists concerned about a proposal to build a $2-billion marina-based development at Ormond Beach dominated testimony about the General Plan before the Oxnard Planning Commission last week. The development would include a golf course, hotels, businesses, 8,135 homes and a regional airport.
Representatives of the developer, the Irvine-based Baldwin Co., plan to ask the commission tonight to allow 2,638 more houses than the 8,135 recommended in the General Plan update, which would be a blueprint for Oxnard's growth over the next 30 years.
And the U.S. Navy, whose Pacific Missile Test Center would border the development on the south, is deciding whether to testify about its numerous concerns, said Mark Schultz, the center's director of facility planning.
Steven Zimmer, the project's manager, remains undaunted.
"This is an opportunity to create a nice facility that would be developed in a regularly planned process," he said.
At issue is how much--if any--development will be allowed on 2,900 acres of beachfront, where agricultural and industrial uses have coexisted for years.
The Planning Commission's decisions on these and other facets of the General Plan will act as recommendations to the City Council, which will consider the plan in September. But the commission's deliberations are important because they serve as a preview of the issues facing the council.
The City Council's conclusions will determine whether the development can proceed to the Ventura County Local Agency Formation Commission, which would have to approve the city's annexation of 1,000 to 1,500 acres. The project would then require the approval of the California Coastal Commission, which regulates coastal development.
While stating that the development overall would benefit Oxnard, the updated General Plan prepared by the General Plan Advisory Committee paints a less than flattering view of some of the development's effects.
The report says the development would cause the irretrievable loss of 1,017 acres of agricultural land, resulting in $10 million in lost agricultural productivity and undermining the committee's goal of balancing new housing with new jobs.
While the 8,135 homes that the committee is recommending for Ormond Beach would boost the city's population by 23,157 people--roughly one-third of the new population it projects citywide over the next 30 years--the area would generate only one-sixth of the new jobs citywide over that period.
The committee predicted that the development would increase beach erosion south of Ormond Beach, an area that includes a wetland sanctuary. The Navy, which maintains the sanctuary, spends thousands of dollars annually to keep erosion from washing away spawning grounds for fish and nesting grounds for migratory birds, some of which are endangered species, Schultz said.
But the development's opponents, including Ormond Beach Observers--a group that claims to represent nine other mostly environmental organizations--complained last week that the report barely touched on the development's impact.
Roma Arbrust, a Ventura resident and member of Ormond Beach Observers, complained that the report didn't include the cost of dredging the marina, a job that usually falls to the Army Corps of Engineers, which has threatened to reduce maintenance of pleasure marinas because of funding cuts.
Cynthia Leake, a Camarillo resident and chairman of the Los Padres Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the report didn't detail how the development would affect the Ormond Beach wetlands.
While Baldwin plans to protect 50 acres of wetlands, Oxnard City Planner Matthew Winegar said, it is unclear how the development would affect the remaining wetlands.
Jean Harris, an Oxnard resident and committee member, said the General Plan failed to address how carving a marina out of the coast would affect seawater intrusion that already taints many of the area's aquifers.
She wondered whether soils near the mouth of the proposed marina have been contaminated by a nearby aluminum recycling plant that has been unsuccessfully sued by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Coastal Commission and Ventura County.
"There are so many unanswered questions," Harris said. "I just don't think the Planning Commission and council have enough information to approve it."
Robert L. Braitman, LAFCO's executive director, said LAFCO would block the development if it encroaches on naval activities at Point Mugu.
The Navy has maintained that planes taking off from an airport so near their own strips and pleasure boats leaving a marina so close to missile-testing would encroach on their activities.
Such impediments to the development's approval are so great that Bill Allayaud, a Coastal Commission legislative coordinator, said that if Baldwin were to "pull it off, it would be a miracle."
"Anyone who tries to develop a wetland knows that they're in trouble," he said. "It's very hard to do."
Demand for Marinas
But David Johnson, the legislative coordinator for the state Department of Boating and Waterways, said that strong demand for pleasure marinas has produced "a list of 20 to 30 new or expanded harbor projects throughout the state" in the past 20 years.
"It takes a lot of time, but it's doable," he said, adding that Baldwin may be eligible for state funds through a program that encourages the private construction of marinas to help defray the costs of building the harbor.
Project manager Zimmer shares Johnson's enthusiasm, providing he obtains approval for the additional homes. Otherwise, he said, Baldwin cannot afford to build the marina, which was first suggested by city officials.
Zimmer said the larger development would provide enough profits to allow the developer to maintain the harbor. "Our studies don't assume any state funds would be available," he said.
The project's effect on aquifers and wetlands will be addressed in three subsequent environmental reviews, Zimmer said.
Concerns about soil safety where the channel would be cut are unnecessary, he said. Baldwin has already tested 342 acres nearest to Ormond Beach industries and concluded that they were clean, he said.
As for the wetlands, he said, Baldwin has determined that building the marina would remove only 12 acres. He said the company would replace the lost wetlands with 12 acres of new inland wetlands.