Report Urges Oxnard to Aggressively Court Trade

Times Staff Writer

A report released this week suggested that Oxnard more aggressively court Los Angeles and Orange County businesses, but critics said such activity would ruin the city's character.

To take advantage of the "economic cyclone" in Southern California, the report also recommended that the city improve its schools and turn around its blue-collar image, making itself more attractive to relocating businesses.

The report will guide a three-year, $400,000 campaign to market the city to businesses, and will become part of Oxnard's updated general plan.

In an unusually vociferous attack at Tuesday's City Council meeting, Councilwoman Dorothy Maron criticized the report, titled "Economic Development Strategy," as a "strong pro-growth document" and refused to support it.

'I Don't Like Los Angeles'

"I don't know any of us who want to be part of Los Angeles," she said. "I don't like Los Angeles, and I don't care to go down there. I would hate like heck . . . for it to come here."

In particular, she objected to a phrase that appeared in a summary of the 2-inch-thick report, predicting Oxnard's evolution from an "isolated agricultural economy into part of metropolitan Los Angeles."

"Becoming part of one of the world's great cities will create opportunities for Oxnard," the report said. "However, these opportunities must be tempered by an awareness of the impact unmanaged growth could have on the quality of life in Oxnard."

"This is a contradiction in terms," Maron said.

Her objections to the report, developed over the last five months through interviews with 135 people and meetings with city officials, appeared to catch its supporters off guard.

Not a Surprise

"Mrs. Maron attended all our meetings," said Sue Chadwick, chairman of city's Economic Development Advisory Commission, which participated in the report's development. "She knew what to expect."

Oxnard school officials also questioned the conclusions of the report about the city's schools. Bernie Korenstein, Oxnard School District's assistant superintendent for educational services, said 83% of the parents who responded to a recent district poll indicated that they were "very satisfied" with the education their children were receiving.

The Phoenix-based company that developed the report, Mountain West Research, received compliments only from Councilwoman Ann Johs.

"It was very important that they weren't afraid to come out with some of these things," she said.

Unique Position

The report said that Oxnard, as the most "pro-business" city in the county and the only city in the county without a growth limit, stands in a unique position to capitalize on the prosperity of the Los Angeles area.

With a climate and seaside location comparable to that of Santa Monica, where commercial property can run between $40 and $100 a square foot, Oxnard can offer commercial property between $8 and $10, the report said.

The city's proximity to the Port of Oxnard as well as its establishment of a World Trade Center also will enable it to take advantage of a surge in foreign trade, it added.

But to take advantage fully of its resources, Oxnard will have to address a long list of liabilities, the report concluded.

It said that although test scores of Oxnard's schoolchildren meet or fall only slightly short of the state and national averages, the city's schools suffer from a poor reputation that makes businesses and professionals reluctant to move there.

It also said that the work force is so poorly educated and limited in its ability to speak English that employers frequently interview 10 applicants before finding an "employable" candidate for an entry-level job.

The "blue-collar image . . . that is no longer an accurate portrayal of Oxnard, given its high housing costs and upscale life style," also will deter businesses from locating there, the report said.

It also cited a mixed attitude toward business on the part of the City Council, which one of those interviewed characterized as "pro-growth by day, environmentalist by night."

Lack of Affordable Housing

But "the lack of affordable housing in Oxnard and other Ventura County communities is a time bomb," the report said.

It recommended taking such steps to encourage construction of affordable housing as increasing density and reducing developer's fees.

Among the report's recommendations:

* Expand Oxnard's city limits to include Nyeland Acres, the largely agricultural unincorporated community north of U.S. 101.

* Consolidate the four elementary school districts serving Oxnard to divert more resources from administration into the classroom.

* Establish a "foreign trade zone," a business park in which importers of unassembled goods are spared the tariffs that they would pay if they imported the goods fully assembled.

* Build a convention center at Ormond Beach and an amphitheater at Oxnard State Beach Park.

The report also challenged the city's long-held commitment to preserving agriculture.

"Off the record," it said, "many credible people pointed out the inevitability of agriculture moving inland where land is cheaper."

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