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Angry Keys Homeowners Protest Fee for Dredging : Ventura: The city argues that the developer signed an agreement to allow assessments to keep the waterways clear. The panel will make a decision tonight.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Angry Ventura Keys residents packed Ventura City Council chambers Monday to protest the council’s plan to assess each of their luxury homes a $1,680 annual fee for dredging the silt out of their back-yard waterways.

“We’ve brought out grievances, our concerns, our protests to City Hall and we ask City Hall to give these concerns a fair hearing so we might avoid the costly process of litigation,” said Terry Bird, a spokesman for the Save the Keys Committee.

Many of the 299 Keys waterfront property owners who live in the proposed Porto Bello Maintenance District say that the city’s proposal would unjustly charge them for the cost of removing silt that was dumped in their channels by the city drainage system.

“We think that the Arundell Barranca . . . is not a natural watercourse,” Bird said. “It is a man-made watercourse. (It) makes the Ventura Keys into a dumping ground.”

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The city has long argued that Keys developer John Klugh signed an agreement in 1964 allowing the residents to be assessed for regular dredging of the waterways. That year, the city approved the Keys subdivision with Klugh’s understanding that it would be built in a drainage delta.

Yet some residents said it is the hefty amount of the proposed $1,680 fee that has prompted them and their neighbors to protest the council action and even consider seceding from the city.

“You wouldn’t be hearing this now if the assessment district was charging under $500,” said Brad Barnes, chairman of the Ventura Keys Homeowners Assn. In 1964, the costs of dredging brought assessments of only $45 to $60 a year, he said.

Monday’s public hearing got a late start, with city engineers spending about 90 minutes presenting a report in support of the proposed fee and assessment district.

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The council plans to continue the hearing and make a decision on the special assessment district tonight.

Many Keys residents, anxious to present their views Monday night, muttered comments under their breaths. Some held placards protesting “unfair taxes” and warning, “We’re First, You’re Next,” referring to predictions that the council will set up other special taxation districts.

Some took notes as city project manager Barbara Fosbrink explained the council’s options for raising money to dredge the Keys waterways. Those are: forming a special assessment district to charge Keys residents for much of the dredging cost, charging all Ventura taxpayers for the dredging costs, or doing nothing.

The crowd of more than 160 overflowed into the hallway, through standing-room-only areas around the seats and onto rows of folding chairs in the aisles of the ornate, wood-trimmed council chambers.

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Several City Council candidates looked on, gauging the audience’s reactions to the assessment district proposal.

Streets Supt. Ronald Calkins told the council that the sediment dredged from the waterways would have to be deposited in a plastic-lined landfill near the Olivas Park Golf Course to prevent pollution of ground-water sources.

Fosbrink said Keys residents supported the cost of regular dredging by passing assessments to the Porto Bello maintenance district from 1967 to 1978, when the passage of Proposition 13 severely limited such taxation.

The plan is to charge waterfront property owners 75% of $2.7 million it will cost to dredge the 32 acres of man-made waterways to a depth of 15 feet and to repair the channels’ rock borders.

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Protests of the proposal to charge Keys homeowners for the dredging have escalated since the March heavy rains deposited tons of silt and debris into their channels.

City engineers determined that because they have the most reason to use the channels, the homeowners should pay 75% of the dredging bill, while the city should pay only 25%, for boaters who use the Keys waterways but do not live alongside them.

A small group of Keys homeowners is studying the possibility of seceding from the city of Ventura. The homeowners group hopes to encompass the Keys, the Ventura Harbor District, the Pierpont neighborhood and undeveloped land owned by the Lusk Co. in its plan to form a new city called Ventura-by-the-Sea.

However, the planners must draft detailed plans for the new city’s taxes and government, and persuade the City Council not to veto the plan.

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Barnes, who is also chairman of the secession study committee, said the group is prepared to help elect City Council candidates who are sympathetic to its cause.


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