Since the city’s beginnings, the green patch of land at the bottom of the Conejo Grade has often appeared as a field of builders’ dreams.
Its rows of crops along the Ventura Freeway offer a verdant gateway to Camarillo and inspiration to developers with big plans.
But the visions of a factory outlet mall, a farmers’ market and a mini-city have yet to materialize. And with the Camarillo City Council’s latest decision, this land, which has become the focus of the city’s struggle to control growth, will produce celery for at least several more years.
Pressured by citizen lobbying groups, the Camarillo City Council Wednesday night resoundingly rejected the latest developer’s dream to build 1,100 homes on the 250 acres.
Councilman Ken Gose said the council’s 5-0 decision sent a message not only to the Sammis Co. but to developers thinking of building in Camarillo.
“Before starting a huge project, it pays to be sure that you have the people concerned behind it,” Gose said. “Within the city boundaries, we have control.”
But Matthew A. (Tony) Boden, the city’s director of planning, said the council’s rejection of the Sammis project “is not a precedent-setting case. I don’t think it sets a tone for growth for the rest of the city.”
Nor does Evie Bystrom-Herrera, executive director of the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce, believe that developers should read too much in the council’s decision.
“We’re not saying ‘no’ to development by any means,” Bystrom-Herrera said. “Camarillo is just sensitive to the greenbelt that surrounds the freeway. That’s what has drawn people out here.”
Russell Goodman, Sammis’ regional president, said the company has no new proposals, nor would he say whether the company will try to sell the parcel.
This was the Irvine-based Sammis Co.'s second attempt to develop the 83 acres that the company bought six years ago. Last year it was forced to withdraw a plan for a factory outlet mall in response to local lobbying.
Whatever the decision, the company must wait another year before submitting a third plan to the City Council.
But Councilman Mike Morgan said the unanimous decision sends a clear signal to the Sammis Co. “Don’t come back and tell us you want to build here for awhile,” he said.
Although most council members and city staff agree that the parcel’s development is inevitable, Morgan believes that the land could remain farmland. “People talk about how building is inevitable. Inevitability can be 100 years from now.”
The fight over the first two Sammis proposals has created a determined group of citizen-activists, who have found their political voice.
Lin Anderson, founder of Concerned Citizens of Camarillo, said the experience has shown her that “when you start hollering, city officials have to be accountable.”
“It feels real good because we’ve worked hard picketing, petitioning, running ads, writing letters,” she said.
Bill Torrence, the leader of a separate homeowners’ group formed to fight Sammis, said he believes that the neighbors’ diligence can ward off future development.
“The City Council has recognized that the desire of the people should be fulfilled,” Torrence said. “If we work together, we can convince the council and even the Legislature that we are right.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Torrence shook hands with Sammis’ president, saying, “I’ll probably see you again, Russ.”
“No doubt you will, Bill,” Goodman said.