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Threat of Suits May Kill Plan to Limit Homes

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The threat of lawsuits is prompting a majority of Moorpark City Council members to consider backing away from a proposed growth-control ordinance that would limit the number of homes built each year within city limits.

The City Council has been warned by a building industry group that if the city adopts the new ordinance a lawsuit will follow.

The city of Oceanside recently lost a six-year legal battle over its slow-growth law to the Building Industry Assn. of Southern California. Oceanside spent $2 million defending its law--called Proposition A, which limited the number of homes built each year in the city.

Pointing to the Oceanside case, building industry representatives told the Moorpark City Council on Wednesday night that city officials would lose a legal challenge against the slow-growth law they are now drafting.

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“There’s no question about it,” said Mayor Paul Lawrason. “If you read the case it looks as though numerical caps may be on their way out. I think we will all have to step back and take a look at this ordinance. We may have to take an entirely different approach here.”

In addition to Lawrason, Councilmen Scott Montgomery and Bernardo Perez are having second thoughts about numerical caps on building permits that could subject the city to a lawsuit.

The draft ordinance was drawn up during a yearlong process by an ad hoc committee of council members, planners, developers and local residents. It is meant to take the place of the city’s existing slow-growth law, called Measure F, which expires in December, 1995.

As drafted, the ordinance would limit the number of building permits issued each year to 250 dwellings. The strict limit on building permits matches the projected growth outlined in the city’s General Plan.

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Yet supporters argue that the slow-growth law would be gutted if the council removes the numerical limits on building permits.

“I don’t know about the potential changes. I just know I support what was originally recommended by the committee,” said Roseann Mikos of the Ventura County Environmental Coalition’s Moorpark chapter. “It’s clear that the people in this town want effective managed growth.”

Her views are supported by Councilmen John Wozniak and Patrick Hunter.

But builders argue that the law is unfair to them, said Dee Zinke, executive director of the Building Industry Assn.'s Ventura chapter. Zinke said existing environmental controls and planning procedures guard against uncontrolled growth.

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She stressed that placing “arbitrary” numerical limits on the number of homes built each year was unnecessary as well as legally indefensible.

“We don’t believe they can defend this ordinance,” Zinke said. “It’s not prudent for them to move forward on this.

“Basically there’s a real vacuum of information out there,” she said. “People are under the false perception that when the economy turns around there will be a huge boom, but that’s just not the reality of development today.”

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William Fulton, a Ventura-based urban planner and writer, said although he does not generally support numerical caps limiting growth, he believed Moorpark could legally set limits on growth.

“I’m not quite sure if it’s an indefensible law--as the builders argue,” he said. “It sounds more like the question of whether the marketplace should control the pace of building or whether a law should meter growth from year to year.”

Fulton said studies comparing development in Simi Valley before it adopted a growth control ordinance and Thousand Oaks, which had an ordinance, showed the laws had little effect on overall development.

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He said growth control ordinances have a symbolic value in a community. “It gives cities the feeling that they control the ball, but the outcome is not going to be that much different whether or not you have a cap.”

More than anything else, Fulton said, the pace of growth is determined by the underlying politics in a community. Public attitudes toward growth, he said, are usually reflected on city councils and planning commissions.

Although Councilman Perez agrees that the limits in the draft ordinance may go too far, he said it’s important to renew the city’s growth control ordinance in some form.

“What we get with an extension of Measure F is a comfort zone for people,” Perez said. “Despite what has been said I think that Measure F has worked.”

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