Way Clear for Housing for Needy, Elderly : Oxnard: Land near historic neighborhood is rezoned for apartments, despite protests.


Despite rancorous protests by more than 150 residents, the Oxnard City Council has allowed a developer to pursue plans to build apartments for poor families and elderly residents next to the city’s most historic neighborhood.

After a marathon meeting Thursday night that lasted more than five hours, the Oxnard City Council and the city’s new Land Use Advisors voted to rezone three properties in or near the F Street neighborhood, clearing the way for three developments.

And early Friday the City Council, acting as the Oxnard Redevelopment Agency, voted to give the developer of two of the projects $608,300 to build low-cost apartments.


Council members said the money was given to the developer, Mercy Charities Housing California, as a loan. But no repayment agreement between the city and the developer was drafted, and city officials said after the meeting that repayment may not be sought.

The nonprofit developer, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, is seeking to build two developments in Oxnard: a 64-unit housing project for low-income families, and a 40-unit senior project. Both developments would be built at 5th Street and Hobson Way across from the old Oxnard High School.


Residents and community leaders from four neighborhoods surrounding the proposed developments said they were concerned that the projects would result in traffic problems, increased crime and overcrowding.

They also worried that the F Street neighborhood--Oxnard’s first subdivision, and once home to banker Achille Levy and many other city pioneers--would be irrevocably altered.

“It’s really sad to see the old homes, the old streets--F Street and G Street--fade away,” said Carolina Guillen, a real estate agent and longtime neighborhood resident. “Once you have zoned it to something, and you build, it can never go back.”

Only one person, affordable housing advocate Barbara Macri-Ortiz, spoke in favor of the developments.


Nevertheless, the five-member advisory panel, created last month to replace the city’s Planning Commission, voted 4 to 0 Thursday to rezone two properties near the old high school to allow for apartments. Panel member Sonny Okada was absent.

The panel also voted to rezone the former elementary school site--on H Street south of the old St. John’s Hospital--to allow the Sister Servants of Mary to build a convent. The City Council then approved the three zoning changes, which require amendments to the city’s General Plan.

The nuns moved out of their former convent, across from Bailard Landfill, last year as part of the settlement of their lawsuit against the Ventura Regional Sanitation District, which operates the dump. The lawsuit claimed the dump was a health hazard to the nuns.

Thursday was the inaugural meeting for the panel--created against the wishes of many residents--and it was harshly received by the crowd.

“I hope you’re not a rubber stamp for developers,” resident Robert Serros told the panel. “I’m opposed to you even existing.”

Oxnard is under pressure to build affordable housing. A coalition of law firms sued the city last year for failing to meet state low-cost housing requirements.


“There’s some stigma that people have because of the word low-income ,” said Macri-Ortiz, an attorney for Channel Counties Legal Services Assn., one of the firms suing Oxnard. “We have families in this community that work very hard and are not able to buy a home.”

But the roomful of angry residents shouted down Macri-Ortiz. One woman hollered, “Go to Ventura!” to build low-cost housing.

Mercy Charities has argued that its developments would help alleviate the shortage of low-cost housing in Oxnard. The developer said it needs the $608,300 to bolster its case when it applies to the California Tax Credit Allocation Committee for more money.

Because the deadline for the tax credit money was Friday, the developer said it needed the money Thursday night.

Mercy Charities is counting on tax-credit funding to finance the family project. If it does not receive the funding, it must return the $608,300 to Oxnard under the agreement.

The City Council previously agreed to loan Mercy Charities $135,000 to help the builder move forward with its plans. The developer is also asking the city to contribute an additional $682,000 for its senior project.



Councilman Tom Holden, who lives in the F Street neighborhood, said the developments being proposed by Mercy Charities are an opportunity the city needs to consider. He said remarks that the council does not care about F Street were unfair.

“I feel very strongly that this is a very valuable part of our city,” Holden said. “I don’t think my commitment to that area needs to be questioned.”

The City Council had also planned to discuss amending the city’s General Plan to allow the former St. John’s Hospital building to be converted into a massive apartment building for seniors, but decided to postpone the decision after neighbors criticized the plan.