For more than 80 years, residents of the maverick seaside communities known as Silver Strand, Hollywood Beach and Hollywood-by-the-Sea have identified themselves by their independence from Oxnard and Port Hueneme.
But complaints over rising utility costs have led the unincorporated area's elected leaders and top bureaucrat to question how much residents are willing to pay for their independence.
Gerard Kapuscik, the district's general manager, is recommending that beach residents place an initiative on the March, 1996, ballot to consider options for the future--including joining Port Hueneme or Oxnard.
On Saturday, leaders of the Channel Islands Beach Community Services District, home to 6,000 people, will hold a town meeting to discuss the district's future. The district now has 11 employees and an annual budget of $2 million.
Kapuscik outlines an array of choices: enlarging district staff to provide more services and become more politically active; scaling back the district operations to save money; contracting with nearby cities for trash and other services, and merging with Port Hueneme or Oxnard.
Wanda Pirkle, regarded by many residents as the matriarch of the eclectic beach neighborhoods, said the community would never support annexation.
"We've been independent all this time," said Pirkle, who first moved to Silver Strand in 1946. "Why not stay independent? We have everything we want out here."
James J. Bennett, another longtime resident and activist, said the area had fought to stave off annexation from Oxnard and Port Hueneme dozens of times over the years. He predicted that residents would not change their minds now.
"I don't think it will happen in my lifetime," said Bennett, a 77-year-old retired Navy officer. "I can't see one advantage to being annexed to Oxnard, period. All you have to do is go to the A Street mall in Oxnard to see how they manage their affairs."
Kapuscik said that he knows most residents in the area are opposed to annexation, but that the community needs to set priorities.
He and the district's board of directors say the beaches are at a crossroads. Residents, they said, will face a number of decisions in the next six months that will affect their pocketbooks.
The beachfront neighborhoods formed a community services district in 1982 to provide such basic services as water, and to make annexation by Oxnard and Port Hueneme more difficult. Both cities attempted to annex the beaches around 1980.
Now one of the principal reasons for the district's existence may be ending with a new $13-million joint-powers agreement on water supplies for the communities, the Navy Seabee base and the city of Port Hueneme.
The beaches now get their water from wells that tap into the aquifer below the Oxnard Plain. But the wells have exceeded their useful life.
The agreement would create a water supply network for the three areas at a cost of $3.23 million to the beaches.
The district already contracts with Port Hueneme for sewer services, and with a private Ventura company for trash removal and hauling.
Whether they keep the status quo or opt for the new water system, residents will soon have to pay more for water, according to a district report.
The current $23 monthly rate for residents is scheduled to go up to $29 under a plan that would charge residents as much as commercial customers.
Joining the water network would cost residents an average of $41 a month because of expensive start-up costs. The communities could also opt for a contract with the Calleguas Municipal Water District at an average cost of $39 a month.
In contrast, the beach communities could have lower water bills if they joined Oxnard, where residents on average pay $20 a month for water from Calleguas.
Start-up costs for setting up a new water network or hooking into Calleguas are high because the 1,600 residences would have to bear the entire burden of paying for new pipes and other equipment.
But Kapuscik said the start-up costs could be spread out over a longer period, making the payments less burdensome.
He said the water network, which he and the board support, would give the beach communities the independence residents say they want, albeit at a price.
Annexation would be the least costly way to obtain water, trash and other basic services, Kapuscik said.
And, he said, joining Oxnard or Port Hueneme would give the area potentially more political clout, something many residents realized they wanted recently when the Navy proposed flying fighter jets near Silver Strand, and the county unveiled plans to redevelop adjacent Channel Islands Harbor.
Therefore, residents need to decide whether the area's independence is more important to them than lower trash rates or additional political muscle, Kapuscik said.
Director Marcia Marcus said she wants residents to have a hand in choosing the future of their neighborhoods. But, she said, town meetings, not a ballot measure, are probably the best way to gauge community support. The board would have to approve Kapuscik's recommendation for it to be placed on the ballot.
"I don't think [a ballot measure] is the best way to do it," Marcus said. "If it is still unclear after meeting with residents, then I would be for it. But I don't think it will be necessary."
Supervisor John K. Flynn, whose district includes the beaches, said he does not think the added utility costs will lead residents to consider annexation. He believes the beaches are too independent.
"I don't see that changing," said Flynn, who helped residents form a community services district more than a decade ago. "I don't see that happening. The beach community is one of the best-operated communities I have ever seen. They better think hard about that before they jump into annexation."