The city's top school official says new housing developments planned for the city threaten to overwhelm Moorpark's schools.
Moorpark's five elementary schools and two middle schools are already full, schools Supt. Tom Duffy told the Moorpark Planning Commission.
And within the next three years, the high school will have no more room for new students, Duffy said.
With local schools at or near capacity, Duffy said city planners should make sure that any new housing developments include plans to help pay for new classrooms.
"Our schools are in good shape," Duffy said during his Monday night appearance before the commission. "But you have to be cautious in reviewing the plans that come before you."
Duffy spoke at a hearing on a draft environmental impact report for the 3,221-home Messenger Investment Co. development planned for the city's northeast side.
Although Messenger is proposing to build three elementary schools, Duffy and several school board members are saying that might not be enough.
With state money drying up for school construction, district officials may have to demand more from developers to cover the cost of new students brought into the city with the construction of new homes.
Along with Messenger Investment's proposal, the city is looking at four other projects with as many as 2,100 homes planned. Together with the Messenger development, the projects could add as many as 17,600 residents, planners say.
Planners have already said that over the next 20 years, Moorpark will likely be among the fastest-growing cities in Ventura County, but school district officials worry that that growth could overtake their ability to absorb students.
In the 1980s, Moorpark was one of the state's fastest-growing communities and school enrollment surged. The city met that growth by building schools in large part paid for with state funds.
During those years, Duffy said, the district was fortunate to get more than $55 million in state funds to help build schools and stay ahead of rapid growth.
But those funds have dried up, and it is unclear whether the district will be able to pay for new construction without more help from developers, he said.
"We have to look very carefully at proposals and ask ourselves if we have adequate financing," he said.
Although Messenger has offered to build the elementary schools, district officials might also want a new middle school and another high school to meet the coming growth, said board member Clint Harper, who is adamantly against the Messenger project.
"I have children in the district and, frankly, my motives are quite selfish, but I don't want to, and I don't think the existing residents should have to, bear the brunt of financing schools for the Messenger project," he said.
Although the state requires the developer to pay a fee to local school districts to offset the cost of building new schools, the fees are not enough to pay for the schools, Harper said.
He wants Messenger Investment and any other new development to fully offset the costs of any schools that would have to be built.
But Messenger Investment Vice President Gary Austin said the company cannot bear the full cost of building new schools. He said the company has spent months working with the district on just how many schools would be needed.
"It's not as simple as us just building the schools and handing them over to the district," Austin said.
He said the financing of any schools that may be needed has not yet been worked out. But there are a number of ways to fund school construction, he said. That includes floating a local bond that would assess new homeowners to pay for new school construction.
"I think what Duffy is saying is that his sources of funding are narrower now," Austin said. "But of course we have to have schools for those kids, and we have to work it out somehow."
Austin added that there is a limit to what the company or any developer can offer. If it costs more to meet the demands for new schools, then the company might have to remove such items as road improvements or parks in the project.
"That might mean that other benefits we're offering will have to shrink," he said. "It's a zero-sum game in that people are only willing to pay so much to buy a house, and we can't go beyond that."
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Planners predict that Moorpark will double in size in the next 20 years, going from about 28,000 now to between 40,000 and 60,000 residents by the year 2015. Five projects now under consideration or in the environmental impact review (EIR) process could add as many as 17,600* people in the next decade.
Project Homes Status Carlsberg 552 Specific plan approved Bollinger 216 Public hearings on draft EIR complete Messenger/Hidden 3,221 Public hearings on draft EIR under way Creek Ranch Morrison- 475-712 EIR process has begun Fountainwood-Agoura Hitch Ranch 415-620 EIR process has begun
* Population estimates are based on a new Ventura County Planning Department figure of 3.31 residents per household, which is being used for new population projections.
Source: Moorpark Planning Department