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Opponents of Tax-Sharing Plan File 13,564 Signatures With City Clerk : Mall: Ballot initiative would halt pay-back from increased sales tax to shopping center investors who fund public improvements.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Backers of a ballot initiative aimed at halting a tax-sharing plan linked to the expansion of the Buenaventura Mall turned in what appeared to be more than enough signatures Monday to place the measure on the March ballot.

Citizens Against the Sales Tax Giveaway filed 13,564 signatures with the city clerk’s office Monday. The group needs 8,966 valid signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot.

“This is just about what we expected,” said Lary Reid, co-chairman of the organization. “Some of the signatures probably will not be valid so we wanted to make sure we had enough.”

Reid filed the petitions seven hours before the City Council was scheduled to discuss the proposed initiative and its potential impact on the mall expansion.

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Three weeks ago, the council instructed city staff to study the initiative, paying close attention to what interests were behind it and how it could affect future development in the city.

Assistant City Manager Steve Chase told the council Monday that by prohibiting tax-sharing plans with investors, the initiative would not only endanger the mall expansion but would also strip the city of some of its fiscal powers and threaten future development.

“It is not mall-specific,” Chase told the council. “This measure, if approved, will affect redevelopment of the Avenue . . . it will affect east end development, mid-town development, some development in the downtown.”

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Mall owners are negotiating with city officials to build a second story to the 30-year-old shopping center, while adding two new anchor stores. Sears and Robinsons-May have agreed to leave The Esplanade mall in Oxnard to join J.C. Penney and The Broadway at Buenaventura Mall.

The initiative seeks to kill a deal now being negotiated by mall owners and the city of Ventura in which developers would pay $12.5 million for public improvements to be repaid by the city’s share of increased sales tax revenue. Over the 20 years of the proposed agreement, those improvements are estimated to have an ultimate value of $32.3 million.

City leaders and some business people say the plan is a risk-free investment that would nearly double the $1 million in sales tax revenue now generated by sales at the shopping center.

Initiative backers say the deal gives away taxpayers’ money.

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“We do not feel it is a good deal for the city,” Reid said. “I don’t believe tax money should be involved with kickbacks to private developers.”

But at the council meeting Monday, Chase said the deal being negotiated would pave the way for long-awaited street improvements in the area of the mall. He cited the widening of the southbound Ventura Freeway on-ramp at Telephone Road and Main Street as one example.

“This type of reimbursement, tax-sharing proposal will allow that improvement to go forward,” he said.

After Chase’s report, council members directed staff to continue their analysis of the initiative and one openly criticized the initiative backers.

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“It really bothers me that somebody who represents people in this city . . . would try to tie the city’s hands,” Councilman Jack Tingstrom said. “I think that’s a sham.”

Since the initiative drive was launched two months ago, Ventura officials have suggested that the measure is being backed by the owners of a competing mall. Reid acknowledged last week that his group is being financially supported, in part, by The Esplanade.

“One of the members of our committee did solicit The Esplanade,” Reid said. He would not say how much money his group has received from the Oxnard mall’s owners. “That will be revealed in our [financial disclosure] report in January.”

Identifying the initiative’s backers was a key goal of Monday’s report, and the financial link to the Oxnard mall was enough information for some council members.

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“It is apparent,” Councilwoman Rosa Lee Measures said after Monday’s meeting, “The Esplanade development group is keenly behind this.”

Since Reid’s group formed in September, its backers have hit the streets with petitions and hired professional solicitors to get the signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot.

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City Clerk Barbara Kam said it will take the county elections office at least four days to verify whether a sampling of the signatures that were turned in Monday are valid.

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If they are, the City Council must decide at its regular meeting next Monday whether to adopt the initiative as it is written or place the measure on the March 26 ballot.

“I would hope that they would accept it outright,” Reid said. “All we are trying to do is make the public aware of what is going on.”


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