Santa Paula Backs Growth Plan in Quest for Revenue


Officials have endorsed a growth plan that would triple the physical size of the city and could lead to the construction of 4,000 homes, three golf courses and a hotel.

The plan calls for the city to annex more than 9,375 acres, mostly hilly countryside that incorporates Fagan and Adams canyons to the city’s north but includes about 600 acres of prime agricultural land on the valley floor. It was the most ambitious of three growth plans studied by the Santa Paula City Council and Planning Commission in a joint meeting Tuesday night.

If the plan for part of the Santa Clara River Valley is followed and the necessary land annexed, the proposed residential and commercial developments could provide a monetary bonanza for the financially struggling city, pouring as much as $3 million in annual tax revenues into municipal coffers by 2020. However, no specific projects are currently under consideration.


Officials don’t necessarily see the plan as the city’s financial salvation, nor are they enthusiastically embracing all the details of the proposal.


“I don’t know if we need three golf courses and 4,000 homes,” said Councilman Jim Garfield, who cast one of four votes on the five-member council favoring the proposal. “We’re not here to talk about those nitty-gritty details yet. I just think it’s time for us to control our destiny for a little bit larger area than the 4 1/2 square miles we have now.”

The growth plan simply examines what could be built on land that is presently outside city limits if it were annexed and whether Santa Paula would benefit financially if such development occurs, officials said.

Along with the homes and golf courses, the plan proposes sites for educational, commercial and industrial uses along with more than 100 acres of parkland and open space.

Santa Paula has bitterly fought encroaching urbanism in recent years, opposing the expansion of Toland Road Landfill in the greenbelt area west of the city and the construction of the county jail in another designated farm preserve to the west that stretches to the Ventura city limits.


Garfield sees no inconsistency in the council’s action, saying that the intent is to give the city the power to dictate what type of development occurs where. Moreover, Garfield calls the plan’s net loss of farmland “negligible,” noting that while some acreage would be taken out of the protected greenbelt, other tracts would be added.


So far, few complaints have surfaced decrying the loss of the region’s rural atmosphere, though such opposition characterized earlier battles against the jail and landfill.

But Councilman John Melton, who cast the lone vote against the growth plan, is concerned about such land swaps.

“They’re playing games,” he said. “They are taking ag out of production. You’re losing agriculture.”

Judy Triem, a historian and agricultural preservationist who spoke against the plan Tuesday, said she believes the loss of more farmland represents the continued nibbling away of the region’s cultural and historical heritage.

“It’s the beginning of further incursion,” she said. “There’s no place else like the Santa Clara River Valley. . . . If we keep taking away from it, we’re going to lose that rare quality.”

But Pierre Tada, president of Santa Paula-based Limoneira Co., contends that what is often designated as prime agricultural land by the state actually is not.


The major citrus producer wants to develop 484 acres east of the city that are included in the development plan. More than 80% of that land is of poor soil quality and is considered unsuitable for farming, Tada said.

And few people dispute that the steep and in some parts inaccessible canyons to the north of the city are inappropriate for agriculture.


“We want to plant houses and not plant any more trees,” said Phil Mellott, manager of Calvary Chapel Farms, which has only 100 acres of its 600 acres in production because of the hilly terrain. “It’s been very unprofitable.”

The topography and potential dangers from floods, fires and landslides will also make developing homes in the area a challenge, city officials acknowledge. Yet the economic benefits possible from upscale housing tracts make considering such development worthwhile, Planning Director Joan Kus said.

“We have to decide eventually . . . what we think we can step over and deal with or what environmental concerns are too big to risk even dealing with,” she said. “[Development] could put us in a better financial position.”



Santa Paula will present its plans to the Local Area Formation Commission, the agency that governs proposed municipal annexations, this spring. A formal annexation application, however, is not anticipated until next year, after the city completes updating its General Plan by year’s end. Essentially a blueprint for the future, this document includes the growth plan endorsed Tuesday night and requires extensive public hearings and environmental review. The city estimates that any development is at least two years away.