Preservation of Oxnard Farmland Tops Activists’ Resolution List


After fighting a massive farmland development proposal last year, slow-growth proponents here expect agricultural preservation to be the hottest topic of 1998.

That is because open-space advocates across Ventura County plan to force the issue with a ballot initiative giving voters control of farmland development.

In Oxnard, preservationists lined up to support the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources movement months ago. On Super Bowl Sunday, they are planning a barbecue--their first fund-raiser of the coming election year.


“Oxnard should be leading the county,” said attorney Joseph O’Neill, an Oxnard SOAR organizer, “and this county should be leading the state.”

O’Neill said his group plans to pressure the three City Council members up for reelection for clear positions on the issue. The members are Mayor Manuel Lopez and Councilmen Dean Maulhardt and Tom Holden.

Those positions will serve as a political litmus test, he said.

Oxnard preservationists were heartened by the defeat of the Southeast Plan, which called for a hotel, an agricultural theme park and 3,165 homes. The council voiced concern over the project after dozens of residents condemned it for gobbling up 815 acres of farmland and encouraging urban sprawl.

While no project that big is on the drawing board for 1998, some housing plans also would encroach on farmland. The Northwest Golf Course Plan, for instance, would require the city to annex about 250 farm acres for a 454-home subdivision and golf course. That proposal is to come before city officials early this year.

The countywide SOAR initiative, modeled after a new Ventura slow-growth law, would strip elected officials of the power to rezone farmland. Instead, residents would vote on farmland development projects.

Slow-growth activists will have no trouble getting an opinion on SOAR from at least one Oxnard councilman--Dean Maulhardt, a former farmer.


Maulhardt views the measure as unnecessary. He warned that it would tie up cities in court battles for years.

Besides, Oxnard already has sufficient growth controls, Maulhardt contends: the city’s General Plan, along with the scrutiny of proposals by planning commissioners and council members.

“The checks and balances are already there,” he said. “There’s ample opportunity for public input, without this SOAR thing stepping in.”

The four other council members have been less assertive. But this month, they are to begin discussion of another idea aimed at controlling development: urban growth limits.

Backed by Holden, the limits would toughen current restrictions by keeping developers from certain areas in and around the city for many years. In theory, such limits reduce real estate speculation and assure residents that designated areas will remain in open space.

But just where the lines will be drawn and for how many years are questions council members have not addressed. Holden has suggested the entire southeast area at the center of this year’s farmland controversy be declared off-limits, as well as farmland near Ormond Beach.


“The fear is rampant development, urban sprawl, whatever you want to call it,” Holden said. “The bottom line is we need to deal with it.”

Despite calls for slower growth, Oxnard leaders say that some parts of the city are in dire need of new development.

South Oxnard has been mentioned by council members as a neighborhood that will get extra attention in 1998.

The working-class area has been earmarked for several new social programs, including a $4.5-million effort to curtail juvenile crime. In May, the minor league Pacific Suns baseball team will take the field at Oxnard College for their first season in the county. Forty-five home games are scheduled.

But Maulhardt said officials should lure more commercial development to south Oxnard, ensuring jobs for both skilled and unskilled workers.

“The grant is important,” Maulhardt said, referring to the anti-crime program. “But long term, you need new jobs.”


Meanwhile, Mayor Lopez has suggested the city collaborate with Oxnard College on a job training program, part of an ongoing effort to bring city and college officials closer.

To oversee all the new activity, council members expect to appoint a new city manager in the next few weeks. Three finalists were interviewed in early December.

The appointment would end a nearly yearlong search to replace City Manager Tom Frutchey, who was fired after being criticized for his management style.

Councilman John Zaragoza said some of Frutchey’s changes--such as eliminating department head positions to give rank-and-file employees more decision-making power--may face reversal.

“The problem is, employees are confused as to who’s boss,” he said. “There’s really no accountability.”