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Simi Valley City Council to Weigh Joining Forces With SOAR

Faced with surging popular support for growth limits, city officials want to take part in drafting an open-space preservation measure proposed by activists.

Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton is planning to ask the City Council to discuss the initiative and consider sending a draft of it to the city attorney’s office for review.

Stratton said he believes city officials should have the chance to comment on the initiative because it seems likely to make it onto the ballot--with or without city involvement.

Stratton made the suggestion after he met with growth-control advocate Richard Francis at the Agriculture Policy Working Group’s town hall meeting in Simi Valley on Thursday night.

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Francis is a leading member of Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, which is backing a proposed ballot measure to preserve farmland in the county.

The initiative, based in part on the city of Ventura’s 1995 greenbelt protection law, would establish urban limit lines beyond which any proposed development would need voter approval.

Francis and other SOAR members want to enact this kind of law to govern growth within Ventura County cities as well. Only Ventura and Thousand Oaks have such laws.

In recent weeks, activists in Simi Valley have joined the movement, organizing a petition drive to put a similar measure for the city on the November ballot.

For Stratton, the prospect is not alarming.

“What SOAR is proposing is not really unreasonable,” Stratton said. “As far as the city is concerned, we wouldn’t reject it out of hand.”

Council members Paul Miller and Sandi Webb agreed, but Webb expressed her concern that such a law would limit property rights, which she believes are already heavily restricted by zoning ordinances.

“It’s not fair to subject a landowner’s basic rights to a popular vote,” Webb said. “Property rights are part of the foundation of our Constitution.”

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Mayor Pro Tem Bill Davis questioned whether the city needed a growth-limit law because of existing ordinances restricting development on hillsides and housing allotments.

“I’m not sure if it would be an advantage to us one way or the other,” Davis said.

Simi Valley Councilwoman Barbara Williamson was not available for comment.

If SOAR volunteers gather enough signatures, the City Council could adopt the initiative as law, and it would carry all the legal weight of an initiative passed by popular vote.

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Chances are good that will happen, according to Miller.

“SOAR will probably strike a resonant chord with Simi Valley residents,” he said, citing voter support for growth-control measures in the past.

Francis, an attorney and former mayor of Ventura, said that outcome would be a win-win for everybody.

“We would do the legwork and gather the signatures, which would be a clear indication of public support. And the city could save the money it costs to put on an election,” he said.

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The Simi Valley chapter of SOAR is already circulating petitions and stumping their cause on city streets. Group membership is at 50 and is expected to grow at its first organizational meeting, scheduled for Feb. 10, according to member Kevin Conville.

Earlier this week, the Camarillo City Council embraced the SOAR plan and is working with Francis on an initiative tailored to the city’s needs.


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