Choices Are Difficult When Issue Is 'Home'

Bill Overend is editor of the Ventura County Edition of The Times

I've been eyeing the For Sale signs lately on the houses in my east Ventura neighborhood, thinking about moving into something a little bigger. There aren't many of them, however, and they go pretty fast. So you have to be on your toes about these things.

My son and I have lived in our current house for the last nine years. He's 12 now, and he has a lot to say about things like this. Because of that, I'm probably more restricted in my range of options than most house hunters. Essentially, I'm limited to an area close to the house of a boy named Nick, who is my son's best friend these days.

Anybody looking for a new home in Ventura County faces some of the same obstacles, however. We live in an area of limited housing stock and relatively high prices compared to housing costs in the rest of the country and the state.

Prices are going up again, and they seem to be going up fast. One house around the corner from us just sold for many thousands of dollars over its probable appraisal value. If the sale goes through, appraisals all over the place will be shooting up.

You think about things like this a little more when you're out beating the bushes. My neighborhood happens to be an area of 30-year-old housing stock, still pretty much surrounded by agricultural fields. There have been a few new developments since I moved in and more houses are being added now, but the overall pace of growth remains slow.

It starts me thinking even more about this year's SOAR initiatives at the county and local levels. They are the political rage this season, and a lot of us who are on the fence will have to make our minds up about the issue before November, assuming the SOAR petitions pass muster.

We are all caught with some difficult choices, it seems to me. On the one hand, most of us share a vision of Ventura County as a green sort of pastoral land, with running rivers and plentiful fields of berries and flowers. Protecting the environment and keeping rampant development at bay are two of our strongest countywide goals.

At the same time, however, we seem to have done a pretty good job so far, all things considered, with the restrictions and the regulations already in place. There is a nagging question about why we really need some new and far more stringent set of rules that will pretty much lock us down on options well into the coming century.

Like a lot of Ventura County parents, I have a suspicion that my son may very well want to spend his life in this beautiful place where he has grown up. One of the most remarkable findings in the polls we have conducted over the years here is that most of our children don't want to leave this place. They aren't really drawn to the big cities the way so many other children are. They like it here, and they want to stay.

So we all have to worry about what kind of a place there will be for them and for their children. Such worries are partly the reason for the SOAR campaign. But they are also the explanation for the concerns of many people about adequate housing stock and a sufficient job base in future years.

The facts are that this county needs to worry about protecting the environment and keeping a strong agricultural base in future decades. But we need to be worrying just as much about the seemingly impossible balancing act of also providing adequate housing that our children can afford and good jobs that can enable them to lead happy lives here without having to flee simply out of economic necessity.

SOAR is a kind of catalyst for us all in this collective thinking process. There are still many months before November. If SOAR qualifies for the ballot, we will all benefit from the most thorough dialogue possible on all the pros and cons that surround the issue. Explaining those issues and setting the debate in a proper factual context will be among the most important tasks for our reporters as the next election nears.

Meanwhile, I'm taking my time on things. The right house will pop up one of these days. Who knows, maybe Nick will move away to Toledo and the search will be that much easier. The bottom line for me is that I want it to be just as easy for my son in another 20 years or so if he decides to stick around this pretty corner of the world.

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