Long known for its aggressive paving-over of agricultural land, Oxnard is set Tuesday to consider a plan that would limit housing and commercial development on farmland surrounding the city.
The Oxnard City Council may vote on a proposal Tuesday night that would establish an urban growth boundary around the city, beyond which any development would need to be approved by public vote.
In response to growing public support for agricultural land preservation and impending initiative campaigns by Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources activists, the council two months ago directed planning staff to meet with SOAR representatives.
The object was to propose a "city urban restriction boundary" for the county's most populous city, which is largely surrounded by farmland.
City planning staff is recommending that the council approve the boundaries, which closely match the perimeter of the city's sphere of influence, if SOAR backers are able to gather signatures of 10% of the city's registered voters. The sphere of influence represents areas most likely to be annexed by the city. Of the 3,300 acres in Oxnard's sphere of influence, 1,800 acres are farmland.
Councilman Tom Holden supports the proposal, saying that growth limit lines would prevent urban sprawl, preserve agriculture and promote quality development in areas designated for urban uses.
Oxnard would be one of the first cities in Southern California to establish such limits, Holden said, adding that he has received phone calls from urban planning publications asking about the boundary proposal.
"This is an exciting and historical opportunity to improve the quality of life we experience here in Oxnard," he said.
At least two other City Council members are hesitant about the proposal.
"There may be areas outside those limits that would be beneficial for the city to annex," Councilman John Zaragoza said. "We need to protect the farming industry but also be cognizant of all parties and other needs."
Zaragoza said he also wants to hear what the public has to say about the proposal and would like to see the report being prepared by the Agriculture Policy Working Group, a task force of farmers, elected officials and business leaders.
Formed by the county Board of Supervisors last year, the working group met several times and held a series of "town hall" meetings around the county to develop strategies for sustaining agriculture as a viable industry in Ventura County. Its recommendations are expected in the next few weeks.
Councilman Dean Maulhardt questioned whether drawing urban limit lines would help the farming industry.
"There's a lot more to preserving agriculture than passing a law saying farmers must farm," he said. "What is the best way to manage our resources? Those decisions are now in the hands of council members and [county] supervisors. I don't know if it's a good idea to go with a referendum each time there's a proposed zoning change."
Mayor Manuel Lopez and Councilman Bedford Pinkard could not be reached for comment.
SOAR leader Richard Francis, who wrote the city of Ventura's 1995 greenbelt protection law, said he intends to file draft initiatives with city clerks in Oxnard and Moorpark next week. His group has already done so in Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Camarillo and with the county of Ventura.
Filing is the first step toward circulating petitions for signatures. If the group gets signatures of 10% of the registered voters, the initiative would be put on the ballot--unless the City Council votes to adopt the boundaries by ordinance.
Francis, an attorney and former Ventura mayor, said the SOAR campaign will not attempt to place measures on ballots in Ojai, Port Hueneme, Santa Paula or Fillmore. Ojai is long established as a slow-growth town, and Port Hueneme is surrounded by Oxnard, the Navy base and the ocean.
The latter two cities are going through difficult changes in updating their respective general plans, Francis said.
"It's a local discussion that needs a local solution," he said. "Let them hammer it out themselves."
Francis said Oxnard planners and SOAR agreed that two new projects would be included in the urban boundary limits before the limits are considered. The projects are outside the city's current sphere of influence.
The Northwest Golf Course project would bring a golf course and 450 homes to 250 acres of land at the northeast corner of Gonzales Road and Victoria Avenue, building on top of a closed landfill.
The second project, called North Shore at Mandalay Bay, includes a 365-home gated community on 80 acres of sand dunes at 5th Street and Harbor Boulevard. The dunes sit on a buried oil waste dump.
Oxnard public services director Matthew Winegar said the developments would provide much-needed upscale housing and at the same time reclaim valuable sites close to the ocean.
Both Winegar and Francis expressed satisfaction with negotiated boundaries.
"I don't think either side gave up much," Francis said.
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Oxnard Growth Plan
The city of Oxnard is considering new urban growth boundaries, beyond which any future development would require voter approval. But the city wants to include several open-space parcels in such boundaries for possible development. They include: 1) the Northwest Golf Course plan to build 450 homes and a golf course on 250 acres and 2) the North Shore at Mandalay Bay, proposed for 365 homes on 80 acres of sand dunes.