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Council Poised to Back SOAR Alternative

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Heading into its first full discussion on restricting the city’s growth, a majority of the City Council appears ready to support a ballot measure competing with a farmland preservation initiative in November.

Council members Chris Evans and Debbie Teasley tonight will formally present a trio of local measures designed to answer the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiative.

One measure would offer a less restrictive set of city boundaries than SOAR. Another would pay for purchasing open space. A third would pay for any legal challenge to growth limits.

If approved, the two council members plan to draft the measures and bring them back to the council next month.

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Mayor Pat Hunter declined to comment Tuesday, saying he had not had a chance to study the proposal. Yet the approach has already garnered support from the remaining two council members, John Wozniak and Bernardo Perez.

SOAR backers say they have gathered an estimated 80% of the signatures needed to qualify the measure on the November ballot and have no plans to stop.

“We’re not going to wait for them to draft something,” said Roseann Mikos, who heads the Moorpark SOAR committee. “We’re moving forward and plan to turn our signatures in.”

The SOAR initiative would freeze Moorpark’s boundaries at the current city limits.

The less-restrictive measure would include a proposed expansion area in the city’s General Plan. That would include the Hidden Creek or Messenger project planned for land that now lies outside Moorpark’s borders.

Both measures would require voter approval to grow beyond these boundaries.

After initial reservations, Perez said he now supports the city’s alternative measure.

“I think the choices would be better seen by the electorate if there were a competing initiative,” he said.

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Wozniak agreed that the alternative sounded reasonable.

If a majority of the council agrees, the city could add the measure directly to the ballot without a lengthy petition drive.

In addition to the SOAR alternative, the city might consider adding two tax measures to the November ballot.

One would tax residents to reimburse Moorpark if it has to go to court to defend either SOAR or the city measure, called the Green Belt Preservation initiative. The other would tax residents to purchase open space they want to preserve.

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Wozniak said he hasn’t made up his mind on the tax measure for legal costs because he has some unanswered questions.

“How do you set this up?” he asked. “What type of tax is it? Do other communities do this? Is this the first time it’s ever been done? Legally can we do something like this?”

Perez originally opposed the legal-fee measure, saying he wanted to pursue again the park assessment tax that failed last year. He also said the measure could be perceived as a scare tactic. But after some thought, he has changed his stance.

“If SOAR succeeds, there’s no doubt in my mind it will be challenged, and it will be challenged on good grounds and we will need legal funds,” he said. “So I would regrettably have to support it.”

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Mikos countered that the SOAR initiative poses no greater litigation threat than any other matter brought before the city. The measure, she said, is being used as a way to scare the public. “And I don’t think the public will be fooled.

“Cities all have the possibility of being sued for whatever they approve or whatever they deny . . .,” Mikos said. “So that’s all part of the city budget to account for what might happen.”

Perez and Wozniak were divided on the issue of a tax measure to purchase green space. Perez did not budge from his stance to reject this measure, because he said the city had already done a good job of saving open space.

Wozniak said the public has to have a mechanism for buying it.

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“That’s the only way to keep open space,” he said.


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