Project's Approval by Council Was No Rush to Judgment

Bernardo Perez is a member of the Moorpark City Council

Recently the Moorpark City Council approved the Hidden Creek Ranch specific plan, a process that took more than eight years and involved hundreds of hours of public workshops, meetings and hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council.

It is the most rigorously studied project Moorpark has ever processed. Literally thousands of pages of documents were produced, circulated to the public, examined, reexamined and responded to.

Was this a rush to judgment, as some claim? Let me tell you why it was not.

Because I was a council member in 1989 when Moorpark's General Plan update process began, I closely followed this project for the entire eight years. Consequently, I felt well-prepared to make my decision when the council voted.

Large, master-planned projects always result in trade-offs between the anticipated benefits and adverse impacts. The job of an elected official is to weigh the issues as fairly and carefully as possible and then vote in the manner that will best serve the community. By community, I mean not only those who live here now but also new families, senior citizens, young adults and newborns who will live in Moorpark in the future.

My study of the project indicated there would be many significant benefits as well as safeguards to the community. Among the benefits:

* Public open space--More than 2,000 acres of private property would be dedicated as public open space at no cost to taxpayers. When combined with adjacent Happy Camp County Regional Park, Moorpark residents would have more than 5,700 acres of public land. This buffer would guarantee that Moorpark never becomes another San Fernando Valley.

* Parks and schools--Hidden Creek Ranch would dedicate and build three new parks, one more than 25 acres, with improvements costing $7.5 million. In addition, neighborhood recreation facilities would be built by the home builders. The developers would build two elementary schools, contributing more than $20 million to the Moorpark Unified School District.

* Public services--Hidden Creek Ranch would be required to pay a community services fee of $4,800 per dwelling to cover the cost of providing services to residents.

Also, the developers would be required to pay the city more than $12.8 million in traffic mitigation fees. The City Council intends to use these fees for the design and construction of the Highway 118 bypass--the only way to prevent 4,000 trucks a day from traveling through our city on Los Angeles Avenue.

In addition, more than $22.5 million in development fees would be paid, to be used for any purpose the city chose. People have told me they don't want Moorpark to grow as big as Simi Valley or Thousand Oaks, and I agree with them. But they also ask me why we don't have a better library, or a teen center, or a public swimming complex. These funds would help me address those quality-of-life questions in a positive way.

Hidden Creek Ranch developers would build 365 affordable homes for lower-income families, which include young couples looking to buy their first home as well as entry-level professionals such as teachers, firefighters, police officers and others. An additional 320 homes would be designed to meet the needs of seniors.

There have been complaints that the project does not conform to the city's hillside grading ordinance, as well as other goals and policies of the city's General Plan. These complaints are unfounded and in many cases have grossly distorted what the hillside ordinance says.

A review of governing policies clearly shows that Hidden Creek Ranch is not urban sprawl. Rather, it is consistent with the guidelines for orderly development, conforms to criteria of the Local Agency Formation Commission and meets the General Plan's goals and objectives.

LAFCO approved annexation of Hidden Creek Ranch into Water Works District No. 1 before the city incorporated, more than 15 years ago. No expansion of the community waste water treatment system is required. Hidden Creek Ranch was included in the Moorpark Unified School District's boundaries years ago as well. Clearly, this property was envisioned as part of the city of Moorpark.

Another alleged fault of Hidden Creek Ranch is that it fails to preserve viable agricultural resources. First, the development is mostly a dry hillside cattle ranch, not farmland. Of 4,300 acres, only 118 acres are classified as "prime"--and those 118 acres belong to 10 different owners. For this and other reasons, the Farm Bureau Advisory Board is on record as having no objection to the project.

Opponents of Hidden Creek Ranch grudgingly admit that a project will be built someday on this land. Yet they fail to mention that Hidden Creek Ranch would carefully avoid the most sensitive habitats and preserve more than 2,000 acres. The project is compatible with scenic and natural resources and would encourage environmental preservation.

Arguably the single most important element of the development agreement is the key role Hidden Creek Ranch would play in constructing the 118 bypass. Without the project, this road will never be built. With it, we will have one-half to two-thirds of the money we need to build it. The $12.5 million and the planning and implementation efforts of the developer would go a long way toward attracting county, state and federal matching funds.

Removing most of these trucks from the middle of our town would also help remove an artificial barrier dividing our community. What better way to enhance our quality of life and protect public health, safety and welfare than to make downtown more accessible and safer?

Approval of Hidden Creek Ranch has not been a rush to judgment. It has been a laborious, time-consuming and necessarily rigorous planning process. The result is a plan that incorporates a fair and responsible balance of the issues, concerns, goals and objectives of the community.

It might be nice to think that we could stop change from occurring, for Moorpark to remain as it was when I moved here 28 years ago. Most of our shopping was done out of town--and jobs were elsewhere too.

Moorpark is a highly desirable and safe place to live because of the diligent efforts of many people. My goal is to continue to plan and work for the future so that as we grow we do so in a managed and economically sound manner, allowing others to experience firsthand the charm, beauty and character of the Moorpark that I chose for my family 28 years ago.

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