Hidden Creek Ranch Proposal Reveals a Quality-of-Life Deficit

Patrick Hunter is the mayor of Moorpark. This article is based on his comments to the City Council on July 1

In examining the many elements of the Hidden Creek Ranch proposal, there are undoubtedly a number of benefits this development would bring to our community.

The plan calls for development of one large community park and two smaller neighborhood parks. Two public golf courses are also proposed within the project. An additional fire station site has been identified, as well as sites for the eventual construction of additional school facilities.

This project also includes the development of 365 affordable housing units, which would assist us in reducing the affordable housing deficit in our community.

There are also, unfortunately, a number of serious consequences that would result from the development.

In May 1995, the Moorpark City Council adopted an ordinance designed to preserve and protect the scenic hillsides in and around our beautiful community. With very limited exceptions, the ordinance prohibits grading on slopes in excess of 20%.

According to the environmental impact report certified by the City Council earlier this year, Hidden Creek Ranch would necessitate the mass grading and excavation of 1,460 acres of land, resulting in the movement of nearly 26 million cubic yards of dirt. Of this total, nearly 740 acres, or 51%, of all mass grading would occur on slopes equal to or greater than 20%. Therefore, more than half of all mass grading required for this project is proposed to be exempted from the Moorpark Hillside Management Ordinance.

I find it absolutely inconceivable why our city would spend so much time and money crafting an ordinance designed to preserve and protect a significant natural resource only to permit such a large exemption.

Urban sprawl is less an issue of the number of dwelling units in an individual development proposal than of an overriding philosophy designed to address comprehensive land-use planning. I believe urban sprawl and uncontrolled residential growth represent the greatest threats to our exceptional quality of life and that they severely jeopardize our ability to continue to enjoy a semirural lifestyle.

In July 1996, Ventura County, its 10 cities and the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) formally updated the Guidelines for Orderly Development. The intent of these guidelines, originally adopted nearly 30 years ago, is to "clarify the relationship between the cities and the county with respect to urban planning, serve to facilitate a better understanding regarding development standards and fees and identify the appropriate governmental agency responsible for making determinations on land-use requests." This document states that "these guidelines are a unique effort to encourage 'urban development' to occur within cities and to enhance the regional responsibility of county government."

According to the guidelines, development should be considered urban if it meets any of the following three criteria:

* It would require the establishment of new community sewer systems or the significant expansion of existing sewer systems.

* It would result in creation of residential lots less than two acres in area.

* It would result in establishment of commercial or industrial uses that are neither agriculture-related nor related to the production of mineral resources.

The Hidden Creek Ranch proposal, of course, meets all three criteria.

These guidelines further enumerate a number of policies under which urban development should occur. Policy 1 states that "urban development should occur, whenever and wherever practical, within incorporated cities which exist to provide a full range of municipal services and are responsible for urban land-use planning."

Policy 2 states, "The cities and the county should strive to produce general plans, ordinances and policies that will fulfill these guidelines."

At varying stages of application, there are 3,478 single-family and / or multifamily dwelling units already proposed for construction within Moorpark's city limits. Using state housing estimates of 3.3 people per household, a total of nearly 11,500 new residents are expected to be generated from these proposed developments alone.

From a comprehensive planning perspective, I believe it is far more prudent and reasonable, and that it represents better public policy, to first assimilate these new residents into our community and determine how they will impact our infrastructure, including schools, libraries, and other public services.

In May 1992, Moorpark updated its General Plan.

During the process, the city identified 17 objectives from the General Land Use Element applicable to the Hidden Creek Ranch proposal.

Goal No. 11 seeks to "identify and encourage the preservation of viable agriculture resources in the city and its area of interest." Goal No. 14 seeks to "establish land uses and development intensities which are compatible with scenic and natural resources and which encourage environmental preservation." Finally, goal No. 15 seeks to "maintain a high-quality environment that contributes to and enhances the quality of life and protects public health, safety and welfare."

Although the Hidden Creek Ranch application may meet or even exceed the other goals established by the city of Moorpark for the project, I believe it falls far short of satisfying these three very important objectives.

Surprisingly, these three goals are not among the applicant's stated objectives for this development. Consequently, I believe this renders the Hidden Creek Ranch proposal inconsistent with the city's General Plan.

Before the City Council could approve Hidden Creek Ranch, we were required to adopt a document entitled "Findings of Fact and Statement of Overriding Consideration." This document identified a number of significant, adverse environmental impacts that would result from the development.

Many of those impacts--31 to be exact--could be mitigated to a level considered less than significant. However, eight separate, unavoidable adverse environmental impacts simply could not be mitigated to a level considered less than significant. They would remain throughout the life of the project.

If the City Council believed that the benefits of this development outweighed these environmental impacts, a determination could be made that the effects were considered acceptable.

The impacts include the loss of landfill space, the depletion of precious water supplies, light pollution and its adverse effect on the Moorpark College Observatory, the significant loss of "viewshed," the loss of prime agricultural land, the elimination of more than 1,500 acres of habitat currently supporting numerous wildlife species and the potential of affecting or eliminating nearly 5,400 live oak trees.

These are adverse and unavoidable environmental impacts that cannot be mitigated to a level less than significant. In addition, there are 31 additional significant impacts that can be mitigated after implementation of the project design features and mitigation measures.

The project's Achilles's heel is traffic. Significant public testimony was received on the effects of traffic in the Campus Park area.

It is obvious that we are at a crossroads in this county. Although we express a strong desire to retain and preserve natural open space and agricultural land, we send and receive inconsistent messages.

Now, we find ourselves seriously contemplating the placement of a major highway through Happy Camp Canyon Regional Park. This is not only growth inducing, but also overlooks the importance of public open space and parkland to our quality of life. This, too, represents poor public policy.

Significant testimony also was received from residents who said that Moorpark is only interested in approving Hidden Creek Ranch because of the large amount of money it would mean to the city treasury. It is extremely unfortunate that money seems to be an acceptable mitigation measure for a host of impacts related to development projects, specifically traffic-related problems.

It was the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who said, "The money you have gives you freedom--the money you pursue enslaves you."

I believe strongly that there are things in this world more important than money, namely quality of life.

Although I believe that this project may have a future in our community, I do not believe that now is that time.

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