Supervisors to Urge Legislator to Advance Open-Space Bill

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A bitterly divided Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to send a letter to Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson supporting legislation to create a Ventura County land-conservation program, even as a majority conceded that the bill is all but dead for this year.

Supervisors John Flynn, Frank Schillo and Steve Bennett agreed to ask Jackson to move the Assembly bill forward. The bill was not supported by their colleagues, Judy Mikels and Kathy Long.

But Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), who recently withdrew the bill after Mikels raised concerns over its wording, has said she will not back it unless the board unanimously supports it. If the assemblywoman doesn't move to revive the bill by Friday, it cannot be considered until next year's session.

Jackson could not be reached for comment after the board's vote late Tuesday.

Flynn, however, said three votes should be sufficient and that Jackson's position shows a "mistrust" of the supervisors. Flynn also condemned Mikels for opposing the legislation after she had earlier voted twice to move it forward.

"Ms. Mikels should have said from the very beginning that she was opposed to this, but she did not," Flynn said. "It was an irresponsible action, an unprofessional action."

Mikels, however, said her earlier votes were made on the condition that amendments to the bill's wording would be included. Mikels wanted agricultural land targeted for conservation, along with other open spaces.

Those changes were not made because Jackson was unwilling to alter the bill. Mikels suggested it could return to the Legislature next year after county residents are polled to determine their support for an open-space district.

"If it is the right thing to do today, it's the right thing to do on a two-year bill," Mikels said.

The proposed legislation authorizes the formation of a district that would buy up Ventura County land for permanent preservation. The revenue mechanism to make purchases would be determined after the board conducted a poll to gauge the public's willingness to be taxed.

Flynn and Schillo said voters overwhelmingly supported creation of the district two years ago in an advisory ballot measure and that supervisors must now follow through. Flynn accused Mikels of trying to torpedo the idea because she, along with Long, opposed that measure.

But Long said she, too, believes that the issue can be revived next year after the concerns of supervisors and residents have been answered.

Farmers are worried that they would be forced to sell their land--although the legislation specifically states that all sales would be voluntary--and there is confusion about how the district would raise money to pay for land purchases. Rex Laird, executive director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, told supervisors his organization would not take a position on the bill until the public has been polled.

Laird said the debate has exposed continued resentment by farmers over SOAR growth-control laws passed in November 1998 that restrict development of their property without voter approval.

"We need to go through some healing in this community in the post-SOAR era," Laird said. "The votes happened two years ago, but there are still some real hard feelings in the community."

Bennett, who co-wrote the SOAR laws before being elected supervisor, said he voted to send the letter to make sure Jackson knows that Ventura County is interested in forming an open-space district.

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