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Proposal for Sailing Center Kept Afloat

Times Staff Writer

Over the protests of homeowners, a split Ventura County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday reaffirmed its commitment to building a boating instruction center at Channel Islands Harbor.

Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to amend an 18-year-old planning document to include the proposed two-story sailing center. Its absence from the harbor’s 1986 public works plan had prompted the California Coastal Commission to postpone the center’s approval.

Two supervisors, frustrated by delays in getting the 20,000-square foot center off the ground, scolded opponents for using environmental arguments to try to block its construction. Several harbor-area residents Tuesday repeated their assertions that herons nesting in nearby trees would be disturbed.

“There has been a marvelous effort to turn this into an environmental issue,” said board Chairman Steve Bennett, who voted for approval along with Supervisors Kathy Long and Judy Mikels. “But it’s hard to think that the building of one building, when herons nest all over the harbor, is an environmental disaster.”

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Long also called the opponents’ arguments “ingenuous.”

Plans call for a boating instruction and safety center owned by Ventura County on the western side of the harbor, near the Whale’s Tale restaurant. A grant from the California Department of Boating and Waterways would pay for most of the $6-million project.

Ventura County, with 22,000 registered boats, is the largest coastal county in the state without a boating and instruction center.

The center is envisioned as a place for the county’s youth to learn how to sail and a hub for a sailing team from Cal State Channel Islands. It would also offer marine biology lessons for area students of all ages, county officials said.

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A banquet hall on the second floor would be available to the public for weddings, anniversaries and parties, bringing in much-needed revenue for the county’s Harbor Department, they say.

But critics, many of them residents, have raised concerns about increased traffic and noise in addition to environmental concerns.

They have pressed hard to move the project to the eastern side of the harbor.

Sailing experts consulted by the county, however, have concluded that the prevailing winds on the east side are too dangerous for beginning sailers.

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Opponents then challenged the project in court, and when it came before the California Coastal Commission in February, they persuaded the commission to block the project, at least until the harbor’s public works plan was amended. Tuesday’s vote fulfilled that procedural step, a majority of supervisors said.

Despite pleas from several speakers, the three supervisors reaffirmed support for the west-side location approved late last year. On Friday, the director of the state Department of Boating and Waterways informed supervisors in a letter that he would not recommend funding a location on the east side of the harbor because of safety considerations.

That prompted an accusation by Supervisor John Flynn, who opposed the project, that county staff had “done something” to solicit the letter. Flynn’s remark brought a sharp rebuke from Bennett.

“Now the contention is this is the greatest conspiracy since the ‘Da Vinci Code,’ ” Bennett said. “We either want the state’s money or we don’t.”

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Supervisor Linda Parks also voted against the project. Parks said it would eliminate too much green space in the harbor and was not sensitive enough to neighbors’ concerns.

Parks floated a compromise that she said would avoid further litigation. Opposition would likely die down, Parks said, if the supervisors agreed to remove the second floor of the boating center and also agreed to shift its location off a 10-foot-by-80-foot strip of grass where residents walk their dogs.

But the board majority said it was too late for a compromise. Any changes now would raise too many questions and possibly bring even more delays, Bennett said.

“We’ve had lots of time for that offer to come forward,” he said.

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