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2010 Cañada Larga Campaign
Ventura Council votes to possibly annex 800 acres

By Kevin Clerici, Ventura County Star

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Despite stiff opposition, the Ventura City Council on Monday decided to include some 800 privately owned acres in the Cañada Larga area for possible annexation and open the largely undeveloped valley to large equestrian ranches or executive homes.

It was a narrow decision, with the council members splitting 4-3 in favor of adding the proposal to the city’s General Plan after more than two hours of public testimony, with a vast majority of speakers urging the council to avoid altering the picturesque canyon four miles north of town.

Speakers cast the valley floor as a critical wildlife habitat that has been declared a severe fire hazard because of its single access road. They argued that developing the area would be costly at a time when the city can least afford it, promote sprawl and is a divisive issue in a community still recovering from bitter battles over hillside development.

But the council members who favored it — Christy Weir, Mike Tracy, Neal Andrews and Jim Monahan — saw an opportunity for greater control and the possibility of large, two-plus acre executive homesteads. In April, a similar vote on whether to include annexing the canyon in a long-range growth plan failed on a 3-3 deadlock without Monahan’s involvement. On Monday, Monahan broke the tie.

The county Local Agency Formation Commission has the final say on annexations.

Tracy tried to temper concerns of over-development by adding conditions that environmental studies would evaluate no more than 100 home sites in the area and that a “significant percent” of the total acreage annexed be dedicated for public access for various purposes.

“I see this as a chance to add value to the North Avenue area, open public access and add some much-needed (executive) homes,” he said.

Weir echoed the need for executive homes, which she said were needed to lure the types of big businesses that provide high-wage jobs and better retailers that rely on a city’s demographics. She stressed that studying the area was prudent because it would provide needed answers — such as potential costs for infrastructure and safety and other city services — and did not grant pre-approval.

“There are some things I know, and some things I still need to know so we can make a wise decision,” she told a largely full council chambers. “We were elected to make decisions that benefit the city on the long term. This is not about benefiting one landowner. This is about what is in the best interests of the city.”

Mayor Bill Fulton and Councilmen Carl Morehouse and Brian Brennan voted against the proposal.

Before the vote, Fulton described the controversial canyon as one of few issues the normally congenial council had “deep disagreement” about, and he cautioned that its inclusion would be costly, likely spur litigation and, worst of all, rekindle growth strife in the community. It also would distract from redeveloping the city’s west end, which virtually everyone agrees is paramount, he said.

Fulton added that the hundreds of people who helped craft the city’s 2005 General Plan agreed the canyon should be left out of the city, and its development was a low priority.

Shull “Buzz” Bonsall Jr., whose family owns Rancho Cañada Larga, a 6,500-acre cattle ranch around Cañada Larga Road, said much of the lower grassy canyon would work well for executive homes and “rural, equestrian type estates,” as well as help alleviate flooding issues in the area.

The inclusion of Cañada Larga in the General Plan will require additional staff time and environmental studies, expected to be completed in early 2011, officials said. That could push the city price tag far beyond earlier estimates of $350,000.

A coalition of groups in opposition includes: The Sierra Club; SOAR; the Ventura County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation; Wishtoyo Foundation; VCCool; Ventura Audubon Society; Ventura Coastkeeper; and Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation.

They say the area’s remoteness from services, schools and shopping would increase traffic trips and air pollutants along Highway 33 and Ventura Avenue. Potential wildfire, flooding and mudslide hazards also exist in the area.

Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett also attended the meeting, saying the land was better off under current county growth-control protections. Annexing the land into the city would strip those protections, he said. And because the Cañada Larga area is used primarily as grazing land for cattle and not agriculture, its development would not require approval of Ventura voters, just the council.

The canyon area now will join unincorporated land along North Ventura Avenue to be studied for possible annexation and future development, including a proposal to build a mix of commercial uses, a possible business park or limited residential development near the Brooks Institute campus.

© 2010 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation
Ventura, CA 93003

(805) 665-3820

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