Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Back to the Bad Old Days?

Last night, after more than 3 hours of debate, the City Council voted 4-3 to add the floor of the Canada Larga Valley into the North Avenue Community Plan Area. I voted against this proposal, mostly because I think it will make it far more difficult to accomplish the many important community goals on the Westside and in the North Avenue that we all agree on. Frankly, I am afraid that this vote portends the return of the “bad old days” on land use and development in Ventura.

A little background: Back in April, the City Council green-lighted new community plans for the North Avenue and the Westside, as well as initial work to create a combined redevelopment project area for the entire North Avenue/Westside area. At that time, the city attorney concluded that Councilmember Monahan had a conflict because of his property holdings on Ventura Avenue and could not vote. When it came time to decide whether to put the Canada Larga floor into the plan area, the vote was 3-3 with Mr. Monahan sitting out it. Under our rules, the proposal failed, but it was obvious at that time that there were 4 votes on the council to include Canada Larga in the plan.

More recently the Fair Political Practices Commission and our city attorney determined that Mr. Monahan did not have a conflict and could vote on the matter. Not wanting to hold things up, I scheduled the item for last night.

We heard 40 speakers, but the truth of the matter is that we didn’t really have to. When we took the vote at 11 p.m. it was 4-3. Nobody had changed their mind based on listening to the speakers. To her credit, Councilmember Christy Weir said that, while she is conceptually in favor of executive housing in Canada Larga, she will be open-minded about whether the cost of infrastructure and police and fire service would be too high for the city. While Deputy Mayor Mike Tracy did not make quite the same comment, I think he’s somewhat open-minded too.

I was opposed to including Canada Larga before and I am even more opposed now – not only because I think homes up there are a bad idea, but because I believe the Canada Larga issue will be divisive and a huge distraction over the next couple of years as we move forward with the North Avenue/Westside efforts. Here are a few things that will now happen as a result of last night’s vote:

-- The environmental impact report for the North Avenue plan, which the City is paying for, will become far more time-consuming, complicated, and expensive than before. This will, at the very least, show things down.

-- The inevitable lawsuits from environmental groups will become much harder to defend. I think some environmental groups might sue anyway – they don’t like the tentative inclusion of agricultural land and some other parcels owned by the Bonsall family along the Ventura Avenue – but those lawsuits would be much simpler and easier to resolve if we did not include Canada Larga in the discussion.

-- It will become much harder to get Ventura County to sign off of the whole thing, especially the redevelopment project area. The redevelopment component is important because redevelopment funds from the Brooks/Petrochem project could be used for improvements down on the Avenue. But the County may oppose redevelopment and could even sue us. With Canada Large in, it’s much more likely that the County will hold up the redevelopment effort.

-- I don’t think we’re going to get this annexation past the Local Agency Formation Commission – the county agency that approves boundary changes. If LAFCO doesn’t approve this, then we’ll have to sue them to get it, and I can’t see us winning that lawsuit.

-- I’m pretty sure that our local environmentalists will run a ballot measure to make development of Canada Larga subject to a vote.

There you go: All kinds of costs, delays, lawsuits, and maybe ballot measures that will make it much more difficult – maybe impossible – for us to move forward with all the things we unanimously agree on in revitalizing the Westside and the North Avenue. All those those good things we all agree on are being held hostage in order to try to force through a Canada Larga development that we are deeply divided on and have never in the past allowed to move forward. Not a good idea.

Beyond that, I fear that that the whole Canada Larga thing will take us back to the “bad old days” of the growth wars in Ventura – where developers engage in game-playing to try to get four votes, people on either side of an issue call each other names, and everything comes to a halt because it’s so contentious.

Ventura was riven by this stuff for 30 years. Recently, all of us on the city council have worked hard to put those days behind us. We passed our infill-first General Plan in 2005, we eliminated the dysfunctional Residential Growth Management Program, and we cleaned up the development review process.

This is real progress, and I thank all six of my colleagues for working collaboratively to make that progress happen. Do we really want to go back to the bad old days?

I certainly don’t, but last night I already felt that we were back in the bad old days. Three examples:

-- Landowner Buzz Bonsall and one of his allies withheld their speaker cards for two hours and put them in at the last minute, at 10 o’clock, after all the other 40 speakers had spoken. Buzz discussed his proposed project a little – but only after everybody else had spoken when they had no opportunity to respond. Buzz had the right to do this, but, I’m sorry, that just seems like pointless game-playing to me. If this is any indication of how the relationship between the city and the property owner is going to go here, I’m not optimistic.

-- Councilmembers Monahan and Morehouse got into a heated debate on the dais about why Cal State had not been built here in Ventura on Taylor Ranch -- something that happened, I think, when Ronald Reagan was president. Can we finally get over that one?

-- Councilmember Monahan and former Mayor Richard Francis, who spoke as a member of the public, got into a heated back-and-forth as well, with Mr. Monahan accusing Mr. Francis (semi-jokingly, I think) of having a hand in the earlier decision to rule that he was conflicted out of the vote. (Mr. Francis brought the house down by responding that if it was up to him, Mr. Monahan would never get to vote.)

The back-and-forth between Monahan and Francis was wonderful political theater 20 years ago, when they served consecutively as mayor, the town was deeply divided over growth, and I used watch the council meetings sitting on my sofa. But we’ve made great progress in the last few years – generally speaking, we’ve left those days behind and moved forward together as a community.

I, for one, don’t want to see the bad old days come back again. It may be good political theater, but it’s only going to tear our town apart.


  1. I could not agree with you more. Inclusion of Canada Larga will mean spending scarce funds now in hopes for highly speculitive future "benifits", wasted energy that could go toward a good Westside/Northend plan and lots of questions that will need to be answered about who benefits by this decision.

  2. Thank you, Bill, for laying this out for readers to get your perspective about Canada Larga development and what went down at last night's meeting.

    I do think we need to remember what happened during those long ago Reagan years. If we don't want the bad old days to come back, we have to understand what they were about and how to move forward. There are a lot of people around these days who weren't back then and have no idea about these various debates.

    best, gwendolyn alley

  3. Bill:

    If there is a new rule that the mayor no longer asks if there is anyone else who has not spoken yet and wishes to, at the end of the public comment period, please publish it. The cards are not superior to the First Amendment, you will remember. They are to facilitate it.

    I was the second to the last person to which you refer. I made up my mind near the end simply because I was uncertain I was going to stay for that long (near 11 pm) (!) and frankly the acrimoniuous threats and nasty comments from the persons opposed to JUST STUDYING the property made me uncomfortable. Dick Francis and I are friends and professional colleagues, and he sat down next to me in the chamber. We disagree without being disagreeable, which we recommend.

    Will you help me raise the money to STUDY the restoration and preservation of the 180-year-old Mission Aqueduct at the mouth of Canada Larga Canyon? I'd like to enlist some aqueduct engineering firms to help, financially and logistically.

    My larger point, that control of Canada Larga Creek needs to be accomplished and therefore THIS STUDY is necessary, may be lost in the translation.


    Kioren Moss

  4. Thank you Bill, this was a wonderful post. Hopefully posts like this one will keep the community on track and not at each other's throats.
    Ventura has a lot more pressing needs than more homes on the outskirts. The mid-town area is a shambles and badly in need of some creative re-visioning.

  5. hey Mayor--did you see the monument to the aqueduct that BUZ BONSALL had erected near his property?

    That'sd MUCH more than Ventura has done for this unique piece of history (oh yeah, you put a chain-link fence around it--stay classy, Ventura ;~}

  6. Bill, you have my email address. I would like to get a better understanding of the definition and the meaning of "the bad old days", and further the dates distinguishing bad from others. Would not the issue of the costs of infrastructure/police/fire be off set by the development costs and increased tax base? If not, why is any development appropriate, and why would this development not a be a financial benefit? You criticize Mr. Bonsell for placing a speaker card late during the comment period. You cannot understand the frustration of a speaker hearing, after their three minute comment period, statements that are not founded in fact from following speakers, and not having the opportunity to rebut. This is a constant at the council meetings. And do not believe that the speaker cards are not sorted following being submitted. Mr. Bonsall knows that, I believe that as well. So, it is. As far as developments: food is grown in the in the flatland areas where row crops are best suited. Orchards can be developed in the hillsides. And in Ventura the higher hills can support cattle, although not on an ideal basis. Where have residential developments traditionally been approved, in the flatland areas where row crops previously existed. Why, the lesser costs associated with developing flat areas verses hillsides. Now groups don't want their views disrupted by homes on the hillsides. There has to be a better plan, one that is more sustainable. Your right, the well financed special interest groups and the county will not make this easy.

    John Whitman

  7. I agree with Kioren - we need the study. I know people will say study putty all they do is take time and money and they are right sometimes. This WILL have long term affects on Ventura's future so lets check it out and not let the extremes on each side rush us either way. As a long time Ventura realtor, I am a strong believer in property rights but also that the land be used for its reasonable best use for all the dynamics involved. Sometimes private land owners ARE the best stewards for this type of land and its issues. Yes it will take some focus off the Brook USA developement and is not an infill type project either. I do have the fear that if we don't do some annexing now that the pressure will be so great 20 years from now that will be pushed to Canada and be a much higher density developement (with geo and topo constraints). So a dang study is needed.

  8. Bill, That area was about 5 feet under water during the major flood of 2005. If they try to put an industrial park between the Brooks and the Water Treatment Plant, it will be completely wiped out the next big El Nino season. The canyon is too narrow for the amount of water that collects in the back country and has nowhere to go but to the Ventura River via that creek area. This is a major hazard and could result in death and destruction. I'm not trying to be dramatic, I'm telling you I saw it first hand! The homes backing to the freeway at the Valley Vista tract, the water level got so high, many homes flooded. If you look now, many of the homes backing to that creek have built block walls to prevent future flooding. If you need some ammunition, look at the flood photos and damage from that area from 2005. Present it to the council.It should stop any notion of development in that area. It's similar to Matilija Canyon in Ojai, a problem area anytime there is a storm. They haven't allowed additional growth in that area and they shouldn't in this area either. Thanks, Tom in Foster Park.

  9. Bravo Jim Monahan and the other council members who support responsible growth and a fair not slanted agenda. Get out of the tax and spend left wing mind set croaking this county. You sound like a coward when you mention opposition from the county. When Bennett and his ilk are gone (soon I hope) what excuse will you Morehouse and Brennen use?

  10. What's at question really are several things. Why did Buzz really buy the Canada Larga rancho in the first place more than 20 years ago? He claims he's this steward of the land type of guy. My opinion: He's not. He's been trying to profit it off it and develop it for years of which he hasn't been successful now has he? How can he be after he's had one cockamamie idea after another to develop up there over the years he's owned it it? How can an alleged steward of the land be granted a hall pass for being a steward of the Ventura backcounty when he's tried to make a buck off it and develop it?

    I can see it now. He gets this rammed through, and eventually over this century long after most of us are dead. You'll see development coming in all the way around from Two Trees and East End off Foothill Rd and connecting into Canada Larga. Is that all of us native Venturans see and envision for our future? We have been fortunate that since Ventura was created we've never seen development behind the city that strecthes back over 100+ years. Don't believe me. Go back there and see what you see, go for a long hike that takes all day if your in shape to do that. Thats right no development because people smarter, wiser and more loyal to Venturans from decades and over a century past have protected it from people like Bonsall and other characters.

    By developing the Westside and North Ventura now. What that means really to me is that you took a small beautiful city over the last 10-15 years and allowed development in place of orange and citrus groves in East End Ventura. Therefore swelling our tiny poulation all in the name of raising revenue and taxes for the City. Hey I guess that worked out pretty good for you nitkoonpoops at city hall, manager, council, planning department and of course fat cat developers and builders who thought the ride would go on forever. Guess what your real estate bubble collapsed, values of property dropped and guess what so did all of that alleged tax revenue you thought would float the city for allowing development in East End. Awww... you guys are so smart aren't you with your fancy MBA's most of you moved here at some point and really aren't Native Venturans. That's why you when you look around the city and your in a budget crisis you over extended city budgets by gambling that if you develop you make money off of property taxes. More people, sell houses more taxes, more sales taxes for goods purchased blah blah. Look where that got us. Many more thousands of people and a closed fire station? That genius plan worked didn't? Now I want to take you back to your grand ideas of developing North Ventura Ave you still haven't learned your lessons yet have you?

  11. Buzz didn't buy the ranch 35 years ago when he was about 20. His father did. The ranch is 6,500 acres. It is adjacent to the City's sphere. It should be studied.


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