At first glance, Ormond Beach appears to be the last place one would want to put a resort.
The stenches of sewage and industry mount as the strand's only access by car--two-lane Perkins Road--passes the city's wastewater treatment plant, an oil industry supply company, a paper mill and an aluminum recycling plant with a dumping pond that has spawned suits from the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the California Coastal Commission and Ventura County.
So much damage has been done to surrounding wetlands, City Councilwoman Dorothy Maron says, that they now look "like the face of the moon."
The stacks of a power plant rise to the east, and just north of that, the city is thinking about building a sludge-treatment facility. And across Hueneme Road, the beach's northern border, runs Aleric Street--widely known as Oxnard's red-light district and a hub of drug trafficking.
Yet, to hear city officials talk, the Ormond Beach area, where the city holds an exclusive $23-million option to buy 341 of about 800 undeveloped acres, is poised to become Oxnard's answer to Malibu.
"It would be the next stop from Malibu, the next hideaway, the next place to get away to," says Randy Starbuck, an official with the city's redevelopment agency. In fact, the development at Ormond will open a stretch of beach that has been inaccessible.
But the hideaway will probably be surrounded by office buildings and high-tech factories, Starbuck and other city officials say. At issue is just how recreation and industry will mix on what Oxnard officials say is California's last undeveloped south-facing beach.
Some answers might be forthcoming at an Oct. 13 hearing at which the city will reveal specific plans for the site.
For those eager to improve Oxnard's image--and tax base--Ormond Beach holds the promise of a new Laguna Niguel that would complement Oxnard's burgeoning industrial parks, much as the Orange County beach community benefits from the bustle of nearby Irvine.
Others envision a seaside Silicon Valley--a vibrant high-tech community catering to nearby military installations. City Councilman Michael Plisky, summing up divergent hopes, says the beach has "Disneyland potential."
But that is, at best, Fantasyland right now. "Trying to make a silk purse from a sow's ear? We are. We agree," said Richard Maggio, Oxnard's community development director. "Instead of being a deficit, we want to make this area an asset. And a lot of beaches along the coast were once landfills and heavy industrial areas."
The fact that part of the beach faces south instead of west makes its waters especially hospitable for recreational uses other than surfing, Maggio point out, because strong currents and waves do not hit the beach directly.
The redevelopment agency was not the first to see Ormond Beach's "Disneyland potential." Two years ago, a Los Angeles development firm, Space Enterprises Inc., wanted to build an amusement park there featuring a full-scale mock-up of the space shuttle and an underground space station. But that idea fell apart when SEI failed to persuade property owners along Perkins Road to sell out, Starbuck said.
While the beach's recreational potential has never been fully tapped, owners of light- and heavy-industrial plants have been eyeing it for some time.
A stone's throw from the expanding harbor at Port Hueneme, Ormond Beach could lure extensive business development, said Jack Stewart, who until last month was Oxnard's director of economic development. As evidence, he points to BMW's recent location of a $15-million vehicle preparation and distribution center on Hueneme Road, as well as the siting of a dental supply plant on the same street.
Ormond Beach acquired its industrial face in the 1950s and 1960s, when the city, unable to foresee the role that freeways would have in commercial transportation, encouraged business to locate near the waterfront and rail lines.
Western Liquefied Natural Gas Associates began acquiring land for a plant in the Ormond Beach area in 1974. When it scrapped its plans in the face of public opposition, the city was left with a large tract lacking such fundamental amenities as roads and sewer lines.
"For the most part," Starbuck says, "there is nothing there."
Declaring the area a redevelopment district seemed like a logical way to finance the needed public improvements.
Despite resistance from the county, which objected that the area should not be eligible for the redevelopment funds because it was never really developed in the first place, the city pressed for and obtained the designation in 1983.
Last March, Oxnard agreed to pay $1.7 million for an 18-month option to buy the property. What happens next is uncertain. Under a scenario put forth in March, the city would immediately sell 127 acres along Hueneme Road to finance the purchase of the beachfront property that will probably be given over to public recreational uses.