Caught between mounting pressure from developers and spiraling traffic, smog and water problems, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors this week established a committee to study growth beyond the year 2000.
The 31-member group will weigh the effectiveness of the county's 18-year-old restrictions on development outside urban areas--rules frequently credited for preserving much of the county's open space and agricultural areas. In addition, the committee will grapple with the issues of transportation, water for residential and agricultural needs, air-pollution controls and preservation of open space.
At a meeting Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved the concept and authorized a $42,800 expenditure from the county's general fund contingency plan to hire a planner and administrative help.
The eight-month study will be the first comprehensive analysis of county policies and programs to be undertaken in about 15 years, officials say. They, as well as business leaders, hail it as a significant step toward a master plan that would steer Ventura County's growth through the year 2025.
Erosion of Guidelines Feared
But some environmentalists, while offering cautious praise, say they fear that developers may persuade the committee to chip away at the longstanding "guidelines for orderly development," which now limit most growth to cities and surrounding areas.
Most county officials decline to speculate on what the committee may ultimately recommend.
But supervisor Maggie Erickson, the architect of the "Beyond the Year 2000 Advisory Committee," said this week that current growth guidelines need evaluation because "they're not absolutely successful."
"I would think there would probably have to be some small changes," Erickson said. "There are developers coming to the county and saying the county's going to have to accept growth. . . . There's a general movement saying 'Where are we going?' "
Some developers say the county is headed toward a looser interpretation of its own guidelines.
Dick Fausset, president of Told Financial Services--a division of the Newbury Park real estate firm Told Corp.--said the county has already approved one development that violates its policy of prohibiting large-scale growth outside city boundaries. He and others say this approval indicates that growth guidelines aren't etched in stone and might need to become more flexible.
The project was a $500-million plan to develop Lake Sherwood, a 160-acre site south of Westlake Village. It was approved in June after the supervisors determined that the project's benefits warranted an exception. In return, developer David H. Murdock agreed to preserve and maintain Lake Sherwood, as well as provide the existing 122 homeowners in the area with a new water and sewage system to replace well water and septic tanks.
Traffic Needs Projected
Members of the "Beyond 2000" committee will study this and other growth conundrums, but many say the county already faces problems in other areas. In order to meet traffic projections for the year 2000, for instance, senior planner Steve Wood said it will be necessary to widen the Ventura Freeway to eight lanes--from the current six. Victoria Avenue, which is only two lanes at certain spots, would require up to 10 lanes by 2000, projections show.
And even if Ventura County has no growth between now and then, it still won't meet federal air-quality standards, Wood said. But county projections indicate that almost 800,000 people will live here 13 years from now, up from 620,000 today. And while there are now 212,000 housing units in the county, another 83,000 will be required by 2000.
Planning Policy May Be Revised
If the committee finds existing policies, plans and programs inadequate, it will propose that the board make revisions and, if needed, undertake a major reassessment of planning policy, according to a proposal prepared by Vic Husbands, who heads the county's Resource Management Agency.
Husbands has proposed a committee of 31 people representing three categories. First would be elected officials, including 10 city council members, two county supervisors, one representative from the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and one member of a special district.
A second group would be technical, made up of people with experience in air quality, water, sanitation, transportation, housing, public safety, utilities and the justice system.
Public Sector Represented
A third group would be culled from the public sector and include representatives from agriculture, oil and development industries and the environmental movement and taxpayers at large. Rounding out the committee would be two citizens from a group nominated by the county's 10 cities, and an additional two selected by the Board of Supervisors.