A city characterized as Ventura County's "last watering hole" for developers stood no closer to having a growth limit Tuesday after Oxnard City Council members refused to support an ordinance restricting the number of residences that could be built each year.
By a 4-1 margin, City Council members defeated a motion to direct a citizens' advisory committee drafting a new general plan for Oxnard to strike a compromise for a limit on new housing starts with local developers and representatives of a controlled growth group.
The majority of the council agreed that bowing to pressure for a slow-growth ordinance by the end of February would undermine efforts by the 23-member General Plan Advisory Committee, which has been working more than a year on recommendations for an updated general plan by June.
"We need to trust these people who come from all walks of life," said Mayor Nao Takasugi at a study session. "We're not in a position where growth will get out of control in the next six months. If at that time, we haven't gotten what we want, we can always implement some sort of ordinance."
If approved, the motion, proposed by City Councilwoman Dorothy S. Maron, would have been the first step toward enacting a growth limit in Ventura County's only city outside of Port Hueneme without restrictions on development.
Maron, who had called for Tuesday's study session, argued that an ordinance enacted by the city would stave off attempts by Citizens for Managed Growth to bring an initiative limiting growth to the voters. She said that the group, headed by Oxnard resident Scott Bollinger, has given the city "a drop-dead date of the end of February."
'Agree in the Beginning'
"I think it's more practical to agree in the beginning than to fight to the end," Maron said. "I'm trying to stop the initiative people."
She said an ordinance would probably prove less stringent than an initiative proposed by Citizens for Managed Growth, which in May began lobbying for a 400-unit annual limit on residential growth. Bollinger said the group is now considering an initiative that would limit growth to 325 units annually.
"My concern is that if the citizens do it, it may not be as well thought out as when a council does it," she said after originally suggesting that the council consider an ordinance limiting growth in October. "We should get something that nobody will love but that nobody will hate."
A report presented by the city's planning staff Tuesday contended that a growth limit is unnecessary because Oxnard is already growing at a rate well below projections and below growth rates experienced by other major cities in the county.
While the county is growing at a 21% rate, Oxnard is growing at just under 15%, well behind the 24% to 25% rate in Ventura, Camarillo, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, it said.
In the 1960s, a planning consultant projected that Oxnard would have attracted a population of at least 500,000 by this time and the current general plan projected a population of 131,000 by 1985, but the city only met that projection last year, said city planning director David Maggio.
Growth Rate Only 1.4%
He also pointed out that while the present general plan projects a growth rate of 2.8%, the city has been growing at only a rate of 1.4% since 1980 for an average increase of 498 units annually.
As for protections against the adverse affects of growth, features in the existing general plan as well as an additional protection that could be built into its successor already provide safeguards, Maggio said.
"Phasing," whereby portions of the city more suitable to development have to be developed before building permits can be granted for other portions, have protected against growth in the past and could be included in a new general plan, he said.
Additionally, the General Plan Advisory Committee is considering a feature that would require annual monitoring of the city's growth rate by council members who could cap development if it exceeded their expectations. But slow-growth forces, which packed the auditorium Tuesday, maintained that a general plan does not provide enough protection.
Bollinger of the Citizens for Managed Growth cited the city's recent endorsement of a California State University campus on unincorporated lands zoned for agriculture.
The campus "may be of substantially significant value" to the community and may warrant annexation, he said, "but it's illustrative of how we can drift away from a general plan before we even have one."
Others complained of traffic congestion, an overworked police force, people living three and four families deep in single-family dwellings and the dwindling agricultural use of the fertile Oxnard Plain.
"We don't have land in this city to waste," said Humberto Garza, chairman of the Windsor North Neighborhood Council, "We're building on prime agricultural land anytime we build in Oxnard."