The Oxnard City Council this week approved a settlement of a 16-year dispute that pitted environmentalists and beach-dwellers against the owners of undeveloped oceanfront property at the Oxnard Shores subdivision.
The proposed settlement, which still has to be approved by the California Coastal and State Lands commissions, would allow construction to begin as early as next fall on 73 lots along the damage-prone strand that was subdivided in the 1960s but has been subject to building prohibitions since 1972.
It also lays the groundwork for the resolution of 10 lawsuits, which seek in excess of $40 million from the city, coastal commissioners and Concerned Citizens to Save Oxnard Shores (SOS), a group representing the interests of environmentalists and some residents.
'Best We're Going to Get'
"I don't like every aspect of the agreement but I fear it's the best agreement we're going to get," said Councilman Michael A. Plisky, who moved to adopt the settlement, which passed 3 to 2 after a five-hour hearing Tuesday night. Attorneys representing the city, the state, environmentalists, beach residents and the Oxnard Shores Oceanfront Lot Owners Assn. (OSOLOA) portrayed the settlement as the only alternative to prolonged litigation.
They told council members that failure to approve the settlement would derail a court-mandated schedule. They said the council had to approve the plan by April 5 so the State Lands Commission could consider it in late April and the California Coastal Commission in mid-June.
Parties to the dispute welcomed the settlement. "We've been waiting a long time for this," said Fred Marlowe, the subdivision's developer who has grown into a frail, 89-year-old man over the course of the three decades since ground was first broken for Oxnard Shores.
'We Had to Compromise'
"The bottom line is no one wants to see building on the beach but we decided we had to compromise," said Phil Seymour, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara.
The group had joined with Save Oxnard Shores, a group of residents and environmentalists, in waging a legal battle against construction on the strand. But the two council members who voted against the settlement, Dorothy Maron and Manuel Lopez, complained of being "railroaded" into the decision and noted that they had not had adequate time to review the EIR or minutes of a planning commission meeting on the subject last week.
"I really feel that I'm being pressured and that I haven't had time to review the material," Lopez said. At stake are oceanfront lots whose values have escalated dramatically since the neighborhood was subdivided in the 1960s and beachfront lots went for as little as $15,000. A lot in escrow pending a resolution of the lawsuits is selling for $400,000, said Al Zingg, president of the lot owners group that includes more than 80 members. He estimates the value of all the beachfront property at $28 million.
Two Public Parks, Access
Under the proposed settlement, which was disclosed in December, lot owners would give up more than 1,400 feet of property along the beach for two public parks and agree to grant public access to the beach up the coast from the Channel Islands Harbor. In return, they would receive the right to exceed current density restrictions.
The plan would also shrink the lots, and reduce their number from 97 to 73.
In exchange, lot owners would be allowed to build to a height of 30 feet in a neighborhood where previous construction has been restricted to 25 feet. Sideyards between houses would be a scanty 5 feet.
Lot owners would also be allowed to construct a 12-unit apartment building, a pier lined with shops and restaurants, and, on a separate lot on Wooley Road removed from the oceanfront, 70 additional apartments.
Even though the settlement was approved by a 3-2 margin, it has met with considerable opposition.
Members of the Oxnard Shores Neighborhood Council complained that their concerns had not been considered. They predicted that the 30-foot houses, which could be as high as 33 feet when mounted atop pilings, would block views and set a detrimental precedent for construction and remodeling efforts in the subdivision.
The neighborhood council, both SOS and OSOLOA representatives said, was not part of the settlement because they were not party to the suits. City Atty. K. Duane Lyders was the city's voice in the settlement, they said.
Neighborhood Council representatives also had complained that the settlement smacked of a conspiracy because it would place two public access corridors--one over twice the normal 10-foot width--in front of the house of SOS head William Coopman, while arranging four of nine access corridors beside the property of Norman Linder, who has led the battle for the lot owners, thus buffering his property with beaches.
Linder, the leader of lot owners, said he agreed to access corridors near his property as a "peace-keeping gesture. Who wants the multitudes of humanity walking by?"
May Lose Six Homes