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Ventura Slips With Oxnard to 21st on List of Best Places

July 28, 1988|JEFF GORDINIER | Times Staff Writer

Main Street still runs from east to west, waves still shuffle beachward, and the morning fog usually burns away by noon.

The eternal truths haven't changed much along the Ventura County coast during the last year. But, according to Money magazine's annual survey of the 300 biggest population centers in the United States, the standard of living in what the magazine calls "Ventura-Oxnard" has sunk like a lead surfboard.

In last year's Money poll, the Ventura-Oxnard area took seventh place. This year, it tumbled to 21st, though most residents don't seem to have noticed the drop.

"I think we're still No. 7," said Michele Haran, the owner of Sandcastle Realty in Oxnard. "We have everything here. It's a fun place to play, and it's a fun place to live."

So Fun, So Fine

Not as fun as Danbury, Conn., apparently. That New England city topped Money's list, followed by central New Jersey; Norwalk, Conn.; New York's Long Island; San Francisco, and last year's victor, Nashua, N.H.

The Los Angeles-Long Beach combination swiped Ventura-Oxnard's seventh spot, with eighth-place Orange County in its wake. Eight other California locales made it to the top 100.

Languishing at the bottom of the list was Atlantic City, N.J.

Residents had various interpretations of Money magazine's decree that Ventura-Oxnard has dropped in status.

"I would say that where we rank looks pretty good to me," Ventura County Supervisor John Flynn said. "My reaction is, we didn't go down very much."

"I see Ventura decrease because the price of homes has risen since the last poll, and the quality of life hasn't risen, in my opinion," said Stan Fujii, owner of the Ventura Surfshop and a resident for 25 years.

9 Factors Rated

Money based its judgment of the 300 areas on nine factors, in order of importance: crime, housing costs, health care, local economy, arts, education, transportation, climate and leisure. Each year, the magazine consults with its subscribers to determine the value of each factor.

Though climate and leisure were in the middle of last year's list, they were considered the least important criteria this year. And three factors that used to be at the bottom--arts, education and transportation--rose in value.

Roz McDavid, a spokeswoman at Money, said the shift in priorities made Ventura, despite its balmy weather and surf culture, less appealing than in 1987.

Venturans agreed that Money's rearrangement of criteria was the reason for the county's fall from the top 10.

"I don't think we've got much arts," said Bernie Perkins, owner of Erika's Gallery in Ventura. "Everything is slow. You just don't seem to have the interest."

The Ventura-Oxnard region has some unlikely neighbors on the Money list. In 16th place is Chicago, the city that poet Carl Sandburg termed "the hog butcher of the world."

"Chicago is dirty, filthy, noisy, hot, windy, cold," said Perkins, a former Chicago resident. "There's nothing they've got in Chicago but a lot of activity, if that's what you crave."

New York Is High

Money's readers apparently do. Their choice for No. 19 is New York City, where Central Park means wide-open space to the city's 23,494 people per square mile. Sandwiching Ventura at Nos. 20 and 22 are Pittsburgh and Cleveland, two riverbank cities that bask in the sun of a clear day less than 60 days a year, according to government weather records.

And No. 24 is Newark.

"I think it's an injustice," Haran said, "because we have so much more going for us than any of those cities."

"You get a very strange criteria in the ratings," Smith said. "I think I'd prefer to live here than Cleveland. There's no doubt about that."

Despite the odd company, McDavid defended Ventura-Oxnard's spot on the list.

"It's a great accomplishment to be in the top 20," McDavid said, pausing to add, "or 25."

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