The Ventura Planning Commission this week recommended slowing by about half the city's already modest rate of growth over the next decade to avoid running out of water before the year 2000.
If a new source of water can be acquired by the turn of the century, however, the commissioners voted that development in Ventura should return to its present pace, with the city growing from a population of about 92,000 this year to 122,000 by 2010.
"If the water isn't there, we just won't reach that number, plain and simple," said Chairman Gary Pihlaja.
That decision, reached after a five-hour meeting Monday night, ended more than a month of debate and public testimony before the commission about the city's proposed Comprehensive Plan.
The 393-page document, which was drafted by a citizens committee that first met nearly three years ago, will be studied by the City Council during at least four meetings on consecutive nights beginning June 5.
Determining a target population for Ventura in 2010 was the most controversial decision facing the seven-member commission. Four scenarios were envisioned, ranging from a city of 94,000 to 147,000 residents. Debate focused on the two least extreme alternatives, which predicted the city growing to either 102,000 or 122,000 residents.
By midnight Monday, those commissioners who considered 122,000 a more realistic and economically viable figure had won out--by a 4-3 vote--over those who saw 102,000 as a more desirable and environmentally sound goal.
However, all commissioners agreed that no new development should be approved without the water to support it. Existing sources will be able to supply water to a population of only 102,000--a number that will be reached in 1995 under the existing rate of growth.
So, rather than add those 10,000 new residents over roughly the next five years, the commission unanimously voted to spread the increase out over the next 10 years, reaching 102,000 people by 2000. Should a new source of water become available, then the city would add 20,000 residents in the first 10 years of the 21st Century.
Shelly Jones, the city's public works director, predicted that it would take about eight years for Ventura to hook up to the State Water Project, which he said is the only new source of water capable of handling the added growth.
The endeavor, which could cost the city about $50 million, entails building a 45-mile pipeline to the eastern part of Ventura County, where it would tap into the water that the state pumps from the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Southern California.
"I think it's achievable," Jones said of acquiring state water by 2000. "If the City Council wants to move in that direction, that's ample time to do it."
In aiming for a population of 122,000, the commission also recommended developing some of Ventura's agricultural land, extending Kimball Road in East Ventura, placing a university on Taylor Ranch west of town, building a shopping center east of Saticoy Avenue and studying additional residential construction on the city's hillsides.
The projects expected to be proposed for those areas would, in fact, raise Ventura's population to 126,000 if they were all approved. But commissioners decided to keep the areas open for development and simply let builders compete for available permits until the projected 122,000 cap is reached.