In the long-simmering war over development or preservation of Fillmore and its surrounding thousands of acres of citrus and avocado ranches, a developer is deploying videotapes and a controversial ex-city manager as its latest weapons.
Low- and no-growth advocates are fighting back with proposals to create a greenbelt that could stretch from Fillmore's city limits to the Los Angeles County line, almost 15 miles to the east.
Since the greenbelt site is already zoned for open space and agriculture, designating it as a greenbelt would carry no legal weight, said Bob Braitman, executive director of the Ventura County Local Agency Formation Commission.
But the designation would involve an informal agreement between Fillmore and Ventura County that would make it more difficult to develop the Santa Clara Valley, said Mary Ann Krause, Fillmore community development director.
What Council Wants
According to at least one City Council member, that's exactly what the council wants.
"The City Council's primary goal right now is the preservation of agriculture in our valley," said Councilman Roger Campbell, who supports slow growth within city limits.
But the greenbelt designation could thwart the Horizons Group, a firm that wants to develop the Santa Clara Valley as "one of the premier master-planned communities in Southern California," according to a flyer circulated by its allies.
In an interview, Horizons President Don Mallas said his proposal would preserve half of all the citrus groves in the Santa Clara Valley. He envisions a master-planned bucolic community dotted with man-made lakes and waterfalls, and surrounded by open spaces.
But the only specific development proposal that Horizons has on the table right now is to build 300 to 400 houses, ranging from $375,000 to $575,000, on 700 hillside acres outside city limits. The city would be required to annex most of the site.
Familiarity With Project
About a month ago, Horizons hired former city manager Stan Greene as a consultant. Greene resigned last September after he was accused of sexual harassment, a charge he has denied. After leaving Fillmore, Greene worked for Humboldt County from November, 1988, to March, 1989, as interim county administrative officer.
Mallas said Greene was hired because of his familiarity with the project and his expertise in city affairs and added that Greene has been extremely helpful.
"He is gathering background information for the development of what should be there," Mallas said. "He's working with county government."
Greene could not be reached for comment this week. But he has been trying to orchestrate simulated "town meetings," which are to be videotaped and used to demonstrate residents' concern over the proposed greenbelt, according to minutes of planning sessions for the meetings.
In a flyer sent to some Fillmore residents, Greene said he needed an audience for some of the scenes he planned to film and urged residents to bring a change of shirts and women to wear extra makeup.
About 10 people showed up for a meeting last Thursday.
Greene was interim chair of the Santa Clara Valley Steering Committee, a citizens group allied with Horizons that wants to block the greenbelt and create a new master plan with more relaxed growth controls.
"A master plan for the area from Fillmore to Piru . . . would preserve a majority of our agriculture-based economy, while at the same time establishing a low-density population . . . and commercial and industrial projects," a flyer circulated by the group says.
"We are now in an era of dangerous no-growth in the Fillmore-Piru Valley that threatens to destroy our children's future," the flyer says. "Shall Fillmore-Piru become a backwater hamlet of under-employed workers or do we want to become one of the premier master-planned communities in Southern California?"
But there already is a master plan for Fillmore and the surrounding areas. It was adopted in February, after a newly elected Fillmore City Council scuttled an alternative master plan proposed by Horizons.
The city's master plan allows for some growth, and Fillmore is seeking county permission to extend its sphere of influence over 1,750 acres, mainly around the Sespe Creek and Santa Clara River. A sphere of influence designation means that the city could seek to annex the land. Fillmore made the proposal at a Wednesday meeting of the Local Agency Formation Commission, which tabled the proposal until next month.
Horizons contends that its development proposal only reflects the wishes of most Fillmore residents.
"We did a survey which showed that 79% of the people of Fillmore were in favor of a master plan and low-density housing," Mallas said.
Fillmore is a close-knit, agricultural community of 11,000 whose average annual per capita income of $6,054 is the lowest in Ventura County, according to the U.S. Census. Civic leaders say industrial and retail businesses are needed to shore up tax revenues and create jobs.