In order to upgrade a blighted section of downtown Oxnard, a city consultant this week pushed for the relocation of the Ventura County Rescue Mission, one of the county's key facilities for the homeless.
Wallace Roberts & Todd of San Francisco recommended Tuesday that the city's redevelopment agency remove the mission from its 18-year location at East 6th Street, near Meta Street, as part of its plan for revamping the downtown area.
"If the rescue mission is retained, it's basically incompatible with the land uses and an impediment to change," said consultant Robert Bruce Anderson. "We've simply heard from too many people that they wouldn't make investments if the mission was there."
Anderson said the recommendation to transfer the mission was "one of the most difficult decisions we had to make."
Consultants began in July to study ways to update a 1985 plan for Oxnard's 30-block downtown area.
They also created a detailed master development plan for Meta Street, a four-block area in the central business district, which a staff report said "currently displays the most seriously blighted physical conditions that remain in the downtown area."
The final downtown study will be presented to the City Council, which functions as the city's redevelopment agency, in one to two months for formal acceptance. For now, Anderson suggested that the agency begin investigating potential sites for the move.
Rescue Mission Director Jerry Roberg said he would keep an open mind and negotiate with the city. But he said he is wary that paying for a new location might jeopardize the mission's financial security.
"We're not into building properties," he said. "We're into building people."
The mission is open 24 hours a day, providing the homeless with 73 beds, showering facilities and a mailing address.
It also gives away clothing for women and children, runs a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program and serves 300 meals a day.
Roberg plans to expand the rehabilitation program, which currently helps 23 men. He said he also wants to expand the facilities and start a family shelter.
The mission has completely paid for its property and is able to put all its money into services for the poor, Roberg said.
"We like it where we're at and we'd like to stay there," Roberg told the City Council.
Councilwoman Dorothy Maron said the mission could not be moved until another facility was up and running.
Council members Nao Takasugi and Manuel Lopez disqualified themselves from the discussion because they own properties in the area.
Steven Kinney, director of Oxnard's Redevelopment and Economic Development departments, said the city would not back a move unless a mutually agreeable site is found for the mission.
However, he said, moving the mission was at the hub of the plan for Meta Street.
Revamping Meta Street began earlier this year with the city's acquisition of more land, condemnation of the crime-ridden Lemon Tree Hotel and plans for a new community health clinic, Kinney said.
Further improvements could be made, the consultants said, by building attractive low- and moderate-income housing rather than sticking to earlier recommendations that the area be developed for commercial and light industrial uses.
Family-support organizations such as child-care facilities and legal services should then be drawn to the area, the study said.
In addition, Meta Street could become a focal point for the Latino community if it is promoted as a meeting place for Latino organizations and a location for Latino-owned and oriented businesses.
Included in the goals for the downtown area are the upgrading of building facades, eliminating safety hazards and formally recognizing cultural landmarks.
To implement the suggestions, the study recommended a downtown assessment district be formed.
"Downtown has to have a manager," Anderson said. "And the only way to pay for one is through an assessment district."
In addition, some of the changes in setbacks and zoning--proposed to make downtown's "visual character interesting and inviting"--would require altering the general plan.