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Water Shortage Prompts 45-Day Ban on New Housing Starts


The Ventura City Council dealt a blow to builders this week as it imposed an immediate ban on allocations for new home construction that could delay housing starts until next year.

The City Council decided Monday night to freeze allocations for 45 days, and may decide on a similar freeze in late March, city officials said.

The lone critic was Councilman James Monahan, who said he voted against the moratorium because he felt it was unfair to developers who have waited for years in the often lengthy process to receive allocations to build.

Monahan said other council members wanted to impose a moratorium in the guise of a delay on allocations.

"I didn't see the need to do that. We can halt the allocation review any time we want," Monahan said. "This is a de facto moratorium. You've got to call it what it is."

The moratorium was adopted to give the city a temporary reprieve to review a population growth plan in the face of growth that is already outstripping projections and straining city services.

With the city facing its most critical water shortage in 25 years, council members said, they also wanted to avoid depleting water supplies by permitting more homes to be built.

"The thinly veiled suggestion is that we're trying to put a limit on growth, and this is the device," Councilman Donald Villeneuve said. "But we can't just sit here like Alfred E. Newman--'What me worry?' "

Before the freeze is lifted, the city will have to significantly revise its allocation program, city officials said.

The housing allocation plan must pass environmental muster before it reaches the City Council, which could delay allocations another 45 days or more, said Everett Millais, community development director. Another hearing to extend the 45-day freeze is likely, he said.

Planning officials are already three months behind in the housing review process after the City Council last October delayed a decision on a city housing allocation plan.

Even after the moratorium is lifted, developers will have to vie for fewer permits than were available in the past. According to a proposal presented to the City Council last October, the number of building permits could be cut by almost two-thirds and they could be issued every other year, Millais said.

Between 1980 and 1989, the city issued 5,198 permits, an average of 520 a year. A major revision in the growth plan is to limit the number of units available for residential projects to 1,850 up to the year 2000, or to 185 a year.

Population in the city has grown by 18,700 since 1980, and projections indicate it is already exceeding forecasts for the next decade.

There are already 92,500 people living within city limits, but officials also have to plan for people who live in unincorporated areas served by city services, which would bring the population up to 97,400, Millais said.

Population can increase only by about 4,600 in the next 10 years if growth is to be limited to 102,000 people. If more water supplies are provided, the city can reach 105,000.

Developers say the moratorium has had a chilling effect on their businesses, and coupled with a proposed temporary ban on water hookups, projects they assumed were already blessed with allocations face an uncertain future.

In the first delay of a housing project since the freeze was ordered, City Council members Monday night put a 98-unit project on hold pending a proposed measure to limit water hookups.

A representative for Weston Development of Los Angeles said the project received permits to build last July, but city officials put off a zoning decision until this year when the water shortage was discovered.

Until the building ban is lifted, another 200 units in the project will have to be put on hold, Weston representative Chuck Cohan said. Delays in building mean construction crews may have to be laid off temporarily, then rehired later at higher cost.

"It makes for discontinuous construction, and it means higher-priced homes" for buyers, Cohan said.

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