Despite criticism over traffic and environmental effects, the Ventura County Planning Commission narrowly approved a request Thursday by former President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, to be buried at his presidential library near Simi Valley.
The commission, which voted 3 to 2 in favor of the request, also gave approval for food to be served at the library and for civic meetings to be held in the evening.
Most debate during the two-hour hearing centered on whether the burial site would attract more visitors and increase traffic on surrounding roads.
"My own feeling is that I wouldn't drive up to see Reagan's burial plot," said Commissioner Robert Muraoka, who voted for the request.
Commissioner Susan Boeker, who voted against the plan, disagreed. "Maybe you wouldn't go visit the Reagan burial plot, but I would and I think a lot of people would too," she said. "This man was adored by many, many people in this country."
Boeker and Commissioner Betty Taylor voted against the plan, while Muraoka and Commissioners Mary Alice Henderson and the Rev. Johnie Carlisle Jr. supported the request.
Members of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation also were questioned about the appointment of former Secretary of the Interior William P. Clark Jr. to a proposed committee to study the library's environmental impact.
Commissioners said members of the environmental committee must be county residents. Clark lives in San Luis Obispo County, according to his spokesman.
Charles H. Jelloian, director of operations for the foundation, told the commission that he did not know about the residency issue before the meeting.
Nine of the 40 former U.S. Presidents are commemorated with presidential libraries. Of those, four are buried either at or near the library sites, county officials said. Reagan's library grave site would be the first in California.
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is scheduled to open Nov. 4, exactly 11 years after Reagan was first elected President. The 153,000-square-foot complex is expected eventually to hold all the presidential papers Reagan collected during his eight years in the White House.
When completed, the Spanish-style library complex off Madera Road just outside Simi Valley will also have a museum that traces Reagan's life and highlights of his presidency. Armed security guards will patrol the grounds around the clock.
Mike O'Donnell, project manager for the foundation, said the Reagans chose the Simi Valley site over 17 other locations.
"When Mrs. Reagan saw this site, she said, 'This is what I want,' " he told the commission.
The burial plots will be a few yards from a rose garden patio and will overlook the city of Moorpark and the wooded hills beyond.
The decision of the commission can be appealed to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors within 10 days by a member of the public.
The establishment of a private cemetery also requires the approval of the California Cemetery Board.
John Gill, executive officer of the cemetery board, said the Reagan foundation has not requested approval for the site. In addition to other requirements, the board calls for a $35,000 bond to ensure that the grave sites are maintained, he said.
Criticism over traffic also came from Pat Baggerly, a member of the Environmental Coalition of Ventura County.
"We work hard to keep the air clean in our county, and this will be another addition to the air's degradation," she said.
Baggerly said that when the library was approved, the foundation promised to form a committee of residents to give advice on environmental issues, such as the protection of rare plants at the site. The foundation also said it would draft a traffic management plan, she said.
Neither promise has been met, she said. Baggerly suggested that approval of the request be delayed until the foundation meets its obligations.
Jelloian said the committee is made up of Clark; Patrick McIlhenney, an assistant vice president of Told Corp., one of the county's largest development companies, and Richard Baldwin, head of the county's Air Pollution Control District.
He said, however, that the committee has never met.
Keith Turner, county planning director, said he sent the foundation a letter asking for more information about Clark and McIlhenney, including proof that they are county residents.
McIlhenney lives in Camarillo, according to a Told spokesman.
Jelloian said he did not know about the letter. "We have not tried to skirt the issues here at all," he said.
Concerned that the burial plots would generate traffic, Boeker said she called the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Tex., and was told that the library attracts about 450,000 visitors annually. Johnson's burial plot, which is located in a nearby town, attracts 300,000 visitors, she said.
Rich Guske, an engineer for the county's Public Works Agency, said the roads near the library could accommodate as much traffic as is generated by the Johnson burial plot and library.
Taylor said she is also concerned about providing food at the library because the foundation had originally said no food would be served. "I'm concerned about the incremental increases in scope here," she said.
But O'Donnell said food would entice visitors to stay at the library longer.
"It's a big library," he said. "A lot of money has been spent on it, and it's a shame not to use it."