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Planning Commission Deadlocks on Greenbelt : Oxnard: At issue is a proposed accord with Ventura to preserve 4,800 acres of coastal farmland as open space.


The Oxnard Planning Commission has deadlocked on whether to support a greenbelt agreement with the city of Ventura that would preserve 4,800 acres of coastal farmland as open space between the two cities.

The proposal, which had already drawn the support of the Ventura Planning Commission, will be considered next month by the Oxnard City Council, but without a clear signal from the city's Planning Commission.

After listening to pleas from farmers and their supporters, who oppose more restrictions on the land, the six commissioners were evenly divided Thursday when it came time to recommend a position to the City Council.

"I think we have everything in place right now to protect the land, and we don't need another layer of bureaucracy," said Commissioner Dale Dean, who joined Commissioners Arthur Lopez and Victor Fontane in opposing the greenbelt.

Supporting the greenbelt were Commissioners Ralph Schumacher, Edward Flores and Edward Castillo. Schumacher and Flores served on the city's General Plan Advisory Committee that backed the greenbelt proposal before it was officially adopted as a goal in the city's 2020 General Plan.

"Oxnard is no greenhorn where greenbelts are concerned," Flores said. "It bothers me that we are concerned about the demise of the rain forests and Japanese whaling, but we are considering doing away with farmland here."

But the farmers and their supporters who testified Thursday said support for the greenbelt was coming from people more interested in preserving open space than protecting agriculture.

"The adoption of the greenbelt will not enhance the profitability or viability of agriculture in Ventura County," said Rex Laird, head of the county's Farm Bureau, which opposes the greenbelt.

Laird said the organization considered the purchase of farmers' development rights a "viable option" to added land-use restrictions.

At issue are 3,075 acres in Oxnard's planning area that are now primarily being farmed, with 95 active and abandoned oil wells scattered across part of the proposed greenbelt. The Oxnard portion of the area stretches from Harbor Boulevard and Victoria Avenue north of Wooley Road to the Santa Clara River. The Ventura portion covers another 1,711 acres between Harbor Boulevard and Victoria Avenue.

If approved, the proposed greenbelt would become the sixth in the county, noted Richard Maggio, Oxnard's director of community development. Such agreements date back to 1967 in Ventura County, when Santa Paula designated the undeveloped area between Ventura and Santa Paula as a greenbelt. The city and county of Ventura each approved a revised greenbelt in 1973.

Despite the concerns of property owners that the greenbelt agreement would add further restrictions to the land, the agreements are little more than policy statements that can be brushed aside by the cities or county, said Steven D. Zimmer, an attorney who advised the Oxnard commission.

Even so, the commissioners who opposed the greenbelt said they objected to the city giving away any control over the property by entering into the agreement with Ventura or the county.

"Oxnard should be doing what's best for Oxnard," Lopez said in stating his opposition.

But Castillo said the greenbelt was essential to protect the long-term survival of agriculture in the county. And Schumacher reminded the commission that the idea of a greenbelt to the city's west was a long-held goal of the residents who helped develop the city's General Plan.

After the tie vote, the commissioners agreed to recommend shrinking the size of the proposed greenbelt by removing 200 acres of farmland south of Wooley Road. The acreage is surrounded by city land.

On Friday, Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez predicted that the commission's tie vote would not affect how the City Council views the proposed greenbelt.

"It would have made it easier for us to take a position if the commission had taken a position," Lopez said. Even if the greenbelt is adopted, he said, economic interests would ensure that any protection of agriculture would be temporary at best.

"You cannot keep the people who (vote for greenbelts) in office indefinitely," Lopez said.

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