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Measure to Slow Growth Qualifies for Ballot : Ventura: 'Save the Greenbelt' initiative, which would require a citywide vote to build on protected farmland, will be put to the test in November, 1995. Petition drive netted about 7,000 valid signatures.

October 25, 1994|CONSTANCE SOMMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura's "Save the Greenbelt" initiative--which would prohibit development of protected farmland without voter approval--has qualified for the November, 1995, ballot, Ventura's city clerk said Monday.

The measure's supporters submitted 8,900 signatures, about 7,000 of which were valid, meaning they belonged to registered Ventura voters, City Clerk Barbara Kam said. The measure only needed about 5,800 valid signatures to qualify for next year's general election.

"I'm more relieved than excited," said Sheri Vincent, an eastside homeowner who poured her free time this spring and summer into organizing a petition drive aimed at getting the initiative on the ballot.

Vincent acknowledged that much of her effort lay ahead in the campaign to persuade residents to vote for the measure. But like most of those involved in the signature-gathering effort, Vincent is a political novice who learns as she goes.

"I don't know what comes next," she said. "We've never done this before."

Some council members are already greeting the initiative with skepticism, concerned that if it passes they will have trouble planning development for the city.

"If they don't trust the council, do they continue trying to hamper the council, or do you just elect a new council?" asked Councilman Gregory L. Carson. "That's the way it's always been done."

Carson said a successful initiative would mean that even a decision to build a regional park in the greenbelt would have to go to a citywide vote. Not only would that cause significant delays in the planning process, he said, but it would also cost the city money to mount campaigns in favor of various development projects.

The petition drive grew out of fiery neighborhood opposition to a developer's proposal to build more than 400 homes on a city-owned, 87-acre lemon orchard. In exchange, the developer, Ron Hertel, would have donated 94 acres to the city for use as a regional park.

Both the orchard and the proposed parkland belong to a belt of land winding across eastside Ventura, which the council has promised will remain farmland until 2010. Developers can only build on this land if the council amends the city's Comprehensive Plan.

After months of heated debate, during which eastside preservationists traded verbal darts with sports and parks boosters, the council declined to vote on the project and it died at a late August meeting.

By that point, however, the initiative had developed a life of its own. The residents working on the petition drive said they wanted to ensure that the council never builds on land that it has pledged to preserve without the voters' consent.

Bill Fulton, a Ventura resident who edits a statewide planning newsletter, said he can sympathize with the homeowners.

Despite the existence of the Comprehensive Plan, Fulton said council members seem to regard each new project separately, with little or no attempt to make it part of a cohesive planning effort.

But however flawed the system, he said, segregating some planning decisions out for a vote while leaving others up to the council's discretion makes for a schizophrenic public policy.

"What's motivating this is the parochial concerns of people in one neighborhood who don't want their trees cut down," he said. "I sympathize with them, but I don't think that's a good reason for city planning."

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