For the past 2 1/2 years, the community of Somis and the Las Posas Valley has been protesting mightily against the actions of powerful regional forces. These forces are working to push a major superhighway and freight corridor through the heart of the Las Posas Valley, one of the last pristine agricultural areas remaining in Ventura County.
If these regional forces bearing names such as the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) and the Southern California Assn. of Governments (SCAG) are comparable to the proverbial 800-pound gorilla, then certainly the community of Somis / Las Posas Valley is merely a mouse.
The mouse is roaring, but is anybody listening?
Purporting to be bearing gifts of "safety" improvements to our two-lane, rural Highway 118, Caltrans has instead proposed to build two wildly oversized, multimillion-dollar, capacity-increasing projects:
One would vastly enlarge the intersection of highways 118 and 34 in Somis; the other would realign and widen a segment of 118 near Mesa Union School.
Many community members believe these projects are not simple safety improvements at all. Rather, they are the initial, linchpin segments of a long-intended, much larger plan to turn Highway 118 into a four-lane, divided, regional superhighway through the Las Posas Valley and to widen Highway 34 through the tiny township of Somis.
If allowed to be built to the capacity-increasing proportions currently proposed, these two key projects will succeed at both circumventing environmental laws and violating Caltrans' own funding rules. The ultimate result will be the destruction of agriculture throughout the Las Posas Valley and the loss of the unique rural community that is Somis.
In this era of apathy, when it is rare to find even a dozen citizens in attendance at community meetings, residents of the Las Posas Valley have consistently turned out by the hundreds at public meetings with Caltrans and VCTC to voice their concerns. This has been a disconcerting experience for the public, one more akin to the Mad Hatter's tea party than to responsive, functioning democracy in action.
At public "hearings," the citizenry speaks but no one listens. Clear, direct questions from the public are often met with elusive vagaries or no answers at all. Citizens protest that laws are being bent, even broken, but many of their own elected officials look away. The citizenry is left to fend for itself and hire its own engineering and legal experts to try to make the process work.
Apparently neither the pertinent agencies nor most elected officials nor even the press, for that matter, believes that there is anything they can or should do for us. It is a regional matter, they say. Our provincial concerns must be sacrificed to the needs of the region.
It is time to revisit this well-intentioned but currently dysfunctional concept of regionalism. It is also time to update transportation policy and bring it into line with land-use policy.
Regional transportation planning agencies are dangerously independent and politically unaccountable. They currently have the power to subvert and ultimately unravel even the best of local land-use plans. They persist in building massive regional highways anywhere they want, regardless of the unplanned growth such highways induce and the devastation they wreak upon existing communities and prime agricultural lands. Their mission statements do not even require them to coordinate their efforts with the planning departments of local governments.
Across the nation, at all levels of government, it is increasingly recognized that more and wider highways don't solve congestion; they create congestion. They are the Trojan horse that brings with it urban sprawl.
The lonely battle the Las Posas Valley is currently waging against these regional behemoths is not just a fight for the future of Somis and the Las Posas Valley. It is a fight for the future of the entire county and a litmus test that will tell whether the political leaders of Ventura County can and will do what is necessary to take back control of our own destiny and land-use plan.
Ironically, if we keep decimating local communities in the name of regionalism, the ultimate result will be to have destroyed the entire region.