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Coalition Launches Campaign Against SOAR Plans

Zoning: Members of group argue that proposed growth-control initiatives--to be voted on in November--will stifle county's economic vitality and inflict other damage.


A countywide alliance of farm, union and business leaders on Wednesday officially launched a campaign opposing the SOAR growth-control initiatives, saying they will hurt farmers, price the working class out of the housing market and send the economy into a tailspin.

The Coalition for Community Planning--composed of building industry representatives, construction union officials, affordable housing proponents and various economic development groups--said it will raise money to get its message to voters and defeat the Save Open-space and Agricultural Resources initiatives on the fall ballot.

"What's going to happen to the economic vitality of this county?" asked Leo Valenzuela of the Laborers International Union, which represents about 1,000 workers. "Because of a few people, it's going to go out the window.

"The proponents of SOAR are giving our children and grandchildren a long-term eviction notice."

SOAR is attempting to pass initiatives limiting the cities of Oxnard, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks, Simi Valley, Moorpark and Santa Paula from expanding beyond a set of designated borders without a vote of the people. The group also hopes to pass a countywide initiative banning rezoning of farmland or open space outside city limits unless it is approved by voters. The group passed a measure similar to the countywide initiative in Ventura in 1995.

SOAR leader Steve Bennett, who attended the news conference held outside the Ventura County Government Center, characterized the coalition effort afterward as an attempt by special-interest groups looking to mislead the public.

"This is the beginning of the scare and misinformation campaign," Bennett said. "These are the same people that opposed the Ventura SOAR.

"If urban sprawl is good for the economy, then why isn't Oxnard the wealthiest city in this county?" he said. "And why is Ventura experiencing an economic renaissance, three years after passing SOAR?"

Coalition members contend that the SOAR initiatives, which would be in place until 2020 in most areas, will have a variety of unadvertised consequences for Ventura County. Many of the problems would be caused by what the SOAR opponents see as a lack of community involvement in drafting the initiatives, which they contend were the result of "back-room deals."

"I've been in this community 21 years representing farmers, and I've never been contacted about taking part in this [SOAR] debate," said Rob Roy, president of the Ventura County Agriculture Assn. "We think that the SOAR initiative and farming cannot coexist."

Other SOAR opponents condemned "ballot-box planning," saying they favored more traditional methods of controlling growth. The SOAR initiatives, they said, could force businesses out of the county by making it difficult for them to expand.

"It's no wonder we have a beautiful community here," said Penny Bohannon, president of the Ventura County Economic Development Assn., which favors keeping existing blueprints for growth. "Business also believes in agriculture and open space."

SOAR proponents refute accusations that they did not include community leaders in their growth-control efforts, saying they sent copies of their initiatives to a variety of local leaders and farmers for comment before they circulated petitions to place them on the ballot.

They contend that they will face an uphill battle in the fall against a much better-funded opponent.

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