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VENTURA COUNTY

Another City Agrees to Put SOAR Initiative on Ballot

Development: Thousand Oaks council lets residents vote in November on the slow-growth measure.

June 24, 1998|KATE FOLMAR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Thousand Oaks on Tuesday night became the latest city to put a growth-control measure on the November ballot despite concern over whether the initiative would have much practical effect in this slow-growth area.

By a unanimous vote, the Thousand Oaks City Council agreed to let residents vote on a local Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources measure, championed by Councilwoman Linda Parks.

Half a dozen residents spoke in favor of the measure, which the council passed after no debate.

Resident Debbie Gregory said the SOAR measure would preserve "a legacy of greenbelts and divisions between cities" for children. "They will know hills and dells in their lives."

Before Tuesday's meeting, Parks said approving SOAR for the ballot was "the right thing to do."

"There has been a groundswell of opinion from the residents of Thousand Oaks that we want to have something on the ballot to protect our city from expanding into the open space all around us," she said. "Whether you endorse SOAR or not, it is the will of the people to put it on the ballot."

Given that Thousand Oaks is already ringed by 14,000 acres of permanent open space and has no intention of hopping its boundaries, City Councilwoman Judy Lazar said she was not sure the SOAR measure would make much difference in Thousand Oaks. But she said the matter is best left to voters.

"The public seems to find SOAR an attractive sound bite," she said Tuesday afternoon. "When in reality, it's what we have advanced and guaranteed over the past 20 years. . . . If the public feels more reassured [with SOAR in place], we should do this."

Activists have gathered more than enough signatures to put SOAR measures on the ballot for the whole of Ventura County and six of its major cities, but the Libertarian Party has legally challenged the validity of the petitions.

Having cities such as Thousand Oaks put the measure on the ballot as a city-sponsored measure, rather than a citizen-sponsored one, skirts that legal challenge.

The direct-to-ballot strategy appears to be working.

By Tuesday, county supervisors and city councils in Simi Valley and Santa Paula had placed SOAR measures on the ballot. The Moorpark council is scheduled to discuss the matter tonight.

The Oxnard City Council, which agreed to placing SOAR on the ballot in April, may make its measure even more restrictive Saturday at a special meeting that will double as a budget study session.

The city and county measures are designed to complement each other.

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The city measures would prevent a city from expanding beyond a designated border, unless voters say otherwise.

Similarly, the countywide initiative would forbid the rezoning of agricultural land for development without a public vote.

County leaders decided last week to place the countywide SOAR initiative on the fall ballot independent of the 45,300 signatures collected to accomplish the same goal.

But on Tuesday, they still had to address the issue of whether to certify the signatures.

That is because once a group turns in petitions to place something on the ballot, it cannot legally take the petitions back. If there are enough signatures for an initiative to qualify for the ballot, politicians by law have only three choices: put it on the ballot, adopt it as law directly or study it for 30 days.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pursue the study, hoping in the meantime the lawsuit regarding the validity of the signatures can be resolved--and the county not end up with two versions of the same initiative on the ballot.

"We would all be better off if a judge makes the decision," Supervisor Frank Schillo said.

If a judge decides to throw out the signatures, as attorneys for the Ventura County Libertarian Party are requesting, then only the countywide SOAR initiative placed on the ballot by county leaders would go before voters.

Times staff writer Miguel Bustillo and correspondents Nick Green and Pamela J. Johnson contributed to this story.

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