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2 Moorpark Officials Support Ballot Alternatives to SOAR Initiative

Development: Council members plan to push a less restrictive open-space measure and two tax plans.

May 09, 1998|REGINA HONG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MOORPARK — Two City Council members are backing a trio of local ballot measures designed to answer a local SOAR initiative--including an alternative plan and new taxes they say would be needed with growth controls.

Chris Evans and Debbie Teasley plan to recommend to their colleagues that they place a less-restrictive open-space preservation initiative on the November ballot. That measure would compete with an initiative planned by the Moorpark chapter of Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, whose members want to require approval of voters for development on some open land.

The two also plan to ask the council on May 20 to approve two proposed tax measures for the ballot: one to pay for any legal challenges that might arise from SOAR's open-space initiative or the city's alternative measure, and another to buy land from property owners to compensate them for loss of development opportunities.

"I think we've got some solid recommendations to take back to the council," said Evans, who along with Teasley was given responsibility for recommending what stance the city should take on the local measure sponsored by SOAR.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 12, 1998 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 5 Zones Desk 2 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Moorpark SOAR--An article Saturday on growth control meetings held by two Moorpark City Council members contained inaccurate information. Representatives of Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources were invited to all three meetings, but attended only one.

The two council members came to their decision after the last of three meetings over the SOAR initiative ended Thursday. SOAR members were only permitted to attend the second meeting.

SOAR backers responded with caution to the new proposals but said the measures could be meant to confuse voters.

"I can't tell you what their motivations are," said Oxnard attorney Richard Francis, the main author of the SOAR initiative, "but they haven't liked SOAR from the very beginning and they're looking for every argument to distract attention from it."

While a range of growth-related measures could be confusing, Francis said, "I'm comfortable with the voters' ability to sift through this."

The move represents the latest alternative proposed by Ventura County groups not in the SOAR camp. Oxnard council members last month agreed to place their own competing measure on the ballot.

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Also, members of the Agriculture Policy Working Group, made up of politicians, environmentalists, business leaders and farmers, have formed alternative strategies that could end up competing against the SOAR initiative.

The SOAR initiative, for which backers are trying to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot, would require voters' approval for development on farmland or open space outside the city's current boundaries. The group would like to place urban boundaries around Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, Camarillo and Simi Valley that only voters could change.

The alternative city measure the two council members plan to recommend is dubbed a "greenbelt preservation measure." It would require voters' approval to build on any open space outside the boundary of the city's General Plan, a blueprint for development until the city is built out.

Updated in 1992, the General Plan boundaries are more extensive than those SOAR would draw because it includes unincorporated areas that could be annexed in the future. The city measure, however, would leave space for a greenbelt around the city, the council members said.

It also would mean that the hotly debated 4,300-acre Hidden Creek Ranch, or Messenger project, could be approved by the City Council without a vote. The SOAR initiative would require that the project be approved by voters since it is outside current city boundaries.

Francis maintains a key purpose of the Moorpark SOAR initiative is to prevent the developer from building the project, which could dramatically alter the city's landscape by including 3,221 homes and boosting the city's population by one-third. "Obviously, they have not been listening to their constituents," Francis said. "There's a significant groundswell against Messenger. If nothing else, SOAR is a referendum on Messenger."

In addition to the SOAR alternative, Evans and Teasley are recommending a tax measure to pay for legal expenses if either the city or SOAR initiatives passes and subjects the city to costly legal challenges from property owners, farmers or building organizations, Evans said.

"I don't think if most of the people signing the petition understood how financially devastating this could be, that they would sign the petition," he said.

Evans envisions the tax measure might state, in the event the city is sued over either measure, that the city be allowed to create an assessment district for a five- to 10-year period.

The second tax measure would ask voters whether they are willing to buy some of the open space that would be preserved. Evans said the SOAR initiative, as it now stands, is tantamount to stealing land from property owners because it would severely curtail their development rights.

"That's what's fair," Evans said. If people truly want open space, "instead of stealing it, we should buy it," he said.

The city has no estimates yet on how much either measure would cost taxpayers.

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