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Ventura County Perspective | SECOND OPINION

Hidden Creek Ranch Proposal Reveals a Quality-of-Life Deficit

The project is inconsistent with the Moorpark General Plan and would create adverse environmental impacts that could not be mitigated.

September 20, 1998|PATRICK HUNTER | Patrick Hunter is the mayor of Moorpark. This article is based on his comments to the City Council on July 1

In examining the many elements of the Hidden Creek Ranch proposal, there are undoubtedly a number of benefits this development would bring to our community.

The plan calls for development of one large community park and two smaller neighborhood parks. Two public golf courses are also proposed within the project. An additional fire station site has been identified, as well as sites for the eventual construction of additional school facilities.

This project also includes the development of 365 affordable housing units, which would assist us in reducing the affordable housing deficit in our community.

There are also, unfortunately, a number of serious consequences that would result from the development.

In May 1995, the Moorpark City Council adopted an ordinance designed to preserve and protect the scenic hillsides in and around our beautiful community. With very limited exceptions, the ordinance prohibits grading on slopes in excess of 20%.

According to the environmental impact report certified by the City Council earlier this year, Hidden Creek Ranch would necessitate the mass grading and excavation of 1,460 acres of land, resulting in the movement of nearly 26 million cubic yards of dirt. Of this total, nearly 740 acres, or 51%, of all mass grading would occur on slopes equal to or greater than 20%. Therefore, more than half of all mass grading required for this project is proposed to be exempted from the Moorpark Hillside Management Ordinance.

I find it absolutely inconceivable why our city would spend so much time and money crafting an ordinance designed to preserve and protect a significant natural resource only to permit such a large exemption.

Urban sprawl is less an issue of the number of dwelling units in an individual development proposal than of an overriding philosophy designed to address comprehensive land-use planning. I believe urban sprawl and uncontrolled residential growth represent the greatest threats to our exceptional quality of life and that they severely jeopardize our ability to continue to enjoy a semirural lifestyle.

In July 1996, Ventura County, its 10 cities and the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) formally updated the Guidelines for Orderly Development. The intent of these guidelines, originally adopted nearly 30 years ago, is to "clarify the relationship between the cities and the county with respect to urban planning, serve to facilitate a better understanding regarding development standards and fees and identify the appropriate governmental agency responsible for making determinations on land-use requests." This document states that "these guidelines are a unique effort to encourage 'urban development' to occur within cities and to enhance the regional responsibility of county government."

According to the guidelines, development should be considered urban if it meets any of the following three criteria:

* It would require the establishment of new community sewer systems or the significant expansion of existing sewer systems.

* It would result in creation of residential lots less than two acres in area.

* It would result in establishment of commercial or industrial uses that are neither agriculture-related nor related to the production of mineral resources.

The Hidden Creek Ranch proposal, of course, meets all three criteria.

These guidelines further enumerate a number of policies under which urban development should occur. Policy 1 states that "urban development should occur, whenever and wherever practical, within incorporated cities which exist to provide a full range of municipal services and are responsible for urban land-use planning."

Policy 2 states, "The cities and the county should strive to produce general plans, ordinances and policies that will fulfill these guidelines."

At varying stages of application, there are 3,478 single-family and / or multifamily dwelling units already proposed for construction within Moorpark's city limits. Using state housing estimates of 3.3 people per household, a total of nearly 11,500 new residents are expected to be generated from these proposed developments alone.

From a comprehensive planning perspective, I believe it is far more prudent and reasonable, and that it represents better public policy, to first assimilate these new residents into our community and determine how they will impact our infrastructure, including schools, libraries, and other public services.

In May 1992, Moorpark updated its General Plan.

During the process, the city identified 17 objectives from the General Land Use Element applicable to the Hidden Creek Ranch proposal.

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