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Board Rejects SOAR Implementation Report

Land: The decision prompts Supervisor John Flynn to resign from the panel that outlined ways to institute voter-approved growth control.


After nearly an hour of heated debate, a sharply divided Ventura County Board of Supervisors rejected a report Tuesday that outlined ways to implement the voter-approved SOAR growth control initiative.

Immediately after the board's 3-2 vote, a visibly angry Supervisor John Flynn abruptly resigned from the panel's SOAR Implementation Committee.

"The board obviously wants to take a milquetoast approach to this issue," Flynn said before voting in favor of the report. "Sixty-nine percent of all the voters in Ventura County told us to start moving forward with this measure. So why aren't we moving forward? . . . I don't want to do more work, come back and be second-guessed again."

Supervisor Frank Schillo, the only other supervisor on the implementation panel, later said he was so disgusted by the board's action that he also may quit.

"I wonder if we're just wasting our time," asked Schillo, who was sick and went home soon after he, too, voted in favor of the SOAR report.

"We did everything we could to ease everyone's anxieties," Schillo said. "They were nit-picking everything in the report. They didn't like the mission statement. We said we'd change it. That didn't satisfy them. . . . If we listen to everything they want, it will just water it down to an ineffective level."

But Chairwoman Susan Lacey, Supervisor Kathy Long and Supervisor Judy Mikels, who voted against the committee report, said their objections were valid.

For example, they questioned the neutrality of the nonprofit group recommended to lead a SOAR educational program. Global Green USA, they said, has actively opposed the use of chemical weapons. Among those on the organization's board of trustees are politically outspoken celebrities Yoko Ono, Robert Redford and Ted Turner.

"While Global Green is an outside group, they are by no means neutral," Mikels said during the meeting.

"We have excellent grant writers in our own county who could get us to the same goal," Long added. "The public educational portion must come from within. It must be grass-roots."

Launching an educational program was included in the SOAR advisory measure, which received nearly 69% of the countywide vote last fall.

The advisory measure allows supervisors to adopt recommendations by their Agriculture Policy Working Group, a panel of farmers, environmentalists, building industry representatives and business leaders who were asked to study farmland preservation issues for more than a year.

The separate Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources measure, which received almost 63% of the vote, prevents farmland and open space outside cities from being rezoned for development without voter approval.

The SOAR Implementation Committee's 35-page report contains ways to institute the group's recommendations, such as creating a special district that would campaign for a new sales tax to purchase privately owned open space and farmland.

Flynn questioned the motive behind Long's vote Tuesday. He said he thinks Long, who was an opponent of SOAR and the companion measure, wants to prevent the working group's recommendations from coming to fruition.

But Flynn said Long lacks the courage to publicly express her continued opposition to growth controls. During the meeting, he accused Long of sending "mixed messages" to the public. In a later interview, he was more direct:

"She's trying to satisfy both sides of the issues--the developers and the environmentalists," Flynn said. "It's better for board members to say, 'I'm opposed to Measure A and Measure B and I don't want to implement them.' Her best campaign tool is to be frank with the public and not try to camouflage it."

Long denied being duplicitous.

"I can't help but laugh," Long said. "If the recommendations they brought today had any teeth to them, I would have voted for it. I tried to address the gaps in a polite way. . . . We tried to put a compromise on the table, but they would not budge."

During the meeting, Lacey, Long and Mikels suggested that the report be altered and returned for board consideration in two weeks. Among other concerns, they wanted the report to reflect more comments from the agricultural community.

"I'm concerned that if we go ahead we will be missing key players who have to be at the table," Lacey said, referring to members of the county's Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee.

Schillo and Flynn suggested amending the report during the meeting and moving forward with the plan. But they were outvoted.

"I recommend we not take any action on this, this morning," said Mikels, who also said the committee's proposed mission statement gave its members too much authority. "I would prefer the report be cleaned up and brought back in two weeks."

Schillo and Flynn, however, refused a delay.

"Measure A said we're supposed to get this done within two years," Schillo said. "We're already six months into it. If we keep delaying, we'll never get it done."

During a phone interview from home, Schillo could not hide his dismay over the morning's turn of events.

"In all my 15 years in government, I have never seen such a controversy or a 3-2 vote against filing and receiving a report," he said.

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