Potential safety problems, the loss of prime cropland, and increased traffic and noise are concerns being cited by city officials, educators and residents as Ventura County concludes its public review of a proposal to build a new juvenile hall.
However, most problems brought up during a 45-day review process can be eliminated or diminished and should not significantly slow the $65-million project, said Don Krause, chief deputy in the county's Probation Agency.
"There are no insurmountable problems," he said. "We are hopeful that we will move forward smoothly in selecting a site."
After a final environmental document is prepared, county supervisors will select one of five locations being considered for the juvenile detention center.
The two leading properties--desirable because they are centrally located, up for sale and zoned for industrial development--are a 40-acre flower field in Saticoy and a 45-acre parcel in El Rio.
The other sites are a 52-acre field on the Oxnard Plain, a 17-acre site on Lewis Road south of Camarillo and a portion of the sprawling County Government Center in Ventura.
A draft report analyzing potential environmental impacts at each site did not turn up any fatal flaws, Krause said. However, the report did find that construction on all but the Government Center site would unavoidably result in conversion of agricultural land to urban use, a "significant" impact.
At a public hearing Wednesday, several speakers brought up concerns with the El Rio site.
Salvador Godoy, director of facilities for the Rio School District, told the county's Environmental Report Review Committee that the analysis did not satisfy the district's concerns about pollution, noise and traffic generated by a 540-bed juvenile hall.
Godoy said educators also have concerns for the safety of students at nearby El Rio Elementary School. The students could be subjected to drive-by assaults or intimidation as visitors to the center cruise past their campuses, he noted.
"You'll have these thugs coming to visit their partners," he said. "They might be upset because their buddies are getting locked up and do harm to our students."
Oxnard Union High School District chief Bill Studt asked for more time to review the environmental analysis to determine whether his district would lodge any concerns. The committee agreed to give the district an additional 10 days to submit written comments.
Oxnard city officials said they want to make sure that the county follows development standards that call for detailed analysis of what water and sewer improvements would be needed to bring the El Rio project to fruition. And the county's analysis does not take into account a recent proposal by a Los Angeles developer to build more than 2,000 homes just south of the proposed site, officials said.
Steve Offerman, who is supervising the environmental process, noted that the housing proposal by Keller-CMS Inc. of Los Angeles was submitted to Oxnard planning officials in December, long after the county began its analysis.
In written comments, Ventura city officials have brought up concerns about traffic, noise and provision of services at the Saticoy location, which is unincorporated land but within an area targeted for city growth.
Ventura officials are also concerned about the impacts of a Saticoy facility on nearby residential tracts.
Melissa Hernandez, with a group identified as Ventureno Chumash Council, said that the Saticoy location is near the site of an ancient Chumash village and that any construction plan must take into account the possibility that Native American artifacts would be unearthed.
Although the county intends to have an archeologist on-site during construction, Hernandez said more must be done to preserve areas of religious and cultural significance to Chumash descendants.
County officials are hoping for a smooth selection process because they face a May 2003 deadline to have the 540-bed facility up and running. If the opening is delayed, the county could lose $40 million in state and federal funding.
Officials are encouraged that no organized environmental groups have come forward to oppose any of the suggested sites.
The center is proposed to include detention facilities, courts and other justice agencies geared toward rehabilitating juvenile offenders.
It will replace an aging and crowded Juvenile Hall in Ventura. Officials say the expanded center will increase public safety by allowing more youth offenders to be taken off the streets.