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Rare Plant No Longer Blocking Coast Project

Development: Environmentalists agree to drop suit over the milk-vetch in exchange for protections in Mandalay Beach housing plan.


OXNARD — Environmentalists have agreed to drop a lawsuit over a rare plant blocking a housing project, clearing the latest obstacle in a long-delayed plan to build a 337-home tract near Mandalay Beach.

Under a preliminary agreement reached Tuesday, attorneys for the Environmental Defense Center and the California Native Plant Society agreed that changes to what would be the largest coastal development in eight years are sufficient to ensure the plant's survival.

"For the city, this represents upper-end housing development and the potential for high household incomes," said Matthew Winegar, development services director for Oxnard. "This would be the largest project in the coastal zone here since 1992."

Environmentalists sued Oxnard in July, alleging that a review of the housing project failed to provide adequate protection for the Ventura marsh milk-vetch. The plant, which until recently was found only at that location, was apparently dumped at the site years ago along with waste oil that continues to pollute the 91-acre parcel.

North Shore LLC, the Newport Beach developer, has agreed to take added precautions to protect the plant, including doubling--to 10 acres--the amount of land dedicated as a preserve, installing fences and paying for scientific surveillance.

"We don't know if this is the absolute best thing," said John Buse, attorney for the Environmental Defense Center. "But this is the best we could do."

About 300 plants are concentrated in a 3,000-square-foot portion of the property. The plant was believed to be extinct in 1967 until it turned up near sand dunes in Oxnard. Since then, some of the plants have been grown in nurseries and planted in Carpinteria with more set for dispersal to the wild, Buse said.

North Shore proposes to build a gated community on 80 acres near Harbor Boulevard and 5th Street. Before it can begin, though, the Local Agency Formation Commission and the Coastal Commission must approve the project. LAFCO is scheduled to consider the annexation of the land to Oxnard when it meets April 19.

Meanwhile, the property's contamination must be cleaned up. A cleanup plan has been developed, but it requires approval from regulatory agencies before work can commence, said Ron Smith, a North Shore partner.

The company began plans for the development in 1989, Smith said. It was delayed first by the pollution found at the site and later by the discovery of the milk-vetch.

"It makes me feel very good," Smith said of the legal settlement. "It allows the project to proceed. We've been on this for 10 years and the timing is right to proceed."

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