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Conference Looks at Smart Growth

March 17, 2000|MARGARET TALEV

With strict SOAR growth-control laws in place, all eyes will be on Ventura County to see how it will develop in the new century.

That was the message delivered Thursday at a conference called "Plains, Terrains and Automobiles" at the Ventura Beach Hotel attended by more than 250 county planners, developers, environmentalists and transportation officials.

"People all over the country are going to be looking at Ventura to see how it's working," Harriet Tregoning, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's Urban and Economic Development Division, told the audience. "You're kind of leading the charge."

The conference's main topic: smart growth, a concept embraced by several cities throughout the country that hope to improve air quality and minimize sprawl by changing the way neighborhoods are built. Smart growth encourages urban in-fill projects and higher-density development that allows for several income levels in one neighborhood, as well as the construction of pedestrian-friendly communities. It also attempts to evenly distribute jobs near homes to reduce commute time.

Attendees considered obstacles to accommodating the county's population, which is expected to swell from 750,000 to nearly 1 million by 2020.

While this was the first large-scale conference of its kind in Ventura County, participants said it had been an inevitability for some time.

A year and a half ago, county voters passed SOAR, one of the strictest slow-growth provisions in the nation, which for the next 20 years requires a popular vote before open spaces between cities can be developed.

Thursday's conference focused on what has to happen locally before smart growth is a realistic option. Participants said obstacles include city and county zoning, and land-use rules that lack sufficient incentives and flexibility for urban redevelopment; public resistance to high-density housing; insufficient funds to clean up polluted urban lots, and state insurance laws that make new apartment and condo construction prohibitively expensive.

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