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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Councilman Considers Alternative Growth Plan

SOAR: Official fears Fillmore will always be a poor city if slow-growth initiative is approved. Its petition gatherers face a Tuesday deadline.

May 18, 2000|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FILLMORE — Fearful that this farm town will languish in poverty, Councilman Roger Campbell said Wednesday that he will probably ask the City Council to place a rival growth-control measure on the November ballot if a more restrictive anti-sprawl initiative qualifies for the fall election.

"If they qualify, then I'm leaning toward it real heavily," Campbell said. "I'm going to talk about it at the next council meeting. Everybody on the council opposes this present initiative 100%."

Campbell said he thinks a council majority will favor his measure, which would allow Fillmore to grow from 13,000 residents to about 20,000 over two decades, but also would establish permanent growth boundaries to protect the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley from urban development.

The pending Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiative would pull back the city's growth boundaries to within current city limits in some places. And no development could occur beyond those boundaries without voter approval. Similar, but less restrictive, measures have passed in six other local cities in recent years.

Although backers of the Fillmore SOAR have until Tuesday to gather enough voter signatures to put their measure on the Nov. 7 ballot, the five-member City Council could qualify Campbell's measure with a majority vote any time until July.

Campbell, a 49-year-old Fillmore native, criticized backers of the SOAR initiative as newcomers who would stop nearly all growth and keep Fillmore--the county's poorest city--from achieving an economic balance among its residents.

By allowing some growth, Campbell argued, Fillmore can lure affluent residents whose taxes would help pay for services in a city that struggles to provide basic necessities.

"I think it's really critical that we do what we can to protect this valley," he said. "But I also think the SOAR initiative is a no-growth measure. It would lock us in to being the poorest city forever."

Paul Harding, a key backer of the SOAR initiative, said the measure will undoubtedly qualify for the fall ballot, since about 1,000 registered voters have already signed petitions supporting it and only about 500 signatures are required.

But he said he is concerned that a second ballot measure might split the slow-growth electorate. That happened in 1998 in Santa Paula, when two different SOAR initiatives were on the ballot and voters turned both down.

"I guess that's their strategy," Harding said. "But this [Campbell proposal] does surprise me. We had discussions with the city about adopting our plan, and it didn't seem that they were so hostile."

Harding said negotiations with the city collapsed when officials insisted on including a large new golf course development near a fish hatchery in a compromise agreement.

"We were not willing to move our curb line to accommodate that development because of our concern about the ability of the fish hatchery to survive. So we were forced to proceed with our effort."

SOAR backers also have fundamental disagreements with the council over who should decide how much growth is allowed and what kind of growth is desirable, Harding said. The city's plans for several large expansions outside city limits are worrisome, he said, and do not reflect current community values.

"This is not a matter of no growth," he said. "It's a matter of the people being involved in the decision-making. The council wants to take what little land we have left and put in luxury homes that are not affordable to anyone in this community. And there are a lot of people who feel that a golf course is an extravagant use of land when we have so little left to build on."

The Fillmore SOAR was organized in February by furious residents after the City Council accepted $300,000 from the Newhall Land & Farming Co. to withdraw from a lawsuit challenging the developer's proposed 70,000-resident project at the Los Angeles County line. Newhall also owns about 15,000 acres of farm and range land near Fillmore in this county.

Until then, there was little vocal opposition to the growth plan that Campbell says he would back as a ballot initiative.

"That was our wake-up call," Harding said. "We were complacent. We felt the city had a plan and that it was not supportive of any mega-development. But the Newhall decision kind of rekindled the democratic spirit of our community.

"Our concern is that developers never give up," said Harding, 51, a painting contractor who moved from Los Angeles eight years ago. "And as the City Council changes, there will be constant pressure for additional growth. We've seen it all over Southern California. And we don't want to be the next San Fernando Valley."

Campbell said he sees the Fillmore effort as a "hostile SOAR," which differs from other initiatives passed by voters in six local cities because supporters in Fillmore would not compromise with city officials when drawing proposed growth boundaries.

"Just look at the SOARs that have been passed," Campbell said. "This is the most restrictive ever. And it's being proposed in a town that's been cautious with its growth and protective of its farmland."

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