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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Greenbelt Push Is Taking on New Dimensions

Land: County and cities seek to bolster preservation pacts and create six new zones to restrict development on thousands more acres.

May 22, 2000|DARYL KELLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cities across Ventura County will soon begin to implement a 1998 anti-sprawl ballot measure by enacting a series of new laws that could one day shield nearly 200,000 acres of farmland and open space from urban development.

City and county officials say they are moving forward with plans to create large new agricultural greenbelts and to strengthen rules that protect existing farm preserves.

In the booming east county, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks and the county are requesting state and federal grants to buy the verdant 2,700-acre Tierra Rejada Greenbelt--the last pasture land separating those two cities and Simi Valley.

In the rural Santa Clara Valley, officials are poised to create a huge new 72,000-acre greenbelt of citrus orchards stretching 13 miles from the Fillmore city limits to the Los Angeles County line.

On the rich Oxnard Plain, the Oxnard City Council has moved to place into municipal law an existing 4,600-acre zone created years ago by informal agreement with Ventura and the county. And it is considering a smaller farm zone near Point Mugu.

In the bucolic Ojai Valley, city officials are backing a new zone of at least 10,000 acres to protect the orchards and pastures of the east and Upper Ojai valleys.

"There's a lot of movement right now," county Supervisor Frank Schillo said. "We've taken the voters' wishes seriously."

This new push is part of a countywide effort to strengthen six existing greenbelt agreements that cover 83,000 acres and to create six new greenbelts that more than double the size of the original zones.

As called for in Measure A, approved by voters in November 1998, the agreements would be implemented by city and county ordinances instead of the current informal handshake arrangements formed through simple resolutions. That would make them harder to change and subject to public hearing before repeal.

County planner Gene Kjellberg, who monitors local anti-sprawl efforts, said the potential purchase of the Tierra Rejada Greenbelt is particularly important because government ownership would preserve the grassy strip forever.

"If they could permanently protect this land, that would be a quantum leap compared to what we've done before," he said. "This process could provide the model for how other greenbelts are planned for the future."

Indeed, Schillo and Supervisor John K. Flynn are discussing with a local farmland conservation agency how to pool their efforts to buy development rights on farms within the greenbelts. The agency has received $2 million in grants since 1993. The Board of Supervisors will consider Tuesday providing a county planner to devise a purchase plan.

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But the path to preservation, though paved with a two-thirds voter majority in 1998, has not always been smooth.

Fillmore appeared headed toward creation of the new Fillmore-Piru Greenbelt last fall. The City Council said the new zone would send a strong message to Newhall Land & Farming Co., which plans a 70,000-resident community nearby in Los Angeles County and owns 15,000 acres in this county.

But the council stopped cold in November, when Santa Clara Valley growers and farmers balked, insisting that as part of the deal Ventura County tighten its zoning rules to exclude industries such as gravel pits and garbage dumps from farm zones.

Fillmore Councilman Roger Campbell, the city's point man on the issue, said the county has responded, and a greenbelt deal should be back on the table before long.

County officials said a set of new restrictions for farm and open-space zones will be considered by the county Planning Commission next month. But there's no consensus yet about what types of construction may be banned from these greenbelts. Every local city seems to have a different list of activities considered onerous, county planner Debbie Millais said.

"We have about nine pages of [contested] uses," she said. "Everybody has a different view of what should be allowed."

Keith Turner, county planning director, said the county is studying rules that would require large buffer spaces between farms and nonagricultural uses, or even fencing. And a special zone might be created for existing industries, since they cannot legally be forced to shut down.

Campbell said Fillmore wants to make sure that existing nuisances, such as the Toland Landfill and the S.P. Milling Boulder Creek mining project, are not expanded and that similar new industries are not approved.

"We want things out of the agricultural zones that don't have anything to do with farming," he said.

Campbell said he thinks county revisions will prompt local cities to collectively back new and stronger greenbelt laws.

"This is going to start moving forward again," he said. "It is really important that we have better assurances that there won't be any further development from here to the L.A. County line. That will be my legacy."

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