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SOAR Has Signatures, Groups Say

Development: Activists prepare to submit petitions calling for slow-growth measures in Fillmore and Santa Paula.


Activists in Santa Paula and Fillmore said they expect to file petitions today to place a pair of SOAR growth-control initiatives on the November ballot.

After nearly two weeks of low-key campaigning, both groups said they have collected enough signatures to qualify the measures for the fall election.

"They are both well past the number," said Steve Bennett, an architect of the successful county Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources initiative who is overseeing the two local campaigns. "We don't need any more time and are ready to move ahead."

This afternoon, the Santa Paula group will turn in its petitions to the city clerk, who will send them to the county elections office for verification.

Without giving specifics, volunteers said they gathered more than the nearly 1,500 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. To ensure that enough of the signatures are those of valid registered voters, organizers need about 2,500 signatures, election officials said.

In Fillmore, organizers said they will submit their petitions during the City Council meeting tonight. Nearly 600 valid signatures are needed. Volunteers collected more than 1,000.

Both groups had faced a deadline of today set by the county for administrative purposes. However, the deadline was rescinded after election officials cleared their workload ahead of schedule.

An announcement on whether the petitions qualify for the fall ballot is expected by the end of the week.

Santa Paula and Fillmore are among four cities in Ventura County without a local SOAR measure on the books. Ojai and Port Hueneme also lack slow-growth measures.

The proposed Santa Paula and Fillmore SOAR measures would prohibit development outside newly designated city growth boundaries without voter approval.

In Fillmore, the drive to place a SOAR initiative on the ballot came after the City Council accepted $300,000 from Newhall Land & Farming Co. to pull out of a lawsuit challenging the company's 70,000-resident mega-project at the Los Angeles County line.

"That demonstrated that the City Council just wasn't in tune with what the people in Fillmore want," said Fillmore SOAR organizer Paul Harding. "Then it seemed [SOAR] was necessary to give the people a say in land-use decision-making because they weren't listening."

In addition to its Los Angeles County properties, Newhall owns about 15,000 acres of farm and scrubland near Fillmore, which has compounded concern among some residents about rampant sprawl and the erosion of the city's small-town, agricultural feel.

The Fillmore SOAR measure would pull back the city's growth boundaries, at some points to within the city limits, and restrict light industry and higher-end residential development.

Activists in Santa Paula said they also worry about Newhall's future plans in Ventura County. They said a tough, local SOAR initiative would complement the county's blanket measure, which is among the nation's strictest growth-control laws.

The two proposed SOAR initiatives are seen by supporters as critical to preserving farmland in the Santa Clara River Valley.

"Newhall is sitting like a loaded, cocked gun," said Oxnard attorney Richard Francis, who also helped lead the county SOAR drive. "This is an area that I believe is threatened, and it's not something the people there want."

But some Fillmore city officials said a growth model like SOAR's would cripple their city. As the county's poorest city, they say Fillmore needs some residential and commercial development to fuel its poor economy.

SOAR would severely restrict both types of developments, said Councilman Roger Campbell.

"This is the most hostile, most restrictive SOAR proposal in the history of Ventura County," Campbell said. "It would remove our ability to do almost anything. . . . It makes the city smaller, it removes the possibility for industrial development, it removes our ability to economically diversify, it makes Fillmore denser than it actually is, which is going to impact the schools, the roads and services."

Campbell said he will introduce a competing November ballot measure at the council meeting tonight. Dubbed Vision 2020 SOAR, it would allow for more moderate and "balanced" growth, he said.

He hopes fellow council members, whom Campbell says unanimously oppose the SOAR initiative, will agree to proceed with the alternative measure. He said the council could vote by June 13 to place the measure on the fall ballot.

"I think the voters need another choice," Campbell said. "I don't want to see these newcomers and people like Richard Francis, who barely knows where Fillmore is, marching into the city telling us what's best for it."

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