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DECISION 2000

Park in Ventura, SOAR in Santa Paula Pass

November 09, 2000|MATT SURMAN and GAIL DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In Ventura's second test of its slow-growth laws, voters narrowly approved a controversial sports park Tuesday, overriding arguments the project is too expensive, too big and would unravel laws set aside to protect agriculture.

"I think this is the perfect example of how SOAR works," Parks and Recreation Commissioner Doug Halter said. "It's meant to allow the people to choose how development should occur and what projects, if any, should occur on farmland. That's what this was."

The city has a 95-acre plot at Kimball and Telephone roads in escrow, and will immediately begin completing plans for the $11.5-million first phase of the project, which is expected to include sports fields and an aquatic center, said Jim Walker, Ventura community services director.

Building is expected to begin in about a year on the project, which many argued was a necessity in a city they said has far too few parks for its size.

Meanwhile, voters in Santa Paula made their slow-growth intentions clear Tuesday, becoming the seventh Ventura County city to approve a SOAR growth-control law, and leaving Fillmore, where voters rejected two growth-control measures, one of the few cities still without the strict growth laws.

Measure I limits how far and fast growth can occur over the next 20 years in the cash-strapped and largely Latino city of Santa Paula. It will effectively block City Council-backed plans for a development in Adams Canyon that calls for 2,250 homes, a resort hotel, commercial center and golf course.

Backers argued that expanding into Adams Canyon would mean the city was turning its back on low-income residents living within the city limits, and could swamp the city with traffic and dilute its character.

"I think the people were sending a message: It ain't about developing for dollars. It's about taking care of the community," said Mike Miller, one of the main backers of the initiative.

To some extent, opponents of the measure, who had argued that SOAR could be an economic straitjacket, agreed with Miller.

"I believe that the Measure I win is really a referendum on the leadership of Santa Paula, and I think Adams Canyon got tied up in that," said Kay Wilson-Bolton, an opponent of the initiative who helped secure about $42,000 from the California Assn. of Realtors to fight the measure.

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Wilson-Bolton said voters have made it clear they would not support development of Adams Canyon, which the new SOAR law would require. But, she said, the new City Council is going to face an economic challenge if its development hands are tied.

"The future of Santa Paula's economy was bleak without the constraints," she said. "With them, it's going to be exacerbated."

The growth-control battlefield proved to be tough for the only incumbent in the race. Voters resoundingly threw out Jim Garfield, a real estate agent and SOAR opponent, who wants to develop Adams Canyon. At the same time they gave a clear lead to newcomer John Procter, who is pro-SOAR and against development of the canyons.

"I don't know which was the chicken or the egg, but we were definitely associated," Procter said of his association with the measure.

The race for the second of two open seats is still too close to call, city officials said.

Candidates Ray Luna and Alfonso A. Guilin are four-tenths of a percentage point apart and not all absentee ballots have been counted.

Fillmore, observers said, looked to be where Santa Paula was two years ago, when voters rejected two growth measures. Both Measure J and the less restrictive City Council-sponsored Measure K failed with Fillmore voters Tuesday.

Voters were most likely confused by the two measures, just as occurred two years ago in Santa Paula, said Richard Francis, a key architect of SOAR policies. He said he believed the City Council sponsored its own version just for that purpose.

Supporters of Measure J said its failure was no reason to believe Fillmore voters are supportive of substantial growth, citing the election of City Council candidates who publicly expressed support for Measure K. They said there will now be pressure on the council to be strict with developers.

Fillmore's council is considering development on 800 acres along Goodenough Road on the city's northern flank and 550 acres in the southeastern part of the city. In the Goodenough Road area, there is talk of building up to 170 luxury homes and 1,000 more near the fish hatchery at the city's eastern limit.

Councilman Evaristo Barajas, the reelected incumbent who will be joined by two new faces on the council, Cecilia Cuevas and Patti Walker, said the vote showed the public has confidence in the job the council has been doing.

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Surman is a Times staff writer and Davis is a correspondent.

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