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Park Measure a New Test for SOAR


VENTURA — Opponents paint it as a stadium-size project masquerading as a community park, so large it will devour acres of open space and millions in city money, while producing a stream of polluting cars, rowdy fans and late-night disruptions.

Supporters call it a natural start to solving Ventura's park problem: a cure to the ailments of shaggy soccer fields, no municipal pool, and children and families hungering for a good place to play in a city vastly underserved.

In only the second test of Ventura's 5-year-old SOAR growth-control law, city voters will be called on Nov. 7 to decide which portrait is closest to the truth.

Measure M asks voters to decide whether 95 acres of farmland at Telephone and Kimball roads in east Ventura should be rezoned from agricultural land to parkland.

What they're really deciding is whether the city should invest $35 million in a community sports park, which would ultimately include softball and soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts, an Olympic-size pool, and an $8-million community center.

To proponents, it's a no-brainer. And if City Council meetings are any indication, a larger proportion of residents seems to support the park.

Supporters point to a study commissioned last year, which suggested that for a city of its size, Ventura is severely lacking in swimming pools, playing fields and tennis and basketball courts.

"They've had to turn soccer fields sideways, and kids are just jammed in there, and we have world-class athletes here with no facilities," said Jim McConica, a champion swimmer and longtime park proponent. "That's a crime."

For the most part, opponents don't question that the city needs more parks. What bothers some is the site--neighbors fear noise and traffic.

Opponents also object to the cost, saying the money could be better spent on roads. And they wonder where the bulk of the money is going to come from. The city has about $11 million set aside for the first phase--enough to buy the land, build the $2.5-million pool, the sports fields, and potential trails and landscaping.

City officials concede they aren't sure where they would find the additional funds. Building the project in phases allows flexibility, said Jim Walker, Ventura community services director.

"How many people buy a house with cash?" asked Steve Doll, the unofficial chairman of the Measure M campaign. "We put in what we can and figure out how to keep going. [City officials] are very creative people who figure out ways to fix things."

Opponents, such as neighborhood activist Diane Underhill,argue that the city should pour money into smaller parks throughout the city, or try to create a true regional sports park with the cities of Oxnard and Camarillo--one that would be far from Ventura's residential neighborhoods. This spot, they say, would have too big an effect on their areas. And, they contend, the city is trying to sneak it in under the name "community" sports park, when in reality it would be a regional draw.

"It's a stadium without a roof," said Margaret Hindle, a neighbor who is an ardent opponent of the sports park's current design. "A regional park is big time. . . . It's word games. It's too big and massive for this area."

She envisions an influx of crime and gangs, and sporting hordes celebrating victories with rowdy revelry. She further worries that the city's provisions to stem noise, traffic and bright lights won't be enough.

"We're all senior citizens," said Margie Trevett, who lives in the nearby Lemon Wood Mobile Home Park. "It will devalue our coaches when we try to sell. You're looking for a place to retire. It's a lovely park, and then you see this thing next door."

Not so, say backers. The spot is clearly for community use, Walker said, and the site isn't planned for large events that would bring in fans from across the state. It's a community park, which may host occasional regional meets or games.

And it's not economically feasible to create a group of smaller parks because of start-up costs for each one, he said. This, supporters say, is the most efficient way to make a dent in the city's need for parks.

But some opponents and farmers worry that such a plan would undermine growth limits set by SOAR. By turning this agricultural land--even if it's in the middle of a residential neighborhood--into parkland, voters would be sending the wrong message, they say.

"They're unraveling SOAR at a rapid rate," opponent Dave Burleson said. "It will cause a domino effect."

This is the first city-sponsored test of the SOAR growth-control laws passed in 1995. Last year, voters approved a similar measure for 26 acres of farmland near Montgomery Avenue and Bristol Road at the First Assembly of God Church, so the group could build sports fields and an auditorium for its growing congregation.

The city's growth-control law requires voter approval before agricultural land and open space can be rezoned for development.

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