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Ventura County Perspective

5,000 Acres, Hillside Views Are at Stake in Ventura

February 18, 2001|NORENE CHARNOFSKY | Norene Charnofsky is a Ventura resident

There are many good reasons to stay home at the end of a long day rather than drag yourself to a public meeting: Children to feed, exhaustion from work, a tempting episode of "The West Wing" and plain old inertia come to mind. So one might expect that the hundreds of individuals who took the trouble Jan. 31 to attend the fourth in a series of seven meetings on development plans for Ventura's hills would have strong feelings.

I attended because I adore the view of the hills and because if I could no longer hike to Two Trees, my quality of life would be sadly degraded.

The future of 5,000 acres, most of the still-unblemished hillside land that is part of our daily view from almost any spot in the city, is the subject of a "concept creation process" sponsored by the families that have owned this land for more than 100 years. In designing a comprehensive concept rather than a piecemeal approach, the owners say they wish to address the preferences of the community as well as their own needs.

When the public had access to the open mikes, citizens presented extremely divergent opinions. These ranged from those who believe that the building of executive-type homes would attract lucrative business to those who call upon landowners in impassioned terms to cease the expensive workshop process, save the money and preserve the hillsides as they are, undeveloped.

Some of the latter group suspect that the process--a polished presentation by planners, hydrologists, geologists, biologists and engineers and the open-mike opportunities--is merely a public relations ploy, a charade sponsored by owners to handle an anticipated huge public outcry. Some even suspect that officials are in collusion, hoping to convince the most outraged environmentalists that development is inevitable, in a sense, plotting to get rid of the bad apples before they contaminate the bushel of voters.

Between the extremes are those who decry the immorality of creating a need for great quantities of water, which would be taken from other communities, and those who worry about infrastructure costs for housing development and increased need for services, a bill for schools, fire, and police, ultimately charged to Ventura taxpayers.

The only person who seemed exhilarated by the process was one of the planners, who with unquenchable optimism referred to it several times as "fun." He enthused over the chance to come up with "great ideas and plans." He showed slides of hiking trails and interpretive nature centers, holding out the hope, albeit unstated, that Ventura's concept would embrace similar benefits. He implied that what the participants decide could be voted on by the electorate. And when he mentioned that Thousand Oaks has managed to preserve most of its ridgelines, and perhaps Ventura would devise a similar quid-pro-quo--some development in exchange for protection of ridgelines--I felt a seed was being planted.

Environmental activists who have been through similar planning processes know that saving wild lands is a tough and thankless job, requiring big bucks and enormous dedication. Inevitably, compromises must be made. Those who stayed home and watched "The West Wing" could tell them about the inevitability of compromise.

As for me, don't count me in on any concept unless it includes saving our view of the hills and our hiking access to Two Trees.

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