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Ventura County Perspective

Shape Growth for Balance

March 11, 2001

Whether to celebrate or despair over the most recent predictions of home price trends in Ventura County depends on one simple question:

Are you a potential buyer or a potential seller?

Either way, after taking a moment to express the appropriate emotion, all Ventura County residents should remind themselves that everybody loses if the widening gap between haves and have-nots is not controlled.

At a recent conference on the state of the county's economy, Bill Watkins, executive director of the Economic Forecast Project at UC-Santa Barbara, predicted that home prices will shoot up 57% countywide between now and 2005.

The median price today is $295,000. Four years from now, he said, it will be $463,000.

He foresees fewer and fewer houses selling for less than $200,000, even in the most affordable cities in the county. Oxnard's median price of $193,100 could climb to $301,500; Santa Paula's median home price could grow from $172,300 to $263,600.

In Thousand Oaks, where the median price already is $292,600, the median would rise to $525,700 under Watkins' formula.

His projections assume that the county's economy grows at 5% to 6%, that no major employers suffer cuts or leave town, and that the nation avoids recession.

If the state's energy crisis blows over, he said, prices will rise even faster.

Other economists quibble a bit with Watkins' figures but not with his reading of the trends. People keep having babies and moving into the area. Jobs are being created faster than homes are being built. Many residents view housing as just one need among many competing for each acre of the county.

Why should people who own their homes feel anything but glee over such numbers?

In part, because those who are renting or home-shopping make up a sizable portion of the local work force. Teachers, nurses and police officers as well as secretaries and farm workers are being forced to double up in too-small quarters or commute exhausting distances to more affordable areas.

First-time home buyers are finding it tougher and tougher to come up with a down payment. That could lead to businesses being forced to move somewhere cheaper. Outside companies might choose not to relocate here. College educated workers could find themselves living two or three families to a house, or commuting hours each day from places that remain affordable, like Palmdale.

Better ways of accommodating people are needed. Ventura County voters have made it clear that they demand more careful planning to make the most of each acre rather than simply tossing up development after development across former farmland.

But there's a difference between stopping growth--a fantasy--and shaping it. Simply saying no is not working. New ways to accommodate more people in already-developed areas are being tried in many places. Ventura County is a perfect laboratory for such strategies.

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