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Ventura County Perspective

Grow Wisely

March 25, 2001

Few issues affect Ventura County residents as profoundly as growth.

When good public policies are in place--and adhered to--the population can increase, the economy and tax base can grow and the levels of public services and cultural offerings can rise with few negative effects.

But when new developments are approved with too little thought to their impact on the rest of the county, following patterns that worked in the 1950s but haven't really been reevaluated since, everyone's quality of life is hurt. Highways and schools become overcrowded, air quality suffers, supplies of water and electricity are stretched ever thinner, longer commutes beget isolation and more incidents of road rage.

Finding the right ways to grow is worth the effort.

There is a sizable industry of urban planners and land-use strategists devoted to encouraging "smart growth" policies. A conference Thursday in Oxnard will examine how these policies can be tailored to suit the unique (and not-so-unique) needs of Ventura County, and then put to work. The event is called "Plains, Terrains & Automobiles II," a sequel to a similar conference held last March. Both were convened by the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District, one of many agencies that charts the effects of poorly managed growth. This year's conference was planned for 300 people; dozens more have signed up to attend. (Registration is closed.)

That's not surprising. Ventura County is one of the nation's epicenters for this sort of policy shift. Since 1995 voters throughout the county and in most of its cities have passed anti-sprawl measures called Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR) to discourage urban development on land previously designated for agriculture or open space. The controversial ballot initiatives essentially contain urban growth to areas that are already urbanized, preserving the green fields, orchards and hillsides at the expense of greater density within city limits.

Whether that is an acceptable trade-off now is one question. Quite another is how it will be viewed in about 20 years when the SOAR measures expire.

Now is the time to take advantage of this 20-year "timeout" to craft fair, effective, well-balanced policies that will put Ventura County on the path to a truly sustainable future in which quality of life is not sacrificed to accommodate the growing population. (And it is literally "growing"--about two-thirds of the county's population increase comes from births to people who already live here.)

We thank the Air Pollution Control District for taking the lead on this issue. We encourage the public officials who attend to bring questions and ideas from the people they represent and to report back to them afterward.

How to grow in ways that respect people's rights to have children, to live where and as they wish, to use their land and to make a profit without diminishing the quality of life for others is an enormous challenge. It's a discussion that should be going on at every dinner table as well as every city hall and the county government center.

With the right answers, everybody can win. With the wrong ones, everybody loses.

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