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Forum to Address 'Smart Growth'

Santa Paula: Activists will discuss downtown revitalization as an alternative to developing Adams Canyon.


Prompted by a developer's proposal to build nearly 2,000 homes in an adjacent canyon, Santa Paula activists will hold a "smart growth" conference Saturday to discuss alternative plans for the blue-collar city.

Event organizer Mike Miller is urging the city's 29,000 residents to reject a proposal to build a suburb in Adams Canyon. Voters will be asked to consider that plan in November.

Instead, a mix of commercial and residential development should be encouraged on vacant and underutilized lots around Main Street and in neighboring Fagan Canyon, which is smaller than Adams Canyon, Miller said.

"People say there's so much potential here," said Miller, 37, a marketing consultant who lives in a Victorian house downtown. "We're suffering from 50 years of disinvestment in the downtown."

Rather than build on hillsides and in canyons, Miller said it's in the city's best interest to find creative ways to make downtown more inviting to businesses and residents.

"If we do it right," he said, "we can create the kind of dynamic communities that people love--pedestrian environments where people can live and work and recreate in the same place."

The daylong conference at Santa Paula High School will feature presentations by architects and developers who have used the "new urbanism" concept in other California cities--from bungalow-chic Pasadena to the smaller, largely working-class town of Hercules in the Bay Area.

Not all city leaders embrace Miller's vision. City Councilman Rick Cook, an advocate of Adams Canyon development, called the smart growth conference a "pipe dream."

The city lost its department stores and other vital businesses after the oil industry pulled out three decades ago. As a result, city finances are lagging, Cook said. Police and fire departments are underfunded, streets need repair and the city has had little luck attracting new employers.

"I think those ideas are either for towns with a lot of money or for new towns that are just starting," Cook said of the new urbanism concept. "Until we can clean up our town visually and have enough fire and police to protect our citizens, [investors] are not going to come."

Burke Farrar, founder of Pasadena-based Odyssey Development Services, said Santa Paula has several elements that would make it attractive to developers, including picturesque mountains and a Main Street with striking architecture. "I think there's some great potential," Farrar said.

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