After decades of study, Shirley Godwin has sharpened her vision for Ormond Beach, a coveted stretch of white sand and shoreline on Oxnard's south side.
The community leader sees it as an uncut ecological jewel, a place that--with polish--could blossom into a wildlife preserve complete with nature trails, a visitors center and a living laboratory for marine research.
She sees room for creation of a small village shopping center, anchored by a brew pub or a seafood restaurant to serve as an economic engine for preservation efforts.
Most of all, with a community meeting scheduled later this month to review prospects for the property, Godwin sees a prime opportunity to shape a strategy that can benefit nearby neighborhoods while protecting Ventura County's largest remaining tract of undeveloped coastline.
"We want to see this pre-planned and developed in such a way as to preserve the wetlands, enhance the area and make it a very special place," said Godwin, who has lived about a mile from Ormond Beach for nearly 40 years and belongs to groups studying its future.
"Everyone is conscious of the fact that whatever decisions are made, whatever happens to that land, we're going to have to live with the rest of our lives," she said.
Long an area of contrasts, the 1,404-acre beachfront property is once again in the cross hairs of competing interests.
Wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the fertile Oxnard Plain, it is home to some of the county's most fragile wetlands and some of its heaviest industry.
The area is host to a paper mill, a metal recycler, a sewage treatment facility and a power plant. Yet its shallow freshwater lagoon and saltwater marshes provide habitat for a variety of birds, including threatened and endangered species.
In an effort to save Ormond Beach from the urban sprawl that has consumed much of the Southern California coastline, environmentalists and others have scrambled over the years to shield as much of the property as possible from development.
Even now, the California Coastal Conservancy is trying to buy hundreds of acres of wetlands and open space--including 309 acres jointly owned by the city and the Metropolitan Water District--as part of a statewide effort to preserve coastal habitat.
At the same time, city planners are sorting through a flurry of development interests for Ormond Beach, including a pitch by Houston-based Sysco Corp., North America's largest food-service marketer and distributor, to establish a regional headquarters.
City planners say it is important to provide opportunities for economic development at Ormond Beach, because voter-approved growth-control restrictions have made the area one of the few prime development sites left in Oxnard.
Residents in surrounding neighborhoods, meanwhile, have drawn up a map detailing a more environmentally friendly approach.
Potential uses for the property are in the early stages of development. But city leaders have made it clear that before they start considering the merit of individual projects, they want to see a master plan for the entire area.
"We know for sure that we don't want any more piecemeal development," Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez said. "I think part of the problem is that there are so many competing interests--some don't want any development, others want it wall-to-wall. Somewhere in between, we are hoping to have a meeting of the minds."
This wide stretch of wind-swept beachfront has inspired its share of failed, if not far-fetched, development ideas over the last 20 years.
A Los Angeles company in the mid-1980s pitched a theme park dedicated to the Space Age, complete with a 150-room hotel designed to look like a space station. Other proposals include a regional airport, a horse-racing track and a multimillion-dollar marina-based residential community.
Many of those projects were rejected by planning officials. But while the process has been tedious and often frustrating, planners say it also has provided valuable lessons as they move toward sketching a master plan.
"We have gotten the benefit of literally years worth of public expression on the community's goals and objectives for Ormond Beach," said Steve Kinney, president of the Greater Oxnard Economic Development Corp.
"I think there have been opportunities for opinions to be aired aplenty, so that the city can now legitimately put a plan forth that really responds to the community and that the council can use as a guidepost for projects to go forward."
Kinney and development Director Matthew Winegar will unveil a conceptual plan for the area at a 6:30 p.m. meeting Feb. 20 at the South Oxnard Center.
The plan looks at efforts by Sysco to buy a 50-acre chunk of the 309 acres jointly owned by the city and the MWD, Kinney said. It also highlights interest in 22 acres by neighboring Willamette Industries and Pacific Vehicle Processors, which prepares vehicles for transfer to dealerships.