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Preserve District Is Backed

Ventura County: Supervisors support creating an entity for buying and setting aside undeveloped land.


The Ventura County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously backed creation of a land conservation district, clearing the way for local voters to weigh in on the issue on the March 2004 ballot.

Voters will decide whether Ventura County should join a growing list of counties seeking to prevent urban sprawl by buying up undeveloped land for permanent preservation.

Even more critical, voters will be asked to tax themselves to pay for the land purchases, either through a sales tax increase or a property assessment.

After three years of debate and several delays, open-space supporters applauded county policymakers for using their clout to bring the district closer to reality.

"You're going to take a giant step forward today," said Roma Armbrust, a Ventura environmental advocate. "This will be a great opportunity for everyone in Ventura County."

Supervisor Judy Mikels dropped earlier opposition to the plan after board members assured her that they did not intend to create the district without a public vote.

That requirement also was made by Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), who has agreed to carry the legislation necessary to place the issue before local voters.

Mikels said she is pleased that her colleagues agreed to create an advisory committee to help define the district's goals and land-purchase priorities.

The broad-based committee will be made up of representatives from the county, its 10 cities, environmental groups and the business community.

"There is nothing more critical than having voter buy-in for the long-term success of this district," Mikels said. "I am extremely pleased to be able to move this forward in a way that I am comfortable."

Supervisors split on who should pay the estimated $416,000 cost of preparing the ballot measure and hiring consultants to advise on it.

On a 3-2 vote, with Supervisors John Flynn and Steve Bennett dissenting, the board postponed that decision until its summer budget hearings.

Several speakers supported creation of a district, calling it the best way to preserve the county's semi-rural feel.

The SOAR anti-sprawl initiatives protect much of the county from development, but those laws will begin to expire in 2020.

"There will be a lot of organizations prepared to help educate the public in the benefits of this district," said Mark Burley, member of the county's SOAR growth-control group.

Even groups that have previously opposed growth restrictions appeared to accept that a conservation district may soon become reality. They are now focusing on ways to create the district so that some development can still occur.

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