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Ventura County

Santa Paula Development Tied Up by Council

Vote: City leaders may have overstepped their authority in denying a spot on the November ballot for a proposed 2,250-home project.


Two proposed housing projects. Three ballot measures. And a split City Council.

Sound confusing? Welcome to Santa Paula City Hall.

The city's elected leaders took up two major land-use measures Tuesday night and came out with two tie votes, one of which elections officials say was improper under state law.

At issue is a proposed 2,250-home development in Adams Canyon on the outskirts of town. Arizona-based Pinnacle Development Group filed a petition to place the project on the November ballot for a public vote, as required by Santa Paula's slow-growth ordinance.

The City Council accepted the petition--which was certified by City Clerk Steven Salas--on a 2-1 vote, with Councilwoman Laura Flores Espinosa dissenting. Councilman John Procter abstained from the vote and Mayor Don Johnson excused himself, citing conflict of interest concerns.

But when it came time to vote on placing the measure on the ballot, the council voted 2-2. Councilmen Ray Luna and Richard Cook voted yes, Espinosa and Procter voted no. The measure failed.

Once a petition is deemed complete, state elections law leaves elected leaders no discretion, said Ventura County Assistant Registrar of Voters Bruce Bradley. He said they must either place the matter on the ballot or approve the proposal as submitted.

Santa Paula's city attorney told the council the same thing repeatedly Tuesday night, officials said.

Greg Boyd, general manager for the project, called Ranch at Santa Paula, said he was baffled, but not surprised, by the vote.

Proponents of the housing project want to give the council the chance to correct the mistake, he said. But they are also running up against a July 19 county deadline to place questions on the ballot, and, if needed, will go to court to ask a judge to order the initiative on the ballot, Boyd said.

"Clearly, what they've done here is not legal and doesn't make any practical sense," he said. "We don't want to impose any damage or costs on the city if possible, but at the same time we need to get them to do what they're supposed to do."

But Espinosa said she has no intention of changing her vote.

"This is all about a big, greedy developer trying to ramrod this through and destroy a community," she said. "If they are unhappy with the council's decision, then the next forum is the courts."

She also firmly believes that the council did have the discretion to deny putting the qualified initiative on the ballot, she said.

"That's why it's an agendized item--you either vote yes or no," Espinosa said. "You can't fault me for voting my conscience."

Espinosa and Procter both said Pinnacle's petition was flawed. The councilwoman added that she does not trust the opinion of county elections officials, whom she blamed for technicalities that derailed two other measures.

One of those involved a petition to place a question on the ballot aimed at stopping the Pinnacle project. The other was a proposal to build an 80-home development on a 32-acre parcel at Peck and Foothill roads as an alternative to the bigger project.

The proponent of that plan, local developer Scott Anderson, asked the council Tuesday night to place the measure on the November ballot. That also failed on a 2-2 tie, with Espinosa and Procter voting yes and Luna and Cook voting no.

Anderson said he's sure Pinnacle will win in court.

"I'm disappointed they wouldn't put us on the ballot as well and let the will of the people decide," he said. "Instead it seems like the City Council is deciding what should be there and what shouldn't."

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