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City Delays Threaten Proposed Car Prep Plant

June 17, 2002|ELENA GAONA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A proposed $25-million car processing plant near Port Hueneme that could bring 250 new jobs to Oxnard may be scrapped because of city delays to approve the project, company officials said.

Pacific Vehicle Processors wants to convert 38 acres south of Hueneme Road into a plant for preparing imported vehicles before they are shipped to dealerships. The facility would allow PVP to accommodate a new contract with Volkswagen and its Audi luxury division to handle 100,000 vehicles annually beginning in November, officials said.

The company would wash, repair and accessorize imported cars from Mexico and Germany before they are loaded on trucks destined for U.S. showrooms.

PVP has been seeking city review of its plans since January, and the delay by city officials may cause it to lose its contract with Volkswagen, said James Kilpatrick, vice president of marketing. After another Planning Commission postponement last week, the company's project is slated for commission review July 18 and a City Council hearing the following month.

Commissioners have expressed interest in the project, but say more time is needed for a complete environmental review.

As it now stands, PVP wouldn't be able to get its processing center operational until early next year. Further delays could prompt the carmaker to drop its plans to relocate its processing operations to Oxnard, according to Volkswagen.

"We liked the reception from local politicians and civic groups

Oxnard planning commissioners say they are anxious to review the project and pass it along to the City Council. But Planning Department staff members say they need more time to consider the environmental effect of a new processing plant and deal with community concerns about more trucks traveling through Oxnard.

Business leaders and port officials said losing the plant would be economically devastating.

PVP, which already employs about 250 people to process Jaguars, Land Rovers, Mitsubishis, Suzukis and Volvos, would double its work force to accommodate the Volkswagen contract.

That, in turn, could generate about 500 additional jobs at the Port of Hueneme in order to support activities at the plant, and more than $13 million in new wages during the plant's first year in operation, according to port consultants.

But not everyone favors the new plant. Environmental activists and community leaders are concerned the facility would endanger nearby wetlands at Ormond Beach. Some also fear the added traffic from car carriers.

The Saviers Road Design Team, a group of local activists, would rather see the 38-acre tract converted into a park with public access to the wetlands, said member Shirley Godwin. Their plan calls for extending Saviers Road into the park area and building bridges and raised walkways for bird-watching.

PVP has offered to incorporate a public viewing area of the wetlands into its proposal. The tract in question is not part of the wetlands, but directly north of them.

The local environmentalists said building the processing facility essentially takes the land away from the community, and have not been charmed by PVP's offer to provide a smaller viewing area. With so few wetlands left, each available acre should be preserved, Godwin said, including land that can be used to reach them.

Jess Herrera, an Oxnard Harbor commissioner, stressed that the new plant is vital for the harbor and the region's economic future.

"This port has been designated as an economic resource by the state. We bring construction, jobs, property taxes, sales taxes, livable wages," Herrera said. "As long as we keep doing it right, the community should be behind us."

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