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The Region

Oxnard Mini-City Project Advances

Growth: The development is the largest in Ventura County history. Planners' OK of an environmental study is subject to council review.

June 22, 2002|ELENA GAONA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite concerns over increased traffic, the Oxnard Planning Commission has approved the environmental report on the largest residential and commercial project in Ventura County history.

The commission Thursday unanimously endorsed the study on the $750-million RiverPark mini-city. The City Council is scheduled to consider the report July 16.

The development plan includes about 2,800 dwellings, a town square, movie theater and restaurants, a first-class hotel, convention center, three schools and sports fields. The project would be built at the Ventura Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway junction and generate about 79,000 vehicle trips.

Commissioner Albert Duff questioned why Oxnard Boulevard, which is also Pacific Coast Highway in that area, could not be extended farther north into the project site to ease traffic congestion that would affect neighboring El Rio. Vineyard Avenue borders the project site on the east and would absorb much of the traffic.

"They're going to cause a lot of traffic and they're not building enough roadways to accommodate this development," Duff said. "There will be congestion at the expense of the people who already live there and that's not fair."

Commission staff members said extending Oxnard Boulevard would be costly and not significantly ease traffic. They said a new roadway in that area could also reduce ground-water supplies because it would require filling a gravel pit used for water storage and recharging aquifers.

Iris Yang, a Sacramento attorney hired by the city of Ventura for consulting on RiverPark, also raised concerns about increased spillover traffic in Ventura. She said the environmental study only identified eight intersections that would be affected in Ventura, while the city's own studies indicate dozens would be clogged.

"To mitigate the impacts on county and Oxnard roads, the developer is spending $17.7 million," Yang said. "We're just on the other side of the river and the only mitigation that was proposed was the restriping of Johnson Drive. That doesn't seem quite right."

Yang said Ventura is negotiating with the developers to either pay for roadway improvements or fix the roads. Also Thursday, affordable housing advocates questioned whether the development would provide enough housing for working families employed at the project's hotels, restaurants and shops. RiverPark calls for setting aside 15% of the project for low- and very low-income households.

"In this instance, given the types [and number] of jobs created, we'd like to ask for perhaps as high as 20%," said Eileen McCarthy of California Rural Legal Assistance in Oxnard.

Some residents also raised concerns over the proposed sites for three schools the developer has agreed to build for about $47 million.

But one of the development's partners said Rio Elementary School District officials were included in the selection of sites.

"We have taken the whole issue of funding, design and construction of the schools very seriously," said developer Paul N. Keller, a RiverPark partner. He said the schools would be constructed in phases as the project is built out.

Developers hope to break ground on the massive project this year and open the first of five phases for occupancy by early 2004, after construction of a new freeway interchange and the widening of the adjacent Santa Clara River Bridge--a $100-million project that got underway this month.

After Thursday's hearing, Keller said he was encouraged by the commission's endorsement.

"We're very pleased," he said, "and we look forward to ultimate approval of the development."

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