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Ventura County

Study of Hillside Initiative Called Misleading

Ventura: The city attorney offers an analysis of Open 80, a measure that would clear the way for construction of 1,390 homes and dedicate open space.


Ventura's city attorney has completed an analysis of a proposed hillside development initiative, which opponents criticized Wednesday as an inadequate review that does little to help voters sort out the issues.

"Whether it's intentional or unintentional, because of what [the analysis] leaves out, it misleads the voters," said county Supervisor Steve Bennett, a former councilman and an architect of the city's growth-control laws.

In May, a split City Council voted to ask the city attorney to prepare a legal analysis of the so-called Open 80 initiative, which would clear the way for construction of 1,390 homes on hillsides and dedicate more than 3,000 acres to permanent open space.

The 12-page report by City Atty. Robert Boehm is written in a question-and-answer format. It essentially states the initiative is in compliance with an ordinance that prohibits extending city services into the hillsides without voters' approval.

The report also states the developer would be required to conduct a full environmental review before construction is approved.

The city would also have discretion to deny building permits if portions of the development are found to be inconsistent with the city's master plan.

But Bennett said some questions are written in a way that does not provide straight answers. One example is a question regarding whether the city would waive developer fees for donating land as open space, Bennett said.

"The question is worded to say does the developer 'not have to pay any fees at all,' when the question ought to be, 'Will the developer get credits and have many fees waived?' That would have given a different answer."

An analysis by Save Open Space, an environmental group founded by Bennett, last month issued its own analysis of the hillside initiative. It concluded the measure leaves little negotiating power with the city and would transfer numerous costs for city services to taxpayers.

But Mayor Ray DiGuilio and City Councilman Jim Monahan, both of whom voted in favor of the analysis, praised it as thorough and fair. They said the report shows the city would retain discretionary controls over any hillside development.

Margaret Merryman, spokeswoman for Venturans for Open 80, said Boehm's analysis provides a fair summary of the initiative.

"It clearly shows that our opponents have misunderstood much about the initiative," she said.

The political divisiveness sparked by the analysis is why Councilman Jim Friedman said he voted against its commission.

"I hate to see the city attorney put in an absolute no-win situation," Friedman said. "People who want Open 80 will use [the analysis] to their advantage, and people who don't want Open 80 will use it to their advantage."

Still, Friedman said he believes the analysis was conducted in an impartial manner.

On Monday the report will be made available to the public but the council will take no further action on it. The panel, however, is expected to adopt a resolution to place the initiative on the November ballot.

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