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ELECTIONS 2002

Growth Measures Face Decisive Defeat in Ventura, Santa Paula

Bids for new housing developments trail by large margins. Voters in Simi Valley, Ojai appear unwilling to adopt more stringent restrictions.

November 06, 2002|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

Voters in Ventura and Santa Paula were rejecting by large margins Tuesday two major expansions to their cities, apparently defeating costly landowner-backed measures to build thousands of new homes.

But in Simi Valley, slow-growth activists were losing a bid to further restrict development, early returns showed. And in Ojai, voters apparently found too restrictive a measure that limited growth if it significantly increased traffic.

The Ventura hillside development measure was trailing 2 to 1 in early returns, ending a bitter campaign marred by destroyed signs and allegations of misrepresentations on both sides.

"I think it's really clear that the voters didn't want this project and resented the way the developers presented it," said county Supervisor Steve Bennett, a leading opponent.

"This shows that grass-roots citizenship can turn back million-dollar efforts by developers if they work hard, hang together and run good campaigns," Bennett said.

And in Santa Paula, the apparent loss of an Arizona developer's bid to clear the way for a large housing project in remote Adams Canyon will force city leaders to consider other options as they try to revive the struggling town.

Cheers erupted at attorney Jim Procter's Santa Paula home when initial results were announced.

"This confirms for me that the people of Santa Paula know a bad deal when they see one and that votes can't be bought," Procter said.

Tuesday marked the first major test of anti-sprawl laws that Ventura County voters began adopting in 1995.

In Ventura, voters considered Measure A, the hotly debated hillside development initiative.

Backed by more than $1 million from family landowners Lloyd Properties, the measure proposed building 1,390 homes in six neighborhoods across five miles of hills that form the backdrop of the seaside city.

In exchange, 3,050 acres of new trails, parks and open space were promised to a public land trust.

Supporters billed the offer as a great deal for the city, protecting the Two Trees hilltop and adding to the community's tight housing market.

"I don't see how we can lose," said resident Alison Mizraji.

But the measure faced fierce opposition from a well-organized group of slow-growth activists and city residents, many of whom live near the proposed project.

Opponents said the project would generate too much traffic. They also said the measure would place too light a financial burden on the developer-landowners to build new schools, without which existing classrooms would become overcrowded with children living in the new, upscale homes.

Bill Fulton, a planning expert based in Ventura and a leading opponent, accused the landowners of rewriting city codes to squeeze far more houses into the steep hillsides than current regulations would allow.

Opponents also objected to Measure A's timing, coming to voters before environmental studies of the land were completed. "It's not the best deal we can cut," Fulton said.

The conflict produced one of the most divisive campaigns in recent Ventura history. Signs were stolen and at least three police reports were filed in connection with alleged vandalism, theft and harassment.

In Santa Paula, Measure F also divided the town.

The initiative proposed to redraw the city's voter-approved growth boundary to include Adams Canyon, cattle grazing land that could support up to 2,250 new homes and a 50,000-square-foot strip mall.

Supporters, including the project's Arizona developer and a long list of current and former elected officials, argued that such suburban development is the only way to jolt the farm town out of economic stagnation.

Pinnacle, the developer, and other business interests spent $750,000 promoting the campaign.

But opponents, made up of mostly growth-control activists and city residents, said Santa Paula should grow by investing in its existing city core.

Instead of creating sprawl in 5,413-acre Adams Canyon, they said, more housing could be built by converting dilapidated buildings and vacant lots downtown.

They championed a vision of a Santa Paula that would draw new employers and customers to retail shops by promoting its small-town environment.

In Simi Valley, voters considered a second generation of growth-control measures that would further shrink boundaries for urban expansion.

Activists in the fast-growing suburb near the San Fernando Valley want to block two proposed housing projects by redrawing growth lines voters approved in 1998.

City leaders and other opponents of Measure B saw the move as a betrayal, saying the two projects are key to ensuring the city's success as a vibrant, job-rich community over the next 20 years.

They warned voters that approving the initiative would put the city's future in the hands of the county Board of Supervisors rather than the City Council.

Finally, in tiny Ojai, voters considered ballot Measure C that would prohibit the City Council from approving projects that significantly increase traffic without voter consent.

Backers said the measure would ensure that new construction would not overwhelm the tourist town's road system.

Opponents called it the "measure of unintended consequences," saying it would stop projects that residents would otherwise welcome, such as a planned hospital expansion.

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Times staff writer Sandra Murillo contributed to this report.

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