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Ventura County

Oxnard Approves 75-Acre Park, but Rehab Center Must Relocate

Women's substance abuse recovery house is deemed a poor fit with $20-million recreation area. It has at least a year to find a new home.

November 21, 2002|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

After two years of contentious debate, the Oxnard City Council has approved the largest park in the city's history -- a 75-acre, $20-million spread of soccer fields, baseball diamonds, dog parks and a farm museum.

The 3-2 vote came after hours of emotional debate from city residents concerned with the fate of a women's drug and alcohol recovery center, which was left out of the College Park plan and will have to relocate.

The eviction of the Rainbow Recovery Center was the latest in a number of controversies over how best to use the land. For years, sports, nature and history buffs have battled to ensure that their interests would be included in the park.

City officials stressed that they tried to do their best by the community and all its varying interests.

Highlights of the plan include:

* Two dog parks, one for big and one for small animals.

* A fenced skate park.

* A 26,000-square-foot community center with a gym.

* Fields for baseball, softball and soccer, and a lighted basketball area.

The plan approved Tuesday calls for the Ventura County Museum of History and Art to occupy the two old farmhouses that the recovery center now uses. One would be dedicated to the county's agricultural history.

The recovery center, which serves up to 22 women, has until January 2004 to find a new location, and the city has said it will not formally agree to any museum construction plans until the recovery center finds a home.

But the center's director says she has no idea where she will find an adequate facility in a welcoming neighborhood.

"I just really hope they keep their word and they can find something appropriate," said Kathleen McQuillan. "The facilities offered by Rainbow are in very short supply in Ventura County and Oxnard, and closing it down is a disservice to the women and the best interests of the community."

For more than two hours, residents, Rainbow alumni and even a local minister made similar arguments; but city officials ultimately decided that although the "Rainbow ladies" are important, the farm heritage museum was a better fit for College Park.

"This is one of those issues where it's become very emotional," said Councilman Tom Holden. "This council hasn't said at any point that the Rainbow Recovery Center needs to be folded." The museum and the recovery center "are both very valuable resources. What makes sense is to find a new home for Rainbow House."

Mayor Manuel Lopez and Mayor Pro Tem John Zaragoza voted against the master plan.

"The way it turned out was that we had to make a choice between the two, and I found very little fairness in displacing these women who have worked very hard over the years," Lopez said. "I think it was wrong."

City Atty. Gary Gillig stressed that although the plan was passed, College Park is still many years away.

"Last night was a highly preliminary step," Gillig said. "This is an evolutionary process. I'm sure the staff will be back to discuss further issues."

The next pressing issue will be how to finance the park's $20-million cost. City staff said the most viable option would be to create an assessment district.

Under that plan, all Oxnard homeowners would be assessed about $25 a year, which would raise about $1.2 million annually. Another option would be for the city to attempt to tap into a $2.6-billion state bond measure approved earlier this year. The city could also apply for state and federal park funds.

Construction of the skate park, the only section that the city already has the money to start building, will not begin for at least another two years, officials said.

Shirley Godwin, 61, has been hearing about the new and improved College Park since she moved to Oxnard in the mid-1970s. For the most part, she said, she likes the park concept and would like to see it finally become a reality.

"It's the last big park that'll ever be developed in Oxnard," Godwin said. "We thought this would be something our children would play in. We're grandparents now and we're still waiting, but it finally seems to be moving forward."

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