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Pinning Hopes on Measure F

Many in Santa Paula say city's future hinges on outcome of initiative, which would allow development of Adams Canyon.

October 19, 2002|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

In Santa Paula, people on both sides of the Measure F battle agree on one thing: This town needs help.

Its downtown shopping district is struggling. It doesn't have enough housing to accommodate natural growth. It grapples to pay its police officers competitive salaries and to provide recreational activities for its children.

But when it comes to how the community may solve these problems, citizens are sharply divided.

Many say the answers hinge on the outcome of Measure F, an initiative on the Nov. 5 ballot that would open the door for the development of up to 2,250 homes and condominiums in Adams Canyon northwest of the city.

Supporters of the so-called Santa Paula Revitalization Measure, proposed by Arizona-based Pinnacle Development Corp., say such suburban development is the only way to jolt Santa Paula out of economic stagnation.

A large housing project would bring jobs, they say, as well as residents with more disposable income.

"When more people come here, there will be a trickle-down effect," said Greg Boyd, general manager for the Ranch at Santa Paula, the name of the development that would be built if Measure F passes. "The whole economy expands."

But opponents, including a growing number of citizen activists, want the community to grow by investing in its existing city core.

They champion a "new urbanist" design philosophy that pushes for converting dilapidated buildings and vacant lots downtown into new housing. That would bring pedestrians to suffering retail shops and attract new employers by providing a vibrant, traditional-town environment, said Mike Miller, a leading activist against Measure F.

"We want to manifest Santa Paula's potential," he said.

Adams Canyon, with its citrus groves, herds of grazing cattle and oaks scattered between rugged hillsides, provides a serene backdrop to the increasingly heated debate over its future.

The 5,413-acre canyon is designated for residential use in the city's General Plan, but a growth boundary approved by voters in 2000 requires a citizens' vote before any development can occur there.

Two years later, Measure F is asking voters to amend the growth boundary to include Adams Canyon.

While the initiative itself doesn't approve any housing -- that job remains with the City Council -- its passage would essentially endorse the kind of residential development described in the General Plan.

The plan calls for 1,980 single-family homes, 180 condominiums, 90 apartments, two schools, hotels and a 150,000-square-foot strip mall. If that development was approved and the land annexed by Santa Paula, it would double the geographic size of the city.

According to an economic study completed by Pinnacle in May, such a project would result in $44 million spent annually in Santa Paula and $2.5 million in net revenue to the city from development fees and property and sales taxes.

Pinnacle executives are working with Arnold R. Dahlberg of San Diego, who owns the Adams Canyon land. Although they make no secret of their intent to pursue development in the canyon, they have not yet proposed a specific project.

Boyd said that's because the developer wants to work with the community in crafting the right plan. And it doesn't make sense, he said, to spend time and money on planning and engineering studies if voters decide they do not want to expand into Adams Canyon.

Still, the lack of a real plan has become a chief rallying point for opponents, who argue that Pinnacle should have brought a development proposal--complete with environmental studies--to the City Council before taking it to voters.

"Our challenge to them is to be upfront about what they're doing," said attorney Jim Procter, another organizer in the campaign against Measure F. "They need to tell people what they have in mind before [the people] cast their ballots."

Also, opponents say, it's unfair to sell Measure F using economic benefit figures based on a plan that does not officially exist.

If studies end up showing that only 1,000 homes are feasible in the canyon, for example, the economic projections that were the basis for the campaign also would change.

In fact, opponents believe a large bedroom community in the canyon could end up being a drain on city coffers, taking money away from efforts to revitalize the town center and driving people to do their shopping elsewhere.

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Another contentious issue in the debate is the idea of "local control."

Boyd and other Pinnacle officials contend that Santa Paula will lose control over what happens in Adams Canyon if voters reject Measure F because, they say, the company would attempt to develop the land through the county.

County regulations allow for a maximum of one single-family home per 10 acres in areas zoned as open space. Pinnacle officials said that means they could build up to 500 luxury homes.

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