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Hillside Housing Measure in Ventura Will Stay on Ballot, Court Declares

Land: Judge rejects arguments that initiative seeking voters' approval to build 1,390 homes violates state law. Debate is now expected to shift to the political arena.

September 04, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An initiative seeking voter approval to build 1,390 homes on the scrub-covered hillsides overlooking Ventura will remain on the November ballot, a Ventura County judge ruled Tuesday.

Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh rejected arguments that Measure A should be pulled from the ballot because it represents a violation of a state law that prohibits citizen-sponsored ballot measures from benefiting private corporations.

Opponents of the measure, also known as the Open 80 Master Plan Act, contend the purpose of the law is to prevent private profiteering through the initiative process.

But Walsh ruled the language of the section of the California Constitution cited by the opponents refers specifically to corporations--not limited partnerships--and therefore does not apply to the group of landowners backing the measure.

"The language of the constitution limits the proscription against private interests to corporations," Walsh wrote in a three-page ruling.

"If the legislature or the electorate wishes to make that proscription more inclusive, they clearly have the power to do so," he continued. "The existing language, however, is limited to corporations."

Also, Walsh said Ventura voters approved a ballot measure last year requiring public participation in decisions relating to hillside development. By approving last year's Measure P, he wrote, the electorate clearly stated its desire to be included in the decision-making process.

Walsh concluded by stating that his ruling should not be construed as a position in favor of or against the Open 80 plan.

"That decision," he wrote, "is one for the electorate, and more specifically, for each individual voter."

Over the past decade, residents in nearly every Ventura County city have approved strict growth-control laws aimed at curbing urban expansion onto farmland and open space. The laws require a majority vote to approve projects outside urban boundaries.

Debate over the Open 80 initiative is now expected to shift from the courtroom to the political arena.

Oxnard attorney Richard Francis said the slow-growth group that sued to remove the measure from the ballot, SOAR Inc., won't file an appeal to Walsh's ruling because election officials have already begun to print ballots.

Instead, they will turn their attention to defeating the initiative at the polls.

"It is not only a legally flawed initiative," Francis said, "it is a politically flawed initiative--in that it asks voters to make a decision without giving them information on which to make that decision."

Under the Open 80 plan, six residential tracts would be built on 730 acres of undeveloped grazing land north of Ventura while 3,050 acres--about 80% of the property--would be preserved as open space. The plan also calls for 32 acres of new parkland, 25 miles of public trails and some commercial development.

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