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Ventura County

Car Plant Builder Agrees to Do Full Review

Environment: The developers bow to criticism after Oxnard planners reverse their position on study of site near Ormond Beach.

September 28, 2002|SANDRA MURILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bowing to activists' demands and a recommendation from city planners, the developer of a proposed $25-million car processing plant in south Oxnard has agreed to conduct a full environmental review of the project.

Pacific Vehicle Processors wants to convert a 38-acre vacant parcel south of Hueneme Road into a plant for preparing imported vehicles before they are shipped to dealerships throughout the region.

The Planning Commission recently decided that the project did not require an extensive environmental review. But city planners reversed themselves this week, recommending a full study.

On Friday, a consultant for Pacific Vehicle Processors said the company had agreed to the study, which would require public input and could delay the project several months.

"It will finally dispel any and all of the rumors that have been floating around about the project," said consultant Sylvia Munoz Schnopp.

If the City Council approved the project without an environmental study, a lawsuit would surely follow and a judge would probably ask that a study be conducted anyway, company officials said. The City Council is set to vote on the issue Tuesday.

Pacific Vehicle Processors told the city that Volkswagen, with which it has contracted to process cars, may not be able to wait until the environmental review period is over and might look for a site in another city. The company had hoped to open its facility by next spring.

A group of activists has aggressively opposed the processing plant, demanding a comprehensive environmental study of how it would affect the nearby Ormond Beach wetlands.

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Rare Birds Threatened

Ormond, which includes some of Ventura County's largest remaining tracts of undeveloped coastline, is home to a variety of rare and endangered birds, including the imperiled California least tern and western snowy plover.

"There's no other place where you have the beach, the dunes, the estuary and the salt marsh all in one place," said Jean Harris, a local activist who has worked for 20 years to preserve the coastline. "It can make us the most famous city in the area if we protect Ormond Beach."

But officials for Pacific Vehicles maintain that the site is not a wetland and is far enough from the coast that it would not harm the wildlife. They also point out that the facility would create 250 jobs and beautify land that is mostly a mass of weeds and trash.

"We believe it is going to be the link to revitalizing south Oxnard, an area that so desperately needs it," Schnopp said.

Workers at the plant would wash, repair and accessorize 100,000 cars imported from Mexico and Germany every year. The vehicles would remain parked at the facility until they are loaded onto trucks and trains and delivered to showrooms.

Traffic and bright lights generated by the plant are also a concern to a small group of families who recently purchased homes in the Pacific Cove housing development across the street. Some of the homes, which went on sale in June and range from $380,000 to $420,000, could be directly affected.

"There's no other city that would consider something like this," new homeowner Ben Martinez said at a recent council meeting. "It doesn't make sense to build a parking lot across the street from a beautiful coastal scene."

The project has its supporters, who point out that Ormond Beach is already home to a power plant, a sewage treatment facility, a metal recycler and a paper mill.

"This is the jewel of Oxnard?" asked Ventura Fernandez as he stood near the metal recycling plant. The longtime south Oxnard resident said he is frustrated with environmentalists.

"Every time somebody wants to do something nice that'll bring jobs, they stop it. You think people are going to come from L.A. to see this?"

Absolutely, Harris said. Once the wetlands are preserved and properly restored, nature lovers will come from all over California. What's more, the land next to the wetlands, including the proposed car processing site, plays a role in this ecosystem, Harris said.

Oxnard Mayor Pro Tem John C. Zaragoza said he expects the City Council to require an environmental study.

"We need a balanced approach, because that's the last big open space near the ocean and we need to take care of that," Zaragoza said. "We also need jobs and we need to support our people."

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