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Ventura County Tax Would Preserve Land

Supervisors indicate support for a proposed open-space district, but officials from Camarillo and Thousand Oaks express concerns.

October 08, 2003|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors Tuesday opened the door for a 2004 ballot measure creating an open-space district, but not before the idea caught some flak from other local officials.

Although they voted 4 to 0 to move forward with the idea, supervisors have not approved putting the measure on the November 2004 ballot.

It was proposed by a 41-member committee they appointed last year.

The group, which represents various agencies, cities, farm groups and business organizations, wants voters to OK an eighth-cent sales tax for buying and maintaining open space.

The tax, expected to raise $14 million a year, is meant to preserve scenic land that might otherwise be threatened with development. Despite assurances at a supervisors meeting from leaders of the Open Space District Advisory Committee, officials from Camarillo and Thousand Oaks expressed fears it could be used to buy the wrong properties in the wrong places.

Under the proposal, the district would not be allowed to acquire land by condemning it. The district would deal only with willing sellers and would not subvert local land-use plans, committee leaders said.

"It won't be a subterranean regulatory agency with a hidden agenda," said co-Chairman Joe Gibson.

Even so, Camarillo Mayor Charlotte Craven objected to the possibility that a county open-space district could buy properties within her city.

"The cities all have the ability to form their own open space districts for lands under their control," she said.

Craven also said an increased county tax would be seen by "at-risk companies" as another reason to leave California -- especially given a possible half-cent increase in the state's sales tax.

Under the plan, money would be disbursed equally to three county areas with roughly equal populations. But Mark Towne, coordinator of the Conejo Open Space and Conservation Agency in Thousand Oaks, suggested that the formula be changed, with a greater portion going to the upscale areas that generate more sales taxes.

Supervisor Judy Mikels urged officials in Thousand Oaks to "think this thing through and back off. The land is supposed to be for the benefit of all Ventura County residents. Just because people might shop in Thousand Oaks doesn't mean they wouldn't want to go to Ojai for a stroll through the woods."

The measure would require a two-thirds majority of county voters to pass.

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