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Dole Food's Owner Offers Housing for 'Those in Need'

David Murdock would use Ventura County land to build homes for victims of abuse.

June 24, 2004|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Billionaire David Murdock, owner of the Dole Food Co., has offered to help build housing for battered women and children on county-owned land south of Camarillo.

Murdock, who developed the Lake Sherwood luxury community near Thousand Oaks, approached Ventura County Supervisor Judy Mikels in December "wanting to help those in need in the county he calls home," she said at a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

Mikels met with Murdock two weeks ago and said staffers from his Castle & Cooke real estate company were working on the idea.

"He's willing to support most of this project," Mikels said.

Murdock, who lives in Lake Sherwood, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Dole has headquarters in Westlake Village, in Los Angeles County.

Although the size and cost of the project are not determined, Supervisor Kathy Long said "it's potentially priceless for the hundreds of people who could be served."

On Tuesday, supervisors established a group of county staff members to coordinate the project with Murdock and the Area Housing Authority of the County of Ventura.

The nonprofit agency manages two mental-health housing facilities that it built on county property along Lewis Road near Cal State Channel Islands.

"What Mr. Murdock brings to the table at this point is predevelopment financing," said Douglas Tapking, executive director of the authority. "He wants to make an impact and make it reasonably fast."

As envisioned, the facility would provide up to 200 one-, two- and three-bedroom units for victims of domestic violence and young adults removed from the foster care system when they turn 18.

It would be built on nine acres leased from the county near the River-Dwellers Aid Innercity Network homeless shelter and the Casa Pacifica emergency shelter for abused and emotionally disturbed children.

The county studied the site two years ago for possible development but decided not to go ahead because there was no source of construction funding or potential operator, according to a letter from Long and Mikels to the board.

Tapking said Murdock walked into the housing authority's Newbury Park office unannounced last month and said he wanted to provide affordable housing for the disadvantaged. About a week later, agency staff members took Murdock on tours of agency facilities in Thousand Oaks and the site on Lewis Road.

"We were so excited to see this guy step up to the plate at a time when the federal government is retreating and the state and local budgets are down. We were very impressed," Tapking said. Murdock's staff is helping the nonprofit agency meet a July 22 deadline to apply for a state tax credit for 57 units of additional mental-health housing at Lewis Road. If granted, Murdock said he planned to buy the credits, which would provide about $5 million in direct financing for the project.

Steve Bennett, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, cautioned colleagues not to create a facility or program that could not be sustained financially.

"This is Mr. Murdock's project, Mr. Murdock's pocketbook," Mikels said.

Murdock will help set up a nonprofit board to oversee the development, she added.

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