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Housing Project May Be on Ballot

Foes of a 2,155-home development in Santa Paula have qualified a measure for a citywide vote. City clerk will now review the referendum.

January 20, 2006|Fred Alvarez | Times Staff Writer

Seeking to overturn approval of the largest housing development in Santa Paula history, project opponents have qualified a ballot measure that could put construction of a 2,155-home development in Fagan Canyon to a citywide vote.

The Ventura County Elections Division reported this week that a group opposing the development had collected 1,649 signatures on a referendum petition, 1,143 of which were valid. The group, Citizens Advocating Responsible Planning, needed 1,080 valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot.

The Santa Paula city clerk will now review the referendum to ensure it complies with the election code. If it does, the petition will go to the City Council for action, setting up a possible showdown on the issue in the June primary.

"It's great news for the people of Santa Paula because now voters will really have the chance to determine the future of their city," said John Wisda, a Santa Paula real estate agent who heads the opposition group. He and others have argued that the development is too big and would generate too much traffic and pollution.

"We are not against development. We just feel the plan as drawn is not the best it can be for our community," Wisda said. If the developer "comes back with a more reasonable project, I think the voters will embrace it."

The group began collecting signatures shortly after the council's Dec. 7 approval of the project, which calls for construction of 2,155 homes on about 800 acres in a citrus- and avocado-studded canyon on the city's north end.

The land is one of the last large developable areas in the Santa Clara River Valley community, which has a population of about 30,000. The project is slated to include two elementary schools, 50 acres of parkland and 25,000 square feet of retail space. Dallas-based Centex Homes also agreed to set aside about 1,000 acres of open space and build 325 units of affordable housing.

In approving the project, Santa Paula leaders said the development would provide a much-needed economic boost to their cash-strapped city, eventually generating about $2 million annually in taxes and other revenue.

Rick Bianchi, director of community development for Centex Homes' operations in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, said that if the issue goes to a public vote, it would delay the project, as the developer would have to shift resources to mount an election campaign.

Plans called for construction to begin in late spring or early summer and to be completed by 2014.

"I'm putting my faith in the unanimous support this project received from the Planning Commission and the City Council," Bianchi said. "I believe this project truly reflects the will of the people."

Santa Paula City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that if the referendum is forwarded to the City Council, the panel could immediately decide to rescind approval, ask for more information or put the measure on the ballot.

Santa Paula has set a special election for April 18 to decide whether to expand the city's urban growth boundary to include Adams Canyon, a 6,500-acre area north of the city, where the Arizona-based Pinnacle Development Group has proposed building about 500 homes, a hotel and a golf course.

Bobkiewicz said it was unlikely that a Fagan Canyon referendum would appear on the special election ballot, adding that June is a more likely date.

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