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Oxnard projects' critics speak out

Proposed dual developments -- one residential, one light industrial -- would threaten area's fragile wetlands, they contend.

June 23, 2007|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

Declaring the projects' environmental studies flawed, critics urged the Oxnard Planning Commission this week to reject proposed housing and business developments in order to protect Ormond Beach wetlands.

At a public hearing late Thursday, nearly two dozen residents cited concerns about increased traffic and pollution that the two projects would generate along Hueneme Road, southeast of Oxnard.

They also challenged the accuracy of the environmental studies on the projects' potential effects on area wetlands, which provide habitat for a variety of threatened and endangered birds, including the western snowy plover and the California least tern.

"We do not feel the effects to biological resources can be mitigated," Janet Bridgers of Earth Alert, a nonprofit environmental group, told the commission. She asked panel members how familiar they were with the wetlands.

"Have any of you been to the least tern nest sites in summer, in the evening? The wildlife at Ormond Beach is the most magical, the most wondrous thing in Oxnard," Bridgers said. "And if you go there, and sit and be still and listen, you'll understand why there are people who dedicate five, 10, 15 years of their lives to protecting this wondrous place."

Hearthside Homes, an Irvine-based developer, is seeking to build 1,283 homes and condominiums on 322 acres of strawberry fields north of Hueneme Road. The project would include schools, a 28-acre community park and a man-made lake.

In a separate project, Marathon Land, parent company of Oxnard's Southland Sod Farms, is proposing to build a business park and light industry on 375 acres south of Hueneme Road. The developer is proposing to set aside 220 additional acres to be sold to the California Coastal Conservancy to expand the existing wetlands preserve.

The conservancy, along with the nonprofit Nature Conservancy, has already purchased 543 acres of wetlands in an effort to restore the area as a haven for wildlife.

Critics of the project said the extra 220 acres of wetlands isn't enough to guarantee their long-term survival.

"This environmental document is fatally flawed," said Alan Sanders, conservation chairman of the Sierra Club's Los Padres chapter, which covers Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. "I've spent the last 18 years working to protect the least tern and the snowy plover at Ormond Beach.... If this plan is approved, all the work would be for nothing."

But Oxnard resident Lupe Anguiano said the two projects should be considered separately. She said there should be no industrial development south of Hueneme Road because it serves as a buffer for the wetlands.

However, Anguiano said she supports the Hearthside project because it would help upgrade old housing stock in the area.

"South Oxnard really needs new, beautiful homes," she said. "We've worked for years to revitalize south Oxnard."

Planning Commissioner Deirdre Frank, an attorney who describes herself as being "very partial to protecting Ormond Beach," said Friday she wants several questions answered before the second public hearing on the proposed projects, scheduled for July 19. The proposals will then go before the City Council, which will decide whether to approve the projects and annex the land.

"What I want to know is what the ... conservancies need as an absolute minimum for restoration of Ormond Beach wetlands," Frank said. "And I'd like to hear the biologists and experts talk to me about placing residential next to such a wetland restoration."

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