Board Acts to Keep Region Green

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Ventura County supervisors vote to keep development out of thousands of acres separating Ventura and Santa Paula.

Source of this article – Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2006

By Catherine Saillant, Times Staff Writer

Ventura County supervisors tightened development rules for 27,900 acres between Ventura and Santa Paula on Tuesday as part of a countywide effort to stem urban sprawl by creating greenbelts.

County and municipal leaders made a handshake deal 40 years ago to preserve the fertile cropland and mountainous terrain between the two cities. But the boundaries of that preserve had never been clear, county officials said.

The ordinance that the Board of Supervisors approved 4 to 0 not only specifies the acreage but is hard to undo, said Deborah Millais, a county planning official.

The old agreement could have been changed by a simple majority vote of the board, she said. To alter the new greenbelt ordinance, four of the five supervisors would have to agree and hold a public hearing, she told supervisors.

Supervisors said adoption of the Ventura-Santa Paula greenbelt will help keep the citrus-rich Santa Clara River Valley rural. In 2000, they adopted a companion greenbelt that preserves 72,000 acres of citrus and avocado fields and open land between Fillmore and the Los Angeles County line.

“This says there is a strong commitment to our greenbelts,” said Supervisor Kathy Long, whose district includes much of the latest land to be preserved.

Supervisor Judy Mikels, who represents Simi Valley and Moorpark, was in Washington, D.C., on business and did not vote.

The ordinance expands the territory covered on the Ventura-Santa Paula greenbelt’s northern and southern flanks, and adds a small slice of land at Ventura’s eastern boundary.

Supervisors rejected a property owner’s request that a portion of her family’s land be excluded from the greenbelt. Carol D’Egidio told supervisors that the family hoped to build commercial properties on one of the seven acres they own at Wells and Telegraph roads.

The property, just outside Ventura city limits, is close to other commercial development, D’Egidio said.

But supervisors noted that the greenbelt boundaries had already been approved by the cities of Ventura and Santa Paula. They told D’Egidio that her family could still ask Ventura to annex the one-acre property into the city and change the zoning to allow building.

“We should respect this greenbelt process,” Supervisor Steve Bennett said. “I don’t think that would send a healthy message that we wanted to take [this one parcel] out of the greenbelt.”

After the vote, D’Egidio said her family had no choice but to work with the city on annexation. Litigation would be too costly, she said.

“It’s like inverse condemnation,” she said of the board’s action. “They are really taking away our ability to use it in any way.”

The county board and other city and county leaders have pushed over the last decade to strengthen existing greenbelt agreements and to add new ones. Anti-sprawl proponents hope the efforts will one day shield nearly 200,000 acres of county land from development.

Greenbelt protections go hand-in-hand with the SOAR growth-control laws that require a public vote before development outside city boundaries can occur. The goal is to confine new growth within city limits while preserving the swaths of open space between cities.