Monday, December 21, 2015

City of Moorpark, Ca - Drought vs New Real Estate Development - 2nd & 3rd Quarter 2015


Mark’s Ventura County Market Analysis
2nd & 3rd Quarter 2015 - (April through September)

Special Moorpark Drought vs New Home Development Issue 

Housing sales, new home development, and water use have become interlocking issues in Ventura County. There is a housing shortage in Ventura County which has become more pronounced in the last 3 years. The demand for new homes has become so great that developers are once again free to build whatever city planning commissions will allow, knowing that any home they build will sell.
The severity and length of California’s drought have prompted the State to take the extraordinary action of mandating reductions in each city’s water useage, with very real consequences possible for those cities ( like Moorpark ) which fail to meet the state targets.  Each town in Ventura County has responded in a different manner to these requirements and a very few have finally begun the process of addressing water issues as they apply to new home construction.
To be fair, some towns have been working for years to improve their water resource infrastructure and availability. Oxnard, Camarillo and Ventura have all developed water treatment/pumping facilities to meet new demand in the last few years. Yet not all towns have a formalized linkage between water resources and new home development. More water is being pumped or purchased from other water agencies and then immediately apportioned to new home developments. It’s like maxing out a credit card and then asking to raise your minimum balance instead of paying it off.

Regardless of how each town manages its water supply, the net result has been to make water use more restricted, regulated and expensive for the average citizen and home owner. City governments have, with rare exception, passed these costs on to their constituents without any form of public review or voting process.
“In April, a state appeals court ruled that a tiered water rate used by the City of San Juan Capistrano to encourage conservation – similar to the plan adapted by Ventura – was unconstitutional. The 4th District Court of Appeal struck down Capistrano’s fee plan, saying it violated Proposition 218, which prohibits government agencies from charging more for a service than it costs to provide it.” Since the State Water Resources Control Board is enforcing the Governors’ water reduction mandate with each city in California, perhaps they should also check that city compliance is being done in a strictly legal manner. 
 
I have arranged the material for this report in a roughly chronological format beginning the 2nd quarter of this year and progressing to early October. Issues are dynamic and have continued to change and evolve during this time so I have tried to capture a bit of this process.  There is no way to include everything which has happened since the governors drought reduction mandate this last Spring but I have tried to include enough details to lend a bit of insight and flavor to this extraordinary time in our Ventura County history.
Moorpark appears to be one of the fastest growing cities in Ventura County with at least four very expensive new home developments north of the 118 – The Estates Collection, The Executive Collection, Moorpark Highlands and The Pinnacle at Moorpark. Another much more modestly priced development is being built South of the 118 – Ivy Lanes. Home sales in these new communities are not generally reflected in our MLS.
Moorpark is an example of what happens when a city does not meet the states’ water reduction goals.
The 2 July Ventura County Star showed that Moorpark reduced it’s water use by only 11%, for a per person per day water use of 159.5 gallons by May 2015, a time of intense home building activity in Moorpark. There is a note in the same article which states that “Moorpark is served by Ventura County Waterworks District No.1, which also serves agricultural customers not subject to statewide mandated water conservation standards.”  In my mind it is not clear whether the 11% takes into account the agricultural use or not. Either way, the response from the water regulatory agencies was not good. Here in all its gruesome detail is the entire article.
The 3 July Ventura County Star had an article titled “Moorpark Behind on Mandated Water Cuts - Moorpark must collectively reduce residents’ water usage by 32 percent or the water district could face surcharges in the millions of dollars from water suppliers. Water rates also may be increased next year for all customers by more than 6 percent, with the highest users subject to penalties.

David Sasek, director of Ventura County’s Water and Sanitation Department, gave a presentation to the Moorpark City Council on Wednesday on the water-use reduction plan and water rate increase, which recently was approved by an advisory committee. The committee makes recommendations to the Ventura County Waterworks District No.1, which serves Moorpark and surrounding communities. 

The district receives water from the Metropolitan Water District and Calleguas Municipal Water District, as well as using local groundwater. The Ventura County Board of Supervisors will consider Moorpark’s proposed

reductions and rate increase at its Aug. 11 meeting at the Ventura County Government Center, 800S. Victoria Ave., Ventura. If approved, the water reductions will begin immediately. 

The waterworks district also sent a letter to Moorpark water customers listing regulations, which could result in fines, and loss of service if not followed. Among other rules, customers are prohibited from allowing sprinkler runoff and leaks, washing their vehicles without a shut-off nozzle, operating a fountain without recycled water, spraying down sidewalks and other property, and watering their lawn from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

The State Water Resources Control Board in May ordered Moorpark to reduce residents’ water usage by 32 percent based on the district’s 2013 residential use in terms of gallons used per person per day. Metropolitan and Calleguas also announced cuts in wholesale water allocations and other measures.  

The Waterworks district’s advisory committee in June unanimously recommended an over-all 32 percent temporary citywide water reduction. This reduction varies from no reduction to 28 percent reduction for the lowest volume water users, and up to 37 percent reduction for high-volume users. Users in the highest tier could see about a 20 percent increase in their bills if they don’t reduce water use.

“We wanted to make sure that those who are low-volume users would be either minimally or not impacted at all by the reduction that we are proposing,” Sasek said. He added that penalties will kick in if the waterworks district doesn’t cut total usage. If there is no change, the district could face a #3 million surcharge.   

Sasek said water users will be notified about how much water they can use before they are subject to a surcharge. A separate surcharge for agricultural water users is being considered. Sasek said residents most likely can meet reduction goals by cutting back on watering their lawns.

“A 32 percent reduction is not anything that can be achieved without some hard choices being made with regards to water use,” he said.

The committee also is recommending the board approve a 6 percent Tier 1 increase for all water customers, including agricultural users, with those in higher tiers paying 1 percent to 2.5 percent more than previous tiers. The recommendation is based on Calleguas’ plans to increase water rates next year by 5.4 percent.  

He said the waterworks district is setting up a new website to provide more information about water-use reduction and how the district is doing with meeting its goals. He encouraged residents with questions to call the district office.

Councilwoman Rose-Ann Mikos said the letter the district sent to water customers was confusing and that the district needs to explain practical ways that customers can reduce water consumption. 

Councilman Keith Milhouse said there still needs to be a comprehensive, cohesive water policy at the state level. “It’s nice that the governor is asking for reductions, but there really hasn’t been a lot of talk about supply, capture and reuse,” Millhouse said.  

The Council also on Wednesday approved a final drought action plan for the city, which includes implementing turf conversion projects at city parks.”
 

August 28 Ventura County Star

By Michele Willer-Allred
Special to The Star

A July report that shows water savings of 30 percent in Moorpark’s water district is inflated and is mostly attributed to water reductions made by farmers after unexpected rainfall, the district’s top official said this week.

Moorpark was recently ordered by the State Water Resources Control Board to reduce citywide water usage by 32 percent from 2013 levels or face millions of dollars in financial penalties.

Waterworks District No. 1, which serves about 34,000 customers in and around Moorpark, reports total water savings in the district each month to the state water board.

David Sasek, director of Ventura County’s Water and Sanitation Department, said unexpected rainfall in July enabled the district’s agricultural customers to reduce their water usage by more than 40 percent. 

He said including agricultural water consumption in the calculation skewed the total reduction in favor of the district’s reduction goal. Sasek said once the water district is able to take agricultural water use out of the equation, the water savings is expected to be around 27 percent for the district in July.

Sasek said the district is currently working through the process established by the state water board to exclude agricultural water consumption from the city’s overall reduction goals.

In the meantime, he said, the board continues to include agricultural water consumption in its reports.

“While we are thrilled that our district’s agricultural users were able to conserve a significant amount of water in July, we are still in a drought and urge all customers in the district to save water to meet the new state mandated emergency regulations,” Sasek said.

The state water board recently notified the district that it did not meet its reduction goals in June and asked what conservation measures the district has to hold customers accountable.

While the four Waterworks districts managed by the county — Moorpark, Bell Canyon, Somis, and Lake Sherwood— have shown significant reductions in water usage, district officials said only Bell Canyon met its reduction target in July, cutting water consumption by 27.6 percent.

On Aug. 11, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors approved a 6 percent rate increase for Moorpark, in part to pay for higher rates being charged by water suppliers.

The Board of Supervisors also approved a water reduction plan that will pass on surcharges directly to high water users in the district.

The reduction varies from no reduction to 28 percent reduction for the lowest water users, and up to 37 percent reduction for high-volume water users and irrigation accounts.

The district will pass on surcharges directly to high water users, who could see about a 20 percent increase in their bills if they don’t reduce water use.

Moorpark is currently in a Level 2 water supply shortage.

The district recently sent notices to Moorpark water customers prohibiting lawn irrigation between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., and restricting days of lawn irrigation on certain days depending on address number.

Outdoor irrigation is prohibited during and 48 hours after measurable rainfall.

The city has also been taking measures to reduce water consumption, most noticeably reducing large amounts of turf at parks. A turf removal plan at each park can be viewed at:


Moorpark water customers are encouraged to visit the district’s new website at www. SlowYourH2O.org for timely drought updates and information tracking the district’s water usage.
 

Ventura County Star 19 September 2015 - City is due to be built out in 10-15 years

By Michele Willer-Allred

Special to The Star

The Moorpark City Council this week voted against sending a letter to support adding two parcels to expand the city’s growth boundaries.

After several speakers spoke mostly against changing the boundaries, the council agreed to “maintain the status quo.”

The letter would have gone to the Save Openspace and Agricultural Resources board as it moves forward with a ballot initiative for the November 2016 election to extend SOAR ordinances through 2050 in Ventura County.

Moorpark’s SOAR ordinance was approved by voters in 1999 and remains in effect until the end of 2020. The ordinance established a city urban restriction boundary (CURB) line around the city and requires voter approval to develop land outside the line.

The two parcels being considered cover 185 acres adjacent to the Buttercreek neighborhood south of Los Angeles Avenue. The area is currently used for farmland and truck distribution of farm products.

The city staff recommended sending the letter because the city is projected to be built out in the next 10 to 15 years, and the land likely will be needed to address state mandates to meet a regional share of housing needs.

Moorpark voters previously rejected building two residential projects on the northeast end of the city near Moorpark College. Greenbelts, topography and other farmland prevent the possibility of building in other areas surrounding the city.

David Bobardt, the city’s community development director, said adding the two parcels to Moorpark’s CURB in 2026 would not commit the city to approve any development there, but could help the city meet future development needs through at least 2030.

Residents who spoke at Wednesday’s City Council meeting said remaining farmland and open space should be left alone and that sending the letter would go against SOAR principles.

Councilwoman Roseann Mikos, co-author of Moorpark’s SOAR ordinance, served on an ad hoc committee with Mayor Janice Parvin to discuss possible changes to the city’s CURB.

Mikos said the committee wanted to look at whether there was something to preserve as much land as possible but still accommodate future population growth.

City Manager Steve Kueny said meeting state growth mandates is difficult without extreme densities that the city hasn’t allowed on existing properties.

“If you’re not going to go up or out, where are you going to go? Unfortunately, we need to think about that, as well as maintaining our principles about SOAR,” Mikos said.

Councilman David Pollock said he knows it’s a struggle with higher density.

“I don’t want to have in the back of my mind that we can loosen up on the density, because eventually we can go that way easily without a SOAR vote,” Pollock said.

“I think we need to see what kind of predicament we’re in 20 years from now before we’re able to persuade the voters of Moorpark that, yeah, it’s really necessary and we’ve done everything within the boundary.”

Mikos said the SOAR board asked cities if they want to talk about what upcoming SOAR measures might look like in each city and that it was a healthy conversation. Mikos said she planned on supporting the SOAR measure on the upcoming ballot.

“I’m going to fight tooth and nail to make it happen,” she said.
 
 
Summary 

So cities like Moorpark are already beginning to feel the pressure to expand the City Urban Restriction Boundaries. New developments within the CURB line do not require a public vote for approval, while properties outside the CURB line do require voter approval as per the SOAR ordinance approved in 1999.
 
There will be a ballot item in the 2016 elections to extend the SOAR ordinance from the end date of 2020 to a future date in 2050. The SOAR ordinance can be circumvented simply by extending a cities CURB line to include more undeveloped property. Then that property can be developed without any voter approval. Obviously, the pressure to expand development in our local communities is building, while cities like Moorpark and Camarillo are fast approaching build-out. As the article above mentions, the only choice for development then becomes higher density housing like multi-level condominiums and apartment complexes. 

Local residents are not as a rule enthusiastic about high rise housing, so at some point the choices narrow to picking less open space or more high density housing. SOAR will make these choices more contentious and probably encourage the extension of CURB lines, but neither choice addresses where the water for continued growth will come from.  

No one in the articles above mentioned the fact that Moorpark has maintained a very aggressive new home development and building program. That more homes can translate into more support industry, service industries and utility use was nowhere mentioned. Apparently no one gets it. Development is not officially linked to water use in Moorpark by either the city leaders or county water regulators.  

So to summarize - bad stuff rolls downhill. Metropolitan and Calleguas announced cuts in wholesale water allocations. There are recommended water rate increases of 6 percent for Tier 1 use, water rates rising 5.4 percent next year, (presumably across the board).  A temporary 32 percent city-wide water reduction is recommended by the waterworks district. Finally the Ventura County Waterworks District No.1 is being threatened with a $3 million surcharge by the Ventura County Water and Sanitation Department if there is no change in water use. But according to  David Sasek, director of Ventura County’s Water and Sanitation Department “We wanted to make sure that those who are low-volume users would be either minimally or not impacted at all by the reductions that we are proposing.”

“In April, a state appeals court ruled that a tiered water rate used by the City of San Juan Capistrano to encourage conservation – similar to the plan proposed by Ventura – was unconstitutional. The 4th District Court of Appeal struck down Capistrano’s fee plan, saying it violated Proposition 218, which prohibits government agencies from charging more for a service than it costs to provide it.” 

So again, we have one water agency threatening another with a $3 million dollar surcharge and both looking to pass on not only large water rate increases but in the case of Metropolitan and Calleguas they are recommending a 32 percent cut back on the supply of water as well. Call me crazy, but this sounds punitive not positive.
 
All of these costs will come right back to the average citizen. How will this help the average family already stressed by Obama Care and high mortgages. Does this type of reaction by the folks who control our water distribution actually help anyone? It may even be illegal according to the 4th District Court of Appeal. Why is it that no one is questioning the ability or legal right of these agencies to punish the people of Moorpark.

Which community will be next subjected to this sort of treatment?

So why did Moorpark not meet the standards that the governor set, while other cities did manage to pass, cities like Oxnard, Camarillo and Ventura, with equally aggressive new home development? I don’t pretend to have an intimate knowledge of Moorparks’ water use or politics but I think there are at least 2 reasons. Timing and location for home construction in Moorpark is different than many of the developments in other towns. Moorpark has had continual construction over the last 10 years and much of it has been on the hillsides to the North of town. 

When a new development is built on former crop land, the total water use changes less (depending upon home density) than if a new development is built on ranch land. Again, I’m not an expert, but I would guess that  Ranch land uses less water for livestock than crop land does for strawberries. Much of the new home development in Moorpark was built on former ranch land. Much of the new home development in Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura was built on former crop land. The apparent change in water use would therefore be larger in Moorpark. 

Also, timing plays a part in all of this water use measured from May of 2013 to May of 2015. During that time period Camarillo broke ground on the Springville Development of 1,300 homes, but relatively few homes have actually been built. See: www.ci.camarillo.ca.us/docs/Springville%20New%20Homes%20&%20Affordable%20Units.pdf

New single family and condo development near the CSUCI Campus – The University Glen - is only half complete and was built before 2013. 658 Units have already been built while another 590 apartments are proposed for the Phase 2A/B Development. This second half is planned for Board of Trustee Approval in September of 2016 and will be built on what is currently vacant land. Roads are already laid out but no actual home construction has yet begun. See: http://universityglencorp.csuci.edu/ugc-phase-2ab-update-march-2015.pdf .

Most of Village at the Park was constructed prior to 2013 and the last 2 new single family home developments have just begun sales this last year. 

Oxnard is just now breaking ground on 1,500 housing units, 50,000 sq ft of commercial space and 7 acres of parks and open space. No actual home construction has yet occurred, so no water use is happening. River Park has continued to build, but at a measured pace and on former cropland and floodplain. In Oxnard there have been numerous much smaller new home developments built in the last 2 years, but once again on former cropland. 

The Orchard Collection in East Ventura was by comparison to Camarillo and Oxnard, a small development with just 59 homes built in the Plantation Tract and 60 homes built in The Grove tract – both on former cropland. However, as new hillside developments are eventually approved and built on former ranch land above the city, we will most certainly see increased water use in Ventura as well as the other cities. So timing and location have not favored Moorpark the way it has other cities. 

So maybe the issue isn’t so much what price range should be built to meet current home buyer demand, but rather, should we be building so many new homes? Do we need to put our communities at risk by straining our resources further with more building or do we need to put our energy and efforts into developing new sources of water, repairing infrastructure and improving our local business/jobs climate. Can this be done without raising taxes? Are expensive new home developments supporting local quality of life or threatening it?
Clearly, our community leaders will need to carefully weigh and balance the advantages of the taxable income a new home development brings to city coffers, versus the many expensive demands it creates on the entire community. 
Just the way I see it. 

Mark Thorngren

Movewest Realty, Inc     /    (805) 443-3366     /     BRE  Lic. #01413932     


Most of the data used for this report is taken from the Ventura County Star and our local Ventura County Multiple Listing Service unless otherwise noted. This report is far from comprehensive and many important issues have been trimmed in the interest of brevity. All opinions are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of Movewest Realty, Inc., the VCCAR or the Ventura County Star. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

City of Ventura, Ca - Drought vs New Real Estate Development - 2nd & 3rd Quarter 2015


Mark’s Ventura County Market Analysis

2nd & 3rd Quarter 2015 - (April - September)

Special Ventura Drought vs New Home Development Issue

 

 

This Ventura edition of my market analysis is by far the longest and most comprehensive of the three I have written so far on specific communities – Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura. I could have shortened this report with some very tight editing, but have chosen not to. Almost all of this report came from articles in the Ventura County Star and provide information not only on real estate but on the actions of our elected officials. The “Star” included their statements and actions and their approach to problem solving.

I don’t have any political affiliations, but I find it fascinating to see how these folks are representing our best interests in this time of drought, water shortage, new home and property development and even fears of home destruction from El Nino. Again, I apologize for the length but there is just so much happening in Ventura.

If you wish to cut to the chase, just go to the last page and read the summary. Also, I have inserted short article summarys in various places… “Marks’ thoughts” ( I use this term loosely because I do not consider myself an expert on city planning or water resource management. I do not know any of the city officials mentioned personally nor any of the citizen groups or property developers. As a taxpayer though, I am more than mildly curious how and why my tax money is being spent and these articles have plenty of clues for that.

Housing sales, new home development, and water use have become interlocking issues in Ventura County. There is a housing shortage in Ventura County which has become more pronounced in the last 3 years. The demand for new homes has become so great that developers are once again free to build whatever city planning commissions will allow, knowing that any home they build will sell.

The severity and length of California’s drought have prompted the State to take the extraordinary action of mandating reductions in each city’s water useage, with very real consequences possible for those cities ( like Moorpark ) which fail to meet the state targets.  Each town in Ventura County has responded in a different manner to these requirements and a very few (like Ventura) have finally begun the process of addressing water issues as they apply to new home construction.

To be fair, some towns have been working for years to improve their water resource infrastructure and

(1)

availability. Oxnard, Camarillo and Ventura have all developed water treatment/pumping facilities to meet new demand in the last few years. Yet not all towns have a formalized linkage between water resources and new home development. More water is being pumped or purchased from other water agencies and then immediately apportioned to new home developments. It’s like maxing out a credit card and then asking to raise your minimum balance instead of paying it off.

Regardless of how each town manages its water supply, the net result has been to make water use more restricted, regulated and expensive for the average citizen and home owner. City governments have, with rare exception, passed these costs on to their constituents without any form of public review or voting process.

“In April, a state appeals court ruled that a tiered water rate used by the City of San Juan Capistrano to encourage conservation – similar to the plan adapted by Ventura – was unconstitutional. The 4th District Court of Appeal struck down Capistrano’s fee plan, saying it violated Proposition 218, which prohibits government agencies from charging more for a service than it costs to provide it.” Since the State Water Resources Control Board is enforcing the Governors’ water reduction mandate with each city in California, perhaps they should also check that city compliance is being done in a strictly legal manner.

   

I have arranged the material for this report in a roughly chronological format beginning the 2nd quarter of this year and progressing to early October. Issues are dynamic and have continued to change and evolve during this time so I have tried to capture a bit of this process.  There is no way to include everything which has happened since the governors drought reduction mandate this last Spring but I have tried to include enough details to lend a bit of insight and flavor to this extraordinary time in our Ventura County history.

 

The April 13 Ventura County Star has reported that the Ventura City Council will soon be considering a complete moratorium on new residential development. The plan is to block further development until 2 Feb 2016, at which time new applications will be considered until 31 Mar 2016. Anything submitted after that time frame or anything deemed incomplete for consideration will have to wait until some unspecified future date. Things like affordable housing or projects which are already years along in development will be excluded from the moratorium. Like Camarillo, Ventura wishes to develop better control and evaluation of new home development. 

The April 17 Ventura County Star reported that “a Los Angeles developer spoke to a midtown Ventura group about plans to build 55 luxury homes in the hillsides, he noted the project had already undergone 18 revisions.

A group of residents argues it still has a long way to go and as designed presents safety and health concerns, as well as aesthetic issues.

Regent Properties is proposing to build the homes on 40 acres of a 215-acre parcel, which is part of the Mariano Rancho holdings. The undeveloped portion would remain open space. The houses above Ventura High School would be one- and two-story homes ranging from 3,750 to 4,500 square feet and sell for $1.1 million to $2 million, Regent has said.

Regent Land President Daniel Gryczman said that as the process moves forward, it will be open and transparent to the public.

“We are looking forward to having all issues of concern thoroughly vetted as required by the formal entitlement and environmental review process, which will commence after project applications are filed,” Gryczman wrote in an email to The Star. “Most importantly, safety is never negotiable and cannot be compromised,” he wrote.

Residents aren’t sold.

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Douglas Burke, a civil engineer whose property on Hillside Drive abuts the base of the proposed site, said he looked at the grading plan and was “utterly shocked” by what he saw. It does nothing to protect against the possibility of an earthquake or landslide, he said. 

Burke was one of several people who addressed the City Council on Monday night, part of a new community group called Neighbors for the Ventura Hillside.

“Not to say the developer couldn’t find a solution for this land, but there’s nothing that’s right on this development,” Burke said

 

The April 18 Ventura County Star reported on plans by the owners of the Walker-Hearne Ranch – a property which starts at the base of Foothill Road and runs north into the hillside to develop 200 acres of hillside property into 200 to 250 executive homes. The property would have to be annexed by the City of Ventura and would require voter approval. 

Ventura is getting ready to increase water rates probably 1 September 2015. According to an article in the May 1st Ventura County Star, “the topic drew more than 80 people, who for the better part of 2 hours peppered Ventura Water General Manager Shana Epstein with questions about rates, development, climate change, water storage and the legalities of pricing.”

Interestingly, $1 million dollars will be spent on conservation outreach and education. “Those costs will be passed along to customers who use more water, officials said.”

“The lowest city rates right now are for single family households in Tier I, meaning they use zero to 14 hundred cubic feet (HCF), or just under 10,500 gallons of water every two months. They pay $2.40 per HCF. Under the proposed structure, Tier I will drop to zero to six HCF, or around 4,500 gallons. Those users will not see any increase at any point during the six states of the proposal.”

This is a very interesting statement since Tier I users will now be limited to 4,500 gallons of water versus the 10,500 gallons they were given under the old Tier I.

Resident Liz Selleck estimates her bimonthly water bill will increase $100 for her family of 6, no matter what they do.”

“The new Tier II customers become those who use 7 to 14 HCF, paying $3.25 under Stage3 drought, the level the city is at now.

For Tier III households using 15 to 30 HCF, the rate jumps to $5.55.”

“Several people questioned why residential development should be allowed to continue when the city’s water availability appears so bleak and residents are being asked to conserve so severely. Ventura Water General Manager Shana Epstein said new construction uses much less water than much of the existing development."

Ventura County Star May 20

 (In a June 28 issue of the Star it was revealed that the Planning Commission denied John Ashkar’s project due to a recent State Supreme Court Ruling allowing cities to set inclusionary housing policies requiring developers to include affordable housing in their new construction. He is currently appealing the Planning Commission

decision.)

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Planners back downtown site, but not all agree

By Arlene Martinez

amartinez@vcstar.com 805-437-0262

Ventura planners are recommending that a proposed 255-unit apartment project get the green light to move toward construction.

The project, to be voted on during a joint meeting Wednesday night of the city’s Design Review Committee and Planning Commission, would include no affordable-housing units despite a city ordinance requiring them.

 

As designed, just under three-quarters of the project would have “stacked dwellings,” even though the city’s Downtown Specific Plan says no more than 30 percent of a residential project should feature units on top of each other.

Developer John Ashkar’s project would consist of 127 two bedroom units, 120 one bedroom units and eight studios on 3.5 acres at Junipero Street, Santa Clara Street and Thompson Boulevard. The project has stalled in part over whether it must include roughly 37 units for people with low or moderate incomes. Existing city law mandates that 15 percent of units in rental or market-rate projects built downtown be af fordable housing units.

City Community Development Director Jeff Lambert said the ordinance is not legal and therefore unenforceable.

“Based on the law and circumstances, we’re confident in the recommendation that we’re making to the Planning Commission,” he said. However, local attorney Barbara Macri-Ortiz said the city’s interpretation of existing case law is wrong.

Staff members just want to “blow off an ordinance,” she said, which is beyond the authority of commissioners, who don’t get to decide which laws to implement.

Macri-Ortiz was one of three people who signed a letter to commissioners urging them to follow the city’s inclusionary ordinance.

The staff report says Ashkar’s project complies with state coastal laws, which require affordable units to be included “where feasible” or put somewhere else in the city.

Lambert said the project satisfies the requirements because the “entire project is affordable for moderate incomes” and the state doesn’t lay out how many units there must be or the level of affordability.

Rents are expected to range between $1,350 for a studio to $2,236 for a two bedroom unit.

Even if that were true initially, property owners can raise the rents anytime, while truly affordable units must adhere to income restrictions per the deed for years, Macri-Ortiz said.

On the issue of stacked housing, Lambert had an outside planning consultant look at Ventura’s code. Sargent Town Planning called it an outdated requirement and was “not aware” of any West Coast form-based codes that limit “stacked flats as a dwelling type.”

Allowing the developer to bypass the downtown plan is a concession the city could make in exchange for affordable housing, Macri-Ortiz said.

Wednesday’s meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 501 Poli St.

 

 

Mark’s thoughts

In the May 31 Ventura County Star is a superb article written by guest columnist David P. Grau which details that takes issue with the new water rates that the Ventura City Council is preparing to approve on June 8. The new water rates are considered by the Ventura County Taxpayers Association to be unconstitutional and in violation of the voter approved Proposition 218. I’ve included it here to help put this important information into our new development perspective.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

 

 

 

 

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“On June 8, the Ventura City Council will consider adopting water rates that, in the view of Ventura County Taxpayers Association, may be unconstitutional and in violation of the voter approved Proposition 218.

VCTA appreciates the seriousness of the drought and acknowledges that residents must conserve water. However, we disagree with the steps the City Council has taken to accomplish that goal. In drought-ridden California, many water bills are calculated using a basic principle: The more water a customer uses, the higher the rate for each tier. It’s a strategy water districts employ to boost conservation and one adopted by Ventura.

 

But in April, a state appeals court ruled that a tiered water rate used by the city of San Juan Capistrano to encourage conservation — similar to the plan proposed by Ventura — was unconstitutional. The 4th District Court of Appeal struck down Capistrano’s fee plan, saying it violated Proposition 218,which prohibits government agencies from charging more for a service than it costs to provide it.  

 

Our courts have made it clear they interpret the Constitution to allow tiered pricing; but the voters and taxpayers have made it clear they want it done in a particular way. And that is why Ventura Water must show that each rate is tied to the cost of providing the water and not merely inflated to discourage its use.

 

Faced with the Capistrano ruling, many water agencies throughout the state including Ventura Water have three options: flatten their tiers, adopt penalties not subject to constitutional limitations, or wait to see if they get sued. Other cities and water districts serving more than 3 million California customers faced with similar drought-related problems have avoided conflict with the law by imposing penalties for excess water usage that are allowed under the law.

 

If Ventura approves the proposed water rates as designed, it is choosing to ignore the law and just wait and see if it gets sued. Like Capistrano, Ventura did not calculate incremental costs of providing water at the level of use represented by each tier, but instead relied on “discussions with city staff” and “estimates” to “assign” different costs to each tier.

 

The city suggests the tiers are based on the purpose for which the water is used. For example, Tier 1 is an allocation for basic indoor water usage, Tier 2 is for outdoor irrigation, and so forth. The justification for rate differences are problematic for several reasons.

First, the type of use (taking a shower versus watering a lawn) has no reasonable relation to cost of service between tiers.

Second, the allocations for individual water accounts are oversimplified. How did Ventura Water determine how much water is needed for indoor usage without knowing exactly how many people reside in each and every parcel? These allocations are almost certainly completely arbitrary, especially with respect to cost.

Third, we never saw an attempt to explicitly tie the proposed rate increases to different sources of water, or any other objective cost differential.

 

When asked, Ventura Water General Manager Shana Epstein said “there is no practical alternative to rate-setting other than estimates ….” Really?

 

As the court pointed out in Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. City of Fresno (2005), the calculations required by Proposition 218 may be “complex” but “such a process is now required by the California Constitution.

“We believe the city failed to show that each rate is tied to the cost of providing the water as required by Proposition 218 and instead simply inflated each tier to discourage use. Therefore, the city’s water pricing violates the constitutional requirement that fees have a reasonable relation to cost of service between tiers, and VCTA urges the council to reject the water rate increases and move to adopt a defensible system.

 

Defending a clearly unconstitutional system in court would be a terrible waste of taxpayer money and fails to                                                     

 

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address the long term issue of water conservation for the city. VCTA asks the council to delay a decision and during that time evaluate how other water agencies address the drought while remaining within legal constraint of the state Constitution. David P. Grau, of Ventura, is a board member of the Ventura County Taxpayers Association.”

 

In a May 28 article of the Ventura County Star it was revealed that Ventura is being sued for over pumping the river and has in turn counter sued several local water agencies – even though some of them supply water to Ventura!

“The city of Ventura, sued for allegedly over pumping the Ventura River at a cost to its wild life and water quality, has in turn sued several water agencies and others who use the water source. The Santa Barbara

Channel Keeper sued Ventura and the State Water Resources Control Board in September 2014, seeking a “reasonable use analysis” of how much water is available and needed to ensure all beneficial uses are protected.

 

Casitas General Manager Steve Wickstrum said the board hadn’t discussed the suit in much detail or decided what it would do. “It’s under review,” he said. Casitas, like others named, has 30 days to file a response. “It’s a strange cross complaint, so we’ll see where this goes,” Wickstrum said.

The city seeks a “preliminary and permanent injunction reducing cross-defendants’ uses of surface water and

groundwater ... affecting the surface and/or subsurface flow of the Ventura River to a level of reasonable and beneficial use,” the suit says in part.

Ventura is a customer of Casitas, Wickstrum said. The city claims its use of water from the Ventura River and Lake Casitas is “reasonable and beneficial” because it’s used for domestic purposes, the city uses only the water

it needs for municipal purposes, it provides safe and affordable water and it is “exercising vested water rights,” according to the suit.

The city gets its water about evenly from Lake Casitas, groundwater sources and the river. Because of the drought, it has recently gotten less from the Ventura River.”

      

 

The June 6 issue of the Ventura County Star announces the opening of a new home development on Garden Street. “The Cannery” is 78 condominiums priced from the high $200,000s to low $500,000, with over 20 different floor plans ranging from 548 to 1,233 square feet in studio, loft and 1 to 3 bedroom configurations.”   

The June 10 issue of the Ventura County Star noted that:  “The Ventura City Council on Monday night (June 8) approved water shortage rates that  ‘encourage conservation, penalize higher water users and continue paying for planned water and wastewater capital improvements.’ The council passed the rates 5-2, with Council members Christy Weir and Jim Monahan opposed. The rates will go into effect September 1. The city received 1,103 letters from residents protesting the rates.”

 

“Though the council took no action on a building moratorium — another issue speakers brought up several times — Mayor Cheryl Heitmann asked the newly formed Water Commission to study the issue immediately.”

 

 

June 23 Ventura County Star - “The city of Ventura’s Water Commission meets Tuesday (June 23) for the first time, but don’t expect discussion of a building moratorium or related policy just yet. The newly formed advisory body won’t start looking at that issue until its July meeting. The seven-member group will instead start with a tour of the Avenue Water Treatment Plant, which opened in 2007 and can treat up to 10 million gallons of water per day.

 

 

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The facility treats water that comes from wells next to the Ventura River at Foster Park. The group will next learn about the Brown Act, state laws that govern how open meetings must run, before Voting on a tentative agenda for the next six months. That agenda includes a discussion on “net zero” policies at the commission’s July 28 and subsequent meetings.”

 

“The policy wouldn’t be a building moratorium but how a development could have a net zero water impact, said Ventura Water General Manager Shana Epstein. The commission will flesh out what that would look like, she said.”

 

The July 19 Star reported: The University of California Hansen Trust property sold for $13.1 million in a 6 bid competition won by Williams Communities, LLC. Escrow closed March 2015. The property will be developed for 131 detached single family homes, townhome style condominiums, 20 – 24 Farmworker Housing units and 6 acres of public park and open space. The property is located at the Southeast corner of Saticoy Avenue and Telegraph Road.

 

Marks’ thoughts

So Ventura has raised it’s water rates despite the possibility of it being illegal to do so, and despite over 1,100 citizen letters protesting the action. Not only have the rates been raised but the amount of water included in the least expensive Tier I has been cut from 14 HCF (10,500 gallons) to 6 HCF (4,500 gallons) which in my opinion is a rather cruel and unreasonable rate change for large families.

 

A new Water Commission has been formed at the request of the mayor, presumably to study water issues and new development approval, but I suspect also to take the heat off the mayor and the City Council and Planning Commission.  Since the City is being sued for over pumping the Ventura River, it has filed a cross complaint with some of it’s own water providers, presumably to spread the blame around.  It is interesting that nobody outside of the city government voted for any of the water rate changes or for the formation of a new level of water use bureaucracy.

 

The Ventura building moratorium advocated by the City Council back in April, has now degenerated to a Water Commission review. The Ventura Water General Manager (and Water Commission Member) Shana Epstein stating that the new “policy wouldn’t be a building moratorium but how a development could have a net zero water impact.”

This will make the Water Commission a very powerful entity, presumably deciding how to approve new home development using “net zero water impact” and with none of its members holding a publicly elected position.

 

From 28 August 2015 Ventura County Star

From staff reports

“Ventura water customers reduced their use by 39 percent last month compared with July 2013, city officials said.

The strong showing means the city hit its target of reducing water use by more than 20 percent this year so far compared with two years ago, water officials said.

The city has decreased its water use every month this year compared with 2013, ranging from 4 percent to 41 percent. The biggest drops came in the past three months.

“During the months of May, June and July this year, Ventura Water customers have reduced their water use significantly, establishing what we hope is a continuing trend,” the city wrote in its monthly newsletter.

In June, customer use was 41 percent lower compared with July 2013. In May, the decrease was 28 percent from the same time period, the city said.

“As the city and the state experience one of the most severe droughts on record, the customers of Ventura have proved that they have the ingenuity and commitment to meet the challenges of conserving water,” the newsletter said.

 

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In response to the drought, the city continues to limit outdoor watering to twice a week between the hours of 6 p.m. and 9 a.m., bans hosing down hard surfaces including driveways and sidewalks, and requires handheld hoses to have a shut-off nozzle.

Residents of other cities who want to see how much their area is conserving can visit


 

In an article from the August 30 Ventura County Star new concerns about hillside development emerge.

 

“Residents worried about hillside - It appears they have few options for aid

By Arlene Martinez

amartinez@vcstar.com 805-437-0262

Eight days after tons of earth tumbled on to homes in La Conchita and killed 10 people, residents along a different hillside, this one in west Ventura, received a notice.

“This letter is to alert you about concerns we have with the stability of the hillside above your neighborhood,” it began.

Mud and debris had made their way down the hill and onto streets, the letter continued, and driven by heavy rains, there were no signs the

 

Jared McEntyre, who lives on Lewis Street, said, “That’s why we have government. That’s why we have FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency).” 

 

 “City engineers have inspected the hillside and have determined that mudslides will continue to occur from this location and potentially other adjacent hillside areas,” said the letter from the city, dated Jan. 18, 2005.

The city advised residents to monitor the hillside and take proper precautions, including evacuation, if heavy rains developed.

More than a decade later, residents in the neighborhood of Ventura Avenue continue their monitoring.

Their repeated requests that the property owner, city and county do something about the hill have gone nowhere. There has been no in-depth study to determine the actual threat and no action taken to secure their homes.

“There’s a lot of unknown here,” said Virgil Nelson, co-chairman of the Avenue Hillside Prevention Task Force, which formed in September 2010.

Absent an engineering report, “we can’t do anything,” he said.

Resident Theresa Satterfield said the committee has made every effort to be friendly and work cooperatively with everyone involved.

“That hasn’t gotten us too far,” she said. “And now we’ve heard this is going to be a terrible rainy season, and we’re all a little nervous about that.”

They have reason to worry. A geotechnical firm hired by the city to study the area noted that a landslide could occur quickly, too fast to alert residents.

“The city may want to tell people to temporarily move out of their residence if intense rainfall is predicted or experienced,” the geotechnical firm Fugro wrote in a February 2005 letter to the city.

‘CHALLENGING’ ISSUE

The Selby Corp., a property management company with an office off Ventura Avenue, owns the hillside above East Lewis, East Vince, Carr, Leighton and El Medio streets— the area at risk of a slide.

Selby did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.

In late 2005, then-Selby attorney Lindsay Nielson met with concerned residents and city and county officials. Nielson advised Selby at that time to leave the hillside alone.

“The hill in its natural state provides liability protection for Selby,” he said. “If they did anything to the hillside to try to stabilize or act on their concerns, that (would) put them directly in the line of fire, so to speak.”

As far as Nielson knows, the company has not touched the hill.

“I think they listened to me,” he said.

City officials acknowledge it’s complicated.

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“It’s a challenging sort of issue because the people who are concerned are in the city, the land is in the county and we don’t have any jurisdiction on the land,” said Brad Starr, the city’s capital design and land development manager.

“There’s no obligation on the part of Selby to do anything,” he said.

The city monitors the hillside, snapping photos of it and checking for any kind of movement, Starr said.

Its focus in recent months, particularly with forecasters predicting a powerful El NiƱo this winter, is on having an emergency citywide plan in the event heavy rains cause flooding, utility line breaks or movement in the hillside, he said.

County officials have met various times with residents but say their hands are tied, too.

“I don’t see anything the county can do on private property,” county geologist Jim O’Tousa said.

O’Tousa hasn’t looked at the property in years; he guesses not since 2005. “It had cracks,” he said. “It is in a mode of failure.”

But Selby hasn’t done any work that might cause a slide or any work at all as far as he knows, O’Tousa said.

“It’s a natural condition,” he said.

NO ONE TO BLAME?

For the most part, property owners are protected from liability if something happens stemming from undeveloped property, said Los Angeles attorney David Casselman, who has litigated numerous landslide cases.

A public entity doesn’t have to intervene even if it’s a health and safety issue, he said.

“Ideally the government works with property owners cooperatively. But it may want and reasonably expect an agreement from them in return,” Casselman said.

In other words, residents would agree not to sue in the event of a slide or other debris flow — to not claim the public entity’s work had caused the damage, he said.

After the 2005 deadly mudslide, some La Conchita residents sued the county over a retaining wall it had put up after a previous landslide to keep debris off a road.

The courts agreed with the county that the wall had not caused the hillside to fail. But county officials learned an expensive lesson.

“The minute the government does try to stabilize the hill, then the taxpayers take all the liability if something does happen,” Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett said.

That said, the county has had numerous meetings with the residents, Selby and the city, “and it hasn’t worked out. ... These are always extremely difficult issues to resolve,” Bennett said.

At first it seemed Selby was willing to do something, but “that has all fallen apart,” said Bennett, whose district includes the Ventura neighborhood.

The county can’t force Selby to act unless it forces every private hillside landowner in the county to do the same, he said.

It’s a situation between two private property owners: Selby and the residents, Bennett said.

Jared McEntyre, who lives on Lewis Street, doesn’t accept that.

“That’s why we have government. That’s why we have FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency),” he said, to respond to or help mitigate natural disasters.

Residents aren’t asking the government to come and save everyone, McEntyre said. But with Selby no longer returning calls or willing to talk, he said, residents are stuck.

“I’m just asking that people work with us,” he said. “Let’s actively work to find a solution.”

UNKNOWN THREAT

How or when the hill could fail is anyone’s guess. In February and November of 2005, geotechnical firm Fugro looked at the hillside at the request of the city.

“The depth of the largescale landslides is not known, but could likely be several hundred feet thick,” Fugro principal engineering geologist Craig Prentice wrote in a February 2005 letter. “Based on our observations, there is relatively high potential for movement of the active landslide observed near the base of the steep slope east of Vince Street.”

A more recent review, done in 2011 by Cotton, Shires and Associates at the request of the Avenue Hillside Prevention Task Force, notes the landslide moved in early 2005 and a year later had grown by 75 percent to the north. It’s still moving, the firm said in a February 2015 letter to the group.

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Additionally, a natural gas main east of Carr Street “could present a significant hazard in the event of further northerly expansion of the active hillside,” the letter notes.

To get a better sense of the risks and what could be done to alleviate them, the firm said it could do a preliminary study that would cost $13,500 to $14,900.

After La Conchita’s deadly slide, a state report concluded the best way to reduce risk would involve grading the hill and other improvements. The nearly $57 million cost could be shared among residents, the county, state and property owner, it noted.

Nelson said he and other residents are willing to help pay for the study. But who would pay for any needed work is another matter.

MOVING FORWARD

On an evening in June, six task force committee members planned their next steps.

The group included McEntyre, who with his wife bought a house on Lewis Street in 2010.

The home’s proximity to the hillside prompted McEntyre to call the county to ask if the house was in a landslide zone. The county told him no.

“We made sure of that before we bought it,” he said.

After he moved in, he learned the home was in the zone city officials had targeted with the letter. McEntyre returned to the county to ask about it. Someone at the geographic information system office confirmed the house wasn’t in the zone, but there remained a potential for the hill to slide onto the house.

McEntyre, although frustrated, attributes it to miscommunication.

Now, he’s just looking forward, making contingency plans for his growing family. That includes an evacuation in case heavy rains come.

Committee members have drafted a petition they plan to circulate. It requests that Selby, the city, state and federal agencies get together on a “solution to protect citizens from a PREVENTABLE life threatening landslide.” They’re hoping it spurs more residents to get involved.

What Nelson wants to avoid is a scenario that involves being in court over lives lost and homes destroyed.

Nelson, who calls himself an idealist, holds out hope the sides will come together.

“This is a real opportunity to be proactive and be a community working together to demonstrate that we can make a benefit,” he said.

Meanwhile, residents continue to monitor the hillside, watching as the wings of the seagull shaped break in the hill spread ever wider.”

 

From the August 31 Ventura County Star

“Q: I’m a Ventura Water customer, and our family has been doing our part to conserve water. Can you explain why Ventura Water modified the existing residential Tier 1 into two tiers and why 0 to 6 hundred cubic feet (HCF)?”

“A: As the city and state experience one of the most severe droughts on record, Californians have proved they have the ingenuity and commitment to meet the challenges of conserving water. Coping with the impacts of a water shortage requires adaptation and full participation.

When our Ventura Water Shortage Task Force (13 local customers serving on the advisory committee) evaluated different water shortage rate options, they heard loud and clear from customers who “used such a small amount of water” that there was no more room to budge.

In response, the first tier was split to ensure rates were not increased for the lowest residential water consumers, defined as the first six units (1 unit equals 748 gallons.) These six units protect water usage at the lowest level to reflect minimum needs for health and sanitation. The new Tier 1 or “lifeline usage” remains unchanged in all water shortage stages for all customers, and will not be impacted by increased water shortage rates.

City of Ventura customers have been doing a great job in their conservation efforts. In June and July, Ventura saved 40 percent and 39 percent respectively, which met the cumulative goal of 20 percent.

 

 

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These hot summer months are our opportunity to have the greatest impact — and we ask community members to continue saving water so we can finish out the year maintaining our reduction goal of 20 percent.

Ventura Water offers many ways to help our community members save water (and money).

 

Contact us at 667-6500 or online at www.venturawater. net to schedule a free water conservation survey and learn how to reduce water use in and around your home or business. If you’re thinking of designing a new drought resilient landscape, apply now for our WaterWise Incentive program while funds are still available by visiting www.cityofventura.net/waterwise/incentiveprogram

To learn about Ventura Water’s plans for a sustainable water future, you can take an in-depth tour of our Ventura Water Pure Potable Reuse demonstration facility on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. through December. Private groups interested in weekday tours can also be accommodated with advanced notice. RSVP to gdorrington@venturawater.net

Shana Epstein is the water general manager for the city of Ventura.”

Marks’ thoughts

Although the water general manager explains that Tier 1 “lifeline usage” remains unchanged and that “rates were not increased for the lowest residential water consumers”, this statement fails to mention that Tier 1 has been arbitrarily changed from a water quantity of 0 to 14 units - 10,500 gallons of water, to less than half that amount – now 0 to 6 units or 4,500 gallons of water.

Therefore, the water managers’ statement is neither accurate nor sympathetic to the financially challenged folks trying to make ends meet by staying within Tier 1 water useage. This is especially egregious when considering that the City of San Buenaventura has not shown the need to increase rates in accordance with California Proposition 218.

 

Ventura County Star September 12, 2015

“Some think city’s moving too quickly”

By Joshua Molina

Special to The Star

“Ventura is moving quickly to pass an ordinance to cap the number of new housing units in the city, but some developers and community activists are concerned that the proposal may be moving too recklessly.

 

The city wants to allow only 350 units per year, or a maximum of 1,050 over the next three years, as a way to plan and control growth after experiencing a flurry of residential development in the past few years. The city could choose to add up to 450 units in one year, but still could not exceed 1,050 during the three year period.

Projects that are in the city pipeline but have not received final approval could be left out in the cold.

 

“It’s going to give Ventura a black eye,” developer Charlie Watling said. “Ventura already has a reputation for not being good to developers.”

 

Ventura held the second of two workshops on its residential allocation program Thursday night at City Hall. The city held the first meeting in June, and officials hope to take the proposal to the Planning Commission in November and then to the City Council for final adoption in December.

The ordinance would apply to most development proposals. Some areas would be exempt from the total units that could be approved, including those in the Parklands, Saticoy Village, UC Hansen and downtown specific plans.

 

“Downtown is a very critical area,” said Ken Lee, the consultant hired to facilitate the public process. “We don’t want to belabor development from occurring in the downtown.”

Developers must start building within 18 months of the allocation or risk losing approval. The city community development director could grant a six-month extension, but only if plans are 80 percent complete. Any expired or unused allocation of units would be thrown back into the pool for consideration in the following years.

 

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The city hired Ken Lee Consulting of Orange County to facilitate the workshops and come up with a process for public input before the council’s eventual vote on the topic. About 50 people wrote comments about the proposal Thursday night and then stuck the notes on poster boards.

 

The consultant and his team will take the comments from Thursday night and those from the first meeting and present them to Planning Commission and council. Lee, acting like a talk show host, roamed the audience, handing the microphone to members of the public who had questions and comments about the proposal.

 

Watling, the developer, raised the question of whether it was fair for projects that have been in the city pipeline for years to be included in the ordinance. Any project that has not been allocated units by the city at the time the ordinance goes into effect, which city officials hope happens in January, would have no approval guarantees.

If denied any allocation of units, a developer could return the following year to make another request.

 

City officials Thursday night also said projects that are 100 percent affordable housing would be exempted from the allocation totals, but that also raised concerns.

 

Eileen McCarthy, a retired legal aid attorney, said the city is pushing the ordinance too quickly. She believes projects that include market-rate housing as well as affordable or inclusionary housing units also should be exempt.

“The need, particularly for very low- and extremely low-income housing for people on fixed incomes, is great justified, and, I would argue, requires the exemption,” McCarthy said.”

 

Marks’ thoughts

The City of San Buenaventura is one of the few cities in the county with plans to limit or control development in any way inside their urban boundaries. I applaud their efforts to control random development. Random development often translates to high cost housing for well healed buyers, but does little to address housing needs of anyone not born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

 

I believe that the comments made by Eileen McCarthy concerning an exemption for affordable or inclusionary housing units are helpful and valid. Making affordable housing projects easier to approve would probably encourage developers to offer more of that type of housing development in Ventura. I believe a balanced financial cross section of residents makes a healthier local economy. Having said that, I have to admit I can’t cite any social research to support that statement. I’d love to hear from someone who could.

 

These are the opening shots by the City of Ventura to bring some sanity to the development of new housing projects in and around Ventura in the midst of a water crisis. I’m including 3 more slightly condensed articles in the “Star” which clearly illustrate the kind of inducements that developers are offering the city. Also, these articles illustrate the responses to these inducements from citizen action groups such as the “Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation.” Almost reads like a movie script.

 

Sept 22 Ventura County Star  

Gift of 722 acres if luxury homes OK’d

By Gretchen Wenner

gwenner@vcstar.com 805-437-0218

A developer hoping to put 55 luxury homes in the Ventura hills is offering a giant carrot to potentially sweeten the deal: 722 acres of open space with public trails connecting Hall Canyon to Grant Park.

Regent Properties announced Monday it is negotiating exclusively with the Ventura Hillsides Conservancy for possible donation of the land.

 

 

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The company wants to build its La Viera project on 40 acres above Hillcrest Drive in the Hobson Heights neighborhood. Regent had already said the remaining 175 acres of the 215-acre parcel would be saved for open space.

Monday’s announcement ratchets up the conservation element by putting an additional 547 acres in play. The additional parcel stretches from the northwest tip of the original site to the northeast tip of Grant Park.

 

Regent would buy the acreage and donate it to the conservancy, said Daniel Gryczman, president of the company’s development arm. Derek Poultney, lead staff for the Hillsides Conservancy, said the deal, if successful, “would protect permanently a significant portion” of the group’s focus area.

 

“This would be a big part of that,” Poultney said. The nonprofit land trust doesn’t advocate for or oppose projects, he added, but is focused on its mission to protect Ventura’s hillsides.

The La Viera project is in the early stages of city review. Regent Properties anticipates its preliminary application will go to planning commissioners and the City Council before the end of the year, allowing work to start on an environmental impact report and a specific plan. Gryczman said it would likely be at least three years before construction starts if the project is ultimately approved. Gryczman said the expanded open-space proposal adds tremendous value to the project.

The two parcels totaling 722 acres are owned by the same entity, he said. He declined to name a sales price. The company does not expect to get a tax benefit from the donation.

 

Should the 55-home project not be approved by the city, the land donation would also be scrapped, he said.

 

“I hope it raises awareness of the project and inspires folks who would like to support the project to come out and do that,” Gryczman said.

 

Ventura County Star 4 October 2015

VENTURA HILLSIDE DEVELOPMENT PROPOSAL

Luxury homes project will be smart growth

Recently, Regent Properties, the developer of La Viera, 55 luxury homes proposed in the Ventura hillsides, submitted a 315-page geotechnical report to the Ventura City Council. As president of Regent’s development arm, I feel it is incumbent upon us to make this report available to the public to set the record straight given all of the misinformation about the safety of our project.

Some neighbors have said “if you build these homes, it will be the next La Conchita” and that “this is another Camarillo Springs just waiting to happen.”

These statements have absolutely no basis in fact. They are simply the opinions of some who either live near the proposed project or who don’t believe any more houses should be built on the hillside.

In acknowledging these safety concerns, we had a well-respected geotechnical engineering firm conduct extensive testing of the property.

We then had this work reviewed by an internationally recognized geotechnical authority who is a UCLA engineering professor and an expert on the La Conchita event.

His findings can be summed up as follows: the project can be developed safely and it will actually enhance the safety, stability and drainage conditions for all the hillside residents.

Some neighbors undoubtedly will dispute these findings saying: what would you expect from a report paid for by the developer?

To that I say, give the city a chance to complete an environmental impact report where the geotechnical study will be reviewed by the city’s own engineers.

There is also a real property-rights issue here. The property is not in SOAR, it is within the city limits and has been zoned for single-family homes for decades.

In fact, the city’s general plan calls for this property to be developed, its Hillside Management Program (HMP) calls for this property to be developed and the City Council’s own Economic Development Strategy calls for this type of high-end housing to be built.

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These homes will, in fact, be some of the highest- quality residences in the area with a special focus on the world-class views to the Pacific.

We are not here asking to rezone agricultural land to residential and we do have a right to develop provided we do so responsibly and within the spirit and intent of the HMP.

While some believe that no flexibility should or can be granted from the HMP’s policies, we have asked for a few common-sense changes to allow us to achieve that overall spirit and intent and deliver a visionary project that we can all be proud of.

Some people would prefer that things never change, but change is inevitable. One of the biggest changes you will see as a result of this project is our donation of approximately 722 acres of hillside property to create permanent public open space that can be enjoyed for generations to come and provide connectively all the way from Hall Canyon to Grant Park and the Ventura Botanical Gardens.

Another change will be the cutting edge water conservation technologies in our homes including gray water systems, rainwater harvesting and other innovative solutions that go far beyond modern requirements, resulting in La Viera setting a new standard for water conservation in California, so that Ventura leads by example.

Finally, instead of our housing being a burden on the city’s finances it will be a net positive, adding significant dollars to city coffers and the economy as a whole.

I invite you to visit www. lavieraventura.com where we have posted the geotechnical study as well as a number of other important informational documents.

Daniel Gryczman is president of the land development arm of Regent Properties.

DANIEL GRYCZMAN

GUEST COLUMNIST

 

Ventura County Star 4 October 2015   (Opposing View)

Use reasonable care with Ventura’s hillsides

Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation oppose Regent Properties’ attempt to push a noncompliant development proposal through the pre-screen process.

Regent’s plan for 55 hillside homes above Ventura High School is noncompliant with the city’s Hillside Management Program (HMP).

The HMP has policies that protect the environment, preserve hillside aesthetics and ensure that hillside developments are safe. The developer, however, plans to rewrite the HMP rules in the project’s specific plan to circumvent policies unfavorable to the development.

Land gifts are good, but not when tied to development that could put Ventura in a precarious position. For instance, Camarillo just granted$1.7 million from its general fund to Camarillo Springs homeowners to attempt to fix a failed hillside.

In Camarillo Springs, the homes buried in the mudflow had retaining walls directly behind them. The toe of the natural hill was cut away to level the development site. The combination of the cut into the hillside, fire and rain created the 2014 Camarillo Springs landslide.

Regent’s plan moves the city water tanks from their current location to a steeper, less-desirable site. The plan includes cutting the hill and erecting a retaining wall directly behind the tanks. The extensive cut and fill and use of retaining walls throughout Regent’s project could compromise Ventura’s hillsides.

The city should enforce the HMP to prevent liability.

The Regent pre-screen application acknowledges the plan is noncompliant with HMP. Given this, a green light of the pre-screen application will sanction the project’s noncompliance. Seeking compliance later in the process will be a challenge.

This also sets the dangerous precedent that future projects need not comply with general plan and HMP policies. It additionally creates a hillside “ island of special treatment” where the HMP is not enforced.

For these reasons Regent’s pre-screen application must be rejected.

Moreover, the site has known hazards, including general-plan-identified expansive soils. In hillside areas, expansive soils contribute to landslides and downslope creep.

Regent’s slope-density maps show much of the site has more than 30 percent slopes. Slope gradient is a key

                                                                                                                                                                        

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factor in influencing the relative stability of a slope — it determines the degree to which gravity acts upon a soil mass. When you mix expansive soils with steep hillsides it compounds the risk of slope failure.

Regent’s paid expert asserts Ventura is not La Conchita; we assert Venturans know our local soil conditions cause hillside stability problems. We remember the 1982 and 1998 Ondulando landslides. We remember the 1992 North Avenue area landslide where lives were lost when a saturated slope crashed into a home.

We know there are also hillside stability problems in Skyline, Hobson Heights, the Kalorama red-roof condos and the Westside.

Regent proposes grading on slopes greater than 30 percent for homes. The HMP prohibits such grading. In fact, the HMP specifies that the only exceptio n to the 30 percent grading rule is limited to roads or access, and then only if approved by both the city engineer and the city planner.

City staff repeatedly requested an HMP- compliant proposal, but Regent has yet to comply with that request. Regent’s response to staff’s request addresses only one component of the HMP — keeping house pads off areas with greater than 30 percent slopes. There remain other issues: not filling natural drainage, avoiding use of concrete ditches, limiting retaining walls, and limiting cut and fill.

It’s our city staff’s job to ensure developers follow city policies — short of that, it’s their job to tell decisionmakers that a developer failed to do so and recommend pre-screen rejection.

When this comes to the Planning Commission on Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. at City Hall, please help deliver the message that gifts of open space don’t excuse a developer from adhering to important city policies. Reasonable care must be used with our hillsides.

Diane Underhill, of Ventura, is president of Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation.

DIANE UNDERHILL

GUEST COLUMNIST

 

Marks’ thoughts

Now,  just to show how unpredictable new development is… remember the short article back on May 20 and again June 28?

“Ventura planners are recommending that a proposed 255-unit apartment project get the green light to move toward construction. In the May 20 issue of the Ventura County Star, a new project, to be voted on during a joint meeting Wednesday night of the city’s Design Review Committee and Planning Commission, would include no affordable-housing units despite a city ordinance requiring them. Developer John Ashkar’s project would consist of 127 two bedroom units, 120 one bedroom units and eight studios on 3.5 acres at Junipero  Street, Santa Clara Street and Thompson Boulevard.”

 

In a June 28 issue of the Star entitled “Courts Affordable Housing Ruling Cheered”  it was revealed that the Planning Commission denied John Ashkar’s project due to a recent State Supreme Court Ruling allowing cities to set inclusionary housing policies requiring developers to include affordable housing in their new construction. He is currently appealing the Planning Commission

decision. This was a very good article but a little longer than I wanted to include here.

 

So originally in May, the Ventura Planning Commission recommended the development be given the “green light”.

Then in June the Planning Commission voted to deny the development due to no affordable housing.

Finally, at the end of September the Planning commission “top planner” recommended the project move forward again based on “four separate grounds.” It still would not include any affordable housing.

 

Ventura County Star - 28 Sept 2015

Top Ventura planner says developer not required to provide affordable units

By Joshua Molina

Special to The Star

“The city of Ventura’s top planner has recommended that a controversial downtown rental project move forward, despite a rejection last May by the Ventura Planning Commission.

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An advance report on the 255 unit project will be presented to the City Council on Monday night. A public hearing to consider the appeal is scheduled for Oct. 12.

With the heft of Community Development Director Jeff Lambert’s support for the project, the council finds itself at ground zero of a contentious affordable housing debate.

The proposal calls for 127 two-bedroom units, 120 one bedroom units and eight studios in three- to five-story buildings on 3½ acres at Junipero Street, Santa Clara Street and Thompson Boulevard.

Housing activists and other critics have blasted the plan, arguing that developer John Ashkar should be required to set aside 15 percent of the units for affordable housing, per the city’s downtown inclusionary housing ordinance. But Ashkar and Lambert say the inclusionary housing requirement does not apply for a rental housing project.

In a 360-page report, Lambert recommends that the council grant the developer’s appeal and approve the project on four separate grounds:

■ There is no contract or agreement between the city and the developer to build affordable housing.

■ A recent court ruling involving Palmer/Sixth Street Properties versus the city of Los Angeles found that Los Angeles could not require the developer to create affordable units on an all-rental project. Some of the units are smaller and affordable by design, which means they would be affordable for people in low and moderate income categories.

■ City staff believes the project complies with all the city’s rules and goals for downtown development. The Planning Commission did not formally deny the project through a resolution because the vote was 2-2. Three commissioners recused themselves from the hearing because of conflicts, leaving Dan Long, Laura Dunbar, David Ferrin and Rondi Guthrie to hear the case. Long and Ferrin voted to require the affordable housing units, while Dunbar and Guthrie supported the market rate project.

■ The developer has not requested any bonus density allowances or financial incentives that would result in a requirement to build below-market rate units.

Monday’s meeting begins at 6 p.m. at Ventura City Hall. Read the report at


.

City of Ventura Water Shortage Websites: 



For free residential water use survey call: (805) 667-6500   or email: myvtawater@cityofventura.net

 

Also visit the State of California’s website to see how each area of the state is doing with compliance at:


 

Summary

 

New Ventura developments under construction or in the pipeline include:

Regent properties                                            55 Hillside Luxury Homes

Walker-Hearne Ranch                           200-250 Executive Homes

Downtown Apartment Complex                   255 Units (no affordable housing units to be included)

The Cannery                                                    78 Condominiums priced  $200K to 500K

Hansen Trust Development                           131 Single family homes, ? Condos, 20 – 24 farm worker units.          

 

So what is going on really? It seems to me that even though water resources are being fought over in our local courts as well as in the state courts, nobody is really certain how much we can build or develop with the water we have available. It’s a county wide question of crucial importance that is not being answered or even really studied or adequately addressed. Each city is just trying to look after itself.

 

 

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Each community knows what it is using to the gallon, but no one really knows how long it will last, or how much more we can find for our future needs and demands. We know the state doesn’t have enough water, but it

apparently is someone else’s problem… because property development is continuing everywhere! As demand goes up, so does the cost of our water. That means higher taxes for all of us each time a new development is built.

 

No matter how much our community leaders pledge to keep taxes low, or base development on “net zero” standards …. There is only so much water to go around. From where I stand, having studied most of the towns in Ventura County, none of the cities here have looked at the big picture enough to coordinate water use between them. They probably don’t have the authority to do that if they wanted to.

 

Our county receives water through the good graces of a number of independent suppliers and water districts which are selling us as much water as we can buy from them. Much of this water comes from the snow melt in the Northern part of our state. Much of our water is pumped from local aquefers which must be pumped from much deeper in the earth than a few years ago. Our governor, using the State Water Resources Control Board, is in effect rationing our water, but we are still building new developments and increasing water demand with little or no thought to how much water is really available. (see Camarillo and Oxnard reports).

 

Much of California’s Central Valley – some of the most fertile growing fields in the world, lies fallow in broad stretches running for miles. There is not enough water to irrigate all of this wonderful cropland. Ventura County has cut back water available to its farmers as well by 10% to 20% in the last two years. That has a major impact on our local economy.

  

However, when a new property development is approved, our city fathers brag about how it will add to our tax base. That’s exactly right. The cities bring in more money for their own operating budgets, while the farmers of Ventura County lose a little more of the water resources they need for their livelihood and to supply the rest of us with food. In Ventura, Tier 1 users are paying the same rate now for less than half the water they received prior to October 2 at that rate. Everyone is paying more for Tier 2 and Tier 3 water. How is this a good thing?  It may not even be legal according to Proposition 218.

 

Maybe in addition to global conferences on climate change, we should be having local conferences between all our city councils and all our water district providers to come up with a coherent plan to ensure that the future of our very limited water resources is balanced against present and future demand. We can’t afford any more of the “I got mine” mentality that our cities seem to have.  We must work together to fix this. Nobody else is going to be able to bail us out if we screw up our own water use.

 

Our various city fire departments and police departments work together every day to keep us safe. Why can’t our city leaders and water districts/providers sit down and start planning where our next drink of water is going to come from. Maybe we could have a State Senator moderate and keep everyone focused. Won't be easy, but right now all we are doing is reacting to the drought, not really planning for the real water shortage and crop loss and higher water bills that will eventually come with uncontrolled development ... regardless of the drought.  

 

Finally, here is a letter written to The Ventura County Star on October 12  and submitted by their Jeanne Bricker this year which puts all of this into a little more perspective.

Titled “Water Rates”

 

“Does anyone else get $200-plus water bills for one person?

 

I have called Ventura Water and gone to their office. Both times I was given what I call a “canned speech about rates and tiers” and still do not understand it. 

One of their people came out to check my water line. No leaks.

Last November, they showed the highest rate of use possible on the chart. There was no one in the house the whole month of November.

I have cut back wherever I can in water usage, let my plants die and my grass go brown.

These charges are double what they were when it was two of us. My income is drastically less than it was then. There seems to be no alternative or accommodation.”

What is one to do?

Name omitted, Ventura

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Just the way I see it,

Mark Thorngren

Movewest Realty, Inc     /    (805) 443-3366     /     BRE Lic. #01413932      Mark’s Blogs: http://realtytimes.com/REUv/markthorngren  http://www.markthorngren.featuredblog.com                            Most of the data used for this report is taken from the Ventura County Star and our local Ventura County Multiple Listing Service unless otherwise noted. This report is far from comprehensive and many important issues have been trimmed in the interest of brevity. All opinions are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of Movewest Realty, Inc., the VCCAR or the Ventura County Star.  

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