Conejo Creek: To develop or not to develop?
Land at base of 101 Freeway grade in Camarillo focus of discussion
By Christina Lopez 08/02/2012
The Camarillo City Council is currently discussing the future of the undeveloped land bound by Pleasant Valley Road, Conejo and Calleguas Creeks and the 101 Freeway. The development plan for the area, the Conejo Creek Specific Plan, was first proposed in 2007 but has led to much controversy with local residents.
The plan is meant to provide a guide for the development of 740 acres of agricultural floodplain. Since the land is currently zoned for agriculture and partially protected by City Urban Restriction Boundaries, the five property owners are working with developers and the city of Camarillo on a general plan amendment to rezone the farmland for residential, industrial and commercial development.
If approved, the new development will include 2,500 single-family homes and apartments, 100 acres of industrial buildings, 50 acres for education and other public uses, 60 acres for offices and commercial use, and 220 acres for recreation and open space. A bypass channel will provide needed flood protection for the sanitation facility near the Conejo Creek.
Why such a big development project at this time? The State Housing Law requires periodic Regional Housing Needs Assessments to help anticipate future community growth. Ventura County assessments are prepared by the Southern California Association of Governments, based on regional employment growth and the current state population. The most recent assessment indicated that Camarillo must add about 2,224 dwellings between Oct. 1, 2013, and Sept. 30, 2021.
“Rather than piece together various projects, the property owners have joined together in an effort to design a cohesive master-planned community,” stated the Development Planning Services in one of its initial planning documents.
An environmental impact report (EIR) has been prepared by the city, analyzing potential impacts, both negative and positive, from the Conejo Creek development.The EIR draft was officially released on July 19 for a 60-day review and comment period. Camarillo and Ventura County residents can attend hearings and submit written comments to the City Council before a vote for on EIR certification. This will be followed by a vote on the project.
Merrill Berge, SOAR board member and founder of the Camarillo Sustainable Growth nonprofit public benefit organization, has some major concerns about developing the Conejo Creek area. The EIR predicts an increase of 40,948 daily car trips added to the 101 corridor if Conejo Creek is developed. When combined with other recently approved development projects like Oxnard’s River Park, Wagon Wheel Redevelopment, Sakioka Farms and Springville, Ventura County daily car trips could be increased by upward of 100,000 in the next decade.
“I’m not against growth. I know that it’s necessary,” Berge said. “There is just no money to add lanes to the 101. Before we know it, our 101 will be gridlocked.”
In addition to traffic issues, other concerns with the development include permanent loss of prime farmland, naval base encroachment, and negative impacts on bird habitats in Point Mugu Lagoon Estuary. Conejo Creek is also an important wildlife corridor connecting open spaces on the coast with inland parts of California.
Ventura County attracts metropolitan families with its farmlands and open-spaces. Just this year, Ventura, Oxnard and Camarillo approved a new Tourism Business Improvement District to raise funds for tourism marketing. Many hotels now have special taxes that go toward that marketing.
“The issue is, you can’t go back. The farmland would be lost forever if it was developed,” said Berge. “This is the last critical decision left because many other similar projects to the north are already approved.”
Berge founded Camarillo Sustainable Growth after she first heard about the plan to develop Conejo Creek Properties. With decisions about such a huge property being made and little information on city websites, she wanted to make people more aware of what was happening. She believes it’s important to keep citizens informed about city developments so they can respond knowledgeably and at the right time.
“After the public comment period, there will be more public hearings at the Planning Commission and City Council meetings leading up to the votes,” said Director of Community Development Bob Burrow. “If the plan is ultimately approved, it will move on to the complex design and permit process for both the city and county before any development can begin.”
Planning Commission meetings are held in the Camarillo City Hall at 601 Carmen Drive, in the Council Chambers at 7:30 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. City Council meetings are held in the Council Chambers on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, with public comments heard at 7:30 p.m. A discussion of the Conejo Creek EIR will come at a later date, but comments on the project are welcome at any of these meetings.
To find out more about the development project and meeting schedules, go to www.ci.camarillo.ca.us. For more information about Camarillo Sustainable Growth, go to camarillo-smart-growth.org and www.conejocreek.org.