Focusing on infill and redevelopment over suburban sprawl
Discussions about how the city of Ventura should grow and be mapped out are typically very sensitive subjects. For city officials, the residents are a mixed bag — they want big back yards yet they want to preserve open spaces; they want more customers so local businesses can thrive but at the same time shun higher-density residential projects that would bring more people and foot traffic to certain areas. In fact, in 2009, some residents tried to ensure, by a vote of the people, that no high-density projects (three stories and higher) would come to Midtown. (It failed, but there was still a concerted effort.)
It would seem that Venturans want to have their cake and eat it, and without any of the calories. Unfortunately, planning out the ways in which Ventura should grow is far from an easy task. That may be applicable to the entire county of Ventura, as well. But Ventura is a unique city, with various qualities that set it apart from most cities — from dense beach living to hillside spreads, modest single-family homes to mixed-use urban living and working in Downtown.
When Community Development Director Jeffrey Lambert proposed new expansion areas for Ventura during a City Council meeting on April 9, however, it came as a bit of a surprise that he skirted around the infill strategy in updating the 2015 general plan. The expansion areas would go beyond SOAR (Save Open-space and Agricultural Resources) boundaries that were set 10 to 15 years ago. With Ventura’s population growing six percent over the last 11 years, compared to Oxnard’s growth rate at 16.2 percent from 2000 to 2010, it would seem the logical thing to do would be to focus on infill projects over the next 25 years rather than to encourage more urban and suburban sprawl for a slowly growing city, especially in light of a recent U.S. Census Bureau survey. That indicated that suburban sprawl had slowed down significantly and that more people were opting to live closer to and within the urban city cores as of July 2011, compared to a decade earlier, because of higher gas prices and the housing market fallout.
Furthermore, planning out Ventura’s growth, redevelopment projects shouldn’t be a thing of the past just because subsidies and tax incentives have been eliminated. During the construction boom before the 2008 crash, developers could build on open land without having to pay the costs of removing or renovating existing buildings, so many opted for just that. But if developers don’t have any other choice than to redevelop, is that to say they won’t? Will they decide to stop developing projects altogether? We don’t think so. Progress and change will happen regardless of the obstacles.
While we wouldn’t say we understand the complexities in planning how Ventura will grow, we do fall on the side of choosing infill and redevelopment over sprawl. As former mayor and urban planner Bill Fulton wrote in an Op-Ed last Sunday, “… Make no mistake: Based on supply and demand, there is no reason to move into any new expansion areas.” He further stated that though Ventura needs to build 8,300 housing units in the period from 2005 to 2030, as laid out in the general plan, “Ventura’s got plenty of room to grow within the current footprint.” While we applaud city officials recent move to make infill projects a priority, we hope city planners in Ventura and throughout the county will focus intently on projects within current city boundaries first before considering development in new expansion areas.