A parcel of land once part of a Chumash village is slated for development in Port Hueneme, where city officials are suing the Oxnard Harbor District in hope of ensuring the site will become home to a housing development and not a massive parking lot.
The City of Port Hueneme is one of three entities filing suit against the harbor district, which has long had plans to turn the 17-acre parcel at Surfside Drive and Hueneme Road into a parking lot for the storage of vehicles shipped into the port.
Developer John Laing Homes currently holds the deed to the property, which would have to be seized by the harbor district through eminent domain for construction of the parking lot. Both the city and Laing Homes are filing litigation in opposition of an Environmental Impact Report at the site commissioned by the harbor district, while the Ventura County Board of Supervisors have chosen to file suit to increase funds the county would receive for the maintenance of roads affected by construction of a new parking lot.
City officials in Port Hueneme support development by Laing — which has vowed to include a park-like memorial to the site’s historic ties to Chumash culture if it develops the land, said Port Hueneme Mayor Murray Rosenbluth. “We support new housing for that site because we need more homes — and because of the fact that Laing would give up some of those homes to the city in support of low income needs, which is very significant,” he added.
Rosenbluth, who said lawsuits tied to municipal government are strictly closed-session matters, declined to discuss details concerning the litigation. Representatives from John Laing Homes did not return requests for comment.
Judith Cofer, deputy executive director of the Oxnard Harbor District, said the district is trying to seize the opportunity to build new parking space because the port is in dire need of room to grow and has very few opportunities to do so. “The city, of course, has a different mission than the harbor district,” Cofer said. “There is no room for us to expand. For us, it’s a business necessity. There aren’t very many other ports in California and they aren’t building any new ones.”
One issue, Cofer said, is that the property in question is currently zoned for industrial use, a zoning that serves the port well. The property’s current zoning would have to be changed by the California Coastal Commission if housing is to be built at the site, Cofer said. “We are aware that there’s a need for housing in the community, but we also provide a lot of jobs that are high paying,” she said. “The port really does play a big part in the economic growth here.”
As far as the challenged EIR is concerned, officials at the harbor district believe it’s a solid document. The district’s board of harbor commissioners approved the parking lot project and certified the final EIR, though they have not yet passed a resolution of necessity to begin an eminent domain process to acquire the property. John Laing Homes did not own the property when the district began the EIR process a couple of years ago, Cofer said.
Expansion at the port is a necessity in order to serve current clientele, said Cofer, who added that roadways around the port are frequently congested by increasingly large shipments of vehicles, which could be a threat to public safety.
The EIR commissioned by the harbor district does address the fact that there are vestiges of a Chumash village at the site, and the district has been criticized for proposing to pave over the area, according to Cofer. “I’m not an expert on artifacts, but there have to be ways to memorialize that besides a park,” she said.
According to the EIR, the area is “believed to represent the ethnographic location of the Chumash Village of Wenemu, which means ‘sleeping place …’ Field reconnaissance results indicated that the archeological site was noticeable by a surface scatter of artifacts.”