Last week’s election spelled change on more than one front, and the political landscape of Santa Paula is no exception. With what appears to be a major City Council upset and the passage of a groundbreaking measure that brings the approval of large-scale development to the vote of the people, change for Santa Paula is in the offing.
The success of Measure L6 is nothing but good news to a core group of 30 or 40 people who have battled large-scale development in Santa Paula, and particularly in Fagan Canyon, over the last three years. John Wisda, a founding member of WeCARE, a grassroots group that was established to oppose large development in Fagan, said the measure’s approval is proof that the “system” works.
“It’s been a very, very excellent exercise in how our government works — and it does work,” said Wisda, who added that the process of battling large-scale development in Fagan Canyon and ultimately having L6 placed on the ballot took him and others to countless meetings of the Santa Paula City Council, followed by appearances in court. “It would have been great even if L6 had been voted down, just because we got it on the ballot. To have the win is just wonderful.”
It’s important to note, however, that L6 doesn’t apply to all development in Santa Paula. As authored by Wisda and other supporters, L6 will essentially apply only to developments on land brought into City Urban Restriction Boundaries, or CURB lines, according to Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, or SOAR — a non-profit organization geared at limiting urban sprawl and protecting open space and agricultural lands.
CURB lines give Ventura County residents the right to vote before developments are built on ag land and open spaces outside of city limits. The controversial and now-defunct Fagan Canyon Project, Wisda said, was approved for about 450 units, a number he said was in line with Santa Paula’s general plan before it was brought inside the CURB line. Once the project was inside the line, he said, the City Council opted to approve the project with over 2,000 units. L6, Wisda said, is an attempt to ensure that the initial SOAR decision made by citizens cannot later be changed.
In essence, L6 applies only to developments that are 80 acres or above in scale, that have been voted into city limits, and have been subject to an increase in density. For example, a project that is 100 acres and is approved by voters for inclusion in the city’s CURB line, but for which an increase in housing density has not been proposed, would not be subject to L6, which requires a majority vote of the people.
Over 60 percent of precinct voters supported Measure L6, and Wisda insists that the measure’s proponents weren’t all newcomers to Santa Paula, but comprised a cross-section of representatives from all over the community.
Wisda also insists that he and other L6 supporters are not anti-growth. He supports development in Adams Canyon and said he supported the initial approval for development in Fagan Canyon. “This is actually going to help Santa Paula grow, and grow as a region.”
And if Santa Paula’s City Council upset is any indication, regional teamwork could be a major component to growth in the city. Though all votes have yet to be counted, it appears that City Council incumbents Mary Ann Krause and Richard Cook have been unseated, while newcomers Ralph Fernandez, college instructor and architect, and Bob Gonzales, a former Santa Paula police chief, will be the new additions. It appears that one of the incumbents, including Gabino Aguirre, will retain a seat, and Aguirre currently has a lead over Cook and Krause.
Krause said Tuesday that she believes the upset is linked to growth issues and “tied partly to the popularity of the former police chief.”
Residents like Wisda think the City Council could have worked more closely with residents in reaching an agreement on Fagan Canyon that pleased everyone. But Krause said “ballot-box planning” is never a sound concept. “People are just hoping that Santa Paula can not have growth and still survive economically,” she said.
Krause’s concern is that growth may not happen at all because “everyone can find something they don’t like and vote against it.” She’s also alarmed that many residents don’t understand that the city is in dire need of a financial injection. “They think there are single-dimensional solutions and there just are not,” she said. “It requires using every tool in our box — and growth is just one of those.”