A somewhat tedious and surprisingly contentious initiative may hold the key to how Ventura will approach new building development, cultivate a viable economic climate, and protect its pristine ocean and mountain views.

Measure B, the view protection initiative, has been quick to spark divisive opinions among residents, activists and council members alike due to wildly different perceptions surrounding the proposal.

If passed on Nov. 3, Measure B gives elected citizen representatives from each neighborhood a right to draw up their own neighborhood view ordinances and present them to a newly created View Resource Board (most representatives will be appointed by VCORD, the Ventura Citizens Organization for Responsible Development). The board will stitch together these various requests into a proposal that will be taken to the Ventura City Council for approval. If the City Council decides to vote against the proposal made by the View Resource Board, the proposal will go to the ballot and be approved or denied by citywide vote during the next election.

Proponents of the measure believe that it will protect views from “canyonizing”— the effect of living between vertical walls of buildings that obscure views of natural vistas.

“If you had solid walls on both sides of the street, there would be no point in living here,” said Diane Underhill, the spokesperson for Measure B. “You wouldn’t be living in Ventura.”

VCORD, the organization behind the initiative, envisions Ventura staying true to responsible development, which does not include a glut of large, unseemly buildings that hinder the natural aesthetic qualities of the city. “We’re not trying to say that there should be no tall buildings anywhere,” elaborated Underhill. “We’re just saying that there are areas where tall buildings are inappropriate and incompatible with the area.” Underhill believes that a View Resource Board would need to use a “scalpel” to deftly identify, and balance between, aesthetic concerns and economic benefits of development.

While those opposed to Measure B may see the initiative’s goals as well-intentioned, they insist that it sets up an unwieldy and expensive process that could cause unnecessary harm. “Unfortunately [Measure B] sets up a very complicated, skewed process that very few people will control,” said Nicholas Deitch, a founding partner of Ventura-based Mainstreet Architects. “If we want our city to be sprawling and car-dependent, that’s how to do it.”

While Measure B aims for flexibility in allowing neighborhoods to craft their own ordinances (before submitting them to the View Resource Board), this process could easily become a contentious mess. “People generally tend to look out for their own self-interests and not a broad interest,” Deitch said. “This could end up pitting parts of the community against each other.”

The inability of the community to compromise on an ordinance could lead to a prolonged period of very limited project development and impair the city’s ability to attract business investors. “Investors want something as risk-free as possible, and this is a risky proposition,” said Rob Corley, the chairperson for the Citizens View Protection Task Force. “It will be costly for the city because it’s a poorly written initiative that sends a bad economic message about Ventura at the wrong time.” On Sept. 21, the Ojai City Council voted against any new view protection guidelines for similar reasons.

Proponents and critics of Ventura’s view protection initiative can’t seem to see eye to eye on whether the measure is even legal. According to Ventura’s charter, only the City Council has a right to appoint representatives to boards or commissions. Proponents of Measure B are quick to note that the View Resource Board isn’t a city board, but is an “initiative-defined” board that can legally exist within the current city charter.

Backers insist that the questions regarding the measure’s legality are simply smokescreens designed to lessen the credibility of the initiative with voters. “The majority of people against the view initiative are those who have a lot to gain financially by high-rise, high-density development,” said City Council candidate Camille Harris. “Measure B gives this power [of creating a new ordinance] to the citizens.”

Adding more controversy is the recent allegation by several members of the Democratic Club of Ventura that they have been pressured by city officials to rescind their endorsement of Measure B. While the group has not yet responded, they have set up a special meeting this week to “reconsider” the issue.

Despite the clearly drawn battle lines on Measure B, most residents seem optimistic that thecity will grow the right way, organically — as long as citizens keep working toward a shared goal. “[Much of Ventura] was built back in the ’50s. Let’s clean it up and bring it into the new century,” said Corley.

It’s a sentiment that nearly everyone can agree upon, but with one lingering question: how?   

erik@vcreporter.com