City documents coming up for review this month by Oxnard planners don’t adequately reflect what’s necessary to fully preserve Ormond Beach, critics say.

Members of several environmental groups are hoping that the city’s planning commission will consider new alternatives to saving the Oxnard wetlands area because two important plans now up for consideration favor development over preservation.

Those plans, a final environmental impact report for the Ormond Beach Specific Plan and a recirculation of the city’s 2030 general plan, are due before the commission on Dec. 10 and Dec. 17, respectively.

Five recirculated portions to the city’s updated 2030 general plan, according to Chris Williamson, a senior planner for the City of Oxnard, include changes to city guidelines on managing air quality, traffic circulation, noise mitigation, updates to handling the municipal water supply, and a new agricultural section taking into account potential changes to the city’s CURB line near the Jones Ranch. The ranch, in particular, is partially eyed for low-income housing.

The general plan also incorporates elements of the Ormond Beach project into its pages. Divided into two segments, the first portion of that plan proposes two large developmental projects exceeding more than 900 total acres of Ormond Beach. One is to the north of Hueneme Road, where there are about 322 acres that city officials want for 1,283 homes and a combination of schools, parkland, commercial and industrial use, and an 18-acre lake. The entire space is currently farmed.

That southerly portion of the Ormond project is a 595-acre parcel, 367 acres of which are envisioned for a business park with some industrial buildings spread throughout. The remaining 228 acres, according to city plans, would remain agricultural.

Yet, while a description of the project on the city’s Web site states that the California Coastal Conservancy is coordinating the restoration of that ag land, and that sale of the property to the group is likely, the conservancy, along with other wetlands advocates, isn’t entirely satisfied with the city’s vision.

“We’re obviously very concerned about what the plans show,” says Peter Brand, a project manager for the conservancy. “We expect and hope for the support of the decision makers of Oxnard.”

Brand, who also sits on the Ormond Beach Task Force, frowns upon any industrial use or development at the site because they could pose serious risks to the wetlands’ native bird and aquatic ecosystems.

According to Brand, an increase in sea level rise will, over time, encroach the Ormond wetlands, causing them to retreat away from the coastline. The belief is that the 228 acres of preserved farmland in the city’s plans won’t be enough to buffer that gradual change in the geography before the wetlands are backed up directly against housing or industrial development.

Results of an environmental study, performed by four Cal Poly landscape architecture students and sanctioned by the conservancy, should be released next month, said Bryan Matsumoto, who led the graduate team. Matsumoto appeared before the Oxnard City Council last month and presented an alternate proposal for the Ormond development project: complete preservation of the wetlands, outfitted with an interpretive park fashioned after similar nature centers across the state.

The Coastal Conservancy along with the Nature Conservancy jointly own about 540 acres of wetlands at Ormond Beach so far. Brand said the Coastal Conservancy would need to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in grant monies to preserve completely the entire wetlands area.

The untouched ag land in the city’s specific plan also doesn’t address at all what developers of the site could do to reimburse the Coastal Conservancy.

“From our perspective, (the acreage is) very meager,” says Karen Kraus, an attorney with the Environmental Defense Center in Ventura. “There’s nothing imposed on either of the developers as mitigation to have them pay into some kind of easement, or anything that would set it aside for the purpose of the coastal conservancy.”

Kraus and the EDC were retained last year by the Sierra Club’s local Los Padres Chapter, when the draft EIR for the North and South Ormond Beach projects was initially circulated.

“The concern was that both of those developments were really going to completely undermine the restoration effort that was going on,” Kraus said.

Kraus says that the city’s final EIR for both projects doesn’t address several key elements. For example, how Oxnard will meet the increased demand for water for the housing, commercial and industrial communities at Ormond is unknown.

“The EIR does not explain that adequately,” she said “And the city is not asking the developers to demonstrate that. That’s not good planning.”

Trevor Smith, vice chair for the Los Padres chapter, maintains that the proposed developments conflict with rules of the California Coastal Act.

“The big concern is, according to the Coastal Act, you’re not supposed to develop within 300 feet of waterways,” notes Smith, who says that the Ormond projects fall within the pathways of the Oxnard municipal storm drain and runoff from the former Halaco smelting plant next to Ormond Beach.

The Halaco property, which was designated a federal Superfund site five years ago, is scheduled for partial cleanup in early 2010 by the Environmental Protection Agency. Considered by the EPA as a toxic hazard, the agency announced this fall that it would remove two empty buildings at the site by the end of the year. Other structures remain, in addition to a 40-foot-high, 750,000-cubic-yard pile of refuse, metals and other elements.

In about two weeks, the EPA will release an engineering report evaluating the impending cleanup, which will be circulated for a month-long public comment period, according to Wayne Praskins, the EPA’s Halaco project manager.

“If all goes well, we’ll be out early next year to demolish the buildings,” Praskins said.

Work for this portion of the cleanup, Praskins added, will amount to roughly $1 million in federal funds. Conservative estimates of a complete Halaco cleanup have hovered around the $100 million mark.

As for the future of Ormond Beach, Oxnard planner Williamson said the planning commission won’t certify the final EIR on Dec. 10, but will forward its recommendations to the City Council.

“The purpose is to present the final EIR and take comments from the public,” he said.

Additionally, when the planning commission meets to discuss the 2030 general plan EIR on Dec. 17, the council will be presented with the commission’s findings, Williamson said.   

The two upcoming Oxnard Planning Commission meetings will be held Dec. 10 and 17, 7 p.m., in the council chambers of Oxnard City Hall, 305 W. Third St., Oxnard. To view copies of both EIRs, visit www.cityofoxnard.org.

paul@vcreporter.com