Channel Islands Harbor is an important recreation destination for the community and visitors to Ventura County. The County is proposing to hand over this public land to a billionaire developer for private use. The County’s proposed massive fortress style 400 apartments will be at Victoria and Channel Islands Boulevard. They will charge the highest rents in the area. It will be two city blocks long, 55 feet high, surrounded by a concrete wall two stories high. The County does not want Oxnard to have a public review of this project.

At the Feb. 12, Board of Supervisors’ Meeting and as reported in the Ventura County Star, County officials told their story about the expenses they must cover for Channel Islands Harbor. It was a tale that failed to disclose their responsibility as owners of the harbor land. Their story did not disclose critical facts and it masked the County’s motive behind its relentless campaign against Oxnard, the largest city in the county.

The County is complaining about being “stuck [by Oxnard] with a $500,000 maintenance bill at Channel Islands Harbor.” The County owns the harbor land and, as the owner, collects base rents, Harbor tax on food, beverage, alcohol and more. Oxnard does not receive tax funding to maintain harbor properties despite the County’s claim. Like any city, Oxnard’s tax dollars are used to provide a wide range of services like police, fire, parks and road maintenance for Oxnard’s residents and visitors. Those dollars are not used to maintain the property of individual property owners like the County.

The 1963 historic agreement with the City of Oxnard over harbor maintenance expired in 2015. A new agreement could not be reached because the County insisted Oxnard give up its municipal jurisdiction over Channel Islands Harbor as part of the new agreement. After years of negotiation attempts, on June 8, 2018, Oxnard finally ceased maintenance activities except for public roadways.

County owned harbor properties, particularly at Fisherman’s Wharf, continue to deteriorate while the County continues to collect taxes and rents. Yet the crumbling buildings are used as the excuse for promoting development not consistent with the County’s own Public Works Plan and Oxnard’s Local Coastal Plan. As owner, the ongoing deterioration is the County’s responsibility and it is the County that is accountable for its condition.

Even the former Harbor Director, Lyn Krieger, admitted as much. When the County took ownership of Fisherman’s Wharf in January 2004, she sent a memo to tenants saying: “We look forward to working with you on the rejuvenation and ultimately, the full renovation of Fisherman’s Wharf…There are several actions planned for the immediate future: painting, asphalt work, signage and repairs. Maintenance will be provided by the Harbor Maintenance Division [a County Division]

One visit to Fisherman’s Wharf reveals the total lack of that promised County maintenance. The County uses deterioration as an excuse for their Harbor development plan. It is the arsonists taking credit for putting out the fire they started.

The County claims Oxnard wants a greater say in the development of Fisherman’s Wharf. The County did not disclose that by law and by an October 2017 Coastal Commission directive, the County must go to Oxnard and obtain approval for a Local Coastal Plan amendment for the Fisherman’s Wharf project. Oxnard’s public process is required for any development project by any developer. This is the public process the County has arrogantly attempted to bypass since June 2016 when the Board of Supervisors approved the proposed massive high-end, “highest rent in the area,” 400 apartments. The County appears to fear what could be revealed in these Oxnard public hearings.

Instead, the County threatens lawsuits against Oxnard and “detaching” the harbor through legal action that would obligate the County to provide full municipal services currently provided by Oxnard. If the real issue is funds for maintaining the harbor, the County would not have waived annual $50,000 payments from the proposed Fisherman’s Wharf developer.

The real issue is the County wants total control to develop public harbor land into private high- end apartments. The County is pressuring Oxnard to either rubberstamp the County’s project or give up its municipal jurisdiction over the Harbor. This would strip Oxnard and its residents of their say at Channel Islands Harbor, a rare and valuable asset within Oxnard. This is the real motive behind the County’s fury with Oxnard.

Rene Aiu on behalf of the Harbor & Beach Community Alliance.