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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Developers Promise Financial Disaster in Oxnard if they aren't allowed to completely gridlock the city

By Scott Hadly
Ventura County Star
September 22, 2007

A proposed traffic initiative in Oxnard could cost the city $359 million in developer fees and tens of millions of dollars in future property tax revenue, a new city-commissioned study says.

The study, paid for by the city and done by the Weaver Research & Consulting Group, says a measure proposed by some residents to limit development around gridlocked intersections would halt 10 pending projects with a combined value of about $7.2 billion.

In all, those projects include about 8,300 planned homes and apartments and 13 million square feet of commercial and industrial buildings.

The city would lose out on property taxes from the development as well as fees developers have to pay for various impacts on services.

"What I find most ironic is that 29 percent of the loss is for traffic mitigation fees," said Nancy Lindholm, executive director of the Oxnard Chamber of Commerce, which recently challenged in court the wording of the initiative.

The chamber opposes the traffic measure — as do most of the Oxnard City Council members — saying it would hurt the city's economy and stifle needed development.

But supporters of the initiative say they took action because of the city's failures at dealing with the impacts of rapid growth in Oxnard over the past decade.

The city has 25 intersections ranked as deficient, where traffic comes to a near standstill during rush hours.

As currently drafted, the initiative would forbid development within five miles of congested intersections in Oxnard unless the gridlock is corrected.

The law would apply to projects of six or more homes or commercial developments larger than 5,000 square feet.

According to initiative backers, there are already 2,700 homes approved for construction in the city that will soon be built and plans for an additional 13,000 homes, which could bring as many as 75,000 more people to Oxnard. The city's current population is about 190,000.

"I would contend that developers do not cause growth," said Lindholm.

"People having children and all of us living longer is what causes growth. So the folks who are in the business of providing shelter are only trying to accommodate what's already coming."

But Councilman Tim Flynn, who supports the traffic initiative, said Oxnard has shouldered much of the growth in Ventura County and has suffered from that.

As for the study, Flynn said it overstates both the cost and future development numbers.

He said the 8,300 dwelling units the study says would not be built is an overstatement because about 3,200 of them have already been approved and would not be affected. Flynn said the lost future revenue figure is a red herring because it misses the point that developer fees and tax revenue are used to pay for city services needed to cover the impacts of growth.

Flynn said the document looks more like the first shot of a campaign to defeat the initiative than an unbiased report.

"I think it's misleading," said Flynn. "It's providing a worst-case scenario. With a majority of the council and the mayor opposed to the traffic initiative, they got what they wanted: a doom and gloom report. It's meant to scare people into not supporting the initiative."

Tom Cady, a former Oxnard assistant police chief and a member of the anti-initiative Citizens for a Prosperous and Safe Oxnard, disagreed.

Cady said the report just shows what opponents have said all along.

"You look at the fiscal impact and you just can't ignore that," said Cady.

"That's twice the budget of the library. I'd ask Tim what you would do to make up for that revenue?"

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