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Ventura looks to improve oversight of growth

After previewing overly massive and dense projects already in the planning process, the big question for Ventura’s City Council last Monday became whether to regain stewardship of Ventura and return public transparency by reinstating the Residential Growth Management Program, or RGMP.

The RGMP was the only city program that paced residential growth so that new development would not overwhelm our available infrastructure like water, road, and police/ fire capacity. The RGMP was intact when the current 2005 General Plan underwent its Draft Environmental Impact Report review. However, almost simultaneously with the adoption of the 2005 General Plan, the then sitting council voted to replace the RGMP with the Housing Approval Program, or HAP. With that single council action, Ventura gave up control and oversight, moving from a transparent managed-growth policy to an opaque program offering the council no control and the public little oversight. Now with the recession waning, developers are flocking to Ventura with proposals for overly large developments with substandard parking plans. It is now apparent that the “compatible infill” vision in our General Plan under the RGMP has quickly morphed into plans of “overfill” under the HAP. Doing away with the RGMP essentially blocked the development process from view, both for the public and the City Council. This council is now moving to correct the problem. Monday night, several City Council members, including Mayor Cheryl Heitmann, made comments of concern over the lack of compatibility of several projects that seek even more density than the generous zoning permitted. When Mayor Heitmann asked how the council could prevent approvals for such massive out-of-character buildings the city’s community development director replied the council could reinstate the RGMP. The RGMP would also help tie development to the available water supply. Monday night, water watchdog Dan Cormode, using the city’s own figures, showed Ventura has already exceeded its water resources, and should hold off on new water connections until a long-term solution is in place. Mr. Cormode explained the city is currently “renting” water from Lake Casitas for Ventura’s East Side to blend with their undrinkable groundwater, and there is no plan for replacing “borrowed” water as is required. Like a U-Haul, the rental fees are due until the water isreturned. The RGMP was criticized by developers and their lobbyists as a biennial “beauty contest” where they competed for allocations. To its supporters, it kept the elected officials with stewardship of the community vision and it kept the community engaged as stakeholders. The community’s response to the “beauty contest” criticism was, “What’s wrong with beautiful developments that work with and enhance our city?” Diane Underhill, of Ventura, is president of Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation. Ventura County Star December 19, 2014 B7

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