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City Grids and Hillside Curves

The early Spanish footprint on the City of San Buenaventura reveals itself in our streets. They spread out in nearly flat grids from the Mission in two directions—east along Main Street and north along N. Ventura Avenue.

This European city design derives from early fortification plans, providing order, efficiency, and control. The colonial conquistadores and padres imported it to defend against and overtake native peoples.

However, when our city streets abut the hillsides, they break out of the grid and curve up and around. Why?

Obviously building on curvy hills with barrancas (natural drainages) and irregular dips and rises is tough. Imposing the geometric street grid of intersecting horizontals and verticals on naturally shaped hills becomes much more difficult, inefficient, and expensive.

When people nevertheless settled on them, as unstable and volatile as they are, builders preserved their natural twists and turns, dips and rises. Our hillsides were developed with custom designed houses built in concert with the natural elevation’s rise and fall.

Being sited within the natural topography had its environmental and aesthetic payoffs.

People soon found the rolling hills an iconic signature of Ventura itself. We became so enamored of them that we set strict limits on how future development could fit onto them.

We passed a General Plan measure to assure it, the Hillside Management Program (HMP), adopted by the City Council in August 1989.

The forty-two page document stipulates that any development must preserve the natural scenic character and shape of the hills, including contours and drainages:

The overall objective is to relate the number and distribution of dwelling units in the future hillside development to the topographical, geological and hydrological conditions of the hillsides so that the terrain will retain its natural and scenic character…. (1)

Hillside development should minimize grading, terracing, padding and cut and fill to the maximum extent possible (13)

Barranca channels should be preserved and maintained in their natural state . . . Use of concrete lined channels should be avoided. (14)

The HMP requires any future builders to accommodate houses into the natural rise and fall of the hills, preserving their character as much as possible.

Along comes LA developer Regent Properties with a completely different idea. It will cut and chop and pad and fill natural slopes and drainages to flatten the hills into a wide ledge above the city. This unnatural building zone will run behind Ventura High School to Lincoln Drive.

Regent will then lay out a geometric grid and set fifty-five upscale tract houses on it in two or three rows.

This violates both the spirit and letter of the HMP. It deliberately counters the intentions of the people and leaders of our city to preserve our hills even as they get built on.

In order to cut and fill the natural terrain, Regent wants to impose its own “Specific Plan” and in effect nullify our existing HMP policy. It seeks to remake the Ventura hills according to its own LA vision.

We must not let Regent do this. We must hold our city staff and the Design Advisory Committee and Planning Commission to the HMP requirements—they are the guardians of it and our hills. And if Regent’s plan to carve the hills into an artificial building tract gets to the City Council, we must demand our leaders defeat it there.

Here’s that outside developer who comes fortified with bulldozers, schematics, and policy to impose a geometric grid on our natural flowing hillsides. We approved the HMP to prevent that.

Regent must be told—“Not here.”


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