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Ventura Planning Commission outlines problems with Regent's La Viera

We believe that Regent Properties' La Viera prescreen application proposal to build 55 homes on the hillside above Ventura High School is so flawed that the Ventura Planning Commission should have rejected it.

It was clear to us that commissioners understood that the project does not follow existing city policies laid out in our general plan, Ventura's "constitution" for the development in our city.

At the Oct. 28 meeting, we saw firsthand why the City Council relies on the commission's extra planning knowledge and we feel these discussions will be invaluable when the La Viera project comes to the council on Nov. 30.

Commissioners outlined in detail the problems with the proposal.

We were impressed by architect Commissioner David Ferrin's extensive background with grading practices. His comment that the La Viera proposal was basically a flatland development being forced onto the hills is exactly right.

He clarified just how steep the project's 2:1 graded slopes are by saying that you cannot walk up a 50 percent grade, and that you cannot disguise a 2:1 graded slope with landscaping — it will stick out as a steep, unnatural slope.

He compared the project's extreme cut-and-fill to the "hillside flattening" allowed in some inland areas but rarely in more desirable coastal areas.

Commissioner Laura Dunbar's comments about avoiding filling the natural drainage channels assured us that our concerns about the project's safety were heard. We were extremely apprehensive about the proposal's burying the bottom of the barrancas and ravines with tons of fill dirt and the critical need for ongoing debris-basin maintenance to keep the project's six basins functional.

With the project's own geotechnical reports warning against allowing stormwater infiltration on the graded fill-slopes, our concerns multiplied.

We also were appalled that the project's too-steep fill slopes would depend merely on "lightweight, deep-rooted, drought-resistant plants" for stability and an ecologically-toxic rodent abatement program for erosion control.

We were relieved that permission to avoid existing city policy was not given official sanction.

In moving the application forward, the commission did not condone grading on slopes greater than 30 percent, exceeding the 15 percent road gradient, filling natural drainage channels, avoiding road interconnections or inclusionary housing rules or any other important city policies.

We understand that the only concession recommendation by the commission was to approve having the Capital Improvement Deficiency Study (CIDS) come at the later EIR stage.

The CIDS is usually required earlier to determine the cost (much of it to city taxpayers) of infrastructure improvements.

We appreciated the commission's assurances that if the actual project in any form comes back to the commission, that none of its decision-making power will have been forfeited by forwarding this prescreen application to the City Council.

We see that the commission will not sit by and let a development company dictate which rules it will or will not follow.

We appreciate the commission's expertise in laying the groundwork to require the development to comply with all relevant general plan and Hillside Management Program policies.

We still argue that the proposal is so flawed that the City Council must reject it on Nov. 30.


Robert Chianese, of Ventura, is a columnist for American Scientist magazine.

Diane Underhill is president of Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation.


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