In Memoriam

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Wetlands Viability at Stake

Tuesday night, at the Oxnard City Council meeting, we'll find out who's running the show in Oxnard. Here's what's coming down:

Recognition of the ecological and civic importance of Ormond Beach is growing. The wetlands present a real potential toward revitalization of South Oxnard. UC Santa Barbara's Wayne Ferren, Ph.D., a widely recognized wetlands expert, calls Ormond Beach the most important wetlands in Southern California because of its range of features—estuary, dunes, salt, brackish and fresh water marshes, plus associated uplands—and its astounding biodiversity.

Surprisingly, as many as 300 bird species have been sighted at Ormond Beach, including seven protected species. The popularity of birdwatching as an outdoor activity is growing rapidly and birdwatchers are known to travel not only across the country, but around the world to pursue this activity. Ormond Beach has all the essentials to attract this highly affluent group of tourists.

It also has the potential to be a major recreational area which all of Oxnard can take pride in and enjoy. Only minutes away by car, it's close enough to enjoy by bike or on foot and public transportation to Cal State Channel Islands, via Hueneme Road, may soon make Ormond Beach accessible by bus.

An ever expanding coalition of environmental and community groups have endorsed the late Roma Armbrust's vision of restored wetlands at Ormond Beach including the Sierra Club, the Beacon Foundation, Wishtoya/Coastkeeper, the Western Alliance for Nature, the Ormond Beach Conservancy and Earth Alert, among others.

It wasn't just the members of that coalition who attended the Coastal Conservancy's recent board meeting in Ventura; it was also four of the county's five supervisors, the majority of the Oxnard City Council and State Assembly member Fran Pavley. There we all cheered the Coastal Conservancy's decision to reserve $23 million to purchase another 500 acres at Ormond, pending final negotiations between the Conservancy, the City of Oxnard and the Metropolitan Water District. That purchase is seen by the coalition as the first step toward the acquisition of the areas needed for a fully functional ecosystem, as has been recommended by the Ormond Beach Task Force in the Ormond Beach Consensus Plan.

How then, amidst this growing awareness of how important Ormond Beach is to South Oxnard, as well as to anyone who loves the California coast, can the City of Oxnard's planning department staff propose major new industrial development on the undeveloped uplands that lie between the wetlands and Hueneme Road? How can the planning department proceed with piecemeal development of what can well become Oxnard's most important civic and economic attraction without first involving the community in an Ormond Beach Specific Plan as part of the 2020 General Plan update?

Twice in the past six months, a senior staff member of the planning department has promised the City Council—live, in-person and televised on TV—that an Ormond Beach Specific Plan workshop would soon to be scheduled. That workshop has yet to occur, nor has it been scheduled.

Meanwhile, the new proposed development, for which the pre-application hearing will be heard at the Council's Tuesday night meeting, not only involves the biologically essential uplands south of Hueneme Road between Edison and Arnold Roads, but also the triangular piece of land south of McWane and just outside of the coastal zone—a part of the same parcel of land the Coastal Conservancy is negotiating to buy.

The planning department staff has said Tuesday night's decision is only preliminary. In reality, the City Council will be giving a signal as to whether the long-term viability of the Ormond Beach wetlands will be protected.

With that decision, we'll know the answer as to who is running the city. If the City Council gives a nod to the pre-application hearing, we'll know that the Council doesn't want to stand up to its own planning staff, which, by the way, is not elected.

We'll also know that the planning staff, which doesn't even follow through on its promises to the City Council, isn't negotiating in good faith with the MWD and the Coastal Conservancy and has no intention of giving the citizens of Oxnard the opportunity to register their opinions with regard to the future of their city.

A city government of the people, by the people and for the people doesn't seem to be what we have here in Oxnard. It would appear that the city's planning department staff is running this city and answers only to developers. I pray that I'm wrong about this and that the City Council will reject the development proposal outright.

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by Janet Bridgers
Earth Alert