Downtown Oxnard vision plan results well-received

By George Miller

Multidisciplinary team local and outside team develops a future Downtown Oxnard Vision/Architecture

  • Residents participate in 5 day charrette to contribute ideas
  • Team consists of urban planners, architects, economists,
  • Design/approach done to “jumpstart” redevelopment of downtown for economic and social vitality
  • Phase 1 “visioning” design received very well by community so far
  • Results presented at 2-2-16 City Council meeting
  • Next phase- implementation plan, in 30 days, community review, then to City Council by March-end
OxnardGateway

Oxnard Downtown 3rd St. Gateway. From CNU 2-3-16 report

Why

Old timers tell us that Downtown Oxnard was truly impressive- back in the 1950’s and was even pretty nice in the 1970’s. But it kept decaying as times changed, land use changed, the 101 Freeway became the main north-south route and much commerce migrated there-  strip malls and large regional malls in Ventura, Camarillo and even the Collection up Oxnard Boulevard and 101. So, downtown has gradually become a relative backwater of regional commerce.

Various approaches were tried to check and reverse the decline. At one time, it had a near-third world feel to it. The city was unable to restore it, but at least cleaned up and stabilized the area. However, the very successful Collection Mall has made it even worse for downtown in the last couple of years. In recent years, downtown is presentable, but hollowed-out since its glory days.


 

After a five-day planning process to help develop a future vision to help restore the faded glory of downtown Oxnard, representatives from The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) California Chapter presented the results to date.  These were quite well-received by dozens of stakeholders. including many participants, who had gathered to see the formal presentation to City Council, on Tuesday, February 2,  of work done since the previous Friday. CNU has done similar annual projects for Livingston and Huntington Beach, CA.

Before you brace for further sticker shock on consulting fees, let us calm you- they did it at no charge.


 

What Was Done

A presentation on the results of the five day charrette process was made on 2-2-16, By Howard Blackson of CNU and David Sargent, a local planning professional. They had only finished the presentation materials minutes shortly before the meeting, as the process had just concluded.

Here’s a copy of the actual presentation visuals used at the 2-2-16 Council meeting:

Oxnard Charrette Final Presentation – FINAL

Here is the meeting agenda item and video:

2-2-16 City Council info

Name Date Duration Agenda Minutes Video
City Council Meeting February 2, 2016 05h 40m Agenda Minutes Video

Go to agenda item Q

OxDowntownAccess

CNU met with stakeholders/public to get input from them and explain some concepts of how to go about doing something like this. The results were the presentation and video linked here. What was very encouraging is that a lot of the initial infrastructure can be done at relatively low cost. The city is so anxious to get development done that they are considering waiving fees for the initial phases to get the ball rolling. It is unknown what the full financial impact if that would be.  The overall plan attempts to create a walkable downtown within 5 minute radius and also encompass other attractions within 10 minutes, such as the Performing Arts Center and Campus Park. It’s good that the Transportation Center- train and bus terminal are close in. Streets would be set up to facilitate walking and biking in the downtown core area and create road entry approaches making downtown look accessible and attractive to passing traffic, which it really is not now.

The vision incorporates creating an attractive driving in approach to downtown, as well as changing some downtown streets to slow don traffic, enable easier and safer bicycling and walking, while providing trees and visually pleasing street scenes. Zoning might soon be changed to allow sidewalk cafes.

The initial development relies upon infill- disposition of surplus city properties, repurposing existing buildings and building on vacant lots. Projects which meet the plan would be facilitated. Those that don’t wouldn’t. Apartments would  be encouraged. Phase 1 would be mostly 1-3 story buildings.

Parking is adequate now. But in the future, as activity increases, parking structures with stores in them that don’t even look much like parking structures, would be constructed. These would be very expensive, so developer money would be needed. The city has about $6 million to be used toward downtown projects. It should be used wisely to get things moving and encourage more investment downtown.

An implementation plan will be completed within a month. It will be available for public comment then will be debated at a City Council meeting before March-end.


BlackstonHoward

Howard Blackston, CNU (from 2o11 video interview)

Team Leader Howard Blackson

Mr. Blackson deserves a lot of credit for managing this effort and bringing it to completion of phase I (Phase II is the upcoming implementation plan). He shared some thoughts with us the day of the City Council meeting presentation.

He told us that CNU is a national organization which has been around for 26-27 years. His chapter is about 4 years old. They have done CA projects in Livingston, Huntington Beach and now Oxnard  He feels that this is the most successful project, to date. He said “last night was one of the best moments of my professional career.” That is also a tribute to the people who helped make all this happen , as well as to his own  abilities demonstrated.

Blackson says that projects are staffed with economists, environmentalist, historians, traffic & street experts, as well as city planners. Each project is staffed with chapter members and at least local volunteer recruits.

Their goal is to develop a vision which supports what he calls “a mixed use” …. walkable, sustainable communities” achieving “social equity.”  He defines walkability as easy to navigate on foot within a 5 minute radius of the core community and up to 10 minutes/ half mile out for other attractions. The design would also incorporate and encourage bicycle traffic. While cars are not overly encouraged in the core areas, the need for close-in parking for access to downtown is recognized and supported.

The upcoming implementation plan will take the vision and try to figure out how to actually accomplish it. He told us that it is extremely important to assign explicit responsibilities, or the likelihood of getting much done drops exponentially. Preparing infrastructure and starting initial development projects will be the initial implementation steps.

Mr. Blackston says that waiving fees to get the first phase of implementation done will greatly incentivize the early adopters and lower their risk threshold to get them committed, implemented. This will build a critical mass to encourage far larger investment in phase II, which is envisioned to be the deeper pockets, larger scale developers. Some are skeptical about this, but if downtown doesn’t get critical mass/momentum, then the future big development fees and ongoing sales tax, business license,s, property taxes may not ever come. He said that even a 7000 sq. ft., project now costs about $130-140,000 in various fees and that may just be too high a hurdle for smaller players, especially as downtown is not (yet) perceived as the place to be.

He envisions downtown as the civic and cultural heart of “the Oxnard Plain,” if not the retail center anymore, which has moved uptown and to strip malls everywhere. Blackston sees the initial projects as small employers, restaurants, entertainment, shops and smaller residential buildings, primarily infill, using vacant lots, replacing or re-purposing existing structures.

Blackston says he perceived that dialogue among stakeholders was poor going in, before the project, but he seemed  ecstatic about the level of project participation, enthusiasm, quality of the comments and ideas.  He indicated that the only negatives encountered were on use of Plaza Park and the roads. He said that 5th St. will not be cut off and that slowing down Oxnard Boulevard over three blocks is not too high a price to pay for a revitalized downtown. 

 

Who did it?

We were told that architect Dao Doan suggested CNU to City Manager Greg Nyhoff and he took action to engage them. A multidisciplinary team was assembled, as follows ….

DowntownOxnardVisionTeam

Downtown Oxnard Vision team of CNU and local players (see names below). Photo: Dan Pinedo/CitizensJournal.us

Pictured above:

Christos Hardt (Redlands)

David Sargent (Ventura)
Peter Quintanilla (Santa Ana)
Jodie Sackett (Los Angeles)
Paul Crabtree – center (Ojai)
Mario Suarez (Colton)
Howard Blackson (San Diego)
Dao Doan (Oxnard)
Matt Shannon (Irvine)
 
Not Pictured:
Lauren Mattern (Los Angeles)
Mensa Sethi (San Luis Obispo)
Todd Lansing (San Francisco)
Dean Gunderson (Boise, ID)
Eric Berg (Ventura)
Joel Karahadian (Hollywood)

 

NyhoffCCMtg

Oxnard City Manager Gregg Nyhoff. Photo: George Miller/CitizensJournal.us

City Manager Input

City Manager Greg Nyhoff has been a big booster of this effort, having engaged CNU and assigned Kimberly Horner to manage the effort. He told CitizensJournal.us lats week that the city didn’t previously have a downtown vision, had no unified picture of what to do. Some people had great ideas but they were fragmented, not unified into a single vision. Having an independent group come in providing expertise and experience was very helpful.

He told us that something like this could take months, but the charrette approach and their methodology compressed it into only five days. At the meeting, Nyhoff said that something like this could cost $200,000, but that the work was done pro bono. He told us that there was great community input to the process and now we have an overall plan and can make sensible decisions with it.

Nyhoff said that in his role as City Manager, he and stakeholders can look at implementation ideas and prioritize them.  He said that the investment community would likely take notice of a (formal, professionally guided) plan which has community support. Investors, stakeholders, City Council and staff can now pull together in a partnership to make needed improvements. He intends to move quickly to help energize downtown and make it the heart of the community again.


 

What is CNU?

CNBU’s website home page says:

The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) is the leading organization promoting walkable, mixed-use neighborhood development, sustainable communities, and healthier living conditions.
The mission of the Congress for the New Urbanism California Chapter is to provide leadership and advance best practices for making great walkable places in California.

Here was their site announcement for the Oxnard Downtown event.

Previously, they did Livingston and Huntington Beach, CA charrettes.  The group is nationwide, with regional chapters and does volunteer work to help promote the sustainable, walkable cities concept.


 

Who was consulted

The CNU team and local recruits talked to city officials/staff and residents. A list opf formal stakeholder interviews is below:

OXDowntownStakeholderInterviews

List of stakeholder interviews. Source: CNU 2-2-16 report to Oxnard City Council.

Additional members of the public attended and some provided input.The management team was comprised of CNU regulars and volunteers, shown in a photo and list in a previous section of this article.

Mayor Tim Flynn and Kimberly Horner were contacted for interviews or comments for this article, but didn’t respond. Comments from City Manager Nyhoff and CNU exective Howard Blackster appear elsewhere in this article.


 

Skeptics Corner

We were alerted by activists that the effort might be excessively ideological, with a going-overboard high-density approach that would roll up the streets, pack everyone into claustrophobic spaces, ban cars, introduce “road diets” et al.  We can report that what was presented was not extreme. However, it did incorporate more housing and business densification in a tightly circumscribed downtown zone. It also calls for about 2400 new units of multi-unit low and middle income housing, of 300-500 sq. ft. and up, designed for small families and singles. This is designed to help fill an urgent need for housing for young, senior, single and starter families.

The downside of the approach is that the pro bono team consisted entirely of members who espouse the current fashionable planning approach of hi-density walkable urban cities, with certain implicit assumptions of imminent major environmental damage if this isn’t done. So, the only possible alternatives would be from members of the public. But attendees at this and similar events tend to be those of the same mind.

If there was any movement in the feared direction, it was via a more moderated, gentle “nudge” approach to incentivize more walkability, affordability, amenities and attractions.  People who like it can invest, start businesses and/or move there. Others can go to areas which suit them better. If demand for the former grows, expand it. If not, it withers on the vine. Fair enough?

In spite of the balanced approach, a couple of Council members are militant opponents of “sprawl,” which is a code-word for tracts of single family homes, interspersed with commercial and industrial development. At the 2-3-16 Council meeting, Mayor Pro-Tem Carmen Ramirez asserted that “sprawl” is a “menace to life” and even creates “domestic abuse,” which is actually far more common in dense, run-down developments.

A similar CNU effort in Huntington Beach started off OK. It was sold to residents as a commercial redevelopment effort. But it quickly transformed into a plan for 4200 units of low income, high-density housing. Some residents protested this change in the character of the community, but were told that the state mandated this per SB32 and SB375. They were also informed that federal “RHNA” (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) targets mandated this.  They further learned that accepting federal block grants enabled the feds to dictate zoning rules and that the municipality had no say in it.


 

An original process announcement

City Seeks public input on downtown Oxnard vision

City Seeks public input on downtown Oxnard vision

The City is seeking public input on a vision for downtown Oxnard. From January 29-February 2, 2016, the City will host a five-day downtown revitalization charrette. The Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) California Chapter will lead the charrette. The CNU, a non-profit volunteer professional organization of experts dedicated to promoting sustainable communities and healthier […]

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George Miller is Publisher of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard

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Kenny Backer

Regardless of their plan, they need to reduce crime. People outside Oxnard know this is a risky area and avoid it. I know people who live in the area that would rather drive to Ventura than go to downtown Oxnard.

Debra Tash

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