By George Miller
Although this was an Oxnard event, it should be of interest to anyone in the region interested in coastal/harbor recreation matters.
On Monday, April 22, over 250 people showed up for a City Of Oxnard public workshop held as required for public outreach on a proposed change to the city’s Local Coastal Plan (LCP) to modify it to allow residential development at Fisherman’s Wharf, at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Channel Islands Boulevard, This is now an area designated only for recreational and commercial space, but the county wants to have nearly 400 residential apartments built there.
Presentations by Ventura County Harbor Department Director Mark Sandoval and developer Tom Tellefsen of Channel Islands Harbor Properties (CIHP) were not well received by the vast majority present, nor have they been at multiple past events. In fact many attendees were openly and loudly scornful/derisive about some of the statements made by the presenters. Part of the problem was that the city wanted it to be about questions on the proposed development, while most of the audience wanted to question the whole basis, assumptions, goals and even legality of the project. There is accumulated frustration on the part of opponents, who feel that they are not being listened to and that their objections are not addressed.
More on this shortly, but first …..
The formerly iconic Fisherman’s Wharf development in Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard, has seriously deteriorated. Many fondly recall eating, strolling, perusing the shops and renting kayaks there, or going to the nearby Lobster Trap restaurant and Casa Sirena Hotel- both now shuttered and pathetic (the latter two will be rebuilt). Originally built in the 1970’s by Bud Smith, who developed much of the lower harbor, Fisherman’s Wharf had been going great, but later went downhill for years. This accelerated with the Great Recession and there was never any recovery. At this point, only a few viable businesses remain, the buildings are dilapidated and the grounds unkempt.
The area is badly in need of renovation. The county claims the development cannot be economically viable without including many residential housing units.
The facility is in Oxnard, but owned and managed by the Ventura County Harbor Department, which is a County enterprise fund and has a fairly new Director, Mark Sandoval. He replaced retiring Director Lyn Krieger, who had overseen much of the decline of some harbor facilities over decades.
The Harbor District is now on its third attempt and third developer to tackle the task. The first two proposed were 800 and 600 unit residential developments, with retail/commercial space. Both developers bowed out as the deal was untenable to them, given intense public resistance, regulatory hurdles, etc. The latest developer is Channel Islands Harbor Properties, which is now proposing a 390 unit residential development. with 36,000 sq ft of commercial/retail space and some other amenities, including a promenade, small park, some parking, an automotive museum exhibit, kayak/boat rentals and dock space for FW visitors.
The Harbor District reached agreement in principle to move ahead and give the developer exclusive rights to negotiate this, under heavy opposition from the public. Undeterred, the County Supervisors ratified it, after being told that there were no viable alternatives.
The county attempted to change its Public Works Plan to allow this project, but was stopped cold by the Coastal Commission, which ruled that it did not conform to state rules that it should be recreational and that it violated Oxnard’s Local Coastal Plan. The County has demanded that the City modify the LCP, which the city has slow walked, in tune with intense public opposition.
This meeting was part of the process of requesting a LCP amendment: Harbor Proposed LCPA April 26, 2019. There would be the additional hurdle of convincing the Coastal Commission that a recreational/commercial only redevelopment was unfeasible and that residential units were the answer, which they have already shot down before. Interestingly, this document was not presented at the meeting, so attendees didn’t know exactly what they were being asked to opine on. It may not be finalized yet.
The County Public Works Plan, Oxnard LCP and Coastal Commission regulations would all have to be in alignment for the Coastal Commission to greenlight the project. We understand that the Oxnard proposed 2030 General Plan and Local Coastal Plan are partially in conflict regarding the Fisherman’s Wharf, with the GP allowing an “Urban Village” on the site and Local Coastal Plan designating it recreational, retail and commercial.
Event Video by Dan Pinedo, Citizen Videojournalist:
Back to the meeting …
Meeting chair Oxnard Development Manager Kathleen Mallory told the standing room only crowd that developer and county presentations would be made first, then they could ask questions, but not speak out of turn, not complain about the project and not applaud, in order to fit the meeting agenda and speakers into a three hour window. She asked how many wanted to speak and about 100 hands went up. Not that many actually spoke, because many were unwilling to wait three+ hours to do so.
She also told us that the proposed LCP amendment is being submitted soon and will then go through the review process, then to Council, which if it approves, would then submit it to the Coastal Commission for approval, before the county could resubmit its Public Works Plan amendment.
This meeting was to cover explaining the project only and exchanging information and views. No votes were to be taken, no decisions made.
Harbor Director Mark Sandoval then proceeded to cover the harbor and Fisherman’s Wharf histories, then the case for the current proposal. Because the project has already been presented multiple times, he and the developer did not cover the project in detail this time.
Developer Tom Tellfesen presented a very brief summary of the project, mentioning that it had already been presented multiple times before at meetings and that his time speaking was constrained. You can see more in articles in Citizens Journal, the Ventura County Star and HBCA.
Here are their meeting presentation materials, which Mr. Sandoval kindly provided:
Audience members asked whether there was a P&L: for Fisherman’s Wharf. He said yes, and later provided Budget Unit 5100, Fund E200, 5113- Harbor- Fisherman’s Wharf: FishermansWharfFinancials for several years. Read it and you will see declining revenues, deferred maintenance and deficits.
History, Per Sandoval
Mr. Sandoval explained some of the background above and added:
The harbor project started in 1965 to provide a “sand trap” for down coast beaches. This was loudly disputed by some in the audience, who said it was for recreational/fishing purposes.
It was designed as a pay as you go project to be funded by private developers with little out of pocket cost to the county, which took on the responsibility of administering the harbor.
Martin “Bud” Smith was one of the principal entrepreneurs who developed much of the lower harbor, especially south Peninsula Road and Fisherman’s Wharf and the apartments at the foot of Harbor Blvd. (All of these apartments are now known as Paz Mar.)
In 1976, the California Coastal Commission was inserted to oversee coastal development and had final authority- ref. Coastal Act Sec. 30114.
In September, 1986, the Channel Islands Harbor Public Works Plan (PWP) was certified by the Coastal Commission.
Shortly thereafter, in December, 1986, the Oxnard Local Coastal Plan was certified by the Coastal Commission.
He said the County issues development permits in the harbor. He did not explain how Oxnard’s rules were enforced. He said amendments to the county public works plan must be in conformance to the Oxnard Local Coastal Planvand added that the city has to amend it. However, that its the city’s call and it is not mandatory.
Sandoval said that the Harbor Dept. assumed control of Fisherman’s Wharf in 2004 . An RFQ for renovation was issued. EMC Development took the lease, presented a concept for an 800 unit residential development and 85,000 sq ft of retail/commercial development. The Supervisors approved.
Then came the Great Recession. In 2012, another developer proposed a 500 or 600 unit project with 40,000 sq ft of retail and commercial space.
Finally in 2015, The Channel Islands Harbor Properties group proposed what is currently on the table, a 390 unit residential development, with 36,000 sq ft of retail and commercial space. Sandoval says that they have given the city everything they asked for.
In 2018, the county attempted to get approval for changes to the public works plan from the Coastal Commission, but was denied.
Now a proposed amendment to the Local Coastal Plan is being developed which could lead ultimately to approval by the City Council and Coastal Commission.
Case for the 390 unit & Retail/Commercial redevelopment project
Areas of the harbor, including Fisherman’s Wharf and the south side of Peninsula Road, are badly deteriorated, an embarrassing disgrace and are in desperate need of redevelopment. This is repelling visitors and in turn commercial tenants, making the development less economically viable. It must be renovated or replaced.
Director Sandoval told us on 4-26-19 that he does not believe that the buildings are salvageable.
The presenters promised good quality housing and amenities. Details were not available. Oxnard has a housing shortage, which this would help address. He also said that by increasing housing supply thusly, it would drive down prices, which elicited loud, derisive laughter, shouted down by Chair Mallory.
The Harbor Department and developer claim that commercial and recreational development only would be unsustainable, would not generate sufficient revenue to be viable, especially during economic downturns. Sandoval said that only residential housing could be used to “subsidize”
the rest of Fisherman’s Wharf. He claimed that there is a glut of retail/commercial space.
He said that even what he claimed is the most successful development in the harbor, the Marine Emporium mall, was forced to ask for rent relief during the depths of the Great Recession and that this is what killed Fisherman’s Wharf, the Lobster Trap restaurant and Casa Sirena Hotel. Keep in mind that the Emporium burned down and had to be rebuilt at great cost, though, which adds to their costs. He said it was necessary to secure a “deep pockets” developer with the will and staying power to ride out a 65 year lease during boom or bust economic cycles.
Sandoval and Tellefsen outlined the concept, which consists of 390 “high-end” 1-3 bedroom apartments, 794 parking spaces, 36,000 sq ft of commercial/retail space, a promenade, small park, automobile museum display, docks, renovated lighthouse, boat/kayak rentals. He said that although the structure is massive- 55′ high and 683 feet long, that there are breaks in the line and architectural variety. They showed east and west elevation views and an overview diagrams.
Presenters stated that even though opponents object to the 683′ long 55′ high structure that: 1)- there are other equally imposing structures already in the harbor, such as the 2500′ foot long nearly contiguous Paz Mar apartments on Peninsula Road and the new condos up on Wooley road by Seabridge development and 2)- the structure does have some breaks in its profile.
Sandoval addressed traffic concerns by saying that even in peak periods that only one car every 20 seconds will pass. On objections to no traffic signals added, no lanes address and only a one way south exit from the complex, he stated that it really won’t add much to congestion. Opponents strenuously disagreed in their comments.
Most importunately, these rental units would offer large, long term, likely stable cash flow to the partners and significant revenue to the city, county and state. How much of this cash flow would be directed to the county was not revealed at the meeting (although it does appear later in this article) . Sandoval claimed that Fisherman’s Wharf would generate $600,000 annual revenue for the city, but did not elaborate on the arrangements and specific revenue sources. He gave us more info at a meeting we had Friday, shown below.
Mr. Sandoval later provided us with this future projection of revenues to the city and county (below, F/W is Fisherman’s Wharf):
But wait, there’s more! When we asked if there would be other revenues generated by the project for the county, he said yes, although it is still in negotiations. He had a high level staffer provide this to us:
Section A – Rental Apartment Sources, in the above document, calls for between 3.5% and 10% of rental income (increasing in later periods of the lease) to be paid to the county to pay for the Fisherman’s Wharf Lease, along with the designated amounts for retail and commercial transactions, shown in other sections above.
So, let’s work out an example for the apartments rents. Using a monthly average future rent (we had to estimate a number, since they wouldn’t provide any) of $2400 x 12 months x 390 units, we get a total yearly gross revenue of $11,232,000. 3.5% of that annually comes to $393,120. 10% is $1,123,200. Then there are the shops, restaurants and offices revenue. All going to the county, tax-free?
Looking at these numbers, one can better understand the state of mind of The County Supervisors when they voted for this. It looks like it would solve some financial problems, but the trade-off is that it would greatly reduce the visitor-serving recreational use potential of the property and cause additional misery for local residents and visitors.
In response to multiple audience questions about apartment rental rates, the pair would only say that the units would rent for market rates. Mr Sandoval told me on Friday that a nice 1 bedroom condo across from Paz Mar Apartments rents for $1750.
To put things in perspective, total Harbor Department revenues are about $9 million, per Sandoval and it is running a small deficit. He told us that $2 million of that comes from the gas dock alone. He says about $22 million is needed for rock embankments around the lower harbor, plus other maintenance and capital improvements. $8 million is being spent for new harbor headquarters. That project got much more expensive when engineers discovered problems with the soil and specified expensive additions to the construction. Another $600,000 is now needed for harbor maintenance which was done by Oxnard before the City/County agreement expired and negotiations stagnated.
The presenters pointed out that Channel Islands Harbor Properties is backed by “deep pockets” principals Tom Tellefsen, Peter Mullin and Geoff Palmer, with a history of success and a long term commitment, but did not cite specific terms or if formal commitments to this effect have been offered. It is our understanding that the county has given the firm exclusive rights to negotiate with them on this project, which suggests that they do not have any competition. This is a matter of concern to many members of the public and even on the City Council.
Case against the 390 unit & Commercial redevelopment project
Most opponents base their opposition upon factors falling into two major categories:
1. The property was given to the people for marine recreational purposes. Also, the Coastal Commission gives preference to “visitor serving” recreational purposes and says it shouldn’t be changed unless there is no alternative. The Oxnard Local Coastal Plan, adopted by the Coastal Commission, designates the property as recreational, retail and commercial.
2. NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) complaints about traffic congestion, urbanization, loss of scenic views, loss of coastal access, loss of public parking and more. and of course loss of recreational opportunities, as already stated above.
3. And other claims, such as failure to provide low cost housing….
Dozens and dozens of opposition speakers at this meeting made supporting arguments for the above (watch the event VIDEO). Many have spoken at previous meetings. Opposition appears to be growing, even though this has dragged on for years. Only two spoke in favor, one being Steve Kinney, former head of EDCO, which was Oxnard’s public/private economic development organization. He claimed to speak for harbor businesses.
Many of the opponents are affiliated or were brought out by Harbor & Beach Community Alliance (HBCA), a local grassroots activist group which has focused much of its effort on opposing this project. For the most part, the project has so far remained nearly invisible to out of town and even out of neighborhood stakeholders who potentially benefit from coastal access, even though it has been publicized in several local and regional newspapers and addressed at County Supervisors’ meetings.
HBCA had requested, then demanded, a 45 minute presentation slot at the meeting to rebut the project, since they are the main group speaking for local stakeholders. They were denied and reportedly even had an attorney involved, but ultimately, were only allowed a series of three minute individual speaking opportunities, which they attempted, with some success, to string together into a coherent presentation, mostly in the first batch of speakers, headlined by their President, Rene Aue, and other leaders such as Debbie Mitchell. Annoyingly, Mallory forced speakers to queue up, rather than just taking names and having them come up in their turn.
Audience members wondered why the county can’t balance the books, since the land was donated (free) and it doesn’t even have to pay property taxes. How much could it cost? Well, the 2018-19 FW budget linked above showed a small deficit of $51,361.
Since the property has been deliberately allowed to run down, because the county intends to renovate it, it is now quite unattractive to tenants and customers alike. How unattractive? Well, most units are vacant, decrepit-looking, crowds are very light- not crowds at all, really, except for the seafood restaurant on the Northwest section of FW and Sundays at the Elite Theater. Director Sandoval said that some units rent for as low as .50/sq ft. He says even at those rates, the spaces go empty. Those are like bare bones warehouse rates! Go there and look around and you’ll see why.
The fish loading dock would be removed, further reducing Oxnard’s already meager fishing infrastructure, which stacks up very poorly against neighboring Ventura Harbor, which hosts a much larger fishing fleet. It also further reduces the authenticity of Fisherman’s Wharf, which would lose its very namesake.
There was much opposition to doing the project but not much in the way of alternatives to the residential unit-heavy project proposed, with the following exceptions:
- Some say that a non-residential Fisherman’s Wharf could be viable, depending upon the scale and how development was handled. Because there is such a huge amount of deferred maintenance, failure to promote the complex and rents are so run-down, it would require a significant turnaround effort and some creative thinking.
- Audience members suggested to me that Oxnard apply for grants, using the promise of visitor serving recreational purposes for the property. Another person suggested that the county “homestead” the spaces, allowing tenants to occupy them very cheaply initially if they renovate buildings.
- Barbara Macri-Ortiz, advocate for the poor and an affordable housing legal expert, suggested more affordable housing on the site.
We didn’t hear any proposals involving scaling down the scope of the residential development, but merely grievances against traffic congestion, size and height of the structures, loss of public space/recreational, views, etc.
Impressions of the Meeting
By Debbie Mitchell, for Harbor & Beach Community Alliance (HBCA)
It was wonderful to see there was standing room only attendance at the meeting. This demonstrates there are genuine concerns throughout the community about this proposed Fisherman’s Wharf development. The community’s comments/questions showed they are well-informed and remain unified in their position on this project and want the City to deny the County’s request for an amendment to the Local Coastal Plan.
It was interesting that the developer’s presentation did not provide any new information. The developer has known for quite some time the community’s issues regarding the project. There was no genuine attempt to address them. Harbor Director, Mark Sandoval, reiterated the County’s position that this project was the only way to revitalize Fisherman’s Wharf now. He attempted to scare the community into accepting the project by saying that if the project did not go forward, the deteriorated Fisherman’s Wharf would still be an issue in five years (though everyone knows the County as owner is responsible for maintaining Fisherman’s Wharf).
After the meeting, there was frustration and concern expressed that the Fisherman’s Wharf problem will continue on and nothing will get done. But the reality is that no other option can be explored and pursued with any other legitimate interested developer until the current developer’s, Channel Islands Harbor Properties LLC’s, Exclusive Right to Negotiate (ERN) expires and is not renewed again for the fourth time by the County.
It is important for the public to stay alert, informed and continue to let the City and County know their concerns about the proposed project.
Update on Fisherman’s Wharf Project as of April 2019
By Harbor & Beach Community Alliance (HBCA)
In October 2017, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) told Ventura County and the developer, Channel Islands Harbor Properties, LLC (CIHP), that a Local Coastal Plan Amendment (LCPA) from the City of Oxnard was required before the CCC would consider their request for an amendment to the harbor’s Public Works Plan (PWP).
In March of 2019, the City agreed to start its public review process of the County’s LCPA. During this review process, the City will decide if they will approve or deny the County and developer’s request for an LCPA.
Approval of the current Local Coastal Plan would give the County complete control over what the County will present to the Coastal Commission. The City will no longer have any say about what the project should be or put any conditions on the project. The decision whether to allow or not allow the 400-apartment complex at Fisherman’s Wharf will then rest with the Coastal Commission. Though the community will have another opportunity to stop this project at the Coastal Commission, it could prove more difficult if the County has an approved LCPA from the City of Oxnard.
The City’s Decision Process on the County’s LCPA
The public review participation process will consist of 3 meetings.
The first of these meetings occurred this past Monday, April 22nd. This was the Community Workshop. Over 250 people attended the workshop to hear the developer’s project presentation and to ask questions and comment on the project.
The next public meeting will be with the City of Oxnard’s Planning Commission. There are 5 members on the Commission. The meeting is anticipated to be sometime in June 2019.
The third and final meeting will be scheduled in July 2019 with the City Council members and the decision will be made at this meeting based on recommendations of the City Planning Staff, the Planning Commission and public input.
The City Council members should deny the County’s and developer’s request for an LCPA. The current project is inconsistent with 20 of the City’s Local Coastal Plan policies. It is inconsistent with the City’s HCI ordinances. It will deter and impede public access because it has serious issues of parking, traffic and safety. It reduces visitor-serving facilities in favor of residential amenities.
The developer’s illustrations of the project are misleading. The developer must be required to provide an accurate rendering of the project including all elevations. There is no reason the developer cannot do this.
City approval of the current LCPA would eliminate the City’s jurisdictional authority to have a say on what the project would be at Fisherman’s Wharf. The change in density and height would also apply to all areas of the Harbor.
No one should be intimidated by County comments that if this project is not accepted, the community must live with a deteriorated Fisherman’s Wharf for another 5 years. This is especially ironic because the County as the owner of Fisherman’s Wharf is responsible for its maintenance and for the three extensions of the Exclusive Right To Negotiate (ERN), that have denied other possible developers the opportunity to propose projects.
Channel Islands Harbor is one of only 12 small boat harbors left along the California coast. It is a rare and valuable asset of the City of Oxnard and Ventura County. It should benefit all not just a privileged few who can afford to live there.
Councilman Bert Perello
I didn’t see him there, but was told that Oxnard Councilman Bert Perello was at the meeting. When I talked to him Friday he told me that Council Members had been discouraged from going, to avoid any sign of favoring one side or the other. He said he thinks Mayor Pro Tem Ramirez and Mayor Flynn might have been dissuaded from attending, but felt he had to come, since FW is in his District (#1). Not surprisingly, he was very non-committal. When I asked him his impression of the meeting, he told me that: he gives tremendous credit to the large number and organization of the public attendees and their staying to the end; credits the developer for standing his ground; agreed with some of the attendees that Sandoval appeared to be pitching the project; said he heard a lot of good ideas and questions.
(Warning- we are not attorneys. This is our interpretation of what we have read and been told by others who have studied it intensively). We are not aware that either side has disputed these items below.
We are told that the CA Coastal Commission regulations trump local ones on development in the Commission’s jurisdiction. Local Coastal Plans are reviewed for compliance, certified and adopted into the Commission’s rules.
The Coastal Act encourages visitor-serving recreation and boating. It also says there shall be no cumulative adverse impact on neighborhoods. Scenery must be preserved.
Ventura County attempted to change its Public Works Plan to allow the proposed development, but the commission rejected it, ruling that it was in conflict with the Oxnard Local Coastal Plan, which had been certified by the commission, and with Coastal Commission policies to encourage visitor-serving recreational purposes, which the project would sharply reduce.
The proposed Oxnard 2030 General Plan would allow an “urban village” at the FW and other sites. An urban village is defined as a walkable community where residents would live close to work. Project opponents and even Director Sandoval agree that the proposed project is not an urban village. HBCA tells us that in any case, a specific plan would have to be submitted in order to gain approval, that this has not occurred and that they haven’t been able to get any details after repeated requests,
The County claims to control, if not own the property, which is in Oxnard City limits.
The County and Oxnard are in a conflict about control of development decisions. The agreement between them for harbor management expired years ago. It was renewed temporarily while negotiations proceeded. It is now expired and Oxnard is no longer willing to maintain certain common areas in the harbor which it had previously agreed to. The County/Harbor District has taken this on at an estimated cost of $600,000/year. The County has been unwilling, we are told, to cede any development control to the city. Negotiation meetings have been held in secret, so we have no way to verify claims.
The county pays no property taxes on land it owns. However leaseholders must pay property taxes on improvements and on assessed valuations of remaining leaseholds.
Note: City Manager Alex Nguyen was invited to provide input to this article, said he would schedule an interview, but hasn’t yet done that. We will attempt to get his input for a future article. Mayor Flynn, the other member of the Harbor Committee, along with Bert Perello, has not yet responded to our request for comment, as Perello did.
We thank Ventura County Harbor Director Mark Sandoval & staff; Kathleen Mallory, Oxnard Development Manager; Debbie Mitchell and others of the (Channel Islands) Harbor & Beach Community Association, for their assistance with this article.
George Miller is Publisher/Co-Founder of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard