Karl’s Erlebnisdorf: Answer for Oxnard Fisherman’s Wharf Debacle?

By George Miller

Oxnard, CA, 12-9-19

The fate of the ramshackle Fisherman’s Wharf, a New England style nautical themed development in Oxnard’s Channel Islands Harbor, is still up in the air. Now badly rundown and neglected, multiple attempts for years by the County, its owner of record, have failed to produce an acceptable proposal. Virtually all of these proposals- none done via the formal county RFP process- have involved large housing elements to provide what the county says is needed revenue and the only way to make it financially viable.  Although the development is in Oxnard and falls under Oxnard zoning/permits, the County has responsibility for development. It also falls under Coastal Commission jurisdiction. Now it appears, we have at least one alternative …

A “White Knight”?

Rendering of proposed Karl’s Erlebnisdorf project at existing Fisherman’s Wharf site

See site plan: Strawberry Village Site Plan

Oxnard is known to many as the Strawberry Capital of The World. Now, a “white knight” has surfaced- Karl’s Erlebnisdorf- to potentially save Fisherman’s Wharf, promising a housing-free strawberry themed park (see rendering above) and hundreds of jobs to build and staff it, many thousands of visitors, preservation of coastal access and revenue- all at no expense to the county. Terms are unknown. It appears that the county (including Harbor Director Sandoval) knew about this before the fateful meeting when the Oxnard Council voted down (6-1 with only Madrigal dissenting) the zoning changes the county and developer needed to build the housing and not only didn’t mention it, but denied that they even had any proposals. See correspondence further down below.

Previous Projects Nixed

The City and the Coastal Commission have opposed the housing project approach, along with most locals, although multiple labor unions, some business interests and others support it. They especially opposed the large, high, dense housing project which would take away parking, most shops, reduce access, create congestion and safety hazards, although the county scoffs at most of these objections.

A local civic organization known as the Harbor & Beach Community Alliance (H&BCA) has been the strongest and most organized private opponent of the county and developer’s mega housing approach. They are currently objecting to the concealment of the new unsolicited proposal and failure by the county to adhere to a formal request for proposal process, insisting that “there must be a new RFP.” They maintain that there are alternatives to the dense housing approach. They want to know “why has everyone been shut out of the process.” Sumie Mishima of H&BCA sent Citizen Journal a package with their letters of complaint to the county (below); Fisherman’s Wharf affair timeline; The Karl’s Erlebnisdorf- proposal  (very general), site plan, rendering and Karl’s press release;

Background

Fisherman’s Wharf was well-conceived and executed for its time. It provided coastal access, boat rentals, nearby launching ramp, restaurants, shops, a good amount of parking, visitor docking, even a working fish processing plant and replica lighthouse!  It was one of the go-to places for relaxation, dining and hanging out in the 1970’s-80’s. By the 1990’s, it was going downhill. Restaurants and shops kept closing and when they did, new ones didn’t always re-open and when they did, they usually weren’t as good. Down nearby Peninsula Road was the Casa Sirena tourist hotel and beloved Lobster Trap restaurant- now closed and boarded up, awaiting rebuilding. How most of the North-East section of the lower harbor went bust is a long sad, complicated  story, some of it chronicled in articles in Citizens Journal. In summary, it was changing consumer preferences, on line selling, the economy and what some have said was gross mismanagement by the county. Former Harbor Director Lyn Krieger blamed the Great Recession.

Current Fisherman’s Wharf area

Fisherman’s Wharf from the Channel Islands Boulevard side.

 

A letter from H&BCA board members Sumie Mishima & Debbie Mitchell we received dated 12-8-19:

An unsolicited proposal was sent to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 21 and copied to the Oxnard City Council. Harbor & Beach Community Alliance (HBCA) obtained a copy of the proposal through a Public Information Request sent to Oxnard. It is from a reputable, experienced, well-funded developer. The development is family oriented for working class families and visitors with free admission and free rides (see press article).
The new proposal allows easy public access to the public park and harbor for fishing, kayaking and waterfront recreation. This proposal proves that the Harbor Dept. claim that Fisherman’s Wharf cannot be developed without apartments is not true. The County has promoted a luxury 400 apartment project that blocks public access and prevents under-served communities access to the harbor and park.

It also proves the importance of an open process and the need to send out a new Request for Proposal. The County deviated from this standard process and never sent out a Request for Proposal for Fisherman’s Wharf – one of the largest developments at the harbor. They admitted this fact when HBCA pressed them with Public Information Requests for the Request for Proposal (RFP). Before this admission they claimed they had sent out RFPs. Please read HBCA’s letter and Timeline to better understand this issue.

Any questions call:

Sumie Mishima or        Debbie Mitchell
323-868-5901               310-804-2382
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Mishima was unhappy with the county’s proposal, the actions of the county, outraged that the Karl’s proposal was hidden from them and cynical about the so-called “visioning” process, which she said was not reflected well in the designs that emerged.

Read H&BCA timeline:
12.8.19 Fisherman’s Wharf Timeline
————————————————-

Letter from H&BCA Chair Rene Aui:

December 8, 2019
Steve Bennett
Linda Parks
Bob Huber
Kelly Long
John Zaragoza

Board of Supervisors, County of Ventura
800 South Victoria Avenue
Ventura, Ca. 93009

Subject: Denial of Channel Islands Harbor Properties LLC’s (CIHP) Lease Option Agreement Amendment for Fisherman’s Wharf and Termination of the Agreement for Failure to Meet Its Requirements

It has been difficult for the public to understand why the County has inexplicably deviated from the standard Request for Proposal (RFP) process and instead elected to expend a disproportionate amount of time, money and effort on behalf of a single developer’s proposed project at Fisherman’s Wharf. The Harbor Department has admittedly never issued an official Request for Proposal for this project. An RFP to a broad range of developers, not just apartment developers, would be the proper fiduciary process.

The County has given and extended exclusivity to CIHP since as early as the June 10, 2014 Board of Supervisors Meeting. The fact is CIHP, an experienced developer, has not secured the required entitlements for their project, especially an amendment to Oxnard’s Local Coastal Plan even after the County gave them the “power of attorney” to negotiate on the County’s behalf with Oxnard.

The Coastal Commission has notified the County and CIHP at least eight (8) different times in writing that a Local Coastal Plan Amendment (LCPA) is required for the proposed 400-apartment complex. It makes no sense at this time to continue to extend exclusivity for the Fisherman’s Wharf parcels and disregard or reduce the required fees for CIHP. Oxnard has denied the request for an LCPA and there is a high probability that the Coastal Commission will also deny an Override request. CIHP has had almost six years to obtain entitlements.
CIHP has had several opportunities to modify its proposal but has not done so. (See attached Timeline of County Actions for Proposed Fisherman’s Wharf Project)

The Harbor Department continues to promote the apartments as the only way to revitalize Fisherman’s Wharf. The Harbor Department continues to base this claim on old data going back to a June 10, 2014 Harbor Director’s letter stating:
“In the past ten years, every project proposed by outside parties (approximately ten parties) on the Fisherman’s Wharf property has included a combination of retail and rental housing units. No other proposal for use of the parcel has been made by any party. It appears that the interpretation of the market indicates that this is the most likely “highest and best use” for this property.”

Not only is this claim based upon early 2000 data but the Harbor Department has been unable to support this claim and provide the names and proposals submitted by these “10 developers” after the issuance of multiple Public Information Requests under the Public Records Act.

Now there is an unsolicited development proposal for Fisherman’s Wharf from a reputable, experienced developer with a proven track record and the means to design, build and fund its project. This proposal disproves the County’s claim. The written proposal was submitted to Ventura County and the City of Oxnard before the November 5th Board of Supervisors meeting and the November 7th Oxnard City Council Special Meeting regarding the County’s LCPA request.

This proposal does not include a residential component. The proposal is worth considering because it has the scale to attract people to the harbor and promote the County and City of Oxnard as the Strawberry Capital of the USA. Strawberry is a major crop for the County and City. (See attached copies of the Karl Erlebnisdorf’s proposal for its “Strawberry Village” at Fisherman’s Wharf). It is an excellent example of the fact that there are other developers who can and will be able to make alternative proposals that are not only worthy of consideration but can be consistent with existing LCP policies and are in keeping with the intent and purpose of a harbor.
.
This recent proposal, and the results at Ventura Harbor and the hotel proposals to Port Hueneme, are proof it is time to issue a Request for Proposal for Fisherman’s Wharf open to a wide range of developers. The Board of Supervisors has a fiduciary duty to manage not only public funds but also valuable public assets like Channel Islands Harbor. We ask that the Board deny any further extension to CIHP. They are not the only solution for Fisherman’s Wharf. They have failed to secure the required entitlements. They are unwilling to modify their
project to meet the public’s needs. It is unlikely their project as proposed will be approved by the Coastal Commission. To allow a valuable asset to remain dormant, deteriorate, and result in no benefits to the public, hurts the County, the City and the public.
.
The issuance of an official Request for Proposal is the fair and transparent governance action and would provide even CIHP another opportunity to propose a project for Fisherman’s Wharf. In order for this to happen, CIHP’s Lease Option Agreement must be terminated.

Thank you.
Rene Aiu on behalf of the Harbor & Beach Community Alliance
Cc: Oxnard City Council, Alex Nguyen, Ashley Golden, Ken Rozell, Jeff Lambert, Isidro Figueroa
Jack Ainsworth, Steve Hudson, Wesley Horne
Clerk of the Board, Michael Powers, Mark Sandoval
————————————————
Here is the October 21 proposal from Karl’s Erlebnisdorf’s Karl’s of California:

Dear Ventura County Board of Supervisors,
.
We would like to propose the development of a Karl’s Erlebnisdorf in the Fisherman’s Wharf location in Oxnard. Originating in Germany, Karl’s is a family oriented strawberry theme park that offers free entry to shops, restaurants, rides and activities that are entirely strawberry themed. As the strawberry capital of America, we believe Oxnard is the perfect location to establish our first Erlebnisdorf (Adventure Village) in America.
.
What is Karl’s?
Karl’s is a multi-generational family business built entirely around the strawberry and the joy it brings to people. Established by Karl Dahl in 1921 in Mecklenburg Western Pomerania, Germany, it is a beloved household name. Currently, Karl’s boasts:

7 successful locations in Germany with around 1000 employees and around 2500 seasonal employees

7 Million annual visitors in all locations
3 theme park hotels
Over 400 strawberry booths across Germany
.
The Objective
Our objective is to establish the first Karl’s in America in a location that is meaningful and beneficial to both us and the city we enter. The Dahl family has been visiting Oxnard for generations in celebration of the strawberry and all that California has to offer. The Dahl’s would now like to give back to the California city they have fallen in love with. By merging our interests with those of the city of Oxnard and the county of Ventura, we hope to establish a vibrant business that everyone can benefit from.
.
The Opportunity
Robert Dahl, the grandson of Karl and current owner of Karl’s Erlebnishof, along with his development partners have already met with members of various city departments and visited the Oxnard Fisherman’s Wharf area. Immediately, Robert fell in love with the site and had a vision for how a Karl’s Erlebnisdorf could revitalize the area. The location presents an amazing opportunity for new energy and life to be established via a Karl’s Erlebnisdorf. A Karl’s Erlebnisdorf would create:
.
A community focus point
Free public access to the Erlebnisdorf, harbor and parking
Dining & entertainment for all generations
100’s of new jobs
A major tourist attraction
Community awareness and celebration of the strawberry
.
Our Proposal
11/14/2019 AT&T Yahoo Mail – Fwd: Oxnard Fisherman’s Wharf – German Strawberry Project Proposal

Keeping with the strawberry theme and style of our other Karl’s locations, our architects have designed a Karl’s to fit the existing Fisherman’s Wharf layout. We would like to preserve as much of the Fisherman’s Wharf feel while incorporating the authentic Karl’s style and farming history of Oxnard. Please see the attached site plans & rendering for what could be included on the site. Highlights include:

16,000 SF of retail
10,000 SF of food manufactories where visitors observe strawberry & other food products being made
9,000 SF of dining space
22,000 SF of playground space
86,000 SF of footpaths and green areas
600 free public parking spaces
.
Funding
We have the funds available and are prepared to cover all development and operating costs on our own. Funding all new projects in Germany privately, Karl’s is a highly profitable business that we hope to extend into California. We understand that the Fisherman’s
Wharf area is in need of economic rejuvenation and that is exactly what we hope to bring to the area.

Thank you sincerely for your time and consideration of a Karl’s Erlebnisdorf at the Oxnard Fisherman’s Wharf.

All the Best,

Axel Stelter
Project Manager Karl’s California
US 415 684 5181 | GER 01522 3833 40

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Read Karl’s Press Release: Dresden Press


At this point the Fisherman’s Wharf project status is still up in the air, The county threatened to sue over Oxnard’s refusal to change the zoning. Then there is the matter of Coastal Commision opposition.  The large housing project option appears to have good revenue potential, but there are quality of life and safety issues, including a loss of coastal access. The Karl’s people believe they can make this financially viable. We haven’t seen any details of their coastal access and amenities plan yet.

There are other potential options, such as individual parcel leases, grants, “homesteading, a smaller housing footprint, even making it into a park.


We’ll try to keep you posted on developments on this project, including responses by the county, developers city, H&BCA, the public, Coastal Commission, etc.

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


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5 Responses to Karl’s Erlebnisdorf: Answer for Oxnard Fisherman’s Wharf Debacle?

  1. C E Voigtsberger December 13, 2019 at 7:53 pm

    We might want to go easy with Strawberry Capitol of the World. There is a small town in Oregon that I believe claims that they are the SCW. They do have incredibly sweet strawberries. We sampled more than we should have

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Where are we now – what’s next? | HBCA

  3. Ted Kuepper December 11, 2019 at 6:11 pm

    I, for one, think a strawberry-themed commercial and public area is a great idea for the most visible corner at the Channel Islands Harbor. That would fit in beautifully with the agricultural feel of the area.

    But let me say this – many local residents have recognized for decades that the degradation of Fisherman’s Wharf was largely intentional by the previous Harbor administration. They wanted to point to the Wharf and say “it’s so bad now, we can’t repair it; it must be torn down and completely replaced.” I know businesses at the Wharf that were discouraged for decades from installing signage and to build their businesses and were told not to make improvements because “the plan is to tear the Wharf down and start over.” The condition of the Wharf is a self-fulling prophecy.

    The only additions I’d like to make to the discussion about re-doing the Harbor corner, is 1) I’d like to see the “theme” of the Fisherman’s Wharf area be maintained in some ways with nautical motif. 2)I’ve always thought a permanent Farmer’s Market would be a plus for the City of Oxnard; perhaps the Harbor could be the location. 3)A relatively modest Nature’s Center could be part of the Strawberry theme; there are wonderful nature centers in Chula Vista and Redding that are modest in size but very dynamic to bring a measure of nature and an educational component to the area. In my opinion, western Ventura County could use an educational nature center for children to expand their awareness of the natural world of California and beyond. There are funding grants available for educational facilities that the City of Oxnard could realistically compete for.

    Reply
  4. Citizen Reporter December 11, 2019 at 5:35 pm

    Mark told me today that he will submit an article for publication.

    Reply
  5. Citizen Reporter December 11, 2019 at 3:53 pm

    We have received two emails from Harbor Director Mark Sandoval since publication of this article. It is unclear which of it we may publish since some of it is confidential. As soon as we clarify that, we’ll publish something.

    Also, we may have more from HB&CA and Council member soon.

    Reply

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