Santa Paula Approves 501 Acre East Area 1 Project: Part One

By Sheryl Hamlin

Note: This is part one of a three part report.

Smiles, buy food and buttons provided a celebratory setting for the joint session of the Santa Paula Planning Commission and the Santa Paula City Council on February 17, cost 2015. Limoneira provided food and lapel buttons to those supporting the East Area 1 project. Many in the overflow crowd could be seen wearing the lapel buttons including the SPUSD Superintendent Alfonso Gamino and SPUSD Board Chair Michele Kohlbeck who spoke in Public Comments.

Mayor Procter recused himself from the hearing citing stock ownership in the Limoneira Corporation. He stated that his family had participated in the company since its inception in 1890 and he did not want to sell a family legacy.

Vice Mayor Hernandez assumed the chair and then asked for other Declarations of Conflict. Planning Commissioner Wisda responded stating his history in bringing water issues to the public’s attention by writing letters in the local newspaper. While not aiming specifically at East Area 1, his letters were an attempt to alert the public to water issues. He stated that new groundwater laws go into effect in 2016 where Groundwater Sustainable Agencies will be formed to produce required state groundwater usage reports. Fillmore has given approval now, but its stakeholders may not be supportive in the future, so there needs to be a contingency plan for alternative water. He also said that United Water Conservation District (UWCD) was involved in a yield study, the results of which should be included in the decision making process. He indicated that he received a letter from an attorney about his letters. He then recused himself from the session.

During a break, I asked City Attorney Cotti if he had written the letter to Commissioner Wisda. Mr. Cotti said that he had written a letter to the council after one council member questioned Mr. Wisda’s letters. He was subsequently allowed to give the letter to Mr. Wisda.

The League of Western Cities produces information about the Brown Act, which is the likely subject of the letter, although Mr. Cotti was unable to disclose the contents of the letter due to attorney-client privilege. The League of Western Cities says the following about electronic and media communication:

The Brown Act does not prohibit individual members of a legislative body from separately providing their own comments and opinions about a matter. A commissioner may write a newspaper editorial about an item the commission approved, and a city council member may give a speech or tweet about local projects under way in the city

The above cited article gives more examples of issues involving technology and social media and is a good starting point. Obviously individual legal opinions will vary by situation.

Planning Director Jana Minsk gave a brief overview of the project that is almost two decades in planning and was first mentioned in the LA Times in 1998 and was featured earlier in citizensjournal.us. This Special Plan Amendment (SPA) features reduced commercial, increased greenbelt and changes to the in lieu fees and mitigations required of Limoneira.

  • Parks and Open space increased from 223 to 226 acres and Santa Paula Creek Greenway widened
  • Community Sports increased from 35 to 40 acres and the cost from $5 to $6 million; however it is not required for completion until the 750th home is built
  • Public Safety Facility and Equipment will be completed by 250th home (previously 500th)
  • The Joint Civic Facility was deleted in favor of a $5 million contribution to the city which will be designated at a later date.
  • The Affordable Housing in lieu fee will be $6.5 million payable to the Santa Paula Affordable Housing Fund.
  • The Santa Paula Creek Bridge will be completed by the 250th home

Tony LoCasio, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Consultant, reviewed the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process stating that the city decided to go beyond what law requires by updating every single piece of information or study from the original EIR. In this Specific Plan Amendment (SPA), there were only 18 letters of comment/concern. A letter came from the CoastKeepers (Wishtoya Foundation) with concerns about the impacts of runoff water on downstream species. Mr. Locasio stated that the design of the project includes storm runoff that exceeds standards. Water never leaves the site and percolates in situ. Only runoff for high volume storms will run off the site. A third letter from the CoastKeepers posed concerns about greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. LoCasio indicated that two methods of study used in the EIR were applicable.

Mr. Harold Edwards, CEO of Limoneira, spoke about his company’s history with the project as well as his personal history with Santa Paula dating back to his kindergarten days in 1970. He expressed gratitude for all those who worked to get the project to this point in spite of hurdles such as Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources (SOAR). With years of meetings, 83% of the citizens of Santa Paula voted to support the project in 2008. He stated that Limoneira has spent $55 million on the project to date and suggested that the project’s activity will inject $1 billion of economic activity into the community.

It is important to review the effects of the development expenses on the cost of the homes:

  1. $55 million (as stated by Edwards)
  2. $5 million to city instead of building civic center
  3. $6.5 million to Santa Paula Housing Authority
  4. Recycling water: costs unknown.

The minimally stated improvements to date are $66.5 million. Spread over 1500 homes, this equals $44,333 per dwelling unit. This could easily double by the time the actual home builders have bought the land, commissions paid and the property valuations increased as the land moves from farm land to undeveloped housing.

Limoneira has filed for a $75 million “shelf offering” of the sale of its stock. Like a Home Equity Line of Credit, a shelf offering allows the issuer (Limoneira) to sell the stock as is needed. This cushion will pay for the above mentioned development fees, although diluting the stock for existing owners.

Speakers supporting the project were: David Valuzuel, Business Manager, Secretary/Treasurer for the labor union in Ventura County; Jose Garcia, LIUNA; Delton Johnson, private citizen; Rodney Kovos, Plumbers and Pipefitters Union; Danny Guzman, Athletic Director Santa Paula High School; Zahid Shaw, Chamber of Commerce. Most cited business and job opportunities, although Mr. Dalton also voiced concerns about the size of the bridge over the creek.

Nina Danza, a professional civil engineer for 30 years, spoke about storm drain issues and also said that a new ‘Zero Trash Discard’ policy was on the horizon, both of which were not adequately addressed in her mind.

Sheryl Hamlin observed three issues not mitigated in the EIR: 1) ingress/egress, 2) non-potable water and 3) demographics. With only two ways of ingress and egress, the EIR did not address a catastrophic situation wherein everyone tries to exit concurrently. The EIR specifically said the city would provide recycled water (308.7 afy) for outside uses, but the city’s waste water plant does not produced recycled water contrary to what is explicitly stated in the EIR. It is worth noting that Limoneira commissioned a study in 2007 to construct a water recycling plant on the EA1 site, but this project appears to have been abandoned. Population predictions by Southern California Association of Governments are unrealistically high and run counter to actual population trends for the area which are essentially flat since 2003. Graph here.

  • Ikerd, chair of the Planning Commission, asked each commissioner to voice his concerns about the project and/or to ask questions.
  • Demers had none.
  • Sommer asked for clarification about the ingress/egress saying that originally there was a third method of ingress/egress. The consultant responded by saying that the 1998 General Plan considered EA1 as an “expansion” so only two access points were needed. Subsequent traffic studies confirm adequate capacity. He did NOT address the situation created by a catastrophic event forcing all to exit concurrently.
  • Robinson said that Santa Paula needs the activity and that the city needs major retail like Costco. Clearly all cities are vying for sales tax generating businesses. In fact one of the benefits of annexing EA1 into Santa Paula was the inclusion of the gas station, a high tax generator. However, sales tax is waning in the State of California, as shown by the California Legislative Analyst Office LAO. Nearby Moorpark is losing box store retail from a new shopping center and Fillmore has several developments underway with no announced tenants, so the competition just in this area is fierce.
  • Ikerd concluded by saying the amended project is better, but admonished the developer not to disrupt the existing traffic patterns while under construction.

A roll call vote of 4-0 approving the project was followed by the commission’s exit from the dais.

orchards

 Vice Mayor Hernandez asked the council members for comments.

  • Council Member Tovias spoke first citing good jobs, local labor and Limoneira’s ability to navigate difficult California laws. He complained that people speak who don’t live here.
  • Council Member Gherardi said she was delighted to see the project go forward, but had concerns about two proposed traffic changes. The EIR calls for the confluence of Santa Paula and 10th streets and 150 to be “typical 4 to 5” intersection which means that the ability now to proceed up 10th street will not be available. She suggested this traffic pattern would be detrimental to those needing hospital access. She also noted that the plan omitted sidewalks and pavement to 11th She also said we need permanent restrooms in the sports area and not porta-potties. The consultant said the traffic change would reduce benefits of the new configuration, but he would accept it.
  • Vice Mayor Hernandez praisesd the reduced footprint preserving some agriculture. He did not reflect on the EIR’s statement that there were “unavoidable impacts” such as the loss of the views of the orchards. He thanked those in attendance. He asked the community to report development problems to Limoneira who will fix them.

A roll call vote was called with a 4-0 vote of approval. The council adjourned for a break. This report will continue with exciting plans for transit in Santa Paula as well as the city’s mid-year budget report.

Part 2 of this series of reports

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Sheryl Hamlin: With an MS in Industrial Engineering, Sheryl Hamlin spent years in technology with stints at Motorola, Tandem Computers and various startups. She has been on the boards of neighborhood organizations both in San Francisco and Palm Springs where planning issues were her specialty. She now resides in Santa Paula and loves the historic fabric of the city.  Ms. Hamlin’s blog Stealth Fashion  and  technology product ‘ Plug and Play Webmaster’.

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One Response to Santa Paula Approves 501 Acre East Area 1 Project: Part One

  1. bill shallenberger February 21, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    Where will they get the water?

    Reply

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