Santa Paula: CURB the SOAR

By Sheryl Hamlin

Item 10B on the October 19, 2015 Santa Paula City council became a classic case of mismatched expectations, flawed communication and an embarrassing display of organizational confusion.

When Council Member Gherardi proposed at the October 5, 2015 meeting that Mr. Francis, lawyer and SOAR (Save Our Agricultural Resources) Board member, present a SOAR update at the October 19, 2015 meeting, it was evidently not known to council that Mr. Francis had already been meeting with city planning staff. In fact, if one reads the staff report prepared by Planning Director Minsk for the October 19, 2015 meeting, one would assume that this staff report was prepared for this meeting. However, this was not the case. The suggested change was conceived earlier in the year.

Mayor Procter pointed out that Santa Paula is not telling SOAR how to change the CURB (city urban boundary). SOAR is coming to Santa Paula to discuss changes. Stratis Perros, the Assistant Planning Director, feels the changes are a way of “expediting the development process” for any future development in this area. Council Member Tovias felt that this change would save the property owners the expense of a ballot, but there should be something in exchange for the city, although he also felt that this change was being forced on the owners with no discussion.

Mr. Tovias asked Stratis Perros what owners would be affected. The response was Elon Bender, the McGraff Group, Westerdale, Lippert and Donahoe. There was also discussion about changing the residential zoning to industrial; however Mr. Perros stated that this would be best achieved during the General Plan update process. Council Member Gherardi asked Mr. Francis to verify how the 2016 SOAR vote would affect the existing 2020 SOAR expiration.

These two charts explain the proposed CURB changes which appear to be a result of a meeting between Santa Paula planning staff and Mr. Francis in May 2015, a meeting about which the council was evidently not apprised.



Mr. Francis took the podium and made the following statements:

-Yes, to Council Member Gherardi’s question, the 2016 vote would change the existing CURB expiration date of 2020 to 2050.

-When SOAR met with Moorpark recently, they decided not to expand their CURB.

-Oxnard is reducing its CURB.

-Camarillo is adding an overlay to add a CURB type of planning within the existing CURB.

-He said that Santa Paula with its three votes (2003 – Foothill/Peck, 2007 – Adams Canyon and 2008 – East Area I) is the “poster child” for sprawl in the mind of SOAR, so it is not logical that SOAR is even considering the above proposed expansion.

-He will ask the SOAR board to consider the requested expansion, if the council wishes, but in return, he will ask the council to endorse the SOAR initiative in 2016 quid pro quo.

Council Member Tovias took issue with his point about sprawl, but Mr. Francis, an attorney, reminded him that it took three ballots to pass Adams Canyon. Mr. Tovias said that the third try was a citizen initiative and was drastically reduced. For a review of that third proposal, click here. It is worthwhile to review this 2006 proposal for 495 million dollar lots to be purchased by families with incomes of $600,000, as one of the last bursts of enthusiasm before the real estate bubble burst in 2007. Note too, that the Adams Canyon analysis assumed 495 homes, forgetting that the Peck/Foothill project reduced the 495 homes by 79 homes.

Mr. Francis explained the tight timeline for the November 2016 ballot saying that Santa Paula must let him know immediately about the change in the CURB.

Mr. Francis agreed that it is not a council decision, but that the SOAR board wanted to engage with the council. Vice Mayor Hernandez said he was never informed of this outreach in May and took offense at the expression “poster child for sprawl”. Mr. Francis said that the internal communication problems of the city were unfortunate but not his fault. Council Member Gherardi concurred saying that she did not know about the May outreach, although she felt it makes sense to fix the jog in the CURB now prior to the 2016 election.

Note that at 1:36:58 on the video, Mr. Francis said “…when Council Member Gherardi reached out to us with this specific proposal…” pointing to the overhead, so it is not clear exactly what he meant with this statement, particularly if the proposed CURB change was developed in May. Later Council Member Gherardi explains when and how she learned about the proposed CURB change.

Mayor Proctor said he is “on the fence” and wasn’t sure if this was a “big deal or much ado about nothing” but had no problem expanding to the suggested area. Council Member Tovias said he was not opposed, but needed more time and did not expect to vote on anything at this meeting tonight. Vice Mayor Hernandez did not like the gun to the head approach. Council Member reiterated that if no changes are made, the CURB will be drawn as shown to which Mr. Francis replied affirmatively.

There was a discussion about a draft copy of the CURB 2016 legislation to which Mr. Francis said it is not publicly available. He said he would like to carry back to the SOAR board a recommendation that this is what the council wants to do. He said the current draft is the existing CURB. In June, he was inclined to exclude Fagan and Adams, but they decided to take a step back and let LAFCO do its job. So SOAR decided to wait until LAFCO drew the SOI (Sphere of Influence) line. He is not opposed to today’s small change because it does not invade the Greenbelt. Saying he had great graphics thanks to the Santa Paula staff, SOAR can draw the boundary like the above change.

Quid Pro Quo: He will be back asking the council to sign the SOAR initiative. Additionally he said that he would come back when the SOAR signatures were obtained and ask the council to approve the initiative rather than putting it to the ballot, which would save the city some money. He felt this direct approach was the best way to show good faith. He said he can’t make the board approve the CURB change, but he would propose it to the SOAR board.

Council Member Tovias talked about the difficult LAFCO decision which was a 4-3 vote in Santa Paula’s favor saying he was concerned about overreach, which of course made no sense when Mr. Francis was proposing to accept the enlargement of the CURB as proposed by the Santa Paula planning staff. Reiterating the economic develop numbers published in 2006, a relic of the pre-crash real estate mentality, he said that cities need to make their own destiny, which is exactly what Mr. Francis was proposing in accepting the Planning Department CURB changes. Mr. Tovias said that LAFCO voted over the will of the voters, which again made no sense because LAFCO voted in Santa Paula’s favor. Mr. Francis responded that if the voters turn it down, SOAR expires in 2020.

Mr. Hernandez took issue with SOAR recruiting petition gatherers without providing a draft of the initiative. He also said that 2050 was a long time for planning. However, it must be noted, although it was not said at the meeting, that the county of Ventura is looking at a 2040 timeframe for the new General Plan update. Vice Mayor Hernandez said it is not about “saving money”, but doing the “right thing” for Santa Paula. He also restated that Council Member Gherardi, who reached out to Mr. Francis with the proposed change, does not represent the entire council. So it appears, that although Council Member Gherardi did not know about the May meeting, she had knowledge of the Planning Department recommendations when Mr. Francis was invited to attend the October 19, 2015 meeting.

Mr. Francis said it has been public knowledge for 18 months that SOAR would be on the 2016 ballot and that the thought would be keeping the CURB the same. The “delicate” issue was LAFCO and its decision on Adams Canyon.

Vice Mayor Hernandez said he does not understand why Mr. Francis did not write to the council, rather than to the staff. Council Member Gherardi concurred with Vice Mayor Hernandez saying she got the information from Jim Procter, who is a SOAR representative and the Mayor’s brother. She then explained that when she observed the CalPipe construction, she saw the vacant lot and inquired about it, thus learning about the jog in the CURB, which made no sense. She said it is not sprawl, just common sense to fix the CURB before the 2016 vote. Mr. Tovias said he is not opposed but needs more time and the issue should be continued.

Mr. Francis said the plan is to roll out the initiative on October 26, 2015 to the entire county. Lacking any changes, the SOAR measure to be presented to the voters only changes the date from 2020 to 2050.

In an effort to bring order to a disjointed meeting, Mr. Fontes added the following about the history of these meetings and the council contact. When the city was initially contacted by SOAR, he discussed the topic with Mayor Procter. He also discussed it with the Planning Director. One of the items was the LAFCO hearing which was “monumental”, so he remembers informing the Mayor that it was a “gentlemen’s agreement” to hold SOAR until the dust settled with LAFCO. He felt that because a member of LAFCO is also a SOAR member there was a conflict of interest. So in an “abundance of caution”, they decided to see where it settled with LAFCO, then he would re-engage with the Mayor and council. He said that Council Member Gherardi brought up conversations she was having with SOAR, so staff gave her information about boundaries. This statement starts at 2:01 on the video. He said that Santa Paula is the city with the largest SOI in the county to which Mr. Francis said that the SOAR CURB line tracks the LAFCO SOI. Mr. Fontes said that what he hears from the council is an effort to know more and to consider it as quick as possible now that we know the “totality of the issues”.  

Mr. Francis reiterated that LAFCO creates sphere lines but in the absence of SOAR the sphere lines can change. SOAR CURB lines have a different affect, requiring a public vote outside the CURB. SOAR says talk to the voters outside the CURB.

Mr. Tovias chimed in about the city boundaries not changing for 50 years, so Santa Paula had been cautious about honoring the greenbelt. Council Member Crosswhite said she wasn’t here when the last SOAR vote was made, but she thinks it makes logical sense to fix the little jog in the CURB, unless there is something missing which has not been brought forward. This could be a place for some job creation. She moved the council make the suggestion to the SOAR board. Mr. Tovias said she felt uncomfortable making a fast decision saying it is premature. Council Member Gherardi asked about a two week delay for the next council member. Vice Mayor said he does not want to stop economic development, but doesn’t want to be pressured because the staff report was only conceptual not including acreage, zoning and owners. Council Member Tovias suggested including the 218 impacts. Council Member Gherardi clarified that this is information from the Santa Paula staff. A new motion was put forward to continue for two weeks. Council Member Crosswhite rescinded her motion but suggested that they clarify what information Mr. Francis returns within two weeks. He volunteered to bring two versions of SOAR for Santa Paula with and without the fix in the jog as shown in the above map. The motion passed.

Why is this chronology important about who knew what when? The entire council was not expecting to make a decision on a CURB change nor was it aware that the plan to make the CURB change was conceived in May between the Planning Staff and Mr. Francis. The expectation for the October 19, 2015 meeting was for an update on the SOAR initiative in 2016 not a CURB change. Mismatched expectations.

The question remains why the exact nature of the agenda item was not disclosed when it was put on the council calendar thus bringing everyone into the same sphere of expectations and streamlining the meeting to focus on the planning aspects of the CURB change.


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