T.O. Council Opens Door for Residential Density Changes; Gives COVID Update at 2-23-21 Meeting

By Kevin Harris

The Thousand Oaks City Council passed a measure that could open the door for increasing residential density in the city, during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. The measure, a request for an amendment to the city’s General Plan regarding land use, passed on a split vote, 3-2, but at least some council members appeared to have decided in favor of the measure even before hearing testimony and comments from the developer or Thousand Oaks citizens on the project for 1 Baxter Way. Also during Tuesday’s council meeting was a detailed update on the latest COVID-19 news and figures as they relate to Thousand Oaks and the County. 

Land Use Changes; Equitable Housing or Suburbs Killer?

Item 9A of the “Department Reports” section of the meeting was centered around a request by developer/builder Kennedy Wilson to change the residential capacity allocation per acre for a project located at 1 Baxter Way. The location is in a commercial district next to the Westlake Promenade. 

The presentation started with a comment by City Manager Andrew Powers, who suggested that now is the best time for the council to take up these kinds of issues. He stressed that taking these issues up presently would afford the council the best chance at controlling and molding such projects through the process, though he did not elaborate as to why that would be.  

The presentation was then given to the city’s Community Development staff, headed by Senior Planner Carlos Contreras, who gave some critical details about the current state of the project. 

T.O. City Planner Carlos Contreras

  • Up for approval at this meeting is the prescreen process. Approval does not equate to final project approval, but only that a green light is given for a normal review and evaluation process. 
  • Being requested is an allotment for 240 residential units on the site. 
  • Of the 240 units being proposed, 12%, or 29, will be low, or very low income units. 
  • Applicant has 12 months to submit formal application if prescreen process gets approved at this meeting. 
  • Prescreening process is a requirement per Measure E unit allocation. 

Following the initial presentation, city council members were given some time for questions/comments to the staff. Council Member Kevin McNamee, among others, was concerned whether enough parking would be available for the residents and the risk of street parking headaches and local traffic congestion as a result of the project, which includes two multi-story residential apartment buildings, and a parking structure. Mayor Pro Tem Bob Engler wanted to know why the builder was offering 29 affordable housing units without asking for the density bonus – which would allow the applicant to build additional units). 

Then, in an awkward meeting moment, before the builder had a chance to speak, and before the many public speakers were given their chance to be heard, Kevin McNamee moved to approve Item 9A prematurely. Mayor Claudia-de la Pena politely reminded McNamee that his request was early, and the meeting continued. 

Representing developer Kennedy Wilson, who purchased the 42.9-acre property at 1 Baxter Way in 2006, was Dave Eadie, who then presented his company’s reasons to the council why they should approve their request for review, and how it could benefit the community. 

Dave Eadie

Eadie told the council that the building construction will exceed the highest environmental expectations, and will “exceed Calgreen building standards.” He said the buildings will be more than 1000 feet from the freeway (101), and there are significant trees around the property, for both environmental and aesthetic reasons, and he acknowledged that the project is not using the available density bonus. He also said that, aside from the affordable housing allotment, the remaining units will be priced for lower to moderate income workers, making up what he called “Workforce Housing.” The project is next to the Westlake Promenade, and in close proximity to Westlake and Oaks Christian High Schools.  

Eadie also stressed that the proposed project will offer a “pedestrian-friendly way of life,” and “the goal is to provide a place where one can live, shop and work, all without using a car.”     

During a follow-up question session from council members, Mayor Pro Tem Engler asked Eadie why they were not using the available density bonus to build more units onsite. Eadie explained that they feel they have the right number of units per their current requested allotment in relation to building height and other regulatory concerns. 

After a short council meeting break, council members returned (via their separate video feeds) and public speakers were then given 3 minutes each to comment or to ask questions, via video or audio feed. Following is a sampling of those comments. 

Ariella Ginosa: (phone audio). 30-year Thousand Oaks resident. Opposes the development. Talking to the council, “we have entrusted all of you with protecting and preserving the cleanliness, safety, accessibility, desirability, beauty and functionality of Thousand Oaks. We do not want the development at 1 Baxter Way, as it will serve only to add congestion to our streets, schools and neighborhoods, will decimate oak and other protected trees, and it would greatly endanger the safety of residents working and taking kids to school in our community.” 

She also pointed out that a residential community doesn’t belong in a commercially-zoned district, and suggested giving the space to another business instead. 

Clint: (by video). Thousand Oaks renter. Supports the project for environmental reasons and for the affordable housing it would offer. 

Mike Dutra: (Audio only). Thirty year resident. Supports the project for the housing benefits for the affordable workers needed in the community.

Mrs. Tachenko: (By phone). Westlake resident since 1993. Opposes the project. “I can’t stand the word mitigation. I can save you guys millions of dollars and tell you there’s going to be more traffic!She also compared the size and scope of the proposed community to “Disneyland.” 

Dannielle Borja: (by video). Lifetime Thousand Oaks resident, Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce. Said that the Chamber supports the development, for the benefit of, and the attracting of young professional workers and their families to the area. 

Sally Hibutz: (by video). Thousand Oaks resident since 1973. Opposes the development as is being proposed. Said she is okay with the development, but only if it is scaled down considerably and includes far more affordable units. She pointed out that the proposed parking structure will be too far away from the residential apartments, and will only be used by the commercial tenants, so the residents will end up parking on the streets and adding to the congestion in the area. 

Sally Hibutz

SOME COUNCIL MEMBERS COMMENT BEFORE VOTE

Council Member Al Adam: “Sixty percent of our workforce in Thousand Oaks comes to the city, and then leaves the city everyday. It means they earn money here, but then spend it in Simi, or Moorpark, or Camarillo,” he told residents. “We’ve looked at a lot of sites over the last few months, but this one in particular could be a model for not just our city, for for other cities for that Workforce Housing that is just so, so important,” he added. 

Mayor Pro Tem Bob Engler: “This is an opportunity to make a village campus-type center that has the ability to help with all the surrounding employer bases and needs. It’s a great opportunity,” he said. Though Engler also acknowledged possible traffic issues and conflicts over tree removal, he said he ultimately trusts the applicant to mitigate those issues fully. 

Council Member Kevin McNamee: McNamee offered some hard truths to residents and the applicant… perhaps in an attempt at damage control from his earlier showing support for the project even before the meeting began. He said the project itself will not solve the city’s affordable housing crisis, and will not by itself provide Workforce Housing to keep employees who earn $12, $14 or $18 per hour in Thousand Oaks. He did say, however, that he wants to see the builder’s “creativity at work,” and see what kinds of mitigation he can do for the potential traffic and parking issues. 

McNamee said he still supports the proposal because, in the end, Sacramento has a “gun to our head” to provide more housing. 

The motion passed. The vote was 3-2, with Adam, McNamee and Engler voting “yes”, and Jones and Mayor De-la Pena voting “no.”     

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS & ANNOUNCEMENTS

Item 5A. COVID-19 Update. 

Presented by Andrew Powers, City Manager. 

  • As of Monday, February 22, 2021, there have been 805 deaths by COVID in Thousand Oaks. According to Powers, “the cases are continuing to slow, with just 137 new reported cases  today. (Tuesday).
  • Ventura County has administered nearly 160,000 vaccination doses (113,000 were first doses). 
  • Powers: “The numbers of those eligible continues to outpace the doses that the county has to administer.” 
  • Beginning March 1, additional groupings will be eligible: Teachers; farm workers; and grocery workers. The county estimates this will add on about 100,000 eligible people.
  • March 15: The state will allow those aged 16-64 with various pre-conditions to get vaccinated. The state will soon release a list of those pre-conditions. 
  • Vaccination sites include the Global Senior Center in T.O.; the former Babies R Us in Oxnard; and the Ventura County Fairgrounds. Appointments are available to be made on Mondays. 
  • Vaccines are also available through the National Pharmacy Program which includes CVS and Walgreens, and through major health insurance companies.

City Manager Andrew Powers

The next City Council meeting will be held on March 9, 2021, at 6:00 PM. The agenda and video of the council meeting can be accessed at the following URL: https://www.toaks.org/departments/city-manager-s-office/watch-totv/past-meeting-videos

 

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists, and having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also an author and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 


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