Ventura County General Plan Update

By Sheryl Hamlin

Item 28 on the agenda of the August 4th 2015 meeting of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors revisited and refined the directives of the July 7th 2015 meeting where the Ventura County General Plan Update Project was launched.

Christopher Stephens, Resource Management Agency Director, recapped the July 7th directives to the staff regarding the General Plan Update and then presented four areas the staff and its consultants had identified for further refinement and direction from the County Supervisors. These items were as follows:

  • Economic Development Chapter or Element
  • Area Plan Updates
  • Alternative Analyses
  • Public Engagement Options

Mr. Stephens had provided the supervisors with a description of these items and the variations for each, as well as the associated costs for variations with the items.

Mr. Jim Harnish of the planning firm MintierHarnish was called to discuss the four items in Mr. Stephens report.

According to Mr. Harnish, the Economic Development Chapter or Element of the General Plan is not a required element, but has grown in importance during the last decade. Counties and cities use this chapter to plan how to stimulate the economy, grow jobs and develop services. He provided a sample from the city of Merced, which can be found in the supervisor document package. This plan would include land uses and cost between $125,000 and $150,000.

The Area Plan updates can either be separate or included in the General Plan so that the General Plan is an integrated, unified document for public reference. He recommended a timely schedule of 3 to 4 years but said that incorporating the community plans could slow the General Plan Update.

Alternative analyses are plans that drill down into areas which could be ripe for development. He cited North Ventura Avenue as such an area and suggested that the budget for the General Plan Update should include a placeholder cost for alternative analyses without identifying the areas at the beginning of the project or in the RFP.

Public Engagement could include telephone surveys, personal intercepts at home or business, mailed or on-line questionnaires, in addition to the focus groups. He provided cost estimates for these approaches.

The Supervisors asked Mr. Harnish and Mr. Stephens questions or made comments about the reports.

Supervisor Parks said she likes surveys for public engagement and asked if the Coastal Plan update, which is not part of the General Plan Update, is a parallel process. Mr. Stephens responded affirmatively and said that the Costal Plan update had received a grant for this project. Supervisor Parks asked about chapters for water, open space and energy. Mr. Stephens said there would be chapters including climate action, sustainability and energy. Parks suggested a land use question concerning solar farms. She felt that five years to update the General Plan was too long and that they should try for a 2-3 year update. Chris Stephens said that the 2005 General Plan Update took four years and cost $600,000 but now there is more CEQA involvement thus increasing time and costs.

The consultant made the point that the time period of the plan update is a question of resources and that the RFP can specify a time to which the respondent to the RFP can explain how its firm would meet the time deadline.

Supervisor Long said that there are five economic development forecasts in the county now and that they should not be reinventing this work.

Three members of the public spoke about the General Plan Update.

Mr. Joe Gibson, Vice Chair of the Ventura County Economic Development Association (VCEDA) recommended the inclusion of the Economic Development Element saying government does not create jobs; business does. The plan must clarify how to sustain a viable agriculture industry; however, the presence of the Economic Development Element does not guarantee economic success. They must look for agricultural related business uses including ocean desalination, solar and future technical development. He cautioned against considering SOAR because it is a political policy.

The next speaker also spoke about the Economic Development Element saying that it is not possible to know what 2050 will look like, particularly with new regulations. She stated that farming/agriculture is not just growing, but includes moving and processing the produce as well as housing the workers. Land uses should allow for these elements to coexist.

Matt Guthrie, representing the Ventura County CoLab, a coalition of labor and agriculture, supported the Economic Development Element of the General Plan.

The Supervisors resumed the discussion with Supervisor Bennett asking if the Economic Development Element can be focused on agriculture. He also said that he supported creating one single document including the Area Plans.

There was more discussion about the timeline in the RFP. The consultant said that 3.5 years is a reasonable timeline and that the role of county staff and consultants must be refined.

Supervisor Zaragoza reminded the board that the military payroll in the county is $2 billion with a workforce of 18,000. The base also helps the agriculture industry because the military does not want building around the base. Agriculture acts as a buffer for them.

Supervisor Foy said to pick a three year time-frame for completion.

Mr. Stephens said that the RMA department will be needing authorization for staffing in the near future. He also said that the regional forecast is calculated through 2040, so that rather than reinvent unneeded work, the General Plan should be coterminous with these forecasts so that they can share data.

The board voted unanimously to receive and file the report. Mr. Stephens is also scheduled to present at the August 11, 2015 Supervisor meeting with a status report.

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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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