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A huge crowd came out to speak against amending the local coastal plan. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Thursday, August 29, 2019

By Chris Frost


Oxnard—On a 6-1 vote, the Oxnard Planning Commission rejected a Local Coastal Plan Amendment designed to accommodate a known development project at the corner of Channel Islands Blvd. and Victoria Ave. 


The meeting drew a standing room only crowd, many of which were against constructing a 390-unit apartment complex at the site. Residents were encouraged to stand against the amendment. Each received a notice on their mailbox saying that "apartments can go anywhere, but not at the harbor."


The amendment would have allowed development at the 11-acre Fisherman's Wharf site and would have included 400 market-rate residential rental units, 36,000 square feet of commercial retail space, 1,100 linear feet of waterfront walkways, a remodeled park, relocation of the Urchin Dock, 131 surface parking spaces and 865 garage parking spaces.


Principal Planner Isidro Figueroa presented the item to the commissioner and said what the amendment will do is create an urban village within Fisherman's Wharf.


The amendment in Local Coastal Plan (LCP) policy 23 would allow for new residential use at the site at 40 units per acre, he said, which is not currently enabled. Policy 35 would be increased to 25 feet height, or two stories, whichever is greater, and the height at Channel Islands Boulevard and Victoria Aven would be increased to 55 feet, plus an additional 10 feet for screening purposes.


The Local Coastal Plan was adopted in 1982, and the coastal zoning ordinance was adopted in 1986. 


"The harbor is governed by the Public Works Plan (PWP) that was certified by the coastal commission in 1986 and serves as the LCP for Channel Islands Harbor," he said. "It is administered by the County of Ventura Harbor Department."


The PWP must be consistent with the city's certified LCP, and any amendments must be consistent with the LCP.


"The PWP has been amended six times, on June 14, 2016, the supervisors approved the seventh amendment, which was not consistent with the City's LCP," he said. "On Aug. 17, 2016, the county sought the Coastal Commission's approval of the seventh amendment. On Aug. 24, they found the seventh amendment to be incomplete, and the major issue was the county had not followed the LCP amendment with the city."


The county filed for dispute resolution on March 2017 and looked to overturn the Coastal Commission director's decision that the PWP seventh amendment was incomplete.


"Through a public hearing on Oct. 12, 2017, the Coastal Commission denied the county's request," he said. "On June 25, 2018, the county submitted an LCP amendment application to the city on behalf of Channel Islands Harbor Properties."


If the LCP amendment was certified by the city and adopted by the coastal commission, Figueroa said the next step would be certifying the PWP plan by the Coastal Commission.


"At that point, the city would not have the authority to review and render a decision on the Fisherman's Wharf replacement project," he said. "The applicant would be required to obtain a coastal development permit from the Coastal Commission to authorize the Fisherman's Wharf replacement project."


City staff found the project inconsistent with LCP policies and recommended rejecting the action.


Following the presentation, Commissioner Daniel Chavez Jr. said the LCP was adopted in 1982, and it's been over 30 years since it's been changed. He wanted to know what the average timeline is to update their plan.


"We're not going there," Chairwoman Diedre Frank said. "We're not here to discuss the land-use plan."


Chavez commented that the project doesn't meet the city's parking requirements and he wanted to know what the plan was.


"The requirement is about 900 spaces for the residential spaces," Figueroa said. "They didn't meet the visitor parking. In the commercial section, it's unknown because the allocation hasn't been given."


Commissioner Orlando Dozier asked about creating a new urban village land usage and wanted to know if it is currently in the LCP and if they intend to add it.


"It's not in our current LCP," Figueroa replied.  


Assistant City Attorney Ken Rozell answered and said in Dec. 2016, the planning commission considered an amendment to the general plan that indicated for an urban village designation to go into effect in any one of the six neighborhoods, the applicant would need to bring forward a specific plan.


"Unless and until a specific plan was approved there would be no urban village designation," he said. "The applicant, through its process, elected not to submit a specific plan required by our general plan."


Commissioner Wilfredo Chua asked about allowing two stories at the proposed property, and he wanted to know what the implication would be for that piece of the proposal.


"Could they eventually go up to a 35-foot building," he asked.


Figueroa said making that determination is difficult because they haven't been given the actual criteria for the project.


"In theory, two stories could be 35 feet," he said. 


Commissioner Jeremy Meyer asked questions about the Channel Islands Harbor Director's response to and said there were some conflicts in what the report said.


He pointed to a letter from the Ventura Harbor Director Mark Sandoval that said all recreational marinas therein the harbor is outside of the scope of the LCPA.


Sandoval said they need to amend the public works plan, which is the regulatory document for the harbor.


"The public works plan has to be consistent with the city's local coastal plan by state law," he said. "Therefore, we are asking for the corresponding amendment to the local coastal plan." 


What they are trying to accomplish on the parcel, was his focus, and he pointed out that everyone agrees that the Fisherman's Wharf retail center must be redeveloped.


"We should increase access as we can, and we should increase the desire to visit the Fisherman's Wharf retail center," he said. We need to try to develop a destination for families of all income levels and enhance commercial fishing amenities and commercial boating. How do we do that? Brick and mortar retail have become almost extinct because of the mail-order retail companies like Amazon."


Even if physical retail was stronger, he said Fisherman's Wharf presents a unique set of challenges because of its location.


"It's six-plus miles off a major transpiration artery," he said. "It is located next to the ocean, farmland, the Navy base, and many of the residents have part-time or second vacation homes. The county has looked into what we can do to develop this parcel, and we've determined the only way to do it is through mixed-use."


The process started in 2004, he said, when Tiger Investments walked away from the lease and the county immediately issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) that did not include apartments.


"Some of the opponents say the county has been geared to look for an apartment developer," he said. "When you look at the 2004 RFQ, it did not mention apartments. In 2007, our first developer, EMC Development came on board, and their proposal sought 800 apartment units and 85,000 square feet of retail and commercial."


One year later, the recession hit, and EMC abandoned the efforts to redevelop the site.


"In 2012, the county issued another RFQ, and this time it did mention apartments, but it was not geared towards apartment developers," he said. "It indicated that apartments could be an option."


In 2013, the second developer, Upside Investments, came on-board, and their proposal was for 500 apartments with 40,000 square feet of commercial and retail space.


"They started public outreach, and a year later they pulled their proposal," he said. "The big problem was there was a lot of opposition from the residents."


In 2015, the county started working with a third developer, Channel Islands Harbor Properties, a team led by Tom Tellseon, which is the project under consideration.


"The number of apartments in this proposal is 390, and retail square footage is 36,000 square feet," Sandoval said. "The county and the city have been debating since that time as to who gets to look at what and who gets to approve what. I think Commissioner Chua hit the nail on the head when he asked under what conditions would the city be able to review a specific project in the harbor? The answer is none."


He pointed out that they are not seeking approval for a project; they are there to seek an amendment to the local coastal program to add residential to the site.


"The county's public works plan is the regulatory document that dictates development in the harbor," he said. "It always has been, and it always will be. Under no conditions will the city have the ability to review a particular project in the harbor."


This story will continue in the Sept. 9 edition of the Tri County Sentry.

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