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Channel Islands Harbor Director Mark Sandoval. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Tuesday, November 26, 2019

By Chris Frost


Oxnard—The conversation about the city council's rejection of the local coastal plan amendment at Fisherman's Wharf continues with Harbor Director Mark Sandoval telling the council that an alternative plan, like a large retailer, will not work because there isn't enough space.


At a special meeting of the Oxnard City Council on Nov. 7, the council voted 6-1 to deny the local coastal plan amendment for Fisherman's Wharf. 


Sandoval said the county started looking for a developer in 2004, and in the last 15 years, they've issued two requests for qualifications, and the first one did not mention apartments.


"The second one included apartments as an option," he said. "We entertained three developers. The first one wanted 800 apartments, and they went away because of the recession. The second one wanted 500 apartments, and they didn't last long because they saw the public was against the project. The third one, the one we have now, is down to 390 apartment units and redevelopment of the retail area. The county has supported that number, and it was supported by the city in 2015 and 2016, as well."


He feels with the history behind Fisherman's Wharf that apartments are needed, and the city recognizes in its general plan that apartments are needed.


"I watched that public meeting last week, and it appears that the state is, once again, indicating that Oxnard needs even more housing units," he said. "The city needs housing, I don't think it's debatable, the county needs housing, and the state needs housing. The 2030 general plan that was adopted by the city council in 2011 calls for residential at this site."


He called the council decision wise at the time because residential development belongs at Fisherman's Wharf.


Sandoval said that many of the issues with the apartments are land-use inconsistencies, like the loss of public access, inadequate parking, loss of park space, loss of recreational vehicle parking, loss of commercial fishing and recreational boat slips, an impact to the bike paths, structure massing, and traffic.


The vehicular access points remain the same with the project, he said, and there will be a residents-only access point added to the project.


"Opponents will argue that we are impeding access with this project," he said. "There is no access from Victoria Avenue to the water currently. If you are on Victoria Avenue, you have to go over a chain barrier up an embankment that has ice plants in its landscape to get to the parking lot to get to the water. What the opponents are saying is there will be a loss of access because the apartments are going to be built here."


He pointed to a yellow line in a picture where the apartments would be built, which is an asphalt lot.


"It goes unused all year except for the 4th of July," he said. "We ought to redefine public access. Public access should not only be where there is unimpeded access in and around the lot, which there is admittedly, but there is a desire to go to the lot, which there isn't. If we're arguing that we should not put something here because it will impact public access, the question is what public access is being impacted? Nobody uses this lot."


He indicated there would be public access underneath the apartments, plus public parking so that people can access the waterfront.


"With this development, what you'll get is enhanced access," he said. "You'll get wider walkways at the water's edge, activity in the retail center, and you'll get a reason to be there," he said. "That's what public access is all about. It's not just an unimpeded ability to walk around. There will be a reason to walk around. Access is going to be enhanced."


With parking, Sandoval said the residential parking is almost the same as the city code, while the commercial and retail parking is better than the city code.


"According to the county code, at any point in time, 98 of the 390 units are going to have guests that need to be parked," he said. "That's about 25 percent, and I think even that is high. The city code says that for the 390 apartment units, you need 210 additional parking spaces for guests, so 53 percent of the apartments will have guests that require a parked car. I think that is an old standard and something that needs to be examined."


At the recommendation of the planning staff, he hired a planning consultant who examined the project and discovered the peak demand would require 816 parking spaces.


"Considering the fact that you can do valet during the peak, at night, when the restaurants are active, you'd drop that down to 787," he said. "The project, as proposed, is 974 spaces, which is much more parking than is needed, according to the Professional Institute of Transportation Engineers."


There are three different open areas for park space currently, Sandoval said, including one small park that is .15 of an acre, one small park that has .24 acres, plus a 1.22-acre bioswale the city staff included in the park space.


"That's not a park; it's a bioswale," he said. "On the 4th of July, when every square inch of asphalt and concrete are taken up by people waiting for the fireworks, nobody was on that bioswale. It's not a park space. In reality, we have .39 of an acre of park space."


Conversely, the development will have one acre of an active park with children, amenities, and walking paths.


"This is definitely an enhancement to the park space, despite what was in the staff report," he said. "This anchors the south part of the project. There are apartments behind it, and you've got the retail center. This is what the park could and should become."


He said losing recreational vehicle parking is not an issue.


"It is an asphalt lot, and there are 22 RV spaces available with no amenities," he said. "That would be over 8,000 RV space nights available. On an average year, only 200 of these RV nights are used. That's primarily around the 4th of July."


The urchin dock will move from the corner of Victoria Ave and Channel Islands Blvd, and he said the staff report indicates they don't know how big the urchin dock will be.


"There is a good reason for that,' he said. "We don't know. We've been engaged particularly with the commercial fishing industry, the California Sea Urchin Commission, and we've assured them when we design this dock, the developer will build it as part of the development. We would include them in the design of the dock. We will build what they want. They wanted a second hoist, and that's going to be part of it."


In addition, he said they'll also have a more convenient location.


"Right now, in order to get the urchin dock, you have to drive through the retail buildings, and make a hectic turn," he said. "It will be much more efficient, much easier to access, also a better place for it."


Additionally, Sandoval said the recreation docks are not a marina.


"The .6 parking place the staff report indicated has to do with the marina," he said. "They will be rebuilt, but we do not put boats in there permanently. They will continue to be guest docks that are right now not used. When this center is built, it will be more active. It will be available for people to boat over there. You don't need parking when you boat over there for commercial activities."


Currently, there is a 180-feet bike path heading east on Channel Islands Blvd that stops adjacent to the center. The developer with this development can rectify this situation and create that bike path.


"It will be consistent with the city's bicycle and master facilities master plan," he said. 


With building massing, he said the apartment, 683 feet by 55 feet high, will be on the outside of the harbor. On the east side is Naval Base Ventura County, on the south side, is the launch ramp and industrial area, and the Paz Mar Apartments are on the west side, but their views won't be blocked because they'll look down the channel.


"They'll be looking at nice apartments, rather than the asphalt lot they have now," he said. "On the north side, there is a handful of homes in Mandalay Bay, and the retail center blocks those homes. When we rebuild the retail center, those views will also be blocked. At this location, there are no view issues."


Looking at buildings that already exist in the harbor, he said two condominium buildings are 250 feet long and 55 feet tall with one level of parking and three levels of residential.


"Next to that is the Hampden Inn," he said. "That's almost 270 feet long and 50 feet tall, right now. At the end of the Peninsula, it hasn't been built, but it has been approved, the Hyatt House Hotel that is almost 850 feet long and will be 55 feet tall. If you look at the east side of the Peninsula, you've got the Paz Mar Apartments that are 2,500 lineal feet. They are only 43 feet plus tall, but as I drive down Peninsula, the difference between 43 feet and 55 feet when you are sitting in a car is virtually the same. All you see are buildings."


He pointed out the massing of the building fits in the harbor.


"What you don't get from this model is how this will look in the harbor," Sandoval said. 


The other issue is traffic, he said, and there will be an impact, but it won't be significant.


"There will be one intersection on Victoria and Doris that will increase to Service Level D, but even that does not exceed the city's significant impact threshold of 0.2," Sandoval said. "When the Navy base is loading in the morning and unloading at night or during lunch, there is a significant impact. The Navy base causes a lot of traffic on Victoria. The reality is the traffic this project will add to that will be a drop in the bucket. On the other hand, when the Navy base is not loading and unloading, there isn't a traffic issue on Victoria."


Sandoval thinks the project fits environmental justice perfectly, and he feels environmental injustice exists when there is a dilapidated retail center that does little to attract Oxnard families of all income levels.


"As I define environmental justice, it is to create an environment that is open and inviting to all income levels," he said. "There is old asphalt walking paths that are uninviting and difficult to maintain for the public, and two mini-parks with two picnic tables. Environmental justice is a vibrant new retail center with waterfront amenities for all ages and income levels. There will be new walkways accessible from the corner of Channel Islands Blvd and Victoria Ave, along the entire waterfront and around the development. There will be retail activity along those walkways and a one-acre park with grass and children's amenities."


He pointed out the project means $500,000 of new revenue for the City of Oxnard, which currently has a structural deficit.    


"How many programs can that save," he said. 


Tom Tellefson from Channel Islands Harbor Properties said Sandoval pointed out three elements, stating with use at the Wharf.


"The city has already spoken on this subject, and you have previously vetted and approved it with your amendment to the general plan that Mark (Sandoval) alluded to in 2011 to designate it as an urban village," he said. "As you know, we've contributed significantly to addressing the concerns of the state and adding housing to the area. I know that it is a local problem."


He believes the project will address the massing issue well because it will add public amenities and features on a grander scale.


"It could be if we spread the apartments over a larger area," he said. "It will make it economically feasible, the redevelopment of the currently deteriorated Fisherman's Wharf, and make it a vibrant, energized lifestyle-oriented waterfront village." 


Max Ghenis from Ventura County YIMBY (Yes in my Backyard) lives near the Wharf and said his organization wants to solve the housing crisis in Ventura County.


"We have seen homelessness in Oxnard. increase by over 68 percent this past year," he said. "California has the highest poverty rate. Oxnard has over 25 percent, well above the state average, 18 percent."


For the first time in several years, he said air pollution in California is rising higher than any other region in the country. 


"The common thread is we don't have enough housing," he said. "California is short three million homes, and we rank 50 out of 50 on housing units per adult, and Oxnard is way below that."


His key point was that building market-rate housing reduces rental rates across the spectrum. The current vacancy rate in Oxnard is 2.3 percent, less half the national average. Rents are rising at double the pace of the United States.


When you have more market-rate housing, even if it's at the high end, low-income people don't have to compete with higher-income people because they have more housing. 


"If you want to reduce rents for people struggling in the city, this project will do that for us," he said. 


Rene Aiu from the Harbor and Beach Community Alliance said there are seven reasons why the Local Coastal Plan Amendment is not in Oxnard's best interest.


"Who benefits from this LCPA," she said." Who has the most to gain from this project that is driving this LCPA."


She pointed out that Oxnard will lose its jurisdiction over the harbor, one of 12 small boat harbors along the coast of California. 


"If approved, the county will amend its public works plan," she said. "Oxnard will lose its permit authority and its ability to change or modify the proposed LCPA project or any promises that are made." 


The only way Oxnard maintains jurisdiction, she said, is through the city's specific plan or an HCI amendment.


"No city should give up its jurisdictional authority over development projects within its boundaries," she said. "The project-driven LCPA is inconsistent with Oxnard's local coastal plan and general plan."


The LCPA is inconsistent with 20 local coastal plan policies, she said, and all LCP policies must be consistent with each other.


The county insists that Oxnard makes its local coastal plan consistent with its general plan.


However, she said the coastal commission executive director and Oxnard's local coastal plan have made it clear that the local coastal plan governs in the coastal zone.


"The LCPA remains inconsistent with the General Plan's Urban Village Zoning because the general plan requires a specific plan," she said. "The county has failed to submit a specific plan."


She said the project is neither an urban village or a mixed-use project.


"The LCPA is being driven by a single project but affects the entire harbor," Aiu said. "Changing policy 23 will dramatically increase density at the harbor. It triples the allowable density from 18 units per acre to 66 units per acre."


She said changing policy 23 also sets the stage for single-project exceptions. Without an updated public works plan or environmental impact report, it will be difficult for Oxnard to determine the long term impact on its local coastal policies or how it will affect the harbor.


Fisherman's Wharf is in the HCI subzone.


"Oxnard's HCI Ordinance does not allow residences in the subzone," she said. 


That brought her to reason four and said that HCI Amendments should be considered before the LCPA.  


"This amendment would allow the council and the city staff to have a full understanding of the LCPA's impact on Oxnard, its policies and ordinances," she said. "It would help the city avoid some unintended consequences the city may not want."


She said the LCPA project violates the basic principle of public access for everyone.


"The LCPA conflicts with the fundamental purpose of a harbor," she said. "The LCPA conflicts with six local coastal plan policies and also conflicts with Oxnard's HCI Ordinances that protects the fundamental purpose of the harbor."


Aiu said an either-or choice does not work.


"The county has allowed Fisherman's Wharf to become blighted," she said. "Now it claims the only way to redevelop Fisherman's Wharf is with high-density luxury apartments."


During public comments, Randy Short said he sees the same players that oppose projects in the harbor for the last 31 years, including the redevelopment of boat slips.


"There is only one time they came together with the business community and worked together," he said. "That was at a time that all of us thought that Gerard Capusic wasn't representing us well, and we thought that we were being gouged with water rates we thought were inappropriate."


The group teamed up and made changes at the community services district, he said, and they were all buddies until they took over the CSD.


"Then they realized they needed the harbor to continue to subsidize the residential water rates," he said. "They continued to force those rates on the business community, and they are here now opposing a project we in the business community desperately need. It's a hell of a fight to keep our businesses profitable. My partners and I have paid almost $20 million in local taxes and fees. We subsidize their water rates. Don't let them take this project away."


Bill Higgins asked what happens if the council approves the LCPA.


"One of the first things that happen is Fisherman's Wharf, a property that is now a public area becomes privatized.


"Only the people who can afford the extensive rents will have the Wharf, the waterfront, and all the fisherman's village acreage for their own private use," he said. "There is an Olympic sized swimming pool inside the community, and it's gated."


Higgins said the apartments would cut off access to a significant part of the waterfront for members of the public.


"The same developer, for the last two remaining undeveloped properties in the harbor after this one holds exclusive negotiation rights with the county board of supervisors," he said. "If apartments are going to go here, and the public is getting exited, then we have two more significant parcels coming forward. That will likely follow suit."


He also mentioned that the applicant refuses to submit the specific plan and refuses to follow the city's process.


"I have a letter that came across my desk a couple of months ago that said their attorney threatened to sue the City of Oxnard if you required them to follow the process," he said. "They are just like every other applicant. That's their attitude towards you."


After the public comments, Sandoval said just because a member of the public comments, it doesn't make it accurate. 


"A picture was shown with a lot of cars and tarps," he said. "That's on the Fourth of July. With the exception of the Fourth of July, nobody is there. I contend that development will enhance access because it gives people a reason to be there."


He empathizes with the council because of their situation, but if it were him, he'd look at what the will get from the parcel in question.


"We need the Fisherman's Wharf retail center to be redeveloped," he said. "We can't fix it. Who's to blame? I'm not going to argue that."


He maintains that it can't be redeveloped on its own.


"I know people in the audience think that," he said. "If there is some magic developer that will put money into retail, but nobody invests in retail. It's all mixed-use now."


Assistant City Attorney Ken Rozelle said there is no basis to project $500,000 in new city revenue because of the project.


"The county and the developer have not submitted an economic analysis," he said. "Based on the amount of tax revenue which the harbor generates, there is no way this project will generate anywhere near that amount."


He added that the traffic study submitted to the city is substantially flawed.


"The traffic study used the county's parking standard, not the city's," he said. "As outlined under LUC Policy 30, new development is to provide adequate public parking facilities in all modified harbor developemts consistent with the city's land-use and building code."


 Councilman Oscar Madrigal cast the only vote in favor of the LCPA.


"Owning a house is realistically out of the picture for this generation," he said. "The carpenters came and said they would be able to live in these apartments. The carpenters who came here make more money than I make at my day job."


He pointed out that 26 percent of the county pays over 50 percent of their wages in rent.


"The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Oxnard is about $2,000," he said. "It's not as easy as it sounds. If you live in Wagon Wheel in those nice new apartments, the rent is $3,000 a month."


Councilwoman Gabriela Basua said its a tough situation.


"I believe in housing and development," she said. "I see us growing. We need housing, whether it is affordable or not affordable. It is something that we need, and I am an advocate for it."


What Sandoval said that got to Basua is what does the city need?


"Well, since I can remember living in the city my whole life, this area has always been neglected," she said. "There's not much to do there. I do visit the other side of the harbor because there are restaurants there, and its easier to get access."


She isn't opposed to housing, but she thinks the city should keep control.


"That is what I think is best for the city," she said. 


Mayor Pro Tem  Carmen Ramirez would love to see Fisherman's Wharf get redeveloped and look beautiful.


"We are here to reflect our control over what happens in our city," she said. "Do you want a city council that gives up control over what happens in our city?"


Councilman Bryan MacDonald said one comment he heard was, "here's your chance Oxnard, you can do something good, but if you don't do it, this will be on you."


He didn't like that comment.


"It's not on the city council or me," he said. "It's on the property owners, and right now, the property owner is the County of Ventura. For years, we had an agreement where the City of Oxnard paid for the water in a lot of the public areas. Some people didn't like it, but I thought it was an amenity that served our community because it allowed them to go into the public areas, so there was a lot of give-and-take."


He feels the city has been a good steward and has been a good partnership, but it hasn't worked out.


"The city will not have the authority to review and render a decision on the Fisherman's Wharf renewal project if the appeal is granted," he said. "I look at the people who have owned it for the last 20 years and the current status, and the request tonight is to give up our authority. It is entirely in the City of Oxnard, allow the owners to continue doing what they're going to do, and it will be better. I'm sorry, but I am not there yet."


Councilman Bert Perello applauded the staff's work on the items and said it's the type of work the staff can do.


"I want to see housing and development, but being around here when Channel Islands Harbor was built, I never came to council meetings and didn't pay attention to this stuff," he said. "I got interested after I got married and had a wife and house, and all of a sudden, I had something invested in the community."


He remembered sitting in the audience and watching Riverpark coming into being and saw the pictures that weren't in the documents.


"That was the sales pitch," he said. "I remember when College Park was to be, and they were going to put in a fire station. The property was donated, and it was supposed to be a park. That was the first night I was on this council, and that was a hell of a lesson for me."


He pointed out that the city has some rules, and they want the city to give away their rules.


"Give away what little authority we have," he said. "That's a mistake."


Council Member Vianey Lopez said the harbor needs redevelopment.


"I want to support this project because we need housing, and I believe in the local labor," she said. There's an understanding that this is not it."

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