Save Buzz’s Dream!
I would like to applaud our City Council for the courage they have shown in pursing their plans to annex the North Avenue and Canada Larga areas. Where lesser “politicians” would have flip-flopped from public pressure, our council have drawn a line in the sand.
At the Jan 24 City Council meeting, they successfully took $75,000 from the Westside Pool Fund to pay for a fiscal study of Canada Larga. This is not just any study – it is a critical study, one that puts us one step closer to making one man’s vision a reality.
For those unfamiliar with the annexation plans, I will tell the story. It is a powerful story: the story of one man, his dream, and the City Council that was brave enough to fight for it.
Our visionary hero, wearing the stylish black jacket, is Shull “Buzz” Bonsall, Jr. His family has owned the 6000+ acre valley since 1977. Since then, they’ve run it as a cattle ranch.
But Buzz has a Dream: to replace this “undeveloped” land with expensive tract housing. They’re called “executive mansions” by realtors. Anti-growth people call them “McMansions”.
Unfortunately, Canada Larga is county land. As County Supervisor Steve Bennett explained: right now, Buzz can only build “ranch”-style homes, no denser than one house per 40 acres. When you include the cost of roads and other services, this low-density housing just isn’t as profitable as more dense construction.
Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem. Anyone with a deep enough wallet can lobby his way through most approval processes. But Ventura County has this obnoxious law called SOAR: Save Open-space & Agricultural Resources. Many years back, citizens all over the county fought to get these laws passed to protect the “green belts” between individual cities. Because of their interference, Buzz’s construction plans would have to go to a county-wide direct ballot. That’s a lot more expensive for Buzz to lobby – and quite uncertain. For sure, he’d make less money. His Dream might not even be financially feasible!
City Council to the Rescue
On hearing of Buzz’s problems, our City Council was spurred to action. With limited resources and few options, they have come up with an ingenious plan to help save his Dream. It involves something called Westside Redevelopment.
Ventura’s Westside essentially consists of the Avenue, from downtown to just past Stanley. It is currently being considered as a state redevelopment area. Unless the governor’s plan nixes the whole thing, this will have a huge impact on city tax income. It means that some of the Westside’s state taxes wouldn’t go to the state – instead, they would go directly to the Ventura City Council. They could then spend it directly on “redevelopment projects”. This is great, because the City Council clearly knows how to spend that money better than the State.
It is through Westside Redevelopment that the Council have cleverly figured out how to save Buzz’s Dream. All they have to do is annex his land – Canada Larga Valley – and make it part of the redevelopment process. By doing this, a lot of great things happen:
- He isn’t impeded by the shackles of SOAR. His plans would just have to be approved by the Ventura City Council. Lobbying for their support is a lot cheaper than lobbying in a county-wide election. And obviously, they’re already sold on the Dream.
- City funds can be used to make his Dream real. By being part of “Westside Redevelopment”, the City is now financially responsible for a bunch of studies that his project needs anyways.
- If redevelopment isn’t strangled by the governor, his Dream can then reap the benefits! Instead of being siphoned off to the greedy pigs in the State, Westside tax dollars can be kept at home – and used to finance Buzz’s Dream.
The benefits to Buzz are immense, but the challenges are also daunting:
- Because of state and county restrictions, we’d have to annex not just Canada Larga, but the whole North Avenue area in between. For some reason, the North Avenue residents are opposed to this idea. They seem to think that living in the sticks is better than being a part of our glorious city.
- The plan would add delay and risk to the already uncertain Westside Redevelopment. More area means more studies, more cost, and more risk. As Supervisor Bennet said, “Uncertainty is what keeps lots of things from happening. When you make this more complicated, you make it less certain you will get anything done. The whole burrito may not get down to the stomach.”
- Even if Canada Larga was part of the redevelopment, the city isn’t exactly swimming in money. The cash to pay for these studies has to come from somewhere.
- On top of all that, these pesky “Conflict of Interest” laws have reared their ugly head. The City Attorney has ruled that Councilmember Monahan is unable to participate in these votes. Apparently, he owns several pieces of property on the Westside, and this decision affects his personal finances. This unfair restriction makes it even harder for the council to help. If those pesky conflict of interest laws hadn’t stopped Monahan from voting, this would have been a done deal. As Councilmember Andrews observed, “There’s a clear majority on the council that feels this is important and should go forward. To have it stymied this way is a little frustrating.”
Luckily, none of these obstacles suffice to thwart the will of our City Council. At the Jan 24 meeting, they took the first steps towards overcoming them. Even more impressive is the courage they showed in doing so – because the room was packed with people opposed to Buzz’s Dream.
There were, of course, the usual nay-sayers: plenty of plain-spoken people who simply didn’t want their communities ignored or endangered. Most of their objections were, ultimately, short-sighted: “Why are you taking the money for our kids’ pool?” “Why aren’t you focusing on Westside like you’re supposed to?” “Why are you ignoring the General Plan?” None of them seemed to have any grasp of the importance of Buzz’s Dream.
I think it’s even a little selfish. You want a pool so bad? Why don’t you get your own pool? Or better yet, make friends with the all the rich kids who will be enjoying the dozens of new pools in Canada Larga – pools that they’ll be enjoying thanks to Buzz’s Dream.
Why would you want only one pool instead of dozens? Have the disasters of socialist government policies taught us nothing? What’s next, ObamaPool?
Thankfully, Councilmembers Mike Tracy and Christy Weir took them to task. Tracy reminded them that executive mansions are “a needed type of housing, contrary to what the speakers here tonight have said.” He chastised them for their short-sightedness: “There’s a lot of issues here… but I’m not sure that you’re all looking at it as objectively as you could.”
Weir elaborated on the intricacies of government: “When you look at how a city works, you have to have some high-income people.” Frankly, cities get along just fine without the low-income people on the Westside. It’s high-income people we need to cater to! She explained the economic realities: “A study was done that showed how much a house had to be worth to pay for its own services. In the city of Ventura, it’s about $500,000. Any house less than that is getting subsidized.” Spending money on Buzz’s Dream is what we need – not subsidizing the low-income residents of Westside.
Unexpectedly, Ventura’s environmental groups showed up in force. They pushed their agenda, and they pushed it hard. Everyone from the Audubon Society to the Ventura Citizens for Hillside Preservation had ganged up to stop Buzz and his Dream. They had clearly met privately before the meeting, as they had a short slide show of their “points”.
Their arguments against the annexation were more polished than those of the “common folk”, but were really little more than a coherent collection of facts:
- There were a number of bullet points dealing with additional fire and flooding hazards that would affect the rest of Ventura. Conveniently, they ignore the fact that a City-funded Environmental Impact Report would be performed. This study would show how we could destroy a natural ecosystem adapted over millions of years, pave it over with tract housing, and actually reduce the risk of fire and flooding.
- Kendra Gonzales, the representative from VCCool, had the audacity to state, “Over the past six years of attending workshops… there has never been a single citizen request for the annexation of Canada Larga, other than from the property owner himself.” But as Councilmember Tracy sagely observed: “Really, we’ve heard from one element of the community about why we shouldn’t be doing something in Canada Larga. There’s a significant element that hasn’t spoken up.” What Ms. Gonzales is insinuating is obviously false. Clearly, there are several other people interested in annexation: not only Buzz, but the City Council that shares his Dream. But no, this “thoughtful” environmentalist didn’t think about that, did she?
- Another so-called objection came in a reference to some obscure “General Plan”. Supposedly, its a document that was painstakingly crafted by both the City and the public. It was claimed that this General Plan reflects some sort of will of the people. These “people” (whoever they are) have already said: fix infill, don’t expand the city. Should we let such a small thing – a bureaucratic detail – stand in the way of Buzz’s dream? Thankfully, the City Council knows the right answer to that question.
Courage and Progress
After a grueling debate – dragging on until 11 PM – the council finally came to a decision:
- In a gracious gesture to the opposition, they backed down from the $275,000 they originally wanted to spend. For now, they only spent $75,000.
- Because they didn’t actually have $75,000, they borrowed it from the Westside Pool Fund. Once redevelopment money starts to come in, they’ll be able to pay it back.
It was truly inspiring. Even when faced with a roomful of opposition from all walks of life, they stuck to their guns. Most importantly, they moved forward on Buzz’s Dream. With only $75,000 of the Westside Pool Fund, they were able to pay for the important fiscal study. Once completed, Buzz will be one step closer to turning his Dream into reality.
Make the Dream Real
And to that, I say: Good luck, Buzz! I urge all right-minded citizens to join me in supporting Buzz’s Dream. His dream may not be mine, but I recognize it’s greatness. It is the idea that the plight of one man, no matter how much money or land he he has, can still find a champion in our city council.
Reverend Stevo is a Ventura resident and lives on the Westside. His favorite vacation spots are Lilliput and Brobdingnag, and he thinks eating babies is a great way to solve overpopulation.
- Photo direct-linked from an excellent story by Shane Cohn at the VC Reporter: Up For Debate, 9 Dec 2010.
- Ventura City Council Video: 24 Jan 2011. WARNING: 5 hours long and for the most part painfully dull.