|Ventura County Civic Alliance
Livable Communities Newsletter
|2015 3rd Quarter, Number 35 |
Welcome to Our Summer 2015 Livable Communities Newsletter!
This quarter's newsletter is a report of the discussions among our newsletter crew and key individuals focused on post-recession planning of our future communities within the Tenets of Livable Communities. We chose to focus on the City of Oxnard for this quarter since it has such a large number of "community changing" projects underway.
Our own Bob Warnagieris starts us off with an overview of the changes that development must face since the end of the last recession. Bob discusses water, regulation, activism, transportation, and technology.
Next, Dao Doan picks up on several of the points summarized in our first article and describes a possible new Oxnard Boulevard with beautiful renderings as part of the article if you click the link to the full article. Dao focuses on the excellent work of the Oxnard Community Planning Group (OCPG).
Finally Stacy Roscoe summarizes a few of the thoughts that our newsletter crew developed through a discussion with City of Oxnard Planning Division Principle Planner, Chris Williamson. We explore current as-built mixed use to the theoretically pure form, regulatory changes now impacting development, modification of existing neighborhoods, and the impact of the drought on development.
As always, we ask for your feedback on what we are presenting. We would like to incorporate this feedback into further coverage of these topics.
DEVELOPERS AND PLANNERS FACE NEW CHALLENGES
By Bob Warnagieris
One would think that for developers coming out of the Great Recession hiatus, projects and new ventures would be shovel ready and quickly move into the brick-and-mortar stage. Meeting development standards, conducting studies, producing reports, making countless presentations to municipalities and their commissions, and negotiations for funds have been ongoing while the economy was recovering. Yet, now that the time is right, there have been major and subtle changes in the State which comprise a host of hurdles in the development landscape that must be addressed. Further, those initiating new efforts will find that they face increased scrutiny for environmental purposes, zoning, construction standards, and desires of citizens as to what they want to see in their communities.
Take the drought for example. Who would have thought in 2009 that regulators would weigh more restrictions on water use for new construction. The California Water Commission has just approved new rules that will significantly slash the amount of water that can be used by landscapes surrounding newly build houses, businesses and schools (LATimes 7/15&16/15). Further, there are many calls for moratoriums on starting any new projects while the drought continues. New rate tiers for water and power as well are being considered throughout the State. Landscape architecture is operating in a whole new world.
In Ventura, recent Council meetings to approve development projects highlight the continuing skepticism of citizens to changing the surrounding hillsides. The City maintains a Hillside Management Program but that doesn't dissuade several activist groups from bringing pressure to preserve the hillsides in their current state. The issue goes beyond aesthetics to maintaining the geological features of the hillsides. There are concerns expressed about destroying hillside contours by filling in barrancas, ravines and natural drainage channels (VCStar7/15/15). Oxnard and Port Hueneme face similar challenges as they review plans for new developments. Groups advocating for harbors, beaches, and wetlands are making their voices heard. In this newsletter is an article about a group of citizens that want the Oxnard Boulevard corridor to be more attractive, walkable and functional for citizens of the city. Economic, cultural, social and image concerns are at stake.
One of the Livable Communities Working Group's favorite topics concerns transportation. Whether it is shortage of parking, bicycle lanes, deteriorating roads, proposed gas tax increases or mere traffic congestion, it all begins to weigh heavily on livable community concepts and eventually becomes an issue for planners and developers alike. Turns out, the funds just aren't there to widen the roads, repair the potholes, build parking garages and improve inadequate overpasses. Automobile sales this year are at an all-time high. Couple this with an improved economy and the need to drive further to work and you have intolerable evening traffic congestion. We still remain an automobile dominant society and calls for community centers complete with housing, shopping, entertainment and transportation hubs just aren't happening in a timely manner. Officials looking to the State learn very quickly that the gas taxes just don't provide sufficient revenue. In fact, the advent of improved mileage for gas powered vehicles, hybrids and electric vehicles has resulted in less fuel use and consequently less tax revenue. The Congress may get around to passing a transportation bill but it's problematic each year.
If our current development challenges aren't daunting enough, consider the future with "Smart Cars" and "smart cities" with internet-controlled devices that control city systems, such as transit, and collect data as well. Whether the digital device is collecting data as might be found in security or usage measurement systems, controlling access, providing an app type of service, or a communication capability, it will impact the design of homes, businesses, and public facilities (WSJ7/13/15). Although the basic goal is to create a super-efficient and safe infrastructure for the well- being of the populace, there will be costs, controversy and challenge before it is achieved.
A Vision for Oxnard Blvd.
By Dao Doan
For as long as Ventura County residents can remember, Oxnard Boulevard has been a busy, somewhat unattractive State Highway that traverses the heart of Oxnard. Indeed the Boulevard, in connecting Pacific Coast Highway in the south to State Highway 101 in the north, cuts right through Downtown Oxnard. Owned by the State and operated by Caltrans, the Boulevard spawned commerce and business, along with a healthy dose of truck traffic throughout the day and night.
Last year the City engaged a consultant to help re-envision what the Boulevard should look like in its new role of still linking the south to the north while no longer accommodating heavy truck traffic. The consultants were tasked with outreach and engaging the community for public input through a series of workshops. Among the participants of the workshops, a private citizen group was independently formed under the name Oxnard Community Planning Group (OCPG) to provide informed feedback. Roy Prince, Frank Nilsen, Roger Poirier, Steve Nash, Claudia Lozano, Aurelio Ocampo Jr., and Gary Blum, are some of the active members among many others.
The Group's main concern is that the Boulevard's final vision should closely reflect that of the community: the Boulevard as a thoroughfare that accommodates all users, from pedestrians to bicyclists to vehicle operators, from toddlers to persons with disabilities to seniors, all in a pleasant, safe and vibrant manner. It should not be redesigned mainly for drivers as is often the case of street design. To the OCPG, a street is more than just the pavement on which cars are driven. Its sidewalk, its trees, its landscape, its furniture, and the buildings lining it help define whether it is a healthy and "complete" street. The OCPG recognizes that intense development in the form of housing is needed in order for inject more life into such a robust vision.
A key focus of the OCPG is how the Boulevard can help foster a vibrant Downtown with economic development and housing, rather than splitting it into two halves with fast and noisy traffic. In the mind of the OCPG, the transformation of the Boulevard should be centered on people rather than cars; it should re-link the east and west side of Downtown, and be a "place" for socialization along with commerce. Ways to achieve that goal include enlarged sidewalks at intersections (also referred to as curb extensions or "bulb-outs"), dedicated and protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and curb-side parking. The main focus is place making.
With that objective in mind, the OCPG retained Mainstreet Architects of Ventura to create a series of images illustrating how more intense development along this important corridor would have the ability to change how it is perceived (disclosure: this writer is responsible for the graphic creation of those images, now shown in this article). Just as important, the OCPG supports retaining valued historic properties such as the old Teatro downtown theater, the Asahi Market, as well as the Golden Chicken Restaurant building. The group wants to show how Oxnard's historic buildings can fit in a new context of increased intensity and vitality, and how new development will still show respect to them.
The visioning process is still on-going at press time. The OCPG hopes that the ultimate plan will adopt many of concepts depicted in the illustrations, and that when realized, the Boulevard will look and feel something like a place teeming with life, people walking, biking, and driving.
A Ventura County Civic Alliance Discussion with Chris Williamson
by Stacy Roscoe
On the afternoon of August 4th, Ventura Civic Alliance members Dao Doan, Bob Warnagieris, and Stacy Roscoe sat down with the City of Oxnard Planning Division Principal Planner, Chris Williamson to discuss the state of livable communities development in Oxnard after the recession. Here are a few of the thoughts that our Alliance members have after this discussion:
Mixed Use was a big topic. Despite a strong case in theory, pure mixed use development sees challenges. In today's mixed use, there is concern regarding liability coming from non-residential activity impact on residential units. Mixed use property needs special features like fire rated floors, roof vents, and kitchen fire fighting capability. The mixed use model widely used today is really a variant. Now, more commercial elements are closer to residential units, but we don't see the fully attached mixed use concept. RiverPark's late 1990's commercial design is an example of this. Right now the RiverPark commercial space is occupied by mostly regional businesses, but we are starting to see more commercial space taken to support "neighborhood service" in uses like drug store or cleaners. This makes sense, because with 3200 units in RiverPark and the nearby West El Rio homes, there are 4000 units that with an average of 3 people per unit. This 12,000 person population becomes a strong customer base for neighborhood support businesses.
Newer designs are now subject to the greenhouse gas emission regulations like AB 32 and SB 375. The current Wagon Wheel plan calls for 1500 units. Because of timing, this regulation is impacting the design in the form of higher density. There is a departure from the "garden apartments" of the 70's where all parking is close to the units. To justify the cost of a parking structure, there needs to be a critical number of units, which has led to the use of what is called a "Texas Wrap." This is a high-density, multi-level parking structure surrounded by housing that provides parking for commercial and residential uses. The significant reduction in condo development liability over the last decade has also assisted successful design and construction of higher density residential units.
Currently, affordable housing developers are more active in Oxnard than market rate developers. Several big sites are not prime because of the railroad, or because another Metro-Stop so close to Ventura cannot be justified. From a land use point of view, a major portion of Oxnard is already committed to basic single family housing from the 50's, 60's, and the 70's, and it is likely to stay in that form because it is too expensive to try to buy up those properties and update with more conventional housing designs. Particular opportunities could exist in some of the South Oxnard neighborhoods that consist of 900 square foot ranch houses that are in a deteriorating state. One idea for redevelopment of parts of this area is the placement of 4 townhouses on two adjoining lots that would double the number of units per current lot. These could be built as "stand alone" units on 6000 square foot lots.
One other topic discussed was the impact of drought on designs for the next level of livable communities. Grey water service in some of the current developments hasn't worked out as planned due to complications with managing flow through many different property owners. Advanced treatment into potable water (i.e. using the new Oxnard treatment plant and water distribution system) will be a better way to get more use out of water supplies. Oxnard has not seen a stop in development as direct result of water within the SOAR boundaries, but outside landscaping is being regulated more.
Our Alliance team left this conversation seeing that while the development of livable communities is strong, there is a definite level of pragmatism seen in the implementation of the underlying theories. We thank Chris Williamson for being such a great sounding board for this discussion.
Thanks to the Following Supporters of the 2015 Ventura County Civic Alliance State of the Region Report
Ventura County Community Foundation (VCCF) Fairburn Fund
Ventura County Community College District
Workforce Investment Board of Ventura County
California Lutheran University
California State University Channel Islands
County Commerce Bank
County of Ventura
Gene Haas Foundation
Procter & Gamble
Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs Association (VCDSA)
The Port of Hueneme
Ventura County Coastal Association of Realtors
Friends of the Santa Clara River
Kay Faulconer-Boger, Ed.D.
Maron Computer Services
Montecito Bank & Trust
United Staffing Associates
United Way of Ventura County
Brokaw Ranch Company
Cabrillo Economic Development Corp
Dyer Sheehan Group, Inc.
E.J. Harrison & Sons
Sherie & Joe Gibson
Ventura College Foundation
Ventura County Office of Education
Ventura County Transportation Commission
Special thanks go to Kerry Roscoe for detailed editing, photo, and format work required to bring these articles to you in the form that you see them!