Commission, Council: EA2 commercial Gateway Project EIR gets okay

January 25, 2013
Santa Paula City Council

In a tag team of votes the Planning Commission and City Council approved a final environmental impact report (EIR) Tuesday night for Limoneira’s proposed East Area 2 commercial East Gateway Project, which will be sent on to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) for final approval.

The project calls for 360,000 square feet of commercial, office and light industrial space on some 36 acres south of Highway 126 and Hallock Drive, as well other tweaking of zoning and island annexations in the proposed development areas. With its mix of revenue enhancement and convenience for Santa Paula residents, “I think this project is something the city needs,” Mayor Ralph Fernandez said at the joint meeting.

Commission Chairman Michael Sommer and Councilman Richard Cook were absent from the meeting that at times turned testy. All of those at the meeting voted for the project and its related resolutions except for Planning Commissioner John Wisda, who said aspects of the plan, specifically possible negative impacts on the city’s water supply, “scares me.”   

Wisda quoted the hydrology report, noting the project will lead to additional water use of 16 million gallons to 23 million gallons each year. With many of the area’s wells being drawn down and not replenished, past flood damage to the Santa Clara River impacting groundwater production, and the water supply already overtaxed, Wisda said the city is on a slippery slope that might soon dry up. 

Said Wisda, “If we have a drought, what’s that going to do to the housing prices in Santa Paula?” Wisda detailed annual unreplenished draws on city wells and said, “I think this whole thing is going to result in higher water rates for everyone in town.” Wisda also urged that the city not wait and entice a supermarket to Santa Paula now, as he doubts enough commercial tenants would be found for any new project as present space is vacant.

Councilman Jim Tovias noted speculation could go on forever but proof was lacking. “This was not just pulled out of the hat,” Tovias said of the EIR. “They have been working on this for eight years... I’m surprised you can develop anything in California” due to regulations.

The studies he added, “are very thorough, almost to the point of be obscene.” But all in all, Tovias said, “I feel very comfortable with Limoneira and the experts hired to move this project forward.”

The East Area projects form a master-planned community that calls for 1,500 homes, recreation fields, amphitheater, parks, police and fire stations and stores in East Area 1, located on the north side of Highway 126.

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