“Santa Paula or Bust” The Day of Opportunity Lost

April 01, 2016
Santa Paula News

 There are a number of folks in Santa Paula who have been concerned for decades about the dismal local economy caused by lack of job opportunities and diversity and the amount of disposable income spent out of town. They have studied ways to increase the tax base to pay for a higher level of services and amenities including public safety and sound infrastructure.

 Many of these people have served on boards, commissions and councils. They have been active members of local business support groups, and supported bond measures for schools, police and fire services. Many are still at work; some have given up.

 There is one area where everyone can participate in promoting all positive efforts and that is to understand the “jobs-housing balance” where there is adequate and desirable housing to support people who work within the community. Without housing, the jobs won’t come.

 Our primary industry is agriculture. We do not have sufficient housing for all of our workers, although we have provided many housing opportunities for some. We will never have enough.

 About 30 years ago, the City expended a real effort to entice a company called Tolo Corporation to move from Santa Ana to Santa Paula and create approximately 300 entry-level and skilled trades’ jobs. They visited us; we traveled to their plant to visit them. We hosted them here and they hosted us there. They met with Planning, Council members and local leadership. Their mantra became “Santa Paula or Bust.”

 However, after all that, they never came. The decision was largely for two reasons. The City didn’t like the design of their proposed building and there wasn’t enough housing for the employees they would bring with them.

 Every single development proposed within the community of Santa Paula has faced opposition and often hostile resistance. When the Hillsborough project along Monte Vista Drive was proposed, there were fears of landslides, mud and extreme traffic. When Hillview Estates was proposed on West Telegraph Road, there was concern about the loss of agricultural land, it was a “closed community” and the lots being too small.

The Las Pasadas neighborhood was opposed because of the loss of agricultural land and the project was too dense with lots being too small. Today all of these neighborhoods are extremely popular and provide a good balance of housing mix in a community where approximately 50% of the housing stock is more than 60 years old.

When the Mobile 400 and Rancho Santa Paula mobile home parks were proposed, the opposition was so bitter that a highly respected citizen resigned from his seat on the City Council.  The controversy was enormous over the proposal for reduced lots sizes and home square footage in the Vista Grande development, Phase 2 of the Hillsborough tract along upper 10th Street.

 When the Wilson Ranch in the Oaks along Cliff Drive was proposed, there were objections to spoiling the Oaks neighborhood with too much traffic. The objection to the addition of the 7 homes on two acres owned by the Stewarts was so bitter that relationships were lost and damaged. One resident laid down in front the gravel trucks to halt construction. Not seventy houses, but seven.

Even today, the current proposal for homes along Ojai Road on the former Procter Ranch is being opposed for a number of reasons. The Anderson Project along Foothill Road has been bogged with controversy for all the same reasons cited in every other development project ever proposed. 

 The controversy over the proposals for Adams Canyon and Fagan Canyon are still very fresh.. The opposition was huge. And so, the need for homes to support the jobs-housing balance has gone unmet.

 The East Area One Project by Limoneira was favorably approved for several reasons. They are trusted community partners, the Ag land was “out of town” and considered marginal, traffic impact was not an issue and there was something for everyone. Even that has changed with the recent proposed reduction of affordable housing.

 As most new developments go, many of the homes are sold to people from out of town. Typically, they will be priced below homes in any other community where there are new homes being sold--with the exception of Fillmore. The attraction to out of towners will be great. It is also rare for new home sales managers to sell to people who have a home to sell first. That will slow down sales to Santa Paulans who want to “move up.”  This single development is not the final answer to Santa Paula’s economic woes or Santa Paula’s future.

There are almost always objections to “smaller lots and higher density”. With the high cost of land on the Central Coast, it’s the way of the future.  That is why we see so many two-story homes. An 1800 sf home can be built on a 900 sf footprint. The need for the 10,000 sf lot is diminished. A developer will seldom take on the risk of a housing development without maximizing profit and optimizing land use is likely considered first.  That is why there are planning commissions and planning staff to hold developers to zoning standards and compromise only for the good of the community.

 We have built many affordable units in Santa Paula. Given our demographics, we could build many more and not meet the need. We need balance. We need middle-income spending power in Santa Paula from people who live and work here. Without a job base within our borders, the work force leaves town every day. It’s easy to shop on their way home where there is attractive shopping in nearly every other community.

Under a previous City Administration, a Development Agreement was made between the City of Santa Paula and a developer from Malibu. It was for the re-development of the square block where City Hall and the Police Station are located, approximately 6 acres, excluding the gas station on the corner. The new development was a shopping center with Albertson’s as the anchor tenant. Complimentary retail services were being pursued.

Albertson’s management had reservations about the lack of shoppers in our trade area from East Ventura to Fillmore. The final decline after approximately two years of work came when the development of Fagan Canyon seemed to be only a dream. As they said goodbye to Santa Paula, they noted,  “When we see rooftops, we’ll be there.”

 The developers sought out Gelson’s, Trader Joes and others. The answers were all the same. We got a second look from Super A Foods but we walked away from them.

 We wonder why Main Street has changed so much over the last 35 years. It’s because it lacks shoppers with extra $20 bills in their pockets. Fortunately, a few classy businesses have added greatly to the appeal of Main Street and its overall appeal is evident during train stops and Cruise Nights.

 By comparison, the City of Ojai has managed to stay small and appear prosperous because they have a clearly defined geography and receive a $1 million a year in sales tax revenue from the Ojai Valley Inn. There were many promises about a similar resort for us made by the developers and proponents of Adams Canyon.

 As for new homes and the “new people” that purchase them, it’s easy to close the door to them once “we have ours”. We forget it was the investment and risk of people before us who made what we have possible.  Housing projects should not be opposed because of the short term inconveniences of “dust on your bushes, hammers and truck traffic”.  We should look to long view of a community where shopping at home is made easy and working close to home is made possible. It will be then that employers will consider relocating businesses or creating new ones, employment opportunities will be increased, educational opportunities will be enhanced resulting in improved school test scores accompanied by increased learning capacities and superior classroom environments.

 Growing a community well is a continuing and healthy endeavor especially if it is languishing from economic blight. Closing opportunities for new neighborhoods gets us more of what we have. The groups who are charged with promoting business attraction must gain understanding of the need for housing and then earnestly pursue job providers. Otherwise, we have learned nothing from what we know and “bust” will be the continuing result of efforts never made.

Kay Wilson-Bolton is a former State President of the California Women for Agriculture, former mayor of the Santa Paula City Council, former president of the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce, member of the Santa Paula Economic Development Commission, Executive Committee of Ventura County Economic Development Association and a Realtor, serving Ventura County. She has two Bachelor’s Degrees and is completing her Master’s Degree.

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