Property owner of recently scarred Ventura hillside explains his side of the story
Dear Neighbors: Please allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Peter and Diane Goldenring, and we own the 70 acres that in part are located above Mint Lane. Though for a long while we have reached out to several of your neighbors seeking to arrange meetings to talk about the project, that has not been facilitated. In fact recently I asked several of your neighbors again, to arrange the opportunity for me to sit in one or more living rooms with any or all of you to explain what transpired, listen to your concerns, and have a conversation. Unfortunately again that has not happened. So, given the concerns I would like to take this opportunity to provide to you some information that you may not have. Please know that we continue to be willing to sit down with any of you individually or in a group to talk through any issues or concerns. Here are the basic background facts:
l. My wife and I ended up with this property having loaned money to JK Mondol. He did not pay us back the money he had borrowed and after a long delay we were forced to foreclose. We are not developers and were not involved in any of his activities or projects beyond simply loaning him some money.
2. After we were forced to take the property it seemed to us that the best solution was for the property to serve as an anchor for a Hillside Park. We reached out to the City to see if there was any interest in the City to try to accomplish this and the City indicated it had no resources to do this. We then reached out to the only other stakeholder we were aware of, the Hillside Conservancy. Over the course of about 3 years and a series of Executive Directors, we met with those individuals, discussed the property and made a simple offer. We offered to sell the entire 70 acres for exactly what we had into it, no more, no profit. If there was a credible and realistic indication of interest and ability, we offered to show with copies of checks exactly what that amount was to the penny. We were confident then and indeed still are, that the value of the property far exceeds this no profit price offered. Unfortunately the Conservancy was not in an economic position to proceed, though we waited for a fairly long time, nearly 3 years for that to unfold. Please know that even now that offer remains on the table and has recently been re communicated to the Conservancy, again.
3. Since there was no apparent ability to accomplish the above, that left us no alternative but to figure out what to do. Historically the development plans called for 30 plus and some up to 50 homes. That was nothing we were interested in. Neither were we interested in selling the property to a developer to do that though obviously that would likely be the most profitable road. Instead we embarked on a process working with professionals for over a year, and spent a not inconsiderable amount of money, trying to figure out what to do, with some economic reality, while minimizing the footprint over the 70 acres. Ultimately it was determined to proceed with 3 houses. There are three legal lots and thus the property is fully entitled to the three houses.
4. The professionals involved advised that one of the first steps was to obtain a soils report. That analysis then would for the basis of the professional evaluation concerning the project, layout, roads, geotechnical etc. That soils investigation involved needing to put onto the top of the hills the drilling rig those folks use to bore down and take samples. The analysis needed to be as full and complete as possible. A rig to do this type of drilling is on a truck or track type vehicle and about 7 feet wide give or take and needs to get up to the top and back safely.
5. In Spring of 2012 we opened up conversations with the City staff to discuss how to go about getting this geotechnical data which was one of the first steps needed. Meetings took place. After several meetings City Staff determined that a grading permit was NOT necessary for this investigative road that was contemplated to be about 8 feet wide or a bit more, leaving from the top of Mint and then transversing across the face to the top of the hills.
6. After staff made this determination, our professionals sought out further meetings to provide staff the maps, contour detail and other geotechnical information. A second meeting took place where all of this information was provided to staff who further evaluated it and there was again confirmation of no requirement for a grading permit for this investigative access.
7. As the process continued the hill was twice surveyed and the layout of the access road, top and bottom, staked. I assume some of you who from time to time have hiked the property, saw the surveyor staking's as that unfolded. There was nothing secret or hidden about that process at all. I am aware that some of the neighbors saw the staking as I actually got a call from one asking what it was. I explained exactly the status as I have here, and that the staking was for the geo access road. This was, I repeat, a conversation with one of your neighbors who made inquiry to me.
8. The folks doing the access road advised that they wanted to do it when the property was as wet as possible for several reasons. First, the wetter the ground the more compressed and thus the safer for the operators and equipment. Second, the wetter the ground the less sluff. And thirdly, the wetter the ground, the less dust. We waited through the winter for the heavy rains hoping they would come to facilitate what had been laid out some months before for the City Staff as described above. Unfortunately, as you all know, this was a very light rainfall winter. The contractor determined that there was no rain in the forecast beyond what had recently fallen and was very concerned that the hill was "drying out" which would make for a dustier and messier access road process. The contractor determined on Thursday night that they wanted to proceed the next day. That was for the reasons described. I know some of you may wish to believe it was because the City was closed, but that is simply not true. Neither the contractor nor I knew of the Friday furlough. In any event, that next a.m. when the contractor in fact made that decision we immediately reached out to city personnel and let them know what was going on. I was in contact with City personnel through that morning and they were fully knowledgeable of the geo access road process.
9. During the meetings described above, one of the things that our professionals provided the City was an erosion control plan. It was always part of the process that immediately upon completion of the geo tech road and then the two or three days of the soils investigation, there would be erosion control in place including reseeding etc. That is still the plan and in fact would have started in part this week but for the City's instruction we not do so. Of course part of that is eliminating the sluff on the downside slope that some of you have objected to, but we can't remove it whilst the City has instructed we not do so.
These are not all of the facts, but they are the salient ones. The bottom line is that the City staff confirmed that no grading permit was necessary for this geo access road, knew that the road would be about 8ft in width and would tranverse the hill. Indeed the city staff asked that our professionals try and place the road as close as possible to the final road concept under consideration to try and avoid turning dirt twice.
If you accept the accuracy of the above you will, I hope, realize our frustration in all of this. We worked very hard to be transparent with the staff of the City and provided them information. If the staff is now taking the position that they shouldn't have made the determination they did or they made a mistake, then that should be on the table, and we can all figure it out. But to emphasize, the truth of the matter is that we were told no grading permit was necessary for this first step.
I want to take a moment, if you will allow, to address what I sense are feelings of anger or distress. It was never ever our intention to cause anyone any distress. This parcel has gone through two separate lot line adjustments and at each one I tried to communicate clearly that this involved three and only three homesites. We tried to work transparency with staff and we relied on staff's direction concerning the non requirement for a grading permit for this initial limited geo technical access road. If I had it to do over again, I would take the time to knock on each one of your doors, explain all of the above, before anything happened. In fact I was in the process of trying to get as many of your emails to do that as I could when it unfolded quickly because of the rainfall/timing situation. For that failure of communication I take responsibility and each and every one of you have my sincerest apology.
My wife and I remain available and desirous of meeting with any of you on this process. We have no desire to fight, name call, or be in conflict.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and for your consideration.
Very truly yours,
Peter and Diane
Ventura City Attorney Ariel Calonne today announced that his office will be opening a criminal investigation into the recent hillside grading near Mint Lane in Ventura, California.
The grading, which commenced on Friday February 15, 2013 without City permits, has left substantial scarring on the Ventura hillsides and serious potential damage to the health and safety of the area.
Calonne said, “We have an obligation to the community to investigate whether crimes have occurred.”
For more information contact: Ariel Calonne (805) 654-7818.
This release is available at www.cityofventura.net under the “Press Room” link.
Released earlier today:
Apparent illegal hillside grading project in Ventura causes a ruckus
New road off Mint Lane in Ventura not in line with hillside preservation ordinance
by Michael Sullivan 02/28/2013
The Ventura hillside off Mint Lane now has a major gash running around the hill — akin to a large scar after major surgery — after a local property owner and attorney, Peter Goldenring, hired workers to drive industrial earth movers up the lane and cut a “jeep” road into the hill on Friday, Feb. 22. Local neighbors, who were not given advanced notice of the grading, were shocked to see the work under way, finding pockmarks in the road from the movers and a freshly cut road in the hillside. Some homeowners also claim the work caused property damage due to movement of the heavy equipment. The new road on the hillside can be seen from Downtown Ventura and Seaward Avenue.