A referendum submitted by a group of Santa Paula residents against large-scale development could block construction of the recently approved Fagan Canyon Project if residents vote to reverse an amendment made to the city’s general plan.

That amendment, made when the Fagan project was approved, changed the general plan to allow for the construction of more housing units than previously allowed. Because the 2,000-plus Fagan Canyon Project is larger than what was allowed in the unchanged plan, construction on the project as passed could not begin if voters reverse the decision made by City Council and Planning Commission members.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that, if passed, the reversal would go into effect 30 days from passage.

Richard Main, a member of We CARE, a group that opposes the Fagan Canyon Project, played a large part in drafting the referendum and said it’s the City Council’s “ministerial duty” to put the referendum on the ballot in November — though the council will vote on the matter at its next meeting, on Feb. 6. “They can’t vote not to put it on the ballot if they want to honor their ministerial duties,” he said. “I’m not 100 percent convinced that anyone on the council really cares about their ministerial duties.”

In a letter sent to Santa Paula resident John Billig on Jan. 25, City Clerk Josie Herrera said that — though the referendum was qualified by the city — “there are a number of potential problems with the petition.” Herrera said the title of the petition may not comply with the elections codes because “it can lead to voter confusion;” that it may be “misleading and inaccurate;” and that the “Spanish translation of the petition does not conform to the English language version of the petition.”

A total of 1,649 signatures were filed and 1,143 were found sufficient, according to Herrera. “All we want to do is get it on the ballot,” Main said. “All I wanted is to give the people a chance to vote.”

Fighting from the other side of the issue is One Santa Paula, a group that strongly supports that Fagan Canyon Project, a project of Centex Homes. The group is none too pleased about the referendum.

“I believe the signature gathering tactics used by the We CARE group are misleading,” said Eric Barragan, a member of One Santa Paula. “I think they used a lot of tactics that are not against the law, but that are very


Barragan contends that those opposed to the project are “a small group of people who don’t care about the community.” One Santa Paula is made up of downtown merchants, business owners who work outside the city, public service officials and people from a variety of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. He insists that the group is not made up solely of those who stand to benefit from the financial injection the project would provide the community.

The group plans to educate the community with a little “economics 101,” and speak out about the town’s “housing crisis” and financial woes. It is also considering becoming a political action committee, Barragan said.

Barragan works in an agricultural labor company, a family business his father started 32 years ago. “We have nothing to gain or lose — but I know our workers do,” he said.