Locally funded improvement and redevelopment will move forward, but projects needing state or federal funding are on hold for the time being, say officials from several Ventura County cities.
The ongoing state budget battle and general economic malaise has forced planners to change their priorities for the coming year, although none of the officials say any projects have been dropped altogether.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be the economy,” said Oxnard Mayor Tom Holden, who said his town is financially better off than many but faces the same funding dilemma.
“We’re not isolated from a reduction in sales tax,” said Holden. “At the same time, we’re faced with the task of maintaining public services. That will be our biggest challenge.”
Holden said that despite this, the city is going ahead with plans for an overhaul of its traffic infrastructure, using money raised by a half-cent sales tax that voters approved in November.
“Our commitment and the purpose of Measure O funds is to enhance public works funds,” said Holden. “Our residents have said they want to see roads improved.”
Holden said traffic improvements will include road widening at several intersections, state-of-the-art technology, such as real-time traffic signals, and substations for transit buses.
Many of Oxnard’s public works priorities won’t be decided until a strategic planning session on Feb. 23 and 24, when city councilors and staff meet to set priorities for the coming year.
Holden said the council is still committed to plans for College, Campus and Sports parks, which will move forward with or without a commercial Big League Dreams stadium.
“Ultimately, we’ll have to make a choice with Big League Dreams,” said Holden. “It has to do with a straightforward question: Can we afford it?”
The answer to that depends on Big League Dreams itself, whose officials must decide whether to kick in the difference in cost of building a city-run versus a commercial park.
Holden said that difference in cost — a condition of an agreement with the city — went up substantially as the economy tanked in the past year.
Meanwhile, in Camarillo last week, city officials went over a list of projects and pushed back state-funded ones for now, said City Manager Jerry Bankston.
“None are being eliminated, it’s simply a matter of waiting for the state budget to be passed,” said Bankston. “We are still moving forward with projects that depend on city funding.”
Bankston said there will be about $4 million in street improvements, including widening of Carmen Drive’s northbound U.S. Highway 101 on-ramp.
Camarillo officials are also anxious to get the California Dept. of Fish & Game permits needed to install bicycle lanes and a jogging trail along Calleguas Creek.
The city needs the permits by late spring to meet a federal funding deadline for that project, explained Bankston.
On another front, Bankston said Camarillo’s City Council remains opposed to plans for a state prison hospital on the spot where its juvenile detention facility for young women now sits.
A period to comment on environmental concerns raised by the project closed Jan. 14, and “probably we’ll hear nothing more for three months,” when a report on the comments is published, said Bankston. Camarillo officials have pointed out the site’s location near a fault line and dependence on an aging water system.
“We’re definitely opposed to it, and if anything, as we have gotten deeper into the environmental concerns,” said Bankston, “I would say (the City Council’s) opposition has only heightened.”
In Simi Valley, City Manager Mike Sedell said the city is going ahead with plans for an assisted living center and “significant remodeling” of an existing Madera Avenue shopping center.
“Those should be finished within the next couple of months,” said Sedell.
Thousand Oaks has three major locally funded projects in 2009: widening of Erbes Road, with new sidewalks and bicycle lanes; adding solar panels to the Civic Arts Plaza; and continued lobbying for federal money to re-engineer and widen the
U.S. Highway 101-SR 23 interchange, according to Andrew Powers, public information officer of Thousand Oaks.
Depending on whether a federal infrastructure bill is passed, Thousand Oaks also hopes to get about $35 million for several road and bridge improvement projects.