A slim majority of the Ventura City Council is supporting new development on the adjacent open-space area La Cañada Larga. Proponents are saying Ventura businesses want new executive housing. My family and I own the outdoor clothing company Patagonia, which, if you count our beginnings as a blacksmith shop making climbing tools, has been headquartered here since the mid ’60s. About 350 people come to work here near the mouth of the Ventura River, and all of our shareholders proudly call Ventura home. We are one of the largest private, in-city employers, and we don’t need or want this so-called “executive” housing, and I worry that some of our City Council members’ claims about what businesses want do not reflect our own desires or those of the majority of Ventura residents.

We are deeply concerned for, and invested in, the future of this town, especially here on the historic Westside. We are greatly dismayed over the potential annexation and subsequent development of this unique and wild valley bordering our city. This proposed development is a landmark decision for us as it shows where our government representatives’ priorities are and lays out their vision for the future of our community. Development of the La Cañada Larga Valley would be an environmental and community tragedy and would continue the northern creep of nasty sprawl that has come to define the Southern California landscape and culture. As a Ventura business owner, I am especially dismayed that this is being considered in the name of “business owner” desires.

I recently read an article in the VC Reporter by Shane Cohn titled, Up for debate — The future of Ventura’s Westside may rest in Rancho Cañada Larga (feature, 12/9), that stated that the council majority believes that development of Cañada Larga would attract executives into the city’s limits, presumably because high-end housing isn’t up to par with neighboring cities. Let me state clearly that the reason we, at Patagonia, are located in Ventura is exactly because it is not like these nearby cities. Our employees, including our highest-paid executives, are active, healthy, environmentally minded individuals and families who spend their free time in the outdoors enjoying a variety of pursuits involving the natural world. Most of our employees live in the city of Ventura, but many also love Ojai, Santa Barbara and Carpinteria as well.

You can’t be everything to everyone and it’s a real plus that Ventura has so many different options so close by. Our top executives almost always relocate to work for us, and come from places like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Boulder, Vancouver, B.C., and Vermont. Those coming from south of here move because they are disgusted with the traffic and sprawl and want to raise their families somewhere smaller, more natural, with less development and traffic, and more accessible, unspoiled nature.

There are many upscale homes within the city limits such as those in the hill neighborhoods, the Keys, on the beach at Seaward, and the beautifully restored Spanish-style bungalows on Poli and in Midtown. We have not had trouble attracting employees due to a shortage of “executive” housing, but rather a lack of accessible natural areas near town to recreate in and what some perceive as a compromised lifestyle. We are competing on a global scale for executives based not just on our quality of social life but the quality of our accessible open space areas, ocean and rivers. We find these elements are hugely important for people considering a job offer and looking to find a community that shares these values.

While Patagonia and our employees love Ventura and tote its name proudly on our logos and catalogs, the City Council is right in assuming that it can be hard to attract executives to Ventura, but for the opposite reasons they assume.

Any new “executive” housing does not tackle the issue of Ventura’s current esthetic and lifestyle issues; no gated community is going to fix these problems or get any business to move here. When we have high paid executives who won’t relocate to join us or who chooses to live in Ojai or Santa Barbara, I don’t believe it is because they could not find appropriate houses.

Where we do run into problems “selling Ventura” over nearby towns is that there are visual clues throughout our city that indicate we don’t take care of ourselves very well, we’re a bit more dangerous, we don’t value the open spaces we have, and we’re often ready to sell out to the highest bidder. This is disconcerting for anyone who values nature, community, safety, culture, and is looking to put down roots.

Instead of a clean and scenic beach and community river parkway accessing open space, we have parking lots, a terribly ugly sky-high hotel, industrial parks and decaying refineries. We have no community trails except up to the “Cross,” where drug dealers meet, or the bike path along the river, where our employees (who are avid joggers and bikers) constantly run into scary confrontations, trash and human waste due to homeless settlements allowed to set up in the river bottom. Our employees desperately want to explore the river and hills that neighbor us but are literally chased out.

What would attract Patagonia executives to this city would be if we were a community that worked to improve the area we have already developed, restore our river and beaches, and protect and make accessible more open space, like Cañada Larga. Beautifully remodeled historic homes are driving executives in droves to cities like Portland and San Francisco, as are easy public transportation, safe bike pathways and improved natural settings.

Projects such as the current removal of the C Street parking lot and restoration of coastal dunes and beaches are steps in the right direction that we can be proud of. The long-awaited removal of Matilija Dam and restoration of our beach sands and wild steelhead trout will be more crowning achievements for our community and attractions to our area.

Local open-space groups are buying land to preserve and make it accessible, and others are improving water quality in our streams and oceans. These are the actions that will attract people to our community and separate us from areas south of here in the future.

If Cañada Larga was bought and protected from development, it could become a wonderful, nearby outdoor recreational area for city residents. There is nowhere like this in the city, and outside of work, my coworkers and I often go toward Ojai, Santa Barbara and as far as Sycamore Canyon and Pine Mountain, spending money afterward at lunches, dinners and grocery stores afterwards that are far from our homes.

We are at a crossroads that requires us to think big picture and long term. We need city leadership with a vision for a unique, cultural and natural Ventura. I applaud the City Council for working on such a vision for West Ventura, but I urge it not to spoil progress made with this poorly supported Cañada Larga “executive home” scheme. Ventura is a unique place and, like Patagonia, which was born out of this city, we are of “uncommon culture.” Let’s focus on improving what we have, fix what’s broken, and protect what is still precious; it’s what will differentiate us from other areas and attract people to want to live here.    

 Claire Chouinard, co-owner of the Ventura-based clothing company Patagonia, sits on its board of directors and is a designer for Patagonia & Lost Arrow Corp.

 Editor’s note: The VCReporter received this op/ed piece from Claire Chouinard early last week. Due to space constraints, we weren’t able to run it last week. Although it has appeared in another publication, we wanted to give her space in the Reporter. Because not everyone reads all other news publications in the area, we decided to run it. Also, Claire specifically referenced a story written by our staff writer Shane Cohn in the third paragraph, which was not included in the run in other news media.