There’s an old adage that says, it’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission. When it comes to public policy, that seems to be the rule of thumb. Rather than be aggressively pro-active about getting community input first, city officials oftentimes carry out the status quo outreach, per the Brown Act, then move forward with projects that the public may or may not like. For instance, two controversial projects in the county were Ventura’s Working Artists Ventura residential/commercial development and the parking meters in Downtown Ventura. While city officials performed adequately in informing the public in advance of these projects, having received little input (in comparison to the reaction after the projects were completed), they understandably went forward with the projects. Though the public’s pushback on these particular projects has almost completely died, the response to both of these projects should serve as a lesson — be a part of the process, or don’t complain.
On the other side of the county, however, there has been tremendous outcry about a massive residential development planned over the L.A./Ventura County border between Fillmore and Valencia. Environmentalist groups filed a lawsuit in March against L.A. County over its approval of permits for Newhall Ranch, a proposed development of about 20,000 homes. The groups claim the construction approved a month earlier would fill the Santa Clara River’s floodplain on a large scale, channelize more than three miles of the river, desecrate American Indian burial sites and harm rare species. Though the outcry might be a little behind schedule, at least the activists leaped into action before the project couldn’t be undone.
In Camarillo, conversely, mum seems to be the word. With the environmental impact report’s public comment period currently under way for a project that could drastically change many Ventura County residents’ way of life — the Conejo Creek Specific Plan — the public and the media have been strangely quiet. The project, bounded by the 101 Freeway, Pleasant Valley Road and Conejo and Calleguas Creeks, calls for 2,500 single-family homes and apartments, 100 acres of industrial buildings, 50 acres for education and other public uses, 60 acres for offices and commercial use, and 220 acres for recreation and open space. The development — which would be built out over the next nine years — is expected to add an estimated 40,948 daily car trips to the 101 corridor and result in permanent loss of prime farmland, naval base encroachment and a negative effect on wildlife. Yet there has been little to nil press coverage; and the public, for the most part, doesn’t seem to know that now is the time to say something.
Unfortunately, when it comes to local politics and government, there is a great deal of complacency. For public officials, those who are the most vocal often fall with the minority and is not necessarily a true representation of the public’s wishes. For the public at large, most people seem to think that their opinion doesn’t count for much. The combination of the vocal minority and the quiet majority may result in a lot of frustration, even regret. It’s time to rethink, regroup and refocus on the decisions being made without our input. We need to stop complaining about public projects after they have already been approved, much less already been built. If our public officials aren’t going to demand our input, we have to get active and demand their attention. Though some may not care about the outcome of the Conejo Creek Specific Plan, surely there are many who do. Get involved and speak up. If you choose not to do anything, then don’t complain after it’s too late.
For more on the Conejo Creek Specific Plan and meetings for public input, go to page 6 in the news section, and read “Conejo Creek: To develop or not to develop?”