County officials discuss the plans for the blighted area

By Michael Sullivan

There have been pushback, frustration and even accusations of malfeasance over the proposal of up to 390, 55-foot tall luxury apartments at the 11.4-acre site of the now-dilapidated county-owned property Fisherman’s Wharf at the corner of Victoria Avenue and Channel Islands Boulevard in Oxnard. Though the commercial development was a draw when it first opened in 1978, by the 1990s it had lost its allure and now only a few tenants remain, the buildings showing serious signs of disrepair. Twenty years later, however, the high-density luxury apartment proposal for the site isn’t welcomed by some stakeholders in the community, even though a handful of them say that they spurred the effort to get the Supervisors to do something about the blighted property.

Vocal opponents of the luxury apartment plan say they have collected signatures and taken surveys from what they say is hundreds, even thousands, who say they do not want a high-density apartment complex, but would rather have condos or even have the space converted into a public park. It is important to note that those estimates have not been confirmed through any particular vetting process. What is most concerning, however, is the claim that the county is refusing to speak with and even ignoring the stakeholders in general. With the Ventura County Board of Supervisors passing 4-0 on Tuesday, June 14, an amendment to the Public Works Plan to allow for mixed use and a height increase for the Fisherman’s Wharf and Casa Sirena/Lobster Trap properties in the Channel Islands Harbor, frustration seems to be coming to a head. The approval of the amendment to the Public Works Plan will take the proposal to the next step for approval by the California Coastal Commission. If the commission approves the project for Fisherman’s Wharf, it could break ground between a year and 18 months.

This week, the VCReporter spoke with Supervisor John Zaragoza, whose district includes Fisherman’s Wharf, to clarify any misconceptions about being available to the community as well as for general feedback about the proposal for the site.

VCReporter: When did this particular proposal for a high-density apartment complex at Fisherman’s Wharf come before the Supervisors?

John Zaragoza: Before I took office in 2009, 600 apartments had been proposed and approved.

When did you first become aware that certain stakeholders did not want this project to move forward?

As soon as 390 units were proposed. Fisherman’s Wharf has been of interest to my constituents since I was elected in 2009. There have always been a few individuals who clearly did not want any residential units on the site at all. Most of the local community told me they supported residential units; it was just how many apartments that was the concern.

Who exactly are the stakeholders?

Of course, the local community, including harbor business owners; Oxnard residents who have waited for years for Fisherman’s Wharf to be redeveloped; county residents that own and keep boats at Channel Islands Harbor; the developers; and last but not least the city of Oxnard, who will receive property and sales-tax dollars from the businesses that will be opening there.

Explain the times you have met and/or spoken with stakeholders and in what capacity.

Local resident stakeholders have been meeting with me for a couple of years now. I have met with local residents before and after they formed CICA (Channel Islands Community Association). They have my phone numbers and have called me many times in the evening or on weekends. I have attended neighborhood council meetings. Lauraine Effress, Julia Pena and Diane Delaney have met with me many times. [I have met with] Mike Mercadante and other CICA representatives. I was given a boat tour of the harbor by CICA members.

What has been the outcome of those conversations?

First of all, until March of this year everything was pure speculation. We knew residential units would be included in the proposal but did not know how many or what the commercial space would look like. Everyone was always reassured that there would be opportunities for the public to comment on any project brought forward. I provided the developers with a list of people and groups they should reach out to. BOS [Board of Supervisors] instructed the developers to meet with the public and listen to what they have to say.

Why do you feel they say they are being ignored?

They have not been ignored, they just do not want apartments. The opponents’ foremost concern seems to be the number of units — close to 400 — being proposed, that it will bring too much traffic and has raised concerns over safety.

How have you addressed those concerns?

Wait and see what the final proposal is, and let’s see what the traffic study shows and if there are any public safety issues that need to be addressed.

Who do you believe will be interested in living in those apartments?

People who want to live by the water but cannot afford to buy a million-dollar house. Young professionals just starting out in the work force. Naval Base Ventura County is one of the county’s largest employers. This could provide a place for base employees to live close to work. People that own boats. Someone who does not want the burdens of home ownership.

How many stakeholders are you aware of that approve of the project as well as oppose?

Everywhere I go since being elected in 2009 my constituents ask me when is something going to be done with Fisherman’s Wharf. Everyone remembers good time spent there. It is hard to count the people who approve; they tend not to speak out while those opposed are very vocal and visual.

What have you done to become knowledgeable about the developers, Tom Tellefsen, Peter Mullin and Geoff Palmer?

To me a picture tells a thousand words. I was offered and accepted a tour of two properties similar to what is being proposed here in Oxnard, one new and one 10 years old. They have the financial ability to fund and maintain this property for the long haul.

These will be leased apartments with restrictions that will not include sub-rentals such as Air B&B and others.

One of the partners already has a very substantial investment in Oxnard with the Mullin Automobile Museum.

If this project doesn’t go through, what will be the future of Fisherman’s Wharf?

If this project is not approved we will lose a very qualified investor. The county can provide only minimal dollars towards any project (administration costs). F

Channel Islands Harbor Department Director Lyn Krieger has been at the helm for 18 years, and opponents to the projects are placing a lot of blame on her for the current state of the harbor district and blame the Supervisors for not doing anything to change the status quo. What considerations have been made about this apparent issue and Krieger’s role?

I cannot comment on that. 

From the CEO’s office about Fisherman’s Wharf

The stakeholders opposing the 390-unit luxury apartment complex say the county only ignores them. Matt Carroll, assistant county executive officer, responded to the claim.

“In addition to eight to nine neighborhood meetings held by the developer, and the general meeting held by the developer with Mike Mercadante’s group on a Saturday at Hollywood Beach School, County Executive Officer Mike Powers met with Oxnard and CICA (Channel Islands Community Association) officials (Mecadante) on three occasions, in January, August and October of last year.  Fisherman’s Wharf, along with other topics, was discussed at each of these meetings and was the primary topic of the August meeting.  Additionally, multiple meetings have also occurred directly between Supervisor John Zaragoza and various homeowners associations and personal meetings with Channel Islands residents.

“With regard to the County being open to input from local residents, our office and the board welcomes such input and, in pursuit of this goal, has on multiple occasions moved, delayed or rescheduled Harbor agenda items to later meeting dates or to time-certain slots, at the request of local residents, to ensure that as many of those residents as possible can attend and speak to the item. This has occurred most recently with the two-week delay (April 19 reschedule to May 3) for the harbor parcel X-3 Exclusive Right to Negotiate agenda item, and the Boating Center Operating Agreement with CSUCI, which was originally scheduled for May 17 and is now scheduled for sometime in July.  Additionally, in order to provide for more public notice and input, since March of this year the County has published draft advance agendas, which in addition to providing more than one full week’s notice of nearly all agenda items to be heard by the Board, also included a Future Agenda items section. This Future Agenda items section has listed the current agenda item of discussion, the 7th (Fisherman’s Wharf) Amendment to the Harbor Public Work Plan, since April 11 of this year.”