Developing real estate in Ventura County has become an arduous task at best, regardless of its merit, but redeveloping property presents even more difficult challenges. Those include the dissolution of redevelopment agencies and their respective financial incentives, changes to housing and commercial needs, property zoning, and communities that have been accustomed to the status quo of failed projects and the quiet properties they have become. Enter Fisherman’s Wharf at Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard.
The 1970s-era commercial complex, a vision of Martin V. “Bud” Smith, was once trés-chic with its relaxing Cape Cod-style of peaked roofs and clapboard siding, cute nautical-themed retail shops and plentiful culinary options. It remained rather vibrant through the 1980s, but as commercial projects go, became outdated and visitors indulged their shopping desires elsewhere. And so tenant occupancy has remained minimal for decades, with only a few doing business there today. With the need for more housing a driving force behind redeveloping the county-owned land, a proposal to build a mixed-use project with 600 apartments was passed by the Board of Supervisors in the 2000s. That number was then reduced to roughly 400 units of luxury apartments. But no matter the revisions and modifications, any version that included high-density residential rentals has only been met with fierce pushback from the surrounding communities.
With the city of Oxnard and the county in a proverbial stalemate regarding designated land-use issues, the Board of Supervisors decided to extend for two years a so-called option agreement, allowing the developers more time to work out the serious kinks of the project without accruing more fees. While many agree that something must be done with the dilapidated complex, there are some rather unrealistic expectations that include having developers simply turn it into a minimal, if any, revenue-generating public park; rehabbing the property as is despite lack of demand for retail property; or building a nominal number of condominiums that wouldn’t yield enough of a profit without ownership of the land itself, which would never happen. Some important concerns include traffic issues along Victoria Avenue and Channel Islands Boulevard and evacuation plans. Quality-of-life issues are a main theme for all projects in Ventura County, but it’s especially audible around the harbor. Complaints about high-end apartments are rather valid when demand for affordable housing has become practically an emergency through the county, but to disregard the addition of any kind of rental housing as positive to the housing stock is short-sighted.
With this two-year window, there is some good news. The Harbor and Beach Community Alliance will be holding private community-based meetings to discuss how to revamp and redo the prime property on the waterfront. The main issue: being practical. Stakeholders have already tossed around ideas of what they want, though there is no real financial incentive for developers to take those options seriously. The vested developers have already mapped out what would be a profitable model, so perhaps it’s within those confines that the Alliance needs to find a compromise. Unless, of course, the group has enough money to buy out the developers and turn it into a public park themselves. We, however, don’t see that happening. As Mayor Tim Flynn was quoted in the Tuesday, Jan. 16, VC Star story speaking to the impacted neighbors, “If you remain divided, you will be conquered,” true productive leadership demands realistic compromise. We hope they can find it or else they may be left without any real say in the end.