Pictured: A rendering of part of the Fisherman’s Wharf project proposed by Channel Islands Harbor Properties LLC. 

by Kimberly Rivers

kimberly@vcreporter.com

On June 23, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, after taking two votes on the agenda item, eventually voted to extend the Exclusive Right to Negotiate (ERN) for nine months between the county and developer Channel Islands Harbor Properties LLC, (CIHP) for three parcels at the Fisherman’s Wharf waterfront area near Channel Islands Harbor. 

Supervisor Steve Bennett (Dist-1) at a June 2019 event in Ojai. Photo by Kimberly Rivers.

The first vote had the majority casting nos to terminate the ERN. But at the next agenda item, Steve Bennett (Dist-1) asked Board Chair Kelly Long (Dist-3) if the board might revisit the item. The board first voted on revisiting the item and allowing another vote, which was approved with only Linda Parks (Dist-2) voting against allowing a revote.

Bennett joined Supervisors Long and Bob Huber (Dist-4) in voting to extend the ERN. Parks and Zaragoza (Dist-5) voted against the extension.

The revote is being challenged by community members with Harbor and Beach Community Alliance (HBCA) asking the board to renotice the matter, as they view it as a violation of the Brown Act because the public understood the vote to have occured. HBCA’s legal counsel, Douglas Carstens of Chatten-Brown, Carstens and Minteer, has sent a letter asking as much and putting the county on notice that the group may be forced to resort to legal action if the board fails to remedy the violation. 

Bennett’s main focus was determining the impact of terminating the ERN on the county’s reputation with developers and whether not renewing the ERN would expose the county to claims that it didn’t act in good faith. He ultimately changed his vote, saying he wanted to protect the county’s reputation as a “reliable partner,” resulting in the ERN being extended  

He did want assurance that an ERN does not require the county to approve a project. Ventura County Counsel Leroy Smith responded to Bennett, stating that while the county does not have an obligation to approve the project, it does have a “duty to act in good faith.” Meaning that if the project brought by CIHP met the requirements, the county could not deny CIHP and then give the same project to another developer. 

The ERN provides “some assurance” that the county will work with CIHP on the project if the developer comes up with a project that is jointly agreed upon. That preference is the “whole point” of the ERN, said Smith. 

Mark Sandoval, director of Channel Islands Harbor, told the supervisors that he would expect a master vision to be completed within the next six months, and that any developer could participate in that process. After the vision is complete, CIHP will have three months to determine if the vision is something for which it can develop a project. 

While the visioning process will look at the entire Fisherman’s Wharf area, the ERN applied to only three parcels. 

Sandoval emphasized that extending the ERN provides an incentive for CIHP to remain involved and that its input is needed in the visioning process; otherwise a project could be developed “that nobody wants to develop.” 

“I believe the visioning process is going to help us,” said Zaragoza.

Community members with the HBCA spoke in opposition, saying that CIHP has had its opportunity to develop a plan, which many feel is too focused on housing, and that the community wants to see the area opened up to other developers. 

Supervisor Linda Parks (Dist-2) in March 2019. Photo by Kimberly Rivers.

Sandoval described what seemed to be a “misperception of what the visioning is,” clarifying that it is an “all inclusive process” and that it really doesn’t have anything specifically to do with CIHP. He added that CIHP can bring its expertise to the process, but so can any other person or developer. 

“About five years ago I started asking for [the visioning process], Charrette is what we called it back then,” said Parks, during the initial board discussion for the first vote. She said there were meetings but felt that none of the input was ultimately reflected in the proposal from CIHP. “If you’ve got a hammer, everything looks like a nail . . . this developer does housing,” and she felt the focus will always be on housing, even though the community wants a different focus. 

According to the CIHP website, the mixed-use project was modified following community input, cutting the number of residential units in half, adding a park and other public amenities. 

“If you truly want other developers interested you don’t extend the ERN,” Parks said, pointing out that the current developer can still participate and apply. But she said that allowing the ERN to expire would be the best way to ensure a “really open visioning” process, without a particular developer being favored in any way. 

 

For more info on the Harbor and Beach Community Alliance, visit: www.hbca.info

For more information on the proposal of Channel Islands Harbor Properties, visit: www.fishermanswharfoxnard.com/the-development-team/