Ventura County 2040 General Plan Update

Status:  Active - Planning Commission hearing completed.  Next:  Board of Supervisors September 1 

Why it matters?

  • County Economy
  • Housing and cost of living
  • CEQA

A County's General Plan is one of the most important documents that a County produces. It is the document that guides how and to what extent the County will control what you can do on your property and how they will allow you to do it.  It provides the framework that helps craft the rules under which your business must operate.  It is the document that outlines where and how much housing there will be for your children.

VC CoLAB has been at the forefront representing our members as the County drafts the 2040 General Plan Update.

California state law requires that each city and county adopt a general plan.  A general plan represents the community’s view of its future and the community’ development goals over a planning horizon of 20 years.  The County’s current General Plan expires in 2020 and has not been comprehensively updated since 1988.

From the beginning of this effort, VC CoLAB fought to produce a strong plan that would reflect the needs of our diverse residential and business communities.  Over the last 3 years, VC CoLAB has provided expert testimony to County Planning Division staff on a wide range of topics including: water, natural resources, transportation, land use, agriculture and housing.  Our staff and our members and partners have engaged in stakeholder meetings where we worked to help shape and guide the County’s future.

We pushed for the County to add both an Agricultural and Economic Development chapter to the General Plan – and won!

But the fight continues.  The Board of Supervisors has added over 325 new policies and programs to the General Plan.  Some of these policies and programs have a direct impact on Ventura County’s economy and business by adding costly requirements to development.  Still other policies and programs will affect the use of private property and may increase the risk of wildfire.   And despite the fact that independent economists have reported that Ventura County’s economy has had near zero growth over the last 5 years, the Board of Supervisors voted against conducting an economic impact analysis of the hundreds of new policies they are proposing.

As part of the process to update a General Plan, the County must analyze the impacts the General Plan will have on things like agriculture, water supplies, and wildfire risk. The California Environmental Quality Act governs how the County does this.  The impact analysis is called the "environmental impact report" (EIR).

Usually completing an EIR for a General Plan can take 18 months or more after the policy-makers decide on their list of policies to go in the General Plan.  The Board of Supervisors made their decision on the list of policies for the General Plan on September 10, 2019. And the County completed its EIR (administrative draft) only 6 weeks later. And the quality of the County's EIR reflects that timeline.

VC CoLAB encourages our members to engage in the stakeholder process whenever possible. We will post upcoming meeting dates and times and provide our members with information prior to the meetings.  Our members and partners will continue to provide the County with data, information and guidance to ensure that the 2040 General Plan meets the needs of our members.

Update - October 15, 2020:

Late yesterday evening, VC CoLAB and our partner organization, Ventura County Agricultural Association (VCAA), jointly filed a lawsuit against the County for the adoption of the General Plan. Our lawsuit alleges the County did not meet the necessary standards demanded by law for both public review and engagement and environmental impact analysis, resulting in a Plan that detrimentally impacts the agricultural industry, local businesses, and vulnerable populations.

Our members know how hard VC CoLAB worked over the last five years to ensure the County’s 2040 General Plan protects local agriculture and ensures both local businesses and County residents will thrive. Many of you helped us by attending task force meetings, writing letters, and speaking out at public hearings to urge the County to develop a General Plan that protects our local economy and way of life.

Unfortunately, over the last 18 months, the County shifted in a different direction.

The General Plan that the Supervisors adopted on September 15 threatens the economic viability of local agriculture, businesses, and industries, which, in turn, impacts local jobs at a time when the COVID-related shutdowns have left so many workers and their families struggling to make ends meet.

The General Plan will raise the cost of living in Ventura County. Some policies remove consumer choice for utilities. Other policies create new permit restrictions for development. And some policies set new, costly requirements for building and construction methods, materials, and utility infrastructure, which will discourage the construction of farmworker housing, affordable housing, and ADUs.

Worst of all, land-use restrictions in the Wildlife Corridor Ordinance that VC CoLAB is already fighting against were added to the General Plan. These land-use restrictions now apply to many properties even outside the mapped Corridor.

VC CoLAB and organizations such as VCEDA, Ventura County Taxpayers Association, the Chamber Alliance, and many others - and hundreds of our members and members of the community at large – spoke out many times against the harmful and expensive policies in the General Plan. But the County disregarded everyone’s concerns and comments and adopted the 2040 General Plan.

We wanted to avoid having to take this step, but, in the end, the County did not leave any alternative. Through the lawsuit filed late yesterday, we aim to compel the County to re-examine and revise the General Plan. Our members deserve a General Plan that supports a vibrant, robust agricultural industry and a strong, growing economy for all Ventura County residents.

Click to read a copy of the Press Release.

Click to read a copy of the Lawsuit.

Update - August 24, 2020:

The FINAL hearing on the General Plan will be on Tuesday, September 1, 2020.

There are BIG ISSUES with the General Plan! Many of the policies and programs will increase the cost of living, housing prices and make it harder for businesses to recover from the COVID-economic shutdown.

Some examples include:

  • Policies mandating electrification of homes and businesses: According to the US Energy Information Administration, nearly 1/3rd of US households struggle to pay their energy bills. AND THIS NUMBER IS PRE-COVID! The U.S. Department of Energy just released a study warning that “all-electric” utilities were significantly more expensive than a natural gas/electric utility mix.
  • Policies that increase the cost of housing: Under the new General Plan, the County will demand that new housing and business development be built to standards GREATER than what is required under state law. More expensive materials and building practices will only serve to drive up the cost of housing and business growth – and will render many low- and mid-income housing projects infeasible.
  • Policies that will increase the risk of wildfire: Under the new General Plan, there will be many more restrictions on where brush clearance and fuel load reduction can occur. There are also many policies that will increase the vegetation (and fuel load) through the planting of trees and brush.
  • Policies that attack specific industries: The Board has made no secret that they are working to drive out the local oil and gas industry. While a sensible, well-thought out plan to transition to more renewable energy is wise, the County has no such plan. Governor Newsom admitted that the rolling black outs during our most recent heatwave are a DIRECT RESULT of shutting down fossil fuel powered electrical generation without having both first established a reliable alternative energy supply.
  • There are even policies that strike out at our local Ag industry with policies that will add costs to ag operations and devalue agricultural land. Under the new General Plan, ag will be forced to convert to all-electric equipment. And the General Plan creates new policies that compete with agriculture for our limited water supplies.
  • The General Plan was written without the input and engagement of the local Latino community – 43% of Ventura County’s population that were never offered a seat at the table. In 2020, this is both shameful and inexcusable.

COVID unemployment is at 26% of the total Ventura County workforce! Ventura County is facing an $80 million shortfall in their revenue for this year’s budget.

The General Plan should not be passed until the County understands how it will impact jobs, cost of living, and the price of housing for all residents! Please help CoLAB by sending an email to the Board of Supervisors TODAY at clerkoftheboard@ventura.org.

Update - July 17, 2020:

On July 16, 2020, the Planning Commission voted 3 -1 to pass the General Plan and EIR along, with minor modifications, to the Supervisors.

First - A huge THANK YOU to CoLAB members and supporters! HUNDREDS of emailed comments and letters were submitted. Dozens of Zoom/call-in comments were made. And a large percentage of those were generated by you!

And our issues were heard by at least one of the Commissioners, who tried hard to introduce some reasonable modifications into the General Plan for agriculture and industry.

There were numerous procedural and due process issues during this hearing, many involving the public's ability to provide comments on this issue.

Members of the public – including CoLAB – were forced to provide their comments before knowing what changes County staff had made to the General Plan.  During the presentation, staff stated that they were "still drafting language" on policies and would present that new language later to the Planning Commission. The Chair of the Planning Commission then forced the people at the hearing to give their comments, even though we now had no idea on what we were commenting.

Other issues involving the public comment process that were brought to the County's attention and not resolved before or during the hearing:

Some comments submitted by email had been "kicked back" by the County's server as "undeliverable."
Some comments that had been sent per the County's online instructions to submit email comments "to be read out loud" were not read at the hearing.
The online instructions and process for submitting comments to be read aloud were changed the day before the hearing, without any notification. The new instructions direct the public to send comments to an email address that is not operational except during the actual hearing. This denies people without access to a computer or email during the hearing hours (working, traveling, etc.) the ability to submit comments.

UPDATE - July 13, 2020

The FINAL Planning Commission hearing is scheduled for Thursday, July 16, 2020.

At this hearing, the Planning Commission must decide whether to make additional changes to the General Plan or to recommend that the Supervisors certify the EIR and adopt the General Plan.

The Board of Supervisors hearing will be September 1.

There are significant flaws in the EIR analysis and major issues with the proposed policies in the General Plan – and CoLAB is urging the Planning Commission NOT to recommend adopting the proposed General Plan!

The typical process for this stage of any General Plan Update is to hold several public hearings with the Planning Commission and the Supervisors. Multiple hearings allow for public engagement and closer scrutiny of the thousands of pages of highly detailed and technical documents that must be reviewed. It also helps ensure that the General Plan does not contain policies that are flawed and harmful to the citizens.

Our County has not scheduled multiple hearings – even though COVID restrictions and concerns will prevent many citizens from participating. There is no regulatory deadline that the County must meet to adopt a General Plan. So why the rush? Some of the members of the Board of Supervisors are in the last months of their final term of office. CoLAB has heard from multiple sources that there is political pressure on the County to get the General Plan adopted before these Supervisors leave office. But a politician wanting to leave a legacy should not take precedence over producing a General Plan that truly serves Ventura County residents!

The General Plan was drafted pre-COVID. Many of the policies and programs may not be appropriate or wise in a post-COVID world.

The County has not taken the time to understand or consider the long-term economic impacts of COVID.  Unemployment in Ventura County is at 13.5%.  More than 105,000 individuals have filed unemployment insurance or pandemic assistance claims in the County since March 1. But the General Plan currently contains policies that may harm local job growth, especially in industries that provide living-wage jobs (living wage in Ventura County is $27/hour) and upward advancement for workers without a college degree.

The County itself faces a $40 million (and growing) revenue shortfall. Just weeks ago, the Supervisors delayed passing the FY20-21 budget, citing financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic. The Planning Commission should also delay passing the General Plan until the economic impacts to County government, businesses, and individuals are clearer.

Last year, the Supervisors refused to evaluate the economic impacts of the proposed policies in the General Plan on local jobs, tax revenues, and cost of living for County residents. But in a time of unprecedented financial uncertainty, true leaders would reconsider that refusal and examine the economic impacts of the General Plan policies on jobs and the local cost of living before moving forward.

More outreach is needed – particularly among lower-income and minority communities, who have been the hardest hit by the health and economic impacts of COVID.

Public participation is the very cornerstone of good government. It ensures that the public has a voice in the regulatory process and that government's actions are transparent. But public engagement at the July 16 hearing will be curtailed by both the hardships of COVID and the County's stay at home orders.

The General Plan should be sent back to staff to be re-evaluated.

Please help CoLAB by sending an email to the Planning Commission (meighan.batinica@ventura.org) TODAY.   Urge the Planning Commission to delay the General Plan's approval until both the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the 2020-21 County budget have been assessed, and the County has engaged the participation of all members of the community!

 

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