Community Plans Brighter Future for "Jewel of Oxnard"
Ormond Beach, a stretch of pearly sand sometimes called the "Jewel of Oxnard" for its extraordinary habitat values and post-card setting, lies in Ventura County just north of neighboring Point Mugu Naval Air Station.
"The beach is extremely rich in bird diversity," said Morgan Wehtje, a California Department of Fish and Game biologist who guided a California Biodiversity Council field trip to Ormond Beach Sept. 18. "It's a crucial resting area for birds on the same migratory path." A colony of least terns nearly doubled in numbers this year to 85 pairs, she said.
Last year, local civic and industrial leaders, environmentalists, and local, state, and federal government officials formed a coalition, called in a facilitator, and, after many months, produced a blueprint for 1,404 acres, aptly calling it the "Consensus Plan."
The plan conserves biologically sensitive Ormond Beach and the adjoining coastal zone, and allocates inland areas for development to accommodate future growth in the community.
"Our mission is to protect the maximum amount of resources in the area," said Roma Armbrust, chair of the Ormond Beach Observers, an environmental group that helped craft the plan. "We would love to have our plan be accepted by the city."
The coalition offered its plan to the Oxnard City Council as an alternative to a plan that includes building up to 4,000 homes.
|Local citizens, who know their watershed best, get involved in protecting it. Here, Jean Harris, left, of the Ormond Beach Obs ervers, points out the group's display at the Council meeting to Mary Leizear of the Morro Bay National Estuary Program, right.|
At Ormond Beach, a shallow lagoon and marshes of pickelweed, grasses, and bulrushes provide habitat for a multitude of birds, including threatened and endangered species such as the California brown pelican, western snowy plover, California least tern, Belding's savannah sparrow, and California black rail.
Peg Stevens of the Audubon Society reported sighting 64 species of birds on the beach in less than three hours the week before the council's visit.
A favored spot for the feathered visitors is the freshwater lagoon, fed by urban and agricultural runoff and groundwater from a canal. The lagoon also is home to the endangered tidewater goby, a tiny fish found in sandy bottomed waters.
Environmental groups fear the lagoon could be destroyed if Ventura County decided to divert water that replenishes it.
They also worry about the impacts of potential farmland development, industrial noise, pollution, and contamination of soil and water, which already have caused some degradation. The lagoon sits mostly atop underwater parcels owned by individuals and the city.
Hatching the Plan
Coalition participants included the State Coastal Conservancy, California Department of Fish and Game, California Coastal Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ventura County Flood Control District, property owners, businesses, the city of Oxnard, Ormond Beach Observers, League for Coastal Protection, and Oxnard Beautiful.
A development company met with the group, but has not commented on the Consensus Plan, which potentially rivals parts of its own plans for housing locations.
Most of the land encompassed by the Consensus Plan is privately owned, including more than 300 acres owned by Baldwin Builders, prime agricultural acreage, and industrial uses, such as the Southern California Edison Co. generating plant and the Halaco recycling plant.
The plan envisions protection, restoration, enhancement, and management for natural resource values at Ormond Beach. To provide a preservation incentive, it designates a "conservation credit" area adjoining the beach where Baldwin Builders could sell credits or swap parcels for developmentally suitable land elsewhere.
|Land-use planning on a watershed scale is necessary to resolve conflicts between meeting human needs for housing and economic development and protecting and sustaining wildlife and natural resources. In Oxnard, shown here, housing overlooks a lagoon that shelters migrating birds.|
Farther inland, areas are earmarked for expanded industrial development, flood control, recreational facilities, and visitor-serving commercial uses. Two areas farthest inland from the beach and wetlands are slated for an unspecified number of homes and commercial buildings.
"The goal of the process has been to reach consensus on balancing conservation and development that meets the city's economic needs and preserves the irreplaceable natural resources," said Rick Alexander, facilitator for the Consensus Plan. "The consensus-building approach has succeeded in designing a practical and permittable plan where nearly two decades of opposing parties pursuing conflicting goals had clearly failed."
If the city were to accept the Consensus Plan, it would require funding to carry it out. In addition, the coalition would like to see the lagoon and upland habitat purchased and protected from development.
"The lagoon and wetlands should be kept in perpetuity for the wildlife and not be subject to development, pollution, or other effects of growth and industry that could destroy these environmental values," Armbrust said. "There are adequate areas for those uses elsewhere in the community, and our Consensus Plan accommodates them."