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Monday, Sep 25, 2023

Not Signed, Means Not Delivered for Camarillo

If you want to get a sense of what many cities in the state are struggling with as they try to move forward on stalled redevelopment projects, look no further than Camarillo. The small Ventura County city started its redevelopment agency in 1996 – recent by redevelopment standards – and was just barely getting started with various projects when the state abolished redevelopment in 2012. And they were ambitious. The Camarillo Community Development Commission approved in 2011 allocating more than $300 million of future tax money to various future projects. Among the goals for 2012 were development of a mixed-use retail and residential center on Ventura Boulevard, an $8.9 million recreation center and bowling alley near the airport and a $3.9 million flood drain across from the Camarillo Premium Outlets. The drain would eventually allow the city to use the site for a hotel and convention center. The city had even socked away some bond money. But what it didn’t have was signed development agreements in place by June 27, 2011, the deadline established in the law that ended California’s municipal redevelopment programs. Agreements signed by that date created what the state considers “enforceable obligations” that require the city to pay a developer or potentially be subject to litigation. The state Department of Finance sent a letter to the city dated Dec. 18 that noted the lack of contracts in refusing to release some $15 million for the three big-ticket items. That letter came after the city requested a “meet and confer,” or an appeal of the original denial the state issued in October. Despite Camarillo’s second effort, the requests were denied again. The decision has left the city, in the case of the proposed mixed-use center, with land it has acquired, a conceptual design but a lack of funds to move forward. Now the prime downtown space could sit vacant indefinitely. However, City Manager Bruce Feng said he remains “cautiously optimistic” that his city will be able to start some projects after another state review period in March. It will again apply for funds, though he would not disclose what additional information the city could bring to the attention of state officials that would change their mind. “We are cautiously optimistic,” he said. “It’s complicated. We’re all trying to invent government.” The stalled projects have frustrated the business community. Jennifer Wells, chief executive of the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce, said the construction of the flood drain and subsequent hotel and convention center next to the busy outlets would allow Camarillo to compete with neighboring cities, such as Oxnard and Thousand Oaks, in luring events to their city. “We just don’t have the opportunity to go after the same types of conventions and events,” she said. In addition, Wells said the mixed-use development on Ventura Boulevard would help boost business. “To have a whole block that’s vacant get developed is obviously huge,” she said. Among the funds Camarillo did receive approval to use in the first half of this year was $935,000 to cover expenses incurred before redevelopment ended and more than $225,000 to cover already incurred administrative costs. Feng, though, has not given up hope. “We’re still waiting at this point,” he said.

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