FSCR, its partners, and scores of organizations and citizens have commented on the SCR-1 levee rehab project in Oxnard to move the County to be progressive and become a lead in greenhouse gas reduction while meeting the needs of the local community. Ventura County Watershed Protection District’s SCR-1 project, located near Riverpark in Oxnard, to date has not incorporated the “betterments” for the entire project length in its EIR scope.
In June, the District requested scoping comments as part of the anticipated Environmental Impact Report for the SCR-1 Santa Clara River Levee Rehabilitation Project. The project is a levee rebuild with 2.8 miles of soil cement near River Park in Oxnard to increase flood protection of the area near The Collection Shopping Center. The project is one of the largest river investments, but as currently planned, will not include a bikeway or environmental enhancements along the entire length. A small segment near Rio Del Sol school may have amenities, if paid for by others, but full-length betterments remain elusive.
Public Asks for Betterments
On July 21, a public meeting was hosted by the City of Oxnard and VCWPD. The VCWPD officials were asked why the bike path, education features and vegetation cover, known as betterments. Meeting hosts and participants acknowledged the betterments are needed and commonly included in other counties. However, among reasons cited by VCWPD for omitting the betterments was prioritizing funds for life-safety and difficulty in building a path in a phased project.
FSCR has drafted a detailed response citing the agencies own documents and the County 2040 General Plan which supports such betterments. FSCR website provides details on the website as well as a video about the project.
Life-Safety Or Not, A False Choice
FSCR supports the protection of life and property. However, all life-safety facilities, whether police or fire station or hospital, have some funds dedicated to betterments, such as landscaping, sidewalks or exercise areas for community health. The State Act that formed VCWPD in 2003 lists a specific purpose to include recreation and environmental priorities. So, the response that all funds under the control of VCWPD must be used only for life-safety conflicts with the very act that forms the District.
Although VCWPD should take the lead to make the betterments happen, they don’t need to go it alone. Partnerships with other County Departments, the state, schools, cities, private sector, and non-governmental organization are a much more effective strategy. The project is a large investment in our community and should provide synergistic benefits and enhance the river corridor.
FSCR rebuttal to the life-safety argument is the fact that many state grants and bond issues encourage or even require multipurpose projects to be eligible. Also, the inclusion of these features would result in a surge of public support from a larger community of outdoor enthusiasts, educators, and environmentalists. Therefore, the project could grow a groundswell of support for and increase its likelihood of funding. Certainly, omitting the betterments along the project length would likely foreclose their inclusion in the near future.
VCWPD argued that phased construction of the betterments is difficult. Not only are projects commonly phased, but even this project’s soil cement is going to be phased over time. There appears no reason why river trail pavement cannot be phased as well.
2040 General Plan, Climate Change
The County recently adopted the 2040 General Plan which encourages the integration of design features into flood control projects and use of waterways. It is surprising that the very agency that is concerned about flood threats is reluctant to include such features in perhaps their largest project in the County.
The County government overall is slow to move on the growing climate crisis. Climate change is a special concern for any watershed protection agency where threats of fire, mudflows, and river flooding are a looming threat. SCR-1 offers the VCWPD the opportunity to lead other county government departments toward greenhouse gas reduction. The betterments are an ideal way to expand active transportation and benefits of vegetation as carbon capture and their cooling properties along the river.
By including the bike trail in the proposed project, a critical link will be provided as part of a larger bike trail system that is needed in Ventura County. Ventura County and local cities supported Sierra Club and FSCR’s application to the National Park Service for a study to help make the County grant ready for the Santa Clara River Loop Trail, a regional trail system from Saticoy to Ventura and to Oxnard. The grant was won and the plan will be completed by Fall 2021. SCR-1 is an important step in making this trail a reality. More information of this trail is available at fscr.org under projects.
In alignment with the 2040 General Plan, the SCR-1 trail would provide safe riding and walking for nearby disadvantaged communities, such as El Rio and parts of Oxnard, provide health and recreation to citizens, mitigate climate change and pollution, and would be a platform for education about our river. Additionally, the proposed soil cement levee should be covered with soil and native vegetation along the river for the project length and provide shade where possible in compliance with levee certification. In conference with stakeholders and US Army Corps of Engineers, it was determined that trees are possible as long as roots are separated from the levee structure and inspectable (i.e. containers). Many of the project impacts can be mitigated on site with such enhancements. Benefits of a bike trail and vegetation include:
- Vegetation for Carbon Capture and Neighborhood Cooling
- Improved air quality by reduced vehicle emissions and plants to clean the air
- Walkable/Opportunities for safe exercise resulting in a healthier community to meet County Health Dept. goals
- A place for community engagement
According to studies by the American Planning Association, Urban design impacts health of our communities and such offerings have a measurable impact on health costs.
What Can You Do?
Although the comment period has closed, citizens can express their concerns by contacting the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. Click here on how to write your Ventura County Supervisor. LA County residents can also encourage their representatives to build a regional trail system that will eventually link the two counties together.
Join FSCR by asking the Ventura County Supervisors to direct VCWPD to include a bikeway/walking trail systems with areas of native vegetation and trees along the full length of the rehabilitated levee. These betterments need to be included in the EIR Scope immediately. VCWPD should take the lead in making the betterments a reality with innovative partnerships to make this a great community project.