As Ventura County grows, Navy base looks to protect mission, space
By Mike Harris | Ventura County Star, Calif. | Published: March 30, 2014
VENTURA, Calif. — The roots of Naval Base Ventura County date back to the United States’ entrance into World War II in 1941, when the population of the county was about 70,000.
In the 73 years since, the population has grown to about 840,000, and the base’s neighboring cities of Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Camarillo have built up.
That’s a pattern the U.S. military has seen at installations around the country for decades — one that has produced increased land-use conflicts between base operations and nearby civilian communities.
To prevent or alleviate such conflicts, the Department of Defense has funded exhaustive analyses called joint land-use studies at more than 100 military bases nationwide since 1985. The advisory studies produce recommendations frequently enacted by the various parties.
Now it’s Naval Base Ventura County’s turn. The installation, which includes facilities at Point Mugu, Port Hueneme, San Nicolas Island and a 36,000-square-mile Pacific Ocean test range, applied for and was selected by the Defense Department for its own advisory study. The analysis began last year and looks to wrap up this summer.
It gives equal weight to the base’s concerns and those of neighboring residents, said Steve DeGeorge, Ventura County Transportation Commission planning director.
“The purpose of the study is really twofold,” he said. “It’s to ensure the long-term viability of the naval base to make sure they can continue to do their mission, while at the same time protecting the surrounding communities.”
In its role as the county’s airport land-use agency, the commission is the study’s project manager. It has hired the Sacramento office of Colorado-based consultant Matrix Design Group to oversee it. Matrix has conducted about 25 of the studies around the nation.
Study participants include the base, county, surrounding cities and environmental and agricultural groups. Two public workshops have been held, in Camarillo and Oxnard, and two or three more are planned, although no dates have been set.
The base and its supporters are primarily concerned about encroachment. They don’t want new residential developments infringing on the base and compromising its mission.
The potential for large new developments is greater near the Point Mugu installation, which borders undeveloped, unincorporated county land. The Port Hueneme facility adjoins largely developed Port Hueneme and Oxnard.
A new development under or near the base’s flight paths, such as the proposed Conejo Creek project in Camarillo, could result in noise complaints from residents, which in turn could lead to the base curtailing flight hours, base supporters say.
Other civilian concerns include communication between the base and surrounding communities, and protecting the wetlands at Ormond Beach north of Point Mugu.
‘Very one-sided thing’
The origins of Naval Base Ventura County can be traced back to when Point Mugu became a training area for Seabees stationed at Port Hueneme as the United States entered World War II in 1941. In 1949, the Naval Air Station at Point Mugu was permanently established to support the U.S. Naval Air Missile Test Center.
The base’s name was established in 2000, when the 4,490-acre Point Mugu facility was consolidated with the 1,615-acre Construction Battalion Center Port Hueneme 7 miles away. The San Nicolas Island installation, 60 miles off the coast, became part of the base in 2004.
The base is Ventura County’s largest employer with 17,307 military, civilian and contractor personnel. It has an estimated $1.9 billion annual economic impact on the county.
While DeGeorge said the study does not give a higher priority to the base’s issues, Oxnard Mayor Tim Flynn said he is almost exclusively concerned about protecting the installation from encroachment.
“To me it’s a very one-sided thing,” said Flynn, who sits on the study’s policy committee. “The fact is that any project within a certain radius of Point Mugu is encroachment. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”
At least for now, the base is relatively undisturbed, said its community plans and liaison officer, Anna Shepherd.
“A lot of that is communicating with the local jurisdictions about concerns we have,” said Shepherd, a member of the study’s technical/advisory committee.
She cited an example involving an Oxnard company near the base, San Miguel Produce. The county last year wanted the firm to install strobe lights on its forklifts to alert bystanders when the vehicles were backing up. The base believed that such lights would have been incompatible with its airfield safety, she said.
“So we worked with the county, which determined that base safety was more important than a requirement for strobe lights,” she said. “It was a win-win for everyone.”
Conejo creek concerns
Another member of the study’s technical/advisory committee is Gene Fisher, co-chairman of RDP-21, a civilian support group for the base. The group has been successful in helping to prevent base encroachment, he said.
But there’s some concern that the proposed Conejo Creek development, a plan to build up to 2,500 housing units and 54 acres of office and commercial space on a 740-acre site at U.S. Highway 101 and Pleasant Valley Road, could potentially encroach on the Point Mugu facility, he said.
The development would be near the flight path of aircraft approaching the base.
“At some point residents might be very unhappy with the noise, and then the base might be restricted from being able to fly certain aircraft or certain times of the day,” Fisher said.
The project’s developer, Dennis Hardgrave, of Development Planning Services, said he lives directly under the approach path at Camarillo’s Village at the Park subdivision, and noise from the aircraft “has never been an issue or a concern to anybody that we know who lives there.”
But Shepherd said the majority of noise complaints the base receives come from Camarillo residents who live north of Highway 101.
Environmentalist Janis McCormick, who also sits on the study’s technical/advisory committee, said she is most concerned about preserving the Ormond Beach wetlands.
The base is an ally on that issue, said McCormick, president of the nonprofit Environmental Coalition of Ventura County.
“I think the base has the same concerns we do,” she said. “They also don’t want development that close to the base.”
Protecting the mission
DeGeorge said he expects the study’s recommendations to be made in mid- to late summer. It will be up to the various parties to decide if they will be implemented.
“But often, the Department of Defense has implementation money that follows this,” he said. “So that really helps the cities and agencies to get things implemented.”
Matrix Group Vice President Rick Rust, who is overseeing the study, said such recommendations are often implemented.
“That’s because all the parties have been sitting at the same table,” he said. “And they’ve been involved throughout the study’s development, everything from the identification of issues to the alternatives that can be looked at to the final plan.”
Flynn said the study is crucial in protecting the base’s mission.
“People look to the military to definitely say this is encroachment or this is not encroachment,” he said. “And the military avoids that like the plague. That’s why the joint land-use study is so important.
“We want to enhance the mission of the military,” he said. “We don’t in any way want to jeopardize it.”