Port of Hueneme requests to park 5,000 cars in south Oxnard raises pollution worries
Sunday, Feb 17, 2019
by Wendy Leung
A proposal by the Port of Hueneme to park nearly 5,000 cars on a piece of vacant land in south Oxnard is still several months from being considered by the Planning Commission, but opinions are stacking up.
The city of Oxnard is sifting through about 250 comments on the proposed project, both in support and in opposition. The Planning Commission has the authority to approve or deny the project. If the decision is appealed, it will go before the City Council.
Located at Hueneme and Perkins roads, the 34-acre property is privately owned and zoned light industrial. If the project is approved, new cars imported to the port would be processed, then stored at the lot until they are taken to dealerships.
After evaluating the possible impacts of the project, Oxnard’s planning division declared that a full environmental impact report is not needed.
In the city’s declaration, there is no evidence the project would pose significant environmental impacts that couldn’t be mitigated. The city determined construction of the project could affect nesting birds and is proposing that work take place outside of breeding season.
Opponents of the project, however, are calling for a thorough environmental impact report.
Lucas Zucker of the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy said the proposed project is near the Southwinds neighborhood, a dense residential area of working-class families already overburdened by pollution.
“We see it as something that raises serious concerns and environmental impacts on south Oxnard residents,” Zucker said. “It is a parking lot, but it’s really a port expansion.”
The project near Ormond Beach would need a special permit from the city for a temporary guard house, restroom and fencing. According to port officials, the project would bring about 30 new jobs to the area and the long-vacant property would finally get some attention.
Dona Toteva Lacayo, chief commercial and public affairs officer for the port, said landscaping using native plants would be placed around the fence as a buffer.
“The plan is for it to be beautiful,” Lacayo said.
The port is planning to use the facility for three years with a possible two-year extension.
Cars leaving the port could be driven to the south Oxnard property because of the proximity. Since the cars won’t have to be loaded onto a diesel truck and taken to a farther location, Lacayo said, having the car storage facility in south Oxnard would cut down on emissions.
The Oxnard Chamber of Commerce supports the project and the city’s draft environmental document.
Chamber President Nancy Lindholm said she is surprised at the opposition to the project.
“It’s not a permanent structure. The city can support a different use later,” Lindholm said. “It keeps jobs local.”
If controversy over this piece of land sounds familiar, that’s because in 2002, a similar proposal was before the city. Pacific Vehicle Processors wanted to use the land as a distribution center for Volkswagen and Audi cars.
At the time, city staff and the Planning Commission recommended the proposal without an environmental impact report. Environmental groups threatened a lawsuit and city staff reversed its recommendation. The City Council voted for a full report but one was never done. Pacific Vehicle Processors ultimately pulled its application.
Port officials did not say what the impact would be on the project, should a thorough environmental review be deemed necessary.
“We would look at the scale of the commentary being raised,” said Giles Pettifor, environmental manager for the port.
Pettifor said the port is committed to following the process as mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act.
“We’re very real and transparent about that,” Pettifor said. “We’re in the coordination phase right now, making sure we’re following the process and addressing the comments.”
In order to make an environmental impact determination for a project, the city must consider a long list of impact categories set by the state, explained Kathleen Mallory, planning manager for Oxnard. The categories include air quality, noise, water quality and many other potential impacts.
Mallory said no date has yet been set for the project to go before the Planning Commission.
Port officials said they are interested in seeing the project be approved as soon as possible but are sensitive to residents’ concerns.
“We want to make it right,” Lacayo said. “We understand it’s a process so there’s no rush.”
The project is expected to receive a maximum of 76 cars to the site per day for about 18 days every month. The cars will be driven to and from the property from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Shirley Godwin, an Oxnard resident who has been active in the effort to restore Ormond Beach, said this kind of use is just not appropriate. Hueneme Road, she said, is a coastal scenic drive.
“What does this say about our community to park cars on a coastal scenic drive so close to Ormond Beach wetlands?” Godwin said. “Here you have a car parking lot between a scenic highway and a nature preserve. What kind of message is that?“
Christina Zubko, who lives in Port Hueneme, is concerned that the area, already overburdened by industrial use, will get worse. She pointed out the nearby power plant, now defunct, and a Superfund site that had attracted homeless encampments.
“Now we’re going to add a parking lot up to 5,000 cars. From an environmental perspective, I worry about the pollution,” Zubko said. “It irks me that this area has been jumped on. For the people and for the environment, I think it’s a bad idea.”