We have a spooky unnatural phenomenon here in Ventura — an invisible supply of water that the civic powers can barter with, even in its ghostly immaterial form. That’s what our City Council has just negotiated with a municipality not too far away. We will lease a partial allotment of our state water supply, which does not actually exist, to San Gorgonio, so we do not have to pay full price for a yearly promise of water, and we keep our place in line to get it, someday .
In order to receive those valuable Sierra waters, we would have to connect to the state water project with a long pipe from Camarillo, which we learn could take two or three years to build. But even more importantly, the state would actually have to have that water for us, which it clearly does not. It’s down to 5% of normal supplies. You have seen the photos of empty reservoirs up and down the state, some so empty they are exposing dead bodies in barrels dumped in these reservoirs years ago. Who did this? We don’t know. (Did these folks, “Sleep with da fishes?”) Like so much about water in California, everything is shrouded in political mist and dark suspicion.
Ventura’s own water enigmas are obscure as well. For example, how do we get to lease rights to water we do not have and may never get?
But more to the point, we are told the state alone can require that new building must come with new water supplies, which of course it does not have, and somehow does not require, so we build without it. Can you avoid requiring water supplies with water you do not even have, but should? How convenient – a tautology for sure.
More importantly, how do our local civic leaders promote massive building of new multi-story town homes and apartments without provisions for new water to supply them? Residents already feel the pinch of water scarcity, but the new view-blocking mega-structures will only make our shortages harder to bear. And in case you thought the rains are coming to break what the powers that be deceptively label a prolonged drought, consider that our lack of water in our one sad lake supposedly at only one third of capacity and over-drawn aquafers are a consequence of human -caused global heating, which is nearly impossible to reduce.
But there’s more. The City Council is considering policies that would allow buildings to tower up to six stories, or more — again no new water. Also the state proposes allowing developers to tear down single family homes and build up to four dwelling units on that same piece of property. Our fair city goes further and is willing to let builders ignore existing property lines. Again no new water.
One rationale for all this rampant building is the need for affordable housing, which is real and not a chimera. But these new digs are extravagantly expensive; the four-story town homes along Main Street by Ventura High School go for $1.2 million or more each — again, with no new water, and not within reach of even middleclass families, let alone the poor.
So what gives? Are there out-of-area grifters, as many suspect, in charge of this massive water-constrained build out? We could get 1,800 more units in this form. Is our City Council asleep at the switch? Or dreaming by an empty water pipe? Are locals thrilled with all this water-depleting development?
We should point out that the nearby city we have always played second fiddle to, Santa Barbara, is not growing in this irresponsible, water-straining way, and it has a desalination plant and is currently connecting a pipe from it to city water mains. But it will not allow builders to spoil the beauty and charm of this touristy city, however made-over to look “Spanish” it is.
Ventura’s beauty and charm stem from it being one of the last coastal cities to look like an original California seaside town, with a hodgepodge of architectural styles, smallish contained neighborhoods running up hills and spreading along flats, and a remaining small-town feel. How these tower blocks add to this charm is something town planners, professional designers and AIA-, LEED-certified architects need to explain, even as they work to deprive us further of life-giving water.
(Since LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” I should point out that none of these giant buildings are fitted with solar panels and all use natural gas. We are getting yesterday’s obsolete housing as a sign of faux urban progress.)
The treasure of California and the West is not gold, nor oil, nor endless varietals of vino, but actual cool clear water. We must not forget that. Our leaders have.
Robert Chianese, Ph. D., Professor Emeritus, CSU Northridge, publishes poems and essays on art, science and the environment.