(TNS) - So far, 65 homes destroyed in the Thomas Fire have been cleared of hazardous materials and debris, the first step in rebuilding.
Clearing at the rest of the homes should be completed by the middle of April, Ventura Interim City Manager Dan Paranick told the City Council on Monday during a report on the fire.
City officials have been regularly providing updates on the fire since it ravaged parts of the city and surrounding areas in the weeks after its Dec. 4 start. More than 520 homes were destroyed in the city, and many who lived in them are eager to rebuild.
The discussion included what the city was doing to prepare for the mud and debris flows that could cause significant damage when heavy or prolonged rain hits.
Area officials divided the area impacted by the Thomas Fire into 10 zones, Ventura Assistant Police Chief Darin Schindler said. Ventura is in Zone 2 on vcemergency.com and when a resident goes to that page, they can see an evacuation map of their neighborhood.
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Schindler said land lines through AT&T and Verizon are automatically enrolled in vcalert.org’s warning system. But he urged people to sign up via email and their cell phones. When the power went out during the Thomas Fire, land lines couldn’t receive calls, he said.
Schindler clarified when voluntary and mandatory evacuations would be issued. A voluntary evacuation means the threat to lives was “not yet imminent” but residents should prepare for an order to leave. A half-inch of rain would be in the forecast.
A mandatory evacuation would follow a half-inch of rain forecast and observed, and conditions that “seriously imperil or endanger” the lives of those in an impacted area would exist. Early warnings would precede an event by 12 to 24 hours, he said.
Also Monday, the council honored Zach Garcia, who helped resident Arsen “Tony” Roberts. Roberts lost his home in the fire, which Garcia learned from a news broadcast. Garcia helped Roberts through the post-fire process, set up a GoFundMe page for the man and invited him to his home for Christmas, according to a KTLA broadcast.
“You represent everything that is good and right about our community,” council member Matt LaVere told Garcia, presenting him a key to the city.
During the meeting, others raised concerns about what went wrong during the fire.
Deborah Dryden, who lost her Ventura home, questioned the loss of water service the night of the fire and why, more than two months later, the question remained unanswered.
“We want to know what failed,” she said.
The city let she and others down, Dryden said. She asked who would be held accountable for the failings and what was being done to ensure similar problems didn’t happen again.
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Later, the council approved a zone change that clears the way for 306 apartments to be built at Johnson and North Bank drives. The roughly 8-acre site is near Highway 101, the Santa Clara River and a Motel 6.
The units will range from 668 square-foot studios to three-bedroom units that are 1,759 square feet, according to the city's staff report.
The council approved the zone change on a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Neal Andrews and council member Christy Weir opposed. Both expressed concern with traffic and Andrews felt the project was too dense.
Weir said the lack of park space bothered her — the quarter-acre public park was small for the number of children expected to live in the complex and they wouldn't really be able to walk to any park nearby, she said — as did the height of the buildings that blocked mountain views from the freeway and the city's uncertain water supply.
But a council majority and several who spoke agreed the project offered badly needed housing and would help activate a part of the city that has languished in recent years, particularly as The Collection at RiverPark in Oxnard has flourished.
“I welcome the addition of workforce housing,” council member Erik Nasarenko said.
Ventura Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Stephanie Caldwell said the addition of residents could help revitalize an area that soon could be home to thriving restaurants, shops and services.
“The city needs a win. We need progress,” she said.
Ravello Holdings, the developer, will include 19 units for low and very low-income populations. In the city's housing element, its blueprint for ensuring it has enough housing types to accommodate all income levels, the site was identified as having 55 units for the lowest earners. But the city has other sites identified to make up the difference, the December staff report to the Planning Commission notes.
Ravello will also pay $2.4 million in water fees, money that will help the city develop new sources of water. If a development lacks its own water source or rights, the city charges an "in-lieu" fee, which is based on the amount of water a development is expected to use. The fee was $26,457 per acre-foot when it was approved in June 2016.
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