SOAR is a series of voter initiatives that require a vote of the people before agricultural land or open space areas can be rezoned for development.

The first SOAR initiative was approved by the voters in the City of Ventura in 1995. Since then, seven others have been enacted around cities in Ventura County, as well as in the County’s unincorporated areas. The County’s SOAR initiative requires a majority vote of the people in order to rezone unincorporated open space, agricultural or rural land for development. The eight voter-approved SOAR initiatives passed by the cities of Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Oxnard, Santa Paula, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Ventura require voter approval for urban development beyond a City Urban Restriction Boundary (CURB), or in the case of the City of Ventura, before rezoning agricultural land within the city’s sphere of influence, or in Thousand Oaks, before rezoning parks and open space within the CURB. All of the SOAR initiatives were renewed by voters in November 2016, extending their expiration date to 2050.

No other county in the United States has more effective regulations against urban sprawl.

Who is SOAR?

SOAR is a nonprofit grassroots group of citizens in Ventura County, California who are dedicated to keeping Ventura County from following the same urban sprawl pattern that has plagued the rest of Southern California. SOAR has a volunteer Board of Directors and over a thousand active members with a presence in each city and community of the county.

SOAR’s current Board members include: Steve Bennett, Merrill Berge, Brian Brennan, Mic Farris, Richard Francis, Larry Older, Robert O’Riley, Karen Schmidt, and Van Vibber. Linda Parks is the Executive Director.

Why do we need SOAR?

Sitting on Los Angeles County’s northwestern boundary, Ventura County is subject to tremendous development pressure. Ventura County’s rolling hillsides, rugged mountains, beautiful beaches and fertile plains and valleys present a spectacular setting that creates conflicting incentives to preserve and develop this landscape. With a population of approximately 850,000 and over 100,000 acres of agricultural land in production, the county offers a highly attractive semi-rural respite from the urban sprawl of Los Angeles County where strip malls and subdivisions of one community merge indistinguishably with the next.

The history of sprawl development in Southern California over the last several decades, often over the strenuous and vocal objections of residents, is testament to the fact that local elected officials have been more responsive to development pressure than to the core values of their citizens. The fact that one of the largest sources of campaign funds for local elected officials in Southern California is pro-development money was a primary reason that Ventura County citizens recognized the need for an extra level of review by the voters for urban sprawl development proposals.

How do we keep SOAR?

In 2016, voters overwhelmingly elected to extend the SOAR initiatives until 2050. We need to monitor and respond to new threats such as weakening of land use policy protections, developer-led ballot initiatives, and attempts to constrain or co-opt grassroots democratic processes to benefit over-development.

Perhaps most importantly, we need to ensure the SOAR organization has the necessary resources to extend the SOAR laws so they don’t expire in 2050. To help continue SOAR’s legacy, donate today and consider including a planned gift for SOAR in your estate planning.

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