Oxnard, California

Oxnard, population 170,358 (2000), is located on the Pacific Ocean, sixty miles west of Los Angeles. A coastal area in Oxnard, known as Oxnard Shores, was subdivided into 127 beachfront lots. By the 1960s, only 30 of these lots were developed and the remaining 97 lots were vacant. In the next two decades, disputes over this subdivision resulted in ten lawsuits brought by parties both opposed to and in favor of developing these beachfront lots. The claims against the City of Oxnard reached $40 million.

Oxnard adopted its TDR program to preserve beachfront property in the Oxnard Shores subdivision.

In 1983, the “Oxnard Shores Restoration Program Project Feasibility Report” concluded that transfer of development rights could be used to resolve these disputes. One year later, in 1984, Oxnard adopted a TDR ordinance.

Oxnard’s TDR ordinance is intended to provide a mechanism for preserving important resources, maximizing coastal access, providing recreation and controlling development in potentially hazardous areas. The ordinance identifies three types of sending areas: parcels designated as sensitive resource areas; parcels with development hazards; and, other parcels designated by the Oxnard City Council.

All beachfront lots in Oxnard Shores are specifically identified as sending sites. The Planning Commission determines the number of transferable development rights for each lot based on buildability, lot size, zoning, exposure of the lot to wave runup and the owner’s investment-backed expectations. No more than six transferable development rights can be assigned per each legal lot. This six-to-one transfer ratio resulted from an economic study which concluded that it could take as many as six additional dwelling units at an inland receiving site to equal the profit potential of one beachfront home at Oxnard Shores.

In the Oxnard program, receiving sites are areas in any of seven specified multiple-family residential zones or parcels in other zones which have been approved through the special use permit process. These zones meet four eligibility criteria listed in the ordinance: the receiving site infrastructure must be able to accommodate additional units; the additional units should not significantly change the character of the neighborhood; the transferred rights should improve land use patterns through infill development; and the transfer should result in a net reduction in environmental impacts. No more than six additional units per acre can be transferred onto a receiving site.

The approval process begins when the owner of the proposed receiving site applies for a special use permit. The applicant’s site plan must demonstrate that all design standards and parking requirements will be met despite the additional development. The special use permit must be approved by the Oxnard Planning Commission. But the transfer is not finalized until the recording of a Deed of Transferrable Development Rights for the units proposed to be transferred to the receiving site. In addition, an Open Space or Conservation Easement must be recorded restricting development on the sending site and providing for public access in perpetuity.

Beyond Takings and Givings did not mention that Oxnard allows developers the option of compliance via in-lieu fee contributions as well as actual TDRs. When a developer proposes to use this option, the planning commission establishes the value of the in-lieu contribution and the city council considers whether this in-lieu contribution is commensurate with the economic return to the contributor. The city must use any funds collected though this in-lieu process to buy beachfront lots.

In order to encourage TDR, the Oxnard program exempts transferred units from parkland acquisition fees, growth development fees, park taxes and plan check fees.

The Oxnard program offers some of the incentives typically found in a successful TDR program, such as a six-to-one transfer ratio. However, only a handful of transfers occurred in the mid 1980s. According to Deanna Walsh, Coastal Planner for the City of Oxnard, many of the lots in Oxnard Shores are owned by people who want to use this property to build their personal beachfront homes. Unlike developers, these property owners are often uninterested in developing multiple units at an inland location regardless of whether or not it is more profitable.

For this reason, the land use problems at Oxnard Shores were not resolved until a settlement agreement of all the pending lawsuits was reached in 1988. As part of that settlement agreement, the Oxnard Shores subdivision was reconfigured. The 97 vacant lots were reorganized into 73 lots. All 73 lots are assured of being developable and, in fact, 35 of the 73 lots have been formally approved for development.

In 2001, Matt Winegar, Community Services Director, reported that the TDR provisions were still in the Oxnard code. However, no new transfers have occurred primarily because the oceanfront sending areas are too valuable to make the transfer option very appealing to the owners of sending sites.