Back in 2008, when I wrote commentary about Ventura for the Ventura County Star, I titled a column, “East of Eatin’.” In it I lamented about the lack of eating establishments in the city’s east end. But I remember feeling very excited reading the city’s Wells and Saticoy Plan when I found this little nugget:

Presently, the “Saticoy Village” on the southeast corner of Wells Road and Darling Road, already within the City’s jurisdiction, could go forward. It has a letter of interest from TESCO (Fresh and Easy) and further intentions and has been exploring a wide variety of potential tenants. Some 30 possible tenancies are shown on the Concept Plan, dated September 5, 2007. The mix includes TESCO, a drug store, a hardware store, potential restaurant, and a coffee shop. Indeed, the concept demonstrates three restaurants, if the market is there.

What has happened in those 10 years? Fresh and Easy opened two markets elsewhere in town and both have since closed. And the property where they might have gone off of Wells is still idle. We’ve been through a recession and a continuing downturn in the retail market. We’ve lost two good grocery stores out here and they’ve been replaced by discount outlets. Two Trees Cafe in the Kimball Center is so popular they’ve expanded, and Simone’s Coffee & Tea is still percolating. But Caraba Coffee near my home off of Telephone and Petit has recently closed its doors.

So we get in our cars and drive to Victoria, the Harbor, Midtown or Downtown. Or we go to Oxnard and give our tax dollars to that city. Oxnard has built some nice walkable retail centers and placed housing around them to keep them afloat. The Collection is packed every time I’m there and I do like the new Seabridge area where condos look out onto a marina and you can stroll to nice restaurants and a grocery store.

Surely with the amount of new housing on our east end, commercial establishments would start to look at us. That’s the hope of the sales people at The Farm, which is going in on Saticoy Avenue. Buyers have mentioned the lack of commercial centers. And yet, I am told retailers crunch the numbers and don’t believe we have the population to bring them the customers they need. I quote from the 2011 AECOM Saticoy Village Retail Analysis Update:

There is a deficiency of convenient retail on the eastside of Ventura. However, the current number of Saticoy-Wells households only supports a limited amount of retail, 70,000 total square feet (existing and new). Planned and proposed units may support approximately 15,000 square feet of retail, but are not likely to be built for five or more years. In addition to the extended period of planned and proposed units, retail development greater than the initial 50,000 to 80,000 square feet will need to capture at least 6,000 additional households to remain viable.

The Ventura City Council and Planning Commission recently took a look at what may finally become our new retail center. See staff report here. The auto-oriented project will consist of seven buildings that would include four drive-throughs and a gas station with a market on a 5.18 acre  site. Council has called it “extremely disappointing.” It is. But right now, as starved for retail as we are, even a drive-through Starbucks sounds nice.

It’s a conundrum. In order to get quality retail and another grocery store in this market, we apparently need to grow, they tell us. Yet the accompanying traffic with recent growth on the already impacted Wells corridor is reaching the intolerable level. If you look at the county’s Saticoy Area Plan, many road improvements are planned that could help alleviate traffic, including extending Nardo Street west of Lirio Avenue to connect Northbank Drive and Hwy. 118.

How do we do better for our east end residents? We need leadership. I hope to be that person.