The Oxnard Plain is a large coastal plain in southwest Ventura County, California bounded by the Santa Monica Mountains, the Santa Susana Mountains, and Oak Ridge (beyond which lies the Conejo Valley) to the east, the Topatopa Mountains to the north, the Santa Clara River Valley to the northeast and the Pacific Ocean to the south and west. The Oxnard Plain is also home to the western half of the Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura Metro Area which includes the cities of Oxnard, Ventura, Camarillo, Port Hueneme and Santa Paula, as well as the unincorporated towns of Channel Islands, El Rio, Saticoy and Somis.
This alluvial plain has been formed chiefly by the deposition of sediments from Calleguas Creek and Santa Clara River before they flow into the Pacific Ocean. The Santa Clara River is one of the largest river systems along the coast of Southern California and only one of two remaining river systems in the region that remain in their natural states and not channelized by concrete. The alluvial deposits from these rivers are generally a few hundred feet (30 metres) thick and lie over Pleistocene and Pliocene sedimentary rocks.
This coastline is among the longest stretches of continuous, linear beaches in the state; measured from the abrupt transition to a steep rocky shore just past Point Mugu on the south to the Ventura River on the north, the coastline is 16.5 miles (26.6 km) long. Amidst the coastal beaches and sand dunes, is one of the most engineered coastlines in the state with the Port of Hueneme, Channel Islands Harbor, and Ventura Harbor along with a number of breakwaters, jetties and groins.(p56)
The agriculture on the Oxnard Plain contributes to Ventura County being one of the principal agricultural counties in the state. The high quality soils, adequate water supply, favorable climate, long growing season, and level topography are characteristic of the Oxnard Plain where the top cash crops are strawberries, raspberries, nursery stock, celery, tomatoes, lima beans, and cut flowers. The acreage devoted to various Oriental vegetables such as Bok choi is also increasing.
In addition to agriculture, the Oxnard Plain contains a considerable petroleum reserve. Several active oil fields underlie the Plain – the Oxnard Oil Field, east of Oxnard, the West Montalvo Oil Field, along the coast south of the outlet of the Santa Clara River, and the Santa Clara Avenue Oil Field north of U.S. Highway 101 near El Rio. There are also several smaller abandoned oil fields. Oil facilities are interspersed with agricultural land uses both east and west of Oxnard.
Human settlement at over 5000 B.C.E. has been documented in nearby coastal sites. Calleguas Creek and the Santa Clara River were populated with many Native American villages as evidenced by archeological sites such as the Calleguas Creek Site that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Several sites have also been documented at Point Mugu. Archeological sites on the plain, found mainly along the water courses and shoreline, have been disturbed by erosion, farming, gophers, bulldozers, and other cultural and natural sources of disturbance.
After its founding in 1782, Chumash people were recruited to move to the Mission San Buenaventura. Although the mission was next to the Ventura River 10 miles (16 km) upcoast from the Santa Clara River, thousands of acres were needed for grazing herds of livestock. The introduction of these animals contributed to the traditional way of life becoming increasingly unstable and unsustainable on the Oxnard Plain south of the river. They also experienced further disruptive contacts through the increasing number of Europeans and Americans that visited the California coast looking for pelts from fur-bearing animals such as sea otters, and trade in hides and tallow beginning in the 1790s. The destruction wrought by the livestock and shortages of wild plants that they used for food may have made the missions appear to be the only viable alternative to a disintegrating way of life. At its peak in 1816, the mission had over 41,000 animals including 23,400 cattle, 12,144 sheep. The 4,493 horses constituted one of the largest stables of horses of the California mission sites. The Chumash culture, including political and social relationships between communities, trade, and inter-village marriage patterns, could not be sustained as more and more Chumash people abandoned their traditional way of life and entered the mission. The severe decrease in the Chumash population was in response to a complex set of social, economic, and demographic factors.
Most of the arable land was divided up into large ranchos by 1846. Many of the Spanish and Mexican rancho families benefited when the cattle market peaked between 1848 and 1855 due to the California Gold Rush. The secularization of the mission by the Mexican government in June 1836 opened the Oxnard Plain up to further settlement by Europeans. James Saviers bought property in Rancho Colonia in 1862. He was a blacksmith and farmer who grew and sold eucalyptus trees used to protect crops from the seasonal Santa Ana winds that originated inland and brought strong, hot, extremely dry winds to the treeless plain. Settlers Gottfried Maulhardt and Christian Borchard along with Christian's son, John Edward, and nephew, Caspar began farming with 30 acres (12 ha) of wheat and barley in 1867. New markets for the grain opened up when a shipping wharf was first constructed in 1871 at Hueneme. Irish Immigrant Dominick McGrath arrived in 1874 with his wife and children to begin farming on the plain. Johnnas Diedrich, with his bride, Matilda, began a new life of farming in 1882 having come from Hanover, Germany. Lima beans eventually became the dominant crop.
New Jerusalem was founded in 1875 along the south bank of the Santa Clara River. The community was eventually renamed El Rio. In 1887, the railroad from Los Angeles established the Montalvo station nearby on the north side of the river. In 1898 the Montalvo Cutoff brought the railroad across the Santa Clara River at El Rio and then due south to where the town of Oxnard was being established.
The Oxnard Brothers built the American Beet Sugar Company factory on land in the middle portion of the plain that they bought from James Saviers. He became a judge and an honorary justice of the peace: Saviers Road was named after him in the new city of Oxnard that arose around the factory. The railroad continued with tracks heading east out of Oxnard and eventually being extended to Santa Susana in Simi Valley. Traffic on the coast railroad line was rerouted through Oxnard in 1904 with the completion of the Santa Susana Tunnel as this became the most direct route between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
In 1903, this transition in agriculture labor practices found Japanese and Mexican sugar beet workers and labor contractors united in protest as the growers, backed by financiers, slashed the wage rate by 50 percent and sought to eliminate independent labor agents. The workers formed the Japanese Mexican Labor Association to press their concerns. While one ethnic group can often be pitted against another to undermine labor solidarity, the Oxnard Strike of 1903 unified them, Their efforts has brought the industry to a standstill until their demands were met.
In 1911, J. Smeaton Chase noted the "prosperous fields of beans and beets" as he descended from the Santa Monica Mountains onto the Oxnard Plain during his 2,000-mile (3,200 km) horseback journey from Mexico to Oregon. In his book about the journey, he describes the "sleepy little coast village of Hueneme" as a "ghost of a once flourishing town" due to the establishment of a beet sugar factory. The once busy port had drastically declined as passenger and freight traffic shifted to the railroad.
While the vast fields of fertile soil were appreciated for the agricultural bounty that could be produced, the sand dunes and wetlands along the coast line were considered useless by many. Various areas near the coast were used for dumping trash and oil-waste, much of the time with local government encouragement and supervision. The Halaco Engineering Co., Metal Recycling Facility at the Ormond Beach wetlands deposited process wastes and wastewater from the smelter from 1965 until 2004 on what was allegedly an open dump operated by the City of Oxnard until 1962. The waste pile contains an estimated 112,900 cubic yards (86,300 m3) and the facility has been designated a Superfund site. Two power plants were built in the 1960s to take advantage of the ocean for cooling. The Oxnard City council tried to prevent a third plant from being built in 2012. After years of legal tussles, the 45-megawatt McGrath Peaker Plant was built by Edison next to the existing power plant at Mandalay.
Agriculture had remained important on the Oxnard Plain and throughout Ventura County. After the booming growth in the 1960s, policies have been put in place to build in compact, connected ways and reduce urban sprawl into the agricultural lands. Guidelines for orderly development were developed followed by the establishment of greenbelt agreements between cities and the voter approved "Save Open-space and Agricultural Resources" (SOAR) initiatives. In 1998, the County SOAR initiative was overwhelmingly approved by voters. Under SOAR, the farmland and open space outside each city's urban growth boundary can not be rezoned without voter approval through 2020. Ballot initiatives for 2016 have been proposed to extend them for another 30 years.
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- (November 27, 2012) "National Priorities List: Site Narrative for Halaco Engineering Company" US Environmental Protection Agency
- Wenner, Gretchen (June 30, 2014) "Power plant battle to rattle Oxnard council chambers" Ventura County Star
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- Boyd-Barrett, Claudia (June 20, 2014) "County supervisor urges renewal of open-space preservation laws" Ventura County Star
- Maulhardt, Jeffrey Wayne (1999). The First Farmers of the Oxnard Plain: A biographical history of the Borchard and Maulhardt families.. Camarillo, CA: MOBOOKS. ISBN 0965751511.