Here’s a question for you: Why is Ventura County’s economy so poor?

It should be booming. Ventura County has some great public schools, lots of upper-middle-class houses, beautiful vistas and abundant parks. It has to rank high on anyone’s livability index.

The county should be attractive to residents and the businesses that follow them.

Yet, the county’s economy has flatlined. This year stands to be its fifth straight of zero economic growth. Alarmingly, last year the county lost population – apparently for the first time in its history.

Those who monitor the county’s economy closely could see this coming. The economists at California Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, ​Matthew Fienup and Dan Hamilton, after looking at several years of contraction in the county’s labor force and accelerating out migration, last year wrote: “We continue to wonder if Ventura County will see negative population growth in the near future.​”

So, the experts may not have been surprised. But I am. It’s astounding that a county with so many gifts and that is a great place to live could be such an economic laggard that it sheds people. I mean, Detroit loses population. Not Ventura County.

So why is the county’s economy so bad? In my opinion, the county has been too anti-development for too long. I can understand locals wanting to take a slow-growth approach, but Ventura County takes a no-growth mentality that borders on anti-growth.

For example, voters approved the measure called Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources in 1998, and in 2016 they extended it for decades. SOAR, as it’s called, requires voter approval to build on farmland and a lot of open space. Translation: bare land is almost off limits to development.

And even land that is developable faces so many hurdles it makes Los Angeles look streamlined. There’s a lengthy review process for real estate development along with hefty fees in nearly every city in the county. Some development occurs, yes, but not enough to grow the economy or meet the housing needs of residents.

By contrast, the San Fernando Valley economy has been growing smartly – up at an average annual rate of 4.3 percent from 2014 through last year, according to the Valley Economic Forecast done by Fienup and Hamilton for the Business Journal.

If you came from outside this area, you might assume the opposite. The newer and more affluent Ventura County would appear to have the upper hand, economically.

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