Ventura County is the most glorious and verdant of California kingdoms.

Just ask its princes and princesses—those fortunate enough to be able to afford to live and vote there. The nearly 900,000 residents can pretend that they live in the country, with parks or farmland always nearby. The Kingdom of Ventura’s cities remains a series of separate and distinct developments on the landscape—they haven’t sprawled and melted into each other, like cities do elsewhere in Southern California.

Their secret? “No other county in the United States has more effective protections against urban sprawl,” says the web site of SOAR, aka Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, a family of growth-controlling ballot measures.

Those SOAR protections have been fixed in the laws of the county and its cities for two decades. SOAR protects open space and effectively permits development only within certain urban zones in the county, making no allowance for population growth. If you want to change development boundaries or develop protected space, you need a vote of the people.

Ventura voters like the results so much they are expected to extend the SOAR protections through 2050 in the November elections.

In effect, they’ve made their Kingdom a mighty fortress. Those sprawling suburban housing developments that fill the San Fernando Valley to the east? They stop at the county’s edge. It’s almost as if Ventura County has built a wall against growth along its border—and made neighboring Los Angeles pay for it.

But there is a problem with that wall, and within the Kingdom. The princes and princesses of the Kingdom are enjoying all the benefits of protecting open space—while avoiding some related responsibilities.

Smart growth strategies like SOAR are not only supposed to preserve open space. They also are supposed to drive more creative, dense, multifamily and transit-oriented development in the urban cores where growth is still permitted.

But such infill development in Ventura County has lagged far behind what’s needed to serve the Kingdom’s growing population and its housing needs. The same citizens of the Kingdom who back SOAR also have opposed multifamily and denser developments, and resisted transit investments to connect their cities.

The results are as obvious as the choking traffic on the 101 Freeway and housing prices that make Ventura County one of the country’s least affordable places. The lack of housing for middle- and lower-income people forces them to commute from outside the county; and it makes it hard for companies to grow and locate there.

“There is an uncertain capacity within our urban boundaries to accommodate job growth,” Bruce Stenslie, president of the Economic Development Collaborative of Ventura County, said earlier this year during a conference on SOAR. “Which doesn’t mean that we should tear down the urban boundaries, it means we need to be a little more mature about questions concerning in-fill development and higher density.”

Matthew Fienup, an economist with Cal Lutheran University’s Center for Economic Research and Forecasting, who talks about the joys of living across the street from orchards, says there are myriad ways to require more regular analysis and adjustments of the boundaries. Fienup suggests that the county would be better off establishing tradable development rights that would protect the same amount of land while bringing flexibility to the boundaries.

Of course immaturity and inflexibility about growth—and high housing prices and traffic—is hardly limited to Ventura County. But Ventura is undoubtedly an example of the California disease—grab your piece of the Kingdom, and then keep out anyone who might come in after you. And few in Ventura seem to care that the county, like other urban coastal places in California, has seen such a decline in its number of children and young families that it might eventually resemble a senior living community.

In California, local growth restrictions are only one small part of how the old block the young. State laws encourage retail development while making housing development slow and costly. Prop 13 provisions keep property taxes low, encouraging people to stay in their homes longer, which reduces the supply of homes on the market.

Local anti-growth bias is becoming a major statewide issue as California faces a crisis in housing affordability and availability—for anyone but the most affluent. To push back against anti-growth local communities, Gov. Brown is championing legislation that would exempt many urban housing developments from environmental or local government review.

Many localities have responded to this statewide push defiantly, via local ballot measures that block growth and housing, as the Voice of San Diego documented recently.  The least responsible cities are going beyond growth boundaries to impose anti-density restrictions. The most reactionary of these ballot initiatives comes from Santa Monica, which was just connected to the L.A. rail system by L.A. County taxpayers. That rail connection should inspire denser, transit-oriented development. But anti-growth Santa Monicans want to derail all this by requiring a vote of the people on most developments taller than two stories.

The defense of those backing anti-growth measures is disingenuous: If you don’t like restrictions, you can go to the ballot. But that argument is an invitation for development to be determined by a showdown between NIMBY demagoguery and self-interested political money, as opposed to any rational long-range planning.

One lesson from Ventura County is that growth boundaries like SOAR shouldn’t be pursued in isolation. They need to be tied to rock-solid requirements for creating more housing, both for low-income and middle-income people. To put it another way: it’s great if your community wants to protect open space from development, but that means you don’t get to block denser development, housing and transit in your already developed spaces.

If Ventura County wants to wall off growth in its open areas until the end of time, fine. But it must be compelled to open gates in its walls big enough to bring much more progressive development into the Kingdom.

Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zocalo Public Square.