Two sets of competing growth-control measures in Simi Valley are overshadowing everything else on the Nov. 4 local ballot, as voters for the first time will get the chance to chart the city's development course into the 21st Century.
The controversy over two measures backed by the City Council and two proposed by slow-growth advocates is dominating the political debate in a year when Simi voters are being asked to elect a new mayor, return two incumbents to the council and approve the building of an arts center.
A citizens group is sponsoring D and E, a pair of measures aimed at curbing growth in Simi Valley and protecting the surrounding Santa Susana Mountains and Simi Hills. Also on the ballot are Measures A and B, put there in July by a vote of the five-member City Council as a less drastic response to local concerns over development in the city.
"This is the most important thing this city has ever had to face," said David Penner, a candidate for the City Council whose campaign is directly tied to the passage of measures D and E. "This is causing the city to look at itself to see how it's going to develop through the turn of the century."
The seeds of Measures D and E were planted more than a year ago when slow-growth advocates stood at the entrance to supermarkets and surveyed about 6,000 of Simi's 93,000 residents.
Although the Simi political and business community had been trying to move the city beyond a bedroom community, about 80% of those polled wanted dramatic curbs on growth and less development in the hillsides, said Ed Sloman, a member of Citizens for Managed Growth and Hillside Protection, the slow-growth group that helped with the survey.
The results of the survey were presented to the City Council, which responded by enacting a temporary moratorium on the approval of new residential, commercial and industrial construction in the hillsides and on projects that would significantly affect traffic.
But the citizens group still was unhappy with what they believed was the unwillingness of the City Council to enact permanent controls on development. It drew up stricter growth-control proposals and in June qualified them for the ballot. It also targeted council members Vicky Howard and Ann Rock for defeat, drafting two of its own members to run against the incumbents.
"The differences between A and B and D and E are not subtle," said Councilman Glen McAdoo, one of the more vocal opponents of D and E, who strongly supports the council-backed measures. "It's about as subtle as the differences between a firecracker and an H-bomb."
In a formal debate last week on the measures, McAdoo said he had no doubt that the more restrictive controls of D and E would be challenged in court if approved by voters. "You don't change the rules in the middle of the game," he said, "and you don't take away people's property rights without compensation."
Case in Point
This argument has been personified for Measure D and E opponents in Bill Edwards, who for eight years has taught dance, musical comedy and modeling to young people in a converted, one-story house he is buying on Cochran Street.
Edwards, 57, said he believes he will be forced to close his performing-arts studio if Simi's voters approve ballot Measure E, which would ban commercial activities in hillside areas. "I can anticipate a letter from the city saying I have 30 days to cease and desist my business" if Measure E passes, Edwards said. According to opponents of D and E, Edwards would be among more than 40 commercial properties threatened by the ban.
Those who support Measures D and E contend that Edwards' business is in no way threatened by their initiatives because his teaching and recreational activities would still be permitted under the proposed restrictions. Edwards is "being used as a patsy by the development community," according to Louis Pandolfi, co-chairman of Citizens for Managed Growth and Hillside Protection.
Aside from the growth measures, the voters also are being given the chance to radically change the face of city government by filling three spots on the City Council. One of them will be to replace Simi Mayor Elton Gallegly, who is vacating his spot to run for the 21st congressional seat. (See accompanying story.)
The other two spots are those of incumbents Rock and Howard, who are running against five challengers: Joseph Wierzbicki, a skip loader operator; William White, a supervisor in an electronics laboratory; Bill Jones, a sales manager of electronic computer equipment; Mike Stevens, a math teacher at Simi Valley High School, and Penner, a financial controller for a Woodland Hills videotape manufacturer.
Slow-growth advocates, contending that the incumbents are out of touch with the will of the voters, are running Stevens and Penner as a slate with Measures D and E. Both men have been active members of Simi Valley's neighborhood council, but have never before run for public office.