Population growth, traffic congestion and future water needs--the issues that have dominated city politics in Ventura for years--are expected to surface again as major issues in the upcoming Ventura City Council election, council members predicted this week.
But this year's election--despite the emergence of at least a dozen candidates already vying for four council seats--is not expected by most current council members to produce any dramatic shift in the city's future political leadership.
"It has some potential to do that, but Ventura has a tendency not to be extreme in any direction," said Councilman Richard Francis, one of three council members not facing reelection. "Ventura tends to be very stable politically. There is a balance on the council now, and it has always been pretty much that way."
"I don't think there will be any real shift on the council," added Councilman John McWherter, whose seat is not being contested this year. "Most candidates don't understand the issues until they get on the council anyway. I don't expect any great change one way or the other."
The four council seats at stake in the Nov. 7 election are held by Mayor Jim Monahan, Deputy Mayor Bill Crew, Nan Drake and John Sullard. Crew and Sullard have announced that they will not seek reelection. Monahan has said he is getting a "lot of encouragement to run again," but will not announce his plans until late next week.
Drake, the only council member definitely seeking reelection, and 11 other potential council candidates have taken out nominating papers from the city clerk's office. Among them are several prominent civic figures not linked to either extreme of the growth issue.
In the view of Councilman Don Villeneuve, the third council member not facing reelection or retirement this year, the large number of potential candidates is the only factor that could produce some unexpected shift in the council's political makeup.
"I definitely think growth is going to be the central issue," said Villeneuve, one of the council's most outspoken proponents of limited growth. "With this kind of a wide-open race, you could end up with some polarization. Somewhere in the range of views, you could get a single-issue candidate to slip through on either side."
While Villeneuve does not rule out such a possibility, other council members think that most Ventura voters look for "common sense" candidates in council elections and have a history of choosing council members on overall merit rather than for their position on any specific issue.
"There are a number of good candidates planning on running who are very sound people," said Crew, who recently announced he will not seek reelection because of business and family reasons.
"You should really picture this job as being a director of a $70-million-a-year corporation," Crew added. "The majority of people in Ventura who actually vote in city elections look for the sound candidate."
Monahan, on the council for 12 years, agreed, saying: "I don't think there will be much of a shift. The voters of Ventura are pretty consistent in the way they think. They want Ventura to remain a small town, with its hills and ocean and open spaces."
Among the leading early contenders are Berta Steele, an advocate of children's rights and the wife of Ventura Superior Court Judge Alan L. Steele; Gary Nasalroad, a past chairman of the Ventura Planning Commission, who describes himself as a moderate on growth issues; Vincent Ruiz, a longtime Democratic leader and Ventura School Board member; Julie Helm-Van Maanen, president of the Ventura Jaycees and active in efforts to save the Ventura Pier and Todd Collart, a Planning Commission member.
Other candidates who have taken out nominating papers include Carroll Dean Williams, a frequent critic of council policies; Andrew M. Hicks, a food clerk; William T. Bogue, an attorney; Rolf Kraus, a retired public accountant and Frederick D. Hoff, an insurance agent.
City Council candidates need 20 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify and are urged to obtain at least 30. The deadline for filing is Aug. 11.