Ventura County Supervisor Maria VanderKolk, wounded by the fight over the Ahmanson Ranch project despite her political victory, said Wednesday that she may not run for reelection in 1994.
VanderKolk, elected as an open-space advocate, was blasted as "a traitor" and "sellout" by environmentalists after she voted in favor of building the 3,050-dwelling Ahmanson Ranch project in the Simi Hills against the Los Angeles County line northwest of Calabasas.
Expressing ambivalence about a second term, the 27-year-old supervisor said she has not decided whether to try to stay in political life after completing her current four-year term.
"It's been a very painful couple of years, very difficult," said VanderKolk at a news conference that she called to explain her vote Tuesday.
"There are a lot of issues for me. Family things. There are a lot of things unanswered now," said VanderKolk of Thousand Oaks, whose victory over incumbent Madge Schaefer in 1990 was one of the biggest upsets in county history.
"I'm keeping my options open," the supervisor said. "But if I ever thought my job was affecting my family, I'd walk away from it so fast you couldn't see me going."
VanderKolk's daughter, Kaitlin, was born 10 months after she took office. Her husband, Mike, is an engineer who strongly supports her political career, the supervisor said. Both are from Colorado, where her parents live.
VanderKolk said she and her husband have no plans to return to Colorado, but that such a move "is something we speculate about . . . as an eventuality."
VanderKolk's political future has been questioned since last fall, when she suggested that developers of two giant housing projects proposed for Ahmanson Ranch and nearby Jordan Ranch consolidate their projects on a single site in the Simi Hills.
While VanderKolk hailed the consolidation as a compromise that would preserve Jordan Ranch and nearly 10,000 acres of parkland altogether, many environmentalists who worked in her campaign have angrily scolded the supervisor for what they see as a betrayal of her pledge to protect open space.
The discord reached an emotional peak during recent hearings on the 3,050-dwelling Ahmanson proposal.
"This is just what you ran on, Maria, and it's just very sad to see you do what you're doing to this county," Mary Wiesbrock charged at a hearing last week.
As director of Agoura-based Save Open Space, it was Wiesbrock who personally recruited VanderKolk as an environmental candidate in 1990.
And at Tuesday's final Ahmanson hearing, Wiesbrock, her voice rising, asked that the other supervisors recuse VanderKolk on the Ahmanson vote because she is "demonstrably biased."
"This is Maria VanderKolk's development," Wiesbrock said. And its method of approval represents "the worst possible abuse of the public process ever seen," she said.
Other onetime allies also chastised VanderKolk, one accusing her of "jumping into bed" with developers and challenging her to look her former supporters in the face when they spoke.
In highly personal terms, VanderKolk explained her dilemma and confronted her detractors in a 10-minute response.
"I'm happy to look you in the eye. I love you all and I miss you," she said. "If I've compromised, it's in a sincere effort to find solutions my whole constituency would be happy with. I don't think that makes me worthy of your disdain."
Her greatest fear, she said, had been that she would let the opportunity to protect thousands of acres of parkland pass and that 20 years from now she would return to Ventura County to see the ranches developed.
"People would say, 'You lost the opportunity to get that land,' " she said.
And to her old supporters she added: "My greatest wish . . . is that somehow, some way we can all find the (common) ground again and go forward together."
Not possible, Wiesbrock said Wednesday.
"She's a traitor," Wiesbrock said. "She ran on our principles and that got her elected, and now she's betrayed us. It's that simple."
In fact, Save Open Space will work to defeat VanderKolk if she runs again, Wiesbrock said.
"And I don't think we'll have to recruit a candidate," she said. "There will be several qualified individuals step forward that we can trust."
But VanderKolk--framed at her news conference by two towering oak trees in a national park in Agoura--said she does not think that her support for Ahmanson will hurt her if she decides to seek reelection.
"Maybe people will look at this in one or two years and say, 'How could the Board of Supervisors ever have considered not approving this,' " she said.
Even some members of Save Open Space have quietly whispered their support to her, she said, refusing to name them.
"A lot of people in SOS are thrilled the way this turned out," she said. "They'll say, 'This is what we were talking about from the very beginning. We've gained what we wanted the most, Jordan Ranch.' "
One consistent supporter is business executive and SOS member Ken Bauer, who worked the 1990 campaign. "I still am a 100% supporter of Maria," he said. "Of course, I would like nothing to have been built. But that's not realistic. I think we got the best compromise we could."
But Wiesbrock and Thousand Oaks Councilwoman Elois Zeanah, who was VanderKolk's campaign manager in 1990, said they have not heard from a single SOS member who still supports VanderKolk.
"Frankly, I don't think she will run again, because she would not be reelected," Zeanah said. "No one can believe the quick sellout and turnabout."
VanderKolk, however, has been praised as much as she has been damned at hearings over the last two months.