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ELECTIONS / BALLOT MEASURES : Voters' OK Would Release Funding for Mass Transit : City Issues: Oak Park weighs annexation, Port Hueneme to decide fate of police, and Santa Paula wants money for library.

May 15, 1994|CARLOS V. LOZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County voters will decide June 7 whether to approve a ballot measure that would enable the county to tap into a special state gas-tax fund that would bring in $1 million annually to pay for local mass transit projects.

At the same time, residents in Oak Park will help determine the future of their community by deciding whether to join the city of Thousand Oaks, become an independent city or remain a county jurisdiction.

In Port Hueneme, voters will face a special property tax needed for the city to continue operating its own Police Department. And in Santa Paula, residents will be asked to approve a ballot measure that would nearly double the operating hours of the city library.

These are the only four local ballot measures voters will face in the June 7 election, which will also include a number of local, state and congressional races. Election officials predict that less than 45% of the county's 335,702 registered voters will cast ballots.

The countywide transportation measure--known as Measure X--guarantees that a portion of the gas-tax money now collected by the state from each county for mass transit projects will be returned to the region, officials said. Last year, the so-called Transit Capital Improvement Program doled out about $100 million to local jurisdictions across California.

"It's not a tax," Ginger Gherardi, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission, said of Measure X. "It simply allows the state to send money back to us that it already collects from the county. It's a no-brainer."

Although Measure X would require a $1-million matching fund, Gherardi said the county's share would come from what the county and its 10 cities already spend on mass transit projects.

"It won't take money away from other programs," she said.

Money from the gas-tax fund could help pay for rail stations, bus stations or other transit projects, such as the proposed transportation center in Thousand Oaks, Gherardi said. The money, however, cannot be used for operations involving mass transit services.

Gherardi said the county did not previously seek access to the funds because the county qualified for other state funds to pay for its transit projects. Also, she said, the county's share of the fund in the past would not have been large enough to warrant the time and expense of placing a measure on the ballot for voter approval.

But in recent years the fund has grown, prompting the county to take action to put the measure on the ballot. For example, officials said, the county could have received $1.2 million in the 1992-93 fiscal year.

"If we don't pass this, we're still going to be paying into the fund. But we won't be getting any of the money back," Gherardi said.

There has been no formal opposition to Measure X, nor is there a ballot argument against the initiative.

Meanwhile, in Oak Park, voters will help decide the future of their small unincorporated community. They will be asked if they would prefer annexing to Thousand Oaks, incorporating as a city or remaining a county jurisdiction.

Supervisor Maria VanderKolk, whose 2nd District includes Oak Park, wrote the ballot argument in favor of annexation, saying it would greatly improve services for the community of 10,000.

VanderKolk said Thousand Oaks residents now collect the equivalent of $124 per resident in taxes that can be used for city services, while the corresponding amount Ventura County has available in the unincorporated area is $47.

The supervisor said that with the state continuing to siphon money away from counties, Oak Park might see even fewer tax dollars spent in their community in the future.

"People in Oak Park need to realize that being part of an unincorporated area is not the best place to be, because the county does not have the money to provide many of the essential services people say they want," she said.

With annexation, VanderKolk said Oak Park would receive more police protection services. She said residents, who now pay a $55 annual fee to use the Thousand Oaks Library, would have free access to the library while still being able to pursue plans to build their own facility.

Also, VanderKolk said she believed annexation would have no effect on Oak Park's ability to maintain its own school district, considered among the best in the county, or to remain within its current park district.

Despite VanderKolk's arguments, officials of the Oak Park Municipal Advisory Council, which advises the Board of Supervisors on local issues, say they believe annexation would result in a reduction of services. They argue that their community would just become a small segment of a large city and as a result would have less influence on decisions affecting Oak Park.

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