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Decision '94: The Primaries : Port Hueneme Taps Tax Hike; Oak Park Opts for Status Quo


In local ballot initiatives Tuesday across Ventura County, Oak Park residents showed early support for remaining an unincorporated community, while Port Hueneme voters in early returns were narrowly favoring a tax increase to keep their city police force.

Meanwhile, a countywide measure that would enable transit officials to tap into a statewide gas tax fund was receiving widespread support.

And in Santa Paula, an initiative that would raise property taxes to salvage services in the ailing local library appeared headed for victory.

In Port Hueneme, Valorie Morrison, chairwoman of the campaign to pass Measure Z, said she was optimistic that the initiative would get the two-thirds margin required for approval.

"I just know we're going to win," Morrison said. "We've been working seven months on this campaign and the feedback we've been getting has just been overwhelming."

John Hopkins, Port Hueneme's chief of police, agreed.

"Even the people who were against us really weren't against us as a police department, they were against the idea of more taxes," Hopkins said. "But the support we got on this makes us feel real good."

In Oak Park, 19-year resident Michael Haas voted to keep Oak Park unincorporated.

"Incorporation would rob us," Haas said. "Communities as small as this, they incorporate and now they're poor all of a sudden."

Municipal Advisory Council member Ron Stark, who co-authored the pro-incorporation argument on the ballot, said Oak Park's quality of life would have to be threatened to persuade residents to support a change from the community's unincorporated status.

"It would have to be something very drastic that would impede the kind of living we've had," Stark said. "Maybe if the state did away with special districts and Oak Park had to rely on the county for everything" residents would support incorporation.

On Measure X, a countywide initiative that would allow officials to access a statewide gas tax fund for public transit, "yes" votes were outpacing "no" votes by a comfortable margin.

"This will allow us to tap a fund we are already paying into whenever we buy gas," said Ginger Gherardi, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission. "It will be a real benefit to the county."

Measure A gave Oak Park voters three options for their community: incorporation, annexation to Thousand Oaks or remaining an unincorporated area.

Proponents of incorporation argued that it offered the community greater decision-making power over police, library and public transit services in the 15,000-resident bedroom community.

As a separate city, Oak Park could assume control of $16 million in taxes each year, supporters said. Those funds are now controlled by the Board of Supervisors.

Voters also had the option of throwing Oak Park's lot in with neighboring Thousand Oaks, or maintaining the status quo.

Supervisor Maria VanderKolk led the effort to place the advisory measure on the ballot, enabling residents to decide if they wanted more control over spending and services.

Fear of higher taxes seemed to be the prime motivating force for many Oak Park residents casting their ballots Tuesday.

Susan Chambers said that fear led her to cast her vote to annex to Thousand Oaks.

"It sounded good," Chambers said. "Becoming a city would raise our taxes. Why not go with an established city that's doing well?"

Across the county, in a high-profile Port Hueneme election, voters cast ballots to determine whether the city will retain its 19-member police force.

Measure Z asked voters to decide if the city's 7,000 homeowners should pay $56 a year to maintain the force. The measure also asked whether commercial buildings should be taxed 2 1/2 cents per square foot for the same purpose.

The measure generated a broad-based coalition of supporters, eager to cover a shortfall in the Police Department's $2.2-million annual operating budget with the $500,000 a year the tax would generate.

Voters countywide cast ballots on Measure X, deciding whether to access up to $1.2 million or more annually in gas tax revenue.

Under Measure X, the amount of money available to Ventura County annually varies, depending on the amount the state Legislature sets aside during budget negotiations. The total is then divided among eligible counties.

State law stipulates that the money be matched with local funds. Use of the funds is strictly limited to the construction and purchase of public transit facilities and equipment.

Transportation officials said the funds would come out of existing transit funds and that residents would not be required to pay any additional money.

The Santa Paula library measure, which required a simple majority to pass, was the final hurdle for residents hoping to salvage services at their local branch.

Last November, residents approved a $25-a-year increase in property taxes to benefit the city library. Under Proposition 13, voters must approve an additional measure that sets a spending limit before new property taxes are appropriated.

Under Measure Y, that cap was set at $555,000 a year.

Library backers said the parcel tax would add an estimated $170,000 to the library's $210,000 annual budget, helping make up for state funding cuts during the past two years that have forced a cutback in hours, book purchases and janitorial services.

Dan Robles, the city's head librarian for 17 years, said the additional funds would be a welcome change.

"For the first time in my career here, there's the chance that I might be able to expand, rather than downsize," Robles said. "It's a challenge I'm looking forward to."

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