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Crowded City Council Race Signals the End of an Era : Port Hueneme: Fourteen vie for 3 seats being vacated by veterans. They hold widely divergent views on building an oceanside RV park and the future of the police force.


For the past two decades, City Hall elections in Port Hueneme have been predictable. The same men ran for the same seats year after year. And voters in the tiny seaside town gladly put them back in office.

But this year, that pattern has changed dramatically. There are 14 candidates vying for three seats being vacated by longtime council members. And many of them hold widely divergent views about how the city should be run.

With a majority of the five-seat council up for grabs, the outcome of the election could chart the city's course for years to come.

"It could change the complexion and vision of the city," said Alvah Ingersoll, a candidate and longtime community activist. "It is certainly critical to the direction our city takes."

In recent years the normally sleepy city has erupted in controversy over several issues. The most heated and prolonged debate has focused on a city proposal to add cash to the treasury by building a $2-million oceanfront recreational-vehicle park.

But other hot topics are swirling around this election, the candidates say. They include a proposal to disband the city's Police Department to save money, a debate over taxes and arguments about whether City Manager Richard Velthoen wields too much power.

All of this is set against a sagging economy that has forced virtually every city in California, including Port Hueneme, to search for new ways to pay for municipal services.

So when Dorill B. Wright, with 24 years on the council, Ken Hess, a 12-year veteran, and James Daniels, an eight-year councilman, announced they would retire this year, candidates rushed forward to fill the open seats.

By far the most divisive issue is the proposed recreational-vehicle resort. City leaders in 1991 suggested building the park on a city-owned lot at the southern edge of Hueneme Beach as a way to generate $400,000 each year.

Citing environmental concerns, however, the California Coastal Commission earlier this year refused to approve the project. The issue has remained open because the City Council voted last week to resubmit the plan with modifications.

That decision angered residents opposed to the resort and unleashed a torrent of opinions among council candidates.

Six of the candidates--Anthony Volante, Terry Bruno, Reno Carter, Jim Gilmer, Frank McElfish and Valorie Morrison--support the idea of building an RV resort as a way to bring money to the cash-strapped city.

Another eight--Ingersoll, Robert Turner, Robert Stovall, David Goodman, Jon Sharkey, Ernest Brown, Billy Kimberling and Madeline White--say they are opposed to the concept for a variety of reasons.

Brown, 67, a certified public accountant who owns a condominium near the site of the proposed RV park, said he wants the land to remain undeveloped. Brown said he will improve management of the city's $13-million budget so it remains within cost constraints.

Bruno, 45, said his top priority is stemming crime in the city. His goal is for Port Hueneme to have one of the lowest crime rates of cities in the county, Bruno said. The city had a lower crime rate than the county as a whole last year, but trailed the cities of Camarillo, Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks.

Because the city has had eight homicides during the past three years, many more than in previous years, the candidate said he will do whatever he can to keep the city's Police Department intact. He also advocates forming Neighborhood Watch patrols, Bruno said.

Businessman Carter, 45, also hopes to keep the city's Police Department running. The house painter has lived in Port Hueneme for 20 years and said he thinks city government has done a good job transforming the once-blighted oceanside area into a serene setting of condominiums, houses, a cultural center and a fishing pier.

He supports dismantling a beach assessment district that taxes homeowners who live nearest to the ocean, Carter said. He would rather see such a tax applied citywide, Carter said.

Gilmer said his focus is to provide more educational and recreational opportunities for the city's lower-income children. The former director of the now-defunct Zoe Christian Center in Oxnard, Gilmer said he is concerned that teen-agers are graduating from high school without the skills needed to succeed in today's society.

Gilmer, 40, who is African American, said he would also bring diversity to a council that has long been dominated by older white males. Another goal is to increase the city's housing stock for low-income residents, Gilmer said.

Ingersoll said he would consider the option of contracting with the county for Sheriff's Department services if the city is not capable of supporting its own Police Department. It was wrong for the council to recently approve a 4% utility tax to pay for police services after a public measure on the issue was shot down at the polls, Ingersoll said.

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