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ELECTIONS / VENTURA INITIATIVES : Foes Say Land Issues Costly for Police

November 01, 1995|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — Opponents of two ballot measures to limit development of farmland leveled new charges Tuesday, claiming that the proposals would drain money from the city's crime-fighting efforts.

The campaign brochures, arriving in voters' mailboxes a week before the city's election, were immediately criticized by proponents of measures I and J.

"They'll stoop this low," said former Ventura Mayor Richard L. Francis, who drafted the initiatives. "I think some people will believe it. Others will be angered by it."

Sponsored by Venturans for a Quality Community, a group formed by business people opposing the measures, the flyer states: "After cutting six police officers, Ventura is more violent than Oxnard. Measures I & J will only make it worse."

An open letter to voters on the mailer's flip side suggests that the measures would force the city to spend tax dollars fighting farmers who would sue to defend their property rights.

Opponents have said previously that the measures very likely would be challenged in court. Supporters, however, say that Measure I is modeled closely after a Napa County law that has withstood legal challenge.

The mailer maintains that city money would be better spent hiring police officers to reduce Ventura's violent crime rate, which it says now exceeds Oxnard's.

Last year, while Ventura's overall crime rate was higher than Oxnard's, police reported that Oxnard's rate of violent offenses--murder, rape robbery and felony assaults--was twice as high.

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Virginia Weber, who signed the mailer's letter to the public as "a supporter of our Police Department," defended the advertisement Tuesday evening. She insisted that the measures would eventually cost the city money.

"When lawsuits are filed, the defense of the measures will fall to the city," she said. "That comes out of our general budget. Maybe they can do another initiative to pay for it."

She said she did not know that Oxnard's violent crime rate was still much higher than Ventura's.

Ken Schmidt, treasurer of Venturans for a Quality Community, said he had not seen his group's mailer and declined to comment on its contents.

The flyer was designed by Dave Ellis, an Orange County political consultant, according to Oxnard consultant Don Gunn. Though hired by another opponent of the initiatives, Farmers Against Irresponsible Regulation, Gunn also assists the group that sent the mailer.

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Venturans for a Quality Community had raised $15,330 by Oct. 21, including $1,500 from the Ventura Chamber of Commerce. The group planned to spend $10,000 on mailers, according to campaign finance reports.

Proponents of the greenbelt measures--who expect to be outspent 3-to-1 by the opponents' combined $100,000 campaign--reacted angrily to the latest mailer.

"The big lie has had success in the past, so they are willing to try it," Francis said. "It really is a new low for Ventura politics."

Councilman Steve Bennett added: "A hundred thousand dollars can buy a lot of fear. This is the typical building and industry campaign scare tactic that they have used everywhere to defeat these types of initiatives."

The letter by Weber, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 1993, states that Ventura voters cannot afford to reduce their police force any further because Los Angeles gangs are expanding their turf.

"The graffiti you are seeing in town is the first sign of gang activity," the letters says. "We must defend ourselves from L.A.'s thugs with a strong police force."

Bennett said such comments are ridiculous. "Los Angeles doesn't have measures I and J, and it has plenty of crime," he said. "What keeps communities safe is avoiding urban sprawl."

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