Barely a year after opening the $64-million Civic Arts Plaza, Thousand Oaks is still in an acquisitive mood.
An expanded sewer system: $75 million. More schools, open space and recreational facilities: $40 million to $60 million.
But as 1996 arrives, the City Council must resolve how to pay for these projects. Some of the ideas--including higher sewer rates and new taxes on business and development--have been shot down in recent months.
And with two members up for reelection in the new year, the council shows no signs of letting up on the contentious dialogue that has marked many meetings.
The first task facing the City Council in 1996 will be clearing up a bit of leftover business from 1995--adopting the $57-million spending plan the council never got around to finishing last summer.
The proposed budget--which would leave a $1.5-million deficit if everyone's pet programs were approved--won't be the only bear the council wrestles in January.
Also on its plate is what Mayor Andy Fox refers to as the "dreaded waste-water issue," the continuing battle over a plan to spend $75 million on improvements at the city's sewage-treatment plant.
"It's an issue that really needs to be dealt with," Fox said. "It's not going to go away."
Although sewage doesn't seem like a particularly scintillating topic, the fight over the issue has occupied the council since November, returning to the agenda every couple of weeks for further debate. The council agreed last week to plan a group tour and workshop session at the Hill Canyon plant just after the new year.
Councilwomen Elois Zeanah and Jaime Zukowski see things one way, opposing raising residents' sewer rates 70% to pay for increased capacity and improvements at the plant, which they say may not be needed.
Both council members have openly expressed concerns that there may be a conspiracy afoot to increase the city's sewage capacity so developers can run rampant in Thousand Oaks, building more housing than the city's founders ever dreamed of allowing.
On the other side are Fox, Councilman Mike Markey and Councilwoman Judy Lazar, who say the improvements are needed for health and safety reasons. They dismiss the idea that they are part of some grand conspiracy.
Normally, the dispute would result in a 3-2 vote and the issue would be settled, but in this case a four-fifths vote is required to raise residents' monthly sewer rates.
The January workshop, which will be televised on cable, is being pegged as a chance to find a compromise. Zeanah and Zukowski agreed that some work needs to be done at the Hill Canyon plant, which was built in 1960. Zeanah has suggested a monthly increase of $1.80 per household in sewer rates, instead of the proposed $7 hike.
While Fox and the others would like to see the entire $7 increase--a sum endorsed by a task force of about 20 members of the business community--he is willing to concede that the final number will probably be somewhere between that figure and what Zeanah wants.
"I think the workshop is going to do a lot to help the council reach consensus and also to educate the community as to exactly what happens when you flush your toilet," Fox said.
Once the budget process is complete and the waste-water issue settled, the council will have plenty of other business to attend to. The coming year is an election year, and Zukowski and Markey are both up for reelection in November.
Zukowski, who just finished a term as mayor, said she hasn't decided whether she will run again. Her husband, a scientist in Amgen's research department, frequently works at the company's Boulder, Colo., office, and Zukowski said dividing time between the two cities is a challenge.
"It's so much travel," she said. "We will have to decide where he spends the bulk of his time. I'm going to evaluate that in the coming year."
Markey, who is still a newcomer to the council after winning a special election in June, said he has already made his decision.
"I'm definitely going to run again," he said.
The two council seats probably will not be the only items on the November ballot of interest to Thousand Oaks voters. The city, school and park districts are considering a joint bond issue to build new facilities in the city. The three organizations have hired a pollster to canvass residents and learn what the community wants in terms of recreational outlets, more open space and enhancements to area schools.
That bond could be in the $40-million to $60-million range.
Zeanah said she wants to see the pollster's findings, but believes the community will want specifics before it votes on a bond. She said the bond should focus on the acquisition of open space. Thousand Oaks' open-space agency is nearly out of money to acquire new land.
"Maybe the pollster will find there is support but I cannot visualize this community going for such a giant bond for so many issues," Zeanah said.