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ELECTIONS / SUPERVISORS

Monahan and Lacey Differ on Business, Development

Issues: Ventura city councilman is challenging county leader, who is seeking her fifth term. They are at opposite poles on economic solutions.

February 25, 1996|CARLOS V. LOZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Supervisor Susan K. Lacey and Ventura Councilman Jim Monahan are political opposites.

She's a Democrat. He's a Republican.

She opposes term limits for county officials. He supports them.

She is seen as a friend of environmentalists and slow-growth groups. He is viewed as an ally of business and an advocate of development.

About the only thing the two have in common is their desire to serve on the Board of Supervisors.

Now they will go toe to toe in the nonpartisan race to represent the 1st District, which includes the city of Ventura and most of the Ojai Valley. Lacey is also being challenged by Ventura activist Carroll Dean Williams in the March 26 election. If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, a runoff election will be held in November.

As she campaigns for her fifth term, Lacey says she hopes to continue her efforts to preserve farmland, maintain the county's excellent credit rating and provide basic services to needy families.

"These are tough economic times, but I want to continue to make sure that we have a humane budget," she says.

Monahan's campaign is focused directly on improving the local economy. He criticizes Lacey for a lack of leadership in this area and for doing little to bring more jobs to the county.

"That's always been my bag, trying to make the economy better," says Monahan, who owns and operates a welding business.

A Ventura native, Monahan said he understands all too well the plight of small business owners whose struggle through an uncertain economy is made more difficult by increasingly costly and burdensome government regulations.

He says that the city placed so many conditions on his plans to build a new office for his welding business that he could not afford the project. After his fight with city hall, the Ventura Chamber of Commerce encouraged Monahan to run for the council, and he was elected in 1977.

His strong pro-business stance has helped keep him in office so long and he now hopes it will win him a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

"I've always been for Jim Monahan," said Ventura Mayor Jack Tingstrom. "I'd like to see a change. I think we need more of a business perspective on the board."

Because of Monahan's conservative bent, his supporters believe he will bring more order and fiscal restraint to what they see as a bloated county government, with 7,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $800 million. They say Lacey is too protective of the bureaucracy, having long been supported by the county employees' union.

"The county needs to be run more like a business," said Carolyn Leavens, a rancher and community leader who ran unsuccessfully against Lacey in 1988. "They need to get more efficient. Until that happens, we're going to continue to have problems."

As a business owner, Leavens said, Monahan will be more receptive than the incumbent to the needs of the private sector.

"This is what we expect of supervisors," she said. "Business is the engine that drives the economy."

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But critics say that Monahan leans too much on the side of business and development, with little regard for the environment. They point out that more than $10,000 of his $31,000 in campaign contributions has come directly from developers, real estate agents and construction firms.

"He's never voted against a development in the city of Ventura. It's 'Pave it over at any cost,' " said former Councilman Richard Francis, a longtime foe of Monahan's.

Others point to Monahan's vote against a farmland preservation measure that was approved by Ventura voters last November as a sign of his political priorities.

Monahan said he voted against Measure I because it was poorly written and would result in growers suing the city for allegedly robbing them of their development rights.

"It's going to cost the taxpayers of the city a lot of money," he said. "We're going to end up spending millions of dollars defending it." To date, no lawsuits have been filed.

Lacey declined to say how she voted on the November ballot measure protecting Ventura farmland, saying it was a city issue.

But the supervisor, endorsed by the local chapter of the Sierra Club, is known for her work to protect open space and farmland from development. She played a key role in establishing the existing greenbelt agreement between Ventura and Oxnard. And she was the only board member who voted against the giant Ahmanson Ranch housing project in the Simi Hills.

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"Susan's environmental record is outstanding," said Joy Kobayashi of the Sierra Club. "The high quality of life that we enjoy in this county is in large part due to her efforts."

On the issue of jobs, Lacey said that cities are primarily responsible for attracting new businesses. She said that the county's growth policies discourage large residential and commercial development in unincorporated areas.

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