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THE CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / A VOTERS' HANDBOOK: DECISION
'98 | VENTURA COUNTY

Issues to Include SOAR and Judge, Assessor Races

November 01, 1998|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Capping the hottest political campaign to hit Ventura County in years, voters on Tuesday will decide the fate of Measure B, the countywide SOAR growth-control initiative, which seeks to stop urban sprawl by stripping elected leaders of the power to permit it.

But the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources campaign is not the only countywide issue voters will decide this fall--or even the only land-use measure.

Voters will also choose a new Superior Court judge in a contest pitting prosecutor Kevin McGee against public defender Gary Windom. They will select a new county assessor in a race featuring Jim Dodd, an assessor's employee, opposing Dan Goodwin, the owner of a private appraisal business.

And they will consider Measure A, which asks voters to give their opinions on the recommendations of a panel that studied farmland preservation. Measure A also solicits voter sentiments about a county proposal to start a government district to purchase open space and agricultural land.

Convinced that politicians will slowly turn Ventura County into a San Fernando Valley-like concrete gridiron, SOAR activists say the time has come for voters to pass the strictest set of growth-control measures in Southern California history.

Measure B, the countywide SOAR measure, would prevent farmland and open space outside cities from being rezoned for development without voter approval through 2020, forcing politicians to stick to existing blueprints for growth. In addition, SOAR measures in Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Oxnard and Santa Paula would bar the cities from expanding beyond a set of designated borders unless voters give their approval. Another city measure will go before Moorpark voters in January.

But SOAR opponents, united under the Coalition for Community Planning, argue that Ventura County's existing land use policies--already the toughest in Southern California--are working just fine and that so-called "ballot-box zoning" measures are a bad idea. All farm leaders, nearly every Chamber of Commerce in the county, and many developers and housing groups have come out strongly against SOAR.

To make their point, pro- and anti-SOAR forces have raised more than $300,000, and both plan to inundate voters with a final rush of campaign propaganda before Tuesday.

In the race to replace suspended Superior Court Judge Robert Bradley, the defining issue has become not which candidate is more qualified, or who has the better judicial temperament, but whether the county needs another former prosecutor on the bench.

More than two-thirds of the county's sitting judges came from the district attorney's office, and critics have charged that jurists tend to side with prosecutors far too often as a result.

Windom, a public defender and law professor, has repeatedly touted his candidacy as a way to diversify the courts. But McGee, second-in-command to Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury, says he, like the county's sitting judges, is an unbiased and independent thinker who would not favor his former employer.

Neither Windom nor McGee was able to garner a majority of the voters in the June election, which also featured family law attorney Cathleen Drury, and are therefore meeting again in a runoff.

Likewise, no candidate was able to win a majority in June's seven-man race to replace retiring Assessor Glenn Gray, so the top two vote-getters are back for a rematch. The assessor oversees a 136-person office with an annual budget of about $8 million.

Dodd, who has worked 18 years as the assessor's in-house lawyer, believes he has experience and knowledge only an insider could have on the esoteric field of property-tax appraisal. He vows to open a satellite office in the east county to better serve the public and to foster better cooperation among county agencies.

Goodwin, who started his career in the assessor's office when he was 18 before going out on his own, believes he has the outsider's perspective needed to fairly assess residents' tax burdens. He also vows to open an east county office and to host workshops explaining the assessment process to the public.

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