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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | ELECTIONS

Whisper Campaign Gets Louder in Moorpark Council Race

November 05, 2000|TRACI ISAACS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

MOORPARK — Like the 18-wheelers that rumble through Moorpark, the issue of truck traffic in this small but growing town isn't the only problem that won't go away.

There is a whisper campaign generating even more attention, overshadowing the topics of growth, youth sports, housing and the need to invigorate the downtown business district.

In this fall's election there have been strange recordings left on several residents' home answering machines, tabloid-style revelations among candidates on their Web sites, and campaign signs that have disappeared.

Incumbent Debbie Rodgers said this election has sunk to a new low. Fellow council member Chris Evans, 43, said he can't believe the race has become so dirty, especially when all that is up for grabs is a council seat that pays about $300 a month.

One challenger, rancher Pete Peters, 78, who is known for speaking in colloquialisms, said he doesn't really care whether he gets elected. He has enough on his plate, he says, running a 37-acre horse farm for handicapped children.

Jonathan Panossian, 18, a first-time candidate, said someone has been tearing down his campaign signs.

At a shopping center on Amherst Street and Princeton Avenue, several candidates' campaign signs have been disappearing faster than people can replace them, said challenger Roseann Mikos, the coauthor of the city's SOAR slow-growth initiative.

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Challenger Keith Millhouse, 39, an attorney, denied he instigated any of the candidate bashing. Some think he may have done it because the City Council did not reappoint him to the Planning Commission in 1998.

Mikos and Evans are still fighting about last year's passage of the highly controversial Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources measure, despite Evans' claims that such talks are about as productive as "debating whether the Civil War was a good thing."

And hardly anyone has seen or heard from perennial candidate Tim Kalemkarian, which isn't unusual considering that Kalemkarian announced in a flier that he is also making a longshot bid for the White House.

Tensions in a separate mayoral race have grown between challenger Mike Wesner and incumbent Pat Hunter, but are much milder than the conflicts among City Council hopefuls.

Wesner, 51, maintains Hunter has spent the past eight years doing little to stop truck traffic, bolster city sports programs or expand the library.

Hunter, 39, said Wesner, a planning commissioner appointed by county Supervisor Judy Mikels, is out of touch and doesn't seem to know enough about important city issues.

A question now being asked by some residents: How will the City Council get along after the election?

For television viewers who thought "Survivor" grew ugly in the show's final weeks, it's easier to understand Moorpark candidates in the remaining days before the election. A recent public forum took a nasty turn during handshakes at the end of the program.

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Evans, a national church manager for Gospel Light, a Christian publishing house in Ventura, allegedly lobbed a profane epithet at Mikos and said he wouldn't shake her hand if she was the last person on earth. The councilman denied behaving poorly and said Mikos was drudging up nasty information because her campaign was "dying on the vine."

Mikos, 52, and Millhouse say they witnessed the exchange and stand by their story.

Panossian, who overhead the incident, bashfully summed up the blowup by saying, "I guess this is politics."

The battle has heated in the last days of the campaign as recordings were reportedly left on answering machines throughout the city about Evans' earlier financial troubles. An anonymous male voice identified himself as a member of a bogus taxpayers' alliance.

Evans filed for bankruptcy in September 1999, citing personal and business losses at his Bridal Expo Inc. as the reason he could not pay $419,739 to creditors, including nearly $70,000 to dozens of small business owners who paid booth deposits for a July 25, 1999, San Diego bridal trade show that never occurred.

"This wasn't a flash in the pan, a one-time moneymaking effort. We identified ourselves with this, we invested everything in this and it was one of the most painful things I've ever done," he said about the bankruptcy.

Evans is not alone in having business setbacks.

Wesner filed for bankruptcy in 1993, owing $659,861, as did Millhouse, who filed in 1995 but said he could not remember what he owned creditors.

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Evans said his campaign goals of offering developers better incentives to offset the cost of providing affordable housing, and buying development rights from landowners in the Tierra Rejada, have been eclipsed by the dirty tricks and backbiting.

There is only one issue the candidates seem to agree on and that is reducing truck traffic.

The city for years talked about constructing a bypass as a way to keep increased truck traffic off California 23 and California 118 in Moorpark.

Millhouse, 39, advocates more patrol units along California 118 and opening a 24-hour inspection station. Evans supports a bypass and said it's the only reasonable solution. Wesner wants a traffic study on the area, while Mikos wants such a study to include the Port of Hueneme.

Peters believes truckers should wallow in their own traffic mess. He wants one lane along California 118 dedicated solely to semitrucks. When it backs up, truckers might consider taking another route, he said.

Rodgers, 49, said her mind has been on adding more senior housing and fixing blighted areas in downtown Moorpark.

But she, too, has been sidetracked by this fall's campaign tactics.

The real estate agent and past president of the Moorpark Chamber of Commerce said she received on Thursday the recorded message that mentioned Evans' bankruptcy.

"It's important for the people to find out who's behind this," she said. "The citizens have the right to know who's behind the ugliness."

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