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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | ELECTIONS

Thousand Oaks, Ojai Councils Vote to Oppose Measure O

October 11, 2000|MATT SURMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

City councils in Ojai and Thousand Oaks voted unanimously Tuesday to oppose Measure O, the initiative that would transfer $260 million in tobacco settlement money from county government to private hospitals.

Oxnard's council debated the measure Tuesday and will vote Oct. 24 on whether to oppose or support it. Seventeen of 18 speakers at its Tuesday meeting opposed Measure O.

The decisions in Ojai and Thousand Oaks, coupled with the city of Ventura's similar vote last month, reflect a trend in which councils, chambers of commerce and other organizations across the county have opposed the high-profile measure, written and promoted by Ventura's Community Memorial Hospital.

The campaign for the measure, on which the hospital has spent almost $1.6 million, has attracted much criticism from elected officials.

Andy Fox, a Thousand Oaks councilman, said Tuesday that allowing a private corporation to control public funds "spells trouble."

He added: "You have to ask the question, 'How does the public benefit from all of this money going to one hospital?' "

All of the groups have based their opposition on the belief that Measure O would create a precedent that would allow private institutions to "raid" public money. As it stands, Community Memorial would receive the bulk of the money if the measure passes, while two of the county's six other private hospitals would get a share.

But while the Ventura, Thousand Oaks and Ojai councils, along with the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce, have voted to oppose the measure, other political bodies have not. The Camarillo City Council contemplated a vote but declined. And officials in Simi Valley, Moorpark and Fillmore said they don't plan to consider it.

Measure O supporters called the negative votes political posturing that reflects county supervisors' attempts to use local governments to push their anti-Measure O agenda.

Supervisors are "imposing . . . their views" on local governments, said Mark Barnhill, a Community Memorial spokesman. "For others to parrot the same party line is not a surprise."

Supervisors, who fanned out to meetings in Thousand Oaks and Oxnard on Tuesday, are spreading their views on the issue.

Supervisor Kathy Long asked the Ventura Council of Governments to discuss the measure at its Sept. 28 meeting, but that meeting turned into a discussion on each city's rules governing their official stances on such issues, said Don Gunderson, a Fillmore councilman and the VCOG's chairman.

But VCOG, a group made up of representatives from each city in the county, is expected to vote at its Oct. 26 meeting on whether to oppose the measure, Long said.

By last month's VCOG meeting, many cities were already considering a vote on Measure O, and Ventura had already opposed it.

Supervisor John Flynn, who attended the Oxnard meeting Tuesday, said he hadn't called any cities specifically to request they oppose the measure, but said, "I would like them all to take a position.

"If this passes, [the cities] too could experience an initiative that dips into their treasury," he said.

Supervisor Frank Schillo said he has talked to some council members sympathetic to the county's position, which is that the county should keep the settlement money to pay for health care issues.

"I think it's shortsighted to say it's not a city issue," said Schillo, who attended the Thousand Oaks meeting. "It's a local government issue, and that includes the cities."

Some groups, including the Ventura County chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, have actively campaigned against the initiative, sending members to council meetings to lobby them to condemn it.

Members of the Coalition Against Measure O have not lobbied city council members, but do attend meetings to state their case, said David Maron, who heads the citizens group. Maron said he would have members at the meetings in Oxnard and Thousand Oaks.

Local politicians who opposed Measure O said they did so on their own after considering the issue's importance.

"This money is public money and needs to be handled by public officials," said Thousand Oaks Mayor Dennis Gillette. "This one is so close to home. There's so much negative precedent setting."

In Camarillo, a committee made up of three City Council members decided it was not appropriate for the council to weigh in. Councilman Mike Morgan, who is running for Long's seat on the Board of Supervisors and has said he opposes Measure O, said council guidelines prevented it from adopting even an advisory opinion.

"I'd rather not put pressure on my own board members to force them to take a position when the policy is not there," he said. "That to me is wrong."

Morgan wants the Board of Supervisors to devise a way to share the settlement money with private hospitals, but said he opposes the measure, "with the hope that the county board will move in that direction."

But other city officials said they think it is their place to recommend action.

"In Ojai, we try not to take a position on items that don't have a direct impact on our constituents," said Councilman Steve Olsen. But Measure O has a direct impact because it affects the way Ventura County Medical Center does its job, he added.

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Correspondents Jenifer Ragland, Kevin Sherry and Gail Davis contributed to this report.

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