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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS | ELECTIONS

Growth Is a Key Issue for Council Candidates

October 19, 2000|PAUL M. ANDERSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SIMI VALLEY — Facing the twin goals of building affordable housing and attracting commercial business, none of the Simi Valley City Council candidates is saying put an end to building.

But some are suggesting slowing down a bit.

Development is just one of a number of questions facing candidates in the waning weeks before the Nov. 7 elections.

Among the others: Will Simi Valley reject requests by developers and join other Ventura County cities supporting the Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources slow-growth initiative, which limits expansion? Or will the clamor by some Simi Valley leaders for more stores, housing and industrial parks win over voters?

Should Simi Valley follow Ventura's lead and just say no to a county attempt to take back much-coveted sales taxes? What about a year-round homeless shelter? Are the cluster of Simi Valley churches that offer cold-weather housing enough?

"Get a job, that's what I say," said incumbent Councilwoman Barbra Williamson, vice chairwoman of Simi Valley's homeless task force and a candidate for reelection.

Other candidates include fellow incumbent Steve Sojka and political newcomers Jim Mackelburg, Brian Wilson and Charles P. Misseijer. Jack Greenberg, a retired Simi Valley police officer, has dropped out of the campaign although his name will remain on the ballot.

Mayor Bill Davis faces a challenge from Mary Mikesell, an in-home therapist and a resident of Simi Valley since 1962.

Some candidates would push hard for a new retail mall and big-name department store, while others see heavy development as a recipe for congestion.

Either way, according to Williamson, voters will have to make a tough choice.

"The residents here want those services but they don't want the population that goes with it," Williamson said.

Simi Valley is among six Ventura County cities where voters approved SOAR laws that limit development outside city boundaries.

Even though the county measure was a winner at the Simi Valley ballot box in 1998, Davis, Sojka and Williamson said the measure puts unfair restrictions on property owners and the city's ability to expand.

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Challengers Mackelburg, Mikesell and Wilson, an environmental compliance inspector for Simi Valley, said they were unfamiliar with the issue.

Davis said with the right mix of stores and residential development, Simi Valley could lure a Macy's or Robinsons-May.

Mikesell said the onslaught of new homes necessary to court the upscale stores is a high price to pay for whatever new revenue would come.

"I don't want to stop growth in Simi Valley but we should control growth because otherwise it's going to be wall-to-wall cement clear up to the hillsides," Mikesell said.

Mackelburg questioned whether any of the incumbents could be trusted to make an unbiased decision on development, considering they have received campaign donations from developers.

"All of the council members have taken money from developers who built these projects that they voted on," Mackelburg said. "That's ridiculous. It's a deep concern of mine. It's not right, it's not honest."

Most recent records show Williamson has raised $25,068 from contributors, at least $16,000 of which from developers and other building interests. Davis, a 14-year council veteran who is seeking his second mayoral term, has raised more than $14,000 for his campaign.

Since July, Davis has collected $2,250 from development interests. Sojka has raised $33,519 for the race. Since July he has collected $9,400 from development and real estate interests.

Mackelburg has raised $1,715 for the campaign, including a $200 loan to himself plus contributions from acquaintances in the real estate industry. Sojka and Davis scoffed at the suggestion that developer donations would influence their decisions.

If more development means additional affordable housing, that is fine with him, Davis said. The housing market in Simi Valley is such that young adults who have lived there all their lives are being priced out of the city, Davis said.

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Most new projects feature homes selling for as much as $600,000, and one-bedroom apartments in Simi Valley can often rent for up to $1,200 a month, Davis said. One of his priorities would be to prod developers into building affordable housing, Davis said.

Developers pledging to build affordable housing would receive grants from the city, Davis said.

Voters won't have long to wait before they find out which way the next City Council will tilt concerning development.

The Unocal company wants to build hundreds of homes on 2,430 acres stretching from Erringer Road to the border of Moorpark. About 60% of the land would remain open space while the rest would include homes, retail stores, offices and light industry.

Wilson said Unocal's pledge to preserve 60% of its project for open space was a promising step toward controlled growth.

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