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Ventura County

Voters Will Have Plenty of Decisions to Make

Growth issues and races for city councils, school boards, Assembly and Congress are on Tuesday's ballot. But a tepid turnout is forecast.

November 03, 2002|Steve Chawkins | Times Staff Writer

While local turnout for Tuesday's election is not expected to set any records, at least 217 voters will march into their polling places with high excitement and higher expectations.

All are vying to represent Ventura County residents in positions ranging from a seat on the smallest library board to two in Congress.

While ballot measures involving development in three cities have sparked the fiercest rhetoric, voters also will choose council members in nine of the county's 10 cities, members of 12 school boards, a new Ventura County clerk and recorder, four members of the state Assembly and two congressional representatives.

There is no shortage of choices: With the crisscrossing boundary lines of cities and assorted voting districts, the county has printed 157 variations of Tuesday's ballot.

For all that, election officials anticipate a tepid response at the polls.

Only 50% to 55% of the county's registered voters will cast ballots, predicted Bruce Bradley, the county's assistant registrar of voters. By contrast, 78% of Ventura County's registered voters participated in the 2000 election, making choices in both the presidential race and a bitter contest over control of the county's $260-million tobacco settlement.

In the current off-year election, California Secretary of State Bill Jones has forecast a 58% turnout statewide.

"I think that's a little rosy," said Bradley, who based his lower estimate on a lukewarm demand for absentee ballots.

In 1998, the most recent off-year election, Jones predicted a 62% turnout. In fact, statewide participation dropped to a record low of just over 50%. In Ventura County, it was about 55%.

Locally, Bradley said, participation in Tuesday's vote is likely to be highest in Ventura, Santa Paula and Simi Valley, where residents are faced with contentious growth measures.

Ventura's Measure A would allow home construction on the rugged hillsides that serve as the city's backdrop, but also sets aside open space. In Santa Paula, Measure F would sanction construction in an outlying canyon, virtually doubling the city's size. And in Simi Valley, Measure B would block building in three canyons being eyed by developers.

Growth also is the driving force in a number of city council contests.

In Thousand Oaks, four of the 12 candidates are running as an environmental bloc for the four open seats, accusing incumbents of being excessively influenced by developers. The campaign has been marked by personal attacks and avowals of environmental purity; one critic even chided the slow-growth candidates for distributing a brochure on paper that wasn't recyclable.

Some other council races are notably fireworks-free. In Camarillo, for instance, only one challenger is taking on the three incumbents seeking reelection.

Nowhere are voters faced with more choices than in Santa Paula. In addition to Measure F, voters will elect three council members and determine whether to split the city into voting districts. At-large voting unfairly limits opportunities for Latino candidates, the U.S. Department of Justice charged in a lawsuit against the city two years ago.

Council elections are being held in every local city but Ventura.

On the state and national levels, redistricting after the most recent U.S. census strengthened most local Assembly and congressional incumbents.

Assembly members Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), Keith Richman (R-Northridge) and Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) all are running against lesser-funded candidates in redrawn districts that favor their parties.

Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) is running without substantial competition because her Republican opponent bowed out to fight a recently diagnosed cancer condition.

In congressional contests, 16-year incumbent Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) is facing a Democrat, Fern Rudin, who has not run for office before and has collected less than $5,000 in contributions.

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) is in a contest likely to be closer. Capps and her Republican challenger, Beth Rogers, have collected more than $1.3 million each, and each is well known in different parts of the sprawling district.

If Capps wins, she would be the first Democrat to represent western Ventura County in Congress since World War II.

Education is also a big item on Tuesday's ballot. Three seats are open on the board of the Ventura County Community College District, which was rocked earlier this year by a financial scandal involving former Chancellor Philip Westin. All but one of the sitting board members were accused of negligence in approving a raise for Westin even as he was being accused of excessive personal spending.

School districts with board races are: Briggs, Conejo Valley, Fillmore, Moorpark, Oak Park, Ojai, the Oxnard high school district, the Oxnard elementary district, Pleasant Valley, Rio, Santa Paula and Simi Valley.

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Times staff writer Massie Ritsch contributed to this report.

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