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Ventura County

An About-Face on Measure A

Taxpayers association drops its opposition, endorses initiative to allow hillside housing.

October 18, 2002|Jenifer Ragland | Times Staff Writer

A taxpayers group has endorsed a ballot measure that would allow 1,350 homes to be built in the foothills and canyons overlooking Ventura, reversing a position it took last week to oppose the controversial initiative.

The Ventura County Taxpayers Assn. board Wednesday night heard from both sides of Measure A, which seeks voter approval for development of six neighborhoods over 15 years in exchange for donating 3,050 acres as public open space.

After reconsideration, board members agreed their first decision stemmed from misinformation and were persuaded that the hillside housing project would benefit Ventura County taxpayers.

"You have to do what's right," said association President Don Facciano. "It's easy to not go back and reverse yourself, because that is extremely rare and it took a lot to do that. But we value our credibility quite a bit, which is why we wanted to go back and look at it again."

Opponents of Measure A, who viewed the taxpayer group's original support as a key to derailing the initiative, now contend that it caved in to intense lobbying by landowners and other supporters of the hillside development.

Measure A foes spent $4,000 to print 30,000 brochures hailing the association's initial position. Their requests for reimbursement have been denied.

Steve Bennett, co-founder of Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources, which is battling Measure A., would not say whether his group would use the brochures despite the reversal of position.

"This demonstrates the power of the landowner to put the pressure on a citizens' group," Bennett said of the board's vote. "It also shows that this initiative is so complex, even the taxpayers association can't figure it out."

Measure A backers, however, said the debacle simply is a backlash from what they say is a misinformation campaign by the opposition.

And while measure backers admitted making phone calls to taxpayer board members, they denied applying "withering pressure," as Bennett alleged.

In fact, Facciano said he received more calls this week from those opposed to Measure A than he had received from those in favor.

"The bottom line is this is what happens when you lie and someone can prove you misled," said Margaret Merryman, Measure A spokeswoman.

Amy Forbes, attorney for the landowners, said the 165-page Measure A is not too complex for voters to understand.

"The primary reason it's confusing is because the opponents are telling people things that aren't in the initiative," she said.

In its early discussions of Measure A, the taxpayer group's government relations committee heard from both sides and decided to endorse the measure.

But a week later, when the full board was debating the issue, Facciano said, one board member mistakenly said the initiative would cap the amount of money the city could require of the landowner to offset environmental problems -- an interpretation espoused by some Measure A opponents.

That led to the board's original vote to oppose the measure.

Wednesday night, Forbes assured the board that the company will supply all funds to make the project environmentally sound.

"The burden will not fall on taxpayers," Facciano said. "We have a commitment on that."

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