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Ventura County

Local Race Turns Nasty

Candidates for four Thousand Oaks council seats trade accusations of carpetbagging and improper use of the city seal in campaign fliers.

October 22, 2002|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

The battle to control the future of Thousand Oaks shapes up along familiar lines: a slate of City Council candidates extolling a slow-growth mantra who want to unseat incumbents accused of being too cozy with developers.

One of the four seats on the Nov. 5 ballot, to replace incoming Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, is being sought by Randy Hoffman, the millionaire businessman defeated by the slow-growth councilwoman in the spring supervisorial election.

He faces Parks' hand-picked successor and slate member, Bob Wilson Sr., and retired aerospace engineer Don Morris.

In all, a dozen candidates are vying to lead this maturing suburban city. They are a highly educated and diverse group: two rocket scientists, an engineer, a pair of Emmy-winning television producers, a Harvard-trained accountant, a firefighter, a teacher, a retired police chief, a health-care executive, a marketing manager and a restaurateur.

Campaigning has turned nasty.

Councilman Dennis Gillette has been accused of using the city seal improperly in campaign brochures, but city lawyers say Gillette can use the seal in photos because he is an elected officeholder.

Hoffman has labeled Wilson a Lake Sherwood carpetbagger who rented an apartment in the city days before filing for office -- a claim Wilson says is irrelevant because he has lived in or near Thousand Oaks for three decades.

Herb Gooch, chairman of the political science department at Cal Lutheran University, said he is not surprised by the level of attacks.

That happens when a city is in good shape, he said. And Thousand Oaks has relatively little crime, is economically healthy and has no divisive issues on the ballot.

"The rule of thumb in local politics is: The lower the stakes, the more vicious the politics," he said.

As usual in this leafy and affluent city not yet 40 years old, the debate has centered on the pace of development, preserving open space and traffic.

"The issue is growth. There really is no other issue," Wilson said at a recent candidates forum. "I do think we can slow this [growth] down to almost nil."

At 64, the silver-haired owner of Cisco's Mexican Restaurant is the senior member of the self-proclaimed Certified Slow Growth Team.

Its four members are endorsed by the council's anti-development minority: Parks and Mayor Ed Masry, the environmental attorney portrayed in the movie "Erin Brockovich."

The team -- Wilson, Planning Commission Chairwoman Claudia Bill-de la Pena, former Planning Commissioner Michael Farris and English teacher Laura Lee Custodio -- is endorsed by the Sierra Club and several environmental and community groups.

Custodio, 50, lost in runs for the council four years ago and the school board in 2000. The Newbury Park resident has a law degree and directs the English department at Granada Hills High School.

Bill-de la Pena, 36, who works as a news writer and is an Emmy-winning producer for KCBS-TV Channel 2, has served nearly two years on the Planning Commission.

She became the chair this spring after Farris was ousted from the panel, along with Commissioner Nora Aidukas, in a high-profile political flap.

The pair wanted to delay a vote on a city plan to transfer rights to develop houses from an area near Hill Canyon to the huge Dos Vientos project in exchange for leaving as open space 191 acres known as the Western Plateau.

Farris, 33, has taken this fight to court, claiming that part of the land swap -- allowing construction of three estate homes where a private equestrian center was planned -- violates a city ordinance requiring voters to decide park and open space changes. City lawyers insist the parcel was only proposed -- not approved -- as a parks location, years after it was designated for low-density residential use.

"I want to make sure our wonderful city does not fall captive to overdevelopment like the San Fernando Valley," said Farris, a former Assembly candidate who has a doctorate in space physics. "We live in such a beautiful place with such a high quality of life that it deserves preserving."

On the other side of the debate are incumbents Gillette, Dan Del Campo and Andy Fox. They say their records prove they have acted as good stewards of the city's land, pushed to acquire more open space and resisted rampant growth.

Del Campo, 54, said during his four years on the council the city has doled out fewer than one-third of the housing allotments allowed under Measure A, a 22-year-old ordinance that limits such permits to 500 a year. He favors a new city law that would require voter approval before builders can increase the number of dwellings allowed per parcel.

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